Not Quite Book Review : How To Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok

Ok, let’s see how this goes.

I don’t think have to reintroduce Scott Newstok every time I write about him. Back in 2008 when I was just getting started he sent me a copy of his book on Kenneth Burke and my honest response was, “I don’t know who that is.”

My ignorance of things at Scott’s academic level has not turned him off, however, and he’s continued to keep in touch and send me his work over the years, including Wayward Macbeth a few years later.

Which leads me to his latest, How To Think Like Shakespeare, which started out as a convocation address he gave and is now available in book form. I actually received the book back in April and am ashamed that I have only now gotten around to writing about it.

There’s a reason for that. I have tried and tried to complete this book, and I hate to say that I can’t. It’s not for the source material or the subject. I love the idea – see the linked post above for how I raved about the idea when I originally heard it.

My problem is with the book itself. Everbody’s life is busy. During pandemic, doubly so. So we all find ways to organize our time, our priorities and our lives. For years I had a commute to work that lasted about an hour and a half each way and I learned to live on audio books. Used to go through 50+ of them a year. On the flip side, my “Sit down with an actual paper book” time has approached zero over the years. When I was in the car I had no choice what to do with my time. When I’m home and find myself with time to read a book I am plagued with thoughts of, “What other things do you need to be doing right now?” It is very, very hard to find the attention span. So if a book does not hook me right away and become something I simply can’t put down, I’m going to struggle.

What’s killing me here is the editorial structure of the book. Literally every single page is loaded with footnotes, call outs, quotes, italicized and/or emphasized words … and probably a few other flow-breaking constructs I’ve forgotten about. I tried to scan a page to give an example:

Imagine all the pages like this. Maybe it’s just what my reading style has become, maybe I’ve developed focus or attention issues as I’ve gotten older, but I simply can’t pick up any momentum reading like this. Every time the font changes or the paragraph breaks unexpectedly that voice in my head says “Whoa hey wait we just got sidetracked” and I’m left with each page feeling like a jumble of separate thoughts rather than a complete whole.

If you’re used to reading books like this, don’t let me stop you. I still love the topic, as shown by my post from a few years ago. I’m just not the best person, for whatever reason, to offer a review. My apologies to Scott and his publisher.

Geeks Gone Global!

One of the cool things about switching to RedBubble as the source for my Shakespeare Geek Merchandise – beyond the fact that face masks have far and away become my best seller and Amazon still doesn’t offer them – is that RedBubble tells me where my products are going, not just what I’ve sold. I always knew it did that, I just never really stopped and paid attention to it until last night. And it’s so cool.

I’ve said before that “the dream” is to bump into someone on the street wearing Shakespeare merchandise that I designed. I’m a big fan of the small universe philosophy, and that we are all potentially connected in a myriad of ways we simply haven’t discovered yet.

But one look at my sales report was a reminder of just how important that philosophy is. It’s a big big world and I’m just a small piece of it, so every connection is a big deal. You’ll see what I mean in a second.

So let’s get to the statistics! I was trying to figure out how to do this without giving away all my good insider secrets about my sales numbers, and I figured that percentages were the way to go.

77% of my sales come from inside the US. That makes total sense. Most from California, which also makes sense given the size and population of that state, but Virginia was a pleasant surprise in the top 3. Lot of Shakespeare lovers in Virginia!

About 13% from the UK. Again, totally makes sense. Where else are you going to find a strong concentration of Shakespeare Geeks but in the land of the man himself?

Little under 5% from Canada. Thanks, Canada! I’m going to bank on this one being related to them simply seeing the RedBubble site come up more often in their Google results :). I am totally ok with that.

Here’s where it gets interesting! Ready? The remaining countries that are now the proud home to Shakespeare Geek merchandise are, in no particular order…

Germany! Australia! Greece! Finland! Thailand! Spain! Austria!

And New freaking Zealand!


I’m in the United States. New England to be more specific. Get a globe. Put your finger on New England. Now spin it all most all the way around, wave at Australia, keep going…New Zealand! Somebody in New Zealand is wearing one of my t-shirts! Just think, I could find myself in New Zealand one day, turn my head and be staring at a fellow Shakespeare Geek. All the world’s a stage, indeed.

That’s it, that’s the post. Sorry for the giddiness, I’m just all excited at the realization of just how far around the world my ideas have gone. If you are reading and are from one of those countries, do check in and say hello! Or Hola or Guten Morgen or G’Day or whatever else it is you might say where you come from!

Not By Shakespeare : Women Speak Two Languages, One Of Which Is Verbal

It’s been a long time since I did a “Not By Shakespeare”. But I’ve been looking around for material to put on t-shirts and merchandise and spotted this one, which just didn’t feel right.

The easiest way to tell a Not By Shakespeare is to ask, “Ok, what’s the citation?” What play or sonnet or poem does it come from? Surely when it’s so popular that there’s pages upon pages of Google results, one of them will have a source attribution. Once you have that, you can head to Open Source Shakespeare or something and check.

As you can imagine, I found none. Everywhere I find is just attributed to William Shakespeare.

Ok, second approach – look for the more interesting words in the quote, and search the text for those words. This is a little trickier because we have to allow for quotes to evolve over time, and take Shakespeare’s original spelling into account. First I went looking for “verbal“, which is easy – Shakespeare only used the word four times. None in a context that could be construed as the source for this quote.

Then I tried “language” and that’s trickier with 41 hits. But again, nothing useful. It’s at this point that I judge this quote Not By Shakespeare.

But then we have to ask, “Can we figure out where the quote does come from?” That’s where Google does sometimes help. I originally searched “women speak two languages” and found this:

“All women speak two languages:
the language of men
and the language of silent suffering.
Some women speak a third,
the language of queens.”

Mohja Kahf, “E-Mails from Scheherazad”

Cool. This appears to be dated 2003. Then we ask, “Were people using this quote before 2003?” If so, maybe the poet got her inspiration from that. If not, maybe the reverse. The quote here isn’t exactly the same thing as the one attributed to Shakespeare, but it’s the closest we’ve got to a lead.

Which leads us here, to a “fortune file” – ancient Unix speak for “quote file”. Google dates this file in 2000 but right in the URL it says 2013 so I’m doubtful. However, it attributes the quote to a Steve Rubenstein so now I have something else to Google.

And then I found this article from 2010 that tells me to stop Googling for the night.

Because it’s me. I’ve already been down this rabbit hole. Gives “googling yourself” a whole different meaning! (Although I guess that definitely proves it didn’t come from the 2013 poem!)

How About A Young Adult Lady Macbeth Musical?

That’s a stream of words I never thought I’d type. But sure enough, word is that Channing “Magic Mike” Tatum and Scooter “Taylor Swift Hates Me” Braun are teaming up with Amazon for just such a project.

 “the story is said to center on a teenage girl who grapples with her own morality as she contends with the dreadful consequences of her ambition.”

Of course, if nobody had specifically written the Macbeth connection that could just as easily be Mean Girls.

I have no idea if it’ll be any good, or even ever see the light of day. I’d expect about as much of such a project as I do for any other teenage retelling of Shakespeare inspired stories. 10 Things really set the bar too high.

Ye, No.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to have celebrity impressionist Jim Ross Meskimen do some Shakespeare of my choosing. I knew exactly the voice and passage I wanted – Robin Williams as Prospero doing “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” It is quite breathtaking.

Unfortunately it was breathtaking for all the wrong reasons for long-time reader JM who, aghast, returned to comment, “It’s yea, not ye. Ye is a pronoun, (you) Yea is affirmation, or ‘yes’. I have no idea why he didn’t know that.” Such a small thing, and yet I can only imagine to someone more versed (ha!) in the verse than I, it would be like hearing someone say “all intensive purposes” or worse, “could of.”

Thing is, Jim didn’t make the mistake, I did. I copied the text for him. I rushed to the source I used – MIT’s version (people smarter than I see where this is going). I checked Open Source Shakespeare. Same problem. I checked the actual First Folio (with JM’s link), and there it is, the right way:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air -- into thin air --
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The problem is that both MIT and Open Source Shakespeare are based on the Moby Shakespeare, a public domain version of the complete works that is (a) darned near ubiquitous (see “public domain”) but also (b) known to have substantial errors.

I know this. I guess I just always assumed that the errors were like very small needles in a very big haystack, and that they would simply never be an issue for me. That is not good thinking. I won’t say it wrecked my tribute to Robin Williams, but it sure tainted it. I wonder if Mr. Meskimen would make us another one? I’ll have to ask.

What other errors have you found propagated all over the internet because of Moby? Any really glaring ones? I know that Open Source Shakespeare actively updates their text to fix errors as they are reported, but I don’t believe MIT does (which would also no doubt be true of 99% of the other texts out there).