Monday, May 19, 2014

Hamlet (1969) DVD Review

Hamlet (1969) stars Nicol Williamson, Anthony Hopkins, Judy Parfitt, Marianne Faithfull and Mark Dignam. It was directed by Tony Richardson. There is little in the way of sets in this film version, and the focus is clearly on the performances. And there are some excellent performances, especially those by Nicol Williamson as Hamlet and Anthony Hopkins as Claudius. The weakest performance is that by Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia. She is absolutely awful. Almost everything is done in close-ups, with the backgrounds mostly dark. This works for the most part. However, there are some scenes where it causes problems, particularly in the “Get thee to a nunnery” scene.

Act I

In the first scene, we don’t see the Ghost. The camera remains on Horatio and the other two men. We see their reactions, and there is a bright light shining on their faces, presumably from the Ghost. Horatio is really good in this scene (though a bit on the older side). The last few lines of the scene are cut.

The second scene has a great contrast, with a joyful party atmosphere, with someone pouring Claudius a drink. But then it calms down when Claudius reads the news regarding Fortinbras. Hamlet stresses “you” when he says, “I shall in all my best obey you, madam,” meaning he wouldn’t have stayed at only Claudius’ request. The camera remains close on Hamlet as the others exit in the background. Hamlet then turns to face the camera for his first soliloquy. Most of it is done in a close-up shot, and it’s excellent. We’re close on Hamlet when he says he thinks he sees his father, so we don’t see Horatio’s immediate reaction. The film then cuts to Horatio for his “Where, my lord?” But he delivers it without any urgency or fear, but in a more relaxed tone. Nicol Williamson is excellent when reacting to Horatio’s news about the Ghost. The scene is cut after Horatio’s “I warr’nt it will.”

After Ophelia’s “Do you doubt that,” she and Laertes kiss. But the kiss lingers a bit long for that between siblings. It’s very odd, because then Laertes speaks against Hamlet. So is it out of jealousy? Also, since this is the first thing we see Ophelia do, she certainly does not come across as overly innocent. And she lies down, and Laertes bends over and kisses her again, after “O fear me not.” She actually seems to initiate this kiss, with a look and a turning of her head up to him. This kiss is brief, only because Polonius enters, interrupting them. So clearly something incestuous is going on between Laertes and Ophelia, which is a very odd choice. Interestingly, Ophelia’s last line of the scene is cut, where she promises to obey her father.

The Ghost enters after Hamlet says “More honor’d in the breach than in the observance.” Again, we see Hamlet’s reaction to the Ghost, a light on his face. This scene doesn’t begin on the platform, but in a dark corridor. We don’t see the Ghost, but we do hear his voice. There is a somewhat silly effect where certain words echo, such as “queen.” On “So, uncle, there you are,” Hamlet sticks his dagger into the wall. Most of the stuff about the swearing is cut. The Ghost says “Swear” but once, and Hamlet says, “Rest, rest, perturbed spirit.” Because of the camera angle, it’s unclear whether Horatio and Marcellus actually heard the Ghost or not.

Act II

Much of the dialogue between Polonius and Reynaldo is cut, which makes Polonius seem more suspicious, almost sinister in his distrust of Laertes. Ophelia’s performance is much too weak when she rushes in to describe how Hamlet frightened her. And her white makeup looks odd.

Claudius and Gertrude are in bed, being attended to by servants, while they speak to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In this version, Gertrude doesn’t correct Claudius on their names with her repetition of his line. Claudius and Gertrude are eating in bed when Polonius enters. After Gertrude’s “Our o’erhasty marriage,” she leans over to share a passionate kiss with Claudius. She’s clearly a lusty woman in this version, and it is likely that which led her to marry Claudius. Voltimand and Cornelius are cut. Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius are all quite good in this scene. Right after Polonius says, “I’ll loose my daughter to him,” the film cuts to Polonius giving Ophelia a book (from Act III Scene i).


After Polonius gives Ophelia the book, we go right to “To be or not to be.”  Hamlet pauses before “or not to be.” He is lying down for the beginning of this speech. He sits up on “Ay, there’s the rub.” He delivers the speech to the camera. When he says, “Soft you now, the fair Ophelia,” he looks off screen as if she is approaching. But because it’s all in close-ups, we don’t see her. The film then cuts to her, but she is reclining with a book. That makes no sense. So the two of them were lying down in the same room, and without being aware of it? We have no sense of the geography of the place, but certainly they couldn’t have been resting in the same room. Suddenly Hamlet is crouched next to her bed. So he’s in her chamber again, even after she spurned his advances? That doesn’t make sense. Where are we, film? After Ophelia’s “I was the more deceiv’d,” Hamlet leans over her and kisses her. This scene doesn’t work at all. It’s very relaxed. This film seems to forget that Ophelia has obeyed her father’s request to turn down all advances from Hamlet. And Ophelia seems to forget that her father and the king are watching. Then we finally see Polonius looking in. He moves, and Hamlet catches that movement, and that leads to him ask, “Where’s your father?” When Ophelia responds, “At home, my lord,” it might not be a lie. After all, we have no idea where this scene is taking place. Maybe they’re at Ophelia’s home.  Anyway, it’s then that Hamlet gets upset. Hamlet directs “all but one shall live” to where Polonius is hiding. But he has no idea that Claudius is there as well. And in fact, Claudius was cut from the scene where Polonius gave Ophelia the book, so at this point we’re not even sure if Claudius is back there. Marianne Faithfull is definitely the weakest actor in this production. Her soliloquy is awful, just awful. And she delivers it toward where her father is hidden, which is odd. Claudius is finally revealed to be back there too. After Polonius goes to Ophelia, he says to Claudius: “My lord, do as you please. I will myself go try him. Let me alone to sound the depths of him.” This is quite different from the play.

Then the film goes back to Act II Scene ii, with Hamlet reading and Polonius approaching him. This re-ordering of scenes changes things. And then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive. Hamlet mixes up their names, even if Claudius didn’t. Hamlet puts out a series of candles toward the end of his soliloquy, when he says, “I have heard,/That guilty creatures sitting at a play…” He puts out the final candle on the word “king.”

From there, the film cuts to Hamlet’s “Speak the speech.” This film adds a moment with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. When Hamlet is about to speak with Horatio before the play, they suddenly appear. And Hamlet sends them away. The “country matters” line is cut. Hamlet’s response to “Nay, ‘tis twice two months, my lord” is cut. Interestingly, Claudius turns to Polonius for his line, “Have you heard the argument? Is there no offense in ‘t?” A nice touch. Of course, Hamlet jumps in with his response.

The film goes from Hamlet being summoned to his mother straight to Polonius going to hide behind the curtain, skipping a lot. Hamlet then enters his mother’s room. When the Ghost appears in his mother’s chamber, again we don’t see him. Oddly, this time we also don’t hear him. The Ghost’s lines are all cut (which means we also lose that great moment where the Ghost commands Hamlet to speak to Gertrude). Because the Ghost doesn’t speak, Hamlet’s “Nor did you nothing hear?” has a much different tone. Is this appearance by the Ghost merely in Hamlet’s head? One of my favorite lines is sadly cut: “Assume a virtue, if you have it not.” After Hamlet’s “cruel only to be kind,” he says, “Good night indeed.” Then he exits. So the whole thing about moving Polonius’ body is cut.

The film goes right to Scene vii, with Claudius’ “How dangerous is it that this man goes loose?” So it skipped Scenes v and vi. Even though Hamlet left the body with Gertrude, the film still includes the bit about them not being able to learn where the body is, which is stupid. After Claudius sends Hamlet to England, he then oddly gives his “O my offense is rank” speech. But Hamlet does not come upon him. This is by far the worst cut of the film. It changes way too much. After all, this is one of the most important scenes of the play. Hamlet has a chance to kill Claudius, but doesn’t. This film denies him that chance. That is a big mistake.

The film then goes to Scene viii, starting with Hamlet’s “Good sir, whose powers are these?

Act IV

Ophelia’s madness isn’t the least bit believable, partly because she didn’t seem vulnerable before. And she didn’t seem enough of a pawn in her father and the king’s little game. So she had nothing to build from. She seems more angry than mad, more irritated than despairing. After Claudius’ “But in battalions,” the rest of his speech is cut, and we go right to the noise at the door.

Two sailors grab Horatio. One holds a knife to his throat while the other holds up the letter for him to read.

The beginning of the third scene is cut, and it starts with Claudius’ line, “I lov’d your father, as we love ourself.” For some reason, the line where Gertrude tells Laertes that Ophelia drowned is cut, as is then his response. Instead, she says, “One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,/So fast they follow,” and then goes right to the description: “There is a willow grows…”  This is just wrong, because it makes Gertrude coy with her news, teasing Laertes, which is exactly the opposite of what she is supposed to be doing here.

Act V

The fifth act begins with a close-up of a skull. All of the dialogue at the beginning of the scene is cut, and there is only one gravedigger. The stuff about the first skill is also cut, and they go right to Yorick’s skull. Hamlet jumps into the grave with Laertes.

Hamlet is excellent in the scene with Osric, and in the speech that follows.

When Laertes and Hamlet go to choose their foils, the foils are in the foreground, which is nice. Hamlet gets his first hit almost immediately. Claudius’ aside about the poison is cut. Hamlet drinks more of the poison after taking the cup from Horatio. Fortinbras is cut. The last line of the film is Horatio’s “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Time: 118 minutes

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Shakespeare References In Magazines (Cascade, Harper’s Magazine, SAG-AFTRA, Westways) And One Book

March/April issue of Westways

The Winter 2014 issue of Cascade, the University of Oregon’s College and Arts and Science magazine, has a Shakespeare reference. The first line of a piece titled “Arabic E-Book Expands Language Experience” is “Antar and Abla are the real-life Romeo and Juliet of Arabic history” (p. 18).

The March 1999 issue of Harper’s Magazine contains two references to Shakespeare. The first comes in a piece by Lewis H. Lapham titled “Exorcism.” The piece begins with a quoted passage from Troilus And Cressida: “Take but degree away, untune that string,/And, hark, what discord follows! Each thing meets/In mere oppugnancy. The bounded waters/Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores/And make a sop of all this solid globe” (page 12). The second is in an essay on theatre by Arthur Miller. The piece is titled, “On Broadway: Notes on the past and future of American theater.” Miller writes, “The strict containment not of emotion but of emotionalism is the hallmark of the Greek tragic plays, of Moliere and Racine and the Japanese Noh plays, whereas Shakespeare, it seems to me, is the balance, the fusion of idea and feeling” (page 47).

In the Fall 2013 (Vol. 2 No. 3) issue of SAG-AFTRA, there is a Shakespeare reference. In a short piece on the Life Achievement Award being given to Pearl Bailey in 1976, it quotes from Bailey’s acceptance speech (which was unprepared): “Leave the theater? How can you leave the theater without leaving the earth? Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage.’ So I never left the theater to go into the U.N. I’m still on the stage” (page 92).

The March/April 2014 issue of Westways mentions Shakespeare a couple of times. The first is in relation to Shakespeare’s birthday, and there’s a short piece titled “Birthday Bard,” written by Joan Trapper. Its first line has a reference to one of Shakespeare’s comedies: “This year it’s Shakespeare as you like it, as theater festivals across the U.S. celebrate the playwright’s 450th birthday” (p. 26). The very next sentence has references to a couple of other Shakespeare plays: “With hundreds of venues to choose from, the questions are to be or not to be indoors or out, to partake in free offerings or pay for a seat, and to cry at the tragedies or laugh at the comedies, where all’s well that ends well.” And in the next sentence, there is a reference to Julius Caesar: “If we don’t find something to our taste, well, the fault’s not in the stars but in ourselves.” The piece then goes on to give short descriptions of The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Independent Shakespeare Company’s Griffith Park productions, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, New American Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta, and the Public Theater’s Shakespeare In The Park in New York.
Then, in a piece on Topanga, under things to do, it lists Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, saying it “was once a venue for 1950s blacklisted actors and remains popular for Shakespeare productions and folk music” (p. 34).

Also, in the novel The Long Haul by Amanda Stern there is one brief Shakespeare reference. A girl named Lisa has had her baby, but hasn’t named him. So people at the bar shout out suggestions. Amanda Stern writes: “They are screaming like on the floor of the stock exchange: Peter! Tony! Tumor! Loser! Freakboy! Truck! Romeo!” (page 110).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher (2013) Book Review

Author Ian Doescher has taken two of my passions and combined them in one book, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope. Yes, it’s the original Star Wars tale presented in iambic pentameter. There are asides and soliloquys (even R2-D2 gets a soliloquy!) and rhyming couplets, and it’s divided into five acts. There are also illustrations by Nicolas Delort.

The opening crawl is done as a sonnet by the Chorus, as in The Tragedy Of Romeo And Juliet, and even includes the line, “In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.” There are references to Shakespeare’s works throughout the book. C-3PO speaks the first line of Act I Scene i, “Now is the summer of our happiness/Made winter by this sudden, fierce attack!” (p. 10). That, of course, is a play on the first line of Richard The Third: “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” The Chorus plays a part throughout the story, as it does in Henry The Fifth. There are actually quite a lot of references to Henry The Fifth in this book. By the way, early in the book C-3PO asks, “Pray, R2-D2, where art thou?” (p. 10), and I am so glad the author understands what “wherefore” means and didn’t use it here. A Captain on the Star Destroyer says, “All’s well that endeth well” (p. 16), a reference to one of Shakespeare’s later comedies.

This book certainly has a sense of humor about its task. I love the Captain’s response to Vader’s surmise that Leia hid the plans in the escape pod: “Woman vile!/Howe’er could she deceive my subtle mind?/The plans in the escape pod! O, most rare!” (p. 19). That’s great. And Darth Vader ends the scene with a rhyming couplet. Another bit that made me burst out laughing is when a Stormtrooper says to Luke (because Obi-Wan uses the Force on him), “Good lad, I prithee, go thy merry way!”

I was surprised to find that this book follows the Special Edition version of Star Wars. Most fans of Star Wars do their best to avoid and forget that version. There is a joke about it, though, when Han Solo says, as an aside, “And whether I shot first, I’ll ne’er confess!” (p. 77).

The Chorus brings to mind Henry The Fifth when he says, “Imagine sand and rocks within thy view./Prepare thy souls – we fly to Tatooine!” (p. 19). And again, much later, when he says: “As our scene shifts to space, so deep and dark,/O’er your imagination we’ll hold sway./For neither players nor the stage can mark/The great and might scene they must portray” (p. 150).

There are quite a lot of references to Hamlet. After being captured by the Jawas, C-3PO quotes (well, nearly) Hamlet’s most famous speech: “Aye, rather would I bear the ill I have,/Than fly to others that I know not of” (p. 24). Luke Skywalker also refers to Hamlet when he says, “Now cracks a hopeful heart” (p. 38), a reference to Horatio’s “Now cracks a noble heart.” Han solo later quotes Hamlet when Obi-Wan tells him they’re looking to avoid Imperial entanglements: “Aye, there’s the rub” (p. 74). Luke quotes Hamlet in an aside regarding the Force: “Aye: frailty, thy name – belike – is Force” (p. 91). Hamlet, of course, says, “Frailty, thy name is woman” in Act I Scene ii. There is another Hamlet reference when a stage direction says, “Enter Luke Skywalker, holding stormtrooper helmet,” and there is an illustration of Luke holding the helmet the way we are used to seeing Hamlet hold Yorick’s skull. Luke then says: “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not… What manner of a man wert thou?/A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?” (p. 124). Even Red Leader refers to Hamlet during the Death Star battle: “The time is here, good men, ‘tis not to come:/It will be now. The readiness is all” (p. 152). In Act V Hamlet says, “if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”

There are also several reference to Romeo And Juliet. Luke quotes Romeo And Juliet when Uncle Owen tells him he needs him to remain on Tatooine for another season: “O, I am Fortune’s fool” (p. 39). In that same speech, he refers to Jacques’ famous speech from As You Like It when he says, “all the world’s a star” (p. 39). There is another Romeo And Juliet reference in the cantina scene, when one of the denizens says to Luke: “I do not like thy look. Indeed, young lad,/I bite my thumb at thee” (p. 71). Luke makes another Romeo And Juliet reference when they’re escaping from Mos Eisley in the Millennium Falcon: “What light through yonder flashing sensor breaks?” (p. 85). R2-D2 speaks in asides, and refers to Romeo And Juliet when he says, “A plague on both our circuit boards, I say!” (p. 122).

Obi-Wan at one point says, “the rhyme/And reason” (p. 51). Shakespeare used that phrase in The Comedy Of Errors, when Dromio of Syracuse says, “When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason,” and in As You Like It, when Orlando says, “Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much.” Governor Tarkin uses the phrase “pomp and circumstance” (p. 86), a phrase Shakespeare used in Act III Scene iii of Othello, when Othello says, “Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”

Han Solo refers to Macbeth when they come out of hyperspace to find Alderaan destroyed: “Is this an ast’roid field I see before me?” (p. 95). Han is questioning the reality of the asteroid field which isn’t on any of the charts, as Macbeth questions the reality of the dagger of the mind that appears before him.

Luke Skywalker borrows from Julius Caesar when he addresses the other rebels: “Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears” (p. 144). Luke then immediately switches to Henry The Fifth: “Wish not we had a single fighter more,/If we are mark’d to die, we are enough/To make our planets proud./But should we win/We fewer rebels share the greater fame” (p. 144), borrowing from the famous Crispian speech of Act IV Scene iii. Luke continues with some more from that speech: “And citizens in Bespin now abed,/Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here” (p. 145). Though I doubt that Luke at this point has even heard of Bespin. Henry The Fifth says, “And gentlemen in England now abed/Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.” (Later, Biggs mentions Naboo ale, but again I have to wonder if Biggs has heard of that planet.) Then when Luke leads the final attack on the Death Star, he turns again to Henry The Fifth: “Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more!” (p. 160). In Act III Scene i, Henry says, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” Luke then goes to Act IV Scene vii when he says, “I was not angry since I came to space/Until this instant!” (p. 160). Of course, Henry says “France,” not “space.” Luke then returns to the Crispian speech when he says, “We three, we happy three, we band of brothers” (p. 161).

By the way, at one point, Leia sings (p. 87). Perhaps that’s a reference to The Star Wars Holiday Special. And there is even a Star Trek reference, when Han Solo says, “To boldly go where none hath gone is wild!” (p. 109).

The author includes an afterword, in which he talks about the connections between Shakespeare and Star Wars.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Romeo And Juliet Novels For Young Teens

The last several years have seen the publication of many novels based on Romeo And Juliet which are aimed at young teenagers. I reviewed two of them in my initial blog entry on Romeo And Juliet: Romeo's Ex: Rosaline's Story and Romeo & Juliet & Vampires.  While revisiting Romeo And Juliet, I decided to read a few more of them.

- Still Star-Crossed  by Melinda Taub  -  This novel begins a couple of weeks after the events portrayed in Romeo And Juliet. The promised statues of Romeo and Juliet are up, but fighting has continued among the young Capulets and Montagues. Benvolio once again works to stop a brawl, rescuing Rosaline (yes, Romeo’s first love interest) in the process, unaware of her identity. When he learns who she is, he accuses her of being at the root of all the misfortunes, for if she had accepted Romeo’s advances, none of this would have happened. Somewhat silly logic, that. Rosaline, age 17, and her younger sister Livia, age 15, play big parts in this story. “Rosaline and Livia were mere nieces, and their name was not even Capulet, but Tirimo” (p. 17). Melinda Taub writes: “Lady Montague did not. She died when she learned her son had slain himself in the arms of a Capulet” (p. 47). Not true. Romeo’s mother died after Romeo was banished, before Romeo killed himself (or at least before she would have learned of it). In Romeo And Juliet, Montague says: “Alas, my liege, my wife is dead tonight!/Grief of my son’s exile hath stopped her breath.” However, it must be pointed out that Melinda Taub’s lines about Lady Montague are given in dialogue, uttered by the duchess. So perhaps the mistake is the character’s, not the author’s. Anyway, at the prince’s urging, Capulet and Montague arrange a marriage between Benvolio and Rosaline in order to keep the peace. But neither Benvolio nor Rosaline is eager for such a union. Rosaline has long planned to become a nun, though she is love with Escalus, the prince. In this novel, Paris turns out to be alive, and tended to by the Nurse and Lady Capulet (and then also by Livia) in an otherwise unused section of the Capulet home. Lady Capulet pretends to be Juliet for Paris while he’s recovering. Yes, it’s perhaps the silliest thing in the story. Lady Capulet explains it this way: “He was so grievously wounded they thought he’d been slain… I was the last to leave Juliet’s tomb, and ‘twas then I heard his moans” (p. 96). Benvolio and Rosaline learn someone is behind the renewed hostilities between their families and are determined to discover who it is in an effort to stop the tension and also avoid their forced wedding. This book kills off the Nurse. Rosaline at one point dresses as a man (as women do in several of Shakespeare’s plays).
This book refers to several of Shakespeare’s works. It begins with a quote from Twelfth Night: “Come away, come away, death,/And in sad cypress let me be laid./Fly away, fly away, breath; I am slain by a fair cruel maid” (p. 1). That is a song from Act II Scene iv. And then each section of the book begins with a quoted passage from one of Shakespeare’s plays. Part 2 begins with this line from Much Ado About Nothing: “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me” (p. 65). That is a line that Beatrice says in Act I Scene i. This novel makes other references to Much Ado About Nothing, even referring to some of that plays characters. For example, Isabella says: “My husband Don Pedro was to join me here, but the obstinate fellow sends word he plans to remain in Padua some weeks – his friend Benedick wishes to make him godfather to his child” (p. 91). Don Pedro later shows up in the novel, and says, “My friends Sir Claudio of Messina and Sir Benedick of Padua have joined their forces to mine” (p. 309). Part 3 begins with a line from Othello: “Knavery’s plain face is never seen till us’d” (p. 121). This is a line that Iago speaks at the end of Act II scene i. Part 4 begins with a line from Coriolanus: “O, kiss/Long as my exile, sweet as my revenge!” (p. 173).  Coriolanus says that line in Act V Scene iii. Part 5 begins with a line from Julius Caesar: “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war” (p. 251). Antony speaks that line in Act III Scene i.  The epilogue begins with a line from Romeo And Juliet: “A glooming peace this morning with it brings” (p. 315). That is the first line of the final speech of the play. And of course there are other references to Romeo And Juliet in this novel. At one point, Taub writes, “With an obscene bit of his thumb at Livia, he turned and ran off into the night” (p. 112), referring to something included in the beginning of the play. There is also a little play on the whole lark bit from Romeo And Juliet. There is a reference to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the line, “Perhaps the nurse had a potion that would cause Rosaline to fall madly in love with the first man she saw” (p. 82). There is also a Hamlet reference, as Benvolio and Rosaline meet a joyful gravedigger, a relative of one of the gravediggers from Hamlet. About the song he’s singing, he says, “I had it from a cousin of mine who lived among the Danes.” He then continues: “Ah! He has gone up in the world, for he has buried princes and queens, whiles my humble self has never buried better than a count” (p. 142).
There is an author’s note at the end of the book, in which she mentions that many of the names of the characters in this book come from the list of party guests in Romeo And Juliet. She also acknowledges her allusions to both Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing.
Still Star-Crossed was published in 2013.

- Prince Of Shadows: A Novel Of Romeo And Juliet  by Rachel Caine  -  This novel is told in the first person by Benvolio, and begins a little before the events told in Shakespeare’s play, and ends just a bit after those events. The novel is divided into five sections, and for some reason these are labeled as Quartos. That doesn’t really make sense. “Quarto” doesn’t mean “chapter.” Benvolio’s character is a bit different from that portrayed in the play. In this novel he is referred to as the Prince of Shadows, the best thief in Verona, so clearly different from the honorable man Shakespeare created. The first scene has Benvolio sneaking into the Capulet home with a knife to humiliate Tybalt. He is disguised so as not to give away his identity or house, and he steals Tybalt’s emblem and rapier. Rosaline lives in the Capulet palace, and is Tybalt’s sister. Benvolio sneaks into her room and finds her awake – and beautiful. Mercutio is in on Benvolio’s thievery. Mercutio is portrayed as gay in this novel, and is in love with a man named Tomasso. Benvolio and Romeo are aware of his secret. Benvolio’s grandmother is sort of the fierce head of the Montagues, and she summons Benvolio because she’s upset that Romeo has fallen in love with Rosaline. She knows Benvolio is the Prince of Shadows, and charges him with stealing back Romeo’s love letters. Romeo, age sixteen, also knows that Benvolio is the Prince of Shadows. Also, Balthasar, Benvolio’s servant, knows his secret identity. Hey, who doesn’t? Well, when Benvolio sneaks into Rosaline’s chamber to fetch the letters, she catches him again, and this time guesses his identity. In this novel, Rosaline is destined for the convent.
The novel does tell the story of the play, and it is on page 88 that we get to the first scene of the play, with the biting of the thumbs. There are lines taken directly from the play, though oddly sometimes the context and even the speaker changes. For example, in this novel Benvolio says, “He jests at scars who never felt a wound.” In the play, it is Romeo who speaks that line (except “who” is “that”). And the Queen Mab speech is moved from before the party to lines written in Mercutio’s secret diary. Mercutio still says “If love be rough with you, be rough with love,” but it is moved from before the Queen Mab speech to a tavern scene.
A marriage is arranged for Mercutio and Mercutio is afraid of losing his lover. And then they’re caught together, and Mercutio’s father beats him while Romeo and Benvolio stand by helplessly. Men then hang Tomasso.
The timeline is quite different in this book. The events of Romeo And Juliet cover just a few days. This novel really stretches out that time to several months, which changes the feel. A lot of time has passed since the thumb-biting scene. And then after the murder of Tomasso a month passes, and Mercutio is wed. He hears that Rosaline is responsible for the betrayal of Tomasso, but the fault lies with Veronica, Benvolio’s sister.
Benvolio, Mercutio and Romeo overhear Paris and Capulet’s conversation, in which Paris says that younger maids than Juliet had made happy mothers (Act I Scene ii of the play). Again, a lot of time has passed between the first scene of the play and this one. It then goes into the bit about Romeo reading the list of those invited to the Capulet party. They go to the party. Rosaline is there, as Tybalt had brought her back from the convent she had chosen. Romeo and Mercutio’s dialogue about dreams is moved to within the Capulet party. In this version, Benvolio sees the exchange between Romeo and Juliet (of course, he has to, as the book is told from his point of view). This novel changes Capulet’s tone when he speaks well of Romeo at the party: “His words were honey, but his expression vinegar; he was thinking of the politics of the matter, and of the prince’s royal presence in the very room” (p. 181). After the party, “Weeks passed” (p. 187), which in the play would mean that Romeo and Juliet are long dead. Not so in this novel. It is after this that Romeo jumps over the wall to see Juliet for the balcony scene (long after the night when they first met). Benvolio and Mercutio witness him jumping over the wall, and then Romeo meets Benvolio at the end of the balcony scene. Rosaline steps out on her own balcony, and something wordless passes between her and Benvolio.
Mercutio’s lines to Benvolio, “You’re like one of those fellows who enters a tavern, claps his sword upon the table, and says, ‘God send me no need of thee’…” is said while Benvolio is pursuing a man to kill him. So again, the meaning is quite different from Shakespeare’s play. His quarry leads them into Capulet territory. This leads to “By my head, the Capulets will have us if we are not careful” (different from Shakespeare’s “By my head, here comes the Capulets”). The response is the same: “By my heel, I care not.” Because of Mercutio’s homosexuality in this version, there is a different meaning to Tybalt’s “What wouldst thou have with me?” Rachel Caine makes it clear: “‘Why, Mercutio, what would you have with me?’ Tybalt asked, and made a rude gesture a man would give to entice a whore, so that there was no mistaking his meaning” (p. 242).
In this telling of the story, much is made of Mercutio’s curse on both houses, and he has help from a witch. And another strong focus is the relationship between Benvolio and Rosaline. While Romeo is in bed with Juliet in Juliet’s room, Benvolio and Rosaline share a kiss in Rosaline’s room. Rosaline believes it is not love between Romeo and Juliet, but some sorcery behind it. The Friar purchased the vial from the witch instead of getting it from his own garden. So this novel really makes the attraction between Romeo and Juliet the result of a curse and not love at first sight. Benvolio and Rosaline begin to fall under the curse’s spell as well.
It is Benvolio who send Balthasar to serve Romeo in Mantua. And Benvolio is present when Friar Lawrence learns his letter was not delivered to Romeo, and so is also present at the Capulet tomb, even hearing Juliet’s lines, which is a bit silly. Sillier still is that the ghosts of Mercutio and Romeo appear to Benvolio and help him. There is some silliness regarding a string of rosary beads clinging to Benvolio’s hand, and him thrusting his hand into the fire to destroy them (this is part of what he must do to remove the curse).
The poor nurse doesn’t survive this book either (she was also killed in Still Star-Crossed). And Benvolio and Rosaline do end up together at the end.
There are references to other plays by Shakespeare. For example, Benvolio whispers to a sleeping Tybalt, “Good night, sweet prince, thou poxy son of a dog” (p. 3). The first part of that line is a reference to a line from Hamlet. There is another Hamlet reference later when Benvolio says, “Though it is madness, there is method in it” (p. 272). In Hamlet, Polonius says, regarding Hamlet, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t” (Act II Scene ii).  And there are a couple of instances of someone saying, “Measure for measure” (as on p. 176). And Friar Lawrence says, “Only two days more will see the lovers reunited and safely away, and all’s well that ends well” (p. 304). There is also a reference to Othello near the end, when Mercutio’s ghost tells Benvolio, “Love well, if not wisely” (p. 340). Othello says, at the end of the play, “Of one that lov’d not wisely but too well.”
Prince Of Shadows: A Novel Of Romeo And Juliet was published in February, 2014.

- The Juliet Spell  by Douglas Rees  -  The Juliet Spell  is a Harlequin Teen novel about a teenager named Miranda Hoberman who casts a spell to help her get the role of Juliet in her school’s production of Romeo And Juliet, and ends up summoning Edmund Shakeshaft from 1597. This book is told from the perspective of Miranda Hoberman, who begins the story by auditioning for the role of Juliet. Bobby Ruspoli reads Romeo. The scene they do is the balcony scene, beginning with Romeo’s first line: “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” This book understands what “wherefore” means, and actually makes a point of telling its readers: “You probably though Juliet was asking where Romeo is, right? Wrong. She has no idea he’s anywhere around. He’s just been thrown out of the party her father was giving. He’s gone. She’s asking why the guy’s name has to be Romeo, and the next lines make that clear” (p. 9). The high school drama teacher doesn’t even like the play. He makes that clear when he tells the students, “Romeo And Juliet, William Shakespeare’s most overrated piece of hackwork” (p. 13). Miranda’s mother had acted for several years, and her one regret was that she never played Juliet. Miranda casts a spell, saying, “Make me Juliet.” And a boy named Edmund Shakeshaft appears in the room. He’s frightened and says “ye are Queen Mab, or one of her servants” (p. 25). He says it’s March 15, 1597. She exposes him to television by putting on a DVD of Romeo And Juliet. Edmund, when the movie starts, says, “Witch, by what enchantment have ye conjured up me brother William’s play?” (p. 40). Edmund reveals that he played Juliet, the first person ever to do so, in 1594. He later played Paris. It’s a shame that Miranda didn’t know more about Shakespeare. She could have asked Edmund about Love’s Labour’s Won, and whether someone co-wrote Titus Andronicus or The First Part Of King Henry The Sixth, and whether the poaching tale is true, and what Shakespeare did between 1586 and 1592, and so on. That night when Edmund prays, he mentions Shakespeare’s children, calling his son Hamlet, not Hamnet. Edmund attends the next day’s auditions to read for Romeo. Miranda’s friend Drew reads for Mercutio. Miranda ends up getting cast as Juliet; Edmund is cast as Romeo; Drew is cast as Mercutio; and Bobby is cast as Tybalt. The drama teacher continues to speak poorly of the play: “If Romeo and Juliet proves anything, it proves that Shakespeare’s reputation is based, at least in part, on crap” (p. 86). Edmund whispers to Miranda that Shakespeare wrote Romeo And Juliet in “Winter of ninety-three” (p. 87). Later they learn that a member of the Ashland Shakespeare Festival staff will be attending a performance of the play because of a new apprenticeship program. The director has a heart attack, which cancels the play. But Edmund rallies the cast together, and they find another venue for their production. And then William Shakespeare shows up. Following his appearance is the disappearance of his folio, because now the timeline has changed. At one point Shakespeare says, “’Twas just like hiding from the game wardens in Stratford” (p. 253), perhaps a reference to the poaching tale. At the end of the novel, William Shakespeare and Edmund return to their time. Shakespeare says to everyone, “Look for yourselves in my folio” (p. 257). But as far as we know, Shakespeare had no interest in collecting his plays in a published folio. That was done by other people seven years after his death.
This novel has references to several other Shakespeare plays. Edmund says, “O, brave new world that hath such people in it” (p. 36), a line from The Tempest, a play which in 1597 had yet to be written. And in fact when Miranda shows Edmund a book of Shakespeare’s complete works, he remarks that William has not written The Tempest. Miranda says, “Not yet…We think that was his last one” (p. 43). And of course, Miranda’s name is also a reference to The Tempest. There is another reference to The Tempest later in the novel. Miranda’s father hangs a banner in their yard that reads, “SUCH STUFF AS DREAMS ARE MADE ON,” quoting Prospero’s famous speech from Act IV. Oddly, the author includes a bizarre error in this scene. He writes: “ ‘Alas,’ Shakespeare said when he saw the sign. ‘Your noble father has quoted the wrong play. My line is, ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’ ‘Tis from Midsummer Night’s Dream’” (p. 249). He has Shakespeare say one of his own lines from The Tempest (which at this point Shakespeare hasn’t even written) is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Such an odd mistake. At the end of the book, Miranda acknowledges, “And maybe I’m Miranda in The Tempest and maybe Dad is the duke-magician who makes everything happen” (p. 259).
Edmund quotes Kent from King Lear, when he yells at a driver, “Ye’re the whoreson heir of a mongrel bitch, an eater of broken meats” (p. 49). In Act II Scene ii, Kent gives a beautiful long string of insults, early on saying “an eater of broken meats,” and then later in the speech saying, “the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.” Later Miranda shouts at a driver, “Whoreson heir of a mongrel bitch” (p. 137). At the end of the book, after William and Edmund have returned to their time, the author writes: “Lately, I’ve been reading in the folio, looking for characters in the plays that might be us. In King Lear there’s a villain named Edmund. I wonder if Shakespeare wrote it for his brother” (p. 259).
There is a reference to Falstaff (of both of the Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives Of Windsor) in the name of a pub: “Falstaff’s A Traditional English Pub” (p. 51).
Edmund quotes Hamlet’s most famous speech: “’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished” (p. 84). Later Miranda sees pictures of one of the adults in the play, including “portraits of him all in black as Hamlet” (p. 155). There are more references to Hamlet after William Shakespeare appears. Edmund says to him, “Come, brother. Let us absent ourselves from their felicity awhile” (p. 228). The author then writes: “Shakespeare stood up and followed him down the hall murmuring, ‘Absent – felicity…” (p. 228). The idea is that Shakespeare is remembering it to use in Hamlet’s speech in Act V Scene ii, when he says, “Absent thee from felicity awhile.” Shakespeare is working on a new play, and Miranda asks him what he’s calling it. “‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, I think,’ Shakespeare said” (p. 229). And then the author writes: “‘A fig on it,’ Edmund said. ‘Everyone has seen the old one’” (p. 229). This response doesn’t quite make sense, as Edmund has seen the collected works of William Shakespeare and knows that the play is a success. And then there is another error. If the timeline is changed, and Shakespeare hasn’t written Hamlet, then it makes no sense when some guy on a motorcycle shouts, “To be or not to be, is that the question?” (p. 236).
When Edmund is asked for his previous credits, he includes, “I perform’d Doctor Pinch in Ye Comedy of Errors” (p. 74). There is another reference to that play when the drama teacher says, about Romeo And Juliet, “The second half of this thing might as well be called The Comedy of Errors II” (p. 87). The play is mentioned again when they young players are meeting with people who could build their set for them: “Because most of it’s ready to go – we did the same kind of thing last year up in San Francisco. Open air Comedy of Errors. We’ve still got the stage” (p. 198).
After Edmund gets the role of Romeo he says, “All’s well that ends well” (p. 84).
At one point Edmund says: “I read in Will’s book. A thing called MacBeth. Very poorly writ. This fellow MacBeth has a wife who speaks of children that never appear” (p. 99). Later Edmund quotes the play: “If ‘twere done when ‘twere done, then ‘twere best done quickly” (p. 123), which is the first line of Macbeth’s speech in Act I Scene vii. Well, the actual line is “If it were done, when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well/It were done quickly.”
A little later Edmund sings a song from Act V Scene iii of As You Like It (p. 112). That play is mentioned again by Edmund: “’Tis like the Forest of Arden in As You Like It” (p. 129). And then he refers to Jacques’ famous speech when he says, “If all the world’s a stage as ‘tis said” (p. 195). Later, after William Shakespeare shows up, there is another reference to that speech: “‘So anyway, I thought that, if the stage is the world, then the world is a stage,’ Drew said” (p. 209). And this novel has Drew quoting Shakespeare be the thing that gives Shakespeare the idea in the first place: “‘All the world’s a stage!’ Shakespeare said. ‘All the men and women merely players. I must write that down’” (p. 209).
Edmund also makes reference to A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he says, “Oh, I am a very fox for valor” (p. 148). Lysander, in Act V Scene i, says, “The lion is a very fox for his valour.” There is another reference to A Midsummer Night’s Dream later: “Oh, did I mention that Edmund was brilliant? He was totally in charge and totally not throwing his weight around. He was Oberon the fairy king and we were his loyal sprites” (p. 204). And after William Shakespeare shows up, he says to Miranda’s mother, “Ye are wise as ye are beautiful” (p. 217), nearly quoting Titania’s line to Bottom (“Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful”).
Miranda’s mother gives Miranda relationship advice by mentioning Much Ado About Nothing: “There’s another play Shakespeare wrote around 1597, Much Ado About Nothing. I played Beatrice. She was in that kind of situation and she handled it pretty well” (p. 162). Beatrice is mentioned again at the end: “I had taken a try at being Beatrice” (p. 261).
There is also a reference to The Winter’s Tale. At the end of the book, the author writes: “And maybe Mom is in The Winter’s Tale as Paulina, the noblewoman who stands up for the truth against the king. It’s the kind of thing Mom would do.”
There seems to be a mistake in the book, because Bobby (who is playing Tybalt) says to Edmund (who is playing Romeo), “Capulet bastard” (p. 166). Of course he should say “Montague bastard.”
The Juliet Spell was published in 2011.

- Anyone But You  by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes  -  This novel takes the Romeo And Juliet story and moves it to modern-day Chicago, with the two families owning rival Italian restaurants. It’s told from the perspective of Julietta Caputo (who goes by the nickname Gigi), who is turning sixteen (so a bit older than Shakespeare’s Juliet) and spends all her time working in the restaurant. The Caputos are involved in a feud with the Montes, who own a nearby restaurant. But what is interesting is that this novel also gives us the history of how the feud started, with alternating chapters told from the perspective of Nick Monte, those chapters taking place in the 1930s through the 1940s.
Each of the chapter titles is a line or phrase from Romeo And Juliet. Chapter 1 is titled “From Ancient Grudge Break to New Mutiny,” a line from the Chorus’ opening speech. This chapter is told from Gigi’s perspective, and she talks about the rivalry with another family-run restaurant, a rivalry whose origin no one seems to know. A fire alarm causes the sprinkler system to go off, ruining the customers’ food, on a night when a restaurant critic is there. The Caputos assume that Roman Monte is behind it. In the second chapter, “She Doth Teach the Torches to Burn Bright,” we go back to the Depression where twelve-year-old Nick Monte and his best friend Benny Caputo go to the World’s Fair.  Nick, who is afraid of heights, meets Stella and is immediately smitten. The third chapter, “It Is an Honor That I Dream Not Of,” returns us to Gigi, who is about to turn sixteen. Gigi’s father tries to set her up with Perry (this novel’s version of Paris), the son of a man he’s doing business with. Gigi’s cousin is Ty, the Tybalt of this story. Interestingly, the family cat is named Sampson, which is the name of the Capulet servant who speaks the first line of Act I Scene i of Shakespeare’s play. Gigi, like Juliet, is cut off from having a social life. She goes to an all-girl school, and works at the restaurant nearly every evening. The fourth chapter is titled “Is Thy News Good or Bad? Answer to That.” In the fifth chapter, “Then, Dreadful Trumpet, Sound The General Doom,” we learn that Chef (the equivalent of Nurse) calls Gigi “Ladybird,” as the Nurse does in Shakespeare’ play. On the night of her Sweet Sixteen birthday party, Roman and two friends crash the party (as Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio crash the Capulet party in the play), and Gigi sees Roman and is instantly attracted to him. In the sixth chapter, “What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks,” Nick and Benny start a pizza restaurant. At this point, they’re twenty years old, so it’s eight years after the events in second chapter. Interestingly, in this chapter, there are direct references to the play. The first is when Nick says to Benny, “He’s been switched, under cover of night, with some sappy, starry-eyed Romeo” (p. 62). He then says, “But that’s what you may liken your ‘fair Juliet’ to tomorrow when the next pretty girl turns your head” (p. 62). It turns out that Benny has now fallen in love with Stella (now going by the name Estelle). A greater time period is covered in the Nick chapters than in the Gigi chapters. In chapter seven, “You Kiss by the Book,” we return to Gigi’s birthday party, where she again sees Roman. She calls him “the very object of my idolatry” (p. 73). In Shakespeare’s play, Juliet says “the god of my idolatry.” He tells her he came with friends who crashed the party, and he’s unaware that she’s Caputo’s daughter. They kiss, and he leaves before she learns his name. But her cousin Ty recognizes him and tells Gigi who he is. In the eighth chapter, “This But Begins the Woe Others Must End,” there is another direct reference to the play, as Nick takes Carmen to Queenie Mab’s Candy Shoppe (p. 89). There he runs into Stella. The ninth chapter, “My Only Love Sprung From My Only Hate,” returns us to the end of Gigi’s party. Gigi steps outside and calls her friend, leaving a message about Roman, which Roman overhears, just as Romeo overhears Juliet’s declaration of love for him. And Gigi warns Roman, “You know, if anyone finds you here,” just as Juliet worries about Romeo. There is another sort of reference to the play, when Gigi says, “After all, this wasn’t the sixteenth century” (p. 98), the century in which Shakespeare wrote Romeo And Juliet. This chapter, which has the equivalent of the balcony scene, finds Gigi saying: “‘Of all people,’ I finally said, trying to keep a hold of my senses, ‘why do you have to be Roman Monte? Why couldn’t you just be ‘Joe Schmo?’” (p. 99), the equivalent of “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Chef interrupts them, just as Nurse interrupts Romeo and Juliet. The tenth chapter is titled “The Earth Hath Swallow’d All My Hopes But She,” and marks the United States’ entry into World War II. The eleventh chapter, “Here’s Much to Do with Hate, But More with Love,” takes us to the morning after Gigi’s party. And we learn that Mark is basically the Mercutio character, as Roman tells Gigi: “Oh, that’s Mark…Not related, but he’s a waiter here. We go to school together, too. He’s the funniest guy I’ve ever met. He loves to hear himself talk” (p. 122). But their relationship is a bit different from that between Romeo and Mercutio, as Roman continues, saying that Mark “mocks me endlessly, but there’s no one I trust more with my secrets. He already knows about you, actually” (p. 122). In the play, Romeo never tells Mercutio about Juliet. If only he had, all the deaths might have been prevented. The twelfth chapter is titled “I Am No Pilot.” The thirteenth chapter is titled “I’ll Pay That Doctrine, or Else Die in Debt.” There is a reference to The Merchant Of Venice in this chapter, when Perry says, “Pops can be a real Shylock, I’ll grant you” (p. 142). The fourteenth chapter is titled “Sad Hours Seem Long.” There is another reference to the play, when Nick remembers a letter that Stella had sent him. That letter includes the line, “Until then, I must make do with cutting remembrances of you into little stars that shine on me always” (p. 148). That is a reference to a line in Juliet’s “Gallop apace” speech: “Take him and cut him out in little stars,/And he will make the face of heaven so fine.” The fifteenth chapter is titled, “Beautiful Tyrant! Fiend Angelical!” In this chapter, we learn that Roman and Ty did have some sort of altercation, and that Roman was trying to protect Mark. So it is similar to the play, except that Mark and Ty are still alive (though Ty is in critical condition in the hospital, and Mark says it was an accident). The sixteenth chapter is titled “No Warmth, No Breath, Shall Testify Thou Livest.” This chapter has another direct reference to the play, as Nick’s plane is christened “Fair Rosaline” (p. 164). The seventeenth chapter is titled “A Madness Most Discreet.” The eighteenth chapter is titled “Why the Devil Came You Between Us?” The nineteenth chapter is titled “Thou Canst Not Teach Me to Forget.” In this chapter (and a bit in earlier chapters), Carmen sort of plays the Friar Lawrence role. Here she conspires to get Gigi one more night with Roman before the family moves. She even has lines similar to those the Friar speaks. She says: “You’re alive. That’s something to be happy about. You’re young and beautiful. That’s something to be happy about. You have a family that loves you, and a very charming boy who loves you, too” (p. 191) Compare those lines to these that the Friar speaks to Romeo: “Thy Juliet is alive,/For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead./There are thou happy. Tybalt would kill thee,/But thou slewest Tybalt. There art thou happy./The law, that threaten’d death, becomes thy friend/And turns it to exile. There art thou happy.” The twentieth chapter is titled “See What a Scourge Is Laid Upon Your Hate.” The twenty-first chapter is titled “Two Households, Both Alike in Dignity.” And the epilogue is titled “And the Rank Poison of the Old Will Die.” At the end of the novel there are two more references to the play. The inscription on a bench reads in part, “From gloom and woe let peace and friendship grow,” a reference to the Prince’s final speech of the play. And the last line is, “In the trees above us, a nightingale – or was it a lark? – sang sweetly” (p. 222), a reference to the scene of Romeo and Juliet’s morning parting.
This is actually a really good book, and I was surprised to find myself so emotionally engaged.
Anyone But You was published in 2014.