Shakespeare’s Red Wheelbarrow

I remember studying poetry in high school.  William Carlos Williams and his chickens:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Or his poor old woman:

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand
They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her
You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand
Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her
They are simple, yet so memorable.  Both of those were some random lesson on some random day, thirty years ago. Yet when I found this link and this idea I knew exactly which ones to go get.
A new psychology study claims to have determined what makes poetry pleasing, and it’s using sonnet 18 as a thumbnail so you know I was going to click on it.  What do they say is the secret?
Sensory imagery.
The sights, sounds, smells. Those are what make the poem leap off the page and into your brain, where it stays.  The Williams poems I selected are pretty obvious examples, the first reducing it all down to the red wheelbarrow next to the white chickens.  You may ask yourself, “Why are we studying this?” or “What am I supposed to get out of this?” but you can’t deny the image that pops into your brain.  I never really knew what to do with “glazed with rain water,” though. That’s just not a visual image for me.
My first that is that sonnet 18’s not really the greatest choice.  What images does it paint, exactly?  Show me “a summer’s day” or “rough winds” or “his gold complexion dimmed.”  I think Shakespeare’s playing the game at a different level than Williams.  Those aren’t sensory images in the “sights and sounds” category, those are deeper.  Those are more about the experience of something you’ve felt.  We’ve all experienced hundreds of summer days, days when it’s too hot or days when it’s too cloudy.  We don’t have to paint a picture in our mind’s eye, we just feel it.
Earlier today I was talking favorite sonnets with someone and brought up 29, which I think is another great example. You can’t paint me a picture of “my state from sullen earth singing hymn’s at heaven’s gate” or “troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries,” but damnit if I can’t feel it in my bones, can’t you? I remember reciting 29 on the fly at work one time and this girl stopped me and said, “What’s bootless mean?” and it so caught me by surprise that I didn’t even have an answer for her. She was thrilled to have stumped me, but I was left thinking, “If you’re stringing it together one word at a time, you’re missing the point. You have to feel it.”
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Holiday Shakespeare Gift Guide 2017 : Games

Happy Holidays, everyone!  It’s been a long time since I rounded up a Shakespeare gift guide.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the years to see just how many Shakespeare games are on the shelves these days.  I’ve also noticed that when they come up, either on Facebook or Twitter, there’s always a slew of people saying, “I had no idea this existed, OMG!”  So why not take the opportunity to get them all together?  Some of these I have played, some I have not.  In full disclosure these are affiliate links, so if you end up purchasing something that looks good, it helps support Shakespeare Geek.

Let’s get started!

The Ones I Have

Munchkin Shakespeare

We have the regular Munchkin game at home, so late last year when I saw a Shakespeare version on Kickstarter I immediately backed it.  The game is a fun take on the “dungeon crawl” where you’re one of a bad of explorers trying to arm yourself with weapons, battle monsters and collect treasure on your way to level 10.  It’s primarily about the cards – draw a monster who comes with a fighting score, arm yourself from the cards in your hand in an attempt to boost your own fighting score to beat the monsters.  The catch is that the rules allow the other players to gang up on you, hurling curses that lower your score, adding more monsters and so on, so it really puts the “melee” into the combat.  The Shakespeare version comes with all themed cards, so you might run into “The Head That Wears The Crown” as your monster, a disembodied head that steals your headgear and uses its powers against you.  Or maybe you get the “Good Deed in a Naughty World” card where you can undo bad stuff that happened to another player, and gain a level for yourself.

Playing Shakespeare

 Ok, it’s only partially accurate to say I “have” this, as I used to have it, back in college.  I think it’s probably even out of print now, but it is still available on Amazon from third-party sellers. This one’s quite easy to explain – it’s charades.  All the clues are Shakespeare quotes.  You get to say a part of the quote, but then if your partner doesn’t know it, you have to act out the rest.  This one’s great fun for a theatre crowd who is at least somewhat knowledgeable about Shakespeare quotes, because some they’ll get, some they’ll have no idea, and some they’ll wrack their brain to remember how the second half goes.  I vividly remember my partner reading, “Even now that old black ram is …” and pretending like I didn’t know the answer because I wanted to see how she acted out “tupping your white ewe.”  🙂  And then there was the kid, I forget his name, who swore that he was the Henry V expert and was waiting for Henry V quotes .. but then when one came around, he got it wrong.

The Ones I Want

 Bards Dispense Profanity

If you think this one sounds familiar, you’re right – it’s a Shakespearean spin on the hugely popular “Cards Against Humanity.”  If you’ve not heard of that one, maybe you’ve heard of the children’s version “Apples to Apples”?  The idea is that you take turns throwing down a saying with some blanks to fill in, then the other players anonymously offer one of their cards to fill in the blank. The referee (whoever put down the initial card) then decides the winner of each round based on … whatever rules they choose, honestly.  Often it descends into the most outrageous combinations available.  For example, a starter card might be, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely ________.”  You know the answer of course, but it’s not about that, it’s about what cards you have in your hand.  Maybe you choose to play, “Cupid’s butt-shaft.”  Getting the idea?  Not your parents’ card game.  Apples to Apples is completely safe, Cards Against Humanity is only to be played by the closest of friends, this one’s probably somewhere in the middle. Doesn’t have to be dirty and offensive…but it can be if you prefer it that way.

Great Shakespearean Deaths

 I admit I’d never heard of this one until I went looking, and I’m still not really sure how to play it, but just from the look of the cards alone, I want it.  Every card appears to be a death, described and quantified. Lady Macbeth’s death, for example, gets a 0 for “Last Words” and a 4 for “Fairness”.  Brutus, meanwhile, gets a 6 for Last Words and a 5 for “Gore and Brutality.”  Not really sure how you score the game or how you win? But I like that it appears to have an opportunity for education since you’re almost certain to see cards for characters you’re not always intimately familiar with.  And it looks like it wouldn’t take much knowledge of Shakespeare to get started.

The One I Still Don’t Understand

When the topic comes up, inevitably somebody suggests, “Shakespeare The Board Game.”  But …

“Shakespeare Board Game”
“Shakespeare – The Board Game”


which one??? Although the one on the right over there is technically called “The Bard Game”, get it? Even Amazon’s got the title listed as “The Board Game”. In both, you play an entrepreneur who is trying to run a theatre by putting on the best plays.  Are these two different versions of the same game?  It seems like it, but I honestly can’t tell. The images are different – the “bard” game works you around a path on a board, while the other one appears more card oriented.  I wonder if there’s some sort of cool backstory here where it started out life as the same game and then two people went in different directions with it?

That’s All For Now

There you have it, the best of the “games” based on Shakespeare.  Did I miss any?  I hope to put out a couple of these guides in time for Christmas, and I’d like to do something for “toys” to encompass all the crazy bobble heads and finger puppets that are out there (many of which currently adorn my desk).  If you’ve like to see a particular category let me know in the comments!

Obligatory Awkward Self-Promotion

Available in long sleeve!
And short sleeves!

I’m sure most of you know that I do have a line of Shakespeare Geek merchandise available on Amazon now, both short sleeves t-shirts and long sleeve.

 

I will not be doing a specific Shakespeare gift guide just for t-shirts, mostly because there’s over 100 designs available now.

Of course I’d love to sell many of them, those support the site more directly than the occasional affiliate link. Even if you’re not buying for yourself, maybe send a link to Grandma and Aunt Susan next time they ask you what you want?  It’s all about getting more Shakespeare out there into the world.  Thanks for your support!

 

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How Shakespeare Changed My Life : RIP Earle Hyman

You may have already heard, but Earle Hyman, perhaps most known to modern audiences as the grandfather on The Cosby Show, passed away this weekend.

But did you know, other than the occasional Shakespeare skit on that show (for which, we point to Bardfilm), that Mr. Hyman was in fact an accomplished Shakespearean actor?  Here he is, from 2016, talking about How Shakespeare Changed My Life.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hyman. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Also, how did I not know about this series?!  Looks like there’s a good 50 episodes of famous people talking about nothing but Shakespeare.  I know what I’m doing over Thanksgiving break!

 

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Hello, New Friend!

A few weeks ago one of the senior managers at work told me, in casual converastion, “We just hired somebody you’re going to like. He’s got Shakespeare on his resume.  First time I think I’ve seen that.”

“Cool,” I reply.  “What roles? What company?”

“I didn’t ask,” manager says, laughing.  “I was more interested in his data science experience.”

“Nonsense,” says I, “Everyone you interview has data science e

xperience. How often do you get to talk about Shakespeare?”

“I’d rather talk about data science!”

Later that day, the CEO himself swings by my desk to say, “Guess what?  You’re gonna love this, we hired a Shakespeare guy.”

“Cool!” I say, “Any idea what he’s played, or where?”

“Didn’t think to ask,” says the CEO who is now walking away, truly a “drive by” moment.  Then I hear him call out, “Oberon?” from the staircase.  But that’s the end of the conversation.

Since the hiring manager and the CEO noticed the Shakespeare and thought to bring it to my attention, I’m wondering whether somebody will bring this new hire around to meet me when he arrives.  We’re growing fairly rapidly at this point, maybe 2-4 people a week (for a 100 person company that’s a pretty good rate!) so individual meet and greets are rare.

At one point I meet a new manager, grey haired gentleman, older than me.  I wonder if it might be him. But he would have seen the Shakespeare stickers on my laptop, and doesn’t make the connection, so maybe not.

I should just wear a t-shirt that says, “Ask me about Shakespeare.”

I’m at my desk a few days later when I hear behind me, “Is that Yorick?”  I turn to see a different new hire, who I’ve already met, pointing at the skull on my desk.  (What, you don’t have a skull on your desk?  I could take the easy way out and claim it was a Halloween decoration that I haven’t taken down yet, but I also went as Shakespeare for Halloween, so I’m just keeping it.)

This is my new Shakespearean friend.  He’s a much younger guy, I’m guessing probably late twenties?  Quite tall.  I ask what roles he’s played and he tells me, “Gloucester. Macduff. Oberon.”  Damn, not too shabby!  We talk briefly about the Tempest, which he tells me he’s interested in but not too familiar with, because he hasn’t yet had the chance to play Prospero. He hasn’t been with a professional company, he’s talking purely about high school / college experience.  Still, though – the opportunity to play that many major Shakespearean roles? That’s a lot of Shakespeare. I can only hope my kids get that kind of opportunity.

No clue how often Shakespeare will come up in the hallways. I’m very self conscious about boring people with my favorite topic, so I tend to let it come up organically and then jump in, rather than always being the one to bring it up. Now I know there’ll be at least one other person who gets my jokes!

 

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Pirates at Play

This isn’t really much of a Shakespeare story but I’ve been starved for content lately.

This weekend my family was on a mini-vacation and saw a sort of travelling Pirates museum, sponsored by National Geographic, about the wreck of the Whydah.  As you might expect, I spent the time looking for Shakespeare references!  But alas, the time frame here was more 1700’s, so not a lot of Shakespeare to be found.

But I did find this funny story:

Pirates even performed plays on ships. The Whydah crew staged a play about a mock pirate trial called The Royal Pirate. A group of crewmembers, the worse for drink, missed the first act. They stumbled in — clueless that a play was being performed — just as one of the actors was being sentenced to death for piracy.

Outraged, they leapt to his defense, throwing hand grenades and drawing their cutlasses, breaking the actor’s leg, taking the arm off the playwright, and killing a member of the audience.

I think the visual is hysterical, though I can’t imagine how that worked in reality.  Just how drunk were they that it never dawned on them that they were watching a pirate trial on a pirate ship where judge and jury were all their fellow pirates?

 

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Happy Halloween! Or, How Could They Not Get This?

For years I’ve thought about dressing as Shakespeare for Halloween.  I knew that the key would be letting my beard grow out so that I could shave it into Shakespeare’s iconic shape.  I wouldn’t want to do something attached or painted on.

This year I decided to go for it. I’ve never been especially interested in created a ruff (despite plenty of instructions online for how to do it), but I knew that Chandos had a very simple collar, not much more than you might see on a regular dress shirt.  I started analyzing the portrait.  Basic black shirt? Check.  Big white collar? I must have an old dress shirt that I can wear underneath.  Couple of white strings it looks like, danging down the center, some sort of lacing.  That’s easy as well, even if I just get a shoelace.

I can’t do much about the hair, but I let it grow as long as I could.  It starts to get wild on the sides, but I end up looking more “nutty professor” than immortal bard.  I had enough to work with that I could do the beard.

I expect people to not get my costumes. So I like to bake in hints. I got the idea to print myself up a name badge that included the Chandos portrait, so people would literally have the image in front of them to compare.  I found a template online and filled it out how you’d expect – William Shakespeare, Poet/Playwright, 4/23/1564.  Bonus, I could use the white string around my neck to hold it, like a lanyard.

I also decided I needed the earring.  Nobody thinks of Shakespeare with an earring, but I figure they’d notice it immediately on me, and then they’d double check the portrait to see, and it would be like an anchor to make the whole thing work.

Ready to see the final product?

I’m biased, so I can’t tell how close I actually came.  At the last minute my wife suggested I dye my hair brown (rather than grey!) which I think helped a lot, and allowed me to emphasize the moustache more.  I think I could have done better with the collar.

How’d it go at work?  I’m a little surprised more people didn’t get it.  Very glad I did the name badge because once people saw that, it was obvious.  I kept telling people, “This had to be the most telegraphed costume in history, I’ve literally been carrying a picture of it around for the entire two years you’ve known me.”

Extra credit to the one guy who, immediately upon seeing me, said, “Honestly, how often have you dressed like that?”  That dude gets it.

Somebody asked what my options would have been for pants (I opted for jeans, and kept the costume to just the top).  I repeated Bill Bryson’s story from his Shakespeare book:  “Shakespeare deniers will claim that there’s no evidence Shakespeare owned any books, therefore he must not have owned any books. To that I say, there’s also no evidence that he ever owned any pants.”

What did you dress up as?  Let’s see some pictures!

 

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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.

“What?”

“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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You Only Get One Shot

For some reason on the ride in to work today I was thinking about Sir Derek Jacobi.  That’s not even a “the reason is not important,” that’s “No, seriously, I honestly can’t remember.”  I do remember thinking, if I had the chance to interview the man, what would I even say? I hate that fake, “I’m such a big fan I’ve seen all your movies you’ve changed my life” stuff. Other than a clip of his Hamlet I’m not sure how much else I could name.

But then walking to work, for a brief moment, I thought I saw Sir Patrick Stewart. Whether the former led to the latter, I have no idea.  It wasn’t him, but it could have been one of those, “I saw a celebrity at a distance and I had the chance to yell something at him…” moments.  All I could think to yell would have been, “Why did you have Claudius shrug opposite David Tennant’s Hamlet?”  It’s always bothered me.  And I have no idea how I’d yell italics, but I could give it a shot.

I thought that would make a fun game.  Pick one of the modern Shakespeare gods – Sir Ian, Sir Patrick, Dame Judi, etc… You get the random opportunity to shout a single question at them.  Which celebrity and what’s your question?

Don’t throw away your shot!

 

 

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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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Not By Shakespeare : An Empty Barrel Makes The Most Noise


Last week there was a bit of nonsense in the news when some politician called another politician and “empty barrel” making the most noise.  I do know the names of all parties involved, but we’re not here for the politics so why get into it?  The comment probably would have gone unnoticed, like so many idioms might, if it were not for the fact that woman on the receiving end of the comment immediately said, “That’s racist.”

Many people, myself among them, would be quick to point out that it’s not racist, it’s Shakespeare.  Henry V, Act IV Scene 4:

I did never know so full a voice issue from so
empty a heart: but the saying is true ‘The empty
vessel makes the greatest sound.’

I even repeated on Twitter that Shakespeare is the source of this quote.  But, for the record, he’s not.  It even says so right there in context if I’d been paying attention — “the saying is true”. It was already a saying when Shakespeare wrote it down.

The saying seems to date all the way back to Plato, although I can’t find any specific references as of yet.  Anybody got one, so we can make it official?

What I’m finding interesting is that the more I look into it the more I’m not sure I know what it was originally supposed to mean.  These days it’s used to imply that the people without anything intelligent to say (the empty barrels) are precisely the ones that won’t shut up.  But I’m not sure that’s what Plato would have meant?  I could just as easily imagine it as more complimentary — “The person who is always open to learning new things is the one who will make the biggest impact in the world.”  That’s pretty much the opposite.

There’s supposedly a second half to the quote, “So they that have the least wit are the greatest blabbers,” which would clearly suggest the first meaning is the intended one.  But I learned a long time ago not to simply believe something is true because it shows up in a quotes database on the internet.

Thoughts?

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