Spiderman and Juliet


Spiderman and Juliet, AI-generated

Move over, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen — there’s a new Marvel hero nipping at your heels to tread the Shakespearean boards. Spiderman himself, Tom Holland.

I wish more of these were filmed. On the one hand, I get the allure of live theatre, but at the same time, the audience feels just so limited in both space and time. Live theatre is ephemeral. If you’re not there, then, you miss it. You don’t even get a rewind button. But film it, and it exists forever for everyone.

Young Mr. Holland does have stage experience, having previously played Billy Elliot. I don’t know if this is his first attempt at Shakespeare.

Break a leg, Spiderman!

Introducing Arthur Brooke

While Romeo and Juliet is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous work, casual fans rarely know that few of Shakespeare’s plots were original. The tale of the star-cross’d lovers dates back at least to The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, by Arthur Brooke (1562). His, in turn, was based either on an Italian novella by Matteo Bandello, or a via a French translation of that novella (theories vary).

Romeo and Juliet in the tomb

I’m not about to claim that we should teach Brooke to high school students. It’s hard enough to get Romeo and Juliet into their heads. But that doesn’t mean we can’t bring him into the conversation,. I was looking at Brooke’s text tonight to answer a different question, and I found this. I guess it’s his version of what Shakespeare turned into the famous prologue:

Love hath inflaméd twain by sudden sight,
     And both do grant the thing that both desire
     They wed in shrift by counsel of a friar.
     Young Romeus climbs fair Juliet’s bower by night.
Three months he doth enjoy his chief delight.
     By Tybalt’s rage provokéd unto ire,
     He payeth death to Tybalt for his hire.
     A banished man he ‘scapes by secret flight.
New marriage is offered to his wife.
     She drinks a drink that seems to reave her breath:
     They bury her that sleeping yet hath life.
Her husband hears the tidings of her death.
     He drinks his bane. And she with Romeus’ knife,
When she awakes, herself, alas! she slay’th.

That … is a surprisingly good summary of the entire play. Much better than Shakespeare’s version. Let’s look:

  • love at first sight
  • They get married in secret.
  • Romeus visits Juliet’s bedroom at night.
  • They get three months of this (which Shakespeare took away!).
  • Romeus gets Tybalt angry, ends up killing Tybalt, and is banished for his trouble.
  • .They try to get Juliet to marry someone, but she fakes her death instead
  • Romeus hears that she’s dead and poisons himself.
  • Juliet kills herself with Romeus’ knife.

With a little editing love to modernize the spelling and a couple of glossary notes, you could give this to students as a plot study guide. Other than the three months thing, this is spot-on accurate with how Shakespeare told it, right down to the specific murder weapons.

Students might also be interested to know the “original” ending!

The poem’s ending differs significantly from Shakespeare’s play—in the poem, the nurse is banished and the apothecary hanged for their involvement in the deception, while Friar Lawrence leaves Verona to end his days in a hermitage.


Alas, poor apothecary. He was so worried about doing the wrong thing (“Such mortal drugs I have; but Mantua’s law is death to any he that utters them.”) Shakespeare decides to let him live. Maybe it was to make up for Mercutio?

Ranking Julia Stiles Shakespeare Movies

AI-generated sketch of Julia Stiles in Shakespearean costume
She’s giving Kate vibes in this AI-generated sketch.

I love this idea for a list, courtesy ScreenRant – Top Julia Stiles Shakespeare Movies. Of course, she only made 3, so it’s a very short list – Hamlet, O (Othello), and 10 Things I Hate About You (Taming of the Shrew). The math geek in me wants to say that only leaves 6 possible combinations, but who are we kidding – nobody’s making O their number 1. I love that I can just italicize a single letter like that as a title.

I like to remind people, though, that Ms. Stiles may have been having a bit of fun with us during her Shakespeare period.

She portrayed Ophelia to Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet in 2000 … but she also starred in Down to You with Freddie Prinze Jr. the same year. Is that a Shakespeare adaptation? Well, no. But she does play a character named Imogen – who shares a name with a character from Cymbeline. Which Ethan Hawke also starred in, in 2014! But we’ll call that one a coincidence, the girl’s not from the future.

Then, in 2004, she starred in The Prince and Me. Oh, and she was named the same as a Shakespeare character? Not this time. She just played the love interest to the Prince of Denmark. And they fall in love bonding over Shakespeare sonnets.

I’m a little tempted to stage a Julia Stiles movie marathon just to see how many Shakespeare references we can spot in the strangest places.

How Did Lady Macbeth Kill Herself?

We talk a lot about Macbeth in my house lately. My daughter’s kind of obsessed with it. So when Macbeth content appears on my radar, I play closer attention than perhaps I’d been doing. Today I saw a reference to her suicide, and I thought about Ophelia. Was Ophelia self-aware enough to have deliberately committed suicide, or was she one incapable of her own distress and thus not guilty of that sin? Does the same rule apply to Lady Macbeth?

Although it is sometimes overlooked in a quick read, we do find out what happens to Lady Macbeth. Right at the end of the play, Malcolm tells us that Macbeth’s queen, as ’tis thought, took her own life by “self and violent hands.” So in other words people thought it, I’m confirming it.

…his fiend-like queen,
Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands2560
Took off her life

Macbeth Act V Scene viii
AI-generated sketch of Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth alone with her thoughts

I guess I don’t have an answer to the question any more than I have it for Ophelia. Is it really suicide in the same sense when a person is no longer in their right state of mind, does it? It could be argued that Ophelia almost has her moment of clarity – sending messages in the flowers she gives to everyone. So, you could try to make the case that she had consciously made the decision to end her life. I’m not sure Lady Macbeth gets that same benefit of the doubt, though. The only times we see her after her descent, she doesn’t look good.

But I have a more specific question here. I also don’t think it has an official answer, but it might be fun to speculate. We know how Ophelia met her end. What about Lady M? All we get is the above “by self and violent hands” comment. I’m taking that to mean she daggered herself (I’m just going to go ahead and make that a verb). But this could be just one of those redundant ways of saying the same thing — just a fancy “by her own hand”, which would leave everything open to interpretation.

What do people think? How did she do it? Do we know of any productions that show it? As I write that, I’m trying to remember if Marion Cotillard’s version (2015 with Michael Fassbender) put it on film. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Morgan Freeman as Othello? No, Thank You

AI-generated image of Morgan Freeman interviewing himself
Morgan Freeman interviewed by … Morgan Freeman (AI-generated)

If you start listing actors famous for their voices, two things are guaranteed to be true — Morgan Freeman will be on that list, and most of them have done Shakespeare. Patrick Stewart, Orson Welles, James Earl Jones, Alan Rickman …

… but wait, where exactly is Morgan Freeman on that list? I hadn’t stopped to consider that he’s done no filmed Shakespeare. There are plenty of clips from his recitation of Seven Ages of Man from As You Like It, but that’s not a stage performance. But as far as I can tell, that’s it. You can find clips of James Earl Jones’ King Lear, or even Alan Rickman as Tybalt. But I find no performances by Mr. Freeman.

He does have some history with Shakespeare, though:

In the late 1970s, the largely unknown actor played the title role in Coriolanus and lent support as Casca in a production of Julius Caesar before returning to the world of Shakespeare over a decade later for a run of The Taming of the Shrew in 1990 as Petruchio.

What are his thoughts on Othello, you may ask? Oh, he has thoughts:

Freeman didn’t hesitate when asked if he had a least favourite role from his lengthy and distinguished career: “Yeah. Othello. Played it on stage. Don’t like it.” Refusing to hold back, he even voiced his disdain for the work itself. “Don’t even like the play. I’ve seen it a number of times, but I hate it myself.”

Well ok then! Maybe we could get him as King Lear?