Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Articles Written For:

The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

Most Popular Posts:

1. Shakespeare's Shylock Solved 2. Shakespeare's Othello Finally Identified 3. Shakespeare In Love Sequel Solved 4. The Real Romeo and Juliet 5. Shakespeare's Malvolio Solved 6. Shakespeare's Real Petruchio

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe

In July or August 1597, a satirical play written by Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson -- The Isle of Dogs -- was performed. 

The Queen’s chief interrogator and famed torturer, Richard Topcliffe, informed Robert Cecil (soon to be the most powerful man in England) of the seditious, slanderous and lewd content of the play. 

Since the actual Isle of Dogs was where the Queen's Privy Council (in the above picture) met, the play most likely satirised Cecil and the other councillors, and may have even targeted the Queen herself.

Jonson and two other actors were imprisoned at Marshalsea. Nashe’s home was raided and his papers confiscated. The play was seized, has never been performed again, and is lost to us.

This incident is a reminder of how vulnerable artists such as Jonson, and Shakespeare for that matter, were in those days. It is also a clear picture of how sensitive the Queen and her Council, especially Cecil, were to any public criticism.

Some of Shakespeare’s plays have very questionable content. How did he avoid being imprisoned, and having his writing seized? Or, perhaps he was jailed for a time, and just maybe he did have some plays confiscated.

My version of Hamlet explores this matter.


David B. Schajer

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tom Hiddleston As Richard III?

What do you think of Tom Hiddleston as bloody Richard III?

He would be great, right?

I actually wrote this article back in August of 2012, asking what you thought of him as Richard III -- and now this week they announce that they have verified the skeleton of Richard III! What a funny coincidence!

We know he can play a bad guy, as we have recently seen him as the villian Loki in Thor and The Avengers. I think the success of both movies is due in large part to his performance as a really compelling villain.

What makes his Loki so good is that he makes you understand the motivation of the villain, and once you begin to think the way that he does, you find yourself almost rooting for him. You don't want him to succeed of course, but at least we want a good fight.

And of course, we can't have super heroes without great villains.

Who better then to play one of the greatest villains of all time, Richard III?

And if you think Tom was funny and engaging as Loki, he would be amazing as the real Richard III that Shakespeare had in mind -- the real Richard III that I discovered as I wrote my version of the play.

The Richard III that Shakespeare had in mind was seductive and dangerous. A charismatic killer. And very very bawdy.

I am sure many of you have seen Tom very recently in the Hollow Crown series. He was fantastic, and while my version of Richard III is very different, it does not hurt that he can lead a cast in some Shakespeare, albeit a traditional adaptation.

I think the first time I noticed him was in Return to Cranford. He was very good, as was Michelle Dockery, before Downton Abbey.

He had a significant role in Wallender with Kenneth Branagh, who has clearly singled Tom out for his talent.

I also thought he was good in War Horse, and Midnight in Paris.

But what is almost more exciting is that he has some experience on stage, including having played Cassio opposite Ewan McGregor as Iago and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Othello at the Donmar Warehouse.

The point that I am trying to make is that he has terrific range as an actor. I think he would be very good at showing all of the sides of Richard, from the light to the dark to the funny.

I think he would bring a vitality and a humor to my series of new Shakespeare versions, and he would communicate this new vision superbly.

What do you think?

If you think that he should play in these films, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


David B. Schajer

Related Articles:

Richard III and Shakespeare's Brothers

Richard III Was Shakespeare's Revenge

Playing Richard III For Laughs?

Shakespeare and Henry VII and Henry VIII


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rocky Horror Picture Show & Shakespeare

I have been spending some quality time with my nephew and niece recently, who have only recently discovered The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I watched it with them on Blu-ray and there is a feature that includes all of the Call Back Lines you yell out at the screen.

It's been many years since I watched the movie and it was a lot of fun to share my stories and experiences with them.

I saw the film 27 times in the movie theaters when I was about 13 years old. I went to see it on Friday at midnight week after week.

Yes, I bought a box of rice at the local store and would throw it at the other people in the theater when the wedding scene played. I never brought a newspaper, or a bottle of water to spray when it rained on Brad and Janet.

Within two or three showings, I had memorized most every Call Back Line there was, and would yell it along with everyone else.

It's all about the audience

I delighted in the act of yelling back at the screen. It was an act of disobedience that was welcome and encouraged in the same movie theater where I would be thrown out if I yelled during any other movie.

What an amazing experience it was to find a film that wanted you to misbehave.

It was thrilling to be part of a crowd that didn't just sit and watch the movie, but in fact would become part of the experience.

And boy was the film bawdy! I had never seen anything like it, and I have never seen anything since that is so insanely over the top. It is so wrong it's right.

I have thought about Rocky Horror often as I wrote my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice.

The movie is entertaining, but strange and peculiar. The audience participation, however, makes the film what it is, and is the reason it has endured for so long.

Shakespeare's plays must have been entertaining, but I am convinced that the audience was part of the show and it was their behavior that made people come to see the plays. You might know what the play was about, but you could never anticipate how the audience would react.

I think there must have been patrons who came to more than one performance of Romeo and Juliet, A Comedy of Errors, and especially something like The Merchant of Venice to see the play again, but more importantly to see the audience explode with laughter, cry at the death scenes, yell with disgust, and otherwise heckle the actors.

No two performances would have been the same.

How would an audience react to Falstaff? I can easily imagine that Richard Burbage as Falstaff would have improvised with every performance, mugging to the audience and  milking any laugh he could get.

Richard III? They would have laughed and admired this charismatic and bawdy villain, until he started to murder more and more, until at last they would have cheered his defeat.

Shylock? That's a whole different story. He would have been reviled and hated, until the audience got a chance to see that he's the only sympathetic character on the stage.

Each performance would have been an adventure, and quite unlike any other entertainment to be found in London, or England for that matter.

Who knows, maybe there were even some in Shakespeare's audience who developed Call Back Lines -- yelling the same lines over and over again?

What if some in Shakespeare's audience dressed up as the characters in the plays, in the same way that people dress up as Dr. Frank N Furter or Magenta or Little Nell?

It seems rather hard to ignore that the bawdy and politically incorrect humor in Rocky Horror, a British stage play turned film, has some origins in Shakespeare.

What do you think?



Monday, August 27, 2012

Forget Shakespeare

What if everything we know about Shakespeare is wrong?

Will the real Will please stand up?

This may not be as crazy a question as you might think. After all, there is precious little that we do know about Shakespeare. Just read Bill Bryson's biography of Shakespeare. It's so short you could finish it in an afternoon.

This question occurred to me as I was reading about the recent anniversary of King Richard III's death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was defeated by and succeeded by Henry VII, who was the last king to win his throne on the field of battle.

To read Shakespeare's play, Richard was a hunchbacked villain who murdered his way to the top, even killing the two child princes in the Tower.

Of course, Shakespeare did not invent this story. His source for the story was historian Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles.

But today we know better. Richard was not a hunchback. He may not have murdered the princes or anyone else. The allegations against him were made by Henry VII and successive rulers in order to poison Richard's reputation.

What if everything we know about Richard III is wrong?

Richard III 

I found a great passage in Stephen Greenblatt's Hamlet in Purgatory where he describes the chapel in Westminster Abbey that Henry VII ordered to be built, which according to one architectural historian is "the largest and certainly the most expensive structure ever built for funerary purposes."

Henry VII ordered or left provisions in his will for many suffrages. Three monks were to serve as chantry priests, to pray for his soul in perpetuity. Anniversary masses were to be held across the country. He founded three hospitals and an almshouse in order for the grateful inhabitants to pray for his soul.

As Greenblatt continues "But even these extraordinary efforts to hasten his soul through Purgatory were not enough for a king who evidently thought he might be facing a long prison sentence in the afterlife."

"Finally, he saw to it that immediately after his death ten thousand masses would be said for the remission of his sins and the good of his soul. Ten thousand masses."

So, I ask you -- if Henry was so worried about his soul, then doesn't it seem likelier that he was the villain who killed his way to the top? Maybe he killed the princes in the Tower.

And what does it say about Henry VII that his own son, Henry VIII would reject the Catholic church, and therefore all that his father had fervently believed?

As Greenblatt explains "Somewhere buried in the story of Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries and seizure of their great wealth is a son's violent repudiation of his father's attempts to ease his soul's torments."

Did Henry VIII know something that we do not? Did he suspect, or in fact have proof, that his father was the villain we believe Richard III to be? Did he want his father to suffer?

Henry VII

I just read Sylvia Morris's essay about Richard III, where she mentions that the location of the Battle of Bosworth Field had been in the wrong place, and the real site was only very recently discovered.

The right location is two miles away from the wrong one. It required an archeological dig to verify the location.

This is the same week where the location of Richard's body may have been discovered -- I couldn't make this up if I tried -- in a car park!

This is the world we live in, where truth and history are not always constant. We often need an archeological dig to determine the truth. And even then, is it the real truth as they -- Richard III and Henry VII -- knew it during their lifetimes?

So, what if everything we know about Shakespeare is wrong?

What if he was a famous actor in Stratford before he moved to London?

What if the love between him and Anne Hathaway was real and true, and he never cheated on her?

What if his arrival in London was a celebrated affair?

What if his plays were wildly successful, each and every one of them?

What if he hobnobbed with the nobles, and was a frequent guest of the Queen at her court?

What if he and the Earl of Oxford were friends, and the Earl offered advice to Shakespeare?

What if he travelled extensively throughout France, Italy and beyond -- accompanied by the Earls of Essex and Southampton?

What if he was so rich that he had to bury most of his wealth in the Stratford countryside?

What if there is proof hidden somewhere that he wrote all of the plays?

What if he was the most written-about, most chronicled man in the entire Elizabethan period?

What if there is written proof of all of this, written during his lifetime, but now all of it is gone, or hidden?

What if evidence about every last scrap of Shakespeare's life we should ever want to know is buried in some secret location?

What if it's in someone's field, attic or basement in Warwickshire?

What if it all burned when the Globe theatre caught fire and was destroyed in 1613?

I could go on, but you get the point.

I am not saying any of this is true.

However, as I wrote my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice I discovered that the way the plays are interpreted and performed today is wrong, and the man behind the plays, as I see them, is a very different Shakespeare.

The picture we currently have of Shakespeare is no more correct than the one we have of the villainous bloody King Richard III.

We might as well forget Shakespeare as we think we know him.

I am asking you to consider the versions of plays as I have written them, and discover a different Shakespeare.

Do I think that the old Shakespeare is all wrong?


But let's just say that it's more than two miles away from right.


David Schajer

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Benedict Cumberbatch As William Shakespeare

So, what do you think of Benedict Cumberbatch as the Bard?

My versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice take us back to see the plays as they were first written and performed by the original actors, which of course included Shakespeare himself.

There are some truly gifted actors that could do a splendid job in the same role.

But there is something about Benedict Cumberbatch as William Shakespeare that just seems right.

He recently said that he wants to play Hamlet before too long. Well, I think he would make a great Hamlet, but I would think that this is a better opportunity.

My version of Hamlet covers much of Shakespeare's life, from his childhood in Stratford, to his early days in London and through the tumultuous last decade of the 16th century -- which saw him enjoy great success and then later, as he nearly lost everything, including his life.

This would require a performance that would show how a young and naive Shakespeare, newly arrived from Stratford, became a popular and important actor, who then entered into the royal court and became enmeshed in the intrigue in Queen Elizabeth's court.

I think Benedict would be very good at showing us this transformation.

While I have never seen him perform any Shakespeare, I have every confidence that he would do well in the parts of my versions where Shakespeare acts onstage with his company of actors. In my version of Hamlet, he would play the Ghost of Hamlet's father. In my version of Richard III, he plays multiple roles including Anne and Queen Margaret.

I would be very excited to see him play these different roles on the Elizabethan stage, and I think he would bring a great vitality to what original playhouse acting was like.

The last major motion picture concerning Shakespeare was Shakespeare In Love in 1998, with Joseph Fiennes. I enjoyed it very much, but it is fantasy romantic drama, and doesn't pretend to be a serious look at his life.

Before that, there was a TV series in 1978 starring Tim Curry (!) as Shakespeare. I haven't watched it. I don't even know if I should.

I don't count Anonymous from last year. It is nothing more than an insult to Shakespeare.

Don't you think it's about time that there was a serious look at the life and work of William Shakespeare?

Where is the Amadeus for Shakespeare? 

Well, my adaptation of Hamlet serves that purpose, and I would think that Benedict Cumberbatch as William Shakespeare would help humanize this great man, and help draw us into the very real and dramatic story of his life.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Derek Jacobi, Roland Emmerich, Mark Rylance & Shakespeare

I enjoy reading about how the great actress Janet Suzman is attacking Derek Jacobi, Roland Emmerich and Mark Rylance for their "haughty" and "snobbish" view that Shakespeare was not the true author of the plays.

I have also enjoyed reading some articles by Fintan O'Toole and this one on the authorship issue is very good.

Mr. O'Toole contends that Shakespeare did in fact write the plays, despite what others may think, and despite the theory that Edward deVere -- the hero of the film Anonymous -- wrote the plays.

I had thought that Alan Turing had invented the computer, but I have to thank Mr. O'Toole for teaching me that it was in fact Tommy Flowers who created the first programmable computer. He created it at his own expense while working in the code-breaking operation at Bletchley Park, during World War II.

All of this got me thinking about these people, and I looked them up on Wikipedia:

Janet Suzman was born to a wealthy tobacco importer, in South Africa, and she eventually attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. It seems improbable that she would come from such a place and become one of the leading actresses to perform Shakespeare, but she did.

Daughter of a tobacco importer
Derek Jacobi was born in London, his mother a secretary and his father ran a sweet shop, and was also a tobacconist. It seems improbable that he would come from such humble beginnings and go on to great success, but he did have an aptitude for performance early on. He went to Cambridge University, during which he continued to act with acclaim, and from there he has had a very fine career on stage, TV and film.

Son of a tobacconist
Roland Emmerich was born in Germany to a wealthy father, the founder of a garden machinery production company. Here is a young man whose success was probable, as he went to film school and eventually became a director of some very big blockbusters.

Son of a gardening machine magnate
Mark Rylance was born in England, but moved with his parents, both teachers, to the United States where his father taught at a prestigious school. It also seems improbable that he would go on to have the career he has had, but he did start acting by the time he was 16 or so. Soon after he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and the rest is history.

Son of a teacher

Tommy Flowers was the son of a bricklayer and did not go to a prestigious university. It seems improbable that he would create something as significant as the very first computer, but there it is.

Son of a bricklayer
Finally, Shakespeare was the son of a glovemaker and did not attend university at all. It seems improbable that he would be the greatest writer in the English language, but if he showed early promise writing plays in school as a teenager (in his Latin class) and travelled to London soon after, there is every reason to believe that he would have worked his way up the ladder and become as famous as he has.

Son of a glovemaker
My point is rather simple: Shakespeare worked hard and earned his success. So did Jacobi, Emmerich, and Rylance. Why is it so hard for them to pay Shakespeare the same courtesy and respect we give them? I don't think they would appreciate anyone giving credit for their success to someone else.

All of them had rather inauspicious beginnings, but they didn't let that stop them from seeking and obtaining more success than even they had perhaps dared dream.

How would Emmerich feel if people said that his frequent collaborator, Dean Devlin, was the one responsible for all of their success?

No matter what Emmerich does now to preserve his reputation and fame, there is nothing he can do to safeguard it for 400 years! In 400 years time he may be entirely forgotten.

I would venture to say that had Suzman, Jacobi, Rylance and even Emmerich all been born in Elizabethan England, they would have found their way to the stage with Shakespeare (or perhaps in another company), and would have had distinguished careers.

I don't think Jacobi, Emmerich and Rylance have been forthright and honest with us. I don't think they have told us the real reason why they think Shakespeare was a fraud. I don't believe them when they say things like only deVere could have written the plays because he travelled extensively in Italy, and so many of the plays are set in Italy. I don't buy that. I think there is more they are not saying. I don't know what it is, but I sense that there is more.

I think one thing they all overlook is the fact that they have lived in free societies with established traditions of theatre, TV, film, music, etc. To learn their craft was no great hurdle. It was not easy, but not impossible, and there are so many opportunities for actors, writers, and so on.

Shakespeare lived in a police state with no established tradition of theatre. It was all new. He was like a prisoner who was set free, and while he was free he could say almost anything as a writer and actor. He took advantage of this opportunity, with the full knowledge that it might not last, and would in all probability come to a terrible end very soon.

It didn't. He was able to write and perform for many long years. And I am sure that he was delighted that it was so, but he must have also lived with the fear that whatever he wrote would most likely end up being censored at the very least, or banned and burned at the worst.

He had no reason to expect that we would remember his name, let alone read and cherish his writing, 400 years later.

It is a miracle that his work survived. In my versions of his plays I am trying to return the plays to their original glory, and show all of you what Shakespeare wrote as he wrote it for the first time, desperately trying to make himself heard in an England that had thrown open the gates, and let him run free.



Monday, August 20, 2012

Christopher Marlowe's Death & Shakespeare's Life

I came across a great article about the coded references Shakespeare wrote into As You Like It about Christopher Marlowe's violent death.

The critic Fintan O'Toole does a great job of describing the kind of writer Shakespeare had to become in the police state that was Elizabethan England: "Shakespeare lived in a nasty state, and dealt with dangerous matters of the day, from murder to mayhem, with ingenious theatrical subterfuge."

He also goes on to repeat the very convincing theory that Shakespeare referred to Christopher Marlowe's death in the play, and the audience of the day would have immediately understood the reference.

I agree with this theory and I applaud Mr. O'Toole for exploring it further.

What he doesn't ask is why Shakespeare would have made the reference in the first place. Surely there was a calculated risk. Shakespeare wanted to write the line to say something to the crowd, but what precisely?

Mr. O'Toole seems on the right track when he concludes the article that "The reckoning that killed Marlowe helped to give birth to Shakespeare." but he doesn't continue the thought, and he doesn't answer this question.

I don't think Shakespeare was a passive participant was he was "born."

In my version of Richard III, I explored the love/hate relationship I think Shakespeare and Marlowe had, and the effect that Marlowe's death/murder would have had on Shakespeare.

I came to a working theory that Shakespeare was not just sad that his fellow playwright was dead, and he was not just in fear that the authorities might crack down on other playwrights like himself, but that he in fact took advantage of the opportunity.

I think Shakespeare took control of the situation and asserted himself as the rightful heir to Marlowe. The way in which he did so is shown in my version of Richard III, since I think it was this play where Shakespeare emerged as the greatest playwright in Elizabethan London.

Marlowe who had written the first popularly successful play in London's public playhouses, Tamburlaine, about a shepherd who becomes a powerful warrior, was now gone and his death left a great void.

With Richard III, and likewise in the references to Marlowe in As You Like It, Shakespeare was celebrating Marlowe's memory, building trust with the audience, and telling them that it was now he, Shakespeare, and no other, who was their shepherd.



Friday, August 17, 2012

Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson & Shakespeare

Much of what I am writing this week is meant to open people's eyes to see Shakespeare in a different way, and anything un-orthodox helps to un-Shakespeare our minds.

Well, you can't get more un-orthodox than Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson.

If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch (and laugh) at this skit between them.

Laurie is Shakespeare, and Atkinson plays his editor who wants to cut down his plays a bit, especially Hamlet, including the long soliloquies, and most especially "the dodgy one!" Hilarious!

I love how they can take something so meaningful as Shakespeare and Hamlet, and bring it down to earth and make it funny.

They have precisely the kind of irreverence that Shakespeare and his actors had. As I wrote my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, I discovered that the plays are much funnier than we think.

Far from being "Important Literature" (capital I and L) the plays were sequences of drama and comedy that were ruthlessly entertaining. They were written, and no doubt acted, to catch and keep the attention of the audience, and what better to do so than some jokes and gags.

Laurie and Atkinson are doing the same thing. They are taking all these familiar Shakespeare notions and slowly roasting them, slowly upping the ante, to the delight of the audience who appreciates a good joke.

I am convinced that had Laurie and Atkinson been alive in Elizabethan London, without a doubt they would have been acting with Shakespeare himself.

Having seen Laurie do broad comedy like Blackadder and serious drama like House, I would think that he would have given Richard Burbage (the actor who created the roles of Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Shylock, etc.) a run for his money.

I don't think I have ever seen Atkinson do drama. But with his comedy, from highly verbal in Blackadder to non-verbal in Mr. Bean, I think he would have given Will Kemp (the actor who created the roles of Falstaff, the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Feste, etc.) a run for his money.

To the best of my knowledge, neither Laurie or Atkinson has ever performed Shakespeare on stage professionally. I found a quote that Laurie has only ever done one Shakespeare play, while in university. That would have probably been while he was in the Footlights club, whose members have included Stephen Fry, John Cleese, Eric Idle and some of the greatest comedic talents in the world.

I would venture to guess that they did not perform the Bard because it had become too precious over time, and too revered for them to bring anything new to it, and both men were drawn to more humor than stuffy costume dramas.

It is a shame that they did not perform Shakespeare. I think they would have discovered the truth of the plays, and they might have changed the way we watch and appreciate the plays.


David B. Schajer

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Christian Bale As Hamlet

Why not?

Why shouldn't Christian Bale play the Prince of Denmark, in a new film adaptation?

Andrew Garfield, the new Spider-man, would also make a fine Hamlet.

They would even be good together, Christian as Hamlet and Andrew as Laertes.

They are two of the biggest stars in the world, and their combined star power would make cinema history. Can you imagine a really epic and violent sword fight between them at the end?

What about Christian as Hamlet and Daniel Craig as the Ghost of Hamlet's father? Wouldn't that be exciting?

The reason I'm posing these questions is to make a point: what would it take to get the largest possible audience to go see a new version of Hamlet?

One answer is to put as many of the biggest stars together as possible -- to assemble a cast that is so unexpected and exciting that people who would never read or watch Shakespeare would find their way to a cinema.

A star-studded cast with Bale, Garfield, maybe even Johnny Depp, Robert Downey, Jr. and so on.

If the boy band One Direction could make cameo appearances then it might attract an even greater audience.

I am a great fan of Kenneth Branagh, Ian McKellen, Ralph Fiennes, and all the others who have made adaptations of Shakespeare. I mean no disrespect to them.

But I think all of them would agree that it is hard to get money to make a Shakespeare film, and it is hard to get audiences to go see it.

Branagh himself tried something like this in 1993, by casting Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves (!) together with Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Robert Sean Leonard and himself in Much Ado About Nothing.

And notice Michael Keaton to the far left -- in 1993 he was hot off his very own Batman film series. Here's a precedent for an actor to play Shakespeare after playing Batman!

The film was a minor success. I think it didn't break out because the film didn't offer anything other than the play filmed for a movie screen. It was yet another adaptation.

Ralph Fiennes cast Gerard Butler in Coriolanus. Why? To bring in a new audience that may not know Shakespeare but certainly likes "that guy from 300."

The film was also a minor success. It also didn't offer anything other than an adaptation.

I even saw a film called Royal Deceit in 1994, which re-told the story of Hamlet by going back to the original Danish source -- and the young actor who played the Hamlet role (named Amled) was none other than -- Christian Bale!

It was not successful, and I think it failed because it was trying to be different, but it was just another adaptation.

As you may have read here and here -- I am trying to un-adapt Shakespeare -- to show Shakespeare like we have never known, and far from what we expect when we hear the word Shakespeare.

Recently, as I have been talking with my friends, they have so many preconceived notions of what Shakespeare is supposed to mean, that it takes them a while to understand the versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice that I have written.

So, I came up with a phrase: we have to un-Shakespeare ourselves.

Once we begin to do that, we can start to understand Shakespeare's plays as he wrote them for his audiences 400 years ago.

My versions of the plays offers more than just an adaptation -- they show the plays as they would have been performed 400 years ago, and they show who Shakespeare really was. The plays and his biography are weaved together.

The plays make no sense without his life story, and his life story makes us appreciate the plays even more.

Look at it another way: who were the actors who first performed Shakespeare's plays 400 years ago?

They were Richard Burbage, Will Kemp, and Shakespeare himself -- the biggest box office draws of the day -- on the same stage together!

So why should today be any different?

So, let's put Christian Bale and Andrew Garfield and all of the biggest names in the world on the same screen -- to offer a new Shakespeare the world has never seen.

I have even suggested that some of the greatest comedic actors, like Ricky Gervais, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Eddie Izzard, should be included to help translate the humor that is written in Shakespeare, and is all too often overlooked or misunderstood.

You have the power to make this happen. The more people buy my versions of the plays, and talk about it, and visit this blog and follow me on Facebook and Twitter, the more Shakespeare Solved will become viral.

You are the beginning a grass-roots movement to change the way we understand Shakespeare.

Thank you for all of your support!

And perhaps one day soon, you will turn around and read in the news that Christian Bale wants to play Hamlet!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Monty Python & Shakespeare

I was re-watching the closing ceremony from the Olympics, and Eric Idle singing "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" makes me laugh so hard -- especially when the Indian dancers interrupt him. Hilarious!

Maybe it was the large "To Be Or Not To Be" printed on the stage, but I couldn't help thinking about Monty Python and Shakespeare.

Oh, how I wish the Python boys had done up Shakespeare all those years ago, when they were making Life of Brian and Holy Grail. They would have been so spectacularly funny. And I think they would have found the truth of Shakespeare had they tried.

All they did do were some skits, none of them very funny. Perhaps the funniest is the "Man Who Talks In Anagrams." My favorite line is "A shroe, a shroe, my dingkom for a shroe!"

As I wrote my versions of Hamlet, Richard III, and The Merchant of Venice I realized that they are unlike any Shakespeare we have ever known. They are funny in ways that we don't really appreciate. We have to re-wire our brains to understand them. We have to remove many preconceived notions of Shakespeare from our minds -- we have to un-Shakespeare ourselves.

Also, it became evident that the actors who performed these plays were more like comedians than "Thespians" with a capital "T." They were very bright men, often from Cambridge, and they worked themselves to death to entertain.

Well, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, and John Cleese also went to Cambridge, and were in the Footlights club which has produced some of the greatest talents, especially in comedy, from England. Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry also belonged to this club.

I think the Python boys had the same kind of brilliant talent that Shakespeare's actors did. I think this brand of comedy started long before Shakespeare, for sure, but it must have crystallized with him, and the flowering of theatre in England under Elizabeth.

This comedy has gone on for 4 centuries.

Think of Peter Sellars, Rowan Atkinson, Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais, and Sacha Baron Cohen.

These are the kinds of comedic actors who should perform Shakespeare today for us. They can and would find the humor in the plays and properly un-Shakespeare our minds. "My dingkom for a shroe!" indeed!



Monday, August 13, 2012

Shakespeare Un-Adapted

I read this interesting essay by Michael Kahn, the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC.

The quote that really caught my attention was this:

"In a sense, all productions of Shakespeare are interpretations: We do not know the performance style of Shakespeare’s actors, so succeeding generations have adapted their performance to the dominant acting style of the day."

With all due respect to Mr. Kahn, if we don't know the performance style of Shakespeare's actors, then why don't we find out?

He goes on to write about the various ways in which Shakespeare has been adapted. I am confused why there seems to be no effort to understand Shakespeare as Shakespeare, a man who wrote and performed his plays, and why.

Mr. Kahn later writes that Shakespeare selected stories from ancient Greece, ancient Rome, France, etc. and adapted them for the Elizabethan period.

Is it not short-sighted to assume that we should in turn just take Shakespeare's plays and adapt them for our time? What if we are filling the stage with clutter that continues to confuse and distract us from the original Shakespeare? What if we need to clear the stage of everything "new?"

What if Shakespeare had something to say? What if he wanted to make a political point? He wrote plays. Therefore he would have made himself heard in his plays.

You may not agree that Shakespeare was political. But then I think you would be hard pressed to explain what his purpose was as a playwright. No artist writes in a vacuum. All art is political, even if it attempts to rise above politics.

I am not certain what his politics were, but it does need to be explored.

My versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice take us back to see why and how Shakespeare wrote these plays.

As such, I consider my versions as Un-Adaptations. They strip away all of the modern elements and modern expectations we have about the plays.

I do not think that Shakespeare wrote his plays for us, the modern audience. I think we are eavesdropping on stories and messages he was communicating to his audience.

Until we start to go back to the beginning, to the source, clear the stage, and look at Shakespeare with the eyes of an Elizabethan, we will never truly appreciate and understand him.



Friday, August 10, 2012

Occupy William Shakespeare

I read about this fascinating theater group called Shakespeare In The Park(ing) Lot who perform in the Lower East Side, by clearing a parking lot, putting down some chairs and putting on some Shakespeare.

And admission is FREE!

Truly inspired!

As I have earlier written, I love the idea of Shakespeare outdoors, because it puts a greater demand on the actors to catch and keep the attention of their audience, who are always easily distracted.

Well, according to this New York Times critic, what could be more distracting than people buying Chinese take-out only steps away from Coriolanus?

They are performing Coriolanus and drawing parallels to the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. The 1 percent versus the 99 percent.


I can certainly understand the seemingly inexhaustible desire to make Shakespeare contemporary, and I am sure this production is excellent.

But it makes me wonder to what degree Shakespeare was political, and if he was, what side would he be on.

I have been studying Shakespeare for the last several years in order to translate his plays as they would have been understood by his original audiences. I wanted to strip as much modern understanding of the plays away to see what they were like when he wrote them and why he wrote them.

I adapted Hamlet, Richard III and Merchant. They turn our understanding of the plays upside down. They are not the plays we think they are.

And yes, they are much more political than you might assume. I think that may be one of the most important reasons why there has been little to no effort to understand and learn about Shakespeare the man -- he was not a warm and fuzzy romantic fool. He was not as Joseph Fiennes portrayed him.

He had a strong mind, and rather strong political views.

I would not go so far as to say that he was anti-monarchist. I think he was afraid of the excesses of power of the monarchy.

I would definitely say that he did not like the power brokers around Queen Elizabeth -- men like Walsingham, William Cecil and his son, Robert Cecil.

One of the reasons he would think this way was because of his relationship with the Earl of Southampton, and the like. Most importantly, there has been little research into how close Shakespeare was to the Earl of Essex, who of course led a failed rebellion, and was quickly executed.

What did Shakespeare know about the Rebellion? What were his sympathies? What did the Rebellion really mean, that is, what was Essex rebelling against?

Why did Shakespeare perform Richard II, about the deposing of a king, the night before the Rebellion?

These are touchy subjects even today. But to ignore them, is to ignore Shakespeare the man.

And to ignore Shakespeare the man, is to forever misunderstand his plays. Especially Hamlet.

My adaptation of Hamlet plunges us back into the frightening and momentous period of the Rebellion, to show us how Shakespeare had come to London a simple country man, and turned into the voice of the people, and the age.

So, would Shakespeare support the 99 percent?

I doubt it.

But he would certainly understand them.



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Houston Shakespeare Festival & The Importance Of Outdoor Shakespeare

I love the review of the Houston Shakespeare Festival written by D.L. Groover, and I have to quote at length it's so good:

Watching the Houston Shakespeare Festival at Miller Outdoor Theatre is, somewhat, the closest we'll ever get to what it must have been like for those Londoners of yore when they went to the Globe to watch the immortal Bard in his own theater.
Although the entrance fee for Miller is free, unlike Shakespeare's "wooden O," there's much similarity. Patrons amble about, crossing in front of the stage no matter what scene is in progress; the smells of fried food and sweaty neighbors waft over us; far off noises, modern annoyances like helicopters and car sirens, or, closer, the whines of children, drown out the action at certain points; and while we're all sitting, unlike the Globe's groundling audience which stood throughout (unless you bought a seat and cushion in the upper rings), we feel close to the stage and very much part of the action.

Shakespeare comes alive in an outdoor setting, this is the venue he wrote for -- his plays had to compete with all sorts of distractions and quickly catch the attention of the audience. As soon as Hamlet begins, the audience at Miller quiets; I'm sure, just like they would have at the Globe. The magic that is Hamlet casts a spell.

This critic makes an excellent point which I emphasized in bold type. The theatres in Shakespeare's day, The Theatre in Shoreditch, The Globe, and even Blackfriars were not in the best neighborhoods.

They were in seedy areas, filled with taverns where people probably got as drunk and as rowdy as they do today.

There were cutpurses to contend with. Shoreditch was outside the city walls and was a lawless, unpoliced area where you travelled at your own risk.

Bedlam hospital was in Shoreditch, not that far from The Theatre and The Curtain. Is it possible that the cries of the sick, dying and mentally ill would be heard during a performance of Richard III?

There were butchers all over the city, and where there were butchers there was livestock to butcher. So, did the audiences have to contend with the squeals of pigs and clucking of chickens?

They were surrounded by prostitutes and brothels. I think the prostitutes were welcome to work in the theaters as well.  This was probably the greatest distraction from the play at hand. I would think that anyone who couldn't afford a prostitute and admission to a play, would probably choose sex over theatre, but maybe that's just me.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

As we know, there was also the matter of the plague, which could and did close the theatres often.

I am convinced that Shakespeare wrote his plays with a desperate urgency, like a man who didn't have long to live, and whose plays might not survive more than one performance.

Shakespeare didn't have the luxuries that writers enjoy today. He knew that plays and the theatres could vanish overnight, and never return. That was his reality.

Therefore, many of his plays are ruthlessly entertaining. I don't think many people see them like that, and would rather ponder them as literature, written with all the time and care in the world.

My adaptations are trying to bring the breathless vitality of the plays back, where every moment in his plays leaps off the stage and wakes up an audience otherwise eating, drinking and distracted by their surroundings.

My version of Hamlet shows what kind of impact the play had on Shakespeare's audience, and why it did cast a spell.



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Kenneth Branagh & 3D Shakespeare?

I came across this article about Kenneth Branagh, and how he would like to film a 3D Imax a 40 minute version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

I am one of those people who will see just about any version of any Shakespeare. I applaud his vision to do something revolutionary with the Bard, and I will be first in line to get my 3D glasses to see this, or any other play he decides to render in this exciting new way.

But if the purpose of the film is to make it more accessible to more people, to find a new audience, I don't think it will work to the degree that Branagh would like.

Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet was very successful, and I enjoyed it very much. But even with it's rock soundtrack, edgy cinematography, colorful costumes, and very inspired performances with young actors, I don't think it increased the audience for Shakespeare as a whole in any significant numbers.

Baz didn't follow up the movie with further adaptations which would serve to educate and entertain a potentially newer and larger audience.

From the looks of the bookstores, there is a demand for Shakespeare, but the books I see more and more are the No Fear Shakespeare variety, with the full line by line translations into plain English. I also see the Graphic Novel adaptations of the plays, which serves the teenage audience, trying to grapple with Shakespeare for school.

So, as much I would enjoy a 3D Shakespeare, I think there is a demand for more than just entertainment. I think the demand is for more understanding, of Shakespeare's plays and who Shakespeare was.

The top search terms for Shakespeare on the Internet are "Shakespeare" and "Shakespeare biography."

As I wrote my adaptations of Hamlet, Richard III and Merchant, I balanced the plays (translated as they are performed) and the biographical story of Shakespeare himself. 

I doubt that there is a very large audience who wants to see every last Shakespeare play without some sort of translation, and I doubt that this potentially larger audience would want to see a documentary about Shakespeare's life.

But if they were put together in an entertaining and fresh way, then I think there would be an even larger audience for Shakespeare than we have ever known before.

In much the same way that Amadeus told the story of Mozart while giving a survey of his music, my adaptations would tell the story of Shakespeare and present his plays. But while Amadeus had to make up the rivalry between Salieri and Mozart, my adaptations stay very close to the truth.

Finally, if the purpose of a 3D film is to make it immersive, then what could be more immersive than a film where you get to visit the Globe with an audience of nobles and groundlings to watch the very first performance of Hamlet, and starring Shakespeare himself?