Thursday, May 30, 2019

Book Note: Nemesis by Agatha Christie

Christie, Agatha. Nemesis. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1971,

Agatha Christie often has a little bit of Shakespeare in her mystery novels.

For example, click here or here or here!

In the late novel Nemesis, we get a bit more.

I'll give you the Shakespearean foreshadowings—and then I'll warn you when the spoilers start in earnest.

Miss Marple is on a tour of homes and gardens, and she meets up with three ladies who were once awaited with an old friend of hers.

Unfortunately, there's something odd (or, dare I say, weïrd?) about or around the three ladies—who are sisters. Miss Marple can't stop thinking about the three sisters in Russian literature . . . and the three Weïrd Sisters in Macbeth. There's something sinister in Miss Marple's mind about the grouping of three women:

Note: We're about to jump to the end of the novel. This is where the spoilers might properly get started. You have been warned.

Miss Marple reflects on her earlier feelings now that everything has been wrapped up neatly. The part that concerns us starts about two-thirds of the way down the first image below:

Threes can be sinister . . . perhaps like the three parts of Henry VI.

In any case, we have in this instance a more sustained Shakespearean theme than in many of Christie's novels.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Book Note: Sherlock Holmes and the Globe Murders

Day, Barry. Sherlock Holmes and the Globe Murders. London: Oberon, 1997.

Based on the quality of the book, the quality of the writing, and the excessive number of typos and inconsistencies, I think Oberon Press must be a vanity press—a self-publishing haven.

That said, Sherlock Holmes and the Globe Murders is not that terrible. At its best, it sounds like a long-lost Sherlock Holmes novel. At its worst, which is mainly in the dialogue sections, it sounds both cliché and anachronistic.

It's the plot that made the novel worth reading. A group in Sherlock Holmes' London is working on rebuilding the Globe Theatre to give Londoners an authentic experience of how many of Shakespeare's plays were originally staged. But not everyone is happy about that—especially the person who keeps sending threatening quotes from Shakespeare plays to the actors and entrepreneurs involved.

Then people start dying in ways that are related to various deaths in Shakespeare's plays. It's somewhat reminiscent of the Vincent Price film Theatre of Blood (for which, q.v.), but with the sharp-eyed detective on the case.

Here's a quick sample:

It's not a great novel, but it's worth reading as a fun return to the genre of Sherlock Holmes.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Tom Brady: Just the Hamlet, Please

"Just One Question: Super Bowl Edition." Late Night with Steven Colbert. Perf. Steven Colbert and Tom Brady. Sometime before the 2019 Super Bowl.

I'm really putting this up for Shakespeare Geek.

A little while before Super Bowl LIII, Late Night with Steven Colbert put out a "Just One Question" segment in which people asked the players . . . well, just one question.

Tom Brady answered his question by indicating his desire to play Hamlet. He then delivered a bunch of lines in a "Shakespeare Acting Accent." Shakespeare Geek was impressed that he chose to use the Folio for Hamlet's last line rather than Q2, which is the more common choice.

In any case, I've excerpted just the Hamlet sections from the skit. Enjoy!

Note: F has four Os; Tom Brady only gives us three. It's an interesting acting decision, and I think it works almost as well as the four-O version.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Book Note: Sleep No More

James, P. D. Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales. New York: Knopf, 2017.

Apart from the title, there's not a lot of direct Shakespeare in Sleep No More, P. D. James' collection of short mysteries, but there is one story that I think provides an interesting take on Macbeth.

To tell you about it, I have to provide so many spoilers that you'll know most of the story.

In short, spoiler alert!

If you don't want to know what happens in the short story "The Victim," pause this blog until you get a chance to read it. Don't worry—this post will be waiting for you when you get back.

Everyone caught up (or at a point where they don't mind spoiler)?  Good.

The narrator of "The Victim" is the first husband of a now-famous film star / socialite. She left him for her second husband, the man the narrator later kills. For months beforehand, he sends threatening notes to the second husband.

When the police try to figure out who did it, we learn that the socialite has an alibi—she was at a performance of Macbeth at the time of the murder—and the first husband manages to get away without leaving any evidence. The police are suspicious of him, but they are unable to pin anything on him. It's an unsolved case.

Three months later, the widow comes to visit her first husband. That's where there's a possibility of a Macbeth connection. She had received all the threatening letters, knew who they were from, and kept them to herself. She desired his death so that she could be free of him and so that she could inherit his wealth.

It turns out that she was emulating Lady Macbeth (after a fashion) all the time!

It might be a stretch, but I think there's something in it. Let me give you the last few pages of the story so you can decide for yourself:

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Hamlet in WKRP in Cincinatti

“Les on a Ledge.” By Hugh Wilson. Perf. Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Richard Sanders, Frank Bonner, and Howard Hesseman. Dir. Asaad Kelada. WKRP in Cincinnati. Season 1, episode 3. CBS. 2 October 1978. DVD. Shout Factory, 2014.

It didn't take long for the exceptional show WKRP in Cincinnati to turn its attention to Shakespeare. In the third episode, Les Nessman (news director, roving reporter, and hog report expert) is banned from the Cincinnati Reds' locker room because a player assumes that he's gay (he's not). He's upset enough to threaten to jump from the building, to recite lines from Hamlet, and to ponder the meaning of the word "fardel."

Here's the key scene:

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Book Note: The Shakespeare Requirement

Schumacher, Julie. The Shakespeare Requirement: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2018.

I've read and enjoyed Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members, a clever epistolary novel whose plot advances through various letters of recommendation from a college professor.

Because of that, I was looking forward to The Shakespeare Requirement, a novel set at the same fictional institution (Payne University).

And the concept of the book is particularly telling and relevant. An antiquated English professor refuses to sign off on what is essentially a new curriculum (the "Statement of Vision") for the university's English major because it contains no specific requirement of a Shakespeare course for graduation.

The chair has to talk to each of the faculty members and negotiate and compromise in order to pass the curriculum unanimously—and you all can imagine just how hard that might be.  And our ancient professor is, of course, determined not to compromise in any particular.

It's a good plot, and we gain insight into the politics of the modern university, but I did find the book to fall a bit flat. The plot is somewhat plodding, and there's not much passion in the professors' protestations.

Still, it carries itself along—even if the ending is on the anti-climatic side.

Here's a quick sample set of pages. In them, it is argued that Shakespeare is still going to have a place at the university—after all, a manga version of Macbeth is part of one professor's course!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Note: Shakespeare and London

Salkeld, Duncan. Shakespeare and London. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

I'd just like to call your attention to this fascinating scholarly work on Shakespeare and London (note: not Shakespeare's London or Shakespeare in London). I just finished reading it, and I learned an enormous amount from it. Shakespeare in London relates biographical details of Shakespeare's life, but it connects those to the biographies of others who doubtless surrounded him in London. It also tries to find as many connections between London events or personages and Shakespeare's plays.

I'm providing a few pages of the introduction to give you a feel for the book.

The book then moves on to chapters entitled "Stratford to London," "Places," "People," "Art / Authority," and "Diversity" before bringing the subject to its conclusion.

I highly recommend the book as an endlessly intriguing examination of Shakespeare in London and London in Shakespeare.

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Bonus! A nifty map of London included in the book:

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Book Note: Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway

Scheil, Katherine West. Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

If you're looking for a book that will make you want to run out and read a bunch more books, try Katherine West Scheil's Imaging Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway.

This scholarly, well-written, engaging book takes its readers on a journey through what we know of Anne Hathaway's history—and then on a fascinating tour of all the ways she has been appropriated, characterized, and fictionalized through the centuries.

Along the way, she mentions dozens of interesting (and, yes, dozens of uninteresting) fictional Annes.

I'd like to give you a sample of the chapter that starts to deal with these imagined Annes:

It's hard to stop, since the story keeps evolving in such an engaging way, but I should refrain from revealing the rest of the fascinating narrative. You should get it and read it for yourself—and then start filling your bookshelf with the interesting works Scheil mentions.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Book Note: The Bard and the Bible

Hostetler, Bob. The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional. Franklin, Tennessee: Worthy Inspired, 2016.

I was a bit skeptical of this book when I heard of it, but I'm quite impressed.

It's a daily devotion that quotes from Shakespeare, provides a relevant passage from the King James Version of the Bible, and then offers some commentary on either the one or the other or the way the two speak to each other.

I've been using it in my Shakespeare class this semester, and I think it went well. Before I realized how the book is organized, I was providing the reading for the day of the year.  Since the class meets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, that meant that I was skipping nearly every other day. It worked much better when I figured out that (generally) each play has its own grouped set of days and quotes from each play progress from early to late in the play. I realized that in time to focus on readings from King Lear during our class on King Lear, and I think that was quite effective.

Each reading concludes with an application question and some additional information—sometimes about Shakespeare's vocabulary, sometimes about modern responses to or versions of the plays, sometimes about the world around Shakespeare.

Here's a sample from early October with some words from King Lear:

I think I'll use this with a class again, but I'll ignore the days and stick to the plays (in other words, I'll read the Macbeth devotions even if it's February).

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Bunch of Amateurs (Burt Reynolds as King Lear)

A Bunch of Amateurs. Dir. Andy Cadiff. Perf. Burt Reynolds, Alexandra Weaver, Elesia Marie, Camilla Arfwedson, Michael Wildman, Charles Durning, Pandora Colin, Samantha Bond, Imelda Staunton, Taz, Lorraine Ashbourne, Gemma Lawrence, Peter Gunn, Tony Jayawardena, Alistair Petrie, Derek Jacobi, and Ciaran O'Quigley. 

Burt Reynolds in Hamlet and Hutch (for which, q.v.) was pretty disappointing.

Burt Reynolds in The Twilight Zone (for which, q.v.) was a whole lot better.

And Burt Reynolds in A Bunch of Amateurs (for which . . . well, keep reading) is also quite good.

The plot involves an aging actor (Jefferson Steel, played by Burt Reynolds) whose aging agent can't get him the big action-hero parts anymore. To revitalize his career (or just to get him out of the country), the agent books him to play Shakespeare in Stratford . . . without telling him exactly which Stratford:

I'm very fond of the sequence in the plane. Jefferson Steel goes from the Arden edition of King Lear to the Cliffs Notes . . . to something called "Shakespeare in a Page" printed from the internet. 

I also love the dramatic irony of the interview. The journalists know he's there to play with an amateur troupe of actors, but Steel thinks, when they talk of amateurs, that they're just being modest about the quality of British professional actors.

In the next scene, Steel arrives at the theatre and finds out the truth:

"Where's Kenny Branagh?" is a great line—especially when he's just met Derek Jacobi and Peter Gunn (who played Fabian in the 1996 Trevor Nunn Twelfth Night). It also makes me think of Branagh's A Midwinter's Tale (for which, q.v.), which is a similar tale of saving a theatre or rejuvenating a career with a low-budget Shakespeare production.

Jefferson Steel has been acting very Lear-like throughout the production, but he also goes a bit off his head and ends up out in a storm:

And, finally, we have some of King Lear. I'm avoiding spoilers, so I won't tell you or show you what unexpected things happen during the production. I'll just give you a bit of the show . . . followed by the curtain calls:

All in all, this was quite a good film, filled with good production values, good acting, good names, and a good Burt Reynolds. It's hard to find in anything but a Region 2 DVD, but it's worth it.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Bonus Image: Thoughtful Jefferson Steel

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Brings its Shakespeare Game

“Operation: Broken Feather.” By Dan Goor and Michael Schur. Perf. Andy Samberg, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, and Andre Braugher. Dir. Julie Anne Robinson. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Season 1, episode 15. Fox. 2 February 2014. DVD. NBC Universal, 2014.

“Halloween II.” By Prentice Penny. Perf. Andy Samberg, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, and Andre Braugher. Dir. Eric Appel. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Season 2, episode 4. Fox. 19 October 2014. DVD. NBC Universal, 2014.

Until Fox cancelled it, I had never heard of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. When the furor over its cancellation spread all over Twitter, I noticed (as did NBC, who picked up the show for a sixth season). My first question was "Does it have any Shakespeare?"

Since then, I've been investigating, and I've found a few instances of Shakespeare in the quirky sit-com about a police precinct in Brooklyn. Here are a couple of instances.

First, in "Operation: Broken Feather," the character Jake Peralta makes fun of the character Amy Santiago, emphasizing the way the last three syllables of her name form the name of a particularly-evil well-known villain. Note: The language in the clip below is not entirely family-friendly.

Second, in the episode entitled "Halloween II," the character Charles Boyle tries out a number of Halloween costumes on his colleagues. Note: The language in the clip below is not entirely family-friendly.

I'll be keeping my eye our for more Shakespeare. But I think there will probably be a lot more in Season Six. The main reason Fox had for cancelling it in the first place was that there wasn't enough Shakespeare.

Links: The Show at IMDB.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2020 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest