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The American Shakespeare Center is currently performing Othello.  As always, one of the things I love about the ASC is their ability to pick up on obscure tidbits of Dialog and bring them to the forefront of a production.  In particular, Iago's justification for his hatred of Othello.  Iago mentions that he feels he was passed over for promotion.  But he also mentions that there is a rumor that Othello has had an affair with his wife.  Later, Iago says the same thing of Cassio. 

Now, of course, I have a fundamental distrust of all dialogue.  However, this speech is often regarded as a fabrication by Iago to justify his actions.  Because of the standard distrust of  Iago, I am more likely to want to trust him.  The performance of Iago that I saw last week convinced me that my reading of this play is possible.  The ASC's Iago put on his show for Rodrigo spouting how much he hated his commander, but when he talked about his wife's potential infidelity, it was not a show for anyone.  Iago's disgust at the sight of Emilia seemed a subtler mirror of Othello's outrage at the sight of Desdemona once he suspects her promiscuity.  Iago says he does not care whether his wife did the things she is accused of or not.  For him, the fact that it has made its way into rumor is enough to condemn them all. 

To me this feels that under this reading, the play Othello follows the structure of a revenge tragedy only focusing on someone other than the revenger.  By purposing this I don't mean to undermine Othello's position of prominence in the play, but rather to purpose a new level of fatalism to the play.  If Iago is feeding Othello with the same poison he himself is suffering from there is no evil mastermind, just fate toying with them all. 
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Glass Wave

This band, comprised of college professors, writes songs based on works of literature.   One such is "Ophelia."  I only caught a 30 second clip on their website but  they look worth investigating.  They also have songs about Echo and Narcissus as well as Helen of Troy.  This could easily become my easy listening. 

I feel that there is this unspoken (or perhaps spoken and I just haven't heard it) rule that says academics can't do creative work because it is their job to critique it.  But I've been using my higher education to influence my creative projects, allowing me to say what I mean with precision.  It makes me happy, even more so than the fact that they do songs about Shakespeare, that they are professors able to use their vast study in a creative capacity.

New Book

May. 3rd, 2010 02:16 pm
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Contested Will

This is a review for a new book about the authorship issue.  I've really always thought the authorship issue was more of a non-issue.  In our "Death of the Author" age isn't it better not to worry about the man who wrote the work and instead just delve into the text?  Since Shakespeare has come to stand it for so many things, perhaps it's better that we know so little about him.  But when faced with proponents of the Oxfordian or Baconian camps, I find myself rising to challenge of asserting my Stratfordian views.  

This book, however, seems to be more of an chronicling of the history of the authorship problem.  This does intrigue me since I believe the last literature I read on the subject was by Mark Twain, (though it was good for a few laughs).  This is definitely going on my summer reading list (along with the million other things I have picked up over the year).

Act V

Jan. 19th, 2010 08:08 pm
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So, it has been a while since I did one of these and since the were requested specifically by a subscriber, here we go:

You know you are obsessed with Shakespeare when...

you watch your favorite acts of what ever play you are watching over and over again.

This week, in an attempt to avoid my real work, I have been watching acts 4 and 5 of Much Ado about Nothing.  This is chiefly the reason for the last post.  At other times I have watched and re-watched ALL the particular death scenes from Hamlet. 

The question I pose to you is this:  What are your favorite scenes, the ones you can watch over and over without tiring of them?  What plays are they from? Why do you like them?

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I was rewatching Much Ado this evening and I got to thinking that I've never seen a single version that I really really liked. I have enjoyed different adaptations over the years and seen a good stage performance, but something always falls short. And, largely, I believe it is Claudio.


M once told me that Claudio is a two-dimensional character. He's not supposed to have depth. But I've never thought of him that way. For me there is one line that marks Claudio's depth. That is in the scene where he and the Prince find out that they have been duped. At hearing the confession of Don John's man, the prince says, “Runs not this speech like iron through your blood?” Claudio responds with “I have drunk poison whiles he utter'd it.” (V.i)


I have always thought this line was the most profound of all his lines. It shows the love he truly bared for Hero and it allies him with a lot of Shakespeare's other characters. He, who is already like Othello in his jealousy, could in this line join in his same self imposed fate. He could be Romeo in a moment, fleeing to the death bed of his beloved to join her fake death with a real one, except that Leonato sentences him to another marriage. He could be Horatio staring at the poisoned cup as though the last person alive trying to wrestle with his own since of justice. The mere mention of poison invokes all these comparisons.


None of that works, however, if the character doesn't get across the grief which has just flooded over this character. Branagh didn't even include the line in his adaptation of the play to film. That just doesn't make sense to me, because I feel that this line makes or break that character. If you don't feel that he truly is ready to take any punishment from Leonato, wishing with all his heart to undo what is done. You can't feel that he deserves to win Hero back in the end. That is a flat character.


Next time someone reveals that you've been lied to, in all earnestness quote Claudio's line. See if they don't do a double take. If the scene were ever to be done with the force of emotion that that one line warrants, I guarantee Benedick and Beatrice wouldn't be able to steal the show (as much).

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Two Gentlemen of Lebowski hit the internet this week and is already making a bunch as “The Knave abideth” (epilogue) and I laughed at “I still read Ben Jonson manually.” (IV.iii) He is a huge fan of the movie and likes a little Shakespeare now and again, while I'm the opposite.

Doom felt that there was a problem with making The Big Lebowski into an Elizabethan play. Namely, that the dude is supposed to be the representation of his generation. I argue that the specific universality of the story makes it perfectly in keeping with Shakespeare's plays. By specific universality, I mean the way in which it tells a very specific story that is grounded in a time and place, while the ideas expressed and themes reach a more universal understanding. I usually do not make the “universal truth of the human condition” kind of Shakespeare argument. However, the way people think about Shakespeare and I think it is also the way people think about The Big Lebowski.

Much of it, I feel is really well done. Large chunks of dialog are in Iambic Pentameter while the author manages to transfer many of the jokes in the movie to the play. My biggest concern, however, is for the seeming randomness of allusions to actual Shakespearean plays, which I can see were done for comedic effect rather than to draw actual parallels between the plays.

It is a creative endeavor, and quite amusing.  I highly recommend it for a good hearty laugh. 

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I know that sounds like really bad crossover slash fiction but I promise it's not.

Actually, it is David Tennant, who is well known for his role as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor from "Doctor Who" but almost no one remembers from a BBC version of Casanova.  This past year he was to play Hamlet for the RSC but injured his back and only performed eleven times.  Shortly after this it was announced that this was being converted to a film version.

Patrick Stewart played opposite him as Claudius.  (Yes,  I really did get my geek on for this one.) 

This has now arrived and aired the day after Christmas.  Tonight, I watched it and was very surprised.  It had the feel of a stage production in its simplistic sets, complete reliance on actors instead of effects, and somewhat ambiguous time and place.  Yet, it did not fall into the trap of using stationary cameras. Giving it the best of both worlds.

Tennant's lightning-fast pace allowed the whole play to be done in 3 hours, but this didn't kill the pacing of the play.

I think the best part, however, was the way that each actor made their characters thier own.  Hamlet is done so often that a lot of times when I think of a line I remember it the way this actor or that actor preformed it.  This Hamlet was definitely David Tennant's Hamlet and no one else's.  The Ophelia, Laertes and Horatio likewise didn't fall into the drudge of a stock character.  

All in all, I liked it a lot.   
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This is the sort of Shakespeare stuff I like to see.  People teaching Shakespeare to toddlers. I found this today on Fark.com.  

Obviously, the kid doesn't understand all of it.  In fact, he can barely stay focused to the end.  But he does get a lot of it.  See how he responds to "That is the question." with "yeah,"  He was just taught a question and sees how it is a question.  

I think kids can understand more about Shakespeare than we give them credit for.  We dumb it down and then when we do get around to teaching them, we teach them that it's stuffy and antiquated rather than showing them how much fun it can be. 

I don't think children will understand everything when they first see Shakespeare.  I got more out of Hamlet in 10th grade than I did in 5th.  But the same is true now.  I understand more about Hamlet now than I did in 10th.  The important thing is to expose kids to Shakespeare at a young age:  Start taking kids to plays at the ages of 10 or so, read sonnets for Valentines day.  

Just make Shakespeare fun for students and they wont shy away from it they way they do now.

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You know you are obsessed with Shakespeare when...

you find out that one of your favorite Shakespearean actors wrote a book on something related to Shakespeare and without needing to know more you order the book. 

I was looking for  Shakespearean plays with Michael Pennington in them on Amazon (to no success) but instead found that he wrote a book on Hamlet.  I should get it in the mail this week.
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Due to trip and sickness, I haven't posted these in two weeks.  So, I thought I would try to post something a little extra today,

You know you are obsessed with Shakespeare when...

you see four Shakespearean plays in one week and when it over you still want more.

despite the fact that you own more than one Complete Works, you find yourself feeling as though you need more.

you do something completely unrelated to Shakespeare but still feel the need to quote him.

The first two were realizations from my trip and the third is from Mr. "I hate Shakespeare," who while playing zombies this week quoted the Balcony speech from R&J to his girlfriend who was still human while he himself was a zombie.  I thought that was really great (and obsession worthy -- I will win him around eventually). 

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On this St. Crispin's Day, I write a little blog post about Henry V:

This speech is very moving, very effective, but how sincere is it? I want Henry to be the Good guy as much as the next person (perhaps more in some cases), but how much are we really allowed to see that. In this speech, indeed in all of Henry's dialog in Henry V we are not given any indication that he is anything but sincere. However, I recently had the opportunity to see Henry IV Part I. There we see a very difference person in the form of Prince Hal. Hal is a young man only interested in drinking and hanging out with a fat, old knight named Falstaff. Hal confides in the audience during one of his soliloquies that he is infact only playing the part of a truant son in order to make himself look better when he finally reforms. This is our Henry V. This is the man who broke Falstaff's heart and he is the one who call all men present this "band of brothers." This is an uplifting speech for a battlefield of men certain of their doom. But when viewing all of the Henry IV/Henry V plays together is difficult to trust his motives.

Ultimately it is up to a director to decide how sinister Hal/Henry really is. In the production I saw, Hal (Played my Luke Eddy) seemed to truly be having fun while he had the chance free of responsibility and ready to step up to the plate when his father needed him. Indeed, several times throughout the later part of the play Henry IV would say something about his amazement at his son's feats and Hal responded with amazement at how low his father's opinion of him had fallen. This Hal could quite easily grow up to be a Henry V that would deliver this St. Crispin's Day speech and mean every word of it. 

And frankly, I think that having a corrupt politician for a Henry would uncomfortable. 

Anyway.  For this Saint Cripsin's Day I have a few uses of this speech in modern media.  The first is Due South, a Canadian Cop show from the mid 90's.  About a minute in is where their version of the speech begins. (sorry I couldn't cut if for you).  The second is a scene from the movie Renaissance Man,  in which one of the character is told to recite Shakespeare and this is what he comes up with.

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This is the promotional video for the Program that I went to look at last week.  I was going to describe the program in depth but I think this video does an excellent job of summing up everything that i saw.

(On a side note I'm still trying to make up the sleep I lost on this trip.)

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Doom was playing with Unix Fortune Function and told me he would tell me mine. he clicked a few times reading them each for me and then came upon this:

For years a secret shame destroyed my peace--
I'd not read Eliot, Auden or MacNiece.
But now I think a thought that brings me hope:
Neither had Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope.
-- Justin Richardson.
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This week I've been translating the story of Procne and Pilomela.  These are two sisters.  One of which marries a neighboring king and then after several years of marriage asked for her sister to visit.  When the king goes to get the sister, he is struck by her beauty and rapes her.  Having raped her he cuts out her tongue so she can't tell anyone of his crime. 

Cutting out of the tongue, sound familiar?  Well, if not you can cheat by remembering that in the last part of this series I promised to talk about Titus Andronicus.  Titus' daughter, Lavinia, is raped and her tongue cut out.  But Shakespeare does not leave it there because his characters also can read and write.  So, he has her hands cut off as well. 

Neither victim is long hindered by the mutilation.  Philomela weaves a tapestry which depicts what happened and Lavinia uses a stick which she guides with his teeth to write the names of her attackers in the sand. 

Both are ultimately avenged by their families, which involves feeding children to an evil mother or father depending on the story.  

Initially, Philomela believes Tereus will kill her and welcomes death.  However, ultimately she, along with her sister, flees in the form of a bird from Tereus.  This is very different from Lavinia who is killed by her own father in order to preserve her chastity. 


Ovid's story is interested in the sisters revenging themselves on Tereus, while shakespeare takes it a step further. For his characters revenge is not enough. Shakespeare is interested in a return to a functioning society, the lack there of is what has allowed the rape in the first place. In the end everyone involved with the murder, betrayal or disruption of society is killed and people untainted by these events step forward to take their place.

Later: this story also crops up in Cymbeline in some very disturbing ways.

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Tonight I went to a production at the Ringling International Arts Festival of Shakespeare's Sonnets.  Peter Brooks, the director, chose a selection of the sonnets that he felt went well together in order to set up a dialog.  The production itself was very slow to start but picked up once the sonnets being used got more interesting.  The female actor was sort of weak but sufficient for what was being done.  However, the highlight of the event was the Male actor, Michael Pennington.  Now for most people this would not be that big of a deal, but for me this was huge.  Michael Pennington played Posthumous in the BBC's Cymbeline.  This being one of my favorite plays and the only filmed production of it that in on IMDB (and therefore the only one I've ever found), I have seen this movie at least half a dozen times if not more.  So, when he began to act and I heard and saw him, I knew right away that it was him.  The performance he gave made the whole night worth it.  I am so excited to have been able to see an actor whose work I have loved for so long on a stage performing Shakespeare right in front of me. 

Ok, back from my fan girl  crush.  Since this blog is supposed to do something thought provoking I am going to shift gears and talk about the production as a critic for a while:

The concept behind the production, in my opinion, was underdeveloped.  Shakespeare's sonnets were not written as a sequence (other Renaissance writers were doing sequences.  Why not use one of those?) and putting them together, at least is this way was only mildly successful. The production used a minimalist stage setup which I felt was appropriate and left little distractions from the sonnets (except the guy playing the keyboard on the side of the stage between sonnets, he was pretty bad.)  The most distracting thing was the sonnets themselves.  It is very difficult to hold fourteen lines of iambic pentameter in your head when someone else is reading them out loudm making it hard to figure out what the sonnet is actually saying.  Add to the the fact that each sonnet is a response to the one before it and it becomes extremely frustrating to remember where the characters were just at in there relationship. 

Since I got the Tickets for free, it was a night well spent.  Hell, I'd even probably pay to see that performance, but only after remembering that i am going to a dramatized reading -- not a play.  

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For a special report.  This Just in:  Jude Law Can't Do Hamlet!  At least that is what most reviewers think.  The Review of the play in the New York Times was almost a whole half page of bashing. 

I first heard that Jude Law was doing Hamlet a little over a week ago (I think, I've always been bad with keeping track of the passage of time).  At that time I looked up production pictures and thought it looked very interesting.  The cast is in plain clothes, the stage is bare save for the brick wall that serves as a back drop, and there are even Snow flurries during the "To be or not to be" speech, making his debate all the more bleak.  But even then as I saw small clips I thought, "He seems to be overdoing it a little.  but it is Jude Law, perhaps he's making it work like that."

But apparently he's not.  According the article I read in the New York Times and according to the link above, a lot of other critics as well, characterize his performance in athletic terms.  Most people think his hamlet is completely over acted.  The best thing that the reviewer could afford it was that Jude Law's mass appeal drew in an much younger audience.  That alone is a big plus.  But surely it's not that bad.

Ultimately, I don't know and I wont because I can't go up to New York to see it.  But really,  I don't think that his Hamlet can be so bad as to ruin the play.  Critics often are overly critical and a high intensity hamlet is probably what he is intentionally going for. 

I promise that later I will get back to Ovid.  Don't worry.  

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I retyped what I was going to type yesterday before my computer crashed... (bad Caliban... no island snacks for you!)

For my thesis I was have been reading a lot of domestic tragedies. One, which I read that I enjoyed a lot but which doesn't work for my thesis, is The Vow Breaker.  The blot of which is that a Woman (Anne) vows to marry one man (Bateman) who is young but poor and her father convinces her to marry another man (German) who is old and rich.  When Bateman discovers her betrayal, he is struck with grief and kills himself.  After which she is haunted by his ghost.  She ultimately is drive to her own death by the ghost so that she can be with her true husband (Bateman).

After the young Bateman kills himself his father finds the body.  The father (Old Bateman) delivers a large amount of lines over his dead son's body.  Most interesting for me at least is a reference to Niobe:

i'le weepe alone
Till Niobe like my teares convert to stone.

The story of Niobe is found is the 6th book of the Metamorphoses. She makes fun of the mother of Artemis and Apollo because She (Niobe) has more children.  For this Artemis and Apollo kill her fourteen children leaving her to weep, until, unmoving, she becomes stone.  So, the reference is clear.  Its use here however is not.  What here is "Niobe like"?  Old Bateman has just lost his child, presumably the only one he has.  In this respect he is the one like Niobe and like Niobe he plans to stay unchanging in his grief for his son.  Yet, he says "my tears convert to stone."  So in that sense, his tears are like Niobe.  Yet, her tears did not turn to stone.  She herself did and her tears continued to flow (which is how she became a mountain top with tears forming a river down the side of it.  Either way his invocation of Niobe is problematic.  He cannot become like Niobe because he is not in a play where he can actually turn to stone.  The best he can do is (which he does) is stay by a portrait of his son, so that he is always mourning.  Though in a way his tears do harden his heart and he become unwilling to accept a response of grief from Anne.  

I feel like old Bateman's grief is likened to Niobe's.  Yet he seems to make Niobe more noble by the comparison.  Her children's deaths were her own fault.  Bateman's death was for loss of love. 

Tomorrow: Titus Andornicus
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So, there was an awesome post that was supposed to go here but my computer crashed.  So now part one will only be an introduction and I will continue with actual examples tomorrow. 

In my Advanced Latin class we have been translating Ovid's Metamorphoses.  While I am having a terrible time in there because of the difficulty, I am having a great time reading the stories which are referenced in the literature of the Renaissance.  The Metamorphoses does several things:  1) it retells a lot of creation myths and stories of the gods and legendary figures all in one place.  2) it pokes fun at the Epic form by using it to tell these stories, which except by Ovid's use of poetic, are not epic.  3) SO MANY stories get referenced in other things.

Sorry about my computer freaking out.  because of that, this is all you get tonight.  Tomorrow look forward to The Vow Breaker.


Oct. 5th, 2009 09:03 pm
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Ok.  It's Monday, and I'm giving myself a reward for finishing a response paper. So:

You know you are obsessed with Shakespeare when...

you see someone else's spoof for a fandom they obsess over and you wonder if you could do that with Shakespeare

Today's example is the llama song.  I stumbled across some else' Doctor Who spoof of this song and decided to make my own.  At the moment, however, I don't have the means or the time to make a video (but be expecting it).  Here are lyrics in all their goofy rhyming:

here's a Hamlet
there's a Hamlet
and another little Hamlet
Crazy Hamlet
Craby Hamlet
Hamlet Hamlet

Hamlet Hamlet
Hamlet Hamlet
Hamlet Hamlet

i was once a nutshell
i lived in the rocks
but i never saw how to
keep the kingdom off the stocks

Ghost was only two months dead
but it told a tale
and now listen, little child
to the deathly rail

did you ever see a Hamlet
kiss a Hamlet
on the Hamlet
Shakespeare's Hamlet
tastes of Hamlet
Hamlet Hamlet

half a knitwit
twice the halfwit
not at all wit
bad vibe
Hamlet in a jibe
alarum Halmet

is THIS how it's told now?
is it all so old?
is it made of lemon juice?
now I was once a student

writing in a blog
time for me to retire now
and become a Puck

This was somewhat rushed so they may need tweaking.  But metrically they work.  ^_^

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Romeo x Juliet takes the classic story of "star crossed lovers" and adapts in the way only anime can.  The first change:  The story takes place in Neo-Verona, a floating city-state in the sky.  Second: all the Capulets (except Juliet and a few loyal followers) are dead and Lord Montague rules the city.  

In some ways it is an interesting take on a very over done theme.  Juliet for example, because Montague wants her dead to legitimize his rule, has spent the last decade of her life dressed as a boy whenever she is in public.  This boy persona is called Odin.  Odin also has an alternate persona called the "Crimson Whirlwind".  This brings up a few identity issues but doesn't do much with them until Romeo meets all three version: first the whirlwind then Odin and finally Juliet.  He is stunned after the first encounter and begins to question what love is from his first glimpse of her.  He is drawn to every incarnation of her, which says something about the nature of love, and pulls out the fatedness of their love. 

Shakespeare is a character in this world -- A foppish play-write who thinks Juliet and Romeo are such a romantic couple and that life is more dramatic than fiction.  He weaves in and out of the plot helping juliet whenever possible.  The most noticeable change is in the characters of Romeo and Juliet themselves.  They are not the selfish oblivious teens that Shakespeare wrote.  They have been transformed into very selfless and socially aware young adults, who save others through their deaths. 

All in all, I enjoyed it -- well, the first 20 episodes at least.  I felt like the ending detracts from the whole.

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