Oh, Sir Ian, No.

Ian McKellen has said his King Lear, which is currently on at Chichester Festival Theatre, is probably his last big Shakespeare part.

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-41531398

Sometimes we realize this when we wake up to discover that an entertainment idol has died – Robin Williams, David Bowie, Tom Petty.  You don’t appreciate what you had until life tells you, “No more.”

But sometimes you know what’s coming, and I’m not sure if that’s worse.  Sir Ian McKellen (and Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Judi Dench and too many others to name) will not be around forever to bring the Shakespeare.  In the linked interview above Sir Ian gets realistic on us that he’s “probably not really” got any more Shakespeare in him.  Sad day, but one that had to come eventually.

What’s your favorite Sir Ian role?  Richard III, Macbeth, Lear?  In the image above a very young McKellen takes on Hamlet. I wish we had video of that!

 

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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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Give Shrew Its Due

In the kitchen at work the other day, a coworker tells me that he’s just returned from London, where of course he had to stop by The Globe.  I ask if he saw a show, and his response is, “I wasn’t really on a schedule that allowed time for a show, and besides, it was Taming of the Shrew. Maybe if it was Hamlet or something, but Taming of the Shrew?”

Taming of the ShrewWe generally agree that Taming of the Shrew is, at best, “nothing special” Shakespeare.  I refer to it as a Shakespearean sitcom, and compare it to a Seinfeld re-run that you see on the hotel room tv when you’re channel surfing.  Maybe you’re all “Oh yeah, this is a good one” or maybe you’re more, “Eh, seen this one a thousand times.”

But! A coworker hears our conversation and comes to Shrew’s defense. He calls it a vicious takedown of masculine roles in Shakespeare’s time, and that it is only the fault of modern directors who want to “move it along” and tend to skip or de-emphasize key scenes that cause the play to appear like the “battle of the sexes” romantic comedy it’s known as.  He says that when played properly, you completely empathize with Katherina because you see the kind of men that she’s expected to put up with.  When I push him for specific examples of key scenes he refers to the line of suitors that are introduced early in the play, by which I assume he’s referring to Act II, Scene i for anyone that needs a refresher.

Where do you stand on Taming of the Shrew?  Is it completely misogynistic?  A silly romantic comedy with a happy ending?  Or should it be taken more seriously?  How deep does it go?

 

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The Play So Nice They Filmed It Twice

So the other day I spot a headline that says something about the worst Emmy Awards in the history of the show.  Thinking it’s going to be some sort of slam on the job Stephen Colbert did, I check it out.

Imagine my surprise upon learning that the 1961 Emmy Awards are on the list primarily because a certain movie swept all the major categories. That movie?  The Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth!

Maurice EvansNow if you told me, in a year when I was alive, that a Shakespeare production was sweeping the night?  I’d watch the whole thing with popcorn.  Probably call some friends.

I went to research this production, see if I could maybe find some video.  It starred Maurice Evans, who I only knew from such supporting roles as Dr. Zaius in the original Planet of the Apes movies,  and The Puzzler from the Batman tv series (in fact I even blogged about him once).

But once you’ve seen his IMDB page you realize just the level of Shakespeare cred the man had in his prime:  Malvolio in 1957, Petruchio in 1956, Richard II in 1954, Macbeth in 1954…wait, what?

In 1954, Maurice Evans played Macbeth in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth.

In 1961, Maurice Evans played Macbeth in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth.

That’s not a typo.  According to the Wikipedia page:

Macbeth is a live television adaptation of the William Shakespeare play presented as the November 28, 1954 episode of the American anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame. Directed by George Schaefer, and starring Maurice Evans and Dame Judith Anderson, the production was telecast in color, but has only been preserved on black-and-white kinescope.

In 1960, Evans and Anderson starred in a filmed made-for-television production of the play, also directed by Schaefer for the Hallmark Hall of Fame, but with an entirely different supporting cast. That production was filmed in color on location in Scotland, and was released theatrically in Europe.

These days when we think of a “reboot” we think of an entirely new production with an entirely new cast, usually because of some sort of contract wrangling between studios.  In this case we’ve got the same director and the same leads, just a different location and different supporting cast.

Though I’d love to watch them side by side and play spot the differences, I can’t find much video of the 1961 version.  However, the 1954 version appears to be complete on YouTube (as of this posting, at least), so enjoy!

All I found of the 1960 version (won an award in 1961 but the film is dated 1960) is the opening credits:

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Special Sneak Preview! Here There Be Dragons!

Let’s try something different.  I may have mentioned once or a thousand times that there’s a Shakespeare Geek line of merchandise on Amazon.  I try very hard not to nag everybody by actually creating blog posts for every new design.  I keep it mostly to the Facebook/Twitter feed and some ads around the edges. I appreciate the patience of my most loyal readers who still make it here to the blog and don’t catch just the headlines and summaries on social media :).

tmmSo, I’ve got a present for you!  Introducing my new King LearGame of Thrones-inspired design, Come Not Between The Dragons And Their Wrath:

Everybody who sees you in this is going to go straight to Game of Thrones, but we Shakespeare geeks know that the original quote comes from King Lear ( albeit with 2 fewer dragons 😉 ).

For a limited time, this shirt is available ONLY through this link for the sneak preview price of $15.99.  It is not available in Amazon search, and I will not advertise it.  In a couple of weeks, once I feel that my followers have had a chance to buy it if they want it, I’ll release it to the Amazon public search feed – and raise the price as well, most likely to $19.99.

You CAN share the link with your friends, or just let them be envious and beg you to tell them where you got that awesome shirt.  As with just about all of my designs it’s available in men’s, women’s and youth styles, in a variety of colors.

Thanks for loyal readership over the years. This link will continue to work, but the price of $15.99 is only temporary, so if you want it I encourage you to grab it before the price goes up!

 

 

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Shakespeare Invented Dotard

This post, obviously, can be taken to have a political slant.  Some people hate that, so I’m telling you now.  It’s also relevant to Shakespeare, so I feel it’s fair game.  And I’m not a newspaper journalist so I’m allowed to write what amuses me.

Last night, the leader of North Korea called the President of the United States a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” which is certainly something he hasn’t been called yet, and had half the country running for their dictionaries.

I went for my Open Source Shakespeare.  Jackpot.

It means “a person in their dotage,” in case you hadn’t looked it up yet.  “Dotage” being when you get old and “feeble-minded”.  Kind of like “doting,” but that one has come to mean something more cutesy romantic (as in, “he couldn’t stop doting over her”) though they come from the same root, which means to act or speak foolishly. So it works in either case, either you’re acting the fool because you’re old and can’t help yourself, or because you’re head over heels in love….or the president, apparently.

Anyway, “dotard” is not a version you hear often, but it turns out Shakespeare quite liked it.  Check it out:

Leontes in The Winter’s Tale

Traitors!
Will you not push her out? Give her the bastard.
Thou dotard! thou art woman-tired, unroosted
By thy dame Partlet here. Take up the bastard;
Take’t up, I say; give’t to thy crone.

Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing

Tush, tush, man; never fleer and jest at me:
I speak not like a dotard nor a fool,
As under privilege of age to brag
What I have done being young, or what would do
Were I not old.

Baptista Minola in The Taming of the Shrew

Away with the dotard; to the gaol with him!

And look, it’s right there in the opening of Cymbeline

The king he takes the babe
To his protection, calls him Posthumus Leonatus,
Breeds him and makes him of his bed-chamber,
Puts to him all the learnings that his time
Could make him the receiver of; which he took,
As we do air, fast as ’twas minister’d,
And in’s spring became a harvest, lived in court—
Which rare it is to do—most praised, most loved,
A sample to the youngest, to the more mature
A glass that feated them, and to the graver
A child that guided dotards; to his mistress,
For whom he now is banish’d, her own price
Proclaims how she esteem’d him and his virtue;
By her election may be truly read
What kind of man he is.

From context it definitely means what he thinks it means, and I’m pretty sure it’s never complimentary.  In case anybody’s still out there thinking, “That can’t be a real word.”

So did Shakespeare really “invent” the word?  No, of course not, just like he didn’t “invent” most of the other words that are typically ascribed to him (man we’re just having a real vocabulary lesson today!)

In all our time reposting and retweeting those “Shakespearean Insult” lists, it took Kim Jong Un to go full dotard on somebody.

 

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Review : Munchkin Shakespeare by Steve Jackson Games

I’ve often daydreamed about using Kickstarter to create some sort of Shakespeare game. The primary thing stopping me is that while I’ve got some Shakespeare knowledge, I have no idea how to even start creating a game for mass production.

The whole package!

Luckily Steve Jackson Games does not have this problem.  Lucky for us, these professional game developers decided to drop a Shakespeare version of their huge hit Munchkin on us back in February.  I immediately hit the “Shut Up And Take My Money” button.  I even added the Kickstarter extras pack.

My game arrived this week!

If you’ve never played Munchkin, it’s a sort of comedy “dungeon crawler” game where you’re all players starting on level 1 of a 10 level dungeon.  On each turn, you fight monsters and look for treasure.  Meanwhile, every combat is a combination of what weapons you’ve found (to increase your score) and what curses you’ve uncovered (possibly decreasing your score).  Other players are encouraged to help you or gang up on you, depending on your friends.

So what I got was exactly this (not sure that I was expecting anything else), just with a Shakespeare theme.  It’s a complete game, coming with a board, full deck, standup pieces and dice.  There are many extension packs to the original game, this isn’t that. This can be your only copy and you still have a complete game.

Sample Shakespearean monster.

The artwork, monsters, treasures and curses are all Shakespeare themed. As shown, “The Head That Wears The Crown” is a level 14 undead monster. Its special power is that it steals any headgear you might be wearing and uses it itself. All the cards are like that. There’s a Rosencrantz card I saw whose power is that, if Guildenstern is in play, he can join him.

Whenever Shakespeare is mashed up with another thing you have to wonder, “How appealing is this to Shakespeare fans, and how appealing is it to fans of other thing?”  Look at the Shakespeare / Star Wars crossover books, they’re incredibly popular, but I can’t stand the things. Guess I’m not a big enough Star Wars fan.

Sample curse card, although in this case a good one!

I think you need to be a real fan of Munchkin to appreciate everything that comes in this kit. They actually did this incremental thing where the more support the project got, the more material they created. There’s a standard idea of “stretch goals” in Kickstarter, but that’s not what this is. This is,

“There’ll be at least 100 cards in the deck, plus 1 new card for every 5k shares we get on Twitter” (for example. That’s not the extra goal.) So I don’t know how many cards I ended up getting.

There’s things I’m a little disappointed in.  The characters (“standees”) are original artwork, but it’s just 6 different colored versions of the same picture over and over.  I thought that there’d be unique characters on each.  It wouldn’t have been hard for them to do that, so I’m not sure why they didn’t. Imagine Monopoly if all you got to fight over was whether you wanted to be the red top hat or the purple top hat?  Having your favorite piece is part of the fun of the game.  They did fix this a bit by offering a set of 3d pieces as part of the expansion pack, which is cool I suppose, but 4 pieces is really just 2

I think he’s my favorite, from the extras pack.

copies of the same thing (each piece has a male and female version), one black, one white.

 

I like the new card type of “dungeon cards” which I think will add to the game.  They provide a sort of theme over the whole game, including the opportunity to reset the dungeon card (voluntarily or otherwise). That addition feels like it actually changes the game, and isn’t just putting some new graphics and descriptions onto what is otherwise the same game you’ve always had.

We haven’t played yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Maybe once I start getting into the deck and actually having to deal with the repercussions of running into various Shakespeare quotes come to life, I’ll love it?

 

 

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Review : Deadpool Meets Shakespeare

I first spotted the Deadpool / Shakespeare crossover in July 2016 and wrote that I was “cautiously optimistic”.  I wrote that I’m not a fan of the current trend of just writing things in iambic pentameter and calling it “Shakespearean”, nor do I appreciate the Kill Shakespeare technique of just having the characters kill each other. I suggested in my original post that while I was afraid of both of those things, I was still the picture of “wishful thinking”, because what if I’m wrong?

I’m not wrong.

Took me forever to find this.  I would periodically visit the local comic shops, flipping through the stacks and sometimes asking where I might find it. My mom even got me a gift card to the local Newbury Comics at my suggestion because I knew I’d have something to buy.

Never found it. That card just burned a hole in my pocket for the better part of a year until relatively recently (month or two ago?) when I finally asked a clerk whether anybody had it, and where I might find it. Turns out another store in Boston supposedly had it.  I file that knowledge. But then, a week or two later, we find ourselves in Boston.  Next thing you know I’m walking out of the store with Deadpool #7 : Deadpool Does Shakespeare. This is actually a reprint of the original, but hey, I’ll take it. This is the one with Deadpool dressed as Cupid on the cover, in case you’ve ever spotted it in the wild.

It is … about what I expected. It’s Deadpool after all, the “merc with the mouth”.  If you’re not familiar with the comic (or the movie), he’s famous for breaking the fourth wall and basically behaving as if he knows he’s in a comic book.  So he opens with something straight out of a PG-13 Twelfth Night: “What country, friends, is this? And what the f%&*???”

And so it goes. He meets Shakespeare, and kills him. When Hamlet’s father’s ghost appears, first Deadpool assumes that it’s Christmas, and then ponders whether they are in a galaxy far, far away (Ian Doescher, who wrote this one, also wrote the Star Wars crossover books).

It then turns into Kill Shakespeare, as our hero meets a steady stream of Shakespeare’s characters, all of whom claim to want to kill someone else, and who try to convince him that they’re the good guy and he should help them kill the bad guy.  All in some syllable-counting iambic pentameter.

I’m glad to add it to my collection, but there’s not much else I can say about it. It’s exactly what I thought it was going to be.

 

 

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Frailty, Thy Name is Pretty Woman

My wife and daughter don’t get much time to bond. With two younger siblings in the house it’s hard for them to sit around and watch a movie that might have more “adult themes” than the two younger ones are ready for.  As we’ve worked our way through various 1980’s classics my wife has asked about Pretty Woman, a favorite of hers. I remind her of exactly what that movie is about, and how ugly Jason Alexander gets at the end, and maybe it’s not something our 11yr old boy is interested in or ready for.

But, the other night the boys were out at a karate event and the middle daughter was having friends over (hanging out in the basement), so  I came home discover them watching Pretty Woman together.  Thus began the remainder of the night’s entertainment, listening for random feet in the kitchen and diving for the remote control to make sure nothing questionable is on screen when younger eyes might see it.

There’s a scene toward the end when Julia Roberts’ character convinces Richard Gere to take a day off and relax. She makes him take his shoes off and feel the grass with his toes. Before you know it they’re relaxing as he reads to her.

“Wait,” I say. “What did that book just say?”

My daughter knows this game and is already looking for the remote control.

“Are you serious?” my wife asks.  She knows that the sooner we finish this movie the better the odds we don’t get permanently interrupted.

“I could have been seeing things, but I could swear the book he’s reading from has a big word with a capital S on it. Which would be weird because you’d expect Complete Works or something and his name wouldn’t be the first word.”

My daughter has skipped a good minute or so before the scene, so we wait it out.  I get up and stand near the screen with my camera ready.

Shakespeare in Pretty Woman

“Ha!” said I.  “Not my first rodeo.” If you can’t read it from the picture, it’s “Shakespeare Quotations.”

I actually went back just now as I’m writing this to rewind the movie (on the computer) and try to figure out what he’s reading.  You hear, “deaf heaven” and “my bootless cries.”  Son of a gun, they’ve got him reading Sonnet 29. Awesome. Better than something totally cliche out of Romeo and Juliet. I’m a little annoyed that they’ve got him reading from a quotations reference book rather than a Complete Works. It’s like neither of the characters knows anything about Shakespeare and thought, “Oo, that sounds romantic, we should read that” but wanted to get just the highlights or something.

Not only have I never noticed this, I’ve never seen a reference to it. Not that I was looking all that hard.  Googling “pretty woman Shakespeare” does indeed show some of those “25 Facts You Never Knew” type lists about the movie, and at least a couple of them do drop what Richard Gere is reading.

Is there a larger Shakespearean comparison or parallel we can make? You’ve got all the obvious Galatea / My Fair Lady stuff.  But is there anything else in this movie that connects to Shakespeare? In other words is this scene entirely coincidence, or is it a hint to a larger connection?

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Will This Stratford-on-Avon Drama Have Any Shakespeare?

Jo Joyner and Mark Benton

Here’s an interesting twist. How about a modern day murder mystery series set in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford on Avon?  Jo Joyner and Mark Benton (the names mean nothing to me) star in the new BBC (ah, that explains it) show.

The female lead will be named Lu Shakespeare of course, and I’m hoping that means that each episode will have the opportunity for some Shakespeare references, jokes, plotlines, or just general what have you.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get to see the show, being in the US and all with limited BBC access, but I like to look out for my people.  Who knows, maybe it will be a smashing success and spawn a US version based in Stratford, Connecticut.

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