Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Double Falshood : The Text, Online!

Look look look what I found!  The text of "Double Falshood; or, The Distrest Lovers".  The Theobald play in question, which could indeed be the lost Cardenio (or at least a revised and adapted version).  Whether it is or isn't, I certainly wasn't going to pass up the chance to read it!

I don't know who this "jwkennedy" person is who did the transcribing work, but he's my new BFF :).  Thanks!

Cardenio Found : More News

Over at "The Hamlet Weblog" the author "read a rumour about this over the weekend" (hmmm, I wonder where he read it?) and dug up an actual press release from the Royal Shakespeare Company.  His theory, unfortunate though it may be, is that they're really just talking about the Theobald version which has been known about for quite some time.  This is a script from the 18th century called The Double Falsehood which was "revised and adapted" from the Shakespeare original.  A little more googling found me this link on Shakespeare Apocrypha that describes the play thusly:  "this was initially regarded quite skeptically, but is now being looked upon more favorably following recent analysis and research, beginning with Stefan Kukowski in 1991."

I also found a blog post from June 2006, stating that the RSC has listed Cardenio among the complete works to be performed back then.  So now I'm not really sure what the "new" thing is anymore.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Desdemona : Did she or didn't she?

I have this weird memory about high school Shakespeare class.  I can't seem to find evidence for it in Google so I'm wondering if I throw it out here, if someone will perhaps know what I'm talking about.

We were studying Othello.  We had our regular copy of the play, but also for some reason I recall that we had a photocopied version of some key scenes.  There is a quote from Othello about Desdemona where he says, "She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them."  Fair enough.  But here's the thing.  I remember that in one of the two versions we had, it clearly said "that she did not pity them" (emphasis mine).  I have vivid memories of pointing this out to the teacher and trying to make the argument that this said two very different things about Desdemona's character.  We had gotten a brief taste of the whole "what did Shakespeare really write" argument with Hamlet's "too, too solid/sullied flesh" speech, so I remember wondering if I had stumbled into another one.  I don't recall where the debate went, although I think that she basically blew me off.

And that's where I'm stuck.  No amount of googling will tell me if there is a recognized edition of Othello that contains the line "that she did not pity them."  So I'm left wondering if I imagined the whole thing.   Does anybody have any clue what I'm talking about?


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Friday, May 25, 2007

Ok, I Finally Watched Stage Beauty

Just about a year ago I mentioned Stage Beauty, and people chimed in to tell me how awesome it is.  The 2004 production stars Billy Crudup and Claire Danes in what could be called "Shakespeare In Love meets Othello."  In the more well-known production, a woman is forbidden from playing a woman's role, so she masquerades as a man in order to play a woman.  In Stage Beauty the king has ruled that women must play the women's roles, which leaves Crudup, the greatest Desdemona of his time, discovering that he has played a woman for so long that he is incapable of playing a man.

I am really glad I watched this, I greatly enjoyed it.  I can't say I'm  a huge fan of Othello, but really the only Shakespeare in this play was the death scene of Desdemona, they did that over and over again.  And that's a good scene.  The acting from both Danes and Crudup was tremendous.  The theme of gender and identity was pretty complex.  The scene where Crudup is put to the test (he claims that it is so easy to act a man's part that there's no challenge) is absolutely riveting.  On the other side you've got Danes, the first female to ever act on stage, who has no idea what it means to "act female" because the best she can do is her impression of what she has seen the men do. 

The final scene had me on the edge of my seat.  Maybe that's because the movie was that good, or maybe that's because I'd been waiting the whole movie to see some real Shakespeare performed(*).  Who cares,  I got what I wanted.  Great movie.  Highly recommended.

(*) Ok, I'm a bit of a geek.  There's a scene halfway through the movie where Crudup begs the king to reverse his decision and let him act again.  He cannot play a man's role because there is no artistry in it, he says.  Claire Danes suggests that he demonstrate how he can act a man's role as a demonstration of his command of the stage, so that the king will see that a true actor can play any role and thus be convinced.  The king says, "Yes.  Perform a soliloquoy that displays all that is bold and strong and masculine in a man.  Let's see you as Othello."  I got goosebumps and sat up in my seat just anticipating that.  (The scene that follows, by the way, is lousy Shakespeare but beautiful acting.)


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Will @ Warwick Podcast

I don't really track every podcast that claims to be about Shakespeare - there's too many of them, and many are too specific to either one particular project (like Shakespeare By Another Name) or theatre (I believe there's a Chicago production that does a podcast).  ShakespeareCast was good when I was listening to it, but in general I prefer to listen to people talk about Shakespeare, rather than listening to people perform it.  Performance I leave as a live treat.

Anyway, this podcast came up and lately I've been in the mood to get more into the text and the academic discussion around it (probably having something to do with reading Shakespeare Wars).  I like it.  The first episode is an interview with Professor Jonathan Bate, editor of a new edition of the Complete Works.  It starts out a little painful where he says, for example, that "Fifty years ago we could expect the reader to have an understanding of the classical mythology, and these days they don't have that."  Ouch.  Probably true, but still, ouch.

But then, and maybe this is my geek side coming out, it gets pretty neat.  Why he used First Folio almost exclusively.  Why he put in even more bawdy sex references than anybody has in the past.  He has a particular emphasis on punctuation.  An example?  Lady Macbeth's line:  "We fail!  But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we'll not fail."  He chose to edit the first punctuation mark as a question mark rather than an exclamation point:  "We fail?"  The character change is substantial.  In the first and more common interpretation, Lady MacBeth is answering her husband's concern with a very aggressive, "What are you, nuts?  How dare you even think of failing!  Failing is not an option!" sort of a tone.  But with the question mark it's different.  She considers it.  It's more of a "Hmmm, well yes, there is the possibility that we might fail.  So get your courage up, and let's not do that, k?"  That is my wildly paraphrased recollection of what he actually said.  He does point out that he doesn't feel either is particularly the "right" way, but seemed to feel that the question mark left more room for the actor to interpret.


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The 10 Greatest Hamlets

All stage performances, no film, so don't go wondering where Mel Gibson and Kenneth Brannagh place on the list.  They don't.  This list is reserved for the likes of Jacobi, Barrymore, Gielgud and others.  I knew that John Wilks Booth's brother had been performing Hamlet the night that Lincoln was shot, but I had no idea that he was "considered the greatest Hamlet of his generation."

The idea of calling a stage performance one of the greatest of a generation is an interesting idea to us now in a world of DVDs and Tivos where we can go pause, go backward, and watch over and over again.  These were real people performing live.  If you missed it, well, you missed it.


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A New Shakespeare Play Discovered??

What's this what's this?  A play by Shakespeare about Don Quixote?  Lost since 1612?  Confirmed in its authenticity by Gregory Doran, Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company?  Very interesting!  Does anybody know more about what play they're talking about?  Is there a title? 


I think I need to sit down.

More info, courtesy Ann in the comments. Thanks Ann! 


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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Let Me See If I Can Describe It

I'm reading The Shakespeare Wars by Ron Rosenbaum right now, and having trouble blogging about it because I'm finding something worthy of comment on every single page.  I'm only on about page 20.  I knew I was going to like this :).

Let me see if I can describe what the experience has been like so far.  I have this picture in my head of a girl I knew in college. I don't know that she ever actually did what I'm about to describe, or if I'm just putting her in the situation because she seems like a natural.  Anyway, I envision this girl reading a book, and she gets to a certain point where she stops, then she beams a bright smile and hugs the book tightly to herself, shaking back and forth like a 3yr old would hug their most beloved teddy bear. Then she goes back to reading.

Does that get the image across?  It's a feeling of loving a book so much that you want to climb inside of it, to become a part of it or make it a part of you.  It's not enough to read it and say "I really enjoyed that", or even to read it cover to cover in one sitting.  It's about having a far more immediate and emotional need to connect with what you just read.  There are times whenI feel that way about Shakespeare.  And then there are times when I feel that way about people who are writing about Shakespeare.

To sum up the Shakespeare Wars, at least as far as I've read:   

Shakespeare is awesome.  No, seriously.  He defies all previous descriptions of the word.  I could keep repeating myself in different ways for all eternity and still not sufficiently get my point across.  The man is infinite in his awesomeness.  Now and forever, you will be able to discover something new about his genius that will make him...well, that much more awesome. 

And it's at that point that you stop long enough to give the book a nice hug, and then read some more.  Rosenbaum does like 10 pages alone on Bottom's awakening from his dream.  Just that speech.  Not the whole play, not even the whole scene, just that one speech.  And he still manages to come away feeling like if he kept looking, he would find more to discover.  And, at least to me, it never sounds boring. 

That can certainly be a scary thing, this feeling that you will simply never know it all.  But then, I think, we can go back to the old "glass half empty" cliche.  You can revel in what you do know, and every time you gain more knowledge you can rejoice in the discovery.  Or you can constantly look at the impenetrable darkness that is the abyss of the unknown and mope, "I'll never know if I'm right or wrong, so I'll just assume I'm wrong...."

Personally, I'll take the former.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The 778 Best Books of All Time

As composed by, whoever they are.  Found via Mental Floss which lists several such lists.  So naturally the first thing I did was search them all for Shakespeare, who appears on only this one.  It's so hard to measure because you have to ask what "book" means.  Is Hamlet a book?  Or only a certain version?  Are we talking about best loved, most read, most purchased?

Anyway, the BluePyramid list is my new best friend because it includes Hamlet(#2), Macbeth(#42), King Lear (#49), Romeo and Juliet (#62), Henry V(#199), The Winter's Tale (#304), The Tempest (#496), Othello (#530) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (#581).

Wait....Winter's Tale?  That's ... different.

Anyway, their list is apparently dynamically compiled based on people entering their own personal top 25 and then scoring accordingly, 1 point for position 25, 25 points for position 1.  So if you want to get Shakespeare an even better showing, go add your tuppence.

The Tempest : What Was Prospero Planning?

I've had this question for a long time, but I'm not sure I've ever brought it up for discussion here on the blog.  We know the general plot of The Tempest -- Prospero causes a shipwreck to strand his enemy, his brother Antonio who took Milan from him and stranded him here.  On the boat is also Ferdinand, Miranda sees him and falls in love, and everybody sails back to Milan happily ever after.

My question is and always has been, what exactly was Prospero really planning?  Did the entire play go according to what he wanted?  Did he know that Ferdinand was on the boat, and was it in his plan for his daughter to fall in love with him?  Did he always plan the happy reunion we get at the end, or were his original plans for Antonio a bit...darker?

I haven't studied the text of this play as much as some others, I've only seen it a few times.  I can't really put my finger on a passage that clearly says one way or the other whether things go according to plan, or if he changes plans midstream.


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Sunday, May 20, 2007

What Does Sonnet 130 Mean?

I have heard many different interpretations of Sonnet 130. I'm wondering if one of them is "right".  In case you don't recall, Sonnet 130 is this one:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Here are some of the intepretations I've heard:

  1. "My love is really pretty ugly, but that doesn't matter because I love her anyway."
  2. Shakespeare is making fun of the tradition of the time, all the comparing to this and that, and basically saying "No, my love does not make me want to compare her to anything, she's unlike any of those things - but that has nothing to with my feelings for her, either."
  3. Shakespeare is referring to a woman that he knows he shouldn't be with, and he's trying to convince himself that she's bad for him by finding everything he can imagine that is the antithesis of the typical love sonnet.  In the end he fails, and no matter how many negative things he can list, it doesn't change how much he's in love with her.
  4. It's a joke, the Shakespearean version of "Just kidding."  "Hey babe, you're old and ugly.  Just kiddin!  You know I love you, right?"
I think #2 is probably the closest.  That whole theme of "Comparing you to other things just isn't working for me, because what we have is just on a whole different plane" seems to come through in many other sonnets ("Shall I compare thee to a summer' day", anyone?)  I appreciate #3 because it was so different from anything I'd heard before.  I think #1 and #4 are probably pretty unlikely.
Are there other interpretations I've missed?

For those that are interested in such things, there's a great collection of audio peformances called "When Love Speaks" that I highly recommend. In it, Sonnet 130 is performed by Alan Rickman.

UPDATED OCTOBER 2010:  Sonnet 130 actually makes an appearance in my new book Hear My Soul Speak: Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare. One chapter is devoted entirely to sonnets that might make a good ceremonial reading, and I make the case that taken with the right frame of mind, sonnet 130 could well be the best of them all.

Shakespeare Epiphanies

Ok, simple question.  When did you "get" it?  Hopefully you know what I'm talking about. Most of us were forced to read Shakespeare in school.  Very few probably saw it as a life changing moment.  We were too busy trying to flip back and forth to the glossary because we were going to be quizzed on every single word.  Not to mention the rote memorization. 

I'm talking about the moment where Shakespeare clicked for you, and suddenly it went from being this strange Elizabethan code that you kinda sorta thought you got to, "Wow, there are *people* under these words, I understand what they're saying to each other's beautiful."  Know what I mean?  I thought of this question while reading Rosenbaum's Shakespeare Wars.  Very early (I think I'm on page 8) he talks about teaching the sonnets and getting to Sonnet 45, trying to explain the line "These present-absent with swift motion slide" and actually feeling like he personally knew what it was like to be in two existences at once, himself and outside himself, sliding back and forth between the two.  I'm doing a lousy job of explaining it the way he did, go read his book.

I can tell you mine, though it's not quite on a par with Rosenbaum's.  I was in college, doing a paper on Hamlet (specifically, the role of insanity as a defense mechanism).  I'd hit the line "Thrift Horatio, thrift!  The thricebaked meats did coldly furnish forth the wedding tables."  I was talking to a friend and I said, "Wait...was that a joke?  Did I understand that right?  Did Hamlet just tell Horatio that his mom got remarried in a hurry so that they could use the leftovers from the funeral?"  And suddenly there it was.  Hamlet went from being this masterpiece that I would never be privy to, to...a kid that lost his dad.  There's a person in there.

Make sense?  Somebody else's turn.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Get Yer Program Here! Can't See All The Plays Without Yer Shakesdex Program!

Riba Rambles onto something cool, a Pokemon style ("gotta catch 'em all") chart of all Shakespeare's plays. Told yourself that you'll see/read/act in every one?  Print it out, hang it up on your refrigerator and get started Xing them out!

I think I like Much Ado the best, although The Tempest is cool.  I don't fully understand why Timon of Athens looks like a pilgrim, though :).


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Friday, May 18, 2007

Why Monkeys Can't Recite Shakespeare

An interesting article that I'm not sure I understand about the KLK8 gene being responsible human ability to form language over the chimpanzees.  Kind of neat that we're getting to the point in our science that we're learning such things.

The article's got a lengthy Hamlet quote in the middle to back up the title :).

You Said King Lear Wouldn't Be On The Test!

Seriously.  Students walked out of their exam at a Scottish school recently when they came to the question to compare Hamlet and King Lear.  The problem was that they'd never been taught King Lear.  I can sort of see the dilemma.  It's not like you can get away with saying "Aw come on, you should have studied the entire complete works on your own."  Especially King Lear, for pete's sake.  You've picked the two greatest plays in the entire canon.


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Much Ado About Quizzes

Well, rather, a quiz about Much Ado.  But I'm bored and haven't been finding many links lately that haven't been done to death.

I only got 9/15, I'm disappointed.  But I did it fast from memory, I didn't go searching through the text.

[Found via Kent Countryside Productions]


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Shakespeare : The Bard Game

I happened across a review of "Shakespeare The Bard Game" over at the Crazier Letters blog (where apparently someone named Erin had gotten it as a birthday present).  Looks neat.  "Quite possibly one of the most fun games around, ok well that's a bit much but it is still a great time," says the author.

I have no idea who those people are and whether they are theatre/Shakespeare folk, so I thought I'd post over here and see if anybody knows this game?  Apparently the goal involves collecting money so that you can perform the plays, but first you have to get your props, actors, patron and so on.  I could dig it.  My wife and I currently have a larger supply of board games than we do friends who play board games with us, so it's not like I'm in the market for more.

Back in college I gave a friend a game called "Playing Shakespeare".  Basically it was charades, only you were acting out Shakespeare quotes.  I'll always remember the time I got the clue, "Even now that old black ram is..." and watching my partner try desperately to act out the rest before finally putting her out of her misery and saying, "...topping your white ewe."  How exactly do you act out "topping"?  (I actually remember it as "tupping" with a u, but my searchable text tells me it's topping, so who knows.  Still hard to act out :)).


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Shakespeare Crossword, Anyone?

Shakespeare Teacher's got a Shakespeare crossword up, with a twist.  Well, in this case without any actual twists (or crosses?), as it is a "one dimensional" puzzle.  You may have seen these before.  The clues are given "left to right" and then "right to left", so whatever you put in as the answers for one side has to match the answers going in the opposite direction.  Try it out!


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Friday, May 11, 2007

More Shakespeare in the Clouds

Last week I mentioned seeing Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand in the clouds as I was driving home.  Well, yesterday I saw Romeo and Juliet.  More specifically I saw the "Eyes, look your last, arms, take your last embrace" moment from the final scene. Juliet lying there, dead (or close enough), Romeo bent over her to give one last kiss. 

Truthfully it could just as easily have been The Prince coming to kiss Snow White.  But I like my image better.  I'm kinda digging this, I have to keep an eye out for more Shakespeare cloud formations.


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I am very, very sorry for this, but I feel obligated to post it.


(I much preferred the old days when lolcats had bad spelling, but at least proper grammar.  Now everybody seems to think that it's funnier if you just randomize the words.  I mean, come on, "please it is can be"???)


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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Who Art On First?

Shakespearean version of Abbott and Costello's classic "Who's On First" routine, if you're into that sort of thing.



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Branagh's Hamlet on DVD is Finally Here!

Good news! Kenneth Branagh's HAMLET on DVD is finally here!   August 14 is the scheduled release date.

For those who haven't been following this long awaited release, Branagh's 1996 Hamlet is what some might call the masterpiece in a career loaded with groundbreaking Shakespeare film adaptations (Henry V, Much Ado, Othello....) This was the "full text" version, in other words a 4 hour long movie. Loaded up with star power as well, including Robin Williams, Judi Dench, Richard Attenborough, Billy Crystal, Derek Jacobi, John Gielgud, Jack Lemmon.... I could keep going.  It was a big cast. :)

Let's be realistic here for a minute. As far as going and sitting in a movie theatre to see this? Not so much. I can honestly say that I didn't always love his interpretation, either. I thought it a bit unnecessarily violent in some key areas, and a bit too "I'm starring in my own movie so there's nobody to tell me I'm overacting" in others. But as an academic resource, this is simply amazing. Nobody does the full text Hamlet. This is the sort of thing that you could envision English students being told to watch for homework instead of the Olivier version.  And hey, I don't recall Kenneth Branagh making out with his mom in this one.

If you were looking to add a Hamlet to your Shakespeare on Film collection, you can certainly do worse than Branagh.  This is the sort of movie where I'd like to see a bookmark feature so I can just jump right to the most interesting scenes.  (Yes, I know that all DVDs have a scene menu.  I'm talking about favorite scenes instead of having to page through 50 little thumbnails every time).


Thursday, May 03, 2007

That Cloud Looks Like Shakespeare

I enjoy a good round of "cloud game" as much as the next guy.  It's not really a competitive game, it's just looking at the clouds and trying to see stuff.  If you're playing it with somebody, you try to convince the other person of what you've seen.  The more complicated the vision, the more satisfactory the playing.  I once saw an orchestra playing, complete with conductor, while people waltzed on a dance floor.  I was pretty amazed at how clear it was.

Last night on the train I saw something that immediately made me think, "Hey, that looks like a princess."  You could clearly see a body, some flowing hair and a big poofy ball gown.  I suppose that having two toddler girls, I'm becoming an expert in spotting things that look like princesses.  She was entangled up with another shape which didn't resemble a prince quite as well as she resembled a princess, but it was an obvious comparison to make.  What was interesting was that the way she was bent made it look like she was being pulled away from him in that classic "arms outstretched until only our fingers touched" movie moment.  But then, in a bigger cloud, I saw the reason.  Plain as day I saw a big ol' evil wizard, arm outstretched toward the happy couple as if dragging her magically away from him.

My next thought is probably a leap that only a Shakespeare Geek would make, but it immediately clicked - that's not a princess and an evil wizard, that's Miranda and Ferdinand, and the big magic dude is her dad Prospero.   

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Scottish Play : KPhoebe's At It Again

I didn't even recognize her journal at first, I only saw the entry and thought, "Wow, looks like somebody's deliberately copying her style."  Nope, it's her :).

This time she's tackling The Scottish Play, better known as Macbeth cuz I'm not an actor nor am I in an actual theatre and thus I can say it.  Great stuff as always.


Lady Macbeth: What are you doing outside? It’s time to go, chop chop!
Macbeth: I don’t wanna.
Lady Macbeth: You promised me!
Macbeth: I-
Lady M: Now listen to me! I know it’s tough! I know it’s hard! But that’s the game for ya! You’re either a winner, or a loser! You’ve got to draw deep, pull hard and push push push for the goal, and if Duncan can’t stand the heat we’ve got to throw him in the fire! I would rather bash my baby’s head in than break a promise to you! WHO’S HARDCORE?
Macebth: You are!
Macbeth: I am!
Lady M: That’s right! What are you gonna do?!
Macbeth: I’m gonna stab him?
Lady M: AND?
Macbeth: I’m gonna slice him!
Lady M: AND?


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