Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday November 25 2013

This too will be a short report and this time it will be the only thing posted on the blog. That will give any newcomers or busy followers a chance to catch up on some of the older posts. Please note that because of technical problems I have not been able to list links to the texts in the lists in the sidebar but I think I have all the titles of the texts and links can be found in the archives.  So good luck in finding what you’re looking for.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • English as the name of the language spoken in early Medieval England appeared before the name of the country itself. During the patriotic fervor of the Hundred Years’ War, English became the official language.  Shakespeare was of course instrumental in establishing the vernacular as the language we use today and the word “English” is used frequently in his works.
  • Epicurus has the undeserved reputation as a promoter of debauchery (he was actually a promoter of the pleasure to be found in scientific thought, as we can see in Stephen Greenblatt’s Swerve, mentioned in the last two Monday reports). Unfortunately, dear Shakespeare is partly responsible for this unfortunate misconception since a reference of this nature appears in King Lear.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Our little local weekly newspaper Mitt i Sundbyberg (“In the Middle of Sundbyberg”) had a long article about actor Sven Wollter and his current role as King Lear (see “Like Father Like Daughter” under play analyses from last week).There isn’t really anything about Shakespeare in the article, and rather little about the play itself.
  • In the teachers’ union magazine was the advert for this year’s Shakespeare course in London arranged by the Swedish Shakespeare Society.  It’s the course Hal and I attended last year. Recommended!

Further this week:
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Macbeth.  I do believe this is my favorite play. Or at least one of the top five.
  • Started reading: King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett, about the historical Macbeth. In fact I have read it before, many years ago. I have also read her Lymond and Niccolo series several times and loved them. But now…I could not get into this book. I gave up after 50 pages. Sorry, Dame Dorothy.  Maybe next time around.
  • Received from Bokus: Shakespeare’s London on Five Groats a Day by Richard Tames and Sleep of Death by Philip Gooden.
  • Started reading: above mentioned Sleep of Death by Philip Gooden. It’s a clever murder mystery in which our beloved Shakespeare is the prime suspect.  Amusing if not quite believable.

Posted this week:

  • This Monday report.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday November 18 2013

This has got to be the shortest Monday report so far. There have been only two Shakespeare sightings, we haven’t bought or ordered any Shakespeare books or DVDs or T-shirts or anything, haven’t watched any Shakespeare movies and haven’t started reading Macbeth (although we will this evening).  The text on Lear has been posted and that’s it. But I guess that’s enough for any week. Lear is rather draining and I’m not unhappy to leave him behind.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Ely is a cathedral city in Cambridgeshire and the bishop thereof plays a part in Henry V, Richard III and Henry VIII. It is also a tiny little town in the north woods of Minnesota to which my family sometimes drove when I was very little. To me it was a great outing during which I hadn’t the slightest inkling of England or Shakespeare…
  • England is the country where Shakespeare was born, did you know that?   He doesn’t actually mention his native land in all of his plays, but quite a few. Ah England, if I could only be in two places at once, there and here.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt comes through as hoped and offers the only sightings this week.  Greenblatt shows – beautifully as he always does – how the philosophy of Epicurus explains how “there is a hidden natural explanation for everything that alarms or eludes you” and it will “inevitably lead you back to atoms…you will be freed from a terrible affliction – what Hamlet, many centuries later, described as ‘the dread of something after death,/ The undiscovered country from whose bourn/ No traveler returns’” (page 75).
  • On the next page Greenblatt describes the death of Epicurus and quotes Shakespeare to show that it is not always so easy to be comforted by remembered pleasures when one is in pain: “Who can hold a fire in his hand/ By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?” In case you have to Google that I’ll save you the trouble. I just did and it’s from Richard II.

Further this week:
  • Nothing!

 Posted this week:
  • Like Father, Like Daughter” in King Lear.
  • This Monday report.

King Lear - Like Father Like Daughters?

Like Father Like Daughters?
King Lear

                      Two questions always bother me when reading or seeing this, Shakespeare’s most emotionally gruesome play, King Lear: Are Goneril and Regan as awful as everyone says they are? And if they are – why?  What is there in the text that prompts directors to immediately show them as haughty, false, lying, hypocritical, vampy, etc., etc., from the moment they walk onto the stage?
                      To quote a few of the characters, my answer is, “Nothing.”
                      Maybe I’m missing something but in the whole first scene what I see are two respectable older daughters and a saucy younger one, and a manipulative, hypocritical, hot-tempered, frighteningly irrational father.
                      Here’s the situation. The old king, to the surprise of everyone and the dismay of some, is retiring and dividing his kingdom equally among his three daughters. Sounds good, right? But in the very first lines of the play we are informed that Lear tends to play favorites: Kent says to Gloucester: “I thought the king had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.” That is, Goneril’s husband more than Regan’s husband.  Gloucester agrees but goes on to say that now that things are to be divided equally, who knows?
                      Enter the king and the whole gang.  In the eleventh line he speaks, Lear reveals himself to be an emotional manipulator:

…Tell me, my daughters -
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where merit doth most challenge it?. (Scene 1)

                      Wha’?! he just told them it would be divided equally, now they have to compete by loving him most?  I think the daughters can be excused for being a bit puzzled but Goneril and Regan are daughters to a king, wives to dukes and heads of great households. They are trained in the art of diplomacy as would all women of their class be. Goneril starts with, “Sir, I do love you more than words can wield the matter…” Regan ends with, “…I am alone felicitate/ In your dear highness’ love.”
                      Flowery yes, but hypocritical? Why should we think so?  This is a ceremonial moment. They are put on the spot.  They rise to the occasion and if we might think, “Why should they love the brutal old coot – I sure wouldn’t!”, I doubt that we would say so if we were in their position.
                      That Cordelia dares to go against this is in fact very strange. We find it admirable as do Kent, Gloucester, the King of France but I can’t help but wonder why they do. A saucy young daughter who sasses back to her royal father in public in the name of honesty – yes, of course we cheer her on but why do these three males who represent the patriarchal power structure admire her so much?  Would they want their daughters to…?
                      Lear’s reaction, at least his initial dismay, is understandable from him point of view but we still hate him for his virulent rejection of her and the alert spectator/reader will note that he, for all the court, proclaims, “I loved her most.”
                      That’s never a fun thing for siblings to hear and as we find out it’s not the first time Goneril and Regan have heard it.
                      That the three sisters are not the sweetest of friends we detect in Cordelia’s farewell to Goneril and Regan:

…I know you what you are,
And like a sister am most loath to call
Your faults as they are named. Use well our father,
To your professèd bosoms I commit him.
But yet, alas, stood within his grace
I would prefer him to a better place (Scene 1)

                      What?  What? What are their faults.  Why would Lear be better off somewhere else?  This is probably what directors base their presentation of the immediately nasty G&R on but for me it’s far too vague. Goneril says, “Don’t tell us what to do,” i.e. “Prescribe not us our duties” and Regan tells her to mind her own business.  Cordelia sweeps out with her new king after telling them their faults – whatever they are – we do not know, Shakespeare doesn’t tell us! – will be revealed.
                      Nor in the exchange between Goneril and Regan that immediately follows do we see anything other than two daughters concerned about the irrational behavior of their angry father but three things are clear: 1) they know that: “He always loved our sister best”, 2) that “he hath ever but slenderly known himself” (very astute of Regan!) and 3) that his irrationality is likely to continue and get worse.  Conclusion? Let’s stick together and do something.
                      These are not the evil intrigues of evil women.  They are the unhappy observations that most children make over their aging parents – even those of us who had lovely, or at least normal, parents – and the feeling of “we have to do something” is surely universal. And for Goneril and Regan it is, as it is for us, a new situation.
                      Let’s jump to Lear at Goneril’s. We learn in Scene 3 that Goneril is already at her wits’ end because Lear is not a gracious houseguest. You must agree that if Lear and his one hundred rowdy soldiers were staying with you, you’d be as angry as Goneril? That you’d be frustrated and impatient because the “idle old man” still wanted to “manage those authorities that he hath given away!” (Scene 3)?  Haven’t you ever been driven crazy by visiting parents, even the nice ones?
                      Still she speaks to him rather more respectfully and reasonably in Scene 4 than I would have managed to do in the face of the taunting of both Lear and his Fool.  Her appeal to him is filled with the words sir, safe redress, fearful, good wisdom, beseech, understand… And these words should be delivered in a manner to show a woman who wants to do what is right, who wants to be respectful but is desperate because her entire household is in an uproar caused by Lear’s and his soldiers’ totally unacceptable behavior.  Not as the evil conniving power-hungry daughter she is so often shown to be.
                      What follows is among the most painful scenes in Shakespeare, Lear’s curse on his daughter.
                      He starts by calling her “detested kite” (for us non-bird people the Norton edition tells us this is a carrion-eating hawk) and a liar, claims his soldiers are as sweet as lambs (come on! A hundred soldiers all in one confined place?!) and that he was wrong about Cordelia.  So before the curse even starts Goneril is called by her father King Lear a carrion eater and a liar and compared (for the umpteenth time) to his other, favorite daughter.
                      And then the curse:

…Hark, nature, hear;
Dear goddess, suspend thy purpose if
Thou didst intend to make this creature fruitful.
Into her womb convey sterility!
Dry up in her the organs of increase;
And from her derogate body never spring
A babe to honour her. If she must teem,
Create her child of spleen, that it may live,
And be a thwart disnatured torment to her.
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,
Turn all her mother's pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel –
That she may feel
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child.

                      I can literally find no words strong enough to express the profound, the absolute cruelty of this curse.  Most women want children. In Lear’s time and society (whenever that is) it is absolutely vital for noble women to bear children to carry on the family line, especially a royal line.  That Goneril has been married to Albany for some years is not explicitly stated but it’s fair to assume so. That they do not yet have children can – and must – be seen to be if not a sorrow for Goneril at least worrying.  In her society bearing children is essentially the only thing expected and demanded and accepted of her. And her father not only says he hopes she never has children, he calls upon the goddesses to “dry up in her the organs of increase” – the very fount of life and, at least sometimes, joy.
                      And then he adds the curse that if she does have children they will turn against her. With his famous line about thankless children Lear, the expert manipulator, turns himself into the victim.
                      I hate him. He is a terrible father and what he has done cannot be forgiven no matter how cuddly he gets with Cordelia in the end.  Surely somebody among all the Shakespeare scholars throughout the ages has not only seen this but turned the academic spotlight on the essential, vital significance of this curse in the play.  Yes, Lear later in his madness is given great credit for coming to some understanding of the suffering of his lower class subjects but he never expresses regret over the suffering he has caused his two older daughters.  He never comes to the tiniest insight, has the tiniest inkling, that he is in the wrong in this relationship.
                      You know what? I can’t go on.  I was going to analyze all the exchanges between Goneril and Lear and Regan and Lear but this is enough.  Regan is far nastier than Goneril ever gets to be and with less visible cause but I’ll have to leave her and the two sisters’developing rivalry for Edmund’s favors for another time. For now I will simply leave this text with the image of a daughter devastated by the cruelty of her father and abandoned by her judgmental husband (also to be dealt with another time) and turned thereby into a cruel and manipulative villain.
                      Like father, like daughter.

Works cited:
  • The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition. 2008.

 Spinoffs and Lear related films seen:
  • A Thousand Acres 1997. Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse. Cast:– Jason Robards -King Lear;– Jessica Lange Goneril; – Michelle Pfeiffer - Regan; – Jennifer Jason Leigh –Cordelia (they all had other names of course).  This might be the best Lear film so far. The parallels are clear, the story tragic, but from the sisters’ point of views.
  • Ran Akira Kurosawa 1985. Cast: see the movie review on the movie blog.  These are not names I recognize, except for Kurosawa.  The film is visually impressive and at times very dramatic.  It is a masterpiece, I can agree, and must be seen. But it doesn’t grip me.

 Films seen:
  • BBC, 1982. Director: Jonathan Miller. Cast: Michael Horden - King Lear; Gillian Barge– Goneril; Penelope Wilton– Regan; Brenda Blethyn– Cordelia; Michael Kitchen – Edmund; Anton Lesser – Edgar; John Shrapnel - Kent; Norman Rodway - Gloucester.  In hindsight, having seen all the other versions, this one stands out as perhaps the best.  Quite straightforward, as the BBC productions tend to be, and with many strong actors in the cast, this one is definitely an OK version to watch.
  • Olivier 1983 Cast: Laurence Olivier– King Lear; Dorothy Tutin – Goneril; Diana Rigg – Regan; Anna Calder Marshall – Cordelia; Robert Lindsay– Edmund; David Threllfall – Edgar; Colin Blakely- Kent; Leo McKern- Gloucester.  It starts out good with perhaps Olivier’s best performance and much of the cast is strong but it loses momentum in the storm.
  • Nunn and Hunt 2008 Cast: Ian McKellen – King Lear; Frances Barber – Goneril; Monica Dolan – Regan; Romola Garai– Cordelia; Philip Winchester – Edmund; Ben Meyjes – Edgar; Jonathan Hyde - Kent; - William Gaunt - Gloucester.  Ian McKellen is unbeatable but the production is even more uneven than Nunn usually is and really doesn’t reach the heights that one expects.
  • Davenall 1974. Cast: Patrick Magee – King Lear; Beth Harris – Goneril; Ann Lynn – Regan; Wendy Allnutt – Cordelia; Patrick Mower – Edmund; Robert Coleby – Edgar; - Ray Smith - Kent; Ronald Radd - Gloucester.  This one is almost a disaster.  It was almost impossible to watch but I stuck with it.
  • Brook 1971 Cast: Paul Scofield – King Lear; Irene Worth – Goneril; Susan Engel – Regan; Anne-Lise Gabold – Cordelia; Ian Hogg – Edmund; Robert Lloyd – Edgar;  Tom Fleming - Kent; Alan Webb - Gloucester.  Some very dramatic and powerful filming but another uneven production that didn’t carry it off.

 All of these except the BBC version have been reviewed on

 Seen on stage:
  • December 11, 2011 with 1-2-3 Schtunk, a comedy trio who had us laughing from start to…almost to the finish, which was as tragic as the play is supposed to be.
  • On October 26, 2013 at Stockholm’s Stadsteatern with the Swedish acting legend Sven Wollter in the lead.  Set in a modern day psychiatric geriatric clinic with outstanding stage settings and visual effects, this is in some ways better than all the films put together. But it too has its flaws which make it less than the original.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday November 11 2013

 Finally our Lear marathon is over.  The movies have been watched and reviewed, my text is done, at least the rough draft.  Next week, for sure, barring unforeseen happenings, it will be ready to post here. With all the buildup you’re probably expecting something extraordinary. I don’t know about that but I can promise you a bit of good old Lear pathos.  But that’s next week.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Eglamore is the name of a nobleman who helps Silvia flee from Milan in Two Gentlemen from Verona, then runs away. It could be a reference to a figure in the Merlin legend in which there is a runaway knight called Eglame.
  • Elsinore, as we all know, is the castle in Hälsingör in Denmark (my computer can’t make the Danish ö so you’ll have to put up with the Swedish one) in which Hamlet takes place. It’s a real castle. I’ve been there.  It’s probably not quite the same now though as it was in Hamlet’s day. Or rather, Shakepeare’s.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Dagens Nyheter had a report about a cultural figure named Svante Grundberg in honor of his 70th birthday.  When asked what he’s reading now the answer was, “Before I read Shakespeare, Scott Fitzgerald, Kafka and all that jazz. Now it’s mostly biographies of musicians and old Hollywood oddballs.”
  • The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths started out as an interesting detective novel starring an archeologist who runs across a case requiring knowledge of Shakespeare. The quotes “A little touch of Harry in the night” (Henry V) and “A man may see how the world goes with no eyes” (King Lear) are used and volumes of Shakespeare are lying around the characters’ bookshelves.  Unfortunately this, the landscape and the history were the highlights.  The story itself was uninteresting in the final analysis.
  • Open City by Teju Cole is about a scholar who got a poor grade in a Shakespeare seminar but learned bits of the Sonnets.
  • Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt is starting out with a bang. I’ve only read the introduction so far, and Shakespeare has only been mentioned once as Greenblatt’s primary interest, but already I’m excited about it. It’s about the lost manuscript of Lucretia’s The Nature of Things being found and becoming instrumental in kicking off the Renaissance.  I’m sure there will is Shakespeare to come. And  I think I’ll have to start a Stephen Greenblatt fan club. 

Further this week:
  • Watched: two films of Lear, the one with Patrick Magee and the one with Paul Scofield.
  • Wrote and posted: reviews of same.
  • Ordered from Bokus: Sleep of Death by Philip Gooden, a detective novel that takes place in Shakespeare’s London. The main character is a member of the Chamberlain’s Men.  Should be interesting.
  • Ordered from Bokus: Shakespeare’s London on Five Groats a Day by Richard Tames.  Also sounds interesting. We’ll have to start saving our groats!  

Posted this week:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Monday November 4 2013

The big event this week was supposed to be seeing Hamlet at Stadsteatern in Uppsala. But we had just made the hour long drive north with our friends and sat down to a late lunch when YW’s cell beeped to signal a text.  The performance had been cancelled due to illness. What?? Not possible!  Don’t they have understudies??  Apparently not. When we went to the theater after our meal to get the refund the nice young woman with blue hair said, “No theater can afford that these days.” Hm.  But can they afford to lose the income from several hundred ticket buyers? Guess so. Anyway, no Hamlet. We were very disappointed but that’s life.
Remaining to deal with is Lear and progress is being made.  See below. But first:

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Duncan, who we will be meeting shortly when we launch into the upcoming Macbeth, had no more claim to the throne historically than Macbeth did and Macbeth didn’t murder him.  Oh Shakespeare, can’t you stick to the facts? Lucky he didn’t!
  • Edward is the name of an awful lot of people. The most interesting Shakespeare Edward is the IV who usurped the throne from poor old Henry VI and who fathered the hapless princes mean brother Richard is supposed to have murdered in the Tower. Historically Edward has been portrayed as “indolent, irresolute, avaricious, self-indulgent, and much more incline to drift than lead.”  But that’s the Tudors writing history.  Shakespeare, according to D&F, “treated him kindly” to make his villain Richard III look bad. Modern historians think Edward VI was probably an OK king.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Dagens Nyheter tells us that the Swedish 19th century poet Gustaf Geijer after his trip to England in 1809-1810 printed the first translation of Shakespeare into Swedish. It was Macbeth. Two years later Shakespeare was first performed on stage in Swedish in Stockholm. The Swedish Shakespeare Society (of which I am a proud member) is reissuing this first work together with the Geijer Society.
  • Angels in America was shown on TV some time ago and it was good the first time.  It seems almost better now that we’re watching it again.  In the first episode the old rabbi (played by Meryl Streep) quotes Lear to a young man estranged from his family, first in Hebrew and then in English: “How sharper than a serpent’s tongue it is to have an ungrateful child.”

Further this week:
  • Bought actually last Monday but I forgot to list it here: tickets for Rickard III with Jonas Karlsson in March
  • Watched: Nunn’s film of Lear.
  • Tried to attend Hamlet (see above).

Posted this week: