Friday, August 25, 2023

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Say Hello to Cactus Flats

Amend, Bill. Say Hello to Cactus Flats. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1993.

I may have hit a bit of a jackpot with this volume of Bill Amend's tremendous comic strip FoxTrot.

We're on the sixth published volume. The characters are pretty firmly established and fairly fleshed out.

Thus, we're ready to run with the Shakespeare tropes.

First, it's Peter who is working on Shakespeare. He has a Macbeth essay due, and here's how it goes:

I don't know that I would be able to call myself a Shakespeare scholar if I didn't point out that there are actually only four "prithees" in Macbeth, 75% of them spoken by the title character and the remaining 25% spoken by Banquo.

And now . . . well . . . something a bit more tangential. If you've dipped into Bardfilm's "Shakespeare and Star Trek Complete" (for which, q.v.), you may have noted that Bardfilm can get carried away, finding Shakespeare allusions where none was (probably) intended. But humor me, please:

Tell me that's not a sideways allusion to Othello with the gender roles reversed.

Oh.  Okay.  I hear you.

We can all agree that the next strip is clearly deliberately related to Shakespeare, though the specifics are left vague:

And, last but not least, we have one that I actually covered back in 2012 (for which, q.v.).

That felt very satisfying. Thanks, Bill Amend, once again for years of great Fox Trot strips (though, please, more Shakespeare is always appreciated).

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Thursday, August 24, 2023

Book Note: Fawkes: A Novel

Brandes, Nadine. Fawkes: A Novel. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2023.

My attention was called to this novel by a student in my Young Adult Literature class. It's a new novel centered on the Fifth of November, 1605 (Remember? Remember?) and featuring the son of Guy Fawkes.

Therefore, it's a historical novel, right?

Not exactly.

It's really a fantasy novel set in something like that historic period. 

The plot is fairly complicated, but here's a quick overview. People are dying of the plague. But the plague isn't the plague—it's that people are turning into stone. Our protagonist (Guy Fawkes' son Thomas) has caught the plague in his eye, but the progress of the condition has abated. He and his father are part of The Keepers, a group of people with magical powers—they are each able to control one specific color. They have to get a mask and go through a choosing ceremony to bond with the color they're going to be able to control.

King James (and many others) are part of The Igniters, a rival group who is set on killing the Keepers; they believe the Keepers to be the cause (or causers) of the plague. Meanwhile, the Keepers think that blowing up Parliament and King James will end the tyranny of The Igniters—and the plague.

I found the novel to be generally well-written and interesting, though it does get pretty heavy-handed in one of its messages. The message is a good one: People should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, to coin a phrase. But it's belabored as we explore the relationship between Thomas and Emma, the love interest who has a mixed-race background.

The historicity of the novel . . . well, once we work in all the magic and eliminate the religious motivations of Fawkes and his co-conspirators, we have to realize that we're not interested in historical accuracy. But neither are we reworking history. The main events that happened in 1605 London happen in this book—just in different ways and for decidedly different reasons. And there are many main events in this narrative that have to historic equivalent.

"What about the Shakespeare?" I hear you cry. And I can call upon one of my most frequent answers to similar questions: "Needs more."

On page 37 (at the top right of the image below), Shakespeare is mentioned in a way hopeful enough to keep me reading:

Unfortunately, we have to wait until page 270 to encounter the Globe Theatre and to hear Shakespeare's name again.

Did anyone else cringe when you got to the part about "Sir William Shakespeare"? If not, perhaps it doesn't sound as odd to you as it does to me. What if it said "William, Lord Shakespeare"? Maybe that coveys the extreme oddity of referring to Shakespeare in that way.

In any case, that's all the Shakespeare we get. He's mentioned as existing and as notable, and we learn that Othello has been staged prior to the actions in the novel (which is historically accurate).

All in all, it's a good book for those who like the mixed historical-fantasy (tragical-comical-historical-pastoral?), and, just perhaps, it might serve as a gateway to interest in the genuine history in which it operates.

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Friday, August 18, 2023

More Deleted Scene Shakespeare in The Office

"Money." By Paul Lieberstein. Perf. Steve Carell, Phyllis Smith, Ed Helms, and Leslie David Baker. Dir. Paul Lieberstein. The Office. Season 4, episode 4. NBC. 18 October 2007. Deleted Scene. DVD. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2018.

Last time, we saw that some Shakespeare can be found in the deleted scenes from The Office (for which, q.v.). That was in Season Three; it's time for Season Four.

In the episode from which this scene was deleted, Michael Scott has been having problems with his personal finances and is reluctant to tell his girlfriend about them. The solution? Why, procrastinating by talking about Shakespeare, of course! [Note: Not that we at Bardfilm know anything about that proclivity.]

It seems that Michael wants to talk about the authorship question, but his approach to it is somewhat garbled. When he asks, "Who do you think was the actual writer of Shakespeare," he seems to be asking about a play titled Shakespeare rather than inquiring about who wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare.

Whatever he means, no one is interested in following up: They're not picking up what he's putting down. 

I'm happy to find these Shakespearean moments in the deleted scenes from The Office. If any of you die-hard Office fans know of any others, please let me know!

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Thursday, August 17, 2023

William Randolph Shakespeare in The Office

"A Benihana Christmas." By Jennifer Celotta. Perf. Steve Carell. Dir. Harold Ramis. The Office. Season 3, episode 10. NBC. 14 December 2006. Deleted Scene. DVD. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2018.

To get all the Shakespeare in The Office, you sometimes need to go to the deleted scenes.

In this deleted scene from "A Benihana Christmas," Michael Scott, stung by a recent breakup, calls on the Bard to help him express his emotions. But, as is usual, he becomes distracted by a side issue.

[Note: The language at the end of the clip may not be appropriate for all audiences.]

I'm not sure I can track down the precise direct quote that Michael is paraphrasing, though perhaps "Love doth be poison" would fit some of the ending speeches in Romeo and Juliet.

The other point to note is Michael's apparent animosity toward the anti-Stratfordians. For those who think Shakespeare wrote the works of Shakespeare, a fist pump may be in order. For those who done, well, that's just Michael Scott, and his opinions are not to be trusted.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Book Note: Forbidden Planet (The Novelization of the Film)

Stuart, W. J. Forbidden Planet. Gregg Press Science Fiction Series. Boston: Gregg Press, 1978.

Aficionados of Shakespeare and film have likely come across the classic 1956 film Forbidden Planet, which owes a good deal to The Tempest (for a brief post on the film, q.v.). 

But, like me, they may not have known that a novelization of the film was published in 1956.

One of the main points of interest is that the novelization departs in some ways from the film. Instead of being a straightforward retelling, it explores different themes and ideas. Indeed, I think I'd like to call it Forbidden Planet: The Novel rather than designating it a novelization.

[Note: The Wikipedia entry on the film can stand in for a pure novelization—and it will also give you the basic plot.]

The edition I tracked down had a good analysis of the novel's departures from the film—and, before we go any further, it also had a number of stills from the film. I'll just provide one. You may recognize Leslie Nielsen from the Julius Caesar scene in Naked Gun (for which, q.v.). But he also stars in Forbidden Planet as Commander J. J. Adams.

One thing that makes this more of a novel than a novelization is its structure. As the table of contents shows, we are presented with three points of view on the plot as it unfolds. The Medical Major (think Bones (a.k.a Dr. Leonard McCoy) in Star Trek: The Original Series) gives us something of the technical outsider's experience of space travel and planetary exploration. We also get the Commander's take on things—including a lot of internal rumination that the film doesn't explore, such as his feelings for Dr. Edward Morbius' daughter Altairia. And then we get the voice and point of view of Morbius himself, providing keen insight into his past and his motivations as well as the past of Altair IV, the planet he landed on twenty years previously.

As is Bardfilm's wont, here's a representative sample from the book. I've chosen part of Ostrow's narrative because it provides that outsider's point of view and because it offers some thoughts on Robby the Robot—thoughts that you may find akin to current reactions to various AI applications.

I enjoyed this novel thoroughly. It fits in the classic science fiction genre, but it plays with it in intriguing ways. And there's a lot of interest in the way these humans behave on an alien planet. At one point, one of the new arrivals on the planet casually tosses down a cigarette and steps on it to extinguish it. It's an offhand moment, but it's telling.

I've avoided major spoilers to this point, but the final image will give a lot away. You're free to consider yourself dismissed if you wish.

For those who have stayed on, the Postscript to the novel provides a more detailed reading of the way the plot ends. We're invited to imagine that we have these point-of-view sections in part because of technology that does some sort of brain-to-text transference. We also learn that the Commander marries Altaira during their flight back to Earth. And we have some opinions on the self-destruction of the entire planet of Altair IV.

Forbidden Planet is a film well worth watching; Forbidden Planet is a novel well worth reading, whether on its own or as a companion to the film.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Book Note: Shakespeare and Co. by Stanley Wells

Wells, Stanley. Shakespeare and Co.: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Johnson, thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, and Other Players in his Story. New York: Vintage, 2006.

On a recent trip to the Great River Shakespeare Festival, I failed to follow my motto: Semper Oportet te Librum Adducere (Always Bring a Book). Fortunately, there was a lovely used bookstore in downtown Winona—Chapter 2 Books, for those of you keeping score. And, since Winona is a Shakespeare town, there were lots of Shakespeare-related books to choose from.

I had read many of the ones on the shelves, but the bookseller pointed me to a couple of boxes of Shakespeare books that hadn't been categorized. In it, I found a book by Stanley Wells that I didn't know existed.

Shakespeare and Co. comprises a terrific set of biographical sketches about some of Shakespeare's contemporaries. It's marvelous because it combines the thorough and brilliant scholarship of one of the profession's finest minds and deepest thinkers with an enjoyable and comprehensible delivery.

You should read the book in its entirety, but, in an attempt to get you to do just that, let me provide you an extract. This section deals with Thomas Middleton—and, more specifically, with his play The Revenger's Tragedy, written and printed after Shakespeare's Hamlet was written and printed.

Stanley Wells' Shakespeare and Co. provides delightful contexts for Shakespeare's life and work. It reminds us that he didn't work in a vacuum or an ivory tower but among these other amazing dramatists in a vibrant theatre culture.

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Friday, August 11, 2023

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Bury my Heart at Fun-Fun Mountain

Amend, Bill. Bury my Heart at Fun-Fun Mountain. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1993.

I didn't find any Shakespeare in Eight Yards, Down And Out (Update: A second look revealed some possible Shakespeare in that volume, for which, q.v.), and I only found one Shakespeare-related comic in Bury my Heart at Fun-Fun Mountain.

Still, as I continue my quest to track down all the Shakespeare in FoxTrot, it's something.

Here you go, then!  Paige is, once again, behind on her homework:

That's it!

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Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Merchant of Venice in Nazi Germany

Der Kaufmann von Venedig. Von William Shakespeare. Various performances. Various locations. Various purposes.

When I title this post "The Merchant of Venice in Nazi Germany," I'm not talking about a performance staged as if it were in Nazi Germany. I'm talking about performances of the play that were actually produced under that horrible regime during a terrible point in human history.

Years ago, I heard somewhere that a radio performance of Merchant was broadcast on the night before Kristallnacht with the intent of being incendiary enough to heighten the violence of that night (Note: That turns out not to have been accurate, and we'll come back to that later). It struck me as odd. How could a play that has the potential for such sympathy for the Jewish people ("Hath not a Jew eyes?") be performed so close to an event that was so detrimental for the Jewish people?

That nagging question began a long period of (admittedly on-and-off) research. Some of these notes have been around since well before the pandemic.  But now, after doing quite a bit of research, I have some answers—but some questions remain.

I started my research with Rodney Symington's The Nazi Appropriation of Shakespeare: Cultural Politics in the Third Reich (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005). From Symington, I learned that Shakespeare in general was used for Nazi propaganda, but that Merchant, despite the possibilities for playing Shylock in an unsympathetic, anti-semetic light, was not often performed from 1933 to 1944. Symington shows that the number of performances over those years decreased, and he explains some of the reasons why: 

Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, then, had to be altered significantly to suit the Nazi agenda—and even then, it was more problematic than successful.

The decline in productions of Merchant is confirmed by Andrew G. Bonnell in Shylock in Germany: Antisemitism and the German Theatre from the Enlightenment to the Nazis (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008). He notes that "Producers of the play in the 'Third Reich' were also confronted with a number of difficulties: Shylock is given the opportunity to humanize himself ('Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? . . .'); the union of Lorenzo, a Christian, and Jessica, Shylock's daughter, constituted an offence against the 1935 Nuremberg Laws; and there was the 'danger' noted by Elisabeth Frenzel, that an audience might feel some pity for the defeated and abjectly humiliated Shylock" (144).

Bonnell also tells us what I ought to have suspected: Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech is cut completely from (it's implied) all these productions. 

In addition, Bonnell provides some commentary on Kristallnacht and performances of The Merchant of Venice. To give that some context, Kristallnacht was on the night of November 9 and the morning of November 10, 1938. It involved orchestrated violence against Jewish businesses, homes, and places of worship. You can read more about Kristallnacht here.

Bonnell's research describes a theatre production of Merchant that "celebrated Kristallnacht" and that there was a radio production of the play about a month after Kirstallnacht (150):

As I worked to confirm or deny what I'd heard—that a radio broadcast of Merchant was broadcast before Kristallnacht in order to encourage the violence of Kristallnacht—I found the performance of 15 December 1938 (five weeks after Kristallnacht) to be the closest.

But then I started to find it hard to confirm that performance. In Social Shakespeare: Aspects of Renaissance Dramaturgy and Contemporary Society (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1995), Peter J. Smith writes "Shortly' after Kirstallnacht in 1938, The Merchant of Venice was broadcast for propagandistic ends over the German airwaves'" (153), and his citation for that quote is page 23 James Shapiro's Shakespeare and the Jews.  After searching Shapiro's 1997 book with that title (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997) and finding nothing on page 23 or anywhere else (a search of an electronic text of the book found no uses of "Kirstallnacht" at all), I started to wonder whether I was finding evidence of a rumor. But I looked at Smith's citation one more time and found that it actually referred to James Shapiro's Shakespeare and the Jews (the twenty-four page printed version of the Parkes Lecture at the University of Southampton in 1992, not the 1997 full-length book).

That was better, but the lecture, being a lecture, doesn't offer bibliographic support for its claims. I didn't want to doubt an undoubted authority, but I wanted more than the lecture offers, which is this:

[Note: Markings and emphasis not my own. 
Highlighting a library book is troublesome enough—but that color? Egad.]

Shapiro is great, and he makes his point (although, as we've seen, productions of Merchant of Venice in Nazi Germany decreased during that period), but I wanted to know the details of that radio broadcast. My research had made it clear that the broadcast wasn't before Kirstallnacht as an incitement to riot but after Kirstallnacht—and far enough after to make the connection more tenuous than related.

Back, then, to Andrew G. Bonnell's Shylock in Germany I went. His footnote 179 on the page provided above took me to two pages in two separate years of Shakespeare-Jahrbuch. With the help of our magnificent reference librarians, I was able to see one of these: Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 76 (1940): 247. [Note: The footnote points to p. 259, but I haven't yet been able to track down that page.] [Update: page 259 contains a list of plays—see the image at the end of this post.] This part of the research was fun because I don't speak or read German. However, searching through the document for the underlined parts, I found that I could make out some of them. Sommernachtstraum was pretty probably Midsummer Night's Dream (Germans sometimes have one word for things that take four or five in English). And once I knew what Maẞ was (it's short for Maßeinheit, which means "unit of measurement"), I could figure out Maẞ für Maẞ. The "nichts" part of Viel Lärm Um Nichts helped me get to Much Ado About Nothing and Was Ihr Wollis seemed to be the subtitle of Twelfth Night. And then I got to Kaufmann von Venedig. I remembered the Danish port Kjøbmandehavn from some History of English lectures. So now I knew what to look for.

And here's what the article offered on page 247:

I have some German-speaking friends, and one of them paraphrased the main part of that in this way: "It’s saying the director’s choices were to make Shylock less conspicuously Jewish (blend in more with the whole ensemble/troop), and shift the tone of the performance back towards comedy."

First, I'm always happy to make a new German-speaking friend, so if you have an alternate translation, please let me know! Second, I think that's fascinating, and it's not something addressed by the other scholarly work I've read. A production of Merchant of Venice performed under Nazi Germany sought to make Shylock less Jewish.

The research has been gradually rolling in, and I've just laid eyes on Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 75 (1939): 198.  This is where we learn the details of the radio broadcast entitled "Das Urteil" ("The Judgement"):

And there, for now, the research ends. I don't believe any production of Merchant of Venice directly stirred up the riotous actions of Kirstallnacht; nor do I think any production rode on its coattails to confirm its faulty, anti-semitic justification. The five-week gap seems more coincidental that intentional.

I didn't find what I expected, but this research journey has been fascinating and enlightening.

Bonus image: Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 76 (1940): 259.

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