Make Life Better

Why won’t your friends come see Shakespeare with you?

I don’t mean you, specifically. I expect that if you’re here reading this you probably enjoy taking in a nice Shakespeare performance on occasion. And I don’t mean your core group of friends who may feel the same way. I think that it’s safe to say, for all of us, that such a group only extends so far.

I mean literally everybody else in your life. Friends, family, coworkers.  If you asked, they probably don’t want to come see Shakespeare with you.

Why do you think that is?  It’s a question I come back to regularly because it bothers me. I feel like there’s a large audience out there that is dismissing Shakespeare as a chore, something they said sayonara to back in school and never looked back. I feel like those people are missing something important, something that will make their lives better, and I feel some degree of personal obligation to fix that.

Preaching to the choir

Surely you’ve heard that expression. I realize I’m often doing that here.  I’m all, “Hey, Shakespeare is even cooler than I imagined, check this out!” and you all are all, “Yeah, I know, right?”  Only, you know, we both sound more education when we say it.  Like, totally.

Good Idea!I don’t want that.  Well, I do, I just don’t want only that :).  I want our choir bigger. I want the whole world to be a part of it.  Maybe there are folks out there that have studied Shakespeare and know everything they want to know about him and his work, and just don’t like it, and I suppose we have to accept that. (We just don’t have to invite them to the holiday party.)

But how about everyone else?  That gets me back to my original question.  If you’ve got someone in your life (and I know you do) who you wish would share Shakespeare with you, but doesn’t … why do you think that is?  How do we bridge that gap?

Oh, and by the way, for that core group of friends that do want to see Shakespeare with you? Show them this post. Spread the word. We’re not about keeping the Shakespeare to ourselves here.



Small Shakespeare World

So, I’m trying to get the family to Disney World this year.  We’ve been in the past, but it’s a whole thing where my girls were old enough to remember it but the boy wasn’t, so we’d like to get back for a trip where it’s more about him and he’s not just the one being pushed around in a stroller.

Not a Mouse StirringBut I digress.  Helping us set up the trip is a travel agent who turns out to be a friend of my in-laws.  In fact I may even have met her at a random gathering at one point or another, but it’s not like we see or speak regularly.

Anyway, the other day during the snow storm I’m working from home when my daughter comes into my office and says, “Did you know about a new teen Shakespeare program coming to town?”

“No,” I say, “And I’m surprised I didn’t hear about it sooner? Where did you hear this, what’s the details? Wait, are you talking about Rebel Shakespeare?”

“I think that was the name.”

“Honey you’ve been to a number of their shows.  They’re not new.”

I’ve been writing about Rebel Shakespeare for years. They’re a children’s Shakespeare group from a couple of towns over that’s been running for something like thirty years. We try to get to their shows when we can, and I even helped organize getting them to do a show in my own town.

Unfortunately this year their founder had to retire, and for a little while we thought they were done. But a bunch of parents and former participants have taken it over, and Rebel Shakespeare lives again!  So I figured that’s what my daughter was talking about, that one of their new marketing links.

Then she tells me that our new travel agent, who my wife is friends with on Facebook, posted it.

It just got interesting.

It turns out that her son has been part of that group for the last five years!  I may even have seen him perform, we’d have to sit down and compare notes.

I told them all about us (“Next time you’re with them, if the name Shakespeare Geek comes up, they’re talking about me.”) and they seemed quite excited to join our little family. In fact, they may be reading right now.  So, hi there 🙂 Welcome!

O small new world, that has such people in it!


Rough, Rug Headed Bunch o’ Forgers

I didn’t have time to put together a real piece on Shakespeare for St. Patrick’s Day, so I thought we’d do more of a smorgasbord 🙂

Old Castle, but not Oldcastle.
An Old Castle, But Not An Oldcastle

When I went googling for Shakespeare and the Irish, I found that Shakespeare created the Irish stereotype. I also learned that Shakespeare apparently wrote a play called The History of Sir John Oldcastle, which was a new one on me.  That is the true name, of course, of Sir John Falstaff. But I don’t recall him having his own play.

But, according to the link, this is where Shakespeare refers to the Irish as “rough rug headed kerns,” whatever that means.  That line is actually in Richard II [II.i], so I’m not sure where the Oldcastle / Falstaff connection comes in.

For something completely different we have the William Henry Ireland, who was so set on discovering lost Shakespeare manuscripts that he just sat down and wrote a bunch of them himself.

Lastly, is Macmorris in Henry V really the only Irish character Shakespeare ever wrote?  I’ve never really looked into it.  And if that’s the case, why does he sound so much like Sean Connery, who is Scottish?

What ish my nation? Ish a villain,
and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish
my nation? Who talks of my nation?

Where else does Ireland (or anything having to do with Ireland) show up in the works?  I could swear that there’s more crossover in King Lear but I haven’t gone and dug into it.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everybody!


Look out! Ides!

My co-workers couldn’t wait to tell me to be wary today, it being the Ides of March.  It’s probably the most well-known calendar date associated with Shakespeare. But other than knowing that March 15 = Ides of March, and that’s when Brutus and the gang went all stabby stabby on their boy Julius, do people really know anything else about it?

I admit that I didn’t know much myself, so I went looking last night in preparation. I consulted my Asimov’s Guide, which is always guaranteed to have enough detail on every possible digression you might make from the play’s main action.  Seriously, I tried to read what Asimov has to say on Merchant of Venice and came away knowing how much the human liver weighs.
Beware the Ides of March

Once again, Asimov does not disappoint. Ides is one of three reference dates in the Roman calendar:

  1. The Kalends, or first day of the month, also obviously where the word calendar comes from :). It is believed that originally it was supposed to coincide with a new moon.
  2. Nones, meaning “ninth” and representing the half moon. Ninth because it was literally nine days(*) before the Ides.
  3. Ides, the day of the full moon. Although we naturally think the fifteenth for Ides, that’s only true for some of the months with thirty-one days. It falls on the thirteenth for the others.

So basically their calendar wasn’t just a matter of counting from one up to thirty-ish and starting over.  You counted relative to the different days, such as “two days before Ides”. I just keep thinking of that old rhyme “Thirty days hath September, April June and November” and wondering what in the world Roman school children must have had to learn instead.

If you’re confused already, definitely don’t visit the Wikipedia page (linked above) that goes on to describe how you would refer to dates for each month.  Just be thankful Shakespeare (and Brutus?) picked an easy one to remember.

(*) It’s not just Roman numerals that give computer programmers stress, apparently.  When counting relative to these reference days, you would use the day itself as one, rather than zero. So the “ninth” day actually comes eight days before the Ides. Got that?  If today is Wednesday, and I say, “How many days is it until Friday?” and you said, “Three days.  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.”

Are Shakespeare’s Plays Encoded In The Digits Of Pi?

I thought that for Pi Day this year we could look at this age old question.  In short, it goes something like this:  “Since pi is infinite and non-repeating, does that mean that if you encoded the letters in Shakespeare’s work to numbers, that we could find the complete works of Shakespeare in the digits of pi?”

Short answer?  No.  (Or, to be specific about it, “It’s not proven, no.”)

Here’s a video that explains it better than I can:

Here’s the problem in a nutshell.  People tend to think of “infinite” as “representing all possible combinations” and that’s an incorrect assumption.  Say, for example, that we had the repeating sequence 1, 0, 11, 0, 111, 0, 1111, 0 … and so on.  That sequence is infinite and non-repeating.  But you can easily prove that it does not contain all possible number combinations.

The term for what we want to happen is for the digits of pi to be a “normal” infinite number, which means that all combinations are equally likely to occur.  If that proves out to be true – which it has not yet – then yes, you would have a case that the works of Shakespeare would appear.

However then you have a different, “multi universe” problem. If you assume that all possible combinations exist within pi, that means that Macbeth does.  As well as Macbeth with a happy ending, Macbeth as a cat, Romeo and Juliet where they’re both transgender and live happily ever after, and, yes, even the complete works of the Earl of Oxford. Literally, every combination possible whether they make sense or not. You would be able to provably state that they are in there, but you would not be able to extract that them out in order to find the next great work of English literature.  So then it literally has no value at all.

Personally I find it much more interesting to determine where your name appears in pi, or the longest string of repeating digits in pi.

On a completely different note, my daughter won her school’s Pi memorization contest when it was her turn a couple years ago, now her younger brother is up. Hope he successfully defends her title!  I’ll have to let everybody know how it goes, since I’m scheduling this in advance 🙂

The Digits of Pi
Shakespeare, are you in there?


I see this question come up periodically, and I don’t think that we’ve covered it recently so I wanted to make sure we had something to say about the subject.  No, as of right now we do not have proof that the digits of pi contain the works of Shakespeare. Or any other string of significant length.  But it’s fun to think about, isn’t it?  If this question even occurred to you in the first place, you’ve got some geek in you!  Welcome to the club.

Happy Pi Day, everybody!

Boy Meets World Meets Shakespeare

My kids were just the right age for Girl Meets World, the spin-off of the longer running and more popular Boy Meets World. But 1993-2000 I was already out of college and not really the audience anymore. I was going to say Saved By The Bell was more my thing but that was 1989-1993 and I would have been in college for that too!

Anyway, I didn’t have to follow the show religiously to know the Mr. Feeny character, played by William Daniels (who I knew from St. Elsewhere). Maybe it’s precisely because I was older that I could appreciate the importance of school teachers. When I did watch I would be thinking, “You stupid children, listen to the man. He knows what he’s talking about. He cares about you and wants you to succeed in life. That’s his job.”

Well today I learned that the actually wooed Daniels to the role with Shakespeare:

I live on the other side of the fence from you, Cory. It’s impossible not to face in your direction every once in a while and notice the people in the next yard. And through the years as I’ve gotten to know them, it is apparent they are fine individuals. But, their real strength comes from being a family. And do you know why they are a family, Cory? Because at one time a man and a woman realized that they loved each other and pursued the unlimited potential of what may come from that love, and here you are. There is no greater aspiration than to have love in our lives, Mr. Matthews. Romeo knew it and died for it.

In case you’ve never heard of the show and are now thinking about binge-watching it on Netflix, beware:

There were more Shakespeare references tied to Mr. Feeny’s character, but most of them landed on the cutting room floor, including the Romeo and Juliet speech.

Oh, well.  It had potential!

If you loved Mr. Feeny too, apparently this and other stories come from Daniels’ new book There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, and Many Others.

For those that know the show and the character and know where I’m coming from, enjoy one of the great television finale moments. Total spoilers but come on it aired almost 20 years ago if you wanted to see it and never did you might as well:

You Think You Loved Sir Patrick Stewart Before?

This post has no Shakespeare in it, just one of the world’s greatest living Shakespeareans. I know that’s upset some people in the past when we dare to look at the actors as people, rather than just their roles.  So consider this the disclaimer!

Sir Patrick Stewart has a new dog.  Specifically he and his wife are fostering a pitbull named Ginger. Here he gives the details on Conan:

For a clip I like even better you have to check him trying to take the dog for a swim. It does not go well, but it should certainly make everybody’s day. I wish I could embed the clip. That’s a link to his Twitter.  If you’re not following that you really should, he’s posting plenty more clips.

It’s true that this is the story of a person fostering a dog, something that no doubt happens all around the world all the time and is rarely newsworthy. I don’t care.  What I see is a 70+yr old man who hasn’t had a dog since he was a boy, who now gets to act like he’s a boy all over again. Pure joy radiates off the man, and that makes me happy. He’s given us plenty of things to he happy about, so if you’ve enjoyed his performance as Macbeth or Claudius or Prospero or any of the other myriad roles he’s played, time to enjoy him just being himself for a change.


[META] What Do We Think Of The Theme?

Hi Everybody,

Hopefully everything’s settling in nicely to our home on WordPress.  I’ve spent most of my time making sure that 11 years worth of links aren’t 90% broken!

One of the main reasons to move off of Blogger was to take advantage of those features that are expectations of a modern blog, and one of them is better control over the appearance.  Right now we’re using a theme called Penscratch which I was using on my other sites Shakespeare Answers and Not By Shakespeare (both of which now redirect here, by the way). I chose it because it reminded me of the written word, crisp type on a white background.


Shakespeare Answers Header Image
Shakespeare Answers with the header image.

Now that I’m in it 100% of the time, I’m wondering if it needs something.  I’d like to see some more color and images as part of the main browsing experience.  This theme does have the option of a “header” graphic – which appears in a horizontal bar under the title, and I wasn’t thrilled with it.  There’s also a “background” graphic which I couldn’t figure out how to work because every time I tried to set it, it hid everything else.


What do you think? Are there readers out there more familiar with the “standard” in WordPress theming that could offer some suggestions about ways to decorate?  I’m open to ideas!

15 Movies You Didn’t … Yeah We Did

I haven’t done one of these in a while.  Screen Rant offers us 15 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Based On Shakespeare. But really, if you’re at all a regular follower of what we do here, yes you did.  Their header graphic is the Lion King, for goodness sake.  Is there anybody out there today that doesn’t think Lion King is based on Hamlet?

The only reason I bother linking the list is that it’s got a good cross section of the different types of movies that Shakespeare’s original material can produce:

  • Animated (see above)
  • Teen comedies (10 Things I Hate About You, She’s The Man)
  • Drama (My Own Private Idaho, A Thousand Acres)
  • Musicals (West Side Story, Kiss Me Kate)
  • Foreign language (Throne of Blood, Ran)
  • Science-fiction (Forbidden Planet)

In case you’re looking for movie recommendations for the weekend, this is a great place to start.  While we’ve no doubt mentioned all these movies many times over the years, you probably haven’t actually seen all of them yet.

My Own Private Idaho

Barbara Feldon, One Of Us!

Today I learned, via @Reddit, that Barbara Feldon won the $64,000 Question in the Shakespeare category.

Ok, that is a very dated sentence, so let me break it down for everybody who is closer to my kids’ age than my own:

  1. Barbara Feldon played Agent 99 on a television show called Get Smart in the 1960s, which my generation would have been watching in re-runs.
  2. The $64,000 Question was a game-show that’s probably best compared to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.  The big difference, however, is that you had to answer questions all from a specific category. To give an idea of just how notoriously difficult the game was? Bobby Fischer, generally considered one of the greatest chess players of all time, did not get past the audition round in the chess category.

This clip of Barbara Feldon explaining how she got on the show is wonderful on a number of levels:

“I’m not an expert on anything.”

“You know, on my dressing table was a copy of King Lear, because I’d been re-reading the plays…”

Not just reading, re-reading.

Not just any play, King Lear.

Not just that play, “the plays”.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks!

The actual $64,000 question she “won” on is forgotten – but she tells the story of the $128,000 question that eventually sent her home. Do you think you could answer it, if you hadn’t known it was coming?