In every day use
Film, TV star, singer, and entertainer Donald Glover, (stage name Childish Gambino) has put out a grim and troubling music video (This is America). What caught our attention was an article comparing the piece's multi layered messaging and overall complexity to Shakespeare, and the Bard's tendency to write on multiple levels about complex issues — graft, intolerance, cruelty amongst others. The article, from Heidi N. Moore writing for NBC news is well-written and thought provoking.
Beyond the references to Shakespeare, this video also reminds us of the different ways in which critics can make their points. Slate and The New Yorker choose writing (with embedded videos), while Art Insider chooses a deconstruction of the video with voice over and words and diagrams overlayed on the video. Both approaches work well, but Art Insider's approach seems to us slightly more effective overall. Judge for yourself!
Guardian columnist William Keegan deftly suggests that Shakespeare would have voted for England to stay in the European Union, largely on the basis of all the plays that Shakespeare admiringly set in Europe — chiefly, of course, Italy — Romeo and Juliet (Julite's balcony in modern day Verona pictured above), Othello, Merchant of Venice, to name just three. Of course, one could just as easily suggest that Shakespeare championed England as a standalone and defiant entity in a sea of European wars (The Henriad) — but on the day before his birthday, let's go with Keegan's view!
Our first post on commemorative stamps got us interested in how Shakespeare is represented on postage stamps. So we dug around, and found two things. First, from Hat Trick Designs and Marion Deuchars, this series of six stamps that came out in 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Shakespeare Company's founding. Starting at top left, here is the key to actors and plays respectively: David Tennant (Hamlet), Anthony Sher (The Tempest), Chuk Iwuji (Henry VI), Paul Scofield (King Lear), Sarah Kestelman (A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Ian McKellen and Francesca Annis (Romeo and Juliet).
From the same anniversary, and with the aid of illustrator Rebecca Sutherland, a set of four stamps, in a very different style, showing the four Stratford on Avon theaters. The actors are harder to identify, but we think they are, from top left and going clockwise: Francesca Annis, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Judy Dench.
Hal 9000 — one of the most memorable "computer voice" in modern film history, the device that goes berserk, only to be outsmarted by astronaut David Bowman. Behind the voice, the seasoned Shakespearean actor Douglas Rain, who brought an eery, knowing, and menacing calm to the voice, and reminding us of our potentially fraught relationship with computers. This is a great New York Times article on several levels, and very much worth reading.
Ian Doescher scored quite a hit several years ago by creating a Elizabethan parody of the Star Wars films (more or less every title tacking "etc" to the end of a word or two and giving it a Shakespearean language veneer). With six tomes under his belt, the next in the series is due out July 7, as announced by Star Wars website. Whatever its limitations in terms of introducing readers to Shakespeare's language, it does certainly convey the rhythm and affect of Shakespeare's work, and can surely only help for students who struggle to understand his language.
In this nicely done two minute video, English comedian Rob Brydon runs through some phrases that are in the English language today, that were coined by Shakespeare. How many? By our count, 61. How many do you know? Watch and find out!
One of the sadder Shakespeare related stories from recent history. Shakespeare (indirectly) caused an air crash in 1960. A plane taking off from Logan Airport in Boston was brought down by a flock of starlings. The Shakespeare connection? Starlings are not native to the US, but were brought over by Shakespeare fanatic Eugene Schieffelin in 1860, so that Central Park would be stocked by every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. For more on the story, read a New York Times archive story, and a wikipedia entry on the events surrounding the actual crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 375.
This is a two year old summary video by the New York Times, but it is really good. It examines Shakespeare's pervasive influence throughout our high and low culture, and manages neither to sneer nor fawn in the process. Well worth three minutes, and a great primer for classroom discussion. It includes references to The Simpsons, Different Strokes, Star Wars, The Muppets, Sesame Street, Star Trek, Iron Man, A Fish Called Wanda, Die Hard, The Terminator, The Postman, Lion King, Empire, Sons of Anarchy, House of Cards, Gilligan's Island, and performers such as David Bowie, Beyoncé, Styx, and…Bugs Bunny?
An unpleasant yet enduring sentiment, here on the side of a Manhattan bus in March 2018, and of course generated by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part II. Yet another confirmation point of Shakespeare's enduring insight into human obsessions.
In the classrooms we have visited over the last few years, we've noticed that Shakespearean insults, and software that generates "Shakespearean-style" insults seems to work well in capturing the imagination of younger students. We recently came across this amusing video of Siobhan Thompson deploying insults in a 21st century context. Cleverly done, and not too insulting…
Fans of Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder series should know about Upstart Crow. With the same writer (Ben Elton) and yes, the same slightly lowbrow (but gentle) sensibility, Upstart Crow stars English comic actor David Mitchell. With two seasons under its belt, and a third on its way, it offers an enjoyable peep inside Shakespeare's life. Sort of!
Always beneath the surface with Shakespeare's plays: how do 21st Century teachers handy the sometimes bawdy and violent imagery and language in Shakespeare? In Western Australia, principal Ted Kosicki feels that certain texts — including Romeo and Juliet — need to be reviewed, and possibly removed from the curriculum. A tricky subject, and also proof again of the value Shakespeare provides, by exciting discussion and thought.
China will recreate the playwright's family home / Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has signed an agreement with the Fuzhou Culture and Tourism Investment Company, permitting the building of a replica of Shakespeare's Stratford home in San Weng. Two other notable writers will be so honored, including Miguel de Cervantes, and Tang Xianzu — very roughly China's nearest equivalent to Shakespeare.