Sunday, July 24, 2016

Shakespeare Reference in The Entertainer

John Osborne’s play The Entertainer contains one Shakespeare reference. Billy Rice says: “Grubby lot of rogues. I was a guest at the Ambassadors, you know. Gave me a box of Romeo and Juliet cigars” (p. 43). Romeo And Juliet Cigars are a real item. They’re actually called Romeo Y Julieta, and have been around since 1875.

The Entertainer was first published in 1957 by Faber and Faber Limited. The first production was directed by Tony Richardson and starred Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Richard III (Independent Shakespeare Company’s 2016 Production) Theatre Review

One thing I look forward to every summer is going to see the Independent Shakespeare Company perform in Griffith Park. This excellent group of actors puts on two (sometimes three) of Shakespeare’s plays each summer, and the performances are free (though donations are encouraged). For one reason or another, last year I missed both productions. So I was determined not to miss their performances this year, and last night attended Richard III. There have been some changes in the company in the past year or two, with the departure of some prominent members (two of them moved to Texas, of all places). But there have been interesting additions too, and I think William Elsman in particular (he plays Buckingham in Richard III) will end up being a key player.

At 7:10 p.m., musicians came out to take their positions upstage right. Electric guitar, bass and drums. Certainly not the usual instruments to accompany a Shakespeare performance. They were followed by the company, and after a brief mention of the sponsors, the play began. However, it didn’t begin with Richard’s famous opening lines. Rather, it began with a speech, which became a song, about “Two great houses,” Lancaster and York, delivered as a spoken word to a rock beat. There was then a short fight, followed by the crowning of King Edward, and that led directly to Richard The Third’s “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Interestingly, other characters are still on stage for this, and Richard gestures to Edward on “this sun of York.” And the other characters even chuckle at his “pleasing of a lute” line. They do then exit so that he is alone for the rest of the speech.

Richard is played by David Melville, one of the founders of the company. One of David’s main strengths is comedy, and so he finds much comedy in the role. The limp, as you might expect, is exaggerated, with David often pointing his toes inward. But it’s his way of delivering a line that draws the audience’s laughter. And there is much humor to this character, although there were some lines that drew a laugh that perhaps shouldn’t have. An example is his line to Lady Anne, “More wonderful when angels are so angry.”

There is some re-ordering of scenes, and actually some lines from the fifth act of The Third Part Of King Henry The Sixth, like “See how my sword weeps for the poor king’s death.” And I think at least one line is taken from Colley Cibber’s adaptation of Richard The Third: “You shake, my lord, and look affrighted.” We get part of Scene iii, with Margaret, before we get Scene ii with Anne. Margaret delivers her “Hear me, you wrangling pirates” line from within the audience, then steps onto the stage. This production has a much younger Margaret than usual, so Richard’s “wither’d hag” line has a different feel. She is presented as a very strong character, and for her big speech she takes center stage, with Richard moving down left just in front of the audience.

The funeral procession with King Henry the Sixth’s corpse comes from within the audience. This scene is such a difficult one for anyone playing Lady Anne, but Mary Goodchild does an excellent job with it. Richard’s “Your bed-chamber” is said with a bite, and no sweetness, an interesting choice. And then his “Your beauty was the cause of that effect” shocks her, a nice moment. He kneels and takes her hand, firmly grasping it, so she has trouble getting away. After Lady Anne spits on Richard, Richard wipes the spit from his face, then on “so sweet a place” he puts his fingers in his mouth, as to taste her spit. That’s great, though he is sort of facing away from her, making the action a little less strong. Twice Anne lifts the sword as if to strike Richard, and both times is stopped by his compliments. Finally she drops the sword and somewhat reluctantly finds some comfort in Richard’s arms. Again, this is such a difficult scene to do convincingly, and Goodchild really makes it work. Then after her exit, Richard has his “Was ever woman in this humour woo’d” speech. He takes some joy and pleasure in the speech, which is wonderful.

Another brief scene is taken from Colley Cibber’s version of Richard The Third, with Lady Anne saying, “When, when shall I have rest?” She then says, “Let me have music to compose my thoughts.” And we get a song, on guitar and vocals, with Catesby and Lady Anne singing, “Are not women truly then merely shadows of their men,” a line not from Shakespeare (or even Cibber’s version of Shakespeare), but Ben Jonson.

There are several musical cues throughout the performance, usually in the brief moments between scenes, but sometimes during the scenes and sometimes even when actors are speaking. It’s interesting having a more modern rock sound, while for the most part the actors are in period dress. The main exceptions are the two princes, one of whom wears a baseball cap (backwards) and Converse high-tops, carrying a teddy bear; the other wears an argyle sweater. It seems a bit odd, with nearly everyone else in period costume. Both princes are played by female actors, as is Catesby.

The stage is fairly simple, with just one level. As far as I can recall, this is the first of their summer productions that I’ve seen to not include a balcony or some upper level. So in Act III Scene vii, when Richard appears between two bishops, he stands upstage center (rather than at the balcony, as is usually done), while Buckingham and the Mayor move down right. In that scene, Buckingham and the Mayor lead the audience in a chant of “Richard.” Richard then goes into the crowd to shake hands and kiss babies, poking fun at modern politics, and leading into the intermission. (A prop baby was given to the woman next to me before the show specifically so that Richard would be sure to have a baby to kiss.) As they went into the intermission, there were several jokes about the current presidential race, including the promise of a wall to be built around England to keep out the Scots, a wall the Scots will pay for. The intermission was approximately twenty-five minutes.

The second act of this production begins with the fourth act. Anne says “corpse” instead of “corse” in the line “as I follow’d Henry’s corse.” There are more musical cues in the second act, as when Richard enters to sit upon the throne. Interestingly, David doesn’t really pause before the word “daughter” in the line “You have a daughter call’d Elizabeth,” so doesn’t go for the humor there. By the way, that scene between Richard and Queen Elizabeth is excellent. Aisha Kabia is particularly good as Elizabeth when telling Richard how to woo her daughter. But both she and David are fantastic throughout the scene, which is riveting.

Stage smoke is used for the entrances of the ghosts that haunt Richard’s sleep. David is excellent in this scene, especially after he wakes, kneeling, with the ghosts behind him. Evan Lewis Smith is likewise excellent as Richmond as he delivers his oration to the soldiers, in this case delivering the speech to the audience, which works to excite the crowd. He is captivating as he delivers this speech. Richard delivers his first “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!” from deep within the audience. Oddly, it got a laugh from the audience, but that might be due simply to the line’s familiarity to those who rarely read or see Shakespeare. The battle is set to rock music, and at one point Richard grabs the electric guitar and hits Richmond with it. If I could change one thing about this production, it would be to remove that bit of stage business. It feels seriously out of place. What’s worse is that because of that, the guitar remains on stage for Richard’s death, which weakens the scene.

This is the final week for Richard The Third, so make an effort to get to Griffith Park this weekend. Next week they begin The Tempest.

Shakespeare References in The Further Prophecies Of Nostradamus: 1985 And Beyond

Even though there had been Shakespeare references in the previous seven or eight books I had read, I did not expect to find any in Erika Cheetham’s The Further Prophecies Of Nostradamus: 1985 And Beyond. I was wrong. There are several. The first is simply a mention of Shakespeare, in a chapter on Aldous Huxley and George Orwell’s work: “Cultural interests such as reading Shakespeare, long-lasting sexual love, the family, even the wish to spend time alone, are things to be discouraged and prevented lest they encourage independent thought, which is virtually equivalent to subversive action” (p. 128).

Then, in the chapter titled “Misuses Of Prophecy And Prophets,” there is an entire section on Macbeth. Cheetham writes, “Macbeth is a classic example of one of the most frequent misuses of prophecy, that of trying to force it instead of just letting it happen” (p. 134). Cheetham then goes into detail about how both Macbeth and Banquo react to the witches’ prophecies. “Soon enough Macbeth murders the king, to make one of the prophecies come true” (p. 135). Regarding Macbeth’s later encounter with the witches and the vision of the kings, Cheetham writes: “From then until his death Macbeth believes in prophecy, becoming almost its passive agent, and demonstrating another misuse of prophecy, that of wrongful interpretation, in the way most favorable to himself. When the second and third prophetic sayings come true, in a sense unfavorable to him, Macbeth’s courage fails, and he is killed by Macduff. It is overstating the obvious that at least 50 percent of a prophecy’s content lies in belief by its subject” (pages 135-136). Cheetham then writes: “It seems to me that the principle of symmetry demands that someone trying to ensure that a favorable prophecy should come to pass, will in fact help to ensure that it fails. That was Macbeth’s error” (p. 136). In the next chapter, Cheetham returns to Macbeth: “There are certain grounds on which almost any prophecy may be regarded as undesirable. It may paralyze action or distort judgment leading to wrong or foolish conduct, as happened to Macbeth” (p. 144).

There is also a reference to Hamlet: “My own personal experience does not lead me to reject a large measure of free choice and free will. Chaucer’s ‘all that’s preordained needs must be’ is too extreme. I prefer Hamlet’s ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy’” (p. 145).

The Further Prophecies Of Nostradamus: 1985 And Beyond was published in 1985. It is a Perigee Book, published by The Putnam Publishing Group. The edition I read is the hardcover Book Club Edition.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Shakespeare References in The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie contains several references to Shakespeare. Most of them come because Jim, the gentleman caller, refers to Tom as Shakespeare because of Tom’s interest in writing poetry. In Tom’s monologue at the beginning of the sixth scene, he explains that: “He knew of my secret practice of retiring to a cabinet of the washroom to work on poems when business was slack in the warehouse. He called me Shakespeare” (p. 68). A little later in the same speech, Tom says: “If he did remember Laura, it was not as my sister, for when I asked him to dinner, he grinned and said, ‘You know, Shakespeare, I never thought of you as having folks!’” (p. 69). And when Jim meets Laura, he says, “I didn’t know that Shakespeare had a sister!” (p. 76). A little later Jim says to Tom, “You know, Shakespeare – I’m going to sell you a bill of goods!” (p. 77). After the lights go out, Jim says to Amanda, “Shakespeare probably wrote a poem on that light bill, Mrs. Wingfield” (p. 87). When Jim remembers that he did know Laura in high school, he says: “I didn’t connect you with high school somehow or other. But that’s where it was; it was high school. I didn’t even know you were Shakespeare’s sister” (p. 91). And when Jim leaves, he says, “So long, Shakespeare!” (p. 112).

There is also a reference to Romeo And Juliet. Jim reveals he’s engaged and says that he hasn’t told the people at the warehouse yet. He adds: “You know how they are. They call you Romeo and stuff like that” (p. 111).

The Glass Menagerie was originally published in 1945. The edition I read is the New Classics edition, which was first published in 1949, then reset in 1970. The copy I read was from the fifteenth printing.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Shakespeare Reference in Runaways

The Bantom Book edition of Elizabeth Swados' Runaways contains one mention of Shakespeare. It's not in the play itself, but on the page listing the original cast (which, by the way, included Diane Lane): "RUNAWAYS was first performed at The New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater on March 9, 1978" (p. 51). This book also includes an introduction by Joseph Papp. This book was published in 1979.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Shakespeare References in The Awakening

Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening doesn’t contain any obviously deliberate Shakespeare references, but there are two phrases she uses which seem to originate from Shakespeare. The first is in her line “She needed the sun to mellow and temper her mood to the sticking point” (p. 120). The term “sticking point,” or “sticking place,” was used in Macbeth. Lady Macbeth says to Macbeth, “But screw your courage to the sticking-place,/And we’ll not fail.” The term means the point at which something reaches its greatest strength or limit. It’s related to the image of a crossbow pulled taut, and means being firm and resolute. The other line worth mentioning is Chopin’s “I couldn’t help loving you if you were ten times his wife” (p. 173), as it reminds me of Hamlet’s line, “We shall obey, were she ten times our mother.”

The Awakening was originally published in 1899. The edition I read is a hardcover book club edition published by Nelson Doubleday, Inc.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Shakespeare References in Inconceivable

I only got to page twelve of Ben Elton’s novel Inconceivable before coming across the first Shakespeare reference. It was a humorous reference to Hamlet: “But when is the time right? To have it off or not to have it off, that is the question” (p. 12). The book is about a couple trying to have a child, and trying different methods. It is told from both the man and the woman’s perspective, and it seems both characters are Shakespeare fans. That first reference is from the woman’s perspective, as is the second, which is also a Hamlet reference. “I mean it probably is self-indulgent claptrap, of course, but he doesn’t have to be so negative all the time. I said to him, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, you cynical bastard!’ which I must say I thought rather a clever riposte” (p. 30). That, of course, is a reference to Hamlet’s line to Horatio. The next reference is from the man’s perspective, and is a reference to Much Ado About Nothing: “It compared Dodd to a Shakespearean clown. They did a bit of Dogberry and Verges from Much Ado to illustrate the point” (p. 78).

There are several references to Macbeth in this novel. The first is from the woman’s perspective: “He’s a set designer for the theatre (mainly fringe; he told me that recently he had to do Burnham Wood moving to Dunsinane for about five quid: ‘We used a lot of real twigs, and binliners, of course, can represent just about anything’)” (p. 90). The second Macbeth reference is from the male character, while he talks about his sperm: “The first bit is the best bit, of that there seems to be no doubt. All the rest is rubbish, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (p. 179). The next Macbeth reference is also from the man’s perspective, though the man is quoting another character: “I like romantic comedy with edge, with bite, with bollocks! To me Macbeth is a romantic comedy, so’s Oedipus” (p. 192). The next is from the woman’s perspective: “Anyway, the deed had to be done” (p. 219). That refers to Macbeth’s line “I have done the deed.”

There are also a few references to Othello. The woman tells us, “Oh well, before we knew it the Green-Eyed Monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on would be knocking at the door, suitcase in hand and planning a long stay” (p. 194). That refers directly to Iago’s speech to Othello: “O beware, my lord, of jealousy!/It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock/The meat it feeds on.” The next is from the man’s perspective, regarding another character: “She said she did not do two Desdemonas and a Rosalind at the RSC in order to have her bum used to sell videos” (p. 245). (That line also contains a reference to As You Like It.) The last is from the man’s perspective: “Jealous as Othello though I may have been, I knew that I wished Lucy all the happiness she desired” (p. 269).

There are also some references to Shakespeare himself and to the Royal Shakespeare Company. The male character writes: “Nimnh is not as big a star as Carl but she’s very highly regarded, having played most of the younger Shakespeare totty at the RSC” (p. 231). The next is from the woman’s perspective, regarding the same characters: “The other was a woman I recognized as Nimnh Tubbs from the RSC” (p. 252). The last is also from the female character: “In fact I did say that to him quite recently and he told me that in fact it has been scientifically proven that the amount of adrenalin released into the body when an actor tackles a lead Shakespearean role is equivalent to that experienced by the victim of a car crash” (p. 264).

Inconceivable was published in 1999.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Shakespeare References in Booked To Die

I should no longer be surprised when a book I read has Shakespeare references, particularly one that is about books, as John Dunning's Booked To Die is. This mystery takes place in the world of book scouts, and contains a few Shakespeare references. The first is a reference to Julius Caesar: "But of course I wouldn't do it. Like Brutus, I am an honorable man" (p. 62). The line "Brutus is an honorable man" is one that Antony repeats to great effect in his famous speech in Act III. And the reference works quite well in this story, giving us a clever hint at what our narrator is capable of, as well as what he thinks of himself. There is a second reference to Julius Caesar: "All I could think in that moment was that line from Shakespeare, how cowards die a dozen times before their deaths" (p. 242). It's interesting, because the line is usually misquoted as "Cowards die a thousand times" or "Cowards die a thousand deaths," not "a dozen times." The actual line from Act II Scene ii of Julius Caesar is "Cowards die many times before their deaths;/The valiant never taste of death but once."

Another reference in this novel is to Shakespeare himself, and occurs when a girl comes into the new book store: "'You've found us,' I said. 'You're a little early, though. I haven't put out the Shakespeare folios or the Gutenbergs yet, and we won't open for another week or two'" (p. 144). The last mention of Shakespeare in this book contains a reference to Romeo And Juliet. Dunning writes: "The sweet sorrow, the hate that's really love, the pull of opposites in a single emotion. Maybe they'd be lost without each other. This is the stuff Shakespeare wrote about, isn't it?" The phrase "sweet sorrow" comes from that wonderful line, "Parting is such sweet sorrow/That I shall say good night till it be morrow," which in productions is usually assigned to Juliet, following Q1, but occasionally is given to Romeo, following Q2. The First Folio also assigns that line to Romeo, and I think it makes more sense coming from Romeo.

Booked To Die was published in 1992. The edition I read is the Avon Books printing from 1993.