Category Archives: Current Events

Shakespeare’s birthday resolutions!

My birthday is today, April 23. I’m turning 26 and am feeling great about it. My personal life is full of hope for the future, and my professional life allows me to immerse myself in what I love. The overlap becomes significant on a day like today, when I set out to celebrate both my life and Shakespeare’s. A new year of life reminds me to reflect back and look forward, setting a game plan and then putting it into action to my best ability. That’s why today I’m setting out my Shakespeare’s Birthday Resolutions:

–       Audit my university’s summer Shakespeare course and enjoy the continuing education without the stress of essay deadlines

       See Alan Cumming perform Macbeth (my mom and I actually have tickets to see it in July in New York and I couldn’t be more excited!)

–       Custom-make wall decals to literally surround myself by Shakespearean inspiration (my bedroom favourite: sleep perchance to dream)

–       Visit the Stratford Shakespeare Festival with my mom (our annual tradition) and with friends (a new experience!) to see Ben Carlson play Benedick to his real-life wife’s Beatrice in Much Ado; Cymbeline to see the kick-ass eagle prop the Festival’s been sneaking pictures of over Twitter; Ben Carlson again, because he’s so awesome, playing the sassy Welsh Fluellen in Henry V; and the one-man show MacHomer, as a hilarious contrast to Cummings’ much darker Macbeth, hopefully including the voices of Patty and Selma as the Witches

–       See Benedict Cumberbatch perform in something Shakespearean (fine, that one’s more of a fantasy)

–       Stop buying new Shakespeare posters and instead find more places or better adhesives with which to mount the ones currently lying on the floor in my office

–       Submit my first article for publication

–       Write a brilliant essay/paper/blog post that delves into Suzanne Collins’ Shakespeare references in the Hunger Games trilogy

–       Get back to England before I’m 27, returning to the Globe and to the RSC to experience Gregory Doran’s first year as Artistic Director

–       Finally make my way to Britgrad to hear the Shakespearean luminary Stanley Wells speak in person

–       Read more about Shakespeare’s egalitarian instinct, especially more written by my living Shakespeare idol, Kiernan Ryan. This writing just gets me too excited about the way that Shakespeare said such incredibly subversive stuff about the equality of one human being with the next. It also helps me keep steady among the painful truths of mortality – accepting death, but as a result grabbing life with both hands and really just finding ways to enjoy it – not taking more work so seriously that I no longer enjoy it, and when that time comes, allowing myself the time to rest and relax. Of course, my favorite way to do that is to go to England (see above), so I must remind myself that the best way to simultaneously avoid burnout and keep moving forward on this path of Shakespeare scholarship is by learning Shakespeare on my feet, and then come back to my books with renewed vigour

–       Speak to a grade 7 class about my awesome experiences with Shakespeare so far, and convert at least one unassuming child into a die-hard bardolator!

That’s all for now! What are your Shakespeare’s Birthday Resolutions?

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Studying on my feet

This post was originally published in my Secret Diary of PhD Candidate column for The Shakespeare Standard.

Dearest Readers and Well-wishers,

Apologies for the long period of silence…let’s just say I’ve been gathering material to share with you. Although my enthusiasm still shines bright, I can’t tell stress how far it’s been put to the test these days: studying for my 8-hour Comprehensive Exam, piecing together a coherent (and, ideally, cogent) scholarship application, writing a paper that I could proudly deliver to the luminaries at Cambridge, and, well, a slew of events in my personal life (funny how it gets in the way sometimes!), that required my attention and emotional investment.

Yet, here I am, once again, sitting in an airport after an outstanding conference, feeling all warm and fuzzy inside for the friends I’ve made and the thoughts they’ve provoked. Two weeks ago, I sat in my office, resignedly acknowledging its function as an on-campus retreat for the occasional panic attack. — Trot off to England for a week when my ‘Comps’ studies aren’t even close to complete? When I can’t even articulate my proposed dissertation topic for a mandatory scholarship application, due in less than a month? And move apartments even sooner? — I knew I needed a vacation and kept reminding myself that it would be a working one, but somehow it felt like the most reckless and irresponsible thing to do when my nose was meant to be firmly affixed to the grindstone.

Spacey rockin' Gaddafi’s signature shades

On my very first night, I attended closing night of The Bridge Project’s Richard III at The Old Vic. Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey did not disappoint. Spacey’s Richard reminded me of the character’s roots in the stock Machiavel figure, but the role took on modern relevance with undeniable parallels to the Libyan dictator who clings to power by the skin of his nails, Muammar Gaddafi.

The next day, on a specifically non-Shakespearean date for afternoon tea, my friend and I got lost in the labyrinth known as Kensington. We came upon the former home of T.S. Eliot. This prompted flashbacks to a particularly torturous study I undertook on the writer’s philosophy that Hamlet was an artistic “failure” in its lacking of the crucial objective correlative. Clearly, there is no escape from Shakespeare in London – you turn the corner and he’s always there in spirit!

I soon moved on to Cambridge, where I finally got to meet some colleagues from Open Shakespeare and the Open Knowledge Foundation. I had recently written an article for them about my experiences with Shakespeare and the Internet, and it was great to sit with the team in real-time and brainstorm innovative ways to bring Shakespeare’s texts to life online in an interactive way. It’s amazing how I spend so much time communicating with both my Open Shakespeare and Shakespeare Standard colleagues online, but it’s really so nice to meet the team in person. It was a fantastic experience, and one I hope to repeat soon!

Dragging my blistered feet back to my dormitory at St. Catherine’s College, I shivered in my drafty quarters and thought of scholarship student Christopher Marlowe, snuggling up to roommate Robert Thexton for warmth, and supposedly even some nocturnal enjoyment.

Tastes like chicken?

On Tuesday, the day of the conference, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Centre for Material Texts was overrun by Early Modernists. This led me to learn the invaluable lesson of, in the future, checking the conference program, not simply as I narcissistically had, for the joy of seeing my name in print amongst ‘pros’, but also to develop a better understanding of said pros’ research interests. A rookie error, I had assumed that the conference, “Eating Words: Text, Image, and Food” was geared to scholars across historical fields and faculties, but I ended up explaining humanist pedagogy to those who had indeed written the book on it. A valuable learning experience nonetheless, I was fortunate to have had it amidst such gracious, supportive hosts.

It was wonderful to spend a couple of days surrounded by fellow bibliophiles, and I even had the opportunity to attend an event at Plurabelle Books celebrating bibliophagy – the literal, rather than the commonly figurative, consumption of books. I managed to nibble on a tiny corner of a page, but I think I’ll stick to my personal vice, the casual sniffing of printed media.

English Poet Laureate Andrew Motion marveling over the texts at the Ritblat Gallery

When I returned to London, I took advantage of my close proximity to the British Library and visited the ‘Treasures’ at my beloved Ritblat Gallery. Aside from marveling over Jane Austen’s writing desk and reading specs (and indeed caving in and buying a Persuasion mug at the BL gift shop), I got a chance to stand inches away from several Renaissance quartos and, my personal favorite, Shakespeare’s First Folio. I must give credit to the curators of this exhibit, as they show Shakespeare’s works as not simply standing on a pedestal of the author’s own wit, but also as largely indebted to source texts and the works of his contemporaries, such as Marlowe and Ben Jonson.

Good from far

That evening I met up with two of my favorite people in the world – fellow bardolators from my MA days, future Shakespearean heavy-hitters, otherwise known as my London Theatre Buddies. Quickly becoming tradition, we enjoyed our second biennial ‘Thai Food and Tempest’ night, heading to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to catch Trevor Nunn’s rendition of the play, starring Ralph Fiennes. While the use of an hourglass prop was a great way to remind us that The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s few plays to maintain Aristotle’s unities of time and space, the production was otherwise a disappointment. I jokingly defend Nunn by suggesting that he must have spent the show’s budget in paying for the principal actor, but I’m serious when I say that nothing was gained from the sparse set. This is especially disappointing because Nunn himself had proved that a deliberately austere mise en scène can be beneficial with his seminal production of Macbeth in 1979. I wish I could justify this production that seemed far too concerned with the smoke-and-mirrors use of harnesses to make Ariel fly, but really, this production added little to nothing to the vibrant legacy of this “rich and strange” play.

The good and evil angel fighting for Faustus’s soul

A much more memorable production was the Globe Theatre’s Dr. Faustus. This was the first time I’ve seen Faustus in performance and it genuinely contributed to my understanding of the play. It made me realize that Mephistopheles is a much more dynamic, but also sorrowful, character, and the Globe can always be relied upon to bring the bawdiness and vulgarity of Early Modern plays to life onstage, replete with plenty of [hopefully] fake urine. My favorite part of the play? The concluding jig in which the resurrected Faustus and Mephistopheles entertained the audience with a bout of ‘dueling lutes’.

And now I’m back at Heathrow, feet throbbing from such a busy week, but all the while feeling intellectually rejuvenated and incredibly blessed. Friends, both old and new, have given me exceptional food for thought (pun most definitely intended) for my scholarship applications, and the living, breathing, examples of Early Modern Drama that I’ve encountered have inspired me to get back to blogging and, more importantly, confront that grindstone head-on!

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

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Family field trip to the happiest place on earth: Stratford!

My name is Erin and I’m an Anglophile. No surprise there. That being said, Canada holds a huge place in my heart. Aside from the free health care and government-subsidized university education, I love my country because it’s so keen on Shakespeare that its devoted a whole town to celebrating his work! Stratford is not just the hometown of Justin Bieber (can you believe that spell-check doesn’t recognize that name yet?); it’s home to the wonderful Stratford Festival.

A 13 year-old Biebs jamming out in the steps of the Avon Theatre

Dedicated to the classics without taking themselves too seriously – they got Canadian sweethearts the Barenaked Ladies to compose the tunes for As You Like It in 2005! – I’m so excited to be enjoy the 2011 season with my family.

What are we going to see? I’m hitting up Twelfth Night, a standard Stratford crowd-pleaser with my mother, father (aka, The Doctor), and Grandma, who’s totally into Shakespeare and will even listen to my little pre-show lecture on our way up. I joked with my dad that I would bring him a copy of Twelfth Night so he has time to read it before the show, and I swear I could hear his eyes roll 250 kilometres away. I know he comes along for me and I love him for it.

Seana McKenna as Richard III

My mom is the biggest trooper of all: after all those years of schlepping her family to “get some culture,” I think she’s accepted the “you’ve made your bed, now sleep in it” mentality and agrees to see any play I want. This includes a female-led Richard III, which we’re excited for after hearing great reviews. She may be looking forward to that but I am 99% sure she’s not at all excited about Titus Andronicus, which I’ve been going on about incessantly since my MA year. Is it wrong to talk about forced cannibalism over supper?

Stratford is exceptional and not just for the theatre. Before an oh-so-dangerous Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory appeared at my local mall, it was a huge treat to get it in Stratford. Oh! would I pace … trying to decide on the perfect confection (whoever can figure out what the answer is, I’d love to hear it). Now my guilty pleasure is Distinctly Tea, where I buy loose-leaf tea faster than I can consume it!

What really keeps us coming back to Stratford is York Street Kitchen. I shouldn’t even be telling you about this place, seldom can we get a table without standing in line, but it is the best build-your-own sandwich place, ever. Or maybe it’s because my Type A personality enjoys an endorphin release every time I check something on a checklist! And then there’s Balzac’s, which boasts some really special treats, including a Margaret Atwood-endorsed bird friendly coffee. But why do I go there? A chance to stalk Colm Feore. Has it worked yet? Alas, poor yorick!…no. But I’ll tell you one thing: I’m super excited to be going and I can’t wait to keep trying!

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The Ides of March: (re)watch your back!

I’d like to start off by wishing you all a healthy, happy Ides of March!

This day of back-stabbing was memorialized in Julius Caesar, and thinking about it has inspired me to consider the significance of “watching your back.”  Today, I’d like to look at Shakespeare in light of another kind of looking back: re-viewing. I use the word re-viewing as opposed to re-reading or re-watching because with Shakespeare’s plays and today’s new media, it’s never so limited as to exclude one or the other.

With April 23 fast approaching, most Shakespearean theatre companies will begin their 2011 season on the day we honour Shakespeare’s (not to mention my own) birthday. Shakespeare’s Globe in London is starting with an oldie but a goodie: Hamlet. My first reaction was, of course: Dammit! Why can’t I be there to take part in this celebration?? But my next was: Has the English theatre crowd not gotten enough Hamlet of late? There have been at least three extremely well advertised, not to mention well-reviewed mainstream productions in the past two years, which makes me wonder: how is the public not getting tired of watching the same thing over and over? Don’t these people want some variety?

In Jewish biblical scholarship, the more you re-read a text, the more you learn. Each and every year, synagogues around the world go through the same text, chapter by chapter; every year, congregations celebrate the text’s completion, and every year they return to the beginning of these hand-crafted scrolls. They read the same old stories, but endeavour to find new lessons in the mix; can we not say the same about bardolatry, the cult driven by Shakespeare devotees? I cannot tell you how many times in the past two years I’ve gone to Starbucks, Titus Andronicus in one hand, notebook and pen in the other – I find new gems every time. And, of course, I cannot participate in my sixth, seventh, or eighth re-viewing of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet without getting chills from the intensity of the fast-paced prologue, whether I’m blogging about it, or watching it for the sake of having a good ol’ cathartic cleanse.

And what is this blog, if not my effort to get you, my dear Reader, excited about Shakespeare? I recognize that some of you come to this blog not as fans, but as those who were seriously turned off by the yearly Shakespeare unit in high school. But you know what? That was then and this is now! My role is to expose the inherent awesomeness of Shakespeare’s plots, characters, and most of all, words, encouraging you to return to those texts, go see another production, realize the inherent truths that still exist today as they had existed for this actor/poet/playwright 400 years ago.

And who knows? Whether you loved Shakespeare in high school or hated it, there is no shame in going back to a play and realizing how far you’ve come – one of my most-trusted professors sees this as one of the greatest virtues of re-reading, and I think it’s necessary to take joy in the new discoveries we make about texts written so long ago! And if you aren’t searching for those universal truths, it’s just as much fun to go back to these plays and understand their countless, underlying dirty jokes!

So instead of letting the blog stop here, I want you to keep it going! Tell me: do you re-view Shakespeare’s plays? What pulls you back to the same ones again? Must you read from the same edition and keep notes in the margins, or are you content with scrolling through a Shakespeare App? Do you read certain plays at certain times of the year, perhaps a ritual before going to see a live production? Will you only watch productions featuring theatre “Greats” like Laurence Olivier, or do you prefer the fresh perspective of local talent?

Let’s get a conversation going and discuss our Shakespeare re-viewing experiences!

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Wanna read my diary?

Dearest Readers,

I have excellent news! I am now writing a feature called “Secret Diary of a PhD Candidate” for The Shakespeare Standard! In it, I’ll be writing all about my journey from a wide-eyed first-year PhD Candidate to … well, hopefully to an equally enthusiastic, more wordly, and tenure-tracked Dr. Weinberg! And if (nay, when, to be sure) there are bumps along the way, I’ll be writing about that, too!

Not to worry, I’ll be continuing with Why I love Shakespeare (how could I not? I love thee!), but I definitely encourage you to check out TSS, as it’s a great blog, filled with writers who, true to my heart, share of love of Shakespeare and want to bring the joy to all of you on the interweb!

So check out my not-so-secret Diary @ http://willshak.es/hNHjJC and stay tuned for a review of Stephen Greenblatt’s newest book, Shakespeare’s Freedom!

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How do I define a good Shakespeare production?

“It’s totally subjective,” – right? Sort of, but I’ve taken the liberty of defining some parameters to help us come to our subjective judgments.

In my adolescence, I saw some really excellent Shakespeare productions at the Stratford Festival, namely, Paul Gross’s Hamlet and Christopher Plummer’s King Lear. I don’t know whom they tortured more: myself, restless and unable to appreciate the action, or my father, a general non-fan of non-musical theatre and narcoleptic extraordinaire. When I finally began to study and understand the plays that I went to see, I soon defined ‘a good production’ as the ones I could sit through without impatiently yearning for them to end.

A decade older and hopefully more than a bit wiser, I’d like to revise my definition: to me, a good Shakespeare production is one that sheds light on key themes and passages of the text in a way that makes you aware, and makes you aware that they’re aware, of their significance to the whole. An unsuccessful production (I’m loath to actually use the word ‘bad’ – symptomatic of a high school instructor who would not let us use such a cop-out of an adjective) is one that obscures these key issues and ideas from the reader’s attention.

I’d like to explain this in greater detail, using the example of two productions that I’ve recently seen. For those of you who correspond or go to school with me, you’ll know that I had the highest of hopes in seeing both and, if I can be honest with my dearest Readers, was so excited I could hardly contain myself! My closest friends and mother will already begin to roll their eyes, knowing that my expectations are often too high, often at the expense of my own disappointment.

But here’s perhaps where I might seem a little hypocritical, but bear with me: once you’ve studied a Shakespeare play, if you can afford to go see a production, it’s worth it. Even if it’s not great – it’s worth a check-out (followed by an indignant march out at intermission, because life really is too short to sit through bad Shakespeare in its entirety). Perhaps this is my Bardolatry coming in and I don’t have sympathizers with this opinion but to me, it’s fun to amass a whole repertoire of productions to compare and play off each other; no one production can satisfy the infinite readings of a certain text because the privileging of one reading necessitates the disregard of another.

So excited I can hardly contain myself!

In the case of Julie Taymor’s adaptation of The Tempest, we have a situation that the directorial powers-that-be disregarded many of the important, nay, indispensable, issues that the text offers for our intellectual delight. In short: a freaking cop-out! Let me tell you: I am a huge fan of Julie Taymor’s work. Across the Universe was genius and Titus is certainly one of my favourite films in general – a strong endorsement, considering how protective I am over my favourite play. I’d only been looking forward to seeing this film for about two years, was literally bouncing up and down in my seat when the time had finally come (or, in the words of my dear friend Alexis, had a bit of a Shakespearegasm), and was disappointed. But why??

Well, I studied The Tempest for an entire semester during my MA, so I’d like to think that I’ve got a grasp of its possible meanings. I’d like to think that Taymor and her production team had studied it for at least that many hours: so why did she neglect to shed light on some of the most important meanings?

The passage I hold most dear to my heart (thanks to the guidance of my former card-carrying Communist of an instructor) is: “What cares these roarers for the name of king?” I waited excitedly to hear how the character would say it and it either got muffled by the unsurprisingly gratuitous special effects, or was left chopped up on the editorial room floor. I was flipping indignant when I didn’t hear my favourite line, and those sitting in my immediate vicinity experienced my wrath.

Spoken by the Boatswain to the sweet but uber-Establishment Gonzalo, it couldn’t have been more audacious for someone of such a low social caste to point out that Mother Nature trumps the entire social hierarchy! These words were so treasonous in the Early Modern period that, had they been spoken in real life and on dry land, the Boatswain would have been “perfect gallows,” do not pass Go, do not collect 200 ducats. This exclamation is even more important because it foregrounds the unconventional social philosophy of the rest of the play! I’m thinking specifically of both Antonio and Caliban’s attempts to overthrow the rulers of their homeland. In an effort to inspire Sebastian to usurp his brother, King Alonso, Antonio tells him: “Here lies your brother, / No better than the earth he lies upon,” implicitly stating that nature pays no attention to social hierarchy, as all men are equally mortal as they sleep. Again, while this is a comment that we take for granted today, it would have been considered treason 400 years earlier. Caliban, who claims, “The island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,” seeks out a “master” in the drunken Stephano in order to get him to kill Prospero while he takes his customary afternoon nap. Clearly this spectacularly egalitarian notion is of vital importance to the many overthrow-plots of the text: so why neglect it when it deserves our critical attention?

For the sake of brevity (it is the soul of wit, after all), I’ll offer one more example from The Tempest before moving on to Lear. Whoever has studied The Tempest at any level of their education will remember spending at least 45 minutes on close-reading the Epilogue. And I’m not saying that Taymor has to use it just because we studied it: I’m saying we study it because it’s of vital importance. Let’s have a look:

Exeunt

EPILOGUE
SPOKEN BY PROSPERO
Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

All hail ProsperA?

Everyone leaves the stage, and Prospero returns. Once again, a character brings up this notion that no magic or title can change the fact that he’s just a man (or in Helen Mirren’s case, an overly gender-conscious female ProsperA, as she incessantly reminds us), standing in front of a crowd of judges who are ready to hear his closing remarks. He tells the audience – “I must be here confined by you, / Or sent to Naples.” To be the reinstated Duke of Milan and humbly stoop to the opinion of both the nobility and the dregs of society that comprised the Globe theatre audience is as egalitarian as it gets. This is the moment where the audience gets to participate in the final action of the play –fun!!! – by casting the final judgment.

So my question is this: why the heck would Julie Taymor want to prevent this from happening? Doesn’t she want her own audience to “release [her] from the bands” (of all the negative hype that’s been going around about both The Tempest and her ill-fated Spiderman musical?), “With the help of your good hands” (with applause and positive reviews by professional critics and leisurely bloggers, alike)? Well, perhaps this is telling that she doesn’t want the production to self-consciously speak for itself. Maybe she wants it to be a movie you play in the background at a house party rather than a Shakespearean adaptation you absorb. So what does she do? She gets her husband and frequent collaborator to compose it to a tune that will run during the final credits! If I haven’t yet made it clear, this is unsatisfactory. She’s basically obscuring literary gold with the sounds of winter boots crunching spilled popcorn.

Can I say the same about Michael Grandage’s King Lear for the Donmar theatre company in London? I’m so happy to say: definitely not. And I’m not flaunting my obvious Anglophilia in order to assert that English theatre is the best theatre. What I’m saying is that he got it right.

Derek Jacobi as a classic Lear

I usually maintain a preference for the text over stage/screen adaptation because the director must choose one interpretation to privilege over all others, whereas with the text you can simultaneously maintain an understanding of each of the possible directions the text can take. That being said, I really enjoyed what Michael Grandage did in fleshing out Shakespeare mathematical language in order to amplify the theme of domestic division within the play. Shakespeare’s tragedies, more often than not, center at the “fear of what lurks at the heart of the family,” to quote one of my favourite professors and King Lear guru, Kiernan Ryan. Not doing anything particularly new but simply doing it really well, Grandage introduces the notion of divide by placing a map of England on the floor of the stage, having Lear, a man so robust that he seems to have too much energy for retirement, divide it with his staff amongst the daughters that deign to tell him in the most florid language how much they love him. Daughters Goneril and Regan multiply their love, while Cordelia tells her father that she has “Nothing” to offer in tribute. His rage erupts. He tells her that “Nothing will come of nothing,” and beseeches her to try again. It’s not that she doesn’t love him at all, she tries to explain, but that she loves him no more and no less than an unmarried daughter ought love her father:

Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty:
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.

These words get Lear so angry that he disowns this one daughter, leaving the kingdom to be split 1 part Goneril, 1 part Regan, 0 parts Cordelia, 0 parts Lear. Smart? Doubtful. Significant enough to produce a timeless tragedy? It worked for the Bard!

And while I love Derek Jacobi to bits and think he did an excellent job as Lear, I’ve seen enough Lears to know that they’re usually pretty close variations on a theme. It’s the Fool that has the opportunity to make us, and the king himself, think and feel.  How is this possible? Because he is the one person onstage who Lear pays to tell him the truth. And what is this truth? That he’s divided up his nation, divided up his family, and at the end of the day, he’s left with nothing.

FOOL

Can you make no use of
nothing, nuncle?

KING LEAR

Why, no, boy; nothing can be made out of nothing.

FOOL

[To KENT] Prithee, tell him, so much the rent of
his land comes to: he will not believe a fool.

The Fool is the one to remind Lear that he has brought this nothingness upon himself, pulling all his land from under his feet and offering it on a silver platter to his duplicitous daughters. The Fool knows it, the audience learns it from the Fool, and the tragedy lies in the fact that it takes five acts and three hours for this to cut to the King’s heart.

Djimon Hounsou's body language alone was well worth the cost of admission

And that’s not to say that there’s nothing left to be desired from Grandage’s Lear: his Cordelia seems to be onstage for the purpose of practicing her received pronunciation rather than evoking extreme pathos from the audience, only doing so when she stops talking and plays dead in the final scene. And The Tempest, not a complete failure, certainly had moments of light: Djimon Hounsou’s muscular, beautiful, tragic, earthy, and graceful Caliban’s pained and angry exclamation of “this Island’s mine” certainly evoked pathos from my cold, academic heart.

So where do we stand, dear Reader? I’d like to suggest that there’s no single Shakespearean production that is unequivocally bad (although the Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged comes dangerously close). Instead, I like to think of each production as offering me something more to learn about Shakespeare, a new way to think about a character or a theme, bringing a multitude of possibilities to light. When a production keeps an important theme in the dark and I feel that loss, I become more understanding of how vital that theme was in the first place. So I choose to remain optimistic. I will just keep on coming back to these new visions and revisions of Shakespeare. Why? The beauty of Shakespeare is that the interpretive possibilities are infinite.

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Shakesetelly: To watch, or not to watch?

Dearest Reader,

I am so happy to be in Kingston, don’t get me wrong, but alas, I can’t be in two places at once! Sometimes I miss London so much that I get a digging sense of missed opportunities, a feeling which usually sets in when I find out that my favourite actors are performing the best Shakespearian roles on the West End. I was feeling really down about not being able to see Derek Jacobi perform King Lear at the Donmar when I got the most wonderful surprise: on February 3rd, 2011, there will be a live screening of his Lear at select movie theatres! I was overjoyed and am, as ever, impressed with the current state of technology in bringing great Shakespeare that much closer to those of us who don’t live in the GSA (Greater Stratford Area).

Another residual obsession from my time in England is reading The Guardian. It’s important to read several reviews in order to get a better-rounded understanding of the plays I can’t see, but I think that Guardian reviewer Michael Billington’s columns are a good place to start. Although he lacks the roguish flamboyance of the late Kenneth Tynan, I genuinely respect his attention to detail and ability to reflect on each production as unique as well reflective of the greater trajectory of Shakespearean performance history.

Today, Billington wrote an especially relevant blog post (is it silly how excited I am to consider myself as his contemporary/peer in terms of mutual Shakesblogging experience?) about the future of Shakespeare’s transition from stage to screen. In particular, he reflects on the very popular televised adaptations of the Gregory Doran/David Tenant production of Hamlet (with Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius) and Stewart’s own starring role in Rupert Goold’s Macbeth. What’s awesome about these productions? They have the biggest names in British acting! Tenant is well-known in the UK for his role on Dr. Who and the rest of us know him for playing Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Stewart had memorable roles as Professor X in the X-Men films and commanded the Enterprise as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. High-profile actors bring in mass numbers to the theatres, and those who live outside of the cities or don’t have the spare cash to throw around can cozy up in front of the tv and watch these stage-to-small-screen adaptations from the comfort of their own homes!

But Billington suggests that even this isn’t successful. Why? Because the plays are being aired on unpopular channels during the very popular timeslot that hosts X Factor, the UK equivalent to American Idol. Thus, Billington laments: “we live in a barmy, upside-down world where Simon Cowell is considered to be more significant than Shakespeare.” Is this true? Has weekly television prevailed over the timeless works of Shakespeare, or is it that we’re forced to study Shakespeare in school, thus increasing our favour of reality television as a guilty pleasure?

Now, I’m not going to judge you, but which would you prefer to watch? Even without being a bardolator, I’m so starstruck that I would rather see Capt. Picard kill Duncan than watch a nobody kill a classic show-tune, any day!

So you tell me: free Shakespeare, offering us a connection with a golden past of culture, or free music, watching the history of democratically chosen music stardom unfold before us?

And possibly even more important: who wants to come see Lear on February 3rd in Kingston???

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Filed under Critics, Current Events, Performances, Stage to Page to Stage and Screen