Thursday, December 29, 2016

Shakespeare in Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)

Bachman, Richard (pseudonym of Stephen King). The Running Man. New York: Signet, 1982.

I haven't read a lot of Stephen King. It took me a while, in fact, to realize that one of the great films of my youth—1986's Stand By Me—was based on a Stephen King novella (The Body, for those of you keeping track).

How did I learn that?

From a student.

I wonder if students are aware of how much their professors learn from them. If they ever found out, they might start charging us tuition!

As you can imagine, it took me a while to learn that Richard Bachman was Stephen King. And it took me even longer to realize that the novel The Running Man was decidedly different from that great film of a little later in my youth—1987's The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I read The Running Man this semester, and I noted something very Shakespearean about it. First, King wrote very dark novels—dark even for him—under that sobriquet. I imagine Shakespeare might have published Timon of Athens or even Titus Andronicus under the pen name Richard Bachman if the times would have allowed it. He could have explored more pessimistic ideas under a name that wouldn't sully the comedic gold brand name of Shakespeare that way.

Second, there seemed to be a reference to Macbeth about two-thirds of the way through the novel. Richards (our protagonist, who is running for his life) is helped by a man named Elton who is injured and who bleeds copiously in the driver's seat of his car. Here's the passage (sensitive readers may wish to skip the rest of this post):

"Ah," I hear you say. "Ah, but that isn't necessarily a reference to Shakespeare. We see the similarity between that and Lady Macbeth's line 'Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?' (V.i.34-40), but it's not the same."

I hear your cries—and I admire your ability to cite so accurately by Act, scene, and line number from the Riverside edition. But a passage later in the novel is even closer to the original quotation:

King, writing a dark novel under a pseudonym, alludes to (and very nearly quotes from) one of Shakespeare's darkest tragedies to explore that darkness.

Links: The Film, which probably does not have any Shakespeare—though I haven't re-watched it—at IMDB.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Shakespeare in Mansfield Park

Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Mansfield Park was another novel I read with an eye to Shakespeare.

A scene some way into the novel is remarkably similar to a scene quite early in Little Women. Our younger protagonists are planning to put on a play, Tom insisting that it would be fine while Edmund thinks it is a bad idea:
“By Jove! this won’t do,” cried Tom, throwing himself into a chair with a hearty laugh. “To be sure, my dear mother, your anxiety—I was unlucky there.”

“What is the matter?” asked her ladyship, in the heavy tone of one half-roused; “I was not asleep.”

“Oh dear, no, ma’am, nobody suspected you! Well, Edmund,” he continued, returning to the former subject, posture, and voice, as soon as Lady Bertram began to nod again, “but this I will maintain, that we shall be doing no harm.”

“I cannot agree with you; I am convinced that my father would totally disapprove it.”

“And I am convinced to the contrary. Nobody is fonder of the exercise of talent in young people, or promotes it more, than my father, and for anything of the acting, spouting, reciting kind, I think he has always a decided taste. I am sure he encouraged it in us as boys. How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be’d and not to be’d, in this very room, for his amusement? And I am sure, my name was Norval, every evening of my life through one Christmas holidays.”

“It was a very different thing. You must see the difference yourself. My father wished us, as schoolboys, to speak well, but he would never wish his grown-up daughters to be acting plays. His sense of decorum is strict.”
Later, Fanny, steadfast and true to the morals of the manor, unwaveringly advises against it.

The line "How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be’d and not to be’d, in this very room, for his amusement?" reminds me of an exchange from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Cassius begins the exchange, marveling at the fame that is now theirs for all time:
                          How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown! (III.i.111-13)
Brutus responds with equal optimism:
How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport,
That now on Pompey’s basis [lies] along
No worthier than the dust!  (III.i.114-16)
They're both right, and it's a wonderfully self-reflexive moment within the play. Mansfield Park adds to the layers of metatheacricality by being one of the places where the lofty scene is acted over.

[As a side note, the line about Norval refers to John Home's Douglas, a 1756 Scottish tragedy.]

Let me give you the scene quoted above in greater context (click on the image below to enlarge it):

Shakespeare is mentioned a few times in Mansfield Park. Astonishingly, speeches from Henry VIII move Fanny very much:

In one of the last references to Shakespeare in the novel, his work forms at least one point of common ground between two otherwise dissimilar people. Could love of Shakespeare spark true love between polar opposites?

The lesson for us all is, I believe, that we should read more Austen—and that doing so will make us read more Shakespeare. And I think even Mrs. Norris would agree with that! 

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Shakespeare in Little Women

Alcott, Louisa May. The Annotated Little Women. Ed. John Matteson. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

I've read broadly this semester, largely in helping our senior English majors with their Senior Thesis Projects (also called Capstone Projects).

As always, I've kept my eyes peeled for Shakespeare.

In Little Women, it didn't take long to find. In the first chapter, the little women are planning to put on a dramatic performance, and Jo wants to do it up right, responding pseudo-modestly to an exclamation by Beth:
"I don't see how you can write and act such splendid things, Jo. You're a regular Shakespeare!" exclaimed Beth, who firmly believed that her sisters were gifted with wonderful genius in all things. 
"Not quite," replied Jo modestly. "I do think The Witch's Curse, an Operatic Tragedy is rather a nice thing; but I'd like to try Macbeth, if we only had a trapdoor for Banquo. I always wanted to do the killing part. 'Is that a dagger that I see before me?'" muttered Jo, rolling her eyes and clutching at the air, as she had seen a famous tragedian do.

"No, it's the toasting fork, with Mother's shoe on it instead of the bread. Beth's stage-struck!" cried Meg, and the rehearsal ended in a general burst of laughter.
That's all quite delightful, but I wanted to provide a bit of "value-added" content, so let me point you toward a new release this year by W. W. Norton: The Annotated Little Women. It's quite a delightful work, and it helps contextualize and explain a lot of the book. Here's the run-up to the scene I just quoted:

With the annotations, we're able to learn that Alcott herself saw Edwin Forrest play Macbeth—and that she was not impressed.

Now it's off to the film versions to see how much Shakespeare we can find there!

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Friday, December 16, 2016


Bill. Dir. Richard Bracewell. Perf. Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, and Martha Howe-Douglas. 2015. DVD.

An alert reader alerted me to the existence of Bill.  And I'm extraordinary pleased to pass along the alert.

This odd, quirky, hilarious version of Shakespeare's lost years provides an imaginative account of how Shakespeare found the right career.

Let me offer you two sample scenes to convince you of its merits. In the first, Bill is summarily dismissed from his position of lead lute in a group called Mortal Coil.

I think the Back to the Future flavor of the scene is deliberate.

The next clip offers a musical take on many of Shakespeare's dramatic themes:

I'm sure that I've convinced you, but I could also mention the intrigue of Philip II of Spain attempting to infiltrate England, the tension of Anne Shakespeare's interaction with her husband, the mentorship Kit Marlowe provides the young Bill, and the musical thrill that is "Dueling Lutes." 

Give this version of the lost years a try—it will not disappoint.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Book Note: Will's Words

Sutcliffe, Jane. Illus. John Shelley. Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk. Watertown: Charlesbridge, 2016.

I found this in my library system and gave it a try.

You should, too!

It's a good account both of what the theater of Shakespeare's would have been like and what words or phrases Shakespeare coined or made popular.

The gimmick is that the description of what's going on as Shakespeare writes and rehearses and puts on a play contains the words or phrases that we know best though Shakespeare.  On the facing page, we get an inset that explains the words he used.

The best way to explain that further is to show you. Here are two spreads from the book (click on them to enlarge them):

I love the detail (this is a nice, large book—ideal for pouring over) and the explanation of the words and phrases. It's very nicely done—and would make a great gift for the Shakespeare lover (of whatever age) in your life.

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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