Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday October 27 2014

Another quiet Shakespeare week. I’m pacing things so that it all comes out right at the end of November when this phase of Shakespeare Calling itself comes to an end.  We’re reading analyses of The Tempest, have watched a film (three left) but I haven’t actually started writing a text yet.  But that will come.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Persia doesn’t make a big splash in Shakespeare, appearing only in A Comedy of Errors, but the many wars between the Shi’ite and Sunni factions were well known in Shakespeare’s time and D+F tell us that “there were many in Europe who were grateful that the Persians distracted the  Turks from their ambitions in Christendom.”
  • Phillida was a shepherdess in A Midsummer Night’s Dream who had a fling with Oberon. The name comes from “Phyllis” which means “foliage” and in myth she was turned into a tree after dying of love.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the text about the film Dark Shadows, in Steven Daly’s book Johnny Depp – A Retrospective Depp’s performance is compared to “William Shatner doing Shakespeare.”  Whatever that’s supposed to mean.
  • My colleague, friend and fellow history teacher EG is always on the lookout for interesting things and found an old magazine from 1924 Vecko-Journalen (Weekly Journal) with the very well known Swedish actor Anders de Wahl as Othello on the cover.  Thanks, EG!
  • In a trailer for some unidentified animated film on a DVD of The Lone Ranger one of the characters said, “Some are born to greatness...”
  • In the novel Dead Famous by Ben Elton (recommended by friends AT and CP) about a reality show in which one of the participants is murdered on camera but for reasons explained in the novel the murdered cannot be identified, both the police and one of the participants refer to Shakespeare:
    • David the actor: “Everybody here is acting...This house is a stage and all the men and women merely players.”
    • David has a tattoo of the “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy around his ankle and explains that he put it there after a depression in which he was contemplating suicide but didn’t because he reread Hamlet. (Unfortunately, David is a real prat so everything he says just sounds ridiculous and pretentious).
    • Inspector Coleridge is an amateur actor and longs to play Macbeth but gets the role of Macduff.
    • David again: “There are more things in heaven and earth than you could ever dream of.”
    • David longs to make it big and hates all the members of his class at RADA who have gone on to play Shakespeare while he is a secret porn star.
    • When Coleridge, who is bit of an old stick, chides his younger colleague Hooper for using slang and telling him to speak clearly, Hooper says, “What about Shakespeare then? What about ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.’ Perhaps he should have just said, ‘I fancy you.’” To which Coleridge replies, “Shakespeare was not a policeman embarking on a murder inquiry.”
    • While ruminating on the murder Coleridge thinks that there was nothing like a murder of a young person to remind one that “life truly was a walking shadow.”
    • And clever Coleridge uses Banquo’s ghost to catch the murderer. And gets the part of Macbeth after all.
Further since last time:
  • Watched with Hal: The Derek Jarman version of The Tempest
  • Continued reading: Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare the Biography.
  • Continued watching Season One of the Canadian series Slings and Arrows, received from friends KJG and JG, about a theatre troupe putting on Shakespeare plays. It just gets better and better.
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report
  • Report on
    • Assassinating Shakespeare – Confessions of a Bard in the Bush by Thomas Goltz
    • My Father Had a Daughter by Grace Tiffany

My Father Had a Daughter

My Father Had a Daughter by Grace Tiffany. Berkley Books, New York, 2003. Read in June 2013.

                      A lot of fiction has been written about Shakespeare’s life and works.  I tend to be sceptical of it because much of what I have read is simply awful.  This novel is a happy exception.
                      It is told through Judith’s eyes and starts with how she and her twin Hamnet love their father though he is often away. When Hamnet dies Judith goes to London to seek out her father. Like many of Shakespeare’s women, Judith disguises herself as a boy to get work at the theatre and stays out of her father’s way.  Her father of course discovers her and the second half of the book deals with their relationship. 
                      It’s an excellent mix of what little we know of Shakespeare’s life and family and the more detailed knowledge we have of Elizabethan theatre.
A must read for anyone who is fascinated by Shakespeare and history and enjoys a good read.

Assassinating Shakespeare

Assassinating Shakespeare – Confessions of a Bard in the Bush by Thomas Goltz. Saqi Books, 2008. Read in April, 2013.

                      The author of this book wrote a comment on Shakespeare Calling some time back and mentioned that I might enjoy this.  So I read it.  It is indeed very interesting. 
Young Goltz left his Midwestern American home in 1976 for a road trip around Africa looking for his brother.  It took him a long time and on the trip he encountered many situations which demanded all the ingenuity he could muster. Among his most fruitful enterprises were his street performances of Shakespeare’s plays across the continent which led to everything from prison to large theatres to schools in Botswana, South Africa, Rhodesia, the Kalahari and Zambia.
                      It’s funny and fascinating and a very unusual read.
                      Thank you, Thomas Glotz!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday October 20 2014

Not a lot to write this week.  The film watching has started, thoughts on the Tempest text are circulating, three more books of interest have been posted. That’s about it. So here’s the week’s report.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Pendragon, you know, of Uther and Arthur fame with their friend Merlin, is actually mentioned in Shakespeare once, in Henry VI Part One. In Shakespeare’s time the Camelot myth was still very popular but Shakespeare is generally thought to be ridiculing it the various times he mentions it in his plays.
  • Perigouna. If you feel the need to worship a new deity here’s one for you. Perigouna was the mother of Melanippus (father: Theseus). D+F tell us that Perigouna, or perhaps her son, founded the cult that worshipped the asparagus. Well, why not? It’s nutritious and does more good than deities generally do.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the film Dark Shadows, Johnny Depps’ character, the vampire, reflects on the lyrics of 20th century popular songs (“I’m a picker, I’m a grinner...” by the Steve Miller Band) and says, “If only Shakespeare had been as eloquent.”
  • There have been adverts for various Shakespeare productions this week: a one-man Hamlet, and at the Royal Ballet Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • In Jacqueline Winspear’s solemn and very good novel about World War One (not part of the Maisie Dobbs series) The Care and Management of Lies, Hawkes says to Tom as they observe the approaching German soldiers, “Discretion might be the better part of valour.” Tom should have listened to him.  Later the villain Knowles, out to get Tom, reflects with satisfaction that he will get his pound of flesh sooner or later.
Further since last time:
  • Watched with Hal: The BBC version of The Tempest
  • Continued reading: Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare the Biography.
  • Continued watching Season One of the Canadian series Slings and Arrows, received from friends KJG and JG, about a theatre troupe putting on Shakespeare plays. It just gets better and better.
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report
  • Report on three books about Hamlet: Hamlet’s Purgatory by Stephen Greenblatt. To Be or Not to Be by Douglas Bruster. Hamlet, Contemporary Critical Essays, New Casebooks, edited by Martin Coyle.

3 x Hamlet

3 x Hamlet:
Hamlet’s Purgatory by Stephen Greenblatt. Princeton University Press, 2001, 2002 edition. Read in February 2013.
To Be or Not to Be by Douglas Bruster. Continuum Press, 2007. Read in February 2013.
Hamlet, Contemporary Critical Essays, New Casebooks, edited by Martin Coyle. Palgrave Macmillan Press, 1992. Read in February-March 2013.

                      While reading and working with Hamlet I found countless texts that helped me write my analysis.  These three were among them.
                      Stephen Greenblatt’s Hamlet’s Purgatory was the most interesting. What I didn’t know was that Purgatory as a concept has not existed throughout all of Christianity. It started emerging in the late Middle Ages and came under attack by the protestants in the 16th century. This means that in Shakespeare’s day it was a Catholic concept that was being forced out of public religion. Greenblatt shows how Hamlet’s father symbolises this conflict and how Hamlet himself must grapple with the appearances of his father’s ghost. As the play progresses he does so with increasing “terror, guilt and pity” (page 223). The conflict is sharp. Hamlet, “a young man from Wittenberg, with distinctly Protestant temperament, is haunted by a distinctly Catholic ghost” (page 240). Greenblatt asks, “But how is it possible to reconcile this apparent sceptical, secular protest with Hamlet’s obsessive quest to fulfil precisely the task that the Ghost has set him?” (page 241). Shakespeare, in Hamlet, makes brilliant use of the “violent ideological struggle that turned negotiations with the dead from an institutional process governed by the church to a poetic process governed by guilt, projections and imagination” (page 252). As with all of Greenblatt’s works I can only say: Read it. It’s fascinating.
                      To Be or Not to Be is, as you might have guessed, a concentrated look at the soliloquy.  It’s 104 pages long, which just goes to show, if you hadn’t figured that out yourself, that this is one complex piece of writing. And there’s reason for it to be so renowned. Bruster does not go for the obvious. For example he writes, “There are suicide speeches in Shakespeare, and perhaps even in Hamlet, but this is not one of them” (page 13).  Hmmm, interesting. I don’t know if I agree with him, but interesting. Line by line, word by word, comma by comma or lack thereof and Bruster’s startling conclusion could be taken from Macbeth: it’s a soliloquy “signifying nothing.”  Or Much Ado About Nothing. Or to quote Bruster himself: “What does it mean that the central speech of the central character in the central play of the language’s central author is all but useless to its speaker and story?” (page 103). Cheeky, isn’t he?
                      Hamlet, Contemporary Critical Essays, New Casebooks isn’t nearly as interesting or provocative as the first two but it is worth reading. Among the chapters are “Tragic Balance in Hamlet” by Philip Edwards, “The Comedy of Hamlet” by Peter Davison, “A Heart Cleft in Twain: The Dilemma of Shakespeare’s Gertrude” by Rebecca Smith, “Representing Ophelia; Women, Madness and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism” by Elaine Showalter and many others covering a wide range of the many complexities of the play. Also valuable are the many references to Shakespearean scholars throughout the decades and the section at the end of “Further Reading”.  It’s the kind of book I like to have on my shelf.