Check your stacks! Nashville woman’s copy of the sonnets worth thousands on Antiques Roadshow

Shakespeare Sonnet Books

Off the top of my head right now I couldn’t tell you how many copies of Shakespeare’s sonnets I have. I get them for review, people give them to me as gifts. A common topic on the Reddit Shakespeare sub is, “How much is my copy of the sonnets worth?” And the answer is, typically, not much. Shakespeare has been published by a lot of different sources over a lot of years. It’s hardly rare and thus scarcely valuable.

Unless it’s one of only twelve copies of the 1899 Roycroft Press edition printed on vellum. In this case, according to the experts at Antiques Roadshow, it is worth up to $10,000.

So maybe there are some needles in those haystacks after all? Given that I just lost my job, perhaps I have to look through those stacks of mine and see if any Elizabethan lottery tickets are waiting for me!

Suffering A Sea-Change

Pardon the interruption for a moment for some news from real life.

I lost my job this week.

I’m in the tech industry and have been for decades, and we deal with it from time to time. The big companies like Amazon and Google often lay people off by the thousands. This isn’t my first time being here, but after a good nine years at my most recent job, I honestly thought I’d seen the last of these times. I thought I’d be retiring there. I guess the universe had other plans.

I Could Use Your Help

Will talk your ear off about Shakespeare for money.

I’ve always lived a double life online, keeping my day job as a principal software engineer separate from my passion project of being a Shakespeare Geek (even though they overlap more than you’d think). But there are things you do when you find yourself looking for a job, and one of those things is to use all your resources. With that in mind:

  • I can be found on LinkedIn here: If you’re in my line of work or know people who are, please feel free to connect. A good network is everything.
  • Want to buy a book? My new book, My Own Personal Shakespeare: Macbeth, is a brand new project off to a slow start. On an optimistic note, I do have more time now to work on the second volume in the series. But right now I still need all the help I can get spreading the word about the project’s existence. Please share the link with any actors, students, and educators you know who might have a reason to dig back into Macbeth from a whole new perspective. I hope to establish something here that can grow into a valuable contribution to how people approach Shakespeare.
  • Shakespeare Geek Merchandise is always available! With just about 200 unique designs on Amazon, the merch has done okay for me over the years, but it can always be better. I’ve always focused on the “put more Shakespeare into the world” aspect rather than the “make money at all costs” way of doing things. I don’t steal other people’s designs. I aim for quality, not quantity. If you’ve ever considered purchasing from my store, whether for yourself or as gifts for others, these next few weeks/months are when I could really use the help. Buy now, store stuff away from Christmas presents?

What’s Next?

It’s weird being out of work. You feel like there’s a million things to do – update your resume, call your network, set up appointments, search search search online. But also, sometimes you’re incredibly bored because you don’t know what to do with yourself. It’s times like that when I turn to my pet projects, like Shakespeare. Hopefully, you’ll see more content from me over the coming weeks, but hopefully, not too many weeks, if you know what I’m saying.

As a software guy, I’ve also always used Shakespeare as my portfolio for learning new technology. I’m going to have to update my skills in a few key areas, and show that I know what I’m talking about. The obvious way to do that is to make extensions to my work here at Will that bring anything exciting? Who knows. Maybe! Stay tuned!

Thanks to everyone for all the support over the years. It’s easy to put stuff up on the web and just think of the people that will see it as “traffic” but that’s not true here. I know many of you. I’ve had conversations this month with people I first met through ShakespeareGeek over ten years ago. We’re all trying to make life better with Shakespeare. Sometimes that means helping each other out, too. Thanks again. Sorry for the interruption.

Review: Twelfth Knight (audiobook)

A couple of weeks ago, Drew from Macmillan Publishers reached out to ask if I’d like a review copy of Twelfth Knight by Alexene Farol Follmuth. Specifically, the audiobook version. This was very serendipitous as, (a) I much prefer audiobooks and (b) I was about to go on vacation and needed something to read. I happily said yes. Now here we are! I say this by way of disclaimer – I may get a few details wrong here and there. I don’t have a text to doublecheck when I’m not sure.

Twelfth Knight, by Alexene Farol Follmuth

Retellings of Shakespeare are a staple in modern young adult novels. Our buddy Bardfilm practically has a whole category for reviewing them. Twelfth Knight, perhaps obviously, is going to retell Twelfth Night with high school students. If you’re getting flashbacks to She’s The Man (2006) or Just One Of The Guys (1985) for the Gen-Xers , well, so did I. The natural question with most modern Shakespeare adaptations is how you modernize the, shall we say, less-than-modern aspects? The ghosts in plays like Hamlet and Macbeth are one obvious example. For comedies like Twelfth Night, it’s the “girl dresses like a boy and nobody seems to notice” thing. Not to mention the “I have a twin brother than nobody knows about” thing. You can only stretch the “suddenly I go to a different school where nobody knows me” thing so far.

Twelfth Knight doesn’t bother with any of that. Right from the start, Orsino/Olivia/Viola/Sebastian (“Bash”) all know each other as themselves. They’re all in the same classes together at the same school. Orsino is the football star, Olivia is his former girlfriend. Viola is unfortunately portrayed as the class bitch — and I say it like that for a reason, more on this later. Her brother’s a bit of an add-on, he doesn’t get much storyline unless he’s necessary for somebody else’s. Honestly at one point early in the story when I wasn’t paying attention I thought Bash was the name of Viola’s cat.

Here’s the modern twist that keeps it interesting, though — online videogames. Viola’s big into role-playing games, and as anyone with experience knows, the landscape for a girl trying to play videogames with the boys is just as dangerous as being unaccompanied in Illyria. Her interactions with the fellas come in one of three flavors — either they hate her for being better than them, they think she “owes them” whenever one of them so much as acts human toward her, or they just plain ignore her. See where this is going? Of course she plays online as a male character. (Cesario, in fact. In this world, Cesario is also the name of a character from a popular “Game of Thrones” ripoff that they all watch.)

What does this do to the plot? Orsino the football player / class president is injured, leaving him with only two things to occupy his time. First, he’s of course on the homecoming committee so he has to take part in those meetings, which also involve bitch Viola (again, trust me). Second, however, is when he’s introduced to online videogames as a way to burn off some of his unfulfilled need to compete and win at something. Where, of course, he quickly meets Cesario, a much better player than he is. With context clues it’s not long before he realizes that Cesario goes to his school, so Cesario admits to being … Sebastian.

From there I think you can see how it plays out. The fact that “Viola’s a bitch” plays heavily in the text. She’s called one all the time, by everyone, as if the word is a literal weapon straight out of one of her games. The story’s told primarily from her point of view, so we get the inside look at why she’s like that. She, like many women, lives in a world where standing up for yourself when you feel threatened gets you branded with that label. You get tired of trying to fight it, so instead you adopt it and wear it like armor. From that point forward it’s self-fulfilling, and the vicious cycle repeats.

But we know how this goes. Orsino gets to spend time with Viola (as Viola) via their committee meetings, and enlists her help to figure out why Olivia broke up with him. Olivia, meanwhile, is suddenly Viola’s best friend and confides in her a number of highly personal things that would absolutely give Orsino the answer he wants and are very much not Viola’s to tell. Meanwhile Viola’s playing the double life as Cesario, who Orsino thinks is Sebastian. Who, by the way, has no idea that he’s been pulled into this whole story. Orsino learns who the real (i.e. not a bitch) Viola is, Viola comes out of her armor and learns to trust people. Except there’s still that whole “I’m actually also Cesario” thing that she has yet to tell him. How will that work out?

I like this version. I like how it pretty seamlessly blends the double lives of these kids, going to school with one face and then getting behind the computer with another one. The author manages to tell a new story with new dynamics while still keeping many of the core elements of the original story.

Two things I didn’t love. One, it tries a little too hard to map to the original where it doesn’t need to. This story has all kinds of new characters – parents, best friends, etc… – yet the author still felt obliged to sneak in other football players like Volio, Curio, and Aguecheek. None of those names fit the story’s context (Orsino is borderline as it is), and it would have made the novel stronger to just change them to something unrelated or drop the characters completely.

Second, there are some reasons this doesn’t work well in audiobook. As part of creating an original story, the author has added diversity to the story. Fine. Orsino is black. Viola is Viola Reyes, who I believe is supposed to be Phillipino? Olivia is Olivia Hadid, and presumably Arabic? These details are part of the story. Time is spent with extended families, among other things. Parents’ expectations of their children is a driving force in the main characters’ growth. I’m ok with all of that (and, as I noted at the outset, I apologize if I confused any of the details). My point is that it doesn’t work in audiobook. With just two narrators, the voices all start to blend, and you end up differentiating Olivia and Viola by which one is perky and which one is nerd-bitchy, and not at all by the fact that they’re supposed to be from opposite ends of the world culturally. It ends up feeling like a disservice is done to their backstories. Why add cultural diversity if it ends up whitewashed?

Overall, I’d certainly recommend it. A lot of ground is covered that has nothing to do with Shakespeare. Orsino’s worried that a late injury has destroyed his chances of playing football in college. Viola is not the only girl who discovers the hard way that a boy being nice to you can suddenly turn very dark. All of these kids are in a constant battle of trying to figure out who they can trust (their parents included), while navigating all the obstacles that life’s going to throw in their way. All while trying to come to terms with the difference between the person they want to be and the person they’re projecting to the world, and when it’s safe to reconcile the two. Available now on Amazon (and not just in audiobook!)

Review: Ghostlight


Let me get this out of the way first – we need more movies like Ghostlight. It’s neither “movie version of Shakespeare” nor “modern adaptation.” It’s a regular movie, with a plot of its own, that happens to use Shakespeare as a backdrop to tell its story. I will always watch movies like this.


I only heard about this movie about a week or two ago, so I’m excited that I got to see it so quickly. All I knew was that it’s a family drama, where the actors who play the family are in fact a real-life family, and that a production of Romeo and Juliet is central to the plot. I’m in.

Something’s wrong with this family. Dan, the father, walks through his construction worker job like a ghost. His daughter, Daisy, has run out of chances at school and now teeters on the edge of expulsion. And Sharon, the mom, tries valiantly to keep the family together when it’s obviously falling apart. Something’s happened to these people. There’s talk of a lawsuit that none of them are sure they are ready for. They scream at each other for seemingly random reasons at the drop of a hat.

Through a series of fortunate(?) events, Dan finds himself unwillingly volunteered to help out the community theatre group that’s been practicing in the abandoned movie theatre across from the street he’s been jackhammering. They’re doing Romeo and Juliet and need a Lord Capulet, though as the story progresses and we learn the characters, roles ultimately shift.

From there, you probably know how it goes. This is a story about the healing, bonding, and cathartic power of not just Shakespeare but theatre in general. There are many scenes of silly rehearsals as Dan loosens up around his new adopted family. Most of them behave as if they’ve never done Shakespeare, admitting freely that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Dan even asks his daughter if she knows the play (the daughter, on cue, recites the prologue that she had to memorize for AP English) and how it ends. If this had been a movie about learning to express your emotions through art, Shakespeare would have been replaced with oils or pastels. He’s just the medium.

It’s being praised in places as one of the year’s best movies, but I won’t go that far. It’s disjointed in its plot, with some loose ends that don’t get resolved. In a movie where the best acting is done when characters are screaming at each other, the scenes where they’re trying to be funny come up short. Some important details are held back, but as soon as a little bit is revealed you can begin to put the whole story together.

The Shakespeare’s not great. Too often the script is cut, so if like me you’re there whispering along with the lines you’ll be frustrated at all the random cuts. If you do see it, I thought that literally the best moment of Shakespeare was when the mom asks the dad to recite some for her. It was hesitant and awkward and beautiful because of how honest it was. He whispered after, “I won’t do it like that on stage,” and I said aloud, “No, do it exactly like that.”

Ultimately, it’s where the story does not play into expectations that it’s at its best precisely because of how honest and real it is, and that’s where it gets the praise. This is a small group of over 50-year-olds doing a play about teenage suicide. The audience, right along with the other characters in the movie, has to get past the shallow physical aspect to the essence of what theatre is all about. Peter Brook had a famous quote like, “When a man walks across a bare stage, and another man watches him, that is all that’s needed for theatre.” This is what I thought as our construction worker first walked into the theatre. I thought, “Whatever he does and however he does it, that’s the story I want to watch.”

Parts are frustrating. I’ve never been an actor, never done the silly rehearsing exercises (“red ball! RED BALL!”), but even I threw my hands up in the air when the director invited a new member into the group and said, “Pick any role you want.” I only later realized that one of the existing members was doing something of a Nick Bottom, trying to claim every role for himself, who got continually frustrated as they were taken from him. But come on, these people presumably auditioned (it says so in the dialogue). You don’t insult them by telling a newcomer they can have whatever role they want.

See this one if you can. It’s no triumph of Shakespearean acting, but that’s the whole point. It’s not about the quality of the performance, it’s about the humanity that anybody can bring to the task whether they’re actually any good at it by some objective standard.

Win a Free Copy of “My Own Personal Shakespeare: Macbeth”! Enter Now!

My Own Personal Shakespeare : Macbeth Edition

I’m thrilled to announce an exciting giveaway contest for our latest release, My Own Personal Shakespeare: Macbeth. This edition offers a unique experience, allowing you to engage deeply with the text while adding your own personal annotations.

How to Enter:

It’s simple! To participate, all you need to do is leave a comment answering one intriguing question:

Which Shakespeare play should I write about next?

I chose Macbeth as the first volume because my daughter inspired the entire project by coming out of her first college Shakespeare class and asking, “Can I get my own copy of Macbeth? I don’t care which edition, I just want one of my own that I can write in because I have thoughts.” Thus the idea was born for an edition of Shakespeare that strips away hundreds of years of other people telling you what to think, replacing it with plenty of room for you to discover Shakespeare in your own way and at your own pace.

But what should we do next? Hamlet? Romeo and Juliet? Twelfth Night, Much Ado? You tell me!

Two Winners Will Receive Free Copies of My Own Personal Shakespeare: Macbeth

I have two copies of my book to giveaway. (Amazon’s actually very good about “author copies,” so if this contest goes well, I’ll probably do it again soon!). All you need to do is answer the question in the comments and a few other necessary rules:

  • Submit your entry by the deadline: Friday, June 28, 2024
  • Provide a valid email address so I can contact the winner.
  • Be willing to provide me with a shipping address where I can send the book, of course.
  • Shipment to the continental US only. Sorry, international audience. Shipping costs take all the fun out of it.

Look Inside!

The whole point of our new series is about making it your own. There’s plenty of whitespace on every page, and blank note pages between all the acts. Check it out!

Enter Now for Your Chance to Win

Who doesn’t love free books? Free Shakespeare books, even better! We’ve taken the first step on what’s hopefully going to be a long and fruitful journey. Now you can help us decide the next step! Enter today!