Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Note: Shakespeare had a Daughter

Tiffany, Grace. Shakespeare had a Daughter. New York: Berkley, 2003.

I wanted to enjoy this novel; I thought I would enjoy this novel. I had liked Grace Tiffany's Will, after all (for which, q.v.), and she herself is very personable. But I'm afraid I didn't enjoy this novel.

The main reason is, I think, that it lacks fire and passion. The story is told in a route, emotionless way.

Spoilers follow.

The story centers on Judith Shakespeare, Shakespeare's younger daughter (Hamnet's twin). Responsible for Hamnet's death by drowning, Judith disguises herself as a boy and runs away to London, desiring above all to take a place on the stage.

She arrives in London (with the usual obligatory paragraphs about the terrible smells and the heads of traitors on London Bridge), finagles her way into the company, gets a small part, meets Nathan Field (who discovers she is a girl and asks to sleep with her as the price for keeping her secret—to this our heroine emotionlessly and without much commentary succumbs), deprives Nathan of his role as Viola in Twelfth Night, takes over the role herself, and is recognized by her father. Later and older, she returns to London, has an affair with Nathan Field, returns to Stratford, and marries Thomas Quiney.

The two main issues with which Judith Shakespeare deals—the loss of virginity and the guilt over the death of Hamnet—are the main themes—they're addressed periodically throughout the text—but they don't become compelling and Judith doesn't deal with them satisfactorily.

All in all, the book tends toward the dull. Lacking the interesting use of language Tiffany has in Will, it's a book to plod through rather than to enjoy.

Click below to purchase the book from
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Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Note: Shakespeare Cats

Herbert, Susan. Shakespeare Cats. Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1995.

The Shakespeare-related material that crosses my path ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Occasionally—just occasionally—something fits both categories.

Susan Herbert has illustrated a collection of Shakespeare cats, and I suppose it's not sillier than King Lear with Sheep.

And it's certainly less silly than the "kittens inspired by kittens"-inspired piece entitled "Shakespeare: Inspired by Shakespeare" (for which, q.v.).

The image above is Ophelia about to claw her way up a tree—a willow, I believe—from which she will plunge to a watery grave; and I imagine that the experience, for an animal that hates water already, is all the more horrific.

I'm providing a few more sample images. Herbert has arranged them with quotations from the plays on facing pages. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Hamlet. I appreciate the shape of this Yorick's skull.

King Lear. Later, he'll say "Yowl, yowl, yowl."

Macbeth. "Will all great Neptune's tongue lick this blood / Clean from my paw?"

Twelfth Night: Proving that everyone, even cats, looks ridiculous in yellow cross-gartered stockings.

Click below to purchase the book from
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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tremendous Shakespeare at the Great River Shakespeare Festival

Much Ado About Nothing. Dir. James Edmondson. Perf. Michael Fitzpatrick, Leslie Brott, Stephanie Lambourn, Tarah Flanagan, Rosemary Brownlow, Caroline Amos, Andrew Carlson, Robert Ramirez, Brian White, Christopher Gerson, Jim Poulos, John Maltese, Silas Sellnow, JuCoby Johnson, Chris Mixon, Benjamin Boucvalt, Bailey Bestul, Justin Erbe, Emily Perkins, James Queen, and Addison Sim. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2015.

Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Doug Scholz-Carlson. Perf. Christopher Gerson, Jim Poulos, Silas Sellnow, Michael Fitzpatrick, Brian White, JuCoby Johnson, Robert Ramirez, Rosemary Brownlow, Chris Mixon, Benjamin Boucvalt, Silas Sellnow, Tarah Flanagan, Caroline Amos, Jim Poulos, Jim Poulos, Mike Munson, Jim Poulos, Brian White, and Brian White; and Mike Munson (Guitar), Zac Barbieur (Durms), and Silas Sellnow (Violin). Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2015.

The title of this post is "Tremendous Shakespeare at the Great River Shakespeare Festival." Alert readers will immediately ask, "What else is new?" They did, among other remarkable productions, a perfect Twelfth Night, a masterpiece of A Comedy of Errors, a great Othello, a brilliant Taming of the Shrew, and marvelous versions of both Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Yes, the question isn't whether they're putting on tremendous Shakespeare. The question is which Shakespeare they're doing tremendously. In fact, that's such a good question, let's set it up among a number of others, FAQ style.
Q: What Shakespeare plays are being done tremendously by GRSF this year?

A: Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing. Didn't you look at the first part of this post?

Q: "Shakespeare Festival," eh? That means it's outdoors, right?

A: No, no. It's in a lovely, intimate, carefully-climate-controlled theatre on the campus of the University of Winona. You're thinking of various Shakespeare i' th' Park performances. Don't get me wrong—Shakespeare i' th' Park is great, but you do have to worry about rain and heat and mosquitos and seating and so on and so forth. At the GRSF, you can watch top-notch professional theatre in air conditioned splendor.

Q: Well, that sounds great. Can I just see the plays any day of the week all summer long?

A: Ah, there's something you should plan right now. The last show will be on August 2. Here's a handy calendar for your scheduling convenience.

Q: Man! That's only about two weeks left! I'll get my tickets right away! Now, they just just Shakespeare, right?

A: Actually, no.  They're also doing a production of The Glass Menagerie this year. For the past few years, they've done a third show, but you don't hear much about those shows here because of Bardfilm's keen interest in the Shakespeare side of things.

Q: All right. That sounds good. But all there is to do in Winona is watching plays by Shakespeare, right?

A: Although that might be reason enough, there is a constant stream of other Shakespeare-related material happening in conjunction with the GRSF. Indeed, I was astonished at how much activity there was! There was a symposium (see below for some details), narrated set changes, camps for young actors and designers, an apprentice program (they're doing King John this year), conversations with the actors and directors, film screenings (this year, they're doing Still Dreaming—for which, q.v.), et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Q: [Skeptically] Well, yeah. Shakespeare. And Shakespeare-related stuff. There's nothing else in Winona, then?

A: Egad, no! There's so much more! Again, Bardfilm's concerns focus on the Shakespearean, but there are concerts on the green between shows many afternoons, and there are really quite marvelous food trucks there. There are coffee shops and restaurants, and there's live music. And the scenery! Why, the two-hour drive from the Twin Cities is worth it just for the amazing scenic views of the Mississippi river along Highway 61 (the highway Bob Dylan revisited). And the river in Winona is beautiful—the bluffs with the occasional eagle flying over them are gorgeous and relaxing.

Q: Terrific! We can have great Shakespeare, but we can also get away from all the Shakespeare if we need to.

A: Yes. Well, technically. I mean, you can eat at a nice restaurant overlooking the river or listen to the concert on the green or hang out at a coffee shop—but I should warn you that you're very likely to overhear conversations about Shakespeare just about everywhere you go. That's a great draw for me: the whole town seems fascinated by Shakespeare and eager to discuss the shows the GRSF is putting on and Shakespeare in general. But if you really need some Shakespeare-free moments, a quiet stroll by the river will usually go uninterrupted. But I can't promise you won't start to think about Ophelia when you're down by the river.

Q: You've convinced me. I'm off to plan my visit right now. But perhaps you could give me some more details about the plays you saw and the symposium you mentioned?

A: I'm so glad! You won't regret it. And, yes, I'll provide a few loosely-organized comments in discreet categories below.
I always find that I have a huge amount I want to say about the GRSF productions—but I never seem to have enough time. That's partly because I'm busy doing all sorts of other reading and writing over the summer, but it's also because I want to post quickly so that more people can know about the shows and find time to see them. Let me give you just a few points of interest about the symposium and the plays as an entrée en matière to pique your interest and to get you to go to the GRSF.

The Symposium

I thought the symposium fascinating—and, no, not just my section. The GRSF had organized three presenters: Professor John Kerr from St. Mary's University, Christopher Gerson from the GRSF Company (who enlisted the help of fellow actor Benjamin Boucvalt for his presentation), and Yours Truly. Dr. Kerr gave an inspiring presentation centering on the different ways Paris has been presented in film versions of Romeo and Juliet.  My presentation was entitled "Shakespeare: Globe to Globe and Back Again," and it dealt primarily with Johnny Hamlet (for which, q.v.) and Makibefo (for which, q.v.) and what different approaches to Shakespeare in non-Anglophone languages offer us. Mr. Gerson filmed Mr. Boucvalt performing the speech about the apothecary in four different ways to show the differences between playing for the stage and acting for the screen. He then started to show us how he would edit those performances.

It was all completely enthralling—and then came the Q & A time. And that was enthralling, too. The audience (of about sixty people) asked really interesting questions, and we started a fascinating conversation that continued after we adjourned. It was tremendously exciting and entertaining. I certainly will be attending Symposia in the future (and, if I'm honest, I hope to present again as well).

Romeo and Juliet

First, it was a great show—well worth watching. The show I attended was sold out, and I gather there have been large audiences for this production.

Second, a few scattered thoughts:
  • I never noticed how often these two young lovers threaten to commit suicide. I think they each suggested they would end their lives three times. This production heightened that element of being on the edge of devastation, and that kept the audience on the edge of its collective seat.

  • Peter, one of the Capulet servants, is usually around for comic relief. He's illiterate, yet he's asked to deliver letters addressed to the important people of the town. You wouldn't expect there to be much depth in his character—yet this production gives him a sensitivity and purpose (in addition to the comic relief) that added to the scope and tragedy of the play.

  • The set design and lighting were particularly impressive.

  • The choreography of the fight scenes was intriguing—somewhere between West Side Story and a genuine switch-blade knife fight.

  • The acting was very good—and the attention to Shakespeare's text was impressive.

  • The portrayal by Romeo and Juliet started me thinking about patriarchy. Juliet's father is a demanding patriarch—but Juliet's speeches about Romeo (after their marriage) indicate not a break from patriarchy but a transfer of patriarchal power from Capulet to Romeo. 

  • Throughout the play, an exceptional guitarist named Mike Munson added color and texture to the performance with blues and rock 'n' roll riffs. He mostly played between scenes, but the music also entered into the performance, enhancing it and carrying the action forward. It was an innovative and intriguing part of the show.
Much Ado About Nothing

This show, too, was well worth watching, and not just for the thrilling experience of watching Christopher Gerson and Tarah Flannagan play opposite each other. Other scattered thoughts follow:
  • Tremendously villainous Don John, including one scene made complete with effects of lightening and thunder and (almost) a maniacal laugh.

  • Great work by Dogberry and the Watch—especially when the Watch moved as one. Good concentration on the language Shakespeare gives us there, which isn't always the case (e.g., Michael Keaton's Dogberry).

  • Supremely fascinating trickery scenes. In this production, they have Benedick hiding off to the side—but singing along (often as a mournful echo) to "Sigh no More, Ladies." The others notice this, and, during the final chorus, they sing heartily along (as does Benedick), but they break off singing suddenly, leaving Benedick to continue with an awkward solo "nonny" or two. Brilliant—and brilliantly funny. They also left in nearly the full text of each trickery scene, which enables audiences to see that they are really quite different—both in their methodology and in their results.

  • Great connections to Romeo and Juliet. You've got your overbearing father, you've got your scheming friar, you've got your plot to pretend someone's dead, you've got your scene at the tomb. Seeing the plays in the order I saw them (RJ first and then MAAN) makes it seem like Much Ado is a restorative, redemptive version of Romeo and Juliet.
There's so much more that could be said about the GRSF—but why don't I get some other work done and you find a way to get there to see for yourself?

Links: The Great River Shakespeare Festival.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shakespeare in Futurama

“The Thief of Baghead.” By Dan Vebber. Perf. Billy West, Katey Sagal, John diMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, and David Herman. Dir. Edmund Fong. Futurama. Season 7, episode 4. Comedy Central. 4 July 2012. DVD. Twentieth-Century Fox, 2012.

One episode of the television show Futurama attempt to answer an age-old question. "Who is the better actor?: A robot soap opera star named Calculon or a film actor named Langdon Cobb who has never been seen without a bag over his head.

I won't trouble you with the details of how they determine upon a competition (the details of Futurama episodes often cause dizziness), but I will mention that Calculon, in an effort to ensure that his death scene is believable, determines to take actual poison (or the robot equivalent) at the end of his chosen scene—Romeo's death scene.

Here's the speech as Calculon delivers it:
                                        Ah, dear Juliet,
Why art thou yet so fair? . . . . . . . . . . .
 . . . . . . . . . . . . I . . . will stay with thee;
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . O, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest,
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! And, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Here's to my love! (V.iii.101-119)
And here's the clip of that scene:

Calculon, who is generally known for hamming it up, actually delivers the lines with a surprising sensitivity. The humor lies not in goofing up Shakespeare but in performing his lines well and in finding his lines to be so deeply moving.

For some reason, the segment reminds me of Orson Wells' delivery of the same speech during his appearance on I Love Lucy (for which, q.v.).

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Guest Post by Ceciley Pund: Spaghetti Shakespeare Number Two: Capriccio All’Italiana

Capriccio All'Italiana. Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Perf. Totò, Ugo D'Alessio, and Regina Seiffert. 1968. DVD. Filmauro, 2005.

Note: As part of a Faculty / Student Collaborative Grant, I worked with one of my students on film versions of Shakespeare in Italian (for which, q.v.). This guest post by Ceciley Pund, the author of the blog What Consolation, is part of that project.

Paulo Pausini in his film Il Capriccio All’Italiana, or The Caprice Italian Style, examines Othello from a moral standpoint. The film was split up into multiple stories and episodes, and the part we examined was entitled “Che Cosa Sono le Nuvole?” or “What are the Clouds?” The episode presents questions of life and death and human existence, using a performance of Othello in order to bring up these questions.

This is the beginning of the film, and it starts with the creation of the marionette Othello who then goes to join Iago and the other characters who are also marionettes, apparently waiting to perform Othello. He tells them, “Sono cosí contento, perchè sono cosí contento?” “I’m so happy, why am I so happy?” And another marionette answers him, “Perchè sei nato!” “Because you are born!” He is innocent with no troubles or cares. Then their performance of Othello begins, and the marionette Iago tells Roderigo of his hate for Othello. As Iago schemes and plans the destruction of Othello, the marionette Othello watches from backstage.

Here Othello becomes much more than a performance as the marionette Othello begins to question the morality of the characters. He asked Iago why they had to be so bad, and “Perchè dobbiamo essere cosí diversi da come ci crediamo?” “Why do we have to be so different from who we thought we were?” And Iago answers, “We are in a dream within a dream.” Then it switches quickly back to the performance, but Othello grows more and more disturbed by the actions of the characters. When Iago tricks him into believing that Desdemona is going behind his back with Cassio, he decides to kill Desdemona, and this seems to be the final breaking point for the marionette offstage.

Iago tells Othello that he needs to strangle Desdemona, and offstage Othello begins to cry over his immorality. Then he asks, “What is truth? Is it what I think of myself? What people think of me or what he thinks of me (referring to the puppet master)?” And Iago asks, “What do you feel inside of yourself?” And Othello responds, “Yes, there is something!” And Iago tells him, “That is the Truth. But don’t name it. Because as soon as you name it, it will go away.”

The final blow is when Othello attempts to strangle Desdemona.

The audience ironically strangles and seems to kill the characters Othello and Iago in the way that they had planned to kill Desdemona, who ends safely with the women of the audience. Director Pausini made artistic choices to change Shakespeare’s original ending, but with what intent? Desdemona lives, but Othello and the scheming Iago die. However, even more unlike Shakespeare, the marionettes themselves must also die, not just the characters that they play.

The characters offstage are constantly examining truth and morality through the actions of the characters that they play onstage. Each time they leave the stage, they are able to step back and ask questions of the way that their characters choose to live. This film uses Shakespeare’s Othello to present the immorality of human beings; however, the audience, representing society, punishes immorality.

In the end, once the audience kills the immoral characters, the puppets who played these characters are dumped outside. This is when Othello asks the question, “Che sono le nuvole?” “What are the clouds?” And Iago has no answer for him. It seems that the two are free and happy, but only after their strings, tying them to the immorality of their characters, have been cut.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
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Monday, July 6, 2015

Shakespearean Pizza Advertisement

“Of Made We're Stuff the Love You'll.” Perf. Peter O'Toole. Pizza Hut. 1995. Advertisement.

As part of an occasional interest in the uses advertisers have put Shakespeare—see, for example, this trio of ads, this pair of powerful and weak ads, this use of the St. Crispin's Day speech, and this imaginary Pepsodent ad—I was delighted to be presented with this pizza commercial.

The ad campaign from which it comes is moderately clever. To promote its "stuffed crust" pizzas, the company was in the middle of encouraging its customers to eat their slices of pizza in a non-traditional manner—crust first. Hence, I gather, they reversed their slogan "You'll Love the Stuff We're Made Of" for the campaign.

But it's the use of Shakespeare and of Peter O'Toole that makes this quite brilliant. O'Toole had famously played Hamlet in a 1963 production of the play directed by Lawrence Olivier. In this commercial, he is instructed, during what looks like an audition, to "Try it backward." Utterly unflummoxed (and perhaps used to condescending to directors whose instructions don't make that much sense), he delivers the most convincing backward soliloquy I've ever heard:

It's O'Toole's performance that makes it. One might even say that his acting is "on made are dreams as stuff such."

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