Jeanette Winterson Talks about Her Winter's Tale Retelling

(Image from The Sunday Times)
Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Sexing the Cherry, has written a version of The Winter's Tale called The Gap of Time as part of a Random House series of Shakespeare retellings.

In an interview with Rachel Martin on NPR, Winterson explains why she chose The Winter's Tale: "[I]t's got an abandoned baby in it, and I am one, and, you know, abandoned babies in literature do pretty well — not just in literature, in popular culture, Superman, Spider-Man, Han Solo in the Star Wars trilogy, he doesn't know who his father is, famously." (Whoops, she means Luke Skywalker of course.)

In Winterson's reimagining the King of Sicilia becomes a banker:
I thought okay, I'm going to set it in the present day, but I thought, a king, what's that? It's an alpha male, and somebody who think's he's in control, lord of the universe, a Time Lord, he can do what he likes. And I thought, well, who would that be now? It's got to be a banker, hasn't it? 
Winterson also adds an explicitly sexual backstory for Leontes and Polixenes' strangely intense friendship and breach:
I thought, why are these two guys, why are they so close, and also, what's this jealousy all about, 'cause it's really a triangle — it's not just that Leo's jealous about his wife, he's jealous about his best friend as well ... there's a kind of homoerotic impulse behind it, which is just under the surface in Shakespeare. So I sent them off to boarding school together, you know, couple of young kid from damaged families; these two guys become friends for life. They have the usual kind of affair at boarding school, you know, no big deal, Leo [her Leontes] goes on to be a rampant heterosexual, Xeno [her Polixenes] is gay. And for a while that works beautifully, and then the conflict sets in. So that's the basis of the story.


Was Shakespeare's Family Rich?

In the Guardian, Dalya Alberge describes the research of David Fallow, a former banker who "has spent years studying the Shakespeare family’s wealth, poring over documentary evidence from a time when 'wool was to the English economy what oil is to Saudi Arabia today.'" Fallow believes that, contrary to the accepted story, Shakespeare's father wasn't a business failure who impoverished his family: “John Shakespeare was a national-level wool dealer, and legal research, coupled to analysis of the wool market, proves this. The Shakespeare family never fell into poverty.”

Shakespeare scholar Paul Edmondson says that Fallow's research suggests that Shakespeare's family money, rather than his show-biz success, explains how he could afford “remarkably large purchases of land in the Stratford area.”

An early eighteenth-century sketch of the New Place,
which Shakespeare bought in 1597 and left in his
will to his daughter Susanna.


Seven Times that Shakespeare Refers to Lunar Eclipses

Sunday's big astronomical event made me wonder how many times Shakespeare refers to lunar eclipses. I can think of six.

1-2. In Sonnet 35, the speaker forgives his beloved by saying that everything has a bad side—"Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun"—and in Sonnet 107, he says that, like his love, some things last: "The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured."

3. In Hamlet's first scene, speculating about the Ghost, Horatio describes the portents that presaged the fall of Julius Caesar, one of which was a lunar eclipse: "the moist star / Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands / Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse" (106.11-13).


Michael Fassbender's Macbeth Meets the Witches

One of the Weird Sisters seems ready
to kiss Michael Fassbender's Macbeth.
The Guardian has posted this clip from Justin Kurzel's upcoming Macbeth. In this bit of the play's third scene, Michael Fassbender's Macbeth meets the Weird Sisters, who have a little girl with them. He asks what they are—stealing Banquo's "Live you, or are you aught / That man may question?" (1.3.40-41)—and they hail him as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and future king.


Shakespeare and Stonehenge

Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) sings "Stonehenge" as
Spinal Tap's awe-inspiring set descends.
The recent discovery of what may be Britain's largest Neolithic monument made me think about how strange it is that Shakespeare never mentions Stonehenge. After all, the place is near his hometown, and we know that he read Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, which includes description of how Merlin set up the stones as a monument to fallen Celtic warriors (157-160). We might expect Shakespeare to allude to that story somewhere in Cymbeline or King Lear since Geoffrey is his main source for both plays.

The idea that Celtic Britons, instead of people who lived thousands of years earlier, built Stonehenge has persisted; many people still think, in the words of Spinal Tap, that the monument was built by "a strange race of people, the Druids." This was the educated view at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when William Charles Macready used a Stonehenge-inspired set for his groundbreaking King Lear (St. Clare Byrne 189). Others directors have followed his lead, including Michael Elliott, whose 1983 TV film of the play starred Laurence Olivier in his last Shakespeare performance.


New Posters for the Fassbender-Cotillard Macbeth

This week, Empire released these new posters for the Justin Kurzel's Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.


Teaser Trailer for the New Macbeth

The trailer gives us a sense of the film's Braveheart-like atmosphere. It also shows that Duncan's murder is handled much as in Polanski's version, with Duncan awakening just before he's stabbed.

This really is a "teaser." For a better sense of what's in the film, check out Peter Bradshaw's review.


New Portrait of Shakespeare? Probably Not

The BBC reports that "A 400-year-old botany book contains what could be the only known portrait of Shakespeare made in his lifetime, according to an academic expert." The book is John Gerard's 1598 Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, and the "portrait" is in a corner of the elaborate title page, which is by William Rogers, one of the best-known Elizabethan engravers. The expert, "botanist and historian Mark Griffiths," writes regularly for Country Life magazine, which is publishing his claims.


How Shakespeare Influenced Ruth Rendell

In an interview with Diana Cooper-Clark, Ruth Rendell, one of the world's greatest crime writers, talked about how Shakespeare influenced her. She said that Antony and Cleopatra was her favorite play:
There are more quotes from that play than any other in my books. That love affair has influenced the relationships of my characters more than any other, such as in the novels Shake Hands Forever and Make Death Love Me. As a matter of fact, “Make death love me” is a quote from Antony and Cleopatra. This is a love affair between people no longer young; it is a destructive relationship. In Make Death Love Me, that love affair comes to nothing because it is doomed from the start.


James Ivory Will Film Richard II in 3D

Mather Brown, Richard II resigning
the Crown to Bolingbroke (1801)
CBC News reports that Remains of the Day director James Ivory will shoot his Richard II, starring Tom Hiddleston, in 3D: 
After watching Avatar in 3D, Ivory said he thought: "This could be useful. . . . I think if you're going to do something set in the 14th century, in period, in 3D, it will be like something from Mars practically, I think. It will be strange and effective."