Schitt’s Creek Shakespeare

Normally spotting Shakespeare references in TV shows is Bardfilm’s territory, but it’s late on Shakespeare’s birthday and I’m in the mood ๐Ÿ˜‰

Schitt’s Creek took the tv world by storm last year, right as it was wrapping up its final season. I’m not going to go into why the show is so good, because I don’t think I could do it justice. It’s not, however, a show in which you expect to hear any Shakespeare. Unless you listen very closely, that is.

Unlike YouTube I can’t link directly to the timestamp I want, unfortunately. And this episode is near the end of season 4, so there’s going to be hefty spoilers if you’re not already watching the show. But! With that all out of the way, when two characters announce that they’re going to bestow a particular honor on Catherine O’Hara’s Moira Rose (near the very end of the episode), she responds by declaring, “An honor that I dream not of!”

Anybody? That’s Juliet’s response when her mother asks her how she feels about getting married.

Having caught that (after watching the whole series several times), I’m now left wondering if I should go back and listen more carefully for other references. It is not a show that feels the need to bog itself down with Shakespeare. Given that O’Hara’s character is a former actress there’s a handful of Shakespeare jokes, but as far as I can tell this is the only actual quote I’ve heard.

Review : David Zwirner’s Othello with Chris Ofili

My mom loved a good yard sale. Whenever she saw something with the word Shakespeare on it she’d snatch it up, rarely even knowing what it was, and bring it to me the next time we saw each other. “You probably already have it,” she’d say, “but I got it for a quatta.” (That’d be twenty five cents outside of New England :)) Inevitably it was a collection of the sonnets or a small bound copy of a single play, something that I did already have several of. And each time I’d say to her, “Shakespeare isn’t like other books. It’s not just about the words with each book, it’s about how a particular book chooses to present the words.”

I was reminded of that story when two books from David Zwirner Books arrived. I now have new copies of Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As far as the Shakespeare goes? It’s the same words we all know and love. Well organized and presented, plenty of whitespace, line numbers down the left, glossary on the right. It’s a nice, easy read – and I can’t say that about every book, I’ve seen some real doozies of a teeny tiny font that I could maybe read comfortably twenty years ago.

Then it dawned on me, that’s not what these books are about. David Zwirner is an art gallery. Each of these books showcases the work of a particular artist, using a particular Shakespeare play as inspiration. They are little artworks in their own right. Why have just one image inspired by a play, when you can make a whole series? And if you’ve got a whole series of images inspired by a play, why not decorate the play with those images?

This makes for an interesting challenge for me, because I know nothing about art. I can say what I like and don’t like, but I’d hate to say something stupid or worse, offensive.

So let’s start with Chris Ofili’s Othello. There’s a clear statement being made here right from the opening essay, referring to Othello as a problem play (“doubly so,” even) and referring to it, several times, as a “white fantasy of blackness.” I don’t know how to speak to this, and I don’t want to cloud my description of the book with my opinions. As the saying goes, I understand that I will never understand.

The artwork is all stark white line drawings on solid black background. Each representation is Othello’s expressive face, with a glimpse at what he is thinking. Sometimes he looks happy, sometimes angry, sometimes sad.

I would love to just get all the images from the book and display them here, and we could discuss which images goes with which scene. Or animate them like a flipbook to watch what happens in Othello’s mind as the action plays out. I think that would look kind of cool, actually.

Stay tuned for part two where we look at A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

All We Hear Is, Radio Hamlet

Shall we hear a play?

https://www.kpbs.org/news/2021/apr/22/bringing-sounds-and-drama-hamlet-radio/

Barry Edelstein and The Old Globe are producing Hamlet as a radio drama, April 23 + 24 (it’s in two parts, it’s not playing twice).

My first thought is, how’s this different from an audio book? I mean, I remember the fascination of “old time radio”, my parents grew up in that era. That idea that if you weren’t in front of the radio and paying attention when something happened, you’d miss it? An actual live performance where things might go wrong, rather than a highly produced final copy? It sounds very interesting.

I may have to put this one in my calendar and try to tune in. If this were a play you’d never seen before, you might be thinking, how can pure audio paint that picture? But … it’s Hamlet. We’ve all seen Hamlet, probably multiple versions. So how do you not just fill in the blanks with past experiential memories?

My kids think that I have something called aphantasia – where you basically have no “mind’s eye.” I’m amused that I get to use that expression in a Hamlet story, given where that quote comes from. But, yes, when people say things to me like “Imagine a young woman falling out of a willow tree into a river” I’ve got … nuthin. My brain says “oh, like that Olivier version you saw in high school 35 years ago?” and “how about that famous painting?” But I can’t create a new, original version of that image. When I read a book I rely heavily on dialogue. If you spend a lot of words painting a picture for me about where everybody is in the room? I may remember a lot of the words, but I am very much not making a visual image in my head.

So I wonder what it’d be like listening to a live Hamlet? Maybe I’ll find out!

Mystery Men of Shakespeare

I discovered this weekend that the 1999 Ben Stiller movie Mystery Men was finally on Netflix. When my kids were younger I kept coming back around to it as something I wanted to show them, given the rise of superhero movies, but it was never available for streaming. This one’s weird, it’s more of a “super anti-hero” movie where a bunch of normal guys with arguably no powers at all wish they were heroes. You’ve got Paul Reubens as “the spleen”, who farts at people as a weapon, Hank Azaria as the fork flinging Blue Raja, William H Macy as the Shoveler (“God gave me a gift. I shovel well, I shovel very well”) … the list goes on, all easily recognizable character actors. Janeane Garofalo as “The Bowler”. Ben Stiller as “Mr. Furious”. You won’t necessarily like him when he’s angry, but you won’t have to worry too much about it.

Why are we talking about this? Because when we sat down to watch it I noticed something I hadn’t seen twenty years ago – William H Macy delivering his version of Henry V!

Stalin and TS Eliot, Man, I Tell You.

I knew about the Nazis and Merchant of Venice. But I never knew about Stalin and Hamlet.

Apparently Stalin “disapproved” of Hamlet, he didn’t ban it. Which I’m gathering, though I’m not a student of this particular time in history, that Stalin was the kind of dude who, if you did something he disapproved of, you lived to regret it … but not very long.

The rest of the linked article, be warned, is about cancel culture – a very hot, very divisive topic these days. The Stalin story makes the point – you don’t have to enact a law to cancel something. Sometimes, just the right word from the right person can do the trick.

(*) How’s TS Eliot get dragged into this? The poet wrote an essay entitled, “Hamlet and his Problems“, where we get the infamous quote referring to the English language’s greatest play as “certainly an artistic failure.” Unlike Stalin, however, Eliot apparently did not have cancel powers – few people would say that they stopped producing Hamlet because TS Eliot said so.