Why Do We Read?

I suppose this post isn’t specifically about Shakespeare. But I am assuming that many (most?) of us enjoy the subject so much that we don’t limit ourselves to waiting for a performance, and are pretty familiar with the text. Maybe not every play, but for your favorites, I’m assuming that you’ve read them. Probably closely, and probably more than once.

Why do we read?
Words, words, words.


I run a virtual bookclub at work (which is really just a Slack channel where I brain dump the audio books I go through on my commute at a rate of about 2-3 per week).  We were bouncing around recommendations and a coworker asked what kind of things I like to read. I said, “I like stuff that explores humanity’s place in the universe, and our purpose in life, if there is one.  How an individual’s actions and motivations affect everyone and everything around him.  If technology is involved, AI and stuff like that, all the better.  But that’s extra.”

In a previous discussion on the same topic, though, here’s what I’d told somebody:  “I like books where you feel changed at the end. Most books I read, I’ll forget.  Sure they were entertaining for a little while, but if they don’t leave me with something that I’m going to carry with me, I don’t feel like I got anything of value out of it.”  I’m trying to figure out if that is the same answer or the opposite answer.

Either way, I got to wondering if the same logic applies to my love of Shakespeare, and I believe that it does.  Tell me that Hamlet and King Lear don’t perfectly fit both my answers above?  I tend to trivialize the comedies (just like I would for movies or television shows), but even a Midsummer or Much Ado has a certain depth that touches on what I’m seeking.  I don’t get that from Love’s Labour’s Lost, or All’s Well That Ends Well.  Maybe that’s personal opinion, or maybe there actually is something in one play that’s not in another that strikes a universal chord.  Who knows.

What’s your story?  Why you do this? What do you get out of it?


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Shakespeare Wedding Season

Remember when I wrote a book? Spring is peak season for weddings, and frequently I get traffic for people looking for Shakespeare wedding ideas. So I thought it was a good opportunity to revisit the story…

Has it been seven years? Man I forget how long it’s been that I’ve been doing this.  Then I realize that there’s probably a whole slew of readers who never saw the original project.

Back in 2010 I told myself, “Listen, take one of those ideas running around your brain and actually finish it.”  Ideas are the easy part.  Execution and completion are the hard part.  That’s the story of my life right there.  This was my pure will power effort to get something from the idea stage all the way to completion.

The result is Hear My Soul Speak: Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare. I’d been to one too many weddings where they trotted out Sonnet 116 again and I said to my wife, again, “Why can’t they ever recite something different? There’s so many Shakespeare wedding quotes to choose from.”  I read Sonnet 17, personally.  Actually I recited it to my wife during our first dance.Then it dawned on me that maybe it’s because they don’t know anything else to choose from. Everybody knows 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…” by the way) probably because they heard it at somebody else’s wedding and thought, “I’ll have that at mine, too.”

Then it dawned on me that maybe it’s because they don’t know anything else to choose from. Everybody knows 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…” by the way) probably because they heard it at somebody else’s wedding and thought, “I’ll have that at mine, too.”

Shakespeare Wedding QuotesSo I went through all the sonnets and quote databases I could, pruning out the not by Shakespeares (*), organizing them into how they might be used (the proposal, the vows, the guest book, the toast…) and explaining their context.

Hear My Soul Speak

The end result is a tidy little Shakespeare wedding quote reference book to use whether you’re getting married, in the wedding party, or just on the guest list.  If you’re in any of the above categories, check it out!  Shakespeare makes life better.

(*) Look, I love “I love none but thee til the stars grow old and the sun grows cold,” or however it goes, but it’s not Shakespeare. It’s Bayard Taylor.

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Geeklet Sorrows (And A Confession)

Yesterday my daughter had an unexpected medical procedure on her mouth, so she’s in some degree of pain this morning (but not enough to skip school).  So she’s getting ready and I ask, “How’s your face?”

“Bad,” she says, “And now I have a pimple!”

“When sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions,” I offer.

“That means a third bad thing is gonna happen to me now too! Great!”

“No, it was just an opportunity for me to use a Shakespeare quote I don’t normally get to use.  King Lear?”

Both wife and geeklet look at each other and just leave the room.

Didn’t feel right, though.  Couldn’t place who said it, or where.  So over breakfast I had to look it up.  “You know what?” I told them, “When I said that quote was from Lot of sorrow in King Lear, but maybe not battalions of it.?  I was wrong, it’s Hamlet.”

Geeklet looks at wife, looks at me, and says, “Well, duh. We just didn’t want to embarrass you.”

But now I’m trying to figure out what quote I was confusing it with, because surely there’s stuff in King Lear all about the piling on of sorrows.


There To Meet With … Captain Underpants!

Drive-by geeklet story:

When your youngest is still just an 11yr old boy and your oldest are teenage girls sometimes sacrifices have to be made for going to a “family” movie.  This weekend we went to see Captain Underpants.  Bad choice. It’s getting surprisingly good results, but I think that even at 11 my son’s a bit old for the level of maturity required.  The audience laughed at every “Uranus” joke, but if I had to guess I’d say the average age was more like 8.

Coming out of the theatre my older geeklet announced, “I could have seen Macbeth! Instead I went to see Captain Underpants.  I think I lost brain cells.”

The local high school is performing Macbeth this weekend.  I knew that, but I’ve learned from experience that going to see a high school production of Shakespeare when you have no vested interest in it is a painful experience.  What I didn’t realize is that her friends invited her to go see their friends that are actually in it.

What I should have said was, “True, but which one do you think has more jokes involving bodily functions?”



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You Mean You Don’t Have A Shakespeare Cookie Cutter?

Another school year draws to a close and we continue to be a Fortune’s fools as my oldest geeklet literally still hasn’t finished Romeo and Juliet yet.  Amazing.  She’ll be finishing the play, in theory, on her very last day of that class. She does, however, love the teacher.  And she thought it would be a great idea if she brought in Shakespeare cookies for the last day of class.  Because, of course, we have a Shakespeare cookie cutter.  Doesn’t everybody?

But, here’s the thing. My daughter is a) a total nerd who will jump at extra credit any chance she gets, and b) painfully shy.  So she’s excited about the idea and totally wants to do it, but also thinks that other kids will think that it’s lame and call her a nerd.  She asks what I think.

“I think,” I tell her, “That it would be completely in character.”

“How do you mean?”

“You’re not the Shakespeare geek, and your teacher and classmates know that. You’re the girl whose dad is a Shakespeare geek.  So you bring in some Shakespeare cookies and say, I made these because of course my dad is such a geek he has a Shakespeare cookie cutter. Your teacher will love it because he knows that you’re the kind of student that does extra things like that, and your fellow students love it because free cookies. Everybody knows I’m totally the kind of person that has a Shakespeare cookie cutter.  I’m glad to have the opportunity to use it.”

Being the parent, though, my opinion only counts for so much.  So she starts texting her friends asking whether they think it’s a good idea, or it’s lame.  One of her friends writes back, “I think the teacher will love it and absolutely you should do it.”  I like her. She also knows she gets cookies out of the deal.

Shakespeare cookie cutter
Is that playdough they used?

So we knocked out a dozen Shakespeare cookies.  It’s a big shape, and hard to transfer from work surface to baking sheet, so each one of them came out just a little bit warped.  My daughter’s running commentary the entire way, performing surgery as necessary. I’m tempted to start making Earl of Oxford jokes but I know she won’t get them.  So instead I say, “Make sure you let the kids know that these are Chandos cookies, and not the more well known Droeshout.”

“You say weird things,” she tells me.

“I know,” I reply.  “I do that on purpose.  Everybody already knows me as a geek, right? Everybody assumes that when the subject comes up I’m going to use words that people don’t know? I embrace that and run with it and make sure that’s true.  It’s entertaining for me. Always be true to who you are, you end up much happier for it.”

She’s bringing them in Monday morning, which I guess is when you’ll see this post.  I’ll report back with an update when I find out how they went over!



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Attention Playwrights!

I’m cautiously optimistic about this.  Amazon and Audible (wait, aren’t they the same company now?) have $5million to fund new one and two-man “plays” to presumably be made available via the Audible download service.

…isn’t this just radio drama?  It’s weird to me that they’re calling for playwrights.  Am I missing something?  Are these plays going to actually be performed where someone can go *see* it, live, or is it what I’m assuming and it’s all downloadable audio?

County Paris, Man of Wax
How about Romeo and Juliet as told by Paris?

Everybody wants to get into the original content game now, which is great for consumers (Netflix is literally canceling good shows now on purpose because they don’t want to be thought of as too successful!), and it’s nice to see that the audio crowd hasn’t been left out.

But just how much can you get done in a one or two man show where all you’ve got to work with is sound?  That’s pretty reminiscent of radio drama from, what, 70 years ago?  And even then they typically had a larger cast to work with.

Not a lot of Shakespeare in this one, but I thought this crowd would still be interested.  Could you turn a Shakespeare play into a one man show?  Which one would you tackle, and how would you do it?  Almost certainly have to be a tragedy, but could you even do it from the point of view of the tragic hero, if he’s going to die at the end?


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B- For You, TV Guide

Skimming through the reviews of Still Star-Crossed I stopped on this one from TV Guide entitled, 6 Issues William Shakespeare Might Have With Still Star-Crossed.  The author says that we should dust off our freshman English copies of the play, but methinks she should have done the same.

The new series focuses primarily on Rosaline (Lashana Lynch), who in Shakespeare’s version was the unrequited object of Romeo’s affections before he ever laid eyes on Juliet. That means she had to be aligned with the Montagues or else the story would have been called Romeo & Rosaline. Shondaland not only switched Rosaline’s family allegiance, but made her an adopted servant of Lord (Anthony Head) and Lady Capulet (Zuleikha Robinson) — so she filled the role of Juliet’s nurse. She went from being a maiden of high society and the first love of Romeo (though she wasn’t into it) to being Juliet’s servant. Talk about a creative demotion.

She’s quite hung up on this point, because later in the article she adds this:

Though it will take some serious adjusting to get used to seeing Rosaline as a Capulet…

First of all, Rosaline is literally never in the original so it should take some serious adjusting to get used to seeing her *at all*.

But second and more amusingly …. what do you think, should we tell her?  Ok, yes, let’s tell her.


Stay, fellow; I can read.


‘Signior Martino and his wife and daughters;
County Anselme and his beauteous sisters; the lady
widow of Vitravio; Signior Placentio and his lovely
nieces; Mercutio and his brother Valentine; mine
uncle Capulet, his wife and daughters; my fair niece
Rosaline; Livia; Signior Valentio and his cousin
Tybalt, Lucio and the lively Helena.’ A fair
assembly: whither should they come?






To supper; to our house.


Whose house?


My master’s.


Indeed, I should have ask’d you that before.


Now I’ll tell you without asking: my master is the
great rich Capulet; and if you be not of the house
of Montagues, I pray, come and crush a cup of wine.
Rest you merry!


Rosaline is a Capulet in the original, too.  Don’t feel bad, it’s easy to miss that (heck, I only really paid attention to it last year).  But it’s precisely because she’s going to be at the party that Romeo is convinced to go.  I think the big mistake people tend to make is thinking that the Montague / Capulet thing is black and white, “every Montague will attempt to kill every Capulet they meet, and vice versa,” when really that’s not the case at all.  It’s far more likely that in these two substantially extended families, everybody in town is one or the other, and they basically get along.  It’s really only the heads of the families that still have “ancient grudge” issues.  So while maybe it was ok for Romeo to lust (because really, that’s what it is) after a second or third cousin, him waltzing into the patriarch’s party and trying to hook up with his only daughter?  Maybe not so cool.



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Review : Still Star-Crossed

Well, that was underwhelming.    I think I can give it more of a chance now that the pilot is out of the way and it becomes its own story, rather than having to recap the changes they made to the Shakespeare original.  But this just means that it pretty much gave us very little Shakespeare and will now promptly leave it all behind.

Right off the bat, Benvolio and Rosaline (who is now a servant in the Capulet house, even though she is still acknowledged as family) are witnesses to Romeo and Juliet’s wedding.  There is no Nurse character – Rosaline is Juliet’s confidant, which turns out to be a very small role.

Tybalt and Romeo meet in the streets, Mercutio – who we only saw briefly a few minutes ago and who has no real lines – dives into the fight, promptly gets killed, Romeo then kills Tybalt without a second thought.  He’s even a dick about it, when Tybalt says “I thought you wouldn’t fight me,” Romeo stabs him and says, “I lied” or “I changed my mind” or some other 1980’s action movie catch phrase. He then escapes in a ridiculous chase scene where one moment he’s sloshing through water with armed guards chasing him maybe 20 yards away, and in the next Friar Laurence is confronting Benvolio in a bar who says, “I gave Romeo a horse” and that’s that, he’s gone.  But no worries, he’s heard that his wife died, so he comes back.

We all know what happens next – fight scene with Paris, drink poison (did we even see where he got the poison? I may have missed it), Juliet wakes up, drinks poison too (ok, bit of a liberty there).  But!  Paris is still alive!

The story is surprisingly full of holes for modern primetime standards.  We open with Prince Escalus and his sister reassuring their dying father that everybody will know his proclamation – that anybody committing murder in Verona will be executed without trial.   It’s repeated several times.

First…isn’t this a thing anyway? The way they spell it out makes it sound like we’re missing something, like this isn’t normally the way things would be done in this time and in this place.  If you’re caught killing somebody, your life is forfeit.  Not sure why he’s so big on making sure everybody understands this “new” rule.

Second, as an example of the weak writing – when Isabella (Escalus’ sister) repeats their father’s proclamation she says, “Any man accused of murder in the city of Verona will be executed without trial.”  Excuse me?  Any man accused? Without trial?  Well that sucks.  “Hey,  I accuse that guy of murdering somebody.”  *stab*

But!  A few scenes later, when brother and sister are discussing it, here’s the dalogue:, Escalus is made to repeat, ”

Isabella “…until our father proclaimed…”
Escalus: “…That anyone who commits murder will be executed without trial.”

That’s literally NOT what he said, and Isabella knows that, since she said it herself two scenes ago.

Third, the whole thing is useless because not only does Escalus himself stab somebody soon after, but the entire city breaks out into a riot where people are just randomly killing each other in broad daylight all the time.  Maybe it’s a rule that will come back around later in the series?

There’s all kinds of other weird back story added.  Rosaline has a sister, and both come across like Cinderella to Lady Capulet’s wicked stepmother. I guess she resents them because she was jealous of their mother? They say Shakespeare’s hard to follow when he moves the plot along off stage, but I have no idea what’s going on here.

What this is all moving toward is Escalus ordering that Benvolio and Rosaline are to be married, to forcibly join the two houses.  It doesn’t help that Escalus and Rosaline love each other, and Benvolio sees them together.  I’m not sure why this matters, because Rosaline and Benvolio are playing the Beatrice/Benedick game and proclaim their hatred of each other every chance they get, so I’m not sure why Benvolio would suddenly be all jealous because a woman who he doesn’t love, who doesn’t love him, wants to be with a different guy.

Ultimately the only Shakespeare we really got was Mercutio saying “A plague on both your houses” and Romeo saying “Thus with a kiss I die.” Other than that this is just an entirely new story told with some of Shakespeare’s characters.  It might turn out to be good, but there’s no point in following or reviewing it as if it’s got anything to do with Shakespeare.  I’m still hoping for some flashbacks (I see that the IMDB entry for Romeo’s actor lists him as “unknown number of episodes”), but I’ll be surprised if we get any.  We’re far more likely to get back story for Rosaline – her mother (and mother’s death), her relationship with Escalus, and so on.


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Everybody Excited for Still Star-Crossed?

Still Star-CrossedTonight’s the night!  Shakespeare on prime time.  I can’t wait!

In case you missed it, Shonda Rhimes – Shonda “Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice, How To Get Away With Murder” Rhimes – is going to try her hand at something more Shakespearean with Still Star-Crossed, a Romeo and Juliet sequel based on the young adult novel by Melinda Taub.

Early reviews are hopeful but negative, calling it a rare misstep for Rhimes and hoping that the pilot’s overly complex story is something that all new dramas face as they’re forced to get in all the necessary back story. Sure they’re going to take some liberties (some big, some small). We have a new prince, taking over after his father’s death, but who is also named Escalus? That’s a rather forced twist just so that we can have a backstory romance between Rosaline (yes, Romeo’s Rosaline) and this new Escalus.  But he then goes off and proclaims that to join the two families, Rosaline has to marry Benvolio.  You’ve already lost me, Shonda.  There were no other Capulet cousins? You just had to pick the one that you like?  Apparently Escalus 2.0 has a sister, too, so start taking bets on how many episodes it takes before she gets into the romantic triangles.

I am cautiously hopeful.  Sure it’s not Shakespeare – but neither was Shakespeare in Love, and that did ok.  If you drop in enough Shakespeare content you can still manage to tell your own story while keeping the audience happy.  If you took any of the other shows she’s turned into gold and just documented the storyline, they’d sound equally convoluted.  Remind me again on Grey’s Anatomy which characters haven’t slept with each other?

And hey, if it doesn’t work we can turn our attention to Will on TNT, premiering later this summer.

And if that flops too look for Daisy Ridley on the big screen as Ophelia.

Is it me or are we seeing a real Shakespeare trend here?  I am totally ok with that.  So far nothing animated, nothing with lions.  Future looks promising!

Anybody else hoping for the best?

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If Music Be Whose Food Of Love?

If music be the food of love, play on.

Cleopatra doesn't look very hungry for the food of love.Everybody knows that quote, right?  Duke Orsino, opening line of Twelfth Night.

But check this out.  I was searching the text for music references tonight and a line popped up I’d never noticed before:

Give me some music; music, moody food
Of us that trade in love.

Recognize it?  That’s Cleopatra, from Antony and Cleopatra (duh), Act 2 Scene 5. Sounds almost identical, doesn’t it?  I love finding these obvious examples where Shakespeare had good luck with a particular turn of phrase and went back to it later.

It would be great if A&C was written first and we could say the most famous use of that line actually lifts it from the other, but that’s not the case – Twelfth Night is pretty safely several years prior to A&C.


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