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.

Posted this month:

Monday, January 5, 2015

January 2015

Happy New Year! Oh, I just realised something. It’s actually Twelfth Night today. I’m not into the whole Christmas thing and being newly retired I don’t long for those holidays, of which tomorrow is one, but Twelfth Night will always mean Shakespeare to me.  It’s been a rather normal Shakespeare month with sightings, and thoughts and a couple of films, and quite a lot from Davis and Frankforter. I’ve started working on the book form of Shakespeare Calling but don’t hold your breath. It will take time and work. But that’s what I’m looking forward to. Now for the first monthly report.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Puritans are complex creatures.  They had some good ideas, like democracy and equality and republicanism and education, but things went just a bit awry. It is, D&F point out, “to Shakespeare’s credit that, as usual, he grants them a humanity which makes them more than caricatures” in the three plays that mentions them: A Winter’s Take, All’s Well that Ends Well, and Pericles.
  • Roland, hero of Chanson de Roland from the Middle Ages, was a figure well known to Shakespeare’s audience. A “childe”, which Roland was, is the highest level of an apprentice knight.  Childe Roland was mentioned in Henry VI Part One and King Lear.
  • Russia was in Shakespeare’s time an exotic place but well known in England because of active trade between the two countries and because Ivan the Terrible had proposed marriage to Queen Elizabeth (now that would have been interesting). Russia as a country is only mentioned in Measure for Measure.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • The novel The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is about an actor, Laurel, who is going to be in Macbeth. She mentions this several times. She also says that she ought to leave off reading Shakespeare for a while because she sees too much drama in real life. She also meets a professor who has written Contemporary Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Tragedies.
  • The novel We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Foweler also has a thespian who gets work in a Shakespeare company. The main charcater Rose also sees portents like the ones in Julius Caesar that “even Caliban, a couple of plays over, would notice.” Macbeth is mentioned. Rosemary’s brother has “a lean and hungry look that Shakespeare found so dangerous”. And Rosemary wonders at one point, “Who did I think I was? Hamlet?”
  • In Jamaica Inn, the 1930’s classic by Daphne Du Maurier, the vicar of Altarnun tells the main character, “If it were permitted to take our text from Shakespeare, there would be strange sermons preached in Corwall tomorrow, Mary Yellan.” This just after the quote, “Our bright days are done, and we are for the dark.” This (I  googled it, not remembereing it, is from Antony and Cleopatra.)
  • In the novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, the main character Theo has done Macbeth in school.
  • In the novel Raven Black by Ann Cleeves one of the teachers has done A Midsummer Night’s Dream with his students. One of his students had also worked with Macbeth.
  • In the novel The Fall of Five by Pittacus Lore one of the teenage aliens with superpowers compares a couple of others with Romeo and Juliet.
  • In the altogether more important and serious book This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (read it! It’s still possible to limit the damage of climate change if we change the whole system now!), a Blockadia action shut down a gas power station for some time on the River Trent, which, as Klein points out, is described in Henry IV as Silver Trent.
  • One of my dear students, KW, wrote in her essay about how important books are to her, “When I was a teenager I discovered Shakespeare.” She goes on to explain how deeply she still feels the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
  • In Stephen King’s latest novel Mr. Mercedes, the mass murder psycho villain, while preparing another nefarious deed, thinks: “ did Shakespeare put it? Taking arms against a sea of trouble.”
  • Dagens Nyheter calls the production of Othello at Stockholm’s Stadsteater “a refreshing allegory on the political situation” in Sweden today (it’s a bit of a mess).  The play has been reduced to an hour and a half and takes place on a skateboard ramp. Well, that sounds interesting. 
  • We’ve been watching the old series Veronica Mars and find these teenagers quite Shakespearean:
    • There are posters for a high school productions of Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar in one of the classrooms.
    • Wallace (if I remember correctly, I didn’t note it down) is given the task as punishment of alphabetising books and points out sarcastically to Veronica (or somebody) that Shakespeare comes before Wordsworth and Hamlet before Macbeth.
    • Logan reminds his less than fatherly father, who is pretending to be fatherly by preparing a crab salad for Logan, that he is allergic to shellfish and what his dad proposes to feed him will cause him to “shuffle off this mortal coil.”
    • Veronica says that finally the million chimps with a million typewriters must have written King Lear because her arch enemy Sheriff Lamb is right about something.
  • In the introduction to Leo Tolstoy’s Childhood, Boyhood, Youth we are told that Tolstoy started reading Shakespeare in 1870 when he was more than forty years old, which is maybe why Shakespeare is only mentioned once in this early trilogy: the main character ridicules a fellow student for mispronouncing many words, for example “Shake-speare” instead of “Shake-speare.”
  • In the 2015 edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (sadly, the last one!), of which I’ve read (sort of) about half, Shakespeare is mentioned in non-Shakespeare films several times:
    • Dante’s Peak is given three stars of four with the words, “Critics dumped on the first of 1997’s two volcano movies, but hey – in ain’t supposed to be Henry V.
    • Free Enterprise (also three stars) with William Shatner, is about William Shatner wanting to direct a stage production of Julius Caesar with himself in the title role.  I’d like to see that film.
    • The King Is Alive is actually a spin-off. It’s about a group of people stranded in a desert who pass the time by doing a production of King Lear. Maltin didn’t like it but I think it sounds interesting.
Further since last time:
  • Watched: Shakespeare Wallah
  • Watched: Shakespeare in Love
  • Started: Editing the texts on Shakespeare Calling in preparation for the book version.
  • Wrote: “ A Look Back and a Look Forward”
Posted this month:
  • This report
  • “A Look Back and a Look Forward” in Ruby’s Reflections
  • Review of Shakespeare Wallah
  • Review of Shakespeare in Love