Saturday, November 30, 2013
Lately I have been finding Shakespeare references in almost everything I read. It’s kind of wonderful. In Jennifer Belle’s novel Going Down, there are two Shakespeare references. The first is related to Romeo And Juliet and the theatre: “I was also forced to take Tech, where you have to work behind the scenes. You have to walk around in a flannel shirt and pretend that you’re just as happy to build Juliet’s balcony as to be Juliet because that is how much you love the theater” (page 72). The second reference is a bit odd. Belle writes, “She had frizzy Shakespearean hair and overalls” (page 77). I’m not sure exactly what she means by “Shakespearean hair.”
This book was published in 1996.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Air Guitar, a collection of essays on the arts by Dave Hickey, contains a few Shakespeare references. Hickey mentions A Midsummer Night’s Dream three times in this book. The first is in a piece titled “My Weimar,” where he writes, “So there will be no cabaret, no pictures, no fantasy or flashing lights, no filth or sexy talk, no cruelty, no melodies, no laughter, no Max Reinhardt, no Ur-Faust, no A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” (page 86). The other two times this play is mentioned are both in a piece titled “Lost Boys.” The first of these two also mentions The Royal Shakespeare Company: “Created by the two illusionists in collaboration with production designer John Napier (Cats, Starlight Express) and writer-director John Caird of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the show is at once a seamless spectacle and a plausible, subversive conflation of Wagner, Barnum, Houdini, Rousseau, Pink Floyd, Fantasia, Peter Pan, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (page 173). Later in that same piece, Hickey again mentions Peter Pan and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the same sentence, along with The Tempest: “It is hardly surprising, then, that the dynamics of Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage would evoke other late Victorian celebrations of metamorphic theatricality: works like Peter Pan, Alice In Wonderland and The Jungle Book – and earlier predecessors like The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (page 179). In all three instances, Hickey uses A Midsummer Night’s Dream to end a sentence.
There is one other Shakespeare reference in this book. In a piece titled “The Little Church Of Perry Mason,” Hickey writes, “I have probably spent roughly three times as many hours in front of old Perry Mason episodes as I have spent listening to Mozart and reading Shakespeare combined” (page 138).
This book was published in 1997.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
As in John Mortimer’s Rumpole A La Carte, there are plenty of Shakespeare references in this collection of short stories. In “Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces,” John Mortimer has his lead character refer to Hamlet: “‘Treat every man according to his deserts and who shall escape whipping?’ I quoted Hamlet at him” (page 12).
In “Rumpole and the Remembrance of Things Past,” there is a nice reference to King Lear. Mortimer writes, “These were the two who had undertaken to save the planet earth from extinction by kicking Rumpole, and our junior secretary Dawn, out into a storm to have a puff, an act which, in my humble submission, bore a close resemblance to the way Goneril and Regan treated their old Dad” (page 28). That story also has a reference to Julius Caesar. Mortimer writes, “There is a tide in the affairs of men when you have to be completely ruthless” (page 53). That is a reference to Act IV Scene III, when Brutus says, “There is a tide in the affairs of men,/Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
In “Rumpole and the Asylum Seekers,” there is a Hamlet reference when Mortimer writes, “When troubles come, they come not single spies, or even single asylum seekers.” In Act IV, Claudius says, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies,/But in battalions.”
“Rumpole and the Camberwell Carrot” has a reference to King Lear: “I could have discussed King Lear’s pertinent question: ‘Handy Dandy. Which is justice, which the thief?’ but breakfast wasn’t the right time for such debates” (page 104).
“Rumpole and the Actor Laddie” has several Shakespeare references, as one of the story’s chief characters is a stage actor. In the story’s first paragraph there are references to The Merchant Of Venice and As You Like It: “That wonderful sniff of contempt, just the way Larry used to do in The Merchant. Of course I’ve only had the opportunity of seeing your perf from the gods at the Old Bailey. And I don’t believe you saw the last thing I did. My Adam the gardener in As You with the Clitheroe Mummers. A small part, of course, but I think I made a little jewel of it” (page 137). The second paragraph contains more references: “My crown is a little tarnished now, but some old theatre-goers won’t easily forget my Benvolio, my French Ambassador – above all my Rosencranz in the Danish play” (page 137). Benvolio is, of course, from Romeo And Juliet. The French Ambassador could be from Henry The Fifth or Chatillion from King John. And Rosencranz is obviously from Hamlet. There is a second reference to Hamlet a little later on: “And then Percy had gone into the witness box and taken the oath in the hushed tones of the Prince of Denmark addressing his father’s ghost” (pages 140-141). That’s followed immediately by a reference to Julius Caesar: “After a few routine questions, he ignored me and became Mark Antony, orating to the Roman plebs. ‘My friends and fellow countrymen on the Jury,’ his voice was low and throbbing” (page 141). He follows that with a reference to Macbeth: “I am a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage – in my case this witness box – and then, perhaps to your relief, will be heard no more” (page 141). That’s a reference to Macbeth’s famous speech from Act V: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/And then is heard no more.” He then mentions Shakespeare directly: “I have sung with Shakespeare and argued with Shaw” (page 141). That same page contains a reference to Othello: “You will remember the line in the Moorish play – I speak of Othello – about the base Indian who threw a pearl away, richer than all his tribe?” (page 141). Then another line refers to Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth: “Let’s forget the Moorish play, the Danish play, or indeed the Scottish play for a moment” (page 141). Then, for good measure, there is a reference to The Merchant Of Venice: “I imagined, for a moment, that I was playing the Doge in the Venetian play” (page 141).
“Rumpole and the Teenage Werewolf” has a couple of Shakespeare references. The first is to both Macbeth and Troilus and Cressida: “Not, perhaps, for the Macbeths or the Agamemnons in their houses of doom” (page 147). The second is a playful reference to Hamlet. Rumpole says, “It’ll bring the case to a fairly quick conclusion so you can spend more time with your Great Dane,” and Adrian responds, “Good old Ophelia” (page 170).
Rumpole Rests His Case was published in 2001.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1996) stars Alex Jennings, Lindsay Duncan, Desmond Barrit, Barry Lynch, Monica Dolan; it was directed by Adrian Noble. This film version stars The Royal Shakespeare Company, and features an interesting design and good performances, though does suffer from some odd cuts. This production actually presents the play as a dream – the dream of a child, who appears throughout the play, watching the proceedings. The film opens with shots of clouds, and the camera descends and enters through a window to a child’s room. It is midnight. A young child is asleep, clutching a copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The child then gets up and walks down a hall.
We hear the first lines of the play, and the child looks through a keyhole in the door at the end of the hall. And then we’re in the play, with Theseus (Alex Jennings) bent over a blond, seated Hippolyta (Lindsay Duncan). When Egeus (Alfred Burke) enters, he rushes past the child at the door. He pulls Hermia (Monica Dolan) into the room, then pushing her to the floor. Demetrius (Kevin Doyle) and Lysander (Daniel Evans) enter. They both see Hermia on the floor, but it is only Lysander who goes to her. Demetrius and Lysander’s similarities are stressed immediately by their basically identical wardrobe. Many lines are cut from the first scene. After Theseus says “Rather with your eyes must with his judgment look,” he goes right to “Take time to pause” (actually adding her name – “Hermia, take time to pause”), thus losing the part where Hermia asks for his pardon. Also, all lines of Hermia’s third option – to essentially become a nun – are dropped. Hippolyta slaps Theseus in the face, leading to his, “What cheer, my love?” Helena (Emily Raymond) enters the room suddenly, so Lysander’s line about her is cut. Helena then immediately turns to go again, prompting Hermia’s line. Both Hermia and Helena have dark hair. Helena’s final speech is delivered to camera. The child is still there, watching her. After she exits the room, he chases after her, but falls into a dark chasm (reminding me of Time Bandits).
He lands in another room, and soon the Mechanicals enter from the rain. Bottom’s delivery of “This was lofty” is wonderful. Flute touches his face on “I have a beard” and pauses slightly before “coming,” acknowledging he has yet has no beard. Starveling is cutely pleased at being assigned the role of Thisby’s mother. They head back outside, and the wind takes Starveling’s umbrella. The umbrella is lifted far up into the sky, and gently returns to earth to begin Act II.
The umbrella lands in Puck’s hand, the first scene of Act II begins. The Fairy also holds a green umbrella. The set is many hanging light bulbs, a forest of light on a bare stage. The Fairy wears a feather dress. Puck (Barry Lynch) has yellow pants and suspenders. When Puck mentions the changeling boy, a bubble expands in the air, with the changeling’s face appearing in it. The other fairies arrive in bubbles. All have clothing made of feathers. Oberon (also played by Alex Jennings) and Titania (also played by Lindsay Duncan) have feathers in their hair, but their clothing is not made of feathers (though there are some red feathers on Titania’s red dress). A giant moon rises during the “forgeries of jealousy” speech. Demetrius and Helena enter through blue doors. Oberon gives us a look after Demetrius nearly screeches his “because I cannot meet my Hermia.” On “with the rich worth of your virginity,” Demetrius pushes Helena down and climbs on top of her, thus showing that there is still some unconscious attraction to her on his part. Demetrius exits before Helena’s line “Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex,” which she shouts after him. Her next lines are delivered to camera. At the end of the scene, Puck and Oberon ascend, holding onto umbrellas.
Titania goes to sleep on a giant overturned umbrella with many cushions. We go briefly to Act III, and there’s an odd nod to E.T. when the Mechanicals enter, one riding a bicycle in front of the moon. After Quince’s “we will do it in action as we will do it before the duke,” we return to Act II Scene ii, with the entrances of Lysander and Hermia. Puck gets on top of Helena for “On the dank and dirty ground.” Lysander starts to wake and embrace Puck, leading Puck to command him, “Awake when I am gone,” an interesting take on that line.
We then return to Act III Scene i. A whole lot of lines are skipped. After Bottom (Desmond Barrit) says, “this will put them out of fear,” it goes right to Quince saying “If that may be, then all is well.” Thus, it skips the whole bit about the lion and the calendar. That’s an unfortunate cut. Also, it makes Bottom’s “first” senseless, as his other points have been dropped. Starveling puts a dress on over his regular clothes, so when Quince says, “Come, sit down, every mother’s son,” he looks at Starveling on “mother’s.” After Puck’s line about watching the play and perhaps being an actor too, we return to Act II Scene ii, with the entrance of Demetrius and Helena. After Lysander exits, Hermia levitates briefly, then returns to the stage before waking. Then we go back to Act III Scene I for Quince’s line, “Speak, Pyramus.” Bottom has donkey ears, a beard, giant front teeth and a tail. When Bottom sings, Titania descends on her umbrella bed. Titania gets on the floor before him and rubs her foot against his crotch on “thou art beautiful.” Interestingly, Pease-Blossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustard-Seed are played by the Mechanicals (making it seem like Bottom’s dream). Bottom and Titania go into the giant overturned umbrella, and it is set adrift on a body of water, romantically, by moonlight.
It then cuts to Scene ii, with Oberon saying “This falls out better than I could devise.” We then see Bottom fucking Titania and making donkey noises with each thrust. Oberon then asks Puck about the Athenian. On Hermia’s “never see me more,” she head-butts Demetrius, knocking him to the floor and leading him to say “There is no following her in this vein” and making his “Here therefore for a while I will remain” quite funny. Puck crawls across the floor on “I go, I go,” turning to Oberon on “look how I go.” That’s great. Helena starts to fall for Demetrius’ new protestations of love, leans in to kiss him, then thinks better of it, saying, “O spite!” Puck covers Lysander’s eyes, leading him to say “Here will I rest me” (instead of “And here rest me”).
Titania enters riding on Bottom’s back. (On certain lines, Bottom sounds like Alfred Hitchcock.) The Fairies are disappointed when told to go, as they seem to want to watch Titania make love to Bottom. We actually see Puck lift off Bottom’s ears. After Oberon says, “Swifter than the wandering moon,” the film skips to Bottom waking. So we lose Titania’s wonderful lines about being found “With these mortals on the ground.” Bottom wakes in the umbrella bed. On “methought I had,” Bottom looks into his pants, implying that he had a giant cock as a donkey.
The film goes right to Bottom rejoining the Mechanicals, saying, “Where are these lads?” And so the entire scene of Theseus and Hippolyta finding the four lovers is cut. Thus, we lose Egeus’ other big moment in the play. After “Masters, I am to discourse wonders,” it cuts to Act V.
We go to the celebration, where Demetrius, Helena, Lysander and Hermia are eating. Hippolyta draws Theseus aside and says, “’Tis strange, my Theseus, that these lovers speak of.” Philostrate is played by the same actor who plays Puck, and he leads the child to the small theatre where the Mechanicals then perform. Bottom pauses before the third “alack,” as if trying to recall his next line. Quince corrects Bottom’s “Ninny’s tomb” during the performance, something not written in the play. Theseus’ lines about how “the man should be put into the lantern” are cut. When Thisby says “Ninny’s tomb,” Quince corrects her, which again is not in the play. Bottom is allowed a serious moment as Pyramus, truly affecting his audience when believing Thisby to be dead. After Pyramus dies, Theseus gets up and goes to him to say his line, “With the help of a surgeon, he might yet recover and still prove an ass.” He directs “ass” at Hippolyta, who reacts (thus their playing both roles comes into play and is acknowledged). (And yes, the word “still” is added.) Before the dance, Hippolyta has a moment with Bottom, again implying that Hippolyta and Titania are in fact the same person. The chiming of the bell interrupts the dance, and everyone looks up, as if toward the clock. Puck steps out onto the stage for his first speech. He is alone in the small theatre, but for the child, who watches from the balcony. After the final lines, Puck takes the child’s hand and the company lifts him into the air on the stage. And the last image is them on the stage, not returning to the child’s room.
Time: 104 minutes
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
His Picture In The Papers: A Speculation On Celebrity In America, Based On The Life Of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., by Richard Schickel, contains several references to Shakespeare. As you might guess, there is mention of Douglas Fairbanks’ version of The Taming Of The Shrew, but there are also several other references throughout the book.
The first is in a passage in relation to Fairbanks’ father. “More important, he attributed his interest in the stage to his father, who had been an amateur Shakespearean scholar and was wont to recite from The Bard at the smallest excuse” (page 16). And then, related to when Douglas would get into trouble: “The reward for his transgressions was often the enforced memorization of some Shakespearean passage, and that work – along with the one part of the school week that he looked forward to, the Friday recitations – surely helped bend the twig” (page 17). That passage continues, with a reference to Julius Caesar: “In any case, by the time he was in his teens, his neighbor Burns Mantle, later to become a well-known drama critic (and editor of the annual Best Plays volume), said, ‘he would recite you as fine and florid an Antony’s speech to the Romans as you ever heard. With gestures, too’” (page 17).
This book contains a few mentions of Hamlet. The first is related to an early stage performance by Douglas Fairbanks: “His big chance came in Duluth where he went on as Laertes in Hamlet on short notice. ‘Mr. Warde’s supporting company was bad, but worst of all was Douglas Fairbanks,’ the local critic wrote. Warde himself was to call the young actor’s first season ‘a catch-as-catch-can encounter with the immortal bard’” (page 20). The second is in a passage about Charlie Chaplin: “’Now I am alone,’ he said to himself, quoting Hamlet” (page 36). The third is in relation to a radio broadcast: “Barrymore recited a Hamlet soliloquy” (page 120).
Of course, there is quite a bit about The Taming Of The Shrew, including a photo of Douglas Fairbanks in the role in the photos section of the book. Richard Schickel writes: “Fairbanks and Pickford decided to combat the threat by combining their prestige, co-starring in The Taming Of The Shrew, which, of course, attached their names to the greatest dialogue writer in the language. No one could fault the shrewdness of their decision as a career move. The industry’s de facto leaders seemed to be welcoming the new technology, demonstrating that the addition of sound opened to film vast realms of great drama and literature that heretofore it had never truly been able to encompass effectively. Moreover, Fairbanks was right for the part of Petruchio, while Miss Pickford, struggling still to change her image, was interestingly offcast as the shrew” (page 122). Schickel continues: “Fairbanks’ essential egoism was quite suitable for a shrew-tamer, but his voice came through the microphones rather high-pitched, while his wife was less mercurial, perhaps, than she should have been – and had in other roles proved herself capable of being. The production itself, adapted and directed by Sam Taylor, was flat and stagey and carried a now legendary credit, perhaps funnier than anything in the action of the film itself – ‘By William Shakespeare. Additional Dialogue by Sam Taylor’” (pages 122-123). And then: “Hurting financially, his films declining in popularity to the nadir represented by Shrew, a sense of estrangement (though by no means an open breach) growing between Mary and him…” (page 123). Schickel then writes: “He returned and, for the last time, devoted himself seriously to a movie, one that he thought would be more suited to the temper of the times and to his own age than the historical romances – or Shrew – had been” (page 125).
Schickel makes a reference to Othello: “Perhaps having loved not wisely but well, the public compensates, when it turns away from an idol, by doing so too emphatically, too cruelly” (page 153). In Othello’s final speech, he refers to himself as “one that lov’d not wisely but too well.”
And then, about Mary Pickford at the time of the book’s writing, Schickel says, “She tells inquirers that she reads the Bible and Shakespeare” (page 161).
This book was published in 1973.