Monday, June 1, 2015

June 2015

It’s been a month of proofreading and waiting.  Shakespeare Calling – the book is now at the printers’.  One last proof copy should be on its way and then hopefully I will be able to say, ‘That’s it. Go ahead.’  And then, a few weeks. And then…
In the meantime it’s been rather quiet on the Shakespeare front.  A few sightings, a few doings. So here’s the report of the past month, well, three weeks actually.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Tomyris was the queen of Massagetae. She killed Cyrus the Great of Persia for having killed her son in battle.  She threw his head ‘into a bucket filled with human blood and invited him to drink his fill.’ Hmm, sounds like something from Titus Andronicus but she’s only mentioned in Henry VI Part One.
  • The Tower was not, as legend goes, built by Julius Caesar but by William the Conqueror.  It’s still there and costs a fortune to visit so in fact we never have gone in. In our more recent visits to London we haven’t even come close. Anyway, back to D&F: unsurprisingly the Tower figures in the history plays, all the Henrys and Richards. 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the sci-fi novel Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson a theatre troupe stage a production of Hamlet for the colony on Mars.
  • And in the second of the trilogy Green Mars, the young hero Nirgal attends a performance of King John and discusses with his friends the play’s significance in relation to ‘various forces on Mars, or the Mars-Earth situation itself.’
  • The final chapter in Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning - from More to Shakespeare deals with the question of empathy and is called ‘The Improvisation of Power.’ The chapter circles around Iago and how he performs ‘a crucial Renaissance mode of behavior’ through his ‘ability both to capitalize on the unforeseen and to transform given materials into one’s own scenario.’ Greenblatt goes on to describe Othello as ‘the supreme symbolic expression of the cultural mode…for violence, sexual anxiety, and improvisation.’ Heavy stuff.
  • In the big crossword from Dagens Nyheter with the theme ‘Family’ the clue was ‘the surnames of the families in Romeo and Juliet.’
  • In a report on the TV’s cultural news we were told of a ballet of Romeo and Juliet in Malmö in which the dancers are of various ages. Romeo is very young and Juliet is very old.  It looked wonderful.
  • Oliver Sachs, in his book Musicophilia, uses this quote from Troilus and Cressida to head a chapter about losing one’s sense of music, a condition called amusia: ‘Untune that string / And hark, what discord follows?
  • In Dagens Nyheter a reporter who likes to wander around cemeteries reflects that in ‘Great Britain one can fantasise an entire Shakespeare play from the unknown names and dates.’  The heading for the column is ‘Cemeteries are like Shakespeare plays.’ 

Further since last time:
  • Actually this should have been reported last time but I simply forgot: After seeing The Merchant of Venice at the Globe with our friends in April we had dinner at the George Inn, which some of you may recall existed in Shakespeare’s time and we like to believe that he was a guest there.
  • Purchased: a new edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, because after our latest reading, the Norton edition is completely falling into pieces, and most of the plays are underlined and heavily marked. We need a fresh one to start the next reading. This time we bought the Royal Shakespeare Company edition and we are leaning heavily towards reading the history plays. By the next report we may well have started.

Posted this month
·       This report

Posted June 1, 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

May 2015

What a month. 
Pre-London was filled with work on Shakespeare Calling – the book, on finishing Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary (I’ll continue reporting on it though, until the end), and a variety of Shakespeare sightings.  
London itself – see ‘The Globe x 2: The Merchant of Venice, and Romeo and Juliet, April 2015’ under Ruby’s Reflections. 
Post London – well, we just got home a few days ago, having also spent a week in wonderful Penzance in Cornwall, so there hasn’t been so much time for Shakespeare things to happen but the days have been filled with proofreading Shakespeare Calling – the book, and in the June report I hope to be able to tell you that it’s available. Or soon to be.
For now, this monthly report.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Time plays, unsurprisingly, an important role on many of Shakespeare’s plays and D&F write that the personification of Time on stage can be guessed from the emblems and drawings of the period that show Time ‘as winged, old, bald and carrying an hourglass and a scythe, little different from how he [he!] is usually represented now.’
  • Toledo is a town southwest of Madrid. As a crossroads of the Muslim and Christian worlds it was an important cultural and intellectual centre in Shakespeare’s day and it was also a big part of the religious, economic and political power of Europe. 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Hustle Season 3 one of the villains is reported to have stolen an original of a 17th century Shakespeare folio.
  • Elizabeth George, in her Lynley novel Believing the Lie, evokes Hamlet and protesting too much and hiding Polonius, compares a father and daughter to Lear and Cordelia, mentions Lady Anne being seduced by Richard III and Barbara Havers notes that avoidance can be the better part of valour.
  • In the sci-fi novel Polaris by Jack McDevitt the captain of the mysteriously abandoned spaceship Polaris, Madeleine English, had as a teenager played Tabitha, who in the play Desperado, ‘loved, alas, too well.’
  • In the TV series Fortitude, Michael Gambon’s character tells Stanley Tucci’s that he knows a hawk from a handsaw.  It went by so quickly that I’m not absolutely sure he quoted it accurately but close anyway.
  • Stephen Greenblatt, in his Renaissance Self-Fashioning From More to Shakespeare, refers to Shakespeare in writing about his literary predecessors:
    • Tyndale’s ‘obedience’ is compared to presence and identity in Hamlet.
    • The selfless loyalty of Kent to Lear makes that used by Wyatt seem ‘pallid and abstract’.
    • Wyatt’s ‘manipulation of…manly honesty affords glimpses of a bad faith that receives its definite depiction in honest Iago.’
    • Spenser’s The Faerie Queen is compared to Falstaff’s banishment and Othello’s suicide speech as ‘one of the great cruxes of English Renaissance literature.’
    • ‘Embodiment of reality’ is called great in Marlowe but supreme in Shakespeare, and comparisons between to the two playwrights are many in the chapter about Marlowe.
    • The next and last chapter is about Shakespeare, so more next time!
  • In a small notice Dagens Nyheter tells us that Professors Ryan L Boyd and James W Pennebaker claim to have proved that Shakespeare wrote the play Double Falsehood. Very exciting if true.
  • Sightings in London:
    • On the TV quiz show The Tipping Point (I love British quiz shows!) the question was ‘West Side Story is based on which Shakespeare play?’ The contestant got it right.
    • At a small theatre near Waterloo Station Henry IV Parts 1&2 were performed in April, ending a couple of days before we arrived in London
    • Time Out of April 21-27 tells us that Kenneth Branagh is back and will be doing The Winter’s Tale with Judi Dench at the Garrick Theatre in the West End in October. Oh, oh, oh, I would so like to be there. He will also direct Romeo and Juliet May – August 2016. Welcome back, Sir Kenneth! Was it reading my open letter to you that helped you make these decisions?
    • At the Lyceum Pub there were photos of actors in early productions of Romeo and Juliet, Cymbeline and Hamlet. The food was good too!
    • An IKEA advert for beds on TV tells us that ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’
    • The Times of May 6 has two articles mentioning Shakespeare:
      • One on how hip-hop did more for music than the Beatles according to recent research. Kanye West is quoted: ‘I am Shakespeare in the flesh’.
      • The other a long article about Anthony Sher in playing Falstaff and about his long-term Shakespearean work with his partner Gregory Doran, another Shakespearean who has figured large on this blog.
  • In the novel recommended by the nice young man at the Foyles on the Thames when I asked him for a novel about London, Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, two Shakespeare references appear:
    • One of the minor characters Isis is also known as Anna Maria de Burgh Coppinger, live-in lover of the famous Shakespearean scholar Henry Ireland.
    • In the main character PC Peter Grant’s time travel he swishes through Shakespeare’s time.
  • In the program from Merlin Cinemas we picked up when we went to see Tin in Penzance we saw that the performance of Antony and Cleopatra that we saw at the Globe last summer will be shown in these cinemas.
  • In How to Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran, the protagonist Johanna watched Withnail and I and cried her eyes out over Withnail’s Hamlet recitation at the end. 

Further since last time:
  • Received and started proofreading: the proofs of Shakespeare Calling – the book.
  • Watched:  The Shakespeare Sessions in which ‘ Legendary directors and founders of the Royal Shakespeare Company John Barton and Sir Peter Hall travel to America to work with’ Keven Kline, Dustin Hoffman, Cynthia Nixon, Liev Schreiber, Charles S. Dutton, Harriet Walter and many others on interpreting Shakespeare. Absolutely fascinating! See it if you can.
  • Continued reading: Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare.
  • Seen at the Globe: The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet.

Posted this month
  • This report
  • ‘The Globe x 2: The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet in Ruby’s Reflections

Posted May 11, 2015

The Globe x 2 April 2015 The Merchant of Venice, and Romeo and Juliet, April 2015

               It’s like coming home, returning to the Globe. Sadly our hotel was farther away this time so we didn’t have the opportunity to pop in five or ten times a day as we did the two previous times but we were there often.  And we saw two plays, this time with friends from Sweden. What an immense pleasure it was to share our love of the Globe with them.  Some of them had never been to the Globe and I’m pleased to report that they all enjoyed it immensely. I hope we can do it again.
            Already I’m longing to return and my heart yearns to the plays we won’t be seeing this year but I’m glad we saw the two we did.
So here is my report:

  • Directed by: Dominic Dromgoole
  • Cast: Shylock – Jonathan Pryce; Antonio – Dominic Mafham; Portia – Rachel Pickup; Bassanio – Daniel Lapaine; Launcelot Gobbo – Stefan Adegbola; Jessica – Phoebe Pryce; Nerissa – Dorothea Myer-Bennett; Prince of Morocco – Scott Karim; Lorenzo – Ben Lamb; Gratiano – Daniel Sturzaker; Prince of Arragon – Christopher Logan
  • Seen: April 26, 2015 

Ah, the Globe. I’m as much in love with it as always. The Merchant of Venice is our sixth play here and as with all the others I’m curious about how they are going to do it.
Quite straightforwardly, as it turns out.  That’s fine with me.
It’s a great privilege to see Jonathan Pryce as Shylock. He fulfils my high expectations but unfortunately he’s not given his full role.  Several vital lines are cut from his two important monologs – or else I miss them because his back is turned to where we are sitting.  Bad stage direction. Jonathan Pryce and Shylock deserve better.
Portia is a disappointment with her pale hamminess and somewhat unsubtle nastiness as the learned doctor. Bassanio is a bit of a bore but then so he is as a character. He’s one of Shakespeare’s prat romantic lads. Antonio is, well, he’s middle-of-the-road here. He does nasty and piteous as he should.
But what do all of these complaints matter in the midst of the brilliant Launcelot, the loveable Prince of Morocco, the hilarious Prince of Arragon, the burlesque Gratiano and the excellent Nerissa?  A better cast of secondary characters is hard to imagine.  They all have us roaring with laughter through much of the play.
The laughter dies abruptly at the end with the grieving Jessica singing mournfully in Hebrew as Shylock is marched out on stage, stripped of everything but a white robe, to be christened. None of it is in Shakespeare’s original but it’s really not possible to do this play nowadays without making this statement.  Father and daughter Pryce-Shylock-Jessica are magnificent and the ending is very, very strong.
  • Directed by: Dominic Dromgoole and Tim Hoare
  • Cast: Romeo – Samuel Valentine; Juliet – Cassie Layton; Nurse/Lady Montague/Balthazar – Sarah Higgins: Friar Laurence/Benvolio – Tom Kanji; Mercutio/Prince/Apothecary – Steffan Donnelly; Paris/Tybalt/Montague/Peter – Matt Doherty
  • Seen: April 27, 2015 

The cast prance onto the stage, each with a musical instrument, playing a lively tune. The audience, already in fine high spirit, applaud wildly.
Is that Juliet playing the saxophone? It is, indeed.
How to do this most renowned romantic comedy/tragedy?  Again Dromgoole chooses the simple approach.  Early 20th century beige trousers and braces, white shirts. Renaissance robes, ruffs and single puffed sleeves donned and removed as needed to indicate festivities or a different character.
Everyone has large elaborate tattoos. Do they really? Or is it part of the décor? I don’t know but never mind.  I like tattoos.
You know the play.  It’s lucky I do because many of the actors are so hard to hear and the Nurse’s dialect is thick enough to cut with a knife. No matter. The play itself has far too many words in it anyway so understanding half is about enough.
Romeo is ginger-haired, very non-Latin-pretty-boy, and is a most charming Romeo.  Juliet, though hard to hear at times, is perhaps the best Juliet I have ever seen. She’s cheeky, earnest, utterly devastated by the tragedies.
This performance is one of the previews and the cast are in boisterous spirits.  They are really having fun.
It must be difficult to make this play fresh. They succeed very nicely.

Monday, April 6, 2015

April 2015

Shakespeare Calling – the book is now at the publishers.  After very intensive editing work it was finally ready to send in last week and I’m now waiting for the proofs. If all goes well the book should be available in June.  This, I find, is quite astounding.
But the blog continues to develop and today I’m adding a new feature: Guest Bloggers.  As our first Guest Blogger I’m happy to welcome Warren King with ‘Shakespeare goes to Scandinavia.’  Warren wrote this specially for Shakespeare Calling. I came into contact with Warren when I happened upon his excellent blog Thank you, Warren!
April will continue to be an eventful month. We have two plays at the Globe booked, The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet at the end of the month, and who knows what other Shakespearean experiences London and Cornwall will have to offer.

All will be reported, but because of the trip, the May report will come on the second Monday instead of the first.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Spain was the only European nation to border on the Muslim world and by Shakespeare’s time, Protestant Europeans had reason to fear the Spanish monarch Philip. His marriage to England’s Queen Mary was ‘extremely unpopular’ and fortunately for Protestant England it didn’t last long. Shakespeare was twenty-four when the Armada was defeated by Elizabeth’s ships (and the weather). Spain is mentioned, not always kindly, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Henry VI Part Three, King John, Henry V, Julius Caesar, Othello, and The Comedy of Errors.
  • The Ten Commandments are mentioned in only two Shakespeare plays: in Henry VI Part Two as a joking term for the ten fingers, and in Measure for Measure, which as we remember uses religious laws in a most perverted way.
  • Thursday, named for Thor, is the day Juliet is scheduled to marry Paris.  It is also mentioned in Henry IV Parts One and Two.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley the main character’s best friend Jazz is interested in drama and Shakespeare. She’s planning her Shakespeare monolog for an audition and one of the boys she has gone out with played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • In Finding Merlin by Adam Ardrey the medieval Scottish rank of Thane is mention and the author reminds us that it’s a rank made famous by Shakespeare in Macbeth.
  • John Steinbeck also wrote about the Camelot legend in The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. He mentions on the first page how important Shakespeare was in his family when he was growing up but that he himself was much more enthralled with Camelot. In the letters to his agent and editor at the end of the book he mentions Shakespeare several times.
  • In the TV mini-series Lost in Austen Bingley says to Mr. Bennet, “You would have it that Lydia and I have been making the beast with two backs” which he vigorously denies. The actor playing Mr Darcy, Elliot Cowan, was doing Henry V when he was recruited to the series.
  • In the film The World’s End Gary King reminds his gang of pub crawlers that their English teacher had taught them the stage directions of “Exit chased by a bear” in The Winter’s Tale. This gang often had need of exiting as though chased by a bear so it was quite funny here too.
  • In Edna Ferber’s So Big Paula asks glum Dirk, “Why the Othello brow?”
  • Those of you with a very long memory and an eye for detail may remember that I have previously reported on The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.  I dearly love Charles Dickens but this has to be one of the most boring books ever written and it has taken me more than a year to finish it. But finish it I finally did and was rewarded by a single minor Shakespeare sighting in the form of a passing mention of the play Richard III.
  • In the notice about Terry Pratchett’s death DN mentioned that he had read a lot of Shakespeare.
  • In the silly novel Pretty Thing by Jennifer Nadel the teenage character Rebecca compares herself to Hamlet because she can’t get herself going. As she packs her bag to run away (she doesn’t do that either) she takes her complete works of Shakespeare. She compares her and her boyfriend’s sad tale to Romeo and Juliet and there was a fourth one but the post-it with the page noted just disappeared and I can’t be bothered to look for it.
  • Not in the book but in the film The World According to Garp, Garp is irritated because his mother’s bestseller has been translated into many languages, including Apache and he exclaims, “Not even Shakespeare or Dickens have been translated into Apache!”
  • In Hustle Season 3 the grifters are conning a filthy rich sweatshop owner who explains to them that Bollywood films, which he loves, are mainly Romeo and Juliet stories.
  • Stephen Greenblatt writes of the Renaissance: ‘As intellectuals emerged from the Church into an independent lay status, they had to reconceive their relation to power and particularly to the increasing power of the royal courts. For most, not surprisingly, this simply meant an eager, blind rush into the service of the prince; as Hamlet says of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they did make love to this employment.’ This in his Renaissance Self-Fashioning From, More to Shakespeare.

Further since last time:
  • Sent Shakespeare Calling – the book to the publisher. Proof copy should be available shortly.
  • Watched Shakespeare and the Brits Parts One and Two narrated by Simon Schama. Very interesting.
  • Started reading Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare
  • Bought Peter Brook’s book: The Quality of Mercy – Reflections in Shakespeare

Posted this month
  • This report
  • Our first “Guest Blogger” text, ‘Shakespeare goes to Scandinavia.’ 

Shakespeare goes to Scandinavia

by Warren King

When one looks at Shakespeare’s surviving plays one sees that they are set in a wide range of, mainly European, countries. Shakespeare was always on the lookout for a good story and in many cases, apart from the history and Roman plays, those good stories were set in places like France, Spain, Italy and other European countries.

But Shakespeare was carefully selective and he didn’t just set a play in a place because the original story originated there and leave it at that: he matched his themes and ideas to Elizabethan audiences’ expectations about different countries. He also used foreign settings to explore contemporary English themes, but distancing the action from England to avoid trouble with the censors.

Romeo and Juliet, for example, is set in the summer heat of Verona in Italy. As soon as the audience saw that they would be thinking about the violence and feuds that they associated with Italy. They would be thinking about passion, love, and quick tempers, aggravated by hot days. And they were not disappointed because those are the central elements of the play.

Measure for Measure is set in Renaissance Vienna. Austria was a Catholic country and Shakespeare chose it partly because he wanted Isabella to be locked away in a nunnery, an institution that had been abolished in England by Henry VIII. In the play the brothels of Vienna are being torn down because of the spread of fornication and also because venereal disease is out of control. That would have struck a chord with the London audience as in the same year that the play appeared, 1604, King James ordered the tenements and London suburban houses to be demolished to try and prevent the plague from spreading.

And so, Shakespeare always thought carefully about how to tighten his dramas’ unity by making the geographical setting central to their meaning.
Only one of Shakespeare’s plays – Hamlet - is set in a Scandinavian country but it is probably his most famous, and some would say greatest, play. It is certainly his most performed play worldwide.

The original story comes from Denmark but although it has some similarities with Shakespeare’s story, that is only in the basic outline. It is the legend of Amleth, included in the Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes), an historical work by the 12th century Danish author Saxo Grammaticus. But Shakespeare got it from a play, lost now, by one of his contemporaries, thought to be his friend, Thomas Kyd. Scholars have dubbed the lost play The Ur-Hamlet.

Hamlet was written at the turn of the century - between1599 and 1601, and the whole feel of it is that of protestant England. If that is what Shakespeare wanted then he could not have chosen any of his usual European settings, which were Catholic. Hamlet is a contemporary protestant student, attending the university in Martin Luther’s city, Wittenberg in Germany. He doesn’t immediately accept the ghost’s story of purgatory, as a Catholic would. Protestants rejected the concept of purgatory.

It is clearly England, but one could not set a play with a villainous king at its centre in England. Apart from the Protestantism many of the other features of the play are English. For example, the travelling players dropping by from time to time were typical of English country life.
The English audience also felt an affinity with the Scandinavian countries, particularly Denmark. They would have been aware of the common history and the actions and policies of King Cnute, who was a Dane.

Always aware of the atmosphere his settings created, Shakespeare would have regarded the Danish setting as suitable for a play in which his tragic protagonist would claim that he felt imprisoned, because the frozen countryside of Denmark was an isolated place geographically.
So in Hamlet, Shakespeare once again shows perfect judgment in his choice and treatment of a setting for a play.

Guest blogger Warren King has been teaching Shakespeare for over 40 years, and is the author of the NoSweatShakespeare website

Monday, March 2, 2015

March 2015

The month starts with a highlight. Yesterday Hal and I saw Othello at Stadsteatern in Stockholm. We were doubtful because it’s such a depressing play but in the end we decided we wanted to see what Karl Dyall, an actor we’ve seen in several productions, does with the role. I’m glad we did. See below for a short review.  And many thanks to my colleagues for the gift certificate to the theatre!

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • On posters in the underground and an advert in Dagens Nyheter we see that Twelfth Night has had its premiere at the Royal Dramatic Theatre. There was also a review in DN: “Playing with identities, music, song and joy of costumes create an almost carnival feeling”.
  • In the still very interesting A People’s History of London by Lindsey German and John Rees,  the winter before Margaret Thatcher came to power is called “Winter of Discontent.”
  • In the novel Where She Went by Gayle Forman one of the characters rubs spilt beer off her hands “like she’s Lady Macbeth”. The opening chapter of another of Forman’s novels, Just One Day, is included at the end and it seems to be about a group of teenagers who take a trip to Stratford, and there’s a lot of Shakespeare in the chapter.
  • After tidying my desk yesterday (an event that occurs at least once a year whether it needs it or not) I found the article I was looking for in January: in Dagens Nyheter there was a small notice about a copy of the 1623 edition of the plays being found in the library of an unnamed port town in northern France. The book is one of the most valuable in the world. Hmmmm, maybe if I tidied my desk even more I’d find one like it.
  • Nora Roberts’s novel Blue Dahlia has nothing whatsoever of value except for a couple of references to Shakespeare. One of the characters says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” and another character is asked if she was named after Rosalind in As You Like It, but she wasn’t, it was after Rosalind Russell.
  • In my Latin book Get Started in Latin there is an explanation about pronunciation. It is pointed out that our reconstruction is “a somewhat incomplete jigsaw puzzle, but so too is that of Elizabethan English, and that hasn’t stopped production of Shakespeare’s plays.”
  • In Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great he writes that “the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books.”  He also mentions that the rabbi who officiated at his second marriage had an Einsteinian and a Shakespearean bent. Later he writes about the question of the authorship (he seems to agree that the author was Shakespeare) and he goes on: “Shakespeare has much more salience than the Talmud or the Koran or any account of the fearful squabbles of Iron Age tribes...loss of faith can be compensated by the newer and finer wonders we have before us, as well as by immersion in the near-miraculous work of Homer and Shakespeare and Milton and Tolstoy and Proust...”
  • In the novel Us by Davis Nicholls inhibited pedantic main character Douglas tries to learn to appreciate culture with his artistic wife and sees “a blood-soaked Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Later he suffers through a dreadful visit to Verona and the touristy balcony
  • In the novel Where No Man Cries by Emma Blair one of the characters encounters an old woman he compares to one of the witches in Macbeth.
  • In the sixth book about Anne by L.M. Montgomery, Anne suggests that there is more to a name than Shakespeare allows. The character Bertie Shakespeare appears now and then. One of her sons loves his dog,  not wisely but too well. And on the last page Anne thinks of the trip planned to England where she will see the moonlight over the church by the Avon where Shakespeare slept.
  • Listening to the old Dire Straits CD “Brothers in Arms” we came across the song “Romeo and Juliet”. Can’t say that I remember it much. It’s not one of the strong songs on this otherwise mostly strong collection.
  • There was a long article in Dagens Nyheter, written by Jonas Karlsson, the actor we’ve seen as Caliban and Richard III. He was sent to explore the new archaeological findings of the king in the car park in Leicester. Karlsson writes in detail about his meetings with various Richard experts and enthusiasts, all of whom have had to adjust their stories a bit after the discovery. Karlsson is a good writer as well as a superb actor and his article was fun to read. And, as I suspected, he will be doing Richard III again this spring. By popular demand, no doubt. It was indeed a fantastic production.
  • In the London/Southwark based detective novel Now You See Me by S.J Bolton, Detective Constable Lacey Flint interviews a victim outside the Globe which she describes as “the black and white, surprisingly tiny, circular theatre.”
  • In Tobias Hill’s What Was Promised, also based in London from the 40’s to the 80’s, one of the characters owns two books important to her, the bible and a Shakespeare.  She is also familiar with “the rules of the Shakespeare sonnets.”
  •  Nick Hornby has frequently referred to Shakespeare and he does so in his Funny Girl too: one of the actors in the story “always wants to do Shakespeare”; a highbrow snob is put in his place after sneering at the sit-com this novel is about by being reminded that Shakespeare wrote for yobs too, and at the end of the novel old age has dimmed the main character’s infinite variety.
  • In the very interesting book on the historical evidence of the life of Merlin, Finding Merlin by the convincing Adam Ardrey, the fanatical Christian priest Mungo, still today the patron saint of Glasgow, is described, when murdering one of his enemies (not Merlin, though he and Merlin were bitter enemies), as playing “the part of Claudius when he poured poison into the king’s ear.”
Further since last time:

  • Worked on: the book version of Shakespeare Calling.
  • Bought: our tickets to the Globe: The Merchant of Venice on April 26 with six friends and Romeo and Juliet on April 27 with two friends.
  • Saw: Othello at Stadsteatern in Stockholm. We had heard mixed reports, so were curious, especially because it’s such a difficult play to watch, emotionally.  Our own reactions were mixed. The scenography is starkly minimalistic. White floor curving up into white walls, with a white tent in the middle.  That’s it. The play itself has been chopped to just an hour and a half and only five characters.  The language is modern Swedish with some of Shakespeare recognisable throughout. It starts out vague and hard to follow. Iago is too fanatical and perverse and has none of the subtle evil that makes him so scary in Shakespeare’s original. The first half is funny, a farce.  The second more serious. Othello’s breakdown works well as does Desdemona’s increasing dismay and heartbreak over her husband’s unwarranted jealousy.  Her sudden burst into the song “I Will Always Love You” is startling and odd but Maja Rung certainly has a powerful voice, unexpected in her rather whimsical portrayal up to that point. Emilia, the character I wrote about in my text on the play, gives a strong performance.  In the end I was gripped by the tragedy. I’m glad we saw it. But oh, those dreadful brown polyester flared 70’s trousers that Othello and Desdemona wore! And that hideous pale green collared golf T-shirt that Othello had on! They almost ruined the play for me. Karl Dyall’s strong stage presence rescued it from debacle. He is a very good actor. 
Posted this month
  • This report

Posted March 2, 2015

Sunday, February 1, 2015

February 2015

The months seem to go by as quickly as the weeks and it’s already time for the blog’s second Monthly Report. 
The editing of the book version of Shakespeare Calling progresses but what in the world have I taken upon myself!
Meanwhile, the world of Shakespeare carries on...

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • St. Albans is a town on the northern outskirts of London.  It dates from Roman times and was one of the early sites of an English monastery. During the War of the Roses battles were fought there and it figures in Henry IV Parts One and Two and Henry VI Part Two.
  • Saint Colum’s Inch sounds like a measurement but isn’t.  Inch, we are told, means island and this particular little bit of land is in the firth of Edinburgh. It’s mentioned in Macbeth and is named after the Christianiser of the Picts.
  • Scrivener, though an important occupation in illiterate societies and therefore in the times Shakespeare writes about, is mentioned only in Richard III.
  • The Severn is England’s second longest river and has long served as the border between Wales and England. It is mentioned in Henry IV Part One and Cymbeline.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey a woman who has died in a street of post-war London had been carrying flowers which were now strewn about her “so she looked like an old Ophelia who’s mistaken the road for a river.”
  • In the novel Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery our intrepidly cheerful heroine reflects that one of her acquaintances “is of Hamlet’s opinion that it may be better to bear the ills that we have than fly to others we know not of.” Later, a friend, on the subject of naming one’s children, recalls someone who named their child Bertie Shakespeare Drew.
  • In Omeros, the poem by Derek Wolcott, the character Plunkett remembers his father referring to Shakespeare, but to tell you the truth I don’t understand the poem well enough to explain further.
  • Veronica Mars attends her school’s audition for Hamlet.
  • Dagens Nyheter has adverts for Twelfth Night, premiering in February at the Royal Dramatic Theatre and Pericles, a kind of musical production at Berwaldshallen at the end of January.
  • Elegy for Eddie, a novel by Jacqueline Winspear, notes that the “course of true love ne’er did run smooth.” This has become such a truism that I almost didn’t include it but in fact it is a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But you knew that.
  • The trailer of Cymbeline with Ethan Hawke and Ed Harris has appeared on IMdB. It’s a very interesting play. I’m glad a film has finally been made of it!
  • In Jojo Moyes’s novel The Ship of Brides the captain says to Frances, “...are you saying that what happened wasn’t your doing? That you might have been...more sinned against than sinning?”
  • The title of German journalist Günter Wallraff’s book Aus der schönen neuen Welt (From the Brave New World or in Swedish, the language I read it in, Rapport från vår sköna nya värld) contains a quote from The Tempest It’s a very good book, about how new liberalism has pushed more and more people to the margins and beyond of economic security and democratic rights.
  • In the classic thriller Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, Shakespeare is mentioned but once, when the villain uses Othello as an example of insane husbandly jealousy.
  • Veronica Mars continues to be scholarly: “the beast with two backs.”
  • In the very interesting A People’s History of London by Lindsey German and John Rees, Sir John Oldcastle, “friend of King Henry V and a model for Shakespeare’s Falstaff,” was imprisoned in the Tower for Lollardy, forerunner of the egalitarian Puritanism and the English Revolution.
  • In the science fiction novel 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Shakespeare is listed among those chosen through throwing darts by the International Astronomical Union for a cultural mosaic. Later an attack on the Mercurials is referred to as their “winter of discontent.”
  • In the film Amazing Grace a reference is made in an exchange between anti-slave trade activist William Wilberforce and his friend the prime minister William Pitt to “bloody noses and cracked crowns” from Henry IV Part Two, a play about England changing.
  • In the Saturday library column in Dagens Nyheter Shakespeare is mentioned as one of the authors who had already written their greatest works before they became old, which he never did really. Become old, that is.
  • In Jojo Moyes’s novel Windfallen one of the characters considers herself more sinned against than sinning, but as is often the case, no awareness that this is a Shakespeare quote is indicated.
  • Dagens Nyheter had a review in yesterday’s paper of the Shakespeare Ensemble’s performance with the Trondheimsolisten at Berwaldhallen in Stockholm of Pericles (see above). It’s called “tongue-twisting action”. The play is described and the performance is said to be more interesting as a language lesson than as theatre but the critic Leif Zern likes the music.

Further since last time:
  • Worked: on the book version of Shakespeare Calling.

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