Lear’s Shadow

SCENE

A rehearsal room, dark. Enter JACK through the curtains, directly from outside as we see cars driving past.  He rolls a single, lit incandescent lamp to center, and opens the curtains. We see folding tables on which sit copies of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  JACK picks one up and starts swearing.

Enter a younger man, STEPHEN, on the phone and holding a neck brace. He’s clearly been looking for JACK and is relieved to find him.

Thus opens Lear’s Shadow, written and directed by Brian Elerding, which I had the pleasure of watching yesterday at Mr. Elerding’s invitation.

We quickly learn that something bad has happened, though what we do not yet know. Jack is bruised, Stephen is trying to get him back into the neck brace, so those are some obvious clues. More telling, however, is that Jack – our director – seems to have no real idea where or when he is. He doesn’t know what play they’re rehearsing (hence his anger at seeing Romeo and Juliet scripts) or why no one else has shown up for rehearsal.

Stephen’s job is to keep Jack talking until Rachel (who Stephen was speaking with on the phone) can bring the car around. They reminisce about other plays they’ve done together, before landing on King Lear.  Jack keeps re-realizing that the scripts are wrong, and doesn’t know the date. Stephen takes it upon himself to walk through the play with Jack.

For the next hour the two debate the finer details of Lear – what scenes and lines can be cut, how to deliver certain lines, where to “start” so you have “somewhere to go”.  If you love being a fly on the wall during conversations like this (as I do) you’re going to greatly enjoy this. I do not fancy myself an actor, never have, so I like to watch them work at their craft without trying to put myself in their place.

Of course none of this is random, we’ve got a man who has lost his memory and has clearly had some tragedy befall him doing what amounts to a one man show about a man who has lost his memory upon which many tragedies fall. It’s a reminder that while King Lear may have been written five hundred years ago it could also have happened yesterday.

Though I’m watching this as a movie it reminds me of going to theatre back when I was a younger man. It’s a bare stage two man show, just dialogue, no real plot to speak of other than toward the ultimate answer to the “What happened?” question (which we may or may not receive).

If you believe that Shakespeare makes life better, even when it brings tears rather than laughter, then of course you’re going to like this. It’s very reminiscent of when Slings & Arrows did Lear, a connection the director and I already spoke of.  “There’s no way I wasn’t influenced by Slings & Arrows,” he wrote.  That’s intended as high praise.  I’m not saying “This is trying to be Slings & Arrows,” I’m saying, “I’d watch an entire season of this like I’d watch a season of Slings & Arrows.”

 

 

 

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Which Play Do You Wish You Had Studied?

Richard III? Never read it.
Who’s this guy?

I’m in the middle of a book right now, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, and while I can agree that it’s a very well-written book that deserves that praise it’s getting … I’m not enjoying it.  It feels like homework.  If I was back in college and this was required reading? Fine.  I can read some chapters and then come to class ready to discuss the relationship between Selin and Ivan.  But I’ve been out of college twenty plus years, I read things because I want to, not because I get a letter grade.

I was thinking about what to say to my book club at work and my first thought was, “I’m not about to go reading War and Peace for fun, either.” Then I thought about that for a second and realized, “But for me, King Lear is pleasure reading.”

We often talk about the difficulties of reading Shakespeare and trot out the old “see the play!” cliche.  But what about actually sitting down to study a play? How many of us get the chance to do that once we’ve left school?  I suppose if you’re active in a theatre group you can do that, but I’m certainly not. Most of my friends (barring my online following) barely get my references, let alone have interest in discussing the symbolism in The Tempest. I feel that once you’ve missed your window to study certain pieces of literature, you’re unlikely to get another shot at it.  (In my adult life I also went back to read Catcher in the Rye and, more recently, The Great Gatsby.  Both had that same feeling of, “Ok, I can see why this is good, but … I don’t love it.”)

Most of us probably have easy access to all the plays (the text, at least) and can read them at will.  But which did you *study*? Where a group of students sat with a teacher and went through the deeper intricacies of the play?  More interestingly, which *didn’t* you get a chance to study, that you wish you did?

For me, it’s Richard III.  Never seen it live, and can only say that I’ve read it in the sense that twenty-five years ago I read all the plays.  Never “studied” it, and certainly never had anybody walk me through the finer points.  I feel a gap in my understanding of Shakespeare’s works as a whole, because of that.

Who else? Tell us in the comments which play you want to go back and study like somebody was going to quiz you on it.

 

 

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Shakespeare Storm Quiz

Storm still.

If I scheduled it properly and my software behaved, you should be reading this while I’m sitting up in New England under about a foot of snow.

How often does Shakespeare make a storm of some sort a major plot point?

  • The Tempest, duh.
  • Twelfth Night needs to deposit Viola in Illyria to get started, so a shipwreck seems as good a reason as any. But does the description of how they went down count as a storm, or was it just bad luck at sea?
  • Poor Antonio’s ships in The Merchant of Venice.  Or am I misremembering that? Do we get much of an explanation about how all of his ships go down? I think I’ve always just assumed a storm but not sure my evidence.
  • Macbeth opens with thunder and lightning.  And then there’s Macduff’s description of the night before he arrives at Macbeth’s castle, where it all hits the fan.
  • King Lear on the heath.  I didn’t realize the power of stage directions until I went back and looked and saw how many scenes say, “Storm still.”  That is a huge storm.

What did I miss?

 

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Unseen Scenes

For reasons too complicated to mention I was fast forwarding through King Lear with the kids last night, jumping to the ending.  I knew it wouldn’t really capture their attention the way I hoped, and I’d have to explain 90% context, but I’m ok with that :).

Which gave me an idea, as I explained how Cordelia died.  Shakespeare gives us lots of action off stage, for whatever reason.  Sometimes modern directors will go ahead and add the scene to make things easier to follow – I’m thinking of Romeo and Juliet‘s wedding scene as an obvious example.  Many people will swear that they’ve seen Romeo and Juliet’s wedding and refuse to believe that Shakespeare never wrote that scene, because it was in the 1996 movie.

What other scenes fit the bill?  I’d love to see Lear’s last desperate act trying to protect his daughter.  I can see the whole thing quite clearly (having just watched Olivier’s version doesn’t hurt).  Cordelia and Lear are sitting happily in a cell.  Enter guard with a rope, who roughly pulls her away despite Lear’s protests. He tries to protect her but is no match for the guard who hurls him back to the ground. The guard struggles with Cordelia and drops his sword so he can use both hands (having been ordered to hang her, not stab her).  Behind his back Lear recovers the sword and does the scoundrel in, just as the messenger from Edmund (et al) arrives screaming for them to stop the execution.

What else?  Petruchio and Kate’s wedding scene writes itself, that’s an easy one.  Then you have Macduff beheading Macbeth, but I don’t think of that one as a really necessary scene, there’s just not much to it.

Which ones am I missing?

 

 

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From This Is Us to King Lear

Breaking!  This Is Us star Milo Ventimiglia has sold a “modern Latino King Lear” to FOX pictures.  It’s called Cordelia, and it…

…is a modern re-telling of the King Lear story set to the back drop of a strong Cuban family and the three sisters running the scene in Miami. Told through the eyes of the one daughter who truly loved her father, Cordelia delves into a world of secrets, lies and complex family bonds that are constantly tested but ultimately never broken.

I suppose it could be interesting?  Given the name it almost makes you wonder if somebody heard about the movie that’s coming out and said, “Somebody makes us one of those!”  Hey, that’s how we got Antz before A Bug’s Life, if you remember.  If the movie studios want to compete over Shakespeare adaptations as well as animated features, I’m totally ok with that.

Somebody should totally tap John Leguizamo to play Edmund.  Dude’s already got a Shakespeare resume that includes Romeo+Juliet and Cymbeline.

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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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