Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Have I been Duped into Watching the 1990 film Ghost as a Hamlet Derivative?

Ghost. Dir. Jerry Zucker. Perf. Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. 1990. DVD. 

Somewhere, at some point, I saw the 1990 movie Ghost—you know the one . . . Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg?—on a list of Hamlet derivatives.

"Really?" I thought.

But I put it on a list of films to get to, and I've recently managed to get to it.

And I'm not convinced.

Shakespeare Geek and I often argue about whether The Lion King counts as a Hamlet derivative or not. My basic answer falls back on the intentional fallacy. Whether the creators intended it to be related to Hamlet or not, it's evident that it's related to Hamlet (though the ways in which it's related are complicated and interesting).

I'm not entirely sure I can make that argument about Ghost. So many things just don't fit.

Spoiler warning.

So, yes, there will be spoilers ahead. But Ghost was one of the most popular films of 1990, so if you don't know the basic plot by now, you might just want to read on to learn it.

Sam (the Patrick Swayze character) and Molly (played by Demi Moore) are sweet on each other and hope to get married. They work together on some pottery in the film's most iconic scene. Same has found some strange incongruencies in the accounts at work. Carl finds out—and the's the guilty, embezzling party. So he hires someone to kill Sam. Sam stays around as a ghost, and figures out Carl's guilt. Carl starts to make the moves on a grief-stricken Molly. Using Oda Mae Brown (played by Whoopi Goldberg), a fake psychic who turns into a real psychic when she hears Sam's voice, Sam figures out a way to get revenge on Carl and to express his love for Molly.

To fit this in to the Hamlet narrative, we need to imagine that Sam is Hamlet and Hamlet, Sr., that Molly is Gertrude and Ophelia, and that Carl is Claudius.  And I suppose Oda Mae is Horatio or the ghost. There's something there, but it's not absolutely clear.

Here's one scene that resonates, even though there's no direct correspondence with Hamlet:


I think Hamlet, Sr. would have gotten a big kick out of being able to do something like that.

The only direct connection to Shakespeare is actually a reference to Macbeth—not actually to any plot element or any line, but to a production of Macbeth that Molly and Sam go to see:


Yes, Sam isn't particularly impressed by the production. Of course, that's before he became a ghost—perhaps his perspective on Shakespeare changes when he makes that change.

What are your thoughts? Have you been told this is a Hamlet derivative?  Does that make sense to you, or is it confusing to you like it is to me?

Links: The Film at IMDB.


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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Note: Life on the Mississippi

Twain, Mark. Life on the Mississippi. New York: Signet Classic, 1961.

Shakespeare crops up in both expected and unexpected places constantly.

I was recently listening to an audiobook of Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain's fascinating, semi-autobiographical of growing up on, learning to pilot on, and taking a tour of the Mississippi river. Somehow, I didn't note the Shakespeare in any of my previous trips up and down Life on the Mississippi.

Perhaps that's not so rare—there's not all that much there. But what there is makes me wonder if the possibility of a scene like The Duke and the Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn (for which, q.v.) is starting to develop in Twain's mind.

The section comes late in the book (in the edition cited above, it's on pages 287 and 288). Twain tells the story of an apprentice to the blacksmith in (most probably) Hannibal, Missouri. A couple English actors arrived in the town and eventually performed a fight scene from Richard III. That was it for the blacksmith's apprentice. He left the small town to travel to the big city to take up the profession of acting.

Sound familiar? In this case, we substitute Hannibal and St. Louis for Stratford and London . . . and the rest of the story differs as well.

But I'll let Mr. Twain tell you in his own inimitable words:


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Monday, February 26, 2018

Book Note: By the Pricking of my Thumbs

Christie, Agatha. By the Pricking of my Thumbs: A Tommy and Tuppence Mystery. New York: William Morrow, 2012.

If you ever feel like Alice and want to jump down a rabbit hole, start browsing and / or reading your way through this list of works that take their titles from Shakespeare quotes. The works may or may not have anything else to do with Shakespeare–they may simply be parasitical works that find a nifty title in a Shakespeare play.

Agatha Christie's By the Pricking of my Thumbs is along those lines—there's not much in the way of Shakespeare in it . . . and what there is is misquoted.

The novel starts Christie's Tommy and Tuppence—a pair she used for more adventure / spy / thriller types of mysteries. A little way in, Tuppence tries to explain why she thinks there's something odd happening at the nursing home. She says, "I don't quite know . . . .  It's like the fairy stories. By the pricking of my thumbs—Something evil this way comes" (55).

"Evil" is a fairly common substitution in that quote, but "wicked" is the word Shakespeare used. In this case, it's not a question of a difference between a quarto and the folio editions—no quarto of Macbeth exists. And Macbeth is not quite a fairy story.

All the same, let's let Dame Agatha put the misquoted line in the mouth of her character. And I'll give you the rest of the context of the quote as well.  Enjoy!


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Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Note: Hag-Seed

Atwood, Margaret. Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold. London: Hogarth Shakespeare 2016.

The Hogarth Shakespeare series has often been disappointing. But Hag-Seed does it just right.

Atwood gives us a "mirror novel"—a novel about a group of actors putting on a play. But it's more than that. She weaves a re-imagined Tempest plot into the production of The Tempest.

In the novel, Felix Phillips finds himself ousted from his position at the theatre where he has basically been king. He moves into something of an exile, taking on a new name and plotting his potential revenge.

Whether it's part of his revenge or not, he takes up a position directing Shakespeare plays at a nearby penitentiary.

I was able to check this out from my library in electronic form—let me use that to do something I haven't done before. It's something of a live-tweet encounter with the novel.

In this first section, Felix, in a wonderfully self-reflexive, self-aware way, starts to see his own story as the story of Prospero:


As one way to get his actors interested in the play, he asks them to find all the curses they can in The Tempest:


In the following scene, Felix contemplates the vengeance he wants to take on the person who ousted him and took his position at the theater:


Here, he defends Shakespeare--and why Shakespeare is valuable for everyone, not just some high-culture upper-crust group:


Here, too, the defense of Shakespeare takes center stage:


We also get his opening speech to his new group of actors, quoting a bit from The Tempest and summing up one answer to "Why do Shakespeare?":


As they rehears, the players decide to come up with a rap for Caliban. Here it is:




I am very impressed by Atwood's careful and intriguing use of The Tempest in her creation of this novel.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Note: Macbeth, Illustrated by Salvador Dali

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Illus. Salvador Dali. Garden City: Doubleday, 1946.

As you might expect, I have a fairly-large collection of Shakespeare books. I have large scholarly tomes and children's retellings, modern Shakespearean fiction and Shakespeare biographies, critical editions of the plays and books on Shakespeare films.

But I don't have much that would count as rare or valuable—except one book: The first edition of the Macbeth illustrated by Salvador Dali. It's not in great condition, and it doesn't have the slipcase that originally accompanied it, but I picked it up at a bargain rate, and perhaps it will appreciate in value.

If it doesn't, that's fine—that's not the point. The point is that I will grow in my appreciation of it.

I don't dip into it too often, but my eye fell on it (insert King Lear joke here) as I was glancing over my shelves, and I decided to glance through it and give it a write-up here.

The illustrations seem to me to be typical of Dali—they're odd and unexpected . . . and they seem to pop right off the page into the viewer's face. Here, for example, is the illustration of the line about Duncan's horses eating each other:



And here's an illustration that goes with Macbeth's visit to the Weïrd Sisters in Act IV:



The illustrations are wild, interesting, and disturbing. They do seem to fit the play pretty well.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Note: Nutshell

McEwan, Ian. Nutshell: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2016.

Whole handfuls of Hamlets have filled bookshelves and DVD racks around the world. There's even a collective noun for a bunch of Hamlets.

It's "a vengeance of Hamlets" for those of you keeping score (for which, q.v.).

Productions of and retellings of Hamlet fill every genre out there: tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.

There are male Hamlets and female Hamlets, truly insane Hamlets and cagey Hamlets, skeptical Hamlets and religious Hamlets, old Hamlets and young Hamlets.

Speaking of young Hamlets, Ian McEwan retells the story of Hamlet from a record-breakingly young Hamlet. His Hamlet has not yet been born—though he's very nearly ready to do so.

The epigraph for the book is, perhaps unsurprisingly, from Hamlet: "Oh, God—I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space" (II.ii.254-55). That's our narrator—bounded in the womb, he thinks and plans and schemes . . . but cannot act—or can he?

That's a clever device, but McEwan makes more of it than just a passing, fleeting idea. Our narrator overhears the plots his mother and uncle concoct—in this modern setting, juice of cursed hebenon in a vial has been replaced by antifreeze in a smoothie (and it's ingested rather than poured in the ear)—and contemplates the fate that awaits them all

I found it to be a compelling novel, providing an interesting reading of Hamlet's helplessness. Let me give you a sample of the narrator's voice. At the beginning of Chapter Nine, he imagines what he might say to his father (who's a published poet rather than a king)—and contemplates the fallen world:


I've done some preliminary searching to see if anyone has taken a stance on just which Shakespeare sonnet Hamlet alludes to, but I'm not finding anything definitive. It does sound like an awful lot of them, but I wonder if it's Sonnet 74 ("But be contented: when that fell arrest / Without all bail shall carry me away . . ."). If you have another suggestion, please leave a comment!

The novel may not become a mainstay of my modern Shakespearean fiction class, but it's important to know and pretty amusing.


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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 2008-2020 (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