Sunday, April 3, 2016

April 2016

Shakespeare fever is spreading as the 400-year anniversary of his death approaches.  See below for coming events. March itself has been a busy month. Among other things we’ve finished reading the Henry VI trilogy and my text is now on the blog. Richard III is waiting in the wings.
Now to the report:

Shakespeare Calling – the book
Available on
or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten
Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it!
Once again, thank you all for visiting the blog throughout the years and for supporting this project.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Woodstock – Henry VI was there! Not the one you’re thinking of, however. This one is the royal forest in Oxfordshire that ‘was a favourite retreat for kings throughout the Middle Ages’.  Henry VI was captured there, at least in Shakespeare’s play. Blenheim palace, known amongst other things for Branagh’s Hamlet, is found there. 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • On the subject of despairing thoughts in Third Rock from the Sun Dick’s new lady love Jennifer spouts some poetry, as she tends to do, and then says, ‘Shakespeare.’ To which Dick replies admiringly, ‘He’s good!’ In a later episode, when he believes he is about to be interviewed about his intellectual prowess Dick proclaims, ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some thrust their greatness upon others!’
  • In Isaac Asimov’s massive Guide to the Bible he compares Tobit, in the book bearing his name, to Polonius, because Tobit too gives his son advice before sending him off on a journey.
  • In the novel Academy Street by Mary Costello the hospital library where the main character Tess spends much of her time while recovering from an illness has Romeo and Juliet in its collection.
  • Dagens Nyheter had a 5-page spread about the significance of King Lear in the political situation of today: ‘Johan Hilton sees a tragedy about politicians who are no longer capable of steering their country and right-wing populists who are shredding the little remaining decency.’
  • Dagens Nyheter also has a review of a production of Romeo and Juliet in which the two lovers have lived into old age and are now living together in a pensioners’ home. It’s described as unexpectedly successful if not analysed too much.
  • Imagine our surprise when we started seeing full-page adverts for the Royal Opera with our dear friend ÖB - who is sought after in advertising as well as small roles in films, partly because of his magnificent beard and general wise old wizard good looks – as Falstaff! He assures us however that he doesn’t play Falstaff in the coming opera…
  • In John Le Carré’s classic spy novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Guillam (the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch) thinks that he’s ‘not so sure whether Percy realised, on that first presentation of the facts, quite what the facts were: after all, he was still Chief, and Haydon was still his Iago.’ 

Further since last time: 
  • Read aloud: excerpts from Shakespeare Calling – the book to a well-attended gathering at our local library under the heading: ‘Why Shakespeare?’
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Henry VI Part Three.
  • Seen with Hal: BBC’s version of Henry VI Part Three.
  • Written: analyses of Henry VI Part One, Two and Three.
  • Ordered but not received: Kent Hägglund’s Shakespeare en man för alla tider and Tina Packer’s Women of Will: following the feminine in Shakespeare’s plays.
  • Work started: with SEST on the program for the 400th anniversary 22, 23 and 24 April. Those of you in the Stockholm area – do not miss this!
  • Event posted on Facebook: at the English Bookshop in Stockholm ‘Breakfast Talk: Ruby Jand on Shakespeare Calling, 21 April’. Those of you in the Stockholm area, welcome! 

Posted this month
  • ‘Holy Henry’ in Henry VI Parts One, Two and Three
  • This report

Holy Henry in Henry VI Parts One, Two and Three

Holy Henry

Henry the Sixth, Parts One, Two and Three

     In the introduction in the RSC edition to all three of these plays bearing his name, King Henry VI himself is scarcely mentioned. This is symptomatic and accurate.
     This Henry is even less visible than his grandfather Bullingbrook is in his two plays. While Joan of Arc makes fools of the French and English alike and Talbot blusters his way to defeat in Part One, while the Duke of York decides that he should be king and Margaret uses her formidable force to betray Henry and at the same time protect him and the throne in Part Two, and while vicious civil war rages in Part Three, Henry wafts around in the periphery, uttering holy platitudes that only earn the contempt of the Yorks and frustrated impatience from his own Lancastrians.
     The man who would not be king. A king not whatsoever hereafter.
     Shakespeare does not glorify his kings. Even those who have historic reputations as heroes or villains are given a human complexity by Shakespeare. The hovering Harry in these three plays is as far from heroic or villainous as can be imagined, but is he complex in his holiness?
     Let’s take a look.
     In Part One we first see him when he is pleading with Gloucester and Winchester to stop feuding. He uses such words as ‘prayer’, ‘love and amity’, ‘my soul’ and laments that ‘holy churchmen take delight in broils’ (Act 3.1). In Act 3.4 he makes Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury in an unremarkable little speech. Later he expresses dismay at the budding conflict of the roses:

Good Lord, what madness rules in brain rich men,
When for so slight and frivolous a cause
Such factious emulations shall arise? (Act 4.1)

I quite like him for these lines. They could be said in regard to many conflicts. Alas, the Yorks and Lancastrians don’t listen, even after Henry, in Warwick’s words, ‘Prettily, methought, did play the orator.’ Prettily, yes but without dealing with the conflict.
     In the last act he laments, regarding the wars with France, that it is

…both impious and unnatural
That such immanity and bloody strife
Should reign among professors of one faith (Act5.1).

     His glorious dad should have thought of that. Henry agrees however to marriage with a French princess after protesting that he’s too young and prefers his books. Poor Henry. If he only knew what he was agreeing to. In the final scene, however, he claims his devotion to the ‘beauteous Margaret’ and waxes lyrical over how her virtues awaken ‘passions in my heart.’ But then in his final lines in Part One he reveals that it’s not so much love for the young princess but that he expects her to ease his unrest:

I feel such sharp dissension in my breast.
Such fierce alarums both of hope and fear.
As I am sick with working my thoughts…
…Be gone, I say, for, till you do return [with Margaret],
I rest perplexèd with a thousand cares…
…so conduct me where from company
I may revolve and ruminate my grief (Act 5.5).

     Piety does not protect young Henry either from the strife of court intrigues or his own neuroses.
     Part Two, then.
     Margaret arrives, eager to wed the king and play her part. He welcomes her graciously enough but we soon learn that he is not what she had expected. She says:

…all his mind is bent to holiness,
To number Ave-Maries on his beads:
His champions are the prophets and apostles,
His weapons holy saws of sacred writ.
His study is his tilt-yard, and his loves
Are brazen images of canonized saints (Act 1.3).

     This she says to macho Suffolk and she’s clearly not pleased with her holy husband.
     In Act 2.1 we see that Margaret is causing trouble and Henry frets about the dissension. He is then piously amazed by the miracle of the blind man seeing, only to have his piety mocked by the hoax.
     Next problem: the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. Henry is firm in dealing with Eleanor’s accomplices: ‘the witch in Smithfield shall be burned to ashes’ and the others ‘shall be strangled in the gallows’ (Act 2.3) but when Gloucester is to be dealt with, though Henry goes on about his grief, he tells the queen and cardinal to do what they’re planning, and exits. Overwrought, yes. Cowardly, no doubt. Pious? Not especially. Kingly, not at all. He later swoons at the news of Gloucester’s death and appeals to God for forgiveness in suspecting foul play.
     When Suffolk is accused of treason Henry is resolute enough and banishes him. He says to Margaret:

Ungentle queen, to call him gentle Suffolk.
No more, I say: if thou dost plead for him,
Then wilt but add increase unto my wrath.
Had I but said, I would have kept my word:
But when I swear, it is irrevocable… (Act 3.2).

     Ah, so there is some oomph to Henry and maybe he’s not foolishly blind to Margaret and Suffolk’s shenanigans after all. When Margaret later grieves, cuddling Suffolk’s severed head (yuck) Henry says – indifferently? sarcastically? callously? –

How now, madam?
Still lamenting and mourning for Suffolk’s death?
I fear me, love, if that I had been dead,
Thou would not have mourned so much for me (Act 4.4).

     Maybe a bit clever, our Henry.
     Sadly, no rest for Henry. Cade on one side, York on the other. And maybe not so clever, after all. Henry puts his staunchest supporter, Somerset, in the Tower and utters his classic understatement:

Come, wife, let’s in, and learn to govern better,
For yet may England curse my wretched reign (Act 4.10).

     And that’s about it for Part Two. Despite his feeble attempt to stand his ground – ‘Can we outrun the heavens? Good, Margaret, stay’ (Act 5.2) – Henry runs.
     Part Three opens with Henry protesting feebly over Richard’s claim to the throne and offering the compromise of declaring Richard and his sons heirs to the throne when Henry dies. This does not please Margaret, their son Edward or the Lancastrians. In any case the agreement doesn’t last long because everyone immediately goes back on their oaths as Shakespeare’s characters tend to do. Full war ensues.
     Henry is upset to see Richard’s head on the gates of York and tries to instil some valour into his son when knighting him, ‘…draw thy sword in right’ (Act 2.2) – easy enough to say. His allies and enemies wrangle about this and that and when Henry says ahem can I say something? – or to quote:

Have done with words, my lords, and hear me speak.
…I am a king and privileged to speak (Act 2.2).

- it is simply embarrassing because they all ignore him. He utters not another word until three scenes later when he alone as the battle rages around him contemplates the simple life of a swain and the passing of time. At this point he witnesses the son grieving over having killed his own father and the father grieving over having killed his own son. Henry says:

Was ever king so grieved for subjects’ woe?
Much is your sorrow: mine ten times so much (Act 2.5).

     Hardly. Here I lose patience with the good king Henry. He is not as unhappy as the son or the father, he’s just self-aggrandising. Not admirable.
     In the next scene he uses kingly logic with the hunters but is arrested anyway and taken off to the Tower. He is rescued by the side-switching Warwick but cedes the power to Warwick and Clarence, ‘While I myself will lead a private life’ (Act 4.6).
     Finally, we think. Still he’s upset at the thought that people might love King Edward (oh yes, Edward of York has seized the throne, forgot to mention that) more than him because he, Henry, has been kind, mild, loving. Oh well, to the Tower he goes.
     And soon ends up dead, at the hand of Richard of Gloucester, the future Richard III. Before dying Henry in detail describes to Richard’s face his, Richard’s, villainy.
     So it goes. Henry is dead. Richard is plotting.
     We have seen Henry as a young unsure king who prefers his books to love, serenity to conflict.  We have seen him filled with care and grief, sometimes with obvious cause, sometimes not. We have seen him swoon, evade his responsibilities and resolute in punishing traitors. We have seen him unhappier for his own problems than that of his subjects’ and we have seen him recede in silence when ignored.   
     Does this all make Henry complex? Or just piously wishy-washy? He is no doubt pious. Does Shakespeare admire Henry? Maybe. He’s quite gentle with him. But these plays, we should realise, are not about Henry. They are about what Jan Kott calls ‘the Great Mechanism…a great staircase on which there treads a constant procession of kings. Every step upwards is marked by murder, perfidy, treachery. Every step brings the throne nearer. Another step and the crown will fall…From the highest step there is only a leap into the abyss. The monarchs change. But all of them – good and bad, brave and cowardly, vile or noble, naïve and cynical – tread on the steps that are always the same’ (Kott, pages10-11).
     In this cynical but accurate description of the historical process Henry scarcely emerges as just an unfortunate individual born into the wrong role. Actually the historical Henry founded Eton, Cambridge, Oxford and other colleges for which we are grateful and this proves that he wasn’t so wishy-washy. But in these plays he stumbles on the steps of kings, piteously pious Holy Henry. We can but hope his holiness gives him comfort.

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

Films seen (the following is what I wrote the last time these films were seen but after this viewing I have no reason to change my assessment):
  • BBC, 1983. Director: Jane Howell. Cast: Joan - Brenda Blethyn; Talbot – Trevor Peacock; York – Bernard Hill; Warwick – Mark Wing-Davey.
    • Brenda Blethyn is great as the arrogant saucy Joan but less convincing as a tragic defiant figure. Trevor Peacock is appropriately macho and frustrated in a fittingly somewhat stupid bull-headed way.
  • 1983, BBC. Director: Jane Howell. Cast: Henry – Peter Benson; Margaret – Julia Foster; Gloucester – David Burke; Suffolk – Peter Chapman; Duchess of Gloucester – Anne Carroll.
    • The intro in the Norton edition calls the production ‘tepid’. I tend to agree but in spite of my complaints [about the interpretation of Margaret in my text ‘Margaret’s Marriage to Henry’], it's always very gripping to see. Shakespeare shines through no matter what. David Burke as Gloucester is best but Peter Benson is a convincing wimp.
  • 1983, BBC. Director: Jane Howell. Cast: Henry – Peter Benson; Margaret – Julia Foster; York - Bernard Hill; Warwick – Mark Wing-Davey; Edward – Brian Protheroe: Clarence – Paul Jesson; Richard of Gloucester – Ron Cook.
    • Confusing at times but generally well done. The York family is well acted.
  • I’m so looking forward to seeing the Hollow Crown production, to be shown this year, with Tom Sturridge and Sofie Okonedo as Henry and Margaret.

Seen on stage: No

Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 2016

Since we’re still reading the Henry VI trilogy there will be no play analysis this time but there has been quite a lot going on in the world of Shakespeare so here’s the report:

Shakespeare Calling – the book
Available on
or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten
Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it!
Once again, thank you all for visiting the blog throughout the years and for supporting this project.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Wittenberg’s most famous student was undoubtedly Hamlet but a few others studied at this German university founded in 1502. The city itself is from the 12th century. D&F write that the fact that Hamlet and Horatio studied there ‘would indicate they were at the forefront of thinking at their time.’ 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel Caedmon’s Song, by Peter Robinson, Martha, contemplating the meaninglessness of life, recalls Shakespeare’s lines, ‘As flies to wanton boys, are we to gods; They kill us for their sport.’ Later her alter ego Kirsten, in trying to remember what her attacker looked like, compares the frustration to trying to find a phrase from Shakespeare when you can’t remember which play it was from (the book takes place in pre-Google says).
  • In the novel Summer in February by Jonathan Smith the boisterous and not very likeable artist Alfred Munnings compares himself to Macbeth at the end just before Macduff gets him, and later to Falstaff depending on his instincts. He compares a friend of his to Pistol and says that Shakespeare would be proud of him.
  • In the novel Blackout by Connie Willis the characters are time travellers on a mission to study everyday life in England during World War II. One the agents, Polly, uses names from Shakespeare as her aliases. An actor in a bomb shelter performs Shakespeare to help his companions avoid panic during the bombing. Shakespeare’s plays are wrongfully cited frequently by his fellow bomb shelter friends. Shakespeare quotes are often used to head chapters.
  • In the sci-fi novel The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu, one of the aliens occupying human form had, it turns out, occupied Shakespeare and written his plays for him.  In this life she calls one of the centres for the good guys the Capulet Ski Lodge.
  • In the novel After You by Jojo Moyes Louisa’s mother, who is rebelling against the restraining role of housewife, says that before she shuffles off this mortal coil she wants to try new things.
  • In the novel A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo the young Chinese main character Z thinks that since Shakespeare spelled so badly she doesn’t have to be ashamed of her spelling. She also discovers the author Anon and thinks she likes him better than Shakespeare. She also points out to her British lover that the Chinese invented paper so that Shakespeare could write his plays centuries later.
  • In discussing names on the TV series Endeavor the lovely Kay says, ‘A rose by any other name…’ In a later episode, the last for Season 3, Endeavour says to his old professor when the bell rings for the second half of the concert, ‘We have heard the chimes at midnight.’
  • In Dagens Nyheter there was a notice about the new X Files in which the series is described as speaking boldly about George W Bush being part of the conspiracy and Fox Mulder siding clearly with Edward Snowdon (we’re in the middle of Season 5 so haven’t seen this). The notice goes on to say that they wouldn’t have dared do this in the ‘90’s but (and here comes the Shakespeare) ‘that the best stories outdo history in time has been shown, for example, by Shakespeare in Richard III. In 400 years George Bush will have fangs and eat babies.’
  • In the film About Time Tim says, ‘Some of my best sleeping has been done at the Royal Shakespeare Company.’
  • In The Third Rock from the Sun Dick says, ‘I believe it was Mr William Shakespeare who said, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”.’
  • In Isaac Asimov’s massive Guide to the Bible he points out that the ‘murder of an anointed king, regardless of the personal characteristics of that king, is bound to be looked upon with horror by people taught to believe that the anointment represented the adoption of the monarch by a deity. This quasi-holy character of kingship served to protect kings from assassination down to modern times.…Shakespeare, in his historical plays, sees some of the disasters befalling England in the fifteenth century as being the consequence of the forced deposition and later murder of Richard II (even though Shakespeare recognizes him as an unworthy king).’
  • Dagens Nyheter had a 3-page spread about the 400-celebration and some of the productions going on in England. Oh I want to go to England! But we have things happening here in Sweden too. See below!  

Further since last time:

  • Posted on Facebook: by blog follower Kalle ‘I was just watching a video on Nico Video (Japanese YouTube). It was a song using Vocaloids (like Hatsune Miku if you know her). Anyway, in the song Shakespeare came up! I was surprised. I didn't realize people here knew about him at all. tongue emoticon It goes "約束"は人を誘う シェイクスピア. Which means "Promise" invites people; Shakespeare. (Hard to translate.) Actually I just ran into another random Shakespeare. This time it was in a manga I was reading. The 5th volume of "Boku Dake ga Inai Machi", in which an elementary school girl is reading Shakespeare on a bench. She finds it hard to grasp. One of the others say he has only read Romeo and Juliet, and they exchange the start and end of some famous citation. Not sure which. (You haven't reached the bottom if you say you've reached the bottom? Or something like that.) Aya Nakanishi is her name btw.’ Any comments from Japanese visitors to the blog?
  • Participated in: a very interesting discussion on As You Like It arranged by the English Bookshop in Stockholm together with Bio Rio which was broadcasting the performance of the National Theatre’s production. Unfortunately Hal and I couldn’t stay for that but the discussion was very inspiring.
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Henry VI Part Two.
  • Seen with Hal: BBC’s version of Henry VI Part Two.
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Henry VI Part Three. Next month I should post an analysis of all three plays.
  • Discussions started: with SEST on how to work together on the 400th anniversary. Those of you in the Stockholm area – do not miss this!
  • Scheduled: with the local library a lecture on Shakespeare, Wednesday 23 March, 6.00 p.m. Those of you in the Stockholm area: welcome! 

Posted this month
  • This report

Sunday, January 31, 2016

February 2016

The new year progresses apace. Shakespeare is all about us, as always. Preparations are being made round the world to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Keep an eye out on this blog in April. For those of you in the Stockholm area things will be happening. A hint: The English Bookshop, SEST (Stockholm English Speaking Theatre)…
Meanwhile, Hal and I are in the Henry VI plays. I’ve decided to wait until we’ve read all three before writing an analysis of Henry’s long life. We only have the BBC box version of the plays to watch so it won’t take so long.  I wish The Hollow Crown series would hurry up and release their Henry VI! I see that Tom Sturridge will be playing Henry and Sophie Okenedo will play Margaret. Should be very interesting indeed. Alas, not this time.

Now the February report:

Shakespeare Calling – the book
Available on
or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten
Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it!
Once again, thank you all for visiting the blog throughout the years and for supporting this project.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • William was for centuries after the Norman conquest the most common English name though by Shakespeare’s day it was in second place after John. The name is used in Henry IV Part 2 and As You Like It, in very small parts. This item was included in the January report but interestingly, since then it has been reported that William was the most popular name for baby boys in 2015 in Sweden.
  • Windsor is about 20 miles west of London. It’s been there a long time. William the Conqueror built the castle, or at least fortified it. Legend has it that King Arthur and his knights met there. In Shakespeare’s day the Tudors expanded the castle. Windsor is mentioned in the Henry plays and of course The Merry Wives of. 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf Louis tells Addy that he had wanted to be a poet when he was young and memorized some of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
  • On Facebook the group ‘The Front against racism and growing fascism’  had a post about the sharpened border controls in Denmark under the heading ‘Någonting är ruttet i den danska staten’ (something is rotten in the state of Denmark). Sadly not only in Denmark…
  • In the novel Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley cheeky young Aza, who is dying of an unexplained condition but refuses to be sentimental about it, tells her English teacher that she was thinking about The Tempest because of the drowning twins. Her teacher points out that that was Twelfth Night which she finds a bit embarrassing. Later her friend Jason points out, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,’ and she reminds him that she’s not Horatio and her hallucinations are due to her medicine. He replies, ‘Hamlet is all about hallucinations and meltdowns and early death.’
  • In the novel The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers an aging priest and nun, who had been childhood sweethearts, ran off and eloped, like Romeo and Juliet. Later, Abbé Paul reflects, ‘Words, words, words, as the afflicted young prince said, what were they worth?’
  • There was a big review in Dagens Nyheter of the King Lear production at the Uppsala Municipal Theatre. Flat, empty, far-fetched ideas and zero instruction, the Fool has evidently taken a Sabbatical, failure, clichés, so near a catastrophe it’s possible to be. Ouch.
  • Swedish TVs Kulturnyheter was a bit kinder. Marie Göranzon, playing the title role of Lear was said to be good but the symbols used throughout the play meant…what? The critic’s reaction was generally tepid.
  • In the novel Like by Ali Smith Amy’s daughter had played Ophelia well and Ash’s father told her he had done a lot of reading, including Shakespeare, on the ship during the Second World War.
  • In the film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Edward tells Baby Jane that his father was a serious Shakespearean actor.
  • Dagens Nyheter had a review of the new film Macbeth and seemed to agree with me but gave it a higher rating (see below).
  • The Royal Dramatic Theatre was going to perform Hamlet but the whole project has been cancelled at the last minute because of the illness of the director Jenny Andreasson.
  • In Love Actually, watched recently in memory of Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant’s charming Prime Minister stands up to the creepy US President Billy Bob Thornton by pointing out that Britain is ‘a small country but a great one, the country of Shakespeare, the Beatles, Harry Potter and David Beckham’s right foot.’ 
  • Dagens Nyheter reports that there will be several new translations into Swedish of Shakespeare plays.
  • The Heart Goes First, Margaret Atwood’s latest novel, is a bit obsessed with sex and a group of gay men are going to do an all-male erotic production of A Midsummer Night’s Scream. The whole novel is a parody of sorts. 

Further since last time:
  • Seen at the cinema with Hal: Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. A disappointment! See my review
  • Read aloud with Hal: Henry VI Part One.
  • Seen with Hal: BBC’s version of Henry VI Part One.
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Henry VI Part Two. 

Posted this month
  • This report

Monday, January 4, 2016

January 2016

Happy New Year! I hope your holidays have been good and the new year has opened well.
In spite of the turbulence in the world and the rise of forces that go against equality, humanism and solidarity – much of what we see in Shakespeare’s plays – there is reason for optimism. Shakespeare would no doubt be puzzled by our world but were he given time to study it he would, I think, see that his plays have given us much to feel encouraged and carry on the growing grass root movements to defend democracy, equality, the environment and humanism. Remember – ‘Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, / Which we ascribe to Heaven,’ (All's Well That Ends Well) and ‘It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.’ (Julius Caesar).

Shakespeare Calling – the book
Available on
or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten
Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it!
Once again, thank you all for visiting the blog throughout the years and for supporting this project.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Westminster, in what we today consider the centre of London, is and always has been an entity separate from the city itself. The abbey was first built in the 11th century.  D&F tell us that the towers didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s day. Westminster is mentioned in Henry VI Part 2 and the Abbey in Richard III and Henry IV Part 2.
  • William was for centuries after the Norman conquest the most common English name though by Shakespeare’s day it was in second place after John. The name is used in Henry IV Part 2 and As You Like It, in very small parts. 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the book Tusen år i Europa band 1 1000-1300 (A Thousand Years in Europe, Volume 1:1000-1300) by Kim Bismark and Brian Patrick Shakespeare The Merchant of Venice is mentioned in connection with the chapter about Jews in the society.
  • In Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South Chapter XXVII is headed by ‘For never anything can be amiss / When simpleness and duty tender it’ (Midsummer Night’s Dream). Later Margaret and Mr Bell compare themselves to the contemplative Hamlet, though Mr Bell points out, ‘But as my mother has not murdered my father, and afterwards married my uncle, I shouldn’t know what to think about…’
  • On The X Files, season 4, the quote from Henry IV Part One Act 5 Scene 1 is used at the beginning of the episode: ‘For nothing can seem foul to those that win.’
  • On The Last Tango in Halifax, on Kate and Caroline’s wedding day, Caroline jokes that her poem to Kate will be ‘Shall I compare thee to my Jeep Cherokee?’
  • In The Perks of Being a Wallflower the English teacher asks the class which novelist had invented the paperback, the serial novel and the expression ‘cliff-hanger’. One of the students (who in the credits was called ‘the Shakespeare girl’) guessed Shakespeare and the kind teacher says, ‘Good guess but Shakespeare wasn’t a novelist.’ The answer (which the main character and I knew) is Dickens. A few minutes later the teacher said, ‘If we’d gone to a Shakespeare play in his time it would have cost us 4 pennies.’ 
  • In the novel Among Others by Jo Walton fifteen-year-old Morwenna reports in her diary that her English class will be reading The Tempest and they will be seeing the play on a school trip. She’s happy because she has never seen The Tempest, she’s seen Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her friend hates Shakespeare after seeing The Winter’s Tale and Richard II. Morwenna thinks the company must be awful ‘because Richard II at least should be terrific acted. “Sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings”.’ Her reaction to The Tempest: It was all wrong to cast Prospero as a woman, she liked Ariel and Caliban. Morwenna herself can do magic and knows fairies and thinks Shakespeare must have too, about which she has quite an interesting discussion in her diary. In the end she is rescued from danger by spears turning into tress – ‘Burnham Wood coming to Dunsinane’ – and on the last page she promises to keep reading and to use her magic well: ‘I’ll never drown my books or break my staff.’
  • On The Third Rock from the Sun Harry defends aliens from being portrayed as evil: ‘If you prick an alien do we not say “Ow”?’
  • Also on The Third Rock from the Sun Tommy asks Dick to direct the school production of Romeo and Juliet so that he can get the part of Romeo and do heavy make-out scenes with his girlfriend.  Dick watches a version of Hamlet and is inspired by ‘this Laurence Oliver’ (sic). He also explains to the frustrated cast that Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare and has nothing to do with a horny teenager and his girlfriend.
  • In Stephen Fry’s film Bright Young Things James McAvoy’s character, a journalist, reports to his scandal sheet editor that Emily Mortimer’s character was heard to have misquoted Lady Macbeth at a party.
  • In Vera Brittain’s memoirs Testament of Youth she remembers her earliest school as leaving little scope for reading Shakespeare. She must have read him somewhere however since a few more references are made throughout the book. 

Further since last time:

Posted this month
  • This report
  • ‘A pot of ale and safety’ in Henry V

PS For some reason this blog spot does strange things with the layout, changing the settings and sizes. There seems to be nothing I can do about it. Sorry.