I’ve been in this play three times and I’m continually struck by how fun, romantic, and progressive it is. It raises questions about gender roles, social norms, bullying, and even catfishing and heteronormativity! It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking play and it’s my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies!
Shakespeare’s early comedies are about young love, infatuation, and being ‘madly in love’ (sometimes literally). His middle plays are about mature relationships between men and women and the need for commitment. I would argue that Twelfth Night, (and possibly Much Ado About Nothing), are the best examples of Shakespeare telling meaningful stories about romantic relationships.
In honor of “Twelfth Night,” I’ve created a coupon for my course on Shakespeare’s comedies from now till January 31st: Get $10 off my class “Shakespeare’s Comic Plays” with coupon code HTHESYTIT110 until Jan 31, 2023. Get started at https://outschool.com/classes/shakespeares-comic-plays-868BR5hg and enter the coupon code at checkout.
To finish I wanted to give you a complete production of Twelfth Night for your viewing pleasure, but I can’t decide which one, so I will post a bunch today!
1. 1996 TV movie starring Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean)
If you’re like me, you are probably saddened by the loss of the great American actor, Sidney Poitier. He was part of the original cast of the great American play A Raisin In the Sun, and earned countless accolades for his roles on stage and screen like In the Heat Of the Night, Porgey and Bess, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? and The Greatest Story Ever Told.
In this interview, Poitier’s friend Denzel Washington talks about how Poitier was a beacon, not just for black actors but a gold standard for all actors.
Washington also discusses his role in the film Macbeth, in which he plays the title role. As I mentioned in my Much Ado About Nothing review, Denzel is a consummate performer of Shakespeare and I for one can’t wait to see him as Macbeth. This is nor just because he was an absolute joy in Much Ado, but because Denzel is famous for playing characters that start out as good men become violent and evil in films like Training Day, American Gangster, and Flight. I have high hopes that Denzel’s Macbeth will rank among his greatest performances.
Macbeth is now playing at selected theaters and streaming online on Apple+. I plan to see it and hope that you will too.
The goal of this class is to learn about both Shakespeare and the Elizabethan period through the lens of Christmas. I will begin by asking the class "What traditions do you think of when you think of Christmas? We will then contrast the traditions of Christmas from the 17th century and now, including a brief period when Christmas itself was illegal.
Once I have contextualized this period, we will then go through the plot, characters, and themes of Shakespeare’s most famous Christmas play- “Twelfth Night.”
The class will include videos, multimedia presentations, virtual tours, interactive quizzes, and online activities. The students will play games inspired by real Elizabethan Christmas traditions, get some festive recipes, and learn what it was like to be an actor in Shakespeare's company, when they performed "Twelfth Night" and other plays before Queen Elizabeth and King James.
Just in time for October, I’m offering an online class for kids ages 13-18 about Shakespeare’s most spooky and cursed play:
If you follow this blog you know I’ve written a lot about this play before. Though this class will be more like a game where I teach the class using multimedia, games, and a digital escape room!
I’ll start by speaking to the students in character as Shakespeare, and tell them the story of Macbeth using a multimedia presentation.
I will then test the students’ knowledge with a fun quiz that was inspired by the popular mobile game Among Us. As you know, the game is similar to a scene from the play, so I thought it would be an appropriate way to test the kids’ knowledge.
The final part of the class is a digital escape room I’ve created. I don’t want to give too much away, and you can’t play it unless you sign up for the class, but let’s just say it’s fun, spooky, educational, and challenging!
If you want to sign up now, the course is available every weekend in October, and then by request after that. Register now at Outschool.com. if you take the course, please leave me a good review.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The Emerald Isle has long been a source of illumination for poet’s pens and Shakespeare was no exception. The Bard of Avon is indebted to Mother Ireland not only for the inspiration he took, but sadly for the pain he gave her back.
None of Shakespeare’s plays are set in Ireland, but he freely adapted elements from Irish folklore. English poet Edmund Spencer visited Ireland in the 1590s and adapted the folklore he picked up into his opera The Fairy Queen, which Shakespeare adapted into A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Irish created and continue to tell many of the fairy legends and stories that we retell and adapt today. If you go to Lullymore park in Ireland, you can see a place that is essentially a “Fairy preserve.”
The old stories tell that Fairies are magical creatures who live in hollow places in the earth. Some are benevolent and help give rain and pleasant weather to the Earth, Like the king and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania:
And the mazed world, By their [the tides] increase, now knows not which is which: And this same progeny of evils comes From our debate, from our dissension; We are their parents and original.
— Titania, (Queen of the Faries), A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act II, Scene i.
Titania in this speech shows great concern for nature, humanity, and the planet. She believes it is the responsibility of fairies, particularly herself and her husband Oberon, to control the elements and keep humans and fairies safe. Some fairies, however, are cruel and enjoy playing tricks on mortals, just like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Queen Mab in Romeo and Juliet.
This is a short analysis I created of the tricks Puck plays on people in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as part of my acting course on Ouschool.com. Note the different ways Puck is portrayed in photos as a satyr, a rotund elf, and sometimes as an almost- demon like figure.
Cringe-worthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare’s only Irish character, captain mcmorris in “Henry V”
When Shakespeare is racially insensitive towards people of color, the cringe-worthy writing is mercifully few and far between. With the exception of Aaron the Moor and Don Armada, there are only a few sporadic derogatory references to non-White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Sadly though, Shakespeare might have permanently harmed the Irish through his character the Irish captain Macmorris in Henry the Fifth, his only Irish character.
According to The Irish Times, there is a longstanding stereotype that still exists in the British Isles that Irish people are violent, short-tempered, and essentially savages and Shakespeare might have invented this stereotype (or at least popularized it) when he wrote this scene from Henry the Fifth, Act III, Scene ii:
FLUELLEN To the mines! tell you the duke, it is not so good to come to the mines; for, look you, the mines is not according to the disciplines of the war: the concavities of it is not sufficient; for, look you, the athversary, you may discuss unto the duke, look you, is digt himself four yard under the countermines: by Cheshu, I think a' will plough up all, if there is not better directions. GOWER The Duke of Gloucester, to whom the order of the siege is given, is altogether directed by an Irishman, a very valiant gentleman, i' faith. FLUELLEN It is Captain Macmorris, is it not? GOWER I think it be. FLUELLEN By Cheshu, he is an ass, as in the world: I will verify as much in his beard: be has no more directions in the true disciplines of the wars, look you, of the Roman disciplines, than is a puppy-dog. Enter MACMORRIS and Captain JAMY GOWER Here a' comes; and the Scots captain, Captain Jamy, with him. FLUELLEN Captain Jamy is a marvellous falourous gentleman, that is certain; and of great expedition and knowledge in th' aunchient wars, upon my particular knowledge of his directions: by Cheshu, he will maintain his argument as well as any military man in the world, in the disciplines of the pristine wars of the Romans. JAMY I say gud-day, Captain Fluellen. FLUELLEN God-den to your worship, good Captain James. GOWER How now, Captain Macmorris! have you quit the mines? have the pioneers given o'er? MACMORRIS By Chrish, la! tish ill done: the work ish give over, the trompet sound the retreat. By my hand, I swear, and my father's soul, the work ish ill done; it ish give over: I would have blowed up the town, so Chrish save me, la! in an hour: O, tish ill done, tish ill done; by my hand, tish ill done! FLUELLEN Captain Macmorris, I beseech you now, will you voutsafe me, look you, a few disputations with you, as partly touching or concerning the disciplines of the war, the Roman wars, in the way of argument, look you, and friendly communication; partly to satisfy my opinion, and partly for the satisfaction, look you, of my mind, as touching the direction of the military discipline; that is the point. JAMY It sall be vary gud, gud feith, gud captains bath: and I sall quit you with gud leve, as I may pick occasion; that sall I, marry. MACMORRIS It is no time to discourse, so Chrish save me: the day is hot, and the weather, and the wars, and the king, and the dukes: it is no time to discourse. The town is beseeched, and the trumpet call us to the breach; and we talk, and, be Chrish, do nothing: 'tis shame for us all: so God sa' me, 'tis shame to stand still; it is shame, by my hand: and there is throats to be cut, and works to be done; and there ish nothing done, so Chrish sa' me, la! JAMY By the mess, ere theise eyes of mine take themselves to slomber, ay'll de gud service, or ay'll lig i' the grund for it; ay, or go to death; and ay'll pay 't as valourously as I may, that sall I suerly do, that is the breff and the long. Marry, I wad full fain hear some question 'tween you tway. FLUELLEN Captain Macmorris, I think, look you, under your correction, there is not many of your nation-- MACMORRIS Of my nation! What ish my nation? Ish a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish my nation? Who talks of my nation? FLUELLEN Look you, if you take the matter otherwise than is meant, Captain Macmorris, peradventure I shall think you do not use me with that affability as in discretion you ought to use me, look you: being as good a man as yourself, both in the disciplines of war, and in the derivation of my birth, and in other particularities. MACMORRIS I do not know you so good a man as myself: so Chrish save me, I will cut off your head. GOWER Gentlemen both, you will mistake each other. JAMY A! that's a foul fault. A parley sounded GOWER The town sounds a parley. FLUELLEN Captain Macmorris, when there is more better opportunity to be required, look you, I will be so bold as to tell you I know the disciplines of war; and there is an end. Exeunt
Irish History and Shakespeare: The tempestous relationship between england and Ireland
The mayor and all his brethren in best sort, Like to the senators of the antique Rome, With the plebeians swarming at their heels, Go forth and fetch their conquering Caesar in: As, by a lower but loving likelihood, Were now the general of our gracious empress, As in good time he may, from Ireland coming, Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,
Henry V, Act V Chorus
James Shapiro in his excellent book, A Year In The Life Of William Shakespeare, 1599, posits that contemporary affairs in Ireland might have inspired some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays in including Richard II, Henry V, and Julius Caesar. In 1594 the Earl of Tyrone began a rebellion in Ireland against the English, and in 1599, Queen Elizabeth dispatched the ambitious and chivalrous Earl of Essex to quell it. As you can see in the quote above, Shakespeare mentions Essex’s fight in his play of Henry V, which probably premiered at around the same time Essex was in Ireland.
The audience may have been watching Henry conquer France, but many would have been thinking about Elizabeth’s struggle to conquer Ireland.
BBC Radio 4 Extra – Shakespeare’s Restless World, Ireland: Failures in the Present – Transcript – Shakespeare’s Restless World – Programme 7
Though King Henry successfully conquered and united England and France, Essex failed spectacularly, and Elizabeth was deeply embarrassed by the whole scenario. She was also deeply alarmed by the popularity of Shakespeare’s tragedy Richard II, which shows onstage the deposing and killing of a king who had no children and failed to quell a rebellion in Ireland.
Elizabeth was worried about her subjects but she was also very worried about Essex overseas. Everyone, (including Shakespeare), remembered that 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar went from him the Senate’s Consul General to dictator by amassing an army, then threatening to invade Rome under the pretense of helping to quell a foreign invasion. Caesar made his name by subjugating tribes in Gaul (modern-day France), and the Senate was worried that he would come home and use his army for a military coup. Look at the expressions on the faces of Cicero and Brutus when they see Caesar coming home in triumph in this scene from the HBO series Rome.
Elizabeth repeatedly attempted to curb Essex’s power while he was fighting in Ireland; she refused to give the Earl more troops for fear that he might be staging a potential coup. Her fears would later be proven right when in 1602, Essex attempted to head a rebellion and take the Crown for himself, but not before one of Essex’s friends commissioned Shakespeare’s company to portray the deposing and killing of King Richard II. Essex was trying to turn himself from a failed Henry V to a victorious Henry IV, and his queen into Richard II.
Shakespeare might have been inspired to write Julius Caesar after being an unwitting pawn in the political drama between Essex and the queen, and might have even created the character of Cinna the Poet as an analog for Shakespeare himself. In the play, Cinna the poet is mistaken for one of the conspirators by an angry mob and is murdered in the street. Perhaps Shakespeare created Cinna the Poet as a way of coping with the fear he must have had that people might mistake him for a radical, after his play Richard II briefly made him a walking target for those opposed to Essex’s rebellion. In any case, Julius Caesar eloquently documents the kind of anxiety of not knowing who could be trusted when it comes to politics, whether it be a populist warrior like Julius Caesar or Essex, or the Queen, privy council, or indeed Roman senate, and the whole thing started from a failed attempt to quell a rebellion in Ireland.
In summation, even though Shakespeare sets no plays in Ireland, Irish history and Irish culture are everywhere in his plays. England and Ireland are I are indeed separate islands but the cultural exchange between England and Ireland has inspired Shakespeare and many other great writers for centuries. After all Shakespeare’s most famous honorific, ‘the Bard of Avon’ comes from an ancient Irish tradition of semi-mystical poets, who in Irish folklore, were able to see the future and glimpse worlds that are unseen to ordinary mortals. What Shakespeare really felt about Ireland we don’t know but we do him but he does owe the Irish people a lot of thanks, and on this Saint Patrick’s day, I honor their contribution to him and to him all the world
Shapiro, James. A Year In the Life Of William Shakespeare, 1599. Chapter 6: Things Dying and Things Reborn.
Happy Midsummer everyone! Wednesday June 24rth is the Midsummer festival, which means as you go to sleep that night, I wish you all Midsummer Night Dreams! Before that though, I welcome you to party like it’s the court of King Oberon, and here are some ideas:
Background: What Are Fairies?
The story of Fairies has many authors that come from multiple folkloric traditions. The Greeks had nymphs, the Romans had cupid, and the English and Germans had…
1. According to Paracelsus, fairies are elemental spirits that help control the Earth’s four elements: Silfs (air), gnomes (Earth), Salamanders (fire), and Undines (water). 2. In some versions, they are household creatures that interact with humans 3. Some cultures call them demoted Angels, not good enough for Heaven, but not bad enough for Hell.
So you can see there are lots of traditions that contribute to our modern concept of the fairy, and plenty of ideas to adapt into your party!
Part One: The Invitation:
There’s a ton of free fairy clip art and fairy designs online. Below is an invitation I created for free with an app called Canva and a parchment background picture I found online.
1. Pixie invitations 2. Immortal Longings
You probably also know that I am a huge fan of the website Immortal Longings because of their excellent Shakespearean art and they sell cards too. You can buy the cards or download the pictures on their website.
Part Two: Decorations Fairy
Fairy Dens Right now the Royal Shakespeare Company is making DIY Fairy decorations including a Fairy Den that you can share with your family and friends:
What is a Fairy Den? Fairies in folklore are closely tied to the Ancient Celts and Druids, who believed that Fairies live in hollow places underground. A fairy den is a homemade den that imitates the ancient fairy hollows.
2. Love potion: Similar to follow the leader or musical chairs. A group of people lie down and pretend to sleep. Then someone plays Puck by putting a real or pretend flower in one of the player’s hands. The Puck then yells “Awake,” and sets a timer or plays some music. The object of the game is for everyone to chase after the flower and get it before time runs out.
Make some printable donkey masks for Bottom, flower crowns for the fairies, and don’t forget your wings!
Not only is it the first day of this month, it’s also a Shakespearean holiday! According to this passage from “Romeo and Juliet,” today is Juliet’s Birthday!
NURSE: Even or odd, of all days in the year,
Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen.
–Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene ii.
Lammas Eve, is a pagan holiday, also known as Lughnasa, a Celtic holiday traditionally held on August 1st, or the midway point between the summer solstice and the Equinox. It was a day celebrating harvests and the beginning of fall, and was celebrated through eating wheat, drinking wine and burning a giant wicker man in effigy, (the inspiration of the film of the same name, and the festival of Burning Man). By the way, not everyone appreciates this holiday, click here to see what I mean.
There is also another significance to Juliet’s birthday. It makes her a Leo, a star sign traditionally associated with the Sun. So, when Romeo calls her “The Sun,” there is a literal connection to her birth. Shakespeare makes many allusions to astrology in Romeo and Juliet, as a metaphor for fate.
In the next few days I’ll be talking about what these allusions mean and how they help people understand the play.