Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dorothy L. Sayers and William J. Shakespeare

Sayers, Dorothy L. Have His Carcase. New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1993.
———. The Five Red Herrings. New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1993.

I've read and re-read a lot of Dorothy L. Sayers, from Whose Body? to Busman's Honeymoon, from her translation of The Divine Comedy (and its magnificent notes) to The Mind of the Maker and back again. And I've listened to all the Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels and stories (primarily as read by the magisterial Sir Ian Carmichael) innumerable times.

In the mysteries, the characters—and, yes, the author—integrate quotes and allusions from a wide range of authors . . . most notably (for me, at least), Shakespeare.

The quotes from and allusions to Shakespeare are as thick as autumn leaves in Vallombrosa (all right—that frequent allusion in Sayers is actually to Milton); they're so thick that they could easily be the subject of a Master's thesis—or even a doctoral dissertation. 

On a few occasions, we get a lengthier engagement with Shakespeare. In Have his Carcase, for example, Wimsey interviews some theatrical agents—and it leads to a conversation on interpretations of Richard III:

Later, this seemingly-tangential conversation relates to the mystery (there's a character who has a slightly-hunched back).

More often, the characters—conceivably inebriated on the heady wine of literature—integrate phrases into their own speech. Here, Wimsey starts with Hamlet and ends with Othello when a disturbing revelation comes upon him:

In the following exchange, Harriet Vane, who is ably assisting Lord Peter to investigate the murder or suicide of a man whose body she herself found on the beach, notes that Wimsey is prone to such quotations in moments of excitement:

As a final favorite example (for now), here's a moment from The Five Red Herrings in which one of the suspects of the murder of Campell starts to reveal his true (or is it true?) whereabouts during the time of the murder and why he didn't tell Constable Duncan about them at once:

Sayers' novels are remarkable enough, but the Shakespeare really gilds refined gold, paints the lily, and shakes a dash of Chanel No. 5 on the violet. 

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"And tomorrow and": A Shakespeare-Related Sci-Fi Short Story

Roberts, Adam. "And tomorrow and." Adam Robots: Short Stories. Gollancz: London, 2013. 206-21.

An attentive reader called my attention (and, thereby, called all y'all's attention) to a intriguing short story.

The story retells the ending of Macbeth with the assumption that the witches were not equivocating.

It's a version of the usual "Wait a minute—people born by caesarean section are clearly born of women . . . what else could they be born by?" objection to the Weïrd Sisters' charm, but cleverly done.

I'm giving you a scene from early in the story where Macbeth and Macduff put down their swords and pick up a dictionary to settle the issue:

I find that to be quite fun—and that would almost be enough, but the story continues quite a distance into the future and arrives at a clever solution that reminds me of one of the stories in The Martian Chronicles.

You can read the whole story yourself here.  And we can all be grateful for the attentive readers of Bardfilm—among whom you can count yourself.

Links: The story on Google Books.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Book Note: The Shakespeare Almanac / Shakespeare's Sonnets Registered on this Date in 1609

Doran, Gregory. The Shakespeare Almanac. London: Hutchinson, 2009.

Shakespeare Geek asked me if I'd ever seen this volume.  I hadn't, but I tracked down a copy through Inter-Library Loan. And then I bought myself a copy.

The book is a trip through the year with Shakespeare-related events, accomplishments, and trivia, and I've generally been pretty impressed and interested in what it has to say.

I'm providing the page for today below. I mainly know of 20 May as the date of the registration of Shakespeare's Sonnets . . . but Doran gives us a fair bit more than just that:

I've only spotted one error in the book so far (the page for April 23 says that Shakespeare was baptized on April 25—but it was really on April 26).

The book is very interesting and would make a good addition to the library of any Shakespeare aficionado. 

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Piñeiro's Hermia & Helena

Hermia & Helena. Dir. Matías Piñeiro. Perf. Agustina Muñoz, María Villar, Mati Diop.  Trapecio Cine, Ravenser Odd, and Cinema Conservancy. 26 May 2017 [US Theatrical Release]. 

I've heard a bit about this film from time to time, and it's about to have a US release. During the past few weeks, I've been paying more attention to Shakespeare in Spanish, so a film about a woman who is translating Midsummer Night's Dream is intriguing.

But that's not all that's intriguing!  From the plot and the trailer, it looks like quite a promising film.  The Film Stage has an entry on the film here. They offer this plot summary:
Camila (Agustina Muñoz, The Princess of France), a young Argentine theater director, travels from Buenos Aires to New York for an artist residency to work on a new Spanish translation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Upon her arrival, she quickly realizes that her work isn’t compensating for the loss of her friends and the lover she left behind. When she begins to receive a series of mysterious postcards from Danièle (Mati Diop, Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum), a former participant in the same residency, Camila second-guesses her artistic endeavors and begins to seek answers about her past. Hermia & Helena mingles actors from Matías Piñeiro’s Buenos Aires repertory with stalwarts of New York’s independent film scene (Keith Poulson, Dustin Guy Defa, Dan Sallitt). It is a film of dead ends and new beginnings, navigating amorous detours across hemispheres and languages, in which the words of Shakespeare clash with the entanglements of modern, digital life.
And here's the official trailer:

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fodor's Hamlet: Not Just Another Ghost Story

Hamlet. Dir. Alexander Fodor. Perf. Wilson Belchambers, Lydia Piechowiak (as Polonia), Alan Hanson, and Tallulah Sheffield. 2007. DVD. S’more Entertainment, Inc., 2009.

Whenever I give a final examination in Shakespeare and Film, I show the students a couple of clips that they have to analyze on the spot. It's a good assignment, giving them a chance to demonstrate both the vocabulary and the skills of analysis that they've been developing through the course.

It's always something we hadn't covered in class, and I always show them two clips and have them choose the one they feel they can write about best. I also always tell them that I don't want a review or a summary of the plot; instead, I want them to develop an essay that analyzes the decisions the director(s) and the actor(s) have made, not one that critiques their ability to carry it out.

This year, I showed them a clip from the Fodor Hamlet. It's not a Hamlet that I particularly like—I don't think it works that well overall. But the nunnery scene has a lot that the students can write about, including the interesting shift from Polonius, Ophelia's father, to Polonia, Ophelia's sister:


I'm wondering what direction the students who choose that clip will take their essays. Will they talk about how the power dynamic changes with the shift from Polonius to Polonia? Will they talk about the disorientation the film intends us to have—preventing us from knowing exactly how the observation of Hamlet and Ophelia works? Will they talk about the seagull / dolphin sounds and whether they appear to be diegetic or non-diegetic? I do hope they do something like that—rather than critiquing the acting and the film-making (which is, admittedly, bad—but which isn't meant to be the focus of their essays).

Links: The Film's Official Web Site.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

A Return to Slings & Arrows for a Thematic Overview of Macbeth

“Rarer Monsters.” By Susan Coyne and Bob Martin. Dir. Peter Wellington. Perf. Martha Burns, Paul Gross, Don McKellar, Mark McKinney, Oliver Dennis, Susan Coyne, Stephen Ouimette, Catherine Fitch, and Geraint Wyn Davies. Slings and Arrows. Season 2, episode 3. Movie Central: Canada. 11 July 2005. DVD. Acorn Media, 2006-2007.

In my Shakespeare and Film class this year, I had occasion (and time) to put together a set of clips from the Macbeth season of Slings & Arrows. It was partly diversionary (the show is such enormous fun), but the more pedagogically-sound purpose was that it provides a quick overview of some of the thematic concerns of Macbeth that directors, actors, and readers of the play need to consider.


Links: Episode List at IMDB.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Shakespeare in The [American] Office

"Free Family Portrait Studio." By B.J. Novak. Perf. Ed Helms and Catherine Tate. Dir. Greg Daniels. The Office. Season 8, episode 24. NBC. 10 May 2012. DVD. 

Ricky Gervais occasionally has a bit of fun with Shakespeare. Witness his "One Man Romeo and Juliet." Or look at his brief exchange about Tom Bosley as Lear. Alternately, you can ponder how he got Patrick Stewart to give us some Prospero.

None of that is strictly relevant to this post, since I'm talking about the American version of The Office, which starts off a bit like The Office Gervais brought to the BBC but then takes a different direction (for the most part).

As my Grandmother Jones used to say, I told you that to tell you this. I found a bit of Shakespeare in a late-season episode of The Office. Here, the Catherine Tate character is about to be called on the carpet by the Ed Helms character for the way she mistreated him when he was out of power. Now he's back in power, and he's about to enjoy the sweetness of revenge. Except his plans are altered. Note: The clip contains some NSFW language, depending on what you consider S where you W. It's bleeped out, but I thought you should be aware of it nonetheless.


Yes, Tate's character plays "the bard card," giving Portia's speech from the courtroom scene in Merchant of Venice to avoid the vengeance that she knows is coming.

I'll keep an eye out for any other Shakespeare in The [American] Office, but if you already know of some, let us know about it in the comments!

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Trevor Noah and Shakespeare

Trevor Noah: African American. Dir. Ryan Polito. Perf. Trevor Noah. DVD. Inception Media Group, 2013.

At the 2017 Shakespeare Association of America Convention in Atlanta, I was in a seminar called "Global Othello." My own paper was on Janet Suzman's production of Othello—the one made in South Africa under Apartheid (for which, q.v.).

On the plane on the way down, I decided to try the comedy stylings of Trevor Noah, whom I learned about on an NPR broadcast the previous week. Trevor Noah was born in South Africa in 1984; his mother was white, and his father was black. He writes about feeling illegal at a child in Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.

I knew there was a connection to South Africa, but I didn't expect an additional connection to Shakespeare.

In the DVD, Noah's routine is all about navigating being black in America. At one point, he starts talking about African-American language use—and he ends up with Shakespeare.  Here's that section.  Note: Some of the language here is NWFW, depending, of course, on where you W.


Trevor Noah and Shakespeare both seem to admire and employ interesting language use.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

More Shakespeare, Jack Benny, and Ronald Coleman

"Jack's Scrapbook." The Jack Benny Program. CBS. 16 January 1949. Radio.

A Shakespeare scholar on one of the LISTSERVs to which I subscribe brought up the issue of Ronald Coleman and his association with Shakespeare.

I couldn't resist calling the group's attention to the time Ronald Coleman and Jack Benny exchanged speeches from Othello on The Jack Benny Program (for which, q.v.).

And that reminded me of the time Ronald Colman did a Lucky Strike advertisement based on Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy.

I started with my memory of a line from the speech: ". . . or to smoke a Lucky and so to feel thine level best." I was slightly inaccurate in my memory, as you'll see.

I thought I could narrow down the era by figuring out when that Lucky Strike campaign began. With the help of a reference librarian, I learned that the campaign begin in 1949. In scholar's terms, that gave a terminus a quo. It was then a simple matter—well, actually, it did take some time—to track down the guest appearances of Ronald Coleman on The Jack Benny Program from 1949 on. And when I started up the first of them (from 16 January 1949), I knew I had the right one.

The premise of the show is that Jack and Ronald have switched roles; in this sequence, Ronald is dreaming that he is Jack Benny. I've provided the audio in the clip below (you can find the full show here (scroll down to find "Jack Benny Program 49-01-16 (678) Jack's Scrapbook.mp3")—and I recommend it as one of the best shows); the video comes from Derek Jacobi's Hamlet from the BBC Hamlet. Again, it's a bit surreal, but it's the easiest way for me to get an audio clip to you.


Transcribed, the speech is as follows (I haven't tried to break it into verse, but you may feel free to experiment along those lines):
To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to enjoy a Lucky and so to feel thy level best. To smoke—to puff—perchance to blow a smoke ring: ay, there's the thrill. Come, let me light thee. Art thou not round and firm and fully packed? Art thou not first again with friends, Romans, countrymen? Art thou not a noble creation, your praises tripping lightly from the nimble tongue of Speedy Riggs? Ay, Horatio: the tobacco's the thing that makes a Lucky fitting for a king.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Bit More Shakespeare in Pearls Before Swine

Pastis, Stephen. King of the Comics: A Pearls Before Swine Collection. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2015.

We've occasionally seen Pearls Before Swine dip into Shakespeare for comic effect.

We've seen pun-based takes on Hamlet's soliloquy and threats cobbled out of Julius Caesar.

We've had an encounter with difficult verse lines from Romeo and Juliet.

We've even had Shakespeare translated for modern audiences.

And now, in browsing through a book at the bookstore, we find two more connections between Shakespeare and the Pearls cast.

The first one is part of a series that . . . well, Stephen Pastis has thoughtfully provided a panel of context for it:

The second takes us back to Hamlet's soliloquy . . . with a bit of a twist.

The Shakespeare aficionado might say, like Isabella in Measure for Measure, "O, it is excellent / To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous / To use it like a giant" (107-09). But that might be gilding the lily.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Note: Fakespeare in the Park

Soria, Gabe. Fakespeare in the Park. New York?: Cartoon Network Books, 2016.

I'm pretty much utterly nonplussed about this volume. I have no sense of the context for it. Occasionally, people write me and ask if they can send me something Shakespeare-related, and I generally say, "Sure." That's how this came my way.

It's a work of juvenile fiction published by Cartoon Network Books. And it may have something to do with something called The Regular Show.

I've tried to gain some quick context, and I gather that there's a blue jay and a raccoon. They work for the park service, and they're not very good at their jobs.

As near as I can tell, this is not a novelization of an actual event on the show. If it were, it would provide the context more easily and be more accessible to the causal, mildly-interested bystander.

If you know the show and are a fan, you may find this quite amusing.  After a number of false starts and quirky setbacks, the characters are able to put on a play they call The Most Awsome Exploits of MacDeath, a Veteran Constable, and Juliet, his Squire. Here's a quick sample:

There you have it. If you know the show, you may like it; if you don't, you're likely to be nonplussed.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Book Note: Shylock is my Name

Jacobson, Howard. Shylock is my Name: William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Retold. London: Hogarth Shakespeare, 2016..

On the whole, I have not been terribly impressed with the Hogarth Shakespeare series. The Winter's Tale one (for which, q.v.) starting off very promising, but tried too hard. The Taming of the Shrew one (for which, q.v.) didn't seem to think that deeply about the play.

But Shlock is my Name was profound in its grappling with Shakespeare's play—while making it its own and inviting us to look back at Merchant of Venice.

It takes a while for everything to build, but we essentially have the story of Simon Strulovitch, whose daughter is running wild and who intends to marry a christian. His story is set in contemporary England (contemporary to us, that is, not to Shakespeare).

He meets Shylock in a graveyard. At first, Shylock seems to be contemporary to Strulovitch, but it becomes clearer and clearer that Shylock's story has been completed and the Strulovitch is echoing it. Shylock then stands as a guide to Strulovitch's experiences—and also as a touchstone for how Christians have treated / are treating Jews. Ambiguity over whether he is to be taken as real or as an emblem for Jewishness fills the novel's pages.

The novel's plot is cleverly woven together, and it leads to Strulovitch demanding that the man with whom his daughter has eloped / run away become circumcised (this becomes the modernization of the "pound of flesh"). When he can't be found, Strulovitch demands that D'Anton, the man's older mentor and friend, take his place.

I leave you to discover the rest on your own . . . except that I want to provide this novel's take on the "Quality of Mercy" speech. Here, it's given to Shylock. It's toward the end of the novel, and Shylock is asking Strulovitch to reconsider his demand for circumcision.  [Note: There is some coarse language here. So watch it.] 

The kinds of things this novel does are the things all the Hogarth Shakespeares ought to do.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Note: Shakespeare was a Computer Programmer

Holmes, Jeffrey. Shakespeare was a Computer Programmer. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: Brunswick Press, 1975.

And sometimes we run across items that are "even more bizarre and inexplicable," to quote Douglas Adams.

Shakespeare was a Computer Programmer is an extremely odd little book. I spotted it scroll by on the Folger Library Twitter Feed and thought I'd track down a copy myself to see what it's all about. I thought it was probably a book to help computer programmers understand Shakespeare or to help Shakespeareans understand computer programmers better.

Instead, I got something of a parody of the authorship debates. Our purported author—Professor ----------, according to Jeffrey Holmes—discovered a number of odd bits of old paper. To his astonishment, they lead him to the conclusion that the plays of Shakespeare were really written by "one Harry Ramsbottom, an illegitimate Yorkshireman, using technique not to be dreamed of until the advent, four hundred years later, of computer programming" (7).

As near as I can figure, the rest of the book imagines that specific words and phrases in Shakespeare were given codes that would make them interchangeable. With a list of intriguing and well-written words and phrases, each given a code, a play could be compiled much as computer code would be.

I'll give you pages 13 to 15 as an example:

And it goes on from there, giving examples of lines that could have appeared in one play but actually appeared in another.

There you are. It's odd, but I did read it, and I thought it needed a write-up.

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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