Wednesday, June 22, 2022

A Nightmare on Elm Street Provides some Shakespeare (and, no, it isn't A Midsummer Night's Dream)

A Nightmare on Elm Street
. Dir. Wes Craven. Perf. Heather Langenkamp and Lin Shaye. 1985. DVD. 
Warner Brothers, 2010.
I didn't watch this when it came out, and I'm not going to watch it now. Well, not in its entirety.

But if I learn there's some Shakespeare of interest (note the qualifier there) in a film, I may track it down—even if (as is the case here) I really don't care for the film's genre.

I don't imagine I'll need to give the plot of this film. Those of us who didn't see it may have caught "A Nightmare on My Street" by D. J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and picked up on the plot from there. If you haven't seen that, the embedded video at the end of this post will enable you to get hip to the jive.

The plot of the film is somewhat relevant to the Shakespeare in it. Since we're in a movie populated by high schoolers, we need to have a scene set in a classroom. Fortunately, that scene includes Shakespeare!  Let's take a look. Note: I have excised the scariest images from the clip, but you'll still see a pool of blood at one point. 


There are a few things to note here—other than the fact that falling asleep in class can be hazardous to your health. First, I'd like to know more about where the teacher is going with her lecture. First, she says, "What is seen is not always what is real." And that leads us viewers to think, "Seems, madam? I know not seems." But then she says that Shakespeare thought there was "something operating in nature, perhaps inside human nature itself, that was rotten."  "Ah," we think, "that's some real State of Denmark stuff!"

But then she goes on to talk about the idea of what Shakespeare calls a "canker"—which might equate to total depravity or the evil inherent in the human heart. She may be thinking of Hamlet's Act V justification of his plan to dispose of Claudius:

. . . is't not perfect conscience,
To quit him with this arm? and is't not to be damn'd,
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil? (V.ii.67-70)

But she then heads to the gravediggers—as examples of people who go beneath the surface. "All right, then," we say. "Let's see how that all connects!"

Instead, we head to Julius Caesar . . . only we don't really head to Julius Caesar; instead, we head to Horatio's lines about Julius Caesar (I.i.113ff). I think the idea of the dead coming back to squeak and gibber is what the filmmakers are going for there, but I'd like to know how the teacher's mind is working. Had they read Julius Caesar in this class already? Is that where the connection lies? Or are these sheeted dead to be counted self-gravediggers, exhuming themselves to get some squeaking and gibbering done?

Naturally, that's where our protagonist falls asleep and sees a bloody vision. When her attention comes back to the class, the student who has been reading continues—but in a different voice and with a different speech. We've been heading toward "were it not that I have bad dreams" all along!

I don't think it's altogether thoughtless—the quote from Hamlet's nutshell speech (II.254ff) could be a good movie poster blub—but I'd like a bit more. But I'm not going to watch the rest of the film to see if there are deeper things at work with the use of Shakespeare in A Nightmare on Elm Street. I'm already having trouble falling asleep!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, June 13, 2022

Staging Romeo and Juliet Creatively in The Gilmore Girls

“Run Away, Little Boy.” By Amy Sherman-Palladino and John Stephens. Perf. Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, and Melissa McCarthy. Dir. Danny Leiner. Gilmore Girls. Season 2, episode 9. The WB. 27 November 2001. DVD. Warner Brothers, 2013.

Like many a television series with main characters in high school, Gilmore Girls had its Shakespeare episode. In it, the students are called upon to put on a part of Romeo and Juliet—and to use their creativity to find a setting that will "highlight the themes you see in the scene," according to the professor. Watch the clip below to hear some examples the professor provides.

Rory (the daughter) is in a group with a director who is really only concerned with getting an A. She makes all the decisions—and, for her group, the only sure way to get an A is to do it in Elizabethan dress.

There's not too much actual Shakespeare in the episode (alas and alack), the show being more concerned with inter-personal relationships of various sorts, but we do get a tiny bit of three of the groups' presentations: a caveman balcony scene, a Wall Street street brawl with the injury of Mercutio, and an Elizabeth death scene.

Here are the most relevant sections of the episode:


Just as music producer The Bruce Dickinson cried for "More Cowbell!" so do I call for "More Shakespeare!" But what we get is good. And the assignment calling for creatively—and also purposefully (that's the part that's often missed) re-setting Shakespeare is a good one. I'd just like to hear the justification the students gave for their decisions!

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Friday, June 10, 2022

Book Note: By the Picking of my Nose

Chatterton, Martin. By the Picking of my Nose
Illus. Gregory Rogers. Australia: Little Hare Books, 2011.
If you're expecting this Willy Waggledagger book to be a somewhat gross and juvenile retelling of Macbeth, you wouldn't be far wrong. The title line is paired up in this way: "By the picking of my nose, / Something evil this way goes."

But if you're also expecting it to go beyond that genre in some ways, you'd be leaning in the right direction.

In this, the first of three Willy Waggledagger books (the other two are Chew Bee or Not Chew Bee and A Belt Around my Bum), we meet young William Shakespeare growing up in Stratford. He wants nothing more than to attend the current performance at the Stratford Theatre (yes, we do need to suspend our disbelief there), but no children are allowed at the theater and his father wants him to work. Yet Willy disguises himself and sneaks off to the theatre where he disrupts the performance yet earns the laughter of the audience—among whom is Queen Elizabeth (yes, there's a lot more disbelief to suspend).

Eventually, he takes on the pseudonym Willy Waggledagger, joins the company, and hijinks ensue. There are three witch-like cooks who predict the future by reading people's noses (and the stuff that comes out of them), and there's a plot to unset the current lead actor. I imagine those who have read Macbeth will get the drift of the plot.

Here's the opening of the book:



This book in the series isn't earth-shattering (I'll try the others later this summer), but it is an entertaining narrative, and it's nicely illustrated by Gregory Rogers, who did The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard (for which, q.v.). 

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Thursday, June 9, 2022

Book Note: Geoffrey Bullough's Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare

Bullough, Geoffrey, ed. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. 8 vols. London: Routelege and Kegan Paul, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1973, 1975.

Everybody's talking about The Northman (here's something from the Folger Library about it; here's the IMDB entry for it) , the film released this year that tells the story of Shakespeare's Hamlet—but not using Hamlet as a source. Instead, it uses Shakespeare's source as its source!

Though equally star-spangled, not very many people are talking about Royal Deceit—a.k.a. The Prince of Jutland (here's the IMDB entry for it). That film also takes the source Shakespeare used as its source.

Why (I hear you ask) is Bardfilm not talking about either? Well, I haven't talked about Royal Deceit because I watched it way back before this blog started. In fact, I think I watched it back when Netflix only mailed DVDs to its customers! And it wasn't too interesting to me at the time (I shall be re-watching it this summer to see if I have something to say about it). And I'm not talking about The Northman yet because I ran out of money in this year's budget and will have to wait until the next fiscal year to purchase the DVD.

Why then (I hear you ask) did you run out of money in the budget? Ah. That good question will allow me to tie up all these threads in a single post.

I spend some of my funds this year in buying Geoffrey Bullough's magnificent, nearly-twenty-years-in-the-making, deeply scholarly eight-volume Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. I found the volumes at different places at at relatively-bargain rates over several months. It's most common to find ex-library editions of the first six volumes, and I think that's because Volume VII and VIII came out seven and nine years later (respectively) than Volume VI. 

And the purchase price was worth it. I used this work when I was in college to explore the way Shakespeare used his source material, and I found it invaluable. Bullough has much to say about the sources—and then he provides the relevant portions of those sources. It's utterly fascinating and at the highest level of scholarship (which doesn't mean some of his opinions haven't been superseded or at least challenged by later scholars).

If you want to make a film based not on Shakespeare but on the sources Shakespeare used, this is one very convenient place to start. Not only does it have the relevant parts of Saxo Grammaticus' Historyiæ Danicæ in a good translation, it has Bullough's notes about it (and about other relevant sources for Hamlet).

But let me show you!  First, here are Bullough's comments on Saxo Grammaticus (I've drawn lines thorough the parts that aren't relevant—not to redact them but to call your attention to the other parts):




There are many more pages of summary and commentary along these lines, and I find it all irresistible. But let's turn from that for a quick sample of the actual source material from Saxo Grammaticus:


This is another delightful resource that I'm so glad to have on my shelf. I'll be dipping into it regularly over the next [however many] years.

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Bonus Image: Cover of Volume VII, in which is included all this marvelous Hamlet stuff—and much, much more!



Monday, May 30, 2022

Book Note: Ian Pollock's' Graphic Novel of King Lear

Pollock, Ian, illus. William Shakespeare: King Lear: The Complete Play. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1984.

Not long after my last post (on Gareth Hinds' Graphic Novel of King Lear), Rich Perloff mentioned Ian Pollock's graphic novel of the play.

If Hinds has some of Lear's madness in the illustrations, Pollock outdoes it in manifold ways.

First, Pollock provides the complete text of the play. Hinds is good as an introduction to the play, but if you want the whole thing illustrated, Pollock is for you—especially if you're a fan of somewhat surreal art.

I'll provide a few spreads as examples here—the "reason not the need" scene followed by (it seems almost required) the storm scene.




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Friday, May 27, 2022

Book Note: Gareth Hinds' Graphic Novel of King Lear

Hinds, Gareth. The Merchant of Venice: A Play by William Shakespeare: Adapted and Illustrated by Gareth Hinds. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2008.

While we're talking about graphic novels of Shakespeare plays by Gareth Hinds, let's take a look at his King Lear. [Note: He also has one of Macbeth, but it doesn't have as much interest (to me) as his Lear and his Merchant.

The Merchant is pretty straightforward, though set in a more modern era. With King Lear, Hinds is able to have more scope with the graphics—partly to show Lear's descent into madness.

I'm providing three spreads from the book. The first is at the end of Act Two. In it, Lear's mind is starting to go. The second is the storm scene—I felt the need to show how Hinds addressed it. And the third is from Edgar's leading the blinded Gloucester to what Gloucester thinks is the edge of a cliff. It's there to show that the book is not monochromatic.




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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Book Note: Gareth Hinds' Graphic Novel of The Merchant of Venice

Hinds, Gareth. The Merchant of Venice: A Play by William Shakespeare: Adapted and Illustrated by Gareth Hinds. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2008.

Gareth Hinds has done a number of graphic novels of classic texts. I discovered his Odyssey this summer, and I wanted to see what else he had done.

This is his Merchant of Venice. It's a good, short, straightforward version of the novel. The drawings are reminiscent of the Trevor Nunn film (for which, q.v.). 

The text is also largely drawn from Shakespeare's text, though it's occasionally modernized.

As an example, I'll give you the "Hath not a Jew" speech and a bit of the courtroom scene. I like the way "The quality of mercy is not strained" is given the context of a reply to Shylock's "How can you compel anyone to show mercy?" 




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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Book Note: The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard

Rogers, Gregory. The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard. New Milford: Neal Porter, 2004.

A recent post on Box Office Bears about bears in Shakespeare's day made me realize I'd never mentioned The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard—one of my favorite picture books having to do with Shakespeare.

The book is wordless, which presents a number of challenges. Fortunately, Gregory Rogers is more than up to the task.

The plot involves a boy in the modern age who zips back to Shakespeare's day—in the middle of a performance at the Globe Theatre. Shakespeare himself is there, and he angrily rushes out to get the boy off stage . . . but slips on the boy's soccer ball and goes sprawling.

The boy, while running and hiding from the Bard, meets and frees a bear; the two of them then meet up with a baron.

Let me give you a couple spreads that show how carefully constructed the book is. Note: They're from very early on . . . I want to avoid spoilers!





And that's just the beginning! If you haven't encountered this book, you need to track it down right away.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Book Note: Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Screenplay and Introduction by Kenneth Branagh

Branagh, Kenneth. Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Screenplay and Introduction by Kenneth Branagh. Film Diary by Russel Jackson. Photographs by Rolf Konow and Peter Mountain. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
Until about a month ago, I had no idea that the screenplay for Kenneth Branagh's full-text Hamlet was available. Since it's been available since the film was screened in 1996, that's quite an oversight! But I was very happy to rectify it.

The screenplay itself is interesting for its stage directions. For example, we learn that the opening sequence begins this way:

Darkness. Uneasy silence. The deep of a Winter's Night. A huge plinth, with the screen-filling legend carved deep in the stone, HAMLET. The Camera creeping, like an animal, pans left to reveal, a hundred yards away, ELSINORE, a gorgeous Winter Palace. Effortlessly elegant, yet powerful in its coat of snow. (1)

Branagh's introduction is interesting in providing some biographical background to his interest in Shakespeare in general and Hamlet in particular. In it, we get these memorable statements:

The screenplay is what one might call the "verbal storyboard." An inflexion of a subjective view of the play which has developed over the years. Its intention was to be both personal, with enormous attention paid | to the intimate relations between the characters, and at the same time epic, with a sense of the country at large and of a dynasty in decay. (xiv-xv)

That I should have pursued the play's mysteries so assiduously over twenty years continues to puzzle me. But it's what I do, and this is what I've done. As the great soccer manager Bill Shankly once said, describing the importance of football, "It's not a matter of life and death. It's much more important than that." Certainly for me, an ongoing relationship to this kind of poetry and this kind of mind is a necessary part of an attempt to be civilized. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to explore it. (xv)

Both those selections were written before the film was completed, let alone released. I imagine that most viewers see much more of the epic than the personal. But most viewers probably get a sense of the fulfillment of years of thinking about the play in the making of this film.

Most interesting to me were parts of the film diary by Russel Jackson. The comings and goings of some enormously famous actors may appeal more to others than to me—they're there if you like that sort of thing. But there's a lot about the process of interpretation. I'd like to give you a couple points of significance there. The first (the marked-up section on the image below) shows us the production's ideas (at least before filming) of some of the connections. It asserts that Polonius has been promoted by Claudius to his position, which may not be too unusual a position (though the text is silent on the issue). But it also says that Hamlet and Ophelia have been having an affair . . . notably "since the death of Hamlet senior" (177). In this production, their affair has lasted, therefore, only two months—nay, not so much, not two. Here's the spread from the book:


I'm not convinced it's a good decision, but it's really wonderful to see how the wheels of the brains were turning in considering it.

On the next spread, we get more on Ophelia's role. At the end of the 4 January entry, we see why they include Ophelia in the scene where Polonius brings the news of Hamlet's connection to Ophelia to Gertrude and Claudius. In the 4 to 8 January section, we get a very interesting question opened. Is Ophelia the one who decides to return Hamlet's "remembrances"? If so, what is the significance of her making that decision?


When they're filming the nunnery scene later (in the 8 March entry), the question comes up again. It's suggested that her returning the remembrances is "from the heart—or at least is what she is trying to convince herself of" (198):


That's a question well worth exploring. I'll need the summer to think about it, but I'll be ready when my Shakespeare class starts in the fall. My impression has been that Polonius (who has been given at least one letter from Hamlet to Ophelia by Act II, scene ii) has demanded / orchestrated / suggested returning the remembrances. This is one thing she says at that point:

Take these again, for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. (III.i.99-100)

It's in no way direct textual evidence to support the claim that Polonius is behind the return of the remembrances, but the rhymed couplet there sounds much more like something Polonius would say than something Ophelia would say. The only other rhymed couplet she utters is at the end of this scene: ". . . O, woe is me / T'have seen what I have seen, see what I see!" (III.i.160-61).

The other interesting thing about the diary in general and that spread in particular is the number of ideas that are eventually dropped. On the right-hand side of that spread, we learn that, at one point, Claudius would be confessing to an actual priest—except it wouldn't be an actual priest. It would be Hamlet in disguise as a priest!

It's probably better that that idea was abandoned.

But I wish that an idea of the gravediggers had made it in. One of them suggested that they start tossing a coin somewhere in the background—bringing a little of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead into the picture (194).

This book is a great resource for thinking about the play and for working through some details of Branagh's film of it. If only I'd known about it twenty-five years ago . . .

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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