Review: My Week With Marilyn

December 29, 2011

Point 1: Michelle Williams has earned critical approbation for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in the recent film My Week With Marilyn (2011). Point 2: It was a quiet night, and I needed something to do. So naturally, I went to see the movie: a skeptic about the film itself, a fan of Williams.

For me, the film had moments of brilliance and others that lacked a certain spark. The choice to cast Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier was, to me as a moviegoer, particularly unusual; to me as a Shakespearean, doubly amusing. That being said, Williams’ representation of Monroe is captivating.

I think my own appreciation for the film was enhanced by the fact that I read Arthur Miller’s controversial play After the Fall (influenced by his relationship with Monroe) a few years ago. In many ways, Williams’ performance brought the sentiments of the play to life for me, while at the same time the play added another layer of nuance to the film.

All in all, it’s worth seeing, particularly if the buzz is correct and it will be on the lineup for this year’s Oscars.

Check it out!


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

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

Literati to Aotearoa

July 19, 2010

My apologies for the recent dearth of posts. Unfortunately, that will continue for a little longer, as I will be traveling to New Zealand for a research project on the rhetoric and performance of Shakespeare in the nineteenth century.

However, in celebration of my trip, I’d like to leave you with a poem the Best New Zealand Poems 2002 collection. It’s called The Child in the Gardens: Winter, by Vincent O’Sullivan, and it’s courtesy of the International Institute of Modern Letters. Enjoy!

The Child in the Gardens: Winter

How sudden, this entering the fallen
gardens for the first time, to feel the blisters
of the world’s father, as his own hand
does. It is everything dying at once,
the slimed pond and the riffling of leaves,
shoes drenched across sapless stalks.
It is what you will read a thousand times.
You will come to think, who has not stood
there, holding that large hand, not said
Can’t we go back – I don’t like this place.
Your voice sounds like someone else’s. You
rub a sleeve against your cheek, you want
him to laugh, to say, ‘The early stars can’t hurt
us, they are further than trains we hear
on the clearest of nights.’ We are in a story
called Father, We Must Get Out.
Leaves scritch at the red walls,
a stone lady lies near the pond, eating
dirty grass. It is too sudden, this
walking into time for its first lesson,
its brown wind, its scummed nasty
paths. You know how lovely yellow
is your favourite colour, the kitchen at home.
You touch the big gates as you leave,
the trees stand on their bones, the shoulders
on the vandaled statue are huge cold
eggs. Nothing there wants to move.
You touch the gates and tell them, We
are not coming back to this place. Are we, Dad?

To Serve or Not to Serve

May 24, 2010

Caught in the Act: Juveniles Sentenced to Shakespeare
(Louise Kennedy, Boston Globe)

Talk about a catchy title, at least for someone with my interests.

I’ve written before about literature-based alternative sentencing programs, specifically in reference to the Massachusetts-based Changing Lives Through Literature program. The program in Kennedy’s article, Shakespeare in the Courts, builds on a similar philosophy.

Shakespeare in the Courts allows juvenile offenders to serve their time by participating in intensive training, rehearsal, and performance of a Shakespearean play, under the guidance of expert actors, directors, and educators from Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass.

According to education director Kevin Coleman, “This does not fix them. […] “Do they get back in trouble? Yes, they do. But maybe less often and maybe not as deep. This extreme experience that they’re having starts to change them.’’

Kennedy goes on to describe an exchange during rehearsal:

The exchanges were typical of the adults’ approach: a bit of humor, some no-nonsense toughness, and plenty of support. Also typical was the way O’Connor later helped Monet learn some lines.

“You’re imagining the guy lighting the fuse on a cannon,’’ O’Connor told her. “ ‘The nimble English gunner with linstock the devilish cannon touches.’ Boom! We’ll have a big explosion there. ‘And then goes all before them.’ You’re saying, ‘Please imagine that we’re better than we are.’ ’’

Monet nodded and tried the line again. At “the devilish cannon touches,’’ she dipped her sword to light the fuse. And there she was, for a moment, a Shakespearean actor on a renowned Shakespearean stage.

So is Shakespeare the key?

As much as I love Shakespeare, I have to say no.

True, Shakespeare’s language is challenging to read and speak: English has changed, and the rhythms of iambic pentameter feel foreign compared to free verse. What is more, Shakespeare’s characters are complex and often opaque. But as the interviewees’ comments imply,  is seems that 1) being expected to do something difficult  and 2) receiving the support and encouragement to do it are the primary forces behind any positive change that occurred.

As much as I love Shakespeare’s plays, Shakespeare the man is dead, and it is living humans who have the ability to influence other living humans through relationship and investment in each others’ lives.

That being said, a little Julius Caesar on the side doesn’t hurt…

Read more about Shakespeare in the Courts.
The program was also recently featured on Stephen Colbert.

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…

Catching Shakespeare

November 5, 2009

Technology fascinates me, in part because I know relatively little about how it works, and I want to know more. The potential for responsible use of technology as a supplement to literary study is particularly interesting. The challenge, as I see it, is to keep technology in its proper place as a supplement, not a replacement for genuine thought.

That’s one reason I’ve chosen Plagiarism Software Finds a New Shakespeare Play by Gaelle Fauer in Time Magazine for the next ProfoundNet. Here’s a snippet:

Plagiarism-detection software was created with lazy, sneaky college students in mind — not the likes of William Shakespeare. Yet the software may have settled a centuries-old mystery over the authorship of an unattributed play from the late 1500s called The Reign of Edward III…. With a program called Pl@giarism, [Sir Brian Vickers, a literature professor at the University of London] detected 200 strings of three or more words in Edward III that matched phrases in Shakespeare’s other works.

As Vickers reminds readers, computers can’t do the work alone – human knowledge, skill, and judgment are still an integral part of the process. He says what he is hoping to do is “bring about a marriage between human reading and machine reading. If you distrust computers, you won’t advance at all; if you have just computers and know nothing about literature, you’re likely to go wrong as well.”

To me, this is a great example of using technology to advance the work of humans, rather than allowing technology to assume the role of primary agent and in the process rendering humans the subject of a passive sentence.

Thanks, Gaelle , for a thought-provoking article.

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.