Friday, September 21, 2012

Alas, poor Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Globe in London stoops to (I think) new lows with their competition to "win Yorrick's skull." Why do we think they're doing this?

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark...

...and Arnold is here to take out the trash"

The Show Must Go On

If everything came to a halt whenever it rained in England, nothing would ever get done.

Henry V, Globe Theatre, London.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hamlet, the Lion King

         In looking for appropriations of Shakespeare, I stumbled across an article claiming that Disney's The Lion King was actually an adaptation of Hamlet. At first, I was disbelieving. Having seen the children's movie many times when I was younger and again quite recently, I had never picked up on any Hamlet references. However, after I read the article, the similarities became apparent. For example, the parallel between Shakespeare's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the silly, goofy Timon and Pumbaa. As a child, there is no way that I would have picked up on that link, and even having read Hamlet and seen the movie again, I missed it. This is partly because the characters do not function in the same way--Timon and Pumbaa are not employed by Scar to gauge Simba's mental state--but also because I don't look for Shakespeare in everything I read and watch.
         Other similarities, and more obvious ones, include the ousting of Mufasa by Scar, the jealous uncle, and scene in which Mufasa speaks to Simba via a ghostly cloud. In this way, The Lion King is more like Hamlet; however, the ending is obviously "Disney-fied." The movie doesn't end with all the characters lying dead, but rather with a happy ending fit for a children's movie. In this way, Disney has adapted some but not all of Hamlet, using elements that make for a good story, but creating things that make for a good ending.
         Having had The Lion King's secret story pointed out in this way makes me curious to know how many other innocuous Disney movies are hiding deeper stories and meanings.

Dmitry Shostakovich sets Sonnet 66

Here's a performance in English of Shostakovich's setting of Sonnet 66 (1940), included in a group of compositions innocently titled "Six Romances on Verses by English Poets." Of course this is not the text Shostakovich actually set to music; rather, he used the translation of the sonnet by Boris Pasternak (author of Dr. Zhivago and translator of several Shakespeare plays including Hamlet). Transliterated and Cyrillic Russian text available here.
You can listen to tantalizing bits of the Russian here (click on the "play" icon) or here
More info (in Russian) about this composition can be found on this site devoted to versions of Sonnet 66. They've even posted the sheet music.
In the middle of Russia's "Great Patriotic War," and three years into the depths of the Stalinist terror, what do you think was on Shostakovich's mind as he sat down to compose this piece?

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Country Star's Lyrics

Any country fans out there? - specifically, Taylor Swift fans? To write yet another love song, Swift fell back on the oldest love story of all time, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, for the lyrics of her song "Love Story." The song, and single of her 2008 album Fearless, transcends the concept of true love into the 21st century by renewing and modernizing the romantic image of the "star-crossed lovers." The music video enhances the song's transcending message of love by visually presenting the past and the present. Initially set in a present-day school with a teenage couple, the music video flashes back to the time of Romeo and Juliet, and has the present-day couple assume the roles of infamous lovers. This consequently, establishes the timelessness of love, and well, recaptures the classic story associated with true love - Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

The link first link is the "Love Story" music video. The second link is the song played with scenes from  the movie Romeo and Juliet (1968).

The movie "Gnomeo and Juliet" is a very good adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but it adapts the story to a modern lawn setting, and changes the story from a tragedy to a comedy.  The traditional Shakespearean tragedy ends with a death, and a comedy ends in a comedy.  This rendition results in no deaths, and Gnomeo and Juliet end up happily married.  They make many references to the original play, as well as to other Shakespeare plays.

The author John Green takes advantage of this tragedy/comedy concept in *SPOILERS* The Fault in Our Stars, where it ends in a death, but the narrator's final words are "I do."  This is a brilliant book that makes you laugh and cry, and the subtle Shakespeare reference adds to the majesty.

H4... The Movie

H4... The Movie

After looking through several different "Alternative Shakespeare" productions, I found this one to be worth noting, given its modern interpretation and new portrayal of a very old story.  The producers of 'H4' tell the story of Henry IV, parts I and II, in the form of a TV show.  Mimicking the form of the TV show '24,' the show is stopped each week with cliff hangers and uses a the idea of 24 hours to shape its episodes. When searching for supplementary articles/websites for this show, the continual idea through out all texts is the new use of race and setting (present day Los Angeles).  A very courageous take, the show is still searching for support, and as of yet remains a more minute interpretation in the great Shakespeare World.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Disney and Shakespeare

As I'm sure is the case with all of the students in our class, my childhood seemed to revolve around Disney movies. I recall seeing Hercules on its release date, replaying The Lion King and Aladdin endlessly with my brother, and being enthralled by their infectious songs. It was not until I reached middle school, though, that I began seeing certain hidden themes and "Easter eggs" in Disney movies (like Aladdin, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Toy Story, and Hercules, to name a few). More importantly, though, each of the aforementioned movies is based on (or at least parallels major themes from) a Shakespearean drama.

Perhaps that last statement was a bit forced. Maybe I only made those connections because this is a class about Shakespeare. Do any of these classic childhood movies really stem from the musings of the greatest dramatist of all time, or is this yet another example of academia's forced allocation of his universal themes into everyday life? Honestly, I'm still not sure what to think (of these possibly forced connections, or of this class in general); while I do agree that the plot of The Lion King follows that of Hamlet quite well, does that mean that every story involving regicide in the past five hundred years stems from Shakespeare's immaculately written tragedy, or just that we compare them all to Hamlet because it is indeed so immaculately written? I hope our discussions during the semester help me solidify my opinion on this.

She's the Man

              I chose the movie "She's the Man" as my Shakespeare appropriation, because I didn't know it was based on one of Shakespeare's works until recently even though I saw the movie a while ago. This movie is based on "Twelfth Night," which I have never read. That's probably the reason why I never realized the two are actually very similar. After doing a little research, I found out the basic plots are similar. I found it interesting to find out that most of the characters' names are also the same. There are also references to "Twelfth Night" in the movie. Even though a lot of the things in the movie and play are similar, there are quite a few differences. Now I'm even more excited to read "Twelfth Night" sometime so that I can compare and contrast the two.

3 little Shakespeare tidbits that I like-

First, I saw this one on Facebook actually. It's a Shakespeare insult generator- just choose a word from each column and you create a Shakespearian snub. It is likely that this is a popular image because Shakespeare actually established so many words (that we even use today- I could not get an image of the insult kit but here is the link: .

Second, I heard about this in AP English last year when we were reading Hamlet. Many people started talking about the similarities between Hamlet and The Lion King. After some more investigation, the two are pretty similar! Not surprising considering they are now both such classics. A little more on that: .

Finally, I just thought this video was cool- it's a Hindi production of King Lear. At one point the woman goes to touch the man's feet, which is actually an Indian tradition that you do to elders to get blessings. The director did not simply translate the script- he/she truly adopted the Indian culture, as well!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Shakespeare Sighting!!! 9/7/12

Shakespeare took a stroll down the streets of Boston today and wandered over to the Comm Ave. Fair...

He even offered to take pictures with some of the students! 

Shakespearean appropriation - "Gnomeo and Juliet"

For my piece of Shakespearean "kitsch" I selected the children's movie Gnomeo and Juliet. I came across this piece a few weeks ago while on vacation with my family. I have a large family and one of our seven year olds, Mckenna, insisted that she tell me a story. This "story" ended up being the plot of the movie Gnomeo and Juliet, which she had seen recently at summer camp. I patiently listened as she tried to remember if it was the gnomes in Juliet's side that wore the red hats or if those gnomes wore the blue hats. Eventually I asked her to skip to the end and "get to the good stuff." I was a little wary about how she would handle the tragedy that occurs in the end of Shakepeare's Romeo and Juliet. Much to my surprise she explained that the gnomes live happily ever after. In fact, Gnomeo and Juliet get married atop a purple tractor to symbolize the integration of the blues and reds, their former rival families. This specific piece of appropriation struck me because it is aimed at children and actually rewrote the end of Shakespeare's play in order to achieve that target audience. I'm sure if you're a seven year old who hasn't read the original play, this movie is extremely enjoyable. I don't think I'll be hosting a viewing party anytime soon, though.

Link to the IMDB description, including cast, plot, and other information about the movie:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What is Shakespeare?

"Shakespeare Without His Language" by Dennis Kennedy

In "Shakespeare Without His Language," Dennis Kennedy explains the differences between English and "foreign" adaptations of Shakespeare by describing various versions of his plays throughout history. He also talks about how Shakespeare is foreign to everyone, even English audiences.

"...some foreign performances may have a more direct access to the power of the plays" (5).

"The fact is, harsh as it may sound to some teachers of English, we do not speak the same language as Shakespeare: at best we speak a remote dialect of it" (5).

"We cannot affect our fates, only hasten them: personal survival and stoic perseverance are solemn protests against the cosmic odds, hugely stacked against us" (10).

"In the end Shakespeare doesn't belong to any nation or anybody: Shakespeare is foreign to all of us" (16).  

"Shakespeare in the Bush" by Laura Bohannon

In "Shakespeare in the Bush," Laura Bohannon describes a time when she told the story of Hamlet to a tribe in West Africa. She explains how she learned that there is more than one interpretation of Hamlet.

"Hamlet was again a good story to them, but it no longer seemed quite the same story to me."

"...people are the same everywhere..."

"We, who are elders, will instruct you in their true meaning, so that when you return to your own land your elders will see that you have not been sitting in the bush, but among those who know things and who have taught you wisdom."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What is Shakespeare?

"Shakespeare Without His Language"

In “Shakespeare Without His Language,” Dennis Kennedy develops and expands upon the concept of a “foreign” Shakespeare – how productions have varied throughout the course of history, and across countries and continents, and how varying interpretations and change consequently establish such adaptations.

“Mr. Bardos answered ‘Of course it is a great honor and a challenge, but to tell you the truth, it’s strange to hear the text in English because I am used to the original version, translated by Janos Arany’” (Kennedy 1). 

“The cultural attitudes that inhere in the work, and that the Anglo-centered approach has assumed to be the common heritage of Shakespeare’s art, require not only linguistic translation but also cultural adaptation when they are transferred to a foreign environment” (2). 

“The connections and cultural connotations that derive form playing Shakespeare in his own land in his own tongue are simply not applicable in another country and in another language. Whereas Shakespeare has been a given in English for some centuries, readers and audiences in linguistically foreign environments had to find a desire for him” (3).

“…foreign Shakespeare is more present than ever before, interrogating the idea that Shakespeare can be contained by a single tradition or by a single culture or by a single language” (16).

“In the end Shakespeare doesn’t belong to any nation or anybody: Shakespeare is foreign to all of us” (16). 

"Shakespeare in the Bush"

In "Shakespeare in the Bush," Laura Bohannan shares her experience of hoping to "achieve the grace of correct interpretation" of Hamlet, via explaining the story to a local tribe in West Africa. But what exactly is the "correct" interpretation? She was certain that there was "only one possible interpretation, and that one universally obvious." Bohannan learns however, that not only are there more interpretations, but that people in general have a tendency to think that there is only one right way - their way.

"That is the way it is done, so that is how we do it"(Bohannan 68).

"Hamlet was again a good story to them, but it no longer seemed quite the same to me"(70).

"But it is clear that the elders of your country have never told you what the story really means"(70).

"But people are the same everywhere"(70).

"Listen," said the elder, "and I will tell you how it was and how your story will go, and you may tell me if I am right"(70).

"We, who are elders, will instruct you in the true meaning, so that when you return to your own land your elders will see that you have not been sitting in the bush, but among those who know things and who have taught you wisdom" (71).

Goethe and Hawkes

In this first criticism, Goethe expresses his admiration for Shakespearean works, even going so far as to say that it brought him out of a blind darkness and awakened his spirit. I found the opening very interesting, how the author explains the sort of futility of life and human goals. I feel like the author looks to Shakespeare as the only man who has actually “continued to exist even after destiny has returned him to a state of non-existence.” Not only this but, but the author may even see Shakespeare as an aid in helping himself work towards this impossible task, which is why Goethe became “a slave of Shakespeare for life.”  Some of my favorite quotes and points included:

The author’s pity for those “free spirits [who] were still cowering there.”

How Shakespeare founded the “historical-political” genre, and how the author says “whether or not the honor of being originator falls to Shakespeare, it was he who raised this type of drama to a level that we must still take to be highest, totally beyond the imagination of most.”

How the author compares Shakespeare to Greek figures: “Shakespeare competes with Prometheus, imitating him by forming human beings feature by feature, but on a colossal scale- that is why we don’t recognize them as our brothers.”

Also, how the author puts down philosophers in the middle of the criticism but then claims Shakespeare can do all that he does as well as what philosophers do. He can do it all!

Goethe’s admiration was definitely evident throughout the piece.

Hawkes, too, understands the significance of Shakespeare, but looks at his works, and Hamlet in particular, and how they have become such large phenomena (my favorite line was when Hawkes used the term “the creature ‘Shakespeare’”). I enjoyed reading this excerpt because, although I was lost with some parts at the opening, the middle and later parts were parallel to my thoughts on why Shakespearean plays are so important and fascinating to read and watch. For Hamlet, Hawkes explains that the play “determines how we perceive and respond to the world in which we live.” Though we do not go on ghost-incited quests of avenging the murder of our fathers, we can learn from the relationships and morals that we see in the play. To abridge Hawkes’s list, we can learn of morals, relationships, perceptions of the sexes, family, behaviors, and interactions. The combination of this wide array of messages and a thrilling plot serve as an explanation of the longevity of Shakespearean works, Adding on to Hawkes’s perspective, I would say that the plot and story merely serve to entertain and are merely a means by which to deliver these universal messages. And while I do agree wholeheartedly that we have found much more meaning in these plays than can have been intended by Shakespeare, I still find this hunting and gathering fascinating and worthwhile; as long as the audience can benefit, does it really matter if it was part of the playwright’s intentions? 

9/6/12 What Is Shakespeare?

In "Shakespeare: A Tribute", von Goethe seems to profess his adoration and wonderment at Shakespeare's written works from the position of one who is not worthy to be doing so. von Goethe praises him heavily, saying that he became completely hooked from just a single page of Shakespeare's; and while he says that he is capable only of conveying vague notions and ideas, von Goethe writes that after reading a Shakespearean drama he felt like a blind man who had been miraculously granted sight.

 Hawkins presents two schools of thought in his Meaning By Shakespeare excerpt: first, that Shakespeare was just a normal Elizabethan who wrote some plays, and second, that these plays are so good, so universal, and so essential, that they should be read by any and all intellectuals. He goes on to say that, while, yes, Shakespeare had to have had some meaning behind his writing, we as scholars assign more meaning to his work than could ever have been thought of by the author himself. Honestly, I didn't really understand what this excerpt was trying to say.