Monday, April 23, 2018

Happy Birthday, WS!

Yesterday was not Shakespeare's birthday, but by 9 a.m. I had already seen two references to Shakespeare in the New York Times book section. One mentioned a review of a new novel based on the plot of Macbeth. The second cited a review of a new book whose title, "The Life To Come," is also taken from Macbeth. And I was only at the Table of Contents. A couple of hours later I heard a radio journalist describe a drama of conflict between Rwandans of the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, lovers who came from two villages "both alike in dignity," a quotation from Romeo and Juliet. And later in the day my neighbor told me that learning to read financial spreadsheets in her new job was a "sea change" for her. I don't know whether she knew she was quoting Ariel in The Tempest.

Shakespeare is with us every day. It's no wonder that last month a French foreign minister, asked whether France planned to "punish" Britain for implementing BREXIT,

Monday, April 2, 2018

Shakespeare's Gardening Tips

Readers, I didn't want to leave my April 1st post on the front page all month for fear even more people would believe it than already did. So, since it's at least supposed to be spring though it isn't in Michigan, I'm bringing back this post from two years ago, especially for gardeners.

We don't know what kind of gardener Shakespeare was, but we know he could talk like one. Judging from his plays and poems, he knew the names of 5,364 species of plants and herbs. (I made that number up.) The scholar Carolyn Spurgeon wrote that for Shakespeare, "One occupation, one point of view, above all others, is natural . . . that of a gardener; watching, preserving, tending and caring for growing things, especially flowers and fruit" (Shakespeare's Imagery, pub. 1935). She was right. So, in this growing-season, it might be worthwhile to read what the Master Gardener had to say on the subject.

First of all, I should say that Shakespeare believed the Master Gardener to be God. And as a good monarchist, he thought the king of a domain should imitate God and act like a gardener to his subjects. But we can read past the political allegory of his famous "King as Gardener" comments in Richard II and derive some helpful tips about actual gardening. In the relevant scene, a wizened old gardener tells his

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sonnets Show Shakespeare Was a Practicing Catholic

Jane Belvedere, a scholar at Holy Cross College in River City, Indiana, has uncovered the final proof of Shakespeare's Roman Catholicism. It is hidden in his sonnets.

 Catholics during the Protestant reigns of Elizabeth I and James I were subject to severe oppression which could include imprisonment, and which, at a minimum, involved prohibitions against harboring Catholic priests or attending Catholic mass. Devoted Catholics who refused to attend English church services were also subjected to steep fines. It is likely, then, that a Catholic, including possibly Shakespeare, would have hidden his religion from the general view.

Now, this hearty evidence of Shakespeare's Catholic leanings has been bolstered by

Monday, March 12, 2018

"A Wrinkle in Time" Minus Shakespeare

I can't say Ava DuVernay's film version of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle's famous children's space-travel novel, is a bad movie, because it isn't. Its plot is engaging, its actors are skilled, and its visual effects only seem lacking to a viewer who cares more about spectacle than story. And not only does DuVernay get some things about the much-loved tale right, she does the original author one better in a couple of particulars.

However, by the end of the film, a true Wrinkle-lover must conclude that DuVernay didn't understand the book. And since all roads lead to Shakespeare (at least, on this blog), I will say that this director's failure coherently to express L'Engle's central theme is tied to her erasure of Shakespeare. Specifically, she cuts the allusions to Shakespeare's Tempest with which, in the last third of her book, L'Engle clarified her heroes' dilemma.

But let's start with the praise. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) Although the film has received some criticism for clunky special effects, it is in fact lovely to watch, full of color not only in its alien-planet scenes -- which feature, among other things, a green

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Shakespeare Quiz

Here's how this Shakespeare quiz works. The questions contain two facts and one falsehood, or two correctly quoted lines and one incorrectly quoted line, or several falsehoods and one fact. You get the answer right if you identify the falsehood or the incorrectly quoted line or, in one case, the fact. You get extra points if you can not only identify the incorrectly quoted line, but can quote the line correctly. You'll have to quote it to yourself, though. The drawback is that you have to score your own test and you get no reward beyond the satisfaction of knowing more than most other people do about Shakespeare. That should be enough, though. It is for me.

The answers are at the bottom. Don't peek.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Shakespeare Frog

For this month's post, I considered many heavy Shakespearean topics, most of which arose in my mind in the wake of my last post, on sexual coercion in Shakespeare, and the discussions it engendered. "Creepy Dads in Shakespeare" was one topic I entertained. Another was "Do You Have to Be Egyptian or a Goddess To Have Unmarried Sex in Shakespeare and Not Have Everyone Call You a Whore?" But I abandoned both these topics. There is plenty to say about the first, but who really wants to read about creepy dads, much less write about them? And the second poses a question whose answer -- "Yes" -- is shorter than the title. So, in the end, I decided to write on a theme which is not ghastly, not creepy (though it hops), and not too troubling except, perhaps, to amphibian enthusiasts. The topic is Shakespearean frogs.


Where are the Shakespearean amphibians? And what are they? Well, this post would be much longer than I intend to make it if I discussed all the animals Shakespeare and his fellow Elizabethans thought were amphibians but weren't (otters, for example, and dolphins), and the symbolic uses they made of them. For

Monday, January 1, 2018

Sexual Coercion, Category Clarification, and Isabella

These days we could do with some reasonable definitions of flirtation, consensual erotic activity, and consensual sex. All these are things that happen between two people. (Sorry, I'll only be talking about pairs here.) Flirtation happens between pairs who are interested in erotic intimacy, as well as between pairs only one of whom is interested in erotic intimacy while the other just feels like flirting. Consensual erotic activity can include not only flirting, but touching implemented by one person and not rejected by the other. A pass can be accepted or deflected. If it's not deflected, it's accepted. Hopefully it's enjoyed, but acceptance doesn't mean enjoyment.

Sex occurs between people who both want to have sex, as well as between pairs of whom one wants to have sex and the other doesn't feel like it but does it anyway, or is ambivalent but has decided to do it anyway, or is enthusiastic about it at the time although s/he will be disgusted by it later. (Shakespeare wrote a sonnet about that. Such sex is "past reason hunted," and then "past reason hated.") Consensual sex also happens (a lot) when one person is agreeing to it only because s/he is