Shakespeare’s Body Found

You’d think that “Shakespeare” is a relatively unique name, but trust me, if you monitor the newsfeed like I do, you’d realize just how wrong that is(*).  For months I’ve been distracted by headlines like “Shakespeare is Missing” and “Foul Play Suspected in Shakespeare Disappearance”, and more recently “Digging for Shakespeare’s Body.”  That last is a particularly tricky one, since there is in fact an archaeological dig going on over in Stratford as we speak. This story, though, is the unfortunate demise of lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare, who disappeared some months ago.  His body was just recovered this week.  Cases like these are sad, as you realize that his body was found under a concrete slab.  Meaning that somebody put it there.  Meaning that, no doubt, somebody killed the poor guy.  I mean, it’s sad when you find remains anyway – but it’s different if somebody falls in the river, or gets lost in the woods, or other unfortunate but accidental deaths.  This guy was murdered, almost certainly having to do with his money. Hope they catch whoever did it.  Apparently there’s a suspect in a neighbor/”friend” who claims he gave her a million dollars.   (*) I’ve learned to ignore the ironically named Shakespeare fishing rods.  When I think of people who take their fishing seriously, I do not picture them bringing a copy of the complete works out on the boat with them to read while they wait.

King Lear and Holden Caufield

JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, has died.  He was 91. When a celebrity dies (be they famous for movies, television or even literature!), I go poking around to see if there’s any Shakespeare connection to make.  Other than a funny non-starter on WikiAnswers looking for a comparison between Hamlet and Holden Caufield, I found a larger story about Salinger’s position on copyrighting of specific characters… (Big link!) The gist of the story is that if you can claim ownership of a character like JD Salinger attempts to do with Caufield, then Shakespeare would never have been able to write King Lear.  The article does an admirable job of tracing back the “ownership” of all Shakespeare’s ideas in that play, at least as far as characters are concerned. I wonder if this is perhaps making a mountain of a molehill.  Isn’t this what we have public domain for, and the whole “past the life of the author” thing?  If you create a character, and you are still alive to speak for that character, then aren’t you allowed to determine who uses that character?  Am I missing something?  Once the author has died, and time has passed (presumably allowing his estate to continue to receive benefit from his work?), then you can use his creation as you will. The Shakespeare case is not really comparable, what with Lear being based on a “semi-legendary” figure.  I think that multiple interpretations of a fairy tale are of a different nature than taking the specific creation of one author and trying to appropriate it for yourself.


Something I’d never noticed before.

“I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died…”   – one of Ophelia’s last lines

But then:

Lay her i’ the earth:
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! – Laertes over the grave of Ophelia

That’s actually the only two references to violets in the play (although that’s not terribly surprising, there’s not many references to any flowers). I’m sure that violets have some special significance, I’m just putting it into my “pretend these are real people” way of thinking.  You were there to hear your sister’s last words, so at her funeral so turn them into something more positive and hopeful?  I’m not sure I’d call it a “pun”, as the excerpt below does:

The violet’s scent, said Hamlet, was "Sweet, not lasting, the perfume and suppliance of a minute, no more" and reinforced the flower’s traditional association with an early death. This tradition arose because the violet blooms early in spring and fades before summer and autumn arrive. This symbolism also explains why Laertes alludes to the violet and puns on "spring" in his speech over Ophelia’s grave…

Ophelia Has Died. RIP Jean Simmons

When you think of Ophelia, chances are you picture Ophelia in Olivier’s Hamlet.  I think it was one of my commenters who originally said “It takes years to get that version out of your head.”  I had no idea that she’d won an Academy Award for Best Support Actress for that. Jean Simmons, Olivier’s Ophelia, has died of lung cancer at the age of 80. The article is a fascinating one, painting the long life of an outstanding actress.  She was surrounded by greatness, playing multiple times opposite both Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando. Who knew that Howard Hughes kept her from starring in Roman Holiday? 

Those who knew her said she was generous, modest and unassuming. According to Mr. Granger, Ms. Simmons called Audrey Hepburn after she saw her in “Roman Holiday” — in a role Ms. Simmons might have had — to say, “I wanted to hate you, but I have to tell you I wouldn’t have been half as good.”

From her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring, a ministering angel shall she be.  May flights of angels sing her to her reset.

Careful! He Got Mozart! When I saw a headline about F. Murray Abraham tussling with a robber in Much Ado About Nothing I assumed it’d be some sort of cute turn of phrase about one of the other actors on stage.  Nope, turns out it was a real robber that he caught going through purses in the dressing rooms, and apparently they went at it.  Police are looking for “a man with a hole in his face the size of Abraham’s fist.”  (That’s an actual quote from the article). Turns out, by the way, that the Oscar-winning actor was actually just in the audience watching, he wasn’t even part of the performance!

Wait, Wasn’t This The Plot to a Porky’s Movie? Romeo and Juliet is too much for Nashville.  At least it’s too much for Nashville high school students, according to their parents.  They came to town, and out came the censors. Apparently they recognized the word “maidenhead” in the first scene, because they wanted that gone.  Oh, you can still thrust them up against the wall, and pull his naked weapon out, that pretty piece of flesh – apparently nobody figured out what that means. Falling under the same “I recognize that word!” magnifying glass is also Mercutio’s hand upon the very prick of noon.  Nope, right out.  Makes me wonder if Sleeping Beauty is allowed to prick her thumb on the spinning wheel?  Does this mean that Macbeth is out, too?  By what would something wicked this way come?? Romeo and Juliet is all sex and violence.  You can’t begin to censor half of it. UPDATE: Be sure to read the lengthy rebuttal from Will O’Hare, Education Director for the Classical Theatre Project.  Apparently there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and any audience disapproval that may have existed seems to be centered squarely on some interesting choices by the actors, rather than on the specific source material.  I appreciate Will stopping by to set the record straight!

Harold Bloom Is Not Well We joke about Harold Bloom here on the site, but the truth is I don’t know much about the man. I have “Invention of the Human”, and I’m not lying when I say that I can’t finish it.  That doesn’t necessarily say anything about the man, however – I adore Isaac Asimov, and I have trouble with his tome as well. It’s unfortunate, then, to report on Professor Bloom’s failing health:

English professor Leslie Brisman described Bloom as “gravely ill” in a Jan. 7 e-mail to students in Bloom’s fall seminar, “Shakespeare and the Canon: Histories, Comedies and Poems.” Bloom has been in the hospital since December.

For those that are interested, somebody’s set up a Get Well Harold account on Twitter for sending him well wishes.

Kill Shakespeare

I spotted the “Kill Shakespeare” project a little while ago when they started following me on Twitter.  Fair enough, I thought – some more Shakespeare in the Manga style.  We’ve had that before. Apparently they’ve got something else in mind altogether!  This might be a little over the top for some of the readers, but I think it could be great fun.  What do you think of a giant Shakespearean crossover where the “heroes” – Hamlet, Juliet, Falstaff – do epic battle against the villains – Iago, Richard III, Lady M?

  As a purist I think the whole thing would self destruct – I think Hamlet wouldn’t be able to stand Falstaff and neither of them would give Juliet a second glance.  And I suspect that Iago and Richard would probably kill each other. But we’ll just have to see how it plays out! Update : Hamlet couldn’t stand Falstaff, that is. 🙂

Blog Like Shakespeare? Copyblogger is one of the most respected sites on the net for those in the business of being bloggers.  So when our dear bard shows up in the title of one of their posts, I know it’s going to get some traffic.  The premise is an interesting one:

…he mastered the art of writing for completely different audiences. He appealed to the ultra elite, to regular theater-goers who never missed a performance, and to the illiterate mobs in the cheap seats. And he managed to satisfy each audience magnificently.

I’m wondering how true that is, or if the author of this article just needed to back up his argument and brought out Shakespeare to do it? Where my historians at?  Is the above correct?  Would you say that Shakespeare was actively addressing three distinct audiences, or even that an Elizabethan audience broke down that way?

Reductio Ad Bardum We’ve already done the “Big Lebowski” thing here on the blog (and it’s been all over Twitter), but this article is about that project yet again. What’s interesting is the reference to Godwin’s Law, and the bits in the middle.  Godwin’s Law, for those not up on the Internet lore, basically says “In any argument, once somebody brings up the Nazis no further intelligent conversation can take place.” Well, it seems that one J Holtham has put forth a similar law for discussion of things theatrical :

If you bring up Shakespeare in any discussion, particularly if it’s about diversity or style, you lose the argument….It’s lazy, it’s weak, and worst of all it’s stupid as hell.  Everybody likes Shakespeare.  You know why?  Because he was a frickin goddamned authentic genius.”

When I skim a statement like that it gets the ol’ dander up, since lord knows I mention Shakespeare often.  But I think, upon further reading, that they’re talking about modern theatre and those people inevitably say “Yeah, well, Shakespeare did it first.”  That’s useless.  I can agree with that.