Archive for April, 2007

Question of the Week

Monday, April 30th, 2007

A reader has written in with an ethical dilemma. Since he has requested to remain anonymous, we will refer to him as “Busy in the Big Apple.”

Dear Shakespeare Teacher,

My wife and I enjoy attending summer performances of Shakespeare in the Park. As you know, while the tickets are distributed free of charge, patrons must wait in line – usually for several hours – for two seats each. Since I work near Central Park and have the flexibility to take an extended lunch hour, the waiting typically falls to me.

Last summer, though, I came up with a different idea, something I like to think of as a new paradigm. I hired the vagrant who panhandles in front of my office building, and whom I occasionally patronize, to go to the park, wait in line for about three hours, and pick up two tickets. I offered him $20 and carfare. He agreed and brought back the tickets. I paid him and threw in a five dollar bonus. I thought the scheme was a win-win. The panhandler earned some honest money, my work productivity was enhanced, and my wife and I enjoyed an outstanding performance of Macbeth.

Not until after the play, though, did I reveal to my wife how I had obtained the tickets. She was horrified. She says that I cheated two other theatergoers and took advantage of a needy person, most likely enabling any substance abuse habit he may have. I understand her arguments, but I must demur. Friends tell me that wealthy donors get free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park without the wait. I’d rather subsidize a down-and-outer, whom I see as master of his own destiny.

Summer is fast approaching, as my co-conspirator reminds me almost every day. My wife and I have agreed to turn the issue over to you and your readers, lovers of the Bard as they must be. If you validate my approach, I will go the same route this summer as last. If not, I’ll grab a folio and head for the hawthorn-brake.

What should they do?

The Tudors: Episode 5

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

The fifth episode of The Tudors airs tonight on Showtime and will be replayed throughout the week. You can also view the episode On Demand.

Use the comments section of this post to discuss the episode. Any comments I may have will be posted in the comments section as well.

WARNING: Comments may contain further discussion of the show, including potential spoilers. Click through only after viewing the episode. Commenters may discuss this episode as freely as they like, but are asked not to spoil future episodes.

By the way, did you know that the Showtime story of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor and the aging King of Portugal is based on the real story of Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor and the aging King of France? The real Margaret Tudor married the King of Scotland, and spawned a line of Scottish monarchs that would ultimately inhabit the English throne as well. That’s hot.

The Animaniacs Do Midsummer

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

One more from the WB…

The Animaniacs Do Hamlet

Friday, April 27th, 2007

After you’ve watched it, check this out.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday Morning Riddle

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

In casinos, I’m broke; In Monopoly, rich;
When a plane makes a turn, an adjustment in pitch;
I keep blood; I stack snow; in the pool hall, don’t twitch;
I am West in the East; I’m the edge of a ditch.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by DeLisa. See comments for answer.

More Shakespeare Writing Assignments

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

I’ve been getting a pretty good response to some Shakespeare writing assignments I posted last week. Those of you looking for more assignments may enjoy the following.

About five years ago, I taught a graduate course on teaching Shakespeare. As part of their course requirements, students had to choose three out of nine assignments to complete during the semester. If more than one assignment involved choosing one of the plays were were studying, they had to choose a different play for each assignment.

Please choose three of the following assignments:

1) Choose a dramatic scene written in the twentieth century. It could be from a play, movie, television show, cartoon, etc. Rewrite the scene as though it were written by Shakespeare. Try to stay as faithful to the original as possible while remaining consistent with Shakespeare’s poetic style and period.

2) Identify ten references to Shakespeare in contemporary American non-theatrical popular culture. Each reference can be a play title, quote, or character, but not simply a word coined by Shakespeare. The references must be made during this semester (periodicals published, movies in the theatre, first-run television shows, political speeches, etc.) Describe the original context of each reference and evaluate its appropriateness.

3) Imagine that you are a screenwriter, and have been asked to write a modern-day movie based on a Shakespeare play. Choose one of the plays we’re studying this semester and select a modern-day setting and characters for the play. Describe the updated story scene-by-scene. What modifications are necessary? What essential elements remain?

4) Imagine instead that the movie studio has chosen to do a Shakespeare play in the original, but with big-name celebrity actors. Choose your ideal cast and edit three key scenes for production. Explain the rationale for your choices.

5) Choose one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Approach the play as a dramaturg and compile a comprehensive research file that might assist a production company in performance.

6) Choose one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Approach the scene as an education specialist and develop a resource guide for teachers who want to teach the play.

7) Choose one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Compare and contrast two published versions of the play (e.g. the Folger and the Arden). Be sure to discuss their treatment of the primary source materials (such as Quartos and Folios). Choose two versions with differences sufficient to make the assignment meaningful.

8) See a live production of one of the one of the plays we’re studying this semester. Write a 3-5 page essay describing the choices made by the production in interpreting the text.

9) With at least one other person, prepare and present a scene from one of the plays we’re reading this semester. (minimum 15 lines each). Memorization is required. In a one-page essay, describe your reasoning for choosing this scene and the approach you intend to take in interpreting it.

Nobody chose Assignment 2 because they thought it would be too difficult, but as the semester wore on, they were kicking themselves because they started to realize how ubiquitous Shakespeare references are. And the course was at NYU, so Assignment 8 was not a problem logistically.

Needless to say, I got some really great stuff back. Giving creative assignments like these makes learning more fun for both the student and the teacher. Plus, it helps discourage plagiarism.

Which assignments would you have chosen? What assignments could I have added to the list of choices? How could these assignments be adapted to make them more appropriate for high school students?

Don’t Know Why

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

As if the video in Saturday’s post wasn’t endearing enough, here’s Norah Jones performing a modified version of “Don’t Know Why” on Sesame Street while sitting next to Elmo.

It’s kind of like Ernest & Bertram, but different.


Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Below is a graph of the hits to Shakespeare Teacher for each day of the past month. This reflects the number of unique visitors, not how many pages they viewed.

Visually savvy readers may notice a bit of a spike in yesterday’s readership. Was it the new design? Was it the Conundrum, asking for words that end in -ly? Is the world finally starting to take an interest in Shakespeare lists, Venn Diagram puzzles, and Animaniacs cartoons? Or was it the link from Showtime?

We could sit around all day debating the different theories. The point is that I just got my 2,000th hit while writing this, and over six percent of those hits came in yesterday. Now I think I’ll post a video clip from Sesame Street.

Welcome Tudor Fans!

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

So thanks to a link from the Showtime page on The Tudors, this blog got over 100 unique hits today, and the day is not even over yet. I think the previous record was around 30, and that was a day when I e-mailed all my friends and some of them e-mailed all of their friends.

And it occurs to me that I’ve been kind of hard on the media lately. Now that my readership has widened somewhat, I am concerned that some may have been disturbed by last week’s Question of the Week which involved my putting legitimate news sources alongside more questionable ones and asking my readers to rank them in order of reliability.

Please know that I meant no disrespect to Fox News. Or to CNN. Or to network television. Or to the New York Times editorial page. I’m simply raising questions.

The sources we have always been told we can trust may not be as reliable as we’d like them to be. But does this mark a decline in mainstream news reporting, or have these sources always been somewhat unreliable and it’s only through the more democratic medium of the Internet that we’re able to stay on top of it?

The reason I bring it up is that this study suggests that the shifts in the last twenty years have not resulted in a more informed electorate.

That surprised me, but maybe it shouldn’t have. Howard Dean turned himself from being a dead-end candidate into the front runner for the Democratic nomination in 2004 by raising money through a grassroots movement over the Internet. It was a groundbreaking use of the new medium. But then it was the traditional media who ruined him by playing that one clip, taken out of context, over and over. And it seems that the winners are the ones who know how to play the system. So the democratic process is still controlled by slick marketing experts. Perhaps nothing has changed since the days of Parson Weems.

Parson Weems, a supporter of Thomas Jefferson, wanted to emphasize strong values in young America. So he wrote a fictional story about the late George Washington to illustrate his point. Perhaps you’ve heard it – it involves a hatchet and a cherry tree.

Today’s version of the mythmaker, Karl Rove, has access to 24-hour information networks, both on cable and over the Internet. But so do we. Lies spread faster than they used to, but corrections are immediate. It’s harder to get away with things now, at least with those of us who are paying attention. In the days of Parson Weems, you couldn’t just go to to see if that cherry tree thing was true. And you certainly couldn’t just stumble upon some guy’s blog through a link from the Showtime website and get a rambling media literacy diatribe.

But it’s today, and you just did. Welcome! This blog is often about Shakespeare, but as you can tell, it’s about other things too. I hope you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and please feel free to leave a comment behind on any of the posts, either current or in the archives.

Conundrum: Lolly, Lolly, Lolly

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

We all know words that end with -ly are adverbs. Except when they aren’t.

Can you name a noun, verb, adjective, conjunction, and interjection that end in -ly?

(I wasn’t able to think of a pronoun or preposition, but if you can, post that too!)

How about a holiday, an insect, a country, and three characters from Shakespeare that end in -ly?

Can you name two former U.S. presidents with “ly” somewhere in their first names?

Post whatever you have in the comments below, and I’ll try to respond promptly!

UPDATE: Correct responses submitted by Erin (5), Kenneth W. Davis (4), and DeLisa (4). See comments for answers.