Monday, July 10, 2017

Will on TNT

“The Play's the Thing.” Perf. Laurie Davidson, Olivia DeJonge, and Reid Anderson. Dir. Shekhar Kapur. Will. Season 1, episode 1. TNT. 10 July 2017.

The much-touted Will—early promotions alluded it it as Shakespeare with Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll—debuts tonight on TNT. But if you can't wait, you can watch it right here, right now. Note: You can watch the first of the two episodes that will debut tonight; you'll have to watch the other live.

I've been watching it in bits and pieces since early this morning. Without risking spoilers, here are some things the show made me think about.

Although the beginning seems to be the usual country-lad-comes-to-the-big-city narrative (one that's a bit heavy on crypto-Catholic plots), it still has some interest. First, there's more color in this than in most 1590s London recreations. And that first vision of London is accompanied by The Clash's "London Calling," a very effective choice for setting the stage.

A Sampling of the Colours of London in the 1590s

We also have a street urchin who offers to guide the Country Bumpkin Will around the city. He seems very much like a Puck figure.

The show gives us some lines from Edward III, a play by Thomas Kyd (with, quite conceivably, some help from Shakespeare) that was first published in 1596. Shakespeare declaims the lines to Burbage Senior's daughter:
So, John of France . . .
Had you done at first as now you do,
How many civil towns had stood untouched
That now are turned to ragged heaps of stones!
How many people's lives mightst thou have saved
That are untimely sunk into their graves!
We get some "upstart crow" and some "Shakeshaft," and, in a scene reminiscent of Shakespeare in Love, we get a scene where Burbage promises the audience a new play by Christopher Marlowe entitled Tamburlane's Ghost. We get Kit Marlowe, spy, searching for secret Catholics. And we get a poetry slam between Shakespeare and (I'm pretty sure) Greene.

There's also a scene where an actor keeps asking "What am I holding the mirror up to?" that becomes both comic and touching.

Will on Stage

The main artistic critique I have may just be in the nature of a first episode of a series: things wrap up too tidily. The poetry slam is won pretty handily; a play that is about to fail is rescued very neatly.

Additionally, historical accuracy is sacrificed for the sake of the drama. But it isn't as if Shakespeare didn't do that himself—constantly and continually!

All in all, it's an interesting show, well worth watching (though readers should note the rating). Give it a try tonight . . . or at the link above,

Links: The Show at IMDB. A review by the New York Times. The show at TNT.



Thursday, June 29, 2017

Questioning Heaven: A Bangzi Opera Version of King Lear

Questioning Heaven. Dir. Po-Shen Lu. Perf. Hailing Wang and the Taiwan Bangzi Company. 2015. 7 April 2017. Shakespeare Association of America Convention.

In 2011, the Shakespeare Association of America brought the Taiwan Bangzi Company to Bellevue to perform Bond, a Bangzi Opera version of Merchant of Venice (for which, q.v.). I was able to purchase a DVD of that performance (for which, q.v.).

This year, the SAA provided a screening of Questioning Heaven: A Bangzi Opera Version of King Lear by the same company. A commercially-available DVD—or, indeed, any YouTube clips of the performance—has proven elusive enough that it could currently be counted among the Shakespeare and Film Holy Grails. And that's a shame because the performance was both stunning and fascinating.

Questioning Heaven gives us a Queen Lear. She enters with pomp and music, singing about how she has ruled the land on her own for eighteen years.  “Unceasing wars have aged me, worn me down,” she sings.  Later, she adds, “And now, at last, the land is unified.” Everyone seems satisfied to join in these self-congratulatory speeches.

But when she sings the line “Xuanyuan Empire will cut in three,” everyone looks worried. It's an especially insightful moment—the singing to that point has celebrated unification; how can the Queen not see that she now intends disunity and division?

The plot runs along the lines of Shakespeare's play.  We learn that Wei, the third daughter, was born after her father died. Much dance and celebration with the “hundred knights” fill the opening scenes. The fool (who is quite brilliant) jokes about how the Queen should “Give me some land, too.” And we eventually get Edgar in disguise as a mendicant monk.

I wish I could provide a representative clip. Instead, I can only point you toward some photos of the set design; they provide a sense of the grandeur of the production.


That's all I can find for now, but I'll keep my radar scanning for a DVD release of this magisterial film.

Links: The Taiwan Bangzi Company.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Shakespeare in Star Trek: Beyond

Star Trek: Beyond. Dir. Justin Lin. Perf. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban. 2016. DVD. Paramount, 2016.

Just when you think you've assembled every single Shakespeare reference, allusion, and quote in all of canonical Star Trek, they release a new film with a new quote.

This time, it's quite a good one, though it is obscure.

First, the scene. Reboot Spock has been injured. Reboot Kirk is worried. Reboot McCoy has found some ancient medical equipment that he hopes will help.

The word hope is the cue for Reboot Spock to quote some Shakespeare:

video

The quote Reboot Spock chooses is one Measure for Measure's Claudio delivers while he is under sentence of death: "The miserable have no other medicine / But only hope" (III.i.2-3). If Reboot Spock had had the strength, he doubtless would have concluded the line: "I have hope to live, and am prepar'd to die" (III.i.4).

Reboot Bones is nonplussed, but only for a moment. Either he recognizes the quote or he figures that Reboot Spock is more likely to quote Shakespeare than . . . say . . . Dryden.

I'd like to read more into the quote than the surface connection of hope and medicine. In the film, Reboot Spock and Reboot Uhura have decided not to pursue a romantic relationship; Claudio and Juliet have had the decision not to pursue a romantic relationship thrust upon them. Claudio without Juliet is as miserable as Reboot Spock without Reboot Uhura. 

Naturally.

Links: The Film at IMDB.


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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Gerard Manley Hopkins and Shakespeare

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ed. W. H Gardner and N. H. MacKenzie. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. 

I recently had occasion to dip into my volume of Gerard Manley Hopkins poems. As I searched for the poem I had in mind ("Spelt from Sybil's Leaves," to those who have a keen interest in the minutiae), I started to wonder whether Hopkins had written any reflections on Shakespeare.

Hopkins was certainly a well-educated man, and Shakespeare was undoubtedly a part of that.

Indeed, I learn from an article entitled "Hopkins, Hamlet, and the Victorians: Carrion Comfort?" that "Hopkins' notebooks are littered with obscure and disjointed notes, lines, and phrases from Shakespeare which he seems to regard less as integral parts of a particular play's meaning or insights about experience and more as fodder for specific passions" (414).

What I found in the volume was unexpected. Hopkins spent some time working with songs from Shakespeare, rewriting them . . . in Latin and Greek.

As I have small Latin and less Greek, this was a bit disappointing. It's more academic. Still, there's an interest and a beauty to the songs he translated from The Tempest, though I'm not sure where the Hecuba comes in to "Come unto these yellow sands"—what's Hecuba to Ariel or Ariel to Hecuba? And something is lost from "Full Fathom Five"—and not just the alliteration—when it's translated into Greek.

Here are three of the songs for those who have additional interest. In the meantime, I've found a number of articles about Hopkins and Shakespeare, and I'll be glancing at those in my copious free time over the next few months.



Works Cited

Wormald, Mark. "Hopkins, Hamlet, and the Victorians: Carrion Comfort?" Victorian Poetry 40.4 (2002): 409-31.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

King Lear at the Guthrie in 2017

King Lear. Dir. Joseph Haj. Perf. Nathan Barlow, Thomas Brazzle, Shá Cage, Sun Mee Chomet, J. C. Cutler, and Nathaniel Fuller. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 11 February—2 April 2017.

What better day could there be to see a production of King Lear than April 1?

The only problem is that it was the penultimate day of the show's run, so I didn't feel much pressure to review the play right away.  Still, now that I'm able to catch up on some missed opportunities, I'd like to make a few notes on the show.

First, the most impressive part of the production—indeed, of any production I've seen at the Guthrie thus far—was the lighting. I don't always notice the lighting (which may be the point of a subtle lighting design), but this one was transcendent. The stage was also the largest I've seen—a huge expanse of what is usually backstage space was opened up, and the lighting filled it in a number of fascinating and fabulous ways. Transitions were masterful; shadows were dramatic and purposeful; colors matched moods exquisitely.

Next, the rest of the production, which was underwhelming in the extreme. Some people reported to me that it was the worst Shakespeare play they'd ever seen—but it wasn't as abysmal as that. All the same, it wasn't good. The acting from all parties lacked backbone. There was no verve. Most of the players had a distinct two-volume delivery: Audible and Shouting.

Haj made some interesting individual directorial decisions, but they didn't every coalesce into a whole. If any of these decisions had been built into themes, provided supporting decisions, or made integral to the characters, they would have done something to the play. As it was, they seemed like notes from a preliminary brainstorming session. "What if . . . ?" "How about having . . . ?" "Oh, we could . . ."

Let me give you a few examples.

For the blinding scene, Cornwall spooned out Gloucester's first eyeball and dropped it in a cocktail glass—I think it was a highball glass.

Say it with a Cockney accent, and you'll get the joke.

Not unexpectedly, it turned the blinding of Gloucester into a joke as well. There is admittedly a fine line between horror and humor in this scene in many productions, but it was an unworthy choice.

Next, after Cornwall was hurt by his servant, Regan took off her high-heeled shoe and poked out the other eye of Gloucester. With a stronger Regan, that might have been brilliant. Diana Rigg (for whom, q.v.) could have carried it off with the right mood of cool calculation. But this Regan had been giggly and shouty by turns, and there's no way it could have been anything but ridiculous.

The Fool in Lear disappears after Act III, scene vi. Any given production can provide an explanation for that disappearance or provide the explanation the text gives: None. Trevor's Nunn's production, for example, shows its Fool captured and hung by the soldiers of Lear's enemies.

In this production, Lear, in his madness, stabs the Fool during the trial scene, killing him.

That's an interesting choice. But the production does nothing with it. And nothing will come of nothing. Not only does the Fool's murder / homicide under insanity not make its way into the rest of the play, it barely registers in the scene itself! The text, of course, doesn't allow for reflection on the Fool's murder, but the production could have found a way to bring it back in—presenting Lear with a bloodstained fool's cap during his recovery, for example. As it is, it was a scattered, unconnected idea in a scattered, unconnected play.

The play at the Guthrie's website.
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 2008-2016 (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