August 20 - 26, 2006
|Saturday, August 26, 2006
Let's wrap up Shakespeare Week with these pieces:
Here's Simon Callow on Stanley Wells' Shakespeare and Co:
Books have distinct personalities - aggressive, manic-depressive,
ingratiating or manipulative. Shakespeare and Co, as signalled by
its Kiplingesque title, is warm, cheerful, generous and friendly: a
companionable book. Reading it is like spending a long and
lingering evening with Dr Wells as he shares his intimate and
curious knowledge of the period and the man, making us become
Shakespeare's contemporary, not he ours.
(I always have a hard time sampling a Callow review. He's a
tremendously good writer.) The cover of the book looks
great, as well, and, surprisingly, was not changed for the
From Project Gutenberg, another incisive commentary on the Bard, Shakespeare's Insomnia and the Causes Thereof by
Franklin H. Head (1887):
If, therefore, insomnia had prevailed in or before his time, in his pages shall we find it duly set forth. If he had suffered, if the
"fringed curtains of his eyes were all the night undrawn," we shall find his dreary experiences—his hours of pathetic misery,
his nights of desolation—voiced by the tongues of his men and women.
The scholar, Head, unearthed letters to Shakes from Will Kempe:
GLOBE PLAYHOUSE, EMPLOYMENT BUREAU, May 25, 1602.
In much tribulation do I write thee as to the contention which hath arisen among our stock actors and supes of the Globe. Nicholas
Bottom, whom you brought from the Parish workhouse in Stratford, is in ill humor with thee in especial. He says when he played
with you in Ben Jonson's comedy, "Every Man in his Humor," he was by far the better actor and did receive the plaudits of all;
despite which he now receives but 6 shillings each week, while you are become a man of great wealth, having gotten, as he verily
believes, as much as £100.
from John Lyly:
AT THE ELEPHANT & MAGPIE INN, LONDON, May 29, 1602.
TO WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE:
This is written to thee by John Lely, a clerk, in behalf of Nicholas Bottom, who useth not the pen, and who says to me to tell
William Shakespeare, fie upon him that he did order the aforesaid Bottom to be locked out of the Globe Playhouse. Hath he
forgotten the first play he, William Shakespeare, did ever write, to wit, "Pyramus and Thisbe," when a boy at Stratford, which was
played by himself and Nicholas Bottom and Peter Quince and others, in a barn, for the delectation of the townsmen?
and one from his wife, Anne, chastising him for his riotous London lifestyle:
Item. He doth report that you do pass among men as a bachelor, and, with sundry players and men of that ilk, do frequent a house
of entertainment kept by one Doll Tearsheet, and do kiss the barmaid and call her your sweetheart.
Item. He doth also report that you did give to the daughter of the publican at whose house you do now abide, a ring of fine gold,
and did also write to her a sonnet in praise of her eyebrows and her lips, and did otherwise wickedly disport with the said damsel.
Item. He doth further report of you that you did visit, with one Ben Jonson, on the Sabbath-day, a place of disrepute, where were
cock-fights and the baiting of a bear, and that with you were two brazen women, falsely called by you the wife and sister of Ben
Nag, nag, nag. No wonder she only got the second best bed. And no wonder he couldn't sleep. Ben Jonson probably beat
the hell out of him for that last comment. To hear Anne tell a different tale (a quite bawdy one) of why she got the second
best bed you can listen to Robert Nye's play, Mrs. Shakespeare on BBC7 (Listen Again option is good through Fri Sept 1).
Hope you enjoyed Shakespeare Week at The Bibliothecary.
The Bibliothecary always welcomes Shakespearean comments.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Some interesting Shakespeariana at Project Gutenberg::
Ever wonder about the Norwegian Shakespearean tradition? Wonder no more. Here's a 1917 dissertation by Martin
Brown Rudd, An Essay Toward a History
of Shakespeare in Norway, in which we learn Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy in Landsmaal, a literary language
(based on "best" dialects), created by Ivar Aasen in the 19th Century:
Te vera elder ei,—d'er da her spyrst um;
um d'er meir heirlegt i sitt Brjost aa tola
kvar Styng og Støyt av ein hardsøkjen Lagnad
eld taka Vaapn imot eit Hav med Harmar,
staa mot og slaa dei veg?—Te døy, te sova,
alt fraa seg gjort,—og i ein Sømn te enda
dan Hjarteverk, dei tusend timleg' Støytar,
som Kjøt er Erving til, da var ein Ende
rett storleg ynskjande. Te døy, te sova,
ja sova, kanskje drøyma,—au, d'er Knuten.
Fyr' i dan Daudesømn, kva Draum kann koma,
16 naar mid ha kastat av dei daudleg Bandi,
da kann vel giv' oss Tankar; da er Sakji,
som gjerer Useldom so lang i Livet:
kven vilde tolt slikt Hogg og Haad i Tidi,
slik sterk Manns Urett, stolt Manns Skamlaus Medferd,
slik vanvyrd Elskhugs Harm, slik Rettarløysa,
slikt Embæt's Ovmod, slik Tilbakaspenning,
som tolug, verdug Mann fær av uverdug;
kven vilde da, naar sjølv han kunde løysa
seg med ein nakjen Odd? Kven bar dan Byrda
so sveitt og stynjand i so leid ein Livnad,
naar inkj'an ottast eitkvart etter Dauden,
da uforfarne Land, som ingjen Ferdmann
er komen atter fraa, da viller Viljen,
da læt oss helder ha dan Naud, mid hava,
en fly til onnor Naud, som er oss ukjend.
So gjer Samviskan Slavar av oss alle,
so bi dan fyrste, djerve, bjarte Viljen
skjemd ut med blakke Strik av Ettertankjen
og store Tiltak, som var Merg og Magt i,
maa soleid snu seg um og strøyma ovugt
og tapa Namn av Tiltak.
I'd love to hear this. Especially because Rudd is so passionate about its beauty:
This is a distinctly successful attempt—exact, fluent, poetic. Compare it with the Danish of Foersom and Lembcke, with the
Swedish of Hagberg, or the new Norwegian "Riksmaal" translation, and Ivar Aasen's early Landsmaal version holds its own. It
keeps the right tone. The dignity of the original is scarcely marred by a note of the colloquial. Scarcely marred!
Which, of course, begs the question, is the goal of a translation merely to "scarcely mar" its original?
Perhaps Norwegian literary dialects are not to your taste? Then try Shakespeare and Precious Stones by George
Frederick Kunz, which is about exactly what the title says, "Treating of the Known References of Precious Stones in
Shakespeare's Works, with Comments as to the Origin of His Material, the Knowledge of the Poet Concerning Precious
Stones, and References as to Where the Precious Stones of His Time Came from." How humankind was able to make it
without this knowledge I'll never know, but thank god for Kunz who begins his study:
So wide is the range of the immortal verse of Shakespeare, and so many and various are the subjects he touched upon and adorned
with the magic beauty of his poetic imagery, that it will be of great interest to refer to the allusions to gems and precious stones in
his plays and poems. These allusions are all given in the latter part of this volume. What can we learn from them of Shakespeare's
knowledge of the source, quality, and use of these precious stones?
And here's the complete list of precious stones mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare, not to be confused with the stones in
the poems. Hamlet, this pearl is thine.
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Let's just make this Shakespeare week. Shakespalooza!
For your viewing pleasure, via YouTube, here are the Beatles doing the Mechanicals' Pyramus and Thisbe skit. Paul plays
Pyramus; John, Thisbe; George, Moonshine; Ringo is the lion.
Even funnier is this Black Adder skit with Rowan Atkinson persuading Hugh Laurie as Shakespeare to trim the lines in
Hamlet. And here's the skit's script if you are YouTube impaired.
But most enticing of all is this newsreel featuring Orson Welles' Voodoo Macbeth, which he directed in Harlem for the
WPA. This clip features the final fight between Macbeth and Macduff and while the actors' delivery seems a little stilted, this
still looks like it would have been a fantastic show. You can find some photographs here. And check out this great poster.
Oh, for a time machine.
But if you're looking for a little reading material, check out this NYTimes piece from last month on several new war-themed
productions of Shakespeare:
"A fun-filled evening of violence, gore and mutilation" is how "Titus Andronicus" is introduced by a toga-wearing cast member to
audiences at the Globe. This early Shakespearean work, dutifully modeled after the revenge tragedies in vogue in the late 16th
century, is notorious for its gross-out quotient, featuring assorted acts of onstage amputation and climaxing with a cannibal banquet
in which a mother unwittingly feasts on pies made from her dead sons. The Globe production is awash in stage blood and simulacra
of severed heads and hands, while the Ninagawa Company borrows from the pristine style of vintage Peter Brook, with an all-white
abstract set and red ribbons for stage blood.
It's good to see Titus
Andronicus getting the
respect it deserves. I
doesn't really need any
puffing, but Titus has
always been maligned
as (read in your best
snooty voice) "coarse
and unbefitting such a
genius as Shakespeare."
I've always loved the
play and thought it
would be very moving
(and fun) on the stage.
I'd love to see a production of Titus.
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' coarse and unbefitting comments.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
William Blake. Portrait of Shakespeare, c. 1800-1803
On Sunday two friends and I drove from Philadelphia to New Haven, Connecticut to see the Searching for Shakespeare
exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art. Eight hours (four each way) is a long drive for only an hour or so of museum time,
but, my god, was it worth it. What a knockout. Shakespeare's will, deeds and charters with his name attached, portraits of
lots of 17th Century writers and aristocrats. And lots of books. A First Folio greets the show, along with a plaster cast of
the fat burgher Willy from Shakespeare's tomb. I was so tempted to rub the head of that statue. I settled for a swipe along
his fingers. Such idolatry.
High points of the show:
A Titus Andronicus ballad with some great woodcuts of the brothers getting their throats cut and their mother eating a tasty
The van Buchel drawing of the Swan Theatre was surprisingly vivid.
A bear skull that was excavated when digging for the new Globe Theatre, a grisly reminder of Elizabethan entertainments
(although I just learned that bear baiting still goes on).
The account of Edmund Tilney, Master of Revels, recording plays performed at court by one Shaxberd.
The death's head memorial rings with their leering skulls.
The miniatures were breathtaking: Henry Wriothesley, Mary Sidney, Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh. The vivid colors
and detail are just astonishing when you see them in person.
The portraits. No reproduction in a book or online really does them justice.
It was great to see Richard Burbage up close with his massive, fleshy nose.
The portrait of Ferdinando Stanley, patron of Lord Strange's Men, with his big mole and the bags under his eyes. No
beautifying here. Paint me ugly as I am. (Wish I could find a copy of this online)
Michael Drayton looked ghastly. Pale and stern. The laurel wreath seemed so out of place on his head. (only a poor black
and white online)
William Drummond looked fey and snooty, his smile a mocking grimace.
I was surprised at the size of the John Fletcher painting. Looked like he suffered from short guy syndrome. Make my
portrait very large. (another painting I couldn't find online)
And the best portrait of all (besides the Chandos) was Ben Jonson with his "rockye face," looking like he could come out of
the wall and kick the shit of you.
The Shakespeare portraits.
The Flower portrait is so surreal with its swirls of bright colors in the background like some 60s psychedelic rock poster.
The Sanders and Grafton portraits, hung alongside the Chandos, pale in comparison. We so don't want Shakes to be either
one of those, especially when he could be the Chandos rogue, hair frizzy and earring gleaming. And the earring does gleam.
I was taken aback by its brightness. But the face is so honest, unglamorous. Easily the most thrilled I've been looking at a
painting. I know, I know, hero worship and all that. Why should a "supposed" portrait of a writer matter so much? Its
absence would not diminish the words. But to see it, to imagine Shakes sitting for it. To have a real face instead of just the
cartoonish Droeshout is thrilling to see.
Not all of the pieces from the National Portrait Gallery show travelled here. Not present, but sorely missed:
The supposed Christopher Marlowe portrait
The John Donne in melancholic pose just purchased by the NPG (I've posted my feelings about this one before, Feb 5, and
Ben Macintyre has a good piece on it here).
The manuscript containing a fragment of the Thomas More play. It would have been thrilling to see what could be Shakes'
And I would have loved to have seen the Henry Peacham drawing of the Titus performance.
I purchased the exhibition catalogue (to help preserve my godawful memory) and a Shakespeare action figure (to keep
company my Dickens, Sherlock and Poe).
The Bibliothecary always welcomes literary idolatry.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Well, I'm preparing a little review of the Shakespeare show, but I probably won't finish it until later, so here are a few more
John Sutherland reviews some of the latest books in the Shakespeare Wars:
Some critical industries are harmonious. Dickensians rub along happily. Shakespearians, famously, don’t. They launch books,
articles and editions at each other like Katyushas. Rosenbaum’s title The Shakespeare Wars - tasteless as it may sound when real
people are dying in real wars - is spot on. Rosenbaum himself, he is quick to remind us, is no warrior, but a distinguished reporter.
One commentator has gone so far as to call him “one of the most original journalists of our time”. Metaphorically flak-jacketed, he
is the Rageh Omaar or Christiane Amanpour of Shakespeare studies, and has resolved to visit the front lines of the 400-year war
and interview the combatants.
"Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war" (or literary skirmishes).
Or if you prefer your Shakespeare inspirational (lit crit battles rarely inspire), you can listen to this NPR piece on the film,
"Shakespeare Behind Bars":
In the play, hardened criminals find themselves trapped on a deserted island. They fight to survive, find meaning in their lives and
look for forgiveness from the people they have wronged.
At the prison, actor and director Curt Toftleland has been using the words of the Bard to teach inmates about hope, redemption and
maybe about themselves.
For a full year, documentary filmmakers followed the lives of Toftleland, inmate Hal Cobb and fellow convict thespians as they
prepared to perform The Tempest.
"Then, York, unloose thy long-imprison’d thoughts
And let thy tongue be equal with thy heart."
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' imprison'd thoughts.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Hope to be back tomorrow to give you a review of the Searching for Shakespeare exhibit. It was worth the eight hours of
driving. Here are a couple links to tide you over until then:
Lucy Hughes-Hallett on the many faces of Cleopatra.
And a review by Stanley Wells of the new Arden editions of Hamlet, which include three very different texts of the play, the
First Quarto, the Second Quarto and the First Folio:
The note on 'groundlings' doesn't refer to Andrew Gurr's information that the word, new at the time, meant small fish living in mud
at the bottom of the water, an insult implying that spectators standing in the Globe's yard gaped up at the actors above them like fish
from the bottom of a stream, palliated perhaps by Q1's substitution of the more neutral 'ignorant'.
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I watched The Hobart Shakespeareans last night, a one hour documentary about a fifth grade elementary school class in Los
Angeles run by teacher Rafe Esquith. If your local PBS station runs it (I caught it on the POV program), watch it, or find a
copy of it. Absolutely inspiring. What a program. From the synopsis:
Imagine the sight and sound of American nine- and eleven-year-old children performing Shakespeare's Hamlet or Henry V — and
understanding every word they recite. Imagine them performing well enough to elicit praise from such accomplished Shakespearean
actors as Ian McKellen and Michael York, and to be invited to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. Such a
spectacle would be highly impressive in the toniest of America's private schools. But what if the kids were the children of recent
Latino and Asian immigrants attending a large Los Angeles inner-city public school in one of America's toughest neighborhoods?
Why can't all grades be like this? No dumbed down reading for these kids. They read Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the
Rye, Huck Finn, and Shakespeare. Then they perform a Shakespearean play at the end of the year. The kids in the
documentary were working on Hamlet. And the few scenes in the documentary were just jaw-droppingly good. The catch
is that they have an exceptional teacher to guide them through it (and it doesn't hurt that they go to a year round school, July
through April). But I guess it all operates on a simple formula: if you fill a child's life with good stuff all day long, that child
will grow and bloom. Now I have to go do the same with my kids.
But first, I'm going on a road trip with a friend (perhaps two) to the Yale Center for British Art to see the Searching for
Shakespeare exhibit that I've mentioned in past blog posts. I'll give you all a detailed review. Off to Yale.
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.
|Stasys Eidrigevicius' poster for a Polish
production of Titus Andronicus