Friday, 16 October 2015

The Left's biggest double standard

I'm an old, grumpy chap, and as such, fairly little things annoy me. For example, the incorrect versions of You're/Your, Too/To, and Their/There/They're being used. The little paper covering underneath the lids of margarine. Conspiracy theories (Yes, we landed on the moon, no, 9/11 wasn't an inside job and no the BBC isn't biased!). The thing that winds me up more than anything though is the mass repetition of falsehoods and rumours. I'll give you an example. A couple of weeks ago I saw a piece of theatre that repeated the oft told story of how while N.A.S.A spent billions of dollars inventing a pen that could work in zero gravity, the Russians just took pencils. While this makes for a good gag, it's completely untrue:

If I'm honest, the inclusion of that little tale spoiled the show for me a little. If a bit of research into a clearly nonsense story wasn't undertaken, how much attention was given to other aspects? In the grand scheme of things of course, this doesn't mean anything. I'm sure N.A.S.A don't give a toss about some obvious rumour as they land probes on comets and other miraculous feats of derring-do. 

Sometimes though, repetition of falsehoods and funny but untrue tat can be damaging and more than just an irritant. Take the following tweet as an example:

This has been doing the rounds on Twitter for a while and shows no sign of stopping, despite it being fishy to say the least. Granted, it's convincing enough in that one can certainly imagine Trump saying it, but it's not on his timeline and he isn't the type to delete anything that's a bit contentious: His whole USP is saying the unsayable and not backing down from anything. But this version of the tweet has had over 2000 RTs at the time I took the screenshot, and I'm sure it's only one of many out there. 

Now, you may well think that it's no big deal, Trump is an odious twerp (yes he is) and he deserves a bit of chicanery aimed at him. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Trump should be allowed within 500ft of the White House, let alone live in it, but if the same thing is done against someone a bit more palatable to the Left, say, for example, Jeremy Corbyn:

then all of a sudden it's an outrage and thousands of memes and campaigns are created to set the record straight. You might say that what happened to Corbyn was part of a smear campaign by his enemies, and that Trump is one of the big guys who needs taking down. First of all, how is one more justifiable than another, given that they are essentially *both* smears by their enemies, and secondly, just because someone is seen as powerful doesn't mean they shouldn't be afforded the same treatment you expect of your heroes just because the target of your ire is a prick. We're better than that, aren't we? To me, it's the biggest (or one of at least) double standard the Left has. They're outraged when Corbyn is accused of saying the death of a mass murderer was a tragedy, or Planned Parenthood are falsely accused of selling foetus parts for profit 

But when there's a way of attacking someone who they don't like, it's fair game apparently. 

Another reason I don't care for this stuff is that it detracts from what *really* has been said. Like Trump's views on Mexicans, Immigration, his damn hair. If focus is drawn to rumour and falsehood then it's another weapon in his armoury. He can claim that his opponents will believe anything against him and all of a sudden *he* looks like the rational one. Him. A man who has seen his corporation bankrupt 4 times but STILL somehow manages to be seen as a viable person to hand America's budget to.

Maybe I'm wrong, but if 30 seconds or so was taken to check something out before it was believed to be true, then maybe it'd be harder for us to be lied to at all. At the very least, it'd help my blood pressure drop a lot.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


I failed! Bah! Yesterday was a loooong day with the kids, and I didn't get round to a blog. Curses!

Tonight's entry is a bit of fun, hopefully. I've been watching the incredible Epic Rap Battles of History channel on YouTube a lot recently. It's self explanatory; Actors and MCs play historical or fictional character who face off in a rap battle. It's very funny, I recommend you check it out. It put me in mind of what Shakespeare characters would battle in a rap. Taking characters from different plays, I present to you now the lyrics of my own Rap Battle....Macbeth Vs is a bit sweary....

Is this a loser that I see here before me?
The dour Dane who feigns insane behaviour in an boring story?
Your Daddy killed but you're not mad you lack gall
It takes three hours before you even start to kill at all.
I'm a killer with a greater fame
Rocking it in Dunsinaine,
Murdered Duncan
Hid my junk and
Malcolm took the blame.
You can't beat me, sit back and watch the show
I'll beat your ass Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

To beat or not to beat you down that is the question
Like Yorick you're a clown, let me give you some direction
You're a joke so scared of ghosts just like a little bitch is
you take career advice from a bunch of freakin' witches.
You have kids killed, what the hell is wrong with you?
Killed your buddy, hands are bloody, still you're destined to lose
Face it Macbeth, you'll never get the best of me
You're in a failing habit, so get thee to a nunnery.

I was a soldier, it was my job to kill and slaughter
How's Ophelia, oh yeah she's six feet underwater.
And your mom, that's right, she's dead, too bad,
let's not forget that your Uncle is your step-dad.
I'm spitting these rhymes
every one is a hit
Like Laertes I'll stab ya with a poisoned tip.

A hit, a hit? You must be jive talking
Is that your wife passing by, sleepwalking?
I died with honour, my revenge was sated
You died on your knees, decapitated.
A tale telling idiot, back stabbing scum
Something stupid this way comes.
I'm done with you, finished,
I'll stop my violence from my lyrics
The rest is silence.

Not great, but you get the idea. Will work on it....maybe.

Friday, 20 March 2015

To teach or not to teach

A brief one tonight as we've had all sorts of drama here this evening.

Should Shakespeare be taught in schools? I waver on this every time I think about it. On the one hand, as a cultural keystone and national poet it seems ludicrous to leave him off the syllabus. Often school lessons are people's first contact with Shakespeare and it would be a massive shame if the opportunities to discover Shakespeare's work were further diminished. On the other, is sitting in a classroom pouring over text that can be intimidating (to begin with) the best way of introducing the works? Do compulsory exams and lessons put people off?

I used to think there should be a module on Shakespeare that was untested or graded, just a session of appreciation and discussion. Now I realise that would be impractical for many reasons, not least the addition of extra work to already burdened teachers.

What do you think?

Thursday, 19 March 2015

What's in a name?

Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays. This I firmly believe in, as do many other fans and scholars. There are, however, quite a few folk who are of the opinion that the works were written by someone else. Amongst others, Edward De Vere, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe have been mentioned as possible authors.

This post won't be about the arguments for and against, there are much better people than I to present those. I'm more interested in why the authorship debate inspires such ire with those of the opinion that Shakespeare is the genuine article. After all, surely the play's the thing, not who wrote it. What does it matter who wrote the work as long as it can be performed and celebrated?

I can't speak for others, but for me there's one big reason. 

There's a sort of snobbery in asserting that a man from Shakespeare's background couldn't have written the wonderful things he did. And Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare wasn't a peasant by any means, but he wasn't a nobleman or of the higher classes. There's an undercurrent of classism with the anti-Shakespeare argument that grates on me. Why couldn't a man of modest means have an incredible mind? Oh no, it must have been an aristocrat. Only one of higher breeding could know courtly details (That could have been read about, or, you know, made up) or have the intelligence and imagination to create these wonderful worlds.

 Heaven forbid he should reach beyond his means. That the upper class descendants and supporters of the Oxfordian or Bacon camps want to snatch the credit from a pretty much ordinary kid-made-good smacks of elitism, and that really bubbles my cauldron. 

If there was a genuine case to answer then perhaps I'd be more open to the arguments, but as far as I can see, the only real reason to dispute the authorship is Upper Class sour grapes.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

I come to bury Shakespeare, not praise him...

Imagine your favourite band or singer released 37 albums. If your favourite band is Nickleback, I can only hope that 37 remains a theoretical number, but I digress. Chances are that no matter how much you love that band, how many times you've seen them live, you'll freely admit that within the 37 there are at the very least one or two duffers that don't bear repeat listening.

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, (See what I've done there?) and although amongst the ones I've seen, performed in or at least read (about a third, fact fans) contain some brilliant examples of his work, there are one or two that aren't all that and a bare bodkin.

I feel that this is an important thing to discuss. Shakespeare is so often put on a pedestal and lionised that the plays can be a bit intimidating on reputation alone. I wonder if that puts some people off. If thinking that Shakespeare equals high class and high quality means it is treated with kid gloves instead of being dived into, explored, criticised and appreciated on its merits rather than reputation.

I'm about to commit heresy now....I really, *really* dislike Romeo and Juliet. Yeah, I said it. Come at me, cuz. Romeo is a bloody idiot, not the perfect romantic hero. He spends the beginning of the play moaning about not being able to get his end away with Rosaline. He only meets Juliet because he is stalking Rosaline (Juliet's cousin. Jesus Romeo, how many women in Verona are there that you have to fancy 2 members of your family's deadliest enemies). Then the rest of the play's tragedy is pretty much his fault. He causes Mercutio's death, kills Tybalt, doesn't bother to get his facts straight before stabbing himself, guy's an impetuous jerk! The Friar isn't much better, lacking as he is in basic communication skills. It also has Benvolio, the dullest character in the history of theatre.

I like some parts of it, it has a really good nob gag ("What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man") and the Nurse can be quite fun. It just doesn't click for me.

The same could be said of The Merry Wives of Windsor. It was supposedly knocked off  in two weeks as essentially a bit of fan service for Queen Elizabeth, who wanted another play involving Falstaff. Although that is apparently not given much weight by academics today, it certainly has the feel of Shakespeare just crowbarring a character into a fairly average romp (think Carry On Falstaff and you get the idea). It isn't terrible, but compared to Much Ado or As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor doesn't fare well.

Some plays are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them, but not all. And that's ok. Let's celebrate what's wonderful, discuss what we think isn't, and treat his work as the accessible, human work that it is.

Nothing he wrote is as bad as 'How U Remind Me' though......

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Oh Brave new world...

A late one (I've been looking after a poorly wife today) but still one time, my first Shakespeare blog of the week. This entry is about my first experience of Shakespeare.

I was very lucky at school. I had English teachers who understood that to get the best out of Shakespeare, seeing the work on stage or film is much better than dryly analysing words on a page. In year 9 my class was studying Julius Caesar, and it just so happened that the Royal Exchange Theatre had a production of the play running. I think it was a double first for me: my first trip to the Royal Exchange (now my favourite theatre) and my first experience of seeing Shakespeare on stage.

The Royal Exchange is in the round, and we were sat on the benches right at the front. The actors were in touching distance, literally. The close proximity of the action made everything come to life. It was *right there*, Caesar was stabbed, Marc Antony gave his rousing speech,  Cinna the Poet was butchered by a rabid mob, circling him like hyenas not more than 6 feet from me. I didn't understand every word, but did understand more than I thought I would.

Lessons from then on were so much easier. Having seen the words come alive it made it almost seem natural to appreciate the poetry and dynamic, evocative language of the text.

I was hooked.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Shakespeare Week!

Let joy be unconfined, this week is Shakespeare Week! The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is co-ordinating events and schemes all across the country to introduce Shakespeare to primary school age children in a fun and engaging way. This is, for the avoidance of doubt, a Very Good Thing.

My own little celebration of Shakespeare Week will be to write a Shakespeare themed blog each day for the duration (16th-22nd). Does anyone have any suggestions of topics they'd like me to write about? I've a few ideas kicking around but I'm always welcome to new suggestions!

To learn more about Shakespeare week, please visit:

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

As You Like It: An appreciation

Recently I offered my thoughts on As You Like It for 1623 Theatre Company to accompany their forthcoming Shakespeare night, which this month is framed around that play. I focussed on the fact that I think that the supporting characters are very well written. This may seem like a pre-requisite but there are many instances in Shakespeare (and beyond) where some minor parts are there purely to provide exposition, with no other discernible character traits.  With As You Like It, there is a rich supply of fun character parts; Corin the humble shepherd, Charles the arrogant wrestler, William the buffoonish would-be suitor of Audrey, and several others, which all add to the joyous atmosphere that  the play creates.

Since recording that snippet I've been thinking more about what makes AYLI so successful and if you'll indulge me I'd like to share a couple of other thoughts with you, if you're still reading this. Thanks, by the way!

First, a bit of history about my association with it. It was the play in which I made my professional Shakespearian debut (along with A Midsummer Night's Dream in a UK tour) so I have something of an emotional attachment. I played the parts of Adam, (Orlando's faithful old servant), Touchstone (The fool of the piece) and Jacques De Boys, who delivers the most wonderfully tacked on ending to a play I've ever experienced, (more on that later on). More recently I revisited the part of Touchstone for 1623 in their compilation piece, Stand-Up Shakespeare.

During the tour I did a radio interview to promote one of our performances and I was asked why people should come and see it. I still remember my response. It took the form of a clumsy simile but it sort of works so bear with me! I compared it to a 'greatest hits' album in that it had all the aspects one might expect from a Shakespearian comedy, (Girl dresses as boy, romantic confusion, big happy ending) alongside parts that, although one might know they were Shakespearian, they might not know from what play, such as the Seven Ages of Man speech.....

On reflection it's a rubbish simile. Perhaps it's best to refer to it as a great play to start with if one is new to Shakespeare. Alongside the aforementioned reasons it has a very straightforward plot and not much in the way of 'B stories' to detract from the main event. Yes there's the subplot of Touchstone's pursuit of Audrey but for me it serves as an accompaniment to Rosalind and Orlando's story rather than an additional thread to follow.

Another of the play's strengths is something some commentators see as a detriment. While the characters are well written, some events in the play are seemingly plucked out of thin air, and contrivances & coincidences happening even more frequently than usual for a comedy. For me, (and I'm something of an idiot so this may well be completely wrong), this is Shakespeare just having fun and letting the Forest of Arden take on an almost mystical quality. If you haven't seen the play, let me outline a few of the instances where I think Shakespeare is just having fun with his world and not giving two hoots about logic!

First off, aside from the opening couple of scenes, the entire play takes place in the Forest of Arden where the exiled Duke Senior, his court, and latterly his Daughter, her best friend and the court Fool reside. That a seemingly huge forest, large enough to hide exiled dukes and contain at least one lioness. (yes, lioness. We'll come to that shortly) is also small enough for the characters to all find each other with some ease has always amused me. Perhaps it isn't so unlikely and small forrest communities were common in Elizabethan England but to me it's more likely that Shakespeare is having his pastoral cake and eating it.

The lion. So, Oliver, Orlando's brother, hates his sibling. Why he despises Orlando so much is down to nothing more than jealousy of his brother's popularity. Unlike Iago's sly, manipulative ways of exploring his envy, Oliver just arranges a wrestling match between Orlando and Charles, wanting the latter to break the former's neck. When that doesn't work and Orlando escapes to the forest, Oliver gives chase but gets himself into a pickle when first a snake, then A BLOODY LIONESS attacks him, Orlando scaring both away. First of all, It's very fortunate that his brother was around in the exact same part of the forest to help him escape. A forest, that we have established, is large enough to house a Duke and his retinue. Second, IT HAS A LIONESS IN IT! Was there an Arden Zoo that had a bunch of escapees? I've read that the inclusion of a serpent and lioness (who it seems has a litter, MORE LIONS!)  is to reflect the nature of killing for necessity versus killing for fun (much like Jacques mourning the killing of a deer) which sort of makes sense, but why a Lioness? It just seems fantastical.

Last of all (though there are other fun contrivances along the way) the ending. Rosalind marries Orlando, Oliver Marries Celia (another little knot tied for seemingly the hell of it!), Touchstone marries Audrey and Silvius Marries Phoebe. Then, out of nowhere, a hitherto unmentioned third brother of Orlando and Oliver, Jacques appears. Why didn't Orlando go and stay with him instead of dragging a pensioner around a forest?

'Hey Orlando, Oliver plans to set fire to you as you sleep'
'Oh God, what can we do, Adam?'
'Well, Jacques lives in the next town over'
'Nah, let's use your life savings and go on the run'
'Less talky, more walky, old man'.

Jacques then goes on to explain that the previously evil Duke Frederick, who had been complicit in the plot to kill Orlando, who had banished his brother and niece out of pure spite, who seems basically to exist to be as much of a despot as possible had a religious conversion while on the hunt for his brother.

Duke Frederick, hearing how that every day
Men of great worth resorted to this forest,Address'd a mighty power; which were on foot,In his own conduct, purposely to takeHis brother here and put him to the sword:And to the skirts of this wild wood he came;Where meeting with an old religious man,After some question with him, was convertedBoth from his enterprise and from the world,His crown bequeathing to his banish'd brother,And all their lands restored to them againThat were with him exiled. This to be true,I do engage my life. (5.4.1)

Right. So there's this bloody great forest where the exiled Duke is but it's taken all this time for him to decide to go hunting for him, and though everyone else in the dukedom can find Senior with ease, Frederick bumps into a hermit (who must be mightily hacked off that his once empty contemplative space is now busier than Elsinore) first!

It seems like I'm dismissing the contrivances as poor writing but to me Shakespeare is more concerned with the world inside the forest where anything can happen, including the most magical of things: falling in love, than he is with events in the cold, calculating court. Once Frederick steps inside he too is subject to the magical spell seemingly at work. That Duke Senior and the rest of the exiles (excluding Jacques) choose to return to the court is, strangely, the only thing that doesn't make sense to me in this topsy-turvy world. 

To sum up, As You Like It isn't Shakespeare's best and yes, there are points where it wavers into the absurd (one last time, LIONS! Is it just me?) but these moments can be seen as huge advantages in just letting the story flow and result in a thoroughly entertaining play.

Monday, 16 February 2015

The flaw in the plan.

Ok, bear with me here as I'm writing this as quick as I can to get the thoughts out because it's something that's been bugging me for years.

It's no secret to anyone that knows me, reads my tweets or meets me for more than 5 seconds that I have zero self confidence. Zip. I don't know where it's come from but I see myself as, essentially, without any attributes.

Now, I've had therapy and counselling, and read self help books, listened to talks, and the one thing that has always, *always* thrown a spanner in the works is this bit of advice:

'Write down X things that you like about yourself'.


Let's look at this. My confidence couldn't be lower. I can name a million things I hate about myself. If  I *could* think of things I like about myself, or that I feel I do well that would be a start I know, but I can't, THAT'S THE POINT!

Whenever I've heard that advice it's made me physically tense up because it's so clear in my head that it makes no sense. If I try to list anything positive about myself I draw a blank.

Is it just me that finds that bit of advice useless?

As a post script, I also get irked by hearing advice about how to look confident by clearly very attractive people. Yeah, you *really* get how I feel. Git.

Rant over.