Badly Translated Shakespeare is Awesome

So I spotted a post on Reddit that was clearly in a language I did not know, but also obviously said Hamlet, so I had to check it out. Wasn’t sure if maybe it was a link to a video production I had not yet seen.

Found a wall of text. Thought maybe it was an academic article. So I grabbed the first paragraph and ran it through Google Translate, only to discover that it appears to be your typical summary of Hamlet. Only…wait a second…

The story takes place at the Elsinor Castle in Denmark. Prince Hamlet reveals his father’s spirit and learns the truth that his father has murdered his uncle Claudius, who soon married Hamlet’s mother after his father’s death. Hamlet, who longs for revenge on his father, pretends to be mad.

Ok, this new version of Hamlet sounds awesome. Hamlet reveals his father’s spirit, apparently he was keeping it hidden somewhere. Then we learn that it was indeed Hamlet’s father who killed Claudius! Awesome. Claudius, soon after he was murdered apparently, marries Hamlet’s mother. For pointing all of this out to him, Hamlet wants revenge on his father.

I have to get more of this. I start cutting and pasting more paragraphs:

Because he had no evidence, he organized a theater performance to find out the truth, of course, it was a show of murdering his brother.

Hamlet working out his issues, organizing a performance of him murdering his brother.

Hamlet went to his mother to explain to her how things were and unwittingly kills Poland, the Supreme Chamberlain.

Farewell, Poland. We shall not see your like again.

Claudius was called upon to fight against Lear,

A new player has entered the game! That’s hardly going to be a fair fight, one would think.

Unfortunately the rest of the translation isn’t as good, dissolving into the usual auto translation gibberish. But that was a fun little diversion!

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That’s No Moon! (A Geeklet Story)

SCENETypical school day breakfast. I am kneeling down and reaching into a lower cabinet, where we keep the appliance type things, so breakfast smoothies can be made.

Older Geeklet: I remember what I wanted to tell you. Did you know that all the moons of Uranus are named after Shakespeare characters?

Me: No, they’re not.

Older Geeklet: …

Me: …a couple are named for a different play.   (* Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, though I mistakenly thought they were from an Edmund Spencer work at the time).

Geeklet: Well, yeah, true, I knew that.

Me: Anyway.

Geeklet: Anyway.  So they came up in astronomy class, and I was so excited, because I had this great piece of trivia, and I was waiting for it to come up so I could answer! … and it didn’t.  He just said Uranus has a lot of moons and there’s nothing special about them.

Me: Well, that stinks. It’s also not true. Did he mention that two of the moons are going to collide? Go back and tell him you learned that on your dad’s Shakespeare blog!

Researching this post got me looking at the evolution of my knowledge on this subject.  After all, “Uranus” isn’t a word that comes up often in other contexts, so it’s easy to search.

April 2006 – I learn about Uranus’ moons. Amusingly I avoid mentioning “Umbriel” at all here. I expect that at the time I was very new and thinking, “I don’t recognize that character, so I just won’t draw attention to that one.”  Meanwhile “Belinda” is buried in the middle, there, and I always miss that one.  “Umbriel” is close enough to “Ariel” that you want to think they go together because they do. The Ariel referenced here is from Pope’s work, along with Umbriel. This is not Shakespeare’s Ariel.

March 2008 – I learn more about why the moons are named like they are, chronologically. I also learn about the Umbriel/Ariel connection, and take note of Belinda there in the middle (the newest discovery, so technically she’s at the very end of the list).

September 2017 – Soon (astronomically speaking) there will be fewer moons. In about a million years, astronomers think that Cressida and Desdemona are going to crash into each other. I wish it had been two characters from the same play, then we could have worked that backwards into the storyline. But Cressida, of all possibilities?  Boring.

January 2019 – My daughter comes home disappointed that she is not given the opportunity to share this information with her astronomy class.




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Iago, Not Really Such A Bad Guy?

As regular readers may know my daughter is in her first real Shakespeare class, so we get to have regular discussions about my favorite subject and it almost always results in a blog post.  Technically the class is only half Shakespeare, as it is really “Monsters in British Literature” and The Tempest was one of the topics, which makes this that much more interesting, because Othello isn’t normally part of the class.

So she’s got a writing assignment where she’s to pick a real person (can’t be fictional) that society sees as a monster, and then take a position whether to defend or rebut that argument, using what they’ve learned in class about the “definition” of what it means to be a monster.

We’ve been going back on forth on what (or who) she might pick, when she says to me, “One student did do Iago, though.” I think that may have been for a slightly different definition of the assignment as he’s clearly fictional.  She continued, “But he argued that Iago’s not a monster.”

“Tough argument,” I say.  Normally I’m driving while we have these conversations so I have to keep my eyes on the road.  “Not really sure there’s any evidence on behalf of Iago being a nice guy.”

“That’s the thing!” my daughter responded, “Apparently the teacher read it and said, hmmm, makes you think. Like he actually had a convincing argument, at least to get her to say that much!”

“Yeah, I’ma need you to get me that paper,” I said.

Upon which my daughter freaked out.  “DO NOT EMAIL MY TEACHER, DADDY!” she commanded.  “I know that’s totally something you would do.”

“Yeah, you’re right, there.”

“Please don’t. You can’t just go asking for a random student’s paper.”

“Ok, then you do it.”


“Then I guess we’re gonna have to go Mission Impossible on this one, because I need to see what that argument was.  I’m thinking we lower you into the room on cables, thread you through the laser security, and bam! You get to the file cabinet, you take some quick pictures of his homework, then we yank you out of there. No one’s the wiser.”

“Seriously, Daddy.  You’re not going to email her, are you?”

“No, I wouldn’t do that,” I replied.  “Besides, I’m going to get a blog post out of it either way.”

And here we are!  If we start with the premise that somebody put forth a reasonably convincing “Iago’s not such a bad guy” argument…what could it possibly have been?  Bardfilm sent me a piece from Arden edition which basically takes the position that we should assume everything Iago says is true — being a soldier is all that he knows how to do, it is his life, he seems himself as unfairly passed up for promotion by an unworthy candidate for all the wrong reasons, etc…  It goes on to say that we should assume that, even if Othello isn’t sleeping with Iago’s wife, the important thing to take away is that Iago believes it.  Iago isn’t just making some sort of alibi for his actions.

Personally I don’t see it. And even if we did believe that, it’s kind of like arguing first-degree murder versus third-degree murder. From the start he does show himself to be more sociopathic than that, going right through Roderigo and Cassio like they’re not even people.

<shrug> Anybody feel good taking Iago’s side? See a possible argument that we’re missing?  My daughter has the same teacher for a pure Shakespeare class next semester as well, where they will be reading Othello, so if it so happens that this topic comes up again I will be sure to revisit.


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Shakespeare Geek is Coming To Stratford

When people learn about the Shakespeare thing with me, the first question I’m asked is, “What’s your favorite play?” The answer is, “The Tempest.”

The second is, “Have you ever been to Stratford?” The answer is, “Not yet.”

That answer is about to change.

I am thrilled to announce that after running Shakespeare Geek for almost fourteen years now, it looks like our stars have aligned and the SG family will be vacationing in England this summer!  For years I’ve put it off, for a number of reasons.  Mostly because my wife actually went to England right before we got married, with her own family, and given how many places there are in the world that we haven’t seen, I wouldn’t want to make her go someplace she’s already been. That feels selfish to me. No matter how big a deal it would be for me, I don’t like putting myself ahead of my family.

Then a funny thing happened. My kids grew up. Do you want to know what they say when my wife asks where they think we should go on vacation? They say, “We’ve got to get Daddy to see Shakespeare’s birthplace.”  So basically my whole family got together and said, “It’s ok, we all want to go.”

(Just to put some icing on the cake, I got an unexpected bonus at work that’s going to help pay for the trip!  Not everything to be sure, but when Fortune says, “Dude, you’ve always wanted to go, your family wants you to take them, and here look it’s not going to be as expensive as you thought it was,” you go!)

Now comes the fun part – planning.  I am well aware that Stratford is pure tourist central and that I should brace myself for disappointment over just how gaudy it is.  I mean, come on, even Thomas Jefferson and John Adams said as much, 200 years ago.  But I am hoping that I’ve got a secret weapon that not everybody has…namely, you fine folks.

Depending on how you count, I’ve got somewhere north of twenty thousand followers who are potentially reading this. Many of you work in the business (academically or professionally). To you, it might be a regular occurrence to see shows at the Globe or visit the Birthplace. Or run into Stanley Wells or Ben Crystal or Gregory Doran on a regular basis.

But to me, this is likely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m treating it as such. Those places and those people are a big deal to me. To steal from Dead Poet’s Society, I want to go to Stratford “because I want to live deliberately. I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” How can I just say, “Oh look, there’s Shakespeare’s birthplace” along with a thousand other people? I’ve got most of my life telling people that “Shakespeare makes life better” and I’m about to walk into the center of the Shakespeare universe. I am prepared for the possibility that I might explode.

So consider this me asking for your assistance.  What should I do? I am wide open at the moment, and looking for literally any and all info. Where should we stay? What should we see? How long should we take?  Is there anything special we might be able to get into that is not part of the regular “everybody gets to do this” itinerary?

We are looking at the last week of August, based on work and summer camp schedules. Of course my wife and kids are going to want to go see the regular London sites, visit the castles, all that sort of thing.  But we all know that the first priority is Shakespeare, and I want to make it a trip to remember for a lifetime.


Welcome Back!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, everybody!

Hope everybody had a wonderful and relaxing time celebrating whatever combination of holidays that you do, in whatever ways that you do.  I know some Russian friends here at work are celebrating today, as a matter of fact.

Anybody get or give any good Shakespeare swag? My kids never fail to disappoint…

I got Shakespeare socks! They are, as you might expect with such novelty things, quite thin and I’m sure I will rapidly wear holes in them, but who cares! Shakespeare socks!

I also got a copy of Munchkin Shakespeare. Unfortunately, my kids did not realize that we already have that one in the house.  Heck, I was a Kickstarter backer for it!  We just never really play it, I got it more to add to my collection.

I am looking to sell this second copy, which is still in the shrink wrap, so that I can purchase “Bards Dispense Profanity” instead, because I don’t have that one. If you might be interested in taking it off my hands send me a message and maybe we can work something out. I have no interest in dealing with eBay or Craigslist.  I don’t consider my long time followers to be strangers in the same way that those services would be.

How’d everybody else do?




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