Halloween poems

Well I was going to post something like Rossetti’s Goblin Market, but that really doesn’t seem like the most Halloween-ish of poems. Sure there are poems by Poe like The Raven and The Haunted Palace or even that great witch bit from Macbeth “Double, double toil and trouble”.  How about something we don’t know basically by heart. This is Black Cat by Rainer Rilke

Black Cat

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

Something Rotten!

Something Rotten is a musical that is a grand old love letter to Broadway musicals. It tells the story of Nick Bottom and his brother Nigel, who are desperate for a hit show in 1595 England. Since Nick hates William Shakespeare because of The Bard’s success. The patron of Bottom’s acting troupe learns that it  seems like Shakespeare will be doing Richard II, the play that Nick and Nigel are working on. Their patron leaves saying they need a new show by tomorrow or he will no longer patronize them.  To make a sure fire hit Nick goes to a soothsayer and it’s Nostradamus, Thomas Nostradamus, the nephew of the famous one, to find out what the next big thing in theater will be, it turns out to be a musical. Nick is convinced and tries at first but his attempt with a musical about the plague doesn’t go over well.  So Nick goes back to T. Nostradamus and ask what Shakespeare’s biggest play will be, and that will be the musical, it’s Hamlet but Nostradamus misinterprets it as Omelette instead, a musical about breakfast food. That’s the main story for the first act.

This turns out to be the greatest thing ever from the audience’s perspective as there are references to just about all of musical history from Oklahoma and South Pacific to Mary Poppins and Wicked. If you are a fan of musical you are bound to have some good laughs and who would have thought that have a recipe for an omelette in a song is the best thing in the world. If you have the opportunity to go see this I would highly recommend it. In a few year I could see this being one of the popular shows done at high schools.

Shakespeare’s Greatest Characters

The Telegraph offers a list of the 25 greatest Shakespeare characters and it is a rather interesting list. On this list there aren’t many of the brand-name characters like a Romeo, Juliet or a Hamlet and several are from lesser known plays like Comedy of Errors and Two Gentlemen of Verona.  The run the gambit as well some are heroes other villains others are bit parts. Their list is as follows with my comments after each.

Rosalind (As You Like It): Greatest female characters by Shakespeare? I haven’t read or seen.
Prince Hal (Henry IV/V): This is reason to watch/read the Henriad. Prince Hal is the one character who changes the most from when we first meet him.
Richard II: Not that brilliant of a King and he goes mad what’s not to like about that.
Emilia (Othello): Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid servant is one of the most complex characters.
Malvolio (Twelfth Night): The puritanical steward of Olivia who is the butt of the jokes and torments. The greatest tragic character in the comedies.
The Witches (Macbeth): Everyone likes the witches and they’ve been just about everywhere.
Hotspur (Henry IV, part 1): The romantic of the history plays he seems like the better Henry compared to Hal but when it comes to a fight it doesn’t end well.
Viola (Twelfth Night): Sebastian’s twin sister who spends most of the time as Cesario, the most strong willed of Shakespeare’s women.
Shylock (The Merchant of Venice): A difficult character as it really depends on how you want to look at him how to interpret him monster, victim, clown?
Lady Macbeth (Macbeth): We all know she’s one of the most memorable female ever written.
Autolycus (The Winter’s Tale): Never seen or read this one either so I don’t know
Nurse (Romeo & Juliet): She’s the best mother character we see
Falstaff (Henry IV/Merry Wives of Windsor): Perhaps the greatest character in all of Shakespeare to have a drink with. He is my favorite.
Regan and Goneril (King Lear): The bad sisters in this wonderful family drama
Cassius (Julius Caesar): sets the assassination plot a foot and is sort of an early Iago-like character
Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing): Wittiest of all the characters Shakespeare wrote
Tybalt (Romeo & Juliet): This guy really?
Drunken Porter (Macbeth): The strangest item on the list as I don’t even remember him at all
King Lear: “Everest” of acting roles this medieval/modern role that we sort of are living with today.
Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse (Comedy of Errors): Never seen/read before
Lance (Two Gentlemen of Verona): Never seen or read not a clue here
Timon (of Athens):  starts rich goes poor, wants to see cities crumble
Mercutio (R+J): The fun loving, mercurial character who everyone likes the Riff to Romeo’s Tony.
Jaques (As You Like It): He’s got the All the World’s a stage speech
Richard III (Henry IV/Richard III): He’s got to be here the brilliant anti-hero before they were popular

So I need to read/see As Your Like It, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Winter’s Tale, and Comedy of Errors. It’s a fun list and I enjoy that it isn’t the same old Hamlet, Puck, Juliet and Romeo. Shakespeare wrote a lot of characters so it’s nice to see some who would slip your mind on a list.

Theatre and Politics

These are two things that go together and have been since the beginnings. The Ancient Greeks had The Trojan Women and Lysistrata which were commentaries on events that the Greeks faced during the Peloponnesian War. Shakespeare did a great job at working politics into his works as well. This was transformed by the Soviets into Agitprop (Agitation propaganda). Politics have always been an influence to playwrights and still inspires directors today.

So when the news that the New York City’s Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar was using Donald Trump as a model for their Julius Caesar. I didn’t think it was out of line over the year many a President has been taken as a way for the audience to relate with the story. As Michael Kahn, Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC, notes in a Time article it is pretty hard to avoid mixing contemporary politics and Shakespeare together. It was a lens for us to look at the story and society has been doing it since at least a 1937 Orson Welles production where Caesar has fascist overtones, and over the years he’s been interpreted into just about every major political figure. Julius Caesar isn’t about the assassination or saying it is a good thing, Caesar even dies halfway through the play making Brutus perhaps the main character in the play.

Now we need to be able to live in a world where we are not walking on egg shells all the time and this seems to be what is happening in the world today. Everyone is on edge and ready to snap at the smallest problem. Yet if we look at other shows and even movies we can get to similar interpretation like how the upcoming film Geostorm, a film coming out this October, is a response to Trump withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

For my birthday my sister got me a unique gift a trilogy of books which are Star Wars written in the style of Shakespeare. The plays were written by Ian Doescher and they offer a unique look at the world of Star Wars. Ian Doescher has written both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, I’ve only read the Originals but I first heard about this work from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s podcast, where Ian was interviewed.  I am a huge Star Wars fan and have a deep admiration of Shakespeare as well so these were a wonderful thing for me to read. Once I finished reading I found on Youtube that people have put on production based on the the scripts. These are pretty amazing to watch and it looks like it works well on stage as well.



It’s been almost 400 years since William Shakespeare died, and fifty-two or so more since he was born. This one playwright has had the most impact on culture. His play are constantly staged and pop culture is littered with references to or cleverly adapted from his works. Then there is just all the phrases and words that Shakespeare coined. Not to mention those wonderful graphic novels like Kill Shakespeare and William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. There are many TED(x, ed) talks about Shakespeare and how he relates to the modern world. If you have some time this weekend perhaps take some time and watch one of his play in any form, or if you are in the DC area the newest play by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) is at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Lesser known…

Crispin and Crispinian (circa Third Century)
Most of us have heard of Saint Crispin, there’s that famous speech from Shakespeare, but who exactly is Crispin. They, Crispin and Crispinian, are twin brothers who were born to a noble Roman family. They fled to Soissons to get away from persecution. In France they preached to the Gauls and made shoes at night. From their shoes they earned enough to live comfortably and aid the poor. The governor heard of them and had them tortured and thrown into a river with millstones around their necks. They both survived but were eventually beheaded by Diocletian. Or Crispin and Crispinian could have been from Kent somewhere near Canterbury, but after their father died for displeasing the Roman Emperor their mother persuaded that they flee to London. The brothers made their way but stumbled upon a shoemaker’s workshop in Faversham and decided to stay there.  The English version of the story has no information about how they were martyred.

Pope Evaristus (died c. 107)
Evaristus was the Fifth bishop of Rome. Evaristus was originally a Hellenistic Jew on his father’s side from Bethlehem.  He divided Rome up into titles, or parishes these have grown to the Titular Church that Cardinals are given when they become Cardinals. Evaristus also appointed priest to these Churches and appointed seven deacons for the city.

Chiara Badano (29 October 1971 – 7 October 1990)
Chiara is a member of Generation X and is proof that regular people can still become saints. I felt compelled to mention Chiara Luce, her nickname given by Chiara Lubich,  even though she is only a blessed since a couple weeks ago I read about her and felt that her words are something that we need to hear in the world today. Chiara was born in a small village in Italy and her parents had waited and prayed for her to come for eleven years. Chiara got involved in the Focolare Movement in Italy at nine. The Focolare Movement was started by Chiara Lubich in 1943. In 1988 her life was changed dramatically as Chiara felt a twinge in her shoulder while playing tennis and it turned out to be osteogenic sarcoma, a rare and painful bone cancer.  When Chiara heard this she simply declared, “It’s for you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it, too.” This is remarkable as all that Chiara wanted was to be married to Jesus, and at her funeral she got her wish. Before Chiara died she told her mother “the young people…young people…they are the future. You see, I can’t run anymore, but how I would like to pass on to them the torch, like in the Olympics! Young people have only one life and it’s worthwhile to spend it well.” I hope that many young people take up the torch of Chiara and live always with a light that radiated from within from a heart full of the love of God.

News Roundup

Shakespeare: When I first read the Wall Street Journal’s piece on this it sounded like one of the stupidest ideas I’ve heard yes I have a degree in English and have read and seen more Shakespeare than the average person, so I understand that it’s something that some people have been clamoring for ages about but this. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has announced that it has commissioned translations (transcriptions) of all 39 Shakespeare plays into modern English. The reasoning behind it is that modern audiences have no clue what about 10% of the words mean, but that mean 90% of the text modern English speakers can understand. I understand where this is coming from, just look at the No Fear Shakespeare line of books which has a modern text version alongside the Shakespearean text. There are also No Fear versions other works as well, including Huck Finn. Sure it will be a gimmick but will these new plays go any further or are they just a one off deal. As The Oregon Shakespeare Festival want to broaden the audience and by using the words that Shakespeare would have used if he wrote today. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival which debuted the first of these works last year with Timon of Athens transcribed for Modern Voice by Kenneth Cavander  had an interesting study guide which had an example of the transcribing. So after reading what the OSF is actually doing it make more sense and I like the idea and hope that these plays get seen more than once.

Hamilton: So since the last time I did this Hamilton, that little musical that Lin-Manuel Miranda has been working about the past decade, dropped online and through digital downloads, the physical copy comes out October 16. Set aside two hours and have an experience listening to American History unfold before you. It’s a musical about American History, a kin to 1776 but this is about Alexander Hamilton, so you learn some more with this musical. Reviewers have been agog about the show. Many have speculated that Hamilton might be a contender of the Pulitzer Prize. The Atlantic has a cool story about how this musical is playing a role is reshaping American History and hopefully informing that the problems that we are facing today are not that different from those which the Founding Fathers had to deal with. As a side note Lin-Manuel Miranda has been name one of the MacArthur Fellows Program commonly known as “the Genius Grant”. Miranda is currently working on the music for the Disney film Mona and acting in Hamilton.

Richard III: the reburial

I have been following this story for some time now. Richard III is a unique figure in English history with the whole War of the Roses and all that as well. The official events leading up to the re internment of the body have started. This is the first Royal funeral that I will have memory of and the first in England since 1952. I really hope that CNN or BBC America or someone like that simulcasts the events for Anglophiles in the states. As the service sounds interesting  as it is said that there will be some pre-reformation elements to the service. Since at the time England was rules by Catholics, it is unfortunate that Richard is not being buried in York or at the Catholic church in Leicester, unfortunately there is no Catholic Cathedral in Leicester. However I understand that putting Richard in a Cathedral is important since he was the King.

Hopefully with the renewed scholarship on Richard III we will begin to see a new interpretation of him in Shakespeare’s plays. The first such place may be in the second part of The Hollow Crown series which did the Henriad  (Richard II, Henry VI (i,ii) and Henry V) for their first series and in 2016 the second part will focus on the Wars of the Roses (Henry VI (i,ii,iii) and Richard III).

News Roundup

Beer: As we enter the holiday season where there is sure to be a good deal of drinking this is a great place to start. Budweiser is having trouble attracting Millennials to drink their beer. The Atlantic reports and I can confirm that young drinkers are not going to buy a Budweiser when they can easily get something that tastes a whole lot better with spending a little more money. Now Budweiser is not going to change they way it brews its beer or introduce a new product line to attract millennials, like Pizza Hut just did, but is just going to change up its advertising by putting the iconic Clydesdale’s on the sideline, at least for the holiday season.

Shakespeare: This is a really cool story a first folio has been found in France. This folio was found in the library at Saint-Omer as it had been sitting on a shelf for the past 200 or so years. The book they say is missing some pages and was most likely brought by some fleeing English clergy member and they were welcomed by the Jesuits at Saint-Omer. During the French Revolution the Jesuit library became the public library. The library also had a Gutenberg Bible.  The finding of the folio is remarkable as there are little over 200 or so that still exist.

Language: I stumbled upon this the other day it’s 2 year old but It was interesting that some linguist is claiming that English is a Scandinavian language. Now this is a silly idea as pointed out on the Language Log it basically says that there is no real concrete evidence of this. It goes on to talk about how English is a West Germanic language and has grammar elements from the Scandinavian language and some loan words from the French and Norse but this is common with many languages that there is contact with another language and things get assimilated and over the year morph into something new look at how much English has changed since Shakespeare or take a look at the English spoken in the United States and that in the United Kingdom.