BardBots, Or, How Did I Miss This?!

Though the “geek” in Shakespeare Geek refers primarily to our obsession with our favorite subject, I am still a lifelong computer geek by trade and have always kept a special eye on crossover projects that map Shakespeare onto the digital world, be in apps, video games…

Students study monologues from Shakespeare, annotate for characterization and blocking, then they are challenged to program robots to perform the scenes.

…or, sure, why not? Robots performing scenes.  Sounds awesome.

In honor of Shakespeare’s 454th birthday…

Wait, what?

April 23, 2018

This is over two months old?!  I’m slipping in my old age. Can’t believe this flew completely under my radar.

Note that this is a classroom project, not something out of Westworld.  The robots are basic, the environment is basic.  A long time ago, a professor named Terry Winograd made huge advances in natural language processing in a project called SHRDLU that did nothing but move colored blocks (“Put the red square on the yellow rectangle”, “Where is the blue pyramid?”, etc…)  This project reminds me a lot of that.

Just last week we were talking about Patrick Winston’s work in training an AI to understand Macbeth.  Over on this side, we’re training robots to act it out. Can’t wait to see how they meet in the middle.

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What’s This About A Wadlow Portrait?

I had to double check my archives because sometimes what I think is new, I actually wrote about years ago. But so far the word “Wadlow” doesn’t appear in my archives.

“Could This Be A Portrait of Young William Shakespeare?” That’s what you call clickbait in my universe 🙂

I don’t see the resemblance.

In the linked article above, an art historian makes her case. I’m not going to attempt to debate any of her points, because I don’t exactly have the credentials to do so. But it is a very interesting (lengthy) read, with almost as many footnotes and references as actual content.  I like when historians write because they tend not to offer unsubstantiated opinion, they point to documents.

Anyway, we’re not afraid of unsubstantiated opinions here. If I had to research and document everything I’ve ever wanted to say about Shakespeare I never would have started this site in the first place.

What do you think? Have you heard of this Wadlow portrait? Do you know anything about the “Is it Shakespeare?” question?  Is it?  I don’t think it looks anything like him (not counting the earring). I suppose we could argue that this one is supposedly painted from life rather than after his death, but the other portraits do all tend to look alike – even Cobbe – mostly around the eyes. Having this be a more accurate depiction of Shakespeare would make all those other ones, including the one on the front pages of the First Folio, pretty wrong.

 

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Midsummer Movie!

I did not see this coming!  Looks like it’s time for somebody to try A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the big screen again:

Interesting.  Looks like they’re going with the original text, which is always a good way to start in my book.

The biggest name attached appears to be Rachel Leigh Cook (Hermia) who seems like she’s kept busy, but was really “big” back in the days of Dawson’s Creek and She’s All That.  Trivia?  I continually confuse “She’s All That” with “She’s The Man” and assume that it’s a Twelfth Night adaptation.  I suppose Hamish Linklater (Lysander) is also a big name now, he’s had steady primetime TV work for years now (Legion, Fargo, The Crazy Ones, New Adventures of Old Christine, Ugly Betty…)

What I’m worried about is the trailer shows none of the Rude Mechanicals at all. I came away from it worrying that they’d be entirely cut. Luckily the IMDB page does list credits for all of them so they’ll definitely make some sort of appearance.

Oh! I knew this guy looked familiar!  Fran Kranz (Bottom) is one of Joss Whedon’s gang, and played Claudio in Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. That could be cool.

Anybody know more about this movie?  IMDB dates it 2017, but the YouTube trailer appears to be brand new and it looks to be arriving in theatres July 13.  No clue if it’ll be in wide release or not (but I really doubt it).

Is it possible to make a good movie version of Midsummer?  Or is it just too ridiculous (unless you go animated)?

 

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Shakespeare Calling (A Geeklet Story)

This weekend my son and I went to the Boston Calling music festival because he’s a big Eminem fan.  His sisters will be going to see Taylor Swift this summer, and we already dragged him to that once, it didn’t seem fair to doom him to a life of shows like that just because he’s outnumbered.

Anyway, here’s where the Shakespeare comes in.  We’re walking from the hotel to the festival…

Geeklet:  “I told my friend at school that I’m going to see Eminem and he said, ‘Are you going to eat M&Ms?'”

Me:  “I once played Othello *at* Othello.”

Geeklet:  “What?”

Me: “Never mind.”

Later in the evening when we’re trying literally not to get lost in a crowd. Somehow the conversation turns to how you never know, just bumping into somebody or stepping on their shoe might set them off.

A few hours after that, it’s dark, it’s a standing room only crush of people, and he steps on my toe.

Me:  “Yo homes, you just step on my toe?  I will murder you.”

Geeklet: “No you wouldn’t.”

Me: “I can do it, too. We’re in the same hotel room. Smother you in your sleep with a pillow.”

Geeklet:  “Othello.”

Me: “…wait, what? Seriously?”

Geeklet: “Wait what what?”

Me: “That’s the one that ends where the guy smothers his wife with a pillow.  Didn’t know you remembered that.”

Geeklet: “I didn’t, I just picked the one that rhymed with pillow.”

 

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Paper Shakespeare : To Date Or Not To Date

Whenever I see a reference to a Shakespeare inspired video game it immediately catches my attention.  Shakespeare’s works are one of the great places to start for public domain stories, after all.

So when I spotted Paper Shakespeare: To Date Or Not To Date  I had to check it out. In fact, I literally sought out the developers to have a conversation on the topic.  It turns out that they’re planning video games based on thirty-seven of the plays?!  I love that idea.  As a cynical old man I don’t expect to ever see it, but hey, as they crank them out I’ll be sure to post about them here.

How is Paper Shakespeare? I wish I could say I liked it, I really do. It’s apparently supposed to be some kind of dating simulator, whatever that means.  From my angle (that of a fifty-year-old married father of three) it resembles a choose your own adventure book, offering me a few sentences of text at a time, leaving me to just press the space bar over and over again. I meet the characters, all sporting Shakespearean names and high school personalities – Tybalt the bully, Othello the football star, and so on.  Every now and then I get a choice to make – which class should I take? Who should I pass a note to, and what should it be about?

I just don’t know what to do with it at all. There’s a counter in the corner that’s keeping tracking of some sort of interaction I have with the characters, and I get the feeling there’s a goal, I just can’t get into it.  Sorry, developers. Maybe I’ll enjoy the next one more.

 

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What’s On Your Shakespeare Bucket List?

See you this summer, Richard III.

I don’t think we’ve ever done this before.  What are your life’s goals with respect to Shakespeare? Which ones have you accomplished, and what’s your progress toward the next one?

  • Publish something. Done – Hear My Soul Speak is available for download on Amazon!
  • Teach something. Done – I volunteered in my children’s classes throughout elementary school where I taught Macbeth, Hamlet, Midsummer and others.  Always excerpt type stuff, never a full production, but we definitely got the kids up on their feet.
  • Be invited to speak on a Shakespearean subject.  Done – Bardfilm invited me to speak to one of his college classes.
  • Make some money at this. Not “make a living at it,” since given my day job that’s highly unlikely.  But I’ve had this hobby now for well over ten years, if I don’t at least try to make it pay for itself I’m missing an opportunity.  I’m pretty pleased so far with how the line of Shakespeare Geek Merchandise has been selling.   (Check it out, new designs going up regularly!)

Still On The List

  • Visit Stratford on Avon.  This is one of the most common questions I’m asked (behind “What’s your favorite play?”) As the years go by I see people all around me going, and wondering why I haven’t been.  It’s hard to explain.  At this point I’ve built it up in my head like a religious pilgrimage.  I could never see myself going without my family, because I wouldn’t deprive them of sharing that experience with me. But if I’m going to take an international trip with a family of five, well then the world is a big place and there’s lots of options, I’m not going to call dibs on the place *I* want to go at everybody else’s expense.
  • See all the plays. This one’s probably on most people’s lists.  It’s particularly tricky to find a performance of some of the more obscure plays, I know, but I’ve still got a lot of the basics yet to see.  To date I’ve seen, let’s see if I can do this off the top of my head:  Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus, Tempest, Midsummer, Shrew, Comedy of Errors, Two Gentlemen of Verona, All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Winter’s Tale.  So really I’m only about halfway there. This summer they’re doing Richard III in Boston so I’ll be able to check that one off as well.
  • Publish something real. Not to discount my efforts on the ebook, but that project started out much bigger in my head, intending to write the definitive guide to Shakespeare and weddings.  As time went by it got smaller and smaller and eventually turned into a “Just finish this” project.  The next time I try it I want to do something that’s physically published, something that can sit on my bookshelf. And preferably sell for more than ebook prices 😉
  • Perform. I don’t expect to ever be cast in a show, nor would I want to be.  But on the flip side I’ve literally dreamed about spontaneously standing on a desk and delivering a monologue to a rapt audience.  At some point before I die I’d like to achieve something in between the two.

Your turn!

 

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Thanks, Mr. D!

We did it all for the Shakespeare cookie.

My daughter has one particular teacher, we’ll call him Mr. D.

We love Mr. D.  She had him freshman year of high school for British literature (where she brought him Shakespeare cookies) and again sophomore year for American literature, where alas there was little Shakespeare in the curriculum but not only did he tell me (during parent teacher night) that he’d be sure to point it out in Huckleberry Finn (true!), he also managed to work in some Julius Caesar (although I’m still not sure how).

My wife and I were both looking forward to our second child, who’ll start at this school in the fall, having the same experience. And then our son after that.  The man’s been at the school over forty years, he’s one of those fixtures you just think will be there forever.

Only he won’t be, because he’s retiring this year.

We went to his retirement party, we said our thank yous and our congratulations, and my daughter promised that he’s invited to her book signing when she’s published.

I wanted to put an extra little something out there into the universe, just because. I don’t expect he’ll ever see it, but you never know. My daughter would have been mortified if I’d told it to him in person, but I think it was a wonderful thing to say.

On the way to the party, my daughter said of her teacher, “I like Mr. D as a person. I have conversations with him. He’s my friend.”

To all the teachers out there, know that you’re appreciated.

Thanks, Mr. D.  We’ll bring you Shakespeare cookies one last time.

 

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The Lost Plays Database

I can’t remember ever stumbling across this before, but sometimes it’s hard to remember after all these years.

Today while following some random Google rabbit hole to Love’s Labour’s Won, I found The Lost Plays Database.

I’m a little disappointed that Shakespeare’s only got two entries – Cardenio and the aforementioned LLW. But!  That’s because the folks running this site are sticklers for detail, and they’ve also got a category for “Attributed to W. Shakespeare”, which is not the same thing.  In the attributed category we have several entries, none of which I think I’ve ever seen before, including a Henry I and Henry II.

I’m not much of a fan of the lost plays, I figure if I can’t read or see them, they can’t do much for me. But I thought maybe some of you might like to cruise around.  Check out the dramatists’ page — Shakespeare gets just two categories out of somewhere north of a hundred and fifty!

Have fun going down this newly discovered rabbit hole!

 

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It is 1636. A Young William Shakespeare …. Wait What?

I have a keyword alert on Reddit for references to Shakespeare across all subreddits because you never know where he’s going to turn up.  (I don’t want to tell you how many personal ads I see 🙁 ).  This time /r/WritingPrompts is the winner:

It is the year 1636. A young William Shakespeare finds a secret compartment in his house. He opens it up, and finds a massive collection of written plays and poems.

Anybody else troubled by something in that premise?  It’s probably an honest mistake, or the person who came up with it doesn’t think it’s relevant, but let’s just play it through because it’s bugging me. And because I haven’t put up much new content recently.

Shakespeare died in 1616.  So we’ve got a young William Shakespeare 20 years after he died.

What did you expect from a Shakespeare Geek?

The most logical interpretation here, albeit the most conservative, is that William is, in fact, one of Judith and Thomas Quiney’s boys.  They had three children – Shakespeare Quiney, who died young, but Richard and Thomas both lived until 1639.  So maybe we pretend that one of them finds Shakespeare’s documents and does something underhanded with them because their dad and their granddad had a falling out shortly before ol’ Will died. This story totally makes sense to me – one of the grandsons basically seeks vengeance on his famous family’s name by burying all the original evidence connecting William as the true author of the stories.  Of course, the First Folio would have come out in 1623 and I don’t think the conspiracy theories about authorship had really had time to cook yet, but who knows.  Maybe they just decided to hide them in case they were worth money some day, and then forgot where they hid them.  I could make it work.

But let’s say that’s not true and we’re talking about a “real” Shakespeare who lived a literal lifetime after his actual self.  That means that somebody else wrote the plays, thirty years previously?  During the reign of Elizabeth and/or James, both of whom are no longer around?  Will audiences still care? The Puritans are about to close the theatres in less than a decade, so if he’s going to get started putting on thirty eight plays he’s got to crank them out at a rate of more than four per year.  Better hurry!

Maybe our question poser mistyped and meant 1536, which would be closer to Shakespeare’s actual lifespan.  But now we’re in a world where there’s no Queen Elizabeth or James I at all, so do we still get the plays that are directly tied to their reigns? Where are Marlowe, Middleton and the others during all of this to help the mysterious author collaborate, are they also unstuck in time?

I’m so confused.  I think I’ll mark that post and come back to it to see what kind of stories people come up with.

EDIT : I couldn’t help myself, I wrote to the original poster and asked if he did that on purpose.  He “messed up 1616 as his birthdate.”

 

 

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Decorate Your Life

Behowl The MoonToday a coworker asked me casually, “Don’t you get sick of Shakespeare knick-knacks?”  He’d noticed my desk has, let’s see if I can get them all:

“No,” I reply.

“Just wondering,” he said.  “I’m a Bruins fan, and everybody knows I’m a Bruins fan, but there eventually came a time when I had to tell people, stop buying me Bruins stuff, I’ve already got just about everything.  My wife’s the same way, she likes sharks, people know she likes sharks, but it’s like, enough already, stop buying me shark things.”

“I see it differently,” I replied.  “I call it decorating my life.  I don’t even necessarily use this stuff or read these books. But wherever I go, people who don’t know me can see, Shakespeare. And they ask me about it. And there’s a connection there that might not otherwise have been made.  I’m putting more Shakespeare out into the world, through that person.  Everybody wins.”

If you want more of something that you love in the universe, decorate your life with it.

 

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