Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday August 25 2014

Though we haven’t been reading any Shakespeare plays or seeing any Shakespeare films, a month or so is a goodly length of time for sightings, as you will see in the list below. Next week again there will be no report as we will have house guests from abroad, but after that Shakespeare will be calling regularly, if all goes according to plan.
Oh yes, there was recently an anonymous comment on the text about Shakespeare and Music by Julia Sanders (see “Books of Interest”) mentioning that there are compatibility problems between the blog and some servers. So true.  Internet Explorer is not the way to go. Try Firefox or Google Chrome or, according to anonymous, Safari. Thanks, Anonymous!

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Merlin (he figures quite a lot in this Monday report), gets a long report in D&F. In Henry IV Part One Owain Glyndwr’s followers make use of the Merlin legend to support their cause of Welsh independence. Merlin is also mentioned in King Lear (see below).
  • Mexico, mentioned in The Merchant of Venice, had recently been conquered by the Spanish in Shakespeare’s day.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In A History of World Societies by John McKay et al. Victor Hugo’s great admiration for Shakespeare is mentioned. On the other hand classicists scorned Shakespeare for being “undisciplined and excessive.”
  • In 1Q84  by Haruki Kurakami Shakespeare shows up several times in the 1,318 pages (it’s a trilogy but I read it as one)
    • Describing the world of four hundred years ago, Aomame tells the Dowager that only a “small fraction of the population could gaze at the moon with deep feeling or enjoy a Shakespeare play...”
    • At his father’s nursing home Tengo compares the three nurses to the three witches in Macbeth – “The ones who chant ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair,’ as they fill Macbeth’s head with evil ambitions” – though he didn’t see them as evil. He does this again later on in the book, on page 1024 to be exact.
    • Later, in the cat town, Tengo feels uneasy and this sentence appears, not as a quote or with any reference, but in italics: By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.
    • Towards the end Tamaru says, “Shakespeare said it best. Something along these lines: if we die today, we do not have to die tomorrow, so let us look to the best in each other.”  Hmmm, I can’t remember at the moment which play that is...
  • In sorting through papers and shelves at work I found a list of clever questions among which was, “If all the world’s a stage, where does the audience sit?”
  • In sorting through old essays written by students I found one from 2007 entitled “Which economic, political and cultural aspects steered William Shakespeare when he wrote his plays?” Sadly, this very nice student just didn’t listen to me when I advised her that the subject was too big but if she insisted on keeping the title she should at least answer her own questions.  She didn’t quite but it was an interesting read anyway.
  • In George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistras Flying
    • the gloomy hero Gordon Comstock spends his gloomy evenings in his bedsit reading King Lear
    • Gordon explains that like murder “money will out”.
    • The taxi man avows that “English is good enough for me,” to which Gordon replies, “It was the tongue of Shakespeare.”
    • At a tense dinner, Gordon and Ravelston bore Rosemary with a dull discussion about the meaning of Hamlet.
    • During which Gordon suddenly decides that he hates Shakespeare.
    • In a drunken spree he refers to Macbeth but frankly I have no idea what he means.
  • In the film sometimes called A Merry War, based on this novel,
    • Gordon explains that, “We are the stuff that dreams are made of.”
    • Gordon writes texts for ads and Rosemary tells him bluntly, “Well, you’re not Shakespeare.”
    • When finding a good line for his own poem Gordon tells himself smugly, “Shakespeare never thought of that, poor bugger. A second rate actor.”
    • The kindly prison guard enters the cell of the badly hung-over Gordon with the words, “A cup of tea for Mr. Shakespeare?”
    • Gordon vaguely murmurs, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” but I failed to make a note of what he was talking about.
  • In Thursday’s Children, Nicci French’s best of the series so far in my view, Frieda asks, “What did King Lear say about serpents?” Chloe doesn’t know, nor do I.
  • In Matt Haig’s novel Echo Boy (eerily similar to the Swedish TV series Äkta Människor (Real People)
    • the evil super-capitalist Uncle Alex has a young son he’s named Iago, who is as evil as the original, and a supercar he calls Prospero
    • the young heroine Audrey has Romeo and Juliet among her classics
    • Audrey’s former boyfriend claims that one could now walk into a replicate of an Elizabethan pub and talk to Shakespeare. To which Audrey replies: “”No we couldn’t. It would be a VR-simulation of a pub. And it wouldn’t be Shakespeare. It would be a computer program speaking Shakespeare quotations.”
  • Guy Halshall shows in his Worlds of Arthur – Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages in a very scholarly way what we already really know, that Arthur probably didn’t really exist but he might have but not the way the legends would like us to believe. It is an interesting book about the little we know of the two centuries after the fall (or fading away) of the Roman Empire in Britain but Halshall is not in agreement with other scholars who interpret the archaeological findings in different ways (too complicated for me to follow actually) and he explains: “my attitude...resembles that of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet: ‘a plague on both your houses’.” Scholars can become quite passionate...
  • Anne of Avonlea is the second in L.M. Montgomery’s classic series about the almost unbearably sunny and imaginative young Anne who is now a teacher (at the age of sixteen) who wishes to send young students along on the path to become Shakespeare or Milton. Later her middle aged unmarried friend Miss Lavender says smilingly, “Some are born old maids, some achieve old maidenhood, and some have old maidenhood thrust upon them.”  Of a woman who shows up unexpectedly from a friend’s past Anne says, “She can’t be such stuff as dreams are made of.”
  • Merlin – The Prophet and his History by Geoffrey Ashe has several references to Shakespeare:
    • Geoffrey of Monmouth, the one credited with putting Merlin’s name on paper in his history of British kings written in the 12th century, is also given credit for putting King Lear into a historical context, which Shakespeare does not.
    • Vortigern, enemy of Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, was like Macbeth in that “he could never feel secure while a potential challenger lived.”
    • Spenser also wrote about Lear and his three daughters and Ashe suggests that this was Shakespeare’s source rather than Geoffrey (though he later says Geoffrey is his source).
    • Spenser’s Merlin anticipates Prospero but “the spirits he commands are dangerous creatures.”
    • Shakespeare rates his own chapter title as Ashe makes his way chronologically through the literature in which Merlin appears. The chapter title is “Shakespeare and Others” and Ashe goes through the prose, poetry and drama of Shakespeare’s time in which Merlin is mentioned.  He writes: “While the evidence for Merlin’s popular reputation is sketchy it was well enough established to be made fun of in King Lear,” then he recites the Fool’s long monologue that ends in, “This prophecy Merlin shall make.” Whether or not this is making fun is not clear to me, nor was it when we read the play.
    • In 1661 a play called The Birth of Merlin was published with one of the two authors named being Shakespeare. Not because he had had a hand in writing it but because somebody wanted to make money from his famous name.
    • A 19th century French writer, Edgar Quinet, wrote a long story about a political Merlin (sounds interesting!) in which he meets such characters as Hamlet, Othello, Juliet, Desdemona, Ophelia, Titania (sounds interesting!).
  • The Invention of Wings is a novel by Sue Monk Kidd about the historical Grimké sisters who in the first half of the 19th century were instrumental in starting the abolition movement. One of the characters says to Sarah Grimké when wooing her, “Williams, Williams wherefore art thou Williams?”  Later Sarah slips some forbidden literature to Handful, one of her family’s slaves, among which was The Tempest.                                               
Further since last time:
  • Nothing Shakespearean. Too busy working my day job!

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