My Return To The Classroom – Part One

A funny thing happened a few months ago. A scary, exciting thing. My two oldest are off to college now, and my third is heading into his final years of high school. His English teacher wrote to me, inviting me to come to speak in her class. Since all three of my kids went through the school, my reputation is well known, at least from a distance. The English department knows that my kids have a Shakespeare geek for a father. But I’ve never actually been in their classroom. We tried to do something a few years ago, but a silly old pandemic got in the way.

Needless to say, I was bouncing off the walls with excitement. I haven’t been in the classroom since my kids were in elementary school, and let me tell you, it’s a whole different animal trying to impress a ten-year-old than a sixteen-year-old. What props would I bring? What would we talk about? The teacher and I bounced around some ideas, generally deciding to focus on the theme of Who am I, and why am I doing this? Why would a fifty-something computer programmer volunteer to go into schools and tell people that Shakespeare is awesome? Great, I thought, I can do that standing on my head.

But I can’t just extemporize for seventy minutes. I needed structure. What to bring, what to bring? So many possibilities! I fretted and I frittered. I went through my children’s lifetime of pictures. I stacked books to bring. I have a 3d printer! I would make things. 3d printed things are cool. What would I make?

Shakespeare Busts

Shakespeares, of course, There’s a whole story that goes with these, but I’ll give you the short form. I needed to make at least 25 of *something* because I wasn’t about to bring in giveaways if I didn’t have enough for everybody. There were 20 students, I checked and double checked. So I figured 25 leaves me wiggle room to leave something with the teacher or other friends I see along the way.

Then my printer broke. I had to sent to China for parts, with no way of knowing whether they’d arrive in time, and whether they’d fix the problem when they did arrive. In the meanwhile, after a *lot* of trial and error and messing with settings, I figured that I could print one at a time. Each one took about an hour and a half. So for about five days straight I spent all day printing a single Shakespeare at a time, popping him off the print bed, then immediately starting a new one.

While I was there I also printed some Shakespeare cookie cutters. I couldn’t swing printing 25 of them, though, so I only printed a couple and would figure out later how to give them out.

Lastly I printed something special for the teacher, a “lithophane” of the front page of the First Folio. Lithophanes are this cool technique where you print a translucent image so that it looks like nothing when you hold it normally, but hold it up to the light and it is photographic quality.

My son told me at one point that the teacher had said I was coming, and that the students had checked out my site. I decided to see if anybody was still reading. I left an easter egg in a post that gave them a word and said if you’re the first person to tell me that word and what it means to Shakespeare, I’ll have a prize for you. The word was Corambis, and it’s another name for Polonius.

Games! We should play some games! Yes this is what my thought process was like for a month, enjoying the ride?

We could play Bardle, that was an easy one. I knew they knew about Bardle. But you can only really play that once. They could play Blank Verse, assuming I could get it working. What’s Blank Verse, you say? It’s a Shakespeare Mad Lib game I made a long time ago and has been offline for years. That is, until I brought it back to life in a web-hosted version! It’s small right now, only a couple of puzzles, but you can definitely play it. So, that was two.

Then I did something that was maybe over the top. But hey, who we talking about, here? I invented a new game, on the fly, during a conversation with the teacher. A long time ago I’d made a classroom game called Last Shakespeare Standing that consisted of the whole class taking turns drawing slips of paper from a hat – most of which said “You died from plague” or something equally amusing. The idea was to be the last person standing. At first I thought we could play that, but that’s pretty much random, that’s not really educational. I know that one of the most viral facts about Shakespeare is all the created ways that characters died. A few years back I’d even made bookmarks featuring great Shakespearean deaths. So off the top of my head I turned my game into I Survived A Shakespeare Play. Almost all of the deck features the great deaths of Shakespeare characters – who died, how they died, and in what play. The rules are the same – you draw a card, and try to survive. But wait, I needed some survivors! So I added cards of other characters that survive the play. For a twist at the last minute, and to make it a little less random, I added a rule — you read your death, but not your character name. If your teammates can identify your character based on the description of your death, you survive.

I may have printed cards.

Did I go overboard a little bit? I think I may have. I wrote up something like 80+ cards, researched them to get my Act and Scene right, found a “blank playing cards” layout, formatted them, printed them on card stock, and cut them out. That was way more work than I had really thought through when I started the project. Damn the torpedoes!

I think I was ready. I loaded up my bag with props like a traveling magician. I had:

  • my First Folio
  • my Shakespeare bust
  • my computer, for the slide show and the online games
  • 25 miniature Shakespeare 3d printed busts
  • half a dozen or so Shakespeare cookie cutters
  • a Shakespeare First Folio lithophane
  • Shakespeare Death Bookmarks, first created in 2015 (by me)
  • Shakespeare baby books, to show that Shakespeare can start literally at birth
  • Hamlet in Esperanto, to show that Shakespeare is not bound by language
  • several Shakespeare graphic novels and other “plain text” treatments to show the variety of ways you can approach Shakespeare
  • my card game
  • my copy of Shakespeare Trivial Pursuit, in case we run out of time. I’d decided that we could play students against the teacher and I.
  • some random business cards, not because I expected to do any business but because I think they’re cool, there’s a little snippet from the Folio with the quote “Not of an age, but for all time” on them. And my website, of course.

I was never a Boy Scout, but man was I prepared. Or was I? Stay tuned for Part Two!

Why We Need Shakespeare

Recently I was having a conversation with my father and he dropped a bomb on me. “I just don’t get the whole Shakespeare thing,” he told me.

What am I supposed to say to that? Shakespeare makes life better? His next question would be, “Why? Why would it make my life better?”

But the thing is, I get it. I understand why he feels that way, and why I can’t give him an easy and obvious answer. I’ve thought about it for a long time. Does the name Abraham Maslow mean anything to you?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory in psychology that explains the five basic human needs and their order of priority. According to the theory, humans are motivated to fulfill their basic needs before they can move on to more complex needs. The five needs are physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.

Physiological needs are the most fundamental needs that must be met, such as food, water, shelter, and sleep. Safety needs come next, which include the need for safety and security. The third level is the need for belongingness and love, which includes the need for social interaction, friendship, and love. Esteem needs refer to the need for self-esteem, confidence, and respect from others. Lastly, self-actualization needs are the need for personal growth, creativity, and fulfillment.

Forever Climbing That Pyramid

My dad and plenty of people his age have a very different perspective on “need”. His generation would probably tell you that the purpose of life is to get yourself a job that can support a family. And ….. that’s it, end of answer, why do you need more than that? If you’re able to provide for your family, you’re doing it right. So keep doing that.

I’m all for that answer, as far as it goes. I, too, put “provide for my family” above all other things. It’s one of the reasons I have a lucrative full-time job and I’m not on a corner somewhere reciting Shakespeare and hoping for handouts.

But let’s look at that on Maslow’s hierarchy:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

“Get a job and support a family” takes you, how many levels up the pyramid? Three, four? Esteem is maybe where we begin to separate. Are you happy to do the same job forever if it pays your bills? Or do you want proof that you’re good at your job? You want recognition in the form of promotions and raises, which in turn trickle down and enable you to better provide for your family’s needs.

I think “Shakespeare makes life better” lives higher on the, well, hierarchy. It’s like going in to a high school classroom and trying to explain to the students why they shouldn’t just take those courses that are directly related to the career that they’ve already chosen (or has been chosen for them). The unexamined life is not worth living, as the saying goes. We have to embrace that. You’re right – knowing more or less Shakespeare for the general population will not change your ability to bring home a paycheck and get the bills paid. But there’s so much more to life than that.

Don’t get me wrong – I think that it’s a luxury and privilege to even have the conversation. One of the reasons why a lot of our parents can’t see things that way is because they grew up in a time where you wore the ripped hand-me-down clothes and you ate whatever was put on your plate and the idea of “do I like or want this” never entered the equation. It is precisely because my parents put so much focus on “provide for your kids” that I have this luxury.

I think it’s ironic that Shakespeare, unfortunately, has transcended its original “entertainment for the groundlings” purpose. People today don’t flock to see Two Gentlemen of Verona because the dog is funny. Shakespeare has become symbolic “education for the sake of education.” I just called it a luxury. Here I sit trying to tell people that Shakespeare makes life better and yet that it’s a luxury that not everyone feels they have the opportunity to pursue. It’s a lot to think about. I guess that’s why it’s called a mission.

Hell Is Empty, And ShakespeareGeek Is On TikTok

What else can I say? People have been asking and I’ve been telling myself that I should do something on Tiktok. Today seems as good a day as any! Behold, one small step!

My kids totally made this, I’m not going to lie. I told them the idea and pointed them to the clip, they did the rest. I have to learn all about how to properly tag it and what not. I guess you have to stay away from all things violent and “dead” related. So I’m not even sure that this one, which clearly says “dies” in it, will even stay up. But together we learn! Remember to follow in case I ever post anything else!

Shakespeare and Chess


So the other day, I got to go back into the classroom to talk to a bunch of teenagers about why it’s still important to study Shakespeare. I love that question because I’m neither an educator nor a politician (nay, not even a pundit). Nobody’s setting policy based on what I say. All I’ve got is my opinion, and I’m happy to offer it. Here’s what I told them, more or less.

Chess is experiencing something of a resurgence right now, isn’t it? You’ve got Queen’s Gambit on Netflix a few years ago. You’ve got the cheating scandal. I know that all three of my kids play now. I think there are some of you here in the room that play. <nods>

So, here’s the thing. Chess has been around for how many hundreds of years? (I looked it up later — 1500 years.) Basically unchanged, from what I understand. So you can read book after book about the games of the great masters and stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before you.

Sure, it’s hard. There are people that spend their entire lives trying to master it. But at the same time, if somebody who’d never played before sat down at the board next to you and asked to play, you could teach them, right? Or maybe you’re the student sitting across from the teacher.

Chess is played all over the world. (172 countries, my research tells me.) So if you’re traveling, bring your board. Because chess is not bound by language. Think about it. If somebody from another country sat down at the board next to you, someone who didn’t speak your language … you could still play, couldn’t you?

It’s also not bound by age, is it? Because the rules have been the same for generations, that means you can sit down to a game with someone half your age or twice your age. It’s the reason why my children can all Facetime with their grandfather to play.

Chess is a great unifier (ironic, given the US/Russia history, but still). You can spend your life studying it and still learn something new on any given day. It is a gift that you can share wherever you go in the world, without even the obstacles of age or language getting in the way. That’s why chess has been so popular for so long, and why it will continue to be.

Now consider that everything I just said is true of Shakespeare. Shakespeare isn’t bound by time or space. I’ve met strangers in strange lands and bonded over our love of Shakespeare. I sang Shakespeare to my children and plan to do the same for my grandchildren. I hope that my children, and their children, will do the same.

That’s one of a million reasons why Shakespeare makes life better.

Pop Goes The Redbubble

You said it, Hamlet.

I greatly appreciate all of the people that have purchased Shakespeare Geek merchandise; I truly do. I hope you like it. It’s been a bit of a challenge to really optimize for that particular revenue stream since (a) I am not really much of a visual designer, and (b) that’s not the primary reason why I do this. I’m a blog that has merch, not a blog that exists to sell merch. There’s a difference.

Most of the Shakespeare Geek merchandise can be found on Amazon. They are, after all the gorilla of the space. They’ll get the most volume all around the world.

But the thing is, Amazon only really does apparel. T-Shirts, mostly, and some hoodies thrown in. During the pandemic in particular people started asking about face masks. And people always want stickers.

Enter Shakespeare Geek merchandise on Redbubble. Thus far I’ve loved their product selection, even if stickers and face masks are by far my best sellers. They’ve got mugs and phone cases … they’ve even got socks and leggings. So, yes, I did make Malvolio’s yellow cross garters. They’re a big hit.

But … there’s a problem.

Redbubble just announced a new fee structure for small artists like me that, quite frankly, is going to destroy all of us. According to their fee table (which has not yet gone into effect), if I made $20 in commission in a month, they’d charge me almost $9 – practically half. That’s ridiculous.

So, I don’t plan on staying on Redbubble for long. I’m putting the word out now. If you see this, and you wanted to buy your own Malvolio yellow socks or a “Shakespeare makes life better” sticker or a “Do you quarrel, sir?” t-shirt, now’s the time to grab them. Because as soon as I find another option I’m out of there. I don’t know when that will be, but I know it’s coming. I also know that the fee structure they’re imposing starts on May 1, so seriously, if you do want to buy something please keep that in mind because starting May 1 I’m going to make about half as much as I used to.

Thanks again for all the support! Onward and upward!