Never Miss An Opportunity (A Geeklet Story)

So my daughter has a friend over the other night, who happens to be involved in local theatre. Over dinner conversation, I ask, “Which play is next?”

“Musical?” she replies. I can’t tell if that’s the name of a play, or if she’s asking me to clarify which musical they’re doing next or just any play. “Oh but I guess we’re doing Shakespeare too.” This friend knows she’s in a Shakespeare house, for context.

“Which one?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“Give me the smallest clue,” I try.

“Something underground about Henry IV?”

“Well, there are two plays called Henry IV.”

“That’s probably it, then! I bet it’s one of those.”

Never one to miss a teaching opportunity I proceed to explain Henry IV in my no doubt highly inaccurate but hopefully compelling way: “So at the start of the play you’ve got the old king, Henry IV. And he’s got this son, Hal. And Hal’s being groomed to take over when his father dies, and become Henry V. Like William and Harry, from the Royal Family? Same idea. Oldest son has to live his life a certain way because he’s going to be king someday. Well, Hal has no interest in being king. Hal just wants to party with his friends.”

“They partied back in Shakespeare’s day?”

“Oh my yes. So Hal’s got this best friend, Falstaff. Falstaff’s much older than Hal, and he ends up being more like a father figure. They do everything together, they party, they get drunk, they wake up late, they get into fights. But all the while Falstaff knows that one day, one day this kid is going to be king. And that’s going to be a big day, that’s going to be everything they ever wanted.

And then one day it happens. Falstaff’s sleeping late as usual when his friends wake him up and say, “It’s happened! The king is dead! Hal is the new king!” And Falstaff goes running through town to find him and celebrate that the day has finally come. And you get this big huge scene when Falstaff comes into the coronation and bursts through the crowd shouting “My boy! My king!”

I pause and see if I’ve still got her attention. I very much do.

“And Hal turns to him and says, “I know thee not, old man.” And banishes him.”

Her jaw dropped.

Who says Shakespeare is boring? I will teach you Shakespeare in my kitchen while I clear the table. Do I get some details wrong? Probably. Does my captive audience learn anything about themes and symbolism? Nope. But are they interested now? Definitely.

New Year’s Shakespeare

I know this is a little late for a New Year’s post but I’ve been kind of busy 🙂

This year we decided to do family night for various reasons. We passed on several invitations and decided to just stay in, get some Chinese food, maybe binge watch some shows and play some board games.

Skip past the bingeing (on both Chinese food and High School The Musical The Series) and nobody really wants to dig into a cutthroat game of Monopoly, so I get an idea. I go get my Shakespeare Trivial Pursuit cards! We never get to play this, but I’ve got an idea. I’ve got all my family here. I know what I think they know. So I pick cards, and I read the questions I think they know the answers to, to see how much they’ve learned over the years. Keep in mind that recently we’ve been to Stratford, been to the Folger twice, seen several plays, and they’re all old enough at this point to have studied at least some Shakespeare in school.

They did surprisingly well! Questions on Romeo and Juliet were the most obvious and came out like homework questions. But the real fun was some of the non answers…

“What is the nickname of visitors to the Globe Theatre who stood for the whole performance?”
“Oh! Potatoes!”
“What?”
“It’s something about potatoes! Isn’t it? Something like that.”
“Groundlings?”
“Right, yes. Groundlings, potatoes. Same thing.”

“What are the names of Hamlet’s ‘friends’ who are summoned by Claudius?”
“Oh! Oooo! Umm… something…. hydro something…..”
“Guildenstern!”
“Yes! Hydrostan and Guildenstern!”
“??? Are we in chemistry class?”

And my favorite one…

“What play was being performed in 1613 when the Globe caught fired and burn down?”
“Macbeth!”
“No.”
“Hamlet.”
“No.”
“Tempest?”
“No. You’re just guessing.”

At which point my son, my youngest, who hasn’t taken his face out of his phone, says, “All is true.”

There’s a pause. My girls are waiting. I look at them. “Henry VIII, also known as All is True. He’s exactly right. I just have no idea how he knew that.”

He looks up, realizing he’s the center of attention now. “We saw that one.”

“No, we didn’t,” I tell him.

“Yes we did,” he says. “It opens with a fire.”

It’s at this point I realize he’s talking about the movie All is True, about Shakespeare’s life in retirement, which we saw earlier in the year, which indeed does start with the Globe burning down. Hey, whatever works for him!

I wish I could remember more of their answers, it was a good time indeed. Nobody knew that Prince Escalus has a name. But they remembered that “I know thee not, old man” is said to Falstaff, that the Folger is in Washington, D.C. and a whole bunch of other “that was definitely not on any homework you ever had” questions. I was pretty pleased with the results! Hope we get to do it again soon.

P.S. – My son really likes that scene, I overheard him playing Youtube clips of it before he went to bed last night. He also asked me if he should watch the entire movie or if he’d be bored. I thought he still might be a little bored, but agreed that there’s some good battle scenes.

UPDATE: Fixed typo, of course the Globe didn’t burn down 7 years after Shakespeare died, my brain must have been thinking I was talking about the Folio.

Review : The King on Netflix

FalstaffI haven’t been around much lately, and for that I apologize.  I’ve missed a few big stories that I hope to come back around to as part of the year end.

One of those is finally getting to watch The King, an adaptation (?) of Henry V now playing on Netflix and starring Timothée Chalamet as Henry and Robert Pattinson as a psychotic Dauphin, among others.

My ability to watch and appreciate these movies for review is limited.  The only time I’ll get to watch is when the family is safely stowed away for the night, because they don’t want to watch, and I can’t concentrate when I’m getting pulled in various homework directions.  But then during those limited hours I’m typically trying to do several other important things, so the best that I’m going to be able to spare for a movie I don’t really care to watch is “put  it on in the  background while I sit at the laptop.”  For  bonus points I’ll  use closed captions so I don’t have to keep saying “What did he say?”  (Compare to Branagh’s All Is True, which the whole family sat and watched through, uninterrupted.)

So, on to our story.  I’ll admit to not knowing the Henriad story as much as some of Shakespeare’s other plays, so I really have no idea where this one just invents stuff out of whole cloth (for the most part — you’ll see).  We open with Hotspur doing his rebellion thing, leading to the king chosing Hal’s brother Thomas to be the next king and do something about it. Cut to the battlefield where Hal challenges Hotspur to one-on-one battle instead, beating him, and causing a hissy fit from Thomas who screams that his brother stole this victory from him.  This doesn’t last long, as Thomas goes off and gets killed and Hal ends up king anyway.

What of Falstaff? Of course there’s a Falstaff.  But here’s the thing right away – Falstaff looks like he’s maybe ten years older than Hal?  He doesn’t look remotely like a father figure, he looks like one of those guys that graduated college right as you got there and then just kind of hangs around with the young people because he’s got no ambition to do otherwise.  Falstaff roams around doing his Falstaff thing, not paying his bar bill and whatnot, until he hears that Hal has been appointed king.

And then we get my favorite scene, the wonderfully sad “I know thee not,  old man…” scene…..only no wait, we don’t.  At all. Falstaff is appointed to join Hal’s council as one of his trusted war tacticians. Huh?

Cut to France. It’s complicated, but we all know the story ends up in France. That’s where we meet Robert Pattinson’s psychotic Dauphin, who has literally come to meet Hal and tell him that he’s basically going to torture him until he goes home.  There’s even a scene right out of a horror movie where Dauphin and his men, skulking about in the woods around Hal’s camp, send one of the children (why did he bring children??) back to camp with a sign for Hal — the head of one of the other children.  Charming.

Everything builds to Agincourt.  We knew it would. The most entertaining part to me was a nod to the expectation of a big speech moment where Hal basically screams at the men,  “You’re probably expecting a big speech right now!”  And then goes on to give a reasonably modern version of “We’re all going to die someday.”

There’s more to it, but I don’t want to spoil the whole movie in case people want to watch. I found it reasonably violent, but not in a Fassbender’s Macbeth way.  There’s a beheading (in a god awful special effects scene), and one poor dude gets stabbed in the *top* of the head in a scene that made me cringe.  Aim for the soft bits, man!  Ouch!

As with most of these movies the bits of dialogue where people are trying to sound like Shakespeare are painful to the ear. The battles are brutal,  muddy and bloody. I don’t know that I can say it was bad.  It’s more like, ok, somebody made a movie that used Henry as a structure and then kind of did their own thing with it. That’s not a sin.  If you swapped it for Romeo and Juliet that’s basically the plot of many, many movies. I think Falstaff probably had the best character arc. There’s one particular scene, and one particular expression on his face, that makes me wish I was paying closer attention (see opening notes) and maybe want to go back and follow his arc closer.  Just because they gave him a new story doesn’t mean we can’t imagine he’s the same character.