Shakespeare Saturday: GOT vs. Shakespeare

Helloooooo! Happy Saturday, friends. I hope everyone had a wonderful day and the chance to see Black Panther, because it. Was. Awesome. If you haven’t seen it, do it. (After reading this post.)

Today, I’m sharing a few older posts, but they are worth revisiting. I’ve always thought that if Shakespeare were alive today he’d probably be writing something like Game of Thrones. I guess it’s probably because you can see his heroes and villains reflected in any/all of the GOT characters.

Here are a few that have struck me over the course of the last five seasons:

Dany = Tamora (Titus Andronicus)

Oberyn = Hamlet (Hamlet)

Catelyn Stark = a good deal Lady MacDuff (MacBeth)

Littlefinger = Iago (Othello)

Bran = The Witches (MacBeth)

Apparently I’m not the only one who has drawn these comparisons. Check out some of these fun posts that highlight the similarities between GOT and Shakespeare!

Here’s a “who would win” post from Barnes & Noble.

There’s also this super interesting post, which I’m sure C will appreciate. (Lots of historic parked parallels are explored here.)

And this reimagining of GOT characters in their Shakespearean roles.




Shakespeare Saturday: CONSPIRACY

Hello Nerd Cactus community! Welcome to the first Shakespeare Saturday of 2018. 

I don’t have much to offer today in terms of Shakespeare op-eds or fun facts, but if you want to have a good laugh at anti-Stratfordian conspiracy theorists… hoo boy have I got a doozy for you.

C and I are adament believers that Shakespeare was Shakespeare, but there are plenty of classist, non-believers out there who disagree. 

*Boo* *Hiss*

There are even some *ahem* “scholars” who have claimed to uncover whackadoodle Dan Brown bullshit conspiracy theories that PROVE Shakespeare couldn’t have been a lowly peasant. 

Take this guy, for example.

He believes that by rearranging an encrypted message in a dedication page of Shakespeare’s sonnets he can reveal the exact location of Shakespeare’s burial (turns out it’s not Stratford-upon-Avon) AND that the playwright was, in fact, (pause for dramatic effect and thunder-sheet sound cue) Edward de Vere. 

Point and laugh, everyone. It’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. I believe this is what we refer to as “grasping at straws.”

As for us, we’ll continue to believe that greatness can rise from anywhere and phooey to anyone who says otherwise. Shakespeare’s a goddamn working class hero and we’ll believe in him to the bitter end.

See you next time!


*Bonus Image* (because I like to laugh at anti-Stratfordians)

Shakespeare Saturday: But Do You Actually Like Shakespeare?

Hello Nerd Cactus coven! It’s Shakespeare Saturday – probably my favorite day of the week. To shake things up, I’ll be sharing a conversation I had recently. Because sometimes the experiences of a Shakespeare fanatic are just as important to share as casting notices and historical findings. 

I think this particular topic is worthy of exploration because the question I was asked is one that Shakespeare-heads get asked a lot: “but do you actually like Shakespeare?”

I won’t lie to you, this question was posed to me by my significant other. It was a little bit in jest, but I know he is also genuinely puzzled by my ardor. And that’s fine, I know Shakespeare isn’t for everyone. Many people find it hard to get past the 400 year old dialogue. Plus, he’s just not a theatre person.

But, yes, I do actually like Shakespeare. I told him this and proceeded to explain that there’s a lot of depth to Shakespeare’s plays that still resonates with modern audiences. Also, because it is so well known it has become a special kind of art form that allows for constant reinvention and interpretation. 

I think I also have the advantage of having seen enough live Shakespeare that I don’t automatically think of stuffy classrooms and enormous chunks of text that look completely foreign. This, I believe, is the number one reason so many people are alienated from the Bard – Terrible teachers, failing to generate interest and/or forcing it upon students before they’re ready to grasp why it’s special.

Obviously, I’ve said all this before. So has C. But our loyalty to a long-dead playwright really has nothing to do with “fitting in” or being “elitist.” (That’s not what the S.O. was implying, but some people would.) It stems from a love of the English language, theatre, and admiration for the mastery of universal themes in works that are older than the United States. It’s pretty cool shit.


Shakespeare Saturday: Post-IrStratMaFord

Helloooooo Nerd Cactus community! Welcome back! After a long absence, – fueled by post-vacation haze, pre-hurricane prep, and post-hurricane power outages – it is time, at long last, for Shakespeare Saturday. Please, hold your applause to the end of the post. 

During my three days sans electricity I had the pleasure of reading several backlogs of The New Yorker – of which I am a loyal subscriber, though I rarely succeed in reading the entire issue before the next arrives. Anyway, flipping through an issue from late July, I came across an article by Stephen Greenblatt that tackled both xenophobia and the persistent question of why Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice the way he did (i.e. with inescapable, though often undercut, tones of anti-Semitism).

C and I have discussed this at length, taking particular interest in Shylock as a misunderstood character whom Shakespeare was essentially obligated to write as the villain given the time he lived in, and the church in power, et cetera, et cetera… Because Shakespeare’s writing does not come off as inherently racist – there’s complexity and truth in Shylock, and he is given some of the most powerful dialogue in the piece besides. It is these elements that propel Greenblatt’s writing, his assertion that Shakespeare’s play was the beginning of compromise, the beginning of a worldview that humans are humans regardless of religious affiliation or country of origin. 

What I so loved about this article was the statement that historical context and inherited xenophobia would have dictated Shakespeare’s creation and exploration of Jewish characters. And yet, Shakespeare defied the expectations of Elizabethan bigotry and breathed life, humanity, and complex emotions into the “villain” that is Shylock. Greenblatt calls to our attention some of Shylock’s best lines, loaded with pain, grief, even love. With these examples presented in sharp relief, Shylock is truly impressive in his refusal to meet the expected stereotypes of the time – an alien endowed with the essence of humanity, an equal in the laws of his city, a potentially tragic figure. 

Whether Shakespeare wrote Shylock as a representation of his own (possible) experience with religious conversion, or purposely approached writing a Jewish character with the intent of infusing more truth than the caricatures created by his contemporaries, we may never know. What does seem fairly clear is Shakespeare’s conscious choice to break from the anti-Semitic standards of the period. He participates – as Greenblatt puts it – in an “attempt to negotiate with a xenophobic inheritance”. Shakespeare imbues the merchant with words and thoughts and feelings that provide far more dimension and depth than anything Antonio has to say over the course of five acts. 

Of course, we don’t think that Shakespeare’s comedy would have changed the minds of its audience, – it is still written with an ambiguity and structure that demands Shylock be despised – but it “[began] an unsettling from within”. The unsettling Greenblatt refers to is still present, a strange composition of conflicting ideologies that we can still learn from to inform the way we see ourselves and others. It’s also the reason why this “comedy” has become one of the most thoroughly studied works in the Shakespearean canon.

Greenblatt concludes his exploration of The Merchant of Venice with this: 

Shakespeare’s works are a living model not because they offer practical solutions to the dilemmas they so brilliantly explore but because they awaken our awareness of the human lives that are at stake.”

And that, my friends, is a perfect, beautiful, and true statement.

Thanks for tuning in! I’ll be back on Monday with something to Muse about.


Stratford Update #2: The School for Scandal, Guys & Dolls, and Twelfth Night

Greetings, fellow Nerd Cacti! Welcome to our second Stratford update. This week has been a whirlwind of Stratford strolling, delightful dishes, and theatrical excellence. I can’t believe it’s already Friday…

Since our last post we have seen four performances and three shows. That’s right, we doubled down on a certain fun-filled Bacchic experience… Just kidding. You couldn’t pay me to watch Bakkhai again. In truth, we were so won over by Stratford’s exuberant production of Guys & Dolls that we purchased rush tickets for the matinee. The day after we had seen an evening performance. We watched it back to back. It was great both times.

On to the reviews!

The School for Scandal

Stratford’s take on this classic reformation piece was utterly delightful. The set was lovely, the cast was wonderful, and the costumes were GORGEOUS. The only real problem with this kind of show is that it takes a scene or two for the ear to adjust to the proper cadence, but that’s my problem.

Let me preface the review with a quick anecdote: after our experience at Bakkhai I was particularly excited to see a piece with a costume plot that looked cohesive (as per pictures). C joked that, if nothing else, I could count on the fact that none of the actor’s would show up in jeans. Well, the first person to walk onstage wore jeans and carried an iPhone. Luckily, it was part of a clever bookend that set up the premise of gossip and needing to be connected, but it was also the “turn off your phones” announcement. It worked. After that, the show falls into the expected period-appropriate style, presenting a riot of fast-paced battles of wit and farce.

The School for Scandal is a late 18th century piece that explores the ups and downs of society, the nature of gossip and scheming, and the best way to exploit mistaken identities. The set and costumes are lush, capturing the extravagance of the upper crust in that period, as well as their desperate need to remain a la mode. Silks and lace simply drip off the characters, and the wigs are sky high. Special shoutout goes to Benjamin Backbite’s (Tom Rooney) Macaroni attire, complete with the most fabulous purple buckled heels.

Everyone in the cast is well-suited to their roles, the standouts being Geraint Wyn Davies’s Sir Peter Teazle, Brigit Wilson’s Mrs. Candour, and Tyrone Savage’s Joseph Surface. Truly, the entire cast is a standout, but Wyn Davies’s ability to make Sir Peter endearing, Wilson’s shrill and hilarious take on an aging gossip, and Savage’s excellent two-facedness and booming voice made them particularly fun to watch.


Guys & Dolls

As we mentioned, we saw Guys & Dolls twice. It is an exceptional, high-energy delight from start to finish with a fierce cast (because holy shit, the dancers), and excellent design and direction.

Donna Feore’s direction and choreography is outstanding. The choreography is particularly fun to watch due to Feore’s use of unique pockets of choreography that meld together into a unison burst of athleticism. The staging is lovely – nothing is lost on the audience despite the thrust configuration of the Festival Theatre – and the characterizations are spot on.

The only note either of us had was that the “New York” accents peppered among the cast wasn’t unified, came in and out for certain actors, and ultimately took inspiration from bad gangster movies and cartoons. This sounds like it would be distracting, but, honestly, it was never so bad as to detract from the performances, and the show as a whole is so charming that it doesn’t really matter.

Favorites of ours included Steve Ross’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Evan Buliung’s Sky Masterson, and Blythe Wilson’s Miss Adelaide. Actually, it should be noted that we saw two different Miss Adelaide’s. Bonnie Jordan covered for Wilson during our first viewing and did an excellent job in the role as well. All told, there aren’t any weak spots in the cast, and the performers’ talents are clearly utilized to their fullest capacity. The voices are powerful, the dancing is clean and exciting, and it was a damned good time.


Twelfth Night

It’s hard to go from something as loud and vibrant as Guys & Dolls to something as quiet and contained as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, but that’s just what we did. We’ve both made it clear that Twelfth Night is far from being our favorite Shakespearean comedy, but Stratford’s production delivers excellent actors and adds a musical element that we really loved.

For us, the subplot is actually the best part of this play so it was greatly satisfying to see that storyline played by genuinely hysterical performers with the addition of a great deal of physical humor. Emilio Vieira’s Sir Toby, Tom Rooney’s Sir Andrew, and Lucy Peacock’s Maria are a joy to watch as they plot, drink, and laugh in seemingly endless bouts. Sarah Afful’s Viola is also wonderful to watch, despite her unfounded attachment to Orsino which we will never understand – this is not a reflection on E.B. Smith’s performance, it is a comment on the wedding plots being poorly written (sorry, Shakespeare).

It is Brent Carver’s Feste, however, who steals the show. His absurdly beautiful singing voice and gentle wit as Olivia’s fool are so endearing you just can’t help watching his every move. His use of Tibetan bowls and crystal clear crooning were a lovely way to handle some of his quieter moments and the effect worked to set the mood as a quiet comedy.

Lastly, let us give a special nod to Viola’s dress in the final scene. We’d grown used to seeing her dressed as a boy so when she arrived onstage in a richly colored gown looking like an African QUEEN we couldn’t contain our whispered chorus of “yaaaaaas”.


Thanks for tuning in, friends! We’ll be back with another update soon. Today, we’ll be seeing Romeo and Juliet. Because, frankly, we’ve been drowning in comedies. It’s time to switch things up.



-A and C

Silly Sunday: Witty Fools and Foolish Wits

Happy Sunday, good fool-lowers! Today’s post is just a teensy bit focused on Feste, the fool who graces the stage in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Fools are supposed to be silly so it works, I guess. Of course, Feste is probably one of the smartest people in Shakespeare’s “Whatever” comedy, and – like most of Shakespeare’s fools – he spends much of his time  providing commentary, wordplay, and witty repartee that puts the other characters to shame.

I’ve always had a special liking for Shakespeare’s fools: their words are measured, their digs are precisely timed and aimed, and they are really good at playing fools. That’s what I love most about them, I think… each of Shakespeare’s fools is smarter than the next and they know it. And they make sure the audience knows it. I like to think that Shakespeare’s fools are an insertion of the playwright himself; an embodiment of the man’s own beliefs and wisdom in the form of snide remark here or there that he just couldn’t keep to himself – especially if he was writing the kind of play that audiences and producers demanded of him that ended up with subtitles like “Or What You Will”.

Feste is a particularly brilliant fool, with characteristics that many critics have described as the personification of the holiday for which the play is named. Yes, Twelfth Night is an actual thing. It’s the holiday in the Christian calendar that marks the coming of the Epiphany. Learn all about it, here. Apparently Twelfth Night festivities are high on the revelry scale and a little bit anti-establishment. In any case, Feste pretty much spends the whole play acting beyond the control of any authority. And he has license to do so under Olivia’s service so Shakespeare basically wrote in a free pass for him to be as honest as possible. Nice.

Anyway, here‘s a fun listicle of the wisest lines as spoken by Shakespeare’s fools. You’ll note that Feste has managed to get two quotes up on the board. What are your favorites?


Boozy Plays: Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Happy Friday, Nerd Cactus friends! Welcome back to this month’s pre-Stratford marathon, which we have loving named Shakespeare-a-palooza. Today’s boozy pairing is fueled by William Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Can we take a moment to talk about Shakespeare’s subtitle on this one, real quick? Like, what kind of “meh” moment was he having when he decided to plug on “or What You Will”. It’s the ultimate shoulder shrug. You get the feeling he maybe wrote this one for the money. Somebody was breathing down Bill’s neck going “comedies sell better, Will. Give in to the demand, Will.” So Will basically subtitled the thing, “Whatever”. Amazing.

Anyway, I gave you a brief rundown of the lunacy that occurs within this play. It’s your average Elizabethan comedy, full off mistaken identities, crossdressing, and weddings. As I mentioned, I don’t think this one is particularly deep and it’s definitely not among my favorites. Of course, knowing Stratford, they’ll find some way to make me love it. But I will never love Orsino. He’s a bit much… He’s the one who’s got the most memorable line in the show – “if music be the food of love, play on” – but that doesn’t mean he’s worth remembering. Was that mean? Ah, well.

The best adaptation of Twelfth Night – and C and I agree on this – is She’s the Man. Yes, the Amanda Bynes movie. No shame. Like I said, Shakespeare didn’t exactly pull out the stops with this one so, yeah, it was the perfect fodder for a silly teen movie. In any case, if you’ve seen She’s the Man you pretty much have an overview of the love triangles and crossdressing plots which take place in Twelfth Night. Or What You Will. Or Whatever….

In many ways Olivia and Orsino are whiny-ass bitches prone to melodrama and maybe should just end up together, but Shakespeare decides to kind of level them out by pairing them off with Viola and Sebastian. If you’ve seen even five minutes of the Kenneth Branagh version, you know how freakin’ melodramatic they are. I mean, to be fair, it’s written that way, but Jeeeeeezuz could they be anymore over-the-top? Orsino’s forever lamenting and Olivia has sworn off men for seven years in response to her brother’s death. I mean, mourning is nice and all, but what? Let us leave behind these characters. I like them not.

Viola’s story is a lot more fun because she’s a shipwreck survivor and dresses as a boy so she can make it on her own as a servant to Duke Orsino. She also acts as a go-between for Orsino and Olivia which, of course, leads to Olivia falling for her (as you may have guessed). Now, Viola has her fair share of drama too and, sadly, falls for Orsino’s terrible poetry, but she’s a more interesting character to follow and get invested in.

That being said, the pairing today is completely Viola-centric. It’s Viola’s Salty Dog, as recommended by Caroline Bicks, PhD and Michelle Ephraim, PhD: authors of Shakespeare, Not Stirred. The recipe is as follows:

Lime wedge

5 thyme sprigs

Juice of 1/2 a lime

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 ounces ruby-red grapefruit juice

2 ounces gin

Fine sea salt

Rim your glass with the lime wedge and dip it into the sea salt. Muddle 3 thyme sprigs, lime juice, and maple syrup. Fill the glass with ice and pour in grapefruit juice and gin. Garnish with remaining thyme. Enjoy!

I’ll see you salty dogs on Sunday! Happy drinking!


Shakespeare Saturday: It’s Still Saturday Somewhere!

Hey guys! I thought it was Sunday and, thus, A’s turn to write. Yeah, I forget what day it is, too… except she probably has more reason to do so. What with having a life and things to do. Neither of which are true in my case. I just forget days because what is timekeeping, right? It’s just an artificial construct.

Also, I may or may not have been catching up on the latest series of Doctor Who. I’m going to miss Capaldi. I mean, I’m looking forward to Jodie Whittaker because I’ve liked her in everything I’ve seen and I know she has a relationship with the new showrunner, which is always good. But I really enjoyed Capaldi’s mad cackling.

I’m also glad to be seeing the back of Moffat. I was always on the Moffat > Davies train (The End of Time is on the same list as Braveheart, aka “things not to mention around C if you don’t want her to turn green and smash things), but I’m so much on that train that I can’t admit it’s run out of steam. While I do think Series 9 and 10 were better than Series 8, I think it was Moffat’s time to leave a while ago. So… I’m excited about the new Who coming to us!

I don’t know what this has to do with Shakespeare. I guess I could go into the fact that men used to play women and gender is fluid and stuff like that, but I don’t want to. Instead, I’ll…

Post an article about your brain on Shakespeare.

It doesn’t looked like a cooked egg.


Shakespeare Saturday: Let’s Watch Will!!

Hey, everybody! Welcome, one and all, to today’s Shakespeare Saturday! I think we already did a post regarding TNT’s upcoming show, “Will”. You know, the one about a young actor who sets out to be a playwright? *Spoiler* it’s William Shakespeare! Anyway, it airs July 10th and here’s this lovely little interview with our new Will, Laurie Davidson.

I love how pro-Shakespeare this guy is. He. Gets. It. In the interview he says “If Shakespeare were around today, he would have been so current… He changed the rules.” 

Yes he did, Laurie. Yes he did.

Read the full interview HERE.

I cannot wait to watch this show!!!


Shakespeare Saturday: Julius Caesar has ALWAYS been Political 

Hello, friends! Welcome to Shakespeare Saturday. I actually had two pretty fun articles stashed for today, but current news required our attention. Quickly! To the nerd mobile!

By now, you’re probably aware of the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the park production of Julius Caesar. You may also have heard that both Delta and Bank of America have withdrawn funding of the company as a direct result of this particular interpretation (which features a Caesar with an uncanny resemblance to a certain Cheeto-colored blowhard). 

“Oh, the horror!” Said a bunch of people who don’t remotely understand the play, the message, or the appeal of Shakespeare. Yeah, the main character calls up a comparison to Drumpf. So? Let us not forget that in 2012 the Guthrie staged a production of Julius Caesar featuring a Caesar modeled after Barack Obama. There was no loss of corporate sponsorship there. Where was the uproar?

Listen, the choice makes perfect sense given the nature of the play, the turbulent divide the country is currently experiencing, and the completely relevant themes that make Shakespeare’s work feel new despite it’s advanced age. The Public’s choice to modernize the look and feel of the play only serves to highlight issues – once faced by Rome – that are now being reincarnated in our own democracy.

I personally don’t see the choice as being “in bad taste”. One might argue that it is, in fact, a bit on the nose. But it is an effective way of honoring that old adage… Art happens when you hold up a mirror for the world to see its flaws. And what better way to know you’ve succeeded than to see people get irrationally defensive.

Thanks for tuning in to my little rant. I’ll see you all on Monday with, perhaps, more on this topic. Or maybe something completely different.