The Play So Nice They Filmed It Twice

So the other day I spot a headline that says something about the worst Emmy Awards in the history of the show.  Thinking it’s going to be some sort of slam on the job Stephen Colbert did, I check it out.

Imagine my surprise upon learning that the 1961 Emmy Awards are on the list primarily because a certain movie swept all the major categories. That movie?  The Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth!

Maurice EvansNow if you told me, in a year when I was alive, that a Shakespeare production was sweeping the night?  I’d watch the whole thing with popcorn.  Probably call some friends.

I went to research this production, see if I could maybe find some video.  It starred Maurice Evans, who I only knew from such supporting roles as Dr. Zaius in the original Planet of the Apes movies,  and The Puzzler from the Batman tv series (in fact I even blogged about him once).

But once you’ve seen his IMDB page you realize just the level of Shakespeare cred the man had in his prime:  Malvolio in 1957, Petruchio in 1956, Richard II in 1954, Macbeth in 1954…wait, what?

In 1954, Maurice Evans played Macbeth in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth.

In 1961, Maurice Evans played Macbeth in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Macbeth.

That’s not a typo.  According to the Wikipedia page:

Macbeth is a live television adaptation of the William Shakespeare play presented as the November 28, 1954 episode of the American anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame. Directed by George Schaefer, and starring Maurice Evans and Dame Judith Anderson, the production was telecast in color, but has only been preserved on black-and-white kinescope.

In 1960, Evans and Anderson starred in a filmed made-for-television production of the play, also directed by Schaefer for the Hallmark Hall of Fame, but with an entirely different supporting cast. That production was filmed in color on location in Scotland, and was released theatrically in Europe.

These days when we think of a “reboot” we think of an entirely new production with an entirely new cast, usually because of some sort of contract wrangling between studios.  In this case we’ve got the same director and the same leads, just a different location and different supporting cast.

Though I’d love to watch them side by side and play spot the differences, I can’t find much video of the 1961 version.  However, the 1954 version appears to be complete on YouTube (as of this posting, at least), so enjoy!

All I found of the 1960 version (won an award in 1961 but the film is dated 1960) is the opening credits:

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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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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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How did Lady Macbeth die?

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s easy to miss when and how Lady Macbeth dies, because like so many other major character she dies off stage and her death is reported by a lesser character. In this case the news comes in Act 5 Scene 5, when Macbeth hears a scream and sends Seyton to investigate. Seyton returns and says, “The queen, my lord, is dead.”

Macbeth does not ask how she died. Before play ends, however, Malcolm gives more information about the circumstances in Act 5 Scene 8:

…Producing forth the cruel ministers
Of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen,
Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands
Took off her life;

Malcolm here appears to be confirming a rumor that Lady Macbeth killed herself. It is well established in other scenes that she has been slowly losing her mind. Shakespeare’s audience would have accepted as fact that she was possessed by demons at this point, and no additional detail would have been necessary.

 

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Top Shakespeare Costumes for Halloween

Ok, ok, I want to play too. Over the last week or so I’ve seen lists for tv shows, family movies, horror movies – everything to get you in the Halloween mood. But what about our little corner of the world? Doesn’t Shakespeare have anything to get us into the Halloween Spirit? Here’s my contribution:

Twelfth Night

You’re a girl? Dress up like a boy. You’re a boy? Dress up like a girl dressing up like a boy. Twelfth Night’s main character spends the whole play in costume. We discovered, a few months back, that she’s not even called by her real name until the very end of the play!

Julius Caesar

Why just be any ghost, when you can be Great Caesar’s Ghost(*)? Don’t skimp on the knife wounds, or the blood. Lots and lots of blood. Or if you really want to wear a toga and don’t want to get blood all over it, dip your arms in the red stuff up to your elbows, then go as Brutus.

(*) Bonus points if you can actually convince somebody to dress up like J Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman movies, and then spend the night pointing at you and shouting that.

Hamlet

I knew Hamlet would make a good costume when my 4yr old spotted the idea on one of his cartoon shows. After random channel flipping he comes running into my office to tell me “Daddy, somebody on tv is dressed like Shakespeare!” Along comes the 6 and 8yr olds to tell me “Well, not Shakespeare – he’s dressed like Hamlet. He’s holding a skull and talking to it.”

Of course you could also go with Ophelia, although taking a quick jump in the pool before going out trick or treating might cause you to catch your death (ha!). Then again why not go as Hamlet’s father’s ghost? I’ll leave it up to reader imagination to depict how exactly you’d walk around wearing your beaver up.

Or you could do like I did, and go as Yorick.

The Tempest

A witch (although, granted, she doesn’t really make much of an appearance), a wizard, a sea monster, an airy spirit. Plenty of opportunity here to take a traditional Halloween costume and really run with it. If you want to get really creative, grab a partner and dress up as Stefano and Trinculo. I always described them as pirates to my kids, although “court jester” is probably more accurate.

Titus Andronicus

How can you not have fun dressing up like Titus? Put on a chef’s hat and bloody apron, carry a cleaver and a big stew pot. Throw a prop head in it, maybe a prop hand while you’re at it. Shakespeare’s goriest tragedy is often compared to a modern slasher movie, so why not just go completely over the top with it? Bring along your daughter. Don’t let her talk.

Macbeth

Ghosts make plenty of appearances in Shakespeare’s work, The Tempest and Midsummer are both loaded with magical goings on … but really, is there any play scarier than Macbeth? Dress up like a weird sister, dress up like Banquo’s ghost. Or maybe a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, covered in blood? For the really inside reference, go as Macduff – carry around Macbeth’s head.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Fairies are timeless, in more ways than one. If you need a couple’s idea, why not Titania and Oberon? I love the idea of an entire family dressing up as Midsummer, with the kids playing the roles of Cobweb, Mustardseed and the others. Or go in a completely different direction and make an ass of yourself, literally.

Have I forgotten any? You can always throw on your monk’s outfit and go as Friar Laurence (carry around a pickaxe, crowbar or some other tomb-opening implement for extra credit), or really grab any random “Elizabethan” or “Renaissance” costume from the local store and say that you’re the lead in As You Like It, Much Ado, or any of the other romantic comedies.

What else? Who’s got the creative ideas?

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