Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday December 24 2012 and YearThat Was

A “This Was the Year That Was” report should rightfully come on New Year’s Eve but Hal and I will be spending New Year’s in the wilds of northern Sweden, more exactly outside the village of Drängsmark – find that on your map if you can!  It’s about 200 kilometers from the Arctic Circle.  Latest report: snow and 20 below (centigrade).  Our friend, MR, assures us haughtily that of course they have internet up there so theoretically I could do a Monday report and End of Year Report next week but…even Shakespeare has to take a day off now and then.  So this report will include the chronicle. And in fact I won’t be back on the blog until January 14 because I have to work on Monday, January 7. So here you have the last posting of 2012:

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • Nothing this week.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • From an old issue of the Swedish weekly Flamman (I go through the piles of magazines and newspapers on the kitchen table once in awhile) a quiz (guessing the answer from clues worth five points, four points etc): 5 points – This legend was born in 1890 in Torquay, Devon and died in 1976 in Oxfordshire. Some of her works were written under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. 4 points – Next after William Shakespeare the world’s best-selling author…If you want to know the rest (if you haven’t guessed already) let me know.  I didn’t actually know that Shakespeare is the best-selling author, is that true??
  • In Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought there is a 3-page discussion on how to define our concept of the name “William Shakespeare” and the conclusion is, ”So what exactly  does William Shakespeare mean if not ‘great writer, author of Hamlet, “ and so on?” What indeed?
  • Nick Hornby continues to refer to Shakespeare in Songbook
    • As a teenager NH preferred American quiz shows to the English heritage represented by Stratford etc.
    • In arguing that it’s OK for pop songs to use the same themes over and over again NH points out that Shakespeare recycled old (and not so old) stories.
    • “What a piece of work is…” a boxed set. How can so few works evoke an entire play?
  • In the third Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel by Laurie R. King, A Letter of Mary, there are several sightings, the best of which are:
    • “Shakespeare must have been an insomniac. He has an overly affectionate fixation on sleep that borders on obsession. It can only have stemmed from privation.” I have made the same observation myself, also an insomniac…
    • An all-woman troupe that specialized in rude productions of Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare is mentioned.  Hmm, sounds interesting, this might have been listed in my reflections on “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?”
    • “The poet’s pen…gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name.”  Quoted as a chapter heading of Part Five.  Any guesses? I don’t have a clue, a sonnet probably but I haven’t checked it out yet.
  • In the Swedish novel Eld (Fire), the second in a trilogy by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren, the high school students continue to study Romeo and Juliet in English.
  • Shakespeare in Love was shown on Swedish TV this weekend but we didn’t watch it. We have it, we’ve seen it a few times, and we’ll watch it again probably after our second marathon.
 Further, since the last report:
  • Finished: Bloom’s chapter on Twelfth Night.
  • Watched: Branagh’s production of same.
  • Wrote: rough draft of text on same.
 And now to The Shakespeare Calling Year That Was 2012:
·         Plays read and analyzed in 2012
o   Richard II - “Richard and Henry Do History”
o   The Life and Death of King John -  “Caught in the Middle, Lady Blanche”
o   The Merchant of Venice -  “Us and Them”
o   Henry IV Part One – “Language, Lies and Truth”
o   The Merry Wives of Windsor – “Wise Wives and Laundry Baskets”
o   Henry IV Part Two – “Hal and His Pal”
o   Much Ado About Nothing – “Is This Love?”
o   Henry V – “When Hoodlums Become Kings”
o   The Tragedy of Julius Caesar – “He Reads Much”
o   As You Like It – “Celia”
o   Twelfth Night” – “And the Winner Is…” (written but not yet posted)
·         Books Reviewed in 2012
o   Shakespeare – The World As a Stage by Bill Bryson
o   Shakespeare's Philosophy – Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays by Colin McGinn.
o   Will in the World – How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.
o   Shakespeare and Music – Afterlives and Borrowings by Julie Sanders
o   Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer
o   Shakespeare Our Contemporary by Jan Kott
o   Marxist Shakespeares edited by Jean E. Howard et al
o   Shakespeare in the Movies from the Silent Era to Today by Douglas Brode
·         Shakespeare Calling followers – now 12.
·         Shakespeare Calling – blog visit statistics
o   Total so far: 4,823
o   Top ten countries: Sweden, the US, Germany, the UK, Russia, the Netherlands, Australia, France, Canada, Bulgaria
o   Others of interest: Egypt, Burma, Venezuela, Iraq, South Africa, Latvia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Greece, Kenya…and many more. I’m sorry if I didn’t mention your country!
·         Shakespeare Calling – three most visited postings
o    A Midsummer Night’s Dream  - “Love Is Strange”
o   Romeo and Juliet “Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty (or Twenty-Eight)
o   Henry IV Part Two – “Hal and His Pal”

So that was the week and the year that was. Thank you all for an exciting year of Shakespeare Calling.  I wish you all the best in 2013. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday December 17 2012

Now I remember why I went back up to full time last December. Yesterday I spent several hours reading and grading tests and other teachery things which means today I have to do things that need to be done on weekends, like going to town to buy a winter coat. We’re going up north for New Year’s and my cheapskate coat won’t be enough. So this Monday report will be all for this time.

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • On December 16, 1977, Nelson Mandela, still in prison on Robben Island, signed his name in a copy of Shakespeare’s plays (smuggled into the prison) by the following lines from Julius Caesar, Act Two, Scene two.
Cowards die many times before their deaths
The valiant only taste their death but once.
Of all the wonders that I have yet heard,
It seems me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

The great Nelson Mandela is still will us.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • More from Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy: Hamlet’s ghost, Macbeth’s witches, Lear, Malvolio and Iago all make their appearance then wander on.
  • In the novel  Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult, seventeen-year-old Cara is reminded of the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet when she visits a spaced out New Age lawyer who has lots of herbs and things on her shelves.
  • Nick Hornby, who writes such lovely books, has written about songs that mean a lot to him. It’s called Songbook and he refers to Shakespeare…
    • “you may as well shuffle off this mortal coil now…”
    • “Emma Kay…has done a series of artworks that consist entirely of her (verbal) memories of Shakespeare plays…” Oh I’d like to hear that! Couldn’t find her on You Tube though.
    • Hornby made a list of things he remembers about Bob Dylan and adds:”I will not attempt a similar list pertaining to the life of William Shakespeare, because it would be far too shaming, but suffice it to say that it would not extend much beyond Stratford-Upon-Avon, Anne Hathaway and her cottage, the Globe and the Dark Lady.”

Further, since the last report:
  • Read the Norton intro to Twelfth Night, and started Bloom’s chapter on it.
  • Watched Trevor Nunn’s production of same.

·         Just this.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday December 10 2012

I wonder if Shakespeare would have been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature had it existed in his time.  The Swedish Academy has certainly made some good choices, but they have made at least as many incomprehensible choices.  Anyway, today the prize will be handed out here in Stockholm and Shakespeare didn’t get it this time either.

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • All’s Well That Ends Well was performed at the home of the Earl of Pembroke for the new King James in the beginning of December 1603, but the exact date is unknown.
  • The first woman known to have performed on stage in a Shakespeare play did so on December 8, 1660.  Her name is not given but she played Desdemona.
 Shakespeare sightings:
  • Is it a Shakespeare sighting when a colleague who is also an English teacher and knows of my addiction to Shakespeare says, “There’s the rub” in discussing a student’s grade?  If so, here it is. If not, here it is anyway.
  • One of the students had started his/her essay in the National Test on the subject of making decisions with the words “To be or not to be”. The essay didn’t quite live up to its glorious start but it was good anyway.
  • In Episode 2 of Season Two of Mad Men somebody reported somebody dressing up in women’s clothes.  The reply: “That’s how Shakespeare did it.”
  • In Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, Shakespeare is quoted, mentioned and obscurely referred to.  Here are some examples:
    • “The sheriff, with a monstrous watch, is at the door”. Spoken by Bardolph in Henry IV, Part One. Used at the beginning of the chapter in which Mr. Frank, the hero, is about to be arrested for robbery.
    • The heroine, Diana Vernon, takes umbrage to how Shakespeare refers to her ancestor Sir Richard Vernon: “sorely slandered by a sad fellow called Will Shakespeare…”
    • After getting drunk and making a fool of himself (and comparing himself to Cassio in Othello) Frank excuses himself to Miss Vernon with, “We have Shakespeare’s authority for saying that good wine is a good familiar creature, and that any man living may be overtaken at some time” To which she tartly points out that Shakespeare’s greatest villain Iago spoke these words, so they aren’t much good as an excuse.
    • Frank falls in love with Miss Vernon and compares himself to Benedick, brushing his hat in the morning.  Any guesses on the play?
    • When sensing someone spying on them, Miss Vernon says, “It is nothing. A rat behind the arras.”  Again, any guesses?
  • In the movie Stay psychiatrist Ewan McGregor visits the rehearsal of Hamlet.
  • In a section of Dagens Nyheter that I rarely look at I happened to see the name of a photo book that the author wants for Christmas. The title: Love Looks Not with the Eyes. Guesses?
 Further, since the last report:
  • Finished reading aloud: Twelfth Night.
  • Watched the BBC version of same.
Posted today:
·         This Monday Report
·         The discussion on “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?” continues. See posted comments!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday December 3 2012

This week has been a Winter’s Tale with about ten centimeters of snow falling on the Stockholm area and the temperature this morning at -14 degrees centigrade.  What that has to do with Shakespeare I have no idea except that it probably snowed in his day too…

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • On November 27, 1582, a marriage license was granted to William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway.
  • On November 29, 1596, Shakespeare and some colleagues were arrested in an altercation with the son of the Justice of the Peace outside the Swan, where the JP had tried to stop a performance. It doesn’t say why but the arrest doesn’t seem to have led to any ill consequences.
  • On December 2, 1603, As You Like It was performed with King James I in the audience.
 Shakespeare sightings:
  • The Shakespeare sightings in Jasper Ffforde’s Thursday Next  novel The Well of Lost Plots would fill a book of their own. Here are just a few of the best:
    • Miss Twiggywinkle is in charge of promoting hedgehogs in literature and has found four references in Shakespeare
    • Thursday has been recruited as a jurisfiction apprentice and as such attends the meetings of the Council of Genres. Among the members of the council we find Beatrice and Benedick (spelled Benedict in the book), who argue and insult each other constantly, and Sir John Falstaff, an obnoxious lecher according to Thursday, though she does get to know him a little better towards the end of the book.
    • All of the dire predictions of the three witches (who were wrongly quoted by me last week as saying “Hail McNext”. What they are saying is “Hail MsNext”) come true.
    • In the annual Book World Awards, Othello is nominated as the Dopiest Shakespearean Character and Hamlet rivals Heathcliff as The Most Troubled Romantic Lead (Male). I’ll let you read the book to find out who wins…
  • Dagens Nyheter had a notice on December first about the new theater being built near the Globe which will allow plays to be performed year around.
  • In the book The Blood Never Dried, a People’s History of the British Empire by John Newsinger, the somewhat (for the 1850’s) radical Richard Cobden sort of supported the Indian rebellion but didn’t do much about it - about which the author comments, ”discretion proved the better part of valour.”  Any guesses on play and speaker?
  • In Svenska Dagbladets article on November 29 about movie versions of Jane Eyre (all bad according to the critic) Zefferelli is called “the Shakespeare veteran.”
  • Surfing through You Tube I came across a clip of Rowan Atkinson and Kate Bush doing a duet (honest!) about love (sort of):“love at first sight, Romeo and Juliet” about 2 minutes into it.
 Further, since the last report:
  • Still reading aloud: Twelfth Night.
·         This Monday Report
·         Response to Alexander’s thought-provoking comments on “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?”
·         Review of Douglas Brode’s Shakespeare in the Movies from the Silent Era to Today.

Brode Shakespeare in the Movies

Shakespeare in the Movies from the Silent Era to Today by Douglas Brode, 2001.  Read in September 2010.

                      Inspired by the debate generated by Ruby’s Reflection on “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?”  I decided to skip a book in my list in order to write about this one, which is all about what has been done to Shakespeare in the movies.  Brode starts his book with two quotes: “Shakespeare would have made a great movie writer”, Orson Welles, stage and screen director.  And: “Shakespeare is no screen writer,” Peter Hall, stage and screen director.  Both of these men are considered Shakespeare movie giants.  So how can they disagree so completely?  Because we can’t agree on what can be done with Shakespeare. Exploring this debate, Brode’s introduction alone makes the book worth buying.
                      The rest is good too. In thirteen chapters he covers the history of the movies made on nineteen plays, for example The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, the history plays and others.
He discusses the different approaches, the problems, the successes. He makes bold statements with which I disagree, for example, “The Chimes at Midnight is the greatest of all Shakespeare film,” (it was very good but not the best in my opinion) and “The casting [of Elizabeth Bergner as Rosalind in As You Like It] was disastrous.” Actually I thought she was OK in a generally bad interpretation.  He is also devastatingly negative to productions I haven’t seen, but that only makes me curious. He seems to agree, for example, with those who hated Peter Brook’s version of King Lear, inspired by Jan Kott’s book Shakespeare Our Contemporary, (see my review) Brode writes: “Brook undermines Shakespeare and presents a world without decency, which is a far cry from Will’s vision.”  Hmmm. Is it? Lear is a pretty bleak play.  I so wish I could find this movie so I could judge for myself.  
More often than not, though, I agree with Brode who clearly shares my love for Shakespeare and for movies. And I can forgive him almost anything for the following about Hamlet: “’There can never be a definite production of a play,” Time once noted, “about which no two people in the world agree.” That may be true; still, Branagh’s Hamlet comes close to delivering the definite film.”
However, we don’t read books just to reinforce our views, we read to broaden them and that is this book’s greatest value to me.  It has stimulated my own approach to Shakespeare and inspired me to continue my ongoing search for more Shakespeare movies.  They may not be endless but there are sure a lot of them and they keep coming. Lucky for us.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday November 26 2012

This week, too, has been exciting because now Hal and I have booked a hotel in London in June, giving ourselves some extra days before and after the Shakespeare seminar.  And again blog follower Alexander has contributed with a variety of thought-provoking comments. Take the time to check them out!

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • Only this: On November 24, 1616, “…Shakespeare Quinney was christened. His grandfather died in April.”  Not being totally conversant in Shakespeare’s grandchildren I checked this out and learned that Judith Shakespeare Quinney and her husband Richard had three children. Baby Shakespeare Q. lived only six months. Both of the others died without children so our Shakespeare has no descendants.  Having died in April 1616, he never knew his grandchildren.
 Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Friends Season 3, Joey is in a play that has received bad reviews. The director snarls at the Joey and the lead actress, “A plague on both your houses!”
  • I have now finished Bryson’s At Home (it’s a fascinating book!  Read it, and not only for the Shakespeare sightings!) and here is the final harvest of sightings:
    • In Shakespeare’s day beds were valuable pieces of furniture and therefore leaving Anne their second best bed was not the stingy indication of a bad marriage that some have claimed but very likely an expression of tenderness as it was probably their bed, the best one being only for show.
    • Historians have used the tender ages of R&J to prove that people got married young in the olden days but in fact there is no basis for that in reality, i.e. the documents. Why Shakespeare made them so young is unknown really.
    • Because of the laws restricting who could wear what fabrics and colors in Elizabethan England, the permission received by the King’s Players to own and wear scarlet clothing was an immense honor.
    • Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s wife Elizabeth Siddal is best known as the model for the famous painting of the drowned Ophelia among the flowers in the brook.
    • The quote from King John about the grief expressed at the death of a child is used to support the thesis that parents indeed loved their children in the olden days.
    • Poor poverty-stricken aristocrats (Bryson gives them far more sympathy than I do) in the 19th century made money by selling off their treasures.  Thus, as mentioned last week, the First Folios made their way to the Folger collection in the US.
  • When I was about twelve I read A Wrinkle in Time, a sci fi novel by Madeleine L’Engle and loved it. So I decided to read it again.  This time I didn’t like it at all – it’s simplified and has cloying religious undertones. But is also has some sightings so here they are (but you don’t have to read the book anyway):
    • The family dog is named Fortinbras
    • The three oddball women helping the kids quote the three witches “When shall we three meet again….” etc
    • They also quote Prospero, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” More quotes from The Tempest show up later.
    • Shakespeare, along with Jesus, Beethoven and others, is listed as a good force against evil.
  • Jasper Ffforde’s Thursday Next, in her third novel The Well of Lost Plots, is hiding in a badly written novel that has not yet been published and is visited by the three witches who address her, “All hail, McNext, citizen of Swindon,” and try to sell her a prophesy for a shilling.
  • In the movie Prick Up Your Ears, based on a biography of playwright Joe Orton, a representative of the local council visits young Joe’s working class parents to convince them to allow him to enter RADA because of the great acting talent he displayed in a Shakespeare production.  It later comes out that he played a messenger in Richard III.
 Further, since the last report:
  • Still reading aloud: Twelfth Night.
·         This Monday Report
·         “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?” under Ruby’s Reflections.  Written for and sent to Blogging Shakespeare.
·         Comments on Alexander’s and others’ comments

Can You Do That to Shakespeare?

Can You Do That to Shakespeare?

                      In the Raspberry Hills Library English Book Circle the question has often been raised of how much we can accept things done to the classics. Can Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law really do that to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson?  Can Laurie R. King really have a feisty young Marry Russell marry an aging Holmes?  Can Jean Rhys really tell Bertha’s story of how she went mad and ended up in Rochester’s attic?
                      Views often differ sharply in our friendly group.  “No!” say some.  “Yes!” say others.
                      This discussion slides easily into Shakespeare.  Can Caliban really be played by a twitchy grunge Goth behaving like a speed freak? Can Richard III really be a Hitler-like charmer in the 30’s?  Can Romeo and Juliet really live in a machine gun mafia run disco Catholic Miami? Can Othello really be played by a short skinny white girl? Can Twelfth Night really be set in a tire factory with a 60’s pop soundtrack?  Can Love’s  Labour’s Lost really be a Hollywood 30’s song and dance musical? Can Hamlet really be about a cyber-techno-capitalist corporation battle?
                      Well, yes. Obviously.  All of these have been done. You’ve seen some of them.  I’ve seen all of them. Some people have hated them.  I am one of those who loved these productions, or at least found them interesting.
                      The question is not really should it be allowed to do this kind of spin-off on Shakespeare, but how can it not be. If all we had to look at was four hundred years worth of people standing around a stage in Renaissance or Roman clothes reciting the plays, Shakespeare would now be one of those old poets like Spenser that only literature majors bother to read.  Instead, everybody in the world knows Shakespeare (only a small exaggeration, don’t you think?)
                      Admittedly the productions that got me addicted to Shakespeare were quite straightforward adaptations:  Branagh’s Henry V, a simple performance at the Roundhouse in London of Henry IV, Part Two, Branagh’s Hamlet (well, that was set in the 1800’s for some reason but that was hardly noticeable). However some of the radically changed concepts of several of the performances mentioned above have really fired that addiction.
                      What Shakespeare wrote is so big, so deep, so complex, so significant to so many people and eras in the past four hundred years and probably the next four hundred years that there is no way that his plays can’t be brilliant no matter what’s done to them. Or if not brilliant or even successful, at least the experimentation enriches the canon immeasurably. And we must remember, Shakespeare’s plays themselves were mostly spin-offs of earlier works.
                      So I say spin-off away!  I’m waiting for a sci-fi intergalactic Macbeth.  Or a Comedy of Errors set in apartheid South Africa of the 50’s.  Or why not Sherlock Holmes and his young wife Mary Russell incorporated into Richard III to find out if he’s really guilty of killing those kids? Or Jane Eyre deciding that Mr. Rochester is an old fogey and running off with Hamlet, thus saving his life (maybe that’s already happened; I haven’t read all of Jasper Fforde yet).
                      So don’t be so nervous, all you skeptics of spin-offs!  Shakespeare can take it! Shakespeare thrives in any interpretive environment in which inspired creativity rules.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday November 19 2012

This week has been most exciting because of future events. Hal and I have bought our plane tickets for London in June, giving ourselves some extra days before and after the Shakespeare seminar.  It’s never a good idea to hope time goes fast but we sure are looking forward to it. But it’s been a good week blogwise too so let’s get to that.

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac: Nothing this week

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Review in Svenska Dagbladet of Macbeth at the Regional Theater of Blekinge-Kronoberg in southern Sweden. The review of this Brechtian production was middle of the road, not a rave, not a bomb.
  • On season 3 of Friends Joey tells Chandler that his new flame is “the greatest actress since sliced bread” and Chandler says, “Oh yeah, she did a great lady Macbeth”.
  • I saw in the TV listing that Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus was on last week on a channel we don’t have but that’s OK. We have the DVD and are saving it until we get to the play.  Dagens Nyheter gave it 3 stars anyway and called it a “heavy but exciting experiment.”
  • Still reading Bryson’s At Home and learned that Henry Clay Folger, president of Standard Oil and connected to Folger’s Coffee bought about a third of all surviving First Folios from hard-up aristocrats who had collected them through the years. These purchases formed the basis of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C.
  • Same book: Thomas A. Watson, Alexander Graham Bell’s colleague and co-inventor of the telephone and sole inventor of the iron lung and the metal detector, tired of living in the US eventually and moved to England to become a successful actor. He was especially good at Shakespearean roles and performed often in Stratford-upon-Avon. Aren’t people’s lives fascinating?
  • Langston Hughes is mostly known for his poetry but he has also written novels including Not Without Laughter from 1930. In it the young protagonist is introduced to Shakespeare by his teacher through the study if The Merchant of Venice. He later wonders if knowing things like Latin and Shakespeare makes a person happy but continues his studies and is given the assignment to write about “A Trip to Shakespeare’s England”.
  • In Lorna Landvik’s novel Oh My Stars the unlikely hero, gorgeous and wonderful-in-all-ways hero Kjel (is that really how Norwegians spell Kjell or did Landvik get it wrong?) not only recites Shakespeare while making love to his girlfriend of the day – “We few, we happy few!” but goes on to become an actor for awhile and ends up meeting his best friend Austin who performs in an all black cast of Macbeth.
  • Shakespeare goes to Mars in Ray Bradbury’s The Silver Locusts albeit rather anonymously when a character is accused of murder and replies calmly, “Murder most foul.”

Further, since the last report:
·         It’s the last week of Shakespeare Calling follower Harold Berglund’s art exhibit. Even eagle-eyed blog follower Alexander hasn’t spotted the Shakespeare connection, and admittedly it’s far-fetched…, a bit of a joke really. Any last-minute guesses?

·         This Monday Report
·         Comments on Alexander’s and others’ comments

Celia in As You Like It

As You Like It

                      Celia, Jaques, Celia, Jaques.  Which one do I want to look at here?  Jaques is definitely tempting. His “All the world’s a stage” monolog is deservedly one of Shakespeare’s most famous and Jaques is so very morose and melancholy.  Harold Bloom, of course, thinks he’s a fake and I could therefore protest and show that Jaques’ melancholy is genuine but I don’t have to argue against Bloom every time. Jan Kott rightly analyzes Jaques as the forerunner of a bitter Hamlet and the only character in the play who has no reason to leave the alienation of the forest (Kott, pages 285-286). So that’s why, I find, that I won’t choose Jaques. Kott and others have dealt well with him.
                      Celia, on the other hand, hasn’t at all been given the attention she should have, as far as I can see. And what has been written tends to emphasize an interpretation of her relationship with Rosalind as homoerotic. Maybe it is. But that’s not what I find interesting.  What I like is that Celia takes the initiative in heading out into a new world and changing her life.  And she has some great retorts, mainly to Rosalind who, granted, is one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations, but where would she be without Celia?
                      First a brief summary of the story.  It’s another one of Shakespeare’s silly romance comedies with women dressing up as men, in this case Rosalind who must flee her evil uncle Duke Frederick - Celia’s father - to join her own exiled father in the forest.  Orlando too must flee his nasty brother Oliver and Duke Frederick. Rosalind and Orlando fall for each other – don’t bother asking why they have to go through all the rigmarole of Rosalind pretending to be a man pretending to be Rosalind so Orlando can woo her (I told you it was silly).  Four loving couples are in any case wed in the end.
                      What makes the play more than a silly pastoral romance is, as always, the darkness within which it is framed and the feistiness of the characters. Being banished to a forest was no picnic and Rosalind is rightly grieving at the loss of her father when we meet her in the first act and Celia is trying to give her the strength to go on. Claiming that Rosalind should accept Celia’s father out of cousinly love is a shaky argument, seeing what Uncle Frederick has done, but it works on Rosalind who decides to cheer up. Celia goes on to say that everything she has or will inherit is Rosalind’s.
                      This first exchange continues and Rosalind suggests they talk about falling in love. Celia, not as romantic as her cousin, would rather talk about more prosaic subjects like looks and morals. She suggests that they “ …mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally” (Act 1.2). Nice line but sadly Celia isn’t expressing socialist leanings here. She means the unequal distribution of beauty and chastity: “for those she makes fair she scarce makes honest, and those that she makes honest she makes very ill-favouredly” (Act 1.2)
                      The two young women are trying to lighten up their spirits with this amusing dialog but Celia nicely sums up the rigid dilemma of the roles women in her society have to deal with, which is what the play is mostly about.
                      In the following banter with Touchstone, Celia again  proves to be the more receptive of the two cousins by seeing through the clown’s babble and recognizing that he “sayest true; since the little wit that fools have was silenced, the little foolery that wise men have makes a great show” (Act 1.2). The Norton edition’s note explains that this is a possible reference to the Bishop of London’s order to burn books in 1599, which would give Celia a political mind that Rosalind doesn’t display.
                      In the first encounter with Orlando as well Celia is the stronger character.  She urges Orlando not to wrestle; Rosalind agrees. While he and the mighty Charles are wrestling Rosalind falls in love: “O excellent young man!” while Celia is ready for concrete assistance: “I would I were invisible, to catch the strong fellow by the leg,” and “If I had a thunderbolt in mine eye, I can tell you who should down.” (Act 1.2) And when, after his victory, Orlando is insulted by Duke Frederick, Celia is the one who takes the initiative in supporting him:
“Let us go thank him, and encourage him.
My father’s rough and envious disposition
Sticks me at heart…” (Act 1.2).

                      Without Celia, would Rosalind ever have had the chance to fall for Orlando?  But fall she does and Celia begins her role of trying to poke holes in Rosalind’s rosy balloons of romance:

Celia: O, a good wish upon you!  You will try in time, in despite of a fall. But turning these jests out of service, let us talk in good earnest. Is it possible on such a sudden you should fall into so strong a liking with old Sir Rowland’s youngest son?
Rosalind: The Duke my father loved his father dearly.
Celia: Doth it therefore ensue that you should love his son dearly? By this kind of chase I should hate him, for my father hated his father dearly, yet I hate not Orlando (Act 1.3)

                      Not only is Celia being sensible but she is already revealing a spirit of independence, even resistance, towards her father that doesn’t fit the stereotype we have of submissive daughters.
                      She continues this resistance when Duke Frederick then enters the room and banishes Rosalind.
Rosalind protests too, a little. But she has no choice. Banished, she is.  Celia, on the other hand, is not.  When she tries to convince her father that she and her cousin are inseparable, he replies that she will be better off without Rosalind who outshines her in beauty and popularity. Nice. He of course stands firm in the banishment and Celia tells him, “Pronounce that sentence then on me, my liege. I cannot live out of her company” (Act 1.3).
Duke Frederick simply replies, “You are a fool,” and exits. Celia vows loyalty to Rosalind, who is uncertain what to do – “Why, whither shall we go?” So far Rosalind has shown none of the quick-thinking determination for which she is so famous. Instead, it is again Celia who takes the truly brave and daring first step: “To seek my uncle in the forest of Ardenne.”  Rosalind protests:
Alas, what danger will it be to us,
Maids as we are, to travel forth so far!
Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.

Celia’s quick solution:  “I’ll put myself in poor and wear attire.”  Finally Rosalind gets into the spirit of things and comes up with her gender-crossing idea. And Celia with her own alias, “Aliena”. The estranged one. How much this young woman is estranged in her society could – and should – fill a book especially in view of her lines that close Scene 3 and Act One:
…Let’s away,
And get our jewels and our wealth together,
Devise the fittest time and safest way
To hide us from the pursuit that will be made
After my flight.  Now go we in content,
To liberty, and not to banishment. (Act 1.3)

Estranged. Hide.  Pursuit. Flight. Content. Liberty. Has anyone, even Shakespeare, ever strung together in a just a few lines a list of more significant words to describe women’s lives throughout history?
                      Thus in the first act Celia is established as one of Shakespeare’s most significant characters and although Rosalind takes the center stage more or less completely through much of the remaining play, Celia is still there and in Act Two confirms her liberty and independence from her father and his court.  Rosalind offers to buy the cottage, pasture and sheep from which Corin ekes out his living and Celia declares that if he will continue to work there she wants to live there:
And we will mend thy wages. I like this place,
And willingly would waste my time in it (Act 2.4)
The Norton edition explains that “waste” does not have the negative tone we would give it but means simply “spend”.  And she does.  No mention is made at the end of the play of Celia returning to court; it is reasonable to assume she stays in the cottage.
                      But back to the big romance which starts sizzling and sparkling between Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando. Here we have an interesting circle. What Rosalind does to Orlando’s wild declarations of love with sarcasm and laconic put downs – for example, the brief but succinct, “Love is merely a madness” (Act 3.3) and surely the most famous and funniest, “Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love” (Act 4.1) – Celia does to Rosalind’s wild declarations of love.
                      When Rosalind is frantically trying to get Celia to reveal who has written the ridiculous love poems all over the forest and obtusely refuses to get it (it’s impossible to believe she really doesn’t know) Celia bursts out impatiently with a couple of the best lines in Shakespeare: “O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful-wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that out of all whooping (Act 3.2 – oh how could Branagh have cut that line out of his film?!).
                      Her impatience continues when silly lovesick Rosalind won’t let her get on with her story but repeatedly interrupts her: “Give me audience, good madam…Cry ‘holla’ to thy tongue…I would sing my song without a burden; thou brings me out of tune…” (Act 3.2).  Who can blame her for being impatient?
                      Later when Rosalind is pining for Orlando and wishes to talk about him Celia counters with more irony: “O, that’s a brave man. He writes brave verses, speaks brave words, swears brave oaths, and breaks them bravely, quite traverse, athwart the heart of his lover, as a puny tilter that spurs his horse but on one side breaks his staff, like a noble goose. But all’s brave that youth mounts, and folly guides” (Act 3.4).
                      After the odd scene in which Rosalind urges Celia to perform the mock marriage to Orlando, which she does reluctantly and curtly, she is irritated with Rosalind: “You have misused our sex in your love prate,” and when Rosalind continues to moan and sigh, “Aliena, I cannot be out of the sight of Orlando. I’ll go find a shadow and sigh till he come,” Celia retorts in exasperation, “And I’ll sleep” (Act 4.1).
                      After this snippet of impertinence Celia doesn’t exactly fade away and she plays her characteristically active role in her unexpected love affair with nasty-turned-nice Oliver, older brother to Orlando. But she recedes into the background, her last line being addressed to him: “Good sir, go with us” (Act 4.3).
                      Act Five amiably pulls all of the heartstrings together.  Celia and Oliver are one of the four couples to be brought together in wedded bliss and Rosalind winds things up with her saucy epilog.
                      So yes, Rosalind deserves the praise that raises her to the position of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters. Her brilliance is undisputed (even if her silliness is often ignored). But in my eyes Celia is no less brilliant, no less witty, and far feistier.
                      Shakespeare wouldn’t have created her like that if he hadn’t thought so too, would he? So when will she get the attention she deserves?

Works cited:
·         The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition. 2008.
·         Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human. 1998.
·         Crawford, Julie. ”The Homoerotics of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Comedies” in A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works – The Comedies. Dutton, Richard and Jean E. Howard, editors. 2003.
·         Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary.1964.

Films seen:
·         BBC, 1978. Director: Basil Coleman. Cast: Helen Mirren – Rosalind; Brian Stirner – Orlando; Angharad Rees – Celia; Richard Pasco – Jaques; Clive Francis – Oliver; Richard Easton – Duke Frederick.  After seeing this the first time a couple of years ago I noted that I liked it very much. This time I didn’t.  Somehow it struck me as tepid. Ask me again next time.
·         1936. Director: Paul Czinner. Cast: Elisabeth Bergner – Rosalind; Lawrence Olivier – Orlando; Sophie Stewart – Celia; Leon Quartermaine – Jaques; John Laurie – Oliver; Felix Aymler – Duke Frederick. Better than expected. Beautiful black and white photography. Bergner much better as Rosalind than the film critics had led me to believe and Olivier was not only gorgeous but not yet aware (it was his first Shakespeare role on film) that he was Lawrence-Olivier-the-Big-Shakespeare-Star. Sadly, Stewart ruined Celia by being giggly, toothy-smiley and altogether juvenile.
·         2006. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard – Rosalind; David Oyelowo– Orlando; Romola Garai – Celia; Kevin Kline – Jaques; Adrian Lester – Oliver; Brian Blessed – Duke Frederick. By far the best, no surprise there.  Very strong cast who all bring depth to their roles. I still wish Celia had been allowed all of her lines but Romola Garai is very good.  The filming was lavish, as usual with Brangh, but the forest was surprisingly and effectively quite barren at times.
SSeen on stage: No.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday November 12 2012

Thanks to our new blog follower Alexander it has been an active week. Read his comments! And feel free to be inspired by them and post your own comments.  It’s just that kind of discussion this blog wishes to invite. For other interesting activities see below.

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • On November 5, 1605, Shakespeare and others were undoubtedly startled by what became known as the Gunpowder Plot for which Guy Fawkes’ Day has been commemorated since.  
  • On November 8, 1623, two of Shakespeare’s friends John Hemmings and Harry Condell registered the first folio of the plays. Oh thank you thank you thank you! The price? One shilling bound, or five shillings, bound in calf skin.  In their intro they encouraged the public: “Read him, therefore, again and again.”  Oh, we do.
 Shakespeare sightings:
  • There have been ads for various Shakespeare productions going on in Stockholm, including a stand-up version of Hamlet that we would dearly love to see but haven’t been able to arrange.
  • Bill Bryson, writing about the history of houses and private life in At Home , continues to refer to Shakespeare:
    • “…a typical London theatre like Shakespeare’s Globe could hold two thousand people – about 1 per cent of London’s population – of whom a great part were working people…”
    • Shakespeare’s plays were usually performed around two in the afternoon because daylight was needed.
  • In the Swedish answer to Harry Potter (sort of), Cirkeln, by Mats Strandberg and Sara Berggren Elfgren, the teenage witches use play rehearsals of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet as excuses for being away from home. Of course they’re really practicing their witchcraft skills.
  • In the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach:
    • “The old bearer, Jimmy, hobbled up to the door, muttering like the porter in Macbeth…”
    • Out, out, brief candle, life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player etc is recited at a funeral.  Of course you can identify this one
  • And in the movie based on this novel, Hotel Marigold, the enthusiastic young proprietor of the hotel rather inappropriately but eloquently points out to his elderly guests that they have all “heard the chimes at midnight”. Any guesses? A somewhat less known play than the one above.
 Further, since the last report:
·         Watched: Branagh’s version of As You Like It.
·         Booked: 2 places at the Shakespeare conference in London in June.
·         Posted on Blogging Shakespeare: “O Kenneth Where Art Thou?”
·         Of further interest:
·         Shakespeare Calling follower Harold Berglund’s art exhibit continues.  Have you spotted the Shakespeare connection?

·         This Monday Report
·         Comments on Alexander’s comments