1/20/15

Summary of A Midsummer Night's Dream

1.1
In battle, Theseus, duke of Athens, has won Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Theseus is impatient for the wedding, and Hippolyta assures him that the four days until then will pass quickly. Egeus enters with his daughter Hermia and two young men: Demetrius, who has Egeus's permission to marry Hermia, and Lysander, who has won her heart. The law dictates that Hermia must marry her father's choice or be executed. Theseus provides a third option—she may enter a nunnery—and says she must make her decision by his wedding day.

The First Midsummer Night's Dream Movie: "So Awake When I Am Gone / For I Must Now to . . . Penelope?"

In 1909 the Vitagraph Company shot the first Midsummer Night's Dream movie in the wilds of Brooklyn, using a forest and the architecture at a waterworks and park entrance (Halio 85). The actor Charles Kent may have directed the film alone or with Vitagraph's cofounder, J. Stuart Blackton. Like many of Blackton's films, the Vitagraph Midsummer is filled with stop-action effects, but Kent, who didn't use ordinarily use these effects, may have adopted them to make the film's fairy scenes more magical.

1/1/15

Trailer Released for the Horrible Histories Shakespeare Movie

In March, the BBC's Horrible Histories cast will appear in Bill, a comedy about Shakespeare. Digital Spy writes that the film "centres on what really happened during Shakespeare's 'Lost Years'—how hopeless lute player Bill Shakespeare leaves his family and home to follow his dreams in London. The film will see 'murderous kings, spies, lost loves, and a plot to blow up Queen Elizabeth'."

Here's the trailer:

12/17/14

Martin Freeman Describes the Challenges of Playing Richard III

Martin Freeman as Richard III.
Image from The Telegraph.
In the Philadelphia Daily News, Martin Freeman describes the challenges of playing Richard III, the role he took on after he finished playing Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's Hobbit:
"Just the physical toll of speaking those many words, that many lines, is hard. Then there's the [disfigured] body, and the limp, and the using one arm, and killing your wife and all that - just punching out that many lines is a challenge, and doing that eight times a week . . ." Freeman paused to consider the tone of his remarks, then laughed. "It's all well worth it, of course."
Freeman said he marvels that his older "Hobbit" co-star and Shakespearean specialist Ian McKellen was able to play Richard at a later stage in life. Freeman played Richard at 43, McKellen at 53.

12/15/14

Radical Tempest Revision in New York

In today's New York Times, Ben Brantley raves about a radical revision of The Tempest by "the most truly revolutionary troupe in town," the Italian Motus Theater Company:
Motus is . . . channeling the pent-up lifeblood of two slaves out of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” chafing at their bondage to an imperial magician named Prospero. 
Ariel and Caliban, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.  
“Nella Tempesta,” which runs through Sunday at the Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa, is a full-throated cry to the young and disaffected to get off their collective duffs, shake off their shackles and do something. Conceived and directed by Daniela Nicolò and Enrico Casagrande, this production turns a cast of six and an assortment of blankets into an 80-minute youthquake that seems likely to leave even cynical audience members shaken and stirred.

12/11/14

Globe's Gory Titus Andronicus Headed for Movie Theaters

Tamora (Indira Varma) pleads for her son's life in
the Globe's production of Titus Andronicus
Image from The Independent.
The Telegraph reports that the Globe's Titus Andronicus will be shown in movie theaters in the UK, Europe, Australia, and the US as part of the Globe on Screen program. Hannah Furness writes that the original production was "so bloody it caused more than 100 audience members to faint or leave during its theatre run."

12/10/14

Shakespeare and the Senate Intelligence Committee's Torture Report

Gloucester's enhanced interrogation.
Image from Shakespeare's Staging.
Shakespeare would have agreed with the Senate Intelligence Committee's conclusion that torture didn't produce useful information about Osama bin Laden. At the end of Othello, Gratiano says that "torments" will make Iago explain his villainy (5.2.312), but we don't see this, and Ludovico orders Cassio to torture Iago (5.2.377-79) for the same reason that Lucius orders that Aaron be tortured in Titus Andronicus (5.3.178-82) and Benedick proposes torturing Don John in Much Ado About Nothing (5.4.121-22)—as a punishment. In the only play in which we see torture used in an attempt at gaining intelligence, it gains nothing. King Lear's Cornwall, Regan, and Goneril tie Gloucester to a chair and pull his beard to get him to tell them why he sent the king to Dover. But Gloucester doesn't reveal that Cordelia and French army are there, and even if he had, the villains knew this already. Having learned nothing, they blind Gloucester in a frenzy of sadism.

In The Merchant of Venice, Portia alludes to the main reason torture doesn't result in reliable intelligence: torture victims will say what they think their torturers want to hear. Portia tells Bassanio she doesn't trust his protestations of love because "I fear you speak upon the rack, / Where men enforced do speak anything" (3.2.32-33).

12/8/14

Tales of the First Folio

The First Folio discovered in the 
Saint-Omer public library, near Calais.
Image from the New York Times.
The recent discovery of a First Folio in France made many of us wonder how many copies lie neglected in libraries or buried at the bottom of trunks. On The Conversation, one of world's foremost Folio experts, Eric Rasmussen, says that a new copy seems to turn up around every six years. He goes on to tell some amusing tales about copies that have been lost and recovered:
During the Great Depression, a copy was filched from Williams College by a New York shoe salesman (who ultimately returned it in a drunken stupor because he was worried that it might fall into the hands of Adolf Hitler). 
In 2008, an unemployed, self-described ‘fantasist’ named Raymond Scott walked into Washington, D.C.’s Folger Shakespeare Library with a copy that he claimed to have acquired from one of Fidel Castro’s bodyguards. The First Folio in question turned out to have been stolen from Durham University, and the flamboyant Scott – who arrived at his trial in a horse-drawn carriage, dressed in all white, holding a cigar in one hand and a cup of instant noodles in the other, while reciting lines from Shakespeare’s Richard III – was convicted of the theft and imprisoned). 
Rasmussen also relates some intriguing—but depressing—stories about copies that have disappeared.

12/1/14

The Killer Rocks One of Iago's Drinking Songs

A few weeks ago, I posted Jerry Lee Lewis's rendering of Iago's first and second soliloquies from the rock musical Catch My Soul. Bill Walthall asked if there were more such tunes on the web. Alas, there's very little. We have Lance LeGault singing as Iago in Patrick McGoohan's 1974 film version and Lewis singing the first of Iago's drinking songs:
And let me the canakin clink, clink,
And let me the canakin clink.
A soldier's a man,
O, man's life's but a span.
Why then, let a soldier drink.
(2.3.60-64)
Lewis includes a couple of Iago's earlier, bawdy remarks to Desdemona: e.g., "If she be black [haired], and thereto have a wit, / She'll find a white [a "wight" or person] that shall her blackness fit [sexually]" (2.1.135-36). When he's done singing we hear some of his dialogue with William Jordan's Cassio.

 

11/30/14

The Epilogue in Julie Taymor's Tempest


Music is central to Shakespeare's romances. In Pericles, Gower calls the story a "song," and Marina "sings like one immortal." Cymbeline has the beautiful songs "Hark, hark! the lark " and " Fear no more the heat o'th' sun," and The Winter's Tale has Autolycus's songs and a pastoral dance. 

The Tempest was turned into an opera less than a hundred years after it was first performed; composers who have written for it include Purcell, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, and Vaughan Williams.
Beth Gibbons of Portishead

Eliot Goldenthal's music is one of the highlights of Julie Taymor's 2010 film of the play, which ends with the epilogue being sung rather than spoken. During a question-and-answer period at the New York Film Festival, Taymor explained that she thought a spoken epilogue wouldn't work in film as it does in the theater, where the actor sheds his character as he bids the audience farewell.

Bryce Dallas Howard does just this in Kenneth Branagh's As You Like It (2006), and it's an effective strategy. But Taymor didn't want to break the illusion of the world of her film and so didn't film Helen Mirren speaking the epilogue. Instead she had Goldenthal write music to be sung by Beth Gibbons of the trip-hop band Portishead. The music plays as we watch Prospero's sinking books and the credits roll.