Thursday, April 23, 2015

Duel Scene From Macbeth (1905) DVD Review

This short film is only a minute long, and was originally part of something titled Fights Of Nations, showing different forms of combat. It is a single shot, and is one of the first Shakespearean films ever made. It was shot by G.W. “Billy” Bitzer.

It begins with Macbeth slaying Young Siward in Act V. Macduff immediately enters and duels with Macbeth. They speak, but there are no title cards included, so it’s unknown what they’re saying. At the end, Macduff is victorious, but does not cut off Macbeth’s head. Instead, after Macbeth has fallen, he puts his right foot on Macbeth’s chest and raises both arms up in triumph. Macbeth for a moment tries to lift Macduff’s foot off him, but then dies.

Time: 1 minute

This short was included as a bonus feature on the DVD for the 1922 version of Othello.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Macbeth (1948) DVD Review

Orson Welles’ 1948 film version of Macbeth is in black and white, and stars Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Roddy McDowell, Dan O’Herlihy and Edgar Barrier. It’s a moody piece, playing with shadows and interesting camera angles and close-ups to give the audience an unsettling feeling. There are some strange, unfortunate cuts in the text, as well as some drastic reordering of scenes and speeches.

Act I

The film opens with the Witches on a rock cliff, but their first line is “Double, double, toil and trouble” from Act IV Scene i. And as we hear them mention the ingredients, we see interesting close-ups of the cauldron. Then the film goes to the first line of the play, “When shall we three meet again?” The Witches pull a figurine from the cauldron, which is to represent Macbeth. After “There to meet with Macbeth,” the film goes to its opening credits sequence.

After the credits, we see Macbeth (Orson Welles) and Banquo (Edgar Barrier) riding, and we hear “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes” from Act IV Scene i. But then Macbeth says, “So foul and fair a day I have no seen,” from Act I Scene iii (thus cutting Scene ii entirely), and the Witches hail him. They hold the figurine, and put a crown on it when they say Macbeth shall be king. The Witches’ faces are in shadows, making them even creepier and more mysterious. Macbeth’s aside, “If good, why do I yield to that suggestion,” is done as voice over, Macbeth’s thoughts to himself, rather than spoken to camera. But it is done with him in extreme close-up.

Then, oddly, we have a scene of Macbeth dictating his letter to Lady Macbeth. So it is Macbeth we hear speaking these lines, not Lady Macbeth. Then Banquo enters and we return to Act I Scene iii, with Macbeth asking Banquo “Do you not hope your children should be kings?” The scribe strangely speaks some of Banquo’s lines (“Win us with honest trifles”). And then Macbeth continues to dictate the letter, with Banquo there. At the end of the letter, we hear Lady Macbeth’s voice as well, and we go to Act I Scene v. Her lines are then done as voice over.

While Macbeth rushes home to Lady Macbeth (Jeanette Nolan), and into her arms, the film also shows us the previous Thane of Cawdor’s execution. It’s interesting, for it graphically links Macbeth with the doom of his predecessor, linking Macbeth with death. Then when the king and his men all arrive at the castle, a religious service is held before they even greet each other. Then we go into Act I Scene iv, with Duncan asking, “My son, is execution done on Cawdor?” (The “My son” part is not in the original text.) It’s interesting, because it makes Lady Macbeth present for speeches she doesn’t hear in the play.

Act II

Macbeth is present for the beginning of Act II Scene i, hearing Banquo and Fleance. Macbeth says, “I think not of them,” but cut are his following lines, so we lose the sense of friendship between them. The film goes right to “Good repose, the while!” The film gives us a shot of Lady Macbeth in Duncan’s chamber. The “dagger” speech is also done as voice over. Then when Lady Macbeth enters, the film goes back to Act I Scene vii, with Macbeth saying “We will proceed no further in this business.” After Lady Macbeth convinces him to proceed, the bell rings, and we’re back in Act II Scene i, with “Hear it not, Duncan.” As Macbeth walks away to do the deed, Lady Macbeth speaks the opening speech of Scene ii, and this one is not in voice over. After the deed, Macbeth oddly speaks some lines from Scene iii: “Had I but died an hour before…,” delivering them to Lady Macbeth. And so they’re given as truly indicating regret, rather than possibly being for show to the other men. Then Lady Macbeth says, “Go get some water.”

Most of the Porter’s speech is cut. Lady Macduff (Peggy Webber) is added to the scene where everyone is woken, saying “Husband” just before Macduff says “O horror! horror! horror!” Donalbain is cut, so Duncan has just one son. Yet the lines about two being lodged together are left in. And some of the lines between Donalbain and Malcolm are reassigned, in a scene with Macduff (Dan O’Herlihy), Malcolm (Roddy McDowell) and Lady Macduff. It seems Macduff leaves his wife that very night.


Banquo’s opening speech of Act III is spoken to Macbeth, which is completely insane, for then he’s directly accusing Macbeth, who is now king, of murder. It’s like he’s asking or daring Macbeth to kill him. This is a terrible choice, and a big problem. And then a few lines cut from Act II Scene i are inserted here. Then the film goes to Act III Scene ii (“scorch’d the snake”), and back to Scene i for the “fruitless crown” speech, which Macbeth delivers to Lady Macbeth. And then Lady Macbeth goes back to Scene ii (“What’s done is done”). Macbeth follows that with lines from Act II Scene ii, the “Macbeth does murder sleep” speech. This reordering of the play is a bit confounding.

After a brief scene with the Witches, we see Macbeth with the crown on for the first time. But Macbeth angrily says, “To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus” (from Act III Scene i), frightening Lady Macbeth. Then – in another insane reordering of scenes – the film goes to the beginning of Act IV Scene ii, but instead of to Ross, it is to Lady Macbeth that Lady Macduff asks, “What had he done to make him fly the land?” So Lady Macbeth offers some comfort to Lady Macduff? That’s far afield of the play. Macbeth wants the people to believe Macduff and Malcolm committed the murder, as he gives his “strange invention” line from Act III Scene i. And it is from his position on the throne that Macbeth addresses Banquo, asking if he’ll go riding this afternoon. But Banquo should expect something from Macbeth since he so brazenly accused him in this version. There is a wonderful unspoken moment between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth before the murderers enter. And after they do enter, Lady Macbeth looks at them, then makes her exit, which is nice. The third murderer is cut. At the banquet, the lines about there not being a seat are cut. Interestingly, when Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost, he sees no one else. The other chairs are all empty in those shots, as if those people are no longer real. Scenes v and vi are cut.

Act IV

Act IV begins with Macbeth’s line, “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags.” The Witches don’t physically appear, and the first line we hear from them is the First Apparition’s line warning Macbeth to beware Macduff. As we hear the apparitions, we see Macbeth in the middle of the screen, lit, but surrounded by darkness, and seeming small. And as Macbeth’s confidence returns, the camera pushes slowly in on him so that he once again dominates the screen, a nice touch. The line of kings is cut.

The film goes right to Lady Macduff telling her son that his father is dead. Oddly, Lady Macbeth is present for this scene, and actually speaks some of Lady Macduff’s lines (“Why, one that swears and lies”). Lady Macbeth of course exits before the Messenger enters. Lady Macduff truly asks, “Whither should I fly?” before the Messenger exits. The Son runs, trying to escape. And then Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have the exchange that should have come at the end of Act III Scene iv.

Act IV Scene iii begins with Macduff’s first lines, but here they are spoken by Malcolm. And then many lines are cut, skipping to “I think our country sinks beneath the yoke.” And then everything is cut until Ross enters. So gone is all of Malcolm’s testing of Macduff, which makes sense, since in this version those two ran off together. But it’s a shame to lose basically that whole scene. Ross’ line “I have said” is cut.

Act V

Act V begins with Scene ii, the line “How does the tyrant?” At the beginning of Scene iii, we see people fleeing Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth walks over to Lady Macbeth’s bed to ask the Doctor how his patient is. And so Lady Macbeth hears that speech.

The film gives us a couple of shots of the men cutting down the trees, and then a nice shot of the army approaching from the mist. Then we finally get the sleepwalking scene, Act V Scene i. Lady Macbeth sings the line “The Thane of Fife had a wife.” Interestingly, after her line “There’s knocking at the gate,” she stumbles toward the camera, and Macbeth enters camera left to take hold of her. She says “To bed, to bed” gently, as if she’s almost aware of his presence. And then she does come to, in his arms, looks at him, and runs off, screaming. It’s interesting, because it makes Macbeth seem more directly responsible for her demise. After more shots of the army approaching, we actually see Lady Macbeth’s death. Macbeth’s great “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech is done as voice over.

I love Orson Welles’ delivery of Macbeth’s final speech to Macduff. Malcolm’s final speech is cut.

Time: 107 minutes

The DVD contains no special features.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shakespeare By The Sea Is Raising Funds For This Year’s Performances

Summer is coming and that means free Shakespeare performances in various parks throughout Los Angeles. Of course, it’s not free for these companies to put on these productions. This summer Shakespeare By The Sea will be performing two of Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It and The Tempest, and are now trying to raise the funds necessary to put on these performances. Each year, Shakespeare By The Sea performs a couple of Shakespeare’s works in several parks throughout the area. This year, performances are planned for Encino, Hermosa Beach, Irvine, Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Torrance, Woodland Hills, and other areas, from June 19 through August 22. The company’s goal is to raise the funds before the opening of the season. To help do this, they are offering two incentives:
  • Anyone who donates a minimum of $100 or gives a recurring gift before June 1st will be entered in a drawing to win a $500 Visa Gift card.
  • The community that is first to raise the remaining budget for its city’s performances will receive 2-for-1 raffle tickets.
Visit Shakespeare By The Sea’s official website for more information.

And here is the link to my review of last year's production of Hamlet.

Shakespeare References in Magazines (The Hollywood Reporter, Variety)

The December 12, 2014 issue of The Hollywood Reporter has a piece titled “Stick Polonius Straight Up Your Arse” (beginning on page 60). In this piece, several actors talk about their craft and experience. Benedict Cumberbatch says: “My first-ever teacher taught me extraordinary truth by literally line-reading Shakespeare at me, so I can read it like prose” (p. 63). He then says: “I great up doing a lot of stuff at school. I went from playing Titania, queen of the fairies, [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream] and Rosalind in As You Like It to playing Willy Loman [in Death of a Salesman] at age 17” (pages 63-64). Eddie Redmayne is then asked, “What’s the most difficult character you’ve played?” Redmayne answers: “My first professional play, playing Viola in Twelfth Night opposite Mark Rylance. Having had that experience, being able to play people so far from who you are, gives you a sense of where you can go” (p. 64). It is Timothy Spall who utters the line which gives this piece its title: “That’s a load of balls because most people, if they were given a play or a part in a Hollywood movie, would jump at it and they’d say, ‘You can stick Polonius straight up your arse’” (p. 64). And then later Cumberbatch is asked, “Do you have a role model whose career you emulate?” He responds: “We talked before the tape was running about Stephen Dillane’s Hamlet when I was 17. That had a massive impact on me – the sort of essential, quiet, still truth of what he did. Nobody else was Hamlet but him.” Ethan Hawke then says, “And then you saw mine!” Redmayne then says to Spall: “I’ve never said this to you, Tim, but when I was a kid, one of the first things I saw was A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The National Theatre. Tim was playing Bottom, and it was all set in mud and there was a contortionist playing Puck, this woman.” Spall then comments: “I had a French-Canadian contortionist on my back when I was trying to do Shakespearean comedy. And it felt like hell. You’d go backstage and there were people wearing verruca socks, which are worn [to prevent] plantar warts, you know? It was in a massive pile of water, and one day somebody came in and said, ‘You’ve not heard the latest. Someone’s done a poo in the mud.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? I’m lying in that before the audience comes in!’ I went to the stage doorkeeper who had been there for years, wonderful woman. I said, ‘You’ll never guess what I’ve just heard. You know the fairies who are all diving around in the mud? Someone’s done a poo in it.’ She said, ‘Oh, we’ve had a phantom shitter at the Royal National Theatre for years’” (p. 66).

An extra edition of Variety published in December of 2014 has an article that touches of an actor’s experience in acting Shakespeare. In “The Actors: Oscar Isaac and Gugu Mbatha-Raw,” Mbatha-Raw says: “In my first job, I played Celia in ‘As You Like It’ in an open-air production. It was an amazing experience.” Isaac asks, “But you also did ‘Romeo And Juliet,’ right?” Mbatha-Raw answers: “So that was about a year later, which was incredible. I actually really miss that character – just such a great emotional journey.” Isaac says, “I did it in Shakespeare in the Park in New York.” Mbatha-Raw asks, “Were you Romeo?” Isaac answers: “Yeah. Thankless role.” Mbatha-Raw says: “I feel like Juliet is kind of the more satisfying role, in a way. I loved doing it, but she’s just so constant and fixed and boundless in her emotions. And it’s just funny because the Prince Charming role, he’s always kind of a blank. But what Shakespeare does fantastically is he makes him very flawed. And he switches very quickly and he’s very immature, much like guys are. But I loved doing it” (p. 18).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

All’s Well That Ends Well (2011) DVD Review

All’s Well That Ends Well is a two-disc set that captures a performance of the play at The Globe. The performance stars Sam Crane, Ellie Piercy, Janie Dee, James Garnon and Colin Hurley. The film opens with an exterior shot of The Globe and a couple of shots of the audience inside before the play starts. The actors file onto the stage and greet audience members directly, and present a short song.

Act I

Throughout the opening speeches, Helena (Ellie Piercy) stands stage right, wiping tears from her eyes. Countess (Janie Dee) goes to her and puts her hand on the back of her head on “she derives her honesty,” and speaks kindly of her. On “takes all livelihood from her cheek,” she strokes Helena’s cheek, then suddenly slaps it, a surprising and funny moment, leading to her line, “No more of this, Helena, go to.” It’s a great moment, but she then also slaps Bertram’s face on “in manners as in shape,” after putting the ring on his finger. This understandably gets less of a laugh from the audience, and fortunately it does not become a running gag. Bertram (Sam Crane) delivers “the best wishes that can be forged in your thoughts be servants to you” to his mother. He then goes to Helena and kisses her forehead before delivering the rest of the speech to her. He uses the handkerchief to wipe her face, another nice moment, helping to establish that Bertram is a decent fellow. The last part of Helena’s speech is cut, the part about Parolles being a liar, fool and coward – an odd cut. James Garnon does a really good job as Parolles, and after Helena asks, “How might one do it, sir, to lose it to her own liking,” he looks at audience members, using them for his next speech, pointing at one audience member on “ill, to like him that ne’er it likes,” and then finding another who might be a good choice. But Helena walks away from him. Parolles addresses that man again on “Will you anything with it?” The Page calls Parolles from off stage.

The King (Sam Cox) uses a walking stick and sometimes holds his side, but otherwise seems fairly strong and lively in his first scene.

Lavatch’s straight, somewhat sad delivery of “My poor body, Madam, requires it” is wonderful. You totally believe him. He delivers his lines to Countess with honesty rather than the sly playfulness often associated with clown roles. Several speeches are cut after Countess’ “Helen, I mean.” Instead, Lavatch (Colin Hurley) stands his ground, leading directly to Countess’ “You’ll be gone, sir knave.” On Countess’ “Nay, a mother,” she reaches her hand out to Helena, who steps back slightly, leading to Countess’ “Why not a mother?” I love Helena’s reactions during Countess’ speech. She clearly wants to tell her of her reasons, but isn’t sure how or whether she should. And Countess’ reactions are also excellent in this scene. Both actors shine here.

Act II

The King is clearly worse off now, being pushed in on a wheelchair at the beginning of the second act. His changing outlook in the scene with Helena is wonderful. Likewise, Helena goes from shy, timid and careful to more sure and daring during the scene.

I love Lavatch’s delivery of “or any buttock,” clearly meaning the Countess’ own. Countess is great as she decides t play along with Lavatch’s game. At the end of the scene, Countess adds the word “back,” saying, “Haste you back again,” and Lavatch adds a response: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

When the King enters, he does so without aid, being fully recovered. The four lords that Helena is to choose from stand stage left, while Bertram, Parolles and Lafeu (Michael Bertenshaw) stand stage right, with King and Helena between them. So when Helena turns and chooses Bertram, he is understandably shocked. After all, in the staging, he wasn’t even part of the group – an excellent choice. It’s also wonderful that Helena clearly feels awkward, even bad, about forcing herself on Bertram, and so when the King says “Smile upon this contract,” neither Bertram nor Helena is smiling. When Lafeu calls Parolles a hen, he imitates a hen, and obviously takes some joy in it. Both Lafeu and Parolles are excellent in this scene.

Bertram feels bad for having to send Helena home, and there is a connection between them, which of course is important to establish and show. After Helena’s “and not kiss,” Bertram approaches her and kisses her. I have mixed feelings about that, because it seems a step too far, especially this early.


Countess is wonderful as she reads Bertram’s letter, at first overjoyed at the line “I have sent you a daughter-in-law,” and then puzzled at “undone me.”

When Mariana says, “Many a maid hath been seduced by them,” she clearly refers to herself, and both Diana and Widow reach out a hand to comfort her. That’s a nice touch. And from Diana’s look, it’s apparent this is not news to them.

Widow’s delivery of “I have yielded” is funny and wonderful.

Act IV

Parolles makes a humorous show of determining the time to be ten o’clock. He delivers “What shall I say I have done” directly to an audience member, then is upset not to receive a reply. I love the long pause before “I must give myself some hurts,” and I love his delivery of that line, as he comes to it reluctantly.

It’s nice that there are some moments when Diana weakens and wants to give into Bertram’s affections.

The joke about the stocks carrying Parolles is cut.

Lavatch’s reference to Nebuchadnezzar is cut. His final speech of the fourth act is also cut.

Act V

Lafeu says “upon mine honor” instead of “By my old beard/And every hair that’s on ‘t” when Bertram gives him the ring. Perhaps that’s due to the actor having no beard. I love King’s delivery of “Thou hast spoken all already” and of “Take her away; I do not like her now.” The epilogue is not spoken by the King, but by Rinaldo.

A dance concludes the performance.

This production of All's Well That Ends Well was directed for the stage by John Dove, and directed for the screen by Robin Lough. The intermission comes at the end of Act II. And the rest of the play is on the second disc. This two-disc set contains no special features. The DVD is part of the Globe Theatre On Screen series, released by Kultur. As for the release date, the DVD box has it has 2011, IMDB has it as 2012, and Amazon has it as 2013, so take your pick.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

All’s Well That Ends Well, Airmont Shakespeare Classics Edition (1968) Book Review

A friend had given me an old copy of All’s Well That Ends Well published in 1968 by Airmont Publishing Company, and I finally had a chance to read it. This edition was edited by Dr. Beryl Rowland, who also wrote the introduction. There is another peculiar credit, however: “Notes edited by Lucy Mabry Fitzpatrick.” So I guess the editor didn’t write the footnotes.

This volume is part of the Airmont Shakespeare Classics Series, and also includes a general introduction by David G. Pitt, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Pitt gives a bit of background of Shakespeare’s life and times, as well as information on the theatre at the time, with a description of The Globe.

Rowland, Associate Professor at York University in Toronto, writes: “The date of the play is uncertain. Francis Meres in 1598 referred to a play by Shakespeare entitled Love’s Labour’s Wonne and the idea that this was an early working of All’s Well persisted until this century without any firm evidence to support it. Attempts to date the play on internal historical allusions, borrowings from contemporary works, similarities in mood, theme, action or treatment of characters between it and other plays by Shakespeare, or on the basis of language and metrical patterns have proved inconclusive” (pages vii-viii). Regarding the story, Rowland writes: “The problems of moral alignment are enhanced rather than minimized by Shakespeares’s alterations. In the source, the man whom the heroine chooses is socially so much her superior that even the King is reluctant to approve. In Shakespeare’s version, the King minimizes the importance of any social discrepancy; Bertram’s subsequent dishonesty, his callous rejection of the woman whom he thinks he has seduced are new; Bertram’s affaire seems more reprehensible in that the ring which he barters for his pleasure is not simply an item of  value but the very symbol of the honor of his ancient family” (p. viii).

About Bertram, Rowland writes: “But it must be noted that until his encounter with Helena at court, Bertram seems to be an admirable if immature young man. He inspires the affection of others, speaks with propriety and is commendably anxious to involve himself in the excitement of war. When he protests at being chosen as Helena’s husband, his initial remonstrance is reasonable” (p. x). Rowland adds: “There is little evidence to suggest that he is under the evil influence of Parolles, although his friends wish to think so. His attitude towards him at times approaches that of master to clown” (p. x).

Toward the end of the introduction, Rowland writes: “To an Elizabethan audience, believing in the reality of the descent of grace upon a sinning human, the play is concerned with Christian forgiveness. As such, it is structurally and thematically related Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale: the sin is the failure to trust in love. The rejected woman appears to die; the denouement of forgiveness comes when she is found to be alive and the man who has wronged her acknowledges his error” (p. xiii).

In this volume, a short description of the action precedes each act. There are no line numbers. Notes are the bottom of each page. While my other edition has “jackanapes” as one word, this edition has it as “jack-an-apes,” and the footnote reads: “jackanapes; monkey; literally, a Jack (monkey or ape) from Naples, Italy” (p. 78). This edition has Diana’s line from Act IV Scene ii as “I see that men makes ropes in such a scarr,” and the footnote for “scarr” is “snare (?)” (p. 96). My other edition has the lines as “I see that men make rope’s in such a scarre,” and the note reads, “This line is hopelessly corrupt.” Helena says, “All’s well that ends well” twice, once in Act IV Scene iv and once in Act V Scene i. In this edition, the line is italicized and each word is capitalized except “that,” as if she is aware of speaking the play’s title.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, Star Wars Part The Sixth by Ian Doescher (2014) Book Review

With William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, author Ian Doescher combined Shakespearean verse and the Star Wars universe. The next year he followed that with William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, Star Wars Part The Fifth. And so of course he’d conclude with a version of Return Of The Jedi presented in iambic pentameter. William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, Star Wars Part The Sixth isn’t quite as good as the other two books. But then again, Return Of The Jedi isn’t as good as the first two films. But it still provides a quite enjoyable read.

As with the first two books, this one is divided into five acts, and presents the film’s opening crawl as a Shakespearean sonnet, told by the Chorus in prologue. When C-3PO knocks on the gate of Jabba’s palace, the droid that answers acts the part of the Porter from Macbeth, a delightful and humorous touch. His speech is much shorter than the Porter’s, and begins: “Now here’s a knocking, indeed! If a droid/Were porter of the Force here in this place,/He should have rust for lack of turning key” (p. 14). Compare those lines with the opening lines of the Porter’s speech: “Here’s a knocking, indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate he should have old turning the key.”

Salacious Crumb acts the part of a Fool, but also has lines that refer to Hamlet. As when he says, “A little more than dud and less than dead” (p. 18), a play on Hamlet’s “A little more than kin and less than kind.” Or when he says, “A Solo may make progress through the guts/Of Banthas!” (p. 27), a play on Hamlet’s “Nothing, but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.” There are several Hamlet references throughout the book. Yoda’s last line is Hamlet’s last line, but slightly inverted, the way Yoda speaks: “The rest silence is” (p. 56). And then Luke follows with a variation of Horatio’s line: “Good night, sweet Jedi” (p. 56), and then refers to the famous soliloquy: “These are the pains that human life doth bring,/The heartache and the thousand nat’ral shocks/That flesh is heir to” (p. 57). Vader takes a line from that same soliloquy: “’Tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wish’d” (p. 99). And then a little later uses another of Hamlet’s big speeches: “O what a rogue and peasant Sith am I” (p. 102). The Emperor does a bit from Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is a man” speech: “O what a piece of work we are! I should/Find joy in our humanity, and yet,/To me, what is this quintessence of dust?” (p. 115). Leia and Luke do a bit of the dialogue between Polonius and Hamlet, when Leia asks, “I prithee, say: what is the matter, Luke?” and Luke responds, “Between who?” (p. 95). Han Solo, in an aside, refers to Hamlet: “This Lando doth protest too much, methinks” (p. 67). Even the Rancor Keeper refers to Hamlet: “O that this too, too sullied flesh would melt/Into oblivion, if I without/my pet belov’d must live” (p. 33). It’s interesting, as a side note, that Doescher chooses the “sullied flesh” reading rather than “solid flesh.” The Rancor Keeper also uses a little of Richard The Third, saying: “Was ever rancor in this humor rais’d?/Was ever rancor in this humor won?” (p. 34).

Luke refers to Hamlet when he says, “Here is the battle grand: the skiff’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch Han’s rescue and take wing” (p. 37). He also refers to Hamlet after Anakin has died: “And flights of Jedi sing thee to thy rest” (p. 152). And when Luke attacks Boba Fett, Fett says, “A hit, a very palpable hit!” (p. 40). Ian Doescher used that reference in William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, Star Wars Part The Fifth also. But then again Return Of The Jedi reused many of the elements of the first Star Wars film: a Death Star, Tatooine, Chewbacca presented as a prisoner, Luke and Leia swinging together to safety, and so on. And some references seem a bit forced, such as Boushh’s line, “O true decryptionist, thy codes are quick!” (p. 25), a play on Romeo’s line, “O true apothecary,/Thy drugs are quick.” And there is a bit too much of characters saying what they’re doing. Like Luke saying, “Now I jump aboard/His bike” (p. 76), and then “I shoot, and one is dead” (p. 77), and then “He comes a’blasting, but my lightsaber/Deflects the shots, and now I slice his bike!” (p. 78).

Luke makes a cute reference to The Tempest: “Yet is such stuff as droids are made of” (p. 52) (referring to Prospero’s “we are such stuff/As dreams are made on” from Act IV of that play). And he later refers to the play again, when upon seeing the Ewoks he remarks, “O brave new world, that has such creatures in’t!” (p. 86) (referring to Miranda’s line near the end of the play). Han, upon seeing Leia, exclaims, “O mistress mine, to see thee brings me joy,” a nod to a song from Twelfth Night. And when C-3PO tells the tale of the rebellion to the Ewoks, he borrows from Jaques’ seven ages of man speech from As You Like It: “All the world’s at war/And all the rebels in it are the heroes;/They have their battles and their skirmishes,/And rebels in these scenes have play’d their parts,/Their story being seven ages” (p. 92). Darth Vader refers to Othello just before deciding to go against the Emperor: “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul” (p. 144). Lando refers to Julius Caesar when he says, “Shall they ascend and with a rebel’s voice/Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war!” (p. 148).

In William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, Star Wars Part The Fifth, the ugnaughts sang. In this book, the Rancor gets a song. Why not? Han also sings when he learns Luke is not a rival for Leia’s affections. And Luke takes the tale of Oedipus and gives it to a Tusken Raider (p. 61). Wedge gets a nice long aside to the audience.

By the way, in an aside, Obi-Wan mentions the midi-chlorians, a subject that raises the ire of many fans. And it seems Ian Doescher acknowledges that in the lines, “’Twas well I spoke/Not of the midi-chlorians to Luke,/For then he would have endless questions still” (p. 58). Exactly, like, “What the hell were you thinking, George Lucas?”

As in William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, Star Wars Part The Fifth, Yoda does not speak in iambic pentameter. And in this volume, neither do the Ewoks. William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, Star Wars Part The Fifth featured an amusing conversation between two Bespin guards. The Jedi Doth Return includes a conversation between two Death Star guards, regarding Luke Skywalker (pages 111-114). And R2-D2 gets the final speech.

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, Star Wars Part The Sixth was published in 2014, and features illustrations by Nicolas Delort.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part The Fifth by Ian Doescher (2014) Book Review

One of my earliest passions was Star Wars (from the time I was five years old), and one of my strongest passions is Shakespeare. In 2013, Ian Doescher combined those in William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope. Last year he followed that with William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part The Fifth. Like the first book, this one takes George Lucas’ story and presents it in five acts, in iambic pentameter (for the most part), and contains many references to William Shakespeare’s work.

As in the first book, the opening crawl is done as a sonnet by the Chorus in prologue. The first line of Act I, “If flurries be the food of quests, snow on” is a play on that famous first line of Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on.” Luke Skywalker is given a soliloquy before getting to the first line of the film. The Wampa has a nice long aside which will remind you of the Lion in the Mechanicals’ play in Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Wampa’s first lines are: “You viewers all, whose gentle hears do fear/The smallest womp rat creeping on the floor” (p. 12). Compare those to these lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear/The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on the floor.” And when Luke exits the stage at the end of the first scene, the stage direction is “Exit, pursued by a wampa,” a delightful reference to that famous direction in The Winter’s Tale: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

Han Solo becomes something of a poet in this telling of the tale, and it’s wonderful to have him advise himself, “But soft you now” (p. 20). And after they kiss, Leia quotes Juliet, saying, “He kisses by the book” (p. 75). Han also takes on the role of Puck when trying to outmaneuver the Imperial fighters, saying, “Now watch, you Empire vile, how I do fly!/First up and down, aye, up and down, this Han/Will lead them up and down” (p. 57). Interestingly, his friend Lando also quotes Puck: “Give me your hand, good Sir, if we be friends,/And Lando shall, in time, restore amends” (p. 159). This is a nice touch, as the film trilogy itself draws parallels between Han and Lando.

One of the strangest associations in this book is that of Darth Vader with Shylock from The Merchant Of Venice. At one point, Vader says: “Hath not a Sith such feelings, heart, and soul,/As any Jedi Knight did e’er possess?/If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you/Blast us, shall we not injur’d be? If you/Assault with lightsaber, do we not die?” (pages 34-35). It’s really funny, though I’m not sure if Jews will appreciate the comparison with Sith Lords. The speech Vader is drawing from is from Act III Scene i: “Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?” It’s interesting that Shakespeare wrote this as prose, while in the Star Wars book it is presented in verse.

When Leia is giving instructions to the rebel pilots on Hoth, she says, “Pray, screw your courage to the sticking place,” as Lady Macbeth said to her husband when he was having second thoughts about their murderous plans. Leia, at one point, mentions the Gungans, which is odd: “And how, like Gungans sinking in the swamp,/Our enemies do fall behind us, slain” (p. 59).

In this telling, not only does the Wampa get to speak asides, but the AT-ATs themselves have dialogue. And when the rebels attack the AT-ATs, Luke says: “A hit! A very palpable hit” (p. 46), a reference to Osric’s line during Hamlet’s duel. Even the space slug gets a speech.

As I mentioned, most of the characters speak in verse. Yoda, however, does not. He speaks in haiku, which of course is not Shakespearean. But the author explains his choice in the afterword. And Boba Fett speaks in prose. And the Ugnaughts sing! Twice! As there are three of them, we are reminded of the three witches in Macbeth. Chewbacca and Leia also sing a song. When Leia sings, it might remind you of when Leia sang in The Star Wars Holiday Special, but it should also bring to mind Desdemona, as Leia sings, “He my seiz’d lov’d one, I his strife,/Sing wroshyr, wroshyr, wroshyr.” Also, there is an amusing conversation between two Bespin guards included, which Star Wars fans should appreciate, as it’s about chasms being required by the Empire for all major structures.

There are, of course, several references to Hamlet. Darth Vader says to Captain Needa (just before choking him), “And thus thy life – dead for a ducat, dead!” That’s a reference to Hamlet’s line just before he stabs Polonius: “How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!”

And there are several references to Romeo And Juliet. One of the funniest is when C-3PO says to R2-D2, “Parting is such sweet sorrow/That I shall say farewell till thou hast left.” R2, in an aside, comments, “No poet he, indeed./Alas, it seems that romance is not one/Of 3PO’s six million forms of speech.” And at the end, the Chorus uses the Prince’s final speech: “A glooming peace this morning with it brings,/No shine of starry light or planet’s glow” (p. 163). That speech has another witty moment, as the Chorus says, “Till we, by George, a brighter play compose,” a reference to George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars saga.