Choose Your Own Adventure: Hamlet!

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If you are at all a fan of comics, or have a child who is, you have likely heard of Ryan North, writer of the hilarious comic book series, Adventure Time , the wildly popular Dinosaur Comics  and perhaps even the #1 best-selling Amazon short story anthology Machine of Death .

 North had an idea for a new project, a take-off on the beloved children’s series Choose Your Own Adventurewherein the reader can select different paths for different characters. Each path leads to a radically different ending for the character and for the story.

Why not apply the same idea to the Bard?  North mused. He took his idea to Kickstarter, a crowd-sourcing site which funds creative projects. North made his goal of raising $20,000 in three and a half hours, made six times his goal in a  week, and now the project has accrued $580,905.

Here’s an idea of what you can do with North’s adventurous Hamlet (from The Guardian): 

Readers will be able to opt  to Hamlet (“an emo teen in his early 30s”), Ophelia (“She’s got a +1 science stat, but she’s also got a -1 weakness against water”) or the King, Hamlet’s father, “who (SURPRISE) dies on the first page and becomes a ghost. And then we make fun of you for dying on the first page, but you can become a ghost and must INVESTIGATE YOUR OWN MURDER that you TOTALLY SLEPT THROUGH because you got SLEEPY IN AN ORCHARD. (“Shakespeare wrote this part,” said North.)

So what are you waiting for?

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Uncovering the Real Richard III: Why It Matters

Fellow Shakespeare nerds! Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this finding of one twisted old skeleton at the bottom of a car park. That’s right, the long lost body of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, is now found!

For a while now, archaeologists determined to uncover Richard III’s body, long since presumed to be lost to history or dissolved at the base of a river bed, have suspected a Leicester car park to house his remains. Unglamorous as it is for a royal burial site, the lot was built over the site of the old Grey Friars monastery in which some records report Richard was interred. Last September, all the drilling and digging away of 500 years’ worth of debris paid off, as the research team pulled from the earth the twisted skeleton of a man killed in combat. Despite the seemingly obvious evidence before them–that the 15th c. skeleton of a man with a deformed spine was found exactly where King Richard’s body was said to be buried–the researchers held the body’s identity in question until only yesterday. On Monday, February 4th, a day that will forever go down in Corpsegate history, a press conference on the scale of a hot young pop star’s perfume launch descended on the University of Leicester, and the Guardian was there to deliver it to the greedy public in real time. Because who doesn’t want to receive minute by minute updates on a 500 year old, unidentified corpse? Nobody.

Well, maybe Cambridge academic Mary Beard didn’t:

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But whatevs. Finding Richard’s body can totally lay to rest the pesky rumors that have haunted his reputation since his fateful death at Bosworth Field in 1485.

Richard III was embroiled in a bloody British civil war during the 1400s. This period was named the Wars of the Roses for the emblems of the two feuding royal families–a white rose for the house of York (Richard’s), and a red rose for the house of Lancaster. York eventually lost the crown, and Richard of Gloucester’s death in the Battle at Bosworth Field signified the end of a thirty year war. His defeat came at the hands of Henry Tudor, who was subsequently crowned Henry VII–father of Henry VIII and grandfather of Elizabeth I.

Enter the Renaissance and the Elizabethan golden age. Eager to impress his Tudor queen, Shakespeare wrote histories that painted the house of Lancaster in a favorable light. But no monarch presented quite as much opportunity for propagandizing as Richard of Gloucester; labeled for centuries as “deformed,” Richard’s image only worsened when Shakespeare penned him as the evil, scheming hunchback, the killer of two young princes, an incestuous savage.

In actuality, Richard’s lopsided figure has been speculated before as resulting from his skills at archery–the thought being that one side became overdeveloped, causing a curvature of the spine. No word on the pathology of the skeleton’s misshapen back has been released, however, except to say that it was not caused by scoliosis. Still, the conflicting accounts reveal the murkiness surrounding Richard III’s legacy.

Because in fact, Gloucester made some rather liberal reforms in his time, the most prominent of which stand to this day:

In December 1483, Richard instituted what later became known as the Court of Requests, a court to which poor people who could not afford legal representation could apply for their grievances to be heard. He also introduced bail in January 1484, to protect suspected felons from imprisonment before trial and to protect their property from seizure during that time. He founded the College of Arms in 1484, he banned restrictions on the printing and sale of books, and he ordered the translation of the written Laws and Statutes from the traditional French into English.

And although most people already know that Shakespeare’s play was more fiction than history, the unfair image of an old, withered, and bitter king has been a hard one for poor Richard to shake. Now the recovery of his old, withered skeletal remains might not be much help with altering that, but if anything it puts a face, nay, skull to a tired myth. The skull that proves Richard was mercilessly treated by both his captors and history, as he was laid to rest beneath a whole lot of ugly European hatchbacks forever.

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For all the juicy updates from the University of Leicester press conference, check out that Guardian article here. And if you’re suddenly starting to miss that heinously evil version of ol’ Dick, well we’ve got some dastardly Richard III quotes to devour here.

Shakespeare? It’s in the DNA

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Are you old enough to remember when floppy disks were actually floppy? Or maybe when disks were 3″ wide? (Yes, kids, that’s what that little icon to “save” your work to your hard drives and flash drives represents, a hard little disk that held approximately two Word files or a half a dozen pictures (but not at the same time).

Maybe you think data storage has reached its pinnacle. It is rather startling to realize you carry more technology in your pocket on your smart phone than was available for the moon landing (but with considerably less LOL cats).  But when you understand that there is now over one trillion gigabytes of information in the world, not even the iPhone 204 can keep up with that pace. (Here’s what 10 trillion gigabytes looks like in numbers: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000…. ten plus twenty one zeroes).

Every method of storage we have thus far employed has had long-term storage problems. CDs and DVDs scratch and wear out, as do magnetic tapes. But what about DNA, nature’s storage system? DNA is compact and durable. We can extract DNA information from bones that are millions of years old.

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually science-in-action. Nick Goldman heads up a research team at European Bioinformatics Institute in the U.K. Goldman and his fellow scientists are studying DNA data storage and Goldman has written a paper on the process which appeared  in the journal Nature last week.

In an interview with Ira Flatow on NPR’s “Science Friday,” Goldman explains that DNA utilizes a storage system much like computers use ones and zeroes so “[w]e wrote a computer program that embodied a code that would convert the zeros and ones from a hard disk drive into the letters that we use to represent DNA, and then we – our collaborators in California  – were able to actually synthesize physical DNA.”

Once the scientists realized this was possible, they decided what they would first try to encode and store:

[W]e chose a photograph of our own institute because we’re sort of self-publicists at heart, I guess, and an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream,” all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and a PDF that contained in fact the paper, the scientific paper by Watson and Crick that first described the structure of DNA itself.

All of this information, Golman says, is saved  on the equivalent of a speck of dust. How large of an area would contain all 10 trillion gigabytes of the world’s information? It would “fit in the back of a station wagon.”

Shakespeare in His Time: New Audio Guides for Authentic Pronunciation

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Might the actors who comprised Lord Chamberlain’s Men have sounded more like Americans from the East Coast? That is the conclusion that Sir Trevor Nunn, former director of the Royal Shakespeare Theater, has come to, after working closely with the actor Kevin Spacey.

However, the renowned Shakespeare scholar John Barton, contends that the speech was likely a blend of both English and Irish accents. And some historians complain that the accent isn’t as much of a problem as the pacing, which, they argue, is too slow in modern productions.

In the past, you would have to attend a play in which the actors were truly trying to offer a “real” rendition of Shakespearean speech. But  now the British Library has taken the advice of those who have studied how to render authentic sixteenth century English dialect. Several audio versions have been released. Listen and judge for yourself:

Extract from Romeo and Juliet

Or, perhaps you’re in the mood for a sonnet? Here’s Sonnet 116:

And here is another excerpt from Macbeth:

Ben Crystal, a British actor who has long advocated for making Shakespeare accessible, curated the ambitious project.

“For the first time in centuries,” he explains, “we have 75 recorded minutes of sonnets, speeches and scenes recorded as we hope Shakespeare heard them. It is, in short, Shakespeare as you’ve never heard him before.

“The modern presentation of Shakespeare’s plays and poems in period pronunciation has already attracted a wide following, despite the fact that hardly any recordings have been publicly available,” he said.

For more information on the project, click here.

Shakespeare and Fry and Bly, Oh My! : Literary Quotes On Storms

At eNotes, we want all of our followers and customers to know we are thinking about you in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and wish everyone a speedy and safe recovery. Hopefully, you have power and can read this… but if your battery is running low, I hear there is a Starbucks on Broadway where you can charge up AND whose wifi is still working… See??

To cheer you up, we thought you might enjoy reading some insights from literature and writers about stormy weather. So here ya go.

1.  Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!

King Lear, Act 3.2 by William Shakespeare

2.  Stephen Fry

Here are some obvious things about weather

It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy, you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.

BUT

It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out but it will.
One day.

3.  The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

4.  “Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?” Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

5.  “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” ― Mark Twain

6.  “Tut, Tut, looks like rain.” Winne-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne 

7.  “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” ~ Carl Reiner

8.  “After three days men grow weary, of a wench, a guest, and weather rainy.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

9.  In Rainy September by Robert Bly 

In rainy September when leaves grow down to the dark
I put my forehead down to the damp seaweed-smelling sand.
What can we do but choose? The only way for human beings
is to choose. The fern has no choice but to live;
for this crime it receives earth water and night.

And finally, at Number 10, a word from the coming year’s Farmer’s  Almanac 

“Flurries early, pristine and pearly. Winter’s come calling! Can we endure so premature a falling? Some may find this trend distressing- others bend to say a blessing over sage and onion dressing.”

Top Ten Better Book Titles

Better Book Titles is an amusing collection of attempts to rename well-known works of literature. The results are pithy and appropriate, summarizing everything you really need to know about a book right on its cover (ex. Oedipus Rex becomes “How I Met Your Mother,” The Giver = “Love in the Time of Death Panels,” and Atonement translates to “Kids Say the Darndest Things”). There are so many entires to browse and chuckle over in the archive, it was difficult to comprise just one “top ten” list from them! Take a peek at the selection below, then tell us which book you’d like to rename in a comment.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Sing It, Shakes! Shakespeare in Pop Music

In the Merchant of Venice, the Prince of Morocco warns, “All that glisters is not gold.” This sage advice has been repeated in some unlikely sources, from Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” to Marilyn Manson’s “Posthuman.”

Here are some other instances of modern musicians who pay lyrical homage to Shakespeare:

Line from Highway 61 Revisited, referencing Twelfth Night: “The fifth daughter on the twelfth night told the first father that things weren’t right.”

Line from “Get Over It” on the Eagles album Hell Freezes Over referencing Dick the Butcher from Henry V: “Old Billy was right, / Let’s kill all the lawyers-kill ‘em tonight.”

Dire Straits “Romeo and Juliet” from Solid Rock. No mystery here. The whole song re-tells it in a way any hip 80s teen can understand! “Juliet says, hey, it’s Romeo you nearly gimme a heart attack / He’s underneath the window she’s singin’ hey la my boyfriend’s back.”

Mel Brooks’ “To Be Or Not To Be” from The Hitler Rap.  Even if Shakespeare had entertained the idea of other artists re-purposing his work, it is unlikely he had anything like Mel Brooks and his “borrowing” from Hamlet in mind:

Say Heil – Heil – seigety style

we gonna whip it to the people Teutonic style

To be or not to be

Baby, can’t you see?

Before There Was Rosalyn’s song, “The Warrior,” contains an allusion to Julius Caesar“Cowards die many times.”

My Chemical Romance’s song “The Sharpest Lives” contains (yet another) reference to Romeo and Juliet :  “Juliet loves the beat and the lust it commands / drop the dagger and lather the blood on your hands, Romeo.”

In the song, “This Town, Your Grave,” the band Innerpartysystem alludes to Macbeth with this line:  “Washing your hands in blood won’t take away the stain.”