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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Welcome Yule!

I Salute You:
There is nothing I can give you which you have not.
But there is much, while I cannot give, you can take.
No Heaven can come to us, unless our Hearts find rest in it Today:
Take Heaven.
No Peace lies in the Future, which is not hidden in this Present instant:
Take Peace.
The gloom of the World is but a Shadow,
Behind it, yet within our reach, is Joy:
Take Joy.
And so, at this Christmas Time, I greet you with the Prayer
That for you, Now and Forever, the Day breaks, and the Shadows flee away.

from Fra Giovanni's, Salutation to a Friend - 1513
Mar. Some saye, that ever 'gainst that Season comes
Wherein our Saviors Birth is celebrated,
The Bird of Dawning singeth all night long:
And then (they say) no Spirit can walke abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no Planets strike,
No Faiery takes, nor Witch hath power to Charme:
So hallow'd and so gracious is the Time.
Hor. So have I heard, and do in part beleeve it.

The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke 1.1.158-65

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pocket Posh William Shakespeare: A stocking stuffer whose time has come!

pocket posh william shakespeare
Pocket Posh® William Shakespeare: 100 Puzzles and Quizzes' by The Puzzle Society is published by Andrews McMeel.

Crossword lover? Like wordsearches? And Shakespeare too? Then you'll really like pocket posh william shakespeare from Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Measuring in at just 6in. X 4in., this little book is chock-full of crossword puzzles, code crackers, and word searches with Shakespearean connections. But here's the thing that's great about it: The "shakespeare parts" are expertly woven into puzzles employing clues for words mere mortals will have no trouble with. Many times, Shakespearean references 'reveal' themselves with work on the rest of the puzzle. So you don't have to be an expert on Shakespeare to have fun with this book. (However, when you're finished with it you just might well be on your way.)

For all of you English teachers -- I can see how pocket posh william shakespeare might easily be used in a classroom setting to have fun and also help familiarize students with Shakespeare's characters and plays.

I gave a copy of pocket posh shakespeare as a gift to an avid crossword puzzler who, upon opening the book for the first time, spent at least a couple of hours doing puzzles without stopping--it's kind of infectious that way.

For it's very small size, pocket posh william shakespeare is a very big book of puzzles; easy to carry with you wherever you go, and a perfect stocking stuffer for the general puzzle enthusiast and lover of Shakespeare alike.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

by James Shapiro
2010 Simon & Schuster Publishing

When I received a message from the publishers at Simon & Schuster last week, asking if I'd be interested in reviewing Contested Will, (now out in paperback) the one word that kept sounding over and over in my mind was 'timely'. As anyone who might be interested enough to read this account (or anyone who watches television for that matter) will know, this past weekend saw the blossoming of a mighty advertising campaign come to fruition in the grand opening of a film entitled: "Anonymous". Emblazoned in white on black on its billboard, in letters half as large as its title is the message: "Was Shakespeare A Fraud?". I think no other discussion is necessary in attempts to ferret-out the intentions of those responsible for the poster. One thing's for sure: they're not peeking out from behind it. (It should be pointed out that the movie "Anonymous" is nowhere referenced in Contested Will, although Shapiro continues to make known his opinions of its possible negative effects in the educational community.)

I have come late--by choice--to the 'Authorship Debate'. Previously, the only serious consideration I was willing to give the issue was in thinking it to be a terrific waste of time; time that might otherwise be much more productively spent discovering more about The Works themselves, rather than fruitlessly conjecturing about the personal life (or, in this case, lives) of who might have written them--approximately 70 or so to date--put forth as candidates by anti-Shakespeareans. By saying that I avoided the issue, I don't mean that I know nothing about it--just that I have, up to this point, refused to devote any serious time to the "debate". Others, both more and less scholarly than myself, seem to have had feelings similar to my own. James Shapiro has sounded the alarm to 'we ostriches' in his prologue to Contested Will:

"There yet remains one subject walled off from serious study by Shakespeare scholars: the authorship question. More than one fellow Shakespearean was disheartened to learn that I was committing my energies to it, as if somehow I was wasting my time and talent, or worse, at risk of going over to the dark side. I became increasingly interested in why this subject remains virtually taboo in academic circles, as well as in the consequences of this collective silence. One thing is certain: the decision by professors to all but ignore the authorship question hasn't made it disappear. If anything, more people are drawn to it than ever."
(emphasis mine)

The ramifications of casually dismissing the issue--and those who so zealously pursue it-- are brought home in Shapiro's account of meeting with a group of nine year olds at an elementary school to discuss the poetry of Shakespeare. Upon asking if anyone had questions...

"...a quiet boy on my left raised his hand and said: 'My brother told me that Shakespeare didn't write Romeo and Juliet. Is that true?' "

Oxfordian blogger William Ray writes about the film, Anonymous: "This is one of the few instances where the artistic community is going to revolutionize the Western world's educational system." (source-Wikipedia)

As an educator, such crowing about fictionalized 'history' and 'facts' is, to say the least, disturbing to me. Enter, James Shapiro and Contested Will.

Much of Contested Will reads like a detective story, its focus on today's most prominent leading candidates for anti-Shakespeareans, Sir Francis Bacon (Baconians) and hero of the above-mentioned film, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, (Oxfordians). Those refusing to jump on the bandwagon of any of these anti-Shakespearean theorists, in other words those more willing to depend upon scant but concrete evidence--and not autobiographical fantasy-- that Shakespeare of Stratford did indeed write the works which bear his name, have been dubbed "Stratfordians" by the nay-sayers.

Since the 1800s, much time has been devoted by anti-Shakespeareans to positing theories about 'who' might have written the works. However, Shapiro's interest turns not on the 'what' doubters of William Shakespeare of Stratford have thought, but on the particulars of the 'why' they have thought it, and continue to think it. And he's not afraid to suggest that some of the blame can be left at the feet of worshippers of Shakespeare; 'Bardolators' who, like Oxfordians or Baconians, have attempted to see every move of an author's life as motive to somehow encode his or her personal life experiences and feelings in the Works themselves. Shapiro cautions against the modern idea that ultimately, an author must have experienced, first hand, what he or she writes about.

This also happens to be the starting point and basis of ALL anti-Shakespearean claims: The man from Stratford, a glover's son without a college degree and lacking in the high-born fortune requisite to being a courtier and world traveler could not have possibly written such great theatrical works. All access to books, previous great works--many of which Shakespeare's plays borrow from directly--and the fact that Shakespeare was an actor and shareholder in the company that produced the plays--among many, many other facts Shapiro lists in Shakespeare's defence, seem not to matter to those who seem so willing to zealously embrace negative theory. Shapiro also argues quite successfully against underestimating the power of the imagination; of how life can, but does not necessarily, directly inform art.

In addition to impressive research, it is the psychology of why that Shapiro has thoroughly investigated in Contested Will. The whys are both revealing and surprising in the fealty they seemingly generate from nothing but negativity; that is, until the common ground all of the proponents share is revealed by Shapiro. He promises in his prologue:

"The following pages retrace a path strewn with a great deal [of] fabricated documents, embellished lives, concealed identity, pseudonymous authorship, contested evidence, bald-faced deception, and a failure to grasp what could not be imagined."
It is highly ironic to me that those who wish to dismiss the imagination of Shakespeare are themselves possessors of what can only be described as very healthy imaginations, grounded in the fertile soil of what can many times be described as high-flown fantasy. Shapiro more than ably--and fairly-- supports that idea in his book.

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? is not only highly recommended reading; in my estimation, the modern methodology of the advancement of anti-Shakespearean theory makes it important reading. You can look for more to come on this blog regarding James Shapiro. As an educator myself, I'd now be remiss in not closely following both this issue and Professor Shapiro's subsequent thoughts on it. JM

--James Shapiro is the Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.--

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guest Post: No Sweat Shakespeare

Having recently made the acquaintance of the folks over at the educational website No Sweat Shakespeare, we decided that it might be a good thing to exchange ideas and thoughts in the form of some guest posts. For those of you who don't know their website, let me just say that it's not only a 'blog' (in fact, I believe the blog to be one of its newer components) it's also a full-fledged website full of ideas for learning and teaching Shakespeare that's been around for seven years or so. No Sweat Shakespeare is shepherded by London-based John and Warren King. John's dad, Warren, was an English teacher and Shakespeare expert in the UK for 35 years. I'd advise anyone interested in most aspects regarding our man Will Shakespeare to check out their site--there's something for everyone. Without further ado, what follows is, in my opinion, a great tool for teachers of the Bard; a way to make Shakespeare Live.
Thanks Guys. JM

A Shakespeare Lesson For Teachers
By Warren King

One of the most common tasks English teachers are confronted with is to teach a Shakespeare text. The question, particularly for a teacher new to it, is how to approach it.

The last twenty years have seen a revolution in the teaching of Shakespeare in schools. Before that teachers had been trained to regard a Shakespeare text as a literary document and to teach it in a strictly academic way. It was a common cry of students that ‘Shakespeare is boring’ or ‘I can’t understand it’, or ‘It’s written in old English with a lot of thees and thous.’
Shakespeare’s language was generally regarded as a barrier that prevented most students from access to the wonderful things contained in the text and it was the job of a teacher to decipher it for them..

All that has changed as a result of the development of Shakespeare teaching methods. Teachers now look at a Shakespeare play, not as a literary text, but as a pointer to the fun and actions and emotions of a group of characters involved with each other in a life experience. That change in attitude has led to an exploration of how teachers may use active methods, bringing the language to life, rather than giving line by line explanations.

Take Macbeth’s ‘soliloquy, ‘If it were done when ‘tis done,’ at the beginning of Act 1 Scene 7. Teachers will not only want students to understand what he is saying there but also how the themes of the play are reflected in the passage and, above all, what kind of person is saying these things. There is a simple, fun way of doing that.

Student desks should be moved out of the way, or students could be taken into a cleared space such as a hall or gym or drama studio. Students stand in a circle with copies of the soliloquy and follow as the teacher reads it. At this point students will probably not make anything of it. The teacher then tells them she is going to read it again and every time there is any word or phrase that suggests any physical activity the students should speak that word or phrase with her as she reads. That process can be repeated until all the students are speaking those bits of language with her. They will then be joining in with such things as ‘’assassination,’ ‘trammel up,’ ‘catch,’ ‘blow,’ ‘jump,’ ‘teach,’ ‘shut the door,’ ‘bear the knife,’ ‘plead,’ ‘taking off,’ ‘striding the blast,’ ‘horsed,’ ‘drown,’ ‘prick the sides,’ ‘vaulting,’ ‘leaps,’ ‘falls,’ and so on.

Students will now see that there’s a lot of reference to physical activity, including the kind of sport and athletic activity that they are familiar with. The teacher now asks them to perform the actions each time. Students will soon be striking blows, jumping, leaping, striding, taking off, horse riding, vaulting, falling, and performing all the actions. They will be laughing and having fun. The teacher may draw two chalk lines on the floor and ask each student in turn to stand on the first and say ‘but here upon this bank and shoal of time….’ and jump to the second as they say ‘we’d jump the life to come.’ Students will naturally pause, take a deep breath and jump on the word, actually feeling the physical effort and the change in their breathing.

We now have the basis of a discussion. The teacher doesn’t have to explain anything: the students will tell her that this is a man of action, a sportsman. They will feel the strenuous breathing in the language, the muscular stretching, the desperation that is all there in the language. Macbeth is examining his own feelings about killing Duncan, setting out his arguments for and against, but strictly according to his own physical nature. And it is that physical nature – the man of action - that is the clue to his personality. They will have a perception of the violence that underscores his personality. His yearning and desire are all felt in the muscles of his body and students will understand that. The actual arguments, and therefore the surface meaning of the soliloquy will become apparent and there will be no need for the teacher to try and explain it.

An exercise like that will capture the students’ interest in further exploring the play. It could actually be their introduction to the play, the first lesson. They could be asked to talk about what kind of man this is, what he is planning, and they could be asked to construct a story from it. They will also see his reluctance to carry it out, and thus the tension. They will see how profound his ambition is and how even now he knows that he is an over-reacher and that his plan is doomed to ultimate failure. The teacher’s input will have to be nothing more than a few guiding comments. The language barrier will have evaporated.

Active methods are available in almost any passage in any Shakespeare text and if teachers apply their knowledge of a text to devising them students will remember that teacher for the rest of their lives and refer to her as a wonderful teacher.

By Warren King, Nosweatshakespeare.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

So Much For "Hey, It's Just a Movie!"

The title of this post is taken from James Shapiro's (author of Contested Will) Oct. 16 op-ed piece in the NY Times "Hollywood Dishonors the Bard". In it, Shapiro explores the push Anonymous director Roland Emmerich and Sony Pictures are making to influence school children and the educational community. New to this writer is the fact that Emmerich is also producing a documentary for distribution (Emmerich is President of First Folio Pictures--Ha!) in addition to "... the lesson plans that Sony Pictures has been distributing to literature and history teachers in the hope of convincing students that Shakespeare was a fraud."


What's beneath all of this, one wonders? Please allow me to say again, there's more to this than meets the eye. JM

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Not So "Anonymous"

In case anyone was wondering about the ultimate aims of the Oxfordian media machine, this just in:
Thanks to Will at I Love Shakespeare blog http://blog.iloveshakespeare.com/ , I came across this little bit of harmless marketing info: A pdf. http://www.ymiteacher.com/pdf/AnonymousHS.pdf

I was, of course, tempted to do some research.

The above link will take you to the website of Young Minds Inspired, a group which has as its aim the marketing of products to school children with their "educational welfare" in mind. I suggest exploring their site map for the full thrust of what it is that this corporation does. In short, the marketing group has sold ideas and products to school children for such companies as Dole, McDonalds, Pfizer, Kraft, Visa, etc., as well as major media firms, studios, and outlets, including Warner Bros., Miramax, and Fox. How do they do this? By providing free pdfs to educators, most of whom (possibly all) they state, are desperately in need of funding for educational materials to use in the classroom. According to a testimonial from one of their clients:

“YMI blows away its competitors. Their educators customize their lesson
plans to assure a high quality and credible learning experience for the
students, while subtly presenting my brands in a completely professional way. This is the strongest in-school program I have worked with in 15 years of marketing to kids.”

I had a little more to say several days ago about the possibility of this kind of 'branching out' messaging vis a vis the film's visibility, popularity, and marketing efforts on ShakespeareGeek's blog: http://blog.shakespearegeek.com/2011/09/how-should-we-deal-with-anonymous.html (First and among the closing comments of 30+). --Now this.

They want to help Educate Our Children about "Shakespeare" ?

You be the judge... JM

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King & Shakespeare: A Common Thread

One of my favorite quotes from Martin:

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

It's all either of them talked about, mostly--things that matter. They both live on through their words. Words that matter. JM

The Queen, My Lord, Is Much, Much Better!


Update: Jan. 18-- Just received word that this funny little film received its Northern Hemisphere preview a few days ago, at the Arisia Convention.

I meant to post this a long time ago. Anyone who knows Macbeth will get what this is all about from the title. In tidying up one of my email boxes I found one I didn't even know I'd lost. Some time back, I received the following message from the wife of a voice-over artist:

Dear Joe,

I think you might enjoy my husband's funny video about Shakespeare
plays, The Queen, My Lord, Is Much, Much Better

Here's the backstory: My husband, Bob Kuhn, is a voiceover actor. (It's an interesting job,something different every time. So far, probably the most prestigious gig was narrator for a National Geographic TV special. The weirdest was voicing a torture victim in a dungeon …)

Awhile ago, I suggested he create a recording of his longtime favorite
"party piece": a comic essay from the 1950s that imagines theatrical
sabotage by bit-part actors in British productions of Shakespeare plays.

(Given your background, I should mention that a teacher distributed the
published essay to his English class in high school, and Bob has loved
it ever since.)

Well, 3 months later, Bob’s labor of love is finished: an actual (if
short) movie! I may be just slightly biased when I say it’s a glorious
cross between SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and NOISES OFF, carried off kind of
magnificently in a mere 15 minutes.

Some funny stuff there. It certainly conjures up some interesting images in addition to the ones already there. And my sincere apologies to Darcy for not posting it sooner. JM

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Romeo & Juliet and Troilus & Cressida with Sir Peter Hall


Made to serve as an accompaniment to his book Shakespeare's Advice to the Players, this 42 Minute Audio, from Theatre Communications Group, finds Sir Peter instructing two young actors in what to look for in the musical sense already embedded in Shakespeare's verse. Although it's just a beginning compared to what's in the book itself, and the wealth of other specific knowledge to be gathered by closely investigating the text, it's well worth a listen- to. (If for nothing else, to selfishly help excuse my earlier possibly over-generalized ravings in "Shakespeare Transmogrified", and at other places on the net re: the importance of paying attention to the syllabic structure, musical notation, and the myriad of other textual clues in Shakespeare's work) ;)

The book, to say the least, is highly recommended, not unlike anything written by Peter Hall's partner, John Barton. As I noted in the previous post, this is what I believe to be a warranted reiteration and sharper focus on the audio from what's already on The Bard Blog. Just wanted to get it out where it might be noticed again after so long.

As Sir Peter is quick to point out, these clues are not just for actors; they can also contribute to a reader's greater understanding as well. JM

The Bard Blog; or, Gedaly, where are you?

In my opinion, one of the best educational blogs about Shakespeare on the net, and one of my favorites, "The Bard Blog" has ceased to function for almost a year now. One could always count on The Bard Blog for its concentration on important, enlightening aspects on understanding Shakespeare, relevant and timely books, articles, and seminal postings getting to the heart of the matter of interpreting the Bard.

The blogs owner and proprietor, Gedaly, known for his enthusiastic promotion of textual analysis via the performance aspects of Shakespeare's work, last posted Feb. of last year. I've been dropping by every so often anticipating his return but, no Gedaly. In fact, the post that is to follow this one was inspired by Gedaly's review of Shakespeare's Advice to the Players by Sir Peter Hall, an extremely important book on the Form embedded in the text which Shakespeare used to instruct his actors.

Here's hoping Gedaly's okay, has just been too busy acting and directing, and will soon return. I would advise anyone interested in learning more about Shakespeare to click on the links above for The Bard Blog. Thumb through some of the topics. You're in for a wealth of information. JM

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fleshing Out Shakespeare's People

We can talk all we want about "character"--and that's always enlightening. But to actually see, first hand, someone's vision of what a Shakespeare character might look like is a real treat. Shake the Sculpture dropped by the other day to comment on "Who Introduced You To Shakespeare?" (thanks) and so I decided to check out what the name meant.

There's some really interesting and great work going on over at their blog ShakeTheSculpture

Check it out. I'm waiting for Hamlet and Macbeth...among many others :)