Category Archives: William Shakespeare

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays Book Review

On the surface, writing is a very simple process. It is turning the computer and opening the word processing program or taking out the pad and pen and beginning to write.

But the reality is that writing is both an art and a skill. Especially if the writer is playwright. Writing a play is very different from writing prose. Beyond the standard issues of character and narrative development, there is also the very specific format and the idea that the play is not just in the hands of the writer. It is in the hands of the director, the actors, etc. All have a part in creating the final product which will hopefully be seen by an audience.

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays, written by David Ball and with a foreword by Michael Langham, is about the craft of writing plays. The book touches on everything a playwright would need to know about including character and narrative development to imagery, conflict, theme, etc. Using William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an example, this book should be required reading for every playwright, especially if they are just starting out.

This book was recommended to me by a writer friend. It was an educational and eye-opening read. It was also a reminder that writing plays and writing prose are two different animals and requires writers to think differently when writing a play vs. writing a novel.

I recommend it.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, William Shakespeare, Writing

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Book Review

Of all the intangible things in the world, innocence is the most precious of intangible things. It is also the easiest to take away.

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne, Bruno is the young son of a German officer. His family is removed from their house in Berlin to a house in the country where his father has relocated for work. Bruno does not understand why they had to move. He soon meets Shmuel, a boy his own age who lives behind barbed wires and wears striped pajamas. Despite not understanding why Shmuel lives why he lives, Bruno and Shmuel become friends. This friendship will briefly enrich both boys lives, but will lead to devastating and heartbreaking consequences.

While this book is concise, it is mind-blowing. Told through Bruno’s point of view via third person, the story is told from an angle not seen in Holocaust fiction previously: a young boy who is unaware of the hate he should have in his heart and befriends another child whom he should hate, but doesn’t.

I keep thinking of the end of Romeo and Juliet when I think of the ending of this book.

See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love;
And I, for winking at your discords too,
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d.

If nothing else, this book reminds me that hate and love have equal power in this world, it is just matter of which one we choose to embrace and if we are truly wiling to accept the consequences of this hate if we choose that path.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, William Shakespeare, History

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Desperate times often calls for desperate measures. The questions are, what are we willing to give up in the process and how does that process change us?

In the new movie, Lady Macbeth (which has no connection to William Shakespeare character other than the title of the film), Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young woman sold in the name of marriage to an older man. Forbidden from doing much of anything, Katherine is left alone with only her servants for company while her husband and father in law go out into the world. She starts sleeping with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), one of her husband’s groomsman. The affair quickly becomes an affair of the heart. But things get messy when her husband and father in law return home. Katherine and Sebastian try to clean up the mess they have created. But the more they try to clean it up, the messier it becomes.

The best way to describe this film is that it is a hybrid of the psychology of an Alfred Hitchcock film with the imagery and narrative of a Wuthering Heights adaptation. It also speaks truth to power about what a woman will do when she has no direct power and must use other means to get what she wants. The three things that stand out for me are a) the diverse cast b) the lack of music and how background sounds play a role in telling the story and c) how I felt as an audience member when the film was done. I disliked Katherine for her actions, but in understanding her motivation, it made for a very well done film.

I absolutely recommend it.

Lady Macbeth is presently in theaters.

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Filed under Books, Emily Bronte, Feminism, Movie Review, Movies, William Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights

Still Star Crossed Book Review

*Warning: This review contains spoilers about Still Star Crossed. Read at your risk.

My new favorite television show is Still Star Crossed. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the source material is not just Shakespeare’s play, but also a novel by Melinda Taub.

The plot of the book somewhat mirrors the plot of the television show. Romeo and Juliet are dead and the streets of Verona are drenched in blood. To restore peace, young Prince Escalus sees only one way to end the violence: unite the Capulets and Montagues in holy matrimony. The surviving heirs, Romeo’s cousin Benvolio is to marry Juliet’s cousin Rosalind. The problem is that neither the prospective bride or prospective groom care for each other. Add to the fact that Escalus and Rosalind were once in love and there are forces at work who would prefer to see Rosalind and Benvolio not marry.

As expected, there are changes between the book and the novel. While most of the language is Shakespearean English, Ms. Taub does switch to modern English a couple of times in the book.

Do I recommend it? I will answer the question this way. If I only knew the book, I would say yes. But being that I am a fan of the show, I am leaning toward maybe.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Television, William Shakespeare

Still Star Crossed Review

We all know the end of Romeo and Juliet. The star-crossed lovers commit suicide and their families are held responsible for the bloodshed, the destruction and the loss of life.

In the new television series, Still Star Crossed, the violence, bloodshed and murder has continued in the wake of the double suicide of Romeo and Juliet. To restore peace, Prince Escalus (Sterling Sulieman) proposes a most unlikely and unwelcome solution: Rosalind Capulet (Lashana Lynch) marry Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs). Neither are pleased with the match, especially Escalus, who has been in love Rosalind (and she with him) for years. But it must done, for the good of the city. The question is not only will the marriage take place, but can it heal the open and bloody wounds between the Capulets and the Montagues?

I am not a huge Shonda Rhimes fan, but I am a fan of Shakespeare and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the pilot. It has everyone one expects from a Shakespeare play (or at least a decent adaptation of a Shakespeare play): violence, danger, romance, greed etc. I also very much appreciate the diversity of the cast. To see a rainbow of skin colors and ethnic backgrounds just adds another layer of authenticity and realism that already exists in not just Romeo and Juliet, but in all of Shakespeare’s plays.

I recommend it.

Still Star Crossed airs on ABC at 10 PM on Monday.

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Pride And Prejudice Character Review: Jane Bennet

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

We all have that nice friend or family member on our life. The one who always sees the glass half full. The one who sees the good in others, despite their flaws. In Pride and Prejudice, that role is played by Jane Bennet, the eldest of the Bennet sisters.

The sugar to Elizabeth’s spice, Jane is soft-spoken, docile, amiable and considered to be the beauty of the family. When she meets Charles Bingley, the new guy in town, the crush between them is mutual. But his sisters and his best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy aren’t exactly keen on the idea of a potential marriage between Mr. Bingley and the eldest Miss Bennet.  They conspire to separate the potential lovers in hopes of steering Mr. Bingley towards a more “appropriate” match.

In the end, Jane does marry Mr. Bingley, but not before he gets a backbone and she waits quietly for him to return.

Not everyone can be an Elizabeth. In creating the antithesis to her younger sister, Austen allowed Jane to shine in her own way. She might not have the bite or the sarcasm of Elizabeth, but Jane has qualities that Elizabeth lacks and visa versa. Where Elizabeth is quick to judge, Jane is willing to give someone a chance before making up her mind. The Hero to Elizabeth’s Beatrice, Jane stands out from her sister because of their differences.

To sum it up: No two characters should be exactly alike. In creating two different characters with different voices, beliefs and different points of view (especially in the same family) the writer enables each character to speak with their own voice and stand out from the rest of the characters. When each individual voice shines through, this engages the reader and gives them another character to potentially hook into and follow throughout the narrative.

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, William Shakespeare, Writing

RIP Heath Ledger

Every generation has that performer. That performer burst onto the scene, spoke to their generation, burnt bright and unfortunately, left this world just as they are about to hit their stride. Heath Ledger was that performer.

He started acting at a young age and shot to fame in 1999 in 10 Things I Hate About You, a modern high school reboot of the Shakespeare play Taming Of The Shrew.

Ledger was not one to be boxed into a specific character type or narrative. His roles varied from a peasant pretending to be a knight in A Knights Tale (2001) to a gay cowboy in the closet and in love with his best friend in Brokeback Mountain (2005).


His final completed role was The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Unlike his predecessors who played the role, Ledger’s Joker was more scary than laughable. This Joker was unpredictable and kept both the audience and Batman on their toes throughout the film.

He sadly died of a drug overdose 9 years ago leaving behind brokenhearted family members, friends and fans. While his career and life were sadly cut short, his work will live on.

Z”l. RIP.

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Happy Birthday, Dearest Jane

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241 years ago today, George Austen, an Anglican Rector from Steventon, Hampshire and his wife, Cassandra welcomed into the world their 7th child and second daughter, Jane to the world. They had no idea that their daughter would become immortal.

Jane Austen was one of the most extraordinary writers in the history of the English language. Only William Shakespeare stands beside her as an icon of literature and language.

Her novels are full of unforgettable characters. No matter who you are you or where you come from, there is always a character to love, a character a hate and the character you relate it. Some may call her books romance novels, but they are so much more. They are coming of age stories, stories of love, both romantic and familial and stories of what it is to be a human being.

I have been a Janeite for nearly 10 years. It has been a pleasure to be fan.

Happy Birthday dearest Jane, wherever you are. I raise my glass to you.

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Filed under Books, Emma, Feminism, Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, William Shakespeare

RIP Aaliyah

Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the death of Aaliyah.

She died at the young age of 22 in a plane crash, returning from filming a music video.

Some people are destined to live to see their golden years. Aaliyah was not among them.

A gifted performer, her breakthrough album, Age Aint Nothing But A Number, hit the charts in 1994. She released two more albums before hitting the big screen. Starring in two movies, Romeo Must Die (2000) and Queen Of The Damned (2002), Aaliyah’s star was on the rise when she was tragically killed.

I remember when I heard about her passing. It the beginning of my junior year of college, I had just moved into my dorm and the news was all over the internet.

Unlike other performers, she was humble and down to earth. She was ambitious without being greedy or manipulative. She knew she had talent, but also knew that talent will only get you so far.

In honor of her memory, I present to you a brief retrospective of her career.





RIP Aaliyah. Your body may be gone, but your spirit, your work and the impression you left on family, friends, colleagues and fans will forever live on.

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Filed under Books, Life, Movies, Music, William Shakespeare

The Dark Lady’s Mask Book Review

With every successful writer, there are questions of where they got their initial plot ideas from and whom they encountered as they developed the plot and the characters. When it comes to William Shakespeare, there are myths that he might have not written some of the work that we identify him with.

One of the myths is that Aemilia Lanier (nee Bassano) had a hand in writing some of Shakespeare’s most famous works.

Mary Sharratt’s new book, The Dark Lady’s Mask, shows us the world of Elizabethan England through Aemilia’s eyes. For her time, Aemilia was unusual. Educated, smart and not averse to cross dressing when needed, we first meet Aemilia when she is a young girl. Her father is Marrano Jew who escaped Italy and the Inquisition as a young man. While he publicly lives the life of a good Christian, he has never forgotten his faith. Her mother, who found herself abandoned and pregnant by her first husband, married Aemilia’s father and raised her daughters as if they were full blood sisters.

Aemilia’s life is one dramatic turn after the other. After the death of her father, she is taken away to be educated. In her teens, Aemilia becomes the mistress of one of the most powerful men in England, who is old enough to be her father several times over. Finding herself pregnant by her lover, she is married off to Alfonse Lanier. Then she meets William Shakespeare and that is where the story takes off.

I liked this book. Writers of historical novels, especially when there is more fiction than fact, walk a fine line. They must honor the history and the known facts while writing a novel with an engaging narrative and characters that the audience will want to follow.  What the author was able to do very well was meld fact and fiction is a story of a very strong woman in an era when women were simply chattel to the men around them. Aemilia is a character who is very strong, but understands her world and how to survive in it while remaining true to herself.

I absolutely recommend it.

 

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, William Shakespeare, Writing