Thursday, September 30, 2010

A New Young Adult Shakespearean Novel: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

Dionne, Erin. The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet. New York: Dial Books, 2010.

In this all-too-brief breathing space between grading essays, I'd like to squeeze in an all-too-brief review of The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, a recently-released young adult novel with Shakespearean overtones.

The best parts of the book are its authentic creation of a seventh-grade girl's voice and its over-the-top presentation of parents who are insanely (at least from a seventh-grade girl's point of view) passionate about Shakespeare. Additionally, the plot is intriguing and well-crafted.

Seventh-grade Hamlet, our narrator, has a seven-year-old sister named Desdemona (who goes by "Dezzie"). Dezzie is a certifiable genius, and she is enrolled in Hamlet's middle school. That's part of the problem. Their parents are Shakespeare professors—the kind who dress in Shakespearean garb, make models of the Globe theatre for fun, quote Shakespeare left and right, and set up a booth at the local Renaissance Fair. That's another problem.

[Editor's Note: This image is not the title page of the book, but it's the image that comes to me when I think of the title. This girl's life has been inscribed over the text of a Shakespeare play.]

The prose doesn't rise to the heights of Susan Cooper's Shakespeare-related young adult novel (for which, q.v.), but I'm not sure it's meant to. And the novel's voice is a fun, light, humorous one. Occasionally, as in the image that heads this post, our narrator launches into brief dramatic sketches that demonstrate the humor of the situation and underscore the play-beneath-the novel aspect of the book:
The Scene: The dinner table. Could be any night of the week. Mom, Dad, Dezzie, and Hamlet sit around a giant tray of seaks and baked potatoes.
Dad: But they still do not know who killed Christopher Marlowe.

Dezzie (slicing her meat): It happened either in a bar or tavern. There is a rumor that he was a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham's intelligence service. But I am not sure he was really murdered.

Mom (knife clatters to her plate): You are not suggesting what I think you are!

Me (pouring gravy into mashed potato volcano): . . .

Dad: Marlowe did not fake his death and write under the Shakespeare pseudonym. You have been reading too much Calvin Hoffman.

Dezzie: But the theories he puts forth are invigorating!

Me (watching gravy flow down the sides of the volcano): . . . (23-24)
The different characters and their attitudes are nicely drawn in that short scene.

All in all, it's a good book with some depth behind the light humor. It's well worth reading.

[Editor's Note: The Shakespeare scholar in me won't let me avoid mentioning the one lapse in Shakespearean knowledge in the book. At one point, Hamlet's parents come to her school to help her English teacher with a Shakespeare unit. They want to teach the students iambic pentameter, and they leap about the classroom, banging on a tambourine. It's a brilliant scene, beautifully visualized. However, the line they choose as an example is not in iambic pentameter. Instead, it's one of the trochaic passages from A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Weaving spiders, come not here; / Hence, you long-legg'd spinners, hence" (II.ii.20-21). Instead of banging the tambourine in a trochaic beat ("WEAV-ing SPI-ders COME not HERE"), they attempt to make iambs out of it: "Wea-VING [clang!] spi-DERS [clang!] come NOT [clang!]" (226). It's arguably a minor point, but the characters—and the words—suffer from it.]

Links: The Author's Official Web Site.

Click below to purchase the book from
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Maggie Smith as Beatrice in 1967

Much Ado About Nothing. Dir. Alan Cooke. Perf. Derek Jacobi, Robert Stephens and Maggie Smith. BBC. 5 February 1967.
Earlier this month, the British Film Institute and the Library of Congress announced the re-discovery of over sixty BBC television broadcasts long thought lost.

A few days ago, the Library of Congress posted two brief clips from those no-longer-lost broadcasts. One of them is of Maggie Smith as Beatrice:

Here's the script they're following (Shakespeare's text is slightly edited):
By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband, if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue.

For the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening. Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen.

You may light on a husband that hath no beard.

What should I do with him? Dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth; he that hath no beard is less than a man: he that is more than a youth, I am not for him; he that is less than a man, he is not for me. Therefore, I will hire myself out for sixpence a day, as the virgin in the proverb, and lead apes into hell.

Well, then, go you into hell?

Oh, no, no. But to the gate. (II.i.18-43)
We all devoutly hope for a full DVD release of the film from which this rare glimpse into BBC Shakespeare in the 1950s and 1960s comes.

Links: The Film at IMDB. The Blog Post by the Library of Congress. The Complete List of the Films Discoverd.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Best Place to Find Shakespeare for Weddings: Hear My Soul Speak

Morin, Duane. Hear my Soul Speak: Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare. N.p.: Kindle, 2010.

If a wedding is in your future and Shakespeare is in your soul, you should get this book. In an extremely-personable and enjoyable style, Duane Morin (a.k.a. Shakespeare Geek) presents a wide range of Shakespearean material that will enhance and deepen the wedding experience for all involved.

And "all involved" isn't an exaggeration. If you're the groom, this book guides you toward some excellent Shakespearean material you can use. If you're the bride, you'll find suggestions and advice for incorporating Shakespeare into your ceremony. If you're attending a wedding, this book provides something appropriate to write in the guest book.

Morin's books isn't just a collection of random bits of Shakespeare—though it does have sections filled with carefully-considered quotations. Instead, Hear My Soul Speak provides a laid-back and colloquial encounter with different possible uses of Shakespeare in weddings.

For example, the book starts with a section on which sonnets might be used in a wedding and why. Morin offers good advice, straightforward explanation and annotation, and humorous asides. He examines Sonnet 130 ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun") at a level deeper than the typical high school explication does, but he concludes with a precautionary tale:
Looked at from the right angle, [Sonnet 130] might well be the best wedding sonnet of them all. Of course, more than one bride has vetoed it on the grounds that “No one is going to do a reading that says my breath reeks at my wedding!” Your mileage may vary.
Thoughout, Morin makes an impassioned defense for using Shakespeare—and for sticking to the Shakespearean text wherever possible. Certainly, he advises, you can change "your brother and my sister no sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved" to "your brother and my Aunt Betsy" or "your sister and I," but you should remain as faithful to the text as you can.

Hear My Soul Speak is a great handbook for incorporating Shakespeare into a wedding—whether yours or someone else's. And it's currently available for your iPad, iPhone, Kindle, or .pdf-reading electronic device so you can glance at it relatively unobtrusively during the festivities!

Links: Official Site for Hear My Soul Speak.

Click below to purchase the book from
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Touchstone (not the one from As You Like It) Presents Gnomeo and Juliet

Gnomeo and Juliet. Dir. Kelly Asbury. Perf. Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, and Elton John. Touchstone Pictures. 11 February 2011.

The latest of the growing number of animated Shakespeare-related films will open this coming February. It seems quite appropriate that Touchstone Pictures would produce a film that relies so heavily on a Shakespeare text.

The trailer follows:

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 2008-2039 (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