Review : A Midsummer’s Nightmare

I lasted less than five minutes into this one and I’m not kidding. It opens with this scary scene straight out of Wicker Man as a girl’s arms and legs are duct taped and a mask is placed over her face. She’s then thrown into an open grave while Courtney Love (pretty sure that was her) takes Polaroids.  Then they throw a beehive in with her.  Told you it was Wicker Man.  Not the bees!

The guy shovelling dirt on her?  Has a donkey’s head.

I’ve already got the remote control in hand but I’m trying to give it a chance. Shortly we’re introduced to the hotel manager Puck, and the handyman Nick Bottoms. Just when I think I might get something resembling Shakespeare, instead I get a play by play of a girl in the bathroom, which ends with a closeup shot of her phone in the (used) toilet.

At that point I weigh the odds of there being any Shakespeare of note in this, decide no way, and give it up.

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Review : WILL, Episode 5

I actually kind of liked this episode, which starts with Shakespeare’s wife and kids showing up for a surprise visit in London.  This of course throws a real monkey wrench in his plans to swive Burbage’s daughter. But he makes it work, taking them for a tour of town that includes meeting all daddy’s friends from work.

I like this bit.  It’s exactly like you’d expect.  The kids are young and excited and wild and in the middle of things one of them says they have to pee.  Poor Anne Hathaway spends most of her time chasing them around, trying to get them to behave, not losing them in the crowd, all while still trying to be a wife to her husband and not just mother to his kids.

Of course she also learns that her husband is cheating on her in about the first ten seconds, so most of the episode is them fighting over what to do.  Of course he says he’ll break it off, but then what?  Will the family stay in London with him, or return to Stratford? Will he give up writing and come back with them to be a glove maker?

I particularly like the kids.  There’s a scene where Hamnet has written a story about dragons, and tells Shakespeare that it’s for him to use in his work. He reminds me greatly of my son.  They’re kids. They’re oblivious to the problems of the grownups. When Shakespeare enters a room they all yell “Daddy!” and hurl themselves at him in their excitement. It’s exactly what kids do.

As a juxtaposition in this family episode, our head torture guy – Topcliffe, right? – also has a “take your kids to work day.” His does not end so well. He catches his daughter singing a “Mary, Mary” rhyme and explains to her exactly how horrible Mary is. But the teenage son actually gets to see daddy beat some guy half to death, until he (the son) has to yell for him to stop.  Which of course humiliates dad, and son is off to boarding school.

I still hate the street urchin. I hate everything about the story. On the one side, the woman in charge of the prostitutes has seen him in the dress and tells the sister that she’s going to put him to work because there’s customers that like boys dressed as girls.  Great, so we start with the threat of pedophiles. But then he’s caught by the theatre folk for stealing a dress, and immediately declares, “Shakespeare give it to me!” making it clear that he’ll blackmail Shakespeare for the whole secret Catholic thing.  So now we have to pretend that he’s Shakespeare’s distant cousin, and they give him a job at the theatre -a job he promptly quits because he can’t read.  So we’re left with him cutting himself again.  I so don’t care about any of that, it’s all just awkward and uncomfortable and has nothing to do with Shakespeare.

Marlowe’s got this weird obsession with death going on, that ends with him hiring people to bury him alive so he can experience death.  Huh?  I so don’t get what’s going on with him. There’s an appearance by a character that’s obviously very close to him, but I have no idea who it is.

Is there any actual Shakespeare in this episode? Yes – sonnet 116 is recited throughout, which is an interesting choice if we were otherwise following a reasonably accurate timeline.  But we’re to believe that the “two minds” are actually Shakespeare and Alice Burbage, who, whether they’re sleeping together are not, are going to keep the theatre alive.


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But What’s It Mean, Mooch?

I try not to do politics here because I know it annoys people, but when Shakespeare comes up, it counts as news.  There’s a non-story going around about how somebody emailed the now fired Scaramucci, pretending to be Reince Priebus (that name’s harder to spell than Benderwhal Cucumber) and getting him to fall for it.

What’s interesting to us is where Mooch responds at one point:

Read Shakespeare. Particularly Othello.

I for the life of me can’t figure out who is who in that reference.  I get that this is a story about trust and betrayal and apparently somebody thinks somebody stabbed somebody in the back.  But saying that makes it an Othello story is like saying that the Lion King is actually Hamlet  (oh, wait…).  Who is Othello in this?  Who is Iago?  Is it just a weird way for Mooch to say the Priebus was jealous of him? Should the wives be worried? The wives don’t fare well in the original, if you recall.

I appreciate it whenever somebody drops Shakespeare into a Trump story, I do. It makes my news alerts light up like a Christmas tree :).  But I don’t get this one.  Anybody able to decipher it?

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What Will Theatre Look Like In 100 Years?

What will theatre, and Shakespeare in particular, look like in 100 years?

When people want to talk to me about who they think is a “modern Shakespeare” I always respond the same way: “Talk to me in 450 years and we’ll see if anybody’s still talking about your guy.”

But it does bring up something that we can talk about.  Shakespeare hasn’t remained static for all that time. The words aren’t changing, but everything else is.  Women on stage.  Electric lights.  Film.  Our attitudes toward race, gender, anti-Semitism.  All up for discussion.

What’s happening now that you think will be standard a generation (or two) from now?

I think that gender and race-blind casting is an obvious one.  I think we could debate all day the difference between “King Lear portrayed by a woman” and “King Lear portrayed as a woman” but that’s a topic for a different day.  Just like men played all the female roles at one point, I have no problem with women playing the men’s roles.  But when you change the actual character – making Prospera the mother figure rather than Prospero’s father figure, or making Hamlet the daughter rather than the son – well, then I think you’ve changed the source material and are now telling a different story than Shakespeare did, and creating a whole new thing. Which is fine, but then you shift into “based on Shakespeare” or “inspired by Shakespeare” territory. Don’t tell me I’m going to see Hamlet and deliver me the melancholy princess of Denmark.

Even that much is typically enough to get Facebook mad at me 🙂 and it’s not really the aspect of Shakespeare that most interests me.  I’d much rather talk about technology.

I’ve wanted to redesign the whole idea of the script for a long time. I wrote about my desire to see “Gonzo” Shakespeare back when the iPad2 first came out. This year we saw The Tempest with a completely computer-generated Ariel.  And let’s not forget this story about Shakespeare via portal, where some of the actors “on stage” are actually being broadcast from a thousand miles away.

What’s next?

Something I haven’t seen yet, but I’d love to see?  Interact with the audience’s smart phones.  A day will come, if it hasn’t already when we can just assume that everybody has one.  Imagine telling people that they can download an app to be a part of the show, just like donning 3d glasses at a movie.  Then comes a scene when everybody exits…then all our phones light up, and you see and hear Hamlet, “How all occasions do inform against me, And spur my dull revenge!”  It needs work, you’ve had to deal with the brightness,

How far we’ve already come!

the volume, etc.. but that’s just one idea off the top of my head as I sit here and write this.  Maybe in 100 years, we won’t even need the device. We’ll just have the sounds and images projected right into our heads.

Moore’s Law tells us that the advancement of technology is ever accelerating.  What’s taken 20 years thus far will take 2 years going forward. So 100 years is a long time.  Can we even imagine?

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Almost Forgot – A Midsummer’s Nightmare Tonight!

I was wondering what happened to this one, and it dropped in my lap this morning.  Our “summer of Shakespeare on TV” continues tonight with Lifetime’s A Midsummer’s Nightmare, which is going to be some sort of

horror story so I’m sure there’s not going to be much Shakespeare in it at all. The cast of characters doesn’t list any actual character names, excepting “Mike Puck” and “Nick Bottoms”. Everybody knows that I’m in it for the Shakespeare, so if I don’t hear some original text, I’m probably not going to care for it much at all.

Courtney Love is in this, as is Dominic Monaghan, the guy that played Merry in Lord of the Rings.  If they both end up putting Shakespeare on their resume after this, I know which one is going to sound more believable.  (Although I do see that one of the other stars, Daisy Head, who I otherwise would not recognize, is going to be in the upcoming Ophelia movie next year.  So maybe she’s going to be somebody we see more of in the future.)

I suffered through one episode of Still Star-Crossed, though, so I’ll suffer through this one. It’s not on until 11pm, though, so I might end up recording and watching tomorrow.


Enter, Stage Directions

Today I was asking random people about their thoughts on Shakespeare, and there was at least one expected answer of, “old and hard to read.”  My normal reaction was to go with the “Well, you really need to see it to understand what’s going on, reading is great after you already understand the story and character and now want to get into the details…..” when something occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever considered before.

When it comes to making Shakespeare “easier to read” we always seem to go to “modern translation” at worst, or “easy to access glossary and crazy amounts of footnotes” at best. The latter might give the most amount of information to the reader, but it’s certainly hard to “read” anything when your eye is constantly jumping around the page.

When I need an example I often go back to one that Mr. Corey, my 12th grade English teacher, used when discussing Hamlet. There’s a moment when Polonius says, “take this from this, if this be so.” Which makes no sense unless you can see that he is pointing to his head and then his shoulders, in other words, “have me decapitated if I’m lying.”

In this particular case, there’s often (always?) a stage direction that says, “[Points to his head and shoulder]. So it’s not really the greatest example. But is that part of the problem? The incredible dearth of stage directions? For the most part all we get with Shakespeare is who entered, who exited, and who stabbed or killed whom.  You’ve got to be careful, too, because those that are stabbed often stick around for a few speeches before they die.

Has anybody published an addition that doesn’t touch the actual text of the dialogue, but instead lays out the context in the stage directions?  Modern stage directions, in my limited experience, seem much more detailed.  For some reason True West by Sam Shepard  is what came to mind, and here’s a snippet of those stage directions (I was unsure if the bolding was in the original, I took a screenshot of somebody’s analysis I found online):

There’s a fairly obvious argument against going down this path in that it destroys the infinite interpretation of Shakespeare that has made him so timeless.  To say “Enter Hamlet, and here’s what he’s wearing, and here’s the expression on his face because here’s what he’s thinking…” is to destroy the character. Or at the very least, to lock one interpretation in stone.  But surely there’s middle ground?  How hard is it to write, “Enter HAMLET, still mourning his recently deceased father, dressed mostly in black.”  Now you’ve got context for “clouds hang on you”, “inky cloak,” “nighted color”, and so on.

Maybe this is how Shakespeare is actually performed, I don’t know.  Maybe the director, in trying to document her vision, does something similar where she has to go through and add notes of description to all the various scenes?


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Last Chance To See These Shakespeare T-Shirts!

Well folks, I’ve been having fun designing Shakespeare t-shirts, but not everything can be a “Mercutio Drew First” top seller :).  Amazon’s got a “30 days or it’s de-listed” policy, so the following designs, which sometimes went up so fast people didn’t even get a chance to see them, are now in danger of disappearing.  So if you’re looking to add to your wardrobe, or for something to give as a gift (buy now, keep it until Christmas!) it would help me out greatly if this was the week you decided to hit the buy button.  If they go, they go, and I’ll keep bringing up new designs.  But I wanted to make sure that I put the word out that they *are* possibly going, in case anybody had seen them once and thought that they might come back later and get it.  Later might be too late!

This one simply says “Shakespeare Geek” on both the front and back.  Available in a variety of colors!



Maybe I’m the only one that finds this joke funny. It’s originally from our #ShakespeareanFirstDrafts Twitter hashtag game and reads, “Holy $%^& Yorick Died?!”



“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  I have two versions of this, one with a red devil and this one with the green.  I actually made them for my son (the little devil :)).  But he’s got the red one.


I like to think of these two as a set.  I couldn’t decide which one so I made both.  Maybe it’s the color combinations people didn’t love?  You just gotta tell me, people. I can always change it!

If I was ruled entirely by research, I would have nothing but “Shakespeare insult” t-shirts.  I decided to put one up and see if anybody was interested, but truthfully my heart wasn’t in it. I like the original material better.


If you like the general idea of what I’m trying to do here but haven’t yet seen the one that screams “Yes, I must have it!” don’t be afraid to write in with your suggestions.  Several designs (which are not here, because they are selling :)) come straight from Facebook and Twitter followers offering up ideas.  This is especially true if you don’t like a particular color combination (I’ve met as many people who only do black t-shirts as those who ever do black t-shirts :)).  That’s easy because I already have all the image files!

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the business! Every time I check my stats and see the numbers go up I think, “There’s a little more Shakespeare released out into the world.” The dream is to one day bump into a stranger wearing a shirt that I know I made! Shakespeare makes life better!

Here’s a link to all the current merchandise if you want to see everything!

Thanks again!!


Serif or Sans, That Is The Question

Calling all font historians!

So, my brother’s decided to take up calligraphy / penmanship as a new hobby. Every morning he posts to Facebook in new fonts, inks, etc.. practicing his skills.  Today he posted a “typewriter font,” which I thought interesting because I just imagined him manually adding in the little serifs on each letter. I went looking into the history of the word “serif” (and by extension its partner “sans serif”, literally “without serifs”) and discovered that it’s apparently as recent as 1813?

I quickly fired up my First Folio (because who doesn’t have that on hot key?) to look at the font used 190 years earlier (attached).  Look at that!  Serifs everywhere.

Of course this is simply a case that “they didn’t call them serifs back then,” I get that.  What I’m wondering is, circa Shakespeare’s time, did the printing presses even have a concept of “choice of font”?  When would serif versus sans serif have even entered the picture?

…I just had a horrible thought.  Can you imagine if they’d printed the original First Folio in … <shudder>  Arial?



Review: Will, Episode 4

SCENE : The “Will” writer’s room.  BILL sit lazily about, staring at the ceiling, drumming fingers, periodically crumbling paper and tossing into a wastebasket.  DAVE sits in a corner, reading.

DAVE: (looking up)  Hey, do you  know what swive means?

BILL:  Swive? Nope. Why?

DAVE: (showing book) Because it says in this Shakespeare glossary that it’s another word for the F-bomb.

BILL:  So?

DAVE: (devious smile appearing) Don’t you get it?  If we didn’t know about it, neither will the censors!  So we can fill this week’s script with stuff like “Shut up and swive me now” and “They can go swive themselves for all I care.”

BILL: That’s genius.

Last week was all about how many naked buttocks they could show, this week is apparently archaic swear words. I can’t make this stuff up.  (For the record, my searches indicate that Shakespeare himself never used the word.)

“But what about the torture?” I hear you asking.  “I’m not here for the language and the nudity, I want to see blood spattering for no reason!”

Well then fear not, I have good news!  There’s actually what I thought a funny scene where our resident psychopath (Topcliffe, is it?) is fishing.  “Ha!” I thought.  “Fishing.  Shakespeare. That’s funny.”  (“Shakespeare” is actually a very popular manufacturing line of fishing poles.)

Hahaha, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets a fish hook embedded in his chest. Topcliffe then picks up the fishing rod (still attached, mind you) and starts walking away.  I think, nay hope, that he’s going to now lead the poor soul away like a leash.  Nope.  Just goes ahead and rips it right out of him.

Grossed out yet? Later we’ll see him actually hung from the ceiling by giant hooks in his back.

Sometimes I wonder why I watch this stuff.  Seriously.

There’s almost no actual Shakespeare in this one.  He’s riding on the popularity of Two Gents, but everybody keeps calling it a “tragicomedy” and saying how much they like the dog, and Will wants to be taken seriously.

He’s got some good lines about why he wants to write – to explore why we love and why we fight and what it means to be human. That’s the good stuff, that’s what I want to hear about.  But it’s pretty brief.

Of course we drop a few random lines, Marlowe talks about how it’s not his fault that his life’s not going so great, the fault lies in his astrology. This of course is wide open for “The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves,” or maybe ” Additionally we meet Sir Walter Raleigh, who has been to America, and describes it as “Brave new world with such stuff in it.”  You get the idea.


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Shakespearean Collective Nouns

Once again, Bardfilm offers a guest post for our edification—or, at least, for our amusement.

The English language offers a host of interesting collective nouns. You can describe a lot of geese as a gaggle of geese. More than a few whales make up a pod of whales. When you see tons of crows around, it’s natural (and fun) to say, “A murder of crows was on the neighbor’s back tree this morning.”
But what if you have a lot of Hamlets running around? How do you refer to the twenty-three Lady Macbeths you saw auditioning last night?
Here’s a list for exactly those instances. Think how useful (and fun) it will be to say, “I’m not looking forward to auditions. There’s a whole scrub of Lady Macbeths out there!” Without much more ado, here they are:

Shakespearean Collective Nouns

  • An innocence of Desdemonas.
  • A sack of Falstaffs.
  • An assignation of Bottoms.
  • An ide of Caesars.
  • A jealousy of Iagos.
  • A wherefore of Romeos.
  • A vengeance of Hamlets.
  • A fahrenfoul of witches.
  • An obscurity of Pericleses.
  • A gurgle of Ophelias.
  • A torrent of Lears.
  • An equivocation of Porters.
  • An infinite variety of Cleopatras.
  • A platitude of Poloniuses.
  • A poke of Gloucesters.
  • A scrub of Lady Macbeths.
  • A discontent of Richard IIIs.

Feel free to add your own options in the comments below. I know you’ve seen one too many Juliets—how would you describe them as a group?

Our thanks to kj, the author of Bardfilm. Bardfilm is a blog that comments on films, plays, and other matters related to Shakespeare in a relatively-informal manner.


This “Best Of” article originally appeared December 2010.


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