Friday, March 25, 2011

The Huntington Library and the Shakespeare Scholar

Photo Credit: "View of the exterior of the Library Exhibition Hall." © The Huntington. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Research in and around the environs of the Huntington Library is a delight to the scholar. Not only does the library have some of the most magnificent and rare books and manuscripts imaginable, but the grounds and the surrounding area—in both San Marino and Pasadena—have a great deal to offer the scholar.

That proves particularly true during times like this one, when the scholar is waiting for the lunch hour to end and for the rare books to be brought back in for viewing.

During such times, the Shakespeare scholar in particular may wish to stroll the grounds in search of some botanical references to Shakespeare:

"Cleopatra (Anthony)." Plant. Huntington Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California. Digital Image requested by Keith Jones.

Or the hungry Shakespeare scholar might venture into neighboring Pasadena for a delicious meal at a (sort of) Shakespeare-related establishment:

Hamburger Hamlet. Restaurant. Pasadena, California. Digital Image by Keith Jones.

All of this can be done while the Shakespeare scholar stores bulky items in the perfect locker:

"2B." Locker. Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Digital Image by Keith Jones.

Links: The Huntington.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor (R.I.P.) as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. 1967. DVD. Sony, 1999.
Today, 23 March 2011, Elizabeth Taylor died. Her Katherine was magnificent, as was the Helen of Troy she played in the Doctor Faustus directed by Richard Burton.

I'm out of town, so I can't cull a clip right now, but her version of Katherine's "I am ashamed that women are so simple" speech is remarkable. She plays it absolutely straight, leaving it up to us to determine just how much of it Katherine embraces and how much is merely a faƧade.

The face (or the eyes?) that launched a thousand ships (and seven or eight marriages, depending on whether you count Richard Burton once or twice) has departed from the world, but she has left a marvelous legacy behind her.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

The Huntington Library and its Shakespeare Collection

[Shakespeare, William.] The Tragedy of King Richard the Third. London: Printed by Valentine Sims, for Andrew Wise, dwelling in Paules Chuch-yard [sic], at the Signe of the Angell, 1597. Huntington Library Call Number 69350. Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Digital Image by Keith Jones. Original housed in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. No copies may be made.
A few days ago, I read Richard III. I read it in the first printed edition—the First Quarto (Q1), which was printed in 1597. It was not a facsimile; it was not on-line. It was a copy that was on sale in London in 1597. And it was astonishing.

The librarians and curators at the Huntington have been effusively kind and helpful, and I'm enormously grateful to be here—and I'm particularly grateful to have been able to handle this copy and to make a few photographs of it. The image above is one of them—it's a bit blurry, I'm afraid, but click on it to enlarge it, and you'll see that it contains the oft-quoted line "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

The pages have been removed from their binding and pasted on larger sheets, that have rectangular holes cut in them to allow viewing of both the recto and the verso of each page and that were, in their turn, bound as a book. I could feel the graininess of the paper, note the occasional imperfections, hold it up to the light, and make scholarly determinations about it. I could also smell it. If you'd like a rough approximation, take a modern cereal box, tear it slightly, and sniff. That faint odor is similar to the smell of the Huntington's copy of Q1 of Richard III.

I was also able to establish, to my own satisfaction, that some of the quires of this copy of Q1 are older than the related quires in the British Library's copy. For example, the Huntington Library's copy has this typographical error on Signature L3v, line 12: "Good lordsc onduct him to his regiment.” The British Library's copy corrects the line to read “Good lords conduct him to his regiment.” There are other, similar corrections to the British Library's copy that are not made to the Huntington Library's copy, but I don't want to give the game away completely, so I'll keep those under my hat for now.

[Shakespeare, William.] The Tragedy of King Richard the Third. London: Printed by Valentine Sims, for Andrew Wise, dwelling in Paules Chuch-yard [sic], at the Signe of the Angell, 1597. Sig. L3v. Huntington Library Call Number 69350. Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Digital Image by Keith Jones. Original housed in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. No copies may be made.

At some point during the print run, this error was noted and corrected; newer printings from the slightly-altered block do not have the error.

There are two ways of looking at this. 1. The British Library has a "better" (i.e., less error-filled) copy of Q1 of Richard III. 2. The Huntington Library's copy of Q1 of Richard III is, in some quires at least, incrementally older than the British Library copy. If antiquity counts for anything, the Huntington scores bonus points!

The other work I'm doing here is also exciting, but you'll have to wait until I gather more material and draw some preliminary conclusions. And I'll see if they'll let me look at Q2 of the play next week!
Links: The Huntington.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Few Brief Comments on Gnomeo and Juliet

Gnomeo and Juliet. Dir. Kelly Asbury. Perf. Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Hulk Hogan, Ozzy Osbourne, and Elton John. Touchstone Pictures. 11 February 2011.
I have an awful lot on my plate for the next few weeks, but I saw Gnomeo and Juliet this past weekend, and I wanted to get some ideas down before they fade. It's a fabulous, fast-paced film that is exceedingly well-crafted, well-voiced, well-conceived, and well-presented. It's absolutely delightful from start to finish. If you haven't yet seen it, stop here and go see it instantly. Otherwise, the spoilers below may detract from the joy of your experience of the film.

At first, I thought of titling this post "Meta-theatricality in Gnomeo and Juliet," but that seemed a bit heavy. Still, that's the point of this film that caught my attention (and forgive me if this ground has already been covered—I've been intentionally avoiding reviews of the film until I could see it myself).

The film is a derivative version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and its debt to Shakespeare is more than just the idea of star-crossed lovers making a good film. There are a dozen in-jokes calculated to delight the Shakespeare aficionado portion of the audience, and I was delighted to see that they are jokes that children can grow into as their familiarity with Shakespeare's works increases. The truck with "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Moving Company" is just one of them. The film's setting—in Stratford-upon-Avon itself!—is another.

But the most interesting element of the film is its Shakespearean sensibility about self-reflexivity. A Shakespeare play is often keenly aware—and makes its audience keenly aware—that it is a play. That meta-theatricality is enhanced and developed in Gnomeo and Juliet. The film is keenly aware—and makes its audience keenly aware—that it is a film. And it also is keenly aware that it is a film derived from a Shakespeare play—and it makes its audience keenly aware of that, too.

The film has a character called "Bill Shakespeare" (voiced to the point of absolute perfection by Patrick Stewart); his appearance brings the self-reflexivity to the fore. Gnomeo tells Bill (who is a statue) his story, and that story reminds Bill of a story he once told. Of course, Bill's story ended tragically—with the deaths of the two lovers in question. The character is actually slightly smarmy about it, insisting that he likes the tragic ending better than other possible endings Gnomeo suggests. And he keeps saying, "I told you so!" when things look bleak.

In this, the film stunningly builds in a counterargument to its own existence, reminding us that there may be those who want Shakespeare to stay Shakespeare—those who argue that a derivative version of Shakespeare (particularly one that changes the ending so drastically) is too far from Shakespeare to be Shakespeare any longer. But it simultaneously makes the case that derivative versions of Shakespeare can be evaluated on their own terms. Yes, something has changed, but we can find interest and significance in what the new entity offers. Much more could be said on that topic alone—it's one point where the film opens a debate and expects its audience to think about it.

The end of the film is, in essence, a curtain call. All the characters make an appearance (even the one we thought smashed beyond repair), and we are reminded that the opening introduced us to a play rather than a film. That, too, was a marvelous device, making us think that all these gnomes are actors putting on the story of Gnomeo and Juliet, and we start to think that they are "The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited," as Polonius puts it (Hamlet, II.ii.396-400).

And, in the category of other things I'd like to mention, I was a bit put off by some of the jokes geared toward the older audience exclusively. For example, the Nurse analogue (Nanette, the frog) comments that Juliet has some "junk in the trunk," and I think that's unnecessary. Come to think of it, it's also fairly unfunny.

But the sound effects were perfect. Whenever a gnome would brush up against another, grating noises—however slight—occurred. It reminded us effectively of the way these gnomes are unlike us—even while convincing us that we are very much alike.

At some point, I'd like to think more deliberately through the film's ending. [Note: Specific Spoilers Follow.] The blame for the chaos and destruction at the end is interestingly divided. The main instigator of the demolition is an inanimate object—by which, I mean an object that is more inanimate than garden gnomes are normally thought to be. Because the destruction comes from an out-of-control lawn tractor rather than from any specific gnome (though, certainly, specific gnomes start the sequence of events leading up to the devastation), the guilt is somewhat sublimated. Still, both red and blue gnomes acknowledge the blame, and it's shared evenly among all parties.

The film is something you should certainly see. And if you need further convincing, here's the trailer:


Links: The Film at IMDB. The Film's Official Website.
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