Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Know What You Should be Doing this Summer

Macbeth. Dir. Doug Scholz-Carlson. Perf. Christopher Gerson, Tarah Flanagan, and Kim Martin-Cotten. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2007.
If you are going to see one play this summer, it should be at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota.

I saw their Macbeth last year (the image above is from that play), and everything about it, from the sets to the acting to the amazingly large (and quite heavy) spears pictured above was marvelous.

In the category of revaling my bias, I should note that Chris Gerson is a good friend. But I think I could be critical of him if he ever gave a bad performance. So far, he hasn’t.

This summer, the Festival will put on The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew. They both promise to be incredible. Make it your buisness to attend.

Our family will be going to Israel for a month this summer, and that month very nearly coincides with the GRSF; all the same, jetlagged or not, I’ll be there.

See you there, everyone!


Monday, April 28, 2008

Ye Yan, the Banquet, and the Legend of the Black Scorpion

I just noticed that The Banquet (Ye Yan), for which, q.v., has been released in the United States with an alternate title: The Legend of the Black Scorpion.

The main thing that that changes is its availability. We can now more easily get the DVD, ask our libraries to purchase the DVD, and invite our students to write essays on the DVD.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shakespeare in (Un)Likely Places, Continued

Star Trek is a place where you expect to find references to Shakespeare. It’s part of the game. But it was only in the preantepenultimate (the fourth from the last) episode that I noticed anything Shakespearean at all.

In that episode, we’re in an alternate universe—one in which humans are conquerors rather than cooperators in inter-planetary travel. But that universe connects to the usual Star Trek universe by discovering a ship (the USS Defiant, last seen in a third-season original Start Trek episode) that has gone back in time and across to this universe.

I told you that to tell you this. The two characters above (he’s the doctor; she’s the Vulcan—in other words, he’s Bones; she’s Spock) have been reading the literature and history of the other universe.

Both universes had their Shakespeare, and that’s where the interest (finally!) lies. Here's the speech, trippingly given in frame-by-frame mode:

Here's the text, rank and gross, merely:

"I wanted to compare our major works with their counterparts in the other universe. . . . The stories were similar in some respects, but their characters were weak and compassionate. With the exception of Shakespeare, of course. From what I could tell, his plays were equally grim in both universes."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shakespeare in (Un)Likely Places

Grading papers is hard. So it's sometimes necessary to offer oneself
some motivation.

A few years ago—before the college had acquiesced to my constant and
vociferous whining, whining, whining and given me a MacBook Pro in
place of the hideous other-operating-system machine they had foisted
upon me—I discovered a show called Star Trek: Enterprise.

Those who are true Star Trek Fans will be better able to describe it.
I think I'd call it a prequel to the original series. I thought it
was all right. "Interesting stories, fast-paced and fun," I thought.
"The perfect fifteen-minute break from the intensity of grading papers."

"But," you cry, "wasn't that an hour-long show?"

Yes—but it's about forty-five minutes without commercials.

Oh, yes. And I was watching them at three times the speed with the
subtitles on. I felt guilty about wasting time that could have been
spent grading, and a loss of forty-five minutes would have been
unconscionable. So I'd grade five or ten papers, watch a fifteen-
minute show, get back to grading, take another break, et cetera. Soon
the forty-five essays (and four episodes) would be behind me . . .
untill the next paper came due.

Much later, once I'd been granted the Macintosh exception, I tried the
show again. And it was terrible. So slow . . . so . . .
terribly . . . slow. Macintosh didn't let you play them at three
times the speed with the subtitles on . . . unless you downloaded each
episode to the hard drive and watched them with Quicktime.

After doing that, it seemed like a pretty good show again!

But all this is more of a justification for taking breaks from grading
to watch still Star Trek-related shows. And it is. You can tell that
I feel guilty about it.

As for its relevance to this blog's topic . . . well, you'll have to
wait until tomorrow! I've used up all my tiume justifying my actions;
I don't have any left to explain them!

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Phlattery of the Ekphrastic

Wright, David. “I Swear I Use no Art at all.” Poetry, Poetics, and the Arts. 23 April 2008. 23 April 2008 .

For the first time (to my knowledge), one of my tacky, quirky Shakespeare posters has become the subject of . . . or inspiration for? . . . a poem—and one that is neither tacky nor quirky, though it addresses such subjects. The poem’s author is David Wright, and the poem is ekphrastic in nature. [The poet may also be ekphrastic in nature, but that’s another story.]

I’ve seen some art on the commodification of art—the sheer number of items on which the image of the Mona Lisa appears boggles the mind! And I’ve always considered my “Shakespeare Action Hero” figure to have a similar degree of irony behind it.

I think David Wright’s poem has the same irony and detachment. Witness these lines:
I am soothing my inner Iago, Gertrude, Goneril,
am nothing more than a fishmonger

with a little plastic genius in my pocket. (13-15)
Ouch! Beautiful.

And here's the full poem.

Thanks, DW!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Shakespeare & Anne Sexton

Macbeth. Dir. Philip Casson. Perf. Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. 1979. DVD. A&E Home Video, 2004.
While preparing to wrap up Macbeth in today’s class, I watched part of the Philip Casson version (with Sir Ian McKellan and Dame Judy Dench).

I had been concentrating on the Welles and the Polanski versions—and on Slings & Arrows and a dark comedy version called Scotland, PA. All that distracted me from a Macbeth that is like the Kevin Kline Hamlet—a film based on a stage production.

The film is very stark. And, because of that starkness, it has a certain majesty and power.

The scene from which the image above came (IV.iii) shows Macduff’s reaction to the news that his family has been slaughtered. It’s the best portrayal I’ve seen of the scene.

It reminds me of the power in Anne Sexton’s poem—also stark, also powerful—that uses the speech as a starting point as she dwells on the deaths of her parents:

Sexton, Anne. “All My Pretty Ones.” All my Pretty Ones. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961. 4-5.
All My Pretty Ones
All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What! all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I cannot but remember such things were,
That were most precious to me.

Father, this year’s jinx rides us apart
where you followed our mother to her cold slumber;
a second shock boiling its stone to your heart,
leaving me here to shuffle and disencumber
you from the residence you could not afford:
a gold key, your half of a woolen mill,
twenty suits from Dunne’s, an English Ford,
the love and legal verbiage of another will,
boxes of pictures of people I do not know.
I touch their cardboard faces. They must go.

But the eyes, as thick as wood in this album,
hold me. I stop here, where a small boy
waits in a ruffled dress for someone to come . . .
for this soldier who holds his bugle like a toy
or for this velvet lady who cannot smile.
Is this your father’s father, this commodore
in a mailman suit? My father, time meanwhile
has made it unimportant who you are looking for.
I’ll never know what these faces are all about.
I lock them into their book and throw them out.

This is the yellow scrapbook that you began
the year I was born; as crackling now and wrinkly
as tobacco leaves: clippings where Hoover outran
the Democrats, wiggling his dry finger at me
and Prohibition; news where the Hindenburg went
down and recent years where you went flush
on war. This year, solvent but sick, you meant
to marry that pretty widow in a one-month rush.
But before you had that second chance, I cried
on your fat shoulder. Three days later you died.

These are the snapshots of marriage, stopped in places.
Side by side at the rail toward Nassau now;
here, with the winner’s cup at the speedboat races,
here, in tails at the Cotillion, you take a bow,
here, by our kennel of dogs with their pink eyes,
running like show-bred pigs in their chain-link pen;
here, at the horseshow where my sister wins a prize;
and here, standing like a duke among groups of men.
Now I fold you down, my drunkard, my navigator,
my first lost keeper, to love or look at later.

I hold a five-year diary that my mother kept
for three years, telling all she does not say
of your alcoholic tendency. You overslept,
she writes. My God, father, each Christmas Day
with your blood, will I drink down your glass
of wine? The diary of your hurly-burly years
goes to my shelf to wait for my age to pass.
Only in this hoarded span will love persevere.
Whether you are pretty or not, I outlive you,
bend down my strange face to yours and forgive you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April 23

It's been 444 years since his birth and 392 since his death.

Yet "Age cannot wither him, nor custom stale / his infinite variety."

Happy Birthday, Swan o' Avon!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ricky Goes to Hollywood

Richard III. Dir. Scott M. Anderson. Perf. Scott M. Anderson, Sally Kirkland, Sung Hi Lee, and Marco Sanchez. 2008. Basilisk Films, 2008.
Another film on the horizon (which I learned about from the Poor Yorick Blog) is a new Richard III—set in Hollywood, this time. The trailer has since disappeared from the internet, but the film must be around somewhere.

Ian McKellen’s Richard III was set in an imaginary, despotic World-War-II-era England. This one is set in Hollywood.

Same difference, right?

I’m eager to see the film, though I’m not quite convinced that it will work.

Here’s hoping, though!

Another Stage Production

The Bomb-itty of Errors!. Dir. Aaron Matthew Polk. By Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, GQ and Erik Weiner. Perf. Krukid (née Edwin Ruyonga) et al. Station Theatre. Urbana, Illinois. 17 April—3 May 2008.
David Wright calls our collective attention to a hip-hop Shakespeare currently being staged in Urbana, Illinois.

Alas and wellaway, he hasn’t seen it yet—but we should all encourage him to do so and to give us a complete report once he has done so.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Third Thoughts on the Guthrie Midsummer Night’s Dream

Midsummer Night’s Dream. Dir. Joe Dowling. Perf. Nic Few, Emily Swallow, Kathryn Lawrey, William Sturdivant, Jonas Goslow, Valeri Mudek, Namir Smallwood, and Stephen Pelinsky. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 12 April—22 June 2008.

The previous post’s title (“Second Thoughts”) made it look like I was rethinking the Guthrie’s production. Actually, I was just thinking more about the production. Sorry for any confusion that may have arisen.

I wanted to dwell briefly on the choice of putting Egeus and Demetrius in military uniforms at the beginning of the play.

At Theseus’ entrance, we hear a crowd chanting “ThesEUS . . . ThesEUS . . . ThesEUS”—it was meant to sound like the Nazi’s insane, frenzied “Sieg Heil” chant. I’m still pondering the wisdom of that choice, but it does do something to the play. We tend to turn away from Theseus from the beginning. The modern bodyguards (complete with wires running from their collars to their ears) who entered before him cast him in a similar, sinister light.

The overall impression, then, is of a dictator put in place by the military, particularly when he is so eager to support Egeus—despite Hippolyta’s obvious discomfort with Egeus’ request.

The uniforms also tie Egeus and Demetrius together immediately. We understand why Egeus prefers this one (when Lysander mentions their equal standing in respect of birth and fortune, he looks, from Egeus’ eyes, like a man who has mispent his youth and misused his birth and fortune—for Egeus, there’s a world of difference between a uniform and a hoodie, which Lysander wears at that point).

Finally, it marks the difference between Athens itself and the wood outside Athens. When both hoodie and uniform are removed, Demetrius and Lysander are able to grapple with their identites. When they return to the city, they can choose what garmets to put on.

We never see Demetrius in uniform again.

Egeus is in uniform when he finds the lovers. He marches (“marches”—ha!) offstage, never to return.

It all works—but it may work at the expense of audience affiniy with Theseus—I’m not sure he ever gains our complete respect . . . even though much of his activity is redeemed by play’s end.

The Guthrie chose to use a text based primarily on Q1 for this production. In F, Egeus, not Philostrate, gives Theseus the list of entertainments. In F, Egeus returns to the stage, and it may wrap up his attitude toward his daughter’s marriage neatly—he, too, now favors this union. Q1 is more open-ended. Egeus is a loose end.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Second Thoughts on the Guthrie Midsummer Night’s Dream

Midsummer Night’s Dream. Dir. Joe Dowling. Perf. Nic Few, Emily Swallow, Kathryn Lawrey, William Sturdivant, Jonas Goslow, Valeri Mudek, Namir Smallwood, and Stephen Pelinsky. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 12 April—22 June 2008.
So many things about the Guthrie’s production were Shakespearean. Here’s a quick list.

The Text is Shakespeare

I suppose that’s an obvious one, but it’s not one that guaranteed in modern productions. The Guthrie paid careful attention to conveying the meaning of the text. Titania’s speech about how “The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts / Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose” (II.i.107-08) was one such. It isn’t just that Minnesota has had some freak April snow showers—the actor brilliantly conveyed the message (and her fairies responded accordingly, showing the audience how we might respond).

The Costumes are Outrageous

The outrageous costumes were worth seeing in themselves. In Shakespeare’s theatre (we suppose), more was spent for costumes than for the play itself.

The Puritans of Shakespeare’s day were offended at the over-effusive and even illegal costumes. And they would have been offended at the underwear, too.

Men Dressed as Women is Funny on the Stage

We see this in the Pyramus and Thisbe section. The boy delegated to play Thisbe hasn’t been looking forward to dressing as a woman. But, when it came time for the show to go on, there was no holding him back. Each time he re-entered (in a different costume each time), the audience exploded in laughter.

Death Scenes aren’t Always Convincing

When Hamlet says, “I am dead, Horatio,” it frequently gets an unintended chuckle. Pyramus’ “Now am I dead / Now am I fled” gets the same reaction—intended, this time.

Songs and Dances Throughout—and a Huge Dance Number to Conclude

It may seem odd that all the dead bodies at the end of Hamlet got up to do a rousing country dance at the end, but that’s what happened. Perhaps it seems more appropriate at the conclusion of a comedy than at the end of a tragedy, but it’s Shakespeare all the way!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

First Thoughts on the Guthrie Midsummer Night’s Dream

Midsummer Night’s Dream. Dir. Joe Dowling. Perf. Nic Few, Emily Swallow, Kathryn Lawrey, William Sturdivant, Jonas Goslow, Valeri Mudek, Namir Smallwood, and Stephen Pelinsky. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 12 April—22 June 2008.
Last night, a group of students and faculty went down to the Guthrie Theatre to see their Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I haven’t had time to digest everything about the production, but I think I can break my impressions into four categories: overall impressions, things that worked, things that didn’t work, and things that might work for some but won’t work for others.

Overall Impression
Great. A good production, well-acted (for the most part), with a clear and careful understanding of the text and heapings of interesting decisions to think and to talk about.
Things that Worked
Some musical arrangements. First, there was a very funny Doo-wop version of the lullaby the fairies sing to Titania in II.ii. The head fairy on that number had a lovely, soaring voice, and the “Diana and the Supremes” choreography was pleasing.
Oberon’s “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” (II.ii.249ff) was more serious, and it also worked really well. It’s a powerfully lyrical speech, and the setting gave it strength. It started out with a dance beat behind it, and then some loud guitars made their way in.
Dance numbers. There were a lot of them, and I can’t remember one that didn’t work. There was a lovely group dance (something I would imagine would take place on a club stage, though I don’t have the experience to name the precise genre of dance) after the four lovers have been sorted out at the end of Act IV, scene i. They decided to take the line “Rock the ground whereon these sleepers be” (IV.i.85) and turn it into something of a house piece. Great use of line, great dancing, great music, great energy.
More seriously, the couples all dance after the weddings and before the Pyramus and Thisbe play, and it’s very well done. The entire play has been something of a dance of changing couples; at the beginning of Act V, the Guthrie production has the couples do that dance literally . . . only they refuse to change partners when the dance demands it. The dancers separate and head toward the opposite partner—but the memory of the events in the woods is too fresh, so they return to their original partners. [Later in the play, hugs are exchanged all around, indicating that they are ready, at that point, to embrace their friendships once more.]
Doubling. Theseus and Hippolyta double as Oberon and Titania. Puck doubles as Philostrate. And there may have been more doubling among the other characters, but I didn’t notice it as much. The doubling works. It must be incredibly tough on the actors, but the transformation from T & H to O & T—especially when it must be such a quick change at the end—is really astonishing. And it’s interesting to consider the ways in which those two couples are alike.
Puck—in an extraordinary costume which I don’t have the vocabularly to describe (it’s part super-hero and part 1970s boogie movie and part English renaissance drama)—wanders in to fraternize with the audience before the “Turn off your cell phones, for goodness’ sake” announcement.” He’s then tracked down by two costumers who quickly cover up that outfit with a nice business suit, leaving him ready to be Philostrate—clean-cut (except for his cool, bright white hair with a red streak).
The Costumes. They work. It’s very Shakespearean to have the costumes detract from the play. The costumes for this production (mostly in the woods outside Athens) are outrageous. They are weird and goth and punk and stunning.
The Rude Mechanicals. They’re always great. It’s great to see good actors playing bad actors—and playing them very well. Bravo!
Military Uniforms. Egeus and Demetrius are both in military uniform in I.i, and it’s a nice visual connection between the two of them—and between Theseus (who is presented as something of a military dictator in a business suit early in the production) and Egeus. It gives additional motivation to Theseus’ decision to back Egeus in his plans for his daughter’s marriage.
Many Other Things. But I don’t have time to mention them here yet.
Things that Didn’t Work
Some musical arrangements. I’m sorry, but Puck’s attempt to rap “Yet but three? Come one more. / Two of both kinds makes up four” (III.ii.437-38) slowed up the action and was fairly embarrassing.
The Luther Vandrossian numbers also failed. Perhaps I’m too cynical, but there’s a limit to the amount of cheese I can take in any given production, and there was too much cloying cheese there.
Some of the Stage Business. I don’t know. There seems to be a tendency in Guthrie productions to have some immature, high school antics. In this production, there are some silly voices, blowing kisses routines, double-takes, and Minnesotan asides that may get laughs—but they’re awfully easy laughs.
Some of Theseus’ / Oberson’s Speeches. I’d like to see a wider range of dynamics in his character(s). He tended to shout. He shouted most of the time, in fact. And his character(s) don’t need to do so. It’s the Guthrie! We can hear a whisper from the stage even if we’re in the back row.
Some of the Sliding in on Ropes Stuff. Before going to the production, I heard a report that it was “Shakespeare meets Cirque du Solei.” I suppose that had to do with the fairies doing some minor acrobatics on ropes. I think “Shakespeare meets Seussical the Musical” might be more accurate.
Things that Might Work for Some but Won’t Work for Others
Underwear. When the lovers enter the woods, their clothes are wisked away, leaving them in their underwear (though they don’t seem to notice until they are discovered by Theseus and Hippolyta late in Act IV). The surface reason may be in the idea that people dream of being in public places—giving a speech, going to school, et cetera—in their underwear. The deeper reason may be that the lovers’ identities / pretensions / civilization / culture / et cetera dissipate when they are away from the city, giving them the chance to come to genuine realizations about their own nature. But it may not work for some people. [By the way, the underwear isn’t terribly revealing . . . rumors of nudity in the production are exaggerated.]
Giant Meteor Rising through the Stage and Opening to Reveal Titania’s Bower. That about says it. You can see the meteor (I think it’s really meant to be a geode) in the image above. I liked it—even though (or perhaps because) it’s over the top. But it isn’t for everyone.
Hippolyta’s Gradual Acceptence of Theseus. When he asks her to come with him in Act I, she deliberately exits in the opposite direction. When he asks her to come with him in Act V, she willingly acquiesces. I thought it was effective. It’s a slow character development.
That’s just a start—there’s much more to be said. And that, in itself, makes it a good production. Well done, Guthrie! Thank you so very much!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ah, 1948. Ah, Orson Welles.

Macbeth. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barner, and Alan Napier. 1948. DVD. Republic Pictures Home Video, 1992.

And, of course, Ah, Macbeth!

Last night, I started the Orson Welles Macbeth (1948) for my students—but I had to leave early. That mean that I missed one of my favorite Macbeths ever!

One reason I like it so much is the costumes. They’re reminiscent of what I might cobble together out of my office closet and / or my basement. The “Klingon Statue of Liberty” outfit for the closing scene is priceless.

But there’s more than that (of course). The play opens with the witches (of course)—but, more remarkably, it closes with the witches. The last lines of the play are
So thanks to all at once, and to each one,
Whom we invite to see us crown’d at scone. (V.ix.40-41)
Yes. Not the very hight of Shakespeare’s powers, that.

Welles’ Macbeth closes with this line . . . one the witches spoke in Act I:
Peace!—the charm’s wound up. (I.iii.37)
Framing the play with the witches gives them enormous power and responsibility over the evil in the play . . . perhaps too much, in fact . . . but it’s an extraordinarily effective ending.

It makes you think.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Few More Slings and Arrows to Suffer

I had forgotten how wonderful the characters are in Slings and Arrows. At the end of the first season, Hamlet is finally going forward, despite the best efforts of a member of the administration to sabatoge the play so that . . . well, watch the series to get the details of the motivation. Everybody’s having a good time (never mind what the critics might say about the production), and there’s happieness for everyone!

They’ve given the character in the middle in the image above (Nahum—he’s an African-Canadian who talks light-heartedly about the troubles in the African nation from which he imigrated) has a marvelous thing to say to the administrator who’s trying to sabotage the enterprise. The administrator is trapped backstage—he stayed too late and can’t get through to his seat—and he determines to say to watch the play from the wings.

Nahum points his flashlight at him and says, pointedly, “If a farmer names his pigs, it makes the slaughter very difficult.”

And then he walks away, leaving the administrator to ponder that bit of wisdom.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Speak the speech, I pray you . . .

. . . trippingly on the tongue. And replace the artistic director.”

I’ve been mentioning some obscure derivitives, some of which haven’t yet been released. I thought I’d switch gears and mention a fabulous Shakespeare-related series that's out and readily-available:

Slings and Arrows.

The three-season Canadian television show follows the actors, directors, and staff of a Shakespeare festival as they go through three seasons.

In the first season—in the first show, even—the artistic director dies (that’s him in the coffin above) and is replaced by a new director—one who previously went insane while playing Hamlet under the previous director.

Follow that?

Anyway, the ghost of the first director (or is it a hallucination of the second director's imagining?) comes back to haunt (or is it to advise?) the second director.

Trust me, it’s great. It’s a little heavier on the heavy language than one likes for general audience viewing, but it’s full of marvelous lines, including this one from the ghost:

“Death virtually eliminates the need for pretense. There’s no one to impress.”

That from one of the most pretensious ghosts you’ll ever meet!

Slings and Arrows. Dir. Peter Wellington. Perf. Martha Burns, Paul Gross, Don McKellar, Mark McKinney, Oliver Dennis, Susan Coyne, Stephen Ouimette, and Catherine Fitch. 2003-2006 (Three Seasons). DVD. Acorn Media, 2006-2007.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

R & G are Undead

Update:  This looks like the official website for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.

I'm intrigued by the film, even though . . . or, perhaps, because . . . it looks weird and unconventional.

[Note:  "Unconventional" is a mild way of describing a Hamlet-based vampire film.]

I suppose that any Shakespeare-related film that isn't set in high school is going to be exciting to me.  So many modern derivatives are set in high school that it's become a bit cliché.

[Note:  I make an execption in the case of Hamlet 2 (for which, Q.V.), which is set in high school but which looks delightful.  It also has a release date of 29 August 2008!  Just the thing for a back-to-school weekend.]

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

R & G

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead. Dir. Tom Stoppard. Perf. Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss. 1990. DVD. Image Entertainment, 2005.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of the world’s worst spies. One of the first rules, I’m told, of spying is not to admit that you are a spy. This R & G do when they first confront Hamlet.

Though they don’t exactly shine when they’re on stage, they’re remarkable when they’re off!

In Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the Player (played by Richard Dreyfuss) comments on the players’ unique view of theatre:
We do on stage what is supposed to happen off . . . which is a kind of integrity . . . if you look on every exit as an entrance somewhere else.
That principle opens up the marvelous world of “within-the-play” in the film. The players put on the play of Hamlet in dumbshow—as well as a rehearsal of the play-within-the-play (with its own play-within): players in masks playing the king and queen watch puppets (pictured above) playing the player king and queen.

The main problem—and I think that Stoppard himself has acknowledged this . . . in the DVD special features, I believe—is that it’s too long. The pacing is just not what it should be. There are brilliant, brilliant passages . . . but they’re interposed with lengthy moments of not very much at all.

Breaking News: Dudencrantz and Doggenstern!

Well, I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but here’s a trailer for a film that is currently in post-production: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.

(The title of this post comes from the actors in the image above. They suggest, since they’re modernizing Hamlet anyway, that they modernize the names of their characters—to the aforenamed Dudencrantz and Doggenstern.)

[Alert—the trailer (embedded below) contains some unsavory images.]

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"I am tied to the stake, and I must stand the course."

An image from a map of London date 1572. These circular buildings, labeled “The Bowell Bay-tyng” and “The Beare baiting,” are south of the river, near the ground where the Rose and, eventually, the Globe were built.
In all of my Shakespeare courses, I make a big point of the popularity of the Renaissance theatre—but I always mention that going to hear a play (in Hamlet’s phrase) wasn’t the only popular entertainment of the time.

Bear baiting, for example, was quite as popular. Images of baiting even make their way into Renaissance drama. The quote above is from King Lear, but Macbeth (in Macbeth) also alludes to bear baiting:
They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,
But, bear-like, I must fight the course. (V.vii.1-2)
Shakespeare has generally continued to be popular, I have argued, while bear baiting has slipped in popularity.

Fortunately, that’s mostly true. However, a diligent student happened upon this news story about attempts to curb the bear baiting traffic in Pakistan. According to the source, Pakistan is the only nation in which this practice continues.

I think we need to get some productions of Macbeth up in that country as quickly as possible! Anything to stop the baiting! STOP THE BAITING!

Thank you.

Wait a Minute!

“Something Out of Nothing.” By Susanna Grant. Perf. Scott Wolf, Neve Campbell, Matthew Fox, and Lacey Chabert. Dir. Richard Pearce. Party of Five. Season 1, episode 9. FOX. 7 November 1994. DVD. Sony, 2008.
There is a bit of Shakespeare in a Party of Five episode. Because I was still grading some multiple-choice exams at the end of the non-Shakespearean “Kiss me, Kate,” I let it run on to the next episode.

It turns out that the character who broke up with his girlfriend is on the rebound, and he gets set up with the character in the image above.

She will be playing Kate in her high school’s production of The Taming of the Shrew!

But that’s it. She vanished into the night, and I got back to the exams.

Monday, April 7, 2008

What's in a Title? Often a Title—and Nothing More

“Kiss me, Kate.” By Susanna Grant. Perf. Scott Wolf, Neve Campbell, Matthew Fox, and Lacey Chabert. Dir. Richard Pearce. Party of Five. Season 1, episode 8. FOX. 2 November 1994. DVD. Sony, 2008.
My hopes were too high, I suppose, when I encountered an episode entitled “Kiss me, Kate” of a television show called Party of Five.

“It’s a derivative of a Shakespearean derivative,” I thought excitedly.

Alas, it was another titular reference to Shakespearean materal—and nothing more. Essentially, it’s the tale of a high school boy who wants to sleep with his high school girlfriend, cannot believe her audacity when she refuses him—on moral grounds, no less—and breaks up with her. I suppose there might be a Measure for Measure allusion in there somewhere, but it’s not exactly overt, if so.

It’s a bit of a shame that that episode didn’t have much ado about . . . sorry . . . much to do with . . . Shakespeare. I mean, just look at all these great titles from episodes thoughout the show’s run:
Season 1, Episode 7: Much Ado
Season 1, Episode 22: The Ides of March
Season 5, Episode 4: A Mid-Semester's Night Dream
Season 6, Episode 23: All's Well . . .
Season 6, Episode 24: . . . That Ends Well
But, unless I hear otherwise (any Party of Five fanatics out there?), I’ll assume that each of these has as little to do with Shakespeare as the one listed above does.

Almereyda's Hamlet: "This is the Tragedy . . ."

Hamlet. Dir. Michael Almereyda. Perf. Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Sam Shepard, and Bill Murray. 2000. DVD. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2001.

Olivier’s Hamlet openes with the words “This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.”

Almereyda’s Hamlet (with Ethan Hawke) might easily open with these lines:
This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind—
—about which video to check out.
And I think those lines would fit the general tongue-in-cheek feel of the film.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Explicit Meaning: “This is the Tragedy . . .”

Hamlet. Dir. Laurence Olivier. Perf. Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Norman Wooland, Felix Aylmer, and Terence Morgan. 1948. DVD. Criterion, 2000.
Olivier’s Hamlet begins with an edited version of a speech from I.iv (the full version is printed below).

The gist of the speech is “sometimes a person is defined by one part of their identity, however diverse and complicated that identity may be.”

After that, Olivier’s narrator (is it Olivier himself?) explicitly states the “particular fault” of the Hamlet we’re about to encounter:

This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.

Those two separate speech acts (to sound like a post-structuralist literary critic for a minute) are intriguing. The tone of the first is that it’s rather a shame that a person might be so defined; the second does just that with Hamlet himself.

Our encounter with the vastidity of representations of Hamlet show us that his character, perhaps more than some others, has an enormous complexity—which makes it all the more of a shame that he should be defined by one element.

But . . . perhaps . . . perhaps it’s impossible not to present Hamlet in simplified form. After all, it’s only after studying this wide ranges of Hamlets that we get a greater and greater sense of that complexity.


I think I’ll go watch a five-minute silent version of Hamlet. Simplicity has its appeal.

[The speech in its entirety . . . though I’ll need to check later on the origins of each speech. Is it possible that the Oliver version comes from Q1 or Q2 while this one comes from F?]
So, oft it chances in particular men
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth, wherein they are not guilty,
(Since nature cannot choose his origin),
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plausive manners—that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery or fortune's star,—
Their virtues else—be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo—
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault. (I.iv.23-36)
[UPDATE: The speech is absent from Q1 and F. It’s only present in Q2. Olivier’s edits seem to be his own.]

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What's with the Fishmonger Stuff? Can't you Drop it?

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh. 1996. DVD. Castle Rock, 2007.
The fact is . . . I can’t!

The more we see Polonius as a fishmonger, the less we like him.

The less we like him, the less we mind his death behind the arras.

The less we mind his death behind the arras, the more righteous we find Hamlet’s act in stabbing the “rat” he hears there.

And the more righteous we find Hamlet’s act in that instance, the more likely we are to find the rest of his actions justifiable.

The Branagh Polonius is the Polonius I most love to hate. He’s the most conniving, the most unrepentant, the most manipulative of Polonii. (He’s also played by a very good actor—one of my favorites).

His role in the play changes our understanding of every other character.

One of the marvelous things about Hamlet is that that’s true of almost every character in it (not even excepting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern).

It really is a bit like a game of chess. If this piece moves here, these are some of the things that might (or might not) follow. However, if this piece moves there, an entirely different course may play itself out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hamlet and the Fishmonger--Additional Notes

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Harold Jenkins. 2nd. ed. London: Arden, 1982.
Here's the long note from the Jenkins edition of Hamlet.

Click on the image below to enlarge it enough to be able to read it!

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