Monday, August 31, 2015

Shakespeare in Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting. Dir. Gus Van Sant. Perf. Robin Williams, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck. 1997. DVD. Lionsgate, 2011.

We all know that there's lots of Shakespeare in Boston.

[Insert obligatory reference / link to Shakespeare Geek here.]

And one of the best movies featuring Boston accents in Good Will Hunting.

But did you notice the Shakespeare-with-a-Boston-accent in Good Will Hunting?

About a third of the way though the film, the Robin Williams character talks to the Matt Damon character and argues that all the book learning in the world won't make up for experience:
I ask you about war, you'd probably throw Shakespeare at me, right? "Once more into the breach, dear friends." But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap, and watched him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I ask you about love, you'd probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable—known someone that could level you with her eyes.
It's a fabulous scene, and I include it below. N.B.: The language in the clip is, like the film, rated R.

There's something quite marvelous about that. And I think I'm ready to acknowledge that Shakespeare doesn't equate to experience. But I do think Shakespeare helps us to understand the experiences that we have had and imaginatively to experience those we haven't. Yes, the Chorus of Henry V asks us to piece out the play's imperfections with our thoughts and to "Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them / Printing their proud hoofs i' th' receiving earth" (Pro.26-27), but Shakespeare's genius lies it making it very easy for us to see the horses that aren't there—to know something of the experience of war—to find an articulation of the love we know we have.

Just like Good Will Hunting enables us to know something of the experience of losing a spouse to cancer or what it's like to be an orphan growing up in Boston.

Any Dickens fans out there ready to defend Oliver Twist on similar grounds? 

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Note: The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Romeo and Juliet

Lendler, Ian. The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Romeo and Juliet. Illus. Zack Giallongo. Colors Alisa Harris. New York: First Second, 2015.

This is the second time we journey to the zoo in Stratford-on-Avon after closing time to see what the animals are up to (for the first visit, q.v.).

Previously, the animals put on Macbeth; this time, they turn their paws to Romeo and Juliet.

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I enjoyed Macbeth. In the Macbeth, the violence was present but diffused by the notion the king (the lion) was eating his enemies, which is generally-accepted behavior for lions. The violence is also circumvented by another means, but I don't want to provide a spoiler on that score!

In the zoo's production of Romeo and Juliet, both the violence and the romance are diffused—and the means for doing so aren't quite as interesting or as effective. The petting zoo animals are the Montagues and the wild animals of the surrounding wood are the Capulets. The plot follows more-or-less accordingly, though Romeo and Juliet aren't romantically in love and [Small Spoiler Alert] they don't die at the end.

Still, the book is a good one, at which a gander is well worth taking. Here's a sample to whet your appetite:

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Note: Much Ado About Murder

Hawke, Simon. Much Ado About Murder. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2002.

I would not normally post a review of a book that I haven't finished, but classes start tomorrow, and I know that I won't have time to give this book the attention it deserves until Christmas break at the earliest.

And I wouldn't review it if I wasn't certain of the claims I'll be making about it. Having read the other three books in the "Shakespeare and Smythe" series and having read fifty pages or so of this book, I can confidently say that it's at least as enjoyable and worthwhile as the others were—and those others were very enjoyable and quite worthwhile.

Though all the books follow the same characters and have many of the same locations, they have considerable variety within those constraints. This is the only one that's felt a bit contrived in its set-up, but I can suspend that element of critique and just sit back and enjoy the narrative.

The novel, like the others, puts Shakespeare's words into others' mouths, leaving the words there for him to pick up and turn into solid dramatic gold later. I'm providing a good example of that in the images below (click on them to enlarge them). You'll see how the author plays with the opening exchange between Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing in this scene:

Hawke has done some good work in integrating Shakespeare's lines with his own sense of plot and character, even going so far as to give some of Beatrice's lines to the Benedick analogue.

All in all, it's a good summer read . . . even if I may have to wait until next summer to complete it!

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Note: Macdeath

Brown, Cindy. Macdeath. Dallas: Henery Press, 2015.

Speaking of Mysteries avec Shakespeare, we arrive at Macdeath. It's another in a mystery series—there are other Ivy Meadows Mysteries on the way (The Sound of Murder and Oliver Twisted, if you're keeping score).

I'm afraid I feel that I'm not the target audience for this book, and that will, of necessity, color my review. I enjoyed our heroine, Ivy "Olive" Meadows, most of the time, but she is too inclined to go on about the dreaminess of the male actors—and then is too quick about jumping into bed with them.

Other than that, the story is a reasonable murder mystery. Because it's the first of the series, I think there's more building of character and background than you might expect (or desire). And our heroine is just starting to think about the role of the investigator (she has an uncle who, as a private eye, is able to give her advice).

The general plot is that an actor is killed during a production of Macbeth—our heroine plays one of the witches, so she has a fair amount of time to nose around and find out which other actors / directors have motives and opportunity.

My main critique—as you might expect—is that there's not enough Shakespeare. I'd like to have more of the details of the theatre life and of this particular production of Macbeth. That's where a rote mystery takes on a greater depth and interest to me. I'm reminded of Ngaio Marsh's Light Thickens, for example (for which, q.v.), which does that brilliantly.

I'll leave you with a sample from early in the book—that will give you a flavor of the novel and let you know whether you're in its target audience or not.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Note: The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare

Braun, Lilian Jackson. The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare. New York: Jove books, 1995.

Speaking of mysteries mit Shakespeare, I recently read The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare. After all, summer can't all be re-reading the plays and critical articles on the plays, can it?

This is a much lighter read than the Shakespeare and Smythe series (i.e., it's not as good and it lacks depth), but it was at least mildly interesting.

The Shakespeare comes in as a trope throughout the novel. The main character is a private detective in a very small town. He has two Siamese cats: Koko and Yum-Yum. In this novel, Koko becomes enamored of a set of Shakespeare plays. He pulls these down at opportune moments throughout the novel to illustrate or to foreshadow plot points. For example, he pulls The Tempest off the shelf and onto the floor right before a blizzard (which is a sort of a tempest, I suppose).

The novel occasionally exploits the ambiguities in the plays Koko decides to toss on the floor—and I wish it did so more or in more interesting ways. What could producing the Hamlet volume mean? A thousand possibilities open before us—but the novel often has our main character pinpoint the precise intended meaning. Perhaps that means Qwilleran would make a good Shakespeare scholar.

I'm providing two separate examples to give you a sense of how the book works—it's up to you to determine if this light read will lighten your days.

Koko is probably imagining himself as a tiger's heart wrapped in a cat's hide.

Here, there is some ambiguity over the reason this play was left on the floor.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Note: The Merchant of Vengeance

Hawke, Simon. The Merchant of Vengeance. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2003.

The fourth in the series of "Shakespeare and Smythe Mystery Series" (I somehow missed Much Ado About Murder, the third book, but I shall attempt to rectify that shortly), The Merchant of Vengeance, is very strong on characterization and language use but not quite as compelling in the details of the murder mystery.

Still, it's a good, fun read. As with A Mystery of Errors and The Slaying of the Shrew, I'm loathe to provide spoilers, but this one contains a lot of interaction with Shakespeare's contemporaries. We meet the largely-destestable Robert Greene in a pub, and Shakespeare thinks about ways to outdo Marlowe's Jew of Malta, finding a way to present a Jew on stage with the fullness of his humanity.

And there's a murder and betrayal and a league of thieves and exciting, insulting exchanges and romance (a bit). I recommend The Merchant of Vengeance as a light end-of-summer read that still has some gravitas.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Book Note: The Slaying of the Shrew

Hawke, Simon. The Slaying of the Shrew. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2001.

I read Simon Hawke's Mystery of Errors (for which, q.v.) some time ago. I enjoyed it as a light read and wanted to try the two others in the series. This summer, I've managed to read the second: The Slaying of the Shrew.

Like the previous book, this one centers on the adventures of Symington Smythe and Will Shakespeare. Here, the former is a man who wants to act—but forgets his lines, however short and simply they may be, most of the time. The later is an actor, but he's pursuing the writing of plays more and more. Like the previous book, events in the lives of the characters mirror, foreshadow, and mimmic events in a Shakespeare play—but not only the one you're expecting from the title!

If I say too much more, the spoilers will detract from your own reading of the book. It's a mystery with Shakespeare as one of the characters—but not the main one—and his surroundings as the setting.

The category might be "Shakespeare Beach Novel"—a light, not-too-serious read that's entertaining and enjoyable . . . though it may not be terribly deep or remarkably memorable.

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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