Category Archives: Shakespeare

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

Changing Seasons  is an appropriate theme for this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo challenge as we approach the solstice.

from Love's Labors Lost, Act 1, Scene 1

Shakespeare, Love’s Labors Lost, Act 1, Scene 1

Be sure to visit other blog’s to see different interpretations of Changing Seasons

Be Stone No More – Tabletop Shakespeare

I love when I serendipitously come across links like this one.  If I still taught high school English — if I somehow could have sustained myself (mentally, financially) in that profession past my 20’s — I would definitely use one of these to describe a Shakespeare play.   While the play is always much more than the plot and the language is what adds so much to the beauty, I think these are wonderful for making a play accessible.  If you know what is going on, it is so much easier to listen and pay attention to the language.

I haven’t had time to watch all of these in their entirety, but have seen snippets.  The video describing the project is interesting too.

Using household objects to represent the characters seemed a bit strange at first.  Yet, I know when I’ve tried to explain a complicated story to someone, I’ve often reached for simple objects to represent.   It works!

I love how in the retelling of Romeo & Juliet, Sam Taylor refers to each member with the surname of the house he belongs to.   It isn’t enough to know Juliet is a Capulet and Romeo a Montague, but to know which house each of the other characters belong to.

I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it

Shakespeare wrote:  I wasted time and now doth time waste me.  Although I spent much time this evening following various links from the World Shakespeare Festival, I don’t think that I wasted my time.  Like Celia, in As You Like It, I willingly wanted to waste my time in that location.

Here are a few links I found interesting this evening:

The British Museum currently has the exhibit Shakespeare: Staging the World. Along with the BBC, they are sponsoring Shakespeare’s Restless World, a podcast examining 20 objects from Shakespeare’s time as a way of looking at Elizabethan England and how the actors and the theatre-goers would have viewed Shakespeare’s plays.

MyShakespeare a site for considering what Shakespeare means in our world today. The site includes some commissioned work for the project, like this piece  by Will Power, performing  Caliban’s speech from The Tempest.  The beauty and lyricism of Shakespeare’s words re-interpreted for today’s ear.

Another commissioned work is the tumblr Nicely Turned by artist Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa.   I found it difficult to not laugh when looking at this site, a collection of allusions to Shakespearian plays and characters. It’s a lot of fun to see how common sayings and clichés from Shakespeare appear in our world.

And then there is the amazing, wonderful Chicken Shop Shakespeare. Take a few minutes to watch a few of their videos. All are under two minutes. I want more Chicken, please!

myShakespeare also has a way that the public can contribute their own interpretations. See details on the site.

I eventually meandered to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s site and found these two videos featuring Jonjo O’Neill, who I saw perform in As You Like It and Romeo & Juliet in New York last year (Best.Mercutio.Ever).  O’Neill is currently playing the title role in Richard III.   How I wish I could go to Stratford to see this before it closes!

I may not be able to go to England this year, but I am glad that through the magic of the interwebs I can still enjoy bits and pieces of London2012 and the World Shakespeare Festival.

Sunday Quote (2012, Week 26)

He was not of an age, but for all time! ~ Ben Jonson

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke.
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wild release from heaven’s yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.
The Hoke, the poke — banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, ‘is what it’s all about.

The Hokey-Pokey Shakespeare Style was written by Jeff Brechlin, submitted to the Washington Post Style Invitation contest, March, 2003. It was the winning entry.

Will Power

April 23 is the day of Shakespeare’s death (in 1616), and sometimes considered as the day of his birth as well, although records only indicate when he was baptized ( Apr 26, 1564), not born. In honor of the Bard of Avon (or perhaps just as a piece of Bardolatry), a few bits about my admiration of Shakespeare:

My Shakespeare Bucket List:  I am surprised to learn that the phrase Bucket List, which is often heard, is not known to have existed before the 2007 Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie of the same name. The term from which it is derived, kick the bucket has been around since 1785.  (See here and here, and lots of other google-able places.) It doesn’t seem far-fetched to me that this would gain popularity so quickly, especially since there have been so many variations of the 1000 Things to Do Before You Die books published in recent years. Having a list of things to accomplish, though, is not a new idea.

I have lots of things that I would like to do some day, but I’ve not codified many of them. However, since I was a college student, there is one thing that I’ve always thought that I would like to accomplish: read the complete works of Shakespeare — 38 plays, 154 sonnets, 2 long poems that I didn’t stay awake past the opening lines while reading in college  — and see all of the plays in performance at least once. I’m not sure of a specific date when I decided that this would be a goal, and I haven’t been very diligent about working towards accomplishing it, but it’s always been an idea I’ve had. Last year, before I attended the RSC plays performed in New York, I decided to begin to track how close I was to accomplishing this goal.   The answer: not very close.  At least, not yet.

In 2011, I did see some plays that I had never seen before (Julius Caesar, The Winter’s Tale, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV Part I & II, & A Comedy of Errors) and read two plays (Romeo & Juliet, MacBeth). Since I haven’t read another play since last summer, I think it is time that I pick up the Shakespeare brick I own (The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Second Edition, Edited by Jowett, Montgomery, Taylor & Wells) and read another.  Any votes for which play I should read next?

Shakepeare on Film:  Not willing to read the Complete Works? How about watching a film? Here are two lists of notable Shakespearean plays or adaptations.

The 10 Greatest Film Adaptations of All Time

Rotten Tomatoes’ Greatest Shakespeare Moves

What about seeing a movie about how Shakespeare’s works have impacted others, such as Shakespeare Behind Bars, or Ian McKellan’s Acting Shakespeare.  Or watch The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged by the Reduced Shakespeare Company for a very funny synopsis of his works.   Want a little controversy?  You can watch Rolland Emmerich’s Anonymous.  Although it has to stretch quite a few facts (and isn’t very honest about which ones it does) to make it work, it presents a theory as to who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays.   I liked the movie as a movie, but find its theory about the Earl of Oxford laughable.  I hold fast to the theory that William Shakespeare did not write the plays, but some other guy named William Shakespeare.  🙂  Actually I don’t care  who wrote them as I think it is unprovable and really not of much importance, but the theories are an interesting diversion.

All of these films are available on Netflix.
A favorite Shakespearean Passage:  Jacques’ speech in As You Like It, Act 2 Scene 7:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puling in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. last scene of all,
That ends this strange, eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Jacques can seem such a downer in such a joyous play, but he is spot on with his observations.    Act 2 ends soon after those lines, but the beginning of Act 3 has these lines from the love-sick Orlando:

Hang there, my verse, in witness of my love;
And thou thrice-crowned queen of night, survey
With thy chaste eye, from the pale sphere above,
Thy huntress’ name that my full life doth sway.
O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I’ll character
That every eye which in this forest looks
Shall see thy virtue witnessed everywhere.
Run, run Orlando; carve on every tree
The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she!

And such is life: frivolity and wisdom, the good and the sad, love and death, the inevitable.  It makes me smile.
My Best Bard Memorabilia:   I had a button with a likeness of Shakespeare on it. It read “Will Power”.   I bought it in Stratford on Avon in 1980.   I still had it last summer when I saw the RSC perform and wore it to the performances I attended.   I tried to find it yesterday, hoping to snap a photo of it for this post.   Can’t seem to recall where I last left it.
This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is S. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

Pretty Little Tiny Kickshaws

It’s been awhile since I picked up Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary and, when I got it in my head to look at it this morning, my search led me into a massive reorganization of a few bookcases, leading me to once again ponder: Is there such a thing as too many books?

I didn’t ponder for too long, though, I now have one reorganized bookcase and several more stacks around the house awaiting me to continue this project tomorrow. But, Johnson’s Dictionary was found and provided a bit of a respite from the dust in my bookcases.

If you don’t know Johnson’s work, but only know of it, you need to get your hands on a copy. It is fascinating reading. Coleridge called it a “most instructive and entertaining book” and I couldn’t agree more. Lord Macaulay is also quoted in the introduction to the edition I own (1) as stating that it is “the first dictionary which could be read with pleasure. The definitions show so much acuteness of thought and command of language, and the passages quoted from poets, divines and philosophers are so skillfully selected, that a leisure hour may always be very agreeably spent in turning over the pages.” I won’t fess up how much time I spent with dear Johnson’s dictionary today, but let it suffice to say that I might have made more progress on my bookcases had I not thumbed through as many pages as I did.

One of the things that makes Johnson’s Dictionary so entertaining to read are the quotations used as examples of the definitions.   By far the most quoted author was Shakespeare, who Johnson said was useful for “the diction of common life”.  So, in keeping with the A to Z challenge — and because April is the month of Shakespeare’s birth & death — here are a few words beginning with the letter ‘K‘  which use the Bard’s word as examples.

Stacks and stacks and stacks....

ken n.s, [from the verb.]
View; reach of sight.

Lo! within a ken, our army lies. ~ Henry IV.

When from the mountain top
Pisanio shew’d thee,

Thou wast within a ken. ~ Cymbeline

kern n.s. [an Irish word.]
Irish foot soldier; an Irish boor.

No sooner justice had with valour arm’d,
Compell’d these skipping kerns to trust their heels,
But the Norweyan lord, surveying advantage,
Began a fresh assault. ~ MacBeth

Kickshaw n.s. [This word is supposed, I think with truth, to be only a corruption of quelque chose, something; yet Milton seems to have understood it otherwise; for he writes it kickshoe, and seems to think it used in contempt of dancing.]

1. something uncommon; fantastical; something ridiculous.

2. A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.

Some pigeons, a couple of short-legged hens,
a joint of mutton, and any pretty little tiny kickshaws.
~ Henry IV.

Kicksy-wicksey n.s [from kick and wince.]
A made word in ridicule and disdain of a wife. Hanmer.

He wears his honor in a box, unseens,
That hugs his kicksy-wicksey here at home,
Spending his manly marrow in her arms. ~ All’s Well That Ends Well

kidney n.s [etymology unknown.]

2. Race; kind; in ludicrous langauge.

Think of that, a man of my kidney; think of that, that am as subject to heat as butter;
a man of continual dissolution and thaw.
~ Merry Wives of Windsor

kind n.s [cynne, Saxon.]

4. Nature; natural determination.

The skillful shepherd peel’d me certain wands,
And in the doing of the deed of kind,
He stuck them up before the fulsome ewes. ~ The Merchant of Venice

5. Manner; way.
Send me your prisoners with the speediest means,
Or you shall hear in such a kind from me
As will displease you.
~ Henry IV

kitchenwench n.s. [kitchen and wench.]
Scullion; maid employed to clean the instruments of cookery.

Laura to his lady was but a kitchenwench. ~ Romeo and Juliet

knowledge n.s. [from know]
2. Learning; illumination of the mind.

Ignorance is the curse of God,
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heav’n ~ 2 Henry IV

3. Skill in any thing.

Do but say to me what I should do,
That in your knowledge may by me be done,
And I am prest unto it. ~ Merchant of Venice

4. Acquaintance with any fact or person.

That is not forgot,
Which ne’er I did remember; to my knowledge
I never in my life did look on him. ~ Richard II

Kern, Kicksy-Wicksey, and Kitchenwench may no longer be the “diction of common life”, but it is still fun to read about them.

1.  Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, Selections from the 1755 work that defined the English Language, edited by Jack Lynch, published by Levenger Press, 2004.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is K. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

Its got a good beat & you can dance to it

Scene: Dick Clark, any day, the mid-60’s through the mid-70’s. You could have found me watching American Bandstand. I would sit in front of the TV, watching teens dance, observing their actions, studying their clothes, listening to the music, hoping to imbibe whatever it was that made one “cool”, something so unobtainable to me that I didn’t even know how to describe it. I suppose it is still that way: like jazz or pornography, you know it when you see it. But I can’t define it.

Rate-a-record was my favorite part of Bandstand. Two selected kids would listen to a record and then rate it. It was the part I was afraid to leave the room during commercial for fear that I would not return in time.

“Its got a good beat and you can dance to it”.

Yet, Rate-A-Record always disappointed on some level because I did not understand the opinions. In seeking “coolness”, I wanted to have the clues so that I too could rate records and know whether they were good or not, if they were worthy of some unknown-to-me, yet still subscribed to, teenage rating system. “It has a beat….”

I never learned to dance.

Sometimes, I think I feel the same way about performances that I attend. Last night, husband and I went to a chamber music concert. T knows far more about music than I would ever care to know. Yet, I enjoy going to hear music performed. After the first piece, he asked me whether I liked it. He went on to comment about how unusual a portion of the piece was for that type of music — let’s just say it was an adagio, or something like that, because it would have made as much sense if he used the word fettucini. My response could only be some equivalent of “It had a beat and …” I nodded my head and shrugged my shoulders.

At intermission, we stopped to talk to a professor I have known since I was 19. Frequently, we see him at this particular concert series, and we often exchange stories of what musical or theatrical events we have seen recently. Since this was the first concert of the season, it was the first time we had seen Bill since we went to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances in NYC last summer. “What did you think about the plays?” he asked. “I loved them” was my husband’s exuberant reply. But he quickly followed up with this: “But what do I know? I’m not a critic.”

In many ways, his response was much like mine was to him earlier regarding the violinist. But, whereas I simply said that I couldn’t discuss the music using his critical tools, it seemed to me, in retrospect, that he may have been apologizing for not having the equivalent theatrical and literary tools with which to assess. I could be wrong — we did not discuss it afterwards — but today I’m thinking about how often, as an audience member, it is easy to fall into a trap where we either only give the unsupported “I liked it” or we don’t comment at all because our experience seems less meaningful than that of a “real” critic.

How do you rate something if not on some internal continuum ranging from “Hate it” to “Love it”? I’m not talking about critical analysis but rather viewer — or listener — analysis. How do you talk about books, or theatre, or music, or art if it isn’t on how you respond to it?

I had intended to write about the plays I saw in New York last summer, but each time that I began to write, I felt that I couldn’t describe the experience in appropriate terms. I think what was stopping me was that I felt that I needed to do a critique of the performances. And I lacked the vocabulary and the expertise to do that. Besides, of the seven plays I saw, only two of them were not in their closing weeks. What was the point? It wasn’t as if I would be recommending these to someone who might choose to attend.

But maybe the point should be something else. It isn’t like the critics always review things in ways that are meaningful to me as an audience participant. Before we went to the RSC plays, we read several of the reviews. One that stands out was that King Lear was described as being a pretty good Lear for someone who hadn’t seen it before. What does that mean? Would I expect something different if I had seen Lear three or four times? Lear was the one play in the series I didn’t see. I knew when he returned from the theatre, because we had joked about the review, T would say that it was pretty good…for a beginner. The reality was that he still didn’t know what that reviewer had meant, but he did enjoy the performance. Likewise, I enjoyed the four RSC plays that I saw (Romeo & Juliet, As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Ceasar), and although I can tell you which was my least favorite was Julius Ceasar and that Romeo was my favorite — even though as a play I like As You Like It better — I don’t know that I can tell you why in any sort of way that isn’t outside of my experience. Maybe I can tell you something more that “Its got a good beat…” but, like any theatrical performance, it would be up to each person who sees it to know whether she can dance to it.

What I’m reading now

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief.
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O that she knew she were!
She speaks, yet she says nothing; what of that?
Her eye discourses, I will answer it.
I am too bold, ’tis not to me she speaks.
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What is her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eye in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

Not easy to read that and not think that one could ever write anything even close to lovely as that!

My Summer of Shakespeare (Part II)

My Summer of Shakespeare continues.

Summer of Shakespeare: This may be a picture of Will -- or not

Over the weekend, I read Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare, The World as Stage, and have Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare making its way towards the top of the reading stack. And this evening, I saw the second installment of the Globe Theatre’s cinema series. Tonight’s play was Henry IV, Part I, which I enjoyed very much, although I wish I had had the time to read the play before seeing it.

Bryson’s book isn’t going to win any awards for scholarship, but it is an entertaining read that condenses a lot of Shakespeare scholarship into a slim, readable volume aimed not at the scholar but at any person who will read or sees in performance Shakespeare’s work and wonder: Who was this genius that gave us some of the most endearing, amazing, beautiful works in the English language? Chapters in this book read more like a newsweekly article than an academic one, but one that, nevertheless, may make you think next time you hear someone pontificating about Shakespeare and the current Globe theater in London. (Hint: If they tell you it is an exact replica and your CrapDetector isn’t zinging off the scale, it is broken.) Mostly what Bryson presents is how little we know about Shakespeare.

It is because we have so much of Shakespeare’s work that we can appreciate how little we know of him as a person. If we had only his comedies, we would think him a frothy soul. If we had just the sonnets, he would be a man of darkest passions. From the selection of his other works, we might think him variously courtly, cerebral, metaphysical, melancholic, Machiavellian, neurotic, lighthearted, loving, and much more. Shakespeare was of course all these things — as a writer. We hardly know what he was as a person.

Of course, this brief quote, which appears at the end of the first short chapter, makes one wonder about the other blurb on the dust jacket which claims that Bryson gets to what matters most: the writer’s life. Bryson works to inform the reader that we don’t know much about anything about Shakespeare’s life. The CrapDetector is zinging – ignore that dust cover.

I know that many have built entire careers around Shakespeare and the so-called ‘problems’ with his life and work. Was someone else ‘Shakespeare’? Did others collaborate with him on his plays? Was he gay? Why did he leave his wife his second-best bed? Bryson writes that one would take 20 years at the rate of one work a day to read the body of work that is Shakespearean criticism. But this makes me wonder: does it really matter at all? I understand why — especially now when so little of anyone’s life can remain hidden — we want to know all that we can about a writer. But, if MacBeth was written by someone other than the person who penned Hamlet or Lear, or any of the histories, or comedies, would it make one bit of difference in how we experience and interpret those plays? I think that is precisely the point.

Next up in Summer of Shakespeare: Next week I head to NYC to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions at the Park Avenue Armory. I’m hoping to get a few of the plays read before I go. I can’t wait!

>Not sure why in the middle of winter I would decide to read something with summer in it’s title, other than to warm me.   Of course A Midsummer  Night’s Dream has little to do with summer, but much to do with merriment.   The opening lines always bring a smile: 

(Theseus) Now fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon:  but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame, or a dowager,
Long withering out a youn man’s revenue.

(Hippolyta) Four days will quickly steep themselves in night’
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.

   (Theseus) Go, Philostrate,
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments;
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth:
Turn melancholy forth to funerals;
The pale companion is not for our pomp.
Hippolyata, I woo’d thee with my sword,
And won the love, doing thee injuries;
But i will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph and with revelling. 

The back & forth between Theseus and Hippolyta — “It’s four long days”. “Four days is not long at all!” — is the kind of repartee that occurs between each of the couples throughout the play and, while representative, is not at all the best example from the work. But, what merriment there is throughout for the audience. It is fun to read (or re-read) this play — in midwinter January or midsummer June. I could write lots about this play, but my purpose today was not to critique. Reading Shakespeare was such a burden when I was a student, but what a pleasure it is now to read for no other reason than the sheer joy of it.