Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Shakespeare References in Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter

Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter contains a few Shakespeare references. The first, actually, is only a possible reference to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mario Vargas Llosa writes, “He stopped in the garden for a few seconds to get Puck, the badly spoiled fox terrier, who bade him goodbye with affectionate yaps” (p. 19). Puck isn’t exclusive to Shakespeare’s play, but I’m including the reference anyway, as there are two other Shakespeare references in the book. The second is to Shakespeare himself: “and the title was nothing if not vast in scope: Ten Thousand Literary Quotations Drawn from the Hundred Best Writers in the World, with the subtitle: ‘What Cervantes, Shakespeare, Moliere, etc., have had to say about God, Life, Death, Love, Suffering, etc. …’” (p. 51). The other reference is to Romeo And Juliet: “He fell to the ground alongside Sarita, and the two of them, with their last breath, managed to embrace and thus enter, clasped in each other’s arms, the dark night of hapless lovers (such as a certain Romeo and Juliet?)…” (p. 297).

Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter was published in 1977. The edition I read was the Avon Books version, originally published in the 1980s. I believe my copy is from 1990, as there is a sticker on the cover which reads, “Now the major motion picture ‘Tune In Tomorrow.’”

Romeo & Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss DVD Review

The story of Romeo And Juliet has been told many times, in many ways. One of the more unusual versions is Romeo & Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss, an animated film aimed at children (so you might guess the ending will be different), with all the characters portrayed by seals (or sea lions, as is sometimes indicated in the dialogue). The film is only seventy-six minutes, so much of the play is cut. Entire characters are cut, including some of the most important ones such as Tybalt, Paris and the Nurse. (Romeo And Juliet has been done without Paris, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a version that lacked the Nurse.) Interestingly, this film version contains references to other Shakespeare plays, including Hamlet, As You Like It and Macbeth.

The prologue is done as voice over, and begins with “Once upon a time.” The film seems to use the story of Romeo And Juliet to deal with the subject of racism, as in the prologue we are told, “There lived two families, alike in dignity, differing only in color.” On one side of a rock spire is a group of light-colored seals, the Capulets; on the other, darker colored seals, the Montagues.

Act I

In this version, Mercutio is a brown seal, a part of the Montague family. Interestingly, Mercutio immediately makes two Hamlet references. As Benvolio is being chased by a Capulet, Mercutio says, “Benvolio, I knew him well” (a reference to Hamlet’s line to Horatio about Yorick). Then, as the Capulet catches up to him, Mercutio suddenly steps in and delivers the first line of Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Then, during the brawl, Mercutio quotes Jaques from As You Like It, saying “All the world’s a stage.” The brawl itself is mostly dull and silly, but the one seal trying to use a sawfish to open the belly of another seal made me laugh. And as the ocean starts to bubble, signifying the Prince’s entrance, Mercutio quotes from Macbeth (sort of): “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.” The Prince rises from the water to issue his warning to both families that their lives will be forfeit if they disturb the peace again. They will be banished to Shark Island. (The Prince, if you’re wondering, is green, not cream or brown.)

Benvolio is portrayed as rather weak and cowardly, which is not ever how I’ve viewed that character. Mercutio tells Benvolio about a party that’s happening that night, a party they should crash. They spy Romeo on a distant rock, and Romeo’s father asks Mercutio – not Benvolio – to see what the matter is with him. Both Mercutio and Benvolio go to cheer him up, and they do so with a song. Romeo says he’s lonely and wanting love, so Rosaline has been omitted from this telling. Mercutio convinces Romeo to crash the party with him. There are some odd jokes with some of the play’s lines, as when Romeo says “Let’s party” and Mercutio responds “Partying is such sweet sorrow.” They disguise themselves as Capulets and join the party, after Romeo sees Juliet. Paris is cut from this version, and the Prince himself expresses an interest in Juliet, inviting her to dance, and then asking her father for her hand in marriage. It is then that Romeo and Juliet meet. The Prince sees them together and becomes irate, forcing Romeo to flee. When Romeo lands in the water, his pale disguise washes off and everyone recognizes him.

Act II

Romeo hides from Mercutio and Benvolio. This film doesn’t quite understand the language of the play and has Mercutio say, while looking for Romeo, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” A shame, as this movie is aimed at children, and it’s going to teach them an incorrect definition of “wherefore” (it means “why,” not “where”). Juliet climbs atop the spire, where we saw her at the beginning, and that is where we have the balcony scene. So it’s not as dangerous for Romeo, since he’s not on Capulet land. And again, the filmmaker doesn’t quite understand the play, for he has Juliet ask, “Romeo, Romeo, where are you, Romeo?” Rather than his name, she mentions his color: “But it’s only his color that’s my enemy. Oh, what’s in a color? A fish of any other color would still smell as sweet.” Romeo makes himself known below, promising to be any color she wants. They do get back to the name, however, as Romeo tells her, “my name and my color are your enemy.” Romeo proposes and tells Juliet to meet him at Friar Laurence’s church. Juliet says, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Juliet’s father has set her wedding to the Prince for the next day, which doesn’t give Romeo and Juliet much time.

Friar Laurence lives in a cave, and as Romeo approaches him, we have another reference to Macbeth. The Friar is making a sandwich and says, “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, eye of newt, leg of deep-fried chicken.” Friar is at first reluctant to wed them, but eventually agrees, thinking the marriage will bring peace between the two families. And Juliet arrives right then. We get a brief scene of the wedding ceremony, without dialogue. There is an unnecessary reference to Titanic. And apparently all the creatures of the sea share the belief that Montagues and Capulets shouldn’t be together. While the Nurse and other characters are cut, there is a little fish character added, the only character other than the Friar that seems to be on their side (though he says, “This is all going to end in tears”).


Benvolio urges Mercutio, “Maybe we should go, Mercutio,” as we see Capulets gathering nearby. Mercutio continues to tell jokes about the Capulets, and says “I care not for Capulets.” The Prince goes to Mercutio and Benvolio, demanding to know where Romeo is. It’s interesting, because the Prince is essentially playing three roles – his own, Paris and now Tybalt. Romeo enters and Prince confronts him. The Prince then goes after Mercutio. Romeo tries to stop the fight, and we actually get some of the play’s dialogue, with Mercutio asking “Why the devil did you come between us” and Romeo answering “I thought it was for the best.” Mercutio does make the joke, “Look for me tomorrow, and you will find me a grave seal.” Mercutio then falls off the cliff and into his sea, presumably to his death (but remember, this is a children’s film). Romeo fights the Prince, and both tumble from the cliff. Both are okay, however. The Prince then acts as the Prince again, banishing Romeo to Shark Island. Romeo obeys. And even though Juliet tells the Prince she loves Romeo, he says that she is to marry him that night.

Act IV

Juliet goes to see the Friar in despair. The Friar first says she’ll have to go through with the marriage to the Prince, but then comes up with a better idea. He creates the potion to make Juliet appear dead. She drinks it on the spot there in the cave, which is weird. And is that Mercutio nearby, still alive? You bet. Well, the wedding guests have gathered, and Friar enters carrying Juliet. He says, “Juliet is dead,” leading to the mot surprisingly funny line of the film. The Prince responds: “Oh, women. It’s always something.” Benvolio sees this and immediately leaves to tell Romeo the bad news. The Friar actually sees Benvolio and knows he is under the wrong impression, and so follows Benvolio to Shark Island.

Act V

Benvolio, not Balthasar, arrives on Shark Island with news of Juliet’s death. Romeo dives into the water to return home. For some reason, just before the final scene we get a diversion involving a shark and a reference to The Terminator. Then the Friar goes looking for Romeo, saying, “Wherefore art thou?” Again, “wherefore” means “why,” not “where.” Romeo walks past the mourning Capulets toward Juliet’s body. Then when Romeo kisses her, he too appears to fall dead, from the potion still on Juliet’s lips. So, yes, it’s a bit different from the play, since neither is really dead. The Friar then takes on the role of Prince, telling both the Capulets and Montagues to see how their hatred has harmed their children. “We are all punished,” he says. Montague and Capulet embrace next to what they believe are the corpses of their children, and the families unite in their despair. Mercutio shows up, riding a wave in, and quoting Hamlet (sort of), “To surfer the slings and arrows.” Juliet wakes first, and then Romeo a moment later. I’m sad to report that the film actually ends with someone shouting, “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” A mistake.

Special Features

The DVD includes The Making Of Romeo & Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss, which features footage of the recording of some dialogue, plus some information on how the film was put together. Wow, did director Phil Nibbelink really animate the whole thing himself? That’s insane. This is approximately six minutes.

The special features also include the film’s trailer, as well as a TV spot.

Romeo & Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss was written and directed by Phil Nibbelink, and stars Daniel Trippett as Romeo, and Patricia Trippett as Juliet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Shakespeare References in The Stand-In

Deborah Moggach’s novel The Stand-In contains quite a few Shakespeare references. The book is told in the first person from the perspective of a female actor who works as a stand-in and becomes obsessed with a famous actor. So I suppose it’s not surprising that there would be at least a few Shakespeare references. Jules, the woman telling the story, is concerned about aging, and some of the Shakespeare references come from that. For example, the first mention of Shakespeare is this: “I should be playing Viola before it was too late” (p. 5). Viola, of course, is from Twelfth Night. And later Jules tells us: “Juliet had slipped from me forever. Now I was destined to shrivel, or to thicken, into character parts. Ahead lay a wasteland of aunts” (p. 68).

Often, the references are to Shakespeare characters that Jules wants to play. Jules tells her boyfriend, “I want to play Cleopatra, with Peter Brook directing me” (p. 21). Then she tells us: “Last night I had dreamed I was standing, naked, on a stage. I was playing Hermione in The Winter’s Tale and I had forgotten my lines” (p. 28). And later she tells us, “I noted, sourly, that an actress who had played my fellow supermarket cashier in an afternoon soap (parts for which we were both miscast) had joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and was rehearsing Imogen” (pages 67-68). And there are even Shakespeare characters that Jules dishonestly says she has played. “I played Cordelia to his Lear” (p. 85), she says of Paul Scofield. Later Jules tells us, “I popped a grape into my mouth and told him how I had worked for RSC, up at Stratford” (p. 218). When asked what roles she played, Jules responds: “Imogen. Hedda Gabler.”

There are some other Shakespeare references as well. At one point, Lila (the famous actor) tells Jules, “Get this – they wanted me to wear yellow pantyhose!” Jules replies, “Like Malvolio” (p. 36). Malvolio, of course, is tricked into wearing yellow stockings in a vain effort to please Olivia in Twelfth Night. Moggach also writes: “‘Don’t know yet. She’s on the wagon. Doctor’s orders.’ He lit his cigarette. ‘There’ll be trouble ahead, you mark my words.’ He looked up at the blue sky. ‘Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanes, spout till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!’ He started coughing. ‘Drown’d the cocks!’” (p. 41). It is interesting to me that Moggach chose to keep apostrophe D in “drench’d” and “drown’d,” but changed “hurricanoes” to “hurricanes.” Jules also tells us, “Once you are famous all the world’s a stage, and you can never be alone” (p. 99), a reference to a famous speech from As You Like It. At one point she quotes from Julius Caesar. Moggach writes: “I knew I was heading in a dangerous direction, but I couldn’t stop myself. Some demon inside me pushed me on. O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason” (p. 223). The lines are from Antony’s famous speech.

Jules tells us her story from prison, and there is a moment when she talks about the magazines available to her there. “Yesterday, however, I chanced upon a copy of Newsweek. It described some Trevor Nunn production of Othello where Ian McKellen played Iago. The English names gave me a jolt, then a patriotic glow. I’d met McKellen once, years ago. In this production, apparently, he had realized that Iago’s strength lay in his indispensability. Newsweek said he gave an electrifying performance. Othello was as simple a soul as Lila. He had no idea how deeply he was in Iago’s power, simply because Iago had made himself indispensable – quiet, efficient, and watchfully anticipating Othello’s every need. When the play opens, Iago is as humble as a stand-in. But though he starts out as Othello’s servant, he ends up as his master. That’s because, like me, he has brains” (p. 162). Of course, it’s interesting that Jules equates herself with the villain of the play. Moments later, she tells us, “I hadn’t become an Iago yet – that would come later – but I was undeniably useful” (p. 163). Toward the end, she tells us: “I try to take two showers a day. The other inmates think there’s something wrong with me. They think I’m like Lady Macbeth. What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” (p. 379). And then she tells us, “At night we have to put our hand against the glass as proof of our continuing existence. Good night, sweet ladies” (p.382). I’m guessing that’s a reference to Horatio’s line at the end of Hamlet.

And some references are to Shakespeare himself. Moggach writes, “in whose digs he had stayed when he had toured the country, playing Shakespeare and Shaw in the days before the TV set, as he put it, had become a twinkle in anybody’s lounge” (p. 40). Then she has Lila tell Jules, “I used to see the map and I’d think, they’ll all talk like somebody in a Shakespeare play” (p. 46).

Interestingly, considering how many Shakespeare references there are in this novel, it seems the author doesn’t quite completely understand Shakespeare. She makes a reference to Romeo And Juliet that indicates she doesn’t understand the line she is referring to. Moggach writes: “I imagined myself the Juliet I had never played, and now never would. Wherefore art thou, Trevor?” (p. 29). The word “wherefore” means “why,” not “where.” Juliet isn’t asking for Romeo’s location; she is asking why he has to be a Montague. And if Moggach meant that Jules was asking why Trevor is Trevor, there wouldn’t be a comma after “thou.” Basically, either author Deborah Moggach or her character doesn’t understand Juliet’s speech (it seems it is Moggach that doesn’t). As you might guess, this momentarily pulled me right out of the story. However, the edition I read is an early edition, and perhaps that was corrected later.

The Stand-In was published in 1991.