Monday, May 10, 2021

Stealing Shakespeare

Stealing Shakespeare
. Dir. Christian Hills. Perf. David Tennant and Raymond Scott. 2010. DVD. 
Shock Entertainment, 2010.
A fascinating documentary about the theft and prospective sale of a First Folio, Stealing Shakespeare tells the story of Raymond Scott and his haphazard, poorly-planned attempt to have a First Folio authenticated so that he could sell it.

The Folio was stolen from Durham University in 1998.  Ten years lager (2008, for those of you keeping score), Raymond Scott showed up at the Folger Shakespeare Library with a First Folio he claimed to have discovered in Cuba. He asked them to declare its authenticity so that he could then go about selling it.

It was a First Folio, all right. It was not a fake or a forgery. But, although it had been damaged since it was last seen, it was the purloined Folio from Durham.

One of the best things about the documentary is that they managed to get the story straight from Scott. I'll give you a sample in a moment, but I'll remark that Raymond Scott's story was as full of holes as a sieve. He wasn't in Cuba when he said he was, he wasn't the millionaire playboy he pretended to be, and the volume he had in his possession wasn't a previously-uncatalogued First Folio.

In the clip below, you'll get some of Scott's story, some of the FBI and the CID's discoveries, and (this is the really magnificent part) some of the fascinating First Folio forensics that were used to determine that the copy was, indeed, the one stolen from Durham in 1998. Take a look:

Scott was convicted of possessing a stolen object (though not of the actual theft) and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Different sources say different things about who the actual thief was. Some (including the documentary) say that we may never know who stole the First Folio in the first place; others claim that Scott admitted the theft even though he wasn't convicted of it.

The scholarship that went into proving that the Folio in question was from Durham is delightful. And its restoration to its rightful home is a triumph. But the story has a sad conclusion.  After serving two years of his eight-year sentence, Scott committed suicide.

This DVD is in PAL format, which makes it a little harder to view. But it tells the story remarkably well—with David Tennant at his most fully Scottish narrating—and it's well worth the effort.

For Further Fascinating Reading on this Topic:

West, Anthony James. “Proving the Identity of the Stolen Durham University First Folio.” The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 14, no. 4 (December 2013): 428-40.

———. “Correcting the First Folio’s Table of Contents.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 108, no. 2 (June 2014): 238-42.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, May 7, 2021

Book Note: The Shakespeare Documents

Lewis, B. Roland. The Shakespeare Documents: Facsimiles, Transliterations, Translations, and Commentary. 2 vols. Westport: Greenwood Press, [1940] 1969.

This is one of my favorite Shakespeare reference books, and I'm so pleased to have it in my collection. The Shakespeare Documents is an enormous (see the image to the right with the Shakespeare Action Figure to show the scale) two-volume set of just about every document associated with Shakespeare.

I've only had my own copy for a few months (I've been known to have my library's copy out for nearly the entire school year), but I've already found several occasions to use it:
  1. Confirming Shakespeare's baptismal date.
  2. Looking at the signatures on Shakespeare's will.
  3. Reviewing the transcription of the entry in the Stationer's Register for the plays never before published that were to be printed in the First Folio.
Indeed, since we've been talking about the First Folio, let me show you something below. Here, B. Roland Lewis shows a chart of all the plays in the First Folio together with "First Definite Mention," dates of any pre-First Folio printings, and the "Probable Source of Text."

It's a fascinating tour through the thirty-six plays that make up the First Folio. Click on the images below to enlarge them. They will still be a bit small, but imagine each of the four pages pictured below being almost 11x17 and you'll get an idea of how great this two-volume set is. 

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Book Note: The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare's First Folio

The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare's First Folio
. Ed. Emma Smith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Would you like more detailed information about an aspect of the production of the First Folio?

You've come to the right place!

Well, no, this blog isn't exactly the right place, but the book I'm mentioning is.

I'm not going to give you a full chapter as an example because the topics are so varied—as are your interests. Instead, here's the table of contents and the brief preface. They will let you know what to expect from this remarkable, scholarly anthology of relatively recent research on the First Folio.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Book Note: The Making of Shakespeare's First Folio

Smith, Emma. The Making of Shakespeare's First Folio. Oxford, Bodleian Library, 2015.

I've been reading a number of books on the First Folio recently. After all, it won't be long before it celebrates its four-hundred-year anniversary!

Emma Smith's has been the best by far so far. It's meticulously accurate and scholarly—but it's written in a marvelously approachable style.

Having read a lot about the First Folio over the years, I wasn't surprised by too much in the volume, but the narrative is so fascinating—and so clearly and intriguingly articulated by Smith—that I'll be re-reading this book before too long.

One particularly interesting section was the last. In it, Smith considers early readers of F and what sorts of marginalia they deigned to supply. Sample that section—and then track down the book and start it at the beginning.

Click below to purchase the book from
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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Kevin Kline's Shyriiwook Hamlet

. Dir. Kevin Kline. Perf. Kevin Kline and Diane Venora. 1990. DVD. Image Entertainment, 1990.

One of the alternate language tracks of Kevin Kline's majestical Hamlet is, not unsurprisingly, Shyriiwook, the language Chewbacca speaks:

Enjoy your May the Fourth!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

A bit more Shakespeare and Star Wars here, here, and here.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Buster's Ten-Second Summary of Hamlet in Arrested Development

“Righteous Brothers.” By Mitchell Hurwitz . Perf. Tony Hale. Dir. Chuck Martin. Arrested Deveopment. Season 2, episode 10. Fox. 17 April 2005. DVD. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2004-2020.

Here's a brief (very brief) something to start your weekend.

There are all sorts of quick-and-easy summaries of Hamlet out there. A ten-minute one gained some notoriety some years back, for example.

But if you really need the quickest possible refresher on Hamlet's plot, I'd go with Buster's. In just ten seconds, he captures the essence of the greatest tragic drama in all of western literature.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Unexpected Agincourt in Mystery Men

Mystery Men
. Dir. Kinka Usher. Perf. Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, and William H. Macy. 1999. DVD. 
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2010.

Here's a little something fun courtesy of Shakespeare Geek, who mentioned it on his blog on Shakespeare day.

It's a brief clip from a film about, according to IMDB, "A group of inept amateur superheroes [who] must try to save the day when a supervillain threatens to destroy a major superhero and the city."

I haven't seen the film myself (but it sounds a bit like the 2000 film The Specials, so I think I'll enjoy it). But this is clearly the scene where the heroes are up against it and ready to give up. Don't give up on the scene—give it a try:  

Well, there's not much of the St. Crispin's speech there, but I still think it's a successful modernization. I'm eager to give the rest of the film a chance. Perhaps there will even be a victor's speech like the one at the end of Richard III.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Book Note: Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague

O'Farrell, Maggie. Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020.

This book made quite a splash when it came out, so I'm playing catchup here.

It's a family drama about the death of Hamnet Shakespeare. Here's where I insert the obligatory note that the names Hamlet and Hamnet were interchangeable in the period. I notice the cover designer put the "n" in italics in case anyone thought they were about to get the story of the Prince of Demark.

There's also a lot about Shakespeare's wife Agnes. Here's where I insert the obligatory note that the names Agnes and Anne were interchangeable.

I highly recommend the book. It's an interesting, touching, tragic, and profound work of imaginative historical fiction. And spoiler are right around every corner, so I'm not going to give you any more. Just read it for yourself.

As a way of showing you the world of the book, I'd like to give you the very prescient amount of just how the plague made its way to Stratford-upon-Avon. The subtitle is A Novel of the Plague, and you can imagine something very like this happening in the current era.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Book Note: The Millionaire and the Bard

Mays, Andrea E. The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015

After waiting for some time for my library to buy this book, process it, and make it available for checking out, I was very excited to dig right in.

I was almost immediately disappointed. But I did give this book a second try, and I'm glad I did.

My disappointment was in the many minor but annoying inaccuracies in describing Shakespeare's life and times.  These included the following:
  • The old canard that it's somehow meaningful that his burial record says "Will. Shakspeare, gent. [sic, including spelling and punctuation]" instead of "Will. Shakspeare, poet."
  • The insistence that Shakespeare's first play was Titus Andronicus.  Yes, it may have been, but there's absolutely no certainty about it.
  • The claim (baldly-stated as a fact) that only three of Shakespeare's signatures survive, together with "by me" on his will as the only words besides his signature in his hand. Yes, there's not much out there, but there are six signatures, the words "by me" (none of which is seriously disputed), and the uncertain but possible "Hand D" in the manuscript of Sir Thomas More. No, the last isn't established as unquestionably Shakespeare's writing, but that would be the place to mention it.
I gave up at that point but later decided to skip all the Shakespeare stuff and cut to the Henry Folger material. My advice is to start on page ninety-one—that's where things get really exciting and the material seems solid.

Read the extract from a later chapter included below and see if you don't agree that there's much interest, suspense, and tension in the story. The section is about Folger's attempts to purchase what became Folger Shakespeare Library Folio Number One—which, in 1903, he eventually bought for £10,000. It was then the most expensive book in the world. The folio (like all folios) is unique—but the ways in which Folger One is unique are that it is the tallest; the only known presentation copy; its presenter was William Jaggard, the First Folio's printer; and the presentation is dated 1623, the year of the First Folio's publication.

Folger made many mistakes in his attempts to buy the folio, but here's Mays' account of the final transactions (you can start on the first full paragraph on 137 or at the top of 136):

It's interesting stuff—just start on page ninety-one.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Book Note: This Side Idolatry: A Play in Seven Scenes

Jennings, Talbot L. This Side Idolatry: A Play in Seven Scenes.  Unbound typescript, circa 1933, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Some considerable time ago, I was able to get ahold of a play about Shakespeare arriving in London.

It sat on my desk for about ten years.

But I finally got down to that layer of stratification and glanced through the play.

It's interesting, but it's not earth-shattering. And I'm afraid I can't give you any of it without attempting to get the approval of the estate, and I just don't have the time. You can see from the image above that they make their "Do Not Copy" policy pretty clear on every page (I think I'm justified in providing the image describing the manuscript—just not any part of the manuscript itself).

The reason I requested the play in the first place was that Leslie Howard acted in it (he played Shakespeare), a fact I learned while doing research to debunk the silly claim that Howard was an Oxfordian (for which, c.v.).

This Side Idolatry is worth mentioning since it provides evidence of the continual interest in imagining Shakespeare's biography. And, not to give away too much, its second scene is set in Deptford on May 30, 1593. 

Links: More about the production with Leslie Howard.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Book Note: I am Juliet (and Others by Jackie French)

French, Jackie. I am Juliet. New York: Angus&Robertson, 2014.

Well, the cover says almost all:  "The girl who famously loved Romeo. / In this story she takes centre stage."

I read this some time ago, but I'm trying to clear off my desk.  Here, then, is a brief review.

First, I am not the target audience for this book. It seems to be directed toward female YA novel readers, and that's not quite my cup of tea.

For the most part, this is a pretty route novelization of the plot of Romeo and Juliet. But it does have one twist—its frame. The narrative starts with Rob, a thirteen-year-old boy actor preparing to play the role of Juliet in 1592. After a few pages of that, we get the story of Juliet as (imagined by? flashed back to? historically re-created by? mystically relayed to?) the actor. Then, at the end, we head back to Rob as he prepares to walk on stage to play the role for the first time.

I'll give you that first short chapter and the first page of the transition to the Juliet section for your edification.

Beyond the frame, there aren't any surprises. But perhaps this is just the sort of book a young, female audience needs to get over all those words, words, words that are part of Shakespeare.

If so, there are others by Jackie French to try: Third Witch (note: not The Third Witch, which I enjoyed, nor Enter Three Witches, which was also pretty good), Ophelia, Queen of Denmark, and The Diary of William Shakespeare. I'll probably give them a try—perhaps I can bring them to the attention of the students in my Young Adult class. For those who become junior high English teachers, they may prove to be a good resource.

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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 2008-2020 (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