Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Klingon Hamlet Revisited

Shakespeare, William. The Klingon Hamlet. Trans. Nick Nicholas, Andrew Strader, and the Klingon Language Institute. New York: Simon & Schuster [Pocket Books], 2000.

The performance of selections of Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing in Klingon by the Washington Shakespeare Company received a fair amount of attention. One review quotes Christopher Henley, the Artistic Director, who said, "It seems a way to say that we're not as reverent as other companies in town."

All right. Fair enough. And I imagine it would be interesting to see such a production, even if you don't happen to be deeply engaged in Star Trek. What would it be like to watch a Hamlet without knowing the language in which it's being performed? What elements of Klingon culture would be brought to bear in the production? How would those elements be made comprehensible to what I imagine was a majority non-Klingon audience.

But I'd like to talk about the book for a minute. In addition to what I'd like to call "The Droes'hQuapleth Engraving" pictured above, the book has some magnificently funny material. As a parody of English Language Studies and Shakespeare studies, the footnotes are priceless.

Some of my favorites come from the nunnery scene:
nunnery: lit. squadron of the celebate. (The closest Klingon equivalent of a monastic order, these were bands of warriors—of either gender—who dedicated their lives to fighting, to the point of refusing to mate.)

O heavenly powers! lit. Power of Kahless.

like sweet bells jangled: lit. like a bagpipe clumsily squeezed.

to England: lit. To Earth. There is no documented instance where Terra paid tribute or ransom to the Klingon Empire; this is probably not a historical reference, although it has endeared the play to many young Klingons. (201)
But I also genuinely appreciate these notes from Hamlet's advice to the players:
I has as lief the town crier spoke my lines: lit. I would prefer my words to be shot from a Federation battleship.

It out-herods Herod: lit. He [who does so] is more deserving to resemble Molor than Molor himself. (201)
And, finally, this note on Hamlet's most famous soliloquy (from page 200—click on the image to enlarge it):

It's really quite remarkable stuff—even down to the parody of some conspiratorial elements—including some of the Nazi propaganda insisting that Shakespeare was actually a German author.

Links: Official Site of The Klingon Hamlet.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Shakespeare in Huckleberry Finn (The Novel and the 1955 Film)

Twain, Mark. Huckleberry Finn. New York: Charles L. Webster and Company, 1885.

Huckleberry Finn. Dir. Herbert B. Swope, Jr. Perf. Denise Alexander, John Carradine, and Walter Catlett. 1955. DVD. Synergy Entertainment, 2007.

Do you remember the great Shakespearean actors from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn? They come along in Chapter Nineteen, eventually revealing their "true" identities to be aristocratic: one is a Duke, and the other is the long-lost Louis XVII of France.

I've been hoping mightily that one or another of the film versions of the novel would contain some part of their Shakespeare performances. But I've tried three so far, and this is the only one that gives us a bit of a Shakespearean connection—and that isn't much.

But Twain does some remarkable things with those characters and their knowledge of Shakespeare. Here's the scene where the Duke and the King plan a night of Shakespeare for the next town they visit—concluding with a marvelous interpretation of Hamlet's soliloquy:
"I'll answer by doing the Highland fling or the sailor's hornpipe; and you—well, let me see—oh, I've got it—you can do Hamlet's soliloquy."

"Hamlet's which?"

"Hamlet's soliloquy, you know; the most celebrated thing in Shakespeare. Ah, it's sublime, sublime! Always fetches the house. I haven't got it in the book—I've only got one volume—but I reckon I can piece it out from memory. I'll just walk up and down a minute, and see if I can call it back from recollection's vaults."

So he went to marching up and down, thinking, and frowning horrible every now and then; then he would hoist up his eyebrows; next he would squeeze his hand on his forehead and stagger back and kind of moan; next he would sigh, and next he'd let on to drop a tear. It was beautiful to see him. By and by he got it. He told us to give attention. Then he strikes a most noble attitude, with one leg shoved forwards, and his arms stretched away up, and his head tilted back, looking up at the sky; and then he begins to rip and rave and grit his teeth; and after that, all through his speech, he howled, and spread around, and swelled up his chest, and just knocked the spots out of any acting ever I see before. This is the speech—I learned it, easy enough, while he was learning it to the king:
To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would fardels bear, till Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane,
But that the fear of something after death
Murders the innocent sleep,
Great nature's second course,
And makes us rather sling the arrows of outrageous fortune
Than fly to others that we know not of.
There's the respect must give us pause:
Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The law's delay, and the quietus which his pangs might take,
In the dead waste and middle of the night, when churchyards yawn
In customary suits of solemn black,
But that the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns,
Breathes forth contagion on the world,
And thus the native hue of resolution, like the poor cat i' the adage,
Is sicklied o'er with care,
And all the clouds that lowered o'er our housetops,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.
But soft you, the fair Ophelia:
Ope not thy ponderous and marble jaws,
But get thee to a nunnery—go! (181-82)
The film listed above doesn't give us that (I'm still searching for one that does), but it does give us a fragment of Shakespeare embedded in the two connivers' conversation:

Yes, I'll keep searching and hoping!

Links: The Film at IMDB.
Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
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Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Great River Shakespeare Festival 2012

King Lear. Two Gentlemen of Verona. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 20 June to 5 August 2012.
I've said it before, and I'll go on saying it until . . . well, I'm not sure when or if I'll stop saying it: The Great River Shakespeare Festival provides an astonishing experience every year. These actors, directors, costumers, apprentices, designers, staff, et cetera are at the very top of their game.

Past years of the Great River Shakespeare Festival have delivered brilliant productions of the plays. Witness their Taming of the Shrew, their Love's Labour's Lost, their Comedy of Errors, or their Othello. I anticipate that this year's productions will be even better.

Witness this video that provides some fascinating insight into the company:

Tickets are on sale now. Buy some.
Links: The Great River Shakespeare Festival.

The Atlantic Ocean, Simon Winchester, and the Seven Ages of Man

Winchester, Simon. Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories. New York: Harper, 2010.

I'm trying to write about things as I encounter them instead of putting them on the back burner.

That's why I'm briefly mentioning a book I'm listening to and its Shakespeare connection. Ever since I read The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, I've tried to read everything that Simon Winchester has written. The man is an astonishing writer. He can make geology—a subject about which I would not generally be bubbling over with interest to investigate—completely fascinating. He is one of the modern masters of non-fiction. I've read his Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded , his A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, his The Man Who Loved China (which was a bit of a dud, but a dud by Winchester is still worth reading), his Pacific Rising: The Emergence of a New World Culture (which was also on the less-than-thrilling side, but which might be seen as a companion to the book I'm currently reading), and his The River at the Center of the World: A Journey Up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time. I'm currently listing to the audiobook version of his Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories (read—and marvelously read, too—by the author).

I told you that to tell you this. The organizational structure of Atlantic is based on Jaques' "Seven Ages of Man" speech from As You Like It. Winchester attempts to trace the history and culture of the Atlantic Ocean in these seven categories:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. (II.vii.139-66)
In another author's hands, it might be really, really cheesy. But Winchester is (thus far—I've only read into the second age) able to pull it off. And it demonstrates that Shakespeare is never confined to the study or the stage. He contains oceans.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"It is the bloody business": Lady Macbeth's Complicity

Macbeth. Dir. Jeremy Freeston. Perf. Jason Connery, Helen Baxendale, and Graham McTavish. 1997. DVD. Hurricane Int'l, 2007.

I wrote a brief post on this film version of Macbeth some time ago (for which, q.v.), but, whether it was out of laziness or lack of technology, I did not include a film clip at that time.

Here's the clip and a question. In this version, the director has given Lady Macbeth some stage business that opens the question of her complicity in the murder of Duncan. Is she partly responsible? Is she entirely responsible, leading the innocent Macbeth down the garden path to murder? Is she entirely innocent of the deed herself?

Warning: The clip below is violent and bloody.

What do you think about that? Is that a fair portrayal of her character? Why or why not?

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

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