Carolyn performed as Ariel yesterday in the New Renaissance Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Carolyn performed as Ariel yesterday in the New Renaissance Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.   The performers use an “unrehearsed” technique, where they are reading from scrolls that contain their lines and the cues they have to listen for. She’s put together scrolls for several different tracks (each track typically consisting of a main role and, when that main character is off stage, several random servant / supporting characters).   She doesn’t find out until the day of a show which track she’s doing that day.   Each run will probably feature a different configuration of cast members,…

What Jonson meant by Shakespeare’s “small Latin and less Greek”

Jonson famously eulogized Shakespeare thus:     For if I thought my judgment were of years I should commit thee surely with thy peers, And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine, Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe’s mighty line. And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek, From thence to honor thee I would not seek For names, but call forth thund’ring Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles to us…   The apparent dig “though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek” is, according to Tom Moran, a hypothetical, akin to the King James translation of 1 Corinthians 13:1: “Though…

Clever Modernization of Hamlet: Polonius with an iPhone

I teach Shakespeare in a literature class. I encourage students to call up a college production on YouTube, or listen to a BBC radio adaptation, and read along with their script. However, I remind students that because I’m an English teacher, I’m asking them to focus on the script, not on any individual director’s production of the script. Students whose responses refer to line delivery, facial expressions, or camera angles may certainly be engaging with the choices that the actor made during that performance, but my task in the literature classroom involves asking them to pay attention to the words…

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Emergence (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 7, Episode 23) Enterprise-D subsystems exhibit emerging intelligence

Rewatching ST:TNG When I first read a blurb about this episode, I thought maybe the ship’s computer would develop an attitude and say, “I’m tired of taking your orders and shutting down systems and whatnot; I want to star in an adventure all about me!” In the cold opening, a costumed Data delivers Prospero’s speech about giving up his art towards the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Picard bardsplains the significance of the speech for those who need it, and I kind of got chills, as I’m aware I’m just a few more episodes away from the series finale (which…

‘Tragedy of Macbeth’ Review: The Thane, Insane, Slays Mainly in Dunsinane

What a headline. The poet John Berryman wrote of “Macbeth” that “no other Shakespearean tragedy is so desolate, and this desolation is conveyed to us through the fantastic imagination of its hero.” The universe of the play — a haunted, violent patch of ground called Scotland — is as dark and scary as any place in literature or horror movies. This has less to do with the resident witches than with a wholesale inversion of moral order. “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” Trust is an invitation to treachery. Love can be a criminal pact or a motive for revenge.…

I’m really enjoying seeing how my students are responding to Hamlet.

As part of a class assignment, one student took some friends to see the Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park all-female production of Hamlet. One of her friends is from Vietnam, and my student was very proud that she could answer his questions about what was going on. Many students, even the English majors, confess that in high school they never tried to read Shakespeare’s language, but instead depended totally on modern-language paraphrases. That means that from year to year, they never got any better at understanding Shakespeare’s original language. Early in the term, I usually walk students through the first…

Breaking up with your favorite racist childhood classic books

A good article analyzes the strong cultural reactions to voluntary changes made by the companies that manage the “Potato Head” toy line and the books of Dr. Seuss. Cries of “censorship” and “cancel culture” rallied passionate citizens who defended their nostalgic memories of childhood and sought targets for their rage. I just read an article on new allegations against Peter Yarrow. I knew that he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 14yo, though I didn’t remember he was pardoned by Jimmy Carter. When I teach Shakespeare I emphasize that yes, he was a product of his times, but that his…

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Ménage à Troi (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season Three, Episode 24) Lwaxana, Ferengi, Chess, and Poetry

Rewatching ST:TNG after a 20-year break. The teaser features Picard fibbing awkwardly to evade Troi’s mother Lwaxana, nicely setting up a later scene when he woos her with snatches of Shakespeare and Tennyson — first clumsily, then enthusiastically, as part of a ruse designed to… oh, nevermind why. Seeing Picard save the day with love poetry is well worth the cringeworthy setup. (And the scene also provides the visual for the popular “Picard wtf” meme.) An amorous Ferengi abductor intends to use Lwaxana’s telepathic abilities to give him an edge in business negotiations. He nabs Riker and Troi too, because apparently…

“I don’t view Shakespeare’s work as intimidating anymore.” — midterm reflection from college freshman

“It has made me more confident in myself, and I don’t view Shakespeare’s work as intimidating anymore.” –freshman student reflecting on the first half of my “Shakespeare in Context” course. In lieu of reading comprehension quizzes, I have students post informal responses. They respond to an orientation lecture and each act of the play as they read, and finally they write a brief synthesis paper. That cycle usually takes about two weeks. Each unit includes two such cycles and a podcast of some sort. At the end of the unit, they reflect on their work in categories like “risk,” “depth,”…

Preview of “The Fantasticks” (thanks, Tribune-Review, for covering the arts community)

For Luisa, Jerz’s character, “the world is still a magical place, full of epic characters and situations and — above all — romance.” She says the audience should like Luisa and care about her, not wanting the world to hurt or change her. A fun show to perform “‘The Fantasticks’ music is uniquely beautiful, and the script very clever. We have a lot of fun performing it,” she says. Jerz is making her debut at The Theatre Factory. She has performed with Prime Stage and PICT Classic Theatre, among others. She won Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Shakespeare monologue contest three times…

Me (glares in iambic pentameter)

Me: I need to post the opening lecture for my online Shakespeare class. Also me: I should compose it in blank verse. Me (glares in iambic pentameter): Also me: O for a Canvas of fire, to surpass The farthest distance of instruction. SHU tech is cool, but can a Macbook hold A seminar discussion? Can we cram Within an LMS the self-same class That does engage the students on campus? Think, when we talk of classmates, that you see them Raising their bold hands in response to prompts. For ‘tis your iPad now that holds our text, Querying it there,…

Fast-paced, articulate cast shines in Viking-themed Othello

I saw my first Food for Groundlings show this weekend. It won’t be my last. I see a lot of theater, and am used to seeing professionals here or there stutter or jump a line. But the actors in Othello at CCAC Sunday night really impressed me with their mastery of Shakespeare’s verbiage. Desdemona in particular took my breath away as she defended herself against Othello’s accusations, ploughing through the Elizabethan syntax with energy and confidence. She also nailed the slow-and-tense moments — the “Willow” scene was haunting and touching, just as it should be, and her climatic scene with…