Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shakespeare and the Empty Nest

Shakespeare had something to say about every subject, though what he had to say was mediated through the voices of characters who were sometimes big liars. However, so insightful and articulate is even the worst Shakespearean character that striking thoughts about almost any subject can be found by sifting through Shakespeare's plays. Even thoughts about the dreaded empty nest.

Shakespeare and his Elizabethan contemporaries might have been puzzled by modern parents' sadness and trepidation when kids fly the coop heading for college, the Alaskan wilderness, or a six-person roach-infested-apartment share

Monday, June 1, 2015

Nostalgia (and Shakespeare)

To get older, which means to live, is to be increasingly beset by nostalgia. It's easier for kids, whose lives are constantly pushing them forward into new experiences -- from middle- to high-school classes and social life, from challenge to public challenge in the areas of sports, or art, or intellectual endeavor. These changes distract them from the things they're leaving behind. They also really don't have that much behind them yet. This is why it seems odd to my Shakespeare students that Prospero asks his fifteen-year-old daughter to look into the "dark backward and abysm of time" to recall her toddler-hood. "That was only twelve years ago!," they say. I shrug. "Well, it's all the time she's ever known. It probably seems like an abysm to her."

Part of the reason I can see Miranda's twelve years as an abysm (I believe Shakespeare invented that word) is that I myself have been nostalgic since I was old enough to have a memory. When I was three I missed being two. I never wanted to get one minute older than I was, not at ten, not at eight, not at seven. I always knew that being a kid was better than anything to follow. It was a no-brainer. I remember Miss Bender, my third-grade teacher in Bronxville, New York, singing us the song about childhood from Babes in Toyland: "For once you pass those golden gates, you can never return again!" I think the whole class started to cry,

Friday, May 1, 2015

Shakespeare Read No Crap and So Should You

Let's pause at the outset to consider the grammar of my title. Admire, admire! Grammar's not everything, but it's the start of everything. Writing well begins with knowing how to write grammatically. Don't break the rules of grammar because you have no choice. Break them for some other reason (if you must).

Now you're expecting me to say Shakespeare wrote grammatically. The truth is, I don't know whether he did or not. The rules seem to have been a little different then, back in fifteen-ninety-something. There were fewer of them (rules). Shakespeare didn't even spell his own name the same way every time. He wrote, "Who does the wolf love?" because "whom" hadn't been invented yet, luckily for the Elizabethans. As for subject-verb agreement, forget about it. "These high wild hills and rough uneven ways / Draws out our miles." What's that, the more "s"s, the better? "Their encounters . . . hath been royally attorneyed." Hmm. Let's forget about "attorney" as a verb. It's "encounters hath" I find unsettling. I give it a big "nay," and I blame it on the printer. Then there's

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Shakespeare's Birthday Salute to Will, Cervantes, and Sancho Panza

It's Shakespeare's birthday again, and to celebrate, my students are taking a test on The Tempest. Lest they be less than enthused, when they finish it I will present them with "Shakespeare cookies," decorated with the faces of characters in the plays we have read this semester.

Here is Petruchio:

 And shrew Kate:

And The Tempest's Ariel.

I went with a basic frog-Caliban in forest green.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bold Plantagenet Director To Present Hamlet as a Renaissance Prince

 Kalamazoo Community Playhouse director Jerry Eaton is all about pushing the envelope. This man of the theater -- whom DNA evidence has shown to be a twenty-sixth cousin to Richard Plantagenet, or King Richard III  -- was the driving force behind his company’s 2010 post-nuclear, dystopian Annie, 2012’s all-female La Cage Aux Folles, and the controversial 2013 Arcadia Elementary School production of Full Metal Jacket. This time, however, he’s got Shakespeare companies from Chicago to New York sitting up and taking notice. 

He''s chosen to set Hamlet in late-sixteenth-century Denmark, and to cast a 30-year-old man in the title role.

“It took a while to convince the cast,” Eaton confesses. “When I sprang it on them at the first read-through, they were incredulous. Several stormed out. Our key actress had of course assumed she

Sunday, March 1, 2015

First Amendment Shakespeare

I've taught at four universities – two private, two public – over a period of almost thirty years, and during this time I've encountered some "liberal" humanities colleagues who are no more interested in freedom of speech than they are in the nocturnal habits of the African land snail. In fact, on a few occasions I’ve seen instructors take active steps, with an air of righteousness, to shut down, in their classrooms or at panel discussions, the expression of views unwelcome to them. Such teachers and scholars – with whose social and political opinions I often agree – can be vocal when describing how crucial the humanities are to the very existence of critical thinking and to the open sharing of ideas. Yet such behavior reveals that what they are truly committed to is

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Shakespeare Invented Your Name!

Hosts of BBC television programs about Shakespeare love to list words Shakespeare supposedly made up ("assassinate," "accommodation," "lonely," etc.). Sometimes these lists only show us that someone has not consulted his Oxford English Dictionary, because many of the "new" coinages actually appeared before Shakespeare used them. Likewise, many proverbs for which Shakespeare gets credit have the distinct ring of general use, like "He who is giddy thinks the world turns 'round," which is said by a snide bride in The Taming of the Shrew.  Probably the only reason we know this saying, or that some of us do, is that Shakespeare stuck it into a soon-to-be-famous scene, but it sure sounds like it was a common proverb. And it's a pretty good one, except for the fact that the world actually does turn 'round, so he who is giddy would be right, at least in this instance -- though most Elizabethans