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

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On Being Written About and Through

When I was in graduate school studying the English and American novel, I had a fantasy. I imagined being a novelist myself. I idolized Joyce, Dickens, Beckett, Melville, Hawthorne, and short-story writers like Poe and Flannery O'Connor. My professors, who gave access to these authors' mysteries, seemed like priests. (This was at Notre Dame, by the way.) Because of this, nothing was more ego-flattering to me than to imagine a book of mine as the subject of scholarly scrutiny, a thing deemed worthy of mention in an academic journal or book, or of critical discussion in a seminar.

And now, it has happened! Yet not, overall, in a way that fulfills my grad student dreams.

Here's the story. I was accidentally Googling my name on the Internet, when I came across two references to  my fiction. The first concerned a novel I'd written

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Rambling Discourse on Shakespeare and the Tower of London

Last month was red poppy season, with countries on both sides of the Atlantic "celebrating" the centennial anniversary of the start of World War I. The most striking commemorative image was the monument to the slain at the Tower of London, where hundreds of thousands of ceramic flowers were placed to honor the British soldiers who died in the poppied fields of Flanders and on other WWI battlegrounds.

The poppies spilling from the dark Tower like a tide of blood brought to mind the number of bloody deaths that took place there during the Renaissance. Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, Jane Howard, Jane Grey, Robert Devereux, and Walter Raleigh took their axe strokes there, as did quite a few other hapless

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Creepy Poe and Creepy Shakespeare



This is a creepy time of year, what with Halloween and the Day of the Dead and Guy Fawkes Day, and even All Saints Day, which can seem kind of creepy to a Protestant. So I've decided to write a post about the creepiest American author, Edgar Allan Poe, and his connection to some of the creepier plays of Shakespeare.

This thought didn't descend on me out of thin air (which, by the way, is a Shakespeare quotation. "Into thin air" is, I mean). Nay. The idea came to me as I was rereading Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" in my middle-schooler's horrible

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Best Names for Bands, Courtesy of the Bard


Each year I hold a competition for the students in my Shakespeare seminar. I give a fabulous prize (usually a pack of Hamlet chewing gum; yes, there is such a thing, and worse things) to whoever can come up with the best essay-title that includes a quotation from Shakespeare. The essay itself can be F-quality. I just care about the title. This contest once inspired a paper about Macbeth, whose wife complains that he's "too full of the milk of human kindness," called "Got Milk of Human Kindness?" (Picture an ad showing medieval King Macbeth with a milk-stache.) Then there was my all-time favorite entry, an essay about As You Like It entitled, "When a Boy Playing a Girl Dressed Like a Boy Pretends To Be a Girl, with a Hey Nonny Hey Nonny Nonny Nonny No."
     Well. Reflecting on the success of this excellent competition gives me another notion. If essays can take their titles from Shakespeare, why can't bands? Why don't bands? Shakespeare's plays -- not to mention his sonnets -- offer numerous

Monday, September 1, 2014

How Not To Write Historical Fiction, Revisited

 So much historical fiction has been written since I last wrote about how not to write historical fiction that it's time to write more on the subject. This time I'll broaden my comments to include screenplays that should never have been written. Or, in any case, one such screenplay, namely, John Ridley's Twelve Years a Slave. For though Solomon Northup's nineteenth-century narrative of the same name was not a work of fiction, Ridley and director Steve McQueen went a long way toward turning it into one -- but not in a good way.

Now, make no mistake. As for Chewetel Ejiofor, featured in the photo above and on the left -- well, I would watch Chewetel Ejiofor reprogram his I-phone. That isn't to