Archive for the Asides Category

A Personal Note

Posted in Asides on 2014/02/01 by mattermind

A quick note to current and future followers: I am just now gaining a handle on how to properly edit my posts before publication. More frequently than I would like, I catch errors only after they are up for the whole world to see.

If you are reading from the “subscribe” feature, you may end up with a rougher draft through the provided link than the one currently posted on the site. If you happen to catch an error, please refresh the page to see if it has already been fixed. If the mistake still stands, please let me know!

The joy of blogging serves many purposes. A big one for me is overcoming my perfectionist tendencies. While not an excuse for slipshod posting, I submit that the habit of daily entries forces me to move on more readily than I otherwise would. That benefit, however, should not come at the expense of your enjoyment of a professional, well-presented blog.

I thank you for your patience, your comments, your participation and your feedback!


Occupy Shakespeare

Posted in Asides with tags , on 2014/01/09 by mattermind

Although this blog will function something like a diary, charting the joys, sorrows and epiphanies of spending a year reading the works of Shakespeare during the 450th anniversary of his birth, I’m designing it in such a way that anybody could, in theory, hop on the bus (as it were) at any future point and begin their own year with a companion built right in.

I’m amazed and overjoyed to discover how many people from all walks of life admire and adore Shakespeare, yet feel either too intimidated to read him on their own or too brow-beaten to take him again in a class. He’s become very Masterpiece Theater-ish, encrusted with barnacles and slathered with Grey Poupon, an elitist sport best experienced in a fedora and smoking jacket.

That’s all very well and good for those who wish to consider him thusly, but let’s not forget that he was also the Stephen King of his age as well, with a little Tom Clancy, John Grisham and Joss Whedon to boot.

The miracle, of course, is that his works survive all levels of interpretation, from period pieces to modernization and deconstruction – and yet keep on chugging. I’m sure they will survive this blog…and worse.

What I’m striving for most of all is a return to wide-eyed wonderment, an approach that doesn’t discount or do-away with centuries of scholarship, but rather takes it down a peg or two and leaves room for everyone else to breathe.

Call it the Dead Poet Society Year of Shakespeare. So be gone, Mr. Jay Evans Pritchard (or whoever). I love ya, Mr. Bloom (especially Mr. Leopold Bloom). But it’s time for people to rise up and steal humanity’s greatest author back from stuffy museums and hallowed halls.

Call it Occupy Shakespeare, then. Call it whatever you like. Just commit yourself to reading him with fresh eyes and an open heart.

And above all, don’t be afraid.

Remember that everyone is welcome to join in on the Shakespeare discussion, here or wherever you happen to be (or not).

A Thanks for New Followers

Posted in Asides with tags on 2014/01/06 by mattermind

I’ve been asked whether the blog is worthwhile if nobody reads it, which is like asking a tree whether it makes noise when it falls in an empty forest. Spending a year with Shakespeare is reward enough for anybody, even if that means alone on a desert isle.

But I’m human, all too human, and so it’s nice to receive notice of a new comment or follower from time to time.

Literature is really one great conversation, as I was reminded today by the echoes of Sophocles and Homer that can be found within Othello.

I googled “Oedipus” and “Othello” just to be sure I wasn’t crazy…only to discover that this is a common test question in school. These epiphanies might happen a lot over the course of the year. Don’t be surprised if I “discover” points that turn out patently obvious to everyone else.

Many have climbed Mount Everest. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the point is to make the journey for yourself.
The theme of the blog bears repeating: what happens when you tear down the scaffolding surrounding Shakespeare and read the works from scratch?

It’s actually kind of exiting to make a Sophocles connection, even if I’m late to the party. It shows that an amateur like me can stumble upon a meaningful discovery now and then.

So thanks for stopping by, wherever you happen to be. Shakespeare is universal – we already know this. Yet it delights me no end when someone from France or New Zealand or Trinidad and Tobago pops in.

We are all one big human family joined by a heartfelt love of humanity’s greatest poet. And I welcome you, one and all!

We Can Be Heroes…Sort Of

Posted in Asides on 2014/01/05 by mattermind

I went on a quest this morning to discover famous actors who have played in Othello. By doing so, I noticed an interesting quirk that may be characteristic of our age.

ASIDE: reading the Shakespeare canon in one year is a bit like traveling around the world. It may seem like ample time to explore, but once you get out there and start the adventure, you realize you could spend a year in each country and still not do everything you might have wished.

For me this means having to make difficult choices. Even though I’ve allowed myself two weeks for Othello, there simply isn’t time enough to read every commentary, watch every movie or listen to every dramatized version.

So when it comes to a tremendous play like Othello, what is a person to do?

Now for my discovery: something must have changed in dramatic circles and psyches, whether only in America or around the world I cannot say. Because Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier, two of the greatest actors of all time, chose to play Othello, the ostensible hero  – or at least the tragedic centerpiece.

However, when it comes to modern versions, the preference among actors seems to be to play Iago! And why not…doesn’t he have the juicier part?

I’m currently listening to two versions available at (I’m not compensated, just a member): one on Naxos with a British cast HERE and another terrific (though WARNING: line-edited) version with Ewan McGregor as a particularly delicious Iago HERE.

As for film, I noticed that Kenneth Branaugh chose to play Iago in the 1994 movie version as well.

Maybe you can see my problem. I want to spend all week rereading the play and absorbing commentary by leading scholars, including Harold Bloom, whose What a Piece of Work Is Man I bought some years ago and finally loaded onto my computer.

I want to listen to, and watch, every Othello ever made, including the Verdi opera with the great Placido Domingo available on Netflix.

But I can’t actually do all this, can I? I mean, I could…but then I’d burn out on the blog after just the second week, right as I’m scheduled to start Titus Andronicus!

To riff David Bowie, I could be a hero…but at the expense of the whole project – and I can’t let that happen.

Yes…this post is all over the place. One of my diary entries. This time just to vent my frustration that there is so much I’d love to do…and so little time.

But these are the choices that must be made in order to travel the Shakespearean world in only one year.

And So It Begins

Posted in Asides on 2014/01/01 by mattermind

Crossed over into the new year watching Romeo & Juliet and Shakespeare in Love on Netflix before they expired at dawn’s first light.


I felt twice a fool: once for having paid so little heed to everyone’s favorite filmed version of the greatest love story ever; and second, by my ignorance of how embedded Shakespeare’s biography is within the fictional tale of a love that won his heart and influenced his career.

A more fitting beginning to the year I could not have imagined – not  for myself, who wishes to correct the errors of his ways no matter the expense in personal standing. It’s what this project is about in its essence…returning to the plays themselves and attempting to grow in understanding of them and, through them, me – and the world around me that Shakespeare did so much to define and shape.

As an aside, this app tends to delete words at the slightest touch and original posts might therefore suffer from strange omissions. I shall work to correct these as the year progresses.

Also: I have decided to try and maintain this as a daily Shakespeare journal, record my thoughts over time as Shakespeare’s words exert their influence over me…sort of like a travel journal with my interior the undiscovered country and Shakespeare being the greatest tour guide in Western literature.

I wish you all a happy, prosperous and peaceful 2014.

May your fondest dreams come true.

Happy Shakespeare’s Eve!

Posted in Asides on 2013/12/31 by mattermind

The new year is about to begin and I couldn’t be more excited. Othello and Peter Ackroyd are waiting to be started and this blog will officially kick off with the descent of the mirror ball in Times Square. I’ll probably be the only person thinking Shakespeare at the stroke of midnight…

I have created a syllabus the merges chronology with theme and allows for a reasonable 52-week pace. Like any form of physical travel, there will be some adjustments once wheels leave the ground. But I love the plan!

Most months call for ONE major play with accompaniment beginning with Othello and ending with the Tempest. I’ll explain my reasoning as the year unfolds.

But if you’re thinking ahead, here is the lineup for January:
Titus Andronicus
A Comedy of Errors
Two Gentlemen of Verona

Othello and Titus pair a seasoned tragedy with Shakespeare’s first attempt, while Comedy and Gentlemen are considered two of the earliest extant plays period.

Chronology and attribution are two thorny Shakespeare issues that must be dealt with at some point, but not here and not now.

All that really matters is that the blog officially begins in less than 12 hours with the greatest Shakespeare play I’ve never read.

Can’t wait!

A New Year of Shakespeare

Posted in Asides on 2013/12/23 by mattermind


This January 1, I’ll be restarting the blog, beginning with Othello.

My last attempt broke off for various reasons, none of which really matters, except they left me with unfinished business and the need to make amends straight away.

Thank you to everyone who added comments, especially those who wondered where the blog went. I have a few new tools this time around that I’m extremely excited about, namely the good people at and the helpful WordPress app available for Android.

I’ll be starting the entire year’s reading from scratch, making no assumptions, presuming nothing from my previous endeavors.

For those wondering why I’m not taking the plays in their presumed chronological order, I feel this is too constricting over the entire body of work.

Plus, I’d rather be guided seasonally, thematically, and by whimsy…just because it opens up the possibility for more “aha” moments and deeper personal connections.

I will cite any third-party sources consulted for context… and freely admit that Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: the Biography will be my bedside reading and tour guide along the way.

The same rules, however, apply this time around. I will be reading the poems and plays without agenda or pontification, just trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. Any and all errors of judgment, fact and good sense are wholly my own.

You are free to drop by to join in the conversation whenever you like. I will be moderating the comments, but not for agreement of anything I write. Only to eliminate trolls who see the need to fill any available open space with self promotion.

I will have more to say about Othello at the turn of the  year. But I will offer that I have chosen it because it’s the one biggie of Shakespeare’s that I know least about. Really, my ignorance here is appalling.

There’s only one way to correct this and that’s by reading the play.

As an aside, you may find more errors in my writing due to the fact I’ll be generating more content from my phone. This is by no means an excuse for slipshod work on my behalf…so if you encounter mistakes, please shout them out. I will be editing from a computer as necessity  demands (and time permits).


I wish you all a beautiful, joyous Christmas.

See you in the new year!

The Oscars You Didn’t See

Posted in Asides with tags , , , , on 2010/03/08 by mattermind

Yeah, she’s hot. And also gifted. Deal with it, boys.

While I salute the Academy for shattering barriers at this year’s ceremony by bestowing the Best Director award on a talented and well-deserving woman (congratulations, Kathryn Bigelow!) as well as the first African American (how has Spike Lee not won this thing?), I’m more than a little miffed by a letter (okay, a mass mailing) I received from Michael Moore highlighting the best films he saw in 2009.

This is not about political agendas, people. Besides, isn’t it a given that Hollywood is the last bastion of left-leaning radicals who are all aligned with Sean Penn in a Commie plot to turn America into a socialist country? As a matter of fact, the more you think about what I’m trying to say here, the scarier it gets. Because if Hollywood is supposedly so radical and out to destroy America, why haven’t I heard about any of these films? Why wasn’t I even given a choice?

Alice in Wonderland is playing on, like, a gazillion screens. While I have my own issues about making Johnny Depp the center of a film that ostensibly is about the imaginary journeys of a little girl (who has precociously — and creepily — been sexualized in a generic way for this telling), I’m more upset about the lack of diversity in the availability of what’s out there to watch.

And I live not too far from LA. It’s rather sad. And makes me wonder how many great films both left and right of center I am missing simply for not having a say in the matter.

I have little doubt that were I to ask the manager of the local cineplex, he or she would tell me ad nauseum about how people just aren’t interested in those alternative movies, that they want their Hot Tub Time Travelers and whatnots. That this is a capitalist society and we vote with our wallets every day. But that’s where Michael Moore’s list hit upside the head. Cause I don’t know about you, but I was never given much of a choice about whether or not I wanted to see a single one of these films.

I present Michael’s list without any commentary of my own to add to his. I hope people don’t mind, and realize that this is not about furthering an agenda, but questioning choice and availability. The films seem diverse and fascinating to me. I’ve already added the majority of them to my Netflix queue.

If there’s another list out there somewhere featuring well-made movies on the right that didn’t make it to my cineplex either, I’ll be more than happy to post a list of those as well. I repeat, this is not about favoring one side of the story. It’s a question about access, and the corporatization and homogenization of the voices and visions we’re able to see, hear and think about in 2010 America.

Michael’s List:

1. “Troubled Water” (see for comments)
2. “Everlasting Moments” – A wife in the early 20th century wins a camera and it changes her life (from Sweden).
3. “Captain Abu Raed” – This first feature from Jordan tells the story of an airport janitor who the neighborhood kids believe is a pilot.
4. “Che” – A brilliant, unexpected mega-film about Che Guevara by Steven Soderbergh.
5. “Dead Snow” – The scariest film I’ve seen in a while about zombie Nazis abandoned after World War II in desolate Norway.
6. “The Great Buck Howard” – A tender look at the life of an illusionist, based on the life of The Amazing Kreskin starring John Malkovich.
7. “In the Loop” – A rare hilarious satire, this one about the collusion between the Brits and the Americans and their illegal war pursuits.
8. “My One and Only” – Who woulda thought that a biopic based on one year in the life of George Hamilton when he was a teenager would turn out to be one of the year’s most engaging films.
9. “Whatever Works” – This was a VERY good Woody Allen film starring the great Larry David and it was completely overlooked.
10. “Big Fan” – A funny, dark film about an obsessive fan of the New York Giants with a great performance by the comedian Patton Oswalt.
11. “Eden Is West” – The legendary Costa-Gavras’ latest gem, ignored like his last brilliant film 4 years ago, “The Axe”.
12. “Entre Nos” – An mother and child are left to fend for themselves in New York City in this powerful drama.
13. “The Girlfriend Experience” – Steven Soderbergh’s second genius film of the year, this one set in the the post-Wall Street Crash era, a call girl services the men who brought the country down.
14. “Humpday” – Two straight guys dare each other to enter a gay porn contest — but will they go through with it?
15. “Lemon Tree” – A Palestinian woman has her lemon trees cut down by the Israeli army, but she decides that’s the final straw.
16. “Mary and Max” – An Australian girl and and elderly Jewish man in New York become pen pals in this very moving animated film.
17. “O’Horten” – Another Norwegian winner, this one about the final trip made by a retiring train conductor.
18. “Salt of This Sea” – A Palestinian-American returns to her family’s home in the West Bank, only to find herself caught up in the struggles between the two cultures.
19. “Sugar” – A Dominican baseball player gets his one chance to come to America and make it in the big leagues.
20. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” – A smart, adult animated film from Wes Anderson that at least got two nominations from the Academy.

Shakespeare and Wordsworth Deemed “Too Difficult” for Some Australian Schools

Posted in Asides with tags , , , , , , on 2010/03/08 by mattermind

This is just the sort of back-asswards thinking that drives me up a wall. That is, if the Times of India has its story straight and Australia indeed is going ahead with the pilot project.


To be fair, the aim is to give failing students a better shot at graduating high school. But on the other hand, if you lower the bar by removing the best of what civilization has created, what exactly does a diploma mean? Will it be Transformers and Harry Potter next?

Standardized tests are idiotic if you have to lower the standards to get children to pass them!

Dumbing down is called dumbing down for a reason, people. At least so long as it is still called that… and hasn’t been renamed by the post-modern self-esteem police into something as innocuous as post-traumatic stress disorder rather than the punchier, more humane and expressive battle fatigue.

I’m all about Salinger and the Motorcycle Diaries if it helps engage students in reading and critical thinking. But to assume that Shakespeare and Wordsworth have nothing to say to contemporary children’s lives is marvelous stupid.

It’s stories like this that fuel me in my purpose to continue with this blog. Those of you who wish to treat the Bard like Grey Poupon may carry on in doing so. His genius will certainly continue to meet you where you live.

But I believe that Shakespeare is a full-spectrum light that shines on all aspects of the human experience. He has been performed, and will continue to be performed, from the Met to the streets of New Delhi, by Dame Judi Dench as well as yon aspiring wench who wanders into her first acting class.

If we lose Shakespeare, we lose what’s best and brightest, what’s ennobling and thorny and raunchy and meddlesome in the human experience. We may as well take down our Michaelangelos and Picassos and replace them with Velvet Elvis and Thomas Kincaid.

Not that Salinger is literary Cheese Whiz. But gee whiz, he would know what I mean. We’re talking about Shakespeare here for crying out loud! Stop teaching him like he’s a stuffed shirt and a bowtie! Bring out Baz Luhrman and Ten Things I Hate About You if you have to (and I love Baz; he’ll know what I mean as well).

Shakespeare is not poofery. He’s not an elective. He’s not dessert after you’ve completed your undergrad work.

To mangle a line from Gandhi (and I hope he doesn’t mind either): there is no way to Shakespeare. Shakespeare is the way.

My Other Girlfriends

Posted in Asides on 2010/03/07 by mattermind

When I started this blog, I knew that life would present challenges to my completing it… that there would likely be revisions as I went along. My intent was to put it out there and watch what happens, to be open to anything so long as I kept to a schedule that would allow me to complete all of Shakespeare’s works in a year’s time.

I hit a big snag when I reached the Sonnets. I have had to ask myself serious questions why that was… and what it meant about the project as a whole. Why had my interest suddenly gone south? Why was it at that very time that other pursuits called me away?

Those two pursuits include another blog and a screenplay that I need to finish soon. What these have done is call my attention to the obvious fact that I’m not in alignment with my goals and values. Or rather that my goals and values need clarification. Just what does Shakespeare have to do with what I want to accomplish?

In searching for the meaning behind this lack of congruency, I believe I hit upon the larger issue that the sonnets brought up: the world has plenty of Shakespeare experts who can tell the curious reader everything she needs to know about the works in infinite detail. I’m adding nothing of value in this arena whatsoever.

My inspiration for starting the blog was wanting to read Shakespeare to see what he had to say to an aspiring writer in the modern world… to anybody in the modern world, actually, but writers in particular since that’s what I happen to be — allegedly. So how did I get off that track?

I’m not sure I ever got on that stated track. What I have been doing is venting my pent-up snarkiness on the works as I’ve muddled through them, sharing epiphanies which have meant a lot to me but have likely been of marginal (or less) value to others. That seems entirely lame of me.

But as I put down the sonnets (to pick up later) and dove into Coriolanus, I discovered my joy had returned. The plays… aha. That’s what this is truly all about!

It became clear to me that I had erred in trying to present myself as anybody but the village idiot regarding Shakespeare scholarship or quasi-literary analysis. What I needed to do was approach it as me… just me… a guy trying to write a screenplay and figure out what he’s meant to do in this lifetime. How reading the Bard fits into this 2010 life of mine. And to invite you to ask yourself how Shakespeare in turn might fit into yours.

I was tempted to call this post “A Revaluation of All Values” after Nietzsche, but opted for the more mundane Tiger-riff instead. The goal here is not to cheat on the blog, but rather to focus in on what the blog means and is truly all about. Otherwise, why continue with it?

So then. About Coriolanus…