W.S. “Klings” to Popularity

September 23, 2010

Just when you thought Hamlet had ceased to be reinvented, the Washington Shakespeare Company has once again, in the words of a press release, “turned Shakespeare on its ear”. The clip below gives you a taste of what you might see if you visit the D.C. metro area theatre company this Saturday, Sept. 25:

That’s right: this weekend, WSC will feature “By Any Other Name: An Evening of Shakespeare in Klingon.”

Coincidence? Not exactly.

Marc Okrand, the current president of the board at WSC, is the linguist responsible for the creation of Klingon, the language of a fictional race of warriors in the Star Trek series.

As Okrand said, “Given WSC’s creative approach to Shakespeare, performing scenes in Klingon struck me as something obvious to try. The upcoming celebration of WSC’s 21st season presents a great opportunity to pull these elements together in typical WSC fashion – and to offer an evening that’s both serious and fun.”

Serious and fun does seem like an apt description, and one well-suited for the repertoire at WSC. The Arlington, Va. theatre company is known for its innovative and provocative presentations of classic theater, including an all-female Taming of the Shrew and a nude Macbeth.

What can I say?

I’m still waiting to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in elvish.

Nonetheless, kudos to WSC for tapping into the possibilities of language and exploring the way literary texts of all forms, including science fiction TV shows, can speak to one another and to a broader audience.

For more information, visit http://www.washingtonshakespeare.org/

(Thanks to Rachel for bringing this event to my attention.)

On the Lighter Side…

January 23, 2010

In a marked break from the heavier reading of graduate school, I’ve finally had the chance to read something a little less dense, albeit perhaps equally philosophical in its own way.

I’m referring to a book with the intriguing title: Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don’t Float: Classic Lit Signs on to Facebook, by Sarah Schmelling.

I first encountered Schmelling when her essay “Hamlet: Facebook News Feed Edition” exploded into popularity. Her book (Plume 2009) takes the humorous thread of her earlier work and runs with it…and keeps on running.

This is neither a serious review nor a serious book, but I have to say, I’m enjoying it immensely.  My favorite moment so far is a toss-up between “Twenty Questions for the Author of Beowulf” and “The Bronte Sisters Play Scrabulific!”

Other tantalizing snippets, as well as links to purchase the book, are available on Schmelling’s website.

What can I say? It’s Saturday…

Star-Cross’d Vampires

January 4, 2010

Not to be too dramatic in an angsty teenage way, but the end truly is imminent. Last week, I was in Barnes & Noble, when I saw it.

A huge display of Twilight books and memorabilia.

Big deal, you may reply. True, true. But wait–there’s more.

Below the Team Jacob and Team Edward pennants and the books and the calendars and…(I could go on)…was a smaller display. More New Moon books, I thought. If only it were that.

Instead, a closer look at the black covers emblazoned with tantalizing red and white flowers revealed none other than Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights.*

Travesty. Outrage. Take your pick.

After the initial furor subsided, I thought with some amusement about the scene which might ensue if an unsuspecting girl age 10-15 should be duped into opening one of the above-named books by the mistaken belief that it contained bonus Twilight footage or a compilation of Edward’s secret diary entries.

Just for fun, I picture the tableau unfolding something like this…

“Mom!!!” Tina bursts into the home office, her shoulder-length brown hair spilling across her face. She skids to a stop, breathing heavily. “Something’s wrong with Bella!” she gasps.

Mom looks up from her computer. Tina’s tone is desperate, and tears are already forming in her eyes. “What’s the matter?” Mom asks carefully, steeling herself for the flood. Tina hasn’t looked this distraught since the day Dumbledore died.

Tina slams a book down on the nearest surface, sending a shower of papers fluttering to the floor. “This!” she exclaims dramatically, gesturing to the book.

Mom is not surprised to see the black cover with the brilliant scarlet flower in full bloom. Similar books and memorabilia have engulfed her daughter’s room for months. She sighs. “What happened?”

With a frown, Tina picks up the book and thumbs through it. “Aunt Laura gave me this book for Christmas. She said it was a new sequel to Twilight, whatever that means.” She stops, flips back a few pages, and continues. “But look — Bella’s talking all funny,” she says, reading out loud: “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move: But no more deep will I endart mine eye than your consent gives strength to make it fly.” She looks up, clearly frustrated. “But she didn’t like to move,” she says with a pout. “And — and — “

Mom’s mouth twitches. She briefly wonders how long she can keep this going. “Tina — ” She hesitates.

Tina doesn’t wait for her to finish. “What I don’t get,” she says, tossing the book on a stack of office supplies and brushing her hair back from her eyes, “Is whether Jacob or Edward is helping her fly, and why they had to stick pins in her eyes to do it!”

Mom studies her fingernails attentively.

Tina doesn’t seem to notice. She keeps picking the book up and setting it down. “I think she must have had some kind of poison,” she says firmly. “Maybe the Volturi were trying to transport her secretly to Italy, and all the werewolves and vampires time traveled there instead.”

“Maybe so,” Mom murmurs, biting her lip.

“That’s it!” Tina snaps her fingers. “That’s what gave them amnesia, so they don’t remember their names!” She finishes triumphantly, beaming.

Nodding, still studiously looking away, Mom says in a choked voice, “Sounds interesting, sweetheart. Aunt Laura will be glad you liked it.”

“There’s just one thing,” Tina says slowly, staring at the cover of the book. “I don’t get why Stephanie Meyer subtitled it ‘William Shakespeare.'”

That’s just how I picture it.

*Humor aside, if Twilight-esque covers or Bella’s stamp of approval encourages teens to read classic literature, well…maybe it’s worth it. Maybe. 🙂

A Bit of Fun

October 16, 2009

This week, my studies have been heavy on abstract, philosophical thought. In defense, I have resorted to a Lewis-Carrollian attempt to add a bit of lightness to the study of Walter Benjamin, David Lynch, and William Blake. Enjoy!

When Benjamin Met Lynch and Blake

When Benjamin met Lynch and Blake
They all went out for tea,
Except that Blake re-named the cakes,
And Lynch forgot the brie.

“No problem, friend,” said Blake to Lynch,
“I have this pound cake here.
But since the name has now been changed
We’ll eat it all as ‘Prear’!”

“Except, dear sir,” said Benjamin,
“There’s not enough for three.”
“But wait! But wait!” cried David Lynch
“Mix dirt in with the tea!

The taste, you’ll find, is not unlike
A bit of blood and worms:
Quite suited for the appetite
Of men who’ve come to terms.”

“He has a point,” said Benjamin,
“The aura is quite rare.”
“Well then, let’s dreat,” said William Blake,
“And sup this glooging fare.”

Since glooging fit the mood by chance,
They all agreed to “dreat”
And when they’d dreaten all the prear,
They called it quite a treat.

But after all was cleared away,
A feeling strange came on,
And William Blake asked David Lynch,
“That dirt you chose – a pond?”

“A puddle, Will,” said David Lynch
“With scum that has no peer!”
“Aha,” said Benjamin to Blake,
“At last it’s all come clear.

The sounds that whistle round our guts
Are not the Future’s art.
Instead, quite simply, what we hear
Is nothing but the start…

It’s Lynch’s first film coming true,
Except not six but three.
You see, our skills are better spent
On books than fixing tea.”

Easy Button for the Bard

August 3, 2009

Bt w8, wuz dat lyt n d wndw ovr der?
Itz d east, n Juliet S d sun.

Shakespeare in Text-Speak.

That day has come.

Shakespeare in text-speak may be funny. It may be a clever nod to pop culture. It may be a reminder that 16th century language is no stranger than 21st century language. But it is not Shakespeare.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favor of new ways to get students interested in great literature.  And as I’ve written before, I thoroughly enjoy a good parody or clever application of new technology to literature.

I do…as long as the point is still to draw students in to the original literature, to spark interest and encourage them to delve deeper. You might start a prospective chef-in-training with a boxed cake mix, but you certainly don’t stop there.

The subtitle of the original article is, “Bard’s language poses challenge for teachers.” Though I agree with some of the article’s points, I have to ask, when did “challenge” become a dirty word?

Yes, the language is unfamiliar and can be difficult. Yes, Shakespeare wrote for performance, not reading (another false step in the way the Bard is often taught). But is it impossible for a ninth or tenth grader to understand Romeo and Juliet as written? No. Is it hard work? Yes.

The easy button has become a familiar icon since its appearance in commercials for Staples. Perhaps too familiar. Though we laugh at the ad, we also act as though its logic is true. In doing so, we forget that there is no easy button for learning.

In the midst of widespread emphasis on self-esteem and self-help, we treat students as if they are helpless and incapable of meeting high expectations.

The same problem holds true in other subjects, not just literature, but when Shakespeare is reduced to “bt w8, wuz dat lyt n d wndw ovr der,” the effects of reductionism in education become a little clearer.

Must be all the light coming in d wndw.

Shakespeare on Moving

July 7, 2009

Just for fun, I like to imagine how Shakespeare would add to the commentary of pop culture on unpleasant phenomena…like tax day. And moving.

If the Bard had decided to give a treatise on moving to one of his characters, my bet is on the Duke in Measure for Measure (Act 3, Scene 1) and I think it would probably run something like this:

Be absolute for loss.
Ev’ry box thus found shall thereby be the sweeter.
Reason thus with things: if I do lose thee,
I do lose a thing that none but fools would keep.
When moved, thou art servile to all the molding influences
that dost this habitation, where thou keep’st, hourly afflict.
Merely, thou art loss’s fool. For him, thou labour’st
by thy move to shun, yet runn’st toward him still.
Thou art not noble, for all th’literary books that thou bear’st
are nursed from yard sales. Thou art by no means valiant,
for thou dost fear the sharp and biting edge of broken glass.
Thy best of rest is cleaning, and that thou oft provok’st,
yet grossly fear’st thy move, which is no more.
Thou art not thyself, for thou exist’st
on many a thousand bags that issue
out of dust. Happy, thou art not,
for what thou hast not, still thou strive’st to get,
and what thou hast, forget’st. Thou art not well-packed,
for thy possessions shift to strange effects on the highway.
When thou art rich, thou art poor,
for like a truck whose bed with boxes bows,
thou bear’st thy heavy burdens but a journey,
and wind unloads thee. Friend, hast thou none,
for thine own fellows, who do call for help,
at mere repayment of thy proper aid
do curse the stairs, back-breaking, and the heat
for ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor space, nor bed,
but as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep, dreaming on both.
For all thy dancing floor is covered up
and doth beg the work of clearing space.
And when thou art old and rich,
thou hast neither grace, energy, friend, nor timing
to make thy spaces pleasant.
What’s yet in this that brings out fear of loss?
Yet in that loss lie hid more free square feet.
Yet moves, we fear, that makes these losses happen.

At least, that’s how I think it would go. The irony is that I wrote this piece before moving, packed the little slips of paper with it written down, and since moving, have entirely failed to relocate them. I’m sure the first draft was much more brilliant, but this is the best I can do for a re-write. Weep, literati, for what has been lost to mankind.

Shakespeare Goes to Court

June 10, 2009

This ProfoundNet may not seem, well, profound, but it illustrates perfectly that literary questions are not far removed from public debate. That’s one reason, besides pure humor, I’ve chosen The Court, Led by Stevens, (Mostly) Rules Against Shakespeare by Ashby Jones of the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a snippet:

Turns out the justices of the Supreme Court debate over more than just the outcome of high-profile legal cases: They argue Shakespeare as well.

Specifically, it seems that a handful of justices have gotten serious over the so-called Shakespeare authorship question—uncovering the true identity of the writer of Hamlet, Macbeth and Titus Andronicus…

You who are literati are probably familiar with the Shakespearean authorship question. Did William Shakespeare actually write the plays attributed to him? (For a brief summary of the debate, see Wikipedia).

According to this report, if the Supreme Court tried Shakespeare v. Edward de Vere, classic book publishers would have a lot of re-titling to do, as would curriculum writers, theatre companies, and programmers of robot teachers. Call in the MiniTrue!

The story doesn’t end there. A little over a week later, Jones wrote another blog post called More on Souter…And Specter and Shakespeare. Here’s a snippet:

When asked his views of the Shakespeare authorship question, Justice David Souter recalled the comment of the late Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge, who in his day faced claims that Sir Francis Bacon was the true genius behind the Bard. “I’ll agree that Bacon wrote Shakespeare if you’ll tell me who wrote Bacon,” Kittredge liked to say, Justice Souter said.

As far as his own position, Justice Souter was far less decisive than he has been on recent cases involving the Fourth Amendment and punitive damages. “I have no idea who wrote the plays, but I’m glad someone did,” he said.

Well put.

Whether as a mind-sharpening activity, evidence of well-rounded interests, or simply a desire to seek truth in all matters, it’s refreshing to see  members of the United States’ most powerful court taking an interest in literary studies.

Nonetheless, since the outcome of Shakespeare v. Vere will not construct precedent for any pending Supreme Court cases, it’s also encouraging to see at least one justice keeping the debate in its proper perspective.

Thanks, Ashby, for a thought-provoking post. (For the original WSJ article, see Justice Stevens Renders an Opinion on Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays).