Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meeeee Annnnnd Orson, Orson Welles

If you do a movie about Orson Welles, the logical question is going to come up whether you focus entirely on Citizen Kane and War of the Worlds, what he’s most famous for, or if his vast body of Shakespeare work will come into it.  In the new movie “Me and Orson Welles”, which is sure to get some press for the presence of High School Musical star Zac Efron, the answer appears pleasing to Shakespeare geeks:

It's 1937 and for aspiring actors the Mercury Theatre is the place to be. In "Me and Orson Welles," Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a plucky actor with chutzpah who ingratiates himself into the world surrounding legendary actor Orson Welles (brilliantly played by newcomer Christian McCay) as he prepares his version of "Julius Caesar," billed as "Caesar: Death of a Dictator."

Truthfully I don’t know anything about his Julius Caesar.  Somebody fill me in?  I’ve seen the Macbeth, Othello and Chimes at Midnight.

I think I’m a generation removed from Orson Welles.  He will, to me, forever be that caricature of himself from assorted cartoons (Pinky and the Brain comes to mind), hocking wine and frozen peas.  Ah well.  I’ve also gotten to see his face during Chimes in the “I know thee not, old man” scene.  I know he can act.

The big scene starts around 8:15 or so, and unfortunately whoever was kind enough to upload the movie also split the uploads right in the middle of this very scene!  This is part 10, you’ll have to move on to part 11 to get the whole sequence.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What’s Your Favorite Non Shakespeare?

I thought of this question while watching a collection of great movie monologues.  I thought, “Shakespeare fans may  not flock to classic literature in general, but they’ve probably got a higher appreciation for the classics than average.”

So here’s my question : Not Shakespeare, what’s your favorite “classic”?  Book, or movie.  Or both. 

Tis the season so I’ll put up some props for A Christmas Carol - you simply *must* hear Patrick Stewart (a Shakespeare Geek fav in his own right!) perform his one-man show.  Brilliance.  I love the way Dickens manages to create characters so vivid that the story has been retold over and over and over again, in every flavor from the Muppets to Mr. Magoo. 

Another shout out to Dickens for A Tale Of Two Cities, one of my favorite “epic novels” in this category.  It certainly screams “high school English”, and I’m not sure that I’d ever sit down and reread it for pleasure, but it might be one of the great “martyr hero” stories of all time.  It is a far far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.  Gives Shakespeare a run for his money.


Lastly, getting back to what originally triggered this post, comes To Kill a Mockingbird, easily one of the top American novels ever, and surely a contender for best book-to-movie translation ever.  When flipping randomly through the channels late on a Sunday night, I stumbled across this movie and immediately froze in my tracks, transfixed.  20+ years out of high school and I sat and explained to my wife just how good this story was, and the whole significance of the “Hi Boo!” scene that we’d just spotted. 

Ok, that’s my list.  Who else?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Goodness, Where Have I Been?

Hi everybody,

It seems like I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit lately, and for that I apologize.  The day job got busy, and then my whole went and got sick (although technically I was the only one to test positive for flu) simultaneously, taking us out of action for over a week.  Between getting back ahead of the game, and the upcoming holidays, I’m finding very little time to get things posted.

I do have some stuff, most notably a book review (Actors Talk About Shakespeare) and a movie review (Teller’s Macbeth).  I just have to finish both so I can get them posted!

Sorry I haven’t been around.  I hope to get back on track soon.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shakespeare and The Muppets

Everybody knows it’s the anniversary of Sesame Street this week, and I’d be late to the game if I broke out a bunch of “Shakespeare on Sesame Street” moments. Mostly since we’ve been down those roads before.

Instead I’ll link to this story by Stefanie C. Peters (my Twitter pal) about the actual timeline of Shakespeare references across the lifetime of the muppets.  We all know about Patrick Stewart doing the B thing, and Cookie’s Monsterpiece Theatre bits.  But what about *before* that?  How about Rowlf the Dog on the Jimmy Dean show?  Shakespeare there, too.  How about before *that*?  I admit, I’ve seen the Rowlf stuff but anything before that was new to me.

Worth the read just for the description of hypothetical(??) musical “Kermit, Prince of Denmark.”

Anybody that knows me and this blog at all knows I would so be standing in line for that, with three little geeklets in tow.

Quartos, Quartos, Quartos! (Quartos)

It’s funny when you say it over and over like that :).  The Folger this week announced their interactive online version to 32 rare, early editions of Hamlet.  Very cool. 

I don’t think they are the first to do this, but I’m intrigued by the idea of an annotations layer.  Looking forward to what sorts of notes people make in the virtual margins, to so speak.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who Wants Google Wave Invites?

Ok, I’ve only got a couple left (2, to be specific), but I’d like to make sure some Shakespeare geeks get a shot.

I’m not going to bother explaining what Google Wave is, because either you saw “invite” in the title and jumped at the chance, or you have no idea.

If you’re interested, send me an email telling me how you’d use this new collaboration tool for a Shakespeare-related project.  (Whether you follow through or not is up to you).

I’m out of commission with the something strongly resembling the flu right now, but in a couple days I’ll pick some random responses and send out the invites.

UPDATE Invites sent!  Enjoy, and invite more Shakespeare geeks! Pay it forward!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shakespeare Had No Blackberry

I’m not going to bother linking the story that I saw, as I don’t think they care enough about Shakespeare to take their passing (albeit, titular) reference to Shakespeare any further (farther?)

But you may see it floating around.  It’s from an environmental/green site arguing for the Luddite “tech is bad for us” point of view.   “Shakespeare had no Blackberry,” it argues, “And Aristotle managed without an iPhone”:

Shakespeare had no Blackberry; Aristotle managed without an i-Phone. Christianity spread round the globe without blogs. Christ preached his sermon on the mount without the need of a PA system and Powerpoint presentation. All of our technology is completely unnecessary to a happy life.

Does this ring stupid for anyone else?  Shakespeare also had no MODERN MEDICINE AND LIVED DURING THE PLAGUE, YOU MORONS.  IT IS ONLY THROUGH LUCK THAT WE HAVE HIM AT ALL.  I do not think, sitting at the deathbed of his only son, that Shakespeare was thinking about how happy his life was.  I think he would have been that much happier with penicillin.

It is ludicrous to point to the “best” of past eras and say “See, they managed,” you mindless fools.  You should be asking who we *dont* have, who we *lost* because we failed to save them.  Don’t look at what Aristotle and others accomplished and say “See? They managed.”  Look at them and say “What else could they have achieved?”  How on the one hand can you hold up Shakespeare as one of the great geniuses of the last 500 years, but in the same breath argue for the conditions that allowed him to “manage”?  Wouldn’t you be better off looking for ways in which he could thrive?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

1795 Book Value?

Got a request from a reader how she might go about finding the value of a very old book:

The book is "The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare" First American Edition Vol. III.

It is printed and sold by Bioren & Madan in MDCCXCV.

It appears it is from a set of 8 books. It is worn with yellowed mottled pages and has some writing in pencil on the inside front & back covers and on some pages. On the title page it has a signature that appears to have been written with a quill pen.

Anybody recognize the description and can offer a background?  Any book collectors got links to the good sites for doing research about such things?

Post details here, and I’ll forward back to the original requestor, if she’s not already listening.


Friday, November 06, 2009

McSweeney’s Is At It Again!

McSweeney’s was all over the map a few months ago with their Hamlet on Facebook, and now they’re at it again.  This time it’s the Shakespeare Police Blotter, and covers a number of favorites:

John Macduff, 32, of Fife County, decapitated his long-time acquaintance and political rival, William Macbeth, of Cawdor County, last Sunday at the latter man's home in Dunsinane.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, a Verona man ingested a fatal dose of arsenic inside his lover's family's mausoleum. He was later identified as Romeo Montague, 22. A second victim, later identified as Juliet Capulet, 17, also of Verona, was found dead next to him.

I just realized they made Juliet 17, I wonder why?  Seems odd that they’d miss such an obvious detail, they seem to know their stuff otherwise.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Hamlet is 16. Discuss.

In my head, the words and works of Shakespeare are … how can I explain this …. they exist outside of time.  They are timeless, and I mean that in all senses of the word.  I could not tell you off the top of my head whether Merchant of Venice is technically supposed to happen in 1275, 1623 or 1941.  It is part of what I love.  It is what enables people to go to the well over and over and over again, keeping the essence while simultaneously changing everything.  If you tried to tell me that there is something about Hamlet that *must* take place in 1601, you’d ruin it for me.

So it is something of an eye opener for me to stumbled across a book like Steve Roth’s “Hamlet : The Undiscovered Country” where he very literally maps the action of Hamlet to actual calendar days, in the process rebuilding many core beliefs about the play. I am not in the least kidding when I say that he discusses which of the action, for example, happens on a Monday.  More so, *what* Monday and why that is important, why Shakespeare chose it.

I first stumbled across Steve’s work on the “Hamlet is 30” topic, which we’ve discussed twice before.  It is his position that the well known “I have been sexton here, man and boy 30 years” – the primary evidence that Hamlet is 30 – is actually a misinterpretation.  He feels that the line actually reads “I (the gravedigger) have been sixteen here (i.e., have been at this job 16 years)…”

It is a bold position to take.  The secondary bit of evidence, that Yorick – who Hamlet played with as a child – died 23 years ago, is harder to contradict.  But Roth finds Q1 evidence that the line was originally 12 years, which would fall right in line.

As I said above, and as my regular readers probably know, this is not how I do it.  There’s a world of difference between just assuming that “some time” elapsed before the nunnery confrontation, and mapping that time out to a number of days, a time of year, everything.  The flowers that Ophelia picked (if she didn’t imagine them), were they in bloom at that time of year? The old king was supposedly sleeping in his orchard… how cold was it?  There are folks that eat that stuff up.  I’m willing to bet that there’s a handful of regular readers of my blog, in fact, who are all over it.

It’s often hard to make the case, and Roth knows that.  When he’s got details he makes his case clear.  When the case is a little weaker on fact, he’s not afraid to say “That sounds about right.”  In particular, Hamlet’s time with the pirates is particularly tricky to nail down.

There are also times where I just don’t plain understand what calendar we’re supposed to be using.  The anachronism of “going back to Wittenberg” is oft cited – it wasn’t there in Hamlet’s time, but would have been in Shakespeare’s time.  Ok, fair enough.  But much of Roth’s calendar calculation is done against the 1601 calendar, when Hamlet would have been *performed*, not when it took place.  Is that too much a convenience?  Did Hamlet really write in jokes and references that would have been out of date a year later, much less 400?

Within all the calendar counting, though, there are still opportunities to learn new things (again, this is part of what I love).  For instance, this book brings up the idea that Hamlet’s harping on Gertrude not going to bed with Claudius is not because he’s got some Oedipal issues, but because (if Hamlet is 16, mind you), Gertrude is clearly still young enough to bear a child by Claudius.  A child that would be next in line to the throne, bumping Hamlet out of the picture.  Maybe that’s common knowledge, but I’d never thought of it.  And if Hamlet is 30, it’s more far fetched.

Roth’s book is small, barely 150 pages, and has it’s fair share of tables taking up space.  So it’s a quick read.  You don’t have to buy the “Hamlet is 16” premise to enjoy it either, though Roth certainly makes a good showing for his case.  This book would be a fine addition to the collection of any Hamlet geeks out there.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Shakespeare Tarot

Have you ever seen the Shakespeare Oracle deck of Tarot cards?  It’s really quite beautiful, and I kick myself that I did not buy when I had the chance.  Whenever I stumble across a shop that deals in such a things I still browse through, in hopes of seeing another one.

The linked article is an interview with Cynthia Von Buhler, the artist who did the cards.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Yes, But Shakespeare Tastes Like Book

My family is going through the classic Muppet Show (via Netflix) one episode disc at a time, and tonight we got to see Season 1, Episode 1 – the very first Muppet Show.

They often did a “ballroom” segment, where various couples danced and told relatively standard jokes.  In this episode, two pigs are dancing.

Pig #1:  Do you prefer Shakespeare to Bacon?

Pig #2:  I prefer anything to bacon!

<insert Statler and Waldorf old man laugh here>

Later in the show, though, Kermit tells Juliette Prowse that he does not want to be accused of “gilding the lily pad.” I wonder if the writers that threw in the Shakespeare joke realized the connection?

Monday, November 02, 2009

What Do Sonnets Sound Like?

What do Shakespeare’s sonnets sound like?  There’s no end of discussion about performance of the plays, what iambic pentameter and punctuation mean to the motivation of the characters, and even the stage directions.  But what of the sonnets? Intended for publication (or perhaps not?), we’re not used to hearing them performed in quite the same way.

Such is the challenge that Will Sutton over at I Love Shakespeare has taken upon himself, recording his performance of all 154 sonnets.

I’ve known about his site for awhile, and it took a reminder to get me off my butt and look at it more seriously.  After all, it takes awhile to listen to that many sonnets.  Will’s got his own embedded player as well, so you can follow along with the text of the sonnet while you listen to his performance.

Truthfully, though, the geek in me couldn’t resist a shortcut.  After admiring the site’s coding (nice use of XML, Will) I wrote a quick scraper to pull down all the MP3 files and get them onto my ipod.  I lose the text that way, but it’s the only real way I’m ever going to get the time to listen to them :).

The actual audio is interesting.  These are not “dramatic readings” like you might hear out of a Ralph Fiennes or Alan Rickman on the Love Speaks cd.  No, these are more like…how to put it, like a reference version.  There are actors who say “Well, this is *my* interpretation.”  I think Will’s approach is more that there is specifically a “right” way to do it, and he’s trying to deliver them that way.  It’s pretty clear that he’s doing this out of love for the material.  The audio production quality is quite high.  This does not sound like a guy sitting behind the built-in mic in his laptop.  There are no throat clears or unexpected pauses for breath.  He’s taken the task seriously and done a very nice job of it.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not qualified on how good his actual delivery is.  Is he pausing in all the right places, emphasizing where he should?  I mean, it sounds good to me.   I know you can’t listen to a long stream of them with no context – they start to run together.  That’s totally my fault for trying to play them like that.  Although it does actually make me think that he could try his had at an audiobook.  Make some bumpers that talk briefly about each sonnet, and then deliver the performance.  Repeat until done.  Wrap that all up into a single MP3 file, package it with a PDF, and put it out on the net.  Could be a big hit.  I know a number of sonnet books, but very few offer audio commentary.  Those that due, certainly do not do a performance of all 154.