Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Shakespeare”

Bard Bits: All Is True (not really, Ken)


As a bona fide Bardinator I look forward to new or new-to-me versions of Shakespeare’s plays. I also appreciate Shakespeare-ish films, those films, shows, and specials that speculate about the Bard of Avon, because in actuality we really don’t know much about him or his family. Kenneth Branagh, noted Bardolator, attempted to cast some (perceived) truth on Shakespeare’s life after retiring to Stratford.

If you missed All Is True it’s no doubt because it wasn’t playing in a theatre near you. It certainly wasn’t in my secluded part of the world. Fortunately I found a copy in the local grocery DVD corner. The hubs would have preferred a Tom Cruise flick and almost checked out yet another watching of a Mission Impossible. He acquiesced. This is one of the reasons he is such a keeper–plus he owed me for my relenting to watch The Italian Job yet again.

Kenneth Branagh has provided a marvel of a supposition: what happened after Shakespeare retired in 1613 to Stratford? We don’t know, historians don’t know, but Branagh sets forth what he perceives might have, could have happened based on the tiniest scraps of historical information.

Facts:
The Globe Theater burnt to the ground in 1613 and William Shakespeare retired from the theatre to live out his remaining days (three years) in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon where he had a family: Anne, his wife, Susanna, his eldest daughter (married with a young daughter) and Judith (unmarried and the surviving twin). Shakespeare’s heir, Hamnet, died at age 11 (attributed to plague, but no one really is sure). There was some scandal connected with each of Shakespeare’s daughters. Shakespeare died on his birthday.

Fancy:
From those facts Branagh provides a family drama of a man who has been more absent than present for the past twenty years, and apparently has never recovered from the loss of his only son and heir. Branagh has Shakespeare creating a memorial garden for his son and battling out resentments with his wife and daughters.

Kudos:
The acting is superb. How could it not with Judi Dench as the long-suffering Anne, Ian Mckellen as the larger than life patron come to visit his favorite poet, and Kenneth Branagh, who has brought Shakespeare to the general public in bold and creative ways? The supporting actors hold their own as well, especially Susanna and Judith. The hubs did not even recognized Branagh as Shakespeare, being impressed when he saw his name as the director, but stunned to learn he was playing the Bard. Yes, the make up is that well done. He looks like the portrait we are all so familiar with. The costumes and time period setting is excellent–they even filmed in candlelight.

Image result for kenneth branagh as shakespeare

Concerns:
I am a stickler for historical accuracy and get a bit distracted when adaptations go too far afield in interpretation. I don’t mind Henry IV being set during WWI or gnomes becoming Romeo and Juliet, but hey, taking liberties with actual history and presenting it “all is true” goes beyond artistic license. The hubs finally shuushed me during the movie, indicating he didn’t care for my pointing out of inaccuracies and inserting corrections. He said, “I liked it.” But, but, not all was true.

Takeaway:
This is facfic in extreme. It is a love letter done with excellence. It is worthwhile to hunt up a copy and watch it, not just because for its production quality. Do it because it keeps Shakespeare alive, even though he has been gone for over 400 years.

Parking the Bard


Among the summer events I look forward to, the street fairs, arts and craft shows, farmers markets and church picnics, are the concerts, the wee bit of culture our small town enjoys. And more than the concerts on my fave list is the annual Shakespeare in the Park.

As a proclaimed Bardinator, being able to watch a Shakespeare play is a treat. The bonus with this production is that it is outdoors, professionally performed, creatively produced, and free. All I need to provide is my camp chair.

This year’s production was Henry IV. I’m not too keen on the historical monarchy plays for the reason the names are difficult to keep track of, plus someone is always trying to bump off someone to get to the throne.

But it’s Shakespeare. I will muddle through and bring up my handy on-line Folger script to keep track. Shmoop helps a bit with its character and summary notes.

We arrived an hour early to peg out our spots and were intrigued to catch the last part of the belly dancer routine. Were there belly dancers during the Renaissance?

Didn’t matter, it was fairly entertaining. Hopes of getting some dinner at a food booth were dashed–no refreshments available. None. I noticed people had brought those rolling ice chests and picnic baskets. They’ve done this before.

The venue used to be across the street from our house, which made popping home for a quick snack quite handy.

The production has grown so much in popularity it has shifted to the town football stadium. Someone could have made some decent bucks opening up the concession stand. A play that starts at 6 pm should have some kind of food choices available. Just saying.

This year’s production was set during WWI and it was a dandy. Falstaff and Hal played off each well, and the comedy bits had enough slapstick to get even the kids laughing.

And that’s the best part of outdoor theatre–the cross section of audience. Everyone attends: Singles, couples, large families with wiggly toddlers, AARPers in wheelchairs, empty nesters, even a few teens.

We all laugh in the right places, cheer accordingly, and listen attentively during the serious bits.

This year I had to plead with the hubs to accompany me. He’s not much of a Henry fan either, but he knows I do enjoy Shakespeare and he does like hanging out with me. Win-win–mostly.

We lasted right up to where Hal, as mock king, tells Falstaff that he will disown him when the time comes. After that it got serious. Battles are dreary bits to watch, even Shakespeare battle. I would have stayed but the hubs handed me my casted-off sandals. I took the hint and we snuck off field.

Dinner seemed to be on the agenda.

Shakespeare Celeb:The Wit of Sonnet 130


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I admit most of this month’s tribute to Shakespeare has been focused on his plays, or at least I have admittedly grievously ignored his sonnets. This post shall attempt to make amends.

It’s impressive he wrote 154 sonnets, compared to writing 37 plays. It’s thought he wrote sonnets when the Puritans or the Health Department shut down the theatres, either for indecency complaints or plague control. There must have been some serious down time.

From fact finding, I discovered Shakespeare considered himself more poet than playwright, having first got his fame thing going with the publication of a couple of poems: “Venus and Adonis” (1593) and “The Rape of Lucrece” (1594). These got the attention of the Earl of Southampton who became Shakespeare’s patron. Scholars say other things about the Earl, but we shall not pursue the matter here.

Today I focus on one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. If you are interested in his full sonnet selection, go here:

Yes, I do have a favorite. Actually more than one. Sonnet 130, to me, captures the absolute wit of Shakespeare, especially this version. I’ll tell you why after you watch it.

At first, it seems as if the speaker is downgrading his lover. Instead of promoting her virtues he speaks of her unruly hair, less-than-fashionable hue of skin, and the fact that she treads instead of glides. Reeks means breathes, not stinks–a denotation clarification. In fact, what Shakespeare does is set it down that the speaker’s mistress is a human, not a goddess, which is something many of the sonnet writers espoused, that the women of their poetry were so perfect, so amazing, and as Shakespeare points out, so unreal. The woman of Sonnet 130 is not perfect, and doesn’t have to be to attain the speaker’s devotion.

The first half of the sonnet grinds away at her apparent imperfections, and the reader must think the speaker cruel and heartless. When the turn arrives, the shift in attitude (technically called the volta), clear down in the couplet, we discover the speaker said all that to say this:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
     As any she belied with false compare.

This is Shakespeare’s point: the sonnet had become this competition of writing with a practiced extemporaneous style, as if the subject were so inspiring, words just flowed from pen to paper. Basically, it came off as phoney baloney. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 speaker lays it down truthfully: “hey, my girl may not fit the Elizabethan Renaissance standards of beauty, but she’s my girl–talking about my girl.” She’s real. She’s not perfect. She makes me happy. Thank you, Bill. The purple prose of yesteryear , the false compare, does not speaketh the truth. Women, and men, are not perfect. There is beauty in imperfection, and Shakespeare tells us so.

 

Shakespeare Celeb: Birthday Condolences


Image result for shakespeare's 400th birthday

One of those learned Shakespeare facts to pull out to impress students is that he died on his birthday. They think that fact is weird and cool. I used to think Mark Twain died on his birthday as well. Turns out I was wrong. He came into the world with Halley’s Comet and left when it reappeared. Now, that is a weird and cool fact that gets my attention.

According to Mental Floss, there is a phenomena known as The Birthday Effect.  Apparently a person has a 14 percent higher chance of dying on his or her birthday. The Swiss did a study in 2012, so it must be true. This probably isn’t a planned event, at least it’s hoped not. That would be a terrible closure to a birthday party. It’s conjectured that Shakespeare partied a bit too “merrily” with his chums and succumbed to a fever. Watch out for combining ale and pickled herring. Or at least check the expiration date on the herring.

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April 23, 1616. This is both Shakespeare’s birthday and day of passing, making him 403 years old. There isn’t much of a to-do at 403, but his 400th birthday was a world wide event. Stopping to think about it, if you celebrate his birthday you are also celebrating his death. I don’t think Hallmark makes a birthday condolence card. Yet. On a lighter consideration, Shakespeare does share this Birthday Effect with some other notables. Maybe this is a condolence of sorts, that he shares his birthday/deathday with a few other famous folk:

Raphael–painter

corrie ten boom

Corrie Ten Boom-Holocaust survivor

Grant Wood-painter of the American Gothic

Ingrid Bergman–actress

Shakespeare Celeb: Beyond the usual Bill of Fare


Adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays can be easily found from traditional:

To interpretative:

 

There are far fewer films that delve into the life of Shakespeare himself. A couple that come to mind:

Liberties abound, although it was entertaining.

A rolicking funny version of Shakespeare’s purposed life:

And Branagh, as only he can do Shakespeare–a bit over the top, yet commendable:

Shakespeare Celeb: By Any Other Name


I’m known as The Shakespeare Lady at school. Well, I do prod along that image by introducing myself as such at Shakesperience and other opps. I also get VERY excited when I teach Shakespeare. I wear a range of t-shirts sporting the likeness of Shakespeare and attach my “To Be or Not To Be” button on my lapel when we delve in to Hamlet.

I go beyond appreciating Shakespeare. I am past being a fan. How do I put it?

Image result for 10 things I hate about you

People who adore Shakespeare, who are involved, are those who go beyond the occasional dabbling, watching, and appreciating. News feed alerts sport Bard bits of interest, outrage at hints of him not being the true author of his works, random drops of trivia pop out–these are all symptoms of going beyond simply being a fan. I have a term for such a person:

Bardinator /n./ a person who goes beyond face value knowledge of Shakespearean works and dives in to study, appreciate, and revel in the works of William Shakespeare to the point of total commitment. Simply put–a dedication to the Bard’s works beyond what is considered sufficiently normal. 

I am a Bardinator. Sounds like the Terminator, I know. Maybe there is some similarity. Committed purpose (focus on his works), time traveler (going back 400 years to understand his word and then jumping to present time to insert relevance), and perhaps being intimidating (I would like to think so, at least).

There are probably an assortment of fan tags out there for Bard aficionados. For now, I will continue my quest to learn more about his works. I have yet to fully understand all his plays and sonnets. I’m in no real rush. I need something to look forward to in retirement.

Shakespeare Celeb: Shakesperience


What can you say about a work of literature that carries over into several centuries and still has meaning? For one thing, you can say “Shakespeare.” His writing certainly fascinates, attracts, and illuminates the times. Fashion may change, but human emotions definitely haven’t evolved much in 400 years. Even my sophomores are totally getting the value of studying Julius Caesar this year.

Recently our school hosted Shakesperience, which is a NEA sponsored acting troupe that travels throughout schools in our fair state, presenting, yes, you guessed it, Shakespeare. They shake down a three-four hour play into one hour based on a theme. This year they showed As You Like It set in the eighties. Gotta love eighties fashion (or lack of it). The actors have lots of energy and speak Bard. I always wonder if students “get it”–they must, because they laugh in the right places.

My favorite part of arranging Shakesperience is the afterwards. Students trundle out of the auditorium with smiles, sharing happy moments from the play. One of the best shares so far was on the fly.

Grabbing a quick snack at the cafeteria wagon after the performance I felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned and one of the students who had pleaded with me to allow him to attend the performance (even though arrangements should have been made previously and not a half hour before the show starts) stared at me for a couple of seconds. I prompted him, “So, you liked the play?” He widened his eyes and placed his fingertips to his forehead and “exploded” them off his face, complete with appropriate sounds. I understood that he meant the performance blew his mind.

Old play, new way, same words, and they get it. Yup, can’t wait for next year.

Image result for as you like it

Shakespeare Celeb: Here’s Looking At You, Bill


So much is focused on what Shakespeare wrote. Lots of kerfuffle if he actually wrote what he wrote. Mmm, not going there. Instead–

Isn’t anyone curious what he looked like?

Here are the traditional portraits:

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And the not so traditional portraits:

 

Image result for non traditional portraits of ShakespeareImage result for modern portraits of Shakespeare

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Image result for modern portraits of Shakespeare    Image result for modern IMAGES of Shakespeare

I honestly think old Ben Jonson had it spot on when he said Shakespeare was for all time. Shakespeare would fit in well today with his styling soul patch, facial trim, and flowing curls with dome. The pumpkin pants are a no go though. Same for the neck ruff. Only cats recovering from nasty bouts with other cats should wear those.

For the more academic aspect of Shakespeare portraiture, tune in here.

 

 

Shakespeare Celeb: William’s Words


Words Shakespeare Invented
(under the guise of April’s Word Nerd Confessions)

Getty Images/Edward Gooch

image: Mental Floss

While Shakespeare was a creative wordsmith–no doubt there, it should be noted that he tended to borrow from other sources and polish them so well that they became associated more with him than the original. I cite the sonnet form, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar as starter examples.

Another aspect of polishing came to words. It’s thought Shakespeare contributed at least 1,500 words to the common language, some sources say it’s closer to 1,700. He achieved this by changing nouns into verbs or verbs into adjectives or splicing together words. Shakespeare Online.com, a marvelous source of all matter Shakespeare, has compiled a short list of some of his contributions. For further elaboration on his wordly inventions please click here.

Note: clicking on the word will take you to the play where it was used.

academe accused addiction advertising amazement
arouse assassination backing bandit bedroom
beached besmirch birthplace blanket bloodstained
barefaced blushing bet bump buzzer
caked cater champion circumstantial cold-blooded
compromise courtship countless critic dauntless
dawn deafening discontent dishearten drugged
dwindle epileptic equivocal elbow excitement
exposure eyeball fashionable fixture flawed
frugal generous gloomy gossip green-eyed
gust hint hobnob hurried impede
impartial invulnerable jaded label lackluster
laughable lonely lower luggage lustrous
madcap majestic marketable metamorphize mimic
monumental moonbeam mountaineer negotiate noiseless
obscene obsequiously ode olympian outbreak
panders pedant premeditated puking radiance
rant remorseless savagery scuffle secure
skim milk submerge summit swagger torture
tranquil undress unreal varied vaulting
worthless zany gnarled grovel

Ready for a challenge? Create a sensible sentence with as many of the above words as possible. Here’s a starter…

So–next time you reach for the skim milk, hoping you won’t be disheartened  to discover it’s worthless and sour, initiating a rant of discontent, consider a generous thanks to the Bard for providing a varied list to select from so as not to impede  your outbreak towards those accused of leaving milk past its prime in the refrigerator, because a  tranquil   kitchen produces radiance. I know, this sentence is laughableif not zany.

Celebrating Shakespeare


There are many aspects to April to celebrate: daffodils, warmer weather, rain instead of snow (finding the positive), poetry, and Shakespeare. No matter your feelings about Shakespeare, it is pretty cool that he died on the same day he was born: April 23.

As a way to celebrate Shakespeare’s coolness, the month of April will be dedicated to all things Shakespeare. Get ready for a range of celebratory stuff. Here’s a starter:

 

 

Yup, “To Be or Not To Be” in Klingon. Now, that’s what I call awesome.

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