Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “William Shakespeare”

Bard Bits: Rumor Has It

Let’s face it, there are aspects about Shakespeare that make some people uncomfortable. The Victorians were great fans of his plays, yet remain a bit perturbed about certain details about him. Maybe people have reservations about Shakespeare, because people, well, people like to gossip. For instance:

Oh, Susanna
William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway were married and six months later their first born daughter Susanna arrived. That puts the honeymoon before cutting the wedding cake.

In Elizabethan times there was a “troth-plight” contract which meant that once a couple became engaged they were considered practically married, which meant Susanna’s birth date isn’t necessarily as shocking as supposed.

About Those Sonnets…
Sonnet 18. Sigh. Comparing a dear love to a summer’s day–so romantic, so lovely, so not addressed to a woman.

In fact, Sonnets 1 through 18 are addressed to a young nobleman blessed with good looks, good name, and unfortunately had an avoidance of marriage. The speaker, penned by Shakespeare, encourages this young man to marry so he can procreate (to carry on the family name was a big deal in those times). All this word frippery about loveliness is not being applied to a woman’s beauty but to the vanity of this young man. It comes down to Shakespeare trying to convince this young nobleman that his children will be beautiful because he is so amazingly handsome, so he should get married and get busy and create some heirs. Maybe the young man’s mother wanted to become a grandmother sooner than later.

I know, Hallmark didn’t get the memo about the intent of the poem.

An additional footnote is that male friendship was quite different than today’s comfort zone. Men hung out with men because women mostly stayed at home (unless the woman was the ruling monarch). Each gender had their own circle of influence. Men openly showed their appreciation and affection and admiration for one another through linking arms and walking together, and they would even kiss one another (on the lips–get over it, please). This open non-sexual relationship standard of expression superseded our current culture bromance. So those poems extolling the virtues of the young man? No problem. No stigma–at least during Elizabethan times. We simply need to remove our 21st century hats and understand that different times meant different perspectives.

And What About That Dark Lady?
The latter half of Shakespeare’s sonnets are addressed to a woman known as the Dark Lady. Was she his mistress? Someone he admired? A random topic he fancied to dwell upon?

We don’t know.

Yet, people, yes, those Victorians, and probably still today, tend to titter and speculate. We don’t know, so stop the rumors already.

Ghost Writer
I am not even going to address the whole “Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays” conspiracy theory. As David Tennant said: “I don’t care.”

Long Distant Dad/Husband
Some Bard distractors have snippedly mentioned how absent Shakespeare was from his family, that he wasn’t even there when his only son died. Well, commuting back and forth from London, a good two-three day journey each way, didn’t make it possible to be home every weekend. While we don’t have records of Shakespeare at home while he was a playwright in London, there are records that he was investing in property and buying homes, and this shows how he was providing for his family. When he did retire, he did so comfortably, and he remained in Stratford until his death.

Second Best Wife Bed
In Elizabethan times a wife was entitled to one third of her husband’s estate–Anne would get the goods, basically. The fact that Shakespeare states he “gives my wife my second best bed with the furniture” seems unnecessary then, right? There is the belief that the second-best bed was the marriage bed, the one he shared with Anne (when he was home) and the best bed would be the one set aside for guests. Bequeathing the second-best to Anne would be seen as a sentimental gesture, showing that Shakespeare didn’t have to provide a poem to share his feelings about his wife.

There is a fair amount of speculation about what Shakespeare might have been, not have been, yet the important part about Shakespeare is that he knew about people and that his plays (most of them) still speak to the human condition 400 years later.

In all probability Shakespeare was conservative (didn’t go in for boisterous pub frolics like the other players and writers), and was no doubt a bit ordinary (he wasn’t a spy like Marlowe), and he was somewhat of a quiet pundit (preferring to express his opinions through his wit and words in his writings).

What rumors have you heard about Shakespeare?

Shakespeare Goes to the Movies

David Garrick in Hamlet, I, 4

David Garrick in Hamlet, I, 4  Is he as surprised the Bard inspired moving and shaking found in film?(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare would no doubt be uber-wealthy from selling screen rights had he lived so long to see all his plays adapted to the screen.  In fact, I wonder how many students realize that all those adaptations have a primary source in the form of stage?  Shakespeare was indeed a playwright and not a screenwriter, yet it is difficult to realize that fact with so many adaptations running around in the cinemas. It’s fairly safe to say that a Shakespeare-driven plot comes out at least once during the year.

With that all out of the way, you can imagine my delight when I came across a website devoted to all the film versions of Shakespeare. It groups them by play and 176 pages you get the idea how much influence old Billy the Bard on Hollywood.  The Hamlet section only is nearly 20 pages!

Oh yeah–this is another Library of Congress find. Have I gushed enough about how the Library of Congress so absolutely rocks?

This treasury of Shakespeare is not just films.  It includes the serious to the silly. Having just finished our AP rundown of Hamlet and Co, I found some select entries for our favorite Prince of Denmark:

HAMLET (Icon Productions/Warner Bros., 1990). Dir Franco Zeffirelli. Wrt Christopher De Vore,
Zeffirelli. With Mel Gibson (Hamlet), Glenn Close (Gertrude), Alan Bates (Claudius), Paul Scofield (The Ghost), Ian Holm (Polonius), Helena Bonham-Carter (Ophelia).
1 videodisc of 1 (laser), ca. 135 min, sd, color, 12 in. LC Purchase Collection. DAA 3087.

HAMLET–CLAUDIUS (ACTOR, A Center for Theatre, Education, and Research, University of California, Santa Barbara/Barr Films, 1991). Series: Shakespeare Explorations with Patrick Stewart. Artistic Director: Patrick Stewart. Technical Director/Editor: Ray Tracy.
1 videocassette of 1 (VHS), 25 min, sd, color, 1/2 in. Copyright Collection. VAD 3701.
Produced for educational use (college level). Patrick Stewart discusses and acts selected parts of the play portraying the character of King Claudius. (VHS)

TALES FROM THE CRYPT. TOP BILLING (Tales From the Crypt Holdings/HBO, 6/26/1991). Dir Todd Holland. Wrt Myles Berkowitz. With Jon Lovitz, Bruce Boxleitner, John Astin, Louise Fletcher, Kimmy Robertson.
1 videocassette of 1, 28 min, sd, color, 3/4 in. Copyright Collection. VBI 9816.
Episode from the 3rd season of the horror anthology series based on the comic books published by
William Gaines in the 1950’s. A failed actor (Lovitz), who cannot get work because he doesn’t have “the look,” answers a casting call for Hamlet only to find himself chosen for the part of Yorick’s skull in a staging of the play by inmates of an insane asylum. (DVD – on Tales from the Crypt–The Complete Third Season)

GREEN EGGS AND HAMLET (Rock’s Eye Productions, 1995). Dir Mike O’Neal. Wrt O’Neal, Chris
Springfield. With Allen Corcorran (Hamlet), Ronald H. Cohen (The King), Richard “Humus” Doherty (The Queen), Josh “Coppertone” Powlesson (Laertes), Robert A. Knop, Jr. (Polonius), Siobhán F. Jess (Ophelia), David Seal (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern), Richard James Mason Horatio).
1 videocassette of 1 (VHS), ca. 77 min, sd, color, 1/2 in. Copyright Collection. VAE 6461.

Got a hankering for a Titus or a Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Check it out Shakespeare on Film

English: banner Shakespeare

Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading Between the Lines


I had no idea how wrong I was really reading until I read Thomas Foster’s book.  Okay, not so much as wrong, but unenlightened.  The catchy title hook of “a lively and entertaining guide to reading between the lines” is truly that.

Professor of English at the University of Michigan, Foster showcases his deep and wide literary knowledge through his delightful instructive on how to really read literature.  His style is as if you are sitting in on lecture due to its friendly, conversant tone. And yes–it is quite entertaining. If there were more literature professors like Foster we might have an overrun of English teachers in the population, then again, maybe the population would become more knowledgable about literature after taking his class.  However, if traveling to Michigan  is inconvenient, I suggest picking up this book.

Reading like a professor simply means gaining an understanding of  all those hidden nuances of that suddenly pop out in 3D once you know they are there.  Kind of like finding the Waldos in the picture once you know what he looks like.

Here is a smattering of chapters:

  • Every Trip Is a Quest (Except When It’s Not)
  • Nice To Eat With You: Acts of Communion
  • If It’s Square, It’s a Sonnet
  • When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare…
  • ….Or from the Bible
  • It’s Greek to Me

Foster provides the literary basics (themes and motifs; models; and narrative devices)and utilizes a tremendous variety of examples of genres ranging from Homer to Shakespeare to Toni Morrison (Foster has an absolute thing for Beloved). Succinctly stated, Foster literally reduces the intimidation of reading literature.

You can even test your newly acquired knowledge on the included short story “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield.

For those of you who prefer novels to literature you can check out his companion book:

This is one of those books I wished had been available when I was struggling with Melville and the like in college.  Future AP students be forewarned: expect Foster’s book on the summer reading list. A much better choice than Moby Dick (which you will be able to read once having read Foster).

Romeo, Oh Romeo…

Today will the last day of the Romeo and Juliet unit for my freshmen.  We will end it appropriately with an Insult-o-Rama, which is basically a member from each designated family, Montague vs Capulet, stepping up to the line in our market square and squaring off with insults ala Bard.  You know the ones:

“Thou art an apish, lily-livered bed presser.” If that one doesn’t sting enough:

“Thou be an insolent foot-licking parasite.”  These go beyond thumb-biting, and it is all in good fun.  I keep my door shut just in case, as it does get a bit loud.

My focus when studying Romeo and Juliet is not so much as an introduction and exploration of Shakespeare’s famous play, it is more of an exploration and introduction to Shakespeare himself.  Surprisingly, my freshmen come to class with about a teaspoonful of knowledge about him.  Then again, I didn’t have any exposure to Shakespeare until I began teaching him.  I had heard of him, of course, but I didn’t really believe he had much physical substance.  I placed him a little bit above the Loch Ness monster in that there might be evidence of his existence, but not totally proven. After about ten years into teaching Shakespeare I believe a bit more and in fact have become a proponent of making sure my students appreciate his genius.  Please, no theories on Bacon and company and “Will the real Will please stand up, please” comments.  I think his plays, sonnets, and poems rock.

And so our curriculum starts with Romeo and his Juliet.  I guess two teenagers who are heck-bent on breaking rules by disobeying parents, state law and such still resonates with the teens today.  It makes sense, since if we started off with Macbeth they might go into spasms of cerebral overload.  We start them off gently.  Good call, curriculum powers that be.

Overall, we read a little, act it out a little, and watch different versions.  By the end of the unit most of them can understand Shakespearean language without consulting their No Fear Shakespeare interpretations.  Some students go into unattractive fits of eye-rolling and twitching at the  thought that they will study Shakespeare in their sophomore and senior year.  I don’t know why we skip him their junior year. American Lit studies have no room for him I guess.

There are many faces of Romeo, and both the girls and guys relate to his brash impetuosity.  Who wouldn’t want to be that in love?  Oh, Romeo, thou art timeless.

I leave off with some of the many faces of Romeo with his Juliet:


image: wikipedia


Romeo Juliet

Romeo Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still of Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in West Side Story


Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: