Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shakespeare Uncovered (If Anybody Needs Me, I Know Where I'll Be)

This looks like it has the potential to be amazing.  At first I was all, "Oh no I hope it's not an authorship thing," but even with the appearance of Derek Jacobi it looks like it has nothing to do with that.

Three weeks.  Two movies each week.  Pick your favorite subject.  Which one looks most interesting?

And what's Ethan Hawke doing in there?  Talking about Macbeth??

THIRTEEN’s Shakespeare Uncovered,
A Six-Film Series Telling the Stories Behind Shakespeare’s Greatest Plays,
Premieres on PBS Friday, January 25 at 9 p.m.

Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn, Joely Richardson, and David Tennant are hosts

In a unique series of six films debuting on PBS Friday, January 25 at 9 p.m. (check local listings)Shakespeare Uncovered will combine history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis, and the personal passions of its celebrated hosts – Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn, Joely Richardson, and David Tennant – to tell the stories behind the stories of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.
                Produced by Richard Denton for Blakeway Productions & THIRTEEN for WNET in association with the BBC and Shakespeare’s Globe, each episode explores and reveals the extraordinary world and works of William Shakespeare and the still-potent impact they have today. The films combine interviews with actors, directors and scholars, along with visits to key locations, clips from some of the most-celebrated film and television adaptations, and illustrative excerpts from the plays staged specially for the series at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
Behind every Shakespeare play there is a story: for instance, how he and his company dismantled their theater and rowed it across the river Thames when their landlord cancelled their lease – then staged Henry V for the first time. There are echoes of the playwright’s life -- who named his twins Hamnet (a boy, who died at age 11) and Judith -- in plays like Twelfth Night, where the plot turns on the adventures of separated twins; and Hamlet, where the drama begins with the grief of a son who has lost his father. The series shows Shakespeare as an impresario who, four centuries ago, defined early the tenets of show business – drawing on historical sources, stealing and adapting ideas, bringing back popular characters, writing prequels, and developing dramatic ideas from the politics of the day.
Each program’s host has deep personal experience with Shakespeare’s work and relates not only the stories of the plays themselves, but also the stories of how they came to be written, how they have been performed, and how they have survived over 400 years.
The six episodes will air as follows:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Shakespeare Uncovered: Macbeth with Ethan Hawke
9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Ethan Hawke invites viewers on his quest to play Shakespeare’s murderous Thane of Cawdor by researching the true story and real-life events that served as the play’s inspiration. Historian Justin Champion visits the actual Scottish sites of the story on Hawke’s behalf, introducing him to Dunsinane where Macbeth supposedly lived, and to the history books that distorted the true story and consequently led Shakespeare to do the same.  Immersing himself in some of the most memorable and innovative productions of “the Scottish Play,” Hawke gleans extraordinary insights into Shakespeare’s understanding of the criminal mind. Lady Macbeth’s relationship to the titular Thane is a critical role in the play and is examined by observing Shakespeare’s Globe actors rehearsing and performing scenes from the play, as well as by revisiting recent productions starring Patrick Stewart and Antony Sher.

Shakespeare Uncovered: The Comedies with Joely Richardson
10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
Joely Richardson investigates (with her mother Vanessa Redgrave) the legacy of these two brilliant cross-dressing comedies, with their missing twins, mistaken identities, and characters in disguise; their connections to Shakespeare’s personal life;  and the great romantic heroines created by Shakespeare in two perennially popular plays.  Richardson investigates the comic and dramatic potential of female roles written for male actors to play. At the same time, Richardson demonstrates that Shakespeare revealed an acute understanding and sympathy for women when he wrote these characters. Redgrave’s portrayal of Rosalind in As You Like It made her a star in England and soon after, all over the world, and the show reveals the legacy of strong, sassy, witty women that we inherit from William Shakespeare’s great comedies.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shakespeare Uncovered: Richard II with Derek Jacobi
9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
In returning to the role of a deposed monarch whose crown is taken from him, Derek Jacobi takes a 360-degree view of this great political thriller whose title character he played more than 30 years ago.  Jacobi shares insights on the play’s political twists – and their modern equivalents – that have kept Richard II resonant for centuries through its understanding of power’s tendency to corrupt and distort the truth, and how quickly power may be lost.  While coaching actors at Shakespeare’s Globe, Jacobi describes how the play was used by the Earl of Essex in his attempted coup against Queen Elizabeth I, and persuaded Shakespeare’s own company to stage it to encourage the Earl’s “plotters.”  Jacobi reveals how the plot nearly cost Shakespeare his life. Also featured are notable excerpts from the upcoming Great Performances film adaptation starring Ben Whishaw and Patrick Stewart.

Shakespeare Uncovered: Henry IV Henry V with Jeremy Irons
10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
Jeremy Irons uncovers the enduring appeal of Shakespeare’s most iconic “history plays,” from the true English history embedded into the works to the father-son drama that Shakespeare created.  In disclosing Shakespeare’s sources – and steps the playwright took to distort them –
Irons uncovers the historical truths behind the story and how they inspired some of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues.  On a journey to the battlefield at Agincourt in Northern France, the climactic location of these plays, it’s revealed how the Bard was more subversive and less patriotic than his ardent admirers often think. Irons also invites viewers behind the scenes at the filming of key sequences in the new Great Performances adaptation starring Irons himself as the father-king, Henry IV, and Tom Hiddleston as his son, Prince Hal, who becomes Henry V.
Friday, February 8, 2013

Shakespeare Uncovered: Hamlet with David Tennant
9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
An acclaimed Hamlet in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s hit production (also a recent Great Performances production), David Tennant meets fellow actors who’ve tackled this most iconic of roles, including superstar Jude Law, and compares notes on the role’s titanic challenges.  Tennant digs deep into the text about the doomed Danish Prince alongside the actorsSimon Russell Beale and Ben Whishaw.  With them he works to plumb the deeper meanings of the play and the reason it is widely considered the greatest of Shakespeare’s canon.  The historical sources and religious wars, existential questions of the meaning of life and death, the idea that ghosts exist and may speak – all these and a searing personal drama, too – comprise this Everest of a play. Tennant also finds that many actors who have played Hamlet share an experience that is deeply and profoundly personal.  This is also, perhaps, the reason audiences feel the play touches them more than any other before or since.

Shakespeare Uncovered: The Tempest with Trevor Nunn
10:00-11:00 p.m. ET
Trevor Nunn, the legendary director who has helmed 30 of Shakespeare’s 37 plays – and aims to complete them all before he retires – takes us through the magical and mysterious world created in the playwright’s last complete work. Nunn considers The Tempest as Shakespeare’s farewell from the stage, and explores the biographical nature of the play and its connection to the playwright’s often troubled family life.  He also explores the stagecraft – the fact that Tempest is a play of special effects, apparitions and magic. Some of The Tempest’s most famous and most enthusiastic fans contribute their ideas about its lead role of Prospero, including Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren and acclaimed film and theater director Julie Taymor, who recently directed a film adaptation that features Mirren in which the lead role was recast as a female named Prospera.

For 50 years, THIRTEEN has been making the most of the rich resources and passionate people of New York and the world, reaching millions with on-air and online programming that celebrates arts and culture, offers insightful commentary on the news of the day, explores the worlds of science and nature, and invites students of all ages to have fun while learning.

Shakespeare Uncovered is produced by Richard Denton. Bill O’Donnell is series producer; Stephen Segaller and David Horn are executive producers for Thirteen; Fiona Stourton for Blakeway.

Shakespeare Uncovered is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the generous support of the project’s lead foundation sponsor, the Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation.   Major funding is also provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Polonsky Foundation, Virginia and Dana Randt, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, and PBS.

Photos and other material can be accessed at the THIRTEEN Online Pressroom.


About WNET
In 2012, WNET is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THIRTEEN, New York’s flagship public media 
provider. As the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as NatureGreat PerformancesAmerican MastersNeed to KnowCharlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the MathOh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTSReel 13NJ Today and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's your favorite "Shakespeare gets it" moment?

Today I found myself trying to explain the importance of Caliban's "Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises" speech and found myself reduced to some fairly base vocabulary (read, curse words) because I couldn't fully articulate the raw emotional connection that I was trying to get across.  It reminds me of a long time ago, of a girl that I went to high school with (and had a crush on), who died in a car accident. One night, years later, I had a dream with her in it.  Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, just a dream that she happened to be in, as if she were still alive.  I will always remember waking up and realizing, "Nope, she's not around anymore," and the ache that came with that, the desire to immediately climb back into that dream.  I even wrote a play of my own about it.

I feel as if I should include the text of that speech:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

I've often pointed to Hamlet's "Thrift, Horatio, thrift!" comment (about reusing the funeral leftovers at the wedding) as an example of something that comes straight out of Shakespeare, 400 years ago, but it still exactly the kind of thing that you could see someone saying and doing today.  But I think I may change that.

What's your favorite moment like that?  Amid all Shakespeare's talking about kings and ghosts and fairies, what's the moment you point to and say "See?  SEE? Shakespeare gets it!  That's the sort of thing that a person today would totally do!"

Choose Your Own Hamlet

Looks like somebody's been reading this blog?  Last month I wrote about "Choose Your Own Shakespeare" novelizations, and on November 21 we got To Be Or Not To Be : The Adventure which is exactly that.

I don't know how I feel when I see a project like this net $150k on Kickstarter.  Really?  It drives me a little nuts.  I've spoken to publishers about doing Shakespeare work and basically been told "Until you have 50k readers or a piece in the NY Times, your book isn't going to sell."  Somehow this project pulls in 4k backers and makes it happen?

Just jealous, I guess. :)  I do like and support the fact that he's publishing through the non-profit service Breadpig, and donating all the proceeds to cancer research.  I have to back that.  Good man.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Friday nights on ABC (here in the US, sorry international audience!) I watch one of my favorite shows, Shark Tank. Very much like "Dragon's Den" (and some of the investors are the same), entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to venture capitals and try to leave with investment money.  All of the "sharks" are on Twitter, which encouraged me to do some live tweeting of my own.  At some point I was challenged to do a Shakespeare / Shark Tank mashup.

Challenge Accepted.

You Are Now Entering .... The Shake Tank.

"Good evening, sharks.  My name is Antonio, and I am seeking an investment in my shipping business of 3000 ducats in exchange for one pound of my flesh."

"So, Friar Laurence, help us to understand.  You've invented a potion that makes the consumer *appear* dead, and they're supposed to use this to escape uncomfortable situations.  You've got exactly one sale, and we know what happened there.  The liability on something like this is astronomical. I'm out."

"You come in here and you try to pull a fast one on me, Mr. Wonderful?  I had a bowl of muses of fire for breakfast this morning.  You think yours is the only invention that ascends the brightest heavens? Do you have any idea how many wanna-be entrepreneurs come in here telling us the same thing?"

"I have to tell you, I think this is a first here in the tank.  Some people want to work with us for connections, some want us to be a mentor and share our experience and wisdom.  And then there are the ones that just want us for our money.  But now here you come, offering us a third of your kingdom, to whichever one of us loves you the best?  I'll make you an offer.  Ready?  Nothing."

"All right, Richard.  I'll make you an offer.  I'll give you the horse you're looking for, but I'm gonna need 100% of your kingdom."

Friday, November 09, 2012

Defending Joan of Arc

A new reader wants to talk about Joan of Arc's portrayal in Henry VI.  Specifically, she (I am guessing she from a Twitter image) feels that Shakespeare "insulted Joan, obviously" and that "he disgraced himself."

For reference see also this recent comment in the "Why Do You Hate Shakespeare?" thread, which I must assume (though have not proven) comes from the same person:

I really, really hate him.
I was very shocked when read [Henry 6 part 1]. She wasn't a witch, a whore, an immoral girl, and a femme fatale! T.T How could the hack insulted her? stupid!
Truthfully I have no opinion on the subject, at all, having only the most passing knowledge of this particular play.  But I promised that I would put it out there for discussion.  Any of my history buffs want to jump in with why exactly Shakespeare might have painted Ms. D'Arc in such a negative light, relative to the playwright's own religion / location / time period?

Friday, November 02, 2012

What's the last thing you learned about Shakespeare?

So yesterday I'm looking at one of my books (an old Arden edition of The Tempest), and a thought comes to mind that often prevents me from posting stuff.  It goes a little something like this:  "If I flip through that and learn something, and I post it, then most of the people who read that are going to say, 'Yup. Knew that. Now we can discuss our opinions on the relative value of that information and what it might mean to a bigger picture.'"  In other words, I tend to think that when *I* learn something, everybody else already knew that thing, and I'm just catching up.  I convince myself that if you study Shakespeare at all, then you basically "know" everything there is to know, and spend the rest of your time discussing what it means, if that makes sense.

Hence my question.  When's the last time you actually *learned* a *fact* about Shakespeare or his works?  Not new interpretations or angles for looking at a scene.  I mean things like, "Until just now I didn't really realize that Hamlet's final O groans are in the Folio text.  I thought they were in the bad quarto."  (This is a true example.)

Convince me that you all haven't memorized every spelling and punctuation choice made in every version of every play.  When's the last time you got to do have that moment that I clearly have regularly where you get to learn a new thing?

Thursday, November 01, 2012


[ Or maybe, NaShaWriMo? ]

If you spend much time online (and, duh, how are you reading this exactly?) you'll probably run into some references to NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month.  In short, the idea is to commit yourself to finally writing that novel.  Sign up at the site and publish your results as a way of motivating yourself to make it happen.  Tell everybody about your progress daily, and get support in return on your way to completing that particular item on your bucket list.

As somebody who starts many, many projects and only finishes a portion of them, I approve this message.  I don't really have a novel in me, but that doesn't mean that the idea can't still work.  Maybe I've got something about Shakespeare that I could finally write? Or maybe an app?

How about you?  Anybody out there got any Shakespeare writing projects in the works, either lying half finished in a desk drawer (remember those days?  when we actually used a real typewriter to write on real paper and you really could have a half-finished project in a desk drawer?) or still an idea forming in your head?  Now's the chance to join up with thousands of others who are all running the same race!