My wife and I took a little trip out of town recently to one of those towns where “Walk around the little shops” is the thing you do. One of those shops turns out to be one of those “All Things British” things, so we wander in to check it out. It’s a Wednesday, and it’s off-season. All the shops are empty of customers. So the store owner person, who’s literally sweeping when we come in, asks if there’s anything special he can help us with.
So I say something I’ve always felt like I should say in these situations. “Got any random stuff with Shakespeare on it?” I ask. “I collect random stuff with Shakespeare on it.”
He says, “Here.”
I don’t even know what it is. Stationery? I flip it over, and it’s four bucks, so I get it.
Apparently, it’s supposed to be a greeting card. When you take him out of the package, he folds open and is blank inside (oh, the irony). But he stands up on his own, so I think I like him as a little cutout that I can station on my desk and talk to.
It also comes with a sheet of stickers and something I find unexpectedly amusing. Check out the back of the package first:
At first glance, I was wondering who the face was, and thought, “Why would it be Will Ferrell?” But that’s Richard Burbage. What an odd choice for a sticker.
But! Here’s the funny part. Check out what happens when I unwrap it.
So our sheet of Shakespeare stickers includes “Happy Birthday,” “Good Luck,” “I Love You,” and “Congratulations.” Run out of Shakespeare, there, did ya? In the long history of deceiving the customers by hiding unexpected low-quality product behind the packaging so they only see it after they bought it, this is certainly one of the more trivial ones. But I got a kick out of it. Shakespeare geeks get to play in the disappointment, too! It’s Shakespeare knowledgeable enough to include a picture of Burbage, but they couldn’t throw in 2 more original quotes?
<shrug> For four bucks, I get some content out of it. I think that makes it tax deductible.
Hello! It is so cool for me to be writing for my dad’s blog after reading stories about me as a young kid reciting Shakespeare and the fact that I named my dolls Goneril and Regan before I had even read King Lear. There is something so full circle about this, and I’m so excited.
I’m in college, studying English with a Creative Writing concentration and Journalism. Unfortunately, I have no plans to be a Shakespeare academic (right now). I’m actually leaning more toward the journalism path. But of course, when I saw a Shakespeare class offered, I knew I had to take it. Learning Shakespeare again in college has been so fascinating as someone who grew up with Shakespeare. I have so many thoughts now that I’m old enough to have a deeper understanding of the plays.
My college offers two Shakespeare classes, one from the beginning portion of his life, focusing on comedies, and another on the second half of his life, focusing on tragedies. The tragedies course was the only one offered this semester, so I signed up. So far, we’ve read Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello. Currently, we’re reading King Lear, and we still have Antony and Cleopatra and, finally, Pericles.
I had read the first three before the course, which made rereading them at a college level interesting. I didn’t have to focus on understanding the plot at first because I already knew the summary of these plays. That’s why when I read Othello, I interpreted it a lot slower because I wasn’t as familiar with the characters and story the way I knew Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet from the heart. Not that I didn’t love Othello, but it’s much easier to take away specific details when you know the basic summary of the story by heart.
The most significant discovery from this class was how much I love Macbeth. If you were to ask me my thoughts on Macbeth pre-college, I wouldn’t have thought much about it. To me, Macbeth and Hamlet were very interchangeable, and I would have preferred to discuss Much Ado About Nothing or As You Like It. I think I was more familiar with comedies because while my dad always taught me about tragedies, it’s hard to teach a little kid a story about a guy who wants to kill his uncle for revenge compared to a guy who turns into a donkey.
My new love for Macbeth came from my class’s in-depth analysis of Lady Macbeth and gender. Reading Macbeth in high school, the complexity of Lady Macbeth never crossed my mind. But when I sat down and read her monologue, I was blown away. When she said, “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,” I knew that this character was different than any character I had ever read. Most of Shakespeare’s women I had read were very restricted by the gender norms of the time. Now that I’m thinking out loud, most of the comedies I read are heavily romance-driven. This was one of the first plays I had read that not only had zero romance but also a female character who took on the male characteristics of the time.
This led to me being fascinated with how exactly Shakespeare can challenge gender roles in some of his plays while also reinforcing them in others. I would say Taming of the Shrew is a pretty blatant example of him enforcing the rules, but most of the tragedies I’ve read break away from the gender rules. Except Ophelia, that I know of. I wrote my first paper for the course about the irony of Shakespeare’s strong female characters being in the tragedies, almost symbolizing that women who defy what society expects from them will meet tragic demise.
In my essay, I wrote about how women at the time were associated with Eve for being manipulative and needing a man to control them so they would not cause harm. I took this to explain why Lady Macbeth is villanized by most readers, rather than being a woman who knew what she wanted but was frustrated by the limits of her gender. Growing up reading Macbeth, I fell victim to this, and I thought she was the story’s villain. And while I obviously think murder makes someone a wrong person, I have a better understanding of why she wanted to kill Duncan so severely. I used to think she was crazy for wanting to kill Duncan so badly, but she is such a complex character.
Frankly, her character makes me sad. She isn’t afraid to face the challenges her gender presents her. Still, in the end, she falls victim to her biological gender (Though I do have questions about this, I think this was Shakespeare’s intention). In my essay, I wrote,
“Lady Macbeth mentally recognized that she needed to take on male characteristics to get what she wanted, but this was not something she could maintain, as she died shortly after going mad, presumably by suicide. Shakespeare believes that the cruelty that Macbeth can maintain naturally as a man is not something Lady Macbeth can hold on to for a very long time.”
The idea that she was doomed from the beginning is frustrating. She felt guilty about the killing, and she wasn’t entirely inhumane. There are several cases where she expresses her worry for Macbeth, which shows that she isn’t sociopathic but does show emotions and regret.
In the other plays I’ve read so far, there have been women who strayed from the gender norms of the time, but I have yet to find a character who stands out to me the way Lady Macbeth has. The comparison between Emilia and Desdemona in Othello is probably a close second for me. They weren’t as intense with their gender defiance the way Lady Macbeth was, but the small moments throughout the play interested me. When Emilia announces that she believes women should be allowed to cheat on their husbands, I was kinda like…oh wow, that was not something I would ever expect a Shakespeare character to say. I found Desdemona frustrating, but the fact that she married Othello despite society being against interracial marriage I thought was interesting. Though if she actually loves Othello, that’s an entirely different question that I will try and figure out for my second essay on Othello.
This is a lot of writing, so I’ll cut it here. But I’ll continue to brain-dump my thoughts on relearning Shakespeare as a college student regularly!
A funny thing happened recently when Bardfilm mentioned that he’d just seen Love At First Sight on Netflix and recommended it the next time my wife and I were looking for something to watch. We talk fairly often, but almost always about Shakespeare. So it was a bit out of sync with the norm.
Well, my wife and I had a movie evening tonight and decided to watch it. First scene, our narrator character is reading from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. All right, Bardfilm, I see you 🙂
The film is a brand new 2023 release, based on the book “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight,” authored by Jennifer E. Smith. It stars Haley Lu Richardson (The White Lotus) and Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody). So it’s not some “straight to DVD” anonymous release that would have collected dust on a Blockbuster shelf. It’s a legit project.
If not for one thing, we wouldn’t be talking about this movie. It is generic on top of generic. Even the title. I searched IMDB and came back with nearly 100 exact matches. I understand that it’s cribbed from the original book title and probably plays better than “Statistical Probability” of anything, but this is what writers are for. Surely, somebody could have grabbed a different catchy line to use.
Then it does the “what are the odds?” thing to the extreme. Our male lead is obsessed with the probability of things, so he goes around quoting statistics. Did you know that 1 in 50 relationships begin in an airport? But 50% of marriages end in divorce? In fact that’s the entire structure of the movie, as Jameela Jamil plays an omnipresent narrator who keeps showing up in unusual places to let the audience know that there was only a 0.06% chance of a happy ending, unless X Y Z happens…
So why, then, are we talking about it? Because for some reason, there’s the promise of a lot of Shakespeare in this one. And I say it like that for a reason. As noted, we open with the narrator reading from Dream. I wonder if our story is going to parallel Shakespeare’s in some way. Or if perhaps our narrator is a cleverly disguised Puck, running around and messing with lovers for his/her own enjoyment? Nah.
Later, we catch a glimpse of the hero’s parents, a pair of thespians, banging out a bit of Dream for our amusement. Later, there’s an entire Shakespeare-themed party where everyone dresses up as Shakespeare characters and performs. Only, we don’t get to see it. We see people in costume, and we’re given the numbers of how many of each character there are and what speeches were performed, but NOBODY ACTUALLY DOES ANY SHAKESPEARE ON SCREEN. Aw, come on! There’s a specific “Who are you supposed to be?” / “I’m Macbeth” moment … but at no point does this factor into the story. Nobody actually performs any Macbeth.
There’s a moment when our hero is running around looking for our heroine. They’re at a fancy house. I have that moment where I scream “OH IF SHE COMES OUT ON A BALCONY….:” but even that, the most obvious of obvious Shakespeare opportunities, doesn’t pan out.
Bardfilm and I were left pondering why the story would go there. So much Shakespeare and let so little. Shakespeare for the masses is a tricky business. Drop in some Romeo and Juliet and everybody’s right there with you. But push your luck and start bringing up stuff people didn’t study in high school, and you’re going to lose them. This one misses obvious chances while leaving in the bizarre ones. There’s more Richard III than Romeo in this.
A new form of movie rating scale came to me the other day. Forget stars or tomatoes. We should be rating movies on how much money I would have been ok spending on this. If I’d seen this in a theatre? I’d be annoyed. But at home, streaming on Netflix? It was a pleasant change of pace, and arguably one of the better new originals I’ve seen lately. Sure it’s cliché as heck but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t well acted and produced.
So, this weekend is Parents’ Weekend at my daughter’s college. “Want to go see a Shakespeare exhibit with me while you’re here?” she asks. I’m intrigued, but there are rules in this family, I’m not allowed to hijack the agenda for Shakespeare. “My teacher was one of the curators, and we all have to go check it out for my class and write a paper about it.” Oh, it’s for homework? I’m so in!
Off we head to the Pequot Library in Connecticut. Ready for what we saw?
The collection, like many this year, was a celebration of 400 years of the Folio. So there were many cards describing the difference between the editions and which plays were added as they came out. A pleasant surprise was the amount of space dedicated to Charles and Mary Lamb’s work, which is one of the ways I introduced my kids to Shakespeare. I’m not honestly sure of the connection between the Lambs and the Folio, but hey, I wasn’t part of the curating.
Two things I especially loved about this one. First, this small library really decorated with Shakespeare. While we were in the exhibit room, one of the ladies at the desk came to tell us that there was an additional room that we shouldn’t miss. This turned out to be mostly illustrations from later collections behind glass, so I didn’t get any good pictures. But I appreciate her making sure we didn’t miss it. There was also a Hamlet on display right by the entrance that she called out as well. I definitely hadn’t missed that one.
Also, check this out. As we walked in the door I saw a brochure for a local Shakes-Beer fest, which unfortunately I won’t be in town for. But then check this out!
They went ahead and gave him his own little display, shot glasses included!
Second, and I think I love this most of all … the exhibit blended seamlessly with the children’s section of the library.
On the wall is that very well-known “Phrases Today That We Owe To Shakespeare” poster, done up on a very nice and colorful canvas. The shelf is covered with children’s books about Shakespeare (some I have, many I don’t!) Across the top are paper dolls of Shakespeare’s characters. I imagine a family coming into the exhibit for the adults and older kids to see Shakespeare, and sometimes they’re going to have younger kids in tow. Those kids are going to be bored, right? It’s over their heads? It’s boring? Wrong! Genius idea. More exhibits should do this.
Very happy that we stopped by. There was definitely a lot of cool stuff to look at. There were some other patrons wandering around, so of course, my daughter and I had to have some fun. I mentioned that we were looking at a Fourth Folio, and she asked, “Which one did we see?”
“You guys have seen …” I paused to count … “I think 5 First Folios? I’m only now realizing that I should have kept a better count. That’s a fun bucket list item, to see as many as you can. You definitely saw Folio #1 when we were down in the Folger Vault.”
“I think I tried to touch it,” my son said.
“No, you tried to touch a different one that they had out on the counter,” I told him. “Folio #1 was special, we had to ask to see that.” Alas, none of the little old ladies seemed interested in our humble bragging. Honestly, I think they were annoyed that we were there and taking up space. They’re probably used to having the place 90% empty. I don’t care. If there’s an opportunity to talk about Shakespeare, I’m going to take it.
Though it’s not yet achieved the classic status of the knock-knock joke, the “I have a _____ joke but ______” has become an Internet favorite over the last few years. As is our wont, let’s add Shakespeare to that list, shall we?
I Have a Shakespeare Joke, But…
I have a Hamlet joke but can’t decide how to finish it.
I have a Romeo and Juliet joke but you probably heard it back in high school.
I have a Macbeth joke that always gets a good laugh, but it really kills in Scotland.
I have a Lavinia joke but can’t say it out loud.
I have a Midsummer Night’s Dream joke but it’s pretty asinine.
I have a joke about that silent bit during the play-within-a-play in Hamlet, but it’s dumb.
I have a Shakespeare joke but everybody else claims they wrote it.