Friday, May 20, 2022

Book Note: The Parallel King Lear: 1608-1623

Shakespeare, William. The Parallel King Lear: 1608-1623. Prepared by Michael Warren. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

My previous post reminded me that I had never written about The Parallel King Lear. I've covered The Three-Text Hamlet (for which, q.v.) and spoken of how useful it is (for which, q.v.).

The Parallel King Lear is also very useful. The first quarto text (1608) is presented side-by-side with the first folio text (1623). Moreover (and it differs from The Three-Text Hamlet in this), the selections are presented in facsimile. It also is enormous—each single page is nearly eleven by seventeen inches! Finally, it also contains columns of corrections made during each print run. It's really a four-column King Lear, but the center columns are where most of the action is.

The precise relationship between Q1 and F of King Lear is much debated. And that's an understatement. Gallons of scholarly ink has been spilled on the subject. The older orthodoxy was that F represented a revision of Q1—or that Q1 was a "bad quarto" (in other words, one not representing authorial intention). Recent critical approaches have gone so far as to argue that these two texts of King Lear, Q1 containing 300 lines not in F and F containing 100 lines not in Q1, are so different as to represent two separate plays. That's why you can buy King Lear in the Pelican edition in three different forms:  Q1, F1, and a conflated text.  The Oxford Shakespeare (the Norton) also couldn’t decide which to print in its complete Shakespeare, so it prints all three.

Whatever you think about the two texts of King Lear, this volume is a tremendous resource for seeing at a glance where the differences are. In my previous post, I provided a scan of Act I, scene iv to illustrate some differences between the texts. Here, I've decided to show the differences between the ending of Q1 and the ending of F, a key one of which is who gets the ending line.

The question of whether "Duke" (i.e., Albany) or "Edg." (i.e., Edgar) gets the last line is fascinating. But I won't say more about that just now.

And there's one other line attribution that I've only just noticed—it's amazing what you'll find just glancing through a volume like this! In F, we have a stage direction to mark Lear's death; in Q1, we don't. After that stage direction in F, Kent says, "Break heart, I prithee break." In Q1, that line is given to Lear.

I'm not quite sure what to make of that—but doubtless something could be made of it! I'll think about it this summer and work my ideas into my fall Shakespeare class.

Note: I've also only just noticed that, in addition to the volume I've been writing about, there is a four-volume set that includes this volume, a volume that is a facsimile of Q1, a volume that is a facsimile of Q2, and a volume that is a facsimile of F. It's really expensive, but you can get it here.

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Lear's Shadow

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. R. A. Foakes. Arden Shakespeare. London: Routledge, 1997.
I'm very fond of the Chop Bard podcast. Ehren Ziegler, its host, has thoroughly and entertainingly examined at least eighteen Shakespeare plays over the course of 224 episodes. It's been a while, but Episode 153: "The Difference of Man" featured some commentary I wrote in to the show. You can listen to a portion of that in that episode (the comments start at 1:20), but I wanted to share those points and others here (expanded and slightly edited and illustrated) as well. Here, then, is a large part of what I wrote.

Dear Ehren:

In Episode 144 (“Serpent’s Tooth”), you provided a fascinating account of the wealth of interpretative possibilities available in the line “Lear’s shadow” (I.iv.222 in the Arden edition—see the image above). The line immediately before that line is one of immense significance: “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” (I.iv.221). When Shakespeare uses phrases like “I am,” he’s usually getting at something important. And when he breaks the language up into pure monosyllables, it slows up the language, forcing us to pay additional attention to the line. The line then becomes—especially in F, where it’s printed as blank verse (see the image below from The Parallel King Lear—for more on that volume, q.v.)—a cry for clarification of his identity, which has deteriorated quite a bit already.

The line “Lear’s shadow” is spoken by Lear in the first quarto and by the Fool in the first folio (see the same image above). As I recall, you gave the following remarkable possibilities for the line as spoken by the Fool in F. 
  • Lear’s shadow (his actual shadow) could tell Lear who he is—and, since it can say nothing, the answer is “nothing.”
  • Lear’s shadow (the Fool) could tell Lear who he is . . . and he’s been trying to all along: “thou art nothing” (I.iv.184-85).
  • “Lear’s shadow” is the answer to the question. You’re only the shadow of your former self.
I’d just like to addd one more possible layer of meaning to the line: an intriguingly metatheatrical one.  

In Shakespeare’s day, the word “shadow” could mean “player” or “actor.” OED def. 6 b. says, “Applied rhetorically to a portrait as contrasted with the original; also to an actor or a play in contrast with the reality represented.” It cites “If we shadows have offended” and "The best in this kind are but shadows” from Midsummer Night’s Dream and "To your shadow, will I make true love” from Two Gentlemen of Verona:

This provides the possibility for the line meaning “the actor playing King Lear” in addition to all the other polysemous meanings that are running around the line. As an inside joke, it’s intriguing. It’s like all those times in Agatha Christie novels where the characters say, “If this weren’t actually happening to me, I wouldn’t believe it—I would think I was in a mystery novel.” It calls attention to the fact that we’re watching a play while still enabling us to be intensely caught up in the lives of the characters. This is especially the case in Q1, where Lear speaks the line. There, it would mean, in one rough sense at least, “Who am I? Just some guy playing the role of King Lear?”

The other point about that episode that I’d like to bring to your attention is this exchange between Lear and the Fool:

Lear: Dost thou call me fool, boy?

Fool: All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou was born with. (I.iv.141-43)

The way you read the line was intriguing. You read it as if there were no punctuation: “All thy other titles thou hast given away that thou was born with.” Rephrasing this to maintain that grammar, we get “All thy other titles that thou was born with thou hast given away.” With the semi-colon, it amounts to “You’ve given away all your titles except the title you were born with, and that title is ‘fool’” (i.e., "All thy other titles thou hast given away; that [the title of fool] thou was born with”). Your reading shifts the emphasis from having the title of fool to giving away all other titles, and that’s an interesting alternate emphasis. Well done! [Note: That line is only in Q, where it is printed with a comma and a capital T for Titles: “All thy other Titles thou hast given away, that thou was born with.” Additional Note: Jacobean punctuation is fluid enough for that comma to represent either a semi-colon or a slight pause.]

Finally, I’d like to point you toward a line you’ll get to in the next episode. At the end of Edgar’s speech where he starts to try out the role of Poor Tom, he gives another one of Shakespeare’s “I am” lines, but with a fabulous twist. Edgar concludes his speech with “Edgar I nothing am” (II.ii.192). I always ask my students (particularly those who are taking the advanced grammar class we offer) to diagram that sentence, and they almost always turn it into something like “I, Edgar, am nothing”—which is probably grammatically accurate, but it doesn’t actually account for everything packed into that line. The use of the word “nothing” that’s been running through the play is called back here again—Shakespeare loves to ring changes on different words!—and that, together with the arrangement of the words, gives us much to ponder. It seems that Edgar means something more like “As Edgar, I’m nothing, but I can at least be something if I’m Poor Tom” or “Edgar has become nothing,” implying that Edgar is emptied of all that gave him identity when he heads out to the heath with this new identity.  

Those are thoughts that just a few lines of King Lear inspire in me every time I read the play. Themes of identity, nothingness, and foolishness are caught up in complicated ways that make me marvel every single time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Shakespeare in The Far Side

Larson, Gary. "Whoa! . . . Something's Sure Rotten Somewhere!" 27 October 1986. The Complete Far Side. Vol. 1. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2013.

I grew up reading the comics every day in the newspaper.

I guess I'm dating myself. [And that's okay—whenever I date myself and get angry at myself, I just don't talk to myself for a while, and eventually I get the point and we make up.]

And this was in the golden age of comics.  Calvin & Hobbes was (were?) there. FoxTrot was around. And then there was The Far Side.

This semester, I got the magisterial Complete Far Side from the library, and I've been dipping into it every so often. It's strong on the Trojan War, chickens, cows, and Hell but relatively weak on Shakespeare.

But today, I found one near the end of Volume One. Enjoy this one, and I'll keep looking. If you know of any others, let us know in the comments, please!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Hamlet: The Series

Hamlet: The Series
. Six episodes. Dir. Bob J. Koester. Perf. June Greyson, Kitty Mortland, Joe Page, Liz Kummer, Alex Molnar, Christopher Lysy, and John McDonnell. 2014, 2015. DVD. N.p., 2014-2015.

I purchased this at the end of a fiscal year—largely because it used up my budget nearly to the penny. I didn't expect much; I didn't get much. It's one of those things funded by Kickstarter that didn't entirely pan out as the creative minds behind it likely intended.

Hamlet: The Series is a set of six episodes that modernizes Hamlet. In a number of ways, it's repeating some of the schemes of the 2000 film directed by Michael Almereyda (for which, q.v.). There's a lot of technology worked in, including Hamlet texting Horatio parts of her soliloquies. Yes, her soliloquies. We have a female Hamlet (Hamlette?) here. It's an interesting decision, but the production doesn't do much with it.

What's mildly interesting is the use of a news program to introduce some of the plot devices. I'd like to show you a bit of that—and you'll also be able to gather the general quality of the production from it. You'll also see our ghost, and you'll be introduced to our Hamlet. Here you go:

I thought I'd give you their "O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I" to round things off:

There you have it. Some somewhat interesting ideas that are not carried out very well. I won't be trying to track down episodes four to six.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, May 9, 2022

Book Note: All's Well: A Novel

Awad, Mona. All's Well: A Novel. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

I nearly abandoned this novel several times. It seemed like the first-person narrator was going to talk about two things and two things only: Her chronic pain and her desire to direct a college production of All's Well that Ends Well

I have some sympathy for (and I considered myself to have some empathy with) the former, and I thought I could be persuaded to have some sympathy with the latter (it's not a play I admire greatly, but if someone is really, genuinely passionate about something—even Wordsworth—I can be swept along with their fascinations).

But it just went on and on. Her chronic pain and reliance on (if not addiction to) a multitude of pain killers was making the work of directing the play difficult. She wasn't able to explain her vision for the play (which seemed to boil down to "Helena was my last successful role, and I loved it, and you're going to love it, too, even if it kills you") to them successfully. And the students (led by the powerful lead actress—powerful not because of her acting but because her parents were huge donors to the school) were mutinying, wanting to put on Macbeth instead. Things were coming to a head about a hundred pages in (it seemed longer) when the administration ordered her to direct Macbeth instead of All's Well.

Therefore, I was going to give up. But I decided to ask, in the words of the immortal Bugs Bunny, "What's the hubbub, bub?"

And I found a number of glowing reviews (e.g., this one from NPR) that said that what I was experiencing was the actual point. The novel is about female chronic pain and the male inability to sympathize with it, empathize with it, or take it seriously.

Well, all right. I don't think I'm guilty of that, but perhaps I am. But perhaps I just don't want to spend a hundred pages being taught that lesson. I remember a line from Gary D. Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars (for which, q.v.) where the main character is complaining about Hamlet. He says something like, "Hamlet's main characteristic is that he talks too much. And, in a play, the only way to show that someone talks too much is to have them talk too much." [Note: When I'm able to track down my copy, I'll provide the exact quote.]

So, somewhat guiltily, I gave it another try.

I'm somewhat glad I did—but only somewhat.

The plot from that point on involves Miranda Fitch (our protagonist) meeting with three odd people who seem to have magical powers. They seems to be able to take their pain and send it off to other people. I'm providing that scene as a representative sample of the novel:

It's the turning point of the novel. Miranda Fitch learns this power, gives most of (all of?) her pain to the powerful actress, and, because of a large donation to the college from three strange men who want to see All's Well staged, is able to put on the play she wants rather than Macbeth.

Yes. A lot of irony there.

I won't spoil anything else in the plot, but I found the novel somewhat worth reading—it gets better and more interesting (although also more scattered) after the first hundred pages.

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Monday, May 2, 2022

Hamlet's First Line

. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, and Robin Williams. 1996. DVD. Castle Rock, 2007.
Hamlet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, and Helena Bonham Carter. 1990. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2004.
Hamlet. Dir. Kevin Kline. Perf. Kevin Kline and Diane Venora. 1990. DVD. Image Entertainment, 1990.
Hamlet. Dir. Laurence Olivier. Perf. Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Norman Wooland, Felix Aylmer, and Terence Morgan. 1948. DVD. Criterion, 2000.

Hamlet's first line is famously "Who's there?" which has lead to many jokes about the play being the world's longest knock-knock joke. But Hamlet's first line is "A little more than kin, and less than kind." [Please note the difference between italic typeface "Hamlet" and straight Roman "Hamlet" there—that's where we have vive la diffĂ©rence in this instance.]

An interesting discussion started on Twitter last week about that line. Many reported seeing it marked [Aside] in various editions. So I ran right straight to my Three-Text Hamlet (for which, q.v.) and confirmed that the line is not marked aside in Q1, Q2, or F. Indeed, Hamlet doesn't get the line in Q1 at all. His first line there is "My lord, ti's [sic] not the sable sute I weare . . . ." But, as usual, I digress.

Next, I grabbed my favorite Arden edition (the second series one—edited by Harold Jenkins), and I found that the first edition to mark the line as aside is Lewis Theobald's second edition (1740).

Therefore, we don't have a contemporary aside—but that doesn't mean actors and directors can't have it delivered aside. In fact, it's another place where my idea of Hamlet as a game of chess (for which, q.v.) comes into play. It's Hamlet's first line, and it can set the tone for his character for the rest of the play.

After that, I remembered that this is a Shakespeare and Film Blog, so I put together one video that shows how four different actors have performed the line: Branagh, Gibson, Kline, and Olivier. Take a look!

Branagh gives us an aside in voiceover. It's a telling choice that indicates the heavier emphasis on introspection in his idea of the character of Hamlet. Gibson gives us a straightforward reading, directed at Claudius. There's not much reaction from Claudius—but Gertrude seems to like the sun / son pun. 

I find Kline's to be the most interesting. It's delivered straight at Claudius—with the whole Danish court watching on and listening in. They respond with a few Oooooooohs. That clues us in to the idea that his Hamlet is not following social mores. He's a bit unaccountable—a loose canon. 

And then we have Olivier—who cuts the line entirely! I suppose it's meant to be internalized—presenting a different kind of challenge to Claudius' authority. There's more to be developed here. What's the difference between an audience member who knows the line is coming and doesn't hear it and an audience member who doesn't?  [Note: Here's a good Shakespeare and Film essay topic ready to go!]

It's one line, but it can be served up in many ways—each one providing something of significance to the Hamlet delivering it.

Links: The Films at IMDB: Branagh, Gibson, Kline, and Olivier.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Happy Baptism Day, Shakespeare!

Orlin, Lena Cowen. 
The Private Life of William Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021.

We don't know Shakespeare's birthday. But we often celebrate it on April 23.

In fact, the first record we have of Shakespeare's existence is his baptismal record. He was baptized on April 23, 1564.

An awful lot of well-intentioned but erroneous ink has been spilled to try to justify the speculation that he was born on April 23, but we just don't know. It's tempting because he died on April 23, 1616 and April 23 is St. George's Day—and St. George is the patron saint of England. It's tempting because you will extremely frequently see the claim that babies were usually baptized three days after birth.

The problem with that last claim is that it's nonsense. I've been reading The Private Life of William Shakespeare recently (it sounds like a novel, but it's actually an extremely scholarly examination of the records we have of Shakespeare's life—particularly those relating to Stratford. Lena Cowen Orlin's explanation of why people celebrate Shakespeare's birthday on April 23 is one of the most cogent and careful I've seen:

And that's why people keep on saying "children were baptized three days after birth in Shakespeare's day"—because 50% of the children born to a certain John Dee were baptized three days after birth—and James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps concluded, in 1848, that that was the usual time frame between birth and baptism.

Thus, we can say, "Happy birthday, Shakespeare . . . whenever it happened to be!"  And we can say, "Happy Baptism Day, Shakespeare—it's April 26!"

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Friday, April 22, 2022

Shakespeare's in The Good Place!

"Whenever You're Ready." By Michael Schur. Perf. Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D'Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, Ted Danson, Maya Rudolph, and Marc Evan Jackson. Dir. Michael Schur. The Good Place. Season 4, episode 13. 30 January 2020. DVD. Shout! Factory, 2020.

"Chidi Sees the Time-Knife." By Michael Schur, 
Christopher Encell, and 
Joe Mande. Perf. Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D'Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, Ted Danson, Maya Rudolph, and Marc Evan Jackson. Dir. Jude Weng.
The Good Place. Season 3, episode 11. 17 January 2019. DVD. Shout! Factory, 2020.

Readers who know the show The Good Place may know what I'm talking about. Readers who don't may think I'm being quite presumptuous. And readers who are Shakespeare Geek may be wondering why I'm not pointing out that he's the one who called my attention to the reference in the show's finale.

Let me explain—but understand that it will involve considerable spoilers.

The Good Place is a show about the afterlife (and ethics and philosophy and relationships and frozen yogurt, and many other things). When people die, they go to The Good Place or The Bad Place (or, in at least one rare instance, The Medium Place) based on how many Goodness Points they earned while alive.

After many meanderings, our main characters final reach The Real Good Place (I'm leaving that somewhat ambiguous for those who haven't seen the show), but the problem is that no one remains happy there for long because there's no end to it. They decide to allow the people there to decide when they're ready to move on—which means walking through a door and having any distinguishing part of their identity and personality return to the universe.

In a brief moment in the season finale, we learn that Shakespeare, after a very long time in The Real Good Place, has decided to go through the door:

Before the rules were changed (way back in Season 3), Shakespeare was in The Bad Place—and it must have been tough. He's what one of the head demons has to say:

It's a minor bit of Shakespeare, but it's appreciated by the Shakespeare aficionados of the world.

Links: The Series at IMDB.

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Tiniest Possible Reference to Shakespeare in Outside Providence

Outside Providence. Dir. Michael Corrente. Perf. Shawn Hatosy, Amy Smart, George Wendt, and Alec Baldwin. 1999. DVD. Miramax, 2000.

And sometimes you get a lot less than you think.

I was under the impression that this film was something of a Hamlet derivative. Although I expected it to have relatively minimal associations with Shakespeare's play, I thought there would be something.

"After all," I thought, "there's that whole thing about the fall of a sparrow and providence and Hamlet is sent to an island (admittedly not a Rhode one, but still)."

Wikipedia describes this film as "a 1999 American teen stoner comedy." So I probably should have known better.

Here's all there is:

Yes, that's it. When asked to name his favorite author, our main character (who has been sent to a boarding school because of his constant drug use) says the name on the first book he sees:  Hamlet. And he suffers the consequences. Yes, I am that patient [b]log man.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

2 Henry VI and Othello Make Brief Appearances in WRKP

"Three Days of the Condo." By Lissa Levin. Perf. Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Richard Sanders, Frank Bonner, Jan Smithers, Tim Reid, Howard Hesseman. Dir. Linda Day. WKRP. Season 4, episode 7. BBC. 18 November, 1981. DVD. Shout! Factory, 2018.

Doctor Johnny Fever makes two quick references to Shakespeare in a Season 4 episode. The plot surrounding the allusions isn't important, so I'll ignore that. 

The first reference contains an allusion to Dick the Butcher's famous line from 1 Henry VI: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (IV.ii.76-77). Well, it's a very rough paraphrase, but Johnny Fever does cite Shakespeare as the source.

The second is just the name "Othello" uttered after Dr. Fever takes a closer look at what Venus Flytrap is wearing.


Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Monday, April 18, 2022

Book Note: Hamlet: Globe to Globe

Dromgoole, Dominic. Hamlet: Globe to Globe: Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play. New York: Grove Press, 2017.

I read this book during the pandemic, and it was inspiring. It's the kind of book you can dip into and usually find something interesting.

Hamlet: Globe to Globe presents the stories of a troupe of actors from the Globe Theatre (the most recent one) who performed Hamlet in 197 countries over a two-year period.

And many of those performances were fraught with significance or difficulty—or, frequently, both.

Not every venue is covered in the book, and the book is somewhat uneven, but when it's good, it's quite good. I'd like to provide a representative sample. Here, then, is an account of their performance in Prague:

I find the gratitude expressed at the end of that performance to be beautiful.

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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