Saturday, May 20, 2017

Book Note: The Shakespeare Almanac / Shakespeare's Sonnets Registered on this Date in 1609

Doran, Gregory. The Shakespeare Almanac. London: Hutchinson, 2009.

Shakespeare Geek asked me if I'd ever seen this volume.  I hadn't, but I tracked down a copy through Inter-Library Loan. And then I bought myself a copy.

The book is a trip through the year with Shakespeare-related events, accomplishments, and trivia, and I've generally been pretty impressed and interested in what it has to say.

I'm providing the page for today below. I mainly know of 20 May as the date of the registration of Shakespeare's Sonnets . . . but Doran gives us a fair bit more than just that:

I've only spotted one error in the book so far (the page for April 23 says that Shakespeare was baptized on April 25—but it was really on April 26).

The book is very interesting and would make a good addition to the library of any Shakespeare aficionado. 

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Piñeiro's Hermia & Helena

Hermia & Helena. Dir. Matías Piñeiro. Perf. Agustina Muñoz, María Villar, Mati Diop.  Trapecio Cine, Ravenser Odd, and Cinema Conservancy. 26 May 2017 [US Theatrical Release]. 

I've heard a bit about this film from time to time, and it's about to have a US release. During the past few weeks, I've been paying more attention to Shakespeare in Spanish, so a film about a woman who is translating Midsummer Night's Dream is intriguing.

But that's not all that's intriguing!  From the plot and the trailer, it looks like quite a promising film.  The Film Stage has an entry on the film here. They offer this plot summary:
Camila (Agustina Muñoz, The Princess of France), a young Argentine theater director, travels from Buenos Aires to New York for an artist residency to work on a new Spanish translation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Upon her arrival, she quickly realizes that her work isn’t compensating for the loss of her friends and the lover she left behind. When she begins to receive a series of mysterious postcards from Danièle (Mati Diop, Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum), a former participant in the same residency, Camila second-guesses her artistic endeavors and begins to seek answers about her past. Hermia & Helena mingles actors from Matías Piñeiro’s Buenos Aires repertory with stalwarts of New York’s independent film scene (Keith Poulson, Dustin Guy Defa, Dan Sallitt). It is a film of dead ends and new beginnings, navigating amorous detours across hemispheres and languages, in which the words of Shakespeare clash with the entanglements of modern, digital life.
And here's the official trailer:

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fodor's Hamlet: Not Just Another Ghost Story

Hamlet. Dir. Alexander Fodor. Perf. Wilson Belchambers, Lydia Piechowiak (as Polonia), Alan Hanson, and Tallulah Sheffield. 2007. DVD. S’more Entertainment, Inc., 2009.

Whenever I give a final examination in Shakespeare and Film, I show the students a couple of clips that they have to analyze on the spot. It's a good assignment, giving them a chance to demonstrate both the vocabulary and the skills of analysis that they've been developing through the course.

It's always something we hadn't covered in class, and I always show them two clips and have them choose the one they feel they can write about best. I also always tell them that I don't want a review or a summary of the plot; instead, I want them to develop an essay that analyzes the decisions the director(s) and the actor(s) have made, not one that critiques their ability to carry it out.

This year, I showed them a clip from the Fodor Hamlet. It's not a Hamlet that I particularly like—I don't think it works that well overall. But the nunnery scene has a lot that the students can write about, including the interesting shift from Polonius, Ophelia's father, to Polonia, Ophelia's sister:


I'm wondering what direction the students who choose that clip will take their essays. Will they talk about how the power dynamic changes with the shift from Polonius to Polonia? Will they talk about the disorientation the film intends us to have—preventing us from knowing exactly how the observation of Hamlet and Ophelia works? Will they talk about the seagull / dolphin sounds and whether they appear to be diegetic or non-diegetic? I do hope they do something like that—rather than critiquing the acting and the film-making (which is, admittedly, bad—but which isn't meant to be the focus of their essays).

Links: The Film's Official Web Site.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

A Return to Slings & Arrows for a Thematic Overview of Macbeth

“Rarer Monsters.” By Susan Coyne and Bob Martin. Dir. Peter Wellington. Perf. Martha Burns, Paul Gross, Don McKellar, Mark McKinney, Oliver Dennis, Susan Coyne, Stephen Ouimette, Catherine Fitch, and Geraint Wyn Davies. Slings and Arrows. Season 2, episode 3. Movie Central: Canada. 11 July 2005. DVD. Acorn Media, 2006-2007.

In my Shakespeare and Film class this year, I had occasion (and time) to put together a set of clips from the Macbeth season of Slings & Arrows. It was partly diversionary (the show is such enormous fun), but the more pedagogically-sound purpose was that it provides a quick overview of some of the thematic concerns of Macbeth that directors, actors, and readers of the play need to consider.


Links: Episode List at IMDB.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Shakespeare in The [American] Office

"Free Family Portrait Studio." By B.J. Novak. Perf. Ed Helms and Catherine Tate. Dir. Greg Daniels. The Office. Season 8, episode 24. NBC. 10 May 2012. DVD. 

Ricky Gervais occasionally has a bit of fun with Shakespeare. Witness his "One Man Romeo and Juliet." Or look at his brief exchange about Tom Bosley as Lear. Alternately, you can ponder how he got Patrick Stewart to give us some Prospero.

None of that is strictly relevant to this post, since I'm talking about the American version of The Office, which starts off a bit like The Office Gervais brought to the BBC but then takes a different direction (for the most part).

As my Grandmother Jones used to say, I told you that to tell you this. I found a bit of Shakespeare in a late-season episode of The Office. Here, the Catherine Tate character is about to be called on the carpet by the Ed Helms character for the way she mistreated him when he was out of power. Now he's back in power, and he's about to enjoy the sweetness of revenge. Except his plans are altered. Note: The clip contains some NSFW language, depending on what you consider S where you W. It's bleeped out, but I thought you should be aware of it nonetheless.


Yes, Tate's character plays "the bard card," giving Portia's speech from the courtroom scene in Merchant of Venice to avoid the vengeance that she knows is coming.

I'll keep an eye out for any other Shakespeare in The [American] Office, but if you already know of some, let us know about it in the comments!

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Trevor Noah and Shakespeare

Trevor Noah: African American. Dir. Ryan Polito. Perf. Trevor Noah. DVD. Inception Media Group, 2013.

At the 2017 Shakespeare Association of America Convention in Atlanta, I was in a seminar called "Global Othello." My own paper was on Janet Suzman's production of Othello—the one made in South Africa under Apartheid (for which, q.v.).

On the plane on the way down, I decided to try the comedy stylings of Trevor Noah, whom I learned about on an NPR broadcast the previous week. Trevor Noah was born in South Africa in 1984; his mother was white, and his father was black. He writes about feeling illegal at a child in Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.

I knew there was a connection to South Africa, but I didn't expect an additional connection to Shakespeare.

In the DVD, Noah's routine is all about navigating being black in America. At one point, he starts talking about African-American language use—and he ends up with Shakespeare.  Here's that section.  Note: Some of the language here is NWFW, depending, of course, on where you W.


Trevor Noah and Shakespeare both seem to admire and employ interesting language use.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

More Shakespeare, Jack Benny, and Ronald Coleman

"Jack's Scrapbook." The Jack Benny Program. CBS. 16 January 1949. Radio.

A Shakespeare scholar on one of the LISTSERVs to which I subscribe brought up the issue of Ronald Coleman and his association with Shakespeare.

I couldn't resist calling the group's attention to the time Ronald Coleman and Jack Benny exchanged speeches from Othello on The Jack Benny Program (for which, q.v.).

And that reminded me of the time Ronald Colman did a Lucky Strike advertisement based on Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy.

I started with my memory of a line from the speech: ". . . or to smoke a Lucky and so to feel thine level best." I was slightly inaccurate in my memory, as you'll see.

I thought I could narrow down the era by figuring out when that Lucky Strike campaign began. With the help of a reference librarian, I learned that the campaign begin in 1949. In scholar's terms, that gave a terminus a quo. It was then a simple matter—well, actually, it did take some time—to track down the guest appearances of Ronald Coleman on The Jack Benny Program from 1949 on. And when I started up the first of them (from 16 January 1949), I knew I had the right one.

The premise of the show is that Jack and Ronald have switched roles; in this sequence, Ronald is dreaming that he is Jack Benny. I've provided the audio in the clip below (you can find the full show here (scroll down to find "Jack Benny Program 49-01-16 (678) Jack's Scrapbook.mp3")—and I recommend it as one of the best shows); the video comes from Derek Jacobi's Hamlet from the BBC Hamlet. Again, it's a bit surreal, but it's the easiest way for me to get an audio clip to you.


Transcribed, the speech is as follows (I haven't tried to break it into verse, but you may feel free to experiment along those lines):
To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to enjoy a Lucky and so to feel thy level best. To smoke—to puff—perchance to blow a smoke ring: ay, there's the thrill. Come, let me light thee. Art thou not round and firm and fully packed? Art thou not first again with friends, Romans, countrymen? Art thou not a noble creation, your praises tripping lightly from the nimble tongue of Speedy Riggs? Ay, Horatio: the tobacco's the thing that makes a Lucky fitting for a king.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Bit More Shakespeare in Pearls Before Swine

Pastis, Stephen. King of the Comics: A Pearls Before Swine Collection. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2015.

We've occasionally seen Pearls Before Swine dip into Shakespeare for comic effect.

We've seen pun-based takes on Hamlet's soliloquy and threats cobbled out of Julius Caesar.

We've had an encounter with difficult verse lines from Romeo and Juliet.

We've even had Shakespeare translated for modern audiences.

And now, in browsing through a book at the bookstore, we find two more connections between Shakespeare and the Pearls cast.

The first one is part of a series that . . . well, Stephen Pastis has thoughtfully provided a panel of context for it:

The second takes us back to Hamlet's soliloquy . . . with a bit of a twist.

The Shakespeare aficionado might say, like Isabella in Measure for Measure, "O, it is excellent / To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous / To use it like a giant" (107-09). But that might be gilding the lily.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Note: Fakespeare in the Park

Soria, Gabe. Fakespeare in the Park. New York?: Cartoon Network Books, 2016.

I'm pretty much utterly nonplussed about this volume. I have no sense of the context for it. Occasionally, people write me and ask if they can send me something Shakespeare-related, and I generally say, "Sure." That's how this came my way.

It's a work of juvenile fiction published by Cartoon Network Books. And it may have something to do with something called The Regular Show.

I've tried to gain some quick context, and I gather that there's a blue jay and a raccoon. They work for the park service, and they're not very good at their jobs.

As near as I can tell, this is not a novelization of an actual event on the show. If it were, it would provide the context more easily and be more accessible to the causal, mildly-interested bystander.

If you know the show and are a fan, you may find this quite amusing.  After a number of false starts and quirky setbacks, the characters are able to put on a play they call The Most Awsome Exploits of MacDeath, a Veteran Constable, and Juliet, his Squire. Here's a quick sample:

There you have it. If you know the show, you may like it; if you don't, you're likely to be nonplussed.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Book Note: Shylock is my Name

Jacobson, Howard. Shylock is my Name: William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Retold. London: Hogarth Shakespeare, 2016..

On the whole, I have not been terribly impressed with the Hogarth Shakespeare series. The Winter's Tale one (for which, q.v.) starting off very promising, but tried too hard. The Taming of the Shrew one (for which, q.v.) didn't seem to think that deeply about the play.

But Shlock is my Name was profound in its grappling with Shakespeare's play—while making it its own and inviting us to look back at Merchant of Venice.

It takes a while for everything to build, but we essentially have the story of Simon Strulovitch, whose daughter is running wild and who intends to marry a christian. His story is set in contemporary England (contemporary to us, that is, not to Shakespeare).

He meets Shylock in a graveyard. At first, Shylock seems to be contemporary to Strulovitch, but it becomes clearer and clearer that Shylock's story has been completed and the Strulovitch is echoing it. Shylock then stands as a guide to Strulovitch's experiences—and also as a touchstone for how Christians have treated / are treating Jews. Ambiguity over whether he is to be taken as real or as an emblem for Jewishness fills the novel's pages.

The novel's plot is cleverly woven together, and it leads to Strulovitch demanding that the man with whom his daughter has eloped / run away become circumcised (this becomes the modernization of the "pound of flesh"). When he can't be found, Strulovitch demands that D'Anton, the man's older mentor and friend, take his place.

I leave you to discover the rest on your own . . . except that I want to provide this novel's take on the "Quality of Mercy" speech. Here, it's given to Shylock. It's toward the end of the novel, and Shylock is asking Strulovitch to reconsider his demand for circumcision.  [Note: There is some coarse language here. So watch it.] 

The kinds of things this novel does are the things all the Hogarth Shakespeares ought to do.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Note: Shakespeare was a Computer Programmer

Holmes, Jeffrey. Shakespeare was a Computer Programmer. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: Brunswick Press, 1975.

And sometimes we run across items that are "even more bizarre and inexplicable," to quote Douglas Adams.

Shakespeare was a Computer Programmer is an extremely odd little book. I spotted it scroll by on the Folger Library Twitter Feed and thought I'd track down a copy myself to see what it's all about. I thought it was probably a book to help computer programmers understand Shakespeare or to help Shakespeareans understand computer programmers better.

Instead, I got something of a parody of the authorship debates. Our purported author—Professor ----------, according to Jeffrey Holmes—discovered a number of odd bits of old paper. To his astonishment, they lead him to the conclusion that the plays of Shakespeare were really written by "one Harry Ramsbottom, an illegitimate Yorkshireman, using technique not to be dreamed of until the advent, four hundred years later, of computer programming" (7).

As near as I can figure, the rest of the book imagines that specific words and phrases in Shakespeare were given codes that would make them interchangeable. With a list of intriguing and well-written words and phrases, each given a code, a play could be compiled much as computer code would be.

I'll give you pages 13 to 15 as an example:

And it goes on from there, giving examples of lines that could have appeared in one play but actually appeared in another.

There you are. It's odd, but I did read it, and I thought it needed a write-up.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Grade School Macbeth in Slings & Arrows

“Fallow Time.” By Susan Coyne and Bob Martin. Dir. Peter Wellington. Perf. Martha Burns, Paul Gross, Don McKellar, Mark McKinney, Oliver Dennis, Susan Coyne, Stephen Ouimette, Catherine Fitch, and Geraint Wyn Davies. Slings and Arrows. Season 2, episode 2. Movie Central: Canada. 4 July 2005. DVD. Acorn Media, 2006-2007.

I've recently had cause to go back to Slings and Arrows to have a look at the way they staged the Macbeth-within-the-Macbeth-related season of the series.

If you've never seen this show, stop now and go watch it in its entirety and then come back. A remarkable show in its own right, the fun it has with Shakespeare push it into entirely new categories.

If you've never seen the show but you're not obeying the command in the last paragraph, you'll need to know that the series is about a director who takes over as the artistic director of a Shakespeare festival when the previous director dies. That previous director's ghost (or is it just a hallucination?) returns from time to time to help (or to plague?) the new director. In the episode from which this clip is drawn, Jeffrey Tennant (the new director) goes to a local grade school to see its production of Macbeth (the grade school always puts on a version of whatever the festival is doing). As Jeffrey watches the show, he becomes more and more disturbed by the thought of having to direct the play himself—until Oliver, the previous director, shows up. Here's a compilation of all the scenes with the grade school Macbeth:


It's great stuff, particularly in the layering that gives us a director of Macbeth behaving like Macbeth when Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo.

Links: The Show at IMDB.

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Book Note: A Midsummer Night's Scream by R. L. Stein

Stein, R. L. A Midsummer Night's Scream. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2013.

The description from Amazon will give you a pretty good idea of where this book is going:
In R.L. Stine's A Midsummer Night's Scream, the Master of Horror takes on the Master of Theatre!

Oh, what fools these actors be!
When I wrote on A Midsummer Night's Scream by David Bergantino, I noted that there were other books under that title. The pun must be irresistible for horror writers.

R. L. Stein's is better, but it's still not all that thrilling—and I mean that two ways (that pun must be irresistible for Shakespeare scholars): the horror is more unbelievable than horrific and there's not that much Shakespeare.

The novel does employ some plot elements of Shakespeare at least. There's a character named Mr. Puckerman (can you divine his role?) who has a bunch of different magic potions—love potions, hate potions, aging potions. And the characters in the novel have an awareness of Shakespeare that is gratifying.

That's the part I'll provide as a sample.  Here's our protagonist meeting Mr. Puckerman ("Everyone calls me Puck") for the first time and getting a flavor of his love potion:

Puckerman also has a forgetting potion, and he tries it on Claire, but she's able to remember the events of the meeting fairly completely.

Just like other characters remember Shakespeare fairly completely. Here's a quick reference from later in the book:

And that's about it. The love potions (and hate potions) are used from time to time, but not according to Shakespeare's script.

Still, this is better than the other horror novel—and now I just have two more books with this title to try!

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Upstart Crow: A Shakespearean Sit-Com

“Star Crossed Lovers.” By Ben Elton. Perf. David Mitchell, Liza Tarbuck, Paula Wilcox, Helen Monks, Harry Enfield, Gemma Whelan, Rob Rouse, Mark Heap, Dominic Coleman, Steve Speirs, and Spencer Jones. Dir. Matt Lipsey. Upstart Crow. Season 1, episode 1. ABC. 9 May 2016. DVD. Paramount, 2007. 

Alert reader and Shakespeare-related novel writer Jean Hegland (for whom, q.v.) pointed me toward Upstart Crow, a sit-com in the old style, complete with either live studio audience or a laugh track.

And it's brilliant.

The show is about Shakespeare trying to make a name for himself as a playwright. We're most often either in his house in Stratford or in his London lodgings. The scheme is for each episode to include a real-life event drawn from Shakespeare's fictional drama. For example, Shakespeare gets into debt to Robert Greene, with whom he's signed a "pound of flesh" agreement. Or he needs a potion to make it appear that someone is dead. Those episodes usually conclude with Anne telling Will that he should put something like that in the play he's working on—but Shakespeare usually discounts the idea, arguing that it would be too unbelievable.

I'm supremely pleased by David Mitchell's Will Shakespeare. He plays the character somewhere between Peter Bowles' Richard DeVere in To the Manor Born and Fawlty Towers' very own Basil Fawlty.

The writer of the show is Ben Elton, who wrote for Balack Adder. Some Shakespeare did make its way into Black Adder (for which, q.v.), but not nearly enough for my tastes. This show rectifies that, providing huge lashings of Shakespeare in every episode.

Other contemporaries of Shakespeare make their way into the show. Robert Greene is always trying to one-up the upstart; Henry Condell and Richard Burbage are constantly complaining about their parts; and Will Kempe is always looking down his nose at everyone else because he understands modern comedy and they don't. He's clearly a sixteenth-century equivalent to Ricky Gervais' David Brent in the BBC Office.

Let me give you a couple quick scenes as a sample. This first scene is the show's opening. Shakespeare is back at home in Stratford, working on Romeo and Juliet—and they work in some good material surrounding the perennial potential "wherefore" confusion. It moves from there to Shakespeare's London lodging, where we get him complaining about his journey in a very modern way. Finally, it cuts to part of the plot (a man in love with the wrong woman has been sent to Shakespeare's lodgings for safekeeping) that provides a callback to the wherefore material:


I'm very fond of the way the show slyly points out that the first name isn't actually the problem preventing Juliet and Romeo from getting married. And the line "If you do your research, my stuff is actually really funny" is genius of the highest order.

This next clip provides a bit of the players from episode five ("What Bloody Man is That?"). It gives us Kempe as David Brent, comedy mastermind:


And I can't resist giving one more in that vein. It's from episode six: "The Quality of Mercy," and it's clearly Kempe as both David Brent and Ricky Gervais when he proposes an entirely new kind of comedy for their proposed new theatre:


The more I dip into the show, the more I like it. It's currently only available in a Region 2 DVD, but I hope a US release is in the works. And I gather that there's a possibility of a second season for the show, so let's keep our eyes peeled for that.

Links: The Wikipedia Entry for the Show.

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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.
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