Monday, October 3, 2016

October 2016

The Comedy of Errors time. We’ve watched the films, I’ve written the text. We’ve chosen the next play to read but haven’t started yet. Instead we’re taking a detour back to the Henrys (and a Richard) since the second series of The Hollow Crown has been released (see below).

So Shakespeare goes on. And as always I will once again mention to visitors of this blog that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase. Please help promote the book by buying it, of course, and telling your friends about it, by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you. Your support is needed to keep this project alive.

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Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel High Dive by Jonathan Lee
    • The Irish resistance coordinator Dawson likes ‘a bit of Shakespeare.’
    • Dawson tries to encourage his supporter Dan to read Shakespeare.
    • Hotel manager Moose tells his colleague Marina whose husband had lacked ambition, ‘Well, you don’t want a Macbeth in your head.’
    • Later Marina tells Moose’s daughter, ‘I’ve been seeing a Shakespearean,’ but she’s broken off the relationship because his toenails scratched her in bed and he was too pleased with himself.
  • In Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere:
    • Super villain Mr Croup says to his evil partner Mr Vandermar, ‘If you cut us, do we not bleed?’
    • Hero Richard says to the (probably) villainous abbot, ‘Well, lead on, Macduff.’ When Richard has been swept away, not likely to survive the ordeal, the Abbot says to Brother Fuliginous, ‘It’s ‘lay on, Macduff’ but I didn’t have the heart to correct him.’
    • Old Bailey, who pops up now and then, has just brought the Marquis back from the dead again and says, ‘After all I done to bring you back from that dread bourn from which there is no returning. Well, usually no returning.’
  • Peter Ackroyd, in his History of England Volume I Foundation, continues to refer regularly to Shakespeare:
    • The craft guilds were responsible for many miracle or mystery plays, ‘the most important aspect of English drama in the age before Shakespeare.’
    • King John has been considered a rival to Richard III as an evil king. Ackroyd points out that neither were any eviller than most kings but that Shakespeare ‘defined the image of John to posterity.’
    • The line in The Tempest ‘wheat, rye, barley, fetches, oats and peas’ is a paraphrase of a medieval folk song about ‘oats, peas, beans and barley.’
    • As we get to the period in history in which the history plays took place Shakespeare is mentioned in connection with each of the kings, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III and Henry VII.
  • In the novel The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, Caroline says on the subject of selling old manor houses, ‘They say you can get an American to buy any old bit of black timber, just by telling him it comes from the Forest of Arden, or was sneezed on by Shakespeare, or something.’ Later she says about having a party in her own run-down manor house that her brother thinks ‘throwing a party with the house the state it’s in now will be like Sarah Bernhardt playing Juliet with one leg.’
  • The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter
    • Had an advert for Özz Nüjen as Richard III at Riksteatern in Stockholm.
    • Had a long article about Macbeth at the Maximteatern with Swedish bad-boy actor Mikael Persbrandt in the title role.
    • Had a review of the wonderful Sven Wollter and Evabritt Strandberg playing the aged Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, the reviewer didn’t like it, saying that Shakespeare’s play disappears.
    • Had a review of Othello at Orionteatern in Stockholm. The critic liked the gender-bending acting in this dark production in which ‘reality is altogether too close.’
    • Had a review of another Othello at Teater Påfågeln in Stockholm which was described as ‘scaled down without magic.’
  • In John O’Farrell’s novel The Best a Man Can Get the narrator, the rather unpleasant Michael Adams, watches a TV program about pregnant women shouting Shakespeare quotes at their unborn children to get them started early. He later tells how he as a fifteen-year-old had screwed up a school outing to see Hamlet, managing to ruin everything so they didn’t get to see it.
  • In Doctor Who with David Tennant (you know, Hamlet), the 10th doctor:
    • The Doctor and his new companion Martha, having recently visited Shakespeare’s London, are now in New York in the 1930’s helping dance girl Tallulah defeat the monsters. When Tallulah says to Martha, ‘C’mon, have you ever been back stage before?’ Martha replies archly, ‘Oh, you know, a little Shakespeare.’ Tallulah: ‘How dull is that! C’mon!’
    • In a later episode when the Master is planning to take over the Universe, Martha, who is going to save the world, tells her guide that she’s been in space. He’s impressed. ‘Anything else?’ Martha: ‘I’ve met Shakespeare.’
  • On Monty Python we see in a hospital for overacting a ward for Richard III actors. Eric Idle says sweetly (as only he can),’A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.’
  • The film The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone opens with the aging and mediocre Mrs Stone trying to do Juliet. It is a flop.
  • In Deborah Moggach’s novel In the Dark Alwyne, blinded in World War I, quotes Hamlet’s lines about Gertrude’s sensuality to young Ralph who is upset because his widowed mother has remarried. 

Further since last time: 
  • Finished the text of: The Comedy of Errors
  • Watched:
    • The BBC production of The Comedy of Errors
    • The Globe production of The Comedy of Errors
    • The Hollow Crown Henry VI Part One 

Posted this month
  • ‘The bad brother, the not so bad brother and the quite nice brothers, in The Comedy of Errors
  • This report

The Comedy of Errors - The bad brother, the not so bad brother and the quite nice brothers

The bad brother, the not so bad brother and the quite nice brothers
The Comedy of Errors

     That was going to be the title of this text because while reading the play I took a dislike to Antipholus of Ephesus. He calls his wife a strumpet and a harlot, at the least bad temper he’s off to the town courtesan, and he beats his poor servant Dromio.
     Well, so does Antipholus of Syracuse, but he’s friends with his Dromio as well, jokes with him, talks to him.
     Having just watched the BBC production from 1983 I’m at a loss what to think, what to write. Michael Kitchen as the Antipholi is extremely likeable in both roles. Amiable, kind, melancholy, well-spoken in love as Antipholus of Syracuse. Sarcastic, funny, justifiably withering in comments against those he believes have wronged him as Antipholus of Ephesus. Roget Daltry is adorable (sorry, soapy word, but he is!) as the Dromios, so I still like them both.
     Right. We have the Globe production from 2014 to watch. Judgment pending until then. Back soon.
     Well. That helped not at all. Many of the Globe’s productions are slapstick and so is this one. Often very funny but not subtle in the least, making no use of the many emotional nuances that make this play (and all of Shakespeare’s comedies) so much more than zany. It’s enjoyable and colourful and there’s a lot of shouting and waving about of arms and running about the stage, but none of that clarifies my dilemma. Is Antipholus of Ephesus mean? Is Antipholus of Syracuse less mean? Are both Dromios nice?
     The answer, if there is one, might be found – oh revolutionary thought! – in the text.
     I’ll start with Antipholus of Ephesus. Before we meet him we learn from his wife Adriana and her sister Luciana that Antipholus spends much of his time away from home. This pains his wife but seems to his sister-in-law completely natural. Since this is an amusing but disturbing exchange about the role of wives in relations to their lords and masters, the husbands, it opens the path to a man who in his first line when we encounter him in Act 3.1 calls his wife ‘shrewish’ but is having a gold necklace made for her. He then calls his servant an ass, but that’s not too great an insult, one to which, along with beatings, Dromio is accustomed. That Antipholus shows irritation at being locked out of his own home is not surprising but when he says, ‘I know a wench of excellent discourse’, and proposes to give her the chain, ‘Be it nothing but to spite my wife - ’ that’s when I start to dislike him.  Because I already like Adriana. He then sends Dromio for a rope to ‘bestow / Among my wife and her confederates’ (Act 4.1). To whip them? Tie them up? Hang them? He later calls Dromio (of Syracuse), who doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, a madman, a peevish sheep and a drunken slave, but entrusts him with the key to his treasure chest at home. When his own Dromio comes with the rope, Antipholus beats him and Dromio complains at length of all the beatings he has had to endure from his master. Who then beats him again. He also beats Pinch, the doctor and conjuror and calls Adriana a minion (servant) and by calling her companions ‘customers’ accuses her of harlotry. When Adriana denies that she locked him out and swears that he dined at home with her he calls her, ‘Dissembling harlot…with these nails I’ll pluck out these false eyes…O, most unhappy strumpet!’ (Act 4.4)
     OK, he’s not Macbeth or Lear or Richard III or any of those other of Shakespeare’s real villains, but he’s not an endearing character either.
     His brother? We see a lot more of him. When we meet him he and Dromio have just arrived in Ephesus. He is ‘weary with long travel…stiff and weary’ and he tells a merchant that Dromio is

A trusty villain, sir, that very oft,
When I am dull with care and melancholy,
Lightens my humour with his merry jests (Act 1.2).

     When left alone to wander the town at his content he contemplates:

He that commends me to mine own content
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth –
Unseen, inquisitive - confounds himself.
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself (Act 1.2).

     From the start then Antipholus of Syracuse reveals himself as a melancholy, contemplative, lonely seeker who regards his servant almost as a friend. That he then beats and later chides Dromio (the other one) over the misunderstanding about the money shows their master-servant relationship but still, he doesn’t accuse Dromio of thievery. Instead he blames ‘some device or other…Dark-working sorcerers…soul-killing witches…’ (act 1.2). Unlike his twin, he doesn’t immediately believe the worst of others.
     Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse return easily enough to their bantering and when confronted by Adriana, who addresses Antipholus as husband, he is unfailingly polite, though confused, and in all innocent confusion he falls in love with his supposed sister-in-law Luciana. He romantically woos her, in spite of her dismayed requests that he turn his devotion to his wife, not to her.  He says:

Thee will I love, and with thee lead my life;
Thou hast no husband yet, nor I no wife:
Give me thy hand (Act 3.2).

     Ah, sweet Antipholus of Syracuse! I’m half in love with him myself.
     Nevertheless, he’s upset by what he continues to regard as witchcraft and determines to leave Ephesus immediately which doesn’t, I suppose, make him a very constant and true lover.  On the other hand, she hasn’t responded positively to his short courtship so maybe he can be forgiven.
     He never succeeds in leaving and in the final scene where the muddle is all explained he remains kind and polite and his last words are to his Dromio: ‘Embrace thy brother there, rejoice with him’ (Act 5.1).
     What a nice man!
     And the two Dromios? One continually beaten by his master but in love with the fat cook. The other a merry and clever wordsmith who gives as good as he gets in wordplay with his master. These two are charming and delightful. They carry the play.
     Bad, less bad and quite nice. I think I’ll change that to: not at all likable – Antipholus of Ephesus. Quite a deep character for whom I feel great affection – Antipholus of Syracuse. And two lovable rascals – the Dromios.
     All in one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.