Bard Blog Birthday Bash!

The Bard Blog is a year old today!

Birthday Bard

It’s hard to believe. It seems like I started this up not too long ago, but it also seems as if I’ve been doing this for a long time (and enjoyed it). I’ve been a bit distant from the web lately, and I haven’t been posting as often as I’d like but that should be changing soon.

I am aweary of this blogger, would he would change!

Lots will be changing soon actually. After a year of blogging I think I’ve finally got the hang of it — and now it’s time to push forward. With the new year just around the corner I’ll be making some changes to the site as a sort of new years resolution. Don’t worry, fans, nothing’s gonna get topsy-turvy. Just more organized.

At this birthday party, you don’t have to buy me a gift (but I won’t complain if you do) but the best present you could give is to take a look through the archives, (re)familiarize yourself with the site’s content. Then comment or send me an email with what sorts of posts you enjoy, ones you’d like to see more of, and you’re welcome to suggest features or subjects that I haven’t covered yet. I’ve got some ideas floating around in my head but I’d love to hear what you, faithful reader, have to say.

Hamlet – Regurgitated

No, my dog didn’t eat my Hamlet homework and cough it up again.

Back in Blog Carnival #6, there was a link to a post by the title of Shakespeare Hated Hamlet. Some interesting stuff.

The author recently emailed me with a follow up post and I’d like to share it with you.

Enjoy Hamlet Regurgitated.

Plot Structure and Macbeth’s Climax

SparkNotes is a source for information used by students of all ages, teachers too! Generally teachers don’t encourage students to use SparkNotes, Cliff’s Notes, etc. since these resources are most often used in place of reading the text rather than a guide to be used in addition to the text. This is a big company devoted to helping people understand literature better, so think of my surprise when a friend pointed out that their facts are a little screwy.

A friend brought to my attention that their facts page has the climax of the story in an unexpected place. The plot structure listings are odd to me. What do you think?

RISING ACTION · Macbeth and Banquo’s encounter with the witches initiates both conflicts; Lady Macbeth’s speeches goad Macbeth into murdering Duncan and seizing the crown.

CLIMAX · Macbeth’s murder of Duncan in Act II represents the point of no return, after which Macbeth is forced to continue butchering his subjects to avoid the consequences of his crime.

FALLING ACTION · Macbeth’s increasingly brutal murders (of Duncan’s servants, Banquo, Lady Macduff and her son); Macbeth’s second meeting with the witches; Macbeth’s final confrontation with Macduff and the opposing armies

So the climax of the play is in Act II… and then there are three acts of falling action? Shakespeare knew better than that!

A simplistic way to look at the plot structure in a tragedy is that the protagonist gets closer and closer to their objective as the story progresses until the climax (in a comedy the protagonist gets pushed further away from their goal until the climax). By that model, the climax of Macbeth is the fight between Macduff and the Scottish King.

And I don’t think that “Macbeth is forced to continue butchering his subjects to avoid the consequences of his crime” at all. He continues murdering so that he can ensure his royal position, not primarily to avoid the consequences of his first murder.

I sent an message about this by clicking on the “Report an Error” link at the bottom of the Macbeth facts page. You should too! We don’t want faulty information on such a widely used resource.

So, Sparknotes, please fix this! Mr. Shakespeare was not silly enough to have a play with over half of it as falling action.

Remember to keep your eye out for things like this. You can’t always trust what’s published online or even in print.

Student’s essays on this play will be a little different from now on, won’t they?

Sesame Street Shakespeare

I’ve posted a couple silly Shakespeare videos from kids shows before, but it’s time for some new ones! The Monster of Venice and The Taming of the Shoe.

YouTube is wonderful! And so are the writers of these TV shows who try to keep it entertaining for the parents as well.

Is Our Children Learning?

A story from New Zealand illustrates an educational trend that is spreading worldwide. A trend I see in the U S of A in the news far too often.

Schools, districts, and government instituted curriculum plans are trimming the meat from classroom learning. The article describes Shakespeare studies as being one of those trims: “Shakespeare’s plays and other great works of literature considered too difficult for some pupils will disappear from classrooms under proposed changes to the curriculum.” That statement makes me sick.

Isn’t school meant to be challenging? I remember complaining about difficult parts of class in middle school and high school, but dangit, I learned something!

Standardized testing and the like are putting emphasis on subjects of minimal importance. You can’t have a multiple-choice test on literature. Learning can’t be measured. Why not reintroduce Shakespeare and other “difficult” materials into the classroom and have the youth of today learn culture, critical thinking, and appreciation of art?

And who says Shakespeare is difficult? The real difficulty today is people finding the patience to really learn something that takes time. Anything worth learning can’t really be studied in one or a few class sessions, can it? I’ve been studying Shakespeare for years! Many have studied Shakespeare (or other creative arts related subjects) their entire lives and still find gratification in the pursuit of knowledge.

What will the world of tomorrow be in an education system that teaches us to skim the surface of the knowledge pool without ever swimming to the deep end of knowledge?

BardBlog is Now Mobile Friendly!

Quick update in the midst of busy season for me, but I just thought I’d let you know that there is now a mobile version of the site that is accessible by merely going to on your cellphone, PDA, or iPhone/iPod Touch.

As soon as the world gives me back more free time, you’ll be able to view my new posts on the go! Let me know how it works for you phone web surfers.

I know my updates have been few and far between. I’ve got plays to analyze, books to review, arguments to start, and more. Just stay tuned!

Midsummer’s Contrasting Characters

Midsummer can’t just be popular because it’s easy to read, or the clear story, or the comedy, or the magic… can it? Directing the show is presenting me with some interesting challenges, but unlike those I’d associate with other plays by Shakespeare. The storytelling is so wonderfully clear. The three distinct plots are entertaining and are woven together in such clever ways. But I think what I really find fascinating are the individual characters. An earlier conversation about the crazy bunch of character sparked the question, “Did Shakespeare intend to create characters that parallel the various parts of the human psyche?”

Who knows? I’m directing the show so I should probably have an answer to that. I don’t know what Shakespeare intended, but I know how the show affects me. The more I think about it, the more I feel that the different characters are the real charm of this play. Shakespeare writes these characters in very distinctly different ways. We have the heavily structured, ordered world of the court: Egeus pushing his clearly defined agenda with a dimplomatic Theseus upholding the law. The lovers, with many similarities, each can display a different form of love – or lust. The fairies demonstrate their very un-human nature in very lyrical, metaphoric language; the conflict between the powers that upsets nature (they affect nature as nature affects humans). And the mechanicals – each carrying their own trademark, shall we say, “challenge.”

I find it difficult to communicate here the real breadth and scope of the types of people that Shakespeare has written in this show. It begins with the language, but continues and develops with the characters physicality and personality. The challenge of a creating a really strong Midsummer is the very strong ensemble it requires. It’s not a show that less talented actors can be given a small part and not be noticed. My vision for my production is that every single character within the story is a very unique person different than the others around him or her but they all work together as a tight-knit ensemble. And each ensemble in each of the shows subplots can work with each other as a part of a larger ensemble.

With a cast of 14 and most actors doubling as another role I hope to achieve this kind of different ensemble. A chorus that does not talk and sing and dance and look the same but are all different and yet work together seamlessly. I’ve seen productions where the characters sort of blend together and others where some are very defined. Especially with the mechanicals, whose comedy depends on it. Too often the fairies and the court are rather bland.

It’s an interesting challenge for acting or directing. I think it’s what makes this show so much fun for those both onstage and off. Thanks Mr. Shakespeare!

It’s Curtains For Milwaukee Shakespeare

The board of the Milwaukee Shakespeare Festival voted to close its doors on Monday night after its top sponsor, the Argosy Foundation, eliminated all funding to the Festival.

The Festival’s website says, “Due to the current financial climate, the Argosy Foundation has eliminated support from Milwaukee Shakespeare in order to put itself in the best position to continue to grow and support the community in the future.” Is that a nice way of saying “the arts aren’t important enough to us to foster its growth in times of need”? The festival showed the most growth this past season, things were looking up. Theatrical companies that fail are not uncommon, but when they seem to be doing things right, the tragic loss of an arts institution increases.

This blogger believes that the arts are much more important than any politician or company makes them out to be. Some research into the Argosy Foundation shows that part of their mission is to “maximize the likelihood of success” of their partners – which include groups in the areas of arts, education, environment, health, and others. One has to wonder which other companies, if any, and in what area of work, the foundation has eliminated funding for.

The loss of a million dollars in funding is undoubtedly a gigantic blow to the livelihood of Milwaukee Shakespeare, but is it a mortal wound? There are funds, although few, that may still prove to keep some aspect of the theatre alive. Minimalize the company perhaps, reach out for volunteer work, or produce cheap productions in local parks. Communities should urge their local arts institutions to educate, entertain, and inspire.

Creative arts are usually the first to go in times of economic uncertainty. Professional, amateur, and school arts departments are suffering everywhere. But “the play’s the thing,” or rather, art is the thing that makes our culture thrive. Can we let culture die due to the dollar?