Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hamlet in Third Rock from the Sun

“Body and Soul and Dick.” By Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner. Perf. John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, French Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Jane Curtin. Dir. Robert Berlinger. 3rd Rock from the Sun. Season 1, episode 8. NBC. 27 February 1996. DVD. Mill Creek Entertainment, 2011.
Shamefacedly, I admit that I know next to nothing about this show. However, avid Bardfilm reader and Twitter user @GtThee2ANunnery called my attention to its use of Shakespeare.

To me, the most significant parts of the clip below are (1) the quotation's starting point—instead of the now-cliché opening of Hamlet's best-known soliloquy, the quote starts in the middle, increasing its effectiveness; and (2) the assumed route by which these aliens (did I mention that the characters are aliens who have taken on human form for some reason or another?) learned their Shakespeare. To them, this isn't Hamlet: It's simply something the dreamy Mel Gibson said in one of his movies. The assumption is that these characters are undiscerning—they get their knowledge of the culture from whatever source happens to be handy. And that's exactly how it often happens!


And the "Yorick as Apple" idea is pretty brilliant. "He poured a flagon of cider on my head once!"
Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Prince of the Himalayas at the Rubin Museum of Art

Prince of the Himalayas [Ban dao yin xiang; a.k.a. Ximalaya wangzi]. Dir. Sherwood Hu. Perf. Purba Rgyal, Dobrgyal, Zomskyid, Sonamdolgar, Lobden, and Lopsang. Hus Entertainment, Shanghai Film Studios. 20 October 2006.
Starting on Friday, December 23, and running periodically through mid-January, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City will be screening the astonishing Tibetan derivative version of Hamlet entitled Prince of the Himalays.

I've written before on this masterful film (for which, q.v.—but watch out for spoilers), and I'm currently developing a critical article on the subject.

If you're anywhere near New York City, go see this film. You will be astonished,
terrified, delighted, and challenged.

The Rubin has put together a trailer composed of images from the film:

Links: Screening Dates at the Rubin.

The Film's Official Web Site.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thomas Middleton's Burial Record

Dyce, Alexander, ed. The Works of Thomas Middleton: Now first collected, with some account of the author and notes by the Reverend Alexander Dyce. By Thomas Middleton. Vol. 1. London: Edward Lumley, 1840. 5 vols.
In an attempt to address the mistaken idea that Shakespeare's burial record is odd in not indicating his poetic abilities (for which, q.v.), I started on a quest to find contemporary burial records of other poets and dramatists. The work, despite the help of several excellent research librarians, has been slow.

But success has arrived in the form of an 1840 edition of Middleton's works that cites Thomas Middleton's burial record. Middleton was one of Shakespeare's best-known and most prolific contemporaries—one with whom he may have collaborated on Macbeth (the silly witches' songs are Middleton's) and other plays. If we expect Shakespeare's burial record to mention his literary ability, we also expect Middleton's to mention his.

It doesn't. Middleton gets the title "Mr."—and that's all.

In Julye 1627
Mr. Thomas Middleton was buried the . . . . 4[th]. (Dyce xxxviii)

That's all. "Mr." Not "Thomas Middleton, prolific composer of plays, masques, and prose works" or "Thomas Middleton, Poet" or "Thomas Middleton, Dramatist" or even "Thomas Middleton, Author." An author who wrote or collaborated on approximately thirty plays is given the bare title "Mr." Shakespeare's "gent." would look effusive in comparison if it wasn't simply an indication of his social standing.

Consider this to be another small addition to the evidence about Shakespeare's contemporaries and their burial records. The particular benefit is its specificity. B. Roland Lewis, in The Shakespeare Documents: Facsimiles, Transliterations, Translations, and Commentary (ed. and trans. B. Roland Lewis, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1940), deals more generally with the subject:
It is to be noted that the entry [for Shakespeare's burial] very definitely accords Shakespeare social rating. "Gent," "Mr," "Knt," were the social ratings ordinarily used in Parish Registers; virtually never was there any reference to such matters as literary or dramatic prowess. (525)
The specificity of Middleton's burial record helps support the general claim that parish registers were not places to record a person's occupation or reputation.

Enormous thanks are due to the research librarians who helped with this project over the past year. Thank you very much!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fire Over England's Tilbury Speech

Fire Over England. Dir. William K. Howard. Perf. Laurence Olivier, Flora Robson, and Vivien Leigh. 1937. Videocassette.
After an earlier post on Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth I, I remembered that the 1937 film Fire Over England also has a version of Elizabeth I's speech at Tilbury. That film's version is much more thrilling and much more moving—possibly because it's closer to the actual thrilling and moving words of Elizabeth:


Of course, she has the "heart and valor of a king" instead of the "heart and stomach of a king" in this version. Perhaps stomachs aren't quite as en vogue now as they were in 1588. Alternately, it's possible that the phrase "stomach of a king" tends to conjure up an image of the later years of Henry VIII, Elizabeth's father.

Here's most of the text of Elizabeth I's actual speech—for purposes of comparison with the speech above:
My loving people . . . I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour, and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England, too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm. (Somerset 464)

Works Cited

Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Attempting to Avoid Anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice. Dir. Trevor Nunn. Perf. Gabrielle Jourdan and Lawrence Werber. 2001. DVD. Lexington Road Entertainment Group, 2001.
The anti-Semitic attitudes portrayed in The Merchant of Venice cannot be eliminated. Although we may loathe them, those attitudes are an integral part of the plot—as are the attitudes sympathetic to Jews that the play presents. Whether Shakespeare himself was anti-Semitic or not, the play grapples with the attitudes some Christians had toward Jews in his day.

It's possible to read Shylock as an anti-Semitic fantasy of how Jews behave; but it's also possible to have a production of the play with a Shylock who is not an anti-Semitic caricature of a Jew.

The 2001 Trevor Nunn production provides a brilliant moment in the middle of the courtroom scene. In it, Tubal exits with a significant look at Shylock:


At that moment, we understand that Shylock is not acting as a Jew. The only other Jew in the courtroom (and the absence of any others may also be a telling point) dissociates himself from Shylock.

It does not remove the anti-Semitism in the play, but it does go a fair way to making it clear that this Shylock is not to be considered an emblem of all Jews. Instead, he is emblematic of any human being's potential evil.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks with Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton and Keanu Reeves. 1993. DVD. MGM, 2003.
We all occasionally find it difficult to find adequate words to give thanks.

When we do, we turn to Shakespeare.

Perhaps the best expression of thanks in the Shakespeare canon is Don John's terrific monologue in Much Ado About Nothing, here delivered with the inimitable style of Keanu Reeves:

"I thank you. I am not of many words, but I thank you." (I.i.157-58)

May you all have a delightful Thanksgiving.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Return to the Pshakespeare Psalm

Franson, J. Karl. "Shakespeare in the King James Bible." Notes and Queries 16 (1977): 21.
A while ago, I wrote a post on the oft-touted theory that Shakespeare had a hand in the translation of Psalm 46. The idea is based on the fact that the forty-sixth word of the forty-sixth Psalm in the King James Version is "shake" and the forty-seventh (or the forty-sixth, if you leave out the closing "Selah," which seems like cheating) word from the end of the Psalm is "spear."

In examining the issue, I cited the article by J. Karl Franson listed above. I got the impression from Franson's article that the 1539 Tavener's Bible had the words "shake" and "spear" in exactly the same positions, which would debunk any claims about Shakespeare's hand in the Authorized Version.

However, a careful reader (operating under the username "Facsao") called this into question.

When your sources are questioned, the best thing to do is re-examine them. Although it's taken some time, I tracked down a copy of the Tavener's Bible (on microfilm), found the Psalm in question (which is, following the Vulgate—long story—Psalm 45 and not 46 in that translation) and counted the numbers.

As the image below indicates, "Shooke" appears at number 56 from the top (55 if you count "in to" as one word—though it looks like there's a space between the two) and "spere" appears at number 48 from the end (47 if you skip the Selah).

Facsao is entirely right. But how did Franson come to make such an error? Or, indeed, did he? Did I misunderstand Franson? Was Franson misleading? A glance at the article itself may help to clarify matters:

Although I'm not sure that they're intentionally misleading, the phrases "identical correlation" and "same positions" are at the root of the misunderstanding. I imagine that Franson meant something more like "the same relative positions"—the words occurring in roughly the same spots in the Taverner's Bible that they do in the King James Version.

Franson's conclusion still seems correct, but the evidence isn't quite as overwhelming as it's implied to be.

Perhaps the evidence from the 1560 Geneva Bible is actually stronger than that of the Taverner's. In it, "shake" appears at number 47 from the beginning and "speare" appears at number 45 from the end:

That's so close to the numerical appearance of the words in the King James Version—indeed, the average of the two numbers is 46—as to make it seem more and more unlikely that Shakespeare or (which might be more believable) a Shakespeare admirer had any hand in the translation of Psalm 46.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Where is Shakespeare's Diary?

Shakespeare, William. Dear Diary: You Won't Believe What I Did from 1585 to 1592. Stratford: The Press-upon-Avon, 1593.
I recently read about a person who became skeptical of Shakespeare's authorship when he learned that there is no extant diary of Shakespeare's. He later became an Oxfordian—presumably on other grounds, because the Earl's diary isn't extant, either.

Modern expectations are often let down by Early Modern culture. It's similar to the Marlovian disappointment with the death entry for Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon's burial record, which I've written about at the end of this post. The fact that Shakespeare's burial record didn't read "William Shakespeare, poet" does not mean that he was not a poet. The fact that we don't have Shakespeare's diary doesn't mean that he didn't write the plays attributed to him.

The list of great dramatists of the English Renaissance for whom no diary exists is expansive. We have no diary from Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Middleton, Philip Massinger, Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher, or John Ford.

Ben Jonson comes closest to leaving us with a diary: his Timber: Or, Discoveries: Made upon Men and Matter: As They have flow'd out of his daily Readings; or had their refluxe to his peculiar Notion of the Times, published after his death, contains a considerable amount of autobiographical detail, but it's more like reflections on a life of varied experiences than a day-to-day account of his comings and goings.

Philip Henslowe's Diary is a chronological—and, often, a day-to-day— account of his theatrical dealings. It's wildly useful: without it, we would know much, much less about how theatres worked in the Renaissance. And I find it completely fascinating. But even this work—which bears the word "Diary" in its title—is not what the modern conception of a diary might imagine it to be. Knowing how much Henslowe paid "unto the nayllman for naylles" in 1593 (17) isn't exactly the sort of thing out of which gripping human-interest stories are made.

In short, however much we would all love to have a diary by Shakespeare—whether he kept one or not—it's not at all surprising or suspicious that there isn't one.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Larger View of Lists of Oxfordians

Leslie Howard? No. Orson Welles? No. Charles Dickens? No. James Joyce? Probably not—none of the lists on which he appears attempts to offer any evidence to support the claim.

In the last two posts, I’ve argued that Orson Welles and Leslie Howard do not belong on the lists of famous people who hold the Oxfordian position on which they frequently appear. I could spend some more time debunking other names about which I am skeptical, but I’d rather make one last sweeping statement about them all.

The overarching problem with the lists is the logical fallacy known as “the appeal to unqualified authority.” The intent of the lists’ composers is to say that we should trust the Oxfordian’s view of the authorship question because various famous people hold that view. And they may very well hold that view—but holding the view and having the ability to speak authoritatively about that view are two different things.

The fallacy is the same perpetrated by many television commercials. A famous person may be hired to promote a particular kind of cereal; however, if that person isn’t also a fully-qualified nutritionist, he or she lacks the authority to speak about the nutritional value of the cereal.

Here are three sets of questions to ask of any list of Oxfordians:
  1. Do these people actually hold the views assigned to them? Is any evidence offered for the claim that they believe the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare? Does the evidence come from a reputable source? Does it come from more than one source?

  2. Do these people have the authority to speak on the subject? Are they historians or literary scholars who possess the authority necessary to comment on the question convincingly?

  3. Do the people on the list contribute to the argument in any way, or do they simply hold an opinion?
As a side note, I've found myself asking the same kinds of questions Oxfordians ask when they are skeptical of the evidence offered, and I'm wondering why they aren't asking the same questions: If Welles (for example) was an Oxfordian, where are the letters, diary entries, interviews, publications, or playbills connecting him to the theory?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Orson Welles' Supposed Oxfordianism: No Reliable Evidence

Beaton, Cecil, and Kenneth Tynan. Persona Grata. New York: Putnam, 1954.
Orson Welles has been making his way onto lists of Oxfordians complied by Oxfordians. I wish that I could simply say that there is no evidence to connect Orson Welles to the conspiracy theory that the Earl of Oxford wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare. But I can say that the tiny bit of evidence connecting him to the idea is utterly disreputable.

The two sentences in question appear in a rambling, nearly-incoherent book entitled Persona Grata. The book contains rambling, nearly-incoherent thoughts about one hundred famous people admired by the authors.

Here's the full paragraph on which the claim about Welles being an Oxfordian is based (click on the image to enlarge it):

"Shakespeare: 'I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don't agree, there are some awful funny coincidences to explain away'" (98).

There you have it. After a few racist comments (which the authors of the book describe as "amiable"), Welles' capacity for "snap judgments" is demonstrated by these two sentences. The authors fail to provide any pertinent details about the quote, leaving us completely in the dark. To whom it was uttered? When did Welles said it? In what context? Was he, perhaps, joking? Had he, perhaps, been enjoying a glass too many of Paul Masson? They present no evidence to back up the claim that Welles said this at all.

Further, they compare the statement to "sciolism." It's a good word and an apt (and, yes, I had to look it up). The OED defines it as "pretentious superficiality of knowledge." In other words, if he said it at all, he said it in a completely offhand, uninformed manner.

The book is neither scholarly nor reliable. On this evidence (and on the absence of any other), we cannot conclude that Orson Welles was an Oxfordian.

Update (14 August 2012).

Johnson, Paul. Intellectuals. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

Returning to this highly-charged issue after a hiatus for thought and research, I find that the evidence for Welles' Stratfordianism is still strong.

In a book by Paul Johnson, I found some facts about Kenneth Tynan that may help to explain his journalistic practice and why the words attributed by him to Welles fail to fit with Welles' other statements (click on the image above to enlarge it and to see the text from the book):
[Kenneth Tynan] quickly established himself as the most audacious literary journalist in London. His motto was: "Write heresy, pure heresy." He pinned to his desk the exhilarating slogan: "Rouse tempers, goad and lacerate, raise whirlwinds." He followed these in junctions at all times. (326)
He certainly has done these things with his offhand remarks about Orson Welles.
Welles, Orson and Peter Bogdanovich. This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Reprinted under the same title by Da Capro Press, 1998.
This is Orson Welles, mentioned by contributors to the comments of this post, is a collection of interviews with Welles, transcribed and printed as a conversation with no intervening description—but with interjected sections from other publications by Welles. The book is pervaded with conversation about Shakespeare's plays, but there's not too much about the authorship of the plays. Frequently, there are passages that paint images of the man from Stratford as the author of the pays. For example, this passage imagines Shakespeare at a pub:

(Welles and Bogdanovich 101)

Here, the man is imagined with a hypothetical time machine:

(Welles and Bogdanovich 209)

And, in this passage (from two separate pages—provided, therefore, in two separate images), Shakespeare (the author of the plays) is connected to Shakespeare (the man from Stratford):

(Welles and Bogdanovich 211-12)

Those passage seem to establish that Welles thought of Shakespeare from Stratford as the author of the plays—even if his information about the particulars of Shakespeare's life (e.g., "the son of a butcher") are inaccurate.

But, to be as fair as it is possible to be, Welles also indicates that he believes that the more important aspect of a work of art is the work of art itself, not its creator. He even extends this to himself, pondering whether it matters that Orson Welles directed Citizen Kane. Please note that this does not equate to Welles questioning the authorship of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. He is merely making the point that the work itself is paramount and the artist is secondary. Please note that he does not doubt his own authorship of and contribution to Citizen Kane; he merely ponders whether that authorship and that contribution is relevant. Here's that section—which I provide with a fair bit of its context:

(Welles and Bogdanovich 257)

Even though Welles wonders aloud whether Shakespeare's authorship of the plays is an important factor in considering the plays themselves, he does not seem to express doubt in Shakespeare's authorship of the plays.

Considering all this, it's time for Orson Welles to be removed from the lists of Oxfordians—and that includes removing him from lists provided by those who think Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him. In James Shapiro's Contested Will, for example, this statement appears: "I can think of little else that unites Henry James and Malcolm X, Sigmund Freud and Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller and Orson Welles, or Mark Twain and Sir Derek Jacobi" (4). Orson Welles does not belong in that sentence.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Leslie Howard was not an Oxfordian

Eforgan, Estel. Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2010.

Boyle, Charles. Another Hamlet: The Mystery of Leslie Howard. N.p.: Forever Press, 2011.

Pimpernel Smith (a.k.a. Mister V). Dir. Leslie Howard. Perf. Leslie Howard. 1941. British National Films, 1941. Timeless Multimedia, 1997.

Shapiro, James. Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

I started researching and writing this post because I wanted to demonstrate just how easy it is to conflate the view of a character and the views of the author creating or the actor playing that character. As the great mills of research ground on and on, I found myself confronted with conspiracies within conspiracies.

Leslie Howard was a noted actor on the stage and the screen, and he also produced and directed films. He played Romeo in George Cukor's 1936 Romeo and Juliet, Professor Henry Higgins in the 1938 film version of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, the title character in the 1934 Scarlet Pimpernel, and Professor Horatio Smith in 1941's Pimpernel Smith (for which, q.v.). He also frequently appears on lists of "famous people who do not really have the authority to speak on the subject but who nonetheless think that the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare." I've become more and more skeptical of such lists, and the research I've done has borne out my suspicions.

Howard's role as Professor Horatio Smith is the one of importance to the authorship question. In the film, Professor Horatio Smith speaks lines about the Earl of Oxford writing the works of Shakespeare. In Contested Will, his great work defending Shakespeare as the author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, James
Shapiro describes Pimpernel Smith, but, as he does so, he conflates the character played by Leslie Howard with Leslie Howard himself (I've inserted editorial clarifications in the quote):
By the early 1940s, the Oxfordian movement had achieved a surprising degree of visibility, most famously in the 1941 British war movie Pimpernel Smith (released in the United States as Mister V), which starred Leslie Howard, who also produced and directed the film, in the role of an archaeologist who foils the Nazis. When Shakespeare’s name comes up in conversation, Leslie Howard[’s character] casually mentions that he had “been doing a little research work . . . on the identity of Shakespeare” | which “proves conclusively that Shakespeare wasn’t really Shakespeare at all . . . He was the Earl of Oxford.” Later in the film, holding up a skull at an excavation site, Howard[’s character] recites the famous “Alas poor Yorick” speech from Hamlet, then adds, “The Earl of Oxford wrote that, you know.” (193-94)
I don't write this to show up Shapiro—who is undoubtedly the greater scholar than I. I merely wish to show how easy it is to commit the Oxfordianesque error of assuming that the author writes and the actor acts entirely out of his or her own beliefs and experience. Shakespeare scholars take heed: Be vigitant, I beseech you.

This conflation of character and actor does Howard a twofold disservice. First, there is no indication at all that he himself held the Oxfordian position. A new biography—one that is well-written and filled with admirable scholarship—has a delightful chapter on the significance of Pimpernel Smith and the British war effort but doesn't say a word about the essentially-irrelevant issue of Oxford. Second, it underestimates the intelligence and sagacity given to Professor Horatio Smith in this role.

Watching the film in its entirety will remove any suspicion that the lines about Oxford are meant seriously. Whenever Professor Smith is with his students or on his secret spy missions, he's absolutely brilliant, resourceful, and decisive. Whenever the Nazis seem to be close to discovering the true nature of his activities in Germany, he speaks the most absolute piffle. In effect, the lines about the Earl of Oxford are spoken when Leslie Howard is playing Professor Horatio Smith playing the role of a complete ignoramus in order to fool the Nazis. The context of these lines is crucial—he's not speaking straightforwardly to his own students; he's trying—and, indeed, he's succeeding—in looking like an idiot so that his enemies will not suspect him of being a genius.

All the same, that doesn't prevent the Oxfordians from attempting to claim the brilliant actor and director Leslie Howard rather than the idiotic character-within-a-character of Professor Smith for their cause. But it isn't true. Leslie Howard was not an Oxfordian.

But that fact didn't prevent a new conspiracy from arising! This much is true: Leslie Howard was shot down on a flight from Portugal to England on 1 June 1943. Charles Boyle's Another Hamlet: The Mystery of Leslie Howard makes the completely fanciful proposal that he was shot down because of his Oxfordian beliefs. In Boyle's silly proposal, Winston Churchill knew that the plane was going to be shot down, but he allowed it to take off and be shot down because he would rather have Howard and many other civilians dead than to let Howard continue to proselytize for the Oxfordian position. The Stratfordian conspiracy strikes another blow for its cause, and another Oxfordian is lost to the ages.

This is so laughable than it could only have come from an Oxfordian. Since Howard never tried to convince anyone—ever—that Oxford wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare, he cannot have died for doing so. Additionally, the British had a bit more on their minds in 1943 than debunking ludicrous conspiracy theories or perpetrating literary conspiracies of their own.

If the Nazis knew that Howard was on board (itself a questionable assumption), it's much more likely that they shot down the plane because of his effective morale-boosting anti-Nazi work than his views on literature.

Leslie Howard did remarkable work. His memory should not be profaned by those who wish to use him for their nefarious ends. Instead, he should be remembered for the remarkable work he did.

In that vein, here's a longer clip than one usually sees from Pimpernel Smith. Note that the Professor starts his twaddle about the Earl of Oxford precisely when the Gestapo agents need to be distracted. Under the crate the agent is examining is a secret compartment containing the people Professor Smith is attempting to smuggle out of the country:


As a final point to any who would wish to read Oxfordian biographical details into Howard's portrayal of Smith, I call our collective attention to a contrary biographical detail. In 1933, Howard played a role in "This Side Idolatry, by Talbot Jennings, a witty imagining of Shakespeare's life" (Eforgan 97). Would any Oxfordian play a role in such a production?

An Update Follows.

Howard, Leslie. Trivial Fond Records. Ed. Ronald Howard. London: William Kimber, 1982.

Since there are those who remain unconvinced (see the comments below), I'm providing a few pages written by Leslie Howard himself.  In 1936, Howard performed the eponymous role in a production of Hamlet.  In the midst of doing so, he wrote up an interesting imagined conversation with Shakespeare. The conversation indicates no skepticism about the authorship: Howard addresses Shakespeare as a "man of the theatre" and says, "you did write for the Elizabethan theatre" (134). I shall type up the paragraph that introduces the dialogue (it appears on page 134 of the book); then I'll provide three images that contain the rest of the dialogue (click on the images to enlarge them).
I have gone to Shakespeare as one man of the theatre to another. I have tried to understand the methods of his craftmanship and the conditions under which he worked. I have been governed by a spirit of reasonable humility, but not of slavish reverence. I have had the never to consider two of us co-workers in a theatrical enterprise and have tried to forget that my partner is separated from me by over three hundred years of tim and ringing fame. In this light I have had the following conversation with him:

The skeptical may still say, "But he may have changed his mind between 1936 and 1941, when Pimpernel Smith was filmed." My reply must be that he never indicated any change in his belief that Shakespeare authored the plays attributed to him. No biography of Howard indicates any Oxfordian beliefs. In the face of such resounding silence, the only reasonable conclusion is that Howard believed that the man from Stratford wrote the plays attributed to the man from Stratford: Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Haiku Competition Winners!

Shapiro, James. Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Anonymous. Dir. Edward D. Wood, Jr. Perf. David Hasselhoff, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mark Wahlberg, Lindsay Lohan, and Willem Dafoe. Columbia Pictures. 30 September 2011.

They write the haiku.
The judges deliberate.
Victory is sweet.
Thanks to all who submitted haiku to our recent Authorship Haiku Competition (for which, q.v.). We have our winners.

Third place goes to Andrew Huntley for this wonderful haiku:
Epic scholar fail:
de Vere is no great writer
And Emmerich is a fool.
Second place has been awarded to Mad Minerva, who wrote this:
Want real fantasy
Told with skill? Screw Emmerich.
Go read The Tempest.
And first place goes to bammers for this haiku and its cautionary tale:
Bacon once told me
He wrote all of Shakespeare's plays.
Ne'er heed talking food.
Congratulations to all our winners, and thanks again to all who submitted. And thanks, too, to Simon and Schuster, who provided copies of James Shapiro's Contested Will as the first- and second-place prizes. The third-place prize will be a used (but not too used) copy of Drama of the English Renaissance, edited by M. L. Wince.

Please e-mail me, winners, to claim your prizes. You can find my e-mail under the "Contact" section of my complete profile. Enjoy!
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Shakespeare and the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals

The Merchant of Venice. Dir. Trevor Nunn. Perf. Gabrielle Jourdan and Lawrence Werber. 2001. DVD. Lexington Road Entertainment Group, 2001.
Near the beginning of the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice, the Duke makes a speech that foregrounds what is to follow and gives directors and actors some interesting leeway for playing it. After Shylock enters, he is asked to stand before the Duke, who says,
Shylock, the world thinks, and I think so too,
That thou but lead'st this fashion of thy malice
To the last hour of act; and then 'tis thought
Thou'lt show thy mercy and remorse more strange
Than is thy strange apparent cruelty;
And where thou now exact'st the penalty,
Which is a pound of this poor merchant's flesh,
Thou wilt not only loose the forfeiture,
But, touch'd with human gentleness and love,
Forgive a moiety of the principal;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
We all expect a gentle answer, Jew. (IV.i.18-27, 35)
The speech raises a vast range of interesting points—the difference between its opening line, in which Shylock is named, and its closing line, in which he is called by his religious affiliation (an intended insult from the speaker of the line); the echo of the word "gentile," which literally meant the opposite of "Jew" at the time, in the last line (in other words, the line could be roughly paraphrased "We all expect an answer that would please gentiles, Jew"); its introduction of the theme of mercy, with which the rest of the scene is deeply concerned—but I'd like to think about what it means for an exchange later in the scene.

Portia, disguised as the lawyer Balthasar, decrees in Shylock's favor. He is legally permitted to claim the pound of flesh from Antonio, who owes it to him. Then, after Shylock calls for someone—Antonio? The Court?—to prepare, she lets the other shoe drop, mentioning the other pertinent laws. In the text, the reversal happens in the briefest of intervals:
SHYLOCK: Most learned judge! A sentence! Come, prepare!

PORTIA: Tarry a little. (IV.i.304-05)
The Duke's speech near the beginning of the scene prepares us for something more than a quick reversal of fortunes, and Trevor Nunn, in his 2001 production, jumps on the possibility, heightening the tension between the two lines and giving Portia the chance to give Shylock the chance to change his mind at the last possible moment, showing mercy above what anyone might expect. Here's Nunn's version of the space between those lines. Be prepared: the scene doesn't pretty up the notion that a literal pound of flesh is about to be exacted and extracted from a man.


Nunn's Portia thinks it possible that Shylock will show mercy at the last moment. Only when it's plain that he will not does she interrupt the proceedings.

And that brings us to baseball and to the St. Louis Cardinals. Let the world take note that the Cardinals won the 2011 World Series. But note, too, that there was nothing inevitable about that—especially in Game Six. The Cardinals—like Portia, like Nunn—wanted to keep the suspense going until the last possible moment, taking us to the last possible strike—twice!—before taking us on to the happy (at least for the Cardinals themselves and for Cardinals fans) conclusion. Game Six for the Cardinals was Act IV of Merchant of Venice.

What must it have been like to have seen—what must it be like to see—a Shakespeare play for the first time, not knowing what the outcome would be? Having read the plays multiple times for years and having been aware of their plots and some of their lines before that, I can't recall reading or watching Hamlet, for example, not knowing whether he would kill Claudius at his prayers or whether he would ever get around to getting revenge on Claudius at all.

The Cardinals' run at the World Championship this year reminded me of the sickening, unbearable tension that accompanies Shakespeare's plays.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Authorship Haiku Competition: Win a copy of Contested Will!

Shapiro, James. Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Anonymous. Dir. Edward D. Wood, Jr. Perf. David Hasselhoff, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mark Wahlberg, Lindsay Lohan, and Willem Dafoe. Columbia Pictures. 30 September 2011.

Thanks to the kind auspices of Simon and Schuster, I have two copies of James Shapiro's magisterial Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?—which I've mentioned before on this blog—to give away, and I thought the Shakespeare-reading community, in light of the recent release of Anonymous, would appreciate a creative outlet for their thoughts on the authorship issue. Bardfilm provides.

This is your chance to compose a haiku on the subject! Please submit your English-Language Haiku on any aspect of the authorship issue in the comments below. When we have selected the winners, we will post their names and invite them to e-mail their addresses directly to us to claim their prizes.

Here, then, are the details of the competition:
  1. For the purposes of this competition, an English-language Haiku is defined as a poem consisting of three lines, the first and last of which have five syllables and the middle of which has seven syllables. We recognize that other forms are viable poetic expressions—but not for this competition. The judges will be strict on this point, so make sure your haiku follows the 5-7-5 syllable rule. For a sample, see my award-winning Shakespeare haiku.

  2. Haiku must be posted before 11:59 p.m. Central Time on Thursday, November 3, 2011 in order to be eligible for the competition.

  3. Submitted Haiku must be the original work of the submitter (we'll be checking).

  4. One haiku per person, please!

  5. There will be three judges to this competition: The author of Bardfilm, the author of Shakespeare Geek, and blogger and Twitterer PlaysTheTart.

  6. The decisions of the judges are final.

  7. We reserve the right to add to this list of rules.
The authors of the top two Haiku will each receive a paperback copy of Contested Will; a consolation prize (a used copy of Drama of the English Renaissance, edited by M. L. Wince) will go to the third-place winner.
Stratfordian's Lament
"Who wrote Shakespeare's plays?"—
A hopeless tautology?
Not to Ed De Vere.
With that, you may commence posting!

Note: The winners have been announced!
Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shakespeare's Infinite Monkeys in Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"Episode Two." By Douglas Adams. Perf. Peter Jones, Simon Jones, David Dixon, Sandra Dickinson, Mark Wing-Davey, and Stephen Moore. Dir. Alan J. W. Bell. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Season 1, episode 2. BBC. 12 January 1981. DVD. BBC Worldwide, 2002.

The Shakesphere recently re-considered the perennial question of whether an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time could re-create the works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare Geek, for example, mentioned it, and I've seen other articles debunking the methodology or the theory or wondering whether it wouldn't be better, in today's technology-driven market, to give the monkeys an infinite number of iPads instead.

In becoming re-aquiainted with the idea, which is drawn from probability theory, I remembered that Douglas Adams had played with the idea in his masterful Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the plot of the book, a new mode of space travel has been invented—a ship that generates improbability fields, enabling it to travel through the universe enormously quickly and causing wildly-improbable things to happen as it does so. In this scene, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent have just—wildly-improbably—found themselves on board the ship:


The television show's imagining of the scene does not quite come up to the image the text paints—though it's probably the best they could do with the budget and the technology they had. [The more recent film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a disgrace in nearly every conceivable way, leaves out the monkeys completely.] Here's how Adams describes the scene in the novel:
Ford and Aurthur were in a small luminous pink cubicle.

Ford was wildly excited.

"Arthur!" he said, "this is fantastic! We've been picked up by a ship powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive! This is incredible! This is incredible! I heard rumors about it before! They were all officially denied, but they must have done it! They've built the Improbability Drive! Arthur, this is . . . Arthur? What's happening?"

Arthur had jammed himself against the door to the cubicle, trying to hold it closed, but it was ill fitting. Tiny furry little hands were squeezing themselves through the cracks, their fingers were inkstained; tiny voices chattered insanely.

Arthur looked up.

"Ford!" he said, "there's an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they've worked out." (59)
That, then, is one of the connections between The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Shakespeare. And the joke is a funny one.

But what interests me is an overlooked idea. Once you set these infinite monkeys to work, they are not only going to type up the known works of Shakespeare—they're also going to re-create the lost works of Shakespeare! Somewhere in the infinite text generated by the Infinite Monkey Code (IMC) is the complete text of Love's Labour's Won and Cardenio at the very least! Not only that, but they're also generating sonnets we never knew were lost, all the rough drafts of all the Shakespeare plays, all the plays Shakespeare never got around to writing, and the complete works of Christopher Marlowe.

Who's up for reading through the infinite number of pages generated by the IMC to find these lost works?

Works Cited

Adams, Douglas. The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Del Rey, 2002.

Links: The Television Series at IMDB.

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Discount Tickets to The Guthrie Theatre's Production of Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing. Dir. Joe Dowling. Perf. Robert O. Berdahl, Raye Birk, Michael Booth, Dennis Creaghan, Bob Davis, Laura Esping, Nathaniel Fuller, Daniel Gerroll, Peter Michael Goetz, Emily Gunyou Halaas, H. Adam Harris, David Manis, Bill McCallum, Ron Menzel, Dearbhla Molloy, Michelle O'Neill, and Max Polski. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 10 September—5 November 2011.
We're very pleased to announce that The Guthrie Theatre has arranged an offer for Bardfilm's readers: Half-Price Tickets! Here are the details:

Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare
directed by Joe Dowling
Wurtele Thrust Stage
September 10 to November 5, 2011

Is falling in love only for the young? Not according to Joe Dowling’s take on Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing. The play center on two couples: young lovers Claudio and Hero and middle-aged Benedick (played by Daniel Gerroll, A Christmas Carol) and Beatrice (Irish stage and screen actress Dearbhla Molloy), sworn enemies who become the victims of a clever scheme. In a world where everyone eavesdrops, meddles and minds others’ business, Benedick’s friends fool him into believing Beatrice loves him and the women do the same for Beatrice. Thus begins their inevitable and entertaining journey to finding true love late in life. This charming exploration of love and marriage, friendship, and honor, delivers music, dancing and merriment, proving that falling in love is for everyone, you and old.

Call the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224 and mention “Bardfilm” to receive this offer. Offer not valid on Area 1A seating, online, on previously purchased tickets or with other offers. Handling fees may apply.
Do so at once! And thank you, Guthrie Theatre, for making this offer available!
Links: The Play at the Guthrie Theater.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Guthrie Theatre Presents Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing. Dir. Joe Dowling. Perf. Robert O. Berdahl, Raye Birk, Michael Booth, Dennis Creaghan, Bob Davis, Laura Esping, Nathaniel Fuller, Daniel Gerroll, Peter Michael Goetz, Emily Gunyou Halaas, H. Adam Harris, David Manis, Bill McCallum, Ron Menzel, Dearbhla Molloy, Michelle O'Neill, and Max Polski. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 10 September—5 November 2011.
On Saturday night, thanks to the immeasurable kindnesses of some long-time Bardfilm devotees, I was able to see the Much Ado About Nothing currently in production at the Guthrie Theatre.

Since the show was in previews, this is not a review. Let it serve, rather, as a notice that the play is on and that you should all go see it.

When I return to the theatre in late October, I'll post a review!

Links: The Play at the Guthrie Theater.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On Directing Much Ado About Nothing at an Elementary School

Jones, Keith. "The Immeasurable Rewards of Directing Shakespeare in a Grade School." Making a Scene: Shakespeare in the Classroom. 6 September 2011. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2011.
Having directed two grade-school productions of Shakespeare plays, I naturally count myself the definitive expert in the field.

And, naturally, by “definitive expert,” I mean “dedicated amateur.”

It was in that light that I agreed to participate in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s “Teacher to Teacher” program. In essence, I wanted to encourage other amateurs to take the risk of directing Shakespeare in elementary schools.

You can hear what I said on the topic here:

And you can read a more extensive account of “what this amateur learned from directing Shakespeare in a grade school” on the Folger Education blog.

Finally, you can hear what one student had to say about one part of the experience in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s “Student to Student” segment. She addresses the issue of whether reading or performing Shakespeare is preferable:

Links: The Folger Education Blog.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Which Psalm in the King James Version of the Bible did Shakespeare Translate?

Franson, J. Karl. "Shakespeare in the King James Bible." Notes and Queries 16 (1977): 21.
Note: An update to this post may be found here. The conclusions are the same, but the updated post covers additional information about the evidence.
I'm sorry if the question above is a bit misleading. The correct answer is "None of them," but the story frequently makes the rounds that he contributed to the aruguably-most-influential translation of the Bible into English and that he left a clue about his work for future generations to discover. Since this year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the King James Version and since a great deal of attention is being paid to that translation this year, I've heard the argument several times.

The facts are clear enough. The forty-sixth word of the forty-sixth Psalm is "shake." And the forty-seventh (or the forty-sixth, if you leave out the closing "Selah," which seems like cheating) word from the end of the Psalm is "spear." Below, you'll find a convenient chart that shows this to be true (click on the image to enlarge it):

The problem is not the fact. The problem is its interpretation. Did Shakespeare, near the end of his dramatic career, turn his hand to translation? Did a Shakespeare fan cleverly work in this reference to a favorite dramatist?

And that is why the world rests in the debt of J. Karl Franson of the University of Maine at Farmington. He helps us to see that it was neither Shakespeare nor an admirer of Shakespeare who arranged these words in these locations. After pointing out that Shakespeare was both forty-six and forty-seven years old in 1611 (the year of the King James Version's publication and part of the set of "clues" that the Psalm has something to do with Shakespeare), he takes us back to 1539 to show us another set of facts. In the Tavener's Bible of 1539, the two words occupy exactly the same positions
[Note: They actually occupy similar but not identical positions—see the update] in Psalm 46. He points out that the Bishop's Bible of 1568 and the Great Bible of 1539 have similar—but not identical—positions.

My own research shows that the words are placed at 47 from the beginning and 45 from the end in the 1560 Geneva Bible—one of the translations with which Shakespeare was most familiar. That's very close; indeed, the average works out to 46 in that instance! Additionally, the 1549 Matthew's Bible has "shoke" at word 55 and "speare" at line 48 from the end (47, if you leave out the closing "Selah"—which, again, seems like cheating).

In the end, what seems like an amazing and conspiratorial coincidence turns out to be merely an intriguing correspondence of two relatively-common words.

The moral is that we should remember to check notbyshakespeare.com or some other reputable source before claiming for the Bard things he didn't write.
Links: Psalm 46 in the King James Version at Bible Gateway.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cate Blanchett's Disappointing Elizabeth I

Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Dir. Shekhar Kapur. Perf. Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. 2007. DVD. Universal Studios, 2008.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age answers the golden, age-old question of what would happen if you took a thrilling narrative, an immense budget, a number of top-notch actors and actresses, a lush soundtrack, and beautiful cinematography and tried to make it as bone-wearyingly boring as you possibly can.

We at Bardfilm try to be as positive as possible in our reviews. But this film is unforgivably dull.

That's particularly the case because it has so much working in its favor! How can the threat of the Spanish Armada possibly be made tedious? The history on which this is based is unbelievably interesting, but this film is dry as dust. And please note that I don't demand absolute historical accuracy in dramatic retellings of historical events—if I did, I wouldn't be able to enjoy any one of Shakespeare's ten history plays. But this film takes the exciting, non-stop drama of this part of Elizabeth's reign and slogs though it at a sloth's pace. It's ridiculously uninspiring.

The clip below shows one way they take the excitement of actual history and empty it of anything even mildly interesting. They take Elizabeth the First's great speech at Tilbury—it's the monarchical equivalent of Shakespeare's Henry V's speech before Agincourt—and re-write it so that it has none of the fire and splendor of the original:


What a mess. The soldiers aren't cheering at what she says; they're simply cheering because they think that she's done talking absolute drivel. Here's what Elizabeth the First actually said, on August 8, 1588, to the troops at Tilbury as they gathered to face the overwhelming force of the invading Spanish fleet:
My loving people . . . I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour, and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England, too. (Somerset 464)
For dramatic effect, that has been pared down slightly from the complete speech (which I print in full below)—and I have no doubt that, had Cate Blanchett been allowed to deliver those lines instead of the mindless schlock they gave her to say, the film would have benefited immeasurably.

Let Blanchett speak these lines—or just give her the St. Crispian's Day speech! Either would be inexpressibly superior to the lines they actually gave her.

Here, to provide the complete historical record, is the speech in its entirety:
My loving people. We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourself to armed multitudes for fear of treachery; but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved my self, that under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of all my subjects, and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour, and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England, too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already for your forwardness, you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, in the word of a Prince, they shall be duly paid you. (Somerset 464)

Works Cited

Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Links: The Film 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