Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"by Shakespeare"

Shakespeare is the pinnacle of English literature and theatre; his works carry a legacy larger than life. So how can it be that so little remains from Shakespeare himself? As the “Shakespeare Unauthorized” exhibit expressed today, people know very little about his earliest manuscripts. He collaborated with other playwrights and only had his name published on his works beginning in 1598; thus, it is difficult to discern which components in his plays are directly attributable to him. Further, several upcoming dramatists plagiarized him, publishing personal works under the great bard’s name and consequently calling into question the authenticity of works “by Shakespeare.” Even from a straightforward historical perspective, the limited number of copies makes his original work somewhat untraceable, for the paper is physically nonexistent now.

I kept thinking then: how can someone in many ways forgotten, someone whose true work has literally turned to dust become the impossibly fantastic icon he is today? I believe it is appropriation. In actuality, people have been changing and adapting Shakespeare since his first publications. Directors and actors often edited the original scripts, critiquing dialogues and staging, even fully adding and excluding scenes to create the major works we have today. Moreover, this trend in modification is what continues now.

Without doubt, Shakespeare pioneered writing by introducing new themes, vocabulary, and storylines, among other things. Nevertheless, I believe that his popularity and inconceivable fame strongly arise from people’s continued efforts to understand and represent the enigma he portrays. There are no “original” Shakespeare pieces; those are lost to history. Thus, the originality represents the first moments when people appropriated plays, when people first started to inscribe what “we mean by Shakespeare.” He marks the turning point in art history when people recognized their freedom to interpret and create realities through writing. Although the world will never know what Shakespeare himself intended, part of the fun lies in the possibility that the plays we write today could get him right.

Shakespeare Unauthorized Exhibit: Backdrop and A Map

I personally greatly enjoyed the exhibit Shakespeare Unauthorized at the Boston Public Library. I was very impressed with the collection of both original publications and works that they have preserved as well as the facsimiles present within the exhibit. I found the background pictures and displays that framed the exhibits themselves incredibly impressive in their magnitude and authority. These background images, especially the one of the massive picture of Shakespeare, put into a physical form the larger than life reputation and status given to Shakespeare within our society. The particularly striking aspect of the backdrop pieces was the portion of the exhibit with the life-sized characters from his different plays, which brought these towering characters into a form that expresses both the life-like quality of his characters and the powerful messages they manage to portray.

There is also one specific piece in the exhibit that I enjoyed, especially after some of what we were discussing in The Tempest today in class. This piece was the Dutch-made map of the world made around 1600. The map was fairly accurate with its depiction of the Old World, meaning the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, while there was only a general idea present in the map of what the New World looked like, referring to the continents of North and South America. This map highlights part of the discussion we had today in class involving the recent exploration of the New World by the British in the time Shakespeare would have been writing in. This map gives a tangible representation of the influence that can be seen with the seemingly random references in his work The Tempest to locations within the New World mixed up with the Old World geography.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Noh Hamlet

(I thought I had posted this earlier but I guess I didn't I apologize!)
I found a production of Hamlet directed by Yoshihiro Kurita influenced by traditional noh theatre.  I am not very familiar with noh theatre, but from my brief reading of the Encyclopedia Brittanica article dedicated to it I can see some of where the director took influences (the very open stage and costuming are a few examples).  There is intricately choreographed pantomime during some of the scenes, as is typical of noh theatre. There is also tense piano music during a large portion of the play, adding to the intensity of the moment.  This, coupled with the incredible actors’ ability to make the emotions of their lines evident even to non-Japanese speakers, makes for a very interesting take on Hamlet.
One of the things I find most striking is that Hamlet remains seated, unmoving, at downstage center and the characters move around and interact with him.  The small description below the video describes this choice as making it seem like the play is a dream or memory of Hamlet's, which I think adds to the interpretation of Hamlet as being in a lot of emotional turmoil.
When we were reading Hamlet in AP Lit, we would interpret each character various different ways, and each interpretation completely changed how we would see the play.  One of the ways that we would interpret Hamlet is that he is sinister, just pretending to have gone crazy and manipulating every other character in order to get revenge on his father by killing Claudius.  This production seems to take it to more of an extreme than I did in class, presenting Hamlet, especially in the exchange he has with Ophelia directly after the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, as one who has become cold in his search for revenge.  Hamlet’s tone is cruel towards Ophelia, and he breaks her heart (in my interpretation) to make her want to distance herself from him.  His constant presence in every scene makes it seem like he is the one influencing everyone’s actions, which works perfectly with the director’s vision.


Shakespearean Love Mugs

A self-proclaimed hopeless romantic and literature lover, I was not surprised in the least when my family saw the Shakespearean Love mug and knew it would be the perfect present for me. It's not particularly "innovative" the way a movie adaptation would be; it's merely a mug with 21 of the more recognizable and romantic lines in Shakespeare's theatrical works. However, I find it creative and inspiring. The focus is not on Shakespeare's characters, plots, or settings, the way a film or picture would approach an adaptation. The mug, and the use of simply quotes, approaches Shakespeare first and foremost as an author. The quotes need no context or background: portraying love through language is not unique to Shakespeare and everyone has seen a passionate romance play out in front of them, be it in real life, a movie, or a book. Additionally, none of the quotes are identified by the plays they came from: the character saying it and its delivery's sincerity matters not; the owner receives a mug with 21 quotes and relates to them on a personal and individual level.

The Shakespearean Love mug removes itself from individual works of Shakespeare and the "baggage" that comes with them and instead only associates itself with Shakespeare himself. It is an appreciation of the vast forms of language and sentiment that love provokes and the ways in which Shakespeare chose to express them. It's an entirely different sort of Shakespeare appropriation: unapologetically unoriginal, and I appreciate it all the more for that.


Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

Clothes strewn on the floor and rumpled bed sheets. Slowly, the camera pans to reveal Benedick hastily dressing himself after a liaison with Beatrice. This is how Joss Whedon's 2012 adaption of Shakespeare's timeless romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing begins. Set in a hazy Southern California summer, production occurred over a 12 day span and was filmed entirely at Whedon's house. Unlike previous iterations of the play, Much Ado is a stripped down, character-driven work that uses cinematography and expression to illuminate recurring themes.

Whedon filmed the movie in black and white, using very few cameras and allowing the actors to take full advantage of the source material. In key scenes, such as when Beatrice is informed of Benedick's supposed secret undying love, the audience is drawn into the action as she crawls behind a kitchen island and eavesdrops on Hero and Ursula. When Benedick decides to tell his witty counterpart how he really feels, the use of mirrors heavily emphasizes the line between what is true and what is perceived, a reflection of his relationship with Beatrice. Rather than burden the film with complex Italian politics, Whedon simply allows Shakespeare's words to fill the scenes and places the focus on the back-and-forth banter that makes Much Ado such an entertaining play. Moreover, twenty-first century social mores allow the implicit to become explicit, as in the added first scene when Benedick leaves Beatrice the morning after. Much of the original material is loaded with innuendo, infidelity, and complex gender roles, and the modern time and place fit well into that framework.

Few Shakespeare adaptions feel as natural as Much Ado does, but it is the decisions made by Whedon and the production staff that allow the play to transcend its roots and feel at home in a California mansion, amidst cocktail dresses and one night stands. Society may change, but human nature is as devious as it was when Much Ado About Nothing was first written, and this ultimately is what allows the movie to function as a worthy work of art.
Warm Bodies 

A Shakespeare adaptation I recall that struck me is the movie Warm Bodies. It was released 2013 and is and is considered a romantic comedy. The movie closely parallels the Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet. The plot follows a zombie named, R, who wonders an airport after the world ended due to a zombie virus. A living survivor named Julie meets R when he and a pack of zombies are out for a hunt. The two start a strange and unexpected romance as R starts to regain his humanity little by little. 

This adaptation struck me because it was such a weird and surprising genre to link Shakespeare to. It was an entertaining movie that utilized elements of a love story between a "Romeo" and a "Juliet". Staying true to the original play, Warm Bodies has a notable balcony scene in which R calls down to Juliet warning her about approaching zombies. Warm Bodies is a unique and interesting way to interpret Shakespeare and remains memorable to this day 

Gnomeo & Juliet

     Romeo and Juliet has been remade into many adaptations from West Side Story to Romeo + Juliet directed by Baz Luhrmann. The film I decided to analyze is the kid's version from 2011 renamed Gnomeo & Juliet.
          The original tragedy has a lot of violence, shows different relationships and types of love and ends with fate of the "star cross'd lovers" killing themselves to be together. Romeo and Juliet loved too quickly and crashed in flames. But the love they felt for Mercutio or Nurse was just as strong but were based on different relationships, The play is a tragedy because many important characters get killed and it pushes the demise of Romeo and Juliet along.
      The main themes that are kept for the kids are that love trumps hate and can reconcile family feuds. The director uses a well-known couple and takes them out of context. I wouldn't expect violence and death to be kept in a children's film. The duels were replaced with competitions such as lawnmower racing, and Gnomeo almost dies but there is a happy ending for the young lovers and their families. This film follows the usual trend found in pop culture that Romeo and Juliet is seems as a great love story and is referenced as a ideal relationship. Society of today sees their relationship as huge and romantic because it was love at first sight, they got married then died to be together. But if real people did this, everyone would be worried and think it is a dumb and reckless thing to do.
     I personally really like Romeo and Juliet but I don't think we have to undermine it's themes to protect children. I read the play when I was 11 years old; duels, death, love story and sexual innuendos are all exciting and interesting for a mature child. If people want to share Shakespeare as culture with younger generations, its just as interesting in its purer forms as a cartoon adaptation with flamingos and garden gnomes.

Martins's Romeo and Juliet

I chose to explore Peter Martin's interpretation of Romeo and Juliet as a ballet set on one of the United States' most prominent companies, the New York City Ballet. While the adaptation mostly adheres to the original concepts, settings, and characters set forth by Shakespeare, it diverges from classical interpretations of the story essentially because it is a ballet, requiring everything to be communicated without words. For instance, since it would be challenging to clarify character identities otherwise, the Montagues are always dressed in green, blue, or purple, while the Capulets are costumed in red, orange, or yellow. Additionally, if you were to attend the ballet in person, the program you received would include a brief synopsis of the story line for each act, in order to aid the audience's understanding. Many intricacies of the original play cannot be communicated this way, but it develops its own through the unique language of movement.

In developing the ballet, Peter Martins worked with Sterling Hyltin as Juliet and Robert Fairchild as Romeo, both of whom were rising stars among NYCB and still teenagers at the time. This is unusual among the professional dance world, as more often a slightly more experienced pair would've likely been selected as the muses for the creation of a brand new ballet, however Martins intentionally selected younger, less polished dancers for the purpose of truly allowing them to become Romeo and Juliet. I found Martins's emphasis on their authenticity to be critical to the success of the ballet, especially demonstrated in the scene of Romeo and Juliet's late night encounter and their deaths. The movement is passionate, intense, and communicates so many things beyond the scope of words.

The link to the full-length ballet can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwpZcae8tsw

"Sleep No More" and Macbeth Without Speech

Back in sophomore year, as we were finishing up our term on Shakespeare, I vaguely remember my class watching a documentary about modern interpretations of Macbeth, some adaptations stressing its dreamlike quality while others focusing on betrayal and its political implications. I was particularly struck by the mentioning of a Macbeth without speech, where characters interacted through movement and the audience follows their path. Since Macbeth is such a dark, violent play, I imagined haunted houses and jumpscares, but delving into some research this year, I found that the production, "Sleep No More," has a much more complicated design, creating story paths for each character throughout the performance that explore the themes of Macbeth in a more contemporary setting.

A tale of murder, reckless ambition, and witchcraft, Shakespeare’s Macbeth intertwines fate with violent tyranny, fleshing out the taboo edges of the human psyche as we follow the rise and fall of Macbeth's reign. Punchdrunk’s production of “Sleep no More”, based loosely on Macbeth, expands upon emotional turmoil as a mute, masked audience roams through an eerie set spanning 5 floors of the 1930’s inspired McKittrick Hotel.   Abandoning speech within their portrayal, “Sleep No More” embodies Macbeth’s corruption through motion and dance rather than language, relying on violent movements and unsettling eroticism to convey power struggles between the characters, transforming the hotel into a 360 degree stage. I believe Macbeth lends itself to dance and unspoken performance well since its core themes of murder, violence, and betrayal are inherently primal, and the strange intimacy between actors and audience members amplifies the effects of violence in the hazy, dreamlike atmosphere.  Movement and emotion conveyed through dance can feel just as powerful, if not more powerful than speech, and evoke more instinctual reactions from the audience. Overall, "Sleep No More" succeeds in rediscovering the horror of Macbeth by encapsulating viewers in its dark, speechless world, leaving them to slowly discover its terror through exploration and encounter.

Link to the site:

A Modern Mark Antony and Contemporary Cleopatra

In 2015, my senior class took a trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. The rendition of “Antony and Cleopatra” we viewed was particularly notable for its modern take on a storyline set 2000 years ago. The plot follows Mark Antony who helplessly falls in love with Cleopatra. However, his devotion to her instead of his military responsibilities causes the collapse of the Egyptian dynasty and concurrent rise of the Roman Empire under Octavian, Julius Caesar’s adopted son.

In an interview, director Bill Rauch discusses the challenges of doing a Shakespeare play, recognizing that any adaptation must deal with 4 time periods simultaneously: the historical setting of the play itself, the era in which the play was written, the period in which the director sets the play, and the time in which the audience witnesses the play. Rauch elects to stage his appropriation in a contemporary period and consequently must balance tributes to the past with the present culture. Because he keeps the dialogue Shakespearean, Rauch uses fashionable costuming to denote modernity. The majority of clothing is Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs) in olive green. For armor, costume designer David C. Woolard makes bullet-proof vests in the silhouette of Roman-style clothing. Likewise, Cleopatra’s outfits emulate the modern shape of dresses but are covered with elaborate drapery and gold to reflect true Egyptian wear. To finalize the period, Rauch includes modern guns, alongside swords, for weapons.

I found this play particularly interesting, because it pays homage to true “Romeo and Juliet” tragedy while also standing as an independent story. Additionally, Shakespeare marries an intimate love story with world politics but presents the result in a modern format relatable to people today. As director Rauch reflects: “at a time when our world is ever more global and tensions between east and west…are so rich and complex and disturbing, to look at Shakespeare’s rendition of events from 2000 years ago, written 400 years ago, through the lens of the 21st century and through the lens of the United States, is completely fascinating. It’s a sprawling, messy, gorgeous play.”

The link includes a trailer of the play as well as interviews with the director and costume designer.

Richard III 1995 Film

Image link for Hitler giving a speech: https://vishumenon.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/hitler.jpg

While my general knowledge of most Shakespeare plays is limited, I had the pleasure to read Richard III in high school as well as watch Richard III (1995). In this film, Richard III is set in a civil war in 1930s England. What I found particularly striking about the film is the significance of the time period that it is set in. The 1930's are the time period during which the Nazis came to power in Germany, and Mussolini had been in charge of Fascist Italy for nearly ten years by this time period. This influence of the time period can be seen within the film where there are notably Nazi-like elements within the scenes while at the same time retaining British characteristics so that there is no doubt as to the setting of the film. The conscious effort to continue to have the film set in Britain in my opinion reflects both a desire to stick with Shakespeare's original setting for the play and a warning that totalitarian regimes are capable of occurring anywhere given the right circumstances. I believe that they decided to set the film during this time period in order to make it more accessible to people's understanding of totalitarian regimes, since a large majority of people have an understanding of Nazi Germany, and thus gain a better understanding of Richard III.

I also attached a photo of Hitler giving a speech so that you can look at the resemblances between the two pictures for yourself. Their striking resemblance of each other involves a mirroring of uniform, positioning, posture, and body language. While this is not in the picture I attached of Hitler, usually there would be a grand show of flags and other national symbols during his speeches which would parallel the grandiose flag seen behind Richard in the picture I attached. These symbols, usually accompanied by nationalistic speeches, are meant to intensify national passions and loyalty. Both involve a highly orchestrated power show designed to impress and inspire fear.  


I found an adaptation of Hamlet created by a theater group called Ping-Fong called Shamlet. This is a Taiwanese play about a theater group call Fing-Pong. This plays out like Hamlet with many deaths at the end but instead of it being a royal family it is a group of actors. The director, Lee Kuo-Hsiu, used the 1990 movie version as inspiration for his play.

I haven't read Hamlet other than a short summary but based on a review by the Taipei Times, Shamlet follows an acting group as they travel through Taiwan except their differences get in the way of their performances causing fighting. Just like Hamlet, Shamlet contains a play within the play. I couldn't manage to find the script of Shamlet but based on the description, I like how it's not only incorporating a modern, comical twist on Hamlet but also bringing it to a foreign audience in a way they can connect to it.

Another difference that makes this appealing to me is that it takes the same themes and story components from Hamlet but presents it as a comedy instead of tragedy. It's the directors personal foreign spin on the play but still pays homage to Shakespeare through the title and certain components.