Monday, August 20, 2012

Caliban's Olympics

I know the Olympics have been over for awhile, but Bardfilm started it when he posted Timothy Spall as Churchill as Caliban and asked readers about the use of Churchill (and subsequent World War II implications) and what that does to the speech.  I'm just riding his coattails on this one.

(Side note -- when we asked Shakespeare fans which rendition they thought was better, I heard nothing but Branagh.  When I asked an actor friend, who is not particularly a Shakespeare geek?  He said Spall, unquestionably.  He didn't believe Branagh's character.  And, I happen to agree completely.  When Bardfilm and I were discussing it I said, "Spall looked like he was trying to be Churchill.  Branagh looked like HOLY CRAP I'M RECITING SHAKESPEARE AT THE OLYMPICS!!" And I was perfectly fine with that. :) )

Anyway, what I want to talk about is how the exact same speech was used to bookend the ceremonies, both as welcome and farewell.  As a reminder, here's the text:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.Sometimes a thousand twangling instrumentsWill hum about mine ears, and sometime voicesThat, if I then had waked after long sleep,Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,The clouds methought would open and show richesReady to drop upon me that, when I waked,I cried to dream again.
When the show started and I knew that there was a Tempest quote coming (thanks to some spoilers ;)) I just hoped it wouldn't be the same old "We are such stuff", and I was not disappointed.  In fact, the speech does a good job of setting the tone, giving this whole sort of "You're about to see wonderful magical things that you have never seen before....don't be afraid, just enjoy..." vibe.  The emphasis in the welcome seems heavily on the "isle is full of noises" bit.  That work on multiple levels, from "Something magical is happening here" right down to the more literal "Look, our country is going to be very busy and noisy for the next couple of weeks, so just roll with it, it's all good, and it's just temporary."

As a farewell, you now pay attention to the second half -- it was temporary, it was a dream, and like any dream you have to wake up, and then it's over.  And when it's over what do you do?  You wish you could dream it again.    In this case is it sadness over the end of the London Olympics, or setting the stage for the next one?  In any other case, "I cried to dream again" is a desire for it not to end, to have the experience continue on indefinitely.  But with the Olympics we know something special -- it comes around again.

The more I think about it, the more I like it.  I didn't even see the closing ceremony (except for video of Spall's speech, courtesy Bardfilm), so I have no real commentary on the Shakespeare headlines (yet).  But looking strictly at Caliban's speech, it works just like a big dream sequence, opening up the door to wonders of what's about to happen, and then closing it with the promise that those doors will open again.



kj said...

I shouldn't be here—there are so many other things that need to be done!—but this is quite an interesting topic, and I want to receive e-mail updates as others comment.

My justification for this comment is simply pointing out that today is the anniversary of Winston Churchill's "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" speech (1940). And that has something of a Shakespearean resonance. Wasn't that what Henry V said to his troops after the Battle of Agincourt?


kj said...

"Listen, don't mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right."

—Basil Fawlty, Fawlty Towers

What did the German athletes think about seeing Winston Churchill at the top of Big Ben?


Sean O'Sullivan said...

In case some people haven't seen
this footage, here is the page
for a wonderful anecdote from
Richard Burton regarding a
performance of Hamlet which
Churchill attended:

It's only 2mins long..great stuff.

Duane Morin said...

Dang that brother had a recognizable voice, didn't he? In the first two seconds I was like "Wow, that is one dead on Richard Burton impersonation."

Sean O'Sullivan said...

Here is an equally wonderful anecdote from Orson "Awesome" Welles with Churchill willingly backing Welles in an attempt to raise his standing with his
prospective financier.

I'm sure the similar anecdote
that begins the footage is just
that, and not an example of
anecdote terms of
beautiful male voices, I'd call
a tie between Welles and Burton.
The impersonation of Burton
in the film "Scrooged" from Bill
Murray is my favourite.

JM said...

kj wrote: "What did the German athletes think about seeing Winston Churchill at the top of Big Ben?"

Yes one wonders how the Germans could have missed old Ben...I mean, wait, I wasn't speaking about...the blitz--what I said was...did someone order a blintz?

Love that episode--indeed, all of them. Comic genius.

Sean O'Sullivan said...

Just catching up with the opening
ceremony of the Paralympics...
more of a direct Shakespearean
theme,with Duane's man-crush
as Prospero, albeit without
any direct Shakespeare quotes
as yet...but Stephen Hawking is
striking a profoundly dramatic
note with his narrative pieces..
"I find my zenith doth depend on
a most auspiscious star" ..just
hearing this on my earphones,
merging the science and
Shakespeare theme..going into a
tribute to the large hadron
collider now!..check it out on
the Channel 4 webite playback