Great classes are available December 1st.

Scehdule

Class Descriptions:

Basics Of Stage Combat:  Students will learn the basics of safely enacting a fight onstage, in preparation for a Shakespeare play. We will also learn about the history of sword fighting in the military and the duel.

Trailer for Basics of Stage Combat.

My daughter really enjoyed taking this class. She was actually able to use her sabre and try out her routine on her father. Paul is quite knowledgeable about Shakespeare and made the class really fun by teaching a fight scene from Romeo and Juliet. It is amazing watching her practice with Paul over Zoom. I hope Paul will have. more combat classes, it is a different way to learn Shakespeare.

IB, Parent

An Interactive Guide To Shakespeare’s London (New Class)

A virtual tour of Shakespeare’s London will get kids to interact with the culture of Elizabethan England.

Class Experience

To teach kids about the Elizabethan era and the background of Romeo and Juliet, The Instructor will interact with the class (via pre-recorded videos), pretending to be Shakespeare. The class, pretending to be actors in Romeo and Juliet, will get a virtual tour of The Globe Theater, Hampton Court Palace, and a virtual visit to an Elizabethan doctor's office. This activity is an immersive way for them to learn about the period, how it relates to the world of the play, and how Shakespeare changed theater.

The class will take the form of a guided WebQuest activity.  First, the students will get a worksheet that has a series of fill-in-the-blanks about Elizabethan society (below). The students will fill out this worksheet based on a Nearpod and in conjunction with a website I’ve made, https://sites.google.com/nebobcats.org/visit-to-elizabethan-london/home?authuser=0 
Both the Nearpod and each webpage will have a virtual tour, a video, and text explaining some aspects of Elizabethan life. Before they go to each location, I will give a short introduction via prerecorded video:

Wizard Science

In this one-hour course, your child will discover the enchanting world of science through a series of magical experiments. Learn about such topics as Astronomy, Static Electricity, chemistry, and optical illusions.

What was Christmas like For Shakespeare?

In this one-hour course, students will learn and play games that will explore the history behind Christmas traditions. We will also discuss the themes, characters, and famous quotes from Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night.”

Remembering Kevin Conroy or: Is Batman “Hamlet?”

I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of actor Kevin Conroy, world-renowned as the voice of Batman and Bruce Wayne on Batman The Animated Series, the Arkham Asylum games, and many others. Conroy is definitely my favorite Batman, and as I and many others have said before, there are Shakespearean tropes in the Caped Crusader. From the very beginning, Conroy drew inspiration from a particular Shakespearean play, the melancholy prince, dressed in black, who seeks to revenge his father’s murder: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

I did a cold audition, I had never done an animated voice before. I said the only exposure I’ve had is the Adam West show from the 60’s and they said “NO! NO! NO! That’s not it.” I said ZIP POW POP and they said “NO! It’s, think film noir, think the 40’s New York. Think dark, think a kid who just watched his parents get murdered and spends his life avenging their deaths and he lives in the shadows. He’s got this dual personality and he’s never resolved this torture of his youth. I said you are telling the Hamlet story, this is heavy stuff. And he said yeah, no one has ever said that before, but yeah I guess it is. This is like a classic archetypal, Shakespearian tragedy. So I just used my theater training and put myself into that head (Batman voice) And I got into this very dark place and came up with this voice. (Regular Voice) And as I did it I saw them all running around in the booth. And I thought well either I did something really bad or something really good because I hit a nerve, I know I hit a nerve. And they came out and they said well we’ve seen about over 600 people and how would you like to do the part?

Kevin Conroy

It makes sense that Conroy would use Shakespeare to flesh out Batman. He was a veteran of the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, and performed in Hamlet several times. He even played the prince himself for the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1984. Yet I don’t think Conroy’s decision to make Batman a sort of modern-day Hamlet was entirely based on just his past experiences with Hamlet.

“Batman is basically the American version of Hamlet,” Affleck said. “We accept that he’s played by actors with different interpretations.”

Ben Afleck, Entertainment Weekly, 2015.

Batman and Hamlet are basically Revenge Tragedies; age-old stories that began with Oedipus Rex and the Orestia in ancient Greek plays, where a hero must lift a plague on his society by avenging the death of a parent (usually the father). This kind of play was very popular in Shakespeare’s day and included a host of others such as Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, The Spanish Tragedy, Locrine, The Dutchess of Malfi, and later The Revenger’s Tragedy.

But Hamlet, like Batman, is an avenger. He didn’t make Denmark rotten. That was Claudius, and if Claudius self-punished like Oedipus, Claudius would be a tragic hero too. But Claudius is just a garden-variety villain, and so Denmark needs a hero to set things right. Enter Hamlet. He’s “tragic” only in the sense that he dies, and since he dies after completing his heroic mission, he dies triumphant. But unlike the deaths of Claudius, Oedipus, and Macbeth, his death isn’t necessary to restore order. It’s just an epilogue.

Chris Gavaler, The Patron Saint Of Superheroes. “Something is Rotten In the State Of Gotham.”

As this clip above indicates Hamlet is unique among revengers because his conflict doesn’t come from the machinations of his villain; he’s stopped by his own internal conflicts. Batman is more active than Hamlet, but he also wrestles with internal conflicts and Conroy plays these conflicts with a lot of subtlety and nuance. To illustrate this conflict, let’s look at some great clips from the series!

Batman admits he wanted Revenge: “The Curious case of Hugo Strange”

In this episode, Dr. Strange (not the Marvel Superhero), uses a dream-reading machine to try and blackmail Bruce Wayne, and inadvertently discovers his secret identity. Not only does this episode dramatize Wayne’s literal worst nightmare, (someone figuring out who he is), it also touches on the pain of his past and how even though now Batman is a deputized agent of the law who never kills, he began as an angry, vengeful vigilante, like Hamlet:

I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse
me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.
I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my
beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give
them shape, or time to act them in.

Hamlet, Act III, Scene i.

Batman’s Conflict With His parents.

In this clip from the animated movie Mask Of the Phantasm (1993), a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne feels a conflict between his obligation to avenge his parent’s death, and his budding romance with Ms. Andrea Beaumont:

One can almost sense an Ophelia- Hamlet-like conflict where Bruce knows his quest to avenge will consume him, and leave no time to pursue romance. In all revenge tragedies, the hero has to avenge alone, or at least without the support of a spouse or partner. Hamlet also makes the choice to cut Ophelia out of his life, though it’s not clear why. It could be he’s worried that Claudius will harm her, it could be he’s worried she’s compromised since her father tried to spy on him, or it could simply be that he doesn’t trust her. It’s up to the actor and director to “Pluck the heart of Hamlet’s mystery.”

Royal Shakespeare Company Text Detectives discuss the possible interpretations behind the “Get Thee To a Nunnery Scene.”

Eventually though, the choice is made for him, and Bruce Wayne completely commits to his quest to battle the crime in Gotham, as this epic scene from “Mask of The Phantasm” shows:

Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.

Hamlet, Act I, Scene v.

Hamlet and Batman’s Demons

The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil; and the devil hath power
T’ assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me.

Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

What’s truly unique about the animated version of Batman is that it’s the only one that takes time to show Batman’s complex relationship with the ghosts of his parents. As previously discussed, Bruce Wayne’s desire to revenge their death and to punish the wickedness of Gotham is what spurs him to keep fighting as Batman, but he also wonders many times if he’s doing more harm than good. He’s also tempted to forget them and try to lead a normal life, like in the episode “Perchance to Dream,” (which itself is a quote from Hamlet). Above all, the animated show knows that, since children are watching this show, they will connect with Batman’s fear of not living up to his parent’s expectations, a fear to which every child can relate.

In the first season episode “Nothing To Fear,” the villainous Scarecrow exploits Batman’s fear of disappointing his parents by drugging him with a fear toxin, causing Bruce to hallucinate that his father is berating him and calling him a failure. Hamlet gets a similar ghostly chewing out in The Closet Scene:

Father’s GhostDo not forget. This visitation
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.

Hamlet, Act III, Scene iv

While The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father is mostly supportive in this scene, Hamlet worries many times in the play if Claudius is in fact innocent, and the Ghost is a demon sent by the Devil to get him to kill an innocent man, and thus damn him for eternity. This uncertainty is the same that Batman wrestles with, as he confronts his own demon-like apparition. Batman then defiantly responds to this fiendish hallucination with one of the most iconic lines in the series:

Only a consummate professional like Conroy with his grounding in Shakespeare in general and Hamlet in particular could portray such an iconic character. Many fans of Batman like me believe that Conroy’s portrayal was the peak of the franchise, and I feel fortunate that it came out when I was a child. I mourn Conroy’s loss, yet as Mr. Affleck mentioned in the quote above, like Hamlet, the character of Batman has many possible interpretations, and though Conroy will always be my favorite, I hope new and exciting interpretations will arise from the shadows in time, bringing this complex, Shakespearean character to a new audience.

“Good Night, Sweet Prince and flights of bat wings fly thee to thy rest.”

References

https://gizmodo.com/the-batman-hamlet-crossover-that-never-was-5876735

https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2008/jul/23/thedarkknightbatmanisaha

https://bleedingcool.com/movies/batman-as-hamlet-with-kevin-conroy-and-loren-lester/#google_vignette

Review: Kurasawa’s THrone of Blood

One of the most celebrated international film versions of Shakespeare comes from Japanese director Akira Kurasawa, (1910-1998). The innovative filmmaker is famous for combining Shakespeare with traditional forms of Japanese theater like Kabuki and Noh. Kurasawa’smost celebrated film was his film Throne of Blood, (1957), which was a fusion of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Japanese Noh theater.

Here’s a short analysis of the film:

“What Lenten Entertainment”

Shakespeare, Shrove Tuesday, and lent

What is Shrove Tuesday?

Forty days in the wilderness: Temptations of Christ, St Mark’s Basilica.

According to the Christian calendar, today (Tuesday) is Shrove Tuesday AKA fat Tuesday, AKA pancake day, AKA Fasnacht Day, (if you live in Pennsylvania ) It is the season that commemorates the time in Jesus Christ fasted in the desert for 40 days, then he then entered Jerusalem with his followers, had his last meal the last supper was betrayed by Judas. was crucified, died and ascended to heaven on Easter Sunday.

Every aspect of the Easter story from Christ’s entry to Jerusalem to the Holy Thursday celebration of the Last Supper, to his death and the cross on Good Friday has been ritualized by the Catholic and many Protestant churches. Incidentally, Holy Thursday is determined by the Jewish calendar, which is in itself coordinated by the Paschal moon, the last full moon before the Vernal Equinox.

Growth and fertility; pain and pleasure, privation, and excess, things dying and things born. These extreme states of being and the dramatic stories of Christ’s passion are, of course, very good theater, so it’s no wonder that Shakespeare would choose to incorporate the themes and motifs of Shrove Tuesday into his plays.

Shakespeare and Shrove Tuesday

Pieter Bruegel the Elder- The Fight between Carnival and Lent detail 3.jpg
Peter Bruegel the Elder- The Fight Between Shrove Tuesday and Lent, 1559. Notice on the left there is a pancake supper and a rotund man playing a song on a stringed instrument, while on the right there is an emaciated woman wearing an austere head covering.

Shakespeare loved pancakes!

Shakespeare uses a lot of Christian imagery and theology in all of his plays but he also specifically refers to Shrove Tuesday, with its pancake suppers, use of theatrical disguise, and carefree attitude. He also refers to Lent, and the threadbare and lean times it represents. In a general sense, a lot of his plays deal with the swinging back-and-forth of Time, where society is simultaneously getting ready to purge itself of sin and deny itself of pleasure. I thought I’d explore that by taking a look at some examples of text Shakespeare that deal with these themes.

First, let’s talk about Shrove Tuesday; in As You Like It, Touchstone makes reference to eating pancakes, traditional food for Shrove Tuesday in a lot of Christian communities. There are variations like donuts and fasnachts, but the idea is to eat up the fat and oil in your house. This is because to begin the start of length a time when Christians are supposed to abstain from fat, people would use the remaining oil and butter in their houses to have pancake suppers.

This modest pancake supper is one tradition of Shrove Tuesday, but there are many more elaborate ones. As I mentioned Shrove Tuesday goes by many names but the most extreme and extravagant celebration of the purging of sin in preparation for Lent is, of course, Mardi Gras. The celebration of Mardi gras in New Orleans is an offshoot of the Shrove Tuesday tradition which is why it is often celebrated as an extravagant party with food, drink, and sometimes lewd behavior. Sometimes, Mardi Gras celebrations even incorporate Shakespeare plays as a theme:

Masks and Mardi Gras

As you can imagine getting the chance to purge yourself from sin and do things that you wish you wanted to do might make you a bit self-conscious which is why traditionally in a lot of cultures mardi gras is celebrated by the wearing of masks where people can hide their faces, and adopt an extreme personality, and indulge in dancing and drinking. Venice is another city famous for its Mardi Gras celebrations and Shakespeare uses this tradition heavily in his play The Merchant Of Venice.

Shakespeare’s debt to Italy

First of all, credit where credit is due, many of Shakespeare’s comic characters are directly inspired from character types created in a form of Italian comedy called “Commedia Del’Arte-” The Comedy of Art. These were short improvised vignettes where performers donned masks and acted out a sort of improvised skit. Each actor spent years learning the voices and mannerisms of these stock characters like the scheming maid, (Columbina) the crafty servant (Arlequinno or Harlequin), or the greedy, dishonest innkeeper Brighella, who might have influenced Shylock himself. If you click on this website, there are some great scholarly articles about Commedia’s influence on Shakespeare, and how these characters helped forge all of his comedies, not just Merchant Of Venice.

Masks and Venetian culture

As this video from the Youtube historian Metatron explains, Commedia masks were just one of the masks that were front and center in Merchant Of Venice. Masks were part of Venetian society, not just during Carnival, which allowed Shakespeare to make masks part of the plot of Merchant Of Venice.

It’s not explicitly said, but I believe Shakespeare sets Act II of The Merchant Of Venice during a Carnival masquerade revel, where young men danced through the streets wearing masks. This might very well be during a carnival celebration, which means the play might very well be taking place during the twin seasons of Easter for Christians and Passover for Jews. This might very well be what Shakespeare was intending, as this clashing of religious dogman is at the heart of the play.

First, there’s Graziano, Bassanio’s wild and raunchy friend. In this speech, he deftly parodies the duelling concepts of Shrove Tuesday and Lent, by promising to be austere, wise, and virtuous tomorrow, but not tonight, when he and his friend Lorenzo will be walking through the streets in their masks.

Bassanio. Why then you must. But hear thee, Gratiano;745
Thou art too wild, too rude and bold of voice;
Parts that become thee happily enough
And in such eyes as ours appear not faults;
But where thou art not known, why, there they show
Something too liberal. Pray thee, take pain750
To allay with some cold drops of modesty
Thy skipping spirit, lest through thy wild behavior
I be misconstrued in the place I go to,
And lose my hopes.
Gratiano. Signior Bassanio, hear me:755
If I do not put on a sober habit,
Talk with respect and swear but now and then,
Wear prayer-books in my pocket, look demurely,
Nay more, while grace is saying, hood mine eyes
Thus with my hat, and sigh and say 'amen,'760
Use all the observance of civility,
Like one well studied in a sad ostent
To please his grandam, never trust me more.
Bassanio. Well, we shall see your bearing.
Gratiano. Nay, but I bar to-night: you shall not gauge me765
By what we do to-night.
Bassanio. No, that were pity:
I would entreat you rather to put on
Your boldest suit of mirth, for we have friends
That purpose merriment. But fare you well:770
I have some business.
Detail, Conversation between Baute Masks, by Pietro Longhi (1701-1785); Museo Del Settecento Veneziano

While Gratziano and his friends are playing masquerade outside, Shylock instructs his daughter Jessica to shut up his doors and do not let the maskers in, or even look at them.

Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene v.

It’s entirely possible that the play itself might very well conclude around the time of Easter which is especially significant considering that it ends with a scene that inverts, subverts, and questions the Passion story of Jesus.

The courtroom scene from Merchant of Venice is almost a Passion Play in itself, where Shylock attempts to take a pound of flesh from the Christian Antonio, (who gives it as willingly as if he were Christ himself). Even though Jesus was crucified by Romans, for millennia the Jews were blamed for his death, and Shakespeare uses this anti-semetic imagery where Shylock stands in for the austerity of Mosaic law, rejecting the concept of divine Grace. Meanwhile, Portia is playing the judge, and she utters a poignant speech about mercy with almost God-like eloquence. This scene illustrates the established theological basis of Lent and Easter. According to Christian theology, the whole point of Lent is to remember and celebrate Christ’s sacrifice where we are redeemed from our sins. As she says, “We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer teaches us to render the deeds of mercy.” In a way, the sinful nature of mardi gras is not just a purging of human sin, it is also a way of acknowledging how far we fall short of God’s perfect ideals.

In that sense, Mardi Gras and Carnival are not a flouting or a rejection of Christian theology; it’s a reinforcement of it. Christians indulge in sin and acknowledge their sins the next day on Ash Wednesday, where they don black clothes and become contrite and this is our way of remembering Christ’s sacrifice and how necessary it was.

However, Shakespeare doesn’t have Antonio die like Christ, instead, it is Shylock the Jew who will metaphorically die and be reborn; he will convert to Christianity (and thus be dead to his former community), and his riches will give stability to Jessica and Lorenzo when Shylock dies. Shylock’s punishment at the end of the play is intentionally harsh and cruel, and many scholars have shown it as a demonstration of the limits of Christian mercy. Like the masks they put on every day, Venetian Christians seem pure and pious, but are inwardly corrupt and degenerate.

Shakespeare and Lent

You might have noticed that I used the word “purge” repeatedly in reference to what people do on carnival and mardi gras as a way of releasing their sins. The Purge movies do in fact have a basis in this concept. Traditionally the flowers that are part of purge days are actually given at Shrove tide. The Purge is also traditionally celebrated in mid March around the time of the vernal equinox, so the purge movies are a more extreme version of mardi gras, with the belief that the one illegal tendency people would indulge in alloed, would be murder, (which is a very bleak comment on human society).

What’s interesting is that Shakespeare creates his own sort of purging of society in his play Measure For Measure, and he creates a villain who is very much like an embodiment of um of lentin But

no man can is without sin and no and it is incredibly dangerous to assume that 1 Possibly making fun of her clothing and possibly also calling her a whore or a prostitute that that um you see it was traditional to eat Is the food a drink length until It’s a sexual It’s not as enjoyable and probably lower quality than the norm normal because of course the tradition of lent is a tradition of self denial and and in measure for measure he creates a character who is obsessed with his own piety and self denial the character of the judge Angelo in measure for measure he is a judge who is known for his piety and a society that is that it’s become too loose too loose to carnival ish and he is charged by the Duke who has chosen to Leave Vienna to with to become more dracodian to become more our strict and and legalistic and punish people use the fear of the law in order to command good behavior he sets the same standards for everybody else that he does for himself and that’s why the central conflict of the play is between him and Isabella whose brother who hasn’t committed any sins on stage but her brother Claudio is guilty of adultery well not no not guilty of adultery hes technically guilty of fornication in that he has consummated his marriage with the Woman before proceeding with the marriage rituals that I mentioned in my most recent Romeo Juliette portpost so hes being punished by 4 and a Kate for fornication fornication in in the the strictest and most technical definition of fornication he loves this woman he has made a pledge for her to be his wife legally they are married but it’s not good enough unless they make a formal request they get the consent of the parents and they and they are and they have a marriage ceremony performed in a church unless he does all of those things in Angelo’s mind he is guilty of fornication So you can see that Angelo has a stricter nature than most people would permit themselves and he is utterly and the concept of mercy is just as alien to hit him as it was to Shylock the main difference between the 2 characters that’s Angelo heights behind Christian piety not Jewish piety Ione and he turns out to be even more morally degenerate than Shylock because he is it is he is trying to manipulate uh manipulate Isabella in order to get her to sleep with him he wants to sleep with a nun because he thinks he deserves her he thinks that she is a reward for his piety

Angelo forgot what any person who celebrates mardi gras and ash Wednesday does that the purpose of lent is to remind ourselves that we are human know that we need mercy and to celebrate the sacrifice the Christ made so that we can continue to be human and not try to utter utterly lady destroy our imperfections that make us human so measure for meta The diconomy between Lynton and and a boccanelli or carnum Leonora carnival’s morals morals and in the end Isabella emerges from that crucible Victorious she defeats Angelo she exposes him as a failure as a failure she failure she ransoms her brother almost as definitely as Christ renziming humanity humanity and in the end she is offered the chance to either become a nun as she wanted or to become the Duke’s wife and therefore Queen of the whole country Taking a face value it looks like it seems like a fairy tale ending where this is the sort of person who should be governing somebody whose morality is tempered with mercy but but Shakespeare’s play is much Messier than that if you actually read it or see it performed formed it has Siri it’s a racist serious questions about how helpful oh helpful this this particular concept the concept is to women especially since Particularly when it comes to failings of the Flash in most productions I’ve seen you’ve Jew seen Juliet in measure for measure to for measure is as mocked and as disdained and is the and abused it’s viewed as Claudio is and Is life a reputation which is really all a woman had back in this period so Shakespeare does a good job of of showing the virtues of letting and carnival in Is illings of such rules it’s all very well and good to say we are allowed to be human man but very often women are set to higher standards than the men when it comes to if comes to standards of purity and piety

No hare, sir; unless a hare, sir, in a lenten pie,
that is something stale and hoar ere it be spent.
[Sings]
An old hare hoar,
And an old hare hoar,
Is very good meat in lent
But a hare that is hoar
Is too much for a score,
When it hoars ere it be spent.
Romeo, will you come to your father’s? we’ll
to dinner, thither.

–Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet

Lent and Measure FOr Measure

Conclusion

the Lenten season probably appealed to Shakespeare because much like “Twelfth Night” it is a season that momentarily subverts and then enforces the status quo. People indulge themselves in debauchery briefly, then commit themselves whole-heartedly to sobriety and piety. It shows the tendency towards the extreme in human nature, whether it be the grotesque, the sinful, the lusty, or even the austere. Like the masks at Carnival, we find these extremes of nature fascinating to watch as they dance before us and therefore, they also make for very good drama.