Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Happy Baptism Day, Shakespeare!

Orlin, Lena Cowen. 
The Private Life of William Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021.

We don't know Shakespeare's birthday. But we often celebrate it on April 23.

In fact, the first record we have of Shakespeare's existence is his baptismal record. He was baptized on April 23, 1564.

An awful lot of well-intentioned but erroneous ink has been spilled to try to justify the speculation that he was born on April 23, but we just don't know. It's tempting because he died on April 23, 1616 and April 23 is St. George's Day—and St. George is the patron saint of England. It's tempting because you will extremely frequently see the claim that babies were usually baptized three days after birth.

The problem with that last claim is that it's nonsense. I've been reading The Private Life of William Shakespeare recently (it sounds like a novel, but it's actually an extremely scholarly examination of the records we have of Shakespeare's life—particularly those relating to Stratford. Lena Cowen Orlin's explanation of why people celebrate Shakespeare's birthday on April 23 is one of the most cogent and careful I've seen:

And that's why people keep on saying "children were baptized three days after birth in Shakespeare's day"—because 50% of the children born to a certain John Dee were baptized three days after birth—and James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps concluded, in 1848, that that was the usual time frame between birth and baptism.

Thus, we can say, "Happy birthday, Shakespeare . . . whenever it happened to be!"  And we can say, "Happy Baptism Day, Shakespeare—it's April 26!"

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Friday, April 22, 2022

Shakespeare's in The Good Place!

"Whenever You're Ready." By Michael Schur. Perf. Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D'Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, Ted Danson, Maya Rudolph, and Marc Evan Jackson. Dir. Michael Schur. The Good Place. Season 4, episode 13. 30 January 2020. DVD. Shout! Factory, 2020.

"Chidi Sees the Time-Knife." By Michael Schur, 
Christopher Encell, and 
Joe Mande. Perf. Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D'Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, Ted Danson, Maya Rudolph, and Marc Evan Jackson. Dir. Jude Weng.
The Good Place. Season 3, episode 11. 17 January 2019. DVD. Shout! Factory, 2020.

Readers who know the show The Good Place may know what I'm talking about. Readers who don't may think I'm being quite presumptuous. And readers who are ShakespeareGeek may be wondering why I'm not pointing out that he's the one who called my attention to the reference in the show's finale.

Let me explain—but understand that it will involve considerable spoilers.

The Good Place is a show about the afterlife (and ethics and philosophy and relationships and frozen yogurt, and many other things). When people die, they go to The Good Place or The Bad Place (or, in at least one rare instance, The Medium Place) based on how many Goodness Points they earned while alive.

After many meanderings, our main characters final reach The Real Good Place (I'm leaving that somewhat ambiguous for those who haven't seen the show), but the problem is that no one remains happy there for long because there's no end to it. They decide to allow the people there to decide when they're ready to move on—which means walking through a door and having any distinguishing part of their identity and personality return to the universe.

In a brief moment in the season finale, we learn that Shakespeare, after a very long time in The Real Good Place, has decided to go through the door:

Before the rules were changed (way back in Season 3), Shakespeare was in The Bad Place—and it must have been tough. He's what one of the head demons has to say:

It's a minor bit of Shakespeare, but it's appreciated by the Shakespeare aficionados of the world.

Links: The Series at IMDB.

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Tiniest Possible Reference to Shakespeare in Outside Providence

Outside Providence. Dir. Michael Corrente. Perf. Shawn Hatosy, Amy Smart, George Wendt, and Alec Baldwin. 1999. DVD. Miramax, 2000.

And sometimes you get a lot less than you think.

I was under the impression that this film was something of a Hamlet derivative. Although I expected it to have relatively minimal associations with Shakespeare's play, I thought there would be something.

"After all," I thought, "there's that whole thing about the fall of a sparrow and providence and Hamlet is sent to an island (admittedly not a Rhode one, but still)."

Wikipedia describes this film as "a 1999 American teen stoner comedy." So I probably should have known better.

Here's all there is:

Yes, that's it. When asked to name his favorite author, our main character (who has been sent to a boarding school because of his constant drug use) says the name on the first book he sees:  Hamlet. And he suffers the consequences. Yes, I am that patient [b]log man.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

2 Henry VI and Othello Make Brief Appearances in WRKP

"Three Days of the Condo." By Lissa Levin. Perf. Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Richard Sanders, Frank Bonner, Jan Smithers, Tim Reid, Howard Hesseman. Dir. Linda Day. WKRP. Season 4, episode 7. BBC. 18 November, 1981. DVD. Shout! Factory, 2018.

Doctor Johnny Fever makes two quick references to Shakespeare in a Season 4 episode. The plot surrounding the allusions isn't important, so I'll ignore that. 

The first reference contains an allusion to Dick the Butcher's famous line from 1 Henry VI: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (IV.ii.76-77). Well, it's a very rough paraphrase, but Johnny Fever does cite Shakespeare as the source.

The second is just the name "Othello" uttered after Dr. Fever takes a closer look at what Venus Flytrap is wearing.


Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Monday, April 18, 2022

Book Note: Hamlet: Globe to Globe

Dromgoole, Dominic. Hamlet: Globe to Globe: Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play. New York: Grove Press, 2017.

I read this book during the pandemic, and it was inspiring. It's the kind of book you can dip into and usually find something interesting.

Hamlet: Globe to Globe presents the stories of a troupe of actors from the Globe Theatre (the most recent one) who performed Hamlet in 197 countries over a two-year period.

And many of those performances were fraught with significance or difficulty—or, frequently, both.

Not every venue is covered in the book, and the book is somewhat uneven, but when it's good, it's quite good. I'd like to provide a representative sample. Here, then, is an account of their performance in Prague:

I find the gratitude expressed at the end of that performance to be beautiful.

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Friday, April 15, 2022

Just One of the Guys as a Derivative of Twelfth Night?

Just One of the Guys
. Dir. Lisa Gottlieb. Perf. Joyce Hyser, Clayton Rohner, and Billy Jayne. 1985. DVD. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2004.

If you've ever doubted the tag line "for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man" at the end of my posts, here's proof. Simply in order to please you, I was willing to slog through a dull and cliché 1980s high school raunchy romantic comedy.

Eleven years before She's the Man. Six years before Motocrossed (for which, q.v.). Three hundred and eighty-three years after the first performance of Twelfth Night . . . .  That's when we get Just One of the Guys.

It should have been made hereafter—there would have been time for such a film. Or maybe not.

The basic plot is, after a fashion, Twelfth Night-y (as a brief tangent, "Twelfth Nightie" would be a great name for a pajama store—as would the modified Gertrude quote "Put Thy Colored Nightie On"). Our protagonist (with the nicely gender-neutral name of Terry) has failed to win the journalism prize at her high school, and she assumes that it's because she's female (and, to top it off, an attractive female). She thinks that they would consider the work of a male more seriously, so she dresses as a man and heads off to the rival school to prove her point.

Once Terry gets there, it turns out that her writing (when they think that it's written by a male author) is fine—but her subject matter is boring (or, from a writing teacher's perspective, not made exciting to the readers). After she falls in love with a guy at the new school (and a woman at the new school falls in love with her) . . . and after everything is revealed at prom, Terry gets angry and writes a passionate article about her experience in this "Guy Like Me" scenario. 

There's not much terribly extractable from this film (it's rated R, and there's far too much language and too many double entendres—and many single entendres), but I'll provide a quick sequence:

There you have it. It's really not much, but, for you, I'm (almost) happy to do it.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Was Twelfth Night Performed on an East India Company Voyage between 1607 and 1610?

Barbour, Richmond. The Third Voyage Journals: Writing and Performance in the London East India Company, 1607-10. New York: Palgrave, 2009.

"Bardfilm," (I hear you cry) "that's an awfully specific question. Just what do you have in mind here? And why, by the way, are you asking it?"

I'll field that second question first, if I may. I'm asking because I've recently heard rumors that such a thing happened—that Twelfth Night was enacted abroad either The Dragon or The Hector during the expedition the two ships made between 1607 and 1610. I first heard the rumor while listening to some lectures from The Teaching Company (a.k.a. The Great Courses).

Since I have done a fair bit of research on the performances of Hamlet (twice) and Richard II (only once) during that voyage (for which, q.v.), I was surprised to hear that Twelfth Night might also have been enacted on the trip. A quick search of the MLA Bibliography, my own copy of William Keeling's journals, JSTOR, and Google Scholar revealed nothing. A quick Google search led me to a section of the Royal Museums Greenwich website that, after mentioning the performances of Hamlet, says this:

The captain, William Keeling, was an enthusiastic follower of Shakespeare’s plays and he persuaded his crew to perform Richard II and Twelfth Night on the same voyage to the Spice Islands.

Now that just didn't ring true. Twelfth Night wasn't published until the First Folio (unless an unmentioned quarto was extant in 1607 but not seen since). Was the performance put together from a manuscript? The Book of the Play? A collection of players' individual script fragments? Both Q1 and Q2 of Hamlet were available by 1607, as were Q1, Q2, and Q3 of Richard II. A ship having a printed copy of both those plays seems reasonable (if, perhaps, unlikely). But Twelfth Night?

Determined to get to the bottom of it, I pulled out the big guns—the publication listed above, which is the most recent scholarly work on the voyage.

And it doesn't mention Twelfth Night anywhere.

But it does have a lot of really interesting information and ideas. Prior to the East India Company, a lot of British mercantile work was in the field of privateering . . . in essence, piracy! In the fascinating introduction to the book, Richard Barbour says, "Keeling and his principal mariners believed the expedition capable of amending England's piratical reputation, an ameliorative process to which Hamlet presumably contributed in Sierra Leone" (3). In thinking about Hamlet being enacted aboard a ship, I utterly neglected to think of the pirates!

Barbour also points out that "The stationer Nicholas Ling, who published the first two quartos of Hamlet, was a charter member of the East India Company. In particular, he was one of several shareholders charged to victual the ships of the Third Voyage. He could have supplied them with books as well as foodstuffs" (27).

That's speculative, of course, but it's interesting speculation! Buy thirty dried sides of beef and get a quarto of any play in stock!

Speaking of speculation, there's been some about the authenticity of the journal entries that mention the Shakespeare plays—primarily because the original pages that were cited in 1825 and 1849 are no longer extant. But I've been convinced by the scholarship I've read that the reports are authentic. In the appendix to The Third Voyage Journals, the specific extracts are examined:

From my research, I'm concluding that Twelfth Night was not performed on an East India Company Voyage between 1607 and 1610. But if anyone has a good source for such a performance, I'm all ears!

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Monday, April 11, 2022

Nunn's Twelfth Night: Meh.

Twelfth Night
. Dir. Trevor Nunn. Perf. Imogen Stubbs, Rod Culbertson, Sydney Livingstone, Toby Stephens, Rita Connolly, Nicholas Farrell, Imelda Staunton, Tim Bentinck, Alan Mitchell, Ben Kingsley, Mel Smith, Peter Beamish, Peter Gunn, and Nigel Hawthorne. 1996. DVD. Image Entertainment, 2005.

I'm not fond of Nunn's Twelfth Night. There is certainly grief and tragedy in the play itself—Olivia's brother is dead, and she's in perpetual mourning for him. Viola's brother is, as far as she knows, dead—but she's being brought to a point where, although it's present, it doesn't overwhelm her.

Nunn's version of the play keeps us in that dark (often literally, cinematographically dark) state. When we get to the trickery scene, there's not much there: 

There's not nothing there, but there's not much. I don't see any joy—in either the trickers or the trickee. They seem to be going through the motions—we're known for pulling pranks on people, so, for lack of anything better to do, let's pull a prank on Malvolio.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, April 8, 2022

Twelfth Night: A Relatively-Sour Malvolio

Twelfth Night
. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Produced and Directed for Television by Paul Kafno. Perf. Frances Barber, Christopher Hollis, Julian Gartside, Tim Barker, Richard Briers, Caroline Langrishe, Anton Lesser, Abigail McKern, Shaun Prendergast, Christopher Ravenscroft, James Saxon, and James Simmons. 1988. VHS. Renaissance Theatre Company / Thames Television, 2013.

Who'd like to see what the great and ubiquitous Richard Briers did with the role of Malvolio (under the direction of the similarly-ubiquitous Kenneth Branagh)?

Well, I know I would. And I'm supposed to be in charge of this blog, after all!

Here we have it. At the opening of the scene, we find a pretty sour Malvolio. Even his fantasy about being Count Malvolio, married to Olivia, doesn't bring him out of his bitterness. But he certainly lights up at the discovery of the letter!


Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Thursday, April 7, 2022

Twelfth Night: Right Ho, Malvolio

Twelfth Night
. Dir. Tim Carroll. Perf. Samuel Barnett, Liam Brennan, Paul Chahidi, John Paul Connolly, Johnny Flynn, Stephen Fry, James Garnon, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Colin Hurley, Roger Lloyd Pack, Mark Rylance, and Joseph Timms. 2013. DVD. 

While we're in a Twelfth Night frame of mind, why not see what Stephen Fry did with Marvolio in the same scene. This time, we're whisked away to the Globe Theatre (the newest one) to witness the discovery of the mysterious letter:

Notable elements here are Fry's ability to have us see what he sees, his ability to make the imagined advice to Sir Toby seem imminently reasonable, and that marvelous re-entry for the postscript. But it's hard to see Stephen Fry as being mean or malicious. The business with the hiding place is also interesting and well-executed.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Twelfth Night: These aren't the MOAIs you're looking for . . .

Twelfth Night
. Dir. John Sichel. Perf. Alec Guinness, Joan Plowright, Tommy Steele, Ralph Richardson, John Moffatt, Gary Raymond, and Adrienne Corri. ITV Sunday Night Theatre. 12 July, 1970. DVD. 
Koch Vision, 2008.
The University of Northwestern—St. Paul is mounting a production of Twelfth Night this year (get your tickets here!), and I've been brushing up on the play in preparation.

I used to think the play was dull (I blame the 1996 film directed by Trevor Nunn for that), but I've come around to realizing that there's an awful lot that is supremely brilliant about the play—if only it can be performed supremely brilliantly (as it was, just by the way, by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in 2013—for which, q.v.).

But I suppose that I digress.

I don't know that the John Sichel film is brilliant, but it is enjoyable. Joan Plowright plays both Viola and Sebastian—I suppose to make the "twin" schtick more plausible—and she does credit to them both.  Sir Ralph Richardson is our Sir Toby, and a memorable one he is. And, of course, we have Obi Wan Kenobi (hence the title of this post) as Malvolio.

Of course, it's Alec Guinness, and he does a great job of underplaying without eliminating the nastiness of Malvolio and being angry at the end without becoming volatile.

But, in the words of the immortal LeVar Burton, "You don't have to take my word for it." Here's the play's trickery scene. Note how Guinness enables us to see what he has in his mind's eye:

It's quite good. There's not much that's flashy or fast-paced (I'd prefer a bit more of that, frankly) but it's solid and interesting.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Book Note: The Three-Text Hamlet

Shakespeare, William. The Three-Text Hamlet: Parallel Texts of the First and Second Quartos and First Folio. Ed. Bernice W. Kliman and Paul Bertram. 2nd edition. New York: AMS Press, 2003.

I'm pleased to have tracked down a copy of this amazing (but unexpectedly rare) resource.

It's just what the title says it is—a presentation of the three key early printings of Hamlet side-by-side. At a glance, we can see where the first quarto (abbreviated Q1), the second quarto (not unexpectedly abbreviated Q2) and the first folio (F) differ and where they mirror each other.

The volume also contains a fourth column dedicated to places where the order of Q1 differs from the other two printings. I'll come back to that in a moment, but let me first show you how it works with an example from Act I, scene ii.

There's been a fascinating discussion on The Shakespeare Conference Message Board about why Edgar is not specifically listed as present in Act I, scene ii of King Lear. You can find part of that conversation here and read backwards from the (the archives are difficult to navigate, but you can find more if you're determined).

And, as my grandmother used to say, "I told you that to tell you this."

I wondered whether Ophelia was specifically listed as entering in Act I, scene ii of Hamlet. She's present in many of the productions—both film and stage—that I've seen, but that could just be tradition.

The quickest way to find out was to grab my copy of The Three-Text Hamlet to see. And here's what I found:

We can see, then, that Ophelia is only specifically listed as entered in F. Prior to 1623, I suppose she was just hanging out in her closet.

In the example above, the fourth column is entirely blank. Let me just show you an example of a place where it's filled in. It also happens to be the most famous speech in Shakespeare. Q1 doesn't always follow the order of the plot points of Q2 and F. [Note: Sticklers can rightly point out that it's really Q2 and F that don't follow the order of Q1's plot points, but the history of production has given preferential treatment to the order found in Q2 and F. But thanks for that point, sticklers!] Here, then, we can easily compare Q1's version of the speech to Q2's and F's (the entire nunnery scene takes place much earlier in Q1—before the fishmonger scene, even):

As something of a side note, the Folger Shakespeare Library has an 1883 four-text version of part of Hamlet available in their LUNA (the Folger Digital Image Collection). It includes Q1, Q2, F, and a conflated text, but it only goes through part of Act I, scene iii. I wonder if it was a speculative publication designed to gather support for a fuller future project, but I don't know enough to know that for certain.  In any case, you'll find a quick sample below, and you can see more here.

Again, I'm just so pleased to have tracked this down. It has already been and will continue to be a mainstay of my study and teaching of Hamlet.

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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