Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday September 29 2014

No book report this time – my head is filled with Cymbeline and the Romans. I just completed the rough draft of my text this morning but I have a feeling there’s a lot of work left to do on it. Still, I hope to be able to post it next week. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s a short Monday report.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Norway is a beautiful country with an interesting history. There is a long history of war and trade with England but: “By the time of the Renaissance...[there] was a curious kind of kinship  with the Danes and the Norwegians, as the English had absorbed the settlers, traded in the Baltic and was no longer threatened by Norway except as part of the soon-to-decline Danish nation.”  The Norway of Hamlet we are told, is “utter fiction”.
  • Oberon is the King of the Fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and is according to some legends the son of Julius Caesar and Morgan La Fey (which sort of makes him King Arthur’s step-nephew and step-brother to Mordred.  How very complicated...)
Shakespeare sightings:
  • The Lie is a novel by Helen Dunmore about Daniel, a young man from Cornwall who returns after World War One. He remembers finding in the library of his rich friend’s father The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  Unfortunately, though Daniel comes to love literature and often quotes from memory, no more Shakespeare shows up in the novel.  It’s very good, nevertheless.
  • Henning Mankell, the hugely popular and widely read author of, among much else, the Wallander series (done on TV with Kenneth Branagh in the title role in the British version), has sadly been stricken with cancer but is after rigorous treatment feeling quite fit.  In a big article about him in Dagens Nyheter he lists Shakespeare’s plays among his theatre favourites. I wish Henning Mankell full recovery and long life!
  • In the novel Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French, the mad sister Jo remembers “being taught ridiculous unbelievable Shakespeare with doppelgangers in the stories, and I can remember thinking it was an impossible word and an impossible notion.”                                               
Further since last time:
  • Wrote: The rough draft on the text on Cymbeline.
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday September 22 2014

Stephen Greenblatt has long been a major figure in Shakespearean scholarship. Frankly, I don’t know what I would do without his analyses.  This week I’m reviewing one of his many exciting books, Shakespearean Negotiations. Otherwise it’s been another quiet week. We’ve finished reading Cymbeline, so hopefully a text will be posted on the blog in a couple of weeks. And then only The Tempest. There’s an expression in Swedish called “separation angst” and I’m beginning to feel small tendrils of it.  One play left this time around... But I’m also excited about the next step. More on that later!

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • The Nine Worthies, at least some of them, were humorously presented at the end of Love’s Labour’s Lost. They were “heroes who made major contributions to the civilisations that were most important to medieval European scholars: Christian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman.” King Arthur was one of the Worthies but he didn’t make it into LLL’s pageant.
  • The North Pole also figured in Love’s Labour’s Lost as an oath, “By the North Pole”.  This is just one example of humorous oaths that were all the rage in Shakespeare’s time, and have remained so in modern culture. D+F mention “western movies and the Batman television series.”
Shakespeare sightings:
  • Shakespeare Calling follower IA sent this mail: “A Shakespeare sighting - read in the paper Metro the other day that Shakespeare will be translated into Mandarin. Fantastic.” Thanks, IA!
  • Shakespeare Calling follower EG twittered me about an article on the Swedish TV website (the article is in English) about how Richard III died. An article in Lancet tells us that forensics show (remember his bones were found under a car park about a year ago) that he died pretty much as we’ve been told – on foot and with lots of whacks to his head. Poor Richard. Thanks, EG!
  • Shakespeare Calling follower EG also showed me a book written originally in Latin by Olaus Magnus, bishop of Uppsala in the 15th and 16th centuries, called The History of the Nordic Peoples. This version was translated into Swedish in 1906 and in it EG found this (first in old fashioned Swedish then in my English): Så var händelsen med en konungason vid namn Hamlet (Amlethus), enligt hvad den danske häfdatecknaren Saxo förtäljer. “Such was the happening with the king’s son Hamlet (Amlethus), according to what the storyteller Saxo relates.” This isn’t really a Shakespeare sighting because this book was written before Shakespeare started writing but it’s so interesting that I had to include it.
  • This week’s last Shakespeare sighting isn’t a sighting either, more of a non-sighting.  The theatre program for the autumn season has come out and I couldn’t find a single Shakespeare play! Can this be possible??                                               
Further since last time:
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Cymbeline.
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.
  • Book report on Shakespearean Negotiations by Stephen Greenblatt.

Shakespearean Negotiations by Stephen Greenblatt

Shakespearean Negotiations, the Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, by Stephen Greenblatt. Oxford University Press, 1988, 2001 edition. Read in March and April 2012.

                      “...language itself, which is at the heart of literary power, is the supreme instance of a collective creation.” This excellent quote comes from page four in the book and is indicative, I think, of one of Professor Greenblatt’s most important contributions to the study of Shakespeare – the understanding that Shakespeare, and all other cultural phenomena, do not happen in a vacuum but are a part of history and the society as a whole.
                      This book explores how Shakespeare’s works are an integral part of the Renaissance but also how he helped shape it by recycling the events and the literary ideas of his time. Also in the beginning chapter Greenblatt declares, “There can be no appeals to genius as the sole origin of the energies of great art” (page 12) and “as a rule, there is very little pure invention in culture” (page 13).
I could go on quoting the whole book but it would be better if you just read it. Here’s what you have to look forward to:
“Invisible Bullets” is a chapter on how the English colonies in America and especially the reports from them, served as a subversive influence on the “concept of divine power” (page 39), and how Shakespeare responded to this in his Henry IV plays.
“Fiction and Friction” addresses the question of how the unclear gender roles of Twelfth Night reflect the Renaissance realisation that “sexual difference, the foundation of all individualisation, turns out to be unstable and artificial at its origin” (page 76).
In “Shakespeare and the Exorcists” Greenblatt explores how “institutional strategies” were a “part of an intense and sustained struggle in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England to redefine central values of society...transforming the prevailing standards of judgment and action, rethinking the conceptual categories by which the ruling elites constructed their world and which they attempted to impose on the majority of the population” (page 95).  One could argue that Shakespeare dealt with this is all of his plays and indeed Greenblatt, after analysing the role exorcism played in society at the time, touches upon The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, All’s Well that Ends Well, King Lear and several others.
Chapter Five, “Martial Law in the Land of Cockaigne” contrasts the anxiety created by the church in order to scare sinners into accepting the power of Christianity to the anxiety of the theatre. In Shakespeare’s day there was a “startling increase in the level of represented and aroused anxiety” (page 133) and Shakespeare’s plays are filled with “currents of sympathy” and “efforts to make us identify powerfully with the dilemmas that his characters face” (page 134). Here Greenblatt focuses on Measure for Measure and The Tempest.
This review in no way does justice to the book.  It is filled with exhilarating ideas and perspectives on the plays while enriching the reader’s knowledge of the very complex and quickly-changing society of the Renaissance and Shakespeare’s world.
It is very much a must read.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday September 15 2014

It’s been rather quiet on the Shakespeare front this week. But here’s the report. There are bits and pieces of interest.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Mulmutius is a mythic king of England, supposedly the first, but history is a bit muddled. Holinshed would have him the instigator of many wise laws, whereas Geoffrey of Monmouth, who also calls him a lawgiver, presents him as the son of Cloten, king of Cornwall. Cloten? He’s the very nasty villain in Cymbeline, and that is the only play in which Mulmutius is mentioned in Shakespeare, who gets his history muddled once in awhile too...
  • Nature is not just the trees and lakes we enjoy when we go out walking, it is, D&F tell us, “goddess personification of the creative forces, what is given at birth as opposed to what is shaped by Fortune”.  They go on to explain, “Differentiating between when Shakespeare is using Nature as a personification or when he is using it as an abstract noun is often a difficult decision for editors.”  It is used in many of the plays; I’d venture to say all of them.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the almost unreadable Anne of the Island, the third in the Green Gable series, the author L.M. Montgomery displays her knowledge of Shakespeare with many references:
    • Anne is given Shakespeare’s plays as a token of appreciation.
    • Living in a room with many cushions, a thought it given to those who have lived in houses where cushions were loved not wisely but too well.
    • An unwanted proposal of marriage murdered sleep for Anne though the proposer was unlike Macbeth in all other ways.
    • “By the pricking of my thumbs,” Anne feels that something mysterious is about to happen.
    • Anne’s landladies are “hardly such stuff as dreams are made of.”
    • Davey declares to his unbelieving sister that he did so have a good time “in the voice of one who doth protest too much”.
    • Later Davey leaves the room, “and stood not upon the order of his going,”
    • Upon regarding still another refused proposal Anne reflected that, “Men have died and the worms have eaten them but not for love.”
    • There were more but I don’t wish to make this list as tedious as the book was at times...
  • Boudica by Vanessa Collingridge continues to be a treasure of British history. The above mentioned Raphael Holinshed, whose work was the source of Shakespeare’s history plays, also wrote about Boudica, in a renaissance of interest in the ancient history of Britain.  One wonders why Shakespeare didn’t write a play about the warrior queen.  Who knows? He might have been considering it but when Elizabeth died and James became king, the society turned distinctively misogynistic and playwrights had to tread very carefully indeed.
  • There was review in Dagens Nyheter of Verdi’s Otello, now being played in some obscure place in the countryside in a barn-like ex-sawmill. Hmmm. But the critic called it “painfully elegant.”                                               
Further since last time:
  • Continued reading aloud with Hal: Cymbeline.
  • Received from friends KJG and JG: Slings and Arrows, the DVD box of a Canadian comedy series about a theatre group putting on Shakespeare plays. We’re really looking forward to seeing it!

Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.
  • Book report on A Companion to Shakespeare‘s Works – the Tragedies, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard

Companion the the Tragedies

A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works – the Tragedies, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard. 2003. Read in January and February 2012.

                      It must be confessed that not much in this book fastened in my long-term memory. I do remember that it was scholarly and a bit heavy reading, but also that there was much that was interesting in it.
It starts with a chapter on Shakespeare and the idea of tragedy and it is noted that “Tragedy, for Shakespeare, is a genre of uncompensated suffering” (page 9). It continues with a chapter that places Shakespeare’s tragedies within the context of his contemporaries’ productions.
                      There are quite a lot of chapters actually and they deal with emotions, “disjointed times”, love, religious identity and geography.  A couple of chapters deal with the Shakespeare tragedies in film.
                      And then the last ten chapters deal with specific plays: Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens and Coriolanus.
Come to think of it, I’ve used this book a couple of times in my analyses of Hamlet and Coriolanus. I consult it often, but somehow it doesn’t usually offer much for what I’m dealing with in most plays.
Still, it’s good to have on the shelf and it’s worth paging through regularly for inspiration and information. It’s also good for all the notes which provide a wealth of sources – I always enjoy adding to my list of books-to-read.