cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

A Trio of Shakespeare 


Considering I had no exposure or any real knowledge of Shakespeare until I began teaching his works in high school, I’ve certainly made up for lost time.

In the twelve years of morphing from a displaced school librarian to an AP teacher I’ve developed an appreciation for Wm. Sh. to the point of labeling myself a Bardinator. *

“Yo, thou intensely doeth Bard if thy be a Bardinator.” image: flickr.com

Bardinator /n./ a person who goes beyond face value knowledge of Shakespearean works and dives in to study, appreciate, and revel in the works of William Shakespeare to the point of total commitment. Simply put–a dedication to the Bard’s works beyond what is considered sufficiently normal. 

This summer I have reveled in more Bard than usual. It began, appropriately enough on July 4th* when I landed in Washington DC to study Hamlet for a week at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Later that month I finally got around to Anonymous, which is actually anti-Bard, as it is a ridiculous conjecture that William Shakespeare was not a brilliant playwright but actually a drunken sot of an actor fronting for some earl who was a closet playwright. The only takeaway was how stunningly the time period and the theater was portrayed. I squirmed through this insulting and terrible premise to absorb the glory of the Elizabethean stage snippets. One star of note was Mark Rylance. This observation led me to–

Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance in the role of Olivia. Yes, finally. A Shakespearen production as it might have been presented because of the all male cast. The play was filmed at The Globe with a live audience (groundlings included) in sharp, glorious HD. Mark Rylance and his troupe superceded expectations. It was unprecedented theater. I will have problems readjusting to women playing women now in Bard dramas because Shakespeare wrote the parts knowing men/boys would be playing women. Or in the case of Viola/Caesario-, a youth playing a woman disguised as a youth. The lines and meaning take on a whole new dimension with the knowledge it’s two men playing they are attracted to each other but the manly man doesn’t want to admit to it . But thr audience knows the fair youth is really supposed to be a woman since it’s a boy playing a woman dressed as a boy. The confusion is intentional, as is the jovial mistaken engendered double meanings.

“Yonder sun doth the moon, y’all.” Image: YouTube.com

To round out the summer I watched my first ever Shakespeare in the Park or more precisely, on the grass at the local fairgrounds.  A group of thespians out of Montana traversing five states presenting either Cyrano or Taming of the Shrew graced our fare (or fair) town. And what a turn out. Beginning at three o’clock people arrived to claim their patch of grass and browsed the various booths ranging from spun wool goods to sword play. A lively Renaissance trio added appropriate musical ambiance. At six o’clock the western-themed show begun and the audience whistled and hooted out their appreciation at all the puns and ribaldry. The best bit was unplanned when a wee little lass wandered onto the stage at just the moment when Petruchio instructs Kate to speak to the “maiden” (Vincentio).

“Speak to yonder maiden, Kate. Not that one–the other one.”

Not missing a beat, Vincentio grabs up the sweet interloper and announces: “This is my granddaughter” and managed to return her to an embarrassed audience mother.

A truly fun community event to commemorate the closing of summer. Soon I will be bringing Shakespeare to the classroom, but perhaps we’ll Bard out on the lawn. BOOC–bring our own chairs.

Did anyone else have a bit of Bard along with their beach and BBQ days this summer?

—————————-

*yes, there is a connection of studying Shakespeare during America’s independence week–Wm. Sh. became our nation’s first playwright when his plays sailed over from England. In fact, the Folger has the first Elizabethean stage. A regular Tudor de force (upon which I played a hammy Horatio).

*I just spent an hour hopscotching about the Net trying to find that nifty definition I stumbled across years ago. No luck. I did find a new blog concerning Shakespeare. I have created my own definition. This will be a work in progress and I am quite open to other interpretations.

Teacher Meme of Meaning


Confession: I’ve been in my classroom here and there throughout August, making copies, organizing my room, straightening up lesson plans. At most one or two other staff cars are in the lot. It’s sunny, summer is beginning it’s farewell (leaves are turning red!) so I should be playing outside, and I’m putzing around in my classroom. I’ve come to the conclusion I’m either crazy or devoted to teaching. Probably both. That’s why I had to share this meme. It’s so true, that I have no other comment.

teacher_meme.jpg

Yup, pretty much sums it all up. image from http://ignite.wikis.birmingham.k12.mi.us/Perspectives+jr01bps

Atticus: Racist or Realist?


The hub-bub about Go Set a Watchman seems to have dissipated, much like a thunderstorm that rumbled ever so much and offered only a spate of rain. Basically, Harper Lee’s “second” novel wasn’t as refreshing as anticipated.

Did Watchman change your opinion of Atticus? image: USNews.com

First of all–lots of skepticism precluded its arrival as in how did Lee not remember it even being around? Why did it suddenly get found after Alice (sister/lawyer/protector) passed away? Why was there an elder abuse investigation following Lee’s decision to publish the manuscript? There was also trepidation at her request of having it published “as is.”

Watchman arrived early July and now as we roll into September there are few comments left to make. Actually, I don’t recall too much buzz in July. The overall feeling I have gathered is a “meh.”

There seems to be a consensus that this novel is basically a draft and that the “good” parts were plucked away to create Mockingbird. Given time and an editor’s guiding hand, Watchman could have been the novel we all anticipated.

That’s not my main concern–that is, the quality of the writing. Lee’s talent for characterization and dialogue, along with her penchant for subtle wit still shines.

My intention is to un-besmirch Atticus’ reputation. Since so many are in agreement that Watchman is unpolished, I’m surprised that so many are quick to judge Atticus as a racist. My belief is that he is a realist, not a racist.

For one, Scout, as a girl, never heard racist remarks from her father while growing up in the Finch household. She even says so as she has her showdown with him towards the end of the book. Jean Louise, the grown woman, even clobbers Atticus with the hurled comment how he raised her to be color-blind, to look at a person’s heart more intently than their skin color. Even Uncle Jack couldn’t argue with that argument.

Another point made is how Atticus refuses to get riled at Jean Louise’s verbal scathing of him being a hypocrite. He knows he isn’t one, so he doesn’t get offended. His reason is logical, one of his strong suits. He attends the meetings Jean Louise deems as KKK because he wants to know who is behind the sheets. Just because he attends a meeting doesn’t make him a believer. Just like going to the gym doesn’t make a person fit and healthy. Atticus is a savvy lawyer which means he looks into all angles of the case in order to be prepared to sway the jury. In this version his young Negro client is acquitted–would a racist truly want that to happen? That verdict was very unusual for the times and only someone who believed in justice could have been able to have justice served out. Obviously, this outcome changed in Mockingbird, making it even more heart-rendering that Atticus’ strength as a lawyer, with all the obvious right on his side, couldn’t sway the jury.

Another consideration is that Atticus, a man of influence, lives in a small town. He is wise playing his hand close to his chest. He can’t offer a voice of reason if he is seen as having “gone to the other side.” Atticus, having served in the legislature, knows the value of being a politician, that saying one thing and believing another, and making others believe in what he wants them to believe, is imperative to getting votes for projects and issues of concern.

There is one other point that people misinterpret. When he says the Negroes (the coinage of the times) aren’t ready to go toe-to-toe with the whites and doesn’t want them getting all stirred up by outsiders, he isn’t patronizing–he is functioning as a padre, a fatherly-minded protector.  He knows they aren’t ready due to inexcusable education deficits, that equality doesn’t happen overnight. Atticus is all about justice, and justice is not served if the playing field is heavily encumbered by advantages not given to the other players.

Wait, one more something. Harper knows how to put punch into her titles, just ask any ninth grader who has been given the task to analyze To Kill a Mockingbird. Mockingbird carries many meanings. Go Set a Watchman is along the same path. The title refers to Isaiah 21:6 For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” To better understand the verse and what the watchman is seeing read the passage entirety. The passage speaks of the grievous pain caused by treacherous dealers. War is soon coming and the setting of a watchman will inform what is happening. Atticus is that watchman. He is set to report all that is approaching. The watchman is a trusted position. Atticus is that watchman for the South, and its upcoming changes. Lee knew Atticus could be trusted to report the truth.

Realizing there is a bit more to the racist or realist idea than just forming an opinion, I dug up some interesting research. Give these links a try and determine for yourself about Atticus and his stance:

Are you a racist quiz (take it as if Atticus might–even in Watchman mode (how well did you read the book, between the lines, y’all?)

Psychology Today article on racism.

In Mockingbird we were dazzled by the paragon of virtue who wore a three-piece suit of justice; in Watchman we realized he puts that suit on one leg at a time.

So, what do you think–is Atticus really a racist after all?

Blog Spotlight: BitsnBooks


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The best part about blogging is that bit of chit chat that develops as we read one another’s blogs. I’m not so concerned about stats, (well, knowing people are reading my stuff is nice) as much as I am about making connections. One recent connection I’ve made is with Heather over at her blog BitsnBooks. She is definitely a Book Booster and she is as enthusiastic about reading as I am. We have discovered we both think Hamlet is worth traveling many miles  to see performed. Read about her excitement about going to London to see, ready for this–Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet ON STAGE! I’m so excited for her!

One of the big reasons I enjoy Heather’s blog is she is always suggesting great titles. I recently took her up on the Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, which is being trotted out as Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellan as an aging Sherlock Holmes. I think I read all of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but I keep coming across new ones, or are they ones other people are writing? No matter. It’s Sherlock Holmes, and I wouldn’t have known about the book unless she had mentioned the title.

She also does this great little promo called “Teaser Tuesdays” where readers share a couple of sentences of what they are currently reading. It’s like a 90 second preview into what interests other readers. Fun stuff.

And we are now GoodReads Friends. Sharing opinions of books is more than a hobby with me–it’s right up there with dark chocolate. Heather hit her GoodReads Challenge mark of 52 books, 24 books ahead of schedule! Woo Hoo–impressive. I’m still working on mine, but getting closer and I hope to finish it off before school starts back up in September.

I hope you pop over to Heather’s blog and discover some new titles, play some Book Bingo, and contribute your Teaser Tuesday sentences. Tell her Cricket says “howdy.”

Writerly Wisdom: Quotes on Setting


One reason I read books is because I dread ever so much to travel. I do like the “here I am” of arriving. It’s all that packing, squishing into miniscule airline seats, fretting about schedules, realizing I brought the entirely wrong things to wear, that make traveling drearisome. I do like the exploring, discovering, reveling that is part of going somewhere new. This is a big reason why I read novels. Reading, especially fiction, takes me places that doesn’t involve packing a bag. This month’s Writerly Wisdom set of quotes focuses on that aspect of writing involving place: setting. How does a writer put me in the “there” of their writing?

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“An author knows his landscape best; he can stand around, smell the wind, get a feel for his place.”
Tony Hillerman

Eudora Welty said, “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else… Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?…”

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” –Anton Chekov

How important is setting for you when reading? Is it more important than visualizing the character? What memorable settings have you discovered in reading–which authors are able to transport you to that place in the writing?

August POMs


The subtle theme that ties these three poems together is the intertwining of nature as the speaker reflects upon his or her circumstance.

Summer Rain

Amy Lowell

All night our room was outer-walled with rain.
Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof,
And rang like little disks of metal.
Ping!—Ping!—and there was not a pin-point of silence between them.
The rain rattled and clashed,
And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered.
But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-colored
With your brightness,
And the words you whispered to me
Sprang up and flamed—orange torches against the rain.
Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!
——

The Thaw by Henry David Thoreau
I saw the civil sun drying earth’s tears —

Her tears of joy that only faster flowed,

 Fain would I stretch me by the highway side,

To thaw and trickle with the melting snow,

That mingled soul and body with the tide,

I too may through the pores of nature flow.

 But I alas nor tinkle can nor fume,

One jot to forward the great work of Time,

‘Tis mine to hearken while these ply the loom,

So shall my silence with their music chime.
———–

Summer Morn in New Hampshire

 by Claude McKay

All yesterday it poured, and all night long
I could not sleep; the rain unceasing beat

Upon the shingled roof like a weird song,

    Upon the grass like running children’s feet.

And down the mountains by the dark cloud kissed,

    Like a strange shape in filmy veiling dressed,

Slid slowly, silently, the wraith-like mist,

    And nestled soft against the earth’s wet breast.

But lo, there was a miracle at dawn!

    The still air stirred at touch of the faint breeze,

The sun a sheet of gold bequeathed the lawn,

    The songsters twittered in the rustling trees.

And all things were transfigured in the day,

    But me whom radiant beauty could not move;

For you, more wonderful, were far away,

    And I was blind with hunger for your love.

—–

Yay! An Award!!


BR_Award

I like awards. I especially like them when they are unexpected. Nicole over at I Am Booked unexpectedly gifted me with this lovely award and I shall now pass it forward by A) discussing how I started CricketMuse plus a bit of advice on blogging and B)nominating 15 other blogs.

The Blog Start
The conference presenter said “You have to establish a platform if you intend on getting noticed as a writer.” I took that bit of insight to heart and bounced around ideas for a blog. It had to be something I had an interest in, could sustain, and it needed to be catchy. Well, I am passionate about books, reading, writing, and teaching. So finding sustainable subjects wasn’t too much of a stretch. And in terms of catchy–that was the tough part, because I know getting the title right is an important part of blogdom, as well as grabbing reader attention. It’s competitive out there. After some different ideas, I decided upon Cricket Muse because Cricket is a nickname (chirpy little critters with a song that is either annoying or pleasant depending on your point of view) and Muse, which is what I do a lot–ruminate, didn’t sound quite as lyrical. I’ve been blogging about three years and I haven’t run out of ideas yet. In fact, I have a page full of post possibilities I constantly add to.

The Advice
As for advice, I offer two tidbits: consistency and scheduling. Bloggers come and bloggers go. I follow lots of blogs, yet few keep a consistent posting pace. I believe the most popular blogs keep a fairly visible presence. I suggest posting at least once a week, more if possible, to keep interest level up. This brings me to scheduling. I have devised a schedule of topics for different days of the month. I have a running theme of “Why We Say” which explores all those odd sayings that work themselves into our speech, as well as a Poem(s) of the Month page. I also try to spotlight a writer, a blogger, or a book. This equals about six posts a month or about every five days I’ve got something going. This diversity of topics also appeals to a variety of readers, so I am constantly attracting new viewers. If readers like what they see, and get a sense for what is offered, they will, it’s hoped, keep coming back, and perhaps become a follower. And I suggest follow up visits. It’s not only polite, but it’s also fun to go out and visit new-to-you blogs, and exchange howdies with those you already know.

The Nominations
The following blogs have a commonality in being Book Boosters. I am indeed a reader, and I have a definite soft spot for others who unabashedly promote books to their readers. I hope you check out their blogs. And once again, a big thanks to Nicole!

  1. Paperback Princess
  2. Interesting Literature
  3. BitsnBooks
  4. Books on the Tube
  5. Literary Distractions
  6. The Literary Classics
  7. The Nerdy Book Club
  8. One Minute Book Reviews
  9. Reading with Rhythm
  10. 746 Books
  11. Picture This Book
  12. 100 Books Every Child Should Read Before Growing Up
  13. Book to the Future
  14. Friendly Bookworm
  15. Blogs-of-a-Bookaholic

Not on the list? It was tough to choose, since I follow so many different blogs, I decided to keep it to the theme of Book Boosters, and I know there are more bibliophiles on my list. So, if you aren’t in the line up–you are in my thoughts, just not on my list (for now).

Happy blogging!

Blue Skies,
Cricket

Fantastical Realms 


I shall always harbor a bit of fascination for worlds of make believe; however, my reading choices sometimes perplexes my family. It’s as if I’m not willing to accept this present planet, or my head is in the clouds, or maybe I just refuse to grow up. Most of my reading is solid enough with my Austen-like tendencies towards classics.  I do like a dip into fantasy from time to time. 

Though it’s been awhile, I do relish a really fun fantasy, one without the usual overindulgence in magic, drugs, sex, and rock n roll. Yes, I am that discerning. Picky is acceptable, but I prefer discerning.

C.S. Lewis and his Narnia series remains a favorite, and I look forward to passing my Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe on to the grandkiddo when the appropriate time arrives. I was introduced to the series in high school and found Perelanda in college.

One childhood remembrance is Wrinkle in Time, although I really need to finish the series because I recently discovered there was more beyond the first one, just as I realized there was more to The Giver. These two fall more closely into science fiction. Lately, I haven’t find a (grown up)novel that features a world that is relatively different enough for my particular tastes in fantasy.

My search for fantastical realms is hit or miss. I have developed a penchant for Jasper Fforde and his Thursday Next series, but didn’t care much for his Nursery Crimes books. His Last Dragonslayer series is quite engaging, and I am patiently awaiting the sequel to his Grey series (*amended title do to that other “gray” book out there–one of the prodigy was duly shocked upon seeing the cover thinking I had grievously lapsed in my usual conservative reading selection).

  image: amazon.com


image: wikipedia

I haven’t been too impressed with Terry Pratchett’s Disc World, although I understand it’s a matter of finding the right one. I did enjoy the Going Postal film adaptation.

I have yet to really give Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker series a dedicated run. I might have to be satisfied with the movie instead.

Just recently I gave Walter Boer a try. Not knowing exactly where to start I began with The City of Dreaming Books, which turns out to be #4 in the series, but it actually stood well on its own. His books, from what other reviewers are saying, tend to  be large in scope, pagewise and content. I had a difficult time warming up to a lizardish dinosaur for a protagonist, though there were moments of appreciation for a creature desirous of becoming a great author.

image: amazon

Any other fantasical readers out there? What am I missing that I should look up?

Getting a Handle on Hamlet


Now that there is a little distance between my journey to DC for Hamlet Academy, I am in a very good place to reflect upon just how I will present the play to my students.

I have discovered exploring scenes through various reading techniques, paired with a cinematic clip, helps with clarity. But which film version to use? There is such a range.

For instance, when we study Hamlet’s quintessential  “To Be” speech, I can show the minimal setting of the stage with either Richard Burton or Kevin Kline. Then again, I might show it as the singular contemporary soliloquy of Ethan Hawke as he internalizes his inaction while walking through the action movie aisles of Blockbuster. There is also Branagh’s stylized mirrored reflection which contrasts with David Tennant’s sedate approach. I primarily feature Mel Gibson’s version because of its Renaissance setting. I am patiently waiting for Jude Law’s Broadway version to come out as a DVD. And then there is Benedict C’s London stage version, which I anticipate to be more than marvelous and hope it makes it onto DVD in the future. Because taking my students to London to see it, well–that would be an involved field trip request. For fun, I show Ahnold delivering the lines with swagger and CGI.

Yet with all these versions to select from, each has its own set of considerations when it comes which one to showcase in its entirety. Sir Larry’s is BW and my students aren’t keen on arcane classic. Tennant is clever, yet the juxtaposition of modern setting and classic Bard doesn’t always find favor. Ethan Hawk’s has a couple of awkward-in-the-classroom scenes. Branagh’s is way too long, and that leaves Mel, the popular choice, but with that problematic mother and son chat in her closet.

Every year I wrestle with the “which one” question. This year there is one more option. I recently discovered an amazing version I had no idea existed. A big thanks to LoMo, super Hamlet Academy mentor teacher, for the heads up on this new-to-me Hamlet.

Campbell Scott, son of George C. Scott, of Patton fame, might not be on everyone’s radar of well-known actors, but he definitely should be. I am looking into his other films, as I was quite impressed with his performance. In his version of Hamlet, which he co-directed, he sets the play in an Edwardian era that could either be east coast upper crust or Reconstruction South. This Hamlet family is one of tradition, power, wealth, and of course, one that has definite family issues.

There are many pluses to this version. For one, Scott’s Hamlet is of the appropriate age, many Hamlets are often pushing the 40 mark, which about 10 years older than the play age. The setting also lends credibility with the historical grandeur complementing the eloquence of the Bard’s language. Scott plays his Hamlet with intelligence without having to be eccentric, although there are moments that oddities pop up, such as wearing his mourning band as head band. His introspective interpretation helps the audience to feel the pain of indecision, as he flirts with madness, as he works out the conundrum of his avenge task: how crazy should crazy go?

Here’s a clip. What are your thoughts on Scott’s version? And while we are at it, which Hamlet version is your favorite?

Why We Say #18: A bit about giving


Last month was all about getting, so this month we’ll focus on giving.

1. Giving the slip

Mercutio accused Romeo of giving his homies the slip after the Capulet party. So even in Shakespeare’s time there is mention of needing a fast getaway when the occasion called for one.

In actuality, ships coming into port would anchor by slipping a rope through a hawse pipe, the metal piece attached to the ship’s bow. If the captain needed to leave sooner than anticipated, he simply let loose the rope and slipped away silently to sea. I betcha Cpt Jack Sparrow knows about that one.

Heave ho, maties, give them the slip. iimage: BrassGlass/Morguefile

2. Give a wide berth

Speaking of ships coming and going–if a ship leaving the dock , or berth, knew they might be passing next to a ship being detained for health reasons, as in plague or epidemic concerns, they would give that ship wide passing. In other words, they would steer clear so they wouldn’t get near whatever was being feared.

Aargh, give them scurvy dogs a wide berth. image: BrassGlass/Morguefile

3. Giving the cold shoulder

Oh, we’ve been there, haven’t we–you know the feeling, that uncomfortable twinge of being snubbed, especially when you thought you would be ever so warmly received. Well, today you might just get subtly ignored, but if you lived in medieval France you would end up with cold cuts. That’s right, if you weren’t on the A list and you showed up to the party, instead of that yummy slice of venison, pheasant, swan, or whatever was on the best list of entrees, you would get the cold shoulder slice of lamb or beef. But wait a minute, I gladly purchase lamb and don’t mind it cold. Maybe that explains why I’m oblivious when people ignore me at dinner parties.

Moral: don’t be late or it’s a cold plate image:MaxStraeten/MorgueFile

Until next month… Be careful what you say until you know why you are saying it.

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