Sunday, December 27, 2015

Shakespeare Reference in The Soloist

It seems that everything I've been reading this year - with the exceptions of the old Dungeons And Dragons novels I returned to for fun - has included some reference to Shakespeare. I just finished reading Mark Salzman's novel The Soloist, and it contains one Shakespeare reference. Salzman writes, "Casals often said that he felt that Bach was the Shakespeare and Rembrandt of music rolled into one, and that Bach's music expressed every nuance of the human experience" (p. 60).

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Shakespeare References in The Cavalier Case

Shakespeare references continue to pop up in nearly everything I read. Antonia Fraser’s mystery novel The Cavalier Case contains several Shakespeare references. The first is a Hamlet reference: “However, given that the ghost of Decimus was due to pop up at the siege of Lackland Court, perhaps it was just as well Olivia, unlike Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, had no new husband at her side” (p. 99). There are a few more Hamlet references in this novel. Fraser writes, “to the extent that Jemima thought she definitely protested too much” (p. 105) a reference to Gertrude’s line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” And there is a reference to the famous bit about Yorick: “Lady Manfred’s distress – it later turned out that the skull had been the first object she disinterred – was the more understandable. ‘Alas poor Yorick,’ went on the authoritative voice, ‘ and all that. I nearly spouted the whole speech, I can tell you’” (p. 165). And it’s possible that Fraser is referring to the play when she writes, “Even if he had been ‘horrified’ – the word heard by Jemima behind her own kind of plastic arras on the tennis court” (p. 228).

There are also references to The Tragedy Of Richard The Third. Fraser writes: “It might be a rather strange method of wooing – the image of Richard III seducing Lady Anne over her husband’s bier came to her – ‘was ever woman in this humor woo’d?’ – since she had seen the play at the Barbican the night before with Cass, with its merry opening references to Mistress Shore’s ‘cherry lip, bonny eye and passing pleasing tongue.’ But who was to say it was an effective one? ‘Was ever woman in this humor won?’ the crookback future king, as played by Anton Lesser, had concluded” (p. 118). And then a little later Fraser writes: “Had she herself not been a perfectly willing party to it all – seduction of the fittest, as you might say? (Richard III came to mind again: ‘Was ever woman in this humor won’)” (p. 126).

But the play most often referred to in this novel is The Tragedy Of Macbeth. Fraser writes: “Otherwise he praised the house lavishly – ‘What a perfectly delightful situation you’ve got here’ and ‘Good to get all this fresh country air after Westminster’ – in terms which irresistibly reminded her of Duncan arriving chez the Macbeths: ‘This castle hath a pleasant seat.’ Duncan too had praised the good fresh (Scottish) air: Jemima trusted the Home Secretary’s fate at Lady Manfred’s hands would be kinder” (p. 161). Fraser then writes: “It was not even evoked by the prospect of her mission: for Jemima, having taken the decision to carry it out, did not allow herself at this point to think about what would happen if she failed (any more than she intended to digest at this point Alix’s astonishing revelation – was she implying that Dan would marry her? Ah well, as Macbeth said, there would be a time for such a word…)” (p. 220). Most of the Macbeth references are at the end of the novel. Fraser writes: “Said she did it all for him, to save his family heritage. A sort of Lady Macbeth who didn’t even let Macbeth know what was going on” (p. 226). And then: “Alix, the loyal if occasionally neglected mistress, was certainly no Lady Macbeth” (p. 227). And: “So perhaps after all Lady Macbeth was not the right analogy” (p. 229). And finally: “And Zena in the same bleak voice quoted Macbeth: ‘We are so deep in blood imbued –’ She added: ‘I believe that happens to people. They don’t know when to stop’” (p. 235).

There is also a reference to Shakespeare: “The transsexual thing is so important in the seventeenth century – how on earth can we understand Shakespeare by just going on about rent boys” (p. 204).

The Cavalier Case was published in 1991.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Shakespeare Reference on Beer Packaging

Recently I was at the beverage store, picking up a specific drink for a party, when a nearby four-pack of beer caught my eye.  It was that famous picture of William Shakespeare that got my attention, and then once I saw it I couldn't very well leave the store without purchasing that beer, Samuel Smith's Winter Ale. I'm not one to believe in signs or anything, but it did cross my mind that perhaps the picture of the world's best writer was a signal that this was the world's best beer. Ordinarily I would not even consider spending $12.99 for four bottles of beer, but my love for Shakespeare and my curiosity overrode my need to save money.

It is, it turns out, a damn good beer. But it's the packaging I want to focus on here. In addition to the picture of Shakespeare, it bears a quotation from The Two Gentlemen Of Verona: "Blessing of your heart you brew good ale." This is from Act III Scene i, and the full line is:"And thereof comes the proverb, 'Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale.'"

Monday, October 19, 2015

Shakespeare Reference in The Uncle From Rome

It seems that nearly everything I read these days contains at least one Shakespeare reference. I just finished reading a novel titled The Uncle From Rome, written by Joseph Caldwell, and approximately sixty pages from the end found this reference to Shakespeare: "They seemed more stunned than nervous, and looking at them now, Michael wondered if some exhortation might help, some show of encouragement, of confidence. The speech Shakespeare wrote Henry V at the battle of Agincourt suggested itself, but Michael felt instinctively that they were all best left alone" (p. 229).

Monday, September 28, 2015

Shakespeare Reference in Lust For Life

Irving Stone’s biographical novel about Vincent Van Gogh, Lust For Life, contains a Shakespeare reference. Stone writes, “Theo sent him a one-volume edition of Shakespeare; he read ‘Richard II,’ ‘Henry IV,’ and ‘Henry V,’ projecting his mind to other days and other places” (p. 446).

Lust For Life was originally published in 1934. The edition I read was published in 1984.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Shakespeare References in Reading Lolita In Tehran

Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita In Tehran: A Memoir In Books contains a few Shakespeare references. The first two are to Hamlet. Nafisi writes: “The only one among us who claimed she had never experienced such fear was Nassrin. ‘I was always afraid of having to lie. You know what they say: to thine own self be true and all that. I believe in that sort of thing,’ she said with a shrug” (p. 46). That, of course, is a reference to Polonius’ advice to Laertes in the first act of the play. And then a little later Nafisi writes: “‘The problem with the censors is that they are not malleable.’ We all looked at Yassi. She shrugged as if to say she couldn’t help it, the word appealed to her. ‘Do you remember how on TV they cut Ophelia from the Russian version of Hamlet?’” (p. 50). She continues: “‘That would make a good title for a paper,’ I said. ‘Mourning Ophelia’” (p. 50).

The others are references to Shakespeare himself. Nafisi writes: “These are my memories of Norman: red earth and fireflies, singing and demonstrating on the Oval, reading Melville, Poe, Lenin and Mao Tse Tung, reading Ovid and Shakespeare on warm spring mornings with a favorite professor, of conservative political leaning, and accompanying another in the afternoons, singing revolutionary songs” (pages 83-84). Then: “He taught drama and film – Greek theater, Shakespeare, Ibsen and Stoppard, as well as Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers” (p. 139). And then just a bit later she writes, “Heated debates had ensued in that packed meeting as drama students demanded that Aeschylus, Shakespeare and Racine be replaced with Brecht and Gorky, as well as some Marx and Engels – revolutionary theory was more important than plays” (p. 139).

Nafisi also at one point mentions the new Globe in London: “I acted as if we were talking about a normal trip, a routine visit to her older sister in London – it’s far too wet at this time of year; do ask them to take you to the Globe” (p. 322).

Reading Lolita In Tehran: A Memoir In Books was published in 2003.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Life And Death Of King Richard III (1912) DVD Review

The Life And Death Of King Richard III is the earliest surviving full-length American film, and the first feature film based on a Shakespeare play. It stars Frederick Warde as Richard the Third, and was directed by James Keane. It was released in October of 1912, and was restored by AFI in 1996, with music composed and conducted by Ennio Marricone.

Act I

The film opens with a shot of soldiers marching, the first title card reading: “After the battle of Tewkesbury. Death of Prince Edward of Lancaster.” We see Richard demand to see King Henry. And then a title card tells us, “Murder of King Henry VI, the last of the house of Lancaster, as King Edward of York enters London.” And then we see Richard stab Henry with a dagger. Then, just to make sure, he runs the corpse through with his sword a couple of times, then cleans the blood off with his other hand.

The next subtitle reads, “Lady Anne Plantagenet, widow of Prince Edward, receives body of King Henry, for burial.” We see the corpse brought in. A title card tells us, “Lady Anne wooed and won by Duke of Gloster.” (It’s interesting that no dialogue is given to us in subtitles, not even the play’s most famous lines. But rather the titles are used to tell us what happens in the following scene.) Richard interrupts the funeral procession to woo Lady Anne. While on one knee he offers her his sword to kill him, and for a moment it seems she will. Twice more she raises the sword against him, but finally lets it drop, defeated. He watches it fall, and only then does he rise.

A title card reads: “Court of King Edward IV. Gloster incites quarrel between the King and Clarence.” And we see the arrest of the Duke of Clarence, and Richard visiting him in the tower. The two murderers kill Clarence almost immediately upon entering, whereas in the play, they have all that wonderful dialogue about whether they should do it and so on.

Act II

A title card tells us, “Death of King Edward IV.” And we get a brief scene of Edward IV dying, while Richard and others look on. In the play, he dies offstage.


Title card: “Princes Edward and York, sons of Edward, are brought to London.” We see them arrive, where they are greeted by Richard. And we do get a shot of one of them mocking Richard by imitating him.

And we do see Richard entering onto the balcony between the two bishops and carrying a prayer book, after twice declining the crown. And when he accepts, the crowd cheers. This whole sequence is really good, particularly afterward when we see the two bishops exit and Richard immediately flings the prayer book aside.

Act IV

A title card tells us, “Gloster orders the young Princes to be taken to the Tower.” After that we see the coronation of King Richard the Third. Another title card tell us, “Buckingham, being refused his promised reward, leaves the court of Richard, with defiance.”

A title card says, “The Princes are murdered in the Tower.” We see the princes say their prayers and then go to bed. The two murderers enter and smother them, something that occurs offstage in the play. They then demand their pay of Tyrrell, who waits just outside the door. Tyrell then goes to tell Richard, who is clearly cheered by the news.

A title card reads: “Richard attempts to woo Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of the late King Edward. Her mother summons the Earl of Richmond from France to protect her.” For a moment, it seems that this film version has completely forgotten about Lady Anne. Part of the problem is that Queen Margaret is cut completely. But it seems that Lady Anne is wooed and then forgotten. We do get a shot of the letter Elizabeth has written to the Earl of Richmond.

Act V

A title card tells us, “Richmond sails from France,” and there’s actually a shot of the boat sailing toward shore (and the camera movies a bit in this shot, to keep the boat in frame). Interestingly, it is then that we get the title card, “Death of Lady Anne,” her death coming later than in the play. In the play, we learn of her death right after the princes are murdered. It’s an interesting shot, with Lady Anne asleep in bed in the foreground, and King Richard instructing someone to poison her, seen partially in shadow in the background. Lady Anne drinks the poison and dies immediately.

A title card tells us, “Richmond visits the Princess Elizabeth, to whom he is betrothed.” It’s interesting, because it sort of gives the impression that the battle is over Elizabeth. The next scene is Richard and his army departing to meet Richmond. A title card tells us, “Richard’s dream, the night before the battle.” In this version, the Ghosts all appear simultaneously (ah, early special effects), and point accusingly at Richard. Richard rushes out of his tent and falls to the ground. He is helped up by his men, and they rush off to battle. The battle scenes are all done in fairly wide shots. There is a shot of Richard’s corpse at the end.

Special Features

The DVD includes Rediscovering Richard: Looking Back At A Forgotten Classic, a seventeen-minute featurette which has interviews with Jean Picker Firstenberg, the director of the American Film Institute, and Bill Buffum, the man who donated his copy of the film to AFI. Buffum talks about working as a projectionist and about collecting films, including acquiring The Life And Death Of King Richard III. This featurette also goes into some of the other early silent Shakespeare films, and includes a bit of information on actor Frederick Warde.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Comedy Of Errors (1989) DVD Review

This version of The Comedy Of Errors is a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s presentation of a stage production by The Stratford Festival Of Canada. The stage production was directed by Richard Monette, and it was directed for television by Norman Campbell. With this play, there is always the question of how to do the two sets of twins, and how alike they should look and so on. This production uses just one actor (Geordie Johnson) for both of the Antipholus characters, and one actor (Keith Dinicol) for both of the Dromios.

Act I

The film opens with a shot of a clock striking twelve noon. Titles tell us this is “The Duke’s Palace” in “The Port Of Ephesus.” Aegeon’s opening speech is cut, and this production begins with Duke’s “Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more.” Aegeon delivers his long speech out to the audience.

The second scene has a title card as well: “The Market In Ephesus.” The first line, as spoken, is “Here, sir, say you are of Epidamnum” rather than “Therefore give out you are of Epidamnum.” There is some nice physical humor in this scene, as well as some sexual innuendo (like on “I am invited, sir, to certain merchants”). The clock has a place above the stage, constantly hanging over the action, and it’s referred to on the line, “Soon at five o’clock.”

Oddly, when Dromio of Ephesus arrives, a title appears: “The Wrong Twin Servant.” That’s pretty weak. And if the production had to rely on such things, how was the audience in the theatre kept apprised? Perhaps it was simply a note in the program.

Act II

The second act begins with a title, “The House Of Antipholus Of Ephesus,” and then with an added line, as Adriana tells Luciana, “It’s two o’clock,” time playing a big role in this production. When Dromio recounts his conversation, “quoth” is changed to “said.” And then rather than Luciana asking, “Quoth who?” everyone on stage asks, “Said who?

The title at the beginning of the second scene is “The Market In Ephesus.” Antipholus of Syracuse has a very playful, amused attitude toward Dromio, and even when Adriana (Goldie Semple) and Luciana (Lucy Peacock) enter. He looks up at the clock on the line “In Ephesus I am but two hours old,” looking at it after “but.” After “or idle moss,” there is a lighting change and all characters but Antipholus freeze. Antipholus then does his next speech, “To me she speaks…” to the audience, moving about the stage, and at the end returns to his initial position so the action can resume. The same thing happens when Dromio speaks of “goblins, owls and sprites.” It’s an interesting effect, giving us a stronger sense of the otherworldly forces they believe are at work here.


A shot of the clock at the beginning of the third act tells us it’s 3:15 p.m., and after a cute little dance a title card tells us, “The other Antipholus arrives home.” He, his Dromio, Angelo and Balthazar have obviously all been drinking. Balthazar sports a ridiculously tall wig. Because one actor plays both Dromios, the conversation between them at the gate is played in such a way that we see only the outside of the gate, and the other Dromio’s lines come from within (perhaps recorded?). Balthazar hiccups often during his long speech, and belches once. Antipholus of Ephesus says “Porcupine” rather than “Porpentine.”

A shot of the clock at the beginning of the second scene lets us know it’s now 3:30 p.m. Luciana adds a screeching, comical “What?” to this scene when Antipholus indicates he’s interested in her. When he asks for her hand, she almost gives it to him before coming to her senses and exiting. Dromio of Syracuse is hilarious in this scene, when talking about Luce, the kitchen wench. Angelo is still inebriated when he enters with the chain. He too says “Porcupine” rather than “Porpentine.”

Act IV

There’s an added comic chase with Luce after Dromio. The fourth act then begins with the title card, “A Street In Ephesus.” The title at the beginning of the second scene reads, “The House Of Antipholus Of Ephesus,” and a shot of the clock shows it to be 4 p.m. And the third scene begins with a title reading, “A Street In Ephesus.” It opens in that altered state, with everyone frozen except Antipholus of Syracuse, who delivers his opening speech to the audience. There is a wonderful moment after Dromio gives him the money and they both think the place itself is playing with them both, that it’s not the fault of Dromio or miscommunication. They are both silent in fear, and it’s seriously funny. The Courtesan is given a rather grand entrance. At the end of the scene she tosses a flower to a man in the audience, and it’s the only time we see any of the audience (though this shot might have been done later, for it’s close and steady on just two people, with everyone else in darkness, and seems anticipated if not altogether fabricated).

A shot of the clock tells us it’s 4:30 p.m. when the next scene begins, and a title card reads, “A Street In Ephesus.” The action freezes again for Dromio’s aside. But this Dromio’s speech is not related to witchcraft or dreams, so it doesn’t really work. It feels like the film has sort of broken the pattern, and now it’s simply about asides. Doctor Pinch is also given a rather elaborate entrance.

Act V

The fifth act begins at 4:45 p.m., with the title card, “Another Street In Ephesus.” In this version, the Merchant and Antipholus of Syracuse do fight with foils, and the fight is set to music. A title card reads, “The Abbey,” and when Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio arrive, their knocking is in time with music. The clock chimes five o’clock, making the Merchant’s line “By this, I think, the dial points at five” comical. Of course at the end, four actors are needed, and so two others appear, with their backs to the audience. The film of course gives us no close-ups of the other two. And much of their dialogue is cut. For example, we go from the Duke’s “Which accidentally are met together” to Adriana’s “Which of you two did dine with me today?” And in other cases the main actors speaks lines of both characters.

The DVD, part of the Stratford Collection, contains no special features.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Macbeth (2006) DVD Review

Geoffrey Wright’s film version of Macbeth is given a modern setting, dealing with a crime world, though retaining Shakespeare’s language. It’s an intriguing setting, but of course in the play Duncan is a rightful king, and by portraying everyone here as involved in crime, it casts a very different vibe over the whole thing. This film stars Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill, Lachy Hulme and Steve Bastoni. The screenplay was written by Geoffrey Wright and Victoria Hill.

Act I

The three witches are hot, young, but twisted girls dressed in school uniforms, shown first desecrating tombstones in a cemetery. The first scene ends with “There to meet with-” And the title comes on the screen.

Macbeth (Sam Worthington) sees the girls walking out of the graveyard, which is interesting. He and Lady Macbeth are at the grave of their son, Lady Macbeth on her knees, weeping. So clearly the child alluded to in the play has a significant presence in this version. Then we see Macbeth overseeing packages being delivered by a small boat. The drug deal goes sour, and a deadly battle results. Macbeth and Banquo (Steve Bastoni) then follow survivors to the club that functions as their lair, and capture Cawdor, the traitor.

The film then goes to Scene ii, beginning with “Brave friend” at the place of the battle, with Duncan now having arrived. But when Duncan asks, “Who comes here,” the answer is “The worthy Macduff,” rather than “The worthy Thane of Ross.” Duncan asks him, “Whence cam’st thou?” Macduff replies, “From Cawdor, where began the dismal conflict.” In the play, Ross answers, “From Fife, great king.” Meanwhile Macbeth and Banquo partake of some drug that’s on the table, so perhaps the witches’ appearance is hallucination. Macbeth turns on the club’s smoke machine and lights, so those elements are real. The witches are now wearing hot little gothic outfits. The first line is “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” from the first scene of the play, and Macbeth replies, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” Of course, that connection is in the play, but the lines are separated by a scene. Banquo is in the bathroom, vomiting, and so is not present. Still, Macbeth asks about them not speaking to him, leading the witches to deliver their prophecy regarding Banquo, but they do so to Macbeth, not to Banquo himself. Macbeth then bumps into Banquo who still delivers his lines, “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has,/And these are of them/Whither are they vanished?” But the lines have a different tone, because Banquo hasn’t seen the witches, and so doesn’t believe they were there at all. He has vomited up the drug that may still have possession of Macbeth’s mind.

It’s odd that Macbeth himself caught the Thane of Cawdor, because then his line to the witches about Cawdor still living doesn’t hold as much surprise; after all, Macbeth can assume Duncan will kill him. Duncan enters and speaks to Cawdor: “False friend, no more you shall deceive our bosom interest” (lines from the second scene). He then bestows the title and properties on Macbeth. This reordering takes away from the audience foreknowledge of Macbeth’s new title during the witches scene. Duncan then goes right to lines from Scene iv, when he speaks directly to Macbeth.

Macbeth goes home to find Lady Macbeth (Victoria Hill) asleep in the bath (itself a bit of foreshadowing). Then in bed, Macbeth says some of the lines which in the play Lady Macbeth reads aloud from his letter. Lady Macbeth’s first line then is “I fear thy nature;/It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness/To catch the nearest way.” But it’s said in an almost drowsy manner. And it is Macbeth who suddenly is ambitious, not Lady Macbeth. The film then goes back to Scene iv for the execution of Cawdor, who recites the Lord’s Prayer before being shot. After pronouncing Malcolm next in line, Duncan goes to Macbeth and says, “Let me infold thee/And hold thee to my heart,” lines which are delivered to Banquo in the play and further set Macbeth apart. Macbeth’s aside is done as voice over.

The film then returns to Scene v for Macbeth’s line “My dearest love,/Duncan comes here tonight.” Lady Macbeth has just done a line of cocaine, so perhaps her sudden ambition comes from that. Lady Macbeth steps outside to await Duncan, and we see a swing set, its single swing blowing eerily in the breeze, another reminder of the Macbeth child. And it is then that we get Lady Macbeth’s famous speech (“Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”), here given as voice over. And right as that speech ends, she and Duncan embrace. Malcolm is accompanied by a woman. Donalbain is cut from this version.

The beginning of Macbeth’s speech (“If it were done, when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well/It were done quickly”) is done as voice over, but then part of it is delivered to Lady Macbeth. Because the characters are all involved in criminal activity, Macbeth’s lines “his virtues/Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongu’d against/The deep damnation of his taking-off” don’t really carry any weight. But Lady Macbeth’s line about her dashing “the brains out” carries a lot of weight in this version, and it’s completely believable that that is the line that convinces Macbeth to do the deed. It’s a powerful moment.

Act II

Fleance’s “The moon is down” line is cut, and he goes right to “There’s slumber in heaven” (“husbandry in heaven” in the play). Most of the dialogue between Macbeth and Banquo is cut. The dagger Macbeth sees is a shadow on the wall, made by a light against a plant. The dagger speech is done at first as voice over. But once he realizes it’s a shadow, he smiles, and speaks the line “I see thee still” aloud. As in most film versions, we do see Duncan’s murder. And, like in some other versions, Duncan wakes first.

The second scene begins with Macbeth’s “I have done the deed.” While Lady Macbeth goes to place the daggers, there is a shot of Macduff with his wife at their home. He looks in on their child too (they have just one child in this version, which I think is a poor choice). And we see Lady Macbeth smearing the men with blood. The Porter is cut. Macbeth answers the door over an intercom system. We see Macbeth kill the two men. Lady Macbeth’s faint seems real in this version, upon seeing the bloody corpse of Duncan, rather than as a ruse to take the focus away from Macbeth. Macbeth’s “know it further” is aimed at Malcolm, which is enough to give Malcolm pause. Because Donalbain is cut, Malcolm’s conversation is with his female companion. After Macduff’s “He is already nam’d,” we see Macbeth being hailed at a party in his honor.

(By the way, every once in a while we see a man with a camera watching the action.)


Macbeth sees Banquo leave the party early with Fleance, and runs out to let him know of the supper being held that night. The “Ride” in “Ride you with Fleance this afternoon” refers to dirt bikes, not horses in this version. Macbeth’s lines about “a fruitless crown” are delivered to Lady Macbeth. And the film goes right to Scene ii for her response: “What’s to be done?” The scene where Macbeth speaks to the two murderers is cut. And the third murderer is cut. Added is a scene where police go to Malcolm, but there is no added dialogue.

Macbeth goes to speak to both murderers, not just one, at the beginning of the banquet scene. Macbeth sits at the head of the table, so cut is the bit where he is unable to find a seat. In the mirror he sees Banquo’s ghost. Macbeth’s “gory locks” becomes “gory head,” perhaps because Banquo’s hair is so short. Banquo’s ghost physically attacks Macbeth, or so Macbeth imagines.

Scene v is cut.

Act IV

The witches appear in Macbeth’s home, and it is possible that it’s a dream. Macbeth enters earlier than he does in the play, as this is perhaps his dream, so he hears the “Double, double, toil and trouble” bit. The witches are naked (as they are in Polanski’s film), and use Macbeth’s kitchen for their spell. And as one witch says the “pricking of my thumbs” line, Macbeth enters, visible just over her shoulder. She smiles at him after the “wicked” line, which could indicate she was teasingly calling him wicked, or that she enjoys his wickedness. The witches each drink from the potion, then offer some to Macbeth. They then hide from him, as a game. When he finds them, it becomes quite sexual, and it is then they warn him about Macduff and so on. I love that the witches laugh when Macbeth says, “Deny me this,/And an eternal curse fall on you.” The vision in this version is of several men saying “Hail Fleance,” rather than the parade of kings.

Because the Macduffs have but one child, “babes” becomes “babe” in “to leave his wife, to leave his babe.” Most of the dialogue between Lady Macduff and her son is cut. The Messenger is also cut, and Ross is given his lines. Because of the criminal element of this film’s world, Lady Macduff’s lines “where to do harm/Is often laudable, to do good sometime/Accounted dangerous folly” have a more immediate context. Macduff’s son is shot, but his line “He has killed me, mother” is cut. When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth watch the news report about the Macduff murders, Lady Macbeth looks with horror at Macbeth. This is the moment where she begins to turn away and lose it in this version. We also see Ross and Lennox seeing the same program.

Most of the dialogue between Malcolm and Macduff is cut, including all of the stuff where Malcolm is testing Macduff. Also cut is the part where Ross first says to Macduff that his wife and child are okay. Also cut are all the lines where Macduff repeatedly asks about his wife and children: “My children too?” and “All my pretty ones?/Did you say all?” It’s a shame to lose those, for that is usually a powerful and emotional moment.

Act V

The fifth act begins with the Doctor arriving outside. But it is daytime. The dialogue with the Gentlewoman is given in Lady Macbeth’s bedroom, while Lady Macbeth is in bed. Lady Macbeth rises and goes into the bathroom to wash her hands in the basin. Lady Macbeth speaks to the Doctor as if he were Macbeth. Lady Macbeth howls as they try to get her back into bed, until the Doctor gives her a sedative. Macbeth then enters (thus combining Scenes i and iii), and the way he asks, “How does your patient, Doctor” indicates he doesn’t really care. He’s so removed from his previous life at this point.

There is then a scene of the men arming themselves, those who will stand against Macbeth. Interestingly, Fleance stands among them. In the play, he disappears. One problem is that you kind of despise Macduff when he shoots two unarmed men who were abandoning their posts with Macbeth anyway. You have to be on Macduff’s side at this point, and this scene makes that impossible.

Lady Macbeth kills herself in the tub, and Macbeth rushes to her after hearing the Gentlewoman’s scream instead of being told of her death. The problem with that is that when he says “There would have been a time for such a word,” it doesn’t make much sense. That line is in response to “The queen, my lord, is dead,” which in this version is not spoken. The rest of the speech is cut, which is unforgivable.

The Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane is a bit goofy in this version. Macduff and company drive a Birnam Timber truck through Macbeth’s gate. The battle is done with guns rather than swords, which is always a weaker choice, and is done in slow motion without dialogue for a while, until Macbeth’s “They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly.” The next line, “But bearlike I must fight the course” is cut. However, that line refers to the previous line, so if you keep one, you must keep the other. All of Young Siward’s lines are cut, as are Siward’s. By the way, for this battle scene, Macbeth has donned a kilt, a sudden nod to the play’s original setting. After Macbeth is stabbed, he makes his way up to his bedroom, where Lady Macbeth is laid out on the bed (someone moved her from the tub), and kisses her, dying next to her. Oddly, Fleance goes into the bedroom and shoots the Gentlewoman, just going to show that everyone in this version is horrible. Macbeth is not beheaded. All of the lines after his death are cut. And as I feared, the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech is done as voice over at the end, which is stupid.

Special Features

The DVD contains a behind-the-scenes featurette, with an interview with Geoffrey Wright, in which he talks about the cast. There is also an interview with Sam Worthington, who talks about the project, about working with Geoffrey Wright, and yes, about the kilt. And there is an interview with Victoria Hill, who co-wrote the screenplay and played Lady Macbeth. She talks about the character of Lady Macbeth, saying, “She’s in a state of tragic denial, feels responsible for the death of her child, but can’t really continue living if she accepts that, so she’s trying to find blame everywhere else.” Interesting. She also speaks briefly about adapting the play.

The DVD also includes the film’s trailer.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life On Silver Street (2008) Book Review

In The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life On Silver Street, Charles Nicholl uses court documents to help reconstruct the time when William Shakespeare lodged with the Mountjoys. So the book focuses on the years 1603 – 1605, and relates some of what was happening with the Mountjoy family to the plays Shakespeare was working on at that time. The book traces the Mountjoy family as well, even a bit outside of their relation to Shakespeare. And Nicholl suggests that Shakespeare’s time there might have had an effect on the foreign characters he was creating. Nicholl writes: “And when the play went on tour, even Caius’ Frenchness becomes vague. In the 1602 quarto of Merry Wives, which is based on an abridged touring version of the play, Caius slips into German as well as French, suggesting that any old foreign accent or lexicon was sufficient when playing to provincial audiences” (p. 183). And: “In Shakespeare, and particularly in Shakespearean comedy, real English life as it was experienced by his audience was shown to them through a prism of foreignness, by which process it was subtly distorted and magnified. In this sense the foreign – the ‘strange’ – is an imaginative key for Shakespeare: it opens up fresher and freer ways of seeing the people and things which daily reality dulled with familiarity. It is his way into the dream world of comedy. He did not, as far as we know, ever leave the shores of England” (p. 193).

Interestingly, George Wilkins also plays a part in the case. Nicholl writes, “Shakespeare knew this dangerous and rather unpleasant character – indeed it is almost certain Wilkins wrote most of the opening two acts of Pericles” (p. 16). Stephen and Mary Belott, after their marriage, lived at George Wilkins’ house. “As we know, the ‘victualler’ George Wilkins was also a writer. He was, or became, a literary associate of Shakespeare – for a while a collaborator with Shakespeare – and so his brief appearance at the Court of Requests opens up something rather rare: a specific biographical context for a Shakespeare play. The play is Pericles, probably first performed in early 1608, and published the following year. The broad consensus among literary historians is that Wilkins wrote most of the first two acts and Shakespeare almost all of the rest” (p. 198). Nicholl then writes: “It is more or less exactly at this time, in the summer of 1605, that there begins an identifiable literary connection between Wilkins and Shakespeare. At this point, as far as the evidence remains, Wilkins was an unknown and unpublished author. But some time in or shortly after June 1605 he began work on a play for Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men. The play was Wilkins’s best and most charismatic work, The Miseries of Enforced Marriage” (pages 207-208). He then adds, “This skeletal and partly speculative narrative – a story of mutual literary opportunism – is a kind of prelude to Pericles, for it was doubtless the success of the Miseries, still onstage in 1607, that led to Wilkins’s collaboration with Shakespeare on Pericles” (p. 221). And regarding the character Marina, Nicholl writes: “It occurs to me that Marina in the bawdy house at Myteline might have some traces of a real person in a real situation – Mary Belott in the house of Wilkins. Her arrival there marks the first known connection between Shakespeare and Wilkins, and her presence there may have had a similar aspect of sexual vulnerability, of innocence cast among the wolves – or anyway may have been construed that way by Shakespeare, who cared about her and who perhaps felt some pangs of avuncular anxiety about the rackety circumstances in which she now found herself” (p. 223).

Later Nicholl comes back to Mary: “I have been teased by the possibilities of Shakespeare’s relationship with the charming Mrs. Mountjoy, but perhaps the person at the heart of the story is her daughter Mary, of whom we know next to nothing until she steps into the limelight of the Belott-Mountjoy suit. Her life touches Shakespeare’s in this circumstantial way, but seems also to touch his imagination. She is betrothed to a reluctant husband, as Helena is in All’s Well; she is banished ‘dowerless’ by the father, as Cordelia is in King Lear; she is lodged in the house of a pimp, as Marina is in Pericles. She is not the ‘model’ for these characters, any more than Stephen is the model for the recalcitrant bridegroom Bertram, but there are traces of her in them: a real young woman, living in the house where Shakespeare writes, and in the house of his co-author Wilkins. Was it Mary’s hands Shakespeare saw in his mind’s eye when he wrote in Pericles of a girl weaving silk ‘with fingers long, small, white as milk’?” (p. 270). Sure, this is speculation, but it’s intriguing.

This book also, in the appendix, includes the documents regarding the Belcott-Mountjoy case. So you can read them for yourselves and come to your own decisions. There are also some photos of the documents, and other photos related to the time.

The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life On Silver Street was published in 2008 by Viking Penguin.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Shakespeare References in The Doonesbury Chronicles

The Doonesbury Chronicles by G.B. Trudeau, a collection of the famous comic strip, contains a few Shakespeare references. Interestingly, they are all references to Hamlet. The first occurs in a strip where B.D. is in Vietnam. He shoots his pistol, and from off frame comes “A touch, I do confess it,” which of course is what Laertes says during his duel with Hamlet in the fifth act. The second comes when B.D. is back in the states, and Boopsie confesses that she is now working for McGovern. She tells him, “I know you’ll probably want to leave me, but B.D., I remember once reading somewhere, ‘To thy own self be true.’” That is a reference to Polonius’ advice to Laertes from Act I Scene iii, when he tells him, “This above all : to thine own self be true.” The third reference comes after Zonker tells Michael about his articulate plants. In one strip, Zonker says, “If you listen real closely, you might be able to hear Ed the geranium recite ‘Gunga Din’!” In the next strip, the plant says, “Alas, poor Gunga, I knew him well!” That, of course, is a reference to Hamlet’s famous lines from the first scene of Act V: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.”

The Doonesbury Chronicles was published in 1975 by Holt, Rinehart And Winston.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Shakespeare Reference in The Best Little Boy In The World

Andrew Tobias’ memoir The Best Little Boy In the World (published under the pseudonym John Reid) contains a reference to Hamlet. Reid writes, “You would never catch me electing art instead of science, playing Hamlet instead of tennis” (p. 31). The Best Little Boy In The World was originally published in 1973, then amended in 1976. The copy I read is from 1979, the fourth printing of the Ballantine Books edition.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Macbeth (revisited)

My Shakespeare study was originally a three-and-a-half year venture, in which I read one play a month, and watched as many film versions as I could find. Well, I continue to find and purchase more film versions, as well as different editions of the plays. So this month I decided to revisit The Tragedy Of Macbeth, as I had acquired another edition of the play, as well as a few more DVDs.

This time around I read The New Penguin edition, which was first published in 1967. My copy of the book is a reprint from 1987. This edition was edited by G.K. Hunter, and includes a forty-page introduction. In this introduction, Hunter writes: “But as a crime-does-not-pay story it is less concerned with the uncovering of the crime to others than with the uncovering of the criminal to himself” (p. 7). And then: “Macbeth falls, but does not do so primarily because of the processes or power of his enemies. His black tyranny produces the engines of his own destruction; the movement that carries Malcolm, Macduff and Seyward above him is generated first by his own downward tendency and only secondarily by their efforts” (p. 8). “When we first hear of Macbeth he is a great warrior, marvelously steeped in blood… The stage-horror of the messenger’s account of the extraordinarily bloody series of battles in Act I is being used at the explicit level to suggest that Macbeth is a hero. But I think that we are also aware (and meant to be aware) that this horrifying potentiality (even penchant) for destruction is held inside human morality only by bonds of loyalty that are easy to snap” (p. 9). About Macbeth, Hunter writes: “Macbeth fears to do evil; but what he fears is the image of himself committing the evil deed, rather than the evil deed itself. What is startling by its absence from this moral landscape is any sense of positive love for good, any sense of personal involvement in virtue, loyalty, restraint” (p. 10). On evil in the play, Hunter writes: “The play begins with the Witches, and the Witches must be supposed to be evil; but the mode of evil they can create is potential only, not actual, till the human agent takes it inside his mind and makes it his own by a motion of the will” (p. 11). Hunter also writes: “The deed is done, for reasons that he does not understand; the rest of his life is the attempt to live with the deed as well as the self that his social existence might seem to imply. The deed itself is a denial of all social obligations, all sharing, all community of feeling, even with his wife; but it is only gradually that the complete divorce between self and society is realized and accepted, where realization means total sterility, and acceptance requires moral death” (pages 16-17). Regarding performance, Hunter writes: “It has been supposed that the last figure in the dumb-show of kings in Act IV, scene 1, who is said in the text to have ‘a glass in his hand’, represented Mary, Queen of Scots; and used the glass to reflect the figure of James himself, the principal spectator of the play. No doubt it would have been improper to represent James in any other way; but it is difficult to see how the glass operated, or how the audience knew it was operating” (p. 30). And then: “Most modern Macbeths are of this breed – anxious, dismayed, hysterical, but lacking in the stature that would terrify us. It is worth noticing that the final duologue of Act III, scene 4, which is the emotional highlight of many modern productions, was hardly mentioned in the accounts of eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century productions” (p. 36).

The notes in this edition are presented after the play rather than at the bottom of the page, and there are no marks in the text to indicate when a note is present.

A note on the line “Hover through the fog and filthy air” reads, “This may be taken to imply that the witches depart by flying” (p. 139). The note on Ross’ line “Point against point-rebellious, arm ‘gainst arm” reads, “F reads ‘Point, rebellious’; most editors suppose that this makes rebellious qualify arm. I take the comma to be here (as often) equivalent to the modern hyphen, so that the first phrase means ‘sword raised against rebellious sword’” (p. 141). On Macbeth’s line “So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” Hunter notes: “catching up the ‘Fair is foul’ exit of the witches in I.1; so that, on entering, Macbeth seems to be entering into their world, in mind as well as body” (p. 142). Regarding Macbeth’s lines “I have no spur/To prick the sides of my intent but only/Vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself/And falls on the other,” Hunter notes, “The horse imagery of ‘Striding’ and ‘horsed’ leads now (1) to a view of Macbeth’s intention to murder as a horse that must be spurred, and (2) to a view of ambition (which could be a spur or stimulus) as a rider vaulting into his saddle, but overshooting the mark and falling on the other side” (p. 149). Hunter notes, regarding Macbeth, “We heard much about the loyally bloodstained Macbeth in I.2. The first time we see him bloodstained it is with the blood of his rightful King” (p. 152). Regarding the line “I pray you remember the porter,” Hunter notes: “Returning to his role as the company clown, the Porter begs for a tip” (p. 155). Hunter notes, regarding the line “Ring the bell,” “This is sometimes supposed to be a stage direction added by the prompter, and accidentally printed as part of the text” (p. 156). Regarding Macbeth’s lines “Ay, in the catalogue he go for men…” Hunter notes, “Macbeth now uses the taunt of unmanliness which was so effective when used against him” (p. 160). Regarding the Apparitions, Hunter writes that the Armed Head is “presumably that of Macbeth himself, cut off by Macduff” (pages 173-174), and that the Bloody Child is “presumably Macduff, ‘from his mother’s womb untimely ripped’” (p. 174), and that the Child crowned is “Malcolm, advancing with a branch of Birnan Wood” (p. 174). Regarding the spelling of “Birnan,” Hunter writes: “F has ‘Byrnam’ here; the correct form in modern geography is Birnam. But Elizabethan authorities spell the word with an n (‘Bernane’ in Holinshed; ‘Brynnane’ in Wintoun’s Original Chronicle); and this is the form the Folio uses on every other occasion when the name appears (IV.1.97; V.3.2 and 60; V.4.3; V.5.34 and 44; V.6.69). We must assume that the m is an error here, and that Birnan is the correct Shakespearian form” (p. 174). Regarding the word farced in Macbeth’s line “Were they not farced with those that should be ours,” Hunter notes: “The F word ‘forc’d’ is sometimes defended as having the sense of ‘reinforced’; but this meaning is only doubtfully attested. In view of the food images in the line before it seems best to take ‘forc’d’ as the common Elizabethan variant of farced” (p. 185). Regarding Macbeth’s line “There would have been a time for such a word,” Hunter writes: “His mind moves back from the meaninglessness of any future to the meaningfulness of the past. ‘At one time I could have responded to such a word (announcement).’ The transition to the following line implies the transition from that past to this present” (p. 186). And then regarding the line “in this petty pace,” Hunter writes: “in the petty manner of this pace. I assume that he paces as he speaks” (p. 186).

Related Books:

- Macbeth Before During After by Ben Crystal  -  This is a volume in the Arden Shakespeare’s Springboard Shakespeare series, and works as an introduction and study guide for students and those new to the play. Regarding the theatre in Shakespeare’s day, Crystal writes, “The legal fiction was that any performance at a public theatre was technically a rehearsal and preparation, before showing the play to the royal patron” (p. 5). And about current productions, Crystal writes: “Recently, some productions have placed a break at the beginning of Act 3, before Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s entrance as King and Queen, though many more run the play without an interval at all (but with cuts made to the text). Indeed, the ferocious action can make the play feel like it wants to sprint on to the end without pause” (p. 9). Regarding the Porter, Crystal writes: “The Porter is a famous character in the play who has a speech calling on ideologies and gags well known the Shakespeare’s audience. He jokes that he’s the porter to the gate to Hell, and perhaps he is. By killing the King in their castle, the Macbeths have essentially opened the doors to Hell” (p. 9). Crystal adds: “On a practical level, the scene gives an opportunity for the blood-soaked actors playing the Macbeths to change and wash. On a more symbolic level, if the Porter represents Macbeth’s castle as Hell then he reinforces the unsettling, supernatural element in the play. Indeed, some productions extend the part of the Porter to include the lines later used by the servant character Seyton. To an audience’s ear, it might sound as if Macbeth has grown so evil that even a minion of Hell is serving him” (pages 9-10). Regarding Shakespeare’s style, Crystal writes: “A speech full of longer thoughts indicate a mind more settled. A speech with many mid-line endings indicate a frantic, less composed state-of-mind – switching from subject to subject, the characters are interrupting themselves” (p. 15). Regarding the character Ross, Crystal writes: “Productions have reinvented Ross as Macbeth’s master spy, the man responsible for Banquo’s and Lady’s Macduff’s murder. He has also been reimagined as Duncan’s priest, a man who bears witness to the tragic horrors as they unfold and (taking on the role of Doctor) called on to minister to Lady Macbeth’s sleep-walking. Having been written in such an open-ended way, and not specified as being particularly good or bad, it’s a party you can choose to do very little with and ignore or one that can be given an important narrative arc throughout the whole play” (p. 18). About the text, Crystal adds: “The Hecate scenes (3:5 and 4:1) are now thought to have been written by Thomas Middleton, a collaborator who worked with Shakespeare towards the end of his career. Some productions include these scenes, some cut them” (p. 19). Crystal later adds: “Collaboration was a common practice in theatres then, and young writers wrote to their strengths, whether they excelled in plot, character, verse or prose. Some say that the lines spoken by Hecate in 3:5 were written by one of Shakespeare’s collaborators, Thomas Middleton, who is thought to have added the lines long after the play was first performed. Most are convinced of his participation because the song ‘Come away, come away’ (mentioned in a stage direction and sung by the Witches to send off Hecate) is found in a later Middleton play called The Witch” (pages 84-85). Crystal includes an historical note: “The crown of Scotland was originally not hereditary. When a successor was declared in the lifetime of a king, the title of Prince of Cumberland was immediately bestowed on him as the mark of his designation” (p. 20). Regarding the Witches’ last line of the first scene, Crystal tells us: “But it’s a nine-syllable line (rather than ten), making a bridge from the Witches’ tetrameter to Duncan’s pentameter which opens the next scene, with the possible effect of their chant blending and shifting into regular speech” (p. 30). Regarding Lady Macbeth’s line “Had he not resembled/My father as he slept, I had done’t,” Crystal writes: “Why would she murder Duncan, when she knows she had persuaded Macbeth to do it? And what psychological horrors lie in wait for her if she sees her father in the man they murder? Lady Macbeth returns the dagger to the King’s chamber; in so doing, covering her hands in blood, and momentarily sees the image she did not want to see – an image of her ‘father’ murdered. As we’ll see, both these images have a tremendous effect on her state of mind later in the play” (p. 46). And then regarding Lady Macbeth seeming to wash her hands, Crystal writes: “Witches were believed to have renounced their baptism by water; so in theory water cannot touch a witch. For Shakespeare’s audience, Lady Macbeth has become very witch-like” (p. 66). Regarding Macbeth’s death, Crystal writes: “Macduff has cut off Macbeth’s head, and carries it on-stage, presumably by the hair. Modern productions often have him carry a bloodied sack, to avoid the complications (and possible laughter) that can be triggered by an ill-made fake decapitated head” (p. 75). Regarding the character of Macbeth, Crystal writes: “The last shred of sympathy for him is often used up when Lady Macbeth dies. From thereon he feels like a man with nothing left to lose, although a form of pity for his tragic end is often reignited if the actor lets us see a look of shock during his final encounter with Macduff, as all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place for him” (pages 79-80). About long-term insomnia, Crystal writes: “Other symptoms of long-term sleep loss are menopause in women and impotence in men. Both are fascinating possible character choices, especially considering Lady Macbeth’s reference to losing a child. Equally so, as she lambasts Macbeth’s manliness, prompting his I dare do all that may become a man, and, after seeing Banquo’s Ghost, his I am a man again” (p. 83). This book was published in 2013.

- Macbeth: Language And Writing by Emma Smith  -  This volume is aimed at students, and focuses on the language of the play. Regarding the belief that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth to please James, Smith writes: “Perhaps, as has been suggested, the play addressed its depiction of regal tyranny to the increasingly absolutist James in a more satiric or subversive spirit, marking his unpopularity rather than toadying to his wishes. If contemporary references to the play are an index of its popularity, then Macbeth seems to have been markedly less favoured than Shakespeare’s other tragedies: maybe this suggests it was not a success” (p. 7). And then: “Macbeth is less about a simplistic identification of Catholicism as the enemy and more about the effects of fear, terror and guilt on a population and an individual. If it is not directly ‘about’ the Gunpowder Plot in any obvious way, then, Macbeth is marked by its legacy of political and social unease” (p. 9). Regarding the text, Smith writes: “It is generally assumed that the underlying text from which the printers worked was a theatre prompt-book (evidence for this includes the directions for offstage noises and the relatively complete entry and exit stage directions, which suggest a text prepared for use in the theatre)” (pages 15-16). Regarding Middleton perhaps having a hand in the text, Smith writes: “In addition, the stage direction formula ‘enter X meeting Y’ has been identified as distinctive to Middleton: it appears in Macbeth at the beginning of 2.1 and in 3.5. Gary Taylor has suggested that Middleton wrote about 11 per cent of the text of Macbeth as printed in the Folio (Middleton, 1165) including 3.5 and parts of 4.1, and, further, that he may have been responsible for cuts to the text that have produced so notably compressed a play” (p. 29). Regarding Macbeth’s “If it were done when ‘tis done” speech, Smith writes: “One noticeable feature of Macbeth’s soliloquy here is his inability to name the deed he contemplates. The witches later will claim that they do ‘a deed without a name’ (4.1.49): but that namelessness is anticipated here. The deed that is contemplated is so terrible as to be unnameable. We can see that Macbeth begins his speech here with pronouns rather than nouns: ‘If it were done when ‘tis done’ begins without the noun to which ‘it’ refers. In part we catch his thought here in mid-flow, as if he is continuing an internal conversation begun when he left Lady Macbeth with the words ‘We will speak further’ at 1.5.70” (pages 35-36). Regarding Banquo’s ghost, Smith writes: “The scene, 3.4, opens with the stage direction ‘Banquet prepar’d’ (3.4.0SD): although the word ‘banquet’ is never spoken in the scene, its presence in the stage direction is a submerged echo or anticipation of Banquo’s name (a pun anticipated by Duncan: ‘True, worthy Banquo: he [Mabeth] is full so valiant,/And in his commendations I am fed;/It is a banquet to me’ (1.4.54-6))” (page 56). Smith also writes: “and even in death Banquo pushes him from his usurped throne, which is only ever a stool” (p. 59). Regarding the shift toward Malcom near the end, Smith writes: “With the Macduff murders, the play tries to wake up our outrage as part of its shift towards the new order of Malcolm’s reign. It is followed immediately by the scene between Malcolm and Macduff, then that of the doctor and the gentlewoman observing Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking, then the scene with the thanes leading their soldiers towards Dunsinane. Thus, it is one of the means by which the play changes gear, aligning itself with Macbeth’s victims rather than, as before, with his own tortured psyche” (p. 70). Regarding the Witches, Smith writes: “Most ominous about the witches’ opening scene is their plan ‘to meet with Macbeth’ (1.1.7). Does this suggest they control him? Or merely know where he will be and can intercept him? Directing the play in 1934, Tyrone Guthrie cut 1.1 entirely, precisely because he felt it gave the witches undue influence: ‘by making the three Weird Sisters open the play, one cannot avoid the implication that they are a governing influence of the tragedy…Surely the grandeur of the tragedy lies in the fact that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are ruined by precisely those qualities that make them great’ (Braunmuller, 32)” (p. 112). Regarding the order of the opening scenes, Smith writes: “This sequence retrospectively turns the greeting ‘All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Cawdor’ into a prophecy, and further, suggests that the next statement, ‘All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter’ is another prophecy and one that will, similarly, be fulfilled. In fact the tense of the witches’ second greeting is not phrased as a future prediction but as a present fact – perhaps the witches simply know what has happened, rather than being able to predict the future. But that precise distinction is overwhelmed by the speed with which Macbeth is awarded the title of Cawdor” (pages 114-115). About Banquo, Smith writes: “He has heard that his children shall be kings, and appears to undertake no action to bring that about. His behaviour is not apparently changed by the prophecy in order to make it self-fulfilling” (p. 115). And then: “But the point is that Banquo hears a prophecy and does not obviously change his behaviour to meet it, and thus shows that this is a possible alternative to Macbeth’s chosen course of action” (p. 116). Regarding the first scene between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Smith writes: “He replies, ‘Tomorrow, as he purposes.’ So far, so innocent, as if the room were bugged. But why add ‘as he purposes’? A simple ‘Tomorrow’ would have done. In the husband-and-wife telepathy this added phrase means: ‘At least that is what he thinks,’ and that is enough of a cue for Lady Macbeth to pounce in with: ‘O! never/Shall sun that morrow see!’” (p. 131). Regarding the Porter scene, Smith writes, “But the echo of ‘king’ in the repeated word ‘knocking’ (4 times in 20 lines at the end of 2.2) may suggest that Duncan is half-remembered as a verbal ghost” (p. 140). And about Lady Macbeth, Smith writes: “The extent to which she still transgresses norms of female behaviour is striking, although it is also noticeable that, while her behaviour has been dominant in criticism of the play, no one within it, apart from Malcolm in the closing lines, ever expresses any condemnation of her” (p. 153). This book was published in 2013.

- The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo  -  This children’s book is presented in a comic book style, and is of animals putting on a production of Macbeth for an audience of other animals, who occasionally comment on the action. Macbeth is a lion, and Duncan is an owl. When Macbeth wins a battle, he’s not made Thane of Cawdor, but rather given the world’s largest hot dog. In this version, Banquo is named Banksy. Macbeth is bored, and his nose leads him to the three Weird Sisters. Next to their cauldron is a sign: “Today’s Special: King Stew! Free Wi-Fi” (p.9). The witches urge Macbeth to eat the king, telling him, “He tastes like chicken” (p. 10). Macbeth realizes what he wants is power. Macbeth tells his wife about the witches, rather than write a letter. He soon decides it isn’t right to eat the king, “So Lady Macbeth started nagging” (p. 14). Some cute lines result, like “Night, night, sleep tight. Be sure to eat the king tonight” (p. 15). Rather than a dagger, he sees a knife and fork, leading him to say, “Is this silverware I see before me?” (p. 19). He doesn’t carry out the utensils, so Lady Macbeth does not enter the king’s chamber in this version. The Porter is cut, as are Malcolm and Donalbain. Macduff is presented as a detective (and as a bird). Because there is no prophecy regarding Banksy’s heirs, Macbeth kills him simply to keep him quiet about the witches’ prediction that he’d eat the king. In this version, Macbeth kills Banksy before being crowned king. (A member of the audience says: “I’m confused. I thought Macbeth was the hero of the story. Is he a good guy or a bad guy?” (p. 33).) Lady Macbeth’s hands become stained when washing Macbeth’s dirty clothing. Rather than seeing a Ghost in the banquet scene, Macbeth believes he hears Banksy talking to him from his stomach. As this is presented as a play, there is an intermission. It’s positioned soon after the banquet scene, but first Macbeth takes a walk at night and says a line from his speech in Act V: “Out, out, brief candle.”  After the intermission he returns to “Out, out, brief candle,” until the audience calls out for the witches, and so the book then goes to Act IV Scene i, when the Witches warn him about Macduff. The other predictions are worded thus: “Macbeth cannot be killed by another person who’s been born from a mother. Macbeth won’t taste defeat or hassle until the trees march toward his castle” (p. 46). It lacks Shakespeare’s poetry, of course, but leads to some humorous lines, like “And I want you to chop off the feet of every tree in the forest. That’ll stop them from coming any closer” (p. 48). Macbeth eats Macduff’s wife and children. Lady Macbeth says, “Out! Out! Dumb spot!” (p. 56). Then she scrubs herself so hard that she, as Macbeth says, “rubbed herself out” (p. 61). It is due to a lack of armor that the soldiers cut down branches from the trees in this version. Macbeth gives the “tomorrow” line, but in a different context: “I bet tomorrow will be lousy too. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” (p. 65). Macduff says: “But I wasn’t born from a mother. I was delivered… By a stork!” (p. 68). Macduff doesn’t decapitate Macbeth in this version. In fact, none of the characters are actually dead. Macduff jumps on Macbeth’s belly, and all the characters that were eaten are suddenly freed. It ends with the animals planning a production of Romeo And Juliet. This book was written by Ian Lendler, and the art was done by Zack Giallongo. Alisa Harris is credited with the color. This book was published in 2014 by First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press.

- Exposure by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes  -  This is a volume in the Twisted Lit series, and is a modern adaptation of Macbeth, setting the events in a high school in Alaska. Alaska really works for the Macbeth tale, as this description shows: “This was home, but there was a bleakness and foreboding atmosphere that made you cling more tightly to the people in your life” (p. 52). After the prologue, the story is told from the perspective of Skye Kingston, a high school student who is into photography and is a bit of an outsider. Skye has a crush on Craig Mackenzie, this version’s Macbeth. But Craig is dating Beth Morgan, the book’s Lady Macbeth. Beth wants desperately to be prom queen (the high school equivalent of queen of Scotland), and even Craig describes her as “ambitious” (p. 24). Duncan Shaw is the senior hockey team captain. Duff Wallace is this telling’s Macduff, and Kristy Winters is Lady Macduff, Duff Wallace’s girlfriend. When the story begins, Duff is already out of town, away in Scotland on a student exchange program, and Kristy believes that Beth is somehow responsible for his exile. Each of the chapter titles comes directly from the play. For example, the first chapter is “Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair.” And in that chapter, Craig says, “Foul is fair, fair is foul,” referring to the referee not calling a foul on him during a game. The second chapter is titled “I Dreamt Last Night of the Three Weird Sisters,” and this chapter introduces this book’s version of the three witches: Cat Ayuluk, Kaya Gilbert and Tess Littlefish. When introduced, they are wearing demonic-looking masks, which they created for a class project. And this book’s version of the prophecy involves handing Craig a mask. Cat tells him: “The red color signifies royalty and power” (p. 19). And Kaya warns him: “Red can also signify blood and death” (p. 19). The fourth chapter is titled “Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing,” and in it the students are assigned to read Faulker’s The Sound And The Fury, whose title of course comes from Macbeth’s famous speech. For Halloween, the three girls wear witch hats, and Craig is dressed as Elvis (get it – the King). Later, Tess says, “It’s a cauldron in here” (p. 109), a nice little reference to the Witches’ famous prop. Duncan Shaw does die in this version, but it may be the result of an accident, rather than Craig deliberately murdering him. Skye overhears Beth say, “What’s done is done, Craig” (p. 54). She then continues: “It was an accident. I’m just as freaked out about this as you are, so just get a grip!” (p. 54). Later Craig also says, “What’s done is done” (p. 154). The title of the eighth chapter is “Nothing in His Life Became Him Like the Leaving It,” though in this version that line seems to refer to Duncan, whom we learn in this chapter has died. The spot that will later drive Beth a bit mad in this adaptation is a red dot on her white leather coat. Like the Macbeths, Beth has trouble sleeping. “Not that I could sleep anyway” (p. 81), she says. And later, “Beth ambled around school like she was sleepwalking” (p. 127). Beth also says, “My hands are not clean” (p. 107), reminding us of Lady Macbeth trying to scrub her hands in her sleep. And moments later, seeing the red spot on her coat, Beth “started rubbing furiously at the wool and leather coat with her bare hands until they were raw and chafed” (p. 108). Later Skye tells us she’s heard that Beth has “been admitted to a psychiatric facility” (p. 205). The twenty-first chapter is titled “Double, Double, Toil And Trouble,” and in it Kaya says, “I just pricked my thumb on the pin,” a cute reference to one of the play’s most famous lines. Craig and Beth do become prom king and queen, as the Macbeths become king and queen in the play, and Craig asks the three girls for more prophecies, as Macbeth returns to the Weird Sisters. They tell him things are good, leading him to respond, “I’m out of the woods?” (p. 160). This, of course, is a play on the Witches prediction, “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until/Great Birnam Wood to high Duninane Hill/Shall come against him” (from Act IV Scene i.) There is a further reference to Birnam Wood, in that a tree on campus is fondly referred to as “Old Burny” (p. 185). And then an environmentalist, in leading a protest against the cutting down of that tree, has several other students march forward with construction paper leaves on posterboard. Another student comments, “It looks like we’re being attacked by a grove of angry trees” (p. 187). Craig and Duff do fight in this version, but over something seemingly trivial. Craig doesn’t get decapitated, but he does get “a gash about his left eye” (p. 168). When Skye admits having trouble with her senior project, her teacher says, “The attempt, and not the deed confounds you” (p. 202), a reference to Lady Macbeth’s line, “Th’ attempt and not the deed/Confounds us,” from Act II scene ii. This book has a few references to other Shakespeare plays. For example, Skye describes Beth: “She brushed past me and practically leaped into Craig’s arms, clutching him with heightened histrionics, as if he were Romeo, soon to be forever banished from Verona” (p. 10). And later she tells us, “I didn’t want to run the risk of running into a pack of wolves, or worse still, a beast with two backs,” a reference to Othello. There is also a Hamlet reference when Skye sees what Beth wrote in memory of Duncan: “Good night, sweet prince” (p. 126). And in one class they discuss one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The first four lines from Sonnet 130 are quoted: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;/Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;/If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;/If hairs be wired, black wires grow on her head” (p. 104). Exposure was published in 2012 by Merit Press.

- Traffic With Macbeth by Larissa Szporluk  -  This is a book of poetry whose title comes from a scene that is often cut from productions of Macbeth, and which some believe was actually added later by Thomas Middleton: Act III Scene v, the Hecate scene. Hecate says to the Witches: “How did you dare/To trade and traffic with Macbeth/In riddles and affairs of death.” The book then opens with a couple of lines from Act I Scene iii: “Come what come may,/Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.” The poems themselves deal with death and witches and other elements familiar to readers of the play. Here is a stanza from the poem titled “Traffic With Macbeth”: “or a king/with a king-eating/fungus” (p. 5). And then in a poem titled “The Fungus,” Szporluk writes, “The greater than we./The less than we” (. 54), which brings to mind the witch’s line to Banquo from Act I Scene iii: “Lesser than Macbeth and greater.” Traffic With Macbeth was published in 2011, though these poems appeared earlier in various publications.

For those who are interested, here are links to my other Macbeth-related blog posts:
- Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Macbeth (Part 1: Books)
- Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Macbeth (Part 2: Films and Television Programs)
- Duel Scene From Macbeth (1905) DVD Review
- Macbeth (1948) DVD Review
- Macbeth (Independent Shakespeare Company 2013 Production)
- Macbeth (A Noise Within 2014 Production)