Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Note: The People's Bard

Pellegrini, Nancy. The People's Bard: How China Made Shakespeare its Own. New York: Penguin, 2017.

I have time for just a quick few words on what turned out to be a very disappointing book—or pamphlet, really.

A book with the title The People's Bard: How China Made Shakespeare its Own should do what its title sets out to do. Instead, we are presented with a basic plot summary of Shakespeare in China. The introduction indicates that the book is for non-academics, but the book it largely rehashes, Alexander C. Y. Huang's Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange (for which, q.v.), is entirely accessible by the general reader even though it also has an immense weight of scholarship behind it.

The book also cycles through the same material multiple times. We think a subject has been covered, but it comes back again—but without additional depth or much in the way of alternate angles on the material.

Here are a couple sample pages. In the first, we glimpse a bit of Shakespeare under Mao:

That's interesting and good, but it's all covered by Huang in a much more satisfactory manner.

The second sample is better, providing some examples of modern productions of Shakespeare in China and pointing toward the reason for interest in Shakespeare in China—his complexity in characterization.

Again, that's good material, but Huang does it better, more thoroughly, with more analysis, and with the same level of readability.

Click below and to the left to purchase the book from
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Better yet, click below and to the right to purchase Huang's book from
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Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Royal Shakespeare Company's Tempest

The Tempest. Dir. Gregory Doran. Perf. Alison Arnopp, Simon Russell Beale, and Jonathan Broadbent. 2017. DVD. Royal Shakespeare Company, 2017.

Gregory Doran has directed tons of interesting Shakespeare over decades. His 2017 Tempest pushes the limits of special effects on stage. Ariel was played by an actor, but the actor's moments were captured by video computer technology and projected onto curved screens that made Ariel appear to be floating above the stage. The technology also allowed the figure to be transformed in various ways. Here's a quick sample. Note how the actor is occasionally visible while the computerized simulacra floats above the sage.

The technology is impressive, but the acting and the overall vision of the play does not take a back seat to it. I'm particularly fond of the way they dealt with the meeting of Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban (though the non-Shakespearean asides are likely to annoy some viewers):

I first saw the film at the 2017 Shakespeare Association of America Convention. This year's convention brought a fascinating presentation about the production and about the possible future directions of Shakespeare on stage.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Shakespeare in The Royals?

“Stand and Unfold Yourself.” By Mark Schwahn. Perf. William Moseley, Alexandra Park, and Merritt Patterson. Dir. Mark Schwahn. The Royals. Season 1, episode 1. E! 15 March 2015. DVD. Lionsgate, 2016.  

How can I explain this one?

Once there was a book called Falling for Hamlet (for which, q.v.). It was not critically acclaimed.

And now there's an E! series called The Royals that is loosely based on that novel, which was loosely based on Hamlet. It, too, lacks critical acclaim. But it's made it into its fourth season. It's a pretty trashy soap opera with each episode given the title of a Hamlet quote.

We're in an imagined modern England among a set of younger, hipper royals than those they have now (with apologies to their gracious but less-hip current majesties). We have a character named Ophelia who becomes involved with Prince Liam, whose brother has just died. Prince Liam has a twin sister and a couple of cousins (who are there for comic relief and have a tiny Rosencrantz and Guildenstern vibe). The King and the Queen are both alive when the series starts, but, after only one episode, we can tell that the King's evil brother Cyrus will be causing trouble. The King is requesting Parliament to consider the dissolution of the monarchy, apparently because they're already so dissolute (see what I did there)? Ophelia's mother is dead, and her father (the palace's head of security) reads Ophelia the riot act about getting involved with the Prince.

Other than that, there's a lot more attention paid to the soap opera elements than to any Shakespearean elements.

Oh, but there is one Shakespeare quote—although it's from 2 Henry IV rather than from Hamlet.

Here's a quick sample that includes two scenes. The Queen is rude to Ophelia, who is able to return the rudeness with a bit of spin—a little bit of English on it. In the second scene, the character I take to be a rough Horatio analogue has a down-to-earth moment with the Prince:

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. (2 Henry IV, III.i.31)

For those of you keeping score, the Shakespeare quote is the same one Michael Jackson used in The Wiz (for which, q.v.).

Glancing through summaries of other episodes, I see only a little bit of Hamlet remaining—apart from the episodes' titles, each of which is a quote from Hamlet. So I don't think I'll be watching any further in the series. It's not my cup of English Breakfast.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Orson Welles' Macbeth: Accents in 1948 and 1950 Compared

Macbeth. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barner, and Alan Napier. 1950. Blu-ray. Olive Films, 2016.

The 1950 version of Orson Welles' Macbeth different from his 1948 version in a number of ways, but one of the main ways is in the accents.  The 1950 version overdubbed with accents that sounded significantly less Scottish than those in the 1949 version. Thanks to the recent release of the Olive Signature Blu-ray of the film, we can compare those accents.

I have taken the "Was the hope drunk" sequence and provided it in the three film clips below. The first provides the 1948 Scottish-accent versions. The second is the less-Scottish 1950 version. And the third provides the first section of the exchange with side-by-side speeches. In each case, the 1948 version will come first.

The 1948 Version.

The 1950 Version.

The Side-by-Side Comparison Version.

I find that fascinating. And I suppose the 1950 version is more commercially viable—or was in 1950. But it does lose something in the translation . . . or re-accentization.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the astonishing Blu-ray from
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Monday, April 16, 2018

Orson Welles' 1950 Version of Macbeth

Macbeth. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barner, and Alan Napier. 1950. Blu-ray. Olive Films, 2016.

Orson Welles' Macbeth was filmed in 1947, released in a limited way in 1948, and re-released in 1950. The 1950 version was shorter, and the voices—which had a Scottish burr—had been overdubbed with accents that sounded significantly less Scottish. I'd only seen the 1948 version (for a bit of which, q.v.) before this year, when Olive released a Blu-ray of the film that includes both versions in full.

Imagine my surprise and amazement when I started the 1950 version—primarily to see how the accents changed—and heard an introduction that sets the stage for the film. Olivier's 1948 Hamlet did something of the sort (for which, q.v.), but largely with Shakespeare's text.

It may be that the Republic Studio in 1950 wanted Welles' film to do something like Olivier's Academy-Award winning Shakespeare film, or it may be that they wanted their audiences to be guided rather than confused by the direction of the film. In any case, here's the opening of the 1950 version of Welles Macbeth (with the text below):

Our story is laid in Scotland—Ancient Scotland—savage, half lost in the mist that hangs between recorded history and the time of legends.  The cross itself is newly arrived here.  Plotting against Christian law and order are the agents of chaos: priests of hell and magic, sorcerers, and witches.  Their tools are ambitious men.  This is the story of such a man and of his wife.  A brave soldier, he hears from witches a prophecy of future greatness and, on this cue, murders his way up to a tyrant's throne only to go down hated and in blood at the end of all.  Now, riding homeward from victorious battle in defense of his true king, here on the blasted heath, the witches hail him king.  Here the spell is laid upon him, and the story begins. 
That introduction could be reductionist—and, to a certain extent, it is—but it also has something of Welles' vision of the story and the way it unfolds. And that's a helpful way to frame the narrative.

In a future post, we'll take a listen to some of those accents. Stay tuned!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the astonishing Blu-ray from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

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 2008-2020 (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