Finally, finally, my oldest gets to participate in a dedicated Shakespeare course this fall. I don’t have the title in front of me but it’s basically Shakespeare and Modern Film. Given that my bestest online Shakespeare pal is a dude whose actual name is “Bard Film” I can’t wait until she gets homework. (“Daddy, can I please do my own homework for once?” “It’s ok sweetie, Bardfilm and I have got this.”)
Anyway, we had to order textbooks and I see they’ll be studying Othello, Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night. Folger editions, for the curious.
Hmmm. Anybody else seeing a pattern there?
I’m calling it right now – I’m going to have my daughter watch O, 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s The Man before school starts because I’ll bet you anything that’s what they’ll be doing in class. I never thought I’d say this but I’m glad Hamlet’s not among her required texts. If they had her watching Lion King I don’t think I could stand it.
I recently talked myself into reading the biography of Robin Williams. It wasn’t a question of whether I’d enjoy it. I loved the man’s body of work. It was more a question of whether I was prepared for the inside story of his end.
But we’re not there yet, I’m less than half way through. I want to talk about his Shakespeare. I think anybody that followed the man knew he had some Shakespeare in him. He attended Julliard, for starters, and was known to drop Shakespeare references throughout his improvisations:
He also, of course, played Osric in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet.
What I did not realize is that he *started* with Shakespeare. His Malvolio received rave reviews. I did a little digging, and look what I found!
This image is from 1971. I only wish I could have found the complete review! I did get a pointer to it, but it was behind a subscription paywall so I gave up on that idea.
But then! I found something even more exciting. The book talks about a Western production of Taming of the Shrew that Williams was part of. I won’t say “starred in” because it looks like he played Tranio, not exactly a major role. And guess what? There’s video! Unfortunately, there’s no audio so all you really get is Robin Williams in a cowboy hat standing around in the background.
I’m about halfway through the book now, well past Mrs. Doubtfire and Dead Poets’ Society, so I’m pretty sure I’m not going to see any more live Shakespeare credits. But I was very excited to learn about a few that I never knew!
I love it when Shakespeare comes up at lunch. We were talking about with a coworker who’d been in Midsummer, and I asked whether his production had been on the light and glitzy side, or touched on some of the darker bits. This might be the play that kindergarten kids get to dress up as fairies, but it’s also the play where a husband drugs his wife and sends her off to be with an animal until he gets everything he wants.
Which led to this question. I’ve seen “Best Marriage in Shakespeare” done before (and we’ve done it here), and the Macbeths often win that one. They’re made for each other.
So how about the most dysfunctional? Define that however you like.
I am going to go ahead and disqualify Othello right off the bat. If you actually kill your wife during the course of the play then it’s just too easy. And that goes for both Othello and Iago in that one. Claudius gets a pass because that was an accident.
Kate and Petruchio? Whether or not you intrepret the play’s ending as happy doesn’t necessarily mean that their relationship is a healthy one. What about the Twelfth Night couples? When you realize that the person you married isn’t the person you thought you were marrying, can you just roll with it and end up happy?
Over the centuries it’s been common practice to spin a happy ending on Shakespeare’s tragedies. Romeo and Juliet live, King Lear and Cordelia live happily ever after.
What if you went the other way? The comedies are known for their happy endings. Can you spin your favorite comedy and give it a dark ending?
Twelfth Night is the obvious choice, with Malvolio’s ominous, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” How does he not show up at the wedding with an AR-15?
How about A Midsummer Night’s Dream? The lovers wake up, the love potion has now worn off Demetrius, who sees Theseus and Egeus and immediately goes right back to the character he was in the first scene. Seeing no change in anybody’s feelings on the matter and with Hermia refusing to budge, Theseus has her executed. I was going to write that Lysander tries to protect her and gets executed for his trouble as well, but it’s more fun if he’s a coward who absolutely doesn’t do that. 🙂
Can we count The Tempest? I know, not technically. But it’s so easy to envision the entire play as the ravings of a poor old man alone on an island making up the whole thing.
The most popular post I’ve ever made is the one depicting Shakespeare’s works as a Venn Diagram (although technically that shape is an Euler Diagram). That post on Facebook has garnered over 2 million views at this point, and hundreds of comments. People have asked me if it is available as a poster (as far as I know it is not – I did not create the original image).
The problem is, I don’t like it. Most of the comments are of the form “Why do you have play X in this category but not that one?” and “You forgot to put Y in the Z category” and so on. The categories (Suicide, War, Romance, Supernatural) are, I think, too broad. Does Romeo and Juliet count as war between the two families? I would say no, but some people disagree. How about Much Ado About Nothing? It starts with the men coming home from war.
So here’s what I propose. Can we make a better one, or a set of better ones? Something that more people can agree on? If we can make something that’s generally agreeable to a large audience I’ll be happy to make it available as a poster / stickers / t-shirt / etc…
I’ve been working with Bardfilm on some new categories. The goal would be to find a set such that:
All plays are represented by at least one category.
Minimize the number of categories that have no entries.
No single category has too many entries.
What categories would you like to see? “Supernatural” made our list as well. I was thinking “Insanity” might be a good one. Bardfilm proposed “Fake Deaths” and “Cross-Dressing”. If we can’t agree across all the categories we can look at doing one for Comedy, one for Tragedy, one for History, but I think those would end up looking a little sparse, and I’d feel bad about leaving out Romance.
What other ideas have you got for us? Tell us the category you think should be on our diagram, and which plays would be in it.