No Coffee!

October 15, 2015 at 10:19 pm (Shakespeare's Life) (, , , )

no_coffee-1I just read Michael Dirda’s rave review in the Washington Post and I’m excited about this new book by Columbia professor and Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro: The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606.

I also love this short video of Shapiro with five things you might not know about Shakespeare. Among other things, he talks about the exhausting schedule Shakespeare kept, rehearsing and performing different plays each day, and then when others went out drinking and carousing, he went back to work every night, reading books and writing new plays. An amazing achievement for anyone.

I like Shapiro’s comment: “When people ask me what was Shakespeare’s greatest accomplishment? He was able to do this without caffeine, because neither tea nor coffee had been introduced in his day.” Can you imagine?!

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Five Myths about William Shakespeare

September 6, 2015 at 4:18 pm (Asides, Shakespeare's Life) (, , )

The Washington Post publishes a weekly piece called “Five Myths about…” on various topics and this week’s happened to be “Five Myths about William Shakespeare.” The author, Ari Friedlander, is writing a book called “Rogue Sexuality: The Erotics of Social Status in Early Modern England” about sex, crime and class in Shakespeare’s era.

The 5 myths he addresses include the authorship question and the related huge vocabulary and lack of education questions. It all boils down to this: “It is far more likely that the many contemporaneous references to Shakespeare, like that of Francis Meres in 1598, mean what they say: that William Shakespeare, stage actor, theater owner and, yes, barley hoarder, was a widely recognized and admired writer.”

Friedlander also brings up the myth of Shakespeare being a lone artist when there is ample evidence that he collaborated with others on a number of projects. And finally, probably the closest to Friedlander’s heart given the topic of the book he’s writing, the fifth myth is that Shakespeare’s love poetry was written to a woman. Friedlander contends that much of it was written to “Mr. W.H.” and that male-to-male eroticism was much less stigmatized in Elizabethan times than now. And that actually, the skin color of the “Dark Lady” of the sonnets would have been more shocking at the time than the gender of Mr. W.H.

I thought his myth-busting was interesting and it has raised quite a stir in the comments section! What do you think of it?

Sorry for my long blog hiatus… my time to read and write about Shakespeare is severely limited these days, but I hope to continue on my project reading and commenting on all the plays some day. I notice I have some unpublished draft posts sitting there silently waiting to see the light of day, so I’ll take a look back at them and release them soon!

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A Waste of Shame

February 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm (Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life, Shakespeare's Sonnets) (, , )

Do the sonnets reflect the dark underbelly of Shakespeare’s love life? I watched the BBC’s 2005 A Waste of Shame which is based on this premise. Here we have Shakespeare in midlife crisis brought on by his 11-year-old son Hamnet’s death from plague. The whole world seems filled with death and filth and darkness. The theaters are closed. What is there to live for?

Love. Or maybe it’s “Love.” Or even just “luv”… as in infatuation. Shakespeare becomes infatuated with a young pretty boy, William Herbert (the fair youth). At the same time, he lusts after a half-Moor French prostitute named Lucie (the Dark Lady). Between the two, he seems to barely come up for air. But the sonnets pour from his pen in the mix of emotions from these two simultaneous infatuations.

Shakespeare eventually realizes neither of these “luvs” are all that. And when he finds that the young lad is playing house with Lucie, a double betrayal, it sends Shakespeare into a bit of a tailspin. The tailspin is furthered by his diagnosis with the “French pox” (syphilis) which kind of gives the whole infatuation thing a nasty turn, since syphilis was incurable (although we see him endure a bizarre treatment involving mercury and a soak in what looks like a torture chamber). Source of more sonnetizing.

Poor, long-suffering, sharp-tongued wife Anne Hathaway is living in poverty in Stratford with Shakespeare’s daughters. There is a creepy peeping Tom scene where Shakespeare watches her through the window. He has been not much of a husband or father, and it’s unclear what he’s feeling as he watches his wife. Shame? Wistfulness?

Shakespeare eventually has the sonnets published, and then leaves London to live his last years at home with Anne in Stratford. No more of the whoring and night life of Elizabethan London. What were those last years like for him? Was he ill? Decrepit? Depressed?

We’ll never know.

I can’t say that I loved this movie, but it was interesting. I haven’t studied or even read most of the sonnets yet. I look forward to it some day, but wonder what they mean and what the real story was behind them. I would rather think that the emotions behind Shakespeare’s love poetry were something more real or lasting… less dark than portrayed here.

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Twofer

December 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , )

I enrolled in graduate school unexpectedly shortly after I started this blog project. So, my progress on the project of reading through Shakespeare’s plays has been glacial, but I intend to keep plugging away. The Two Gentlemen of Verona are sitting there patiently waiting for me. They’ll get my attention soon.

In the meantime, it’s the end of the semester, and while I’m over a year from finishing my degree, I have already earned a doctorate in procrastination! Yay, me! Shakespeare is not wholly responsible for my distractions, but he has his place in my Netflix queue, and every little bit helps!

So, I was pleased today to watch a brief survey of Shakespeare’s life and works courtesy of A&E’s Biography series called William Shakespeare: A Life of Drama. It’s an easy watch, nothing too exciting, but a good basic biography. The story is interspersed with clips from film and stage, there are interviews with Shakespeare scholars and other experts (I enjoyed seeing director Peter Hall). This would be a good introductory classroom video… at 45 minutes, it’s the right length, and it moves along fairly well. This was produced quite a while ago, but A&E still has a classroom guide on their website.

So, I gave you the good news first. Now for the other in my twofer post. I had the misfortune last week of watching The Shakespeare Conspiracy. After seeing Anonymous, I was vaguely interested in learning more about Derek Jacobi’s part in the authorship debate. He narrates this one.

Well, what can I say? Yawnnn. I’ll be honest, I watched it with the same complete slack-jawed disbelief that I felt when first learning about the tenets of Rastafarianism… what with the holy weed smoking and the deification of Haile Selassie (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Um, yeah. So, I felt that same kind of disconnect from reality while watching this. Really? I mean… really?

Alrighty. Well, they served their purpose of distracting me from my studies at a critical moment. Well done! Now, I have one exam left, some Christmas decorating and cookie baking, etc., and then The Two Gentlemen are waiting for me in Verona and maybe I’ll even get to The Comedy of Errors during winter break!

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Anonymous

November 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , , )

The authorship debate is not my thing. At all. I believe in my man, Will. Will wrote the plays, people. Got that?

So, when I heard rumblings about this film, Anonymous, I was not interested, not even thinking about going to see it. I thought I might watch it on video some day when I had nothing better to do. I thought it was going to be just so much more noise. I heard it compared to Oliver Stone’s JFK. Conspiracy theory extraordinaire! The real inside scoop! Someone finally put all the pieces together!

I am so glad I left all THAT NOISE behind and actually went out to watch this film! It is wonderful! Splendid! I loved it!

And no, I have not suddenly turned Oxfordian! Have no fear. That will not happen!

Let’s get the truth out right now, okay? It’s Fiction. F-I-C-T-I-O-N.

I hate to break the news, but the historical accuracies in this film are by far outweighed by the fun fiction. Hello? Do people really believe that Queen Elizabeth had multiple bastards? Hello? Do people really believe… okay, I’ll let it go.

It’s fiction. So is Shakespeare in Love, and you know I love Shakespeare in Love. I think I may love Anonymous even more.

This film is luscious! Beautiful cinematography. Absolutely breathtaking! Wonderful acting! Fantastic sets and costumes. A feast. I mean, wow! And smart. And entertaining! There’s romance, tragedy, intrigue, farce… even a miracle at the end that saves the plays from destruction.

This film is truly Shakespearean to the core (a seemingly impossible feat since the film is set on portraying Oxford as the Bard!). We revel in the beauty of the words here. The plays are beloved and treated with reverence in this film. Many are partially staged and it’s just lovely to see.

Shakespeare loved the play within the play. This whole film is a play within a play… and so much more! Here when the Mousetrap in Hamlet is staged, we have the play within the play within the play within the play within the movie. Bravo! (Let’s go over that… we have the Mousetrap which is Shakespeare’s play within Hamlet and it’s all happening in the play which is the story of Oxford’s authorship which is set within the framework of a modern play about the authorship question in the movie Anonymous. Yes, there will be a quiz!) It reminds me of the scene in Mad Men where Sally Draper talks to the neighbor boy about the infinity of little Land O’ Lakes Indians on the butter box (the Indian is holding the butter box with the picture of the Indian holding the butter box with the picture of the Indian holding the butter box…).

I think Shakespearean scholars (which I’m not) would catch all kinds of allusions in this film that go over my head. I think Shakespeare/Tudor film/TV buffs (which I’m not… keep your eye on BardFilm) will see all sorts of allusions to shows that go over my head (for example, I noticed Elizabeth’s finger sucking in her dotage, which I just happened to see Glenda Jackson do in the old BBC series Elizabeth R).

Love this film. Love it! I was so happy watching it! I was smiling through much of it and smiling on my way home! Oh my goodness, Rafe Spall playing Shakespeare does such a fully fantastic performance of this farcical jackass… I literally laughed out loud every time he appeared on screen. And can I say, thank you Rafe, for redeeming yourself in my eyes after that truly godawful film One Day… one of the few movies I would have walked out on, but my friend kept telling me it HAD to get better (it didn’t). Rafe Spall, you are redeemed. (I just want to point out that Rafe is the son of Timothy Spall who played the trippy Don Armado in Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost).

Rafe Spall’s Shakespeare is a relatively minor character in Anonymous. The film belongs to the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans who has been a fave of mine since the quirky Danny Deckchair). Oxford is also played well in his youth by Jamie Campbell Bower and  by Luke Thomas Taylor as a boy. Other fine characters here are Queen Elizabeth (played convincingly at different ages by Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson), Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), and then there are the Cecils, Southampton, Essex, etc.

It’s a great story… and amazingly loose ends are tied, i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed! It makes perfect sense!

Just one more reminder, repeat after me: It’s fiction. It’s wonderful Shakespearean fiction! Enjoy!

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Happy Birthday, Will!

April 23, 2011 at 12:06 am (Asides, Shakespeare's Life) (, , )

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who have a great blog called (appropriately) Blogging Shakespeare, is celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday today with a tribute to the Bard from bloggers around the world. Check it out: Happy Birthday, Shakespeare

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Shakespeare, In Fact

April 6, 2011 at 11:00 am (Asides, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , )

Last month I read the most extraordinary obituary in the Washington Post: A Local Life: Irvin Leigh Matus, 69, penniless Shakespeare scholar who lived by his own design.

Ever since arriving in Washington in 1985, Irvin Matus seemed to survive on little more than charm, wit and the kindness of friends and strangers.

He seldom had a paying job — mostly out of stubborn pride — choosing instead to spend the past 25 years as an independent scholar of the life and works of William Shakespeare. He showed up each day at the Library of Congress or Folger Shakespeare Library to conduct his research, then slipped away in the evening to cadge food from Capitol Hill cocktail receptions, striding in as if he were a congressman.

He lived in dozens of places as an itinerant housesitter and became known as something of a “man who came to dinner.”

“Invite him to stay the night,” a fellow Shakespeare scholar told The Washington Post last week, “and he might still be in your home a month later.”

It reminds me of Six Degrees of Separation, except that he wasn’t scamming anyone — it’s how he wanted to live his life! He just wanted to study, so he hung out all day on Capitol Hill at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress and sometimes, when he had nowhere else to stay, he slept at a nearby construction site and then cleaned up in the morning in the public restrooms. When people asked where he lived, Matus answered, “The Hill,” like everyone else in the DC neighborhood around the Capitol building. I get such a kick out of this! What a character!

I find Matus’s story amazing. He had no formal education beyond high school and he was not affiliated with a university. He was a baseball stats genius and a Shakespeare lover. He simply studied for studying sake. A true scholar! He published a couple of apparently well-received books, including Shakespeare, The Living Record and Shakespeare, In Fact. According to the Post obit:

He wrote magazine articles for Harper’s and the Atlantic and went on to publish in 1994 a second book, “Shakespeare, in Fact,” which has come to be recognized as a near-definitive refutation of the argument that the works of Shakespeare were written by someone other than the historical Bard of Avon.

“He distinguished himself by his passion for Shakespeare, his deep respect for the historical record, and his devotion to research,” Gail Kern Paster, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “His book, ‘Shakespeare, in Fact,’ was recognized as a reliable, trustworthy, and authoritative source for what we know for sure about Shakespeare.”

Wow! So, as you may remember from my previous brief foray into the authorship question, I am not very interested in it. I don’t really care about the conspiracy theories. It’s just noise to me. Beside the point.

But I thought this guy was so interesting that I wanted to see his book. I was able to get it through inter-library loan, so I ordered it. ILL doesn’t give me much time with it, and frankly, I’m not that interested in the minutiae of the arguments, but I can say after skimming: anyone who wonders whether Shakespeare was really Shakespeare should take a look at this book. Matus takes every little piece of evidence used by Oxfordians (people who argue that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, actually wrote the plays) and explains in minute detail everything he found in his research to refute each minute detail. This book is minutiae.

I don’t find the authorship question intriguing and I don’t have much time to pore over the evidence one way or the other, but I do find Irvin Matus intriguing! He was an amazingly free spirit. Anyway, if you have questions about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, this is the book for you.  I think it will make a diehard Stratfordian out of you! (Steve!)

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Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

January 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , )

Wow, six hours of staring at Tim Curry playing William Shakespeare, and really it made me long (for pretty much the whole six hours) to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show. That would be much more entertaining. This 1978 British TV series, Will Shakespeare (also released as “Life of Shakespeare”), is a bit hard to watch.

This series is six episodes on two discs and it’s available on Netflix. There are no subtitles available on these discs, and I missed them. Between the British accents and background music/noise it was hard following the first disc. The second disc didn’t give me as much of a problem (maybe I got used to the accents). 

I was excited to see my friend John McEnery in this series. I loved him as Mercutio in my old favorite, Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, here he is wasted as a neighbor in Stratford. There is no need for this character, who appears to just hang out a lot with Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway while Will is away in London. I guess it would be awkward to have Anne talking to herself, so they placed an extra body in the room. Too bad.

Then we have Curry as the Bard. I am not a huge Tim Curry fan, although I like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He is totally trapped in that Dr. Frank-N-Furter character for me (even more, maybe, than Keanu Reeves will always be Ted on an excellent adventure).

Frank-N-Furter, yes. Shakespeare, iffy. Very iffy for me. Especially as the young, curly-haired Shakespeare of the first disc where he looks just like Frank-N-Furter (this series was filmed only a couple of years after Rocky Horror). For me, Curry as Shakespeare lacks the charm of say, Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love. He has a creepy/sinister thing going that is difficult to get past.

Matter of fact, a lot of this series suffers from creepy/sinister. The first episode centers on Christopher Marlowe. There is a long creepy/sinister scene in a (spa? club? bathroom?) with lots of mirrors and Marlowe’s head in a mud mask. Weird. Marlowe’s creepy/sinister boy toy is involved in underhanded shenanigans and a hard-to-follow payola thing that contributes to the end of Marlowe. Whatever.

Then there is creepy/sinister actor Jack Rice, whose mother’s body is quietly dumped by Shakespeare in the river to avoid alerting the authorities who would close down the theater if they knew she died of plague. Jack loves to play the girl parts in the plays and whenever he is on the scene in his heavy makeup and admiring himself in the mirror, I am reminded of Tales from the Crypt.

The creepy/sinister theme continues with the Earl of Southampton, who is shown over and over and over again on the first disc dining with Shakespeare at opposite ends of a 30 foot table while they silently stare daggers at each other, apparently having a lovers spat over Shakespeare’s unrequited infatuation with his dark lady of the sonnets.

The second disc continues the creepy theme. Creepy/bitchy Anne Hathaway. Creepy/silent son Hamnet. Creepy/terrifying Queen Elizabeth. And it is creepy the way Shakespeare ages and balds while Southampton remains lovely.

In addition to creepiness, there are extended, hard-to-follow intrigues involving Southampton and Essex and the Queen (and maybe Shakespeare). I did not really follow the plot a fair amount of the time, and by the end of the six hours I didn’t care.

Hmmm, I think I need to make some toast and find Rocky Horror playing at a midnight movie. I remember… doing the Time Warp…

 © All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Shakespeare’s Stratford

December 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, )

I know. I need to start reading Shakespeare again. I will. Maybe next week. In the meantime, I watched a travelogue tribute to the Bard’s hometown. Shakespeare’s Stratford is a 3-hour tour of Stratford. A 3-hour tour. (I’m humming the Gilligan’s Island theme.)

This video takes us to various locations all around Stratford, including properties owned by the Shakespeare birthplace trust. We tour the birthplace. We see his mom Mary Arden’s home (which it turns out was misidentified with a neighboring house for years and the actual Arden home was saved by chance). We see his wife Anne Hathaway’s cottage with its cozy-looking thatched roof. His daughter Suzanna’s house. His granddaughter’s house. The school he went to. The church where he was baptised and buried. Along the way, we hear the stories of each place told by the people who work there. It’s fun. It’s informative.

Okay, I will admit to having a nearly superhuman tolerance for historic home tours. Seriously, I have walked through hundreds of houses. I like it. I like looking at the old furniture, hearing the old stories, wondering what it was like way back when. And… I’ve visited Stratford and been to most of the places featured in the show (over 20 years ago, but still). I would go again. I don’t get tired of the whole thing.

Yet there’s something oddly off about this show. It’s very low budget. I think I could have filmed it. It looks like it was made all in one day — a really windy, gray, ugly winter day. The audio is often bad, especially on the docents and people being interviewed. The host, Stratford native Sue Sutton, is an odd duck. Poor thing, she is forever windblown. She really could have used a stylist (or at least a comb through her hair).

Sutton purposely asks unusual questions at nearly every location. It was sort of like taking my 9-year-old son on the tour and hearing him ask cringe-worthy toilet-related questions and then giggle as the tour guides deal neatly with the queries they’ve probably heard a zillion times. For example, Sutton gets into an extended discussion of Shakespeare’s son-in-law’s hemorrhoids. We hear about the purges (both upward and downward) that doctors prescribed back then. We hear how the privy slosh got poured on the gardens as fertilizer. And now I know why there were canopies on beds (to keep bugs, rat droppings, etc. from falling from the organically active thatched roof into the open mouths of snoring sleepers!).

It goes on in that vein. There’s a lovely explanation of the clothing worn by various members of a well-to-do sixteenth century farming household. And then Sutton asks a costumed reenactor to explain the mechanics of the codpiece on his pants. We learn that scientists identified the year that the timbers were felled for the Hathaway cottage (1460something) and then we hear how cow dung was essential in its wattle and daub construction. And finally (by then, not surprisingly!), Sue Sutton tells us she was named for Shakespeare’s daughter Suzanna, because like her, she was conceived several months before her parents married (when her father, an RSC actor, saw a ghost of William Shakespeare). Alrighty.

Worth my while? Yeah, I liked it. Except now I feel cold. Worth your while? Maybe, maybe not.

 © All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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In Search of Shakespeare

November 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , )

I watched the 4-part 2004 PBS series In Search of Shakespeare with Michael Wood over the past few weeks and found it really enjoyable. It is lively and fun and brought the Bard to life for me. I am not vouching for its scholarship, but the series paints a plausible portrait of the man from Stratford. It’s very entertaining, at least. The series feels sort of like a travel showy-documentary-whodunnit with plenty of drama and excitement. It’s fun!

So, the tale told here is of Shakespeare, son of a Catholic family, and how perhaps his closet Catholicism (in the era of the Reformation) plays out in his life and work. Interesting!

The story is fleshed out with a great deal of documentation. Michael Wood is off to all corners of England, going through the Elizabethan paperwork that still exists in dusty corners of libraries throughout the land. I was kind of fascinated at the thought of scholars poring through all these old papers. It would seem a needle in the veritable haystack to come up with any reference to Shakespeare (with all its many spellings) in 400 year old documents in any random corner of England, but there  you have it. Somebody’s got to do it, I guess.

That sounds like it would be boring to watch, but it’s not. Wood is excitable and he gets ramped up about all this stuff he finds, and he lays the land very convincingly — you get a feel for the context of everything he presents and the possible implications for Shakespeare.

The Royal Shakespeare Company joins in the fun, presenting various Shakespearean plays in various places reminiscent of or actually where Shakespeare’s players played. There are a lot of bits and pieces of plays sprinkled throughout the series.

I recommend the series for some light entertainment. Like I said, I don’t vouch for the scholarship, but Wood presents a life of Shakespeare that seems very reasonable and understandable. He places the plays in the historical context and within a plausible life journey of Shakespeare. I found it convincing!

I enjoyed it and maybe learned quite a lot about what life was like back then, and maybe even what life was like for William Shakespeare. I have a picture in my mind now of a charming rake, with quite a bit of drinking and carousing and living the bachelor’s life in London and suffering a midlife crisis and falling in love with a married woman and dying a bit young after a drunken binge.

As Gavin Wilson, a reviewer on Amazon put it, “It is one of the regrets of so many adults that they wished they liked Shakespeare more … if only it wasn’t so much work to appreciate him, compared to ‘Friends’ etc. Here Michael makes him very digestible.” I agree wholeheartedly!

The PBS website is interesting and has quite a bit of information on it. There are lesson plans and other tools for teachers who want to use this series in the classroom. I think kids (say late elementary and up) would like it. PBS also sells the DVDs or you can watch it on Netflix.

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