Friday, April 12, 2024

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Encyclopedias Brown and White

Amend, Bill. Encyclopedias Brown and White. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2001.

It's been a while since our last Friday FoxTrot. Fortuitously, Fortune's Fool we refuse to follow.

What can I say? It's the layout the requires a little fun filler here at the forefront.

But that's enough.

In Encyclopedias Brown and White, Bill Amend reunites the fighting foursome of Jason, Marcus, Phoebe, and Eileen.

There's only a bit of Shakespeare there, and it's once again in the form of a character quoting Sherlock Holmes (who was quoting Shakespeare). The line is "The game's afoot" (Henry V, III.i.32).

We're on more solid (too, too solid?) Shakespearean ground with this Macbeth-related comic in which Peter has evidently not done the required reading:

And we wrap things up with a non-specific Shakespeare reference involving Paige and her homework.

I'm having some fun of my own speculating about which play Paige is reading. It's unlikely to be Hamlet—"Who's there?" is its complete first sentence. Perhaps it's Henry V. That starts with two dense lines followed by a comma. But if we really want to give her a doozy of an opening sentence, we can imagine her reading Measure for Measure. If you have alternate suggestions, just add them to the comments!

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

A Quick Line from Romeo and Juliet in a Friends Episode

“The One with the Screamer.” By Scott Silveri and Shana Goldberg-Meehan. Perf. Matt LeBlanc, Dina Meyer, and Reg Rogers. Dir. Peter Bonerz. Friends. Season 3, episode 22. NBC. 24 April 1997. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2003.

Although our last post asserted that Bardfilm is not obsessed with completeness (tracking down all the Shakespeare in a given situation comedy, for example), that doesn't mean that we'll ignore the Shakespeare that comes our way.

For example, in a Friends episode that features Joey among his fellow actors, we get a brief quote from Romeo and Juliet

Here it is!  Note: Since the quote takes approximately three seconds, I've provided quite a bit of context for it. 

I appreciate how the director is quoting the line with such precision: He clearly is saying "A plague a' both your houses" instead of "A plague on both your houses." Despite the subtitles, that's exactly how the line is printed. It's likely that kind of peevish accuracy that brought him to this point.

Bonus Note: This episode aired the day after William Shakespeare's 433rd birthday!

The Episode at IMDB
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Monday, April 8, 2024

Shakespeare Puts Joey to Sleep in Friends

“The One with the Donor.” By 
Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen. Perf. David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc. Dir. Ben WeissFriends. Season 9, episode 22. NBC. 8 May 2003. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2003.

We at Bardfilm don't obsess about completeness. We don't feel the need to track down every Shakespeare allusion in, say, M*A*S*H or The Simpsons or Star Trek.

Well, we do feel that way about Star Trek, but perhaps Friends is a better example. It's a well-known show, and when a bit of Shakespeare comes to our attention, as sometimes happens when ShakespeareGeek happens to catch something randomly and decides to pass it on.

That's how we got to this late-in-the-run general reference to Shakespeare:

What play could Joey have been trying out for? If he's saying, "I mean, hey, Shakespeare, how about a chase scene once in a while?" it can't have been one of the exciting ones. Perhaps he was reading for the role of James Gurney in King John or something like that.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Book Note: The Two Noble Kinsmen

Shakespeare, William, and John Fletcher. The Two Noble Kinsmen. Ed. Lois Potter. Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1997. Arden Shakespeare.

Every ten years or so, I re-read The Two Noble Kinsmen. I first read it toward the end of my graduate work. I had a vague idea of writing my dissertation on madness in female characters in Shakespeare, and the play has one notable example.

It's also likely to be Shakespeare's last play, though not his last individually-authored play. 

It's also a good play with a lot of fun material, and it's also one of the few places where Chaucer serves as a major source: The plot of The Knight's Tale is the foundation of The Two Noble Kinsmen.

The setting is a war between Athens (led by Theseus—technically, he's the same Theseus from A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Thebes. During the war, Palamon and Arcite, two close friends fighting somewhat unwillingly but still honorably for Thebes, are captured and imprisoned.

The scene between the two of them is one of my favorites in the play. They pledge eternal loyalty to each other and are happy in prison because they're together in prison. When Palamon asks, "Is there record of any two that loved / Better than we do, Arcite?" (II.ii.12–13), Arcite replies "Sure there cannot" (II.ii.13).

And then . . . enter Emilia.

Palamon sees her first and falls immediately in love with her. Arcite sees her next and falls immediately in love with her. Then they get to argue comically about whose love should have the priority. Here's that scene:

It's all great, compelling material that sorts itself out through the rest of the play.

As that develops, we learn that the Jailer's Daughter (he's unnamed, and so is she) has fallen in love with Palamon—but when he fails to return her love, she goes mad. Act IV, scene iii shows us her madness and the plan for alleviating it:

There's more good, rich material there—including a rare (for Shakespeare) reference to barley-break (about which you can learn more here).

It's not the best play in the canon, but it's still quite interesting and quite readable. The scenes I like best are usually attributed to Fletcher—which makes sense if Fletcher is the up-and-coming new dramatist and Shakespeare is the author about to retire.

I recommend reading it—though once every ten years is sufficient. But let me know if you learn of a staging of the play! I'd love to see it in production.

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Thursday, February 8, 2024

Overreaction to a New York Times Crossword Puzzle Clue

Sarah and Rafael Musa. "The Door's Open." New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Edited by Will Shortz. Friday, January 26, 2024. "Tricky Clues" note by Deb Amlen. 

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Harold Jenkins. 2nd. ed. London: Arden, 1982.

Note: There will be a spoiler for four-across in this post. But you can see the clue and the blank space on the image to the right. Read on at your own risk.

I haven't been doing crossword puzzles for long, but, like far more seasoned puzzle-doers, I can already complain about the clues.

As you might suspect, I particularly revel in the not-infrequent Shakespeare clues. It's nice to find a balcony or a last word Hamlet utters or the occasional fool. But then there are the less-straightforward clues—the ones that border on the controversial or at least that require more explanation.

Such is the case with the clue for 4A in a recent puzzle: "The 'handsaw' in Hamlet's 'I know a hawk from a handsaw.'" And the answer, as you can see below, is "Heron."

The most reasonable response to this is, of course, "Huh?" And the explanation in the "Tricky Clues" section doesn't really help much:

At times like these, there are worse things to do than turn to Harold Jenkins' Arden edition of Hamlet. Here's his brief note on the line:

Being Jenkins, we also have a comprehensive LN (Long Note) that tells us more:

Thank you, Harold Jenkins! The "Tricky Clues" explanation made it seem like everyone should automatically know that when Hamlet says "handsaw," he really means "heron." It's more complicated than that.

And I agree with Jenkins' general reading that no such stretching is necessary. Putting the two terms into the same class (two kinds of birds or two kinds of tools) empties the phrase of its vitality and its import. Hamlet isn't saying that he can tell two very similar things apart ("I can tell the difference between a 200-thread-count and a 220-thread-count pillowcase" or "I can tell a 40-watt bulb from a 45-watt bulb"). That would give the spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern too great a reason to watch him even more closely. Instead, he's saying he knows the difference between a mountain and a molehill or an elephant and an earwig—something that takes no special insight or intelligence. 

It reminds me of the people who insist that when Jesus says it's as easy for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, he isn't talking about a literal needle but about a very small gate called "the needle's eye." You could just get a camel through that gate if you unloaded it and did a lot of convincing and cajoling: it would be difficult, but not impossible. Interpreting it in that way takes away its power and its humor.

"I can tell a hawk from a handsaw"—I can tell the difference between a living, breathing, feathered bird found in the wild and an inanimate object found on a carpenter's workbench—says everything by saying nothing. Let's leave it with its power and humor. The answer to 4A should be "small saw."

Links: The puzzle in the NYTimes archives.

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Thursday, December 21, 2023

Book Note: Double Falsehood: Or, The Distressed Lovers

Double Falsehood: Or, The Distressed Lovers
. [By Lewis Theobald at the very least.] Ed. Brean Hammond. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2010.

After reading the Arden edition of Arden of Faversham, a play written early in Shakespeare's career with some possible Shakespeare connections (for which, q.v.), I thought it time to give a try to the Arden edition of Double Falsehood, a play that might have some connections to the late part of Shakespeare's career.

By way of overview, Double Falsehood was a play produced in 1727 by Lewis Theobald, one of the famous earlier editors of Shakespeare.  A year later, Theobald printed the play. Theobald said he had three separate manuscripts of a play by Shakespeare on which he based his play. Note that this doesn't mean that any of them were in Shakespeare's hand; "manuscript" just means hand-written rather than printed. The manuscripts are no longer extant. 

The long and short of my take is that the Arden edition of Double Falsehood is, with some qualifications, a marvelously scholarly edition of a simply dreadful play.

While reading through Brean Hammond's lengthy introduction and apparatus, which runs almost forty pages longer than the text of the play it introduces, I was struck by how nearly every point had a direct or indirect connection to the possibility of Shakespeare's authorship of the play. What echos of Shakespeare can we find in Double Falsehood?  Was Theobald a forger or deluded or deceived or genuine? What did Shakespeare know and when did he know it? And so on and on and on.

I know it doesn't sound like me, but I started wanted less about Shakespeare and more about the play itself.

And then I read the play itself—or re-read, really. I had read it once before, many years ago, in a different edition, had not thought much of it, and hadn't done any more with it. On this reading, I realized just how dull and uninspiring it is. The introduction talks about connections to Shakespeare because there's not much to say about the play itself.

What the edition has to say is mostly scholarly and interesting. By way of example, here are the first few pages. Showing them to you will provide the added benefit of a better and deeper introduction to the play and its questions than I can give.

That should catch us all up pretty well. Serious questions about the three manuscripts call the authenticity of the play we have into question; nonetheless, many scholars think that Theobald's Double Falsehood is a version of an original play written by William Shakespeare in collaboration with John Fletcher.

It's also generally accepted the The Two Noble Kinsmen is a collaborative effort by Shakespeare and Fletcher. That play was itself adapted by William Davenant in 1664 under the title The Rivals. And, as my Grandmother Jones used to day, I told you that to tell you this. That's where this edition makes a strange and irrelevant turn. The argument is that, with The Two Noble Kinsmen, we have the source material (Geoffrey Chaucer's Knight's Tale), the Shakespeare / Fletcher collaboration (The Two Noble Kinsmen), and a restoration adaptation (Davenant's Rivals):

We have, the Arden edition argues, a parallel with Double Falsehood:

Three of three steps are available when we think about The Two Noble Kinsmen; only two of three are available in the consideration of Double Falsehood. Yet we can (runs this edition's argument) use the relationship between The Knight's Tale,  The Two Noble Kinsmen, and The Rivals to speculate about the relationship between Don Quixote, Cardenio, and Double Falsehood.

Not to put too fine a point on it, that seems like nonsense. Imagine that we did not have any of the texts of Hamlet. We know its source, and we know an adaptation of the play. Can we determine anything about the missing play based on those points?

I know that my chart has even fewer points of comparison than that proposed by the Arden edition. But the analogy still seems neither relevant nor useful. But it does show the way this edition is grasping at any possible straw to try to find something Shakespearean in Theobald's play. Fortunately, the introduction doesn't spend too much time on that point.

The play itself doesn't have much to recommend it, but there are still some points of interest. Early in the play, the villainous Henriquez sets out to woo the non-aristocratic Violante. His speeches capture the character of the infatuated quite well:

Note, though, the note to I.iii.27.s.d.  The twice-repeated "Hmmmmm" there shows my skepticism in an attempt to find something Romeo and Juliet-ey hear.

When the villainous Henriquez next enters, he's worried that he has raped Violante. Setting aside that there is nothing to prepare the audience for any such action, it's interesting that Henriquez tries to argue that it wasn't rape—even though he admits that "she did not consent" (II.i.37–38) and that "she did resist" (II.i.38):

I would have liked more about that in the introduction—together with some commentary on the shifts from verse to prose and back again. It's rare for a character in Shakespeare to shift in mid-speech. Could this shift (one among many) be indicative of a distinction between Theobald and his source material?

Of equal interest are Violante's speeches after the rape:

A great weight of tragedy is encapsulated in those few brief lines.

Double Falsehood is not a very successful play, but there's a fair amount of interest in its Arden edition.

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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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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