Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “William Shakespeare”

Bard Bits: Going Global

Shakespeare and crew pulled a fast one on their landlord. After a disagreement about their lease, they dismantled the theatre and ferried it across the Thames, then they rebuilt it Southwark. Although there were nine theaters operating, people tended to choose Shakespeare’s, The Globe. The transplanted Globe shared its new digs with distinctive neighbors such as bear bait pits, prostitutes, pimps, pubs, taverns, pickpockets, thieves, and swindlers. The swanks still came to theatre though, but it’s doubtful they mingled with Southwark regulars in the cheap seats.

Besides the fast getaway, The Globe has other fascinating facts:

  • It was an open-air theatre that held about three thousand spectators.
  • Performances were given every day except Sunday. Plays ran from 2pm to 5pm so the sunlight would not be a hindrance to the audience or the players.
  • The city fathers thought playgoing was immoral and did not allow the theatres to advertise. The Globe did not advertise intentionally, but they did raise a flag at 2 pm to let everyone know the play was about to start.
  • People paid their admission by dropping their money into a box at the entrance (ahem–the box office). People could sit on cushions under the timber roofs, or stand in the open-air courtyard elbow-to-elbow or even the sit upon the stage, if among the exclusive patrons.
  • Vendors sold patrons beer, water, oranges, nuts, gingerbread, and apples. Hazelnuts were apparently the equivalent of Raisinets. Occasionally the patrons would toss them at the actors.
  • With no restrooms or intermissions or the tendency for Elizabethans to not bathe, the theatre atmosphere tended to be somewhat aromatic.
Shakespeare's Globe - Wikipedia
The New Globe
  • Actors, not producers or directors, controlled the play.
  • Scenery and props were minimal. Shakespeare described the setting through his words. Lines such as, “Soft, what light through yonder window breaks” let the audience know where they were and what time of day it was.
  • Women were forbidden to be on the stage. Young adolescent boys played the roles of girls, while older men painted their faces and spoke with a falsetto to play women.
  • Actors learned their parts in about a week. A lead actor might have to learn about 800 lines a day. Over a three year period a lead actor could have learned enough lines to play over seventy roles.
New Globe Theatre | Globe theater, London tours, London
The Globe Inside
  • Elizabethans were a tough crowd. They demanded fresh and new. In a six-month season a single company might give 150 performances of 30 different plays. Some plays lasted one performance, while others had a long run of six months.
  • Playhouses were sponsored by a patron, a nobleman, who willingly lent their names and financial support to the their acting troupe. Shakespeare’s company managed to become the premier company of London by becoming the King’s men, by way of James I.
  • No royalty payments for Shakespeare, since he did not own the plays, as they belonged to the acting company. Shakespeare was part owner of the Globe and shared in the box office. He made enough money to retire well in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1610.
  • The Globe burnt down in 1613 during the first night performance of Henry VIII when the prop cannon exploded. No lives lost, just some burnt breeches.
  • With some Puritan pressure the Parliament shut down the theatres in 1642.
  • However, in 1997 the New Globe opened and Shakespeare’s plays have happily been available to everyone to view without pressure of being closed down from special interest groups.
A Shakespearian Theatre and the new Globe

Shakespeare Goes to the Movies

David Garrick in Hamlet, I, 4

David Garrick in Hamlet, I, 4  Is he as surprised the Bard inspired moving and shaking found in film?(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare would no doubt be uber-wealthy from selling screen rights had he lived so long to see all his plays adapted to the screen.  In fact, I wonder how many students realize that all those adaptations have a primary source in the form of stage?  Shakespeare was indeed a playwright and not a screenwriter, yet it is difficult to realize that fact with so many adaptations running around in the cinemas. It’s fairly safe to say that a Shakespeare-driven plot comes out at least once during the year.

With that all out of the way, you can imagine my delight when I came across a website devoted to all the film versions of Shakespeare. It groups them by play and 176 pages you get the idea how much influence old Billy the Bard on Hollywood.  The Hamlet section only is nearly 20 pages!

Oh yeah–this is another Library of Congress find. Have I gushed enough about how the Library of Congress so absolutely rocks?

This treasury of Shakespeare is not just films.  It includes the serious to the silly. Having just finished our AP rundown of Hamlet and Co, I found some select entries for our favorite Prince of Denmark:

HAMLET (Icon Productions/Warner Bros., 1990). Dir Franco Zeffirelli. Wrt Christopher De Vore,
Zeffirelli. With Mel Gibson (Hamlet), Glenn Close (Gertrude), Alan Bates (Claudius), Paul Scofield (The Ghost), Ian Holm (Polonius), Helena Bonham-Carter (Ophelia).
1 videodisc of 1 (laser), ca. 135 min, sd, color, 12 in. LC Purchase Collection. DAA 3087.

HAMLET–CLAUDIUS (ACTOR, A Center for Theatre, Education, and Research, University of California, Santa Barbara/Barr Films, 1991). Series: Shakespeare Explorations with Patrick Stewart. Artistic Director: Patrick Stewart. Technical Director/Editor: Ray Tracy.
1 videocassette of 1 (VHS), 25 min, sd, color, 1/2 in. Copyright Collection. VAD 3701.
Produced for educational use (college level). Patrick Stewart discusses and acts selected parts of the play portraying the character of King Claudius. (VHS)

TALES FROM THE CRYPT. TOP BILLING (Tales From the Crypt Holdings/HBO, 6/26/1991). Dir Todd Holland. Wrt Myles Berkowitz. With Jon Lovitz, Bruce Boxleitner, John Astin, Louise Fletcher, Kimmy Robertson.
1 videocassette of 1, 28 min, sd, color, 3/4 in. Copyright Collection. VBI 9816.
Episode from the 3rd season of the horror anthology series based on the comic books published by
William Gaines in the 1950’s. A failed actor (Lovitz), who cannot get work because he doesn’t have “the look,” answers a casting call for Hamlet only to find himself chosen for the part of Yorick’s skull in a staging of the play by inmates of an insane asylum. (DVD – on Tales from the Crypt–The Complete Third Season)

GREEN EGGS AND HAMLET (Rock’s Eye Productions, 1995). Dir Mike O’Neal. Wrt O’Neal, Chris
Springfield. With Allen Corcorran (Hamlet), Ronald H. Cohen (The King), Richard “Humus” Doherty (The Queen), Josh “Coppertone” Powlesson (Laertes), Robert A. Knop, Jr. (Polonius), Siobhán F. Jess (Ophelia), David Seal (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern), Richard James Mason Horatio).
1 videocassette of 1 (VHS), ca. 77 min, sd, color, 1/2 in. Copyright Collection. VAE 6461.

Got a hankering for a Titus or a Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Check it out Shakespeare on Film

English: banner Shakespeare

Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading Between the Lines


I had no idea how wrong I was really reading until I read Thomas Foster’s book.  Okay, not so much as wrong, but unenlightened.  The catchy title hook of “a lively and entertaining guide to reading between the lines” is truly that.

Professor of English at the University of Michigan, Foster showcases his deep and wide literary knowledge through his delightful instructive on how to really read literature.  His style is as if you are sitting in on lecture due to its friendly, conversant tone. And yes–it is quite entertaining. If there were more literature professors like Foster we might have an overrun of English teachers in the population, then again, maybe the population would become more knowledgable about literature after taking his class.  However, if traveling to Michigan  is inconvenient, I suggest picking up this book.

Reading like a professor simply means gaining an understanding of  all those hidden nuances of that suddenly pop out in 3D once you know they are there.  Kind of like finding the Waldos in the picture once you know what he looks like.

Here is a smattering of chapters:

  • Every Trip Is a Quest (Except When It’s Not)
  • Nice To Eat With You: Acts of Communion
  • If It’s Square, It’s a Sonnet
  • When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare…
  • ….Or from the Bible
  • It’s Greek to Me

Foster provides the literary basics (themes and motifs; models; and narrative devices)and utilizes a tremendous variety of examples of genres ranging from Homer to Shakespeare to Toni Morrison (Foster has an absolute thing for Beloved). Succinctly stated, Foster literally reduces the intimidation of reading literature.

You can even test your newly acquired knowledge on the included short story “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield.

For those of you who prefer novels to literature you can check out his companion book:

This is one of those books I wished had been available when I was struggling with Melville and the like in college.  Future AP students be forewarned: expect Foster’s book on the summer reading list. A much better choice than Moby Dick (which you will be able to read once having read Foster).

Romeo, Oh Romeo…

Today will the last day of the Romeo and Juliet unit for my freshmen.  We will end it appropriately with an Insult-o-Rama, which is basically a member from each designated family, Montague vs Capulet, stepping up to the line in our market square and squaring off with insults ala Bard.  You know the ones:

“Thou art an apish, lily-livered bed presser.” If that one doesn’t sting enough:

“Thou be an insolent foot-licking parasite.”  These go beyond thumb-biting, and it is all in good fun.  I keep my door shut just in case, as it does get a bit loud.

My focus when studying Romeo and Juliet is not so much as an introduction and exploration of Shakespeare’s famous play, it is more of an exploration and introduction to Shakespeare himself.  Surprisingly, my freshmen come to class with about a teaspoonful of knowledge about him.  Then again, I didn’t have any exposure to Shakespeare until I began teaching him.  I had heard of him, of course, but I didn’t really believe he had much physical substance.  I placed him a little bit above the Loch Ness monster in that there might be evidence of his existence, but not totally proven. After about ten years into teaching Shakespeare I believe a bit more and in fact have become a proponent of making sure my students appreciate his genius.  Please, no theories on Bacon and company and “Will the real Will please stand up, please” comments.  I think his plays, sonnets, and poems rock.

And so our curriculum starts with Romeo and his Juliet.  I guess two teenagers who are heck-bent on breaking rules by disobeying parents, state law and such still resonates with the teens today.  It makes sense, since if we started off with Macbeth they might go into spasms of cerebral overload.  We start them off gently.  Good call, curriculum powers that be.

Overall, we read a little, act it out a little, and watch different versions.  By the end of the unit most of them can understand Shakespearean language without consulting their No Fear Shakespeare interpretations.  Some students go into unattractive fits of eye-rolling and twitching at the  thought that they will study Shakespeare in their sophomore and senior year.  I don’t know why we skip him their junior year. American Lit studies have no room for him I guess.

There are many faces of Romeo, and both the girls and guys relate to his brash impetuosity.  Who wouldn’t want to be that in love?  Oh, Romeo, thou art timeless.

I leave off with some of the many faces of Romeo with his Juliet:


image: wikipedia


Romeo Juliet

Romeo Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still of Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in West Side Story


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