Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Star Trek: Picard and Julius Caesar

“The Last Generation.” By Terry Matalas. Perf. LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Marina SirtisPatrick Stewart, and Brent Spiner. Dir. Terry Matalas. Star Trek: Picard. Season 3, episode 10. Paramount+. 20 April 2023. DVD. Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, 2023.

We conclude our search for Shakespeare in Star Trek: Picard with the very last scene from the very last episode.

Spoiler Alert: Everything gets wrapped up quite neatly in Season Three (which is probably the best of the not-so-great show), and a toast is requested. Admiral Jean-Luc Picard obliges with a speech from Julius Caesar:

The speech is taken from the second (and duller) half of the play. Julius Caesar has been assassinated, Mark Anthony has gathered his troops, Brutus and his forces are fighting for their survival, and Caesar's ghost has not yet appeared to Brutus to utter his foreboding prophecy. Brutus speaks to Cassius:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which[,] taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. (IV.iii.218–24) 

The speech is appropriate, but it might have been more appropriate at any of a dozen other points in the season—points where a brave and daring decision actually needed to be made. Here, it seems to suggest that not taking the flood means heading off to bed after a long day (and a long season of battles and betrayal) and taking the flood means playing a few rounds of poker.

The line that immediately precedes the famous speech is "We, at the height, are ready to decline" (IV.iii.217). It's part of Brutus' overarching argument: Our army is only going to get weaker from here, so we must strike while we're at our strongest. It's hard for me not to apply that to, at the very least, Season One of Star Trek: Picard . . . or, rather, to the last season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then, the stories with these characters were at their height; Seasons One and Two of Star Trek: Picard show everything in decline. 

But we also get Will Riker's anti-climactic addition to the speech: "We're grateful to have ridden the tide with you." It's a nice sentiment, but it takes the speech from a heroic determination to face the future come what may to a nostalgic reflection on the past when they were "at their height."

Still, Season Three catches the potential of the show more than the other two seasons. And it's great to hear noted Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart (who, I suspect, had something to do with the inclusion of Shakespeare here) wrap things up with a strong performance of a strong speech from Shakespeare.

The Episode at IMDB.

For more connections between Star Trek and Shakespeare, head to Shakespeare and Star Trek Complete.

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Monday, July 8, 2024

Book Note: The Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery Series

Duncan, Elizabeth J. Untilmely Death. New York: Crooked Lane, 2015.

———.Ill Met by Murder. New York: Crooked Lane, 2016.
———. Much Ado About Murder. New York: Crooked Lane, 2017.
Because I was going to be away from the grid for a while, I searched my library's electronic book holdings for anything related to Shakespeare. That's how I came upon Ill Met by Murder, the second of three books in the "Shakespeare i' th' Catskills" mystery series.

I knew from the first that it was not going to be a good book, but I held out because of the Shakespeare.

But, honestly. A murder mystery where everyone ignores the murder and worries a lot more about a dognapping? And a murder mystery where no one goes about trying to solve the murder . . . But it just ends up solved? It seemed barely to fit the genre.

In addition, everyone spoke like they were reading from a script the entire time—whether they were in the play or not.

We were also give a lot of meticulous detail, which is often quite interesting; however, in this case, we got meticulous detail about things we can't possible care about.

Finally, there wasn't much Shakespeare—and what there was didn't integrate in any way with the plot of the novel.

Undaunted (well, honestly, a little bit daunted), I tried another. I mistakenly thought I had read the first in the series, and I hoped that they would get better. Instead, I took a step back to the first book, and it wasn't much better. But Untimely Death had a bit more Shakespeare in it. The plot involves a troupe of actors who are invited to do a special performance of Midsummer Night's Dream the day before the big society wedding. I'll give you a flavor of it:

Being either a glutton for punishment or having a moderate completeness disorder, I then turned to Much Ado About Murder to round things out.

I did get more Shakespeare—and more connections between the plot of the murder mystery and the plot of Shakespeare's play, but the way Much Ado About Nothing was employed strained credulity. The company has to bring in a new director, and he wants to set the play just after the Civil War. "Ah," I thought. "An interesting decision. I wonder how it will work out and we'll be able to notice about the play that we might not otherwise see."

Instead, everyone in the cast and crew absolutely freaks out—as if they'd never heard of changing Shakespeare's setting and are deeply offended and incensed at the mere idea. Here's chapter five, in which that decision is revealed and we see the initial reactions:

I'll let you read the rest of the novel to see if this directorial decision becomes the motive for murder or not.

The idea for the series had potential, but it certainly doesn't live up to it.

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Friday, July 5, 2024

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's And When She Opened The Closet, All The Clothes Were Polyester

Amend, Bill. And When She Opened The Closet, All The Clothes Were Polyester. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2007.

Subtle Shakespeare allusions were the rule for several of our most recent FoxTrot Fridays.

But And When She Opened The Closet, All The Clothes Were Polyester comes through with more direct Shakespeare.


Well, two out of three ain't bad!

First, Andy is going over Paige's essay on Romeo and Juliet:

I find that to be enjoyably clever.

Next up, the subtle one. See if you can spot the Shakespeare:

Well done! You saw that Andy is alluding to Hamlet's speech to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Act II, scene ii: "What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable!" Of course, she's using it a bit more ironically, but still.

Finally, Peter has a Hamlet essay due soon:

The joke may be a bit typical, but it's played out masterfully, with carefully-planned timing and a great look on Peter's face as he makes his final admission.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Star Trek: Picard and Macbeth

“Penance.” By Akiva Goldsman, Terry Matalas, and Christopher Monfette. Perf. Patrick Stewart and John de Lancie. Dir. Doug Aarniokoski. Star Trek: Picard. Season 2, episode 2. Paramount+. 10 March 2022. DVD. Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, 2023.

Shakespeare doesn't appear often in Star Trek: Picard, but we just have to take what we can get.

In this episode, Q returns for yet another test—either of humanity in general or of Picard specifically. When he starts to allude to his plan (in his usual ambiguous manner), Q suggests that Picard is guilty of something and that his guilt is akin to Macbeth's. For Q, the answer to Macbeth's query "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?" is decidedly in the negative:

I've noted that Star Trek: Picard is, in general, all kinds of terrible, and Season Two seems to be the worst of the three. That applies to its use of Shakespeare. Instead of carrying this allusion forward, making oblique or direct reference to it during the rest of the season and wrapping the season up with some great Shakespeare-related insight, this is it.

Perhaps there will be something in Season Three that provides more Shakespeare. We can but hope.

The Episode at IMDB.

For more connections between Star Trek and Shakespeare, head to Shakespeare and Star Trek Complete.

Click below to purchase the complete series from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Monday, July 1, 2024

Book Note: What Was Shakespeare Really Like?

Wells, Stanley. What Was Shakespeare Really Like?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023.

Stanley Wells rarely disappoints, excelling as he does in both scholarship and communication. He's one of those authors (like Simon Winchester) whose works I'll always read, no matter the topic. Fortunately, Wells' topics are strongly centered in Shakespeare.

What was Shakespeare Really Like? is a brief, engaging look at Shakespeare and his works in four sections:
  1. What Manner of Man Was He?
  2. How Did Shakespeare Write a Play?
  3. What Do the Sonnets Tell Us about Their Author?
  4. What Made Shakespeare Laugh?
The sample I'll provide is from the first section, and it demonstrates the right balance between acknowledging what we don't know, what we do know, and reasonable speculation, and Wells mostly maintains that method. However, in the third section, like all Shakespeare scholars who work to find specific biographical elements in the sonnets, Wells goes off the rails a bit. But the exuberance of the book's prose makes that easy to overlook.

Here's part of Wells' "What Manner of Man Was He?" section (the nifty ribbon bookmark usefully crosses out sections you can skip). Note the proper tentative-yet-reasonable beats of the argument: "We can think . . . . We can deduce . . . . We can observe . . . ." 

If that doesn't convince you that you should seek out and read this book at your earliest convenience—and it really should!—then let me point you toward the epilogue. I was aware of most of the points that Wells made in the book (but thrilled to have them related in his compelling style), but the epilogue was mostly new to me. It's titled "Eight decades with Shakespeare—and More," and it provides a brief biographical sketch of Wells' career. The directions Shakespeare studies have taken over those decades (combined with Wells' various roles in its development) was utterly fascinating.

And, with that cliffhanger, I leave you, hoping to encourage you even more to track down Stanley Wells' What Was Shakespeare Really Like?

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Friday, June 28, 2024

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Houston, You Have A Problem

Amend, Bill. Houston, You Have A Problem. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2007.

The last few FoxTrot books have followed a trend of inviting the reader to supply the Shakespeare rather than blatantly quoting Shakespeare or alluding to Shakespeare or mentioning Shakespeare.

But we are hardy readers all. We are up to the challenge. If Bill Amend wants us to, we're willing to play "Spot the Shakespeare."

That's what we have in another comic devoted to Peter's English homework:

Last time (for which, q.v.), we noted that Peter was reading The Winter's Tale. It's evident that he's now writing a paper on that play (it has five acts, just like the fifths Peter is talking about—six if you count the long speech by Time).

We can now turn to Paige and her excitement over her most recent reading assignment.

Ah, the Scottish play—Shakespeare's shortest tragedy. Paige will soon learn that it's good not only for being brief but for being a deep sounding of the depths of the human heart.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Star Trek: Picard and The Tempest

“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2.” By Michael Chabon. Perf. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner. Dir. Akiva Goldsman. Star Trek: Picard. Season 1, episode 10. Paramount+. 26 March 2020. DVD. Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, 2023.

It's been some time since I had anything to add to my "Shakespeare and Star Trek Complete" post (for which, q.v.). And that post, in all honestly, is "complete" for Star Trek: The Original Season and Star Trek: The Next Generation while only venturing occasionally into other Star Trek universes (e.g., Star Trek: The Animated SeriesStar Trek: Enterprise, and the reboot films).

But I've finally found the time to watch Star Trek: Picard and to find the Shakespeare therein.

I'm afraid Picard is pretty awful in most respects, but you can learn more about that from other sources. Here, we'll talk about the Shakespeare—which you may think is pretty awful, too.

Note: Spoilers are approaching at high warp.

In the final episode of Season 1, the show awkwardly wraps up. Picard has died (but don't worry—his consciousness has been placed in an android body . . . the very thing we've been warned not to do in "The Schizoid Man" and elsewhere in the Star Trek universe), and Data (who likewise died near the end of Star Trek: Nemesis) has been restored—but only in a simulation, not in a physical body of any sort (but don't worry—Dr. Noonien Soong has a previously-unmentioned biological son who looks just like Data). Data wishes to end his existence since that's the only thing that is certain about human beings (except when it isn't), and he wishes to have a fully human experience.

As Data's simulation shuts down, Picard provides narration in the way of a speech from The Tempest:

Anyone who would say "Spoilers are approaching at high warp" should be careful about calling anything corny, so I'll avoid doing that. Instead, I'll comment on the insight that we're offered. Here's what Picard says before the Tempest quote:

Looking at the human race, with all its violence and corruption and willful ignorance, he could still see kindness, the immense curiosity and greatness of spirit. And he wanted, more than anything else, to be a part of that . . . to be a part of . . . the human family.

He's talking, of course, about Data. But he could easily be talking about Shakespeare—at least in the first part. The second part could be changed for Shakespeare to "he wanted to show us the human family."

With that in mind, perhaps there's less corniness in Prospero's words and Picard's (and Picard's) use of them:

                                We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (The Tempest, IV.i.156–58)

The Episode at IMDB.

For more connections between Star Trek and Shakespeare, head to Shakespeare and Star Trek Complete.

Click below to purchase the complete series from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Monday, June 24, 2024

Book Note: Enter Ghost

Hammad, Isabella. Enter Ghost: A Novel. New York: Grove Press, 2023.

I've had this book on my "to read" shelf for a while, but it wasn't until I checked the audiobook version out of the library that I actually got down to it. And I'm glad I encountered it that way—the audiobook is read very well, bringing the characters to life by means of their voices.

Enter Ghost is about Sonia, a London-based actor who returns to Palestine after her marriage falls apart and becomes tangentially—and then more integrally—part of an Arabic production of Hamlet. In that plot and in our growing and deepening understanding of her history, the novel has an unhurried pace that I really appreciated.

Naturally, I came to Enter Ghost for the Shakespeare. Overall, that part did not disappoint, but the book is decidedly one-sided in its politics (and it’s also too political overall). All the Palestinian characters have a wonderful three-dimensionality, but every Israeli is a one-dimensional evil villain. I would have liked to have had a lot more exploration of human beings as human beings, whatever their politics—and we certainly get that on the Palestinian side. But the difference between their powerfully complicated portrayal and the simplistic portrayal of the Israelis was stark.

My favorite parts of the novel were those places where the cast discusses and rehearses Hamlet. Enter Ghost often has sections that are written as if it were a play, as in the scene below where the cast and director start exploring their visions of the play and of their production.

You can see how Shakespeare can speak to a particular time and a particular situation as well as to human universals.

Later in the novel, when the cast has been set more firmly and rehearsals are well underway, we are presented with this scene. The actors are working on the "closet" scene:

I find that exercise fascinating. We get one side of the story, which is, politically, what the novel is also doing. But the novel does tell its side of the story well, and, for those who have only heard the other side of the story, it offers a counterbalance. In this scene, Hamlet, like the ghost who enters later in the scene, is silent to Gertrude. Our focus is entirely on Gertrude and her reactions, which allows us to examine them and the actress to portray them with greater precision.

I can't tell you more without providing spoilers, but you'll find Enter Ghost to be well worth reading.

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Friday, June 21, 2024

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's How Come I'm Always Luigi?

Amend, Bill. How Come I'm Always Luigi? Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2006.

As in our last FoxTrot Friday post (for which, q.v.), there's only one Shakespeare-related comic.

As in that previous post, the Shakespeare is pretty subtle.

And, once again, the Shakespearean content has to do with Peter Fox and his exam schedule.

I'll let you take a look at it—see if you can spot the subtle Shakespearean subtext!

It's pretty clear that Peter is facing a Shakespeare exam. And it's also pretty clear which Shakespeare play he ought to have read.

The Winter's Tale

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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

More Romeo and Juliet: A Shakespeare Allusion in Season Nine of The Office

"Moving On." By Graham Wagner. Perf. Rainn Wilson, Mindy Kaling, Ed Helms, Leslie David Baker, Kate Flannery, Lindsey Broad, and Oscar Nuñez. Dir. Jon Favreau. The Office. Season 9, episode 16. NBC. 14 February 2013. DVD. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2019.

Just when I think I've harvested all the Shakespeare The Office has to offer, I find another reference.

I've been keeping up with The Office Ladies podcast, and that necessitates rewatching the episodes they're covering. They're nearly through Season 9, and they are nearly to "Moving On" (so I don't yet know if they'll mention the Shakespeare).

In that episode, Andy has discovered that Erin, having broken up with him, has started dating Pete, and he behaves like a hurt animal—except that a hurt animal might not turn to Shakespeare to illustrate his emotions.

That moment, however indirectly, illustrates the common practice of reading our own lives back into Shakespeare. The trope of Romeo and Juliet as the quintessential lovers is the starting point, but Andy reads beyond the margins to imagine a former beau of Juliet—probably her boss—and his emotional state. As misguided as that is, it's not uncommon.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest