April is a fabulous month for all sorts of reasons: the sun is brighter, the temperature is higher, the flowers are blooming… And this month has a lot to do with Shakespeare. If you haven’t already noticed, we at the ‘Notes are big fans of the Bard, and April gives us even more excuses to talk about him than usual. Not only was our main man born on April 26th (1564), but he died on April 23rd (1616)—that’s two days this month that we get to think all about Shakespeare! And if that isn’t reason enough (and it usually is), this particular year is a special one as it marks Shakespeare’s 400th death-aversary. While the prospect of celebrating someone’s death may strike you as grim, we choose not to think of it that way and rather consider the fact that even four hundred years after his death, the modern world still looks to Shakespeare’s work both for entertainment and as a classic guide to writing, and that’s pretty astounding. Continue Reading ›
For one often hailed as the Bard of love stories, Shakespeare sure has a weird way of showing/telling it. Even his most famous tale of romance, Romeo and Juliet, is a little…off…in the love department, at least for modern times.
Romeo and Juliet isn’t the only Shakespeare work that is little bit strange; in fact a pretty large number of his works depict love in ways that are off-putting. Even the most dedicated Shakespeare fan has to acknowledge that the fairy shenanigans in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the sheer wickedness of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew are a little less than appealing to one who loves love. Continue Reading ›
This month we’re opening our data vault and sharing some eNotes secrets. We get thousands upon thousands of student questions on every topic imaginable. And those questions are viewed by even more students around the world. So it takes a unique question to top our charts and get more clicks than all the rest. Here are the current most popular questions accessed on our site:
Your palms are sweating, your voice is trembling, and the audience is waiting for you to say something. Quick, grab your smartphone and check this eNotes page! We can’t guarantee you a standing ovation, but you will likely get a few laughs or thoughtful “mhms”.
You can buy a McDonald’s hamburger and a Coca Cola in pretty much any country on the planet, but is that a good thing? These answers will make you think twice about the impact of our connected world. Continue Reading ›
Me, an hour ago on Tumblr: Scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll… Wait. What’s this?
Yep. It’s time for a new cinematic interpretation of the Ultimate Forbidden Love. It’s been seventeen years, believe it or not, when the then 17-year-old Claire Danes starred as Juliet, opposite 22-year-old Leonardo di Caprio as Romeo.
This time, the play is returned to Shakespeare’s intended era and setting, the early 14th century in Verona (the Danes-di Caprio version was a “hip and modern” take, set in a “suburb of Verona”).
Visually, this new film looks lush and beautiful (at least from the trailer). Its young stars, 17-year-old Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet and 21-year-old Douglas Booth could be described as lush and beautiful as well.
One of my favorite things that has been going around the internet for some time is the EMO person who posted, “What if he’s your Romeo, but you’re not his Juliet?” The lightning-fast response was, “That means you’re his Rosaline and you survive the friggin’ play.”
Despite the reality of what happens to the “star cross’d lovers,” the persistence in thinking of them as the romantic ideal lives on.
Most people, even those who have never read or seen the play, are more likely to conjure up this image, or something close to it, than gruesome deaths:
I didn’t know, however, until I heard a story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday, that men (mostly, I guess) have been penning letters to Juliet for centuries. Initially, shortly after the play’s performances, people left notes at what was thought to be her tomb. The numbers of letters left became so great that the post office of Verona established a special office to handle the volume.
The remarkable thing about the letters left for Juliet is that she actually answers. Well, understudies for Juliet do. Dozens of volunteers in Verona, who call themselves “The Juliet Club” answer, by hand, each of the 6,000+ letters addressed to Shakespeare’s heroine each year. All of the letters are retained in a massive archive, to which more letters are regularly added.
The job must be tough but many of the volunteers have been at it for ten and twenty years, some even longer. What do they say to these heartbroken people? Here is one of their answers to someone who was driving herself crazy asking, “What if?”
“What” and “If” are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if? What if? What if? I don’t know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it’s never too late. If it was true then, why wouldn’t it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don’t know what a love like Juliet’s feels like – love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for but I’d like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I will have the courage to seize it. And, Claire, if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will. All my love, Juliet”
You can read more about the long history of the Juliet Project in Lise Friedman’s study, Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love
For twenty years now, the L.A. Women’s Shakespeare Company has been staging Shakespearean plays with an entirely female ensemble. Later this year (August 17-October 4), the company will take on Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Hamlet, with LAWSC founder and artistic director Lisa Wolpe in the title role.
In 1993, the LAWSC was completely funded by private donations and played in the very small Hollywood Actor’s Theater. However, the company soon won a grant and were able to expand beyond the fifty-seat capacity of their original home and played larger venues. Eventually, the company was able to offer their players and support personnel a “modest stipend” but to this day, the company continues to be “volunteer-base[d]” and a “grass-roots company” even as their audiences continue to grow.
Past productions have included Romeo and Juliet (1993); Othello (1994); Richard III (1995); Much Ado About Nothing (1996); Measure for Measure (1997); Twelfth Night (2000), The Tempest (2002); The Merchant of Venice (2005); and As You Like It (2007).
So the big question: why an all-female cast? Because an all-female troupe can cause a “transformation of the perceptions of women’s roles in our society by working to create a deeper, more powerful, unbounded view of women’s potential.” Furthermore, the “productions illuminate contemporary issues through a classical context, offering a unique political and social perspective.” The mission of LAWSC is “to provide a creative forum for the exploration of violence, victimization, power, love, race, and gender issues, and to provide positive role models for women and girls.”
The production met its $10,000 Kickstarter funding goal, but the company is hoping to raise a total of $40,000. If you would like to support this or future projects, click here. Check out the video below for a sample of Lisa Wolpe in action as Iago in Othello!
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.