Monday, December 29, 2008


I am going to host a new Shakespeare challenge using the exact same rules as the last challenge.

The rules are simple - you can read anything about or related to shakespeare - fiction or non fiction, straight bio or authorship debate - and you can read the plays and sonnets as well.

This time instead of 6 months, I'm going to make this one 12 months (a whole year) and you need to read 6 books instead of 4. That way you read an average of 1 book every 2 months. That shouldn't be too hard.

Starts January 1st 2009
Ends December 31st 2009

The reason I am doing this is...
1 - because I picked up a biography of Christopher Marlow in November and that got me reminiscing about Shakespeare, and
2 - I did not finish the last challenge and it was my own challenge. This time I have to finish it.

Also there are several bloggers names still listed as contributors.
If you want to do this challenge again, then just tell me and do nothing further until January 1st when it starts.
If you want your name to be removed, send me an email and tell me, and I will remove it.
And if you want to do this challenge and you did not do the last one - then send me an email and I will send you an invite.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Robin's List

(All the World's A Stage, by James C. Christensen)

I'm so excited to be participating in this 2009 challenge!  Here's the list of books I'd like to read for it.  I'm also planning on reading, listening to, and watching King Lear for this challenge.  My husband and I like to take on a new play each year, and experience it in as many different forms as possible. We did that last year with The Tempest, the year before with A Midsummer Night's Dream, so in 2009 it will be King Lear.  I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone will be reading, and to reading the many reviews!  Thanks, Historia!

1. Shakespeare's Wife, by Germaine Greer
2. Shakespeare Sketchbook, by Renwick St. James; artwork by James C. Christensen
3. Shakespeare Alive!, by Joseph Papp
4. A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, by James Shapiro
5. Introduction to Shakespeare, by Marchette Chute
6. Shakespeare, by Anthony Burgess

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What a great site, Historia! Thanks for hosting such a fun challenge!

This is what I had in mind for this challenge - to read 12 plays by the bard as follows:

January, 2009 - The Tempest
February, 2009 - Two Gentlemen of Verona
March, 2009 - Merry Wives of Windsor
April, 2009 - Twelfth Night
May, 2009 - Measure for Measure
June, 2009 - Much Ado About Nothing
July, 2009 - A Midsummer Night's Dream
August, 2009 - Love's Labour's Lost
September, 2009 - The Merchant of Venice
October, 2009 - As You Like It
November, 2009 - All's Well That Ends Well
December, 2009 - The Taming of the Shrew

Jan (in Edmonds)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Books I want to read for the 2009 Challenge

I was not able to complete the 2008 Shakespeare challenge. So I will be trying to read these books next year for the 2009 Challenge.

Shakespeare's Face - by Stephanie Nolen
Shakespeare & Co - by Stanley Wells
Alias Shakespeare - by John Sobran
History Play - by Rodney Bolt
A Year in the life of William Shakespeare - by James Shapiro
Shakespeare by Another Name - by Mark Anderson
Shakespeare the Biography - by Peter Ackroyd
The Great Shakespeare Fraud - by Patricia Pearce

Monday, June 30, 2008

What is the Reduced Shakespeare Company

4 minutes
Thanks to Shakespeare Geek for this clip.

Shakespeare Challenges ends today.

Today is the last day of the Shakespeare Challenge. Thank you all for joining and participating.

I personally did not finish my challenge. I had too many other things happening in my life, and probably too many other challenges as well. But I am glad that others made better progress than I did. If there is any interest, I might run this again next year, but we will see.

I have picked up a few more books on Shakespeare.
One is called Alias Shakespeare by John Sobran, who seems to support the theory that Edward de Vere (Oxford) was the true author of the sonnets and plays.
Another is Shakespeare the Biography by Peter Ackroyd.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

William Shakespeare's Sonnets

sonnetsWhen I started this, I began to note the sonnets I really liked, but stopped in the 70s because I realized I liked almost all of them and the list was too long. While I can not relate to the emotions of some of them, there are many variations in this book. There are themes of not just love but of time, change, politics, desire, death, and much more. I found the theme of time and change to the be the most interesting. Maybe it's because I am a romantic, but the poetry worked for me on a lot of levels. These are words to be read aloud, as is usually the case for poetry. I was enchanted and moved. I have always liked Shakespeare, but I think this may be one of the works I love most from him. I did wonder a lot about Shakespeare the man when reading this. I am not so overwrought with questions about the identity, but I wonder his exact mind when he wrote this. Were they for someone? When did he write this? In any case, I am glad we have these beautiful words left. I would very much love to own a copy of these sonnets to cherish and read over and over again. Classic.

Shakespeare: The World as Stage

Shakespeare: The World as Stage
by Bill Bryson

I listened to this book on CD during a recent trip. It is a short history of Shakespeare and his times read by the author. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mr. Bryson is honest right from the beginning. He shares that he wrote this biography not because the world needed another book about Shakespeare but because it is part of a series. He states up front that there is a great deal we don't know about the Bard and his time in history. His work is for the lay scholar, the person like myself who wants to know about Shakespeare and his times but doesn't want to spend a lifetime in study. I don't need to know all the authorship debate or what in his life influenced him to write which play when. I want more than a morsel but not a college level class. This book fit my needs perfectly.

Bryson appears to have done a good deal of work. He lays out some of the main thoughts about certain areas, like the order the plays are believed to have been written in (no two scholars agree), then reminds the reader (or listener) about the lack of evidence to support any viewpoint. When he has an opinion to share he follows it with a brief explanation. The final chapter that deals with the authorship debate and where it stems from was interesting and I tend to agree with him. Why challenge Shakespeare as the author when there is no substantial evidence for or against and the circumstantial evidence is stronger for his being the author than for anyone else, especially when you consider where the challenge stemmed from?

I'm glad I listened to this one. I can recommend it happily.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sarah Smith's Chasing Shakespares

This is my last pick for the Shakespeare Reading Challenge, getting my fourth read in with just half a month to go. Too bad I had to end on such a disappointing note.

Chasing Shakespeares is the story of a Shakespeare scholar who may have found proof that the bard was not who we've been led to believe.

That the man behind all those brilliant plays and sonnets was not, in actuality, William Shakespeare is not a new theory. I thought for a while that I even cared. Credit Smith for curing me of that notion.

On her website, one paragraph describing this particular novel begins, "In a literary adventure reminiscent of the Da Vinci Code..." Blame Smith for making me appreciate Dan Brown a little more.

First off, the Da Vinci Code is a novel about conspiracy theories. Chasing Shakespeares is not. A conspiracy theory indicates there is someone or group still trying to conceal the truth. A tacked on enemy in Chasing Shakespeares might have added some much needed excitement. Instead, Smith tacks on a love story.

How truly boring were the the up-speaking Posy and the f-word spouting Joe Roper; lovers who were, of course, from opposite sides of the track. But even more unfortunate than the annoying characters was the transparency of Smith's desire to turn the book into a movie. There are film references all over the place:
"'You know,' she said, 'we could get rich. We could write a book about finding the letter. Give lectures. And that's just the beginning. The book. The movie from the book. I want,' she thought, 'Spielberg to direct the movie. Ben Affleck and Cate Blanchett to play us.'"
Okay, she might get Affleck on board.

Smith also seems to be under the impression that a revelation about Shakespeare's identity would cause mass riots:
"'You know you're going to have to take a stand on Oxford and stop caring what people say about you. Because like half the world is going to think you're Charles Manson for not believing in Shakespeare.'"
Granted, the two quotes I've used as examples above are both spoken by Posy and some readers might be inclined to say these grandiose statements are of a character's and not Smith's own delusions. Possibly. But the Hollywood-style cheese doesn't end there.

Last week Debbie and I watched Kevin Spacey in The Life of David Gale. There's one particular scene in which we were subjected to this Please-can-I-have-another-Oscar speech:
"'We spend our whole life trying to stop death. Eating, inventing, loving, praying, fighting, killing. But what do we really know about death? Just that nobody comes back. Then there comes a point - a moment - in life when your mind outlives its desires, its obsessions, when your habits survive your dreams, and when your losses... Maybe death is a gift.'"
Chasing Shakepeares is full of such lame attempts. Over and over again she makes references to God being a librarian. Likewise she runs a Twain quote about lightning bugs into the ground. Spacey's speech was bad enough, imagine if he made it in every other scene.

In Chasing Shakespares Smith tried way too hard. But not to write a good book.

(Cross-posted at The Book Mine Set)

Monday, June 9, 2008


I received an email today asking if I was interested in moving this Shakespeare blog to the PlayShakespeare website.

Here are the rules. On reading the rules, they require an update every day or at least several times a week. Obviously I cannot commit to that high frequency so I will decline. I like being able to post what I want to write about Shakespeare, when I want to, and it doesnt matter too much if a few weeks go by. It also help that some challenge readers are posting their books on this blog as well - thank you John, Pamela and Athena.

So I think I will decline their gracious offer, but I will bookmark the site. It looks very interesting. It has all the plays wriiten out in full (which is very useful. And it even has a few plays I am not familiar with.

Sir Thomas More is one, and Two Noble Kinsman is another. I have a vague idea that this was another name for the Cardenio play - I am not sure about that. There is no mention of Edmund Ironsides - a play I have in book form, but which most Shakespeare scholars reject as not being one of the bards. There is also a play listed called Edward III - another one I am not familiar with. I don't recall Shakespeare ever writing a play about any king named Edward. None of these four plays are listed in the First Folio. Which is probably why they are unknown.

And I just found another interesting website. Hudson Shakespeare Theater Company based in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Tempest review by Athena

Considered by many scholars as the last play written solely by Shakespeare, I found the Tempest an interesting mix of genres. While other plays are more obvious about their genres (be it tragedies, comedies, or romance/coms), this is considered a romance. While the romance of Miranda and Ferdinand does feature in a couple of scenes, I would not consider it a romance as compared to Romeo and Juliet. It is comedic, but also very subdued and serious at parts. Prospero is very manipulative; he seems to be in control of everything, even the courtship between his daughher Miranda and Ferdinand. There are images and themes of colonialism, servitude, and slavery, even in the romantic scenes between the lovers. Indeed, Prospero's control of the events in the play are even meta especially in regards to the ending where he asks the audience to applause. The island's magic and phantasmagorias can be viewed as a play within a play. I did not warm towards Prospero early on because he did not seem like a real character in the play, more a conniving puppet master moving characters toward his goal. He controls how one views the past and how the outcome will be. I think about Neil Gaiman's Sandman series interpretation of Shakespeare as he wrote The Tempest. A reflective, older man who has spent his life connected to the themes of stage, dreams, imagination and creation, moving characters and stories around, but keenly aware like Prospero at the twilight of his life.

Athena of

DId Christopher Marlowe fake his death?

John Penry the Welsh Martyr

On May 29th in 1593, a Welsh divine with a poor impression of the Church of England was hustled off from dinner to be strung up for sedition.

Dismayed by the poor quality of pastors in his native Wales — men of poor character, poor education, and poor command of Welsh — John Penry was one of many calling for a reformed Episcopal clergy. Critiques of his type formed the germ of the Puritan movement already underway, which would blossom after his death.

Penry would have been around to see all that if he hadn’t hacked off the realm’s chief vicar by running a salty underground press, most notably publishing the pseudonymous Martin Marprelate.

The Oxford man dodged the law for a good three years in the Scottish reaches, until he couldn’t resist moving to London, where (fittingly) a local clergyman recognized him.

The mere draft — nasty, but uncirculated — of a petition sufficed for the condemnation on grounds of sedition, and the annoyed Archbishop had the pleasure of inking his John Hancock on the Welshman’s death warrant.

Penry seems to have had a few friends in high places and some hope of cheating the executioner; he must have been taken by surprise when the sheriff burst in during the late afternoon this day to haul him immediately to a gallows at St. Thomas a Watering — unannounced, the better to keep attendance down,* with the prisoner denied the customary parting speech.

But was Penry’s ill turn a boon to the world of literature?

The day after Penry’s execution, star English playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed in a fray whose timing some find a bit suspicious.

Some enthusiasts think Marlowe faked his death and went on to write Shakespeare under a pen name. And if he did that, his confederates would have needed a body to pass off as Marlowe’s … the body, perhaps, of a man of Marlowe’s age and class who’d just been hanged a couple of miles up the road.

The Truth Will Out Book Review

The Truth Will Out - Unmasking the Real Shakespeare
By Brenda James & William Rubenstein
Regan (Harper Collins) 2006

This book is somewhat scholarly and academic to read. But it is still very interesting. And it gives all the proof that Shakespeare was just a frontman for the real author. Although Shakespeare was very well paid.

The real author was related to Shakespeare through his mother Mary Arden. The real man had a cousin whose mother was from the Arden family.

There is absolutely NO proof whatsoever that William Shakespeare ever travelled to Europe. BUT the real author knew the languages and the traditions and customs of those countries. He also obviously knew the cities of which he wrote. The real author had to have travelled to Europe and spent some time there.

Other names put forward as the Real Author include
Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford - but he died in 1604 which was earlier than Shakespeare),
Sir Francis Bacon (but only by codes found in the plays - codes can be made to fit anything and to say anything).
Kit Marlow (he was killed in a bar brawl in 1593 and is said to have faked his death and moved to Europe - see next post) and lastly
Sir Philip Sidney or his sister Lady Mary Sidney. Philip wrote the Psalms as poems but didnt finish them all before he died. Mary completed her brothers project. But there is no proof that either of them wrote the plays.

But now that I have read The Truth Will Out, I am convinced that this man was the real author. He had the advantages that the other names mentioned did not. This man was NOT of the nobility, although he was descended from nobility. He was not an Earl or a Duke, although he was knighted as a Sir. He spent two years in France as Ambassador for England. He also spent two years in the Tower of London for his involvement in the Essex Rebellion. After he was released from the Tower, his plays became the darker tragedies (there were no more comedies written after 1601).

This man's name was Sir Henry Neville.

Here is some of the evidence from this book.

Neville names himself (covertly) in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Sir Henry’s birth and death dates (1564 - 1615) are virtually identical to those of his pseudonymic front-man, William Shakespeare.

The chronology of the plays meshes with the emergence of Neville’s life events

Sir Henry had many reasons to hide his identity - his political work, family inheritance, even his life, would have been endangered, had he been discovered. So Neville never published anything under his own name; yet he was sought out by his contemporaries - including Beaumont and Fletcher and King James I - for advice on their own writing. Neville must therefore have been a ‘concealed’ writer.

Neville was a well-connected politician, and a close friend of Southampton (dedicatee of The Sonnets). Additionally, the Shakespeares tried to prove a connection between William’s mother, Mary Arden, and the Ardens of Park Hall (Warwickshire), to whom Sir Henry was related by marriage. Neville’s grandfather owned the house in which Mary Arden was born.

Neville had access to restricted sources witnessed in the plays: e.g. the documents of his Plantagenet and other ancestors including John of Gaunt in Richard II, Warwick the King Maker in Henry VI parts II & III, and King Duncan of Scotland in Macbeth. As an officer in the Virginia Company, he was able to use a private letter as a source for The Tempest.

Neville was multi-lingual, (some sources used for the plays were only available in French/Italian/Greek/Spanish etc, which we have no reason to believe Shakespeare knew.)

Neville became French Ambassador at just the time the French-based Henry V was written.

1601 marks an abrupt change in the plays from histories/comedies to the great tragedies. In 1601 Neville was in the Tower - under threat of execution for his part in the Essex Uprising.

The Northumberland Manuscript, discovered in 1867, has Neville’s name and ‘family motto poem’ at the top, plus repeated practising of William Shakespeare's signature lower down.

In 1623, the writer Ben Jonson was involved in putting Shakespeare's name on the First Folio edition of the Plays. Jonson was then employed by a college in London associated with the Neville family. There is an extensive document (written) by Jonson suggesting he knew about the 'front man' arrangement and that he helped promote the fiction of Shakespeare's authorship at the behest of the Nevilles.

The character Falstaff was partly based on Neville himself. Falstaff was initially going to be called 'Oldcastle', an antonymic pun on Neville's (‘New Town’ or ‘New Villa’) name.

Neville was an international trader: this is reflected in The Merchant of Venice and The Comedy of Errors. Neville resided on the Continent (1578 - 1583). Research also proves that he had overwhelming reasons, during those years, to visit the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, and Elsinore (Denmark) in pursuit of his newly-inherited iron and ordnance business.

‘Steel’ is mentioned 74 times in the works; ‘iron’ 48 times; ‘cannons’, and ‘ordnance’ 30 times. The name ‘Touchstone’ (As You Like It ) is metallurgical too. Other such specialised terms - e.g. ‘dross’, ‘unaneal’d’ - are also present. Neville is the only person to combine this knowledge with all other ‘Shakespearean’ attributes. He was an aristocrat/merchant hybrid by ancestry: his father was a ‘royal’ Neville and his mother a ‘merchant’ Gresham. The Neville family business was making weapons.

Neville was the first Englishman to receive forward knowledge about the Count Orsino and his possible visit to the English Court. Only he had time to write Orsino into Twelfth Night.

Neville - unusually for his time - majored in Astronomy at Oxford. Knowledge of Astronomy is present in some of the plays. The Copernican concept of ‘infinite space’ (mentioned in Hamlet) was totally unknown outside of specialised circles in England at the time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Don Freeman: Will's Quill (John Mutford's 3rd Pick For The Shakespeare Challenge)

The Shakespeare Challenge comes to a close at the end of June and I'm way behind. What better time to add in a picture book?

Most people know Don Freeman from the classic Corduroy. Before Corduroy was branded and lower quality books "based on the Don Freeman creation" flooded the market, Freeman was acknowledged as a great children's author and illustrator. His Fly High, Fly Low was even a Caldecott Honor Book.

Will's Quill (or How A Goose Saved Shakespeare) was given to my kids as a Christmas gift and I'll admit being a bit skeptical at first. The illustrations, while detailed and well-done, weren't overly vibrant. And the story of a goose saving Shakespeare by offering up his feathers as quills didn't seem overly exciting. Yet my kids were drawn to it.

Really, I shouldn't have been surprised. I loved Corduroy and A Pocket For Corduroy when I was a child and though we like to focus on "how the world has changed" kids today don't need stories that go 110 km/hr with puns in every other sentence, nor do their books need to resort to cheap sentimentality in order to be "nice." Freeman excelled with gentle books.

There are laughs in Will's Quill. At one point the goose Willoughby Waddle gets doused with dirty water and vegetable scrapings thrown down from a window. But perhaps the most uproarious moment comes when Willoughby misunderstands that a play is being performed and attempts to rescue Shakespeare from a duelling scene by biting his opponent on the seat of his breeches.

Willoughby Waddle has come from the country to make himself useful in the city. He soon finds out that life in Londontown is rougher and more hectic than he'd anticipated but, just as the indignities start to pile up, a kind stranger by the name of William Shakespeare offers him a hand. Determined to pay back his kindness, Willoughby searches over the city for him and finally discovers a way. On the back of the book Shakespeare is quoted as saying, "How far that little candle throws his beam/ So shines a good deed in a naughty world." A fine message that could have become the Pay It Forward of children's books, but Freeman prevents it from being overly saccharine with just the right balance of humor and plot.

And of course as an added bonus, children are introduced to Shakespeare as a historical figure. They won't walk away experts on the bard but they'll learn that he lived in Londontown and wrote well-respected plays that were performed at the Globe. This introduction is a brief one, but wrapped in a tale that kids seem to enjoy, might be remembered a little better than a book that sets out to teach his biography to kids.

(Cross-posted at The Book Mine Set)

Monday, May 26, 2008

I'm So Proud of Myself

I did it. I finished the challenge - my very first. I didn't finish three of the books I had in my list but I read three others.

  • The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl
    The story of Shakespeare's life in the neighborhood where he lived from 1603-1605, as seen in relation to the home of his landlords - the Mountjoys, French Huguenot immigrants in the clothing trade. The details are remarkable and give a wonderful picture of life in Shakespeare's London and environs.
  • Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt
    Another excellent non-fiction book that shows the correlation between events in Shakespeare's time that he may or may not experienced, but which appear to have influenced his plays.
  • The Book of Air and Shadows: A Novel by Michael Gruber
    This was a complicated but well organized and well written novel. An unknown play about Mary Queen of Scots may have been written by Shakespeare - under the impression he was doing King James a favor. Told from the point of view of an attorney and a would-be film maker, the story leads the reader through numerous twists trying to determine what is real and what is fake. In the end, the loose ends are tied up and connections that need to be made are and others that didn't need to be made are still a bit tenuous.

I went into more detail on my blog about both the books I read and the ones I didn't finish.

I really appreciate Historia's sponsorship of this challenge. It encouraged me to read more on The Bard and gave me a framework to concentrate on. I plan on continuing to read more Shakespeare since there are so many books out there. And I'll revisit the plays. Thanks Historia.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Shakespeare Author

Remember I posted a comment a while ago about Amelia Bassano possibly being the real Shakespeare? Well here is the first play she wrote - which will be performed at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in NYC in July.

she wrote
As You Like It; The Big Flush (classic/experimental)
by Amelia Bassano Lanier a.k.a. William Shakespeare
directed by Stephen Wisker MFA
presented by John Hudson & Jenny Greeman
featuring: The Dark Lady Players, Workshop Production
Non Equity
Running time; 1 Hour 30 minutes

A Jewish toilet joke written using double allegories-this adaptation highlights the two characters called Jaques/Jakes (Elizabethan for toilet), and the character whose pocket watch identifies him as Sir John Harrington, the inventor of the flush toilet!

What are they, a dunghill, and many references to excrement doing in this play? Why does As You Like It end with Jaques warning that Noah's flood is coming? Why are there other flood references, like Hercules cleansing the Augean stables of manure? Why does Touchstone go off to the ark with Audrey, who is named after St Ethelreda, the woman who was saved from a flood? Could this be the Last Day?

What exactly is this strange 'forest' with its many peculiar features? The author has left us clues! Guess what actually was surrounded by a 'circle', was a 'temple', turned into a 'desert', where everyone was starving, where there was a massacre of 'greasy citizens', people were hung on trees, where a 'lodge' was indeed burnt, and where there was a real 'Roman Conqueror'? Yes indeed, this detailed description fits only one historical circumstance-the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans 66-70C.E.! The play was written as a satirical allegory against Vespasian Caesar, the Roman conqueror of the Jews, who appears as the satanic Duke Senior. At the end, both he and his children (Titus and Domitian Caesar, who also make an allegorical appearance in the play), will be flushed away in an act of fantastic comic revenge by the English Jewish poet Amelia Bassano- who is the basanos or Touchstone, a misunderstood poet like Ovid--- wearing her allegorical disguise of the inventor of the toilet!

The Dark Lady Players, one of the world's most experimental Shakespeare companies, bring scholarship alive! They perform the allegorical level of the Shakespearean plays to show that they were written as Jewish revenge literature. This workshop production will demonstrate the validity of the latest of the top ten theories to be accepted by the Shakespearean Authorship Trust, that the plays were written by England's only Jewish poet the so-called 'Dark Lady', Amelia Bassano Lanier (1569-1645). To watch an extract from a forthcoming documentary go to http://www.darkladyplayers and click on Watch Video. Look for forthcoming article, perhaps on 19 May, in the Globe &Mail. A national and international tour for 2008/9 is being planned.

Show times for As You Like It; The Big Flush are as follows;

Sunday 20 July at 4.30pm
Saturday 26 July at 3.45pm
Sunday 3 August at 7.30pm
For tickets contact 212-279-4200 or
We are part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival in NYC

About the Director; STEPHEN WISKER is an English Theatre director who received a MFA in Directing Shakespeare from the University of Essex and trained at the Royal National Theatre's Studio Directors Course. He has been the Shakespeare teacher for Atlantic Acting School/ NYU Tisch School of the Arts. New York Shakespeare directing credits include Something Is Rotten on W37th: A Modern Adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet at The Zipper Theater and The Tempest at The Belt Theatre. Recent productions in Europe include: Love's Mistress at Shakespeare's Globe, Shakespeare e Il Gentil Sesso at the Edinburgh Festival, Antony and Cleopatra at the Birmingham School of Acting, an all-female Julius Caesar at The Man in The Moon, and Pyramus and Thisbe, a devised piece with an international cast, at the Actors Centre which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival. He first came to New York in 2002 to direct two World Premieres: Charles Evered's Adopt A Sailor and J. Dakota Powell's Exodus at the Brave New World Festival: New York Theatre Responds to 9-11 on Broadway, and directed the Spring 2005 production of Can't Pay! Won't Pay! at the Loft. Before moving to New York Stephen taught Shakespeare at the Actor's Centre in London. A devotee of clowning, self-conscious theatricality, and non-traditional casting, his work explores storytelling with physical as well as verbal language.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing: John Mutford's 2nd Pick For The Shakespeare Challenge

Of all the movie genres, I probably dislike romantic comedies the most. It's not a guy thing; I'm not opposed to love stories. However, romantic comedies tend to have an unbelievable love story and typically aren't funny. Yes, I can think of a few exceptions, but even those can't convince me to even consider going to see Made of Honor and the like.

Much Ado About Nothing was almost doomed from the get-go. And before you Shakespeare goons start with the "the man was a genius" argument, I'll quickly point out the mistaken identities, the eavesdropping, and the faked death near the end of this play. I hate to always come back to Three's Company when I refer to ridiculous situations, but again, it felt like such an episode.

But since I actually enjoyed Three's Company, I questioned why Much Ado About Nothing wasn't doing it for me. Was it too over the top? Perhaps. But then his tragedies are pretty over the top, and I like those. When half a cast is wiped out with brutal murders and suicides, it's really no more authentic than Don Pedro dressing up at a masquerade ball, pretending to be Claudio, and wooing Hero on his behalf.

Eventually I came around on it a little. It was a farce. It was entertaining. The love-hate chemistry of Benedick and Beatrice was good for a few witty chuckles. However, it still felt like Shakespeare just didn't seem to put the same care into this one. Most of the characters (except for the aforementioned Beatrice and Benedick) were flat and unconvincing. Hardly any time was spent on their motivations and some of the cast, such as Don Pedro and Claudio, seemed virtually indistinguishable from one another. Contrast this to the soul searching Hamlet or the guilt-ridden Macbeth. Or perhaps I just need a bit of blood-- maybe it is a guy thing after all.

The Soundtrack:
1. (You're The Devil) In Disguise- Elvis Presley
2. Jigs: Eavesdropper's/Both Meat and Drink/Off We Go- Great Big Sea
3. Your Cheatin' Heart- Hank Williams
4. I Hope I Don't Fall In Love With You- Tom Waits
5. It All Turns To Gold- Popa Chubby

Thursday, May 1, 2008

More Authorship Debate Books

I have 2 months to read 3 books about Shakespeare to finish my own challenge. I have recently purchased several books covering the Authorship debate, so I will be reading these.

Three of these books claim that the REAL authors were Christopher Marlowe, Sir Henry Neville or Edward De Vere (Duke of Oxford).

Christopher Marlowe

Sir Henry Neville

Edward De Vere (Duke of Oxford)

Monday, April 28, 2008


It has been a few years since I read a Shakespeare play. While I have reread one since high school, I have not taken time to read one on my own. I actually miss being taught Shakespeare especially the tragedies where there is so much going on. Othello has high drama, and at first, I liked the Othello character because he seemed innocent, honest, and devoted, but since this is a Shakespearean tragedy, he also has to be in some way foolish and/or mad. He believes too easily that Desdemona is cheating on him; he has some self-hatred and doubt about his love for her as well. The play is rather chaotic with its deceptive machinations by Iago and uncontrolled end, not to mention the narrative's time issues. Once Othello stops loving Desdemona and thinking the worse of her, it really is the climax and all order seems to go out the door in the scenes that follow:
Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul,
But I do love thee! and when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again.
--Othello, III.iii

Everyone seems to be contradictory or double-sided. Iago is obviously not honest. Othello has integrity and strength in public life or batle, but can not control his jealous and violent rage. Emilia is oblivious to Iago's nature, but seems to be aware of gender relations and disparities. Desdemona is both faithful and submissive, but at times, independent and lively. Iago is annoying. He's manipulative, calculating, and is a bit of a loon really. He does all this because he is jealous of Othello; jealousy drives many of the characters in this play. I feel sorry for all those caught in Iago's web of lies: Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and even poor stupid Roderigo. Why does he even listen to Iago in the first place? The end left me dissatisfied. Even more than other Shakespeare tragedies I've read. Maybe it's because we do not even see Iago die, but he does not repent or even any suffer weakness. I doubt I will reread this play as much as Hamlet or even King Lear, but I think it would be fantastic to see as a play form. The play is wonderfully dramatic with its jealous and violent characters.

Crossposted from Aquatique.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare
crossposted at Educating Petunia

Ah, Shakespearean rapture! How pleasing is thy sound. How tantalising thy taste. How did I abide so long without thee?

I've just finished Much Ado About Nothing and again name Shakespeare the master. The wickedness of Don John; the nobility of Benedick; the purity of Hero; the redemption of Claudio. It is all too marvellous.

"How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping!"
Claudio, a young soldier just returned victorious from battle, falls in love with the virtuous Hero. His friend, Prince Don Pedro, woos her for him behind a mask at a ball, winning her hand but also giving the Prince's jealous and villainous brother, Don John, an opportunity to cause mischief. Meanwhile, Claudio's other devoted friend, Benedick, who has sworn off marriage and brags of his fortitude in avoiding the wiles of the fairer sex, is to be the butt of a joke; he is to be fooled into thinking Hero's cousin, Beatrice, a woman set against marriage as much as he, is secretly in love with him. Likewise, Beatrice is to believe that Benedick pines away for her. But while this young love is blossoming, there is a much more sinister scene being hatched.

This is most certainly a comedy but it also has some very dramatic moments. I must critique honestly, I was left a little dizzy from the abrupt switches from humour to drama and back to humour again. I loved it all but sometimes the jokes seemed out of place when hearts are being broken and death has intruded. It seems inappropriate to laugh at such times. But then one has to remember that this is a play, meant to be performed. There are pauses in between lines. There are intermissions here and there. It is not as abrupt as it is in written form.

"When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married."
My favorite character was Benedick. He is so confident in his views, even as they contradict from one moment to the next, but he recognises innocence despite the appearance of contrary evidence presented by questionable characters. And the idiotic Dogberry made me laugh out loud. "Oh that I had been writ down an ass!" Too funny.

I leave you with this piece of art I found depicting the most dramatic scene from the play, Hero's accusation. The line at the bottom is spoken by her father, Leonato.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shakespeare's Plays Were Written By A Jewish Woman

Thanks to Shakespeare Geek (see sidebar) for this article.

Here's eight kinds of proof Amelia Bassano was the real Bard

For hundreds of years, people have questioned whether William Shakespeare wrote the plays that bear his name. The mystery is fueled by the fact that his biography simply doesn't match the areas of knowledge and skill demonstrated in the plays. Nearly a hundred candidates have been suggested, but none of them fit much better. Now a new candidate named Amelia Bassano Lanier—the so-called 'Dark Lady' of the Sonnets and a member of an Italian/Jewish family—has been shown to be a perfect fit. Here are eight reasons that are sure to convince you...

See the link above for the 8 reasons why she (might be) the author.

I don't know anything about this at all, I have never heard of Amelia Bassano. I just report whatever I find on the authorship debate. Although I might do a litle research.

If you are wondering why I havent blogged here for a while - there are 2 reasons.

1 Is that I got a new job, and
2 I havent read any new shakespeare books in the last 2 months for this challenge. I have 2 months to go to read 3 books. I better get cracking. How can I not complete my own challenge. (GASP!!). Because I am too busy reading for everyone else's challenges. (LOL)

What Patrick Stewart Does for Fun

Thanks to Shakespeare Geek (see sidebar) for this article.

CNN Interview with Patrick Stewart

Patrick Stewart is best known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the USS enteroprise ion the Sci-fi Tv series Star Trek, The Next Generation. STTNG is in fact my most favourite of all the Star Trek series. And Picard - being a french man - was my favourite captain, and character. I also liked Data as well.

This recent article is a pretty good biography of Patrick, and covers the fact that he is a huge Shakespeare fan, and that Shakespeare was his means of living, his bread and butter. Now Patrick is much more well known for Star Trek and The X-Men.

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare

Apparently it was Shakespeare's birthday on April 23rd. I missed it by 2 days. Oh dear. He would have been 444 years old, if he was still alive.

Shakespeare - Roman Plays Symposium

I have not blogged here for 2 months. Thats bad.

However, I have been asked to post a notice of a new Shakespeare Symposium happening in Washington DC on Saturday May 10th (in 2 weeks).

Here is the release.


A Discussion Series Exploring Shakespeare’s Roman Plays

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In conjunction with its rotating repertory productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, the Shakespeare Theatre Company presents a Roman Repertory Symposium in the Forum of Sidney Harman Hall (610 F Street, NW) on Saturday, May 10. The symposium explores Shakespeare’s Roman plays and their settings and includes discussions on Roman Repertory in Performance, Conspiracies in Shakespeare’s Rome, Rome as Metaphor, and The Private Lives of Public Citizens through the Lens of “Antony and Cleopatra.”

Directors David Muse and Michael Kahn, notable scholars Robert Miola and Sara Munson Deats, and International Spy Museum Director Peter Earnest will lead panel discussions. James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, will give the closing key note address. Tickets for the general public are $20 and $15 for STC subscribers, seniors, military and students. To reserve a space at Symposium events, visit or call the Box Office at 202.547.1122.

Symposium Sponsor
The Roman Repertory Symposium is sponsored by The Aspen Institute. Founded in 1950, The Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue. Through seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives, the Institute and its international partners seek to promote nonpartisan inquiry and an appreciation for timeless values. The Institute is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has campuses in Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye River near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Its international network includes partner Aspen Institutes in Berlin, Rome, Lyon, Tokyo, New Delhi, and Bucharest, and leadership initiatives in Africa, Central America, and India. The Shakespeare Theatre Company has previously collaborated with The Aspen Institute in 2005 by presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Institute’s 2005 Ideas Festival in Colorado.

• The Roman Repertory in Performance (10 a.m. – 11 a.m.). Join STC Artistic Director Michael Kahn, Associate Artistic Director David Muse and a guest artist in conversation about producing Shakespeare’s Roman plays, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra.
• Conspiracies in Shakespeare and Beyond (11:15 a.m.– 12:15 p.m.). Join International Spy Museum Director Peter Earnest and Bob Goldberg, Director, Tanner Humanities Center, University of Utah.
• The Private Lives of Public Citizens through the Lens of “Antony and Cleopatra” (12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m.). Join Scholar Sara Munson Deats in conversation with commentator Ken Adelman. This panel features a performance by members of the STC acting company.
• Break for Lunch from 1:30p.m. until 2:30 p.m. (lunch is not provided)
• Rome as Metaphor (2:30p.m. - 3:30 p.m.). Join Professor Robert Miola in conversation with Hunter Ripley Rawlings III.
• Closing key note by James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. (3:30p.m.- 4:30 p.m.)

About the Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s innovative approach to Shakespeare and other classic playwrights has earned it the reputation as the nation’s premier classical theatre company. By focusing on works with profound themes, complex characters and poetic language written by Shakespeare, his contemporaries and the playwrights he influenced, the Company’s artistic mission is unique among theatre companies: to provide vital, groundbreaking, thought-provoking, vibrant and eminently accessible theatre in a uniquely American style. The Company annually produces eight mainstage plays in its two downtown theatres and one free play in Rock Creek Park’s Carter Barron Amphitheatre. Artistic Director Michael Kahn has led the organization for 21 years, establishing the company as “the nation’s foremost Shakespeare company” (The Wall Street Journal) and “the best classical theatre in the country, bar none” (The Christian Science Monitor). For more information about the Shakespeare Theatre Company and its artistic and educational programs, visit

For more information, please contact

Lauren Beyea
Shakespeare Theatre Company at the Harman Center for the Arts
516 8th Street SE, Washington , D.C. 20003
T: 202.547.3230 ext. 2314
F: 202.547.0226

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson review by Athena

I listened to the audiobook. It's quite a short book about Shakespeare, but it covers many details and the lack there of of William Shakespeare's life. Bill Bryson is an author I've liked for years, and he is consistently an informative and shrewd writer. This was my first time reading a book of Shakespeare's life, but I've been aware of the debates of the doubts of his identity, sexuality, genius, etc. What Bryson sought out to do in the book is to avoid speculation that seems to run rampant among scholars and other biographies about Shakespeare. He evaluates and summarises the small amount of real information about Shakespeare we have at present. The book is a good as a brush up on the Elizabethan and early Jacobite eras. I learned quite a bit about the evolution of the human language, people, dress, and cities of the time. Bryson avoids making any big and blanket statements about the kind of man Shakespeare was, but he does shoot down theories about the idea that William Shakespeare was actually Bacon/ Marlowe/ Earl of Oxford/ your mother, etc. He also provides insights from historians and scholars either directly interviewing them or referencing their work. I think it is a really good introduction to Shakespeare that can provide grounding for further scholarly study about the man and the myth. A quick and recommended read. Crossposted from my blog

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Lodger Shakespeare on Silver Street

A new book has just arrived on the book shelevs.
The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street
By Charles Nicholl. There is a short video interview of Mr Nicholl at the bottom of the page.

One Mr Shakespeare that laye in the house...
In 1612 Shakespeare gave evidence at the Court of Requests in Westminster – it is the only occasion his spoken words are recorded. The case seems routine – a dispute over an unpaid marriage-dowry – but it opens up an unexpected window into the dramatist’s famously obscure life-story. Some eight years earlier, we learn, Shakespeare was lodging in the house of a French immigrant family, the Mountjoys, in the Cripplegate area of London. And while there he was called on by his landlady to ‘persuade’ the family’s former apprentice to marry their daughter.

Charles Nicholl applies a powerful biographical magnifying glass to this fascinating but little-known episode in Shakespeare’s life. Marshalling evidence from a wide variety of sources, including previously unknown documentary material on the Mountjoys, he conjures up a detailed and compelling description of the circumstances in which Shakespeare lived and worked, and in which he wrote such plays as Othello, Measure for Measure and King Lear. Nicholl also throws new light on the puzzling story of Shakespeare’s collaboration with the hack-author and brothel-keeper George Wilkins.

In this subtle and atmospheric exploration of Shakespeare at forty, we see him not from the viewpoint of literary greatness, but in the humdrum and very human context of Silver Street, where to the maid of the house he was merely ‘one Mr Shakespeare’, renting the room upstairs. In The Lodger, one of the celebrated literary detectives of our day has created something all too rare – a fresh and original book about Shakespeare.

The Third Part of King Henry The Sixth- John Mutford's 1st Pick for The Shakespeare Challenge

I have a pretty rigid cycle of reading to which I've dedicated myself:

1. A Canadian novel
2. A non-Canadian novel
3. Non-fiction (from anywhere)
4. alternate between a book of the Bible or a Shakespeare play
(all the while working through a book of poetry)

My wife teases that I'm way to anal about it, but I've grown accustomed to the cycle by now, and for the most part, find that it has more flexibility than it first appears.

Anyway, when I first saw this challenge, I thought "no problem." Afterall, every 8th book I read is one of Shakespeare's plays anyway. Then I got bogged down in a couple 400+ page books and I've already missed a month of the challenge.

Finally though I've gotten around to reading the third part of King Henry the Sixth, and this marks my first of four plays for the Shakespeare challenge. I've treated the parts as three separate plays and my first two reviews appear here and here. This is my review of the third part as it appeared on The Book Mine Set:

Classy cover, don't you think?

Shakespeare was one of those rare breeds to make the third installment of a trilogy the best.

Unlike the first two parts, the third seems more streamlined. The plot still revolves around challenges to King Henry's throne, but all the subplots of earlier have pretty much subsided. Instead there seems to be much more interest in exploring themes of male roles in the family, especially in terms of inheritance and power.

Not to make it entirely a masculine story, Queen Margaret almost steals the show once again with her wickedness. After giving the Duke of York the news that his son has been murdered, she offers him a napkin stained with the son's blood to wipe away his tears. Then she has the duke decapitated and sticks his head upon the gates of York so that "York may overlook the town of York."

While that last line might seem like a throwaway, really not all that clever when you consider he was only named the Duke of York after the town, making the wordplay not all that playful, it was clever as a symbol. While Margaret is delighting in her own sinfulness, Shakespeare seemed to be toying with the idea of a sinister, or at least doomed, reflection. Fathers pass down legacies of revenge to their sons, brothers plot against one another, all the while having the same blood. He takes this up more blatantly later on in the play having two briefly appearing characters simply named A Son That Has Kill'd His Father and A Father That Has Kill'd His Son.

While the King Henry The Sixth trilogy ends here, I'm relieved for the first time that there'll be more to the story. King Richard the Third takes up where this one left off (fortunately with Queen Margaret still alive and kicking).

The Soundtrack:
1. Hand Me Down World- The Guess Who
2. Off With Your Head- Sleater-Kinney
3. Evil Woman- Electric Light Orchestra
4. Brother Down- Sam Roberts
5. Kings and Queens- Aerosmith

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Shakespeare's Global Globe

Shakespeare's Global Globe

This just came over the ex-Libris Mailing list. You DO need the latest FLASH to see this.
I have an old version of IE which is blocking me, but I have no problem using Mozilla Firefox browser.

I am pleased to announce the launch of a new website -- Shakespeare's
Global Globe ( -- that provides an instantaneous
visualization of all self-reporting readers of Shakespeare's plays on
the planet, viewable by region, genre and play. Upon arrival at the
site, visitors are asked to indicate which Shakespeare play they are
currently reading and where they are on the planet. The site then
locates that reader and play at a particular point on the globe, which
remains illuminated for two weeks. Site visitors can also explore
what other readers of Shakespeare are doing in different cities,
regions or continents using a range of display options.

The site was designed to explore regional reading habits in an
informal way, with an emphasis on ease of use and intelligibility. It
can be accessed from any location where there is an internet
connection, and the map of global readers is constantly updated, so
users can see new readers appearing on the map in realtime.

Please do take time to visit the site and, of course, if you are
reading a Shakespeare play at the moment, please go ahead and place a
digital pin on the global map!

This seems to be based out of Carnegie Mellon University in USA.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Shakespeare's Influence

Shakespeare also invented many of the most-used expressions in our language. Bernard Levin skillfully summarizes Shakespeare's impact in the following passage from The Story of English:

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare;

if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare;

if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare;

if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare;

if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise - why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare;

if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare;

even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I were dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness' sake! what the dickens! but me no buts - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.

(Bernard Levin. From The Story of English. Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Viking: 1986).

The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original. At the below SOURCE is a chart listing some of the words Shakespeare coined, hyperlinked to the play and scene from which it comes. When the word appears in multiple plays, the link will take you to the play in which it first appears.


If you are looking for more words invented by Shakespeare be sure to read the wonderful book Coined By Shakespeare by Jeffrey McQuain and Stanley Mallessone. Each entry in the book comes with a history of the word.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My First Book for the Challenge

I've finished my first book for the challenge and put the review on my blog. It wasn't on my list - I stumbled across it on the New Books shelf at the library. Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell is a murder mystery linked to the possible discovery of a work by Shakespeare that was rumored to exist but had been lost. The concept was intriguing, the execution less than satisfying to me.

I'm half way through Will in the World, How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare and I've found it more interesting and a better read.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lots of Laughs

My review of The Taming of the Shrew is up at my blog, Educating Petunia.

Of course, the humor of the play is undeniable. The lesson that goes along with it is eloquently put at the end by Katherine, whether you agree with what she says or not. I had a great time with it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Monday, January 7, 2008

44 Fascinating Things about Shakespeare

There's this blogger who recently finished reading 592 pages of Shakespeare the Autobiography by Peter Ackroyd. Never mind that there is NOT 592 pages worth of documentary evidence for Shakespeare's life, Peter Ackroyd certainly does well to make the attempt.

Now I haven't read this biography yet, but in the meantime, this fellow I mentioned, has just finished reading it, and he has listed 44 Fascinating things about Shakespeare that he didn't know. It might be possible that you don't know them either.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The challenge begins!

The Chicago Public Library recently started offering on-line downloads of audio books, and I came across Shakespeare's Greatest Hits Volume I. There are four plays: Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night, MacBeth, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Unfortunately, after years of literature study, the idea of parking myself on the couch with a volume of plays is tragically uninteresting to me. But listening to the plays while ironing and doing the other mundane household tasks has been fun. Plays were meant to be enacted, so naturally, it is far more interesting to listen to actors read them. The plays are abridged, but I think this volume, authored?/edited?/directed? by Bruce Coville, loses nothing. I recommend these as a supplement to anyone's Shakespeare readings.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Pamela's Shakespeare List

Pamela's Shakespeare list
Pamela - If you check your dashboard, you will see that you can actually post to the Shakespeare blog directly just like your own blog (thats because you are a member).

Therefore you can link directly from this blog back to your original post where you list your books. I've done this one for you, but when you finished reading the books, you might want to post your own reviews.

Shakespeare Challenge now STARTED

A Reminder that the SHAKESPEARE Challenge has now started. It runs from today until June 31st. You need to read 4 (four) books about Shakespeare. This can include the plays and the sonnets.