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.

4/23/16

Three Lines from Ben Jonson's Eulogy to Shakespeare, on the 400th Anniversary of his Death

Thou art a Monument, without a tomb,
And art alive still, while thy book doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.

4/13/16

Benedict Cumberbatch and Doctor Strange Are Both Bardophiles

Like Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange, the character he plays in the upcoming Marvel movie, also admires Shakespeare, as this panel from "A Midsummer's Nightmare!" shows.


Doctor Strange Vol. 2, #34 (April 1979). Image from booksincomics.

2/20/16

Umberto Eco Imagines an Editor Improving Hamlet

In Foucault's Pendulum, the late Umberto Eco created an editor's ultimate fantasy when he had one of his characters imagine working with Shakespeare:
[Editor:] “I’ve looked at your work. Not bad. It has tension, imagination. Is this the first piece you’ve written?” 
[Shakespeare:] “No. I wrote another tragedy. It’s the story of two lovers in Verona who—” 
“Let’s talk about this piece first, Mr. S. I was wondering why you set it in France. May I suggest—Denmark? It wouldn’t require much work. If you just change two or three names, and turn the château of Châlons-sur-Marne into, say, the castle of Elsinore . . . In a Nordic, Protestant atmosphere, in the shadow of Kierkegaard, so to speak, all these existential overtones . . .”

1/19/16

Edgar Allan Poe on Poetry, Dr. Johnson, and Shakespeare

In his "Letter to B——," Edgar Allan Poe, who was born 207 years ago today, imagines "immortal Shakespeare" scowling at Dr. Johnson's definition of poetry:
What is Poetry? — Poetry! that Proteus-like idea, with as many appellations as the nine-titled Corcyra! [Corfu] “Give me,” I demanded of a scholar some time ago, “give me a definition of poetry?” “Très-volontiers;” and he proceeded to his library, brought me a Dr. Johnson, and overwhelmed me with a definition. Shade of the immortal Shakespeare! I imagined to myself the scowl of your spiritual eye upon the profanity of that scurrilous Ursa Major. Think of poetry, dear B——, think of poetry, and then think of Dr. Samuel Johnson! Think of all that is airy and fairy-like, and then of all that is hideous and unwieldy; think of his huge bulk, the Elephant! and then—and then think of the Tempest—the Midsummer Night’s Dream— Prospero —Oberon—and Titania!

1/6/16

The New Shakespeare Coins and the Grateful Dead's Skull and Roses


Hungarians used to have the poets Sándor Petőfi and Endre Ady on the their money, and, before they switched to the Euro, the Irish had Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce. The Scots have put Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott on their pounds, and Jane Austen graces the British £10 note. My fellow Americans, let's replace the Indian killer Andrew Jackson with Emily Dickinson on the $20.


Image from Coin World.
The Brits now have three different £2 coins to celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's (physical) death: one for tragedies, one for histories, and one for comedies (as in the First Folio, the comedies presumably include the romances). The history coin's design may allude to Richard II's "hollow crown" speech (3.2.151-66), in which he imagines death as a king, holding court inside the English crown. That scene is too busy for a coin, and a dagger in a crown perfectly captures the spirit of the passage and the plays. The tragedy coin probably also alludes to specific plays, to Hamlet staring at Yorick's skull (5.1), and to Juliet wishing Romeo weren't named Montague: "That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet" (2.1.85-86).

1/1/16

How Star Wars: the Force Awakens Is and Isn't Like a Shakespeare Play

Adam Driver, behind the mask, as Kylo
Ren, and Kenneth Branagh as Henry V.
Spoiler Alert: This post mentions a plot twist in The Force Awakens.

George Lucas directed Star Wars Episode 4 and produced Episodes 5-6 before making Episodes 1-3, just as Shakespeare wrote the three Henry VI plays and Richard III (which tell a later part of his story) before writing Richard II, the two Henry IV plays, and Henry V (which tell an earlier part). Just as people sometimes call Episodes 4-6 "the first Star Wars movies" because they appeared first, Henry VI-Richard III is called the "first tetralogy" because Shakespeare wrote it first. Richard II-Henry V is called the "second tetralogy" because he wrote it second. The second tetralogy's last play, Henry V, ends with an epilogue linking it to the first tetralogy, creating a single, continuous epic that tells the story of England from the late fourteenth century to the late fifteenth.

That story reaches a clear finale in Richard III when Richard, the last Yorkist king, is killed by Richmond, who becomes Henry VII, ending the Wars of the Roses and establishing the Tudor dynasty. Star Wars seemed to have reached a similar finale in Return of the Jedi. Darth Vader died, and the Alliance defeated the Empire, ending the star wars. But now we have The Force Awakens, the beginning of the new trilogy that George Lucas said we would never have. It's as if Shakespeare continued his story with Henry VII and then wrote more plays about the Tudors—or, rather, as if he let someone else write them without having control over his story, which seems to be what happened with The Force Awakens.

12/4/15

How Do Shakespeare's Characters Die?

This entertaining pie chart was published in a Telegraph story on The Complete Deaths, a Spymonkey production that "will detail all of the Bard's 74 scripted deaths in one play."

11/19/15

Shakespeare's Globe Plans Simultaneous Outdoor Screenings on London's South Bank

The Guardian reports:
Shakespeare’s Globe theatre is to mark the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death by turning London’s South Bank into a huge pop-up cinema showing 37 new films – one for each of Shakespeare’s plays. 
Some 2.5 miles (4km) of the Thames path between Westminster Bridge and London Bridge will be given over to 37 screens placed in order of when the play was written. 
. . . [E]ach film will only run for 10 minutes – repeated on a loop throughout 23 and 24 April.
The films will be made "on location: Hamlet will be shot in Elsinore (Helsingør) in Denmark, Cleopatra in front of the Pyramids in Egypt, and Romeo and Juliet in Verona in Italy." Not all locations have been decided but the Globe's director, Dominic Dromgoole, "said several actors in the frame for parts are already strongly arguing for sun-drenched Barbados to stand in for the island in The Tempest."

Shakespeare's Globe on London's South Bank
Image from Urban Design London