Sunday, March 30, 2008

Titularly Parasitical

“The Taming of the Shrew.” By Christopher Lloyd. Perf. Tim Daly, Steven Weber, and Crystal Bernard. Dir. Andy Ackerman. Wings. Season 3, episode 3. NBC. 10 October 1991. DVD. Paramount, 2006.
So many Shakespeare and Film disappointments have taken place because of the merely titularly parasitical . . . that is, the simply eponymously leech-like . . . er . . . what one might call the superficially allusional . . .

All right. It’s when they give something a title that has a reference to Shakespeare but they don’t back up that title with any Shakespearean matter.

That’s true of the episode of Wings listed above. It’s called “The Taming of the Shrew,” but it’s basically about the character above who had a bad breakup and was sort of angry. But then she got over it.

Ah, well. It indicates that Shakespeare is still a financial draw . . . or that he was in 1991.

The same disappointment accompanied my viewing of an Animaniacs’ episode entitled “The Taming of the Screwy.”

But that one was, at least, much, much funnier!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rubber Duckie—You're the One

Hamlet Goes Business [Hamlet Liikemaailmassa]. Dir. Aki Kaurismäki. Perf. Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Esko Salminen, Kati Outinen, Elina Salo, and Esko Nikkari. 1987. DVD. Villealfa Film, 1998.
The 1987 Finnish film Hamlet Goes Business sets the Hamlet narrative in a rubber duck factory. It has something in common with the Almereyda version (with Ethan Hawke): both are set in business enterprises instead of kingdoms.

The rubber duck factory aspect (R.D.F.A.) is often seen as humorous—and it is. But it’s also darkly Nihilistic. In Almereyda, the business is top-notch, and the stakes (if you like that sort of thing) are high. Stressing the RDFA in Kaurismäki makes the narrative more meaningless.

The Almereyda has its own RDA (rubber duck aspect), but I think it tends to make that part of the narrative more significant and touching.

Among the “remembrances of [his] / That [Ophelia has] longed long to redeliver” (III.i.93-94) is a rubber duck (smaller than those in Hamlet Goes Business).


That’s an in-joke, I’m sure, among the filmmakers. But I wonder if it isn’t an in-joke between this Hamlet and this Ophelia. Did this Hamlet give that remembrance to Ophelia because Hamlet Goes Business is just the sort of film this Hamlet would watch? And does that give him a meta-theatrical awareness of his own plot?

Probably not . . . but I’m just saying . . .

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Strangely Compelling

“Hamlet: Act II, Scene ii.” Cat Head Theatre. Dir. Tim Maloney. Perf. John Over, Zero, Cinder, and Round-Eye. Naked Rabbit, 2002. 27 March 2008 .
This has been around since 2002, but I only came across it this morning.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Miller Analogies Test for Polonius

Hamlet. Dir. Kevin Kline. Perf. Kevin Kline and Diane Venora. 1990. DVD. Image Entertainment, 1990.
The Miller Analogies Test tests the test-taker’s ability to take the Miller Analogies test. It presents a series of analogies (with the last element missing), and you have to choose which is the best response.

For example, you might be faced with the following (the first colon means “is to”; the set of two colons means “as”):
a. Martian
b. Sports Car
c. Go
d. Chicken Feathers
They’re probably looking for “Red is to Stop as Green is to Go.”

Here’s my question for the Polonius pictured above—my favorite Polonius (from Kevin Kline’s Hamlet):
Jephthah:Poor Treatment of his Daughter::Polonius:_______
a. Poor Treatment of his Daughter
b. Loves his Daughter Passing Well
c. The Best Actors i’ th’ World
d. Chicken Feathers
I imagine that he would go for either b. or d., but a. and c. simply wouldn’t occur to him.

Homework: Jephthah (and the Fishmonger)

The Reformation Study Bible. Gen. Ed. R. C. Sproul. English Standard Version. Orlando: Ligonier, 2005
Your homework is to read Judges 11. What? You expect to read this blog without having to do homework? You’re kidding!

Oh, all right. I’ll shorten it a bit. Click here, read Judges 11:29-40, and come back.


If only Polonius could have pulled out his Blackberry and done the same.

Perhaps that’s really the problem. Polonius is working from the third Arden edition and Hamlet is working from the second—Hamlet’s barbs hit home less seldom because of Polonius’ inability to see beyond the madness (either acted or real).

Anyway, the point is this. The fishmonger reference sets up this analogy:
Fishmonger:Polonius::Fishmonger’s Daughter:Ophelia
If we follow Jenkins, which I do, we may equate fishmongers to bawds (in more modern parlance, “pimp” might be used). The darker analogy follows:
In other words, Hamlet, having overheard Polonius’ plans . . . or just knowing how power-hungry Polonius is . . . accuses him of attempting to prostitute his own daughter in order to get ahead.

The Jephthah reference seems to me to be very similar. You are willing to sacrifice your own daughter in order to achieve victory. Polonius doesn’t seem to know the full story—only what Hamlet provides. He says,
If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter that I love passing well. (II.ii.407-08)
Hamlet’s response—”Nay, that follows not” (II.ii.409) means both “That’s not the next line of the famous ballad about Jephthah that I’m quoting” and “That’s not the conclusion to be drawn from my analogy.

Jenkins glosses the line in this way: “. . . he is thus the opposite of a fishmonger” (260), but I think that the two situations are parallel.

All right, here’s another analogy to clarify that:
Fishmongers:poor treatment of daughters::Jephthahs:poor treatment of daughters.
They both are willing to sacrifice their own daughters to gain their own desires. And Polonius fits too well in that camp.

Hamlet and the Other Fishmonger

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor. 3rd. ed. London: Arden, 2006.
The footnote from the third (rather than from the second) Arden edition ties the line up far more neatly. Here, it’s funny—and it also indicates that Hamlet is pretending to be mad. Apparantly, it’s such a funny mistake that he can’t really be mad, can he?

It also tells us that other editors argue about the implications of the word . . . but that we’re not going to. We’ll point you toward Harold Jenkins’ Long Note on the subject, but we won’t deal with it here.

If Mel Gibson's portrayal of Hamlet fits Jenkins’ footnote (aware that Polonius is going to “loose [his] daughter” to him, he makes a deliberate dig at Polonius), Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet (in Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet) better fits this note. At that point, he’s essentially unaware that Bill Murray (sorry! I mean Polonius) is going to make use of his daughter. He’s reviewing a video he must have made at some point, and the fishmonger line is delivered off-handedly.

More on fishmongers later—I promise! But we still need to get to Jephthah.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hamlet and the Fishmonger

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Harold Jenkins. 2nd. ed. London: Arden, 1982.

If Hamlet has overheard Polonius’ plan to “loose my daughter to him” (II.ii), Hamlet’s identification of Polonius as “a fishmonger” makes more sense . . . if we consider “fishmonger” to have the associations Harold Jenkins, the editor of the second Arden edition of the play, thinks it has. Therefore, the sneaky Gibson Hamlet may be spot on. Or it may be over-interpreting the word, and, working backward from that point, it may ascribe to Hamlet qualities that he does not have.

The OED is notoriously unhelpful with any off-color possibilities for this word. In fact, its five-word definition—“One who deals in fish”—seems to eliminate any polysemous potential in practical application (particularly as it might point to Polonius). The use Hamlet makes of the word in Hamlet is conspicuous by its absence from the illustrative quotations.

It might be too simplistic to gloss “fishmonger” as “bawd,” but I’m tempted to let it go at that. Most of Hamlet’s “mad” words to Polonius seem much more pointed than simply humorous.

If Polonius is a fishmonger in this sense, that makes Ophelia the fish. But she may be (and, in some productions, she most decidedly is) “She is nother fyshe nor fleshe, nor good red hearyng” (1 Hen. IV, III.iii.144).

Could there be some elision that makes the joke plainer and more pointed? Shakespeare uses the word “fleshmonger” in Measure for Measure—”Was the Duke a flesh-monger, a foole, and a coward, as you then reported him to be? (V. i. 337)—and the OED pulls no punches about the meaning of that word: Definition 2 reads “A fornicator; a pander.”

More on this in the future—believe it or not, there’s much more to say!

But . . . coming soon . . . Jephthah!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hamlet: Now you See him . . .

Hamlet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, and Helena Bonham Carter. 1990. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2004.
. . . now you don’t.

And that’s one of my favorite things about the Zeffirelli / Mel Gibson Hamlet (the character, not the play). This Hamlet is sneaky.

There are great advantages to portraying a Hamlet who overhears a lot of what goes on in Elsinore. It helps motivate his hatred of Polonius, it helps us understand his suspicions of Ophelia, and it gives him a greater rationale for putting on the mad act.

Of course, that depends on whether we think that Mad Max is capable of merely acting mad and not being mad.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hamlet, Hamlet--Everywhere!

“Cyberwoman.” By Chris Chibnall. Perf. John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Naoko Mori, and Gareth David-Lloyd. Dir. James Strong. Torchwood. Season 1, episode 4. BBC Wales. 5 November 2006. DVD. 2 Entertain Video, 2007.
Am I stretching things, or is this really a Shakespearean moment? I watched this episode of Torchwood (a Doctor Who spinoff—and, I’m afraid, a rather disappointing one) during Spring Break, and I was struck by an allusion to Shakespeare. This time, it wasn’t an allusion to the text of any of his plays or to his biography; rather, it was an allusion to a stage direction in Hamlet.

The scene is the last in Act III. Hamlet has killed Polonius and confronted his mother. The folio stage direction reads “Exit Hamlet tugging in Polonius” (III.iv.219). Later, the queen says that he has gone “To draw apart the body he hath kill’d” (IV.i.24). Here, the character played by Gareth David-Lloyd (who just has a nifty name) exits with the words, “I’ll hide the body. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Clearly, Hamlet has influenced Torchwood at the deepest possible level! “Everything’s going to be okay” was precisely what Hamlet was thinking when he stowed Polonius away. It doesn’t matter that the plot of the episode involves a half-completed cyberwoman who accidentally kills the man pictured above in an attempt to turn him into a cyberman. It’s Hamlet, sure enough!

You seem skeptical.

Maybe I’ll just have to put together a slideshow of all the Hamlets drawing apart the bodies of all the Poloniuses. Maybe then you’ll be convinced.

In the meanwhile, just note that the word “Torchwood” is an anagram of the phrase “Doctor Who.” Cool.

Unqualified Hamlet?

Mel Gibson
Leonardo DiCaprio.

Yesterday, I made a qualified claim about Hamlet: There have been more film versions of Hamlet than of [almost] any other Shakespeare play. The qualification was in there because I hadn’t yet done the math.

Well, it turns out that the qualification may be correct. I did a quick count of the movie version made of the two frontrunners in the most-film-versions competition in Eddie Sammons’ Shakespeare: A Hundred Years on Film (London: Shepherd Walwyn, 2000). Sammons’ work is a bit uneven, leaving out some versions I would expect to be there and counting others I wouldn’t really consider countable (for example, the book lists The Lion King—which is legitimate—but it also lists two brief Lion King promo videos—which I wouldn’t really count as separate items), but, with his numbers, we are, at least, comparing apples and apples.

It’s close, folks . . . it’s awfully close. And developments since 2000 may have changed this neck-and-neck race to the finish.

Sammons lists seventy-five Hamlet or Hamlet-related films. He lists seventy-seven Romeo and Juliet or Romeo and Juliet-related films.

So we’ll just keep that qualification in there for the time being.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Homage or Plagiarism in Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado about Nothing. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton and Keanu Reeves. 1993. DVD. MGM, 2003.
[To see what I’m about to talk about, view this sideshow of selected stills.]

After only a few minutes, Branagh’s Much Ado about Nothing presents a visual reference to the 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven (with Yul Brynner). When I first watched the film (in 1993—egad!), I didn’t get that specific allusion (“Ah,” I thought, “he’s playing with a Western cliché. Neat.”), but I did notice a later allusion.

When Dogberry enters, he gallops along (with his trusty sidekick) après la mode de (as the French may or may not say) the knights in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

The only thing keeping it from being pure plagiarism (if such a terrible crime can ever be called “pure”) is that the scene is played sans noix de coco (as the French probably never say)—without coconuts.

I’m only half-joking about the possibility of plagiarism. When I first saw the movie, I thought, “Aw! [Yes, my thoughts tend to start with interjections. What, do you have a problem with that? Man! Forget about it!] That’s not fair to Monty Python. I hope they’re at least getting some royalties out of that.”

But Branagh may have had other purposes in putting Dogberry (who is often on his high horse) on such a low horse. It marks him as comic relief de la façon de (there we go again!) Monty Python, of course. But it also sets his position in relation to the other gallopers (whether sans cheval ou non).

That doesn’t redeem the other things Branagh does with Dogberry, but it explains the Monty Python reference.

That sort of . . . in-joke? homage? allusion? what do you want to call it? . . . is all over the place in film—particularly, it seems to me, in Shakespeare-related films. Even The Magnificent Seven is itself a retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s Shichinin no Samurai.

We’re about to begin a three-week segment on Hamlet. Every Hamlet film ever made—not excluding the five-minute silent Hamlet—references every other Hamlet film ever made. That’s why this sort of allusion-work is on my mind.

But that’s for next time.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Homage or Plagiarism?

Kiss me, Kate. Dir. Chris Hunt. Perf. Brent Barrett and Rachel York. 1999. DVD. Image Entertainment, 2003.
The 1953 Kiss me, Kate cuts the number “I am Ashamed that Women are so Simple.” The 2003 release of the 1999 London stage revival leaves it in. Immediately afterwards, Katherine / Lilli gives this enormous wink—one reminiscent of the wink in the Sam Taylor Taming of the Shrew (for which, q.v.). It has to be enormous so that the people in the back row will be able to see it—it’s primarily a stage production, after all.

Does that wink count as indebtedness, homage, an allusion, or down-and-out plagiarism?

I ask because it happens frequently in film—and, perhaps, particularly frequently in Shakespeare-related film.

Next time, homage in Much Ado About Nothing.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Wilderness of Monkeys . . .

Romeo and Juliet: A Monkey’s Tale. Dir. Karina Holden. Perf. Tim Hopper and Thousands of Monkeys. 2007. DVD. Animal Planet, 2008.
A Wilderness of Monkeys—
—performs Romeo and Juliet.

Well, “perform” may be too strong a word, but in this Shakespearean Adaptation or Derivitive (not exactly on Rothwell’s charts), the narrator describes the plot of Romeo and Juliet while showing the clash of two groups of monkeys.

I didn’t get very far, to tell you the truth. I got through the freeze frame / name card main-character-monkey section . . . but no further.

If an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters typed for an infinite amount of time, I still don’t think they’d come up with the screenplay for this one.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Current Events or Plot Summary?

Kocieniewski, David, and Danny Hakim. “Felled by Scandal, Spitzer Says Focus is on His Family.” New York Times 13 March 2008.
Is it just that I’m deeply engrossed in Measure for Measure, or is the contemporary political scene echoing, once again, the plot of a Shakespeare play?

This was the opening to a story in the New York Times yesterday:
Gov. Eliot Spitzer, whose rise to political power as a fierce enforcer of ethics in public life was undone by revelations of his own involvement with prostitutes, resigned on Wednesday, becoming the first New York governor to leave office amid scandal in nearly a century.
Let me change that just a bit . . .
Acting Duke Antonio, whose rise to political power as a fierce enforcer of ethics in public life was undone by revelations of his own attempt to seduce a nun (which resulted in an assignation with his ex-fiancée), resigned at Act V, scene i, lines 366-74, becoming the first Shakespearean protagonist to leave office amid scandal since Duke Frederick.
I’m not trying to get the mote of dust out of either Governor Spitzer’s or Antonio’s eyes—we all have our hypocrisies. And the title of the play is meant to advise against taking measure for measure. I just wanted to see if Spitzer’s story measures up (ha, ha!) to Antonio’s.

Inch by Inch toward Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure. Dir. Desmond Davis. Perf. Kate Nelligan. DVD. BBC / Time Life, 2001.
My main project for spring break is writing an essay for a Shakespeare conference in June. The play is Measure for Measure; the thesis is more complicated than a microblog on Shakespeare and Film can bear.

I’m hoping to convince Kenneth Branagh to get to work on his film version of Measure for Measure right away. The only readily-available film version of the play is the BBC production. The image above is of the Duke extending his hand to Isabella (his hand is ready—let’s see if it will do her ease) to ask for her hand (is her hand ready?) in matrimony.

It’s a key moment for any production of the play. Isabella isn’t allowed (or, depending on your point of view, doesn’t have) any speech in response to his proposal.

In the BBC, her nun’s habit is already close enough to a wedding gown, so (spoiler alert!), after a substantial pause, she does take his hand.

My essay needs to deal with how they got there and what we are to make of the rites, rituals, and ceremonies of the play itself and of plays contemporary to Shakespeare.

In the meanwhile, get started, Branagh! Our DVD players are ready—may you do them ease!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Briefly Back to the Brain

“Melancholy Brain.” By Gordon Bressack and Patrick M. Verrone. Perf. Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulse. Dir. Charles Visser. Pinky and the Brain. Vol. 3, disc 2. The WB Television Network. 7 February 1998. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2007.

“Melancholy Brain” is, in part, a retelling of the old joke about the lady who went to see Hamlet. When she was asked how she liked it, she replied, “Well, I didn’t. It was full of quotations!”

But it’s also, above all, to its own self being true. [Please note the intentional self-reflexivity of modifying a Hamlet quote to suit my own purposes.] My kids’ favorite part is this exchange:
Pinkey: How do you spell “King”?

Brain: B - R - A - I - N.
It’s all about taking over the world (as are so many things).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mystery Shakespearean Derivatives, Part V

“The Shakespeare Code.” By Gareth Roberts. Perf. David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, and Dean Lennox Kelly. Dir. Charles Palmer. Doctor Who. Season 3, episode 2 (New Series). BBC Wales. 7 April 2007. DVD. BBC Warner, 2007.

I was thinking of the Doctor Who episode as a recontextualization of Shakespeare’s age, but that’s not quite right. A récontextualization propre would be more like the Shakespeare Retold Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare’s play is put in a different context. In Doctor Who, the Doctor and his companion—probably especially his companion—are the ones who are constantly recontextualized, whether they’re adjusting to being on the moon or in the year 900,000 or south of the Thames in 1599.

Defamiliarization is a more apt term for what happens in this episode, particularly toward the beginning. The show tries to take Shakespeare’s unfamiliar age and convey to us what is familiar about it.

Near the beginning, the Doctor says to Martha Jones (and the camera shows to us), “You’d be surprised . . . Elizabethan England . . . not so different from your own time. Look over there. They’ve got recycling . . .

. . . a water cooler moment . . .

[As we approach a street corner preacher, we hear him saying, “the earth will be consumed by flame!”]

. . . global warming . . .

. . . and entertainment. Popular entertainment for the masses . . . . ah, yes! The Globe Theatre!”

The message is that Shakespeare’s time shouldn’t be threatening. They have the same things we have . . . including Doctor Who (and, in his travels, The Doctor himself)!

It’s a neat trick, that guilt (or auspiciousness) by association! With a few brief lines, the producers of Doctor Who have made themselves the modern equivalent of a Shakespeare play.

Ah, well. Better them than Men in Trees, I suppose.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mystery Shakespearean Derivatives, Part IV

“A Star is Bored.” By Garry Marshall et al. Perf. Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, and Tom Bosley. Dir. Jerry Paris. Happy Days. Season 2, episode 10. ABC. 5 December 1974. DVD. Paramount, 2007.
The expression “to jump the shark” comes, of course, from the famous—actually, infamous would be the more appropriate term—episode of Happy Days when The Fonz . . . um . . . jumped a shark. The phrase is used to describe the moment at which a previously-good show flops. It’s all downhill when a show jumps the shark.

For the academicians, here are the details of that episode: It’s titled “Hollywood: Part 3,” and it was originally aired on 20 September 1977. It was Season 5, Episode 3.

As Grandmother Jones was so fond of saying, I told you that to tell you this.

After showing the episode above (an episode brought to my attention by a colleague about two years ago), I thought of a new expression for the same idea.

In “A Star is Bored,” Fonzie plays Hamlet in the church production of the play (opposite the Ophelia pictured below). Even though the episode is Shakespeare-related, it’s not a good one.

In fact, I think Happy Days “played the Dane” in that episode. Once a show plays the Dane, it’s all downhill.

All the same, I had reasons and a rationale for showing it to the class. But the class will have to wait until after Spring Break to find out what they are—
—But I’ll need the break to come up with them!

Mystery Shakespearean Derivatives, Part III

“The Shakespeare Code.” By Gareth Roberts. Perf. David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, and Dean Lennox Kelly. Dir. Charles Palmer. Doctor Who. Season 3, episode 2 (New Series). BBC Wales. 7 April 2007. DVD. BBC Warner, 2007.
The third derivative was a Shakespeare-related episode of Doctor Who (the New Series). I’ll have to divide my comments on it into several different posts.

Briefly, the episode is (in Rothwell’s terminology again) something of a review (The Doctor, in his time-travelling TARDIS, takes us back to London in 1599 to give us something of Shakespeare’s Biography), something of an educational film (I’m sticking to it that anything you can learn from is educational!), and something of a recontextualization (in this case, a recontextualization of Shakespeare’s age rather than of Shakespeare himself--more on that later).

But it’s also a sort of mirror movie! Shakespeare and his company are about to put on a new play: Love’s Labour’s Won! You won’t find that title in modern Shakespeare anthologies—it’s a lost play (unless, as some scholars argue, the title of that play is just an alternate title for an existing play).

The show has always loved playing with lost things throughout history. I vaguely recall an episode where the Doctor interrupts Samuel Taylor Coleridge just as he’s trying to write “Kubla Kahn,” turning that potential epic into the fragment we have today.

This is another instance of that. The Doctor’s machinations in time and space are (partly) responsible for the lostness of that play.

But to tell you about that, I’ll need a new post . . . and a spoiler warning.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mystery Shakespearean Derivatives, Part II

“Atomic Shakespeare.” By Glenn Gordon Caron and Ron Osborn. Perf. Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis. Dir. Will Mackenzie. Moonlighting. Season 3, episode 7. ABC. 25 November 1986. DVD. Lions Gate, 2006.
One thing I’m not showing is this idea—one apparently offered by William “Budd” Shakespeare.

There’s a 1986 Moonlighting episode in which a kid (we mostly see his sneakers) who is about to watch Moonlighting (some nice framing / layering / metatheatrical stuff happening there!) is interrupted by his mother (we never see her face, either) and told to get to work on his Shakespeare homework.

It turns out that he has to read The Taming of the Shrew, and, thanks to the magic of television and the power of the imagination, the characters in Moonlighting perform the play in his mind for him!

Although I considered showing the episode, it struck me that it only really makes sense to people who are Moonlighting devotees. If you don’t understand the relationship between David Addison Jr. and Madelyn “Maddie” Hayes (the characters played by Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd), you won’t get the jokes—the biggest of which is the layering through Bruce to David to Petruchio and Cybill to Maddie to Kate.

Since I’m not a MD (Moonlighting Devotee) myself, I thought it pretty tedious.

As a Doctor Who fan (DWF), on the other hand, I thought the episode entitled “The Shakespeare Code” was irresistibly clever.

But we’ll save that for another post.

Mystery Shakespearean Derivatives, Part I

“Melancholy Brain.” By Gordon Bressack and Patrick M. Verrone. Perf. Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulse. Dir. Charles Visser. Pinky and the Brain. Vol. 3, disc 2. The WB Television Network. 7 February 1998. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2007.

Today, the Shakespeare and Film class will be presented with three Shakespearean Derivatives. According to Kenneth Rothwell (in A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), there are seven kinds of Shakespearean Derivatives (Rothwell 209-10):
  1. Recontextualization
  2. Mirror movie
  3. Musicals, ballets, and operas
  4. Revues (using biography and other genres)
  5. Parasitical
  6. Animations
  7. Documentaries and Educational Films
[There are also four types of Shakespearean Adaptations in addition to the Seven Derivatives, but we’ll forgo those for the present.]

Rothwell’s list is an extremely useful one—and it really becomes interesting when we consider the ways in which these seven overlap and combine. For example, Kiss me, Kate fits and does not fit into category iii—it’s a musical. But it’s also a mirror movie—a movie in which the characters are putting on a Shakespeare play. It might even count as a recontextualization, too!

“What,” I wonder aloud, “will the students make of today’s mysteries?”

One of them will be a cartoon short (I’m always fond of cartoon shorts before feature presentations, though I don’t always have time to provide one in class). It’s thanks to a student in the class that I’m aware of it at all. I’m very grateful, but I’m surprised that I didn’t know about it: I’ve been a Pinky and the Brain fanatic since before they were spun off from The Animaniacs . . . but that’s another issue.

The “Melancholy Brain” episode involves a plot to take over the world . . . well, I suppose it would, wouldn’t it? . . . but the difference is that, this time, it’s a Hamlet-based plot to take over the world!

I can’t say any more now, but I’m intrigued by just how many Shakespearean Derivative categories the episode fits! It fits vi, clearly. But it may also fit iii (there’s a musical), ii (there’s a play within the play within the plot to take over the world), vii (oh, of course there’s educational value here!), i, v, and iv!

Whatever other derivatives we may watch today (and however successful they may prove), I’m pleased to present “Melancholy Brain.” Great thanks to you, student, for bringing it to my attention! I feel duty bound to bring it to the attention of as many other as I can. Spread the Hamlet-related love!

The Difference: 61 - 11 = 52

The Taming of the Shrew. Dir. D. W. Grifffith. Perf. Florence Lawrence and Arthur V. Johnson. 1908.
The Difference: 122 - 11 = 111 . . . 63 - 11 = 52

With an extra 111 minutes at its disposal, what did the Zeffirelli Taming of the Shrew accomplish that the 1908 D. W. Griffith film did not? With only fifty-two extra minutes, what did the Sam Taylor Taming manage to do above and beyond Griffith?

I'd love to see the Griffith film, but, alas, no one has YouTubed it yet (nor can I find it through more orthodox means). There are a few small clips (from which these images come) on the DVD with the 1912 Richard III with Frederick Warde (Richard III. Dir. James Keane. Perf. Frederick Warde, Robert Gomp, Albert Gardner, and Violet Stuart. 1912. DVD. Kino, 2001), but not much to sink your teeth into. The clips come in a documentary section that focuses on the rediscovery of the Ward film.

The narration tells us that, "When adapting The Taming of the Shrew, Griffith avoided Shakespeare's dialouge and reduced the play to ribald comedy at its most primitive. How else was one to compact a five-act play into an eleven-minute film without benefit of sound?"

That's a fair quesiton. But another fair question is how, with the benefit of sound and plenty of time, a director can justify spending so much time on slapstick comedy without much sophistication—as both the Sam Taylor and the Zeffirelli versions do?

If we cut the slapstick, how much narrower is the margin between the eleven-minute Taming and the other two?

Oh! I Get it!

The Taming of the Shrew. Dir. Sam Taylor. Perf. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. 1929. DVD. Aikman Archive, 2005.
Observe this sequence from the Sam Taylor Taming of the Shrew (1929):

That non-verbal exchange between Katherine and Bianca takes place after the exchange of these famous (and famously-problematic) words:
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey. (V.ii.162-65)
The wink, obviously, changes everything. She doesn’t mean what she says—but it’s what she has to say (both because Shakespeare wrote it and because Petruchio and custom seem to demand it.

I supose, if we consider the Petruchio she’s up against, an ironic reading is, really, the most straightforward!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

How Long does it Take to Tame a Shrew?

Shrewishness Chart.

X Axis = Shrew.
Y Axis = Minutes to Tame.

Richard Burton took 122 minutes to tame Elizabeth Taylor in the 1967 Zeffirelli film.

Douglas Fairbanks took 63 minutes to tame Mary Pickford in the 1929 Sam Taylor film.

Arthur V. Johnson took 11 minutes to tame Florence Lawrence in the 1908 D. W. Griffith film.

Heath Ledger took 97 minutes to tame Julia Stiles in the 1999 Ten Things I Hate About You (unless Stiles was actually taming Ledger there).

John Cleese took 127 minutes to tame Sarah Badel in the 1980 BBC version directed by Jonathan Miller.

Howard Keel's Fred Graham's Petruchio took 109 minutes to tame Kathryn Grayson's Lilli Vanessi's Katherine (though part of that time was Howard Keel's Fred Graham trying to tame Kathryn Grayson's Lilli Vanessi) in the 1953 Kiss me, Kate.

Shakespeare Retold's Rufus Sewell took 90 minutes to tame Shakespeare Retold's Shirley Henderson.

Shakespeare: The Animated Tales managed the taming in 26 minutes.

Two conclusions (at least!) can be drawn from this information (graphically demonstrated in the "Chart o' Shrewishness" above):
  1. Elizabeth Taylor and Sarah Badel are the Shrewishest Katherines in the cinema.

  2. Richard Burton and John Cleese are the least-effective Shrew Tamers in the cinema.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Cole Porter Cole Slaw?

Kiss me, Kate. Dir. George Sidney. Perf. Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, and Ann Miller. 1953. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2003.

Cole Porter's lyrics—hot at the time, even hotter (in some cases) now—are frequently edited for performance. For example, the lyrics of "I Get a Kick out of You" are often changed. We no longer hear performers sing this:
Some get a kick from cocaine.
I'm sure that if
I took even one sniff
It would bore me terrif-
ically, too.
Yet I get a kick out of you.
Instead, they often sing the following:
Some like a bob-type refrain.
I'm sure that if
I heard even one riff
It would bore me terrif-
ically, too.
Yet I get a kick out of you.
The original opening lines of "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)" are even more objectionable. I decline to quote the original lyrics, in fact—they are disgustingly racist. Those lyrics are so seldom performed that I was amazed and appalled to hear Peggy Lee singing them on an early recording with Benny Goodman.

The 1953 movie version of Kiss me, Kate alters the lyrics considerably—both in major ways (as in "Always True to you (in my Fashion)," where Lois and Bill share the new lyrics) and in minor ways (as in the prefatory verses to "Tom, Dick, or Harry"). Over all, the changes seem to be intended to soften Porter's risqué lyrics.

In "Always True," for example, Bill sings these words to Lois:
Saw you out with Mr. Fritz.
You were dining at the Ritz!
To which she replies:
Mr. Fritz invented Schlitz, and Schlitz must pay
But I'm always true to you, darling, in my fashion.
Yes, I'm always true to you, darling, in my way.
The director, producer, and / or the writer could have stuck with Porter's original lyric (all sung by Lois):
From Milwaukee, Mister Fritz
Often moves me to the Ritz.
Mister Fritz is full of Schlitz and full of play.
But . . .
[In other recordings, "moves me to" is frequently replaced with "dines me at" from the same risqué-reduction motives.]

The decision to alter ribald lyrics is carried through with some consistency. In "Tom, Dick, or Harry," Hortensio sings "To give a social lift to thy position, / Marry me, marry me, marry me." Apparently, the original words (" To give a social goose to thy position") might have been objectionable.

The fact that such a mildly-objectionable phrase was altered makes it all the more surprising that these lines from "Brush up your Shakespeare" are left intact. A number of verses are eliminated or altered ("If her virtue, at first, she defends—well, / Just remind her that All's Well that Ends Well" is changed to "And if still to be shocked she pretends—well / Just remind her that All's Well that Ends Well"), but why did they decide to retain this one?
If she fights when her clothes you are mussing . . .
What are clothes? Much Ado About Nussing!
If she says your behavior is heinous,
Kick her right in the Coriolanus.
They felt they couldn't get away with "goose," but "Coriolanus" presents no difficulty?

Perhaps they felt that a line like that was suited to the gangsters who sing it but that the "goose" line wasn't appropriate to one of Bianca's suitors. Perhaps.

Or perhaps the indecency level of "goose" has decreased while that of the other line has increased.

For more about Cole Porter's lyrics, go to Google Books, which has The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter as a searchable electronic text. It's quite an amazing resource.

Finally, as a reward for coming this far back in the archives, I’m providing a clip from the film! This indicates that this blog post has been revised some time after its initial composition.  Congratulations!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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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 2008-2039 (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