Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Shakespeare Study: More Miscellaneous Books
My Shakespeare study, which began in earnest in 2010, will likely never end. I am often finding interesting books on the subject, and there are always new productions and film adaptations to enjoy. Here are notes on a few of the books I’ve read recently.
King Lear by William Shakespeare – I like to return to King Lear fairly often. This time I read The Pelican Shakespeare edition, which was first published in 1958 and revised in 1970, and was edited by Alfred Harbage. The copy I read is from 1983. In the introduction, Harbage writes: “Lamb has been much taken to task for declaring that ‘Lear is essentially impossible to be represented on a stage,’ but more often than not our experiences in the theatre confirm his view. There have been fine productions, but not very many: one touch of insincerity can rot everything away” (p 20). Regarding Lear’s character, Harbage writes: “His inability to distinguish between the false and the true, and his craving for visible displays, are not failings peculiar to him. ‘How much do you love me?’ – few parents suppress this bullying question, spoken or unspoken, however much they may have felt its burden as children. It seems in the nature of some things that they always be learned too late, that as children we might have offered more, as parents demanded less” (p. 23). Regarding Lear’s final moments, Harbage writes: “There is no melioration in his dying delusion that she still lives, no mention of an after-life. It is unspeakably sad. But it merges with a larger yet less devastating sadness” (p. 26). A footnote regarding that famous moment when Lear says “And my poor fool is hanged,” reads: “i.e. Cordelia (‘Fool’ was often a term of affection, and sometimes, as in Erasmus and elsewhere in Shakespeare, of praise – an ironic commentary upon self-seeking ‘worldly wisdom’)” (p. 166).
The Shakespeare Book by Levi Fox – This book was published in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and is a short volume about William Shakespeare’s life rather than his work, with a focus on his time in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is full of photographs, mostly of buildings, such as his birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage, but also of important documents. Toward the end, there is a section on the growing appreciation of his work as well as the growing tourist trade to the place of his birth. From what I can tell, there have been at least two different editions of this book published. The other has a yellow band beneath the title rather than the red of my copy. It looks like the yellow version was published earlier, and the edition I have was published in the early 1990s.
Othello by William Shakespeare – This is a volume in the Pocket Classics series, famous works of literature presented in comic book form. The series includes twelve of Shakespeare’s plays. Othello is the eighth book in the series. No author other than Shakespeare is credited, though the words have been changed. Likewise, the illustrator is left uncredited. The strangest thing about this telling is that Othello’s race isn’t really mentioned much at all.
In the opening scene, Iago tells Roderigo straight out that he hates Othello because Othello “chose Michael Cassio to be his next in command!” (p. 8). Brabantio mentions Othello’s magic a couple of times: “You have taken away my daughter with your magic!” (p. 11) and “She has been stolen away by magic” (p. 13). But these references seem to lack the racial tones present in the play. Though almost all of Othello’s speech regarding his winning of Desdemona’s attention and affection is cut, the Duke still says “I think my very own daughter would have done the same” (p. 14). Because the details are cut, the line seems odd. Iago’s soliloquy is not spoken aloud, but presented in a thought bubble.
At the beginning of the second act, all of Desdemona’s interactions with Cassio, Iago and Emilia are cut, and instead we see her embrace Othello right away.
In this version, Iago says to Othello, “Wasn’t that Cassio that just left your wife?” (p. 22), whereas in the play it is Othello that notices Cassio, saying to Iago, “Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?” And in the play Iago pretends to think it couldn’t have been Cassio, whereas in this version he tells Othello, “He looked guilty and ran when he saw you” (p. 22). Basically, this version is a lot less subtle and crafty. Iago does tell Othello to beware of jealousy, but the famous “green-ey’d monster” line is cut.
This version has Othello merely fainting. There is no mention of epilepsy or fits. That wonderful scene between Desdemona and Emilia is largely cut, including the willow song. In fact, the only line that Emilia speaks is “I wish you had never seen him” (p. 46). Hardly worth having her there at all if that’s all she’s going to say.
Iago’s line “This is the night/That either makes me or fordoes me quite” becomes “This is the night that either solves my problems or kills me for trying” (p. 50). While Desdemona sleeps, Othello says “You are the cause of it all!” (p. 51).
Othello was published in 1984.
William Shakespeare’s Get Thee Back To The Future! by Ian Doescher – Ian Doescher created a series of books in which he retold the entire Star Wars saga in the style of William Shakespeare, in iambic pentameter and with plenty of references to the plays. He has also now taken the same approach to the film Back To The Future. The Chorus tells us this play takes place four hundred years into the future, so this play is being performed in the late 1500s, making it one of Shakespeare’s earlier works (though apparently after Titus Andronicus, for that play is mentioned by the Chorus). In this telling, Marty’s guitar becomes a lute, which might seem a bit odd considering there is still a time-traveling automobile. If there is a car, why not a guitar? Well, no matter. As you might recall, Huey Lewis And The News did some of the music for the film, including “The Power Of Love” and “Back In Time.” So Ian Doescher creates a speech out of titles of Huey Lewis songs, including “I Want A New Drug,” “Hip To Be Square,” “If This Is It” and “Bad Is Bad,” and ending it with a reference to “The Power Of Love.” There are, as in the Star Wars books, lots of playful references to Shakespeare’s plays. For example, Doc says “Friends, makers, countrymen, lend me your ears” (p. 42), a reference to Antony’s famous speech from Julius Caesar. And a Libyan is given a version of Shylock’s famous “If you prick us, do we not bleed” speech (p. 55). And later Biff threatens to take a pound of Marty’s flesh. When Marty realizes that he and not his father was struck by the car, he says, “Aye, there’s the rub” (p. 97), echoing Hamlet. There is also a cute nod to Stephen King’s Christine, the film version of which had come out just a couple of years before Back To The Future. As is done sometimes in Shakespeare, one scene is described afterward, rather than shown. Here it is the scene where Marty frightens George by pretending to be an alien.
William Shakespeare’s Get Thee Back To The Future! was published in 2019 by Quirk Books.