Ye, No.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to have celebrity impressionist Jim Ross Meskimen do some Shakespeare of my choosing. I knew exactly the voice and passage I wanted – Robin Williams as Prospero doing “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” It is quite breathtaking.

Unfortunately it was breathtaking for all the wrong reasons for long-time reader JM who, aghast, returned to comment, “It’s yea, not ye. Ye is a pronoun, (you) Yea is affirmation, or ‘yes’. I have no idea why he didn’t know that.” Such a small thing, and yet I can only imagine to someone more versed (ha!) in the verse than I, it would be like hearing someone say “all intensive purposes” or worse, “could of.”

Thing is, Jim didn’t make the mistake, I did. I copied the text for him. I rushed to the source I used – MIT’s version (people smarter than I see where this is going). I checked Open Source Shakespeare. Same problem. I checked the actual First Folio (with JM’s link), and there it is, the right way:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air -- into thin air --
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The problem is that both MIT and Open Source Shakespeare are based on the Moby Shakespeare, a public domain version of the complete works that is (a) darned near ubiquitous (see “public domain”) but also (b) known to have substantial errors.

I know this. I guess I just always assumed that the errors were like very small needles in a very big haystack, and that they would simply never be an issue for me. That is not good thinking. I won’t say it wrecked my tribute to Robin Williams, but it sure tainted it. I wonder if Mr. Meskimen would make us another one? I’ll have to ask.

What other errors have you found propagated all over the internet because of Moby? Any really glaring ones? I know that Open Source Shakespeare actively updates their text to fix errors as they are reported, but I don’t believe MIT does (which would also no doubt be true of 99% of the other texts out there).

With Caliban Still Enslaved

A couple weeks ago on Twitter I had an interesting conversation about The Tempest and I’ve been meaning to post about it. A reader directed me to the poem Fuck / Shakespeare and I was left head scratching a bit at the ending:

Play ends / Cali still enslaved / Bruh / that shit fucked

My first thought was, “Is that really how it ends? That’s not how I remember it. Caliban gets the island. Prospero leaves. Sounds like freedom to me.”

Then I went back and looked at the text.

PROSPERO
He is as disproportion'd in his manners
As in his shape. Go, sirrah, to my cell;
Take with you your companions; as you look
To have my pardon, trim it handsomely.

CALIBAN
Ay, that I will; and I'll be wise hereafter
And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass
Was I, to take this drunkard for a god
And worship this dull fool!

PROSPERO
Go to; away!

There is no moment of understanding between them. No “sorry for enslaving you, here, I’ll make it up to you by leaving and letting you have the island like you always wanted” exchange. Prospero’s last words to Caliban are, in fact, still those of master to slave.

I think my misunderstanding of the ending comes from two places. First, I’m visually thinking of Helen Mirren’s portrayal in Julie Taymor’s film version. If I recall that correctly, there is a clear moment (albeit in silence, since Shakespeare gave no words) that fills the need for what I wrote above.

The other is that I’ve just never really thought of The Tempest, my answer to “Which one is your favorite play?” in terms of slavery and racism and colonization. I love it as a story of fathers and children and forgiveness. That just goes to show just how good it is, that it can be both. You can read it as a happy ending fairy tale to your children about wizards and monsters and long lost princesses returning to their kingdoms. Or you can read it as a four hundred year old depiction of the darkest aspects of human behavior still on display to this day.

It’s given me a lot to think about. I’ve always known about those themes in the play, I’ve just never really focused on them, preferring instead to think of it as a positive book end to Shakespeare’s writing. Which is a bit ironic because in my modern reading I often chide books that wrap things up too nicely, and prefer those that give me something to think about and work on. If Caliban is forever enslaved because of what Prospero did, then how can we ever break the cycle?

Which ending do you prefer? Is Caliban free now to be king of the island? Or is he forever enslaved by what Prospero did to him, long after Prospero is gone?

A VR Tempest is Coming and I Want It.

I’ve been doing this blog for a long, long time. It’s been a natural crossover to look for ways that technology is used in innovative ways to tackle Shakespeare. We need to get back into more of that. I’ve been missing some good stuff.

An “Oculus” is a virtual reality headset. I know it as the Oculus Rift but I guess there are different models now. I think Facebook owns them. You’ve no doubt seen them, if even in a science fiction movie – you strap the goggles over your head, then the immersive experience that’s shown to you moves around as you do. I actually got to watch some Hamlet like this once, it’s pretty cool. My experience was only what they call a “360 video”, where you can’t move – you can only spin your head around like an owl. In a true VR setting you can actually move around.

https://www.engadget.com/the-under-presents-tempest-oculus-rift-view-225750213.html

So I’m trying to understand what this game / performance called The Under Presents is, but it sounds pretty neat. They’re doing The Tempest next, and it’s a live show – you need to get tickets.

The play will feature a single actor who, in the play’s narrative, was supposed to play Prospero in a proper stage show. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, their in-person performance was canceled.

I have no idea what’s actually going to happen within the show but I can see them taking the whole “These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air” thing in a whole new direction. I am imagine the actor as Prospero pointing his staff into blank space, conjuring up a Miranda or Ferdinand, and *poof* your headset comes to life, you are in the show, you are Ferdinand. Maybe you get a script? This is all technology, maybe it just goes ahead and walks and talks for you, driving you like auto pilot and you’re just along for the ride. I can think of all kinds of crazy things that might happen.

Anybody out there got one of these headsets and can spend the couple of bucks to check it out?

Guest Post : Shakespeare’s Travels

Scotland – the famous setting for Macbeth

Should you ever decide to embark on a tour of the locations of Shakespeare’s plays you’d find yourself with a long itinerary. The bard’s quill pen roamed the world, from Egypt and Syria to Scotland – this blog has even provided a handy map. Some places, such as England and Italy, were, of course, frequently visited by his imagination. Others, such as Austria (Measure for Measure) and Cyprus (Othello) he only visited once.

Shakespeare shaped these foreign lands to suit his stories. Greece (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Timon of Athens, The Two Noble Kinsmen, etc.), Wales (Cymbeline, Richard II, Henry IV P1) and Turkey (The Comedy of Errors, Troilus & Cressida, etc.) were made the settings for comedy, tragedy, romance, and history. The world truly was his stage to dress – in fact, most of his plays are set abroad, the Globe Theatre, therefore, becoming an actual microcosm of our globe.

Some locations are famously linked with his plays. Who, after all, would not know that Hamlet is set in Denmark? Other links are, perhaps, a little more obscure. Lebanon featuring in Pericles, for example, or the former Yugoslavia (specifically, the area known as Illyria) in Twelfth Night.

Dubrovnik, once the centre of the Republic of Ragusa in the ancient region of Illyria

Are visitors to Spain’s Basque Country aware that they’re following in the footsteps of the characters in Love’s Labour’s Lost? The location of the French court in All’s Well That Ends Well is a little unclear, but it isn’t hard to imagine Helena and Bertram amidst the grand buildings of Carcassonne. I’m also a fan of the vague Mediterranean setting of The Tempest, which allows me to imagine Prospero roaming Malta, or Menorca, or perhaps Sardinia.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, famous even in Shakespeare’s day

How did Shakespeare know about these far-flung places? As the No Sweat Shakespeare blog once mentioned, even travel between Stratford-Upon-Avon and London was no mean feat. Shakespeare, therefore, didn’t have direct experience of these locations – it was 40 years after Shakespeare’s death when The Grand Tour made foreign travel popular amongst the English elite. Instead he took inspiration from historical texts and other stories (including Italian novellas) – Egypt, for example, has always been well-known to the western world and descriptions of its ancient sites would not have been hard to come by.

The world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open” – the world isn’t currently our oyster to open, but with Shakespeare’s stages on shores near and distant, perhaps we can, for now, take a little peek and plan for the day when we follow the footsteps of his far-flung characters.

Olly loves to travel and has visited over 80 countries and all 7 continents. He also likes to explore the world through the medium of literature and enjoys matching famous locations with the places he’s been to. Olly runs travel planning blog APlanToGo.com, on which you can download free, highly detailed itineraries for destinations across the globe.

I Knew I Wasn’t Crazy!

This is not a loon, and neither am I.

Back in November, I had a bit of a reality distortion moment as I found evidence that a story I’d always told as having happened in 2008 actually happened in 2004. Specifically, we’re talking about a production of The Tempest that I took my kids to see. Their first one, in fact.  The one I use as the foundation when I tell people about my kids’ relationship with Shakespeare. Only, if it happened in 2004, I only had one kid.

But I was right after all!  Looking through old pictures this weekend I found more from that production, with my other two kids clearly included.  I knew I wasn’t losing my mind.  These pictures were, in fact, dated 2008.  That gave me an idea I should have thought of in the first place.  I used my own darned search function…

And look what I found. August 2008. I actually posted about it several times both before and after the show, it was quite a milestone event for me.

Oh I feel so much better now. 🙂