[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!

Is Caliban human?

Is Caliban human? The question comes through on my logs every now and then so we must have touched on the subject at some point.  I think that perhaps students are looking for help with their homework and just want a yes or no answer and maybe a citation, but I think it’s more complicated than that.

Then was this island–
Save for the son that she did litter here,
A freckled whelp hag-born–not honour’d with
A human shape.

The very first description we have for Caliban is “not honored with a human shape.”  Does that mean not human? The word “whelp” would normally apply to animals, but Prospero’s not saying that Caliban is closer to a dog than a person. (When I drive to work each morning and inevitably call someone a jackass I don’t literally mean he’s a donkey. How can you give someone the finger if you have hooves?)

Normally we would say, “Is Caliban human? Of course Caliban is human. He’s got a mind and free will of his own and can communicate. He loves his mother Sycorax and worships her god, Setebos.” By our modern biological standards, it’s a no-brainer.  There’s no creature other than humans that can do any of that.

But this is also a play with magic and fairies, witches and devils. So maybe our modern definitions don’t apply?

Is Caliban human?We’re told that Sycorax is a witch, and that she was banished here. Prospero goes one step more, telling Caliban that he is the offspring of his mother mating with the devil himself.

By modern standards, and by that I mean post Salem witch trials, we could interpret this to mean “Single woman gets pregnant, gets on the wrong side of a conservative society’s rules, and gets kicked out.”  By that logic Caliban is human.  A little wild, maybe, from growing up outside civilization (and civilized medicine), but basically human.  Personally I like this interpretation because it keeps the play universal.  Tell me what Caliban is like as a character because he’s human, and therefore at some level he is like all of us. If he’s not human, I can’t really learn anything from his plight because everything’s different. If he is, I can feel sympathy for him.

Did Shakespeare believe in witches?  It’s not known for certain, but it was certainly typical of the time. Whether the audience believes in witches or not, however, we have to suspend that belief because this play takes place in a universe where magic exists.  Prospero rescued Ariel from a tree, after he was imprisoned there Sycorax. So Sycorax did have powers (like Prospero), and therefore was an actual witch, so is it really that far fetched that she was impregnated by a devil?  And if that is the case in this universe, what exactly does that make Caliban?  Because “appearing human” would probably be closer than “actually human”.  If that’s the case then the play isn’t nearly the same to me.  I have no sympathy for Caliban if he’s just a walking, talking animal.

So, is Caliban human? I prefer to see it that way, but I think that Shakespeare probably didn’t. What does everybody else think?


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?


Jaffrey, NH Gets All The Good Tempests

I’m kind of digging this trend of bringing live stage performance Shakespeare to the big screen.  I can’t possibly get to all the live show I’d like to, so it’s nice to have the option.

This is particularly true of RSC’s recent “digital” version of The Tempest that got all the great writeups for its use of special effects and virtual reality.  (Actually I heard that the performance gets lost in the glitz, but I’d like to see for myself!)

So when I heard that they’re taking the show on the road I was prepared to get in line for my tickets (like I did with Benedick Cumberbatch’s Hamlet).  But … there are no Massachusetts show times listed.  I would understand, if only other big cities like NY, DC, Chicago, etc.. were on the list. Fine.  But the closest city to me with a screening is Jaffrey, New Hampshire? I’ve lived in Massachusetts all my life, raised three children who have all had to do social studies / geography presentations on the New England states, and nobody’s ever so much as mentioned Jaffrey.

Seriously though, I suspect that the calendar is just not updated.  When you select Jaffrey it actually says “Here are other cities with showtimes” and lists several Massachusetts cities including Chestnut Hill and Revere (neither of which I am likely to get to), but when you click on them it goes back to the main list of theatres as if you experienced an error.  I’m hoping to see either Cambridge / Kendall Square on there (which would be walking distance for me), or Burlington, where I saw Benebatch Hamlet.



You Like Shakespeare (Whether You Realize It Or Not)

There have been plenty of studies that look at how Shakespeare effects your brain. Here’s another one. They try to determine if the brain is “hardwired” to appreciate the rhyme and rhythm of poetry, such as (but not only) Shakespeare.

Your brain on Shakespeare.
Your brain on Shakespeare.

I like the test. They read a specific kind of Welsh poetry to people who did not know the “rules” of that poetry (I suppose it would be a little something like trying to read Haiku to someone without explaining it?) If your poem follows the rules, even when the audience doesn’t know the rules, they rate it more highly than if you break them.

I can totally buy that. It’s not really a big stretch to think of the brain as a giant pattern matching machine, and what is rhythm but “this line follows the same pattern that the last line did?”  You can’t really explain it, you just kind of feel it.  I’m reminded of Dead Poet’s Society where Robin Williams’ students march in a circle, walking in step. They spontaneously begin clapping in rhythm as well.  But Williams never told them to do that.  It just felt more natural to do so. It takes more effort to go against the rhythm than to just go with it.

Can we make the leap that iambic pentameter mimics the beating of the human heart (thump THUMP, thump THUMP)? I’m not sure I’m quite willing to go that far. For starters, that would imply that poetry that is not iambic would feel worse, and that’s not true. I love me some Dr. Seuss and his meter is entirely different.




On The Complexity of Rosalind

“Rosalind and Hamlet are surely the most complex in the vast parade of Shakespeare’s characters.”

So begins this Signature article, “What’s So Complex About Shakespeare’s Immortal Rosalind?

I’m already stumped, and that’s nothing personal against Rosalind.  I’ll give you Hamlet. But a funny thing happened as I sat here thinking, “No, wait, surely there’s a lengthy cast of characters that could vie for that title.”  Complex female characters in Shakespeare’s work. Ummm….hmmm. Maybe they have a point? I keep rattling off names – Desdemona, Juliet, Cordelia – but the word “complex” does not come to mind for each of them, even though they each have their own strengths.  I guess Viola is the obvious competition.

Maybe I’ve not yet seen a good As You Like It, because my impression of Rosalind is inevitably “boy crazy teenager.”  I saw this one interpretation where Rosalind and  Celia, talking about boys, at one point grab each other by the forearms, jumping up and down in a circle while laughing and squealing loudly. You’ve no doubt seen similar played out in many a television sitcom. It didn’t take much creative energy, I’m sure. I didn’t like it, as it left me thinking, “Is this all there is to this one?”

Maybe I’m wrong, though, and I’m open to debate.  I think I’m biased toward Viola in Twelfth Night , however, thanks to Wayne Myers’ book “The Book of Twelfth Night, or What You Will: Musings on Shakespeare’s Most Wonderful Play,” which explores many of the darker themes of that one.  Viola doesn’t have time to finish mourning for her dead brother before she assumes his identity. Let’s see Rosalind try that!

Rosalind.  Complex?

P.S. – Can I get a word in about the editor’s note?  The article’s title says “the immortal Rosalind,” to which the editor adds, “a character who has never lived and therefore can never die.”  So…literally, in the literal sense of the word, every fictional character.



Let Slip The Sled Dogs of War

Shackleton's Shakespeare
Who’s a good boy?

Learn something new every day.  Perhaps you’ve heard of Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer?  Fine.  But did you know that one of his lead sled dogs was named Shakespeare? I don’t know why I would have known that, but I’m happy that I learned it.  Like a moon of Uranus, just something to bust out during games of trivia.

They had 69 dogs apparently, but for some reason the linked page only lists names for 66 of them.  I’m not exactly sure who was in charge of naming them. Shakespeare’s the only name from literature, except perhaps Hercules and maybe Mercury. Everything else is stuff like “Surly” or “Rufus” or “Fluff.”

Unfortunately the story does not end well for Shakespeare and the King’s Dogs.  They were running out of food and it was taking more to feed the dogs than to feed the men, so the necessary decision was made to put many of the dogs – including Shakespeare’s team – down, that the explorers wouldn’t starve.


And The Winners Are …

I know this post is about a week late, but the idea just came to me over the weekend and I didn’t want to just throw it away 🙂

The 2017 Shakespearean Academy Awards

Animated Feature Film:   I’ll Hold My Mind, Were She A Zootopian

Cinematography, Directing: ‘Ban, ‘Ban, Ca-CaliLaLaLand

Costume DesignFantastic Beasts With Two Backs And Where To Find Them

Documentary (Short Subject):  Bruised White Helmets and Bended Swords

Film Editing, Sound Mixing: A Hawk From A Hacksaw Ridge

Makeup and Hair StylingSelf-Slaughter Squad

Music (Original Score), Production Design‘Ban, ‘Ban, Ca-CaliLaLaLand

Sound Editing: Arrivals of My Watch

Visual EffectsYou Kiss by The Jungle Book

Writing (Original Screenplay): Manchester By The Sea Of Troubles

Best Picture: Well Shone, Moonlight!


(And I’d like to award the special Shakespeare Geek Award to Hidden Behind An Arras Figures because I thought that was a good joke and I wouldn’t get to use it otherwise!)


Give Sorrow Words

Today I learned that a friend’s dad passed away.  I can’t say I knew much about his dad, or that he was sick, it never really came up in our somewhat frequent conversations.  We know each other long distance, one of those “professional colleagues who only really know each other online” sort of thing.  So while I can say, “I am so very sorry for your loss,” that doesn’t really feel like enough.  “If there’s anything I can do” doesn’t really seem to mean much from a thousand miles away.  My wife and I can’t even bring over some hot dish so they don’t have to cook dinner.

What’s left, then, is Shakespeare. This wouldn’t be the first time I said that Shakespeare contains within it the entirety of human emotion.  Whatever you feel, Shakespeare gave us the words to express it, that we may … what’s the word I’m looking for here, empathize? Commiserate? Share. To remind us that others have been there too, that we are not alone.

Not being the religious sort, I’m not a big “my thoughts and prayers are with you” kind of guy. But it’s cool, my friend knows that.  I think he also knows what I’m going to say next, because I certainly know that he’s reading this.  I have my own personal thing that I say when someone important leaves us. Maybe it’s a bit cliche, but I don’t care, because it means something to me.

Rest in peace, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Thinking about you, my friend.


Which of Shakespeare’s words get you through grief, or offer comfort?  Share them in the comments.