Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spaghetti Shakespeare: Contemporary Review of Johnny Hamlet

"Johnny Hamlet." Review of Johnny Hamlet, dir. Enzo G. Castellari. Variety 10 May 1972: 20+.

As thrilled as I am by the prospect of a Spaghetti Western that retells the story of Hamlet in one way or another (for which, q.v.), not everyone shares my enthusiasm.

Witness the nearly-contemporary review of the film from a 1972 Variety (the film was reeled in 1968):
. . . this "Hamlet" effot is so inept in concept and playing that it is more likely to grow old on the bottom half of an action doublebill. (20)
The review continues . . .
Corman [who plays Johnny Hamlet], with a makeup job that makes him look more like a Q-T suntan ad than a cowboy, is dreadful but Roland [as Horace, the Horatio analogue,] almost makes his ridiculous role dignified. The rest of the cast has been sliced off the same prosciutto as Corman. (34)
I gather than you can't please all the critics all the time. If you'd like to read more of the review, click on the image below to enlarge it—and then take it all with a few grains of finest Italian sea salt.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Note: The Dead Fathers Club

Haig, Matt. The Dead Fathers Club. New York: Penguin, 2006.

I finished reading this a little to late for it to form part of the discussion of modern versions of Hamlet in my Modern Shakespearean Fiction class, but it may make its way into future versions of the course—as an option, I think, rather than as a course text for everyone.

The protagonist, Philip, is eleven years old—which is on the young side for derivative versions of the Danish Prince—and that might lead some readers to think that this is young adult fiction. Partly because of the extent and kind of profanity in the book, I would not classify it as such. The novel also grapples intriguingly with issues and ideas of a more advanced kind—though all in the voice of an eleven-year-old boy.

The voice struck me most profoundly. It's well-crafted, captures the tone of an eleven-year-old boy, and has great interest in itself. Here's the opening of the book—in a chapter called "The First Time I Saw Dad After He Died":
I walked down the hall and pushed the door and went into the smoke and all the voices went quiet like I was the ghost.

Carla the Barmaid was wearing her hoop earrings and her tired eyes. She was pouring a pint and she smiled at me and she was going to say something but the beer spilt over the top.

Uncle Alen who is Dads brother was there wearing his suit that was tight with his neck pouring over like the beer over the glass. His big hands still had the black on them from mending cars at the Garage. They were over Mums hands and Mums head was low like it was sad and Uncle Alans head kept going down and he lifted Mums head up with his eyes. He kept talking to Mum and he looked at me for a second and he saw me but he didnt say anything. He just looked back at Mum and kept pouring his words that made her forget about Dad. (1)
Perhaps it's because I'm currently re-reading The Sound and the Fury, but I was impressed by the creation of a voice that can relate everything it sees but lacks the maturity necessary to comprehend or to interpret it.

I also appreciated how the narrative follows Hamlet's—but only to a certain extent. It doesn't make itself into an obvious Hamlet derivative, but it's filled with moments that call our attention to the play. Here are some of my favorites:

  • In the first chapter, some men are smoking Hamlet brand cigars (2)
  • The boy's angelfish is called "Gertie which is short for GERTRUDE which is a funny name" (63)
  • The character called "Dads Ghost" says, about Uncle Alan, "He sits there smiling. That evil villain sits there smiling. Trying to worm his way in like a maggot. Smiling smiling smiling. Look at him Philip. Look at him. Smiling damned villain" (72)
  • In an effort to show how he could bring the pub to profitability, Uncle Alan tells Philip's mom to "Take all those Real Ales." She asks, "What about them?" and we get this line in reply: "Uncle Alan folded his arms still nose whistling and he said Stale flat unprofitable" (77)
  • The Ophelia analogue (whose name is Leah) has an older brother named Dane (84)
  • Number six on a list of "Ways I can kill Uncle Alan" that our protagonist makes is "POISON. You can pour poison into someones ear when they sleep and it kills them. Bu there are no poison shops any more. Weedkiller is poison but I dont know if you can pour it into ears" (126)
  • Philip, who is a bit of a Roman History buff, says, "I know that Romulus was like Uncle Alan because he killed his brother and became the first King of Rome 2800 years ago" (186)
  • In a pub quiz, this question comes up: "Another tricky one. In which play by William Shakespeare do we find the line There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so?" (186)
There are some very intriguing alterations to the plot, but I really can't go into them without causing major spoilers. With an appropriate qualification about the obscenities in mind, The Dead Fathers Club provides an interesting take on Hamlet—one that invites us to return to the play for yet another reading.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Langston Hughes and Shakespeare

Hughes, Langston. "Shakespeare in Harlem." Shakespeare in Harlem. Illus. E. McKnight Kauffer. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1942. 111.

I'm teaching a survey of American Literature for the first time in my long and illustrious career, and I still find myself looking for the Shakespeare angle whenever it seems appropriate.

Langston Hughes wrote a poem called "Shakespeare in Harlem" in a volume called Shakespeare in Harlem. [Apparently, he also wrote  a play called Shakespeare in Harlem, but I haven't yet been able to track it down.] Like many of Hughes' works, it has a deceptively simple façade. I'll provide the text and then an image of the full page spread for the poem:
Hey ninny neigh!
And a hey nonny noe!
Where, oh, where
Did my sweet mama go?

Hey ninny neigh
With a tra-la-la-la!
They say your sweet mama
Went home to her ma. (111)

It may not be Hughes' best poem, but it does the work of turning Shakespearean songs into the blues. 

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Guthrie Theatre (2015)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Dir. Joe Dowling and David Bolger. Perf. Jay Albright, Darius Barnes, Joe Bigelow, Nicholas Carriere, Eleonore Dendy, Michael Fell, Alex Gibson, Casey Hoekstra, Nike Kadri, Zach Keenan, Emily Kitchens, Tyler Michaels, Kris L. Nelson, Christina Acosta Robinson, Peter Thomson, Angela Timberman, Tony Vierling, and Andrew Weems. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 7 February—29 March 2015.

Right: Tyler Michaels, as Puck, is sent with broom before to sweep the dust behind the door. Production photo by Dan Norman.

Last night, a group of students and faculty went down to the Guthrie Theatre to see their Midsummer Night’s Dream.

If that sentence sounds familiar, it may be because I used it already—back in 2008 (for which, q.v. and the two posts that follow it). This, the 2015 performance, has many of the same qualities and some of the same directorial decisions as the 2008 production, but it's different in a number of ways, not the least of which is that it is Joe Dowling's final production for the Guthrie.

Last time, my organizational principle included four categories: "overall impressions, things that worked, things that didn’t work, and things that might work for some but won’t work for others." This time, I have a list of things that are striking about the production.

The play's opening line.

I had heard that the production was going to be a longer one than most. "Uncut" was the word often used to describe it, together with the notation that those who have seen the play before will likely see scenes they've never seen before. I was, therefore, a bit surprised when the opening line came:
Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph and with revelling. (I.i.17-21)
With that powerful beginning, one of the key themes of the play starts to develop. The lines were delivered in a no-nonsense manner, as if Theseus were telling Hippolyta that she had better see to it that her attitude is not one of injury but one of pomp instead. We lose the first sixteen lines of the play, which can do something of the same, but not quite as economically; in exchange, we gain an immediate understanding of the tensions between the two. But we also lose the opening moon imagery, which I consider to be important in establishing a different set of concerns.

The relationship between Hippolyta and Theseus.

Arising out of the opening line, this production developed the relationship in a similar way to the 2008 version. I made the following note on that production:
When [Theseus] asks [Hippolyta] to come with him in Act I, she deliberately exits in the opposite direction. When he asks her to come with him in Act V, she willingly acquiesces. I thought it was effective. It’s a slow character development.
The 2015 production does the same, but with some refinements. When Egeus says that his daughter must either marry the man of his choice or face the death penalty, Hippolyta cannot keep from uttering a horrified "No!" Combined with other business, that makes Hippolyta's exiting without Theseus not the result of his doing her injuries but of his inability to act as she wishes him to act in the matter of Hermia's situation. In Act IV, Theseus seems almost ready to side with Egeus in his anger with Hermia's being found with Lysander and with every intention of marrying Lysander—until Hippolyta coughs gently and steers him toward overriding Egeus' demands. Upon her exit in that scene, she winks at Hermia as if to say, "Here's how you handle a man."

The Indian Boy.

The subtitle for this section could be "The relationship between Oberon and Titania." The main argument between the two of them is Oberon's determination to take over the raising of the Indian boy and Titania's refusal to let him do so. Nothing in the text demands that an actual boy be present, but different productions have done interesting things with the idea of the character—including making him any age between infant and thirty-five. Here, it's an infant wrapped in a blanket.

Oberon's plan is to make Titania fall in love with something ridiculous so that he can take the Indian boy from her. That plan motivates much of the action of the play—getting the love potion to use on Titania means it's available to use on (accidentally) Lysander and (purposefully) Demetrius. And Oberon's plan works—while Titania is in love with Bottom the Weaver (with an ass head on his own), he gets control of the Indian boy.

Quite interestingly, this production brings the Indian boy back on in Act IV, once Titania's love-potioned eyes have been treated with the antidote. While she is asking—really, demanding—how these things have happened, the boy cries, and he is handed to Titania. Though Puck makes a motion toward getting the boy back, Oberon restrains him.

Let me pause the play at that point to allow us to sit in a most interesting suspense. Will she claim the child back? Will Oberon allow her to do so? Will she surrender him to Oberon—willingly, this time? Will the two come together to raise the child, strengthening their own relationship as they concentrate their efforts on taking care of this little one?

Instead of developing these (or other) possibilities, the play just has Titania hand the child back to (as far as I could tell) a random fairy, who then takes it offstage. I think the production squandered an intriguing issue that it raised there.

Guthrie asides.

In most Guthrie production of Shakespeare that I've seen, there have been numerous extra-textual lines from the actor.  These are lines like "No!" or "Duh!" or "Yeah, I guess" or even "Did you know he was a boy?" inserted into the dialogue. They often get a laugh—but it's usually a cheap laugh. I'm of two minds about these Guthrie asides. They do distract from the text (and not always in helpful ways), but they also can help elucidate something in the text that might be on the obscure side. For now, I'll just put it down to Guthrie House Style—it's how they do Shakespeare.


According to my previous post, in the 2007 production, "When the lovers enter the woods, their clothes are wisked away, leaving them in their underwear (though they don’t seem to notice until they are discovered by Theseus and Hippolyta late in Act IV)." In that production, it seems to indicate freedom from societal conventions in the woods outside Athens. In this production, Hermia and Lysander's clothes are removed in a darker, more troubling, forcible way by what seem to be quite malicious fairies. They're not just entering into a place of freedom; their hitherto surface identities are violently stripped from them. Demetrius and Helena have their clothing removed as well, but in more of a natural way that they seem neither to notice nor to resist. I'll have to ponder whether the difference is intentional.

Into the [Scary] Woods.

This production provides a wood that is often very frightening. It's not just a foil for the regularity of Athens; it's an otherworldly place that is frequently menacing. Particularly vivid along these lines is the presentation of the wood after Lysander leaves Hermia. She wakes and cannot find him. The lighting becomes dark and threatening. Fairies approach in a very menacing way. Helena is genuinely terrified. She becomes an extremely vulnerable, solitary woman in the woods in just her underwear in the darkest part of the night with either ambivalent or actively hostile forces around her. Demetrius' line to Helena about doing her "mischief in the woods"(II.i.237) is nothing—as Helena points out, his "virtue is [her] privilege" (II.i.220)—she has nothing to fear from him. But Hermia may have much to fear from these fairies, whose virtue is not clearly known to anyone.

Administration of the Love Potion.

In most productions, the administration of the love potion is either nothing particularly interesting or has some comic value. I recall one production where the Puck made a hilarious "Squeeekie Squaaak Squissssh" noise whenever applying the potion. This production chooses to make its administration a difficult and painful matter. The fairies who give it raise up the patient and then force an invisible power into their eyes, causing them to groan in pain and to resist. It's an intriguing choice that heightens the intrusion the fairies are making into human life.

The "Jack Shall Have Jill" song.

A great deal of song and dance infuses this production.  As in 2007, "there was a very funny Doo-wop version of the lullaby the fairies sing to Titania in II.ii. The head fairy on that number had a lovely, soaring voice, and the “Diana and the Supremes” choreography was pleasing." As in 2007, Puck’s attempt to rap “Yet but three? Come one more. / Two of both kinds makes up four” (III.ii.437-38) slowed up the action and was fairly embarrassing." [Note: Doesn't the Guthrie read Bardfilm when preparing their productions?]

One of the best of the numbers is Puck's "Jack shall have Jill; / Nought shall go ill" (III.ii.461-62). At first, it's just Puck; the main female fairy soon joins him. Later, the four sleeping lovers are magically animated to sit up and sing a Doo-wop backup to the number. It was hilarious and extremely well choreographed and performed.

Rude Mechanicals.

As per usual, the play-within-the-play steals (at least for a time) the show. It was full of good, entertaining business—including the single longest death of a Bottom that I've ever seen, three separate and progressively more elaborate dresses for Thisbe, a Wall that hits back, and a fake dog on a leash that gets stomped flat at one point. The only critique here is the character of Snug / Lion. He's directed as a drunk, which means that many of his good lines were lost.


I wonder if the character of Peter Qunice, the Mechanical who directs the rest of the Mechanicals in their play, owes anything to Joe Dowling. I got the feeling that the soul of the director was humorously being invoked in his portrayal.

The 2008 production was notable for its use of military uniforms for Egeus and Demetrius, creating a bond between the two that was not shared by Lysander. This production also has military uniforms—but for everyone. It emphasis the notion that there is little to differentiate Demetrius and Lysander—apart from the love Hermia has for the latter and not the former.

For this production, the Guthrie had removed the back wall of the theatre, replacing it with seats to turn the Wurtele Thrust Stage into the Wurtele Stage in the Round. It made for a production that was full of motion, but it also drastically changed the acoustics in the theatre. Many of the actors were having to shout rather than to project, and shouting is not necessary when the theatre is arranged in its usual configuration.

Final blessing.

Oberon's final blessing over the three new marriages and the one restored marriage in the play is quite lovely:
With this field-dew consecrate,
Every fairy take his gait,
And each several chamber bless,
Through this palace, with sweet peace,
And the owner of it blest
Ever shall in safety rest. (V.i.415-20.)
The blessing is a big singing number involving all the fairies surrounding the stage and than advancing into the audience. An alert audience member who attended with me very astutely pointed out that it may be Joe Dowling's final wish for the Guthrie Theatre and its audience.

Thank you, Joe, for many years of brilliant, amazing, thoughtful Shakespeare—and for all the incredible thought that it inspires.

Links: The Play at the Guthrie's Web Site.

The Rude Mechanicals, in their "Athens Community Theater" jackets, provide a prologue.
Production photo by Dan Norman. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Note: I am Shakespeare

Rylance, Mark. I am Shakespeare. London: Nick Hern Books, 2012.

This play contains Rylance's theory that someone else wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare.  The plot is centered on a man named Frank who is putting on a web broadcast on the authorship question. He's visited by four claimants (Shakespeare, Bacon, Oxford, and Mary Herbert, née Sidney). At the end, everyone in the audience is meant to recognize that it doesn't matter who wrote the plays; they each are meant to stand up and say, "I am Shakespeare."

It's a particularly frustrating play, helping to establish that propaganda very rarely makes good art. Shakespeare managed to do it in Richard III, but that play really has propagandistic elements in an artistic endeavor. This play is almost exclusively "Reasonable Doubt" propaganda.

And that, as you can imagine, gets very tedious very quickly. Old and exploded notions are brought up without any critical judgement—for example, the idea that Joseph Hall and John Marston indicated (by means of a very tenuous, roundabout, coded method) that Francis Bacon wrote Venus and Adonis—and the same tired, exhausted, laughable arguments are presented as if they were fresh—for example, that nothing associates Shakespeare with the works until seven years after his death. There's even this blatantly misleading statement: ". . . even his contemporary theatre managers, Henslowe and Alleyne, don't mention Shakespeare once in their diaries and account books, despite their many references to other playwrights and theatre people" (43). First, Philip Henslowe (who kept the diary— Edward Alleyn was in business with him but no diary of his survives) was not Shakespeare's theatre manager: he managed an entirely different theatre with entirely different actors and authors. While it is true that Henslowe does not mention Shakespeare, no one should expect him to!

I'll give you a few other samples from the play. The first—which starts off in humorous vein, then turns into anti-Stratfordian fantasy—involves the first caller to call-in web broadcast. It turns out to be a telephone solicitor. Here's the bulk of the exchange (click to enlarge the image):

Later in the play, Oxford wanders on for some of the most painful sections of this entire mess. Here's an exchange between Shakespeare and Oxford:

Shakespeare: The Tempest was impelled by a sea voyage that took place in 1609; Macbeth could not have been composed before the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It's impossible that you wrote them.
Oxford: Oh yes, I'm terribly sorry. I forgot that there has only ever been one sea voyage and one treasonous plot in recorded history. Anonymous versions of Hamlet and King Lear were being performed in the early 1590s. If you wrote these mature plays then you were pushing them out with your first facial hair. (64)
Oxford's first point might be significant if the facts of the shipwreck and the threat to King James I were the only reasons Shakespeare scholars give for dating those plays as they do; however, their dating depends on texts that weren't published until those dates in addition to other arguments. The second part of his argument makes no sense. First, no one is claiming that Shakespeare wrote those particular plays. Second, no one is claiming that they are mature plays. The dates Oxford gives are, at least, accurate. The anonymous King Leir—note the spelling—was written prior to 1594. It survives in a 1605 quarto. The play known as the Ur-Hamlet does not survive, but references to it come from as early as 1589. Shakespeare was twenty-five years old in 1589 and thirty in 1594, giving him plenty of time to grow facial hair (which, in any case, is not a prerequisite to the writing of good plays).

The final bit of nonsense comes in an appendix listing Shakespearean phrases and phrases from Francis Bacon side by side. The claim is that if both men said the same thing, both men must be the same men. A similar argument is often made for the authorship claims of Marlovians (for which, q.v.). Here, the list becomes even more laughable—in two distinct ways. First, many of these are common clichés of the time. If I say "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" and Woody Allen says "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," does that make us into a single entity? And if I started listing all the authors of the period who said something like "Fortune changes like the moon," we'd have a very tedious week in front of us. Second, many of these have only the very slightest commonality. Is "To hazard all our lives in one small boat" even remotely similar to "You are in the same ship"? Ridiculous!

Mark Rylance may be quite a capable actor, but this misleading, propagandistic play shows him to be lacking in both honesty and scholarship.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Note: The Young Reader's Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

McKeown, Adam. The Young Reader's Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet. Illus. Peter Fiore. New York: Sterling, 2003.

While trying to track down Michael Rosen and Jane Ray's version of Romeo and Juliet (for which, q.v.), I chanced upon another picture book version, and it has its compelling side as well.

Adam McKeown and Peter Fiore's version is much more detailed. It's almost a young adult novelization of the play. And their version frequently keeps close to the text—but not as close nor with as much care to indicate which words are Shakespeare's and which are the authors.

It's also a bit steamier than I'd expect from a picture book!

I'm providing an example of the same scene that I wrote about for Michael Rosen and Jane Ray's version of Romeo and Juliet: Romeo meets Juliet at the Capulet ball. Click on the image below to enlarge it.

That provides a good glimpse at the prose and its use of Shakespeare's words. It also gives you a hint of the illustrations, which are a bit more realistic than those in the previous version but with quite a bit of artistry.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Romeo and Juliet in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

"What is Love?" By Carl Binder. Perf. Jane Seymour, Joe Lando, and Chad Allen. Dir. Daniel Attias. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Season 3, episode 19. CBS. 11 February 1995. DVD. A&E Home Video, 2009.

I never particularly liked Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman—but I also freely admit to vast ignorance of the show. First, I thought (erroneously) that the reason Beverly Crusher left the Starship Enterprise in season two of Star Trek: The Next Generation was that Gates McFadden wanted to play the role of Dr. Quinn but the schedules couldn't, for that season, be reconciled. Second, I considered the show to be merely a version of Little House on the Prairie for older viewers interested primarily in cheesy romance. Actually, the jury is still out on that one.

But I find that I have, however slightly, digressed. In an episode in season three, the town decides to put on a production of Romeo and Juliet for Valentine's Day. Not uncoincidentally, the students of the town have been given an essay assignment: Answer the question "What is Love?" After the expected kurfuffle of lovers and friends falling out and misunderstanding each other (all of which one boy, pen in hand, poignantly observes), the director getting laryngitis, the lead getting laryngitis (if I remember correctly—the show doesn't lend itself to deep concentration), et cetera, everything starts coming together just in time for the big show. And that's where the clip below picks up. Enjoy!

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Book Note: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Rosen, Michael. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Illus. Jane Ray. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2004.

I don't often run across a picture book version of a Shakespeare play that I think would be worthwhile to review, but Michael Rosen and Jane Ray's version of Romeo and Juliet is an exception for one essential reason.

It's not the illustrations. They are very creditable, and they have a unique style, but they don't particularly stand out. I do appreciate that they're not sentimentalized—the characters in the story have a realistic, warts-and-all feel to them.

It's not the summary of the story. It takes some effort to do that well—especially for a younger age group—but that's something of which many are capable.

What caught my attention was the particular marriage of summary, illustration, and integration of Shakespeare's text. I'm used to seeing either complete retellings of Shakespeare's plots or illustrated editions of his text. In this book, there's a substantial amount of the text of Shakespeare's play:

I find that to be a very satisfactory marriage of text, summary, footnote, and illustration.

I also appreciated this chart of the other characters—just to help us keep them all straight!

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Note: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Puts the Authorship Question to Rest in a Different Way

Shahan, John M. and Alexander Waugh. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?: Exposing an Industry in Denial. Tamarac: Llumina Press, 2013.

By way of contrast to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? (note the clever question mark that is part of its title) offers nothing new, substantive, or interesting. It trots out the same old conspiracy theory verbiage that has been debunked and debunked and debunked like a platoon of the  Marine Corps hearing reveille for the thousandth time.

The image above provides a side-by-side comparison of the two volumes. While larger in size than Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? evidently failed to get the rights to use an image from Shakespeare in Love (or even Anonymous, which might be a logical second choice) for its cover. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt was published by Cambridge University Press, an immensely reputable press; Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? was published by Llumina Press—well, really, it was self-published: Llumina Press is a vanity press rather than a press with an editorial board and a peer review system.

But that's all, so to speak, judging two books by their covers. The contents are the more important part. Here we find that Shakespeare Beyond Doubt has listened to authors like the authors of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? and carefully, thoughtfully, and meticulously dealt with their misapprehensions. The authors of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? (which was published after Shakespeare Beyond Doubt) seem not to have read Shakespeare Beyond Doubt. They do not respond to the careful argumentation of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt; instead, they return to their misapprehensions and misrepresentations and merely reiterate them.

For example, here are a few of the "Twenty-One Good Reasons to Doubt that Shakespeare was 'Shakespeare'" (xi):

Like much conspiracy theory argument, this might be technically true up to a point. There's no postcard saying, "Hi, I'm Shakespeare, author of works like Hamlet or Othello," and Shakespeare didn't see his complete works through publication (like Ben Jonson did). But he did supervise the publication of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, each of which has a dedication signed "William Shakespeare." The dedication of Venus and Adonis begins with these words: "I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship." Could that possibly be construed as a claim to the authorship of the lines that follow? Perhaps the multiple other publications that bear his name could also be considered claims of authorship.

In trying to figure out a way that this could count as technically true, I hurt my brain. Perhaps no one used the word "met" in describing the ways they encountered, interacted with, saw, talked to, wrote to, received messages from, appeared in court with, took a deposition from, or acted with Shakespeare. I point to Stanley Wells' "Allusions to Shakespeare to 1642" in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt for a mass of contemporary connections between people and the playwright Shakespeare.

The second sentence above could do with some clarification. Who thought it was a pseudonym at the time? Where did they say so? How did they say so? When did they say so? That claim needs substantial support.

The parenthetical remark "(after his first two dedications)" undermines good reason number one above. I also fail to understand why direct address to the public is a prerequisite for authorship in the English Renaissance. I also think the Epilogue to 2 Henry IV would count as a public address if such a requirement is necessary. The rest of this good reason is filled with red herrings. With the exception of some actors with star power (Shakespeare was a great author, but he didn't take starring roles—either because he was too busy or because he didn't have the gift of great acting), we know very little about who played what role when. It's not fair to demand that we know something about Shakespeare that we don't know about the majority of actors of the period.

This point is both misleading and irrelevant—especially the word "most." There are letters from some other writers of the period—but how does the absence of a surviving letter disprove authorship? And how about a letter to Shakespeare. We have a draft of one of those. By the way, even though I would like to use that as evidence of Shakespeare's authorship of the plays, I recognize that it, too, is irrelevant to the question of authorship.

First, there's not a clear, consistent difference between the spellings of these (imaginatively distinct) two groups. Second, frankly, who cares? Spelling, whether of names or of words, was notoriously unfixed in the era, and the spelling of the name is irrelevant to the question of authorship.

Really? He had bad handwriting, so he can't have written the plays attributed to him? That's just silly. Indeed, I think it counts in favor of Shakespeare's authorship of Shakespeare. You try writing out thirty-seven or so plays (not to mention a great number of other poems—and not even counting all the drafts for those works) by hand with a goose quill and then sign a document when you are (presumably) ill and (definitely) toward the end of your life. See if your handwriting doesn't suffer a bit!

At least there's an admission that a "commoner" could have "acquired the vast knowledge found in the works" in this good reason. I think that's good enough—a commoner could have done so; one named Shakespeare did do so. I don't even need to mention that Ben Jonson, at least as learned as Shakespeare if not more so, had the same level of education that Shakespeare had.

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? goes on and on and on in very much the same vein, producing no new evidence (no evidence at all, really) and no new argument. Since the arguments have all been addressed and debunked, the volume simply indicates that the argument is stagnant. The era of questioning Shakespeare's authorship of Shakespeare's plays has come to an end.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Book Note: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt Puts the Authorship Question to Rest

Edmondson, Paul, and Stanley Wells, eds. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt might have been a rehashing of the fully-convincing arguments put forward in favor of Shakespeare's authorship of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. Instead, it's a genuinely interesting, thoroughly scholarly account both of the state of the authorship question since Delia Bacon's 1857 The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere [sic] Unfolded and of the increasing evidence in favor of Shakespeare's authorship.

The first several essays debunk the common claimants to the authorship, essentially showing, one after the other, why Bacon didn't write the works of Shakespeare, why Marlowe didn't write the works of Shakespeare, why Oxford didn't write the works of Shakespeare, and why no one else wrote the works of Shakespeare.

The next section of the book asserts—in convincing, reasonable, and readable prose—why Shakespeare wrote the plays. Here, I was particularly struck by Stanley Wells' "Allusions to Shakespeare to 1642," in which he piles up text after text that connect Shakespeare to the works written by Shakespeare both during his lifetime and during the years immediately after his death.

The final section thinks carefully about the nature of the authorship question—why it persists, what kinds of stories are told about authorship, and how the doubters have grown skeptical about the nature of historical evidence. There's also a scholarly analysis of Anonymous (for my own take on the film, see this post) and how it failed to achieve its Oxfordian goals.

I expected a rehashing of old arguments—I considered that it might be a shame that these scholars were having to devote time to something that is so self-evident—but I got an intriguing new look at old arguments and quite a bit of good new material that helps to enlarge my appreciation for Shakespeare—both the man and the works.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Orson Welles and Lucille Ball do Romeo and Juliet

"Lucy Meets Orson Welles." By Madelyn Martin; Bob Carroll, Jr.; Bob Schiller; and Bob Weiskopf. Perf. Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley, and Orson Welles. Dir. James V. Kern. I Love Lucy. Season 6, episode 3. CBS. 15 October 1956. DVD.

Every year in my Shakespeare and Film course, during the class session after the midterm examination and before spring break, I host a day of Mystery Shakespearean Adaptations. It's different every year, and some years it's more successful that others. Thanks to a post by Shakespeare Geek, I tried an episode of I Love Lucy with Orson Welles. I hope that it will usefully tie the first half of the course, which briefly addressed the film Me and Orson Welles (for which, q.v.), and the second half, which will have Orson Welles' Macbeth (for which, q.v.) as one of its central films.

The episode was well-received. There's the usual Lucile Ball wackiness, and there's a wonderful scene where Lucy lays on the flattery and Orson, in his dry, inimitable way, eats it up and ends up delivering Romeo's death speech:

Most impressive about that scene is the way even Lucy's frenzy calms as the language of Shakespeare takes over (and Ricky also notices something marvelous in the speech and its delivery). And Orson Welles' voice certainly is something astonishing. 

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Spaghetti Shakespeare Number One: Johnny Hamlet

Johnny Hamlet [Quella Sporca Storia nel West (a.k.a. That Dirty Story of the West; a.k.a. Django)]. Dir. Enzo G. Castellari. Perf. Andrea Giordana, Gilbert Roland, Horst Frank, Ennio Girolami, Ignazio Spalla, Françoise Prévost, Stefania Careddu, Manuel Serrano, Franco Latini, Giorgio Sammartino, and Gabriella Grimaldi. 1968. DVD. Eagle Pictures, 2008.

Note: I use the term "Spaghetti Shakespeare" advisedly, knowing that it might seem flippant or insulting; however, in Johnny Hamlet, we have a subset of the recognized genre "Spaghetti Western," so the term seems viable.

A student and I have received a Faculty / Student Collaboration grant from University of Northwestern—St. Paul to study film versions of Shakespeare made in Italy, and I'm thrilled to be able to explore a section of Shakespeare and Film that has been relatively closed to me because I do not speak Italian and many of the films lack English-language subtitles. We intend to study five or six films and to collaborate on a presentation and an essay. In the meantime, we will be collaborating on and individually composing blog posts on the subject. You can therefore expect some guest posts from Ceciley Pund, the author of the blog What Consolation, as we discover intriguing and significant elements of these films.

One film I've been able to watch for the collaboration is Quella Sporca Storia nel West, commonly known as Johnny Hamlet. Particularly astute readers may be able to hypothesize that the film recasts the plot of Hamlet in the American Wild West, but that guess (which is, in essence, absolutely correct) will not necessarily prepare them for the way the film addresses those themes.

Much more will follow about this film in the weeks to come, but I want you all to jump right in with us in our exploration of this film. To that end, I'm providing the first five minutes of the film in the clip below. You'll see a ghost sequence, a glimpse of an Ophelia or two (Ophelia is bifurcated into a performer / possible prostitute and the sheriff's daughter), the traveling players, the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and an extremely intriguing use of "To be or not to be."

All right—I was probably joking about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but all the rest is intriguingly built in to the opening sequence. Knowing that the film is a derivative version of Hamlet, the viewer is startled by having what appears to be a voiceover of fragments of an Italian translation of "To be or not to be" delivered by a man in Elizabethan costume. Knowing that the film is Italian, we may not be surprised to see a figure in contemporary clown costume surreally turning backflips on a beach behind a horse—but it doesn't take long for these unexpected elements to resolve themselves into what looks like a more straightforward western . . . although they won't stay there for long, either.

Please stand by for further glimpses at this fascinating film and into our collaborative project.

Links: The Film 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