Review: Will, Episode 4

SCENE : The “Will” writer’s room.  BILL sit lazily about, staring at the ceiling, drumming fingers, periodically crumbling paper and tossing into a wastebasket.  DAVE sits in a corner, reading.

DAVE: (looking up)  Hey, do you  know what swive means?

BILL:  Swive? Nope. Why?

DAVE: (showing book) Because it says in this Shakespeare glossary that it’s another word for the F-bomb.

BILL:  So?

DAVE: (devious smile appearing) Don’t you get it?  If we didn’t know about it, neither will the censors!  So we can fill this week’s script with stuff like “Shut up and swive me now” and “They can go swive themselves for all I care.”

BILL: That’s genius.

Last week was all about how many naked buttocks they could show, this week is apparently archaic swear words. I can’t make this stuff up.  (For the record, my searches indicate that Shakespeare himself never used the word.)

“But what about the torture?” I hear you asking.  “I’m not here for the language and the nudity, I want to see blood spattering for no reason!”

Well then fear not, I have good news!  There’s actually what I thought a funny scene where our resident psychopath (Topcliffe, is it?) is fishing.  “Ha!” I thought.  “Fishing.  Shakespeare. That’s funny.”  (“Shakespeare” is actually a very popular manufacturing line of fishing poles.)

Hahaha, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets a fish hook embedded in his chest. Topcliffe then picks up the fishing rod (still attached, mind you) and starts walking away.  I think, nay hope, that he’s going to now lead the poor soul away like a leash.  Nope.  Just goes ahead and rips it right out of him.

Grossed out yet? Later we’ll see him actually hung from the ceiling by giant hooks in his back.

Sometimes I wonder why I watch this stuff.  Seriously.

There’s almost no actual Shakespeare in this one.  He’s riding on the popularity of Two Gents, but everybody keeps calling it a “tragicomedy” and saying how much they like the dog, and Will wants to be taken seriously.

He’s got some good lines about why he wants to write – to explore why we love and why we fight and what it means to be human. That’s the good stuff, that’s what I want to hear about.  But it’s pretty brief.

Of course we drop a few random lines, Marlowe talks about how it’s not his fault that his life’s not going so great, the fault lies in his astrology. This of course is wide open for “The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves,” or maybe ” Additionally we meet Sir Walter Raleigh, who has been to America, and describes it as “Brave new world with such stuff in it.”  You get the idea.

 

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Will #3 : Oh, Sylvia!

(I’m going to try reviewing every episode of Will on TNT as they come out. If something doesn’t seem right this week, it’s because last week they actually ran 2 episodes.  So this is second week, third episode.)

This week’s episode does not bode well (bode Will?)  for fans of the text.  For fans of naked guys, absolutely.

You know the theory that Marlowe is gay?  Not really a theory in this show.  Marlowe is naked for much of the show, and surrounded by lots of other naked dudes.  Not knocking the lifestyle, just saying that’s not what I’m here for, and I think they’re trying way, way too hard.  It’s not even that naked Marlowe wakes up, strategically draped by another naked guy. Or that he leans over the balcony and yells to the other six naked guys, “Time to leave, I have to go to work.” Later there’s a full on naked orgy, with Marlowe in the middle demanding that he be serviced.  Can we get back to the text, please?

The actual interesting plot line opens with Will being way too confident in his abilities and knocking out a random play that sucks.  Everyone tells him, even Burbage’s daughter who is normally on his side.  It takes him a little while to accept that he’s still new at this and needs to learn to improve his craft.  Specifically, he needs to do so, daughter tells him, by stealing from other people.  “Everybody does it, even Marlowe.’

Off they go to the bookseller to find source material, end up stealing a book, getting caught, and then … nothing happens. I found that relatively pointless, other than to set up as a cute little bonding adventure between Will and, I really should go look up her name.  Alice?  For a universe that started out showing us torture, you now have someone catch a thief red handed and play it for comedy.  Make up your mind.

Anyway, now we get to the stuff that’s cribbed right from Shakespeare in Love as this girl acts as Will’s muse, helping him alter his ideas into the lines we know and love.  It is not until I hear them change a character’s name to Sylvia that I can finally relax and think, “Ok, cool, they’re doing Two Gentlemen of Verona. The universe is back where it’s supposed to be.” Hence title of this post, by the way 🙂

Shakespeare in Love
The comparisons are obvious, but the competition isn’t even close.

I hope that we can fast forward a little bit and get to some of the material that typical audiences know. It’s going to be cliche as all heck for we geeks to have to sit through Romeo and Juliet like it’s a new thing, but I think that’s part of the reason why the show is so weak now.  There’s nothing for the regular audience to recognize.  They don’t know their Two Gents from their Two Kinsmen. Once we get to writing Hamlet and Lear and Othello (if we get that far!) then maybe we can settle in to having some episodes center around what the actual Shakespeare actually did, and not all this made up nonsense.

 

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Review : WILL

I wish I had more time to review this, but I barely had time to watch it.  So I’m going to try and hit the highlights, and we can talk about it.

When Shakespeare, Kemp, Burbage and the other “moderately historically accurate” characters are on screen, I am enraptured. I could watch it all day.  I’ve been telling people it reminds me of the recent “Jobs” movie starring Michael Fassbender, which was basically two plus hours of a universe centered on Steve Jobs.  To the degree that this show will be a universe centered on Shakespeare and his circle, you won’t be able to tear me away from the television.

Alas, television producers don’t have nearly enough faith in modern audiences to allow for that.  Instead it’s set against a backdrop of such gratuitous language, sex and violence that I’d be embarrassed to share it with anybody, and almost turned it off fifteen minutes into the show.  Think I’m exaggerating?

  • We watch a man’s intestines pulled out.  Another has what I believe was some sort of hot poker shoved down his throat.  Great, we get it, we live in a world where to go against the crown is to risk torture.  But you could just as easily have said “you risk losing your head” and had the same effect. Unless you want an audience turned on instead of off by that sort of thing. If I wanted that I know what channel Game of Thrones is on.
  • I’m not a prude and I realize that the later the hour, the more sex is allowed in these shows.  But as I told one friend, “I didn’t realize that people were allowed to get that naked for that long.”  Seriously, it made me wonder whether they were going in and digitally erasing bits, because there’s literally nothing for them to strategically hide anything behind.
  • If that’s not awkward enough for you, there’s a side plot involving a prostitute and her little brother who is desperately trying to make enough money to get her out of that life.  Just to hammer the point home, we’re treated to a scene of him hiding under her bed while she services a client. The icing on the cake is when he takes out his knife and starts cutting himself, so we’re quite sure of how emotionally messed up he is.  Tell me again what the show is called and how any of that has anything to do with Shakespeare?

We could get into the details about the storylines and characters, how much they’re playing up the Catholic/Protestant thing, and whether or not we’re supposed to like Marlowe (I don’t).  But that’s my summary for now.  When it’s about Shakespeare, it’s got me.  Just about everything else, I’m disappointed and embarrassed for the people that made it.

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Review : Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.

Eleanor and Park : Romeo and Juliet?I honestly thought that Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell as a new release, after seeing it on some random “must read this summer” list.  It had some sort of Romeo and Juliet connection, so I thought, “I’m in.  Maybe it’ll be something my kids will like.”  Turns out it’s published in 2013 so I’m late to the party.

The first line of the book is, “He’d stopped trying to bring her back.”

Interesting!  I immediately wondered whether the book was taking a page from Romeo and Juliet and giving us ye olde “star-crossed lovers take their life” right there in the prologue.  So I was hooked for the rest of the story thinking, “When’s it all gonna go down?”  The boy (Park) is still narrating so I guess he doesn’t die, but then again, no one says that we’re starting at the very end.  This could be the middle.  He could be telling us the equivalent of standing in front of her tomb holding his own poison.

Eleanor and Park does have some Romeo and Juliet in it.  On the surface, it’s just the standard “boy and girl decide they like each other to the backdrop of high school English class,” where of course they’re studying Romeo and Juliet. This gives us a chance to learn about the modern teenager’s interpretation of love at first sight:

 

‘I just don’t think it’s a tragedy.’ She rolled her eyes again. She knew Mr Stessman’s game by now. ‘But he’s so obviously making fun of them. Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they wanted. And now, they think they want each other.’

‘They’re in love …’ Mr Stessman said, clutching his heart.

‘They don’t even know each other,’ she said.

‘It was love at first sight.’

‘It was “Oh my God, he’s so cute” at first sight. If Shakespeare wanted you to believe they were in love, he wouldn’t tell you in almost the very first scene that Romeo was hung up on Rosaline … It’s Shakespeare making fun of love,’ she said.

The rest of the book, of course, is two teenagers from different worlds (he from the nice happy family, she from the broken home with the abusive step father) who fall head over heels in love and can’t bear to live life without each other.

I still can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be a Romeo and Juliet story or I’m just looking for parallels.  It’s got some weird gender flippy things going on, with the weird girl who likes to dress in boys’ clothes and the longer boy who discovers he really likes how he looks in makeup.  I thought that would be cool to run with.  But the girl’s still got violent family members and her boyfriend couldn’t be caught dead at her house, so I guess she’s still playing the Capulet role. She’s welcome at his house, though, which was the motivation for my earlier post “Dinner At The Montagues.”

Without the Shakespeare? I suppose it’s good, but maybe it’s too far removed from my world to fully appreciate.  I get what it’s like to be young and in love, I’m not that old.  The author does a great job of painting that slow, slow crawl from “Oh god I hate you” to “I hope that girl I hate sits next to me again” to “Maybe today I’ll tell her I liked what she said in English class” to “I should ask her about those song lyrics written on her book cover…” until one day you’re deciding whether or not you’re boyfriend and girlfriend and should you tell anybody? Eleanor and Park ride that entire rollercoaster right before our eyes.

I was expecting a Bridge to Terabithia twist through the whole thing. I thought I knew where it was going.  I was mistaken.  I think I would have liked my ending better.

 

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Review : Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Loyal readers know I’ve got a soft spot for The Tempest.  I worry that I sound like a broken record saying that. So even though my book review queue is backed up well beyond my ability to ever get through it, I said sure, go ahead and send me Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey.

I wish I could say I liked it, but I just can’t. First of all, it’s written in that “I want to sound Elizabethan” manner of speech which ends up being more grating than anything else. The author’s got a particular fondness for the word “mayhap”, to the point where it would sometimes appear multiple times on a single page of dialogue. Does she think that sounds like Shakespeare? I checked – that word does not appear in Shakespeare.

The story itself is interesting, starting with Miranda and Prospero’s attempt to catch Caliban.  So we get to see Caliban being taught language and learn what he knew about his mother, and how she died, and the role Setebos played in their lives.

It’s clear from the beginning that Prospero is the bad guy in this story. As a savage, Caliban had his freedom to roam the island.  But as soon as Prospero decides to civilize him, he is their servant, locked in his cell and only given limited amounts of freedom as a reward for good behavior. It only gets worse from there.  We also learn that Caliban would rather Ariel remain trapped in his tree. He’s there for a reason as far as Caliban is concerned and bad things will happen if Prospero frees him.  Prospero doesn’t care, invoking the name of Setebos to break Sycorax’s charm and create his own to bind Ariel to his service.

None of that would be a deal breaker for me.  I didn’t love the “if I say mayhap enough times I’ll sound like Shakespeare” approach to the dialogue, but it was a reasonable retelling of what happens in the story.  I should mention at this point that my daughter saw the book, recognized the characters, and asked if she could read it – before I was finished with it.  I had a bad feeling about that – this is, after all, spun like a romance novel – but I trust my kids, and told her that if it becomes inappropriate I expect her to tell me and give it back.

Fast forward a few days when she returns from school with a look of horror on her face, hands the book back shaking her head and saying, “I should not be reading that.”  She later tells me, “When you get to page two fifty it’s disgusting.”

I never made it to page two fifty because around page one seventy it becomes a Blue Lagoon story.  Everybody knows what I mean by that?  Fourteen-year-old Miranda gets to learn in great detail about her first period.  She has no idea what’s happening. Neither does her friend Caliban. Fine. I’ve actually argued in the past for sympathy for Caliban, because biology is a hell of a thing that you can’t always control, especially when you don’t know what’s happening.

Cut to the scene where Miranda’s taking a bath trying to get the blood off, while Caliban watches (without her knowledge).  Caliban who goes off into the forest and, to put it the way Ariel puts it after catching him, commits the sin of spilling his seed on the ground. Even better, Ariel then blackmails Caliban by threatening to tell Miranda and Prospero about it. So there’s now this ongoing sexualization of Miranda that’s entirely the invention of the author because there’s none of it in the original.

Yeah, I’m out.  I can’t go on to what I know must ultimately be sex scenes between them, and knowing that my daughter read it before me doesn’t help at all.

If nothing I said above bothers you, you might find that you like this one. But I just can’t.  The characters are too special to me, and you can’t do that to them. The Tempest for me is a fairy tale about a long lost princess stranded on an island with her sorcerer father, who meets a prince and falls in love and first sight, who takes her away to live happily ever after.  I know there’s more to it than that, and it can be looked at and interpreted many ways. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

 

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Review : Ryan North’s Interactive Hamlet “To Be Or Not To Be”

I realize this one came out several years ago, but I’m pretty sure I never reviewed it. If you haven’t heard of it, have you heard of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?  Where you’d get to the end of a page and it would say things like, “To talk to the pirates turn to page 19, to hide and hope they don’t catch you turn to page 25”?  It’s that.  The great thing about the ebook form is that everything’s just clicks now, which makes the format that much more flexible.  You can go crazy with the different paths through the book and not worry about producing a paperback that’s 500 pages.

You have to know, right from the start, that this is going to be mostly original material, rather than follow the plot.  How can it be otherwise? Every time you choose to do something that a character didn’t do in the original, North has to supply his own version of events.

With that in mind, you can “play” as Hamlet, Ophelia, or even Hamlet Senior. I first chose the latter thinking it to be a joke – you get one page in and find out you’re dead – but the author’s better than that.  You’re now the ghost, and you get to play the book that way, going on adventures, checking in periodically to see how your son is doing on his quest, all that good stuff.

It’s actually quite fun. There’s a lot of the author’s attitude in here, and the fourth wall is just a pile of rubble.  He is speaking right at you the whole time, asking you to double check your choices, scolding you if you don’t follow directions.  It’s great fun.

I don’t know that you’re ever really finished with a book like this.  Since it is technically a book and not a game or app, your reader will give you page numbers. Mine tells me that there are about 1200 pages.  In theory, you should visit all of them, but I’m not so sure.  I’m fairly convinced that the author has written one or more entirely separate stories as easter eggs for people who just randomly flip through the pages (because, since it is a book and not an app, he can’t stop you).

If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to give this one a chance. I see on his author page that he did a Romeo and Juliet as well, I think I might have to add that one to my collection.

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

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Behold! Behowl The Moon by Erin Nelsen Parekh

In September 2016 I found this Kickstarter project for a “baby board book” based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream called Behowl the Moon.  Look what came in the mail today!

 

 

 

These images came as some lovely postcards representing the illustrations within the book. They’ve now been added to the ever growing shrine at my desk!  New employees rapidly learn that I’m the Shakespeare guy.

I love that this exists, and that we helped make it happen. My kids are too old for baby books now, but there’s lots of new parents out there that can have this. My coworker just had a baby 10 months ago and was happy to pick one up.  “I just hope he doesn’t eat it,” he told me today. “He’s starting to gnaw on everything he can reach.”

If you didn’t get in on the Kickstarter it’s not too late!  The book is available on Amazon in both Kindle and “board book” formats.

In a different world I might have read this book to my kids.  Instead I get to do this. I love it.

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Review : Wool by Hugh Howey

I first heard about Wool in the same context as The Martian, one of these self published runaway hits that is already fast tracked to become a movie. It’s a pretty standard dystopian story of people living in an artificially constructed society where the worst crime is to express a desire to go “out”. What’s outside and why are they in? The answers seem pretty obvious if you’ve read any of a dozen other books with this same premise.  I guess this came out  back in 2011 and was originally eight books, now it’s been republished as three bigger ones.
So why are we talking about it here? Because for some strange reason it’s loaded with Shakespeare references. There’s even a character named George Wilkins, and I challenge casual fans of Shakespeare to recognize that reference!
The main character’s name is Juliet (or Juliette, I have it on audiobook so who knows), and I keep waiting for a Romeo to appear and the longer he doesn’t the more I’m thinking, “Oh, good, we can actually have a character named Juliet without it requiring the Shakespeare story.”
Soon enough, though, we’re flashing back to when she’s a kid and sees a production of the play. She’s even given a script that she then carries around for the rest of the story.  Once the explicit R&J connection is made, the different sections (chapters? again, audiobook, hard to tell) suddenly become quotes from the play.
I don’t get it. There’s no Romeo and Juliet story here, and I’m stretching to come up with one.  I’m wondering if there’s more Pericles in it (see George Wilkins, above ;)).  I’m not nearly familiar enough with that play.
So, surely others out there have already read this one, and probably the whole series.  Is it right in front of my face and I’m missing it? I once read a Hamlet story told from the perspective of super-intelligent dogs, and I managed to figure that one out (eventually).  Does it come up more in later books? Or did the author just feel like sprinkling around some Shakespeare?  The latter seems unlikely, but you never know in the self-published world, things don’t have to stay strictly to formula.  Besides, there’s no way that he drops George Wilkins into the story and expects anybody to recognize the Shakespeare connection!
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Review : Benebatch Cumberdink’s Hamlet

Sorry, I should probably spell the man’s name correctly if for nothing else than the SEO I might get, but it just amuses me to no end to spell it differently every time.

Last night, after months of waiting, I got to see the encore performance of B.C.’s Hamlet, presented by NTLive.

While I have some major issues with many of the directorial choices and was often making my Picard “WTF have they done to my Shakespeare?” face, I think that old Ben himself might individually be the best Hamlet I’ve ever seen.

Should we cover the good first, or the bad?  I’ll start with the opening, and you tell me.  We open with Hamlet, sitting in what I presume to be his room (although it felt like it could have been an attic), listening to old records and looking through photo albums, presumably of his father.  I *loved* this.  When I try to relate the play to people I always start by saying, “Hamlet is about a man whose father died.” Here we actually get a glimpse of him in mourning, not just in his inky black cloak, but actually going through the motions that you could expect anyone to go through that lost someone dear.  Before the scene is over he will go into a trunk of his father’s clothes and don one of his father’s blazers – but not before smelling it, once again to remind him of his father.  It’s about 30 seconds into this 3+ hour play and you already know exactly what’s going on in Hamlet’s head.  Ever wonder what his relationship was like with his father? No questions here.

I figured ok, awesome start, lights out and we start the show, right?

Nope.  Knock knock knock.  “Who’s there?” says Hamlet.  Says HAMLET.  SAYS HAMLET.  “Answer me, stand and unfold yourself!”  And I’m in bizarro world because Horatio enters and we’re catapulted briefly to … scene 5, was it?  Horatio’s original meeting with Hamlet?  But but but but but but…. where’s the ghost?  So confused.

It’s a bold move to do stuff like that because you have to follow up with it and have it make sense and flow smoothly.  I don’t think that did.  First of all, there’s no reason to introduce Horatio there at all.  He doesn’t do anything.  Second, we’ll later be treated to Marcellus and Bernardo entering with, “My lord I saw him yesternight.”  It’s like they just cut the context and shuffled it around and didn’t even attempt to smooth it over.  Boo.

Couple words on casting?  I hate hate hated Horatio.  If I could think of a way to blend the two words together I would. Horhatio maybe.  Imagine five minutes before showtime, somebody runs up to the director and says, “Bad news, our Horatio’s been hit by a bus!”  “No problem,” says the director, “Run down to the local Starbucks and grab the barista, he told me this morning that he played Horatio once in college.”  Boom, done.  Checkered flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a backpack that he never takes off, which gives him this hunched over sort of snivelly, groveling sort of character like he’s afraid to look Hamlet in the eye. All of his lines are delivered with a constant shaking of his head.  He’s also got some sort of speech impediment or something going on, which becomes more pronounced at the end of the play, where he sounds like he’s got something in his teeth.  It became grating after awhile.

I also hate the ghost.  They deliberately cut all the dialog about describing the ghost’s warlike appearance – I was waiting for the line about “wore his beaver up” because I like to see how Hamlet plays the “Then saw you not his face?” line.  But that’s all gone.  When we eventually see the ghost he’s dressed in normal kingly attire, not any sort of armor.  Fine.  But then he starts talking and oh dear god out comes this heavy accent….Irish, I think?  It was so horribly distracting I didn’t know what to do with myself.  No attempt to make it booming or ghostly or anything.  Or regal for that matter.  He sounded like a cross between somebody’s crotchety old grandfather, and the school janitor yelling at kids for running in the hall. I found it just laughably out of place.  Bardfilm liked it and suggests that he was channeling Olivier.  I don’t remember Olivier’s ghost well enough, so if he was, I missed it entirely.  He sounded entirely like he was chastising his son. Didn’t get much of a loveable father/son relationship, as I think about it.  Remember this is a Hamlet who was smelling his father’s scent on his old clothes a minute ago.  Now he’s getting yelled at.

Those are my two biggest casting complaints.  Claudius I liked – and I could swear I recognize him from other works?  Have to check that out.  Kind of doing that big, puffed out chest thing, like he’s “on” all the time and deliberately trying to present himself like a king.  Even in his delivery, which is why I mentioned above how different the ghost’s was, because the ghost was supposed to be a king as well.  Having said that, he’s pretty one-note the more I think about it.  I did like the paranoia that was coming off of him, though.  Especially after Polonius is killed, all his thoughts turn to “How do I make sure this isn’t pinned on me?”  I don’t recall that from, say, Patrick Stewart’s Claudius.  He was all business and had everything in control up to the end.  This guy seems like he’s always walking a tightrope with it all just falling apart.

I agree with Bardfilm that the first half of this production was significantly better than the second. Perhaps that’s because we saw all the tricks once and then they didn’t work multiple times. They do this cool “everything goes in slow motion” thing during Hamlet’s soliloquies, and the first time you see it it’s very neat.  But it’s not as shocking the next couple of times.  One scene I loved was the “chase” to capture Hamlet after he’s killed Polonius.  I don’t know that it’s always done this way, but this was a full-on “mobilize everyone in the castle, find Hamlet” manhunt, and it was awesome.  The lighting changed, the sound changed, everything.  You really got the feeling that, whether they loved Claudius or not, the whole castle jumped when he said jump.  More importantly, you realize that Hamlet was truly alone and that literally everyone in the castle was against him.  This was brought home (though perhaps accidentally) when he’s captured and I noticed that Marcellus and Bernardo are the ones holding guns on him.  Bardfilm wondered if that might not just be a case of doubling “generic soldiers” but I like my interpretation better, like they are soldiers forced to do their job because the king said so, whether they’ve got personal feelings about it or not.

So, let’s talk about Hamlet as a character. I absolutely loved it.  I believe that the key to understanding the entire play is to get inside Hamlet’s head.  His father’s died, his mother’s remarried, he’s had the crown stolen from him, his girlfriend won’t talk to him and won’t tell him why.  I think that there’s this gap that modern audiences often fail to leap between “I understand the words and know what they’re supposed to mean so I get what Shakespeare wants me to get”, and, “I feel something for that dude, I know what he’s going through.”   You *bought* everything Cumberland Bendybits was putting out there. You really felt like he was going through the anguish.  All of my favorite “minor” scenes hit just the notes I’ve always wanted to see hit:

* “Mother, you have my father much offended!”  It’s not “I’m exchanging word games with you because I’m a smartass,” it’s the tiniest of escape valves to let off the fury he has for her and his complete inability to understand how she could have done what she did.  This is where it’s all going to come out, and that’s just the start.  He’s not superior at this moment, he’s not going to put her in her place, he’s a son desperate to understand how his mother could have done what she’s done.

* The flute scene.  It’s a simple enough scene where he makes R (or is it G?) look like an idiot.  But you feel how truly alone he is in that moment.  These are supposed to be his friends. Sometimes I see R&G interpreted as schoolmates who weren’t really that close because Gertrude doesn’t really have a feeling for who her son’s friends are.  But here they really do look like old friends.  So when he asks “Then what makes you think you can play me so easily?” it’s not “Aha, caught you in a trap!” It’s a real question.  You were supposed to be my friend, but you too are in the employ of the guy that killed my father.

There are some overacted bits to be sure.  His emoting often comes out as screaming, particularly during Ophelia’s funeral.  I still bought it, I just wasn’t as sympathetic to it.  Sure, he’s mourning Ophelia’s death – but he’s also the guy that crashed a funeral unexpectedly and is now trying to story top everybody that he’s got more right to mourn than everybody else.

The ending is so rushed, it made me so sad.  I could have used another 15 minutes, easily.  It goes so fast you can barely tell when somebody’s been wounded.  Horatio’s the one to say “The drink is poisoned!” which was a little weird, I broke out my WTF face again, how does he know?  At least Gertrude (who is supposed to deliver the line) is in a better position to realize it.  But here, she dies as soon as she drinks it.  It’s all chaos.

Overall I loved it and I want  a DVD so I can watch again with my kids. I want to pick apart all the individual delivery of every line.  Many times they tweaked words here and there, which I suspect will make people insane, but for the most part, I was ok with it.  What frustrates me most about that is not always being able to tell when they’ve changed a line, and when I’ve merely forgotten the original line.  I think this was a very approachable production. People laughed in the audience. Often, and not in high brow academic chuckle when you’re the only few people who got the joke.  Everybody got the joke. Most of the time it came from Bibbityboo’s delivery of key lines.

Go see it if you can.  No question.  It’s one to discuss.  Will it become the standard for classroom learning?  Unlikely.  Too much stuff changed.  But will it be a popular choice among larger audiences?  I definitely think so.

 

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Review : Heuristic Shakespeare with Sir Ian McKellen

This review is all kinds of late, given that the app was released back in April for Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. But an app this complex takes time to review properly, and.I wanted to do it justice. I really, really wanted to like this app. I just don’t, and it makes me sad.

I’ve imagined an app like Heuristic Shakespeare forever. A true multimedia creation that allows you to explore Shakespeare’s work in the way that works for you. Do you want to read, or watch video? Do you want it paraphrased and explained to you, or do you want the original text? How about both? How about actors like Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen reading the text to you? I think that alone is part of the genius of this app. They’re not acting it, this is not a performance. They’re reading it like an audio book – but, this being an iPad, there’s still video. So it’s like the greatest Shakespeare talent of our generation is your own personal tutor, reading alongside you.

The problem that there is just oh so much packed into the app, that the interface is a mess. Half the time I find myself just pressing random buttons, never sure what comes up next. Sometimes I’ve got the text, sometimes I’ve got a character map telling me (with little thumbnail faces) which characters appear in which scenes. Oh, wait, now it’s a modern English translation. Hold on, now I’ve got essays and videos *about* the play.

I love that all of this stuff is in there. Imagine it, you’re on a particular scene you’ve always liked. First you have Sir Ian reading it to you. All the hard words are highlighted and footnoted so you an always pause and make sure you understand what’s being said. Do you understand what’s happening in the scene? Flip to the modern translation and get a quick refresher. How has this scene been performed? Click somewhere else and you get a historic list of famous performances, complete with images. If you’re into the academic side (maybe you’re doing your homework), there’s also a mode where you can learn all about character development and themes and all that fun stuff your teacher requires that sucks the life out of just sitting back and enjoying the show 🙂

I have a perfect example of my frustration. I’ve mentioned several times that our greatest Shakespeareans can read the text along with you, in video, right? I lost that. I cannot find it, and I want it. I can get audio, but my video has disappeared. I don’t know if it’s a bug in the app where it’s legitimately no longer showing me an option that it’s supposed to, or if I’m doing something wrong, or what. And I think my regular readers probably know that I’m not exactly a newbie at this stuff. If I can’t figure it out, something’s wrong.

[UPDATE – I found it!  The videos only appear when the app is in portrait mode.  I was reading in landscape.  Very happy to have found my videos again.  Of course, my iPad is in a keyboard case so it’s much more convenient to keep it in landscape but I guess I’ll live.]


This app needs to exist. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen to the ideal Shakespeare browser. If I recall it’s on the expensive side for a mobile app — did they want $5.99 for it? But if you told me that’s the “player” price and that I can add content for additional plays at a lower amount, it’s a no brainer.

I just hope that they rethink large parts of the interface. I don’t know how, exactly, but it needs something. This is an app that even has a built in “What level of detail would you like?” feature so that it can be enjoyed by amateurs and scholars alike, so you’d think that a great amount of effort went into the design of the interface. Unfortunately I think it all went into trying to cram in as many trees as possible, and they lost track of the forest.

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