CNN recently broadcast some short clips of Jennifer Lawrence playing Desdemona in a high-school production of Othello. She describes Othello's command that she dismiss Emilia (4.3.11-13) and sings a bit of the "Willow" song (4.3.38-51).
Puritan book burning (1643).
[y]oung, impressionable minds can “cut themselves” on the “great books,” and sometimes the wounds get infected. This is usually how we lose our best and brightest young students to the other side, generation after generation.According to Swanson, one of those books is Shakespeare's Complete Works. He worries that the sonnets' homoeroticism "introduces dangerous gender confusion into the minds of men" and that Shakespeare's "fundamental worldview was not openly and obviously Christian." Swanson finds Macbeth particularly distressing since
[i]n the familiar scene, Lady Macbeth attempts to wash away the bloodguilt with water, but to no avail. No mention is made of the blood of Christ. Not surprisingly, the central position of Jesus ... is completely ignored.
Many directors of Shakespeare films have not been great film innovators and stylists—they've been stage directors with a deep understanding of the plays. That combination is enough to produce a great Shakespeare movie. But there's another group of directors who have both a deep understanding of the plays and who are also great film stylists and innovators.
At the summit of that group are two directors: Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa. Welles had directed most of Shakespeare's history plays by the time he was fifteen, and he reread the plays throughout his life. His three feature-length Shakespeare films may be the best things he ever did. He thought, and I agree, that his greatest film wasn't Citizen Kane but The Chimes at Midnight, his mash-up of the Henry plays.
Similarly, Kurosawa's appreciation of Shakespeare began early, when he was an art student, and continued throughout his life. Three of his best films are versions of Shakespeare plays. The Bad Sleep Well loosely follows Hamlet, resetting it in postwar Japan. Ran ("Chaos") is an adaptation of King Lear set in sixteenth-century Japan. And Throne of Blood is a Macbeth adaptation, also set in feudal Japan, that follows Shakespeare more closely than either of the other two films.
The first stage production of Catch My Soul, a musical version of Othello, featured Blacula star William Marshall as the Moor and rock-and-roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis as Iago. Here's a sample of Lewis's Iago:
The relevant lines come from Iago's telling Roderigo that love is "a lust of the blood and a permission of the will" (1.3.329) and from two soliloquies:
I hate the Moor:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cassio's a proper man. Let me see now
To get his place and to plume up my will
In double knavery—how, how? Let's see
After some time, to abuse Othello's ears
That he is too familiar with his wife
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are.
I ha't. It is engendered. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light.
(1.3.368, 374-79, 381-86, my emphasis)
That Cassio loves her, I do well believe it.
That she loves him, 'tis apt and of great credit.
The Moor . . .
Is of a constant, loving, noble nature,
And I dare think he'll prove to Desdemona
A most dear husband. Now, I do love her too
Not out of absolute lust . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But partly led to diet my revenge,
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leaped into my seat . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And nothing can or shall content my soul
Till I am evened with him, wife for wife,
Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor
At least into a jealousy so strong
That judgment cannot cure. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Knavery's plain face is never seen till used.
(2.1.273-79, 281-83, 286-90, 299, my emphasis)
From act two, scene seven, of As You Like It:
JAQUES All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
William Mulready's 1838 The Seven Ages of Man.
From Shakespeare Illustrated.
Labels: As You Like It
Described as a tale of black magic, romance and revenge, the drama is set in 1590s London and chronicles a young Will Shakespeare's rise to prominence as he finds himself caught in a deadly conflict among three witches and the most powerful woman in the world, Queen Elizabeth. The project is described as having the grit of HBO's hit fantasy drama Game of Thrones with the wit and heart of Shakespeare in Love.
He couldn't use this setting without rearranging the play's timeline. In the play, the fourth soliloquy comes after Polonius and Claudius set up a seemingly chance encounter between Ophelia and Hamlet. Claudius and Polonius exit to hide and spy on the encounter, while Ophelia remains on stage. Hamlet enters and speaks the soliloquy. When he's finished, he and Ophelia meet and have their horrifying "get thee to a nunnery" confrontation. Because Olivier's tower lacks hiding places for Claudius and Polonius and isn't a likely place for Hamlet to run into Ophelia, Olivier needed to rearrange the story if he wanted to set the soliloquy there. So in his film, the soliloquy comes after the "get thee to a nunnery" confrontation (Zeffirelli makes the same choice). This change also fits Olivier's handling of the Hamlet-Ophelia story, which makes Hamlet less cruel and more obviously in love with Ophelia than he is in the play. When Olivier's Hamlet tells Ophelia to go to a nunnery, we know he's trying to help her, to get her out of the castle so she'll be safe. Hiding the truth and behaving cruelly hurts Olivier's Hamlet so much that it drives him to the fourth soliloquy's suicidal thoughts, just as his disgust with his mother drives him to the first's.
Last glimpse of Ophelia.
Hamlet looks at the sea before
beginning his fourth soliloquy.
The very place puts toys of desperation,
Without more motive, into every brain
That looks so many fathoms to the sea
And hears it roar beneath.
"To be or not to be . . ."
The internet's cosmic sinkhole of misinformation will never be filled, but it's worth throwing some dirt in when we can, so here's an accurate list of Hamlet's soliloquies, with a short description of where they occur and what they say, along with a few observations.
Salvador Dali's set for
Spellbound's dream sequence.
Spellbound's opening title.
The film begins with a Shakespeare quote, a title reading "THE FAULT . . . . . IS NOT IN OUR STARS, BUT IN OURSELVES," words that come from Julius Caesar's second scene, in which Cassius tries to talk Brutus into joining the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. Cassius tells Brutus that their present position under Caesar isn't determined by astrology—they're responsible for their own fates. This sentiment is turned upside down by the title of John Green's YA novel The Fault in Our Stars. Green's main characters are teenagers with cancer, and he uses the quote to mean that we don't control our fates. Hitchcock uses it to suggest that we're not controlled by astrology but by psychology. Behind the title's words we see the psychiatric hospital where we'll start the story, and the next, rolling titles provide us with a short, psychoanalysis-for-dummies course to prepare us for the film's use of Freudian theory.
The opening title of Olivier's Hamlet, a bit of the "mole of nature" speech (220.127.116.11-20), also prepares us for a film that has Freudian theory at its center. The title introduces the hero's "particular fault," which the film will show us is indecisiveness caused by Hamlet's Oedipus complex. The similarity between the two directors' use of their opening titles suggests an influence; if Olivier was watching Gary Cooper sea movies, then he was also watching Hitchcock mysteries. But the resemblance may simply result from the frequent, mid-twentieth-century use of opening, key-to-the-movie titles and from Freudianism's grip on many mid-twentieth-century Englishmen.
On the other hand, the opening and a key shot in Olivier's Hamlet seem very likely to have been influenced by Hitchcock's 1940 Rebecca.
Charles Isherwood pans the Berliner Ensemble's production, Shakespeare's Sonnets, blaming its failure on the director, Robert Wilson:
The text is a German translation of Sonnet 23:
No theater director working today has a signature as recognizable, and as unvarying, as Robert Wilson. Whether he is staging a Wagner or a Monteverdi opera, an Ibsen play, a piece about the life of Marina Abramovic or a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets, as he currently is at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Mr. Wilson employs the same stylistic markers: starkly minimalist settings, luminous backdrops on which bands of glowing light slowly rise or fall, and actors in bright white makeup looking like merry or morbid ghouls, gliding across the stage in ritualistic movement.
“Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” a mostly ponderous evening that Mr. Wilson created in collaboration with the Berliner Ensemble, features music by the singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, and uses 25 poems [in German translation] as a springboard for a bizarre, dreamlike pageant. But neither Mr. Wainwright’s appealing music nor Shakespeare’s verse — not so bad either — plays the leading role here. That belongs, as always, to Mr. Wilson.Isherwood concludes by describing a scene that
features rock music pulsing away while three figures in some sort of celestial gas station manipulate nozzles, oh so slowly. Then a black bowler hat lying on the ground presently begins to levitate, also oh so slowly. Looks cool. Sounds cool. Means absolutely nothing.
Which essentially sums up my response to “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” in its entirety.If you'd like to judge for yourself, here's the scene Isherwood is talking about, from the original 2009 production.
The text is a German translation of Sonnet 23:
As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart,
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'er-charged with burthen of mine own love's might.
O let my looks be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more expressed.
O learn to read what silent love hath writ;
To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.