11/17/16

Design for a Post-Apocalyptic Shakespeare Theater

In the post-apocalyptic world of Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, a Shakespeare troupe wanders around Lake Michigan. If they were wandering northern California instead, they could stop in Oakland and use shipping containers to set up a permanent theater.

Here's a video about the perfect design, by Angus Vail:

 

For a description of the project, click here. For a TED talk by Vail, click here.

9/20/16

Argentine Director Riffs on A Midsummer Night's Dream

In his 2012 Viola, Argentine director Matías Piñeiro played games with Twelfth Night. In his new film, Hermia and Helena, he riffs on A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Here's a review from Variety and a clip that gives some sense of the film. Camila/Helena (Agustina Muñoz) drives a truck while Carmen/Hermia (Maria Villa) makes out with her boyfriend Leo/Lysander (Julian Larquier).

 

8/29/16

Claudius's Flow Chart for the Duel in Hamlet

After his plan to have the English king execute Hamlet fails, Claudius might, if he were a businessman, make a flow chart for his new plan—to have Hamlet killed during a duel with Laertes. Here's Claudius's flowchart, with his plan in blue and unexpected events in red. Click on it for a better view.




8/18/16

Let Slip the War Dogs

Shakespeare fans know that the title of the new Jonah Hill / Miles Teller movie War Dogs comes from a line in Julius Caesar, when Mark Antony crouches over Caesar's butchered body and predicts that Caesar's spirit will "Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war." (In a previous post, I talked about why Shakespeare used bearbaiting for the line's imagery.)

The movie has a Shakespearean title, but the book on which it's based has a Shavian/Virgilian one. The title of Guy Lawson's Arms and the Dudes echoes George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man, which echoes the opening lines of Virgil's Aeneid: "Arma virumque cano"—"Of arms and the man I sing."

8/11/16

Shakespeare's Son Buried 420 Years Ago Today

Shakespeare and his family, by an unidentified
German engraver (c. 1890). Hamnet is on
Shakespeare's right.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
The Trinity Church parish register shows that Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet, was buried 420 years ago today, on August 11, 1596.

Scholars and writers have speculated about how Hamnet's death may have affected his father's plays. For instance, Shakespeare's experience of losing a child may lie behind his devastating depiction of a father's grief at the end of King Lear.

The similarity of Hamnet's name to Hamlet's—a name Shakespeare found in his sources—has tempted writers to connect the son to the character, as James Joyce does in Ulysses. Joyce imagines a performance of Hamlet in which Shakespeare plays the Ghost; so when Shakespeare calls to Hamlet in the first act, "To a son he speaks, the son of his soul, the prince, young Hamlet and to the son of his body, Hamlet Shakespeare, who has died in Stratford that his namesake may live for ever."

7/13/16

Why Do Shakespeare's Plays Make Great Movies? Part Three—Imagination

This is Part Three of a series. For Part One, click here; for Part Two, click here.

Richard Sheridan Willis as the Chorus in a 2013
Folger Theatre production of Henry V.
In Part One, we saw that Henry V's Chorus wishes that his theater, actors, and audience were better. To properly present the play's subjects, he says, he would need "A kingdom for a stage, princes to act / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene." He criticizes his theater as too small and his actors as uninspired, but though he wishes that his audience were made up of monarchs, he doesn't denigrate it. Instead he calls the spectators "gentles all," meaning that they're all ladies and gentlemen.

We might suppose that choruses, and characters who serve as choruses, always speak with this kind of courtesy, but two of Shakespeare's actually insult their audiences: the character who delivers the epilogue in Troilus and Cressida says that he will transfer his venereal diseases to the audience's many pimps and prostitutes; and the chorus of 2 Henry IV delivers a prologue implying that the audience is a mob, a "blunt monster with uncounted heads." These speeches implicate their audiences in the vices portrayed in their plays. Troilus and Cressida depicts weakness and corruption, which are well symbolized by V.D., while 2 Henry IV depicts the power of rumor, which spreads through mobs.

Henry V's prologue serves a different purpose: to inspire the audience. Though the Chorus begins by saying that the play's subjects can't be presented in this theater, halfway through his speech he makes a U-turn. The clash of kingdoms can be fully recreated, he says: "two mighty monarchies" and a "perilous narrow ocean" can appear "within the girdle of these walls," and huge armies can battle on this stage—if the spectators use their imaginations. Like Henry rallying his men in his "Once more unto the breach" and "band of brothers" speeches, the Chorus rallies the audience, urging them to marshal their "imaginary forces" (a metaphor that connects their imaginations to the armies at Agincourt). When you see an actor holding a pike, he tells them, visualize a thousand soldiers like him. When you hear an actor talk about horses, "[t]hink . . . that you see them / Printing their proud hooves i'th' receiving earth."

7/6/16

Why Do Shakespeare's Plays Make Great Movies? Part Two—How Shakespeare Used His Reading

This is Part Two of a series. For Part One, click here.

Onstage sword fighting in Henry V during
the  2014 Shakespeare Festival St. Louis.
The swordplay in Henry V would have thrilled Shakespeare's audience, despite the Chorus's denigrating it as "four or five most vile and ragged foils, / Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous." But Shakespeare wanted to provide more than cheap thrills. In Henry V, as we've seen, he wanted to present a clash of kingdoms and a king like the god of war himself. These are awe-inspiring subjects, which doesn't necessarily mean that they should inspire admiration—Henry V presents war's horrors as well as Henry's ruthless Machiavellianism. The play's subjects inspire awe because they're gigantic. To do them justice, a playwright would need the divine inspiration that the Chorus longs for in the play's opening lines: "O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention."

6/29/16

Why Do Shakespeare's Plays Make Great Movies? Part One—Shakespeare's Theater

Leslie Banks as the Chorus in  Laurence
Olivier's 1944 film of Henry V.
Image from TaoYue.
The original, 1599 performance of Henry V began with an actor asking the audience if the stage he stood on could do justice to the play's subjects, a clash of "mighty monarchies" and a king like the god of war himself. The stage was an "unworthy scaffold" for "so great an object," he said, the theater, "this wooden O," a mere "cockpit" unfit for the play's climactic battle. When that scene arrived, the same actor, who served as the play's "Chorus," returned to the stage and apologized that his company was about "disgrace" a monumental conflict "With four or five most vile and ragged foils . . . in brawl ridiculous." Such apologies were a convention that didn't necessarily reflect the feelings of the author. Shakespeare, who had been writing battle scenes for almost a decade, must have known that Henry V's climax would thrill his audience. When he dissed his theater—one of the best since actors clomped their platform boots across the stage of the Theatre of Dionysus in the fifth century BCE—he was both following convention and humblebragging.

Still, it's worth considering that he may have felt that the theaters of his day were inadequate vehicles for his plays.

The interior of an Elizabethan
playhouse as rendered in
Johannes De Witt's 1595 sketch
of a performance in the Swan. 
Henry V was first performed in the Curtain, which has a confusing name since Elizabethan theaters had no curtains (at least not large ones in front of their stages—they did have small curtains in front of alcoves in the back). The Curtain's name came from the nearby Curtain Close, a plot of land near a "curtain," a wall between towers in the fortifications that surrounded much of London north of the Thames. Like its famous successor, the Globe, the Curtain was a three-story wooden polygon open to the sky. If it rained, as it often does in London in the summer, when plays were performed, the thousand "groundlings" who stood in front of the stage got damp or soaked.

Things weren't that comfortable for spectators who had paid an extra penny to sit in the galleries either, even if they had paid yet another penny for cushions that protected their bottoms from the wooden benches. Except for those in the "Lords' Rooms" above the stage, who looked down on the tops and backs of the actors' heads, spectators in the Curtain and Globe were squeezed together in a way that would never be allowed in a modern theater. In London today, for example, fire laws limit the reconstructed Globe's capacity to 1,300; the original held more than twice that.

6/19/16

Sonnet 151 ("Love is too young to know what conscience is") on Coney Island

From the marvelous Sonnet Project, here's Sonnet 151 spoken by Richard Price, directed by Stephanie Gardner, and set at Nathan's original hot dog stand on Coney Island.

 

5/13/16

Friday the Thirteenth and Shakespeare's Ides of March

Image from Blog d'Ellison.
Like other paraskevidekatriaphobes, Churchy LaFemme, the turtle in Walt Kelly's Pogo, feared Friday the 13th. Though Shakespeare never portrayed that phobia, he did provide a vivid rendering of the reason why March the 15th is also considered unlucky.

To commemorate this year's Ides of March, here's a still from Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1953 film of Julius Caesar.

Richard Hale's Soothsayer, brought forward by John Gielgud's
Cassius, warns Louis Calhern's Julius Caesar to beware
the Ides of March.
Image from Living in Cinema.