Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Book Note: Arden of Faversham

Arden of Faversham
. Ed. Martin White. The New Mermaids. London: A & C Black, 1982.
Arden of Faversham. Ed. Catherine Richardson. Arden Early Modern Drama. London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2022.

Arden of Faversham is the True Crime Drama of the English Renaissance. Based on the story in Holinshed's Chronicles (supplemented by various ballads, stories, and tales), we learn how Alice Arden and her lover Mosby (and some hired murderers and other interested parties) Murder Thomas Arden, Alice's husband. 

The play is fascinating in the way it deals with the plotting of the crime and its eventual fruition. Many failed attempts are made on Arden's life, including those by the comic hit men Black Will and Shakebag. 

I read the play a few times when I was in graduate school, but I hadn't revisited it for years. But then the Arden Shakespeare put out a new edition, and I couldn't resist.

"But hold on a second," I hear you cry. "Who wrote this play? If the Arden Shakespeare has produced an edition, does that mean . . . . Could it be that . . . . You don't think . . . ."

Well, yes, part of the interest in the has to do with its authorship, and there are those who think Shakespeare had a hand in it. It seemly likely to be a collaborative play (whether Shakespeare wrote any of it or not), and it was written between 1587 and 1591, which would place it very early in Shakespeare's career.

One of the points of interest in my current encounter with the play is the way its authorship is addressed in the two scholarly editions I have. The 1982 New Mermaids edition mentions the possibility but doesn't take a strong position on the issue:

The Arden Early Modern Drama edition spends a lot more time on whether Shakespeare should be considered one of the authors of Arden of Faversham. It comes short of saying anything with any certainty, but it strikes me as presenting a rosier picture of Shakespeare's participation in the play's composition than the New Mermaids edition did:

You now, no doubt, want to know my take. In re-reading this after many decades of reading Shakespeare left and right, I thought I would surely be able to know for myself—not with the certainty of proof but with the sense of instinct—whether Shakespeare wrote any part of the play or not.

But I don't get a sense one way or the other. I spotted several passages that struck me as Shakespeare-like, but none of them is so quintessentially Shakespeare that it couldn't have been written by another dramatist.  And none of the ones I spotted was in Scene 8, often said to be the most likely part for Shakespeare to have written.

The first passage that seemed Shakespearean to me comes from Scene three. The servant Michael, who has been suborned to leave Arden's house unlocked so that the hired murderers can get in and do their job, says this:

To me, that sounds a lot like Macbeth saying 

                    He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. (I.vii.12–16)

The next one I spotted is from Scene six. Here, Arden is relating a troubling dream to his friend Franklin: 

Perhaps when can think of Clarence's dream in Richard III. He says "I, trembling, wak'd, and for a season after / Could not believe but that I was in hell, / Such terrible impression made my dream" (I.iv.61–63).

Finally, in Scene 14, we have a weak possibility of a Lady Macbeth–like connection to blood that can't be washed away:

That's not much to go on, clearly. But it's nice to think that Shakespeare's authorship isn't utterly ruled out by my experience.

Finally, the drama is great. After Arden's murder, various characters start to put together clues—somewhat à la an Agatha Christy mystery with Ardens steadfast friend Franklin serving as de facto detective. In terms of the "True Crime" genre, that section is fascinating and worth providing in full:

It lovely how we get the footprints, the blood stains, the murder weapon, and the stolen items all revealed and pointing toward the guilty parties.

I was very glad to revisit Arden of Faversham, and I'd highly recommend reading it yourself in the new Ardent Early Modern Drama edition.

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Friday, December 1, 2023

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Death by Field Trip

Amend, Bill. Death by Field Trip. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2001.

Moving forward one volume in our search for all the Shakespeare in FoxTrot, we come to Death by Field Trip.

Like all FoxTrot books, it's great fun.

But it is a little lacking in the Shakespeare.

We do have one solid comic about Peter and his thoughts about studying Hamlet—particularly on such a lovely day:

And I'll admit I'm stretching a bit with this next comic. Shakespeare isn't mentioned—just the generic term "poem." But I prefer to imagine that they're all Shakespeare sonnets, which neither detracts from nor adds to the joke: 

I'm afraid that's it—but we'll try another volume next week.

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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Twelfth Night in Annika

“Episode #6.1.” By Nick Walker. Perf. Nicola Walker, Jamie Sives,  and Katie Leung. Dir. Fiona Walton. Annika. Season 1, episode 6. Alibi (later, PBS). 21 September 2021. DVD. PBS (Direct), 2022.

Annika is a modern police procedural set in Scotland. It has some things that are typical of the genre—the detective who is good with technology, a tendency toward dark humor, interpersonal conflict that leads to deepening relationships, mysterious deaths, and so on—but what stands out is its decision to have the main detective break the fourth wall so frequently.

Within that, there is often a literary element. Annika often explains to the camera literary plots that connect—sometimes substantially, sometimes tangentially—to the investigation. In the first episode, for example, someone is murdered with a harpoon. Not unexpectedly, we get some Moby-Dick allusions.

At the end of the first season, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is connected to the episode's plot.

Note: Spoilers follow. Stop here and watch the episode (which I highly recommend) before proceeding.

But the investigation doesn't precisely follow the plot of Twelfth Night. I keep looking for twins, but to no avail. We do get elements of mistaken identity when someone intentionally pretends to be what they're not in order to swindle someone else. In the clip below, you'll see our villain say, "People should just be who they say they are," which could be part of a theme from Twelfth Night.

Here are the relevant Shakespeare-related clips, including a brief reference to Hamlet as a bonus: 

I'm fond of these Shakespearean asides to the audience (Shakespearean in that they deal with Shakespeare but also Shakespearean in reflecting the practice on Shakespeare's stage), even when the well-read Annika gets it slightly wrong. She's right about "petard" meaning, according to the OED, "A small bomb made of a metal or wooden box filled with powder, used to blow in a door, gate, etc., or to make a hole in a wall," but it's etymology is from the French meaning "small firework which makes a loud bang" (which, I suppose, could be stretched to apply to flatulance . . . but I digress).

I'm fond of the show at large. The writing and the literary references are a key part of that, but the plots are intriguing and the characters engaging, and the acting is particularly fine.

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Bonus Image!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Lewis Mirrors Hamlet

“Reputation.” By Russell Lewis and Stephen Churchett. Perf. Charlie Cox, Sophie Winkleman, and Colin Starkey. Dir. Bill Anderson. Lewis. Season 1, episode 1. BBC. 30 July 2066. DVD. PDX, 2008.

Having enjoyed the Endeavor series quite a bit and having a vague familiarity with the Morse series to which it is a prequel (and having not enjoyed it too terribly much), I decided to try the Lewis series, which is Morse's sequel.

Right off the bat, we get some Shakespeare. A woman named Regan Peveril (her name may be an allusion to King Lear, but it's conceivably just coincidence), a brilliant mathematics student, has been murdered. As we get into the case, which involves upper-level maths and high-end automobiles, we start to suspect that a fellow student, Daniel Griffon, is the guilty party. He's a somewhat awkward young man whose father died and whose uncle took over his father's company. And the uncle's name is Rex.

Ringing any bells with anyone out there? It's a bit more subtle than having the uncle named "Claude," but still. And then we learn that his mother's name is Trudi. And then we learn that Rex is the younger of a set of twins, always passed over while everything went to his older (if only slightly) brother. And Daniel suspects him of having tampered with the brakes in his father's car, leading to the accident that caused his death.

There's a friend of the family named Tom Pollock, and he has a daughter—Jessica—who is in love with Daniel. This gives us the possibility of an Ophelia analogue.

More incidentally, one character asks another if, when his aunt died, she "made a good end," which is what Ophelia, in her madness, says about her father.

And here's one more quick crossover.  Michael Maloney plays the role of Igor Denniston, the maths professor. I know him best for two Hamlet-related roles: Laertes in the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet and the director/ actor in A Midwinter's Tale.

Note: Probable Spoilers from this point forward.

Years earlier, Morse had investigate a case involving Daniel Griffin. It turns out that Daniel tampered with the brakes in his uncle's car in an attempt to gain revenge on his uncle. But nothing came of it—except a crypic note alongside one of Morse's beloved crossword puzzles: "Polo not king after all"

Later, we learn that the reason Daniel thinks his uncle killed his father—despite the police case indicating that there were no problems with the brakes and ruling the death an accident—was that his father appeared to him in a vision and told him that his brother had murdered him.

Eventually, all the clues start to come together. Secrets are revealed. Our Ophelia analogue walks into a river with her pockets full of rocks because of one of those revelations. And it all wraps up.

Here's a fairly-lengthy clip with the relevant Hamlet material:

I'm not going to give you spoilers beyond what I've already given. But the episode plays cleverly and amusingly with the plot of Hamlet—with some important twists to keep us guessing. Track it down and give it a try.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Friday, November 24, 2023

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Think iFruity

Amend, Bill. Think iFruity. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2000.

Moving one book forward in our push to cover all the Shakespeare in FoxTrot, we find two brief connections.

The first is the usual paraphrase (or, to be harsher, misquotation) of a passage from 1 Henry IV.  Late in that play, Falstaff says, "The better pat of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have sav'd my life" (V.iv.119-21). In FoxTrot, Andi tries to remind Jason that "Discretion is the better part of valor" when he's angry about his video game performance:

We also have Paige's overjoyed response to her completing her math exam:

Again, it's not quite as much Shakespeare as I'd like, but 'tis enough—'twill serve.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, November 20, 2023

Shakespearean Deep Cuts from The Office

"Broke." By Charlie Grandy. Perf. Steve Carell. Dir. PSteve Carell. The Office. Season 5, episode 23. NBC. 23 April 2009. Deleted Scene. DVD. Universal Studios, 2009.

Having covered the overt and canonical Shakespeare-related material in The Office, it's exciting to discover even more material waiting in the deleted scenes.

In this episode (which aired on the date we commemorate Shakespeare's birth), the small Michael Scott Paper Company is going up against the much larger Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, and it feels like David against Goliath:

Michael, Pam, and Ryan are each David, and they're going up against another David—David Wallace, the CEO—but that David is really Goliath. The Shakespeare comes in the last analogy: Charles (the manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin) is Othello, apparently for no better reason than that Michael needs to reach for a person from classic literature who is black.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Friday, November 17, 2023

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's I'm Flying, Jack . . . I Mean, Roger

Amend, Bill. I'm Flying, Jack . . . I Mean, Roger. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1997.

The next FoxTrot chronologically in our trip to find all the Shakespeare in that comic strip is Welcome To Jassorassic Park, but I couldn't find anything there. I'll head back there eventually to see if I missed something, which is entirely possible. In the meantime, I'm Flying Jack . . . I Mean, Roger has a bit to offer.

The first simply includes Shakespeare in a list of works worth studious attention:

And the second (and, I'm afraid, the only other Shakespeare-related comic in the volume) gives us another take on the "Infinite Monkeys and Shakespeare" theorem:

Naturally, I'd rather have two- or three-week-long Shakespeare plots. But these are clever, and I'll gladly accept them.

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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Book Note: Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book

Smith, Emma. Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

This year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, and that naturally comes with a great deal of study and celebration.

It's hard to determine a specific birthday for the First Folio, but the date it was entered into the Stationers' Register might be a good one: November 8, 1623 (see the entry and read more about it here).

Since I totally missed that, perhaps the date of the first recorded sale of the volume would be in order. Sir Edward Dering bought a copy on December 5, 1623, and I learned that information from Emma Smith's marvelous book Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book (2).

Smith's account of the First Folio is both scholarly and approachable. I recommend it highly for experts and enthusiasts alike. With great attention to contemporary documents and a wealth of anecdotes, Smith covers five different ways of looking at the Folio: Owning, reading, decoding, performing, and perfecting. Each of these separate chapters is fascinating and takes us on a four-hundred-year journey with those subjects as the focus.

I found it hard to extract sample passages from such a full and varied text. Should I show Smith's analyses of how people annotated their First Folios over the years? Should I show the work of the cryptographers who found codes embedded in the First Folio texts in particular? Should I provide something about how actors embraced (or didn't) the First Folio texts for performance?

All that is there, but, instead, I'll provide the part of Smith's introduction where she covers the scope of the book:

Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book is a terrific study of the amazing First Folio, and it's a terrific way to celebrate the book's four hundredth birthday.

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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 2008-2039 (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