Friday, January 24, 2014

Does Branagh Have Whedon-Envy?

How excited would *you* get when the headline "Branagh hints at Shakespeare with Hiddleston" pops up in your newsfeeds?  Instaclick!

"...he also found time to tell us that he’d love to direct Tom Hiddleston as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing."
Wait....really?  Is Branagh going down the "reboot" path on his already well-respected, star-studded 1993 version?

Or could it have something to do with the fact that another director of superheroes (Kenneth Branagh did Thor,  Joss Whedon did the Avengers) just had a more recent, also very well regarded version?

The funny thing is that they've now both directed Tom Hiddleston as Loki.  I have this vision of them both having him by one arm and pulling in opposite directions screaming "Mine!") until he splits down the middle.

"Hey Kenneth, did you hear that Joss got the Avengers gig?  So he gets to direct Thor this time."

    "Yeah, well, fine, I've still got the whole Shakespeare thing."

"Well, yeah, about that...."

How funny would it be if Branagh couldn't get Hiddleston because Tom had already signed on for Joss' next project, a full-text Hamlet?

Let's Dissect the 2014 Shakespeare Films

Ok, this Shortlist link tells us about upcoming Shakespeare movies to 'get excited about' in 2014. At first I was because I didn't realize there were 4.  But let's look more closely.

1) Cymbeline

Ok, we've talked about this enough already. I think "cautiously hopeful" would be the best we can say, especially after the trailer came out.  You know, the one with the flamethrowers?

2) Macbeth

This one should be good, although maybe I'm just out of the loop that I don't recognize any of the names they're dropping.  Michael Fassbender?  Marion Cotillard (who we've previously discussed)?  Fine.  But then they're all "Ooo! It's being directed by the guy that did Snowtown!" and I'm all, "What the heck is Snowtown?"

What I think is really funny is that they're *still* saying "...who replaced Natalie Portman." We first learned that back in August 2013. I think that lends evidence to my theory that name recognition is everything.  Even though she's not in it, they still want the buzz that her name generates.  (Trivia - Natalie Portman auditioned for Juliet in Baz Luhrman's movie but didn't get it because she was way too small compared to DiCaprio and it looked too pedophilish.)

3) Enemy of Man

I'll just leave this here, from the summary:  "stripping back the dialogue and cranking up the action."  Yeah, because that's why we go see Shakespeare. For the action.  Maybe they could tackle Hemingway next?   ("Dude, did you see that guy just gut that other guy from his stomach all the way up to his face?" / "I know!  That's some straight up Macbeth action right there!")

4) Rosaline

I started out optimistic about this one when I first heard about it back in 2011, pondering whether it could be another Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Then I got a look at the source material, which proudly describes itself thusly:

"Rosie knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. They are best friends, next door neighbors, and the soon-to-be cutest couple in their senior class. Rosie has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her--and when he finally does, it's perfect. But just before their relationship becomes completely official, Rosie's cousin Juliet moves back into town. Juliet, who used to be Rosie's best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy...and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn't even stand a chance. 
Rosie is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet's instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rosie starts to fear not only for Rob's heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends."
The scariest thing about this project is that it really makes you say "Who the f%& is deciding what movies get made these days?"

My favorite part of the summary, I think, is that it's going to be in "modern language."  Because, well, you know, Rosaline doesn't actually HAVE ANY LINES IN SHAKESPEARE'S PLAY!  At least the villains making this one didn't go all Julian Fellowes and just start adding in random crap that sounds like Shakespeare to them.

So maybe I'm "excited" for just the Macbeth?  Maybe the Cymbeline.  Technically it sounds like two of them aren't even Shakespeare. I'd like to hear more about Enemy of Man and just how much original text it uses.

Judges Who Quote Shakespeare

I always love it when a judge quotes Shakespeare at a criminal.  I imagine the defendant (and quite possibly most of the courtroom) getting this confused sort of "Huh?" look and requiring it be explained to them.

The quote:

“He’s here in double trust,” quoted the judge. ‘First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed: then, as his host, who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife himself.”
Macbeth, of course. The story of a man who invites the king to his house, and then rather than protecting him, kills him.

The crime:
Ontario Court Justice Gilles Renaud remarked that Marcel Bouchard had the trust of a 64-year-old neighbour who looked to him for protection but violated that trust when he sexually assaulted her after taking her on a birthday date to a Swiss Chalet restaurant.

Not quite the same scale, I suppose. But then again Shakespeare didn't give us many examples of the latter (except maybe Two Gents?)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How do you not click on a story that says "Shakespeare Puppies"? I mean, come on.

"Shakespeare Puppies Appeal bags some cash," the headline read.  Now what am I supposed to do with that?

Turns out to be a fundraiser for a project that, are you ready for this, "aims to provide 25 guide dogs, each of which will be named after a Shakespeare character." They've already started with Juliet and hope to follow with Hamlet, Titus, Troilus, Othello...

On the one hand I love this idea.  Whenever the task of naming something comes up, I always start with "Can I name it from Shakespeare?"  (Remind me to tell you a funny story about that later in this post.)  So I love the idea of dogs named for Shakespeare.  I'm usually outvoted in my own personal life, otherwise I'd be surrounded by such things.

But...doesn't the ultimate owner of a guide dog get to name it?  Maybe I don't understand, but that seems unusual.  When we got our dog we didn't ask what her name already was. We named her.

And how about the choices they rattled off in the article?  How about adoption day for the poor guy that gets Troilus?  "I can't wait, this is so cool, I love the idea that my dog is going to be named from Shakespeare, maybe I'll get Iago or Hamlet or Brutus.....wha....who the heck is Troilus?"

(*) When you install new Unix machines on a network you have to give them a name. Sometimes there is already a naming scheme in place, sometimes you get to start one.  This was a new team with all new computers, and I had two to install which I named Macbeth and Macduff.  As new machines came up I continued naming from Shakespeare - Lear, Othello, Hamlet, Iago...  Well eventually we hired dedicated IT people to do this, and the chief IT guy who had a sense of humor on him decided that the original naming scheme was actually "mac-" words.  So he began naming machines "macncheese", "macgruff", "macfly", "macjagger" and so on (yes, he was playing fast and loose with the mac/mc thing).  Then another IT guy got in on the act decided that "macfly" was really supposed to be "80's movie catch phrases" and named a machine "bueller".  I wish I could remember all the different directions it spun from there.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What Will Your Verse Be? (New iPad Air Commercial)

Steve Jobs may no longer be with us, but this new Apple commercial had my jaw on the floor for every word, before I even knew what it was a commercial for:

I heard Robin Williams say, "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race," and thought, "Well holy sh*t that's going on the blog." Ask me again why Shakespeare is relevant. Go on, ask me. Because I know what my answer is going to be.

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Game : Shakespeare Death Bingo!

Working on a post over on Reddit, I just came up with this idea for a game. No, not a #hashtag game, an actual physical game that teachers can use in the classroom:

I call it Death Bingo.  Let's say that you're studying Hamlet.  There are ... 21? characters if you count Yorick and the Ghost.  So maybe we just do a 4x4 grid. That leaves enough variety that each card will leave a few characters off.

Each grid is randomly populated with character names.  If you get Ghost or Yorick, free space! Woe to you if you see names like Voltimand, Cornelius and Reynaldo.

Now start working your way through the play. Every time a character dies, put a big red X through his or her space.

Whoever gets 4 in a row first wins!

Does not work well with the comedies.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Boy Meets World Meets Shakespeare

[Spotted in Reddit this morning on the "Boy Meets World" forum because I track all things Shakespeare.]

Was there a single television sitcom that involved high school kids that didn't do a Shakespeare episode? The Brady Bunch, Cosby, Head of the Class, Welcome Back Kotter and those are just the ones I specifically remember.  Even Sanford and Son did one with their all adult cast.

Boy Meets World was just a little after my time, starting in 1993 when I was already out of college. So I think I missed this episode they did on Much Ado About Nothing:

[Video removed because it was defaulting to autoplay and driving me crazy!]

[Link here in case the embedding causes trouble, I'm not familiar with the particular service on which I found this clip.]

I always appreciate when a show branched out and did something other than what we'll call the "high school staples."  It's almost always Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet for easy name recognition.  Or, if you go for the "character has Shakespeare homework" storyline you'd often get Julius Caesar or Macbeth (thank you Dr. Cosby!)

On that note, here's a clip of Boy Meets World doing Hamlet, because I think the accent is funny.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Shakespeare's Will Isn't Already Online?

I just learned that one of the sites (the UK version) is going to be putting a million documents up online, including William Shakespeare's.

I suppose that what they mean is that this will be a complete scan of the original document.  All I can find are pieces, which I assume have either been released over time for press/media purposes or perhaps even created by individuals with access to the document itself?  I'm unsure where the original lives right now.  There's a few hundred First Folios in existence, but only one original will.

Is there anything that we can learn from this new version that's coming online, or is it entirely for the publicity?

Vissez votre courage à l'endroit de collage et nous ne manquerons pas.

When I first heard that Marion Cotillard would replace Natalie Portman as Lady MacBeth in the upcoming Scottish movie, I was disappointed. I don't really know anything about Ms. Cotillard, and I don't really care all that much about acting ability(*) - I just think that Natalie Portman's presence tends to bring a very large young adult male following into the theatres, and I thought Macbeth would be a good place to do that.

Apparently Ms. Cotillard is a big fan of Shakespeare already, and dreamed of playing Lady M --- just not in the original text.

"Horrors!" you say, "What's she want to do, a modern language adaptation?  Sacrilege!"

That's an angle I've never imagined. English is not your native language, and yet you still grow up with a love of Shakespeare so strong that you dream of playing his greatest characters.  In *your* native tongue, rather than his. As if that's how they were intended to be played (insert obligatory "heard them in the original Klingon" reference here).  How is that different from reading just a plain old modern translation?  After all, either you're reading Shakespeare (or what you've always come to think of as Shakespeare), or you're not.  So isn't the "not" version always just a shallow copy? Does that mean that Ms. Cotillard will be disappointed in the English version of the works?

Cooking With Shakespeare

It was either this or Titus Andronicus.
To read, or not to read.....that is the age old Shakespeare question. I hang out on many Shakespeare forums, and whenever the question comes up about "Which Shakespeare play should I read first?" there's always somebody quick to jump in with, "They're not meant to be read, they're meant to be seen! Go see one!"

Long time readers know that this drives me crazy. The only answer to this question is, "Do both. If you have a chance to see it, by all means see it. But if you want to read it then by all means you get in there and you read it, every chance you get. And then go see it again. Repeat."

In my continuing quest to put an end to this argument, I used the following analogy with a coworker this morning:
You go to a restaurant, you order a dish. You like the dish. Some time later, you are at a different restaurant, and you see that they offer the same dish. You try it. It's different. It's the same dish, but it doesn't taste the same as the first one. Maybe you like it more, maybe less. Maybe they added something that wasn't in the first one, or left something out that was. 
This cycle repeats. The dish becomes a favorite of yours, and you begin to seek it out at every opportunity. You pay attention to the details, you learn whose version you like and whose you do not, and why. You develop a fine sense for what goes into making the best version of this dish. 
Do you know what else you could do? You could get the recipe for the dish and make it yourself. 
That's when you get the true appreciation for the dish, because you understand all the parts that went into making it. You can invent your own interpretations because you see what you have to work with. The next time you visit a restaurant and try the dish you understand immediately what they left out, and why, and you have a strong opinion about whether you feel this was the right decision. You explain to your companions why you're not crazy about this version of the dish, and what the restaurant one town over does that makes it better.
So, there you go, that's the new analogy I'm going to start using. Do you have to know how to cook a dish yourself before you go to a restaurant? No, of course not. You're also unlikely to sit down to cook the recipe for every dish you might encounter in a restaurant. On the other hand, maybe there's a dish you had once and you can never find it again no matter how hard you try. Maybe there's a dish that your friend raves about and says you must try, but you never see it on the menu. The analogy works both ways. You can't just stroll into the theatre district and watch whatever Shakespeare play you want, just like you can't walk into any restaurant and order any dish you want. You're restricted by the choices available.

My point is that there is a level of appreciation and understanding beyond just going to experience what other people did with the raw ingredients. You can and you should experience them for yourself by getting your hands and your eyes on the text. If you go down that path, you will be infinitely rewarded.