Reddit’s Favorite Shakespeare

Hello /r/Shakespeare!Anybody that knows me knows that when I see a post titled 1000 Most Mentioned Books on Reddit (or, really, anywhere), the first thing I’m going to do is search it to see where Shakespeare shows up.  Any guesses?

I’d love to say more about who made the list and why and how, but there doesn’t seem much to go on. The post, on Medium, was made by BookAdvice.  Have to look more into that, see what other cool lists they have.  All we know about the methodology is, from the summary, “Sorted based on the number of upvotes and the number of different users linking to them in post and comments.”  I suppose that’s got a certain chronological bias — a book that came out last year couldn’t possibly compete with those that have been around since before Reddit.  But it does say “most mentioned” and not “best” or “most loved” or anything like that, so I suppose it’s accurate to say that a book that has existed for ten years will typically be mentioned more than a book that’s only existed for one.

Much of the list is highly predictable, if you know anything about Reddit.  Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy all rank in the top ten.  I’m pleasantly surprised to see To Kill A Mockingbird in there, and The Count of Monte Cristo (though not so pleasantly Catcher in the Rye.  Really, reddit?)  Thrilled to see J.K. Rowling’s name not appear until well after the 250 mark.  Not that her work is bad, just that I’m tired of seeing such brand new books always top the lists of “all time classics”.

Ok, you want the data?  Drum roll, please. Presented in reverse order, from least to most mentioned, we have …

905. The Taming of the Shrew

754. The Tempest

674. Merchant of Venice

625. King Lear

578. Much Ado About Nothing

568. Othello

371. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (*)

295. Macbeth

237. Romeo and Juliet

and the most mentioned work of William Shakespeare on Reddit is……

144. Hamlet

What do we think, any surprises?  Surely not the great tragedies, I think those became self-fulfilling long long ago.  Is Romeo and Juliet popular because it’s so good, or is it considered so good because it’s popular?  Little surprised about Othello, that one doesn’t usually get much love, and I’m kind of wondering if they took the time to rule out references to the board game.

When I first made this list, searching for the word “Shakespeare”, I was surprised to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream not make the list.  I had to go back and double check.  It’s because they’ve got it listed by, and I’m not kidding, SparkNotes.  I wondered if there were many on the list marked this way, but it turns out that’s the only one.  Glad I checked, I almost missed it!

Anything you think should be on the list that’s not there?  Hey, wait … where’s Twelfth Night?




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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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Dinner At The Montagues

I’m currently in the middle of a YA story that I think is playing itself out like a Romeo and Juliet, but I haven’t decided yet. But it made me think of an interesting question.

We get a very in depth look at the Capulet family in Shakespeare’s story. We see Lord Capulet in a good mood and a bad one. We see where Lady Capulet and the Nurse’s loyalties lie. We know Tybalt’s story.


Mom, Dad, this is Juliet.
My wife’s a statue! No, wait, wrong play.

But what about the Montagues? How would the story have played out if the shoe was on the other foot and Romeo invited Juliet over to dinner? What do we think Romeo’s parents would have done? I don’t think they would have had a problem with it. In fact, many interpretations seem to imply that the Capulets were more well off than the Montagues and thus this would be an advantageous marriages for the Montagues.



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B- For You, TV Guide

Skimming through the reviews of Still Star-Crossed I stopped on this one from TV Guide entitled, 6 Issues William Shakespeare Might Have With Still Star-Crossed.  The author says that we should dust off our freshman English copies of the play, but methinks she should have done the same.

The new series focuses primarily on Rosaline (Lashana Lynch), who in Shakespeare’s version was the unrequited object of Romeo’s affections before he ever laid eyes on Juliet. That means she had to be aligned with the Montagues or else the story would have been called Romeo & Rosaline. Shondaland not only switched Rosaline’s family allegiance, but made her an adopted servant of Lord (Anthony Head) and Lady Capulet (Zuleikha Robinson) — so she filled the role of Juliet’s nurse. She went from being a maiden of high society and the first love of Romeo (though she wasn’t into it) to being Juliet’s servant. Talk about a creative demotion.

She’s quite hung up on this point, because later in the article she adds this:

Though it will take some serious adjusting to get used to seeing Rosaline as a Capulet…

First of all, Rosaline is literally never in the original so it should take some serious adjusting to get used to seeing her *at all*.

But second and more amusingly …. what do you think, should we tell her?  Ok, yes, let’s tell her.


Stay, fellow; I can read.


‘Signior Martino and his wife and daughters;
County Anselme and his beauteous sisters; the lady
widow of Vitravio; Signior Placentio and his lovely
nieces; Mercutio and his brother Valentine; mine
uncle Capulet, his wife and daughters; my fair niece
Rosaline; Livia; Signior Valentio and his cousin
Tybalt, Lucio and the lively Helena.’ A fair
assembly: whither should they come?






To supper; to our house.


Whose house?


My master’s.


Indeed, I should have ask’d you that before.


Now I’ll tell you without asking: my master is the
great rich Capulet; and if you be not of the house
of Montagues, I pray, come and crush a cup of wine.
Rest you merry!


Rosaline is a Capulet in the original, too.  Don’t feel bad, it’s easy to miss that (heck, I only really paid attention to it last year).  But it’s precisely because she’s going to be at the party that Romeo is convinced to go.  I think the big mistake people tend to make is thinking that the Montague / Capulet thing is black and white, “every Montague will attempt to kill every Capulet they meet, and vice versa,” when really that’s not the case at all.  It’s far more likely that in these two substantially extended families, everybody in town is one or the other, and they basically get along.  It’s really only the heads of the families that still have “ancient grudge” issues.  So while maybe it was ok for Romeo to lust (because really, that’s what it is) after a second or third cousin, him waltzing into the patriarch’s party and trying to hook up with his only daughter?  Maybe not so cool.



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Review : Still Star-Crossed

Well, that was underwhelming.    I think I can give it more of a chance now that the pilot is out of the way and it becomes its own story, rather than having to recap the changes they made to the Shakespeare original.  But this just means that it pretty much gave us very little Shakespeare and will now promptly leave it all behind.

Right off the bat, Benvolio and Rosaline (who is now a servant in the Capulet house, even though she is still acknowledged as family) are witnesses to Romeo and Juliet’s wedding.  There is no Nurse character – Rosaline is Juliet’s confidant, which turns out to be a very small role.

Tybalt and Romeo meet in the streets, Mercutio – who we only saw briefly a few minutes ago and who has no real lines – dives into the fight, promptly gets killed, Romeo then kills Tybalt without a second thought.  He’s even a dick about it, when Tybalt says “I thought you wouldn’t fight me,” Romeo stabs him and says, “I lied” or “I changed my mind” or some other 1980’s action movie catch phrase. He then escapes in a ridiculous chase scene where one moment he’s sloshing through water with armed guards chasing him maybe 20 yards away, and in the next Friar Laurence is confronting Benvolio in a bar who says, “I gave Romeo a horse” and that’s that, he’s gone.  But no worries, he’s heard that his wife died, so he comes back.

We all know what happens next – fight scene with Paris, drink poison (did we even see where he got the poison? I may have missed it), Juliet wakes up, drinks poison too (ok, bit of a liberty there).  But!  Paris is still alive!

The story is surprisingly full of holes for modern primetime standards.  We open with Prince Escalus and his sister reassuring their dying father that everybody will know his proclamation – that anybody committing murder in Verona will be executed without trial.   It’s repeated several times.

First…isn’t this a thing anyway? The way they spell it out makes it sound like we’re missing something, like this isn’t normally the way things would be done in this time and in this place.  If you’re caught killing somebody, your life is forfeit.  Not sure why he’s so big on making sure everybody understands this “new” rule.

Second, as an example of the weak writing – when Isabella (Escalus’ sister) repeats their father’s proclamation she says, “Any man accused of murder in the city of Verona will be executed without trial.”  Excuse me?  Any man accused? Without trial?  Well that sucks.  “Hey,  I accuse that guy of murdering somebody.”  *stab*

But!  A few scenes later, when brother and sister are discussing it, here’s the dalogue:, Escalus is made to repeat, ”

Isabella “…until our father proclaimed…”
Escalus: “…That anyone who commits murder will be executed without trial.”

That’s literally NOT what he said, and Isabella knows that, since she said it herself two scenes ago.

Third, the whole thing is useless because not only does Escalus himself stab somebody soon after, but the entire city breaks out into a riot where people are just randomly killing each other in broad daylight all the time.  Maybe it’s a rule that will come back around later in the series?

There’s all kinds of other weird back story added.  Rosaline has a sister, and both come across like Cinderella to Lady Capulet’s wicked stepmother. I guess she resents them because she was jealous of their mother? They say Shakespeare’s hard to follow when he moves the plot along off stage, but I have no idea what’s going on here.

What this is all moving toward is Escalus ordering that Benvolio and Rosaline are to be married, to forcibly join the two houses.  It doesn’t help that Escalus and Rosaline love each other, and Benvolio sees them together.  I’m not sure why this matters, because Rosaline and Benvolio are playing the Beatrice/Benedick game and proclaim their hatred of each other every chance they get, so I’m not sure why Benvolio would suddenly be all jealous because a woman who he doesn’t love, who doesn’t love him, wants to be with a different guy.

Ultimately the only Shakespeare we really got was Mercutio saying “A plague on both your houses” and Romeo saying “Thus with a kiss I die.” Other than that this is just an entirely new story told with some of Shakespeare’s characters.  It might turn out to be good, but there’s no point in following or reviewing it as if it’s got anything to do with Shakespeare.  I’m still hoping for some flashbacks (I see that the IMDB entry for Romeo’s actor lists him as “unknown number of episodes”), but I’ll be surprised if we get any.  We’re far more likely to get back story for Rosaline – her mother (and mother’s death), her relationship with Escalus, and so on.


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Everybody Excited for Still Star-Crossed?

Still Star-CrossedTonight’s the night!  Shakespeare on prime time.  I can’t wait!

In case you missed it, Shonda Rhimes – Shonda “Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice, How To Get Away With Murder” Rhimes – is going to try her hand at something more Shakespearean with Still Star-Crossed, a Romeo and Juliet sequel based on the young adult novel by Melinda Taub.

Early reviews are hopeful but negative, calling it a rare misstep for Rhimes and hoping that the pilot’s overly complex story is something that all new dramas face as they’re forced to get in all the necessary back story. Sure they’re going to take some liberties (some big, some small). We have a new prince, taking over after his father’s death, but who is also named Escalus? That’s a rather forced twist just so that we can have a backstory romance between Rosaline (yes, Romeo’s Rosaline) and this new Escalus.  But he then goes off and proclaims that to join the two families, Rosaline has to marry Benvolio.  You’ve already lost me, Shonda.  There were no other Capulet cousins? You just had to pick the one that you like?  Apparently Escalus 2.0 has a sister, too, so start taking bets on how many episodes it takes before she gets into the romantic triangles.

I am cautiously hopeful.  Sure it’s not Shakespeare – but neither was Shakespeare in Love, and that did ok.  If you drop in enough Shakespeare content you can still manage to tell your own story while keeping the audience happy.  If you took any of the other shows she’s turned into gold and just documented the storyline, they’d sound equally convoluted.  Remind me again on Grey’s Anatomy which characters haven’t slept with each other?

And hey, if it doesn’t work we can turn our attention to Will on TNT, premiering later this summer.

And if that flops too look for Daisy Ridley on the big screen as Ophelia.

Is it me or are we seeing a real Shakespeare trend here?  I am totally ok with that.  So far nothing animated, nothing with lions.  Future looks promising!

Anybody else hoping for the best?

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Wherefore Did I Fail

I’m a horrible father.

My oldest, as I may have mentioned, is studying Romeo and Juliet in school. Today while driving her to school we were discussing Shakespeare and I’d joked about the possibility of creating a “Name That Shakespeare” game along the lines of “Name That Tune.”  You know, “I can name that Shakespeare play in 3 words!” sort of thing.  (More on that in a future post!)

To which she responds, “That would be impossible.” Thinks about it and adds, “Well, I suppose some would be easy. Where art thou.”

Not taking my eyes off the road I ask, “What’s that one from?”

“Romeo and Juliet,” she replies.

I immediately begin hitting the child.  “That’s not even funny!” I yell in mock horror. Maybe it wasn’t so mock.

Defending herself she retorts, “Why? What’s wrong with that? Is that not the line?”

“It’s wherefore art thou,” I correct.

“Right,” she says, “It means where are you.”

I immediately begin hitting the child again.  “Where did I go wrong? When did I fail you? Of all the things I’ve taught you, how did you miss this?  This is like the line in the sand between people who understand Shakespeare and who don’t.  It’s the go-to inside joke among Shakespeare geeks.  If you google “Shakespeare knock knock jokes“, you get this joke. I literally have a t-shirt with this joke written on it.  Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”


“Wherefore who?”


“I don’t get it.”

I didn’t actually push her out of the car, or disown her.  I may have thought about one or the other. She goes on to tell me how she honestly thought (up to this point I’d hoped she was kidding) that Juliet was looking for Romeo in the bushes.  *sigh*  I had to explain how, from her point of view, she’s never going to see the guy again, it was just two ships passing in the night. It’s not like they said “Come out on your balcony, I’ll meet you outside.”

I just honestly don’t understand how that went past her.  If you’d asked me I would have thought it was one of my most overdone jokes.  Surely they’d heard it a hundred times.  Shows what I know.  What else do I assume they know that they have no clue about?



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Art Thou A Man of Wax?

I may have mentioned, my daughter is studying Romeo and Juliet. Her teacher knows about our history and knowledge of the subject.  So the other day at dinner my daughter tells me, “Oh!  My teacher told me to call you a man of wax, and see how you react.”

They are referring to Nurse’s opinion of County Paris:

The valiant Paris seeks you for his love.

A man, young lady! lady, such a man
As all the world–why, he’s a man of wax.

My other daughter asked what man of wax means, so my oldest explained that it means perfect, like a sculpture.  I think it’s the wax that throws people off.  If she’d said “he’s like a bronze sculpture” or “he looks like he was carved out of granite” I think it would be more obvious, but it would also imply that Paris is some sort of imposing physique, and that’s not the case here.  He’s not solid like a rock, he’s shiny like wax.

I took it as insulting. I’ve always understood the term to have an implication of “all looks, no substance, empty inside.”  I explained this and my daughter said, “Well, yes, but we haven’t read that far yet, we don’t know anything about Paris’ character.”

County Paris, Man of WaxWhich I thought was a good point.  I’m interpreting it with the knowledge of the audience, that Paris while looks good “on paper,” he’s ultimately not her true love.  But Nurse obviously means it in the more superficial “I like what I see” sense. It’s really about how Juliet takes it.  She’s not really in the market for a man of wax.

No real groundbreaking revelation here, just one of those moments where you have to separate how you the audience interpret something from how the actual speaker means it, and how it is taken.

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

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What Makes or Breaks a Romeo and Juliet?

I can’t believe it’s taken this long, but this week my oldest is finally seeing an actual live Shakespeare production as part of her studies (i.e. not because I made it happen).  The production in this case is Romeo and Juliet (why is it always Romeo and Juliet?) and I’ve already told her that my assumption is she already knows moRomeo and Julietre about the play going in than anybody else in her class.

Since she’s already seen and read the play on her own, plot and character and all that stuff are out of the way (as has always been the plan).  So what I’d like to do is give her some suggestions to watch out for that will make this particular interpretation different.  In other words, it’s a great opportunity to discuss how everybody gets the same script, but every production is different.

What do you suggest?  For instance, I’m a big fan of watching the minor characters. I think they can really fill out the play when you give them a chance.  How’s Friar Laurence?  Is he just an incompetent adult, or should we see him as more of a villain who brings about all the tragedy because he is overly zealous in his desire to be the one who ends the feud?

Similarly consider Lord Capulet.  Which face is the right one? The one that says Juliet must decide for herself to marry Paris? Or the one that says do what I tell you or get out of my house?  I’ve always thought of him as a bad guy. But I’ve had people defend him, saying he’s merely a man with a temper who doesn’t mean what he says.

Another question I like to ask is how violent is the conflict between the two families in this version?  I don’t like the overly violent interpretation where both sides are always this close to killing each other. I prefer to believe that the grudge is dying out. Both sides now are all talk and bluster but neither is really serious about doing injury to the other. That way, Mercutio’s death is an accident. Even Tybalt is surprised – which makes Romeo’s revenge darker because while Tybalt accidentally killed Mercutio, Romeo deliberately killed Tybalt.

See what I’m talking about? When you see Romeo and Juliet for the umpteenth time, what are you paying close attention to?

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Oh,When I Shall *Die*! Now I Get It!

Rosenbaum’s Shakespeare Wars continues to be the most serendipitous book I’ve ever read.  By that I mean that I’m never quite sure when I’ll turn the page into a new chapter and he’ll be talking about something I was just talking about two days ago. In this case it’s the “When I shall die” line (as opposed to “When he shall die”) that we talked about last month.  Certainly it’s supposed to be “Give me my Romeo, and when he shall die, cut him out in little stars….” rather than the version Luhrman gives us, “When I shall die, cut him out in little stars….” After all, if he’s not dead, why are you cutting him up?  Oddly, though, my googling showed that most Shakespeare versions do in fact have it as I, not he. Rosenbaum gets to this near the end of his book, speaking of a trip to Bermuda. He even points out that most editors do indeed go with the “he” version (which is apparently Fourth Quarto) because the “I” version makes no sense. And what Rosenbaum offers (not his own hypothesis, but rather one he heard, though I do not have the book handy to quote the original author) immediately makes sense to me, I’m just not sure if I love or hate it.  He goes back to the more bawdy version of “die”, namely “orgasm”.  He says that Juliet, a mere 13 yrs old and not married, is to put it bluntly thinking about wedding sex, and how good it’s going to be.  You have to admit, if you make that little word translation, it still fits.  Now you’ve got an anxious young girl, in love but also certainly in lust, waiting for that big moment when … ummm….hmm, how can we say this and keep it clean?  Shall we say, when she gets to consummate her marriage?  It’s going to be so good, she tells herself, that all she’ll see are stars, and her Romeo.  (I’m not sure when all the rest of the world comes into it, though?) I love it because it works, pretty much.  It’s somewhat crude, it’s the sort of thing you don’t talk about when you talk about the story like it’s the greatest love story ever told, but sex is certainly a part of that type of love, and it’s certainly believable that a virginal bride-to-be is contemplating what it will be like.  (Now that I’ve seen that interpretation, other parts begin to fall into place –  “I have bought the mansion of a love, but not possessed it, and though I am sold, not yet enjoyed”???) I hate it because it destroys what I consider to be one of the most romantic lines in the entire play.  It’s an opportunity for Juliet to explain how much Romeo means to her.  Normally it’s the guy spouting all the poetry and the “You’re my world” stuff.  Sometimes it’s nice to hear it back the other way.  What would Juliet do without Romeo?  She would repaint the heavens in his image, and the rest of world would say, “Wow, yeah, we like that better.  Who is that guy?”  🙂   Thoughts?  Nobody mentioned the sex interpretation the first time we discussed that line, so I’m curious if it is a popular interpretation.