Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, and London: Shakespeare, Hogwarts, and Shopping

Shakespeare's Gardens - Andrew Lawson, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Jackie Bennett Shakespeare and the Stuff of Life: Treasures from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust - Tara Hamling, Delia Garratt Hamlet: Globe to Globe - Dominic Dromgoole Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries - Antony Sher The Lives of Tudor Women - Elizabeth Norton The Gap of Time - Jeanette Winterson Vinegar Girl - Anne Tyler And Furthermore - Judi Dench Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari The Wrong Side of Goodbye - Michael Connelly

Stratford

A Scene at the RSC Book and Gift Shop

The date: June 17, 2017. The time: Approximately 10:00AM.

TA and friend enter; TA asks for a shopping basket and makes straight for the shelves and display cases. An indeterminate amount of time is then spent browsing. Whenever her friend points out something and asks “Did you see this?”, TA silently points to the steadily growing contents of her basket.  Finally, with a sigh, TA makes for the cashier.

Shop assistant: I can see why you asked for a basket when you came in … So, do you come here often?
TA: I try to make it every 2 or 3 years.  [With a sheepish grin:]  And yes, my shopping basket does look like that pretty much every single time, I’m afraid.
TA’s friend: I can confirm that …
TA: Yeah, she’s seen my library at home.
TA’s friend: Err, I can confirm the shopping sprees as well.
Shop assistant (ringing up and bagging one item after another): Well, enjoy your, um, reading …!

Similar scenes, albeit minus the above dialogue were repeated at two of the book & gift stores of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Henley Street (WS birthplace) and Hall’s Croft (home of his daughter Judith and her husband, Dr. John Hall, a physician) — where we actually did spend a fair amount of time talking to the museum assistants, too, though, about everything from visiting Shakekspearean sites to Wimbledon tennis.

That being said, we “of course” paid our (well, my) hommage to the Bard, from Trinity Church to the two above-mentioned Shakespeare family houses (return visits all to me, though Hall’s Croft was new to my friend), and just as importantly, we had tickets for two of the current “Roman plays” season productions:

(1) Antony & Cleopatra, starring Josette Simon and Anthony Byrne in the title roles, with Andrew Woodall as Enobarbus:  One of the best productions of this particular play that I’ve ever seen.  Josette Simon alone was worth the price of admission ten times over, plus she and Byrne played off each other magnificently, and Andrew Woodall was unlike any Enobarbus I’d seen before, wonderfully highlighting the ironic subtext of his character’s lines and giving him more than a hint of a laconic note.  If you’re in England and anywhere near Stratford, run and get a ticket for this production … or if you don’t make it all the way to Warwickshire, try to catch it in London when they move the production there.

(2) Julius Caesar, starring Andrew Woodall as Caesar and James Corrigan as Marc Antony.  I liked this one, too — how can any RSC production ever be bad?! — but by far not as much as Antony and Cleopatra on the night before.  Woodall was a fine Caesar, even if actually a bit too like his Enobarbus (which I might not have found quite as obvious if I hadn’t seen both plays practically back to back, on two consecutive nights), and the cast generally did a good job, but this was clearly a “look at all our up-and-coming-talent” sort of production, with almost all of the play’s lead roles given to actors who were easily 5, if not 10 or more years younger than the parts they played, which didn’t quite work for me — these people are Roman senators and generals, for crying out loud, and for the most part the requisite gravitas simply wasn’t there (yet); even if the talent clearly was.  What a contrast to the very age-appropriate and, as I said, just all around magnificent production of Antony and Cleopatra … Still, I’m by no means sorry we went to see this, and it’s obvious even now that we’ll be seeing a lot more of these actors in years to come.

We also managed to snag last-minute tickets for a “behind the scenes” tour — I’d done one in 2014 already, but was more than happy to repeat the experience!  Now I only wish our own opera and theatre company had half the resources that the RSC has at its disposal …

 
     

Photos, from top left:

1. Shakespeare’s bust, above his grave in Trinity Church
2. Shakespeare’s epitaph, on his gravestone (photo from 2014, since I didn’t get a really good one this time around. N.B., the photo is actually upside down, for somewhat greater ease of reading the inscription.)
3. Trinity Church — the graves of Shakespeare and his family are located in the part to the left of the tower.
4. River Avon, with RSC Theatre and, in the background, the spire of Trinity Church
5. RSC Theatre
6. Shakespeare’s Birthplace (Henley Street)
7.Shakespeare Birthplace Trust centre, next to the actual Henley Street Birthplace building
8. Hall’s Croft, garden view
9.New Place and Guild Chapel (photo from 2014)
10. New Place gardens, looking towards RSC and Swan Theatres (also a photo from 2014 — we didn’t make it inside New Place this time around, though we did pass by there on our way from our B&B to the RSC theatre and to Henley Street and back).

Now, since Manuel Antao elsewhere insisted on “the full list” — the grand total result of the above-mentioned shopping sprees, plus a brief supplementary foray into an airport W.H. Smith, was the following:

CDs:

* William Shakespeare: Antony & Cleopatra: Music and Speeches from the 2017 Royal Shakespeare Company Production

* William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar: Music and Speeches from the 2017 Royal Shakespeare Company Production

* William Shakespeare: King Lear: Music and Speeches from the 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company Production — which alas I had to miss, but it starred Antony Sher as Lear, whom I saw as Falstaff in 2014 … which in turn was just about all the reason I needed to get the audio version of his Lear, too.

*  William Shakespeare: The Tempest: Music and Speeches from the 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company Production — which I also had to miss, but I figured even if I was a year late … (plus, Simon Russell Beale as Prospero and directed — like the 2016 Lear — by Gregory Doran …?!)

*  William Shakespeare: King Richard III, full cast audio recording starring Kenneth Branagh — a long-time must-have from my TBR or, err, “to-be-listened-to” list.

The British Library, with Ben and David Crystal: Shakespeare’s original pronunciation: Speeches and scenes performed as Shakespeare would have heard them — there’s a video version of this on Youtube (I think Lora posted about it here a while back), and if you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend remedying that sooner rather than later.  It gives you a whole new insight into Shakespeare’s use of language … down to lingusitic puns, allusions and images that you really only pick up on once you’ve heard what the Bard and his original audiences would have heard in the delivery of the respective lines.

Books:

*  Jackie Bennett, with photographs by Andrew Lawson: Shakespeare’s Gardens — a lavishly illustrated coffee table book-sized guide to the gardens Shakespeare knew (or might have known) both in Stratford / Warwickshire and in London, as well as on the gardens of the five Shakespeare-related houses in and around Stratford, with an introductory chapter on Tudor gardening in general.  THE find of several great finds of this trip.  (And it’s even an autographed copy … as I only discovered when I unpacked the book back home!)

*  Roy Strong: The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden — similar to the above (though smaller in format) and a great complementary book, with plenty of historical illustrations and leading up to a focus on the New Place garden, which has painstakingly been restored in period style in recent years.

*  Delia Garratt and Tara Hamling (eds.): Shakespeare and the Stuff of Life: Treasures from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust — an illustrated guide to Shakespeare’s life and times in the style of the recently-popular “so-and-so [insert topic] in 100 objects” books, with 50 representative objects covering the key aspects of Shakespeare’s life from cradle to grave.

*  Peter Sillitoe & Maurice Hindle (ed.): Shakespearean London Theatres — what the title says, but with a handy walking map allowing the aficionado to trace not merely the locations of the various theatres but also get a sense of the areas where they were located … or at least, their respective modern incarnations.

*  Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (eds.), with contributions by, inter alia and in addition to the editors, Graham Holderness, Charles Nicholl, Andrew Hadfield and John Jowett, and an afterword by James Shapiro: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt — a scholarly refutation of the various “alternate authorship” theories.

*  Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (eds.), with contributions by, inter alia and in addition to the editors, Michael Wood, Graham Holderness, Germaine Greer and Andrew Hadfield, and an afterword by Margaret Drabble: The Shakespeare Circle — a collective biography of Shakespeare’s family, friends, business associates and patrons; a bit like Stanley Wells’s earlier Shakespeare & Co., but not merely focusing on the other key figures of Elizabethan theatre, and with individual chapters / essays designated to individual persons (or families), instead of the continuous narrative contained in Shakespeare & Co.

*  James Shapiro: 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear — pretty much what the title implies; a follow-up to Shapiro’s earlier focus on Shakespeare’s life in 1599.

*  Frank Kermode: Shakespeare’s Language — also pretty much what the title says, with a joint examination of the pre-Globe plays’ poetic and linguistic characteristics and a play-by-play examination of the last 16 plays, beginning with Julius Caesar.

*  Dominic Dromgoole: Hamlet: Globe to Globe — the Globe Theatre Artistic Director’s account of their recent, 2-year-long venture of taking a production of Hamlet to (literally) every single country in the world.

*  Antony Sher: Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries — a must-read for anyone who’s been fortunate enough to see the RSC’s 2014 productions of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and still a rioting good read if you haven’t.  Plus, the most amazing sketches by Sher himself … the man is an artist several times over!

*  Antony Sher & Gregory Doran: Woza Shakespeare! Titus Andronicus in South Africa — not new, but it’s been on my TBR for a while and I figured while I was at it …

*  Sheridan Morley: John Gielgud: The Authorized Biography — comment unnecessary.

* Jonathan Croall, with a prologue by Simon Callow: Gielgoodies! The Wit and Wisdom [& Gaffes] of John Gielgud — a frequently hilarious complementary read to the above bio.

*  Harriet Walter: Brutus and Other Heroines: Playing Shakespeare’s Roles for Womenplus, I might add, plenty of insight into Shakespearean theatre in particular and acting in general.

*  Harriet Walter: Other People’s Shoes: Thoughts on Acting — as the title implies, more of the above, though minus the near-exclusive focus on Shakespeare. (Instead, however, also a professional autobiography of sorts.)

*  Judi Dench: And Furthermore — her memoirs.  Very much looking forward to this one.

*  Jeanette Winterson: The Gap of Time — Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation series, The Winter’s Tale.

*  Anne Tyler: Vinegar Girl — Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation series, The Taming of the Shrew.

* Howard Jacobson: Shylock Is My Name — Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation series, The Merchant of Venice. (I could have gone on and gotten more of those, but I figured I’d limit myself to three to begin with … 🙂 )

*  Ian Doescher: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope — I know, I know.  Everybody but me has already read it at this point.

*  Elizabeth Norton: The Lives of Tudor Women — a(nother) proximate choice, since I’ve spent so much time in their world (and that of their Plantagenet sisters / ancestors) recently, thanks in no small part to Samantha [Carpe Librum]!

*  Robert Harris: Imperium — Cicero trilogy, book 1.  And yes, there is a Shakespeare connection even here … think ” ’twas all Greek to me.”  (Also, as was to be expected, the RSC bookstore had Harris’s complete Roman series on their shelves as companion reads (of sorts) to their current Roman  plays season.)

*  Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — no Shakespeare connection here; unless Harari should be (justly) citing to Shakespeare as an exponent of human genius, that is.  Anyway, this is where the airport W.H. Smith came in handy.

*  Michael Connelly: The Wrong Side of Goodbye — see Harari above! 🙂

Plus a blue RSC silk scarf, a Macbeth quote T-shirt (can’t have too much of the Scottish play, ever), a First Folio canvas bag (had to get something to carry all my new treasures home in, after all), a couple of Shakespeare- and Tudor-related postcards, and of course a few more Shakespeare quote mugs and refrigerator magnets for my respective collections.

 

Oxford

On the way from London to Stratford, we’d stopped by in Oxford: This being merely an extended weekend trip, we didn’t have a lot of time, but since our last attempt to visit this half of Oxbridge had literally been drowned by floods of torrential rain (so we ended up spending virtually all the time in the Museum of Natuarl History), I’d promised my friend a short visit at least — all the more since I myself had actually spent a few days in Oxford in the interim with my mom. Well, with the weather cooperating this time around, we at least managed a stroll along Broad Street and down Catte Street to Radcliffe Square, then past St. Mary’s Church to “the High,” a brief climb up Carfax Tower, and finally a visit to Hogwarts, err, Christchurch College (Tom Quad, Chapel, Great Hall and all).

  

Photos, from top left:

1. View from Radcliffe Square down Catte St.: Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library to the left; Hereford College to the right.
2. View from Carfax Tower towards St. Mary’s Church, Radcliffe Camera, Hereford College, Magdalen College, and New College.
3. / 4.: Christchurch College: Tom Quad with Tom Tower (left photo) and Chapel and Great Hall (right photo).
5.: Christchurch College, Chapel.
6.: Christchurch College, Great Hall.

(We had, incidentally, also been planning for a stop in Cambridge on the return trip from Stratford, but that had to be cancelled … which is a story for another day.  Also, this will now obviously necessitate yet another joint trip to England at some point or other!)

 

London

London, where we actually started our trip, was the first scheduled “shopping spree” stop: Since we’ve both visited London repeatedly before, no mad bouts of “mandatory” sightseeing were included; rather, merely being there tends to make both of us pretty happy campers in and of itself.  Since we’ve also more or less worked out a route covering the stores that we tend to hit on a routine basis whenever we’re visiting, it took us all but five hours to complete our program, from Neal’s Yard Remedies (at the original Neal’s Yard location in Seven Dials) all the way to Fortnum & Mason’s, with various other stops thrown in on the way, chiefly among those, Whittard of Chelsea and, this time around, Crabtree & Evelyn (which we actually do have in Germany, too, but the London branches had those irresistible sales … (sigh)).  Since I knew I was going to spend a lot of money buying books in Stratford, I decided — with a somewhat heavy heart — to forego my usual Charing Cross Road stops on this occasion; though towards the end of the aforementioned five hours (1) my left knee started to give me serious trouble, and (2) we were already laden with our other purchases to such an extent that even I had to admit there would have been no way we’d be able to carry back books to our hotel on top, so I was grudgingly reconciled … though only for the moment, and with the effect of instantly resolving to return to England sooner rather than later; a resolution that has since blossomed into fully-blown plans for a longer (and solo) follow-up trip, from the England / Wales border all the way to the Norfolk coast — and in addition to plenty of sightseeing, I’ve also promised myself plenty of book store stops along the way.

 

Merken

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1574257/stratford-upon-avon-oxford-and-london-shakespeare-hogwarts-and-shopping

Merken

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10 Shakespeare Quotes For New Year’s Eve

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For when you skip the New Year’s Eve party to read and drink wine and then fall asleep at 10 p.m. because you don’t actually want to talk to anyone:

Good wine is a good familiar creature, if it be well used.
– Othello

For when your roommate’s lonely brother (or sister) comes to the party and follows you around talking about how much he (or she) loves The Big Bang Theory:

I pray you, do not fall in love with me,
For I am falser than vows made in wine.
Besides, I like you not.
– As You Like It

For when the party you’re invited to ends up being filled with dude-bros who don’t understand how you find time to read when there’s so much other fun stuff to do, like streaking and painting your face at sports functions:

Hell is empty
And all the devils are here.
– The Tempest

For when someone gives you their cab:

How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.
–The Merchant of Venice

For when someone steals your cab:

Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mungril bitch.
– King Lear

For when you see Ryan Seacrest hosting the ball drop:

One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
– Hamlet

For when the party is just horrible and you have to leave right now and go home and put on your Snuggie:

Exit, pursued by a bear.
– The Winter’s Tale

For the morning after:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished
– Romeo and Juliet

For when you get into a fight with your significant other right before the midnight kiss:

Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.
– Much Ado About Nothing

For when you want to feel better about not making any resolutions:

But ’tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face.
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.
– Julius Caesar

 

Original Post:
BookRiot: 10 Shakespeare Quotes For New Year’s Eve

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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

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

A Dainty Dish

Ever since his Oscar-nominated Henry V adaptation, Kenneth Branagh has come up with a simple, effective recipe: Blend 3 parts English actors well-versed in all things “Bard” with 1 or 2 parts Hollywood, sprinkle the mixture liberally over one of Shakespeare‘s plays, lift the material out of its original temporal and local context to provide an updated meaning, and garnish it by casting yourself and, until the mid-1990s, (then-)wife Emma Thompson in opposite starring roles.

In Much Ado About Nothing, that formula works to near-perfection. A comedy of errors possibly written in one of the Bard‘s busiest years (1599) – although as usual, dating is a minor guessing game – Much Ado lives primarily from its timeless characters, making it an ideal object for transformation à la Branagh. Thus, renaissance Sicily becomes 19th century Tuscany (although the location’s name, Messina, remains unchanged); and the intrigues centering around the battle of the sexes between Signor Benedick of Padua (Branagh) and Lady Beatrice (Thompson), the niece of Messina’s governor Don Leonato (Richard Briers), and their love’s labors won – possibly the play’s originally-intended title*; and indeed, Benedick and Beatrice are a more liberated version of the earlier Love’s Labor’s Lost‘s Berowne and Rosaline – as well as the schemes surrounding the play’s other couple, Benedick’s friend Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Kate Beckinsale) become a light-hearted counterpoint to the more serious, politically charged intrigues of novels such as Stendhal’s Charterhouse of Parma and Scarlet and Black: As such, the military campaign from which Benedick and Claudio are returning with Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon (Denzel Washington) at the story’s beginning could easily be one associated with Italy’s 19th century struggle for nationhood.

While according to the play’s conception it is ostensibly the relationship between Hero and Claudio that drives the plot – as well as the plotting by Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John (Keanu Reeves) – Beatrice and Benedick are the more interesting couple; both sworn enemies of love, they are not kept apart by a scheming villain but by their own conceit, and are brought toghether by a ruse of Don Pedro’s (although even that wouldn’t have worked against their will: “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably,” Benedick once tells Beatrice.) And while Don John’s machinations create much heartbreak and drama once they have come into fruition, the story’s highlights are Benedick’s and Beatrice’s battles of wits; the sparks flying between them from their first scene to their last: even in front of the chapel, they still – although now primarily for their audience’s benefit – respond to each other’s question “Do not you love me?” with “No, no more than reason,” and when Benedick finally tells Beatrice he will have her, but only “for pity,” she tartly answers, “I would not deny you; – but … I yield upon great persuasion; and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption” – whereupon Benedick, most uncharacteristically, stops her with a kiss.

Branagh‘s and Thompson‘s chemistry was still unblemished at the time when this movie was made, and it works to optimum effect here.  And while every Kenneth Branagh movie is as much star vehicle for its creator as it is about the project itself, Benedick’s conversion from a man determined not to let love “transform [him] into an oyster” into a married man (because after all, “the world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor I did not think I should live – till I were married”!) is a pure joy to watch. Emma Thompson‘s Beatrice, similarly, is an incredibly modern, independent young woman; and scenes like her advice to Hero not to blindly follow her father’s (Don Leonato’s) wishes in marrying but, if necessary, “make another courtesy and say, Father, as it please me” only enhance the play’s and her character’s timeless quality.

Yet, while the leading couple’s performances are the movie’s shining anchor pieces, there is much to enjoy in the remaining cast as well: Richard Briers’s Don Leonato, albeit more English country squire than Italian nobleman, is the kind of doting father that many a daughter would surely wish for; and what he may lack in Italian flavor is more than made up for in Brian Blessed’s Don Antonio, Leonato’s brother. Kate Beckinsale is a charming, innocent Hero and well-matched with Robert Sean Leonard’s Claudio (who after Dead Poets Society seemed virtually guaranteed to show up in a Shakespeare adaptation sooner or later); as generally, leaving aside the appropriateness of American accents in a movie like this, the Hollywood contingent acquits itself well. Washington’s, Leonard’s and Brier’s “Cupid” plot particularly is a delight (even if Washington might occasionally have gained extra mileage enunciation-wise). Keanu Reeves, cast against stereotype as Don John, is a bit too busy looking sullen to realize the role’s full sardonic potential: “melancholy,” in Shakespeare‘s times, after all was a generic term encompassing everything from madness to various saner forms of ill humor; and I wonder what – but for the generational difference – someone like Sir Ian McKellen might have done with that role. But as a self-described “plain-dealing villain” Reeves is certainly appropriately menacing. Michael Keaton’s Dogberry, finally, is partly brother-in-spirit to Beetlejuice, partly simply the eternal stupid officer; the play’s boorish comic relief and as such spot-on, delivering his many malaproprisms with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

The cast is rounded out by several actors who might well have demanded larger roles but nevertheless look ideally matched for the parts they play, including Imelda Staunton and Phyllida Law as Hero’s gentlewomen Margaret and Ursula, Gerard Horan and Richard Clifford as Don John’s associates Borachio and Conrade, and Ben Elton as Dogberry’s “neighbor” Verges. (In addition, score composer Patrick Doyle stands in as minstrel Balthazar.) With minimal editing of the play’s original language, a set design making full use of the movie’s Tuscan setting, and lavish production values overall, this is a feast for the senses and, on the whole, an adaptation of which even the Bard himself, I think, would have approved.


* At least according to one theory.  Another theory has it that Love’s Labours Won is the title of a different, now lost play.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Renaissance Films / BBC / American Playhouse Theatrical Films (1993)
  • Director: Kenneth Branagh
  • Producers: Kenneth Branagh / David Parfitt / Stephen Evans
  • Screenplay: Kenneth Branagh
  • Based on a play by: William Shakespeare
  • Music: Patrick Doyle
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Roger Lanser
Cast
  • Kenneth Branagh: Benedick
  • Emma Thompson: Beatrice
  • Richard Briers: Leonato
  • Robert Sean Leonard: Claudio
  • Kate Beckinsale: Hero
  • Denzel Washington: Don Pedro
  • Keanu Reeves: Don John
  • Michael Keaton: Dogberry
  • Brian Blessed: Antonio
  • Imelda Staunton: Margaret
  • Phyllida Law: Ursula
  • Richard Clifford: Conrade
  • Gerard Horan: Borachio
  • Jimmy Yuill: Friar Francis
  • Ben Elton: Verges
  • Edward Jewesbury: Sexton
  • Patrick Doyle: Balthazar

 

Major Awards

London Critics Circle Film Awards (1993)
  • British Producer of the Year: Kenneth Branagh
Evening Standard British Film Awards (1993)
  • Best Actress: Emma Thompson
    – Also for “The Remains of the Day.”

 

Favorite Quotes:

“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.”

“If [God] send me no husband, for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening …”

“Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.”

“LEONATO: Well, then, go you into hell?
BEATRICE: No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say ‘Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here’s no place for you maids:’ so deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.”

“LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a pierce of valiant dust? to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none: Adam’s sons are my brethren; and, truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.”

“DON PEDRO: Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
BEATRICE: Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one: marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.
DON PEDRO: You have put him down, lady, you have put him down.
BEATRICE: So I would not he should do me, my lord, lest I should prove the mother of fools.”

“Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please you.’ But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please me.”

“Wooing, wedding, and repenting is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque-pace: the first suit is hot and hasty like a Scotch jig – and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance and with his bad legs falls into the cinque-pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.”

“Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites.”

“For it falls out
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,
Why, then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
While it was ours.”

“To be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune; but to write and read comes by nature.”

 

Links

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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Continue reading

RICHARD III (Ian McKellen)

Villany Unveiled

A gala ball: The York family celebrate their reascent to power; the Wars of the Roses (named for the feuding houses’ heraldic badges: Lancaster’s red and York’s white rose) are almost over. Actually, the year is 1471, but for present purposes, we’re in the 1930s. A singer (Stacey Kent) delivers a swinging “Come live with me and be my love.” Richard of Gloucester (Sir Ian McKellen), the reinstated sickly King Edward IV’s (John Wood’s) youngest brother, moves through the crowd; observing, watching his second brother George, Duke of Clarence (Nigel Hawthorne) being quietly led off by Tower warden Brackenbury (Donald Sumpter) and his subalterns. With Clarence gone, Richard seizes the microphone, its discordant screech cutting through the singer’s applause, and he, who himself made this night possible by killing King Henry VI of Lancaster and his son, begins a victory speech: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York” (cut to Edward, who regally acknowledges the tribute). But when Richard mentions “grim-visaged war,” who “smooth’d his wrinkled front,” the camera closes in on his mouth, turning it into a grimace reminiscent of the legend known to any spectator in Shakespeare‘s Globe Theatre: that he wasn’t just born “with his feet first” but also “with teeth in his mouth;” hence, not only crippled (though whether also hunchbacked is uncertain) but cursed from birth, his physical deformity merely outwardly representing his inner evil.

Then, mid-sentence, the image cuts again. Richard enters a bathroom; and as he continues his monologue we see that only now, relieving himself and talking – with narcissistic pleasure – to his own image in the mirror, he truly speaks his mind; contemptuously dismissing a war that’s lost its menace and “capers nimbly in a lady’s bedchamber,” and determining that, since he now has no delight but to mock his own deformed shadow, and “cannot prove a lover,” he’ll “prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days.”

Thus, Richard’s first soliloquy, which actually opens the play on a London street, brilliantly demonstrates the signature elements of this movie’s (and the preceding stage production’s) success: not only its updated 20th century context but its creative use of settings and imagery; boldly cutting and rearranging Shakespeare‘s words without anytime, however, betraying his intent. Indeed, that pattern is already set with the prologue’s murder of King Henry VI and his son, where following a telegraph report that “Richard of Gloucester is at hand – he holds his course toward Tewkesbury” (slightly altered lines from the last scenes of the preceding King Henry VI, Part 3) Richard himself emerges from a tank breaking through the royal headquarters’ wall, breathing heavily through a gas mask: As his shots ring out, riddling the prince with bullets, the blood-red letters R-I-C-H-A-R-D-III appear across the screen.

And as creatively it continues: Richard woos Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas), Henry’s daughter-in-law, in a morgue instead of a street (near her husband’s casket), and later drives her into drug abuse. Henry’s Cassandra-like widow Margaret is one of several characters omitted entirely; whereas foreign-born Queen Elizabeth is purposely cast with an American (Annette Bening), whose performance has equally purposeful overtones of Wallis Simpson; and whose playboy-brother Earl Rivers (Robert Downey Jr.) dies “in the act.” Clarence is murdered while the rest of the family sits down to a lavish (although discordant) dinner. When upon his ally Lord Buckingham’s (Jim Broadbent’s) machinations, Richard is “persuaded” to take the crown, he emerges from a veritable film star’s dressing room complete with full-sized mirror and manicurists (sold to the attending crowd outside as “two deep divines” praying with him). Tyrrell (Adrian Dunbar), already one of Clarence’s murderers, quickly rises through uniformed ranks, and moves from regular army to SS, as he further bloodies his hands. Richard’s and Elizabeth’s final spar over her daughter’s hand takes place in the train-wagon serving as his field headquarters; and we actually see that same princess wed to his arch-enemy Richmond (Dominic West), King Henry VII-to-be and founder of the Tudor dynasty, with lines taken from Richmond’s closing monologue. Perhaps most importantly, we also witness Richard’s coronation, which Shakespeare himself – honoring that ceremony’s perception as holy – decided not to show; although even here it is presented not as a glorious procedure of state but only in a brief snippet rerun immediately from the distance of a private, black-and-white film shown only for Richard’s and his entourage’s benefit.

And challenging as this project is, its stellar cast – also including Maggie Smith (a formidable Duchess of York), Jim Carter (Prime Minister Lord Hastings), Roger Hammond (the Archbishop), and Tim McInnerny and Bill Paterson (Richard’s underlings Catesby and Ratcliffe) – uniformly prove themselves more than up to the task: Indeed, although the single largest spotlight is clearly on McKellen‘s Richard, the movie’s other performances are so strong that the film comes across very much like an ensemble piece of the highest order.

Even if the temporal setting didn’t already spell out the allegory on the universality of evil that McKellen and director Richard Loncraine obviously intend, you’d have to be blind to miss the visual references to fascism: the uniforms, the gathering modeled on the infamous Nuremberg Reichsparteitag, the long red banners with a black boar in a white circle (playing up the image of the boar Shakespeare himself uses: similarly, Richard’s and Tyrrell’s first meeting is set in a pig-sty, and Lord Stanley’s [Edward Hardwicke’s] prophetic dream follows an incident where Richard, for a split-second, loses his self-control). But the imagery goes even further: Richard’s narcissism is reminiscent of Chaplin’s Great Dictator; and you don’t have to watch this movie contemporaneously with any Star Wars installment to visualize Darth Vader during his gas mask-endowed entry in the first scene.

“[T]hus I clothe my naked villany with odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ; and seem a saint when most I play the devil,” Richard comments in the play: if there’s one line I regret to see cut here it’s this one, for it so clearly encompasses the way many a modern despot assumes power, too; by cloaking his true intent in the veneer of formal legality. Even so: this is a highlight among the recent decades’ Shakespeare adaptations; under no circumstances to be missed.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: British Screen Productions / United Artists (1995)
  • Director: Richard Loncraine
  • Executive Producers: Ian McKellen / Maria Apodiacos / Ellen Dinerman Little / Joe Simon
  • Screenplay: Ian McKellen / Richard Loncraine
  • Based on a play by: William Shakespeare
  • Music: Trevor Jones
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Peter Biziou
Cast
  • Ian McKellen: Richard III
  • Annette Bening: Queen Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV
  • Maggie Smith: Duchess of York
  • Kristin Scott Thomas: Lady Anne
  • Jim Broadbent: Duke of Buckingham
  • Jim Carter: Lord William Hastings
  • Nigel Hawthorne: George, Duke of Clarence
  • John Wood: King Edward IV
  • Robert Downey Jr.: Lord Rivers
  • Edward Hardwicke: Lord Thomas Stanley
  • Tim McInnerny: Sir William Catesby
  • Bill Paterson: Sir Richard Ratcliffe
  • Adrian Dunbar: James Tyrell
  • Donald Sumpter: Brackenbury
  • Dominic West: Earl of Richmond
  • Roger Hammond: Archbishop Thomas
  • Edward Jewesbury: King Henry VI
  • Stacey Kent: Ballroom Singer

 

Major Awards

BAFTA Awards (1997)
  • Best Production Design: Tony Burrough
  • Best Costume Design: Shuna Harwood
Evening Standard British Film Awards (1997)
  • Best Film: Ian McKellen
  • Best Technical/Artistic Achievement (Production Design): Tony Burrough
European Film Awards (1996)
  • Best Actor: Ian McKellen
Berlin International Film Festival (1996)
  • Best Director: Richard Loncraine
    Tied with Ho Yim for “Taiyang you er” (The Sun Has Ears)

 

Links

William Shakespeare: The Sonnets

Shakespeare's SonnetsLord of my love, to whom in vassalage …

Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit.
(Sonnet No. 26)

How to do justice to the legacy of literary history’s greatest mind – moreover in such a limited review? Forget Goethe’s “universal genius” and his rebel contemporary Schiller; forget the 19th century masters; forget contemporary literature: with the possible (!) exception of three Greek gentlemen named Aischylos, Sophocles and Euripides, a certain Frenchman called Poquelin (a/k/a Moliere), and that infamous Irishman Oscar Wilde, there’s more wit in a single line of Shakespeare‘s than in an entire page of most other, even great, authors’ works. And I’m not saying this in ignorance of, or in order to slight any other writer: it’s precisely my admiration of the world’s literary giants, past and present, that makes me appreciate Shakespeare even more – and that although I’m aware that he repeatedly borrowed from pre-existing material and that even the (sole) authorship of the works published under his name isn’t established beyond doubt. For ultimately, the only thing that matters to me is the brilliance of those works themselves; and quite honestly, the mysteries continuing to enshroud his person, to me, only enhance his larger-than-life stature.

The precise dating of Shakespeare‘s sonnets – like other poets’, a response to the 1591 publication of Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella – is an even greater guessing game than that of his plays: although Nos. 138 and 144 (slightly modified) appeared in 1599’s Passionate Pilgrim, most were probably circulated privately, and written years before their first – unauthorized, though still authoritative – 1609 publication; possibly beginning in 1592-1593.

Format-wise, they adopt the Elizabethan fourteen-line-structure of three quatrains of iambic pentameters expressing a series of increasingly intense ideas, resolved in a closing couplet; with an abab-cdcd-efef-gg rhyme form. (Sole exceptions: No. 99 – first quatrain amplified by one line –, No. 126 – six couplets & only twelve lines total –, No. 145 – written in tetrameter –, and No. 146 – omission of the second line’s beginning; the subject of a lasting debate.) Their order is thematic rather than chronological, although beyond the fact that the first 126 are addressed to a young man – maybe the Earl of Pembroke or Southampton, maybe Sir Robert Dudley, the natural son of Queen Elizabeth’s “Sweet Robin,” the Earl of Leicester – (the first seventeen, possibly commissioned by the addressee’s family, pressing his marriage and production of an heir), and Nos. 127-152 (or 127-133 and 147-152) to an exotic woman of questionable virtues only known as “The Dark Lady,” even in that respect much remains unclear; including the nature of Shakespeare‘s relationship with the two main addressees, regarding which the sonnets’ often ambiguous metaphors invoke much speculation. No. 145 is probably addressed to Shakespeare‘s wife; the closing couplet plays on her maiden name (“[‘I hate’ from] hate away she threw And saved my life, [saying ‘not you’]:” “Hathaway – Anne saved my life”), several others contain puns on the name Will and its double meaning(s) (exactly fourteen in the naughty No. 135: “Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will;” and seven in the similarly mischievous No. 136), and the last two draw on the then-popular Cupid theme. Sometimes, placement seems linked to contents, e.g., in No. 8 (music: an octave has eight notes), Nos. 12 and 60 (time: twelve hours to both day and night; sixty minutes to an hour); and in the famous No. 55, which praises poetry’s everlasting power and as whose never-expressly-named subject Shakespeare himself emerges in a comparison with Horace’s Ode 3.30 – in turn written in first person singular and thus, denoting its own author as the builder of its “monument more lasting than bronze” (“Exegi monumentum aere perennius”) – as well as through the number “5”‘s optical similarity to the letter “S,” making the sonnet’s number a shorthand reference for “5hake5peare” or “5hakespeare’s 5onnets,” echoed by numerous words containing an “S” in the text.

Of indescribable linguistic beauty, elegance and complexity, Shakespeare‘s sonnets owe their timeless appeal to their supreme compositional values, the universality of their themes, and their keen insights into the human heart and soul; as much as their transcendence of the era’s poetic conventions which, following Petrarch, heavily idealized the addressee’s qualities: a form new and exciting twohundred years earlier, but encrusted in cliché in the late 1500s. Indeed, Shakespeare‘s “Dark Lady” Sonnet No. 130 owes its particular fame to its clever puns on that very style, which went overboard with references to its golden-haired, starry- (beamy-, sparkling, sunny-) eyed, cherry- (strawberry-, vermilion-, coral-) lipped, rosy- (crimson-, purple-, dawn-) cheeked, ivory- (lily-, carnation-, crystal-, silver-, snowy-, swan-white) skinned, pearl-teethed, honey- (nectar-, music-) tongued, goddess-like objects. “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;” the Bard countered, proceeded to describe her breasts as “dun,” her hair as “black wires,” and her breath as “reek[ing],” and denied her any divine or angelic attributes. “And yet,” he concluded: “by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare.”

Arguably, Shakespeare‘s very choice of addressees (a young man – also the subject of the famously romantic No. 18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day;” the first of several sonnets promising his immortalization in poetry – as well as the “Dark Lady,” in turn introduced under the notion “black is beautiful” in No. 127) itself suggests a break with tradition; and compared to his contemporaries’ poetry, even the equally-famous No. 116’s on its face rather conventional praise of love’s constancy (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”), echoed in the poet’s vow to vanquish time in No. 123, sounds fairly restrained. But ultimately, Shakespeare‘s sonnets – like his entire work – simply defy categorization. They are, as rival Ben Jonson acknowledged, written “for all time,” just as the Bard himself immodestly claimed:

‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
(Sonnet 55)

A Favorite:

Sonnet 130:
“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 wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.”

 


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

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?”

 

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

Merken

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works (gen. eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor)

All the World’s A Stage

The 1598 loss of their theater’s lease should have been a major blow to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, one of Elizabethan England’s premier acting troupes, who had gained even more popularity by teaming up with one Will Shakespeare, a Warwickshire glover’s son come to London some six years earlier in pursuit of his Muse, leaving behind a wife and three children; daughter Susanna, born but seven months into his marriage, and twins Hamnet and Judith, who’d followed two years later. Yet, what to another company might have spelled “present death” only brought greater fame and fortune to the one boasting, in addition to Master Shakespeare‘s talents, those of Richard Burbage: not only a superb tragedian but also his troupe’s financier and, together with brother Cuthbert, happily able to afford the construction of a new theater in Bankside, on the opposite side of the River Thames. Prophetically, the company named their new home “The Globe” and endowed it with a motto which, in approximate translation, audiences of one of the first plays produced there – As You Like It  – would soon also hear pronounced from the stage, and which sums up the essence of the Bard’s plays better than anything else: “Totus mundus agit histrionem” – “All the world’s a stage.”

The new playhouse’s name and motto were apposite not only because the era did indeed consider a stage a model of the world (the area above was referred to as heaven, the area below as hell, and characters would often appear accordingly: as such, Hamlet’s father is heard crying “below [stage]” after his encounter with the Prince), but first and foremost because Shakespeare‘s plays themselves, individually as well as collectively, represent a microcosm of human relationships and behavior virtually unparalleled to this day: Laced with murderous schemes, revenge, and the search for justice, love, and peace of mind, but also comedy, all-too-human fallibility and great nobility of spirit, they delve into the human mind’s darkest recesses and soar to its greatest heights; exploring greed, envy, ambition, guilt, remorse and pure evil, next to compassion, generosity, humility, innocence, fidelity, cleverness, boundless cheers and optimism; all interwoven in timeless plots unmatched in wit, variety, construction, and richness of characters.

Yet, for all this, the biggest difficulty remaining to modern editors and readers alike is that while Shakespeare himself didn’t seek the publication of his plays, in the absence of anything approximating modern copyright laws, he was unable to prevent their publication by others, in so-called “quarto” editions, often based on unreliable transcripts made during or after a performance. Only after his death, in 1623, his former fellow-actors John Hemmings and Henry Condell published 37 of his plays “cured and perfect of their limbs” – i.e., restored to their author’s true intentions – in a volume since referred to as the “First Folio.”

Alas, authoritative weight though it has, even the latter doesn’t conclusively answer what the Bard intended as the final version of these 37 plays. For one thing, research shows that even some of the Folio texts were edited by others; most prominently so Macbeth, where Thomas Middleton inserted, inter alia, the witch queen Hecate as an additional character. Secondly, quarto editions of several plays published prior to the First Folio (especially of Henry IV Part 2, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, and King Lear) are widely believed to represent earlier (or rival) drafts written by Shakespeare himself, and thus accorded considerable authoritative weight of their own. Often, these plays are therefore presented (both in print and on stage) by “conflating” both versions’ texts. In the interest of purity, the editors of this particular volume have eschewed that approach, choosing instead to reproduce the Folio text throughout (with gently modernized spelling), because this was probably the text originally used on stage, and appending the passages most frequently added from the rivaling quartos at the end of the respective plays. Thus, this edition’s reader will find Hamlet musing in “To be, or not to be” about “enterprises of great pith and moment” whose currents “turn awry and lose the name of action” (not “of great pitch and moment,” as in the 1604 “Second Quarto”); (s)he will, however, have to consult the appendix to find the Prince’s reflections on that “stamp of one defect” so prominently featuring in Sir Laurence Olivier’s movie, or his vows of “bloody thoughts” after encountering Fortinbras. Only in the case of Lear, the editors chose to fully include both rivaling versions – that of the First Folio and that of the 1608 quarto – because here, the omission of entire scenes and reassignment of numerous pieces of dialogue essentially transforms the Folio text into a new play vis-a-vis the 1608 quarto.

Painstakingly researched and an obvious labor of love, this volume moreover restores the plays’ original titles (All Is True instead of Henry VIII, etc.), and also contains Shakespeare‘s long poems and sonnets, brief accounts on the lost plays (Cardenio, Love’s Labour’s Won), and – with appropriate caveats – the texts of works of only partial/uncertain attribution, such as The Two Noble Kinsmen, sundry poetry, and (for the first time) Edward III, as well as the editorially and topically so problematic Book of Sir Thomas More. Background and supplemental materials include introductions to Shakespeare‘s life, career and language and on the Elizabethan theater, a user’s guide, a list of contemporary references to the Bard, commendatory poems and prefaces of his works (including those of the First Folio), a glossary, an ample reading list, as well as a short introduction to each work. At well over 1000 pages a brick even in paperback format, this isn’t the place to turn for a complete scholarly review of any given play – for that, the reader is well-advised to consult this volume’s Textual Companion or one of the many excellent editions of the individual plays – but a marvelously-presented one-volume resource on the legacy of the playwright whose works, as already friendly rival Ben Jonson rightly prophesied, would last “for all time.”

Favorite Quotes:
Hamlet

“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?”

As You Like It

“All the world’s a stage.”

“Love is merely a madness.”

“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Much Ado About Nothing

“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.”

“If [God] send me no husband, for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening …”

“Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.”

“LEONATO: Well, then, go you into hell?
BEATRICE: No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say ‘Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here’s no place for you maids:’ so deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.”

“LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a pierce of valiant dust? to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none: Adam’s sons are my brethren; and, truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.”

“DON PEDRO: Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
BEATRICE: Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one: marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.
DON PEDRO: You have put him down, lady, you have put him down.
BEATRICE: So I would not he should do me, my lord, lest I should prove the mother of fools.”

“Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please you.’ But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please me.”

“Wooing, wedding, and repenting is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque-pace: the first suit is hot and hasty like a Scotch jig – and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance and with his bad legs falls into the cinque-pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.”

“Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites.”

“For it falls out
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,
Why, then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
While it was ours.”

“To be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune; but to write and read comes by nature.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”

“Though she be but little, she is fierce!”

The Taming of the Shrew

“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.”

Macbeth

“Let every man be master of his time.”

“Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done.”

“What’s done cannot be undone.”

Henry V

“Men of few words are the best men.”

“All things are ready, if our mind be so.”

“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.”

“What infinite heart’s-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings, that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
And what art thou, thou idle ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer’st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents? what are thy comings in?
O ceremony, show me but thy worth!
What is thy soul of adoration?
Art thou aught else but place, degree and form,
Creating awe and fear in other men?
Wherein thou art less happy being fear’d
Than they in fearing.
What drink’st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
But poison’d flattery? O, be sick, great greatness,
And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!
Think’st thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown from adulation?
Will it give place to flexure and low bending?
Canst thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knee,
Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream,
That play’st so subtly with a king’s repose;
I am a king that find thee, and I know
‘Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running ‘fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who with a body fill’d and vacant mind
Gets him to rest, cramm’d with distressful bread;
Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,
But, like a lackey, from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus and all night
Sleeps in Elysium; next day after dawn,
Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse,
And follows so the ever-running year,
With profitable labour, to his grave:
And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,
Winding up days with toil and nights with sleep,
Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king.
The slave, a member of the country’s peace,
Enjoys it; but in gross brain little wots
What watch the king keeps to maintain the peace,
Whose hours the peasant best advantages.”

“WESTMORELAND: O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
KING: What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words –
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester –
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered –
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

Twelfth Night

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

The Tempest

“What’s past is prologue.”

“Thought is free.”

The Winter’s Tale

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes so by chance.”

“Exit pursued by a bear.”
[Stage direction (III, iii)]”

“I have drunk and seen the spider.”

Henry IV, Part 2

“Enter RUMOUR, painted full of tongues.”
[Stage direction, Induction]

“RUMOUR: Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.”

“Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it.”

Henry VI, Part 3

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”

The Merchant of Venice

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

“If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces. It is a good divine that follows his own instructions: I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.”

“So may the outward shows be least themselves:
The world is still deceived with ornament.
In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt,
But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,
Obscures the show of evil? In religion,
What damned error, but some sober brow
Will bless it and approve it with a text,
Hiding the grossness with fair ornament?
There is no vice so simple but assumes
Some mark of virtue on his outward parts.”

“Look on beauty,
And you shall see ’tis purchased by the weight;
Which therein works a miracle in nature,
Making them lightest that wear most of it:
So are those crisped snaky golden locks
Which make such wanton gambols with the wind,
Upon supposed fairness, often known
To be the dowry of a second head,
The skull that bred them in the sepulchre.
Thus ornament is but the guiled shore
To a most dangerous sea; the beauteous scarf
Veiling an Indian beauty; in a word,
The seeming truth which cunning times put on
To entrap the wisest.”

“All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.”

Julius Caesar

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Antony and Cleopatra

“In time we hate that which we often fear.”

King Lear

“Fortune love you.”

Romeo and Juliet

“There is thy gold, worse poison to men’s souls,
Doing more murder in this loathsome world,
Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell.”

Othello

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”

Measure for Measure

“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Sonnet 55:
“Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn
And broils roots out the work of masonry,
Nor mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till judgement that yourself arise,
You in this, and dwell in lovers eyes.”

Sonnet 130:
“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 wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.”

The Rape of Lucrece

“Beauty itself doth of itself persuade
The eyes of men without orator.”

“Those that much covet are with gain so fond,
For what they have not, that which they possess
They scatter and unloose it from their bond,
And so, by hoping more, they have but less;
Or, gaining more, the profit of excess
Is but to surfeit, and such griefs sustain,
That they prove bankrupt in this poor-rich gain.”

Merken

Merken

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