Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday April 21 2014

Happy Birthday, dear William! 450 years old this week, well done. You’re very much in the news this week, and coincidentally in the books I’ve been reading so here we go:

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Jessica is a popular girl’s name these days.  Shakespeare invented the current version of the name when he created the not altogether admirable character of Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice.
  • John is the name of many characters in Shakespeare and appears not only as the title role in King John but in smaller roles in Henry VI Part One, Richard III, Henry IV Part One, Much Ado about Nothing, Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo and Juliet and Henry V.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Edna Ferber’s novel Giant the main character Leslie, angry with her husband Jordan as she so often is, is told by one of her friends, “Stop looking like Lady Macbeth.”
  • In London a Social History Roy Porter
    • quotes Oscar Wilde in connection with the excellence of London, “’Shakespeare wrote nothing but doggerel verse before he came to London and never penned a line after he left’.”
    • Reports that in the 1830s Covent Garden led a Shakespeare revival.
  • Dagens Nyheter has Rickard III as number two on the best on stage list this week too.
  • DN also had a four-page supplement about Shakespeare in honour of the coming birthday. The title: “Dear William, Who were you actually?” (In Swedish: “Dear William, vem var du egentligen?”) The journalist made a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, was horrified at finding in a gift shop little yellow rubber ducks looking like Shakespeare and talked to actors and others involved in the Birth Place and Grave.  She visited the Globe and the British Library and included a list of famous quotes. Another reporter tells of experiencing Shakespeare when he was in London to go to football games and realizing that it’s not necessary to understand everything but that the language itself is enough.
  • DN’s crossword on one of the Easter days included a clue using the witches of Macbeth. Witches are an Easter thing in Sweden.
  • In the little gem English Proverbs Explained by Ronald Ridout and Clifford Witting, borrowed from MM of the library’s English Book Circle, there are naturally many Shakepseare sightings. The introduction tells us what we all know, that Shakespeare is the source of a great many proverbs and household words, so often used that we are often unaware of the source. Here are just a few from the more than fifteen proverbs listed so far:
    • “Conscience does make cowards of us all” – Hamlet
    • “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” – The Merchant of Venice
    • “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” – Hamlet
    • “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin” – Troilus and Cressida. Not the most famous quote exactly; what it means is that a show of human emotion often brings people together.
    • “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – Romeo and Juliet
    • “Sweet are the uses of adversity” – As You Like It
    • “There is a tide in the affairs of men” – Julius Caesar
  • Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet was on TV this past week.
  • In the documentary film Lost in La Mancha, about the ill-fated filming by Terry Gilliam of Don Quixote, the fact that this project was jinxed from the start was compared to bad luck that reportedly often accompanies production of “the Scottish play” and when an unexpected thunderstorm floods out the filming of one of the desert scenes, King Lear is mentioned.
Further since last time:
  • Continued reading aloud with Hal: Coriolanus
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.
  • Report on Contested Will – Who Wrote Shakespeare? By James Shapiro

Contested Will by James Shapiro

Contested Will – Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro. 2010. Read in September 2011.

                      With monotonous repetition the question of who really wrote Shakespeare pops up and makes the rounds. Even people who should know better claim that someone else did and I find it more and more puzzling.  It shouldn’t really bother me but the substitutes offered are so silly it’s insulting.
                      That’s why this book is so refreshing. In a calm, thoughtful, scientific manner Shapiro goes through the history of this odd phenomenon, explains why the theories were presented when they were and how none of the candidates are feasible.
                      In the 19th century Shakespeare had been burdened with a Godlike status similar to that of Jesus and when scientific development brought doubt to the veracity of the tales in the Bible, a doubt of Shakespeare’s divinity also swept through the western world. Good so far. I doubt that Shakespeare ever wanted to be divine. The problem was that, while the evidence against the possibility of the Bible being true is sound, the evidence against Shakespeare writing Shakespeare is not. And there is fact a difference between trying to prove that Shakespeare was God, or at least God’s word in literature, and that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.
                      As for the candidates – mainly Delia Bacon and Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, Shapiro shows with meticulous reference to existing documents, that nobody but Shakespeare is a plausible alternative.
                      Shapiro ends his study with a discussion on why this question seems to be so interesting and he writes, “It makes a difference as to how we imagine the world in which Shakespeare lived and wrote” (page 316).  This book is a fascinating study of that. If you believe someone else than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and you want to continue to believe that, don’t read this book.  If you haven’t figured out what you think about it, or if you want thorough and reasonable arguments favouring Shakespeare, then this is a must read.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday April 14 2014

Back to a quieter week with no texts to post. We’ve started reading Coriolanus which has recently been brought to the attention of modern film goers through Ralph Fiennes’s screen version. We have it but haven’t seen it, we’ve been saving it for this reading which we should finish in a couple of weeks.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Jack shows up in a lot of the plays. It usually implies a man of a lower class, sometimes used in contempt. It is also the word for the plectrum or keys of the virginal, the target ball in lawn bowling and the thing that strikes the bell in old clocks.
  • James of Arc, Jeanne’s father, is portrayed in Henry VI Part One as a poor foolish old man but D&F tell us that he was probably a relatively well to do farmer of some standing.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In London a Social History Roy Porter
    • tells us that picture galleries in the 18th century offered in their exhibitions scenes from the Shakespeare plays.
    • repeats that since Shakespeare’s time London’s watch had been unfairly held in contempt for incompetence.
  • Dagens Nyheter has Rickard III as number two on the best on stage list right now.
  • DN also had a long review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream now on at Stadsteatern in Malmö.  It’s a production aimed to attract young people. Oberon and Titania are vampires, drugs are involved and the language is a mixture of Swedish, English and German (?).  The youthful cast is very enthusiastic and the adult reviewer seems to think it all works quite well.
  • In the novel The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, a younger brother who works for a pittance for his older brother, tells the heroine, laughing, “Don’t worry, Mike’s still getting his pound of flesh.”
  • In the Johnny Depp film From Hell, about the Jack the Ripper murders, sergeant Robbie Coltrane is clearly a Shakespeare fan:
    • “Once more unto the breach, my friends...”  The coppers listening don’t have a clue what he means and he has to add something like, “Well, come on then.”
    • He compares his boss Inspector JD to Othello, as being too trusting.
    • “A rose by any other name”, referring to various words for prostitutes.
    • On seeing some graffiti, probably written by the Ripper himself: “Hardly Shakespeare but it’ll do.”
    • And finally, “Good night, Sweet Prince.”
Further since last time:
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Coriolanus

Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday April 7 2014

Monday April 7 2014
Now I’ve posted the text on Pericles.  That all went very quickly, didn’t it?  Next up is Coriolanus.  I think I wrote a couple of weeks ago that The Winter’s Tale came next but I was a little ahead of myself.  There are only five plays left (if we do Henry VIII (which is included in the BBC box) and don’t do Two Noble Kinsmen (which isn’t) so I’m already starting to wonder what comes after that. Hal and I have discussed doing the history plays. I’ve thought of a thematic reading, although there are so many themes that it would be difficult to know where to start. Ah well, it will be a few months before I have to deal with that.  For now, this week:

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Iceland, mentioned in Henry V, was in Shakespeare’s day an exporter to England of a popular breed of dog. Wha’? What dog is that, I ask and add, Iceland probably exported more than that. Fish, for example?
  • Ireland is mentioned in the history plays as well as A Comedy of Errors and Macbeth. Ireland was settled by the Celts in the 4th century B.C. and was spared the destruction that came with the fall of the Roman Empire and the invasion of the Saxons, but not the invasion of the Vikings.  The Roman popes did not like the independent spirit of the Irish church and gave England permission to take over. They tried. And tried. And tried. Not the least during Shakespeare’s time. It took awhile though...
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the second season of Hustle Danny says to Mickey after Mickey and the gorgeous but icy crooked cop (I’ve forgotten her name) glare at each other over a disputed £10.000, “Well done, Romeo.”
  • In her detective novel The Cuckoo’s Calling Robert Galbraith (do you know who this is an alias for?) the detective Cormoran Strike sees a painting of Bottom in ass’s ears and recognises it as a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • In London a Social History Roy Porter
    • asks if there really existed in London a picturesque brotherhood of malefactors like the one mentioned in Much Ado about Nothing
    • claims that though Shakespeare portrays Dogberry as a fool, “London possessed a thorough policing apparatus.”
    • tells us that Shakespeare arrived in London at the time of the Spanish Armada and that Shakespeare’s greatest triumphs took place on the Globe.
  • Dagens Nyheter still has Rickard III as number one on the best on stage list right now.
  • IMDB tells us that Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) is going to play Richard III in BBC’s new production. I look forward to seeing that.
Further since last time:
  • Finished: the text on Pericles
  • Watched: the BBC version
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.
  • “Oddities in Pericles Prince of Tyre