Thursday, November 5, 2015

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November . . .

 October 31st through November 5th is a spooky almost-week, encompassing Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day (or the Day of the Dead), and Guy Fawkes Day, which is November 5th. Since non-English people may not know about Guy Fawkes Day (also known in England as Bonfire Night), let me explain that it was the day scheduled by twelve disaffected Catholic gentlemen for the blowing up of the House of Lords at oh, say about 9 a.m., back in 1605. They had lots of gunpowder, and came close to doing it, but the plan fizzled.

What was their motive? And how did they fail? More to the point, how did they come so close to succeeding? And most importantly -- was Shakespeare secretly in league with them?

You'll get some amazing answers to those questions in my forthcoming novel, Gunpowder Percy. Will Shakespeare is the least of its cast of characters, which includes Guido Fawkes (the guy himself, pictured above left), the playwright Ben Jonson, the iron-willed and feisty gentlewomen Anne and Eliza Vaux, mad

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cumberbitches and Benedictines Flock to the Cinema for HAMLET

Why not the deerstalker cap? That was my thought when Cumberbatch, in his first "Hamlet pretends to be mad" scene, marched across the on-screen stage in a tin soldier costume that included a towering drum major's hat. That hat was great, but, given that Hamlet is the ultimate detective, probing the secret of his father's murder, not getting Benedict to sport the Holmes headgear featured so amusingly in the brilliantly updated TV series Sherlock was a wasted opportunity. I decided director Lyndsey Turner must have begged Cumberbatch to do it and Cumberbatch simply refused. If so, I understand.

But  those who didn't see the British National Theatre's live-streamed* Hamlet will want to know not what hat the Benedict wore, but whether he was any good. Did he embarrass himself? Should some stars just stay away from Shakespeare?

Well, yes, some stars should just stay away from Shakespeare (perhaps the subject of another post). But Benedict Cumberbatch is not one of those. In fact, his was one of the two most brilliant portrayals of Hamlet I've seen.

That the second in that group was David Tennant's, in a 2012 production, might indicate my preference for newer approaches to the role, but it doesn't mean I'm not

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Will's Will

Lately I've been thinking about investments, and because these turned out pretty well for William Shakespeare, I've been wondering, WWWD -- What Would William Do in today's markets? Of course, I have no idea, though I'd like to think he would sign up for one of those expensive weekend seminars that use his plays to instruct people in making fiscally savvy business decisions (see my post on this, "Shakespeare Profiteers Make Out Like Bandits!," below). I also hope he'd use a chunk of his earnings to contribute heavily to the arts, and to various charities like Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF, but alas, all that we know of him suggests he kept as much of his money as he could for himself, though we do know he once loaned someone ten pounds, because he was careful to make a record of it.

Yes. As Katherine Duncan-Jones pointed out in her biographical work Ungentle Shakespeare, Shakespeare was a tightwad. In his Stratford barn, he hoarded grain to capitalize on times of bad harvest, and no evidence suggests that he was the type to stand his fellow players a round of drinks. There is of course no evidence to

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Shakespeare on Aging

One of the many insulting things about Facebook and Google is their personalized highlighting of geezer-oriented products and articles to folks whom their spy system has deduced are over 50. This would include me and my friends from high school and college. Most of my friends are better than I am at ignoring "EIGHTY-YEAR-OLD GRANDMA LOOKS 45!" and "Bronson Health Center. Your Choice for Congestive Heart Disease." I myself get annoyed, and tend to check the little box requesting no further ads from these sources. On the proffered list of reasons why one is offended by the ad, I always check "It's against my religion."

What does this have to do with Shakespeare?

Well, as followers of this blog know by now, all roads lead to and from Shakespeare. Will had a lot to say about everything, including aging. Some might think he had little right to comment on that topic, since he died when a mere babe of 52. "That time of year thou mayst in me behold / When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang" -- please! I know 50 was not the new 40 in 1616, but by most

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Famous Shakespeare Puzzles

     Well, "famous" is a relative term. Let's just say "famous among Shakespeare fanatics." What follows is a list of references to cruxes which have puzzled Shakespeare scholars, readers, and directors over the centuries. A crux is a disputed text: a passage of which there are different authentic versions, or which doesn't make sense and has prompted "corrections" as later editors have tried to arrive at the lines' intended meaning. I'm also using the word "crux" loosely enough to include other unexplained aspects of a play's dialogue. So, if that's nerdy enough for you, see if you can guess to which Shakespeare "problems" the following phrases refer. Answers at the bottom. Don't peek. If I knew how to type them upside down I would.

1.  O, o, o, o.
2. cousin Ferdinand
3. How did Brutus know she was dead?
4. Table of green fields
5. What happened to Sly?
6. Hamlet, did you mean "not not to stir without great argument"?
7. Antonio has a son?
8. Just a pretty long night in the woods
9.The Third Murderer
10.  Cassio's wife


come just after this festive set of images

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 by 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,