So, Anybody Want To Pre-Read My Book?

A funny thing happened the other day while discussing with my daughter.   I discovered a book I’d written on the subject and completely forgotten about.

For years I’ve daydreamed about writing my own “intro to Shakespeare,” a fantasy that has evolved over time.  My hard drives are littered with half-hearted starts that never went anywhere because I always talked myself out of it. Either I didn’t have the audience, the audience I wanted was already saturated, or I just plain wasn’t qualified.  Finding excuses not to do something is easy.

But at some point, I sat at the keyboard long enough and wrote a complete-ish guide to The Tempest. It only goes about 17 PDF pages and is maybe 5000 words. But it has an introduction, a conclusion, and some actual structure in the middle.  It’s even got pictures 🙂

Now I’m trying to decide what to do with it.  I don’t expect that, by itself, I can just say “Here world, enjoy!” But I also know that I don’t need 50,000 words to throw something out on Amazon that people might find worth reading.

That’s where you come in. I’d like to send it to a few people who’d be willing to give some constructive criticism about what I might do with it – content to add, mistakes to correct, fine-tuning to …tune.  I do not need an academic redlining, believe me. I’ve already got 99 reasons to forget the whole idea.  I’m looking for supportive folks who’ll help me actually do something with this instead of giving me more reasons to forget the whole idea.

My real motivation for doing this is because both my girls want to be writers, and both of them suffer from terrible anxiety about letting the world see their work. I’m using this as an opportunity to throw something out there and show them that not only does the world not come to an end when other people read your stuff, but they might actually get some value out of it.

If you’re interested, please drop me a line at duane@shakespearegeek.com and I’ll send you the PDF. I’d like to get into an email correspondence with anybody that’s got feedback to offer, I’m not looking for just comments here on the blog post.

Thanks so much to everybody in advance!

 

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The Tempest Is A Bad Play

Got your attention?  Because it certainly got mine when I read it.

I didn’t write it — this guy did.

A friend cc’d me on a shared post, knowing that a clickbait headline like that was guaranteed to make me a little nuts.  It did.

His argument appears to be that Prospero is too powerful, and his enemies don’t stand a chance against him, therefore it’s boring to watch what we know will be his ultimate triumph over them.  I think this guy maybe thought he was going to see Infinity War or something. He’s describing Shakespeare like a superhero movie and he’s disappointed that there weren’t enough explosions.

He also seems bewildered at this idea that we know how the play is going to end, therefore it stinks:

We must root for him, and we know at every moment that he — yawn — will triumph.

…but you know in an instant how that’s going to end up; there’s no more suspense in it than in the Harlem Globetrotters taking on the Washington Generals.

I wonder how he feels about Romeo and Juliet?

At the end, though, he seems to actually get it:

There is a scene toward the end of the play in which Ariel expresses sympathy for Prospero’s enemies, laid low as they are from Prospero’s magic. Prospero marvels at the fact that the inhuman Ariel can experience empathy, where he, though human, cannot. And at that moment Prospero has his singular insight, which turns his life around: although he himself is at present incapable of empathy, he must act as though he has empathy for others, and, over time, learn to acquire it. And to do so, he must give up his god-like powers, and take his share in the human heart.

Like the kids say, and excuse my language, No Shit, Sherlock. That’s the story that’s in front of you the whole time.  Did you think that the director and actors put it there? I don’t follow how you get off calling the play terrible for half your word count, and then saying “But, this production was amazing.”  Were you scarred by a bad high school production when you were a child?

This guy’s bio suggests he’s actually seen Shakespeare more than once, so the only possible explanation I can find for this nonsense is that he’s trolling us.  He also takes a random slap at Coriolanus, which is apparently also terrible.  I’m surprised he didn’t say Hamlet is overrated and Falstaff’s not that difficult a role to play.

 

 

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Guest Post : The Wild Waves Whist by Erin Nelsen Parekh

Back in September 2016, Shakespeare Geek readers helped make life better by backing Behowl the Moon, a baby board book based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, into existence. I’m very happy to welcome back Erin Nelsen Parekh to tell us about her follow on project “The Wild Waves Whist”, using material from The Tempest.

Maybe you remember reading here about Behowl the Moon, the board book that turns two quotes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a story for babies and toddlers. There’s a second book up on Kickstarter now that would make it a series: The Wild Waves Whist, which steals two bits of The Tempest.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/172320179/shakespeare-for-babies-real-literature-to-read-on

The Wild Waves Whist will have more Shakespeare-certified animal noises, more rhymes, more funny old language, an island setting brimming with mystery and possibility. It will be a delight and a dare.

Many of you helped bring Behowl the Moon into being by supporting it on
Kickstarter. And once it was made, the pairing of Shakespeare’s words and narrative art caught a good bit of attention (link to http://drivelanddrool.com/press/). Behowl the Moon is just about sold out of its first printing and going back to press!

It’s not probably ever going to be a blockbuster—not every adult wants this kind of wordplay during storytime with a kid. Even if they did, lots of people grow up with no feelings about Shakespeare aside from vague, homework-induced distaste. But among those who love and respect the complex play of image and sound and meaning in Shakespeare’s work, Behowl the Moon finds the perfect audience.

The Wild Waves Whist
Back The Wild Waves Whist on Kickstarter now!

What actually happens when you mix small children and early modern English? My oldest, at two, told me we needed breakfast, “else the Puck a liar call.” A three-year-old remixes songs and quotes: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, and the wolf behowls the moon.” When I read for a group of kids, usually aged from about one to three or sometimes all the way to six and seven, they hiss for “’scape the serpent’s tongue,” clap on “give me your hands,” lay their heads down at “good night unto you all,” and happily roar, tweet, bray, hoot, and squeak whenever they get a chance. And everybody, everybody, howls.

Toddlers interact with a snippet of unadulterated Shakespeare just as they would any other kids’ book, remembering the bits they like the sound of, puzzling out what’s going on in the pictures, asking questions about the characters. They are hilarious and brave and unexpected. I have to make another one—just to see what they’ll do next.

If you can help me make this, by supporting the project, sharing the link, or telling a friend, you’ll get my endless gratitude—and we’ll get to find out what happens together.

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What, Is There More Merch?

Look at that, I had a picture of Boatswain after all.

It dawns on me, as I sit here in my Tempest mood, that I’ve got almost 100 Shakespeare Geek designs in Amazon and RedBubble, but none of them have anything to do with The Tempest.

How’d that happen?

I immediately set about to remedy that problem when … I got stuck. I have no idea how to proceed! It’s easy to grab a quote and throw it on a shirt, but I think that’s just playing the “quantity over quality” rule and I don’t love that.  Maybe that’s why I’m not raking in the cash, either, but that’s never been my goal 😉  If I’m going to put up a design and ask people to spend real money to own it, I’d like to feel like I put some effort into it.

So, who wants to brainstorm with me? Amazon offers t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts, but RedBubble offers a larger selection of other merch – iPhone cases, pillows, blankets, journals, stickers, etc… so I can really do either.  If you’re a fan of The Tempest, what do you think would look good on merchandise?  A favorite quote?  One of our old jokes or hashtags games from over the years?

I suppose we could look into original artwork if somebody had a cool idea.  I’m already thinking about maybe digging into the public domain stuff and seeing if I can’t get creative with one of the old woodcut images depicting Prospero and Ariel.  Hmmm…

Who’s feeling creative? I promise I won’t nag people to buy it if we end up making it.  I just want to see some new designs flowing into the store, and
The Tempest is the biggest gap I see right now.  (Not a lot of call for Pericles merchandise.)

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Let’s Hear It For The Boatswain

Miranda and Ferdinand play chessI ran across a bunch of Tempest references last week, and was reminded each time how much I enjoy the opening scene. I was even trying to think of a gimmick post that would allow me to talk about my enjoyment of the boatswain character. I called it “One Scene Wonders”, but then remembered he technically appears at the end of the play as well.

Then I figure what the heck it’s my blog I can write whatever I want.

How much do you love Boatswain? From his opening “Cheerly my hearts! Yare, yare!” it’s like he’s got his own language and personality, even though he doesn’t even merit a proper name.

Boatswain

I pray now, keep below.

He’s also got patience.  First he tells his passengers, “Keep below.”  Then he politely tells them, “Stay out of the way, you’re doing more harm than good up here.”

Boatswain

You mar our labour: keep your cabins: you do assist the storm.

Then when Gonzalo goes and name drops the King, our hero does exactly what any worker would do when told the suits were coming.  He says, “If you can do it better than go right ahead, otherwise get out of the way.”

GONZALO
Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.

Boatswain
None that I more love than myself. You are a
counsellor; if you can command these elements to
silence, and work the peace of the present, we will
not hand a rope more; use your authority: if you
cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make
yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of
the hour, if it so hap. Cheerly, good hearts! Out
of our way, I say.

He’s not even done.  After complaining that his passengers complaints are louder than the storm, he sees them returning and asks, “Are you trying to get us killed?”  When Sebastian swears at him he says, “If you’re going to stay out here pick up a rope!”

Boatswain
Down with the topmast! yare! lower, lower! Bring
her to try with main-course.
A cry within
A plague upon this howling! they are louder than
the weather or our office.

Re-enter SEBASTIAN, ANTONIO, and GONZALO

Yet again! what do you here? Shall we give o’er
and drown? Have you a mind to sink?

SEBASTIAN
A pox o’ your throat, you bawling, blasphemous,
incharitable dog!

Boatswain
Work you then.

This poor chap’s just trying to do his job and not get them all killed, and these sorry fools are all getting in his way.  Even Gonzalo has to acknowledge, “I like this fellow.”  Granted, I’m not sure it’s a compliment to say “I see him more fated to hanging than to drowning,” but we’ll take what little appreciation we get.

GONZALO
I have great comfort from this fellow: methinks he
hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion is
perfect gallows. Stand fast, good Fate, to his
hanging: make the rope of his destiny our cable,
for our own doth little advantage. If he be not
born to be hanged, our case is miserable.

All of Shakespeare’s openings are great, in their own way. I like this one because as far as setting the tone of the rest of the play goes (see Macbeth, Hamlet)  it’s really more about what Gonzalo says after Boatswain’s big moment, all that stuff about “give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground” because in the next scene we see the island.  So really the interaction with Boatswain is kind of extra, isn’t it?  Sure it introduces the bad guys and gives a taste of their personalities but there’s plenty of ways he could have done that. I’m glad he picked this one.

Anybody else love seeing this guy make his brief appearance?

Yare, yare!

 

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Pre-Review : Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

When I first heard about the Hogarth Series that would product “modern novelizations” of Shakespeare’s work I thought, “Eh.  So what.  If you rewrite Shakespeare it’s not Shakespeare, it’s yours, and it’s just like any other novel.”  As such I’ve avoided them all to date.

I decided to change that because we’ve got a book club at work and I wanted an excuse to read something of at least passing interest to me. When multiple people told me that Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest, was the best one to come out so far,  was hooked.  If I’m going to give the series I try I might as well start with my favorite play.

So glad I did! I’m just about halfway finished with it but I’m very excited to get out a review (and, who we kidding, it gives me another post for Shakspeare Day).

Felix, our director, is in the middle of what’s to be his masterpiece, a production of The Tempest.  He likes this play so much he even named his daughter Miranda.  Unlike Shakespeare’s story, however, both Felix’s wife and daughter have passed away before the story takes off. But the next part plays out like you’d expect — control of the group is usurped by Tony and Sal, and Felix is “banished” from the theatre scene until he gets a job teaching Shakespeare to prisoners. He even uses the pseudonym “Mr. Duke”, an amusing callback to Prospero as Duke of Milan.

The plot is following along close enough to the original that you have some idea what’s going to happen. Tony and Sal are going to end up in the prison where Mr. Duke will make his triumphant return. I just have no idea what’s going to happen other than that.  Our Prospero has no Miranda. This one seems to be all about revenge.  What would Prospero have been like if everything else had gone the same, except Miranda had not survived? I think we might have seen the full scope and scale of his power.

While retelling The Tempest this book is also a lesson in The Tempest as Felix walks his prisoners through the finer points of the play.  He makes them re-envision Ariel as something other than just “a fairy”.  He asks them to find all the “prisons” in the play (apparently there are nine?) and they discuss what form each prison takes, who is imprisoned, and who has captured them.  I’m learning lots of new things.  I hope she gets back to the question of “is the island by itself magic” because I’ve often wondered about that myself.

I don’t want to spoil much more of the book so I’ll stop here.  Suffice to say I’m loving it, and when I’m done with this one I’m going to dig into Jo Nesbo’s new Macbeth next. Definitely recommended.

 

 

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Shakespeare’s Dark Comedy

Over the centuries it’s been common practice to spin a happy ending on Shakespeare’s tragedies.  Romeo and Juliet live, King Lear and Cordelia live happily ever after.

What if you went the other way? The comedies are known for their happy endings.  Can you spin your favorite comedy and give it a dark ending?

Twelfth Night is the obvious choice, with Malvolio’s ominous, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!”  How does he not show up at the wedding with an AR-15?

How about A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  The lovers wake up, the love potion has now worn off Demetrius, who sees Theseus and Egeus and immediately goes right back to the character he was in the first scene.  Seeing no change in anybody’s feelings on the matter and with Hermia refusing to budge, Theseus has her executed.  I was going to write that Lysander tries to protect her and gets executed for his trouble as well, but it’s more fun if he’s a coward who absolutely doesn’t do that. 🙂

Can we count The Tempest?  I know, not technically.  But it’s so easy to envision the entire play as the ravings of a poor old man alone on an island making up the whole thing.

Anybody else want to take a shot at going dark?

 

 

 

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What Would You Do With Twins?

The other day I saw a discussion about how you think a modern Hamlet’s ghost should be staged. My first thought was, “I was the ghost popping up randomly, in the audience, in a way that makes them think it’s impossible for that to be happening.”

My first thought was, “Hologram?” But I put that off as too expensive, but also because the evidence about what was to happen (such as a mini pedestal/stage where he’d appear) would ruin the effect.

Then I thought, “Just have multiple actors dressed as the ghost, so when one exits, another one can appear elsewhere.”  But if they don’t look identical, the effect isn’t the same.

Twins!  Comedy of Errors had twins.  Ok, fine, maybe Shakespeare didn’t actually have twins to work with (did he?)  I know that I’ve yet to see a Comedy of Errors with actual twins.

But that brings me to our question. What if you did have twins in your group? How would you use them?  On the drive in to work today I was thinking about the difference between doubling an actor (Theseus / Oberon anybody?) versus how you’d do it with twins.  If you never have them on stage at the same time there’s no point, so how would you change the staging to take advantage?

How about two Hamlets?  One that devolves slowly into madness (complete with costume change), while the other remains his normal self, silently watching the proceedings. Until at some crucial point late in the play the good Hamlet disappears. (I saw a high school production once with five Hamlets, all on stage at once, all delivering the lines.  It was weird.)

King Lear where Goneril and Regan are twins?  Not sure how much that really changes the story, but it strengthens the bond between them versus Cordelia, and later shows how big a deal it is when they split.

A Tempest where Ariel and Caliban are twins?  I saw a production once where they were handled like conjoined twins, and at the end Prospero separated them.

I’m clearly no director, but I know many of you are. What better ideas can you come up with?  Assume that you can have access to a set of twins of whatever type you need, young or old, male or female.

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Venn Shakespeare

 

Venn vs Euler Diagram
Venn <-> Euler

The most popular post I’ve ever made is the one depicting Shakespeare’s works as a Venn Diagram (although technically that shape is an Euler Diagram).  That post on Facebook has garnered over 2 million views at this point, and hundreds of comments. People have asked me if it is available as a poster (as far as I know it is not – I did not create the original image).

The problem is, I don’t like it.  Most of the comments are of the form “Why do you have play X in this category but not that one?” and “You forgot to put Y in the Z category” and so on.  The categories (Suicide, War, Romance, Supernatural) are, I think, too broad.  Does Romeo and Juliet count as war between the two families?  I would say no, but some people disagree.  How about Much Ado About Nothing? It starts with the men coming home from war.

So here’s what I propose.  Can we make a better one, or a set of better ones?  Something that more people can agree on? If we can make something that’s generally agreeable to a large audience I’ll be happy to make it available as a poster / stickers / t-shirt / etc…

I’ve been working with Bardfilm on some new categories.  The goal would be to find a set such that:

  • All plays are represented by at least one category.
  • Minimize the number of categories that have no entries.
  • No single category has too many entries.

What categories would you like to see?  “Supernatural” made our list as well.  I was thinking “Insanity” might be a good one. Bardfilm proposed “Fake Deaths” and “Cross-Dressing”.  If we can’t agree across all the categories we can look at doing one for Comedy, one for Tragedy, one for History, but I think those would end up looking a little sparse, and I’d feel bad about leaving out Romance.

What other ideas have you got for us? Tell us the category you think should be on our diagram, and which plays would be in it.

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Shakespeare Storm Quiz

Storm still.

If I scheduled it properly and my software behaved, you should be reading this while I’m sitting up in New England under about a foot of snow.

How often does Shakespeare make a storm of some sort a major plot point?

  • The Tempest, duh.
  • Twelfth Night needs to deposit Viola in Illyria to get started, so a shipwreck seems as good a reason as any. But does the description of how they went down count as a storm, or was it just bad luck at sea?
  • Poor Antonio’s ships in The Merchant of Venice.  Or am I misremembering that? Do we get much of an explanation about how all of his ships go down? I think I’ve always just assumed a storm but not sure my evidence.
  • Macbeth opens with thunder and lightning.  And then there’s Macduff’s description of the night before he arrives at Macbeth’s castle, where it all hits the fan.
  • King Lear on the heath.  I didn’t realize the power of stage directions until I went back and looked and saw how many scenes say, “Storm still.”  That is a huge storm.

What did I miss?

 

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