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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Who Introduced You To Shakespeare?

Lately, I've been involved in a number of discussions having to do with Education and Shakespeare over at shakespearegeek's blog. Duane has brought up some interesting points and posed what I think are some important questions relating to how we teach Shakespeare and the effects those methods might have on our perception of his work.


In my experience, I've seen that it's very easy to turn someone off to his work. That was, in fact, my own feeling toward Shakespeare at my initial exposure to his plays. But this type of thing doesn't just happen in school, where many times the academics are stressed over the actual performance of the plays. It can also happen from seeing a "not so good" production--or two or three.

As a resident Shakespeare specialist, director, and acting instructor, I've taught Shakespeare over a broad spectrum, from elementary students all the way to professionals, and everyone in between. As a teacher, the first question I'm interested in asking any prospective student (or anyone in general) has to do with exactly what has happened so far in their exposure to Shakespeare. Only then can I make an assessment and develop a focus on how I might formulate my own teaching and/or directing approach with any particular individual or group. I have certain foundational elements in what and how I teach, but I generally devise components to specifically target aspects related to experience.

For instance, I'm scheduled to soon begin teaching acting techniques for an established Shakespeare production company. Although some of the very same basic elements and components I use to teach every level of student will be included, this will, of course, be a somewhat different approach than one I'd use for elementary students. BUT, in the beginning, I'll be asking these more experienced students some of the very same questions.

In developing teaching techniques any and all information is important, so this isn't just a point of interest, it's actually a serious research question as well. So, you'd actually be helping me a great deal with any input and it would be much appreciated.

The questions are:
*How much exposure to Shakespeare in any form have you had? (school, theatre, movies, tv).
*How and when did it start?
*Who was responsible for your first exposure to Shakespeare?
*If you've seen performances early on in your Shakespeare experience, when and where did you see them, who was performing, what was it like, what did it make you feel and/or think?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tempest in a Teapot?

Given all of the advanced hype over the upcoming release of the Julie Taymor film version of The Tempest, I decided to do a little digging. I wanted to see if I might come up with some opinion other than the latest salivating conjecture about how good it 'looks to be' from simply viewing a trailer; or projecting how fantastically 'important' it might be because I'm told "something wicked this way comes" by the pricking of the thumbs of studio execs all too eager to sell the next 'latest, greatest, idea thing'; or what they might claim a decent (never mind definitive or great) job of 'interpreting Shakespeare' might actually look and sound like.

It turns out that the film was screened at the Venice Film Festival last month. Here's some advance opinion from some who've actually been privy to more than Hollywood 'massaging'. For your considered perusal, what we might expect in December as a possible climax to all the titillating, pre-release foreplay.

Robert Beames, of the Telegraph UK is receptive but critical, giving Helen Mirren (love her) great credit for making the film a more positive than negative outing, as he sees it:

"...American director Julie Taymor releases what she must hope is a film that does justice to the play, whilst still working as a piece of cinema. It's a feat quite rarely achieved. Luckily, she is helped in no small part by the presence of Helen Mirren - who is here at the peak of her powers."

This is no surprise to me, either on the part of Mirren or on the part of solid acting, in its ability to mask possible deficiencies in other departments of interpretation in a venture as large and brassy as this one. Contrary to popular view, not all reviewers are misogynistic cave-dwellers, pounding away at some antiquated typewriter exuding acid for words. And speaking of popularity when it's warranted, personally, I think it was the outstanding performances of some of the actors in Taymor's Titus that made her overindulgent art director's dream of a mish-mosh work at all. But once again, that's just my opinion.

Another opinion on overindulgent rendering which too often masks Shakespeare's point:

Variety's Leslie Felperin:

As if it were not disappointing enough to produce an intellectually undernourished version of Shakespeare's late romance, helmer Julie Taymor has gone one better by crafting a "Tempest" so kitschy, yet curiously drab and banal, even supporters may hope she'll break her staff and drown her book. Despite a tony cast led by Helen Mirren in the gender-bent lead role, pic makes even earlier middlebrow Shakespeare adaptations look masterful. Skedded to bow in December, the Touchstone release could find a niche among older auds and those who can't be bothered to read the play.
http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117943513.html?categoryid=31&cs=1&query=review+ Taymor+Tempest#ixzz12M5IxLtu

So, can we expect the definitive Tempest of our day? ...Or what? Hard to say...yet.

When it comes to Shakespeare's genius--as opposed to the very busy, busy 'genius' of those also in the process of making a name for themselves--I'll take Groucho Marx's tongue-in-cheek advice to heart every time: "Are you gonna believe me, or your lying eyes?" :) Ask me in December. JM

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: Will Power by A. J. Hartley

Will Power-Tor/Forge Publishing (Click the title of this review for more info)

Will Power, second in a series of fast-paced fantasy novels by A J
Hartley, makes its debut on the bookstore shelves today. I write "series" in the
hopeful assumption that Hartley has plans for continuing the saga of one Will
Hawthorne--actor, poet, playwright, con man, and now full-time reluctant adventurer. Hawthorne's somewhat checkered rise to stardom as a young Elizabethan-style actor of plays and self-proclaimed pithy purveyor of pentameter poesy, was rudely interrupted in the first installment, Act of Will, leading to new employment as front man for a band of, in Will's modest opinion, much too heroic adventurers.

Stylistically, Professor Hartley has created a somewhat eclectically archaic world
for us to adventure through in accompaniment to his heroes. An entertaining mix of places and individuals with the flavor of the Elizabethan, the Gothic, and the sometimes hard to categorize populates the narrative, written in the first person from Will Hawthorne's perspective. But our inability to 'peg' this time and these places, while at the same time being more than faintly all too familiar with them is the result of a clever device on Hartley's part. And it's the use of that very device that makes it an unusually fresh approach in my opinion. Hartley is able to remain true to his atmosphere with rich and vivid descriptions of the surroundings, situations, battles, creatures, and ancient weaponry, yet allows the reader to settle into an easy, comfortable, narrative realm, through the modern linguistic expressiveness and colloquialisms of his lead character, Will--and far from clashing, the style winds up complementing itself over and over.

Following the events through the eyes of Will Hawthorne, Will Power transports us to ancient lands of Goblins who use bears as horses, wolves that seem to understand what you're thinking, and a gleaming White City where King and court seem all too concerned with outward appearances. Therein lies a theme commented on by Hartley. But the commentary isn't heavy handed. It's intertwined so well within the story line that the denouement, held close enough to the vest to more than support the lessons we might learn, still comes as a shock to the senses, surrounded by the events Hartley so deftly and vividly describes for us. In reality, though we might sometimes wish to ignore their existence, we Know these strange characters for who and what they are--and the realization can come to us as a little unsettling, even though we must nod in assignation as we read. This is one of the qualities I have come to admire about Hartley as a writer; he instructs as well as entertains.

Hartley has also seen fit to aptly furnish his saga with a back story. In the author's words:

Like the first volume, Act of Will, it [Will Power] has been translated from
the original Thrusian--as preserved in the now famous Fossington House
Papers--with the aid of notes left by the Elizabethan translator Sir Thomas
Henby. As readers of the first manuscript will quickly see, the second volume is
different in key respects from the first, and raises still more vexing questions
of provenance, locale, and issues of how much of the narrative--if any--is
derived from fact.

He then goes on to promise the results of further investigation in a series of
academic papers to be published in issues of Philological Quarterly
--HA!--Though he doubts that a general reader would be very much interested.
-- What a hoot.
This is the type of well-rounded attention to detail I came to expect from Hartley, becoming familiar with his work after having fortunately stumbled upon his mystery novel, What Time Devours. See my review. And it's what makes Will Power read with the veracity of a mysterious and exciting in-but-out-of-this-world historical chronicle, rather than pure fantasy.

Although I must admit, upon finishing Will Power, I immediately began a quest
to find book #1 --Act of Will , Will Power certainly holds up to
its billing as a 'stand-alone' fantasy novel. But trust me, if you're a fantasy
fan, you too will be looking for more from Professor Hartley, past or future. This book, as well as all of his others, no matter the genre, is recommended reading. JM

From Tor/Forge Publishing: British-born writer A. J. Hartley is the Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare in the Dept. of Theatre and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As well as being a novelist and academic, he is a screenwriter, theatre director, and dramaturge. He is married with a son, and lives in Charlotte.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Film Review: Hamlet; Branagh; Blu-ray--A Stunning New Release

Blu-ray release date: August 17, 2010 (Click the title of this review for the Official Warner Bros. Website and more info on this great release)

When I was contacted by Warner Bros. about the possibility of doing a review of Kenneth Branagh's filmed version of a full length Hamlet, I was, at first, confused. Hadn't all of this happened long ago--way back when I didn't have a blog? Fortunately, Warner Bros. has decided to re-release Branagh's 70 mm treatment in the Blu-ray format and I get a chance to review a production of my favorite of all of Shakespeare's plays. And if ever a project deserved to be seen in all its 'pixel-ized' glory, this is it.

Prior to Branagh's ambitious, and, to say the least, courageous decision to do an unedited version of Shakespeare's play, The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, the last film to be shot in Britain in the epic 70 mm Super Panavision format was David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (Among other films to have received this grand filming treatment --and they have been few--is Lawrence of Arabia). Ryan's Daughter was made 25 years before 1996--along about the time Branagh's major ambition might have had him a wee bit apprehensive about another epic moment in life, that of starting his next year of grammar school. Of course, we know what's happened since. When he was 15, Branagh saw (now Sir) Derek Jacobi (Claudius in this production) play Hamlet in a stage version...the rest is Shakespearean history. Branagh has, in my opinion, emerged as one of the premier proponents of the Bard's works on film; and viewing this film again reminded me of the role he has assumed as a most positive ambassador of the work of William Shakespeare in general. The studio has this to say of this major undertaking:

"Hamlet has the kind of power, energy and excitement that movies can truly exploit", award-winning actor/director Kenneth Brannagh says. In this first-ever full-text film of William Shakespeare's greatest work, the power surges through every scene. The timeless tale of murder, corruption and revenge is reset in an opulent 19th-century world, using sprawling Blenheim Palace as Elsinore and staging much of the action in shimmering mirrored and gold-filled interiors. The energy is electrifying, due to a luminous cast. The excitement of the Bard's words and an adventurous filmmaking style lift the story from its often shadowy ambience to fully-lit pageantry and rage."

I have a little bit more to say from a literary/performance standpoint regarding this dazzling and intelligent interpretation.

I don't often come away pleased with filmed 'adaptations' of any of the works of Shakespeare. Fundamentally, I believe they were written for the stage--for live performance. It's how I cut my teeth on them, it's how I've interpreted, acted, taught and directed them, and it's how I've come to appreciate them the most. But Kenneth Branagh's emergence as a filmmaker, even at a relatively young age, has come after being steeped in textual analysis and how to translate that information to the stage. Somehow, through his experience and great appreciation for the textual nuances and true genius of the verse, he's found a way to more than do justice to Shakespeare through the medium of film. And this last undertaking of Hamlet is apparently the result of a meld of all of the knowledge he's garnered from the great wealth of his experience and success in both stage and screen genres. In his own words he wanted to "...throw everything into the mix to try and match the genius of this man's writing." Well Ken, say I, you've done just that.

From the very first opening line, Bernardo's "Who's there?", the pacing of the dialogue, and the vocal and articulated temporal dynamics of his actors are all right on target. "Trippingly on the tongue..." comes to mind; a line to come later, delivered by Hamlet himself as instruction to the actors who visit Elsinore. (Shakespearean instruction Branagh practices, in evidence in his own performance--as well as preaches to his real-life actors, no doubt.) But, "...use all gently. For in the very torrent, tempest, and as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness." More instruction from the Bard and Hamlet put to good use by Branagh.

There is a maxim (among some others) in acting Shakespearean verse; to whit: When performing Shakespeare, an actor must earn his pauses. Branagh certainly gives credence to it. All of the expected moments are there, in all of the right places, along with some unexpected new ones. And Branagh misses not Shakespeare's humor, interspersed like little strokes of genius relief, many times left unexplored in this great tragedy.

Filtering into his role as a filmmaker as well, he's managed to bring many of the qualities of stage dynamics to a filmed work, yet is aware of the greater lengths to which he can go and the brilliant nuances he can affect with a camera as the audience. He knows the value of "acting large" even in the close-ups, when to cut to whom, where the focus should be; when intimacy is at its most effective; and much of this, he will admit, is due to what has come from his understanding of Shakespeare textually. (Included in this blu-ray edition--among some other very nice video perks--is a full version voice-over commentary by Branagh and Russell Jackson, editor of The Cambridge Guide to Shakespeare on Film, Professor of Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham, and Branagh's textual advisor since his filmed version of Henry V.)

All of this attention to detail has led to a clearness and accessibility to the language, (the opacity has been removed and the lucidity brought to it in its conversational aspect is remarkable) fully rounded characters, (otherwise many times misunderstood or incomplete because of editing choices), and an interpretation and honestly delivered focal coherence of a play by Shakespeare as a whole that is rarely achieved in this medium.

But the value of this blu-ray edition doesn't stop there. The cinematography in this version is stunning. The sheer breadth of Blenheim Palace, the richness and color of its interiors, and the epic scope Branagh manages to achieve while filming this great work in its entirety, all combine to make for a very unique experience. It's as beautiful to look at, as it is wonderful to listen to. An epically treated, gorgeously filmed, faithfully executed, high definition version of a textually complete play with a stellar cast in...4 hours! (An edited staged version can take that long or longer). I could go on and on about why everyone should own a copy of this edition. But I'll end it here with a question for Warner Bros. : Which Blu-ray version of what Shakespeare play is next for Kenneth Branagh? JM

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What's On YOUR Mind "Shakespeare"? THAT is the Question.

This is the place to start a topic for discussion or leave a "lengthier comment" on whatever voting topic is current here on the blog if you like, etc. Is there a question you might have about anything you see here at Shakespeare Place? This is the thread to ask it. Maybe you don't have a blog--or would like to discuss something more you saw someplace but the comment line petered out? Something "Shakespeare" bugging you? --What is it?

I'm not exactly what one might call a super blogger. Nope. Not even close. That is, when it comes to making it my job to actively and assiduously seek out current interesting (or sometimes uninteresting) bits of information here or there as topics people might want to comment on. But I do have a penchant for discussion. In fact, I write more on other blogs than I do on my own. That's just the way it happens to work out at present. Maybe that will change when I have more time. In the meantime, if there's anything at all you'd like to have the power to make a subject of discussion, feel free to give any topic (and me) a jump start on whatever might, in your opinion, merit some talk.
This is Your Space at Shakespeare Place--you're invited...Welcome. JM

Sunday, May 9, 2010

When Burbage Played

Read a very interesting post today over at shakespearegeek blog, put up by a poster named "Ed". It reminded me of something I came across in my reading recently. It's a poem by Austin Dobson on Shakespeare's leading actor and a shareholder in the company, Richard Burbage. Burbage was the first to play some recognizable names in Shakespeare's list of characters: Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, Lear, and according to some scholarship, in all probability Romeo, Bassanio, Brutus, Macbeth, Antony and Coriolanus, among others. Quite a list. Not anything close to the "matinee idol"-- what we know of as a "leading actor" today, Burbage was ill-equipped physically for most of the roles he played. So Shakespeare would "cast against type" continually. But unlike today's actors, Burbage assumed the character, less interested in bringing more of himself to the role than the role to himself. Anyone who could successfully play the great range of characters in the list above didn't do it with smoke and mirrors, or makeup and special effects. Anyway, after you read Dobson's poem, read Ed's post http://blog.shakespearegeek.com/2010/05/quote-something.html
I think you'll see why it inspired the thoughts in me that it did. JM

When Burbage Played

When Burbage played, the stage was bare
Of fount and temple, tower and stair,
Two broadswords eked a battle out;
Two supers made a rabble rout;
The throne of Denmark was a chair!

And yet, no less the audience there
Thrilled through all changes of Despair,
Hope, Anger, Fear, Delight and Doubt,
When Burbage played.

This is the Actor's gift; to share
All moods, all passions, nor to care
One whit for scene, so he without
Can lead men's minds the roundabout.
Stirred as of old these hearers were
When Burbage played.
Austin Dobson

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Who's the Final Arbiter on "To double cast, or not..." ?

Quite the hubbub over the casting of the already oh too familiar closeup face of Jean Luc Picard, Starship Captain (Sir Patrick Stewart) in the roles of Claudius AND his brother, the Ghost of King Hamlet. (To read more about the hubbub go to the ShakespeareGeek blog http://blog.shakespearegeek.com/2010/04/double-casting.html )

Hamlet's father returned, as a flesh and blood "ghost" this time, in the recently aired Filmed No Less version of David Tennant's Hamlet. The "Ghost" in this version effectively asks Hamlet to seek revenge on what is now HIS DOUBLE. I didn't know they were twins. Well, you learn something new about Shakespeare from the concept geniuses everyday. But since I tend to be a "word man", someone who tends to care a lot more about what's actually in the text--you know, that "stuff" Shakespeare dreamed up; much like, I guess, concept geniuses dream up "stuff" they care more about--I thought I'd let Shakespeare make the decision for me as to how I feel about the notion of the "twin brothers" he didn't write.

Hamlet to his mom on this issue: 3.4.54-68

Looke heere vpon this Picture, and on this,
The counterfet presentment of two Brothers:

See what a grace was seated on his Brow,
Hyperions curles, the front of Ioue himselfe,
An eye like Mars, to threaten or command
A Station, like the Herald Mercurie
New lighted on a heauen-kissing hill:
A Combination, and a forme indeed,
Where euery God did seeme to set his Seale,
To giue the world assurance of a man.
This was your Husband. Looke you now what followes.
Heere is your Husband, like a Mildew'd eare
Blasting his wholsom breath.[brother-Q2] Haue you eyes?
Could you on this faire Mountaine leaue to feed,
And batten on this Moore? Ha? Haue you eyes?

-- bold emphasis mine--sorry Will, but I thought it might be illustrative--like some of the caps; none of which are mine.

A couple of things I learned first at the academy about textual analysis were 1) the fact that Shakespeare LOVES to employ antithesis (in this case his subject "appears" to be "appearance") and 2) he never repeats himself without a very good reason, looke you. :) JM

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Book Review: What Time Devours by AJ Hartley

What Time Devours
Publisher: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2009

I'm not a big fan of Mystery Novels. I think the last batch of whodunnits
I wound my way through included works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and
Edgar Allen Poe. And that was a long, long time ago.

But when someone who is in the middle of one of these plentiful puzzlers;
someone I know to be a big fan of the genre; who devours them like they
would so much "penny candy"; (there's a mystery for you, the disappearance of
penny candy) when this mystery fanatic starts to repeatedly ask me for help with analyzing Sonnets 65,64, 123, 15 & 116...well, don't you know, they had my Shakespeare antenna up at the first mention of “sonnet” ? What gives here?

Having never written about a mystery novel, I realized (duh) that I'd have to
exercise, at least, what would be mere elementary care to some other reviewer more
accustomed to such things, in how I would go about this without giving it all

But then I realized that the very reasons I "devoured" this book (other than
its being habit forming) were because it was 1) about something having to do
with the Bard, and 2) because Hartley has a lot to say in the way of critique
when it comes to analyzing some of the more seedy and cutthroat aspects of his
own profession. And there's enough content in his book on Shakespearean scholarship, the calculating marketing techniques of the publishing industry, and some of his "invented" colleagues and their hell-bent need to climb to the top of the academic ladder, to allow for the focus of a review to be concerned with mainly that.

Why? Because A J Hartley is a bona fide Shakespearean scholar first.

Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare in the theatre dept. of UNC, the author
of "The Shakespearean Dramaturg", and editor of "Shakespeare Bulletin"
(available online btw) mystery writing is something of a departure for Hartley,
but in my opinion, he acquits himself equally as well as a mystery writer
as he apparently has done as a professor of Shakespearean Literature.

The adventures of one Thomas Knight, high school English teacher, "What Time
takes us on a wild ride of murders and attempted murders. Castle
skulking, moldy wine cellars, stuffy Shakespeare conferences, Stratford on Avon,
haughty academicians, people who speak exclusively in Shakespeare quotations,
and lunatic throwbacks to Dickens' Miss Havisham, all figure into the scheme.
But here's the kicker for fans of the Bard: The item many of the well-painted
characters in Thomas Knight's world will do most anything to get their hands on?
The "lost" copy of the supposed sequel to Loves Labors Lost, entitled "Loves Labors Won".
And that's where I'll end the "synopsis proper".

More to the point of this review, Hartley is not bashful in sending up those of
his profession on all accounts.

On the purpose of literary scholarship in general:
While attending a conference on Shakespeare, our hero, Thomas, finds himself the
brunt of some wily condescension, devilishly delivered by an attractive social
climbing professor in the dog-eat-dog world of today's academic scene:

--"But I want to learn about the play, about what it means--or might mean--what
makes it profound literature,
[says Thomas] not about how it's a matrix for
social energies and discourses..." "Oh!" she shouted, with the kind of delight
someone might muster on spotting a chipmunk. "You're a humanist!"

--[...] "I'm a high school teacher who has to convince kids why these four
hundred-year-old plays are worth reading when they can be playing video
[...] "Well, I think it's sweet," she said. "unfashionable and
politically a bit suspect, but kind of sweet."


"I love words", said Thomas, jutting his chin out.
[...] [on his students] "They live in a visual culture,
but without words...Language is about who we are, how we reason, even
how we feel. Words make experience."

--[...]"I just don't think the purpose of literature", said Thomas, pushing
through her amusement, "is to explore social hierarchy."

Commenting on the reading of a paper at the conference, (Thomas--and Hartley--
had me long before this) Hartley sums up, very nicely, his justifiable rant
against the gobbledygook academia can too often make of Shakespeare: " I'd just
like to hear something about the play,
Thomas huffed. "I thought
that was why we're here."

Hartley also pooh-poohs the Oxford authorship question with a deft analogy
centering on the television show "The West Wing", but I won't give that one
away here.

Speaking through Thomas, Hartley registers more than a palpable hit with
this evaluation of some of his modern day colleagues:

"Fifty years ago, Shakespeareans might have been card-carrying establishment
types, but not any more. Most academics think they're countercultural
progressives socially, politically. Shakespeareans have little invested in the
man from Stratford. Some of them don't even like his works that much. More
would embrace any hard evidence challenging his identity as the playwright
without batting an eyelid. It hasn't happened because there's no real evidence
that William Shakespeare of Stratford didn't write the plays credited to him in
his lifetime. I don't think the kind of evidence we'd get in a new play would
change that at all."

And on the purported real worth of the "evaluation" and "analyzation" of the
works of Shakespeare, Hartley targets what I believe to be a tragic
reality of the academic profession vis a vis its ties to the multi-million dollar world
of marketing and publication, and what such a discovery might mean:

"...every word, each word enough to generate an article, each sentence a book,
each page a career."

I could go on with many more relevant comments and conversation recorded in
the novel. But after all, it is a mystery--and a good one. I wouldn't want anyone to
think that literary commentary is its sole purpose. It's fun, entertaining,
chilling, and surprising, as any mystery should be. And mystery fanatics will
get more than their share of what they came for: An easy read with lots of question marks.

The plus? Also expertly interwoven into that mystery, readers will get what I
think is a true picture of what a lot of all this Shakespeare hubbub is about.
And for that aspect, I can only commend, in the highest way possible,
A J Hartley's ability to blend philosophy, social commentary, and a damned good
mystery story into one artful rendering.

I think I'm interested in mysteries again. JM

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: David Tennant's "Hamlet" on PBS

David Tennant is a very, very fine actor. Of that there can be no doubt.
In fact, watching him work his way through the many "slings and arrows" thrown
at any actor attempting the role of Hamlet lends even more credence to the above
claim re: Tennant's abilities. So why am I disappointed after watching the much
heralded PBS airing?

Tennant plays the "peevish manic" not well. Not that he's incapable. He
disproved that incessantly from the time he opened his mouth. Something about
his features; too angular. And practically speaking, he grimaced his way from
start to finish. At times, I thought I might be watching The Riddler (Frank
Gorshin) from the old Batman series. The only thing Tennant was missing
was Gorshin's costume with the question marks all over it. And it was difficult
to separate Tennant's manic "crazy person" from the character of Hamlet. Something way too gimmicky was going on; way too cutesy and way too "easy" in the antic disposition dept. for me. An actor with Tennant's abilities need not go the route habitually taken by him.

It undercut Hamlet's intelligence and distracted from what he was saying of
import. Energy is one thing--lunatic energy something else. Tennant had the
latter in spades, making a johnny one note performance out of the whole shebang.
But what really bothered me is that it made Hamlet totally unlikeable; sadly,
and worse, his overdone mania made me not care a hoot about Hamlet or his predicament. I kept feeling as though I needed a flyswatter as a remedy for this Gadfly on Uppers. In fact, I cared about Claudius' travails the more for Tennant's interpretation. Something very wrong here. I hate Claudius.

Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius gave the solid performance expected of him. His
ability with the conversational aspect of Shakespeare's lines has grown to
perfection. Probably the result of cross-pollination--tv, film, and stage--as
this production skirted the boundaries of all three in design. What can one say?
He was great--until he turned into the embodiment of Alfred E.
Neuman in his 'decision' to drink the poison. A "choice" apparently thought
quite brilliant--again suffering from an apparent penchant for easy, cute,
cleverness. An action most probably explained in the program notes--but I had
none at the time. It ruined the entire moment for me--or, what was left of it.

Gertrude (Penny Downie) also proved very adept at making Shakespeare's
lines soar on the wings of understandability. Her gradual decline from hostess with the mostest to a figure withered by the tragedy all around her was an artful thing to watch, particularly since it wasn't achieved totally with the sole help of the makeup

Can someone tell me with what disease was Polonius suffering? The part, played
by (Oliver Ford Davies ) a brilliant actor in his own right, was yet
another victim of modern "cutesy". Was he in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's?
Or was he just a buffoon at these times? I have to say he handled it brilliantly,
and almost made me forget his clownishness during the rest of his portrayal of a
calculating Machiavellian. I especially liked the idea of the inclusion of the
Reynaldo scene (usually cut). But even there, his "forgetfulness" was excused
rather than explained. Polonius is a man always thinking of something else,
some other "designs", and always has too much to say to "explain" himself. He's
not, I don't think, pitiable because he's being ravaged by some "affliction"
(other than his own machinations.)

Ophelia, played by (Mariah Gale)--well, I couldn't take my eyes off of her.
No customary glamor queen (although pleasant looking enough to be desirable on
anyone's part) she was riveting. She brought a true vulnerability to the role
for me that few others have. Her plaintiff cries over the loss of her
Hamlet's " ...noble mind o'erthrown." were heart wrenching.
This was no mere statue of a child, suffering a tragedy she didn't understand
because of gross naiveté. Hers was an Ophelia quite knowledgeable of the ways
of the world, as she was able to explain and support even further in her deft
crafting of the "mad scene". Her awareness of just what it was that was happening
to her made me feel for her all the more. This is someone to watch for, all things
being equal, which they're not. Let's hope the lack of "model status" doesn't keep
this actor from the recognition I think she truly deserves.

The rest; Horatio (Peter De Jersey), Laertes (Edward Bennet), Rosencrantz
(Sam Alexander) Guildenstern (Tom Davey) were all capable enough in their roles,
as one would expect from RSC actors. But I think they suffered conceptually from
having to play against Tennant's maniacal court jester throughout.

Speaking of concept, all around I thought it was quite good in establishing the
modern setting for Shakespeare. And the clearness of the language was admirable. But ultimately, I think the gross deviations, as I see them, can also be laid at the foot of the concept person and Director, Gregory Doran. Failing to rein in Tennant (possibly even encouraging him, in view of some of the other ridiculous "crazy" choices seemingly made for both Hamlet and the other actors) gave us a Hamlet with an energetic mania too serious to be overcome by even the power of the greatest concept artist of all, one William Shakespeare. JM

Monday, April 26, 2010

About theShakespeareProject

Mission Statement

Through a multi-faceted, cooperative, and highly adaptable interface with established arts, business, educational, and theatrical entities, theShakespeareProject aims at the increased and localized visibility and availability of not only Shakespearean works, but also of Classic Literature in general. These treasures are always at our fingertips, yet rarely touched. Grasped once again, in innovative and sometimes unconventional ways, they can have an enormous impact on the uninitiated and the uninterested. The catalytic role these venerated, yet isolated artifacts might play in the increased awareness, communication, participation, and a sense of inclusion among the members in a community has, for the most part, been left to the occasional visit to the library, a courageous book club, or the many times grudgingly-accepted academic mandate of the classroom.

On the other hand, the theatrical form is, by its very nature, communal—interactive and participatory, instructional and educational, as well as fun and entertaining. Utilizing presentational, instructional, participatory, and interactive performance vehicles as complimentary tools--adaptable and symbiotically functional within the architecture of any educational or instructional venue-- members of theShakespeareProject believe that a more than infrequent dusting-off of the museum pieces will reveal how much we actually have in common with them—and with each other. theShakespeareProject is dedicated to the idea that a fresh approach to these literary/dramatic gems, employing them as living examples of excellence, might lead to a regeneration of heightened interest--in the theatre, the classroom, the boardroom—even the family room—and result in a natural and progressive repossession by the community at the grass roots level. A renewal of the interest in our rightful ownership could be the beginning of a new renaissance in thinking, made possible via an enhanced ability to communicate with one another, and spurred-on by an enriched awareness of the true value of our sense of commonality. JM

theShakespeareProject LLC
Joseph Mooney/Mahler
Producing Artistic Director
Contact us at: email:theshaksperproject@gmail.com

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Would You Write on a Card to The Bard?

Friday April 23, 2010

Apart from singing "Happy Birthday to Thee", of course, (I think we might not want to get into the second verse: "How old art thee now?") what sort of thing would you like to say to The Bard if you could write a short something to him on his birthday card?

Me: "Thanks ever so much for the myriad of good and diverse things you've inspired in all of us, Will. Now...I know 'tis better to receive than 'tis to give on one's birthday, but...would you write some more, an it please you Sir?"

Friday, April 16, 2010

WWW (Willy's Worldwide Web): Friend or Foe?

Recent, high profile, focus on the "authorship" issue lately has gotten
me thinking. With the new film "Anonymous" in the works (a film claiming our Will was incapable of signing his own name, let alone able to write ANY of the works attributed to him) how much of what James Shapiro says in his LA Times article
about the sea change in attitude toward the "unimaginable" has to do with

"A quarter-century ago all this was unimaginable."
..."What then accounts for the reversal?
emphasis]what has is our comfort level with conspiracy theory as well as our
eagerness to seek authors' lives in their works."

I think we can add to that the fact that anyone can "publish" nowadays--even me--who, a few years ago, would never have imagined myself sitting here in front of a computer penning this particular opine.

Granted, the web is of great benefit as an information tool. But how much does
Willy's Worldwide Web-benefit, and how much does it serve to MIS-inform?

"Opinion" can become "Truth" when the fervor to make it so is furnished so many
opportunities. This is particularly the case on the Web, where sound bites
become word bytes. And everyone knows how much truth can reside (or not) in a
sound bite.

I'm pretty sure of what I think about it. I think George Orwell was a
prophet. So great care should be taken with what we "publish"; the words we use, what we intend them to mean, and most importantly, the result we intend from the utility they afford us.

However ironically, sometimes free speech can be a deterrent to free thought, with or without the intention to use it that way.

What do you think? Is the WWW a friend or foe of Shakespeare?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Breaking News: Shakespeare Leading Cause of High School Dropouts:Keanu Reeves To Head Australian English Dept.

"Ridiculous", you say? Well, maybe my sarcasm is slightly overextended.

However, according to The Australian and The Daily Telegraph:


"Shakespeare too hard for HSC English"
* From: The Daily Telegraph

* February 28, 2010 10:55PM

* English Studies course on trial in 75 schools
* Syllabus focuses on movies and TV shows
* Intended for pupils who don't plan to go to uni

Well of course, just what the attention span challenged are in need of; nothing like more TV--and Movies like The Matrix to:

"...support students in developing proficiency in English (my emphasis) to enhance their personal, social
and vocational lives".

Their sidebar (complete with a lovely Droeshout engraving of Will from the First Folio) reads:

"Students who do not plan to go to university will study The Matirix rather than MacBeth because Shakespeare is deemed too hard and too irrelevant" Source: The Daily Telegraph

"The new syllabus is aimed at lower-achieving students who would have been at risk of dropping out of school at 15 or 16 under the old leaving age law."

So! the reason there are so many dropouts has something to do with Shakespeare?
My first thought, exactly. String up the Bum for "Irrelevancy" and "Difficulty"! :)--no, make that :( .

Shakespeare irrelevant? To what?--more like to Whom? ...and WHY? These questions yet to be answered by...maybe we should ask Keanu?

Thanks to The Shakespeare Standard http://theshakespearestandard.com/ for featuring this most disturbing revelation.

Sadly, JM

Saturday, February 27, 2010

38 in 38 Anyone?

The Task? Read all of Shakespeare's plays--one a day--beginning on March 1st, 2010. WOW! Sounds like a plan to me. Who's in?

Get your "barding pass" here:
Click on the title above for the url or if you just love to cut & paste: http://www.shicho.net/38/ for the plan, updates, more info, discussion, etc. Pep talks will also be provided here at ShakespearePlace...for a nominal fee of course--just kidding! ...You can do it Mary Lou!--or my name is not Bela Karolyi!

Good Luck on one Journey of a Lifetime!