Monday, January 5, 2015

January 2015

Happy New Year! Oh, I just realised something. It’s actually Twelfth Night today. I’m not into the whole Christmas thing and being newly retired I don’t long for those holidays, of which tomorrow is one, but Twelfth Night will always mean Shakespeare to me.  It’s been a rather normal Shakespeare month with sightings, and thoughts and a couple of films, and quite a lot from Davis and Frankforter. I’ve started working on the book form of Shakespeare Calling but don’t hold your breath. It will take time and work. But that’s what I’m looking forward to. Now for the first monthly report.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Puritans are complex creatures.  They had some good ideas, like democracy and equality and republicanism and education, but things went just a bit awry. It is, D&F point out, “to Shakespeare’s credit that, as usual, he grants them a humanity which makes them more than caricatures” in the three plays that mentions them: A Winter’s Take, All’s Well that Ends Well, and Pericles.
  • Roland, hero of Chanson de Roland from the Middle Ages, was a figure well known to Shakespeare’s audience. A “childe”, which Roland was, is the highest level of an apprentice knight.  Childe Roland was mentioned in Henry VI Part One and King Lear.
  • Russia was in Shakespeare’s time an exotic place but well known in England because of active trade between the two countries and because Ivan the Terrible had proposed marriage to Queen Elizabeth (now that would have been interesting). Russia as a country is only mentioned in Measure for Measure.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • The novel The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is about an actor, Laurel, who is going to be in Macbeth. She mentions this several times. She also says that she ought to leave off reading Shakespeare for a while because she sees too much drama in real life. She also meets a professor who has written Contemporary Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Tragedies.
  • The novel We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Foweler also has a thespian who gets work in a Shakespeare company. The main charcater Rose also sees portents like the ones in Julius Caesar that “even Caliban, a couple of plays over, would notice.” Macbeth is mentioned. Rosemary’s brother has “a lean and hungry look that Shakespeare found so dangerous”. And Rosemary wonders at one point, “Who did I think I was? Hamlet?”
  • In Jamaica Inn, the 1930’s classic by Daphne Du Maurier, the vicar of Altarnun tells the main character, “If it were permitted to take our text from Shakespeare, there would be strange sermons preached in Corwall tomorrow, Mary Yellan.” This just after the quote, “Our bright days are done, and we are for the dark.” This (I  googled it, not remembereing it, is from Antony and Cleopatra.)
  • In the novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, the main character Theo has done Macbeth in school.
  • In the novel Raven Black by Ann Cleeves one of the teachers has done A Midsummer Night’s Dream with his students. One of his students had also worked with Macbeth.
  • In the novel The Fall of Five by Pittacus Lore one of the teenage aliens with superpowers compares a couple of others with Romeo and Juliet.
  • In the altogether more important and serious book This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (read it! It’s still possible to limit the damage of climate change if we change the whole system now!), a Blockadia action shut down a gas power station for some time on the River Trent, which, as Klein points out, is described in Henry IV as Silver Trent.
  • One of my dear students, KW, wrote in her essay about how important books are to her, “When I was a teenager I discovered Shakespeare.” She goes on to explain how deeply she still feels the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
  • In Stephen King’s latest novel Mr. Mercedes, the mass murder psycho villain, while preparing another nefarious deed, thinks: “ did Shakespeare put it? Taking arms against a sea of trouble.”
  • Dagens Nyheter calls the production of Othello at Stockholm’s Stadsteater “a refreshing allegory on the political situation” in Sweden today (it’s a bit of a mess).  The play has been reduced to an hour and a half and takes place on a skateboard ramp. Well, that sounds interesting. 
  • We’ve been watching the old series Veronica Mars and find these teenagers quite Shakespearean:
    • There are posters for a high school productions of Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar in one of the classrooms.
    • Wallace (if I remember correctly, I didn’t note it down) is given the task as punishment of alphabetising books and points out sarcastically to Veronica (or somebody) that Shakespeare comes before Wordsworth and Hamlet before Macbeth.
    • Logan reminds his less than fatherly father, who is pretending to be fatherly by preparing a crab salad for Logan, that he is allergic to shellfish and what his dad proposes to feed him will cause him to “shuffle off this mortal coil.”
    • Veronica says that finally the million chimps with a million typewriters must have written King Lear because her arch enemy Sheriff Lamb is right about something.
  • In the introduction to Leo Tolstoy’s Childhood, Boyhood, Youth we are told that Tolstoy started reading Shakespeare in 1870 when he was more than forty years old, which is maybe why Shakespeare is only mentioned once in this early trilogy: the main character ridicules a fellow student for mispronouncing many words, for example “Shake-speare” instead of “Shake-speare.”
  • In the 2015 edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (sadly, the last one!), of which I’ve read (sort of) about half, Shakespeare is mentioned in non-Shakespeare films several times:
    • Dante’s Peak is given three stars of four with the words, “Critics dumped on the first of 1997’s two volcano movies, but hey – in ain’t supposed to be Henry V.
    • Free Enterprise (also three stars) with William Shatner, is about William Shatner wanting to direct a stage production of Julius Caesar with himself in the title role.  I’d like to see that film.
    • The King Is Alive is actually a spin-off. It’s about a group of people stranded in a desert who pass the time by doing a production of King Lear. Maltin didn’t like it but I think it sounds interesting.
Further since last time:
  • Watched: Shakespeare Wallah
  • Watched: Shakespeare in Love
  • Started: Editing the texts on Shakespeare Calling in preparation for the book version.
  • Wrote: “ A Look Back and a Look Forward”
Posted this month:
  • This report
  • “A Look Back and a Look Forward” in Ruby’s Reflections
  • Review of Shakespeare Wallah
  • Review of Shakespeare in Love

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