Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shakespeare on The News Hour

The Best of MacNeil / Lehrer: Shakespeare on the News Hour. DVD. MacNeil / Lehrer Productions, 2007.
The connections between Shakespeare and The MacNeil / Lehrer News Hour are not limited to Robert MacNeil's terrific appearance in the Almereyda Hamlet (for which, q.v.). A DVD containing six stories The News Hour did on Shakespeare-related subjects was released in 2007:
  1. "The Heart of My Mystery" (15 January 1996), in which scholars are interviewed on the then-newly-discovered (and since fairly-conclusively debunked) "Funeral Elegy by W. S.," thought at the time, through the miracle of computer analysis, to be by Shakespeare.

  2. "Much Ado" (23 January 1997), in which Charlton Heston, Michael Kahn, and David Kastan are interviewed about the revival of interest in Shakespeare—particularly on film—brought about by the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet.

  3. "The Play's the Thing" (21 June 2001), in which the Denver Public School System's Spring Shakespeare Festival is profiled.

  4. "Brushing Up Their Shakespeare" (26 September 2002), in which The Academy for Classical Acting's approach to teaching how to play Shakespeare is examined.

  5. "An American Falstaff: Kevin Kline" (7 January 2004), in which Kevin Kline is interviewed on that role

  6. "Re-Learning Shakespeare" (27 December 2005), in which Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is covered—Mark Rylance is interviewed.
Of these, the most interesting are the interviews with the actors. Here's a clip from Charlton Heston's interview (he makes the case for Shakespeare and Film):


Kline's interview is more significant for the clips it provides of his Falstaff than for his commentary (though his commentary is not to be scorned at all). Here he is, as plump Jack:


All in all, the stories are fascinating, and I'm indebted to my library for buying them for all its patrons to share!
Click below to purchase the film from
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Acting Shakespeare; or, Ian McKellen Goes Solo

Acting Shakespeare. Dir. Kirk Browning. Perf. Ian McKellen. 1982. DVD. E1 Entertainment, 2010.
Some years after Playing Shakespeare started, Ian McKellen (Sir Ian to us now) put on a one-man show in which he delivers the greatest hits of Shakespeare along with anecdotes and commentary.

The show is intriguing, more as an avenue of insight into attitudes on Shakespeare in the 1980s than anything else. Sir Ian is charming, but the anecdotes are a bit dated, and he has a tendency to take us very deeply into a character or a speech—and then to release us with an off-hand joke that somewhat deflates the atmosphere rather than relieving the tension.

Still, it's impossible to critique McKellen's acting. It's really quite marvelous.

Here's a place where his instruction and his acting come together best. He explicates Macbeth's "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow":


Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

"Some Things are Hard to Understand: Shakespeare Isn't."

Henry IV, Part 1. Dir. Paul Barnes. Perf.Tarah Flanagan, Jonathan Gillard Daly, Doug Scholz-Carlson, Chris Mixon, Corey Allen, Kate Fonville, Michael Fitzpatrick, and Christopher Gerson. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 22 June to 31 July 2011.
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Dir. Alec Wild. Perf. Tarah Flanagan, Jonathan Gillard Daly, Doug Scholz-Carlson, Chris Mixon, Corey Allen, Kate Fonville, Michael Fitzpatrick, and Christopher Gerson. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 22 June 22 to 31 July 2011.

The tag line on one of the Great River Shakespeare Festival's promotional videos is "Some Things are Hard to Understand: Shakespeare Isn't." It speaks to one of their strengths: comprehensibility. The festival always concentrates on delivering the text clearly and movingly to its audience.

Past years of the Great River Shakespeare Festival have delivered brilliant productions of the plays. Witness their Taming of the Shrew, their Love's Labour's Lost, their Comedy of Errors, or their Othello.

Or witness this video that focuses on one of the company's current plays:

The season starts tonight and runs through the end of July. Go see the plays.
Links: The Great River Shakespeare Festival.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Playing Shakespeare; or, What Fry and Laurie were Parodying

Playing Shakespeare. Dir. John Carlaw and Peter Walker. Perf. Trevor Nunn, John Barton, David Suchet, Alan Howard, Michael Pennington, Patrick Stewart, Lisa Harrow, Jane Lapotaire, Ian McKellen, and Ben Kingsley. 1979-1984. DVD. Athena, 2009.
Fry and Laurie's amazing parody may have its origin in something else amazing: Playing Shakespeare. The four-disc set contains some of the most astonishing Shakespearean actors of the age talking about how best to act.

Here's a short clip. In it, Ian McKellen is asked to enact the first line of The Merchant of Venice with several different shades of emotion and subtext.


It's one line, but its delivery can be so extraordinarily telling. Fry and Laurie have fun with it by imagining an acting coach concentrating all that energy on one word. They make it ridiculous—but there's still some truth behind their ridicule. Not every word in Shakespeare can bear such a multiplicity of interpretation. But many—and perhaps most—of them can.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fry, Shakespeare, and Laurie

The Cambridge University Footlights Revue. Dir. John Kilby. Perf. Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Emma Thompson. 1982. A Bit of Fry and Laurie: Season Two. Special Feature. DVD. BBC Warner, 2007.
This intriguing, early, and Shakespeare-related clip from the masterful comedy duo Fry and Laurie has been around for a long time, but it took me nearly all of that time to track down its origins (to cite it properly) and its location (so that we can all purchase it legally).

The sketch speaks for itself. Welcome to . . . "Shakespeare Master Class: An Actor Prepares (Part Three)."


It's certainly true that nearly every word in Shakespeare can carry enormous weight, but (of course), it can be overdone. This sketch serves as a warning to me—whenever I find myself asking the equivalent of "And what sort of spelling of the word 'Time' is that?" I'll stop, remember Fry and Laurie, and carry on along different lines.

The speech in question is from Troilus and Cresida. Ulysses speaks:
Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
A great-sized monster of ingratitudes. (III.iii.151-53)

Links: The Revue at IMDB.

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(on the second season of which this is a special feature)
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shakespeare and Hercule Poirot

"One, Two, Buckle my Shoe." By Clive Exton. Perf. David Suchet and Philip Jackson. Dir. Ross Devenish. Agatha Christie's Poirot. Season 4, episode 3. ITV. 19 January 1992. DVD. Acorn Media, 2001.
Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, and India meet in this made-for-television adaptation of Christie's One, Two, Buckle my Shoe.

It's hard to write about mysteries because it's too easy to give the game away and spoil it for some future reader or viewer, so I won't say too much about the plot. But near the beginning of the show, we're treated to the end of a production of Much Ado About Nothing put on in India by English actors for an almost-exclusively English audience. As the plot rolls out, the connections between the unmasking in the scene and the unmasking of the guilty party or parties becomes clearer and clearer.

Here's the Shakespeare (which is what you're here for, after all):


Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Fishmonger Scene in the Tennant / Stewart Hamlet

Hamlet. Dir. Gregory Doran. Perf. David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Oliver Ford Davies, and Mariah Gale. 2009. DVD. BBC Warner 2010.

Although I hope to post a longer, more-detailed essay on the David Tennant / Patrick Stewart Hamlet at some point, I don't anticipate being able to do so any time soon. I used it with my last Shakespeare and Film class, and it worked quite well, giving us a good deal to think and to talk about. A good essay could be made of the film's use of CCTV (Closed-Circuit Television), for example.

What I'm prepared to provide for you and to discuss with you today is the Fishmonger scene. Intriguingly, the production decided to follow the First Quarto's order at this point (though not Q1's lines), placing the Fishmonger scene after the Nunnery scene. Ophelia has just left when Hamlet enters; Claudius is still behind the arras, observing the exchange:


I'm interested in the sniff that Hamlet delivers right before the "You are a fishmonger" line. The mistake / insult becomes more all-encompassing in this production: Polonius must even smell like a fishmonger.

The choice to have Polonius deliver some lines directly to the camera is also interesting, though I don't think I like it very much. He might better deliver the lines to the one-way mirror behind which Claudius stands.

At the end, you see the CCTV monitoring the entire play. That is a fascinating device, and you'll just have to be patient and wait for a more detailed analysis of it.

And I'd like to make one final point. David Tennant's most famous role to date is, of course, of The Doctor in Doctor Who. The Doctor doesn't come through very often in this production, to the credit of David Tennant and the director. But a half-vocalized "Well" just after "plentiful lack of wit" is one place where the Doctor himself might as well be delivering the line!
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bardfilm at the Folger Summer Institute

“Shakespeare: From the Globe to the Global.” National Endowment for the Humanities. Folger Shakespeare Library. Folger Summer Institute, 2011. Photo Credit: Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.
As you know all, I'll be attending this year’s Folger Summer Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The amount of work that we'll all be doing is only eclipsed by the amount of fun all that work will be.

Consequently, I do not anticipate having much time to write for Bardfilm for the next five weeks, though the nature of the Institute—its title is “Shakespeare: From the Globe to the Global”—may involve so many fascinating things that I won't be able to resist posting from time to time.

But don't despair! I've written a number of posts in advance (including this one). They will automatically appear every Tuesday and Thursday while I'm at the Folger Library. Bardfilm will continue while I'm away—and I'm certain I'll have a veritable ton to write about when I return.

Until then, "Enough; hold—or cut bow strings" (A Midsummer Night's Dream, I.ii.111).

Links: The Folger Shakespeare Library.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Speaking of Shakespeare in Retirement Homes . . .

Still Dreaming. Dir. Hank Rogerson and Jilann Spitzmiller. Perf. Demos Condos, Harold Cherry, Doris Belack, and Barbara Moore. 2011.

The producers and directors of Shakespeare Behind Bars, a fascinating documentary about inmates at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex who put on productions of Shakespeare plays, are in the midst of producing a new documentary. In Still Dreaming, they hope to explore what happens when a retirement community—the Lillian Booth Actors Home, to be precise—mounts a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Embedded below, you'll find a trailer of the yet-to-be-released film.

It looks fascinating, and I can't wait to add the film to my collection.

Links: The Film's Website.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Shakespeare in Kingdom

"Episode 6." By Alan Whiting. Perf. Stephen Fry, Karl Davies, Celia Imrie, Tony Slattery, and Phyllida Law. Dir. Edward Hall. Kingdom. Season 2, episode 6. ITV. 17 February 2008. DVD. BFS Entertainment, 2009.
Another British Comic Drama has even more Shakespeare embedded in it. In addition to a few passing references throughout the series, the last episode of season two of Kingdom (staring Stephen Fry) has a considerable number of connections to The Tempest. The residents of the nursing home at which Peter Kingdom's aunt resides (and which she may, in fact, run—that's not quite clear to me) are putting on a production of The Tempest, but the sprinkler system keeps going off whenever Prospero delivers his speeches.

You can watch the whole episode on Hulu, or you can view an embedded clip (provided the embedding works properly) of the opening performance below:

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

There's Always Room for a Little Shakespeare

"Happily Ever After" [a.k.a. "In Sickness and in Health"]. By Jack Lothian and Dominic Minghella. Perf. Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz, and David Ryall. Dir. Ben Bolt. Doc Martin. Season 3, episode 7. ITV. 5 November 2007. DVD. Acorn Media, 2011.
Shakespeare is, in one sense at least, like dessert: there's always room for a little Shakespeare.

Although it took until almost the last moment in Season Three, the British Comedy Drama Doc Martin finally squeezed in a little.

There may be more later on, but I haven't yet watched much further than that point—for example, Season four, episode two bears the title "Uneasy Lies the Head," a quote from 2 Henry IV (if you're keeping track, it's III.i.31), and I hold out great hope for additional Shakespeare.

But one line (a quote from Henry V—III.i.1, if you're keeping track) is all we get in this one. A reluctant priest has been convinced to return to the church for one last service. Here's what he says upon entry:


"Once more unto the breach, dear friends!" (Henry V, III.i.1)

And that's all—at least for now!
Links: The Episode at IMDB. Watch the Episode at Hulu.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

When Mr. Shakespeare Comes to Town

Greet, Ben. "Benedick's Idea of a Wife." [Much Ado About Nothing, II.iii.7-35.] Victor 17115. Matrix/Take: B-11989 / 1. 3 May 1912.
Some kind soul recently told me about The National Jukebox at the Library of Congress. The collection is fabulous and fascinating, and the first thing I did was search for "Shakespeare" in it. The results were surprising.

There were a number of recordings of "Greatest Speeches from Shakespeare," including a performance by Ben Greet, the great Shakespearean actor / producer / director who advocated a return to simpler productions of Shakespeare. Here's a recording of Ben Greet giving Benedick's speech about his ideal wife in Much Ado About Nothing:

But the National Jukebox contains more than speeches from Shakespeare. If you'd like to hear the great hit "Sigh No More, Ladies" as it was performed in 1914, look (or listen) no further:

Finally, there's always room for a novelty song. Here's "When Mr. Shakespeare Comes to Town," a song about a man who asks a woman to a minstrel show. Perhaps because she recognizes the inherent racism in such performances (a racism that is sadly reflected in the sheet music for the song if not in its lyrics), she rejects his offer, telling him that she'll reconsider going out with him when Mr. Shakespeare comes to town.

My favorite verse:
I like that play they call Macbeth.
My brother Seth
Got scared to death.
It almost took away his breath,
And he fainted right on the floor.
And when that Shakespeare man comes 'round
You have got to chain me right to the ground.
Right up in front I'm always found;
He's the man I do adore.
I like a play that's good—
Very fond of N. S. Wood—
So Mr. Johnson, save your dough
For a Shakespeare show,
And then I'll go . . .
And there's more—so go try your own searches. Perhaps "Hamlet" might be a good search term . . .
Links: The National Jukebox.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"The Show Must Go Off": Shakespeare and Frasier

"The Show Must Go Off." By David Angell, Peter Casey, David Lee, and Mark Reisman. Perf. Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, and Derek Jacobi. Dir. Robert H. Egan. Frasier. Season 8, episode 12. NBC. 6 February 2001. DVD. Paramount , 2006.
Frasier's use of Shakespeare isn't limited to the titularly parasitical (for which, q.v.).

In an episode that goes by the title "The Show Must Go Off," Frasier discovers, at a science fiction convention, the man who instilled a love of Shakespeare in him. Jackson Hedley (played by the famed Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi) hasn't been able to do Shakespeare since he took on the role of an android on a popular television series. The Crane brothers are determined to reward him for giving them a love of Shakespeare, and they arrange for him to do a one-man show of Greatest Hits from Shakespeare. During the process, however, they come to realize that he's a terrible actor:


The rest of the episode is equally marvelous—the Cranes realize with increasing desperation that they will be overwhelmingly embarrassed if Jacobi's character goes on, and they work with increasing desperation to prevent that eventuality from occurring.
Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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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