Thursday, May 30, 2019

Shakespeare References in Pygmalion

Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion contains a few references to Shakespeare. Henry Higgins, early in the play when he still identified as “The Note Taker,” says to Eliza Doolittle, “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and The Bible” (p. 20). And, yes, that is how Shakespeare’s name is spelled in the text. Later Higgins says to Pickering, about Eliza, “This unfortunate animal has been locked up for nine years in school at our expense to teach her to speak and read the language of Shakespear and Milton” (P. 55). And still later, Higgins says to Pickering, “Lets take her to the Shakespear exhibition at Earls Court” (p. 71). And yes, “Let’s” is spelled without the apostrophe in the text.

Pygmalion was first published in 1916. The edition I read is the Penguin Books edition from 1973, which includes additional material from George Bernard Shaw from 1942.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Shakespeare References in Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years

Yes, Shakespeare references continue to pop up in nearly every book I read. Robert Dean Lurie’s new book about the band R.E.M., Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years, contains a few Shakespeare references. The first is a reference to Romeo And Juliet, and it comes when Lurie is mentioning other names the band considered before settling on R.E.M., names such as Slut Bank and Can Of Piss. Lurie writes, “Sometimes a rose by any other name really doesn’t smell as sweet” (p. 83). As most people seem to do, he is referring to the Q1 line of “By any other name” rather than the preferred Folio reading of “That which we call a rose/By any other word would smell as sweet.” The second reference is to Richard The Third, though really it’s Lawrence Durrell who makes the reference in The Black Book, which Lurie quotes here: “Even the ones like pale nipples, delicately freckled and melodious, are forgotten in this morning, where our one reality is the Levantine wind, musty with the smell of Arabia, stirring the bay into a muddy broth. This is the winter of our discontent” (p. 204). That last line refers to the first line of Richard The Third, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” The final reference is simply a mention of the band Trip Shakespeare (p. 228).

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years was published in May, 2019 through Verse Chorus Press.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Noises Off (A Noise Within’s 2019 Production) Theatre Review

Noises Off production photo by Craig Schwartz
A Noise Within’s production of Noises Off enjoyed a sold-out run last year, with audience members returning to see it two and three times. It was so popular that folks requested its return. Never one to disappoint an audience, A Noise Within has brought the production back for a limited run. So, if like me, you missed it last year, here is your chance to enjoy this absolutely delightful comedy, with the same cast and direction. I generally review only Shakespeare productions, but Noises Off contains a play within a play, and what could be more Shakespearean than that? It also contains references to both Hamlet and Richard The Third. It is a play that anyone who has ever been involved in theatre can appreciate. And for everyone else, well, there is a certain delight to be taken in watching things fall apart, don’t you find? Provided, of course, that things aren’t falling apart for us personally. And things certainly do fall apart for the characters in Noises Off.

The play is divided into three acts, and in each of those acts we see the same play from different perspectives. First, from the director’s perspective during the play’s final dress rehearsal (even if some of the actors believe it is the tech rehearsal), then from the actors’ perspective backstage, and finally from an audience’s perspective. It is an interesting effect, essentially not seeing the play from what would be our own perspective as audience members until we’d already seen it from everyone else’s perspective and become enamored of these characters. It’s good that we get a chance to see it multiple times because our own laughter sometimes drowns out certain lines and we need another chance to hear them. In fact, last night even before a single line was spoken, certain people in the audience were laughing, as if in anticipation of the lines. Clearly, they had seen the production before.

When the play begins, a housekeeper enters and answers the telephone, letting the person on the other end know that the house’s owners are away in Spain. It isn’t until we hear a voice from within the audience call out, “You leave the sardines,” that we realize this woman isn’t a somewhat batty character, but a somewhat batty actor. Well, still a character from our perspective, but you know what I mean. Lloyd, the play’s director, remains in the audience for most of this first act, and so it is from his perspective that we view the proceedings, as he tries to push these actors through the final rehearsal. When one actor looks for his motivation for a certain bit of business, the director, exasperated, says, “Why does anyone do anything?” We feel his pain, particularly when he is seated among us.

For the second act, the set has been turned around, so now we are backstage. Visible are the costume racks and props table and stage manager’s station. The production has been up for a while, and there are new troubles, leading Lloyd at one point to say, “I think this show is beyond the help of a director.” By the way, the pace of this play is fast, particularly in this second act. Its momentum is tremendous. So much is happening all at once. And everything that is established in the first act pays off beautifully in the second and third acts. For the third act, the set is turned around once again so that we in the audience are now the audience for the play within the play. (By the way, the stagehands received applause when turning the set around during the short intermission. That gives you an idea of how much the crowd loves this production.)

There is a lot of physical humor, with the slamming of doors, and entrances and exits. And, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about? Doors and sardines, getting on, getting off. The play is a fun romp. Just the sort of thing one might need in order to, say, take one’s mind off the destruction of the environment or the end of democracy. And the entire cast is fantastic. I was especially excited to see Erika Soto as Poppy, the stage manager. I fell under her spell during her work with the Independent Shakespeare Company, and her Juliet is still the best I’ve ever seen on the stage. I recently saw Jeremy Rabb give a wonderful performance as Roderigo in Othello, and here he a total delight as Frederick. But probably the best performance is given by Kasey Mahaffy as Garry. I thought he did an excellent job as Rosencrantz in last year’s production of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, but here he is an undeniable comedic force, a whirlwind of hilarity, and an absolute joy to watch. But as I said, the entire cast is wonderful.

This production of Noises Off runs only through June 9th, so get your tickets soon. We can all use a laugh these days, and this production provides plenty of them. A Noise Within is located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, California.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Shakespeare Reference in Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor

I walked to my local gaming store the other day to buy more dice (I always want more dice), and as it was Free Comic Book Day, I picked up a comic book too. It is issue 00 of Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor, and it contains a Shakespeare reference. The Doctor says “Something wicked this way comes.” Her next line is “Ray Bradbury, lovely man.” That seems to imply that the Doctor believes the line originated with Ray Bradbury. It did not. The line “Something wicked this way comes” is from Act IV Scene i of Macbeth: “By the pricking of my thumbs,/Something wicked this way comes.”

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor is published by Titan Comics. This issue was written by Jody Houser, with most of the art done by Giorgia Sposito. The colorist was Tracy Bailey.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Shakespeare References in Going Down: Lip Service From Great Writers

Going Down: Lip Service From Great Writers is a collection of short pieces from various authors on the subject of oral sex. Two of the pieces in this book contain Shakespeare references, and actually both references are to Hamlet. The first comes from Jadis by Ken Chowder: “On impulse Egg yanked a piece of Spanish moss from a passing tree and twirled it around Tory’s head. ‘A makeshift crown,’ he proclaimed. ‘A laurel wreath. A garland for poor drowned Ophelia’” (p. 83). By the way, I’m fairly certain it was Egg and not the tree that was doing the passing. Trees on the go! The second Hamlet reference comes from Teleny, a book attributed largely to Oscar Wilde: “‘Was it because the Almighty had fixed His canon against self-slaughter?’” (p. 102). In Act I Scene ii, Hamlet says, “Or that the Everlasting had not fixed/His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” Going Down: Lip Service From Great writers was published in 1998 by Chronicle Books.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Shakespeare References in Portrait Of A Killer

In Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper Case Closed, author Patricia Cornwell claims to prove that artist Walter Sickert was the notorious killer. She doesn’t make a very convincing case, and takes a long time to not make it. But along the way, there are several Shakespeare references. The first is a mention of Henry The Fifth: “As a boy, Sickert frequently sketched men in uniforms and armor. As Mr. Nemo, the actor, his most critically acclaimed performance was in 1880, when he played a French soldier in Shakespeare’s Henry V” (p. 23). A little later, Cornwell writes: “When Walter was a bit older, after the family had moved to England in 1868, he began recruiting friends and siblings to play scenes from Shakespeare, and some of his stage direction was nasty and degrading” (p. 47). She then quotes an unpublished memoir from Sickert’s sister: “I must have been a child when [Walter] roped us in to rehearse the three witches to his Macbeth in a disused quarry near Newquay, which innocently I thought was really called ‘The Pit of Achaeron.’ Here he drilled us very severely. I was made (being appropriately thin and red-haired) to discard my dress & shoes & stockings, in order to brood over the witches cauldron, or stride around it, regardless of thorns and sharp stones, in my eyes the acrid smoke of scorching seaweed” (p. 47).

There are a couple of references to Hamlet. Cornwell writes, “In 1881, he tagged along with Ellen Terry as she hit the shops of Regent Street in search of gowns for her role as Ophelia at the Lyceum” (p. 63). And then: “In most productions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the ghost enters and exits through the trap. Sickert probably knew far more about stage traps than sewer traps. In 1881, he played the ghost in Henry Irving’s Hamlet at the Lyceum Theater. The dark shape at the figure’s feet in Sickert’s painting could be a theater trap. It could be a sewer trap” (p. 68).

Patricia Cornwell even claims that the name Jack The Ripper comes from Shakespeare: “Sickert could have come up with the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ by reading Shakespeare. As Helena Sickert said in her memoirs, when she and her brothers were growing up, they were all ‘Shakespeare mad,’ and Sickert was known to quote long passages of Shakespeare. Throughout his life he loved to stand up at dinner parties and deliver Shakespearean soliloquies. The word Jack is found in Coriolanus, The Merchant of Venice, and Cymbeline. Shakespeare doesn’t use the word ripper, but there are variations of it in King John and Macbeth” (pages 112-113).

Apparently, there was (still is?) a pub called the Merry Wives of Windsor. Cornwell writes: “One day, a wretched-looking woman, having the appearance of a tramp, appeared at the Merry Wives of Windsor public house and inquired about Chapman” (p. 147). She mentions it again: “The woman at the door of the Merry Wives of Windsor informed the tramp that Mr. Chapman had died on Christmas day” (p. 147). There is another mention of Henry The Fifth: “In one of the earliest existing Sickert letters, one he wrote in 1880 to historian and biographer T.E. Pemberton, he described playing an ‘old man’ in Henry V while on tour in Birmingham. ‘It is the part I like best of all,’ he wrote” (p. 154).

Regarding a guest book that Patricia Cornwell believes was vandalized by Jack The Ripper, she writes, “The page is filled in with scribbles and comments and allusions to Shakespeare, most of it crude and snide” (p. 264). There is another mention of Hamlet: “I don’t know where Sickert spent his holidays, but I suspect he would have wanted to be in London on the last Saturday of the year, December 29th, when Hamlet opened at the Lyceum, starring Henry Irving and Ellen Terry” (pages 279-280). Regarding Sickert’s wife, and the similarities she might have seen between Sickert and her father, Cornwell writes, “He loved Shakespeare, Byron, Irving and Cooper” (p. 306).
Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper Case Closed was published in 2002. The copy I read was the Berkley mass-market edition, published in 2003.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

William Shakespeare’s Jedi The Last, Star Wars Part The Eighth by Ian Doescher (2018) Book Review

Star Wars and Shakespeare are two passions of mine. Except that Star Wars really no longer is, because Disney killed it with that atrocious, money-grabbing scheme called The Force Awakens. That was the end of Star Wars for me. Disney killed my passion, as it kills everything. Disney is the destroyer of good things. So I haven’t seen any of the Star Wars films released since then, including The Last Jedi. However, I’ve been so thoroughly enjoying Ian Doescher’s series of Star Wars Shakespeare adaptations that I still wanted to read his version of The Last Jedi, titled William Shakespeare’s Jedi The Last, Star Wars Part The Eighth. And I was curious what I would make of it, not having seen the film and so not being familiar with its plot or new characters (what the hell’s a porg?).

As with the other books (and with Shakespeare’s plays), Jedi The Last is divided into five acts, and is delivered in iambic pentameter (something I always find impressive). The Chorus delivers the prologue. Ian Doescher works a lot of Shakespeare’s lines into this book. For example, in the first scene Poe says, “If ‘twould be done, ‘twere well it were done quickly” (p. 19), a slight variation on Macbeth’s “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well/It were done quickly.” Perhaps my favorite speech in all of Shakespeare’s work is Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. Doescher includes a playful take on part of that speech, having Rey say, “It is a tale told by me, full of sound/And fury, signifying ev’rything” (p. 26). He also has Kylo use a large chunk of Lady Macbeth’s famous speech: “Come, spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unmake me here,/And fill me from the crown to the toe full/Of direst cruelty” (p. 29). Of course, “unsex” wouldn’t have worked in this scene, so it is changed to “unmake.” Leia uses a bit from the end of Twelfth Night when she says, “To light her homeward way – an apple, cleft/In two, is not more twin than these two beacons” (p. 36).

A particular stroke of genius is giving the words of Polonius to C-3PO: “This business is well ended, I believe./My noble captain, to expostulate/What deference should be, what duty is,/Why day is day, night is night, time is time,/Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time –/Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,/And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,/I will be brief” (p. 56). Perfect! Kylo refers to Hamlet when he says “So weak that he may lose the name of action” (p. 59). A character named DJ (you’re listening to Cool FM) speaks some of Edmund’s lines from King Lear: “Why bastard? Wherefore base? Now, gods, stand up/For bastards!” (p. 124). Kylo also borrows from King Lear: “Thou camest, Rey, from nothing – nothing art thou,/Thy root is nothing, yea, and nothing comes/From nothing” (p. 133). With there being a character named Rose in this story, it was inevitable that we would get the “rose by any other word” line from Romeo And Juliet. Doescher chooses the poor Q1 reading of “by any other name,” but that actually makes more sense in this context: “Fine lass, a Rose by any other name/Would never smell as sweet as thou, dear friend” (p. 153). One of the best choices is giving Prospero’s speech to Luke: “Now my charms are all o’erthrown,/And what strength I have’s mine own,/Which is most faint” (p. 161).

One of the major problems with The Force Awakens was that it simply lifted stuff from the original trilogy and fed it to the fans again as if it were a new meal. Apparently The Last Jedi does the same thing. While being trained as a Jedi, Rey feels herself drawn to a tree? Geez. And there is a scene where Rey tells Kylo he doesn’t have to hand her over to his lord, that she senses the conflict within him, as Luke said to Darth Vader on Endor. Then later BB-8 executes a surprise attack on troopers from within an AT-ST, just as Chewbacca did in Return Of The Jedi. Come on! The plot (and this is obviously not the fault of Ian Doescher) is rather awful, with lots of idiotic little moments like some gambler mistaking BB-8 for a slot machine. What, he never encountered a droid before?

Again, I didn’t see the movie, so I can’t swear to it, but I am guessing the scene with the two troopers speaking of events and powers beyond their normal scope was not in it. Ian Doescher has added similar scenes to previous volumes in this series, and these are always among the most enjoyable of the books. He uses this scene to sort of explain one of the more ridiculous plot twists of the story, that Luke Skywalker can make himself appear in one place while actually being in another. In the scene, Trooper 2 has read a book about Jedi and learned about that power from his reading. By the way, he has Trooper 2 speak a line that Falstaff says in The First Part Of King Henry The Fourth: “The better part of valor is discretion” (p. 123).

Ian Doescher clearly has a lot of fun with these books, and finds inspiration at times from places other than Shakespeare’s works. For example, he dips into Monty Python territory when he has Kylo say: “‘Tis but a scratch. Aye, just a flesh wound, this” (p. 27). And he refers to John Donne’s famous poem, having Poe say “Therefore,/Send not to know for whom the bell doth toll – /It tolls for me” (p. 38). Perhaps the most enjoyable digression from Shakespeare is the Codebreaker’s speech in which he refers to every James Bond film in the order in which they were released (skipping the first Casino Royale, and brilliantly putting Never Say Never Again in parentheses): “(Methinks thou ought to ne’er say ne’re again.)/A double! Ha, view two! A killing I/Now make. Yea, I shall roll the living daylights/Out of these dice, no lie. Sense to kill I’ve,/For with a golden eye comes golden sight” (p. 73).

William Shakespeare’s Jedi The Last, Star Wars Part The Eighth was published in 2018 by Quirk Books.