Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday September 15 2014



It’s been rather quiet on the Shakespeare front this week. But here’s the report. There are bits and pieces of interest.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Mulmutius is a mythic king of England, supposedly the first, but history is a bit muddled. Holinshed would have him the instigator of many wise laws, whereas Geoffrey of Monmouth, who also calls him a lawgiver, presents him as the son of Cloten, king of Cornwall. Cloten? He’s the very nasty villain in Cymbeline, and that is the only play in which Mulmutius is mentioned in Shakespeare, who gets his history muddled once in awhile too...
  • Nature is not just the trees and lakes we enjoy when we go out walking, it is, D&F tell us, “goddess personification of the creative forces, what is given at birth as opposed to what is shaped by Fortune”.  They go on to explain, “Differentiating between when Shakespeare is using Nature as a personification or when he is using it as an abstract noun is often a difficult decision for editors.”  It is used in many of the plays; I’d venture to say all of them.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the almost unreadable Anne of the Island, the third in the Green Gable series, the author L.M. Montgomery displays her knowledge of Shakespeare with many references:
    • Anne is given Shakespeare’s plays as a token of appreciation.
    • Living in a room with many cushions, a thought it given to those who have lived in houses where cushions were loved not wisely but too well.
    • An unwanted proposal of marriage murdered sleep for Anne though the proposer was unlike Macbeth in all other ways.
    • “By the pricking of my thumbs,” Anne feels that something mysterious is about to happen.
    • Anne’s landladies are “hardly such stuff as dreams are made of.”
    • Davey declares to his unbelieving sister that he did so have a good time “in the voice of one who doth protest too much”.
    • Later Davey leaves the room, “and stood not upon the order of his going,”
    • Upon regarding still another refused proposal Anne reflected that, “Men have died and the worms have eaten them but not for love.”
    • There were more but I don’t wish to make this list as tedious as the book was at times...
  • Boudica by Vanessa Collingridge continues to be a treasure of British history. The above mentioned Raphael Holinshed, whose work was the source of Shakespeare’s history plays, also wrote about Boudica, in a renaissance of interest in the ancient history of Britain.  One wonders why Shakespeare didn’t write a play about the warrior queen.  Who knows? He might have been considering it but when Elizabeth died and James became king, the society turned distinctively misogynistic and playwrights had to tread very carefully indeed.
  • There was review in Dagens Nyheter of Verdi’s Otello, now being played in some obscure place in the countryside in a barn-like ex-sawmill. Hmmm. But the critic called it “painfully elegant.”                                               
Further since last time:
  • Continued reading aloud with Hal: Cymbeline.
  • Received from friends KJG and JG: Slings and Arrows, the DVD box of a Canadian comedy series about a theatre group putting on Shakespeare plays. We’re really looking forward to seeing it!

Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.
  • Book report on A Companion to Shakespeare‘s Works – the Tragedies, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard

Companion the the Tragedies


A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works – the Tragedies, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard. 2003. Read in January and February 2012.

                      It must be confessed that not much in this book fastened in my long-term memory. I do remember that it was scholarly and a bit heavy reading, but also that there was much that was interesting in it.
It starts with a chapter on Shakespeare and the idea of tragedy and it is noted that “Tragedy, for Shakespeare, is a genre of uncompensated suffering” (page 9). It continues with a chapter that places Shakespeare’s tragedies within the context of his contemporaries’ productions.
                      There are quite a lot of chapters actually and they deal with emotions, “disjointed times”, love, religious identity and geography.  A couple of chapters deal with the Shakespeare tragedies in film.
                      And then the last ten chapters deal with specific plays: Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens and Coriolanus.
Come to think of it, I’ve used this book a couple of times in my analyses of Hamlet and Coriolanus. I consult it often, but somehow it doesn’t usually offer much for what I’m dealing with in most plays.
Still, it’s good to have on the shelf and it’s worth paging through regularly for inspiration and information. It’s also good for all the notes which provide a wealth of sources – I always enjoy adding to my list of books-to-read.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Monday September 8 2014



Having now started to read Cymbeline aloud together there is a sense of heading for a kind of climax.  We’ve discussed it quite a lot, Hal and I, and have come to the conclusion that on this Shakespeare marathon we are not going to include All Is True (Henry VIII) or The Two Noble Kinsman. The BBC project includes Henry VIII but not the Kinsman. We’ve read and seen Henry VIII but not much of it was written by Shakespeare and it doesn’t really feel like part of his work.  We’ve not read Kinsman but it is included in the Norton edition. Still, since even less is attributed to Shakespeare and we don’t have any films of it, we’re simply going to ignore it this time around.  Which means that after Cymbeline we have one play left, The Tempest. And since that has long been regarded as Shakespeare’s last full play, it seems right to end with that.  After that?  Well, I have plans. The blog will continue. And other things... More later.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Milford Haven is a ford and harbour mentioned in Cymbeline but we haven’t got there in the play yet. It’s in Wales and is known in Welsh as Aberdaugleddau.  It’s also part of Richard II and Richard III’s history but Shakespeare doesn’t use it in those plays.
  • Mote and Moth are more or less interchangeable in Love’s Labour’s Loss which indicates that they were pronounced the same.  The “th” that foreign students have so much trouble pronouncing was simply “t” in Elizabethan English. At least sometimes.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Boudica by Vanessa Collingridge the author goes back to the early Roman times to explain why they were so astounded by the fact that a woman could lead a revolt against their vast military superiority. She uses a quote from Julius Caesar to show how colossal Caesar was.  She also mentions Shakespeare’s immortalising of Brutus.
  • There was an advert in Dagens Nyheter for a production of Othello coming up in December but we don’t think we’ll go.   The play is just too tragic.  But we might change our minds.  Karl Dyall is playing the lead and he’s very good.
  • I saw on IMdB that Cymbeline has been filmed with Ethan Hawke and other good actors.  How timely!  But it probably won’t be available while we’re reading it.
  • In the novel The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald two quotes sneak into the story: “method in this madness” and “make the beast with two backs.” Does the author know these are from Shakespeare?  She does actually have one of her characters explain why she’s named Olivia: “My father loved Shakespeare and my mother loved olives.”                                             
Further since last time:
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Cymbeline.
  • Seen with friends KJG and JG: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. They had heard of it but never seen it.  They liked it and we liked it as much as ever.

Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.
  • Book report on The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, edited by Russell Jackson.

Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film


The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, edited by Russell Jackson. Second Edition.  2010. Read in October and November 2011.

                      Having read several books about Shakespeare on film this one doesn’t have so much new to offer but it’s still an interesting read and recommended especially to those of you who haven’t started exploring the subject.
It starts with a chapter on how the plays have been and can be adapted to the screen and goes on to deal with the more modern use of video and DVDs.  There is a chapter on the importance of the various films of Richard III, especially Ian McKellen’s portrayal. It goes on to do the same with Hamlet.
Part Two starts with a chapter on the comedies and one on the history plays. Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear have a chapter together as do the love tragedies.
Part Three focuses in several chapters on the directing efforts of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Gregor Kozintsev, Franco Zeffirelli and the “flamboyant realist” Kenneth Branagh. I especially enjoyed that one.
The final part deals with the issue of gender, national and racial stereotypes and filming the supernatural.
At the end there are lists of films and offshoots which are handy for reference.
Just paging through the book to write this, I realise that I want to read the book again!


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!

Posted this week: