Oh Yes, My Precious, Very Nice

Who’s got a new Shakespeare present? This guy!

For Valentine’s Day this year (I know, I’m late with the post) my wife completely surprised me with a Shakespeare present. I’m very excited about this, because usually I have some clue. Either she or the kids hints around, asking for a reminder about what Shakespeare merchandise I already have. This time she went entirely on her own, and was very excited for me to unwrap it.

It’s actually a very comfortable t-shirt. I’m not terribly comfortable in t-shirts that accentuate how much I don’t go to the gym, if you know what I’m saying. But I like the material for this one. Different than the usual “I hope that’s extra big because you know it’s going to shrink in the fryer” cotton blend that makes the above problem that much worse.

If you can’t tell from the above, the shirt’s artwork is made from the text of Shakespeare’s work. In this case, the sonnets. The text is very small, not the kind of thing that a stranger could come up and read on you. But we know what it is, and you can see it clearly when you look close. It is multiple copies of all the sonnets, all strung together.

I have several pieces of “art made from the text” merchandise that I have acquired over the years. One is a portrait of Shakespeare made from the text of the complete works. One is a “one page poster” of King Lear, and one of The Tempest. But those things are all on the walls of my house and only people that come to my house can enjoy them (my daughter’s friends, in particular, notice and comment on them, which is cool). But something wearable is my first chance to actually take the show on the road.

Nothing New Under The Sun

Ok, ready for the story? I’ve been doing this a long time, as loyal readers know. So when my wife asked, “Have you ever heard of this company?” I actually had. In fact, I’ve posted about them. And I got curious about why I didn’t already have their merchandise!

The company in question is called Litograph, and I wrote about them back in 2015!

I brought up the site and we started browsing through all of their other merchandise. My wife was actually quite annoyed that their search engine had failed for her, and she’d gotten me the sonnets because it was the only Shakespeare product she saw (they have lots of classic literature, not just Shakespeare). That’s ok, though, I still love it. I learned later that our bad @Bardfilm has their Hamlet shirt. My wife asks which one is my favorite, I tell her their Tempest shirt with Ariel and the storm.

Still, I was trying to remember why I hadn’t taken the opportunity to get myself a shirt, even when I was offering a discount! I scanned my emails and turned up the original conversation I had with them way back in 2015. First thought, I am nothing if not consistent:

Can I tell you something?  It’s 10:30pm on Sunday night and I’m here agonizing over your shirts.  Which play should I pick? I want the Tempest, but I’m disappointed that the cut of the t-shirt really loses the whole “Ariel around the ship” effect that you get in the poster. But I’m ok with that.  The Tempest shirt still has the best front/back combo.

Seven years, my favorite still hasn’t changed. But man, how picky am I?

Here’s the funny thing, though. That I had forgotten all about. I found a mistake. And I was not having it.

I sit here clicking each color, checking the back, trying to decide on a combination I like.
At some point I hit “Zoom” on the picture, trying to determine what the second color is, and I see it….the PROJECT GUTENBERG DISCLAIMER TEXT is right there in the middle of the image.
Deal breaker.  I don’t know what happened there, whether you know it’s there and it doesn’t bother you or you had no idea it’s in there, but there’s no way I could buy that. Knowing it’s there, and waiting for people to notice it, would drive me crazy.

Wow, I was a tough critic when I was younger! I get exactly what I was saying, though. I can tell you that my “love quote” Shakespeare pillow has a misquote on it. Heck, the bracelet I had custom-made for my wife, adorned with Shakespeare quotes, ended up with a typo. I don’t miss those things. So I completely understand why I didn’t buy a shirt at the time, I would never have been able to wear it without thinking the whole world could see the same mistake I could.

But! In fairness to the company, I will say that my wife and I have scanned my shirt as meticulously as our old eyes will allow, and we don’t see a similar mistake. I never did get a response to that email, but I like to think that over the last seven years maybe they took the opportunity to fix it…. but you know what? I’m still not going to take the chance ;). I hear the Hamlet shirt’s pretty good.

What A Puzzle Piece Of Work Is Man

Right before pandemic, in the summer of 2019, my family traveled to London and Stratford Upon Avon. For Christmas that year my wife and I both got each other the same gift – The World of Shakespeare 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle!

I love a good puzzle, but we’re very casual puzzlers. I have Facebook friends who are regularly posting their completed puzzles and what they’re working on next. Our kids have less and less interest these days so it’s become more a hobby for just my wife and I, when time permits. I’m happy to report that this past weekend we finally finished this one! We actually have an excuse – since we went to both London and Stratford on that trip, we got both a London and a Stratford puzzle … and we did London first 🙂

But we’re here to talk about the Shakespeare one, which has this cool “Where’s Waldo” element for any Shakespeare fan because there are dozens of Shakespeare references trapped inside, from bear-baiting to weird sisters. Each piece you’re looking at and thinking, “Ok, this might be a thatched roof, or Juliet’s gown, or a fairy’s wing?” There’s a document that lists all the references (with pictures so you know what’s what), but for real fun you’ll want to skip that until the end. That way you get to spot all the references yourself. The dude holding the skull might be obvious, but will you recognize all the other ones, too?

Great fun for everybody, even if there’s just one Shakespeare fan in the house. It’s great fun when somebody says, “I’ve got a guy with a sword stabbing another guy” and you get to say, “That’s Julius Caesar. Top right.” Or, “girl sitting in a boat.” “Miranda. Dead center. Next to the old guy.”

Anyway, on with the pictures!

The completed puzzle. After edges we focused on the blue of the river first to divide up into sections.
There’s the man himself!
Lighting on this picture of the globe is quite poor, I realize. Hopefully you can glimpse them performing Midsummer.
It wouldn’t be Shakespeare content without some iconic dude holding a skull.
Of course, the balcony’s almost as iconic as the skull.

I’d love to get another Shakespeare puzzle but I’m not sure how many there are to choose from! Plus, my wife will kill me.

By the way, if you’re into puzzles and don’t have a puzzle mat, seriously consider one. We got one for Christmas and it’s a game changer. Primarily it’s a big felt mat to do your puzzle on, but it also comes with this inflatable tootsie roll pillow thing. So if you need to move the puzzle you wrap the whole puzzle in progress around the pillow and wrap it up with these velcro straps. The friction of the felt keeps everything from moving around. So if, like us, you use the dining room table for puzzles and occasionally have to pick up and move the whole thing? Problem solved. The kit we got also came with organization drawers so you can break pieces out into different groups (in this case we put “people” in one, for example). Plus glue for when you’re done, because it has to go on the wall after all that effort.

Introducing Bardle – A Shakespeare Letter Game

“Wordles, wordles, wordles.”

Hamlet

People have already seen my new creation on Twitter and Facebook so I apologize to them for the old news, but for those who still get their Shakespeare Geek news straight from the blog I’m happy to announce Bardle!

Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. Everybody else was creating Wordle clones (including Taylor Swift and Harry Potter), so I knew I had to make one. This is an obvious homage to the original Wordle, so all credit to the original creator. We also all know that the New York Times bought the original recently, so there’s a non-zero chance that they go on the hunt and some point and try to take down all these spinoff versions. But until then, the play’s the thing!

There’s a few important ways that this version is different from the regular game:

  1. All five letter character names are possible answers. This will pose a challenge sometimes for plays you may not have read.
  2. Some common theatrical terms associated with Shakespeare are valid as well. So at some point you’re likely to see words like stage or scene, to give a couple of obvious examples.
  3. Mostly, though, answers will be words that should have some obvious Shakespeare connection. It’s hard to explain until you get the hang of it. One tip is to think of the common scenes and quotes you know from Shakespeare, and ask yourself if there’s any five letter words there. Hamlet’s that one about the guy who talks to the skull … oh, wait, skull! All the world’s a stage … world! Stage! Get it? A midsummer what’s what?
  4. Lastly, the list of guessable words is made up *only* of words that Shakespeare used. This is throwing some people, who expect to use all their standard starter words. Nope. If the word doesn’t appear in Shakespeare’s works, chances are you can’t use it.

Any questions or feedback, please let me know! I want it to be fun and not too difficult but I also very much want to keep the Shakespeare theme obvious.

It’s Exactly Like That ( A Geeklet Story )

Today I got a text from my daughter that said simply, “Sonnet 18.”

Guess they’re learning that one in class now (along with Hamlet and East of Eden, apparently. A real mixed bag!) “Easy peasy,” I texted back. “You’ve been able to sing that since you were three.”

“I what?” she responded.

Did she not remember? Oh, it is one of my most primal memories. I went on a quest.

For context let’s start here. A long, long time ago, before we had anything like iPhones and the idea of a “custom ringtone” was something that the height of personalizing your phone, mine was, of course, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour singing Sonnet 18. I mean, I know, right? How do you know that exists and not make it your ringtone? I love Shakespeare, I love Pink Floyd. It’s like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of music.

Then one day I caught my children singing it. How do you capture that moment? They called it “the song Daddy’s phone sings.” You can’t explain to your kids, not at that age, that they just elevated their Daddy’s universal joy. Sure I’d spent the first years of their lives talking about Shakespeare and “decorating their lives” with Shakespeare, but here was the first moment when I heard it come back to me, and I knew I was changing their lives as much as they’d just changed mine. Music to my ears, in infinitely more ways than one.

Even better, I managed to record it.

I sent that off to my daughter to show her friends at school, along with some pictures of what she looked like when she was 3, because that’s how old she is in that clip.

When she came home from school today and we were talking about it, she said, “Does that make you sad?”

I looked at her funny. “It’s literally been my purpose in life, I’ve literally spent eighteen years shaping your brain the way I think is best for you to go out into the universe.”

“YA THINK?” she said.

“Moments like this, when I know the plan worked, you think that makes me sad?”

“No,” she said, “not sad like that. Sad like, looking back at those memories, that were so long ago.”

I knew what she was saying. That thing we sometimes call “happysad.” She was right, of course. But I can get happysad about a lot of things. I needed a different answer.

“You know,” I told her, wondering if my voice would break, “I honestly don’t remember much about teaching you guys to ride a bike. But you know that scene in all the tv shows and movies, right? Where the parent is running behind with a hand on the seat, and the kid doesn’t have the training wheels anymore, and then suddenly the parent lets go and they’re doing it by themselves? That pride, that exhilaration?

That is exactly what it feels like. Every. Single. Time.”

That Is The Question ( A Geeklet Story )

My daughter is heading off to college next year but I don’t care, they’ll all be geeklets to the day I die.

Today I’m at work (from home) when I get a text:

“Do you have Hamlet?”

It’s a new semester and she’d mentioned they’re doing Hamlet, so that was not an unexpected question. I love when the kids need to draw on my Shakespeare library, it’s why I’ve been building it over the years. Just the other day I found a Taming of the Shrew in my mailbox – my oldest had let one of her friends borrow it last semester, and she was returning it.

“Which version?” I ask, because you don’t get full dad points if you don’t drag stuff like this out unnecessarily. I honestly don’t know how many Hamlets I have. I don’t typically collect individual editions, there are too many. I do have multiple “Complete Works”, though.

David Garrick doing his impression of my son when I suggest volunteering at school.

“Uhhh,” comes the reply. “Hamlet. High school. Just Hamlet.”

“Well there’s Arden, Riverside, Folger … ” I reply, then go looking to see what’s on my shelf. I find the Arden edition, which is a bit intimidating. I fear she’s looking for one of those glorified pocket editions that’s just the text with a few glossary words sprinkled down the edges. This is very much not that. Less than half of each page is actual play text, the rest is footnotes. Great for research, but probably overkill for this assignment.

Later that evening, at dinner, I find. out that she relayed this question to her teacher. “Did your dad tell you to ask that?” said the teacher. My reputation precedes me!

I can’t wait to see how it goes. I”m probably going into her class at some point, though to do what and speak on what, I’m not sure. I’m willing to pretty much go off the top of my head, as long as I can keep the kids’ attention. That was easier when they were in elementary school.

For comparison, my son did Julius Caesar last semester. I knew this was on the curriculum. And I heard about it in the context of, “Oh, yeah, we’re doing Julius Caesar in history class.” I said let me know if you need help. He said, “We finished it.” The closest I got to any actual content was when he mentioned “some guy talking at a funeral”. Sigh. I guess I teased him too often with “I’m coming in to your history class to talk about Shakespeare when you get to that topic.” Both girls got a kick out of that, and at one point had a school reputation as the Shakespeare experts. My son, on the other hand, will bend over backward to make sure his friends and classmates never see me 🙂