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…

Dear Frustrated Student…

May 21, 2009

For most college students, the year is over or shortly to be over. K-12 students might have a little longer. That being said, I’m surprised views of my site have yet to plummet, and have in fact risen. 

I would venture a guess that many students have been assigned last-minute papers on The Great Gatsby, Hamlet, or A Christmas Carol. How do I know? Word Press tells me what search terms have been used to find this site. Many are surprisingly similar; clusters are very specific, and even identical. 

I’ve been there too, trying to write a paper when I didn’t fully understand the intent of the assignment or the work on which it was based. (For me, the killers were Derrida and postmodern literature). 

However frustrated you may be, however desperate, however eager just to turn something in — think very hard before you take the easy route and copy an article from Wikipedia, buy an essay online, or use my blog as a starting point for your thesis. (The last would be doubly unwise, because I don’t even have an advanced degree in the field.)

Plagiarism is “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work” (Random House, 2009).

It’s not just copy-and-paste; it’s taking someone’s idea and calling it your own. It’s paraphrasing without giving credit. It’s claiming something that is not your own work. It’s cheating.

I’m not your teacher, your parent, or your guidance counselor. But as a fellow writer and student, I urge you to think about a few things before you click “paste.” 

     1. The chances that you will get caught are very good. It’s not an insult to your intellect to say teachers can tell a difference between your writing style and the essay you’ve copied from the Internet. If you can find it, so can they.

     2. If you don’t get caught now, you may later. What then? As a former member of the student-based judiciary at my college, I can tell you that you would fail the assignment. You would probably fail the class, meaning you would have to retake it or keep an ‘F’ on your transcript. You could face mandatory tutoring sessions or punative writing assignments. And you thought you were too busy to write the first paper! 

     3. If you put enough effort into disguising your cheating, you’ve probably expended more effort than you would have used in writing the paper yourself. Is it really worth it?

     4. Even if you never pick up a work of literature again, you will have to use critical thinking to analyze a decision, a project, a report, or a budget. You will have to write clear, concise reports, e-mails, or cover letters. The life skills you’re developing do have value.

     5. To me, what is most important is that by doing your own work, you are developing an ethic of diligence and honesty. You’re learning to ask for help if you don’t understand an assignment or are afraid you can’t complete it in time. You’re learning to work hard and manage your time, even if failure is the most effective way to learn.

At a job, down the road, you may have a heavy workload that seems impossible. Will you borrow someone else’s work and call it your own? Will you take shortcuts that may cost the company or your co-workers later? Will you take the easy way out? Or will you do your best, seek help when you can, and create a result of which you can be proud?

I hope, even if it means my blog will get fewer hits a day, that you will choose the latter not only then, but now.

E-Book: Bane of the Literati?

May 7, 2009

A few weeks ago, the Wall-Street Journal published: How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write. After reading a few commentaries on the subject, I decided it was time to take a look at the original and consider some of its conclusions.

Some of the major effects the author, Steven Johnson, expects are: 

  • New innovation as book collections become broadly available.
  • The growth of book sales via impulse buys.
  • A decline in books finished as competition increases. 
  • Increasing intertextuality and less authoritative scholarship.
  • An increase in writing for search-engine optimization.
  • Rise of fragmentation and sensationalism.

Taking a step back for a moment, many of these phenomena are not new. The E-Book is escalating, rather than inventing, trends in reading and writing that have characterized the postmodern era of blogs, graphic novels, and film-to-book series. 

That said, I do think the digitalization of books will cost us something.

In an era when science fiction and fantasy, spearheaded by Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and Twilight, are all the rage, I think we run the risk of forgetting how to engage with smaller, quieter, thoughtful worlds like those of Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, or Pearl Buck. The ability to think deeply about a complex subject that cannot be reduced to sound bytes is also compromised as our attention spans continue to shrink.

Print-on-demand publishing now allows more books to be published than ever. If an author’s first concern is search-engine optimization and capturing the reader in that first paragraph, depth and creativity lose something in the bargain. The values of quick consumerism become mirrored in the types of novels that sell, and, by consequence, in the types that are written. And the spiral continues.

I think it is important to remember, however, that dime novels have been around since the 1860s, and yet somehow, Crane’s Red Badge of Courage was still written and still read. And although bear-baitings and public executions raised crowds on the streets of Elizabethan England, Hamlet still captivated audiences in the Globe.

Will the 21st century produce the same quality of literature as earlier ages? Perhaps not. Will more voices join the conversation? I hope so. Will great literature still have the ability to reach out from the mass of competing texts and touch lives? Without a doubt.

Send Hamlet Some Flair

March 16, 2009

I couldn’t resist posting a link to this circulating (genius) adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to new media. 

Behold, *drum roll please,* the story of Hamlet, prince of Denmark, as it unfolded on Facebook: Hamlet (Facebook News Feed Edition) by Sarah Schmelling. 

A few of my favorite sequences include,

“The king poked the queen.”

“The queen poked the king back.”

“Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends.”


“Polonius thinks this curtain looks like a good thing to hide behind.”

“Polonius is no longer online.” 

Check it out for a good laugh.

A Shakespearean Valentine

February 12, 2009

heartTurning to the lighter side, in honor of that paragon of holidays, Valentines Day (known on the black market as Singles Awareness Day, Hallmark Appreciation Day, and other such pseudonyms), I’ve decided to spend a few days/posts invoking the Bard in less-than-typical ways (i.e. NO Romeo and Juliet in sight).  

My philosophy has always been, what’s the use of memorizing something if you can’t creatively tweak it later? So, (see “Brain Work” at the top of the page) the monologues I’ve memorized in the last few years are about to get a V-Day makeover. 

What do Hamlet, the color red, and hair have in common?  You’re about to find out. With no further ado (about nothing), welcome to the pre-Valentines special at Hamlet’s beauty parlor!

(Stayed tuned for the next installment.)

* – * – * -* -* – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

To Dye or Not to Dye

To dye, or not to dye: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to dodge
Brave cupid’s arrows aimed with such misfortune,
Or to close the purse against the sea of hair products,
And by resisting, stay blond? To dye: to change;
Once more; and by a change to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand breakup shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished! To dye, to change;
To change: perchance to hate: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that change of dye what hate may come
When we have rinsed off this natural shade,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of too permanent tone;
For who would bear the jokes and scorns of time,
The brunette’s wrong, the Monroe comparisons,
The pangs of despised roots, the shower’s delay,
The insolence of office workers and the static
That patient brushing of the fresh-washed makes,
When she herself might her quietus make
With a dye bottle? Who would split ends bear,
To highlight and trim under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after dye,
The undiscovered redness from whose bourn
No gold color returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus permanence doth make cowards of us all;
And thus the chosen hue of sun-kissed pomegranate
Is set aside by the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great style and fashion
With this regard, their customers turn awry,
And lose the name of business.

We No Longer Go Gentle

January 13, 2009

Sunset North Island, NZDeath is an uncomfortable, disorienting subject for many. The words are insufficient when talking to someone who has lost a loved one. Perhaps that is why the topic is chosen so often by poets, who use words to approach emotion. Perhaps that is also why Americans turn to poetry when they confront death.

For this reason I have chosen The Dying of the Light, an article by Craig Bowron recently published in the Washington Post, for the next ProfoundNet.  In it, the author discusses the “calamity of so long life” (to quote Hamlet) that Americans face, alleviated, but also sometimes prolonged by modern science. The article professes to give no answers, but it challenges readers to think about the American obsession with immortality. 

The title is taken from a well-known and oft-quoted poem by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, called “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” written just after World War II. Here’s the first stanza of the poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In the poem, good men, wise men, wild men, and grave men all must face the reality of death. In a bleak postwar era, the poet urges men to resist sinking easily toward death. Today, the opposite trend exists, and it is no longer called “that good night.” 

Bowron’s article poetically describes the dilemma facing Americans:

“Everyone wants to grow old and die in his or her sleep, but the truth is that most of us will die in pieces. Most will be nibbled to death by piranhas, and the piranhas of senescence are wearing some very dull dentures. […] This isn’t about euthanasia. It’s not about spiraling health care costs. It’s about the gift of life — and death. It is about living life and death with dignity, and letting go.”

Citing illness, discontent, and the frail quality of life, a character in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure makes a poignant observation: “What’s yet in this that bears the name of life? Yet in that life lie hid more thousand deaths. Yet death, we fear.” Shakespeare’s Hamlet wrestles with the same incongruency. 

I am left with a lingering question. If, as poets and authors for centuries have recognized, we fear death, why is it so much easier to throw energy into fighting the inevitable than to consider the underlying reasons for our fear? 

Thanks, Craig, for your thought-provoking article.