Thursday, February 17, 2011

Micro-Review of This Wide and Universal Theater by David Bevington

Bevington, David M. This Wide and Universal Theater: Shakespeare in Performance, Then and Now. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

If you are drawn to the "Performance History" section of whatever play you're reading—and I know I am—then you'll thoroughly enjoy David Bevington's book. It is filled with marvelous anecdotes about the ways many of Shakespeare's plays have been staged.

I found it to be a delightful read, but it's also a valuable resource for scholars, actors, and directors who are searching for a deeper understanding of the nuances that resonate in every scene Shakespeare ever wrote.

As an example, here's a paragraph from the middle of a discussion of productions of Hamlet:
At Wisdom Bridge Theatre in Chicago in 1985, directed by Robert Falls, Claudius was a Great Communicator in the style of movie-actor turned governor of California and then president of the United States, Ronald Regan: Claudius himself never appeared onstage in 1.2 for his first big scene of explaining the necessity of his marriage to Gertrude, but was instead seen on television monitors to left and right, while the stage itself was given over to his advance men and PR experts setting up for a press party where the "spin" of the new administration was being manufactured. Fading and torn posters of the previous king hung from the walls as a bleak reminder of an administration now nearly lost to memory. Polonius (Del Close) was a businessman in the three-piece suit taking down conversations on his tape recorder; Hamlet (Aidan Quinn) was a young rebel with a cause, spray-painting "To be or not to be" on a bulkhead and then stepping back admiringly to observe, "Now, that is the question." (147)
The book is filled with anecdotes of this sort, complemented with insightful commentary.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Wishes to Anne Shakespeare from William Shakespeare
(As Forged by William-Henry Ireland)

Schoenbaum, S. William Shakespeare: Records and Images. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Last Valentine's Day, I wrote about Samuel Schoenbaum's Shakespeare’s Lives and the account of Willam-Henry Ireland's forgery of love poems from Will Shakespeare to Anne Shakespeare (for which, q.v.).

At that time, I tried to find a facsimile (as opposed to a transcription) of the original forgeries.

Perseverance paid off. I tracked down the poems in Schoenbaum's earlier work William Shakespeare: Records and Images. The image above contains "Shakespeare's Verses to Anna Hatherrewaye" (124), which is how Ireland spelled Anne's maiden name. My favorite is still the one in the image below (the transcription follows):

Is there inne heavenne aught more rare
Thanne thou sweete Nymphe of Avon fayre
Is there onne Earthe a Manne more trewe
Thanne Willy Shakespeare is toe you.
Ah, young love. It gets you every time.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Links: Wikipedia's article on William Henry Ireland.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Brief Review of The Boy who would be Shakespeare: A Tale of Forgery and Folly

Stewart, Doug. The Boy who would be Shakespeare: A Tale of Forgery and Folly. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2010.

Samuel Schoenbaum's Shakespeare's Lives (for which, q.v.) writes in a very scholarly way about William-Henry Ireland, one of the great forgers of Shakespeareana the world has ever known. Doug Stewart tells the story in more detail and with a more popular audience in mind.

The story of Ireland's discovery of a gigantic collection of undiscovered works by Shakespeare (for a tiny glimpse of which, q.v.) consists of equal parts tragedy, humor, and incredulity.

The basic story could be put as a question of supply and demand. William-Henry Ireland saw that the world longed for more Shakespeare—particularly, documents in his own hand. His father, a collector and dealer in rare items, was extremely keen to get a Shakespeare signature. Well, who isn't, to be honest? William-Henry supplied one. From that starting point, he forged letters, poems, financial transactions, legal documents, and a play.

Stewart writes very engagingly about the topic throughout his work, but one of the most interesting passages is his description of the opening (and closing) night performance of Vortigen, a play Ireland had duped many people into accepting as an undiscovered work by Shakespeare himself. The audience that night—2 April 1796—was mixed with those who fervently believed they were about to see a performance of a play lost for nearly two hundred years; those who, following Edmund Malone, the greatest Shakespeare scholar of the age, were intensely skeptical about the whole affair (the Malonites); and those who were simply caught up in the curiosity of the moment.

Here's Stewart's account of the chaos at the end of the play:
In the climactic fifth act, King Vortigern . . . recounts a vision of hell that has just gripped him . . . . After describing with horror Death's "rattling fingers" and "bony jaws," Kemble came to the words "And when this solemn mockery is ended . . . ." The actor drew out the line, William-Henry recalled, "in the most sepulchral tone of voice possible." Immediately, as if it were a prearranged signal to the Malonites—which William-Henry was convinced it was—"the most discordant howl echoed from the pit that ever assailed the organs of hearing." There was bedlam for at least ten minutes.

According to William-Henry's account, when the theater had finally calmed down, Kemble, "in order to amuse the audience still more," repeated the line in an even deeper and more emphatic voice. He left no doubt as to what mockery he was referring to. Again, the audience burst into prolonged whistling and sarcastic cheers. Kemble had to beg the crowd once more to allow the performance to continue.

At this point, Vortigen was doomed, even though the rest of the play was performed without disruption. At the final curtain, prolonged booing was mixed with enthusiastic applause. Mrs. Jordan, still in a boy's tights, delivered the epilogue with her customary good cheer. She was given an ovation for her efforts—a gauge more of her popularity than the play's. On Sheridan's instructions, the actor playing Aurelius, who used the stage name Barrymore, announced that Vortigen would next be performed on Monday evening. His words were quickly shouted down by catcalls and heckling from every part of the theater. Fighting broke out among believers and non-believers. Charles Sturt, swaying drunkenly next to his box, gripped a stagehand in a headlock and was pelted with oranges. (183-84)
The book is a delightful and interesting read, proving useful insight not only into the forgery itself but into the keen desire we all share to have more of Shakespeare's work.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Recommended for Hamlet Lovers Everywhere

Wroblewski, David. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel. New York: Ecco, 2008.

I don't always have time to sit down with a thick novel, no matter how good it is. Often, I listen to the audiobook version. One of the benefits of doing so is that I can listen to it while driving, shoveling snow, doing chores, shoveling snow, working out, or shoveling snow (I do live in Minnesota, after all). Another is that I can listen to it at twice the speed, thus saving time. For The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, I didn't save any time. It was so good that I listened to it twice.

I don't want to give away any part of the plot. You may know that it is structured on the plot of Hamlet, but part of the joy for me in listening to the novel was being uncertain just where or how it would deviate from Hamlet's plot. The best parts in that respect are the section that is analogous to Hamlet's exile to England and encounter with the pirates and the culmination of the novel. You really ought to read or listen to this novel yourself. It's highly recommended.

Links: The Novel at Wikipedia.
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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