4/1/15

The Hills Are Alive and Spur My Dull Revenge: The Seventh Soliloquy in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet

In my post on Hamlet's soliloquies, I provided a close reading of his seventh, which begins "How all occasions do inform against me / And spur my dull revenge!" (4.4.9.22-23). This speech, arguably the play's most complex, doesn't make it into Laurence Olivier's 1948 or Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 films since neither includes Fortinbras, whose imminent attack on the Poles is the "occasion" most on Hamlet's mind. Without the attack, the soliloquy makes no sense.

Kenneth Branagh includes the soliloquy, the attack, and all of Fortinbras's story in his 1996 film, just as he includes everything that would be found in a conflated Second-Quarto/First-Folio Hamlet. In this text's first scene, we hear how "emulate pride" made Fortinbras's father challenge Hamlet's father to single combat (1.1.79-83). Hamlet's father accepted, and the two kings agreed that the winner would take the loser's land, which is what happened when Hamlet Sr. killed Fortinbras Sr. As the play begins, Fortinbras Jr. has raised an army to get the land back, and the Danes are preparing for war. In the second scene, the new Danish king, Claudius, sends a message to the new Norwegian king, Fortinbras's uncle, asking him to stop his nephew. The message succeeds. In the second act, we learn that the Norwegian king has rebuked his nephew, who has sworn not to attack the Danes. To reward Fortinbras's obedience, the Norwegian king has given him money to wage war on the Poles—which is the last we hear of Fortinbras until we finally see him on stage, at the beginning of act four, scene four.

We see him long before that in Branagh's film. In the first sequence, as Nicholas Farrell's Horatio, in voiceover, describes Fortinbras's determination to recover the land his father lost, we watch the Norwegian prince, played by Rufus Sewell, angrily sweep model armies from a table and rip a map from a wall. We see him rip the map again in the second scene, as Derek Jacobi's Claudius describes the message he has sent to the Norwegian king. In the second act, as we hear about the message's success, we see what it has forestalled: Sewell's Fortinbras, on horseback in a dark woods, looks at Elsinore as if ready to burn it to the ground. As we hear a description of the Norwegian king's rebuke and Fortinbras's obedience, we watch it. The king—in a cameo by the venerable John Mills—slaps Fortinbras in the face. The prince bows low, then rises and swears not to attack Denmark. The king smiles and mouths that he will provide his nephew money to wage war on the Poles. Fortinbras embraces him.

Rufus Sewell's Fortinbras
embraces the Norwegian king.
There's no indication in the text that the prince hasn't submitted entirely to his uncle's will, but the ambiguous look on Rufus Sewell's face hints at a different story, one that will climax in Fortinbras's assault on Elsinore in the film's final scenes. Again, the text provides no evidence for this interpretation: in the last scene, Fortinbras is visiting Elsinore, not attacking it. But this doesn't mean that Branagh makes a mistake in presenting the story this way. By tweaking Fortinbras's story, he highlights a feature of Hamlet that might go unnoticed—the parallels between its three revenge plots.

3/23/15

To Be or Not to Be; Ay, There's the Point: The Fourth Soliloquy in the Q1 Hamlet


In a previous post, I mentioned the 1603 First Quarto's version of Hamlet's fourth soliloquy, which begins, "To be or not to be—ay, there's the point" and gets stranger from there.

Here it is. (I've modernized the spelling.)
To be, or not to be; ay, there's the point.
To die, to sleep—is that all? Ay, all.
No, to sleep, to dream—ay, marry, there it goes,
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting judge,
From whence no passenger ever returned,
The undiscovered country, at whose sight
The happy smile and the accursed damned,
But for this, the joyful hope of this,
Who'd bear the scorns and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich cursed of the poor,
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wronged,
The taste of hunger, or a tyrant's reign,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,
When that he may his full quietus make,
With a bare bodkin? Who would this endure,
But for a hope of something after death,
Which puzzles the brain and doth confound the sense,
Which makes us rather bear those evils we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Ay, that. O this conscience makes cowards of us all.
And for comparison, here's the more familiar version from the 1604 Second Quarto and 1623 First Folio:

3/18/15

Kiss Me, Princess Peach: Actor Based Super Mario's Voice on His Performance as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew

Image from Game & Graphics.
In an interview with the BBC, the actor Charles Martinet says that he created Super Mario's voice by drawing on his performance of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew:
[The producer] told me I was an Italian plumber from Brooklyn, . . . so my instinct was to try a gruff and coarse voice - 'hey you, get outta my face!' [But w]hat popped into my brain was a character I'd played in Taming Of The Shrew. I was Petruchio going back to get his wife in Italy . . . . So I thought I'd do something like that.

3/17/15

Was Shakespeare Irish?

In the last scene of Hamlet's first act, the prince swears by "Saint Patrick," (1.5.141), which seems an odd thing for a medieval Dane to do. Could the man who created Hamlet have been Irish? Now that's a conspiracy theory worth believing.

Sanctuary of Saint Patrick
on Station Island in Lough Derg
(County Donegal, Ireland)
Alas, Shakespeare has Hamlet swear by Patrick because the saint was supposed to have been the keeper of Purgatory, where Hamlet's father is confined during the day. A legend about St. Patrick, less familiar than his chasing the snakes out of Ireland, says that Jesus showed him the entrance to purgatory on Station Island in Lough Derg (County Donegal). The island remains a pilgrimage site to this day.

3/16/15

The Texts of Hamlet, or, Why Kenneth Branagh's Movie Is So !*@%ing Long


Stuart Leeds New Yorker cartoon.

Why is Kenneth Branagh's 1996 Hamlet so long? The seemingly obvious answer—it's long because, as Wikipedia says, it contains "every word of Shakespeare's play"—doesn't cut it because we don't know how long Shakespeare's play is. The versions of Hamlet most people read today are about 2,000 words longer than the longest early versions: the 1604 Second Quarto (Q2) has just over 30,000 words, while the version in the 1623 First Folio (F) has just under 30,000. ("Quarto" and "folio" are printers' terms designating how a book was made. Pages in a quarto were made from folding sheets of paper in quarters. Folio pages were made from folding sheets in half.) The earliest published Hamlet, the 1603 First Quarto (Q1), is far shorter, with just over 17,000 words.

3/12/15

Ethan Hawke's Iachimo Tries to Seduce Dakota Johnson's Imogen


Entertainment Weekly has posted a clip from the new Cymbeline movie. Ethan Hawke's Iachimo finishes telling Dakota Johnson's Imogen of her husband's infidelities, and then suggests that she get revenge by sleeping with him.
IACHIMO . . . [D]iseased ventures
. . . [and] such boiled stuff
As well might poison poison! Be revenged
Or she that bore you was no queen, and you
Recoil from your great stock.
IMOGEN Revenged!
How should I be revenged? If this be true—
. . . How should I be revenged?
IACHIMO . . . I dedicate myself to your sweet pleasure,
More noble than that runagate [from] your bed,
And will continue fast to your affection,
. . . Let me my service tender on your lips.
Imogen rejects him and says she will tell her father what he's done:
IMOGEN . . . I do condemn mine ears that have
So long attended thee. . . . Pisanio!
The king my father shall be made acquainted
Of thy assault [and] if he shall think it fit,
A saucy stranger in his court
. . . to expound
His beastly mind to us, [then] he hath a court
He little cares for and a daughter who
He not respects at all.
(from 1.6.124-156)
At this point, Ethan Hawke's Iachimo claps, preparing to say that he was just testing her.





3/9/15

Reflections on the Trailer for the New Cymbeline Movie Starring Penn Badgley, Dakota Johnson, Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, and Milla Jovovich

For years I've said we need more films of Shakespeare's romances, which are perfect for this era of fantasy spectacles. Those films often look great because of CGI, a technology that works well for Shakespearean romance, as Julie Taymor proved with her 2010 Tempest. We could use similar treatments of Pericles and The Winter's Tale.

Cymbeline, with its evil queen, pagan god, clash of armies, decapitation, and far-flung settings in the first-century British court, corrupt Rome, and misty Wales would make an excellent Game-of-Thrones-style epic. Instead, Michael Almeyreda is giving us a contemporary crime thriller, with the Britons as bikers and the Romans as cops. We lose the original setting's sweep but gain a gritty immediacy that should work well for the play's jealousy and war stories.

Unlike the trailer for 2013 Romeo and Juliet—which brought high hopes crashing to the ground with Julian Fellowes's ridiculous, spell-it-all-out dialogue—the Cymbeline trailer promises a movie even better than Almeyreda's excellent 2000 Hamlet with Ethan Hawke. Almeyreda seems to be using Shakespeare's language, though he's cutting and tweaking. The tweaking may be irritating, but the cutting is fine—many of Shakespeare's words are meant to conjure images in our heads, something the movies do for us, and the Cymbeline trailer promises us a film of exciting images.



The Jealousy Plot

Bass and twangy surf guitar give the trailer's opening a Pulp-Fiction feel. We watch a man making a woodcut of a woman standing by a death figure who holds a banner reading "Fear No More!," the first words of one of Shakespeare's most beautiful songs (which is saying a lot). People who know the play might think the artist is one of Cymbeline's lost sons, who sing the song in the original. We'll see a flash of them later (0:53), carrying the headless body of one of the play's villains, the queen's son Cloten. The artist in the opening is our hero Posthumus, played by Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley. 
"Fear no more . . ."

He's making a gift for his wife, Imogen (Dakota Johnson), whom we see next. She looks at his handiwork and rubs her thumb along its lower edge before we cut to the villainous Iachimo, played by Ethan Hawke. We've been hearing him in voiceover, speaking lines from Cymbeline's creepiest moment—act two, scene two—when Iachimo slinks around Imogen's bedroom, gathering "proof" that he seduced her. 

We're in the midst of one of Cymbeline's many stories. Let me describe what happens before then; in parentheses, I'll point to where these earlier moments show up in the trailer. 

2/26/15

Poster for the New Cymbeline Movie

ComingSoon.net has released the first poster for the new Cymbeline movie. Apparently, the title has been changed back from Anarchy (thank goodness).


2/13/15

Fifty Shades of Grey's Dakota Johnson as Imogen in the New Cymbeline Film

Dakota Johnson as Imogen, disguised as a boy
in the soon-to-be-released Cymbeline movie.
This weekend, crowds will line up to see Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey, but some of us are more excited to see her play Imogen in Michael Almeyreda's film version of Cymbeline. The movie was recently retitled Anarchy, presumably to capitalize on the presence of the Sons of Anarchy star Ed Harris in the title role.

2/12/15

New York Times Columnist on the Value of College Shakespeare Courses

In the New York Times, Frank Bruni responds to politicians, like Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who think college should be primarily about "work force needs":
What’s the most transformative educational experience you’ve had?  
I was asked this question recently, and for a few seconds it stumped me, mainly because I’ve never viewed learning as a collection of eureka moments. It’s a continuum, a lifelong awakening to the complexity of the world.  
But then something did come to mind, not a discrete lesson but a moving image, complete with soundtrack. I saw a woman named Anne Hall swooning and swaying as she stood at the front of a classroom in Chapel Hill, N.C., and explained the rawness and majesty of emotion in “King Lear.”