Monday, October 3, 2016

October 2016

The Comedy of Errors time. We’ve watched the films, I’ve written the text. We’ve chosen the next play to read but haven’t started yet. Instead we’re taking a detour back to the Henrys (and a Richard) since the second series of The Hollow Crown has been released (see below).

So Shakespeare goes on. And as always I will once again mention to visitors of this blog that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase. Please help promote the book by buying it, of course, and telling your friends about it, by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you. Your support is needed to keep this project alive.

or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare Calling – the book is promoted by

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel High Dive by Jonathan Lee
    • The Irish resistance coordinator Dawson likes ‘a bit of Shakespeare.’
    • Dawson tries to encourage his supporter Dan to read Shakespeare.
    • Hotel manager Moose tells his colleague Marina whose husband had lacked ambition, ‘Well, you don’t want a Macbeth in your head.’
    • Later Marina tells Moose’s daughter, ‘I’ve been seeing a Shakespearean,’ but she’s broken off the relationship because his toenails scratched her in bed and he was too pleased with himself.
  • In Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere:
    • Super villain Mr Croup says to his evil partner Mr Vandermar, ‘If you cut us, do we not bleed?’
    • Hero Richard says to the (probably) villainous abbot, ‘Well, lead on, Macduff.’ When Richard has been swept away, not likely to survive the ordeal, the Abbot says to Brother Fuliginous, ‘It’s ‘lay on, Macduff’ but I didn’t have the heart to correct him.’
    • Old Bailey, who pops up now and then, has just brought the Marquis back from the dead again and says, ‘After all I done to bring you back from that dread bourn from which there is no returning. Well, usually no returning.’
  • Peter Ackroyd, in his History of England Volume I Foundation, continues to refer regularly to Shakespeare:
    • The craft guilds were responsible for many miracle or mystery plays, ‘the most important aspect of English drama in the age before Shakespeare.’
    • King John has been considered a rival to Richard III as an evil king. Ackroyd points out that neither were any eviller than most kings but that Shakespeare ‘defined the image of John to posterity.’
    • The line in The Tempest ‘wheat, rye, barley, fetches, oats and peas’ is a paraphrase of a medieval folk song about ‘oats, peas, beans and barley.’
    • As we get to the period in history in which the history plays took place Shakespeare is mentioned in connection with each of the kings, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III and Henry VII.
  • In the novel The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, Caroline says on the subject of selling old manor houses, ‘They say you can get an American to buy any old bit of black timber, just by telling him it comes from the Forest of Arden, or was sneezed on by Shakespeare, or something.’ Later she says about having a party in her own run-down manor house that her brother thinks ‘throwing a party with the house the state it’s in now will be like Sarah Bernhardt playing Juliet with one leg.’
  • The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter
    • Had an advert for Özz Nüjen as Richard III at Riksteatern in Stockholm.
    • Had a long article about Macbeth at the Maximteatern with Swedish bad-boy actor Mikael Persbrandt in the title role.
    • Had a review of the wonderful Sven Wollter and Evabritt Strandberg playing the aged Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, the reviewer didn’t like it, saying that Shakespeare’s play disappears.
    • Had a review of Othello at Orionteatern in Stockholm. The critic liked the gender-bending acting in this dark production in which ‘reality is altogether too close.’
    • Had a review of another Othello at Teater Påfågeln in Stockholm which was described as ‘scaled down without magic.’
  • In John O’Farrell’s novel The Best a Man Can Get the narrator, the rather unpleasant Michael Adams, watches a TV program about pregnant women shouting Shakespeare quotes at their unborn children to get them started early. He later tells how he as a fifteen-year-old had screwed up a school outing to see Hamlet, managing to ruin everything so they didn’t get to see it.
  • In Doctor Who with David Tennant (you know, Hamlet), the 10th doctor:
    • The Doctor and his new companion Martha, having recently visited Shakespeare’s London, are now in New York in the 1930’s helping dance girl Tallulah defeat the monsters. When Tallulah says to Martha, ‘C’mon, have you ever been back stage before?’ Martha replies archly, ‘Oh, you know, a little Shakespeare.’ Tallulah: ‘How dull is that! C’mon!’
    • In a later episode when the Master is planning to take over the Universe, Martha, who is going to save the world, tells her guide that she’s been in space. He’s impressed. ‘Anything else?’ Martha: ‘I’ve met Shakespeare.’
  • On Monty Python we see in a hospital for overacting a ward for Richard III actors. Eric Idle says sweetly (as only he can),’A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.’
  • The film The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone opens with the aging and mediocre Mrs Stone trying to do Juliet. It is a flop.
  • In Deborah Moggach’s novel In the Dark Alwyne, blinded in World War I, quotes Hamlet’s lines about Gertrude’s sensuality to young Ralph who is upset because his widowed mother has remarried. 

Further since last time: 
  • Finished the text of: The Comedy of Errors
  • Watched:
    • The BBC production of The Comedy of Errors
    • The Globe production of The Comedy of Errors
    • The Hollow Crown Henry VI Part One 

Posted this month
  • ‘The bad brother, the not so bad brother and the quite nice brothers, in The Comedy of Errors
  • This report

The Comedy of Errors - The bad brother, the not so bad brother and the quite nice brothers

The bad brother, the not so bad brother and the quite nice brothers
The Comedy of Errors

     That was going to be the title of this text because while reading the play I took a dislike to Antipholus of Ephesus. He calls his wife a strumpet and a harlot, at the least bad temper he’s off to the town courtesan, and he beats his poor servant Dromio.
     Well, so does Antipholus of Syracuse, but he’s friends with his Dromio as well, jokes with him, talks to him.
     Having just watched the BBC production from 1983 I’m at a loss what to think, what to write. Michael Kitchen as the Antipholi is extremely likeable in both roles. Amiable, kind, melancholy, well-spoken in love as Antipholus of Syracuse. Sarcastic, funny, justifiably withering in comments against those he believes have wronged him as Antipholus of Ephesus. Roget Daltry is adorable (sorry, soapy word, but he is!) as the Dromios, so I still like them both.
     Right. We have the Globe production from 2014 to watch. Judgment pending until then. Back soon.
     Well. That helped not at all. Many of the Globe’s productions are slapstick and so is this one. Often very funny but not subtle in the least, making no use of the many emotional nuances that make this play (and all of Shakespeare’s comedies) so much more than zany. It’s enjoyable and colourful and there’s a lot of shouting and waving about of arms and running about the stage, but none of that clarifies my dilemma. Is Antipholus of Ephesus mean? Is Antipholus of Syracuse less mean? Are both Dromios nice?
     The answer, if there is one, might be found – oh revolutionary thought! – in the text.
     I’ll start with Antipholus of Ephesus. Before we meet him we learn from his wife Adriana and her sister Luciana that Antipholus spends much of his time away from home. This pains his wife but seems to his sister-in-law completely natural. Since this is an amusing but disturbing exchange about the role of wives in relations to their lords and masters, the husbands, it opens the path to a man who in his first line when we encounter him in Act 3.1 calls his wife ‘shrewish’ but is having a gold necklace made for her. He then calls his servant an ass, but that’s not too great an insult, one to which, along with beatings, Dromio is accustomed. That Antipholus shows irritation at being locked out of his own home is not surprising but when he says, ‘I know a wench of excellent discourse’, and proposes to give her the chain, ‘Be it nothing but to spite my wife - ’ that’s when I start to dislike him.  Because I already like Adriana. He then sends Dromio for a rope to ‘bestow / Among my wife and her confederates’ (Act 4.1). To whip them? Tie them up? Hang them? He later calls Dromio (of Syracuse), who doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, a madman, a peevish sheep and a drunken slave, but entrusts him with the key to his treasure chest at home. When his own Dromio comes with the rope, Antipholus beats him and Dromio complains at length of all the beatings he has had to endure from his master. Who then beats him again. He also beats Pinch, the doctor and conjuror and calls Adriana a minion (servant) and by calling her companions ‘customers’ accuses her of harlotry. When Adriana denies that she locked him out and swears that he dined at home with her he calls her, ‘Dissembling harlot…with these nails I’ll pluck out these false eyes…O, most unhappy strumpet!’ (Act 4.4)
     OK, he’s not Macbeth or Lear or Richard III or any of those other of Shakespeare’s real villains, but he’s not an endearing character either.
     His brother? We see a lot more of him. When we meet him he and Dromio have just arrived in Ephesus. He is ‘weary with long travel…stiff and weary’ and he tells a merchant that Dromio is

A trusty villain, sir, that very oft,
When I am dull with care and melancholy,
Lightens my humour with his merry jests (Act 1.2).

     When left alone to wander the town at his content he contemplates:

He that commends me to mine own content
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth –
Unseen, inquisitive - confounds himself.
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself (Act 1.2).

     From the start then Antipholus of Syracuse reveals himself as a melancholy, contemplative, lonely seeker who regards his servant almost as a friend. That he then beats and later chides Dromio (the other one) over the misunderstanding about the money shows their master-servant relationship but still, he doesn’t accuse Dromio of thievery. Instead he blames ‘some device or other…Dark-working sorcerers…soul-killing witches…’ (act 1.2). Unlike his twin, he doesn’t immediately believe the worst of others.
     Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse return easily enough to their bantering and when confronted by Adriana, who addresses Antipholus as husband, he is unfailingly polite, though confused, and in all innocent confusion he falls in love with his supposed sister-in-law Luciana. He romantically woos her, in spite of her dismayed requests that he turn his devotion to his wife, not to her.  He says:

Thee will I love, and with thee lead my life;
Thou hast no husband yet, nor I no wife:
Give me thy hand (Act 3.2).

     Ah, sweet Antipholus of Syracuse! I’m half in love with him myself.
     Nevertheless, he’s upset by what he continues to regard as witchcraft and determines to leave Ephesus immediately which doesn’t, I suppose, make him a very constant and true lover.  On the other hand, she hasn’t responded positively to his short courtship so maybe he can be forgiven.
     He never succeeds in leaving and in the final scene where the muddle is all explained he remains kind and polite and his last words are to his Dromio: ‘Embrace thy brother there, rejoice with him’ (Act 5.1).
     What a nice man!
     And the two Dromios? One continually beaten by his master but in love with the fat cook. The other a merry and clever wordsmith who gives as good as he gets in wordplay with his master. These two are charming and delightful. They carry the play.
     Bad, less bad and quite nice. I think I’ll change that to: not at all likable – Antipholus of Ephesus. Quite a deep character for whom I feel great affection – Antipholus of Syracuse. And two lovable rascals – the Dromios.
     All in one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

Monday, September 5, 2016

September 2016

Hamlet is now done for the second time. I’ve just posted the text. We’re read The Comedy of Errors and we have two films to watch so that text won’t be until next time. Things move slowly sometimes, mainly because, in spite of everything, life happens alongside of Shakespeare, believe it or not.

Shakespeare is at the centre of everything, though, right? So I will once again mention to visitors of this blog that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase. Please help promote the book by buying it, of course, and telling your friends about it, by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you. Your support is needed to keep this project alive.

or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus has a lot of Shakespeare:
    • ‘The Poet’s Board’ promotes a poet in every home, and shows Shakespeare in the kitchen
    • Beethoven can’t get the first bars of the Fifth Symphony right with his wife nagging about jam spoons etc. He says, ‘Shakespeare never had this problem!’ Shakespeare pops onto the screen and says, ‘You wanna bet? Incidentally, it’s ‘ta-ta-ta-daaaa, ta-ta-ta-daaaam…’ Beethoven: ‘You’re right! Incidentally, why not call him Hamlet?’ Shakespeare: ’Hamlet! I like it much better than David. Michelangelo, you may use Davis. I won’t sue…’ And so on.
    • Now in performance: the first underwater version of Measure for Measure.
  • Helene Hanff in her England journal The Duchess of Bloomsbury:
    • Visits Stratford, and, warned that it has become a commercial tourist trap, is prepared for the Judith Shakespeare Wimpy Hamburger Bar. It bothers her not at all.
    • In Stratford she sees Much Ado about Nothing ‘at the shiny modern theatre, very conventional, not very well acted.’
    • Ends the book with her thoughts on the plane back to New York: ‘Bits of Prospero run in my head’ and then the ‘Our revels now are ended’ monolog.
  • In the novel London Falling by Paul Cornell, about detectives and ghosts and things in London, one of the detectives sees ‘a man dressed like something out of Shakespeare…with his head tucked under his arm.’
  • In Jodi Taylor’s second Chronicles of St Mary’s series, A Symphony of Echoes:
    • Historian time traveller Max reminds us that last year they found some sonnets and a hitherto unknown play called The Scottish Queen about Mary Queen of Scots becoming Queen of England as well, indicating that something has gone very wrong in history.
    • The sonnets had been buried in the past so that Max and her team could find them in the present. Max replants them so the future St Mary’s, which is threatened with bankruptcy, can find them and solve all their monetary woes.
    • Then they have to go back to the time of Mary Queen of Scots and fix that, thus nullifying the Shakespeare play…
  • On the Swedish TV quiz show Vem vet mest? (Who knows most?) the question is what’s the Latin word for skull. The host says, ‘To be or not to be’ and the answer is cranium.
  • In the novel The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron a book dealer, used to scams, tells the young protagonist Daniel that he knew of a man who bought a copy of Hamlet signed by Shakespeare in ballpoint.
  • In the novel Half Broken Things by Morag Joss the main character Jean reflects upon memories of her childhood: ‘Men were deceivers, ever. Shakespeare, but I can’t remember where from.’ From Much Ado about Nothing, Jean…
  • Peter Ackroyd, in his History of England Volume I Foundation writes of the time before the Roman invasion when there were about fifteen large tribes in England. One of them, the Catuvellauni, was led by Cunobelinus who ‘has since entered English mythology as the Cymbeline of Shakespeare’s play.’
  • The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter has reviewed a German production at the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Richard III, calling it ‘raw and uncompromising’ but also super theatrical and a bit of a ‘yawn’. Mixed, in other words. 

Further since last time:

  • Finished the films and text of: Hamlet
  • Read aloud with Hal: The Comedy of Errors
  • Watched:
    • Branagh’s Hamlet
    • Gregory Doran’s Hamlet with the brilliant David Tennant
  • We’re now finally watching the David Tennant Dr Who box and have become completely addicted. We’re going through it so quickly that we’ve already reached the Shakespeare Series 3 Episode 3 ‘The Shakespeare Code’. The Doctor and his new companion Martha go back to 1599. They go to the Globe where Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost has just been performed. Martha cries, ‘Author! Author!’ then asks the Doctor, ‘Do they say that in this time?’ When the audience shouts, ‘Author! Author!’ the Doctor says, ‘They do now.’  Shakespeare steps onto the stage and the Doctor says in the deepest respect, ‘The most human human there’s ever been…Beautiful words…’ whereupon Shakespeare says, ‘Ah, shut yer big fat mouths…’ And it goes on from there. Funny, clever, exciting (like all of the episodes) it’s a great homage to Shakespeare from the amazing Shakespearen actor, David Tennant. I’m in awe. 

  • Posted this month
    • ‘The Queen of Denmark – Gertrude in Hamlet’.
    • This report

The Queen of Denmark in Hamlet

The Queen of Denmark

     ‘Gertrude. The Queen of Denmark. It is important to remember that. She’s not only a mother and a wife but a head of state’ (Jand, page 349).
     I’m quoting myself here. This is what I wrote in my text ‘Who’s There?’ after reading Hamlet last time. I noted further that Gertrude is troubled by the paradox she must live as sexless widow and sexy wife. ‘She is well aware of the Christian view of women’s sexuality as evil and sinful contrasting with society’s bawdy acceptance of lust…Her ‘heart is cleft in twain’ as indeed is unavoidable in a society (like our own) that demands that a woman be sexy and sexless at the same time’ (Jand, page 350). As for Gertrude’s questions, ‘What shall I do?’ I write that ‘she is asking herself, what do I do now with this cruel mad hurtful son?’ (Jand, page 350).
     Shakespeare’s characters, as we know, can be and are interpreted in many different ways but I think Gertrude is one of his most interesting characters most often and so badly acted.
     We didn’t watch all of our Hamlet films this time and what we have is but a fraction of those that exist. While watching, though, I paid special attention to Gertrude.
     What did I see? Film by film I saw this:
  • First a Swedish version from 1984 with Stellan Skarsgård as Hamlet. The renowned (in Sweden) Mona Malm plays Gertrude and things start out badly when both she and her Claudius are aging jolly sexpots. Wrong! But she’s quite good in the bedroom scene as a haughty queen and then a puzzled unhappy mother. Let’s say 2 * of 5.
  • Next Peter Brook’s version with Adrian Lester as Hamlet. Natasha Parry does Gertrude and oddly I didn’t like her performance at all when we watched it the first time, finding it dull and emotionless. This time I saw her as low-key, earnest and uneasy although too smiley with Claudius. In the bedroom scene she is puzzled, impatient, despairing over her son’s madness. It is that which has cleft her heart in twain, not guilt. 4 * of 5.
  • In Laurence Olivier’s version Eileen Herlie is simply dreadful. For a start she’s younger than Olivier and her Gertrude is incestuous, seductive and cajoling from the beginning. In the bedroom scene she is weepy, shrill and pathetic. Her monolog about the drowning of Ophelia is flat and without emotion. 0* of 5.
  • In the BBC production from 1980, with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet, Claire Bloom is a mixed Gertrude. She starts out admirably with an aloof, gracious and regal air and in the beginning of the bedroom scene she is angry but calm and firm. She is appropriately aghast at the murder of Polonius but then, after a moment of reawakened grief when confronted by the two portraits, Bloom loses control of her character and allows her to become weepy and clinging. When she whimpers, ‘What shall I do?’ she is appealing to her son, having given in to wild accusations and accepted the guilt he throws at her. She rallies and does a deeply moving ‘there is a willow’ monolog. Claire Bloom is a great actor and some of her Gertrude is finely done. 3* of 5.
  • Ethan Hawke is the best sullen teen-aged Hamlet I’ve seen but Diane Venora is a disappointment in Almereyda’s film. She did the best Ophelia I’ve ever seen in the Kevin Kline production but as a chic and brassy Gertrude, well, it could have been all right if she hadn’t smiled so much, been so lovey-dovey with Claudius, so happy and clinging and flirtatious. She is not the regal queen she should be, she is a celebrity who glories in the glitzy spotlight. She is vampy and sexy. In the bedroom scene she weeps and kisses Hamlet and submits to his accusations and demands. She plays the role well. It’s just that it’s the wrong role for Gertrude. 2* of 5.
  • It is no secret that I think Branagh’s is the best Hamlet film made yet but also one of the best films made…ever. Julie Christie is one of the reasons. From her solemn sad tremulous smiles in her first scene she is the perfect Gertrude. She speaks earnestly to Hamlet, dances frantically at the Wassail ball, receives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern graciously and performs her responsibilities as a ruling monarch with dignity. In the bedroom scene she starts by being just indignant enough. She is strong in her remorse and grief. She is never frightened by Hamlet but sorrowful and worried. Her heart is cleft in twain by his madness and the murder. Pitch perfect in this scene, she’s uneasy and distressed throughout the play.  Exactly as a recently widowed monarch with heavy responsibilities, a new marriage and a mad son should be. 10 * of 10.
  • Nothing can top Christie as Gertrude or Branagh’s film as a whole but Gregory Doran’s version with David Tennant comes close at times and Penny Downie has some very strong moments. Though too smiley and adoring at times she is also regal and concerned. In the bedroom before Hamlet arrives she is smoking and drinking whiskey and removing her sumptuous wig (this Hamlet is set in modern times). She’s too accepting of the guilt Hamlet dumps on her but she is also concerned and powerless before his madness. Her ‘What shall I do?’ is spoken to herself as it should be and her almost harsh and unexpected laugh is startling and very effective. With Ophelia she is haughty and repelled but also kind. Downie is not completely successful as Gertrude but she is very strong and her portrayal of a complex and at times inscrutable Gertrude is intriguing. 4 ½ * of 5. 
     Playing the role of Gertrude is no easy task. Rebecca Smith, in the anthology of essays in Hamlet, contemporary Critical Essays, has given her essay the title ‘The Dilemma of Shakespeare’s Gertrude.’ A dilemma she is.  Tina Parker in her Women of Will reminds us that old Hamlet has kept Gertrude on a pedestal while Claudius not only loves her but respects and needs her ability as a co-ruler.
     Dilemma, complexity, authority in one woman. To do Gertrude justice all this and more must be done by any actor playing her. Shakespeare’s women have throughout the ages been mistreated by the societies in which gender roles have forced women into the Madonna-whore dichotomy.  It’s high time that she be treated with respect. It gladdens me that some productions are now doing that.

Works cited:
  • Jand, Ruby. Shakespeare Calling – the book. Vulkan. 2015.
  • Packer, Tina. Women of Will. Alfred A. Knopf. 2015.
  • Smith, Rebecca. ‘A Heart Cleft in Twain – The Dilemma of Shakespeare’s Gertrude’ in Hamlet Case Studies. Palgrave Macmillan. 1992.
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen.
Films seen this time: The above as well as Hamlet Goes Business, The Empress, and the Prince of Jutland.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August 2016

Hamlet is back. We’ve read the play again and seen several spin-offs and films. You can read some of the reviews on my movie blog (see links below).  Unlike last time we did Hamlet, I’m not agonising about what to write but since my plan involves the movies it will be a while because we have several left to watch. But next month I should be able to post a new text on Hamlet. This month what I have to offer is a ‘book of interest’ (see below).

As always, though, I will start with a reminder that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase and I appreciate all your support.

Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you.

or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

Or contact the publisher

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Z. As you know it’s the last letter of the English alphabet so this will be the last entry under this heading. And the Shakespeare connection? It’s a lovely one: Kent, in King Lear, calls Oswald ‘whoreson Z, thou unnecessary letter.’ Poor Oswald. Poor Z. How would we write zoo or zoom or buzz without you? 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer (Part Six of Three in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, written as a tribute to Douglas Adams) a bird spoke in a voice that reminded the hearer of the actor who had played Othello at the Globe. Sadly, though I loved the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, I did not finish this one. It just wasn’t the same.
  • In the book This New Noise by Charlotte Higgins, about the history of the BBC, the first general manager John Reith had the goal of developing the BBC to ‘show that mankind is a unity…for the good of all…[The wireless] ignores the puny and often artificial barriers which have estranged men from their fellows. It will soon take continents in its stride…It will cast a girdle round the earth with bands that are all the stronger because invisible.’ Higgins points out that ‘Reith was drawing on Shakespeare: it was Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream who boasted that he could “put a girdle round the earth”. Reith cast himself as magician – more Prospero than Puck…’
  • In the excellent and sad series River starring Sweden’s pride Stellan Skarsgård and the wonderful Nicola Walker I’ve noted two sightings:
    • In the first episode a copy of Romeo and Juliet is found amongst the murder victim’s belongings. Later this proves to be a vital clue to discovering two teens in a suicide pact.
    • River follows his psychiatrist across the Millennium bridge and I say to Hal: ‘They must be going to the Globe.’ As indeed they are. And there we suddenly are, feeling right at home. They don’t show enough of the play that we can identify it but it is lovely to get a glimpse.
  • In the musical The Music Man, which is one of my favourites and which we watched again recently, there are some classic sightings:
    • Marian’s mother says when telling Marian not to be so fussy about her choice of men that she shouldn’t concentrate on ‘Balzac and Shakespeare and all them other high-falutin’ Greeks.’
    • Marian counters with her modest demands on a man: ‘And if occasionally he ponders what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great, him I could live ‘til I die…’
    • Professor Harold Hill sings of his hometown (well, probably not really, most of what he says is a lie) Gary, Indiana, that the name, ‘as Shakespeare would say, trips along the tongue this way.’
    • Tommy and Zaneeta are reading Romeo and Juliet while Professor Hill sings ‘Marian the Librarian.’
    • Professor Hill again: ‘A coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man…only five hundred.’
  • A report on the Hong Kong Book Fair on Kulturnytt showed a picture of Shakespeare.
  • In the sci-fi novel Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, as starvation threatens on the spaceship headed back to Earth, Freya tells the others stories to keep their spirits up, stories of survival like Shackleton and Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson and the computer narrating this part of the novel says, ‘… it was hope she was trying to fill them with. We happy few. Hope, yes, of course, there is hope…But hope needs food. Helpful as hopeful stories might be, you can’t eat stories.’
  • In the novel The Likeness by Tana French
    • Abby is asleep in the bath in her pyjamas ‘like some postmodern Ophelia.’
    • Daniel talks about old herb gardens and suggests they make a Shakespeare salad.
    • Trying to encourage her friends to indulge in a drunken binge Abby says to Lexie that though Daniel is drunk and analysing Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream he’s not yet drunk enough.
    • On the same drunken binge Rafe claims that Henry V ‘…was a raving psycho…All that heroic Shakespeare stuff was pure propaganda.’
    • Daniel continues to rant on this binge but claims he’s speaking in monologues: ‘If Hamlet can have them, why can’t I?’
    • Abby tells Lexie about the first time she met Rafe. He came into the lecture room, soaked from the rain, and she said, ‘Check it out, it’s King Lear.’
    • After the stabbing and Daniel won’t allow them to move the knife and they are all near hysterics and Rafe is twitching and looking as though the knife were hovering in mid-air, Rafe denies his twitchiness: ‘Oh, for God’s sake. Bloody Lady Macbeth - ’
  • Even more sightings in Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road/The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street:
    • To her friend Maxine in London Helene writes, ‘Write to me about London – the tube, the Inns of Court, Mayfair, the corner where the Globe stood…’ This was before the now-standing Globe existed.
    • Her friends Ginny and Ed send a postcard from Stratford: ‘Thought you’d like to see the house where your Sweet-William was born.’
    • Frank writes: ‘We are sending off by Book Post today the Johnson on Shakespeare…with introduction by Walter Raleigh.’
    • Helene writes to Frank: ‘…enough Chaucer-made-easy, it has the schoolroom smell of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare.’
    • Helene: ‘I wanted to see London the way old people want to see home before they die…this was natural in a writer and booklover born to the language of Shakespeare…’
    • When Helene finally gets to London a friend ‘drove me to the corner where the Globe Theatre stood. Nothing is there now, the lot is empty, I made him stop the car and I got out and stood on that empty lot and I thought the top of my head would come off…He took me to a pub called the George, and as he opened the door for me he said…’Shakespeare used to come here.’ I mean I went through a door Shakespeare once went through, and into a pub he knew…I leaned my head back, against a wall Shakespeare’s head once touched…’ And as she looks around at the people Helene sees Justice Shallow, Bottom the Weaver, a sharp-faced Bardolph and a laughing Mistress Quickly.
    • Tourist exhaustion prevents Helene from queuing for last minute tickets to Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream but she is later invited by a new friend who had tickets left over.
    • She describes reading Arthur Quiller-Couch who takes it for granted that all of his readers know all the Shakespeare plays.
    • Before going to Stratford-upon-Avon she finds herself surprising to be excited because ‘to me, Shakespeare was born in the Globe Theatre.’ 

Further since last time: 

Posted this month
  • ‘Book of Interest’. Peter Brook’s Quality of Mercy
  • This report


The Quality of Mercy by Peter Brook

The Quality of Mercy – reflections on Shakespeare by Peter Brook
Having recently seen for the second time Peter Brook’s wonderful production of Hamlet with Adrian Lester in the title role I became inspired to read this little book bought a few months ago.
             It is a modest collection of essays and all the more interesting for its modesty. In the first essay Brook calmly refutes the silly notion that someone else wrote Shakespeare by pointing out that these plays had to have been written by someone who spent every waking hour working in the theatre and, quite simply, none of the other candidates spent all that much time in the theatre at all. He concludes with the simple statement that the question is out of date.
            In another he describes his problems with producing a Romeo and Juliet with young actors, breaking with the tradition that only experienced older actors could handle the challenge, but how it all became stiff anyway because of sticking too faithfully to each scene and losing the flow of the whole.
            Titus, Lear, Prospero all make their appearances and Brook ends his book thus: ‘Shakespeare. Quality. Form. This is where our work begins. It can never end.’
            A most pleasant read.


Monday, July 4, 2016

July 2016

April was a Shakespeare month. June was for my alter ego, Rhuddem Gwelin, a Merlin month with a lecture on Merlin at Fantastika, the Stockholm sci-fi/fantasy congress. Connection to Shakespeare? Shakespeare was of course mentioned in the lecture. Earlier, I ran into a Shakespeare friend who is also a neighbour and he asked, ‘Is it possible to love both Shakespeare and sci-fi/fantasy?’ Well – yeah! He shouldn’t have had to ask, since he does. He was amazed to find another. I’m sure we number in the millions!
But now to the report on June.  As always, though, I will start with a reminder that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase and I appreciate all your support.

Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you.

or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • York was the site of a Roman camp and there was a bishop there in the 4th century. It was one of England’s biggest cities in the Middle Ages. In the War of the Roses its symbol was the white rose. 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the old series from the 70’s Rock Follies, Q, one of the members of the rock group, says, ‘This is not the civilised utopia of Shakespeare recordings, this is the world of rock music.’ Later their new manager Kitty says to Anna who wants to sing her own songs, ‘Shakespeare wrote Lady Macbeth but he didn’t play her.’
  • Dagens Nyheter
    • Has a translation of an article by Nicholas Kristof about reading girls conquering the world in which Virginia Wolff’s observation about Shakespeare’s sister is mentioned.
    • Has a review of Measure for Measure, now being performed at the Roma Theatre on Gotland, and calls it light, saucy and crisp, a sharp comedy about double morality.
    • Mentioned, on Midsummer’s Eve, the second biggest holiday in Sweden after Christmas Eve (possibly in competition with New Year’s Eve) Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in several contexts.
    • Made a point about Shakespeare’s take on Brexit by finding several quotes from the plays. Especially good was on Nigel Farage’s speech – ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’
  • In the film Cake the girl from Boise asks shrewish Claire: ‘Are you always such a fucking shrew?’ Claire snorts and says, ‘Someone took a Shakespeare class.’
  • At the sci-fi/fantasy convention Fantastika in Stockholm a couple of weeks ago Hal and I listened to a panel of authors talking about how they create characters and one said he recycles them: he is writing about Ophelia. At the closing ceremony the Tolkien Society Forodrim’s choir Gléowine sang ‘Double, double, toil and trouble’ from the Harry Potter film.
  • In the book This New Noise by Charlotte Higgins, about the history of the BBC which I just started reading this morning, the first general manager John Reith had the goal of developing the BBC to ‘show that mankind is a unity…for the good of all…[wireless] ignores the puny and often artificial barriers which have estranged men from their fellows. It will soon take continents in its stride…It will cast a girdle round the earth with bands that are all the stronger because invisible.’ Higgins points out that ‘Reith was drawing on Shakespeare: it was Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream who boasted that he could “put a girdle round the earth”. Reith cast himself as magician – more Prospero than Puck…’ 

Further since last time: 

Posted this month
  • This report