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Shakespeare Uncovered

Image from PBS

Designer: Kevon Greene.

Image by Kevon Greene for PBS

By now, many of you readers have probably watched or recorded the first two episodes of Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS. As Caitlin Griffin wrote in her blog entry on January 17, the broadcast details are:

January 25th, 9-11pm EST: Macbeth with Ethan Hawke and The Comedies with Jolie Richardson.

February 1, 9-11pm EST: Richard II, with Derek Jacobi and Henry IV, and Henry V with Jeremy Irons.

February 8, 9-11pm EST: Hamlet with David Tennant and The Tempest hosted by Trevor Nunn.

Designer: Karen Brazell.

Image by Karen Brazell for PBS

But the good news is that each of the hour-long shows will be available for streaming at the Shakespeare Uncovered site after they are broadcast, so if you missed the Macbeth or Comedies episodes, stream away.

But what you probably don’t know is that several Folger Education folks served on WNET’s Education Advisory panel. I was lucky enough to be part of this panel along with Peggy O’Brien, Kevin Costa, Josh Cabat, and Sue Biondo-Hench. We were joined by Joan Langley from Oregon Shakespeare, Chris Anthony from LA Shakespeare Center, and Bill Heller from Teaching Matters.

In addition to previewing all six episodes and spending a day at WNET’s headquarters in NYC, several of our group created lesson plans for the PBS site. And Peggy O’Brien has written some fabulous Teacher Viewing Guides for all six episodes (as of now on the first two are available.)

The PBS site also has a two activities: “Which Shakespeare Character are You?” (Apparently, I am Rosalind?) and “Anatomy of a Scene.”

So now we’d like to hear from you. Tell us what you think of the shows, and more importantly, how you might use the videos and lesson plans with your students.

Image from PBS

Designer: Karen Brazell.

Image by Karen Brazell for PBS

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Isaac Taylor after Henry Howard. Timon of Athens. Act 4. Scene 1. Without the Walls of Athens – Timon. Engraving, 1803. Shelfmark PR2752 1807c C.4 V.7 Sh.Col.

Folger Education was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s World Shakespeare Festival Conference last September, presenting a workshop, participating in a symposium on using technology in teaching Shakespeare, and represented on a panel discussing Shakespeare.  It was an energizing and inspiring conference.  While we were in London, my colleague and I had the opportunity to see Timon of Athens at the National Theatre.  The production was part of the World Shakespeare Festival, a celebration of William Shakespeare as the world’s playwright.  My reaction after seeing the performance was that it was too bad that more people wouldn’t get to see such an incredible production — and see Simon Russell Beale, who has been called the “greatest stage actor of his generation.”  So, imagine my joy when I discovered that the production will be available in selected theaters in the US on November 1st.  This is a production not to be missed.  The Guardian called the play, “A fable about the toxic nature of a ruthlessly commercialised world.”  The play is directed by Nicholas Hytner, and Time Out wrote that Hytner “… hurls Timon into the 21st century….”  This is a play not often staged, and one that will resonate with audiences in the States.  A list of broadcast locations is available. When you see it, or if you teach it now, it would be great to get your take on its relevance for students and/or to today’s audiences.

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Let’s take a break from our usual education-based Blog and pause for an adult beverage or two. After all, if you’ve been grading essays and teaching Shakespeare for a while, you may need a drink.

Image via Rogue Brewery

One of my favorite libations is Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout made in Newport, Oregon. The Rogue Brewery website describes this brew as “ebony in color with a rich creamy head, earthy flavor and a mellow, chocolate finish.” I’m not sure about that chocolate, but it does taste good. It’s available here in New York and probably everywhere else.

But if you’re ever in Oregon, be sure to stop in to one of the Rogue Brew Pubs. There are several of them and there’s even one in the Portland Airport.

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The actor, Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Sex and the City, and Desperate Housewives) has

Image from Dunham Cellars

partnered with Eric Dunham of Dunham Cellars to produce a pricey ($65 a bottle) Cabernet Sauvignon, which they say has a taste of allspice, clove, hints of anise and chocolate-covered cherries. But the Pursued by Bear website is brilliant as it zooms in on the Globe Theatre and shows us that famous bear from The Winter’s Tale, complete with roaring. It’s worth a visit.

They even have a Baby Bear Syrah which they say  has “debaucherously nuanced flavors” of “baking spices, cumin and a lavender nose.” At $65 a bottle, it still is out of my price range.

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Image from V’Guara

A few years ago, a former student of mine (now a teacher) came to a workshop I was giving and presented me with a bottle of Shakespeare Vodka by V’Guara. It’s been a while since I finished the bottle, so I can’t report on the quality; but the bottle is beautiful, and I keep refilling it with bottles of Absolut or Smirnof’f.

It’s a great conversation piece as it has a see-through label with an image of Shakespeare on the back.  If you’re ever in my neighborhood, stop in and I’ll pour you a drink.

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If you’d rather read what Shakespeare had to say about drinking, you should check out the The Boozy Bard, a book categorized by play which cites all the places where Shakespeare has written about drink, drinking, and drinkers.

Here are a few famous quotes:

“Do you think because you are virtuous, that there shall be no more cakes and ale?” Twelfth Night 2.3

“Good wine is a good familiar creature, if it be well used.” Othello 2.3

“I would give all my fame for a pot of ale.” Henry V 1.3

“Drink sir, is a great provoker of three things . . . nose painting, sleep and urine.” Macbeth 2.3

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Image by David Kinner for The New American Shakespeare Tavern

And finally, if you’d like to enjoy an adult libation and see a fine Shakespeare play, head to Atlanta and stop in to the New American Shakespeare Tavern®.

Here’s how their website describes the experience:

The New American Shakespeare Tavern® is unlike other theaters. It is a place out of time; a place of live music, hand-crafted period costumes, outrageous sword fights with the entire experience centered on the passion and poetry of the spoken word. With an authentic British Pub Menu and a broad selection of Irish ales and premium brews, the Shakespeare Tavern® is a place to eat, drink, and nourish the soul.

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For anyone who wants to truly be in the know, here’s your chance. Shakespeare 101 at the Greene Space—based on my book– is the ultimate interactive guide to the great Bard. If you are in NYC on Sunday, do try to stop down. It is being produced by WNYC and will be simulcast as well. I’ll be joined by Laura Cole, currently playing Maria in the NY Classical Theater Company’s production of Twelfth Night in Central Park and in Battery Park and Heather Lester, the Director of Education for the Shakespeare Society.

Also, at the same location on July 15, WNYC will host a Shakespeare Master Class with members of Propeller Company from the UK.  Actors Alasdair Craig and Jason Baughan will take students through scene studies.

Finally,  on July 16, the Greene Space presents a Shakespeare Marathon–a unique blend of excerpts from all 37 plays of the bard—the comedies, the histories, the tragedies—with actors and performance artists from all walks of life. It is a sonic feast that you will not want to miss.

So much for NYC, now let’s see what’s happening with Shakespeare in your neck of the woods. Leave the details below.

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At the Folger, March kicks off the annual festival season.  Beginning next week, students and their teachers from 56 secondary schools in and around DC will come to tread the boards of the Folger theater.  What a celebration of Shakespeare’s language!  Fourteen hundred students will present scenes, abridged versions (using Shakespeare’s language), and montages from 19 of the plays during the seven day festival. It’s not competitive.  There are no first, second, or third place finishes.  Everyone wins.  It’s a celebration. The atmosphere at the Library is high energy, to be sure, but it’s only the beginning.  In May, students  from 30 elementary schools from the area and as many as 10 from Capitol Hill will participate in the Emily Jordan Folger Children’s Festival and Shakespeare At School. Having hundreds of students in grades 3-6 speaking Shakespeare’s lines on stage, performing scenes from the plays — and understanding what’s happening in those scenes — is incredibly exciting, and not to be missed.  Are your students participating in a festival this spring? What have they chosen to perform?

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It all started with a Blog entry I posted here last week called Shakespeare in Other Words.  Suddenly,  Howard Sherman @HESherman and Peter Marks @petermarksdrama took that post to a new direction and began a heated  session on Twitter about the use of modern translations in Shakespeare productions. Before I knew it, Sherman organized a Tweet Convocation:“Soul of Shakespeare: Plot vs Language” #pmdhes for today at 2:30 with w/guest tweep Michael Kahn from DC’s Shakespeare Theater.

The confab lasted well over an hour and lots of folks joined in. Here are just a random few of the Tweets:

“Soul of Shakespeare” twitter convo arises from unplanned debate over whether it’s still Shakespeare when language is altered.

Above all, let’s have fun. After all, how many opportunities r there for live national multi-participant discussions of Shakespeare?

Doing our finger stretches, getting ready for today’s  Twitter conversation at 2:30.

@mikelomo was writing abt Shax in classrooms, not on stage, but it’s led to fascinating convo.

I am not bothered by some language changes. Murder, instead of murther, for example.

You don’t call Shakes ‘Ovid & Holinshead altered’ so why would you call very-much altered Shakes ‘Shakes’

But, if you change Mamet’s words is it still Mamet? No one argues he’s a poet not a playwright.

The depth of character in Shakes comes from what they SAY about what they feel & do

Aren’t we talking ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ of Shakespeare? Yes, language was distinct, but so was his vision, scope, style collusion etc

Have all the conceptual productions and severe cutting of text made it too ok to change language?

Greatest approach to teaching #Shakespeare at any age and especially in high school – GET THEM ON THEIR FEET AS THEY READ!!

But I don’t think ppl go to Shakespeare to see the same production that they had seen at another time. At least I hope not.

In schools, are students given free rein to imagine different settings, concepts? Would that help them “relate” better?

That’s what we do in schools. They produce their own scenes in any style they want, using the words.

“Where would you put this scene?” “What situation does this sound like to you?” imagination/relatability is key

Yes, good teachers allow that sort of higher-level thinking.

When productions modernize a play, etc., but keep the language – does the audience relate more?

My parents has Lambs’ TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE,. Suggested I always read before going to see when I was young.

When I was 5, my Russian immigrant mother read me the real Shakes. I fell in love w/it like you did with the Lambs.

I resisted the Lambs’ summaries completely. Stodgy, dull and I wanted to discover the stories for myself.

In my Shakespeare class in college I felt like we were discouraged from taking risks. Stick with the safe, they said.

I had BBC Shakespeare: Animated Tales after finding R&J at 8yo. Devotee ever since. All orig. lang.

In high school…only a handful of the plays are in most curriculums? Does that limit appeal?

I just don’t think Shakespeare is FOR everyone. And I think there are (a few) langauge barriers that cannot be overcome.

Any and all textual changes are GAME ON. As long as there’s transparency.

Make a good production & Shakespeare automatically is accessible. Concept should illuminate, not be used to “dumb down.”

many prods say they put lang center. alas, few really do

I knew director who watched all rehearsals from balcony w/ eyes closed to “listen to language. but it’s not a radio play

I love some plays, dislike others, avoid yet others entirely. But I don’t need to rewrite them.

I think it’s outrageous when Shakespeare is watered down. It’s outrageous when any author is paraphrased.

Why not go back to all male actors if we want to be extra faithful? (said w/ a wink)

Soliloquies are subtext made verbal.

I really have no problem with non-English additions. It’s the watered-down English I deplore.

Yay for us geeks!

Good god, was that an hour? Thanks @HESherman @petermarksdrama @ShakespeareinDC for the lovely confab!

You can go to Twitter and search #pmdhes to see the rest. But the discussion raised lots of questions. Feel free to answer some of them in the comments section below.

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I’m a big fan of BBC America and one of their latest shows is State of Play. But on Episode Three  last night, Idris Elba, (you may remember him as Stringer Bell on The Wire), the host on what the network refers to Dramaville, introduced that episode by saying, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive! and attributed it to Shakespeare. Wrong! It was actually Sir Walter Scott in his epic poem, Marmion.

Shame on you, BBC America.

So that got me thinking of other quotes falsely attributed to Shakespeare. Here are just a few:

“No man is an island.” – John Donne Meditation 17

“Come live with me and be my love.”– Christopher Marlowe  The Passionate Shepherd to his Love

“For you suffer fools gladly, seeing yourself as wise.” – II Corinthians 11:19.

“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – Tennyson In Memoriam

“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.” – 14th-Century proverb

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.”  William Congreve The Mourning Bride

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
 – William Congreve The Mourning Bride

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach.”
 – Elizabeth Barrett Browning Sonnets from the Portuguese

Can you think of any more? If so, please add a comment below.

But since today–December 22–is the first day of Winter, here are a few things Shakespeare had to say about that season:


Thou knowest, winter tames man, woman, and beast. The Taming of the Shrew

Thus sometimes hath the brightest day a cloud;
And after summer evermore succeeds
Barren winter, with his wrathful nipping cold:
So cares and joys abound, as seasons fleet.  2 Henry 6

Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile. As You Like It

What freezings I have felt, what dark days seen,
What old December’s bareness everywhere! Sonnet 97

Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way.  King Lear

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