Virtual Reality Shakespeare is Almost Here

Virtual Reality ShakespeareA good video game starts with a good story, and anybody looking for a good story heads straight for Shakespeare.  I’ve seen many video game versions of Hamlet over the years, and even wrote about virtual reality Shakespeare back in 2015. Now it looks like we’re one step closer.

TheatreVR has created a demo where you don the headset and play through the last scene of Hamlet.  Check it out!

Companies have been working around this idea for years.  Remember Second Life?  There was a whole virtual reality Shakespeare troupe in there.

I think that the problem with VR has always been one of interface.  There’s just too many ways that your body is interacting with reality – site, sound, smell, touch, not to mention peripheral vision, not to mention more specific senses like balance and proprioception (knowing where your limbs are in space). You can only do so much putting on a headset and some gloves.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the OMG COOL! factor is very real.  Even putting on something like Google Cardboard (not to mention Oculus Rift) is still something to be experienced before you’ll believe it.  But the same was true of Pacman and DOOM once, too.  The excitement wears off, and you’d better have a good story to tell when it does.  From the perspective of the plot, yup, you’ve got Shakespeare.  But have we just reduced it down to going through the motions?  Escape the pirates, save Ophelia, kill Claudius?  Or are we saying that one day we’ll act it out as well?

I’m not a “gamer” by modern standards, and will likely never have the necessary gear to play most of these. I’m hoping that eventually they become the new video arcade, and I can go somewhere like a Dave and Busters to try my hand for a couple bucks.  I’m sure it’ll last 30 seconds, but maybe if I manage to kill Laertes and Claudius I can win enough tickets to a shot glass! 🙂


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Oh, Sir Ian, No.

Ian McKellen has said his King Lear, which is currently on at Chichester Festival Theatre, is probably his last big Shakespeare part.

Sometimes we realize this when we wake up to discover that an entertainment idol has died – Robin Williams, David Bowie, Tom Petty.  You don’t appreciate what you had until life tells you, “No more.”

But sometimes you know what’s coming, and I’m not sure if that’s worse.  Sir Ian McKellen (and Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Judi Dench and too many others to name) will not be around forever to bring the Shakespeare.  In the linked interview above Sir Ian gets realistic on us that he’s “probably not really” got any more Shakespeare in him.  Sad day, but one that had to come eventually.

What’s your favorite Sir Ian role?  Richard III, Macbeth, Lear?  In the image above a very young McKellen takes on Hamlet. I wish we had video of that!



This Is Gonna Get Ugly

For my day job we have a very large email marketing business.  It’s normal conversation to talk about what others are doing, so when I got the following subject line in an email I laughed and showed it to my coworkers:

Make someone ugly cry. Adobe can help.

What I wrong as a comment was, “I know what they meant, but that’s the worst subject line I’ve ever seen.”  It sounds like Adobe’s offering to help you chase ugly kids around the playground and make them cry.

A couple days after that post, a coworker calls me over and says, “You posted something the other day and I’ve been meaning to ask you about it…I don’t get it?  You wrote, I know what they mean … but I don’t.  I don’t know what they mean? Is it like the optical illusion with the old woman and the young woman and I can only see the old woman?”

So I told him, “Claire Danes in the Leonardo DiCaprio Romeo+Juliet.”Clare Danes cry faceTurns out there’s actually several blogs and tumblrs dedicated to her cry face in particular, and she’s even been asked about it in interviews 🙂

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Sir Anthony Hopkins To Play Lear….Finally!

I’ve never seen Sir Antony Hopkins play in King Lear, though I’ve always felt he’d be outstanding.

In fact, I’ve been watching the possibility closely for years.

Here’s a post from 2006 about how he wanted to do a Lear movie one more time and then quit doing Shakespeare.

And here’s a 2008 discussion about an “upcoming Lear” that was to star Hopkins, but I don’t recall ever seeing anything else about it.

Well, I’m happy to report that it looks like it’s finally happening!

Set in the fictional present, King Lear sees Hopkins as the eponymous ruler, presiding over a totalitarian military dictatorship in England. Emma Thompson stars as his oldest daughter Goneril. The ensemble also includes Emily Watson, who stars as his middle daughter, Regan, and Florence Pugh (Lacy Macbeth), who plays his youngest daughter Cordelia.

This is a BBC production, but the headline clearly says Amazon, so I’m unclear when (and whether) this will be available to Amazon Prime customers in the US.  But I’ll be waiting!

Does anybody know whatever happened to that 2008 production? None of the actors (nor the director) named in that post appear to have any IMDB Shakespeare credits in that time frame.


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Give Shrew Its Due

In the kitchen at work the other day, a coworker tells me that he’s just returned from London, where of course he had to stop by The Globe.  I ask if he saw a show, and his response is, “I wasn’t really on a schedule that allowed time for a show, and besides, it was Taming of the Shrew. Maybe if it was Hamlet or something, but Taming of the Shrew?”

Taming of the ShrewWe generally agree that Taming of the Shrew is, at best, “nothing special” Shakespeare.  I refer to it as a Shakespearean sitcom, and compare it to a Seinfeld re-run that you see on the hotel room tv when you’re channel surfing.  Maybe you’re all “Oh yeah, this is a good one” or maybe you’re more, “Eh, seen this one a thousand times.”

But! A coworker hears our conversation and comes to Shrew’s defense. He calls it a vicious takedown of masculine roles in Shakespeare’s time, and that it is only the fault of modern directors who want to “move it along” and tend to skip or de-emphasize key scenes that cause the play to appear like the “battle of the sexes” romantic comedy it’s known as.  He says that when played properly, you completely empathize with Katherina because you see the kind of men that she’s expected to put up with.  When I push him for specific examples of key scenes he refers to the line of suitors that are introduced early in the play, by which I assume he’s referring to Act II, Scene i for anyone that needs a refresher.

Where do you stand on Taming of the Shrew?  Is it completely misogynistic?  A silly romantic comedy with a happy ending?  Or should it be taken more seriously?  How deep does it go?



Romeo and Juliet Die in a Gunfight

I’m not sure how much Shakespeare we’re going to get in this one, but the coming action film starring Kaya Scoldelario and Josh Hutcherson is being billed that way:

The Mark Gordon Company has set Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) and Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets) to star in the action romance Die in a Gunfight, a modern update on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

More specifically the film, “will see Hutcherson and Scodelario as two star-crossed lovers Ben and Mary. Set against a backdrop of corporate espionage, revenge, and a long-standing feud between their families.”

If we hold this one to the same standard as Lion King, I wonder how well it would fare?  I’ve often said that the only way we can call “brother kills brother and son takes revenge” a Hamlet story is if we count all “lovers can’t be together because their groups hate each other” a Romeo and Juliet story.

Maybe we need to come up with a metric for how much Shakespeare something has to have in it before they get to use the name?

Let’s predict, shall we?  This will be fun.  For us to consider this a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet it should ideally have …

  • Two warring families (or other social groups) who hate each other just because.  They always have.  Maybe there’s backstory, maybe not, we don’t need one.
  • One representative from each family, who would like to see the families reconcile so they can be together.
  • A best friend / confidant for each.
  • One representative on each side (a Mercutio and a Tybalt) who are quite fine with them continuing to try to kill each other, thank you.
  • Some sort of time element driving the plot, such as Juliet’s marriage to Paris.  Something to keep it moving.
  • A Friar Laurence character to come up with a crazy “this’ll never work, but it’s our only hope!” plan.

You’ll notice I did not say “They have to end up dead.”  I’m actually quite ok with flipping to a happier ending, because if you don’t then you really do just rule out the possibility of any Disney or kid-friendly adaptations.

What do you think?  Something I missed? Something I put on my list that you can live without?

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The Play So Nice They Filmed It Twice

So the other day I spot a headline that says something about the worst Emmy Awards in the history of the show.  Thinking it’s going to be some sort of slam on the job Stephen Colbert did, I check it out.

Imagine my surprise upon learning that the 1961 Emmy Awards are on the list primarily because a certain movie swept all the major categories. That movie?  The Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth!

Maurice EvansNow if you told me, in a year when I was alive, that a Shakespeare production was sweeping the night?  I’d watch the whole thing with popcorn.  Probably call some friends.

I went to research this production, see if I could maybe find some video.  It starred Maurice Evans, who I only knew from such supporting roles as Dr. Zaius in the original Planet of the Apes movies,  and The Puzzler from the Batman tv series (in fact I even blogged about him once).

But once you’ve seen his IMDB page you realize just the level of Shakespeare cred the man had in his prime:  Malvolio in 1957, Petruchio in 1956, Richard II in 1954, Macbeth in 1954…wait, what?

In 1954, Maurice Evans played Macbeth in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth.

In 1961, Maurice Evans played Macbeth in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth.

That’s not a typo.  According to the Wikipedia page:

Macbeth is a live television adaptation of the William Shakespeare play presented as the November 28, 1954 episode of the American anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame. Directed by George Schaefer, and starring Maurice Evans and Dame Judith Anderson, the production was telecast in color, but has only been preserved on black-and-white kinescope.

In 1960, Evans and Anderson starred in a filmed made-for-television production of the play, also directed by Schaefer for the Hallmark Hall of Fame, but with an entirely different supporting cast. That production was filmed in color on location in Scotland, and was released theatrically in Europe.

These days when we think of a “reboot” we think of an entirely new production with an entirely new cast, usually because of some sort of contract wrangling between studios.  In this case we’ve got the same director and the same leads, just a different location and different supporting cast.

Though I’d love to watch them side by side and play spot the differences, I can’t find much video of the 1961 version.  However, the 1954 version appears to be complete on YouTube (as of this posting, at least), so enjoy!

All I found of the 1960 version (won an award in 1961 but the film is dated 1960) is the opening credits:

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Is Disney Doing Othello?

Kind of.

For years I’ve said that Disney should tackle The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Instead we got Romeo and Juliet with gnomes.  I’ll take what I can get.

So what if I told you that man of the moment David Oyelowo (“Selma”) is working on a live-action stage musical combining Othello and Cyrano de Bergerac?

Oyelowo just came out of an off-Broadway production of Othello with Daniel Craig (also known as James Bond) so it’s a natural project for him. People are confused about Disney attaching its name, though.  Which I can totally see, if you assume that the story is going to be 90% Shakespearean tragedy, which it almost certainly will not be.

How would you combine Othello and Cyrano?  I’ve argued previously that As You Like It makes for a reasonable Cyrano story.  But Othello? Who is wooing whom? Who is whispering in which ear?


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Special Sneak Preview! Here There Be Dragons!

Let’s try something different.  I may have mentioned once or a thousand times that there’s a Shakespeare Geek line of merchandise on Amazon.  I try very hard not to nag everybody by actually creating blog posts for every new design.  I keep it mostly to the Facebook/Twitter feed and some ads around the edges. I appreciate the patience of my most loyal readers who still make it here to the blog and don’t catch just the headlines and summaries on social media :).

tmmSo, I’ve got a present for you!  Introducing my new King LearGame of Thrones-inspired design, Come Not Between The Dragons And Their Wrath:

Everybody who sees you in this is going to go straight to Game of Thrones, but we Shakespeare geeks know that the original quote comes from King Lear ( albeit with 2 fewer dragons 😉 ).

For a limited time, this shirt is available ONLY through this link for the sneak preview price of $15.99.  It is not available in Amazon search, and I will not advertise it.  In a couple of weeks, once I feel that my followers have had a chance to buy it if they want it, I’ll release it to the Amazon public search feed – and raise the price as well, most likely to $19.99.

You CAN share the link with your friends, or just let them be envious and beg you to tell them where you got that awesome shirt.  As with just about all of my designs it’s available in men’s, women’s and youth styles, in a variety of colors.

Thanks for loyal readership over the years. This link will continue to work, but the price of $15.99 is only temporary, so if you want it I encourage you to grab it before the price goes up!



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Shakespeare Invented Dotard

This post, obviously, can be taken to have a political slant.  Some people hate that, so I’m telling you now.  It’s also relevant to Shakespeare, so I feel it’s fair game.  And I’m not a newspaper journalist so I’m allowed to write what amuses me.

Last night, the leader of North Korea called the President of the United States a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” which is certainly something he hasn’t been called yet, and had half the country running for their dictionaries.

I went for my Open Source Shakespeare.  Jackpot.

It means “a person in their dotage,” in case you hadn’t looked it up yet.  “Dotage” being when you get old and “feeble-minded”.  Kind of like “doting,” but that one has come to mean something more cutesy romantic (as in, “he couldn’t stop doting over her”) though they come from the same root, which means to act or speak foolishly. So it works in either case, either you’re acting the fool because you’re old and can’t help yourself, or because you’re head over heels in love….or the president, apparently.

Anyway, “dotard” is not a version you hear often, but it turns out Shakespeare quite liked it.  Check it out:

Leontes in The Winter’s Tale

Will you not push her out? Give her the bastard.
Thou dotard! thou art woman-tired, unroosted
By thy dame Partlet here. Take up the bastard;
Take’t up, I say; give’t to thy crone.

Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing

Tush, tush, man; never fleer and jest at me:
I speak not like a dotard nor a fool,
As under privilege of age to brag
What I have done being young, or what would do
Were I not old.

Baptista Minola in The Taming of the Shrew

Away with the dotard; to the gaol with him!

And look, it’s right there in the opening of Cymbeline

The king he takes the babe
To his protection, calls him Posthumus Leonatus,
Breeds him and makes him of his bed-chamber,
Puts to him all the learnings that his time
Could make him the receiver of; which he took,
As we do air, fast as ’twas minister’d,
And in’s spring became a harvest, lived in court—
Which rare it is to do—most praised, most loved,
A sample to the youngest, to the more mature
A glass that feated them, and to the graver
A child that guided dotards; to his mistress,
For whom he now is banish’d, her own price
Proclaims how she esteem’d him and his virtue;
By her election may be truly read
What kind of man he is.

From context it definitely means what he thinks it means, and I’m pretty sure it’s never complimentary.  In case anybody’s still out there thinking, “That can’t be a real word.”

So did Shakespeare really “invent” the word?  No, of course not, just like he didn’t “invent” most of the other words that are typically ascribed to him (man we’re just having a real vocabulary lesson today!)

In all our time reposting and retweeting those “Shakespearean Insult” lists, it took Kim Jong Un to go full dotard on somebody.


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