Monday, August 6, 2018

August 2018

London, Wales, Bournemouth, London again.  That’s been our July. With loads of Shakespeare. Just look at the report below.

But first, as always, I will 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.

Available for those of you in Great Britain and Europe on this site:

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Often in the afternoon, exhausted from being travellers in the UK, Hal and I would return to our hotel and watch ‘Tenable’, ‘Tipping Point’ and ‘The Chase’ (sadly ‘Pointless’ is no longer shown in the afternoons). From these quiz shows came many sightings:
    • ‘The Chase’: Who said, ‘Who’d have thought the old man had so much blood in him?’ The contestant answered Hamlet.
    • ‘Tipping Point’: ‘From which Shakespeare play is the quote ‘All the world’s a stage’? The contestant got it right.
    • ‘The Chase’: ‘Which Shakespeare comedy has the character Falstaff?’ The contestant got it right, The Merry Wives of Windsor. The answer couldn’t be in Henry plays because they’re history plays, not comedies. Clever contestant. Although maybe Wives is more well-known?
    • ‘Tipping Point’: ‘Who wrote the play with the characters Leontes and Hermione?’ Contestant: ‘Chaucer.’ Boo hiss.
    • ‘Tipping Point’: ‘Which of these films were based on a novel?’ One of the alternatives was West Side Story, which the contestant knew was based on Romeo and Juliet.
    • ‘The Chase’: ‘In which play does Orsino love Olivia?’ The contestant got it right.
    • ‘The Chase’: ‘Which play is set the earliest, Henry V, King John, Richard III?’ The contestant got it right.
  • In the excellent The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey
    • Kat Foss notes that they are ‘maybe five miles from where Birnam Wood made its unexpected visit to Dunsinane castle in the play Macbeth, but there was no danger of that here.’
    • Later Samrina Khan notes that the droop of her commanding officer’s mouth is like ‘a line from the play Macbeth. I have supped full with horrors,’ and thinks, ‘But who hasn’t, these days?’
  • In The Devil You Know, by the same author under a different name, Mike Carey, the narrator Felix Castor tosses in Shakespeare quotes and references from time to time:
    • When forced into an exorcising job he doesn’t want: ‘Some men have greatness thrust upon them.’
    • When the rather scary boss becomes too familiar with him by using his first name, Felix decides that ‘the better part of valour is to let it pass.’
    • After an obscure reference that neither I nor the man he was talking to got, he reflects, ‘What’s the point of an Oxford education if nobody gets your Shakespearean references?’
    • When the ghost he is trying to exorcise becomes a bit violent Felix reflects, ‘Discretion is the better part of staying alive.’
    • When his employer, who in fact has fired him, sees him later she stared at him ‘with an expression like the one Banquo’s ghost must have used on Macbeth.’
    • I like this Felix Castor. I’ll be reading more of him!
  • In the novel Unexploded by Alison Macleod, the main character Evelyn had read Tales of Shakespeare as a child in England in the 1920s.
  • In the YA fantasy novel Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren, the main character Freddy knows all about Shakespeare because her mother is an English professor and only half-listens when her teacher says they will be working with A Midsummer Night’s Dream this term.

Further since last time:
  • Bought at Oxfam in Cardiff because of the title, read and left on the beach in Bournemouth: Bad Romeo by Leisa Rayven, about two young actors playing Romeo and Juliet and having a wild passionate love affair. If it wasn’t the worst book I ever read, it was one of them. There must be a cosmic law against abusing Shakespeare in this way?
  • Bought at the Globe shop:
    • Hamlet and As You Like It T-shirts
    • Hamlet and As You Like It notebooks
    • A Globe bag
    • Globe pencil boxes with coloured pencils
    • Pens
    • The book The Orient Isle by Jerry Brotton, important in my alter ego’s research for An Isle Full of Noises – the Merlin chronicles volume 3, dealing with the vast Islam influence on the Elizabethan era, including Shakespeare and his plays. I’ve read several chapters. It’s fascinating!  
  • Saw, at the Globe, with friends EG and EG, Hamlet.
    • Hamlet!!! It’s the first time Hal and I have seen it on stage. It was EG and EG’s first visit to the Globe. It should have been brilliant and in some ways, it was. We all love Hamlet, we all love the Globe. It was a brilliant experience to see this play in this place with our dearest Shakespeare friends. But…
    • Some things were good. Richard Katz was one of the best Poloniuses I’ve seen. Helen Schlesinger was appropriately angry in the beginning of the bedroom scene. The musicians were, as always, very good. The miming player queen (Tanika Yearwood, good in all her small parts) opens her mouth wide to scream her grief over the death of the king and the horns blast out – the only moment in the production to give me a little ripple of emotion. Shubham Saraf, as Ophelia, does well in his/her first mad scene. The ending dance, somber and monochromatic, was good. The audience was enthusiastic. But…
    • Some of the most important monologues were given so far back on stage that the pillars blocked our view. Though I liked the gender-bending concept, this production did nothing exciting with it. There was no chemistry between Michelle Terry’s Hamlet and Shubham Saraf’s Ophelia. Some of the most important lines, e.g. ‘There are more things…’, ‘I have of late…’ and ‘I loved Ophelia’, are muffled or tossed off as though of no significance. The ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy was so low-key that I actually dozed off and Ophelia’s following monologue made no emotional impression. The production as a whole made little emotional impression. There were good moments but sadly, the four of us were in agreement that this production does not do justice to the play’s genius.
    • We have seen film versions with David Tennant, Kenneth Branagh, Adrian Lester, Penny Downy, Julie Christie and so many other great actors that our expectations were probably unreasonably high. In any case, we were all very happy to have been there and would be very happy to see it again, despite its weaknesses.
  • Saw the film:
    • Cymbeline BBC version
    • Cymbeline RSC version
    • Cymbeline Almereyda version
  • Wrote text on Cymbeline
  • The insult for today, 6 August 2018: ‘You sunburnt sicklemen, of August weary, come hither from the furrow and be merry.’ The Tempest. More an invitation than an insult, don’t you think?

Posted this month
  • ‘Cymbeline x 3’
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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Cymbeline x 3

x 3

     In ‘You might well ask’, my first text about Cymbeline (pages 616-621 in Shakespeare calling – the book) I dealt with the historical aspect of the Roman-English political conflict, which was a good choice. With this second reading I find that the play has much more to offer. On the surface it has many of Shakespeare’s oft-used themes: resourceful young woman who dresses in men’s clothing to chase down the weak young man she’s in love with, cruel father, evil queen, false accusations of infidelity, nobility in commoner disguise.  Always good for studies of character and society.
     Since reading this play last, we have added two film versions of it to our collection. We have previously seen the excellent BBC version. In this analysis I will simply compare the three films, all of whom make good use of these themes.
     But first a summary of the play.
     Innogen, the daughter of King Cymbeline, has married his foster son Posthumous. The king is enraged and banishes him. In exile he meets Giacomo who wagers with him that Innogen is not faithful. Giacomo goes to England, fails to make Innogen believe that Posthumous has been unfaithful to her, but succeeds in spying on her and falsifying evidence showing that she has been unfaithful to Posthumous with him. When told this, Posthumous rages that he will kill her. Meanwhile, Cymbeline’s two sons who had been kidnapped as infants have been raised as hunters in the wilderness. Cymbeline’s evil queen’s son is in love with Innogen and vows to get revenge on her for loving Posthumous instead. Furthermore, the Romans demand tribute from England. Cymbeline refuses. It’s all quite complex, in other words. However, it is not a tragedy so after many twists and turns it ends happily.
     So, to the movies.
     First out, the one we’ve already seen, the BBC version from 1982, directed by Elijah Moshinksy, with Helen Mirren, Robert Lindsay, Claire Bloom, Paul Jesson and Michael Pennington. The encounters between Innogen (Mirren) and Giacomo (Lindsay) are among the most enthralling I’ve ever seen, visually strong, disturbing and emotionally intense. Pennington’s portrayal of Posthumous’s neurotic obsession with Innogen’s supposed infidelity is strongly done.  This play has more depth and complexity of character than the silliness of the story would suggest and the cast, with Mirren as its leading beacon, does more than justice to Shakespeare’s fascinating study of the individuals in class, gender and political conflicts of Roman Britain. This is one of the BBC box’s best; one of the best productions, full stop.
     Next, the RSC version from 2016, directed by Melly Still, with Bethan Cullinane, Oliver Johnstone, James Clyde, Marcus Griffiths and Hiran Abeysekera. There is some gender-bending which works well enough. The costumes are a motley mess of bizarre semi-modern clothing, the scenery surreal, the music eerie and at times funky. The tone is often that of a hammy farce, bringing occasional titters from the audience. The non-British characters speak Italian, French and Latin, which also works. For those not familiar with the play there are screens with the text. We had subtitles. The surreal absurdity distracts from rather than enhances the play. I find the visual and musical theatricality – at the same time both minimalistic and elaborate – appealing but it doesn’t reach much emotional height. It is interesting to watch but has almost none of the depth of feeling of the BBC version and makes much less impact, though it lifts at the dramatic end.
     Finally, the 2014 version, directed by Michael Almereyda, with Dakota Johnson, Ethan Hawke, Milla Jovovich, Anton Yelchin, Penn Badgley, and Ed Harris. This modern-day version generally got terrible reviews and indeed it is confusing. Cymbeline is the King of the Briton Motorcycle gang which is at war with a crooked cop gang. Otherwise the story is the same and the lines are Shakespeare. There are cars, bicycles, cigarettes, T-shirts, jeans, hoodies, black leather jackets, guns and more guns, mobile phones/cameras, American teenagers, skateboards, Google and President Obama on TV. It’s all curiously remote. Many of the monologues are done as voice-overs and much of the dialogue is choppy and low-key, relaxed, spoken with a shrug.  In its own peculiar way, it’s faithful to Shakespeare’s play. And in its own peculiar way, it works. It’s one of the most interesting modernisation spin-offs of Shakespeare I’ve seen.
     That’s the three of them. A comparison? Almost impossible. They are so different that they might not be the same play. Except that they are. For a straightforward serious production, the BBC version can’t be beat for the acting and powerful emotional impact. For a sort of modern version with interesting innovations that don’t always seem relevant, the RSC version has its merits and should be seen. For the weird smack-in-you-face-today’s-reality version, don’t miss Almereyda.
     In fact, don’t miss any of them. And really, don’t miss this play. It may be obscure, it may be long and rambling, but it grows more powerful and complex with each reading.
     After all, it is Shakespeare.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

July 2018

June has been chaotic what with houseguests and Sci-fi/fantasy conventions, and other distractions so this won’t be much of a report. All the more for next time, if everything goes according to plans.

As always, I will 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.

Available for those of you in Great Britain and Europe on this site:

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts
    • she uses Shakespeare quotes to open a couple of the parts: ‘Soon kindled and soon burnt’ and ‘A little fire is quickly trodden out /Which, being suffered, rivers cannot quench.’
    • Rowan, as she leads her firefighters into the battle, is told by one of her crew that it is not exactly Saint Crispin’s day. She asks him, ‘Where are you out of, Shakespeare? I’ve read Henry the Fifth.
    • All this does a little to raise a rather bad book to an almost entertaining one.
  • In the very interesting Red Planets – Marxism and science fiction, edited by Mark Bould and China Miéville, Shakespeare is mentioned three times:
    • ‘The typical lifeworld of SF is (to adapt to Shakespeare’s well-known phrase from the play that marks his own nearest approach to SF) a brave new world.
    • The film Alphaville is described as a ‘hilariously self-conscious triumph of pastiche’ which is based on everything including ‘loftier sources such as …Shakespeare.’
    • ‘…SF texts have rifled through the western cultural legacy in search of inspiration: Forbidden Planet (Wilcox, 1956) famously rewrote The Tempest with Robby the Robot in the role of Ariel. But SF readers, writer and critics do not claim Shakespeare for their own in anything like the way Gernsback claimed Poe, Verne and Wells…Borrowings from Shakespeare…can be important and interesting; but they are borrowings from outside the selective tradition of SF, nevertheless.’

Further since last time:

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

June 2018

June 2018
Again, this has been a quiet month for Shakespeare. Almost no sightings. But there are some things to report so I’ll get to it.

As always, I will 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.

Available for those of you in Great Britain and Europe on this site:

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Shakespeare is mentioned many times in Keith Thomas’s The ends of life. Here are some of the best so far:
    • In the discussion of the emergence of individuality in Shakespeare’s time Coriolanus is quoted: ‘Would you have me false to my nature? Rather say I play the man I am.’ From the same play the quote, ‘It is held that valour is the chiefest virtue and most dignifies the haver,’ to open the chapter ‘Military Prowess.’ Further on the author writes that the play, ‘represented the bloody self-assertiveness of the vainglorious warrior as a dangerous and antisocial anachronism.’
    • In discussing pride in one’s work old Corin is quoted, ‘Sir, I am a true labourer…’ and Professor Thomas continues that many people in the lower classes in Shakespeare’s England took pride in their work. As well they should.
    • In the entire chapter on ‘Honour and Reputation’ Falstaff is mentioned but once, without even a reference to his brilliant monolog on honour. For shame, Professor Thomas!
    •  In the chapter about friendship Hamlet’s friendship with Horatio is mentioned, but there could have been many more examples. Further on Professor Thomas explains that the declarations of love between friends, both male and female, in Shakespeare are not to be interpreted as expressions of homosexuality but simply the way intense feelings of friendship were viewed at the time. 

Further since last time:
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Sunday, May 6, 2018

May 2018

There has been a lot of other things happening this month so this Shakespeare report will be quite short.

As always, I will 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.

Available for those of you in Great Britain and Europe on this site:

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Stephen King’s The Gunslinger the man in black says to the gunslinger, ‘Sleep now...Perchance to dream and that sort of thing.’
  • In David Almond’s My Name Is Mina, the girl Mina, about ten years old, protests against the SATS writing test: ‘And what about Shakespeare? “Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” What level’s that? Would Shakespeare have been well above average?’
  • On TV’s Kulturnytt we were informed that Shakespeare in Love is being performed as a play this autumn at Stockholm’s Stadsteater.
  • DagensNyheter
    • in one of its many reports on the scandal within the Swedish Academy (very embarrassing for Sweden!) the whole thing is described as ‘a power struggle that beats any Shakespeare drama.’
    • has a review of a Richard III in which it is described as a ‘bloody bubble bath’.
  • Shakespeare is mentioned many times in Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic. Here some of the best:
    • On the subject of astrology it is mentioned that Edmund the Bastard in King Lear is sceptical: ‘This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune...we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars; as if we were...fools by heavenly compulsion...’
    • On almanacs: ‘...the porter in Macbeth had presumably been studying the latest prognostications...’
    • Henry IV, Part 1 is quoted: ‘...of the dreamer Merlin and his propehecies...’
    • On curses: ‘In Shakespeare’s plays, the curses pronounced by the characters invariably work.’
    • As a chapter heading: ‘They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless.’ Al’s Well that Ends Well
    • On purgatory and ghosts, which could not be the souls of dead men, ‘for those had gone to “The undiscover’d country from whose bourne/ No traveller returns”.’ After which the role of Hamlet’s father is discussed. Later it is mentioned that sometimes only the guilty party saw the ghost, for example Banquo.
    • The chapter ‘Decline of Magic’ is headed by ‘Now my charms are all o’erthrown,/ And what strength I have’s mine own,/ Which is most faint’, from The Tempest.
    • There may be more quotes in the last 25 pages which I haven’t read yet.
  • In The King’s Speech
    • Lionel Logue, the speech therapist played brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush, is an amateur actor trying to get a part by auditioning with ‘This is the winter of our discontent’ from Richard III
    • He has the Duke/King George VI (Colin Firth) lose his stammer by quoting ‘To be or not to be’ to music
    • Plays Shakespeare quote games with his sons.

Further since last time:

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

April 2018

Even Shakespeare addicts like me are susceptible to computer problems and this past week has been frustrating to say this least. This is being written on an old computer and posted with the help of Hal’s internet.  Fortune shines on me!

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.

FINALLY easily available for those of you in Great Britain and Europe on this site:

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the Swedish dystopia Enda vägen (The only way) by Anna Jakobsson Lund, the setting is vaguely England in a future after the wars. A meeting is set up between two rebels in a round white building from which the stucco is falling and in which, one of them informs the other, the greatest plays of the kingdom were performed eight hundred years ago.
  • In the film St Trinian 2 the headmistress says, approximately, ‘Some women are born great – Cleopatra, the queen, me – some become great – Mother Theresa, Lady Gaga – others have greatness thrust upon them, like Monica Lewinsky…’ Then: ‘We few, we happy few, we happy band of sisters’…the whole St Trinian, oops Crispin speech has girls in tears and cheers. And then the treasure is in the Globe where the film ends…
  • In another dystopia, Wool, by Hugh Howey, the survivors live in underground silos. The main character Juliette is named after a character in an ancient play that her parents loved. A manual for running the place is written on the back of the manuscript to the play.
  • Keith Thomas, in his fascinating Religion and the Decline of Magic, has mentioned Shakespeare several times in the first half:
    • Pondering upon the backwardness of Tudor and Stuart England he writes: ‘Not every under-developed society has had its Shakespeare [and] Milton…’
    • Many students took magic seriously and studied it. Thomas writes: ‘Small wonder that for the populace learning still meant magic: “Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio”.’
    • In explaining dreams and divination Thomas points out that we believe the ones we want to believe in: ‘The utterances of the three weird sisters were treated with suspicion by Banquo.  But they struck an answering chord in the heart of Macbeth.’

Further since last time:
  • Read aloud with Hal, EG and EG in preparation for seeing the performance at the Globe in July: Hamlet.
  • Read: Nutshell by Ian McEwan. Now that is Hamlet with a twist!
  • The insult for today, 2 April  2018, in our calendar of Shakespeare insults, a gift from JS, is ‘Were’t not for laughing, I should pity him.’ Henry IV, Part 1. Rather mild for being a Shakespeare insult.

 Posted this month
  • ‘Rebel girl in Romeo and Juliet’ 
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Rebel Girl in Romeo and Juliet

Rebel Girl
Romeo and Juliet

      She’s thirteen years old with hypocritical, manipulative parents, a nurse who dotes but also has a mean streak, and a society that cheerfully imprisons girls her age in marriage.
      Juliet has everything against her. But is she a pushover? Indeed she is not.
      Almost the first thing we hear her say is in answer in Act 1.3 to her mother’s question – though the answer is supposed to be given – ‘How stands your disposition to be married?’ Juliet says: ‘It is an honour I dream not of.’ Not terribly radical, you might say. No, not at all. But not the enthusiasm her mother no doubt expected and when she asks Julia if she can ‘like of Paris’ love?’ Juliet gives such a garbled answer that one could interpret it as, ‘Not really.’ And this before she has met Romeo and knows what love feels like.
       She then has no hesitation in falling for Romeo but even then in the first throes of romance she protests its suddenness and Romeo’s passion, as well as her own. In Act 2.1 she rejects his vow – ‘O, swear not by the moon’ -  and has joy of this contract tonight:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning...

       As they are about to part Romeo, wanting more, demands, ‘O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?’
       Juliet retorts, ‘What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?’
       Still, she is quick enough to demand marriage and while waiting impatiently in Act 2.4 for the nurse to return from meeting with Romeo she is far from docile. She complains about how slow the nurse is:

...old folks, many feign as they were dead,
Unwieldy, slow, heavy and pale as lead.

       When the nurse finally comes and demands patience because she is out of breath, Juliet says tartly and logically,

How art thou out of breath, when thou hast breath
To say to me that thou art out of breath?

       Well, the marriage happens and in that Juliet is as rebellious as she could probably imagine. How they were planning on dealing with breaking that news to the feuding parents we will never know. Double manslaughter and banishment get in the way.
       Fast forward to the scene where she is informed that she is to marry Paris on Thursday. Juliet rebels:

‘He shall not make me there a joyful bride.
...I will not marry yet, and, when I do, I swear
It shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate,
Rather than Paris (Act 3.5).

       Clever, devious girl!
       When the nurse tells her it’s just as well she marries Paris after all for all kinds of reasons, Juliet’s rebellion is upped a notch. Her beloved nurse has betrayed her:

Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend!
Is it more sin to wish me thus forsworn,
Or to dispraise my lord with that same tongue
Which she hath praised him with above compare
So many thousand times? Go, counsellor,
Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain.
I’ll to the friar, to know his remedy;
If all else fail, myself have power to die (Act 4.1)

       Juliet sees through the betrayal and hypocrisy and cuts right to the core of the matter.
       Her skilful wordplay as she spars with Paris about the supposed coming marriage shows that she’s still in control but later, alone with the friar’s remedy, panic sets in. Her monologue in Act 4.3 before taking the potion is the strongest of the play and sadly it is cut from many productions, even the best.
       She is afraid: ‘I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins...’
       She is alone: ‘My dismal scene I needs must act alone.
       She is doubtful: ‘What if this mixture do not work at all? / Shall I be married then tomorrow morning?’
       She is suspicious: ‘What if it be a poison, which the friar / Subtly hath ministered to have me dead / Lest in this marriage he should be dishonoured?
       She is terrified of waking too early in the tomb, a vault filled with death and horror, stifled, foul, many hundred years of bones, blood, Tybalt festering, loathsome smells, shrieks:

O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environèd with all these hideous fears?
And madly play with my forefather’s joints?
And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud?
And in this rage, with some great kinsman’s bone,
As with a club, dash out my desp’rate brain?

       Oh, poor, poor Juliet! Poor terrified abandoned girl! She could so easily have given in to her parents’ demands, to Paris’ wooing, and escaped these dreadful horrors!
       But not Juliet, brave rebellious Juliet.
       She swallows the potion.
       The more I see and read this play the more I admire it. The more I admire Juliet. This thirteen-year-old girl, sheltered and pampered and imprisoned, defies everything her oppressive society throws at her.
       She dies, yes, but she goes out in rebellious glory, even defying the church’s condemnation of suicide, and thereby changes the course of Verona’s fictional history.
       And, if we would but see it, lives on in our hearts and minds, as a Rebel Girl. 

Films seen this time: