Thursday, June 23, 2016

How to See Great Shakespeare in Minnesota: Go to the Great River Shakespeare Festival!

Julius Caesar. Dir. James Edmondson. Perf. Mark Murphey,  Ana Marcu,  Stephanie Lambourn,  De’Onna Prince,  Jason Rojas,  Peter Eli Johnson,  Ted Kitterman,  Zach Curtis,  Zach Curtis,  Ana Marcu,  Michael Fitzpatrick,  Jason Rojas,  John Maltese,  Mark Murphey,  Silas Sellnow,  Benjamin Boucvalt,  Caroline Amos,  Tarah Flanagan,  JuCoby Johnson,  Rob Hancock,  and Ted Kitterman. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2015.

As You Like It. Dir. Doug Scholz-Carlson. Perf. Mark Murphey,  Ana Marcu,  Stephanie Lambourn,  De’Onna Prince,  Jason Rojas,  Peter Eli Johnson,  Ted Kitterman,  Zach Curtis,  Zach Curtis,  Ana Marcu,  Michael Fitzpatrick,  Jason Rojas,  John Maltese,  Mark Murphey,  Silas Sellnow,  Benjamin Boucvalt,  Caroline Amos,  Tarah Flanagan,  JuCoby Johnson,  Rob Hancock,  and Ted Kitterman. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2016.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival has provided great Shakespeare to Minnesota for thirteen years now. They did, among other remarkable productions, a perfect Twelfth Night, a masterpiece of A Comedy of Errors, a great Othello, a brilliant Taming of the Shrew, and marvelous versions of both Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. They also put on Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing last year.

The 2016 season starts on 24 June 2016 and runs through 31 July 2016, and you all must go. Yes, even those of you who live in states other than Minnesota must go.

For ease and speed, I'm putting up a FAQ style list based on last year's.
Q: What Shakespeare plays are being done tremendously by GRSF this year?

A: Julius Caesar and As You Like It. Didn't you look at the first part of this post?

Q: "Shakespeare Festival," eh? That means it's outdoors, right?

A: No, no. It's in a lovely, intimate, carefully-climate-controlled theatre on the campus of the University of Winona. You're thinking of various Shakespeare i' th' Park performances. Don't get me wrong—Shakespeare i' th' Park is great, but you do have to worry about rain and heat and mosquitos and seating and so on and so forth. At the GRSF, you can watch top-notch professional theatre in air conditioned splendor.

Q: Well, that sounds great. Can I just see the plays any day of the week all summer long?

A: Ah, there's something you should plan right now. The last show will be on July 31. Here's a handy calendar for your scheduling convenience.

Q: Man! That's more than a month of Shakespeare, but I'm sure it will go by quickly! I'll get my tickets right away! Now, they just just Shakespeare, right?

A: Actually, no.  They're also doing a musical called Georama this year. For the past few years, they've done a third show, but you don't hear much about those shows here because of Bardfilm's keen interest in the Shakespeare side of things.

Q: All right. That sounds good. But all there is to do in Winona is watching plays by Shakespeare, right?

A: Although that might be reason enough, there is a constant stream of other Shakespeare-related material happening in conjunction with the GRSF. Indeed, I was astonished at how much activity there was! There are narrated set changes, camps for young actors and designers, an apprentice program (they're doing Coriolanus this year), conversations with the actors and directors, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Q: [Skeptically] Well, yeah. Shakespeare. And Shakespeare-related stuff. There's nothing else in Winona, then?

A: Egad, no! There's so much more! Again, Bardfilm's concerns focus on the Shakespearean, but there are concerts on the green between shows many afternoons, and there are really quite marvelous food trucks there. There are coffee shops and restaurants, and there's live music. And the scenery! Why, the two-hour drive from the Twin Cities is worth it just for the amazing scenic views of the Mississippi river along Highway 61 (the highway Bob Dylan revisited). And the river in Winona is beautiful—the bluffs with the occasional eagle flying over them are gorgeous and relaxing.

Q: Terrific! We can have great Shakespeare, but we can also get away from all the Shakespeare if we need to.

A: Yes. Well, technically. I mean, you can eat at a nice restaurant overlooking the river or listen to the concert on the green or hang out at a coffee shop—but I should warn you that you're very likely to overhear conversations about Shakespeare just about everywhere you go. That's a great draw for me: the whole town seems fascinated by Shakespeare and eager to discuss the shows the GRSF is putting on and Shakespeare in general. But if you really need some Shakespeare-free moments, a quiet stroll by the river will usually go uninterrupted. But I can't promise you won't start to think about Ophelia when you're down by the river.

Q: You've convinced me. I'm off to plan my visit right now.

A: I'm so glad! You won't regret it. If I see you there, don't be overawed. Just step right up, ask for an autograph, and we can chat some about Shakespeare—or even other topics.

Q: Oh! One more thing. I know it's going to be great, but are there any trailers of the plays that I can use to convince my friends, co-workers, spouse, neighbors, and others to come see the shows with me?

A: That's a great thought! Thanks for asking. Yes, I'll embed a trailer for each Shakespeare play right here / right now!

There's so much more that could be said about the GRSF—but why don't I get some other work done and you find a way to get there to see for yourself?

Links:  The Great River Shakespeare Festival.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How to Bite your Thumb

Jorio, Andre de. La Mimica degli Antichi investigata nel Gestire Napoletana [Gesture in Naples and Gesture in Classical Antiquity: A Translation of La Mimica degli Antichi investigata nel Gestire Napoletana: Gestural Expressions of the Ancients in the Light of Neapolitan Gesturing. Trans. Adam Kendon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Shakespeare enthusiasts often explore utterly fascinating (yet admittedly trivial) details. As a case in point, I offer a question ShakespeareGeek recently raised, to wit (Shakespeare enthusiasts are often guilty of using the phrase “to wit” as well) “Do we know how Shakespeare and his audience would have imagined the thumb biting at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. You may remember the scene in question: Quarrelling breaks out among the servants of the two noble households (both, it is said, alike in dignity). Here’s the exchange in question:
Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.


Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

I do bite my thumb, sir.

Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

Is the law of our side, if I say ay?


No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.
I didn’t have a quick and easy answer for him. I just had a sense, from seeing different stagings and different films, of what I imagined it to be. After asking some Shakespeare enthusiasts on Twitter (and receiving some help from @mirandafay), I pursued three different avenues of research: The Arden Editions of the play, a scholarly work on Italian gesture, and the Internet.

Both the second and third series of the Arden gloss the line right away, and each points toward Cotgrave. The second series (edited by Brian Gibbons) gives us this basic definition (see the note to line 40 in the image below:

The third series enlarges on this and provides a slightly-different version of the quote from Cotgrave:

The Dekker quote in the third series’ gloss is very helpful, giving us a roughly-contemporaneous London use of the biting of thumbs—designed, it seems, to beget quarrels.

The scholarly work on gesture in Italy (cited at the beginning of this post) gives us a bit more about the meaning of the gesture:

Gestures, especially seen from outside the culture, can be quite ambiguous, but this book connects the gesture to the utterance manco nno ttècchete—"You are nothing to me."

The Internet was not altogether helpful in this instance. A fair number of YouTube videos have been put together to show what contemporary (contemporary to us, not contemporary to Shakespeare) Italian gestures look like and mean, but I didn’t track down much on English versions of Italian gestures in the late 1590s. But the Internet did, at least, point me toward Superman III as one non-Shakespearean place where thumb biting is potrayed. An Italian merchant becomes angry at Superman for undermining his souvenir sales:


Having come all this way, you're probably anxious to see how the major film versions of Romeo and Juliet have portrayed the thumb biting. Very well, then: Let's start with Cukor. In his film, the thumb biting, which follows most nearly the descriptions outlined here, is merely part of escalating hostilities:


In Zeffirelli, the thumb is not actually bitten—but it is prominent in instigating a quarrel.


Baz Luhrmann goes (as usual) fairly far over the top. I include some of the other excesses that surround his version of the thumb biting.


There you have it—all that from a single line in Shakespeare.

Bonus! A few Italian gestures, including number seven—Stupido.

Extra bonus!  A few Italian hand gestures, including number one—Mano in fica (the fig of Italy). [Note: There are plenty of figs in Shakespeare—notably Pistol's "The fig of Spain"—but that's a gesture for another day.]

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Works Cited

Jorio, Andre de. La Mimica degli Antichi investigata nel Gestire Napoletana [Gesture in Naples and Gesture in Classical Antiquity: A Translation of La Mimica degli Antichi investigata nel Gestire Napoletana: Gestural Expressions of the Ancients in the Light of Neapolitan Gesturing. Trans. Adam Kendon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Romeo and Juliet. Dir. George Cukor. Perf. Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, and John Barrymore. 1936. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2007.

Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. 1968. DVD. Paramount, 2000.

Romeo + Juliet. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. 1996. DVD. Twentieth Century Fox, 2002.

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Brian Gibbons. Arden Shakespeare. London: Routledge, 1980.

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. René Weis. Arden Shakespeare. London: Routledge, 2012.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How to Play Humiliation

Lodge, David. Changing Places. New York: Penguin, 1979.

David Lodge's Changing Places doesn't have all that much Shakespeare in it, though it does have a Shakespearean feel to it. An American scholar trades posts with a British scholar to immensely humorous and occasionally slapstick antics.

The most memorable part of the novel to me is a game called "Humiliation" that one of the characters has invented.

The game is an interesting one—and I'd actually be interested in playing it.

But you should all read through all the rest of the excerpts from the book before you decide to play. The end may not be what you expect.

I'll let the book explain the rules, and then I'll trace the way the book uses the game. On page 96, we first learn about the game when Philip Swallow (the British professor teaching at the American institution) tries to teach it to a group of students:

The novel switches to epistolary mode in the middle; from Philip Swallow's perspective (on page 132), we get something about his attempt to introduce the game to his new American colleagues:

Mrs. Zapp is the nearly-filing-for-divorce wife of the American professor who has traded posts with Swallow. Her account of the game is found on pages 135-37:

Beware the game, then, lest you win by admitting not to have read a key work of the canon of literature—but lose by being denied tenure for having failed to do so!

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Note: Prince of Shadows: A Novel of Romeo and Juliet

Caine, Rachel. Prince of Shadows: A Novel of Romeo and JulietNew York: NAL, 2015.

This is another novel I brought along with me on my trip to Vietnam, thinking to abandon it along the way to ease the weight of the return journey.

It was an interesting read, though It's not altogether my cup of tea.

The gimmick is that the story is told from Benvolio's point of view—and Benvolio is [insert drum roll] the Prince of Shadows, a Robin Hood-esque cat burglar who steals from the rich—or those Capulets needing to be brought down a notch or two—and gives to the poor—or keeps it for himself if he has some expensive plan afoot.

In the novel, Mercurio is gay; his paramour's death and his own forced marriage cause him to become reckless—or nearly insane. He does conjure up a curse on both their houses (i.e., Capulet's and Montegue's), and the Prince of Shadows needs to track down all the pieces of the curse in order to lift it.

In the meantime, Romeo is being as annoyingly foolhardy as usual—first about Rosaline (who is a Capulet, so his interest in her causes no end of a stir in the family) and then, when Rosaline has been sent off to the convent, in Juliet.

While that's going on, Benvolio is falling in love with Rosaline; since the novel is from his point of view, this becomes our main romance.

It was a compelling narrative, though it wasn't without its flaws. The interludes between chapters, for example, were fairly uneven. They usually consisted of letters from one character to another, but they sometimes deviate from that. Here's a sample that does--from the diary of Friar Lawrence.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Last Day in Hanoi

Jones, Keith. A Series of Lectures on Shakespeare. Vietnam National University—Hanoi. 7-10 March 2016.

I'm waiting in the hotel lobby for a ride to the airport so that I can spend another twenty-four cumulative hours in flight—this time, to return home.

I had a number of meetings and some wonderful meals with faculty and administrators, and I gave four two-hour lectures on Shakespeare to groups of forty to ninety students.

If you're keeping score, these were the titles of the lectures:
Elizabethan England and the Life and Works of William Shakespeare

A Dream in Hanoi: Shakespeare in Vietnam

Shakespeare: Globe to Globe and Back Again

What Happens in Hamlet when Hamlet Goes to Asia
The students were remarkably astute, and they were interested in Shakespeare and in what I had to say about him. They asked really interesting questions that showed they were thinking keenly about the material. I have yet to go through their answers to the questions I gave them (and to have them translated), but I think this was a remarkably productive beginning to what I hope will be longer-term field research.

I also heard reports of Shakespeare in Hanoi from some of the faculty. There was a Hamlet here not so very long ago--the faculty member reported that it was very good--and some of the students had gained familiarity with some Shakespeare in their Western Literature class. (The irony that I teach a Non-Western Literature class at my institution did not go unnoticed.)

And I also spotted a bit of Shakespeare here and there. For example, there was a blank book with a Shakespeare-related cover:

And there was a volume in a touristy shop for anyone who needed to brush up on Shakespeare quickly:

In the course of answering a question, I imagined a production of Romeo and Juliet as an example. "What if," I said, "the production was set in Hanoi during the war, and Romeo was an American and Juliet was Vietnamese?" The translator was immediately very interested in the idea—and that interest seemed to spread through the rest of the group. I know I would certainly like to see something like that coming out of the Vietnamese film industry!

My hope is that this is just the beginning. I would love to spend my next sabbatical in Hanoi at Vietnam National University, helping organize conferences, plan curriculum, teach Shakespeare, and even encourage productions of Shakespeare.

Stay tuned!

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