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My Excellent Good Friends!

Welcome to the Shakespeare Nerd blog, where I share my love of Shakespeare’s work in language that everyone can understand.

If you love Shakespeare, you’ve come to the right place.
If you want to understand Shakespeare better, you’ve also come to the right place.
And if you have no clue what it’s all about, you too have come to the right place.

But I’m not going to do your homework for you.
Well… not intentionally, anyway.

Stay Home and Shakespeare

This wonderful cartoon about social distancing and self isolation comes from the very talented hand of Mya Gosling, author of Good Tickle Brain.

If you don’t already follow Mya on Twitter or Facebook or visit her website regularly, you’re missing out.

Stay Home and Shakespeare!
#Shakespeare #StayHomeStaySafe #StayingHomeSavesLives #ShakespeareNerd #blog

21st Century Ways to Entertain Yourself in the Shakes-sphere

Contrary to what some people might think, enjoying Shakespeare isn’t all about seeing performances of plays, being academic, and knowinf your “thees” from your “thous”.

These apps for smart phone or tablet will appeal to devoted Bardophiles looking for new ways to enjoy Shakespeare, but also to students looking for ways to enrich and extend their knowledge of Shakespeare’s works.

There are loads of Shakespeare-related apps out there, but of all the ones I’ve tried, these three are the ones I have kept and continue to use.

Emoji Shakespeare has a variety of passages from well-known plays in which one is required to ‘fill in the blanks’ with emojis. It’s a great way to pass a bit of spare time, and definitely more interesting than endless reiterations of Candy Crush.

ShakesQuiz is a multiple choice quiz game that covers the plays, poetry, life and times of Shakespeare. Each quiz is ten questions long. Hints can be purchased if one is unwilling to achieve less than perfect scores. I prefer to think of it as something to improve on next time!

The Shakespeare Pro app offers a digital collection of Shakespeare’s works, analysis, quotes, and the facility to make and save notes. The search function is comprehensive and customisable, enabling a specific search within a particular work or across the entire canon.


If you have an app you enjoy, please leave your recommendation in a comment.

Knowing Your Literary Devices.

Knowing the literary devices used by Shakespeare and how they work helps those who read or study his works understand the ways in which he has shaped and crafted meaning in the lines delivered by his characters and in his poetry. It also helps readers to recognise the difference between literal and figurative language, and therefore to interpret more correctly the message of particular lines and scenes, and of texts as a whole. 

Of course, there are the standard ones that everyone should learn in school: simile, metaphor, alliteration, repetition hyperbole.  In senior high, that should extend to more sophisticated devices specific to the text being studied. My senior English class is studying ‘RichardIII’, so they are learning about stichomythia, anaphora and antithesis among others. Irony and dramatic irony are also heavy hitters in this play, so while they are by no means new concepts to the students, we are discussing them in detail. 

An excellent online resource for the definition and demonstration of rhetorical devices used by Shakespeare and many other dramatists, orators and writers is Silva Rhetoricæ.

The site is knowledgeable and fairly thorough, although some terms relating to Shakespeare’s plays are not included. The names of rhetorical devices are listed alphabetically, and the definitions are written in plain English with examples and alternative terms provided. There is also a handy pronunciation guide, which is really helpful when it comes to terms like ‘bdelygmia’ and ‘symploce’. 

While I do not expect my students to use the same degree of metalanguage that university students might use, there is definitely credit in nailing the key terms and using them to write about a text with greater eloquence and sophistication. 

The Young Shakespeare (2): Shakespeare’s First Poems

Following yesterday’s post about the early years of Shakespeare, I’m pleased to share with you Mumble Theatre’s second part of their article on the young Shakespeare.

Enjoy!

Mumble Theatre


Discovering the fascinating truth

Of Shakespeare’s missing years


1525: Shakespeare’s Family Lands

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In 1525, Richard Shakespeare, our poet’s grandfather, possessed lands at a place called Wroxall, between Coventry & Birmingham. Eight miles to the north of Wroxall lies the manor of Meriden, known to have belonged to the Earl of Derby, who possessed, according to Thomas Aspden;

The ancient seats of Lathom and Knowsley, with all the houses, lands, castles, and appurtenances in Lancashire, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Cheshire, and many in Wales ; also the manor of Meriden, in the County of Warwick, with the old seat in Cannon Row, Westminster (afterwards called Derby Court), and also the advowson of the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, in the city of Chester.

It is only a loose connection, but we can positively determine how the ‘antecessors’ Stanley & the Shakespeare were, in essence, nieghbours.


1552: Edmund Spenser Born

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Edmund Spenser was…

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The Young Shakespeare (1): Did He Even Exist?

My thanks to Mumble Theatre for this excellent post, which I found to be thoughtful, logical and very clearly explained.

I’d love to know what you think!

Mumble Theatre

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Discovering the fascinating truth

Of Shakespeare’s missing years


‘God comes first,’ declared Heinrich Heine, ‘but surely Shakespeare comes next,’ & at some moment in our lifetimes there may come the time when we truly understand the profound genius of a mind which conjured such a sequence of brilliant plays they shall remain in our collected consciousness forever. More than any other single individual, Shakespeare’s natural creativity has improved & modernized the English tongue; while at the same time his uncanny penchant for the dramatic arts invented, fermented & cemented a theatrical tradition still thriving to this day. The problem is, we don’t really know that much about Mr. William Shakespeare, gent.

In the Elizabethan era, the art of English ‘biography’ was very much in its infancy. The first proper attempt to record a details of Shakespeare’s life was made in the 1660’s, when John Aubrey included a gossipy sketch in…

View original post 2,684 more words

Horror In Shakespeare: The Haunting of Richard III

While Shakespeare isn’t renowned for writing horror, he certainly understood the power of a macabre scene and the dramatic impact of horror when portraying just how evil a character could be. 
He created a number of beautifully creepy and macabre scenes that hold definite appeal for horror fans, and which make great reading for October and Halloween. 

Of all the scenes written by Shakespeare, this is the most Halloween-worthy. What is more appropriate for All Hallow’s Eve than a haunting, right?

Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ portrays Richard as an evil, conniving, murderous villain who plots and murders his way onto the throne of England. His deeds are ruthless and his victims are many.

In Act 5, Scene 3, the ghosts of all of Richard’s victims haunt him in his tent the night before the battle. Each of them bids him to “despair and die”, which becomes a powerful refrain that haunts him as he sleeps. This kind of regular repetition of a phrase is called epimone (uh-pim-o-nee): it compounds and gives power to an idea by dwelling on it.

 Each of the ghosts also visits Richard’s opponent, Richmond, as he sleeps, bidding him to live, conquer and flourish. It is significant that their words to him are not so distinctly and deliberately repeated and echoed as they are to Richard. They are content to give him their various blessings, while they are intent on cursing Richard in no uncertain terms. 

This is a beautifully crafted and deliciously vindictive sequence of indictment and cursing, in which the eloquence of the language only adds to the darkness of the scene. 

The haunting definitely disturbs Richard, who responds to his troubled dreams with a soliloquy that uses strong imagery of guilt and judgement, and of fear and cowardice, revealing the disquiet of his conscience and his mind. He, too, uses the words “despair” and “die” immediately before referencing the visitation of the ghosts, showing that even though he thought it was a dream, they have had a profound effect on his spirit. 

You can read the whole scene, or the entire play, here

Horror Scenes in Shakespeare: “Out, damned spot!” The Blood on Lady Macbeth’s Hands

While Shakespeare isn’t renowned for writing horror, he certainly understood the power of a macabre scene and the dramatic impact of horror when portraying just how evil a character could be. 
He created a number of beautifully creepy and macabre scenes that hold definite appeal for horror fans, and which make great reading for October and Halloween. 

The horror of Act 5, Scene 1 of Macbeth is subtle, but very real. While there is no real blood on the stage, there is definitely blood on Lady Macbeth’s hands. 

After belittling Macbeth more than once for being haunted by visions and ghosts, the same thing happens to Lady Macbeth – or Lady Macdeath, as I like to call her. She is spared such public humiliation, though – her suffering is is revealed in the privacy of her own rooms, witnessed only by her servant and a doctor. This enables the audience to witness the intensely personal and intimate nature of the psychological horror experienced by Lady Macbeth.

In the chaos of her behaviour, the audience sees the extent of Lady Macbeth’s mental torment: she is plagued by guilt and losing her grip on reality. She walks and talks in her sleep, carrying a candle because she cannot bear to be in darkness, and speaking of fragments of bloody images and events. She repeatedly acts as though she is washing her hands, sometimes for fifteen minutes, yet she can never seem to get them clean. She keeps on finding blood on her hands: “Yet here’s a spot.”

Despair and frustration underscore pronouncements such as “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” and “What! will these hands ne’er be clean?

In her mind, she can still clearly smell and see the blood on her own hands after the murder of Duncan, observing “Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!”. 

The doctor and gentlewoman who look on within the scene are disturbed by what they see before them, positioning the audience to share in their disquiet. Her macabre imagery and references to blood and ghosts cause the doctor to conclude that  “Unnatural deeds 
Do breed unnatural troubles; infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets;
More needs she the divine than the physician.” 


The doctor speaks what the audience already knows: it is Lady Macbeth’s conscience rather than her hands that cannot be cleansed. When he instructs the gentlewoman to watch her carefully and remove anything that she might use to harm herself, he is alluding to things that Shakespeare’s generally superstitious audiences would have interpreted as horrific in itself – spiritual torment as a result of one’s own sins, and the thought of committing suicide in such a state, were appalling and dreadful to those who had been taught of the eternal damnation of one who took their own life or died otherwise completely unreconciled with God. The good folk of early modern England feared many things, but burial in unconsecrated ground and spending eternity in hell were right at the top of most people’s list of things they wanted to avoid. Had it been otherwise, the early modern church would have been far less powerful and prominent in the lives of the English people. 

Throughout this scene, the power of a guilty conscience over one’s psyche is vividly expressed using the depiction and the imagery of horror. 

Shakespeare also uses the Macbeths’ experiences as a distinct reminder of the fact that regicide is never a good idea because the consequences are enormous for the nation as a whole, but it also has significant and permanent spiritual consequences for the perpetrators. Given the number of plots against James I, a Scottish king long before he became an English one, this was a politically expedient message for Shakespeare to deliver to his audiences while at the same time telling a deliciously dark and macabre story. 

You can read the whole scene, or the entire play, here