Monday, December 28, 2009

Woody Allen Plays the Fool. No, Really. The Fool in King Lear.

King Lear. Dir. Jean-Luc Godard. Perf. Woody Allen, Jean-Luc Godard, Norman Mailer, Kate Mailer, Burgess Meredith, Molly Ringwald, and Peter Sellars. 1987. DVD. Lear Media, n.d.
When William Shaksper Junior the Fifth [sic] arrives on a post-Chernobyl apocopyptic beach house filled with strangeness, mafia-esque characters, and Molly Ringwald, audience expectations inevitably run high.

Actually, I suppose that I've exaggerated the inevitably of the height of the expectations. My expectations were fairly meager. I wanted to see Woody Allen as the Fool and to see Peter Sellers clowning it up a bit. I had to wade though almost the entire film before Woody Allen showed up, and I quickly learned that William Shaksper Junior the Fifth was played by Peter Sellars, not Peter Sellers.

The film is an Avant-garde derivative of King Lear, and it's not without its merits. The general idea is that the world has fallen apart, but William Shaksper Junior the Fifth is gathering bits and pieces of King Lear in an attempt to restore it—and, presumably, though it, the art, literature, and humanity of the ages.

With that as a premise (and with Jean-Luc Godard as a director), the play is necessarily fragmented. It wasn't an enjoyable film to watch, but the idea behind it is intriguing. I got the feeling of being T. S. Eliot's Fisher King, constantly hearing the line "These fragments I have shored against my ruins" (The Waste Land 431) running through my head.

That isn't to say that I did not also think "Why then Ile fit you" (The Waste Land 432) from time to time, exasperated at the way the idea was playing itself out and plotting my revenge.

Still, Woody Allen! The Fool! Sort of!

So that you don't have to roll up your cuffs and make your way through the opening hour or so, here's the big payoff:


Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from Lear Media.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Something about Margaret: Branagh's Solution in Much Ado about Nothing

Much Ado about Nothing. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton and Keanu Reeves. 1993. DVD. MGM, 2003.

Branagh's decisions about how to play Much Ado About Nothing's Margaret are, on the whole, objectionable. So is Michael Keaton's Dogberry, but that's another story. Leaving Margaret and Dogberry aside, the film is one of the best modern Shakespeare films available. What does Branagh do with Margaret's character that is so objectionable? And, having done that, does Branagh redeem his decisions in any way?

First, Branagh uses a visually-presented liaison between Borachio and Margaret as ocular proof for Claudio that Hero is unfaithful. In doing so, he deviates from the text. Borachio describes the encounter this way:
I have to-night wooed Margaret, the Lady Hero's gentlewoman, by the name of Hero: she leans me out at her mistress' chamber-window, bids me a thousand times good night . . . . (III.iii.145-48ff)
There's nothing in that account that looks like Branagh's presentation of the encounter. Bardfilm readers will know that I don't usually object to modernizations or to deviations from the text of a given Shakespeare play. Such deviations can be intensely interesting and entertaining, and they can bring different facets of the text to light. But this one goes too far in attempting to justify Claudio's later actions. The play's ending is more significant when Claudio is a bigger idiot. It gives Hero much more credit throughout the rest of the play when her actions are untempered by what might be more reasonable suspicions on Claudio's part.

We also wonder about Margaret more the more she looks blameworthy. Questions about Margaret's silence often occur to readers of the play and (slightly less often) to viewers of productions of the play. Margaret is one of the gentlewomen attending on Hero, and she is presumably around after the news of Claudio's behavior at the wedding gets out. Why doesn't she speak? Surely, she could say a quick "Erm . . . I was the one speaking out of the window that night" and set things right before they get out of hand.

In the text, Margaret doesn't re-enter until V.ii, after the news of Don John's plot has reached the ears of those most concerned in it. In Branagh's version, she's present at the wedding—and would, we might think, be more inclined to interrupt the proceedings. But in having her present, Branagh redeems (somewhat) his decisions about her character, developing some unexpected depths to Margaret as he does so.

During Claudio's accusations, the camera frequently cuts to Margaret to view her reactions (the image above is one such instance). She's perplexed and horrified, but she's not quite ready to speak out—perhaps out of guilt or shame or embarrassment or some combination of all of those. What she is ready to do is to go find Borachio and demand some explanations from him. At least, that's the impression I get as she looks around at the crowd and then dashes out, trying to get ahead of all the other exiting guests.

Had she been able to find Borachio, Margaret might have come back to make a report to Leonato. But (and here's the part that seems most realistically motivated) Borachio has been arrested by this time, and Margaret, unable to find him, can produce neither an explanation nor any proofs for her claim. That really is a convincing reason for her not to speak.

But we do lose something (a good deal, in fact) of the virtue of Margaret in having her so visually complicit in Don John's plot. Borachio's words about her behavior simply don't apply in the Branagh version. When Leonato declares his belief that Margaret "was pack'd in all this wrong, / Hired to it by your brother" (V.i.299-300), Borachio makes this reply:
No, by my soul, she was not,
Nor knew not what she did when she spoke to me,
But always hath been just and virtuous
In any thing that I do know by her. (V.i.300-03)
If that is so, Borachio is not a very keen observer (if the Branagh presentation is foremost in our minds). If we follow the text, Borachio's lines make more sense—though Margaret may still be considered somewhat culpable in allowing herself to be wooed under the name of Hero and for not speaking up as quickly as she might have done.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

A Moment of Silence in Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure. Dir. Desmond Davis. Perf. Kate Nelligan and Kenneth Colley. DVD. BBC / Time Life, 2001.
Silence punctuates many of the most important moments in Measure for Measure—and readers (as opposed to those who enact or view a production of the play) are apt to miss time.

One that is often unnoticed comes in the middle of Isabella's first appeal to Angelo:
No ceremony that to great ones ’longs,
Not the king’s crown, nor the deputed sword,
The marshal’s truncheon, nor the judge's robe,
Become them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does.
If he had been as you and you as he,
You would have slipt like him; but he, like you,
Would not have been so stern. (II.ii.59-66)
The silence comes in that empty space after “As mercy does.” There are six more potential beats in that line that simply are not there. It's quite a remarkable pause, and it indicates a shift in Isabella's approach—in addition to letting a cadence fall on all our ears as we contemplate mercy.

Another silence may come late in the play. In this instance, it's not based on the absence of beats in a line but on the absence of a response where we might reasonably expect one. The silence seems to occur immediately after the Duke asks (for the second time in the scene) for Isabella's hand in marriage.

To give you the full effect, I've taken the speech in question and divided it in true cliffhanger style. Here's Duke Vincentio’s proposal:


Does she accept him at this point? Does she reject him? What's going through her mind? Tune in next time . . .

The moment is fraught with possibilities. She may fling herself into his arms and kiss him passionately. She may turn her back on him and walk right off stage. She may even walk up to him and slap him in the face.

We're pretty clear on what she doesn't do. She doesn't utter a speech in which she explains her motives for accepting or denying his proposal.

With all those potentials hanging in the air, we can return to the BBC production to see what choice Kate Nelligan, Isabella, and Desmond Davis (the film's director) make:


Fair enough. That seems to be in line with the genre (in general) of the play. Plenty of marriages adorn the pages of Shakespearean comedy—why not one more?

But Isabella's response at least puts the possibility of an alternate ending into the play. But, of course—and (admit it) you knew this was coming—the rest is silence.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

New Clip of Meryl Streep in The Taming of the Shrew

Kiss me, Petruchio. Dir. Christopher Dixon. Perf. Meryl Streep and Raul Julia. 1981. Videocassette. Films, Inc., 1983.

Reading Act IV, scene iii of The Taming of the Shrew can be a tedious business. It consists mainly of Petruchio criticizing hats and gowns that are presented to Katherine. There are some humorous moments, but the main note it strikes—again, while reading the scene—is one of monotonous repetition.

That is what makes Christopher Dixon's direction of Meryl Streep and Raul Julia in the scene so impressive. In this production, the arguments about hats and gowns are mere background chatter—we're meant to be paying attention to Katherine and Petruchio all the while.

The scene, particularly as enacted by Meryl Streep and Raul Julia, becomes a key scene for the development of Katherine, of Petruchio (somewhat surprisingly), and of the two of them together. The way Katherine ponders Petruchio and Petruchio's actions becomes an essential element in the marriage of true minds that the play presents. This production marks IV.iii.155 ("Well, sir, in brief, the gown is not for me") as an enormous and consequential turing point:


Though Katherine has no line anywhere near IV.iii.155, her passing the gown to the tailor becomes one of the most significant actions in the play. Marvelous.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Note: Three other clips of this production are available on this blog: The First Clip, The Second Clip, and The Third Clip.
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where to Find Shakespeare Quartos On-Line

The Shakespeare Quartos Archive compares two copies of Q1 of Hamlet that are physically located roughly 5,431 miles apart.
A few small flurries of interest in The Shakespeare Quartos Archive have been fluttering around recently, and it is a magnificent endeavor. Currently, a very large number of Hamlet quartos are available for instantaneous comparison, with differences between the texts helpfully highlighted in the text display.

It's lovely, and it will become even more lovely as quartos from other plays are added.

I'm still very fond of The British Library's on-line quarto holdings, so don't leave them out of the picture!

At some point, I'd like to sit down and do a detailed analysis of the various quartos of Hamlet for myself. My starting point will be simply reading through Q1 of the play to see what we might make of it. Can anything, for example, be deduced about Hamlet's relationship to Ophelia by an examination of Q1 alone? Alas, that must wait until another day.
Links: The Shakespeare Quartos Archive. The British Library.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Black Death

Yersinia pestis.
These tiny creatures, spread by rats and carried by fleas, caused enormous, incalculable, horrendous devastation around the world. The Bubonic Plague arrived in England in 1348, and it's impossible to overstate its effects. And, no, that isn't hyperbole.

For example, in 1563, 17,000 Londoners died of the plague. That may not sound like too many, but it amounts to 24% of the entire population. I'm sorry, but one out of every four of you reading this blog wouldn't have made it through that year.

In 1593, as Shakespeare was just making a big splash in the London theatre scene, 14% of the population died. In 1603, plague deaths amounted to 23% of the London population.

And those are just the big years! Every year had some plague deaths, and the numbers frequently rose high enough for the authorities to close public gatherings in and around London—and that included the theatres.

It's already beyond belief that Shakespeare produced the number and quality of plays that he did. When the plague is considered, our credulity, already broken, is mashed up into infinitesimal pieces—fragments smaller than the bacterium pictured above. There's simply no way to put Shakespeare into perspective.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Book of William: MicroReview

Collins, Paul. The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009. Print.
As you shop for the Shakespearean on your list, don't neglect this book. It's a well-written, more-popular-than-scholarly account of the history of the First Folio. I tend to like to dwell in the footnotes—I read Shakespeare, for the most part, in the Arden editions, rich in scholarly footnotes. The Book of William isn't scholarly like that, but it still manages to satisfy my desire for scholarship even while it tells more of a narrative.

The book also reminded me of a number of things that I had forgotten—that, due to the 1666 fire of London, the third Folio is even rarer than the first (53), and what the relationships between Shakespeare's earliest editors (most notably, Rowe, Pope, Theobald, and Johnson) was (59ff), and how Shakespeare began to be published in extensive and cheap print runs (85-86).

If you're a Shakespeare lover, you can unobtrusively forward this URL to your friends and family—they'll know what to do from there!
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Don't be Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth

“How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth.” By Russell Bates and David Wise. Perf. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and George Takei. Dir. Bill Reed. Star Trek: The Animated Series. Season 2, episode 5. NBC. 5 October 1974. DVD. Paramount, 2006.
Let's avoid the sharpness of serpent's teeth all the time—but particularly on Thanksgiving.

As a reminder and an object lesson, here's a clip from Star Trek: The Animated Series! Animated Kirk begins the clip by saying "Just an old, lonely being who wanted to help others." That's not a direct reference to Lear—it's to some sort of ancient Aztec alien that they've just encountered. But it might actually be one way of reading his character.

In any case, the message is the same. We desire others to be thankful:


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And keep those serpent's teeth to yourselves!

Links: A Gateway to Star Trek Information at Wikipedia.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

David Tennant as Hamlet: Preview

Hamlet. Dir. Gregory Doran. Perf. David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Oliver Ford Davies, and Mariah Gale. 2009. BBC Broadcast Scheduled.
I keep reminding myself not to judge a film on a two-minute (nay, not so much, not two) video clip, but I'm afraid I'm not entirely encouraged by this preview of David Tennant as Hamlet.

It may just be that I had enormously high expectations for this production. It may be that I need to see the entire show before making a judgement. But it seems like Tennant is playing Hamlet as if Hamlet were Bertie Wooster intimidated by one of his aunts.

But that may, perhaps, be the point:

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ophelia in the Winter

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Judi Dench, Gérard Depardieu, Reece Dinsdale, Ken Dodd, Nicholas Farrell, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Ian McElhinney, Michael Maloney, Simon Russell Beale, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Ben Thom, and Robin Williams. 1996. DVD. Castle Rock, 2007.
I've been reviewing bits and pieces of the Branagh Hamlet with the theme of the winter setting in mind. Doing so has been instructive—I've forgotten so much about the four-hour-and-two-minute production (though I might not be too terribly blamed for so doing).

Branagh's production, like many others, gets around any flower-related problems (here, where Ophelia would get lilies in a frigid Denmarkian landscape) by having the flowers be imaginary. We don't need to imagine Horatio bringing hothouse flowers to her.

Ophelia does make her first appearance after her father's death in a straitjacket (see the image above), and she's treated with the intense inhumanity meted out to the non compos mentis of the film’s setting.

The question of her death that I asked earlier (who broke through the ice for her) is answered by two images. In those images, we are given to understand that it's cold—but not cold enough to freeze a river.

The most interesting thing about that isn't the change from the "brook" of Gertrude's speech (IV.vii.166) to the slowly-flowing river of the image. It's the fact that (completely uncharacteristically, especially for this film), the images come after the scene's end! Usually, Branagh cuts away during a speech like this to annotate it or to provide a flashback for his audience. Here, Gerturde's words are unadorned—at least until the end of the scene.

Ophelia: “Drown’d, drown’d” (IV.vii.84).

The slowly-moving river in which she drown'd, drown'd.

My next exploration may have to be Horatio—his role in this production (especially as it relates to Ophelia) is fascinating beyond measure.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Branagh's Attention to Fortinbras (A MicroPost)

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Judi Dench, Gérard Depardieu, Reece Dinsdale, Ken Dodd, Nicholas Farrell, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Ian McElhinney, Michael Maloney, Simon Russell Beale, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Ben Thom, and Robin Williams. 1996. DVD. Castle Rock, 2007.
Fortinbras is often completely cut from productions of Hamlet; Branagh gives him everything the text gives him—and sometimes a whole lot more.

If you haven't seen the last twenty minutes of Branagh's Hamlet, you need to. To get there, of course, you'll need to watch the previous 222 minutes, but most of them are delightful. The last twenty minutes might be called "The Revenge of Fortinbras." The image above is of Fortinbras pretending to be upset as he claims the throne of Denmark. He's saying this:
For me, with sorrow I embrace my fortune.
I have some rights, of memory in this kingdom,
Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me. (V.ii.388-90)
It's a tremendous moment, and we're not quite sure whether it bodes good or ill for Denmark. The fact that the English Ambassador slips quietly away during the not-quite-bloodless coup invites discussion of Fortinbras' expansionist policies and whether they will affect England herself. If Fortinbras annexes the Sudetenland, watch out!
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Micro-Comment on Macro-Hamlet: Branagh, King Hamlet, and the Serpent

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Judi Dench, Gérard Depardieu, Reece Dinsdale, Ken Dodd, Nicholas Farrell, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Ian McElhinney, Michael Maloney, Simon Russell Beale, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Ben Thom, and Robin Williams. 1996. DVD. Castle Rock, 2007.
Enough material about the Branagh Hamlet could be generated to make a month of posts. But, for today, we'll just have a brief comment on the winter setting.

Branagh cuts away very frequently in his Hamlet: he cuts to scenes that illuminate, explain, or annotate the speeches. One of these occurs when Hamlet's father's ghost is explaining the circumstances of his death.

In the explanatory sequence, we see Hamlet's father, looking remarkably like Father Christmas, dozing in his garden (see the image above). We're presented with that image while the Ghost speaks these lines:
’Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused. . . . (I.v.35-38)
In this version, it is even more rankly abused than elsewhere! Does anyone really believe that a snake made its way through all that snow to bite the King of Denmark? All the snakes in Denmark, I imagine, were in deep hibernation that winter. Either Claudius is a very good liar or the people of Denmark are far too credulous!

The setting is winter in the present of the film as well—it's not just in the flashbacks to King Hamlet's death—and that setting also makes us wonder where Ophelia gets the flowers later in the play—though this is such a wealthy court that they are doubtless delivered daily to Denmark. More importantly, it makes us wonder about Gertrude's account of Ophelia's drowning. Who chipped a hole in the ice for her to fall through?

I'll need to do some additional research into those aspects of the setting. But I'll just remark how fascinating it is that a shift in the setting of the play can have such far-reaching ramifications for its interpretation.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, Sons of Yorick

“Pilot.” By Kurt Sutter. Perf. Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone, Jr., and Kim Coates. Dir. Allen Coulter and Michael Dinner. Sons of Anarchy. Season 1, episode 1. FX. 3 September 2008. DVD. Twentieth Century Fox, 2009.
Sons of Anarchy is not my cup of tea (which expression decidedly shows that it's not my cup of tea), but I'm informed that it is something of a Shakespeare derivative.

Because I'm not particularly fond of violent biker shows, I haven't watched this—nor do I intend to. But feel free to do so yourselves. If you do, you may be able to confirm Wikipedia's current claim:
The family drama is loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet; indeed, star Ron Perlman has said, "I'm sure they’re going to stick to the structure of Hamlet all the way to the end" of the series. Clay is based on the role of King Claudius and Gemma as a Gertrude figure. Jax stands in for Prince Hamlet himself. Jax's reflective questioning of the SOA culture, brought on by the birth of his son, references Hamlet's melancholy over the death of the king. Additionally, Jax "communicates" with his dead father by way of his late father's unpublished journal/manuscript; Hamlet, of course, literally communicates with the ghost of his father. The drama and characterizations are also enhanced by drawing on Macbeth, another Shakespeare tragedy. Katey Sagal's Gertrude-like Gemma resembles Lady Macbeth because—while it is never entirely clear from Hamlet how complicit Queen Gertrude is in the murder of Hamlet's father—it is obvious that Gemma has willingly participated in the cover-up of the death and may even have encouraged Clay in his treachery. Creator Sutter has said of the Shakespeare element, "I don't want to overplay that but it's there. It was Jax's father who started the club, so he's the ghost in the action. You wonder what he would have made of the way it turned out. It's not a version of Hamlet but it's definitely influenced by it."

In the 9th episode of season 2, Clay makes a possible reference to Hamlet when he states "I'll handle the little prince", a reference to Jax. In the next episode, Jax is again referred to as "the prince", this time by Agent Stahl.
Let me know how that works out, will you?
Links: The Show at IMDB.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Hamlet-Related Poem by C. P. Cavafy

Cavafy, C. P. “King Claudius.” C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Ed. George Savidis. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. 183-86. Print.

You'll need the weekend to ponder this thrilling poem, which was written by C. P. Cavafy in 1899.

Some people have Cavafy presented to them. For me, he was a happy accident. I stumbled upon his "Ithaka," which is a remarkable poem, through a lengthy set of circumstances with which I won't trouble you. After reading several volumes with titles like "Selected Works"—and even the 1961 Complete Poems of Cavafy, which turned out to be another "Selected Works" volume—I found "King Claudius," one of his unpublished works, in a collection translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (which I've since found in a revised edition that makes several minor changes to the translation that improve it substantially). The poem is one of defamiliarization, looking at the story of Hamlet from an outsider's perspective:
King Claudius

My mind now moves to distant places.
I’m walking the streets of Elsinore,
through its squares, and I recall
the very sad story
of that unfortunate king
killed by his nephew
because of some fanciful suspicions.

In all the homes of the poor
he was mourned secretly
(they feared Fortinbras).
A quiet, gentle man,
a man who loved peace
(his country had suffered much
from the wars of his predecessor),
he behaved graciously toward everyone,
humble and great alike,
Never high-handed, he always sought advice
in the kingdom’s affairs
from serious, experienced people.

Just why his nephew killed him
was never precisely explained.
The prince suspected him of murder,
and the basis of his suspicion was this:
walking one night along an ancient battlement
he thought he saw a ghost
and he had a conversation with this ghost;
what he supposedly heard from the ghost
were certain accusations against the king.

It must have been a fit of fancy,
an optical illusion,
(the prince was nervous in the extreme;
while he was studying at Wittenberg
many of his fellow students thought him a maniac).

A few days later he went
to his mother’s room to discuss
certain family affairs. And suddenly,
while he was talking, he lost his self-control,
started shouting, screaming
that the ghost was there in front of him.
But his mother saw nothing at all.

And that same day, for no apparent reason,
he killed an old gentleman of the court.
Since the prince was due to sail for England
in a day or two,
the king hustled him off posthaste
in order to save him.
But the people were so outraged
by the monstrous murder
that rebels rose up
and tried to storm the palace gates,
led by the dead man’s son,
the noble lord Laertes
(a brave young man. also ambitious;
in the confusion, some of his friends called out:
“Long live King Laertes!”).

Later, once the kingdom had calmed down
and the king was lying in his grave,
killed by his nephew (the prince,
who never went to England
but escaped from the ship on his way there),
a certain Horatio came forward
and tried to exonerate the prince
by telling some stories of his own.
He said that the voyage to England
had been a secret plot, and orders
had been given to kill the prince there
(but this was never clearly ascertained).
He also spoke of poisoned wine,
wine poisoned by the king.
It’s true that Laertes spoke of this too.
But couldn’t he have been lying?
Couldn’t he have been mistaken?
And when did he say all this?
While dying of his wounds, his mind reeling,
his talk seemingly babble.
As for the poisoned weapons,
it was shown later that the poisoning
hadn’t been done by the king at all:
Laertes had done it by himself.
But Horatio, whenever pressed,
would produce even the ghost as a witness:
the ghost said this and that,
the ghost did this and that!

Because of all this, though hearing Horatio out,
most people in all conscience
pitied the good king,
who, with all these ghosts and fairy tales,
was unjustly killed and disposed of.

Yet Fortinbras, who profited from it all
and gained the throne so easily,
gave full attention and great weight
to every word Horatio said.
Among the marvels of this poem are lines 25 to 27 (each of which ends with the skeptical word “ghost”) and the re-appearance (re-apparition?) of the ghost in lines 39 and (like an old tale worn thin) in lines 81 to 83 and 97. The (possible) chronological discrepancy that has Polonius killed after Hamlet sees the ghost while he's confronting Gertrude is just the sort of thing that happens when events are re-told by outsiders. Polonius is boiled down to the “serious, experienced peeople” of line 19. Additionally intriguing is the fact that Ophelia is left out entirely! And the final quatrain—well, I'll leave you to ponder its meaning!

Derek Jacobi, a King Claudius you can believe in!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Watches Hamlet

“Hamlet.” By Joel Hodgson and Paul Chaplin. Perf. Kevin Murphy, Michael J. Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Bill Corbett, and Patrick Brantseg. Dir. Kevin Murphy. Mystery Science Theater 3000. Season 10, episode 9. Sci-Fi Channel. 27 June 1999. DVD. Rhino Theatrical, 2003.
The main reason I never mentioned this Hamlet-related pop-culture artifact is that it's extraordinarily difficulty to cite properly! The title of the episode is "Hamlet," but that's the title of the film that the episode screens (as well as the title of its main character). Should it be underlined? Should it be in quotation marks? Should it be underlined and in quotations marks? Aargh!

The secondary reason is that seeing the episode was a fairly-extensive letdown. I was never an enormous MST3K fan, but I enjoyed the late-night hilarity whenever it came my way. This episode (very late in the program's run) is disappointing.

Yet there are just a few brilliant gems:


The best of them is this line: "'To be or not to be' . . . the verbal equivalent of 'Da Da Da Dum!'"

The other difficult part to cite is the film within the film. It's an English-dubbed version of a 1961 German television broadcast (entitled Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark in German) that starred Maximilian Schell as Hamlet. The dubbing stars the voice of Ricardo Montalban as Claudius—and that is probably the best part of the film. The film itself doesn't seem to be available through normal channels in the United States.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

FoxTrot: Anthony and Cleopatra Sequence (Part Two)

Amend, Bill. The Return of the Lone Iguana: A FoxTrot Collection by Bill Amend. Kansas City: Andrews and McMell, 1996.
Paige's encounter with IV.xv is fabulously well-worded: Indeed, it flows like a poem:
Blah Blah Blah . . .
"I am dying,
—Egypt, dying" . . .
Blah Blah Blah . . .
"I dare not, dear" . . .
Blah Blah Blah . . .
They kiss?!
The character playing Anthony spends the entirety of that strip repeating "Act IV, scene xv."

He's even there in the background of the final panel of that strip, still making googly eyes!

The stage direction in question must appear in Paige's edition—whatever it is. It probably takes place after these lines: "Quicken with kissing: had my lips that power, / Thus would I wear them out" (IV.xv.39-40).

And now we can examine the remaining seven strips in the series.

Those strips are reprinted as part of this review of the book—a book so magnificent in its purport, so glorious in its wording, so generous in its art that the world would be empty and hollow without it.

Click on each strip below to enlarge it (if you feel it is necessary to do so):

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

FoxTrot: Anthony and Cleopatra Sequence (Part One)

Amend, Bill. The Return of the Lone Iguana: A FoxTrot Collection by Bill Amend. Kansas City: Andrews and McMell, 1996.
Somehow, writing a paper is more intimidating that performing a play.

At least, it seems that way when we consider Paige's emotions in FoxTrot's Anthony and Cleopatra Series.

In that series, which appears on page 74 to 79 of the book cited above, Paige auditions for the play.

To her dismay, she gets a role.

The role is the female lead.

The series is considerably longer than the one on Macbeth—it's twice as along and has a Sunday feature to go along with it, in fact!

Here are the first six strips. By the way, these are reprinted to accompany this review of the book. By the other way, the reivew of the book is that it is stunning. Scroll down to buy yourself a copy. And then buy one for every Shakespeare lover that you know!

Click on each strip below to enlarge it:

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

FoxTrot: Macbeth Sequence (Part Two)

Amend, Bill. Take us to your Mall: A FoxTrot Collection by Bill Amend. Kansas City: Andrews and McMell, 1995.
Ah, Andi.

Ah, Paige.

Ah, Macbeth.

We return to the FoxTrot series on Macbeth, picking up where we left off. In the very first strip, Paige's mother was thrilled that her daughter was reading the play, and she showed that emotion by ecstatically reciting the opening of the dagger speech.

The large picture above shows the daughter's reaction.

The continuation of the series shows the enormous sweeping panorama of emotion inspired by Shakespeare (and by having to write a paper on one of his plays).

Click on each strip below (reprinted here for the purposes of offering an overwhelmingly-positive review) to enlarge it:

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

FoxTrot: Macbeth Sequence (Part One)

Amend, Bill. Take us to your Mall: A FoxTrot Collection by Bill Amend. Kansas City: Andrews and McMell, 1995.
Shakespeare, in popular culture, is not limited to television shows and movies. He and his works often show up on the comics page.

Although the general topic is too large to be covered in a blog devoted (primarily) to Shakespeare and film, we can take a look at FoxTrot's use of Shakespeare.

Bill Amend frequently has his characters engage with the works of Shakespeare. Andi, the mother of the family, was an English major, and she's constantly thrilled and depressed at the ways in which her offspring deal with literature. Among the most memorable is the Macbeth series that appears on pages 43 and 44 of the work cited above.

These three strips (which are reprinted in the context of a review—and in the context of a very favorable review at that!) are the opening of a series that involves Paige's Macbeth assignment. And it's simply magnificent.

Click on each strip to enlarge it.

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More Shakespeare on Sesame Street

Sesame Street. 1969-present. [The number of seasons and episodes and the paucity of information about them makes more precise citation, I'm afraid, impracticably difficult.]
When I posted a link to Patrick Stewart's appearance on Sesame Street, I suspected that I had only scratched the surface. But I didn't realize how deep below the surface of the show Shakespeare runs until I read Mad Shakespeare's paean on the subject.

I'm undoubtedly indebted to them for pointing out the following clip, which seems inspired by the Weird Sisters:

But I'm even more stunned by this Monsterpiece Theatre episode (I never knew this existed), with its marvelous riff on Hamlet:


And, yes, that is Mel Gibson.

By the way, a Muppet Show episode (let's leave off the great Sesame Street v. Muppet Show debate for another time, shall we?) has Christopher Reeve doing something similar with Hamlet, Kermit, and the gang (I've been holding off on writing about it until the DVD of that season is officially released).

The good people of Mad Shakespeare don't mention "Omelet, Prince of Dinner" (for which, follow this link) but that may be because it isn't that good. They do mention "The Taming of the Shoe," which also isn't very good, so perhaps that hypothesis won't hold water. The "Taming" segment is mainly a title reference (even though there is—as you'd expect—an unruly shoe).

Finally, they mention the Monsterpiece Theatre segment entitled "Monsters of Venice." The sketch in general gets a little sketchy (by which I mean it becomes too dull too quickly), but there is one stupendous moment when Grover, spokesmonster for the Monsters of Venice (who feel marginalized because they have not been invited to the party), delivers a portion of the "If you prick us, do we not bleed" speech (III.i.64ff):


Note: I thought it best to give the scene in abbreviated form here. The notorious "pound of fur" scene doesn't really carry much weight.

Links: Sesame Street Episode Guide at IMDB.

Click below to purchase one of a thousand Sesame Street videos from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Shakespeare, Catullus, and Jesse James

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Dir. Andrew Dominik. Perf. Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Casey Affleck, and Brad Pitt. 2007. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2008.
Catullus. Catullus: The Complete Poems for American Readers. Trans. Reney Myers and Robert J. Ormsby. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1970.

The purpose of this post is to clarify a persistent misattribution. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford does contain a quotation from Shakespeare; however, it also contains a quotation from Catullus.

At one point in the film, one of the bandits quotes from Poem LXX by Catullus:
My love says she would marry only me,
And Jove himself could never make her care.
What women say to lovers, you'll agree,
One writes on running water or on air.
The Latin for this poem reads as follows:
Nulli se dicit mulier mea nubere malle
quam mihi, non si se Iuppiter ipse petat.
dicit: sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti,
in uento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.
A bit later in the film, another bandit quotes from Sonnet 62 (though you can only just make out the words):
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Here's a clip that contains both quotations:


Again, the main point is to give due credit where it is due. Shakespeare wrote "And for this sin there is no remedy, / It is so grounded inward in my heart"; Catullus wrote "What women say to lovers, you'll agree, / One writes on running water or on air." Thank you for the clarification.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Get Over It (Part Two)

Get over it. Dir. Tommy O’Haver. Perf. Kirsten Dunst, Ben Foster, Melissa Sagemiller, and Sisqó. 2001. DVD. Miramax, 2001.
Get Over It fits Kenneth S. Rothwell's "Mirror Movie" devision of Shakespeare Derivatives, but it might also fit the "Musicals, ballets, and operas" section. Not only are the high school students putting on A Midsummer Night's Dream, it's a musical version of the play!

The songs are amusing, but not terribly exciting. More interesting is the way the lives of the students are affected by the plot of the play—and how the plot of the play is then significantly altered by the alterations in the lives of the students.

The only reason the character playing Lysander tried out for the play at all is because he had broken up with the character playing Hermia, and he thought they would get back together (like Hermia and Lysander do at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream). But the character playing Helena falls for the character playing Lysander, and he starts to fall for her. The question then becomes whether Lysander should pair up with Helena, changing the ending of Shakespeare's play.

You might have thought that love alters not when it alteration finds—but that doesn't hold true in this film!

Caution: The clip below contains spoilers.


Please note that the film has a fair amount of obscene language (edited out in the clip above). Bardfilm recommends previewing before showing clips to your classes, your children, your aged parents, or people with heart conditions.

This just in: Lyrics for the songs from Get Over It quoted above, together with the text of Lysander's speech:
Opening (Did you Ever Read a Shakespeare Play?)

Did you ever read a Shakespeare play
And never understand a word they say?
Well, tonight we're gonna make things clear
’Cause Shakespeare’s dead . . .
but we’re all here!

William Shakespeare wrote a play
A long, long time ago
About this chick named Hermia
And the two guys who loved her so.
They said, “Hermia, please be my girl,”
But she only wanted one (she wanted one).
In the night the fairies came to play,
So tonight we have our fun.

’Cause I love him
And I love her
(If only her best friend he’d prefer).
And so the fairies all hatched a scheme
In this (boom-shacka-lacka-lacka)
Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Hermia (I’ll make you love me)

Why won’t you love me?
There’s a girl
Who says she don’t love me,
So that’s the girl
That I got to have.

I’ll tell you why:
She’s everything a girl ought to be
And that is why
I can’t understand
Why she don’t love me.

I’ll make you love me.
I’ll make you care.
Never before has a girl
Hurt me more
I’m begging—
Please love me!
Why won’t you love me?
Please love me!

Lysander’s Speech

My lord, I shall reply amazedly.
Half sleep, half waking . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I came with Hermia hither: our intent
Was to be gone from Athens [so] we might,
Without the peril of . . . Athenian law[, be wed]. (IV.i.146-47; 151-53, with alterations)
[From here on out, not from Shakespeare]
My lord, we slept and slept, as well you know.
Things did change as love did grow.
Although in ways fair Hermia’s soul and mine
Shall forever intertwine,
Alas, we must forever part,
For, lo, to another belongs this heart.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

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