Sex and The Shakespeare

Ok, that’s a terrible title, but it’ll get more clicks than “Shakespeare and The City.” Since I’m behind in my links you may already have seen that Kristin Davis, most famous for playing the “nice” girl Charlotte in Sex and The City (get it now?) wants to do some Shakespeare.  If this were Kim Cattrall we were talking about, the one who plays the slutty Samantha, I’d make a “do Shakespeare” joke right here.  Oh, well. Davis has specific plans, too.  At 44, she wants to play Viola from Twelfth Night.  I appreciate that she’s got that level of understanding about the plays, and doesn’t want to get into them just because she’s got this vague notion that “Shakespeare” equals “be taken seriously as an actress.”

9 Shakespeare-Inspired Novels, and One Piece of Crap See, lists like this are the stuff I crave.  From the opening quote:

Vivien Leigh once said that acting in a Shakespeare play was like ‘bathing in the sea – one swims where one wants’.

You get the idea that the author has at least some clue of what they’re talking about.  Drawing upon the themes and characters of Shakespeare still leaves infinite flexibility in *what* you write.  It is a tremendous playground for Shakespeare Geeks. So we get the “Top 10” Shakespeare inspired novels, although it’s a bit more like a sampler than a top 10.  We get relatively new David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” (1996) and the classic Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1931).  I’m familiar with “Gertrude and Claudius”  and “A Thousand Acres”, though I’ve not read them.  “Money” and “Wise Children” are really the only ones completely new to me. But then the list goes and discredits itself with the inclusion of Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis.  I read this one.  It’s been years since I admitted it.  It is terrible.  I mean, seriously, this is a book that I chose to throw away rather than to let someone else read.  It’s horrible.  I’m embarrassed for it to have Shakespeare content. Still, a top 9 list’s not that bad.

Romeo and Juliet, Sort Of

Should the phone ring one day, and you are asked to recount the plot of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” would you remember which Italian city the play takes place in? The particulars of the faked-death ruse that ends so unfortunately? The immortal lines that Juliet speaks from her balcony as her heart flutters with awakening love?

Well, umm…..yes.  To all of those questions.  But I don’t think I’m in the target audience :). The show reviewed appears to be something of the reduced/improv Shakespeare variety, starting with the premise that most folks kinda sorta know the story, but are foggy on the details.  Sounds like a crowd pleaser.  I remember seeing “The Complete Works in 60 Minutes” or whatever it’s called, and not really loving it.  Not so much for the Shakespeare-mocking, but more for the weak attempts at humor.  There’s massive amounts of material to be found in poking fun at Shakespeare so that Shakespeare fans can actually enjoy it.  But there’s the rub, I suppose – these shows aren’t for fans.  These shows don’t start with Shakespeare, they start with “That bit of Shakespeare that everybody in pop culture kinda sorta knows”, and then from there they just run with whatever sex joke they can find.  In the Complete Works we got “Call you buttlove? What?  Ok, buttlove” and other types of lines.  In this version of Romeo and Juliet there’s apparently scenes of Paris … ummm… having some private time with Juliet’s corpse?  Insert your own “rub” joke here, I can’t bring myself to do it.

Time Once Again For The “Secret Catholic” Game

A guestbook for visiting pilgrims to Rome.  A handful of signatures containing references to “Stratford”, circa late 1500s. Hmmm…who do we know that was from Stratford, living around 1585 or so? Intrigued?

“Arthurus Stratfordus Wigomniensis” signed the book in 1585, while “Gulielmus Clerkue Stratfordiensis” arrived in 1589. … A third entry in 1587, “Shfordus Cestriensis”, may stand for “Sh[akespeare from Strat]ford [in the diocese] of Chester”, he said.

Other than the Stratford pointer, you have to get creative.  “Arthurus” is supposed to be “King Arthur’s compatriot”, they say – is that supposed to be some sort of “I’m from England” reference?  The second one, although it’s apparently in Italian, is a more straightforward translation – “William, clerk from Stratford.” It’s always fun to find “evidence” like this, and see how it fits in the grand scheme of things.  I like the idea of accounting for Shakespeare’s lost years more than I like jumping on the “secret catholic!” bandwagon, I’ll say that much.

A Tale Of Two Brothers As a Shakespeare Geek and a New England native, I couldn’t pass up this story of what might become of Tom Brady’s two sons, told with allusions to Richard III … although I wonder if King Lear might be more appropriate? For those who don’t follow the sports – or gossip – page, Tom Brady’s first son is John Edward Thomas, with former girlfriend Bridget Moynihan, who lives off on the Other Coast and was the subject of so much speculation when he was first born (post-breakup) that the rumor going around was that his mother deliberately chose the initials JET, for the long hated rival NY Jets. Just this past week however saw the birth of second son Benjamin to current wife Gisele Bundchen.  Benjamin will be the one that grows up with the luxury of playing catch with all-star quarterback dad. I mean, don’t get me wrong, getting a bunch of pop psychologists together to weigh in on somebody else’s family life without even a quote from any member of that family, well, that’s pretty much the definition of “waste of time”.   But for those who dig a good story and don’t mind speculating what sports might be like in another 20 years or so?  This stuff is gold.  These boys are not about to grow up like Peyton and Eli, you can be pretty sure about that.

Rufus! Rufus! Rufus!

I have Rufus Wainwright’s Sonnet 29 in heavy rotation on my playlist (which otherwise consists of some serious heavy rock and metal, headbanging sorts of stuff).  I’m always on the lookout for more.  Apparently he’s all over YouTube, though. Anybody know if he’s done studio versions of these?  Live video from YouTube is fun, but not nearly as good as having an MP3 you can take with you all the time. Sonnet 20:



Shakespeare Master Class Thank Twitter for pointing me at this little gem I’d missed, a very young Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry doing “Shakespeare Master Class”. Given some of the spirited discussion we’ve had here, I got a kick out of it. “And why did Shakespeare capitalize the T in Time?”
    “Because it’s the first word in the sentence.”
“Well…yes, I suppose that’s partly it.  But why else?”

Were Shakespeare’s Actors Any Good?

We know what people do with Shakespeare’s words now, sure.  And in general we can point to an Orson Welles, Ian McKellen, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi and say, “Those, those are good actors.” But I’ve often wondered about the people who originally created the roles.  Were they any good, to our standards?  Or was it completely different?  How we interpret Shakespeare changes.  Compare the Hamlets of Kenneth Brannagh, Richard Burton, and Laurence Olivier.  Going back farther we’d have Gielgud or Barrymore.  But what if we kept going, all the way back?  I’m not asking if a modern audience would *like* it.  They probably wouldn’t, given the different expectations.  What I’m asking is, were the actors “good”?  Would you look at a person playing Falstaff, his facial expressions however slight, and say “Damn, that is heartbreaking.”  Or would he have been more concerned with annunciating everything so perfectly that he could be heard in the cheap seats? Know what I mean?

Love’s Labour’s Lost : The Show

Ok, finally I can talk about the show. Well, let’s get the organization out of the way first.  They couldn’t find my seat.  I mean, this is basically a town hall / gymnasium sort of set up, sectioned off and folding chairs set up.  Maybe 200 or so capacity, about 4 rows of seats?  I’ve got a ticket that says “Right section, D 5.”  Usher gets all confused when he realizes that the fourth row, which is logically D, is full.  “They told us that row was general admission,” he tells me.  “Let me go find out.” I sit around for awhile waiting, hanging out with a dude who has brought a hardcover “Invention of the Human” by Harold Bloom.  The usher comes back and keeps trying to hand me back my ticket and tell me that yes, that is my seat.  I keep telling him that if he put somebody else in my seat to go tell that person to move, I ain’t doing it.  Turns out that the woman who is sitting in my seat has also come down to argue about something, so they basically tell her to move. That was my only problem with the event itself.  Once that was resolved I had a grand time.  The cast members (in character) came out and mingled. Costuming was wonderful, as was the stage.  Musicians wandered around, eventually signalling the start of the show by all coming together in a single tune.  A fascinating deer puppet wandered through the stage, and interacted with the audience.  Costard and Jaquenetta had a bit of a fling in one corner. I don’t particularly want to go through the details of the play, both because a) I’m not familiar enough with the material to comment in detail, and b) because of circumstances beyond my control I left at intermission anyway.  I’m not really sure what I was expecting, having never been to London to see the real deal.  This was … small.  Intimate.  As I mentioned, only a few hundred seats.  Characters roamed around and greeted people.  That was cool. Their comic timing was impeccable.  I mean, I’ve seen plenty of people do Shakespeare, and do comedy, and there’s a bunch of relatively standard ways to get a laugh. But when you’re made aware that their *timing* is better than you’ve ever heard, I think that says something about the quality.  After all they’re delivering the same words as everybody else, so much of the difference has to be in how they do it. Two things surprised me, relatively quickly.  The first is how often they broke – and by that I mean, cracked themselves up so badly that they had to stop to keep from laughing out loud.  Ferdinand was particularly guilty of this.  So, somebody tell me – was I watching a rare, bad thing?  Or is it more acceptable than I realized?  Is their approach more of a “Hey, we’re having fun up here, and the audience is laughing with us, not at us” style of Shakespeare?  I quite liked it, I’m just not sure if it was supposed to be happening.  Perhaps it’s that these folks are so confident in the material that they don’t mind as much, whereas an American cast might be a bit too much in awe of the material to let themselves have that much fun. The second was interaction with the music.  I’ve seen this plenty of times, and it bugs me.  There’s an upper balcony to the stage, where the musicians are handling the background music between scenes.  Several times characters would enter, pretend like they were going to wait for the music to die down as if that was a cue, and then when it doesn’t, they’d go wave at the musicians and make the “Cut it!” gesture, upon which the music would stop abruptly.  Again, not something I haven’t seen before – but is that cool? Is that how Shakespeare’s people would have interacted with the music?  Something that fascinated me was the dancing.  I’m not sure the appropriate theatre terminology, but at a couple of points (most notably when the ladies go off hunting for deer), the cast onstage break into a silence dance number, as if they were miming “Ok, we’re hunting now.”  Perhaps that’s exactly what it was supposed to be.  The staging was well was very well handled.  Characters came in through the audience when it would get a reaction, but for the most part they came through the large double doors, stage center, which served to separate the forest and the palace.  To the side were two backdrops done up to look like trees, with balcony above.  Want another good example of that attention to detail I was talking about?  At one point, just before all the gentlemen are to discover that they’ve all broken the pact, Biron is first on stage and has hidden in the balcony (“climbed a tree”, as it were).  After he announces himself, rather than beginning his lines up there, he descends the stair case behind the scenery (climbing down out of the tree)…and emerges with a mouthful of leaves, which he promptly spits out before continuing his line.  It’s the little things. I didn’t love it all.  Though the accents, timing and delivery were wonderful, some stuck out.  Biron (Berowne? I think I’ve seen it both ways?), for instance, was delivered in a fairly heavy Scottish accent which made me think Craig Ferguson  could have stood in at the drop of a hat.  Had the actor broken our some Sean Connery I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.  Many that’s just my American, tv-watching self talking.  We hear Scottish, we map it back onto the handful of Scottish actors we know. Also, I have no idea what Don Adriano was supposed to be.  He’s a Spaniard, yes?  I thought he was doing Russian for most of it.  At some points he seemed more Borat than anything else. As mentioned, I had to leave at intermission because of the chaos at my house (see previous posts).  So I can’t really say much about the second half.  If I were living a different life, a bachelor whose full time job was to be a Shakespeare Geek?  I’d have been there early and stayed late.  For every show.  In reality, what I did was laugh.  Frequently.  Sometimes at the words, sometimes at their delivery, sometimes at the slapstick clowning that went on between them.   What more can you really ask?