Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Pleb Summer: Free Shakespeare

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

It’s summertime, which means it’s time for trips to the beach house, a cross-country road trip, or travel to exotic vacation destinations.

But for those of us who can’t spare the time or the money to make a getaway, it’s PlebSummer! We’re posting this summer about summer for the rest of us.

One of the best things about spending the hotter months in New York City is the opportunity to see free Shakespeare. An institution for over 60 years, Shakespeare in the Park, produced by The Public Theater and preformed in Central Park, is perhaps the best-known production. This annual summer series is not only free, it often features universally acclaimed actors. Past productions have included Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, James Earl Jones, and Denzel Washington.

However, Shakespeare in the Park is not the only company to preform the Bard for free in this fair city – Hudson Warehouse and Shakespeare in the Parking Lot also offers the public a chance to experience Shakespeare at no cost. A longer list of some of these free productions is available here:

Free Shakespeare extends beyond the five boroughs. Odds are if you Google your hometown and “free Shakespeare” you will come across a production nearby. You can also visit where they offer a large list of productions (some free, some not) across the world, sorted by play! You can view that list here:

So get out there and go watch a man talk to his ghost dad, or some teenagers who hang out with a monk. It won’t cost you a dime.

UPG Guestpert: Geoff Klock, part 2

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

In February 2012, we interviewed Professor Geoff Klock about his epic video Hamlet mash-up.

Well, it just got more epic-er. Whereas his first mash-up included 65 clips from film and television which tell the story of Shakespeare’s Danish Prince, the new incarnation includes a staggering 198 clips, all 4.5 seconds or less.

We don’t even know where to begin in describing it, so we’ll let Geoff do the talking.

UPG: Tell us a bit about this new Hamlet mash-up.

GK: Nearly 200 clips from different movies and TV shows in under 15 minutes! And I somehow got 12,000 people to view a 15 minute video about Shakespeare on YouTube so that is pretty good!

UPG: Your first Hamlet mash-up was quite thorough and presumably a huge amount of work to put together. What prompted you to do it again?

GK: I thought I was done the first time with the 65 clips. But after the first version launched people kept sending me stuff – especially Kevin Maher, one of my biggest supporters, who found my favorite clip: Fonzie admitting thoughts of suicide (?!). I found more stuff and it got out of control. I did not decide to do it again. I was continually updating it. I thought for like a year I was three clips from having a complete set. But every time I got those three there were always three more in front of me. And there still were even when this one went up.

But I realized that if I kept waiting for those three more clips no one would ever see it. And now that this new one is up people have pointed out literally 15-20 more that I missed! They keep apologizing, but I feel like it is super fun. I am going to update this every year.

UPG: Did you find that you learned something new about Shakespeare’s play and/or its place in contemporary culture through working on this project?

GK: Mostly that Hamlet is impossible to escape. Literally when I thought I was done the first non-Hamlet-related DVD that came from Netflix was Savages, and guess what — it had a Hamlet reference in the first 5 minutes!

UPG: What surprises did you find in compiling this massive collection of clips?

GK: Christopher Plummer said To Be or Not To Be as a young actor in 1964 playing Hamlet on TV, then again as a Klingon. There were three incarnations of Addams family and they all quote Hamlet! I was able to end three major speeches of Hamlet with someone saying they were sick of the speech, and I found three clips of people leaving a performance of Hamlet just as To Be Or Not To Be began.

UPG: As a professor, do you find this to be a potential teaching tool? Or were you just creating it for your own satisfaction?

GK: Like a lot of things I pretend to intellectual reasons but really? It just makes me laugh.

UPG: What’s next? Are you done with mash-ups for the time being?

GK: I think I am done for a while. I have another major project starting I hope to announce soon!

You can see the mash-up in all its glory here:


Shakespeare and Pals: Who Really Wrote What?

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

This is part 6 in a series of entries about playwrights other than Shakespeare during the “Shakespearean” era.

The Elizabethan theater world was highly collaborative. There was not a sense of copyright or ownership of creative material like there is today. Writers shared, borrowed, and stole from each other on a regular basis. They wrote scenes for each other’s plays, they wrote entire plays together, and they acted in each other’s plays.

Shakespeare started his career working with other writers. Titus Andronicus, one of the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays in his lifetime, is considered to have been written with George Peele. And Peele and Thomas Nashe probably also worked on Henry VI, Part 1 and may have written as much of this play as Shakespeare did.

Later in life, Shakespeare collaborated with the younger playwright John Fletcher on Henry VIIIThe Two Noble Kinsmen and the lost play Cardenio.

Shakespeare’s As You Like It was based on Thomas Lodge’s play Rosalynde. And his Winter’s Tale was most likely inspired by Robert Greene’s play Pandosto.

Know that line from Macbeth: “double, double, toil and trouble?” Probably written by Thomas Middleton.

Shakespeare acted in Ben Jonson’s breakout play Every Man in His Humour.

Thomas Kydd and Christopher Marlowe were roommates.

Frances Beaumont and John Fletcher wrote exclusively together for several years and were known to share everything – even women.

John Fletcher wrote a highly regarded sequel to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew called The Tamer Tamed.

Thomas Dekker and John Webster wrote the successful satire Westward Ho. Not to be outdone, George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston responded with their own satire called Eastward Ho. Webster and Dekker replied with Northward Ho.

We’re used to studying writers in contrast to one another. But the act of writing in Shakespeare’s time was much more flexible. Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights were dedicated to creating exciting and moving plays for their patrons and the general public, and doing so required a lot of hands. Shakespeare wasn’t a lonely man in a room with a bunch of parchment and a quill pen, like the way we tend to imagine our classic writers. He became Shakespeare through his engagement with this vibrant and active culture.

Shakespeare and Pals: Shakespeare’s Greatest Rivals

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

This is part 5 in a series of entries about playwrights other than Shakespeare during the “Shakespearean” era.

There were many great playwriting talents besides Shakespeare in Shakespeare’s day, but two are often mentioned more than others: Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson.

These two playwrights are intimately associated with Shakespeare, and were of such talent that many Shakespeare deniers claim that one or the other of them was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.


Christopher Marlowe was born the same year as Shakespeare, but his career as a playwright preceded the Bard’s. Marlowe was the preeminent playwright in London when Shakespeare began his theatrical career. By the quality of his limited output, it is possible that Marlowe, had he not died at the young age of 29, would have gone on to be an even greater playwright than Shakespeare. Marlowe was one of the first English playwrights to write in blank verse, and many of his plays, such as Edward II and Doctor Faustus continue to be some of the more commonly-performed non-Shakespeare plays from the period.

Marlowe was also one of the more fascinating of the Elizabethan playwrights, and they were a uniformly fascinating bunch. Marlowe was an avowed atheist, which was a very dangerous position to take at that time. Marlowe’s roommate, the playwright Thomas Kyd, was in fact tortured by the police over some heretical tracts found in their lodgings, which Kyd claimed belonged to Marlowe. Marlowe is also believed to have been a homosexual, although sexual mores of the time were more elastic than ours are. Most interestingly, Marlowe may have been government spy, and his murder, which according to the coroner’s report, was the result of an argument over a bar bill, could in fact have been a political assassination. What is definite is that for some reason his killer was allowed to walk free.

NPG 2752; Benjamin JonsonBen Jonson was eight years younger than Shakespeare and was highly regarded during the heyday of Shakespeare’s career and beyond – he survived the older playwright by 21 years.

Jonson’s great achievements were in comedy, especially the subgenre of city comedy, in which he satirized contemporary London life. Satire was a dangerous business in England at the time; censorship was rife, and besides having some of his plays banned, Jonson was jailed for “lewd and mutinous behavior” for having written the play The Isle of Dogs. The censors did their job very well in this case, since no copies of this play have been found to exist.

Like his contemporary Marlowe, Jonson was no stranger to violence and shocking behavior. Jonson was kicked out of the royal court for unruly behavior, and killed a fellow actor, Gabriel Spencer, in a duel. He escaped execution by pleading benefit of clergy, in which he gained leniency by reciting a bible verse, forfeiting his goods, and being branded as a felon on his thumb.

William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson had a great rivalry, and were known to denigrate each other’s work. They must have eventually reconciled though, because Shakespeare became the godfather of Jonson’s son and the two ate and drank together at Shakespeare’s house a few days before Shakespeare’s death in 1619. And Jonson was instrumental in publishing the first folio of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623, and wrote its loving introductory poem, To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us.

Shakespeare and Pals: The Revenge Play

Monday, April 29th, 2013

This is part 4 in a series of entries about playwrights other than Shakespeare during the “Shakespearean” era.

The most popular play of the Shakespearean era was not written by Shakespeare, but by Thomas Kyd. His play The Spanish Tragedy set the pattern for a whole sub-genre of plays that would dominate the stage for the next 50 or so years: the revenge tragedy.


The Spanish Tragedy was a huge hit, enjoying performances long after Kyd’s early death in 1594, and was performed more often than any of Shakespeare’s plays during his lifetime. It was also popular in continental Europe, especially in Holland and Germany, where it became was the best-known English play of its time.

The influence of The Spanish Tragedy cannot be overstated. The play includes insanity, murder, suicide, conspiracy, and ghosts, all elements that would appear in lesser and greater plays of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. They all show up in Hamlet, for example.

Speaking of Hamlet, is has been theorized that one of Thomas Kyd’s lost works was a version of Shakespeare’s great play – written approximately 15 years earlier. Kyd may have also written the anonymous play King Leir, about 10 years before Shakespeare wrote his King Lear. So we may owe a lot of Shakespeare to Thomas Kyd.

Shakespeare and Pals: ‘The War of the Theatres’

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
Clowning around on the Elizabethan stage

Clowning around on the Elizabethan stage

This is part 3 in a series of entries about people other than Shakespeare who were writing plays during the “Shakespearean” era.

 In 1599, playwright John Marston, in his play Histriomastix or The Player Whipped, satirized fellow playwright Ben Jonson by poking fun at his sense of pride.

Jonson responded by brutally satirizing Marston’s use of wordy dialogue in his play Every Man Out of His Humor.

And this, as they say, was war. Or, at least, what became to be known as “The War of the Theatres.”

Between 1599 and 1602, Marston and Jonson underwent a great feud through a series of plays. Thomas Decker and Thomas Middleton got in on the act too. They skewered each other’s work, their writing methods, and even their personalities on stage before the London public. Shakespeare is thought to have alluded to the war in Hamlet:

Rosencrantz: Faith, there has been much to do on both sides; and the nation holds it no sin to tar them to controversy: there was, for a while, no money bid for argument unless the poet and the player went to cuffs in the question.

Hamlet: Is’t possible?

Guildenstern: O, there has been much throwing about of brains.

Some have suspected that this “war” was a publicity stunt, but most historians believe that the competition and personal rivalries were very serious indeed.

Although it was short lived. Jonson and Marston apparently made up, since they wrote Eastward Ho together in 1605. However, Marston got the last laugh: Eastward Ho enraged King James with its anti-Scottish sentiment, and while Marston evaded capture, his old foe Jonson went to jail.

Shakespeare and Pals: The University Wits

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Part 2 in a series of entries about people other than Shakespeare who were writing plays during the “Shakespearean” era.

The University Wits transformed the English stage in the 1590s, just before Shakespeare’s career began. They were university educated and were the literary elite of their day. Members included Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, and George Peele.

The group likely looked down at the young non-university-educated William Shakespeare. As evidence, University Wit Robert Greene is most remembered not for his plays, but for his early reference of the young Shakespeare as an “upstart crow” in his pamphlet Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit.

The University Wits were a raucous bunch, but they brought a coherence and real intelligence and dramatic power to English theater. They had a fondness for heroic themes, and created epic works for the stage.

But they definitely were rowdy. Thomas Nashe received notoriety through his poem informally referred to as “Nashe’s Dildo.”


Thomas Nashe as a jailbird

Robert Greene claimed to have married a well-off woman and to have abandoned her after spending a considerable sum of her money. He lived as a notorious rascal and died from what Nashe called a “banquet of Rhenish wine and pickled herring.”


Robert Greene writing in his funeral shroud.

George Peele married a lady with some property which he quickly dissipated. And Christopher Marlowe was an atheist and a spy, and met an untimely end that we’ll get into in a later post.

These writers most definitely influenced Shakespeare. Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde was the source for Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and Falstaff is believed to be specifically parodying John Lyly’s ornate language, when, as he says as he plays the part of Hal’s father in Henry IV Part 1:

Harry, I do not only marvel where thou spendest thy time, but also how thou art accompanied. For though the camomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, so youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears. (Act 2, Scene 4, lines 403-7)

William Shakespeare and pals

Friday, April 19th, 2013

We tend to view William Shakespeare as writer above all others. What we don’t think about so often is that if there hadn’t been a Shakespeare, his time would still have produced great theater, and perhaps several of the playwrights who are concealed by his shadow would have had their day in the sun.

As it is, the world of Elizabethan theater existed well before our modern concept of an author. These playwrights collaborated, stole from each other, and acted in each other’s plays. Whether they were addressing the same subjects, mocking each other’s style, trying to one-up one another, or even writing a sequel to another author’s play, they were constantly engaged with each other’s work. It’s more accurate to say that the Shakespearean world created Shakespeare than to say that the culture of Shakespearean England was created solely by the Bard of Avon.

In our next several posts we’ll be writing about some of the lesser-known playwrights from the time of Shakespeare. They were certainly an interesting bunch, and we’d like to encourage you to read some of their plays. Many of the ones that survived are available online. And dramatists, take note! It’s been a long while since we’ve seen a good production of The Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay or The Battle of Alcazar or Women Beware Women.

"Shakespeare and His Friends at the Mermaid Tavern," painting by John Faed, 1851. The painting depicts (from left in back) Joshua Sylvester, John Selden, Francis Beaumont, (seated at table from left) William Camden, Thomas Sackville, John Fletcher, Sir Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Donne, Samuel Daniel, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Southampton, Sir Robert Cotton, and Thomas Dekker.

“Shakespeare and His Friends at the Mermaid Tavern,” painting by John Faed, 1851. From left in back: Joshua Sylvester, John Selden, Francis Beaumont. Seated at table from left: William Camden, Thomas Sackville, John Fletcher, Sir Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Donne, Samuel Daniel, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Southampton, Sir Robert Cotton, and Thomas Dekker.

Discontinued Product Memory Lane: The Shakespeare Slippers

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Shortly after the launch of our top-selling Freudian Slippers, we expanded the line by introducing Shakespeare Slippers.  This cozy footwear is in the likeness of Shakespeare’s head with a cute moustache and goatee.

In addition, the Shakespeare Slippers had a neck cuff which served as a floor duster.  However, due to this the cuff tended to get dingy.  And the collar somehow made the slippers look uncomfortably like severed heads.  And while Freudian Slippers make conceptual sense because of their name, the Shakespeare slippers were a bit of a stretch.  So after a short run we discontinued them.

UPG Guestpert: Geoff Klock

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Author and professor Geoff Klock has made his own mash-up of clips from adaptations or films and television episodes that reference Hamlet.  With clips from 65 sources, this was quite an undertaking.  We at the Guild chatted with Professor Klock about this project.  You can see the video embedded at the bottom of this post.

UPG: Hello Professor Klock!  We’d like to start with… um… why?

GK: I teach Hamlet. And I showed clips of different scenes (Gibson, Olivier, Branagh etc) so my students could see different staging. And I told my students how influential Hamlet was, showing a scene from Spiderman 3 as an example. But I don’t think they really believed me. As I taught Hamlet I kept bumping into scenes from movies that would quote it: True Romance, Nightmare before Christmas, Billy Madison. And my students would come to me with the same: Transformers: Beast Wars, and The Addams Family. So I started to collect clips to show in class — to SHOW rather than TELL them that it was everywhere. And after a while I had too many clips to show and I needed a format that would allow me to get through them quickly.

UPG: What is the fascination with Hamlet?  Is it mainly the ubiquitous reach of this particular play?

GK: Hollywood relies on shorthand. If you want to show that someone is a genius you show them being great a chess, even though I think the relation between chess and brilliance is slight. (You can be great a chess but in my experience it does not necessarily translate into intelligence in other areas, for example, being a criminal mastermind). Hamlet has become shorthand for “literary” so if you want to show someone is well read or cultured you have them quote Hamlet. Because of this it is ripe for irony — for example quoting Horatio’s beautiful parting words to Hamlet at the death of a giant robot.

UPG: How long did this project take you?

GK: It took me about 6 months, but it was a lot of wait and hurry up: wait for the disk from Netflix, wait to make a digital copy, wait to upload the digital clip to iMovie, and then of course all the trimming to get one line to flow into the next across two clips. It was only a few hours a week for many many weeks.

UPG: Are there any specific popular culture adaptations or uses of Hamlet that you find particularly powerful?

GK: The one from Clueless I find really wonderful. Paul Rudd’s pretentious friend says “It’s just like Hamlet said: to thine own self be true,” and Claire, who is supposed to be a ditz, corrects her, pointing out that Hamlet did not say that. “I think I remember Hamlet accurately,” the girl says but Claire does not back down: “I think I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn’t say that, that Polonious guy did.” Pretentious people — people who are idiotically proud not to own a television, proud for some reason to have never seen Game of Thrones — think they know more than pop culture nerds. But in my experience pop culture nerds pay as much if not MORE attention to the things they love as the book nerds. I love the pop culture kid slamming the literary person on their own turf using pop culture knowledge.

And Hamlet 2, which is a very weak movie (it is a satire on the inspirational teacher movie that has very little to do with Hamlet) gets kind of amazing just at the end when you finally see bits of Hamlet 2: the idea that the characters need to forgive each other and the idea that they could all be saved from the tragedy (with a Time Machine!) has a kind of Christian beauty to it, even at its most ridiculous (e.g. Hamlet gives Ophelia CPR and when she coughs out the water asks her to marry him).

UPG: What’s the most ridiculous incorporation or adaptation of Hamlet that you’ve come across?

GK: The Mystery Science Theater devoted to Hamlet is generally considered to be a weaker installment by MST3K fans but it includes one of my favorite MST3K lines– over the closing credits they say “HAMLET WILL RETURN … IN THUNDERBALL.” Cracks me the fuck up.

UPG: Have you discovered that there were other adaptations or references you left out that you’d like to incorporate if you were to re-edit this?

GK: I am expanding it now and there are lots: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (“something is rotten in Denver”), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (“goodnight sweet prince” as they kick dirt on a crow in the woods), Downton Abbey (“he’s not the consummation devoutly to be wished”), Law and Order: SVU (“there’s the rub”), Dinosaurs, M*A*S*H, Anonymous, Comedy Bang Bang, Veggietales, Highlander 2.

UPG: Did you make any discoveries as you started lining these clips up together?

GK: In the expansion I discovered that Christopher Plummer was in a film version of Hamlet when it he was very young, and it made the clip from decades later, where he says “to be or not to be” in Klingon extra funny. Two people say “to be or not to be” before a large explosion, and in the expansion, coming soon, Kevin Klein and Robert Downey Jr. show up in two things each, and three people reach for the low hanging fruit of imagining Hamlet as a dog — because he is a Great Dane.

UPG: What do you think we can learn about Hamlet or popular culture by doing this kind of project?

GK: I should say that we can learn how influential Hamlet and Shakespeare are, but really I don’t think of it as being that educational in spite of the ostensible reason for its existence — I think if it as entertainment, for a particular kind of nerd (me). For some reason I have always found the smash of high culture and low to be super funny, so I just love it when, for example, we go from Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet to Olivier’s.

UPG: What’s next for you; do you have any other mash-ups in the works?

GK: I also teach Macbeth and Paradise Lost. I am working on a Macbeth Mash Up — featuring among other things The Chronicles of Riddick, V for Vendetta, Bugs Bunny, Dario Argento’s Opera, one appearance by Magneto, and appearances from both the younger and older Professor X.  For Paradise Lost I am preparing a Satan Mash Up because Satan in pop culture is far more influenced my Milton than either Dante or the Bible, and that should be fun. After that I am going to stop — although part of me thinks all three will continue to expand over the years. The more people that see them the more movies and tv shows I get pointed to.

Geoff Klock (D.Phil., Oxford University) is the author of two academic books, and is an assistant professor at BMCC, where he serves as composition coordinator. He is also on the Facebook, and the Twitter machine.