Review : Sherlock Gnomes

Been there, explained that, bought the t-shirt.

When you heard that the sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet was Sherlock Gnomes and that it would still be the original cast of characters, you probably had the same thought I did. Is there going to be any Shakespeare in this?

The short answer is, “Yes, actually.”  But it’s in a way that most people will find funny, and Shakespeare geeks will groan and eye roll at.

Gnomeo has gone missing.  Dr. Watson has gone looking for him.  “Gnomeo! Gnomeo!” he cries.  “Oh, don’t make me say it.”  Heavy sigh.  “Wherefore art thou Gnomeo?”

It’s at this point that my entire table (we have a local movie theatre where you sit at a table and have dinner) turns to look at my reaction.  I throw my hands up in the air, roll my eyes and say, “Well, at least now I can justify getting a blog post out of it.”



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The Return of Gnomeo and Juliet

Sherlock Gnomes

Gnomeo and Juliet came out in 2011.  I was so excited at the prospect of a mainstream animated Romeo and Juliet that I literally tracked that one for five years in anticipation. It’s not even really about whether it was any good.  It exists.  It’s something.

So when I heard about a sequel back in 2016 I got all excited….briefly.  The sequel? is called Sherlock Gnomes. Huh? How do you do that?  Are Romeo and Juliet going to be characters in a Sherlock Holmes story? At the time I hoped for a storyline that involved Romeo and Juliet going looking for characters from Shakespeare’s other works.

Well, it opens this week, so now we get to find out. All the original characters are back along with their original voice actors (including Michael Caine and Maggie Smith). What I don’t see in the IMDB page are any other Shakespeare characters, so I don’t think I’m going to get my wish.

I just can’t get my head around the universe of the movie.  It appears as if all the characters have packed up and moved across town and are off an entirely new and unrelated adventure.  We’ve talked a lot about Shakespeare sequels over the years, but somehow I don’t think we ever broke out of that fundamental assumption that the sequel, you know, continues the original story in some way.

Not this time!  The writers here have fired up the franchise machine, dipped into ye olde public domain bin, and pulled out Sherlock Holmes.  Maybe if this one is a hit (yeah, right) they can tackle Frankenstein next?  Or maybe Alice in Wonderland?

But seriously, who am I kidding?  If there’s a chance there’s some Shakespeare in this I’m still going to see it.


Venn Shakespeare


Venn vs Euler Diagram
Venn <-> Euler

The most popular post I’ve ever made is the one depicting Shakespeare’s works as a Venn Diagram (although technically that shape is an Euler Diagram).  That post on Facebook has garnered over 2 million views at this point, and hundreds of comments. People have asked me if it is available as a poster (as far as I know it is not – I did not create the original image).

The problem is, I don’t like it.  Most of the comments are of the form “Why do you have play X in this category but not that one?” and “You forgot to put Y in the Z category” and so on.  The categories (Suicide, War, Romance, Supernatural) are, I think, too broad.  Does Romeo and Juliet count as war between the two families?  I would say no, but some people disagree.  How about Much Ado About Nothing? It starts with the men coming home from war.

So here’s what I propose.  Can we make a better one, or a set of better ones?  Something that more people can agree on? If we can make something that’s generally agreeable to a large audience I’ll be happy to make it available as a poster / stickers / t-shirt / etc…

I’ve been working with Bardfilm on some new categories.  The goal would be to find a set such that:

  • All plays are represented by at least one category.
  • Minimize the number of categories that have no entries.
  • No single category has too many entries.

What categories would you like to see?  “Supernatural” made our list as well.  I was thinking “Insanity” might be a good one. Bardfilm proposed “Fake Deaths” and “Cross-Dressing”.  If we can’t agree across all the categories we can look at doing one for Comedy, one for Tragedy, one for History, but I think those would end up looking a little sparse, and I’d feel bad about leaving out Romance.

What other ideas have you got for us? Tell us the category you think should be on our diagram, and which plays would be in it.


Unseen Scenes

For reasons too complicated to mention I was fast forwarding through King Lear with the kids last night, jumping to the ending.  I knew it wouldn’t really capture their attention the way I hoped, and I’d have to explain 90% context, but I’m ok with that :).

Which gave me an idea, as I explained how Cordelia died.  Shakespeare gives us lots of action off stage, for whatever reason.  Sometimes modern directors will go ahead and add the scene to make things easier to follow – I’m thinking of Romeo and Juliet‘s wedding scene as an obvious example.  Many people will swear that they’ve seen Romeo and Juliet’s wedding and refuse to believe that Shakespeare never wrote that scene, because it was in the 1996 movie.

What other scenes fit the bill?  I’d love to see Lear’s last desperate act trying to protect his daughter.  I can see the whole thing quite clearly (having just watched Olivier’s version doesn’t hurt).  Cordelia and Lear are sitting happily in a cell.  Enter guard with a rope, who roughly pulls her away despite Lear’s protests. He tries to protect her but is no match for the guard who hurls him back to the ground. The guard struggles with Cordelia and drops his sword so he can use both hands (having been ordered to hang her, not stab her).  Behind his back Lear recovers the sword and does the scoundrel in, just as the messenger from Edmund (et al) arrives screaming for them to stop the execution.

What else?  Petruchio and Kate’s wedding scene writes itself, that’s an easy one.  Then you have Macduff beheading Macbeth, but I don’t think of that one as a really necessary scene, there’s just not much to it.

Which ones am I missing?




A Shakespeare Framework

A coworker challenged me to participate in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writer’s Month.  If you’re not familiar, this contest challenges writers to create a complete fifty thousand word novel in just thirty days. Technically November is past, but there’s no reason why you can’t attempt the challenge any month you like.

I’m not scared of word count. Most of the time you need me to cut words out.  What I can’t do is stream of consciousness for that long. I can’t just start writing and assume that a novel will plop out at the end.  I’m a computer programmer by trade, and you can’t just open up a text editor not knowing whether you’re going to end up with an ecommerce site or a mobile videogame.

What we do is start with a framework.  Just like a building has a floor, four walls and a roof, the same logic is true of software projects. A video game has backgrounds, sprites, controls, a scoreboard. An ecommerce site has navigation, a shopping cart, buy buttons.

So naturally before I’d attempt a novel I’d ask whether there’s a framework I can start with.  See where I’m going with this?  Whether it’s The Lion King, Forbidden Planet or West Side Story, there’s clear precedent for taking the minimal plot elements of a Shakespeare play and then rebuilding your own story. I immediately thought of doing something along the lines of The Tempest, although I’ll have to make it a point to stay out of Forbidden Planet territory.

What I was wondering, though, is whether we can make a framework out of all the plays. Everybody does Hamlet or King Lear or Romeo and Juliet. Could you use, say, Coriolanus as your starting point?  What would that look like?

Pick a play, and break it down to the minimal plot skeleton. Hamlet, Disney taught us, is any story where the uncle figure kills the king and the son has to take his rightful place on the throne. Romeo and Juliet has been reduced to “two groups of people don’t like each other, until one from each side falls in love.”

Pick a harder one. What’s the framework for A Midsummer Night’s Dream?


Tae Kwon Ado About Nothing

A few years back I wrote about Decorating Your Life with Shakespeare.  I’ve never been the kind of outgoing personality that will walk up to somebody and make conversation (or even introduce myself).  But if I’m a walking billboard for Shakespeare, and people want to start the conversation by asking me something?  Then they’ll have a hard time shutting me up.

Saturday I’m at my son’s martial arts class waiting.  It’s one of the more informal classes, a glorified practice session. The head instructor isn’t even there, but his right hand man is.  And his right hand man has time to interact with the parents.  For my part, I bring my laptop and do stuff.  See earlier note about socializing. 🙂

“You got new stickers,” the instructor says to me.


“Your laptop.  I noticed you’ve got a new Shakespeare sticker on your laptop.” My laptop has a Chandos picture and the “Some achieve greatness…” quote, a gift from my kids last year. That’s my personal laptop.

I laugh.  “Nope,” I say, reaching into my backpack to pull out a second laptop, that also has Shakespeare stickers on it.  That’s my business laptop, and it has silhouette characters of Shakespeare and Hamlet .

The other parents move to see, so I turn around and show them off, one in each hand, feeling especially geeky.

“Speaking of which,” my son says, “How did your Shakespeare costume do at work?”  Spoiler alert – I dressed as the Chandos Portrait for my work’s Halloween party. But you have to wait for tomorrow’s post to see pictures 🙂

This leads to the instructor asking if I have pictures, which I do, and of course now all the parents are interested.  Long story short, instructor ends up putting RSC’s “Hamlet Abridged” on the television (where they normally just run a slide show of advertisements).  I get into a conversation with one of the parents, who happens to be a high school English teacher.  She tells me about how she shows her kids the Leonardo diCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet as well as Zeffirelli, but she has a special love for Gnomeo and Juliet.  I introduce her to Sealed with a Kiss, a movie that most people outside of this blog will have never heard of.  I hope she manages to find a copy!

We only just have time to get into the, “So, how did you get into Shakespeare?” conversation, which has no short answer :), but maybe next time.


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Why Some Scholars Hate Romeo and Juliet

or, What Play Can You Just Not Even?

Our pal Bardfilm is mad as hell, and he’s not gonna take it anymore!

He is so over Romeo and Juliet, that he’s decided no more productions for him. It has been plumbed to its depths, we have wrung all possible angles and meaning from it, it has been set in every possible time and space in the continuum. He’s seen enough, he can’t see any more.  In fact, he wants to eradicate it completely. Sort of.

Here’s his proposal. We keep the text, and we can read it whenever (if ever) we want. But if we elected some crazy dictator who’d been horribly bullied in high school for being a theatre geek and takes out his emotional issues by banning Romeo and Juliet from ever being produced again … Bardfilm’s totally ok with that.

Which of the works brings out similar resentment for you?  You’re in charge, you get to declare a complete moratorium on one Shakespeare play never to be performed again.

What’s it going to be? Shall it be Merchant of Venice, so people can stop arguing with you whether Shakespeare was anti-Semitic? Comedy of Errors, so directors can stop worrying where they’re supposed to find two sets of identical twins?  Maybe A Midsummer Night’s Dream so we can stop having kindergarten productions with five-year-old butterfly-looking fairies?

I’m totally going to take the easy road and pick Merry Wives of Windsor. I’ve literally never seen it, nor even read it (except during my brief “read them all” period in college).  But I also don’t know how much it “makes life better,” otherwise it probably would have hit my radar by now.  So, having never missed it, I figure I won’t miss it going forward.


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This Is Gonna Get Ugly

For my day job we have a very large email marketing business.  It’s normal conversation to talk about what others are doing, so when I got the following subject line in an email I laughed and showed it to my coworkers:

Make someone ugly cry. Adobe can help.

What I wrong as a comment was, “I know what they meant, but that’s the worst subject line I’ve ever seen.”  It sounds like Adobe’s offering to help you chase ugly kids around the playground and make them cry.

A couple days after that post, a coworker calls me over and says, “You posted something the other day and I’ve been meaning to ask you about it…I don’t get it?  You wrote, I know what they mean … but I don’t.  I don’t know what they mean? Is it like the optical illusion with the old woman and the young woman and I can only see the old woman?”

So I told him, “Claire Danes in the Leonardo DiCaprio Romeo+Juliet.”Clare Danes cry faceTurns out there’s actually several blogs and tumblrs dedicated to her cry face in particular, and she’s even been asked about it in interviews 🙂

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Romeo and Juliet Die in a Gunfight

I’m not sure how much Shakespeare we’re going to get in this one, but the coming action film starring Kaya Scoldelario and Josh Hutcherson is being billed that way:

The Mark Gordon Company has set Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) and Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets) to star in the action romance Die in a Gunfight, a modern update on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

More specifically the film, “will see Hutcherson and Scodelario as two star-crossed lovers Ben and Mary. Set against a backdrop of corporate espionage, revenge, and a long-standing feud between their families.”

If we hold this one to the same standard as Lion King, I wonder how well it would fare?  I’ve often said that the only way we can call “brother kills brother and son takes revenge” a Hamlet story is if we count all “lovers can’t be together because their groups hate each other” a Romeo and Juliet story.

Maybe we need to come up with a metric for how much Shakespeare something has to have in it before they get to use the name?

Let’s predict, shall we?  This will be fun.  For us to consider this a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet it should ideally have …

  • Two warring families (or other social groups) who hate each other just because.  They always have.  Maybe there’s backstory, maybe not, we don’t need one.
  • One representative from each family, who would like to see the families reconcile so they can be together.
  • A best friend / confidant for each.
  • One representative on each side (a Mercutio and a Tybalt) who are quite fine with them continuing to try to kill each other, thank you.
  • Some sort of time element driving the plot, such as Juliet’s marriage to Paris.  Something to keep it moving.
  • A Friar Laurence character to come up with a crazy “this’ll never work, but it’s our only hope!” plan.

You’ll notice I did not say “They have to end up dead.”  I’m actually quite ok with flipping to a happier ending, because if you don’t then you really do just rule out the possibility of any Disney or kid-friendly adaptations.

What do you think?  Something I missed? Something I put on my list that you can live without?

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Is Romeo and Juliet an Anti-Irish Rant?

There’s not much Shakespeare content in Neal Stephenson’s The Rise And Fall of D.O.D.O, much to my dismay. But there is a bit that’s new to me and worthy of discussion.  The story is a time travel one, and when our hero is transported back to Elizabethan England to hang out with an Irish prostitute, he wants to talk about Shakespeare. He notices that Romeo and Juliet is currently playing.

“It’s a shite play,” she responds, “Just a court sponsored rant against the Irish.”

She then cites her evidence:

  • the “villain” is a Catholic friar, and “everybody knows” Catholic is code for Irish.
  • his meddling is the cause of all suffering and the reason why the play is  tragedy and not a comedy
  • the friar’s name is Lawrence, obviously named for St. Labhras, who was martyred by a poison of his own concoction.

Is this a well known conspiracy theory, or did Stephenson make it up?  He’s got other examples, less specific – the one about the “terrible drunk Irish character staggering about the stage wailing about how all the Irish are villains and bastards and knaves” or the “English king who went to conquer Ireland, and he said the Irish live like venom.”

So, did Shakespeare hate the Irish?