Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

It’s time, once again, to GO GREEN or Go Home.  It’s our 2nd annual, 17-question St. Patrick Literary Quiz. (To see last year’s quiz, click here.)  All questions have to do with Irish stuff– Irish writers, Irish-American writers, Irish characters, or even just random Irish literary references.  Answers follow. We wish you all the luck o’ the Irish!

1. For James Joyce aficionados, what is the significance of June 16,1904?

a. the birthday of Joyce’s daughter Lucia
b. the day Ulysses is set
c. the day that Michael Furey (from “The Dead”) died after waiting in the rain outside Gretta’s window

2. In the Harry Potter series, what is the name of the Irish-born Gryffindor student and best friend of Dean Thomas?Seamus_FinnigansG

a. Bartemius Crouch Jr.
b. Colin Creevey
c. Seamus Finnigan

3.  In The Secret of Roan Inish (based on the the book The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry, by Rosalie K. Fry) is inspired by Irish legend of skin-shedding seals who become human. What are these seals called?

a. corkles
b. cormorants
c. selkies

4. What is the full name of Oscar Wilde?

a.  Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde
b.  Oscar Felix O’Connor Wilde
c.  Oscar Sullivan McConville Stuart Wilde

5. In Yeats’ poem “The Wild Swans at Coole,” how many swans does the narrator see during his earlier visit to Coole Park?

a.  46
b.  59
c.  99

6. Irish author Eoin Colfer is best known for penning which book series?

a. Artemis Fowl
b. Warriors
c. Cirque du Freak

Gulliver's challenge

7. In Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the Lilliputians are at war with a race of people over how to open eggs.  The Lilliputians prefer to open the little end.  Which race of people are also known as “Big-Enders”?

a.  Brobdignagians
b.  Blefescudians
c.  Laputans

8.  Why get off the topic of Gulliver so swiftly?  (Pun, pun…)  What is the name of the race of intelligent horses in the last part of GT?

a.  Houyhnhnms
b. Struyldbrugs
c. Yahoos

9. Which of the following is the name of a Marian Keyes novel?

a. Mango
b. Strawberry
c. Watermelon

10. Seamus Heaney died last year, on August 30, 2013. According to his son Michael, minutes before he died, he sent his last words to his wife via text message.  The message?  The Latin words “Noli timere.”  What does that mean in English?

a. “It’s time.”
b. “Don’t be afraid.”
c. “This is not the end.”

11. Which Irish-born author wrote The Country Girls Trilogy?

a. Edna O’Brien
b. Maeve Binchy
c. Emily Lawless

12. How does the ending to George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion differ from that of the musical/ film My Fair Lady?

a. Pygmalion: Professor Henry Higgins gets into a boating accident and dies; My Fair Lady, he survives the accident.
b. Pygmalion: Eliza Doolittle rejects Higgins; My Fair Lady: Higgins realizes he misses her, and she comes back to him.
c. Pygmalion: Eliza married Colonel Pickering; My Fair Lady: Eliza marries Freddy Eynsford-Hill

13.  In his song “Rave On,” Van Morrison alludes to which of the following poets?

a. John Donne
b. Walt Whitman
c. William Butler Yeats
d. All of the above

14. Which Irish-born mutant superhero had a brief tenure with the X-Men?

a. Banshee
b. Gambit
c. Havoc

15. In Oscar Wilde’s novel, who is the painter of the titular picture of Dorian Gray?

a. Alan Campbell
b. Lord Henry Wolton
c. Basil Hallward

16.  In Hamlet, which character swears “by Saint Patrick”?

a. Ophelia
b. Hamlet
c. Polonius

17. Complete this James Joyce quotation: “The demand I make of my reader is that he should devote ______________ to reading my books.”

a. “one hour a day”
b. “three days a week”
c. “his whole life”


  1.  b. the day Ulysses is set
  2. c. Seamus Finnigan
  3. c. selkies
  4. a.  Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde
  5. b. 59
  6. a. Artemis Fowl
  7. b.  Blefescudians
  8. a.  Houyhnhnms
  9. c. Watermelon
  10. b. Don’t be afraid
  11. a. Edna O’Brien
  12. b. In My Fair Lady, Eliza returns to Higgins, but in Shaw’s original version, she leaves him
  13. d. All of the above
  14. a. Banshee
  15. c. Basil Hallward
  16. b. Hamlet (Act I, sc. 5, while talking to Horatio)
  17. c. “his whole life”

How’d You Do?

15-17 Correct: Pot o’ Gold!

11-14 Correct: Shamrock-star!

6-10 Correct: Lucky Guesser

2-5 Correct: Green around the Gills

0-1 Correct: Potato Famine


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bosom buddiesI recently re-read Twelfth Night, after a twenty-year hiatus. And I have to say: that play is kray-kray. Oh, it’s fun and light-hearted, and it has some important things to say about gender and identity.  It’s just not the most realistic depiction of life you’ll ever seen.

For the uninitiated, here’s the basic plot:  Viola is caught up in a storm at sea and washes up on the shores of a strange land called Illyria.  For reasons that defy logic, she decides to disguise herself as a man in order to work as a servant for the duke, the lovesick Orsino.  Donning a new name (Cesario) and an apparently extremely convincing costume, Viola becomes fast-friends with Duke Orsino, who asks her (him) to speak on his behalf to the lovely Olivia, who has sworn off men for seven years.   As it turns out, though, Olivia’s man-fast lasts considerably shorter; she immediately falls in love with Cesario/ Viola—who, conveniently enough, has a secret crush on Orsino.

Things get even nuttier later when Viola’s twin brother Sebastian, presumed dead, also washes up in Illyria, totally unaware that his sister is not only alive and living in this same city (what are the odds, right?), but has been basically masquerading around as him for three months.  So Sebastian is confused why all these strangers seem to know him… but not so confused that he declines the marriage proposal of Olivia (whom Sebastian has just met).   Despite these complications, all’s well that ends well: Viola and Sebastian reunite, and Viola and Orsino get married (even though, just moments before, Orsino considered her to be his male servant).

Yeah, so… a little light on the realism, that Twelfth Night.  I’m not saying that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a fact.  Even Shakespeare himself recognized this: in Act III, the character Fabian says, in a moment of inspired self-reflexivity, “If this were play’d upon a stage right now, I’d condemn it as an improbable fiction.”

Improbable or not, though, it’s a great play, one worthy of analysis and discussion.  I have twelve observations/ discoveries about Twelfth Night.  Here are the first six:

(1) As far as Shakespearean titles go, the name Twelfth Night is pretty nonsensical.  It refers to the Feast of the Epiphany, the last night of the Christmas season—but that never comes up in the play. Instead, scholars have surmised that the play was first performed on the “twelfth night”—hence, the name.  I wonder why more current-day screenwriters don’t try something similar.  It would clear up a few things….

“Hey, you want to see that new movie February 18th?”
“Sure.  When’s it coming out?”

(2) Speaking of titles, Twelfth Night is the only Shakespeare play with a subtitle (What You Will), which could refer to three things:

(a) The audience (as if Shakespeare, acknowledging the role the theater-goers have in the creative process, is conceding, “You folks will do with this play what you will.”  Or maybe he’s saying, “I know I’m taking a walk on the wacky side with this one, but hey, I think it’s cool. So, say whatever you want. I gotta be me.”);

(b) The playwright’s own name (Has there ever been a writer more infatuated with his own name than Master Shakespeare?); and

(c) Ahem… a certain part of the male anatomy.  (I’m serious:  “will” is bawdy Elizabethan slang—and Shakespeare sure does enjoy some bawdy slang!  Of course, since this play involves a woman dressing as a man, maybe the punning especially works here.)

(3) Twelfth Night is one of four—count ‘em: four—Shakespearean plays involving shipwrecks, the other three being Comedy of Errors, The Tempest, and Pericles.  And who can blame Will for going to the shipwreck well so often?  After all, a shipwreck is dramatic, visually compelling.  Thus, when The Tempest opens with a storm at sea, we are immediately thrown into a tense and chaotic scene.

Similarly, in Twelfth Night—actually, it’s not similar at all; the storm happens off-stage, in-between the first two scenes of Act I.  Missed opportunity, I think—as do others; from what I’ve read, some Twelfth Night directors have flip-flopped scenes 1 and 2, which means the play begins with Viola, the main protagonist.  (Of course, that means Orsino’s famous line “If music be the food of love, play on” no longer opens the play, which causes some purists to cry foul.  Eh, can’t win ‘em all…)

(4) For my money, a whole play based on cross-dressing smacks of genius on Shakespeare’s part.  Remember: back in the day, male actors played the female parts.  So, in the case of Twelfth Night, you have a male actor playing the part of a woman playing the part of a man.  How convolutedly cool is that?

(5) And yet, despite its coolness… the whole reason behind the cross-dressing is a little contrived.  So, let me get this straight: disguising herself as a boy is the ONLY way Viola can get a job in Illyria?  Yeah, yeah, I get that she knows absolutely nobody, and she needs food and shelter and all that.  And yeah, yeah, she first thought of going to Olivia’s first, only to be told that she wasn’t seeing anyone (due to that whole “mourning-for-seven-years” thing).  But you’re telling me there is not a single other person living in Illyria who could lend her a hand?  Or that she’s so desperate that cross-dressing is her only option?  And where did Viola get all these men’s clothes, anyway?

I’m reminded of Bosom Buddies, that early-80’s sitcom starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari as two wicked cheap guys who dressed in drag so they could live in an inexpensive apartment for women.  So the two can’t afford to pay rent but they can buy an entire new wardrobe of women’s clothing?  (Incidentally, you know the whole double-meaning of the title Bosom Buddies?  That they’re best friends but they’re also dressing up as women, which means they have fake bosoms?  I literally JUST figured that out last year, a whole thirty years after the fact. Man, either the pun is that subtle or I’m that slow.)

(6) Speaking of sitcoms… Twelfth Night showcases Shakespeare’s susceptibility to Chuck Cunningham Syndrome (CCS).  And who is Chuck Cunningham, you ask?  Why, he’s an original character of Happy Days, of course—the college-aged, basketball-playing older brother of Richie and Joanie Cunningham, the eldest child of Howard and Marion Cunningham.  Chuck appeared sporadically on Happy Days during Seasons 1 and 2, then in Season 3, he went upstairs… and never emerged again.   The writers just dropped him.

Well, three-hundred-and-fifty years before Joanie loved Chachi, some Shakespearean characters experienced the same disappearing act.  And some pretty major characters at that. Where did Benvolio go after Act III of Romeo and Juliet?  What about the Fool in King Lear?  What happened to him? In Macbeth, Fleance fled and never came back.  Same with Donalbain.

Twelfth Night may be one of the most egregious examples of Shakespeare’s CCS.  In Scene 2, Viola is talking to a character known only as Captain, presumably the captain of the ship that just sank.   The Captain not only tells Viola about Orsino and Olivia (he’s either known them or had heard about them previously), but he’s the one Viola enlists in her scheme to disguise herself as a man.  “Conceal me what I am,” she says to the Captain, “and be my aid” (I.ii.54).

In fact, the Captain is the only person Viola knows on Illyria and the only person who knows her secret.  So that seems pretty important, no?  Apparently not.  After Act I, he disappears from world literature forever.  Seems like an oversight– which I have to admit, I enjoy.  Sort of refreshing when the greatest playwright of all time screws up, isn’t it?

Part II of Twelfth Night Observations… coming soon (providing, of course, I don’t come down with Chuck Cunningham Syndrome…)


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Just under the wire (and perhaps the mistletoe)… a literary Christmas quiz, one that will require you to use your (egg)-noggin!  Happy holidays to everyone!

  1. In O. Henry’s short story “Gift of the Magi,” what is the name of the woman who sold her hair to get a Christmas gift for her husband?
  2. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, during his Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts, what gift—a Potter family heirloom—does Harry receive via an anonymous Dumbledore?
  3. What Shakespeare play is named after the Feast of the Epiphany, which takes place on January 6th (the day, according to some scholars, when the play was first performed)?
  4. What is the name of Scrooge’s former employer, the proprietor of a warehouse who would host Christmas balls?
  5. In John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, the narrator describes how Owen Meany, during one holiday season, played a role in a Christmas pageant and a role in a  version of A Christmas Carol. What were these two roles?
  6. I am an American poet who wrote a poem called “Christmas Trees (A Christmas Circular Letter),” but you probably know me better for that other wintry poem, the one about keeping promises on the darkest evening of the year. Who am I?
  7. I am a classic American novel which ends with the line, “So we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to the past.”  This Christmas, I was supposed to get 3D movie treatment (thanks to director Baz Luhrman), but the studios decided to postpone the film’s release until the summer.  I am who?
  8. In The Catcher in the Rye, which historical figure is Phoebe Caulfield reportedly playing in her school’s Christmas pageant?
  9. John Milton, author of “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” is better known for what other religious poem, about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden?
  10. Chris Van Allsburg, the author of children’s books such as Jumanji and Zathura, is also the author of which Christmas classic?
  11. Which now-classic Christmas movie—about a boy and his BB gun—is based on a book of short stories called In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, written by Jean Shepherd?
  12. Joe Christmas is the main protagonist of what William Faulkner novel with a decidedly non-Christmas-y title?
  13. And what non-Christmas-y Yeats’  poem ends with the line, “Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born”?
  14. The song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”—recorded by artists such as Frank Sinatra, Sarah Maclachlan, and Bette Midler—is based on the poem “Christmas Bells,”  written by which American poet (famous for “Paul Revere’s Ride”)?
  15. According to the Foreword of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, which character reportedly dies on Christmas Day 1952?
  16. What is the name of the young boy who is one of the two main characters in Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory”?  (Hint: he shares his name of a famous Christmas elf.)
  17. In what C.S. Lewis novel does Santa Claus give children named Peter, Susan and Lucy “tools, not  toys”—including a sword and a red shield emblazoned with the picture of a lion?
  18. What is the official title of  Clement C. Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”?
  19. I am an American poet whose poem “The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman”—which notes how Jesus was born in Bethlehem on ”so cold a Day”—has two of my trademarks:  it’s brief (40 words) and full of dashes!
  20. Boris Karloff, who narrated the animated special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” famously played what famous movie monster, originally created by Mary Shelley?
  21. What Scottish poet wrote the poem “Auld Lang Syne” in 1788?
  22. What Christmas ballet is based on an 1816 short story by M. T. A. Hoffman about a toy that comes to life?
  23. What Irish poet, famous for “Don’t Go Gently into That Good Night,” also wrote “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”?
  24. I am the author of the one-act play The Long Christmas Dinner, but you probably know me better by my Pulitzer-prize winning play Our Town. I am who?
  25. Which Christmas carol began as a poem, written by Father Joseph Mohr in 1816, which was then set to music by his friend Franz Gruber?


1. Della

2. Invisibility Cloak

3. Twelfth Night

4. Fezziwig

5. Baby Jesus, Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

6. Robert Frost

7. The Great Gatsby

8. Benedict Arnold

9. Paradise Lost

10. The Polar Express

11. A Christmas Story

12. Light in August

13. “The Second Coming”

14. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

15. Lolita herself (Mrs. Richard Schiller). She died while giving birth to a stillborn child.

16. Buddy

17. The Lion,The Witch, and The Wardrobe

18. “A Visit from St. Nicholas”

19. Emily Dickinson

20. Frankenstein’s monster

21. Robert Burns

22. The Nutcracker

23. Dylan Thomas

24. Thorton Wilder

25. “Silent Night”

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We’ve been reading a lot of really fun blogs this month, and one idea we loved was posting our top five “Desert Island Books”… in other words, if we’re going to be stranded on a deserted island for an indeterminate amount of time, what are some books we’d like to have with us?  We even asked our twins to weigh in on the decision.  Here’s what we came up with:


  1. Any Shakespeare Anthology (There are a thirty-eight plays, and I’ve only read maybe ten of them.  This might be a good time to catch up on some Titus Andronicus.)
  2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (My favorite of the series. Not the longest, but then again, all those Shakespeare plays will take up a lot of my time…)
  3. Paradise Lost by John Milton (Sheri says including Milton AND Shakespeare on this list makes me sound stuffy, but every time I read Paradise Lost, I find something new.)
  4. The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back by J.W. Rinzler (And every time I read this, I find something new.)
  5. The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle (Now, I’ve never read this, but a good, good friend has been insisting that I read it for a while now. I realize I’m taking a risk here, because I may not like it. And then I’ll be kicking myself for not bringing along a copy of 101 Ways to Get Off a Deserted Island…)   


  1. A Place to Call Home by Deborah Smith (This is the book I’ve read and re-read more times than any other)
  2. Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes (All of Keyes’ novels are great, but this one was my first and favorite.  She’s the master of Irish wit and storytelling.)
  3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (the book that made a reader—and a writer—out of me)
  4. Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn (No I am NOT embarrassed to have this on my list!  I’m alone on a desert island.  Who do I need to impress? A great romantic story—this is my favorite in the Bridgerton series—is like a warm, comforting blanket.)
  5. The Bible (Reasons should be obvious!)

Our 12-year-old son:

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (Never gets old)
  2. Warriors 6: The Darkest Hour by Erin Hunter (the best of the series)
  3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (best book ever written!)
  4. LEGO Club Magazine (Does this count as a book?)
  5. Any choose-your-own-adventure book (It’s like having many stories in one!)

Our other 12-year-old  son:

  1. The Candy Makers by Wendy Mass (awesome characters)
  2. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (The most clever plot ever!)
  3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (I love the emotion and action in this story)
  4. Loser by Jerry Spinelli (The most inspirational story by my favorite author)
  5. Mr. Terupt Falls Again by Rob Buyea (I’m in the middle of this book and I have to see how it ends!)

Let’s hear your desert island picks!

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If you asked me in 9th grade to describe the man of my dreams, I would’ve answered in one of three ways: 1) swashbuckling pirate, 2) wealthy Duke with a tortured secret, or 3) bad boy renegade with a heart of gold.  Can you guess what kind of books I read back then?  Well… if I’m being completely honest, I still read those kinds of books, but my understanding of real and healthy love has matured and deepened over the years.  And tomorrow will be the 15th anniversary of the day I married a true partner and soulmate in every sense of the word.

Most romantic comedies are based on the premise that opposites attract.  You see it in enduring hits such as Roman Holiday, When Harry Met Sally, or Pretty Woman.  It plays great on the big screen, and maybe it’s true for some real life couples.  Sure, Mark and I have our differences.  He’s pretty mellow and I can be a bit uptight at times.  He’s an intensely social extrovert while I love to stay at home with a good book.  He’s super messy and I’m only sort of messy.

Romantic comedies are fun to watch because of the comedic potential, but what would a long-term relationship between these characters really look like?  Where would they be after 15 years of marriage? (Before you curse my name forever, don’t worry… I believe Harry and Sally are definitely still together!)

I rather like Shakespeare’s romantic take on relationships in Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

From what I’ve seen, the “marriage of true minds” – couples bound together by what they share – are much more likely to last.  I’d like to believe that’s true of my own marriage. Mark and I both love to laugh and to make others laugh.  We are readers and writers and teachers.  We love analyzing the dickens out of any fictional text, having once spent an entire 2-hour car ride dissecting the lyrics to “Closing Time” by Semisonic. (Perhaps a future blog post if you’re interested?)

We share the same faith and the same vision for a more perfect world.  We are both fiercely devoted to family and friends and we are equally enthralled with the incredible twin boys we brought into this world.  We can’t believe they belong to us, and we’re awed by the fact that we belong to them.

We are both colossally disorganized.  Just ask my sister about the time I famously picked up a property tax bill from a pile of papers on the floor of our study and asked: “Was this due yet?”

But what lights the biggest spark in our marriage is our shared creativity.  And in 2009 we embarked on brand new creative journey together – we began co-writing a novel.  And aside from raising our boys, it has been the single most thrilling experience of our marriage.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post to read Mark’s reflection on the rewards (and pitfalls) of writing as a husband/wife team.

Happy Anniversary, man-of-my-dreams!  I’m really glad you’re not a pirate.

Use the comment section below to share the secret of what makes your marriage or relationship work!

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