The Countdown Has Begun! 7 Days Until I Arrive

It’s now one week until my trip to Stratford Upon Avon!  Lodgings locations, travel there (from landing in London) arranged.  We’ve got our “Full Story” tickets to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which gets us into:

  • the birthplace
  • New Place
  • Hall’s Croft
  • Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
  • Mary Arden’s Farm

Additionally, here’s what I know we have to see (but I know nothing about their relative location to each other, whether they need tickets in advance, or what have you):

  • Must have a meal at the Dirty Duck
  • The school, of course.
  • The church / grave, of course

Does anybody know that “The Creaky Cauldron” is?  I don’t think it’s a Shakespeare thing but it seemed like something my kids might like, to break up the Shakespeare.

Alas we will not be seeing a show at the RSC.  A family member actually gave us tickets to a show at the Globe (when we go to London the next week) and I could not justify the cost/time of making my family sit through two lengthy Shakespeare shows.

If anybody’s got last minute tips I’m all ears!  Looking for any local knowledge about how far things are apart from each other (we’ve arranged no special transportation so I’m hoping everything’s a reasonable walk), what we might need tickets for in advance, what times of day might be better for some things than others, that sort of thing.  I’ve been waiting my whole life for this trip so anything and everything that makes it awesome, I’m interested!

Question!  How exactly does one hire a car? Say we did want to go somewhere just outside of town.  I hear Kenilworth Castle is nice.  Or Warwick? What’s my best way to get my family there?

Can’t wait!



Spot The Wild Shakespeare Geek

So my trip to Stratford Upon Avon is fast approaching!  I will be in Shakespeare’s birthplace Monday, Aug 19 through Wednesday, Aug 21. This is a big deal for me, and for my family. I don’t want to be just another tourist. Surely, after running the original Shakespeare blog for fourteen years now and looking at social media audience north of twenty thousand users, surely  I can figure out some ways to make it something that only I could do.

Here’s my first idea. I have mentioned once or twice that I’ve got Shakespeare Geek Merchandise for sale. 🙂  My family all have some, as you can no doubt imagine. I hope you have some, too.  It’s not about the money, I do it to put more Shakespeare out in the world. I’ve often said that the dream is to randomly spot one of my own t-shirts in the wild. Then I could say, “Hey, I like your shirt! Shakespeare Geek, right?  Me too!”

Where’s Waldo?

So let’s do that.  When I’m in Stratford I’m going to be wearing my own merchandise.  If you’re in Stratford, and you have any SG merchandise, do the same. Make it Shakespeare Geek Day.  Because if I spot you I am going to come up and say, “Hey, I like your shirt!” and you’re going to be all, “Dude, wait, are you Shakespeare Geek? That’s awesome.”  And then we can take a picture and I’ll post it on social media, and my kids will be all, “Wait, people actually *know* you?” and I’ll be all, “Yeah, happens all the time.”

I might even be armed with Shakespeare Geek stickers or something to give out. That’s something else I’ve always wanted, to have swag to hand out to fans.

I have no idea the cross-section of “people who own Shakespeare Geek merchandise” and “people who will be in SUA on those days” with “people who are reading this post and want to play”, but hey, that’s part of the fun.  I don’t plan on running up to everybody with a Shakespeare t-shirt because I expect that there’ll be more than a few.  But I can recognize my own merchandise, I’ll know immediately which ones are mine.

And just in case you never realized that we have merchandise, click here now! 🙂



Look How Big Our Girl Has Grown!

Loyal readers may remember a little over three years ago when we got to help with a very cool request.  A reader from Canada wrote in to let us know that his new purebred Doberman puppy needed a full show name to be part of the Shakespeare theme of his litter.  It seems that these dogs get an “everyday” name, such as Toby, but also a full name from the breeder (in this case, Braebrook), so Toby’s full name was actually “Braebrook’s To Be Or Not To Be.”

After some back and forth and digging through texts, with the opening restriction that her everyday name would be River, we ended up on what turned out to be obvious, yet perfect, “Braebrook’s Sweet Swan of Avon”:

Well I got to thinking the other day (when Twitter analytics told me that “dogs” is the most popular interest of my followers), what’s River look like now?  I reached out to Keir, River’s owner who made the original request, and he was happy to provide us with a new picture. Take a look at River now!  Keir told me that River’s on the left, but I’m relatively certain that’s Keir.  So we’ll assume that River is the one in the middle 🙂

That’s her brother, Rancher, on the other side. Keir’s update:

River has become her papa’s little girl. She and I are nearly inseparable, only breaks away from me long enough to boss her older, and bigger, brother ‘Rancher’ around. Seriously, she’s the boss! At the same time, they too have a relationship bonded by love and devotion.

It only just occurred to me while writing this post that I want to know Rancher’s full name.  If he’s part of the same litter (being her brother, and all), he should have a Shakespeare name as well!  I’ll update the post if/when I find out.

Thanks for the update, Keir!  That’s a very, very good girl you’ve got there. Please feel free to keep in touch and send more pictures!


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Review : Most of All Is True Is Probably Not True

When Shakespeare geeks heard that Sir Kenneth Branagh would be bringing us a story of Shakespeare’s final years, written by Ben Elton (who brought us Upstart Crow and Blackadder) and starring Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen, hearts skipped more than a few beats. How could it be anything other than a dream come true?  A modern Shakespeare movie to replace Shakespeare In Love in the “Shakespeare fan fiction” movie pantheon. All in all, I liked it. Parts I liked a lot. Parts I loved. My wife liked it, my kids liked it. But I don’t think it will be remembered as a great movie.

We open in 1613 after the Globe has burned down.  The text tells us that Shakespeare never wrote another play. We instead return to Stratford Upon Avon, where he’s basically gone to retire and be with his family again. His reputation follows him – both as the world’s greatest writer, but also as the son of his disgraced father. Both fans and enemies alike follow him around and annoy him.

Judi Dench is excellent as Anne Hathaway when she stops Shakespeare from coming into the bedroom, telling him, “Twenty years, Will.  You can’t just back and pick up like everything is normal. You’re a guest here.”  Later she’ll have more speeches about what it was like to be married to the world’s greatest writer and not know how to read, or how she felt when someone else read the sonnets to her. Answers to the “second-best bed” question are given but I didn’t find them satisfactory.

The daughters also do an excellent job, but Judith is given much more to work with. Susannah is already trapped in an unhappy marriage to a Puritan, while Judith still lives at home and is an angry young lady who has no problem shouting things like, “Why don’t you just say it, father? The wrong twin died.”  Yikes. Her relationship to Thomas Quiney was played brilliantly, I thought, and could easily have been the subplot of any modern drama.

That’s basically your plot – man ignores his family for twenty years, during which time his only son dies, and in his final years, he tries to set things right. One daughter is trapped in an unhappy marriage, one is rebelling at every opportunity, and his wife, their mother, is just trying to keep it all together in the name of reputation and honor. There’s some really heavy-handed symbolism right out of the gate where he says, “I think I’ll plant a garden.” Later, “I’m not a very good gardener…” and you can just imagine how it goes from there. Oh look, people came to help him… and so on.

There’s enough Shakespeare bio here to appease the fans.  All the important areas are touched on – what did Anne think about the sonnets? What was Shakespeare’s relationship to Henry Wriotheseley?  The coat of arms, the glove making, even Thomas Lucey’s poached ponies are referenced. Stuff is quoted, from sonnets to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titus Andronicus makes an appearance. To the extent where you want to see this movie just to count the references, it’s enjoyable.  Whenever there was a pause in the dialogue I’d do my own filling in the blanks for the kids. “Ok, that must be Thomas Quiney, look for him to do something that dishonors the family name and for Shakespeare to change his will…”

The problem, ultimately, is that everybody making this film knows that they are riding a line between “Here’s what we know” and “Here’s what we don’t, so we’re going to fill in the blanks.” Most of that “blank” surrounds Hamnet’s death and Shakespeare’s dealing with it (with second place going to “how could all the women in Shakespeare’s life be illiterate?” and third “what exactly was Shakespeare’s relationship to the Earl of Southampton?”)  The more time they spent on Hamnet, the more I thought, “See, now, this is the stuff they’re just making up.”  Hamnet wrote poems! Shakespeare and Hamnet had a favorite pond they used to walk to!  How lovely … for an audience like my wife, who doesn’t know which parts of the story are true and which are not, so for her it’s basically all true and she can let herself enjoy it. But for those of us that are keeping a running fact checker in their heads because we can’t turn it off, the more time they spent in made up land, the weaker the movie becomes.

See the problem? They built the entire movie around Shakespeare’s relationship to his lost son.  In that context, we learn about his relationship with his own father, and with his daughters, and with their children. But there’s that legal term “fruit of the poisonous tree”, and if all of your evidence traces its way back to a source that isn’t really legitimate, well, you have to throw it all out.  I can’t totally fault them for it – the movie has to have a plot, after all – but it ends up being the weakest part, to me, because I couldn’t help thinking all is not true. Could it have been true? Sure.  They do a better job there than Shakespeare In Love which I don’t think was at all suggesting that’s what really happened. But I’ll give Branagh that – he tells a perfectly reasonable story. But the title of that story is not Could Be True.

One thing that did surprise me – this film is *gorgeous*. I don’t know who is responsible for making the colors on the screen do what they do, but damn they did a fine job. Some shots are near breathtaking. For a play about a man of words, somebody decided, “We’re going to make sure we show just how beautiful the world around him is.” At times it reminded me of the Robin Williams movie What Dreams May Come (also a Shakespeare line!) with its literally out-of-this-world colors. Given that much of the story takes place inside – lit by candles, thus making the scenes pretty dark – the cuts to outside shots are always a breath of fresh air in more ways than one.

In the end, and maybe this was deliberate, I don’t know, but in the end, this is an average story about an average man. You could tell the “man tries to reconcile with the family he ignored for twenty years” about anybody. In this case, it just so happens to be the world’s greatest author. It might even have been a better movie if they pulled back on the Shakespeare and let that story shine through. There are parts where it was good, but plenty where it was contrived.  There’s a scene where Judith screams, “Nothing is true!” just so we get our juxtaposition with the title of the movie for Heaven’s sake, but come on, who talks like that? What does that even mean? There’s the aforementioned garden. Lots of heavy-handedness like that. But I guess there’s an audience that likes that?

Go see it.  Go see it with someone you love, who doesn’t know as much about Shakespeare as you do :).  Spot the references, enjoy the colors.


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I Love Good Omens So Much

I was beyond excited when I learned that Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman was being turned into a tv series.  If you’re not familiar with the backstory, the two friends had basically agreed that there’d be no further work done on the property – no spinoffs, no merchandise, etc.. – unless they were in agreement.  Well, Terry Pratchett went and died (*). And that was the end of that hope.  Except for the part where he personally left a letter asking Neil Gaiman to make the movie version.  Well, now that’s just ineffable, that is.

Anyway, this post would be a mile long if I keep blathering.  The story tells of the friendship that is formed over thousands of years by the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (formerly “crawley”, as in snake…, played by David Tennant) because they’ve been stationed on Earth ever since Man was there, basically cancelling each other out so often that they get bored and stop wasting their time. I convince my kids to watch it with me, and they seem to like the first episode, so now it’s become family viewing time. One weekend night when everybody’s available we’ll all wind down and watch an episode, the whole family in the room, no electronics. Is very nice.  My wife and oldest are on the big couch, my middle on the love seat, and my son on the chair in what I’m only just realizing is very Goldilocks and the three bears of us.  I’m on the floor with pillows.  Just to set the scene.

Each episode of the series shows how the friendship between angel and demon evolved (while, in the bigger arc, they plot in modern day to stop the end of the world). They show up in the Garden of Eden, they show up for Noah… Each time the angel is there as a sort of witness, and David Tennant is there to look confused and ask some very interesting questions.  They actually show the crucifixion of Jesus in one episode, for example. Tennant’s demon asks, “What did he do?” and the angel responds, “Told people to be kind to one another.”

And then a title card pops up saying “1601 London” and I threw both hands up in the air and yelled excitedly, “They’re visiting Shakespeare! They’re visiting Shakespeare!!”

Cut to Aziraphale watching a rehearsal of Hamlet. It’s not very good. But the Shakespeare character keeps calling him Burbage, which is appreciated (though he’s too young and skinny for Burbage). Crowley shows up to watch for a little while and out of the clear blue drops some out of context Shakespeare (from another play that I won’t spoil) and I did an excited little dance there from my spot on the floor, arms up in celebration, because when I sat down to watch tv tonight I didn’t expect to get David Tennant doing Shakespeare.

I heard my oldest’s voice behind me say, “Yay, Daddy’s happy.”

Very much yes.


(*) He’s not gone, he’s just in the clacks.

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