Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Note: Juliet: A Novel

Fortier, Anne. Juliet: A Novel. New York: Ballantine Books, 2010.

I just finished listening to this novel. It's large and (at times) unwieldy, it's frustrating and silly, it's sentimental and unbelievable, and it's compelling enough that I really had to listen through to the end.

And, of course, it has Shakespeare. Once things get rolling (and they do take some time to get rolling), the novel contains two stories running in parallel. Our modern-day narrator learns that she is descended from the family from which the real Juliet—the one on whom all the stories (including Shakespeare's) are based—came. Moreover, a dying aunt has given her instructions to return to the city where Juliet's story took place: Siena, Italy. Once there, she embarks on a Da Vinci Code-esque adventure to discover lost treasure, the secret of her mother's death, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The story of the original Juliet and Romeo is told in tandem with the adventure story; it itself is another adventure story altogether.

Eventually, our narrator discovers that she's reliving the story of Romeo and Juliet (after a fashion), and she gets mixed up in a secret cult dedicated to Friar Lorenzo (Shakespeare Friar Lawrence), another secret organization that "makes the Mafia look like the Salvation Army," and a mysterious artist who seems to live beyond time—periodically quoting from Romeo and Juliet.

For a romance / adventure novel (which is not my preferred genre), it wasn't too bad—though I still don't understand the narrator, who is whiney and decisive and indecisive and passionate and cold whenever the plot seems to require her to be one of those things. All the same, I did need to keep reading to figure out what happens—if only to know just how angry to be with the protagonists.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fantastic Shakespeare Podcast Number Two: Chop Bard

Ziegler, Ehren. In Your Ear Shakespeare. Chop Bard. 2008-2013. Podcast.

The Chop Bard podcast has been around for years, which is an extreme joy to those (like me) discovering it for the first time now. There are well over a hundred episodes, many of them well over the hour mark.

And they're fascinating. The episodes walk through the plays, pointing out elements of interest and / or controversy as they do so.

I don't agree with everything Ehren Ziegler says, but he says it in an interesting, engaging way that (1) makes me want to keep listening more and (2) makes me want to sit down over a cup of coffee and present my own point of view.

Even if you don't have time to listen to a hundred hours of podcasting, subscribe now. The new series is on Henry V, and it's very enlightening.

Links: The Podcast at iTunes.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Shakespeare in The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music. Dir. Robert Wise. Perf. Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Peggy Wood, Anna Lee, Portia Nelson, Marni Nixon, and Evadne Baker. 1965. DVD. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2010.

With all the pleasant chatter about The Sound of Music, I thought it might be time to comment on the two allusions to King Lear cleverly worked in to the lyrics of two songs. Additionally, each allusion is repeated to underscore its intentional use of Shakespeare.

The first allusion is actually a quotation.  The quote comes in the song "How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria?" Of the three words proposed as apt synonyms for or definitions of "Maria," the first is "Flibbertigibbet."  Although it's possible that Rogers and Hammerstein got the word directly from Samuel Harsnett's A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603), my own scholarly opinion is that it derives directly from Edgar's speech in Act III of King Lear: "This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet" (III.iv.115). [Note: The third possible definition of "Maria"—"A clown"—may allude to Twelfth Night's Feste, but I won't press the point.]

The second allusion is to a speech Lear gives in Act I. When Cordelia seems reluctant to speak publicly about her love for her father, he says, "Nothing will come of nothing: speak again" (I.i.90). This finds its way into "Something Good" late in the film. It's been transmuted slightly into the line "Nothing comes of nothing," but the allusion is plain.

I've conflated these allusions into the following file. Ponder their significance:

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fantastic Shakespeare Podcast Number One: Shakespeare’s Restless World

MacGregor, Neil. Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects. New York: Viking, 2012.

British Broadcasting Corporation. Shakespeare's Restless World. 2012. Podcast.

I've encountered a lot of Shakespeare podcasts, but this one knocks nearly all the rest into a cocked hat.  It's a careful, thoughtful, and marvelous examination of the material culture of Shakespeare's day, one item at a time.  The presentation is scholarly and fascinating, and it exceeds the exacting standards set by the BBC.

The transcripts, moreover, have been collected into a book that is a marvelous resource. Viking very kindly sent me a review copy (if they had waited a few days, I'll admit, I would have purchased a copy for myself). The book is incredible. It has an impressive number of relevant images. Indeed, my only critique of the book is that the photos aren't the glossy, coffee-table variety, which, admittedly, would be exceptionally expensive to print. Apart from that, I'm just stunned at the book and its contents. The images are astounding, and the book is copiously indexed and provides an exceptional scholarly apparatus to boot.

But wait! There's more! The BBC has also put together several video clips to accompany the presentation. Below, you will find video of a musical clock.

The podcast, the book, and the video clips all help immensely in giving the scholar or the interested Shakespeare aficionado a better feel for the world in which Shakespeare lived—and a better connection, thereby, to how Shakespeare works in the contemporary world.

Links: The Podcast.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Children's Book Version of Othello: If You Give Iago a Handkerchief

Jones, Keith. If You Give Iago a Handkerchief. Bardfilm. N.p., 3 November 2013. Web. 3 November 2013. Illus. by Mya, a.k.a. @GoodTickleBrain, Shakespearean Web Comic Artist.

I don't have the illustrative skills of—to choose an illustrator at random—Felicia Bond. But, thanks to the efforts of @GoodTickleBrain, I have an opening illustration! Nor am I an accomplished children's book author like—again, a random choice—Laura Joffe Numeroff.

But I do know the plot of Othello, so I've written a children's book version that is sure to please adults and kids alike. You'll just have to piece out my imperfections with your thoughts and imagine the illustrations (with the exception of the one provided above) for yourself.

If You Give Iago a Handkerchief

If you give Iago a handkerchief, he’s probably going to want to frame Desdemona with it. As he thinks about how to go about framing Desdemona, he’ll probably want to explain it with a soliloquy.

He’ll go on and on about making his fool his purse and bringing a monstrous birth to the world’s light. As he delivers his soliloquy, he’s going to get thirsty. He’ll want a drink. But he won’t want to drink alone. He’ll invite Cassio over.

Cassio will say that he has very poor and unhappy brains for drinking, but Iago won’t listen. He’ll keep calling, “Some wine, ho!” and making Cassio drink.

Cassio won’t be able to hold his liquor. He’ll start a fight and wake up the whole house.

When the house wakes up, Iago will pretend to be Cassio’s friend. He’ll listen as Cassio says, “Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial,” but he’ll be rejoicing inwardly at Cassio’s downfall. Cassio will be so sick that he’ll turn green.

Cassio’s turning green will make Iago think of jealousy, the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on. And that will remind Iago of his own desire to bring Othello down.

He’ll tell Othello that Desdemona isn’t faithful to him. He’ll make Othello so angry that he’ll want to put out the light and then put out the light.

When the light goes out, Iago will think that it’s time to get rid of any witnesses to his perfidy. But he’ll be too late. He’ll get involved in a huge scuffle over who killed who and why and who lied about what and why.

In the scuffle, he’ll get a bloody nose. And if he gets a bloody nose, he’s going to need a handkerchief. And if you give Iago a handkerchief, you just know he’s going to want to frame Desdemona with it.

Bonus Mouse.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Shakespeare-Related Poem: "Laurence Olivier's Hamlet" by David Oliveira

Oliveira, David. "Laurence Olivier's Hamlet." In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Ed. David Starkey and Paul J. Willis. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005. 121.

Last week was "Modern Poetry Inspired by Shakespeare" week at Bardfilm.

I was able to give you five of the best poems in the copious collection entitled In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare.

That should have been enough, but I really couldn't resist providing one more.

The poem is one of the only ones in the collection that focuses on Shakespeare and film. It's more of a prose poem than a poem in another form; as such, it's text-heavy, and I haven't had the time to type it up (not to mention the time to think about whether these specific line breaks are intentional or a mere accident of margin placement). I've accordingly uploaded an image of the poem. Click on it to enlarge it, and enjoy!

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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