Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday September 30 2013

Finally the text for Timon of Athens is ready to post and you will find in just above this Monday report. We’ve made a start with the King Lear marathon, which includes three printed versions of the play (honestly, we’re only going to read one of them), two spin-off movies and five filmed productions, not to mention the stage production we have tickets for, so it will take awhile.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • The Commons, which are mentioned in Richard II and Henry V, represent the untitled propertied class and were summoned as early as the 13th century in England. This has shaped England’s history with the principle that the king could only levy taxes with the support of Parliament.
  • Cornwall, which figures in King Lear, produced tin from ancient times, had a nice climate and a good harbor. It was the last area to be taken by the Saxons in the 11th century. Because of its relatively quiet history there are many surviving ancient ruins.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Laurie R. King continues her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series and in Justice Hall the characters play around with a jumble of quotes from Shakespeare, Dryden and Jonson (so they say; it’s quite a jumble).
  • In his revealing book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, about the necessity of major economic reforms, Ha-Joon Chang uses the clever title on his chapter about planned economy “To Plan or Not to Plan – that is Not the Question”, meaning of course that planned economy is both necessary and desirable.
  • If you are considering buying the novel I, Coriander by Sally Gardner because it’s available from the Globe Shop (which I love dearly, but nothing is perfect) and so you think it has connection to Shakespeare, don’t. It doesn’t and it’s not a very good book either, making the Cromwell side of the Civil War completely evil and the royal side enlightened, kind and lovely in every way. Nothing is ever that simple but all things considered, the Commonwealth supporters were the ones promoting a kind of democracy and the royalists were the extravagant wastrels in the real Civil War. However, there is a quick mention in the novel of “the old Globe Theater” and it ends with the quote: If we shadows have offended, / Think but this and all is mended: / That you have but slumbered here, / While these visions did appear. It’s not the visions that offended…
  • Dagens Nyheter had an interesting article a couple of weeks ago about often used quotes but somehow I missed it last time. Among them were from Swedish classics, Chekov, Brecht, Ibsen, and of course Shakespeare:
    • To be or not to be (naturally) (in Swedish att vara eller inte vara): “Shakespeare’s bull’s-eye. This can be explained by saying that it’s so universal and easy to remember. Everyone feels like Hamlet sometime in their life. It doesn’t have to be about living or dying but it can be. These days when nobody feels good feeling slighted or ignored can be enough. Hamlet is the first modern individual and consequently speaks continuously in the first person: I, I, I.”
    • Quotes that have become titles of other works: The Sound and the Fury was also used by Bergman (Larmar och gör sig till, but I must confess that I’ve never heard that, or noticed it anyway). A string of famous quotes follows but as far as I know they aren’t titles of other works (though that could be a very long and interesting list): the beast with two backs (djuret med två ryggar), My kingdom for a horse (mitt kungarike för en häst), the stuff that dreams are made on, (av samma tyg som drömmar göres av) what’s in a name? (vad är ett namn?)
    • Et tu, Brute: “Many want to believe that it was the historical Julius Caesar who said this. But it was Shakepseare who gave him the line.”

Further this week:
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: King Lear
  • Started reading: Shakespeare’s Freedom by Stephen Greenblatt
  • Started the King Lear film watching with: A Thousand Acres

Posted this week:
  • “When You’re Down and Out – Class Conflict”  in Timon of Athens
  • This Monday report.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday September 23 2013

This week we were reached by the sad news that an old and dear friend has died. I have known LM since I was a child. In recent years we have had more regular contact and though he was not a blog follower officially, he kept track of what went on here and we had some interesting Shakespeare discussions. LM, you will be sorely missed in many ways.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Cobham, Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, supposedly dabbled in witchcraft which wasn’t a smart thing to do in the 15th century. D and F think that Shakespeare portrayed her in a negative light. Maybe so but not more than all of his characters and she had a noble moment in Henry VI Part Two when she was paraded through town stripped of all signs of wealth and status, but not her own dignity.
  • Colmekill is a small island of the Inner Hebrides where Scottish kings were buried, including the historical Macbeth. The island was also sacred to the Druids. The Protestants of the 16th century desecrated the site so that we no longer know exactly where Macbeth is buried.

 Shakespeare sightings:
  • Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels are among my favorites and in Among the Mad the tragic villain quotes Shakespeare:
    • “Toil and trouble, toil and trouble.
    • “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”
  • My Own Private Idaho was on TV this week and DN had a little notice about it: “One of the most talked about American indie films of the 90’s. A strange, fanciful, uninhibited narration of two male prostitutes with Shakespearian pretensions. None of those involved get better than they are in this film. Definitely not River Phoenix who with this role gave narcolepsy a face (and who died a James Dean death shortly thereafter).”
  • Dagens Nyheter also distributed its fall theater section and there is plenty of Shakespeare going on, including some live broadcasts of theatrical performances. See also today’s “Keeping up with Shakespeare” under “Ruby’s Reflections”.
  • In the film Cry-Baby Grandma Polly Bergen tells unhappy Alison, who is having romance problems, “Heavy is the head that wore the crown last night” or something to that effect.
  • Steven Daly, in his text about Cry-Baby in Johnny Depp a Retrospective, described the film as “garnished with a variation on the old Romeo and Juliet theme”.
  • The novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer had many Shakespeare references (see “Monday Report September 2 2013”) but in the movie you had to really be on the alert to see the one reference to Hamlet flash by.
  • Today’s Dagens Nyheter had a review of Hamlet at the Uppsala Stadsteatern. The reviewer was not charmed.  In fact it’s called a “crash landing” and the reviewer felt only “indifference for the collection of junkies, zombies and astronauts.” Oh dear. And we just booked our tickets.  Still, I don’t always agree with reviews. It sounds like it could be interesting…I’ll let you know in November.

 Further this week:
  • Finished writing the rough draft of text for: Timon of Athens.
  • Wrote for Ruby’s Reflections: “Keeping up with Shakespeare”.
  • Received: quarterly magazine from the Swedish Shakespeare Society.  If you live in Sweden and haven’t joined, I recommend it.
  • Ordered tickets to Hamlet in Uppsala in November. Actually our friend YW did all the work.

 Posted this week:
  • On Ruby’s Reflections: “Keeping up with Shakespeare.”
  • This Monday report.

Keeping up with Shakespeare

Keeping up with Shakespeare
                      When I started blogging on Shakespeare Calling a couple of years ago I had some kind of vague ambition – alongside of reading the plays and writing short responses to them – of seeing all the movies based on the plays, going to the theater to see the productions, reading the books about the plays…
                      Well, that was ambitious.
                      I have discovered what more experienced Bardolators have undoubtedly known all along. It’s impossible.
                      Since starting the blog Hal and I have succeeded in seeing maybe half, at best, of the Shakespeare plays performed in the Stockholm area. We haven’t made it to any of the dozens of other performances in various places in Sweden.  This fall Hamlet is being performed in Helsingborg, Linköping, Uppsala and Stockholm (as a standup comedy). If we’re lucky we might make it to Uppsala. The standup comedy…hmmm, maybe.  As You Like It, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet as ballet and comedy, King Lear are also scheduled.  We actually have tickets to Lear.
                      On Thursday this week Adrian Lester’s Othello is going to be broadcast live from the National Theater in London at a cinema here in Stockholm.  It breaks my heart that we won’t be able to go. Adrian Lester is a brilliant actor. Branagh as Macbeth is coming up. We have to see that!
                      New movies are coming out all the time. We lucked out and saw the new Much Ado about Nothing in London this summer but most of the new ones don’t make to our regular cinemas, it takes time before the DVDs come out, somehow I have to find out that they exist and find somewhere to buy them. And then schedule them into our Shakespeare play-movie agenda.
                      Books! Do you know how many books have been written about Shakespeare, his time, his plays? I certainly don’t.  Millions, probably.  I’ve read a couple of dozen and have a dozen more on our shelf that I haven’t read yet.
                      What’s a Bardolator to do? I’m planning on reducing my work hours (and income!) next term.  That will give me a little more time. But not nearly enough. I’m beginning to realize that an entire lifetime of 24/7 Shakespeare would hardly make a dent.
                      There’s probably an excellent Shakespeare quote to describe this situation.  While I try to find it fourteen new films will be released, twenty-eight new productions of Hamlet will be premiered, sixty-two new scholarly books and seventy-seven popular books on Shakespeare will be published…
                      There’s just no keeping up with Shakespeare!
P.S. Since writing this yesterday our friend YW has booked tickets for us to Hamlet in Uppsala in November.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday September 16 2013

It seems that every time we finish a play I say, “xxx is a strange play!” And then I start looking more closely at it.  Such is the case with Timon. We’ve been reading other people’s analyses and yesterday evening we watched the BBC production and things are starting to fall into place.  I started writing the text this morning.  Maybe it will be ready for the blog next week. But now, this week:

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Clare, or Saint Clare as she is named here, was the founder of the order that Isabella in Measure for Measure belonged to. It emphasized poverty and the order was introduced to England around 1293. The vows of poverty were hard for everyone to keep and other more moderate groups broke away to start their own orders.
  • Clement’s Inn, mentioned in Henry IV, Part Two, lodged young men training for the law.  George’s Inn sounds like more fun.

 Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the last pages of Shakespeare’s Local by Pete Brown, about the George Inn where the Swedish Shakespeare Society’s course was held this summer (see the report under “Ruby’s Reflections” and the last three weeks’ Monday reports), the author gets to the point where Sam Wanamaker starts the Globe project and Southwark and Shakespeare become big tourist attractions.  And the George Inn “still caters for people a long way from home, who have come to see the sights and reconnect with age of Dickens and Shakespeare.”  I can only add that next time you’re in London, make sure you go to the George. It was a real experience when we were there this summer. Having now read about its history, we really must go there again. Thank you, Pete Brown!
  • In the unlikely but engaging novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, one of the drippier of the many absurd characters tells us that her eighth grade son and his classmates are doing Shakespeare in school and she uses Othello’s words “she loved me for the dangers I had passed/And I loved her that she did pity them” to describe her own pathetic one night stand with the main character’s husband.
  • IMDb, a website I visit lots of times every day, tells us that Dennis Lipscomb (in the cast of Slow Burn which I reviewed on the movie blog yesterday) “trained as a Shakespearian stage actor.”  He should have stuck with that and not made bad movies like this one.

Further this week:
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Timon of Athens.
  • Watched: the BBC production of same.
  • Started writing: text on same.
  • Received: from Bokus:
    • Shakespeare and the American Musical by Irene Dash
    • Shakespeare’s Freedom by Stephen Greenblatt
    • Practicing New Historicism by Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt. Not really a Shakespeare book but since Greenblatt is my favorite Shakespearian I’m listing it anyway. And of course Shakespeare is mentioned a lot in the book.

 Posted this week:
  • A report on Andrew Hadfield’s  Shakespeare and Republicanism.
  • This Monday report.

Shakespeare and Republicanism

Shakespeare and Republicanism, by Andrew Hadfield, 2008.  Read in March-April 2011.

                      It should come as no surprise that Shakespeare was a political playwright but exactly what his own politics were is very difficult to discover.  This book explores the question and the title reveals that the author finds - contrary to the view that Shakespeare was a conservative who feared a society in which anybody but royalty had any power - that he was influenced by the republican ideals emerging (re-emerging) during the Renaissance.
                      Hadfield begins by placing Shakespeare and his works in their historical context and shows how cultural materialism and New Historicism has broadened our earlier cautious and reactionary interpretations of Shakespeare.
                      He explores the Henry plays and shows how they have no hero (in spite of their titles) but ask “the reader/audience…to think how he or she would behave when presented with a series of stark choices between undesirable outcomes” (page 109).  He shows how class conflict plays a greater role than sometimes realized and how the plays “focus…clearly and explicitly on the relationship between the sins of the leaders and the suffering of the people” (page 111). Hadfield concludes that giving a republican interpretation to the history plays indicates that Shakespeare was aware of the historical development towards the “humanist ideal of the ‘mixed’ constitution” of the Tudors, “even if they did not always live up to it” (page129).
                      Hadfield goes on to deal with Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar and Hamlet, placing them all within the context of the complex political conflicts going on in England at the time.  He has a very interesting discussion in which he presents the concept that other than being guilty of fratricide, Claudius is a much more modern king, using diplomacy and establishing law and order, than old Hamlet who ran a “lawless and anarchic kingdom” (page 200).
                      In conclusion Hadfield writes that while many of the plays have been used by conservative scholars to show that Shakespeare himself whole-heartedly support the monarchy they are in fact evidence that he was a “writer who dealt with complex and troubling political – specifically republican – issues, from the start of his career” (page 232).
                      After reading this book it’s hard to ignore the fact that two decades after Shakespeare’s death, England did in fact become a republic.  Not for very long, but still.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday September 9 2013

Almost done with Timon of Athens now. Can’t promise a text on it next week but I’ll be getting started soon. Ideas for it are swimming around the gray cells. It’s been awhile since I’ve written about a book of interest but today I will. I read Rothwell’s book in 2010 so I’m way behind.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Celia, about whom I wrote in my text on As You Like It (see sidebar under Play Analyses) is described by Shakespeare as short and dark while Rosalind is tall and fair.  This can be compared with others among Shakespeare’s female leads and could be symbolic but D&F point out that it’s probably just because that’s what his boy actors looked like.
  • There are a lot of Charleses in Shakespeare because there are a lot of Charleses in history. The one I like best in this dictionary is the listing of Charles’s Wain, mentioned in Henry IV Part Two (the one we saw on stage in London in 2008, though I can’t claim to remember this detail). Charles here refers to Charlemagne and wain is a wagon so this is one name for The Big Dipper, which in Swedish is called Karlavagnen. An “aha” moment.
  • Christmas, well it’s too early so I’ll try to remember to mention the Shakespeare connection in a Monday report in December.

 Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the book Shakespeare’s Local by Pete Brown, about the George Inn where the Swedish Shakespeare Society’s course was held this summer (see the report under “Ruby’s Reflections” and the last two weeks’ Monday reports), the author continues to toss in Shakespeare’s name now and again though I haven’t quite reached the point where Sam Wanamaker starts the Globe project (that will come next week though I’ll probably finish the book tomorrow):
    • In describing an interesting but poorly written history of the George, Brown retells the story about monkeys hammering on typewriters long enough to produce  Shakespeare and adds in a footnote: “The idea that the complete works of Shakespeare were in fact written by an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters has not yet been presented as a serious theory by the anti-Stratfordian camp. I think this is a bit of a shame. Not least because there is a more cogent rationale and a greater degree of thinking behind it than many of the more popular conspiracy theories.” Oooh nasty.  I like it!
    • He goes on to tell us that just before World War I broke out Americans started to visit London, searching for Shakespeare and Dickens, who were immensely popular in the States at the time.
    • In the ‘30’s Shakespeare Day was still happening every year and the Bishop of Southwark said that Stratford was Shakespeare’s birthplace but Southwark was where he “mounted the ladder of fame and won his greatest triumphs”.
    • When the George was going to be renovated (one of many times) the Evening News was so excited it used the following headline to announce it: “LAST OF LONDON’S COACHING INNS THE ‘GEORGE’ TO RENEW ITS YOUTH SHAKESPEARE USED TO GO THERE SO DID DICKENS. “ Guess headlines were about as truthful then as they are now.
    • When the National Trust bought the George the contract to renovate and run it was given to Flower & Son from Stratford.
    • Shakespeare Day continued for awhile after WWII and in 1947 The Merry Wives of Windsor was performed in the yard.
  • Everybody’s favorite Elizabeth I – Dame Judi Dench – has the lead in the new film Philomena. In a long interview published in Dagens Nyheter the eighty year old acting icon says, “Theater is still my first passion, especially Shakespeare.”

 Further this week:
  • Continued reading aloud with Hal: Timon of Athens.

 Posted this week:
  • A report on Kenneth S. Rothwell’s A History of Shakespeare on Screen – A Century of Film and Television.
  • This Monday report.

A History of Shakespeare on Screen

A History of Shakespeare on Screen – A Century of Film and Television, by Kenneth S. Rothwell, 2004.  Read in December 2010.

                      One of the things I like best about this book is the chronological list and the chart listed by play of all the Shakespeare movies made so far. It has helped build my DVD collection tremendously.
                      But there is a lot of interest in the book itself of course. Starting with the silent movies and through to modern times there has been a lot of Shakespeare movies made. Some of the early ones may seem laughable to us now but when Olivier got involved things picked up. Readers of this blog know I don’t madly adore Olivier but his contributions to Shakespeare on film cannot be overestimated. There is, unsurprisingly, a whole chapter about his direction feats: most notably Henry V, Hamlet, Richard III. Orson Welles is also given a chapter as are the early TV productions. Zeffirelli has to share a chapter with Castellani (whose productions I haven’t seen). The weakest aspect of this book is that Branagh isn’t given his own chapter and though he is given positive mention throughout, Rothwell is generally ambivalent, at times even negative, in his appreciation of Branagh’s unique genius. He indicates that cultural materialists (of which I count myself one) hate Branagh’s politics.  What???
                      Generally Rothwell and I have quite different takes on the various portrayals of Shakespeare’s characters but that’s OK. He seems to love Shakespeare movies as much as I do and his final sentences could hardly be truer: “…Shakespeare remains incarnate in the trinity of page, stage and screen, each offering its own unique insights into his mind and art from the muses of literature, theater, and mass entertainment. Thrice armed, he is unlikely to go away.”

                      This is a book to have at hand for frequent reference.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Monday September 2 2013

We’re about half-way through Timon of Athens now. Not one of Shakespeare’s most known plays but quite a good one, I think. We only have one version to watch, the BBC version, so it will be a relatively short process.   It’s generally been a quiet Shakespeare week which has given me time to complete a little project I’ve had in mind for awhile: “Macdepp.”  Read it in Ruby’s Reflections. Wouldn’t it be nice?

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • The Capitol is used by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar as the center of Roman power but D&F tell us that he was mistaken, and Julius Caesar was not killed there. Oh well, it’s a good play anyway.
  • Cawdor was a real castle and thaneship in Scotland not far from Inverness but Shakespeare got the rest wrong. Oh well, it’s a good play anyway.

 Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Lia Hills’ novel The Beginner’s Guide to Living the young protagonist Will Ellis is studying Macbeth in school.  He quotes it to his girlfriend (“The grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break”) and it otherwise shows up here and there in the book.
  • In the book Shakespeare’s Local by Pete Brown, about the George Inn where the Swedish Shakespeare Society’s course was held this summer (see the report under “Ruby’s Reflections” and last week’s Monday report), the author continues to toss in Shakespeare’s name now and again but like I suspected he gets into the actual subject of Shakespeare and the George Inn in chapter seven:
    • He starts with a joke: “William Shakespeare walks into a pub.  He goes up to the bar and says, “Pint of Stella, please, mate.” The barman replies, “I’m not serving you. You’re Bard.”  Ha ha.
    • He goes on to tell us about William Kent who wrote a lot of pamphlets about the George but who also denied fanatically that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Fortunately Brown is a Stratfordian and goes on to explain that while there is no proof that Shakespeare ever visited the George, he most certainly knew about it because it was one of the most popular inns in Southwark at the time Shakespeare lived there.  So it’s very possible. He wrote about inns a lot and mentions a George Inn in King John so it’s possible he meant this one.
  • In A Nightmare on Elm Street (see the new post “Macdepp” under Ruby’s Reflection to see why we watched this silly movie) the English teacher says, “According to Shakespeare there was something operating in nature, perhaps inside human nature itself, that was rotten. A canker as he put it. Hamlet’s response to this and to his mother’s lies [lies?] was to continually probe and dig.  Just as the gravediggers always trying to get beneath the surface.  The same is true in a different way in Julius Caesar…” And then the student goes on to read in a monotone voice that gets creepier and creepier as Nancy falls asleep…”were it not that I have bad dreams…”
  • There was an ad in Dagens Nyheter. Tomorrow, September 3, the open-air theater group that usually does some Shakespeare in the grounds around Drottningholm Castle outside of Stockholm every fall, is doing The Taming of the Shrew.  Won’t make it this time…
  • Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has Hamlet weaving in and out throughout the whole book. Oskar, the boy’s whose father has died in 9/11, is playing Yorrick in the school production. There’s a photo (there are a lot of photos in the book) of Olivier holding the skull. Oskar imagines himself as Yorrick attacking the kid who’s playing Hamlet and thinking “Shakespeare doesn’t make sense” just like nothing else in the poor kid’s life does.

 Further this week:
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Timon of Athens.
  • Wrote and posted Macdepp”. Should have waited until we started reading Macbeth but that’s the way it goes.

Posted this week:



                      Romeo played by Johnny Depp. Now that I would have liked to see. He has, to be sure, scrupulously avoided playing the gorgeous romantic leads that his looks would have made possible, but in his lost vulnerable Gilbert Grape and Sam (of Benny and Joon) days he would have put more depth, or at least idiosyncrasy,  into Romeo than most of the callow young fellows (DiCaprio being the admirable exception) I’ve seen.  According to Steven Daly in Johnny Depp – A Retrospective Marlon Brando told Depp to do Romeo before it was too late. Sadly he didn’t heed Brando’s advice and it is too late. 
                      For Romeo. But not for Shakespeare. For whatever reason Johnny Depp has avoided Shakespeare for all these years – and seriously, why has he ?!?!? -  isn’t it high time that he changed that? He’s excelled as so many weird characters that taking on Shakespeare would hardly tax his talents.
                      I’ve long harbored a hope that he would do Macbeth. Add a little more anguish and uncertainty to his John Dillinger in his Public Enemies and we’d have an awesome Macbeth. Unfortunately, I recently saw in the newspaper that a new Macbeth is being filmed with Michael Fassbender so Macdepp is probably not going to happen.
                      But just think of Jack Straw as Puck or Feste or even Lear’s fool. Think of Lear! Johnny is still too young but with make-up, a gray wig or another ten years (Lear isn’t necessarily all that old) and his acting skills would give us an excellent crazed, cruel and sad old man.
Crazed and cruel. His Sweeny Todd would only have to add a touch of military arrogance to become Titus.  Even the pies are all ready.
Depp’s decadent cynical Libertine combined with his unhappy but noble Mad Hatter in 15th century costume and there we would have Henry IV – regal but regretful of having usurped the throne of Richard II, haunted by his crime and dying of some dread disease.
Imagine the kindly gentle J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland as the generous and bountiful Timon of Athens and then…I can’t actually think of a comparable Depp role for the Timon transformed into the hateful misanthropic hermit he became after being betrayed by his friends but that’s what makes it so challenging. There’s still room for development in the Depp depths.
Caliban. Richard III. Claudius…
This weekend Hal and I are going to start a Depp marathon. One film a week. It will take about a year. By that time I hope to have been reached by the announcement: