Henry Winkler Meets William Shakespeare

I know that Fonzie played Hamlet, and Henry Winkler played Scrooge, but until this moment I’d never heard a peep about 1977’s Henry Winkler Meets William Shakespeare.

It appears to have been part of something called The CBS Festival of Lively Arts for Young People

Look at the cast — Kevin Kline as Petruchio?! This would have been one of his earliest television roles.

Challenge extended, Bardfilm – find us some footage!

The Verona Project

Fans of Two Gentlemen of Verona cover your ears, because this reviewer has no kind words for Shakespeare’s “weakest, deeply weird” ending.  That’s ok, though, because Amanda Dehnert has gone ahead and rewritten it.  Her Verona Project “transforms Shakespeare’s shallow, nonsensical play into a joyous and affecting story of flawed people stumbling into love.”

I don’t often blog about individual local shows, because most folks simply won’t ever have the chance to see them. But the amount of scorn heaped on poor Two Gents in this review made me figure that perhaps there are some fans of that one who might like to defend it?

For Done Are Shakespeare’s Days

Those hands, which you so clapt, go now, and wring
You Britaines brave; for done are Shakespeares dayes :
His dayes are done, that made the dainty Playes,
Which made the Globe of heav’n and earth to ring.
Dry’de is that veine, dry’d is the Thespian Spring,
Turn’d all to teares, and Phoebus clouds his rayes :
That corp’s, that coffin now besticke those bayes,
Which crown’d him Poet first, then Poets King.
If Tragedies might any Prologue have,
All those he made, would scarse make a one to this :
Where Fame, now that he gone is to the grave
(Deaths publique tyring-house) the Nuncius is,
For though his line of life went soone about,
The life yet of his lines shall never out.
H U G H H O L L A N D.

(source link)

Somebody tell me about this. I’m interested lately in the dedications of the First Folio. Other than Ben Jonson’s portion, I really had no idea there were so many.  This is actually really good stuff here that I’ve picked, and I’m quite surprised that I don’t hear more about it.  “which crowned him poet first, then poets’ king?” That’s good stuff!

That Impressionist Guy

So I think that everybody has seen Jim Meskimen’s amazing Shakespeare video over the past couple of days:

It’s just crazy impressive.  You must watch.  What’s fascinating is that, probably because he needed a long speech to work with, he gives us Clarence’s speech from Richard III – something that the large majority of the listening audience is sure to not recognize (I’ve attached it at the end, for reference. He works around Brakenbury’s periodic interruptions).

What’s your favorite part?  What little tidbits does he sneak in that you spotted and appreciated?  Like Ron Howard getting the line about “Happy Days” πŸ™‚  Or when Craig Ferguson sticks in an, “I know!” out of nowhere. Obama’s reference to “his dream”, etc…

For some reason, I think his George W. Bush, right when he says “York”, is hysterical.  I don’t know why, it just sounds exactly like Bush would have said it, not like he was reciting Shakespeare, but like he was in conversation with somebody and retelling a story with emphasis on random bits.

CLARENCE

O, I have pass’d a miserable night,
So full of ugly sights, of ghastly dreams,
That, as I am a Christian faithful man,
I would not spend another such a night,
Though ’twere to buy a world of happy days,
So full of dismal terror was the time!

BRAKENBURY

What was your dream? I long to hear you tell it.

CLARENCE

Methoughts that I had broken from the Tower,
And was embark’d to cross to Burgundy;
And, in my company, my brother Gloucester;
Who from my cabin tempted me to walk
Upon the hatches: thence we looked toward England,
And cited up a thousand fearful times,
During the wars of York and Lancaster
That had befall’n us. As we paced along
Upon the giddy footing of the hatches,
Methought that Gloucester stumbled; and, in falling,
Struck me, that thought to stay him, overboard,
Into the tumbling billows of the main.
Lord, Lord! methought, what pain it was to drown!
What dreadful noise of waters in mine ears!
What ugly sights of death within mine eyes!
Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks;
Ten thousand men that fishes gnaw’d upon;
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,
All scatter’d in the bottom of the sea:
Some lay in dead men’s skulls; and, in those holes
Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept,
As ’twere in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,
Which woo’d the slimy bottom of the deep,
And mock’d the dead bones that lay scatter’d by.

BRAKENBURY

Had you such leisure in the time of death
To gaze upon the secrets of the deep?

CLARENCE

Methought I had; and often did I strive
To yield the ghost: but still the envious flood
Kept in my soul, and would not let it forth
To seek the empty, vast and wandering air;
But smother’d it within my panting bulk,
Which almost burst to belch it in the sea.

BRAKENBURY

Awaked you not with this sore agony?

CLARENCE

O, no, my dream was lengthen’d after life;
O, then began the tempest to my soul,
Who pass’d, methought, the melancholy flood,
With that grim ferryman which poets write of,
Unto the kingdom of perpetual night.
The first that there did greet my stranger soul,
Was my great father-in-law, renowned Warwick;
Who cried aloud, ‘What scourge for perjury
Can this dark monarchy afford false Clarence?’
And so he vanish’d: then came wandering by
A shadow like an angel, with bright hair
Dabbled in blood; and he squeak’d out aloud,
‘Clarence is come; false, fleeting, perjured Clarence,
That stabb’d me in the field by Tewksbury;
Seize on him, Furies, take him to your torments!’
With that, methoughts, a legion of foul fiends
Environ’d me about, and howled in mine ears
Such hideous cries, that with the very noise
I trembling waked, and for a season after
Could not believe but that I was in hell,
Such terrible impression made the dream.

Henry VII

(originally asked on Twitter, so my followers there who are about to click into the story and possibly see no new content…)

My daughter asked me this weekend about the Henry plays. I think she’s fascinated by the Roman numerals, especially given how I say “Henry the fourth” but then I say “Henry vee”.

She’d like to know why there was a 4, 5, 6 and 8 … but no 7.  So, I asked on Twitter.  Here’s the responses I’ve gotten so far, in no particular order:

  • “He was boring?”
  • “Richard III could, if you squint just right, be called Henry VII…”
  • “perhaps b/c the latter part of his reign was characterised by a financial rapacity which stretched the bounds of legality.”
  • “Maybe he just didn’t get to it– not so safe while Elizabeth lived, judging from R3, and once James was on the throne, Henry VIII was more useful for praising both James and Elizabeth.”
  • “most likely since HVII was politically “tricky”. Even HVIII was tricky to do with AB’s daughter on throne. He was savvy.”
  • “Some ppl thought HVII not “regal” or “noble” enough for throne & he stole it. best avoid topic. Earlier Hs no prob so long.”

I’ve often said that I’m weak in the histories – not to mention, the *actual* history.  Feel free to expand on any of the above ideas, or contribute new ones.  I don’t think that his having stolen the throne, or stretched the bounds of legality, would necessarily have meant that there was no good story there to tell.  But from my limited understanding of the political families, I can understand the idea of Shakespeare simply not being allowed to tell a story that was anything less than positive.

Too Much Shakespeare

So this week I took the girls – who are now 9 and almost 7 – to their first tragedy, Macbeth.  I hope to write up that show shortly, once the organizers get me some names so I can give credit.

Anyway…my girls didn’t love it.  Too many people died.  Which is to be expected, since this is their first real tragedy.  They told me that this was certainly Shakespeare’s grossest play.

“Well it’s one of them,” said I, “But certainly not the grossest. I think that would have to be Titus Andronicus.”

“Why is that one gross?”

“That one is so gross I’m not even going to tell you how gross it is.”

“Do people die?”

“Oh, yes. People do worse than die.”

“Tell us.”

“Well this one guy kills this other guy, right?”

“Yeah…”

“And then he chops him up into little pieces …”

“Ok, stop.”

“…and then he bakes them into a pie…”

“Stop.”

“…and then he makes the guy’s mother eat the pie.”

“Stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop”

“Told you.”

Sell Me on All’s Well

So, Commonwealth Shakespeare of Boston is doing All’s Well That Ends Well this year.

Quite frankly I know almost nothing about it.  I’ll do some research before I go, familiarize myself with the plot of course.  But I’m curious to see if it holds up to a certain test.  Namely, the “What’s it famous for?” test.

When I saw As You Like It a few years ago, I don’t think it really had the audience’s attention.  That is, until Jaques started in on “All the world’s a stage…” and you could have heard a pin drop, as everybody in the audience simultaneously thought, “Oh, wait, I know that speech!” and stopped to listen.

Twelfth Night has a similar moment when Orsino gives us “If music be the food of love, play on!” although, naturally, that occurs too early to be a head turning moment.  But it certainly gets the play started with even the most casual fan’s attention!

So, somebody sell me on All’s Well.  What line, speech or scene is going to show up here that I’m going to recognize and say, “Oh, *that’s* where that comes from?!”

Best Comedy?

A simple enough question this morning.  The tragedies often get the most attention, but what of the comedies? What, in your opinion, is Shakespeare’s *best* comedy?

Gaby Stenberg as Titania, 1944

I know that “best” is always debatable, so let me be more specific. In this case I’m wondering which play has the greatest opportunity to make you laugh yourself silly.  Obviously the production of each play will vary greatly, but which of Shakespeare’s comedic scripts do you think offers up the greatest potential to have them LOLing in the aisles?

While I definitely had some “laughed so hard I cried” moments with Comedy of Errors and As You Like It, I think I’d find it hard not to nominate Midsummer as the overall funniest.  I always tend to go right for that last scene, but really, it’s pretty darned funny from the beginning.  “You have her father’s love, Demetrius … marry him!”

Review : The Shakespeare Manuscript

I received my review copy of Stewart Buettner’s The Shakespeare Manuscript when I was in the middle of The Tragedy of Arthur, which made for a very interesting opportunity to compare two different angles on the same topic – the fictional discovery of a new Shakespeare play. I informed Stewart that I was reading Arthur already, to avoid any feeling that my opinions of the one would cloud the other, but he had no problems with my reading them at the same time.  This actually makes the fourth book on this topic that I’ve read – see also Interred With Their Bones and The Book of Air and Shadows.

So, how does Buettner’s novel get things rolling?  April, the agoraphobic daughter of a rare books dealer, receives a package.  Inside, among other papers, she finds Hamlet, King of Denmarke.  Not prince – King. This is not the Hamlet we all know and love.  This appears to be some other Hamlet story, perhaps even the legendary Ur-Hamlet, a previous chapter in the Hamlet story.

The package came from her father, Miles, who is out of the country traveling on business.  After an unfortunate encounter with some muggers, Miles is left with a nasty case of amnesia and cannot remember how and why he even came by the manuscript. Is it even real?

Unable to get in touch with her father (who sits in a hospital bed as an unidentified “John Doe” until he gets his memory back), April, an actress herself, contacts Avery LeMaster, her former director, to be her expert on the authenticity of the play.

Avery immediately declares it legitimate simply by reading it.  He then convinces April to let him have it – the only copy of what could be the rarest manuscript in the world. He races back to his own group of players, announces “We’re performing this,” and then proceeds to lose it.

The majority of the book is not about the play, but the players. They all have history, and I lost track of who had slept with whom (not unlike my own college theatre troupe :)).  Emotions run high, and had there been more trailers, I’m sure that most of the cast would have spent most of their time in them.  But professionals they are indeed, and the author gives us plenty of opportunity to see them act.  What exactly was Hamlet’s relationship to his father, and to Ophelia?  Buettner offers a number of possibilities.  In doing so, he smartly focuses not on some imaginary text that he had to make up for the purposes of his story, but on the interactions between his actors.  How does Ophelia feel about what Hamlet is saying to her? What does that do to her performance?

The play’s authenticity does come up, of course – eventually.  Will the original be recovered? Can it be properly authenticated?  Can Miles, who does recover from his amnesia, take on the detective work of figuring out where and how he got it in the first place?  Who exactly holds rights to the play, and what does that do to the possibility of performing it?

I liked the core idea – imagine a prequel to Shakespeare, and then focus a group of actors on nothing but performing that story.  It would be easy enough to do in real life, of course, if you just went ahead and wrote your own (for instance, something like Updike’s Claudius and Gertrude comes to mind). But what if the play was actually written by Shakespeare, and you were the very first to perform it? Your interpretation would set the stage, literally, for generations to come.  No hypotheticals.  No discussions in blog comments about whether Gertrude was fooling around with Claudius on the side.  Now you’d have to pick an interpretation and sell it on the stage.  That’s cool.

Most of the rest of the story – the intrigue stuff? I could live without.  Everybody’s got skeletons in their closet. Somebody’s on drugs.  Something horrible happened in April’s family that she doesn’t talk about – she’s got one estranged brother and another that we have to assume is dead. She was also the greatest young actress of her generation before “the event” that sent her off the stage and into her self-imposed exile.  Can she make a triumphant comeback?  Miles, meanwhile, doesn’t really have amnesia – he’s hiding something.

I appreciate that the book has to appeal to a broad audience.  Where I see “a book about the discovery of a new Shakespeare play, that happens to be a mystery”, the rest of the world sees “a mystery about the discovery of a new Shakespeare play.”  But there are moments where I think maybe the author spread himself a bit too thin.  April’s agoraphobia comes and goes.  One minute she can’t be near other people, the next minute she’s sleeping with someone.  She’s accused of racism at some point as well when her black co-star does not understand her hesitance, but that goes nowhere.

(I also found Miles’ amnesia oddly amusing, when he claims to forget the plot of Othello. He knows it’s by Shakespeare, he just forgot what it’s about.  I’m reasonably sure that amnesia doesn’t work that way. πŸ™‚ )

In the end, this book is about its people, and for that I’m glad – I’ve often said that this is how I like my Shakespeare. I like to talk about the characters as if they are real, and not just words strung together on a page.  There is not a great deal of academic detail in this one about the painstaking details of authenticating a Shakespeare play (see “Arthur”, above).  Nor are there any shoot-outs, car chases, or grisly murders.  There’s a bunch of actors on retreat out in the middle of nowhere, and their director shows up with a play that might be Shakespeare.  Go.  You know, it even occurs to me as I write that summary that the entire book could have been written like that, from the perspective of one of the actors.  Start with the director showing up with the play. Who cares where he got it, or what’s happening to authenticate it. You’re an actor, you’ve just been handed the biggest challenge of your career, and you’ve got a month to do nothing but live and breathe it.  What would you do?

Kickstarting Digital Shakespeare : CGI Macbeth

There’s lots in this article about a computer-animated staging of Macbeth to love:

  • He’s targeting it at high school kids as a way of increasing their interest in the subject matter.
  • Robots.  How do you not love robots? πŸ˜‰
  • Direct quote from the animator: β€œThis is a staging not an adaptation, the text is sacrosanct. While the
    Shakespearean text remains the same, the visuals will be something that
    students can appreciate.”  Amen, brother!  (Although we could debate what “the same” means – I hope that he’s not just blindly taking whatever public domain copy of the text he can find.  You are allowed a little directorial freedom, man!)
  • He’s using Kickstarter.  So he’s at least making a valiant effort at trying to make his project a reality.

Enthusiasm is one thing, but let’s also be realistic. The journalist working on the article sent video clips to some area high school students as a test, and none of them particularly liked it :(.  All of them seemed to be saying that the robots, without facial expression, were the problem.  I’m guessing that robots is the animator’s way of saying “I can’t do faces well enough.”

Still, though, I applaud and support the idea! 

I wonder if he knows about Shakespeare in Bits?