Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Note: How to Stop Time

Haig, Matt. How to Stop Time. New York: Penguin Books, 2019.

Careful readers will remember that we've seen two other Matt Haig novels that are Shakespeare-related: The Labrador Pact (for which, q.v.) and The Dead Fathers Club (for which, q.v.). Careful readers of ShakespeareGeek will remember that he reviewed this book earlier this year.

My turn.

The book is about a small percentage of humans who age really, really slowly. Eventually, an organization discovers such people—and then they are largely beholden to the organization, doing what they're asked to do, moving where they're asked to move, and (above all) keeping secret the existence of such humans.

Our narrator had a daughter back in the age of Shakespeare, and he thinks she has the same slow-aging condition he has; he's been continually searching for her for centuries.

I agree that it's a good book—though, for a book about aging slowly and taking your time, the ending is incredibly rushed and largely unsatisfactory.  All the same, it's good, with clever alternating timelines.

Naturally, my favorites are those that alternate between the present day and Shakespeare's time. Here, therefore, are some quick examples. In the first, our narrator is a history teacher who is trying to pull information about the Elizabethan era out of his students:

The next section has more to do with Shakespeare more directly. Here's a glimpse at Shakespeare in an off-duty moment:

All in all, it's a creative, inventive novel that is well worth your while to read.

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Monday, September 2, 2019

The RSC Measure for Measure—Now in Theatres [Albeit Extremely Briefly]

Measure for Measure. Dir. Gregory Doran. Perf. Claire Price, Amy Trigg, David Ajao, Joseph Arkley, Hannah Azuonye, Patrick Brennan, Graeme Brookes, Melody Brown, Antony Byrne, James Cooney, Tom Dawze, Sandy Grierson, Amanda Harris, Karina Jones, Sophie Khan Levy, Alexander Mushore, Michael Patrick, and Lucy Phelps. Royal Shakespeare Company. Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Various locations, 2019.

You may know that ShakespeareGeek made his way to England this summer to make the grand Shakespeare tour. I stayed home . . .

. . . but which of us has two thumbs and got to see the Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Measure for Measure, eh?

This guy—Bardfilm.

I wish I had a great deal more time to write about the production. It holds a lot of interest, and it has a number of things to agree with--and to disagree with.

Tomorrow (September 3), there are some additional screenings of the play in movie houses across America. Click here to see if you can find one near you. It's certainly worth seeing.

The production is set in early 1900s Vienna—incorporating the era of Freud for this play about sex and sexual desire and also bringing in (at least at the beginning) the art of Viennese artists of the period, including Egon Schiele (whose Cardinal and Nun is pictured above—and which seems appropriate to the plot of the play) and Gustav Klimt.

For now, I just have time to list some notable points about the film (though I hope it will be released as a DVD eventually).

Use of mirrors (including one-way mirrors), cross imagery, Isabella nearly vomiting and having a fit when Angelo’s intentions are clear, her distrust of the friar (I think because he’s male), et cetera.

Also of interest:  Escalus (a female) and her relationship with power structures, the way Lucio gradually becomes more and more unfunny … et cetera.

For now, I can just give you the trailer and urge you to go see it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Some As You Like It in Never Been Kissed

Never Been Kissed. Dir. Raja Gosnell. Perf. Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, and Michael Vartan. 1999. DVD. 20th Century FOX Home Entertainment, 2011.

As you probably know, I'm always hoping for more Shakespeare in pop culture. In this instance, I read an article that mentioned As You Like It connections in the 1999 film Never Been Kissed.

The plot involves a journalist who is sent on an undercover assignment to her old high school to try to get the scoop on what kids are thinking, doing, and saying these days.

Soon, it becomes clear that she's developing a crush on the high school English teacher. That partly becomes evident when the As You Like It comes in. Here's the scene:

I was hoping for more Shakespeare . . . some more play with the idea of being in disguise and being better able to express your true identity. And the film does provide some of that anxiety-producing dramatic irony in the play—where we know that Rosalind is in love with Orlando but we're not sure what to think when he's being asked to woo Ganymede while he (she, really) is pretending to be Rosalind (which she is, really).

But it may be too awkward and involve too much anxiety. It's okay for the journalist to develop a crush on the high school teacher since she's not really a high school student and it about the same age as the teacher—but it's not okay for the teacher to develop a crush on one of his students and start to act on those feelings.

In any case, the text of As You Like It serves as a touchstone (see what I did there?) to these issues of love and disguise.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

What Role did Friends' Joey play in Macbeth?

"The One Where Chandler Takes a Bath " By Vanessa McCarthy. Perf. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer, and James Michael Tyler. Dir. Ben Weiss. Friends. Season 8, episode 13. NBC. 17 January 2002. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2003.

Now there's an obscure trivia question for you. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it has an answer.

I suppose a better question would be "In what Shakespeare play did Joey from Friends have a role?" but that doesn't sound obscure enough.

Additionally, a season three episode might provide too much of a clue (for that episode, q.v.).

In any case, here's how we know what we know about Joey's Shakespearean career. We learn it when Monica and Chandler are having a conversation while Chandler is in a bubble bath (so be forewarned):

There you have it. As a side note, we can't really deduce what role he had from Monica and Chandler's comments. If it had been Macbeth, that would be a very long night indeed. But the joke might be even funnier if it were a small role. If Joey played Young Siward . . . or even "Boy, son to Macduff" . . . and that made for a long evening, that might say even more about Joey's acting ability.

Note: The image at the beginning of this post does not come from the video clip (as is usually the case). But I didn't think anyone really needed an image of Chandler in a bubble bath.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Little Touch of As You Like It in Frasier

“Motor Skills.” By Eric Zicklin. Perf. Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin, and John Mahoney. Dir. Pamela Fryman. Frasier. Season 8, episode 11. NBC. 30 January 2001. DVD. Paramount, 2006.

We've seen more extensive Shakespeare in the sitcom Frasier before—in an episode in which Derek Jacobi plays a terrible Shakespearean actor (for which, q.v.).

This, on the other hand, is more incidental, but it pleases me very much because of the material being quoted.

In As You Like It, the ordinary working man (the shepherd) Colin, is being bothered—or bugged . . . or bothered . . . or plagued—by the self-designated court wit Touchstone. Touchstone can be quite funny . . . but he can also be very self-centered and very annoying, impressed by his own cleverness.

In the middle of such a bothering session and as an answer to the scorn that Touchstone is heaping on him, Corin gives what is (to me at least) a beautiful speech about his life, his work, and his identity:
Sir, I am a true labourer: I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck. (III.ii.73-77)
The contentment and easy satisfaction of that speech is an excellent antidote to Touchstone's stirring up of trouble and self-satisfaction.

And so we turn to Frasier's version of the speech. The Crane boys have decided to enroll in an automotive repair class. As he calls to register for the course, Frasier quotes part of Corin's speech:

He had to leave out the part about the lambs, but it's still a good speech about the satisfaction of a job done well. 

You'll have to see the rest of the episode for yourselves to see whether Corin's contentment trickles down to the Crane boys in the end or not.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Book Note: Shakespeare's Library

Kells, Stuart. Shakespeare's Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature. Berkley: Counterpoint, 2019.

After one more "Book Note," we'll get back to some Shakespeare and film—part of what a Shakespeare and film microblog ought to be doing.

I'm still a bit puzzled by Shakespeare's Library. I thought it was going to be another authorship tome: the man from Stratford's library can't be found—it wasn't mentioned in his will—therefore, the man from Stratford never had a library—therefore, someone else wrote the plays attributed to the man from Stratford.

But it isn't that. Well, not exactly.

It's clear that the author was, during his education, surrounded by those advocating the case for Henry Neville as the author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare, and it's also clear that he's attracted to the proposition. But it's also clear that he understands the limitations (i.e., the basic untruth) of that claim. Still . . .

The work itself is more anecdotal than scholarly, and, apart from the bizarre Neville ramblings, it tells an interesting story about books and collections of books in Shakespeare's day and after.

Here's a quick sample—an account of Rev. James Wilmot's eighteenth-century search for Shakespeare's library:

As something of a side note, there are so many assumptions in this kind of argument that it becomes silly. Shakespeare must have had a large collection of books. They must have been at Stratford. They must have been sold upon his death. They must have had bookplates reading "From the Library of William Shakespeare, Famous Author of Plays, Poems, and Miscellanea." None of those are necessarily true, and that's one reason why an absence of information about Shakespeare's books doesn't bother me or make me question his authorship.

Two other reasons derive from my knowledge of some modern poets. I knew a brilliant poet during my time in college. He had an astonishingly retentive memory and an appalling inability to keep track of most of his books. When he did keep track of them, he read them to pieces. They weren't books that you could sell at a garage sale—or even donate to Goodwill. 

I know it's dangerous to apply modern habits to early modern persons, but it doesn't stretch my imagination too much to think Shakespeare had a retentive mind, read the books he owned to pieces (probably mostly in London), read other books he didn't own (browsing the stacks of books for sale or borrowing them from people who didn't yet know that he would read them to pieces and then lose them), and failed to keep his books in pristine condition.

In any case, the book is fairly interesting, but it needs to be read with a grain of salt. That might particularly be the case with the last two pages (295-96), in which the author drops something of a bombshell:

What's that? The Littlewood Letter? Never heard of it. A letter written to Shakespeare that was delivered to Shakespeare (unlike the Quiney letter, for which, q.v.)? Has anyone else heard of this? HS anyone else seen it? How would you prove it was actually delivered rather than just written to him? What's the Folger have to say about it?

In any case, the summary of my review would be "Interesting—but be skeptical."

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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Book Note: The True Story of Mrs. Shakespeare's Life

The True Story of Mrs. Shakespeare's Life. Boston: Loring, n.d. [1870.]

In addition to more standard Shakespeare fare, I've read a few bizarre things over the past semester and into the summer.

One of those was The True Story of Mrs. Shakespeare's Life, a book mentioned in Imagining Shakespeare's Wife (for which, q.v.) as being "likely written by American Harriet Beecher Stowe" (110).

All I knew about the work before I started reading it came from page 110 of Imagining Shakespeare's Wife. Here's what that work says:

I found a copy on Amazon (only later realizing that it was one of those "bound copies of freely available .pdf versions of out-of-print, out-of-copyright" books), discovered it was, at twenty-three large-print pages, more of a pamphlet than a major work, and settled down to read it.

Then I discovered that it was a rambling narrative, incoherent at times, about the writer's "venerable ancestor and namesake, Mistress H— B. Cherstow" (17) and her knowledge of the relationship between Anne and William Shakespeare. It's the sort of thing you might hear from the guy at the end of the bar who has clearly had one or two over the eight and who holds some unorthodox views on Shakespeare (or perhaps from someone who corners you at the end of the reception on the opening night of the Shakespeare Association of America Convention).

I didn't understand it at all. Shakespeare was a mass murderer?  He lured rival playwrights to Stratford, killed them, and buried them under the famous Mulberry tree? And not just metaphorically but literally?  And the evidence is drawn from (1) the writer's ancestor's conversation with Anne Shakespeare shortly before her (Anne's) death and (2) various quotes from Shakespeare about blood and death and murder?

Before we go forward, here's a representative sample of the work:

The author has some very bizarre ideas and is inclined to take every word of Shakespeare as autobiographical (including the great letter from Will to Anne that later makes its way into Hamlet).

Was this Harriet Beecher Stowe having flipped her lid? Was she humorously imagining or seriously imagining an ancestor named H— B. Cherstow (say it fast--you'll get it)? Or was there something else going on of which I was in no wise aware?

After a bit more research, I discovered that what I was reading was actually a parody of a work by Harriet Beecher Stowe, not a work by Harriet Beecher Stowe herself.

In a work published in The Atlantic in 1868 (and, later, in a full-length work entitled Lady Byron Vindicated), Stowe had tried to argue that Lady Byron's estrangement from George Gordon, Lord Byron was predicated on the scandalous behavior of her husband and that she was the patient, long-suffering wife. 

A chapter called "Stowe, Byron, and the Art of Scandal" in Susan M. Ryan's The Moral Economies of American Authorship: Reputation, Scandal, and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Marketplace is one of the clearest accounts of the work:

With that information in mind, the bizarre arguments of The True Story of Mrs. Shakespeare's Life fall into place. No one is seriously attempting to create an Anne Shakespeare who is an accessory to her husband's multiple mulberry murders. Someone is parodying Stowe's attempt to re-read the character of Lady Byron through the works of Lord Byron and through unverified conversations.

I'm glad to have gone through the process of confusion, disbelief, denial, bargaining, and acceptance to figure out exactly what this work was all about. Without the knowledge that we're dealing with a parody, it would be the equivalent of taking Allan Sherman's "Automation" as the definitive work on computer development in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
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Or click here just to download a .pdf for yourself at no charge.

Works Cited

Ryan, Susan M. The Moral Economies of American Authorship: Reputation, Scandal, and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Marketplace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Scheil, Katherine West. Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

The True Story of Mrs. Shakespeare's Life. Boston: Loring, n.d. [1870.] 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Book Note: Year of the Mad King

Sher, Antony. Year of the Mad King: The Lear Diaries. Illus. Antony Sher. London: Nick Hern, 2018.

And now we have the latest (please note that I didn't say "last") of the Antony Sher acting diaries: Year of the Mad King. We've seen Year of the King (for which, q.v.)—the not-mad-but-possibly-psychotic-or-sociopathic king, and we've had Year of the Fat Knight (for which, q.v.). Now it's time for one of the leading Shakespearean actors to tell us his journey to King Lear.

As is the case with all of these—they're diaries, after all—the book has a rambling, unpolished quality, but (as with all of these) it also offers some good insight into the play itself, the role itself, and a leading actor's way of approaching the role itself.

We also get some insight into the director's thought processes—and a greater understanding of just how much a director of the caliber of Gregory Doran has to keep in his mind. And how much a Shakespearean actor of the caliber of Antony Sher has to keep in his mind as well. Can you imagine playing Falstaff while trying to get the lines from Lear memory perfect?

We also have Sher's sketches, including this one of Lear cursing:

It's a good read for the actor, the Shakespearean actor, the Shakespearean aficionado, and the general theatergoer.

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Friday, June 21, 2019

Book Note: Year of the Fat Knight

Sher, Antony Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries. Illus. Antony Sher. London: Nick Hern Books, 2016.

Some time ago, I wrote about Antony Sher's Year of the King (for which, q.v.). Reading Patterson Joseph's Julius Caesar and Me reminded me of Sher's work—perhaps especially because I was in the middle of reading Year of the Fat Knight. I had intended to read it some time ago, but copies of the book—even used copies—are not inexpensive, so I kept putting off getting one.

Like Year of the King, Year of the Fat Knight is a diary with sketches (and paintings) related to getting the role of Falstaff, rehearsing the role of Falstaff, and playing the role of Falstaff.

The opening line is pretty compelling:
It's all Ian McKellen's fault.
Here's more of the story:

The work, as you might expect, rambles a bit, but it offers good insight into the life of an actor and the role of Falstaff.

Bonus Image: "My Falstaff."

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Additional Bonus Image (I couldn't resist Sher's sketch of Orson Welles as Falstaff)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Book Note: Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare's African Play

Joseph, Patterson. Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare's African Play. London: Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury), 2018.

I wrote briefly on the Julius Caesar with a modern African setting that was directed by Gregory Doran (for which, q.v.). Since then, I've taught the film, written about it elsewhere, and used it as part of a few presentations.

And now, Patterson Joseph, the Brutus from that stage play and film, has written something of a memoir, autobiography, biography of that production, and critical work called Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare's African Play, and it's fascinating.

The first section is autobiographical—how Joseph became an actor. The second part provides a reading of the play itself—together with some historical context for the play in Africa.  And the third (and longest) section provides a detailed history of Doran's production and Joseph's participation in it.

I'm giving you chapter four as a sample—it will provide a good flavor of the rest of the book.

The book is centered on a production history, but there are also many insights into the play—and, particularly, into the character of Brutus.  I was particularly struck by these thoughts about Brutus' second scene (from page 63):

All in all, this was a fabulous book to read. It's very helpful in understanding Doran's production in depth, but that's not all it offers.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Book Note: Nemesis by Agatha Christie

Christie, Agatha. Nemesis. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1971,

Agatha Christie often has a little bit of Shakespeare in her mystery novels.

For example, click here or here or here!

In the late novel Nemesis, we get a bit more.

I'll give you the Shakespearean foreshadowings—and then I'll warn you when the spoilers start in earnest.

Miss Marple is on a tour of homes and gardens, and she meets up with three ladies who were once awaited with an old friend of hers.

Unfortunately, there's something odd (or, dare I say, weïrd?) about or around the three ladies—who are sisters. Miss Marple can't stop thinking about the three sisters in Russian literature . . . and the three Weïrd Sisters in Macbeth. There's something sinister in Miss Marple's mind about the grouping of three women:

Note: We're about to jump to the end of the novel. This is where the spoilers might properly get started. You have been warned.

Miss Marple reflects on her earlier feelings now that everything has been wrapped up neatly. The part that concerns us starts about two-thirds of the way down the first image below:

Threes can be sinister . . . perhaps like the three parts of Henry VI.

In any case, we have in this instance a more sustained Shakespearean theme than in many of Christie's novels.

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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