Friday, June 29, 2007

Today in Shakespeare History : June 29, 1613

On June 29, 1613, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre burns to the ground during a production of Henry VIII when some cannon fire caused the thatched roof of the theatre to catch fire.  Shakespeare was in Stratford at the time. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Shakespeare Songs is part of the master's thesis of a student at the University of British Columbia entitled "Teaching Shakespeare Through Song."   It doesn't look done - the links to Thesis and Forums both lead to "Coming Soon" pages.  But still, it seems like an idea worth pursuing. Right now all I could find for audio links were on the "ShakeHits" page, using some sort of streaming player.  Well that rules me out, I only work in MP3 these days so I can take them with me.

Romeo And Juliet ... As A Management Exercise?

Here's an interesting spin.  With the challenge of taking a Shakespeare play and exploring what it says about "business life today", the author and his team of eight read the play (with obligatory complaining about the language), see the play, divide up the characters and then brainstorm about lessons they can learn about the drinking industry.  I'll give you a hint, it has lots to do with communication.

Interesting reading.

Lady Macbeth's Suicide Note

Master of Verona has an intriguing article up that asks whether part of the famous "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..." scene is actually Lady Macbeth's suicide note.  Pretty neat idea.  I love, as he says, the idea of "flouting the audience's expectations...even more when I can do so by returning to the text."  So he doesn't just throw out a "Hey, what if we did it this way", he actually backs it up with textual evidence for why he thinks it's a valid idea.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Borrowers And Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation

I found this link via Bardolatry far more interesting once I realized that I'm in it.  Be sure to check out the link to Erin Presley's "Ol' Billy Shakes: Shakespeare In The Blogosphere" article for numerous references to myself and all our friends from the blogosphere, including Bardolatry, Shakesper Random, and others. 

I would like to know, though, what she means by "although more interested in discussion than practical feedback".   That doesn't sound fair.  Not sure what practical feedback I wouldn't be interested in.

The TV Guide Shakespeare

Found via Shaking the Shakespeare Blues is this TV Viewer's Guide To Shakespeare, where the plays are all wrapped up in one or two sentence fragments each.  Some of the better ones:

HAMLET.  Displeased by mother's second marriage, prince becomes addicted to soliloquies.  Origin of a Broadway malady.

KING LEAR.  Father gives heritage to children before his death and lives to regret it.  What else?

ANTONY and CLEOPATRA.  Cleo meets snake and gets stung.  She asped for it.

THE WINTER'S TALE.  Estranged wife returns disguised as statue.  Reconciliation the hard way.

JULIUS CAESAR.  Marc Antony rises to power on borrowed ears.  Eerie.

Did I mention how much I enjoy a good pun? :)

The Last Scene : A Structural Question

So it dawned on me after making my wife sit through a three+ hour production of King Lear that, from a casual fan's perspective, the last scene of a Shakespearean tragedy must seem a huge bore.   Here's the pattern:

  1. Almost everyone, including the hero, will die.  All deaths might occur onstage, but if they occur offstage, someone will surely come in to announce it. In some cases, such as the Lear I saw last night, the bodies will actually be dragged back onto the stage in case you missed it.
  2. Someone will be left to explain what happened.
  3. Someone will be the guy who just walked in and says, "What the heck happened here?"
  4. Leftover person will now retell almost the entire play that we've just watched to new person, to catch him up.

Take Hamlet.  The only one left standing is Horatio, who tells the story to Fortinbras when he arrives.  Or Romeo and Juliet, where Friar Laurence is left to explain things to the Prince.  In Lear, Edgar and Edmund catch Burgundy up in a hurry (and if they'd spent a little less time doing so, they might have saved Cordelia!)  Othello doesn't totally fit the pattern, as Othello is still alive and learning the story himself when Cassio and Lodovico arrive.  But there is still that whole "tying up the loose ends" thing.

My question is, why?  Was this some sort of requirement of the audiences at the time, that they would only go home happy with the show if they felt that it was all neatly packaged up like that?  Why is it so important that the Prince learn the details of Romeo and Juliet's death, for example?  The audience knows.  Why not just end it right when they die?  All you really get after that is an announcement that Romeo's mother has died (offstage, of course, see rule#1), a promise of statues, and the prince's wrap up.  What was it about the fashion of the time that made Shakespeare end his tragedies this way, and not on the death of the hero?  It's the same with Hamlet - why is "And flights of angels sing thee sweetly to thy rest" not the last line of the play?  (Although for that I'm sure  there are Fortinbras fans who are ready to tear me a new one :))

Sunday, June 24, 2007

King Lear : Lebanon, NH

So today Kerry and I drove 100 miles (each way!) to go see a performance of King Lear.   I'd never seen an actual production of the play - I've certainly read it, and read about it, and in college I had a movie version that I honestly can't remember watching through to completion.  But to repeat a phrase I found myself saying to friends and coworkers for the past month, "But it's King Lear for God's sake!"  How could I miss that?

Having never seen a production before, I have no frame of reference to really explain what I saw.  The King was portrayed as very....frail?  Downright skeletal, really.  A very gaunt old man.  Trembled quite badly.  I'm not sure that's what I expected.  I thought that there would be flashes of a true king (particularly when he was angry), but really he was pretty much a very old and weak man from the very first scene.  When he did get angry, it was more or less "indignant", if that makes sense.  Let me put it as a question.  The famous quote, "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!" is it typically portrayed?  I always thought such a line would be strong, forceful, defiant.  What I got was....well, bargaining.  "Go ahead and blow, wind.  Nice wind."  That sort of thing.

I was much more impressed with the acting of Gloucester, Burgundy, Kent and Edgar.  Those four in particular were not afraid to put a little energy (and volume!) into their performance.  You knew when they were angry, or sad.  The actor doing Edgar, I thought, did a particularly fine job of conveying emotion via facial expressions.

At over 3 hours it was longer than I expected, but maybe that's my fault.  I think the audience was a little desperate for a laugh - during the very final scene when Edgar announces that Edmund is dead and Burgundy says, "That is a mere trifle to us now" (or something similar to that), that was actually one of the bigger laughs of the night.  During the final scene of a great Shakespearean tragedy.  Hmmmm.

I was trying to listen closely to Lear's last words.  Nobody was making much of an effort to project to the back row, so when he whispered you practically had to read his lips.  I was watching for references to a feather, but heard none.  I did hear "Look on her, look, her lips, look there!" and I could swear one of the lines was "Her lips move", but that's not in my copy of the script so I'm not sure if I heard it wrong. 

Somebody tell me - does Lear die thinking that Cordelia is still alive, or merely wishing that she were?  Or is that dependent on how the last line is played? I know that Rosenbaum had much to say on the different versions, but I don't have the time right now to dig through that audio interview to find the actual comments (and my book is not at hand).

All in all I'm glad I saw the play, because now I have a baseline from which to look at other Lears. 


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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Casting for Boston Common 'Dream

As I've mentioned before, I'm not exactly thrilled that my local free Shakespeare in the Park is doing Midsummer, a play that I've seen almost as many times as I've seen Hamlet.  Don't get me wrong, all Shakespeare is good Shakespeare, and "free Shakespeare in the park" might darned well be 5 of the most beautiful words in the English language.  But come on, the man wrote a good 38 plays or more, why do we have to keep doing the same ones over and over again? How about a nice Anthony and Cleopatra?  Never actually seen that one live, and it's one of the "big ones".

Anyway, the linked Playbill article shows all the casting information, in case anybody is up on their local theatre talent and recognizes any names.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Can You Be 42 and Play Romeo?

I like this article for not just commenting on the respective ages of Romeo (around 17) and Juliet (13) and how you have to cast those roles relative to the actors' ages, but for going into a pretty cool history about how other famous actors have played the roles.

Basil Rathbone?  42 when he played Romeo.

Orson Welles was a 19yr old Tybalt, which the article comments "must have looked a little out of place."

Norma Shearer was a 34yr old Juliet, alongside John Barrymore's 54yr old Mercutio.

But who's the goofball quoted near the end who says that some people might call Romeo and Juliet one of the "lesser" plays?  It's no King Lear, but it's no Timon of Athens, either, people.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Meant To Be Performed, Not Read? Nonsense.

For the umpteenth time today I saw that old cliche about how Shakespeare's works were intended to be performed, not read.

I don't, quite frankly, care a whit was Shakespeare intended.  He's long dead.  So, newsflash.  Every performance of Shakespeare does not imply that he intended it to be performed in that particular way. Do we think that he intended Oberon to speak in Klingon?  Or Lady Macbeth to drag Macbeth across the stage by his ear?  Or Hamlet to jump in a child's wading pool, complete with goggles and swim fins?  Yes, I've seen productions that included all those things. 

When you see a performance of Shakespeare you are separating yourself from the original (what Shakespeare did actually mean, to the best of our ability to figure it out) by a few dozen other people's opinions - the director, the actors, the costume designers, the set builders, the production company...  At any time, any of them could make a decision that would have Shakespeare spinning in his grave.  You could see ten productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, each substantially different from the rest, and have no closer clue about what Shakespeare intended for you to take away from it.

That is unless, of course, you read the play.  Even then you'll have no idea what Shakespeare meant, but at least you'll be able to make up your own mind.  Then, go see it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Speaking of Amazing Anagrams

I'm always flattered when ShakespeareTeacher takes one of my posts and runs with it.  I've been away for a few days so I didn't even notice at first that he'd spotted my "Amazing Anagram" note and had a virtual field day with it!  How in the world do you come up with such things???

Macbeth: Who Wrote It?

This weekend I was away on vacation and I read something about Macbeth being attributed to Thomas Middleton instead of Shakespeare. I know about many of the plays in questionable authorship, but I didn't know that Macbeth was one of them.

When I got home and caught up on my newsfeeds I found another article suggesting that Shakespeare stole Macbeth from a Scottish monk named Andrew de Wyntoun.  The standard article follows, some historians show examples where the original looks similar to what Shakespeare wrote, and then a Shakespeare scholar presents the standard defense:  "Yes, we know that Shakespeare borrowed things, he admitted it freely. The point is that when he rewrote it, his version was much better than the original."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Amazing Anagram


The PBS Playwright Game

Here's a fun one. Start with the premise that you're Shakespeare and you're trying to build a career for yourself as a playwright.  Each screen offers a simple set of choices (normally no more than 2) for you to pick from.  Sometimes it's "Do you write about ancient romans, or oriental warlords?" but sometimes it's more complex, such as when the Censor tells you to cut a scene from Richard II and you get to decide whether to do it or not.  I'm not really sure if it's keeping score or not, or how long it lasts, since I'm at work and don't really have time to play it through.  But it is fun.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ummm..ouch, my brain. Is he right?

In essence, if you make each letter of the alphabet equal to an arbitrary numeric combination (for instance a=1234, b=2345, c=3456...) then in an infinite number such as Pi (3.141592654....) you would not only eventually stumble across Romeo and Juliet, but you would also stumble across a version of the play where neither of the two end up dying.

Is that right?  Kind of like the parallel universes theory, I suppose, expressed in infinite numbers.  That's already got the geek side of my brain going and I'm plotting to go see if I can dig up some open source code that will generate the digits of pi one at a time so I can write something to look for the word "Romeo".

Update  I found what I was looking for, a widget that will turn the digits of pi into letters and let you search for words.  "Romeo" does not appear in the first 31million digits.  Not saying it's not in there, of course.  It's just a geeky gadget to play with.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pulp Shakespeare

Play the Salman Rushdie parlor game where you turn Shakespeare titles into works by Robert Ludlum.  There's only four to guess, and they're pretty obvious if you think about.  Still, different.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Next Best Thing, Starring Shakespeare

Eh now, what's this?  The Next Best Thing is a new reality show where people do impressions of famous people.  Nobody's actually "doing" Shakespeare yet (although that would be interesting, wouldn't it?) but I was surprised to see them highlight two auditions who used Shakespeare as a monologue piece.  There was a Jackie Gleason dressed up like Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners, who did a medley (ranging from "To be or not to be" to "My kingdom for a horse"), which I thought was good but he didn't pass.  And then there was a John Travolta who was lousy, who read a passage from Romeo and Juliet directly out of the book while doing his Vinnie Barbarino (from Welcome Back Kotter?  Anybody?)  He was lousy.

Made me pay attention for a few minutes. :)


As You Like It Trailer [ by Kenneth Branagh ]
Trailer's up for Kenneth Branagh's newest film, As You Like It (apparently opening in September, 2007).  Looks neat, I hope it gets wide distribution so I can actually enjoy it in a theatre and not have to go hunt it down on DVD later.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Want To See How Shakespeare Costumes Are Born?

I'm glad I stumbled across this blog by "Anniina" who has been tasked with designing the costumes for a western version of Taming of the Shrew.  In her own words, " task is to create a Wild West as if it were Wild West on another planet or universe ... think that episode of Star Trek Next Gen where Picard and pals visit the wild west planet."  Nice!  She's got sketches for Kate and Petruchio as well as a few different ideas on Lucentio and Tranio.

Don't forget to click on the picture to enlarge them where you can actually read her notes on material, color, and so on.  Great stuff!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Much Ado About Cardenio

Ah, I love a nice Shakespeare pun.

I've heard back from the Royal Shakespeare Company on the very curious press release found in a Spanish publication about their working on a "Shakespeare play about a character from Don Quixote."

The answer?

The project will be based on Lewis Theobald’s eighteenth century adaptation of a manuscript of Cardenio, the original source, Thomas Shelton’s 1612 translation of Don Quixote as well as the original Spanish version of the episode in Don Quixote.

So this is not an academic or literal find - but hopefully will be a theatrical find - a collaboration between Spanish and British artists to eventually bring a production to the stage of Cervantes’ story of Cardenio – via William Shakespeare – of which both great authors might have been proud.

(Emphasis mine.)  So, there you go.  Everybody go back about your business, nothing to see here.

I'm curious, though, about the wording in the article which said:  "The piece has been lost for three centuries after a fire at the Globe Theatre, but now the Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Gregory Doran, has said they have managed to confirm the authenticity of the piece. It was written with the dramatist John Fletcher, and had been performed twice by the King’s Men Company in 1613."  It seems to be that "managed to confirm the authenticity of the piece" is new information, more than just doing another project based on Theobald's Double Falshood, which has been done for years.

I've written back asking if they have any more to say on that particular question.  Now that I see it in better context I think that perhaps the author of the article was unfamiliar with the history of Cardenio versus Theobald's Double Falshood, and wrote about it as if this was a new discovery.

Update: The official word is "there is nothing new to add to the authentication debate...some facts may have been slightly lost in translation."  Gregory Doran will be working on his project on the assumption that Theobald's work is, in fact, based on the Shakespeare/Fletcher original.

Thanks very much to Nada Zakula of the RSC Press Office for getting back to me!




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