Monday, August 3, 2015

August 2015

It’s been a month of trying to learn to become a marketing expert. Publishing a book in Sweden and hoping to sell it internationally is truly not an easy task.  Another complication is that it’s summer and it seems the whole world is on holiday, including the publisher. But Shakespeare Calling – the book is out there. Below you will find the links for on-line purchase. Please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it! And once again, thank you all for visiting the blog throughout the years and for supporting this project.
It’s also been a month of getting back to the reading of the plays. We’ve finished The Life and Death of King John and the text will go up today. We’ve started Richard II. It’s good to be back.

Shakespeare Calling – the book

For those of you in the UK, Sweden and the rest of Europe:
or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Turks are often mentioned in Shakespeare. In his day the Ottoman Turks were the leaders of the Muslim world and Christian Europe felt threatened by them. They were not only being paranoid, though perhaps the threat wasn’t as large as they thought it was.  Any parallels to today, think you?
  • Ursula is a name I’ve always quite liked, maybe because I like bears. Ursulas show up in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Henry IV Part Two and Much Ado about Nothing, always as servants or working class women.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • On the title page of her book Wild Cheryl Strayed uses the quote ‘The breaking of so great a thing / should make a greater crack.’ Antony and Cleopatra
  • The White Family by Maggie Gee has one mention of Shakespeare. A pastor, talking about the racism in the town in England where the book takes place, quotes The Merchant of Venice: ‘If you prick me, do I not bleed?’
  • Facebook friend LW tagged me in (to?) a photo of puppies named Olivia, Othello and Ophelia. Thanks, LW!
  • In the film Hot Fuzz Sgt. Angel stops a speeder who turns out to be an amateur actor rushing to a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. Quotes abound as he and Juliet are then murdered, reportedly for being such bad actors.
  • Mark Rylance, Cromwell in the excellent Wolf Hall, is called in Dagens Nyheter ‘the Shakespearean actor.’ Sadly, I have never seen him in any Shakespeare roles.
  • Timothy Dalton is also called a Shakespearean actor in DN’s notice of showing The Living Daylights.
  • Looking at Tom Conti on IMDb I see that he prefers ‘contemporary over classical theatre (with nary a Shakespeare stage credit in sight’. A pity. He would be good. 
  • In Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
    • Two earlier publishers lost Shakespeare’s manuscript to The Comedie of Robin Hoode, or The Forest of Sherwoode.
    •  In speaking of her aunt Agnes Nutter, Anathema is misunderstood by Adam who says, ‘Which what?’ to which (haha) she replies, ‘No. Witch. Like in Macbeth.’
    • In a later discussion of the benefits of good vs evil, if there are any, Adam’s friend Wensleydale thinks they might both be unnecessary and says, ‘A plaque on both your houses.’  These kids often get their vocabulary confused.
  • In Michael Wood’s In Search of the Dark Ages we are told that although King Athelstan is almost unknown by us he was in his own time considered the English Charlemagne and was still well enough known in 1599 to have a play written about him by Thomas Dekker, Old Fortnatus, which was performed on ‘Shakespeare’s stage’, though Wood doesn’t tell us which one.
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Roma Theatre on Gotland was reviewed by DN and called ‘Steaming hot Shakespeare light.’
  • On Religion is a collection of writings by Marx and Engels. It is well known that Marx was a Shakespearean and in ‘The Leading Article of No. 179 of Kölnische Zeitung’, on the role of religion in education and the state, Marx quotes Cornwall in King Lear: ‘He cannot flatter, he! -…’ unlike the ‘knaves’ amongst his followers. The connection, without further study and pondering, seems a bit obscure to me.
  • In the film Happiness while Philip Seymour Hoffman and Lara Flynn Boyle are sitting silently and tensely on the divan I notice a magazine, or maybe a script, with a picture of Shakespeare on the cover lying on the coffee table. I wasn’t sure at first because it was upside down from our point of view but when I stopped the DVD and tilted my head – yep, it was Shakespeare, all right.Further since last time:
Finished reading aloud with Hal: The Life and Death of King John
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: The Life and Death of Richard the Second
  • Missed: seeing Hamlet in Kungsträdgården in Stockholm because twice I got the dates wrong. Stupid! It seems fated that I won’t see Hamlet on stage. But I’ll keep trying… 

Posted this month
  • This report
  • ‘God and the kings or Blanche does it again’ in The Life and Death of King John

Posted 3 August 2015

King John 2

God and the Kings

Blanche does it again


The Life and Death of King John

     That Shakespeare lived and wrote in a time of religious turbulence we all know.  Many of his plays reflect this.  None more, perhaps, than The Life and Death of King John. And few more dramatically than in Act 3:1 where a great clash between church and state is compacted into some of Shakespeare’s most politically pithy lines.
     The situation is this:
     King John of England is at war with King Philip of France. King John (the wicked prince in the Robin Hood legend and the signer of the Magna Carta, though there is no mention of that in the play) is brother to the deceased older brothers Geoffrey and Richard the Lionheart. Philip is friends with Constance, widow of Geoffrey and mother of young Prince Arthur, who she claims is the rightful King of England. The marriage between John’s kinswoman Blanche and the Dauphin of France, Lewis, has just taken place, creating peace between the two kingdoms. Constance is furious. To add fuel to the fire John has angered the pope who has sent his legate Pandulph to confront him.
     So we have two conflicts.  The keeping or breaking of vows to the pope? And war or peace between England and France?
     John, Philip, Constance, the Duke of Austria and the Bastard (son of Richard the Lionheart) are already bickering, with Blanche looking on, when Cardinal Pandulph enters demanding to know why John has spurned the pope’s chosen archbishop of Canterbury.
     To which John retorts:

What earthy name to interrogatories
Can test the free breath of a sacred king?
Though canst not, cardinal…
…no Italian priest
Shall tithe or toll in our dominions:
But as we, under heaven, are supreme head,
…we will alone uphold
Without th’ assistance of a mortal hand:
So tell the Pope, all reverence set apart
To him and his usurped authority.

     Words well appreciated by non-Catholics in Elizabethan England, one can assume.
     When Philip, shocked, exclaims, ‘Brother of England, you blaspheme in this’, John says contemptuously:

Though you and all the kings of Christendom
Are led so grossly by the meddling priest,
Dreading the curse that money may buy out,
And by the merit of vile gold, dross, dust,
Purchase corrupted pardon of a man,
Who is that sale sells pardon from himself:
Though you and all the rest so grossly led
This juggling witchcraft with revenue cherish,
Yet I alone, alone do me oppose
Against the Pope, and count his friends my foes.

     A fine Protestant rallying battle cry! Brave words from good old King John. Not that he sticks to them. He soon repents and returns to the fold but it sounds good when he says them.
     Constance already hates John for as she sees it usurping the throne from young Arthur and she jumps at the chance to use his words against him:

O, lawful let it be
That I have room with Rome to curse awhile:
…when law can do no right,
Let it be lawful that law bar no wrong:
Law cannot give my child his kingdom here;
For he that holds the kingdom holds the law;
Therefore, since law itself is perfect wrong,
How can the law forbid my tongue to curse?

     She challenges King Philip to break with John. Lewis, the Dauphin, too, encourages his father to resume enmities with England:

Bethink you, father, for the difference
Is purchase of a heavy curse from Rome,
Or the light loss of England for a friend:
Forego the easier.

     His newly acquired wife Blanche, who does not want to become the enemy of her kinsman’s England, entreats him to choose the other, ‘That’s the curse of Rome,’ and Constance says:

Oh, Lewis, stand fast: the devil tempts thee here
In likeness of a new untrimmèd bride.

     To which Blanche replies:

The lady Constance speaks not from her faith,
But from her need.

     I think I’ll stop right there. They go on bickering and in the end they go to war and switch loyalties back and forth to fit the changing power balance but Blanche has done it again. She is a minor character but with this throw-away line, that is in fact a show stopper if you think about it, she captures the essence of the play.
     They all speak not from faith but from need. Or, more likely, simple greed and ambition.
     That sums it all up, doesn’t it? Gods or kings? Both or neither. It depends on where you are in the power struggle at the moment, doesn’t it?
     Shakespeare knows, and shows, this.

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

Films seen:
  • BBC, 1984. Director: David Giles. Cast: Lady Blanche – Janet Maw: King John – Leonard Rossiter; the Bastard – George Costigan; Queen Eleanor – Marry Morris; Constance – Claire Bloom; Hubert – John Thaw: King Philip – Charles Kay; Louis the Dauphin – Jonathan Coy.
    • A well done production. The play is going on at the Globe this summer so maybe we can hoped for the filmed version in a year or so.

Monday, July 6, 2015

July 2015

Finally the long wait is over and Shakespeare Calling – the book is now available. Below you will find the links for on-line purchase. Please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it! And once again, thank you all for visiting the blog throughout the years and for supporting this project.

Shakespeare Calling – the book

For those of you in the UK, Sweden and the rest of Europe:
or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

Now my Shakespeare life can go on to its next phase and Shakespeare Calling – the blog – continues. And we’ll start by reading the history plays again. First out – King John.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • The River Trent starts in Staffordshire and crosses England to the Humber, marking the boundary between southern and northern England. It is mentioned in Henry IV Part One.
  • Tuesday is named for the god Tiu (German) or Tyr (old Norse Viking god), a war god corresponding to the Roman Mars.  Tuesday the day is mentioned in Henry IV Part One, Measure for Measure and Othello. 
Shakespeare sightings:
  • We happened to see a bit of a program about Warwickshire in England on the telly and they talked about Henley in Arden. Shakespeare was mentioned.
  • The X Files – remember them? We’ve started watching the whole series and in Season 1 a little boy is getting mysterious digital signals from Out There. Translated into text it emerges that some of it Shakespeare sonnets.
  • Coming home in a taxi from our young Shakespeare friend LR’s graduation party we caught snatches on the radio of an interview with Swedish actor Peter Stormare who talked among other things about playing Hamlet, directed by Ingmar Bergman. It seems they took the production to New York as well but unfortunately it was hard to hear everything.
  • In Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia it has been shown that people suffering from aphasia can sometimes produce without speech difficulties ‘elaborate familiar sequences’, for example ‘lines from Shakespeare.’ And later Sacks refers to Jaques in As You Like It and his seven ages of man. Jaques claims that there is nothing left in the last stage but Sacks asserts that something essential always remains.  This time I agree with Sacks!
  • In Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread a wife compares her romance with her husband as being like Romeo and Juliet, partly because she herself was thirteen when they met. He was twenty-six which makes it somewhat less than romantic if you ask me.
  • Blue Mars is the third in Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy and Shakespeare shows up again, several times:
    • Nirgal, a native Martian of Earth parents, finds that Shakespeare has prepared him for the turbulence of Martian society.
    • Ann, one of the original 100 colonists, considered herself free ‘to be or not to be.’ She is a toughie, that’s for sure.
    • The colonists are expanding onto the asteroids, planets and moons, many of which are named for Shakespeare’s characters (not fiction, it’s true).
    • Maya, another of the original 100, gets into doing theatre as a change from her political work, and her troupe does Shakespeare.
    • As her friends begin to die Maya reflects that unlike in The Winter’s Tale there will be no coming back for them.
  • In the very strong film Before the Rain Katrin Cartlidge’s mother Phyllida Law says ‘thus does conscience make cowards of us all’ but I’m afraid I don’t see the connection.
  • Blog follower AnneliT shared the National Women’s History Museum’s site on FB with birthday greetings to Lois Weber, the first woman in America to direct a feature film. It was The Merchant of Venice.
  • In Hustle the grifters got grifted and when they agree (almost) to drop the case Stacie says ‘Discretion is sometimes the best part of valour.’
  • The review in Dagens Nyheter of the new series Wolf Hall cites the strong acting as one of its merits and adds that one expects that from Shakespeare’s homeland.
  • In the novel All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews the main character finds her mother on the balcony in her nightgown ‘like Juliet’s nursemaid.’
  • In the novel White Nights by Ann Cleeves there are a couple of acting troupes who both refer to their dreams of working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. And in her Blue Lightning Jimmy Perez sees one of the women among the suspects as a Lady Macbeth egging her evil husband on.
  • In the film The Deep Blue Sea Freddie tells Hester, ‘I can’t be bloody Romeo all the time.’ Later Hester’s husband gives her a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets as a birthday present.
  • The TV films based on the Henry plays, The Hollow Crown are now showing on Swedish TV. We have the box and will be watching them soon as we progress with the history plays.
  • In Dagens Nyheter there is a review of a production of Romeo and Juliet south of Stockholm in which Juliet is a Romany girl in love with a ‘confused and humorous’ blond Romeo. The production is called ‘wild and funny.’ 

Further since last time:
  • Released: Shakespeare Calling – the book
  • Started reading: the plays aloud to each other for the third time, starting with King John 

Posted this month

Posted July 6, 2015

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.’