Well today is May 4rth, when a lot of people have chosen to celebrate one of the most iconic movies of the 20th century: Star Wars! And why not? The story is full of conflict, introspection, love, change, the conflict between fathers and sons, and occasionally guidance from ghosts. Wait, that sounds familiar- it’s a lot like Shakespeare! Yes, the movie has a lot of parallels with the Shakespearean canon, and I’d like to share some of those similarities here. Below is a post I did for the American Shakespeare Center about how the Star Wars prequels parallel Shakespeare’s history saga of Henry the Sixth:
As I was writing William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, I was surprised to realize I had made more references to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing than any other play. Much Ado is a comedy—probably my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies—so it was strange that lines from it kept popping up in the darkest of the original Star Wars® trilogy.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is a series of parody plays written by Ian Doescher that takes the prose screenplays of the Star Wars story and transforms them into Elizabethan verse. Last time I mentioned how much I loved the cheeky references to Shakespeare and Star Wars, and how Doescher adapts the cinematic quality into Elizabethan drama very well. In my podcast, I also emphasized the way Doescher gives each character verbose Shakespearan language that works very well for radio and theater:
What I want to do with this post, (and the accompanying podcast), is to see whether this edition captures the fun, the clever wordplay, and the Shakespearean storytelling of “A New Hope,” with the second installment of the series, and if it helps to capture the shift in tone between the two movies, as Luke is tempted by the dark side and Han is betrayed and frozen by Lando.
Notes about the play
The first play in the series, “Verily, A New Hope,” took plot and structure inspiration from Henry V; it tells the story as an epic heroic story of Luke’s heroic deeds, much like how Henry V is about a king who grows from boy to man.
By the playwright’s own admission, the dialogue is stuffed with lots of re-purposed quotes from Much AdoAbout Nothing, Shakespeare’s comedy of a womanizing, self-centered soldier who becomes a devoted husband. This is appropriate since the Leia/ Han plot within the play and movie starts out with them bickering like Beatrice and Benedick. Doescher says this was an accident, but I think he might have subconsciously taken inspiration from their love affair to help structure the dialogue. In the accompanying podcast episode, I talk more about how the use of Much Ado quotes helped to flesh out the characters of Luke, Leia, and especially Han.
Movies and plays follow a similar structure where the action starts at a static place, tension rises, and finally, things get resolved at the end. A lot of the same elements are in both issues. The main difference is how they are arranged. Let’s see how Doescher translated the three-act structure of a screenplay, to the five-act structure of an Elizabethan tragedy.
As you can see, films have a 3 act structure
Elements to Watch for:
A Chorus is a short speech where a character who is not part of the action of the play introduces the plot. It functions the same way as the famous title crawl at the beginning of Star Wars.
I mentioned last time that “Verily: A New Hope” uses choruses liberally, which is appropriate because the tone of this story is so much darker, and since the action follows the journeys of Han and Luke so closely Ian doesn’t use choruses as much. I suspect this is partly because unlike The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope jumped around more between planets and locations and used wipes and other transitions heavily:
Below is a link to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Learning Zone, where you can learn about the language of the Henry V chorus.
The literary technique of stichomythia has characters who speak at more or less the same time, using slightly different forms of dialogue. Doescher uses this well as a staging device by having Vader and Luke speak similar lines as Luke plummets down the shaft after losing his lightsaber duel:
These similar lines highlight the connection these two have (no spoilers), and also emphasize that, though the actors might be physically close onstage, their characters are meant to be far apart; they wouldn’t be saying this to each other.
In Romeo and Juliet, there’s an excellent example of stichomythia in Act IV, Scene iv, right after Juliet’s parents and Nurse discovers her, apparently dead. There is a long series of laments by her parents and nurse where they are shocked and horrified at her sudden death:
Lady Capulet. Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day! 2702 Most miserable hour that e’er time saw In lasting labour of his pilgrimage! But one, poor one, one poor and loving child, But one thing to rejoice and solace in, And cruel death hath catch’d it from my sight!
Nurse. O woe! O woful, woful, woful day! Most lamentable day, most woful day, That ever, ever, I did yet behold!2710 O day! O day! O day! O hateful day! Never was seen so black a day as this: O woful day, O woful day!
Paris. Beguiled, divorced, wronged, spited, slain! Most detestable death, by thee beguil’d,2715 By cruel cruel thee quite overthrown! O love! O life! not life, but love in death!
Capulet. Despised, distressed, hated, martyr’d, kill’d! Uncomfortable time, why camest thou now To murder, murder our solemnity?2720 O child! O child! my soul, and not my child! Dead art thou! Alack! my child is dead; And with my child my joys are buried.
Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Scene v lines 2702-2723.
When I played Friar Laurence and the cast and I rehearsed this scene, the actors playing the Nurse and Juliet’s parents were struck by how similar the lines are and worried that these long passages of laments would get tedious to an audience. I realized by looking at the similar lines, the similar words (especially at the ends of lines), and the fact that Friar Laurence interrupts them at the end, led me to believe that these lines are meant to be spoken AT THE SAME TIME. This creates an effect of organized chaos where the actors seem to be wailing and ranting, but are actually speaking a carefully composed quartet of grief. Thus Doescher cleverly mimics Shakespeare’s use of stichomythia to convey Vader and Luke’s physical distance, and complementary feelings at the same time.
3. Parody Lines
The biggest appeal of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is the fact that it is a parody, and I’ve said for many years that parody and gentle riffing on Shakespeare is a great way to get students to overcome their fear of Shakespeare and engage with him. Students who know Star Wars but don’t know Shakespeare will recognize the familiar characters and plots of the movies and then see how Shakespeare’s language tells the story anew. Similarly, people who know Shakespeare will recognize the way Doescher re-tools famous Shakespeare quotes to give to characters in the Star Wars Universe, like here, where he spoofs the intentionally bad speech of Snug the Joiner and gives it to the Wampa from Empire Strikes Back:
Peter Keavy as Snug the Joyner in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” 2017.
In the Educator’s guide, which I’ve attached below, Doescher tells you exactly which lines he has parodied and the plots of the original plays so the students can learn about Shakespeare through these famous speeches. Orson Wells once said that “We sit through Shakespeare in order to recognize the quotations,” and this edition gives us thrilling space battle, wonderful characters, and witty dialogue to keep us entertained while we wait.
As Doescher worked his way through all nine installments of Star Wars, he continued to expand and experiment with his storytelling. There are a couple of moments in “Empire” that work only onstage such as the aforementioned moment of stichomythia after the lightsaber duel, and the scene in Act II, Scene ii where the Imperial Walkers known as AT-ATs actually speak to each other onstage. Like the French in Henry V, it’s interesting to see the battle from the enemy’s point of view, albeit a highly biased one. I won’t reprint it here for copyright reasons, but I will put this funny sketch in as a placeholder:
Although I loved “Verily, A New Hope,” I feel that Doescher didn’t go far enough to adapt the dialogue in interesting ways and play with the stagecraft of Star Wars to make it more distinct from the film and the first installment. My favorite moment of the play was the Wampa speech which was great because it not only parodies one of my favorite speeches in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it also made the Wampa attack tonally distinct from the film- the film is tense and grim, while the Wampa speech is funny and charming. I wish Doescher had embraced the parody and silly tone he shows in this speech and applied it more to the rest of the play; we already know Empire is the darkest installment of the series, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be played like that the whole time.
What I think works best in the film is the romantic comedy between Han and Leia; Doescher does a wonderful job pointing out the parallels between Han and Leia and Benedick and Beatrice which is not only fun, but helps Star Wars fans appreciate the comedy of Much Ado About Nothing even more. This is why I’m glad Doescher took painstaking notes on how he parodied Much Ado and other plays in the guide below:
For Shakespeare’s birthday, I thought I’d re-visit one of my most popular posts, especially since the Royal Shakespeare Company is celebrating by putting on an adaptation of Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet:
Just like his famous father, we know very little about the life of Hamnet Shakespeare. Since infant mortality rates were high, we don’t know his exact birthday, only that he was baptized on February 2nd, 1582. Like most 11-year old boys, he probably had started going to school at the King Edward Grammer School, the same as his father. This means he spent long hours away from his parents learning to read and write in Latin and Greek. When he was home, he lived with his mother, his two sisters, and his grandparents in the house of Henley Street.
O’Farrel portrays the boy Hamnet as sensitive and somewhat lonely, which makes sense, since he probably didn’t see his father for long periods of the year; Will Shakespeare spent much of the year writing, going on tour, and performing at the Globe- he commuted from London to Stratford for most of the year. He probably only came around during Lent, Christmas, and times of plague when the theaters were closed.
Never mind what I know. You must go.” She pushes at his chest, putting air and space between them, feeling his arms slide off her, disentangling them. His face is crumpled, tense, uncertain. She smiles at him, drawing in breath. “I won’t say goodbye,” she says, keeping her voice steady. “Neither will I.” “I won’t watch you walk away.” “I’ll walk backwards,” he says, backing away, “so I can keep you in my sights.” “All the way to London?” “If I have to.” She laughs. “You’ll fall into a ditch. You’ll crash into a cart.” “So be it.
The novel portrays Anne Shakespeare realizing that her husband is stifled and unhappy living with his parents in Stratford, and so she suggests to his father that he go to London to ‘expand the family business,’ though in reality, she wants him to go to make his fortune and find more fulfilling work. Scholars have wondered for years how Shakespeare got his start in theater- as a man with children he was legally unable to become an apprentice, and as a glover’s son from Stratford, he didn’t know anyone in London. O’Farrell solves the mystery by making him start out as a costume maker and mender for a theater company, who later became a writer and actor.
This idea of Shakespeare starting out as the company’s glove mender actually has some historical merit- records from the time confirm that many playwrights and actors were also local artisans. Men like John Webster, Richard Tarlton, Edward Kyneston, and even Richard Burbage were skilled drapers, textile merchants, haberdashers (men’s tailors) and ( like the Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,”) some of these men were weavers-turned actors (Source: Anna Gonzales) So it’s entirely possible that Shakespeare started in London by selling gloves to theaters, before selling his plays.
When Will moved to London, he lived in a number of locations throughout the city, probably because it wasn’t a safe place. Theaters were located in the same districts as bear baiting and brothels, so Will probably had to move to get away from bad neighborhoods, as this video from The History Squad illustrates:
A glover will only ever want the skin, the surface, the outer layer. Everything else is useless, an inconvenience, an unnecessary mess. She thinks of the private cruelty behind something as beautiful and perfect as a glove.
Almost immediately after Will leaves, Anne is full of remorse. She knows his work in London will consume him and his success will make the distance between him and her even greater.
She walks back, more slowly, the way she came. How odd it feels, to move along the same streets, the route in reverse, like inking over old words, her feet the quill, going back over work, rewriting, erasing. Partings are strange. It seems so simple: one minute ago, four, five, he was here, at her side; now, he is gone. She was with him; she is alone. She feels exposed, chill, peeled like an onion.
He wants to tear down the sky, he wants to rip every blossom from that tree, he wishes to take a burning branch and drive that pink-clad girl and her nag over a cliff, just to be rid of them, to clear them all out of his way. So many miles, so much road stands between him and his child, and so few hours left.
As I’ve said in previous posts, Shakespeare survived three epidemics of Plague; one in 1563, (before he was born), one in 1593, and one in 1603. In O’Farell’s novel, the germs that kill Hamnet came not from a massive outbreak, but a few germs that were transported in a box that his sister had the misfortune of opening. This frightful passage shows the grim tenacity and eve-present fear that, while England expanded and became more interconnected with the world, it also brought death and disease to and from the rest of Europe.
In the book, the plague germs that infect Judith and later Hamnet, lie inside a box with some glass beads that the Shakespeare’s ordered from Italy to decorate a pair of fancy gloves. As this video from National Geographic shows, trade routs then as now are prime spreaders of disease and even one ship that slips by can turn any box of goods into a Pandora’s Box, waiting for a poor unsuspecting girl like Judith to release it unto the world.
He can feel Death in the room, hovering in the shadows, over there beside the door, head averted, but watching all the same, always watching. It is waiting, biding its time. It will slide forward on skinless feet, with breath of damp ashes, to take her, to clasp her in its cold embrace, and he, Hamnet, will not be able to wrest her free.
In the novel, Hamnet somehow takes the plague away from his sister and dies in her place. Though it is hardly conclusive, I do find it interesting that Shakespeare stopped writing comedies about twins for another four years after Hamnet’s death, until he wrote Twelfth Night, which unlike earlier comedies like The Comedy of Errors, has a pair of twins mourning each other’s apparent death. They seem to share one soul, and one tries to resurrect the other, like Viola mourning her brother by, (in a sense), becoming her brother.
What should I do in Ilyria? My brother is in Elysium
Viola- “Twelfth Night”, Act I, Scene ii.
ELIZABETHAN FUNERAL CUSTOMS
In the book, Anne makes a winding sheet for her son. This was a cloth of linen or wool that was wrapped around dead bodies, since at the time, coffins were re-used. This must have been a somber and deeply upsetting activity for Anne.
As this quote from “The Evolution of the English Shroud” illustrates, the act of making a winding sheet was a sort of sad family responsibility, a way of ensuring that your loved ones die with dignity, and Anne clearly takes the task of making one very seriously.
The 16th-century shroud for the poor and lower middle classes was a large sheet that was gathered at the head and feet, and tied in knots at both ends, covering every part of the body. It resembled earlier Medieval practices and was a functional, yet modest way of preserving the deceased’s dignity. It was also economical, with very little cost involved, as the burial sheet was usually taken from the family home. At this point, linens dominated as the material of choice; after all, it was a biblical tradition as Jesus was wrapped in a linen cloth. Linen was also considered more fashionable than wool.
Coffin Works Archive
The Aftermath Of Hamnet’s Death (Spoilers)
She discovers that it is possible to cry all day and all night. That there are many different ways to cry: the sudden outpouring of tears, the deep, racking sobs, the soundless and endless leaking of water from the eyes. That sore skin around the eyes may be treated with oil infused with a tincture of eyebright and chamomile. That it is possible to comfort your daughters with assurances about places in Heaven and eternal joy and how they may all be reunited after death and how he will be waiting for them, while not believing any of it. That people don’t always know what to say to a woman whose child has died. That some will cross the street to avoid her merely because of this. That people not considered to be good friends will come, without warning, to the fore, will leave bread and cakes on your sill, will say a kind and apt word to you after church, will ruffle Judith’s hair and pinch her wan cheek.
The Women of Hamnet
The most unique thing about this novel is how it shows the interdependence of women in Elizabethan society. Since Shakespeare spends most of the novel away from Anne, her support system mostly comes from Will’s mother Mary, as well as Anne’s daughters, her sister, and all the other women of the town. Nowadays we do most of our socialization online and barely know our own neighbors, but in the 1590s, especially for women, community was a way of building strength where women got through things like childbirth, loss, the managing of households, and many other difficulties through their relationships with other women. This video below shows the kinds of home remedies that women would share and later write down during the Tudor period:
Other Mysteries Solved
Once Hamnet dies, Will buys her a new house, New Place so she isn’t forced to live with his parents and no longer has to live in the house where her son died. But Will’s success comes with a price- he still has to leave for London. he offers to move them there but Agnes won’t hear of it. This solves the riddle of why Shakespeare commuted between town and country for his entire career- she knows the plague that took her son literally came from London, and she won’t risk losing her daughteras well. She probably also sees London like another woman that took her husband away as well, and therefore refuses to look it in the face.
It is no matter,” she pants, as they struggle there, beside the guzzling swine. “I know. You are caught by that place, like a hooked fish.” “What place? You mean London?” “No, the place in your head. I saw it once, a long time ago, a whole country in there, a landscape. You have gone to that place and it is now more real to you than anywhere else. Nothing can keep you from it. Not even the death of your own child. I see this,” she says to him, as he binds her wrists together with one of his hands, reaching down for the bag at his feet with the other. “Don’t think I don’t.”
The Shakespeares’ Marriage after Hamnet
I mean’, he says, ‘that I don´t think you have any idea what it is like to be married to someone like you.’ ‘Like me?’ ‘Someone who knows everything about you, before you even know it yourself. Someone who can just loo at you and divine your deepest secrets, just with a glance. Someone who can tell what you are about to say- and what you might not- before you say it. It is’ he says, ‘both a joy and a curse.
The ugly truth that O’Farrell highlights in Hamnet is that it must have been very hard for the Shakespeares to endure Hamnet’s death, especially since Will was probably not there when it happened, and probably didn’t stay around long after burying his son. It must have been catastrophic on his marriage, sort of like this tragic moment in the musical Hamilton, where the couple mourns the loss of their son, who died in a duel trying to defend his father’s honor.
Agnes is a woman broken into pieces, crumbled and scattered around. She would not be surprised to look down, one of these days, and see a foot over in the corner, an arm left on the ground, a hand dropped to the floor. Her daughters are the same. Susanna’s face is set, her brows lowered in something like anger. Judith just cries, on and on, silently; the tears leak from her and will, it seems, never stop. — How were they to know that Hamnet was the pin holding them together? That without him they would all fragment and fall apart, like a cup shattered on the floor?
Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet
The Second Best Bed mystery
Though Anne is angry at Will for a while, she does eventually forgive him, as evidenced by another solved historical mystery. In Shakespeare’s will he gives his wife “My second-best bed, with the furniture,” which O’Farell explains, is their marriage bed. The best bed was the one they gave to guests and was therefore newer. In the book, Will offers to replace it after Hamnet dies, but Anne won’t hear of it; although she partially blames Will for Hamnet’s death, she still loves him and her love is stronger than her grief, as is her love for her surviving daughters.
What is the word, Judith asks her mother, for someone who was a twin but is no longer a twin? Her mother, dipping a folded, doubled wick into heated tallow, pauses, but doesn’t turn around. If you were a wife, Judith continues, and your husband dies, then you are a widow. And if its parents die, a child becomes an orphan. But what is the word for what I am? I don’t know, her mother says. Judith watches the liquid slide off the ends of the wicks, into the bowl below. Maybe there isn’t one, she suggests. Maybe not, says her mother
Raising the Dead
At the end of the book, Shakespeare plays the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, and writes Hamlet as a tribute to his late son. We don’t know for a fact that the real William Shakespeare did this but Stratford legend says that Shakespeare played the Ghost of Hamlet’s father onstage, and this has captivated the imagination of authors and scholars alike. In any case, as Stephen Greenblatt says in his book Will In The World, Shakespeare’s father’s health faded around the same time that he wrote Hamlet. it must have been hard for Shakespeare to write a name that was one letter away from his son’s over and over again. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play, and the titular character has over 40% of the dialogue, so it must have been haunting at the very least for Shakespeare to have to write his son’s name nearly 4,000 times.
Whatever he determined at the time, Shakespeare must have still been brooding in late 1600 and early 1601, when he sat down to write a tragedy whose doomed hero bore the name of his dead son. His thoughts may have been intensified by news that his elderly father was seriously ill back in Stratford, for the thought of his father's death is deeply woven into the play. And the death of his son and the impending death of his father--a crisis of mourning and memory--could have caused a psychic disturbance that helps to explain the explosive power and inwardness of Hamlet.
Greenblatt, 2004, p. 8)
In the book, Anne secretly goes to London to see Hamlet onstage and is overcome with emotion. Not only does Will play a ghost as tribute to his dying father, not only does he put his son’s name onstage, he directs the actor playing Hamlet to affect his own son’s mannerisms and gestures, to use theater to bring his son back from the dead. Anne is both appalled and moved by this act- Hamnet is dead, but his story is now immortal.
O’ Farrell has done a fantastic job of taking what little we know about the Shakespeare’s lives, infusing them with some clever inferences from the plays of Will Shakespeare, and finally fleshing them out with her own Shakespearean knowledge of the human heart- how it feels to bury someone, how it feels to go through trauma and what it’s like to be part of a family and to truly love someone, even though they often fail to properly love you back. As the end of the book implies, maybe Will didn’t intend to immortalize his son and share his powers of theatrical resurrection with the world, maybe this was just his way of apologizing to the love of his life. To try to make amends for the time he lost and to express a wish that he could give her son back to her, which in a way, he does:
Hamlet, here, on this stage, is two people, the young man, alive, and the father, dead. He is both alive and dead. Her husband has brought him back to life, in the only way he can. As the ghost talks, she sees that her husband, in writing this, in taking the role of the ghost, has changed places with his son. He has taken his son’s death and made it his own; he has put himself in death’s clutches, resurrecting the boy in his place. “O horrible! O horrible! Most horrible!” murmurs her husband’s ghoulish voice, recalling the agony of his death.
Bray, Peter. “Men, loss and spiritual emergency: Shakespeare, the death of Hamnet and the making of Hamlet.” Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, vol. 2, no. 2, June 2008, pp. 95+. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A189052376/LitRC?u=pl9286&sid=bookmark-LitRC&xid=ea79f235. Accessed 20 Apr. 2023.
Document-specific information Creator: Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon Title: Parish Register of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon Date: 1558-1776 Repository: The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK Call number and opening: DR243/1: Baptismal register, fol. 22v View online bibliographic record
This is an interactive game that teaches the craft of Shakespeare’s writing and stagecraft in the form of an Elizabethan escape room. You must find the lost play of William Shakespeare before a mystery thief destroys it! Solve the clues and learn about Shakespeare’s writing and theater to uncover a historical mystery!
In this fully online, fully interactive game, you play as a member of Shakespeare’s company. You’ve just discovered that someone has stolen Shakespeare’s new play “Love’s Labors Won,” and you need to find it before the show tonight! In the course of the game, you search the Globe Theater and Shakespeare’s study. Then a mysterious note reveals that someone has stolen the play! You must figure out who it is, and find the play before the thief burns it! Through the course of the game, you will learn about Shakespeare’s theater, the secrets of how he wrote some of his great plays and beautiful poetry, and the work of his contemporaries in a fun, interactive way.
The class is organized into four parts, based on four locations where you will search for the missing play:
Part I- Search the Theater
Part I- Search the theater (website/ Slides/ Jamboard) You learn the basic parts of an Elizabethan stage (Google slides) You label the parts of the theater (Google Forms) You do a virtual tour of the theater (via Globe Theater.com) Web quest- answer 3 questions about Shakespeare’s Globe: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/ (handout) You search the tiring house (the backstage area of the Globe), and find the letter from the thief (Sites).
Part II- THe Crime
A video plays where the thief declares that he’s stolen Shakespeare’s play for money and revenge. After the video, you will learn about plays, printing, and theft in Shakespeare’s day through a series of Google Slides Activity- make a folio, quarto, and octavio with just a piece of paper (handout) Web Quest- answer 3 questions about how Shakespeare’s plays were printed and the first folio (Slides) Activity 2: make an actors’ scroll or roll the way that Elizabethans might use (video) Easter egg- find a pair of gloves in the print shop and answer questions.
You’ll gain new understanding of the types of plays Shakespeare wrote and their basic plot structure via Google Slides. You’ll then take a short quiz to confirm what you learned.
-Plot Structure You’ll learn about the basic structure of Elizabethan plays via Google Slides. A second set of slides will demonstrate the plot structure of Romeo &Juliet You’ll mix and match a series of plot elements to create your own Elizabethan play via Jamboard
A hero is given some unwelcome news
He feels betrayed by those close to him
He agonizes about the ethics of killing someone close to him.
He kills someone (or banishes an honest man) and immediately falls into a downward spiral.
The hero does (this will be a mandatory choice)
The heroine disguises herself as a boy
A hero or heroine swears (s)he will never fall in love and immediately falls in love
The heroine pretends not to be interested in the hero, (but secretly loves him).
A loyal best friend is captured, sent to prison, or bewitched
The hero and heroine hate each other due to a series of misunderstandings.
The hero and heroine get married (this will be a mandatory choice).
An ambitious young man arises to challenge the king for the throne.
The old king dies, (or is murdered)
A new king becomes king
Duels and or battles
Someone dies in battle
Someone is murdered, assassinated, or sentenced to death.
New King gets married
King and Queen reign peacefully (at least for now)
Romance ( if students pick this option, they can mix and match everything (except the main character dying)
Verse practice- You’ll learn about the verse Shakespeare wrote, through a series of slides and a jam board. Activity- You will be given a series of famous lines from plays and movies, (such as a quote from a Disney Movie, a Star Wars film, or a song). You will then determine if it is an iambic pentameter line (Google Slides). Easter egg- you find a second note from the thief (Google Sites).
Part IV- THe Tavern
You will look at a series of pictures and videos about Shakespeare’s contemporaries and try to figure out which of them stole the play. Through the handout, you will conclude who the thief is. You find a dagger in the tavern and take it. Outside the tavern, you will fight the thief in a short animation. GAME OVER.
THe FIrst Class starts April 28th, 2023. CLick here to register!
Shakespeare’s birthday is coming up! This is the week where I usually stop talking about individual plays, and talk about the man himself. Today I’d like to cover how he’s been portrayed in fiction. As you’ll see, with such a famous and at the same time mysterious figure like Shakespeare, there is a lot of leeway in terms of how you portray him. This list shows multiple interpretations of Shakespeare and at different stages (ages) of his life. Some are comic, some are tragic, but all are fascinating to discuss:
#10: Rhys Ivans (Anonymous, as The Earl Of Oxford).
Like I said in my podcast, I don’t believe Oxford was the real Shakespeare, and I have some issues with the character and his lack of humanity. That said, I do like the character they were going for- a tortured genius who has to create, in spite of himself, and it destroys him and his family.
#9: Hugh Laurie
I love what they do here- Shakespeare’s a temperamental artist who hates editors, but ultimately accepts that he has to put butts in seats. It’s very true-to-life and Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie do a great job in this sketch!
#8: Kill Shakespeare Volume 2
Like I said in my full review, I really like the idea of an aging Shakespeare buckling under the pressures of being an icon. Bardolatry, the worship of Shakespeare as a literary god, has been a real thing in academic circles for at least the last 200 years and I think it really hampers first-time readers from even attempting to read Shakespeare. Since this comic is very much attempting to get people to do just that, it makes sense that they portray Shakespeare as a deeply flawed human who is trying his best, but not able to live up to his god-like persona.
#7 Matthew Baynton- Horrible Histories
Even though this history show for kids is also trying to make Shakespeare accessible for British schoolchildren, it actually takes the opposite approach for Shakespeare- make him cocky, self-assured, silly, and a bit of a schlamaazel, who like his own creation of Mercutio, talks too much and invariably gets himself into trouble.
#6: King Of Shadows
“Nat, say hello to William Shakespeare”. They might as well have said, “Nat, say hello to GOD!”
-King Of Shadows
Again, most interpretations of Shakespeare are aware of and try to subvert the god-like status he has in our culture, which is why this YA novel attempts to humanize him, by having him interact with the hero, Nathan, a 20th-century child actor, go back in time and finds himself switching places with another Nathan Field, a real boy actor in Shakespeare’s company. Nathan then meets and befriends Shakespeare and the two form a father-son bond.
This book takes place just a few years after the death of Shakespeare’s own son, Hamnet, so this William Shakespeare has a son-shaped hole in his heart. It’s really heartwarming to see the two broken people form a family bond.
As I said before, Shakespeare is not the main character of this novel; he pops in and out of the life of the real main character; his wife Anne, as he visits her at his parents’ home, and later when he sees her on periodic trips home from London. His characterization is entirely indirect. That said, we learn a ton about him through her perceptive eyes. We see his hatred of his abusive father, his frustration with being a glover’s son with no time to make a living in the theater. We see his ambition take hold as he travels to London, and at last, his contrite return to finally become a good husband after the death of his son. This Shakespeare is sort of a prodigal son, who searches for fame and fortune as a young man in the big city, but eventually comes to value his life at home. This solves the mystery of why Shakespeare never moved his family to London, why he retired in the early 1610s, and why his writings have nothing about his relationship with his family, his wife, or especially his son. This Shakespeare is scarred; trying to redeem himself from the sins of his past.
#3 Kenneth Branaugh- “All Is True”
This Shakespeare is at the end of the journey he took in “Hamnet.” He’s retired from theater, trying to pick up the pieces of his life in Stratford, and trying to reconcile his feelings for the fair-young-man (played by Ian McKellen), and his wife, (played by Judy Dench). It’s melancholic, but still funny in a dour way.
#3: Christian Borle- “Something Rotten”
Like I said in the review of the Broadway musical, Borle is the best part of this show. Like Matthew Baynton, he plays Shakespeare as a cocky young self-assured genius on the outside, but unlike Baynton, we see he has a deeper side underneath. As he sings in the incredibly catchy “Hard To Be the Bard,” Shakespeare is once again dealing with the problem of maintaining his success and is under a tremendous amount of pressure to crank out new and successful plays all the time. Even though he’s the antagonist, he’s more sympathetic than the heroes.
#2: Jacob Fiennes- “Shakespeare In Love”
I realize this movie has lost a lot of prestige over the years, thanks to the controversy over its loathsome producer, Harvey Weinstein. I realize that the film Shakespeare In Love might not have deserved best picture over films like Saving Private Ryan. That said, I still think it’s a fantastic movie and every single element from the sets to the costumes to the near-perfect casting, is top-notch, especially the casting of Jacob Fiennes as Shakespeare. This young, heartthrob Shakespeare hasn’t yet become the self-assured genius we see elsewhere on this list. He’s constantly out-classed by Christopher Marlowe, which is a very good choice because it helps us sympathize and root for this man, whom we all know will become a rich, successful genius, but hasn’t yet.
Fiennes also gives Shakespeare a very good arc- he’s a selfish dreamer like Bottom at the beginning and a sweet, sensitive man at the end. In the end, he writes for all the right reasons- supporting his family, immortalizing his love Lady Viola, and helping his friends and partners in the Chamberlain’s Men. Most of these Shakespeare are fairly static, but this movie gives him a great hero’s arc which allows us to like him and hope that his play is a success. As you can see in this alternate version of the final scene, Shakespeare makes a tearful goodbye to Viola, and sets about paying tribute to her in a play that will eventually become Twelfth Night. He also begins his lifelong partnership with Richard Burbage, who will go on to play Malvolio in that play, as well as Hamlet, Othello, and many others. It’s a satisfying conclusion to his arch, which like Viola, shows that Shakespeare is ready to take on a “brave new world” with a new sense of purpose.
#1: Dean Lennox Kelly From Dr. Who: The Shakespeare Code
Though this episode has an inauspicious start, Dean Lennox Kelly from this 2007 episode of Dr. Who finds a way to incorporate every aspect of every other Shakespeare on this list! He’s a cocky, self-assured showman on the outside who knows he’s a genius but is also a middle-class man of the people, playing to the groundlings. On the inside though, he is mourning the loss of his son and yearning for love, which is why he falls in love with Martha and (spoiler alert) makes her the Dark Lady of the sonnets. He also is clever enough to figure out what’s going on as three aliens try to manipulate him into using his gift of words to conjure the end of the world for them. Finally, he is still a hard-working writer and does occasionally doubt his own work:
Shakespeare: “To be or not to be”. Oh, that’s quite good.
10th Doctor: You should write that down
Shakespeare: I dunno… bit pretentious?
-The Shakespeare Code.
Again, the best thing about this Shakespeare is his arc- he drops his mask of genius and opens up to Martha and the Doctor, just like how the Doctor confides in Shakespeare how he is mourning the loss of his previous companion, Rose. In the end though, he draws strength in the memory of his son, and actually uses it to save the world!
Is this a historically-accurate biopic? No. Is it a silly cartoon? Also no. The reason I ranked this episode the highest is because they managed to encompass the myth and the man of Shakespeare in a very compressed time, with tons of Shakespeare easter eggs, and historical references, and it was filmed in the real re-creation of Shakespeare’s own theater! Someday I’ll write a full review of this episode, but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this list, and are hungry for more Shakespeare’s Birthday Week content!
As of right now, if you want to help support the work I do here and my podcast, you can sign up for monthly donations. I have a lot of new ideas for the podcast, but I can’t do them without your support, so please consider being a supporter now!
If you go to my podcast website, there’s now a button that says “Support this Podcast,” where you can choose your monthly rate of contribution, from $9.99 per month to as low as $1 per month! If enough people support this podcast, I’ll start taking requests and giving out rewards to my generous supporters. In short, if you support me, I’ll create content designed to your interests so you can feel that this is YOUR podcast.
Thanks for reading, and please consider donating today!
Ages: Adult/ Teen. There’s some PG-13 language and a lot of fighting and gore, so it’s not really for kids
Premise: William Shakespeare is more than just a simple playwright- he has a magic quill that brings his characters to life. Some of the characters worship him like a god or like a father. Many others, (as the title implies), want him dead. A faction of outlaw heroes who call themselves The Prodigals are trying to protect Shakespeare, including Juliet and Hamlet, but in this volume, they’ll have to face raging seas, bloodthirsty pirates, and the mind-altering effects of the island in Volume 3, which has pushed them all to near-madness.
My reaction: Volumes 1&2 was framed like a civil war between the heroes and villains of the Shakespeare canon- basically an Infinity War for Shakespeare nerds. This volume is in the context of a high-seas pirate adventure. It has a lot of cool fights and the drama between Cesario and Viola is great, but honestly, I thought it was poorly paced. Maybe it’s my personal taste, but it’s hard to keep myself invested in the story when everyone is stuck on a boat.
As I said in my review of Volume 2, what I like the most about this graphic novel is that the characters are consistent with how the real Shakespeare wrote him, yet they make different choices in the graphic novel. They also grow and play off each other in many interesting ways. Here are some examples:
Most of the drama of the graphic novel centers around Captain Cesario, a dashing rogue pirate, and his first mate/ girlfriend Viola. The main characters from Volume 2, (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Juliet, and Othello), have escaped the effects of the island run by the mad wizard Prospero, but are still shell-shocked at feeling the terrifying psychic effects of that island. This is a clever plot device that basically makes it makes all the characters unnecessary except for Hamlet and Juliet. You could look at this installment as the story of 2 couples, (dare I say twin couples) where Viola and Cesario are fighting over whether or not to join Shakespeare and the other Prodigals, to remain on the high sea as pirates, or to betray them and become ingratiated with the fearsome cannibal-pirate Lucius Andronicus.
I won’t give too much away (there are some spoilers), but let’s just say that the relationships in Volume 2 have been tested to the breaking point; Hamlet and Juliet are having extreme problems, (almost as bad as Hamlet and Ophelia). Viola and Cesario are also fighting constantly. In addition, the ship is constantly under threat from the feared pirate Lucius Andronicus. Will the characters solve their internal conflicts before a mutiny breaks out? Or will they all be cut to pieces by the cannibal Lucius? On this boat, tempests are not kind, and salt waves are fresh with DEATH!
Shakespeare Easter Eggs
Kill Shakespeare, Volume 4 is largely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which, although it mainly focuses on the courts of Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia, does have aspects of pirates, deception, and lovers quarreling. It is interesting (and I give the writers credit) for taking a light-hearted comedy with songs and dances and turning it into a swashbuckling pirate adventure; that takes real imagination, yet it works with the text; the first time we see Viola she is shipwrecked and the captain that saves her life is arrested offstage. This prompts Viola to disguise herself by wearing her twin brothers’ clothes and donning the non-de-plume Cesario, in order to freely behave like a man in a man’s world. Shakespeare already made Viola’s fate intertwined with the sea, so it makes sense that she might want to be a pirate. Kill Shakespeare takes Viola’s two identities and makes them two separate people, both intertwined with a love of the sea.
The graphic novel also conflates and expands other pirate characters from the play; there’s another captain in the play named Antonio who saves Viola’s brother Sebastian, and is accused of being a pirate, While Viola in Twelfth Night is a noblewoman who out of necessity disguises herself as a man and becomes a servant to a Duke, Viola in this version is trying to escape being a noblewoman and becomes a pirate by choice. Meanwhile, Antonio, who denies being a pirate, is changed into the roguish Cesario, who loves Viola as much as Antonio loves her brother Sebastian in the play. Like Antonio, Cesario cares about Viola’s well-being and is willing to sacrifice everything to keep her safe, even being a pirate. This causes friction between the two since again, Viola wants to continue to be a pirate and would rather die than give it up. Their conflicting roles as shipmates and soulmates keep them at odds during the play, sort of like how Cesario’s mask is split down the middle; half tragic, and half comic.
I think this graphic novel is poorly paced. Most of the first half consists of Cesario and Viola arguing about what to do with Shakespeare and the rest of the Prodigals. Their drama is good, but it supersedes everybody else, and I found myself wondering what was going to happen to Shakespeare and the rest, and wishing that they’d got more focus. Othello is reduced to a plot device because he is madly searching for Desdemona, whom he killed during the events of Shakespeare’s play. Othello is no longer the honest, loyal friend to Juliet that he was in the previous editions; now he’s more like The Incredible Hulk, filled with animalistic rage and unable to be controlled except by the love of his friend Juliet. In some ways, Othello was the most likable character in the previous volumes so I hated to see him like this.
In addition, the constant couples’ bickering gets a little bit tedious; I suppose that’s inevitable when you take all the comic elements out of Twelfth Night, (Sir Toby and Feste are back in Volume One, and Malvolio, Fabian, and Olivia are nowhere to be seen). I did enjoy the ending where Viola resolves her conflict with Cesario much the same way Viola solves the problem of her being Cesario in the play. I also like the way that they built up the antagonist Lucius from Titus Andronicus. Lucius is a good choice for a villain in this world because he’s seen some truly horrible things in his own play like his father mutilating people, his brothers and sister murdered, and the worst pie recipe of all time. Making Lucius a bloodthirsty, cannibalistic pirate is a great choice. Still I wish they spent more time fighting with him instead of sailing away from him. In short, the characters are compelling as ever but the action is lagging and the drama is reduced to mostly petty couple squabbling. I would like to see this series pick up in a more action-packed version more in keeping with a graphic novel.
Recommendation: I’d recommend this book to all mature fans of Shakespeare, anime, Manga, D&D, or any kind of nerd stuff!
For the final class of my course on Shakespeare’s Tragedies, I’m coaching two young actors on a pair of tragic speeches I’ve selected, and I thought I’d share some of that work with you. The first is a speech by Lady Macbeth that comes from Act I, Scene v. In this speech, Lady Macbeth prays to dark spirits to make her cold and remorseless, so that she can convince her husband to kill the king, and take the throne.
Lady Macbeth. The raven himself is hoarse That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan Under my battlements. Come, you spirits390 That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood; Stop up the access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature395 Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts, And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers, Wherever in your sightless substances You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night,400 And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, To cry ‘Hold, hold!’ Macbeth, Act I, Scene v, Lines 388-403.
The Given Circumstances
Lady Macbeth has just received a letter from her husband. That letter informs her the witches prophesied he would be king. Soon after she’s finished reading it, another messenger, (hoarse and out of breath), tells her that King Duncan will be staying at her castle tonight! Lady Macbeth immediately sees this as the perfect opportunity to make her husband king, by plotting to murder Duncan as he sleeps under her roof.
I’ve seen at least six productions of “Macbeth” and when it comes to this scene I think the main interpretations I see are either that Lady Macbeth is gleefully evil, or highly sexual. While it is true that she is praying to dark spirits, and her language when she speaks to Macbeth is sexually charged, I feel that these are not the only options when playing this character.
I love the regal poise of Francis in this 2021 movie. She is utterly in control and has absolutely no qualms about murder. I get the sense that she’s more praying to Mercury to get her to speak daggers to her husband, instead of to Lucifer to help her use one. She even has knives coming out of her ears (look at those earings!) This Lady Macbeth doesn’t seem evil in the sense of a cartoon villain. She’s just a woman in a violent society who believes that regicide is an acceptable way to sieze power. I think in this world, might makes right.
By contrast, Judy Dench in the 1979 RSC production is also very human. Her spirits are like… well spirits. You get the sense that she’s taking a swig of liquid courage to get her to go through with these actions which SHE KNOWS ARE WRONG.
Ravens in Greek and Norse myths were birds of prophecy and associated with the goddess of magic, Hecate (who appears in the play in Act IV). Ravens often appeared to announce deaths or execution. The speech is also full of imagery that rejects traditionally ‘feminine’ virtues. Lady Macbeth seems to associate womanhood with kindness, mercy, pity, and remorse and thus attempts to shed her femininity to accomplish her cruel objective of killing Duncan.
The Rauen himselfe is hoarse, That croakes the fatall entrance of Duncan Vnder my Battlements. Come you Spirits, That tend on mortall thoughts, vnsex me here, And fill me from the Crowne to the Toe, top-full Of direst Crueltie: make thick my blood, Stop vp th'accesse, and passage to Remorse, That no compunctious visitings of Nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keepe peace betweene Th'effect, and hit. Come to my Womans Brests, And take my Milke for Gall, you murth'ring Ministers, Where-euer, in your sightlesse substances, You wait on Natures Mischiefe. Come thick Night, And pall thee in the dunnest smoake of Hell, That my keene Knife see not the Wound it makes, Nor Heauen peepe through the Blanket of the darke, To cry, hold, hold. Macbeth, Act I, Scene v, First Folio Reprint from Internet Shakespeare Editions.
It’s interesting to note that (in the First Folio text) this speech is only three sentences long. It is a constant build up of energy with only three stops. In addition, Shakespeare puts the most important words, at the end of each line. Almost every line ends with something Lady M wants to kill, such as Duncan, or wants to kill within herself (peace, remorse, nature, Woman(hood). The verse also has commands strewn about in the beginnings and ends of lines. The question is, how confident does Lady Macbeth feel while giving them?
Questions to consider
One of the biggest questions I have with this play is why Lady Macbeth and her husband want to be king and queen anyway? After all, Shakespeare has written plenty of plays that detail how hard and stressful (uneasy) it is to be king. Plus, Macbeth is already a trusted lord and friend of the king, why would he want to damn himself to get a job he knows isn’t his to take? I think that, especially now in the 21st century, it’s very important to have a coherent motive for why the Macbeths are willing to kill for the crown.
Looking over the text, my actress sensed a deep loneliness in Lady Macbeth and a haunted feeling that makes her seem desperate to change her life. I thought about how insomnia and paranoid fears are repeated motifs in the play, as well as character traits found in both Macbeth and later Lady Macbeth. Then I thought- Macbeth is a soldier; his wife has probably had to spend years wondering if he is going to come home and imagining what kind of terrible death he might suffer on the battlefield While the king sits safely at home. Perhaps she sees killing the king as a form of revenge for all the fear and sleepless nights she’s experienced, and an attempt to protect her husband from war, by safely placing him on the throne. Maybe she sees this as the only way to make sure her beloved husband never dies in battle. Therefore, instead of watching an evil woman become more evil, you’re watching a good woman, (with good intentions), damn herself for love, which I would argue is a much more active and dynamic choice.