Shakespeare Songs is part of the master’s thesis of a student at the University of British Columbia entitled “Teaching Shakespeare Through Song.”   It doesn’t look done – the links to Thesis and Forums both lead to “Coming Soon” pages.  But still, it seems like an idea worth pursuing. Right now all I could find for audio links were on the “ShakeHits” page, using some sort of streaming player.  Well that rules me out, I only work in MP3 these days so I can take them with me.

Romeo And Juliet … As A Management Exercise? Here’s an interesting spin.  With the challenge of taking a Shakespeare play and exploring what it says about “business life today”, the author and his team of eight read the play (with obligatory complaining about the language), see the play, divide up the characters and then brainstorm about lessons they can learn about the drinking industry.  I’ll give you a hint, it has lots to do with communication. Interesting reading.

Lady Macbeth's Suicide Note

Master of Verona has an intriguing article up that asks whether part of the famous “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” scene is actually Lady Macbeth’s suicide note.  Pretty neat idea.  I love, as he says, the idea of “flouting the audience’s expectations…even more when I can do so by returning to the text.”  So he doesn’t just throw out a “Hey, what if we did it this way”, he actually backs it up with textual evidence for why he thinks it’s a valid idea.

Borrowers And Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation I found this link via Bardolatry far more interesting once I realized that I’m in it.  Be sure to check out the link to Erin Presley’s “Ol’ Billy Shakes: Shakespeare In The Blogosphere” article for numerous references to myself and all our friends from the blogosphere, including Bardolatry, Shakesper Random, and others.  I would like to know, though, what she means by “although more interested in discussion than practical feedback”.   That doesn’t sound fair.  Not sure what practical feedback I wouldn’t be interested in.

The TV Guide Shakespeare

Found via Shaking the Shakespeare Blues is this TV Viewer’s Guide To Shakespeare, where the plays are all wrapped up in one or two sentence fragments each.  Some of the better ones:
HAMLET.  Displeased by mother’s second marriage, prince becomes addicted to soliloquies.  Origin of a Broadway malady. KING LEAR.  Father gives heritage to children before his death and lives to regret it.  What else? ANTONY and CLEOPATRA.  Cleo meets snake and gets stung.  She asped for it. THE WINTER’S TALE.  Estranged wife returns disguised as statue.  Reconciliation the hard way. JULIUS CAESAR.  Marc Antony rises to power on borrowed ears.  Eerie.

Did I mention how much I enjoy a good pun? 🙂

The Last Scene : A Structural Question

So it dawned on me after making my wife sit through a three+ hour production of King Lear that, from a casual fan’s perspective, the last scene of a Shakespearean tragedy must seem a huge bore.   Here’s the pattern:

  1. Almost everyone, including the hero, will die.  All deaths might occur onstage, but if they occur offstage, someone will surely come in to announce it. In some cases, such as the Lear I saw last night, the bodies will actually be dragged back onto the stage in case you missed it.
  2. Someone will be left to explain what happened.
  3. Someone will be the guy who just walked in and says, “What the heck happened here?”
  4. Leftover person will now retell almost the entire play that we’ve just watched to new person, to catch him up.

Take Hamlet.  The only one left standing is Horatio, who tells the story to Fortinbras when he arrives.  Or Romeo and Juliet, where Friar Laurence is left to explain things to the Prince.  In Lear, Edgar and Edmund catch Burgundy up in a hurry (and if they’d spent a little less time doing so, they might have saved Cordelia!)  Othello doesn’t totally fit the pattern, as Othello is still alive and learning the story himself when Cassio and Lodovico arrive.  But there is still that whole “tying up the loose ends” thing. My question is, why?  Was this some sort of requirement of the audiences at the time, that they would only go home happy with the show if they felt that it was all neatly packaged up like that?  Why is it so important that the Prince learn the details of Romeo and Juliet’s death, for example?  The audience knows.  Why not just end it right when they die?  All you really get after that is an announcement that Romeo’s mother has died (offstage, of course, see rule#1), a promise of statues, and the prince’s wrap up.  What was it about the fashion of the time that made Shakespeare end his tragedies this way, and not on the death of the hero?  It’s the same with Hamlet – why is “And flights of angels sing thee sweetly to thy rest” not the last line of the play?  (Although for that I’m sure  there are Fortinbras fans who are ready to tear me a new one :))

King Lear : Lebanon, NH

So today Kerry and I drove 100 miles (each way!) to go see a performance of King Lear.   I’d never seen an actual production of the play – I’ve certainly read it, and read about it, and in college I had a movie version that I honestly can’t remember watching through to completion.  But to repeat a phrase I found myself saying to friends and coworkers for the past month, “But it’s King Lear for God’s sake!”  How could I miss that? Having never seen a production before, I have no frame of reference to really explain what I saw.  The King was portrayed as very….frail?  Downright skeletal, really.  A very gaunt old man.  Trembled quite badly.  I’m not sure that’s what I expected.  I thought that there would be flashes of a true king (particularly when he was angry), but really he was pretty much a very old and weak man from the very first scene.  When he did get angry, it was more or less “indignant”, if that makes sense.  Let me put it as a question.  The famous quote, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!”…how is it typically portrayed?  I always thought such a line would be strong, forceful, defiant.  What I got was….well, bargaining.  “Go ahead and blow, wind.  Nice wind.”  That sort of thing. I was much more impressed with the acting of Gloucester, Burgundy, Kent and Edgar.  Those four in particular were not afraid to put a little energy (and volume!) into their performance.  You knew when they were angry, or sad.  The actor doing Edgar, I thought, did a particularly fine job of conveying emotion via facial expressions. At over 3 hours it was longer than I expected, but maybe that’s my fault.  I think the audience was a little desperate for a laugh – during the very final scene when Edgar announces that Edmund is dead and Burgundy says, “That is a mere trifle to us now” (or something similar to that), that was actually one of the bigger laughs of the night.  During the final scene of a great Shakespearean tragedy.  Hmmmm. I was trying to listen closely to Lear’s last words.  Nobody was making much of an effort to project to the back row, so when he whispered you practically had to read his lips.  I was watching for references to a feather, but heard none.  I did hear “Look on her, look, her lips, look there!” and I could swear one of the lines was “Her lips move”, but that’s not in my copy of the script so I’m not sure if I heard it wrong.  Somebody tell me – does Lear die thinking that Cordelia is still alive, or merely wishing that she were?  Or is that dependent on how the last line is played? I know that Rosenbaum had much to say on the different versions, but I don’t have the time right now to dig through that audio interview to find the actual comments (and my book is not at hand). All in all I’m glad I saw the play, because now I have a baseline from which to look at other Lears.   

Technorati tags: ,

Casting for Boston Common 'Dream As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not exactly thrilled that my local free Shakespeare in the Park is doing Midsummer, a play that I’ve seen almost as many times as I’ve seen Hamlet.  Don’t get me wrong, all Shakespeare is good Shakespeare, and “free Shakespeare in the park” might darned well be 5 of the most beautiful words in the English language.  But come on, the man wrote a good 38 plays or more, why do we have to keep doing the same ones over and over again? How about a nice Anthony and Cleopatra?  Never actually seen that one live, and it’s one of the “big ones”. Anyway, the linked Playbill article shows all the casting information, in case anybody is up on their local theatre talent and recognizes any names.

Can You Be 42 and Play Romeo? I like this article for not just commenting on the respective ages of Romeo (around 17) and Juliet (13) and how you have to cast those roles relative to the actors’ ages, but for going into a pretty cool history about how other famous actors have played the roles. Basil Rathbone?  42 when he played Romeo. Orson Welles was a 19yr old Tybalt, which the article comments “must have looked a little out of place.” Norma Shearer was a 34yr old Juliet, alongside John Barrymore’s 54yr old Mercutio. But who’s the goofball quoted near the end who says that some people might call Romeo and Juliet one of the “lesser” plays?  It’s no King Lear, but it’s no Timon of Athens, either, people.