Bring It, Emile Hirsch An interview with Emile Hirsch, mostly about his new movie “Taking Woodstock” but at the end there’s a paragraph on the upcoming Hamlet he’s doing with Catherine Hardwicke.

But I have to say we’re doing stuff with this script that’s going to give the average Shakespeare scholar cardiac arrest. That’s part of the kick, to like beat the geeks.

The geeks say, bring it.  I’ve got space for you on my wall right under Ethan Hawke, hippie.

To Sleep No More

So I’m having a total blast going over all the Hamlet clips. I noticed something that I wanted to point out in the Kevin Kline version:  Listen to the way he says “to sleep”, the way he extends the word longingly like someone saying “Sleep, there’s something I haven’t had in a long time. I want to sleep.” Made me think of a Hamlet who may merely be feigning insanity, but could also well be having serious trouble sleeping.  Who knows, maybe much of his disheveled appearance and manner have something to do with that? I love that.  I don’t know anything about form, or how Shakespeare wanted him to speak that particular passage.  All I know is what I hear as a fellow human being, and at that moment I hear a guy who wishes he could curl up and go to sleep.(*) Or we could take it the other way and look at some other plays, and try to find common ideas in what Shakespeare’s saying about the dual nature of sleep?  Look at Macbeth’s own take on the terror of what it would mean to “sleep no more”. (*) Reminds me of the story of Dustin Hoffman and  Laurence Olivier.  Hoffman’s character is supposed to have been up all night or something, so Hoffman has in fact stayed up all night.  When Olivier asks what happened to him, Hoffman explains.  “Oh Dustin,” says Olivier, “Try acting.”  I actually found this link that goes into a great deal of research about whether the story is true.

Something Awesome This Way Comes

Ok, it’s moments like this why Twitter rocks.  Guess what’s coming?  Guess what’s coming?? Flash back to July, 2007, when I first learned that illusionist Teller (of Penn and Teller fame) is actually quite the Shakespeare geek himself, and was about to embark on a blood and magic filled Macbeth production. Well, it’s available on DVD (soon) and I’ve already got my copy pre-ordered.  They’ve cut a deal with Simon and Schuster to include it as supplemental material with a new release of the Folger text. I was going to go snoop around S&S’s press kit and see if I could beg a review copy, but to heck with it, sign me up.  Want.  May not ever show the kids, but it’s got to go in my collection!

More Ted Kennedy / Shakespeare

When VP Joe Biden quoted Hamlet re: the passing of Ted Kennedy by saying “We will never see his like again”, the more cynical in the crowd (or perhaps just those with a darker sense of humor) pointed out that: a) Hamlet’s talking about his dead father, who he indeed does see a couple of scenes later :), and b) is it really appropriate to memorialize Ted Kennedy by quoting a play in which a young girl drowns? So instead, Melanie over at Hands To Soul has got some Henry V, courtesy Ken Burns. Much better. UPDATE : Here’s a blogger saying that “He made a good end.”  There’s that Hamlet again!

Hamlet vs. Ophelia [Video]

Over in the “He Made Good End” thread we’re discussing the Hamlet/Ophelia relationship and I thought it’d be fun to see if I could take a peek through some of the various interpretations throughout the years. I went hunting for a very specific scene – when Ophelia tries to give back Hamlet’s gifts, and he has to decide on the spot how to react. The big question, in my mind, is to what degree Ophelia deserves the treatment she gets from Hamlet.  Is she just a pawn, moved one way by her father and another by her boyfriend?  Does Hamlet agonize over his decision to crush her, or is he so far removed from that relationship that he doesn’t think twice about it? [Note that most of these clips are in fact the To be or not to be soliloquoy, so you’ll have to wait to near the end for Ophelia’s entrance.] Here we have an old “Great Performances” clip, but I do not know the actors.  At best I can say that it portrays something of a traditional, conservative take on the classic.  Hamlet here clearly looks like someone who is pretending to be something he is not.

  Speaking of traditional, here’s the Laurence Olivier .  As mentioned in the other post, it can take years to get this Ophelia out of your head.  She is…mindless.  It’s sad, really, to see just how patronizing he is toward her.  Perhaps Laertes earlier speech about how Hamlet’s no good for his little sister had some merit?  I think that Hamlet *wants* Ophelia to be a stronger person, but knows full well that she is not.  I’m sure he’s disappointed by this, but really, did he ever have reason to expect anything else? Surely he knows her character, or lack thereof.

  Ooooo….the Richard Burton version.  Cool.  I’ve never seen this before, and heard that his is one of the best.  Since it is a stage interpretation it’s hard to get the same comparison as modern film versions. 

  Kevin Kline .  People who know Kline only from his comedic roles may not appreciate just how fine a Shakespearean actor he is.  In this scene I particularly note the joy with which he first sees and approaches Ophelia, like “here is the only person who has not turned against me…” and then the sheer denial and physically backing away as he realizes that she, too, is lost to him.

  Derek Jacobi ?  Wow, I tripped over this one just as I was ready to post the rest.  Cool!  His Hamlet, to me, looks like he’s already gone over the edge.  He doesn’t so much as blink at Ophelia, and he’s practically attacking her (verbally) from the minute she says Hello.  He’s nuts.

  Mel Gibson .  The strongest part of this clip is actually Ophelia, one of the few I’ve seen that is strong enough to storm right up to him and hold her own.  She’s clearly one of those Ophelia’s who is doing her father’s bidding because she has no choice – but she most certainly has feelings on the subject.  Hamlet, for his part, looks a bit paranoid, like he’s afraid she’s going to see right through him. 

  Ethan Hawke .  I had trouble finding this clip, there’s plenty of him wandering around the video store doing To Be, and later of him breaking up with Ophelia (“no more marriages”) over voice mail, but nothing in the middle.  This clip is actually a collection of Ophelia moments, and Ethan Hawke / Julia Stiles is in there at about 45 seconds.  It’s pretty bad, and I include it only for completeness.  It’s not worthy of comparison to Kline or Brannagh or the others.

  Lastly we have modern perfection, Kenneth Brannagh .  I did not necessarily love his version on first viewing, I thought he made some unusual choices particularly near the end.  But when you pick out individual scenes and look only at the acting, and the delivery of the lines, it’s quite genius.  Look at Brannagh’s eyes when Ophelia returns his gifts.  Look at the mix of rage and anguish as he tries to keep it together and not blow his cover.  Wow.

Flings & Eros : Karamazov Does Romeo and Juliet! Ok, Google is awesome.  I’m checking some GMail and I see a reference to “Merrimack Rep” pass by in one of the ads. I happen to live near Merrimack College, so I think that it is a local reference. I google “Merrimack Rep”. Turns out that it’s a theatre in Lowell, MA. Guess who is playing?  The Karamazov Brothers, one of the best juggling/vaudeville acts going today. Guess what they’re performing?  Something called Flings & Eros. Guess what it’s about?  Romeo and Juliet!   Looks exciting.  Best part is I think that a friend of mine has season tickets.  If that’s the case it’d be a golden opportunity to see this one, without trying to explain to the wife how I’m dragging her to yet more Shakespeare :).

Revisiting the Classics : How Old Is Romeo?

We last talked about this question back in November 2006, and it continues to be the most popular item on the site (at least for Google hits, if not comments).  I tend to blog and forget, and I don’t always take time to remember that people stumbling across the blog now don’t always cruise through the archives or use my cool new search box over there… Anyway, how old is Romeo?  It’s a harder question than you might think.  We know that Juliet is 13, it says so right in the story.  But if you’ve found yourself thinking “That must make Romeo 13 as well…” not so fast. Some highlights from the original conversation, which I encourage people to check out…

I have always read Romeo as being on the upper end of 15, or early 16. (Some of the arguments I’ve heard putting him toward 18 always seemed inexplicably "off.") This way, he’s just young enough to be so wanton and so reckless with his sentiments (c.f., the Rosalind fiasco), but not quite old enough to have had enough experiences to jade him accordingly.

The Juliet in the original novel – Romeo and Guilietta – is eighteen.

Modern (i.e. post German Romantic) make him younger than he originally was. a 21 year old would have been right – but suggestions of molestation to modern audiences wipe out the possibilities.   I think it’s awfully creepy that Juliet was like 13.  My little sister is very mature for her age but it makes my heart sick to think of her in a similar situation of Juliet.

General opinion seems to have him in his late teens, possibly as old as 21.  Whether or not that’s creepy, or normal for the time, is the subject of much discussion. 🙂

They Say He Made A Good End

Quick, what’s the saddest line in Hamlet? Maybe you went for “Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” Horatio’s final words to his dying friend (often spoken while cradling Hamlet’s head in his lap).  I have to admit, that’s a good one.  But it doesn’t tear me up like it used to.  [If you’re going to stake out the final lines of a Shakespearean tragedy for sadness, give me Lear leaning over his dead daughter, believing that she’s still speaking to him.] For me it comes earlier, and it comes from a different character.

“I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end—”

That’s spoken by Ophelia, whose boyfriend Hamlet (apparently crazy in his own right) has killed her father Polonius.  Hamlet is now banished to England.  Her brother Laertes, for what it’s worth, is off back to school as well.  So she’s quite alone to deal with this turn of events. Ophelia has lost her mind by this point (in stark contrast to Hamlet’s “feigned” madness that still has method in it, Ophelia makes little sense at all) but it’s clear that her father’s death has hit her very hard.  Though much of her song is about Hamlet (and being tumbled before being wed, whatever she’s alluding to there…), most is about “being dead and gone….will not come again….” and "lay him in the cold ground…at his heels a stone….” I’m intrigued primarily by the second half of that sentence.  They say he made good end.  Well technically no, he didn’t – he was run through quite unexpectedly and unfairly when he was hiding behind an arras in the queen’s bedchamber.  Never even had a chance to defend himself.  I suppose you could argue that he stayed in the room at all in an attempt to protect the Gertrude? Question – where at this point do you think Ophelia’s line comes from?  Do you think somebody actually told her the circumstances of Polonius’ death, and if so, do you figure they embellished?  I suppose that’s the likely answer – “Your father gave his life to protect the queen, when Hamlet, clearly mad, attempted to do her harm.” Do you think she knows the real story, and this is something of a denial – she’s tells herself, out loud, that he made good end as a way of coping with the unfortunate circumstances that really occurred?  Refuses to believe that her father was taken away so quickly and cruelly in such a pointless manner? [We haven’t done one of these  in a while, and I should really post more like this.  This is the stuff I like.  Some people love to dig into punctuation and “form” and such, but for me it’s the psychology of the characters I find most fascinating.  I could forever read between the lines of what Shakespeare does not tell us.]

Well Roared…..Egeus? [ A Midsummer Review ]

With a Rebel yell, I cried “More, more more!”

I am so pleased that Rebel Shakespeare found me last season.  I love Shakespeare.  I have kids.  I expose my kids to Shakespeare.  Which is precisely what the Rebels do – Shakespeare for kids, by kids.  Earlier this season I saw teen Hamlet.  This weekend?  8-14yr olds doing Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Even better, the whole family, all the way down to my 3yr old, came out for the event! I’ve said in the past that I get a little tired of Dream, because it’s produced so darned much and I’d like to see some other plays that I’ve never actually seen live.  As I get older (and my kids learn to appreciate Shakespeare as well) I’ve got new love for Dream.  It doesn’t have to be acted perfectly.  It’s pretty darned near perfect on the page, and giving children an opportunity to get up there and act it out gives them a chance to touch it.  Many of the parts were clearly silly.  There was lots of….well, screaming.  Ironically most of the 8yr olds doing the screaming may not get this reference, but think Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.  They screamed to announce that they were coming on stage, they screamed when they bumped into each other in the forest, the fairies screamed at each other to fly away.  I suppose that’s an interesting directorial choice.  8yr olds can be told “Scream, just go AHHHHHHH!  It’ll be funny, people will laugh.”  And we did.  Many times. Which brings me to Egeus (father to Hermia, for those unfamiliar with the details of the play).  Normally he’s got a pretty simple role – show up, treat his daughter like property and say he’d rather have her dead than disobey him…and then show up again at the end of the play to say all is forgiven, of course now that Demetrius wants to marry Helena. Well this time, a young lady is playing Egeus.  Fine.  She’s dressed in men’s clothes (tie, vest, funny hat) and carrying a very large shot gun.  And yes, she enters screaming, and does lots of it.  It was hysterical.  Lysander tries to touch Hermia and gets his hand slapped.  At one point Egeus goes a little bananas, I can’t remember exactly the line, but she ends up in the middle of the stage holding the gun on everybody.  She totally stole her scenes, and I think she knew it.  I honestly could not tell if this was someone who’d never acted before and was over the top out of nerves, or if she knew exactly what she was doing.  (What was weird to me, though, was that they did change script to call her ‘mother’ instead of ‘father’, even though she was dressed like father.  Made it all the more zany, like ok why is this crazy woman dressed like that and packing a big gun??  Although it did kill Lysander’s joke when he says “Demetrius you have Hermia’s father’s love, marry him.”  Saying “her mother’s love, marry her” isn’t quite the same :)). The rest of the cast as well were really quite impressive.  I particularly liked Oberon, who went back and forth between roaring at the other fairies (Puck included), to watching Helena and Hermia fight it out with a sort of “Oh no she didn’t!” look on his (Oberon’s) face the whole time.  One of the best staging moments came courtesy of Oberon.  Behind us (remember, this is an outdoor play) is a very large bunch of rocks, almost cliff like.  Big enough that you could find your way up there, but that you’d likely hurt yourself if you jumped off, too.  My son has pointed out to me that there are boys playing up there, and it looks like one of the stage managers has shooed them away.  A few minutes later while I’m watching the stage, my son is watching the other direction and says, “He’s gonna fall if he doesn’t get down.” “That’s ok,” I tell him, not looking.  “Someone will make them get down.” “No,” says my son, turning my face in the other direction, “It’s the king!” Sure enough, while the action rages on the stage, Oberon is perched up on the cliff watching the whole thing.  Brilliant.  I bet most of the audience never even realized it, until Oberon started delivering lines from up there and they were left wondering where the voice came from.  Great idea. Sometimes, it’s all about the little things.  For my money, the funniest moment? Not counting all of Bottom’s scenes, of course, which we’ll get to in a minute :).  The funniest moment comes after Oberon and Puck realize that they’ve screwed up the love potion and are now trying to fix it.  They’ve put the drops into Demetrius’ eyes so that he’ll fall in love with the next person he sees.  Well, as he wakes, Demetrius turns so that he is facing … Lysander.  Quick as a flash, Puck jumps on stage, grabs Demetrius’ face in his hands and points him at Helena, then disappears again.  I don’t know if everybody there thought that as funny as I did, but I laughed for a long time.  Oh how different the play would have been! Back to Bottom.  This kid’s born to the stage, no doubt about it.  When your whole troop is basically overacting, and you need to be the guy that is the obvious overacting one, you really need to kick it up a notch.  He certainly delivered.  To their credit, the rest of the Mechanicals were not to be upstaged, either.  Thisbe, Lion, Wall… all did wonderfully in their roles and got their share of the laughs.  None of the audience lines (“Well shone, Moon!” et al) could be heard from where I sat, which was a little sad as those are some of my favorite parts.  I always say “Well roared, Lion!” whenever my son plays monsters. Sure, there were times that my hopes were high, only to be crushed a bit.  Oberon rode right over the “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows….” speech without any recognition at all for the quality of the poetry.  And Bottom tripped up on the “Eye of man have not heard, ear of man hath not seen” bit.  But really, that was more of out of hope than expectation on my part.  Is it really possible to tell a 10 yr old (they were all about 8-14 I’m told so it’s hard to guess at exactly what the ages were and I don’t want to imply they were all 8) that she’s delivering lines that have been heralded as perfect for the last 400 years?  Would she understand what you’re saying, and, if she did, would she not crack under the pressure?  Perhaps better at these earliest ages to focus on getting the funny down, first, and then worrying about the details.  Keri Cahill, the founder of Rebel Shakespeare, has 20 years more experience than I at this. Ok, have to wrap this up.  Can I say a couple words about the professionalism of these kids?  It started to downpour on them – twice.  They never broke stride.  As we all huddled under the tent, they persevered.  We couldn’t hear a word they were saying, of course, but they were doing their best.  I saw blood on a couple of the girls who must have banged knees on the wooden stage or something, and yet they continued.  I don’t mean scratches, I mean we the audience were watching the blood run down Helena’s leg.  That must have hurt.  It’s hot, they’re in full costume, and at times the direction calls for them to wander around out in the audience.  And I never saw anybody freeze, or miss a cue, or break character.  Not a bad job at all for a 4 week program! I look forward to next year’s season! UPDATE: Geeklet Review! 7yr old : “I liked the little guy at the beginning.”
”No, the crazy one.”
   “Oh, Egeus?  Hermia’s father?”
”Yeah, Egeus.  I really liked it, I think people should see it.  I liked it better than Henry V.” 5yr old : “I liked the two girls.”
   “The ones that were fighting?  Helena and Hermia?”
”Yeah.” 3yr old : “I liked the Lion!”

Wherefore “Wherefore?”

This is an old topic for regulars, but sometimes it’s nice to dust out the FAQs and revisit. Today on Twitter I saw one person correct a friend that “wherefore art thou” does not mean “where are you”, but that it means “why are you here, Romeo.” No it doesn’t, it means “why are you Romeo”, as in, “Why of all the eligible young guys in Verona did the love of my life have to be a member of the family my enemy is in a blood feud with?” In sending these folks the correct answer I consulted Clusty for some more examples, which I think explain it a bit better :

Wherefore speaks he this to her he hates? Wherefore doth Lysander deny your love? But wherefore didst thou kill my cousin? All this is comfort, wherefore weep I then? Wherefore hast thou accused him all this while?

And so on.  I don’t know about anybody else, but after seeing it regularly in its proper context I just see it as “why” and never think twice about it. The original Twitterer did seem to know that it means “why”, but was perhaps still thinking that there was some sort of location connection with the where/here stuff.  Nope.  “wherefore art thou” is straight 1:1 translation, wherefore=why, art=are, thou=you.  Why are you Romeo. Had she said “Wherefore art thou here, Romeo” then you’d be on to something, but it would fundamentally change the meaning of the speech.