Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Ask Me About Shakespeare

    Last summer, in a comment thread that was originally about something else, some of the dagbloggers got me into a side conversation about Shakespeare and linguistics. In that conversation, Orlando wished that I would blog about Shakespeare more often since, you know, I actually work on him for a living.

    But I think what made that thread work was that it was a comments thread, with me answering questions that other people were curious about. I don't think it would work as well if it were just me dropping a thousand words about whatever interests me about Shakespeare right now. And what I usually write on the topic is, by its nature, about what's interesting to other professional specialists. Experts are always going to be interested in talking about what's murky and complicated, because that's what they still need to work to understand, rather than about things that seem relatively clear.

    So let's try it this way: instead of me telling you things about Shakespeare, you ask me about Shakespeare and I'll do my best to answer. I'm at home writing something else this weekend while my spouse is away at a conference. So I'll be around and checking in over the next few days.

    A few ground rules to prevent disappointment:

    1. If I don't know something, I'll say that. And if nobody knows something, I'll say that, too.

    2. I'll probably answer some questions with lots of buts, ifs, and maybes, like stereotypical academics do, because sometimes the only honest answer has a lots of buts and maybes.

    3. I'm more interested in explaining how we know things than I am in giving my opinion. (I have other places to peddle my opinions on this subject.) So when something's a subject of debate I might suggest what I think, but I'm more interested in explaining why different sides think what they do, and what kind of evidence we use to go on.

    If this all sounds deadly dull to you well .... the comments will be worse. But if there's something you'd like to know: ask away.


    Let's start with an easy one.

    Which commercial editions of his plays do you prefer...Arden...Cambridge...Oxford...?

    I've been buying the Arden edition because I like the opening essays aside from all the "inside Shakespeare" discussion of Folio this and Quarto that.

    And, as a follow up, what do you think of the "Shakespeare wasn't written by Shakespeare but by someone else" controversy?

    A good question.

    I'm a fan of the Arden Shakespeare series. The standard edition of the Complete Works I generally use is the Norton Shakespeare, 2d edition. That's what I usually cite from when I'm writing an article; it is standard.

    If you're looking for inexpensive paperbacks, both the Folger Shakespeare Library and the new Pelican series are overseen by very smart editors.

    The longer answer is that there are particular editors I prefer more than others, although I'm not going to name any individuals whose work I don't trust. That's not helpful, because it's not a useful guide for you. The question of how to edit Shakespeare -- the Quarto and Folio stuff -- has turned into a thorny one, with various camps, and most of the major series (Arden, Cambridge, Oxford World's Classics) include editors with very different approaches.

    I'm partial to the Arden series myself, and it always gives the most useful additional material. But the quality varies with the editor to some extent ... some of the newest Arden editions are favorites of mine, and a couple make me roll my eyes.

    As for the someone-besides-Shakespeare theories: no. There's really nothing there. William Shakespeare is actually a very well-documented historical figure and the evidence that he's the primary writer of these plays and poems is so strong that to throw it out we'd have to throw out all the rules of evidence. (There are other important writers from the period that we have less biographical evidence about, but we don't doubt them, either.)

    The standard of proof here is original historical documents. There are dozens and dozens of documents from during and just after Shakespeare's lifetime in which dozens of separate witnesses identify him as the writer of those works. There is no documented witness who ever points to anyone else as the author. Not one. It's pretty simple.

    And yet the controversy lives and continues to sell.

    I knew a proponent of the Edward de Vere theory--a scriptwriter for National Geo-- who wanted to mount an underwater expedition to Nova Scotia (I think it was) to search for a chest filled with paper that had supposedly been buried in a deep hole that was later submerged when the water table rose--or something.

    The theory went that de Vere, or someone at his direction, had collected the papers, maybe copies of the plays, that would prove his authorship and sent them to North America...for some reason or other.

    Another friend who founded a Shakespeare theater in Amherst continues to think that revealing papers will be found some day buried in the attic of a remote estate in the English countryside.

    I would also like to say that somewhere there is a magical stash of lost documents that will prove that I am right about everything.

    The conspiracy theorists have a long history of wanting to dig up various tombs, etc., to find the "missing documents." (Not that they have any evidence that tells them that such documents exist.) It goes all the way back to Delia Bacon, the first conspiracy theorist back in the 19th century, who wanted to dig up William Shakespeare's grave in Stratford. (Why the "real" author would bury the evidence with the "fake" author is ... well, this isn't about straightforward logic.)

    Mostly journalists keep the conspiracy theory going. And it's fun for people.

    My understanding of the Iliad, to take one example, is that it was most probably dictated by a blind singing bard taken from previous songs sung centuries before Homer. 

    Linguists tell me that some of the Iliad that we read today dates back to a 'Homer' and yet it appears that there was a Homeric School that over the decades and centuries edited the 'original' script. 

    I recall a 19th Century tome (a reproduction) containing all of the Shakespearean Plays (even though 'experts' are not always sure of authorship).

    I also understand that over four hundred years some 'editing' occurred.

    19th century reproductions were printed by editors with Victorian sensibilities, for instance.

    Now unlike Homer, everything written by Shakespeare was eventually printed by Gutenberg's wondrous invention. 

    What manuscripts are the oldest that we have available today?

    Is there much in the way of writings actually written by The Bard?

    How much in the way of editing have you come across in the extant manuscripts?

    Good question. Shakespeare is not like Homer, in that he's an identifiable historical individual. Homer is a legendary figure who didn't quite exist. William Shakespeare was a person who got married, bought land, paid (and sometimes didn't pay) taxes, and we have records of those things. We have his baptismal record. We can read his will. And we have lots of records identifying him as the primary author of his poems and plays.

    Our record of his works starts with print. Everything we have of his was printed in his lifetime or in the ten years or so after it. He dies in 1616 and nearly everything is in print by 1623.

    What we don't have are manuscript (i.e. hand-written) copies of his works from before they were printed. [Where did those manuscripts go? The printers might have thrown them away. They might have been lost when the Globe playhouse burned in 1613, or when all of England's acting companies got shut down in 1642. Or they might have been lost when Shakespeare's family died out in the late 1600s. Impossible to say. The real answer is that no one even thought about looking for the writer's personal manuscripts until the 1700s, and by then they were gone.]

    Editors from 1709 until now have worked by analyzing, recombining, and massaging the early printed versions into new editions. And yes, those reflect all kinds of editorial decisions.

    But the early versions have also clearly been edited in all kinds of ways ... changed by actors, scribes, printers, whatever. And there are definitely some mistakes ... misprints, transcription errors, and so on. Also, many of the important works exist in multiple early versions that contradict each other, so that when you get a modern copy of Hamlet, King Lear, or Romeo and Juliet some of what you're reading has been spliced together from different early printings.

    There are two basic approaches. One is to try to clear away everything but what Shakespeare wrote himself. But that's almost impossible, because we can't ever know for sure which parts were his and which weren't. The other approach is to accept that there are other hands involved, especially in the plays, and not to worry about that. The thinking there is that his writing for the theater was supposed to be a collaboration with his acting partners and sometimes with other playwrights, and so trying to take out the collaborators might be a mistake.

    The two "cleanest" early printings are his narrative poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, which are carefully printed and which Shakespeare himself dedicates to a noble patron. So those have been overseen by Shakespeare in ways that the other books might not have been. And those two books are really just his in ways that his plays weren't necessarily.

    It would have been so much fun to have a class professored by you! hahah

    I was thinking about Shaw.

    I have written before how Shaw was a work in progress, that he would only add essays to his plays discussing possible outcomes. Shakespeare would certainly have been a work in progress so that his plays would change whilst he lived and produced.

    My entire thought process involved the fact that we cannot be sure of anything, even following Gutenberg. hahaha

    The 'cleanest printings'; what a marvelous moniker! I love this!

    And yet, we have always as a species, taken what has been and attempted to adapt it!

    I swear to Almighty God, it would have been fun to take your classes a number of times.


    Totally agree.

    Thank you, gentlemen. My students are of three minds: some think my classes are fun. Some think my classes are no fun. And some think my classes are fun until I grade their papers.

    Not a question, but a comment or two...

    For years, decades really, I avoided going to see Shakespeare because I couldn't understand what the actors were saying.

    Ian McKellen's Acting Shakespeare was sort of a turning point for me, and I'm ashamed to say that when he asked for volunteers, I chickened out and didn't go up.

    I now have season's tickets to the Washington Shakespeare Theater and find that it takes me about 5-10 minutes to fully get what's going on.

    Unless I've read the play beforehand.

    I've found that no one fills me with more joy at being human than Shakespeare. Especially the scenes with country folk in which much wise silliness goes on.

    He also fills me with the most dread. In particular, the scene with the night porter (I think it is) in Macbeth after the murder's been committed, the house is dead quiet and guilt hangs thick in the air, and there comes the knock at the front door.

    Yikes. Wanted to jump out of my seat and head for the exit...

    I'm totally with you for the joy and the dread. These plays really are marvelous.

    And as for not knowing what's going on ... I've totally been there. No one's been born speaking this particular dialect of English for 350 years. And everyone who's gotten to the point where they're comfortable with the early modern dialect had to go through a long period of not understanding it, followed by a period of understanding a little of it, a period of understanding some of it, a period of understanding most of it. People who are "experts" got that way by slogging through the confusion for a long time.

    But it does become clearer when it's performed. It's meant to be spoken. And some actors are especially skilled at getting the language across.

    He seems to use a very condensed syntax--not sure if that's the right way to put it--in which the meaning is conveyed. Lots of elision is maybe the way to put it. So when I re-read sentences to get what's going on, I find I've skipped over a lot of thoughts that he's packed into just a few words. Lots of implied or indirect expression.

    Yes.You're picking up a number of things there. The biggest barrier to comprehension is the syntax: it's not so much the words but the order they're in. (Most people fix on the obsolete words as the big barrier, but that's only a small minority of the words being used.)

    Part of the syntax problem is historical: early modern English is more tolerant of scrambled word-order, as part of the English language's long march from being a case-ending language with no fixed word order to being a language with fixed word order and no case endings. Early modern English is almost out of the woods, but can still look back and see the old system. And poets, being poets, will always take every bit of flexibility a language gives them.

    Once you learn to recognize the verse beat (the five-beat, ten-syllable line), you get better at hearing why he's moved some words around. He's trying to keep his rhythm going.

    There's also the fact that Shakespeare leans on word order hard for reasons, as you say, of compression and concision. He gets a lot done fast. And in some ways that's like listening to street slang, or to a conversation between people who know each other very well. A whole lot of information getting communicated very quickly.

    But again, all of this gets easier with patience and practice. You understand more the longer you're exposed to it, and you have to let that take the time it takes.

    I didn't know what the hell I was hearing until an audition for Hamlet was put out in my college years. There was a reading done by a young man who owned the words because he was thinking them. He refused the part afterwards. It kind of made sense. It was the best performance of the soliloquy I ever witnessed.

    The stream of consciousness element in the plays is what is so hard to live up to as an actor. Even really skilled actors often fail to come to terms with the demand.

    I like the filmed Olivier version of Richard the Third. It has that quality of thinking out loud that scares the crap out of me.

    I'll have to get that.

    Rats! doesn't stream on Netflix, but Pacino, Searching for Richard does.

    The selection for any streaming service is really spotty. I was shocked recently to find that I could pay to stream the Olivier Henry V (which is demented, experimental, and great), but not the Branagh Henry V.

    No service has a really thorough catalog. And the window for particular movies can close without warning. So if you wanted to stream the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet in November you could, but today you can't.

    What does stream on Netflix and just vaporized a few days of my life is the BBC House of Cards, (speaking of Richard III) of which it is said that Ian Richardson was doing Richard III redux in his fourth wall breaches.

    What's your favorite reset Shakespeare?  I've worked on a couple of productions and one of my favorites was one where I co-directed and we reset A Midsummer Night's Dream in Jamiaca.  Our Rude Mechanicals definitely inhaled.  Also worked on a Mucho Ado About Nothing set in the Civil War in the U.S., which added too much darkness to a light plot.

    Good question. On film, my favorite has to be Richard Loncraine's Richard III, with Ian McKellen as Richard and the 1930s costuming. That works because they don't just use it to make the obvious point (i.e. the bad guy is like a fascist) but to get across a lot of smaller points that can get lost in translation. The Queen and her family are nouveau riche upstarts that the "real" nobles look down on; in Loncraine's film, the Queen and her brother are Americans. That gets the basic feel across.

    On stage, I've enjoyed two different versions of Midsummer Nights Dream: a Harlem Renaissance setting directed by a friend of mine, with African-America fairies who were invisible because the white characters didn't notice them, and a charmingly executed Beatlemania MND done by Cleveland's resident Shakespeare festival, which had the two most important things that play could have: a strong actor to play Bottom and a strong actress to play Helena.

    My dad's still raving about a Much Ado About Nothing my parents saw in New York on their honeymoon: a Spanish-Civil-War-era setting and Sam Waterson as Benedick. I've never seen it, but I feel as if I have.


    I saw that Much Ado with Sam Waterson as Benedick just a few months after I had done the role in a production in Oklahoma City.   Waterson was good in the role and the production was an interesting re-imagining.  It was filmed and later shown on CBS.  It used to be available on VHS, so you might be able to find a copy somewhere. 

    I always loved Much Ado for that wonderful scene in the chapel between Benedick and Beatrice, where Shakespeare switches the play from comedy to drama.   After both have been tricked into thinking the other is in love with them, the first time Benedick and Beatrice are alone together, is right after Claudio spurns Hero at the altar.  Benedick tries to tell Beatrice that he loves her, but she tells him that if he really loved her, he would kill Claudio.  It's a moment that never fails to send a thrill up my spine.  And theatrically, it works like gangbusters.   Benedick makes a vow to go confront Claudio and challenge him to a duel and suddenly all the silliness is forgotten and the play takes on a different tone.

    Personally, I wish more productions of Shakespeare's less popular plays were produced here in NYC.  At this point in my life, I would rather see something like A Winter's Tale, than another production of Romeo and Juliet or As You Like It. 

    So, my question to you is, what Shakespeare play do you wish were produced more often  ,,, and why?

    Aha! Another Benedick Waterson fan! Thanks for the tip about the video; I actually bought a copy for my dad for his birthday one year.

    I'm a very big fan of that play myself, and like you I love the sudden switch both in the play's genre and in Benedick's behavior. I love the next scene, where the Prince and Claudio are expecting him to play the clown for them and find themselves dealing with a very different Benedick ... a person they didn't actually know existed.

    I think you're actually more likely to see less-frequently-produced Shakespeare in New York than you are in most of the rest of the country; I know exactly how you feel, but Shakespeare that almost never comes to Off- or Off-Off-Broadway is really never coming to Cleveland, or Tucson, or Iowa City. The Public did do a complete cycle several years ago, and little troupes will occasionally do a lesser-known work. I was absolutely blown away by the Fiasco Theater's Cymbeline Off-Broadway a few years ago, so much so that I thought, "That's almost certainly the best Cymbeline I'll ever see in my life. I don't want to see another production of this play for at least ten years."

    If you're willing to travel now and then to see some off-the-beaten-path Shakespeare, you could try some of the harder-core Shakespeare festivals.The festivals in Stratford, Ontario and Ashland, Oregon mix in the occasional rarity with the favorites, or you could go to the American Shakespeare Center in remote (I am so not kidding about remote) Staunton, Virginia, which is maybe the hardest-core Elizabethan repertory company working in North America today. There isn't much else to do in Staunton, but that theater will put on shows that you almost never see anywhere else in the States.

    What I'd really love to see produced more often are the other English Renaissance dramatists, not Shakespeare but his contemporaries. A lot of them did great work, but even the other playwrights' stone-cold masterpieces don't get staged much in the United States (except, of course, in Staunton, Virginia).

    But if there's one Shakespeare play I'd like to see on stage more often it's Troilus and Cressida, which is really brilliant and funny, but not the Shakespeare we think we know from the other comedies: so much darker and meaner.

    Yes, I remember when the Public Theater did the cycle a few years ago.  I got to see a couple of the plays I had never seen produced.  I used to see the productions in Central Park every year, but I'm not sure my achin' back could handle the seating now.  

    I think seeing Measure for Measure in the Park, many years ago, was the first time I really enjoyed and understood that play.  On the other hand, I also saw them do a really awful production of Othello.  But never mind that. 

    Oh, so here's a fun question;  which Shakespeare play do you think people misunderstand the most?   Which one do most people just get wrong?  

    I don't think there are whole plays that people get wrong, or that I think are never done right. (Part of this is the pleasure of public-domain Shakespeare; I can always count on someone else doing it another way.) There are particular scenes or moments that I think get misunderstood, because we don't get them or because they make us uncomfortable so we don't want to get them.

    If I had to pick a play that has a lot of misunderstandings, I'd say that we often misread things about Romeo and Juliet to take away some of its weirdness. It has comedy in weird places where we think it's inappropriate, so we either cut those parts or ruin all the laughs. And there's a tendency to turn the feud into part of some larger political conflict, so that the Capulets and Montagues are different races or religions or factions. I get why people do that, but it also gives the Capulets and Montagues a comprehensible reason for what they're doing. The simpler and scarier truth is that they don't have a reason. They're just screwing around. The violence in the streets is for nothing.

    It also drives me crazy that people say (sometimes in K-12 classrooms) that it was normal for a girl Juliet's age to get married. That is really, really not true. Elizabethans tended to marry late. (A few titled nobility got married that early in arranged marriages, basically as a business deal, but that was a legal technicality; the newlyweds weren't expected to consummate things in bed until years later.) But when we say that getting married at 14 is just How They Did It Back in the Day, we not only get our history wrong but we miss out on part of the reaction the original audience would have had.

    We hear some of the marriage negotiations in the second scene, with her father telling the suitor in a general way that she's still too young, but it isn't until the beginning of the next scene that we hear how young she really is. And I think that's meant to be a shock. You hear a father saying that his daughter's still too young, and a suitor arguing to marry her right away, and you probably mentally fill in a rough age: she's might be eighteen, or sixteen. Then the next scene starts with Juliet's mother asking how old she is, and we hear a much lower number. I think the response that's meant to provoke is, "Whoa, whoa! Fourteen next month? Everyone just slow down."

    Also, the leads often get played as the Greatest Lovers of All Time, which kills it. If you play them as two impetuous kids who are suddenly in love, you usually get further with that.

    Excellent points.  I have seen many productions that focus on Juliet as the lead character, which puzzles me, since it's Romeo that seems to initiate much of the action of the plot, including the climax where he kills Tybalt.  I know, the climax happens early (Act 3), but after Romeo kills Tybalt, the pair are doomed, (although we keep hoping otherwise.)  But, given the Duke's decree about banishment, after the killing of Tybalt, we're pretty sure that things are not going to end well, and the rest of the play fulfills that fear.


    Well, Juliet has great speeches. Three fabulous soliloquies, without even counting the "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" speech (which she only *thinks* is a soliloquy). The boy who played her had to be fabulous.

    Romeo might drive a good deal of the plot, but a lot of characterization and poetic language is invested in Juliet.

    I've seen the Staunton (pronounced Stan-ton) performers twice and both times thought they were excellent. Staunton is not that remote, as it is a relatively short drive from the lovely city of Charlottesville.

    Well, remote in that it takes a flight and a drive to get there for most people, and that you're either flying into a small airport, where it's hard to get direct flights, or you're driving into a major airport (DC or Baltimore) and driving for a couple of hours.

    But to be fair, you're right: it's not more remote than Ashland, Oregon or Stratford, Ontario, which are also a pretty healthy drive from the nearest big airport. Maybe I'm just still getting over my last Cleveland-to-Staunton road trip.

    I'm glad you enjoyed your trips there. I'm a big fan of that acting company, myself.

    In terms of two factions warring for no reason... West Side Story gets it right. Who the Krup would have thought?

    Can I put in a plug for the (Tony Award-winning) Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is producing the entire Shakespeare canon by a decade from now?  Saw their Titus last summer, and it knocked me out.  Pretty good King John, too. 

    Yes, you can, RG! Good to see you!

    So you're an actor. I didn't know...

    We all have our mysterious pasts .. being an actor is part of mine.   I pretty much closed that chapter of my life 30 years ago when I was diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory disease;  not many parts for 30 year old severely arthritic actors.  Now that I'm old and arthritic, maybe I can get back doing character parts.  Ha! 

    We are perilously close to needing a NYC Dag meetup...I went to a Correntewire one in chinatown that was a total fun time...


    Edit to add: If we do have one, I promise not to hit on anyone's "sister" (Genghis, you know what I'm talkin' about)

    An NYC Dag meetup?  We should hold it at Genghis' next book launching, that way he can get some publicity out of it; (Headline:  Anonymous bloggers meet in person to support fellow blogger's new book) 

    I can imagine that he wouldn't so much attention brought to his internet thing.

    How about we show up and figure out who is who without the fanfare?

    Drink to me with thine eyes and that sort of thing.

    Yes!!! Ben Jonson gets quoted on the Shakespeare thread! Victory!


    The first rule of Dagblog is you don't discuss Dagblog?

    Prince Harry:

    Yet herein will I imitate the sun,

    Who doth permit the base contagious clouds

    To smother up his beauty from the world,

    That when he please again to be himself,

    Being wanted he may be more wondered at

    By breaking through the foul and ugly mists

    Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.

    I share tickets at the Shakespeare Theater with a friend who went to Antioch in the early 60s. Apparently, they put on this remarkable, mega Shakespeare festival where they produced all the plays in X months and had many well-known actors from New York (e.g., Lithgow).

    Apparently, the Yellow Springs group played Shakespeare very broadly with lots of outsized characters and performances, and that's become his "gold standard" for Shakepearean acting. He complains that the productions at the ST, and modern productions generally, tend to be too realistic. Though I like broad performances, I've liked this realistic approach mostly because it makes the action and the words easier to understand for someone like me.

    One of the things I didn't like about Shakespeare in years past was that the actors seemed to have only one or two speeds emotionally and intellectually. They were either declaiming or crying or laughing (all very loudly), but lacked the normal gradations of emotions and expression I see in people and have come to expect from drama.

    Shakespeare may be complaining of the same thing in his play within a play in Hamlet where Hamlet (I think it is) gives the actors acting lessons.

    Well, that's what's great. There are different Shakespeares for everybody. Your friend can surely find enough broad-and-simple performances to keep him happy (plenty of regional companies specialize in it), but there are also lots of other productions that are more geared to your taste.

    The great thing about Shakespeare on stage today is that if you don't like one version, you can always count on there being another. Someone can ruin your night at the theater, but they can't ruin the play. Someone else will be along to do the play again.

    When you see me blogging again and again about the importance of the public domain, this is where I'm coming from. The richness of Shakespeare in our century comes from the fact that everyone is free to try a different approach, and no one needs to ask permission.

    Beckett in particular was fastidious about making sure his plays were only presented in 1 way. Kind of a weird duck to begin with though.

    Yes. And maybe that was okay while he was alive. But now we'll have the Samuel Beckett Estate vetoing productions until he's been dead 75 years or more, and at a certain point you'd be better off letting people try new ideas.

    And in only obliquely related news, there's a bunch of Salinger stuff in the pipeline for 2015 and beyond.

    Query: Does the mandate to publish only posthumously imply a belief in an afterlife or the contrary?

    I don't know. It definitely involves a belief in posterity, the writer's posthumous reputation among the living. I think that's more of a common thread than a writer's belief in a religious afterlife.

    Do you have a favorite sonnet?

    There are five or ten I especially love, but if I have to choose I'll always go with 130, "My Mistress's Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun," because it's such a brilliant 180 degree turn on the typical sonnet. And it was the first one I learned, which matters.

    An ancillary question:

    Have you run across a Shakespeare scholar by the name of Kirby Farrell (UMass.)

    If so, what do you think of him?

    Yes. I've known Kirby off and on for a long time. I've never been his student, but we get along well socially.

    I don't know every other Shakespeare scholar, but I probably know a couple of hundred others in the US, UK, and Canada, simply from going to a few conferences every year. And social media has made it much easier to stay for academics to stay in touch with the networks they build at conferences.

    On the other hand, I think I have to draw the line at discussing individuals any further. A blog or a comment thread isn't a good place to gossip about people; I wouldn't do it on a blog that had my professional name attached to it, and I definitely won't do it on a blog that uses a pseudonym. I hope you understand.


    I was seeing his daughter, and (in a formulation that will amuse you) in support of my "candidacy" I said "Look, your father is the go-to guy on Shakespeare--He deserves a poet for a son-in-law.  I'm Shakespeare without the self-doubt!"

    Didn't work, btw...

    Ha! That's funny.

    It is in the nature of the universe (and of comedy), that a professorial-looking guy like Kirby would have a conspicuously attractive daughter. And that's the last I'll say about that.

    Sorry that you didn't get the girl. Better luck.

    There was a weight problem...three decades is a heavy lift, that fourth decade is a hernia.

    Any contemporaries of Shakespeare that were near his quality that we've neglected?

    Or ignoring who else he might have been, any sense why Shakespeare got that prolific writing bug so hard?

    (There's a nice Ken Robinson TED speech where he notes teaching in Stratford-on-Avon and realizing somewhere someone was Shakespeare's 7th grade teacher, and the fear/humility that would entail. And of course, "who were Shakespeare's parents?" presuming talent is not born an orphan)

    There is nothing dumber than an amateur trespassing on the territory of an expert, but, that said, and with reference to my (internally validated) remark above, it's not clear that Shakespeare knew that he was SHAKESPEARE!  Maybe his 7th grade teacher didn't realize who this kid was either...

    We have a record of the names of the headmasters of Shakespeare's grammar school, which was maybe the equivalent of 7th to 12th grade, if you conducted 7th to 12th grade in Latin from the 1st century AD. The headmasters were generally men who'd graduated from Oxford or Cambridge and gotten jobs heading a school in an obscure provincial town ... and not an especially big or important town. The kid they met was probably a bright enough kid, but not yet a major artist. They were mostly interested in teaching him Latin and rhetoric.

    Who his parents were is no mystery. His father was an ordinary but prosperous small businessman (he made gloves), who became one of the town fathers who took turns holding the various local offices and making sure things ran. He even spent a term as mayor, although the title was "bailiff," but later he fell on hard financial times. In his good years he'd applied for a coat of arms, to gain the status of a gentleman, but didn't make it; William later got that coat of arms for him a few years before he died.

    We know less about his mother because we generally know less about women. She gave birth eight times, and had six children who survived infancy. There's no record of what she was like as a person.

    I'm struck at the casual literacy of the British Bourgeoisie as you describe it...We are, after all, not that far in time from the monopoly that clerics held over the magical interaction of ink with paper...I guess Gutenberg was, what 150 years back when William was born, yet it seems that it was assumed that he would get what we would call a classical education.  Was this common among the non-gentry?


    Exact literacy rates are hard to figure, but yes, lots of trades men's sons got an education, which meant Latin. Most of the other writers in Shakespeare's day, and especially most of the other playwrights, were from his social class: crafts men's or merchants sons who'd gotten a grammar-school education. Some went on to Oxford or Cambridge and some didn't, but grammar school alone was an excellent education in poetry.

    There had been a major educational revolution, connected to England's (first) shift to Protestantism, establishing what were called "grammar schools" to teach boys Latin with a particular reformist curriculum. Shakespeare's school got founded in this period, in the 20 years before he was born, and it was free for him because his fatHer was a town official.

    If you look at some of the most famous English boarding schools, you'll see many of them were founded in the first half of the 16th century.


    You tie it to protestantism; do I then deduce that the point was to be able (independent of a priest) to read the Bible? (parenthetically, the King James "committee" certainly acquitted itself splendidly as far as poesy is concerned.)

    Thus far, Doc, you're getting A's on all your answers here.

    Thought you'd want to know-:)

    The connection isn't so direct. The literary and educational movement called "humanism" started earlier than the Protestant Reformation. The great early humanist Erasmus wasn't a Protestant, for example.

    But Protestantism and humanism fit together neatly. Humanism isn't exclusively Protestant, but it's very Protestant-compatible. Humanism wants to go back to the "pure" Latin from around 1 AD (*ahem*), the Latin written by master poets like Ovid, Virgil, and Horace. (They taught schoolboys straight out of those poets, and others from that generation. You learned Latin grammar with examples taken from classical poetry.) Humanism has no patience with medieval Latin, which it views as corrupt and vulgar (rather than simply a living language that had evolved). That dovetails nicely with the Protestant desire to dispense with medieval traditions and get back to some version of the original 1st-century Christianity, as best they understood it.

    Humanism also shifted emphasis away from formal, Aristotelian logic, which had been the center of the medieval curriculum, to grammar (hence "grammar school") and rhetoric, the arts of persuasion. That helpfully undercut the great Catholic medieval theologians, like Thomas Aquinas and his followers, whose work was deeply Aristotelian and worked through formal logic.

    So a humanist curriculum had lots to offer the Protestant movement, and the humanist grammar schools really start to spread under Henry VIII's Protestant son Edward VI. Shakespeare's grammar school was, literally, the King Edward VI School.

    As for the King James Bible (published 1611, near the end of Shakespeare's working life), it is a wonderful piece of literature. But that committee didn't really translate the whole thing from scratch. They were looking at the original Biblical language, but the King James is primarily a compromise between the two English Bibles that were flourishing before it: the Bishop's Bible, approved by the Church of England, and the Puritan Geneva Bible (translated by English Protestants in Geneva, the world headquarters of Calvinism). The earlier translations were also pretty strong. What the King James committee came up with definitely works.

    It is useful in the context of early Protestanism always to bear in mind that the Anglican Church is a long way from the Lutherans (I recollect that before he voted against it, Henry voted for Catholicism, defender of the faith, and all that) and the Calvinist, Wesleyan and Baptists lines were certainly less congenial to "high church" flourishes than Anglicanism in general.


    I confess that, withal, the mandate that the bible be individually read and interpreted (which I had in mind when I mulled over the spread of literacy which I supposed it must in some measure have stimulated,) may for all I know not be part of Anglican doctrine, inasmuch as really it is Catholicism with a different  pope, and most of the doctrine carried over intact.

    Well, the Anglican Church isn't one thing. It changes over time, and there are internal divisions about direction. In fact, the different wings of the Church are fighting all the way up to and into the English Civil War, when the fighting gets real.

    Henry VIII founds one version of the Anglican Church, closer to Catholicism than any other Protestant Church is, and near the end of his life he draws back and makes it even more conservative.

    But after he dies, his son Edward VI and his advisers make the Church much more strongly and ideologically Protestant. Then there's a time out after Edward dies and his sister Mary becomes Queen, and the whole country becomes officially Catholic again. Then Elizabeth succeeds Mary, and the Protestant Church of England is back, in a slightly different version than before: not as hard-line Protestant as Edward's, not as Catholic-lite as Henry's. And there are different factions constantly pulling the Church in both directions.

    The Elizabethan Church of England has some things in common with the Catholic Church, like a hierarchy of bishops and a fair amount of ceremonial ritual. But it also has some hard-line Calvinist theological ideas, especially about salvation, damnation, and predestination.

    The Anglicans answer the question "How should our church be organized?" like the Catholics, except for the Pope part. The Anglicans answer the question "How do we get to heaven?" like serious Calvinists.

    The Elizabethan Church of England ...has some hard-line Calvinist theological ideas, especially about...predesination.


    Huh...didn't know that.  the whole "visible elect" thing, as a way of coping with the tension between an omnipotent, omniscient deity and quotidian morality is such a hoot!


    Sure. Shakespeare is the most famous playwright from a golden age of great playwrights. Think of him as analogous to The Beatles: the biggest single story of his art form in his generation, but nowhere close to being the whole story.

    Marlowe, who was Shakespeare's age and was clearly the better playwright in their 20s, died young and left only six or seven plays, but four of those plays are incredibly good.

    Ben Jonson was Shakespeare's greatest frenemy: protege, rival, critic, friend. He wrote the tribute verses in the first collection of Shakespeare's plays, and you've heard some of the famous phrases. He was a wonderful comic playwright (I don't love his tragedies), and his Volpone and The Alchemist are classics.

    Thomas Middleton, John Webster, Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher, Thomas Kyd, John Ford, and a bunch of others all did good work. None of them wrote 20 plays as good as Shakespeare's best 20, but they all wrote between 1 and 6 that any playwright would be proud of.

    These playwrights get performed more often in Britain than they do in America. Here's an anthology that you can look for in a good public library.


    Thanks, I of course knew Marlowe & Jonson, but interesting hearing of the others. I do love John Ford for his Westerns ;-)  Anyway, seems to make most sense for a fertile period pushing people to their best with 1 standout, rather than an anomolous rising of 1 genius removed from most else.

    Great thread, Doc. Thank you. On PP's topic, how would you rate other playwright's influence on Shakespeare and Elizabethan theater in general? My high school teachers and even a college prof taught Shakespeare as if he were a singularity whose genius all but created English theater, but the Beatles analogy suggests that he owed much to the Little Richards and Elvis Presleys who preceded him.
    PS A friend recently referred me to a new play that imagines a bitter Marlowe complaining that Shakespeare ripped off his work. (I'm not sure if Marlowe is supposed to have returned from the grave, since he refers to works produced after his death.)

    Shakespeare is enormously influenced by Marlowe, by Thomas Kyd, and by other early playwrights. Yes, he's often presented as that singular genius who "is like no father ... is like no brother," how very much he owes Marlowe is extremely well known. It's not controversial.

    And Kyd's Spanish Tragedy is well known as an important model for Hamlet. You can find some of Shakespeare's brilliant comedy bits in earlier plays like The Supposes or The Four PP.

    Marlowe and Shakespeare are almost exactly the same age. Through most of their twenties, it's clearly Shakespeare imitating Marlowe rather than the other way around. The Henry VI plays are not as good as Tamburlaine. Then Marlowe dies, and Shakespeare keeps growing as an artist.

    But Shakespeare clearly has Marlowe on his brain for many, many years: quoting him, rewriting him, riffing on him, alluding to him. Here's a line thatyou may recognize:

    But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

    Very nice. But it's actually a rewrite of this line from a Marlowe play, spoken by another man who's standing under a young woman's window:

    But stay! What light shines yonder in the east?

    Shakespeare hasn't even plagiarized here. He's doing an obvious remix of a well-known line. It's a nod, a hat-tip. He's even kept some of Marlowe's vowels in the words he replaced:

    But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

    There are many more examples.of Shakespeare writing back to Marlowe in different ways..

    To run with my Beatles example: Shakespeare occupies the same generational place in the history of his theater than the Beatles occupy in the history of rock and roll. He comes along after the basics of the genre are in place, but before the final set of artistic rules are in place.

    The Beatles inherit a basic grammar for writing a rock song. People had worked out that this music had two guitars, a bass, and a drum kit, with keyboards or sax optional. People understood the basic three-chord structure, and the structure of verses and chorus. The bands before the Beatles had developed the basic form. Then the Beatles and the rest of their generation worked out that form to see what it could do; after that generation, things have settled down and there's a relatively established set of generic moves that still changes, but more slowly and incrementally. Think of how different rock sounds in 1958 and 1968; how much has it changed between 2004 and 2014?

    The same thing happens in the history of movies, of rap, of jazz; there's a period where people work out the bottom-line technique (establishing shot/tracking shot/close-up, etc.), and then there's an incredibly fertile next generation that explores the possibilities of the form, and then things settle down into an established rulebook. Rap changes a lot more between 1985 and 1995 than it does between 2000 and today. Movies change wildly during the first 10 or 15 years of talkies, but much less in the last 15 years.

    My take (and now I'm cribbing from my own printed work) is that Shakespeare thrives in that period when the really basic rules have been set, but the rest haven't been. The writers before him work out the basic storytelling system (the soliloquy, dialogue, and aside; the mix of unrhymed poetry, prose, and occasional rhymed poetry; the standard expected genres), and the audience knew how to understand it. But what you did with that system was still up for grabs, and Shakespeare exploited that window before things settled down.

    That is a wonderful response.  Thanks.  Made my morning.

    Thank you. I'm glad you liked it.

    What he said.

    Wish we had "like" buttons here.  This thread is amazing.

    When I was a sophomore in collect I took a Shakespeare class, and the culmination of our class was a trip to Ashland. I became a member  of OSF that year and have been one ever since. Every summer I spend one week there, dragging my mom and daughter and we see as much as we can. This year I have tickets for The Tempest, the new play A Wrinkle in Time, (what a great children's book that is),  A Comedy of Errors and  Water by the Spoonful. That one looks fabulous. 

    For anyone who hasn't been to OSF, I can't say enough about it, if you are on the West Coast and can do it, go there. Sometimes my girlfriends in NoCal meet us there, people come from everywhere, including some very great actors.

    Great blog Doc. Thanks for all of it.

    My pleasure. I'm glad you're enjoying it.

    And the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is terrific. I've enjoyed my visits there, and would encourage anyone to go.

    Where do you come down on movie Hamlets?

    I exclude live performances because they are always unique, even from day to day (I saw Richard Burton do the first half of the play from the front row...sadly, only the first half, because, well, you know...)

    I've seen the Olivier, of course, and Branagh, (I'm an Olivier guy, but that's an easy call)

    Missed Mel Gibson (no regrets...)


    Edit to add: Burton was great till he got to the bottle in his dressing room at intermission...

    It's a tough call. When I teach a Shakespeare film class I usually teach three different versions of Hamlet: the Olivier, the Branagh, and the Michael Almereyda version with Ethan Hawke as the lead. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. If I were adding a fourth, I'd add Kurosawa's adaptation The Bad Sleep Well. I leave the 1990 Zeffirelli film with Mel Gibson off the syllabus

    I'm going to give first prize to the Olivier version, because it is wonderful as a piece of film and it has a great central performance. There are a few things about it I don't love; the Freudian stuff, which was still a novelty, can be heavy handed. But Olivier is great both as a lead and as a director. He has the guts to cut the play (don't wait for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), and Olivier is really a daring and sure-handed visual storyteller. You can tell he has Orson Welles on his mind.

    The Almereyda movie is also a brilliant piece of movie-making, in terms of the way it's shot and framed and edited. The visual part is terrific. But the performances, including Hawke's performance, are uneven. A couple of actors turn in unimpeachable performances, and others are basically overmatched.

    Branagh's movie is smart about telling stories with pictures -- Branagh is like a great mid-twentieth century Hollywood director, the kind who made accessible prestige pictures -- and you can't fault the key actors. It sometimes feels slightly heavy-handed to me, laying things on a bit thick, and what's really unfortunate is that Branagh needs to show you everything. He cuts away to sequences of every single thing that happens offstage but gets mentioned by a character onstage, and a bunch more things that nobody every mentions but that might possibly have happened offstage. Every director shows some of those things,  but Branagh's Hamlet takes it to an extreme. I have two problems with that. First, Shakespeare works by balancing what he shows and what he tells, what we see happen and what we don't get to see happen. Second, Hamlet is a play about doubt. You're supposed to have some questions. You're supposed to figure you haven't necessarily gotten the whole truth. Was Gertrude in on the murder? What did Polonius know? You don't know because the play refuses to tell you. Branagh's need to show everything prevents the viewer from ever experiencing the sense of mystery that Hamlet wants you to feel.

    But that's me. The movie has a lot of other things going for it.

    Do you like Kurosawa's Ran/King Lear?

    Also, do you know Godfather III, which was supposed to be inspired by King Lear without Coppola reading King Lear. Not considered Coppola's best, but then I'm not a Godfather fan either.

    [the Czechs/Slovaks have a nice movie with Jan Werich based on a similar theme, a daughter who professes she loves her father "as much as salt", which he takes as an insult and beneath him - The Salt Prince/Salt over Gold]

    I like Kurosawa's Ran a lot. I was lucky enough to see it again on the big screen at the Film Forum in New York a few years ago.

    I am a huge Godfather fan, but refuse to watch Godfather III. Technically I own it, because I have a box set, but my position is that that disc is only a novelty coaster.

    HA!  That just reminded me ... I saw Nicole Williamson's Hamlet on Broadway from the third row.  Unfortunately, in the second row there was a man that kept falling asleep and snoring ... at the most inopportune times.   At the curtain call, Mr. Williamson and most of the cast gave the man a glaring look that would have made most people extremely self-conscious, but this man was oblivious and was enthusiastically giving the cast a standing ovation.   Thanks for triggering that theatrical memory. 

    My father had deep connections on Broadway on account of ghost writing a bunch of reviews for Brooks Atkinson as a kid, and he could always come up with front row seats for stuff (saw Kathleen Turner do Cat from the front row, eg).


    I know some people despise the front row but I love it.

    The last time I sat in the front row for a Broadway show was for the musical, Once On This Island.   Unfortunately, even then my neck and spine were totally fused, so I had a very difficult time trying to see much of the action.  I imagined the cast must have been mystified by the strange guy in the front row that spent the entire show seemingly watching their feet.  LOL



    Because I'm really loving this thread and don't want it to end, I'll ask another question; Where do you stand on musical adaptations of Shakespeare?   There have been many over the years, some met with critical praise, others not so much.  After "West Side Story", the first three that leap to my mind are Rodgers and Hart's take on "Comedy of Errors", "The Boys ftom Syracuse", Galt McDermott's musicalization of "Two Gentlemen from Verona." and Disney's "Lion King", which is loosely based on "Hamlet."  On the lesser known side, there was "Your Own Thing", a hippie re-imagining of Twelfth Night.

    You left out Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate: one of the classics. 

    I think adaptations are fun and great. Some are better than others, the way any work of art is better or worse. But you don't harm the original when you create an adaptation. You just make the original more famous.

    Part of Shakespeare's enormous reach in our culture is the sheer amount of adaptations, references, parodies, and jokes about his work. You've heard "To be or not to be" a long time before you read or see Hamlet. You grow up knowing who Romeo and Juliet are. You come to that play knowing they're famous, which does color how you experience the play, but it also means that we are in NO danger of forgetting about that play.

    I was recently invited somewhere and put on a panel where everyone was asked how they first encountered Shakespeare. I told the true story: I saw Puck on an episode of Captain Kangaroo. 

    The not-so-serious Shakespeare keeps his fame alive even more than the attempts to do serious Shakespeare. And people don't feel like they're being force-fed Culture. They're having fun. These plays and poems were meant to be fun.




    Since you're talking about movies I have to put in a word for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer and Stanley Tucci.  I'm a huge Kevin Kline fan and I thought he was terrific.  And of course, Stanley Tucci can do no wrong.

    Since I'm not a Shakespeare purist I can enjoy these things without looking for flaws or misinterpretations.  I even liked "Shakespeare in Love."  So kill me.  smiley

    I enjoy Shakespeare in Love too, although there are other moments when I'm frustrated with it.

    Its playfulness is what makes it work. It knows it's telling various fibs.

    My first encounter with Shakespeare was in our school auditorium when I was in the sixth grade.  They showed "Romeo and Juliet" with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard, already an old movie by that time.  It was so dreadful it was hilarious.  Shearer must have been in her 30s by then, playing a teenager--and doing it badly.  Leslie Howard didn't fare much better as a teenage Romeo, but he at least had some acting chops.



    Yes, that movie, the first Hollywood Shakespeare of the talkies era, was a famously bad idea, especially because of the age of the leads.

    There are basically only three big-budget Shakespeare movies in the 30s, all of them flops, and so for a while people were convinced that Shakespeare was unfilmable.

    I thought Twelfth Night as a fairly recent film adaptation worked quite well; the brother & sister seemed well-cast, the pace light and humorous.

    Is this the one with Helena Bonham-Carter?

    Yes, though a bit more subdued role than her operetic "Demon Barber of Fleet Street" where she cooks her customers to song and verse.

    Had front row seats once for a concert by Ritchie Havens in a hot smoky folk club.  Havens was sweating from the spots and the exertion, and drops of sweat were flying off his goatee as he sang.  Flying right into my face.

    Never could listen to him after that without revulsion.

    Conclusion:  front row sucks.

    For some reason, I'm more intimidated by the histories than by the other plays, especially the ones with Part I and Part II.

    I'm going to see Henry IV (one and two) soon...any suggestions for understanding those two plays?

    Slightly related questions: I've read some about "the problem plays" which, I believe, are sometimes called "romances" and, I guess, were written later in his life.

    Can you explain what's "problematic" about these plays and what "romance" means in the context of these plays?

    Henry IV is one of my all-time favorites. It's great.

    The trick with the histories is that they're not self-contained. It can be harder to follow the plot because you're always joining a complicated story in progress. So, watching Richard III is like watching Return of the Jedi if you've never seen or heard anything about any of the other Star Wars movies. Also, lots of scenes just have a crowd of noblemen, who can be hard to tell apart, because they're all heavily-armed politicians.

    This is one of the times when going and getting a plot summary and some sense of the back story from previous plays can be a big help. A lot of the obstacle is just getting the plot straight, and so knowing the plot in advance is a big help. That won't spoil the fun; this a history play, not a mystery play. Everyone knows how it's going to end. And it's written with the expectation that some of audience already knows these characters and this story.

    Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 are actually the middle two parts of a four-part mini-series. [The BBC just did all four as "The Hollow Crown.']

    In the first part of the series, Henry knocked his weak and corrupt cousin, Richard II, off the throne, and then had him murdered without ever *exactly* ordering it. Richard really *was* a bad king, but he was also the *rightful* king, and so this is a problem. Also, Henry wasn't even next in line for the crown; there were a lot of cousins, and a cousin named Edmund Mortimer *should* have been next in line after Richard. So, these are serious problems, and when Part 1 starts Henry is losing his hold on some of the supporters who helped him to the crown.

    Meanwhile, his son Prince Henry is hanging around in bars with a fat criminal named Falstaff, arguably Shakespeare's greatest comic creation and his most famous character in his own day. That's where we start.

    The finale of the series is Henry V, in which the former Prince leads the English to military victory over the French. When you meet the not-so-promising Prince, remember that he is on the road to being that guy, and everybody knows it. He will reform. He will be a beloved king. You're watching a prequel, but all the fun is in how he gets there.

    A "problem play" is a comedy whose ending we've come to be uncomfortable with. As in: that doesn't feel like such a happy ending. Depending on who you ask, Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, All's Well That Ends Well, and others.

    A "romance" is one of the late comedies, long on miracles and short on probability. It also tends to be written more from the father's viewpoint than the young lovers'. The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, Pericles, Two Noble Kinsmen.

    Poking around Wikipedia (which you probably deplore, as an expert to whom its sins must cry out to heaven, as it were...) I note the reference, of course,toShakespeare's ongoing acting career.

    Do we know with any certainty which of the roles in his plays he took on for himself?


    We do not.

    The number of parts he can prove he played is zero. We have almost no cast lists from that era. We know who the main actors were, but except for one or two stars we seldom know who played  which part.

    There is an old tradition, essentially a 300-year-old rumor, that he played the Ghost in Hamlet. Some people will cite that as fact, although it isn't quite.

    There's a less famous tradition that tentatively casts him as the old servant, Adam, in As You Like It. And there's a general tradition that he played supporting parts more than leads. We know he wasn't Romeo or Hamlet or Lear.

    We know for sure that Shakespeare was in some of Ben Jonson's plays, because Jonson printed actor lists, but we don't know what roles Shakespeare had.

    But we can prove he was an actor. That's well documented. And we know he was in at least some of his own plays; the first collection of his plays has a list of the major actors (over 30 years of company history) and Shakespeare is at the head of the list (not because he was the star actor but because the book is a tribute to him).

    That must drive you guys crazy...


    Depends on who, and how they choose to go crazy.

    Lots of Shakespeareans don't focus on theater history at all; they're just reading the plays for literary value, so who played Laertes doesn't really matter to them.

    Some people do go crazy by trying to prove or claim things without evidence. So there have been a few books over the years that attempt to match all the characters in Shakespeare with specific cast members, even though there isn't even close to enough evidence to do it. That's crazy posing as erudition.

    And for many of the rest of us, it's just one of those frustrating things you'll never know. And there are lots of others.

    The thing it teaches you, if you let it, is how to work in a field where lots of evidence is just missing, and you have to make the best of the evidence you do have without pushing it too far.

    One thing this means is that almost any piece of evidence matters a *huge* amount for theater history. We have one very detailed cast list for that company, from a play written after Shakespeare retired from acting. And that's incredibly valuable. There's another manuscript document, a backstage plot outline with a bunch of actors' names on it, that we used to think was from around 1592, before Shakespeare's company formed, and we now think is from around 1597, and is Shakespeare's company in action. And that five-year change in dating turns out to change huge amounts of theater history. It rewrites whole sections of the story, and some things we thought we knew turn out to totally collapse. Documents this rare are that valuable.


    For some reason I had assumed that there were extant playbill booklets and reviews (!)...Pretty naive.


    My PhD was in Early National American History, and, of course, there are newspaper articles and a wealth of other primary stuff.  


    It makes sense upon reflection, that two hundred years between the periods in question would signal several orders of magnitude in loss and destruction of what there once was, let alone the generally lower quantity of material going in.


    Edit to add: (fantasy review) The joynt was well and truly stunketh up, as the playwright, Messr. Shakespeare brought an unrestrained, overacted quality to the crucial role of "Ye Ghost".  Practically chewing on the scenery, he induced rolling of eyes and launching of vegetables from the "gods", and for a moment your humble critic feared that the actor presenting Hamlet would run him through in impatient misdirection of the thrust scheduled for Polonius later in the production...

    LOL. Well done, lad.

    Yeah. No daily newspapers yet. Those are an 18th-century thing (or as we say in the English department, a "long-18th-century thing, meaning the Restoration years too). Journalism comes later, and journalist-theater-critics later still.

    And there are no theater programs. Those are also later inventions.

    The playbills of the time are literal bills, as in "post no bills" -- single sheets of paper announcing the day's play, pasted up against posts and walls as advertisements. But we no about this from people describing them, not because any survive. Like most pieces of paper ephemera (i.e., things designed for short-term use), and even many printed objects that weren't so ephemeral, they got thrown away or recycled: used as kindlng or as baking parchment, recycled to stiffen the bindings of other books, or used to wipe behinds.

    or used to wipe behinds


    The change from papyrus to paper must be one of civilization's great leaps forward...

    Thanks for this thread, Doc! I've enjoyed reading through it and I'm sorry I'm a little late to the party. I struggled with Shakespeare throughout high school and even in my survey courses in my first year of college, when the assignments were always the tragedies. It wasn't until I saw the 1990s film versions of Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream and (especially) Twelfth Night that I started to curtail my eye-rolling any time someone brought him up! Then, I saw A Midsummer Night's Dream staged at the Notre Dame Summer Shakespeare series one year and I was hooked. It's so much better live!

    I particularly love the adaptations, because it's like he's left the gift of creative play dough for future writers. Watching 'Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead' was literally a revelation and I also enjoyed Shakespeare in Love. But my favorites are Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley (King Lear), and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski (Hamlet). I didn't realize it was the story of Hamlet until long after I'd read it, which really just made me love it more.

    So, here's my question: Do you have a favorite novel based on one of his plays? 

    Oh, and just last week, I listened to a Diane Rehm Show podcast with Neil MacGregor of the British Museum, discussing his book, 'Shakespeare's Restless World', which discusses what we know about the time in which he was writing through twenty specific artifacts that they have at the museum. The discussion was great and I'm thinking of checking out the book soon!

    I'm glad you're enjoying it, Orlando. In a very real sense, This Thread's For You.

    I don't have a favorite novel based on a specific Shakspeare play. My favorite novel based on Shakespeare is Angela Carter's Wise Children, a fanciful multi-generational comedy about a famly of Shakespearean actors, some legitimate and some not, full of twins, mistaken identities, and illicit romance. It's hilarious and fabulous, and full of nods and winks for Shakespeare fans.

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