My Shakespeare Project – Introduction

Shakespeare“One of the tasks of a lifetime is to become familiar with the great plays of Shakespeare.” – Roger Ebert  (January 24th 1997 Hamlet review)

This quote from Roger Ebert’s review of Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Hamlet has stayed with me since I first read it.  It has circulated through my mind over the intervening 20 years and is the impetus for this project. My friends know of my admiration bordering on adoration of Branagh, particularly his Shakespeare films. But while Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations have deepened my interest in the Bard and my understanding of some of his works, it was not the genesis of my affection. It’s hard for me to say exactly when it did begin. My oldest friend Chad remembers taking note of me for the first time in and English class in Junior High as we read Shakespeare aloud.

“I remember the apprehension of going to Junior High. This was a new building for us with the 6th grade. In our English class, we were going around the room and reading reluctantly from Shakespeare. Some of us read with an air of boredom to make it clear that we were cooler than this. Others read with trembling fear that we would be laughed at. I remember when the reading reached a gangly young guy with tousled brown hair. Suddenly the entire room changed. Who was this weirdo? He read Shakespeare as if he was on the professional stage or reading for an old-time radio show. There was drama, intrigue, and thinking back maybe different voices for different characters. This is how I met Rob Dunkelberger. We would not be friends after this meeting. I had some growing up to do. I needed to be less worried about what everyone thought. When we finally did become friends in high school, it was like soul mates meeting. We share the same exact birthday. I know he’ll always be my friend. That weirdo that loved Shakespeare so much.” – Chad Raymond (April 27 2017 e-mail)

What was the Play? I’m not sure, Probably Romeo and Juliet, but it may have been Julius Caesar.  I know it wasn’t Hamlet, that was tackled in High School with Mr. Orvik. But somehow I think I must have had an interest before then. What Junior High kid is inspired to try and bring meaning and emotion to Shakespeare spontaneously after listening to classmates attempts to make it indecipherable? I doubt that without some foreknowledge of Shakespeare and performances of Shakespeare that would happen. So where the kernels of this affinity began is a matter of speculation on my part.

I assume that it must come from an unlikely fascination with older forms of entertainment. Ever since a boy a fan of old movies of old books, probably beginning with old monster movies, that story well documented at the below address.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, led to reading Sherlock Holmes. The comedic silliness of P.G. Wodehouse led to a longing to have been an Edwardian era man of leisure, with a public school background, putting on plays and throwing dinner rolls at Binky and Cyril in the Drones Club.  Perhaps Shakespeare comes with being an Anglophile. I was always much more interested in a British Costume film than a western as a child. I suspect I was early on establishing a desire to be well read and someone who enjoyed the more sophisticated things in life. Cary Grant over John Wayne, Woody Allen over Jerry Lewis, Monty Python over I don’t know, Ernest goes/does/slips in… Movies? Now this is when I was younger, not that many of these things don’t still hold true, but I have learned to embrace my American heritage as well. But at the time getting dirty on the trail on the back of a living breathing horse took backseat to a dinner party at a country estate in merry old England.  Perhaps the roots of my Shakespeare attraction can be traced back to this desire from and early age to achieve a level of intellectualism that no other ten year old had ever longed for. I remember from an early age, probably six or seven, hoping for a tuxedo for Christmas. Where I imagined I might wear such a garment I can hardly fathom now. We certainly didn’t make a habit of dressing for dinner, frankly I’m not even sure my father wore pants to the dinner table most of the time, certainly no one was looking for me to show up in tails. But I digress, the short of it is that being an obviously odd child, one out of step with my Dukes of Hazzard loving peers to say the least, I developed some eccentricities.

One of which would appear to have culminated in a familiarity with Shakespeare by the age of twelve before being introduced to it in any formal educational setting. That is unless I’m forgetting some 1st grade play in which they had the six year olds mount a production of The Tempest for a spring concert, but I doubt that is likely. Though I can not remember where or when I was introduced to Shakespeare’s work, I can neither remember not knowing who Shakespeare was and what his place in world literature was. Perhaps that is how it is for all of us. Perhaps this is a piece of knowledge that is passed down through genetics or is a form of instinctual knowledge we are born with. As a baby Kangaroo upon being born instinctively climbs into it’s mothers pouch, do humans instinctively know who Shakespeare is? If born an American do we automatically, without any coaching what-so-ever, dismiss it and avoid it at all costs? Perhaps that last comment is a bit unfair, but it does seem in today’s world that intelligence is seen as a mark of oddness. Something to be scoffed at and made fun of. So is it any different than a Junior High classroom in the 1980’s? Are we not seeing on a grander scale that microcosm? Where displaying a desire to do more than just read the words on the page to fulfill the requirement, is deemed the act of an uppity intellectual?

Now I can make no bones about the fact that my desire at a young age was born more from a desire to be that upper class intellectual, than a real thirst for the actual knowledge. I am as guilty as anyone at that age of trying to affect a personality type I idolized. But as I have grown older I have become aware that my desires for this knowledge that comes with being well read is more and more at the heart of my longing. People seem to view reading Shakespeare and Charles Dickens as some sort of elitism. But Shakespeare and Dickens are not elitists. They were the Stephen King’s of their generations. These were the most popular writer’s of their times. These were not writers who wrote only for the well educated and upper classes. These were writers who wrote for all people, the Butcher, the Baker, even the Candlestick maker as well as Kings and Queens. What makes them seem like elitist is their language, Dickens is harder to read today than Stephen King is, because the meaning of words has changed. There are words we no longer use, there are words that have new meanings different from the meaning used in the text.  Life was also different, the everyday tasks and tools of life in those days are not ours and so everything seems foreign in a way. Well Shakespeare even further removed from our time multiplies these issues by a factor of ten.  Dickens requires a little more concentration and a little more focused attention, with that, one can sit and within a chapter or two be quite able to read along and follow the narrative. With Shakespeare we must rely much more heavily on annotations to the text. We need definitions, explanations of myths and historical references that were perhaps common knowledge in the 16th and 17th century but now in the 21st are unknown even to students of these disciplines. Therefore they take more effort, more focus, more commitment on the part of the reader. So why bother?

“You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate: there is more eloquence in a sugar touch of them than in the tongues of the French council” – HenryV

There is witchcraft in the words of Shakespeare. There is an eloquence in his most perfect passages the like of which we shall not see again. There is within these texts such beauty, such humor, such nobility, that these individual words take on meanings and powers far surpassing their own simple definitions. I have always felt that words are important. I have at times been ridiculed for using words that others do not know.  I never purposely use words others don’t know, I just use the words I know as best I can to say what I want to say in the best possible way. I believe in the power of words, I believe that words mean something and that we should use the proper words to say as precisely as we can what we mean. I hate the argument “you know what I mean”.  I always want to shout back “say what you mean!”.  Words matter, don’t use them casually, whatever you want to say there are words for it, use them. There are the perfect words to express our meanings to each other, and then there are the perfect words to express our emotions. That is where Shakespeare lives for me. His ability to put together words in such a way as to create an emotion. The more we read, the more words we are exposed to the more ideas we come in contact with, the closer we come to being able to express ourselves so that we are understood and the more able we are to understand others.

“I have of late –but wherefore I know not– lost all my Mirth” – Hamlet

How much more beautiful is that passage than saying “I’m kinda feeling down.”  It is in search of that beauty that I begin this quest.  It is a search, to understand not just the well known tales, but all of Shakespeare that I embark on. I do not know how long this journey will take, or ultimately what it will look like at it’s completion. For a destination so far off, the entire path cannot be known at the outset.

I will start with a general plan and see where it takes me. That plan, surely to be altered and fine tuned along the way is this. I shall read a play, the order of which shall be determined by my mood, or by an upcoming opportunity to see a performance of a certain play.  I will be utilizing the Folger Shakespeare Library editions of the plays. After I have read the play I will then screen whatever film/video/live performances I can find. Not always exhausting all option, but when possible viewing at least two, and frequently more.  I have in my archives a complete collection done by the BBC of Shakespeare’s plays, so at minimum no matter how infrequently it is performed or has been adapted I shall be able to screen each play once. The purpose of the multiple screenings is to gain as much insight into the plays meaning as possible and also to explore the idea of interpretation. Along with interpretation I plan to look as well at inspiration. So when I am reading The Taming of the Shrew, I will also likely screen the musical Kiss Me Kate in it’s intended 3D format. I will also watch the Atomic Shakespeare episode of the TV series Moonlighting. When I read The Tempest I will also screen Forbidden Planet as well as the contemporary set Paul Mazursky film starring John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. At this the beginning, my plan is that each play and it’s adaptation will lend itself to one blog post. I may find that I feel more than one blog is required to do each play justice or I may find that only some plays, such as Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet requires more than one post. In addition, I intend to also explore more general Shakespearean programs and will likely do additional blogs related to those. Things such as Al Pacino’s documentary Looking for Richard, it could be included in the Richard III post but it is also an exploration of Shakespeare in general and could be it’s own post. Likewise, the film Shakespeare in Love, obviously there is a strong connection within in that film to Romeo and Juliet, but that Play has so many adaptations already that it might be better to address it on it’s own. I shall see where the road takes me, for it is the journey itself that is the adventure, not it’s end.

I invite everyone to follow along as I tackle this task of a lifetime. I encourage comments and suggestions, corrections, differences in interpretations, theories, jokes, lewd drawings and as always mix tapes or Spotify playlists. Read along with every entry or just check out your favorite plays. If you are performing in a Shakespearean play let me know when and where and of course complimentary tickets are always welcomed. I am excited to begin this enormous undertaking, I expect to go it alone, but would be thrilled to find some friends along the way, old and new. I welcome open and lively discussions in the comments so don’t be shy.

First blog post


By Robert  Dunkelberger

Last night was hard, and this morning when the results of the Presidential election between Clinton and Trump was there to greet me I felt defeated.  I was flashing back to the 2000 election and then the 2004 election, after which I turned away for the most part from politics and even current events.  The 2000 election there is no point in going into, We were all shocked and angry and frustrated and on the edge of our seats, it was a circus, it was crazy.  A very controversial decision was finally made and we accepted and moved forward.  In 2004 I was flabbergasted at my fellow Americans.  I watched Bush talk, and he sounded….like not a very smart guy.  Kerry seemed to know what he was talking about, sounded intelligent and seemed inline with my thinking.  I mean, to me watching the two men talk there was no question, who was smarter and who had ideas and plans that made sense.  I thought it was a slam dunk.  How could anybody vote for a guy who couldn’t speak using words of more than two syllables.  And then he won again, and I felt he wasn’t the problem, the people were the problem. They don’t want to look at facts.

Say what you want about Bill Clinton, but when he left office the Country was in good shape.  You don’t have to agree with him or like him and I’m sure there are things you hated that he did.  But in measurable things like the Economy, the unemployment rates, the Deficit, we were in much better shape than when he took office.  So what did the country do? they voted the other ticket. After 8 years of Bush we were in a horrible place, and you know that’s true.  No one in this country was looking forward to the long road back from Bush.   After 8 years of Obama, we are in a much better place than we were when he took office, in the measurable things.  You might hate Obamacare or Black people, but in the measurable things we are doing well.  Our Country is back on track to being great again.  So what did we do? we voted the other ticket again.  Why?  To get rid of Obamacare?  as long as you can keep your health insurance premiums down, it’s alright if you end up unemployed and lose your house right?  As long as your Premiums are lowered, it’s OK if other people don’t have health insurance?  Because having a large portion of the population who don’t have insurance and thus cannot afford to pay their Dr. bills, leaving hospitals and clinics to absorb those costs and pass them onto everyone else in the form of $50 boxes of Kleenex, that doesn’t affect the cost of health insurance down the road.
So I feel that the issue is with Americans in general.  Too many of them don’t like facts.  They elected W. because he sounded dumb, like they are.  They voted for Trump …Why?  If you could drop everyone back into the world eight years ago, remind them of what their fears and worries were, what they were facing in terms of employment, debt, housing.  and then bring them back to today and have them look around at their lives in the two time periods, most would have to say that life is better now. The problems they are so angry about, this white male anger, what is it about?  Obamacare?  if so that’s one thing.  You want to throw the Employment rate and the economy out with Obamacare and the bathwater? You know what white male anger is?  It’s whining.  The most privileged group in our society is angry why?  I don’t know I’m asking.  You know what the reasons are going to be, either thinly veiled prejudices, whether racial, sexual, gender based, or religious. Or what most of us would term First world problems. I pay too much in taxes I couldn’t even afford a third snowmobile this year.  My insurance premiums are so high I had to start drinking just a 6 pack a night instead of a 12 pack.  Other people are getting welfare money to buy clothes and I have to work and buy my own clothes.
That’s the one that’s the most childish and representative of what is opposite to my way of thinking.  “Other people are getting”  “they are getting this….” “Why do they get that?” “they don’t deserve to have those!”  Because here’s what I believe, The only time you should be looking at what other people have, is to make sure they have enough.  I understand taking care of you and your family first.  But it is selfish and self centered to think you can take things away from others so that you have more.  “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”? This idea that you deserve things more than others, that you are entitled to more than others. That is one of the issues at the heart of this white male anger.

After this last election I am tempted to turn my back on Politic again, and try and just wait out the storm.  But I don’t think that’s the answer.  Look I’m never going to run for office, and I’m sure I’m not going to be the one to convert anyone’s way of thinking in the next election.  But I think I need to try and understand the other side better.  But that’s a hard thing to do.  We have some core differences in beliefs from what I can see.  My biggest problem with Republicans is what I see as their hypocrisy.  For me one of the main beliefs of the Republicans is that Government should be small, basically government should stay out of peoples business, it is there to provide infrastructure, military, create and enforce laws. run the country but not the citizens.  I’m sure I’ll hear if I’m way off on that.  But what they seem to want to do is tell everyone else what they can do. Whether it’s what they can do with their bodies, who they can love, Who they can marry, who they can worship.  That to me seems like a paradox.  The party that doesn’t want government overseeing anything more than it has too should be able to tell people those things?  Really it’s the arrogance that they have the right to tell others what to do.  That they are right and others are wrong!
They get all up in arms if there is talk of better gun control laws in the wake of innocent children being killed.  “Government does not have the right to tell me what kind of guns I own or how many!”  But the guy who says that also thinks the government should have the right to say who you can marry.  Marriage is meant to share love, it’s meant to be a commitment to loving and being with another person.  Guns are meant to kill things (sometimes legitimate things, and sometimes not). Which one do you think Government should have a say in?  I don’t think they have any business in peoples interpersonal relationships and personal commitments.  I do think they should have a say in what type of guns people own, who owns them, and how they get them.
The other big single issue that seems to make people vote one way or another is Abortion.  It’s hard for me as a man to feel that I really have any right to tell a woman what she can do with her body.  I will never have an abortion. I don’t have the equipment.  I’ll never face that decision on the personal internal level that a woman does.  When my girlfriend and then future second wife got pregnant, we decided to have the baby and get married. I don’t remember even considering an abortion. If my third wife (I told you I’d never run for office) got pregnant tomorrow, I think we would have a conversation about it. I think I would ultimately desire having the child and maybe my wife would too.  But it is her body, and ultimately the final decision is hers.  It’s her body, it’s her life, she is in her 40’s now there could be medical risks because of her age or other health issues she has.  For me, I don’t think I would choose to have an abortion for a baby that we created together as a couple in a loving relationship.  If she were raped, and was pregnant, I think I would be much more open to it, but again it is her body it is her life.  I may be her husband but I do not get to make that kind of decision for her, nor should the government.  I get that we all have different beliefs on when life begins.  But you don’t get to force your beliefs on other people.  You have your beliefs, have em all day and all night, knock yourself out with your beliefs.  And you sure have the right to share your beliefs. But you don’t have the right to overrule others beliefs with your own, you do not have the right to force your beliefs on anyone else, not your Life beliefs, not your religious beliefs or your sexual orientation beliefs.
And that’s where we hit a brick wall isn’t it.  There a group, maybe 30 to 50 % of those who voted for Trump (it’s a guess, don’t bother trying to fact check it, I’m trying to guesstimate) Who Believe, and will never ever change in that belief, that everyone should belief what they do and there should be laws to make it so.  Most of them probably also believe that the Bible (which I think is a valuable book) is fact, every word of it, every period, every comma.  They seem not to realize that it is a book that has been through many changes over the years, many interpretations, many editorial additions and deletions. I’m not going to attempt to go through it here, here’s a link to the Wikipedia link on the bible, . it’s interesting and informative and I know Wikipedia isn’t infallible, but even if some of the details are off, you can get the gist of how every period and every comma has been manipulated.  So the arrogance of someone who grew up in the backwoods of Missouri to say that the version of the bible their church uses is the one and only and is true fact, is not only  arrogant but highly unlikely, you know from a common sense point of view.  I mean what are the odds that the version of the bible being used in the Second Day of Holy Forgiveness Church in Bumblebee Arkansas is the one true word of God?  Isn’t it more likely it’s the version used by the Vatican in Rome?  But isn’t there something in history about the Church frequently abusing their powers in olden days to  get money and power and keep people under their thumb.  You know back in the days when all the bibles were in Latin and only the clergy could read Latin and they hand copied the bibles…and maybe added stuff that worked in their favor and didn’t actually come from God himself.  My point is, the Bible is a good book, it’s a good book to use to teach your children about your beliefs, it’s a good book to use as a moral guide for living life. It’s a good book for use in worshiping your God. Guess that’s why they call it The Good Book.  But remember in America we have the right to worship in our own ways to our own Gods and follow our own religions.
It’s late, and I don’t think I made a lot of sense here, at least not in terms of trying to understand.  But it’s day one of the Apocalypse (just kidding) and I’m going to keep trying.  The next post will hopefully have less attack and more thought.  I’d love to hear from people who voted for Trump, not about how wrong I am about this or that, but, like I said above,  The most privileged group in our society is angry why?  please post a comment if you have a real answer to that.  I really am looking for insight into why almost half the voters voted for Trump.  If it’s because you didn’t want to vote for Hillary, don’t comment I got that down, it’s noted.  I want to know why Trump not why not Hillary.  Because I look and listen to him and I hear hate and fear mongoring, which is a great way to trick someone into doing something you want them to do, make them afraid not too.  Doesn’t have to be real or true, just make them afraid stir up their hate, tell them it’s ok to hate the other, I do too, vote for me and we’ll show em!!!!  Did you fall for that?  I know some of you did, but what about the rest.  Let me know.  And I’ll keep trying to understand and let go of some of my own knee jerk reactions.
But I’ll tell you what, I’m seeing posts from friends on facebook today , from Iowa, from Maple Grove, about some really scary, really mean, behavior from Trump supporters towards children and women.  This is what we were saying was the danger of allowing someone who espoused those sentiments to run the country, behavior is modeled from the top down. You won the election, good for you, how do Trump supporters celebrate?  They go out and commit hate crimes.  Weird that the Hillary supporters are having trouble coming together to heal the country. You won the election have some grace a dignity, try offering us a hand rather than running around like a bunch of Klansmen.  Someone said to me now you know how I felt the last 8 years.  Man that comment is a whole new level of deluded.  So were you worried for the last 8 years that people were going to be mistreated, harmed and abused?  Were you worried that your rights would be revoked?  Were you worried that what tiny semblance or morality and Family values that still existed in this country would be wiped out?  People feel threatened physically by the climate this President has created.  A woman in Iowa was run off the road and approached with a can of lighter fluid and a lighter because she had a Hillary sticker on her car.  The approached yelling Dyke, Faggot, and shouting GO TRUMP.  In Maple Grove, black kids were faced with “Fuck Niggers” “Trump Train Written on their lockers.  From Fargo a Mexican exchange student doesn’t feel safe at school today because he was taunted with remarks like “what are you gonna do when the wall goes up?” Why do people think this is OK now?  Why are children behaving like this?  Because you just elected a man who uses this type of rhetoric all the time and did so on television for your kids to see.  You voted for him, you told them this is OK.  Tell me again how much you love Jesus?  How you are the party of family values? How we should all do what you say because you know best.
I’m tired, I’m going to bed, I’m sharing with you, share with me.  But don’t just say “Democrates wha wha wha ”  explain the above?  help me see that you have reasons that make sense and explain this.