REBLOG: British Council – #ShakespeareNoFilter

Reblogged from: Scarlet’s Web (BookLikes)

www.shakespearelives.org/explore/shakespearenofilter

As part of our Shakespeare Lives programme, we are retelling three of the Bard’s most iconic plays through the lens of Instagram! Set throughout Europe, these modern adaptions will inspire and intrigue. This is where you can catch up with the stories so far, and on Instagram you can follow @britishcouncileurope to watch them unfold in real time…

#ShakespeareNoFilter | British Council

#ShakespeareNoFilter | British Council

#ShakespeareNoFilter | British Council

http://www.shakespearelives.org/explore/shakespearenofilter

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1453590/shakespearenofilter

The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare (BBC)

The Gold Standard

In 1978, the BBC ambitiously set out to produce all of Shakespeare‘s 37 plays for television. (Alright – so it’s 38 … so they didn’t include The Two Noble Kinsmen, which is cribbed from Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale anyway. But who’s counting beans?) With casts featuring the better part of British acting nobility, including some promising (then-)newcomers, the enterprise was completed in two launches with distinct creative approaches and, for all occasional frictions in continuity, remains a one-in-a-kind endeavor: the gold standard every Shakespeare enactment must either meet or fall short of in comparison; for truthfulness to the Bard’s intent as much as for stellar acting and production values. While the complete series has since been made available on DVD in region 2 (European) and 4 (Australian) encoding, only 20 of the plays have also been released in region 1 (North American) format, in two sets of five tragedies, as well as one set each of comedies and histories: one might have wished for some additions, or more sets overall; but all available compilations are worth their price’s every penny.

Tragedies

Laced with murderous schemes, revenge, and the search for justice, love, and peace of mind, Shakespeare‘s tragedies delve into the human mind’s darkest recesses; exploring greed, envy, ambition, guilt, remorse, and pure evil next to compassion, generosity, humility, and innocence, all interwoven in timeless plots unmatched in variety, construction, and richness of characters. Interpretation is substantially left to the actors: Despite Hamlet’s litany of directions to the Players appearing in that tragedy’s “play-within-the-play” – directions representing Shakespeare‘s own grievances, including his irritation with comedian Will Kempe’s tendency for spotlight-seeking beyond his scenes’ actual confines (therefore, “let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them. For [some] will … set on [the uninformed] spectators to laugh …, though [meanwhile] some necessary question of the play [must] be considered. That’s villanous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it,” Hamlet quips) – the ultimate actors’ playwright gives few express stage directions, leaving his own players considerable freedom, and making the world wonder, ever since their Globe Theatre premiere: What’s driving the Prince of Denmark – madness? revenge? indecision? something else entirely? Is Claudius, that tragedy’s king, evil incarnate or a man wrecked with guilt? Is Othello’s antagonist Iago bent on revenge because he “hate[s] the Moor,” or giddily enjoying his malicious plots’ every second? How much capacity for guilt has Macbeth ultimately left: is he truly, thoroughly corrupted, or has something of the king’s loyal thane remained inside him?

Region 1 Set 1
Hamlet

The set’s natural centerpiece, both for its preeminence among Shakespeare‘s plays and for this production’s superb quality, is Hamlet, the Bard‘s four-hour-long adaptation of the Danish Amleth saga. As the Prince, Derek Jacobi – the legitimate heir to Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, and mentor to Kenneth Branagh – gives a lifetime’s performance: if you only know him as Claudius the Stutterer from the magnificent adaptation of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, or as Cadfael from the equally magnificent series based on Ellis Peters‘s books, you’re in for a truly unexpected treat. For Jacobi‘s first love is the theater, and it shows: with near-unmatched insight into Shakespeare‘s world (particularly this play and its title character), he makes the Prince of Denmark all his own, in a portrayal easily on par with the best in existence. There’s no pulling of punches here, no wavering like Olivier’s; but no genuine madness, either – just pure, unrestrained passion, often swinging between emotional extremes within seconds: I wonder whether Mel Gibson’s vaguely similar approach in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 movie was based on a study of Jacobi‘s performance. The production also features Patrick Stewart as a Claudius covering emotions from Macchiavellian intrigue to deeply-felt guilt, Claire Bloom as an unrivaled, regal, but very vulnerable Getrude, Eric Porter as scheming master politician Polonius (never mind that Hamlet calls him a “tedious old fool”), Robert Swann as one of the strongest Horatios I’ve ever seen, Emrys James as a wonderfully congenial Player King, Lalla Ward as a sweet, but not too sweet Ophelia, David Robb as impetuous Laertes, Tim Wylton as the First Gravedigger and Peter Gale as Osric (both milking their scenes to optimum, but never over-the-top effect), and an outstanding cast rounded out by Patrick Allen (the Ghost), Ian Charleson (Fortinbras), Jonathan Hyde (Rosencrantz), Geoffrey Bateman (Guildenstern), and Paul Humpoletz (Marcellus).

Macbeth

The “Scottish Play”‘s impact rests almost entirely on the shoulders of its title character and his lady, and those of Nicol Williamson and – particularly – Jane Lapotaire’s breathtaking Lady Macbeth provide strong support indeed for the Thane-of-Glamis-turned-king (and murderer) and his ruthlessly ambitious wife. Brenda Bruce, Eileen Way and Anne Dyson scare you near-witless as the witches, maliciously mock-echoed by James Bolam’s Porter, and besides Ian Hogg’s Banquo and Tony Doyle’s Macduff, among the production’s most impressive performances are Jill Baker’s and Crispin Mair’s (Macduff’s wife and son).  One of my other great favorites in the entire series, and easily my second favorite in the first set of tragedies released in region 1 format.

Romeo and Juliet

If you can get over the decidedly dated (and at best, um, partly successful) set decoration and costume, Patrick Ryecart and Rebecca Saire as star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet (through whose story we’re guided by John Gielgud’s Chorus) are every bit as youthfully innocent but determined as Franco Zeffirelli’s and Baz Luhrman’s Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey, Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes.  Moreover, there’s Anthony Andrews as a captivatingly flamboyant Mercutio, a snapshot view of a very young Alan Rickman as brash Tybalt, plus Michael Hordern’s as always expert Capulet, and Celia Johnson’s deadpan Nurse.

Othello

In the play that keeps me wanting to climb into the screen (or onto the stage) and yell, “Othello, wake up!!,” Anthony Hopkins gives a tour-de-force performance as the Moor (“the part [he’d] always wanted to play,” he is quoted); yet, he’s almost upstaged by Bob Hoskins’s deliciously, mirthfully evil Iago. Penelope Wilton’s Desdemona is all blameless righteousness; and the production wouldn’t be the same without the spot-on performances of Anthony Pedley (Roderigo), David Yelland (Cassio), and Rosemary Leach (Emilia).

Julius Cesar

In Shakespeare‘s look at the Ides of March from Caesar’s murderers’ and heir’s perspective, finally – that play without heroes or villains – the four principals are well-divided among Richard Pasco (Brutus), Keith Michell (Mark Antony), Charles Gray (Caesar) and David Collings (Cassius), while Virginia McKenna (Portia) and Elizabeth Spriggs (Calphurnia) make the most of roles easily overlooked in weaker actresses’ hands.

Tragedies – Region 1 Set 2
  • King Lear
  • Anthony & Cleopatra
  • Coriolanus
  • Timon of Athens
  • Titus Andronicus
Histories – Region 1
  • Richard II
  • Henry IV, Part I
  • Henry IV, Part II
  • Henry V
  • Richard III
Comedies
  • As You Like It
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • The Tempest
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • The Merchant of Venice
The Collection’s Other Plays

(Region 2 & 4 encoding only.)

Tragedies
  • Cymbeline
  • Pericles
  • Troilus and Cressida
Histories
  • Henry VI, Part 1
  • Henry VI, Part 2
  • Henry VI, Part 3
  • Henry VIII
  • King John
Comedies
  • Measure for Measure
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • The Comedy of Errors
  • Twelfth Night
  • All’s Well That Ends Well
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • The Winter’s Tale

 

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William Shakespeare: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Folger Library Edition)

Hamlet - William ShakespeareTo thine own self be true …

William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet is arguably the most famous play ever written in the English language; it presents the world with questions and characters that have been the subject of thespian and scholarly debate ever since the Prince of Denmark’s first appearance on the stage of London’s Globe Theatre. Probably written and first performed in 1601 (estimates vary between 1600 and 1602), the play draws on Saxo Grammaticus’s late 12th/early 13th century chronicle Gesta Danorum, which includes a popular legend with a similar plot centering around a prince named Amleth; as well as several more contemporaneous sources, primarily Francois de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques, Extraicts des Oeuvres Italiennes de Bandel (1559-1580), which expands on the story told in the Gesta Danorum, and a lost play known as the Ur-Hamlet (i.e., original Hamlet), sometimes also attributed to Shakespeare, but equally likely written by a different author a few decades earlier. Another work frequently cited in this context is 16th century playwright Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedie.

Pursuant to Shakespeare‘s wishes and like all of his works, Hamlet was not immediately published, and the original manuscript did not survive. However, in the absence of copyright laws or other forms of protection of what today would be called the playwright’s intellectual property rights, first bootleg copies (so-called quartos) based on transcripts made during or after performances began to appear in 1603. Yet, it would not be until 1623 – seven years after Shakespeare‘s 1616 death – that his former fellow actors John Hemmings and Henry Condell published 36 of his plays (including this one) in a collection known as the First Folio.

As no print version of any of Shakespeare‘s plays has a bona fide claim to its author’s first-hand blessings, ever since the Bard‘s death the world is left with numerous questions about his characters’ motivations and psychological makeup; first and foremost, in this particular case: who is this Prince of Denmark anyway, and what’s driving him – is he a reluctant suicide or reluctant avenger? A Renaissance man? Wrecked by Freudian guilt? Genuinely mad, or merely putting on a clever act of deception? Or is he someone else entirely? – Indeed, we’re even left in doubt as to what exactly it was that Shakespeare meant his characters to say, with all attendant interpretative consequences: Does the Prince wish for his “too too sullied” or his “too too solid” flesh to “melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” in his first major soliloquy (Act I, Scene 2)? Does he really contemplate “the stamp of [that] one defect” which may fatally taint the perception of a man’s other virtues, “be they as pure as grace,” before meeting his father’s ghost (I, 4)? Does Polonius, when sending Reynaldo on a spying mission after Laertes, refer to his scheme as “a fetch of wit” or “a fetch of warrant” (II, 1)? Do Hamlet’s musings in “To be, or not to be” (III, 1) concern “enterprises of great pith and moment” or “of great pitch and moment,” whose “currents turn awry and lose the name of action” by his doubts? Does or doesn’t the sight of the Norwegian army while Hamlet is on his way to England (IV, 4) prompt him, who has so far failed to carry out his purpose, to reflect “How all occasions do inform against me,” and conclude his soliloquy with the vow “from this time forth my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth”?

How you answer any of these questions, and how you consequently view the play’s characters, depends in no small part on the text you read. Like all Folger Shakespeare editions, this one is based on what the editors have deemed the “best early printed version,” while allowing the reader a unique direct comparison of the principal reliable versions by including a text essentially combining these versions, with unobtrusive markers characterizing those passages appearing only in one particular version. For Hamlet, the editors eschewed the play’s very first (1603) quarto, which was possibly compiled by a journeyman actor and whose inconsistencies with all subsequent versions (textually as well as plot-wise and even regarding character names) have caused it to be generally considered a “bad” quarto, in favor of the 1604 Second Quarto, which some even believe to be based on Shakespeare‘s own first draft of the play and which, in any event, while more extensive than the 1623 First Folio (in turn, thought to be closest to the version(s) actually produced on the Globe Theatre stage), boasts about as secure a claim of authenticity as the latter. In some instances, the text follows the Second Quarto (Q2) without visually alerting the reader to the differences vis-a-vis the First Folio (F1), thus compelling those more used to the latter version to seek out the extensive end notes to reassure themselves that (in the examples given above) it might indeed be “solid flesh,” “warrant,” and “pith and moment” (F1) instead of “sullied flesh,” “wit,” and “pitch and moment” (Q2). In other instances, however, the First Folio’s language (clearly marked as such) is given preference over that of the Second Quarto; while crucially, the text also includes all those passages *only* contained in the latter, including the “stamp of one defect” and “bloody thoughts” monologues, whose interpretation has such a direct bearing on many a reader’s understanding of Hamlet’s character.

The text is amplified by illustrations and annotations for those unfamiliar with 16th century English, scene-by-scene plot summaries, a short biography of Shakespeare, and introductory and concluding essays on this and the Bard‘s other plays and on Shakespearean theatre, as well as extensive suggestions for further reading, and a key to the play’s most famous lines. While it is unlikely that after 400 years of debate any one version, be it in print, on stage or on screen, will be able to generate unanimous acceptance as the “definitive” rendition of this complex play, this is an excellent starting point for an in-depth excursion into the Prince of Denmark’s world.

Hamlet and Horatio in the cemetery - Delacroix EugeneEugène Delacroix: Hamlet and Horatio in the Cemetery
(1839, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France)

 

Favorite Quotes:

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

“What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more. Sure he that made us with such large discourse, looking before and after, gave us not that capability and god-like reason to fust in us unused.”

“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade.”

“Not a whit, we defy augury: there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”

“Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.”

“Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?”

 

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One-page edition of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (photo mine)

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