Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday October 20 2014

Not a lot to write this week.  The film watching has started, thoughts on the Tempest text are circulating, three more books of interest have been posted. That’s about it. So here’s the week’s report.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Pendragon, you know, of Uther and Arthur fame with their friend Merlin, is actually mentioned in Shakespeare once, in Henry VI Part One. In Shakespeare’s time the Camelot myth was still very popular but Shakespeare is generally thought to be ridiculing it the various times he mentions it in his plays.
  • Perigouna. If you feel the need to worship a new deity here’s one for you. Perigouna was the mother of Melanippus (father: Theseus). D+F tell us that Perigouna, or perhaps her son, founded the cult that worshipped the asparagus. Well, why not? It’s nutritious and does more good than deities generally do.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the film Dark Shadows, Johnny Depps’ character, the vampire, reflects on the lyrics of 20th century popular songs (“I’m a picker, I’m a grinner...” by the Steve Miller Band) and says, “If only Shakespeare had been as eloquent.”
  • There have been adverts for various Shakespeare productions this week: a one-man Hamlet, and at the Royal Ballet Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • In Jacqueline Winspear’s solemn and very good novel about World War One (not part of the Maisie Dobbs series) The Care and Management of Lies, Hawkes says to Tom as they observe the approaching German soldiers, “Discretion might be the better part of valour.” Tom should have listened to him.  Later the villain Knowles, out to get Tom, reflects with satisfaction that he will get his pound of flesh sooner or later.
Further since last time:
  • Watched with Hal: The BBC version of The Tempest
  • Continued reading: Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare the Biography.
  • Continued watching Season One of the Canadian series Slings and Arrows, received from friends KJG and JG, about a theatre troupe putting on Shakespeare plays. It just gets better and better.
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report
  • Report on three books about Hamlet: Hamlet’s Purgatory by Stephen Greenblatt. To Be or Not to Be by Douglas Bruster. Hamlet, Contemporary Critical Essays, New Casebooks, edited by Martin Coyle.

3 x Hamlet

3 x Hamlet:
Hamlet’s Purgatory by Stephen Greenblatt. Princeton University Press, 2001, 2002 edition. Read in February 2013.
To Be or Not to Be by Douglas Bruster. Continuum Press, 2007. Read in February 2013.
Hamlet, Contemporary Critical Essays, New Casebooks, edited by Martin Coyle. Palgrave Macmillan Press, 1992. Read in February-March 2013.

                      While reading and working with Hamlet I found countless texts that helped me write my analysis.  These three were among them.
                      Stephen Greenblatt’s Hamlet’s Purgatory was the most interesting. What I didn’t know was that Purgatory as a concept has not existed throughout all of Christianity. It started emerging in the late Middle Ages and came under attack by the protestants in the 16th century. This means that in Shakespeare’s day it was a Catholic concept that was being forced out of public religion. Greenblatt shows how Hamlet’s father symbolises this conflict and how Hamlet himself must grapple with the appearances of his father’s ghost. As the play progresses he does so with increasing “terror, guilt and pity” (page 223). The conflict is sharp. Hamlet, “a young man from Wittenberg, with distinctly Protestant temperament, is haunted by a distinctly Catholic ghost” (page 240). Greenblatt asks, “But how is it possible to reconcile this apparent sceptical, secular protest with Hamlet’s obsessive quest to fulfil precisely the task that the Ghost has set him?” (page 241). Shakespeare, in Hamlet, makes brilliant use of the “violent ideological struggle that turned negotiations with the dead from an institutional process governed by the church to a poetic process governed by guilt, projections and imagination” (page 252). As with all of Greenblatt’s works I can only say: Read it. It’s fascinating.
                      To Be or Not to Be is, as you might have guessed, a concentrated look at the soliloquy.  It’s 104 pages long, which just goes to show, if you hadn’t figured that out yourself, that this is one complex piece of writing. And there’s reason for it to be so renowned. Bruster does not go for the obvious. For example he writes, “There are suicide speeches in Shakespeare, and perhaps even in Hamlet, but this is not one of them” (page 13).  Hmmm, interesting. I don’t know if I agree with him, but interesting. Line by line, word by word, comma by comma or lack thereof and Bruster’s startling conclusion could be taken from Macbeth: it’s a soliloquy “signifying nothing.”  Or Much Ado About Nothing. Or to quote Bruster himself: “What does it mean that the central speech of the central character in the central play of the language’s central author is all but useless to its speaker and story?” (page 103). Cheeky, isn’t he?
                      Hamlet, Contemporary Critical Essays, New Casebooks isn’t nearly as interesting or provocative as the first two but it is worth reading. Among the chapters are “Tragic Balance in Hamlet” by Philip Edwards, “The Comedy of Hamlet” by Peter Davison, “A Heart Cleft in Twain: The Dilemma of Shakespeare’s Gertrude” by Rebecca Smith, “Representing Ophelia; Women, Madness and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism” by Elaine Showalter and many others covering a wide range of the many complexities of the play. Also valuable are the many references to Shakespearean scholars throughout the decades and the section at the end of “Further Reading”.  It’s the kind of book I like to have on my shelf.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday October 13 2014

Oh! I’m beginning to understand that something big is happening. Yesterday Hal and I finished reading The Tempest and that concludes the marathon of reading the plays this time around. It has taken about three years. It was with a feeling of regret that it was over and satisfaction that we had done it that we read the final lines and then came the question: how are we going to deal with the plays in the future?  We don’t know yet. But we are not finished with reading Shakespeare. It will just take a different path.  For now we still have five films of The Tempest to watch and I have a text to write. And a month and a half to do it all...

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Pannonians, mentioned in Cymbeline, were a nation of people in the area of present-day Hungary, Austria, Yugoslavia and Italy, invaded by the Celts in the 4th century B.C. In the first centuries BC and AD they revolted against the Romans.  And to think we’ve never heard of them.
  • Paris we have heard of, both the city and the person. The city figures in the Henry plays and in Hamlet and All’s Well That Ends Well. The person pops up in Troilus and Cressida and another one in Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery Anne’s friend Hazel says, ”I feel so much better since I’ve confided in you...’touched your soul in shadowland’, as Shakespeare says.”  And just as I was wondering where he says that, Anne informs Hazel, “I think it was Pauline Johnson.”  Whoever that was.
  • Peter Ackroyd is well-known for many things including books about London and the Thames which have figured on this blog earlier.  Today he’ll make two appearances. The first because in his novel Three Brothers the scholarly (and, it must be admitted, snobby) brother, Daniel, says about his younger brother, “I don’t know how Sam seems, Father.  I know not ‘seems’.” And in a later conversation certain acquaintances are compared to Puck, Falstaff and Hamlet.
Further since last time:
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: The Tempest
  • Received from colleague MA a link to a radio program about Shakespeare’s philosophy.  In Swedish I’m afraid but for those of you who understand the language it’s interesting Thank you, MA!
  • Started reading Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare the Biography.
  • Started watching Season One of the Canadian series Slings and Arrows, received from friends KJG and JG, about a theatre troupe putting on Shakespeare plays. We’ve only watched two episodes but already we like it very much.
  • Received from friend AB, who has recently been to London and seen A Comedy of Errors (I’m so envious!): two insult buttons with two of my favourite Shakespeare insults – “I do desire we may be strangers” and “thou art a boil”.  I can’t quite think of when I could wear them but thank you, AB (I think...)!
  • Reserved and paid for: hotel in London at the end of April. The Globe opens the 23rd. We’ll be there!  What play we’ll see is yet unknown, but no matter, we’ll be online in February the minute tickets can be ordered.
  • Ordered: the film Hamlet Goes Business, otherwise known as Hamlet liikemaailmassa, directed by the renowned Finnish direct Aki Kaurismäki.  Our friend EG has long recommended it but it hasn’t been available for awhile. Now it is.
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.
  • Report on Rewriting Shakespeare Rewriting Ourselves by Peter Erickson

Rewriting Shakespeare Rewriting Ourselves

Rewriting Shakespeare, Rewriting Ourselves, by Peter Erickson. University of California Press, 1991, 1994 edition. Read in July and August 2012.

                      The purpose of this book, Peter Erickson tells us, is to add feminist criticism into the psychoanalytical criticism, new historicism and cultural materialism that had made such important inroads into Shakespearean scholarship in the 1980’s.  A worthy purpose and a very interesting book.
                      He starts by placing Shakespeare and his plays in Elizabethan society and shows how (then as now, one might add) “patriarchal control must constantly be renegotiated” (page 23). “Patriarchal conventions that promote male power...cannot, in Shakespeare’s work, be taken for granted as an automatic, settled norm” (page 23). He goes on to analyse gender, class and nation in All’s Well That Ends Well and Hamlet.
                      In Part Two Erickson explores how Shakespeare has been represented in the works of three major modern writers: Maya Angelou, Gloria Naylor and Adrienne Rich.  All three authors have serious issues with the Dead White Men aspect of the Shakespearean canon and they all object to the view that Shakespeare is all-encompassing and universal.  Still, they cannot completely resist Shakespeare’s power and these three chapters offer a fascinating insight into how we as 20th, and now 21st, century readers can relate to this inescapable icon of literature. We all have to somehow.
Erickson concludes: “Revision of the literary canon is a legitimate space for the exploration and negotiation of cultural difference, but only if its potential is not overestimated and the link to larger social change strongly maintained” (page 175).  He assures us that “Shakespeare criticism is not going out of business” but “has been re-established on a new basis, and this basis is constructive” (page 176).
Reading this now it might seem that his conclusion is obvious and that the whole discussion is much ado about nothing, or at least some ado about not much.  But I think at the time the book was written this was a very big issue and there were a lot of scholars who firmly rejected all “new” analysis – psychoanalytical, new historicist, cultural materialist, feminist, post colonialist – of Shakespeare, and this kind of book was vital.  Who knows?  Maybe it still is. Or is again.
In any case, it’s a most thought provoking and interesting read.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Monday October 6 2014

This is a somewhat momentous Monday report. We have started reading The Tempest, the last play we will be doing in this Shakespeare Marathon.  That in itself is momentous but while reading it (we’ve read to about half-way through Act1.2 and have met all the main characters) the images from the Globe performance with Roger Allam and Colin Morgan from just over a year ago are still strong in our memories. Also this week I’ll be posting “You Might Well Ask” which is the title I’ve given my text on Cymbeline. It could be the title of just about all of my texts because Shakespeare’s plays always evoke the question of, “Wha’???” And that is why we’re doing this marathon.  But it’s not time for an end-of-marathon weep yet.  That will come towards the end of November. So for now, Monday, October 6, 2014:

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Ovid (43 BC – c. 17 AD) was the author of Metamorphoses and much more. He was not just a poet but an influential judge but he ended his life in exile because of something to do with Julius Caesar’s daughter Julia (D+F don’t say what). Of interest to us is the “tremendous influence” Ovid had on Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
  • Owl of death is one example of that. This is from Metamorphoses and Shakespeare uses it in Henry VI Part One, but he’s not alone. D+F mention the Kiowa Native American tribe as one of many who regarded the owl as a harbinger of death.  I believe many around the world have done so as well. Don’t tell Harry Potter....
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In To End All Wars, a Story of Protest and Patriotism in the First World War by Adam Hochschild there is one reference to Shakespeare, an example of bleak German humour. When the British royal family decided to change its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the House of Windsor to avoid any suspicion of Germanness, “Kaiser William II is said to have remarked that he was going to the theatre to see a performance of The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha”.
  • Nicholas Wennö, a journalist in Dagens Nyheter, lists Polanksi’s Macbeth as this week’s DVD. OK. I agree it’s a good version but I’m curious. Why now? Has it been re-released?
  • On the same day in Dagens Nyheter there is a review of a Hamlet for teenagers being put on in the Stockholm suburb of Skärholmen. Liv Mjönes is praised for doing a good job of acting a gender-free Hamlet. The reviewer Maina Arvas writes, “Shakespeare’s language lends itself well to this black teenage angst.”  It sounds very good actually and I would like to see it.
  • In the silly film Rango, whose voice is well done by Johnny Depp, Rango tells a story of an evil king Malvolio and later when he has made himself sheriff of the town Dirt he recommends that they all learn some Shakespeare. If I say that these were among the highlights of the film you will guess that I wasn’t terribly impressed.
  • In an email from my friend AR I received this link about a very exciting project among Syrian refugees. Read it! Thank you, AR!
  • The novel In One Person by John Irving is filled with Shakespeare.  The protagonist Billy goes to an all boys’ school in Vermont in the 50’s and in both the school and the community there are active theatre groups and they often put on Shakespeare plays. Billy’s grandfather usually plays women’s roles and he’s very good at it, being a semi-closet transvestite. The whole book is essentially a Shakespeare sighting. Even the title, which is explained on the title page in a quote from Richard II: “Thus play I in one person many people/ and none contented.” I won’t give too many other details but just a couple of especially significant quotes:
    • Richard Abbot, Billy’s stepfather and Shakespearean teacher and director, says about the surprising defeat of the school’s wrestling champion, Kittredge, with whom Billy has a love-hate relationship: “It’s Shakespearean, Bill; lots of important stuff in Shakespeare happens offstage – you just hear about it.”
    • Billy has long wondered why The Tempest doesn’t end after Act Four and thinks that Prospero’s epilogue is unnecessary, until an old friend dies of AIDS and his friend Elaine provides him with the first line, “Now my charms are all o’erthrown” and adds, “You can cry now, Billy – we both can.”
    • There are many more.  All I can add is: read this book.
Further since last time:
  • Finished writing: “You Might Well Ask” on Cymbeline.
  • Received from friends AB and LR: Shakespeare Insult Generator by Barry Kraft. Here’s just one example: “Lubberly, muddy-mettled mushrump.” There are 150.000 more! Thank you, AB and LR!
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: The Tempest.
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.
  • You Might Well Ask in Cymbeline