Monday, September 5, 2016

September 2016

Hamlet is now done for the second time. I’ve just posted the text. We’re read The Comedy of Errors and we have two films to watch so that text won’t be until next time. Things move slowly sometimes, mainly because, in spite of everything, life happens alongside of Shakespeare, believe it or not.

Shakespeare is at the centre of everything, though, right? So 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.

or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus has a lot of Shakespeare:
    • ‘The Poet’s Board’ promotes a poet in every home, and shows Shakespeare in the kitchen
    • Beethoven can’t get the first bars of the Fifth Symphony right with his wife nagging about jam spoons etc. He says, ‘Shakespeare never had this problem!’ Shakespeare pops onto the screen and says, ‘You wanna bet? Incidentally, it’s ‘ta-ta-ta-daaaa, ta-ta-ta-daaaam…’ Beethoven: ‘You’re right! Incidentally, why not call him Hamlet?’ Shakespeare: ’Hamlet! I like it much better than David. Michelangelo, you may use Davis. I won’t sue…’ And so on.
    • Now in performance: the first underwater version of Measure for Measure.
  • Helene Hanff in her England journal The Duchess of Bloomsbury:
    • Visits Stratford, and, warned that it has become a commercial tourist trap, is prepared for the Judith Shakespeare Wimpy Hamburger Bar. It bothers her not at all.
    • In Stratford she sees Much Ado about Nothing ‘at the shiny modern theatre, very conventional, not very well acted.’
    • Ends the book with her thoughts on the plane back to New York: ‘Bits of Prospero run in my head’ and then the ‘Our revels now are ended’ monolog.
  • In the novel London Falling by Paul Cornell, about detectives and ghosts and things in London, one of the detectives sees ‘a man dressed like something out of Shakespeare…with his head tucked under his arm.’
  • In Jodi Taylor’s second Chronicles of St Mary’s series, A Symphony of Echoes:
    • Historian time traveller Max reminds us that last year they found some sonnets and a hitherto unknown play called The Scottish Queen about Mary Queen of Scots becoming Queen of England as well, indicating that something has gone very wrong in history.
    • The sonnets had been buried in the past so that Max and her team could find them in the present. Max replants them so the future St Mary’s, which is threatened with bankruptcy, can find them and solve all their monetary woes.
    • Then they have to go back to the time of Mary Queen of Scots and fix that, thus nullifying the Shakespeare play…
  • On the Swedish TV quiz show Vem vet mest? (Who knows most?) the question is what’s the Latin word for skull. The host says, ‘To be or not to be’ and the answer is cranium.
  • In the novel The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron a book dealer, used to scams, tells the young protagonist Daniel that he knew of a man who bought a copy of Hamlet signed by Shakespeare in ballpoint.
  • In the novel Half Broken Things by Morag Joss the main character Jean reflects upon memories of her childhood: ‘Men were deceivers, ever. Shakespeare, but I can’t remember where from.’ From Much Ado about Nothing, Jean…
  • Peter Ackroyd, in his History of England Volume I Foundation writes of the time before the Roman invasion when there were about fifteen large tribes in England. One of them, the Catuvellauni, was led by Cunobelinus who ‘has since entered English mythology as the Cymbeline of Shakespeare’s play.’
  • The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter has reviewed a German production at the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Richard III, calling it ‘raw and uncompromising’ but also super theatrical and a bit of a ‘yawn’. Mixed, in other words. 

Further since last time:

  • Finished the films and text of: Hamlet
  • Read aloud with Hal: The Comedy of Errors
  • Watched:
    • Branagh’s Hamlet
    • Gregory Doran’s Hamlet with the brilliant David Tennant
  • We’re now finally watching the David Tennant Dr Who box and have become completely addicted. We’re going through it so quickly that we’ve already reached the Shakespeare Series 3 Episode 3 ‘The Shakespeare Code’. The Doctor and his new companion Martha go back to 1599. They go to the Globe where Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost has just been performed. Martha cries, ‘Author! Author!’ then asks the Doctor, ‘Do they say that in this time?’ When the audience shouts, ‘Author! Author!’ the Doctor says, ‘They do now.’  Shakespeare steps onto the stage and the Doctor says in the deepest respect, ‘The most human human there’s ever been…Beautiful words…’ whereupon Shakespeare says, ‘Ah, shut yer big fat mouths…’ And it goes on from there. Funny, clever, exciting (like all of the episodes) it’s a great homage to Shakespeare from the amazing Shakespearen actor, David Tennant. I’m in awe. 

  • Posted this month
    • ‘The Queen of Denmark – Gertrude in Hamlet’.
    • This report

The Queen of Denmark in Hamlet

The Queen of Denmark

     ‘Gertrude. The Queen of Denmark. It is important to remember that. She’s not only a mother and a wife but a head of state’ (Jand, page 349).
     I’m quoting myself here. This is what I wrote in my text ‘Who’s There?’ after reading Hamlet last time. I noted further that Gertrude is troubled by the paradox she must live as sexless widow and sexy wife. ‘She is well aware of the Christian view of women’s sexuality as evil and sinful contrasting with society’s bawdy acceptance of lust…Her ‘heart is cleft in twain’ as indeed is unavoidable in a society (like our own) that demands that a woman be sexy and sexless at the same time’ (Jand, page 350). As for Gertrude’s questions, ‘What shall I do?’ I write that ‘she is asking herself, what do I do now with this cruel mad hurtful son?’ (Jand, page 350).
     Shakespeare’s characters, as we know, can be and are interpreted in many different ways but I think Gertrude is one of his most interesting characters most often and so badly acted.
     We didn’t watch all of our Hamlet films this time and what we have is but a fraction of those that exist. While watching, though, I paid special attention to Gertrude.
     What did I see? Film by film I saw this:
  • First a Swedish version from 1984 with Stellan Skarsgård as Hamlet. The renowned (in Sweden) Mona Malm plays Gertrude and things start out badly when both she and her Claudius are aging jolly sexpots. Wrong! But she’s quite good in the bedroom scene as a haughty queen and then a puzzled unhappy mother. Let’s say 2 * of 5.
  • Next Peter Brook’s version with Adrian Lester as Hamlet. Natasha Parry does Gertrude and oddly I didn’t like her performance at all when we watched it the first time, finding it dull and emotionless. This time I saw her as low-key, earnest and uneasy although too smiley with Claudius. In the bedroom scene she is puzzled, impatient, despairing over her son’s madness. It is that which has cleft her heart in twain, not guilt. 4 * of 5.
  • In Laurence Olivier’s version Eileen Herlie is simply dreadful. For a start she’s younger than Olivier and her Gertrude is incestuous, seductive and cajoling from the beginning. In the bedroom scene she is weepy, shrill and pathetic. Her monolog about the drowning of Ophelia is flat and without emotion. 0* of 5.
  • In the BBC production from 1980, with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet, Claire Bloom is a mixed Gertrude. She starts out admirably with an aloof, gracious and regal air and in the beginning of the bedroom scene she is angry but calm and firm. She is appropriately aghast at the murder of Polonius but then, after a moment of reawakened grief when confronted by the two portraits, Bloom loses control of her character and allows her to become weepy and clinging. When she whimpers, ‘What shall I do?’ she is appealing to her son, having given in to wild accusations and accepted the guilt he throws at her. She rallies and does a deeply moving ‘there is a willow’ monolog. Claire Bloom is a great actor and some of her Gertrude is finely done. 3* of 5.
  • Ethan Hawke is the best sullen teen-aged Hamlet I’ve seen but Diane Venora is a disappointment in Almereyda’s film. She did the best Ophelia I’ve ever seen in the Kevin Kline production but as a chic and brassy Gertrude, well, it could have been all right if she hadn’t smiled so much, been so lovey-dovey with Claudius, so happy and clinging and flirtatious. She is not the regal queen she should be, she is a celebrity who glories in the glitzy spotlight. She is vampy and sexy. In the bedroom scene she weeps and kisses Hamlet and submits to his accusations and demands. She plays the role well. It’s just that it’s the wrong role for Gertrude. 2* of 5.
  • It is no secret that I think Branagh’s is the best Hamlet film made yet but also one of the best films made…ever. Julie Christie is one of the reasons. From her solemn sad tremulous smiles in her first scene she is the perfect Gertrude. She speaks earnestly to Hamlet, dances frantically at the Wassail ball, receives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern graciously and performs her responsibilities as a ruling monarch with dignity. In the bedroom scene she starts by being just indignant enough. She is strong in her remorse and grief. She is never frightened by Hamlet but sorrowful and worried. Her heart is cleft in twain by his madness and the murder. Pitch perfect in this scene, she’s uneasy and distressed throughout the play.  Exactly as a recently widowed monarch with heavy responsibilities, a new marriage and a mad son should be. 10 * of 10.
  • Nothing can top Christie as Gertrude or Branagh’s film as a whole but Gregory Doran’s version with David Tennant comes close at times and Penny Downie has some very strong moments. Though too smiley and adoring at times she is also regal and concerned. In the bedroom before Hamlet arrives she is smoking and drinking whiskey and removing her sumptuous wig (this Hamlet is set in modern times). She’s too accepting of the guilt Hamlet dumps on her but she is also concerned and powerless before his madness. Her ‘What shall I do?’ is spoken to herself as it should be and her almost harsh and unexpected laugh is startling and very effective. With Ophelia she is haughty and repelled but also kind. Downie is not completely successful as Gertrude but she is very strong and her portrayal of a complex and at times inscrutable Gertrude is intriguing. 4 ½ * of 5. 
     Playing the role of Gertrude is no easy task. Rebecca Smith, in the anthology of essays in Hamlet, contemporary Critical Essays, has given her essay the title ‘The Dilemma of Shakespeare’s Gertrude.’ A dilemma she is.  Tina Parker in her Women of Will reminds us that old Hamlet has kept Gertrude on a pedestal while Claudius not only loves her but respects and needs her ability as a co-ruler.
     Dilemma, complexity, authority in one woman. To do Gertrude justice all this and more must be done by any actor playing her. Shakespeare’s women have throughout the ages been mistreated by the societies in which gender roles have forced women into the Madonna-whore dichotomy.  It’s high time that she be treated with respect. It gladdens me that some productions are now doing that.

Works cited:
  • Jand, Ruby. Shakespeare Calling – the book. Vulkan. 2015.
  • Packer, Tina. Women of Will. Alfred A. Knopf. 2015.
  • Smith, Rebecca. ‘A Heart Cleft in Twain – The Dilemma of Shakespeare’s Gertrude’ in Hamlet Case Studies. Palgrave Macmillan. 1992.
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen.
Films seen this time: The above as well as Hamlet Goes Business, The Empress, and the Prince of Jutland.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August 2016

Hamlet is back. We’ve read the play again and seen several spin-offs and films. You can read some of the reviews on my movie blog (see links below).  Unlike last time we did Hamlet, I’m not agonising about what to write but since my plan involves the movies it will be a while because we have several left to watch. But next month I should be able to post a new text on Hamlet. This month what I have to offer is a ‘book of interest’ (see below).

As always, though, I will start with a reminder that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase and I appreciate all your support.

Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you.

or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

Or contact the publisher

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Z. As you know it’s the last letter of the English alphabet so this will be the last entry under this heading. And the Shakespeare connection? It’s a lovely one: Kent, in King Lear, calls Oswald ‘whoreson Z, thou unnecessary letter.’ Poor Oswald. Poor Z. How would we write zoo or zoom or buzz without you? 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer (Part Six of Three in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, written as a tribute to Douglas Adams) a bird spoke in a voice that reminded the hearer of the actor who had played Othello at the Globe. Sadly, though I loved the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, I did not finish this one. It just wasn’t the same.
  • In the book This New Noise by Charlotte Higgins, about the history of the BBC, the first general manager John Reith had the goal of developing the BBC to ‘show that mankind is a unity…for the good of all…[The wireless] ignores the puny and often artificial barriers which have estranged men from their fellows. It will soon take continents in its stride…It will cast a girdle round the earth with bands that are all the stronger because invisible.’ Higgins points out that ‘Reith was drawing on Shakespeare: it was Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream who boasted that he could “put a girdle round the earth”. Reith cast himself as magician – more Prospero than Puck…’
  • In the excellent and sad series River starring Sweden’s pride Stellan Skarsgård and the wonderful Nicola Walker I’ve noted two sightings:
    • In the first episode a copy of Romeo and Juliet is found amongst the murder victim’s belongings. Later this proves to be a vital clue to discovering two teens in a suicide pact.
    • River follows his psychiatrist across the Millennium bridge and I say to Hal: ‘They must be going to the Globe.’ As indeed they are. And there we suddenly are, feeling right at home. They don’t show enough of the play that we can identify it but it is lovely to get a glimpse.
  • In the musical The Music Man, which is one of my favourites and which we watched again recently, there are some classic sightings:
    • Marian’s mother says when telling Marian not to be so fussy about her choice of men that she shouldn’t concentrate on ‘Balzac and Shakespeare and all them other high-falutin’ Greeks.’
    • Marian counters with her modest demands on a man: ‘And if occasionally he ponders what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great, him I could live ‘til I die…’
    • Professor Harold Hill sings of his hometown (well, probably not really, most of what he says is a lie) Gary, Indiana, that the name, ‘as Shakespeare would say, trips along the tongue this way.’
    • Tommy and Zaneeta are reading Romeo and Juliet while Professor Hill sings ‘Marian the Librarian.’
    • Professor Hill again: ‘A coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man…only five hundred.’
  • A report on the Hong Kong Book Fair on Kulturnytt showed a picture of Shakespeare.
  • In the sci-fi novel Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, as starvation threatens on the spaceship headed back to Earth, Freya tells the others stories to keep their spirits up, stories of survival like Shackleton and Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson and the computer narrating this part of the novel says, ‘… it was hope she was trying to fill them with. We happy few. Hope, yes, of course, there is hope…But hope needs food. Helpful as hopeful stories might be, you can’t eat stories.’
  • In the novel The Likeness by Tana French
    • Abby is asleep in the bath in her pyjamas ‘like some postmodern Ophelia.’
    • Daniel talks about old herb gardens and suggests they make a Shakespeare salad.
    • Trying to encourage her friends to indulge in a drunken binge Abby says to Lexie that though Daniel is drunk and analysing Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream he’s not yet drunk enough.
    • On the same drunken binge Rafe claims that Henry V ‘…was a raving psycho…All that heroic Shakespeare stuff was pure propaganda.’
    • Daniel continues to rant on this binge but claims he’s speaking in monologues: ‘If Hamlet can have them, why can’t I?’
    • Abby tells Lexie about the first time she met Rafe. He came into the lecture room, soaked from the rain, and she said, ‘Check it out, it’s King Lear.’
    • After the stabbing and Daniel won’t allow them to move the knife and they are all near hysterics and Rafe is twitching and looking as though the knife were hovering in mid-air, Rafe denies his twitchiness: ‘Oh, for God’s sake. Bloody Lady Macbeth - ’
  • Even more sightings in Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road/The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street:
    • To her friend Maxine in London Helene writes, ‘Write to me about London – the tube, the Inns of Court, Mayfair, the corner where the Globe stood…’ This was before the now-standing Globe existed.
    • Her friends Ginny and Ed send a postcard from Stratford: ‘Thought you’d like to see the house where your Sweet-William was born.’
    • Frank writes: ‘We are sending off by Book Post today the Johnson on Shakespeare…with introduction by Walter Raleigh.’
    • Helene writes to Frank: ‘…enough Chaucer-made-easy, it has the schoolroom smell of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare.’
    • Helene: ‘I wanted to see London the way old people want to see home before they die…this was natural in a writer and booklover born to the language of Shakespeare…’
    • When Helene finally gets to London a friend ‘drove me to the corner where the Globe Theatre stood. Nothing is there now, the lot is empty, I made him stop the car and I got out and stood on that empty lot and I thought the top of my head would come off…He took me to a pub called the George, and as he opened the door for me he said…’Shakespeare used to come here.’ I mean I went through a door Shakespeare once went through, and into a pub he knew…I leaned my head back, against a wall Shakespeare’s head once touched…’ And as she looks around at the people Helene sees Justice Shallow, Bottom the Weaver, a sharp-faced Bardolph and a laughing Mistress Quickly.
    • Tourist exhaustion prevents Helene from queuing for last minute tickets to Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream but she is later invited by a new friend who had tickets left over.
    • She describes reading Arthur Quiller-Couch who takes it for granted that all of his readers know all the Shakespeare plays.
    • Before going to Stratford-upon-Avon she finds herself surprising to be excited because ‘to me, Shakespeare was born in the Globe Theatre.’ 

Further since last time: 

Posted this month
  • ‘Book of Interest’. Peter Brook’s Quality of Mercy
  • This report


The Quality of Mercy by Peter Brook

The Quality of Mercy – reflections on Shakespeare by Peter Brook
Having recently seen for the second time Peter Brook’s wonderful production of Hamlet with Adrian Lester in the title role I became inspired to read this little book bought a few months ago.
             It is a modest collection of essays and all the more interesting for its modesty. In the first essay Brook calmly refutes the silly notion that someone else wrote Shakespeare by pointing out that these plays had to have been written by someone who spent every waking hour working in the theatre and, quite simply, none of the other candidates spent all that much time in the theatre at all. He concludes with the simple statement that the question is out of date.
            In another he describes his problems with producing a Romeo and Juliet with young actors, breaking with the tradition that only experienced older actors could handle the challenge, but how it all became stiff anyway because of sticking too faithfully to each scene and losing the flow of the whole.
            Titus, Lear, Prospero all make their appearances and Brook ends his book thus: ‘Shakespeare. Quality. Form. This is where our work begins. It can never end.’
            A most pleasant read.


Monday, July 4, 2016

July 2016

April was a Shakespeare month. June was for my alter ego, Rhuddem Gwelin, a Merlin month with a lecture on Merlin at Fantastika, the Stockholm sci-fi/fantasy congress. Connection to Shakespeare? Shakespeare was of course mentioned in the lecture. Earlier, I ran into a Shakespeare friend who is also a neighbour and he asked, ‘Is it possible to love both Shakespeare and sci-fi/fantasy?’ Well – yeah! He shouldn’t have had to ask, since he does. He was amazed to find another. I’m sure we number in the millions!
But now to the report on June.  As always, though, I will start with a reminder that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase and I appreciate all your support.

Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you.

or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • York was the site of a Roman camp and there was a bishop there in the 4th century. It was one of England’s biggest cities in the Middle Ages. In the War of the Roses its symbol was the white rose. 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the old series from the 70’s Rock Follies, Q, one of the members of the rock group, says, ‘This is not the civilised utopia of Shakespeare recordings, this is the world of rock music.’ Later their new manager Kitty says to Anna who wants to sing her own songs, ‘Shakespeare wrote Lady Macbeth but he didn’t play her.’
  • Dagens Nyheter
    • Has a translation of an article by Nicholas Kristof about reading girls conquering the world in which Virginia Wolff’s observation about Shakespeare’s sister is mentioned.
    • Has a review of Measure for Measure, now being performed at the Roma Theatre on Gotland, and calls it light, saucy and crisp, a sharp comedy about double morality.
    • Mentioned, on Midsummer’s Eve, the second biggest holiday in Sweden after Christmas Eve (possibly in competition with New Year’s Eve) Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in several contexts.
    • Made a point about Shakespeare’s take on Brexit by finding several quotes from the plays. Especially good was on Nigel Farage’s speech – ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’
  • In the film Cake the girl from Boise asks shrewish Claire: ‘Are you always such a fucking shrew?’ Claire snorts and says, ‘Someone took a Shakespeare class.’
  • At the sci-fi/fantasy convention Fantastika in Stockholm a couple of weeks ago Hal and I listened to a panel of authors talking about how they create characters and one said he recycles them: he is writing about Ophelia. At the closing ceremony the Tolkien Society Forodrim’s choir Gléowine sang ‘Double, double, toil and trouble’ from the Harry Potter film.
  • In the book This New Noise by Charlotte Higgins, about the history of the BBC which I just started reading this morning, the first general manager John Reith had the goal of developing the BBC to ‘show that mankind is a unity…for the good of all…[wireless] ignores the puny and often artificial barriers which have estranged men from their fellows. It will soon take continents in its stride…It will cast a girdle round the earth with bands that are all the stronger because invisible.’ Higgins points out that ‘Reith was drawing on Shakespeare: it was Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream who boasted that he could “put a girdle round the earth”. Reith cast himself as magician – more Prospero than Puck…’ 

Further since last time: 

Posted this month
  • This report


Monday, June 6, 2016

June 2016

Now that the 400th anniversary month is over things have been a little calmer but there is still a lot of Shakespeare out there.  Richard III has dominated this month for us but there have been other activities and sightings of interest. As always, though, I will start with a reminder that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase and I appreciate all your support.

Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you.

or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • The only entry under ‘X’ is Xantippe who was married to Socrates and reported to be a real shrew. She is only mentioned in The Taming of the Shrew and I suspect that her shrewishness was akin to Katharine’s – a survival strategy. 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel Lifeless by Mark Billingham the detectives are bemoaning the fact that the complete works of Shakespeare can be computerised on a keyring, but the various computer systems of the Scotland Yard aren’t compatible and cross references can’t be made.
  • In the old series from the 70’s Rock Follies, Anna, one of the members of the new rock group, once played Ophelia.
  • In the as yet untitled novel by my new friend JS, the main characters talk about Romeo and Juliet and several other Shakespeare plays. Poor Aislin is from a parallel universe so she doesn’t know so much about Shakespeare yet.
  • In The X Files, season 6, an author imagines all kinds of terrible things, for example the death of Scully, and says, ‘That’s what authors do, like Shakespeare.’ Later in Season 7, the smoking man says, in regard to something, I didn’t note down what, ‘When in disgrace in fortune and men’s eyes.’ Later he tells Mulder, ‘You’re not Prince Hamlet.’
  • In the film Stardust Robert DeNiro plays Captain Shakespeare.
  • In the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, which supposedly the film Philomena is based on, though Philomena herself is scarcely mentioned, Shakespeare makes a couple of appearances: Mike and Charlotte were studying Romeo and Juliet in high school and later Mike’s boyfriend talked about a production of Hamlet he had seen.
  • In the novel South Riding by Winifred Holtby
    • Lydia Holly, the girl from the shacks, has her love for reading awakened when she is given the complete works of Shakespeare and later discovers when studying Shakespeare in school that it ‘had not been a lie, then, that ecstasy which visited her when she read A Midsummer Night’s Dream on top of the railway coach last summer. It had meant something. She had understood something. She was drunk with an intoxicating wine of gladness.’
    • Unfortunately, her classmates do not agree, showing a ‘lamentable lack of enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s descriptive powers’.
    • Poor socialist Astell is offended by Shakespeare’s humorous depiction of the working class.
    • And quotes are peppered throughout.
  • Dagens Nyheter
    • Reports on a new play called Gertrude’s Hen Party, a feminist spin off of Hamlet starring the great Finnish Swedish singer Arja Saijonmaa.
    • Writes that there has been much ado about the birthday boy and gives a list of some of the ways in which the 400th anniversary has been commemorated.
    • Has a long article about how little we know about Shakespeare’s own opinions and claims that today’s fixation with theoretical theatre is putting a stop to the art of acting. Hmmm.
  • In the film Arthur the butler John Gielgud is dying. Arthur asks, ‘Do you want me to read some Shakespeare? Hamlet was in trouble when we left off.’ The butler says, ‘No.’ It must have hurt the great Shakespearean actor to say that!
  • In the film The Kid there is a poster for Julius Caesar on the classroom wall and the teacher is trying to get the kids interested in King Lear.
  • In the book The House on the Thames by Gillian Tindall, which goes through the history of that wonderful narrow house near the Globe that we have walked by so many times, and so far Shakespeare has been mentioned four times:
    • We like to think that there was a tavern there which Shakespeare would have visited.
    • Sir John Fastolf, upon whom Falstaff is said to be based, bought the house in the early 15th century.
    • Because of Shakespeare’s connection to the area, Bankside’s theatrical history has loomed larger than it really should have because both the theatres and Shakespeare himself were there for such a short time.
    • In spite of diligent research, it has not yet been proven that Shakespeare ever lived in the area. 

Further since last time:

Posted this month
  • ‘The Method Actor’ in Richard III 
  • This report

The Method Actor in Richard III

The Method Actor
Richard III

     ‘Since I cannot prove a lover,’ Richard says in the classic opening soliloquy, ‘I am determined to prove a villain.’ This after having described himself as ‘rudely stamped’, curtailed of this fair proportion’, ‘cheated of feature’, so deformed ‘that dogs bark’ at him – in other words ugly and unlovable.
     He pulls at our heartstrings immediately. How can we not pity this wretched man? We are drawn into his mind at once and there we stay. We are Richard as he convinces Clarence of his brotherly love even as he plots Clarence’s murder. Clarence believes him, we believe him though we know better. Because Richard is the ultimate method actor.
     From Clarence to Anne. Richard has just told us that although he has killed her husband and father he will marry her, and although she hates him, naturally, and calls him, ‘thou lump of foul deformity,’ she marries him. How is it possible? Because in this, her time of grief and utter vulnerability, Richard tells her that it was her beauty and his love for her that caused him to commit murder. He begs her to kill him if she will not have him.  When he ends by saying about Henry VI whom he has also murdered, ‘this noble king, I will wet his grave with my repentant tears’ (Act 1.2) she is on her way to succumbing. Because as the method actor that he is, not only does Anne believe him, he at the moment believes it himself.
     He continues to act the part of loving brother, friend, uncle. And people believe him.
     But not his mother, the Duchess of York.  A formidable woman. Again, we must pity the man, and we begin to see where his ‘I cannot be loved so I will be a villain’ persona comes from. In Act 2.2 he asks his mother for her blessing and grudgingly she says:

God bless thee, and put meekness in thy breast,
Love, charity, obedience and true duty. (Act 2.2)

     Hardly a loving personal blessing and Richard feels the sting of its meaning. Says he to Buckingham:

…And make me die a good old man.
That is the butt-end of a mother’s blessing;
I marvel that her grace did leave it out. (Act 2.2)

     He does not fool his mum but the mayor and citizens fall for his humility. When they have been urged by Buckingham and Catesby to appeal to Richard to become king Richard says:

Alas, why would you heap this care on me?
I am unfit for state and majesty.
I do beseech you, take it not amiss:
I cannot nor I will not yield to you.
…Will you enforce me to a world of cares? (Act 3.7)

     This time with prayer book in hand Richard plays the part of pious recluse, believing it himself just long enough for them to accept him as king. That’s long enough for his purposes.
     And maybe he knew that what he had murdered to achieve really was a ‘world of cares’ because once he is king things start falling apart. His continued viciousness doesn’t stop the process and when the ensuing war is about to break out, his mother the Duchess of York confronts him and this time there is no blessing, grudging or otherwise. She tells him she wishes she had strangled him in her ‘accursèd womb’ and goes on:

Thou toad, thou toad…
Thou cam’st on earth to make the earth my hell…
What comfortable hour canst thou name,
That ever graced me with thy company?
…take with thee my most grievous curse,
Which in the day of battle tire thee more
Than all the complete armour that thou wear’st!
…Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end:
Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend. (Act 4.4)

     A death curse from his own mother. Even the best method actor cannot pretend that this doesn’t hurt but Richard turns immediately to his sister-in-law, Elizabeth, Edward’s widow, and offers his hand in marriage to her daughter, also Elizabeth. He’s just had her two sons murdered so even less than Anne could Queen Elizabeth possibly agree to this preposterous proposal.
     The method actor takes over once again. In a long exchange he wears her down. Or seems to.  ‘Shall I be tempted of the devil thus?’ Elizabeth asks then says:

…Write to me very shortly,
And you shall understand from me her mind. (Act 4.4)

     Richard believes he has convinced her: ‘Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!’ (Act 4.4) What he doesn’t know is that Elizabeth consents to the marriage between her daughter and Richard’s mortal enemy Richmond, soon-to-be Henry VII.
     There remains only one role for Richard to play. He realises this when he awakens from his dream in which his victims one after the other have come to him with the damning words, ‘Despair and die!’
     That role is the role of the tragic villain.

I am a villain…
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain…
I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die, no soul shall pity me.
Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself? (Act 5.3)

     Richard, the method actor, finally converges with Richard, the man who was not loved so he made himself the man who was hated and feared. Richard the villain.
     And so he dies. King Richard, the crown achieved through method acting that fooled almost everyone. Himself included.
     But not for long. Acting, even the best method acting, is after all just acting.
     The great playwright knew that. And gave us Richard III.

Works cited:
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen

 Films seen this time:

 Seen on stage: Not since seeing the brilliant Jonas Karlsson at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in March, 2014.  See further in Shakespeare Calling – the  book