Monday, November 30, 2009

New Clip of Meryl Streep in The Taming of the Shrew

Kiss me, Petruchio. Dir. Christopher Dixon. Perf. Meryl Streep and Raul Julia. 1981. Videocassette. Films, Inc., 1983.

Reading Act IV, scene iii of The Taming of the Shrew can be a tedious business. It consists mainly of Petruchio criticizing hats and gowns that are presented to Katherine. There are some humorous moments, but the main note it strikes—again, while reading the scene—is one of monotonous repetition.

That is what makes Christopher Dixon's direction of Meryl Streep and Raul Julia in the scene so impressive. In this production, the arguments about hats and gowns are mere background chatter—we're meant to be paying attention to Katherine and Petruchio all the while.

The scene, particularly as enacted by Meryl Streep and Raul Julia, becomes a key scene for the development of Katherine, of Petruchio (somewhat surprisingly), and of the two of them together. The way Katherine ponders Petruchio and Petruchio's actions becomes an essential element in the marriage of true minds that the play presents. This production marks IV.iii.155 ("Well, sir, in brief, the gown is not for me") as an enormous and consequential turing point:


Though Katherine has no line anywhere near IV.iii.155, her passing the gown to the tailor becomes one of the most significant actions in the play. Marvelous.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Note: Three other clips of this production are available on this blog: The First Clip, The Second Clip, and The Third Clip.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where to Find Shakespeare Quartos On-Line

The Shakespeare Quartos Archive compares two copies of Q1 of Hamlet that are physically located roughly 5,431 miles apart.
A few small flurries of interest in The Shakespeare Quartos Archive have been fluttering around recently, and it is a magnificent endeavor. Currently, a very large number of Hamlet quartos are available for instantaneous comparison, with differences between the texts helpfully highlighted in the text display.

It's lovely, and it will become even more lovely as quartos from other plays are added.

I'm still very fond of The British Library's on-line quarto holdings, so don't leave them out of the picture!

At some point, I'd like to sit down and do a detailed analysis of the various quartos of Hamlet for myself. My starting point will be simply reading through Q1 of the play to see what we might make of it. Can anything, for example, be deduced about Hamlet's relationship to Ophelia by an examination of Q1 alone? Alas, that must wait until another day.
Links: The Shakespeare Quartos Archive. The British Library.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Black Death

Yersinia pestis.
These tiny creatures, spread by rats and carried by fleas, caused enormous, incalculable, horrendous devastation around the world. The Bubonic Plague arrived in England in 1348, and it's impossible to overstate its effects. And, no, that isn't hyperbole.

For example, in 1563, 17,000 Londoners died of the plague. That may not sound like too many, but it amounts to 24% of the entire population. I'm sorry, but one out of every four of you reading this blog wouldn't have made it through that year.

In 1593, as Shakespeare was just making a big splash in the London theatre scene, 14% of the population died. In 1603, plague deaths amounted to 23% of the London population.

And those are just the big years! Every year had some plague deaths, and the numbers frequently rose high enough for the authorities to close public gatherings in and around London—and that included the theatres.

It's already beyond belief that Shakespeare produced the number and quality of plays that he did. When the plague is considered, our credulity, already broken, is mashed up into infinitesimal pieces—fragments smaller than the bacterium pictured above. There's simply no way to put Shakespeare into perspective.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Book of William: MicroReview

Collins, Paul. The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009. Print.

As you shop for the Shakespearean on your list, don't neglect this book. It's a well-written, more-popular-than-scholarly account of the history of the First Folio. I tend to like to dwell in the footnotes—I read Shakespeare, for the most part, in the Arden editions, rich in scholarly footnotes. The Book of William isn't scholarly like that, but it still manages to satisfy my desire for scholarship even while it tells more of a narrative.

The book also reminded me of a number of things that I had forgotten—that, due to the 1666 fire of London, the third Folio is even rarer than the first (53), and what the relationships between Shakespeare's earliest editors (most notably, Rowe, Pope, Theobald, and Johnson) was (59ff), and how Shakespeare began to be published in extensive and cheap print runs (85-86).

If you're a Shakespeare lover, you can unobtrusively forward this URL to your friends and family—they'll know what to do from there!


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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Don't be Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth

“How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth.” By Russell Bates and David Wise. Perf. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and George Takei. Dir. Bill Reed. Star Trek: The Animated Series. Season 2, episode 5. NBC. 5 October 1974. DVD. Paramount, 2006.

Let's avoid the sharpness of serpent's teeth all the time—but particularly on Thanksgiving.

As a reminder and an object lesson, here's a clip from Star Trek: The Animated Series! Animated Kirk begins the clip by saying "Just an old, lonely being who wanted to help others." That's not a direct reference to Lear—it's to some sort of ancient Aztec alien that they've just encountered. But it might actually be one way of reading his character.

In any case, the message is the same. We desire others to be thankful:


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And keep those serpent's teeth to yourselves!

Links: A Gateway to Star Trek Information at Wikipedia.
Click below to purchase the series from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

David Tennant as Hamlet: Preview

Hamlet. Dir. Gregory Doran. Perf. David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Oliver Ford Davies, and Mariah Gale. 2009. BBC Broadcast Scheduled.
I keep reminding myself not to judge a film on a two-minute (nay, not so much, not two) video clip, but I'm afraid I'm not entirely encouraged by this preview of David Tennant as Hamlet.

It may just be that I had enormously high expectations for this production. It may be that I need to see the entire show before making a judgement. But it seems like Tennant is playing Hamlet as if Hamlet were Bertie Wooster intimidated by one of his aunts.

But that may, perhaps, be the point:


Links: The Film at IMDB.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ophelia in the Winter

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Judi Dench, Gérard Depardieu, Reece Dinsdale, Ken Dodd, Nicholas Farrell, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Ian McElhinney, Michael Maloney, Simon Russell Beale, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Ben Thom, and Robin Williams. 1996. DVD. Castle Rock, 2007.

I've been reviewing bits and pieces of the Branagh Hamlet with the theme of the winter setting in mind. Doing so has been instructive—I've forgotten so much about the four-hour-and-two-minute production (though I might not be too terribly blamed for so doing).

Branagh's production, like many others, gets around any flower-related problems (here, where Ophelia would get lilies in a frigid Denmarkian landscape) by having the flowers be imaginary. We don't need to imagine Horatio bringing hothouse flowers to her.

Ophelia does make her first appearance after her father's death in a straitjacket (see the image above), and she's treated with the intense inhumanity meted out to the non compos mentis of the film’s setting.

The question of her death that I asked earlier (who broke through the ice for her) is answered by two images. In those images, we are given to understand that it's cold—but not cold enough to freeze a river.

The most interesting thing about that isn't the change from the "brook" of Gertrude's speech (IV.vii.166) to the slowly-flowing river of the image. It's the fact that (completely uncharacteristically, especially for this film), the images come after the scene's end! Usually, Branagh cuts away during a speech like this to annotate it or to provide a flashback for his audience. Here, Gerturde's words are unadorned—at least until the end of the scene.


Ophelia: “Drown’d, drown’d” (IV.vii.84).


The slowly-moving river in which she drown'd, drown'd.

My next exploration may have to be Horatio—his role in this production (especially as it relates to Ophelia) is fascinating beyond measure.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Branagh's Attention to Fortinbras (A MicroPost)

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Judi Dench, Gérard Depardieu, Reece Dinsdale, Ken Dodd, Nicholas Farrell, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Ian McElhinney, Michael Maloney, Simon Russell Beale, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Ben Thom, and Robin Williams. 1996. DVD. Castle Rock, 2007.

Fortinbras is often completely cut from productions of Hamlet; Branagh gives him everything the text gives him—and sometimes a whole lot more.

If you haven't seen the last twenty minutes of Branagh's Hamlet, you need to. To get there, of course, you'll need to watch the previous 222 minutes, but most of them are delightful. The last twenty minutes might be called "The Revenge of Fortinbras." The image above is of Fortinbras pretending to be upset as he claims the throne of Denmark. He's saying this:
For me, with sorrow I embrace my fortune.
I have some rights, of memory in this kingdom,
Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me. (V.ii.388-90)
It's a tremendous moment, and we're not quite sure whether it bodes good or ill for Denmark. The fact that the English Ambassador slips quietly away during the not-quite-bloodless coup invites discussion of Fortinbras' expansionist policies and whether they will affect England herself. If Fortinbras annexes the Sudetenland, watch out!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Micro-Comment on Macro-Hamlet: Branagh, King Hamlet, and the Serpent

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Judi Dench, Gérard Depardieu, Reece Dinsdale, Ken Dodd, Nicholas Farrell, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Ian McElhinney, Michael Maloney, Simon Russell Beale, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Ben Thom, and Robin Williams. 1996. DVD. Castle Rock, 2007.

Enough material about the Branagh Hamlet could be generated to make a month of posts. But, for today, we'll just have a brief comment on the winter setting.

Branagh cuts away very frequently in his Hamlet: he cuts to scenes that illuminate, explain, or annotate the speeches. One of these occurs when Hamlet's father's ghost is explaining the circumstances of his death.

In the explanatory sequence, we see Hamlet's father, looking remarkably like Father Christmas, dozing in his garden (see the image above). We're presented with that image while the Ghost speaks these lines:
’Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused. . . . (I.v.35-38)
In this version, it is even more rankly abused than elsewhere! Does anyone really believe that a snake made its way through all that snow to bite the King of Denmark? All the snakes in Denmark, I imagine, were in deep hibernation that winter. Either Claudius is a very good liar or the people of Denmark are far too credulous!

The setting is winter in the present of the film as well—it's not just in the flashbacks to King Hamlet's death—and that setting also makes us wonder where Ophelia gets the flowers later in the play—though this is such a wealthy court that they are doubtless delivered daily to Denmark. More importantly, it makes us wonder about Gertrude's account of Ophelia's drowning. Who chipped a hole in the ice for her to fall through?

I'll need to do some additional research into those aspects of the setting. But I'll just remark how fascinating it is that a shift in the setting of the play can have such far-reaching ramifications for its interpretation.



Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, Sons of Yorick

“Pilot.” By Kurt Sutter. Perf. Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone, Jr., and Kim Coates. Dir. Allen Coulter and Michael Dinner. Sons of Anarchy. Season 1, episode 1. FX. 3 September 2008. DVD. Twentieth Century Fox, 2009.

Sons of Anarchy is not my cup of tea (which expression decidedly shows that it's not my cup of tea), but I'm informed that it is something of a Shakespeare derivative.

Because I'm not particularly fond of violent biker shows, I haven't watched this—nor do I intend to. But feel free to do so yourselves. If you do, you may be able to confirm Wikipedia's current claim:
The family drama is loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet; indeed, star Ron Perlman has said, "I'm sure they’re going to stick to the structure of Hamlet all the way to the end" of the series. Clay is based on the role of King Claudius and Gemma as a Gertrude figure. Jax stands in for Prince Hamlet himself. Jax's reflective questioning of the SOA culture, brought on by the birth of his son, references Hamlet's melancholy over the death of the king. Additionally, Jax "communicates" with his dead father by way of his late father's unpublished journal/manuscript; Hamlet, of course, literally communicates with the ghost of his father. The drama and characterizations are also enhanced by drawing on Macbeth, another Shakespeare tragedy. Katey Sagal's Gertrude-like Gemma resembles Lady Macbeth because—while it is never entirely clear from Hamlet how complicit Queen Gertrude is in the murder of Hamlet's father—it is obvious that Gemma has willingly participated in the cover-up of the death and may even have encouraged Clay in his treachery. Creator Sutter has said of the Shakespeare element, "I don't want to overplay that but it's there. It was Jax's father who started the club, so he's the ghost in the action. You wonder what he would have made of the way it turned out. It's not a version of Hamlet but it's definitely influenced by it."

In the 9th episode of season 2, Clay makes a possible reference to Hamlet when he states "I'll handle the little prince", a reference to Jax. In the next episode, Jax is again referred to as "the prince", this time by Agent Stahl.
Let me know how that works out, will you?

Links: The Show at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(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 2008-2016 (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