Monday, April 21, 2014

The New Yorker's Relics.

Shellshocked. That's the only reaction one can draw from receiving a PR email from the venerable The New Yorker magazine about the Shakespeare related article in the new issue. Since this is a momentous occasion, at least for me, find below the guts of the press release as it appeared in the email:

Why Do We Still Search for Relics of The Bard?

In “The Poet’s Hand” (p. 40), Adam Gopnik explores scholars’ painstaking efforts to discover authentic vestiges of William Shakespeare’s life and work, and the doubt that often surrounds their findings. What drives people to search for bits and pieces of Shakespeareana four hundred and fifty years after his birth? Gopnik met with two Manhattan rare-book dealers, George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, who are convinced that a heavily annotated sixteenth-century quadrilingual dictionary they purchased on eBay once belonged to Shakespeare. “They believe that he kept it on his desk and scribbled in its margins, learned French by turning its pages, and was inspired to poetic flights by delving among its Latin synonyms,” Gopnik writes. Some of the connections that Koppelman and Wechsler have espied between the dictionary and the Bard—they are self-publishing their findings this month—“seem a little far-fetched,” Gopnik writes. But some of them “are genuinely arresting.” One counter-argument: the handwriting, Gopnik notes, “just doesn’t look like Shakespeare’s.” Additionally, “there is what might be called the argument from Inherent Improbability: it seems fantastically lucky that, of all the thousands of possible annotators of a single dictionary of the time, it would be the one in the world you would most want to be the guy,” Gopnik writes. “We live in an Elizabethan world of our own reductive devising, populated by the Queen and Ben Jonson and the Dark Lady and the Bard and a theatre full of groundlings.” Gopnik continues: “But the real Elizabethan world had a lot more people in it than that, and countless more possible . . . annotators [of the dictionary].” Shakespeare is a prime candidate “only because we don’t know the names of all the other bird-loving, inquisitive readers who also liked their dabchicks and their French verbs.” Gopnik spoke with Daniel Fischlin, a scholar at Canada’s Guelph University, who has spent years researching the “Sanders portrait,” a painting he believes to be “the best mirror left of Shakespeare’s face.” Though the portrait is dated “1603,” and, Fischlin claims, it can be traced to Shakespeare’s London neighborhood, the portrait does not immediately seem to resemble the one verified image of the poet. David Scott Kastan, a professor of Shakespeare studies at Yale, tells Gopnik that enthusiasts are “trying to get close to this most wonderful and mysterious of authors, this most mysterious genius—what has he touched?” The truth, according to Kastan, “is that it doesn’t change one thing about what we think about Shakespeare or why we love him or why we value him.” He continues, “It’s easy to be glib and dismissive of Bardolotry, but that’s how we all got here, in some way.” http://nyr.kr/1qUtNGO

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hamlet at the British Pathe Archive.

As you might have heard, British Pathe have taken the rather epic decision to upload much of their archive to Youtube, around eighty-five thousand news reels. With that sort of breadth of coverage, most subjects and topics are featured and Hamlet is no exception.



A shot from the 1913 version of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' starring Sir Johnstone Forbes Robertson. This appears to be Act 1, Scene 1 with Horatio (S A Cookson), Marcellus (A. Roberts) and Bernado (G. Richards) greeting Hamlet Snr for the first time.  Notice how the Ghost is achieved by superimposing one exposure over another on the film. The old Hamlet page at the BBC website contains the follow up scene from the same film of Forbes-Robertson meeting the Ghost for himself., though it's true that the actor could be in the above clip.  It's confusing.  Here's a clip of the actor offering reading of the advice to players. Screen Online has a short essay about the production. Here's a painting of the actor in the part from the V&A's theatre collection and photographs at the National Portrait Gallery and Folger Shakespeare Library.



Here's the footage again in a '63 film about its discovery and restoration.  This would seem to indicate the BFI has the whole film in its archive somewhere though it doesn't appear on their collection of Silent Shakespeare.




Douglas Fairbanks Jnr (!) accepts the 1948 Best Picture and Best Actor Oscars on behalf of Sir Lawrence for his Hamlet.




"Twenty-one gun salute being fired from Hamlet's Castle at Elsinore."




Czechoslovakian craftsman produce a model of Hamlet from glass.




This travelogue offers a colour glimpse of Elsinore (3.40 onwards). Film notes that the palace was actually built in the 16th century.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Globe to Globe Hamlet Kickstarter Appeal.

In a bid to pull together more funding for the Globe to Globe tour, The Globe has begun a Kickstarter. Here's the widget:



They're trying to raise £200k. Click through for the pledge video which is worth watching anyway to offer some idea of the logistics of what's being attempted.  Two Hamlets, three Polonius's.

Friday, March 28, 2014

BBC's Drama of the Week is Hamlet.

Just a quick note to say that Radio 4's Drama of the Week podcast is episode one of Hamlet.

You can download it here.

Hopefully the other four episodes will go up too, but they've been known to only include a single installment of series.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch to play Hamlet.



I'll add a link to The Guardian's article when it's republished. It was up earlier thanks to an embargo jump.

Updated  26/03/2014  Here's a link to The Guardian's article now that it's been republished.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Radio 4's Hamlet will be in the Afternoon Drama slot.

Genuinely surprised. Here is Hamlet spread across the whole week in the prestigious 2:15pm slot in five parts (an act per day?) starting next Monday 24th March for five days, total duration about three and three-quarter hours which in audio terms is a mass of airtime allowing space for plenty of the play's textual real estate. For comparison, this is just shorter than the Branagh "full text" film and longer than his Renaissance Theatre production broadcast in 1992.

The programme page is here, with full cast list and clips of Jamie Parker talking about the role.  And here.

Notice that it's not listed as being part of the Afternoon Drama strand, which usually features new drama by living writers.  Will this affect its chances of being a downloadable podcast in the Drama of the Week?

Expect a review here in due course, then.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Shakespeare at the BBC:
More of The Hollow Crown?

At Illuminations, sorry @illuminations, noticed a good case of burying the headline in a Michael Billington column about BBC radio's adaptation of O What A Lovely War. Towards the end he addresses some of my usual complaints about the lack of theatre on television before smuggling what feels like a pretty impressive leak:
"TV, on the other hand, does little to acknowledge the existence of theatre. You might get the occasional news report if there is a startling controversy or the opening of a big musical. The Review Show has been shunted on to a little-seen monthly Sunday-evening slot on BBC4. But, although I'm told there is a second season of Shakespeare history plays being planned for BBC2, it is rare to find a play from the theatrical canon being televised. And none of the big companies, such as the National or the RSC, has established the kind of link with television that they have with cinemas that allows their work to be seen not just around the UK but across the world."
As @illuminations says:


Let's hope so. The first series did well in international sales, especially in the US where it got huge press, certainly more than it received here. As with the other pieces, it has the perfect shape for a series of films, brilliant parts not least John of Arc and ends with Richard III as the finale. The Jane Howell version for the BBC Shakespeare filmed against a venture playground backdrop with hobby horses with Brenda Blethyn as Joan and Ron Cook as Richard is still a high televisual watermark for this material (and only appearance I think for Henry VI), but it is a very stylised piece and it'd be interesting to finally see it with massive casts and no double (even though as the recent Globe productions and the Howell version have shown that can create interesting thematic resonances).

Perhaps my old plan to do the whole of Shakespeare in this format doesn't look so silly after all. Um.

Updated  25/03/2013  The Hollow Crown Season Two commissioned.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

New Hamlet for Radio 4.

The press release for BBC's new Radio 4 awareness drive, the clunkily titled "Character Invasion" does include this interesting nugget:
"Beginning with a new production of Hamlet - often thought of as the definitive character portrayal - starring History Boy Jamie Parker and broadcast over five afternoons in the week leading up to Character Invasion Day"
After seeing Parker in the Globe Henry V, I hoped he'd appear in Hamlet at some point and here he is, albeit on the radio, though it's not clear which slot. Ideally it'll be afternoon drama since it probably needs all of those minutes, but I suspect it'll be a fifteen minute daily broadcast instead. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern unlikely, Fortinbras absent?  In other news, Radio 4 broadcasts Shakespeare.  That's the real surprise.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Prince of Jutland explained.

Gabriel Axel, the director of Hamlet reimagining The Prince of Jutland died recently and The Guardian has an obituary which includes this nugget about the production:
"Prince of Jutland (1994), shot in English in Denmark, was a risible effort to retell the story of Amled, drawing upon the 12th-century work that inspired Shakespeare's Hamlet. The starry cast - Helen Mirren, Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Byrne and Christian Bale – struggled against bad dialogue and cinematography. There was some excuse for its failure, because Axel fell ill during the editing process and was unable to complete post-production work. In the US, Miramax acquired the rights, re-cut the film and eventually released it on video in 1998 under the title Royal Deceit."
Which explains many of the film's problems, though as you can see from my old review, I really rather enjoyed it, especially the moment when Bale eats a tree.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kenneth and Alex.

From the BBC's press office:
"Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston to star in new BBC Radio 3 drama of Antony And Cleopatra for Shakespeare’s Birthday: Sunday 20 April

"Actors Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston will be cast as Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in a special production directed by BBC Radio drama’s Alison Hindell for BBC Radio 3 to mark the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

"Commenting on the announcement, Kenneth Branagh said: "I'm so happy to be teamed again with Alison Hindell, whose brilliant production of Life And Fate was one of the great pleasures of my work in radio. I'm also excited to be reunited with Alex Kingston after our hugely rewarding partnership in Macbeth on stage. To play another pair of Shakespeare's great couples, and for a personally beloved medium, is a privilege."

Friday, January 24, 2014

"Hamlet is, of course, the Genesis of the Daleks of Shakespeare."

Philip Sandifer is writing about the history of Doctor Who within a historical and somewhat literary criticism context which sometimes includes material which is influenced or tangentially connected to the television science fiction franchise. This week he's covered David Tennant in Hamlet at the RSC in 2008:
"Hamlet is, of course, the Genesis of the Daleks of Shakespeare - the one that is so canonically the best as to render further discussion oddly superfluous. Like Genesis of the Daleks, it has more than enough oomph to live up to its billing, and yet its status seems oddly out of proportion. Sure, it’s very good, but it’s tough to argue that it’s head and shoulders above King Lear or Othello. But Hamlet is nevertheless the prestige piece - the big one, if you will. Tennant, for his part, is very good at the role. The same skill that makes him a good Doctor - his ability to insert an unusually high volume of decisions into his reading of a given scene - helps him just as well in Shakespeare. He can deliver Shakespearean dialogue at speed in a way that makes the content of the lines clear. This is no mean feat - Shakespeare is brilliant, but the fact that the language is not normal conversational English makes it difficult to pick up on things at conversational speed. Being able to add, in effect, a second channel of communication through gesture and tone of voice helps in a big way. And it’s not particularly distinct from how Tennant is capable of having dialogue about, say, Z-neutrino energy and using it to deliver actual information instead of the patent nonsense that it actually is."
As I said in my original review, what's interesting about Tennant plays the role is that when he's feigning madness he seems to very consciously go full Time Lord, all of the Tenth Doctor's various ticks in full effect which makes the contrast with the darker, more internalised prince all the starker.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The New York Times's Hamlet in 15 seconds competition.

In the past few months, The New York Times has been tasking high school students with creating short performances of fragments of Hamlet through Instagram's video service.

Now they've posted some of the results having received over five hundred entries.
With only 15 seconds and the small field of vision offered on Instagram, capturing an elaborately staged scene from “Hamlet” is a technical challenge. But some students found ways to make the most of the format.

Emma Anderson, who plans to graduate from Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in California in 2016, used an iPhone and text messaging to help deliver Hamlet’s lines about the “special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” Lit up only by the light of her iPhone in her bedroom, she said she found making the video less challenging than adapting Shakespeare’s writing to the 15-second format of Instagram video.

“The most difficult part was picking the line,” she said. “I think finding the right line for that span of 15 seconds was a very important thing.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Shakespeare at the BBC:
An Age of Kings released in the UK.



Well, this is exciting news.  Here's the full press release because it is such exciting news.

FOR RELEASE ON DVD DECEMBER 8 2013

Illuminations presents an exclusive 5-disc DVD of

An Age of Kings

Eight History plays by William Shakespeare


'Monumental; a landmark in the BBC's Shakespearian tradition.'
The Times

Groundbreaking adaptation of Shakespeare's Histories available for the first time in 50 years

960 minutes including extras
£34.99 including VAT

An Age of Kings is the BBC's compelling 15-part series from 1960 of William Shakespeare's great national pageant of eight History plays. Watched by over three million viewers, it is the most ambitious Shakespeare project ever filmed for television.

Hailed by the Guardian as 'ambitious ... exciting ... a striking example of the creative use of television', it was a powerful demonstration of the BBC's unique strengths and abilities in a time when Britain's public service broadcaster was not principally in the hunt for ratings.

Planned as the inaugural production in the newly-built BBC TV Centre, An Age of Kings was later broadcast live on Thursday evenings every fortnight from Riverside Studios in Hammersmith as the series wasn't ready in time for the opening.

For more than 50 years, this TV landmark has been entirely unavailable in Britain. Yet its drama of power politics, betrayals, deceptions and deadly rivalries is as alive as ever. So too is the beauty of some of Shakespeare's greatest poetry and prose.

An Age of Kings features outstanding actors, including Robert Hardy, Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, and Sean Connery, at the beginning of their highly successful careers. More than five decades after it was first seen, An Age of Kings is a vivid and vibrant drama, with an unparalleled clarity and immediacy, sense of scale and poetic depth.

With 600 speaking parts and 30 weeks of rehearsal before filming, each episode cost £4000. The series was shot on only four cameras with a cyclorama used for the battle scenes and lots of smoke.

DVD extras: The Making of An Age of Kings features Tony Garnett (Cathy Come Home, Days of Hope) interviewed at Riverside Studios. Garnett recalls his experiences on this groundbreaking series and the challenges of making one of the most ambitious Shakespeare projects ever filmed.

Also included in the 5 disc DVD pack is a 24-page booklet giving background information and critical writing about the production.

Barcode: 5060291820072
Catalogue number: AOK166

William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen.

Oh the apocrypha, the elusive teasing Shakespeare apocrypha, plays which somewhere along the line, either because a publisher ambiguously slapped some initials on a title page or wedged new texts into a reprint of the Folio edition and may, or is most often the case, may not contain the words of one of literature’s great geniuses. Or the anonymous plays which critical and theatrical tradition has been suggested to have a glancing connection with him. Or the works, solidly attributed to someone else, but which may still contain his hand in later additions. It’s got to the point where you can’t definitely say how many plays are in Shakespeare’s canon any more.

Which is the point of the multiple authored William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays. Having produced their sumptuous “complete works” a few years ago based on the First Folio, the RSC in a companion volume, turns its attention towards everything else, the list of plays that show signs of Shakespeare attention, in a couple of speeches, odd scenes or through later adaptation, once again highlighting that he wasn’t a man who worked alone and utilising centuries of literary criticism attempts an arbitration as to what should be considered canonical and what has been simple wishful thinking and then producing properly edited versions of those considered worthy enough.

Jonathan Bates’s general introduction introduces the concept of Shakespeare’s canon and then offers a brief history of the apocrypha which is in general the result of the good faith of critics desperate to increase Shakespeare’s canon and printers who in bad faith and greed were desperate to do the same. Literary criticism has changed markedly over time. In the past, whole texts would be dismissed as being unworthy of Shakespeare with little regard for outside evidence especially if they were collaborative and only relatively recently has the “problem” been considered more scientifically or dispassionately, with a more evidentiary approach to these works relying heavily on biographical knowledge and textual comparison.

The majority of the volume contains the selected plays and there are a few surprises or at least seem so until Will Sharpe’s section on Authorship and Attribution explains some of their workings out. The proof copy I was sent to review only contains Arden of Faversham, The Spanish Tragedy and Sir Thomas Moore, all of which are now pretty much assumed to have had Shakespeare’s hand in them somehow, however minimally and all are treated with the same care and attention in the complete works with an introduction covering the play’s themes and key facts boxes containing a synopsis, summary of authorship, creation date, sources and publication history followed by textual notes.

But undoubtedly the most compelling section of the volume is Sharpe’s as the methodology of textual analysis is investigated before explanations are given for the inclusion of each of the plays in the volume, with justifications for omissions included as an epilogue. In what must have been a superhuman task, the writer must have read through dozens of volumes, acres of print as forces for an against passages and plays fought with each other across time, usually directly criticising each other’s ignorance about what constitutes Shakespeare and whether a play under consideration fits within their criteria. Speeches, lines, even individual words have been scrutinised to the point where the dramatic elements of these dramas almost becomes beside the point.

Of those chosen, some plays feel like a given: Arden of Faversham, Edward III, Sir Thomas Moore and most lately The Spanish Tragedy 1602 and Double Falsehood. Locrine with its teasing W.S. on its printed title page is included because there simply isn’t enough evidence that those initials don’t mean William Shakespeare. Thomas Lord Cromwell is utilised as an example of the collaborative nature of theatre companies, Shakespeare possibly having been in the room when it was written. The London Prodigal and A Yorkshire Tragedy are both atypical but contain passages of a literary complexity, which might betray his presence. The new outlier is Mucedorus which computer analysis has thrust into the limelight after years of dismissal.

Between the lines, the background theme, and this is especially true of the omitted plays, is that once a work, especially an anonymous work, has been thrown out of Shakespeare’s orbit, there’s little appetite in discovering who the author actually might be, which is another example of the inbuilt snobbery which overhangs Shakespeare’s contemporaries whose work has become eclipsed by Shakespeare across the years. No serious textual analysis has been done on Thomas Lord Cromwell other than to disprove Shakespeare’s involvement and though it’s not widely considered to be a “great” play, it could be an important part of another author’s story, but because the world’s not interested in other author’s stories, we might not ever know.

This is frustrating. If there’s a greatest theme to the book it is that Shakespeare should never be viewed in isolation and that, because he did collaborate with is contemporaries, it’s important to pay attention to the great worth of those contemporaries. The shift in complexity in his plays in the Jacobian period wasn’t some whim but a reaction to the changing tastes of the market with the likes of Measure for Measure his attempt to create his own version of the city dramas being produced by Dekker, Fletcher, Jonson and the rest. But their work is so little produced (because of a self-perpetuating disinterest) that someone approaching these aspects of Shakespeare’s career for the first time will find them someone alien (as I did at school).

The volume ends with Peter Kirwan interviewing theatre professionals about the challenges of producing these plays and the extent to which Shakespeare’s potential authorship effects their work. For the most part the answer is simply that it doesn’t, that it’s about serving the story and characters and themes and that it’s generally left to the marketing department to decide on the extent to which they want to highlight the connection. But there is some recognition that they’re pioneers because most of the audience will be seeing these plays for the first time unaware of the story and characters and themes. Perhaps the best legacy for this volume would be for that to change.

William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen. Published by Palgrave Macmillan. RRP: £25.00. ISBN-13: 978-1137271440. Out now. Review copy supplied.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Space live streaming The Globe’s open-air battlefield performance of Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays.

I think it's worth a big long title. I've been sent this email/press release:
We thought you might be interested to know that The Space will be live streaming The Globe’s open-air battlefield performance of Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays from Monken Hadley Common, near Barnet, between midday and 10pm on Saturday 24 August, 2013.

The Space will present the live event from multiple different viewpoints and aerial cameras will also capture the stage, audience and landscape from above. The live stream will be complemented with an innovative digital programme which will give audiences access to all the information available to the playgoer. After the live broadcast, edited films will become available.

Tune in to http://thespace.org on Saturday - and we would be very grateful if you could tell your followers and readers about this. We will be posting more information on our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

I’ve attached the press release for more information but let me know if you need anything else.
http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/uploads/files/2013/08/final_h6_barnet_filming_release.pdf
I've emailed to ask how long the edited versions will be on the website.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shakespeare's Spanish Tragedy.

Scholarship moves on again. The New York Times reports that further proof has been found or at least suggested that some of the additional passages in The Spanish Tragedy were by Shakespeare:
" ... a professor at the University of Texas says he has found something closer to definitive proof using a more old-fashioned method: analyzing Shakespeare’s messy handwriting.

"In a terse four-page paper, to be published in the September issue of the journal Notes and Queries, Douglas Bruster argues that various idiosyncratic features of the Additional Passages — including some awkward lines that have struck some doubters as distinctly sub-Shakespearean — may be explained as print shop misreadings of Shakespeare’s penmanship.

“What we’ve got here isn’t bad writing, but bad handwriting,” Mr. Bruster said in a telephone interview."
Eric Rasmussen and Jonathan Bate are enough convinced that they're including it in their upcoming collection of Shakespeare collaborations for the RSC (though that does include some of the apocrypha for reasons of dismissal it seems). Perhaps the Arden will be shifting series should their edition be reprinted...

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Spanish Tragedy (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Clara Calvo and Jesus Tronch.

In some cases, the publication and editing history of a play can be as fascinating as the play itself and that’s certainly the case with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. Reprinted in eleven quartos before it fell into obscurity for three centuries, its first most certainly a pirate, its fourth filled with emendations and additions, quite rightly the editors of the Arden edition, Clara Calvo and Jesus Tronch, dedicate over a third of their introduction to explaining the process of simply fighting their way through this history in order to produce this scholarly version. At that they’ve succeeded and in such a way as to make the textual changes breath within the main text whilst still making it legible is a triumph.

The facts are these.  Q1 was a product of a feud between rival London publishers, with Eward Allde and bookseller Edward White creating it as a repost to the proper rights owner Abel Jeffes because he had knocked out a copy of Arden of Faversham which they themselves had proper rights to. Eventually, the law intervened and both stationers were fined and order to give their pirated editions to be confiscated and “either given or sold for a small sum to needy booksellers”. The upshot nevertheless of this is that The Spanish Tragedy, thought of as one of the pillars of tragedy in Early Modern English exists in several good, clean(ish) if unique copies even if the now accepted author’s name doesn’t appear on the cover.

Then there’s Q4. Q4 is published in 1602, by White and new copyright holder Thomas Pavier and substantially rewrites sections of the play and adds some extra scenes which these editors persuasively suggest must have been carried over from a theatre prompt book. Originally, these revisions were thought to be by Ben Jonson, but substantial critical back and forth across the years has dismissed all of that and now thanks to computer textual analysis, the probable candidate of at the least the whole new scene is Shakespeare. But unlike Sir Thomas More, there’s nothing substantial to confirm such and so the play still finds itself as in the Early Modern Drama series, rather than Shakespeare (presumably also because Kyd is still the substantive author).

Similarly to Hamlet and Lear then, the editors find themselves having to choose which version to favour. They choose Q1, largely because it was there first but also, I suspect, because its easier to demonstrate additions to a text than removals. So Q4 additions and revisions are included in the text in a different font with a small sans serif year next to them, which is certainly more sensible than in FA Foakes’s Arden Third Edition of Lear in which tiny Qs and Fs are employed around lines and single words and make the text distracting to read. The demands are different, I suppose, and there’s little need to change fonts in the middle of lines, for example, but there’s a sense of there being two different texts here that the Lear lacks.

The first two thirds of the introduction are structured in a more formal way than many of these Ardens, beginning with a short explanation of how play fits within European theatrical tradition before shifting into a (very short) biography of Kyd which concentrates on his death more than his life and extent to which he was the informer who led to the murder of Marlowe. In two letters to Sir John Pickering, the lord keeper, he accused Marlowe of being in possession of heretical papers, the very heretical papers which had seen his own arrest and by the editors account he comes across as “mean, cowardly, self-righteous and sanctimonious”. What would we think of Shakespeare if any of his correspondence had survived?

From there, we’re straight into the play, how it acts as a bridge between Seneca and Shakespeare in the development of tragedy, how its use of ghosts and revenge and madness and meta-theatre prefigure Hamlet and how its use of objects, and the introduction is especially good in this regard, slowly become relics as they slip between various hands across the play. Throughout there’s a genuine sense of being there at the start of theatrical history, of seeing ideas, characters and story points being employed for the very first time which are still being referred back to now in drama, even if we’re not necessarily aware of the source. But the authors treat this with a lightness of touch, so as not to overshadow the play they’re considering.

It’s in the theatrical history that we see how the textual history of the play feeds into directorial choices. How much of the emendations and additions do you include? What’s expected?  As with most of these Arden Early Modern Drama plays, there isn’t an unbroken history, The Spanish Tragedy falling out of favour for just under three hundred years, with Pepys’s viewing of a production in 1668 the last recorded performance until amateur revivals began in universities in the 1920s. Both the National Theatre and RSC have offered productions in recent years and BBC Radio in the 90s, but given its reputation, Kyd’s play still isn’t in favour as a piece of theatrical drama. Perhaps this new edition will do something to change that.

The Spanish Tragedy (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Clara Calvo and Jesus Tronch. Bloomsbury. 2013. RRP: £9.99. ISBN: 978-1904271604. Review copy supplied.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Kenneth Branagh answers question about a blu-ray of his In The Bleak Midwinter.

Ken did a Q&A at The Guardian today so inevitably I asked the question:
"Any plans for a UK blu-ray release of his In The Bleak Midwinter? I watch it every Christmas."
Ken answered!
"I would love Bleak Midwinter to be out on blu-ray but for reasons I don’t fully understand there are rights issues involved. It somehow got a little bit complicated. But there is a bit of a cult following for it, I’m very glad to say. I would like it to happen, for those who like it to become a Christmas perennial."
Oh swiz. On the upside, perhaps it'll nudge him into asking his people "What is the problem? What are these rights issues?"  My guess is it's because although the film was made by Castle Rock which is now owned by Warner Bros, it was distributed on VHS in the UK by Columbia Tristar which is currently owned by Sony, who may still have the home rights.  But it's odd, because A Few Good Men (also Castle Rock) is in the same situation, but has been released by Sony on BD in the UK.  Perhaps it's just that Sony can't be bothered?

Elsewhere, Hamlet is mentioned:
Kishiwadaboy asked:

"What is your favourite scene/outtake which didn't make it into the final cut of one of your films?"

KB replied:

"A very familiar paraphrase occurred when I tried to give Charlton Heston a note when he played the player king in Hamlet, I talked to him about the line "Anon he finds him striking too short at Greeks" which unfortunately I repeated "Anon he finds him striking at two short Greeks". Mr Heston was clever enough to spot my stupidity, the paraphrase was left on the cutting floor room."
That sort of thing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Globe to Globe Hamlet.

Shakespeare's Globe is taking a production of Hamlet, a version of this production perhaps, to every country in the world:
"Shakespeare’s Globe said it aims to perform in some 205 countries and territories, some of which have never seen a Shakespeare production before, and will get around by automobile, boat, train and plane. The Twitter feed @WorldHamlet will track the show’s whereabouts."
It doesn't leave until next April, but the official website is already up here. How exciting. The Guardian has quotes from director Dominic Dromgoole:
"I think having a lunatic idea is a very good thing, it's a great way to keep everybody focused and dazzled and delighted by the ambition and energy of the company," said the artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole. "If we're going to do every country in the world it has to be every country, we're not going to leave anyone out. All the 'Stans, South and North Korea – we're very keen to get into North Korea. Antarctica? Fuck yes."
The Twitter feed offers some background on the nature of the production:


All very In The Bleak Midwinter. Or Shakespeare Wallah. No news if it's the same eighth actors, because that would be remarkable. Can I come?

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Shakespeare's Globe's
A Summer Hamlet.



Fun trailer for a documentary about the Globe's touring production in 2011:
"A Summer Hamlet follows the company and their director, Dominic Dromgoole (Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe) as they tour the production from opening night at the Theatre Royal, Margate to their final performance at Hamlet's own home of Elsinore Castle, Denmark. Remaining backstage with the cast for every performance, this first feature by director Helen Lawson offers a rare insight behind the scenes of the production. We glimpse into rehearsal room mayhem, pre-show high jinx and backstage nerves as the team battle with the elements and a temperamental Ford Escort."
Of course, what I'd really like to see is a recording of the production...

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Island Princess (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Clare McManus.

Continuing its policy of publishing more obscure but provocative examples of early modern drama, The Island Princess offers the work of John Fletcher at the height of his powers, if dating is correct, during the period when he’s been installed as Shakespeare’s successor as the in-house writer for the King’s Men and at liberty to experiment with dramatic forms, in this case continuing his investigations into the possibilities of the tragicomedy. Opening as a kind of swashbuckling romance in which the titular royal offers one of three suitors her hand in marriage if they’re capable of rescuing her brother the king from captivity, the story slowly becomes a disturbing discourse on corruption, conspiracy and religious intolerance.

Covering similar themes to Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Fletcher’s own The Sea Voyage, the story takes place against a backdrop of the spice-trade and islands in and around Indonesia, and the colonial clash between Christianity and Islam. In her introduction, editor Clare McManus explains how the playwright utilises this exoticism to reflect back to the audience the ongoing cross-cultural clash between Catholic and Protestantism and how even more than most plays of the period, our appreciation of the work has been diminished across time because of changes in our world view, how elements of language, even the removal of a beard however innocuous now, then carried great meaning.

McManus also moves to reclaim Quisara, the princess herself, as one of the great theatrical female heroines, noting that she may well have originated with Richard Sharpe who also premiered the title role in The Duchess of Malfi, indicating they’re roles of similar complexity. Throughout the play she oscillates between Amazonian confidence and victimhood, attempting to force a potential husband into converting for her benefit before agree to the same for him, sometimes feigning madness or at least giving the impression of such. This seems like another of those roles which is almost being held away from female actors because the repertory of plays still performed from this period is generally exclusive to one genius.

Nevertheless, McManus is able to dedicate a fifth of her introduction to the play's lack of theatrical history, at least in its purest form. Soon after Fletcher’s death, it found itself adapted under Charles II with the inclusion of allusions to topical events like the Great Fire of 1666 (which was the version Samuel Pepys saw three times).  French Huguenot Peter Motteux then utilised it as a source of a semi-opera, which due to its popularity became the form on which all subsequent revivals were based and is generally thought of as being enmeshed in the history of opera in that period, or until 1739 when it was retired from the stage taking the original with it, its bawdiness falling out of fashion.

There are only two recent revivals of note. In 1995 it heralded the beginning of the modern Shakespeare's Globe’s Read or Dead series starring Mark Rylance and Josette Simon and seven years later, an RSC production directed by Gregory Doran, a risky prospect in the wake of 9/11. McManus excellent commentary on this production demonstrates that theatre does not occur in a vacuum with scenes of Portuguese colonial violence that in the period of writing provided a context to the plays later descent into religious fanaticism being cut in case they're seen as being a “racist stereotype”. There’s an undercurrent of disappointment in McManus's tone, of how a play which has not been produced in many years was potentially undermined by the period of its staging.

The introduction concludes with what’s always my favourite section, the publication history. The Island Princess was published posthumously in the humongous first folio or "The Comedies and Tragedies written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher" (1947) which as the academic notices includes the work of about nine playwrights since it includes their collaborations with others, though not, curiously Shakespeare (we'd presumably still have Cardenio if it had). This play seems to be the work of a printing house owned by Susan Islip, one of two houses whose labours are only recently being given critical focus. Perhaps, as more and more of the plays from this volume become available, their work will be illuminated too.

The Island Princess (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Clare McManus. Methuen Drama. 2013. RRP: £13.99. ISBN: 978-1904271536. Review copy supplied.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Coriolanus (Arden Shakespeare. Third Series). Edited by Peter Holland.

If ever the preface area of a book threatens to derail the introduction and main text, it’s the preface area to this Arden 3rd edition of Coriolanus. Firstly because after the notes on the text, in his notes on the introduction, editor Peter Holland cautions us against expecting a formulaic consideration of the play, no discussion of plays major concerns, chronological production history, nothing on the current state of critical analysis (especially in footnotes). Secondly, due to the romantic picture he paints of writing the textual commentary, sitting on parallel desks with his wife Romana, also a professor (editing Stevie Smith’s poems), in an apartment in Montmartre, listening to Jazz CDs “looking out across the roof-tops at the Eiffel Tower”. Envious sigh.

Elsewhere, Holland offers some tangential explanation for his approach to the introduction. The extended gestation period meant that a number of other editions were published in the meantime, notably the Oxford and New Cambridge, whose quality he acknowledges. With these texts and the earlier Ardens still available and readily, it’s unlikely that a student will consult a single edition in study, so he’s decided it’s important to add to the critical mass rather than regurgitate it. Which is actually much in keeping with the “eclectic” nature of all these later Ardens, which have tended to go, for better or worse, with the given editor’s area of interest rather than forcing them into some rote consideration.

What that means for Corolanius is that Holland doesn’t offer much in the way of Freudian commentary on the Roman general’s relationship with his mother, or the implications of us only having a single version of the play in the First Folio rather than sundry other Quartos good and bad, or anything other than a cursory glance at contemporary staging. Which is fine to some extent. Philip Brockbank’s Arden 2nd does indeed cover all of that in a more typically methodological manner. But it is disconcerting to be suddenly thrust initially into a discussion of how the play inspired artists in the 1930s, in an eclectic US production, an unfinished TS Eliot adaptation and a Parisian translation which was turned into a Cause célèbre amongst various contemporary political factions.

Plus, in actuality Holland does still covering many of the topics you might expect to find in an introduction, just not necessarily in the typical order. A section entitled “Beginnings” investigates the sources of the play, from Liby and Virgin, Plutarch and North, and a close textual analysis suggests that like a screenwriter tackling a Jesus film when faced with the gospels (my analogy), Shakespeare utilised the various aspects of contradictory sources to craft his own story, extending the lives of some figures so that unlike is other tragedies, only the title character dies in the climax. The difference is that Holland expects the reader to already have some working knowledge of the play, that this isn’t the first time they’ve held a version in their hand. If you want an entry level introduction, I’d seek out the Oxford instead.

When you’ve returned you’ll find much that is of interest. In dating the play, Holland isn’t able to quite find anything conclusive, but his approach, an In Our Time style investigation of the peasant riots in the Midlands in roughly the same period as the writing of the play reveals many parallels with Shakespeare’s treatment of a populace so often either cut or left in the margins. Like the best Arden intros, Holland does however refuse to be drawn into suppositions and guesses and will only work with available evidence. We don’t know within which playhouse it originally premiered, the act and scene structuring of the Folio confirming nothing so much as the potential decisions of compositors or the stage traditions within which it was printed.

Holland also does still include much about the stage history of Coriolanus. In “shaping the play”, Holland notes how audience reactions change depending on the placement of the interval and how when, in 1964, Sir Peter Hall decided not to end his first modern half with the banishment scene, including instead the two coda scenes from the opening of act four, it disconcerted the audience who were already beginning to make for the bar. Hamlet’s rather like that too. The prince’s triumphant reaction to Claudius’s storming from The Mousetrap seems like the ideal conclusion, but I’ve seen productions which eek things out so that the second half begins with the closet scene or even with Hamlet being sent to England, which also has a logic due to the time gaps, all a reminder that Shakespeare was structuring his plays for a different audience and production sensibility.

Holland ends his introduction where he began with talk about adaptations, in this case Brecht and Osborne, and productions and so the recent Ralph Fiennes film. The former has some lovely bits of gossip about the NT production and recasting and the latter will be of interest to film students in relation to bringing the play to screen. Unlike in a theatre, perhaps, film allowed Fiennes even greater flexibility in reshaping the text. Holland’s less than pleased with some of his choices, presumably because this is the version which will be most popularly seen, particularly in the treatment of one of the supporting characters, which changes the sense of the play to some degree. Much as I enjoyed the film, I have some sympathy with that. Unlike Hamlet, there won’t be another Coriolanus film along to offer an alternative reading.

The textual commentary is in keeping with previous Ardens and with the newer innovation of longer notes at the back. The textual analysis explains the working methods of the compositors of F1 and indicates the challenges of making sense of their decisions and how all too often they underestimated the amount of text which would be required on each page leading to abbreviations and some re-engineering of what might have been the playwright’s original intent. A skeletal table listing notable productions follows then a discussion of how the play might be cast, how large a group of actors might be required.  In other words, Holland can't quite steer away from the conventions he says he's ignoring and ultimately this edition is the stronger for it.

Coriolanus (Arden Shakespeare. Third Series). Edited by Peter Holland. Bloomsbury. 2013. RRP: £8.99. ISBN: 978-1904271284. Review copy supplied.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Making Slings & Arrows.

The AV Club as an interview with Susan Coyne, Bob Martin and Mark McKinney, the creators of Slings & Arrows whose first season was about a production of Hamlet:

AVC: Where did the Oliver [Stephen Ouimette’s character] come from? It’s rather unusual to have a ghost as a regular character.

BM: Well, not if the main thrust of your first season is a production of Hamlet.

MM: It was from talking about Hamlet, but a lot of Susan’s best ideas for the series she says and then goes, “Oh no, no, no. Too much, too much.” She came up with the ghost idea, which brought together about eleventy-hundred different things, in a really great way.

[Susan laughs.]

BM: The beauty of it, too, is that it wasn’t specifically a ghost. It’s really interesting to be having this discussion after you were discussing episode four [of season three] and seeing everyone wondering whether he was a ghost or just a manifestation of Geoffrey’s madness. He was always meant to be ambiguous. And remember when we had that conversation about should we have Bill Hutt see him, should we have Charles see Oliver, and how exciting that was?

My old review of Slings & Arrows is here. I really should return to it at some point.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Guardian's Notes & Queries on Hamlet's Kingship.

A reader asks: "How was it that King Hamlet's brother, Claudius, succeeded him to the throne when he died and not his son, Prince Hamlet?"

Many answers. The last one's probably the best because as with most of Shakespeare's plays and the best of fiction, it's the rules of the world of the play (and how a production interprets them) rather than our reality which are arguably of most importance.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hamlet: The YouTube Supercut (2013).



It had to happen eventually. Geoff Klock, an assistant prof at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York City has gathered together a couple of hundred references to Hamlet from films and television, crafting recreations of speeches, scenes and jokes about same. Too many to really comment on, but I loved the juxtaposition of Kevin Kline from Soapdish into his earlier appearance in the role [via].

Friday, April 26, 2013

Alexander Graham Bell's Hamlet.

Not yet, but soon. Researchers at the Smithsonian Institute have managed to resurrect Bell's voice from one of his wax-and-cardboard test discs from 1885:
"Early in 2011, Haber, his colleague physicist Earl Cornell and Peter Alyea, a digital conversion specialist at the Library of Congress, began analyzing the Volta Lab discs, unlocking sound inaccessible for more than a century. Muffled voices could be detected reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy, sequences of numbers and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Remarkable. The YouTube video of the recording at Wired doesn't include Hamlet but I'll keep my ear out.

Shakespeare at the BBC:
Discovery: Frankenstein's Moon.

Last September, the BBC World Service programme Discovery interviewed forensic astronomer Don Olson who utilises the heavens in an attempt to solve cultural mysteries.

 As well as demonstrating that part of Mary Shelley's inspiration for Frankenstein was no embellishment, he "also outlines his theory that a star referred to in Shakespeare’s Hamlet was inspired by a spectacular supernova which blazed in sky one year during the playwright’s childhood."

The quarter hour programme is still available to listen to here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Tom Stoppard's The Fifteen Minute Hamlet.



Posted as part of Mental_Floss's rundown of "strange" Shakespeare adaptation is this rare find, a television recording of Stoppard's cutdown Hamlet from 1995, starring Austin Pendleton in the title role, with Hoffman as amongst others Laertes and Horatio. Also notable for their work since, Paul Ben-Victor who went on to play Spiro in The Wire and gold plates "that guy" Xander Berkley as Shakespeare. It's a really remarkable interpretation, drama toppling over itself and very moving in places in spite of itself. The director Todd Louiso has some obvious flare -- he's had a long career as a character actor too. Notice that somehow, during this US cable broadcast, the channel still managed to work in a commercial break (breaking the momentum a little bit). Part two is below.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Wolfman (2010)



Hamlet played by Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro).

As this rather good summary notices, there are plenty of less overt parallel's between The Wolfman and Shakespeare's play (the writer is reviewing Jonathan Maberry's novelisation but the connections are still valid). But without prior warning it's still something of a surprise to be confronted by this splinter of performance with Benicio Del Toro tortuously working his way through a chunk of Yorick, skull in hand.



This is the interior of Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond in Surrey, southwest of London, which as this reverse shot demonstrates is a classic, old school proscenium arch house.  It's 1891, so the audience is still the black tie crowd.  Perhaps I shouldn't be too hard on Talbot's interpretation.  In 1892, Herbert Beerbohm Tree mounted his famous production of the play, pictured here, and as you can hear from this later recording, the acting style of the time was different and we might imagine Del Toro heard that as part of his research.



That's an uncredited Sam Hazeldine as Horatio (Barty Crouch Jr. in the Harry Potter films).  It's difficult to tell who the Gravedigger is.  The next scene is in the post performance party where Elizabeth Croft is credited as an Ophelia (one of her next jobs was as a Vampire Girl on Doctor Who's Vampires in Venice) and Brigette Miller as Gertrude (Emmeline Vance in the Harry Potter films).



Notice how elaborate the set is.  The production designers and set decorators are well researched.  As The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Stage explains, this was still the period when plays would often be shortened to make way for elaborate effects and recreating worlds on stage, the entire locale changing between scenes, rather than simply between acts or halves as is often the case now.  Often plays would be adapted into much shorter versions or spoofs like W. S. Gilbert's parody of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which was first produced in 1891.



The next shot in the film is of Emily Blunt's Gwen Conliffe in one of the boxes regarding the performance.  In the Hamlet analogy, she's the Ophelia of The Wolfman.



The sequence ends with this shot from above as Hamlet regards Yorrick as actors often do. The full section of the speech is ...

"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips ..."

... the shots changing between clauses even when Talbot/Del Toro ignores the obvious pause where the exclamation point is after "imagination it is".



The scene ends on Blunt's face as he says, "Here hung those lips..." which causes us to immediately look at her lips such is the nature of editing, which is important because she has information to impart.