Monday, July 1, 2013

Monday July 1 2013

We’ve been back from London for a week. What a trip. You can read about various aspects of it below.  It can safely be said that this trip was a Shakespeare trip.  As always, we say have to go back immediately.  I hope it doesn’t take five years this time. 
There are several new posts here to read today. On the other hand my summer English class starts next Monday so I won’t be back on blog until August 19th (possibly a short visit on the 5th) and you’ll have plenty of time to read it all.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Cade, Jack, from Henry VI Part II, was a real person. He led the rebellion of the gentry and merchant classes who were basically conservative, objecting to taxes but not wanting to abolish the monarchy. His headquarters were in Southwark at the entrance to the London Bridge, about a five minute walk from our hotel this trip.
  • Cadwallader was the last British king to resist the Anglo-Saxon invaders after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the first novel by Joss Stirling Finding Sky Sky herself contemplates “slamming the window on this weird Romeo-and-Juliet scene” with her soon-to-be sweetie Zed.
  • Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next have moved back to the Sighting list (temporarily I hope!) because in First Among Sequels Shakespeare only pops up a few times: Bottom from Midsummer Night’s Dream had hidden out in Pinocchio’s workroom during a textphoon but only the “odd verb or two” seemed to have been disturbed. The fact that time is out of joint is mentioned twice (but isn’t it always with Thursday Next?) And evidently Hamlet has become a colleague of Thursday because even though he doesn’t show up in the book itself Bradshaw tells his agents, “If anyone sees Hamlet or Peter or Jane before I do, send them immediately to me.” Hopefully Hamlet will be back to play a major role in the drama again in the next Next!
  • Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is still another novel about teen witches, quite a good one in fact (Shakespereans Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins and Jeremy Irons are in the movie). The sightings: Ethan asks Macon if the book he’s holding is Shakespeare. He asks Lena if the quote she used was Shakespeare and she answers it was Francis Bacon, but if one believes Bacon wrote Shakespeare then…Marian the Librarian gives Ethan Julius Caesar in order to contemplate the role of fate and one’s own decisions in one’s life.
  • There was an interview with Emma Watson in Dagens Nyheter on June 14 in which she described director Darren Aronofsky as  a very demanding director, “apocalypse and Shakespeare at the same time”.
  • In the book bought at the Globe Shop, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer, Shakespeare is mentioned fifteen times in the first 186 pages: his status, his father, his plays, his education and knowledge, his language, his troop members, his beard, and most recently his earring, which according to Mortimer is unlikely to have existed since men didn’t pierce their ears in Elizabethan England.  What a shame. I think he looks very dashing in that supposed portrait.

Further this month:
  • Purchased in London: DVDs of Globe productions of some of the plays, pens, pencils, T-shirts, hoodies, erasers, mugs, magnets…
  • Seen at the Barbican: Much Ado About Nothing
  • Seen at the Globe: The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth
  • Conference – see separate text under “Ruby’s Reflections”
  • Read: My Father Has a Daughter by Grace Tiffany. This fictionalized account of Judith’s relationship with her father and his plays is so believable and well written that one thinks it must be true.  I couldn’t put it down.
  • Received as gift from AB: Shakespeare and Myself by George Mikes, from 1954. Thank you, AB!
  • Watched: the DVD of the Globe production of All’s Well that Ends Well

Posted this week:

The Globe x 3 The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth

The Globe x 3: The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew, and Macbeth, June 2013

                      From zero to three in ten days. What can I say? To see one Shakespeare play at the Globe in London was the main reason for this trip.  We saw three.  Before I become ecstatic about the whole Globe thing (I’ll do that in another text) here I’ll just rave about the plays themselves.

  • Directed by: Jeremy Herrin
  • Cast: Prospero – Roger Allam; Ariel – Colin Morgan; Caliban – James Garnon; Miranda – Jessie Buckley; Ferdinand – Joshua James; Stephano – Sam Cox; Trinculo – Trevor Fox
  • Seen: June 16, 2013

      The stage is bare. Actors enter, reeling, stumbling, rolling, struggling to survive the tempest. So it starts, so it continues; with very simple means we are captured in this magical island world of Prospero, Ariel, Caliban, Miranda, Ferdinand and the rest.
They are superb.  This is the Globe, after all.
Roger Allam as Prospero is outstanding, as he always is.  He has a perfect sense of timing and dares to take long pauses. He is often very funny.  His monolog deliveries are powerful and nasty old Prospero actually becomes quite likeable.  Allam is approximately a thousand times better than the Prospero we saw at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm a couple of years ago.
Dear little Merlin has grown up in the form of Colin Morgan as the tall, well built, athletic and handsome (but still mild and sweet!) Ariel with slicked back hair, lovely face and very nimble moves. And he can sing! Not a great voice but very pleasant and poignant. I’m worried he’ll twist his ankle charging around the stage as a monster bird in clumpy platform claws but nimble was the word! And he’s a good dancer too.
Caliban is good too but he stereotypes his savage interpretation a bit. His use of the airplanes flying overhead is however hilarious, as is his spitting on the groundlings (I wonder if they think so).  Generally he is more funny than tragic and his moments of seriousness are too few and fleeting.  He doesn’t come close to the brilliance of Jonas Karlsson’s Caliban in the above mentioned production of The Tempest in Stockholm but he is good.
Miranda, on the other hand, is the best I’ve ever seen.  Saucy, clever, funny, aggressive-in-love. Buckley really makes this small roll vivid and complex.  Likewise Ferdinand. Funny and silly but sweet, and for once we can see why a young woman would fall in love with one of Shakespeare’s inane young men.
Trinculo is very funny, even (especially?) when peeing on the groundlings and Stephano too is hilarious.
The other various kings and lords and sailors are hard to understand but that’s OK.  When Prospero’s staff is broken and the whole cast is dancing and the audience is applauding wildly, I am sad that it is ending but oh so happy to be there and have seen it.

  • Director: Joe Murray
  • Cast: Katherine – Kate Lamb: Petruchio – Leah Whitaker; Tranio – Remy Beasley; Lucentio – Becci Gemmell; Baptista/Grumio – Kathryn Hunt; Bianca/Biondello/Curtis – Olivia Morgan; Gremio/Vincentio/widow – Joy Richardson; Hortensio/pedant – Nicola Sangster
  • Seen: June 19, 2013

                       It was with a great deal of trepidation that I anticipated seeing this play, the only one available at the time of our seminar with the Swedish Shakespeare Society. It is a problematic play and the three film versions I’ve seen are quite awful, frankly, with a raging hysterical Katherine falling in love with Petruchio.  I really didn’t want to see this play if that was going to be the interpretation.
The play starts. The trepidation continues while watching it. It’s funny. Tranio and Biondello are very good as are Vincentio and the Widow.  Katherine is quite reserved, not at all hysterical, which is good. Petruchio is not so convincing at the beginning but gets nastier, though at times still charming. The music is fun, the mix of 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s costumes as well.  There are a lot of laughs. The audience seems to love it.
I’m worried about Katherine’s final monologue.  Will it ruin everything?
She starts it. It’s low key - almost toneless. She stands motionless center stage, her face dirty, her hair mussed, her ruffled wedding dress torn and muddy.  Her voice starts breaking. She gradually falls apart. By the end she is weeping.  Her spirit has been crushed.
The rest of the cast stare at her in distress. Petruchio tries to laugh it off. He can’t. What has he done? He didn’t mean to…but he has.
Last scene. Enter Katherine alone, playing a mournful saxophone solo. Enter Petruchio who just watches her. Enter the rest for a more jolly song.
The end.
Finally! An interpretation that shows the play for what it really is, for what I hope and believe was Shakespeare’s intention. A tragedy. Very funny, but a tragedy.
What a relief. Now I want to see it again so I don’t have to worry throughout the whole thing.
Please, Globe, release a DVD immediately!

See my text about the play from 2011under Play Analyses on this blog

  • Director:  Eve Best
  • Cast: Macbeth – Joseph Millson; Lady Macbeth – Samantha Spiro; Witches – Moyo Akandé, Jess Murphy and Cat Simmons; Banquo – Billy Boyd; Porter - Bette Bourne; Ross – Geoff Aymer; Macduff – Stuart Bowman; Malcolm – Philip Cumbus; Duncan – Gawn Grainger; Fleance et al – Colin Ryan
  • Seen: June 22, 2013

                       The entire cast, motionless on stage. Slow waving arm movements. Then furious drumming.
                      Everyone but the Weird Sisters glide off the stage and the words are spoken: “When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain?”
                      Unlike in some films, they’re not so weird. Three young, good-looking women who sing well. They have almost no props – no cauldron, even – and they’re quite laid back.  Very effective.
                      There are very few props at all. A bowl, some skinny spindly trees for the moving forest, some swords and axes and clubs. A table with chairs. That’s about it.
                      It’s a very funny play.  I’ve never noticed that before.  The very good-looking Macbeth is actually kind of a doofus.  Banquo is a feisty jocular Scotch terrier, funny and likeable.  There are a lot of laughs from the audience. Even in the sad ghost-of-Banquo scene, when he isn’t jocular anymore, just very white, bloody, silent and scary.
But then we grow quieter. Macbeth’s anguish, Lady Macbeth’s breakdown, the very dramatic fight between Macduff and Macbeth in which Macduff kills Macbeth by breaking his neck.  Macbeth – dead on the stage.  One of the Weird Sisters playing a mournful Scottish song on a violin as the entire cast re-enters and Macbeth rises. Return to first-scene slowly waving arms.
Then silence.
Then jolly jig and thunderous applause and cheering.
Macbeth! At the Globe!  What a splendid evening.


A Little Love Affair with the Globe

A Little Love Affair with the Globe

                      This isn’t the first time we’ve been to the Globe. That was in April 2008, a week or so before the theater opened for the season (bad timing).  Then we walked around outside, oohed and aahed, bought some DVDs and other things in the shop and hoped we’d get back one day. This was at the beginning of our Shakespeare period.
                      This time we came to London because the seminar with the Swedish Shakespeare Society includes a play at the Globe, we chose the hotel because it looks close to the Globe. This time the Globe is the thing.
                      Still we don’t know quite what to expect when we arrive. Reading maps can be tricky so we are prepared for the hotel to be farther away than it looks. We set off on a walk that evening prepared to walk, what? Fifteen minutes? Twenty? We turn the corner of the hotel, walk fifty meters, go through a tunnel, walk another fifty meters. And there it is. A five-minute walk!
                      An auspicious start to a ten-day visit to London. Which quickly turns into a little love affair with the Globe.

The Shop
A lovely little shop with all kinds of Shakespearean goodies – books, DVDs (Globe performances which is great but none others unfortunately), hoodies, T-shirts, pens, pencils, mugs, doodads of all kinds. It’s lucky we have to limit our purchases to what we can carry, otherwise… However, most of the merchandise is available on line.

The people
Shop clerks, ticket sellers, wardens – they are all infallibly friendly, helpful, patient and enthusiastic. The tour guide, whose name I fail to catch, is funny, knowledgeable, and informative, as are the two young people who happen to be presenting costumes when we are at the exhibition.

The exhibition
I’m not good at museums. I usually conk out after about fifteen minutes but this one keeps my attention for a couple of hours with quite a variety of displays on the plays and times of Shakespeare and his London.

The tickets
Oh the tickets! When we arrive we are secure in the knowledge that we will be seeing a play.  But our frequent - two, three, four times a day – visits to the Globe and repeated glances at the blackboard with all the “sold outs” pique our greed.  Would it be possible?   We ask. “Sorry, no returns but call tomorrow at 10.15.”  Better yet, we’re there at ten o’clock when the box office opens. “Ah yes, I believe there have been some cancellations,” says the wonderful young man at the ticket counter.  And just like that we have tickets that very afternoon.  To The Tempest. With Roger Allam! From Endeavor! And Colin Morgan!  From Merlin!
But greed breeds greed. Yes, we see The Tempest. Yes, we see The Taming of the Shrew. Yes, we are so satisfied.  But Macbeth!  Opening on Saturday! Sold out! But!
                      We’re there at ten o’clock. No returns, sorry. Back at ten-thirty. No returns, sorry. Back after lunch, after a visit to the Rose Theater, after afternoon coffee. No returns, sorry.
                      OK.  W start the queue outside the entryway. We’ve seen the queues every evening, an hour or so before the plays start. The box office people assure us it’s possible.
                      A nice gentleman joins us and we feel like part of a queue and not just a couple of weird people standing alone in front of the entryway to the Globe. We chat. His partner is one of the actors and we agree that it was dumb of us all not to have reserved tickets long ago.  A couple who has been sitting at the other side of the entry approaches.”They told us the queue would start over there…”  I had seen them when we started queuing. The only honorable thing was to let them in ahead of us.
Others join us. We all have nice chats. Once, many years ago, Hal and I slept – well, lay in sleeping bags awake all night – on a square in central Stockholm to get tickets to a Springsteen concert.  It was fun. Can this be compared to that? Yes, a little.  This is fun too but we’re sad that it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting tickets this time.
                      Groundling tickets and single seats are starting to show up. One after one our companions disappear, wishing us luck.
                      The minutes tick by. Less than an hour.  Of course we don’t expect to get tickets.  To Macbeth? At the Globe? Opening night? Come on!
And then there she is. A young woman from the box office, with two tickets in her hand. Walking towards Hal and me, at the head of the queue. Suddenly we have tickets. To Macbeth. At the Globe. On opening night.
Oh what a lovely system!

The Globe itself
No, it’s not the real Globe. No, it’s not in the same place.  No, we don’t know what the original really looked like. But the very first time one walks through the door, ticket clutched in one hand, seat cushion in the other, and sees, actually sees the raised wooden stage with its two pillars, the yard around it, the three galleries - more pillars holding up of the three tiers of wooden seats - forming a half circle around the stage, the painted gold leaf roof over the stage, the round opening straight to the sky – oh, there is definitely a wow-I’m-really-here-in-Shakespeare’s-Globe feeling. History! Come alive!
And then one sees how small it is. And how beautiful. And how glad one is to have tickets in the last row of the Lower Gallery to have a wall to lean against. And how glad one is that friend YW said, “Be sure to rent cushions!” These wooden seats are hard!
The groundlings fill up the yard until it’s packed. We few, we lucky few who have seats, are a little jealous of how close they are to the action (well, maybe not later when they get rained on, spilled on and spat on…)  There is an increasingly festive air. If we aren’t all first-timers, we all at least have the feeling that this is something really special.
And the play – the magic – begins.

Thank you, all of you thousands who contribute, work, volunteer. Thank you, Sam Wanamaker! This is History.  This is Elizabethan and Jacobean England (less smelly).

This is Shakespeare at home.

Swedish Shakespeare Society Course London

The Swedish Shakespeare Society Summer Course
London, June 2013

                      It wasn’t what I expected, which was lectures by some British Shakespeare enthusiast, scholarly analysis of Shakespeare’s most difficult play The Taming of the Shrew, and heated discussions of how to interpret Katherine’s last monolog.
                      Sadly, there were no British participants at all but the gentleman running the course, the chairperson of the SwShSoc, the very likeable RH, did a very good job of arranging a more homespun introduction course on Shakespeare. Most satisfying for those participants who aren’t so advanced in their Shakespearean studies.  For those of us who have come further in our appreciation and interpretation it was still a pleasant experience in good company in the venerable George Inn, where – we are happy to believe – Shakespeare spent much, or at least some, of his time.
                      RH and his affable fellow SwShSoc board member DM presented in a mixture of English and Swedish a background of what little we know about Shakespeare, the reasons for the wide and continuing appeal of the plays, various themes in the plays, a history of bardolatry and the different ways in which Shakespeare has been interpreted and exploited throughout the centuries. Generally basic stuff, including a presentation of our contemporary Bardolator Number One Professor Harold Bloom, but one of the bits of information new to me is William Epsom who in the 30’s began looking at Shakespeare through quantum’s altered notion of reality. Sounds fascinating!  I’ll have to look into that.
                      Various film interpretations were presented, many of which I have seen but several not: the very funny Rat Export Hamlet by Ilona Huss Walin , She’s the Man (Twelfth Night), Get Over It (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and The Banquet apparently also called Empress, a Chinese version of Hamlet.
                      Some Shakespearean nuggets were gleaned from the walking tour led by the amiable Kim, for example that the Southwark Cathedral, a two-minute walk from our hotel, was the parish church when Shakespeare lived in the neighborhood. He would have attended regularly no matter what his personal beliefs or non-beliefs since it was illegal not to go to church on Sundays. A second gem is that when Juliet sighed, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” the audience would have caught the reference to the very stinky Rose Theater and fallen about laughing at the joke.
                      We had a short discussion of the shrew controversy before seeing the play (see my text “The Globe x 3” under Ruby’s Reflections and my analysis from 2011 under “Play Analyses”) and the following morning in the café of the National Gallery. We got going on quite a lively debate about our reactions, which were somewhat mixed.   We seemed to agree, however, that Katherine does not fall in love with Petruchio in this version, which is more tragedy than comedy.
                      And so the course ended. Four agreeable days in the company of nineteen English teachers and one artist, all of whom are more or less into Shakespeare. Next time I’d like to attend a course into which I can more deeply sink my scholarly teeth but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

The Gamble in All's Well that Ends Well

The Gamble
All’s Well That Ends Well

                      Life is a gamble and no one seems to be more aware of that than Helen in All’s Well That Ends Well. She knows what three things she has to stake – her virginity, her medical knowledge and her life. The prize? Bertram.  Someone should have told her, “Be careful what you wish for…”
                      No one did.
                      In the first scene she pines for Bertram, “a bright particular star…so above me…” but her longing lament is interrupted by Bertram’s friend Paroles who immediately starts a saucy exchange about virginity in which Helen participates with as much gusto as Paroles. He declares that it’s an unnatural useless state, “too cold a companion”, and Helen knows that “man is enemy to virginity” and wonders if there is a “military policy how virgins might blow up men…“ But knowing she is undoubtedly destined to lose hers she wonders, “How might one do, sir, to lose it to her own liking?” This is a key line in the play. No shrinking violet, Helen wants sex and she knows who she wants it with. As Katherine Eisaman Maus points out in the introduction to the Norton edition, Helen is “premaritally chaste but intensely sexual, tenacious in the pursuit of the man she desires” (page 2194) and at the end of Act 1.1 we see Helen take the matter into her own hands:

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie
Which we ascribe to heaven…
…Who ever strove
To show her merit that did miss her love?
The king’s disease – my project may deceive me,
But my interests are fixed and will not leave me (Act 1.1).

                      Off she goes then to the ailing king to offer her medical expertise, learned from her physician father. The king is reluctant, convinced he is dying and nothing will help. He doubts her skills. She is persuasive. He asks:

Art thou so confidant…
…Upon thy certainty and confidence
What dar’st thou venture? (Act 2.1)

                      Certainly aware that it’s unacceptable for women to be so knowledgeable and forward, especially if they fail, Helen replies confidantly:

                      Tax of impudence,
A strumpet’s boldness, a divulgèd shame;
Traduced by odious ballads, my maiden’s name
Seared otherwise, nay – worse of worst – extended
With vilest torture, let my life be ended. (Act 2.1)

                      The king is impressed and says OK. But if I die, you die. Helen: Fair enough. “But if I help, what do you promise me?” King: “Make thy demand.” Her demand, surprise surprise, is:

Then shalt thou give me with thy kingly hand
What husband in thy power I will command. (Act 2.1)

                      The stakes are wagered. The prize is set. And in short order the king is cured and Helen is betrothed to Bertram.
                      But there is no happily ever after yet.  In the traditional “male hero overcomes great odds to win the princess” we never, as KEM reminds us, get to hear what the princess thinks about it (page 2193), but in this gender reversal we most certainly get to hear the handsome young aristocrat’s reaction:

A poor physician’s daughter, my wife? Disdain
Rather corrupt me ever (Act 2.3).

This is in front of the whole court.  Nice for Helen…
                      After the wedding: “I will not bed her” (Act 2.3). And in his letter to her:”When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband; but in such a ‘then’ I write a ‘never’...Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France” (Act 3.2).
                      If this was a poker game I’d say Helen has lost. And any reasonable woman would say, “What a creep. I’m better off without him. King, give me an annulment!”                
                      But not our Helen. Resourceful lass that she is, she follows Bertram to the wars, finds a couple of allies in the widow and her daughter Diana, arranges the old bed swap trick with Diana who woos the more than eager Bertram to her bed but Helen takes her place and…
                      Well, it works.  They all end up in court. Diana proves to be a clever plucky young miss who defies the king and helps Helen reveal the bed-switching hoax. Bertram is caught.  Helen has put the ring on his finger and gotten herself pregnant by him. Bertram gives in and declares – how sincerely depends on the actor’s interpretation, I suppose – “If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly I’ll love her dearly, ever dearly” (Act 5.3). The king gives Diana the same offer he’d given Helen – the pick of her choice among the young nobles – and all’s well that ends well.
                      Helen has gambled everything – her virtue, her future, her life. And she has won – a jerk for a husband, a particularly mean one at that, but she finds him sexy and gets to go to bed with him from now on.
                      And in fact she has also won, officially and legally, an aristocratic mother-in-law of whom she is very fond.  Helen’s last words in the play are not a declaration of love for Bertram but an exclamation of joy to the countess: “O my dear mother, do I see you living?” (Act 5.3)
                      She has won the king’s support, she has been raised from “a poor physician’s daughter” to a significant personage in the court based on her vast medical skills and her determination.
She has probably gained a good friend in Diana.
                      Not bad.
                      We can’t help but admire Helen.  Not only does she break down the class barriers of her rigid society but overturns the gender norms which are even more rigid. It’s a neat trick and once again Shakespeare pulls it off. As Bloom puts it: “Only the hero-villains rival Helena – Richard III, Iago, Edmund, Macbeth – and they all at last are slain or undone. Helena triumphs, even if we are dismayed by her choice of reward” (page 355).
                      Choice of husband, yes. But all the rest? The winner, Helen, takes is all.
                      All’s well, indeed.

Works cited:
  • The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition. 2008.
  • Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare - the Invention of the Human. 1998.
  • Eisaman Maus, Katherine. Introduction, Norton edition.

 Films seen:
  • BBC, 1980. Directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Cast: Helen – Angela Down; Bertram – Ian Charleson; Paroles – Peter Jeffrey; Countess – Celia Johnson; King – Donald Sindon; Lafeu – Michael Hordern; Diana – Pippa Guard; Widow – Rosemary Leach; First Fench Lord – Robert Lindsay.  Not a bad production. Not especially scintillating though and Angela Down is, sadly, a disappointment as a very bland Helen.
  • The Globe production, 2012. Directed by John Dove. Cast: Helen – Ellie Piercy; Bertram – Same Crane; Paroles – James Garnon; Countess – Janie Dee; King – Sam Cox; Lafeu – Michael Bertenshaw; Diana – Naomi Cransten; Widow – Sophie Duval; First French Lord – Peter Hamilton Dyer. It almost feels like we are at the Globe again.  The memories are fresh. What a fantastic idea to film some productions. I hope they get to every play eventually.  This one is great fun to watch. Sadly it’s too fun. They gloss over the dark aspects of the play completely and even imply that Bertram is in love with Helen from the start. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Otherwise the cast is mostly very good. A much better Helen than the BBC. James Garnon, Sam Cox and Peter Hamilton Dyer were all in the production of The Tempest we saw at the Globe less than two weeks ago. It’s like seeing old friends.

Seen on stage: no.