Monday, September 7, 2015

September 2015

The problems of trying to learn to become a marketing expert continue. Publishing a book in Sweden and hoping to sell it internationally is truly not an easy task.  But Shakespeare Calling – the book is out there. Below you will find the links for on-line purchase. Please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it! And once again, thank you all for visiting the blog throughout the years and for supporting this project.
It’s also been a month of continuing our third, sometimes fourth, reading of the plays. We’ve finished Richard II and started (almost finished) Henry IV Part One.
Coming up, next week, is the release party for Shakespeare Calling – the book, just a local event for local friends. I wish you all could be there! Another book of interest will be released as well. See below under ‘Further since last time’ for more information.

Shakespeare Calling – the book

For those of you in the UK, Sweden and the rest of Europe:
or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

For those of you in the rest of the world and/or those who usually shop at Available soon (I hope) also as an e-book.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Varro, used as one of Timon of Athens’ creditors, lived from 116 – ca 27 BC and was one of Rome’s most prolific writers. Another Varro fought Hannibal. The name, D+F tell us, would have been well known in the Renaissance.
  • Venice was a major cultural and economic centre in Shakespeare’s time and is mention in The Taming of the Shrew, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Much Ado about Nothing, The Merchant of Venice (obviously), Richard II and Othello.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen has one mention of Shakespeare. In telling the story of a local couple who had escaped the tyranny of a father to go to Australia, one version is that they don’t make it.  ‘You got the Shakespearean tragedy. Instead of living happily ever after, the illicit lovers are torn to shreds in the shark-infested seas of the Pacific.’  Hm, sounds like Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter
  • In the novel Thin Air by Ann Cleeves one of the murder suspects had done a drawing of the victim ‘looking like Ophelia in her bridesmaid’s dress.’ Her bridesmaid’s dress?
  • In writing up the cast of The Lord of the Rings – the Fellowship of the Rings I see that the endearing Pippin is played by Billy Boyd, who played Banquo in the Macbeth we saw at the Globe in 2013.
  • In the novel The Girl on the Road by Monica Byrne Meena meets a lifeguard who thinks there are more things in heaven and earth than can be dreamt of in our philosophy. Later, on her journey on the Trail, Meena adds to her scroll (a futuristic form of e-book) her favourites, including Shakespeare.
  • In the novel Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman the rich white civil rights activist in South Africa has Shakespeare amongst her Gordimer, Paton and Wilbur Smith books.
  • Ben Elton’s protagonist in The First Casualty, Douglas Kingsley, has to take an alias to go undercover. He considers Shakespeare but figures it’s probably too showy so opts for Christopher Marlowe.
  • Beethovenbiografin is the enormous, 900 + page long biography of Beethoven by Åke Holmquist. I have read 50 pages so far. It’s quite interesting and on page 45 we learn that in Beethoven’s home town Bonn there was a lively cultural life. The theatre put on productions of Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III and Macbeth for example.
  • Travelling to Infinity is Jane Hawking’s updated version of her memoirs of her marriage to Stephen Hawking. Shakespeare figures frequently:
    • She went to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet when she was young.
    • She was convinced that there ‘had to be more to heaven and earth than was contained in Stephen’s cold, impersonal philosophy.’
    • On a Spanish course in Spain that included Shakespeare in Spanish she decided to be a truant after one class because it ‘made a travesty of Macbeth, and …enough was enough. I had had a lifetime’s education in Shakespeare at school and could not bear the thought of having a supplementary dose in Spanish.’  Later, however, she mentions several interesting encounters with Romeo and Juliet.
    • She and Stephen discuss Shakespeare with some of his colleagues from the Soviet Union.
    • She mentions a Shakespeare knot garden. I must confess I don’t know what that is.
    • After one of Stephen’s health crises she describes him as being ‘very frightened, like Lear, he was child-changed…’
    • ‘With a little help from Shakespeare, Stephen had devised a title for his book.’ ? How is A Brief History of Time connected to Shakespeare?
    • At her wedding with her second husband Jane and Stephen’s daughter Lucy recited Shakespeare’s sonnet about the marriage of true minds.
  • In the third part of her Regeneration trilogy about World War One, The Ghost Road, Pat Barker’s character Billy Prior writes about his servant Longstaffe who can quote Shakespeare by heart, for example, ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,’ the night before a battle. Billy himself thinks it would be more appropriate to quote, ‘I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more…’
  • On an episode of the BBC game show Pointless, which we watched daily in England last spring, now seen on YouTube, one of the questions was about the most borrowed library books. One of the contestants answered Shakespeare but it was wrong.
  • Both Dagens Nyheter and TV’s Kulturnyheter report on Benedict Cumberbatch’s battle with mobile phone users during his performance of Hamlet. I’m on his side. How annoying that must be.
  • In the British TV series The Last Tango in Halifax with Shakespearean Derek Jacobi playing a very nice old man, he wonders if the quote ‘now heaven walks on earth’ is from Shakespeare. I didn’t know so I googled it. Yes. Twelfth Night. Later ‘her infinite variety’ from Antony and Cleopatra is used. That one I know.
  • In Endeavour, the first episode of season two, when Endeavour Morse is returning to duty after an injury, his less than sympathetic chief played by Anton Lesser (a wonderful Feste in Twelfth Night) says, ‘Once more unto the breach, mmm?’

Further since last time:
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Richard II
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Henry IV Part One
  • Posted on my Facebook (by me): ‘Dear Shakespeare friends, Shakespeare and Merlin were friends! I have it on good authority. The author of this just published book, Rhuddem Gwelin, is my cousin, or twin sister, or kinswoman, or something, and she assures me that every word (more or less) is (sort of) true! Don't miss it!’  I repeat. Don’t miss it. Order it at the same time as you order Shakespeare Calling – the book and save on postage.

Posted this month
  • This report
  • ‘Looking for Richard’ in Richard II

Posted 7 September 2015

Looking for Richard in Richard II

Looking for Richard


Richard II

     Sorry to plagiarise this title of Al Pacino’s excellent film about the other Richard but it’s so appropriate here. In the exciting conflict between Richard II and Henry Bullingbrook Shakespeare gives us a complex picture of Richard. But what kind of person is Shakespeare creating? In this brief essay I will take a look.
     Richard starts out kingly enough by hearing the case between Bullingbrook and Mowbray and banishing them both. But then we start to hear what other people think of him. From Richard’s own words he thinks he is less loved by the people than the upstart Bullingbrook, of whom Richard says:

…our kinsmen…
Observed his courtship of the common people.
How he did seem to dive into their hearts
With humble and familiar courtesy. (Act 1.4)

     That Henry is polite to slaves, poor craftsmen, oyster wenches and drayman, and probably loved by them, does this make Richard envious, humble, angry, contemptuous of both Henry and the people? All of the above? He finds it noteworthy in any case and it very likely makes him feel inferior. Poor Richard is very sensitive to threats to his royal dignity. He is, though he often claims otherwise, not sure of his divine right to be king, which is why he gives it so easily to Henry’s bid for the crown. Richard does not truly believe in his own ability to fulfil the divine role.
     Some of his loyal followers, and some who are less loyal, are quite sure of that divine right but others definitely are not. Richard is, they say, young, rash, ruled by flatterers, a mere landlord, a drunken carouser, a murderer, a bankrupt degenerate and a thief. We are likely to agree that he is a thief as he confiscates Bullingbrook’s legacy to spend on the Irish wars.
     But, ah, then something happens.
     Shakespeare give Richard all these wonderful lines. As he wavers between giving up in the face of Bullingbrook’s military and moral superiority and his fight for his royal crown, Richard utters one gem after another:

…A puny subject strikes
At thy great glory. Look not to the ground,
Ye favourites of a king. Are we not high?
Say, is my kingdom lost? Why, ‘twas my care.
And what loss is it to be rid of care?
The worst is death, and death will have his day.
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs,
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
…nothing can we call our own but death…
For heaven’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings…
All murdered. For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp… (Act 3.2)

     I could go on. Richard does. But let us move on to Act 4.1 in which Richard relinquishes the crown to Henry. Again he wavers between hanging on to the crown and willingly handing it over.

Alack, why am I sent for to a king,
Before I have shook off the regal thoughts
Wherewith I reigned? I hardly yet have learned
To insinuate, flatter, bow, and bend my knee.
Give sorrow leave awhile to tutor me
To this submission… (Act 4.1)

     When Henry says, ‘I thought you had been willing to resign,’ Richard replies:

My crown I am, but still my griefs are mine.
You may my glories and my state depose,
But not my griefs; still am I king of those.

     Bullingbrook says: ‘Part of your cares you give me with your crown,’ but Richard counters, ‘Your set up do not pluck my cares down.’ When Henry once again demands to know, ‘Are you contented to resign the crown?’ Richard wavers and hands it over:

Ay, no; no, ay, for I must nothing be:
Therefore no ‘no’, for I resign to thee.
Now mark me how I will undo myself:
I give this heavy weight from off my head,
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart.
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown.
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duteous oaths.
Long mayst thou live in Richard’s seat to sit,
And soon lie Richard in an earthy pit!
‘God save King Henry,’ unkinged Richard says.
‘And send him many years of sunshine days!’ –
What more remains?

     What more indeed?
     I find I’ve analysed almost nothing. I’ve done little but quote Richard, and again I could go on to show the tearful parting from his beloved wife and his dramatic death, but with the drama in Act 4.1 Richard has effectively ceased to be king, and Henry has taken on the cares of the throne.
     Poor Richard. Shakespeare has raised him from a mediocre young king, who has hidden his unsure cowering self behind rashness and drunkenness, to a victim of history, a valiant victim of great dignity and depth, by giving him such wonderful eloquence. In Richard Shakespeare has created a character whose ‘self-destructive behaviour might be seen as an unconscious quest for the expressive opportunities provided only by miseries’ (Eisaman Maus, p. 1980).
     No, I haven’t analysed this play. I’m simply too filled with admiration for the language. Yes, Richard is a loser. But what a magnificent loser!

Works cited:
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen
  • Eisman Maus, Katharine. Introduction in The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition, 2008.

Films seen:
  • BBC, 1978. Director: David Giles. Cast: Richard – Derek Jacobi; Bolingbroke – Jon Finch; John of Gaunt – John Gielgud; York – Charles Gray; Duchess of York – Wendy Hiller; Duchess of Gloucester – Mary Morris; Queen Isabella – Janet Maw. 
    • One of the earliest BBC productions and one of the best.  Derek Jacobi is always superb and plays the flawed king perfectly. A better portrayal of Bolingbroke than this one by Jon Finch is hard to imagine (though see below). A thoroughly convincing production of this play which should be much more appreciated, and performed, than it is.
  • The Hollow Crown. Richard II. Director: Rupert Goold. Cast: Richard – Ben Whishaw; Bolingbroke – Rory Kinnear; John of Gaunt – Patrick Stewart; York – David Suchet; Duchess of York – Lindsay Duncan; Queen Isabella – Clémence Poèsy.