Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Note: Stewart Kenneth Moore's Graphic Novel of Macbeth

Moore, Stewart Kenneth, illus. The Tragedie of Macbeth by William Shakespeare: A Graphic Novel by Stewart Kenneth Moore based on an abridged version of "The Scottish Play" produced and performed by the Prague Shakespeare Company. N.p.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

I decided to try this out after seeing some recommendations. It’s a graphic novel of a stage production of Macbeth—and I generally do like such layered entities.

Here’s how the author describes the project:
The idea for this project came about in 2015, when Prague Shakespeare Company’s Guy Roberts began planning to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. Guy asked me to participate and so we knocked around some ideas over a beer. I wanted to do something different from the paintings and sketches I’d made of PSC’s productions of Hamlet and Macbeth over the years . . . but what? Drawing the whole play seemed too daunting. 
At this time, Pat Mills pointed me to the work of the Irish artist Louis le Brocquy and his black-and-white Lascaux-like series based on the Celtic epic “The Tain” (The Cattle Raid of Cooley). This ancient poem features a powerful queen and her husband and a war they start with the Irish hero CĂș Chulainn. I saw a challenge in trying to tell the whole story of Macbeth in equally start monochromatic hues. I thought about the mysterious symbols on Pictish stones and I saw a way. 
I decided to storyboard PSC’s Macbeth just like a film; essentially a sketchbook of the stage action drawn, start to finish, in just one month. I then realized it would be even more fun to drop the state and cast the players against the half-remembered and half-imagined light of North East Scotland, my childhood home. Its beaches, its standing stones and the rubble-like causeway of Bennachie—all have a role in these pages. I used the hashtag #28DayGraphicNovel on Twitter and tweeted my progress.
The work has a good creation narrative. Beyond that, I didn't find all that much to be excited about. The graphic novel is dominated by black—which is fine, I suppose, for such a dark play, but it becomes relentless.  Side Note: The printing is not incredibly well done. The black smears copiously from the pages to the hands of even the careful reader. In addition, the first copy I received was cropped wrong—about an inch of the top of half the pages was cut off. That doesn't speak to the work itself, but this incarnation of it isn't terrific.

Here's a quick glance at the dagger speech to give you a rough idea of the work:

In many ways, it's just a straightforward account of one production of Macbeth. It's an interesting way to see a production, but it doesn't take us into new territory.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Note: MacB

Arksey, Neil. MacB. New York: Pearson Longman, 2004.

MacB is a very brief retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth. This one is set on the football pitch (that's "the soccer field" to readers in the United States).

The opening question is whether Mac and Banksie will make the team. The book provides some good descriptions of the two playing football (soccer) together.

And then they end up at the fortune teller, and she cryptically tells them . . .

Well, you should read that for yourself. Here's the end of that chapter and the beginning of the next (just for some additional local color):

That's our ambiguous prophecy, and it plays out just about how you'd expect it to.

What was a bit unexpected was the end. But don't read on unless you don't mind spoilers.

There aren't any deaths in this story—the team captain is put out of commission by a sabotaged bicycle—so there's not a dramatic death at the end. But Mac does go stark raving mad toward the end. Here's that scene:

It's a quick, somewhat imaginative retelling of Macbeth that may be a good introduction to the plot of the play for younger readers—particularly those fond of football (soccer).

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Friday, January 27, 2017

Book Note: Hamlet II: Ophelia's Revenge

Bergantino, David. Hamlet II: Ophelia's Revenge. Bard's Blood. New York: Pocket Star Books, 2003.

I recently posted on the other "Bard's Blood" series book I read—A Midsummer Night's Scream—and concluded by wondering whether the first in the series would be better than that one, which was the second.

Well, it is, but not by much.

Our story opens among the football players of Globe University in Stratford, Ohio. They're losing to Fortinbras University's team—the Fighting Generals. But Cameron Dean, the star quarterback, uses the back of Rosenberg or Gyllenhal (I'm afraid I can't keep the two straight) to leap into the end zone.

He's happy enough to forget (almost) that his dad has recently died and that he doesn't much care for his Aunt Claudia.

Then he inherits Elsinore castle and takes the whole football team and their girlfriends there for a vacation.

And that's when Ophelia—the one who died way back when in Denmark—rises from her swamp and starts to kill people. Here's a quick sample of her appearance and her thought process:

That's nearly all I want to tell you, and the main point is that it is better than A Midsummer Night's Scream. There's even a nifty play-within-the-play scene where a musical group called "The Playaz" perform a rap that reveals someone's guilt: "I had a daddy / My mommy was his wife / He also had a sister / Who took his life" (174).

The final image inside the book is also intriguing. This is printed on the inside of the back cover:

At first blush, it's just something like "If you liked these horrible deaths, you're sure to love Hamlet," but it also illustrates my philosophy about modern Shakespearean fiction: Part of what's important is what happens when you return to Shakespeare's play. The play and the modernization can speak to each other in interesting ways.


In this case, the first thing you read on the cover is "Something is rotting in the state of Denmark," so there's that to consider.

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book Note: A Midsummer Night's Scream

Bergantino, David. Hamlet II: Ophelia's Revenge. Bard's Blood. New York: Pocket Star Books, 2003.

Note: Blogger has now eaten the original post I made on this book and my half-recreated one. I wouldn't be so frustrated about that if the book I'm trying to write about were any good, but it's not. This time through, you will not get my finely-crafted literary analysis—you'll just get the basics.

I'm afraid this book is not very good, and its lack of goodness is not due to the genre. We have here a horror novel with an extra-terrestrial (or a demon? or a fairy?—can't tell easily and can't be bothered to try to figure it out) who shape-shifts into human form.

Indeed, he takes the form of Professor Ajit Waman, Human Sexuality (Summer Session) teacher at Globe University in Stratford, Ohio.

The new Professor Waman assigns a typical "Pair up—now you're married couples; here's a bag of flour; pretend it's a baby; take care of it or fail the course" assignment.

Hijinks ensue, and a bunch of people are killed in grisly but relatively uninteresting ways at a fly-by-night carnival that rolls into town. Here, for example, is how two of them meet their downfall. Note: Sensitive readers may wish to skip this, whether their sensitivity is to violence or to bad writing.

The carnival has Oberon (the lobster-clawed man in the sideshow) and Titania (the half-woman, half-serpent sideshow attraction).

There you have it. Some Shakespearean plot elements—but not many—and not-very-interesting horror elements.

This is actually the second in the Bard's Blood series—I'll try to summon up the gumption to read the first one to see if it's any better.

Note: In looking for the book, I found that there are at least five other books with the title "Midsummer Night's Scream," including one by R. L. Stein. I'm not sure whether I'm happy to learn that information or not.

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Book Note: Something Wicked

Grantz, Alan. Something Wicked: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery. New York: Dial Books, 2007.

Recently, I wrote a review of Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery (for which, q.v.). I was impressed by the way Alan Grantz presented Hamlet as something of a murder mystery and Horatio as our first-person, point-of-view narrator.

Something Wicked attempts to do the same with Macbeth. However, while Something Rotten is quite successful, Something Wicked isn't. For one thing, Horatio isn't in Macbeth. I got the feeling that the publisher had extended a two-book contract, and this was the contractual obligation novel. Well, it's not as bad as all that, but it's not at all compelling.

There's a Scottish heritage competition on Mount Birnam. Mac is urged on by his girlfriend Beth (who gets him to do whatever she wants by promising or withholding sexual favors) to compete in the competition—if he wins, he'll be declared king of the mountain. That seems pretty light.

But then Horatio finds the body of Duncan—and then the detective work begins. Sheriff Wood investigates, but so does Horatio.

Oh, and there's also a sheepdog named Spot who figures in largely.

The setting is all right, but the characters are neither compelling nor interesting. Most of them aren't even annoying, which would be a reasonable way to garner interest.

Here's a quick sample page from toward the beginning of the novel:

And here's one interesting paragraph from near the end:

That's the sort of thing that's compelling to me—it points back to Macbeth itself and invites us to consider that play in this light.

I bought Horatio as a confidant / guide to Hamlet—but I don't see it working with Macbeth. In short, the first Horatio Wilkes Mystery is pretty good; this one can be given a miss.

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Romeo and Juliet in The Brady Bunch

"Juliet is the Sun." By Brad Radnitz. Perf. Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, and Ann B. Davis. Dir. Jack Arnold. The Brady Bunch. Season 3, episode 7. ABC. 29 October 1971. DVD. Paramount, 2015.

I don't recall seeing this episode in my admittedly too-copious youthful rerun viewing, but Shakespeare Geek mentioned it at some point, and I tracked it down.

In this episode, everyone in the Brady household is in a state of high excitement and emotional excess.

All right, that doesn't really narrow it down all that much.

In this episode, everyone in the Brady household is in a state of high excitement and emotional excess because the school is putting on Romeo and Juliet and Marsha is hoping for a part.

The clips below will walk you through the plot, and they'll pay particular attention to the various and sundry Shakespeare-related moments throughout.

The Opening Gambit:  Will Marsha be Excited about the Role of Juliet?

Alice, you played once i' the university, you say?

Shakespeare Don't Get No Respect!

Dress Rehearsal

Every year, I set aside one day in my Shakespeare and Film class for what the syllabus terms "Mystery Shakespearean Derivatives." I think this episode might make the cut this year.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the show from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Note: Board Book Shakespeare

Adams, Jennifer. Romeo & Juliet: A Counting Primer. Illus. Alison Oliver. Little Master Shakespeare. A BabyLit Book. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2016.

Adams, Jennifer. A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Fairies Primer. Illus. Alison Oliver. Little Master Shakespeare. A BabyLit Book. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I stumbled upon these two Shakespeare-related board books some time ago. They're part of the BabyLit Book series, which has similar versions of Moby-Dick, Emma, Les Miserables, and The Odyssey.

These two examples deal with the texts by which they're inspired in decidedly different ways. The Romeo and Juliet one is essentially a counting book. That's fair enough—if you're going to learn to count, why not do so in a Shakespearean way? But I do wish the book incorporated more quotations from Shakespeare. For the most part, we just get items from the play that we can count:

But, on the very last page, we do get a line from Shakespeare:

I know it's probably best to stop before getting too far into the plot—but I'd still like more actual Shakespeare. And you probably knew that already.

The Midsummer Night's Dream board book is entirely made up of lines from the play; from my perspective, that already makes it more successful. Most full-page spreads provide a quotation and a character (though not necessarily the character who speaks the line). Here's one of Puck's lines with an image of Oberon:

The words are interesting and will enable parents, guardians, and older siblings to explain parts of the world of the play, inviting younger readers to imagine the plot. And the colors are remarkable and varied. Here's part of the song the fairies sing to help Titania sleep:

In short, these books do not have as much Shakespeare as this reader would like, but they are inventive, well-illustrated, and fun. Ideally, they'll start the next generation on the right path: Enjoyment of Shakespeare.

Click below to purchase the books from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Note: Absent the English Teacher

Eppell, John. Absent the English TeacherHarare, Zimbabwe: Weaver Press, 2012.

John Eppell's Absent the English Teacher takes Shakespearean themes and a Shakespeare teacher and combines them in interesting ways.

The novel is set in Zimbabwe, leading me to consider adopting it for my Non-Western Contemporary Literature course (as well as my Modern Shakespearean Fiction course)—and I may do so in another semester.

Our protagonist, George J. George, accidentally hits the Mercedes of the mistress of a high official—her name is Beauticious Nyamayakanuna. To pay off the damage, he becomes her houseboy.

No longer an official English teacher, the white George J. George continues to teach or tudor when he can—or when he is forced to.

I'm offering the first page to give you a flavor of the text and of the character of George:


Later in the novel, George is arrested, but it turns out that the Chief Inspector needs help with Hamlet. Once George gives him a lesson, he can go free. Here's their exchange:

The novel contains a lot of humor—but also considerable bathos. And it questions both the relevancy of a white teacher in a black culture and the significance of Shakespeare in a range of cultures.

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at UNWSP

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Dir. Daniel McLaughlin. Perf. Dawson Ehlke, Michael Johnson, and Tommy McCarthy. By Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. University of Northwestern—St. Paul Department of Theatre. St. Paul, Minnesota, 12-21 January 2017.

In just a week, the Department of Theatre will open its production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). If you're anywhere in the area, I urge you to come see it.

I've seen the Reduced Shakespeare Company's DVD of the farcical romp through the works of Shakespeare, and it's quite good—but there's something about a local and live production of the show that is immensely appealing.

Here's the trailer they put together. It features a Shakespeare scholar who doesn't quite grasp the intention of the play:

I'm also informed that some version of the following biographical notes will make their way into the program. Clearly, this show is unmissable.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616, closed Sundays) is not only one of the greatest dramatists of all time, he was also one of the most productive. He wrote between thirty-seven and thirty-nine plays, including these masterpieces: Hamlet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Moby Dick, Macbeth, Huckleberry Finn, Richard III, Richard IV (The Revenge), and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He also wrote two lengthy dramatic poems, 154 sonnets, two cookbooks, and a guide to haunted apartments in Sheboygan. 
In his work, Shakespeare asks the enduring questions about what it means to be human: How does it feel to be betrayed? To fall in love? To lose your keys? To be hungry? To wake up convinced that you just missed the big exam? He speaks eloquently, having his characters explain in their own words what it’s like to have the universal experiences we all encounter every day: being jealous, feeling old, and being tempted by witches to kill the king of Scotland and seize the Scottish crown. 
As you watch the performance, pay particular attention to the most memorable figures in all of Shakespeare. You’ll find Othello, Prince of Denmark rubbing shoulders with the Two Merry Gentlemen of Windsor. Romeo and Juliet will go on a double date with Antony and Cleopatra. Characters from Much Ado About a Midsummer Night’s Dream will vie for your attention with those from The Taming of King Lear. The two parts of Henry IV will be compiled into the one part of Henry VIII. And when Ophelia starts heading toward the water, we’ll all yell, “Julius! Seize her!” 
Shakespeare is an author for the ages, and his works can be the study of a lifetime. We can’t give you a lifetime, but we can provide The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). And now, as Hamlet says, “Look where my abridgement comes!” (Hamlet, II.ii.127).

Come see the show if you can! I think we'll all have a very good time.

Note: Here's a blog-native version of the video above—just in case the link above goes sour.

Links: The Production at UNWSP.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Book Note: Something Rotten

Grantz, Alan. Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery. New York: Dial Books, 2007.

Every other year, I teach a course entitled "Modern Shakespearean Fiction." And during the alternate years, I try to keep up with the wealth of material produced in that genre. I'm gearing up to teach it again, and I find that I'm a bit behindhand—again—with my reading. But I'm catching up.

For example, I just finished reading Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery, a young adult recasting of Hamlet. Although I was a bit skeptical at first, the book gradually drew me in. It's presented more as a mystery—who killed the Hamlet analogue's dad and how and why?—than a tragedy, and I gradually came to like our protagonist / narrator, who is none other than Horatio.

Every other character in the book gets a different name: Hamilton (fans of the musical would approve), Olivia, Larry (Olivia's brother), and Paul (their dad). We also have Bernard and Frank, the security guards, and Rosco and Gilbert, Hamilton's fourth-grade acquaintances. Hamilton's dad's name is Rex; his uncle / stepdad's name is Claude; his mom's name is Trudy. Just as a side note, Horatio has sisters named Desdemona and Juliet.

In addition, Horatio and Hamilton (last name Prince—forgot to mention that before) go to a private boarding school called Wittenberg. The Elsinore Paper Plant is polluting the Elsinore river, which runs through Denmark, Tennessee.

Mostly, then, it's a straightforward retelling of Hamlet, but there are some fascinating diversions from Shakespeare's plot. I won't provide too many spoilers, but I will say that Horatio falls for Olivia, which complicates matters.

The two main things this novel has going for it are its narrator (the point of view of Horatio is a good one to have, and he's a likable smart aleck) and its self-awareness. The play-within-the-play in this novel isn't The Murder of Gonzalo. It's a local amateur theatre production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. And Rosco and Gilbert relax at one point by watching Strange Brew.

One nice touch comes in a voicemail message from Horatio's mom:
"What a piece of work is man [sic]!" My mom. The English lit. professor. "How noble in reason. How infinite in faculty. In form and moving, how express and admirable. In action, how like an angel, in apprehension, how like a god." And yet you can't be bothered to call your mother when you get to Hamilton's house? I will assume you are bleeding to death on the roadside in a twisted hulk of metal until you phone. (90-91)
But my favorite part is the self-reflexivity, as in the lead-up to the "entrapment by drama" scene:
Unfortunately, the pirates didn't attack until act three. The play roughly followed the plot of Shakespeare's Hamlet, focusing on the minor characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Personally, I'm a little tired of every author without a bright idea of his own putting a modern spin on a "classic," but I was a big fan of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Apparently Hamilton wasn't. He drove me nuts the whole play. (129-30)
This self-awareness takes the edge off what might otherwise be too pretentious.

All in all, Something Rotten is an enjoyable novel with a particularly enjoyable narrator. And that's a good thing—because there's another Horatio Wilkes mystery on my shelf: Something Wicked.

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

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