Shakespeare Saturday: In Which We Take a Break From Our Scholarly Pursuits

Happy Saturday, everybody! While the Nerd Cactus prides itself on presenting thoughtful posts delving into all things Shakespeare, we also pride ourselves on our ability to have fun… So today, for your viewing pleasure (and ours), we present: SHAKESPEARE CATS!

Henry V

Macbeth

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Taming of the Shrew

Romeo and Juliet

You can buy the full book here:

http://www.amazon.com/Shakespeare-Cats-Susan-Herbert/dp/0500284296

Hope you had a little chuckle!

-A

Boozy Books Friday: Middlemarch

Hello everyone and welcome to yet another exciting edition of Boozy Books! This week, we’re going to head back into the land of literature and move away from some of the more popular works we’ve explored of late. Let me remind you–just in case there is a single person on this planet who doesn’t remember–that I am a huge Austen fan. I adore every single one of her novels (though not all of her characters) and read them often, returning to her wit and romance like a warm blanket. But she is not the only outstanding female writer England has to offer. There are the sisters Brontë, of course, but let’s forget about them. (Kidding, kidding.) No…tonight, we give you George.

Yes, George. George Eliot to be precise, although she was born Mary Ann Evans. She is one of the many ladies who wrote under male pseudonyms during this period (for example, George Sand or Currer Bell–the name under which Jane Eyre was published). Like many women, she had something to say about the world in which she lived, but was not of the right gender to say it. Even Austen wrote anonymously, though of course it was perfectly OK for ladies to write romances. (The satire was not entirely as appreciated.) And so Miss Mary Ann Evans took the name George Eliot to write the novel we are pairing today: Middlemarch.

I love this novel. When I began to read it, I didn’t think I would, but I love it so much that I read it at least once a year despite how long it is. And it is a long novel, comprising two pieces that eventually came together into one. It is considered a masterful book of realism, containing several historical events such as the 1832 Reform Act, the coming of the railroad, and the ascension of King William IV. It also deals with modern medicine, such as the treatment of fevers and the use of empirical science (I know!) in studying disease. But what do all of these things have in common? Advancement. The coming of vast amounts of change. And the eponymous town–Middlemarch–is not a place that much likes change.

The novel begins with Dorothea Brooke, an intelligent woman with much wealth and even greater aspirations for both of those things, making a really stupid decision vis a vis her marriage. Then Dr. Tertius Lydgate, a brilliant Doctor, comes to town with new ideas and great ambitions. He, too, marries poorly. But where Dorothea is willing to listen, Tertius is far too stubborn and high-minded to bend. And when he comes up against the people of Middlemarch–against Middlemarch itself, it must be said–it is he who blinks first.

There are a score of other characters: Edward Casaubon, the pedantic clergyman concerned with a work that is already out of date before he even begins it, though he is unwilling to admit to that fact; Will Ladislaw, the poor cousin of Casaubon, who is full of verve and talent and idealism, but who has no place in the world but what he can make for himself; Rosamund Vincy, the beautiful but vain and shallow young woman who thinks she’s far too good for Middlemarch society; her brother, Fred, who is ultimately well-meaning, but needs so much to grow into himself and abandon his spendthrift ways. So many characters all woven into one another, their lives and decisions all making up the story and turning it into what it is. Because, you see, the real star of this book is the town of Middlemarch itself, and what it stands for. Every character is just part of it.

Now, there is some light romance–a couple of the arcs end with love, though whether both of them are satisfying is up for debate and your definition of worthiness–but it isn’t the whole of the story, or even most of it. So if you’re not really into a sort of…slice-of-life, provincial tale…well, you should be. You really should be, because this book is amazing. It’s just so fulfilling and so…wonderfully written. Such a brilliant look at a small, English town at a time when breathtaking change has come to the countryside. The historian in me almost feels like this should be used as a source…though, of course, it was written a few decades later, so maybe just a secondary source…

Anyway, moving on. I am sorry for rambling. I do that. Been watching *way* too much Doctor Who of late and it has a bad impact on my ability to keep focused. So, what to drink with such a wonderful slice of England? Well…I feel Newcastle Brown Ale is the only way to go. Why? Because it’s very English. It’s named after an English town, it’s an ale, it’s…brown? Kind of bitter, like the townsfolk. (OK, some of the townsfolk.) Really, it’s mostly because it’s named after Newcastle. If there were a Coventry Brown Ale, I’d have picked that (Middlemarch is based off of Coventry), but there isn’t. If Brown Ales aren’t your thing, my significant other is a huge fan of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, too…so I recommend that as our alternative. Basically, you want something that no one in Middlemarch will sniff at, because they have a tendency to become the unmovable object if you don’t do things the right way. And you want them to let you in.

Anyway…sorry this is so darn late. Doctor Who happened. Going through the David Tennant years again and I just got to “Blink”. Good episode, no? OK, so…we’ll see you tomorrow (…or later today…) for some Shakespeare! Nerd Cactus out!

-C

ps- There’s a great mini-series from 1994 that covers a lot of the major stuff. I am not saying skip the book for the movie…never would I say that. But this one is good, if a little old. It’s on…Hulu, I think? Check it out.

http://www.amazon.com/Middlemarch-Wordsworth-Classics-George-Eliot/dp/1853262374

The Monday Muse: Let’s Make a Change

Happy Monday, Cactus Cult! Today’s Muse is brought to you by the good folks at Disney and their newest film, Tomorrowland. It’s a cute movie… definitely not what I expected and almost certainly meant for a younger audience than its advertising would have led me to believe, but so be it. Just to be clear, this is not a movie review; it is an opinions piece inspired by what I saw on-screen.

Shall we?

At its core, Tomorrowland holds the promise of a better, brighter future. Great, right? Well, no, if you consider that climate change and nuclear fallout and a million other apocalyptic possibilities stand in the way of its fulfillment. Environmental decay, political hostility, war… these are the results of human error that will ultimately destroy us before we ever get a chance to create our own “Tomorrowland”. THAT is the message that is delivered quite prominently in the back half of this Clooney-driven vehicle.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a powerful, necessary message, I just don’t like how it was presented. It became a preaching platform and nothing more. Considering the widespread release of the film and Disney’s wide reach why not include practical suggestions for alleviating our increasingly apathetic culture? Isn’t that where the real problem lies?  Despite the fact that the young heroine, Casey, specifically asks what can be done for our troubled planet, it would appear that the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered with paving the way for viewers. The last half hour and Hugh Laurie’s final monologue are bulging with chastisement and warnings, but nobody goes to the trouble of suggesting a solution.

So please stop preaching at me Disney, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and Brad Bird. I love you all, but standing on a soapbox is not the answer. I am ready to help. I understand the problems. I can plant trees, donate resources, and protest on my own time, but if I’m one of the few trying to make a change it’s going to be a long, slow fight. What the world needs, and what I am waiting for, is for you to use your multi-million dollar film budgets to mount a solid platform that the masses can get behind. Instigate that change with your celebrity/company influence. I would love to be the person who suggests that step in the right direction, but I don’t have a readership of millions or a giant corporation, and becoming a viral star does not exactly have lasting affects. (But if you do want my input might I refer you to a Muse I posted back in March…)

https://nerdcactusadventures.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/the-monday-muse-saving-the-planet-with-satire/

I walked out of the movie with the sense that I had just digested a lot of unnecessary cheese and fluff (fluffy cheese if you will). The only hope I hold in the film’s preachy narrative is that it might actually inspire younger audiences. Of course, I don’t think the movie was advertised very well toward youths and, quite frankly, I have no idea WHO the target audience was actually meant to be… But maybe if enough moviegoers walk out having this conversation someone will discover the hidden directions to initiate change for the better. Because, yeah, “Tomorrowland” (the city in the film) is amazing and inspiring and really well designed. Everyone should aspire to a future full of peace and high-tech wonders where dreamers and thinkers work together to make dreams reality. We just need to stop berating each other for the world’s problems and get moving.

Think about it.

-A

Silly Sunday: GoT the MUSICAL!

Hello, and welcome to a slightly delayed Silly Sunday. It’s me again! Yeah…the one who talked about herpes in Shakespeare! Woo!

Nothing too long today, but totally epic. If you haven’t seen the Red Nose Day Game of Thrones video…really? Why not?! IT’S AMAZING! (And…hot damn Jon Snow…I mean Kit Snow…)

Please, enjoy. (Watch for the look of ecstatic joy on Iwan Rheon’s face at the beginning. It’s hilarious.)

Also…to all Americans, please be careful while grilling. Remember…the night may be dark and full of terrors, but fire f-ing BURNS.

-C

Shakespeare Saturday: The Queen Mab Speech

Greetings, fellow nerds, and welcome to our weekly Shakespeare fun-time! Yes, I know we’re cutting it close on it actually being Saturday, but whatever. Shakespeare is awesome no matter how close to Sunday this gets posted.

So…what am I going to write about today? Well…Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet, of course! Why, you may ask? Well, because I’ve been researching the hell out of it in an attempt to write something similar. Not a recreation in any way…I would most likely fail at that. Major, epic fail. But also…people don’t really make speeches in the middle of conversations, so that would seem weird in anything other than a play. Still, I need to get the right mix of allusion and put down, with maybe a soupçon of foreshadowing and a heavy dose of humor. And that took some research.

Let’s take a look at the speech itself, shall we?

O then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman, (60)
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid; (70)
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O’er ladies o’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are: (80)
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes, (90)
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she–

It’s a long speech, so I’ll wait while you read it out loud in your best effort at true, Shakespearean acting. Seriously…have fun. I’ll be here.

Done? You sure? You might have overacted it. You did? And you’re proud of it? Damn right you are. OK, let’s go.

Mercutio is often lumped in with Shakespeare’s fools. This is because of the speech posted above. It’s rather ridiculous, isn’t it? Just going on about the Faery Queen of Dreams on his way to a party, using all the florid speech and allegorical language that represents Shakespeare at his best. So much of Romeo and Juliet is tragedy…I mean, hell, it’s in the name of the play! And Mercutio gives (until his, well, mercurial nature gets the best of him and he buys the farm) the story much of its humor. This speech is fun! It’s enjoyable to give, and actors love putting their own spin on it. Some think it’s about Mercutio’s homoeroticism/homosexual nature, others about his ability to improvise. A lot of people think it’s a bit of foreshadowing about the nature of the play itself, which starts out happy and then…well, you know.

But really…what the heck is Mercutio talking about here? Well…he’s basically calling Romeo a lovelorn fool, overly sensitive and imaginative. Mercutio, despite his ridiculous tendency to talk about faery queens, is a realist and can’t resist putting his friend in his place when Romeo argues that dreams reflect (or are) reality. It’s just that he also can’t pass up a chance to be flamboyant. I mean, why be straightforward when you can take something to its most absurd point and basically call your friend an idiot? So he launches into the famous Queen Mab speech, in which dreams, granted by the eponymous faery, reflect only the desires of the dreamer. Certainly they do not reflect reality.

See…Mercutio is a true Shakespearean clown. As we discussed earlier, Shakespare’s clowns are not just there to be funny or ridiculous. Well, except maybe Falstaff. I will accept no arguments that he isn’t just gross. But Mercutio, the clown, is actually the most insightful character in the play. His speech, as ridiculous as it seems, is sensible and full of wisdom, like those of Feste or the Fool of Lear fame. There are those, as I’ve said, who even think that Mercutio’s speech serves as a piece of foreshadowing for the play itself because of the shift from happy dreams to nightmarish visions that occurs at the halfway point.

So if I’m going to write something similar, it needs to be funny (or at least…slightly ridiculous), full of allusion, and somewhat incisive. Also, it needs to essentially call Romeo an idiot. Which is fine by me. Of course, I have no idea how I’m going to do that, but then…that’s not the point of this blog.

Oh, and one more thing. You know that line about ladies and sweetmeats? Here, let me post it again:

O’er ladies o’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:

That line is a lot more filthy than you think. Why? Because Queen Mab is giving women herpes after she sees that they’ve been “tainted” by the act of oral sex. So those sweetmeats? Ahem…

Yeah.

It really wouldn’t be Shakespeare if it weren’t filthy, would it?

Anyway…here it is. The blog. And I managed to get it done before midnight, which is even better! Tomorrow, we get silly! On Monday, we Muse. Or maybe Tuesday. Monday’s a holiday, after all. We might be closed.

Until next time!

-C

Boozy Books: Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Welcome back booze-lovin’, bookwormin’ Nerd Cacti followers! It’s Friday once again which means we’re on a mission to get your weekend off to the best possible start… With books and booze!

This week (clears throat) may I recommend the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan.

I can literally hear what you’re thinking:

Isn’t that a series for kids?

Those movies were dreadful…

My response to the above is yes. Let me explain.

Much like Harry Potter these books were meant for a younger readership and – also like Harry Potter – they didn’t translate particularly well on-screen. OK, y’know what? NO. I take that back. Harry Potter did just fine on-screen in comparison to the ludricous mangling of Riordan’s Olympians series. So there. In either case I think you’ll join me in my sentiment that the movies are simply no comparison to the books. End tangent.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a series of five books that begins with The Lightning Thief. Beyond that are: The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian. While the whole series does follow an overarcing struggle against evil I am going to focus tonight’s blog a little more directly on The Lightning Thief for the sole purpose of setting you on your way. Trust me, if you have any interest in book one you will be hooked and I really won’t have to sell you on the rest anyway.

We begin with a troubled youth named Percy Jackson. Well, not troubled exactly… a lot of weird stuff happens to him resulting in his expulsion from multiple schools and he doesn’t know who his father is; but he’s a good kid. We learn soon enough that the strange happenings he experiences are due to his lineage. Because Percy Jackson is a demigod. (Oooooooh). Of the Greek variety. (Aaaaaaah). Yep, if you’re up on your Greek mythology you’re gonna enjoy the fun, modern twist Riordan puts on the stories of old.*

*Note: although he does tweak a few things for the purpose of storytelling, Riordan does a pretty decent job of holding true to the standard mythology. You hear that Disney? (Just to be clear: I adore Hercules. Happy, smiling, adoring Hera and all.)

So anyway, Percy’s dad turns out to be a Greek God (I won’t tell you which, but it’s super easy to piece together), his best friend is actually a satyr, and one of his old teachers is a centaur. He finds himself at a summer camp for demigods called Camp Half-Blood where he makes friends and learns he is not alone. Things are looking up. Until they aren’t. Let the adventure begin! Zeus’ master lightning bolt has been stolen and Percy must find and return it in order to relieve his father from the blame. He then proceeds to fight mythological creatures and work his way towards his ultimate badassery. It’s really quite fun and written at a rather humourous clip. Keep in mind, it was originally intended for young adults, so yeah, it’s an easy read. BUT FUN!

Now seeing as the main characters are all under the legal drinking age there are no obvious pairings to be found within the text. Or are there? Dionysus makes an appearance as the Director of Camp Half-Blood and although he’s enduring a hundred year hardship (banned from drinking his beloved wine) he has taken solace in diet sodas. Would I drink diet soda as my pairing? Certainly not. Would I drink any and all wine as a toast to poor, fun-loving Dionysus? Absolutely.

We are also given an interesting conceptualization of Nectar, AKA the drink of the gods. In myth it can only be consumed by gods, but in Riordan’s world demigods can have a teeny tiny little bit for healing purposes.  It is suggested that Nectar tastes like whatever the drinker wants or likes. Percy finds that it tastes like his mom’s cookies (d’awww). So in honor of Percy’s particular flavor of Nectar, I present the Chocolate Chip Bailey’s Milkshake. No need to thank me.

http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Chocolate-chip-cookie-bailey_s-milkshakes-333246?columns=4&position=6%2F80

So happy reading and happy drinking and don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for another exciting installment of Shakespeare Saturday!

-A

http://www.amazon.com/Lightning-Thief-Percy-Jackson-Olympians/dp/0786838655

The Monday Muse: Community

Welcome, readers, to the Monday Muse! You’ll notice that I am not scheduled to be today’s Muser, but my other half is swamped beneath the pressures of theater. So forgive me for any perceived drop in quality, as I was not expecting to write this today. I really must work on my ability to write on command.

Now, today, I would like to talk to you about community. No…not the show, though I do love it. I mean in the sense that we are social creatures. Humans are not designed to be alone or isolated; we require interaction. There is a reason that solitary confinement is a punishment for prisoners and grounding for children (well…I admit, I got by pretty well so long as I had my books, but even they represented a form of community), and antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a marked disregard for one’s fellow man (or creatures, really). It’s unnatural for someone to repudiate community. Even people who don’t require a lot of interaction need something. Even if that is one or two people.

Community is important. It is especially important if one is in any way creative. In that case, our community is more than just our sense of belonging…it’s our brain trust. We share our ideas and hear theirs in return, expanding our own views and learning so many different ways of doing things. They feed us and help us grow. They help us out of our ruts and help us untangle the knots (especially when you write yourself into a corner, as I’ve done more times than I care to count). When it’s time to step back and let things sit, they’re the ones who keep us thinking about other things.

In the case of A and I, they’re there to write blogs when life gets in the way…or help you plan out the chapter where you pretend to kill Mercutio because all you ever wanted to do was keep him alive and so you decided to write a book together to get it done. (What? You never wondered why we decided to devote an entire day to Shakespeare?) I’ve helped her when her world building hit a snag and she’s listened to me ramble on about the logistics of planning a fight scene. And about my world building, because both of us are actually inclined toward fantasy writing, though none of our projects seem to reflect that.

Why am I going on about this? Well…think about it. I’m a writer, but pretty much any creative endeavor is solitary. It involves putting words on a page or paint on a canvass, or hours practicing chords. I’m also a cellist…believe me when I say there is no pain like training the muscles of your bowing hand while simultaneously developing blisters on the tips of the left. It involves memorizing lines and staring inward until you feel like you’ve run your psyche raw. Yes…the product is always communal in nature; you play that music, perform that piece, share that art or story…but the creation is you and your imagination forging something from the firmament. And as I said, humans need community. It’s what keeps us going strong.

So…find a group. It doesn’t even need to be in person. I’m a millennial (one of the early ones…please do not communicate to me in emojis), so I definitely count on-line groups. Get together and share your ideas. Workshop together and allow these people to critique your work. Critique theirs in return. Don’t be rude or overly harsh…make the criticism constructive, and expect the same. Share your stories and allow them to bolster you. Create a community. Because I can guarantee that nothing will make your work better than to allow these people into your world and to enter theirs in return.

OK. This has been me, filling in for her, with the Monday Muse. We’ll see you again on Friday with some books! It’ll most likely not be me.

-C