Seven Years

January 1st, 2014

Today, this blog is celebrating its seventh birthday. Right now, it has a Technorati authority of 99, which ranks me 24,523 out of 1,343,382 ranked blogs. There are currently 1,018 posts in 95 categories and 2,875 approved comments. There have been 130,657 unique hits to the blog.

This was the year I wrote my thousandth post. We said goodbye to the Shakespeare Song Parody, and said hello to the Shakespeare Follow-Up. I posted 10 reviews, 22 anagrams, and 43 riddles.

I’m looking forward to the exciting possibilities the new year brings. I hope you will join me on this journey.

The End

Top Ten Posts of 2013

December 31st, 2013

Once again, I present my top ten favorite posts of the year as a countdown. Only three of this year’s entries deal directly with the Common Core.

10. The Wager (April 28)

My friend Brian bet me he could pass my Shakespeare final without taking the course, and I accepted his wager. We both ended up learning more than we had expected.

9. Shakespeare and the Common Core (January 6)

Does the Common Core really eliminate all literature in favor of dry government manuals? Not even close. In fact, Shakespeare is actually mandated by the Common Core.

8. Shakespeare Follow-Up: Circumnavigation (November 29)

This year saw a new feature added to the blog: The Shakespeare Follow-Up. I chose this one, following up from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as a representative sample.

7. Cleopatra’s Facebook (April 17)

This project actually happened two years ago, but I worked with a class of 6th grade students who created a Facebook page for the Egyptian queen, reflecting the events of Antony and Cleopatra.

6. Don’t Be Rotten to the Core (October 2)

While I do have some specific concerns about the Common Core, fixating on distortions and distractions prevents us from having the real conversations we need to have about education.

5. Shakespeare Clickbait (December 25)

What if we used the same tactics to get people to read Shakespeare that websites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy use to get readers to click on their stories? I present: Shakespeare Clickbait.

4. Danny and the Death Ray (January 9)

This is a nice little story about a small town, and one boy who dared to speak out in order to save it. Some people read into it as an allegory for something else, but I just don’t see it.

3. In the Zone (March 6)

Wouldn’t it be a shame if the Common Core really were a better way to structure education, but nobody ever knew it because the implementation had been botched so badly?

2. Shakespeare Song Parody: We Love the Plays of Shakespeare (June 28)

The ongoing Shakespeare Song Parody feature came to an end this year, but not before the appearance of this swan song, paying tribute to all of the plays one last time.

1. How Real is Richard? (February 13)

When the bones of King Richard III were unearthed earlier this year, I was inspired to create a seven-point scale to rate how “real” each of Shakespeare’s characters actually are.

Have a Happy New Year, and I hope to see you in 2014!

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

December 26th, 2013

I’m delivering blows with a sharp heavy blade;
I’m a writer who writes so he’ll quickly get paid;
I’m a license for cabbies to practice their trade;
And I’m breaching a server to alter your grade.

Who am I?

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

The End

Shakespeare Clickbait

December 25th, 2013

How far should we go to get people to read Shakespeare? I say we do whatever it takes.

You may also enjoy these stories:

The secret herb that will make women fall for you… INSTANTLY!
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The one shocking diet trick that is GUARANTEED to help you lose weight!
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Do these three women really have the secret for seeing into the FUTURE?

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Some senators challenged this interracial couple’s marriage, and THIS is what they said…
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A dying father called for his son, and what he said will blow you AWAY!
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Most people don’t know the one food you should NEVER eat…

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The 7 tell-tale signs of AGING that men can’t afford to ignore!
|
Learn one weird trick for erasing ALL of your debt (without paying a penny)!
|
This single act of forgiveness will restore your faith in HUMANITY!

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Click the images above to read more!

My teenage daughter and her friends think that posts like this can’t go viral. Please help me teach them an important lesson by sharing this on Facebook and Twitter.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

December 19th, 2013

I’m a barbed wire mesh, or a pickety white;
I can sell stolen goods so they won’t come to light;
Where you sit to decide you might not or you might;
And to sport with a mask and a sword used to fight.

Who am I?

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

The End

Shakespeare Anagram: Twelfth Night

December 14th, 2013

From Twelfth Night:

What great ones do the less will prattle of

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Was a selfie wrong? That protest led to hell.

The End

Thursday Morning Riddle

December 12th, 2013

I’m a passageway trafficked with numerous feet;
A museum of fame; where conventioners greet;
I’m a juvenile jail; I’m where townspeople meet;
I’m where college kids live; or where soldiers can eat.

Who am I?

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

The End

Theatre: Twelfth Night at the Belasco

December 8th, 2013

At a good production of Shakespeare, you may be impressed by the production values. The innovative choices made by the director may, at a good production of Shakespeare, impress you. At a good production of Shakespeare, you will likely be impressed by the actors.

At a great production of Shakespeare, you will be impressed by the Shakespeare.

Tim Carroll’s production of Twelfth Night, currently playing at the Belasco Theatre, is a great production, precisely because its component elements all come together to articulate, embody, and enhance the creative genius of the play itself. All of the comic bits and stage business of this production found all of those fun moments and built on them to create a cascade of joy for the production’s entire length.

Mark Rylance is the standout in the all-male cast. He manages to create an Olivia who is able to display a wide range of emotions without ever descending into camp. With one notable exception, none of the humor of his outrageously funny performance comes from the fact that he is male. His Olivia is vain; she’s not interested in Orsino’s advances, but can’t help but be flattered by them. And when she does fall in love, she can no longer maintain her practiced detachment. We laugh at the character, and not the actor playing her.

The one exception is that Rylance affects a very funny gait that makes it seem like he’s gliding beneath his flowing dress. This is probably funnier because we know it’s a man, but for the most part, Rylance creates a comic performance that’s true to his character and not at all about cross-dressing. In fact, I would say the same about the compelling performances of Viola (Samuel Barnett) and Maria (Paul Chahidi) as well; they created believable realistic characters that brought out the humor of the moments and not the drag.

I thought the cast was amazing across the board, but a few more of the actors are worthy of highlighting. Peter Hamilton Dyer was riviting as an edgy Feste. Angus Wright created a very funny Sir Andrew. And Stephen Fry was outstanding as Malvolio, as you knew he would be. In the early scenes, he was less prissy and arrogant than most Malvolii that I’ve seen, and so his innocent glee at reading the letter becomes heartbreaking. We actually feel sorry for Fry’s Malvolio, and making this character sympathetic is no easy task.

Everything was designed to look as it had looked in the Globe, with sets, costumes, and music carefully calibrated for authenticity. An all-male cast talked to audience members on stage. But for me, the best part was the raw theatrical moment of being part of a shared experience with the rest of audience. The performance I saw got more instances of spontaneous applause than a State of the Union address. And when the curtain call came, we didn’t want it to end.

The actors did the curtain call as a dance. The audience started clapping and cheering while the actors danced. Gradually, some of the clapping fell into the rhythm of the music, and soon we were all clapping to the beat. When the music stopped, the dance ended, and the audience exploded once again into a cheering applause. I left with a new respect for the play, and for the power of what great theatre can do.

You may note that I loved this production, but not the other production by the same creative team. How can this be? Well, I think a collaborative artistic creation is more than the sum of its parts. There needs to be a chemical reaction that takes place, and the play has to be a part of that equation. One performance worked with the play it was interpreting, and the other worked in opposition to it. The results of those decisions were two very different evenings at the theatre, at least for me.

Twelfth Night will be running until February 16, but Stephen Fry’s last performance will be on February 13, so that’s probably the end date you want to use. If you enjoy a great production of Shakespeare, you won’t want to miss this one.

The End

Shakespeare Anagram: Julius Caesar

December 7th, 2013

From Julius Caesar:

The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones;

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Hint: Don’t believe the Twitter shot.

Mandela’s this freedom fighter.

I vote hero.

The End

Shakespeare Follow-Up: The Atom

December 6th, 2013

In As You Like It, Celia reveals to Rosalind that she knows the name of Rosalind’s secret admirer. It is Orlando, who has already captured her heart. Immediately, Rosalind begins to pepper Celia with an overwhelming litany of questions, which causes Celia to exclaim:

It is as easy to count atomies as to resolve the propositions of a lover

Wait, what? Isn’t this the same play that said that the world is six thousand years old? How could Celia possibly know about atomic theory? Fortunately, there’s no job too small for the Shakespeare Follow-Up.

According to my Folger edition of the play (Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, ed.), the word “atomies” as used here means “dust particles in sunlight.” Oh.


Never mind.

Later in the play, Phebe uses the word, and this is clearly the meaning she intends:

Thou tell’st me there is murder in mine eye:
’Tis pretty, sure, and very probable,
That eyes, that are the frail’st and softest things,
Who shut their coward gates on atomies,
Should be call’d tyrants, butchers, murderers!

So that would appear to be that. But, wait! According to my Arden edition (Juliet Dusinberre, ed.), there’s more to the story. “Atomies” does indeed mean “tiny particles,” but…

The word, which occurs twice in AYL (see 3.5.13) and in no other Shakespeare play, may suggest the territory of the research conducted by Ralegh’s navigator, Thomas Harriot, into the atom and into optics, with particular relation to the refraction of light and the nature of visions.

(We’ll get back to Harriot, but as a side note, you may remember that Mercutio also uses the word “atomies” in the Queen Mab speech. To be fair, I checked my Arden edition of Romeo and Juliet (Brian Gibbons, ed.), and found instead the word “atomi,” which is from Q1. The Folio has “atomies.” So it’s arguable whether the word appears in another play, but the Arden is at least consistent. Even if you say the word is unique to As You Like It, however, the concept does appear in at least one other play.)

Atomism, the theory that all matter is made up of smaller units that cannot be further divided, was an idea embraced by several Pre-Socratic philosophers, most notably Leucippus and Democratus. Aristotle rejected this theory, believing that the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire) were continuous and infinitely divisible. As with most of these kinds of arguments, Aristotle’s version won the day. Although there were some notable figures who did believe in atomism throughout the ages, Aristotle’s theory was still the prevailing concept even in Shakespeare’s day. So in Twelfth Night, Viola gets Olivia’s attention by telling her “you should not rest/ Between the elements of air and earth, But you should pity me!” as Sir Toby asks Sir Andrew “Does not our life consist of the four elements?” when trying to make a point.

However, even in Shakespeare’s early seventeenth century, atomism was making a comeback, boasting such impressive adherents as Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, and even Galileo. Thomas Harriot was an early contributor to the developing theory, though at a time when it was still dangerous to speak too openly about what was considered a heretical idea. It’s intriguing to think that the notion may have captured Shakespeare’s imagination as well, but this is merely speculation. I don’t think you can strongly infer this from his use of a particular word twice in a given play, especially when the second use of the word points fairly decisively in the other direction.

In 1808, John Dalton (building on the work of Lavoisier and Proust) demonstrated that when a substance (such as water) is broken down into its components (such as hydrogen and oxygen), the proportion can always be described with small integers, implying that there is a direct correspondence on some foundational level. His atomic theory of matter led to further inquiry and discovery throughout the 19th century. In the early 20th century, quantum mechanics allowed scientists such as Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and Nils Bohr to describe the unique properties of particles on the microscopic scale.

There’s a lot more to the story, but it will have to suffice to note that in the mid-20th century, science learned how to split the atom, unleashing the potential for a virtually unlimited power source, weapons of unthinkable destruction, and a series of ethical questions that have turned out to be much more difficult to resolve than even the propositions of a lover.

The End