Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Paule Marshall Re-imagines Caliban

Marshall, Paule. "Brazil." Soul Clap Hands and Sing. Washington, D.C: Howard University Press, 1988. 131-77.

In her 1961 short story "Brazil" (one of four long short stories in the volume Soul Clap Hands and Sing), African-American author Paule Marshall interestingly re-imagines Caliban.

The opening of the story is in the image to the right (click on it to enlarge it). It sets the stage of a nightclub in Brazil and its long-time headlining show: The Great Caliban and the Tiny Miranda.

We soon learn that Miranda is a very tall white woman and Caliban is an extremely diminutive black man.

The story is leisurely in its teasing out the relationships and the setting.  Caliban is set to retire soon—as he's threatened many times before—and the two performers are barely on speaking terms.

As he ponders his retirement, we find Caliban in something of an identity crisis. Everyone calls him "Senhor Caliban" or "Caliban"—even his young wife—and he thinks that he's forgotten who he's meant to be.

We learn this in one of the only direct allusions to Shakespeare in the piece. Some Americans who had been at the nightclub stop him as he walks the streets, hoping he can help them communicate with their taxi driver. After he does so, one of the Americans asks, "Say, aren't you the comedian from the club? What's your name again?" (150) It brings a desire to be known under his old name, "Heitor Baptista Guimares" (151):

The story continues for some time with Heitor / Caliban trying to figure out who he is—is he who he was born or who the public considers him to be? It's a remarkable exploration of the nature of identity.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Rita Dove in Muse of Fire

Muse of Fire. Dir. Dan Poole and Giles Terera. Perf. Dan Poole, Giles Terera, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, John Hurt, Ben Kingsley, Michael Gambon, Zoƫ Wanamaker, Jeremy Irons, and Simon Russell Beale. Muse of Fire Film, Timebomb Pictures, Lion Television, 2013.

Longtime readers may remember the U.S. premiere of Muse of Fire (for which, q.v.). The film (presented by Bardfilm, if I remember correctly) was very well-received, and it is now
available to rent or to purchase the film from iTunes. The film provides, in an intriguing, compelling manner, an impressive array of voices on Shakespeare.

As my grandmother used to say, I told you that to tell you this: Rita Dove was one of those voices.

In the clip below, she reads part of her poem "Shakespeare Say" (for which, q.v.) and comments on her experiences with Shakespeare.


Links: The Official Site for Muse of Fire. The Film at IMDB.

Click here to rent or to purchase the film from iTunes

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Another Shakespeare Poem by Rita Dove

Dove, Rita. "Blues in Half-Tones, 3/4 Time." American Smooth: Poems. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. 97-98.

In this poem, Rita Dove weaves together allusions from King Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth to make a kind of blues. As with the previous post, I don't have a ton of explication to add to the poem itself—I'll just let the poem speak for itself and hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.
Rita Dove (1952— )

Blues in Half-Tones, 3/4 Time

From nothing comes nothing,
don't you know that by now?
Not a thing for you, sweet thing,
not a wing nor a prayer,
though you got half
by birthright,
itching under the skin.

(There's a typo somewhere.)
Buck 'n' wing,
common prayer—
which way do you run?
The oaken bucket's
all busted
and the water's all gone.

I'm not for sale because I'm free.
(So they say. They say
the play's the thing, too,
but we know that don't play.)
Everyone's a ticket
or a stub, so it might as well
cost you, my dear.

But are you sure you lost it?
Did you check the back seat?
What a bitch. Gee, that sucks.
Well, you know what they say.
What's gone's gone.
No use crying.
(There's a moral somewhere.)

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Shakespeare Poem by Rita Dove

Dove, Rita. "Shakespeare Say." Museum: Poems. Pittsburgh: Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1983. 33-34.

I've been wanting to continue in the vein of African-American poets writing with Shakespeare in mind, but end-of-the-semester madness has intervened. Still, I'm determined to call our collective attention to a couple poems by Rita Dove, U.S. Poet Laurate from 1993 to 1995.

"Shakespeare Say" was published ten years before Dove became poet laureate. I don't have too much in the way of explication of the poem, but I enjoy the feel of the poem—I feel some Langston Hughes here, though not in the imagery from German—and I'm very fond of these lines: "Shakespeare say / man must be / careful what he kiss / when he drunk" (41-44). The last few lines of the poem are also pretty magnificent.

Without much ado, here's Rita Dove's "Shakespeare Say."
Rita Dove (1952—     )

Shakespeare Say

He drums the piano wood,

Champion Jack in love
and in debt,
in a tan walking suit
with a flag on the pocket,
with a red eye
for women, with a
ear, with sand
in a mouthful of mush—

poor me
poor me
I keep on drifting
like a ship out
on the sea

That afternoon two students
from the Akademie
showed him the town.
Munich was misbehaving,
his ass to ice
while his shoes
soaked through. His guides
pointed at a clock
in a blue-tiled house.
And tonight

every song he sings
is written by Shakespeare
and his mother-in-law.
I love you, baby,
but it don’t mean
a goddam thing
In trouble

with every woman he’s
ever known, all of them
ugly—skinny legs, lie gap
waiting behind the lips
to suck him in.

Going down slow
crooning Shakespeare say
man must be
careful what he kiss
when he drunk
going down
for the third set
past the stragglers
at the bar,
the bourbon in his hand
some bitch’s cold
wet heart,
the whole joint

stinking on beer;
in love and winning
now, so even the mistakes
sound like jazz,
poor me, moaning
so no one hears:

my home’s in Louisiana,
my voice is wrong
I’m broke and can’t hold
my piss;
my mother told me
there’d be days like this

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

“Shakespeare was a Black Woman”: Maya Angelou's Statement in Context

Angelou, Maya. "The Role of Art in Life." [Transcript of address given to the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies Convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 12 June 1985.] Connections Quarterly September 1985: 14+.

On multiple occasions, I've read that Maya Angelou said, “Shakespeare was a Black Woman,” but I was never able to track down the full context of that statement.

Let's hear it for Reference Librarians again! Although this was a bit of a knotty problem to unravel, a reference librarian at my institution was able to find the address in which she made that statement (or at least the largest extraction from that address I've seen).

The context it provides is very interesting. Maya Angelou voluntarily refrained from speaking from age seven to age twelve. A woman of the town took it on herself to read to Angelou:
She knew I loved poetry. I had James Weldon Johnson, County Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar at the tip of my tongue. I loved Shakespeare—I didn't understand that much, I but I loved it. I would record whole scenes and plays, and all the sonnets I could just choke down. (14)
This woman encouraged Angelou to speak by telling her that she would never truly love poetry unless she could speak it out loud. Eventually, Angelou determined to do a "rendition" at a church meeting:
. . . at twelve-and-a-half, I had my voice back, and I decided I would render a rendition. In the CME Church in Stamps, Arkansas, I decided that I would render Portia's speech from The Merchant of Venice. That | would get them. That would knock them right off their pews—I could see myself doing it: "The quality of mercy" (pause) "is not strained. It droppeth" (long pause) "As a gentle rain—" I had it choreographed; it was going to be fantastic. But then, mama asked me, "Sister, what are you planning to render?" So I told her, "A piece from Shakespeare, Mama." Mama asked, "Now sister, who is this very Shakespeare?" I had to tell her that Shakespeare was white. And Mama felt the less we said about whites, the better, and if we didn't mention them at all, maybe they'd just get up and leave. I couldn't lie to her, so I told her, "Mama, it's a piece written by William Shakespeare who is white, but he's dead. And has been dead for centuries." Now, I thought then she would forgive him that little indiosyncracy [sic]. Mama said, "Sister, you will render a piece of Mister Langston Hughes, Mister County Cullen, Mister James Weldon Johnson, or Mister Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Yes ma'am, little mistress, you will."

Well, I did. But years later, when I physically and psychologically left that country, that condition, which is Stamps, Arkansas, a condition I warrant, regrettably, that a number of people in this very room abide today, I found myself, and still find myself, whenever I like stepping back into Shakespeare. Whenever I like, I pull to me. He wrote it for me. "When in disgrace with fortune in [sic] men's eyes / I all alone beweep my outcast state / and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries / and look upon myself and curse my fate / wishing me like to one more rich in hope / featured like him, like him with friends possessed / desiring this man's art and that man's scope / with what I most enjoy contented least. . . ." Of course he wrote it for me; that is a condition of the black woman. Of course, he was a black woman. I understand that. Nobody else understands it, but I know that William Shakespeare was a black woman. (28)
It's fascinating to hear Angelou's account of her engagement with Shakespeare—and I dearly wish she had given the Portia speech. Angelou was able to find in Shakespeare her own voice: The voice of a black woman.

I'm inclining images of the entire article below so that you all can enjoy the full context of Angelou's words. Click on the images to enlarge them.

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 2008-2012 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