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Always in, never out

22 Jan

Sometimes my life’s ever more messy than my apartment… And that’s when life gets tough. In all this mess, I can never remember which date stands for what: do I have to pay some bill or am I taking an exam? And so, I got lost in all that Shakespearean business. But, wait! When you suddenly disappear from the market, you have to make a spectacular comeback! And here comes mine – I’ve got a little surprise. I hope that my readers are still with me, even though I’ve been ‘hibernating’ for quite some time now. Anyway, my blog is taking part in a Blog of the Year 2012 contest! How about that guys? Hope you’ll try and help or at least keep your fingers crossed for me! 🙂 Is that a good comeback?

Here’s the contest’s site: (Poland’s) Blog of the Year

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Shakesbeer talk

19 Jul

Can you talk about Shakespeare and not get all serious? Can you meet fun people when you’re in love with the great Bard? Some time ago, I’d probably say that Shakespeare is far too serious to be discussed over a beer. And I’d probably think that only scholars do the Shakespearean smart talk. But guess what, if I said that, I’d be really, and I mean REALLY, wrong. But since this year has been seriously Shakespearean for me, I can say that Shakespeare connects people. And not only scholars! When I first started posting on my blog, I thought there’d be hardly any people reading my posts. Why? Because, and now I’m only being totally honest, people are bored with Shakespeare, think his plays are obsolete, or just don’t like him. Nobody can blame those people, high school loves Shakespeare and it’s that awful and painful kind of love. But my love for Shakespeare is true, sometimes may seem a little bit obsessive. And once you reach that obsessive love level, you’re always a nut. A Shakespeare nut in this case, or, in other words, a Sheek. Then I’m a Sheek and suddenly I started meeting people like me. People who are now my friends or at least we keep in touch. And so now I can go to a pub, sit down and chat with friends who share my interests. And I did so when I was in London. I was there with my friends: Filip, Julia, Monika and Joanna, and we were having so much fun. It’s funny, but in some way if it hadn’t been for Shakespeare, we would have never got so close. And in London, we were a perfect dream team.

In the garden of Shakespeare

5 Jun

Roses are red, violets are blue, cashew are nuts, and so are you… But no worries, it’s not a bad thing to be nuts, and when it comes to artists, they all are. I think Walter Crane might have been nuts, too. But he was a genius, and his works are amazing.
Do we know what kind of flowers Shakespeare had in his garden? Roses, or maybe violets? Who knows, his own garden withered a long time ago, but we still ‘have’ the flowers he used in his plays. Clearly it would have been too easy for mr Crane to paint just an ordinary Shakespeare’s garden, why do that when you can change the flowers into human beings! The beautiful illustrations by Crane were inspired by the motif of flowers in Shakespeare’s works and present the personification of certain flowers and herbs, but the plants are there, too. The pictures are just wonderful: magical, colourful. And the gorgeous figures peep out from the illustrations…
I’ve been looking through the pictures over and over again and I think I need to read all the plays once again… I don’t think I noticed any of these plants! And there are quite a lot of them: holly, daffodil, violet, primrose, lily, lavender, mint, rosemary, pansy, columbine, thyme, wheat, rye, barley, strawberry, nettle, hawthorne bush, blackberry… I’m getting lost in all these names. All the pictures gathered together – it seems like quite a big collection, no wonder a whole book was made. And it’s a book that you can skim millions of times and never be bored. Crane made the Shakespearean world seem even more enchanting, he made all the symbols of the flowers and herbs unite in a story that is like a fairytale.

But that’s not everything yet, there’s more! It is widely known that Shakespeare is just everywhere, influencing and inspiring people. So when we leave the illustrated book at home, we can go to a real Shakespeare’s garden. In such a garden, walking around is just like wandering along the paths of your favourite plays, guessing which plant comes from what play. And I guess it is not surprising at all: Shakespeare’s gardens are known as a perfect place for a rendezvous or even a wedding ceremony… After all, Shakespeare’s magic makes love bloom!

A place for Shakespeare

20 May

I’ve always been wondering how it’s possible that even now, after 400 years, Shakespeare’s works are still so widely read and loved by so many people. I guess I finally found the answer. It took me quite a long time to understand why people like Shakespeare, even why I like him. Last month I went to Gdansk to see “Hamlet”. I was on the verge of crying when I was whispering the soliloquy and looking at the wonderful actor on the stage. And I realised what it is that I love about Shakespeare – the real emotions, just being human.

I’d never really understood why the Bard’s works could appeal to me, when in some cases I couldn’t even understand what he was writing about. So it did take me some time to become familiar with his language. When that happened, and I could fully understand his plays, I often found myself crying reading “Hamlet”, or shivering with fear reading “Macbeth”, or laughing out loud reading “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”. That’s just amazing how one person was able to capture so many sides of human nature. The stories written by Shakespeare depict human features, desires; all of these are set in the heart of a story of an individual. But each of Shakespearean characters can be a symbol of something, they may represent the desire of power, jealousy, or love – all the ‘human things’. I guess it doesn’t matter what’s ‘around’ the subject; Shakespeare has touched upon universal themes, the ones that will always be somewhere there. Even though the stories from the Bard may seem out-of-date (it’s hard for us to imagine such a love as that of Romeo and Juliet, or members of a royal family killing each other) and the times have undoubtedly changed, the root of the story is unchangeable. So we can take the story and use it in every way we want, experiment with it, change the setting, and something’s still there.

I think Shakespeare’s plays have their own hearts. I really enjoy watching the modernised adaptations of the Bard’s plays, especially the ones that are set in the modern world but the text remains unchanged. I like the contrast that’s so stark at first. It’s really great to see an old beautiful story happening in the contemporary world. It makes the story feel even more real.

Shakespeare will never really become obsolete. It may be difficult for us to understand his language, but the themes he used in his plays weren’t only current in his times, they’re still present. That’s why Shakespeare still has so many fans. There are people all around the world who can appreciate the genius of the person who was able to describe what life is about, and what it means to be human. There will always be a place for Shakespeare in our hearts, no matter how much the world changes.

Will by my side. #happybirthdayshakespeare

23 Apr

When I first read a play by Shakespeare, I was 13 years old. A perfect time to read “Romeo and Juliet”, being exactly the same age as the heroine. This is just crazy how much different I was back then. I was willing to ‘fight’ not to read Shakespeare, I’d never read him before, but who cares, I knew, I just KNEW, he WAS BORING. And I was made to read him. So I sat down on my bed, opened the book, sighed, and started reading. A couple of hours later, the book was hidden under my pillow, a place reserved for the number 1 special book in my heart. That’s how my Shakespeare adventure started. I was in love with “Romeo and Juliet”, so I watched Baz Luhrmann’s film, and the musical (Polish production by Studio Buffo, Warszawa, Poland). I got the musical soundtrack for my birthday and I was jumping with happiness. I was watching the film over and over again. Always crying my eyes out when Romeo died just when Juliet was waking up. Even now, and it’s been 7 years since I first saw the film, I can’t help but cry. The feelings that are stored in my memory in the drawer with “Romeo+Juliet” on it, are so strong that I sometimes find myself feeling like crying the very second I start watching the film. This weird feeling of fascination has never left, it’s been with me ever since. Though I was enchanted by this particular play, I was scared of reading anything else in fear of it ruining the perfect image of Shakespeare that existed in my head. Luckily for me, high school finds various ways to make students read Shakespeare. Preparing a speech to defend lady Macbeth in court made me open “Macbeth”, psychological talks about jealousy made me look through “Othello”. These did not make such a strong impression on me as “Romeo and Juliet” did. But later on I chose to study English language and literature and the stories of Shakespeare’s plays turned out to be just captivating; once I started reading the first line of a play, it would create a whole new world around me. I think for me the love of Shakespeare had to go through a whole process. I was raised on tales based on his plays. I’ve been in love with “Romeo and Juliet” for so many years, but not until recently have I realised that it’s not the play I love; it’s the author. I had to grow up to understand some of his plays, maybe I had to ‘digest’ his works. All I know  is that when I thought I was flooded with his works, reading comedies, tragedies, sonnets and poems, I suddenly thought that this feels just great. That’s what I want to do. I want to know everything about Shakespeare, know him better than I know myself. Although I know that I’ll never know EVERYTHING, this naive dreams made me think. And then do what I love. Now I just can’t escape Shakespeare and I don’t even want to. I’m just fine being a Shakespeare nut, making plans to make the modern world a little bit more Shakespeare-loving. But as we all know, if you want to change the world, you need to start with yourself, so this year I’m going to London to see the World Shakespeare Festival, and then back home, to Gdansk, where Gdansk Shakespeare Festival begins on 27 July. But what’s going to happen when the festivals are over? I don’t know yet, but I’m sure that Shakespeare won’t disappear, neither in my life, nor on the streets. So HAPPY BIRTHDAY SHAKESPEARE! This is your year!

The bloody Macbeth’s curse

22 Apr

“Call me superstitious or cowardly or weak,
but I’ll never play a character whose name one dare not speak.
I’ll play Hamlet in doublet and hose or either of the Dromios but, sorry,
I won’t play Mackers.
I’ll play Richard the Third with a hump and wig,
or Henry the Eighth (that selfish pig) but, sorry,
I don’t do Mackers.
Every soul who plays this role risks injury or death,
I’d rather sweep the bloody stage than ever do Mac-you-know-who.
So gimme King Lear, Cleopatra, Romeo, Juliet, doesn’t mattra
– I’ll play them all for free. But I’d be crackers to take on Mackers.
You see, I’m skittish about the Scottish tragedy.”

Have you ever heard about the curse of Macbeth? If you’ve ever seen “Slings and arrows”, you surely have. We can laugh at the silly superstitions, but who would ignore such a curse as that of Macbeth?

Throughout the years, actors (who believed “Macbeth” to be a cursed play) have been too scared to use the taboo word: MACBETH. They weren’t allowed to mention the play’s title inside the theatre, so instead they called it ‘the Scottish play’, the lead characters became ‘Mackers’, lady Macbeth was called ‘lady M.’. The whole thing may seem ridiculous to some people, but, even now, actors prefer not to use the damned name.

The superstition is not new, it’s not just a crazy idea of some star, it has quite a long (and sometimes terrifying) history. How did it all start? It started with Shakespeare himself, of course. He is said to have used the spells of real witches in his text, reproducing a 17th century black-magic rituals. Using, as he always did, just the right words, he provided his audience with ‘instructions’ in art of spell casting:
“Round around the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venum sleeping got.
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot”

Those who were actual practitioners of the ritual were not at all amused by Will’s detailed description of their witchcraft, and, as a punishment, they cursed the play.

What was the result of this? Too much fear, that for sure. And maybe it was that fear, or just mere coincidence, that caused all the accidents. Here are some examples:

1607 – William Shakespeare was made to play lady Macbeth because Hal Berridge, the boy who was supposed to play the role, became feverish and died; the play displeased King James I to such an extent that he banned it for 5 years

1672 – Amsterdam: the actor playing Macbeth substituted a real dagger for the stage one, and used it to kill Duncan

1721 – army had to be called in when some hecklers were annoying the actors on the stage; in response the actors attacked the hecklers with their swords

1775 – Sarah Siddons, an actress playing lady Macbeth, was nearly ravaged by disapproving audience

1849 – New York’s Astor Place: during the performance riots broke out; at least 25 people were trampled to death

1926 – Sybil Thorndike, playing lady Macbeth, was almost strangled by a burly actor

1934 – Malcolm Keen turned mute onstage; his replacement had a high fever and had to be hospitalised

1937 – one of most tragic events; when Laurence Olivier took the role of Macbeth, a 25-pound stage weight crashed just near him, his sword broke on stage, flew into the audience and hit a man who later suffered a heart attack; that’s not all: the director and the actress playing lady Macduff were involved in a car accident when they were on their way to the theatre and, during the dress rehearsal, the proprietor of the theatre died of a heart attack

1942 – the production headed by john Gielgud: three actors (Duncan and 2 witches) died, and the costume and set designer committed suicide

1948 – Diana Wynyard, who played the role of lady Macbeth, sleepwalked down the rostrum and fell down 15 feet

1953 – an outdoor production in Bermuda:Charlton Heston suffered severe burns after a sudden gust of wind blew flames onto him; as it later turned out, someone had accidentally soaked his tights in kerosene

1970 – 1981- Rip Torn just couldn’t escape the bad luck: in 1970 a strike hit his production in New York City, in 1971 two fires and seven robberies plagued the version starring David Leary; and in 1981, in the production at Lincoln Center, J. Kenneth Campbell, who played Macduff, was mugged after the play’s opening

I think there are just too many examples of bad luck brought to us by the curse of Macbeth. The scary stories about the consequences of ignoring the curse are told in many theatres, so there are really few who dare mention the Scottish King’s name. But what if someone just mentions the name by accident? Does that mean the wicked spirits will throw stones at them? Or is there still hope? Actually, there are quite a few methods to dispel the curse. One of those, attributed to Michael York, is to leave the theatre, walk around it three times, spit over the left shoulder, swear, and wait for permission to return to the theatre. Another practice is to spin around three times as fast as possible on the spot, sometimes accompanied by spitting over the shoulder and swearing. A different ritual is to leave the room, knock three times, wait to be invited in, and then quote a line from “Hamlet” or, sometimes, recite lines from “The Merchant of Venice” which is thought to be a lucky play.

Even if you’re not an actor and you hardly ever go to the theatre – be careful! If you don’t want the bad spirits to be after you, just don’t EVER mention the name of Macbeth in the theatre. It’s better not to play with fate. Or witchcraft.

myShakespeare inspiration

19 Apr

I’ve noticed that there are plenty of posts wondering if Shakespeare would make a good blogger etc. I’d never really thought of that before I found these posts. And so I started wondering, too. He was such a talented poet, he was just able to describe everything that life is about. So maybe he’d actually make a great blogger, being widely read all around the world, who knows? What he wrote so many years ago can still appeal to us, make us think, get involved in the play… That would be a blog about life, something ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Maybe just perfect, just what we need. But even though there can’t be a dialogue between us and Shakespeare, it sometimes feels like he is talking to us. His words inspire, make us spring into action, think about our feelings. Every person can experience Shakespeare in their own way. That’s what’s so beautiful about Shakespeare’s works. People all around the world somehow feel his presence, his influence, and keep talking about him. They keep him alive. I think Shakespeare would be really happy if he knew that his works survived and are loved by so many people. His heart won’t stop beating as long as the memory of him lives. His lines live their own lives. His words live in us.
Maybe you’ve already seen the new World Shakespeare Festival project: myShakespeare. If not, you really should visit the site. It’s amazing! Especially Banquo, which is the name for myShakespeare data visualisation. I never realised how many people talk about Shakespeare, how many people like me, a Shakespeare nut, are there. It’s great to see how people love Shakespeare. Makes me feel even more inspired.