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.
(Image from Roger Ebert's Film Festival website) Kenneth Branagh in his 1996 film.Mel Gibson (following the rest of 3.1) in Franco Zeffirelli's 1985 film. Ethan Hawke in Michael Almereyda's 2000 film. Derek Jacobi in a 1980 production directed by Rodney Bennett.Kevin Kline in a 1990 New York Shakespeare Festival production.Laurence Olivier from his 1948 film. (For an analysis of Olivier's performance, click here.)An actor (Alan Mowbray) recites part of the soliloquy with help from Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) in John Ford's My Darling Clementine (1946).A director (Rowan Atkinson) helps Shakespeare (Hugh Laurie) spruce up the "dodgy" original soliloquy in a sketch from Comic Relief. OPHELIA'S MAD SCENE (4.5) Kate Winslett from the Branagh version: part one , part two. Mariah Gale in a 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production: part one, part two. Helena Bonham Carter from the Zeffirelli film: part one (begins at 6:58), part two.Hele…