Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Book Note: Everybody's Shakespeare by Orson Welles et al.

Shakespeare, William, Orson Welles, and Roger Hill. Everybody's Shakespeare. Woodstock, Illinois: The Todd Press, 1934.

I've finally taken the plunge and started on Simon Callow's four-volume (!) biography of Orson Welles (of which only three volumes have yet been released). More on that later.

My own interest (naturally) relates to Welles' relationship to Shakespeare. I've written about his film version of Macbeth (for which, q.v. and q.v. [and elsewhere—q.v. for the dagger speech specifically]). I've found rare clips of his [quote] "Voodoo Macbeth" (for which, q.v.). I read a novel and watched a film about his early production of Julius Caesar (for which, q.v.). I've found out about his Merchant of Venice (for which, q.v.), and watched his King Lear (for which, q.v. and q.v.) multiple times. I've investigated his Chimes at Midnight (for which, q.v.). I've explored the [ridiculous] claims that he was an Oxfordian (for which, q.v.), and I've even shown his appearance in I Love Lucy (for which, q.v.) a few times to my Shakespeare and film classes.

But I did not know that, in 1934, Welles and Roger Hill (the headmaster of his preparatory school—the Todd School), when Welles was at the age of eighteen or nineteen, published an introduction to Shakespeare and an edited script of Merchant of Venice, complete with illustrations and notes for performance. [Two more volumes were published: the subsequent volumes were Julius Caesar and Twelfth Night—both in 1939 (for those of you keeping score).]

I managed to track down a not-too-expensive copy of the first volume, and it's pretty amazing. [Note: If you're trying to track it down, it was later released as The Mercury Shakespeare, and it stayed in print for years, so there should be copies available.]

What intrigues me most is the introductory material, though Orson Welles' sketches and suggested staging ideas are also very valuable.

The best thing I can do is to give you some samples from the book, starting with some comments on the plots and the grammar of Shakespeare and then concluding with several pages ridiculing the anti-Stratfordian position. Even though the claims that Orson Welles thought the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare have been sufficiently debunked, it's interesting to have this early and clear assertion that Welles believed that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare. It might be argued that people can change their minds, but reading this biography has opened my eyes to the way Welles would say anything to anyone and would play along with the ideas of his audience. It seems that Welles was very rarely not performing in one way or another.

In any case, take a look at this early work by the wunderkind who brought so much Shakespeare to the stage, the radio, and the screen.

Click here to purchase a copy of one volume from the series—one signed by Orson Welles et al. from
(so you can then give it to Bardfilm).

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Book Note: Thinking Shakespeare: A Working Guide for Actors, Directors, Students . . . and Anyone Else Interested in the Bard

Edelstein, Barry. Thinking Shakespeare: A Working Guide for Actors, Directors, Students . . . and Anyone Else Interested in the Bard. Rev. ed. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2018.

I'm frequently asked by our theatre majors questions about Shakespeare. I love it. That's what I'm here for.

Often, the questions are about less-often-performed monologues for auditions. I have resources and ideas that I can point them toward.

Sometimes, the questions are about acting. And I'm much less sure of myself then.

But I've found a very good resource that I can point them toward. Barry Edelstein's Thinking Shakespeare is a clear and relatively informal handbook on understanding Shakespeare's language and ways to put it into practice for the actor—the actor in particular, but also for the director, the student, and the teacher.

The best I can do is give you the first chapter and then send you off to buy the book.

Click below to sample more of the book and then to purchase it from

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Barney Miller uses Hamlet

“Ramon.” By Theodore J. Flicker and Danny Arnold. Perf. Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, and Abe Vigoda. Dir. Bill Davius. Barney Miller. Season 1, episode 1. ABC. 23 January 1975. DVD. SHOUT! FACTORY, 2011.

“Bus Stop.” By Theodore J. Flicker and Danny Arnold. Perf. Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, and Abe Vigoda. Dir. Noam Pitlik. Barney Miller. Season 3, episode 4. ABC. 14 October 1976. DVD. SHOUT! FACTORY, 2011.

“Ramon.” By Theodore J. Flicker and Danny Arnold. Perf. Hal Linden, Barbara Barrie, and Abe Vigoda. Dir. Noam Pitlik. Barney Miller. Season 3, episode 6. ABC. 28 October 1976. DVD. SHOUT! FACTORY, 2011.

Shakespeare Geek recently challenged us all to watch all the sitcoms we ever watched in all our ever-loving lives and to categorize the Shakespeare references in them.

Well, sort of.

He did say that he had noticed a lot of Shakespeare references in sitcoms that he was watching (or having on in the background) during the COVID-19 crisis. And I had just found one myself in an episode of Taxi (for which, q.v.).

It probably shouldn't have been surprising that I found some Hamlet references in Barney Miller, starting with the very first episode.

There were more in the third season. I've put them all together in the clip below. We start with Barney Miller's wife alluding to something rotten in the state of Denmark. Then we move to a person who was on the verge of committing insurance fraud until conscience made a coward of him. Finally, we meet a man who thinks he's a werewolf, and we get a "more things in heaven and earth" quote.

Enjoy . . . and feel free to find your own and to mention them in the comments!

Links: The Show at IMDB.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The "Prayer-Book" scene in Loncraine's Richard III

Richard III. Dir. Richard Loncraine. Perf. Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey, Jr., and Maggie Smith. 1995. DVD. United Artists Pictures, 1995.

In the third act of Richard III, Shakespeare pulls back the curtain to show us the political power of the photo opportunity. Buckingham has been trying to rally support for Richard as king, but it hasn't been going that well. He advises Richard to be found with a prayer book in his hand, conferring with two priests. That will make him appear to be Christian, holy, and only concerned with spiritual matters, not with power.

It's all show. Richard has no religious feeling whatsoever, but he thinks he can fool everyone into thinking he does, which will be good for his political career.

The images to the right show the way Loncraine decided to show this scene. It's a brilliant, nicely-layered way to show how a photo opportunity like this has no real substance. Not only is Richard only portraying an interest in religion that he does not actually feel, it isn't even a religious book that he's using as a prop! I haven't been able to make out just what the dust cover on the book says, but it looks like it's a secular novel. Once the dust cover is removed, it looks like a prayer book . . . but its interior is secular, not sacred.

Here's what Buckingham says when he's advising Richard in this photo opportunity:
The mayor is here at hand: intend some fear;
Be not you spoke with, but by mighty suit:
And look you get a prayer-book in your hand,
And stand betwixt two churchmen, good my lord;
For on that ground I'll build a holy descant:
And be not easily won to our request . . . . (III.viii)
More of the scene follows in the clip below. I love how Sir Ian delivers the final line of this clip: "I'm not made of stone."

I'm posting this on Friday, June 12, 2020. On Monday, June 8, 2020, the President of the United States walked across Lafayette Square to hold a Bible up in front of St. John's Church. Protests over the death of George Floyd were happening all over the country . . . including in Lafayette Square . . . at the time.

Careful readers know that I am interested in talking about how Shakespeare is relevant. They will also know that there are times when I wish that Shakespeare was not relevant. 

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Hamlet in Taxi

“Bobby's Acting Career.” By Ed Weinberger and Stan Daniels. Perf. Judd Hirsch, Jeff Conaway, Danny DeVito, Marilu Henner, Tony Danza, and John Lehne. Dir. James Burrows. Taxi. Season 1, episode 4. ABC. 5 April 1978. DVD. Paramount, 2014.

During a pandemic, you sometimes find yourself watching really old sitcoms.

And sometimes you find some Shakespeare in the mix.

In Taxi, we meet a host of taxi drivers who are nearly all underrated by their customers and their manager. In this episode, taxi driver Alex Reiger picks up a Great Dane (and its owner) and gets a chance to show off his knowledge of Hamlet. Later, the owner of the dog treats the dog very harshly, leading Alex to drop the fare and keep the dog. I won't show you that part, but here's the part where the Hamlet comes in:

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Othello: A Derivative of Othello that Focuses Intently on Race

Othello. Dir. Geoffrey Sax. Perf. Keeley Hawes, Eamonn Walker, and Christopher Eccleston. 2001. DVD. Acorn Media, 2002.

[Note: I wrote this before the death of George Floyd made this an unfortunately extremely pertinent issue to the Twin Cities, to the United States, and to the world at large. I sometimes wish Shakespeare could be less relevant.]

I usually vary the offerings in my Shakespeare and Film course from year to year. Some films are always there, but I move the plays we cover and the films of the plays we cover. For the past two years, I've had Othello in the course.

Some Othellos concentrate on race; others ignore the issue. Geoffrey Sax's derivative version places it at the forefront, exploring racial divides between the police and the people they are meant to serve.

Here's the opening of the film. Doctor Who fans will recognize our Iago analogue pretty quickly.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click here to purchase the film from

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

O: Othello in a Prep School Setting

O. Dir. Tim Blake Nelson. Perf. Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Andrew Keegan, Julia Stiles, and Rain Phoenix. 2001. DVD. Lions Gate, 2002.

I've never been greatly enamored of O, even though Julia Stiles is in it. It seemed to be one of many in the "Shakespeare set in high school" genre, and, even though it captures the way emotions run high in high school, it didn't seem very realistic.

Still, the opening is exciting, and it does set the clear black / white dichotomy that the film is looking to develop. Take a look!

I think the opening is the best part. I'm not convinced by O's Roderigo—or by much else in the film.

Anyone want to weigh in in the comments on what I ought to realize or recognize about this Shakespeare derivitive?

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Huapango: Othello in a Mexican Folk Dance Competition Setting

Huapango. Dir. Ivan Lipkies. Perf. Alejandro Tommasi, Lisset, Manuel Landeta, Goretti Lipkies, Alfredo Castillo, Rafael Romero, Alfredo Sevilla, MarĂ­a Elena Velasco, and Alicia Sandoval. 2004. DVD. Quality Films, n.d.

In my Shakespeare and Film class this semester, I decided to return to Othello. I try always to leave a week free in the syllabus to deal with a play and a film that seems timely or particularly interesting.

This film sets Othello in small-town Mexico among characters who focus their attentions on their skills at Huapango, a kind of Mexican folk dance.  During the National Festival of Huapango, the Iago analogue, jealous at being slighted by the Desdemona analogue, plots his revenge.  One of the most interesting features of this film is its treatment of the Othello analogue, who is injured in a rodeo early in the film and spends the rest of the film recovering in bed.

One other point of interest is where the film sets its conflict. I've talked to a scholar who has written about the film (and about other Shakespeare films from Mexico), and he said that there was not a racial component to the rivalry between the Iago analogue and the Othello analogue. Santiago (our Iago) is of a different social class than Otilio (our Othello), but not of a different ethnicity.

The clip below shows the opening of the film. Watch it to see what other alterations to the Othello narrative the derivative makes.

Note: As always, I am alerting readers / viewers to some unsavory language in the clip below.

I find that to be absolutely fascinating. The Iago analogue isn't motivated because someone else was promoted before he was—much less that he suspects the Othello analogue of sleeping with his wife. He is the person who is initially jealous, and, on the point of declaring his love for (and proposing to) our Desdemona analogue, he feels humiliated and rejected.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click here to purchase the film from a place called DVD Planet Store.

Note that I haven't used this vendor before and have no idea how reliable they are, but the DVD isn't available on

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Margaret in The Hollow Crown's Richard III

Richard III. By William Shakespeare. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Daniels, Judi Dench, James Fleet, Phoebe Fox, Keeley Hawes, and Sophie Okonedo. Dir. Thea Sharrock. The Hollow Crown. Season 2, episode 4. BBC Two. 21 May 2016. DVD. Universal Studios, 2016.

Margaret is one of the only characters who appears in—and lives through!—all three Henry VI plays and Richard III. But she's often cut from modern productions of Richard III—I think largely due to time constraints.

The Hollow Crown's version is one exception. And that means that their version can explore in greater detail the curses she utters early in the play and their effects through the play.

Here's a clip that shows those curses—and also the way Margaret serves as a common enemy to the otherwise squabbling royals.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the series from
(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 2008-2020 (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