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.”

“I CAN’T DO IT EITHER!”

“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.

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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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Let The Sunshine In

Galt McDermott, composer of HAIR and Two Gentlemen of Verona, has passed away. As we like to do here on the blog, let’s take a moment to appreciate and celebrate the man’s contribution to Shakespeare.

Forget about the obvious for a minute. I mean, come on, the man wrote a musical Two Gentlemen of Verona that won the Tony for Best Musical in 1971 (beating out Grease).

If you’ve only ever known HAIR as a “tribal love rock musical,” then you haven’t been listening closely enough.  One song is entirely Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man” speech:


(The song isn’t in the movie, you either need to know the soundtrack, or see the live show.)

My favorite, though, is the big finale number, typically known as “The Rest Is Silence / Let The Sunshine In”.  The Hamlet reference is right there for everybody to see … but if you listening very closely, the background singers are on a whole different play:

Eyes look your last
Arms take your last embrace
And lips oh you the doors
Of breath… seal with
A righteous kiss
Seal with a righteous kiss
The rest is silence

That’d be Romeo and Juliet.  The hippies are layering one Shakespeare tragedy on top of another.  Which then segues seamlessly into the big celebration that is Let The Sunshine In.

Ready for the best part of this story?  My middle daughter is really into her vinyl (album) collection right now.  She’s a huge fan of musicals, but she’s also into the classic rock that I’ve introduced her to.  I’d forgotten, until today, that for my birthday a number of years ago a friend had presented me with a framed HAIR album.  It’s been sitting in my office ever since.

So I called my daughter from work and said, “You want to go on an adventure? There’s treasure to be found.” She was up for the challenge. I texted her the bright orange and green picture of the cover and said, “Go find this picture.”  She found it.  I said, “Open it.”

“It’s a record!” she squealed.  “It’s HAIR.  Can I play it?”

“Of course,” I told her. “That’s the treasure.  It’s my favorite.”

“I know,” she replied.

“And it’s very special today, because Galt McDermott, the man who wrote it?  He died.”

“Oh.”

“So I want you to have that.  I want you to play it, loud, and when I get home tonight I want to listen to it with you.”

“I’ll do that right now. I’ll wake people up.”

“Perfect.”

Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, Mr. McDermott.  For others I might say “The rest is silence” here, but you brought too much music into the world, so we’re going to play you out with much volume and celebration.

Let the sunshine in!

 

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Now That’s Dedication (A Geeklet Story)

I may have mentioned in a previous post that my daughter had an in-class essay assignment for her Monsters in British Literature course (which we have been incorrectly calling her Shakespeare course, because although they studied The Tempest, they also studied Beowulf and Frankenstein).  The assignment was to identify the monster in the story, and make your case.  She chose Antonio.  At the time I thought this was a one off, “Next time we have class we’re going to write an essay.”  It was actually a research project.  For several days her homework was to gather notes and make her case.  And then, at the designated class, did they all write it up.

So that day comes, and I pick her up, and she starts with, “Just so you know, my Antonio essay did not go as well as expected.”

“Oh?” I ask, keeping my eyes on the road, while immediately thinking, “Was our premise wrong? What could we have missed?”

“Yeah, well, we had an emergency drill today,” she began.  I’m guessing every school in America has different variations of those.  They were always fire drills in my day.  My parents had “duck and cover” drills.  Our kids have lock down drills, active shooter drills, etc…  She continued, “And of course it happens in the middle of her class, so we all have to stop working and lock the doors and sit and not make any noise. That ends up taking like half the class.  So she tells us, ‘I understand that you didnt get enough time to finish, but there’s nothing we can do, so just write what you have time to, and I wont count it against you if you cant finish your conclusion….'”

I laughed.  “Wait, so you’re angry that you didn’t have to write more, and that the standard has been lowered?” I asked.

“Yes!” came the response.  “I worked hard on that, I knew exactly what argument I wanted to present!”

“Even in the time you got, you probably still wrote twice as much as any other kids.”

“Well, yeah,” she admitted.

Love my nerd.  🙂

This month’s posts are sponsored by No Shave November. To help raise cancer prevention awareness, and some money along the way, all proceeds from this month’s advertising, merchandise and book sales are being donated.  If you’d like to support the site by supporting the cause, please consider visiting my personal fundraising page linked above, where you can make a direct donation.

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