Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday October 29 2012

We finished reading As You Like It yesterday so the coming week will be devoted to reading the intro and Bloom’s analysis.  The two movies we have will be our film fare next weekend.  After that….well, according to the general chronology, Hamlet is next, as I mentioned before, but not only am I a little afraid of Hamlet, we have about 20 movies and a lot of analysis so it will be a maaaajor project.  I think it will have to wait until the New Year.  So we’ll break our own chronological rules and skip Hamlet for the time being.  But that’s the future! This is now….

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • October 25 is St. Crispin’s and St. Crispian’s day and the Battle of Agincourt took place on this day in 1415. If Henry V didn’t really say, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” he should have.  He undoubtedly would have if he had known some guy was going to write a play about him nearly 200 years later, making them both famous forever.
  • On the very same day (Doran neglects to tell us which year) a neighbor, Richard Quinney, wrote to Shakespeare asking to borrow £30. That was a lot of moolah in those days.  Doran doesn’t tell us, either, if Quinney got the loan.
  • On October 27, 1607, let’s hope Shakespeare was outside and that it wasn’t cloudy because Halley’s Comet passed.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Richard Dawkins, in his The Greatest Show on Earth, the Evidence for Evolution he writes “What a piece of work is the mammalian skeleton.” Any guesses on the real quote and which play? Bonus question: In which musical was this put to music? Later in the book Dawkins explains that our getting goose bumps is an evolutionary leftover from our hairier ancestors whose hair stood on end (our evolutionary cousins’ hair still does).  One of his examples of when we are moved to such physical response is when we “are haunted by the peerless craftsmanship of a Shakespeare sonnet”.
  • In the movie Wit Emma Thompson’s character, the literary scholar Vivien Bearing, is told by her professor (Eileen Aitkins) that “if you go in for that kind of melodrama, I suggest you take up Shakespeare.” Later the observation was made (by the same professor if memory serves right) that John Donne’s poetry “makes Shakespeare sound like a Hallmark card”.  Well, these two quotes are quite insulting, I must say.  But they were funny in the movie, which in spite of its title, needs as much comic relief as it can get.
  • Sadly for the Swedish world of theater, actor/director Göran Stangertz died yesterday.  His debut as a director was a pop musical version of Twelfth Night.

Further, since the last report:
·         Finished reading aloud with Hal: As You Like It.
·         Received a lovely gift from my friend Snazzy Jazzy: a bookend with a cut-out portrait of Shakespeare. Thank you!
·         Shakespeare Calling follower Harold Berglund’s art exhibit continues.  Have you spotted the Shakespeare connection?

·         A review of Marxists Shakespeares, (editor Jean E. Howard et. al.)
·         This Monday Report

Marxist Shakespeares

Marxist Shakespeares edited by Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow, 2001.  Read in April 2010.

                      Marxism has been declared dead many times by liberals, conservatives and red-baiters alike, but somehow the old guy seems to keep popping up, as relevant as ever. And his connection to Shakespeare is considerable.  This volume of essays explores these connections including an analysis of Marx's own view on Shakespeare. According to essay author Peter Stallybrass, Marx read Shakespeare every day.
                      Other essays deal with the role the economy of the renaissance, especially that of trade and industry, play in Shakespeare's world and plays.  Women's positions are analyzed through the spectacles of gender and class. In an analysis of Measure for Measure Kiernan Ryan writes in his essay  “Marxism Before Marx” that through the Foucaultian power in the play Shakespeare has shown “that there can be no justice in a constitutionally unjust society, which is programmed to preserve its unequal distribution of status, wealth and power” (page 240).  Ryan makes the provocative (he uses the word himself) claim that “Shakespeare was a Marxist long before Marx” (page 230) and he concludes, “...Measure for Measure forges for us, from this bleak narrative of constraint, the prospect of an egalitarian community, on whose basis alone the true justice for which our own world still hungers might one day prove attainable” (page 243).
                      Several of the authors mention Harold Bloom - who presents Shakespeare as universal and who scoffs repeatedly at the notion that Shakespeare can be analyzed from a gender, ethnicity or cultural materialist perspective (readers of this blog will have noted that Bloom has often irritated me because of this!) - and gently suggest that his view is limited. To put it more bluntly, if altogether too simply, Bloom represents the school of thought advocating a Shakespearean analysis emphasizing the individual free from society and history while the essayists in this book show how much richer and more rewarding it is to place Shakespeare in the complex development of society and history.
                      In their introduction the two editors place the question of Marx and Shakespeare within the historical changes we have recently experienced and the consequences we are still experiencing by pointing out that not only has Marxism not agreed to die quietly now that the Soviet Union and other states have ceased to exist but that Marxist thought is being renewed: “Marxism continues to provide a compelling framework through which to understand both contemporary texts and events and those of prior periods. If many of us persist in questioning certain aspects of Marx's nineteenth-century project, all of us, in our separate ways, acknowledge that we have not finished thinking through the implications of his immense theoretical revolution.  As the essays in this volume suggest, the ghosts of Shakespeare and of Marx continue to work...deep in the soil of the twenty-first century: 'Remember me.' Of course” (page 15).
                      I recommend this book for serious Shakespeare scholars.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday October 22 2012

A quiet Almanac this week but an interesting combination of sightings

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • On October 20, 1596, Shakespeare applied to the Garter King of Arms for permission for his father to bear a coat of arms. This was before most of his plays were written.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In my work with my list “Books Read in Sweden” I found in 2008 the novel Set Me Free by Miranda Beverly-Whittmore. I didn’t remember the title but I had noted that it was about a boarding school for Indian kids and they were putting on a Shakespeare play.  Unfortunately the book seems hard to get a hold of now.
  • In Dagens Nyheter there was an ad for a production (for children) of Macbeth at Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armory) and the next day in Svenska Dagbladet there was  a notice about it.
  • In the movie The Lion in Winter old King Henry II (father of the future King John who got his own play by Shakespeare) mentions the legend of an old king called Lear.
  • In Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear one of the horses was named Hamlet. Hmph. Is that disrespectful?
  • In DN’s listing of the evening’s movies The Dark Knight i.e. Batman is described as “an angst-ridden Hamlet figure”.
  • In the movie Black and White a teacher asks the students to discuss identity and uses Iago as an example of one who doesn’t have an identity. He quotes “I am not what I am”.
  • In Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World the nameless character notes, “As Shakespeare said, die this year and you don’t have to die the next.”

Further, since the last report:
·         Continued reading aloud with Hal: As You Like It.
·         Shakespeare Calling follower Harold Berglund’s art exhibit continues.  Have you spotted the Shakespeare connection?

·         “Oh Kenneth Where Art Thou?” in Ruby’s Reflections.
·         This Monday Report

O Kenneth Where Art Thou?

O Kenneth Where Art Thou?

Dear Kenneth Branagh,
                      Do you know how it is to see a movie that hits you like a ton of bricks and changes your life? Well, of course you do.
                      Your Henry V did that to me. The first time I saw it I was only as vaguely aware of Shakespeare as most people are and I had some trouble following it, but understanding it all proved to be secondary to the impact the film had on me.  My days as a Shakespeare freak were about to begin.
                      You don't get quite all of the credit – I was studying English literature at the Stockholm University at the time and good professors helped, but Henry V started making everything fall into place. Your Much Ado About Nothing didn't hurt – who could resist falling for your Benedick and Emma Thompson's Beatrice? Not I. 
                      And then I saw your Hamlet and I was a goner.  It's probably the best movie ever made; it's certainly my all-time favorite.
                      In other words I was hooked and your Love's Labour's Lost and As You Like It only deepened my addiction; your excellently evil Iago only made it worse. Or better, or whatever.
                      And then.
                      No more Shakespeare.
                      Yes, everything else you've done is more or less brilliant too. I loved Frankenstein.  The Magic Flute made me like opera (at least while watching this one). Your Sleuth was even better than the 1960's version and that has always been one of my Top Ten or so. Your Wallander does Sweden and Mankell proud. You were the perfect Gilderoy Lockhart. Et cetera, et cetera.
                      But what happened to Shakespeare?  You have more than thirty more plays left to film! Aren't you longing to do the other biggies? Lear, Prospero, Macbeth? You and Emma Thompson (you're still friends, aren't you?) would do a spectacular murderous couple!  You could do so much with King John – the first Shakespeare play put on film, by the way, doesn’t that tempt you?  Measure for Measure has always been one I'd like to see, as long as it's not made romantic and lovey-dovey at the end.  You could do great things with Timon of Athens.  Or The Winter's Tale. Or – well, you know which plays you haven't filmed yet.
                      Julie Taymor has made excellent Shakespeare films. Baz Luhrman did a fantastic R&J. Al Pacino made a masterpiece. But they’re not…you.
                      So Dear-Kenneth-Branagh-Making-Shakespeare-Movies, you are sorely missed. I can't begin to thank you enough for everything you've done so far but Shakespeare freaks are never satisfied. The world needs you!  It's time for a new wave of Shakespeare movies and nobody can do it like you.
                      Please come back! 

With best and hopeful regards,
Ruby Jand
Shakespeare blogger

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday October 15 2012

Not much this week in the line of sightings or days of interest from the Almanac but there are several other things I hope you will find of interest.

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • On October 13, 1566, Gilbert Shakespeare was christened. What a name.  Still he ended up with one of the world’s most famous big brothers.
 Shakespeare sightings:
  • Two crosswords, both with Lear as one of the words.
 Further, since the last report:
·         Started reading aloud with Hal: As You Like It.
·         Finished writing text on Julius Caesar
·         Sent to Blogging Shakespeare: “O Kenneth” (This will appear soon on this blog)

Coming this week:
·         Shakespeare Calling follower Harold Berglund’s art exhibit is opening in a Stockholm gallery on Thursday.  Take a look at the link and see if you can spot the Shakespeare connection.

·         “He Reads Much - Cassius in Julius Caesar
·         This Monday Report

He Reads Much - Cassius in Julius Caesar

He Reads Much
Cassius in
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

                      You’ve probably heard of Mark Antony. He’s the one who said, “Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ear” (this is fiction) and had a big love affair with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt (historical, but also in another play). You’ve probably heard of Brutus too, because he’s the one to whom “Et tu, Brute” was said (fiction, I believe but he was real).  And everyone has heard of Julius Caesar.  But have you heard of Caius Cassius? He’s not so famous but I like him best.
                      A quick recap: Julius Caesar is Top Dog in the Roman Republic.  He’s on his way to making himself/allowing himself to be made emperor, even a god, thus destroying the republic. He’s popular with the people (he’s a big military hero, after all) but he’s petty, patronizing but disrespectful of his wife, unhealthy (not his fault but hardly godlike) and tyrannical. My view here of Caesar and the others is, you understand, based on Shakespeare, not historical fact.              
Brutus is noble; he adheres to his principles, doing everything he does for the good of Rome and not for his own gain. He loves his wife (sort of), he’s kind to his servants; he agonizes over his part in the assassination of Caesar.  He’s too good to be true, frankly, and he’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t really want to hang out with because he doesn’t have a sense of humor.
                      Mark Antony is a self-absorbed sleaze. If he’s actually a hypocrite or not I haven’t figured out but he certainly can’t be trusted.  A pet of Caesar, he naturally enough expresses horror and grief when he walks in to see the bloody body minutes after the assassination but then he walks around shaking everybody’s bloody hand (the stabbing of Caesar was a cooperative effort) promising to be loyal to the new regime.  When he asks to be allowed to give a funeral oratory, however, Brutus stupidly says, “OK.” Whereby Antony proceeds to manipulate the crowd into seeking revenge for the murder so that he can take over.  He immediately gangs up with Octavius (soon to be Emperor Augustus – Brian Blessed,  for those of you who have seen I, Claudius) to start murdering senators and waging war against Brutus and company.
                      So is Cassius so much better than these three? Not really. He’s the one, after all, who gets the ball rolling on the assassination plot. We first see him in Act 1.2 when he approaches Brutus to sound him out on his views on Caesar.  When Brutus admits that the cheering of the people causes him to fear they will “choose Caesar for their king” Cassius replies:

Ay, do you fear it?
Then must I think you would not have it so. (Act 1.2)

                      Brutus agrees and Cassius begins his campaign:

I cannot tell what you and other men
Think of this life; but for my single self,
I had as lief not be, as live to be
In awe of such a thing as myself.
I was born free as Caesar, so were you. (Act 1.2)

                      He goes on to describe how he had once saved Caesar from drowning, how Caesar had been ill and whining. He is saying simply that Caesar is no better a man than they, in fact perhaps weaker, and should not be held in more awe of others than Cassius, Brutus or anyone else.  But in spite of all this, Caesar

Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature, and must bend his body
If Caesar carelessly but nod on him. (Act 1.2)

                      If this makes Cassius sound a bit petulant and resentful we can’t help but think that he has good reason. And he’s not just resentful for himself but also for Brutus:

Men at sometime were masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that “Caesar”?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together: yours is as fair a name…
…Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed
That he is grown so great?...
…When could they say till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walls encompassed but one man?  (Act 1.2)

                      Cassius is simply pointing out that Rome has long been a republic with equality among the senators. And now Caesar is getting/taking too much power.
                      Keeping in mind that most tyrants start out their takeovers with words like these, we still see that Cassius is defending democracy (the limited Roman kind but still) and that’s reason enough to like him.
                      But I really start liking him when a few minutes later Caesar walks onto the stage and says to Mark Antony:

Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous…
…I do not know the man I should avoid
So soon as that spare Cassius. He reads much.
He is a great observer, and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men.  He loves no plays,
As though dost, Antony; he hears no music.
Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort
As if he mocked himself, and scorned his spirit
That could be moved to smile at anything.
Such men as he be never at heart’s ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous (Act 1.2)

                      OK, so he’s a sourpuss.  And it’s too bad that he doesn’t like plays and music. It wouldn’t hurt him to lighten up and get a sense of humor.
                      But he reads! For that alone I like him. He thinks, he observes. And what he sees doesn’t give him a whole lot to smile about, right? The Republic is threatened.
                      In the scenes that follow, Cassius gathers forces, using one argument: we as individuals have the power to make ourselves free. Tyrants can be tyrants because they see people as sheep and we let them. Cassius says:

Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius.
Therein, ye gods, you make the weak most strong;
…That part of tyranny that I do bear
I can shake off at pleasure …
…And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?
Poor man, I know he would not be a wolf
But that he sees the Romans as sheep (Act 1.3)

                      And so the fateful Ides of March arrive. The gang gathers. Enter Caesar. He gets stabbed. Cassius is actually quite anonymous here. He says little before or during the deed but when it’s over it is Cassius who understands the historical importance of the moment:

How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over,
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!...
…So oft as that shall bee,
So oft shall the knot of us be called
The men that gave their country liberty…
…Brutus shall lead, and we will grace his heels
With the most boldest and best hearts of Rome (Act 3.1).

                      Momentous words. A sharp observer, our Cassius.
                      So far, so good for the freedom-fighting assassins. But now Mark Antony arrives on the scene.  Brutus treats him with respect and trust and says sure he can speak at the funeral. Silly Brutus. He should have listened to Cassius who says:

…But yet have I a mind
That fears him much…
…You know not what you do. Do not consent
That Antony speak in his funeral.

And when Brutus says everything will be OK, Cassius mutters, “I know not what may fall. I like it not” (All from Act 3.1)
                      So Antony goes out to give his “Friends, Romans and countrymen” speech, manipulates the masses into screaming for revenge, starts killing off senators and declares war against the Republic and its defenders.
                      The war does not go well for the republicans. Tensions run high and there is a violent confrontation between Brutus and Cassius. It deserves a proper analysis of its own but, alas, will only get a mention here.  Cassius is angry because Brutus is rigid in his condemnation of his soldiers’ “every nice offense”, i.e. petty crimes, while Brutus is furious with Cassius who is rumored to be guilty of nepotism and perhaps embezzlement and bribe-taking. Serious accusations and Cassius doesn’t exactly deny them but in the bitter threats the two hurl at each other Brutus comes off as the cruelest, expressing utter contempt for his friend and comrade:

Away, slight man…
Fret till your proud heart break…
…from this day forth
I’ll use you for my mirth, yea for my laughter,
When you are waspish (Act 4.2)

                      I don’t think I could have forgiven Brutus such hurtful words. Anger I could handle. Contempt and belittlement I could not. Would not.  But Cassius does. He admits he has done wrong but also wishes that Brutus would show a little tolerance: “A friendly eye could never see such faults.”  Gradually they both cool down and vow to never fight like that again.
                      In this exchange Brutus is morally more in the right but Cassius evokes more sympathy.  This is further enhanced when shortly thereafter Brutus tells of Portia’s suicide then he says brusquely, “Speak no more of her.”  Of course we could interpret that as Brutus being too heartbroken to speak of such a tragedy when he has a war to win but it could also be seen as simply cold-hearted.  Cassius on the other hand, a few minutes later after Titinius and Messala have joined them for a war council, cannot let it go: “Portia, art thou gone?” To  which Brutus replies: “No more I pray you.”
                      I’m not going to make a big thing of this but it adds one more touch of humanity to Cassius.
                      And that leads us to the end. Both Brutus and Cassius kill themselves, Cassius first, on his birthday no less. Why? He believes that Titinius has been captured and the cause is lost. He bids the man whose life he had once saved and who was thereafter his slave to run him through with the same sword used to stab Julius Caesar. If he does, he will be a free man. He does. Cassius dies. His last words:

Caesar, thou art revenged,
Even with the sword that killed thee (Act 5.3).

When Brutus sees his body:

The last of all the Romans, fare thee well.
It is impossible that ever Rome
Should breed thy fellow. Friends, I owe more tears
To this dead man than you shall see me pay. –
I shall find time, Cassius, I shall fine time (Act 5.3).

                      Brutus too asks a soldier to kill him by holding a sword so that he can fall on it. He does and his last words too are addressed to Caesar:

Caesar, now be still.
I killed not thee with half so good a will (Act 5.5)

                      Mark Antony’s speaks his famous “this was the noblest Roman of them all” eulogy over Brutus and thus of the four he gets the last word.
                      And so what goes around comes around. Julius Caesar is forever remembered as the ultimate emperor though he was never actually an emperor, just almost. Brutus is forever remembered as the tortured but noble betrayer. Antony is the winner.
                      And Cassius? Poor Cassius. He’s not remembered much at all.  But he’s the one who read much, observed much and thought much.  He’s the one who saw that what was happening was historical and, flawed though he was, he believed in and fought for one of the most important principles of grass root democracy. Alone we’re weak.  Together we can be strong.  
But he also showed that though we can overthrow tyranny it’s not so easy to create, achieve or maintain freedom. History is just too complicated.

October 2012


Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday October 8 2012

A bit of an interim week, having finished reading Julius Caesar and watching two movies as well as starting, but not finishing my text. Hopefully the first draft will be finished today so that it can be posted next week.  For now, this Monday report:

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • Nothing this week.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • From The Accidental again (see last Monday's report):
    • A girl working in a supermarket has the name tag “Miranda – Brave New World” - any guesses on the play?
    • And one of the characters is thinking of questions to ask (it really exists, I checked) and one of them was: Did Shakespeare really exist? (their answer: absolutely) (I checked that too.)
  • Lynne Truss has written a humorous (honest!) book about punctuation called Eats, Shoots and Leaves – the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation and of course anything that has to do with language use has to include Shakespeare.
    • Truss notes that Peter Hall (I assume she means the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company) thought that Shakespeare used too much punctuation (well, he did use a lot).
    •  Further, in a discussion on the American use of “period” and the British use of “full stop”, it is pointed out that Shakespeare called it a period in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
    • Thirdly a quote from the book: “Remember that comical pedant Holofernes in Love's Labour's Lost saying, 'You find not the apostraphas, and so miss the accent'? Well, no, of course you don't, nobody remembers anything said by that frightful bore, and we certainly shan't detain ourselves bothering to work out what he was driving at.” Her point is simply that Shakespeare used apostrophes to indicate that he'd left out some letters. Just like we do, but he did it all the time.
    • And finally she quotes George Bernard Shaw who uses the title of The Merchant of Venice to prove you should – or shouldn't, I couldn't figure out what he meant – use italics in titles.
  • In the outrageous but rather hilarious new comedy series by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, some of series star Warwich Davis's clients in his agency Dwarfs for Hire complain that they're not offered rolls as Hamlet or Othello.
  • In the third season of The Big Bang Theory Leonard and Penny are having romance problems and Romeo and Juliet are mentioned a couple of times.
  • I just started Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth – the Evidence for Evolution – and have already come across a sighting. I'm sure there will be more.  This one: in explaining the genetic process of breeding he mentions the Ophelia rose. I Googled that too. It's a pale pink rose and looks like the one on our balcony.

Further, since the last report:
·         Read aloud with Hal: Harold Bloom's chapter on Julius Caesar
·         Watched: The Marlon Brando version of Julius Caesar
·         Worked on text.

·         This Monday Report

Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday October 1 2012

This has been a more interesting Shakespeare week than the last two. The main thing is that after finishing Julius Caesar and looking ahead it was a bit of a shock to see that there's only one play between now and Hamlet. That's a bit scary actually but I'll deal with that when the time comes!

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:

  • On September 28, 1571, Shakespeare's sister Anne was born. She died at the age of seven when Shakespeare was 15, his first big loss. 
  • On September 30, 1399, Richard II abdicated, making Bolingbroke King Henry IV and giving Shakespeare something to write about a couple of hundred years later. 

Shakespeare sightings:

  • More sightings from the silly novel Monarch of the Glen but they weren't memorable enough to specify. 
  • In the back of the booklet of Scottish fish recipes bought in Scotland this summer there is a list of other booklets from the same publisher. Among them: Favourite Shakespeare Country. If this really excites you, here's the link but I didn't actually find this title. Let me know if you do!
  • In the movie Frankie and Johnny Al Pacino's character, an ex-con who read a lot in prison, quotes Shakespeare to his co-workers at a greasy spoon restaurant in New York. 
  • In Ali Smith's intriguing novel The Accidental the first sighting is very subtle: “Like the play she saw with the man in it whose eyes were gouged out...It was his daughters who did it or his sons...”Any guesses? One of the characters is a professor of English literature so there are more sightings. In one of them he is questioning the point of literature, and even of “old Will Shakespeare.” 

Further, since the last report:

  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Julius Caesar
  • Watched: BBC's version of same. 
  • Started writing: text about same. 

Posted: This Monday Report