Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Note: Juliet: A Novel

Fortier, Anne. Juliet: A Novel. New York: Ballantine Books, 2010.

I just finished listening to this novel. It's large and (at times) unwieldy, it's frustrating and silly, it's sentimental and unbelievable, and it's compelling enough that I really had to listen through to the end.

And, of course, it has Shakespeare. Once things get rolling (and they do take some time to get rolling), the novel contains two stories running in parallel. Our modern-day narrator learns that she is descended from the family from which the real Juliet—the one on whom all the stories (including Shakespeare's) are based—came. Moreover, a dying aunt has given her instructions to return to the city where Juliet's story took place: Siena, Italy. Once there, she embarks on a Da Vinci Code-esque adventure to discover lost treasure, the secret of her mother's death, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The story of the original Juliet and Romeo is told in tandem with the adventure story; it itself is another adventure story altogether.

Eventually, our narrator discovers that she's reliving the story of Romeo and Juliet (after a fashion), and she gets mixed up in a secret cult dedicated to Friar Lorenzo (Shakespeare Friar Lawrence), another secret organization that "makes the Mafia look like the Salvation Army," and a mysterious artist who seems to live beyond time—periodically quoting from Romeo and Juliet.

For a romance / adventure novel (which is not my preferred genre), it wasn't too bad—though I still don't understand the narrator, who is whiney and decisive and indecisive and passionate and cold whenever the plot seems to require her to be one of those things. All the same, I did need to keep reading to figure out what happens—if only to know just how angry to be with the protagonists.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fantastic Shakespeare Podcast Number Two: Chop Bard

Ziegler, Ehren. In Your Ear Shakespeare. Chop Bard. 2008-2013. Podcast.

The Chop Bard podcast has been around for years, which is an extreme joy to those (like me) discovering it for the first time now. There are well over a hundred episodes, many of them well over the hour mark.

And they're fascinating. The episodes walk through the plays, pointing out elements of interest and / or controversy as they do so.

I don't agree with everything Ehren Ziegler says, but he says it in an interesting, engaging way that (1) makes me want to keep listening more and (2) makes me want to sit down over a cup of coffee and present my own point of view.

Even if you don't have time to listen to a hundred hours of podcasting, subscribe now. The new series is on Henry V, and it's very enlightening.

Links: The Podcast at iTunes.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Shakespeare in The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music. Dir. Robert Wise. Perf. Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Peggy Wood, Anna Lee, Portia Nelson, Marni Nixon, and Evadne Baker. 1965. DVD. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2010.

With all the pleasant chatter about The Sound of Music, I thought it might be time to comment on the two allusions to King Lear cleverly worked in to the lyrics of two songs. Additionally, each allusion is repeated to underscore its intentional use of Shakespeare.

The first allusion is actually a quotation.  The quote comes in the song "How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria?" Of the three words proposed as apt synonyms for or definitions of "Maria," the first is "Flibbertigibbet."  Although it's possible that Rogers and Hammerstein got the word directly from Samuel Harsnett's A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603), my own scholarly opinion is that it derives directly from Edgar's speech in Act III of King Lear: "This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet" (III.iv.115). [Note: The third possible definition of "Maria"—"A clown"—may allude to Twelfth Night's Feste, but I won't press the point.]

The second allusion is to a speech Lear gives in Act I. When Cordelia seems reluctant to speak publicly about her love for her father, he says, "Nothing will come of nothing: speak again" (I.i.90). This finds its way into "Something Good" late in the film. It's been transmuted slightly into the line "Nothing comes of nothing," but the allusion is plain.

I've conflated these allusions into the following file. Ponder their significance:

video




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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fantastic Shakespeare Podcast Number One: Shakespeare’s Restless World

MacGregor, Neil. Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects. New York: Viking, 2012.

British Broadcasting Corporation. Shakespeare's Restless World. 2012. Podcast.

I've encountered a lot of Shakespeare podcasts, but this one knocks nearly all the rest into a cocked hat.  It's a careful, thoughtful, and marvelous examination of the material culture of Shakespeare's day, one item at a time.  The presentation is scholarly and fascinating, and it exceeds the exacting standards set by the BBC.

The transcripts, moreover, have been collected into a book that is a marvelous resource. Viking very kindly sent me a review copy (if they had waited a few days, I'll admit, I would have purchased a copy for myself). The book is incredible. It has an impressive number of relevant images. Indeed, my only critique of the book is that the photos aren't the glossy, coffee-table variety, which, admittedly, would be exceptionally expensive to print. Apart from that, I'm just stunned at the book and its contents. The images are astounding, and the book is copiously indexed and provides an exceptional scholarly apparatus to boot.

But wait! There's more! The BBC has also put together several video clips to accompany the presentation. Below, you will find video of a musical clock.



The podcast, the book, and the video clips all help immensely in giving the scholar or the interested Shakespeare aficionado a better feel for the world in which Shakespeare lived—and a better connection, thereby, to how Shakespeare works in the contemporary world.

Links: The Podcast.


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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Children's Book Version of Othello: If You Give Iago a Handkerchief

Jones, Keith. If You Give Iago a Handkerchief. Bardfilm. N.p., 3 November 2013. Web. 3 November 2013. Illus. by Mya, a.k.a. @GoodTickleBrain, Shakespearean Web Comic Artist.

I don't have the illustrative skills of—to choose an illustrator at random—Felicia Bond. But, thanks to the efforts of @GoodTickleBrain, I have an opening illustration! Nor am I an accomplished children's book author like—again, a random choice—Laura Joffe Numeroff.

But I do know the plot of Othello, so I've written a children's book version that is sure to please adults and kids alike. You'll just have to piece out my imperfections with your thoughts and imagine the illustrations (with the exception of the one provided above) for yourself.

If You Give Iago a Handkerchief

If you give Iago a handkerchief, he’s probably going to want to frame Desdemona with it. As he thinks about how to go about framing Desdemona, he’ll probably want to explain it with a soliloquy.

He’ll go on and on about making his fool his purse and bringing a monstrous birth to the world’s light. As he delivers his soliloquy, he’s going to get thirsty. He’ll want a drink. But he won’t want to drink alone. He’ll invite Cassio over.

Cassio will say that he has very poor and unhappy brains for drinking, but Iago won’t listen. He’ll keep calling, “Some wine, ho!” and making Cassio drink.

Cassio won’t be able to hold his liquor. He’ll start a fight and wake up the whole house.

When the house wakes up, Iago will pretend to be Cassio’s friend. He’ll listen as Cassio says, “Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial,” but he’ll be rejoicing inwardly at Cassio’s downfall. Cassio will be so sick that he’ll turn green.

Cassio’s turning green will make Iago think of jealousy, the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on. And that will remind Iago of his own desire to bring Othello down.

He’ll tell Othello that Desdemona isn’t faithful to him. He’ll make Othello so angry that he’ll want to put out the light and then put out the light.

When the light goes out, Iago will think that it’s time to get rid of any witnesses to his perfidy. But he’ll be too late. He’ll get involved in a huge scuffle over who killed who and why and who lied about what and why.

In the scuffle, he’ll get a bloody nose. And if he gets a bloody nose, he’s going to need a handkerchief. And if you give Iago a handkerchief, you just know he’s going to want to frame Desdemona with it.

Bonus Mouse.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Shakespeare-Related Poem: "Laurence Olivier's Hamlet" by David Oliveira

Oliveira, David. "Laurence Olivier's Hamlet." In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Ed. David Starkey and Paul J. Willis. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005. 121.

Last week was "Modern Poetry Inspired by Shakespeare" week at Bardfilm.

I was able to give you five of the best poems in the copious collection entitled In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare.

That should have been enough, but I really couldn't resist providing one more.

The poem is one of the only ones in the collection that focuses on Shakespeare and film. It's more of a prose poem than a poem in another form; as such, it's text-heavy, and I haven't had the time to type it up (not to mention the time to think about whether these specific line breaks are intentional or a mere accident of margin placement). I've accordingly uploaded an image of the poem. Click on it to enlarge it, and enjoy!


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Friday, November 29, 2013

Shakespeare-Related Poem: "When Everything is Goneril" by Lee Patton

Patton, Lee. "When Everything is Goneril." In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Ed. David Starkey and Paul J. Willis. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005. 87.

This is the fifth poem in our series of great poems related to Shakespeare written by modern authors.

The last poem was quite fun.

This one brings it down a bit.

Somehow, I feel a bit like a Poetry Deejay of sorts.

But let that be as it may be while I spin the latest wax 45 by Lee Patton.
Lee Patton

When Everything is Goneril

what wouldn’t you give for something Foolish,
for blazing double entendre and illuminating wit
as sharp as a servant’s truth? What wouldn’t you give
to weave a garland in your young daughter’s hair
and spend the whole day under the wide sky
in a field where wildflowers beckon, unpicked?
Then, tired, giddy, all you’d yearn for’s home.

But there stands Goneril: hospitality has claws,
duty’s barbaric with ancient grievances, and
she does, after all, hold the deed by birth, by law.
Though love is often declaimed, it’s really disowned,
houseless in this ungenerous land—send to wander
in bald lots, sent to sleep under cardboard punctured
for a glimpse of smudged and savage stars.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Shakespeare-Related Poem: "Shakespearean Sonnet" by R. S. Gwynn

Gwynn, R. S. "Shakespearean Sonnet." In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Ed. David Starkey and Paul J. Willis. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005. 24.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Please be sure to be more verbose about the things for which you're grateful than Don John in Much Ado About Nothing (for which, q.v.).

This is the fourth poem in our series of great poems related to Shakespeare written by modern authors.

And this one is great fun. It describes Shakespeare's plays in the style of television listing descriptions.
R. S. Gwynn

Shakespearean Sonnet

With a first line taken from the tv listings

A man is haunted by his father’s ghost.
Boy meets girl while feuding families fight.
A Scottish king is murdered by his host.
Two couples get lost on a summer night.
A hunchback murders all who block his way.
A ruler’s rivals plot against his life.
A fat man and a prince make rebels pay.
A noble Moor has doubts about his wife.
An English king decides to conquer France.
A duke learns that his best friend is a she.
A forest sets the scene for this romance.
An old man and his daughters disagree.
A Roman leader makes a big mistake.
A sexy queen is bitten by a snake.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Shakespeare-Related Poem: "My Students" by Ron Koertge

Koertge, Ron. "My Students." In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Ed. David Starkey and Paul J. Willis. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005. 25.

This is the third poem in our series of great poems related to Shakespeare written by modern authors.

Many of the poems in the collection reflect on specific plays or sonnets.

This one takes more of a biographical approach—but it's one that thinks about the narrator's students and their imagined idea of Shakespeare.

The ultimate joke may be that Shakespeare was involved not only in deep thought and the composition of magnificent poetry but also in the stuff that doesn't make you famous but that's mentioned in the poem below.
Ron Koertge

My Students

picture shakespeare just like the domed
bust in Senior English plus puffy pants
and sissy shoes.

They see him sitting in an open window
thinking deep thoughts while below
the Avon teems with life—coal and casks
of wine one way, barges of lowing cattle
the other.

And along the banks, young people kissing
with their mouths open, grappling with
the other’s odd clothes,

all the stuff that doesn’t make you famous
but that’s a lot more fun than poetry.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shakespeare-Related Poem: "Hamlet Meets Frankenstein" by Kevin Griffith

Griffith, Kevin. "Hamlet Meets Frankenstein." In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Ed. David Starkey and Paul J. Willis. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005. 126.

I've greatly enjoyed In a Fine Frenzy, the volume of modern poetry engaging in some way with Shakespeare, even though the Hamlet section has a huge number of poems about Ophelia and far fewer about any other aspect of the play.

The poem below is a remarkable poem that is not focused on Ophelia (though she makes an interesting appearance in the poem).

It starts off with a strange and humorous device, passes through a line about the "official seal" of Denmark (I'd love to see that line on a travel poster for the country, as a matter of fact), and ends with a profound consideration of the nature of tragedy.
Kevin Griffith

Hamlet Meets Frankenstein

For Frankenstein, of course, Hamlet’s central
problem is irrelevant. The monster
offs the king in the first act,
dispatches Polonius quickly with a twist
of the neck, and then terrorizes the kingdom
until he ascends to the throne,
a feared leader, making the phrase
“There’s something rotten in Denmark”
his badge of honor, an official seal.
Ophelia is fished from the river,
brought back to life with a bolt of lightning
and made his bride, a fitting queen.

Meanwhile, Hamlet is still sulking
at the grave site, skull in hand
and three dead kings to contend with,
one still very much in charge.
Remarkably, the play ends like all tragedies:
The dead watch over the living,

and the living wonder why it’s so hard to be alive.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Shakespeare-Related Poem: "Lines on Retirement, after Reading Lear" by David Wright

Wright, David. "Lines on Retirement, after Reading Lear." In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Ed. David Starkey and Paul J. Willis. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005. 94.

A few weeks ago, I was trying to track down a poem by David Wright. It was a darkly comical piece relating to retirement and reflecting on King Lear.

I found it relatively easily, though one blog claimed that he was both deaf and dead—dead since 1994 and deaf, presumably, before that. My latest conversation with him reveals him to be neither.

Possibly even more exciting than finding the poem was the epiphany of realizing that the poem was now in a collection of Shakespeare-related poems by modern poets. I was thrilled, and I ordered the book immediately. Readers may know that I taught a course called "Modern Shakespearean Fiction" and that I was looking for poems just like these.

This week, I'm highlighting the best poems from the collection, starting with the one that enabled me to find the others.
David Wright
Lines on Retirement, after Reading Lear
for Richard Pacholski
Avoid storms. And retirement parties.
You can’t trust the sweetnesses your friends will
offer, when they really want your office,
which they’ll redecorate. Beware the still
untested pension plan. Keep your keys. Ask
for more troops than you think you’ll need. Listen
more to fools and less to colleagues. Love your
youngest child the most, regardless. Back to
storms: dress warm, take a friend, don’t eat the grass,
don’t stand near tall trees, and keep the yelling
down—the winds won’t listen, and no one will
see you in the dark. It’s too hard to hear
you over all the thunder. But you’re not
Lear, except that we can’t stop you from what
you’ve planned to do. In the end, no one leaves
the stage in character—we never see
the feather, the mirror held to our lips.
So don’t wait for skies to crack with sun. Feel
the storm’s sweet sting invade you to the skin,
the strange, sore comforts of the wind. Embrace
your children’s ragged praise and that of friends.
Go ahead, take it off, take it all off.
Run naked into tempests. Weave flowers
into your hair. Bellow at cataracts.
If you dare, scream at the gods. Babble as
if you thought words could save. Drink rain like cold
beer. So much better than making theories.
We’d all come with you, laughing, if we could.

Links: Wright's poem at Poets.org. Wright's blog, which focuses on ekphrastic poetry.


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Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Note: Chasing Shakespeares

Smith, Sarah. Chasing Shakespeares. New York: Atria, 2003.

I just finished reading this very frustrating novel. The frustration arises in part because it deals with the authorship issue and in part because its plot is unsatisfactory; however, the main frustration is that this could have been a magnificent book but it falls spectacularly flat.

The three main characters are very interestingly drawn in the first fifty pages or so. Joe and Mary Cat are graduate students tasked with detailing the inventory of the imagined Kellogg Collection. The Collection is full of spurious and forged Shakespeareana. Indeed, it seems that it's nothing but forgeries. Mary Cat leaves to become a nun. Enter Posy Gould. She's meant to be the character who is endlessly attractive and alluring. The novel makes a big deal about the rumor that she has a tattoo of Queen Elizabeth I somewhere on her person (we never learn whether that's true or not).

All that is fine and quite interesting. And then Joe discovers a letter that he hopes with all his heart is another forgery. It's a letter from Shakespeare to Fulke Greville. It reads, in part (our graduate student has a fair amount of difficulty reading secretary hand, but he can make out this bit quite clearly), "Those that are given out as children of my brain are begot of his wit, I but honored with their fostering" (12; 35-36).

And that's where Posy stops talking like an interesting creation of the author. Instead, she starts to sound eerily like Charlton Ogburn, noted Oxfordian and author of The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Man and the Myth.

Much of the rest of the book reads like very dull Oxfordian propaganda. Joe doesn't know what to think, but he explores the question seriously, including listening to all the old redating-the-play arguments necessary to keep Oxford actively composing after his death (and subsequent decomposing) in 1604.

I won't give any spoilers as to whether the letter is proved authentic, proved to be a forgery, or left in limbo between the two, but I will say that I was disappointed at the way the plot runs from the middle of the book to its end. The characters are forced into plot elements that strike me as false.

Yet the book could have been great. I'll need to read other works by Sarah Smith; she seems capable of good writing, and a novel without an agenda might demonstrate that better than this does.

Links: The Author's Web Site.


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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Kolberg and Henry V

Kolberg. Dir. Veit Harlan and Wolfgang Liebeneiner. Perf. Heinrich George, Kristina Söderbaum, and Horst Caspar. 1945. DVD. International Historic Films, 2013.

This post will attempt to bring together several separate strands of thought into a more-or-less cohesive whole. Wish me luck.

The delightful novel Friedrich Harris: Shooting the Hero (for which, q.v.) mentions the German propaganda film Kolberg in conjunction with the Laurence Olivier production of Henry V from 1944.

I watched Kolberg recently, and, although I haven't had much time to think about it, I think someone—someone who is not so far behind in the grading as I am—should consider the similarites between the scene below and Olivier's grand scene of horses galloping together at the beginning of the Battle of Agincourt (for which, q.v.).

Before the battle begins, there's a rousing speech. Then the armies gallop together in truly budget-breaking form.

I wonder—had the Nazi high command seen Olivier's Henry V? Were they interested in reclaiming Shakespeare for Germany (for which, q.v.)? Who has a bit of time—a Master's Thesis in Shakespeare and Film, for example—to investigate the possibilities?

video

Links: The Film at IMDB.


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Thursday, October 31, 2013

SoxSpeare: A Sonnet on the World Series Victory of the Red Sox in 2013

Jones, Keith. "A Sonnet on the World Series Victory of the Red Sox in 2013." 31 October 2013.

The wager was made (for which, q.v.).

And now it's time to pay up.

I am very sad that the Cardinals did not win the World Series this year, but I must genuinely and sincerely acknowledge the true majesty of the Red Sox. They played astonishingly well.

At the end of the regular season, both teams were at the top of their divisions, tied with each other for the best win / loss percentage in baseball:  .599.  They were well-matched, and the World Series was filled with thrilling plays.

To honor my bet with Shakespeare Geek, I have written a sonnet in praise of the Red Sox.  Enjoy.

A Sonnet on the World Series Victory of the Red Sox in 2013

Wear red upon your feet with hoops of steel.
Eat beans and cod and things Bostonians like.
Beware the vast green monster in left field.
It mocks the very balls that do it strike.
The Cardinals cannot say you taunt or tease—
We cannot blame the outcome on a curse.
We fear the beard and batting of Ortiz.
Of two teams meeting, one must be the worse.
Two teams, alike in dignity, did meet;
The Red Sox are the better team this fall.
Impediments did not impede your feet:
Your fielding, hitting, running stunned us all.
I must reply, to all repeated queries,
“The mighty Red Sox won this year’s World Series.”

Note: This sonnet made its way into a news story by KSDK reporter Anne Allred about bets that St. Louisans have had to settle since the end of the World Series:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Silent King John Film

King John. Dir. Michael Merriam. Perf. John Glosser, Carolyn Bishop, Hugo Martin, Gabriel Kalomas, Tyler Heathman, and James Younis. 2013. Vimeo.

Shakespeare and Film aficionados often nerdily quiz people on what the very first Shakespeare film was. The answer is King John (for which, q.v.). And the qualifiers are (1) that it's just the deathbed scene, and (2) that it's about seventy-six seconds long.

That's one reason I was really fascinated to hear from Michael Merriam, the director of a new silent film version of King John—or, to be more specific, of its first scene. Aesthetically, it's enormously pleasing. And as a nostalgic connection to the first King John film ever made, it's peerless. Observe and enjoy:


Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou Reed (R.I.P.) Performs the Dagger Speech from Macbeth

Reed, Lou. "The Dagger Speech." Macbeth. Unknown origin. Unknown date.

I enjoy collecting versions of the Dagger Speech from Macbeth. That speech alone can reveal a great deal about the direction the rest of the production is pursuing (cf., for example, this post, one of a series addressing various dagger speeches).

I also enjoy The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed's foundational, inspirational Rock 'n' Roll band. Saddened to learn of his death yesterday, I mentioned it to Shakespeare Geek, who often knows odd celebrity Shakespeare connections.  He nearly instantly pointed me to this clip of Lou Reed reciting the Dagger Speech:


Flabbergasted is not too strong a term to describe how I felt on seeing that. I wanted to share it right away—even though the scholarly side wanted to wait until I knew more about where it came from. I'll try to track that information down; in the meantime, Candy Says that Stephanie Says that Lisa Says that Sweet Jane (Who Loves the Sun), Found a Reason that Lou Reed (and Sister Ray) are Beginning to See the Light—After Hours.  And That's the Story of my Life.  R.I.P., Lou Reed.

Note: Here's a second video file in case the file above vanishes:

video

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

This Friday's Film Night at the MacLaurin Institute: Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing. Dir. Joss Whedon. Perf. Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Emma Bates, and Tom Lenk. 2012. DVD. Lions Gate, 2013.

At 7:00 p.m. this Friday, October 25, 2013, the MacLaurin Institute will be screening Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing. Following the screening, I'll be leading a discussion on the film.

Come if you can. The film is redolent of a great deal of fruitful discussion (even if, as in the scene below, the acting is a bit uneven). For example, why did the director chose to place the first "war of wits" between Beatrice and Benedick in an inner courtyard with no one else observing their exchange?

video

I genuinely hope to see you there!

Links: The Film at IMDB.  More Information about the Screening.


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Monday, October 21, 2013

A Shakespearean Wager on the Globe . . . I mean World . . . Series

Author: To Be Determined. Title: To Be Determined. Date: 24 October 2013 at the earliest; 31 October 2013 at the latest.  

Update: The Wager is Paid Off.

Careful readers of Bardfilm will already know that its author is fanatical about The St. Louis Baseball Cardinals (cf., for example, this post comparing Merchant of Venice and the 2011 World Series).

Careful readers of Shakespeare Geek will know that its author hails from Boston and is rabidly in favor of the Red Sox.

And that brings us to the current wager between the two blogs. In the interest of making the Series just a little bit more interesting, we've agreed to the following: The supporter of the losing team will have to write an original sonnet in praise of the winner's team and post it on his blog.

I'm not searching particularly hard for words that rhyme with "beans," "wicked good," or "fake beard," but I'm eager to supply rhymes for "Yaddi," "Wacha," and "Arch."  When you're ready for them, Shakespeare Geek, just ask!

Bonus Material:  The First Stanza of a Sonnet Combining the Glories of the Two Teams.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the Sox.
The Cards wear red that makes her lip’s red thin.
If Sox be red, why then her socks are chalk.
If beards be wires, black wires grow on her chin.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Julius Caesar in (Naturally Enough) The Emperor's Club

The Emperor's Club. Dir. Michael Hoffman. Perf. Kevin Kline and Emile Hirsch. 2002. DVD. Universal Studios, 2003.

The school year is beginning again, and all the books and articles I've read and all the films I've seen have created a tremendous backlog.

One film that falls generally into the category of "teacher attempts to use Shakespeare to reach troubled students" is The Emperor's Club.  Despite Kevin Kline's masterful performance, the film fell somewhat flat. The clip below has subtitles, which indicates that I watched it at three times the speed—and it seemed a little long at that.

Nonetheless, there's an interesting exchange related to Julius Caesar in the film. I've excerpted an obscenity in the middle of this exchange, but it's a student's attempt to critique Brutus' role in the assassination of Caesar—not in arguing that he ought not to have participated but in claiming that he didn't go far enough. It's an argument that the text itself invites us to contemplate, and this student, however disinterested in Shakespeare, has hit on a good question.  Observe:

video

Links: The Film at IMDB.


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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Note: Shakespeare's Stationers

Straznicky, Marta, ed. Shakespeare's Stationers: Studies in Cultural Bibliography. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Forgive the brevity of this post. I'm realizing more and more clearly that, if I don't jot down just a few notes on even the most important texts that I encounter very soon after I encounter them, I shall never jot down anything about them at all.

This collection of articles about the book trade of Shakespeare's day is marvelous and meticulous. Not every article will appeal to all readers, but I'm confident that there's something here for everyone.

I've been most moved by Kirk Melnikoff's "Nicholas Ling's Republican Hamlet (1603)" (95-111). It's encouraged me to return to a project I set out to accomplish many years ago: to read through Q1 of Hamlet—straight through, without reference to other editions of the play at all—in a facsimile. When the British Library revealed its astonishing on-line access to quartos of Shakespeare plays, I printed out Q1 of Hamlet with every intention of reading it through right away. Melnikoff's article has renewed that desire.

The entire volume serves to place William Shakespeare even more firmly in his cultural and historical context.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Shakespeare in Arrested Development

“Bringing Up Buster.” By Mitchell Hurwitz and Richard Rosenstock. Perf. Justin Grant Wade, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, and David Cross. Dir. Joe Russo. Arrested Development. Season 1, episode 3. Fox. 16 November 2003. DVD. Twentieth-Century Fox, 2013.

A great amount of fluster and flurry surrounded the recent release of a new fourth season of Arrested Development. Having missed most of the episodes of the show when it originally aired and feeling reluctant to be left out, I started catching up. Not far in, I found some good Shakespeare.

The plot is complicated. Those who know the show probably already know what's going on; those who don't are advised to read the Wikipedia article on the episode for more details.

In short, the high school is putting on a production of Much Ado About Nothing; various members of the family try out for it for various reasons. The father of one (and the uncle of the other) takes over as the show's director in order to meddle. I've excerpted the key scenes in the clip below.

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Links: The Episode at Wikipedia.


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Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Note: Loving Will Shakespeare

Meyer, Carolyn. Loving Will Shakespeare. Orlando: Harcourt, 2006.

The story of Anne Hathaway's relationship with William Shakespeare is here transformed into a young adult novel. It begins with a letter from Will to Anne in 1611; he announces his intention to return to Stratford permanently. Anne, our narrator, then takes us back to the beginning of her life, traces it through to her falling for, sleeping with, and being wedded to William Shakespeare.

The book is on the sappy side of the spectrum, and I'm afraid I didn't overly enjoy its characterization of Anne, who seems to fall in love with, to attempt to elope with, or to become affianced to a new man in just about every other chapter.

Still, it's pretty strong on general historical accuracy (apart from its characterization). And it's a quick and easy read. If that's what you're looking for, you've found it.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Perfect Twelfth Night at the Great River Shakespeare Festival

Twelfth Night. Dir. Paul Mason Barnes. Perf. Corey Allen, Doug Scholz-Carlson, Christopher Gerson, Tarah Flanagan, Donny Repsher, John Maltese, Kyle Cotton, Gerrad Alex Taylor, Benjamin Boucvalt, Brian White, Stephanie Lambourn, Laura Jacobs, Chris Mixon, Michael Fitzpatrick, Jonathan Gillard Daly, Robert Montgomery, Jamie Dufault, Peter Eli Johnson, Katie Bowler, Eva Rose Scholz-Carlson, Carter Briggs, Anna Scholz-Carlson, and Bailey Bestul. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2013.

On Friday afternoon, I saw a rare thing indeed. I saw a perfect performance of Twelfth Night.

I've always admired the productions put on by the Great River Shakespeare Festival, but I was even more impressed than usual with Director Paul Barnes' Twelfth Night. The usual adjectives describing a Great River Shakespeare Festival performance—magnificent, marvelous, compelling, brilliant—are inadequate. Perfect is the only word.

Friday's performance redeemed the play for me. I've had a checkered past with Twelfth Night. My first encounter with Twelfth Night was on a grade school field trip. I was amazed at how much spit the actors produced, how funny my classmates thought that was (I was more interested than amused), and how much energy the actors expended while leaping about singing "Hold Thy Peace." In short, I enjoyed it very much.

And then Trevor Nunn's 1996 film version of the play came along. The film was so dark, dreary, and depressing that it put me entirely off the play. After that, I taught the play a few times in introductory literature classes, but without much interest and with very little passion.

In short, any production of Twelfth Night had a very long way to go to convince me of the humor, significance, and value of the play. The Great River Shakespeare Festival's production tore up all my doubts and left them in the dust by the side of the road a thousand miles away.

The production avoids every trap into which it could have fallen. Its melancholy parts are poignant and deep, but they do not tip the balance of the play into despondency. The humorous parts are hysterically funny, but they never descend into pointlessness. Malvolio's imprisonment is treated seriously but not with sadistic cruelty, and his response is measured, not casting a pall over the reconciliations at the end of the play.

Moreover, every single role was cast and played perfectly. Secondarily, the music was carefully and thoughtfully integrated into the play as a whole. Sixth and lastly, the set was beautifully constructed. Thirdly, the choreography—particularly of the scene in which Malvolio finds the letter—was brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed. And, to conclude, the Great River Shakespeare Festival has produced a perfect Twelfth Night.

I could go on for days about the magnificent details of this production, but I need to curb my enthusiasm and keep myself to mentioning just a few small points.

The production is set in Victorian England at Christmas time. The costumes are generally dark and somber, fitting the mourning and melancholy that are, in part, the play's concerns. That somber look is balanced by the music and revelry. The characters (particularly those affiliated with Sir Toby Belch) occasionally break into a rowdy wassail, perfectly complementing the play's more somber moments. The show also made incredible use of the folk song "The Water is Wide" throughout. It became a theme of separation and eventual reunion and reconciliation.

Jonathan Gillard Daly's Feste was simply superb. His singing voice and his acting are at the topmost level, but he casually and seemingly-effortlessly delivers Feste's witty lines and songs. They felt completely comfortable and sustaining. The music for Feste's songs was written for this production, and it was magnificent. Indeed, if I were absolutely forced to admit that this production had some flaw somewhere, I would very reluctantly say that having live music (as the Great River Shakespeare Festival did with its Comedy of Errors in 2010) rather than canned would give even greater flexibility and depth to the excellencies of the performance.

Daly's Feste is also one who knows much. When he exits in Act I, scene v, he gives Malvolio a prophetic glance as he says "the fool shall look to the madman" (I.v.137-38). He also starts saying "Sir" with great, incredulous emphasis during an early exchange with Viola-disguised-as-Cessario. This gave a great and pleasing wisdom to the fool.

I was completely floored by Christopher Gerson's Malvolio. He played the sour and demanding steward with empathy, bringing out his honest sense of duty to Olivia to balance his less-pleasing characteristics. And he played Malvolio's imagination—both before and after his discovery of the letter—so vividly that we saw his every thought. Peter Saccio, who has lectured on this scene and who will be speaking at the Great River Shakespeare Festival later this summer, will be immensely pleased at Gerson's rendition of the character.

Gerson also was able, in the scene where the letter instructs him to smile, to keep the audience in hysterical laughter for three full minutes without saying a word. The experience was unparalleled—although we laughed nearly as much when he re-entered in yellow stockings (and a costume likewise vibrant with yellow). The dark and somber costuming and set design would be worth it if it only served as a contrast to Malvolio's yellow outfit.

Sir Toby Belch (Michael Fitzpatrick) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Chris Mixon) formed an astonishing pair, particularly when joined by Fabian (Brian White) and Maria (Laura Jacobs). Their comic timing could not have been better. Especially (but not exclusively) in the trickery scene, they hit the laugh lines and actions absolutely right—particularly when Fitzpatrick, Mixon, and White had to disguise themselves suddenly as a nativity scene under the Christmas tree behind which they had been hiding. Genius.

Tarah Flanagan's Viola was moving and funny and touching and remarkable. She was able to convey the bifurcated nature of her position—wishing to serve Orsino in his wooing of Olivia while desiring his love for herself—in a deeply sympathetic way. She was also able to banter with Feste, critique (and compliment) Olivia, and react to the news that her brother was still alive in extraordinarily complex ways. Flanagan's versatility as an actor was able to bring out the versatility in the character in astounding ways.

Too many other marvelous things happened in this performance to list, let alone to detail. I wish I could say more about the role of The Caroler (played by Doug Scholz-Carlson), who, Chorus-like, introduced us to the background of the play and served a something of a foil to Feste; the distribution of Christmas ornaments during the curtain call—and Malvolio's reception of only a lump of coal; the slapstick surrounding the fight between Viola and Sir Andrew; the decisions Paul Barnes made as director; and the power Corey Allen brought to the role of Orsino. Instead, I must on your imaginary forces work to fill that in—or, better yet, you can see the show yourself.

I do admonish each of you to get to the Great River Shakespeare Festival this year to see a perfect Twelfth Night.

Bonus Image: The Fool and King Lear from the Great River Shakespeare Festival's 2012 season.

Links: The Great River Shakespeare Festival.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Note: William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

Doescher, Ian. William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2013.

I have nothing against Novelty Shakespeare—not even when it's connected to Star Wars. Indeed, I think I was the first person to give the world these gimmicky gems:
A Tauntaun! A Tauntaun! The Third Moon of the Ice Planet Hoth for a Tauntaun!

Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Obi-wan. Pah! And I thought he smelled bad on the outside!
Act III, scene ii. Another part of the heath. Stormtroopers still.

Jedi have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them—but they always come back as shiny, shiny ghosts.
You don't need to see his identification. We don't need to see his identification. The Earl of Oxford is not the poet you're looking for. The Earl of Oxford is not the poet we're looking for. He can go about his scholarship without distractions about the authorship issue. You can go about your scholarship without distractions about the authorship issue. Move Along. Move along.

Luke, I am thy father's spirit, doomed for a certain term to walk the night.
Note: For others, see this post on Shakespeare Geek's blog.

Naturally, then, I was curious when I heard about a retelling of the plot of Star Wars: A New Hope entirely in iambic pentameter, and I was grateful when they sent me a copy. And the author of the book has clearly put a lot of thoughtful time into its creation. But, in all honesty, the book begin to pall pretty quickly. Good, strong lines lines like these (something of a silolquy by Darth Vader) . . .
And so another dies by my own hand,
This hand, which now encas’d in blackness is.
O that the fingers of this wretched hand
Had not the pain of suff’ring ever known.
But now my path is join’d unto the dark,
And wicked men—whose hands and fingers move
To crush their foes—are now my company.
So shall my fingers ever undertake
To do more evil, aye, and this—my hand—
Shall do the Emp’ror’s bidding ever more.
And thus we see how fingers presage death
And hands become the instruments of Fate. (I.ii.27-38)
. . . are offset by lines that are a bit too tedious:
LUKE: It seemeth that the Sand People have done
This wretched deed—yon gaffi sticks and tracks
Of bantha, aye. But ne’er in all my years
Have Tuskens gone awry so far as this.

OBI-WAN: And they have not, though they who this vile deed
Have done, would make us think Sand People did.
But hark! Take note, and look ye thereupon:
Yon tracks are side by side, yet Sand People,
’Tis known, e’er one behind the other ride,
So better may they hide their numbers large. (II.iv.1-10)
On the other hand, the publisher has put together this amusing trailer for the book:



The book is excellent in the genre of Novelty Shakespeare and will make a lovely gift for the Star Wars and / or Shakespeare fans in your life, but I'm not certain it will bear multiple readings.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Horatio in Star Trek

“Conspiracy.” By Tracy Tormé and Robert Sabaroff. Perf. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Denise Crosby, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, and Wil Wheaton. Dir. Cliff Bole. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Season 1, episode 25. Syndicated television. 9 May 1988. DVD. Paramount, 2002.

Every time I think my Shakespeare and Star Trek Complete post is complete, I find just one more reference to Shakespeare.

Near the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season, the captain of the USS Enterprise has a secret meeting with the captains of three other starships. One of those ships is named the USS Horatio.

Some may think that the starship is named for Horatio Nelson, but I think it more likely to have been named after the character in Hamlet. Watch the salient points in the clip below and see if you don't agree:

video
Alas, poor Horatio.

The Horatio is an ambassador-class vessel. In Hamlet, Horatio's involvement with the new reign of Fortinbras at the end of the play makes him a de facto ambassador. The Horatio is associated with a large amount of wreckage. In Hamlet, Horatio is associated with all those dead bodies lying around the stage. It's pretty clear that the ship is named after the character in Hamlet, making this one more Shakespeare allusion in Star Trek.

Note: For more connections between Hamlet and Star Trek, try The Noble Heart of Star Trek, a recent project by a student at The George Washington University. 

Links: Shakespeare and Star Trek CompleteThe Noble Heart of Star Trek.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

See the First U.S. Preview Screening of Muse of Fire at the Great River Shakespeare Festival

Muse of Fire. Dir. Dan Poole and Giles Terera. Perf. Dan Poole, Giles Terera,  Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, John Hurt, Ben Kingsley, Michael Gambon, Zoë Wanamaker, Jeremy Irons, and Simon Russell Beale. Muse of Fire Film, Timebomb Pictures, Lion Television, 2013. Screening at the Great River Shakespeare Festival on 6 July 2013 at 10:30 a.m.

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

The Great River Shakespeare Festival offers some of the best Shakespeare productions in the midwest. This year, the Festival presents Twelfth Night and Henry V, and that's thrilling enough.

But, in conjunction with Winona’s Frozen River Film Festival, they are also offering a preview screening, for the first time in the United States, the documentary Muse of Fire, an innovative film in which two actors set out on a quest to find out more about Shakespeare. And they seem to have interviewed everyone from Dame Judi Dench to Sir Ian McKellen—and even people who don't have OBEs—in their effort to do so.

The preview screening will be on July 6, 2013, at 10:30 a.m.

I could say more, but let me allow the actors and directors to make the case themselves for coming to the preview screening at The Great River Shakespeare Festival:

video

If that doesn't sway you, take a look at the trailer for the film. It's brilliant:


And if that doesn't move you, let me tell you this: I, Bardfilm, will be there in person to lead a discussion after the screening.

All right. If even that doesn't move you, perhaps this picture of Sir Ian Mckellen during the making of the film will be the final encouragement that will enable you to come see the film:


I hope to see you there!

Links: The Official Site for Muse of Fire. The Film at IMDB. The Great River Shakespeare Festival.

The Illustrations of Wallace Tripp and my Earliest Memories of Shakespeare

Tripp, Wallace, comp. and illus. A Great Big Ugly Man Came up and Tied his Horse to Me: A Book of Nonsense Verse. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973.

Tripp, Wallace, comp. and illus. Granfa' Grig had a Pig and Other Rhymes without Reason. Boston: Little, Brown, 1976.

Tripp, Wallace, comp. and illus. Marguerite, Go Wash Your Feet. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

I'm often asked when I first came to Shakespeare. A better question is probably when Shakespeare first came to me.

Either way, it's a difficult question to answer. I have a few stories about youthful experiences with a book, a stage production, or a film, but none of them is a clear first.

The image above, a detail from the image below, may come closest to being the first place I remember encountering Shakespeare. When I was young, I used to pour over two books by the unbelievably amazing illustrator Wallace Tripp. In them, he compiled nursery rhymes, famous sayings, and pieces of poetry and provided meticulous and marvelous illustrations for them. His illustrations are dense, funny, thoughtful, and detailed, and they reward repeated study—much like the works of William Shakespeare!

The image below (from A Great Big Ugly Man Came up and Tied his Horse to Me) is a giant two-page spread of an elephant in Renaissance dress causing London Bridge to crumble. To the far left, a horse is jumping clear of the destruction; its rider, having been thrown from the saddle, is falling after it, crying "My kingdom for a horse!" I don't know quite when I learned that those words came from Shakespeare, but I do recall the immense enjoyment the line gave me.

Note, too, the Fishmonger's shop behind the falling figure (is Polonius within?) and the bill reading "Now Playing Globe Theatre—Historie of Henry ye Fourth"

Tripp's details intrigued me and sparked my imagination. I'm not absolutely certain that his illustration of the proverbial "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost" is intended to depict Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth, but I connected it in my young mind with the cry of "My kingdom for a horse" from the earlier illustration. I also used to spend hours squinting at this drawing, trying to find the nail that all those soldier had missed. Note: The nail is in the image below—can you spot it?

From A Great Big Ugly Man Came up and Tied his Horse to Me.

Tripp's Granfa' Grig had a Pig has only one quote from Shakespeare that I could find, but it's a very useful one to have in your word-hoard:

A Snide Side Remark from King Lear.

I wasn't aware of Tripp's Marguerite, Go Wash Your Feet until many years after it was published, but I wish I had been. In it, the Shakespeare is more direct and more abundant (and the side remarks by other characters more humorous):

A Quote from Macbeth and a Complaint about a Carrot Omelet.

William Shakespeare, the Ordinary Human Being

A Quote from Hamlet as a Horologist's Lament

Prospero's Abjuration of his Magic
(And a Flippant Comment from a Rabbit)

And that is the last image in Marguerite, Go Wash Your Feet. I gather that Wallace Tripp has retired from illustrating. I wish to thank him for the hours, days, and years of pleasure his work has given the world. Thank you, Wallace Tripp!

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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