Much Ado About Violence against Women, Children, and Minorities

I’m angry. The state of this world – racist and sexist – makes me angry. Reading Much Ado About Nothing in my moments away from the horrors of 2017 isn’t helping at all.

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Nazi scum in Virginia, 2017

The big news this week is Donald Trump’s disgusting, cowardly, and hypocritical refusal to “jump to conclusions” about the Neo-Nazis and various other white supremacist groups marching around Virginia, unmasked, proud, and deadly. The other disgusting news that’s going ignored because there just isn’t enough indignation to go around is this: Johnny Depp is being welcomed into children’s hospitals in British Columbia.

Why is this wrong? Because Johnny Depp is a wife beater. No, I’m not going to call him an “alleged” wife beater, because when a woman is willing to stand up to the world’s biggest movie star and show the world the bruises she received at his hand, I believe her. Her career was not going to improve for calling out one of Disney’s highest-grossing stars. She did it because she needed to escape his violence. Yet, a couple of denials later and here he is: still getting cast in blockbusters and parading himself as a sweetheart that the public chooses to love him because he’s willing to take pictures with sick children.

Image result for amber heard bruisesDoes Depp’s magnanimity during his moments of sobriety erase the fact that he committed violence against a person decades younger than him? No. Are his deeds erased because, even though he refused to own up to his violence, Amber Heard donated her 7-million dollar divorce settlement to charities that support and care for victims of domestic violence? No. Does the time he spent getting into the beloved Jack Sparrow costume and makeup erase the fact that a hospital exposed children to a violent person, and local media applauded them for it? No. Not when, in America, five children die as a result of child abuse every day. So why do they allow this violent person into a place that is likely treating children who have suffered from extreme violence at the hands of people who claim to love them? Where is the justice for Amber, and for the children who know what it is to tremble in fear before violent parents?

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Claudio repudiates Hero as early as 1598

In the late years of the 1590s, William Shakespeare wrote Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy in which an angry man convinces his powerful stepbrother and another fellow soldier that this soldier’s betrothed is cheating on him. He provides them with the shadiest evidence, indeed, a sexual pantomime between servants that they viewed from a distance, in the dark of night. The Duke and Claudio, the betrothed soldier, believe in the insidious Don John, even though their treatment of him on other occasions seems to show that they do not trust him in matters of statesmanship and diplomacy.

So why do they believe him about this? What makes Hero less believable than the notably untrustworthy Don John? Why is Hero’s incredulity so suspect, when she is so virginal that she can’t even deny his accusations for certain because she’s never experienced what they’re accusing her of?

Clearly, I have a lot of questions. A big one is this: what is Claudio’s stake in humiliating Hero? Why does he still agree to stand under the altar with her, only to humiliate her there? Why does he feel the need to shame her publicly? What level of refusal on her part would have made him believe her, instead of believing a man that he barely respects on any other occasion? How is it possible that even her father believes Claudio, at first? How can a parent so quickly turn on his child?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. Indeed, I’m sitting in a café puzzling over them, trying to find a thread that I can turn into a thoughtful, provocative conference paper, but I keep thinking, “this is all old news.” Much Ado was written around 1598/99. It’s 2017, and wife beaters are still treated like the heroes (antiheroes, at worst) they appear to be on the silver screen. Claudio was not punished: he remains a knight in Don Pedro’s service, claiming the privilege of Don Pedro’s trust and influence over him. Leonato does not tell them to leave his estate immediately, if not sooner. Instead, Hero’s father welcomes Claudio and Don Pedro to stay longer. Sure, he plots to shame Claudio into marrying a veiled Hero after telling the soldier that Hero has died from shame, but even as a ruse, it is absolutely horrifying that Leonato agrees to marry his daughter off to the man who publicly shamed her in order to ensure that her reputation was ruined forever.

Image result for jump to conclusions charlottesville memeHow is it that men like Donald Trump can convince others to refuse to “jump to conclusions” about people who are patently bad: slanderous, violent, believers in ideological systems that leave no room for the benefit of the doubt? Why do people refuse to grant that benefit of the doubt to women, to people who have experienced violence at the hands of violent men, even when they are willing to experience the shame of showing their scars in public? Why does society render rich, white men more believable than women, children, Jews, and people of colour? Why hasn’t this treatment changed since 1598? The violence continues.

As I’ve said. I don’t have any answers today, just many questions that don’t have satisfying answers. I’m horrified to think that not nearly enough has changed since the writing of a Shakespearean comedy that got resolved by the marriage of a virtuous woman to a man that has already proven abusive. How is it possible that the voices of the afflicted cannot be heard over the powerful men who have the most to lose?

Old ways aren’t the right ways. What I want to see is growth. What I want to see is progress. What I want to see is change.

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Creative Casting of Revenge Tragedy: “Romeo and Juliet” meets “Game of Thrones”

One of Shakespeare’s earliest revenge tragedies is Romeo and Juliet. I’m a big fan of Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation, and was looking forward to seeing if Sir Kenneth Branagh could top it with his most recent stage production. I saw the play as-live through Kenneth Branagh Theatre Live, and was really pleased with the way it was adapted to the setting of 1950’s Italy, complete with monumental hand gestures and Sophia Loren looks. The cast included the timeless Sir Derek Jacobi as the oldest performing Mercutio on record, Lily James continuing her ingénue streak as Juliet, and Richard Madden, formerly Game of Thrones’ Robb Stark, performing on a twisted ankle as the simultaneously bright-and-teary-eyed Romeo.

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On top of the exciting casting of the main characters, I was extra impressed to see that women were cast as traditionally male characters, like the thugs Sampson and Gregory, and a servant of the Capulets, named Peter. Peter delivers one of my favourite lines in the play. Unaware that she is speaking to the enemy of her master, she tells Romeo of a party being held by Capulet: “If you be not of the house of Montagues, I pray, come and crush a cup of wine.” I love the imagery of that line: the violence of the crushing, the bloody splatter of squished grapes, and the destroyed cup, discarded and forgotten in the festive ruckus of the masquerade. Despite the violence of this image and the invitation’s deliberate exclusion of the Montagues, Capulet refuses to allow his nephew to be violent towards Romeo when he appears at the party and ogles Juliet. Capulet admonishes Tybalt:

 

Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone;
He bears him like a portly gentleman;
And, to say truth, Verona brags of him
To be a virtuous and well-govern’d youth:
I would not for the wealth of all the town
Here in my house do him disparagement:
Therefore be patient, take no note of him:
It is my will, the which if thou respect,
Show a fair presence and put off these frowns,
And ill-beseeming semblance for a feast.

 

Despite the fact that the Montagues are his enemy, Capulet refuses to “here in my house do him disparagement”: he forbids violence against a guest in his home, no matter who that guest is. Capulet escalates in rage not at Romeo’s attendance, but at the insult of Tybalt’s intended violence. Capulet’s response immediately brings to mind the concept of “Guest Right,” which entitles any guest who shares the bread and salt of their host to their host’s protection while under that roof. This is a topic that keeps coming up in my favourite show: Game of Thrones. Like any living, breathing person right now, I’m pretty obsessed with it. This season, the show’s violence has escalated to Shakespearean proportions. In order to avoid ruining it for those of us who aren’t caught up, I’d like to talk about Shakespearean resonances with a revenge scene from much earlier in the show: The Red Wedding.

 

SPOILER ALERT: Stop now if you don’t know what The Red Wedding is and don’t want to read spoilers!

 

The Wedding between Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey is meant to consolidate the treaty between House Stark (represented by the King in the North) and House Frey, who control an tactically-important river crossing in the fictional setting of Westeros. The Wedding was meant to be between Walder Frey’s daughter and the King in the North, but King Robb meets someone young and beautiful during the War of Five Kings (the book and show marry him to two different characters), and can no longer fulfill his promise to Frey. Father of the bride-to-be Walder pretends to forgive Robb for his breach in their agreement, and feeds the King the bread and salt that signify the Freys’ protection.

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Robb Stark and his wife Talisa on Game of Thrones

 

Frey, however, is fed up with not being taken seriously by his allies, and forges an unholy alliance with the enemy Lannister faction, as well as a trusted soldier from within Robb’s own ranks. After the most important members of Stark’s army are seated around Walder’s table and are listening to the cacophonous wedding music performed by disguised members of House Frey, the “musicians” pull their weapons out from the instruments and bloodshed ensues. Robb dies. His mother dies. His pet direwolf dies. Many loyal members of his army die. They trusted Walder Frey because of Guest Right, and died for it.

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Robb crying over his wife’s lifeless body during The Red Wedding

So how does this tie back to Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet? Because Richard Madden plays Robb Stark and Romeo. By considering the “creative casting” behind Branagh’s production, we can think more deeply about the topic of revenge: when is revenge just and what constitutes a low blow? Who deserves revenge and when is an avenger in the wrong? Richard Madden may change his accent and cut his hair, but both of his characters fall in love with women that they shouldn’t. Their impulsive marriages come at the cost of their lives, and the lives of those they love. Capulet refuses to allow his nephew to “make a mutiny among my guests” at the feast, but Tybalt finds another opportunity to attack Romeo, leaving behind the bodies of Mercutio, Tybalt himself, and Lady Montague, who dies of her grief when her son is banished from Verona.

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Romeo crying over Juliet’s lifeless body in Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet

Tragedy is defined by the number of dead bodies onstage at the end of a play. Revenge is the impulse to kill, and revenge tragedy is when the impulse to kill ultimately kills the killer, as well. By thinking about revenge on TV today, we can reflect on those beautiful little details that Shakespeare left behind for us. By reflecting upon the issues that Shakespeare brought up in his revenge tragedies, we can gain a greater appropriation for the politics and drama that we continue to consume today.

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Mercutio and Tybalt: casualties of revenge tragedy

 

 

 

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Shakespeare’s Birthday Resolutions: 2016 edition!

Happy birthday, Shakespeare!

I know, I know, April 23 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, but “Happy Deathday!” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Yet, I’ve found that so much of Shakespeare’s drama locates facing death and seizing the day as two sides of the same coin. My 30th birthday falls on Shakespeare’s milestone birth/deathday, but far from lamenting the passing of another year, I’d like to look back and see how I carpe’d the heck out of the diem!

What I’ve been up to:

  • I’ve been working my Shakespeare-loving butt off writing my PhD and getting it published, chapter by painstaking chapter, in academic journals. This means doing the research, editing it until my supervisor is happy with it, submitting it to journals for publication, and being told that it’s not good enough: try again. It takes a thick skin to cope with kind of criticism, but that’s the nature of my profession. I try to remember that the acknowledgements page of every academic’s book includes expressions of thanks to all of the people who told the author that her writing wasn’t good enough. Those people took the time to read her research, and give thoughtful suggestions about how to improve its delivery. I got to see two of my articles in print this year, and one more got accepted for publication (stay tuned!), so I’m feeling full of pride, but am also humbled by the recognition of how much time and effort it takes in order to reach these academic milestones.11254572_10101260373454101_9089250841420443084_n
  • Research can be a solitary activity. I put my ideas in conversation with those of other literary critics from the comfort of my quiet apartment (or louder Starbucks), but it is a rare pleasure to share these exceptionally niche conversations in person. Since Shakespeare’s last birthday, I had the chance to do some really fun conferencing. I gave a paper on compassion (and the lack thereof) in The Merchant of Venice while getting to visit one of my favourite cities in the world: Amsterdam. Houseboats, stroopwaffles, and the company of fellow early modernists? Yes, please! I also proposed and moderated a panel at a conference in my hometown of Toronto. Instead of offering my own paper, I used the panel as an opportunity to reach out and hear how my peers are bringing their own unique perspectives to our shared research interests.
  • I am an unashamed Anglophile. I am always contriving ways to return to England, and this past summer, my mother and I travelled to London to see Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, made all the more special by the fact that I got to see it twice!
  • I am also a self-professed “Cumberbitch” (or, as my more genteel mother says, “Cumberbunny”), and was interviewed by The Guardian about our journey to bow at the dual altar of Shakespeare and Celebrity. Erin and Mom at hamlet
  • While I haven’t been updating this blog as much as I always intend to, I did dip my toe into the “Digital” side of the Digital Humanities by participating in a workshop of the basics of TEI, Text Encoding Initiative. It was a cool way to map out or annotate information, and I’m always looking for opportunities to get more involved with DH in the future!
  • I’ve also used the “Digital” to meet many humanists this year. As a researcher for the TRaCE Project, I’ve been conducting Skype interviews with English Literature PhD grads in order to reflect on the changing value of the English PhD and how people put their PhDs to use. Some stories are scary, some stories scream success, but overall, I’m just so grateful for the opportunity to soak up the guidance of these people who have braved academia and lived to tell the tale.

 

What’s next for me? Shakespeare’s birthday resolutions ’16:

  • It’s time to finish that PhD! Spoken as someone who works on her dissertation five days a week every week, I can tell you: it can take 6 full years to complete a PhD. That’s just how long it takes to create this extended, meaningful, original piece of work.
  • Once I’m finished my PhD and on the job market, I might finally have the time to watch (and blog about!) all those Shakespeare films that I’ve missed in the past few years. Of particular interest, my beloved Benedict Cumberbatch playing Richard III in the BBC’s Hollow Crown See the trailer here! the-hollow-crown
  • I want to go to England again, of course! Although I’m probably going to complete my PhD before achieving my dream to attend BritGrad, I’ve got my sights on this awesome conference organized by Shakespeare’s Globe: “Cultures of Mortality: Death on the Shakespearean Stage”. It’s sure to be killer!
  • I’m actively investing myself in finding an academic job where I can continue doing what I love: researching and teaching Shakespeare, and mentoring the bright young students who give meaning to all of my heard work. I work my butt off, and I’m ready to get paid for it!

 

 

So let’s raise a glass!

…or two, or three, or in my case, four, as I celebrate Shakespeare’s life and my birthday on the second night of Passover! How will you be celebrating?

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The Fassbender Macbeth and Shakespearean Riddles

I finally got the chance to see the 2015 film adaptation of Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Based on the after-show rumblings, the people in the theater seemed pretty split between those loving the production for its visual sumptuousness and having such a hunky actor speak in verse, and those begrudging Kurzel for privileging style at the cost of the comic relief scenes, which were all cut.

I get it: I was waiting to see what they’d do with the Porter scene, too. I love when Macduff Jr. cheekily challenges his mum on the morality of whether every single liar should be hanged by every single honest man. These parts were missed, but what remains is a production streamlined to reflect Macbeth’s own subjective: what does he see? how does he feel? What’s left is his descent into madness.

In the process of this descent, Macbeth kills all of his friends / competitors, defending his crown while the rest of Scotland turns on him. He makes one final visit to the “weird sisters,” who foretell whether he will win the war or be vanquished once and for all. They respond with the following riddle-like stipulations:

1: “None of woman born shall harm Macbeth.”

2: “Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.”

Ultimately, Macbeth hears only what he wants to hear. To the Scottish king, their responses are not cryptic but clear: your cause is just, you will survive this war. To someone terrified of being defeated without an heir of his own, Macbeth hears that it is impossible to vanquish him, just as it seems impossible for a person to be born from anyone but a woman, or for a forest to exist anywhere but where it is rooted.

To me, the most important quality of any adaptation is whether it makes me think about the play in a new way. Kurzel’s Macbeth does this with the final battle scene. In most productions that I have seen, the allied powers transport Birnam Wood to Dunsinane by camouflaging themselves in the leaves and branches of Birnam Wood, effectively going unseen by Macbeth until it is too late. This convention is exceptionally clever: it requires surprisingly little effort in order to stage something that, to Macbeth, seems so impossible. Because I’ve seen the scene staged in this fashion so many times, I wasn’t expecting this production to go in another direction. But boy, did they! Instead of bringing the forest to Dunsinane through camouflage, Malcolm’s army sets Birnam Wood ablaze. That’s right: the final battle is staged on the smoky, ashy, periphery of a giant forest fire!

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Coming disturbingly full-circle from the misty heath on which the first battle was set, what we get is a stark contrast between natural order and man’s interference:

  • Duncan, the natural king, vs. Macbeth, the regicidal usurper
  • Mist vs. ash
  • Nature’s inherent fearsomeness vs. destruction at the hands of men

Macbeth disturbs the natural order by killing the natural king. Kurzel epitomizes the subsequent challenges facing the usurper by showing not only man, but nature rising against Macbeth to restore Malcolm to his rightful seat.

So that leaves us with the question: is it worthwhile to brave the January cold in order to see this film? My answer: most definitely. See Kurzel bring the unexpected to Dunsinane! And if that’s not steamy enough for you, know that you’ll also be getting some of this:

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Not bad, Fassbender. Not bad.

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Filed under Characters, Performances, Plays, Reviews, Shakespeare

Creative casting: Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet

The beauty of Shakespeare’s drama is its versatility: it has reached audiences throughout the ages as a product of its time, and as a perfect vessel to communicate the cultural zeitgeist ever since. We don’t study it just to learn a bunch of difficult words: it’s about how those words, delivered in the right way, can make us think differently about bigger ideas like love, ambition, fury, and revenge. When I say “delivered in the right way,” I mean, by whom? In what accent? Who are they speaking to? Where are the words being spoken? Is the speech staged based on First Folio stage directions, or at the whim of a director with another vision entirely?

A bit of a pop culture fiend myself, I love thinking about how who speaks the words matters. Where have I seen them before? How do their most memorable performances colour my understanding of the Shakespearean role they play? In the past I’ve called this inter or intra-dramatic doubling, but lately, I’ve been calling it “creative casting.” It’s a bit more pithy.

Most recently, I’ve been eagerly anticipating my trip to London to see Benedict Cumberbatch perform in Hamlet. We don’t live anywhere near England, but as self-professed “Cumberbitches,” my mother and I determined that we needed to see it in person. Why do we care so much? Because with all of Benedict’s filming commitments, we won’t be able to binge-watch another season of BBC’s Sherlock until January, 2017! In the show, he plays the sharp-witted and sharper-tongued Sherlock, who loves to confound his partner with his powers of deduction. Benedict’s Sherlock is unique because it’s his own spin on the role. I have no doubt that he’ll make his Hamlet unique as well, but I wonder: will his Hamlet bare traces of his Sherlock? When he raises Yorick’s skull, will he investigate it? Will Hamlet’s signature comeback, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” be delivered with the same sass that Sherlock lashes witticisms at Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson?

Hinds as Mance Rayder

While Benedict is the main attraction of this Barbican theatre production, there will also be a familiar face in the supporting cast. Fresh off of his role as King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder in HBO’s Game of Thrones, Ciarán Hinds will be playing King Claudius. Hamlet contemplates revenge against his uncle when his father’s ghost informs him that Claudius poisoned Hamlet Sr. in his sleep. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “This isn’t a good fit! In season 5 (without giving away too many spoilers), Mance scoffed at the notion of poisoning someone, declaring himself above killing those under his hospitality!” Will Claudius be a complete change of character from Mance, or will Hinds draw on his recent character’s silent strength and determination to bring his people together at a time when “something’s rotten” north of The Wall? Mance is a man who understands necessary brutality for the greater good, but is also an advocate of justice. Most of all, he’s honest about his own shortcomings. Will this come through when Claudius gives his great speech, inches away from Hamlet’s drawn sword?

But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?
That cannot be; since I am still possess’d
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?

Claudius admits his sin, but what Hamlet does not realize is that the King does not have it in himself to repent: he did what he thought was right. I see that in Mance, and I hope that Hinds will let some of that rub off on his Claudius!

Looking ahead, I can’t wait to see the chemistry between these two excellent actors. Both speak with outstanding elocution, and I’m especially looking forward to their verbal sparring in Shakespearean verse, which has its own internal rhythm. How will they dress? Will they look Danish, upper-class English, Viking Norse or trailer trash? Cumberbatch and Hinds share high cheekbones and a look that is rarely called attractive so much as “distinct”: will director Lyndsey Turner use that to her advantage, perhaps hinting that Hamlet is Claudius’s bastard? That’s an angle that’s always worth pursuing, because it makes it seem that Hamlet eventually kills his own father, which is deliciously Oedipal. There have been precious few clues about what to expect. All I know is to be excited!

Hamlet: directed by Lyndsey Turner.

Barbican Theatre, 5 August–31 October 2015.

Sold out.

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Janelle Jenstad’s Map of Early Modern London, or Shakespeare’s Serial

Not much can get me out of my dissertation-writing groove. Maybe it’s the progress, or maybe it’s just the opportunity to sit out Kingston’s awful winter from my armchair: pajamas, hot chocolate, and cat snuggles unlimited. But when Janelle Jenstad came to my university, her alma mater, to give a talk on the Map of Early Modern London (MoEML) project, I was there with bells on. MoEML is the supremely accomplished Jenstad’s brainchild and, spoiler alert: it’s a wunderkind.

Professor Jenstad, showing a student her project

Professor Jenstad, showing a student her project

Do you remember the opening credits of Shakespeare in Love, when Henslowe is rushing through the streets of London to confront Will Shakespeare about his writer’s block? MoEML visualizes that. Well, to be precise, it visualizes a map drawn around 1561, about 30 years before Shakespeare was writing for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. So, why is the map so exciting? Because it allows us to investigate the theatrical culture, as well as daily life, of early modern London. It shows us where we can find Ben Jonson’s inspiration for his comedy, Bartholomew Fair, and where on a map we can situate Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. In terms of daily life, we can discover where the conduits ran, for people to gather fresh water. What do water cans on the map tell us? They don’t tell, they show. They show us about where people would have exchanged important information with friends in their direct proximity, without the long-distance reach of cell phones and social media.

best-buy-payphone-hed-2014Listening to Janelle’s talk, I began to think about NPR’s smash-hit podcast, Serial. So much of host Sarah Koenig’s reasonable doubt was based on the placement of a Best Buy. To be precise, she wanted to know whether there was a payphone at a certain Best Buy at the time of this one crime, as a suspected accomplice said that he had used it to call the other suspect. Jenstad’s “Agas Map” bears witness to London as it was in 1560, and it lies waiting to be used by people with mysteries to solve. What people are looking for is yet to be known, which is why the site is always looking for feedback. This team of scholars keeps reworking the entire website to adapt with the scholarly needs of the times, using the latest technology in the Digital Humanities. They perform the painstaking coding of layers upon layers of data to keep this 400 year old map so digitally current it’s on its way to being integrated with the coordinates on Google Maps. For the MoEML team, the job is never done.

Using the Map of Early Modern London is fun for curious history fanatics, London tourists figuring out which theatres once stood in terms of today’s ultra-hip Shoreditch, and for teachers on a never-ending search for the best visual aids to bring history to life. Choosing your own search terms, building type, or route through London, the website visualizes the material, but also allows you to bookmark and save these images for personal and pedagogical use. For fun, I searched for the Globe Theatre on the map, and sure enough, there is a highlighted space for where Shakespeare’s best-known playhouse would be erected in 1599. Take a look:

The Agas MapThat yellow square is where the original Globe Theatre would stand forty years after the map was drawn. What strikes me from this picture is just how close the Globe was built to the bear- and bull-baiting gardens outside of the city walls. I had always heard that bear-baiting pits were close to Shakespeare’s theatres, but I didn’t realize that they were this close! This discovery brings new meaning to Sir Toby’s ominous plans to “gull” or humiliate the surly Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Sir Toby tells Sir Andrew Aguecheek: “To anger him we’ll have the bear again; and we will fool him black and black.” Their idea of fooling is exceptionally violent. Sir Toby’s revenge on Malvolio will emulate the early modern practice of whipping a blinded bear, a form of entertainment that Malvolio himself had encouraged Olivia to outlaw from her estate. This practice is almost as gruesome as the most commonly-known mode of bear-baiting, setting dogs loose on a bear chained to a stake. In this case, though, they blind Malvolio by “hav[ing] him in a dark room and bound,” imprisoned and tormented almost to the point of believing that darkness is light and light is dark. Almost. This is a humiliating experience for Malvolio, who, unlike the unfortunate bears, lives to have the last word. Addressing the revelers as if they are the dogs who seized on him, Malvolio proclaims: “I’ll be revenged on the pack of you!”

Unlike the revelers of Twelfth Night, the MoEML team doesn’t look to discern between insiders and outsiders. In an act of generosity not always seen in the academy, this site is entirely open access. That means that even though scholars run it and universities fund a bunch of it, the team are determined to make it accessible for anyone with the internet, including you! Check it out!Bear+Baiting-1

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Creative casting: Shakespeare featuring Game of Thrones actors

One reason why I love to watch and rewatch Shakespeare’s plays is because I get to see my favourite actors play my favourite characters. Some actors cement public perception of a character, such as Laurence Olivier’s Oedipal Hamlet. Other times, I find an actor’s best-known role tends to colour my understanding of any other role they ever play. In the past I’ve called this inter or intra-dramatic doubling, but now I tend to call it “creative casting.”

The “creative,” in this case, is our creativity as viewers who interpret a production’s casting. Our insights can often be anachronistic, because in the age of Netflix, we don’t necessarily watch an actor’s filmography in chronological order. As such, our impressions of an actor in a later but better-known performance might influence our impressions of their earlier roles.

Spacey as Francis Underwood in House of Cards

Spacey as Francis Underwood in House of Cards

For example, Kevin Spacey is currently making waves as the anti-hero Francis Underwood. In 2011, he played the title role in the Old Vic’s Richard III, which inspired his performance of the fourth wall-breaking, 21st century Machiavel in House of Cards. Yet, if I were to watch Spacey’s Richard III again today, my understanding of his performance would be coloured by my impressions of how Richard’s devious machinations are akin to Frank’s. To learn more about Spacey’s journey into the role of Richard, check out his film, NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage.

Even though the Bard himself has no say in how his plays are produced today, it is nonetheless worthwhile to think about the significance of contemporary casting choices. By looking at who is being cast, how we know them, and why we know them, we can learn more about the Shakespearean characters they play.

Craster is unimpressed with Jon Snow's snooping

Pugh as Craster, unimpressed with Jon Snow’s snooping

Let’s take Robert Pugh, for example. His name might be unfamiliar, but his piercing blue eyes will remind you that he plays Craster on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Just before he terrified as the morally twisted wildling, Pugh filmed BBC’s Hollow Crown Series, specifically Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1. In the movie, Pugh plays Owen Glendower, leader of the Welsh rebels. Glendower may be rebelling against Henry IV, but his time onstage is devoted to verbal battles with the defiant Henry Percy, aka Hotspur. When Pugh as Glendower boasts that he “can command the spirits from the vasty deep,” Hotspur doesn’t take him seriously, but I certainly do. This is because when I see Pugh, all I can think of is the character that does terrible things to appease what lurks beyond the Wall (no spoilers!).

Pugh as Glendower, with Joe Armstrong as Hotspur in The Hollow Crown

Pugh as Glendower, with Joe Armstrong as Hotspur in The Hollow Crown

Hotspur, on the other hand, is less cautious. Percy laughs at his host’s ostensible superstition, responding: “Why, so can I, or so can any man; / But will they come when you do call for them?” Glendower defends his pride, justifying himself with talk of even darker deeds. He tells Percy: “Why, I can teach you, cousin, to command / The devil.” Hotspur pushes all bounds of common courtesy by insulting the Welsh leader’s sense of spiritual authority, retorting: “And I can teach thee, coz, to shame the devil / By telling truth: tell truth and shame the devil.” Hotspur isn’t particularly spiritual himself: if an activity doesn’t call for a sword in hand and a horse underfoot, he laughs it off as cowardice.

In some productions of this play, the Hotspur/Glendower scene is comic relief – two bumbling villains who are too busy fighting each other to think up a smart plan to fight Henry IV. Whereas in the play itself, Hotspur and Glendower meet at the Archdeacon’s house, in this film, they seem to meet at Glendower’s own home. With this production’s particular choices in casting and setting, I have every reason to be afraid of Glendower’s spiritual powers. Hotspur may not be scared of him, but I am. I know what those remorseless blue eyes are capable of, and know that those who care more about the spirits care far less about honour. If Hotspur were watching Game of Thrones, he’d know to be more gracious to his host. If recent seasons have taught me anything about being a houseguest, it’s that even sacred hospitality laws can be broken!

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