That’s Just, Like, Your Point of View, Man

Here’s a simple game. Pick a play.  Now pretend you’re doing a production where the gimmick is that it’s told from a different character’s point of view than normal. Which play do you pick, which character and how does the play change?

In most cases, this is going to create a much shorter play, because the character you pick will often have less stage time than the stars.

Maybe we do The Tempest told from the perspective of King Alonso?  Coming home from a wedding he’s caught in a storm, shipwrecked on an island, his son drowned. Suddenly he’s standing face to face with Prospero, who he’s thought dead for the past fifteen years.

Or how about King Lear from Fool’s point of view? That could be interesting.  Lot of different ways to interpret just how much Fool knows.

Twelfth Night from Malvolio’s POV?

Romeo and Juliet as seen by Lord Capulet? That could be interesting. There’s an almost fight scene, there’s him getting fined by the Prince, there’s a wedding to plan, a big dance party, an argument with his daughter, the death of Tybalt, the death of Juliet…

Winter’s Tale from Hermione’s point of view would make a funny comic short. Gets accused of adultery by her husband, goes to live with her friend who promises to fix everything. Cut to twelve years later when she says, “ok, he’s coming. Pretend you’re a statue.”

Who else?

 

~ Leave a comment

Stupid Questions : From Forth The Fatal Loins Edition

I hate when people think I know everything about Shakespeare.  I don’t, not even close. In fact, some of the best posts I’ve made have been when I just put it out there and say, “I just noticed this, let’s talk about it.”  But there are also times when I feel like there’s stuff I should know, and don’t, and it bugs me.  Normally I bother Bardfilm with these questions. So I thought for a change I’d start posting them here, and see if we can’t get some interesting conversation going.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

The Prologue to Romeo and Juliet. We all know it. One of the most famous openings in literature. We all know what it means, right? There’s these two families, each family has a kid, the kids kill themselves.

*record scratch* Let’s just stop right there.

For years I’ve said, “Romeo and Juliet kill themselves. Shakespeare literally says it right in the prologue. It’s the great spoiler alert of all time. You know they’re going to die, and yet you keep watching because you have to see how it comes to that, and in a good production you’ll still be on the edge of your seat, still hoping Juliet wakes up in time, even though you know she won’t.”

And then somebody told me, “That’s not how to parse that sentence.  Take their life goes with from forth the fatal loins.  It means that a pair of star-crossed lovers are both.  They take their life forth from the fatal loins of the families.” So yeah we still get foreshadowing on “star-crossed” and “fatal”, but the actual “take their life” line does not mean that the lovers kill themselves.

IS THAT TRUE?!

I will adjust my understanding and subsequent teaching of this passage immediately if some folks smarter than I can confirm that reading. But I’m not taking just one person’s word for it.

 

~ 1 Comment

Just Say You’re Remaking West Side Story

A hip-hop Romeo and Juliet? Produced by Queen Latifah and Will Smith?  Coming soon to Netflix? Tell me more!

Variety reports:

The movie will set Shakespeare’s tragedy in contemporary New York and follows a Brooklyn waitress and a musician from wealthy family.

Oh, so, West Side Story. I think it’s crazy difficult to do an “adaptation” of Romeo and Juliet because the expectation scale is so out of whack.  Beyond “two people in love who can’t be together,” what exactly are the required elements before we care about this one, and it’s not just another Camp Rock 2 or Gnomeo and  Juliet? Does there have to be a Mercutio? A Tybalt? A sleeping potion, a Friar Laurence?

Something that’s often forgotten in modern Romeo and Juliet adaptations is where Shakespeare says, right there in the first line, “Two households, both alike in dignity…”  Shakespeare never said “worlds apart” or “from different sides of the tracks” or made them two different religions or races or socio-economic classes (although I’ve heard it argued that the Capulets were much better off than the Montagues).  I don’t think modern audiences want to do the extra brain work of keeping track of who is on Romeo’s side and who is on Juliet’s.  “Can’t you dress them all a certain way so I can tell by looking at them?”

 

~ Leave a comment

Why Kids Hate Romeo and Juliet

My younger daughter is studying Romeo and Juliet at the moment. We’ve been over that play so many times over the years that for the first few lessons I learned that she wasn’t even reading the book, she was just going from memory!  Unfortunately she had her events out of order and was getting them wrong (Mercutio and Tybalt do not fight in Act I Scene 1…) but that’s not the point of this story.

Driving to school the other day…

Geeklet: “We have a Romeo and Juliet quiz coming up.”

Me: “You going to crush it?”

Geeklet “I think so.”

Me: “Should we study?”

Geeklet: “What kind of nut does Queen Mab ride around on?”

Me: “I have no idea. But we could find out.”

Geeklet: “It’s a chestnut, isn’t it? I think it’s a chestnut.”

I’m driving, so I ask Google assistant to pull up the Queen Mab speech.  My oldest is sitting in the front seat so she reads.  “See if you can find anything about a nut in there,” I tell her.

Her chariot is an empty hazelnut,
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;

Geeklet: “Oh. I was close.”

Me: “Wait, so, is that actually a question you’d be asked? What kind of nut?”

Geeklet: “Oh she’ll definitely ask that, and if you get it wrong you’d get the whole question marked wrong.”

Me: “That’s stupid. Ask about the point of Queen Mab, or why Mercutio tells us about Queen Mab, or what that tells us about Mercutio’s character.  But to get quizzed on that level of detail? That entire speech is nothing but that level of detail!  Children, children –  please, what kind of *bone* is Queen Mab’s whip made from? Hmm? Anyone?  A grasshopper? No, I’m terribly sorry, the answer we were looking for was cricket.  Cricket bone.  You fail.” Maybe it’s just to prove they read it. Great – prove they read it by translating it into their own words or something. That would show significantly more comprehension, rather than pure word by word memorization.

So instead we turned the rest of the drive into a lesson about why Mercutio is awesome.

Geeklet: “He’s the one that starts the fight with Tybalt, though, right? Because he was defending Romeo.”

Me: “That’s why Mercutio is awesome. He’s a poet *and* he’s a fighter. He’s that guy where, if there’s a party and you weren’t gonna go, then somebody says, “Dude, Mercutio’s gonna be there,” you’d be all, “Oh, sh*t, Mercutio’s going? What are we waiting for!”

Geeklet: “Isn’t he also a drag queen?”

Me: “You’re thinking of the 1996 Romeo+Juliet movie.  But they were all going to a *costume* party. Everybody was dressed up.  Mercutio just kind of got into the spirit more than some others.”

My kids like Shakespeare because we talk about the characters like they’re real people. If you’re supposed to like them we talk about why, and if you’re not supposed to like them we talk about why, too.  I don’t quiz them on perfect recall.  Half the time I get my quotes wrong, too.

But most kids who have to study Shakespeare in school don’t have me.  Nor do they have a parent who plays the same role. So they’re stuck with whatever’s asked of them in class.  And if all that’s ever asked is to memorize, there’s never going to be any appreciation.

(In my daughter’s teacher’s defense, I am not in the class, and I have no idea if my daughter’s description is accurate. My point is still valid, though, because it’s how she sees the class. She *thinks* that is the kind of thing that’s expected of her, and that’s enough to have her spend her time studying the trees rather than appreciating the forest. Perhaps that’s indicative of a larger problem with the default way that students go into classes like this? As far as I know, her teacher never gave any indication that this sort of memorization was expected – my daughter just assumed it.)

 

~ 3 Comments

Let The Sunshine In

Galt McDermott, composer of HAIR and Two Gentlemen of Verona, has passed away. As we like to do here on the blog, let’s take a moment to appreciate and celebrate the man’s contribution to Shakespeare.

Forget about the obvious for a minute. I mean, come on, the man wrote a musical Two Gentlemen of Verona that won the Tony for Best Musical in 1971 (beating out Grease).

If you’ve only ever known HAIR as a “tribal love rock musical,” then you haven’t been listening closely enough.  One song is entirely Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man” speech:


(The song isn’t in the movie, you either need to know the soundtrack, or see the live show.)

My favorite, though, is the big finale number, typically known as “The Rest Is Silence / Let The Sunshine In”.  The Hamlet reference is right there for everybody to see … but if you listening very closely, the background singers are on a whole different play:

Eyes look your last
Arms take your last embrace
And lips oh you the doors
Of breath… seal with
A righteous kiss
Seal with a righteous kiss
The rest is silence

That’d be Romeo and Juliet.  The hippies are layering one Shakespeare tragedy on top of another.  Which then segues seamlessly into the big celebration that is Let The Sunshine In.

Ready for the best part of this story?  My middle daughter is really into her vinyl (album) collection right now.  She’s a huge fan of musicals, but she’s also into the classic rock that I’ve introduced her to.  I’d forgotten, until today, that for my birthday a number of years ago a friend had presented me with a framed HAIR album.  It’s been sitting in my office ever since.

So I called my daughter from work and said, “You want to go on an adventure? There’s treasure to be found.” She was up for the challenge. I texted her the bright orange and green picture of the cover and said, “Go find this picture.”  She found it.  I said, “Open it.”

“It’s a record!” she squealed.  “It’s HAIR.  Can I play it?”

“Of course,” I told her. “That’s the treasure.  It’s my favorite.”

“I know,” she replied.

“And it’s very special today, because Galt McDermott, the man who wrote it?  He died.”

“Oh.”

“So I want you to have that.  I want you to play it, loud, and when I get home tonight I want to listen to it with you.”

“I’ll do that right now. I’ll wake people up.”

“Perfect.”

Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, Mr. McDermott.  For others I might say “The rest is silence” here, but you brought too much music into the world, so we’re going to play you out with much volume and celebration.

Let the sunshine in!

 

~ 1 Comment