Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Note: Much Ado About Something

Ray, Michelle. Much Ado About Something/u>. N.p.: N.p., 2016.

Michelle Ray wrote Falling for Hamlet (for which, q.v.). and Mac/Beth (for which, q.v.). In the self-published Much Ado About Something, she moves from modern takes on tragedy to modern takes on comedy.

Alas, none of the three is particularly successful.

By the time I got twenty pages in to Much Ado About Something, I started asking myself, "How can such an exciting, interesting play be made so plodding and dull?"

But the novel didn't start that way; it started with some promise.

Well, actually, it started with this pair of quotes:

But that's all right—the play does depict love in military terms (though it would be nice if the quote were attributed to the person who actually said it (Benedick) instead of to the person who created the character (Shakespeare). It seems fair to evoke Pat Benatar at the beginning of a retelling of a play about love and a battlefield and love as a battlefield.

The next page gives us the setting (a private high school in Beverly Hills) and plunks us down in medias res some point after the death of Hero:

Imagine a fade out and a title card reading "Three months earlier" as you turn to the next page. There we are introduced to Beatriz: 

The rest of the novel alternates between Beatriz' first-person narrative, Ben's first-person narrative, and samples of interviews by the governing body of the school. I enjoyed one of them because it points directory toward the fraught question of Don John's motivations in Shakespeare's play:

But that's a rare moment of levity in a novel that plods, doggedly and without inspiration, through the plot of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Additionally, I'm pretty sure it's supposed to say, "just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean someone's not out to get you."

And some elements of that nodding to the plot don't work at all in a modern setting—or, rather, they don't work in this modern setting in the way they're used in this modern setting. Speaking of being dogged, let's look at one of Dogberry's famous speeches: 

Other elements of the novel make annoying little sense—or no sense at all. But I am refraining from proving spoilers. The novel is a fairly-straightforward but also fairly-uninspired recontextualization of Shakespeare's play.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book Note: Mac/Beth

Ray, Michelle. Mac/Beth. N.p.: N.p., 2015.

Michelle Ray has ventured back into the realm of the modern Shakespearean novel. We last heard of her with Falling for Hamlet (for which, q.v.), which was not good. Indeed, follow that link to see one of the funniest scathing video reviews I've ever encountered.

Falling for Hamlet was published by the Hachette Book Group—a big, reputable name in publishing. Ray has since written two books that are self-published. And I'm afraid neither one is particularly compelling.

Mac/Beth is the story of two teenage actors in the latest hit TV drama. It's called Witches of Dusinane Castle. Beth DeAngelo and Garret MacKenzie are an item; because of this, the press has given them the cutesie name "Mac/Beth." But one of the other actors—Duncan King, in fact—wants to date Beth himself. He's also getting giant movie deals that Mac, for one, wants. For example, he may get the lead role in the new comic book film Cawdor the Avenger. Of course, it's possible that the role may go to Birnham Woods instead.

Well, you get the idea. The tag line for the book is "The price of fame shouldn't be murder."

It may be that I'm not the target audience for this book, but it seems forced and rote—as if Ray is just going through the motions with this one.

Here are a couple sample pages. Each chapter begins with something of a tabloid headline and opening blurb and closes with a Hollywood rumor of one sort or another. In the first one, Duncan has made a pass at Beth during the premiere of his most recent big-budget film: Octopus Invasion. She contemplates what drew her to Garret MacKenzie in the first place:

And here's a brief "Deal Report" from a bit later in the book:

The voices do seem more authentic in Mac/Beth than they did in Falling for Hamlet, but the overall feel of the book is ordinary.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Book Note: The Invisible Hand

Hartley, James. The Invisible Hand. Winchester: Lodestone Books, 2017.

Recent readers of Bardfilm may have noticed an increasing number of "Book Note" posts.

In part, that's because my seminar for the 2018 Shakespeare Association of America Convention is "Shakespeare and the Modern Novel," and I've been preparing for it by reading the essays the others in the seminar wrote. Those essays have opened the doors of perception to a number of works of which I had been unaware.

For example, The Invisible Hand is the first in a series called "Shakespeare's Moon." Its title comes from one of the most unsettling images in Macbeth:
                         Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day;
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale!  (III.ii.55-59)
As a side note, the verb to seel (as in seeling night) comes from the English Renaissance practice of seeling doves (or hawks or other birds). It means to sew their eyes shut. In the speech above, Macbeth is calling for night to come sew shut the eyes of day—and if that's not unsettling, I don't know what is.

But back to the book.

The Invisible Hand is a Macbeth-related book. In it, Sam, our main character, who is a student at a boarding school in England) goes back in time to the age of Macbeth (that's Macbeth of Scotland, not the time of Shakespeare writing Macbeth) whenever he falls asleep during a full moon. And a girl from that era comes forward at the same time—except, because of the time change (?), she shows up when he's awake and he shows up when she's awake.

If that's a bit confusing, that's the nature of the beast. I understand that we are learning through Sam's eyes what's happening, and it's puzzling to him as he undergoes it; however, it takes quite a while to get it all sorted out.

And then there's a story about a witch who tried to sell books to the director of the abbey that was once on the current school's grounds. Whatever you write in the one surviving book comes to pass. So our hero has to find it, and there are tunnels under graveyards and mysterious happenings that are vaguely flavored of Hogwarts Castle.

And our hero is also studying Macbeth in school, so he thinks if he just reads enough of the play, he can give advice to Leana, our heroine. Here's one such passage:

All in all, it took a lot of effort to try to follow the narrative. But a second book in the series will be released at the end of August. It will be based on Romeo and Juliet (or will at least be related to Romeo and Juliet). Perhaps it will clarify some of the confusion The Invisible Hand left behind.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Book Note: Puck

Askew, Kim, and Amy Helmes. Puck. N.p.: Doublet Press, 2016.

Dedicated Bardfilm readers will recognize the names of Kim Askew and Amy Helmes. They wrote Tempestuous and Exposure (for which, q.v.), and also Anyone But You (for which, q.v.). Those three books were published by Merit Press of Simon & Schuster in a series called "Twisted Lit."

Puck continues the series, but it appears to be self-published. I don't know if that means Simon & Schuster dropped the series—and, if they did, I don't know whether they dropped it for fiscal reasons or for other reasons.

In any case, I'm having the same problem with this book that I had with the others: I'm not the target audience, so I'm having some trouble evaluating it. It doesn't do what I like most—it doesn't ask us to head back to Shakespeare to see what difference it makes.

The plot is a modern narrative that provides a focus on Puck and on her backstory. She's been in the foster care system for years, and things seemed to be working out with her latest family, but that all went south. So she has been sent to a camp for troubled youth, but she continues to be mischievous there.

There's depth to Puck's development, but she does not really relate to the character in Shakespeare's play beyond plot elements. We're not really finding out about that Puck—we're finding out about this Puck.

The emphasis is almost entirely on Puck and her development, but the young lovers from Midsummer Night's Dream make their appearance. They are some of the camp counsellors. Here's Puck's unraveling of their relationships:

Later, Puck makes a brew out of some local flowers—the brew is meant to be very dangerous, but it also has hallucinogenic properties. Due to a mix-up, the counsellors drink the brew instead, giving us the usual hijinks:

There's also a play-within-the-play at the end. The campers put on a version of Wizard of Oz—with a nice self-reflexive "It's not Shakespeare" remark in the middle.

In short, there's some fun here and some depth, but none of it is revelatory of Midsummer Night's Dream—the novel Puck does not ask us to return to Shakespeare.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Book Note: The Black Arrow

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Black Arrow. Illus. Charles Waterhouse. New York: Collier, 1962.

Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow (first published serially in 1883 and later published with some revisions in 1888) is tangentially connected to Shakespeare since it covers some of the same history Shakespeare covered in 1 to 3 Henry VI (but not Richard III).

The main plot involves the romance, separation, and (spoiler alert!) the eventual reunion of Dick Shelton and Joanna Sedley. During the War of the Roses, a Robin-Hoodesque group of outlaws start using "The Black Arrow" to bring vigilante justice to the countryside.

The connection to Shakespeare comes primarily in the characterization of Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III of England). He's somewhat ambiguously portrayed. At first, Richard is clearly an able soldier. Here's a section where our hero Dick meets Richard of Gloucester and follows his battle plans.

But then we get a glimpse into Richard of Gloucester's machinations:  

That's more like the Richard we know from Shakespeare's Richard III.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Note: Ticket to Childhood

Nguyen, That Anh. Ticket to Childhood. Trans. William Naythons. New York: Overlook Press, 2015.

This is only tangentially connected to Shakespeare, but it's intimately connected to Vietnam, and I'm interested in places where Shakespeare and Vietnam interact.

The brief novel Ticket to Childhood invites its readers to look at the world through the eyes of a group of eight-year-old boys and girls in Vietnam. It's a compelling narrative that presents the kinds of things kids do as well as what they might think about them years later.

In the sample I'm providing, our narrator talks about his love for instant noodle when he was a kid. That segues to a comment about Romeo and Juliet (there's the Shakespeare for you), and then to some reflections on Vietnamese traditions of dating and courtship.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Note: The Postman

Brin, David. The Postman. New York: Bantam Books, 1997.

I'm not enormously fond of the post-apocalyptic literature genre, but I'm occasionally asked to engage with it for the Shakespeare.

A case in point is the very good novel Station Eleven (for which, q.v.).

The Postman is more traditionally post-apocalyptic, but I was surprised by how engaging it was.

The plot involves a man who finds a mail carrier's uniform and uses it to transform the post-apocalyptic landscape of the rest of the novel.

And there's a bit of Shakespeare in it . . . but, as is often the case, the cry from Bardfilm goes out, "More Shakespeare, please!"

Here's a quick sample (and the only extended Shakespeare-related passage I could find):

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Shakespearean Rhapsody

"Shakespearean Rhapsody." Parody of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. Perf. kj et al.

I find myself taking a Shakespearean turn on most things, and one way that manifests itself is in rewriting songs so that they have a Shakespearean turn.

These songs often had their origins on Twitter. An exchange or two would lead to a parody of a line or two from a song.

Later, those might turn into full versions of songs. But they're usually for private consumption, unlike the songs I write for the students in my Shakespeare classes.

Past hits in the latter category include Bob Dylan singing the plot of Measure for Measure (for which, q.v.), "Bottom Dreamed a Dream" from the hit off-Broadway musical Pyramus! (for which, q.v.), and a Musical version of King Lear's madness (for which, q.v.).

Several years ago, I started toying around with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and I even got so far as to put together a recording. But I lacked the time and the talent to make it truly professional.

Don't get your hopes up—I still don't have time or talent, but I don't imagine I ever will have. I thought the best thing to do would be to put a quick lyric video together and throw it out there, warts and all.

Here, then, is "Shakespearean Rhapsody." Enjoy!

You can also try "Danish Paradise," "Dunsinane Prison Blues," or "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love . . . with Shakespeare)." Or steer toward this musical version of King Lear's madness. Alternately, investigate the big number from the musical Pyramus. Or you could listen to this musical PSA that warns people to stay clear of the Great River Shakespeare Festival.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book Note: The Merry Conceited Humors of Bottom the Weaver

The Merry Conceited Humors of Bottom the Weaver as it hath been often publikely Acted by some of his Majesties Comedians, and lately, privately, presented, by several APPRENTICES for their harmless recreation, with Great Applause. London: F. Kirkman and H. Marsh, 1661. Facsimile. London: Cornmarket Press, 1970.

You say you really like the rude mechanicals scenes in Midsummer Night's Dream but all that stuff about the four lovers and the Duke and his Duchess-to-be bores you stiff?

Have I got the play for you.

In 1661, an edited version of Midsummer Night's Dream was published. Essentially, it has all the Bottom the Weaver scenes (including, of course, the ending play-within-the-play) and a little of the necessary surrounding plot (Oberon sending Pugg—he's called Pugg in this version—out for some love potion).

Stanley Wells wrote the introduction; in it, he says, "As an abbreviation for amateur performance this is a competent piece of work."

I've edited a lot of Shakespeare for amateur performance, and I find the decisions this text makes to be fascinating. Whoever did it had a limited cast and didn't want to be bothered with things that would distract from Bottom's plot. For example, we don't need all that backstory for Oberon and Titania, but we do need a little something to explain why he's putting love potion on the eyes of the Queen of the Fairies. A little tinkering and a few Shakespearean-sounding lines will fix it. Here's Oberon's first speech in this version of the play:
I am resolved and I will be revenged
Of my proud Queen Titania's injury,
And make her yield me up her beloved page.
My gentle Pugg come hither[. T]hou Rememberest
Since that I sat upon a Promontory,
And heard a Mermaid on a Dolphin[']s Back . . .
And we're off and running with Shakespeare's words from the fourth line above.

I'll give you a few sample pages. Here's the cast list and the opening of the play:

And here's when Pugg enters to see the rehearsal and Bottom is translated:

In The Merry Conceited Humors of Bottom the Weaver, the cry is "Bless thee, Bottom, thou art edited!"

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Book Note: Speak of me as I am

Belasco, Sonia. Speak of me as I am. New York: Philomel Books, 2017.

This mirror novel involves a black male high school student and a white female high school student who are involved in the school's production of Othello.

They both are grappling with deep grief. Melanie's mother has died of cancer; Damon's best friend Carlos has committed suicide.

The two become romantically involved during the production, and you might expect that the novel would explore racial themes that Othello and their relationship bring up, but that's a pretty minor part of the novel.

Instead, the novel explores issues of sexual orientation more than issues of race.

I can't say much more than that without giving you spoilers, but I will give you a sample from about a third of the way through the book:

The novel is well-written, and its exploration of grief is deep. Its title is drawn from Othello's last speech: "When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, / Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, / Nor set down aught in malice" (V.ii.342-44), and the call of the novel is to remember our departed in that way.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Book Note: The Shakespeare Wars

Rosenbaum, Ron. The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups. New York: Random House, 2008.

I've been enjoying reading Ron Rosenbaum's enormous (601-page) popular book on the arguments Shakespeare scholars have with each other.

Do you want to know why many collected editions of Shakespeare print two or three different versions of King Lear? you'll find the answer(s) in The Shakespeare Wars.

Interested in reading about how a very dull poem entitled "A Funeral Elegy" was (wrongly) attributed to Shakespeare and then (probably rightly) attributed to someone else entirely?  You'll find out about it here. And you can read the whole dull poem here.

Would you like to hear a first-hand account of what it was like to see Peter Brook's world- and life-altering 1970 production of Midsummer Night's Dream? Rosenbaum was there, and he'll tell you about it. You can also see a few rare clips of it here.

There are so many passages I'd like to pass on to you, but I'll just give you the end of his preface. In it, he tells us what he wants to do--and why. And I find it very compelling.

The book is quite long, so it's not for reading at one go. And there's one stylistic choice Rosenbaum makes that gets very old very quickly. He seems addicted to the sentence fragment. Which becomes awfully distracting.  And ineffective.

But the stories are worth it. Grab a copy, put it on your nightstand, and dip into it from time to time until it has to go back to the library. 

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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