Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Note: The Postman

Brin, David. The Postman. New York: Bantam Books, 1997.

I'm not enormously fond of the post-apocalyptic literature genre, but I'm occasionally asked to engage with it for the Shakespeare.

A case in point is the very good novel Station Eleven (for which, q.v.).

The Postman is more traditionally post-apocalyptic, but I was surprised by how engaging it was.

The plot involves a man who finds a mail carrier's uniform and uses it to transform the post-apocalyptic landscape of the rest of the novel.

And there's a bit of Shakespeare in it . . . but, as is often the case, the cry from Bardfilm goes out, "More Shakespeare, please!"

Here's a quick sample (and the only extended Shakespeare-related passage I could find):

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Shakespearean Rhapsody

"Shakespearean Rhapsody." Parody of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. Perf. kj et al.

I find myself taking a Shakespearean turn on most things, and one way that manifests itself is in rewriting songs so that they have a Shakespearean turn.

These songs often had their origins on Twitter. An exchange or two would lead to a parody of a line or two from a song.

Later, those might turn into full versions of songs. But they're usually for private consumption, unlike the songs I write for the students in my Shakespeare classes.

Past hits in the latter category include Bob Dylan singing the plot of Measure for Measure (for which, q.v.), "Bottom Dreamed a Dream" from the hit off-Broadway musical Pyramus! (for which, q.v.), and a Musical version of King Lear's madness (for which, q.v.).

Several years ago, I started toying around with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and I even got so far as to put together a recording. But I lacked the time and the talent to make it truly professional.

Don't get your hopes up—I still don't have time or talent, but I don't imagine I ever will have. I thought the best thing to do would be to put a quick lyric video together and throw it out there, warts and all.

Here, then, is "Shakespearean Rhapsody." Enjoy!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book Note: The Merry Conceited Humors of Bottom the Weaver

The Merry Conceited Humors of Bottom the Weaver as it hath been often publikely Acted by some of his Majesties Comedians, and lately, privately, presented, by several APPRENTICES for their harmless recreation, with Great Applause. London: F. Kirkman and H. Marsh, 1661. Facsimile. London: Cornmarket Press, 1970.

You say you really like the rude mechanicals scenes in Midsummer Night's Dream but all that stuff about the four lovers and the Duke and his Duchess-to-be bores you stiff?

Have I got the play for you.

In 1661, an edited version of Midsummer Night's Dream was published. Essentially, it has all the Bottom the Weaver scenes (including, of course, the ending play-within-the-play) and a little of the necessary surrounding plot (Oberon sending Pugg—he's called Pugg in this version—out for some love potion).

Stanley Wells wrote the introduction; in it, he says, "As an abbreviation for amateur performance this is a competent piece of work."

I've edited a lot of Shakespeare for amateur performance, and I find the decisions this text makes to be fascinating. Whoever did it had a limited cast and didn't want to be bothered with things that would distract from Bottom's plot. For example, we don't need all that backstory for Oberon and Titania, but we do need a little something to explain why he's putting love potion on the eyes of the Queen of the Fairies. A little tinkering and a few Shakespearean-sounding lines will fix it. Here's Oberon's first speech in this version of the play:
I am resolved and I will be revenged
Of my proud Queen Titania's injury,
And make her yield me up her beloved page.
My gentle Pugg come hither[. T]hou Rememberest
Since that I sat upon a Promontory,
And heard a Mermaid on a Dolphin[']s Back . . .
And we're off and running with Shakespeare's words from the fourth line above.

I'll give you a few sample pages. Here's the cast list and the opening of the play:

And here's when Pugg enters to see the rehearsal and Bottom is translated:

In The Merry Conceited Humors of Bottom the Weaver, the cry is "Bless thee, Bottom, thou art edited!"

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Book Note: Speak of me as I am

Belasco, Sonia. Speak of me as I am. New York: Philomel Books, 2017.

This mirror novel involves a black male high school student and a white female high school student who are involved in the school's production of Othello.

They both are grappling with deep grief. Melanie's mother has died of cancer; Damon's best friend Carlos has committed suicide.

The two become romantically involved during the production, and you might expect that the novel would explore racial themes that Othello and their relationship bring up, but that's a pretty minor part of the novel.

Instead, the novel explores issues of sexual orientation more than issues of race.

I can't say much more than that without giving you spoilers, but I will give you a sample from about a third of the way through the book:

The novel is well-written, and its exploration of grief is deep. Its title is drawn from Othello's last speech: "When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, / Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, / Nor set down aught in malice" (V.ii.342-44), and the call of the novel is to remember our departed in that way.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Book Note: The Shakespeare Wars

Rosenbaum, Ron. The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups. New York: Random House, 2008.

I've been enjoying reading Ron Rosenbaum's enormous (601-page) popular book on the arguments Shakespeare scholars have with each other.

Do you want to know why many collected editions of Shakespeare print two or three different versions of King Lear? you'll find the answer(s) in The Shakespeare Wars.

Interested in reading about how a very dull poem entitled "A Funeral Elegy" was (wrongly) attributed to Shakespeare and then (probably rightly) attributed to someone else entirely?  You'll find out about it here. And you can read the whole dull poem here.

Would you like to hear a first-hand account of what it was like to see Peter Brook's world- and life-altering 1970 production of Midsummer Night's Dream? Rosenbaum was there, and he'll tell you about it. You can also see a few rare clips of it here.

There are so many passages I'd like to pass on to you, but I'll just give you the end of his preface. In it, he tells us what he wants to do--and why. And I find it very compelling.

The book is quite long, so it's not for reading at one go. And there's one stylistic choice Rosenbaum makes that gets very old very quickly. He seems addicted to the sentence fragment. Which becomes awfully distracting.  And ineffective.

But the stories are worth it. Grab a copy, put it on your nightstand, and dip into it from time to time until it has to go back to the library. 

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Musical Version of King Lear's Madness

"King Lear in the Rain." Lear! Unproduced Off-Broadway Musical.

As Bardfilm loyalists know (and I know you want to count yourself among their number), I often write songs to help students remember the key terms of the plays we've covered in my Shakespeare course.

Past hits include Bob Dylan singing the plot of Measure for Measure (for which, q.v.) and "Bottom Dreamed a Dream" from the hit off-Broadway musical Pyramus! (for which, q.v.).

This past semester, I decided that King Lear needed some attention. And our university had just produced a delightful version of Singin' in the Rain, so it seemed only natural to think of some way to articulate King Lear's thoughts while he heads out into the rain to rage against the machine . . . or, really, against fate, his daughters, his losses, his madness—what have you.

Here, then, is "King Lear in the Rain." Enjoy!

Note: In case the video above fails to embed properly, I'm attaching a blog-native version here.

Friday, March 9, 2018

McLintock!: Shrew-Tamin' in the Old West

McLintock!. Dir. Andrew V. McLaglen. Perf. John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, and Patrick Wayne. 1963. DVD. Paramount, 2005.

McLintock! has been described as a derivative version of The Taming of the Shrew, and I suppose it has some elements that fit the general idea, but if it weren't for some Shakespeare quotes (neither of them from Taming), I wouldn't have thought there was any direct connection to Shakespeare.

A rich cattle baron named G. W. McLintock (played by John Wayne) is separated from his wife (played by Maureen O'Hara), who's been dancing with the governor of the state and generally showing him up. Katherine Gilhooley McLintock (people keep calling her "Kate," and she always corrects them) arrives in the town so that she can take her daughter away with her as soon as she returns from college.

There's the usual tension between ranchers and farmers and Native Americans and government officials and the usual sort of love triangle between the daughter and two young men in the town. The film presents both mother and daughter as in need of taming. Once the men spank them, they're all back in love with each other and everything can end happily.

Here's a clip that will give you a flavor of the setup:

But as to anything more specific than the continual "They call me Katherine that do speak of me," there's not much in the way of any direction plot connection to Shakespeare plays.

Bonus images: Quotes in the film from other Shakespeare plays: 

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Book Note: Shakespeare: Investigate the Bard's Influence on Today's World

Diehn, Andi. Shakespeare: Investigate the Bard's Influence on Today's World. Illus. Samuel Carbaugh. White River Junction: Nomad Press, 2016.

The number of resources on Shakespeare for grade-school kids increases every year. Some are tremendous, some are mediocre, and some are very bad indeed. But there's often not much to tell them apart. But Shakespeare: Investigate the Bard's Influence on Today's World stands out.

It's the only one (so far) for which I provided editorial advice.

That means that a lot of the myths often presented as facts are absent from this volume. And it also means that the dates are correct and the names of the characters in the plays are spelled correctly.

Beyond that, it's a good, solid introduction to Shakespeare's life and times. Further, it continually connects Shakespeare's themes, plots, and characters to the present day, demonstrating the relevance of Shakespeare with subtlety and flair.

I'm providing a two-page spread as an example. The book is highly-readable and has many interesting sidebars that enhance rather than distract from the main body of the book.

Shakespeare: Investigate the Bard's Influence on Today's World is an excellent resource, whether used as classroom or homeschool curriculum or just read for its own merits. 

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Book Note: A Winter's Tale

Ashley, Trisha. A Winter's Tale. London: Avon, 2017.

I found this book in a bookstore in Vietnam. It bears the title of a Shakespeare play, and it has a Shakespearean connection, perhaps making it part of the Globe-alization process I noticed there (for which, q.v.).

After lumbering my way through about half of it, I accidentally left it behind in an Uber. Since no library near me had a copy, I had to order a used one from Amazon. A few weeks later, it arrived from England (more Globe-alization).

I managed to make my way through the rest of it this weekend. As you might be able to tell from the tone of that last sentence, this book isn't my cup of tea. The plot involves a woman who finds she's unexpectedly inherited the old family manor (though she's really not "to the manor born"). There's an unscrupulous man who wants to buy it from her—and she becomes romantically involved with him, but she decides not to sell—and not to pursue that relationship. And so on and so forth.

The family manor is near Hoghton Tower. Now, if you've read various modern biographies of Shakespeare, you may be thinking, "Ah! Hoghton Tower, eh? Shakeshaft, eh? That must be the connection!" and you'd be right.

But it does come with a bit of a twist. Each chapter of A Winter's Tale is headed with a quotation from "the journal of Alys Bezzard," starting in 1580 and running through to 1582. These tell the story of Alys (a suspected witch), her connection with the Winter family (they're the ones with the manor), and her encounter with a poet.

Yes, that poet.

That's why I started reading the little quotations before each chapter much more eagerly than the rest of the novel. I'll give you a sample of one from a little over halfway through the novel. It's a spoiler, but it's also one that you could guess a mile off:

Apart from that (and some off-stage arguments about the authenticity of the journal), there's not much actual Shakespeare. At one point, however, the main characters talk about what quotes from Shakespeare they should put into their guide book, and that's a tiny bit interesting:

All in all, if vaguely romantic narratives are your cup of tea, why not try this one? If they're not, you should probably steer clear.

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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