Tag Archive: shakespeare

Pulling out the Big Words

When I am not focused on anything else or when I do not want to be focused on anything else, I play Words With Friends.

words with friendsIt is my relaxing task, the one that helps me keep it together when I am about to spin out from grief. It also distracts me from tasks at hand and the things I need to get done.

It is my sin and my salvation.

Through Words with Friends, I have become a master with four-, five-, and six-letter words. If the opportunity strikes, I can place a seven-, eight-, or nine-lettered word. But those moments are rare. Satisfying, as when I was able to place ‘seances’ on two triple letter tiles and the triple word tile.

But recently my daughter competed in a conference spelling bee. She forced asked me to help her study for this contest. Before I would have said I am a woman of letters, i know tough words. I am willing to use those words in a sentence.

I was wrong.

oxford dictionaryOh, sure there were some simple words such as ‘wok’ and ‘aria.’ Then came some of the simple hard words such as ‘zygote’ and ‘quiche.’

None of these compared to ‘chiaroscuro’ or ‘fuliginous’ or ‘mulligatawny.’

I pulled out the dictionary for a pronunciation guide. I tried pulling it up on google to hear the words spoken out loud. After we got through her list, I felt as if I should be crumpled on the kitchen floor waiting for a bit of wine to revive me. Shakespeare had never made me feel this incomplete.

In the end, the girl was third overall in the spelling bee. One of her girlfriends made it to first place and their team won the competition overall over seven other schools.

Now that the bragging is done, you must excuse me. I am still trying to figure out ‘persiflage.’


Family Movie Night


By Karyn Bowman


When I think of poetry, I often marvel at the way older people still remember passages that they had to memorize during the school days.


I studied many works, traveled through Dante, Plutarch, and, of course, Shakespeare. But I have retained little of it.


I might remember a line from Byron, the opening line from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the awful ‘tree’ poem. I can recite some biblical verses because they are rhymed or have a nice flair to them.


My favorite will always be “I am a stranger in a strange land” stated by Moses when he arrives in Midian.


Some poets like to be purposefully obscure in their writings while others lay out their feelings so that they reader can easily pick up on the emotions and physical scene surrounding the writer. Sometimes that comma that might seem like a distraction was actually purposely placed to make us slow down and feel the heart ache of the writer.


Image from thefamouspeople.com

Image from thefamouspeople.com

One of my favorite poets is e.e. cummings who turned phrases inside out while ignoring all rules of punctuation. I am not always sure what he is saying but it sounds lovely as he tries to find new ways to describe how he feels about his love.


No one, not even the rain, has such small hands.


I first heard this line in a Woody Allen movie, Hannah and Her Sisters. The movie is about three sisters who are at different stages of life. The incredibly capable Mia Farrow believes she is happily married to Michael Caine. Barbra Hershey is living with a man who does not want any children. Actress and caterer Diane Weist is searching for something. And Mia’s ex-husband, Allen, is flitting around in the belief he is dying from something.


Poetry is used to seduce one sister, death knocks at the door and changes it mind while true love blossoms unexpectedly. Set in the upper middle class of NYC, it is a movie about the bond of sisters, the ability to forgive, and the fear of moving on.


While this movie came out in 1987, I find very few movies use poetry unless it is a historical movie. After all, nothing sets a historical scene like a good epic poem. One movie that I remember from recent years takes an old rhyme about a treasonous group.


Remember, Remember the Fifth of November, The Gunpowder Treason and Plot

II know of no reason, why the Gunpowder Treason, should ever be forgot.


Poster Image from IMDb.com

Poster Image from IMDb.com

In V for Vendetta, England is now ruled by a man who looks and acts like Hitler. Anyone who defies him or stands against him disappears and will eventually be put to death. The small group of rebels disappear, are tortured, and killed. While all of this goes on, there is one man who is willing to get the revenge while we learn his story and that of the young woman he chooses as a partner after saving her from the secret police.


It is a movie that talks about the price of freedom, moving poetry and culture into the mix so that it is almost natural. And let’s not forget the spectacular explosion at the end of the movie. Are either of these movies family friendly? Well, they are if you have teenagers but the smaller members might have to be satisfied with a Dr. Suess movie.


Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.


Please Recite a Poem

Family Movie Night


by Karyn Bowman


Blame it on Shakespeare that April is National Poetry Month, if you must.


Image from gamutplays.org

The greatest writer, ever, was born on April 23rd and for that we must remember poetry in our life during the month of April.


I know some of you might be wondering what’s the use of poetry. Most poets starve unless they can find work as college professors or Hallmark card writers.


Let me argue that poetry is like flowers, adding something to our daily lives that we didn’t even know was missing.


As an English major, I’ve read many poems. I was never able to memorize poems but a few stay in my head thanks to little musical tricks.


“Never a lender or a borrower be,

And Don’t Forget,

Stay out of Debt.”


That bit of advice comes from Polonius to Laertes in Hamlet, although I am sure no one sings it on-screen to the classical tune I do so I can remember it. There are many screen versions of Hamlet. Some may prefer the Mel Gibson version from 1990 or Lawrence Oliver’s of 1948. Kenneth Branagh did his in 1996. Then there is the irreverent adult comedy of Hamlet 2 starring Steve Coogan and Catherine Keener.


Image from IMDb.com

My second oldest reports reading Romeo and Juliet in class right now. He is having a difficult time because the language is stiff, stilted. I understand how he feels because the language can be tough. As a senior in high school, we read John Keats’ The Eve of St. Agnes in class. Our teacher could not believe how dully one of us read the section in which our heroine undresses. It came out like a laundry list of things to be done, not the disrobement that it is.


I would have my son watch the much maligned Shakespeare In Love because of how the movie displays the power of those words when they are spoken. They are not stilted but passionate language telling the story of forbidden love and heated family rivalry. Perhaps, I should get the Leonardo Di Caprio version which has a more musical flair to it.


There is one poem I love more than any other, written by e.e. cummings. This poet was known for ignoring capitalization and various other rules of poetical form. Surprising enough, at the time of his death in 1962, cummings was the second most read poet in our country. Robert Frost was the most read at that time.


Image from IMDb.com

someplace i have never traveled, gladly beyond was featured in the Woody Allen movie Hannah and Her Sisters. It is used to woo a woman by her brother-in-law and when you read the poem, it is easy to see how these words can do so. The writer talks of a love that can bring him out or shut him off from the world. He talks of a love that thrills him with its beauty and the sense of the unknown in the person he loves.


Listening to Michael Caine read these words remind me that beauty surrounds us in the everyday and finding it takes only a little effort.

Is there a poem that you remember beyond any others?

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Family Movie Night

This week is the birth anniversary of the immortal bard, William Shakespeare.

Picture by Kudos Kid

I am sure some of you are saying “Who Cares?” Or “why does this guy who writes such stilted English matter to me?”

Shakespeare is relevant to us today because it is his form and style we follow to this day in our movies. He didn’t invent play-writing but he certainly improved upon the form. His plays would be known for their bawdy humor and thrilling action scenes. No one else has been able to write a love scene in the manner that he did.

The wonder of Shakespeare never ends because I see him as a real man who came from obscurity and an education at the public school to write plays that covered everything from romantic comedy to war stories to histories. His plays talk of life and death, love and a Machiavellian plan for power while relying on superstition, ghosts and faeries playing tricks on humans.

Once you dig into his life a little more, you see a complex man. His public school allegedly rivaled the top British boys’ school of Eton, teaching Latin and Greek. His father was a successful tradesman as well as the high bailiff for Stratford-Upon-Avon who would see his fortunes fall in later years when Will was a teen. He was a known poacher in his later teen years and may have had to leave the area to avoid authorities.

Now there is a period of eight years that is unknown. Who knows what the man was doing. One speculation is that he was an assistant schoolmaster. However, once he shows in London in the 1590s, he takes it by storm. He becomes a celebrated actor with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men troupe as well as writing for the group, his plays are being sold after the performances. He also becomes a managing partner in the troupe and has part ownership of the Globe Theater.

When he retires in 1611, Shakespeare is able to buy a home in Stratford and retire comfortably. He passes away in 1616, making one last dig at his wife, Anne, in his will by giving her his “second best bed.”

Because of his business dealings, he can understand The Merchant of Venice (2004). And don’t discount the fact that his father was in local politics. This would allow a young Will see his ‘betters’ and their servants, knowing how all of them acted. Suddenly, we see plays such as Twelfth Night, Macbeth and Hamlet in a different light.

Romeo and Juliet Statue in Central Park, NYC. Picture by Mono Sodium

We know Shakespeare knew love, or at least lust, in his teen years. Imagine how that led to Romeo and Juliet (Pick your favorite version) or A Midsummer’s Night Dream (1999).  The historical plays all had a bent toward seeing the Tudors in a good light, as one must do when you are being patronized by the Tudor Queen but are still glorious for the speeches the king makes before going into battle as in Henry V (1989) with Kenneth Branaugh.

Finally, we know the Shakespeare thought much about death and the end of life with his plays The Tempest (2010) with Helen Mirren as Prospera and King Lear (new version coming in 2012 starring Al Pacino).

Shakespeare’s words are mesmerizing. Just watch Shakespeare In Love (1998) and pay attention to the scenes when the play is being performed. I find myself being drawn into the play as much as the fake audience. When Juliet revives, I feel the same surprise as the audience. That is what the Bard does and has done for the last 500 years since his death. He astounds, amazes and mystifies.

All of this from a man who had only a few years of schooling, was a known poacher and never went to university.


Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Let the world know about your latest pick for Family Movie Night and drop a  note below.                                                                                                                                                                                      

Last week was the birthday of the greatest writer ever. William Shakespeare’s works were created 400 years ago and gave the template for nearly every movie we watch today.  

Romeo and Juliet Statue i n Central Park, NYC. Picture by Mono Sodium


Some of his plays might have happy endings, those would be the comedies. But when the ending is sad and tragic, Ol’ Will went for the whole tamale. You knew it was a tragedy when nearly everyone died. Romeo and Juliet is the most romantic story ever and you know what happened there. 

I know some of you are saying.  “Wait a minute, we had to read that in high school and it was so boring.” 

Ok, I will admit that some plays do not translate well when read in a droning manner by a high schooler being forced by the teacher to read out loud. Just remember that Romeo and Juliet were teenagers themselves – passionate and hot-headed. Forbidden love is the most desirable, especially for teens, and Shakespeare knew it.

 Now go rent the movie version of Hamlet (1991) starring Mel Gibson and suddenly all of the power of the play comes alive. Glenn Close stars as his mother and Ophelia is played with tragic perfection by Helena Bonham Carter. There are the monologues, the fights, the almost loves. And the ghost. Who can forget the ghost? 

Most kids might think that the plot line of Hamlet is familiar. Kid inherits a kingdom after the death of the father but the uncle usurps his place. Hmmm, that sounds almost like the…The Lion King

Movie poster for The Lion King, picture from IMDb.com


Yes siree, the folks at the Mouse corporation took the old story and made it new again with a great score. The story is about a young cub who loses his father in a terrible accident. His favorite uncle insinuates that it is the cub’s fault and he should leave the kingdom. But when others in the kingdom come looking for him, the grown-up cub comes home to take his rightful place. 

The Lion King is essentially Hamlet with a happy ending while maintaining a certain richness. Plus, Jeremy Irons is the greatest of villains as the uncle, Scar. 

Want another modern movie that takes on Shakespeare? How about Ten Things I Hate About You (1999) starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. This teen comedy was simply Taming of the Shrew all over again set in high school as a young man tries to woo an unlikable girl. 

Oh, and as for Romeo and Juliet? You can see the Baz Luhrmann 1996 production with Leonardo Di Caprio and Clair Danes that features modern music and dance moments as these two lovers connect and find everlasting together. I get motion-sickness while watching the movie due to the constantly moving camera. 

The only version better than this is West Side Story that Leonard Bernstein created as a musical about New York City gangs. Dancing, singing, tragic knife fight. That’s romance. 

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle. 

Let the world, or at least St. Anne, know about your latest pick for Family Movie Night and drop a note to P.O. Box 306, St. Anne, IL 60964 or become my friend on Facebook.