Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday August 27 2012

Singapore, South Korea, Libya, Panama, South Africa, China, Latvia, the Czech Republic, the Ukraine, Turkey...I do have friends in South Korea and Latvia so possibly some of the visits are from you :-) but I know absolutely no one in these other countries. It's wonderful to have you visit the blog but I'm so curious – how did you find it? Of course I'm curious about all Shakespeare Calling visitors, from all countries. Did you Google it and if so, what were your search words? Did friends send a link and if so, how did they know about it? Please send me an email and let me know!
And if you would like to comment, but don't want it to be public, send a mail. You'll find the address under my profile and if that doesn't work it's simply rubyjandshakespearecalling at gmail dot com (I wrote it like that to avoid spam but you'll figure it out). I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

And now to the week's report:

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • Nothing in Shakespeare's own life but on August 22, 1485, Richard III died in the battle of Bosworth Field (probably not after shouting, “My horse! My horse! My kingdom for a horse!”) and on August 26, 1346, Edward III defeated the French at Crécy. Not always recognized as part of the Shakespeare canon, it is now recognized that he did in fact collaborate in writing Edward III.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Laurie R. King, in her second novel starring Mary Russel and Sherlock Holmes A Monstrous Regiment of Women, uses many misogynist quotes from various authors. Several of these quotes were from Shakespeare, and I must confess that I can't immediately identify them as to which play and who said it. We know that a lot of misogynist things are said in the plays but without doing some detective work of my own I need help in placing the following: A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,/Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,/ And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty/Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it. I know it, I know it, but I don't remember which play at the moment! And what about this? Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,/ Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,/ And for thy maintenance; commits his body/ To painful labour both by sea and land.../Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe... I think I know this one but do you? And finally: [Thy husband] craves no other tribute at thy hands/ But love, fair looks, and true obedience - / Too little payment for so great a debt.../Even such a woman oweth to her husband; / And when she's froward, peevish, sullen, sour,/ And not obedient to his honest will,/ What is she but a foul contending rebel,/ And graceless traitor to her loving lord? Irritating, aren't they, these guys? But is it the same guy in the same play? Different guys, different plays?
  • As in the book, the movie The Hunger Games, finally watched yesterday, refers to Katniss and Peeta as “star crossed lovers.”

Further, since the last report:
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Henry V.
  • Finished reading Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell.
  • Started reading analyses of Henry V.
  • Started sketching on text for same.
Posted today: Just this.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday August 20 2012

Ah! Monday, Monday and now until the end of the year all my Mondays are Shakespeare Mondays.

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:

  • On July 26, 1602 Hamlet was entered in the Stationers' Register. Happy 410th birthday, Hamlet! 
  • On July 29, 1588, when Shakespeare was 24 years old, England defeated the Spanish Armada. 
  • On August 4, 1600, As You Like It was entered in the Stationers' Register. 
  • On August 6, 1623, Anne Hathaway Shakespeare died at the age of 67. 
  • On August 10 Talbot was taken prisoner in the 15th century (if my memory serves me well). Shakespeare wrote about this in Henry VI Part One: “The tenth of August last this dreadful lord...Was round encompassed and set upon...” It is one of the few times he mentions a date, instead of its feast day. 
  • On August 11, 1596, Shakespeare's son Hamnet died. He was eleven years old. 
  • On August 16, 1955, Titus Andronicus was performed in Stratford for the first time. Laurence Olivier played Titus. 

Shakespeare sightings:

  • In Deborah Harkness' novel A Discovery of Witches hero vampire Matthew, several hundred years old, possesses an original Will's Playes, and later Matthew, his vampire son Marcus and a skillful witch named Sarah are compared to Shakespeare's “three witches around a cauldron”. At the end of the book the main character Diana (a witch and a time traveler) and Matthew go back to the 1590's, so of course I have to read the next book in the trilogy! 
  • In Mastering Arabic by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar, classical Arabic is said to be to modern Arabic what Shakespearean English is to today's English. Needless to say, I've mastered no Arabic so far. I haven't even learned how to write Shakespeare in Arabic. 
  • As if I don't have enough to do, I've been writing my handwritten list of books I've read since 1974 (when Hal and I moved to Sweden) on the computer. A couple of books of interest: The Murders of Richard III by Elizabeth Peters (read in 1995, before my Shakespeare days) and Perchance to Dream by Robert B Parker, read in 1998. There are a lot of murder mysteries whose titles are Shakespeare quotes but those are the ones I've noted down.
  • In the closing ceremony of the Olympics, Timothy Spall popped up as Churchill with the same quote from The Tempest as Kenneth Branagh recited in the opening. The dancing and other performances took place on various ramps with quotes from English literature. “To be or not to be” was prominent. Also glimpsed: “Now is the winter of our discontent.” 
  • In season one of Friends Joey is auditioning. The actor before him recites, “Would that I were the glove...” and Joey is about to perform Mercutio. Contest time! Which play? First correct answer in a comment on the blog... 
  • The movie The Queen, finally watched this week, starts with the quote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Contest time! Which play? First correct answer in a comment on the blog... 

Further, since the last report:

  • Finished reading, Peter Erikson's Rewriting Shakespeare, Rewriting Ourselves. 
  • Ordered and received: the Julie Taymore-Helen Mirren DVD of The Tempest. 
  • Received: The Shakespeare Name Dictionary. 
  • Still reading aloud with Hal: Henry V.
  • Started reading Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell. 

Posted today: Just this.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday August 6 2012

Back on blog. Scotland is an amazing country and the trip went well. Passing through England on our way north we certainly went through a lot of Shakespeare territory – all the aristocrats in the history plays were Dukes of One-Place-Or-Another. But in Scotland itself there wasn't a lot of evidence of Shakespeare generally, just a couple of sightings (see below – only one, come to think of it. The second is back in England). Neither Macbeth nor Nessie made an appearance.
While we were gone the official first anniversary of Shakespeare Calling passed: On July 20, 2011, I posted the intro text on the blog and on July 27 I posted the first play analysis. It was about Two Gentleman from Verona. Since then I have posted texts on 17 more plays so that means almost half way through. As of July 16th this year there had been about 2400 visits from about 13 countries. I wonder how they all found it? Thank you all, followers and unknown visitors alike, for looking at the blog! My hope for the coming year is of course to reach more people and to have comments posted by strangers as well as friends. More followers are of course welcome!
Anyway, it's nice to be back to Shakespeare and after next Monday I'll be back on my regular schedule.

From Gregory Doran's Shakespeare Almanac:
  • No report this time because we haven't caught up on all the days we missed. Next time!

Shakespeare sightings:
  • At a crossroads in Lancaster there was a sign advertising a production of Richard III. Hmm, in Lancaster? Wasn't he a York??? Maybe they're not enemies anymore...
  • From the bus in Newcastle a pub called Hotspur was seen.
  • In Scarlett Thomas' Our Tragic Universe, bought at the Stockholm Central Station to read on the trip, the narrator refers to Shakespeare several times, for example when speculating that a fellow writer would have created Hamlet as a troubled teenager who hallucinated the ghost and sought counseling from the kindly Polonius, realized that it was OK for Gertrude to have sex with Claudius and then happily returned to Uni with Ophelia.
  • In Bram Stoker's Dracula (the book, not the movie) the various narrators also refer to Hamlet and to Malvolio as well.
  • In the opening ceremony of the London Olympics Kenneth Branagh quoted Caliban in The Tempest: Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices That, if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked, I cried to dream again.
  • In Sherman Alexie's Ten Little Indians, in the short story “Do You Know Where I Am?” the narrator tells of how he and his wife, in their student days, quoted Shakespeare as part of their lovemaking.
  • Actress Laura Linney has, according to Dagens Nyheter, August 2, chosen sides: the Montagues, because Tybalt is such an ass.
  • Same newspaper, same day: an article about the premiere of Twelfth Night being performed by Teater Iris in a small pastry café seating 45. They're going to perform quite a few times so maybe we can make it. Although it would be fun to see a different play for a change.
  • In Denise Mina's third Paddy Meehan novel The Last Breath the bad guy remembers the line from Macbeth, “I am in blood stepped in so far that returning were as tedious as going over”. It actually stopped him from killing a little kid.
  • In yesterday's Dagens Nyheter in an article about the moons of Uranus, many of whom are named after characters from Hamlet. They're are on a collision course and seem fated to the same doom as their namesakes i.e. destruction.
  • The main character in A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (highly recommended by my student E.E.) displays supernatural acting talents when playing, and being more or less taken over by, the character of Ophelia.

Further, since the last report:
  • Bought with a gift certificate from some students from spring term: The DVD of Coriolanus with Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave.
  • Started reading, in Scotland, Peter Erikson's Rewriting Shakespeare, Rewriting Ourselves.
  • Ordered and received: the Norton edition of Shakespeare and Film by Samuel Crowl.
  • Ordered: The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Henry V.
  • Started scribbling: some ideas for texts to send to Blogging Shakespeare.
  • Posted today: “Is This Love in Much Ado About Nothing.”

Much Ado About Nothing - Is This Love?

 Is This Love?
Much Ado About Nothing

“Is this love, is this love, is this love, is this love that I'm feelin'? I wanna know, wanna know, wanna know now...”

Bob Marley croons what four hundred years earlier Beatrice and Benedick could well have crooned with him. Romantics have said, and still do, “Well, yeah. Duh.” In other words, “Obviously it's love!”

But let's not be hasty. This is a play full of deceptions. It really ought to be called “Quite a Lot of Deceptions About a Lot of Rather Big Things.” But Shakespeare is sneaky. The “nothing” in his title is easy to discern – Hero's non-infidelity. Or? Could he possibly mean that the “nothing” is actually the love between Beatrice and Benedick because it doesn't really exist, they've only been manipulated into believing it does?
In his introduction Stephen Greenblatt expresses the very plausible view that such is the case. He asks, “But what if we do not dismiss their own words” (page 1412) of hostility and insult? He goes on, “ Benedick and Beatrice have rational arguments, grounded in the gender politics of their world, for remaining single” (ibid) but they both consent to be persuaded by their friends, not for love but because “it is better to live in illusion than in social isolation” (page 1413).

But, but...I mean, I've seen Ken and Emma! Of course they're really in love!

Hmmm. I have to confess. Even before reading Greenblatt's intro I had a lurking doubt. Is this love? Or isn't it? I wanna know!

It won't really help to use our magnifying glass on every insult they exchange. They both make it clear from the start. Not only are they not interested in each other, neither of them are interested in marriage, period. Their active dislike for each other at the beginning may, as Beatrice hints, be based on a previous failed romance between the two but in the first act they are clearly not in love, or even in like. They are witty, but hateful.

Enter manipulative friends. They insult Benedick in his hearing after claiming that Beatrice “loves him with an enraged affection, it is past the infinite of thought...”, that “she falls, weeps, sobs, beats her heart, tears her hair, curses 'O sweet Benedick, God give me patience'”, that there is danger that “she will do a desperate outrage to herself...” and that “she says she will die if he love her not and she will die ere she make her love known and she will die if he woo her, rather than she will bate one breath of her accustomed crossness” (Act 2.3).

Sneaky Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato! Everything they say is blatantly and outrageously out of character for the Beatrice we and Benedick have seen so far – except the last line. That makes it just about believable for Benedick. And for us? Well, not really but love is strange, a fine madness and all that.

Benedick's first reaction is of course, “Is it possible?” But he quickly gives himself reason to believe: respectable Leonato wouldn't lie! He shouldn't be proud. People can and do change. OK. “I will be horribly in love with her... if I do not take pity of her I am a villain. If I do not love her I am a Jew” (explained in the Norton note as an anti-Semitic stereotype of the un-Christian, the uncharitable) (Act 2.3).

How romantic is this? Not very. “Horribly in love” is...well, a horrible way to put it. “Pity”? Uncharitable? Yes, it is very possible that he is explaining away his sudden surge of wild love for Beatrice in this way. And it is possible to take his words at face value.

Beatrice then? Her friends treat her about the same, insults interspersed with praise for Benedick's many virtues. Beatrice is called proud, disdainful, wild, scornful, full of herself.

Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
Misprising what they look on, and her wit
Values itself so highly that to her
All matter else seems weak. She cannot love,
Nor take no shape nor project of affection,
She is so self-endearéd (Act 3.1).

Hearing herself described in such nasty terms it's amazing poor Beatrice even notices the two quick mentions that “Benedick loves Beatrice...entirely” and that the friends think he should “fight against his passions”.
And sure enough her first reaction is to the insults:

What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?

Not, to be sure, that she is as proud and scornful as they say, only that she is condemned by them as such. A small detail perhaps because, in fact, she immediately thereafter turns to thoughts of Benedick:

And, Benedick, love on, I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand.
If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee
To bind our loves up in a holy band.
For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly (Act 3.1).

If Benedick uses the word love sparingly to describe his own feelings, Beatrice uses it not at all for hers. She speaks only of his love for her, which she will “requite”. They will turn their love into marriage because he deserves it.

Based on these two scenes then, are they suddenly madly in love? If we pick out the words “love”, “in love”, “requite”, “loving hand”, “our loves”, yes, it's possible to make just that interpretation. As Branagh and Thompson do in the movie. Only a robot with a heart of stone could resist falling for the magnificent love scene in which Benedick splashes dizzyingly around the fountain while Beatrice soars into the sky on her swing. Ken and Emma can be forgiven – they were newlyweds themselves at the time. They make the love interpretation seems exactly right.

But back to the text. What happens after these two upsetting, essentially hurtful and overwhelming scenes? Benedick claims to have a toothache (explained in a Norton note as symbolizing being in love, page 1441) and Beatrice has a bad cold, or something. They are, in other words, flummoxed by the new situation and they do not even meet to try out their new feelings of confused love on each other until after the disastrous non-wedding of Claudio and Hero. They meet in the chapel and here they do passionately declare their love for one another:

Benedick: I do love nothing in the world so well as you...
I do protest I love thee.
Beatrice: I was about to protest that I loved you...I love you with so much of my heart that there is none
left to protest (Act 4.1)

That seem pretty unambiguous. Or? Beatrice is confused. “Believe me not, and yet I lie not. I confess nothing nor deny nothing.” And most importantly they, especially Beatrice, are in shock over Claudio's cruel and outrageous treatment of Hero. All of their emotions are in a turmoil and the situation is far from conducive to happily exploring their mutual love. In fact, Beatrice's emotions are in violent turbulence and when Benedick at first protests that he cannot, will not, “kill Claudio” Beatrice accuses, “there is no love in you.” She is terribly upset over not being able to avenge Hero because she is not a man, and Benedick, after insisting that he loves her and being told firmly that words are not enough - “use it for my love some other way than swearing by it” - realizes that his friend Claudio is in the wrong and agrees to confront him.

He does. Later he is shown frustrated in his attempts to write a love sonnet to Beatrice. She enters and once they establish that Claudio has duly been challenged and justice will somehow be attained the two allow themselves a few moments of bantering love talk in which they still do not or cannot accept a smooth and sweet romance, peppered as their exchange is with words like “foul wind”, “bad parts”, “against my will” and “hates”. Beatrice concludes by admitting that she at the moment does “very ill” and Benedick scarcely has time to imply that loving him will help her feel better before they are informed of the announcement of the falseness of Claudio's accusations against Hero.

Off they go to the odd reconciliation between Claudio and Hero and to their own public announcement of their...well, whatever it is. Benedick tries to get Beatrice to admit to loving him but she only answers, “No more than reason.” Reason? What's that supposed to mean? What do reason and love have to do with each other? That's the whole point. Nothing. Even when Claudio and Hero produce B and B's respective scribbles declaring their love for each other, they both claim to love the other out of pity. But they kiss and dance and supposedly get married.

Is this love?

Greenblatt, as we have seen, is skeptical. Harold Bloom dismisses their so-called love as “benign nihilism” (page 200) and, like Greenblatt, a “defense against meaninglessness” (page 193). Frank Kermode describes their moments of expressing love as that of “persons who have momentarily forgotten their reputations” (page 77) as hostile non-lovers. Jean E. Howard (quoted by Alison Findlay) points out that “far from discovering Benedick's and Beatrice's pre-existant love, Don Pedro works hard to create it” because the anti-love and anti-marriage attitudes and fierce independence of both of them threaten the very structure of their society and therefore they must be insulted, lied to and manipulated into... (page 396)

Yes, into...

Yes. I dare conclude that yes, Beatrice and Benedick love each other. Have I been brainwashed by the romantic image of Ken and Emma? No. If Beatrice and Benedick don't love each other they do in fact think they do. And both most decidedly believe themselves to be loved by the other, which is enough to convince them of their own reason to love. Are they going to live happily ever after? I'd say they have as good a chance as any couple, if not more. They are, after all, entering into the marriage on equal terms of love seasoned with skepticism and humor. They are equally willing to end their social isolation, to find or pretend to find meaning together.

Is that love?
It works for me.

July – August, 2012

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. Riverhead Books, 1998.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen. Introduction to Norton edition, see above.
  • Howard, Jean E. Quoted from The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England in Alison Findlay's essay “Much Ado About Nothing” in A Companion to Shakespeare's Works – the Comedies. Edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard. Blackwell Publishing. 2006.
  • Kermode, Frank. Shakespeare's Language. Penguin Books, 2000.                                                      

Films seen:

  • BBC, 1984. Director: Stuart Burge. Cast: Benedick – Robert Lindsay; Beatrice – Cherie Lunghi; Claudio – Robert Reynolds; Hero – Katharine Levy; Leonato – Lee Montague; Don Pedro – Jon Finch; Don John – Vernon Dobtcheff; Dogberry – Michael Elphick. A very enjoyable production in which the two leads provide a strong performance. Less enjoyable is Jon Finch's campy Don Pedro; it doesn't strike the right note. A pity, after his well done Henry IV.
  • 1993. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Benedick – Kenneth Branagh; Beatrice – Emma Thompson; Claudio – Robert Sean Leonard; Hero – Kate Beckinsale; Leonato – Richard Briers; Don Pedro – Denzil Washington; Don John – Keanu Reeves; Dogberry – Michael Keaton; Margaret – Imelda Staunton. What can I say? I love this movie. Oh Sir Ken, please make more Shakespeare movies! With Emma. You're still friends, aren't you?
  • Shakespeare Retold, 2005. Director: Brian Percival. Cast: Benedick – Damian Lewis; Beatrice – Sarah Parish; Claudio – Tom Ellis; Hero – Billie Piper; Leonato – Marvin Jarvis; Don John – Derek Riddell. Fun and believably adapted. Especially Damian Lewis and Billie Piper do a good job.

Seen on stage: No.