Monday, February 27, 2023

Book Note: Evoking (and Forgetting) Shakespeare

Brook, Peter. Evoking (and Forgetting) Shakespeare. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2003.

This brief volume has considerable profundity. It consists of a lecture Peter Brook gave in Berlin in 1998 and (if I'm reading it right) a second, shorter speech he gave in Paris in 1994.

It's the second that particularly interested me. It gives a general overview of acting principles during Brook's long life in the theatre and his advice for portraying Shakespeare characters.

As one would expect from something by Peter Brook, that's insightful. I'm not sure I agree with everything there, but it is certainly an invigorating process that he imagines.

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Friday, February 24, 2023

Peter Lorre as Hamlet?

Youngkin, Stephen D. The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

I've recently become interested in Peter Lorre again. This time, instead of just re-watching  Casablanca or Arsenic and Old Lace, I decided to read a biography.

And what a biography I found! Stephen Youngkin's The Lost One is an astonishingly-detailed and utterly fascinating account of the varied and complex life of Peter Lorre.

By its means, I learned two things I did not know before, and they both have to do with Shakespeare.

The first is what Peter Lorre said in a discussion about why he was typecast—why he never got an important role.

Lorre asked if they meant something like Hamlet. And then . . . well, read on to see what happened (from pages 82–83) . . .

I, for one, would be very happy with a Hamlet with just the Gravedigger . . . as long as the Gravedigger was played by Peter Lorre.

The second thing I learned was that Peter Lorre, Bertolt Brecht, and Ferdinand Reyher wrote a screenplay called Lady Macbeth of the Yards (with the alternate working titles of All Our Yesterdays, All Our Yesterdays: Macbeth 1946, and Blood Will Have Blood). It sounds absolutely fabulous, and I only wish it had been made into a film (this is from pages 275–77):

Ah, Hollywood. Why did you green-light other projects in 1946 (not naming any names) but cancel this one?

But instead of continuing to complain, I'll start trying to see if the screenplay is extant anywhere. 

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

Book Note: The Shakespeariad

Snider, Denton Jaques.The Shakespeariad: The Poetric Evolution of Shakespeare. St. Louis: The William Harvey Miner Co., Inc., 1916.
———.The Shakespeariad: A Dramatic Epos. St. Louis: The William Harvey Miner Co., Inc., 1923.

If you grew up in St. Louis and went to the headquarters branch of the St. Louis County Library, the term H+ may have a special resonance for you. H is the code for Headquarters—a book with an H on its card catalogue listing or on a sticker on its spine would be shelved in the open stacks of Headquarters.  H+ was for those books that weren't shelved openly. You had to ask a librarian in person for an H+ book, which could be embarrassing because H+ books were the kind of books that maybe not everyone should read.

In "Murder at Pentecost," one of Dorothy L. Sayers' Montague Egg stories, we learn that some books in the Bodleian Library are classified as Phi books (with the Greek letter Φ). Here's how one character explains the classification:  "A Phi book . . . is a book deemed by Bodley's Librarian to be of an indelicate nature, and catalogued accordingly, by some dead-and-gone humorist, under the Greek letter phi."

That was H+, and it was always with a mixture of excitement and embarrassment that I passed my request slip to the librarian on duty. Quick Note: The books I was requesting weren't that indelicate. They were usually older novels translated into English.

But not all H+ books were indelicate. Some were H+ for storage reasons. These were the books that not very many people would grab off a shelf if they spotted it. And that was the majority of the H+ books I requested. I read a very lovely history of the typewriter, something about Swedenborgianism, and a book on fonts.  And I think the videocassettes of the BBC Shakespeare series were also classified H+. They came in a huge brown case with intimidating straps all over it, and the librarians threatened you with your life (and / or a $300 fine, which, for me, was about the same thing) if you lost or damaged a cassette.

I told you that to tell you this (as my Grandmother Jones used to say).

It was in H+ that I discovered The Shakespeariad. It looked interesting because the -iad suffix (or -id or -id) means "story of," as in The Iliad (the story of Ilium, a.k.a. Troy) or The Aeneid (the story of Aeneas). So this was the story of Shakespeare! In verse! First published three hundred years after the poet's death!  Republished seven years later (i.e., three hundred years after the publication of the First Folio)!

It wasn't as interested as it sounded. And I find now that its interest lies in its existence rather than in its content.

The plot (such as it is) takes us to Prospero's (or is it Caliban's?) "Magic Isle," where we find Caliban in sole position . . . until Prospero returns. Then Hamlet wanders by—as do Ariel, Horatio, Rosalind, Hermione, et cetera.

In the second part, we head to "Shakespearopolis, the City of the Magic Isle" to meet with a bunch of women from Venice. 

Part the Third takes us to Hamlet's palace (and, later, Prospero's temple) in "The Magic Overworld."

Again, what happens in the overall plot is not very interesting. But the idea that this was written in the early days of World War I as a way to see how Shakespeare's characters might fare in a modern age is. And some of the details of how that works out are really quite fascinating.  [Note: The book was republished in 1923 , but the main difference I can detect is the addition of an appendix to that printing; the poem itself seems unaltered.]

Let's take a look at the opening of the poem.  We start with Caliban solus, and he professes a longing to be Prospero's servant once again. This is from the 1923 edition, but the main difference I can detect between the 1916 and the 1923 versions (I have both editions) is the addition of an appendix to the second edition; the poem itself seems unaltered.

I find that very interesting. No, not the verse so much (though the appendix to the 1923 edition mentions that it employs the new principles of "Free Verse" . . . but within reason), but the framing of these characters after three years. Prospero has been worried that Caliban would become less civilized, and he's surprised that Caliban seems to be wording (his verb) it very well. But it's also interesting that Prospero is not really here to catch up on old times with Caliban. He's really looking for Ariel.

I didn't think that when I first checked the book out from the H+ stacks in St. Louis. But I'm finding that worth exploring now.

Note to graduate students: No one seems to have written on this work at all. A search of the MLA Bibliography for "Shakespeariad" turns up no results. Perhaps this book is the topic of your next conference paper!

Bonus Image: The 1916 and 1923 editions compared.  The 1923 edition is much larger, but it does not contain much additional material.

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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