A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘Julius Caesar’

‘Julius Caesar’ is a brilliant play in which Shakespeare demonstrates his genius is in taking a story we all know and making the characters familiar in a personal and almost tangible way. Shakespeare takes one of the most famous men in history and portrays him as fully human, flawed and even vulnerable in different ways. It’s not the way we’re accustomed to thinking about ‘historical giants’ like Caesar., but Shakespeare makes it all seem quite natural. 

At the beginning of the play, even while he is being celebrated as Rome’s all-conquering hero, his first interactions cast him as a husband who is acutely aware of his wife’s childlessness. We don’t know if his instructions to Calpurnia and Antony are motivated by sorrow or by his desire for an heir to whom he might pass his empire, but either way, Caesar doesn’t miss an opportunity that might make a difference.  

Before long, we see him as a man afflicted by disease when he is struck by a seizure, and is obviously bothered by the fact that is happens in public. He may control all of Rome and its empire, but he cannot control his illness. 
We also see him as a man keenly aware of popular opinion, sen in his public refusal of the crown not once, but three times, yet ignorant of the way his own senators feel about him personally. Regardless of his aspirations, he is astute enough to know that actually accepting a crown as Emperor is not the best move for him at this point in time. 

In these things, the audience begins to see the great historical hero Julius Caesar as a complex, thoughtful man, one who holds a variety of responsibilities and obligations that he takes very seriously. He is very much human, in contrast to the Roman tendency to venerate their heroes almost as gods. We see his humanity rather than his pride, although we know that exists because it is his hubris that brings about his downfall. 

Shakespeare’s portrayal of other characters is equally powerful.

Caesar’s assessment of Cassius is profound: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” In those few words, Shakespeare establishes a vivid image that shapes our perception of the man and positions the audience to distrust the character. 

Brutus is shown as a moral man struggling with a dilemma that weighs heavily on him. A strong sense of foreboding settles on the audience when he puts his trust in Cassius, making himself vulnerable to a man whose thoughts and conspiracies are indeed dangerous, particularly for Caesar. At this point, even though both Caesar and the audience like Brutus, his destiny as one of the conspirators is sealed. 

In all of this, Shakespeare makes expert use of dramatic irony and foreboding to keep the audience in suspense as Caesar’s train speeds ignorantly toward its derailment. This is established right at the start of the play with the mysterious soothsayer who delivers the warning, “Beware the Ides of March”. 

While it is a history play, it has some elements of  a tragedy in that Caesar is completely oblivious to the fact that his actions are contributing to his own eventual demise at the hand of the conspirators whom he still perceives as friends and allies. The pathos of his question to Brutus: “Et tu, Brute?” — “You too, Brutus?” makes the moment of his all-too-late realisation one of almost palpable betrayal and sorrow. In that moment, Caesar dies knowing that he is truly friendless and alone.

It’s important to note that the play makes it clear that assassinating anyone is not a good idea, and the assassins do not prosper as the result of their actions. It wasn’t in Shakespeare’s interests to be seen to promote or condone assassinating the established ruler, as he was reliant on the good favour of Queen Elizabeth I and, after her, King James. He wasn’t encouraging anyone to try to kill their leader: he was showing that, historically, doing so didn’t actually achieve what the conspirators hoped it would. 

It’s a very direct and straightforward play – there are no real subplots and the political undercurrents are all really obvious because they are what drives the play. This makes it a great play for a “first Shakespeare play” for those who are just beginning their Shakespeare journey. 

For the word-nerds, this is the text from which we get great, still commonly used phrases like “It’s all Greek to me” and “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. It’s also the source of the title of John Green’s enormously popular novel ’The Fault In Our Stars’. 

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‘The Lion King’ and ‘Hamlet’: A Question of Life or Death

‘The Lion King’ is on TV tonight and, of course, I’m watching it. I’m singing the songs. I’m totally loving it. If anything is able to make me turn the TV on, it’s going to be a musical. 

And Facebook is alive with people proclaiming that it’s basically ‘Hamlet’. 

Well, no. It’s basically not. 
And I’m not even sorry for any disappointment that may cause. 

Anyone who believes the two stories are the same either pays too much attention to social media and the popular clickbait theories that abound there, or they have not paid sufficient attention to ‘Hamlet’ at all. 

Scar is certainly as evil as Claudius. He’s certainly interested in getting rid of his brother and his nephew and taking over the kingdom, and takes full advantage when Mufasa dies in a situation that he has engineered. 

That’s really where the similarities end. 

In fact, it’s really only a very tenuous connection. Scar is by no means the only brother of a king ever to aspire to the throne through nefarious means, so that’s hardly a convincing argument for a direct correlation between the two texts.  You could use the same argument to suggest that ‘The Lion King’ is based on ‘Richard III’, which it clearly is not.

Furthermore, Sarabi – Simba’s mother – does not enter into a relationship with Scar. The fact that his mother married Claudius, his father’s brother and murderer, is the root cause of much of Hamlet’s angst and misery.  Given that this is one of the crucial elements of  the play, and there is zero correlation in ‘The Lion King’, that’s fairly conclusive evidence that the two are not the same story. 

Sure, the ghosts of the dead fathers both appear and speak to their sons. However, they hardly communicate the same thing, and it’s at a very different stage of the plot. Mufasa tells Simba to grow up and retake his kingdom while Hamlet’s father urges him to get revenge on his brother for murdering him and taking not only his kingdom, but also his wife. “Remember who you are” is a very different message from “Revenge!”

Simba is nothing like Hamlet in character, other than being the son of the dead king. Simba is naturally optimistic, fun-loving and adventurous. Simba runs away thinking he’s responsible for his father’s death. Morose and pessimistic, Hamlet hangs around the castle, feigning madness and overthinking everything to the point where his agonising over what to do actually prevents him from doing anything much at all. 

The correlations among the minor characters are, similarly, only superficial. 

While both Simba and Hamlet have two friends, Timon and Pumbaa are not anything like Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.  Timon and Pumbaa rescue Simba and remain his friends throughout the story. Hamlet’s friends are quite willing to sell him out at Claudius’ bidding, and there is nothing loyal or supportive about them. 

Both Simba and Hamlet have girlfriends, but Nala doesn’t go mad and drown herself in a river. 

Zasu and Polonius both talk way too much, but that’s about the only similarity between them. 

In fact, that’s the difference between the two in a nutshell: ’The Lion King’ is life-affirming and positive.    In direct contrast to ‘hakuna matata’, there is no ‘problem free philosophy” in Hamlet, a play that philosophises about death and suicide and which finishes with the main characters and many of the minor ones dead. 

So, there you have it. The difference between ’The Lion King’ and ‘Hamlet’ is a matter of life or death.  The basic premises are polar opposites, so the two cannot possibly be the same story.

Why I Started Book Blogging

I discovered this post on the abooknation today. It reminded me of starting my own book blog, although my reasons were slightly different.

Like this blogger, I have always been an avid reader, but it was really only when my first book was published that I began to understand the true value of a review for an author.

It’s really the only feedback you get from readers.

A negative review can crush your soul until you think about the fact that you haven’t liked every single book you’ve picked up, either. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste.

A thoughtful review helps you improve your writing and motivates you to keep going. And if someone praises your work, it’s incredibly satisfying and fulfilling because you know you’ve connected with a reader’s soul.

The fact that such a small proportion of readers leave reviews does not really surprise me, because I had never done so before, either.

Once I recognised the need for reviews of Indie books, I saw that this was an opportunity for me to use my love of reading to help other Indie authors by leaving an honest, constructive review.

Thus, Book Squirrel was born.

After developing my confidence with book reviews, Book Squirrel’s blog extended to include author spotlights and interviews, book events and, recently, a range of integrated Indie book promotion services.

I love blogging about books and supporting other Indie authors. I enjoy giving back to the Indie author community and showing others how positive and proactive Indying is done.

Book Squirrel brings me, and others, joy.
And that is the best reason ever to keep going.

abooknation

I’m not sure if I’ve actually ever mentioned why I got into book blogging but if I did I don’t think I made a blog post about it so… HUR WE GOO:

I’ve always loved reading but I feel like I went through phases where I went on a bit of a (very) long slump until I read a book that hooked me back into reading! I’m someone with the shitest memory, even now when someone asks me for book recommendations I have to skim through my posts to jig my memory of what books I’ve read. So around 4/5 years ago when I got back into reading, I had no idea that book blogging was a thing, I thought why would anyone want to hear my rambling thoughts about a book I’ve read??????

Whenever I finished a book I would write up a review and literally just leave it…

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Thursday Thoughts: I’m Textually Active.

If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that when I’m not blogging, reading or writing, or strutting my stuff on stage in musicals, I’m a teacher. 

Teaching is demanding and tiring and stressful, but I am always up for a great booknerdy discussion with my students, who I happen to believe are some of the coolest kids on the planet. That is one of the parts of my job that I really love. 

Last semester, my Year 9 English class studied ‘Beowulf’ and Year 11 studied both ‘Richard III’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’

The fun continues this semester. I’m excited to be teaching four more texts I really enjoy. 
My Year 9 English class are going to study ‘Much Ado About Nothing’  and ‘Treasure Island’
My Year 11 English class will be studying ‘The Complete Maus’ and ‘The Book Thief’. 

Teaching teenagers can be a tough gig sometimes, but it also has its perks.

If you had a teacher you liked, I’d love to know what it was about them that appealed to you or inspired you. Leave a comment and inspire me!

The Value Of Commenting On A Blog.

I’ve questioned quite a bit recently why people don’t engage or leave comments on WordPress blog posts as much as they do on Facebook or Instagram.

As I suggested in this post some time back, maybe it’s because many people just don’t realise how encouraging or helpful leaving a comment can be.

WordyNerdBird

blogging

It’s easy to read a post and move on, andeven easier to like a blog post without reading it.

But stop and think for a moment. How much more valuable to the writer, and other readers, if you actually bothered to respond. Isn’t that what you’d hope for when writing your next blog post? Nobody wants to invest time in writing something that people are just going to skim over.

Not only that, but you will gain more from the post and from the interaction with others than you realise.

You might gain new ideas or perspectives, or you might just end up feeling a little better about life.

It doesn’t have to be a long or complicated post. Even just saying “thank you” or “I liked this!” does the trick.

However, commenting on a blog post is more useful than just propping up the ego of some blogger who…

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How to Talk to Your Cats About Shakespeare

I Never realised how lacking my relationship with Scout Kitty and Abbey the Labby has been.

I’ve been selfish. I’ve been keeping the Shakespeare all to myself.

After reading this fabulous post that I discovered today, I have just apologised to them both, and told them that it’s all about to change.

The cat yawned and went back to sleep, but the dog shall have her day.

Gerbil News Network

My cats are big Shakespeare fans; in the case of Rocco, who’s been letting himself go a bit, a huge devotee of the Bard–fifteen pounds at his last checkup.  We have assembled on the patio for a reading from Julius Caesar.  Titus Andronicus was checked out of our local library, and my wife, the family Shakespeare-hater, is out of town.

“This foul deed shall smell above the earth/with carrion chipmunks, groaning for burial.”

I’ve told them the best way to read Shakespeare is that taught to me by Merlin Bowen, my freshman humanities teacher; once through quickly without checking the footnotes, then the second time more slowly, and thoughtfully, looking up the buskins and petards as you go.  Easy for him to say since he didn’t have chemistry and social studies and phys ed and French and drugs to take at the same time.

“I didn’t finish the reading assignment–okay?”

Rocco is…

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Is Tumblr Still Even a Thing?

I’ve spent some time over the past few weeks discussing what I like and what frustrates me about different social media platforms. Most of them I’ve ended up feeling quite positive about, but it occurred to me today that I never even thought to discuss Tumblr.

I don’t even know if Tumblr is still really a thing or not. 

I have a Tumblr account, and I post there, but it feels a little like shooting into the void. I still feel as though I don’t understand it. And that means I’m probably doing it all wrong. 

Does anyone out there use Tumblr? I would appreciate any hints or tips you could give me to make my experience there more satisfying. 

And if you’d like to connect there, that would be great! 

A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Much Ado About Nothing by Alfred Elmore, 1848. Image: Public Domain.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ was written in 1598-99.  It is one of Shakespeare’s comedy plays, which means that the main characters enjoy a happy ending.  

In that sense, the word ‘comedy’ has changed over time, because now it’s understood to mean a text that is designed to make the audience laugh. There is plenty of humour in this play, though, as it was written purely to entertain and amuse the Elizabethan audiences. 

While it’s all about the entertainment, the play does explore some key ideas in ways that are designed to make the audience consider or contemplate those concepts for themselves. 

The play revolves around the challenges encountered by several couples who are in love but face various challenges in their personal lives that threaten their happiness and wellbeing. The ways in which different people respond to those conflicts and complications are well worth thinking about, because relationships are always challenged by problems of one kind or another. As Shakespeare observed in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, “the course of true love never did run smooth”, an epithet which is demonstrated with profound clarity in ‘Much Ado’.  

Questions of commitment, trust, belonging, family dysfunction, hatred and revenge all emerge in this play, seamlessly woven into and underpinning the plot and the responses of the characters. 
It is those timeless ideas that enable audience five hundred years later to still appreciate and relate to Shakespeare’s plays even though the language and many elements of our society have evolved since then. Shakespeare really was a master of exploring and portraying human nature at its best and its worst.

In contrast to those more serious ideas, one of the things I enjoy most about this play is the wit and banter between Beatrice and Benedick. They’re crazy about each other, but spend most of their time insulting and taunting each other because neither one knows that other is crazy about the other. In that way, theirs is an unconventional romance because there’s no formality, no swooning, and no overly sentimental conversations. They’re far more likely to be saucy or sarcastic than sickly sweet. 

Dogberry is hilarious in his frequent mangling of the language and the way he continually bungles his job as the constable despite his pretentiousness and high opinion of himself. He is entirely inept and ridiculous, providing some welcome comic relief during the more emotionally intense phase of the play. 

I also enjoy the way in which Shakespeare uses the characters and events of this play to make fun of the stereotypical romances that occurred in many popular plays and stories of the time, adding another level of wit and engagement to this play. I do love a bit of snarky, subversive humour, especially when it comes to the tropes of the genre of romance. 

As with all good Shakespeare plays, there are a couple of characters we can enjoy hating on. Don John, in a perpetual bad mood, seems determined to make everyone else suffer, just because things haven’t always gone his way. His selfish dudgeon may be as annoying to the audience as it is to the rest of the characters, but his blatant disregard for Hero makes him despicable. 

I also harbour significant dislike for Claudio and Leonato because they never even stop to consider that Hero might be innocent of the accusations levelled against her. For two men who love her – albeit in different capacities –  they have a mighty strange way of showing it. They don’t give her any credit for honesty or integrity: instead, they both default to outright condemnation.  The fact that Claudio delivers his judgement with such vengeance puts him right into my “love to hate” group with Don John. 

Finally, I can’t help but love a play that can get so much mileage out of a line like “hey, nonny nonny!” 

‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’: The Most Successful Blog Post I’ve Ever Written.

It is a constant source of amusement to me that barely a day goes by without someone reading a post I wrote over two years ago. As hard as I try to write posts that are interesting and engaging, and have some relevance to either readers or other authors the one post that shows up in my blog stats almost every day is ‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’, posted in June 2017.

While I have had some posts that got a great response at the time, othing else I’ve published on this blog has had that kind of perpetual popularity,

The funny thing is, it’s only got three likes, but more people than that visit that post every day. Perhaps WordPress needs to make the “like” button bigger and brighter so that it’s easier to see and click.

Given that it’s the most successful blog post I’ve ever written, I thought it was worth posting again for all the followers I’ve gained since then. Enjoy.

WordyNerdBird

Promo WordyNerdBird Shakespeare Podcasts

I love podcasts, and I love Shakespeare. In these four podcasts, you’ll find the best of those two worlds combined.

#1: No Holds Bard. An informative and entertaining podcast by Dan Beaulieu and Kevin Condardo, directors of the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  They discuss the plays, words that people in the 21st century might not know, different interpretations, and various performances of Shakespeare’s plays.  They even have a segment where they’ll answer homework questions sent in by students. 

You can follow on Facebook and Twitter.

#2: Folger Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare Unlimited. A podcast that explores the associations between Shakespeare’s writing and the world today through the words we use, ideas we discuss, and performance of the works of Shakespeare and others.

You can find more information on their website.

#3: Chop Bard – In Your Ear Shakespeare. This podcast explores different parts of the…

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What I Love… and What Frustrates Me… About Pinterest

Pinterest is great for inspiration, curating themed collections and procrastinating by getting distracted with eye candy. 

It is a platform on which the users create collections of images called boards. These are usually themed, although how organised and themed they are is entirely up to each individual user.

I love being able to put together a collection of images on any theme I wish. The evidence of this is the fact that I have a bazillion Pinterest boards for everything from books worth reading, my book reviews and blog posts and social media for Indie authors to costume and set ideas for musical theatre productions and swoonworthy libraries. I’ve collected hundreds of great looking recipes that I might never make, and probably twenty that I have. I can be as nerdy about things as I like- in fact, that is positively encouraged! It really is all very enjoyable. 

Just a few of my bookish and Indie author boards.

Pinterest is a great way to highlight my own content and link it back to my blogs or website. When I write a blog post relevant to Indie authors in one way or another, I can add it to one of my boards on Pinterest where it is easily found and accessed by others. The link back to my blog post is an integral part of the pinned image, so that a click on that image takes a viewer straight to my blog. This link is easily achieved by sharing to Pinterest directly from each WordPress blogpost, or by adding the link manually to a custom image. 

It is a wonderful thing to be inspired by others, whether it’s by “how to do something” posts, images of places you’d like to travel to,  or ideas about how to take better photos of different things. This is something that Pinterest and Instagram have in common because they’re both highly visual in nature. 

I also like the fact that you can have secret boards. This means that you can save collections of things like Christmas or birthday gift ideas or whatever else you want to keep private, and nobody else can see them. 

One very practical, personal use for Pinterest is creating a Wish List. My best friend, my sister and I all have a Wish List board, where we place images of things we’d like to have as birthday or Christmas gifts. It makes shopping for one another so much easier, and enables us to buy the perfect gift every time. They don’t have to be expensive things – one of my friends used that board to find the pattern for a pair of knitted gloves I liked, and presented me with those very gloves in my favourite colour: black! If there is a particular book I want, or a particular bear I want to add to my collection, I can add it to that list and use it as a shopping list for myself, too! 

What frustrates me, though, is that Pinterest is really not all that social.

You used to be able to like someone’s post, but you can’t do that anymore. You can save it to your own collection. You can leave a comment, but not many people do. You can send someone a pin via direct message, assuming they’re on Pinterest too. But none of it feels much like an immediate connection like it does on Facebook or Instagram. I may have 735 followers, but I never actually know if they’re there. 

I suppose that’s because Pinterest is focused more on curating content than on creating connections between people. I understand the different emphasis, but I really don’t think being able to like someone’s image distracted from that. 

The Verdict: Pinterest is a helpful and enjoyable media platform, but not exactly social in nature. It is best used for collecting and sharing content, not connections. 

Having said that, if you’d like to follow me on Pinterest, you are more than welcome to do so. You won’t be able to ‘like’ my posts, but you may find one or three – or thirty – boards that inspire or help you somehow.