Booking through Thursday

Okay, show of hands … who has read Shakespeare OUTSIDE of school required reading? Do you watch the plays? How about movies? Do you love him? Think he’s overrated?

I first read Shakespeare in 8th grade. We were assigned A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that was a smart move on the part of whomever made that decision. Thirteen-year-old me was ripe for a play about fairies and lovers. It was one of those interlinear versions with the original text on the left and a “translation” on the right. I loved it, though I frequently found myself thinking the “translation” was dumb.

In 9th grade, I was assigned Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. Again, genius job, people who decide 9th graders should read R&J. Because developmentally speaking, they are supremely relatable characters when you’re that age. JC wasn’t so great – I’ve never been big on the histories, and it just didn’t grab me. I think that while the language is what makes Shakespeare remarkable, it’s the stories that have to be the gateway for somebody new to Shakespeare. If you can get them with the stories, then they’ll get over the challenges of the language, and maybe even find the beauty. My senior year, we read Othello, another one that didn’t grab me, again because I couldn’t relate.

In college, I chose to take a Shakespeare class to fulfill my English requirement. I hated the class because it was mostly the professor reading aloud to us, and he had a gravelly, expressionless voice. I think the most important thing to know about Shakespeare’s plays is that they weren’t designed as great literature. They were intended to serve as popular entertainment. This is why I think the very best way to experience Shakespeare is to see it performed – either live or in a movie. I am lucky enough to have the means and opportunity to see Shakespeare regularly performed at Playmakers Repertory Company.

If you can’t get to a theater, movies are the next best thing. Here are my top 5 Shakespeare adaptations:

  1. Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh
  2. Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon
  3. Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Kenneth Branagh (not artistically brilliant, but a very fun time)
  4. Titus, directed by Julie Taymor
  5. The Merchant of Venice, directed by Michael Radford

And three honorable mentions:

  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Michael Hoffman
  2. Twelfth Night, directed by Trevor Nunn

Plus there’s a great recorded stage performance of Twelfth Night directed by Nicholas Hytner.

If you think you don’t like Shakespeare, try the Whedon Much Ado. It’s probably the most accessible Shakespeare adaptation on film. It grew out of Shakespeare readings that Joss Whedon used to have in his backyard. Inspired by him, I hosted two of these myself, gathering friends, assigning roles, and just reading aloud. It’s so much better that way than trying to imagine it all in your head. Not everybody there was a Shakespeare expert, but you don’t need to be. Try hosting your own reading and see how it goes.

tl;dr: I haven’t done much extracurricular Shakespeare reading, but I do love him; watch Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Edited to add: One more thing! I forgot to mention that if you can neither get to a theatre nor find a film adaptation, you should totally check out Manga Shakespeare. Having the plays illustrated in a cool manga style with the original text is the next best thing to actually getting to see actors perform it. Romeo and Juliet on the streets of Tokyo with katana fights? Yes please!

Edited to add, 2: I failed to mention Branagh’s Much Ado, which is what first set me in love with Beatrice. Because Emma Thompson is INCREDIBLE. Consider it to be #1.5 on my list of top 5 adaptations.

As I haven’t collected any links this week, I don’t have much for you today.

First: J. K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement My favorite thing about this speech is how many times she makes reference to her college Classics major, and the variety of quotes she uses from classical sources.  I was so fond of this, I sent it to my Latin teacher colleague, who has added it to her course website so her students can read it next year.  Our school did an event called May Fever, where 64 authors competed to be the school’s favorite.  Students and faculty made predictions and voted; the championship was between J. K. Rowling and Shakespeare – a Classicist and a Latin teacher.  Yay!  (Shakespeare won, against my prediction but to my delight.)

Next: I’m a big fan of etsy, a site which enables artists to sell their handmade goods online rather easily.  So I popped in the search term “literary” and here are my favorites of the items it turned up:

 My severest critic hand embroidered tote bag, $27 from shinyprettythings

This bag immediately made me think of Lisa Yee.

 Leather Shakespeare Memento Bookmarks, $5.50 each by immortallongings If you can’t get over to Shakespeare’s Globe, you can at least have a souvenir.  immortallongings creates original artwork based on Shakespeare and is one of my favorite etsy sellers.  All of the art is in a vaguely Art Nouveau style.

 And of course, I would be remiss without mentioning this shirt from the kidlitosphere’s own Leila of bookshelvesofdoom.  $19

That’s all for today!

Tomorrow is March 15, which on the Roman calendar was known as the Ides of
March. Now, the Ides are only on the 15th in March, May, July and
October. The rest of the year, they are on the 13th. But in March, they
are the 15, and it was on March 15, 44 B. C. (709 AUC, for those of you
using the Roman calendar) that Gaius Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times at
the foot of the statue of Pompey, his rival in the Civil War.

William Shakespeare was a Latin teacher before he was an actor or
playwright, and as such he was no doubt well-educated in Roman history. So
he had a lot of knowledge to draw on when he wrote his play, *Julius Caesar*.
Today, in honor/mourning of the death of a man who was at least very smart,
if not very nice, I give you selections from Shakespeare’s play.

Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of
death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to me
most strange that men should fear; * * Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.

– Act II, Scene 2.

I could be well mov’d if I were as you; If I could pray to move, prayers
would move me; But I am constant as the northern star, * * Of whose
true-fix’d and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament. The
skies are painted with unnumber’d sparks, They are all fire and every one
doth shine, * * But there’s but one in all doth hold his place: So, in the
world; ’tis furnish’d well with men, And men are flesh and blood, and
apprehensive; Yet in the number I do know but one * * That unassailable
holds on his rank, Unshak’d of motion: and that I am he, Let me a little
show it, even in this, That I was constant Cimber should be banish’d, * *

And constant do remain to keep him so.

– Act III, Scene 1

Welcome to Theatre Thursday!  Because plays are books too, I will be featuring each Thursday a play I’ve read that I think you should read.  After all, I got a degree in this stuff and it’s languishing.

So.  That’s the plan for Theatre Thursday.

On this fine Thursday I’m exhausted from too little sleep and a full day of work, so I’ll just give you a selection now and talk about why, later.

You should read William Shakespeare’s HAMLET.  Not just because it’s a classic, though that’s important.  But also because it’s a very SMART play, a very TIGHT play, and way better than most people would have you believe.

If, like many folks, you feel plays were meant to be watched and not read (and indeed this is true), then I strongly recommend the Kenneth Branagh HAMLET.  Because seriously?  All the others cut a lot of stuff out.  This is the only Hamlet movie with the WHOLE SCRIPT in it.  Yeah, it’s over 4 hours long.  But it’s 4 BRILLIANT hours.  And it’s out on DVD now, too.

We’ll talk more about why HAMLET is awesome another time.  For now, just take my word for it.  Here’s a quick snippet for you. 

Enter HAMLET, reading

O, give me leave:
How does my good Lord Hamlet?

Well, God-a-mercy.

Do you know me, my lord?

Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.

Not I, my lord.

Then I would you were so honest a man.

Honest, my lord!

Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be
one man picked out of ten thousand.

That’s very true, my lord.

For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a
god kissing carrion,–Have you a daughter?

I have, my lord.

Let her not walk i’ the sun: conception is a
blessing: but not as your daughter may conceive.
Friend, look to ‘t.

[Aside] How say you by that? Still harping on my
daughter: yet he knew me not at first; he said I
was a fishmonger: he is far gone, far gone: and
truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for
love; very near this. I’ll speak to him again.
What do you read, my lord?

Words, words, words.

What is the matter, my lord?

Between who?

I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.

Slanders, sir: for the satirical rogue says here
that old men have grey beards, that their faces are
wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and
plum-tree gum and that they have a plentiful lack of
wit, together with most weak hams: all which, sir,
though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet
I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down, for
yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if like a crab
you could go backward.

[Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method
in ‘t. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?

Into my grave.

Indeed, that is out o’ the air.


How pregnant sometimes his replies are! a happiness
that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity
could not so prosperously be delivered of. I will
leave him, and suddenly contrive the means of
meeting between him and my daughter.–My honourable
lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.

You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will
more willingly part withal: except my life, except
my life, except my life.

In honor of Script Frenzy, I’m posting some soliloquies from my favorite scriptwriter – Wm Shakespeare.  He was a Taurus, you know.

First, from Hamlet II.2:

O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann’d,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
For Hecuba!
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing; no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn’d defeat was made. Am I a coward?
Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i’ the throat,
As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?
‘Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave’s offal: bloody, bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!

From The Tempest I.1

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

From As You Like It II.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.

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.1
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

For my inaugural Poetry Friday post, I am using one of my favorite poems.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
with what I most enjoy contented least,
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee and then my state
Like to the lark at break of day arising
Sings hymns at heaven’s gate.
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

(The punctuation is incorrect because I typed it from memory.  I then checked it against the official punctuation but I was so proud of myself for typing it from memory that I couldn’t bear to correct it.)

Why I Love This Poem:
Because it shows that even when life is at its worst, maybe somebody loves you and that makes it better a little.  I find it makes it better a lot.

More Stuff About This Poem:
When I teach my students about meter in poetry, I use this as an example of iambic pentameter aka the natural English meter (as opposed to, say, Latin or Greek meter).  I recite it with ridiculous emphasis on the meter, and then also more naturally.  They vary from frightened to awed.  I guess those two things aren’t that far apart, though, are they?

I hope it’s germane to write at length about one’s choice for Poetry Friday.  If it’s not, I’ll probably keep doing it anyway.  Sorry, internet.