The Merch(andise) of Shakespeare(Geek)

Straight Outta Birnam Wood - ShakespeareGeek Merchandise

The following post is pretty much blatant product shilling for Shakespeare Geek merchandise, so if that’s not something you’re interest in, here’s your chance to just skip this one!

‘Tis the season, everybody! I haven’t blatantly shilled any Shakespeare Geek Merchandise lately, because I always feel very uncomfortable doing that. But then I remind myself that you can’t buy Shakespeare Geek merchandise if you don’t know about it, and this is the perfect time of year when people will be thinking, “I wonder what I can get that Shakespeare-crazy friend of mine that they don’t already have?” and that’s where I come in.

Let’s do this in two steps. If I were indeed in this to make money, I’m sure by this point, I could have gotten much better at this. But I’m not, so it’s still a little haphazard.

First — I have a storefront on Redbubble. This is where you can get a wider variety of *types* of merchandise – stickers, phone cases, tote bags, hats, face masks … but t-shirts are there, too. Not all of my designs are up there, but they have a cool way of writing directly to the shop owner (me!), so I can take requests. I just filled two this past week.

Click Here to Shop Shakespeare Geek Merchandise on Redbubble!

Second — Ok, now let’s talk about Amazon, the gorilla in the room. Clearly, Amazon is a merchandise creator’s dream, bringing all the traffic volume (it goes up to 11, you might even say). My biggest problem with Amazon has always been that they do not offer a one-stop “Here’s a link to all your merch” solution. It’s spread out not only across product types but across international domains! So if you see something on, chances are it’s on as well, but there’s no easy way for me to get you there.

The closest I’m able to provide is this Amazon Search of the ShakespeareGeek Brand, but it’s only for the US site, and I’m still not sure it represents all of my stuff (and it’s definitely not ordered in any useful or interesting way).

Click Here To Shop Shakespeare Geek Merchandise on Amazon!

To make this a little easier, here are direct links to some of my recent best sellers! Note that all of these links will show men’s t-shirts, and I can’t always pick what color to highlight. But just about every product is available in various styles of colors, including women’s and children’s. Some are available as sweatshirts. You just kind of have to click around and explore. Note that all of my stuff is branded “Shakespeare Geek” – there’s a lot of Shakespeare merch on Amazon, and it’s not all me.

Show some love for the Rude Mechanicals! I’m just now thinking, “Why didn’t I put Bottom on the Bottom???”
Everybody loves the “Straight Outta” shirts, I think all the versions I did are some of my best sellers.
I’m sad that this one seems to have poor reviews, but they are on the physical shirt that Amazon provides, not about my design. Looks like they might run small?
Pair this one with the Rude Mechanicals version and see how many people recognize it! I can’t remember if I made a fairies version, but if I didn’t, I will have to.
Click through this one to see the better color combinations, I don’t like this screenshot but I can’t easily change it. On this one, I deliberately put Bottom on top, both to emphasize that it’s Bottom’s Dream but also because I thought Puck would enjoy being the one who’s upside down.
Didn’t I say the Straight Outta shirts were best-sellers? This one makes the most sense to me, plotwise.

Wrapping It Up

See what I did there? While I’m wrapping up this post, you can wrap up all the great new Shakespeare Geek merchandise you bought for people! Ha!

Ok, that’s enough links. If you’re going to click, I’ve given you plenty to click. If I don’t get the chance later, let me take this opportunity to thank you all for your support over the years. The mission has been and always will be to get more Shakespeare out into the world – Shakespeare makes life better! But the reality of that world is that money makes it go around, so when you’re able to purchase Shakespeare Geek merchandise for yourself or as gifts for your friends, that helps me buy things for my family and my friends.

Even if you got this far and didn’t see anything fun to click on, you can still help support the site and get more Shakespeare out into the world by sharing this post! Thanks!

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

ChatGPT: Somebody Call Alan Turing

One of the very first programs I “wrote”, and by that I mean “copied by hand from a book”, was a BASIC version of ELIZA, the famous “chat” program by Joseph Weisenbaum. I was a kid, just learning to program, and this sent me down a spiral into the history of artificial intelligence where I learned about the Turing Test, created by Alan Turing in 1950, which says, simplified, that the goal of natural language processing is to create a chat program such that, if a person is sitting at the other end, that person can’t tell if they’re talking to a human or a computer.

Well, it’s been 70+ years at this point and man are we getting close. There’ve been a million chat programs and competitions since then, I’ve played with a lot of them, and they’ve all been quite terrible. In fact if you’re trying to break one – after all it is a test, not a game – it’s usually pretty easy. But if you’re not? If you honestly just want the content that comes from a conversation, with back and forth question and answer? Wait’ll you get a load of ChatGPT.

As I always do, I just walked up and started hitting it with Shakespeare questions. I wasn’t trying to trick it, I was just asking what I thought might be interesting exploration of what it could be expected to do. What follows is unedited transcript.

I started out with an easy one. And I got back an easy response. It’s probably not copied from Wikipedia, but it reads like it could have been. I didn’t expect much.

That was kind of cool. I not only got an answer, I got a reasonable and grammatically correct answer. Often in the older versions of these chat engines, trying to express something in a different way meant just doing some dumb word swapping. This one’s maybe doing a little of that (“tragic” = “very sad”) but it does a lot more than swap out words.

Ok, let’s make it a little more challenging.

Fascinating. Again, like the first question it feels very Wikipedia-like. But it’s serving these answers up in a matter of seconds. And it’s not like this things got a database of what people might ask. I’m relatively certain I’m one of the few people drilling down on random Shakespeare combinations.

I don’t know what I expected here, but I like this answer. It implies strongly that this thing understood my question, understands not only the characters of Hamlet but the elements of tragedy and comedy, and makes a valiant attempt to offer suggestions about how they might fit together.

Ok, two more then I want to go back and play with it some more.

I don’t know why people keep getting so excited about using this thing to generate original content – it’s not going to offer opinions, and it knows when that’s what you’re asking. So this heavily suggests that all we can ever really get out of it (well, for now) is factual responses.

This is basically the same question, yes. But do you see why I left it in here? It literally tells me, “You just asked me the same question in a different way.” So not only is it doing a ridiculously impressive job answering the questions, but it’s keeping your conversation in context and using that as part of the answer.

I wasn’t terribly impressed by the art generators that were all the rage a few months ago. This, on the other hand. I could talk to this thing all day.

Pick Your Favorite Ophelia

When I saw the headline “9 Artistic Representations of Shakespeare’s Ophelia” I thought immediately of Millais’ Ophelia in the river. But what else? I remember a variety of Juliets and Mirandas and Ladies Macbeth, but I couldn’t remember how many interpretations of Ophelia I’d seen.

Well here we have 9 of them, and yes Millais is the first “iconic” one to get that out of the way. I’m a little weirded out that so many of them are artistically naked. Not only have I never thought of Ophelia that way (I tend to think of her as very young), but it does kind of go against that whole “her garments, heavy with their drink…” thing. This is mentioned in the article.

Pretty sure I’d seen #5 before. Never #2, #2 is creepy.

I think #7 is my favorite. How about you?

The Rosaline Trailer is … Actually Good?

I’ve been dumping all over the YA book (now movie) Rosaline that tells us the story of Romeo and Juliet from Rosaline’s point of view. You know, that character mentioned once that plays no significant role in the play. So the idea of retelling R&J really means, just making up a whole new story. Maybe if we’re lucky we get a new Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but I wasn’t holding out hope. There aren’t that many Tom Stoppards out there.

Well the trailer’s out and … I like it? It looks like it’s got legs to stand on its own (unlike, say, the wretched Ophelia that I couldn’t even finish).

It’s reminiscent of that heyday of high school Shakespeare comedies when we got 10 Things I Hate About You, and She’s The Man. It’s got the pacing, it’s got the humor. I laughed at a few bits. Strangely adult, for what it is (who says “blow me” in a PG-13 trailer?) but maybe that’s just where the bar is set these days.

Anyway, I’m more optimistic than I have been. Now that we see what it’s trying to be, I look forward to seeing the finished product. And I guess it’s a Hulu thing now? Which is good, I won’t have to get myself to the theatre to see it!

We Are Not All Alone Unhappy

Being a computer scientist and a Shakespeare geek is a little weird sometimes. For as long as I can remember, I’ve seen Shakespeare’s work – and, by extension, his universe – as a structured body of text to be manipulated however I am able. When you have the ability to code at your fingers, structured data is your playground. All you see is “Plays have scenes, scenes have dialogue, dialogue has lines that are spoken by speakers…” and then you build it back up from there.

How could we ever see Lady Macbeth with anybody else?

People usually go one of two routes with this knowledge. First, they run word analysis and try to come up with reasons why Shakespeare liked to use “dark” words earlier in his career, or how often he used synonyms for love. Stuff like that.

Or, according to the new AI world where everything is “machine learning”, they “train” a model on how Shakespeare wrote, and then they generate fresh new content “in the style of Shakespeare.” I always hate these, because “in the style of Shakespeare” can be said with fewer words as, “not Shakespeare.”

I’ve always looked at it differently. I see characters, and how they relate to each other. In my dream world, where I’m a younger man with more time and energy to work on projects that have no monetary value but are infinitely fascinating to me, I want to read in the text of a play in such a way that each character turns into a chatbot, and the user can do stuff like walk through Romeo and Juliet from different character perspectives, stopping to talk to each character. “Ask TYBALT why he hates ROMEO.” Stuff like that. I think that would be awesome. I’ve often thought of how far I could really take it. I’ve just never written it.

Of course, once you get into interacting with the story, you have to start creating new content. Shakespeare and “interactive fiction” is not new. The name Ryan North might be best known – he actually published a “choose your own adventure” version of Hamlet. But it’s a much smaller universe than either books or games. You basically get to work with people who were looking for you already. It’s a match made in heaven.

So I’m a bit giddy to have found the interactive Twine game We Are Not All Alone Unhappy sitting in an article about newly published SF inspired by Shakespeare. This one’s a little different. It’s not a book. It’s a small game where you pick two Shakespeare characters (from a pre-chosen list of nine) and see if they get a “happy ending.” Who decides that? Well, the author does – Cat Manning. And the math geeks may jump right to the numbers and realize that there are only 72 possible combinations to run through. But each of those combinations is a spin on “what happens when you put these two characters in a room”, so that’s 72 pages of original Shakespeare-related content, and that’s what we’re here for.

There is a game and a goal. Each character has empty hearts next to their name. Find them a happy ending, you fill a heart. The goal is to fill all the hearts. There are 28 hearts and 72 combinations so you won’t play for too long before stumbling across the good matches. Nobody said it’s a difficult game. But those of us who have personal relationships with Shakespeare characters will have that much more fun saying, “Oh, I wonder what would happen if I put Mercutio and Kate in a room together?”

I’m also finding that I disagree with some of the results 🙂 and wish they were longer. Some are real dead ends. Some are a little softcore, so reader beware. But if you’re always on the lookout for interesting and slightly geeky new ways to play with Shakespeare content, it’s definitely worth playing with.