Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Book Note: Everybody's Shakespeare by Orson Welles et al.

Shakespeare, William, Orson Welles, and Roger Hill. Everybody's Shakespeare. Woodstock, Illinois: The Todd Press, 1934.

I've finally taken the plunge and started on Simon Callow's four-volume (!) biography of Orson Welles (of which only three volumes have yet been released). More on that later.

My own interest (naturally) relates to Welles' relationship to Shakespeare. I've written about his film version of Macbeth (for which, q.v. and q.v. [and elsewhere—q.v. for the dagger speech specifically]). I've found rare clips of his [quote] "Voodoo Macbeth" (for which, q.v.). I read a novel and watched a film about his early production of Julius Caesar (for which, q.v.). I've found out about his Merchant of Venice (for which, q.v.), and watched his King Lear (for which, q.v. and q.v.) multiple times. I've investigated his Chimes at Midnight (for which, q.v.). I've explored the [ridiculous] claims that he was an Oxfordian (for which, q.v.), and I've even shown his appearance in I Love Lucy (for which, q.v.) a few times to my Shakespeare and film classes.

But I did not know that, in 1934, Welles and Roger Hill (the headmaster of his preparatory school—the Todd School), when Welles was at the age of eighteen or nineteen, published an introduction to Shakespeare and an edited script of Merchant of Venice, complete with illustrations and notes for performance. [Two more volumes were published: the subsequent volumes were Julius Caesar and Twelfth Night—both in 1939 (for those of you keeping score).]

I managed to track down a not-too-expensive copy of the first volume, and it's pretty amazing. [Note: If you're trying to track it down, it was later released as The Mercury Shakespeare, and it stayed in print for years, so there should be copies available.]

What intrigues me most is the introductory material, though Orson Welles' sketches and suggested staging ideas are also very valuable.

The best thing I can do is to give you some samples from the book, starting with some comments on the plots and the grammar of Shakespeare and then concluding with several pages ridiculing the anti-Stratfordian position. Even though the claims that Orson Welles thought the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare have been sufficiently debunked, it's interesting to have this early and clear assertion that Welles believed that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare. It might be argued that people can change their minds, but reading this biography has opened my eyes to the way Welles would say anything to anyone and would play along with the ideas of his audience. It seems that Welles was very rarely not performing in one way or another.

In any case, take a look at this early work by the wunderkind who brought so much Shakespeare to the stage, the radio, and the screen.

Click here to purchase a copy of one volume from the series—one signed by Orson Welles et al. from
(so you can then give it to Bardfilm).
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 2008-2020 (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