The Course of True Shakespeare

A recent post on Reddit compared Shakespeare and Taylor Swift as “voices of their generation.” Needless to say, it generated just a wee bit of debate. Is this the way to get a modern student’s attention? Or is it indicative of a downward slide in what we think those same students can handle? For the record, I was on the “nay” side. I’m all for teaching Shakespeare through pop culture examples, but I don’t think you need or want to elevate Taylor Swift to top billing like she’s the new Shakespeare or even deserves to be in the comparison.

It also got me thinking about what might be some good modern Shakespeare courses. If you could build your own course, how would you do it? Taking the original post as our example, we want to build a general education course for non-majors. So, while it might ultimately attract some knowledgeable Shakespeare geeks, it’s geared toward those students who don’t have to take it and may not otherwise get that Shakespeare content if they don’t happen to trip into this class.

I asked an AI for some ideas. Would you sign up for any of these? I love the cinematics one. Note how it focuses on looking at the gaps between the text. Endless room for interpretation there. The remix is pretty good, too, but for my taste, it’s got too much room to go off the rails. How much Shakespeare does something have to have in it for us to call it still Shakespeare?

(If we have to, I suppose we can put Ms. Swift into “remix” or “composing”. But I bet she shows up in the Fan Fiction one, too.)

Shakespearean Mashups: Remixing the Bard’s Universe

Synopsis: Explore the art of literary fusion by creating modern mashups of Shakespeare’s characters and plots. Imagine Hamlet meeting Macbeth in a steampunk London or Juliet navigating the world of social media. Through writing and multimedia projects, students will craft dynamic narratives that bridge classic and contemporary storytelling.

Shakespearean Culinary Chronicles: Feasting through the Plays

Synopsis: Embark on a gastronomic adventure inspired by Shakespeare’s feasts and banquets. Investigate historical recipes, recreate dishes from the plays, and design a modern Shakespeare-themed menu. This culinary journey will indulge both literary and culinary appetites, bringing Shakespeare’s world to life on your plate.

Shakespearean Escape Quest: Puzzles in the Bard’s Realm

Synopsis: Immerse yourself in an interactive storytelling experience where you become a character in Shakespeare’s universe. Solve puzzles, decode riddles, and make strategic decisions to progress through the narrative. From Hamlet’s castle to Prospero’s island, this course blends escape room dynamics with the intrigue of the Bard’s tales.

Shakespearean Fan Fiction Frenzy: Crafting Alternate Realities

Synopsis: Unleash your creativity by crafting fan fiction that reimagines Shakespeare’s stories in unexpected ways. Rewrite the endings, transport characters to different eras, or explore “what if” scenarios. Through writing, multimedia projects, and collaborative workshops, you’ll create a fan fiction collection that breathes new life into the classics.

Shakespearean Cosplay Creations: Crafting Wearable Art

Synopsis: Merge Shakespearean passion with craftsmanship as you design and create costumes inspired by the plays. From Elizabethan court attire to fantastical creatures, you’ll delve into historical fashion, fabric manipulation, and character interpretation. Showcase your creations in a Shakespearean fashion show and explore the intersection of art and theater.

Shakespearean Soundscapes: Composing Music for the Bard

Synopsis: Dive into the auditory dimension of Shakespeare’s works by composing original music that captures the essence of his plays. Create melodies for soliloquies, dramatic themes for pivotal scenes, and even experiment with Shakespearean hip-hop. The class culminates in a musical showcase that harmonizes your musical talents with the Bard’s verses.

Shakespearean Cinematics: Directing the Unseen Scenes

Synopsis: Put on the director’s hat and breathe life into the lesser-known moments of Shakespeare’s plays. Analyze the gaps in the text and collaborate on scripts, storyboards, and visual concepts for scenes that occurred offstage. Explore how these “unseen” scenes deepen the characters and themes of the plays.

Shakespearean Gardening Guild: Cultivating Literary Landscapes

Synopsis: Tend to the gardens that flourish within Shakespeare’s works. Study the symbolic significance of plants and flowers in his plays, then design and cultivate your own Shakespearean-inspired garden. Through hands-on gardening and creative projects, you’ll nurture nature while exploring the literary connections.

Shakespearean Virtual Reality Odyssey: Immersive Theatrical Expeditions

Synopsis: Step into Shakespearean worlds like never before through virtual reality. Craft immersive experiences that transport participants to key scenes from the plays. Combine your love for technology and theater to create virtual stage designs, allowing users to interact with the Bard’s works in innovative ways.

Shakespearean Comedy Club: Stand-Up Inspired by the Bard

Synopsis: Merge the wit of Shakespearean humor with the art of stand-up comedy. Analyze comedic elements in the plays and craft your own original stand-up routines that infuse modern humor with classic themes. The course culminates in a comedy showcase that celebrates the hilarity of the Bard’s timeless wit.

Commonwealth Shakespeare presents Macbeth on Boston Common

I’ve been attending Commonwealth Shakespeare’s annual free production on Boston Common for longer than I can remember. I think my first show was their previous Macbeth in 2003, where we went with friends and only saw part of it in a right place, right time, “Oh, they’re doing Shakespeare? Let’s watch!” situation. Since then, I missed 2005 (Hamlet, a long story) and 2019 (Cymbeline, my mom was sick). So I’ve seen … 17 of their shows. Only Macbeth and Much Ado have repeated on my watch. The great thing about going now is that my kids are old enough to come with us, and have been to several shows now. So it’s a family affair! We rent our chairs; we get our spot, and we bring a Chinese takeout picnic. Gotta love traditions.

When I saw the burned-out jeep, I posted wondering whether we were going to get a dystopian Macbeth. That’s kind of like the generic interpretation, don’t you think? I feel like dystopian Macbeth is clich猫. “Watch,” I told the kids, “everybody will be dressed in military uniforms and camouflage.”

Possessing the bodies that were available, maybe?

So, there’s that. 馃檪 In fairness, Macbeth gets to change his clothes, but nobody else does. Where’s the camo, though, you ask? Let’s talk witches. The witches weren’t just in camouflage, but a bright yellow, almost glow-in-the-dark version. Once you accepted that you weren’t going to see anything “witchy” and thought of them more as the possessed souls of fallen soldiers, the effect worked.

I’m paying particular attention to the costumes because I want to highlight Lady Macbeth’s. She got all the good stuff, and it was so worth it:

I was asked on Twitter how they made use of the set. I wish the jeep had moved, but it did not. The lights worked, as we see with the witches. People climbed all over it. This did give us opportunities for a cool shot like this during the dagger speech:

I still can’t figure out if there’s something special going on there. The angle of his real arm doesn’t match the angle of the shadow. That’s one of those “If I went back to see it again I’d pay closer attention” moments.

They did a great job with lighting and smoke. This is Macbeth going to visit the witches. Later, the stage will be full of the ghosts of kings. And yes, unfortunately, that monitor was right in our way the whole time. That’s my biggest complaint about the show. In recent years they’ve leaned heavily into accessibility, which is great (a year or two ago, they had sign language interpreters, which was really cool). But that’s a horrible spot, and you’re literally saying, “We’re going to lower the quality of the experience for the majority of the audience who don’t need this feature.”

Yes, but how was the show?

Enough pictures; let’s talk about acting. Over the years, it’s become my role to be the Shakespeare explainer guy. Whoever I’m with, whether it’s my family, coworkers, or friends, typically doesn’t know the story’s intricacies. So I’m called upon to, and I’m going to say this like this for a reason, keep it interesting. Anybody can read the synopsis in the program, and I could laundry list what’s about to happen. What I try to do instead, therefore, is to find the “watch for this” moments that they can hang on. They’re going to lose track of who’s who, and they’re going to misunderstand most of the lines. So if I can find some moments of human experience that (a) they won’t miss and (b) they’re sure to understand, then they have something to work with.

What I said this year was, “Watch Macduff. Here’s the thing with Macduff. Macbeth’s technically got no beef with him, he’s not Duncan’s family and he’s not in line for the throne. But he doesn’t go to Macbeth’s coronation, and Macbeth takes that personally. So there’s going to be a scene where Macduff’s wife and children are murdered. I don’t know how they’re going to play it here, but it’s a bad scene, it’s legit horror if they want to go that way. And then there’s this poor messenger that has to tell Macduff what’s happened, and Macduff loses it. Done right, it’s heart-wrenching. He’s so excited to get news from his family that the messenger at first tells him everything’s fine, but then has to break it to him, and the way he just keeps asking, all of them? all? can tear your heart out. So Malcolm convinces Macduff to join his army, and ultimately he’s the one to be the hero, get his revenge and kill Macbeth to end they play.”

They – more specifically, Macduff – did not disappoint. The actual murder did, That scene was played out almost like an interpretive dance, and I found it too safe. Make it obvious; make it bloody. The wife’s pregnant, and I can’t remember if that’s always how it is played. But if you show the murder of a pregnant woman, you’ll get the audience to pay attention.

But Macduff just crushed it. The Shakespearean actor playing Macduff is immediately gone, and the man whose family has been murdered (because he wasn’t there to protect them!) is before us. When I described the scene as I did, he gave me exactly what I hoped it would be. You felt what he was feeling. His revenge would mean something.

Points also to Lady Macbeth, who knocked it out of the park in all of her scenes. During her sleepwalking scene, she let out this long ghostly wail that quite frankly made me jump and ask, “Where the hell did that come from?” It made her seem less than human. My only disappointment is that in the next scene, where there’s a scream offstage, they used a recording. Why? You just delivered a beauty on stage, do it again.

I also want to shout out a minor thing I saw because sometimes the little things catch your attention. One of the murderers lets Fleance go. He clearly picks him up, carries him out of the fight, gives him back his flashlight, and makes what I saw as a “Go! And, *shush!*” gesture. I thought ok, that’s different. But … there’s no room for it to go any place. I still wanted to point it out because I did see it! Somebody made that choice and should know that it was noticed!

How was our Macbeth? Here’s how I decided to put it. With Macduff, I saw a man whose family had been killed. With Lady Macbeth, I saw a woman driven insane. With Macbeth, I saw an actor playing Macbeth. Does that make sense? It’s not necessarily bad. He’s got a stage presence. His delivery is excellent. But I never really felt his story. I’ll give you an example. In the production that Teller (of Penn and Teller) did for the Folger years ago, we get to the scene where we learn that Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped and, just for a second, that revelation knocks Macbeth to his knees like this whole final act had just been battering down upon him and this was the final blow that almost but didn’t break him. I still remember that. Here, though? Not even a pause. Just rolled right into the next line. yawn.

I think I’ll leave it at that. I’ve been watching these productions for 20 years now, and when I try to remember them, only certain parts will be memorable from each. This Macduff will. Lady Macbeth’s wail. Not too much else.

The Results Are In!

Several weeks back I posted a poll asking where we should meet up online now that Twitter’s jumped the shark and all the good people are disappearing. Of course, stupid Mark Zuckerberg had to go and ruin the fun by announcing Threads on basically the same day and immediately registering fifteen bajillion users in thirty seconds. (Of course, most of them immediately said, “Oo wait what ick get it off get it off get it off!” and learned that if you try to delete the app, it also deletes your Instagram…)

But that’s neither here nor there. People filled out the survey (though not nearly as many as I’d hoped), and they deserve to see the results. So here we go!

First, I asked what accounts people already had:

Not much of a surprise here. Once you remove Twitter from the equation, Facebook and Instagram are the logical leaders. They’re also the oldest kids on the block. Nice to see Mastodon making a showing, though. And I’m happy to see that Tiktok is not taking over this conversation.

So, then, where would people prefer that we go?

And it’s Mastodon for the win, just edging out Bluesky!

Sure, we only got 15 votes, so that’s a difference of one vote. But nobody said this was binding 馃檪

As I said at the beginning, Threads really screwed this up by just kind of saying, “Hi, we’re the elephant in the room.” Everybody’s on it, practically by default, but (a) the app’s terrible, (b) there’s no desktop support, and (c) nobody’s really on it yet. So it’s not like there’s a clear winner yet.

Where Will We End Up?

Here’s what’s going to happen over the next few days. I’m going to leave up my automatic posting of blog entries to Twitter, mostly because, why not, it doesn’t cost me anything, and it’s easy traffic. But I don’t think you’re going to be seeing any live conversation from me there anymore鈥攏o dropping quick links I found. No asking random questions I just thought of. I need to focus on building a new following on a new site.

I think we all have to give Threads a chance, whether we like it or not. They’ll change a few things in the app, and suddenly, it’ll be where everybody wants to be. So, if it’s not obvious, you can find me there at ShakespeareGeek. Does anybody know how to link that? I’m on a desktop.

But Mastodon’s the most active community, and it was the place where most people said they have an account and want to go. So it’s only logical that I go there as well. You can find me here: https://toot.community/@ShakespeareGeek I know, it’s weird how all Mastodon servers have their own host. It takes some getting used to. But it’s cool – they all talk to each other.

Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again.

Romeo and Juliet Act IV Scene III

Where Should We Go When Twitter Dies?

I know that not all readers of ShakespeareGeek are also followers on Twitter. But there’s a very large overlap. Most of the real-time daily discussion that happens these days is on Twitter. Don’t get me wrong; the other day, I was saying how I miss the days of flame wars inside comment threads on a blog like this one. But Twitter and the others have made it so much easier to have one place to check on and interact with all the things that you love. I get it. I’ve been on Twitter since 2008, and there are thousands of you following my hijinks.

Twitter Logo gravestone
This is supposed to be a Twitter gravestone, are you getting that?

Unfortunately, that looks like it’s ending, though, as Elon Musk systematically destroys the platform. Maybe it’ll technically remain viable, of course. I don’t think it’s going to shut down. But it’s not *fun* anymore. We used to enjoy being on Twitter, waiting for Top Trends that we could in any way turn into a Shakespeare joke or pun. When that didn’t work, we’d start our own #ShakespearePunHashtag and try to get that trending. Now it’s nothing but sports I don’t watch, reality TV I don’t watch, and godawful conservative political madness that I wish I didn’t have to watch.

So, then, let’s leave, yes? There are plenty of options. But where? Ay, there’s the rub. It’s taken me fifteen years to find those thousands of you and feel like I’m not just shouting into the void. Each new channel – Tribel, Bluesky, Mastodon, etc… – feels like starting over. I’m not going to lie. I’m not sure I’ve got the energy for that.

But then I had an idea. Why not ask? Let’s take a poll and figure out where the majority thinks we should go! Of course, nobody’s making you, but it’s better than random, right? If you’ve read this far, please take a moment to complete the following survey. It will only be useful if a large enough number of people respond. I’ll post a follow-up as soon as we get a clear winner.

Here are my quick thoughts on the subject since I know I’ve been rambling on for too long already…

  • I like the blog (the site), and it’s not going anywhere. People have always been welcome to add comments and get a discussion going on any post that interests them.
  • We also have a Facebook presence (https://www.facebook.com/shakespearegeekdotcom) which is a little better regarding discussion threads, but I know it’s got that reputation of being as old as blogs.
  • I have an Instagram and a Tiktok, but I don’t really use them. My own personal opinion is that Shakespeare’s a words words words game, and I want to write and read words, lots of them, back and forth. Not just a few that somebody’s slapped into a picture of a sunset and turned into a meme. I get why they’re popular,
  • I’d happily plug Reddit, too: https://www.reddit.com/r/shakespeare, where I am the moderator. But Reddit’s going through the same “ownership’s an asshole” growing pains that Twitter is, so I can’t promise it won’t suffer the same fate.
  • I’ve got accounts on most of the services I listed below, and I’m happy to start posting on any of them if we get a majority going.

Ok, enough of that. On with the voting! Absolutely share this post (or the survey specifically) and absolutely get a discussion going in the comments for this post if you feel like I missed anything important. Let’s remind ourselves why we all do this in the first place, shall we?

When Shall We All Meet Again? Where The Place?
As Twitter slowly dies, what social media channel should we call our new home?

On which of these social media channels do you currently have an account, or would be willing to make one? Select all that apply.*

Which of the following would you prefer that we made our new home? Choose only one.*

Our Newest Shakespeare Resource

As a computer programmer, one of the things that drew me to Shakespeare so many years ago was that it’s just an extensive public-domain database. Likewise, as a web developer, I’ve always had ideas for what kind of interface I would make for browsing Shakespeare’s work. My favorite’s always been the MIT site. I like the idea of having the entire play on one page so I can easily search for a word or quote to ensure I’m not about to say something wrong. Well, I don’t know if you noticed, but the MIT site went down at some point several months ago and … stayed down. Just like that, a daily Shakespeare resource that had been around for 30 years (one of the few that can say it’s been around longer than me!) was gone, with no word about what happened.

That sounds like motivation to me! With absolutely fascinating help from the various AI tools now available, I am exceedingly proud to present my latest contribution to the Shakespeare Universe…

The Complete Plays of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is watching you.

Feel free to go check it out! But then come back so I can tell you what it’s got.

Behold The Latest Searchable Shakespeare Resource Site

  • Each entire play is available on a single web page, so we keep that search ability I love.
  • Each line tells you context. One of my biggest problems with the MIT site is that I’d find the line I wanted and say, “Ok, where did this occur so I can cite it properly?” Now we know. Each line tells you.
  • Better – the reference is a link. You can jump right to that line and save that URL. Perfect for sharing, which I hope people do!
  • Summaries! I wanted to consider the possibility that some visitors may need help understanding what they’re looking at. This is one place the AI helped. Every play, act, and scene has an AI-generated summary. They are hidden by default to stay out of the way, but if you hit that button in the footer, you can check them out. Let me know what you think!
  • Quick links to each act so you can bounce around the play easily without having to scroll all over the place.
  • This new resource can also be found in the main menu under Plays, so you never have to go hunting for it.

Feedback Wanted

I hope everybody enjoys this new Shakespeare resource! Please let me know what you think. This is the initial launch, so I am sure of two things:

One, there will be bugs. I have not been through every line of every play yet. I wrote code to generate this, obviously. If there are places where the text formatting went off the rails a bit, my version probably does as well.

Two, I will keep changing it. Whenever I poke around, I think of something else I want to add. Most importantly, I plan to add a “Download Printable Version” button to each play. Because printing a web page never really works how you want it to. I also wonder whether I could add some “resources” type thing. Scenes would come with links to watch their performance on Youtube or something. I don’t want it too dense. I think the simplicity of the “entire play searchable on one page” is most important. But it’s fun to explore what will make it the most helpful resource it can be.

So, there you go! Take it for a spin, and let me know your feedback. Did you break it? What should I change or add? I can’t wait to hear from everyone! Tell all your friends! Shakespeare makes life better!

P.S. – Oh, the MIT site then went ahead and stole my thunder by coming back online. *shakes fist* I could have left that part out of the story but that’s not what we’re about here people. The more Shakespeare resources the merrier!