The Tempest Is A Bad Play

Got your attention?  Because it certainly got mine when I read it.

I didn’t write it — this guy did.

A friend cc’d me on a shared post, knowing that a clickbait headline like that was guaranteed to make me a little nuts.  It did.

His argument appears to be that Prospero is too powerful, and his enemies don’t stand a chance against him, therefore it’s boring to watch what we know will be his ultimate triumph over them.  I think this guy maybe thought he was going to see Infinity War or something. He’s describing Shakespeare like a superhero movie and he’s disappointed that there weren’t enough explosions.

He also seems bewildered at this idea that we know how the play is going to end, therefore it stinks:

We must root for him, and we know at every moment that he — yawn — will triumph.

…but you know in an instant how that’s going to end up; there’s no more suspense in it than in the Harlem Globetrotters taking on the Washington Generals.

I wonder how he feels about Romeo and Juliet?

At the end, though, he seems to actually get it:

There is a scene toward the end of the play in which Ariel expresses sympathy for Prospero’s enemies, laid low as they are from Prospero’s magic. Prospero marvels at the fact that the inhuman Ariel can experience empathy, where he, though human, cannot. And at that moment Prospero has his singular insight, which turns his life around: although he himself is at present incapable of empathy, he must act as though he has empathy for others, and, over time, learn to acquire it. And to do so, he must give up his god-like powers, and take his share in the human heart.

Like the kids say, and excuse my language, No Shit, Sherlock. That’s the story that’s in front of you the whole time.  Did you think that the director and actors put it there? I don’t follow how you get off calling the play terrible for half your word count, and then saying “But, this production was amazing.”  Were you scarred by a bad high school production when you were a child?

This guy’s bio suggests he’s actually seen Shakespeare more than once, so the only possible explanation I can find for this nonsense is that he’s trolling us.  He also takes a random slap at Coriolanus, which is apparently also terrible.  I’m surprised he didn’t say Hamlet is overrated and Falstaff’s not that difficult a role to play.

 

 

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BardBots, Or, How Did I Miss This?!

Though the “geek” in Shakespeare Geek refers primarily to our obsession with our favorite subject, I am still a lifelong computer geek by trade and have always kept a special eye on crossover projects that map Shakespeare onto the digital world, be in apps, video games…

Students study monologues from Shakespeare, annotate for characterization and blocking, then they are challenged to program robots to perform the scenes.

…or, sure, why not? Robots performing scenes.  Sounds awesome.

In honor of Shakespeare’s 454th birthday…

Wait, what?

April 23, 2018

This is over two months old?!  I’m slipping in my old age. Can’t believe this flew completely under my radar.

Note that this is a classroom project, not something out of Westworld.  The robots are basic, the environment is basic.  A long time ago, a professor named Terry Winograd made huge advances in natural language processing in a project called SHRDLU that did nothing but move colored blocks (“Put the red square on the yellow rectangle”, “Where is the blue pyramid?”, etc…)  This project reminds me a lot of that.

Just last week we were talking about Patrick Winston’s work in training an AI to understand Macbeth.  Over on this side, we’re training robots to act it out. Can’t wait to see how they meet in the middle.

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What’s This About A Wadlow Portrait?

I had to double check my archives because sometimes what I think is new, I actually wrote about years ago. But so far the word “Wadlow” doesn’t appear in my archives.

“Could This Be A Portrait of Young William Shakespeare?” That’s what you call clickbait in my universe 🙂

I don’t see the resemblance.

In the linked article above, an art historian makes her case. I’m not going to attempt to debate any of her points, because I don’t exactly have the credentials to do so. But it is a very interesting (lengthy) read, with almost as many footnotes and references as actual content.  I like when historians write because they tend not to offer unsubstantiated opinion, they point to documents.

Anyway, we’re not afraid of unsubstantiated opinions here. If I had to research and document everything I’ve ever wanted to say about Shakespeare I never would have started this site in the first place.

What do you think? Have you heard of this Wadlow portrait? Do you know anything about the “Is it Shakespeare?” question?  Is it?  I don’t think it looks anything like him (not counting the earring). I suppose we could argue that this one is supposedly painted from life rather than after his death, but the other portraits do all tend to look alike – even Cobbe – mostly around the eyes. Having this be a more accurate depiction of Shakespeare would make all those other ones, including the one on the front pages of the First Folio, pretty wrong.

 

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What’s On Your Shakespeare Bucket List?

See you this summer, Richard III.

I don’t think we’ve ever done this before.  What are your life’s goals with respect to Shakespeare? Which ones have you accomplished, and what’s your progress toward the next one?

  • Publish something. Done – Hear My Soul Speak is available for download on Amazon!
  • Teach something. Done – I volunteered in my children’s classes throughout elementary school where I taught Macbeth, Hamlet, Midsummer and others.  Always excerpt type stuff, never a full production, but we definitely got the kids up on their feet.
  • Be invited to speak on a Shakespearean subject.  Done – Bardfilm invited me to speak to one of his college classes.
  • Make some money at this. Not “make a living at it,” since given my day job that’s highly unlikely.  But I’ve had this hobby now for well over ten years, if I don’t at least try to make it pay for itself I’m missing an opportunity.  I’m pretty pleased so far with how the line of Shakespeare Geek Merchandise has been selling.   (Check it out, new designs going up regularly!)

Still On The List

  • Visit Stratford on Avon.  This is one of the most common questions I’m asked (behind “What’s your favorite play?”) As the years go by I see people all around me going, and wondering why I haven’t been.  It’s hard to explain.  At this point I’ve built it up in my head like a religious pilgrimage.  I could never see myself going without my family, because I wouldn’t deprive them of sharing that experience with me. But if I’m going to take an international trip with a family of five, well then the world is a big place and there’s lots of options, I’m not going to call dibs on the place *I* want to go at everybody else’s expense.
  • See all the plays. This one’s probably on most people’s lists.  It’s particularly tricky to find a performance of some of the more obscure plays, I know, but I’ve still got a lot of the basics yet to see.  To date I’ve seen, let’s see if I can do this off the top of my head:  Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus, Tempest, Midsummer, Shrew, Comedy of Errors, Two Gentlemen of Verona, All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Winter’s Tale.  So really I’m only about halfway there. This summer they’re doing Richard III in Boston so I’ll be able to check that one off as well.
  • Publish something real. Not to discount my efforts on the ebook, but that project started out much bigger in my head, intending to write the definitive guide to Shakespeare and weddings.  As time went by it got smaller and smaller and eventually turned into a “Just finish this” project.  The next time I try it I want to do something that’s physically published, something that can sit on my bookshelf. And preferably sell for more than ebook prices 😉
  • Perform. I don’t expect to ever be cast in a show, nor would I want to be.  But on the flip side I’ve literally dreamed about spontaneously standing on a desk and delivering a monologue to a rapt audience.  At some point before I die I’d like to achieve something in between the two.

Your turn!

 

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The Lost Plays Database

I can’t remember ever stumbling across this before, but sometimes it’s hard to remember after all these years.

Today while following some random Google rabbit hole to Love’s Labour’s Won, I found The Lost Plays Database.

I’m a little disappointed that Shakespeare’s only got two entries – Cardenio and the aforementioned LLW. But!  That’s because the folks running this site are sticklers for detail, and they’ve also got a category for “Attributed to W. Shakespeare”, which is not the same thing.  In the attributed category we have several entries, none of which I think I’ve ever seen before, including a Henry I and Henry II.

I’m not much of a fan of the lost plays, I figure if I can’t read or see them, they can’t do much for me. But I thought maybe some of you might like to cruise around.  Check out the dramatists’ page — Shakespeare gets just two categories out of somewhere north of a hundred and fifty!

Have fun going down this newly discovered rabbit hole!

 

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It is 1636. A Young William Shakespeare …. Wait What?

I have a keyword alert on Reddit for references to Shakespeare across all subreddits because you never know where he’s going to turn up.  (I don’t want to tell you how many personal ads I see 🙁 ).  This time /r/WritingPrompts is the winner:

It is the year 1636. A young William Shakespeare finds a secret compartment in his house. He opens it up, and finds a massive collection of written plays and poems.

Anybody else troubled by something in that premise?  It’s probably an honest mistake, or the person who came up with it doesn’t think it’s relevant, but let’s just play it through because it’s bugging me. And because I haven’t put up much new content recently.

Shakespeare died in 1616.  So we’ve got a young William Shakespeare 20 years after he died.

What did you expect from a Shakespeare Geek?

The most logical interpretation here, albeit the most conservative, is that William is, in fact, one of Judith and Thomas Quiney’s boys.  They had three children – Shakespeare Quiney, who died young, but Richard and Thomas both lived until 1639.  So maybe we pretend that one of them finds Shakespeare’s documents and does something underhanded with them because their dad and their granddad had a falling out shortly before ol’ Will died. This story totally makes sense to me – one of the grandsons basically seeks vengeance on his famous family’s name by burying all the original evidence connecting William as the true author of the stories.  Of course, the First Folio would have come out in 1623 and I don’t think the conspiracy theories about authorship had really had time to cook yet, but who knows.  Maybe they just decided to hide them in case they were worth money some day, and then forgot where they hid them.  I could make it work.

But let’s say that’s not true and we’re talking about a “real” Shakespeare who lived a literal lifetime after his actual self.  That means that somebody else wrote the plays, thirty years previously?  During the reign of Elizabeth and/or James, both of whom are no longer around?  Will audiences still care? The Puritans are about to close the theatres in less than a decade, so if he’s going to get started putting on thirty eight plays he’s got to crank them out at a rate of more than four per year.  Better hurry!

Maybe our question poser mistyped and meant 1536, which would be closer to Shakespeare’s actual lifespan.  But now we’re in a world where there’s no Queen Elizabeth or James I at all, so do we still get the plays that are directly tied to their reigns? Where are Marlowe, Middleton and the others during all of this to help the mysterious author collaborate, are they also unstuck in time?

I’m so confused.  I think I’ll mark that post and come back to it to see what kind of stories people come up with.

EDIT : I couldn’t help myself, I wrote to the original poster and asked if he did that on purpose.  He “messed up 1616 as his birthdate.”

 

 

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Decorate Your Life

Behowl The MoonToday a coworker asked me casually, “Don’t you get sick of Shakespeare knick-knacks?”  He’d noticed my desk has, let’s see if I can get them all:

“No,” I reply.

“Just wondering,” he said.  “I’m a Bruins fan, and everybody knows I’m a Bruins fan, but there eventually came a time when I had to tell people, stop buying me Bruins stuff, I’ve already got just about everything.  My wife’s the same way, she likes sharks, people know she likes sharks, but it’s like, enough already, stop buying me shark things.”

“I see it differently,” I replied.  “I call it decorating my life.  I don’t even necessarily use this stuff or read these books. But wherever I go, people who don’t know me can see, Shakespeare. And they ask me about it. And there’s a connection there that might not otherwise have been made.  I’m putting more Shakespeare out into the world, through that person.  Everybody wins.”

If you want more of something that you love in the universe, decorate your life with it.

 

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The First Thing You Think Of

I saw a post on Reddit today that asked, “What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word Shakespeare?”

“Ooooo,” I thought, “This one’s right up my alley.”  I start mentally forming my response. I click.  I am disappointed to see everybody’s answer says nothing but “Romeo and Juliet” or “Hamlet” or something “Othello” or “Dream”.  I’m also disappointed to see that the post was put up 13 hours ago, so there’s no point in responding, as nobody will ever see it.  I only see it because I’ve got a search filter on Shakespeare posts.  I decide not to post.

Good thing, too, because before archiving the post out of my news reader I realize that the question was actually, “What is the first PLAY you think of when you hear the word Shakespeare?”  So they were all right, and I would have looked like an idiot. 🙂

So then I’ll ask and answer my own question here, because I can do that. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word Shakespeare?

I’m grasping for the word I want but I can’t find it.  Hopefully somebody will grok what I’m saying and deliver me my word.  But for now I’m going to say it like this :  Eleven.  As in, “These go up to eleven.”  I’m not just talking about what Shakespeare the man accomplished, although that alone makes a worthy life goal (Shakespeare wrote Richard III and Romeo and Juliet by the time he was thirty, what have you done, and are children studying it four hundred years later?) I’m talking about the depth and intensity of what he put up on stage.  We’ll all feel at one time or another love, and hate, and ambition and grief and the whole host of human emotions.  And when we do there’s always some Shakespeare we can point to and say, “Yes.  That.  That is what this feels like.”

That’s what I think of.  What about you?

 

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Pre-Review : Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

When I first heard about the Hogarth Series that would product “modern novelizations” of Shakespeare’s work I thought, “Eh.  So what.  If you rewrite Shakespeare it’s not Shakespeare, it’s yours, and it’s just like any other novel.”  As such I’ve avoided them all to date.

I decided to change that because we’ve got a book club at work and I wanted an excuse to read something of at least passing interest to me. When multiple people told me that Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest, was the best one to come out so far,  was hooked.  If I’m going to give the series I try I might as well start with my favorite play.

So glad I did! I’m just about halfway finished with it but I’m very excited to get out a review (and, who we kidding, it gives me another post for Shakspeare Day).

Felix, our director, is in the middle of what’s to be his masterpiece, a production of The Tempest.  He likes this play so much he even named his daughter Miranda.  Unlike Shakespeare’s story, however, both Felix’s wife and daughter have passed away before the story takes off. But the next part plays out like you’d expect — control of the group is usurped by Tony and Sal, and Felix is “banished” from the theatre scene until he gets a job teaching Shakespeare to prisoners. He even uses the pseudonym “Mr. Duke”, an amusing callback to Prospero as Duke of Milan.

The plot is following along close enough to the original that you have some idea what’s going to happen. Tony and Sal are going to end up in the prison where Mr. Duke will make his triumphant return. I just have no idea what’s going to happen other than that.  Our Prospero has no Miranda. This one seems to be all about revenge.  What would Prospero have been like if everything else had gone the same, except Miranda had not survived? I think we might have seen the full scope and scale of his power.

While retelling The Tempest this book is also a lesson in The Tempest as Felix walks his prisoners through the finer points of the play.  He makes them re-envision Ariel as something other than just “a fairy”.  He asks them to find all the “prisons” in the play (apparently there are nine?) and they discuss what form each prison takes, who is imprisoned, and who has captured them.  I’m learning lots of new things.  I hope she gets back to the question of “is the island by itself magic” because I’ve often wondered about that myself.

I don’t want to spoil much more of the book so I’ll stop here.  Suffice to say I’m loving it, and when I’m done with this one I’m going to dig into Jo Nesbo’s new Macbeth next. Definitely recommended.

 

 

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Shakespeare’s Dark Comedy

Over the centuries it’s been common practice to spin a happy ending on Shakespeare’s tragedies.  Romeo and Juliet live, King Lear and Cordelia live happily ever after.

What if you went the other way? The comedies are known for their happy endings.  Can you spin your favorite comedy and give it a dark ending?

Twelfth Night is the obvious choice, with Malvolio’s ominous, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!”  How does he not show up at the wedding with an AR-15?

How about A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  The lovers wake up, the love potion has now worn off Demetrius, who sees Theseus and Egeus and immediately goes right back to the character he was in the first scene.  Seeing no change in anybody’s feelings on the matter and with Hermia refusing to budge, Theseus has her executed.  I was going to write that Lysander tries to protect her and gets executed for his trouble as well, but it’s more fun if he’s a coward who absolutely doesn’t do that. 🙂

Can we count The Tempest?  I know, not technically.  But it’s so easy to envision the entire play as the ravings of a poor old man alone on an island making up the whole thing.

Anybody else want to take a shot at going dark?

 

 

 

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