Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Et tu, UNW?": Julius Caesar at the University of Northwestern

Julius Caesar. Dir. Dan McLaughlin. University of Northwestern Theatre. St. Paul. 26 April—5 March 2018.

We all remember the triumph of the delightfully Philostrate-heavy Midsummer Night's Dream (for which, q.v.). And we were delighted with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), especially its promotional material (for which, q.v.).

Now The University of Northwestern—St. Paul turns its battalion of magnificent thespians to tragedy in a production of Julius Caesar.

I haven't seen the show, but I've met with the director a few times, and I think the play will be redolent with interesting directorial decisions.

The show starts tonight. If you're anywhere in the Twin Cities area, grab your tickets and go!

Update: Here's an episode of the vlog for the show!

Links: Purchase Tickets Here.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Note: The People's Bard

Pellegrini, Nancy. The People's Bard: How China Made Shakespeare its Own. New York: Penguin, 2017.

I have time for just a quick few words on what turned out to be a very disappointing book—or pamphlet, really.

A book with the title The People's Bard: How China Made Shakespeare its Own should do what its title sets out to do. Instead, we are presented with a basic plot summary of Shakespeare in China. The introduction indicates that the book is for non-academics, but the book it largely rehashes, Alexander C. Y. Huang's Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange (for which, q.v.), is entirely accessible by the general reader even though it also has an immense weight of scholarship behind it.

The book also cycles through the same material multiple times. We think a subject has been covered, but it comes back again—but without additional depth or much in the way of alternate angles on the material.

Here are a couple sample pages. In the first, we glimpse a bit of Shakespeare under Mao:

That's interesting and good, but it's all covered by Huang in a much more satisfactory manner.

The second sample is better, providing some examples of modern productions of Shakespeare in China and pointing toward the reason for interest in Shakespeare in China—his complexity in characterization.

Again, that's good material, but Huang does it better, more thoroughly, with more analysis, and with the same level of readability.

Click below and to the left to purchase the book from
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Better yet, click below and to the right to purchase Huang's book from
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Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Royal Shakespeare Company's Tempest

The Tempest. Dir. Gregory Doran. Perf. Alison Arnopp, Simon Russell Beale, and Jonathan Broadbent. 2017. DVD. Royal Shakespeare Company, 2017.

Gregory Doran has directed tons of interesting Shakespeare over decades. His 2017 Tempest pushes the limits of special effects on stage. Ariel was played by an actor, but the actor's moments were captured by video computer technology and projected onto curved screens that made Ariel appear to be floating above the stage. The technology also allowed the figure to be transformed in various ways. Here's a quick sample. Note how the actor is occasionally visible while the computerized simulacra floats above the sage.

The technology is impressive, but the acting and the overall vision of the play does not take a back seat to it. I'm particularly fond of the way they dealt with the meeting of Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban (though the non-Shakespearean asides are likely to annoy some viewers):

I first saw the film at the 2017 Shakespeare Association of America Convention. This year's convention brought a fascinating presentation about the production and about the possible future directions of Shakespeare on stage.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Shakespeare in The Royals?

“Stand and Unfold Yourself.” By Mark Schwahn. Perf. William Moseley, Alexandra Park, and Merritt Patterson. Dir. Mark Schwahn. The Royals. Season 1, episode 1. E! 15 March 2015. DVD. Lionsgate, 2016.  

How can I explain this one?

Once there was a book called Falling for Hamlet (for which, q.v.). It was not critically acclaimed.

And now there's an E! series called The Royals that is loosely based on that novel, which was loosely based on Hamlet. It, too, lacks critical acclaim. But it's made it into its fourth season. It's a pretty trashy soap opera with each episode given the title of a Hamlet quote.

We're in an imagined modern England among a set of younger, hipper royals than those they have now (with apologies to their gracious but less-hip current majesties). We have a character named Ophelia who becomes involved with Prince Liam, whose brother has just died. Prince Liam has a twin sister and a couple of cousins (who are there for comic relief and have a tiny Rosencrantz and Guildenstern vibe). The King and the Queen are both alive when the series starts, but, after only one episode, we can tell that the King's evil brother Cyrus will be causing trouble. The King is requesting Parliament to consider the dissolution of the monarchy, apparently because they're already so dissolute (see what I did there)? Ophelia's mother is dead, and her father (the palace's head of security) reads Ophelia the riot act about getting involved with the Prince.

Other than that, there's a lot more attention paid to the soap opera elements than to any Shakespearean elements.

Oh, but there is one Shakespeare quote—although it's from 2 Henry IV rather than from Hamlet.

Here's a quick sample that includes two scenes. The Queen is rude to Ophelia, who is able to return the rudeness with a bit of spin—a little bit of English on it. In the second scene, the character I take to be a rough Horatio analogue has a down-to-earth moment with the Prince:

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. (2 Henry IV, III.i.31)

For those of you keeping score, the Shakespeare quote is the same one Michael Jackson used in The Wiz (for which, q.v.).

Glancing through summaries of other episodes, I see only a little bit of Hamlet remaining—apart from the episodes' titles, each of which is a quote from Hamlet. So I don't think I'll be watching any further in the series. It's not my cup of English Breakfast.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Orson Welles' Macbeth: Accents in 1948 and 1950 Compared

Macbeth. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barner, and Alan Napier. 1950. Blu-ray. Olive Films, 2016.

The 1950 version of Orson Welles' Macbeth different from his 1948 version in a number of ways, but one of the main ways is in the accents.  The 1950 version overdubbed with accents that sounded significantly less Scottish than those in the 1949 version. Thanks to the recent release of the Olive Signature Blu-ray of the film, we can compare those accents.

I have taken the "Was the hope drunk" sequence and provided it in the three film clips below. The first provides the 1948 Scottish-accent versions. The second is the less-Scottish 1950 version. And the third provides the first section of the exchange with side-by-side speeches. In each case, the 1948 version will come first.

The 1948 Version.

The 1950 Version.

The Side-by-Side Comparison Version.

I find that fascinating. And I suppose the 1950 version is more commercially viable—or was in 1950. But it does lose something in the translation . . . or re-accentization.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Orson Welles' 1950 Version of Macbeth

Macbeth. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barner, and Alan Napier. 1950. Blu-ray. Olive Films, 2016.

Orson Welles' Macbeth was filmed in 1947, released in a limited way in 1948, and re-released in 1950. The 1950 version was shorter, and the voices—which had a Scottish burr—had been overdubbed with accents that sounded significantly less Scottish. I'd only seen the 1948 version (for a bit of which, q.v.) before this year, when Olive released a Blu-ray of the film that includes both versions in full.

Imagine my surprise and amazement when I started the 1950 version—primarily to see how the accents changed—and heard an introduction that sets the stage for the film. Olivier's 1948 Hamlet did something of the sort (for which, q.v.), but largely with Shakespeare's text.

It may be that the Republic Studio in 1950 wanted Welles' film to do something like Olivier's Academy-Award winning Shakespeare film, or it may be that they wanted their audiences to be guided rather than confused by the direction of the film. In any case, here's the opening of the 1950 version of Welles Macbeth (with the text below):

Our story is laid in Scotland—Ancient Scotland—savage, half lost in the mist that hangs between recorded history and the time of legends.  The cross itself is newly arrived here.  Plotting against Christian law and order are the agents of chaos: priests of hell and magic, sorcerers, and witches.  Their tools are ambitious men.  This is the story of such a man and of his wife.  A brave soldier, he hears from witches a prophecy of future greatness and, on this cue, murders his way up to a tyrant's throne only to go down hated and in blood at the end of all.  Now, riding homeward from victorious battle in defense of his true king, here on the blasted heath, the witches hail him king.  Here the spell is laid upon him, and the story begins. 
That introduction could be reductionist—and, to a certain extent, it is—but it also has something of Welles' vision of the story and the way it unfolds. And that's a helpful way to frame the narrative.

In a future post, we'll take a listen to some of those accents. Stay tuned!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

King Lear with Puppets

King Lear. Dir. Conrad Bishop. Perf. Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller. Produced by The Independent Eye.  Premiered at the Eye Studio, Sebastopol, California 21-29 March 2015 and at The Emerald Tablet, San Francisco, 10-26 April 2015. DVD. The Independent Eye, n.d.

We've heard about The Tempest with puppets (for which, q.v.).

Now we also have King Lear with puppets.

I found the former more compelling—and perhaps that play is more conducive to being given the puppet treatment—but there's still something intriguing here.

Two actors, each handling multiple puppets, provide a streamlined version of the play. One of the puppeteers also plays Lear in his own person.

It's a little confusing to describe, so let's let the show speak for itself. Here's the end of Act II, scene iv:

It's an impressive undertaking, but I think the version of The Tempest is more successful.

Links: The Film at the Independent Eye.

Click below to purchase the film from the Independent Eye.

Purchase Link

Bonus Image: The Puppets Watch as Lear Exits into the Storm

Thursday, April 12, 2018

More Shakespeare . . . Lost . . . in . . . Space!

"Island in the Sky." By Norman Lessing and Shimon Wincelberg. Perf. Guy Williams, June Lockhart, and Mark Goddard. Dir. Anton Leader. Lost in Space. Season 1, episode 3. CBS. 29 September 1965. DVD. Twentieth-Century Fox, 2008.

In the first episode of Lost in Space that I'd ever watched, Robot (the robot) quoted part of Hamlet's Yorick speech (for which, q.v.).

A note in the comments on that post mentioned another episode with a quote from Shakespeare. After some searching, I tracked it down.

In this exciting first-season episode, the scheming Dr. Smith, who only wants to get back to earth, has figured out a way to reduce the spaceship's payload by 200 pounds—the weight of one adult male. He's programed Robot to accept commands only from his own voice. Apropos of very little, Dr. Smith asks Robot, "What was it they said about the fallen sparrow?" That gives Robot the chance to define the "they" of his question and then to provide the full quotation:

I find it interesting that Robot goes to Act V of Hamlet with the very loose parameters Dr. Smith gives him for the reference. Why not go to Luke 12:6-7? That reads, in the Geneva Bible of 1560,
Are not fiue sparowes bought for two farthings, and yet not one of them is forgotten before God? Yea, and all the heares of your head are nombred: feare not therefore: yee are more of value then many sparowes.
It's also interesting that Robot is also programmed with the works of Samuel Butler. That seems to impress Dr. Smith less—but I don't know if it's because knowing Butler is less impressive or if the "spot the quote" party trick has palled by that point.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Shakespeare Contributions to Flight of the Conchords

"Wingmen." By James Bobin and Jemaine Clement. Perf. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie.  Dir. Troy Miller. Flight of the Conchords. Season 2, episode 9. HBO. 15 March 2009. DVD. Paramount, 2007.  

Bardfilm hasn't often mentioned Flight of the Conchords. Despite the brilliant elements of the show, there's surprisingly little Shakespeare.

Indeed, the only previous mention came in a post about a student's film pitch for a musical version of Hamlet. That student suggested that Bret and Jermaine, the guys in the show, would make a terrific Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for a Rock Opera version of Hamlet (for which, q.v.).

That was back in 2008, before the second (and last) season of the show came out. And there's a couple of brief Shakespeare references in that second season.

The song "Rambling Through the Avenues of Time," a rough style parody of Billy Joel's "Piano Man," is a fantastical account of a woman that Bret met. Toward the end of the song, Bret's descriptions of the woman are qualified and questioned by Jermaine, which is the brilliant and hilarious part. Jermaine s particularly horrified when Bret compares the woman to Shakespeare's Juliet.

The second half of the song is excerpted below; after it, I provide the script / lyrics for your amusement.

What was her name?

She said her name was a secret.
Then she said her name was Chérie.

Is her middle name Chérie?
So it's "A Secret Chérie," maybe?

Mmm, maybe.

What'd she look like?

She looked like a Parisian river.

What, dirty?

She looked like a chocolate eclair.

That's rare.

Her eyes were reflections of eyes . . .

Oh, nice.

And the rainbows danced in her hair.

Ah, yeah?

She reminded me of a winter's morning.

What, frigid?

Her perfume was eau de toilette.

What's that mean?

She was comparable to Cleopatra.

Quite old?

She was like Shakespeare's Juliet.

What, thirteen?

The bohemians of Soho did pirouettes
As we waltzed through the streets of Manhattan
On rivers of ribbon and sailboats of song . . .

Bret, did any of this actually happen?

The girl I described, she's as real as the wind.
It's true: I saw her today
The other details are inventions
Because I prefer her that way.

What, so you're saying you made all of that up?

I made ninety-five percent of that up.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Note: Vulgar the Viking and a Midsummer Night's Scream

Redbeard, Odin. Vulgar the Viking and a Midsummer Night's Scream. London: Nosy Crow, 2013.

The punny title Midsummer Night's Scream has proven irresistible to many authors, including R. L. Stein (for which, q.v.) and David Bergantino (for which, q.v.).

Both those books have a connection of one kind or another to Shakespeare.

But, as we know all too well, there are merely parasitical works—those that refer to a quotation from or a title of one of Shakespeare's works but without any substantive engagement with Shakespeare.

This is one of those.

What we have here is the odd, semi-scatalogical adventures of a Viking boy in the town of Blubber during the Midsummer's Eve festival. We get a maypole dance, but we don't get love triangles or love potions or Shakespeare's language.

Here's a quick sample, and then we can all get back to whatever we were doing before.

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Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Note: The Hamlet Paradigm

Nishiyama, Gemma. The Hamlet Paradigm. N.p.: Noveletta Imprint Custom Book Publications, 2016.

I've got to stop getting my hopes up over self-published Shakespeare-related novels. And The Hamlet Paradigm may just be the cure.

The novel is insipid, tedious, and incomprehensible by turns. It starts with a Japanese homemaker's account of reading Greek myths to her daughter, including those about women being carried off by gods. Then she herself is carried off by an entity named Orsino. He takes her to a space not unlike the Globe Theatre and has his way with her (though she is not reluctant). She explains that when she's with Orsino, it's like he is her husband; when she's with her husband, it's like he is her husband.

Speaking of her husband, he calls from the city where he's working to tell her that she's in danger and needs to go on the run. He won't explain why.

Nor will our author.  For chapter after chapter, they're simply running away while the husband keeps telling her that he'll explain soon.

It turns out that the project he's been working on—Project Elsinore—isn't just a search for our sun's twin star . . . you know, the one Shakespeare knew about when he wrote Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. It's also research for a company that will send hundreds and thousands of solar-energy-collecting satellites into orbit over the Pacific Ocean, blocking out all the light it would normally receive and, in essence, killing everything in it.

Here are a few sample pages about that (for fun, see just how many typos you can spot):

I'm sorry.  I know that was painful for many of you.

For the rest of the novel, they're on the run, trying to get the information to one journalist or another so that the project can be stopped.

I don't imagine any of you will actually care to read this novel, but, just in case . . .

Spoiler alert!  If you wish to read this novel yourself one day, skip the following.

And, in essence, they fail. No one cares about the project, and there's too much big-business and politics surround the project to stop it. Orsino pops in every now and then to help our protagonist and to utter incomprehensible ideas about different planes of existence. We learn that Hamlet is pro-sun and Claudius is pro-coal (where on earth that comes from I just can't fathom—a misreading of the first few lines of Romeo and Juliet, I suspect), and the research project's name is changed from Project Elsinore to the Hamlet Paradigm.

But don't worry—the project stops. The true hero of the novel is . . . the economy. It's too costly of a project, so investors start backing out, and the whole project just peters out—and so does the novel.

It turns out the author has a first book out:  Juliet is the Sun. In it, "Shakespeare's ghost visits a middle-aged expat academic in Japan to impart his wisdom and make her laugh." It's only available on Kindle, but, even if it weren't, I don't think I'd read it.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Oh'phelia: A Silent Burlesque Hamlet from 1919

Oh'phelia: A Cartoon Burlesque. Dir. Anson Dyer. Hepworth Picture Plays. 1919. BFI National Archive. YouTube.

The Lumineers. "Ophelia." Cleopatra. 8 April 2016. CD. Dualtone Music.
Oh'phelia is an odd early silent animated short film based on Hamlet. The play and its characters just form the starting point for a number of points of physical and linguistic humor.

The entire film is just over ten minutes long, and it provides glimpses at Ophelia, Hamlet, Polonius, Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes, and the anthropomorphic willow that grows aslant the brook.

I'm most fond of the way the show plays with the title cards. At one point, the phrase "bloody business" (not from Hamlet, though it can be found in Macbeth and Othello) threatens to appear, but the censor shows up just in time, so it ends up being the "blooming business" instead. At another, a quote is cited as coming from a scouting manual, but it suddenly becomes attributed to Shakespeare.

Here's a quick streamlined version. I've reduced it in length to fit the Lumineers' song "Ophelia," which somehow seemed appropriate.

The whole film is available on YouTube, so I'm embedding it here as well. If it disappears, at least the shorter version above will remain.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Bob Jones on Shakespeare

Shakespeare and Shylock: Fifty Years of Classical Acting (An Interview with Dr. Bob Jones). Perf. Bob Jones and Dale Savidge. 1988. DVD. BJU Press, 2003.

I knew that Bob Jones University produced quality Shakespeare plays and was known for doing so all over Greenville, South Carolina, and in the surrounding areas.

I did not know that Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., the second president of the university, acted extensively throughout his long career, even considering becoming a professional actor.

A few videos of Bob Jones University productions of Shakespeare plays are available, as is a film that is a mix of interviews and selections of Bob Jones, Jr. in The Merchant of Venice. The interview concentrates on Jones' thoughts on Merchant, but it also contains some general comments on Shakespeare.

In the following clip, the interviewer (Dale Savidge) throws Dr. Jones something of a slow pitch, right-across-the-plate question—but Jones' answer (and the accompanying clip of a performance) are worth watching:

Later in the film, we get to the central Christian reading of the play that Dr. Jones wants to explore (and the scene to back it up):

It's fascinating to see a Christian religious leader's views on Shakespeare and to see how Shakespeare can be integrated into religious beliefs.

Click here to purchase the film from BJU Press.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

An Aery of Children, Little Eyases in The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream

The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream. Dir. Christine Edzard. Perf. Jamie Peachey, John Heyfron, and Danny Bishop. 2001. DVD. Sands Films, 2001.

In a somewhat obscure passage in Hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet launch into a tangential conversation about why the players—"the tragedians of the city"—are on tour instead of (it is assumed) in their usual playing space.

Rosencrantz has this to say by way of explaining how the actors have fallen on hard times:
There is, sir, an aery of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for't: these are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages—so they call them—that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come thither.
Hamlet replies:
What, are they children? who maintains 'em? how are they escoted? Will they pursue the quality no longer than they can sing? will they not say afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common players—as it is most like, if their means are no better—their writers do them wrong, to make them exclaim against their own succession?
This exchange about an aery (or nest) of children—a.k.a. little eyases (the OED tells us that an eyas is "A young hawk taken from the nest for the purpose of training, or one whose training is incomplete")—is usually taken as a comment on the children's acting companies of Shakespeare's day (rather than any that might have been around in Hamlet's day). There's some anxiety about job security for adult troupes of actors in the exchange, but we should remember that "now the fashion" isn't "always the fashion." Indeed, the children's companies proved to be something of a novelty act—interesting for the moment, but not long lasting.

I told you that to tell you this. Christine Edzard's Children's Midsummer Night's Dream is of much the same caliber. It's interesting, but it doesn't bear repeated viewings.

The interesting part about it is the frame. We seem to be watching a bunch of school children watching a marionette version of Midsummer Night's Dream, causing us to wonder if we're encountering another Strings (for which, q.v.). But then some of the children break into the world of the marionette play and, eventually, take over. Here's a flavor of that:

But beyond the interest of the frame, there's not much here. The acting is lackluster at best. I know that they're children (I've read the title), but I've directed children this age and younger and gotten much better, much more passionate performances than those we have here.

Even the Pyramus and Thisbe play—usually a show-stopper—is pretty lethargic. It shows that you need good actors to portray bad acting. With bad actors, you just get bad acting, not good bad acting (if you follow me). Here's part of the play-within-the-play to show that.

All in all, this is a one-hit wonder. Modern professional adult actors should feel no cause for concern.

Bonus Image: Wall Shows Pyramus the Chink

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Musical Version of Midsummer Night's Dream for / 4 Kids / Kidz

Shakespeare 4 Kidz: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Dir. Julian Chenery. Perf. Rachel Battersby, Graham Davies, and Richard Gauntlett. 2002. DVD. Shakespere 4 Kidz, 2002.

I've had this around for awhile—since I had a special unit on Midsummer Night's Dream in one of my Shakespeare and Film classes—but I hadn't gotten around to watching it.

Essentially, it's a modernized-language version of Midsummer with a few songs sprinkled in. It has flavors of the British pantomime tradition. And, every now and then, a specific quote from the play makes its way in. Largely, though, it's a narrated plot summary.

I can't say it moved me very much. Even the Pyramus and Thisbe play at the end fell pretty flat—and you usually can count on that to rouse an audience.

That's not to say that there isn't some value to the production. There are some funny bits and some endearing bits, and the plot summary is certainly accurate. But Shakespeare's language is funnier and not actually that difficult for children to understand. And that's coming from someone who directed kindergarteners through fifth graders in a production of the play. It was edited for length, but the kids had no trouble understanding the play, memorizing their lines, and putting on a hysterical performance. If this had had Shakespeare's language and the musical numbers, it would be much, much better.

As a sample of what this film has to offer, here's part of the first meeting of the Rude Mechanicals—from Snug's being assigned the lion's part through the musical number (which is pretty funny and quite well done) that ends the scene:

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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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