Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Last night we were supposed to go out to a movie. An old-fashioned date night, before I began a two-week on-call stint.

The plan was to go see a screening of the National Theatre’s 2016 production of Hamlet, but it had been one of those loooong weeks, where I was sure it was Friday but it was only Wednesday, and so on. My wife was just as exhausted, and there was no way she was going to make it through a four-hour play in a darkened room. I might have made it to Act IV, but she would have been snoring before the first body hit the floor.

Not to be completely deterred, we opted instead to stay in and watch a movie at home. No primp-n-prep, no travel, no finding a place to park. Plus, we had better lighting, a shorter duration, and cheaper snacks.

We kept with the Shakespearean theme, and opted to screen a play that we hadn’t before seen staged.

“What?!” you say (complete with interrobang). “There’s a Shakespeare play you haven’t seen?”

Yes.  It’s true, it’s true. Even though I love Shakespeare’s works, I must admit that I haven’t seen every play. Since production companies usually concentrate on the popular titles, there’s a fair number of plays I’ve never seen on stage or film.  (more…)

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A long-standing obsession of mine has been act 1, scene 2, from Shakespeare’s Richard III. It’s the scene where Richard accosts Lady Anne during a funeral procession and, in the course of a few hundred lines, steers her from unmitigated loathing all the way ’round the bend to a point where she warms to his affection, accepts his ring, and considers his suit for her hand in marriage. Afterward, astonished, Richard asks us:

Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?

Answer: No. Never. Not in a million years.

The complete implausibility of this scene has always puzzled me. I’ve read analyses of the play, pored through the variorum of the play, all to no avail. Shakespeare, generally quite good at character motivation and development, has shoehorned this relationship into his play, telling us “Just roll with it.”


My friend Barb, who knew of my curiosity on the topic, recommended I read Sharon Kay Penman’s historical opus, The Sunne in Splendour, a historical novel about Richard III. Now that I have, I’m glad I did, but the book is not without flaws. (more…)

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Well, since my discussion of Churchill’s Black Dog was received with all the enthusiasm of a root canal, let’s turn to a topic that’s less…depressing.


Twelfth Night (or What You Will) is without doubt my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, and I’ve seen many productions of it both live and on screen. Before, I was torn as to which was my favorite but that’s all done with, as the clear winner is the 2012 production mounted by Shakespeare’s Globe, starring an all-male cast including Mark Rylance (as Olivia) and Stephen Fry (as Malvolio). (more…)

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Clock TowerSome people (you know who you are…Ari) feel that Kenneth Branagh’s cinematic version of Much Ado About Nothing is the gold standard. I admit, though Ken’s version is one of my favorites, I cannot find it within me to apply that label to anything with Keanu Reeves in it. Sorry. Ain’t gonna happen.

Then there is Joss Whedon’s Much Ado, filmed on a shoestring at his home in Malibu, but for all that it’s made by Joss (squee!), it still takes about 20 minutes of film-time to get its feet under itself, and that’s too long.

There’s also the Brandon Arnold version, a high-school production that might best be re-titled “Much Ado 90210.” Just…don’t.

Beyond that, you have to go back to the ’80s or the ’70s to find a decent version so, still and all, Branagh’s version is one of the best…


…it’s a movie.


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What do a fork, a model of a ship, and a priest’s right eye have in common?

No, they’re not props from a horror movie.

They’re all objects discussed in Neil MacGregor’s book, Shakespeare’s Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects.

As readers of this blog know, I have a bit of a fascination with Shakespeare, so this book is right in my wheelhouse. The subtitle gave me a general idea of what I was getting, but what I didn’t expect was such a fascinating overview of  life in the late Elizabethan/early Jacobean periods.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, takes a disparate collection of 16th century objects–ranging from the everyday to the unique–and gives us a chapter on each one. Naturally, he describes each object, its history, its use, and its provenance, but this is all expected content. The lavish photos of the objects themselves (as well as related items) are clear, detailed, and beautiful, but each chapter really shines when MacGregor expands the discussion beyond the basics, showing us the social context of each item. Through MacGregor’s clean, unhurried prose, we learn what each object might have meant to the average groundling in the pit or noble in the tiers. An apprentice’s cap, for instance, looks simply like a cap to us, but if you were one of the Queen’s subjects on the streets of London in 1600, it would tell you of the wearer’s social standing, might remind you of the apprentice-led riots over food prices. Later, when you went to The Rose or The Curtain to see Coriolanus, and saw the cap-wearing citizens berating Menenius over the high cost of corn, you would remember those riots, and know that things might get very ugly, very quickly.

The list of objects MacGregor has chosen is, as I mentioned, varied. He discusses a fork used to eat sweetmeats in the same detail and depth as he does the model ship used as a token, built in thanks by James I for his safe passage home from abroad. Each object is inspected both as a thing from within Shakespeare’s world–i.e., as relates to his plays and the world of the theater–as well as within his world at large. In reading this book, I learned a great deal about the lives and the mindsets of Shakespeare’s patrons, high-born and low, but also expanded my understanding of the period and its conflicts.

This book was of great interest to me, as you might expect, but I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in history, the history of objects, and the tumultuous, change-filled period of late Elizabethan/early Jacobean England.

Oh, and that priest’s right eye?

Get the book.



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Lippincott Editions of Furness’ Variorum

Claire Bloom once told me that if I was serious about Shakespeare and acting, I must read the Shakespearean variorum. Through the variorum, she said, I could delve into the language and gain better understanding of its history and deeper meaning.

I took this advice to heart, despite the fact that I’m not an actor.

And the fact that I didn’t know what a variorum was.

And the fact that she wasn’t actually talking to me, specifically.

Yes, on rare occasions I take things celebrities say rather more personally than they were intended, such as when Sir John Gielgud gave me advice on friendship. To put your mind at ease, when I do this, I do it in a completely non-“I see you when you’re not looking,” non-“unbalanced creepy stalker” type way.


Trust me.

Anyway… Once Ms Bloom told me this, I immediately went in search of a “variorum,” whatever it was. (more…)

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Yesterday was the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s purported birth (we know the day he was christened, but not the day he was born so, as with Most Things William, we’re really just guessing).

In honor of this anniversary, I neither watched one of his plays nor read any of  his poetry.


I watched Shakespeare in Love.

Travesty! Sacrilege!

Feh. (more…)

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