Monday, March 31, 2014

Cockatoo Paraphrases Hamlet in Rio 2

Rio 2. Dir. Carlos Saldanha. Perf. Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Jemaine Clement, and Kristin Chenoweth. 2014. Twentieth Century Fox / Blue Sky Studios.

In between discussions of The Tempest and its many interesting problems (for which, q.v.), Shakespeare Geek offhandedly mentioned that the trailer for Rio 2 alludes to and gives credit to Shakespeare.

I couldn't resist tracking it down and passing it along. In the brief clip below, a cockatoo with feathers (?) that resemble a ruff adapts a quotation from Hamlet. The line is part of Hamlet's encouragement to the players in the play-within-the-play to get back to business: "The croaking raven doth bellow for revenge" (III.ii.254). Enjoy!

Links: The Film at IMDB.  The full trailer.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

An Odd Approach to Romeo and Juliet in Orange County

Orange County. Dir. Jake Kasdan. Perf. Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Schuyler Fisk, John Lithgow, Lily Tomlin, George Murdock, Mike White, Chevy Chase, Kevin Kline, and Ben Stiller. 2002. DVD. Warner Bros., 2009.

Orange County is an odd little film about a surfer who finds a book in the sand one day—one written by a professor of creative writing (I infer) at Stanford University. It turns his life around, and he desires nothing more than to become a writer. For him, that involves getting into Stanford.

The one scene that's directly related to Shakespeare takes place in his classroom. A quote above the white board there reads "Is not this something more than fantasy?" I imagine the quote is meant to inspire enthusiasm in the subject matter, but the fact that it's Bernardo's line to the skeptical Horatio taken completely out of context pleases me greatly.

The scene ends up being something of a parody of teachers who use film versions of Shakespeare plays to teach Shakespeare—but that's all right. I can take it. Observe:

“Some great movies are based on his plays: Hamlet, West Side Story, Talented Mr. Ripley, Waterworld, Gladiator, Chocolat . . ."

Well, maybe I can't take it, but I can see how some people might find that amusing.

The rest of the film is devoted to zany antics geared toward getting our protagonist into Stanford (his guidance counsellor sent in the wrong transcript, so he was declined). Finally, he meets the writer who wrote the book he found in the sand . . . and it turns out to be Kevin Kline. I can't help but see that as an allusion to his role as teacher in The Emperor's Club (for which, q.v.).

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Note: Romeo and Juliet in Asterix

Uderzo, Albert. Asterix and the Great Divide [Les Grand Fossee]. Trans. Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. London: Orion Books, 2001.

I have fifteen quick minutes before I need to depart for class.

That may be just enough time to mention the spin Asterix takes on Romeo and Juliet.

I found this while doing a search for something else entirely in my local library. Serendipity is often quite welcome.

The plot of the Asterix stories is always generally the same. There is, in the books, one village in Gaul that has never been conquered by the Romans. The stories are filled with bad puns and battles agains the Romans. I started reading them in French (that's where I learned my bad French puns), but I turned to English when availability of the French editions started to diminish.

In this book, a different village is divided (you can see the trench that runs through the village in the sample below). But—are you surprised?—a boy from one side of the village is in love with a girl from the other side.

The image below is where most of the Shakespeare makes its way in to the story. Click on it to enlarge it, and enjoy this re-creation of the balcony scene.

Links: The Official Web Site for Asterix.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Note: Tower of the Five Orders

Hicks, Deron R. Tower of the Five Orders . Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

I just finished reading the second book in the Shakespeare Mysteries series. For Secrets of Shakespeare's Grave, the first book in the series, click here.

I enjoyed the book very much—though I did spend a considerable portion of the middle of the book chanting "Please don't be a Marlovian Conspiracy Theory book. Please don't be a Marlovian Conspiracy Theory book."

It turns out that it isn't. At least, it isn't yet. Another cliffhanger at the end makes us wonder where the next book will take us, but it does seem that Shakespeare's authorship of his own works is fully secured by the end of the novel.

As with the previous novel, I really can't tell you much about the story without spoiling it. But I will just say that it's a terrific adventure story, complete with life-threating suspense and a few truly villainous villains. Read it.

Links: The Series' Official Website.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch as Rosencrantz in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Perf. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch. Selection from National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage. Dir. Nicholas Hytner. Olivier Theatre. 2 November 2013.

The National Theatre recently celebrated its fifty years of existence with a stage performance and documentary that's currently available for streaming in full at PBS's website.

The section that is likely to catch everyone's eye is Benedict Cumberbatch.  He who plays Sherlock in the new BBC Sherlock series and Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness plays Rosencrantz in the "dead in a box" sequence from the middle of Act II of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard's first play on the stage of the National Theatre. Here's the scene in question:

That is, of course, great—and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith does a magnificent job as Guildenstern. But the entire show has some fascinating clips from the archives that I can't wait to enjoy.

Book Note: The Truth About William Shakespeare: Fact, Fiction, and Modern Biographies

Ellis, David. The Truth About William Shakespeare: Fact, Fiction, and Modern Biographies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

David Ellis' The Truth About William Shakespeare: Fact, Fiction, and Modern Biographies is a thoroughly enjoyable and certainly necessary critique of the modern biography of Shakespeare. In a careful and scholarly way, Ellis comments on the persistent drift from the certain to the speculative—and then to the speculative-but-expressed-as-certainy—that characterizes the modern Shakespeare biography. It's a tendency I noted in a post on the documentary In Search of Shakespeare, and it became most evident to me in Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World (mentioned in the same post).

Ellis is meticulous in analyzing the anecdotes and assumptions that have made their way into every aspect of biographies of the bard in chapters that take us chronologically through Shakespeare's life. His chapter "How to make bricks without straw" comments on the ways biographies of Shakespeare—if they are to be written at all—must depend largely on speculation. Subsequent chapters then detail the speculation in different categories:  "Forebears," "The female line and Catholicism," "Boyhood and youth," "Marriage," "The theatre," et cetera.

Let me give you an example of Ellis' modus operandi. First quoting from Katherine Duncan-Jones, who says, "as a member of Leicester's Men for some time between 1584 and 1586, Shakespeare would have quickly shown his versatility both in writing and performing. He would have been a natural choice to supply one of the gaps left by Knell's death in June 1587" (61, Ellis' emphasis), Ellis goes on to critique the disappearance of the conditional.
What is so effective here is again that "would have" has the mere appearance of the conditional; bu that is more interesting from the point of view of biographical method is how, when Duncan-Jones later reverts to the question of Shakespeare and the Queen's Men, any hint of that conditional (previously event in all the words I have italicised) has disappeared. Only a little later, for example, she speculates about the work Shakespeare would have done for the Queen's Men "while he was a full-time member of the company in the later 1580s." Her treatment of the issue is only one example among hundreds, in her work and those of the other biographers, of how what might have been is gradually converted into what was. (60)
Ellis primarily considers Duncan-Jones' Ungentle Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World, Peter Ackroyd's Shakespeare: The Biography, Jonathan Bate's The Genius of Shakespeare and Soul of the Age, RenĂ© Weis' Shakespeare Revealed, and James Shapiro's 1599, but he comments on dozens of others.

The book is great, offering a welcome bit of common sense and a much-needed reminder to exercise sound scholarship when making claims about the life of the Bard.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Note: Grace Tiffany's Will: A Novel

Tiffany, Grace. Will: A Novel. New York: Berkley, 2004.

No real surprises await in Grace Tiffany's Will: A Novel, but it's a pleasant read nonetheless. Indeed, without Grace Tiffany's old use of language, the book would fall rather flat.

The novel is a fictional biography of Shakespeare, filling in all the missing pieces—not the least of which is Shakespeare's point of view on things like his wife, his son's death, and his desire to act and write for the London stage. And, since Grace Tiffany is a well-respected Shakespeare scholar in her own right, the novel has (with a few exceptions) a good sense of the contemporary history.

One of the exceptions is having one of Shakespeare's daughters end up disguising herself as a boy and coming to London to try to take her place on the stage. I can't quite place where I've encountered that idea before, but I know another fictional piece or two has toyed with the idea. It's not quite as common as having Elizabeth I attend a performance at the Globe, but it carries the same weight of impossibility—mixed with the interest of the impossible becoming possible.

There's also a wonderfully unlikely scene where Will Shakespeare and Ben Jonson steal a skull from London bridge—the skull of Edward Arden, as it turns out—to play the role of Yorick.

Better than those moments are the points where Shakespeare reflects on his art. In the section below, Shakespeare separates himself and his own views from his characters and their views:
Mayhap I think the thing the rebel says. Mayhap I do not. He says it, not I. And they hang him. Do I think it right that they hang him? Who may guess? It is not I who speaks, but the play, and the play is poetry, and poetry is many sided. . . . I say only that there is safety in poetry's doubleness. (179-80)
Although we have license to be skeptical of the ways Tiffany fills in the gaps of Shakespeare's biography, this novel is compelling.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Book Note: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

MacDonald, Ann-Marie. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). New York: Grove, 1990.

Careful readers may have noticed that I'm catching up on reading and posting about Shakespeare-related books. I have a few more to do, but then I'll put the film back in Bardfilm.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is clever, amusing, and thoughtful. Although I Hate Hamlet (for which, q.v.) is still my favorite modern Shakespeare-related play—well, I should remember that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is also my favorite—this one is right up there.

The plot involves a junior professor of Shakespeare at a university. While working on her project, she falls into her wastepaper basket and ends up in the plot of Othello, just as Iago is convincing Othello of Desdemona's perfidy. Without thinking, she tells Othello and Iago is a liar and pulls the handkerchief from Iago's back pocket to prove it. Othello is overjoyed, but Iago is demoted and starts to plot a new revenge—this time, on this scholar from the future who has spoiled his plot.

The professor then ends up in Romeo and Juliet, dressed as a boy. A whole host of Shakesperaean mistaken identity / falling-in-love-with-the-wrong-person activity takes place—and that's where to describe more of the plot would be to spoil it.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Book Note: Interred with their Bones

Carrell, Jennifer Lee. Interred with their Bones. [a.k.a. The Shakespeare Secret.] New York: Plume, 2008. 

This is an action-adventure novel involving a search for the manuscript of Shakespeare's lost play Cardenio. And it's not too bad. The story is, for the most part, compelling, and the characters are enjoyable. There are places where the novel becomes tedious or even derivative (in some ways, it seems like a Shakespearean Da Vinci Code), but I struggled through them to find out what was going to happen next.

The pattern of the novel was one somewhat tedious element of the novel. Sections of rushing off to a new place in a maniacal worldwide treasure hunt alternate with long stretches of exposition.  Oh, and the occasional murder—always in the manner of a death from a Shakespeare play.

Elements of the authorship of Shakespeare's works form a part of this novel, but, unlike Chasing Shakespeares (for which, q.v.), Interred with their Bones doesn't become propagandistic, and that keeps those sections from becoming too tedious. The author says that she is agnostic on the authorship issue (the novel itself raises the interesting question of why religious terms like "heretic" or "orthodox" are employed by debaters of the notion), but she tends to lean toward William Stanley, sixth earl of Derby.

The novel is clever in its presentation of the authorship camps. For much of the book, we're not sure if the attacks on the protagonist are being put together by a consortium of Stratfordians who are worried that the discovery of Cardenio will prove that Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him or by a cabal of Oxfordians or the like who are worried that it will prove that Shakespeare did. The plans of the opposition are so carefully-laid that, as I read the book, I thought that it couldn't be the Stratfordians—we can't even agree on whether Q2 or F of Hamlet has greater authority!

In short, the novel is not bad. It even has a passage alluding to the exploded notion that Shakespeare had a hand in translating Psalm 46.

Links: The Author's Web Site.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Book Note: Essential Shakespeare: The Arden Guide to Text and Interpretation

Bickley, Pamela, and Jenny Stevens. Essential Shakespeare: The Arden Guide to Text and Interpretation. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

This book would be a most excellent text and one that I might consider using in my upper-level Shakespeare course if it had been copyedited—or at least proofread.

The content of the book is quite marvelous, but the presentation leaves a great deal to be desired. The numerous typographical errors are incredibly distracting, particularly when the text of a Shakespeare play is being quoted. Please note that these aren't variant texts or variant spellings—they're typos, plain and simple. Many of them are the type of typo that results from using an OCR scan of a text without carefully proofreading it. But there are errors in the text of the book as well as in the material quoted in the text. I expect far more from a volume bearing the name of The Arden Shakespeare.

If you can get past the typographical errors, the book has much to recommend it. Fourteen plays are addressed, and each section provides an admirable sampling of food for thought. The section on Measure for Measure, for example, offers a wide range of ideas on the play, some of which I may be able to incorporate into my class the next time I teach the play.

Although written for students studying Shakespeare for the first time on a college level (and, therefore, both comprehensible and light-hearted), the volume does not condescend to its readers. Rather, it takes them a fair way on the road to greater depth of thought about Shakespeare's plays. For that, it's quite valuable (though I hope a second edition—one free from typos—will be forthcoming).

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Note: Secrets of Shakespeare's Grave

Hicks, Deron R. Secrets of Shakespeare's Grave. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2012.

When I first spotted this book in the bookstore, I thought it might be another young adult book debunking Shakespeare's authorship of the works attributed to Shakespeare.

So far (I've only read the first of the books in a series of at least two books), it's been exactly the opposite, though I don't want to tell you too much for fear of spoiling it for you.

The plot involves a brother and a sister who need to do what they can to save the family publishing business from being taken over by a disreputable relative.

More than that I'm not at liberty to reveal. But I will tell you that I enjoyed the book very much. It is filled with adventure—and not of the corny, tacky variety. It also involves intriguing trips to New York, London, and Stratford-upon-Avon to track down clues to the family treasure.  Read it and enjoy!

Note: The book's plot involves what I take to be a misreading of the poem on Shakespeare's Monument in Stratford. The line in question reads ". . . Si[t]h all that he hath writt / Leaves living art, but page, to serve his witt." The book considers the word "page" here to mean a piece of paper. Given the context, however, I take "page" to mean a servant. It's a minor point, but I thought I should mention it.

Additional Note: For the second book in the series, click here.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Note: Stage Fright on a Summer Night

Osborne, Mary Pope. Stage Fright on a Summer Night. Illus. Sal Murdocca. New York: Random House, 2002.

They always want to put Queen Elizabeth I in the Globe Theatre, nearly every single time.

I've read a few books in the Magic Tree House series from time to time. This one is, I'm afraid, not the very best of the genre. There's not much of a plot or much of a conflict to overcome. The structure of the series becomes a thinly-veiled pretense for journeying to Elizabethan England. But it only took about fifteen minutes to read, so I don't feel that put out.

Once there, our two protagonists are exposed to the usual seamier side of the era—the stench, the bear baiting, et cetera—before they meet a man named Will who is putting on a play called A Midsummer Night's Dream. He needs two actors to play fairies, and he snatches up the protagonists for the roles. They like this guy named Will all right, and they play their parts well.

They journey back to their own place and time, and they find this note. I'm including the full spread that includes their discovery, as it may be the most interesting part:

It's at that point that they realize that the Will they met was the William Shakespeare they they've heard of somewhere before. Not only that, but they have his signature—and a line of writing in his own hand! Naturally, they decide to leave it in the treehouse.

Since the book itself doesn't allow for much interesting speculation, I'm providing just a smidgen of my own.  Perhaps Morgan has sent these uninformed children back in time to get a document worth billions of dollars, probably to fund her malicious plot to take over the world.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Note: Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan

Cohen, Paula Marantz. Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2005.

I finished reading this light and delightful little novel backstage at the production of Midsummer Night's Dream that I was recently in. There's not as much Shakespeare qua Shakespeare as I'd like, but the characters are very appealing and very funny, and the plot is quite compelling.

While the family fusses over the preparation for the elder child's bat mitzvah, a new problem arises.  The grandmother starts quoting odd snatches of old poetry and singing Elizabethan songs. At first, this goes relatively unremarked upon, but it increases and starts to become problematic.

The grandmother (the eponymous Jessie Kaplan) has become convinced that she is the reincarnation of the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets. She believes that she was a Jew living in Venice when Shakespeare visited the city. They fell in love, and he wrote her many sonnets—not only the mean ones recorded in the published sonnets, but many happy ones as well. Somehow, they fell out of love, and, in revenge he wrote not only the mean sonnets but also modeled the character of Jessica and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice after her and her father. She never forgave him.

Eventually, Jessie interests the daughter's high school English teacher in her story—particularly when she says she remembers where she hid those extra sonnets.

I'll stop there to avoid spoilers. But do read the book. It's pretty light, but it does have some good things to say about interpretation and about Shakespeare.

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Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan
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