Monday, July 3, 2017

July 2017

Antony and Cleopatra – ah, what a play. Maybe if somebody would do a really good production of it I would learn to like it. Any takers out there? Now A Midsummer Night’s Dream – that’s a play to read and read again and enjoy it more each time. This time we started reading it a couple of days before Midsummer and we’re now in the last act. We have several films to watch, including one of the Globe production from 2013. Sadly we did not see it when we were in London in 2013, it hadn’t started yet. Now we are looking forward to seeing the filmed version. I’m hoping there will be a text next time I’m on the blog, but for now you will have to make do with the text on Antony and Cleopatra. And for that, many thanks to AA for the inspiration!

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Shakespeare sightings:
  • Dagens Nyheter
    • Asks if the Trump family is by Shakespeare or Aaron Spelling (producer of, among many other things, Dynasty). The journalist Malin Ullgren hopes for an HBO series about Trump. ‘It could be brilliant’. Reality outdoes fiction, once again…
    • Reports that New York’s Public Theatre has upset some with its interpretation of Julius Caesar because Julius Caesar bears a resemblance to Donald Trump and the play is said to promote the assassination of a despot.
  • On the TV program Vem vet mest? (Who knows the most?) the question was: In what country was Shakespeare born? Again, it was kids, and the answering kid got it right.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Killer
    • Season One - the teacher reads the ‘If you prick us do we not bleed’ quote and asks for comments. The awful Cordelia (! – how significant is that choice of name?) says, ‘Shylock is so self-centred! Whine, whine, whine!’ Teacher: ‘Interesting. It’s nice to know some students do their reading.’ Well, as an English and history teacher, I would certainly have responded differently.
    • Season Two - Giles heaves a huge sigh of relief when Buffy turns off the music (which he calls ‘noise’) to which she has been doing her calisthenics and says contentedly, ‘The rest is silence.’
  • In the novel The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon, Daniel tries to convince his scientific girl friend of the value of poetry by quoting ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.’
  • In the fourth St. Mary’s novel by Jodi Taylor, A Trail Through Time, Max denies that she’s a sound sleeper: ‘I’m the world’s lightest sleeper. On a bad day, I can make Lady Macbeth look like a raging narcoleptic.’
  • On TVs Kulturnyheter (Culture News) there was a report on the production of A Winter’s Tale on the island of Gotland at Romateatern, old church ruins used as a theatre since 1989. The director is Maria Ã…berg who has worked with the RSC. She focusses on the women, who provide the strength and humour. The stringent tragedy of the beginning moved the critic deeply. The theatre is magical, she says, but advises playgoers to take a jacket – it’s cold!
  • In the novel The Muse, by Jessie Burton, Odelle Bastien, who moved from Trinidad to London five years ago, is dismayed that she has yet to meet anyone who can name three of Shakespeare’s plays.
  • In How to Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman we are told about Shakespeare’s infamous will in which he left his wife Anne the second-best bed.  This has been interpreted by many, including my hero Stephen Greenblatt in the book mentioned below, to mean that he had no love for his wife, that it was almost an insult to leave her their second-best bed.  Goodman writes that this was actually probably a sign of great devotion since a good bed was a highly sought-after luxury in their day.

Further since last time:
  • Read for the second time: Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt. A wonderful book!
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Ordered and received from the Royal Shakespeare Society:
    • A Comedy of Errors with Judi Dench
    • Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu
    • Shakespeare Live! Broadcast in BBC last year on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death
    • A 2018 calendar
    • Various pens, pencils and erasures
  • Watched: the above-mention Shakespeare Live! What a pleasure to see it again. Since the first time we have seen David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Doctor Who and have bought, as mentioned above, the Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu, so we had a new appreciation of the To Be or Not to Be sketch, which was as hilarious as the first time. 

Posted this month

Still trying to like...

Still trying…
to like
Antony and Cleopatra

     There seem to be many reasons to like this play. My friend and fellow Shakespearean scholar AA, for example, thinks it one of Shakespeare’s best and he helpfully tries to explain why:
  • The intensely alive, complex and contradictory title characters
  • Their love which, for all that seems to the contrary, gives the impression of a world well lost for
  • The gorgeous verse that manages to be stirring and visionary without the overblown rhetoric and clumsy verbosity that sometimes affect Will’s earlier plays
  • The elaborate structure that covers the whole known world of the 1st century BC
  • Enobarbus
  • The marvellously individual minor characters
  • The final scene in which Cleopatra is transformed from shallow to sublime and the Romans are taken in completely

     Most interesting, AA! And on some points we do agree.
     Enobarbus is indeed a strong character, the voice of reason in all the hysteria. He supports Antony but not blindly, telling Cleopatra that she was right to flee the battle and that Antony ‘would make his will/ Lord of reason…though you fled…why should he follow? …’Twas a shame… to leave his navy gaging’ (Act 3.13). When he then turns from Antony his guilt kills him. ‘I am alone the villain of the earth… I will go seek/ Some ditch wherein to die’ (Act 4.6). So yes, I like Enobarbus, a quietly tragic character.
     And Charmian. With humour and intelligence to match Cleopatra’s she keeps her frenetic queen under control while offering unwavering friendship and loyalty. Her two best lines: ‘O, excellent! I love long life better than figs’ (Act 1.2) shows the exuberance of Cleopatra’s private chambers and it is ironically tragic when Cleopatra dies and Charmian cries, or perhaps murmurs, ‘Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies/ A lass unparalleled’ (Act 5.2), then dies herself. What a wonderful word, ‘lass’. Two lasses who cheat the Romans. Oh yes, I like Charmian.
     As for Cleopatra, nothing in her life became her like the leaving it. I do agree with you, AA, that in Cleopatra’s final scene she is ‘transformed from the shallow to the sublime.’
     I also appreciate the historical sweep of the play. Fascinating and ambitious. But. Oh, woe is me, lover of history! – all the historical and military stuff is unbearably boring! And confusing. And unending. All of Shakespeare’s history plays plus Julius Caesar plus Coriolanus plus Cymbeline are so much better!
     ‘Gorgeous verse’? AA, many agree with you, but try as I might I find it verbose, long-winded, convoluted – as we read I mutter, ‘Yeah, yeah, get on with it!’ It’s a long play and could be cut by half just by striking every other line or so!
     Their love. Much heralded by bardolators. I am not a romantic and I have often commented on the strange love matches in Shakespeare. Of course I’m not alone in that. But it seems most scholars accept this love affair. Well, as much as Antony and Cleopatra go on about their love of one another and the other characters go on and on and on about it, I am, if not exactly unconvinced, completely unmoved.
     And now to your first point, AA, the intensely active and complex and contradictory characters. Yes, agreed! But so unlikeable! Marjorie Garber asks in her Shakespeare After All if Antony is ‘a failed hero, or a successful myth’ (p. 726). Neither, I say. In Julius Caesar he is brilliant. In Antony and Cleopatra he is a bore and a boor. Completely uninteresting and his death scene, where he has to be dragged up to Cleopatra’s platform – come on, Shakespeare! Clumsy staging! It doesn’t work. As for Cleopatra? Oh please, give me Queen Margaret, Queen Gertrude, Queen Hermione – any queen but this unpleasant diva! It is a relief when she dies.
     Oh what a terrible thing to write. But at least it means that this seemingly interminable play is over at last.
     Harsh. And blasphemous (forgive me, Shakespeare!). And unreasonable. I have had similar objections to many of Shakespeare’s plays but still loved them. So, AA, I fully accept your outraged, ‘Wha’? Are you daft??’¨when you read this.
     Probably. And no doubt missing the whole point. But so it is. I still don’t like Antony and Cleopatra.
     But thanks for trying, AA. Don’t give up. I might like it next time!

Works cited:
  • Garber, Marjorie. Shakespeare After All. Anchor Book. 2004.
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen.  

Films seen this time:
  • 2014.The Globe. Director: Jonathan Munby. Cast: Antony – Clive Wood; Cleopatra – Eve Best; Enobarbus – Phil Daniels; Charmian – Sirine Saba
  • We saw this at the Globe in 2014 and now we watched the film version of it. It’s always fun to see Shakespeare at the Globe no matter what, but this production did not do much to make me like the play better. I didn’t like any of the interpretations of the characters, with the possible exception of Octavius. Watching it now on DVD did nothing to change my mind. A pity.