Friday, May 17, 2024

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Orlando Bloom Has Ruined Everything

Amend, Bill. Orlando Bloom Has Ruined Everything. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2005.

Only a little bit of Shakespeare made its way into Orlando Bloom Has Ruined Everything, and you have to squint just a bit to be able to see it.

First, Jason alludes to the "Infinity Monkeys" theory of the Complete Works of Shakespeare. It's a thought experiment that has much humorous potential (for one typical example, q.v.). 

Here's the direction Bill Amend takes with it:


In the next Shakespeare-related comic, Paige is complaining about her homework. It's true that she doesn't mention Shakespeare explicitly, but I think we can just assume that the seventy pages she has to read are one of Shakespeare's shorter plays—Macbeth, perhaps, or A Comedy of Errors.


Stay tuned—our next FoxTrot Friday may have even more (and more direct) Shakespeare.

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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Book Note: The Catcher in the Rye

Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Back Bay Books, 2001.

Like all of you, I'm interested in Holden Caulfield's opinions on Shakespeare. Re-reading the novel recently, I discovered that he actually had some (I had missed it before).

There are two sequences in Catcher in the Rye where Mr. Caulfield talks about Shakespeare.

In the first, he finds himself in the company of a couple of nuns, and he strikes up a conversation with them that eventually leads to a discussion of Romeo and Juliet.

Content Advisory: Holden Caulfield's language isn't always devoid of unsavory language.


In the next Shakespeare-related sequence, Mr. Caulfield offers us some film criticism. Specifically, he's critical of Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (the only film of a Shakespeare play to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, no less).


I wonder what Holden Caulfield would think about Branagh's version . . . .

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Friday, May 10, 2024

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Am I a Mutant or What!

Amend, Bill. Am I a Mutant or What!. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2004.

Welcome back to FoxTrot Friday!

Last time, we had a more or less tangential Shakespeare comic (for which, q.v.). I suppose Who's Up For Some Bonding? had other concerns.

But Am I a Mutant or What! gives us more direct Shakespeare content.

In our first comic, Peter is faced with a particularly dreaded (and, I would argue, dreadful) essay prompt. I've had exam questions like this: "Hamlet and Macbeth: Discuss," and they always made me forget everything I ever knew and then faint dead away. Here's Peter's attempt at an answer:


With a prompt like that, I think the teacher will get a lot of Peteresque answers. If I were to ask the question, I would give my students a lot more to hang their hat on. For example, I might recall two specific female characters in the two plays, provide a specific quote or action from each, mention something we'd discussed in class, and then ask them to compare and contrast those elements. I'd also give (as I always do) a second option.

The frame at the head of this post comes from another Peter-related, Shakespeare-related comic. Now Peter's reading Julius Caesar


Kudos to Peter's teacher and his school's curriculum decisions! Students in Peter's grade are getting to study three Shakespeare plays instead of the usual one . . . or part of one . . . or part of a film of one. Note: It's possible that Peter is reading Julius Caesar on his own—but his characterization over the years makes that highly unlikely.

Finally, Jason and Marcus provide an allusion to Julius Caesar. Perhaps they picked it up from Peter. In any case, Paige assumes that their (to her) misquotation indicates their ignorance of Shakespeare:


As it turns out, they knew exactly what they were doing—and Jason even throws in a Hamlet-related pun.

I'm eager to see where Bill Amend takes us next, Shakespeare-wise.

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Monday, May 6, 2024

Book Note: Speak the Speech!: Shakespeare's Monologues Illuminated

Silverbush, Rhona, and Sami Plotkin. Speak the Speech!: Shakespeare's Monologues Illuminated. New York: Faber and Fabler, 2002.

As my university’s resident Shakespeare expert, I naturally teach all the Shakespeare courses that English majors need to take, but I’m also often approached by faculty and students in other fields to answer questions or to offer advice. I’ve enjoyed talking to the music department about Mendelssohn, the history department about Shakespeare’s take on the Wars of the Roses, and the math department about campanology.

Okay, that last one was because I teach a course on Dorothy L. Sayers, but still.

Most frequently, I’m asked about Shakespeare by our theatre majors. They want to know what Shakespeare monologues they should prepare for various auditions. 

When I started out, I was relatively unprepared for the question. The ones I knew best I knew for scholarly or interpretative reasons, not performative ones. I realized that I needed to know quite a bit more and have quite a large number of options for theatre majors.

Fortunately, I found Speak the Speech!: Shakespeare's Monologues Illuminated. The book provides dozens and dozens of options, all annotated with information about length, genre, gender, and popularity (so the performer will know if they’re likely to be the only one giving this speech in an audition or the fifteenth “Is this a dagger?” that the casting directors will hear that day).

More than that, the book offers helpful notes so that performers will know what they’re saying, a substantial amount of context so that performers can place themselves in character, and (for verse options) good notes on prosody.

Here’s a representative example: Constance’s “Grief fills the room up of my absent child” speech from King John







The book has been an invaluable, oft-used resource on my shelves. I highly recommend it, especially to the actors among us.

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Friday, May 3, 2024

Shakespeare in FoxTrot's Who's Up For Some Bonding?

Amend, Bill. Who's Up For Some Bonding?. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2003.

Today's FoxTrot Friday is pretty sparse. I was only able to find one Shakespeare-related comic in the entire Who's Up For Some Bonding? volume. 

It's also a bit of a stretch to make it fit.

It's a bit like the way these introductory paragraphs need to stretch a bit so that the layout of the post isn't as awkward as it otherwise might be.

Our comic today centers on Paige. Evidently, she's still working on the Macbeth paper she was worried about in Your Momma Thinks Square Roots Are Vegetables (for which, q.v.).


Yes, all right. "big English Paper" doesn't necessarily mean "Macbeth paper," but it's not impossible—or even highly improbable—that it is a Macbeth paper.

In a coincidence that seems very Shakespearean, Peter's "Big history paper" is actually about Richard III.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Book Note: let me tell you

Griffiths, Paul. let me tell you. London: Henningham Family Press, 2023.

Paul Griffith's let me tell you is an experimental novel. The back cover of my edition puts it best: "Ophelia uses the words Shakespeare gave her to tell her own story. Her account flows solely from the 481 words she speaks in Hamlet. This constraint hints at Ophelia's struggle against the limits placed upon her by her father, brother, Hamlet, and Shakespeare."

As a concept, it's intriguing and telling. Writing a novel using only the words Hamlet uses in Hamlet would not be nearly as limiting.

As a novel, it's interesting . . . but also tedious. And perhaps that's part of the point. We're just not given enough Ophelia to have a full and complete sense of her full and complete identity.

The voice of the novel is undeveloped in a dreamy, wistful sense. I can't quite tell if this Ophelia is on the verge of madness, already mad, or childishly innocent.

I found three things in particular curious. First, I knew the concept before picking up the novel. I expected to find Ophelia from page one. But even here, in a novel that tells something of Ophelia using only the words she's given in Hamlet, someone else has the first word. We have this page of introduction from "The King":


The second curious thing was the developing understanding of Ophelia's view of her mother. She doesn't speak the word "mother" in the play, so in the novel, her mother is called she or the other. They don't seem to have much of a relationship at all, and what there is is negative. She's much closer to her brother and to the maid they had. A section of the first chapter will illustrate this.







The last thing to strike me is Ophelia's connections to Hamlet. As hard as it is to pin Ophelia's character down in this novel, it seems even harder for Ophelia to arrive at any substantial and lasting conclusions about Hamlet.




I'm glad I read let me tell you. It's haunting, and it's quite an achievement to tell so much of a story (or so many stories) with such a limited vocabulary. But, perhaps inescapably given the limitations, it's less robust than I had hoped it would be. And I don't think I'll be reading let me go on, its sequel.

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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