Archive for the 'Much Ado' Category

Shakespeare Anagram: Much Ado about Nothing

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

Well, so much for politics stopping at the water’s edge.

Speaking in Warsaw, while on his way the G20 summit in Hamburg, President Trump was asked about Russian hacking, and he used the opportunity to go after President Obama, the American media, and our own intelligence community.

And now that he’s in Germany, he’s using Twitter to attack the media and, bizarrely, John Podesta.

From Much Ado about Nothing:

There’s not one wise man among twenty that will praise himself.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Man, he still posts a whiny tweet from anger while nations meet?

Sea Change

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

The cruise is now nearing the half-way mark. Because we spent our first full day at sea, I’ve already given three of my four talks on Shakespeare. I’ll post more details about those in a later thread.

I’m having a lot of fun. Everyone has been so nice to me and very appreciative of the talks. Fellow passengers will come over to me and start conversations about Shakespeare, which has been the best part. There has also been other Shakespeare-related entertainment. The cruise had asked me to select four appropriately-themed movies, and their screenings have been additional opportunities to engage with the Shakespeare fans on the ship. For those interested, I chose the following movies:

    Richard III (1995) with Ian McKellen and Annette Bening
    Much Ado about Nothing (1993) with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson
    Macbeth (2015) with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard
    Shakespeare in Love (1998) with Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow

There is also a group of three talented actors who are performing scenes from Shakespeare throughout the ship. These scenes are popular among the passengers, and they make the theme of the cruise more ubiquitous.

And, oh yeah, in addition to all of the Shakespeare stuff, I’m also on a cruise. The lifestyle keeps you quite busy and very well fed. The staff is almost as big as the passenger manifest, and they are highly professional and courteous. This is my first cruise, so the experience is somewhat of a sea change for me.

I also had a chance to visit Oslo, where we stopped for two days. I went to go see the Nobel Peace Museum, which had a thought-provoking exhibit about the targets that are used in the military of different countries around the world. They also have an exhibit showing the various people who have won Nobel Peace Prizes though the years.

Our next stop is Helsingor, the real-life setting of Hamlet, though Shakespeare referred to it by the Anglicized version of the name: Elsinore. I’ll be escorting a shore excursion to provide some Hamlet perspective on the trip. But I’ve never been there myself, so it should be a great trip for me as well. I’ll keep you posted.

Shakespeare Follow-Up: Biochemistry

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

In As You Like It, Le Beau gives some friendly advice to Orlando:

Good sir, I do in friendship counsel you
To leave this place. Albeit you have deserv’d
High commendation, true applause and love,
Yet such is now the duke’s condition
That he misconstrues all that you have done.
The duke is humorous: what he is indeed,
More suits you to conceive than I to speak of.

The duke is humorous? He doesn’t sound very humorous to me. Can we get a Shakespeare Follow-Up?

The “humours” referred to four bodily fluids that were believed to affect one’s mood and personality: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. This was a theory that traced back as far as the ancient Greeks, and it was widely accepted in Shakespeare’s time. An imbalance of any one of these fluids in a person would have a particular effect. So, the duke is moody, not funny. And this use of the word is fairly consistent across the canon. So when Antipholus of Syracuse says he is not in a “sportive humour,” or Benedick says “a college of witcrackers cannot flout me out of my humour,” or Petruchio says “I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour,” none of them are talking about the funny.

It’s clearly a retrochronism, but understanding a little bit about the humors can actually shed some light on quite a few lines in Shakespeare, so let’s review.

An excess of blood was thought to make you sanguine, and the cheerfully happy word actually comes from the Latin for bloody. So when Sir Toby Belch asks “Am not I consanguineous? am I not of her blood?,” he is using the term to describe a blood relationship.

Phlegm leads to quiet rationality. Kant actually thought it was the absence of temperament. Mistress Quickly therefore misapplies the term in The Merry Wives of Windsor when she beseeches Doctor Caius to “be not so phlegmatic.” She is trying to calm his anger down. She should have said “choleric.”

Choler stems from yellow bile (from the Greek “chole” for bile), and the word appears frequently in Shakespeare to describe anger or bellicosity. The black (“melan-“) variety of bile (“chole”) was also a frequently used theme. I’ve already written about melancholy in Shakespeare in an earlier post, so I don’t need to repeat it all here. The important thing to remember is that Shakespeare and his audience would have believed that these moods were caused by an imbalance of fluids. This is why bloodletting was such a popular medical practice; they believed they could remove the excess humours by drawing blood or applying leeches.

A poetic reference to bloodletting appears in King Richard II, as Richard attempts to sooth the conflict between Bolingbroke and Mowbray:

Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be rul’d by me;
Let’s purge this choler without letting blood:
This we prescribe, though no physician;
Deep malice makes too deep incision:
Forget, forgive; conclude and be agreed,
Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.

The complainants are seeking a duel, another way to purge choler by letting blood. Richard reframes their grievances as merely an imbalance of yellow bile, and uses the bloodletting metaphor to advocate a more peaceful solution. (It doesn’t work.)

In the 19th century, humours and bloodletting fell out of fashion as medical science developed a better understanding of human biochemistry. Apparently, though, the idea of the four humors survives today as a popular screenwriting technique.

On a somewhat-unrelated final note, do you know why the “funny bone” got its name? Because it’s the humerus! And I hope you find that humorous.

Shakespeare Song Parody: We Love the Plays of Shakespeare

Friday, June 28th, 2013

This is the last in a series of 40 pop-music parodies for Shakespeare fans.

So far, we’ve had one parody for each of Shakespeare’s 38 plays and one for the sonnets. We finish the Shakespeare Top 40 with a tribute to all of the plays, one last time.


We Love the Plays of Shakespeare
sung to the tune of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel

(With appreciation to everyone who has followed along on the journey…)

Harry, Suffolk, Somerset,
Richard Plantagenet;
Warwick, Edward, Margaret, Rutland,
Younger Lord Clifford;
Lord John Talbot, Tony Woodeville,
Duke of Bedford, Joan La Pucelle;
Duke of Clarence, Tower Princes,
Richard the Third…

Antipholus, Dromio,
Balthazar, Angelo;
Titus gets Tamora by
Baking her kids in a pie;
Tranio, Petruchio,
Katharina, Widow;
Proteus and Valentine have
Bid Verona goodbye…

We love the plays of Shakespeare,
Jumping off the pages,
Burning up the stages.
We love the plays of Shakespeare.
First, we learned to read them.
Now, we go to see them.

Don Armado, French Princess,
Costard and Holofernes;
Romeo’s Apothecary,
Juliet’s Nurse;
Gaunt John, he passed on,
Henry’s back and Dick’s gone;
Quince, Flute, Snout, Snug,
Bottom’s got a curse…

King John, Pope, France,
Bastard’s got a second chance;
Shylock and Antonio,
Portia and Bassanio;
Bardolph, Boar’s Head,
Prince Hal, Hotspur dead;
Tavern Hostess, Lord Chief Justice,
Henry on his deathbed…

We love the plays of Shakespeare,
Jumping off the pages,
Burning up the stages.
We love the plays of Shakespeare.
First, we learned to read them.
Now, we go to see them.

Benedick, Beatrice,
Dogberry and Verges;
Cambridge, Scroop and Grey,
Fight on St. Crispin’s Day;
Cassius, Cicero,
Julius Caesar, Cato;
Duke Senior, Jacques,
Poems posted on the trees…

O, O, O…

Olivia, Antonio,
Toby Belch, Malvolio;
Ophelia, Claudius,
Hamlet kills Polonius;
Falstaff once adored
Mistress Page and Mistress Ford;
Agamemnon, Pandarus,
Cressida and Troilus…

We love the plays of Shakespeare,
Jumping off the pages,
Burning up the stages.
We love the plays of Shakespeare.
First, we learned to read them.
Now, we go to see them.

Helena for Bertram fell,
All’s Well that Ends Well;
Angelo, Claudio,
“Friar” Duke Vincentio;
Desdemona, Othello,
Duke, Iago, Cassio;
Kent’s stand, Lear’s Fool,
Edmund’s death, Edgar’s rule;
Three Witches, two Macbeths,
Scottish spirits come unsex;
Antony, Cleo P.,
Who else would you want to see?

We love the plays of Shakespeare,
Jumping off the pages,
Burning up the stages.
We love the plays of Shakespeare.
First, we learned to read them.
Now, we go to see them.

Marcius, Cominius,
Volumnia, Aufidius;
Cupid, Lucius,
Timon, Flavius;
Gower, Thaliard, Pericles,
Antiochus, Simonides;
Posthumous is shipped to Rome,
Iachimo’s gone to his home…

Autolycus, Leontes,
Perdita, Polixenes;
Stephano, Trinculo,
Ship, wreck, Prospero;
Henry starts a second life,
Anne Boleyn’s his second wife;
Kinsmen our guy partnered for;
May have helped with Thomas More…

We love the plays of Shakespeare,
Jumping off the pages,
Burning up the stages.
We love the plays of Shakespeare.
And where we have gone,
The play will start anon,
Anon, anon, anon, anon, anon, anon, anon…

We love the plays of Shakespeare,
Jumping off the pages,
Burning up the stages.
We love the plays of Shakespeare.
First, we learned to read them.
Now, we go to see them.

We love the plays of Shakespeare!

Hat tip to Shakespeare Online for the chronology.

You can click to read all 40 song parodies here.

Film: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

It would be difficult to watch a movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing without, on some level, comparing it to Kenneth Branagh’s sweeping masterpiece of twenty years ago. But Joss Whedon’s interpetation of the play is too different, both in intent and execution, from the 1993 film to make such a comparison meaningful. Both films do a fine job of telling the story and entertaining the crowd. Indeed, the fact that they do so in such strikingly different ways stands as a testament to how versatile Shakespeare is, and why we continue to find new ways to perform him after so many years.

Shot in twelve days at Whedon’s home during a filming break from The Avengers, the 2013 Much Ado about Nothing demonstrates how much of Shakespeare works on its own, though it’s not without some very nice touches and insights into the play. The ensemble cast speaks the original text in a very casual, natural-sounding manner, as though everyone went around speaking poetry all the time. “My soul burns with passion and, oh, could you pass the salt, please?” That’s not easy to pull off, but the cast does so masterfully across the board. That’s not too bad for a group of friends pulled together on a lark.

The pace of the film is slower than we’ve come to expect from movie adaptations of Shakespearean comedy. The soldiers have returned from war, and have earned some relaxation. We can therefore enjoy the lazy feel of a summer vacation, where there is no work to be done, and nothing better to pass the time than to lounge by the pool or hang out in the kitchen with friends. In these moments, the respite from the busy day-to-day world, we have time to indulge in mulling over the minute details of each social interaction. If it’s all much ado about nothing, then perhaps it’s because nothing is all that’s here. We might as well fill out the time by playing pranks, throwing parties, and writing poetry. If we get really desperate for entertainment, we might even fall in love.

Even the comic scenes are somewhat laid back, which makes the transition less abrupt when we shift to serious moments. That’s always a problem with this play: Benedick and Beatrice discover their love in a sitcom, but have to declare it in a soap opera. It can be really hard for an audience to catch up emotionally. But this film keeps such an even keel that it doesn’t seem to hit so hard when it happens. The prior relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is established in the opening scene of the film, so these are real people to us, with a real history, and not just a couple of comic characters out of their element.

The funniest moments of the play find their laughs in their own understatement. Nathan Fillion deadpanning Dogberry’s malapropisms, Joe Friday-style, while drinking stale coffee from a paper cup steals the show.

Ultimately, Whedon seems to be testing what happens when you throw out all of the elaborate sets and period costumes, the vibrant colors and emotional score, the histrionics and the dramatic pauses, and just put Shakespeare’s brilliant words in the hands of talented actors. And as it turns out, the text holds up. The period seems to be the present, as iPhones with streaming video abound. Men wear suits and ties instead of military uniforms. And did I mention that the whole film is presented in black and white?

With a bare mimimum of chewing the scenery, slapstick gags, or even background scoring, this film wants to put nothing between you and the play. So, if you already love Shakespeare, you’ll probably really like this film. If you don’t, you should check out the Branagh movie; it has all of that other stuff. This is not the movie to use to introduce yourself to Shakespeare, even if you’re already a Whedon fan.

And it occurs to me that the relaxed atmosphere is no accident. It’s Joss Whedon who is the soldier back from war looking for some relaxation. I’m not very familiar with the man’s other work, but if this is how he unwinds, he’s earned my admiration. He didn’t pander to a general audience; he created a movie of Shakespeare the way he likes it. That’s why it’s so good.

Given how little expense and time apparently went into creating this, and how wonderful the outcome, I wonder if we can expect the same team to come back together to do another play. I understand a second Avengers movie is in the works…

Shakespeare Song Parody: The Bastard

Friday, April 19th, 2013

This is the 32nd in a series of 40 pop-music parodies for Shakespeare fans.


The Bastard
based on the song “Jack Sparrow”

(With apologies to Lonely Island, Michael Bolton, and the Walt Disney corporation…)

[Messina: Don Pedro, Don John, Leonato, Claudio, Benedick]

P: Signior Claudio, and Signior Benedick, my
dear friend Leonato hath invited you all. I tell
him we shall stay here at the least a month,
and he heartily prays some occasion may
detain us longer.

L: Let me bid you welcome, my lord:
being reconciled to the prince your
brother, I owe you all duty.

J: I thank you:
I am not of many words,
but I thank you.

L: Please it your Grace lead on? [Exit]

J: Boys, let’s get to it…

P: Here we go…

B: Claudio, Benedick, Don Pedro, Don John…

J: Yeah!

C: The night starts now…

B: On Leonato’s tract,
The boys are back!

C: The night starts now!

B: Night starts now,
‘Cause we’re back from the war;
You know we’re all gearing up
For a little R&R.

J: Yeah, yeah!

P: My soldiers proved to be the paragon
Of defenders of the Kingdom of Aragon.

J: Come on!

C: Enemy retreating
As we’re taking to the field;
All the rebels quake and tremble
And they’re quickly gonna yield.
Sword in my hand, and a pistol I’ve got;
You’ll either get cut, get stabbed, or get shot.

J: This is the tale
Of Don John the Bastard;
Stood up to the prince,
And challenged his place.

B: What?

J: Now he’s taken back,
Trusted with a muzzle;
Better a canker in his hedge,
Than a rose in his grace.

P: Yeah, that was kind of weird,
But we’re here catching up;
We’re soldiers back from war,
And now our thoughts have turned to love.

J: Misbegotten.

C: I have set my sights
On Leonato’s daughter;
I liked before the war,
But in peace I think I got her.

J: Half-blooded.

B:Watch it girl, cause I ain’t
Your “getting wed” guy,
More like the “insult you,
And then get inside your head” guy.

J: Yeah, yeah.

B: Beatrice and I
Have been in a merry war,
But to be perfectly honest, I…

J: Now back to the good part!

From the day he was born,
He wore the bar sinister.

B: No!

J: In his melancholy face,
Is a mouth that would bite.

He’s the black sheep of the clan,
The trickster of Messina.

P: Uh huh.

J: But knowing his ill birth,
Can you begrudge him his fight?

B: Yeah, we know what a bastard is.

P: Put the war in the past
And forgive old debts, come on.

J: Illegitimate.

B: What?

J: Love child.

C: No!

P: It’s a time for mirth,
So don’t dwell on birth, come on.

J: Nullius filius.

B: Nope.

J: Bastard-born.

B: Wrong.

C: Don John, we’re really gonna need you to focus up.

J: Roger that, let me show you what I mean.

B: Wait.

J: The prince says he’s on your side,
But it’s really just a ruse.

P: Not true.

J: He wants to win her for himself,
And that is why he woos.

B: Come on.

J: Okay, then pull my finger;
Watch hilarity ensue.

C: No, thank you.

J: Then please allow me to imply
That your lady’s been untrue.

C: Wait, what?

J: (If I can cross him any way,
I bless myself every way.)

This is the tale
Of your mistress Hero;
Take her to wife,
And a cuckold you’ll be!

B: Take it home.

J: Disloyal’s too good
A word for the wicked;
Follow me tonight,
So you all can see.

C: Okay, turns out that Don John is a major bastard.

J: My parents weren’t married.

B: Yup.

P: Yeah, okay.

Salad Days

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The sixth-graders I’m working with are studying figurative language now, so we looked at figurative language in a scene from Antony and Cleopatra. They enjoyed the “salad days” metaphor, and the exchange where Cleopatra asks her servant Mardian about what it’s like to be a eunuch.

Cleo. Hast thou affections?
Mar. Yes, gracious madam.
Cleo. Indeed!
Mar. Not in deed, madam; for I can do nothing.

In other Shakespeare teaching news, I met with the eighth-graders who are doing As You Like It, and it looks like I will be working with them after all. And I’ve also hooked up with an enthusiastic seventh-grade class that has already read Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing, and Romeo and Juliet. It looks like I have a few online classrooms to set up.

More to come!

Googleplex – 1/16/11

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

I subscribe to a service called “SiteMeter” which allows me to see a limited amount of information about my visitors. One thing that I can see is if someone finds my site via a Google search, and what they were searching for.

Every now and then I check in on what searches people have done to find themselves at Shakespeare Teacher, and to respond to those search terms in the name of fun and public service. All of the following searches brought readers to this site in the past week.


cymbeline appropriate for kids

Well, there is a bit of sexual content in it. Iachimo bets Posthumous that he can seduce Imogen, Posthumous’s wife. To prove he’s won his bet, he describes Imogen’s body in intimate detail.

But why do we flinch at mild sexual content like this for kids, and shrug off graphic violence? Does anyone ask if Macbeth is appropriate for kids?

I just did it myself. When asked if Cymbeline is appropriate for kids, I immediately addressed a verbal description of a female body, and completely ignored the decapitated corpse on stage.

I addressed the same concern when I taught the play to 8th graders. In the end, they did very well with it. You will have to let your own moral compass guide the way.

how long does it take to teach macbeth?

It depends on how deep you want to go. I have taught Macbeth in one lesson; I’ve taught it over an entire year. I’d recommend at least a month, but you’ll have to see what fits in your curriculum.

shakespearean tragedy centered on the theme of “man’s inhumanity to man;

There’s plenty of inhumanity in the canon to go around.

My vote is for King Lear, though I suppose Titus Andronicus would be an appropriate choice as well.

“much ado about nothing” “which war”

Unlike other war-themed plays of Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing does not seem to center on any actual historical war. Directors, therefore, have the freedom to set the play in any post-war period that strikes the fancies of their set and costume designers. Of course, directors of Shakespeare hardly need such an invitation.

In the play, Don John has stood up against his brother Don Pedro, so the Civil War is a good choice. But really, the war itself is such a small part of the story that any war will suffice, even the indeterminate war of the text.

rap songs about historical figures; shakespeare

There are some organizations, like Flocabulary and The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company, that use rap music to teach Shakespeare. But my favorite Shakespeare rap is still from the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s three man show The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged):

Full disclosure: Back in my acting days, I performed in this show. I played the role of Daniel (the first guy in the video, wearing red pants), and performed in this rap. The play is rather silly on the page, but turned out to be a great audience pleaser.

UPDATE: The embedded video doesn’t seem to be working right now. Here’s a direct link.

writing an obituary for hamlet

Hamlet, prince of Denmark, died yesterday from complications from a wound by a sword laced with a deadly unction. Some sources reported his age to be 30, while other sources insisted that he could not possibly have been that old. He is survived by nobody. King Fortinbras is requesting that any flowers sent on behalf of the deceased are of a botanical variety that have deep symbolic and/or ironic meaning.

I leave the task of responding to the remaining search terms to my readers:

how did shakespeare fight back?

why might modern day detectives want to question macbeth further

who plays puck on season 1 of slings and arrows

comic strip about merchant of venice

was shakespeare a teacher

edmond king lear bipolar

Shakespeare Anagram: Much Ado About Nothing

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

This started in comments, but I thought it deserved its own post.

From Much Ado About Nothing:

Much Ado About Nothing

Reader Dharam shifted around the letters, and it became:

Undoing? Ooh, but a match!

Then I shifted around the letters, and it became:

Tough union had combat.

Now, shift around the letters again, and it becomes:

Duo: no hunch to a gambit.

Shift around the letters one more time, and it becomes:

Bigmouth can undo oath.

Googleplex – 1/31/10

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

It’s time once again to check in on what searches people have done to find themselves at Shakespeare Teacher, and to respond in the name of fun and public service. All of the following searches brought people to this site in the past week.

arrested development shakespeare play

In the episode “Bringing Up Buster,” George-Michael, Maeby, and Steve Holt get involved with a Shakespeare play, which Tobias ends up directing. The cast list is posted below a sign that says Much Ado About Nothing, and the character names are Beatrice and Benedick, so that would seem to be that. But the lines in the play are from As You Like It. And is that kid on stage behind Maeby dressed like a donkey?

does the letter x mean king?

Rex means king in Latin. The letter X following the name of a king, as in King Louis X, is the Roman numeral for 10. So, for example, King Louis X of France is the tenth King of France named Louis. It should be pronounced “the Tenth.”

In the case of Malcolm X, it would be a major faux pas to say “Malcolm the Tenth.” Malcolm Little chose to replace his last name with the letter X to represent the lost names of African families taken to America in slavery.

which theatrical word has 4 consecutive letters in alphabetical order?

Great question! I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader. The four letters are “RSTU” and they appear consecutively in a word that relates to live theatre. Does anyone know what it is?

UPDATE: The answer can be found in the comments for this post.

religeon during shakespeare’s time in scotland

Shakespeare was born in the latter half of the 16th century, a century largely shaped by the Protestant Reformation, which affected each country differently. Scotland broke with the Pope in 1560. (For reference, Shakespeare was born in 1564, and King James in 1566.) The movement was led by John Knox, who studied with John Calvin in Geneva, and then returned to Scotland. The Scottish Reformation led to the foundation of the Presbyterian Church.

James was raised in the Church of Scotland, but came to feel that Presbyterianism was incompatible with monarchy. His reforms took hold during, and beyond the life of Shakespeare. For more information about the Church of Scotland, see this list of resources.

did the tudors speak similar to shakespeare

Yes, at least the later Tudors. Shakespeare lived in Tudor England for the first part of his life, and would have spoken roughly the same version of English as the royal family, setting aside allowances for class. But Shakespeare did not always write the way he spoke. Much of the language in his plays and poems is heightened, not trying to capture the way that people would have sounded, but rather to use language to express internal thoughts and emotions. It’s something he was very good at doing, needless to say.

It’s worth noting that the King James Bible was also published in Shakespeare’s lifetime (1611), which is why the language is so similar: “Thou shalt not…” and so on. The Bible was also translated into heightened language, though, and should not be considered an authentic representation of how people would have spoken at the time.

boal to do in class

I like to do Forum Theatre. Have students devise a scene illustrating a problem that is prevalent among them. There should be a clear protagonist who wants something but is prevented from getting it because of the problem. They perform the scene. Then they perform it again, but any member of the audience may interrupt the scene by yelling out “Stop!” at any time. At this point, the intervening audience member (spect-actor) replaces the protagonist and tries a new strategy. The other actors improvise around the new protagonist. This is a great way to workshop constructive solutions to pressing problems, to begin a process of rehearsing to make change, and to learn a lot about your students!

I leave the task of responding to the remaining search terms to my readers:

who did shakespeare admire

how shakespeare affected the english language

why francis bacon couldn’t have written shakespeare

king james badmouthed shakespeare

shakespeare games for five year olds ideas

how to make king lear fun