Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Note: Paint

Tiffany, Grace. Paint. Tempe: Bagwyn, 2013.

Grace Tiffany has written a number of historical / biographical novels about Shakespeare. Witness her Will: A Novel (for which, q.v.) and her Shakespeare had a Daughter (for which, q.v.).

In Paint, she takes on the mystery of the sonnets, telling the story of Emilia Lanier, the woman some people name as the Dark Lady of the Sonnets.

Frankly, I'm more interested in Shakespeare in Star Trek than in theories about the Dark Lady—though they do sometimes overlap (for which, q.v.). But this novel is well-written and fairly interesting.

I'll just give you a quick sample from the first third of the novel and let you decide if it's your cup of tea or not.

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Note: The Shakespeare Stories

Matthews, Andrew. The Shakespeare Stories. Illus. Tony Ross. Croydon: Orchard Books, 2015.

This delightful collection of sixteen Shakespeare plays retold for early readers has only recently come to my attention.

These are more than fabulous introductions to the plots of the plays. Each one has a brief essay at the end that opens up some of the questions raised by the play in question.

And they're illustrated by Tony Ross, who is deeply influenced by Quentin Blake (who illustrated many of the Roald Dahl books). I find the illustrations to fit the plots and their retellings perfectly.

Let me show you what I mean—and, just so you know, the books are available individually as well as in the box set pictured here, so if you just need the Hamlet, you can get it.

Speaking of Hamlet, here's The Shakespeare Stories' take on it:

Matthews, Andrew. Hamlet: A Shakespeare Story. Illus. Tony Ross. Croydon: Orchard Books, 2015.

I'm very fond of the Hamlet for its illustrations and its clarity of plot presentation, but it does reveal one critique I have of all the stories: it needs more Shakespeare! I know that they're designed for early readers, but Shakespeare has many passages that are clear and comprehensible, and working those in would provide a terrific foundation for kids reading the plays later. couldn't they work in "to be or not to be" in the section that provides Hamlet's POV during the big soliloquy?

But let me give you a substantial portion of this retelling of the play. Each retelling has a brief dramatis personae, so we'll start with that, and then we'll get Hamlet's most famous soliloquy and some interaction with Ophelia.

Matthews, Andrew. The Tempest: A Shakespeare Story. Illus. Tony Ross. Croydon: Orchard Books, 2015.

We can turn to The Tempest quickly—for two main reasons. First, I like the way Caliban is presented. He's a monster, but a sympathetic rather than a scary one. Second, the second spread below shows that the books do incorporate quotations from Shakespeare—but not as part of the retelling . . . just as interludes or epigraphs.

Matthews, Andrew. Twelfth Night: A Shakespeare Story. Illus. Tony Ross. Croydon: Orchard Books, 2015.

I wanted to provide a sample of the short essays as well, so here is the one for Twelfth Night, which I thought was just right for opening questions about the play—getting readers to start thinking about what they've just encountered in a retelling and preparing them for what they may encounter in a future, fuller version of the play.

All in all, these are highly recommended additions to family libraries, school libraries, and personal libraries. And they make fantastic gifts from Shakespearean aunts and uncles to potential Shakespearean nieces and nephews.

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

Bonus Image: All the Titles Included in the Box Set

Monday, May 7, 2018

Book Note: Queen Lear

Conley, Ellen Alexander. Queen Lear. N.p.: N.p. 2013.

It's another self-published Shakespeare novel!

This time, I'm not reading it all the way through. I read the opening, skimmed a bit, found it to be not too compelling and too full of easy profanities, and sent it back to the library.

But I'll also call your attention to it so you can either grab it (if it's your cup of tea) or avoid it (if it isn't).

Letty Lear is a real estate mogul who divides her empire between her three kids (and their kids). Then things become complicated, though the plot from there on doesn't closely follow Shakespeare's.

In any case, here are the first few pages—with some censored words.

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

Friday, May 4, 2018

Book Note: Peril at End House

Christie, Agatha. Peril at End House. New York: Bantam, 1988.

I'm sure Dame Agatha Christie was asked—far more often than she liked—where she got the ideas for her novels.

I think I can answer where she got one of the ideas in Peril at End House, a novel from the early 1930s.

Actually, it's Hercule Poirot's idea, but I imagine Dame Agatha had something to do with it.

I'll tell you the plot point and then provide the text to support it.

In the novel, several attempts have been made on the life of Mademoiselle Nick Buckley. After the last, Hercule Poirot has put her in a private hospital with strict instructions that she should see no one but him and Hastings and that she should eat no outside food. Unwisely, she eats a chocolate that she thought was sent by Poirot himself and becomes very—but not dangerously—ill.

That's when Poirot has the idea. See if you can figure out where he may have gotten the idea. It starts about halfway down page 142 below (click on the images to enlarge them):

Where could he have thought of such a thing?

I'll just provide you with a quick speech from Friar Francis in Much Ado About Nothing:
                                            Pause awhile,
And let my counsel sway you in this case.
Your daughter here the princes left for dead:
Let her awhile be secretly kept in,
And publish it that she is dead indeed. (IV.i.200-04)
Poirot's motives are a little different—he wants to smoke out the attempted murderer—but the plot is the same!

I'll let you read the novel to determine whether the end is more like Much Ado's or Romeo and Juliet's.

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
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Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Et tu, UNW?": Julius Caesar at the University of Northwestern

Julius Caesar. Dir. Dan McLaughlin. University of Northwestern Theatre. St. Paul. 26 April—5 March 2018.

We all remember the triumph of the delightfully Philostrate-heavy Midsummer Night's Dream (for which, q.v.). And we were delighted with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), especially its promotional material (for which, q.v.).

Now The University of Northwestern—St. Paul turns its battalion of magnificent thespians to tragedy in a production of Julius Caesar.

I haven't seen the show, but I've met with the director a few times, and I think the play will be redolent with interesting directorial decisions.

The show starts tonight. If you're anywhere in the Twin Cities area, grab your tickets and go!

Update: Here's an episode of the vlog for the show!

Links: Purchase Tickets Here.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Note: The People's Bard

Pellegrini, Nancy. The People's Bard: How China Made Shakespeare its Own. New York: Penguin, 2017.

I have time for just a quick few words on what turned out to be a very disappointing book—or pamphlet, really.

A book with the title The People's Bard: How China Made Shakespeare its Own should do what its title sets out to do. Instead, we are presented with a basic plot summary of Shakespeare in China. The introduction indicates that the book is for non-academics, but the book it largely rehashes, Alexander C. Y. Huang's Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange (for which, q.v.), is entirely accessible by the general reader even though it also has an immense weight of scholarship behind it.

The book also cycles through the same material multiple times. We think a subject has been covered, but it comes back again—but without additional depth or much in the way of alternate angles on the material.

Here are a couple sample pages. In the first, we glimpse a bit of Shakespeare under Mao:

That's interesting and good, but it's all covered by Huang in a much more satisfactory manner.

The second sample is better, providing some examples of modern productions of Shakespeare in China and pointing toward the reason for interest in Shakespeare in China—his complexity in characterization.

Again, that's good material, but Huang does it better, more thoroughly, with more analysis, and with the same level of readability.

Click below and to the left to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).
Better yet, click below and to the right to purchase Huang's book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Royal Shakespeare Company's Tempest

The Tempest. Dir. Gregory Doran. Perf. Alison Arnopp, Simon Russell Beale, and Jonathan Broadbent. 2017. DVD. Royal Shakespeare Company, 2017.

Gregory Doran has directed tons of interesting Shakespeare over decades. His 2017 Tempest pushes the limits of special effects on stage. Ariel was played by an actor, but the actor's moments were captured by video computer technology and projected onto curved screens that made Ariel appear to be floating above the stage. The technology also allowed the figure to be transformed in various ways. Here's a quick sample. Note how the actor is occasionally visible while the computerized simulacra floats above the sage.

The technology is impressive, but the acting and the overall vision of the play does not take a back seat to it. I'm particularly fond of the way they dealt with the meeting of Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban (though the non-Shakespearean asides are likely to annoy some viewers):

I first saw the film at the 2017 Shakespeare Association of America Convention. This year's convention brought a fascinating presentation about the production and about the possible future directions of Shakespeare on stage.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Shakespeare in The Royals?

“Stand and Unfold Yourself.” By Mark Schwahn. Perf. William Moseley, Alexandra Park, and Merritt Patterson. Dir. Mark Schwahn. The Royals. Season 1, episode 1. E! 15 March 2015. DVD. Lionsgate, 2016.  

How can I explain this one?

Once there was a book called Falling for Hamlet (for which, q.v.). It was not critically acclaimed.

And now there's an E! series called The Royals that is loosely based on that novel, which was loosely based on Hamlet. It, too, lacks critical acclaim. But it's made it into its fourth season. It's a pretty trashy soap opera with each episode given the title of a Hamlet quote.

We're in an imagined modern England among a set of younger, hipper royals than those they have now (with apologies to their gracious but less-hip current majesties). We have a character named Ophelia who becomes involved with Prince Liam, whose brother has just died. Prince Liam has a twin sister and a couple of cousins (who are there for comic relief and have a tiny Rosencrantz and Guildenstern vibe). The King and the Queen are both alive when the series starts, but, after only one episode, we can tell that the King's evil brother Cyrus will be causing trouble. The King is requesting Parliament to consider the dissolution of the monarchy, apparently because they're already so dissolute (see what I did there)? Ophelia's mother is dead, and her father (the palace's head of security) reads Ophelia the riot act about getting involved with the Prince.

Other than that, there's a lot more attention paid to the soap opera elements than to any Shakespearean elements.

Oh, but there is one Shakespeare quote—although it's from 2 Henry IV rather than from Hamlet.

Here's a quick sample that includes two scenes. The Queen is rude to Ophelia, who is able to return the rudeness with a bit of spin—a little bit of English on it. In the second scene, the character I take to be a rough Horatio analogue has a down-to-earth moment with the Prince:

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. (2 Henry IV, III.i.31)

For those of you keeping score, the Shakespeare quote is the same one Michael Jackson used in The Wiz (for which, q.v.).

Glancing through summaries of other episodes, I see only a little bit of Hamlet remaining—apart from the episodes' titles, each of which is a quote from Hamlet. So I don't think I'll be watching any further in the series. It's not my cup of English Breakfast.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Orson Welles' Macbeth: Accents in 1948 and 1950 Compared

Macbeth. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barner, and Alan Napier. 1950. Blu-ray. Olive Films, 2016.

The 1950 version of Orson Welles' Macbeth different from his 1948 version in a number of ways, but one of the main ways is in the accents.  The 1950 version overdubbed with accents that sounded significantly less Scottish than those in the 1949 version. Thanks to the recent release of the Olive Signature Blu-ray of the film, we can compare those accents.

I have taken the "Was the hope drunk" sequence and provided it in the three film clips below. The first provides the 1948 Scottish-accent versions. The second is the less-Scottish 1950 version. And the third provides the first section of the exchange with side-by-side speeches. In each case, the 1948 version will come first.

The 1948 Version.

The 1950 Version.

The Side-by-Side Comparison Version.

I find that fascinating. And I suppose the 1950 version is more commercially viable—or was in 1950. But it does lose something in the translation . . . or re-accentization.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the astonishing Blu-ray from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Monday, April 16, 2018

Orson Welles' 1950 Version of Macbeth

Macbeth. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barner, and Alan Napier. 1950. Blu-ray. Olive Films, 2016.

Orson Welles' Macbeth was filmed in 1947, released in a limited way in 1948, and re-released in 1950. The 1950 version was shorter, and the voices—which had a Scottish burr—had been overdubbed with accents that sounded significantly less Scottish. I'd only seen the 1948 version (for a bit of which, q.v.) before this year, when Olive released a Blu-ray of the film that includes both versions in full.

Imagine my surprise and amazement when I started the 1950 version—primarily to see how the accents changed—and heard an introduction that sets the stage for the film. Olivier's 1948 Hamlet did something of the sort (for which, q.v.), but largely with Shakespeare's text.

It may be that the Republic Studio in 1950 wanted Welles' film to do something like Olivier's Academy-Award winning Shakespeare film, or it may be that they wanted their audiences to be guided rather than confused by the direction of the film. In any case, here's the opening of the 1950 version of Welles Macbeth (with the text below):

Our story is laid in Scotland—Ancient Scotland—savage, half lost in the mist that hangs between recorded history and the time of legends.  The cross itself is newly arrived here.  Plotting against Christian law and order are the agents of chaos: priests of hell and magic, sorcerers, and witches.  Their tools are ambitious men.  This is the story of such a man and of his wife.  A brave soldier, he hears from witches a prophecy of future greatness and, on this cue, murders his way up to a tyrant's throne only to go down hated and in blood at the end of all.  Now, riding homeward from victorious battle in defense of his true king, here on the blasted heath, the witches hail him king.  Here the spell is laid upon him, and the story begins. 
That introduction could be reductionist—and, to a certain extent, it is—but it also has something of Welles' vision of the story and the way it unfolds. And that's a helpful way to frame the narrative.

In a future post, we'll take a listen to some of those accents. Stay tuned!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the astonishing Blu-ray from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Friday, April 13, 2018

King Lear with Puppets

King Lear. Dir. Conrad Bishop. Perf. Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller. Produced by The Independent Eye.  Premiered at the Eye Studio, Sebastopol, California 21-29 March 2015 and at The Emerald Tablet, San Francisco, 10-26 April 2015. DVD. The Independent Eye, n.d.

We've heard about The Tempest with puppets (for which, q.v.).

Now we also have King Lear with puppets.

I found the former more compelling—and perhaps that play is more conducive to being given the puppet treatment—but there's still something intriguing here.

Two actors, each handling multiple puppets, provide a streamlined version of the play. One of the puppeteers also plays Lear in his own person.

It's a little confusing to describe, so let's let the show speak for itself. Here's the end of Act II, scene iv:

It's an impressive undertaking, but I think the version of The Tempest is more successful.

Links: The Film at the Independent Eye.

Click below to purchase the film from the Independent Eye.

Purchase Link

Bonus Image: The Puppets Watch as Lear Exits into the Storm
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 2008-2020 (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