Friday, March 12, 2010

Homebaked Shakespeare

Everyday Shakespeare has homebaked this interview with the Shakespeare Geek, creator of the oldest Shakespeare blog on the net! This father of three and blogger extraordinaire explains why Shakespeare matters (and why there's such a thing as too much Romeo and Juliet).

ES: What's your favorite Shakespeare play?

SG: I used to tell people that I had no favorites, and that's still mostly true. How do you pick Hamlet over Lear over Midsummer Night's Dream? Though as my children (3, 5 and 7 now) have grown I've developed a special fondness for The Tempest, which I used to tell them as a bedtime story. It does a Shakespeare geek's heart good to hear his 3-year-old daughter playing with Barbies named Miranda, Caliban and Sycorax. As they've gotten older I've introduced them to Midsummer as well, but The Tempest holds a special place.

ES: Who's the Shakespeare character you most resemble and why?

SG: I don't have a good answer for this one. I spend most of my time in the tragedies, and it's not like I could compare my life meaningfully to a Hamlet or Macbeth. I'm no Prospero, either. I'm probably somebody hanging out over in Cymbeline or something, not bothering anybody, minding my own business.

ES: Your favorite blog posts on Shakespeare Geek?

SG: My most popular post, by far, has been How old is Romeo? but I wonder if we can just attribute that to good Google placement. Still, readers continue to pop back up and argue about whether Romeo is closer to 13 or 30, and just how gross the whole 13 thing is by today's standards.

Personally I like the ones where I can drop some video on people and have something to point at. Empathy for Tybalt was great because I got to show the death of Mercutio in both the Zeffirelli and Luhrman versions. More recently, Hamlet vs. Ophelia gave me the chance to find 8 different versions of the "I loved thee not" confrontation between Hamlet and Ophelia, and how it's been played by all the greats - Brannagh, Jacobi, Burton, Kline... That was pretty awe-inspiring, I remember bringing that one up for friends, including my wife, and walking them through the differences in how each actor was saying the same words but delivering them completely differently. I knew Jacobi was good, but dang.

ES: Any good ideas about how to adapt Shakespeare into a movie or into another art form?

SG: I would love to see Disney do a version of The Tempest. We all know that The Lion King can claim inspiration from Hamlet, but that's not even close to what I mean. I want a generation of kids to grow up with exposure to Shakespeare on equal footing with Shrek and Toy Story and Barbie and Cinderella. The Tempest would be perfect - a little girl growing up on a faraway island discovers she's a princess, a prince shows up to marry her and take her away to live happily ever after? An overprotective father who happens to be a powerful wizard, an aerie sprite servant and an ugly old sea monster? It writes itself!

Current plans are for "Gnomeo and Juliet," an animated Romeo and Juliet in the world of garden gnomes. Haven't we done Romeo and Juliet enough? My kids have a DVD of "Sealed With a Kiss", Romeo and Juliet with seals.

ES: Why do we still care about Shakespeare? Why has he inspired so many blogs?

SG: Big, tough question. It's funny that now we can say "so many blogs", back when I started in 2005 there weren't any. There are a million places where you can read about Shakespeare, the complete works and modern translations and so on, but there really weren't any places where people gathered to just talk about Shakespeare in modern culture. Simpsons references. New novel about a boy and a talking dog. Playstation commercial that uses Henry V voiceover. Stuff like that. And so Shakespeare Geek was born. Why does it last? For me, it's the character. When I speak of the plays I speak of the characters and their motivations directly. I never say "Shakespeare wrote", I say "Hamlet said." I don't know where I heard it first but I've repeated it often, that Shakespeare portrayed the whole of human emotion on stage. When we're dating we think of what Romeo and Juliet said to each other. Maybe we grow up and spend a little time in existential "why are we here?" land, pondering what Hamlet said to no one in particular. Me? I've got daughters now, and I wonder if I could ever be capable of making Lear's mistake, and if I was, whether my girls would come to save me regardless.

Put in a way that could be summarized on a coffee mug? Shakespeare said it first, and best. When we today need to express what we're feeling, we can go back to how Shakespeare said it and we find that it works now just as well as it did then, even though the rest of the world has changed in the ensuing 400 years. That doesn't work because there's still princes running around killing kings on the advice of ghosts, it's because we're all sons and daughters and husbands and employees and bosses and parents ...

I could go on forever for this one, I have to stop somewhere. I just wrote a paragraph comparing Shakespeare to Dr. Seuss and chucked it.

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