Last (Graded) Week: My Few Months In Review

Generally, no blog-having adult cares to hear the feverish rantings of a college freshman, raving about Shakespeare all SJW’d. I chose to write that way anyway because I was asked to choose something I was passionate about, something I could talk about, something I thought should be covered. Attached to this choice was the understanding that I wasn’t going to get hits. I wasn’t going to get followers. Again: college freshman, raving, diversity in Shakespeare. Not thrilling for 99% of the populace.

Well, I wasn’t wrong. (For anyone actually dedicated to my Shakespeare musings, sorry, but this is a quick statistics recap that has nothing to do with character or plot choices. You might want to roam elsewhere on this blog.) My views never got over 30, and more depressingly (well, I’m not that disappointed, but I guess), my visitors never got over 15. I can guarantee you that’s just from me obsessively checking my own blog to make sure that images appeared normally, or that I didn’t leave out a word or anything.

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By far my most popular week was the week of February 27th, with 28 views among 12 visitors. That Friday, March 3rd, I posted one of my favorite posts, examining Puck and Oberon’s relationship, and relating it to how it was presented in Dominic Dromgoole’s production and how it stands up as plot-relevant. This is the only post I’ve put on Facebook. This is where I’m friends with my high school English teachers and, well, my mom, so it figures that my posts would get more traction there, but at the same time, I often don’t like sharing my work there unless I’m certain it will be received well, and… I just don’t know. I’m not always the proudest of these pieces, having wished I could have articulated my thoughts better, and I don’t exactly need my right-wing cousins to criticize my decisions to focus on racial minorities. (“Well, why couldn’t a white person play Cassius?” I can hear their voices in my head.) So while Facebook could have made my blog more successful (in a way), I don’t regret choosing to promote solely on Twitter.

More on that: even though my big March 3rd spike was from Facebook referrals, because I promoted most consistently on Twitter, that’s where I got the most referrals cumulatively (38 total instead of Facebook’s 12.) After that, the referrals came mostly from my university’s online class resource page, where I submit these posts to be graded by my TA. (I see you, Andrea, hello!)

Surprisingly, one of my most popular posts, the one after which I actually started getting followers, was my slideshow showcase of my “saint’s relics” (thank you Deidre), or my Shakespeare knick-knacks collection. Whether this was because Deidre interacted with my Twitter promotion and some of her clan came ambling over or because people are genuinely more interested in my possessions than my ideas, I still don’t know.

So yeah, not a lot of traffic. But in a way, it was still just as fun and just as helpful. I know now some of the social media impacts on content promotion. I’ve fleshed out a writing style when it comes to blogging and I know how I like to approach promotion now. Most of all, this forced me to continually think about Shakespeare in a creative way–it really made me immerse myself in his work again, and inspired me to keep going in my truly, truly nerdy hobby. These plays are hundreds and hundreds of years old and I can still connect with them. That’s the magic of this blog. I’m not too concerned about the numbers.

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More About The Blogger: My Collection

I’ve touched on this before, but since my first exposure to Romeo and Juliet, I’ve amassed something of a reputation among my peers as being a bit of a Shakespeare freak. To that end, this makes giving me gifts easy: just find something with my buddy Will on it. In the past, this has been packages of bandaids, stickers, and a couple of limericks (it’s always the best to get gifts written from the heart!). So when I’m asked the small-talky question of if I collect things, I have an additional answer: flower crowns (lame like me), art postcards, and Shakespeare paraphernalia.

Now, only some of my collection has been given to me by others. Much of it –my beloved Midsummer DVD, my editions of certain plays– I bought myself, but I still very much consider it part of my collection. And of course, the items have different levels of usefulness. My Will action figure, for example, does little more than stand smugly in front of my books, but I love him regardless, while I use my quote mugs on a near-daily basis, including right now, as I write this. (How does “quintessence of dust” sound for an insult? Got that one right off the mug.) As a rule, I try to have more practical objects than not, but Lord, I can’t resist all temptation.

I understand that this post contains no character propositions, no analysis, no socio-political insights. But every once in a while it’s just fun (and kind of helpful to the community, I delude myself into thinking) to share little personal trinkets like this. In addition, I know some people may be considering getting some Shakespeare tidbits for themselves; this way, I can give you my thoughts on what I have, at least.

So, the following images are of I would say 90% of my collection.

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Shakespeare action figure can be bought here. Folger editions can be bought here.

Putting Women to Work in Midsummer

I’ve been blessed to know many, many extremely funny women in my life, so the lack of comedic opportunities for females has always felt like a slap in the face. From humorous interp scripts in high school to sitcoms, girls have only recently been allowed to be what I call “ugly-funny”: funny without regards to keeping with gender roles, funny in a weird-face-making, unladylike way (see: Tammy: A Coming of Age Story About a Girl Who Is Part T-Rex and Broad City). With this up-and-coming trend in comedy, we all know my first instinct is to slap it on a Shakespeare play. So with that in mind, let’s revisit A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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I mostly wrote this article because I deeply want to see Chelsea Peretti perform Nick Bottom. Photo by Jason Baldwin via Flickr.

I’ve already mentioned more than once that the dearth of female roles in Shakespeare keeps me up at night, and the solution is simply to forget about gender entirely when it comes to casting. That’s the principle I have in mind for Midsummer. In particular, I have it in mind for one group of characters that have the potential to bust audience’s guts even if nothing else has worked: the mechanicals. The mechanicals, in my own mind, are the “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” plotline; they have nothing to do with the lovers, and only run into the fairies’ quarrel when Nick Bottom happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and even then, it’s just Bottom that gets dragged into it. So, in many senses, they are their own self-contained comedy; after all, they’re putting on a play(-within-a-play). The mechanicals’ play then becomes a playground for comedic actors to flaunt their craft. How better to show off female comedy in a theatrically safe setting?

As we know by now, I also try to include some sort of plot justification for my casting choices. For Midsummer, this is particularly fun because the reason is this: nothing has to make sense. Midsummer is about a night where things go weird and sideways and wrong in a number of increasingly ridiculous ways (running away to the woods to being drugged by a fairy); even the notion of the mechanicals themselves putting on a play is meant to be ridiculous. Making them female is just whipped cream on top of the most lavish sundae ever made. Building on that: the mechanicals are meant to be unlikely candidates for the theatre. It then adds a nice jab of both satire and a bit of cruelty to make them women; are we saying that women are an unlikely fit for theatre? For comedy? Oops, did we just become self-aware? As is always my goal, we’ve then gone beyond just showing off the talent of the previously un-shown, and entered into a bit of commentary, should the audience want to dissect it that far.

As mentioned in my last Midsummer post, the play itself is deeply about love. But another of its recurrent themes is boldness: Hermia bold enough to stand up to her father, Oberon bold enough to demand the Indian boy, the mechanicals bold enough to put on a play. Women in comedy are by nature bold. Thus, it’s not a misstep to capitalize on them in Midsummer.

Hits and Misses in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet

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Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting (cough, Zac Efron) as the titular lovers in 1968. Look, he even has Zefron’s dead eyes. Photo via Laura Loveday on Flickr.

There was a period of time (freshman year honors English) when after reading a classic piece of literature, my class was guaranteed to watch a film adaptation of it. It happened for Great Expectations, and, inevitably, it happened for Romeo + Juliet. The divide between me and some of my acquaintances came here: while some classes watched the period-accurate film from the ‘60s, the one with that actor that looked unnervingly like Zac Efron, my class and a couple others watched the color-blown, musically rich, tooth-achingly delicious 1996 Baz Luhrmann version.

If you can’t tell, I have a soft spot for it.

There’s got to be approximately 6,017 reviews of the film online, so fear not, this isn’t another one. What I’m reminiscing on today are a few casting and character choices I loved—maybe a few I didn’t. After all, that’s been my mission here so far, hasn’t it?

Let’s start with something I mentioned very fleetingly a long time ago. Once upon a time, I mentioned that Romeo and Juliet can be approached from a racial perspective. This is, indeed, one of my favorite variations to impose on the play. Luhrmann’s film gives that a nod—in a bit of a convoluted way, maybe, but there nonetheless. Throughout the film, we see marked Latinx influences in the Capulet family, juxtaposed by the Montagues’ touristy Hawaiian shirts:

  • The Nurse is played as the trope of the Latina housekeeper/nanny (and played by a white British actress, oops)
  • Tybalt is played by Colombian-American John Leguizamo (caving to the stereotype of the quick-tempered fighting Latino? Maybe)
  • Even Juliet’s father (again, a white actor) is given a bit of an ethnic twist

But most remarkably in my mind, the iconography of Latino Catholicism is rampant. Candles, candles, candles. Rosary beads. With the film filmed majorly in Mexico City, and set in a Miami lookalike, the racial identity of the Capulets isn’t hard to miss. Was the execution flawless? Of course not; as I alluded to, there’s plenty to criticize. But it’s a nice, realistic touch to something that could have easily been made a snow-white fantasy.

As long as we’re talking race, we have to talk about one of my hands-down favorite parts of the film: Harold Perrineau’s standout Mercutio. Dear God. That interpretation may have changed my life. While reading the play, we had commented extensively on Mercutio’s bold, flamboyant nature—Mercutio even more than Romeo would be the character most likely to do just about anything. When Luhrmann made this include a drag number, everything clicked like clockwork in my head. Mercutio is black—he is different from either side of the feud. He does drag—because why the hell shouldn’t he? This is even before we talk about Perrineau’s excellent acting. Mercutio is the golden god of the film, an example of Luhrmann’s ability to craft a true-to-text character that resonates with the modern. Which is why I get upset, every time, that after his death, his best friends simply abandon his body on the beach. It’s infuriating to make a character that richly nuanced and then toss him aside like a set piece.


If only the play was as peppy and happy as this video, via Ariel Gomez Ponce.

Which leads me to the growl-inducing anger I feel when I think about Dash Mihok’s Benvolio. You shouldn’t screw up any character in Romeo and Juliet, but in my opinion, you particularly shouldn’t screw up Benvolio and Mercutio. They are the benchmarks by which we measure Romeo’s behavior. They provide emotional context—does he always act like this? How do ensemble characters feel about this main character? These are things the best friends provide for us. Note: best friends. The boys are supposed to be peas in a pod, by God. Particularly with Benvolio, the lone survivor of his peers, you need to communicate that friendship, those relationships outside of Juliet. And yet. Talk about characters being set pieces—Mihok’s Benvolio does it to a tee. I could strangle Luhrmann for thinking that what the ensemble needed was a dumb brute character when Benvolio is anything but. My anger peaks at Mercutio’s death. Benvolio seems surprised, stunned a little, but not terribly involved. Not very best-friend-like. Oh, my fury.

Even after heavy reflection, I still love that darned movie. It feels true to the Romeo and Juliet experience. Latinx Capulets? Cool! Could have been done better. Black cross-dressing Mercutio? Beyond excellent! Give him more respect! Dunce Benvolio with that stupid buzzcut? …We don’t have to talk about it. Learn and move on. All in all, to touch the tip of the iceberg, the film did the play a great service in making the character choices seem realistic and accessible. Perfect? No. A jumping off point? Definitely.