Monday, May 30, 2022

Book Note: Ian Pollock's' Graphic Novel of King Lear

Pollock, Ian, illus. William Shakespeare: King Lear: The Complete Play. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1984.

Not long after my last post (on Gareth Hinds' Graphic Novel of King Lear), Rich Perloff mentioned Ian Pollock's graphic novel of the play.

If Hinds has some of Lear's madness in the illustrations, Pollock outdoes it in manifold ways.

First, Pollock provides the complete text of the play. Hinds is good as an introduction to the play, but if you want the whole thing illustrated, Pollock is for you—especially if you're a fan of somewhat surreal art.

I'll provide a few spreads as examples here—the "reason not the need" scene followed by (it seems almost required) the storm scene.

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Friday, May 27, 2022

Book Note: Gareth Hinds' Graphic Novel of King Lear

Hinds, Gareth. The Merchant of Venice: A Play by William Shakespeare: Adapted and Illustrated by Gareth Hinds. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2008.

While we're talking about graphic novels of Shakespeare plays by Gareth Hinds, let's take a look at his King Lear. [Note: He also has one of Macbeth, but it doesn't have as much interest (to me) as his Lear and his Merchant.

The Merchant is pretty straightforward, though set in a more modern era. With King Lear, Hinds is able to have more scope with the graphics—partly to show Lear's descent into madness.

I'm providing three spreads from the book. The first is at the end of Act Two. In it, Lear's mind is starting to go. The second is the storm scene—I felt the need to show how Hinds addressed it. And the third is from Edgar's leading the blinded Gloucester to what Gloucester thinks is the edge of a cliff. It's there to show that the book is not monochromatic.

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Book Note: Gareth Hinds' Graphic Novel of The Merchant of Venice

Hinds, Gareth. The Merchant of Venice: A Play by William Shakespeare: Adapted and Illustrated by Gareth Hinds. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2008.

Gareth Hinds has done a number of graphic novels of classic texts. I discovered his Odyssey this summer, and I wanted to see what else he had done.

This is his Merchant of Venice. It's a good, short, straightforward version of the novel. The drawings are reminiscent of the Trevor Nunn film (for which, q.v.). 

The text is also largely drawn from Shakespeare's text, though it's occasionally modernized.

As an example, I'll give you the "Hath not a Jew" speech and a bit of the courtroom scene. I like the way "The quality of mercy is not strained" is given the context of a reply to Shylock's "How can you compel anyone to show mercy?" 

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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Book Note: The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard

Rogers, Gregory. The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard. New Milford: Neal Porter, 2004.

A recent post on Box Office Bears about bears in Shakespeare's day made me realize I'd never mentioned The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard—one of my favorite picture books having to do with Shakespeare.

The book is wordless, which presents a number of challenges. Fortunately, Gregory Rogers is more than up to the task.

The plot involves a boy in the modern age who zips back to Shakespeare's day—in the middle of a performance at the Globe Theatre. Shakespeare himself is there, and he angrily rushes out to get the boy off stage . . . but slips on the boy's soccer ball and goes sprawling.

The boy, while running and hiding from the Bard, meets and frees a bear; the two of them then meet up with a baron.

Let me give you a couple spreads that show how carefully constructed the book is. Note: They're from very early on . . . I want to avoid spoilers!

And that's just the beginning! If you haven't encountered this book, you need to track it down right away.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Book Note: Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Screenplay and Introduction by Kenneth Branagh

Branagh, Kenneth. Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Screenplay and Introduction by Kenneth Branagh. Film Diary by Russel Jackson. Photographs by Rolf Konow and Peter Mountain. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
Until about a month ago, I had no idea that the screenplay for Kenneth Branagh's full-text Hamlet was available. Since it's been available since the film was screened in 1996, that's quite an oversight! But I was very happy to rectify it.

The screenplay itself is interesting for its stage directions. For example, we learn that the opening sequence begins this way:

Darkness. Uneasy silence. The deep of a Winter's Night. A huge plinth, with the screen-filling legend carved deep in the stone, HAMLET. The Camera creeping, like an animal, pans left to reveal, a hundred yards away, ELSINORE, a gorgeous Winter Palace. Effortlessly elegant, yet powerful in its coat of snow. (1)

Branagh's introduction is interesting in providing some biographical background to his interest in Shakespeare in general and Hamlet in particular. In it, we get these memorable statements:

The screenplay is what one might call the "verbal storyboard." An inflexion of a subjective view of the play which has developed over the years. Its intention was to be both personal, with enormous attention paid | to the intimate relations between the characters, and at the same time epic, with a sense of the country at large and of a dynasty in decay. (xiv-xv)

That I should have pursued the play's mysteries so assiduously over twenty years continues to puzzle me. But it's what I do, and this is what I've done. As the great soccer manager Bill Shankly once said, describing the importance of football, "It's not a matter of life and death. It's much more important than that." Certainly for me, an ongoing relationship to this kind of poetry and this kind of mind is a necessary part of an attempt to be civilized. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to explore it. (xv)

Both those selections were written before the film was completed, let alone released. I imagine that most viewers see much more of the epic than the personal. But most viewers probably get a sense of the fulfillment of years of thinking about the play in the making of this film.

Most interesting to me were parts of the film diary by Russel Jackson. The comings and goings of some enormously famous actors may appeal more to others than to me—they're there if you like that sort of thing. But there's a lot about the process of interpretation. I'd like to give you a couple points of significance there. The first (the marked-up section on the image below) shows us the production's ideas (at least before filming) of some of the connections. It asserts that Polonius has been promoted by Claudius to his position, which may not be too unusual a position (though the text is silent on the issue). But it also says that Hamlet and Ophelia have been having an affair . . . notably "since the death of Hamlet senior" (177). In this production, their affair has lasted, therefore, only two months—nay, not so much, not two. Here's the spread from the book:

I'm not convinced it's a good decision, but it's really wonderful to see how the wheels of the brains were turning in considering it.

On the next spread, we get more on Ophelia's role. At the end of the 4 January entry, we see why they include Ophelia in the scene where Polonius brings the news of Hamlet's connection to Ophelia to Gertrude and Claudius. In the 4 to 8 January section, we get a very interesting question opened. Is Ophelia the one who decides to return Hamlet's "remembrances"? If so, what is the significance of her making that decision?

When they're filming the nunnery scene later (in the 8 March entry), the question comes up again. It's suggested that her returning the remembrances is "from the heart—or at least is what she is trying to convince herself of" (198):

That's a question well worth exploring. I'll need the summer to think about it, but I'll be ready when my Shakespeare class starts in the fall. My impression has been that Polonius (who has been given at least one letter from Hamlet to Ophelia by Act II, scene ii) has demanded / orchestrated / suggested returning the remembrances. This is one thing she says at that point:

Take these again, for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. (III.i.99-100)

It's in no way direct textual evidence to support the claim that Polonius is behind the return of the remembrances, but the rhymed couplet there sounds much more like something Polonius would say than something Ophelia would say. The only other rhymed couplet she utters is at the end of this scene: ". . . O, woe is me / T'have seen what I have seen, see what I see!" (III.i.160-61).

The other interesting thing about the diary in general and that spread in particular is the number of ideas that are eventually dropped. On the right-hand side of that spread, we learn that, at one point, Claudius would be confessing to an actual priest—except it wouldn't be an actual priest. It would be Hamlet in disguise as a priest!

It's probably better that that idea was abandoned.

But I wish that an idea of the gravediggers had made it in. One of them suggested that they start tossing a coin somewhere in the background—bringing a little of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead into the picture (194).

This book is a great resource for thinking about the play and for working through some details of Branagh's film of it. If only I'd known about it twenty-five years ago . . .

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Monday, May 23, 2022

She's the Man: The Most Famous Twelfth Night Derivative

She's the Man. Dir. Andy Fickman. Perf. Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum, Laura Ramsey, Vinnie Jones, David Cross, Julie Hagerty, Robert Hoffman, Alexandra Breckenridge, Jonathan Sadowski, Amanda Crew, Jessica Lucas, Brandon Jay McLaren, Clifton MaCabe Murray, James Snyder, and James Kirk. 2006. DVD. Paramount, 2017.

Of Twelfth Night derivatives, we’ve covered Motocrossed (for which, q.v.) and Just One of the Guys (for which, q.v.), but we’ve never gotten around to She’s the Man, the most well-known of them all. Perhaps this oversight was simply because it's the go-to Twelfth Night derivative. Or maybe I was worried that students, knowing the film, would want to write on it—and would tailor their essays to match my own thoughts on the film. Or it could be that I don't have all that much to say about it—other than to note that the title comes from the line Viola delivers in the play when she realizes that Olivia has fallen in love with Cesario (the name she uses when dressed as a man): "I am the man" (II.ii.25).

Whatever the case, we're here now. And it's not a bad place to be! She's the Man is clearly far superior to both Motocrossed and Just One of the Guys. Instead of setting the plot in the motocrossing community or in the environs of high-school journalism, we're on the football pitch ("soccer field" to many in the U.S.). And that's a more congenial place to be. Perhaps it's niche, but it's less niche than the others. When Cornwall High School's girls' soccer team is cut for funding issues while the boys' team remains (Title IX, anyone?), our female protagonist Viola pretends to be her brother Sebastian and heads to Illyria Prep School, Cornwall's rival, to prove that she can play soccer at or above the level of the guys.

Hilarity ensures. 

The film follows Twelfth Night's plot pretty closely. Everyone falls in love with the wrong people—except the people who fall in love with the right people. Finally, all is revealed (at points, quite literally—Sebastian has to establish visually that he's a boy; Viola has to establish visually that she's a girl). 

I've put together a few clips from the film to illustrate what I find interesting.
  1. A soccer montage with some elements of what it's like to be a girl in a guy's world. The soccer in this film is often quite exciting (yes, I know they edit out the dull bits, but these people really do know how to play the beautiful game).
  2. A bonding moment between Viola (pretending to be Sebastian) and Duke, who says he finds himself tongue tied when trying to talk to the opposite sex. The interesting part to me is that we're really bringing in As You Like It rather than Twelfth Night here. It's a rough equivalent to the scene in which Rosalind (dressed as the man Ganymede) pretends to be Rosalind so that Orlando can practice wooing a lady. Also, the line "Do you like cheese?" becomes a nice running gag in the rest of the film.
  3. A direct quotation from Twelfth Night. We get a key line from the letter dropped to fool Malvolio: "Be not afraid of greatness. Some are [born] great, some [achieve] greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em" (II.v.144-46).

It's lovely to have that direct quotation brought it. But it's also interesting on another level. The coach (who, apparently, says that before every game?) is played by Vinnie Jones, who played football (sorry—soccer to any in the audience from the United States) professionally (notably, for Chelsea). You may know him as being the utterly evil Sebastian Moran in the television series Elementary. There, he notably plays a fanatical Arsenal fan—an inside joke, since Jones never played for Arsenal. Jones also holds the record for earliest booking (i.e., getting a yellow card) in a professional match.  It's three seconds. But I'm sure he's a lovely guy off the pitch. 

All in all, it's an interesting, well-presented, well-acted, well-conceived film. It's well worth watching.

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Friday, May 20, 2022

Book Note: The Parallel King Lear: 1608-1623

Shakespeare, William. The Parallel King Lear: 1608-1623. Prepared by Michael Warren. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

My previous post reminded me that I had never written about The Parallel King Lear. I've covered The Three-Text Hamlet (for which, q.v.) and spoken of how useful it is (for which, q.v.).

The Parallel King Lear is also very useful. The first quarto text (1608) is presented side-by-side with the first folio text (1623). Moreover (and it differs from The Three-Text Hamlet in this), the selections are presented in facsimile. It also is enormous—each single page is nearly eleven by seventeen inches! Finally, it also contains columns of corrections made during each print run. It's really a four-column King Lear, but the center columns are where most of the action is.

The precise relationship between Q1 and F of King Lear is much debated. And that's an understatement. Gallons of scholarly ink has been spilled on the subject. The older orthodoxy was that F represented a revision of Q1—or that Q1 was a "bad quarto" (in other words, one not representing authorial intention). Recent critical approaches have gone so far as to argue that these two texts of King Lear, Q1 containing 300 lines not in F and F containing 100 lines not in Q1, are so different as to represent two separate plays. That's why you can buy King Lear in the Pelican edition in three different forms:  Q1, F1, and a conflated text.  The Oxford Shakespeare (the Norton) also couldn’t decide which to print in its complete Shakespeare, so it prints all three.

Whatever you think about the two texts of King Lear, this volume is a tremendous resource for seeing at a glance where the differences are. In my previous post, I provided a scan of Act I, scene iv to illustrate some differences between the texts. Here, I've decided to show the differences between the ending of Q1 and the ending of F, a key one of which is who gets the ending line.

The question of whether "Duke" (i.e., Albany) or "Edg." (i.e., Edgar) gets the last line is fascinating. But I won't say more about that just now.

And there's one other line attribution that I've only just noticed—it's amazing what you'll find just glancing through a volume like this! In F, we have a stage direction to mark Lear's death; in Q1, we don't. After that stage direction in F, Kent says, "Break heart, I prithee break." In Q1, that line is given to Lear.

I'm not quite sure what to make of that—but doubtless something could be made of it! I'll think about it this summer and work my ideas into my fall Shakespeare class.

Note: I've also only just noticed that, in addition to the volume I've been writing about, there is a four-volume set that includes this volume, a volume that is a facsimile of Q1, a volume that is a facsimile of Q2, and a volume that is a facsimile of F. It's really expensive, but you can get it here.

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Lear's Shadow

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. R. A. Foakes. Arden Shakespeare. London: Routledge, 1997.
I'm very fond of the Chop Bard podcast. Ehren Ziegler, its host, has thoroughly and entertainingly examined at least eighteen Shakespeare plays over the course of 224 episodes. It's been a while, but Episode 153: "The Difference of Man" featured some commentary I wrote in to the show. You can listen to a portion of that in that episode (the comments start at 1:20), but I wanted to share those points and others here (expanded and slightly edited and illustrated) as well. Here, then, is a large part of what I wrote.

Dear Ehren:

In Episode 144 (“Serpent’s Tooth”), you provided a fascinating account of the wealth of interpretative possibilities available in the line “Lear’s shadow” (I.iv.222 in the Arden edition—see the image above). The line immediately before that line is one of immense significance: “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” (I.iv.221). When Shakespeare uses phrases like “I am,” he’s usually getting at something important. And when he breaks the language up into pure monosyllables, it slows up the language, forcing us to pay additional attention to the line. The line then becomes—especially in F, where it’s printed as blank verse (see the image below from The Parallel King Lear—for more on that volume, q.v.)—a cry for clarification of his identity, which has deteriorated quite a bit already.

The line “Lear’s shadow” is spoken by Lear in the first quarto and by the Fool in the first folio (see the same image above). As I recall, you gave the following remarkable possibilities for the line as spoken by the Fool in F. 
  • Lear’s shadow (his actual shadow) could tell Lear who he is—and, since it can say nothing, the answer is “nothing.”
  • Lear’s shadow (the Fool) could tell Lear who he is . . . and he’s been trying to all along: “thou art nothing” (I.iv.184-85).
  • “Lear’s shadow” is the answer to the question. You’re only the shadow of your former self.
I’d just like to addd one more possible layer of meaning to the line: an intriguingly metatheatrical one.  

In Shakespeare’s day, the word “shadow” could mean “player” or “actor.” OED def. 6 b. says, “Applied rhetorically to a portrait as contrasted with the original; also to an actor or a play in contrast with the reality represented.” It cites “If we shadows have offended” and "The best in this kind are but shadows” from Midsummer Night’s Dream and "To your shadow, will I make true love” from Two Gentlemen of Verona:

This provides the possibility for the line meaning “the actor playing King Lear” in addition to all the other polysemous meanings that are running around the line. As an inside joke, it’s intriguing. It’s like all those times in Agatha Christie novels where the characters say, “If this weren’t actually happening to me, I wouldn’t believe it—I would think I was in a mystery novel.” It calls attention to the fact that we’re watching a play while still enabling us to be intensely caught up in the lives of the characters. This is especially the case in Q1, where Lear speaks the line. There, it would mean, in one rough sense at least, “Who am I? Just some guy playing the role of King Lear?”

The other point about that episode that I’d like to bring to your attention is this exchange between Lear and the Fool:

Lear: Dost thou call me fool, boy?

Fool: All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou was born with. (I.iv.141-43)

The way you read the line was intriguing. You read it as if there were no punctuation: “All thy other titles thou hast given away that thou was born with.” Rephrasing this to maintain that grammar, we get “All thy other titles that thou was born with thou hast given away.” With the semi-colon, it amounts to “You’ve given away all your titles except the title you were born with, and that title is ‘fool’” (i.e., "All thy other titles thou hast given away; that [the title of fool] thou was born with”). Your reading shifts the emphasis from having the title of fool to giving away all other titles, and that’s an interesting alternate emphasis. Well done! [Note: That line is only in Q, where it is printed with a comma and a capital T for Titles: “All thy other Titles thou hast given away, that thou was born with.” Additional Note: Jacobean punctuation is fluid enough for that comma to represent either a semi-colon or a slight pause.]

Finally, I’d like to point you toward a line you’ll get to in the next episode. At the end of Edgar’s speech where he starts to try out the role of Poor Tom, he gives another one of Shakespeare’s “I am” lines, but with a fabulous twist. Edgar concludes his speech with “Edgar I nothing am” (II.ii.192). I always ask my students (particularly those who are taking the advanced grammar class we offer) to diagram that sentence, and they almost always turn it into something like “I, Edgar, am nothing”—which is probably grammatically accurate, but it doesn’t actually account for everything packed into that line. The use of the word “nothing” that’s been running through the play is called back here again—Shakespeare loves to ring changes on different words!—and that, together with the arrangement of the words, gives us much to ponder. It seems that Edgar means something more like “As Edgar, I’m nothing, but I can at least be something if I’m Poor Tom” or “Edgar has become nothing,” implying that Edgar is emptied of all that gave him identity when he heads out to the heath with this new identity.  

Those are thoughts that just a few lines of King Lear inspire in me every time I read the play. Themes of identity, nothingness, and foolishness are caught up in complicated ways that make me marvel every single time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Shakespeare in The Far Side

Larson, Gary. "Whoa! . . . Something's Sure Rotten Somewhere!" 27 October 1986. The Complete Far Side. Vol. 1. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2013.

I grew up reading the comics every day in the newspaper.

I guess I'm dating myself. [And that's okay—whenever I date myself and get angry at myself, I just don't talk to myself for a while, and eventually I get the point and we make up.]

And this was in the golden age of comics.  Calvin & Hobbes was (were?) there. FoxTrot was around. And then there was The Far Side.

This semester, I got the magisterial Complete Far Side from the library, and I've been dipping into it every so often. It's strong on the Trojan War, chickens, cows, and Hell but relatively weak on Shakespeare.

But today, I found one near the end of Volume One. Enjoy this one, and I'll keep looking. If you know of any others, let us know in the comments, please!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Hamlet: The Series

Hamlet: The Series
. Six episodes. Dir. Bob J. Koester. Perf. June Greyson, Kitty Mortland, Joe Page, Liz Kummer, Alex Molnar, Christopher Lysy, and John McDonnell. 2014, 2015. DVD. N.p., 2014-2015.

I purchased this at the end of a fiscal year—largely because it used up my budget nearly to the penny. I didn't expect much; I didn't get much. It's one of those things funded by Kickstarter that didn't entirely pan out as the creative minds behind it likely intended.

Hamlet: The Series is a set of six episodes that modernizes Hamlet. In a number of ways, it's repeating some of the schemes of the 2000 film directed by Michael Almereyda (for which, q.v.). There's a lot of technology worked in, including Hamlet texting Horatio parts of her soliloquies. Yes, her soliloquies. We have a female Hamlet (Hamlette?) here. It's an interesting decision, but the production doesn't do much with it.

What's mildly interesting is the use of a news program to introduce some of the plot devices. I'd like to show you a bit of that—and you'll also be able to gather the general quality of the production from it. You'll also see our ghost, and you'll be introduced to our Hamlet. Here you go:

I thought I'd give you their "O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I" to round things off:

There you have it. Some somewhat interesting ideas that are not carried out very well. I won't be trying to track down episodes four to six.

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