Monday, April 6, 2015

April 2015

Shakespeare Calling – the book is now at the publishers.  After very intensive editing work it was finally ready to send in last week and I’m now waiting for the proofs. If all goes well the book should be available in June.  This, I find, is quite astounding.
But the blog continues to develop and today I’m adding a new feature: Guest Bloggers.  As our first Guest Blogger I’m happy to welcome Warren King with ‘Shakespeare goes to Scandinavia.’  Warren wrote this specially for Shakespeare Calling. I came into contact with Warren when I happened upon his excellent blog Thank you, Warren!
April will continue to be an eventful month. We have two plays at the Globe booked, The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet at the end of the month, and who knows what other Shakespearean experiences London and Cornwall will have to offer.

All will be reported, but because of the trip, the May report will come on the second Monday instead of the first.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Spain was the only European nation to border on the Muslim world and by Shakespeare’s time, Protestant Europeans had reason to fear the Spanish monarch Philip. His marriage to England’s Queen Mary was ‘extremely unpopular’ and fortunately for Protestant England it didn’t last long. Shakespeare was twenty-four when the Armada was defeated by Elizabeth’s ships (and the weather). Spain is mentioned, not always kindly, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Henry VI Part Three, King John, Henry V, Julius Caesar, Othello, and The Comedy of Errors.
  • The Ten Commandments are mentioned in only two Shakespeare plays: in Henry VI Part Two as a joking term for the ten fingers, and in Measure for Measure, which as we remember uses religious laws in a most perverted way.
  • Thursday, named for Thor, is the day Juliet is scheduled to marry Paris.  It is also mentioned in Henry IV Parts One and Two.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley the main character’s best friend Jazz is interested in drama and Shakespeare. She’s planning her Shakespeare monolog for an audition and one of the boys she has gone out with played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • In Finding Merlin by Adam Ardrey the medieval Scottish rank of Thane is mention and the author reminds us that it’s a rank made famous by Shakespeare in Macbeth.
  • John Steinbeck also wrote about the Camelot legend in The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. He mentions on the first page how important Shakespeare was in his family when he was growing up but that he himself was much more enthralled with Camelot. In the letters to his agent and editor at the end of the book he mentions Shakespeare several times.
  • In the TV mini-series Lost in Austen Bingley says to Mr. Bennet, “You would have it that Lydia and I have been making the beast with two backs” which he vigorously denies. The actor playing Mr Darcy, Elliot Cowan, was doing Henry V when he was recruited to the series.
  • In the film The World’s End Gary King reminds his gang of pub crawlers that their English teacher had taught them the stage directions of “Exit chased by a bear” in The Winter’s Tale. This gang often had need of exiting as though chased by a bear so it was quite funny here too.
  • In Edna Ferber’s So Big Paula asks glum Dirk, “Why the Othello brow?”
  • Those of you with a very long memory and an eye for detail may remember that I have previously reported on The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.  I dearly love Charles Dickens but this has to be one of the most boring books ever written and it has taken me more than a year to finish it. But finish it I finally did and was rewarded by a single minor Shakespeare sighting in the form of a passing mention of the play Richard III.
  • In the notice about Terry Pratchett’s death DN mentioned that he had read a lot of Shakespeare.
  • In the silly novel Pretty Thing by Jennifer Nadel the teenage character Rebecca compares herself to Hamlet because she can’t get herself going. As she packs her bag to run away (she doesn’t do that either) she takes her complete works of Shakespeare. She compares her and her boyfriend’s sad tale to Romeo and Juliet and there was a fourth one but the post-it with the page noted just disappeared and I can’t be bothered to look for it.
  • Not in the book but in the film The World According to Garp, Garp is irritated because his mother’s bestseller has been translated into many languages, including Apache and he exclaims, “Not even Shakespeare or Dickens have been translated into Apache!”
  • In Hustle Season 3 the grifters are conning a filthy rich sweatshop owner who explains to them that Bollywood films, which he loves, are mainly Romeo and Juliet stories.
  • Stephen Greenblatt writes of the Renaissance: ‘As intellectuals emerged from the Church into an independent lay status, they had to reconceive their relation to power and particularly to the increasing power of the royal courts. For most, not surprisingly, this simply meant an eager, blind rush into the service of the prince; as Hamlet says of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they did make love to this employment.’ This in his Renaissance Self-Fashioning From, More to Shakespeare.

Further since last time:
  • Sent Shakespeare Calling – the book to the publisher. Proof copy should be available shortly.
  • Watched Shakespeare and the Brits Parts One and Two narrated by Simon Schama. Very interesting.
  • Started reading Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare
  • Bought Peter Brook’s book: The Quality of Mercy – Reflections in Shakespeare

Posted this month
  • This report
  • Our first “Guest Blogger” text, ‘Shakespeare goes to Scandinavia.’ 

Shakespeare goes to Scandinavia

by Warren King

When one looks at Shakespeare’s surviving plays one sees that they are set in a wide range of, mainly European, countries. Shakespeare was always on the lookout for a good story and in many cases, apart from the history and Roman plays, those good stories were set in places like France, Spain, Italy and other European countries.

But Shakespeare was carefully selective and he didn’t just set a play in a place because the original story originated there and leave it at that: he matched his themes and ideas to Elizabethan audiences’ expectations about different countries. He also used foreign settings to explore contemporary English themes, but distancing the action from England to avoid trouble with the censors.

Romeo and Juliet, for example, is set in the summer heat of Verona in Italy. As soon as the audience saw that they would be thinking about the violence and feuds that they associated with Italy. They would be thinking about passion, love, and quick tempers, aggravated by hot days. And they were not disappointed because those are the central elements of the play.

Measure for Measure is set in Renaissance Vienna. Austria was a Catholic country and Shakespeare chose it partly because he wanted Isabella to be locked away in a nunnery, an institution that had been abolished in England by Henry VIII. In the play the brothels of Vienna are being torn down because of the spread of fornication and also because venereal disease is out of control. That would have struck a chord with the London audience as in the same year that the play appeared, 1604, King James ordered the tenements and London suburban houses to be demolished to try and prevent the plague from spreading.

And so, Shakespeare always thought carefully about how to tighten his dramas’ unity by making the geographical setting central to their meaning.
Only one of Shakespeare’s plays – Hamlet - is set in a Scandinavian country but it is probably his most famous, and some would say greatest, play. It is certainly his most performed play worldwide.

The original story comes from Denmark but although it has some similarities with Shakespeare’s story, that is only in the basic outline. It is the legend of Amleth, included in the Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes), an historical work by the 12th century Danish author Saxo Grammaticus. But Shakespeare got it from a play, lost now, by one of his contemporaries, thought to be his friend, Thomas Kyd. Scholars have dubbed the lost play The Ur-Hamlet.

Hamlet was written at the turn of the century - between1599 and 1601, and the whole feel of it is that of protestant England. If that is what Shakespeare wanted then he could not have chosen any of his usual European settings, which were Catholic. Hamlet is a contemporary protestant student, attending the university in Martin Luther’s city, Wittenberg in Germany. He doesn’t immediately accept the ghost’s story of purgatory, as a Catholic would. Protestants rejected the concept of purgatory.

It is clearly England, but one could not set a play with a villainous king at its centre in England. Apart from the Protestantism many of the other features of the play are English. For example, the travelling players dropping by from time to time were typical of English country life.
The English audience also felt an affinity with the Scandinavian countries, particularly Denmark. They would have been aware of the common history and the actions and policies of King Cnute, who was a Dane.

Always aware of the atmosphere his settings created, Shakespeare would have regarded the Danish setting as suitable for a play in which his tragic protagonist would claim that he felt imprisoned, because the frozen countryside of Denmark was an isolated place geographically.
So in Hamlet, Shakespeare once again shows perfect judgment in his choice and treatment of a setting for a play.

Guest blogger Warren King has been teaching Shakespeare for over 40 years, and is the author of the NoSweatShakespeare website