Robert Viking O'Brien on Shakespeare, Movies, and Books
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Did someone steal Shakespeare's skull?
His skull is probably in there.
In the Telegraph, Emily Gosden reports on how "clergymen attempting to solve a centuries-old mystery over the identity of a lone skull found in a Worcestershire church vault have been thwarted by a senior church lawyer - who has barred them from carrying out DNA testing." The clergymen wanted to test a local legend that the skull was "stolen from the playwright’s tomb in Stratford as part of a wager set by the art historian Horace Walpole in the 1700s." Like claims about a newly discovered Shakespeare portrait, this story seems far-fetched, which is why the church lawyer "sided with prominent Shakespeare scholars who have rubbished" it.
Directors usually handle Shakespearean soliloquies in three ways: (1) they have actors speak directly to the audience, as they would have on the Elizabethan stage; (2) they have actors speak to the air, as if yammering on cellphones; or (3) they use a voice-over, as if we were wire-tapping the characters' brains. Each strategy has its advantages. Speaking directly to the audience works well for villains, who share their nasty schemes, preparing us to watch with horror as they dupe unknowing victims. The technique also allows for dark comedy: for example, Ian McKellan's Richard III and Harry J. Lennix's Aaron (in Julie Taymor's Titus) act as satanic stand-up comedians, terrifying us and making us laugh with the same speech. Having actors talk to themselves produces a different effect, allowing us to pretend we're hearing a character's inward thoughts. This works in both comedies and tragedies. In a comedy, we laugh—or chuckle inwardly—when we hear Emma Thompson'…
Though Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech is his fourth soliloquy, many websites call it his third. They're skipping the twenty-line speech that follows his interview with the Ghost, which in my view is a particularly bad mistake since Hamlet's monomaniacal vow there is at the heart of his tragedy.
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.
Richard III seems complicated because, as the last of a group of four plays, its characters share a bloody past that is unfamiliar to most readers.
But the play isn't as complicated as it seems. In the first half, Richard does everything he can to get the crown. In the second, he does everything he can to keep it. Stay focused on Richard and you won't get lost.
Here's a detailed summary of the first two scenes to help get you started.