Friday, January 28, 2011

When Shakespeare had the Blues

“The World of Jazz.” By Leonard Bernstein. Perf. Alistair Cooke and Leonard Bernstein. Dir. Elliot Silverstein. Omnibus. Season 4, episode 2. CBS. 16 October 1955. DVD. Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus: The Historic TV Broadcasts. E1 Entertainment, 2010.

I saw this clip quite some time ago, but it's taken a while to confirm the details and to gather the necessary links—always both mandatory and important for a scholarly endeavor.

The clip is from the educational television series Omnibus, which was in production from 1952 to 1961—the same program that enabled Peter Book to direct Orson Welles in King Lear (for which, q.v.). In this clip, Leonard Bernstein explains a certain form of the Blues by pointing out that it consists of couplets in iambic pentameter. Not unnaturally, he then turns to Shakespeare to illustrate the point, giving us what he calls a "Macbeth Blues."

video


And that is quite remarkable, of course.

The line Bernstein uses is from Act V of Macbeth: "I will not be afraid of death and bane / [I said,] I will not be afraid of death and bane / Till Bernam Forest come to Dunsinane" (V.iii.59-60).

And I only wish the song continued. It would be even more remarkable if the Doctor's lines were given as a blues response to Macbeth's opening gambit: "Were I from Dunsinane away and clear, / [I said,] Were I from Dunsinane away and clear, / Profit again should hardly draw me here" (V.iii.61-62).

Or imagine a wonderful call-and-response blues with A Midsummer Night's Dream's Hermia and Helena:
HERMIA: I give him curses, yet he gives me love.
I said, I give him curses, yet he gives me love.
HELENA: O that my prayers could such affection move!

HERMIA: The more I hate, the more he follows me.
I said, the more I hate, the more he follows me.
HELENA: The more I love, the more he hateth me.

HERMIA: His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
I said, his folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
HELENA: None, but your beauty: would that fault were mine!

HERMIA: Take comfort: he no more shall see my face;
I said, take comfort: he no more shall see my face;
Lysander and myself will fly this place.

Before the time I did Lysander see,
I said, before the time I did Lysander see,
Seem'd Athens as a paradise to me:

O, then, what graces in my love do dwell,
I said, O, then, what graces in my love do dwell,
That he hath turn'd a heaven unto a hell! (I.i.194-207)
Any takers? Any directors or musicians ready to take that on?

Or imagine, if you will, an entire play in musical form—a modernization of one of the great tragedies—Romeo and Juliet for example—that follows Bernstein's idea to its inevitable conclusion. Wouldn't that be something to see?

Links: The Episode at IMDB.


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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.
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