What Are We?

Bardfilm and I were having an interesting conversation yesterday about the great divide (from where I sit) in the Shakespeare Universe.  If you are not a professional Shakespearean (mostly thinking of academics and researchers, though I would have to say that full-time directors, actors, etc… would also count themselves among this group) … what do you call yourself?  How do you explain your relationship to Shakespeare and his works?

From what I have seen, academia prefers to refer to us as “fans”. If you are not a professional, you are a fan.

Fans
“Woo! Play Hey Nonny Nonny!”

 

I hate that.  I am a fan of Pink Floyd.  I have not spent the last twelve years of my life writing thousands of posts about how Pink Floyd makes life better. I did not tell my kids The Wall as a bedtime story growing up. I do not have an ever-growing shrine to Roger Waters on my desk at work, and I don’t celebrate David Gilmour’s birthday like it’s a near-religious holiday.

I have invested a great deal of my life, and the lives of my friends and family, in Shakespeare. People that know me know more about Shakespeare because of me.  But for all of that, the way I am to describe myself (and those who feel the same way I do) as …. fans?

For fun I grabbed a random thesaurus entry for “fan” and here’s what it gave me to work with:

adherent, beau, believer, booster, boyfriend, buff, bug, cat, devotee, disciple, enthusiast, fan, fancier, fiend, follower, freak, girlfriend, groupie, hound, junkie, lover, nut, partisan, patron, rooter, suitor, supporter, swain, sweetheart, wooer, worshiper

You know what dawns on me is missing from that list?

Geek.

I didn’t originally pick that word because of my computer background.  It’s not supposed to be “The geek who is also into Shakespeare.”  It was more about a healthy obsession with learning everything I could about the subject. What Wikipedia has to say about the word isn’t bad, actually:

The word geek is a slang term originally used to describe eccentric or non-mainstream people; in current use, the word typically connotes an expert or enthusiast or a person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit, with a general pejorative meaning of a “peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward”.[1]

I think I agree with almost all of that.  “Expert” is clearly tricky in this context because by definition we’re not trained professionals. Am I an expert? Are you? Who’s to say?  But we can all probably agree on enthusiast. Obsessed?  Check.  I think Shakespeare qualifies as an intellectual pursuit. And I’m even ok with the pejorative stuff – peculiar and socially awkward?  Well, yeah, I was that before I got into Shakespeare!

How about you? What do you call yourself when it comes up?

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

The People Behind The Shakespeare

Over on Facebook, Dana asked a good question, and I didn’t have an answer.  He asked:

Do you know of any books or articles that have attempted to identify the real people behind Shakespeare’s characters?

He cites the example of Jaques (As You Like It) possibly being modeled on Jacomo Francisci, a soldier of fortune under Sir William Stanley.  I suppose the other more obvious example would be that Polonius (Hamlet) is supposed to be William Cecil, Lord Burghley.  I also saw a theory tFalstaffhat Falstaff (Henry IV) might have been at least partially based on Robert Greene, he whose wit is worth a groat.

I’m sure that each of these has some degree of evidence and plenty to dispute.  Dana’s interested in the subject and wondering if anybody’s collected them into a single work?  It seems like an interesting topic.  Anybody know of something published?

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

Are We Ready for Prime Time Shakespeare?

Tis the summer of prime time Shakespeare!  TNT has announced that July 10, 2017 will be the premiere of their new series Will, chronicling the (fictional) rockstar life of up and coming playwright Will Shakespeare:

They’ll be playing catch up, though, because over on ABC, Shonda Rhimes imagines a sequel to Romeo and Juliet called Still Star-Crossed, which premieres May 29:

Which are you more excited for?  Which do you think has the better chance of surviving?

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

Art Thou A Man of Wax?

I may have mentioned, my daughter is studying Romeo and Juliet. Her teacher knows about our history and knowledge of the subject.  So the other day at dinner my daughter tells me, “Oh!  My teacher told me to call you a man of wax, and see how you react.”

They are referring to Nurse’s opinion of County Paris:

LADY CAPULET
The valiant Paris seeks you for his love.

Nurse
A man, young lady! lady, such a man
As all the world–why, he’s a man of wax.

My other daughter asked what man of wax means, so my oldest explained that it means perfect, like a sculpture.  I think it’s the wax that throws people off.  If she’d said “he’s like a bronze sculpture” or “he looks like he was carved out of granite” I think it would be more obvious, but it would also imply that Paris is some sort of imposing physique, and that’s not the case here.  He’s not solid like a rock, he’s shiny like wax.

I took it as insulting. I’ve always understood the term to have an implication of “all looks, no substance, empty inside.”  I explained this and my daughter said, “Well, yes, but we haven’t read that far yet, we don’t know anything about Paris’ character.”

County Paris, Man of WaxWhich I thought was a good point.  I’m interpreting it with the knowledge of the audience, that Paris while looks good “on paper,” he’s ultimately not her true love.  But Nurse obviously means it in the more superficial “I like what I see” sense. It’s really about how Juliet takes it.  She’s not really in the market for a man of wax.

No real groundbreaking revelation here, just one of those moments where you have to separate how you the audience interpret something from how the actual speaker means it, and how it is taken.

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

Check Me Out, Shakespeare Geek T-Shirts are on Amazon!

You may have seen links in the footer already, or the sneak preview I sent out on Twitter a few days ago, but today is the official announcement that Shakespeare Geek T-Shirts have been approved for the “Merch by Amazon” program!

Starting now I’m going to roll out a whole new line of Shakespeare Geek t-shirts featuring Shakespeare Geek T-Shirts : Now I Will Believe That There Are Unicornsthe original material we’ve collected here over the years (hashtag games, knock knock jokes, etc…)  All new designs.  This is going to be stuff you can’t find anywhere else, and I’m hoping you like it!

I’ve been on Zazzle and Cafepress before, but this has the potential to be different.  Amazon changes whatever game it plays.  For starters, they approve everything ahead of time.  So right off the bat, the quality is that much better. They don’t allow copyright stuff, and in fact, will shut down yShakespeare Geek T-Shirts : Six Word Shakespeareour account if they find you infringing on anybody.  Plus, being Amazon, they work at a scale comparable to no one, so they can deliver a high-quality product and still keep it at a reasonable price.  Right now I’ve got a $17.99 tag on the shirts (down from the standard $19.99) but for other services I’ve seen it go double that just to get a reasonable royalty back to the creator.

The biggest advantage, though, will be placement in the Amazon search engine.  Now everybody who searches Amazon has a chance to see our Shakespeare Geek originals.  To that end, I’d like to request a favor.  If you do see any merchandise that you like enough to order, and you do find that you love it even more once you’ve got it, please come back and review it.  I’ve noticed already is thShakespeare Geek T-Shirts : Knock Knock Jokeat 99% of the product available is being cranked out by bots to flood the market. It’s all the exact same, no description, and no reviews.  If we could get the brand to stand out it would help the products rise in the search ratings. This kicks me up a tier for Amazon, allowing me to churn out more product for you!

I am creating new products as fast as Amazon lets me. They throttle you to just a couple a day to prevent the bots from taking over.  Even then you have to go through the approval process. At any given time I’ve got a few new shirts queued up and ready to go. So if you’ve got any ideas, let me know and I’ll happily try to get it made for you! Especially if it involves a product already out there and you didn’t like the color/style. It would make me sad if you saw one you wanted and it wasn’t available in the color you prefer. I can totally change that.

Please help spread the word and share this post if you can!

 

 

Happy Shakespeare Day 2017

Happy Shakespeare Day, everyone!

I hope everybody’s got plans to include Shakespeare in their day today, even if it’s just to wish people a Happy Shakespeare Day. Please get out of the habit of calling it Shakespeare’s Birthday, because then we inevitably get into that lengthy discussion about how he died on the same day, and then we end up counting anniversaries (it’s the 453rd anniversary of his birth and the 401st anniversary of his death). It’s Shakespeare Day. Celebrate Shakespeare.

Since we’re falling on a Sunday this year that can go two different ways. It’s the weekend, so maybe you’ve got time to get out and see a performance. But then again if you’re like me, most of your interaction with other people is during the work week, and on a Sunday you won’t do much more than chores around the house. Lucky for me this year there’s a volleyball tournament today, so by the time you read this I’m probably sitting on a folding chair in an auditorium somewhere waiting for my daughter’s team to come up in the rotation.  So I can combine my two great loves – I can sit in front of the computer, and I can connect with Shakespeare, and people around the world who feel like I do.

I’m not one for celebration, outwardly. I’m a heck of an introvert. I watch game shows on tv and see people jumping up and down when they win a prize and my only thought is, “Oh, god, how do they generate that much energy?”  If I went on a game show and won a new car my only reaction would be, “Awesome.”

But that doesn’t stop me from telling people that April 23 is a pretty huge holiday in my world. I’ll often use the word “religious” when trying to explain it, but I know that gets people uncomfortable.  I spend lots of time thinking about things like belief, and how we ever really know what we believe, versus what we merely tell ourselves. I don’t necessarily believe that I’ll ever switch careers and become a full-time Shakespearean, or teach, or write a best seller. I’ve been entertaining those thoughts for twenty or more years but I know when it comes down to providing for my family my career lies in my computer skills, not Shakespeare.

So often the blog gets neglected as life gets busy and I focus on the more practical matters.  On any given night you can find me juggling three choices for how to spend my evening, after the kids have gone to bed.  I can go to bed too, and sometimes I do that.  I can do stuff for my day job, telling myself that it’ll get me ahead, and more likely to be recognized when it comes time for salary bumps and promotions. Or, I can immerse myself in Shakespeare. Sometimes the posts just roll out of me and my best Shakespeare buddy Bardfilm will text me, “Where are all these posts coming from?!” But other times I’ll stare at the screen and think, “I haven’t posted in a week, I need to post something,” and it’ll feel more like I’m doing it because I have to, not because I want to.

But I’ll never give it up.  Because when I really stop and think about it? When I really break it all the way down to what I know that I believe?  It’s written up there at the top of the page.  I believe that Shakespeare makes life better, and that by doing my part to spread Shakespeare in the world, I’m making other people’s lives better.  Today is my day to remember that.

So it’s that time once again, my loyal readers. In the past I’ve had a great time doing a posting marathon, queuing up somewhere close to thirty posts on the day.  When I first started it was some sort of personal challenge for just how much effort I could put into it. Who are we kidding, though – I can write these posts ahead of time now and just schedule them to come out throuHappy Shakespeare Dayghout the day. True I still have to write them, but it’s not like I’m writing them in real time. The worst part, though, is that I would put out so many posts that most of them got buried and nobody would see them!  That kind of kills the point.

I guess I’m saying that I’m ending that tradition. Don’t expect thirty or more posts from me today. I’d much rather have fewer posts and more conversation on them. If you want to share Shakespeare Day with me, then leave a comment on a post that you like. Not on the Facebook page or on Twitter, here on the blog.  Those are what really feel permanent to me.  I can still go back and look at conversations that we had in 2008 here.  Try that on Twitter.  Possible? Sure, technically.  Does anybody do it?  Nope.

There is one tradition I’m not ending, though, and it’s my own personal invocation of the Master to join us in spirit for today’s celebration. It makes me feel like a part of something hundreds of years in the making.  Happy Shakespeare Day, everybody.  And thank you, Shakespeare. I therefore will begin.

Soul of the age!

The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!

My Shakespeare, rise!

 

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

Plans for Shakespeare Day?

Once again April 23 has arrived!  Shakespeare Day is what we like to call it around here.  I tell people it’s a very big holiday in my universe, and I’m not lying.  Traditionally I spend the day online. I queue up a marathon of posts throughout the day and generally immerse myself in all things Shakespeare. At least, as deeply as my daily Happy Shakespeare Day, David Garrick!responsibilities otherwise allow.

What makes me sad, though, is when Shakespeare Day falls on a weekend, as it does this year (Sunday).  I generally do not have the freedom to hang out in front of the computer all day on Sundays. Sundays are for family time.  I still queue my posts and monitor Twitter by phone, but it’s not the same.  I never feel quite as joyous. My mind is elsewhere.

How about everybody else?  My Shakespeare universe is generally limited to the online world, there are not many Shakespeare Day parades or celebrations.  I mean, sure, I bet I could find one.  But I think of you all as the community that I’m really interested in hanging out with.  Part of the celebration of the day is not just Shakespeare the man or his works. It’s the people that keep him alive in all the ways that we do.

That last paragraph reminds me of David Garrick and his Shakespeare Jubilee.  Maybe next year I’ll dress up?  Nobody would get it, of course, and I’d have to spend the entire day telling the story.

Which I’m totally cool with.

One more thing?

This came up last year.  One does not celebrate Shakespeare’s death.  You celebrate his birth or his accomplishments. You commemorate his death.  If you catch people calling today the day we celebrate Shakespeare’s death, please go ahead and correct them.  It makes him sound like a super villain.  That’s one of the reasons I use Shakespeare Day to describe April 23. I don’t want it mired down in stuff like that.  It is a day to celebrate Shakespeare’s work, and how it makes life better.

 

Why Did Iago Leave Roderigo At Brabantio’s House?

The Shakespeare Answers category is here to answer questions people may have about Shakespeare’s work. If you’re just looking for the homework answers then you’ll find them here. I don’t love that, but I look at it this way. First, I can’t stop you, and if you didn’t find the answer here you’ll easily find it elsewhere. Second, by answering the question here maybe I can convince you that Shakespeare is interesting and worth learning more about.

Like so many of Shakespeare’s plays, we don’t actually see the title figure in the first scene.  Othello opens with Iago and Roderigo standing outside the window of Brabantio, a Venetian senator, and father to Desdemona.

Roderigo lusts after Desdemona, and Iago knows this.

Desdemona has run off with Othello, and Iago knows this.  Iago does not like Othello, to put it mildly.

Brabantio will not be happy to discover that his daughter as run off with Othello, and Iago knows this.

Iago’s manipulation drives everything in this play. He wants to get Othello in trouble, possibly to the point of having his command stripped, and sees an opportunity to use Roderigo as a puppet in making that happen.

So here we are, standing outside Brabantio’s window when the two begin hurling some of the vilest, most racist comments you’ll find in all of Shakespeare:

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe…

…the devil will make a grandsire of you…

…you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse…

It is Iago, not Roderigo, that hurls all those comments, as well as the most famous one:

…your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

But, here’s the thing.  When Brabantio asks for their names, the only one to answer is Roderigo.  Iago’s not stupid.  Roderigo still thinks that the plan is some version of “we’re going to get Othello in trouble by telling on him,” not fully appreciating the level of psychological manipulation going on.

Once Brabantio comes down the stairs, Iago runs for it.  He tells Roderigo:

…for I must leave you:
It seems not meet, nor wholesome to my place,
To be produced–as, if I stay, I shall–
Against the Moor

Which translates as, “It’s not a good idea for people to see me here, speaking out against my boss.”  Which is true. You can’t play the puppet master once people realize that you’re the one pulling the strings, and then realize that you’ve got strings attached to them as well.

Does that make him a coward? Hurling insults behind the mask of anonymity and then fleeing into the night?  That would suggest that Iago feels some degree of remorse or shame for his actions, which is hardly accurate.

The scene does a great job of setting up both characters. Roderigo is easily manipulated here and will be again.Othello and Iago

Would You Rather…

  • See a live stage performance of all of Shakespeare’s plays exactly once in your life, and then never again.

or

  • Only ever see one Shakespeare play (your choice) for the rest of your life, but you get to see as many versions and interpretations as you want?

 

In other words, is the ultimate value in Shakespeare’s work represented by the variety across everything he wrote, or the infinite variation to be found in each work?

I think I’d take endless versions of a single play. I’ll learn something new from a Hamlet or a King Lear every time I see it, but I’m fairly confident that I could live my life never seeing Timon of Athens or Pericles.  But could I ever pick one play? I can’t even pick one play to make the example!

I confess this is a bit of a trick question, because the only real way you can decide what play you’d want to see forever is if you’ve seen all the plays at least once in the first place 🙂

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

The Crossover Game

I got this idea from a Reddit post that suggested Much Ado About Nothing as a kind of sequel to Romeo and Juliet, by way of the “bride pretends she’s dead” trick, as if it’s Friar Laurence both times, having learned his lesson and getting it right the second time.

That reminded me of all the various Pixar and Disney theories about how all their movies are set in the same universe – such as the princess from Tangled coming to see the princesses from Frozen at the beginning of that movie.

Pick two plays.  Show how some character or circumstance might connect them.  The more off the wall the better!  Go ahead and use whatever was happening in Shakespeare’s real world at the time for ideas as well!

Much Ado About Nothing

Here’s my entry:

Audiences liked the bit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where a lion almost eats Thisbe. But they felt robbed that there wasn’t more actual violence. So Shakespeare gave them a character actually pursued and eaten by a bear in The Winter’s Tale. In early productions, Oberon and Puck make a final scene cameo as the ones that bring Hermione back to life.