WordPlay™ Shakespeare

Now, Half the Page is a Stage...

Interpretation

Against Expectations

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It's well known that in Shakespeare's era, young men played female roles (see
here, here, and here). So the circle seems to be coming around on the issue of gender roles on stage with a new production by Michelle Terry (artistic director at The Globe) where gender will play no role in making casting decisions — Ms. Terry will herself play the role of Hamlet. It's an interesting discussion, made perhaps more fraught by today's our own era's uneasy discussions about gender roles and stereotyping.

Gambino and the Bard - A Complex Performance

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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!

AMND, in ASL

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Great
news article out of Washington, on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, that will be co-produced in English and American Sign Language. Yet another barrier broken down.

Shylock -- Victim or Scoundrel?

Shylock

The classic "gotcha" Shakespeare question: "What is the Merchant of Venice's name?" — not, as many think, Shylock, but Antonio, which in itself indicates how Shylock has dominated our imagination about the meaning and nature of the play. But, as
this interview with Howard Jacobson (talking here in 2016 about his book Shylock Is My Name) reveals, what we think about the play — and Shylock — is extremely hard to pin down. Which reveals, yet again, the genius of Shakespeare…

Two Macbeths, No Praise

Macbeth RSC Eccleston

Hard on the heels of a favorable review of the latest RSC version of Macbeth, an altogether less kind review, which suggests that success in staging Macbeth is comparatively hard, as opposed to -- say -- Hamlet. An interesting comparison, and a thought provoking review. Two Macbeths currently in production — one at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the other at The National Theatre — get reviewed, and neither fares well

Take Note

Note Taking Tools
Shakespeare Magazine (now 13 issues old) works to bring all things Shakespeare to a broader audience. With varying degrees of success, they surface a number of issues surrounding Shakespeare's works. Another resource of possible interest to teachers, and here we highlight Amogha Sridhar's piece. We particularly like the image of a text, together with the annotation tools she uses to work on Shakespeare's texts - highlighters, pencil, eraser, and sharpener. All still necessary, even in an increasingly digital world.

Star Wars Shakespeare Parody Series to Continue

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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.

The Winter's Tale (II)


A three minute interview with director Erin Arbus. She discusses her vision of what Shakespeare may have been thinking and attempting to do with this play, written after his great tragedies had come out. Redemption? Forgiveness. memorialization on the fifteenth anniversary of his son Hamnet's death? Interesting and thoughtful.

The Winter's Tale

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The Winter's Tale, though of one Shakespeare's more obscure and less performed plays, also claims the dubious honor of "the gaudiest stage direction" in the canon: "Exit, pursued by bear". That's a pity, because the play is memorable for more than just that - for example, the bringing back to life of a dead character through the animation of a statue. The play is also sometimes characterized as one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", that is a play whose type is hard to categorize. It starts off as a dark drama filled with jealousy, fear, recrimination, and child abandonment, and yet works it's way into a "happily ever after" ending. Tragicomedy? Whatever the type, director Arin Arbus with the Theater for a New Audience, has put up an enjoyable version of the play, and well worth seeing if you are in Brooklyn and have an evening to spare!

Is This a Stick Figure I See Before Me?

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Shakespeare: profound, far reaching, capable of the deepest insights into the human soul, etc. So how could stick figure cartoons possibly capture even the smallest part of his oeuvre? Well, Good Tickle Brain somehow manages to do this, and more. For young students, this may possibly provide a helpful first step. Adults too, for that matter.

Alas, C3PO, I Knew Him, Luke

Annakin
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?

Speak the Speech...

26mag-26tip_CA0-master315The Royal Shakespeare provides many valuable educational resources. Here, Jacqui O'Hanlon, Director of the RSC's Education outreach group, provides some tips on how to memorize Shakespearean verse. Useful.

What's in a Production?

Montague...Romeo Montague
Between 1961 and 2010, The RSC put on sixteen different productions of Romeo and Juliet (including a 1973 production directed by Terry Hands, with Timothy Dalton as Romeo.) (Do they call him Montague…Romeo Montague?) The interactive timeline provides a great teaching resource, allowing teachers to compare and contrast different approaches to the same classic play.

Upstart Crow

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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!

An Embarrassment...

An Embarrassment
A harsh (and to some extent amusing) editorial piece on a 1928 production of Macbeth. The chief complaint is that the performance is set in modern (that is, circa 1928) dress, and that this impedes the understanding and enjoyment of the play. Shakespeare has come a long way in the last 90 years…

The Two Noble Kinsman

Jenna Burns
Shakespeare contests abound, and we love to see them pop up here in the US and abroad. This one caught our eye because of the winning passage, which came not from Hamlet, Othello, Henry V — but from The Two Boble Kinsman, certainly one of Shakespeare's least well-known and performed plays. So bravo to Jenna Burns for not only using a passage from that play…but winning with it as well!

Hail Caesar! (Part II)

JC at Bridge
Another very favorable review by Rebecca Mead at The New Yorker of Nicholas Hytner's production in London of Julius Caesar, and an interesting discussion about staging — in particular the use of audience members as part of the crowd

Hail Caesar!

JC at the NT
Another production of Julius Caesar, reflecting our growing preoccupation with demagoguery and the virtues and perils of republics and democracies gone awry. Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, David Calder, and David Morrisey all put in excellent performances, according to Guardian critic Michael Billington. The play is at the Bridge Theatre, an the set design has audience members be part of the mob.

Power to the People!

Film company takes Shakespeare's Macbeth to the streets
An interesting approach to making a film of Macbeth, using both professionals, and local amateurs in the overall production process. The trailer for the actual movie (not yet out) looks intriguing, and the production's sentiment genuinely admirable. Nicely done, Screen Northants.

May I Misquote You?

Owen Wilson
Always fun to track down a misquoted quote. Here, the offending (and never-written-by-Shakespeare) quote is:
People usually are the happiest at home Writer Mark Fisher goes on to cite a real quote (from Henry V) which highlights how the initial sense of an Shakespearean phrase can often be the exact opposite of its actual meaning: "Men are merriest when they are from home", where "from" means "away", rather than "at".

How Do You Explain Probelms with the Indian Economy? Shakespeare (obviously!)

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Yet another indicator of Shakespeare's ubiquity: India's chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian, explains aspects of India's economic challenges by referencing who else, but The Bard (and Indian actor Sunny Deol).

A Titan Passes

John Barton

An absolute giant in the Shakespeare world has passed away. Read more about John Barton in his
obituary, and his Wikipedia page. To see him at his avuncular and incisive best, watch some of his work on Playing Shakespeare.

Fundamentally Dishonest, or Fundamentally Cautious?

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The discussion about trigger warnings lapped on to Cambridge's shores late last year, with the news that English literature students at Cambridge received trigger warnings about sexual violence and assault in regards to Titus Andronicus and Comedy of Errors. Professor Mary Beard and Cambridge Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director David Crilly reacted strongly against the move.

Permission to Speak

Equivocation
Michael Axel, right, as Shagspeare, performs alongside Emilty Cady, as Judith, in "Equivocation," a play that imagines a
scenario in which Shakespeare has been commissioned as a government propagandist.

Bend, Oregon's 2nd Street Theater put on an original production, "Equivocation", examining whether playwrights should write about contemporary events, whether in polemical opposition, or as propagandists. An interesting fact that emerges from this review: Shakespeare and his contemporaries were forbidden from writing about current events in their works.

Shakespeare's Globe Announces New Season Under New Director

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The new director of Shakespeare's Globe, Michelle Terry, sets the direction for the first season, with some tried and trusted plays, and some of Shakespeare's lesser known works.

Shakespeare, Xenophobia, and the Ghetto

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Superb essay by Stephen Greenblatt, very very worth reading. More.

Your Heartrate May Vary...

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Tom McCall, left, and Stefan Adegbola in Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Titus Andronicus.” “Pretty much every night there’s somebody who faints or is sick,” said Becky Loftus, the R.S.C.’s head of audience insight. “We want to see how the audience reacts physically to the production.” Credit Helen Maybanks/RSC

Does watching a production live, versus on a movie screen, engender a different physiological reaction? The RSC intends to find out. More.

Hamlet Around the Globe

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Stephen Greenblatt reviews Dominic Dromgool's new book describing taking Hamlet to every country in the world - Hamlet Globe to Globe.

Shakespeare at War

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Stephan Wolfert rehearsing his one-man show, “Cry Havoc!”
SARA KRULWICH / THE NEW YORK TIMES


A closer look at how Shakespeare makes sense of war, to veterans and those who have lost friends in war.

A Hofstra Hamlet that "Would Make Shakespeare Proud"

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Hofstra launches its 68th Annual Shakespeare Festival with a well received Hamlet. More.

Shakespeare in Love, versus Saving Private Ryan

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An enjoyable interview with Harvey Weinstein, explaining why Shakespeare in Love, beat out Saving Private Ryan at the Oscars. More.

A Titan Retires

Michael Kahn
Michael Kahn, a titanic figure in the Shakespeare and theater world, is retiring from his post as artistic director in the Shakespeare Theatre Company, in Washington, D.C. Key quote: "When I’m told I helped make Washington a theater town, that’s the thing I feel the best about,”. More.

Oh my...



It looks as if TNT will be releasing a "biopic" of young William Shakespeare. One hesitates to think what they will do with history…

For Shakespeare...Haters?

Shakespeare with a devil's horns, and an angel's halo
A seasoned (and quite amusing) Pittsburgh theater critic, Ted Hoover, cannot abide Shakespeare and his works. Among his pithier quotes on Studio 360: “If you had a lick of intelligence in your head , this play [Romeo and Juliet] wouldn’t happen. It only happens if you’re stupid.” Possibly... More. Oh, and NPR's Ira Glass also dislikes the bard…

It's Not Just Picard...

Michael Dorn Star Trek ActorMichael Dorn Star Trek Actor Worf
Michael Dorn (Worf in Star trek) is set to play Marc Antony.

The Limits of Technology

Visual representation of a Shakespeare set
A production photo of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s collaboration with Intel on “The Tempest.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY TOPHER MCGRILLIS / R.S.C.

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner reviews the RSC's production of the Tempest, and examines the limits of real-time computer effects blended with a live performance.

Cartoonish (New Mischief)

Cartoon of Tony Blair as Yorick
Starting next year, The RSC will display political cartoons influenced by Shakespeare. The influence runs deep, and long ("...an 1846 cartoon depicting the then prime minister Robert Peel's resignation as the fall of Caesar... [to]... Morten Morland's cartoon of David Cameron as Hamlet gazing at Boris Johnson's skull, from 2016"). More.

It's All Just Vector Space Mathematics to Me (Or Maybe Not...)

Monty Python, John Cleese
Fascinating (and a little over our head) article in MIT Technology Review about how computers may one day be able to detect sarcasm, and other subtle linguistic tricks. More.

Not Guilty!

Poster for The Trial of Hamlet, showing a skull in cartoon form

The Stage Design Was Quite Laconic...

Russian actor in strange headgear and dark glasses.
We can't say we fully (or even partially) understand this review of Taming of the Shrew by the Russian Kachalov Theatre, but in the spirit of acknowledging Shakespeare's global reach, we put it forward here. Opaque though the commentary may be, it certainly seems like a visually arresting production. More.

Analogy Lovers, Start Your Engines!

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The Guardian proposes that Leonard Cohen is to Bob Dylan, as John Donne was to Shakespeare. Discuss...More.

The More You Like Each Other, The Meaner You Can Be!

Photograph of David Oyelowo as Henry VI
Great interview with David Oyelowo, who plays Othello against Daniel Craig's Iago at The New York Theater Workshop starting November 22. More.

Shakespeare in Mandarin

Poster for a performnce of Shakespeare's Hamlet in Mandarin Chinese
Tremendous article in the Financial Times detailing the possibilities and pitfalls in translating Shakespeare's works into Mandarin. More.

Calling Dr. Spooner...

Poster for the One Ham Manlet Show
We here at The New Book Press can't resist the occasional Spoonerism. So, here 'tis! More.

Westworld and Shakespeare

Image of Abernathy in Westworld
Michael Crichton leaned heavily on Shakespeare's words when writing Westworld.  What does it all mean? More.

Tina Packer on Shakespeare and the Election Cycle

Photo of Director Tina Packer
Great radio piece on WBUR's Radio Boston (and the as-always excellent Meghna Chakrabarti) with Tina Packer addressing our current election discussion through Shakespeare's eyes. More.

Glenda Will Howl

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Celia Imrie and Glenda Jackson in a rehearsal of “King Lear” at the Old Vic. Credit Manuel Harlan.
After a quarter century absence, two time Oscar winner and former English member of parliament Glenda Jackson will return to the stage this Friday, to play one of the most challenging of Shakespeare's roles - King Lear. More.

Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet At 20

Still photo from Baz Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet with Clare Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonard DiCaprio and Claire Danes in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet
The Guardian re-reviews Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet on its 20th anniversary. More.

Hag-Seed; Margaret Atwood Retells The Tempest

Graphic illustrating review of Margaret Attwood's book. Man sits indoors as woman looks inside.
A solid review of Margaret Atwood's retelling and reinterpreting of The Tempest. More.

Welles, O'Toole, Wheldon and Milton Discuss Hamlet



A fascinating discussion about playing Hamlet from a 1963
BBC TV program (or programme, as you like it). It's a peculiarly chaotic interview, with everyone talking over each other, Wheldon (the host), not controlling the discussion at all, and some fairly poor camera work. However, it's worth listening to what Welles, O'Toole, and Milton are saying. They're thoughtful, humorous, and in their own separate ways, deeply in tune with Shakespeare's masterpiece.