tempestsarekind: (ten is a bookworm)
Kory Stamper, lexicographer for Merriam-Webster and the writer of the Harmless Drudgery blog, has finished her book, and it'll be for sale in May:

I am very excited by this.
tempestsarekind: (viola reading)
An interview with Giles Block, the Text Adviser at Shakespeare's Globe (interview by Andrew Dickson):

Not that I know exactly what he does - what it's actually like to work with actors - but this is basically my dream job. Or even my dream volunteer activity, if there were any Shakespeare companies around here that seemed to want this sort of thing…

(I bought Giles Block's book when I was at the Globe; I'm hoping to read it this summer.)
tempestsarekind: (cheveril glove)
And an Atlantic piece on Shakespeare's puns and the forthcoming Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation:

Such Ado: The Fight for Shakespeare's Puns

I always find these sorts of articles mildly bemusing, first because one man's pun is sometimes another man's single meaning; but secondly because they often declare, as this one does, that an exchange is "jibberish" (sic) unless one knows about Elizabethan pronunciation. For example, the exchange between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew given here:

OP also helps to explain this otherwise baffling exchange in Twelfth Night:

Sir Andrew Aguecheek: What is “pourquoi”? Do, or not do? I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in fencing, dancing, and bear-baiting. O, had I but followed the arts!

Sir Toby Belch: Then hadst thou had an excellent head of hair.

Sir Andrew: Why, would that have mended my hair?

Sir Toby: Past question, for thou seest it will not curl by nature.

It’s jibberish, essentially, unless you realize two things: 1) “tongue” was pronounced, in OP, as “tong,” and 2) a “tong” in Elizabethan England was a rudimentary flat iron, a tool people used to straighten their hair. Aha. Sick burn, Toby.

Okay, but…the tongue/tong thing might add an additional layer of meaning to the line, but Toby's primary joke is on the art vs. nature contrast that serves as the springboard for several Shakespeare discussions. Same with reasons being as plentiful as blackberries: knowing that "reason" was pronounced "raisin" gives you an extra bit of amusement and an additional connection, but the line makes sense even if we don't know that, because puns only work if they work in two or more places at once: Falstaff's point is that even if reasons were as plentiful as a really plentiful thing - in this case blackberries - he still wouldn't give one. Declaring that the line makes no sense without OP - as opposed to saying that it regains another layer of meaning - always feels to me like another inadvertent way to say to people that Shakespeare is indecipherable to modern people (so why not just translate the whole lot, right?).
tempestsarekind: (all the world's a stage)
As part of the whole #shakespeare400 thing, the Guardian is posting videos of various actors (among them Adrian Lester, Roger Allam, and Eileen Atkins) performing Shakespeare speeches, starting on February 1:


There's a trailer up now, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

And while I'm here, an opinion piece about Shakespeare's language, and Emma Rice's suggestion that it's better to change "chimney-sweepers" to "dandelions":

In defence of Shakespeare's difficult bits

And some letters in response to that piece:

I admit that I've been kind of worrying about this ever since I read that article in which the author mentioned that Emma Rice changed the name "Fidele" to "Ian." I don't know anything about her, really, so I guess we'll wait and see, but...
tempestsarekind: (bonny kate)
For reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture, I was looking for an online text of Chaucer's House of Fame this morning. But look what I also found:

For ye be lyk the sweynte cat,
That wolde have fish; but wostow what?
He wolde no-thing wete his clowes. (Book III, ll. 1785-7)


I'm sure I didn't think anything of this when I read The House of Fame in grad school, because I didn't know Macbeth nearly as well as I know it now, but here's the same cat:

Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,'
Like the poor cat i' th' adage? (Macbeth, 1.7)

These little things that persist through time make me very happy.

mea culpa

Oct. 17th, 2015 12:05 pm
tempestsarekind: (hamlet/horatio OTP)
I take back my frustration with the rewriting of "What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba" in the Cumberbatch Hamlet: "What's Hecuba to him, or he to her" is the variation in the Second Quarto. ("Or he to Hecuba" is the Folio version.) I took issue with it because as far as I can tell, many of the changed lines in that production have been changed in the name of clarity (like "acid dropping into milk" instead of "eager droppings"), and I couldn't imagine how anyone could think that "or he to Hecuba" was unclear. But apparently they were just going with the Second Quarto text.
tempestsarekind: (rory died and turned into a roman)
[As this book doesn't really have much of a plot, I haven't cut for spoilers, but if you want to read the novel cold, you might not want to read this post.]

And here are some links, which I read before reading the book:

NPR review: http://www.npr.org/2015/07/08/418600139/speak-asks-hard-questions-about-communication-and-technology

Excerpt from Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/2015/07/07/excerpt-speak-louisa-hall/


I finished reading Speak by Louisa Hall; it is a fairly novel experience, these days, to pick up a library request and actually have a chance to finish reading it, so that was nice. I'm still trying to work out how I felt about the book. I'm glad I read it, and it was thought-provoking (although it might not be as much so for people who spend more time thinking about computers and AI in their everyday lives). One of the most effective things the book did, I think, was its use of recurring phrases (as the premise is that the MARY3 program became so lifelike - too lifelike, according to some - because it was fed with all of these voices, including the diary of Mary Bradford, a Puritan girl in 1663, and the letters of Alan Turing). Every time I recognized one of these, I think I saw it first in the narrative of the MARY3 program housed inside one of the "babybots" (lifelike robot dolls given to children, who then bonded with those babybots to the exclusion of other humans, so the babybots are taken away), and then subsequently in one of the narratives that helped to build the MARY3 program. So this technique effectively kept raising the question: are these repeated phrases evidence of the fact that these narratives are the same, that MARY3 is experiencing a similar feeling - as would usually be the case in a novel when recurring phrases appear? Or is it only that the program was programmed with those phrases long ago and is just selecting the most optimal phrase from data storage? Does that actually matter, if the selection of phrases gets "good" enough? When does the imitation of life actually become life? One of the letters of "Alan Turing" asks this question, or points out that we accept all the time that other humans feel emotion as deeply as we do, but we are always required to take this on faith based on external evidence - so how is a machine that seems to feel something any different?

I think the novel has a similar difficulty to that of Kage Baker's Company novels, though, which is that the future winds up being fairly bland and anonymous when compared to the vividness of the past. As with the Company novels, this may be intentional: nearly everyone in Speak seems to be confined to identikit developments where the grass is made from "recyclables" because they sold away their "transport rights" in order to afford houses in these developments. So there is clearly some intention here to talk about the separations between people, in particular these children who grew up lavishing all their affection on their babybots only to have them taken away when people got too worried that the bots were too lifelike. But the novel remains unhelpfully vague on how this process happened: we get to read about the creation of the babybot and the MARY3 program in the autobiography of their creator (written from prison, as he's been imprisoned for creating what the book jacket refers to as "illegally lifelike dolls"), but the babybots just…sort of became a worldwide sensation, and we don't see how or why; we only hear from a teenager chatting to an online version of the MARY3 program about what she lost.

And again, as with the Company novels, there's a sort of thinness to the future voices. The autobiography at least has a certain amount of self-aggrandizement, but the voice of that teenager comes off as rather bland when placed alongside the ungainly insistence of, in particular, the diary of Mary Bradford and the letters of Alan Turing. Again, this may well be on purpose - are we less human when we don't make human connections? - but that future teenager in the transcript, Gaby, could be anyone. These three narratives - Mary, Gaby, and Turing - all have in common the idea that they have loved one being in a fixed, intent way, and then lost that being: Mary has her dog Ralph, Turing his dear friend Chris, and Gaby her babybot Eva. But Mary and Turing sound like individuals, with their own quirks, and even the intensity of their affection, while perhaps unusual and incomprehensible to much of the outside world, makes them sound unique. But Gaby isn't unique: there are teenagers, mostly but not exclusively girls, all over the world suffering from her exact condition. And her voice never rises above the level of "my parents can't understand me, even my best friend is a faker because she's getting better and getting over the loss of her doll, my generation is nothing like my parents' generation" identikit teen stuff. There's little if anything in her transcript that tells us how or why she loved her babybot, why we should consider that loss a real loss like the loss of a dear friend or a dog. And like I said, some of this is probably on purpose - it's probably to the point that both Gaby and Eva talk about their experiences using "we," as part of a collective rather than an individual - but it unintentionally stacks the deck. I think the novel wants to ask questions about what makes consciousness and what makes a human human, but because Gaby is the only person we ever hear from who had a babybot, and we don't hear why these babybots were so all-consuming to the children who lost them, that side of the story never rang as true for me as Mary's monomaniacal grief for her dog.

(There's also the smaller problem that the novel introduces some terms without really explaining them - which is always a problem with these kinds of first-person narratives composed either for oneself or for a familiar reader, because it would be stilted and unbelievable for the computer scientist to suddenly write, "As you know, Bob, the Turing Test is…" Or "As you know, Jean, a captivity narrative is…" But I could imagine being a reader who didn't really know what those things are. And it doesn't answer one small question that I really wanted answered about Mary Bradford, because it got mentioned twice, but oh well.)

Still, I really liked the concept of the novel, and as I said, I'm glad I read it even if I wasn't as overwhelmed by it as its press suggested I would be.

[ETA: Because I'm me, the most thought-provoking part of the book for me is the way that Mary Bradford's seventeenth-century narrative gets caught up in the creation of artificial intelligence hundreds of years in the future. So much of this project, in the novel, is driven by the desire to remember, to keep things from being lost - and here's this narrative that only seems to survive because someone fed it into the original MARY program (which is named after Mary Bradford). That idea caught at me and hasn't quite let go yet - I've referred to this before as my "persistence of the past" kink (I still wish literary criticism had a better word for this - or any word; "kink" is useful, but I don't particularly like using the word. Does fandom have a new word for this yet?).]
tempestsarekind: (don't get clever in latin! [donna])
I'm going to go ahead and post the last couple of things I've written about trying to read Wolf Hall recently (I figure I should try to read it before I see the miniseries? I have until April - which is when PBS is airing it), even though I am kind of embarrassed by them (why can I not appreciate this book that everyone else in the world loves? What is wrong with me?), but for the sake of honesty, here we go.

18 January 2015

Somewhat perversely, I would like to read some criticism of Wolf Hall by someone smart and thoughtful who didn't like it; maybe it would help me like it better, knowing that someone out there hadn't praised this book to the skies when I am not enjoying it. Admittedly I have only managed to struggle through the first three chapters - this is only partly the book's fault; I haven't been reading it consistently - so maybe I haven't adjusted to the prose yet and I will enjoy it more as I get used to it, but right now the book's very syntax is grating on my inward ear. Stop cramming all the paragraphs with so much syntactically unconnected detail, Hilary Mantel! Stop changing point of view in the middle of paragraphs! (You can't just throw "We hope he'll grow up tall" in the middle of a paragraph about Cromwell's son when the whole rest of the paragraph is being narrated in the third person, what are you even doing!) Also, I know this book is all dudes*, but if you could be a little bit clearer who you're talking about - so that every sentence isn't "He said to him that he was a great scholar" or whatever, although this would be less difficult to figure out if every paragraph weren't crammed with so much detail, because each one of those three pronouns could refer to a different man mentioned in the last two sentences, for all I know - that would be nice. (Yes, yes, I'm sure this is on purpose. That doesn't mean it doesn't grate.)

Also, the dialogue is also irking me, but this is more personal; it just sounds so terse and modern that it actually feels at odds with the way that Tudor people seem to me to think. Even their personal letters are more playful and elaborate with language than we are today - they like playing with words and coining new ones; they weren't like, "ah yes, in the halls of power we get right to the point, none of this fancy-dancy speechifying." And their speech could still be muscular and vivid - but they were not exactly a terse people. I know historical fiction doesn't have to represent the speech patterns of its historical period exactly, even in stories about speakers of whatever language one is writing in (a book set in ancient Rome but written in English is never going to sound like Latin), but still.

*This bit actually sounds more sarcastic about Mantel than I meant it to; it's not her fault that every important person in this period is a guy named Thomas!

21 January 2015

Still trying to read a chapter or so of Wolf Hall before bed; right now I am only managing three or four pages every couple of nights, but hey ho. I hit one of those bits last night where Mantel apparently uses what reviewers actually called "ye olde speech," because why not, in order to make a humorous contrast or whatever:
Above all, Mantel avoids ye olde-style diction, preferring more contemporary phrasing. Small rises in the level of language are frequently used for comic effect, as in: "Well, I tell you, Lady Shelton, if she had had an axe to hand, she would have essayed to cut off my head." The effortless-seeming management of contrasting registers plays a big part in the novel's success, as does Mantel's decision to let Cromwell have a sense of humour."

And this is even more grating than the lack of clarity regarding third-person singular masculine pronouns, because it's indicative of a thing that feels to me like a failure in the world being imagined. It's the same problem I had with Desperate Romantics, a not particularly good miniseries about the PRB, in which all the painters spoke in relatively modern speech, except for Millais (played by an adorably hapless Samuel Barnett), who was supposed to sound so quaint and prim and prudish...except that all he really sounded was Victorian. You know, like all of the other characters in the miniseries are as well. Or "The Shakespeare Code," which is supposedly set in 1599, but has an exchange between two of "Shakespeare's" actors in which they complain that they never know what old Will is going on about (yeah, Early Modern English must be really hard for you sixteenth-century guys to understand), and the only characters in the episode who ever sound remotely Elizabethan are the Carrionite "witches," who are supposed to be from the dawn of time. I mean, I get it: modern readers and viewers hear that language as old-fashioned and ridiculous, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to yell "do better!" at people when they pull this nonsense. It never stops bothering me when historical fiction or historical drama takes the language that people actually spoke and turns it into nothing more than a ridiculous joke. Surely historical fiction is supposed to be about imagining what the past was like, to the degree that we ever can, and trying to conjure up an actually different world, in which people thought - and yes, spoke - very differently from the way we do? And wouldn't it make more sense for critics to - let's get crazy here - respect that endeavor, instead of demeaning the so-called trappings of historical fiction as nothing more than "ye olde-style diction," and only praising those books of historical fiction that "make the past seem just like today" or "make the sixteenth-century court seem just like the modern halls of power," as though the erasure of difference and such easy parallelism between then and now are things to strive for?

I know I have ranted this rant before, about RTD-era Doctor Who historical episodes (oddly enough, Moffat managed to ameliorate this not by having a companion from the past - which I still want, and I'm still wistful about Victorian Clara - but by changing the Doctor so that he no longer says things like "This lot have still got one foot in the Dark Ages," but instead remarks offhandedly that he's on Virginia Woolf's bowling team, and has longstanding relationships with figures like Churchill, and takes Vincent van Gogh seriously and befriends him instead of making jokes about him like Ten does to Shakespeare), but still. This attitude is like nails on a chalkboard to me; I can't help it. And it's such a waste. (As much as I find myself yelling "what are you even doing right now" at Sleepy Hollow on a regular basis this season, one thing that they got right is that Ichabod's old-fashioned language doesn't mean that he's a joke - even though he is often funny, and Abbie rightly laughs at him when he takes refuge in an even greater level of formality because he doesn't want to deal with something. He speaks the way he speaks not because he's some kind of prudish fussbudget, but because he's, you know, from 1781. They spoke like that then. And he can still be curious and tender and exasperated and everything else in that language, because it is an actual language to him, not just an affectation a writer has him put on when he wants to make fun of someone else. I can't wrap my head around Mantel's decision, after reading what must have been tons of Tudor documents and history, to look at the way they spoke and then decide to use it only in mockery. Why not just choose not to use it at all?)
tempestsarekind: (your strange behavior puzzles martha)
According to Nicholas Orme in Medieval Children, "faunt" is a medieval word for "infant." Which, it occurs to me, means that Little Lord Fauntleroy is really redundant: it basically boils down to "little lord infant king."

I don't really know what to do with this fact.
tempestsarekind: (little dorrit)
One could lose a lot of time looking through this:


Passing English of the Victorian era, a dictionary of heterodox English, slang and phrase, by J. Redding Ware (1909); Routledge, London.
tempestsarekind: (elizabeth bennet is amused)
A laughing etymologist in a humorless crowd

(A post from the Oxford University Press blog on the etymology of words related to laughter and mockery.)
tempestsarekind: (geoffrey)
In class on Wednesday, we were talking about the word "cousin" in Shakespeare, and how it gets used for close familial relationships even if the characters aren't literally cousins. One of my students declared that Hamlet calls Horatio "cousin" at one point; I was skeptical, but she was insistent, and I don't have the play memorized, so I let it go. I just looked this up using Open Source Shakespeare, though, and it turns out that there are only four uses of the word "cousin" in Hamlet - and every one of them is Claudius to Hamlet. I find this fascinating, that attempt to insist on closeness when there are onlookers present. "How fares our cousin Hamlet?"

(…oh no, now I am having feelings about the fact that Romeo calls Tybalt "cousin" in the Capulet vault; he's claiming him out loud as family in a way he couldn't do when Tybalt challenged him, this is the worst and everything is terrible.)

(also, there are apparently only three uses of "cousin" in Othello, and only two of those are terms of address - which makes a lot of sense, because Desdemona gets cut off from her kinsmen by joining Othello in Cyprus, and Othello has no community ties of that sort; they are both terribly isolated and vulnerable.)
tempestsarekind: (austen snark is the best snark)


That is how No Fear Shakespeare 'translates' "A king of shreds and patches." As though anyone uses the word "ragtag" these days for anything other than, say, scrappy underdog sports teams, or motley bands of heroes in lesser fantasy scenarios. Misfits are "ragtag," No Fear Shakespeare!

I accidentally stumbled across this information, and I felt I needed to inflict it on other people, so they could share my pain.

ETA: I looked up "ragtag" in the dictionary, just to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. Merriam-Webster gives the definition of "ragtag" as "made up of different people or things and not organized or put together well." Which…no? Under the fuller definition, we have "ragged, unkempt" (which doesn't fit either; I am pretty sure that Hamlet is not actually upset about Claudius' sartorial choices), but definition 2 reads like this:

2: MOTLEY 2 (a ragtag bunch of misfits)

(from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ragtag ).

So I think I was pretty much on target. (The definition also gives a usage example about a ragtag sports team. It really does.)

In conclusion: I hate these No Fear Shakespeare things so much.


Sep. 30th, 2014 11:45 am
tempestsarekind: (berowne [david tennant 2008])
There is a wrong answer in this Guardian quiz, and it's really annoying me:
Quiz - which Shakespeare characters speak these lines about love?

So question 2 asks you to guess who says the line "Love each other in moderation"… the problem is that this isn't actually a Shakespeare quotation. The answer is supposed to be Friar Laurence, who *actually* says "Therefore love moderately; long love doth so." "Love each other in moderation" - at least as far as I can tell from Google - is actually the "No Fear Shakespeare" translation of this line.


(It is true that I would probably be less annoyed if this mistake didn't remind me that "No Fear Shakespeare" is a thing that exists.)

[Addendum: when you search for "moderation" in a Shakespeare concordance - okay, when I just did this out of curiosity - you only get one result, which is from Troilus and Cressida and nothing like that line in the Guardian quiz. This is surprising to me, though; I would have expected a lot more results. And "moderate" only comes back with seven, two of which are also from Troilus. "Immoderate" and "immoderately" both come back with one result (the latter I should have remembered, since it's from R&J: "Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt's death.") I kept trying to remember what Claudius says to Hamlet - "unmanly" grief, while Gertrude, of course, uses "common" and "particular" to mark out Hamlet's lack of moderation. I thought that perhaps "seemly" and "unseemly" would get more hits, but there are only two uses of the first and one of the second. "Temperate," though, has eight uses in the plays and one in Sonnet 18.]
tempestsarekind: (freema in the mirror)
This one by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker, inspired by Ira Glass' tweeting that Shakespeare wasn't relatable:

The Scourge of "Relatability"

Key quotations:

"The concept of identification implies that the reader or viewer is, to some degree at least, actively engaged with the work in question: she is thinking herself into the experience of the characters on the page or screen or stage.

But to demand that a work be 'relatable' expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her."

"...to reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize—because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy—is our own failure. It’s a failure that has been dispiritingly sanctioned by the rise of 'relatable.' "
tempestsarekind: (cheveril glove)
Not about Shakespeare at all, but a Slate post about why "relatable" is such a terrible, useless word:

This is exactly right, I think - it's the way that "relatable" shuts down discussion, whether it's being used as a term of praise or as a way to dismiss something for not fulfilling that totally arbitrary idea. People - and I don't only say 'students' for a reason - use the word as though they're saying something other than "I have had a life experience like the life experience of someone in this novel/play/TV show/song lyric/movie" - as though it tells us something about the writers' or actors' skill, when it really doesn't, and means that people don't look for more precise terms to describe what they might actually be experiencing when they say that something is "relatable." And it's impossible to respond to, really: you're stuck with a chorus of "Me too!" or the feeling of "…That's nice for you, I guess?" You can't have a dialogue with "relatable" because it's solely about the speaker's personal life experiences; if you don't share them, there's nothing else to say.
tempestsarekind: (hamlet/horatio OTP)
This has nothing to do with anything except that I just got an email in my inbox about the "Bad Quarto" version of Hamlet, but. A few weeks ago I was trying to describe feminine endings to my students, and the only other line I could come up with on the spot (besides the line in the actual poem, whatever that was) was "To be or not to be, that is the question": it's iambic pentameter, but then it has an extra unstressed syllable at the end. So then, not too long after that, I was thinking about this line, and the Q1 version - "To be or not to be, ay, there's the point" - and how "point" and "question" are such different words, such different ideas...and then I realized: with "point," that extra, uncertain syllable on the end of the line is gone as well. Sound echoing sense: I love it.
tempestsarekind: (regency house party [s&s])
...I am sorry, but Ichabod Crane is basically a cat.

(No, seriously, he is all attempts at standing on dignity and I-meant-to-do-that when startled into sputtering while trying his first energy drink, but also totally transfixed by the operation of automatic car windows, so. Cat.)

Also, I totally ship him and Abbie, what is this nonsense, I never ship anybody on TV, ever (except Amy and Rory, because Amy and Rory). I didn't ship Mulder/Scully, or Booth/Brennan back when Bones was still worth watching, and I would be totally disappointed if Sherlock/Joan became a romantic couple on Elementary (although I friend-ship them a lot, and love that dynamic). I'm usually the person who doesn't want the partners to get together, even though I love the exploration of their importance to each other. But somehow I more or less started shipping these two *during* the pilot, what even.

Also also, Ichabod used the word "ken" as a verb last night, I am filled with glee~


tempestsarekind: (Default)

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