Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Book Note: Fools and Mortals

Cornwell, Bernard. Fools and Mortals. New York: Harper, 2019.

I was a bit skeptical about this novel when I first started it. It seems like an ordinary adventure novel with a vaguely Elizabethan setting.

But it definitely grew on me.

Here are the basics of the plot:  William Shakespeare's second-youngest brother (Richard) gets in big trouble in Stratford and makes his way to Big Brother Will in London. But Will doesn't really want him around—at all!  He doesn't want to help him, he doesn't want to see him, and he doesn't want him interfering with his life in London. Reluctantly, Will gets Richard a job—with a terrible man who runs a company of boy actors but abuses them all terribly.

Eventually, Richard determines to become a player. And that's really when the book got interesting for me. We meet Will Shakespeare's company, and Richard gets older and demands to be allowed to stop playing women's roles.

After Richard helps Will in some way, Will agrees and gives him a part in his new play—A Midsummer Night's Dream. I'd like to give you some of that scene. The actors in Shakespeare's company behave just like the Rude Mechanicals—squabbling over parts, et cetera. And Richard becomes furious with his brother when he realizes the male role he's been given is that of Francis Flute—who has to play Thisbe. Richard becomes a male actor who doesn't want to play female roles playing a male actor playing a female role.





Later, Shakespeare's scripts are stolen and the whole company needs to work desperately hard to get them back.

Give it a try—it's suspenseful and well-written . . . and it's usually pretty historically accurate in the setting.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Shakespearean-Sounding Language in Mork and Mindy

"Pilot." By Garry Marshall. Perf. Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. Dir. Howard Storm. Mork and Mindy. Season 1, episode 1. ABC. 14 September 1978.

Ah, some more sitcom Shakespeare!

I'm teaching a course called "Literature of Humor," and I dipped into the late 1970s show Mork and Mindy, starting (in particular) Robin Williams. Our textbook for the course starts off by talking about the defamiliarization aspect of humor, and Mork and Mindy is about an alien who comes to Earth to research our quaint Earth customs. I thought I might find a brief example to illustrate that principle. In addition to that, I found a bit of Shakespearean language.

Williams often incorporated pseudo-Shakespeare into his stand-up routines, so I shouldn't have been surprised to find that in Mork and Mindy. Here, then, is the brief clip. Enjoy!


Here's the transcript:

Mindy: Now, Mork, that’s what got you the trouble the last time!
Mork: Alas, my lady, you do deal me pain. ’Tis justified, and I shall repent.
Mindy: Oh come on . . . Hey! Where did you get that voice?
Mork: From yon video. ’Twas Shakespeare methinks, or ’twas The Jeffersons.
Mindy: Well that . . . that voice is normal—if you forget the ’twas and the ’twits.
Mork: I’ll ’twy!

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

I’ll Make a King Out of Me (The Richard III Theme Song)


kj. "I’ll Make a King Out of Me (The Richard III Theme Song)." The Potential Musical Version of Richarrd III.

Long-time blog readers will know that I often compose songs for my students as a way of reviewing the material.

But I've always been stymied by Richard III. Well, perhaps "stymied" isn't quite the right word. "Uninspired" might hit the nail on the head.

Until this year. The students suggested some options, and we settled on the rallying song from Mulan.

I've thrown together a rough recording of it (in between grading Shakespeare exams and grading Shakespeare thesis papers)—forgive the roughness, but I thought I'd just take a chance and throw it out there.

The song is in the embedded file—the images are incidental to the song, but they're all from versions of Richard III, and that sometimes leads to some serendipity.

Below the file are the lyrics. Enjoy!


I’ll Make a King Out of Me (The Richard III Theme Song)

 

Now it is the winter—of our discontent.

We have a King named Edward, who I sure resent.

I can smile and murther while I smile

(That’s from Henry VI, Part Three).

Forsooth, I’ll make a king out of me.

 

Hacking through a forest and all rent with thorns,

Wondering if my mother wishes I weren’t born,

I’m a twisted, half-formed, wretched man,

But I’ll soon be “Richard Three.”

With luck, I’ll make a king out of me.

 

I think I’m destined to be a villain

(Lady Anne hopes “He’ll woo me.”)

Oi, so many lives are standing in my way!

When I plot, they think that I am chillin’

But you all know the true me.

I’ll grab that crown from you someday!

 

(I’ll be king)

I must thank God for my humility,

(I’ll be king)

And quote the Bible to serve my purpose.

(I’ll be king)

I’ll grab me some old Pink Floyd records

And listen to The Dark Side of the Moon.

 

That’s not strictly relevant, but it fits . . . the line.

Buckingham will back me—almost all the time.

He won’t take the princes down,

So Old Tyrrel will work for me.

And then I’ll be a king—Richard Three.

 

(I’ll be king)

Let it out that Lady Anne’s sick,

(I’ll be king)

But I would wait ’til the coronation.

(I’ll be king)

I have a hunch Richmond won’t do damage—

As long as I have my horse with me.

 

(I am king)

I’m going to reign like the storm in King Lear

(I am king)

Richard One and Two can’t outdo me.

(I am king)

I planned all this over four whole plays now

Victorious in the first teratology!



Monday, December 21, 2020

Shakespeare in Wishbone

“Shakespaw.” By Adam Felber. Perf. Larry Brantley, Jordan Wall, and Christie Abbott. Dir. Allison Graham and Joey Stewart.  Wishbone. Season 1, episode 32. ABC. 20 November 1995.  

We have for you a treat that has been years in the making. Students will frequently tell me about their Shakespeare experiences—notably, they talk about their initial encounters with Shakespeare.

It does take a while, but I'm sometimes able to follow their footsteps and track down the things they tell me about.

Here is such a moment!

The show Wishbone (eager to jump on the educational bandwagon) featured a cute dog who explored the literary world by taking on a variety of characters. In this episode, he becomes Ariel (because the local high school is putting on a production of The Tempest). The selection below concentrates mainly on the dog's imagined production, but there are elements of the high school production as well. As is typical in such shows, the bad guys in the show are also the bad guys in real life, and it's only after some wrangling that it all works out. Here you go!


Bonus! Some Shakespeare material from a Romeo and Juliet episode later in the show's run:


Links: The Episode at IMDB.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Book Note: Shakespeare: Upstart Crow to Sweet Swan: 1592-1623

Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Shakespeare: Upstart Crow to Sweet Swan: 1592-1623. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2011. 

I'm sorry that this is the second post in a row that reviews a book that I cannot wholeheartedly recommend. But I suppose that's the way it sometimes goes.

This book has been in my Amazon cart for a very long time. It's very expensive, and it seldom drops in price. But I finally got fed up and (instead of actually purchasing it) requested it through Inter-Library Loan.

I'm glad I did. Though I'm fond of Katheine Duncan-Jones as a scholar, this volume isn't all that scholarly. 

The book centers on Shakespeare as a dramatist and actor, which is an admirable approach. But it's so highly speculative that it loses its claim to scholarship.

Here's a quick example. There's a wonderful chapter that concentrates its efforts on three early encounters with Shakespeare. And that's all to the good—and Duncan-Jones has her head on straight in detailing those encounters. But she provides highly-speculative interpretations of those . . . without letting readers know how speculative they are.

As one among many potential examples, here's her reading of the Peachum illustration of a performance of Titus Andronicus.


All of that is extremely interesting, but it's all highly hypothetical. We really cannot conclude, on the basis of one amateur illustration, that actors in female roles during Shakespeare's age did not employ padding, that war heroes were presented on stage with bare legs, or that "haystacks" is a distinctly superior way to express the idea of "hay stalks." 


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Book Note: The One King Lear

Vickers, Brian. The One King Lear. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016.
This is one of those points where I am making a a note about what I've been reading lately—without necessarily endorsing the ideas in the material.

In The One King Lear, Brian Vickers fights against the critical orthodoxy that has developed in the past forty years or so. The argument is, in essence, that Q1 of King Lear and F of King Lear are two distinct plays and ought to be studied as such.  Vickers disagrees. His argument is that Q1 is different from F because the printer miscalculated how much paper he would need to print the play. Therefore, the cuts in Q1 of the play are not the result of a particular theatrical performance but because of material considerations (literally) in the print house.

Vickers is very good on describing the likely scenario in the print shop. It's clear that the printer was trying to save space in a number of instances, and Vickers details all those.  I follow him through all that.

But I don't agree with his conclusion. The conclusion (roughly outlined at the bottom of page 135 and the top of 135 below) is that critics have divided Lear much as Lear divide his kingdom: without warrant and with disastrous results.

Part of my disagreement has to do with Vickers' somewhat-cranky characterization of the "two Lears" revisionists. He paints them as insisting that the F Lear is better than the Q1 Lear, and I don't think that's at the center of the argument. I think, rather, that the revisionists are finding the differences in the two texts to stem from a speculative (admittedly) performance history—but that they are not making value judgements about the two texts.

I gave the argument a fair hearing, but I'm not buying it at present.




Monday, December 7, 2020

Shakespeare Guest Stars in an Episode of Arthur

"Fern and the Case of the Stolen Story." By Craig Carlisle. Perf. Drew Adkins, Bruce Dinsmore, and Daniel Brochu. Dir. Greg Bailey. Arthur. Season 16, episode 9. PBS. 9 May 2013.

Well, it's not much, but it's something.

Years ago, a student mentioned that Shakespeare made an appearance on the kids show Arthur.

Here's what I eventually tracked down. Fern is participating in a writing competition, but she can't come up with any ideas—which is usually not a problem for her.

In short, she borrows the life stories of a classmate and uses them in fictionalized form to tell stories. I'm not sure why Shakespeare would be pointing fingers at that, but there you have it.

Here are his two guest appearances (with a bit of context for each).  Enjoy!


Links: The Film at the Arthur Wiki.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Book Note: Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth (Surprisingly Dull Fare from Tom Stoppard)

Stoppard, Tom. Plays One: The Real Inspector Hound and Other Entertainments. London: Faber and Faber, 1996.

<i>Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth</i> is an experimental piece. Stoppard explains blah blah principle and says this about the play(s):

The appeal to me consisted in the possibility of writing a play which had to teach the audience the language the play was written in. The present text is a modest attempt to do this: I think one might have gone much further.

I'm very fond of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (for which, c.v.). I also really like Arcadia, even though it doesn't have any Shakespeare (at least that I detected).

But this is very dull.  I'm glad for the experiment, but I don't want to read it or see it performed.

You may feel otherwise! Let me give you the introduction Stoppard wrote and a sample of the beginning of the play(s).







Thursday, December 3, 2020

Shakespeare Allusions in The Office: Two Romeo and Juliets and a Possible Julius Caesar

"Branch Closing." By Michael Schur. Perf. Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Mindy Kaling. Dir. Tucker Gates. 
The Office. Season 3, episode 7. NBC. 9 November 2006. DVD. 
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2018.

"PDA." By Robert Padnick. Perf. Jennifer Celotta. Perf. Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Mindy Kaling, and Amy Ryan. Dir. Greg Daniels. The Office. Season 7, episode 15. NBC. 10 February 2011. DVD. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2018.

"E-Mail Surveillance." By Jennifer Celotta. Perf. Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Mindy Kaling. Dir. Paul Feig. The Office. Season 2, episode 9. NBC. 22 November 2005. DVD. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2018.

You may remember the time the American version of The Office had a character play "The Bard Card" (for which, q.v.).

But what about the other small, sporadic, offhand allusions to Shakespeare?

You're in luck.  I've collected three in this video clip.  The first two are places where characters mention Romeo and Juliet—Kelly specifying "the Claire Danes version" in her overly-dramatic threat and Michael somehow thinking that a dragon is in the play's Dramatis Personae

The third one is a bit more obscure—indeed, it may not be a conscious allusion to Julius Caesar, but I would like to assume that it is.  Jim has invited everyone in the office to a party at his house—well, everyone but Michael. Jim told Dwight that it was a surprise party for Michael so that he wouldn't talk about it in front of Michael, but Michael has learned about it nonetheless.  As Dwight leaves for the day—after everyone else has left, each trying to avoid Michael's inquiries about what they're doing that night—Michael says, "You, too, Dwight?"  If that's not The Office's version of "Et tu, Brute?" from Julius Caesar, I'll eat my Shakespeare action figure.

Take a look and tell me what you think! 


Links: The Show at IMDB.

Monday, November 9, 2020

The 2,000-Year-Old Man Remembers Shakespeare

The 2000 Year Old Man
[sic]. By Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. Dir. Leo Salkin. Dir. of Animation Dale Case. Acre Enterprises, Inc., 1974.

When we had to shut everything down, I started walking. When I heard that Carl Reiner died (June 29, 2020), I started listening to his albums while walking. His work with Mel Brooks was and is astonishing. It goes well beyond the 2,000-year-old man sketches, but those are the best-loved and most-remembered ones.

A fair number of different versions of the sketch exist—some starting at the same point of the first one, some continuing the narrative from there. All of them involve a reporter (Reiner) interviewing the 2,000-year-old man (Brooks). 

I was trying to figure out how best to deliver the part of the sketch that involves Shakespeare when I stumbled upon an animated version! It occasionally spoils the timing of the original, but it's probably better for viewing in a venue like this.

Here, then, is the Shakespeare section of The 2,000-Year-Old Man:


As a side note, the 2,000-year-old man doesn't mean "First Folio."  He means "manuscripts." The First Folio was the first time most of Shakespeare's plays were published together in one volume—in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death. A small slip for a 2,000-year-old man—I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt.

The full sketch is here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Shakespeare in The Carnivorous Carnival

Snicket, Lemony. The Carnivorous Carnival. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

I've had this on my desktop for a long time now, and it's time to do something with it.  It's nothing very significant, but it's fun.

The Series of Unfortunate Events is admirable for its play with language. In listening to an audiobook of Volume Nine, I came across this delightful section on Shakespeare.

Take a gander—and enjoy!




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 AbeBooks.com
(so you can then give it to Bardfilm).

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Book Note: Thinking Shakespeare: A Working Guide for Actors, Directors, Students . . . and Anyone Else Interested in the Bard

Edelstein, Barry. Thinking Shakespeare: A Working Guide for Actors, Directors, Students . . . and Anyone Else Interested in the Bard. Rev. ed. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2018.

I'm frequently asked by our theatre majors questions about Shakespeare. I love it. That's what I'm here for.

Often, the questions are about less-often-performed monologues for auditions. I have resources and ideas that I can point them toward.

Sometimes, the questions are about acting. And I'm much less sure of myself then.

But I've found a very good resource that I can point them toward. Barry Edelstein's Thinking Shakespeare is a clear and relatively informal handbook on understanding Shakespeare's language and ways to put it into practice for the actor—the actor in particular, but also for the director, the student, and the teacher.

The best I can do is give you the first chapter and then send you off to buy the book.





Click below to sample more of the book and then to purchase it from amazon.com.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Barney Miller uses Hamlet

“Ramon.” By Theodore J. Flicker and Danny Arnold. Perf. Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, and Abe Vigoda. Dir. Bill Davius. Barney Miller. Season 1, episode 1. ABC. 23 January 1975. DVD. SHOUT! FACTORY, 2011.

“Bus Stop.” By Theodore J. Flicker and Danny Arnold. Perf. Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, and Abe Vigoda. Dir. Noam Pitlik. Barney Miller. Season 3, episode 4. ABC. 14 October 1976. DVD. SHOUT! FACTORY, 2011.

“Werewolf.” By Tony Sheehan and Reinhold Weege. Perf. Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, and Abe Vigoda. Dir. Noam Pitlik. Barney Miller. Season 3, episode 6. ABC. 28 October 1976. DVD. SHOUT! FACTORY, 2011.

Shakespeare Geek recently challenged us all to watch all the sitcoms we ever watched in all our ever-loving lives and to categorize the Shakespeare references in them.

Well, sort of.

He did say that he had noticed a lot of Shakespeare references in sitcoms that he was watching (or having on in the background) during the COVID-19 crisis. And I had just found one myself in an episode of Taxi (for which, q.v.).

It probably shouldn't have been surprising that I found some Hamlet references in Barney Miller, starting with the very first episode.

There were more in the third season. I've put them all together in the clip below. We start with Barney Miller's wife alluding to something rotten in the state of Denmark. Then we move to a person who was on the verge of committing insurance fraud until conscience made a coward of him. Finally, we meet a man who thinks he's a werewolf, and we get a "more things in heaven and earth" quote.

Enjoy . . . and feel free to find your own and to mention them in the comments!


Links: The Show at IMDB.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The "Prayer-Book" scene in Loncraine's Richard III

Richard III. Dir. Richard Loncraine. Perf. Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey, Jr., and Maggie Smith. 1995. DVD. United Artists Pictures, 1995.

In the third act of Richard III, Shakespeare pulls back the curtain to show us the political power of the photo opportunity. Buckingham has been trying to rally support for Richard as king, but it hasn't been going that well. He advises Richard to be found with a prayer book in his hand, conferring with two priests. That will make him appear to be Christian, holy, and only concerned with spiritual matters, not with power.

It's all show. Richard has no religious feeling whatsoever, but he thinks he can fool everyone into thinking he does, which will be good for his political career.

The images to the right show the way Loncraine decided to show this scene. It's a brilliant, nicely-layered way to show how a photo opportunity like this has no real substance. Not only is Richard only portraying an interest in religion that he does not actually feel, it isn't even a religious book that he's using as a prop! I haven't been able to make out just what the dust cover on the book says, but it looks like it's a secular novel. Once the dust cover is removed, it looks like a prayer book . . . but its interior is secular, not sacred.

Here's what Buckingham says when he's advising Richard in this photo opportunity:
The mayor is here at hand: intend some fear;
Be not you spoke with, but by mighty suit:
And look you get a prayer-book in your hand,
And stand betwixt two churchmen, good my lord;
For on that ground I'll build a holy descant:
And be not easily won to our request . . . . (III.viii)
More of the scene follows in the clip below. I love how Sir Ian delivers the final line of this clip: "I'm not made of stone."


I'm posting this on Friday, June 12, 2020. On Monday, June 8, 2020, the President of the United States walked across Lafayette Square to hold a Bible up in front of St. John's Church. Protests over the death of George Floyd were happening all over the country . . . including in Lafayette Square . . . at the time.

Careful readers know that I am interested in talking about how Shakespeare is relevant. They will also know that there are times when I wish that Shakespeare was not relevant. 

Links: The Film at IMDB.
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