Friday, September 14, 2018

Book Note: Hamlet's Father

Card, Orson Scott. Hamlet's Father. Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2009.

While we're talking about Orson Scott Card, I suppose I'd better mention his rare, limited-edition novella that retells the story of Hamlet. I read it many years ago and really didn't feel like writing it up right after finishing it. I still don't feel much like writing it up, but I do feel a bit obligated to do so.



Spoilers will inevitably follow—and, in this case, they're rotten spoilers.

Additional Note: This post will not be as family-friendly as most posts at Bardfilm are.

Hamlet's Father keeps to the basic premise of Hamlet, but it spends the majority of its time setting up the ending. Hamlet returns to Denmark for his father's funeral around page seventy—of this ninety-two page novella. He returns and puts on a kind of half-hearted antic disposition. Here are a few pages to give you a feel of that:

After Hamlet returns, he starts poking around to discover how his father died and who killed him and goes so far as to kill Claudius and Laertes before the real murderer steps forward to confess and to explain his reasons for killing King Hamlet.

Horatio did it.

In Clue parlance, it was Horatio in the garden with the sword in the ear (Horatio suggests that the sword must have felt like poison to the dying man, which is why his ghost mistakenly thought it actually was poison).

King Hamlet was a pedophile who was in danger of molesting Hamlet but instead turned his attention to Horatio, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and others. When Horatio found himself about to repeat King Hamlet's misdeeds, he turned from them and decided to kill the king instead. Here's part of the denouement:

I certainly don't like thinking of Hamlet, Sr. as a child molester, but it does fit my general criteria for modern Shakespearean fiction: it invites a return to the text based on an imagined version of events or on different characterizations. Still, it's a very bleak, dark portrait that we're asked to look on.

The novel is quite controversial. The best statement of the controversy is in this review from Rain Taxi. Their argument is that the novel presents Horatio, Rosencrantz, and the others as gay—and that the molestation is presented as the cause of their homosexuality. Card responded here, saying that the characters weren't gay—so molestation didn't cause a homosexual orientation in them.

My own reading of the novella didn't give me the idea that homosexuality was being attacked—though molestation and abuse certainly were. And I didn't see the molestation as causing anything more than the cultural naturalization of molestation and the desire for revenge on Horatio's part.

What bothered me most was the way the novella takes us into a chilling afterlife. Here's the end of the book:

In punishment for his misdeeds (killing Claudius and Laertes, who were innocent) or for not having been molested by his father (which led to the molestation of numerous others), Hamlet is sent to Hell with his father.

It's a dark and exacerbating ending to a dark and exacerbating novella.

Next up: A Thousand Acres! A light retelling of King Lear set on a farm in Iowa will be a welcome change.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Book Note: Magic Street

Card, Orson Scott. Magic Street. New York: Del Ray, 2006.

I enjoy a great many of Orson Scott Card's novels. He usually spins a good yarn, and I generally keep turning pages.

Despite the blurb on the cover—"A great read"—it took forever for me to get into Magic Street. I tried it a couple of years ago and gave up after fifty pages.

I had been told that the novel was a retelling of Midsummer Night's Dream, and it begins with a woman suddenly getting pregnant and giving birth to a baby who is not breathing. A homeless man her husband brought home takes the baby away—and the woman immediately forgets everything that happened. Later, a neighborhood kid finds the baby, which is alive and breathing at that point.

Throughout that section of the novel, I found myself wondering "Is this the Indian boy? Is the homeless man Oberon trying to take it away from Titania? Where are Hermia and Helena and Hippolyta?"

Years pass in the novel—and it feels like years are passing to the reader as well.

Finally, about a hundred pages in, things start to make sense in terms of Shakespeare's play. But we don't have a retelling of the play. We have a story with the fairy characters in the play. Titania (who is also Queen Mab) has trapped Oberon under the earth, and Oberon has trapped her soul in a lantern in Fairyland, and our hero—the grown-up baby from the beginning—has to save the earth.

The rest of the plot is pretty plodding and tedious, and the novel is very dark and often disturbing. Mack keeps venturing into Fairyland, finding a dead man with the head of a donkey. And he dreams the deepest wishes of the people in his neighborhood and makes them come true—always in destructive ways.

The last thing I need to tell you before I give you a sample is that the book is set in an African-American community in Los Angeles. Card was challenged by an African-American friend to write an African-American hero into one of his book. I can't comment on the authenticity of the African-American voices, but I do detect a certain awkwardness and uncertainty that is not characteristic of Card's other works.

Here's part of the scene where Mac gets some information out of the homeless man—Puck—from the beginning of the novel. Note: I've censored some of the vulgarities (another thing that is not usually such a prominent part of Card's books).

The novel doesn't provide much insight into Midsummer Night's Dream, choosing to tell its own story with those characters. We also don't get much insight into Shakespeare, though Puck will occasionally tell us that Titania used her magic to make Shakespeare fall in love with Anne Hathaway. But Puck also lies much of the time.

As a final note, here's what Card had to say about how the idea of bringing Midsummer into the novel—along with a bit about its being set in the African-American community:

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Agatha Christie Always has Time for some Shakespeare

Christie, Agatha. The Moving Finger. New York: Harper, 2011.

. . . but do her editors have the same amount of time?

Here's the reason I'm asking that question. I listen to a lot of audiobooks.  Every couple years, I get on an Agatha Christie kick and listen to a number of her novels. And I'm always impressed and satisfied when I find an allusion to or quotation from Shakespeare.

I heard one when listening to The Moving Finger, a Miss Marple mystery.

But when I checked out a physical copy of the novel—in order to inform you, dear readers, of the reference—it wasn't there!

I listened to the beginning of the novel again, and it certainly was there. I checked out a different edition of the novel—and it still wasn't there!

I finally found an edition that has the exchange in question. Megan, one of the younger people in the village, is being interviewed by our narrator about the place. As is natural, the conversation turns to Shakespeare. Here's the full exchange:

That's from the edition cited above. But observe what happens in the edition published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers in 2007. The entire exchange from "Megan shook her head" (22) to "I've never felt it" (23) is cut:

The small but delightful speculation about how Regan and Goneril "were like that" is lost entirely.

Perhaps Jane Smiley—or someone acting on her behalf—decided to expurgate that part of the conversation to increase sales of A Thousand Acres

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider: A Bollywood Hamlet

Haider. Dir. Vishal Bhardwaj. Perf. Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, and Shraddha Kapoor. 2014. DVD. UTV, 2015.

After directing Maqbool (for which, q.v.) and Omkara (not yet covered by this blog), Vishal Bhardwaj turned his directorial attention to Hamlet with his Haider.

Like his versions of Macbeth and Othello, Haider is a violent reimagining of Shakespeare. It's set in Kashmir, and part of the film contemplates the divided identity of the region.

Haider spends the first part of the film not knowing whether his father is alive and imprisoned or disappeared and dead. When he finally learns that it's the latter, he seems to lose his mind in earnest (though it's still hard to tell whether it's an antic disposition or genuine madness). In the scene below, the Claudius and Gertrude analogues arrive at the scene of a speech Haider is making to a crowd of people—it's something of a mad riff on "to be or not to be."

Not long afterwards, the Gertrude and Claudius analogues marry. After (or as part of?) the festivities, Haider puts on a giant Bollywood number that serves as something of a play-within-the-play. 

Haider is a fascinating, deep retelling of Hamlet that explores issues of rule and succession in a contemporary setting.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Book Note: Suite Scarlett

Johnson, Maureen. Suite Scarlett. New York: Point, 2009.

It took me a while to gather up the gumption to read this book, but I'm glad I did. It's a pretty well-written story with a little bit of Shakespeare thrown in.

The plot involves a family that owns an old hotel in New York City. At one point, it was luxurious, but now it's pretty faded. Each child in the family, when they come of age, is given a specific room to care for.

Our protagonist is given a suite that is soon filled by an over-the-top character.

In the meantime, her brother is trying to convince his parents to let him pursue acting as a career. He has a role in an Broadway production of Hamlet (well, the address is on Broadway, but it's in no way part of the legitimate theatre.

That's where the Shakespeare enters in. Here are a few sample pages:

The book isn't my general cup of tea, but I did appreciate the characters and the integration of the Shakespearean elements of the plot.

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Friday, August 3, 2018

Book Note: Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics

Greenblatt, Stephen. Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics. New York: W. W. Norton, 2018.

I imagine that most people in Shakespeare-related fields feel a little trepidatious when writing about Stephen Greenblatt—especially if they have any criticism to put forth. But I survived writing a negative review of his Will in the World (for which, q.v.), so perhaps I'll weather this.

Tyrant is a fine popular work. It reminds me of Harold Bloom's The Invention of the Human. But it's not a work of scholarship. The 200-page book has just twenty-one footnotes. The book is, in large part, plot summary—astute plot summary, but plot summary nonetheless.

My students are well-versed in my oft-stated advice about their essays: "Plot summary is not analysis." For a popular work on Shakespeare, especially in those chapters dealing with lesser-known plays, some plot summary is expected. But it's disappointing that Tyrant doesn't provide the full depth of analysis of Shakespeare's use of the tyrant.

The most interesting part of the book is the premise that Shakespeare obliquely commented on the politics of his day by telling (or retelling) stories of the tyrants of the past. And Greenblatt is obliquely commenting on the politics of this day by telling stories of Shakespeare's telling stories of the tyrants of the past. But even that theme of the book is too oblique. Shakespeare couldn't be incredibly direct in his commentary; Greenblatt can, but he doesn't give us much.

The book is well-written, and the plots are compellingly related; however, the deep analysis readers are expecting is lacking.

I'll give you a brief sample of Greenblatt's examination of Julius Caesar; it should give you a flavor of the book:

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Garfield and Friends Tackle Taming of the Shrew

"Much Ado About Lanolin." By Mark Evanier and Sharman DiVono. Perf. Lorenzo Music, Thom Huge, and Howard Morris. Dir. Jeff Hall. Garfield and Friends. Season 3, episode 7. CBS. 6 October 1990. DVD. 20th Century Fox, 2005.

I have always been very fond of the Garfield and Friends Saturday morning cartoon show. It was cleverly written (often more cleverly written than the comic strip), often quite meta-theatrical, and frequently full of allusions.

In a U. S. Acres segment (they are the "and Friends" part of the show), the barnyard animals determine to put on a Shakespeare play. Orson Pig (making me wonder if his name has any connection to the Welles of Shakespeare fame) decides thy can all use their imaginations to enact a version of Taming of the Shrew, putting an imaginary Lanolin Sheep (an occasionally-overbearing characters) in the role of Lanolina, the Shrew.

There's actually some good insight (as well as a brief introduction to Shakespeare) in the episode. Orson says, "Art imitates life, and then life imitates art." It's not a bad summary of one of the tenets of New Historicism . . . as well as Hamlet's advice to the players about holding a mirror up to nature.

Here's an edited version of the episode:

That's not bad, though I wish Orson had broken into Theseus' speech on imagination from Midsummer Night's Dream:
. . . as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear! (V.i.14-22)
The interjections from other plays are also rather enjoyable. So enjoy!

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Bonus Images!  Wade Duck in Shakespearean garb:

Friday, July 13, 2018

All's Well at the Great River Shakespeare Festival (and Midsummer Night's Dream, too)

All's Well that Ends Well. Dir. Rick Barbour. Perf. Caroline Amos, Michael Fitzpatrick, Benjamin Boucvalt, Leah Gabriel, Anique Clements, Christopher Gerson, Jonathan Contreras, Alex Givens, Zach Curtis, Melissa Maxwell, Jonathan Gillard Daly, and Christopher Peltier. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2018. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream. Dir. Beth Gardiner. Perf. Benjamin Boucvalt, Silas Sellnow, Andrew Carlson, Anna Sundberg, Anique Clements, Zach Curtis, Antonio Duke, and Leah Gabriel. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2018. 

First, the title of this post sums it up cleverly enough. The Great River Shakespeare Festival is putting on All's Well that Ends Well, and the Great River Shakespeare Festival is serving up its usual fare of tremendously thoughtful, terrifically acted Shakespeare plays. This is their fifteenth year of doing so, so that isn't too surprising.

Second, I got to the shows earlier in the season this year than in years past, which gives me more time to promote the productions more specifically. You have until August 5 to make it to Winona, Minnesota (a gorgeous two-hour drive from the Twin Cities) to see these marvelous plays.

Let me tell you briefly what struck me in of each of the Shakespeare plays on tap this year.

All's Well that Ends Well

This is one of Shakespeare's "problem plays," and it has traditionally been harder to find this in production than other, less difficult plays. Indeed, the Great River's production is the first live production I've seen.

One of the reasons it's denoted as a problem play is that its ending tends to be less satisfying than others of Shakespeare's comedies. And one of the main reasons for that is the character of Bertram, who seems priggish, spoiled, and whiny through the first four acts—and then proves to be a liar and (more or less) a scoundrel in Act V. And he's our male romantic lead!

And that can make Helena, our female romantic lead, either extremely naïve or extremely persistent and forgiving.

This production went with the latter.  Indeed, the entire production is geared toward forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace. Halfway through the play, we get fabulously-constructed stagings like this, with Helena in the foreground and a silhouette of Bertram (looking somewhat Hamiltonesque) in the background:

Toward the end of the play, the two have moved to a level of equality and reconciliation, as seen in the image below:

Spoiler alert: The focus on forgiveness is so strong that the last five minutes or so of the show are largely taken up with Bertram kneeling before every individual he's wronged and silently asking for their forgiveness or absolution. It took (perhaps) a bit too long to accomplish, but it made that element of the production clear.

With the big-picture ideas out of the way, we can move to a few bullet points about the production:

  • Parolles was played to great effect. It took just a little while for the audience to get his character and to understand that we're meant to laugh at his cowardice (a bit like we laugh at Falstaff). Once we caught on to that, he became a figure of true comic relief—one we looked forward to seeing.
  • Many of Lavatch's lines were cut and replaced with whole Shakespeare sonnets (occasionally slightly modified to connect to the play). I need to re-read the play to form a clearer opinion about that decision . . . but it worked on the stage—probably primarily because the role was played so brilliantly by Jonathan Daly, who returned to the Festival this year to universal delight.
  • The bed trick was fairly convincingly portrayed. Bertram meets with Diana, who blindfolds him before she is replaced by Helena. 
  • Lighting, costuming, and staging were all interestingly and brilliantly done.

Theatre is often about the personal experience, and my own gave me a perspective that I shall try to keep in mind in the future. I had never seen a live production of this play, and I haven't read it for over a decade. I remembered the broad strokes of the plot, but very few of the details. And it took me a while until I became attuned to Shakespeare's words and could follow the plot and the speeches with greater comprehension. I want to remember that feeling—I imagine it's how many of my students feel when they come to a Shakespeare play.

Go see All's Well at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. They make the play very enjoyable, and I trust that your experience with the play will end well.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

This production was a quick and delightful romp through Athens and its surrounding forest. Just eight actors—Just. Eight. Actors.—double and triple up to play all the roles.

There isn't a lot of heavy thought to take home from this show—and that's fine. If All's Well can be a problem comedy, this is a Dream from which all problems have taken to their heels and run away.

  • The plot of the Indian child has been excised from this version. That simplifies things, but it also muddles the motivation of the feud between Titania and Oberon. I need to think more about that, but I don't think that cut served the play well.
  • Titania's interest in Bottom is . . . well, it's a bit more on the PG-13 side than is the case with most productions.  She's not just doting on him . . . we get some Sonnet 129 "lust in action" from her.
  • This production's Puck is on the taller, solider, older, more majestic side. Most Pucks are on the spry, elfin side, ready to turn handsprings on stage to do Oberon's bidding. This Puck uses magic rather than physicality to accomplish Oberon's tasks. It gave him an ageless feel—like he's been around far longer than Oberon and serves him because that's more interesting than taking responsibility to make decisions on his own.

Again, go see the play—it's well worth seeing and offers a great deal of hilarity—particularly when the Rude Mechanicals put on their play.

Links:  The Great River Shakespeare Festival. An album of photos from All's Well.

Bonus Image: Parolles (played by the inimitable—seriously, he can't ben imitabled —Christopher Gerson) & Lavatch (played, in his triumphant and much-ancipated return to the festival, by Jonathan Daly)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Note: Malvolio's Revenge

Masson, Sophie. Malvolio's Revenge. New York: Ember, 2012.

The last book I read by Sophie Masson was The Madman of Venice (for which, q.v.). Indeed, I once taught it in a course I developed called "Modern Shakespearean Fiction."

I ran across this one in an essay for the most recent Shakespeare Association of America Convention. From the title, I thought it might be a sequel to Twelfth Night, and it does have some elements of that, but it's more of a mirror novel, but with a twist.

The story involves a touring troupe of actors putting on a play entitled Malvolio's Revenge. They end up in New Orleans. The year is 1910. There's much witchcraft, mystery, and intrigue.

Because of the mystery and intrigue, I don't want to say too much about the plot—spoilers, you know. But I'll provide a few sample pages—particularly geared toward the plot of the play-within-the-novel.

The first gives us the troupe's first sight of a Louisiana manor house called . . . yes, you can probably guess it . . . Illyria:

Later, we learn a bit more about the play:

I thought the book had a good sense of setting and tone, and the plot is intriguing. We don't get as much of the play-within-the-novel as I'd like—I'd like to learn more of the vision of the afterlife of Twelfth Night that the novel plays with.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Shakespeare in The Flintstones

"Curtain Call at Bedrock." By George O'Hanlon. Perf. Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, and Mel Blanc. Dir. Joseph Barbera and William Hanna. The Flintstones. Season 6, episode 20. ABC. 18 February 1966. DVD. WarnerBrothers, 2012.

In an episode of The Flintstones close to the end of its run, our Bedrock buddies put on their production of a Shakespeare play.

In its usual style, the name has been altered to fit the paleo setting. Thus, we have Romeorock and Juliettestone as the play.

The plot involves Fred Flintstone objecting to playing the lead role of Romeorock—even though he knows all the lines and is adequate in putting passion into them. At least, he's more adequate than Barney Rubble, who is tagged to play the role.

Barney keeps forgetting his lines. And when he does deliver them, he does so very monotonously. The controversial intervention of the Great Gazoo solves the former, but it can't do anything about the latter.

I've compiled some clips to give you a sense of the episode, which had a surprising number of lines from Shakespeare in it (and one reference to public speaking majors):

To avoid spoilers, I'm not showing you anything from the actual performance at the end of the episode—you'll have to seek that out for yourself (though the image that heads this post may give you a clue as to how it works out).

There's a Season five episode (episode 11, for those keeping score) titled "Dino and Juliet," but I suspect that its use of Shakespeare is much more generic.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Book Note: Kino & Teresa

Lujan, James. Kino and Teresa: A Play in Two Acts set in New Mexico in the Years after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, after the Spanish Re-Conquest of 1692, Based on Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Lexington: Native Voices, 2005. Post-Production Draft.

At the 2018 Shakespeare Association of America convention, I learned about Kino and Teresa, a Native-American play that retells the story of Romeo and Juliet.

I don't know much about the period 1680 to 1692 in New Mexico. I know John Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel was published in 1681, but that's not exactly relevant here.

The play is set in a Spanish town with two groups of Pueblo peoples: those who are living peaceably in the town (though they are subject to racist attitudes) and those who are living outside the town and who are suspected of plotting against the Spaniards.

The play stays very close to Shakespeare's original—sometimes seeming to proceed almost speech-for-speech.

I'll give you two samples (click on the images to enlarge them). Here's one from early in the play. It's setting things up . . . and then working into the opening "Do you bite your thumb at us?" exchange:

And, since I know you're going to ask, here's how the balcony scene plays itself out:

Bypassing the "wherefore" conundrum, we get "O, Kino, Kino! Why have you come into my life, Kino?"

The play provides an intriguing setting for its retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but it may stay a bit too close to the original to provide a depth of commentary on the cultures involved in that setting. But I'd love to see it in production—that might bring the cultural elements to the foreground.

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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