Hephaestus's Blog

December 30, 2014, 18:16
Filed under: Uncategorized

The phrase “you only live once”, abbreviated as “YOLO”, is occasionally used as an excuse for doing daring, dangerous things, like jumping out of an airplane, pushing a car’s speed to the limit, boiling bananas, and so on. However, for those of a more cautious bent, that phrase, and the notion underlying it, is just as easily employed as an excuse to be careful and reserved. After all, you only live once, so why spoil it by crashing your car, getting thrown in jail, or some such?

I think it illustrates how much flexibility and ambiguity our language has that the same four words can carry a message of both daring and caution. It just depends on who is saying or hearing it.

My next post will be in the year 2015. See you then, and drive safely. Remember, you only live once.

Word of the Month: Anti-Stratfordian
December 26, 2014, 14:34
Filed under: Shakespeare, Words of the Months

Etymology: anti-, Greek prefix meaning against, + Stratford, referring to Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare’s home town, + -ian, a Latin-derived suffix used to make adjectives.

Meaning: An Anti-Stratfordian is someone who believes, or tries to propagate the belief, that the plays of Shakespeare were written by some other person.


Anti-Stratfordians come in many and varied groups, each with their own proposed author and supporting evidence, but the most popular are these four:

Oxfordian: The Oxfordians contend that the true author is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. The beginning of this claim can be traced to J. Thomas Looney’s book Shakespeare Identified. One of their main claims is that the plays contain semi-autobiographical characters that fit Oxford’s life story. Their most fascinating and far-fetched claim is that the Earl of Southampton, to whom two of Shakespeare’s poems and a number of his sonnets are dedicated, was the illegitimate son of Oxford and the Queen of England. A  competing claim is that he himself was the Queen’s son. The fact that he died prior to the appearance of twelve of the plays is circumvented by saying they were completed by others or else simply performed posthumously.

Baconian: The Baconian school of Shakespeare authorship contends that his works were written by Francis Bacon, one of the principal figures behind the invention of the scientific method. This one has been so popular over the years that documents making this claim have been forged. The earliest verified appearance of this claim is that of Delia Bacon (no relation to Francis), whose claim (published in 1857) also implicated Sir Walter Raleigh in a plot to distribute a philosophy via the medium of drama. By the late 1800s, the Baconian Orville Ward Owen constructed a machine called a “cipher wheel”, which was a three hundred meter-long strip of canvas on two spools, with Shakespeare’s works and those of others glued onto it. He published a book in 1895 claiming that Bacon had hidden his autobiography in Shakespeare via a series of ciphers, and it revealed that he was a son of Queen Elizabeth and had created the works for the sole purpose of concealing the secret history of the Elizabethan era. It goes without saying that this is one of the more ludicrous anti-Stratfordian claims. In 1916, film producer William Selig sued prominent Baconian George Fabyan, saying that Fabyan’s claims threatened the profits of Selig’s upcoming Shakespeare film. Fabyan’s assertion that Bacon wrote the works won the case and he was awarded $5,000 in damages. Most prominent Anti-Stratfordians, including Mark Twain, were/are Baconians.

Marlovian: The Marlovians contend that the author was Christopher Marlowe, a famous Elizabethan poet and dramatist. The biggest flaw in this theory is that Marlowe was murdered in May 1593, considerably before all but the very first Shakespearean poems were written. Marlovians suggest that Marlowe faked his own death, possibly to escape being persecuted for atheism, and then went on to publish his continuing writings under the name Shakespeare. Marlowe was already a prominent creator of the type of work now commonly associated with Shakespeare, so it is not impossible that he could have gone on writing them in secret.  The first Marlovian claim of Shakespeare authorship was put forward in Wilbur G. Ziegler’s 1895 novel It Was Marlowe. One of the earliest Marlovian claims is actually in reverse, as someone in 1819 proposed that Marlowe was a pseudonym for Shakespeare.

Derbyite: The Derbyites’ preferred author is William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby. The Derbyite theory first appeared in 1891, when James H. Greenstreet claimed that some old letters, apparently written in a somewhat disapproving tone, saying that Derby was writing plays, were evidence that he had been secretly writing under an assumed name. (This one seems a bit tenuous.) The claims were expanded in the first half of the 20th century by a Frenchman, Abel Lefranc, who put forth that Love’s Labour’s Lost contained an account of events witnessed by Derby in France. He also claimed that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written for the occasion of Derby’s marriage, (to Oxford’s daughter, Elizabeth de Vere) and that characters in Hamlet and As You Like It were autobiographical. (Sound familiar?) The Derbyite theory is not a particularly popular or well-known one, but there was a play written about it in 1998.



Six reasons why I like Shakespeare
December 22, 2014, 18:01
Filed under: Shakespeare

1: They are good stories, once you get used to the writing.

Romeo and Juliet, for example, is a classic love story so embedded in our culture that it has become clichéd. Macbeth, the “Scottish Play,” which I wrote about here, is a tale of a man whose grab for power ultimately becomes his downfall.

2: They can be quite deep at times.

King Lear, to take one I am rather well acquainted with, deals with themes such as the feeling of helplessness that comes with growing old, as well as the more obvious currents of greed and madness.

3: The comedies are really quite witty at times, at least the ones that I’ve seen.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after poking fun a bad actors, ends with the troublemaker Puck addressing the audience and saying, essentially, “If you didn’t like us, why not pretend it was all a dream?” Much Ado About Nothing is full of banter and wordplay, and Twelfth Night has mistaken identity and characters named Aguecheek and Belch.

4: They really are great literature.

At least, they have all the hallmarks of literature that I know of. They are still able to be appreciated, even after a great deal of time has separated us from them, they deal with themes such as life, death, and love, and, of course, they are revered by scholars and lovers of culture. That last may not be good for very much, at least to my contemporaries (i.e. teenagers), but it is a quality of literature nonetheless.

5: The language is beautiful.

Shakespeare’s use of language, while archaic and poetic, is very beautiful and refined. I mean, if there’s one thing we do a lot of in the English-speaking world, it’s quote Shakespeare. “To be or not to be” has been referenced and parodied more than anything else I can think of. The main sources of “classical” references in English literature from the seventeenth century onward are the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, and Shakespeare. “Et tu, Brute!” is a catch-all phrase for betrayal. Also, while just how many words Shakespeare gave us is under constant debate, we can be sure it has preserved many words that we would never have heard otherwise.

6: They are still popular, four centuries after they were written.

Shakespeare is essentially the only Elizabethan dramatist whose works are still being performed on a regular basis throughout the English-speaking world. I mean, anti-Stratfordianism notwithstanding, who has ever seen a play by Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, or the Earl of Oxford? The same can be said in terms of poets. Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and Edmund Spenser may have been great poets, but they are simply not household names.

The Problem in Education
December 18, 2014, 17:49
Filed under: Uncategorized

If you pay attention to the news media, you probably are aware of the commonly held viewpoint that our education system is always failing our students in some way or another. Many explanations seem to be offered for this, ranging from bad teachers to bad material to laziness to lack of money, and as many solutions are offered as there are said to be problems. However, I believe that all of this is at its core (Common Core?) doomed to fail, because it fails to take into account one crucial factor: With the right methods, you can make someone do anything they don’t want to, but by no reasonable means can you make someone think something they don’t want to. No student who is convinced math is boring will decide he or she likes it simply because he or she is told to.

At this point, I am reminded of an Isaac Asimov story, where one character says to another:

” It won’t do to say to a man, ‘You can create. Do so.’ It is much safer to wait for a man to say, ‘I can create, and will do so whether you wish it or not.'”

This, I believe, is an observation quite similar to my own.

I believe that something close to this concept has been hit upon by the makers of so-called “educational” games and toys. They know that children will resist learning if it shows their face to them, so they bundle it up in a “fun” package and sneak it to them like carrots in carrot cake.

In closing: the reason homeschooling, if looked at from outside, seems to turn out such profuse artists and geniuses is that it allows an individual to decide he/she wants to learn, to do things, and then to do those things to the best of his/her ability. The fatal flaw of factory education is that it attempts to force-feed learning into people, and fails every time.

Project for Awesome: Cradles to Crayons
December 12, 2014, 17:44
Filed under: Uncategorized

This weekend is the 8th annual Nerdfighter Project for Awesome. In this annual charity event, YouTubers make videos promoting their favorite charities and then vote for their favorite videos at projectforawesome.com.

This year, I made a video for the Project for Awesome. The video is about Cradles to Crayons, a charity which gives clothing and other needed items, free of charge, to children in need in Massachusetts and the Philadelphia area.

I encourage you to check out the Project for Awesome on its Web site. The Project is running until noon Sunday, and there is a load of videos there promoting as many charities. The top ten charities will get a portion of the money raised at the Project’s indiegogo campaign.

December 9, 2014, 20:51
Filed under: Uncategorized

The idea sometimes expressed as “talking back” or “back talk” or similar terms is more precisely worded as “a child (or occasionally other subservient person) contradicting or arguing with their parent (or other authority figure), often on a point of authority.” The term “talking back” is an interesting one, for two reasons.

First, it could be seen that much of talking is talking back, in the sense that it is talking back to someone who has said something to you. Therefore it may be shown that anyone who may still say that children should only speak when spoken to (rather old-fashioned, if you ask me), and at the same time punish them for talking back, would really get upset if someone pointed out that in that case they may as well make their kids take a vow of silence.

Also, literal interpretations aside(And what about sdwardkcab gniklat-Oops,talking backwards?), the notion of “Talking back” is rooted in an authoritarian flavor of parenting, where the child has to obey the parent’s every word, and if they object, then they are roundly punished. Personally, I do not like this, because I believe that everyone has a right to have their own say in how their life is run. A rule such as “no talking back” is in direct violation of this principle.