Archive for the ‘Shakespeare Lit’ Category

November has been “National Novel Writing Month,” since 1999, and it’s still gaining ground. The concept is that every day in November is spent working on a rough draft of a full-length novel – producing about 1699 words per day. It’s intense, but the site above offers pep talks, word count badges, and other incentives to keep writers working! The idea isn’t to come out with a totally polished product, but to exercise the writing muscles and get ideas on paper.

At the encouragement of a few friends who are participating for the first time, I am going to give it a shot. I love stories told by background or imagined characters in a Shakespeare play, and was inspired by my last-minute Halloween costume: the “what if” character of Hellebore (aka Horribelle), the product of Bottom and Titania’s crazy midsummer night (or, “I had donkey ears and fairy wings and am a Shakespearean nerd”). This comes, too, after years of reading and adoring fiction based on Shakespeare, so hopefully a few good things have rubbed off.

Anyone over the age of 13 is welcome to join NaNoWriMo’s site, but your younger students could still participate offline! Do your students have creative writing assignments for your class?  Would they be interested in re-imagining a Shakespeare play as a short story or novel (or new play)? Below are some of my favorite adaptations for young adults, which might inspire them to get to writing!

Falling for Hamlet, by Michelle Ray (High School only!)
The Third Witch, by Rebecca Reisert
The Turquoise Ring, by Grace Tiffany
Caliban’s Hour, by Tad Williams
Romeo’s Ex, by Lisa Fielder 

Good Night, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet), by Ann-Marie MacDonald (play)

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Shakespeare is one of the most recognized figures in literature, and his works have been adapted and adapted and adapted over and over and over again for the last 400 years by people interested in exploring the stories and characters in new ways.

And that is exactly what Shakespeare did, as well.

However, Shakespeare didn’t title his work as Romeo and Juliet, inspired by Ovid, or Richard III with liberties from Holinshed’s Chronicles. His work was completely his own invention as far as the language and the way the story fell anew. He’s even been called on his artistic license!

Well, at least on Horrible Histories.

What’s still so interesting to me about how we adapt Shakespeare’s works for modern readers, filmgoers, and audiences is we often do use the original author’s name as a selling point, or blatantly use his (or his play’s) name in the title for recognition. This isn’t all the time, but it’s plenty enough.

If Shakespeare felt comfortable claiming his own work as his own, why aren’t we as secure in letting him go from our adaptations of him?

UPDATE: An article by Lev AC Rosen on his new book All Men of Genius which borrows from Twelfth Night as well as The Importance of Being Earnest – on why he chose those as inspiration and how it helped him as a writer:

” (I’m not trying to impress theatre people, after all – just trying to write a good book). I like to think that while there are a few obvious correlations between characters in my book and those in the plays, all my characters are unique, but the tone and flavor of the book definitely comes from the source material. “

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students perform MACBETH at the 2010 Secondary School Festival

They’re everywhere: No Fear Shakespeare, Simply Shakespeare, Translated Shakespeare. There are teachers who truly believe that their students can’t understand Shakespeare’s 400 year-old words, and turn to updated adaptations which give students the gist of the story, but none of the original poetry.

I used to be ok with it. I thought that as long as a side-by-side translation still printed the original text, students were still going to read and see and maybe even learn Shakespeare’s words. Then I flipped through one and discovered all of the poetry, all of the power, all of the original intent of the words gone. One of the awesome things about Shakespeare’s deliberate word choices is that certain words can mean so many things.

“To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus”
“Being King is worthless to me,unless I can feel safe and secure as King”
“To be king is nothing, unless I am safely king”

Part of the fun, at least for me, is in interpreting the many ways Shakespeare could have meant the word nothing. Not to mention enjoying the poetry of the repetition of to be… thus and feel that flow within the words. When you translate Shakespeare’s word choices into a definitive interpretation, you are saying that that is the only meaning for that line, and cutting off any discussion about what it could mean to individuals.

This comes up today because of a recent article in which a teacher in NY uses his own updated adaptations of Shakespeare’s text to teach his special education students. He asks them which version they prefer, his own or Shakespeare’s, and they all say his own.

It is my opinion, and I want to stress that it is my own – and Folger Education staff will chime in with their own, that if you offer students an “easier” option, you are telling them that they are not going to understand Shakespeare. You are putting that barrier there and telling them that Shakespeare is a distant and unreadable icon of an outdated language, and that it is no longer useful to study his original texts.

I am the biggest advocate of adaptation in this office – novels, movies, plays and musicals, modern-dress, silent – anything that takes inspiration from Shakespeare I want to know about and explore. But to teach an adaptation as if it were Shakespeare is not how adaptation should be used. It should be used to explore the ideas presented in the originals and discuss them in fresh ways – not to replace the originals in the classroom.

We have seen ESL/ELL students, elementary students, special education students, students of all ages and disciplines perform, understand, and enjoy  Shakespeare’s original words on our very own stage for decades. Where does this idea come from that the language cannot be understood or taught? Please share your opinions in the comments.

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~by Carol Kelly

What makes a good blog entry? An interesting subject? Controversial subject matter? A radical viewpoint? Or is it just witnessing the powerful influence a blog can exert?

In preparing a blog entry in response to How Shakespeare Changed Everything, by Stephen Marche I found a series of fascinating blog entries in response to an online review that appeared to be almost as long as and more interesting than the book itself! I have rarely seen such an entertaining series of exchanges.

Many of those responding, immediately accepted the reviewer’s opinion that the book was shallow, indulged in generalizations and was poorly written. Many appreciated the reviewer saving them the trouble of reading it and immediately put it to the bottom of their “To read” pile. Wow that is wielding some power!!! Others said they enjoyed reading the review, which I have to admit was entertaining and those that had read the book for themselves enjoyed sharing bits that they hated too. Poor Stephen Marche!

However there is no such thing as bad publicity and reading a bad  review can in fact makes the book itself irresistible! After having had his book torn apart online, I felt a bit sorry for Stephen Marche and considered that it would be a disservice not to at least read some of the book and I also found other reviews that offered a more balanced perspective. But I am left wondering  how many people are now using book blogs to shape their reading choices and do those writing them realize the power they wield?

See the scathing review for yourself

Carol Kelly is the Festivals and Workshops Coordinator of the Folger Education Division.

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We’re well into the summer now (happy Fourth of July!), and it seems that lounging outside on a beautiful day with a good book is the best way to spend the time. I agree. If you happen to be reading this, though please share if you’re summer reading list includes any books or novels which deal with some Shakespeare!

For example:

The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown – the three Andreas sisters were raised in a sleepy college town in the middle of nowhere. Their father who prefers to speak in Bard quotations, and even named them after Shakespeare’s heroines: Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia. After growing their separate ways for years, they have to return home and deal with their personal failings and each other’s, for they inherited their namesakes’ weaker qualities even with their strengths.

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt – this YA novel follows middleschool student Holling Hoodhood, the only Presbyterian in a town dominated by Catholics and Jews in Long Island. Every Wednesday afternoon, every other member in Holling’s class leaves school to attend religious study – leaving Holling alone with Mrs. Baker (who hates his guts). Over the course of the novel, Mrs. Baker teaches Holling to apply Shakespeare’s words to his own life, and gain wisdom from his experience.

How Shakespeare Changed Everything, by Stephen Marche – this non-fiction study explores how the world has changed thanks to Shakespeare. Language, landscape, even wildlife in certain American countrysides has been altered in some way due to Shakespeare’s continuing relevance and the world’s passion for his work. (This is actually still on my wish list, so if you have had a chance to read it, tell us about it in the comments!)

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Click here for the ways Folger connects!

The big news in Shakespeare geek circles this week is the “production” of Much Ado About Nothing taking place on FACEBOOK beginning tomorrow. Sixteen characters have been added to facebook, and if you “like” all of them you can watch their story unfold in real time on the internet. Benedick Salvador will flame Beatrice Grant’s wall, while John Zaragoza cyber-bullies Claudio Firenze into making a huge mistake.

This comes in the wake of last year’s award-winning Such Tweet Sorrow, a real-time twitter “production” of Romeo and Juliet. The characters tweeted to and about each other over 3 days, culminating in a familiar tragic scene.

Shakespeare has been introduced to social media before. Perhaps the first public memory is of Sarah Schmelling’s book-spawning entry for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency of Hamlet’s News Feed in 2008 (which was performed for NPR last October). These items condense the plays into quick, recognizable media that students understand.

But where’s the language?

One of our high school fellows in 2009 created several facebook profiles for the characters of As You Like It to examine the ways in which characters hide their identity either by disguise or by using a different online persona to test the waters. She did use conversations between Orlando and Rosalind (and Ganymede) to map out how they would converse online over a week’s time – with Shakespeare’s text.

Would it be so hard to use the text in these social productions? Or would the point be totally lost in a medium reliant on breezy comprehension?

I look forward to checking in on the Much Ado gang (without liking all of their characters, hopefully!) to see how it goes. Do you incorporate social media in the classroom? How could this work for other plays?

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~by Conor McCreery

I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking: FINALLY! Finally someone has put together a medium and a creative genius that work together even better than chocolate and peanut butter.

 No, I’m not kidding.

Issue #7, Page 10* Feste takes a bow

Shakespeare was always meant to be seen. His plays have a special mix of magic and kineticism. What better medium for that than the larger-than-life world of comics?  And, of course, there is the Bard’s language – also a GREAT match for comics (what seven-year old but a comics reader knows the word “nemesis”?).

 Now, it was never our plan for Kill Shakespeare to be a teacher’s aide.  We just wanted to tell a rollicking adventure that passed on our love for the Bard (developed in high-school) in a fresh new way.

 But after the umpteenth teacher approached us we realized that Kill Shakespeare makes a lot of sense for educators.

 Why not use the graphic novel as a way to introduce students to some Shakespearean tropes – love, lust, double-crossing, cross-dressing, prophesies, menacing daggers, motley fools, and more? It’s all here for students to see that Shakespeare is FAR from the “stuffy, dead guy” their older brothers and sisters have warned them about.

 As for your older students? Let them play “spot the reference”; Anthony and I dug through our favourite plays and have sprinkled as many allusions as we could throughout the story. Sometimes it’s a sight gag, sometimes it’s a speech that echoes a more famous Shakespearean one, and sometimes…  

Issue 4, Page 6* Juliet the Rebel "our voice is in our swords..."

 … well sometimes we just heisted an entire line off the Bard and gave it to a completely new character.

 So, while we would never claim that Kill Shakespeare IS Shakespeare – the Bard’s gift for words so far exceeds our own – we do think it is a heck of a lot of fun for both devotees of “Shakey” (as we like to call him) as well as for students or adults who have only a passing familiarity with his genius.

Conor McCreery is a Co-Creator of the popular graphic novel, Kill Shakespeare. Conor has served in both creative and business positions for film and television companies, contributed over 1,000 stories and articles for media outlets and also provided expert analysis for Canada’s Business News Network.

*artwork by Andy B., colour by Ian Herring.

Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery will be speaking about Kill Shakespeare at the Folger on February 15 at 7:30pm.
Issues #3-#8 are available for sale from the Folger Shop.

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~by Anthony Del Col

The best Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen was also the worst.

A friend of mine was doing a community theatre production of Titus Andronicus years ago and it was quite bad (with the exception of my friend, who may be reading this… oops!).  Bad acting, directing, sets, costumes and props (a papier-mâché head that looked like it was made by the director’s son – who was in kindergarten).  Yet I left the theatre inspired and dazzled.

Why?  Because it was at that moment that I realized how great Shakespeare’s stories were.  I tried to look past – ignore, really – all of the bad elements of this production to focus on the characters – and they were remarkable.

Issue #5, Page 1* Othello looms over Iago

This is what we’re trying to do with Kill Shakespeare.  No, not make a bad version of Shakespeare but rather create a product and story that will allow us to shine a spotlight on these fantastic characters.  And we do so by putting them into a new scenario where they co-exist with the Bard’s characters from other plays.

 So often it’s difficult to people to get past the language and other surfaces of Shakespeare’s plays.  We’re using a combination of modern-day and Elizabethan English to eliminate that barrier get people into our characters quicker.  Yes, some scholars have objected to this strategy but many have loved it.  The best reviews we have received are those that state that reading our series has made them pick up their Shakespeare texts for the first time in decades.

Issue #5, Page 7* a fireside chat between Falstaff and Juliet

Why?  Because they realize how funny actually Falstaff is, how stubborn Juliet is, and how convincing and determined Iago and Lady Macbeth can be.  These are some of the greatest characters ever created, and we relish the opportunity to present them in a new, exciting and stimulating way.

Now I wonder if there will be a community theatre production of Kill Shakespeare one day…?

Anthony Del Col is a Co-Creator of the popular graphic novel Kill Shakespeare. Anthony has worked in the music, film and television industries, produced two independent feature films and most recently assisted with the management of international pop star Nelly Furtado and her world tour.

*artwork by Andy B., colour by Ian Herring.

Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery will be speaking about Kill Shakespeare at the Folger on February 15 at 7:30pm.
Issues #3-#8 are available for sale from the Folger Shop.

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…when the scolding winds
Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen
The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam,
To be exalted with the threatening clouds:
~Julius Caesar I.iii

It certainly has been a tempestuous beginning to the summer!  DC has seen lots of rain, we had our first ever George Didden Capitol Hill Children’s Festival, and we open our newest exhibit Lost at Sea next week!

One of Shakespeare’s favorite plot devices was a shipwreck (see Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale, or especially The Tempest and Pericles).  It sets his characters in new places that they’re not always ready to be, and makes for exciting adventures for them!

I’m banking up some summer reading of books based on The Tempest: Indigo by Marina Warner, Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez, and Ariel by Grace Tiffany.

The summer is a great time for performing outdoors – perhaps an impromptu Midsummer in the woods, a Twelfth Night in a swimming pool?  What sort of activities do you plan to encourage your students to do this summer?

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Recent blogs have focused on books or movies based on Shakespeare’s plays.  A book by Suzanne Harper, The Juliet Club, was just released in paperback, in time for summer reading.  A new film Letters to Juliet,  opens in movie theaters this Friday.  The book has gotten some good reviews.  The movie trailer looks promising.  Another book, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wrobewski will remind readers of Hamlet.  What books have you read, or movies have you seen, based on a Shakespeare play?  With summer approaching, do you have any recommendations?

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