Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday December 24 2012 and YearThat Was

A “This Was the Year That Was” report should rightfully come on New Year’s Eve but Hal and I will be spending New Year’s in the wilds of northern Sweden, more exactly outside the village of Drängsmark – find that on your map if you can!  It’s about 200 kilometers from the Arctic Circle.  Latest report: snow and 20 below (centigrade).  Our friend, MR, assures us haughtily that of course they have internet up there so theoretically I could do a Monday report and End of Year Report next week but…even Shakespeare has to take a day off now and then.  So this report will include the chronicle. And in fact I won’t be back on the blog until January 14 because I have to work on Monday, January 7. So here you have the last posting of 2012:

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

Shakespeare sightings:
  • From an old issue of the Swedish weekly Flamman (I go through the piles of magazines and newspapers on the kitchen table once in awhile) a quiz (guessing the answer from clues worth five points, four points etc): 5 points – This legend was born in 1890 in Torquay, Devon and died in 1976 in Oxfordshire. Some of her works were written under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. 4 points – Next after William Shakespeare the world’s best-selling author…If you want to know the rest (if you haven’t guessed already) let me know.  I didn’t actually know that Shakespeare is the best-selling author, is that true??
  • In Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought there is a 3-page discussion on how to define our concept of the name “William Shakespeare” and the conclusion is, ”So what exactly  does William Shakespeare mean if not ‘great writer, author of Hamlet, “ and so on?” What indeed?
  • Nick Hornby continues to refer to Shakespeare in Songbook
    • As a teenager NH preferred American quiz shows to the English heritage represented by Stratford etc.
    • In arguing that it’s OK for pop songs to use the same themes over and over again NH points out that Shakespeare recycled old (and not so old) stories.
    • “What a piece of work is…” a boxed set. How can so few works evoke an entire play?
  • In the third Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel by Laurie R. King, A Letter of Mary, there are several sightings, the best of which are:
    • “Shakespeare must have been an insomniac. He has an overly affectionate fixation on sleep that borders on obsession. It can only have stemmed from privation.” I have made the same observation myself, also an insomniac…
    • An all-woman troupe that specialized in rude productions of Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare is mentioned.  Hmm, sounds interesting, this might have been listed in my reflections on “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?”
    • “The poet’s pen…gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name.”  Quoted as a chapter heading of Part Five.  Any guesses? I don’t have a clue, a sonnet probably but I haven’t checked it out yet.
  • In the Swedish novel Eld (Fire), the second in a trilogy by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren, the high school students continue to study Romeo and Juliet in English.
  • Shakespeare in Love was shown on Swedish TV this weekend but we didn’t watch it. We have it, we’ve seen it a few times, and we’ll watch it again probably after our second marathon.
 Further, since the last report:
  • Finished: Bloom’s chapter on Twelfth Night.
  • Watched: Branagh’s production of same.
  • Wrote: rough draft of text on same.
 And now to The Shakespeare Calling Year That Was 2012:
·         Plays read and analyzed in 2012
o   Richard II - “Richard and Henry Do History”
o   The Life and Death of King John -  “Caught in the Middle, Lady Blanche”
o   The Merchant of Venice -  “Us and Them”
o   Henry IV Part One – “Language, Lies and Truth”
o   The Merry Wives of Windsor – “Wise Wives and Laundry Baskets”
o   Henry IV Part Two – “Hal and His Pal”
o   Much Ado About Nothing – “Is This Love?”
o   Henry V – “When Hoodlums Become Kings”
o   The Tragedy of Julius Caesar – “He Reads Much”
o   As You Like It – “Celia”
o   Twelfth Night” – “And the Winner Is…” (written but not yet posted)
·         Books Reviewed in 2012
o   Shakespeare – The World As a Stage by Bill Bryson
o   Shakespeare's Philosophy – Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays by Colin McGinn.
o   Will in the World – How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.
o   Shakespeare and Music – Afterlives and Borrowings by Julie Sanders
o   Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer
o   Shakespeare Our Contemporary by Jan Kott
o   Marxist Shakespeares edited by Jean E. Howard et al
o   Shakespeare in the Movies from the Silent Era to Today by Douglas Brode
·         Shakespeare Calling followers – now 12.
·         Shakespeare Calling – blog visit statistics
o   Total so far: 4,823
o   Top ten countries: Sweden, the US, Germany, the UK, Russia, the Netherlands, Australia, France, Canada, Bulgaria
o   Others of interest: Egypt, Burma, Venezuela, Iraq, South Africa, Latvia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Greece, Kenya…and many more. I’m sorry if I didn’t mention your country!
·         Shakespeare Calling – three most visited postings
o    A Midsummer Night’s Dream  - “Love Is Strange”
o   Romeo and Juliet “Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty (or Twenty-Eight)
o   Henry IV Part Two – “Hal and His Pal”

So that was the week and the year that was. Thank you all for an exciting year of Shakespeare Calling.  I wish you all the best in 2013. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday December 17 2012

Now I remember why I went back up to full time last December. Yesterday I spent several hours reading and grading tests and other teachery things which means today I have to do things that need to be done on weekends, like going to town to buy a winter coat. We’re going up north for New Year’s and my cheapskate coat won’t be enough. So this Monday report will be all for this time.

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • On December 16, 1977, Nelson Mandela, still in prison on Robben Island, signed his name in a copy of Shakespeare’s plays (smuggled into the prison) by the following lines from Julius Caesar, Act Two, Scene two.
Cowards die many times before their deaths
The valiant only taste their death but once.
Of all the wonders that I have yet heard,
It seems me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

The great Nelson Mandela is still will us.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • More from Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy: Hamlet’s ghost, Macbeth’s witches, Lear, Malvolio and Iago all make their appearance then wander on.
  • In the novel  Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult, seventeen-year-old Cara is reminded of the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet when she visits a spaced out New Age lawyer who has lots of herbs and things on her shelves.
  • Nick Hornby, who writes such lovely books, has written about songs that mean a lot to him. It’s called Songbook and he refers to Shakespeare…
    • “you may as well shuffle off this mortal coil now…”
    • “Emma Kay…has done a series of artworks that consist entirely of her (verbal) memories of Shakespeare plays…” Oh I’d like to hear that! Couldn’t find her on You Tube though.
    • Hornby made a list of things he remembers about Bob Dylan and adds:”I will not attempt a similar list pertaining to the life of William Shakespeare, because it would be far too shaming, but suffice it to say that it would not extend much beyond Stratford-Upon-Avon, Anne Hathaway and her cottage, the Globe and the Dark Lady.”

Further, since the last report:
  • Read the Norton intro to Twelfth Night, and started Bloom’s chapter on it.
  • Watched Trevor Nunn’s production of same.

·         Just this.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday December 10 2012

I wonder if Shakespeare would have been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature had it existed in his time.  The Swedish Academy has certainly made some good choices, but they have made at least as many incomprehensible choices.  Anyway, today the prize will be handed out here in Stockholm and Shakespeare didn’t get it this time either.

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • All’s Well That Ends Well was performed at the home of the Earl of Pembroke for the new King James in the beginning of December 1603, but the exact date is unknown.
  • The first woman known to have performed on stage in a Shakespeare play did so on December 8, 1660.  Her name is not given but she played Desdemona.
 Shakespeare sightings:
  • Is it a Shakespeare sighting when a colleague who is also an English teacher and knows of my addiction to Shakespeare says, “There’s the rub” in discussing a student’s grade?  If so, here it is. If not, here it is anyway.
  • One of the students had started his/her essay in the National Test on the subject of making decisions with the words “To be or not to be”. The essay didn’t quite live up to its glorious start but it was good anyway.
  • In Episode 2 of Season Two of Mad Men somebody reported somebody dressing up in women’s clothes.  The reply: “That’s how Shakespeare did it.”
  • In Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, Shakespeare is quoted, mentioned and obscurely referred to.  Here are some examples:
    • “The sheriff, with a monstrous watch, is at the door”. Spoken by Bardolph in Henry IV, Part One. Used at the beginning of the chapter in which Mr. Frank, the hero, is about to be arrested for robbery.
    • The heroine, Diana Vernon, takes umbrage to how Shakespeare refers to her ancestor Sir Richard Vernon: “sorely slandered by a sad fellow called Will Shakespeare…”
    • After getting drunk and making a fool of himself (and comparing himself to Cassio in Othello) Frank excuses himself to Miss Vernon with, “We have Shakespeare’s authority for saying that good wine is a good familiar creature, and that any man living may be overtaken at some time” To which she tartly points out that Shakespeare’s greatest villain Iago spoke these words, so they aren’t much good as an excuse.
    • Frank falls in love with Miss Vernon and compares himself to Benedick, brushing his hat in the morning.  Any guesses on the play?
    • When sensing someone spying on them, Miss Vernon says, “It is nothing. A rat behind the arras.”  Again, any guesses?
  • In the movie Stay psychiatrist Ewan McGregor visits the rehearsal of Hamlet.
  • In a section of Dagens Nyheter that I rarely look at I happened to see the name of a photo book that the author wants for Christmas. The title: Love Looks Not with the Eyes. Guesses?
 Further, since the last report:
  • Finished reading aloud: Twelfth Night.
  • Watched the BBC version of same.
Posted today:
·         This Monday Report
·         The discussion on “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?” continues. See posted comments!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday December 3 2012

This week has been a Winter’s Tale with about ten centimeters of snow falling on the Stockholm area and the temperature this morning at -14 degrees centigrade.  What that has to do with Shakespeare I have no idea except that it probably snowed in his day too…

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • On November 27, 1582, a marriage license was granted to William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway.
  • On November 29, 1596, Shakespeare and some colleagues were arrested in an altercation with the son of the Justice of the Peace outside the Swan, where the JP had tried to stop a performance. It doesn’t say why but the arrest doesn’t seem to have led to any ill consequences.
  • On December 2, 1603, As You Like It was performed with King James I in the audience.
 Shakespeare sightings:
  • The Shakespeare sightings in Jasper Ffforde’s Thursday Next  novel The Well of Lost Plots would fill a book of their own. Here are just a few of the best:
    • Miss Twiggywinkle is in charge of promoting hedgehogs in literature and has found four references in Shakespeare
    • Thursday has been recruited as a jurisfiction apprentice and as such attends the meetings of the Council of Genres. Among the members of the council we find Beatrice and Benedick (spelled Benedict in the book), who argue and insult each other constantly, and Sir John Falstaff, an obnoxious lecher according to Thursday, though she does get to know him a little better towards the end of the book.
    • All of the dire predictions of the three witches (who were wrongly quoted by me last week as saying “Hail McNext”. What they are saying is “Hail MsNext”) come true.
    • In the annual Book World Awards, Othello is nominated as the Dopiest Shakespearean Character and Hamlet rivals Heathcliff as The Most Troubled Romantic Lead (Male). I’ll let you read the book to find out who wins…
  • Dagens Nyheter had a notice on December first about the new theater being built near the Globe which will allow plays to be performed year around.
  • In the book The Blood Never Dried, a People’s History of the British Empire by John Newsinger, the somewhat (for the 1850’s) radical Richard Cobden sort of supported the Indian rebellion but didn’t do much about it - about which the author comments, ”discretion proved the better part of valour.”  Any guesses on play and speaker?
  • In Svenska Dagbladets article on November 29 about movie versions of Jane Eyre (all bad according to the critic) Zefferelli is called “the Shakespeare veteran.”
  • Surfing through You Tube I came across a clip of Rowan Atkinson and Kate Bush doing a duet (honest!) about love (sort of):“love at first sight, Romeo and Juliet” about 2 minutes into it.
 Further, since the last report:
  • Still reading aloud: Twelfth Night.
·         This Monday Report
·         Response to Alexander’s thought-provoking comments on “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?”
·         Review of Douglas Brode’s Shakespeare in the Movies from the Silent Era to Today.

Brode Shakespeare in the Movies

Shakespeare in the Movies from the Silent Era to Today by Douglas Brode, 2001.  Read in September 2010.

                      Inspired by the debate generated by Ruby’s Reflection on “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?”  I decided to skip a book in my list in order to write about this one, which is all about what has been done to Shakespeare in the movies.  Brode starts his book with two quotes: “Shakespeare would have made a great movie writer”, Orson Welles, stage and screen director.  And: “Shakespeare is no screen writer,” Peter Hall, stage and screen director.  Both of these men are considered Shakespeare movie giants.  So how can they disagree so completely?  Because we can’t agree on what can be done with Shakespeare. Exploring this debate, Brode’s introduction alone makes the book worth buying.
                      The rest is good too. In thirteen chapters he covers the history of the movies made on nineteen plays, for example The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, the history plays and others.
He discusses the different approaches, the problems, the successes. He makes bold statements with which I disagree, for example, “The Chimes at Midnight is the greatest of all Shakespeare film,” (it was very good but not the best in my opinion) and “The casting [of Elizabeth Bergner as Rosalind in As You Like It] was disastrous.” Actually I thought she was OK in a generally bad interpretation.  He is also devastatingly negative to productions I haven’t seen, but that only makes me curious. He seems to agree, for example, with those who hated Peter Brook’s version of King Lear, inspired by Jan Kott’s book Shakespeare Our Contemporary, (see my review) Brode writes: “Brook undermines Shakespeare and presents a world without decency, which is a far cry from Will’s vision.”  Hmmm. Is it? Lear is a pretty bleak play.  I so wish I could find this movie so I could judge for myself.  
More often than not, though, I agree with Brode who clearly shares my love for Shakespeare and for movies. And I can forgive him almost anything for the following about Hamlet: “’There can never be a definite production of a play,” Time once noted, “about which no two people in the world agree.” That may be true; still, Branagh’s Hamlet comes close to delivering the definite film.”
However, we don’t read books just to reinforce our views, we read to broaden them and that is this book’s greatest value to me.  It has stimulated my own approach to Shakespeare and inspired me to continue my ongoing search for more Shakespeare movies.  They may not be endless but there are sure a lot of them and they keep coming. Lucky for us.