Monday, August 3, 2015

August 2015

It’s been a month of trying to learn to become a marketing expert. Publishing a book in Sweden and hoping to sell it internationally is truly not an easy task.  Another complication is that it’s summer and it seems the whole world is on holiday, including the publisher. But Shakespeare Calling – the book is out there. Below you will find the links for on-line purchase. Please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it! And once again, thank you all for visiting the blog throughout the years and for supporting this project.
It’s also been a month of getting back to the reading of the plays. We’ve finished The Life and Death of King John and the text will go up today. We’ve started Richard II. It’s good to be back.

Shakespeare Calling – the book

For those of you in the UK, Sweden and the rest of Europe:
or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Turks are often mentioned in Shakespeare. In his day the Ottoman Turks were the leaders of the Muslim world and Christian Europe felt threatened by them. They were not only being paranoid, though perhaps the threat wasn’t as large as they thought it was.  Any parallels to today, think you?
  • Ursula is a name I’ve always quite liked, maybe because I like bears. Ursulas show up in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Henry IV Part Two and Much Ado about Nothing, always as servants or working class women.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • On the title page of her book Wild Cheryl Strayed uses the quote ‘The breaking of so great a thing / should make a greater crack.’ Antony and Cleopatra
  • The White Family by Maggie Gee has one mention of Shakespeare. A pastor, talking about the racism in the town in England where the book takes place, quotes The Merchant of Venice: ‘If you prick me, do I not bleed?’
  • Facebook friend LW tagged me in (to?) a photo of puppies named Olivia, Othello and Ophelia. Thanks, LW!
  • In the film Hot Fuzz Sgt. Angel stops a speeder who turns out to be an amateur actor rushing to a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. Quotes abound as he and Juliet are then murdered, reportedly for being such bad actors.
  • Mark Rylance, Cromwell in the excellent Wolf Hall, is called in Dagens Nyheter ‘the Shakespearean actor.’ Sadly, I have never seen him in any Shakespeare roles.
  • Timothy Dalton is also called a Shakespearean actor in DN’s notice of showing The Living Daylights.
  • Looking at Tom Conti on IMDb I see that he prefers ‘contemporary over classical theatre (with nary a Shakespeare stage credit in sight’. A pity. He would be good. 
  • In Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
    • Two earlier publishers lost Shakespeare’s manuscript to The Comedie of Robin Hoode, or The Forest of Sherwoode.
    •  In speaking of her aunt Agnes Nutter, Anathema is misunderstood by Adam who says, ‘Which what?’ to which (haha) she replies, ‘No. Witch. Like in Macbeth.’
    • In a later discussion of the benefits of good vs evil, if there are any, Adam’s friend Wensleydale thinks they might both be unnecessary and says, ‘A plaque on both your houses.’  These kids often get their vocabulary confused.
  • In Michael Wood’s In Search of the Dark Ages we are told that although King Athelstan is almost unknown by us he was in his own time considered the English Charlemagne and was still well enough known in 1599 to have a play written about him by Thomas Dekker, Old Fortnatus, which was performed on ‘Shakespeare’s stage’, though Wood doesn’t tell us which one.
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Roma Theatre on Gotland was reviewed by DN and called ‘Steaming hot Shakespeare light.’
  • On Religion is a collection of writings by Marx and Engels. It is well known that Marx was a Shakespearean and in ‘The Leading Article of No. 179 of Kölnische Zeitung’, on the role of religion in education and the state, Marx quotes Cornwall in King Lear: ‘He cannot flatter, he! -…’ unlike the ‘knaves’ amongst his followers. The connection, without further study and pondering, seems a bit obscure to me.
  • In the film Happiness while Philip Seymour Hoffman and Lara Flynn Boyle are sitting silently and tensely on the divan I notice a magazine, or maybe a script, with a picture of Shakespeare on the cover lying on the coffee table. I wasn’t sure at first because it was upside down from our point of view but when I stopped the DVD and tilted my head – yep, it was Shakespeare, all right.Further since last time:
Finished reading aloud with Hal: The Life and Death of King John
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: The Life and Death of Richard the Second
  • Missed: seeing Hamlet in Kungsträdgården in Stockholm because twice I got the dates wrong. Stupid! It seems fated that I won’t see Hamlet on stage. But I’ll keep trying… 

Posted this month
  • This report
  • ‘God and the kings or Blanche does it again’ in The Life and Death of King John

Posted 3 August 2015

King John 2

God and the Kings

Blanche does it again


The Life and Death of King John

     That Shakespeare lived and wrote in a time of religious turbulence we all know.  Many of his plays reflect this.  None more, perhaps, than The Life and Death of King John. And few more dramatically than in Act 3:1 where a great clash between church and state is compacted into some of Shakespeare’s most politically pithy lines.
     The situation is this:
     King John of England is at war with King Philip of France. King John (the wicked prince in the Robin Hood legend and the signer of the Magna Carta, though there is no mention of that in the play) is brother to the deceased older brothers Geoffrey and Richard the Lionheart. Philip is friends with Constance, widow of Geoffrey and mother of young Prince Arthur, who she claims is the rightful King of England. The marriage between John’s kinswoman Blanche and the Dauphin of France, Lewis, has just taken place, creating peace between the two kingdoms. Constance is furious. To add fuel to the fire John has angered the pope who has sent his legate Pandulph to confront him.
     So we have two conflicts.  The keeping or breaking of vows to the pope? And war or peace between England and France?
     John, Philip, Constance, the Duke of Austria and the Bastard (son of Richard the Lionheart) are already bickering, with Blanche looking on, when Cardinal Pandulph enters demanding to know why John has spurned the pope’s chosen archbishop of Canterbury.
     To which John retorts:

What earthy name to interrogatories
Can test the free breath of a sacred king?
Though canst not, cardinal…
…no Italian priest
Shall tithe or toll in our dominions:
But as we, under heaven, are supreme head,
…we will alone uphold
Without th’ assistance of a mortal hand:
So tell the Pope, all reverence set apart
To him and his usurped authority.

     Words well appreciated by non-Catholics in Elizabethan England, one can assume.
     When Philip, shocked, exclaims, ‘Brother of England, you blaspheme in this’, John says contemptuously:

Though you and all the kings of Christendom
Are led so grossly by the meddling priest,
Dreading the curse that money may buy out,
And by the merit of vile gold, dross, dust,
Purchase corrupted pardon of a man,
Who is that sale sells pardon from himself:
Though you and all the rest so grossly led
This juggling witchcraft with revenue cherish,
Yet I alone, alone do me oppose
Against the Pope, and count his friends my foes.

     A fine Protestant rallying battle cry! Brave words from good old King John. Not that he sticks to them. He soon repents and returns to the fold but it sounds good when he says them.
     Constance already hates John for as she sees it usurping the throne from young Arthur and she jumps at the chance to use his words against him:

O, lawful let it be
That I have room with Rome to curse awhile:
…when law can do no right,
Let it be lawful that law bar no wrong:
Law cannot give my child his kingdom here;
For he that holds the kingdom holds the law;
Therefore, since law itself is perfect wrong,
How can the law forbid my tongue to curse?

     She challenges King Philip to break with John. Lewis, the Dauphin, too, encourages his father to resume enmities with England:

Bethink you, father, for the difference
Is purchase of a heavy curse from Rome,
Or the light loss of England for a friend:
Forego the easier.

     His newly acquired wife Blanche, who does not want to become the enemy of her kinsman’s England, entreats him to choose the other, ‘That’s the curse of Rome,’ and Constance says:

Oh, Lewis, stand fast: the devil tempts thee here
In likeness of a new untrimmèd bride.

     To which Blanche replies:

The lady Constance speaks not from her faith,
But from her need.

     I think I’ll stop right there. They go on bickering and in the end they go to war and switch loyalties back and forth to fit the changing power balance but Blanche has done it again. She is a minor character but with this throw-away line, that is in fact a show stopper if you think about it, she captures the essence of the play.
     They all speak not from faith but from need. Or, more likely, simple greed and ambition.
     That sums it all up, doesn’t it? Gods or kings? Both or neither. It depends on where you are in the power struggle at the moment, doesn’t it?
     Shakespeare knows, and shows, this.

Works cited:
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen

Films seen:
  • BBC, 1984. Director: David Giles. Cast: Lady Blanche – Janet Maw: King John – Leonard Rossiter; the Bastard – George Costigan; Queen Eleanor – Marry Morris; Constance – Claire Bloom; Hubert – John Thaw: King Philip – Charles Kay; Louis the Dauphin – Jonathan Coy.
    • A well done production. The play is going on at the Globe this summer so maybe we can hoped for the filmed version in a year or so.