Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Note: Ungentle Shakespeare

Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from his Life. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001.

I've been using some of my copious free time to catch up on some required reading. For example, I should have read Katherine Duncan-Jones' Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from his Life in 2001.

Duncan-Jones is one of the truly great Shakespeare scholars of all time, and even though her biography of Shakespeare covers most of the same material you'll find elsewhere, it's being handled here by the hands of a master. She's always enormously meticulous, incredibly scholarly, and eminently readable.

She also pulls no punches about detrimental information about Shakespeare's character. She lets us know that he may have been mean (in both senses of the word), selfish, and critical. If you want a biography that tempers the bardolators of the world, this is it.

Duncan-Jones places Shakespeare uncompromisingly in his day and age. There's no room for any authorship debate when the facts are so clearly outlined. One moment when this particularly struck me (although Duncan-Jones does not use it to refute any alternate authorship theory—she's just presenting the facts) was in this passage:
Just at the moment when he might have anticipated a life of prestige and privilege at court and elsewhere, Shakespeare in middle age was reduced once again to a stressful and uncertain period as a travelling player. He and his colleagues also experienced bereavement. Their patron, the affable and generous Sir George Carey, second Lord Hunsdon, died in September 1603, only six months after the death of his cousin and Queen. Closer to home, however, was the death in 1604 of the leading player Augustine Phillips, whose Mortlake house had offered shelter to the King's Men in the plague-ridden autumn of 1603. First mentioned among his colleagues, he left "to my fellow William Shakespeare a thirty shillings piece in gold." Phillips and Shakespeare were evidently close friends as well as close colleagues. (182)
That's very interesting. Augustine Phillips acted with William Shakespeare. If there were any sort of conspiracy in which Shakespeare didn't actually exist or wasn't actually an actor, why would Phillips be leaving him any money at all—let alone a substantial amount? Surely you're not allowed to leave a pseudonym a legacy in your will!

In any case, Duncan-Jones is only unintentionally debunking authorship theorists. Her main intent is to provide a clear, well-written, meticulous biography of Shakespeare. And she succeeds admirably.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Titus 2.0

Titus Andronicus 2.0 [a.k.a. Titus 2.0]. Dir. Tang Shu-wing. Perf. Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio (formerly No Man's Land Group). Web. 15 February 2011.

Titus 2.0 is one of the most masterfully done adaptations of Shakespeare's play I've seen. Seven actors, each dressed in black and with bare feet, sit in a line of chairs facing the audience. The plot of Titus Andronicus is narrated by the actors, who occasionally take on the roles of the characters—while continuing to speak in the third person much of the time. The style, which is a mixture of mime, dance, music, and drama, is simple but profoundly moving. The production avoids portraying the specific violence of the plot—no other character touches Lavinia during the description of her rape, for example—and, in so doing, it more deeply conveys the abstraction of violence. The lighting, which is masterfully done, adds to the depth of the production.

The scene in which Marcus discovers Lavinia is one of the production’s most effective (see the low-quality video clip below—the only way I could get it on this site—or head to MIT's Global Shakespeares site to see a full production of the play—this scene is about a third of the way in—near 43:30). The actor who has been telling Lavinia’s story stands on her chair at the up right corner of the stage while the actors who have just been lying on their backs representing Titus’ sons in the pit smugly stand at center stage. She delivers this narration:
Somewhere in the forest, Tamora’s sons were lustfully ravishing Lavinia. They even taunted her: I’d hang myself if I were her. Fine, just help her to tie the cord. Demetrius and Chiron knew she was helpless and left her in the wild.
The narrator then slowly looks at her hands and contorts them, stretching one around her neck and one behind her back. She runs down left, just out of a large half-circle of light that covers most of the stage, where a lighted rectangle stands vertically. The rectangle flickers as vague shadows cross its surface. The actor in the centermost of the seven chairs stands on it and delivers lines equivalent to Marcus’ in the text of the play. When the narrator of Lavinia’s story resumes—and not before—we learn that Lavinia’s hands have been removed and her tongue cut out: “Marcus spotted Lavinia’s amputated arms but from her silence and blood-streaked mouth, he knew her tongue had also been cut.” Tamora’s sons’ line about helping her with the rope now retrospectively makes a terrible kind of sense.

Though our minds are looking back at that line, the plot moves forward to Marcus’ carrying Lavinia to her father. In this production, the actor who has been uttering Marcus’ lines stays on his chair but extends his arms toward the Lavinia character; with difficulty, she stands and slowly and painfully, as if carrying her own weight as well as Marcus’, crosses back to her chair. When she reaches center stage, she stumbles and falls to her knees. She slowly unwraps her arms from around herself, looks at her hands, stands and turns to face the audience, and slowly lowers her arms to her sides while the other actor, who is about four paces behind her and still standing on his chair, does the same. The distance between the actors and the characters whose stories they narrate is extended into an even greater distance between the characters themselves.

Stripped of the visual elements of violence, Titus Andronicus’ tragedy can be examined more fully both intellectually and emotionally in Titus Andronicus 2.0. The production avoids the possibility of distracting its audience with the physical results of violent acts—blood, severed limbs, corpses—and forces it to consider the emotional, psychological, and spiritual elements of violence to a greater degree.


Links: The Full Video of the Film at MIT's Global Shakespeares.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Richard III and Julius Casear in Gidget

"A Hearse, a Hearse, My Kingdom for a Hearse." By Louella MacFarlane and John McGreevey. Perf. Sally Field, Don Porter, and James Davidson. Dir. William Asher. Gidget. Season 1, episode 6. ABC. 20 October 1965. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2006

The same internet wag who made the joke about the archeologists not being certain that the skeleton was that of Richard III—remember, they only have a hunch—also risked a joke about Richard's skeleton objecting to being carried away in a mere ambulance. "A hearse! A hearse! My kingdom for a hearse!" he supposedly cried.

When I heard that joke come out of my—I mean, his—mouth, I wondered how original it was. A quick search revealed that the line was taken as a title for—of all things—an episode of the 1960s sitcom Gidget. Yes, the show with Sally Field—currently playing Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincon.

I requested the episode, just in case anything interesting should come of it, though I didn't really have much hope for a Richard III tie in. I suspected the episode was merely titularly parasitical. Yesterday, I put it on while grading essays and straightening up the office (it's not the sort of show you need to devote your entire attention to).

At first, I was disappointed.  Gidget wants to buy a cool hearse (apparently, it's "the end"—just the thing to cart your surfboards to the beach). To do so, she decides to sign up for auto shop. She hopes to earn money, impress her dad, learn about cars, and demonstrate that girls can do anything boys can do. The men are skeptical (not to mention patriarchal), and plot how to get her to drop auto shop.

At that point, an allusion to Julius Caesar dropped in out of nowhere! I imagine that the writers though the allusion appropriate for a fifteen-year-old high school student to make under the circumstances. I found it surprising and delightful—especially as it tends to undermine some of the overbearing patriarchalism of the two men.


Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Doctor Who, Richard III, and William Shakespeare

Doctor Who: The Kingmaker. By Nev Fountain. Perf. Peter Davidson, Stephen Beckett, and Marcus Hutton. 2006. Audio CDs. Big Finish Productions, 2006.  

Richard III. Silent Shakespeare. Perf. F. R. Benson, Alfred Brydone, Murray Carrington, Eric Maxon, Violet Farebrother, Elinor Aickin, Mrs. Constance Benson, and Moffat Johnston. 1911. DVD. Image Entertainment, 2000.

The discovery of a skeleton that might be Richard III's led to an explosion of commentary and speculation on the web. Humorous remarks also spread like wildfire, one internet wag even going so far as to say, "I feel that I cannot stress this enough: The archeologists are not certain that the bones are Richard III's. They just have a hunch."

The story happened to correspond with my own acquisition of an audio drama related to Richard III: A story from the Doctor Who universe mentioned by a reader a long time ago in Shakespeare Geek's archives.

The plot involves Doctor Who traveling back in time to Shakespeare's age—and then, having gotten angry with Shakespeare, traveling even further back to Richard's time. [Note:  Spoilers follow—both in this paragraph and in the video / audio clip below.] Shakespeare sneaks back in time as well; eventually, he and Richard switch places.

The thing I liked best about the production was its use of the typical jokes about Richard III. I've compiled them in an audio file—and then attached the audio file to part of a silent film version of Richard III. The result is odd but entertaining. Enjoy!


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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Me and Orson Welles: Setting Julius Caesar in 1937

Me and Orson Welles. Dir. Richard Linklater. Perf. Zac Efron, Claire Danes, and Christian McKay. 2008. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2010.

In 1937, Orson Welles directed and played Brutus in the Mercury Theatre Production of Julius Caesar.  Me and Orson Welles tells the story of that production through the eyes of a young, naïve actor who is swept up in Welles' charisma, genius, and vision.

The production-within-the-production is absolutely fascinating.  The modernized world of Welles' Julius Caesar is fascist and frightening.

One of its most effective scenes is Act III, scene iii:  The Death of Cinna the Poet.  At this point in the play, Caesar has been assassinated, Brutus has made his case to the pleblians, and Mark Antony has turned the crowd entirely against the conspirators and into a riotous mob (for one stunning version of Mark Antony's speech and its results, q.v.).  And Cinna the Poet decides to take a walk.  He's Cinna the Poet—not Cinna the Conspirator—and, if he has any political views at all, he seems to be opposed to the assassination of Caesar.  But his name is enough to condemn him to the mob.

Welles' production of the scene, envisioned here by Linklater's direction, is chilling.


The stage direction at the end of the scene in Shakespeare's text reads "Exeunt all the Plebeians [dragging off Cinna]."  The direction in the scene above is very understated, but, for the setting, it is all the more shocking.  It suggests a flavor of Secret Police, Enforced Disappearances, and Disappeared Persons.  The gasp we hear from the audience brings the dread of Shakespeare's scene to our own door.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

The Great River Shakespeare Festival 2013

The Great River Shakespeare Festival. 26 June to 4 August 2013.

Readers of Bardfilm will know that one of the greatest joys of Shakespeare is seeing live productions.  One of the most exciting places to do that is in Winona, Minnesota during each summer's Great River Shakespeare Festival.

This year marks its tenth season—the tenth season of professional, astounding, life-altering Shakespeare productions.

This year, Twelfth Night and Henry V will be on the docket.  Plan to be there.

Remember, these are the people who brought you "Stuff People at a Shakespeare Festival Say":

Go there and find out for yourself if it's true.  And you'll find that it is.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Note: Shakespeare's Common Prayers

Swift, Daniel. Shakespeare's Common Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

I have only just started reading this book, but I am already finding it very difficult to put down.

Daniel Swift tells a story that has too long gone untold. He traces the history of the first several editions of the Book of Common Prayer—the pervasive, omnipresent sounds of it ringing, in its various versions, all around England, starting in 1549 and continuing (with a brief break for the 1553-1558 reign of Mary) through the life of Shakespeare and well beyond.

Swift's claims are quite far-reaching, but they are not hyperbolic:
In England for almost one hundred years between the issue of its first edition on 7 March 1549 and the government decree of 4 January 1645 that made its use illegal, the most influential literary work was the Book of Common Prayer. These dates are a neatly bracketed but wide-open window, and they include the whole reign of Elizabeth I and of James I; the lifetime of Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Philip Sidney, and Christopher Marlowe; and the composers William Byrd and Thomas Morley. (31)
The careful research and argumentation of the volume are impressive, and the connection between liturgy and drama is completely fascinating. This is a work of deep, thorough scholarship—but do not by any means imagine that that means that it reads like a lump of sawdust.  The book is extremely interesting and well-written.  It's a model of a modern scholarly book.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Note: Death at the Dolphin

Marsh, Ngaio. Death at the Dolphin. Glasgow: William Collins Sons, 1967. Also available as Killer Dolphin. New York: Amereon, 1983.

Ngaio Marsh is one of the great mystery authors of all time.  She's mostly quite a bit gorier than Agatha Christie, but her characters are just as—if not more—deeply developed.

Don't let the cover image to the right (the image of the brass dolphin appearing to weep blood) put you off—the contents of this novel are genuinely fascinating in any age, even if the cover was designed in the late ’60s.

And, since you're reading about this novel here, you realize that there are connections to Shakespeare in it.

The plot involves an actor named Peregrine Jay who, though a set of circumstances that I will not spoil for you, ends up being involved in the renovation and re-opening of a London theatre that had been damaged during the Blitz.  The Dolphin (that's the name of the theatre) is to open with Jay's new play:  The Glove.

I will give away why the play has that title (pages 28-29)—it's one of the most interesting parts of the novel (click on the image to enlarge it and to read it):

“Mayde by my father for my sonne on his XI birthedy and never worne butte ync” (29).

If that doesn't give you something of a frisson, I'm not sure you can call yourself a Shakespeare fan.

“HS,” as you may have divined, stands for “Hamnet Shakespeare.”  And all the pieces start to fall into place.

The play Jay writes after seeing the glove sounds a bit maudlin—it contemplates the circumstances under which such a glove might have been made—but Marsh is astute enough to avoid giving us too much of the play itself within her book.  Instead, she sticks to the lives of the actors—and the mystery that envelops them.

I'm done with spoilers—I'll leave it to you to read the book and to find out if this is a forgery like those of William-Henry Ireland (for which, q.v.) or if it's genuine.

And do read the novel.  It is just stupendous.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Note: Joker

Ranulfo. Joker.  New York: HarperTeen, 2006.

A much more interesting Hamlet novel is Ranulfo's Joker. The novel's narrator is a Hamlet analogue who genuinely seems (at points) to be insane. Ranulfo, the novel's author, was born in the Philippines and lives in Australia, where the novel is set. I don't know much more than that about him, but his writing is quirky and, on the whole, enjoyable. As an example I'm providing the first two short sections. The first seems to be in the voice of Hamlet's father's ghost—but is it? When the second section begins, the book throws a curve ball:
Fall 2004: A Season in Hell

So here I am in hell. Who would have thought it? Oooh! Aaaah! Ouch! Hell is hot—really, really hot. And there’s no cool evening to look forward to. No snows of winter coming around the corner. No jolly spring to frolic in. Just a monotonous room temperature of a million degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit, makes no difference which.

Hey, Elvis, how are ya doin’?

Hey, Hitler! But Hitler does not return my Nazi salute. Thinks I’m poking fun at him. He’s sooo serious. Lighten up, dude! But then again, he’s already lit up. Ha-ha.

Incredibly, no matter how cremation-hot it gets, the skin does not burn or melt—it just sizzles and crackles, so everybody’s still recognizable. It’s jam-packed here. Chockablock with politicians, generals, CEOs, celebrities; in fact, I think all of humanity that ever was is here. The joke is God hates humans. He loves dogs, and only dogs go to heaven. So if a child asks you if dogs go to heaven, tell them yes, but you’re not because you are a dirty, lying, hypocritical, apathetic, bigoted, self-righteous, self-deluding human.

Oooh! Aaaagh! It’s hard to hold a conversation in hell when everybody’s screaming in agony all the time. Extreme pain is not conducive to hobnobbing and small talk. Out of my maw: just deep primeval screams, hysterical shrieks, lamentations, beastly grunts, horrendous howls. AWOOOOOOOOHHHH!!!!

I hope I get used to it. I have 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 years of immortality ahead of me. Or until the sun sizzles itself out.

You didn’t know that this fine hunk of an orb that greets you in the morn is actually a fiery penal colony. You see, all the stars are places of punishment. So don’t get romantic when you gaze at the twinkling stars, for before you are 4 billion souls crying for mercy that never never comes.

But that would be nice. To be able to gaze at the stars, holding hands with someone you love. A soft, kind, breeze. An ice-cold drink. A lingering, mushy kiss. A river to dip in. Cool, refreshing, clean. Oh, if I could only sleep.

Me and my Shadow

Just kidding around. Hee-hee. I’m still much alive on this dumb-ass planet. Except the last bit, which is true. I can’t sleep. Or rather my busy brain can’t shut down—it’s just bubbling, festering, exploding, corroding, spitting, spewing all kinds of thoughts/emotions/fantasies. But there was a fairy time ago I could just hit the pillow, bring down the curtains of my eyelids, and I’d be snoring away in slumberland.

But no more. Not since the birth of Joker.

Who is Joker?

He is crazy, a lunatic, a fool, who laughs at everyone and everything. He is a voice and a shadow. He is inside me. Sometimes he possesses me totally. Sometimes he hides and crouches, ready to pounce. Endlessly, I hear his laughter. He makes me see things—visions, hallucinations, nightmares, epiphanies. I love/hate him.

Before Joker I was serious Matt—athlete, top student, and Mr. Cool of Elsinore High. I had a great mate called Ray, had (actually still have, but the sweetness has soured) a sweet, beautiful girlfriend, Leah—I was one lucky dude. My parents envisioned great things for me. Elsinore, a little Aussie town off the north coast of New South Wales, was of the opinion that I was going to conquer the world. Then it all fell—crash! kaboom! —apart on me.

My mum left my dad and remarried. My best friend Ray got murdered. Two towers came crashing down—Love and Security. My soul is ground zero: smoldering ashes and ruins.

At seventeen I have hit rock bottom.

The day Joker was born I was at church with Leah. In his sermon (typically soporific) the priest commented on how much God loved us. Normally I don’t dwell too much on what the priest says—I let everything slide by. Priests are Muzak to the soul.

But this time a voice whispered to me. A weird, derisive voice. At first I couldn’t catch what the voice was telling me. Slowly it became clearer. “If God loves us, why doesn’t He pick up a phone and tell us so? Why doesn’t He give us a big hug when we’re down? Why doesn’t He fly about like Superman and protect people from danger? Why doesn’t He speak to us instead of letting anybody who calls himself a believer speak in His name? Why doesn’t He make everyone good-looking and sexy? Why couldn’t He create a bigger planet to cater to our greed? Why couldn’t He give us wings so we wouldn’t need to consume oil? Why didn’t God create us in His image—a cat? [sic: no closing quotation mark] I felt like I was cracking open my mind for the first time. All my life I had asked the wrong questions. Questions which already had the answers. Questions provided to me by authorities. Questions which did not spit or snarl or scream. But these questions I was hearing were different. They pushed and shoved me out of my comfort zone, led me down a dark terrifying hole, subverting everything I believed in, tearing and churning up my brain. I began to giggle. Perhaps at the priest, who couldn’t answer Joker’s questions. Perhaps at God, who created us—or did we create Him? Perhaps at myself, who was the biggest idiot of all, who jumped and rolled over when commanded, who got top marks by memorizing and repeating lies dumbly like a parrot. I who thought I knew everything now knew nothing. Big fat zero. Life was just a big joke. I desperately tried to suppress my laugher. Leah kept elbowing and hushing me to quiet down. I couldn’t contain myself anymore so I rushed out of the church to let it all out.

I was laughing so hard that my ribs began to hurt and I thought I was having a heart attack. Sometimes I wish I had died then.

During my hysterics I noticed a teenager breaking into a car and swiping a cell phone, which the owner had foolishly left inside. Customarily I would have done the superhero—Mighty Matt!—deed and nabbed the thief; instead I just enjoyed myself like I was watching Funniest Home Videos on TV.

The thief glared at me and said, “What’s so funny?”

I smiled at him, like he was my best-ever friend.

“You’re nuts” he said.

“I am,” said the joker to the thief. And lo and behold, a voice from heaven said,

“This is Joker with whom I am not pleased.”
That should give a flavor of this novel.

The novel also deviates from the plot in intriguing ways.  I'll give you one set (even though it's a slight spoiler).  The Hamlet analogue's father isn't dead.  He's divorced, and he tends to drink too much and hang around outside Hamlet's house—haunting it, as it were.  As a connected plot twist, the Horatio analogue has died—and his ghost periodically haunts the Hamlet analogue.

Joker is a bit uneven, but it's still quite intriguing.  If you like the section above, you're likely to like the rest of it.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Note: Hamlet: A Novel

Marsden, John. Hamlet: A Novel. Somerville: Candlewick, 2008.

I've been very torn about this book.  For some, this is their entrée into Hamlet (and, thereby, into Shakespeare).  But I can't help giving it a new title in my mind:  Hamlet:  The Novelization.

Essentially, that's what this book is.  The plot of Hamlet is retold as a novel.  That's all.  Here's the beginning of Chapter Five as an example:
The ghost growled the last word. Hamlet thought it the loudest sound he had ever heard.


"Murder most foul."

In agitation the man began to walk away from the lions, as if he did not know where he was going.

Hamlet stumbled after him. Behind him, Horatio too started to walk, and farther behind, Bernardo. The dog slunk away toward the eastern corner of the courtyard, then broke into a run, disappearing around the side of the library.  (24)
Well, that's not quite all.  There's some consideration of the interior of both Hamlet and Ophelia; that part is almost-exclusively sexual in nature.  I've selected this passage because it gives the flavor of that motif even though it's one of the mildest in the novel.  I'm fairly sure you don't want to read the more explicit ones.  Here's the beginning of Chapter Thirteen:

There's that (which, at least, has a cadence and alliteration in "Would you care to share a sherry?"), and then there is some strong profanity.

I found the novel on the dull side.  Yes, even the sexualized sections are flat (not to mention unprofitable).  They're also a little stale, and they make me weary.  In any case, I didn't find much of interest.  If you've read this blog, you know that I don't object to setting Shakespeare in other places, other times, other cultures, or other languages.  Indeed, I find a lot of that to be utterly fascinating.  This novel is set in a vague castle setting (which makes it odder whenever Hamlet is described as wearing jeans).  It's not vague enough to be universal nor precise enough to be significant.

There are just a few moments that are intriguing, but they're dropped pretty quickly.  During the novel's equivalent of Act I, scene ii, Hamlet responds to Claudius' articulation of death's inevitability in this way:  "Hamlet shrugged and looked at the wall opposite, at an oil painting of Joseph of Arimathea" (36).  That juxtaposition of images could be really meaningful—but it's just left hanging.  Later, the players say, ". . . we can do Romeo and Juliet if that is your wish.  It's not a bad bit of work, although a bit far-fetched" (75).  The meta-theatrical possibilities are opened there—but they are not re-addressed.

All in all, I'd advise reading Hamlet:  The Play rather than Hamlet:  A Novel[ization].  The play has everything the novelization has—and much, much more!

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Shakespeare in The Lion King—And, No, it's not the Hamlet Stuff

The Lion King. Dir. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. Perf. Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, and James Earl Jones. 1994. Walt Disney Video, 2003.

Yes, plot elements from Hamlet make their way into The Lion King (you can start exploring the idea here). But did you notice a specific quotation from Romeo and Juliet there, too?

It's in the image above:  In Timon and Pumbaa's first big number, Timon sings the "What's in a name?" line.

He also shares a name with the eponymous character in Shakespeare's Timon of Athens.  I'm just sayin'!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Book Note: The Madman of Venice

Masson, Sophie. The Madman of Venice. New York: Ember, 2012.

I'm preparing to teach a course entitled "Modern Shakespearean Fiction," and I'm thrilled. For one thing, it means that I get to re-read, teach, and explore some of the most amazing Shakespeare-related fiction—e.g., The Wednesday Wars (for which, q.v.), Undiscovered Country (for which, q.v.), and I Hate Hamlet (for which, q.v.).

It also means that I can justify reading a whole host of other books that I might find it harder to squeeze in.

One of those I've read lately is The Madman of Venice.  It's an intriguing young adult mystery thriller set primarily in 1602.  The protagonists are people from London who have travelled to Venice to investigate some ongoing oddities, including piracy and the mysterious disappearance from Venice's Ghetto of a young Jewish woman.

William Shakespeare doesn't make an appearance in the book, but he is mentioned.  Ned Fletcher, our hero, has seen and enjoyed many of Master Shakespeare's plays at the Globe theatre.

Emilia Lanier, on the other hand, does appear in the novel.  Yes, I thought that might get your attention!  She's part of the motivation for the trip to Venice.  It's a minor role, but an intriguing one.

The book itself is well-written and enjoyable.  The Shakespearean connections are oblique, but the plot, the romance, and the intrigue are a great deal of fun.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A New Tempest—Somewhat after the Manner of Looking for Richard

Tempest. Dir. Rob Curry and Anthony Fletcher. Perf. Mitchell Bonsra, Paris Campbell, Kieran Edwards, Charlotte Gallagher, Afra Morris, Stef O'Driscoll, Zephryn Taitte, Emily Wallis, Roy Alexander Weise, and Nathan Wharton. Fifth Column Films. 2 November 2012 [UK Theatrical Release]. Note: The film is now available for view on demand at Vimeo! Give it a try.

Once again, the amount of time at my disposal is infinitesimal, interfering drastically in my ability to keep up with all the amazing new Shakespeare out there.

One of the wonders is Rob Curry and Anthony Fletcher's Tempest, an intriguing mixture of documentary, rehearsal, performance, and stop-motion animation sequences that is beautiful in just about every sense of the word.  Since I've been far too lax in commenting on it—and since its UK release is just over a week away—it's time to bring our collective attention to it.

The film shows a number of people from—well, I suppose I can use the cliché and refer to it as a so-called "blighted" area of London. The film follows their engagement with The Tempest over a period of several weeks—or even months. The chronology is not nearly as important as the way the film reveals both the play and those enacting it.

 The film starts with traditional images of looting and rioting—and then images of profound beauty. I'm struck with the cinematography of the film—it's not a rough-and-tumble documentary: it's remarkable in its detail and its aesthetic appeal.

 On the IMDB page for the film, its director, Rob Curry, describes the film: “Using a blend of drama and documentary, the film follows the kids’ progress as they stage the play, building a portrait of the contradictions of what it means to be British in this brave new world.”

I've selected a brief clip that will not give away too much but which will reveal several different facets of the film. It shows actors talking in character about their roles, a short animated sequence, a bit of rehearsal, and a bit of staging:


The film in its entirety is thrilling and moving.  If you are in any way able to see it, do so.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Friday, October 19, 2012

William Shakespeare in “Peabody’s Improbable History” (from The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show)

“The Last Angry Moose, Part Two / A Punch in the Snoot or The Nose Tattoo.” By George Atkins, Chris Hayward, Chris Jenkins, and Lloyd Turner. Dir. Gerard Baldwin et al. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (a.k.a. Rocky & His Friends). Season 2, episode 44. ABC. 16 April 1961. DVD. Classic Media, 2004.

William Shakespeare and his biography—and a purported war with Francis Bacon—make their way into the classic television show Rocky and Bullwinkle.

In the clip below, Peabody and Sherman travel back in time to Stratford in 1611 and “help” with a production of Romeo and Zelda.  Admittedly, this is very late in Shakespeare's career and at the wrong location for him to be working away on Romeo and Juliet, but the show generally demands a pretty liberal suspension of disbelief.

To tell you any more would be to spoil the clip below; therefore, you should simply proceed to the clip below and enjoy it for all it's worth.

“O, hark, what hallow light burneth in yonder patio?”
“Egad, the lad's an ad libber.”

Links: The Episode at The Big Cartoon Database.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Note: Falling For Hamlet

Ray, Michelle. Falling for Hamlet. New York: Hachette, 2011.

Falling for Hamlet is a novel that resets Hamlet in a modern era and tells it from Ophelia's perspective. I read some of this novel—the tagline ("First Comes Love, Then Comes Madness") is intriguing, after all—but I never really got very far in it. One of the sections I managed to read contained, on page 155, the following text message from Laertes to Ophelia:
Laertes: R u stupid? what did I say? 
You may, if you wish, click on the image below to enlarge that page and to read a bit more.  That's about where I put the book down, hoping time would fortify me for the rest. Even to my untrained ears, that rang false. It just didn't sound authentic.

Instead of finishing the book and writing a brief review of it, I'll point you all toward the reason I didn't feel a need to finish reading it. Try this astonishingly-funny and magnificently-detailed review by one of the good people of Pursued by a Bear. The reviewer is in the book's target demographic, and she is delightfully-scathing in revealing her thoughts about its inauthenticity.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

On Shakespeare's "Christian" Sonnet, Its Hymn Tune, and the Wonder of Librarians

Songs of Praise: Enlarged Edition: With Tunes. Words ed. Percy Dearmer. Music eds. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw. Oxford: Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1926.

While reading an article on Sonnet 146—Shakespeare's "Christian Sonnet," as it is often called—I found the interesting fact that the sonnet had been printed (at some point) in a hymnal (of some kind) to be sung in churches. The two questions that sprang immediately to mind were "Which hymnal?" and "What tune?"

The article, unfortunately, answered neither. And I had neither the time nor the expertise to track down the answers myself.

Enter the Reference Librarian.

Reference librarians are simply magnificent.  I sent my request off to ours, together with all the bibliographic material I could muster, and she tracked it down in a few short days.

The sonnet was sung to the hymn tune Congleton. The sonnet and the hymn tune appear together in the 1926 Songs of Praise—which had, as one of its music editors, the great Ralph Vaughan Williams.  In that volume, the hymn tune is described as coming from "The Standard Psalm Tune-book, 1852" and as "attributed there to M. Wise, c. 1648-87" (746).

No, I'm not going to sing it for you.  But I did track down a MIDI file of the tune, and I made this brief video that gives it to you, along with the third verse / stanza.  And I'm sharing the wealth of knowledge provided by the reference librarian by including the full hymn in an image below.


Click on the image below to enlarge the image and to sing Sonnet 146 for yourself!

This sonnet, with its address to the soul and its encouragement for the soul to pay more attention to its own development than the mind does to the accoutrement of the body, does seem appropriate for Christian worship—though the sonnet never reaches the Christian heights of John Donne's Holy Sonnets.  But the last line is lovely:  "And death once dead, there's no more dying then."  It can be compared to 1 Corinthians 15:26:  "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (KJV).

Now that we have that hymn tune, we can sing any one of Shakespeare's sonnets—even Sonnet 126 ("Shakespeare's Short Sonnet," which has only twelve lines) to it.  We can even sing Sonnet 99, which has fifteen lines—if we sing two of them together really quickly during one line of the hymn.  But we could also sing them to Ralph Vaughn Williams' tune Sine Nomine, to which "For All the Saints" is often sung.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Shakespearean Wong-Baker

Wong, Donna, and Connie Baker. "Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale." Wong-Baker FACES Foundation. Originally published in Whaley & Wong’s Nursing Care of Infants and Children. Copyright Elsevier, Inc. Web. 9 October 2012.

If you've spent any time in hospitals—and, unless you are employed in the medical profession in some way, I hope that you haven't had to—you've seen the Wong-Baker Faces. The scale is used to help assess a patient's level of discomfort or pain, and it's a marvelous resource.

I was wondering, though, if it might—with a little tweaking—be used to assess the pain of Shakespeare aficionados. Out of this thought arose the scale below:  The Shakespeare Edition of the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale (click on it to enlarge it). And I do hope that each of you is on the 0 end of the scale (Rosalind, As You Like It, End of the Play) and will stay there for a considerable length of time.

Links: The Foundation's Official Web Site.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Tempest in the Closing Ceremony

Spall, Timothy. "Be not afeard." By William Shakespeare. Closing Ceremony. Olympics, London, 2012. Dir. Kim Gavin. 12 August 2012.

A quotation from The Tempest figured largely in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics (for which, q.v.). The same quotation made its way into the Closing Ceremony—this time read by Timothy Spall in the character and after the manner of Winston Churchill.

Other Shakespeare quotes were also part of the Ceremony—printed as newspaper headlines and copy as part of the stage set (see the image above and the two images below). There were also quotations from other British authors, which sometimes led to unintentionally humorous connections. In the image above, for example, Samuel Johnson's famous words on the City of London are prominent at the top of the stage:
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
That's all well and good—but the most prominent quote at the bottom is from Hamlet—when he is feeling quite tired of life himself:
To be, or not to be: That is the question.
But that's really beside the point.

The Shakespearean centerpiece was, once again, Caliban's "Be not afeard" speech—out of Winston Churchill by way of Timothy Spall (a version from the BBC DVD first, followed by my first effort—a clip shot from a screen):



Leaving aside the argument over whether Kenneth Branagh or Timothy Spall gave a better delivery of the lines, what are your thoughts on this? How does it change Caliban's speech to have it delivered by Winston Churchill? Does it make it more problematic? Does it change the tenor of the dream? Does it bring World War II into it?

[Note: I'm sorry about that last sentence. I remember that I was distinctly told "Don't mention the war," but I forgot.]

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below—and feel free to mention any other Shakespeare quotes you spotted during the Closing Ceremony. I didn't watch too much of it myself. When I learned that Ringo wasn't going to make an appearance, the Ceremony lost some of its interest for me.

"Now is the winter of our discontent." —Richard III

"The Rest is Silence: What a Piece of Work is a Man." —Hamlet

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Shakespeare in Clueless

Clueless. Dir. Amy Heckerling. Perf. Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Paul Rudd, and Brittany Murphy. 1995. DVD. Paramount , 2005.

Clueless is better known for its connections to Jane Austen than its Shakespeare references; however, one of the means it uses to convey the plot of Emma is Shakespeare.

I detected two Shakespeare allusions in my admittedly-hurried glance through the film, and they're the most telling for the way they contrast. In the first, the Cher Horowitz / Emma Woodhouse character rightly recognizes lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 as "famous"—but doesn't attribute them to Shakespeare. By the time, much later in the film, that the second allusion comes along, Cher / Emma has grown—and the male lead starts to recognize something more in her thereby:


That Mel Gibson provides her with this ability to recognize what the character of Hamlet said or didn't say is immaterial—she has the knowledge, and she's able to employ it. And it's also a good sign that she attributes the quote to "that Polonius guy" instead of "that Ian Holm guy."

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Friends and Lady Macbeth

"The One with the Tiny T-Shirt." By Adam Chase. Perf. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer, and James Michael Tyler. Dir. Terry Hughes. Friends. Season 3, episode 19. NBC. 27 March 1997. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2003.
The omnivorous Shakespeare Geek usually beats me to the punch in relaying information about forthcoming Shakespeare films and cultural references to Shakespeare—which is why you should all follow his blog as well as mine—and this is no exception. In fact, Shakespeare Geek's blog called my attention to this Shakespeare reference in Friends. His post, written in 2008, mentions a brief Shakespeare joke in the show; however, his post doesn't provide the context or a nifty video clip. I felt that it was up to me to do so.

In this clip, Joey is mad at an actress who is treating him as an inferior because of her training in drama. Searching for a way to explain how she thinks she's better than anyone else, Joey ends his sentence with a cliché that doesn't quite jive with the beginning of his sentence:


Chandler is quick to jump on the incongruity and to imagine a speculative actress who is actually named Sliced Bread (the caption on the image above should have capitalized "Bread" to stay with the joke)—one who made herself memorable as great by playing the role of Lady Macbeth. Once again, Shakespeare demonstrates his usefulness as a marker of cultural greatness—as does Shakespeare Geek.
Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hamlet's Father's Ghost's Speech in Paramount's Star Trek's Troi's Revenge

Star Trek: Nemesis [a.k.a. Star Trek X]. Dir. Stuart Baird. Perf. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, and Brent Spiner. 2002. DVD. Paramount, 2003.
In the worst of all the Star Trek films to date lies the final Shakespeare quotation of all the Star Trek films to date:
Remember me. (Hamlet, I.v.94)
The quotation had been used before—in an Original Series episode (for which, q.v.) and as the title of an entire Next Generation episode (for which, q.v.). In this film, it's used as a cry of revenge rather than (as in Shakespeare's play) a cry to revenge.

Deanna Troi has been psychically abused by the bad guys in this film; in this scene, she uses her empathic abilities to target the bad guys' cloaked ship:


And there you have it. Captain Picard's cry of "Fire at Will" is as likely to be a reference to Will Shakespeare as to Will Riker (in other words, not very likely), so the Shakespeare allusions in Star Trek stop at "Remember me." And that is, all in all, not a bad place for them to stop—even if the film itself is pretty bad.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Quotation from King Lear in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier?

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Dir. William Shatner. Perf. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, and George Takei. 1989. DVD. Paramount, 2005.

I'm not sure that much commentary is necessary here; the image says it all.

A Klingon character in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier utters a near-quotation from King Lear. In Shakespeare's play, the quotation has two additional words:
I am a very foolish fond old man. (V.vii.59)

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

A Rare Allusion to Cymbeline in Star Trek

“Genesis.” By Brannon Braga. Perf. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Dwight Schultz, and Brent Spiner. Dir. Gates McFadden. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Season 7, episode 19. Syndicated television. 19 March 1994. DVD. Paramount, 2002.

I acknowledge that my previous two (at least) posts about Shakespeare in Star Trek may have been stretching it a bit, but we're back on solid ground here.

In this episode, the hypochondriac Barclay is worried that he may be suffering from a particularly Shakespearean illness: Cymbeline Blood Burn:


The skeptics among you may point out that the condition is spelled "Symbalene" in the captioning to the episode, and those same skeptics may point to the entry on Symbalene blood burn at Memory Alpha; however, those individuals may have overlooked two important points in their skepticism. First, the disease is likely named for this quote from Shakespeare's Cymbeline:
Thou basest thing, avoid! Hence, from my sight!
If after this command thou fraught the court
With thy unworthiness, thou diest: away!
Thou'rt poison to my blood. (I.i.125-28)
It's clear enough that a poison in the blood was enough to inspire the name of this condition, but the second point clinches it. Barclay had originally thought he was suffering from "Terellian Death Syndrome," which could be spelled "Tyrellian Death Syndrome" to indicate its connection to the character Tyrrel from Richard III. Tyrrel, as you know, is the one who dispatches the two princes in the Tower of London. If any Shakespeare character could be equated with a Death Syndrome, it's Tyrrel.

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