Monday, January 5, 2015

January 2015

Happy New Year! Oh, I just realised something. It’s actually Twelfth Night today. I’m not into the whole Christmas thing and being newly retired I don’t long for those holidays, of which tomorrow is one, but Twelfth Night will always mean Shakespeare to me.  It’s been a rather normal Shakespeare month with sightings, and thoughts and a couple of films, and quite a lot from Davis and Frankforter. I’ve started working on the book form of Shakespeare Calling but don’t hold your breath. It will take time and work. But that’s what I’m looking forward to. Now for the first monthly report.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Puritans are complex creatures.  They had some good ideas, like democracy and equality and republicanism and education, but things went just a bit awry. It is, D&F point out, “to Shakespeare’s credit that, as usual, he grants them a humanity which makes them more than caricatures” in the three plays that mentions them: A Winter’s Take, All’s Well that Ends Well, and Pericles.
  • Roland, hero of Chanson de Roland from the Middle Ages, was a figure well known to Shakespeare’s audience. A “childe”, which Roland was, is the highest level of an apprentice knight.  Childe Roland was mentioned in Henry VI Part One and King Lear.
  • Russia was in Shakespeare’s time an exotic place but well known in England because of active trade between the two countries and because Ivan the Terrible had proposed marriage to Queen Elizabeth (now that would have been interesting). Russia as a country is only mentioned in Measure for Measure.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • The novel The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is about an actor, Laurel, who is going to be in Macbeth. She mentions this several times. She also says that she ought to leave off reading Shakespeare for a while because she sees too much drama in real life. She also meets a professor who has written Contemporary Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Tragedies.
  • The novel We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Foweler also has a thespian who gets work in a Shakespeare company. The main charcater Rose also sees portents like the ones in Julius Caesar that “even Caliban, a couple of plays over, would notice.” Macbeth is mentioned. Rosemary’s brother has “a lean and hungry look that Shakespeare found so dangerous”. And Rosemary wonders at one point, “Who did I think I was? Hamlet?”
  • In Jamaica Inn, the 1930’s classic by Daphne Du Maurier, the vicar of Altarnun tells the main character, “If it were permitted to take our text from Shakespeare, there would be strange sermons preached in Corwall tomorrow, Mary Yellan.” This just after the quote, “Our bright days are done, and we are for the dark.” This (I  googled it, not remembereing it, is from Antony and Cleopatra.)
  • In the novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, the main character Theo has done Macbeth in school.
  • In the novel Raven Black by Ann Cleeves one of the teachers has done A Midsummer Night’s Dream with his students. One of his students had also worked with Macbeth.
  • In the novel The Fall of Five by Pittacus Lore one of the teenage aliens with superpowers compares a couple of others with Romeo and Juliet.
  • In the altogether more important and serious book This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (read it! It’s still possible to limit the damage of climate change if we change the whole system now!), a Blockadia action shut down a gas power station for some time on the River Trent, which, as Klein points out, is described in Henry IV as Silver Trent.
  • One of my dear students, KW, wrote in her essay about how important books are to her, “When I was a teenager I discovered Shakespeare.” She goes on to explain how deeply she still feels the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
  • In Stephen King’s latest novel Mr. Mercedes, the mass murder psycho villain, while preparing another nefarious deed, thinks: “ did Shakespeare put it? Taking arms against a sea of trouble.”
  • Dagens Nyheter calls the production of Othello at Stockholm’s Stadsteater “a refreshing allegory on the political situation” in Sweden today (it’s a bit of a mess).  The play has been reduced to an hour and a half and takes place on a skateboard ramp. Well, that sounds interesting. 
  • We’ve been watching the old series Veronica Mars and find these teenagers quite Shakespearean:
    • There are posters for a high school productions of Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar in one of the classrooms.
    • Wallace (if I remember correctly, I didn’t note it down) is given the task as punishment of alphabetising books and points out sarcastically to Veronica (or somebody) that Shakespeare comes before Wordsworth and Hamlet before Macbeth.
    • Logan reminds his less than fatherly father, who is pretending to be fatherly by preparing a crab salad for Logan, that he is allergic to shellfish and what his dad proposes to feed him will cause him to “shuffle off this mortal coil.”
    • Veronica says that finally the million chimps with a million typewriters must have written King Lear because her arch enemy Sheriff Lamb is right about something.
  • In the introduction to Leo Tolstoy’s Childhood, Boyhood, Youth we are told that Tolstoy started reading Shakespeare in 1870 when he was more than forty years old, which is maybe why Shakespeare is only mentioned once in this early trilogy: the main character ridicules a fellow student for mispronouncing many words, for example “Shake-speare” instead of “Shake-speare.”
  • In the 2015 edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (sadly, the last one!), of which I’ve read (sort of) about half, Shakespeare is mentioned in non-Shakespeare films several times:
    • Dante’s Peak is given three stars of four with the words, “Critics dumped on the first of 1997’s two volcano movies, but hey – in ain’t supposed to be Henry V.
    • Free Enterprise (also three stars) with William Shatner, is about William Shatner wanting to direct a stage production of Julius Caesar with himself in the title role.  I’d like to see that film.
    • The King Is Alive is actually a spin-off. It’s about a group of people stranded in a desert who pass the time by doing a production of King Lear. Maltin didn’t like it but I think it sounds interesting.
Further since last time:
  • Watched: Shakespeare Wallah
  • Watched: Shakespeare in Love
  • Started: Editing the texts on Shakespeare Calling in preparation for the book version.
  • Wrote: “ A Look Back and a Look Forward”
Posted this month:
  • This report
  • “A Look Back and a Look Forward” in Ruby’s Reflections
  • Review of Shakespeare Wallah
  • Review of Shakespeare in Love

A Look Back and a Look Forward

A Look Back and a Look Forward
Three Years of Shakespeare Calling

It is now more than a month since I wrote anything for Shakespeare Calling, even longer since Hal and I finished reading The Tempest. I miss Shakespeare like a dear friend who has gone on a long voyage with only the slightest possibility of infrequent and faulty communication.  I know he’s alive and well and will return but I don’t know when.  I don’t know how he and I will have changed when we meet again. I don’t know how Hal and I will accommodate him back into our daily lives.  I’m filled with pleasant anticipation.
My thoughts are also filled with the three and a half years that have passed since starting Shakespeare Calling. If you’ve read the introduction “Why Shakespeare?” you may recall that after only sporadic contact with Shakespeare throughout our lives, Hal and I decided in 2008 to read all of the plays aloud to each other, which we did.  And when we had done that we realised that we had to do it again immediately. There was so much to explore. And being addicted to writing, I had to write about it. And being interested in connecting to others, Shakespeare Calling came into being.
An astounding thing, a blog.  SC has not become one of the internet phenomena with millions of hits and a film contract but I find it amazing enough that to date almost 30,000 visitors have found their way to the blog, from all round the world. Dear visitors, thank you for visiting and how in the world did you find SC?

Some statistics:
The blog functions offer some statistics but not everything. I still find them interesting.
The countries from which the most visitors have come are the US, Sweden, the UK, Germany, France, the Ukraine, Canada, Russia, Australia and Poland (that’s as far as the list goes).
The posts most visited have been: “Who’s There? in Hamlet”, “Love is Strange” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Celia” in As You Like It”, “Is This Love?” in Much Ado About Nothing, “Don’t Trust Anyone over Thirty (or Twenty-Eight), Adults vs. Kids” in Romeo and Juliet, the review of Marxist Shakespeares edited by Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow, “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?” , the review of Eric Mallin’s Godless Shakespeare, “The Magic of Macbeth”, and “The Breaking of Katherine’s Spirit” in The Taming of a Shrew.
Most commented on: “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?”,  “Don’t Trust Anyone over Thirty (or Twenty-Eight), Adults vs. Kids” in Romeo and Juliet, the review of Shakespeare – The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson, “Does Anybody Like Antony and Cleopatra”?, “Who’s There?” in Hamlet, “She’s All That” in Henry VI Part One, “Love is Strange” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and “The Breaking of Katherine’s Spirit” in The Taming of a Shrew.

The followers:
One husband, four colleagues/friends, one travel companion, two old friends, one niece, two former students and to my great surprise and gratification three complete strangers from three parts of the world. Thank you all for your interest and support.

The comments:
When starting the blog I envisioned a lively discussion with Shakespeareans around the world.  There has been less discussion than I had hoped for but in fact some very interesting comments have been written and a few discussions have taken place. One of the most interesting was with an unknown girl in South Korea who greatly admires Joan of Arc and she was politely upset about how her idol was treated by Shakespeare and me (“She’s All That” in Henry VI Part One). An amusing comment came from a rabid believer that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare’s plays in response to my review of Contested Will by James Shapiro.  The variety of comments throughout the blog is quite amazing really so thanks to all of you who wrote. A special kudos goes to blog follower Alexander, who tops the list by a mile with his witty, thoughtful and analytical comments on many of the texts.  I’m not sure which is more enjoyable – when we agree or when we don’t.

The films:
It all started in the Dark Ages of the 1960’s when I saw Romeo and Juliet in a drive-in cinema with my then boy friend (who guaranteed was no Shakespearean). And continued when Hal and I saw Branagh’s Henry V and Shakespeare in Love in the 90’s.  Since starting the blog and reading the plays this time round we have seen more than a hundred Shakespeare films and spin-offs. And we have a dozen or so that we bought after having read the play and so haven’t seen yet. And more Shakespeare films are being made every day.

The plays:
That started seriously in 2008 when we were planning a trip to London and said, “It’s high time we saw a Shakespeare play in English!” It was early April so the Globe hadn’t opened yet for the season. Our first in-English-on-stage Shakespeare play was therefore what was on at the Roundhouse: Henry IV Part Two.  Since then we’ve seen half a dozen or so productions in Swedish in Stockholm and surrounding suburbs and five at the Globe in London. In future? Two more at the Globe in April and one day it would be nice to see something in Stratford.  And I dearly want to see Hamlet in English on stage.

The future:
First, Shakespeare Calling in book form.  I’ve started the editing. It’s a big job and I’m afraid it will be a great fat brick of a book but my ambition is to release it in the summer or early autumn.
After that?  All that is certain is that Hal and I are not finished with Shakespeare. We are going to read the plays again. But in what order? In what combination? Who knows?
What I do know is that Shakespeare has touched every aspect of my life and enriched it.  I know that Shakespeare’s plays are living entities that continue to grow and develop and shed enlightenment upon us and our lives and our time in history.  And I know that not just for me but for the whole world, for a long time to come, Shakespeare will call us.
I look forward to continuing to answer that call together with other Shakespeare enthusiasts around the world, new and old, on the blog.
See you on Shakespeare Calling.

All the best,

January 2015