Thursday, September 30, 2010

A New Young Adult Shakespearean Novel: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

Dionne, Erin. The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet. New York: Dial Books, 2010.
In this all-too-brief breathing space between grading essays, I'd like to squeeze in an all-too-brief review of The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, a recently-released young adult novel with Shakespearean overtones.

The best parts of the book are its authentic creation of a seventh-grade girl's voice and its over-the-top presentation of parents who are insanely (at least from a seventh-grade girl's point of view) passionate about Shakespeare. Additionally, the plot is intriguing and well-crafted.

Seventh-grade Hamlet, our narrator, has a seven-year-old sister named Desdemona (who goes by "Dezzie"). Dezzie is a certifiable genius, and she is enrolled in Hamlet's middle school. That's part of the problem. Their parents are Shakespeare professors—the kind who dress in Shakespearean garb, make models of the Globe theatre for fun, quote Shakespeare left and right, and set up a booth at the local Renaissance Fair. That's another problem.

[Editor's Note: This image is not the title page of the book, but it's the image that comes to me when I think of the title. This girl's life has been inscribed over the text of a Shakespeare play.]

The prose doesn't rise to the heights of Susan Cooper's Shakespeare-related young adult novel (for which, q.v.), but I'm not sure it's meant to. And the novel's voice is a fun, light, humorous one. Occasionally, as in the image that heads this post, our narrator launches into brief dramatic sketches that demonstrate the humor of the situation and underscore the play-beneath-the novel aspect of the book:
The Scene: The dinner table. Could be any night of the week. Mom, Dad, Dezzie, and Hamlet sit around a giant tray of seaks and baked potatoes.
Dad: But they still do not know who killed Christopher Marlowe.

Dezzie (slicing her meat): It happened either in a bar or tavern. There is a rumor that he was a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham's intelligence service. But I am not sure he was really murdered.

Mom (knife clatters to her plate): You are not suggesting what I think you are!

Me (pouring gravy into mashed potato volcano): . . .

Dad: Marlowe did not fake his death and write under the Shakespeare pseudonym. You have been reading too much Calvin Hoffman.

Dezzie: But the theories he puts forth are invigorating!

Me (watching gravy flow down the sides of the volcano): . . . (23-24)
The different characters and their attitudes are nicely drawn in that short scene.

All in all, it's a good book with some depth behind the light humor. It's well worth reading.

[Editor's Note: The Shakespeare scholar in me won't let me avoid mentioning the one lapse in Shakespearean knowledge in the book. At one point, Hamlet's parents come to her school to help her English teacher with a Shakespeare unit. They want to teach the students iambic pentameter, and they leap about the classroom, banging on a tambourine. It's a brilliant scene, beautifully visualized. However, the line they choose as an example is not in iambic pentameter. Instead, it's one of the trochaic passages from A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Weaving spiders, come not here; / Hence, you long-legg'd spinners, hence" (II.ii.20-21). Instead of banging the tambourine in a trochaic beat ("WEAV-ing SPI-ders COME not HERE"), they attempt to make iambs out of it: "Wea-VING [clang!] spi-DERS [clang!] come NOT [clang!]" (226). It's arguably a minor point, but the characters—and the words—suffer from it.]
Links: The Author's Official Web Site.

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

Maggie Smith as Beatrice in 1967

Much Ado About Nothing. Dir. Alan Cooke. Perf. Derek Jacobi, Robert Stephens and Maggie Smith. BBC. 5 February 1967.
Earlier this month, the British Film Institute and the Library of Congress announced the re-discovery of over sixty BBC television broadcasts long thought lost.

A few days ago, the Library of Congress posted two brief clips from those no-longer-lost broadcasts. One of them is of Maggie Smith as Beatrice:


Here's the script they're following (Shakespeare's text is slightly edited):
By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband, if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue.

For the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening. Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen.

You may light on a husband that hath no beard.

What should I do with him? Dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth; he that hath no beard is less than a man: he that is more than a youth, I am not for him; he that is less than a man, he is not for me. Therefore, I will hire myself out for sixpence a day, as the virgin in the proverb, and lead apes into hell.

Well, then, go you into hell?

Oh, no, no. But to the gate. (II.i.18-43)
We all devoutly hope for a full DVD release of the film from which this rare glimpse into BBC Shakespeare in the 1950s and 1960s comes.

Links: The Film at IMDB. The Blog Post by the Library of Congress. The Complete List of the Films Discoverd.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Best Place to Find Shakespeare for Weddings: Hear My Soul Speak

Morin, Duane. Hear my Soul Speak: Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare. N.p.: Kindle, 2010.
If a wedding is in your future and Shakespeare is in your soul, you should get this book. In an extremely-personable and enjoyable style, Duane Morin (a.k.a. Shakespeare Geek) presents a wide range of Shakespearean material that will enhance and deepen the wedding experience for all involved.

And "all involved" isn't an exaggeration. If you're the groom, this book guides you toward some excellent Shakespearean material you can use. If you're the bride, you'll find suggestions and advice for incorporating Shakespeare into your ceremony. If you're attending a wedding, this book provides something appropriate to write in the guest book.

Morin's books isn't just a collection of random bits of Shakespeare—though it does have sections filled with carefully-considered quotations. Instead, Hear My Soul Speak provides a laid-back and colloquial encounter with different possible uses of Shakespeare in weddings.

For example, the book starts with a section on which sonnets might be used in a wedding and why. Morin offers good advice, straightforward explanation and annotation, and humorous asides. He examines Sonnet 130 ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun") at a level deeper than the typical high school explication does, but he concludes with a precautionary tale:
Looked at from the right angle, [Sonnet 130] might well be the best wedding sonnet of them all. Of course, more than one bride has vetoed it on the grounds that “No one is going to do a reading that says my breath reeks at my wedding!” Your mileage may vary.
Thoughout, Morin makes an impassioned defense for using Shakespeare—and for sticking to the Shakespearean text wherever possible. Certainly, he advises, you can change "your brother and my sister no sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved" to "your brother and my Aunt Betsy" or "your sister and I," but you should remain as faithful to the text as you can.

Hear My Soul Speak is a great handbook for incorporating Shakespeare into a wedding—whether yours or someone else's. And it's currently available for your iPad, iPhone, Kindle, or .pdf-reading electronic device so you can glance at it relatively unobtrusively during the festivities!

Links: Official Site for Hear My Soul Speak.

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

Touchstone (not the one from As You Like It) Presents Gnomeo and Juliet

Gnomeo and Juliet. Dir. Kelly Asbury. Perf. Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, and Elton John. Touchstone Pictures. 11 February 2011.
The latest of the growing number of animated Shakespeare-related films will open this coming February. It seems quite appropriate that Touchstone Pictures would produce a film that relies so heavily on a Shakespeare text.

The trailer follows:

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shakespearean Finger Puppets

Rogalski, Michael. Masterpuppet Theater: The World of Shakespeare—At Your Fingertips! Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2010.
As long as we're doing silly things not normally done at Bardfilm, I should review a set of Finger Puppets that the creator was kind enough to send along to be reviewed.

The set includes sixty finger puppets—the kind that are on card stock with holes for you to put your fingers through to make legs for the characters, not the kind that are made of cloth and go over your fingers. That alone adds greater versatility and variety to the characters.

I'm impressed by the choices on the cards. I don't want to give away all the surprises, but I'd like to point out that they're quite clever. I'm particularly fond of Yorick (pictured above). A skull with feet just wouldn't look quite right, so we're given the headless corpse of Yorick instead. I also appreciate Joan la Pucelle making an appearance. You have to be thorough to include any character from 1 Henry VI!

A lot of fun can be had with the cards, whether you're a professor of Shakespeare or a parent or a Shakespeare aficionado. Observe these two short scenes: Richard III's speech from V.iv.6 and Antigonous' last lines from A Winter's Tale (III.iii.53-58):


I'm greatly impressed that the makers included a bear card so that one of Shakespeare's most famous stage directions can be carried out adequately: "Exit, pursued by a bear" (III.iii.58.s.d.).

I did have some trouble using the cards as they're intended. My fingers just won't work properly as legs. But holding the cards and moving them around can be just as effective.

Thanks, Michael Rogalski, for creating this delightful set!

Note: See more examples of films with these finger puppets at Knuckleodeum, the official Masterpuppet Theatre YouTube Channel.

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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Shakespeare: Inspired by Shakespeare

"Shakespeare: Inspired by Shakespeare." Modified from blakekelly0 et al. "kittens inspired by kittens." YouTube. 1 September 2008. Web. 20 September 2010.
You may have encountered the YouTube sensation "kittens inspired by kittens."

At the instigation of some students, I put together a variation: "Shakespeare: Inspired by Shakespeare." It's far sillier than most of Bardfilm's material, but I thought it needed a wider audience. Enjoy!


Links: The Original YouTube Video (also embedded below).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bollywood / Hollywood

Bollywood / Hollywood. Dir. Deepa Mehta. Perf. Rahul Khanna, Lisa Ray, Moushumi Chatterjee, Dina Pathak, and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. 2002. DVD. Arts Alliance, 2005.

In what is almost—but not quite—a complete shifting of gears, we head to a quirky little film in which East and West meet and in which Shakespeare plays a part.

Bollywood / Hollywood presents a better-than-the-usual-but-still-on-the-usual-side romantic comedy plot. The plot is on the western side, but the characters and the working out of the plot are on the eastern side, which includes the delightful Bollywood convention of suddenly breaking into gigantic song-and-dance numbers.

The Shakespeare comes in with the character of the male lead's grandmother. The grandmother continually quotes from Shakespeare—though always inaccurately, however slight the inaccuracy may be. At first, I thought the misquoting was unintentional: it seemed to be nothing more than the way common usage operates. But thinking about it more and more led me to believe that it's intentional.

In the image above, the grandmother says, "This is the winter of our discontent"—an ever-so-slight variation of Richard III's "Now is the winter of our discontent." Were it only that, there wouldn't be much to go on.

But the slight misquotations pile up. The grandmother says, "Et tu, Brutus" instead of "Et tu, Brute." She expands a contraction, saying "What is done is done" instead of "What's done is done."

I know. It seems like I'm being incredibly (and, I hope, uncharacteristically) picky. But my point is that even the smallest quote is altered in some way—and that that points toward the intentionality behind the grandmother's variable Shakespeare.

It's present in small quotes, but it's even more evident in larger quotes:
"But soft what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and so is the sun."

"How’s this made of the blood, still? All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."

"I am here not to bury Caesar but to praise him"
After that last topsy-turvy quotation, the grandson makes an inquiry into the origin of the quote: "Shakespeare?" The grandmother replies, not quite convincingly, "I don’t know. What’s the difference?" I don't believe that she doesn't know; I also don't believe that she's indifferent to the difference—the person she's misquoting matters.

In the scene below, the grandmother alters—again, it's only slightly—the opening of Jaques' big speech in As You Like It: "All the world is a stage, and all men and women are mere players."


"Mere players" from "merely players" and "all men and women" from "all the men and women" changes the image from one of actors putting on a play to a more modern use of "player"—one that the OED cites as in use (often spelled "playa" and pronounced "play-ahh") from 1962: "A sexually successful person, usually a man; a playboy." The alteration fits the plot (the grandmother is worried that neither her grandson nor the female lead are serious about a romantic relationship), and it indicates the grandmother's moral position on flippant sexual activity: such people only rise to the level of "playahhs," never to true romance.

The overall intention of the misquotations is really appropriation. The grandmother appropriates Shakespeare's language for her own ends. In doing so, she demonstrates that the relationship between us and Shakespeare can be much more fluid than it is often taken to be. And the fact that she is a member of an Indian culture can point toward a larger issue: the engagement of Shakespeare and Asia. Enter Postcolonial Literary Criticism and the relationship between the texts of the colonizing agent and the colonized!


Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is this the Promised End of Shakespeare and Star Trek Complete?

“Is there in Truth no Beauty?” By Jean Lisette Aroeste. Perf. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, and Walter Koenig. Dir. Ralph Senensky. Star Trek. Season 3, episode 5. NBC. 18 October 1968. DVD. Paramount, 2008.
Pride goeth.

I'm not quite sure how I missed it, but I took one more look at the Memory Alpha Shakespeare Page, noting as I did so that my own ideas about an Anthony and Cleopatra connection in "Elaan of Troyius" had been incorporated into that page, and I found a Shakespeare quote that I had missed completely.

I've written on “Is there in Truth no Beauty?” before (for which, q.v.), but I neglected to note a direct quote from The Tempest.

After giving us a bit of Byron (included here as a bonus for those who like a little English Romanticism as a side to their Bardolotry), Spock (who is sort of combined with an alien creature named Kollos at this point—again, I'll spare you the details) quotes The Tempest, pointedly calling up the most famous speech by the Miranda of The Tempest and delivering it to the Miranda in the Star Trek episode who is the other Miranda's namesake:


The speech, spoken by Miranda in Shakespeare's play, is delivered, instead, to Miranda in the Star Trek episode. She replies with the comment Prospero makes in the play.

I still have an inkling that there's more of Othello than The Tempest about this episode, centered as it is on the theme of jealousy. But I can't deny the quotation.

I also can't deny that Kollos later says, through Spock, "This thing you call language, though—most remarkable. You depend on it for so very much. But is any one of you really its master?" Is this the equivalent to Caliban's "You gave me language, and my profit on't / Is . . . I know how to curse" (I.ii.363-64)?

And a bit later still, Captain Kirk says this to Miranda: "With my words, I'll make you hear such ugliness as Spock saw when he looked at Kollos with his naked eyes. The ugliness is within you!" Is that Hamlet's speech to Gertrude? Hamlet, after all, says, "Come, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge; / You go not till I set you up a glass / Where you may see the inmost part of you" (III.iv.18-20). Similarities may be found here.

Humbled, I note that these are the last Shakespeare allusions I've been able to find in the Star Trek universe. There may be others, and I'm open to having them pointed out to me!
Links: Shakespeare and Star Trek Complete.
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