Monday, November 2, 2015

November 2015

The Henrys continue and we’ve finished reading Henry IV Part Two but still have a film to watch so no play analysis this time. Next time, I hope.
The problems of trying to learn to become a marketing expert continue. Publishing a book in Sweden and hoping to sell it internationally is truly not an easy task.  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.

Shakespeare Calling – the book

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

For those of you in the rest of the world and/or those who usually shop at Available soon (I hope) also as an e-book.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Vienna has been around for a long time, and belonged to the Celts when the Romans took over. It was a city on the edge of Asia and thus important in trade and war. In Shakespeare’s time it wasn’t as big as Paris, London or Rome but still a major city. It is mentioned in Hamlet and Measure for Measure.
  • Vulcan is the Roman god of fire and smithing. He was the husband of Venus – talk about a hot romance! – and he is mentioned in Titus Andronicus, Much Ado about Nothing, Twelfth Night, Troilus and Cressida and Hamlet.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham the villain wonders if he should increase his violence and knock off more people who upset him, like a Shakespearean tragedy.
  • In Moriah McStay’s novel Everything that Makes You, college student Fiona will do anything, even go see Much Ado about Nothing, to fill her time.
  • On a popular talk show Sweden’s best Shakespearean actor Jonas Karlsson said he likes to mix playing Shakespeare with other things. He writes books too…
  • On the 5th episode of the TV series Poldark there is a scene from All’s Well that Ends Well at a park theatre.
  • Have finally finished reading Beethoven biografin by Åke Holmquist. Here are the sightings:
    • It seems Beethoven put himself right up there with Michelangelo and Shakespeare. Well, why not?
    • He read Shakespeare often.
    • The Viennese public regarded Beethoven as difficult, as they did Shakespeare, preferring popular culture, like Viennese waltzes.
    • Beethoven’s nephew Karl also liked Shakespeare.
    • In considering material for a new opera Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet were considered. It didn’t happen.
    • Beethoven was considered by some to be the musical equivalent to Goethe (whom Beethoven met, though they did not become friends.)
  • On the TV cultural news it was reported that the film showing here in Sweden of Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch was embarrassingly badly subtitled. (see also below)
  • In the Swedish weekly newspaper Flamman there’s a cartoon on the debate of whether or not Sweden should join NATO: ‘To be or NATO be’. 

Further since last time:
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Henry IV Part Two
  • Watched: the BBC version and the Hollow Crown versions of Henry IV Parts One and Two as well as My Own Private Idaho which is a spin-off of the two.
  • Missed: Because of a mix-up on dates the showing of the film of Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch. This time (you may remember something similar when the play was being done in a park in central Stockholm this last summer) it wasn’t because of my carelessness, but my friend’s, who had tickets and kindly asked me to go with her, but gave me the wrong date. 
  • Shared: The Swedish Shakespeare Society has put the link to Shakespeare Calling – the book on their webpage
  • Ordered and received: James Shapiro’s The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. 

Posted this month

Monday, October 5, 2015

October 2015

What an eventful month. You can read about the release party below.
Since then my computer was taken over by a Trojan. Fortunately, I’d saved almost everything on a USB and much was recovered by my good friend KP who is a computer expert. If that wasn’t enough, our TV died and will not be brought back to life until today (hopefully.) So the two Henry IV:1 plays we’ve watched have been seen on my old laptop. Not the best quality but better than nothing.
The problems of trying to learn to become a marketing expert continue. Publishing a book in Sweden and hoping to sell it internationally is truly not an easy task.  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.

Shakespeare Calling – the book

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

For those of you in the rest of the world and/or those who usually shop at Available soon (I hope) also as an e-book.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Venus is the Roman goddess of love and beauty and Shakespeare referred to her often, even writing a whole poem about her and her love affair with the reluctant Adonis.
  • Verona is one of the oldest towns in Italy and has had strategic importance since Ancient Greece. It is known for its art and architecture, for its Two Gentlemen of… and the famous balcony.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Starter for 10 stars James McAvoy who is a student with posters of Hamlet and The Tempest on his wall. He quotes from Hamlet, he’s called Romeo, and on the quiz show in which he takes part there are Shakespeare questions.
  • Ewan McGregor is also called Romeo by Brenda Blethyn because he’s wooing her daughter Jane Horrocks in the film Little Voice.
  • In The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy one of the patients in the hospice where Queenie is dying and waiting for Harold Fry to walk his way through England to see her notes that Harold has passed Stratford upon Avon. Another patient remarks, ‘I was there once. I saw King Lear…’
  • In Muriel Spark’s novel Robinson one of the characters has learned his mangled English by reading Shakespeare and talking to allied forces after WWII. Another character has Shakespeare in his book collection.
  • Friend AR has sent an interesting link about Romeo and Juliet being performed in Syria and Jordan via Skype. It’s very inspiring. Read it! 
  • Still reading Beethoven biografin by Åke Holmquist. Beethoven admired Shakespeare very much and there are a lot of references:
    • Beethoven read Shakespeare in German and his Shakespeare books were well worn.
    • Shakespeare was performed often in Bonn theatres.
    • Beethoven thought about the tomb scene from Romeo and Juliet when he wrote the F major quartet Opus 18:1
    • Beethoven called one of his friends ‘Falstaff’ because of his obesity.
    • Beethoven described his D Minor Sonata Opus 31:2 as being based on The Tempest.
    • Beethoven planned to write an opera based on Macbeth and made notes about it but that never happened.
    • In a letter Beethoven mentions that Goethe translated Shakespeare into German.
    • More next time, I’m sure, there are still 400 pages left to read!
  • On the third season of The X Files Macbeth is mentioned in the discussion of prophesying one’s own death and in a description of the elaborateness of a victim’s revenge. 

Further since last time:

Posted this month
  • This report
  • ‘Bullingbrook Blues’ in Henry IV Part One

Bullingbrook Blues in 'Henry IV Part One

Bullingbrook Blues
Henry IV Part One

     One thing we’ve learned from Shakespeare is that kings don’t have a lot of fun.  Mostly they seem to have cares and woes, poor lads.  When they’re not being murdered, they’re regretting being murderers. Nobody ever likes them – well, not usually, anyway – and it seems they’re always being plotted against.
     Henry IV regrets, if not being a murderer at least having caused a murder to take place and he is definitely plotted against. And he doesn’t even get to be the star of his own play.  That position is shared by his hoodlum son Prince Hal, the bawdy irreverent Falstaff and the hot-headed Hotspur.
     But look carefully. Henry Bullingbrook holds it all together.
     It’s not easy, though. From the very first lines we see that the cares Richard has handed over with the crown are piling up. Henry tells his council:

So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant
And breathe short-winded acts of new broils
To be commenced in strands afar remote. (Act 1.1)

     All is not well in Henry’s England. Immediately after these lines fresh reports come. From the north, we and Henry are told, ‘gallant Hotspur’ and ‘brave Archibald’ of Scotland are conniving, and Hotspur’s uncle Worcester is ‘malevolent to you in all aspects’ (Act 1.1). We soon learn that Hotspur’s cousin Mortimer and the flamboyant Welshman Owen Glendower as well as the archbishop of York are also plotting against Henry.
     These are not just petty personal quarrels or family feuds. As Jean E Howard points out in her introduction to the play in the Norton edition, Henry is being confronted by the ‘monarch’s central problem: how to maintain control over and enforce unity upon the territories over which he claims dominion but which threaten to break away or assert a worrisome autonomy’ (p. 1179). Hotspur’s Northumberland, Glendower’s Wales, York and Scotland – all of them were unruly and wild rebellious territories and Henry had his monarchically unity work cut out for him.
     As if it’s not enough to have his own aristocratic friends and relatives from all sides of the country against him Henry is also having trouble closer to home.  The working class of London are not gentle meek lambs. They go about robbing travellers and carousing and joking crudely, not the least about the king.  Worst of all is someone who should know better, someone who should be on Henry’s side, a knight no less. We speak of course of the gloriously crude and irreverent Sir John Falstaff who’s not on anyone’s side but his own and though we love his ‘what is honour’ monolog, Henry would have been appalled had he heard it, as were many who heard it on stage in Shakespeare’s day, no doubt.
     Closer still to home, to Henry’s very heart, is the rebellion of his own beloved son, the hooligan Prince Hal.  In very moving monologs Henry compares the hot-headed but noble and honourable Hotspur to his own Hal:

… I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry… (Act 1.1)

     He wishes it could be proven that the two had been switched by fairies at birth and that Hotspur were his son. In Act 3.2 he upbraids Hal for the young prince’s wild behaviour, unworthy of the king’s own reputation. He compares Hal to the scorned Richard, jeered at because he ‘mingled his royalty with carping fools,’ he tells Hal that Hotspur ‘hath more worthy interest to the state / than thou’ and complains

Why, Harry, do I tell thee of my foes,
Which art my near’st and dearest enemy? (Act 3.2)

     Hal comes round and does his princely duties, as he has always said he would, and Henry has reason in the end to be proud of his crown prince.
     As the war approaches Henry takes firm control and shows himself to be a rather good king by asking the rebels what their grievances are and offering to grant them, thus avoiding war.  This doesn’t happen, the war goes on. Henry is victorious.
     But the memory remains of Henry Bullingbrook’s final words in Richard II:

Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe
That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow.
Come, mourn with me for that I do lament,
And put on sullen black incontinent.
I’ll make a voyage to the Holy Land,
To wash this blood off from my guilty hand. (Richard II Act 5.6)

     In this play’s opening scene he’s still planning a crusade but at hearing of the turmoil at home he says

It seems then that the tidings of this broil
Brake off our business for the Holy Land. (Act 1.1)

     So his conscience – maybe his worst enemy? – is not to be cleared this time either.
     As the war ends victoriously for him, Henry Bullingbrook says confidently enough

Rebellion in this land shall lose his way,
Meeting the check of such another day.
And since this business so fair is done,
Let us not leave till all our own be won.

     Storm clouds are still threatening on the horizon. Henry IV Part Two is about to unfold. Bullingbrook’s blues continue.
Works cited:
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen
  • Howard, Jean E. Introduction in The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford EditionEd. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition, 2008. 

Films seen:
  • BBC, 1979. Director: David Giles. Cast: Prince Hal – David Gwillim; King Henry – Jon Finch; Falstaff – Anthony Quayle; Hotspur – Tim Pigott-Smith; Mortimer – Robert Morris; Lady Mortimer – Sharon Morgan; Owain Glyndwr – Richard Owens. 
    • This is a well-done production. Jon Finch is very good as Henry, Quayle is a convincing Falstaff and the others are generally very good too.  The only question mark is Gwillim as Hal, probably because I saw Branagh as Henry V first. Gwillim was better the second time (or was it the third) that we watched the play, but for me Hal will always be Branagh.
  • The Globe, 2012. Director: Dominic Dromgoole. Cast: Prince Hal – Jamie Parker; King Henry – Oliver Cotton; Falstaff – Roger Allam; Hotspur – Sam Crane; Mortimer – Daon Broni; Lady Mortimer – Jade Williams; Owain Glyndwr – Sean Kearns. 
    • This is a very boisterous production. Roger Allam is the star; he’s an excellent Falstaff. Jamie Parker is good as Prince Hal and Sam Crane is a handsome Hotspur. Oliver Cotton isn’t nearly as good as Jon Finch but the rest of the cast is fine. It’s very funny at times but is a bit slow at others. But as always, the Globe itself is a very strong presence and carries the play all by itself at times. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

September 2015

The problems of trying to learn to become a marketing expert continue. Publishing a book in Sweden and hoping to sell it internationally is truly not an easy task.  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 continuing our third, sometimes fourth, reading of the plays. We’ve finished Richard II and started (almost finished) Henry IV Part One.
Coming up, next week, is the release party for Shakespeare Calling – the book, just a local event for local friends. I wish you all could be there! Another book of interest will be released as well. See below under ‘Further since last time’ for more information.

Shakespeare Calling – the book

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

For those of you in the rest of the world and/or those who usually shop at Available soon (I hope) also as an e-book.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Varro, used as one of Timon of Athens’ creditors, lived from 116 – ca 27 BC and was one of Rome’s most prolific writers. Another Varro fought Hannibal. The name, D+F tell us, would have been well known in the Renaissance.
  • Venice was a major cultural and economic centre in Shakespeare’s time and is mention in The Taming of the Shrew, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Much Ado about Nothing, The Merchant of Venice (obviously), Richard II and Othello.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen has one mention of Shakespeare. In telling the story of a local couple who had escaped the tyranny of a father to go to Australia, one version is that they don’t make it.  ‘You got the Shakespearean tragedy. Instead of living happily ever after, the illicit lovers are torn to shreds in the shark-infested seas of the Pacific.’  Hm, sounds like Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter
  • In the novel Thin Air by Ann Cleeves one of the murder suspects had done a drawing of the victim ‘looking like Ophelia in her bridesmaid’s dress.’ Her bridesmaid’s dress?
  • In writing up the cast of The Lord of the Rings – the Fellowship of the Rings I see that the endearing Pippin is played by Billy Boyd, who played Banquo in the Macbeth we saw at the Globe in 2013.
  • In the novel The Girl on the Road by Monica Byrne Meena meets a lifeguard who thinks there are more things in heaven and earth than can be dreamt of in our philosophy. Later, on her journey on the Trail, Meena adds to her scroll (a futuristic form of e-book) her favourites, including Shakespeare.
  • In the novel Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman the rich white civil rights activist in South Africa has Shakespeare amongst her Gordimer, Paton and Wilbur Smith books.
  • Ben Elton’s protagonist in The First Casualty, Douglas Kingsley, has to take an alias to go undercover. He considers Shakespeare but figures it’s probably too showy so opts for Christopher Marlowe.
  • Beethovenbiografin is the enormous, 900 + page long biography of Beethoven by Åke Holmquist. I have read 50 pages so far. It’s quite interesting and on page 45 we learn that in Beethoven’s home town Bonn there was a lively cultural life. The theatre put on productions of Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III and Macbeth for example.
  • Travelling to Infinity is Jane Hawking’s updated version of her memoirs of her marriage to Stephen Hawking. Shakespeare figures frequently:
    • She went to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet when she was young.
    • She was convinced that there ‘had to be more to heaven and earth than was contained in Stephen’s cold, impersonal philosophy.’
    • On a Spanish course in Spain that included Shakespeare in Spanish she decided to be a truant after one class because it ‘made a travesty of Macbeth, and …enough was enough. I had had a lifetime’s education in Shakespeare at school and could not bear the thought of having a supplementary dose in Spanish.’  Later, however, she mentions several interesting encounters with Romeo and Juliet.
    • She and Stephen discuss Shakespeare with some of his colleagues from the Soviet Union.
    • She mentions a Shakespeare knot garden. I must confess I don’t know what that is.
    • After one of Stephen’s health crises she describes him as being ‘very frightened, like Lear, he was child-changed…’
    • ‘With a little help from Shakespeare, Stephen had devised a title for his book.’ ? How is A Brief History of Time connected to Shakespeare?
    • At her wedding with her second husband Jane and Stephen’s daughter Lucy recited Shakespeare’s sonnet about the marriage of true minds.
  • In the third part of her Regeneration trilogy about World War One, The Ghost Road, Pat Barker’s character Billy Prior writes about his servant Longstaffe who can quote Shakespeare by heart, for example, ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,’ the night before a battle. Billy himself thinks it would be more appropriate to quote, ‘I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more…’
  • On an episode of the BBC game show Pointless, which we watched daily in England last spring, now seen on YouTube, one of the questions was about the most borrowed library books. One of the contestants answered Shakespeare but it was wrong.
  • Both Dagens Nyheter and TV’s Kulturnyheter report on Benedict Cumberbatch’s battle with mobile phone users during his performance of Hamlet. I’m on his side. How annoying that must be.
  • In the British TV series The Last Tango in Halifax with Shakespearean Derek Jacobi playing a very nice old man, he wonders if the quote ‘now heaven walks on earth’ is from Shakespeare. I didn’t know so I googled it. Yes. Twelfth Night. Later ‘her infinite variety’ from Antony and Cleopatra is used. That one I know.
  • In Endeavour, the first episode of season two, when Endeavour Morse is returning to duty after an injury, his less than sympathetic chief played by Anton Lesser (a wonderful Feste in Twelfth Night) says, ‘Once more unto the breach, mmm?’

Further since last time:
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Richard II
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Henry IV Part One
  • Posted on my Facebook (by me): ‘Dear Shakespeare friends, Shakespeare and Merlin were friends! I have it on good authority. The author of this just published book, Rhuddem Gwelin, is my cousin, or twin sister, or kinswoman, or something, and she assures me that every word (more or less) is (sort of) true! Don't miss it!’  I repeat. Don’t miss it. Order it at the same time as you order Shakespeare Calling – the book and save on postage.

Posted this month
  • This report
  • ‘Looking for Richard’ in Richard II

Posted 7 September 2015

Looking for Richard in Richard II

Looking for Richard


Richard II

     Sorry to plagiarise this title of Al Pacino’s excellent film about the other Richard but it’s so appropriate here. In the exciting conflict between Richard II and Henry Bullingbrook Shakespeare gives us a complex picture of Richard. But what kind of person is Shakespeare creating? In this brief essay I will take a look.
     Richard starts out kingly enough by hearing the case between Bullingbrook and Mowbray and banishing them both. But then we start to hear what other people think of him. From Richard’s own words he thinks he is less loved by the people than the upstart Bullingbrook, of whom Richard says:

…our kinsmen…
Observed his courtship of the common people.
How he did seem to dive into their hearts
With humble and familiar courtesy. (Act 1.4)

     That Henry is polite to slaves, poor craftsmen, oyster wenches and drayman, and probably loved by them, does this make Richard envious, humble, angry, contemptuous of both Henry and the people? All of the above? He finds it noteworthy in any case and it very likely makes him feel inferior. Poor Richard is very sensitive to threats to his royal dignity. He is, though he often claims otherwise, not sure of his divine right to be king, which is why he gives it so easily to Henry’s bid for the crown. Richard does not truly believe in his own ability to fulfil the divine role.
     Some of his loyal followers, and some who are less loyal, are quite sure of that divine right but others definitely are not. Richard is, they say, young, rash, ruled by flatterers, a mere landlord, a drunken carouser, a murderer, a bankrupt degenerate and a thief. We are likely to agree that he is a thief as he confiscates Bullingbrook’s legacy to spend on the Irish wars.
     But, ah, then something happens.
     Shakespeare give Richard all these wonderful lines. As he wavers between giving up in the face of Bullingbrook’s military and moral superiority and his fight for his royal crown, Richard utters one gem after another:

…A puny subject strikes
At thy great glory. Look not to the ground,
Ye favourites of a king. Are we not high?
Say, is my kingdom lost? Why, ‘twas my care.
And what loss is it to be rid of care?
The worst is death, and death will have his day.
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs,
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
…nothing can we call our own but death…
For heaven’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings…
All murdered. For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp… (Act 3.2)

     I could go on. Richard does. But let us move on to Act 4.1 in which Richard relinquishes the crown to Henry. Again he wavers between hanging on to the crown and willingly handing it over.

Alack, why am I sent for to a king,
Before I have shook off the regal thoughts
Wherewith I reigned? I hardly yet have learned
To insinuate, flatter, bow, and bend my knee.
Give sorrow leave awhile to tutor me
To this submission… (Act 4.1)

     When Henry says, ‘I thought you had been willing to resign,’ Richard replies:

My crown I am, but still my griefs are mine.
You may my glories and my state depose,
But not my griefs; still am I king of those.

     Bullingbrook says: ‘Part of your cares you give me with your crown,’ but Richard counters, ‘Your set up do not pluck my cares down.’ When Henry once again demands to know, ‘Are you contented to resign the crown?’ Richard wavers and hands it over:

Ay, no; no, ay, for I must nothing be:
Therefore no ‘no’, for I resign to thee.
Now mark me how I will undo myself:
I give this heavy weight from off my head,
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart.
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown.
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duteous oaths.
Long mayst thou live in Richard’s seat to sit,
And soon lie Richard in an earthy pit!
‘God save King Henry,’ unkinged Richard says.
‘And send him many years of sunshine days!’ –
What more remains?

     What more indeed?
     I find I’ve analysed almost nothing. I’ve done little but quote Richard, and again I could go on to show the tearful parting from his beloved wife and his dramatic death, but with the drama in Act 4.1 Richard has effectively ceased to be king, and Henry has taken on the cares of the throne.
     Poor Richard. Shakespeare has raised him from a mediocre young king, who has hidden his unsure cowering self behind rashness and drunkenness, to a victim of history, a valiant victim of great dignity and depth, by giving him such wonderful eloquence. In Richard Shakespeare has created a character whose ‘self-destructive behaviour might be seen as an unconscious quest for the expressive opportunities provided only by miseries’ (Eisaman Maus, p. 1980).
     No, I haven’t analysed this play. I’m simply too filled with admiration for the language. Yes, Richard is a loser. But what a magnificent loser!

Works cited:
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen
  • Eisman Maus, Katharine. Introduction in The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition, 2008.

Films seen:
  • BBC, 1978. Director: David Giles. Cast: Richard – Derek Jacobi; Bolingbroke – Jon Finch; John of Gaunt – John Gielgud; York – Charles Gray; Duchess of York – Wendy Hiller; Duchess of Gloucester – Mary Morris; Queen Isabella – Janet Maw. 
    • One of the earliest BBC productions and one of the best.  Derek Jacobi is always superb and plays the flawed king perfectly. A better portrayal of Bolingbroke than this one by Jon Finch is hard to imagine (though see below). A thoroughly convincing production of this play which should be much more appreciated, and performed, than it is.
  • The Hollow Crown. Richard II. Director: Rupert Goold. Cast: Richard – Ben Whishaw; Bolingbroke – Rory Kinnear; John of Gaunt – Patrick Stewart; York – David Suchet; Duchess of York – Lindsay Duncan; Queen Isabella – Clémence Poèsy. 

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… 

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  • ‘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.