Here Be Monsters

This month’s posts are sponsored by No Shave November. To help raise cancer prevention awareness, and some money along the way, all proceeds from this month’s advertising, merchandise and book sales are being donated.  If you’d like to support the site by supporting the cause, please consider visiting my personal fundraising page linked above, where you can make a direct donation.

Some folks may have been part of this conversation on Twitter.  I’d like to expand on some thoughts here, where they feel more permanent.

For my daughter’s “Monsters in British Literature” course they’re just wrapping up The Tempest. One of the questions she was tasked with answering was (paraphrased), “Do you think Caliban is the monster of the story?  If he’s not, who is?”  I know that they read something else in class that basically laid out the “what is a monster” rules, but I can’t find that to reference it at the moment.

But there’s only a few characters in the story, so let’s talk about all the candidates.


On the one hand we’ve got colonizing Prospero.  He shows up on an inhabited island and says, “Mine now.” Promptly enslaves its few inhabitants, possibly even killing one of them.  It’s never really said what happens to Sycorax, is it? I used to think she just kind of died and left Caliban there to fend for himself, but how in the world does Prospero know so much about her if that’s true?  Did he learn it all from Ariel?  Caliban didn’t even know how to talk when he met Prospero, so that’s unlikely.

On the other hand we’ve got forgiving Prospero. He has his enemies in his grasp, and can smite them any time he wants. Instead he opts to forgive and forget – even his treacherous brother Antonio, who we will speak more of shortly.

Personally I don’t find him the monster. Especially when you play the “all in care of thee” card.  He’s a dad protecting his daughter from the world.  What dad doesn’t have a little animal instinct in him on that level?  See a threat, neutralize the threat. Only put down your card if someone else is going to take your place (say, for instance, her getting married).


The “too easy” answer.  Sure he’s this base creature who would hardly be civilized if it wasn’t for Prospero.  Is that so bad?  Caliban was minding his business on his own island when this dude just showed up and took over. Of course he’s got some resentment issues.  He’s got some issues with Prospero, sure – but remember that Prospero is in complete magical control of him, and can basically torment him with pinches and cramps whenever he wants.  How can we fault Caliban for not wanting a little retaliation?

Sure, there’s the Miranda thing. He did try to “people this isle with Calibans”.  Honestly I tend to lump that in with base biological instinct. He’s closer to an animal than a person.  What do animals do?  They eat, they mate, they fight.  That doesn’t make every animal a monster. But what ultimately turned me against Caliban is the way he offers her to Stephano as a prize.  Don’t forget, after you kill her father, she’ll keep your bed nice and warm! That is not the instinctive act of an animal. That is a strategic move, using another human being to negotiate a deal.  Caliban’s got a lot of reasons to hate Prospero, but to take them out on his daughter? That’s a bit much for me.


I only really put him here as a technicality, because in theory his job is to bash Prospero in the head with a log and then take Miranda as his wife. He doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with this plan, on either front.  But are we really expected to ever be afraid for Prospero?  Think Stephano an actual threat?  I don’t think so. He’s comic relief.  If I’m not mistaken (though I do not have the text readily available), I think he even shows a certain distaste for the gruesome work at hand, as if he’d rather not go through with it.  Hardly a monster behavior.


I don’t think people explore evil Ariel enough.  Most of the magical work that’s done in the play is done by Ariel.  Prospero’s charms appear mostly of the “prevent you from doing things” variety, have you noticed that? He binds Ariel to his service. He freezes Ferdinand, and binds him to service. Presumably Caliban is also bound to service, or why wouldn’t he flee?  All of the other stuff, the shipwreck, the magical dogs, the voices … that’s all Ariel.

You get hints of dark Ariel.  He’s clearly not too thrilled about having escaped the bondage of his tree, only to land in Prospero’s bondage.  Don’t we think that he would have killed everybody on board if Prospero had let him? With no remorse?

One of the features of a monster, if I recall the book correctly, is that they live away from man by choice, interact only out of necessity or circumstance, and then return to solitude.  That certainly fits Ariel.  Desires his freedom. Minute he gets it? Gone.


It’s easy to forget that Antonio’s even there, if you only pay attention to the marquee characters.  First of all he’s the character that conspired to steal his brother’s kingdom.  As far as he’s concerned, his brother (and his niece) can just go somewhere and die.  Remember that it is Gonzalo that saves them.

When the opportunity presents itself Antonio is quick to attempt a move up the ladder by killing the sleeping king, too. It’s not even like the man is a manipulator who has other people do the dirty work, he’s got it in him to hold a drawn sword over a defenseless victim without hesitation.

Perhaps most importantly, in the final scene where everything is revealed, we learn that Prospero is alive and not only can he look his brother in the eye, but that he forgives him?  Antonio says … nothing. Everybody else wants to hear the story of how everything seems to have turned out so happily. But Antonio? You get the feeling that before the play’s even over, Antonio is already planning when he can get his kingdom back. He probably regrets not killing Prospero in the first place.


Did I miss any contenders?  I don’t think we could really argue that Miranda or Ferdinand or Trinculo are monsters.  Sycorax and Setebos might be two other possibilities, but I mean come on, they’re not even in the story.  You’d be filling in 99% of their back story just to make your case.


~ Leave a comment

Surpassing My Expectations [ A Geeklet Story ]

I’ve been waiting years for my kids to reach the point in school where we can actually talk about Shakespeare because it’s their homework. My oldest is now reading The Tempest.  So I get to have conversations like this:

Her:  “We did get to read in class today. So, that was fun.”

Me: “And did you get a chance to actually stand up and maybe put a little something into it? Or was everybody just heads down blah blah blah’ing their way through it with no changing their delivery at all?”

Her:  “I did my best.  But, I have a question.  There’s a word…abhor something? Abhorred?”

Me: “Abhorrent, maybe?”

Her: “No, I’m pretty sure it was abhorred.  How many syllables is that?”

Me: “Sounds like two, but I’d have to look.”

Her: “That’s what I thought, because if it was three, then the line doesn’t come out right.”

…and it was at that point that I realized that while I’m just happy that she gets to read the words out loud, she went ahead and jumped to seeking out the iambic pentameter and trying to “respect the verse”.  Can you stand it? So proud I could burst at times like that.

She then went on to tell me that she was annoyed by how some lines started with a capital letter, reminding me that we’ve still got so much to talk about 🙂

For the curious, here’s the speech:

This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child
And here was left by the sailors. Thou, my slave,
As thou report’st thyself, wast then her servant;
And, for thou wast a spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorr’d commands,
Refusing her grand hests, she did confine thee,
By help of her more potent ministers
And in her most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine; within which rift
Imprison’d thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years; within which space she died
And left thee there; where thou didst vent thy groans
As fast as mill-wheels strike. Then was this island–
Save for the son that she did litter here,
A freckled whelp hag-born–not honour’d with
A human shape.

This month’s posts are sponsored by No Shave November. To help raise cancer prevention awareness, and some money along the way, all proceeds from this month’s advertising, merchandise and book sales are being donated.  If you’d like to support the site by supporting the cause, please consider visiting my personal fundraising page linked above, where you can make a direct donation.

~ Leave a comment

The Complete Works In A Tweet? No, Not Really

Although this story will be old by the time it gets posted, I would not be living up to the geek part of my name if we didn’t talk about the UK student who managed to fit the complete works of Shakespeare into a single tweet. At least, that’s what the headlines would have you believe:

To be or not to be 280 characters: All of Shakespeare’s works in a single tweet

Someone just tweeted the entire works of Shakespeare with one tweet

You can unzip this tiny image on Twitter to reveal the complete works of Shakespeare

You get the idea.  That last one at least gives more of a clue about what’s going on.

Here’s a link to the original tweet from David Buchanan.

It contains a link to a small image of Shakespeare (Chandos style, for the curious who can’t see it) with the words UNZIP ME over the top.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a zip file is basically a compressed version of another file, or files.  What Mr. Buchanan figured out how to do is make a single file that behaves both like an image and a compressed zip archive at the same time.

So if you were to take that image (right click from your browser, do “Open in Image New Tab”), and then save the image by itself with a .zip extension, and then double click on it to expand the archive, and what you’ll get is the single file HTML version of Shakespeare’s works, from Project Gutenberg.

Is it a cool technique? Absolutely.  Even better is that Buchanan went on to release the source code for how he did it.  So I get to do cool things like this:

This image is actually encoded with the plain text version of The Tempest (also from Project Gutenberg), in case you’d like to play with it.  Save it with the extension .zip, then unzip it, and there you have it!

If you know how to read source code it’s even cooler, because the code to do it is very small (as in, just one file).  It’s very neat indeed, and Mr. Buchanan deserves the credit for demonstrating the technique so vividly.  This is a great example of why geeks are attracted to Shakespeare, because it represents a big body of text to play with that immediately brings a bunch of attention with it every time you touch it.

But saying that the complete works fit into a single 280 character tweet is not really what happened.  The image is linked in the tweet.  The image itself is 2 meg in size!  That’s kind of like putting a First Folio in a room, locking the room, then handing someone the key and saying, “You’ve got the entire First Folio in the palm of your hand!” It does sound cooler that way, though.

This month’s posts are sponsored by No Shave November. If you’ve ever thought about how you can support the site, here’s your chance. This month we’re donating all proceeds from advertising, merchandise and book sales to raising cancer awareness.  You can make direct donations as well at the above link.  Thanks for your support!



~ Leave a comment

Teachers, How Do You Feel About Your Hermiones?

No, that’s not a Winter’s Tale reference. That’s a Harry Potter reference.  Psych.  🙂

So once again my oldest has an actual Shakespeare class, and once again it’s not really living up to what we’d hoped.

They’ve started The Tempest.  Here’s my daughter’s (roughly paraphrased) summary of the first day:

We did Act One, Scene one.  It’s frustrating, because she asked us no questions. Zero. I’m sitting there, waiting for this, I know the answers. I’m dying to say Sycorax, I love that name. But she didn’t interact with us, she just told us what happens.

That makes me sad. I once wrote an entire blog post about that scene, and how awesome the boatswain is. So let’s talk about the situation this teacher finds herself in.

I’m sure that teacher has to assume that there’s zero amount of Shakespeare knowledge in that class. It would be a waste of time for her in most classes to ask a question like, “Is anybody familiar with The Tempest?” because 9 times out of 10 she’s going to get blank stares and silence. So why bother?

Because in this instance she would have gotten an answer.  My daughter’s  hand would go up.  As it would with every question (hence the Hermione reference). She could assistant teach that class.

She’s not trying to be a teacher’s pet. On the contrary, she’s generally an introvert who will avoid answering questions because she feels that for her to answer it is to not give others a chance.  But to not even have the question asked?  That seems like an opportunity missed. It would not be a lie to say that she’s been waiting years for opportunities like that.

Maybe the teacher knows that. She’s well aware of my daughter’s experience with Shakespeare already. I know because I’ve also had that conversation with her. So I figure one of two things must be going through her head:

a) she’s completely forgotten, or just generally disregarded, the knowledge that she’s actually got someone in class this time that knows the material. She’s got a plan, it does not assume a Hermione in the class, why change the plan?

b) she’s deliberately not singling her out to keep balance in the classroom, and not elevate my daughter into some sort of favorite.  Maybe she’s even doing that for what she believes will be my daughter’s benefit, so that the others don’t see it as a negative (i.e. teacher’s pet syndrome)

My problem is that I see it as the opposite. Let’s pretend for a moment that there’s more than one kid in that class that already knows the material. Or at least would be willing to hazard a guess at some questions. And all of them are afraid to be the first one to raise their hand.  Doesn’t it make sense that if you know you’ve got a student who isn’t afraid to raise her hand, and knows the answer, that you should do that?  That maybe it would help bring the other kids out of their shells?  Maybe there’s kids in that class that would hear my daughter rave about how awesome Shakespeare is, how she’s known about it since she was little, and maybe they switch from “I’ve always heard that this stuff is boring and irrelevant” to “One of my peers is telling me that it’s interesting and not that hard, maybe I should listen to her.”

Teachers, help me out here. I’m trying to read somebody’s mind, and maybe I’m way off.  It doesn’t matter the particular material.  Say that you’re in the out of the ordinary situation where you know you’ve got at least one student in the class that knows the material ahead of the rest.  How do you handle that? Take advantage and try to use that kid to draw out the others? Or treat everybody the same? Why?

(In fairness I should acknowledge that there’s an option (c), namely, that this class is about monsters in British literature and thus they are studying Caliban specifically, not the play as a whole. So, since scene one really has nothing to do with Caliban, she glossed over it.  I mean personally I still disagree, because I think that kicking off the story in an exciting way rather than a blah blah blah way is important if you want to keep the kids’ attention, but what can ya do. There are calendar time restrictions, and material to get through.)

This month’s posts are sponsored by No Shave November. If you’d like to support the site and help raise cancer awareness, please consider a donation. All profits from advertising, merchandise and book sales are being donated.  Direct donations can also be made at the link.  Thank you for your support.


~ Leave a comment

It’s Going To Be A Good Year

Longtime readers of the blog will know that we’ve been waiting literally for years for my kids to start learning Shakespeare in school. Middle school was a big bust, with one teacher in the eighth grade who dragged his feet during Romeo and Juliet to the point where my oldest never even finished it, and when her younger sister later had the same teacher, he didn’t even try, he just showed the movie.

My oldest is in high school now and taking a class called Monsters in British Literature, where they’ll be reading The Tempest.  My favorite. The one I used to tell them as a bedtime story.  Plus, bonus? The same teacher does the second semester Shakespeare in Modern Film class, also known as the one where I get Bardfilm to do my kid’s homework.

Well tonight was open house where we got to meet the teachers.  Look what greeted me in Monsters and British Lit?

Oh, yeah.  We’re gonna have a good time with this class.

The class will cover Beowulf and Frankenstein as well as Caliban. The teacher made it a point to mention that she’d recently seen The Tempest at the Globe, and how she just loves being “the Shakespeare teacher.”

I introduced myself briefly – “My daughter’s been raised on Shakespeare. I read The Tempest to them as a bed time story. I think we’re gonna love this class.” I knew I could have talked her ear off.  I had pictures of my kids in the Folger vault loaded up and ready to go on my phone. I showed great discipline, I want everybody to know!

I hope to have very many exciting stories in the upcoming year.  It’s been a long time coming! A fine fine day indeed.



~ Leave a comment