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June 21, 2012


Obtain, or see, "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)"

Amazon has a DVD, if you can't find a performance.

And yes, the plays are meant to be seen and heard, not read.

Oh, the War of the Roses cycle are my favorite Shakespeare, and Richard II my favorite play. There is a tragic structure which in an ironic sense, peaks in Henry V, and Britain as a European power is forever lost at the moment of greatest triumph. And it doesn't end with Richard III, although S was trying to legitimatize Elizabeth. And by that time there was a lot under the bridge, and only a few generations from the ascension of Parliament. Charles I gets little sympathy or horror.

Richard II was a bad and weak king, but so were Louis XVI and Alexander. It's a play about Revolution, while the victors are still celebrating. As far as personalizing the story, well, this is our fallen times, when we have forgotten that the King has two bodies, and the Crown is given by God, not men.

I of course have seen the Jacobi. Part of the appeal is that R II is easy to interpret idiosyncratically but very hard for moderns to understand.

Also, Obama should never have striven for bi-partisanship with alien Macbethian Republican ilk, Rodney King notwithstanding.

Never shake hands with a Republican:


And, when five tatty Supreme Court justices with bad waitress hairdos tell you they didn't make the rules and there will be no menu substitutions, let them know what they can do with that chicken they said you can use for medical care barter:


I've in mind a series of political commercials leading up to the election (but let's continue after as well) featuring disenfranchised uninsured folks with pre-existing conditions and disenfranchised voters wrongly purged from the electoral rolls re-enacting various famous cinematic hissy fits, with the requisite violence against those who done em wrong.

Surely there are some Shakespearian scenes that could be reprised for the purpose -- a humped Norquistian figure stumbling about on the battlefield pleading for an exchange of his kingdom for a horse as crowds of real Americans with sharp objects descend on his carcass.

I've been thinking about Slart's jaw, a very good jaw on a very good person (I hope they don't spend too much time apart), lying there on the floor after sapient remarked a few days ago that the Count calls them as he sees 'em, and I'm wondering maybe if I need to consult wardrobe regarding a motley adjustment, my fooling about and hilarious jihads perhaps being too much of a distraction from my real feelings about what is coming in this kingdom if malignity is permitted to metastasize at its current rate.

But, first, off to visit Mother, who now is well enough along in her dementia and memory loss that she now greets me when I walk into the house after months of separation as if I had just been in the next room for a moment.

Then she will ask where her children are.

She's worried about them.

Again, have a good two weeks.

McManus is back, so everything is fine.

She asks too where her parents are and her brother and sister and my sister who died several years ago, usually when she awakens in the morning after a night of vigorous dreaming, her lips moving non-stop in conversation.

We've learned to stop breaking the bad news to her, because it is, in fact, news to her, again and again.

It's like "Groundhog Day" without the laughs.

But wonderful too, in a way, because everyone is still alive, to her, everlastingly.

O.K., this will be the last transmission until I emerge from the other side of of the sun.

Radio silence.

But wonderful too, in a way, because everyone is still alive, to her, everlastingly.

I'll be thinking about this for a while.

Oh, the War of the Roses cycle are my favorite Shakespeare, and Richard II my favorite play.

The cycle is fabulous, and I'd rate it a close call between Richard II and Henry IV, Part 1 as to which I prefer.

Certainly Richard II deserves to be better known. The speech quoted is one of many worth reading and hearing. John of Gaunt's deathbed speech, "This sceptred isle, etc." is better known, probably.

Harold Bloom describes Richard as "a bad king and an interesting metaphysical poet;....totally incompetent as a politician, and totally a master of metaphor." I'd say that describes th plot and the language of the play very well.

After several strokes, my father would stamp around his mid-century home in Florida insisting, "My father built this house".

My mother felt she needed to tell him that his father died forty years before and also that his brother was dead, breaking my heart. Acceptance would have been much kinder.

On the other hand, when Dad first woke up in the hospital, she didn't tell him he'd had a stroke, but rather an 'accident'. Where does truth lie?

We have a neighborhood owl. He's a socialable bird, comes out during the daylight hours, roosts on a stop sign at an intersction, poses to get his picture taken. Our little neighborhood newsletter decided to do an article about our owl so I consulted the birdbook to determine the species: barred owl. To my amusement the article in the newsletter described him as a "bard owl." So that's how I think of him: an owl who is reciting Shakespeare to himself, while he perches on the stop sign. That explains the look of thoughtful concentration.

Here's a BBC article on the 'Mandela' Shakespeare:

...The passage Mandela chose as his favourite was from Julius Caesar, just before the Roman statesman leaves for the senate on the Ides of March.

It includes the lines: "Cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once."...

My favourite plays ... Hamlet (natch), Twelfth Night and The Tempest.

The two best performances I've seen recently were a Henry IV part 1 open air performance at Shakespeare Santa Cruz last summer, and a fantastic production of Midsummer Night's Dream in a small theatre in Bolton Lancashire - and I am a fairly frequent visitor to the RSC in Stratford.
I was slightly surprised to be completely unbothered by American accents in the Santa Cruz production. Though of course we have little idea of what an 'authentic' Shakespearean accent might be, there is a certain cultural dissonance involved when a period production incorporates accents which are unambiguously anachronistic.

Sadly, I won't be getting out to California this year, but anyone near Santa Cruz in July and August should have a look at this;
Can't believe I'm missing both Henry IV part 2 and Twelfth Night.
(Take a hat for the open air performance - even though it's among the redwoods, you'll need it to keep off the sun.)

The most recent play I've seen was The Merchant of Venice with F. Murray Abraham as Shylock.

Terrific all around. Is it my imagination or is that play being done quite frequently these days?

My biggest problem with reading Shakespeare was always the spelling. Once I heard it spoken . . . suddenly it was people talking comprehensibly, and I could get past the Elizabethian spelling to the brilliant plays. Because the words haven't change a lot, just how we spell them.

I know there's a lot of tradition to overcome. But if someone was to offer a version of Shakespeare with none of the words change, just with modern spelling, it would probably do more to let students come to love Shakespeare than anything else could. Even with a mediocre teacher, if you can understand what you are reading without struggling constantly, then you can pay attention to the stories and the characters. Which, after all, is what plays are all about.

Good grief! A Captcha with one of the words in Hebrew??? Somehow I can't see any of us stopping and figuring out how to generate an alternate orthography.

Admittedly, my favourite is Henry V and you can blame the Olivier for it (not a fan of the Brannagh version)*. Interestingly, my first close contact with Shakespeare was through Kurosoawa's adaptation of Macbeth (usually known as Throne of Blood, although the title translates as Castle in Spiderweb Forest).

*no, my knowledge is not limited to the movies. I read the play in a scholarly annotated edition too.

Hartmut, I don't think anyone who has read your comments here would think for a moment that your knowledge is limited to one genre ;^)


Though of course we have little idea of what an 'authentic' Shakespearean accent might be




libjap, Well, all too many claim to know a book but have just seen the movie. What's worse, many critics slam the books for things that were only in the movie. That's especially true for 'classics'. But how many people have actually read the full Bible, the complete War and Peace, Das Kapital* etc.? I did neither, although I think I am reasonably familiar with the content.
Some of my teachers had their own 'definition' of Bildung (education)
1) Bildung ist, wenn man alles mal gewußt hat (education is when you knew everything once/when you have known everything)
2) Bildung ist, wenn man weiß, wo's steht (education is when you know where to look for)

*yes, there is a movie adaptation of that. Old Karl M. iirc said that he'd be happy if his book found five readers.

Admittedly, my favourite is Henry V

Not a bad play, but, IMO, not a great one either.

The more interesting question is how one views the character of Henry - "the mirror of all Christian kings." I'm no admirer myself, though admittedly I'm influenced by modern sensibilities. WTF is that invasion of Iraq - oops, France - all about, anyway?

Still, there's inevitably some great language:

"And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall hold their manhood cheap when any speaks
Who fought with us upon St.Crispin's day."

Suppose Shakespeare had written only the histories (or tragedies, or comedies). I think he would still have been regarded as one of the greatest playwrights in the English language.

This is utterly amazing. How many other individuals have reached that height? Bach? Who else?

Read a review of Henry V, performed in the then-new reconstructed Globe Theater.

The stage projected into the audience, with an open area nearby for the "groundlings" to stand. (groundling: audience member getting reduced admission price, and no seat, at ground level)

For Henry V's St. Crispin speech, he comes to the front of the stage. The groundlings, because of their location, "play" the part of the army.

And a bit of powerful stagecraft, long forgotten, was thereby rediscovered.

I took a semester of Russian a long time ago and I remember seeing a film, Гамлет (Hamlet). I will never forget "buit ili ne buit... eta vapros."

It is an old debate whether Shakespeare made Henry V and his campaign* deliberately ambiguous. That the play can be read in such different ways (Henry as a manipulative, hypocritical hazard player, as a basically 'good' ruler who has to grow into his role and has to fight the shadows of the past and his own character, or as an 'ideal' ruler under the criteria of Shakespeare's time).
Another interesting point Shakespeare alludes to but is often misunderstood is the promise of ennoblement for the fighters of Agincourt. The historical Henry for example did exempt Agincourt fighters from certain otherwise strictly enforced rules regarding taking invented titles of nobility, which provided an important chance of social climbing if played right. Most literary critics who did not know that considered Henry's speech as just a stack of empty promises or mere rhetorics to get the grunts motivated.
Whatever one thinks of the play, it is the author at his best as far as speeches go (I do not even think that St.Crispin's is the best of them).

*see the machinations of the clerics, the knights-of-fortune behaviour of the nobility ('they sell the pasture now to buy the horse' striving for 'cro.wns and coronets')

It is an old debate whether Shakespeare made Henry V and his campaign* deliberately ambiguous.

Yes it is. Bloom quotes William Hazlitt calling Henry an "amiable monster."

But ambiguity is human, and Shakespeare's ability to make characters human is a big part of his genius. Think of Shylock, for example, another character where Shakespeare's intentions have been much debated.

I recommend Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare as a useful companion guide, particularly if you are trying to work through the histories (Shakespeare took a lot of liberties with several historical figures, and Asimov does a pretty good job of sorting out what Shakespeare changed and why). I also like his take on Hamlet: that both Claudius and Hamlet are shrewd and capable figures engaged from the beginning in a deadly game for the throne, and that a lot of what we may see as dilatory is explained by the needs of both characters to retain the support of the rest of the court in order to keep or gain the throne.

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