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

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Trigger Warnings for a Tragic Syllabus


USA Today 4/6/12:  This branch of the University of California's student government unanimously passed a resolution in support of trigger warnings on syllabi earlier this year. Although the resolution still doesn't require [the warnings] to be placed on syllabi, [the resolution] shows that the student body supports professors using these warnings on material that could be upsetting."  -- USA Today, April 6, 2014

Well, okay. Here's my revised syllabus for my fall, 2014, section of "Tragic Drama," now retitled:

SCARY OLD PLAYS
The following warnings are in place for students who have not played a video game, seen the evening news or an action movie, or read a work of fiction at any point before this, their freshman year of college.
 Week 1. Euripides, Medea. Students are warned that the text and clips of televised

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Grief, Madness, Repetition

"Horror! Horror! Horror!"  
            "Words, words, words."
    "Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!"                                 

Ever wonder what's going on when characters in Shakespeare simply repeat themselves? It is after all surprising when the greatest writer in the English language gets respect for lines like this:

          "O do de do de do de. . . . O do de de."

          "O, o, o, o!"

           "O horrible, o horrible, most horrible!"

To us such constructions seem wordy, and sometimes incomprehensible. I know you're in dire straits, Tom O'Bedlam, but would not one "Do de do" have served the purpose? And my English teachers always told me, correctly, I think, that intensifiers paradoxically weakened the force of assertions, to the point that I now spend my

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Edward Gero, Stacy Keach, and Rolling Thunder in DC

Friday afternoon at rush hour on Memorial Day weekend I thought it would be smart to head for the Beltway alongside 70,000 bikers bound for the annual Rolling Thunder event in Washington, D.C. It was a beautiful day, and I had time to enjoy it during the minutes I spent sitting semi-stationary on I-70 with my engine turned off, listening to the low rumblings of motorcyclists weaving through the parked cars and zipping by on the shoulder. At last I got to Arlington, where I stayed with a friend, and the next morning spent only fifteen minutes immobile in traffic on Memorial Bridge on my way to Washington and the Shakespeare Theatre. (A note to all U.S.