Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sonnet 94

Selected Sonnets. Dir. Kevin Billington. Perf. Michael Bryant and John Mortimer. Videocassette. Films for the Humanities, 1988.
You're apt to find some odd things when you wander around the videocassette section of a college library. Handbell care videos, advanced bowling seminars, cat show documentaries, and presentations of Shakespeare sonnets are among these oddities.

In the last category, I found a video with John Mortimer offering some explication of Sonnet 94: "They that have power to hurt, and yet do none." First, an actor reads (quite well, I think) the sonnet; then Mortimer offers some thoughts. I'm only offering a small but representative sample of his delightful ten-minute commentary:


There you have a slice of what is really quite an interesting video—though the commentators are far too inclined to state with absolute and reductive certainty which precise people Shakespeare had in mind while writing the sonnets. As an example of the limits and benefits of what is now called "Old Historicism," it works well.

And that final, stunning couplet keeps ringing in my ears:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

Click below to purchase the film from Films for the Humanities and Sciences

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shakespeare in Vietnam

A Dream in Hanoi: A True Story of Love, Stage Fright, and Noodle Soup. Dir. Tom Weidlinger. Perf. The Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam; Artists Repertory Theatre of Portland, Oregon; F. Murray Abraham. 2002. Videocassette. Bullfrog Films, 2002.
This magnificent documentary tells the story of a collaborative production of A Midsummer Night's Dream by two acting companies—one Vietnamese, one American. The entire process is fascinating beyond belief, especially when it centers on the places where the two cultures clash.

In this brief clip, we see the clash manifesting itself in the directors' visions of Puck:


These singing, laughing, drum-beating servants become the source of a number of conflicts throughout the rest of the rehearsals and the production run. Yet there is more at work here than two directors’ competing ideas of what constitutes a valid adaptation of a Shakespeare play. East and west are brought together, but the result is far from harmonious. The reason for the dissonance lies in the west—in its reluctance to collaborate, to compromise, to comprehend another culture, and to carry out its stated intentions consistently and conscientiously.

Doan's idea of adding servants for Puck seems to be the ideal place for a Vietnamese appropriation of Shakespeare (rather than the other way around). Doan is appealing to the Cheo drama itself. Cheo drama and Vietnamese water puppetry are two forms of dramatic entertainment that are uniquely Vietnamese. Each developed over several centuries, and each has its own conventional characters, stories, and songs. Cheo drama traditionally tells stories in an intensely lyrical manner, and these stories are nearly always humorous and quite frequently involve turning ordinary things inside out and upside down. They are always accompanied by song and dance and the characters are painted with broad, stereotypical brushes. If all that is reminiscent of the commedia d’elle arte, it should also sound like the Athenian actors in the forest—and like A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself.

At other parts of the documentary, one of the American producers describes Doan's efforts as “Broadway extravaganza” and mentions them in the same breath as “Disneyland and Peter Pan.” This seems profoundly layered—to bring typical American flamboyancy to describe a subtle, long-lasting Vietnamese tradition and to object to it because such things have no place in Shakespeare.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase (or rent) the film from Bullfrog Films.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Non Nobis: Branagh's Henry V

Henry V. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, and Judi Dench. 1989. DVD. MGM, 2000.
I've written about this scene before, but a comment from Alex Bledsoe made me revisit the scene.

Earlier, I was interested in the women who approach Henry in the middle of the scene; this time, I'm interested in the long, tracking shot that takes us over the exhausted battlefield (the movement from left to right after the battle is a mirror image of the movement from right to left in Olivier's Henry V before the battle) while the Non Nobis swells in the background. Take a look:


Now that you've seen that, think about the purpose(s) behind portraying the scene with that music and those words (Non nobis, Domine—Non nobis, sed nomine tuo de Gloriam:  "Not to us, O Lord, but to your name be glory") over it. Could it be that this Henry V is passing not only the responsibility of the victory to God—"Praised be God, and not our strength, for it" (IV.vii.86)—but also the blame of the battle's many dead—"Take it, God, / For it is none but thine" (IV.viii.112-13)?

Perhaps that case would be easier to make if they were singing Non nobis, sed nomine tuo de culpa, but I'd like everyone to consider the possibility at least.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Olivier's Richard III: The Image of the Crown

Richard III. Dir. Laurence Olivier. Perf. Laurence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud. 1955. DVD. Criterion, 2004.
I've been having some trouble uploading some interesting clips, but that's no reason you should suffer without a dose of Shakespeare and Film.

Our class watched parts of Olivier's Richard III in class this week. In that film, the crown becomes the image par excellence. In the image above, Richard has walked directly in a line from a giant crown hanging from the ceiling toward the camera—until the crown appears to be on his own head. Here's a close-up of that image for better viewing:

It's none too subtle, but it's interesting. It's also interesting to see, in the earlier image, how unlikely Richard is to fit into the crown. In this image, it looks completely unobtainable:

The closer Richard is to the audience, the more fitting the crown seems to be.  That's metaphorical, but it turns out to be metaphorical on a number of different levels.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

John Mortimer, RIP

Will Shakespeare [a.k.a. Life of Shakespeare]. By John Mortimer. Perf. Tim Curry and Ian McShane. Dir. Mark Cullingham and Robert Knights. 1978. DVD. A & E Home Video, 2008.
R.I.P. stands for Rumpole in Peace. Yesterday, the author of the Rumpole of the Bailey books, numerous telescripts, and the 1978 Will Shakespeare, which starred Tim Curry as Shakespeare, died at his home.

Bardfilm's interest in him lies mainly in his authoring Will Shakespeare. In his honor, let's look at a thought-provoking scene from that miniseries.

In this section, Tim Curry plays William Shakespeare playing George, Duke of Clarence in Richard III. The scene opens with Clarence's dream about his own death. Backstage, the mother of a young and aspiring actor is dying of plague. In order to cheer him up (and to prevent him from reporting the death by plague, which would close the theatre), the company offers him everything at their disposal. All he wants, however, is to play Lady Anne:


The metatheatrical element is hard to miss: Sir John Mortimer takes the speech Shakespeare gave to Clarence foreshadowing Clarence's death to a character called Will Shakespeare who has given them to the Clarence that he himself plays. While that Clarence speaks, mortality is heavy in the air.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Monday, January 19, 2009

Best Henry V Battle Scene: "Think, when we talk of horses—"

Henry V. Dir. Laurence Olivier. Perf. Laurence Olivier and Renée Asherson. 1944. DVD. Criterion, 1999.
The number of things to say about Laurence Olivier's Henry V boggles the mind. I'm always of two minds about it—whether to show all of Olivier's and bits and pieces of Branagh's or all of Branagh's and bits and pieces of Olivier's. (I usually go with Branagh's because it generally pleases the many-headed more than Olivier's does).

But Olivier's does have a remarkable opening. And it does have this remarkable battle scene. It's simply amazing how long the camera tracks with the galloping horses. It's wonderful. The Chorus of the play enjoins us to
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth.
With Olivier's film (no offense, Shakespeare!), we don't need to use our imaginations quite so much:


Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Friday, January 16, 2009

Which is the Merchant here? And which The Shrew?

Merchants of Venice. Dir. Various. Perf. Various. Various Years. Various Formats.
The Tamings of the Shrews. Dir. Various. Perf. Various. Various Years. Various Formats.

The results came in on the poll about which play(s) / film(s) to cut from the Shakespeare and film syllabus.  No one wanted to cut Richard III or Henry V; the votes were almost right down the middle for cutting either The Merchant of Venice or The Taming of the Shrew.

So I kept them both and added The Tempest.

I know, I know. The whole point was to streamline the syllabus to make room for additional works.  And I've added works without subtracting any.  But I couldn't not have Kiss me, Kate.  It's just such a marvelous musical!  And I really couldn't not present my students with the extraordinary power of Trevor Nunn's Merchant.  And the Mary Pickford / Douglas Fairbanks Taming of the Shrew is extraordinarily important for an understanding of cinema history (and it's the only full-scale, Hollywood studio, feature-length version of a Shakespeare play that we cover in full in the class).

So I've re-arranged things so that we watch pieces of most of these, and I hope that will whet the students' appetites for more, more, more!

Speaking of more, here are some more images of each of these actors in these roles:

Merchant of Venice. Dir. John Sichel Perf. Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright, Jeremy Brett, and Michael Jayston. 1973. Videocassette. LIVE Home Video, 1993.

Merchant of Venice. Dir. Trevor Nunn. Perf. Gabrielle Jourdan and Lawrence Werber. 2001. Videocassette. Lexington Road Entertainment Group, 2001.

Merchant of Venice. Dir. Michael Radford. Perf. Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Finnes, and Lynn Collins. 2004. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2005.

The Taming of the Shrew. Dir. Sam Taylor. Perf. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. 1929. DVD. Aikman Archive, 2005.

The Taming of the Shrew. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. 1967. DVD. Sony, 1999.

Kiss me, Kate. Dir. George Sidney. Perf. Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, and Ann Miller. 1953. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2003.

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

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dogberry and the Keystone Cops?

Much Ado about Nothing. Dir. A. J. Antoon and Nick Havinga. Perf. Sam Waterson, Kathleen Widdoes, Barnard Hughes, and Douglas Watson. 1973. DVD. Kultur, 2002.
The New York Shakespeare Festival did a version of Much Ado about Nothing set in the early 1900s—during Teddy Roosevelt's administration. It's a fairly good, fairly straightforward version. And it has at least the distinction of having a comprehensible Dogberry: Barnard Hughes plays the role forcefully and articulately.

Even more memorable than that is what the production does with Shakespeare's Men of the Watch. They have been transmuted into Keystone Cops.

I offer, for your educational edification, a clip that demonstrates both these claims.


Now that you've watched that, I can offer this image:

The Men of the Watch Thumb their Noses at Dogberry

The film itself is a filmed-for-television version of a stage production.  On the whole, it's light-hearted.  It's not nearly as extravagant as Branagh's or as interesting as Shakespeare Retold's version, but it's still worthwhile.

Links: The Film at IMDB. [Note: IMDB gives 1973 as the date, but the case says the program was broadcast on CBS in 1972 (though it also gives a copyright date of 1973). Most informal sources that I've consulted also give 1973 as the date.]

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Poems about Poetry

Pastan, Linda. “A Glass of Cold Water.” The Last Uncle. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002. 7.
Jones, Keith. "       Poeti / cs, or An Ans / wer to ‘What is Poetr / y?’”

Although these poems are not, strictly speaking, Shakespeare related, they relate to the general study of literature. In Literary Theory, we began discussing and attempting to define these terms: poem, text, author, reader, and reality. And Shakespeare did write something of a definition of a poet:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And 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. (A Midsummer Night's Dream, V.i)
So I though it would be reasonable to provide you all with two poems about poetry.  The first is by Linda Pastan, and it works by saying what it isn't at the same time that it says what it is:
Linda Pastan

"A Glass of Cold Water"

Poetry is not a code
to be broken
but a way of seeing
with the eyes shut,
of short-
circuiting the usual
connections until
lioness and
knee become
the same thing.

Though not a cure
it can console,
the way cool sheets
the dying flesh,
the way a glass of cold
water can be
a way station
on the unswerving
road to thirst.
That's a marvelous poem.  For my literary theory class, I wrote a poem about poetry of my own—my own glass of water as it were!  Ha, ha, ha!  Today I'll ask them whether it counts as a poem or not.  On Friday, we'll get to whether it's a good poem.
“          Poeti
cs, or An Ans
wer to ‘What is Poetr

A bird of which the ancients fabled that it bred about the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and that it charmed the wind and waves so that the sea was specially calm during the period.

A small vessel propelled by oars or lateen sails, or both, used, chiefly in the Mediterranean, for coasting voyages.

A unit of electromagnetic flux density used in radio astronomy, equal to 10-26 watts per square metre per hertz.

An ornamental receptacle, pot, or stand for the display of growing flowers within doors, or on a window-sill, balustrade, or other part of a building; also for the display of cut flowers for the decoration of the table, etc.

A rhythmically occurring event, esp. in the environment, which acts as a cue in the regulation of certain biological rhythms in an organism.

A drinking cup of silver (?).

The dry, usually hollow, stem of various herbaceous plants, esp. of large umbelliferous plants, such as Cow Parsnip, Wild Chervil, and Marsh Angelica.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

“An Address to Shakespeare" by William McGonagall

McGonagall, William. “An Address to Shakespeare.” More Poetic Gems Selected from the Works of William McGonagall, Poet and Tragedian, with Biographical Sketch and Reminiscences by the Author. Dundee: David Winter, 1962.
I have occasionally attempted to write Shakespeare-inspired poetry (not counting my prize-winning Hamlet Haiku). Fortunately, I've never churned out anything as bad as this gem, written by William McGonagall, who has often been called the worst poet in the world. Enjoy!

An Address to Shakespeare

Immortal! William Shakespeare, there’s none can you excel,
You have drawn out your characters remarkably well,
Which is delightful for to see enacted upon the stage—
For instance, the love-sick Romeo, or Othello, in a rage;
His writings are a treasure, which the world cannot repay,
He was the greatest poet of the past or of the present day⎯
Also the greatest dramatist, and is worthy of the name,
I’m afraid the world shall never look upon his like again.
His tragedy of Hamlet is moral and sublime,
And for purity of language, nothing can be more fine⎯
For instance, to hear the fair Ophelia making her moan,
At her father’s grave, sad and alone.
In his beautiful play, As You Like It, one passage is very fine,
Just for instance in the Forest of Arden, the language is sublime,
Where Orlando speaks of his Rosalind, most lovely and divine,
And no other poet I am sure has written anything more fine;
His language is spoken in the Church and by the Advocate at the bar,
Here and there and everywhere throughout the world afar;
His writings abound with gospel truths, moral and sublime,
And I’m sure in my opinion they are surpassing fine;
In his beautiful tragedy of Othello, one passage is very fine,
Just for instance where Cassio looses his lieutenancy by drinking too much wine;
And in grief he exclaims,
“Oh! that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains.”
In his great tragedy of Richard the III., one passage is very fine
Where the Duchess of York invokes the aid of the Divine
For to protect her innocent babes from the murderer’s uplifted hand,
And smite him powerless, and save her babes, I’m sure ’tis really grand.
Immortal! Bard of Avon, your writings are divine,
And will live in the memories of your admirers until the end of time;
Your plays are read in family circles with wonder and delight,
While seated around the fireside on a cold winter’s night.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shakespearean Affinities: Hot Fuzz and Last Action Hero

Hot Fuzz. Dir. Edgar Wright. Perf. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. 2007. DVD. Universal Studios, 2007.
Last Action Hero. Dir. John McTiernan. Perf. Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, and Austin O'Brien. 1993. DVD. Sony, 2007.

While scanning through Last Action Hero to see if I should make it required or optional viewing for my Shakespeare and Film class, I noticed a number of affinities between it and Hot Fuzz. They both have scenes that refer directly to Shakespeare, for example.

Here's Hot Fuzz's version of Romeo and Juliet:


Here's Last Action Hero's Hamlet trailer:


They're also both mystery films that mock the conventions of their respective genres (American Action Film and British County Mystery) by employing every cliché of those genres. And they both have extreme, over-the-top violence.

One thing that the American film has that the British film seems to lack is intense, over-the-top product placement! Observe these images from the big car chase that opens the movie-within-the-movie (itself another nod to Hamlet):

Baskin-Robbins—Just the treat for after a car chase!

What goes up must come down—but nothing goes down as smoothly as a nice, fresh Coca-Cola!

These moments remind the audience that we're in the middle of a conventional film—particularly when most of the other product placements refer to the ACME Company of Wile E. Coyote fame (cf. the ice cream truck into which one of the villains is thrown)!

Links: Hot Fuzz at IMDB. Last Action Hero at IMDB.

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

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tim Curry as Will Shakespeare

Will Shakespeare [a.k.a. Life of Shakespeare]. By John Mortimer. Perf. Tim Curry and Ian McShane. Dir. Mark Cullingham and Robert Knights. 1978. DVD. A & E Home Video, 2008.
Yesterday, the recently-released-on-DVD Will Shakespeare arrived! I had ordered it, sight unseen, back in November, as you remember.

At first, I was thrilled. Then I was slightly disappointed. Now, I'm back to excited again—it was well worth the purchase price, and it's well worth watching. I had mistakenly thought that this was a brand-new mini-series; instead, it's a release of 1978's Life of Shakespeare with a savvier, classier title. I noticed the BBC-in-the-1970s production values at once, but the story does hold up despite them.

The plot does pull up some old and tired turnips of the Shakespeare biography industry: Shakespeare merely holds the horses outside the Rose Theatre, Christopher Marlowe's death isn't merely a pub brawl, there's something more than meets the eye about the Earl of Southampton, Ann Shakespeare is a shrew, et cetera. But it's still well-written (thanks, John Mortimer!) and interesting.

As a bonus, John McEnery (who played Lucio in the BBC's Measure for Measure) plays Hamnet Sadler, down to London from Stratford to visit his old friend Will. Additionally, Shakespeare wears a red cap (watch for him—he appears sooner than you expect him to), Hamnet Sadler carries a chicken, London in 1590 is a dirty and noisy place, and the BBC of 1978 wanted its audience to know that it was broadcasting in colour:



Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Poll: Revising the Shakespeare and Film Syllabus

Jones, Keith.  "Shakespeare and Film."  Course Syllabus.  12 January 2009.
In less than a week, I'll be embarking on the third time through the Shakespeare and Film course I developed at my college.  There were substantial revisions between the first and the second, and I'm considering substantial revisions for the third.  

To make room for some additions, I need to cut something.  That's where I need your help!  The poll to the right (and / or the comments below) invite your opinion.  Should I cut Merchant of Venice and lose all the fun of comparing Laurence Olivier, Trevor Nunn, and Al Pacino?  Should I cut The Taming of the Shrew and risk abandoning Kiss me, Kate as a result?  I'm not sure I can bear to cut Richard III—I wouldn't be able to show Ian McKellen in the role, and that would be a shame.  And how could I prevent myself from showing Branagh's Henry V, a play I have grown to appreciate, especially for its discussion value?

Please, weigh in!  The poll closes on Sunday night at midnight.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Five Most Important Shakespeare Allusions in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Dir. Mel Stuart. Perf. Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, and Peter Ostrum. 1971. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2005.

The Thanksgiving Family Movie Night Feature (Doctor Dolittle) reminded me of the large number of literary allusions in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I gathered them together in this annotated video clip; you will first see the quotation and then you'll hear the allusion. “Allusion” is the appropriate term—they are not always quotations. You'll see statements turned into queries, you'll find omissions, and you'll discover rewordings, but there's a wonderfully pervasive sense of the Shakespearean in the film as a whole and in these clips in particular:


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 2008-2016 (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