Thursday, November 20, 2014

More Shakespearean Monkeys—Baboons, to be Precise

The Okavango Macbeth: A Chamber Opera. Libretto by Alexander McCall Smith. Comp. Tom Cunningham. Dir. Nicholas Ellenbogen. Perf. Mr. McFall's Chamber Orchestra and Edinburgh Studio Opera Chorus. 22-23 April 2011. Delphian, 2011. CD.

No, I'm not on about the infinite monkeys alluded to in Douglas Adams (for which, q.v.). Nor do I refer to the Monkeys that did Romeo and Juliet (for which, q.v.). No, I'm talking about The Okavango Macbeth.

"What's The Okavango Macbeth?" I hear you asking. Ah, well, there's the rub. I chanced upon our library's holdings of an audio recording of this opera (for it is an opera) while teaching the English majors at my institution the finer points of research. Why I was trying the search term "baboon" (for it is about baboons) escapes me for a moment, but it may have had something to do with Romeo and Juliet: A Monkey's Tale, about which we had just been talking. How Macbeth got in there (for it is about Macbeth) is also something of a mystery, but I had Macbeth on my mind and was showing the class how to use some of the Boolean operators to reduce a result list of thousands down to a manageable few dozen.

In any case, we chanced upon a title that seemed to have to do with Macbeth even though the Library of Congress subject heading was "Baboons -- Songs and Music." My jaw dropped as I realized that I had once heard of this show and that I could (if I wished) listen to it right then and there with my entire class.

I didn't, of course, but I did manage to put in on later. In fact, it’s quite good—both the libretto and the music are fairly deep and haunting. The author of the Libretto is Alexander McCall Smith—he of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The work is set in Botswana—that of the Okavango River Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve.

Here are the program notes' summary of the first three acts (there are four in all):
Act One
The animals recall the time when all lived together in peace but then came drought and famine—greed was born.  The animals blame the baboons.
Act Two
The primatologists set up camp in the delta and agree that they will watch the baboons but never interfere.  The baboons then emerge and observe the humans–such strange, unfinished creatures–and agree that they will watch but never interfere.  Two of them, Lady Macbeth and her friend, complain about the males and start scheming.  When Macbeth arrives, she flatters him, but he reminds her she must marry Duncan according to Baboon Law.  She urges Macbeth to kill Duncan.
Act Three
As evening approaches, the primatologist reflect on the nature of animal behavior.  Lady Macbeth consoles Duncan whose kingly responsibilities fall on his weary shoulders.  She lulls him to sleep.  With some difficulty, she encourages Macbeth to kill him.  The following morning, the primatologists come across the body of Duncan and discern evil in nature’s paradise.
There are a few scattered videos of pieces of performances available on YouTube. Here's one of an Act Four song entitled "Grubs First, then Ethics."


"Grubs First, then Ethics"

Affairs of state
And love and hate,
That keep the great
Awake at night,
Are from our sight
Grubs first, then ethics.
Beneath the ground

All fat and round
The grubs are found;
Prepare to eat
This lucious treat
Grubs first, then ethics.
The primate way
Can give no sway
To those who say
A leader strong
Will last for long
Grubs first, then ethics.
That's great, and it gives a good sense of the production. There's quite a bit of good humor there—and some particularly good voices.

A more serious scene (and one for which I can't find a video counterpart) involves an exchange between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth.
Macbeth arrives.  Lady Macbeth’s friend withdraws discreetly.
Lady Macbeth:
My lord Macbeth is come,
The one who is all glorious,
In my eyes, O georgeous one,
My lover bright, in courage spun;
Who sends the leopard to his cave;
And in whose presence weak are brave,
Who takes the sun from out the sky,
And plucks the eagles as they fly
With talons drawn, and dashes them,
And dashes them, and dashes them.
Is that me whom you describe?
Am I so brave who once was . . .
Lady Macbeth:
Brave, and always was.
A man may think he’s
Something other
In the generous praise
Of a lover.
Lady Macbeth:
A woman sees the best in men,
A woman finds those depths often
Unseen by man himself.
Still, I am only . . .
Lady Macbeth:
Only one; you are the one and
Only one I think of
When I’m lonely.
I cannot be your suitor,
No matter how much
I love you;
No matter how much
I want you.
You cannot bear my children
Against baboon law.
Lady Macbeth:
Baboon law?  What is the law
But the way people have done things
They could have done
Otherwise if they had thought?
It is the law;
there is no more
to be said about it.
We cannot break
Nor lightly take it
Another way.
It is the law.
And the law says
Duncan, it is Duncan
Who will be your mate;
Duncan, the powerful,
Duncan, your destined
Lady Macbeth:
But I want you.
Me will kill a rival:
Do not ask me
To put my head upon a block.
Lady Macbeth:
Then kill him first, my lovely,
He will kill me.
Lady Macbeth:
Then kill him now, my honey,
I cannot do it.
Lady Macbeth:
Then kill him now, my darling.
He will kill me.
Lady Macbeth:
But he must sleep, all creatures sleep,
The mighty lion must also sleep
The leopards may by moonlight creep,
But they, too, sleep; but they, too, sleep.
And in this sleep where is his strength,
If in his sleep through night-time’s length,
He cannot see, he cannot hear?
And one who strikes need never fear
The strength of one who isn’t there.
I am not sure.
Lady Macbeth:
But I am sure, and you are strong;
This thing is not the act of one,
But that of two, of me, and you.
(Repeat as a duet)but he must sleep, etc.
and he must sleep, and they must sleep, and we must sleep.
I would really like to see a production in its entirety. And, with my preoccupation with Shakespeare in Africa, I'd like to explore any particularly African resonance that might be there (if any). In the meantime, it's astonishing to know that this exists and that, for at least some university libraries, a recording of the entire opera is only a click away. 

Click below to purchase the CD from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Note: Y is for Yorick

Adams, Jennifer. Y is for Yorick: A Slightly Irreverent Shakespearean ABC Book for Grown-Ups. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I want to take a little time out from grading papers to call attention to a little volume I just obtained. I saw this in a used bookstore, and I just couldn't resist.

Y is for Yorick is a deliciously tongue-in-cheek Shakespearean alphabet book. Indeed, I think Yorick himself, known to be a fellow of infinite jest, would have been set on a roar by some of the pages—such as the image to the right. Any guesses as to who is illustrated there?

The book runs through the entire alphabet, repeating irresistible letters like O (Ophelia and Othello) and H (Hamlet, Henry V, and Henry VIII).  Even though it takes a few easy outs with Q (why Queen rather that Quickly, Quintus, or Quince?), X, and Z (ah, that whoreson Zed—that unnecessary letter!), it's quite enjoyable.

To give you a feel for the book, I'm providing the pages for B, I, and J.

There you have it—except to add that there are holidays coming up . . . and there are Shakespeare lovers out there . . . and people have a lot of wallets and purses . . . and they gotta buy something.

Click below to purchase the book from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hamlet and Macbeth meet in Alfred Hitchcock Presents

"Banquo's Chair." By Francis M. Cockrell. Perf. Alfred Hitchcock, John Williams, Hilda Plowright, Max Adrian, George Dillon, Tom Dillon, Reginald Gardiner, Kenneth Haigh, and George Pelling. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Alfred Hitchcock Presents . Season 4, episode 29. NBC. 3 May 1959. DVD. Universal Studios, 2009.

Occasionally, I reward myself for finishing a particularly difficult bit of writing or a peculiarly large stack of grading by posting to Bardfilm. As you may be able to tell from the length between this post and the last one, I've had a fair bit of both kinds of work, and that's kept me from posting.

And that's unfortunate because, some time ago, I happened upon a marvelous episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that employs a trope from Macbeth for Hamletesque results, and I've desired to post about it ever since.  In this episode, a retired detective wants to crack a two-year-old unsolved case, and he resolves to go about it with—perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously—Hamlet’s idea in mind:
                                I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions.  (II.ii.588-93)
Most interestingly, he decides to use a device from Macbeth—the appearance of the ghost of Banquo—to trap the man he suspects of murdering his aunt. He invites the suspect to the aunt's old home, convinces the house's new owner to host a dinner party to which he brings a Shakespearean actor (which allows for some of the dinner conversation to turn, notably, to Hamlet) and the murder suspect. He also hires an actress to impersonate the suspect's aunt.

I've reduced the show to its absolute essentials in the clip below—minus any sort of thrilling twist that Hitchcock may or may not have provided at the show's end (no spoilers).  Enjoy!


Now that you've seen that, you may be wondering what happens next. The following clip is most certainly a spoiler, so do not watch it if you want to watch the entire episode yourself at some point. Additionally, see if you can anticipate any sort of Hitchcockian twist that might be coming.


Links: The Episode at the Alfred Hitchcock Wiki.

Click below to purchase the film from
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Forthcoming: Romeo and Juliet in Harlem

Romeo and Juliet in Harlem. Dir. Aleta Chappelle. Perf. Harry Lennix, Aunjanue Ellis, and Jasmine Carmichael. 2014. TAG Films, Moon Shadow Films, not yet released.

Ah, the power of Bardfilm. No sooner do I lament the relative dearth of Shakespeare films given an African-American cultural setting (for which, q.v.) than the wheels start turning, resulting in Romeo and Juliet in Harlem.

The film seems to be making the rounds of the festivals at present, but there is a trailer, which gives a sense of what the film is doing:


We have a Romeo of Hispanic descent (thanks for the note of correction in the comment below) and a black Juliet in an adaptation (a film that keeps Shakespeare's language, as opposed to a derivative, which keeps Shakespeare's plot but abandons the language) set in Harlem. I'm very intrigued by the idea, and I gather than the film is an ultra-low budget endeavor (despite having a big name like Harry Lennix), which may explain some of the more amateurish aspects of the trailer.

In any case, I'll be working hard to find a venue to see this film—and to see what issues it deals with—particularly in terms of black / white race relations in the United States—which, I'm sure you'll agree, is a timely conversation to have right now.

Note:  If you're anywhere near Memphis on November 1, head to the Indie Memphis Filmfest for a screening of Romeo and Juliet in Harlem!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Deliver Us From Eva: A Film Derivative of The Taming of the Shrew

Deliver Us From Eva. Dir. Gary Hardwick. Perf. Gabrielle Union, L. L. Cool J, Essence Atkins. 2003. DVD. Universal Studios, 2003.

I wish there were more derivatives like this; it recasts Shakespeare in African-American culture. Unlike O, which, as far as I remember, involves African-American culture by way of contrast to white American culture, Deliver Us From Eva is a derivative of The Taming of the Shrew  that sets itself entirely in Black culture in America—or, rather, what passes in Hollywood as Black culture, which isn't quite the same thing.

I also wish this film were better. Even though it has L. L. Cool J, it falls flat. I think part of it is the overall interpretation of the story arc. The younger sisters need to get Eva (our Katherine analogue) out of the way so that they can enjoy their own relationships; the men in those relationships hire Ray to get her to fall in love with him, move away with him, and then be dumped by him in some faraway location. And the idea they all have in mind is that Eva is shrewish because (not to put too fine a point on it) she hasn't had a man sexually. Once she does, the shrewishness will be all gone. I feel that this is not a fair reading of Katherine or of women, and the film suffers as a result.

I've chosen three representative clips to give you a feel for the film. Please note that the material in them, even though I have done some editing to remove more objectionable content, may not be acceptable to all audiences.

Clip One: The men try to persuade Ray to date Eva.


Clip Two: Ray sees Eva's shrewishness at work in her job as health inspector. 


Clip Three: Ray asks Eva on a date.


I'd genuinely like to know your thoughts—and I'm particularly interested in an African-American perspective on this film. Does this reflect or undermine Black culture in America? Does the derivative work? What other Shakespeare plays should find African-American derivative versions? Please add your thoughts to the comments below!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

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