Monday, May 30, 2011

Aa! Megamisama!: Shakespeare and Anime

"Midsummer Night's Dream." Perf. Kikuko Inoue, Masami Kikuchi, Yumi Tôma, Aya Hisakawa, and Yuriko Fuchizaki. Dir. Hiroaki Gôda. Oh, my Goddess [Aa! Megamisama!]. Episode 2. Anime International Company. 21 May 1993. DVD. AnimEigo, 2001.
In one of the more bizarre bits of serindipity, I chanced across this while searching my local library for a video of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. I found what I was looking for—but the catalogue also suggested a Japanese Anime version of a popular series of Manga with the quasi-blasphemous title "Oh my Goddess." One of the episodes was itself titled "Midsummer Night's Dream."

To the Westerner, the series is quite odd. The show is for older viewers, and it involves a real-life goddess named Belldandy who is conjured up by a college student—who has no idea what to do when she arrives.

The Shakespeare comes in in episode two. As the image above notes, "Even Shakespeare is said to have used . . . a love potion." While that's not exactly accurate—suggesting, as it does, that Anne Hathaway was somehow bewitched into falling in love with the young Will—Shakespeare did use a love potion as a plot device.

In the anime, as in Shakespeare's play, drinking a love potion is sure to bring about undesired results. Observe:


And I think that concludes our series of Shakespeare in Animated Media—for now.
Links: The Wikipedia entry on the series.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Spectacular Shakespeare in The Spectacular Spider Man (Part Two)

"Subtext." By Nicole Dubuc and Stan Lee. Perf. Josh Keaton, Daran Norris, James Arnold Taylor, Ben Diskin, Jeff Bennett, Lacey Chabert, and Grey DeLisle. Dir. Victor Cook. The Spectacular Spider-Man. Season 2, episode 11. Kids' WB! 16 March 2009. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2010.
The same "Shakespeare's Continuing Relevance" theme mentioned in the last post continues in a later episode of The Spectacular Spider-Man—one in which we get to see the cast at rehearsal. The episode "Subtext" uses rehearsals as a very interesting framing device. Near the beginning, we see the actors, uninspired and uninspiring, slogging through an exchange from Act III, scene ii of A Midsummer Night's Dream. They're doing very badly. The words just don't seem to mean much to them, and the director calls them on it.

At the end of the entire episode (after the actors have gone through a series of personal disasters and losses), we return to rehearsals. Now, having experienced something of the loss described in the scene they're enacting, they are much better. But I get the feeling that they would trade the good acting they do at the end for the innocence they had at the beginning. In any case, here are the two parts of the frame, conflated into one clip:


And, since you're here, I'll give you a Bonus Video from an earlier episode. In it, the bad guy paraphrases Gertrude's comment on the play from Hamlet: "The Spider doth protest too much, methinks." Enjoy!


Note: One final episode, "Opening Night," intersperses Shakespeare—the opening night of the school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream—throughout the Spider-Man story. It's interesting, but its integration isn't as deep as the others I've mentioned. Additionally, a much earlier episode ("Group Therapy") briefly mentions a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which Aunt May is heading out to see. According to an alert reader, we briefly glimpse the actor who plays Falstaff in that production. Thanks again to an alert reader for calling my attention to these Shakespearean, Spider-Manian Moments.
Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spectacular Shakespeare in The Spectacular Spider Man (Part One)

"Growing Pains." By Nicole Dubuc and Stan Lee. Perf. Josh Keaton, Daran Norris, James Arnold Taylor, Ben Diskin, Jeff Bennett, Lacey Chabert, and Grey DeLisle. Dir. Michael Goguen. The Spectacular Spider-Man. Season 2, episode 6. Kids' WB! 22 February 2009. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2010.
On 18 June 2010, an alert reader wrote to tell me about another source for Shakespeare in popular culture: the animated television program The Spectacular Spider-Man. In well under a year's time, I tracked down the material he mentioned, viewed it, digested it, and reported on my findings. Well, I'm about to report on my findings.

The show's use of Shakespeare falls into the "thoughtful and revealing" category rather than the "merely parasitical." One indication of this care is the quotations themselves. They are not all taken from a "Top Ten Shakespeare Quotes" list somewhere. In conjunction with that, the quotes also speak to the larger issues of the show—particularly of characterization. I haven't made myself intimately aware of the details of the show's world, but it's clear enough that the quotes they deliver work on more than one level.

For example, take a look at this video clip. Peter Parker's high school is about to mount a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and they're holding auditions. Brief glimpses of the hopeful actors punctuate the episode's action. In keeping with our Macbeth theme, the first quote comes from that play—and it begins the entire episode:


The episode provides quotations from six different plays—Hamlet, as you might expect, gets three of the eight quotes:
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Macbeth, IV.i.44-45
Presume not that I am the thing I was,
[For] I have turned away my former self.
2 Henry IV, V.v.56, 58
Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.
Othello, II.iii.262-64
Why strew'st thou sugar on that bottled spider,
Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?
Fool, fool! . . . The day will come [to] curse [this venemous] bunchback'd toad.
Richard III, I.iii.241-45
O villain, villain, smiling, [cursed] villain!
That one [might] smile and smile and be a villain.
[Go, Villain! Whoo! Yeah!]
Hamlet, I.v.106, 108
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
Hamlet, II.ii.116-19
O, it is excellent
To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.
Measure for Measure, II.ii.107-09
I will be brief. Your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
Hamlet, II.ii.92-94
All in all, the audition scenes span an extraordinary range—one that is entirely comprehensible—and it sets its quotations in a context that reveals something of their consistent relevance.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Macbeth . . . in Space . . . in Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius

"Out, Darn Spotlight." By Keith Alcorn and John A. Davis. Perf. Debi Derryberry, Jeffrey Garcia, Rob Paulsen, Mark DeCarlo, Carolyn Lawrence, Frank Welker, Andrea Martin, Kath Soucie, and Phil LaMarr. Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. Season 2, episode 12. Nickelodeon. 11 March 2004.
While the combination of Macbeth and animation is fresh in our minds, a segue to Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius seems strangely inevitable.

One of the greatest things about being a teacher is being able to see the world through myriad eyeballs. I'm not confined to the decade in which I grew up; I can see the world through those who grew up in the 1990s, the 2000s, or (not far from now) the 2010s—and that doesn't even count whatever decade(s) I grew up in.

The last time I taught Shakespeare and Film, one of my students mentioned a Macbeth-related episode of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. I didn't know it. In fact, I didn't know anything about the show. In fact, I still don't know anything about the show—except what I gleaned from this episode and the tiny bit of research I did for this post.

But I do know that I appreciate the way the Shakespeare is presented in this episode. The show assumes that kids will know enough about Shakespeare to get the jokes—that Macbeth isn't "some guy with a girl's last name" and that William Shakespeare isn't the custodian.

And I admire the character of Bolbi Stroganofsky (variously spelled "Stroganovsky"), who seems to be the show's "stereotypical foreign exchange student" character. He speaks with an odd accent, but he has genuine passion for Shakespeare, as revealed in the quotes he utters near the beginning and near the end of this clip.

The school is holding auditions for a play called Macbeth in Space and, well, the rest of the clip (which, I'm afraid, jerks a bit—like an old projector—due to some oddities about video transfer) speaks for itself.


You can watch more of the episode on the Nickelodeon website, or you can buy the entire episode at (see link below)—but the episode doesn't seem to have been released on DVD at all. Enjoy!
Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Returning to Gargoyles—Much More Macbeth in Season Two

“The Mirror.” By Lydia Marano. Perf. Keith David, Jonathan Frakes, Edward Asner, and John Rhys-Davies. Dir. Frank Paur. Gargoyles. Season 2, episode 18. Syndicated television. 11 September 1995. DVD. Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2004.
A very long time ago, I wrote about a student who had (a long time before that) recommended the animated television series Gargoyles as a source for much Shakespeare-in-Popular-Culture material (for that post, q.v.). At that time, I noted that the second season of the show was rumored to have much more Shakespeare in it than the first season.

It was an understatement.

There's too much to even begin to cover here. There's an episode (the one cited above) in which Puck is brought to Manhattan and hilarity ensues. There are quotes (as in the image above) from many of the plays. And Macbeth becomes a major figure in the Gargoyles mythology.

In fact, so much lies in that last sentence, that I have to point you toward an entry on Grimorum, the Gargoyle Wiki (did you know there was a Gargoyle Wiki?) that details the character of Macbeth.

With all that, I can do little more than catalogue the series, pointing interested parties toward its use of Shakespeare. Oh, and I can give you a little taste of the way the show uses Shakespeare. Here's some of the backstory Gargoyles provides for Macbeth.

In the scene below, we have travelled back to Scotland in the 1000s—when Scots and gargoyles fought each other (or, occasionally, fought together against a common enemy) regularly. Macbeth and Duncan are out for a stroll in the fog with their respective children when something happens that will lead Macbeth to have a strange sense of déjà vu when he strolls in the fog with Banquo later in his life:


The clip above comes from a long story arc about Macbeth's backstory. More particularly, it's from this episode: “City of Stone (Part 3).” By Lydia Marano and Brynne Chandler Reaves. Perf. Keith David, Jonathan Frakes, Edward Asner, and John Rhys-Davies. Dir. Frank Paur. Gargoyles. Season 2, episode 18. Syndicated television. 20 September 1995. DVD. Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2004.

Links: The Series at IMDB. The list of episodes at Wikipedia.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

The Taming of the Shrew. Dir. Sean Graney. Perf. Paul Hurley, Steve Isom, Megan M. Storti, and Annie Worden. Shakespeare Glen. Forest Park. St. Louis, Missouri. 26 May to 19 June 2011.
Poster designed by Rich Nelson of Kiku Obata and Company.

In the midst of all the Macbeth material, I wanted to let you know about all the Shakespeare that will be happening in St. Louis soon.

First, the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis organization has arranged to have all thirty-eight plays enacted on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Shake 38 puts on all the plays in different venues all around St. Louis. Fascinating.

Second, the Festival will put on The Taming of the Shrew this year—free to all!—starting a week from today and running through most of June.

The presentation of the set design will give some idea of the impressive scale and detail of this production and some of its ideas—setting it in 1950s American Suburbia, for example:

I heard marvelous things about the Festival's Hamlet last year. If you're anywhere near St. Louis this summer, drop by for some free Shakespeare in a beautiful park. Take that, New York City!
Links: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis's Web Site.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Never Say Macbeth

Never Say Macbeth. Dir. Christopher J. Prouty. Perf. Tammy Caplan, John Combs, and Scott Conte. 2007. DVD. Gold Cap Films, 2007.
And then there's Never Say Macbeth. Never Say Macbeth is well-conceived and well-written, and the animated opening sequence looks very professional, but the production values of the rest seem a bit amateurish. It's comparable to a self-published book. The film has some funny and interesting parts, but it hasn't been subjected to the same rigor that other films face.

Still, I enjoy the concept enormously! The main character is a scientific sort. His girlfriend gives up her teaching job to pursue her dream of acting. He follows her and gets involved with a number of actors putting on a production of the Scottish play. Skeptical and unappreciative, he says "Macbeth" at some point during rehearsals, brining a curse down on the company. The curse is that he (and anyone else who says "Macbeth") sees the ghosts of actors who died in a theatre fire years ago. Some of the ghosts are still playing their roles from Macbeth, others come from The Importance of Being Earnest or The Pirates of Pensance. That alone makes up a good part of the humor of the film—especially when those three worlds collide with the current production of Macbeth.

Here's a brief clip to illustrate the general premise of the film:


In short, the film is interesting in its conception, has higher production values than a YouTube video, and presents some likable characters. But it isn't one you'll be returning to again and again. I wish it had been more professionally done.

Note: The opening sequence was done by Gang of Seven Animation, and their part is the most professional part of the entire production.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sidetracked by "Shakespeare on the Rail"

As You Like It. Act IV, scene i, lines 69-116. Perf. Christina Slyter and Andrew Leith. Shakespeare on the Rail. New Mexico Rail Runner. June-August 2010.
I need to interrupt this series of posts on Macbeth to mention something intriguing that I just heard about. It fits the theme of "Shakespeare Performed in Transit" that began when Shakespeare was first performed on board The Dragon in 1607 (for which, q.v.).

In 2010, a company associated with the University of New Mexico put Shakespeare on the train that runs between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I don't know much more than that, but it's an intriguing idea. I also don't know whether the plays were performed to a captive audience or to an audience that knew what it was getting when it booked its ticket.

Here's a brief clip of one performance. Note the woman who is sitting with her back to the main playing space. She's trying to read a magazine during the early lines—yet she clutches it to herself as the last few lines are delivered, completely captivated by Shakespeare.


Update: Shakespeare on the Rail will be taking place this year as well! See it every Saturday in June, July, and August.
Links: Article about the Company. The full interview with the company on YouTube. The New Mexico Rail Runner Shakespeare on the Rail Schedule.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Macbeth, Directed by Teller (of "Penn and Teller" Fame)

Macbeth. Dir. Aaron Posner and Teller. Perf. Ian Merrill Peakes. 2009. DVD. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2009.
Having started a Macbeth trend on Bardfilm, I find it difficult to stop, particularly as I have a backlog of Macbeth material almost as large as Birnam Forest.

The dagger speech proves particularly interesting in each new production of Macbeth I encounter. It can be the key to so much of the rest of the production. It can speak to Macbeth's resolve (or the lack thereof), Lady Macbeth's control over Macbeth (or the lack thereof), the production's use of special effects (or the lack thereof), and the skill (or the lack thereof) of the actor playing Macbeth.

One of the Folger Shakespeare Library editions of the text of the play comes with a DVD of the play as directed by Teller. Yes, Teller—of Penn and Teller fame. Teller is the part of the comic duo of magicians who virtually never speaks during their routines.

I don't know whether this special effect is a Pepper's Ghost trick or not—I'm really not qualified to tell a Pepper's Ghost from a Salt's Dik-dik—but the effect is striking. Macbeth, having looked himself over in a huge mirror, sits with his back to it. Soon, a dagger appears in the mirror—but not in the reality the mirror supposedly reflects:


The film is full of interesting and entertaining tricks like that. On the whole, it's a good, solid, dependable production that is quite useful for classroom discussion.

By the way, my copy of the DVD automatically includes Teller's director's commentary, and I'm always sure to turn that off before watching the play.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Scotland, PA—No Dagger, but a Banquo

Scotland, PA. Dir. Billy Morrissette. Perf. James LeGros, Maura Tierney, and Christopher Walken. 2001. DVD. Sundance, 2005.
While we're on the subject of Macbeth (or, at least, while I'm on the subject), I'd like to return to the darkly-comic derivative version entitled Scotland, PA. That version sets the plot in the world of the early days of fast-food restaurants.

For some reason, the film avoids the dagger speech—there's no direct analogue to that scene—but it does deal with the ghost of Banquo in an interesting way. Instead of the ghost of Anthony "Banko" Banconi (is it clear enough that that's the Banquo analogue?) appearing at a banquet, he shows up in a press conference. And instead of remaining silent, Banko speaks. Watch for that in the clip—and watch, too, for the delightful parody of suspense-building in films of this kind.

Note: The film has a lot of coarse language; I've silenced some of the more severe words, but it isn't terribly hard to lip-read them. Forewarned is forearmed!


"Why did you kill me?" may be the unvocalized question that the ghost of Banquo is asking Macbeth in the Scottish play. Here, it's deliberately foregrounded and made to be the center of Macbeth's encounter with Banquo.

As the scene progresses, we see the Lady Macbeth analogue struggle with the equivalent of Shakespeare's hand-washing motif. In this film, she burned her hand during Duncan's murder; she still feels the pain of it, even though it's completely healed.

Finally, we notice Lady Macbeth's pants. Is that the "Trees of Birnam Forest" pattern printed on the fabric?
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Conflation of Three Weïrd Sisters in Joe Macbeth

Joe Macbeth. Dir. Ken Hughes. Perf. Paul Douglas and Ruth Roman. 1955. DVD. Lear Media, n.d.
For some time, I've wanted to return to Joe Macbeth, the 1955 derivative of Shakespeare's Scottish play. I've written and lectured on its version of the dagger scene (for which, q.v.), but I haven't mentioned the film's use of the three witches.

In Joe Macbeth, the three weïrd sisters are boiled down to one elderly, flower-selling, chestnut-roasting woman named Rosie. And that one weïrd sister brings Shakespeare more directly into this derivative. I'm not quite sure whether Joe Macbeth is joking or not when he says, "I sure would have liked to have seen you when you played opposite Barrymore," but the remark spurs Rosie on to deliver the line "When shall we three meet again— / In thunder, lightning, or in rain?" (I.i.1-2). It's almost as if she's gathering all the witches into her own character at that point.

After that, Rosie turns to the Tarot cards and reads them according to Shakespeare's script—while Lily, the Lady Macbeth analogue, watches. First, the cards reveal the Robber Baron. Joe notes that that's his current role. Then the "Lord of the Castle" card shows up, and Lily notes that it looks like the House on Lakeview Drive. Tommy, who has just been killed off, was the one in charge of that house. Finally, the King—"The King of Darkness"—makes an appearance. But Macbeth objects: "The Duke is the Kingpin. What are you trying to pull, Rosie?"

The next exchange takes this all to a new level. Rosie answers with this line: "It's in the cards." Lily then adds this: "It's not only in the cards. It's in you, Joe."

The line ties Macbeth to Julius Caesar: “The fault is in the cards and in ourselves that we are underlings.” And the rest of the film seems to explore the possibilities of that idea. Can it be blamed on the cards? Are the cards essentially irrelevant? Do they both work together to bring about the plot's course of events?

Here's the scene in question. Even though the film quality is poor, the significance of the scene is high:


Links: The Film at IMDB.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Titularly Parasitical Title in an episode of Frasier

"Roz's Krantz and Gouldenstein are Dead." By David Angell and Peter Casey. Perf. Kelsey Grammer, Jane Leeves , David Hyde Pierc, Peri Gilpin, John Mahoney, and James Earl Jones. Dir. Jeffrey Melman. Frasier. Season 4, episode 15. NBC. 11 March 1997. DVD. Paramount, 2007.
I would expect a show like Frasier, with all its references to haute-couture (an example would be that the show would use a phrase like haute-couture without it seeming out of place—though it would still seem somewhat pretentious) to have a lot of Shakespeare. After all, there's lots of opera, psychology, and other highly-intellectual material.

I don't know the show well enough to know whether there's much Shakespeare there, but I did find a title that refers to a play that is a derivative version of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The title refers to Roz's volunteer work at a nursing home and the death of two people she befriended: Mrs. Krantz and Mr. Gouldenstein (or Mr. Krantz and Mrs. Gouldenstein—I can't quite remember).

Unfortunately, there wasn't any Shakespeare beyond the title—but James Earl Jones makes an appearance in the episode and does a magnificent job.

Perhaps I should spend my time trying to track down clips of Kelsey Grammar as Macbeth.

You may be laughing, but he did play Macbeth. On Boadway. For ten days:

The reviews, I'm afraid, were not good.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

How Linguists Read Shakespeare

Viëtor, Wilhelm. Shakespeare's pronunciation: A Shakespeare Reader in the Old Spelling and with a Phonetic Transcription. New York: Lemcke & Buechner, 1906.
Some study characterization. Some are interested in how the plays reveal the history of which they are part.

Others enjoy the plots. Still others study scansion and poetry.

And there are those who spend time thinking about what happens when the plays are made into films.

And those who are deeply into linguistics study all sorts of things about the ways words were pronounced during Shakespeare's day and how that pronunciation has changed.

I ran across this book—published in 1906—and thought I'd share it with you. It contains selections of famous speeches from a number of plays. The left-hand side has the original spelling of the play, and the right-hand side writes it all out phonetically (or, if you prefer, foe-net-tick-al-lee). The image above offers the opening lines of Twelfth Night. Linguists everywhere, enjoy!
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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rare Footage of Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet

Le duel d'Hamlet. Dir. Clément Maurice. Perf. Sarah Bernhardt, Pierre Magnier, and Suzanne Seylor. 1899. Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre.
The Divine Sarah's enormous popularity cannot easily be overstated. She wowed the world with her performances for decades.

She's also known for playing Hamlet—and for playing the role with remarkable energy and verve.

I don't know how this clip made its way onto YouTube, but it did. It's a nearly-two-minute-long film of the duel scene from Hamlet, and it's the only extant clip of her in that role:


The giant chicken silhouette adds an air of the surreal to the clip, but I don't think we can read much into it beyond assuming that it's part of the film developing process. Either that or it's a shadowy echo of Horatio's lines in the play's first scene:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine: and of the truth herein
This present object made probation. (I.i.149-56)
Or is that reading too much into it?

Note: I'm informed by Twitter user @silent_london that the rooster image is the logo of the Pathé company. According to @silent_london, all their early films contain the logo, though it usually isn't as large as it is in this film.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Sigh No More, Ladies" to a New (Old) Tune

Shakespeare, William. "Sigh No More, Ladies." Much Ado About Nothing. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 376-77. Tune: Stözel, Johann Georg. 1744. Oxford American Hymnal. Comp. Carl F. Pfatteicher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930. 92.
A year ago, I was called upon to direct a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for a grade school. Perhaps I did something right, because they've asked me to direct Much Ado About Nothing this year.

I told you that to tell you this. Last year, I needed a tune for the lullaby the fairies sing to Titania (for which, q.v.). This year, I needed a tune for "Sigh No More, Ladies." Once again, a little-known hymn fits very well, and I think the entire cast is going to have a lot of fun with it.

Below, you'll find a video with the lyrics and the music; you'll then find a score for each verse below that (click on each image to enlarge it). Finally, you'll find the lyrics, which are very slightly modified from Shakespeare's original words. Enjoy!

Verse One

Verse Two
Sigh No More, Ladies

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
Men were deceivers ever:
One foot on sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go.
Be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your songs of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no more
Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so
Since summer first was leafy.
Then sigh not so, but let them go.
Be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your songs of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Yet Another Attempt at an Oxfordian Young Adult Novel

Kositsky, Lynne. A Question of Will. Montréal: Roussan, 2000.
I've run across another young adult novel that heavily and propagandistically perpetuates the myth that Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare.

Unlike Blue Avenger Cracks the Code (for which, q.v.) or Shakespeare's Secret (for which, q.v.), A Question of Will isn't even a very enjoyable read. It involves a somewhat slang-spouting female lead who suddenly goes back in time to Shakespeare's day. The time traveling element is the only trait this novel shares with Susan Cooper's masterful King of Shadows (for which, q.v.).

We're taken back to The Theatre (not, as is more usual, the Globe), which gives us a setting that must, of necessity, be before 1599, when The Threatre was dismantled and the Globe constructed. Yet Hamlet—probably not written before 1601 at the earliest—is the first production we encounter.

And that's not the only historical inaccuracy. When the de Vere material starts, we go much further away from historical reality.

The book suggests that Shakespeare was a bad actor (though the question of how he could have kept acting through a twenty-year career if he was truly awful isn't addressed), and its protagonist—called "Willow"—describes him as a "creepy old geezer" (111) and a "shambling stooge" (118).

Near the end, we hear from the Earl of Oxford (who has been hanging around The Theatre, trying to deliver plays to Shakespeare on the Q.T. but not being terribly successful at keeping the secrets secret), and he gives this account of himself:
I never tried to hide the truth from you, Willow. I understood from the outset you had wit enough to work out the whys and wherefores. My nickname, Shake-Speare, given me at court, was similar to your master's surname. He started to pinch the plaudits meant for me, and I was delighted, borrowed him for a front man in fact, paid him handsomely to quiet the Queen's ire. She doesn't like it known her courtiers scratch out their livings with the quill. (117)
The book presents farfetched claims in a less-than-entertaining, heavy-handed manner. For better-presented farfetched claims, try Elise Broach's Shakespeare's Secret. Or, better yet, read the best of the young adult novels set in Shakespeare's day: Susan Cooper's King of Shadows. Cooper's novel has the added benefit of being historical fiction that is historically accurate.
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Micro-Review of Pocket Posh William Shakespeare

The Puzzle Society. Pocket Posh William Shakespeare: 100 Puzzles and Quizzes. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2011.
The good people of Andrews McMeel Publishing sent me a copy of Pocket Posh William Shakespeare: 100 Puzzles and Quizzes to review. It's a fun book, perfect in size and just right for spending time waiting in airports, dentists' offices, grocery stores, or movie theatres. It's also extremely carefully put together. The book is absolutely beautiful. Indeed, it's so beautiful that one feels reluctant to write in it!

The puzzles are pretty good, too. I'm not very good at word games, I'm afraid, and some of the puzzles went over my head entirely. But I enjoyed the trivia questions and some of the crossword puzzles. And the book was so lovely that I ended up using it as a note pad, jotting down telephone numbers and notes about films in the margins throughout.

Pocket Posh William Shakespeare: 100 Puzzles and Quizzes is a good gift for the Shakespeare- and word-lover on your shopping list. If that's your mom, it's deal for Mother's Day, too!
Note: For a longer review, head over to Shakespeare Geek's take on the book.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Obligatory Post on Anonymous

Anonymous. Dir. Edward D. Wood, Jr. Perf. David Hasselhoff, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mark Wahlberg, Lindsay Lohan, and Willem Dafoe. Columbia Pictures. 30 September 2011.
I was a bit worried when the film Anonymous was released. I feared it might be so slick and well-presented as to lead the unwary into unwarranted conclusions.

I don't think I should have been concerned.

From the trailer, it looks like the Oxfordian position doesn't even work as a piece of fiction. Directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr., the famed director of the notoriously-awful 1959 film Plan 9 from Outer Space (though inexplicably billed under a pseudonymous director's name), Anonymous seems to follow the usual Oxfordian methodology: inaccuracies, misstatements, lacuna, and the use of Sir Derek Jacobi. Here's the trailer, which is, mercifully, only two minutes long:

I might watch the film eventually—just as I might re-watch Plan 9 from Outer Space sometime—just to marvel at the ridiculousness of it all. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how Edward D. Wood, Jr. has developed as a director since he faked his own death in 1978. And it will be interesting to know why the actors involved—David Hasselhoff, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mark Wahlberg, Lindsay Lohan, and Willem Dafoe—chose to use pseudonyms instead of their real names in this production. Perhaps they're simply embarrassed to be connected to an outmoded conspiracy theory with no basis in the truth.

Links: The Film at IMDB.
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