Thursday, June 27, 2013

Horatio in Star Trek

“Conspiracy.” By Tracy Tormé and Robert Sabaroff. Perf. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Denise Crosby, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, and Wil Wheaton. Dir. Cliff Bole. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Season 1, episode 25. Syndicated television. 9 May 1988. DVD. Paramount, 2002.

Every time I think my Shakespeare and Star Trek Complete post is complete, I find just one more reference to Shakespeare.

Near the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season, the captain of the USS Enterprise has a secret meeting with the captains of three other starships. One of those ships is named the USS Horatio.

Some may think that the starship is named for Horatio Nelson, but I think it more likely to have been named after the character in Hamlet. Watch the salient points in the clip below and see if you don't agree:

Alas, poor Horatio.

The Horatio is an ambassador-class vessel. In Hamlet, Horatio's involvement with the new reign of Fortinbras at the end of the play makes him a de facto ambassador. The Horatio is associated with a large amount of wreckage. In Hamlet, Horatio is associated with all those dead bodies lying around the stage. It's pretty clear that the ship is named after the character in Hamlet, making this one more Shakespeare allusion in Star Trek.

Note: For more connections between Hamlet and Star Trek, try The Noble Heart of Star Trek, a recent project by a student at The George Washington University. 

Links: Shakespeare and Star Trek CompleteThe Noble Heart of Star Trek.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

See the First U.S. Preview Screening of Muse of Fire at the Great River Shakespeare Festival

Muse of Fire. Dir. Dan Poole and Giles Terera. Perf. Dan Poole, Giles Terera,  Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, John Hurt, Ben Kingsley, Michael Gambon, Zoë Wanamaker, Jeremy Irons, and Simon Russell Beale. Muse of Fire Film, Timebomb Pictures, Lion Television, 2013. Screening at the Great River Shakespeare Festival on 6 July 2013 at 10:30 a.m.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival. 26 June to 4 August 2013.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival offers some of the best Shakespeare productions in the midwest. This year, the Festival presents Twelfth Night and Henry V, and that's thrilling enough.

But, in conjunction with Winona’s Frozen River Film Festival, they are also offering a preview screening, for the first time in the United States, the documentary Muse of Fire, an innovative film in which two actors set out on a quest to find out more about Shakespeare. And they seem to have interviewed everyone from Dame Judi Dench to Sir Ian McKellen—and even people who don't have OBEs—in their effort to do so.

The preview screening will be on July 6, 2013, at 10:30 a.m.

I could say more, but let me allow the actors and directors to make the case themselves for coming to the preview screening at The Great River Shakespeare Festival:

If that doesn't sway you, take a look at the trailer for the film. It's brilliant:

And if that doesn't move you, let me tell you this: I, Bardfilm, will be there in person to lead a discussion after the screening.

All right. If even that doesn't move you, perhaps this picture of Sir Ian Mckellen during the making of the film will be the final encouragement that will enable you to come see the film:

I hope to see you there!

Links: The Official Site for Muse of Fire. The Film at IMDB. The Great River Shakespeare Festival.

The Illustrations of Wallace Tripp and my Earliest Memories of Shakespeare

Tripp, Wallace, comp. and illus. A Great Big Ugly Man Came up and Tied his Horse to Me: A Book of Nonsense Verse. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973.

Tripp, Wallace, comp. and illus. Granfa' Grig had a Pig and Other Rhymes without Reason. Boston: Little, Brown, 1976.

Tripp, Wallace, comp. and illus. Marguerite, Go Wash Your Feet. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

I'm often asked when I first came to Shakespeare. A better question is probably when Shakespeare first came to me.

Either way, it's a difficult question to answer. I have a few stories about youthful experiences with a book, a stage production, or a film, but none of them is a clear first.

The image above, a detail from the image below, may come closest to being the first place I remember encountering Shakespeare. When I was young, I used to pour over two books by the unbelievably amazing illustrator Wallace Tripp. In them, he compiled nursery rhymes, famous sayings, and pieces of poetry and provided meticulous and marvelous illustrations for them. His illustrations are dense, funny, thoughtful, and detailed, and they reward repeated study—much like the works of William Shakespeare!

The image below (from A Great Big Ugly Man Came up and Tied his Horse to Me) is a giant two-page spread of an elephant in Renaissance dress causing London Bridge to crumble. To the far left, a horse is jumping clear of the destruction; its rider, having been thrown from the saddle, is falling after it, crying "My kingdom for a horse!" I don't know quite when I learned that those words came from Shakespeare, but I do recall the immense enjoyment the line gave me.

Note, too, the Fishmonger's shop behind the falling figure (is Polonius within?) and the bill reading "Now Playing Globe Theatre—Historie of Henry ye Fourth"

Tripp's details intrigued me and sparked my imagination. I'm not absolutely certain that his illustration of the proverbial "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost" is intended to depict Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth, but I connected it in my young mind with the cry of "My kingdom for a horse" from the earlier illustration. I also used to spend hours squinting at this drawing, trying to find the nail that all those soldier had missed. Note: The nail is in the image below—can you spot it?

From A Great Big Ugly Man Came up and Tied his Horse to Me.

Tripp's Granfa' Grig had a Pig has only one quote from Shakespeare that I could find, but it's a very useful one to have in your word-hoard:

A Snide Side Remark from King Lear.

I wasn't aware of Tripp's Marguerite, Go Wash Your Feet until many years after it was published, but I wish I had been. In it, the Shakespeare is more direct and more abundant (and the side remarks by other characters more humorous):

A Quote from Macbeth and a Complaint about a Carrot Omelet.

William Shakespeare, the Ordinary Human Being

A Quote from Hamlet as a Horologist's Lament

Prospero's Abjuration of his Magic
(And a Flippant Comment from a Rabbit)

And that is the last image in Marguerite, Go Wash Your Feet. I gather that Wallace Tripp has retired from illustrating. I wish to thank him for the hours, days, and years of pleasure his work has given the world. Thank you, Wallace Tripp!

I'm returning to this after nine years to provide one more example.  This time, it's from the book mentioned by Tripp's daughter in one of the comments below: Rose's are Red, Violet's are Blue and Other Silly Poems (New York: Little Brown & Co., 1999).

First, here's the full spread for "There was an Old Person of Ware":

And now, a detail of the packages on the back of the bike:

We have something there for "Bear Bodkin" on "Quietus St." in "Whipscorn." And something for Fardel's Bear on Grunt St. in Sweatby.

Thank you again, Mr. Tripp, for such delightful, playful cleverness.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Note: Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Shulman, Polly. Enthusiasm. New York: G. P. Putnam, 2006.

Although this Young Adult Novel is, strictly speaking, far more of a Jane Austen derivative than a Shakespeare-related book, it was enjoyable enough—and there was Shakespeare enough in it—to justify a quick post on it here.

The events of the novel center on Ash, a girl who is continually caught up in a never-ending series of enthusiasms. In this book, she has fallen in love with the world of Jane Austen, and she has determined to emulate Miss Austen's characters—especially in pursuing a boy of genuine merit to be the love of her life.

Naturally, my favorite parts involve Shakespeares. The students in the novel are putting on a musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream entitled Midwinter Insomnia. Some of the lyrics are too good to miss:
As Daniel [the Demetrius analogue], Chris sang:

Half an hour of hanging out with Hermia
Would give a seal or walrus hypothermia.
She's the Queen of the Ice.
She doesn't know the meaning of nice.
Turn the thermostat up and crank it!
I need another sweater and a blanket.

Ash / Hermia responded,

Insinuating snake!
He's a man on the make,
Out to get what he can take,
And take what he can get—
Which is nothing . . . yet.

The yet came as Hermia drank the tainted water and found herself falling under his spell. (119)
The whole novel is fun and fancy-free. I enjoyed it immensely. It's just the antidote necessary to a Young Adult Novel scene far too laden with Vampires and Zombies.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Note: Three Classic Shakespeare-Related Novels I'm Supposed to Like (And One I Actually Do)

Whenever I talk to people about a course I'm teaching, I always encounter the "Why aren't you teaching this text?" lists. That's particularly true of my Food Lit. and Humor Lit. courses, but it was also the case with the Modern Shakespearean Fiction class I taught for the first time this past semester. People have their own texts—whether favorites or classics—classified under that genre, and they're sometimes offended that I haven't chosen those texts for my course.

Here are three novels that often appear in conversations about modern Shakespearean fiction and a few brief comments about each of them.

Updike, John. Gertrude and Claudius. New York: Random House, 2000.

As an English teacher, I'm supposed to like John Updike. I mean, he's the author of the most famous rabbit books since Beatrix Potter. And I do like the rabbit books (though I actually think The Centaur is even better). He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction—not once, but twice!—and he's enormously prolific.

His late novel Gertrude and Claudius is, for me, a dud. It tells the backstory to Shakespeare's play, using bits and pieces of that play and of Shakespeare's source material for the play. Its last chapter overlaps with Act I, scene ii of Hamlet.

But the novel is very inconsistent. Some parts read like a tale of Courtly Love (with all that that term implies), some parts have a faux Medieval flavor, all the parts about sex are thoroughly modern or post-modern, and some parts are sprinkled with inauthentic Renaissance lingo.

In short, it's not very interesting, and that's reason enough for it to be excluded from my Modern Shakespearean Fiction course.

Burgess, Anthony. Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare's Love-Life. New York: W.W. Norton, 1964.

English teachers are also supposed to like the edgy work of Anthony Burgess. And I do—to a point. A Clockwork Orange is a bit too much for me, but I clearly see its literary merit.

That is not the case with Nothing Like the Sun. I've tried on numerous occasions to choke through this novel, but I find it unpleasurably difficult and unnecessarily abstruse. In fact, my disappointment at this book early in my Shakespeare studies led me to swear off Shakespeare-related novels entirely for several years.

It's not just the pseudo-Renaissance English style in which the book is written; it's also the indistinguishability of the characters. They all seem exactly the same, and they all seem as dull as ditch water.

That's a harsh, unorthodox view, but I can't imagine having much to say in a classroom about this novel. It's another one to exclude from the course.

Steinbeck, John. The Winter of Our Discontent. New York: Viking Press, 1961.

And then there's Steinbeck. He's another Pulitzer Prize winner, another prolific and well-respected author, another writer English teachers should like.

And The Winter of Our Discontent is a masterpiece of characterization, a thoughtful commentary on the modern era, a lucid depiction of small-town life, a triumph of realism.

The novel's protagonist is the scion of a once-wealth family who has taken up the profession of grocery clerk to support himself and his family. But he has Richard III-like schemes.

The novel depicts his implementation of those schemes in an interesting and suspenseful way. I'm disinclined to give the details of the schemes because, unlike the other two novels mentioned here, they are interesting and unpredictable.

I will add that I was enormously dissatisfied with the book's final chapter—but the rest of the novel was marvelous enough to merit a second reading and a great deal more thought about how that chapter works. 

The novel will make an appearance in the next version of Modern Shakespearean Fiction that I teach, though I haven't yet decided whether it will be a major part of the course or an optional supplement to the reading.

I hope that answers your questions about why these texts weren't in my Modern Shakespearean Fiction course this year.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Note: Eyes Like Stars

Mantchev, Lisa. Eyes Like Stars. New York: Square Fish, 2010.

Opening note: While composing this post, I discovered that this novel is the first in a trilogy, which may cause me to rethink my opinion of the individual book.

I read this book at the suggestion of one of the students in my Modern Shakespearean Fiction class, and I enjoyed it to a degree.

The novel follows the adventures of Beatrice Shakespeare Smith in the fantasy setting of the Théâtre Illuminata, a magical theatre that houses all the characters in every play ever written. For me, the best parts (naturally) involve the Shakespeare characters—Ophelia far more than the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream, who are mean to be the comic relief of the book but who turn out to be largely annoying. But it's intriguing to imagine Shakespeare's characters behaving as Shakespeare's characters in different settings—it's something like Six [Shakespeare] Characters in Search of an Author.

In any case, Beatrice (nicknamed “Bertie”) is given an ultimatum: she must either find a proper place and role in the theatre or leave it forever. That's where the best part comes in.  She proposes producing a radically-new version of Hamlet—one set in ancient Egypt (an idea I have often entertained seriously). Here's a sample of that part of the novel (click to enlarge the image):

Page 107

Disappointingly (especially after pages and pages have been devoted to the rehearsal of that play), the novel changes direction and the play that is presented has very little to do with Shakespeare.

All the same, the novel is diverting. And perhaps I'll get my Hamlet in Egypt in one of the other two books in the trilogy!

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sammy Davis, Jr. Quotes from Henry V in The Cosby Show

“Shakespeare.” By Matt Robinson. Perf. Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Arnold Stang, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Dir. Jay Sandrich. The Cosby Show. Season 5, episode 16. NBC. 6 Feb. 1989. DVD. Urban Works, 2007.

One brief line from Shakespeare makes its way into the mouth of a character played by Sammy Davis, Jr. in a fifth-season episode of The Cosby Show.

The plot involves a character who has never learned to read or write. At the end of the episode, he chances upon a retired English teacher—played by the astonishing Arnold Stang (you'll recognize his voice instantly)—who offers to teach him.  Observe:

The quote Arnold Stang’s character gives in reply—“Oh, gods and worms, what mockery!”—isn't from Shakespeare at all. It comes from Winterset by Maxwell Anderson, about which I know nothing.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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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