WordPlay™ Shakespeare

Now, Half the Page is a Stage...

Shakespeare's Relevance

Applied Shakespeare -- Which Plays Best Illuminate Our Current Political Climate?

Hiddleston-Coriolanus

Harvard Professor Stephen Greenblatt's new book "Tyrant", is out, and has received another smart review. While leveling a few criticisms, reviewer Charles McNulty praises the book for deftly suggesting which of Shakespeare's plays best help inform our current political climate. There are some genuinely interesting insights, and one is reminded yet again of the sheer depth of Shakespeare's insights into the human condition, in this case, around the idea of how we are ruled, and what drives our rulers. Read the article to see where McNulty thinks Greenblatt got things right, and where he thinks Greenblatt got things wrong.

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!

To Stay, or Not To Stay...

Juliet's Balcony

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!

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.

Spring is Sprung (Timing is Everything)

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A New York-centric post today. Did you know that a subset of the flowers in the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park (tulip, narcissus and fritillaria) are timed to bloom on April 23 -- Shakespeare's birthday? You do now! Read here for more.

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…

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.

Be Kind to the Tired, the Poor, the Hungry

Shakespeare Manuscript
Almost none of Shakespeare's handwriting survives today — mainly his signature on various legal documents. But this edited script from a play that Shakespeare had a hand in but did not write — The Book of Sir Thomas More — contains some of his handwriting. And what he has to say in it, says something about what Shakespeare believed about the fate of refugees, and mobs that would treat them poorly. A fascinating piece from NPR.

All Those in Favor, Say "Ides"

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It's that day of the year again, the dreaded (for Roman dictators at least)
Ides of March. Professor James Shapiro of Columbia University takes the opportunity to discuss Shakespeare's importance not just to America, but to New York City itself. And there are some great little stories in there.

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?

A Violent, but Alas Enduring Sentiment

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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.

Bard Behind Bars

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After the last few days of humorous posts, a more somber one to end the week. At many prisons across the United States, Shakespeare is used as a tool for educating inmates, and re-integrating them into communities. One of the older of these programs is Curt L. Tofteland's Shakespeare Behind Bars program in Kentucky, started in 1991. Their latest production: A Midsummer Night's Dream, a production which uniquely, requires theatergoers to undergo a background check and security clearance.

Don't Judge The Accent. Judge the Acting

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A great interview with Christopher Eccleston, an English actor perhaps best known for being the ninth doctor in the storied Dr. Who series. The interview has two great talking points — the fact that accents matter very little in performance (take note those who say that only the English can perform "true Shakespeare"), and also, now that it has been announced that the 13th Doctor Who will be a woman (Jodie Whittaker), that a time is coming when women can — and should — take on the great (traditionally male) roles in Shakespeare's plays. A very humane and thoughtful discussion. Eccleston will play Macbeth in a new RSC production opening in March.

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…

Age (In)appropriate?

Objections

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.

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).

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 in the News, Sort Of...

Et Tu, Banon?

Shakespeare: The Cure for Intellectual Lazyness?

Skull with Crown

(Simón Prades for The Washington Post/For The Washington Post)
A good (if not slightly harsh) review of modern perspectives on Shakespeare. Are we too timid with our productions? Is "relevance" overblown"? More.

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.

Now is the Winter of Our Discontent

Richard III
A very positive review of a play that resonates in today's political environment. More.

Analogy Lovers, Start Your Engines!

Image of Leonard Cohen wearing a bolo tie
The Guardian proposes that Leonard Cohen is to Bob Dylan, as John Donne was to Shakespeare. Discuss...More.

Comparing Hamilton to Henry IV, part 1.

Graphic of Hamilton as Henry V, with a castle as a backdrop
Isaac Butler, compares Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, with Shakespeare's Henry IV, part 1 -- (proper title: 1 Henry IV) in this complex but well reasoned piece for Slate. More.

Tina Packer on Shakespeare and the Election Cycle

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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.