Monday, June 24, 2019

Book Note: Year of the Mad King

Sher, Antony. Year of the Mad King: The Lear Diaries. Illus. Antony Sher. London: Nick Hern, 2018.

And now we have the latest (please note that I didn't say "last") of the Antony Sher acting diaries: Year of the Mad King. We've seen Year of the King (for which, q.v.)—the not-mad-but-possibly-psychotic-or-sociopathic king, and we've had Year of the Fat Knight (for which, q.v.). Now it's time for one of the leading Shakespearean actors to tell us his journey to King Lear.

As is the case with all of these—they're diaries, after all—the book has a rambling, unpolished quality, but (as with all of these) it also offers some good insight into the play itself, the role itself, and a leading actor's way of approaching the role itself.

We also get some insight into the director's thought processes—and a greater understanding of just how much a director of the caliber of Gregory Doran has to keep in his mind. And how much a Shakespearean actor of the caliber of Antony Sher has to keep in his mind as well. Can you imagine playing Falstaff while trying to get the lines from Lear memory perfect?

We also have Sher's sketches, including this one of Lear cursing:

It's a good read for the actor, the Shakespearean actor, the Shakespearean aficionado, and the general theatergoer.

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Friday, June 21, 2019

Book Note: Year of the Fat Knight

Sher, Antony Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries. Illus. Antony Sher. London: Nick Hern Books, 2016.

Some time ago, I wrote about Antony Sher's Year of the King (for which, q.v.). Reading Patterson Joseph's Julius Caesar and Me reminded me of Sher's work—perhaps especially because I was in the middle of reading Year of the Fat Knight. I had intended to read it some time ago, but copies of the book—even used copies—are not inexpensive, so I kept putting off getting one.

Like Year of the King, Year of the Fat Knight is a diary with sketches (and paintings) related to getting the role of Falstaff, rehearsing the role of Falstaff, and playing the role of Falstaff.

The opening line is pretty compelling:
It's all Ian McKellen's fault.
Here's more of the story:

The work, as you might expect, rambles a bit, but it offers good insight into the life of an actor and the role of Falstaff.

Bonus Image: "My Falstaff."

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Additional Bonus Image (I couldn't resist Sher's sketch of Orson Welles as Falstaff)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Book Note: Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare's African Play

Joseph, Patterson. Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare's African Play. London: Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury), 2018.

I wrote briefly on the Julius Caesar with a modern African setting that was directed by Gregory Doran (for which, q.v.). Since then, I've taught the film, written about it elsewhere, and used it as part of a few presentations.

And now, Patterson Joseph, the Brutus from that stage play and film, has written something of a memoir, autobiography, biography of that production, and critical work called Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare's African Play, and it's fascinating.

The first section is autobiographical—how Joseph became an actor. The second part provides a reading of the play itself—together with some historical context for the play in Africa.  And the third (and longest) section provides a detailed history of Doran's production and Joseph's participation in it.

I'm giving you chapter four as a sample—it will provide a good flavor of the rest of the book.

The book is centered on a production history, but there are also many insights into the play—and, particularly, into the character of Brutus.  I was particularly struck by these thoughts about Brutus' second scene (from page 63):

All in all, this was a fabulous book to read. It's very helpful in understanding Doran's production in depth, but that's not all it offers.

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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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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