Sir Anthony Hopkins To Play Lear….Finally!

I’ve never seen Sir Antony Hopkins play in King Lear, though I’ve always felt he’d be outstanding.

In fact, I’ve been watching the possibility closely for years.

Here’s a post from 2006 about how he wanted to do a Lear movie one more time and then quit doing Shakespeare.

And here’s a 2008 discussion about an “upcoming Lear” that was to star Hopkins, but I don’t recall ever seeing anything else about it.

Well, I’m happy to report that it looks like it’s finally happening!

Set in the fictional present, King Lear sees Hopkins as the eponymous ruler, presiding over a totalitarian military dictatorship in England. Emma Thompson stars as his oldest daughter Goneril. The ensemble also includes Emily Watson, who stars as his middle daughter, Regan, and Florence Pugh (Lacy Macbeth), who plays his youngest daughter Cordelia.

This is a BBC production, but the headline clearly says Amazon, so I’m unclear when (and whether) this will be available to Amazon Prime customers in the US.  But I’ll be waiting!

Does anybody know whatever happened to that 2008 production? None of the actors (nor the director) named in that post appear to have any IMDB Shakespeare credits in that time frame.

 

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Special Sneak Preview! Here There Be Dragons!

Let’s try something different.  I may have mentioned once or a thousand times that there’s a Shakespeare Geek line of merchandise on Amazon.  I try very hard not to nag everybody by actually creating blog posts for every new design.  I keep it mostly to the Facebook/Twitter feed and some ads around the edges. I appreciate the patience of my most loyal readers who still make it here to the blog and don’t catch just the headlines and summaries on social media :).

tmmSo, I’ve got a present for you!  Introducing my new King LearGame of Thrones-inspired design, Come Not Between The Dragons And Their Wrath:

Everybody who sees you in this is going to go straight to Game of Thrones, but we Shakespeare geeks know that the original quote comes from King Lear ( albeit with 2 fewer dragons 😉 ).

For a limited time, this shirt is available ONLY through this link for the sneak preview price of $15.99.  It is not available in Amazon search, and I will not advertise it.  In a couple of weeks, once I feel that my followers have had a chance to buy it if they want it, I’ll release it to the Amazon public search feed – and raise the price as well, most likely to $19.99.

You CAN share the link with your friends, or just let them be envious and beg you to tell them where you got that awesome shirt.  As with just about all of my designs it’s available in men’s, women’s and youth styles, in a variety of colors.

Thanks for loyal readership over the years. This link will continue to work, but the price of $15.99 is only temporary, so if you want it I encourage you to grab it before the price goes up!

 

 

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What Are Some Of Your Favorite Moments in Shakespeare?

I’m not a big fan of “favorites” when it comes to Shakespeare – I like to play the “that’s like picking a favorite child” card.  But part of the reason for that is because every play has got some good and some bad, something to recommend and something to avoid, none of them are perfect.

So instead let’s play Moments.  Doesn’t have to be a scene, or a line.  I’m not interested so much in the “what” as I am in the “why”?  Explain for me when, during the course of a particular play, you feel like everything hinges on this one moment?  Maybe it’s just one character’s chance to do something right. Maybe it gives ultimate insight into your favorite interpretation of the character. Maybe it’s one of those lines that rockets through 400 years and hits you square in the heart like it happened 5 minutes ago.

Examples

King Lear‘s “Why is my man in the stocks?” scene.  I wrote about this at length when Commonwealth Shakespeare did the play a few years back, and having rediscovered that post this scene is what gave me the idea for the post.  It’s not the line that’s important. I can’t even tell you the act and scene in which it occurs.  But that image of the king, who previously had people falling to their knees whenever he looked at them crossly, now being unable to get his question answered? Just does something for me.  This is the unraveling.

Emilia’s confrontation of Othello.  How she discovers what has happened, and how she is implicated in Desdemona’s murder?  Her first thought isn’t, “How can I get out of this?” her first thought is to confront her husband.  Bold move, since she has the most insight into just how dangerous he is.

Who else has some good ones?

 

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Reddit’s Favorite Shakespeare

Hello /r/Shakespeare!Anybody that knows me knows that when I see a post titled 1000 Most Mentioned Books on Reddit (or, really, anywhere), the first thing I’m going to do is search it to see where Shakespeare shows up.  Any guesses?

I’d love to say more about who made the list and why and how, but there doesn’t seem much to go on. The post, on Medium, was made by BookAdvice.  Have to look more into that, see what other cool lists they have.  All we know about the methodology is, from the summary, “Sorted based on the number of upvotes and the number of different users linking to them in post and comments.”  I suppose that’s got a certain chronological bias — a book that came out last year couldn’t possibly compete with those that have been around since before Reddit.  But it does say “most mentioned” and not “best” or “most loved” or anything like that, so I suppose it’s accurate to say that a book that has existed for ten years will typically be mentioned more than a book that’s only existed for one.

Much of the list is highly predictable, if you know anything about Reddit.  Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy all rank in the top ten.  I’m pleasantly surprised to see To Kill A Mockingbird in there, and The Count of Monte Cristo (though not so pleasantly Catcher in the Rye.  Really, reddit?)  Thrilled to see J.K. Rowling’s name not appear until well after the 250 mark.  Not that her work is bad, just that I’m tired of seeing such brand new books always top the lists of “all time classics”.

Ok, you want the data?  Drum roll, please. Presented in reverse order, from least to most mentioned, we have …

905. The Taming of the Shrew

754. The Tempest

674. Merchant of Venice

625. King Lear

578. Much Ado About Nothing

568. Othello

371. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (*)

295. Macbeth

237. Romeo and Juliet

and the most mentioned work of William Shakespeare on Reddit is……

144. Hamlet

What do we think, any surprises?  Surely not the great tragedies, I think those became self-fulfilling long long ago.  Is Romeo and Juliet popular because it’s so good, or is it considered so good because it’s popular?  Little surprised about Othello, that one doesn’t usually get much love, and I’m kind of wondering if they took the time to rule out references to the board game.

When I first made this list, searching for the word “Shakespeare”, I was surprised to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream not make the list.  I had to go back and double check.  It’s because they’ve got it listed by, and I’m not kidding, SparkNotes.  I wondered if there were many on the list marked this way, but it turns out that’s the only one.  Glad I checked, I almost missed it!

Anything you think should be on the list that’s not there?  Hey, wait … where’s Twelfth Night?

 

 

 

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Geeklet Sorrows (And A Confession)

Yesterday my daughter had an unexpected medical procedure on her mouth, so she’s in some degree of pain this morning (but not enough to skip school).  So she’s getting ready and I ask, “How’s your face?”

“Bad,” she says, “And now I have a pimple!”

“When sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions,” I offer.

“That means a third bad thing is gonna happen to me now too! Great!”

“No, it was just an opportunity for me to use a Shakespeare quote I don’t normally get to use.  King Lear?”

Both wife and geeklet look at each other and just leave the room.

Didn’t feel right, though.  Couldn’t place who said it, or where.  So over breakfast I had to look it up.  “You know what?” I told them, “When I said that quote was from Lot of sorrow in King Lear, but maybe not battalions of it.?  I was wrong, it’s Hamlet.”

Geeklet looks at wife, looks at me, and says, “Well, duh. We just didn’t want to embarrass you.”

But now I’m trying to figure out what quote I was confusing it with, because surely there’s stuff in King Lear all about the piling on of sorrows.

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Weather As Plot Device

Lear and his Fool on the heathI’m trying to think of plays where the weather plays an important role.  Sure there’s The Tempest, but we get the storm at the beginning and then…nothing.

Macbeth seems to be all about the weather.  So fair and foul a day I have not seen!

King Lear is probably the ultimate example.  If you haven’t seen Act 3 Scene 1 live yet, your Shakespeare life is not complete.  The wind is blowing, the rain is pouring down. Kent staggers in at one level, battling against the wind, hanging on to the scaffolding so he doesn’t blow away.  Enter a gentleman below, also buffeted by the wind.  “Where’s the king?”  first thing Kent asks, only to learn that he’s out in this storm.  “But who is with him?”  “None but the fool.”  Shivers.  Goosebumps. That’s one of my favorite moments in the play.

Hey, here’s a question — the stage direction I read for this scene says “Storm still.”  Does that mean the storm is still continuing, or that there is a lull in the storm, an actual still moment?

What else?  Any of the comedies do something similar to work weather into the plot?

 

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Review : Commonwealth Shakespeare’s King Lear on Boston Common 2015 (Part 1)

I once drove several hours to see a production of King Lear. It wasn’t worth the trip. It might have been before I started this blog because I can’t find where I wrote it down, but the thing I remember the most was the big moment, the storm on the heath, and Lear … bargaining with the storm.  Timid.  Instead of “Come at me, give me everything you’ve got” I got a Lear that was more “I never did anything to you, please don’t hurt me.”

This weekend I saw Commonwealth Shakespeare’s production of King Lear on Boston Common. This is their 20th year, and I’ve been to 12 of them.  This is, without doubt, the greatest thing I’ve seen them do.  (To be fair, we’re talking about Lear here.  Shakespeare’s masterpiece. It’s not like a Comedy of Errors or a Two Gents, no matter how good, is even going to be in the same conversation.)

The staging is interesting this year, showing just a backdrop of curtains (arrases?) that leave enough space for random exits and entrances, if that’s what they’re planning.  I think this is oddly basic, but I like it. In the past there’s almost always been two levels to the stage, as well as a great deal of scenery (such as a crashed airplane for As You Like It, or neon signs for Two Gentlemen of Verona).

The play starts with an interpretive dance between Lear and his daughters.  Right away I’m struck by something I did not expect — I cannot tell which daughter is which. I am fully expecting Cordelia to stand out from her sisters like black and white, but as they start I realize that any of them could be Cordelia. Soon the dance splits, however, and Lear clearly spends more enjoyable time with one of the girls while the other two plot and scheme to work together. They have a scarf that they are dancing with, and use it to get between Lear and Cordelia, dragging him away from her, wrapping him up, and so on.  Then it gets crazy dark as they pull the scarf up over his eyes and a mob comes out to torment him, before finally dragging him offstage.  Wow.

I can’t begin to describe the play in detail, because my post will be longer than the script. Instead, let’s talk about characters.

Fool.  When I first tried to read and understand King Lear, I didn’t really get the Fool.  Were his jokes supposed to be funny? Or profound? Does he love the king, or mock him? Or rather, since the answer is obviously “both”, is the line between the two? He clearly tries to show him, repeatedly, the folly of giving away his kingdom.  But to what end? It’s too late to do anything about it. If he’s just taunting the poor man, that’s hardly what I’d call love.

I liked this Fool a lot. From the minute he dances in and jumps up on the table, I knew I liked him. The way he just keeps hammering Lear over the head with variations of “Who’s the bigger idiot? I’m not the one who gave away my kingdom” despite Lear’s half-hearted warnings for him to stop really made me appreciate the scene more than I ever had. What exactly is that relationship? Is Lear even listening to what he’s saying? When he says “Careful sirrah, the whip” (or whatever the line is), it’s not delivered like an actual threat, more like a joke between them, like never in a million years would that be a possibility.

As the play progresses he has less and less to do, until he literally just stops showing up. Unlike some productions, there is no death for the Fool added in.  He just stops appearing. But two scenes really make his presence felt.  First when they come upon Kent in the stocks. Kent asks him why Lear is going around with so few followers, and we learn that his 100 knights, that magical number that is so important to him to retain his pride, have been deserting him.  All except poor Fool, who will be faithful quite literally for the rest of their lives.

The second is the storm.  Oh, the storm.  Massive wind machines appear, the dry ice / smoke starts to swirl, and here comes the rain.  It is a full on tempest right there on stage. We can feel ourselves getting colder in our seats.  Act 3, Scene 1, the storm is in full swing as a minor character forces his way on stage against the wind.  Kent, from above in a scaffolding, calls down to him – yells, to be heard over the storm, “WHERE IS THE KING?” Then, when told that he is out in the storm, “BUT WHO IS WITH HIM?” and we learn that dear Fool is the only one left to follow him.

I tell you, it’s the scenes like those that are the ones that get me all misty (and not just because of the dry ice machine!).  Kent is no fool, in a number of meanings of the word. He’s not stupid. He’s disguised himself and gotten into Lear’s ranks so that he can continue on his one mission – protect the king. All the smart characters are taking shelter from the storm. Not Kent.  Kent’s about to run right out into the middle of it. How could he do any different?

So let’s talk about Kent.  I didn’t really get him at first because in the opening scene he’s wearing glasses and a fake beard that may have interfered with his ability to deliver his lines. Or maybe it’s just that he was putting on an accent early, so that he could spent the rest of the play without it. Either way, I didn’t fully understand much of his delivery, but he certainly got his point across. He was right up in Lear’s face, letting him know exactly how stupid he was being. When Lear draws a sword and threatens to cut Kent down, Kent doesn’t back down in the slightest – instead he bares his neck and points at it, calling Lear’s bluff.

What was wonderful about his performance, though, was that in Lear’s presence he was often left having no idea what to do.  He had a plan – be near the king. Check. But when the king will not come out of the storm, how can Kent force him? When Lear ultimately carries in Cordelia’s dead body and will not let her go, what is Kent to do? Often he is left doing what appears to be cowering, stuck in this “Should I go to him? But what would I do once I got there? I have no idea what to do next” limbo that, once I recognized it, fit his character perfectly. When it comes to his final line, though, there is no hesitation in his voice. He is not merely calm and resolute in his response to Albany, he is … I’m trying to find the word. At peace? He knows exactly what comes next, and the way he delivers his last line is almost pitying, like, “Oh you silly man, don’t you see what happens next? I follow my master.”   (Reminds me of the Lord of the Rings line,  “Don’t leave me here alone! It’s your Sam calling. Don’t go where I can’t follow! Wake up, Mr. Frodo!” If it had been Kent mourning over Lear’s body, this is exactly what he would have said. And you know what? If Fool was on stage at the same time I bet he would have said the same thing.)

I’m going to have to split this post into parts because it’s getting too long.  Before we go let’s talk about Edmund.

When we talk about villains sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in seeing them as the star of the show.  Consider Iago, after all. Othello is practically The Iago Show. He is so charismatic in everything he does and says that half the time the audience is left waiting impatiently for when he’ll come back.

You can kind of imagine Edmund like this. He goes from Gloucester’s bastard son to the romantic interest of both Goneril and Regan, so he’s got something going for him. He manipulates everyone around him.

But the play is not about him.  This is Lear’s play.  Edmund is what Edmund’s supposed to be – a bastard, in multiple senses of the word. His own father gives him a note detailing the enemy’s plans and says, “Whatever you do, don’t show this to Cornwall.” So of course he runs to Cornwall and says “Look what I have!’  Bastard. I didn’t spend any time at all admiring the personality that Edmund manages to convey.  There are none of those “Ooooo, that’s so evil it’s just brilliant” moments you get with Iago.  You just spend all your time with Edmund thinking, “I hope that son of a b*tch gets what’s coming to him.” Perfect.

Wait, before I go!  Goneril.  Oh dear god in heaven did I want to see her die on stage. She played her role so perfectly that, had I come with rotten tomatoes, they would have been flying in her direction. Which is exactly how it was supposed to be. Even just standing there she could put an expression on her face that made you want to wipe it off with a length of barbed wire.  Great job.

Ok, to be continued.  Otherwise I’m never going to get this posted!

 

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How did Cordelia die?

It’s not uncommon for Shakespeare’s characters to die offstage, no matter how significant the character. Unfortunately this can make it difficult to understand how that character died. There’s a world of difference between seeing someone drink poison, and someone running on stage to announce, “She’s dead, she drank poison!”

So it is with King Lear‘s Cordelia. Her death, and the way Shakespeare chooses to present it, is easily one of the most tragic scenes ever put on stage.

King Lear with Cordelia's dead body
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Lear and Cordelia have been captured by Edmund, but Lear doesn’t even seem to mind because he’s so happy to be with the daughter that he thought had left him forever. As they are taken away to prison he says:

Lear. No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too-
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out-
And take upon ‘s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by th’ moon.

Edmund is challenged to a duel by a mysterious opponent who turns out to be his brother Edgar. Edmund is defeated, and tries to make amends for the wrongs he has committed before he dies. He tells his guards:

Edmund. I pant for life. Some good I mean to do,
Despite of mine own nature. Quickly send
(Be brief in’t) to the castle; for my writ
Is on the life of Lear and on Cordelia.
Nay, send in time.

“My writ is on [their] lives” means that he has ordered their execution.  Quickly, messengers are dispatched to the prison to stop the order.

What happens next? Does the messenger arrive in time? No, this is a tragedy, we know that’s not the case. Does a messenger return and say, “Too late!”  No. That would be too easy. (This is exactly how the end of Romeo and Juliet plays out, with that glimmer of hope that Romeo will reach Juliet in time…)

King Lear enters, carrying the lifeless body of his daughter, and the audience sees for themselves that it is too late.

Lear. Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stone.
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’ld use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives.
She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking glass.
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives.

If the question is how exactly did Cordelia die, her father answers it while weeping over her body, conversing with her as if she is still with him:

Lear. A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!
I might have sav’d her; now she’s gone for ever!
Cordelia, Cordelia! stay a little. Ha!
What is’t thou say’st, Her voice was ever soft,
Gentle, and low- an excellent thing in woman.
I kill’d the slave that was a-hanging thee.

That last line provides the detail – they were in the process of hanging Cordelia, when he attempted to rescue her.

 

 

 

 

 

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Review : A Thousand Acres

Bardfilm and I have been discussing “modern adaptations” lately, and I asked for the distinction – did he mean modern setting but original text, or modern language?  For this particular context he meant the latter.  Since I don’t normally seek out such movies I went out and found one – the King Lear adaptation of the book of the same name, A Thousand Acres.

Jason Robards plays our Lear (“Larry”, as it becomes apparently quickly that the author’s gone with a whole first initial thing) to his daughters Michelle Pfeiffer (as “R”ose), Jessica Lange (as “G”inny) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (as “C”aroline).  From that point it’s harder to tell who is who because unless I’m missing something the first initial game goes out the window as Colin Firth’s Jess is plainly the bastard Edmund.  As you can see, though, the cast is first rate.

For any “modern adaptation” of this sort that’s clearly only taking inspiration from Shakespeare and not trying to tell his story, I look for a couple of things.  How much direct homage to Shakespeare is there?  How much of the original story remains?  How much new material does this story provide?

In other words does the end result produce something standalone, while still showing respect for the original?  It’s very tricky to strike a balance, because every time you diverge from the source material you’re going to have audience like me asking, “Oh, really? So you think you’re about to tell a better story?” and you need to bring it.  Safest not to change the story too much, but instead to bring new elements that Shakespeare never touched upon.

How does A Thousand Acres do?  It’s not bad.  The connection to the source material is clear, and  more than minimal.  Larry runs the farm, and wants to retire and divide it up amongst his three daughters.  R and G find this a great idea, but when C so much as says “Let me think about it” he disowns her on the spot.  I mentioned Jess as the bastard character who does all the bastard things, sleeping with the sisters, getting into a fight with his father (Pat Hingle as this sort of Kent/Gloucester combination character), but he’s not really the architect of all the bad that happens.  There’s even a nice big storm for the daughters to send their father into.

Other than those story elements the similarities are few and far between.  In this story, R and G (makes me think of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when I say that :)) are actually the good guys, if you can believe it. It’s a very complicated story.  Nobody in town likes them because the people think the daughters conspired to steal the farm from their father.  Meanwhile the daughters have both got some deep dark secrets that reveal their father is not the nice man he seems, and is well deserving of their hate.

I found the story too confusing to follow in many parts, and that’s one of the reasons that I often dislike modern adaptations.  You try to add your own material, but then to really develop a foundation in that material you have to stray farther (further?) from the original, and eventually you hit walls where you can’t go more in any direction.  Same here.  There are some obvious places where R and G are talking and it seems like the most obvious thing in the world to do is for them to go talk to C…but they can’t.  That’s not how the story went.  In fact we never really even get C’s side of the story – this is Goneril’s movie, if I have to pick a central character.

The whole thing is additionally complicated with the addition of husbands and children, alcoholism and terminal illnesses.  There’s a whole lot going on in this movie besides the Shakespeare.  And it’s all set in this weird sort of Tennessee Williams sounding world where full grown women still call their parents “Mommy” and “Daddy” which, when coupled with the deep dark secrets that we learn, is all the more uncomfortable.

See it if you get a moment, if for nothing else than to have something to talk about the next time somebody trots out one of those lists that contains nothing but Lion King, Ten Things I Hate About You and She’s The Man. But don’t go out of your way for it.

 

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