Monday, July 3, 2017

July 2017

Antony and Cleopatra – ah, what a play. Maybe if somebody would do a really good production of it I would learn to like it. Any takers out there? Now A Midsummer Night’s Dream – that’s a play to read and read again and enjoy it more each time. This time we started reading it a couple of days before Midsummer and we’re now in the last act. We have several films to watch, including one of the Globe production from 2013. Sadly we did not see it when we were in London in 2013, it hadn’t started yet. Now we are looking forward to seeing the filmed version. I’m hoping there will be a text next time I’m on the blog, but for now you will have to make do with the text on Antony and Cleopatra. And for that, many thanks to AA for the inspiration!

And now, as always I will once again mention to visitors of this blog that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase. Please help promote the book by buying it, of course, and telling your friends about it, by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you. Your support is needed to keep this project alive.

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare Calling – the book is promoted by

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Dagens Nyheter
    • Asks if the Trump family is by Shakespeare or Aaron Spelling (producer of, among many other things, Dynasty). The journalist Malin Ullgren hopes for an HBO series about Trump. ‘It could be brilliant’. Reality outdoes fiction, once again…
    • Reports that New York’s Public Theatre has upset some with its interpretation of Julius Caesar because Julius Caesar bears a resemblance to Donald Trump and the play is said to promote the assassination of a despot.
  • On the TV program Vem vet mest? (Who knows the most?) the question was: In what country was Shakespeare born? Again, it was kids, and the answering kid got it right.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Killer
    • Season One - the teacher reads the ‘If you prick us do we not bleed’ quote and asks for comments. The awful Cordelia (! – how significant is that choice of name?) says, ‘Shylock is so self-centred! Whine, whine, whine!’ Teacher: ‘Interesting. It’s nice to know some students do their reading.’ Well, as an English and history teacher, I would certainly have responded differently.
    • Season Two - Giles heaves a huge sigh of relief when Buffy turns off the music (which he calls ‘noise’) to which she has been doing her calisthenics and says contentedly, ‘The rest is silence.’
  • In the novel The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon, Daniel tries to convince his scientific girl friend of the value of poetry by quoting ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.’
  • In the fourth St. Mary’s novel by Jodi Taylor, A Trail Through Time, Max denies that she’s a sound sleeper: ‘I’m the world’s lightest sleeper. On a bad day, I can make Lady Macbeth look like a raging narcoleptic.’
  • On TVs Kulturnyheter (Culture News) there was a report on the production of A Winter’s Tale on the island of Gotland at Romateatern, old church ruins used as a theatre since 1989. The director is Maria Åberg who has worked with the RSC. She focusses on the women, who provide the strength and humour. The stringent tragedy of the beginning moved the critic deeply. The theatre is magical, she says, but advises playgoers to take a jacket – it’s cold!
  • In the novel The Muse, by Jessie Burton, Odelle Bastien, who moved from Trinidad to London five years ago, is dismayed that she has yet to meet anyone who can name three of Shakespeare’s plays.
  • In How to Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman we are told about Shakespeare’s infamous will in which he left his wife Anne the second-best bed.  This has been interpreted by many, including my hero Stephen Greenblatt in the book mentioned below, to mean that he had no love for his wife, that it was almost an insult to leave her their second-best bed.  Goodman writes that this was actually probably a sign of great devotion since a good bed was a highly sought-after luxury in their day.

Further since last time:
  • Read for the second time: Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt. A wonderful book!
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Ordered and received from the Royal Shakespeare Society:
    • A Comedy of Errors with Judi Dench
    • Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu
    • Shakespeare Live! Broadcast in BBC last year on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death
    • A 2018 calendar
    • Various pens, pencils and erasures
  • Watched: the above-mention Shakespeare Live! What a pleasure to see it again. Since the first time we have seen David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Doctor Who and have bought, as mentioned above, the Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu, so we had a new appreciation of the To Be or Not to Be sketch, which was as hilarious as the first time. 

Posted this month

Still trying to like...

Still trying…
to like
Antony and Cleopatra

     There seem to be many reasons to like this play. My friend and fellow Shakespearean scholar AA, for example, thinks it one of Shakespeare’s best and he helpfully tries to explain why:
  • The intensely alive, complex and contradictory title characters
  • Their love which, for all that seems to the contrary, gives the impression of a world well lost for
  • The gorgeous verse that manages to be stirring and visionary without the overblown rhetoric and clumsy verbosity that sometimes affect Will’s earlier plays
  • The elaborate structure that covers the whole known world of the 1st century BC
  • Enobarbus
  • The marvellously individual minor characters
  • The final scene in which Cleopatra is transformed from shallow to sublime and the Romans are taken in completely

     Most interesting, AA! And on some points we do agree.
     Enobarbus is indeed a strong character, the voice of reason in all the hysteria. He supports Antony but not blindly, telling Cleopatra that she was right to flee the battle and that Antony ‘would make his will/ Lord of reason…though you fled…why should he follow? …’Twas a shame… to leave his navy gaging’ (Act 3.13). When he then turns from Antony his guilt kills him. ‘I am alone the villain of the earth… I will go seek/ Some ditch wherein to die’ (Act 4.6). So yes, I like Enobarbus, a quietly tragic character.
     And Charmian. With humour and intelligence to match Cleopatra’s she keeps her frenetic queen under control while offering unwavering friendship and loyalty. Her two best lines: ‘O, excellent! I love long life better than figs’ (Act 1.2) shows the exuberance of Cleopatra’s private chambers and it is ironically tragic when Cleopatra dies and Charmian cries, or perhaps murmurs, ‘Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies/ A lass unparalleled’ (Act 5.2), then dies herself. What a wonderful word, ‘lass’. Two lasses who cheat the Romans. Oh yes, I like Charmian.
     As for Cleopatra, nothing in her life became her like the leaving it. I do agree with you, AA, that in Cleopatra’s final scene she is ‘transformed from the shallow to the sublime.’
     I also appreciate the historical sweep of the play. Fascinating and ambitious. But. Oh, woe is me, lover of history! – all the historical and military stuff is unbearably boring! And confusing. And unending. All of Shakespeare’s history plays plus Julius Caesar plus Coriolanus plus Cymbeline are so much better!
     ‘Gorgeous verse’? AA, many agree with you, but try as I might I find it verbose, long-winded, convoluted – as we read I mutter, ‘Yeah, yeah, get on with it!’ It’s a long play and could be cut by half just by striking every other line or so!
     Their love. Much heralded by bardolators. I am not a romantic and I have often commented on the strange love matches in Shakespeare. Of course I’m not alone in that. But it seems most scholars accept this love affair. Well, as much as Antony and Cleopatra go on about their love of one another and the other characters go on and on and on about it, I am, if not exactly unconvinced, completely unmoved.
     And now to your first point, AA, the intensely active and complex and contradictory characters. Yes, agreed! But so unlikeable! Marjorie Garber asks in her Shakespeare After All if Antony is ‘a failed hero, or a successful myth’ (p. 726). Neither, I say. In Julius Caesar he is brilliant. In Antony and Cleopatra he is a bore and a boor. Completely uninteresting and his death scene, where he has to be dragged up to Cleopatra’s platform – come on, Shakespeare! Clumsy staging! It doesn’t work. As for Cleopatra? Oh please, give me Queen Margaret, Queen Gertrude, Queen Hermione – any queen but this unpleasant diva! It is a relief when she dies.
     Oh what a terrible thing to write. But at least it means that this seemingly interminable play is over at last.
     Harsh. And blasphemous (forgive me, Shakespeare!). And unreasonable. I have had similar objections to many of Shakespeare’s plays but still loved them. So, AA, I fully accept your outraged, ‘Wha’? Are you daft??’¨when you read this.
     Probably. And no doubt missing the whole point. But so it is. I still don’t like Antony and Cleopatra.
     But thanks for trying, AA. Don’t give up. I might like it next time!

Works cited:
  • Garber, Marjorie. Shakespeare After All. Anchor Book. 2004.
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen.  

Films seen this time:
  • 2014.The Globe. Director: Jonathan Munby. Cast: Antony – Clive Wood; Cleopatra – Eve Best; Enobarbus – Phil Daniels; Charmian – Sirine Saba
  • We saw this at the Globe in 2014 and now we watched the film version of it. It’s always fun to see Shakespeare at the Globe no matter what, but this production did not do much to make me like the play better. I didn’t like any of the interpretations of the characters, with the possible exception of Octavius. Watching it now on DVD did nothing to change my mind. A pity.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

June 2017

Finally, after half a year, we’re back to reading Shakespeare! For various reasons we chose Antony and Cleopatra, which might be considered an odd choice since we didn’t much like the play the last time we read it, or even when we saw it at the Globe. We still don’t like it! Please, can someone who loves the play, please please explain why it’s a good play? I’m sure we must be missing something!
As always I will once again mention to visitors of this blog that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase. Please help promote the book by buying it, of course, and telling your friends about it, by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you. Your support is needed to keep this project alive.

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare Calling – the book is promoted by

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Dagens Nyheter
    • Reports that the Norwegian Shakespeare Magazine does everything right. It’s quite a long review.
    • Tells us that again this summer the Park Theatre will be performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I already knew because I’m FB friends with Pontus Olgrim of the Polar Eclipse Theatre after seeing the play last summer. I hope we can see it again.
  • In the novel The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead a minor character involved in the emancipation movement had had connections with a printer who had published Shakespeare’s plays.
  • In Leila Aboulela’s novel The Kindness of Enemies the actor Malak Raja had played one of Macbeth’s witches on stage.
  • In Rosalind Franklin the dark lady of DNA, a biography by Brenda Maddox, it is pointed out that it was almost impossible ‘to get through English schooling in the twentieth century without knowing of Shakespeare’s Shylock, with his ‘Jewish heart’ moaning over his lost ducats’ (relevant because Franklin was Jewish). Later it is mentioned that Franklin, in patriotist fervour, saw Laurence Olivier three times as Henry V.
  • On the TV program Vem vet mest? (Who knows the most?) the question was: What’s the name of Romeo’s beloved in Shakespeare’s play?  The contestants were kids so maybe the question wasn’t as easy as it seemed.
  • In Karsten Alnaes’s Historia om Europa Uppvaknande 1300-1600 (Europe’s history, awakening) I’ve come to the chapter about Elizabethan England:
    • The prevalence of travelling is shown by the comparison to Antonio in Two gentlemen of Verona saying about  his son that he was wasting his time and nothing would come of him until he travelled and learnt something.
    • Essex and his revolt is mentioned and the playing of Richard II the evening before, supposedly to show that even Elizabeth was a tyrant and could be dethroned. It didn’t help the revolt.
    • Shakespeare’s world, we are told, is one of poverty and misery, not just the luxury of Shakespeare’s major characters.
    • Historian George Macaulay Trevelyan pointed out that Shakespeare was lucky having been born in and living in the best of countries.
    • In a book that covers Europe’s history for three hundred years, Shakespeare gets six pages all to himself. Not bad! Other than dealing with his biography and giving quotes from Macbeth and The Tempest Alnaes writes: ‘In this country lived Shakespeare. He embraces a whole world. A poet for all time, who probes the deepest abysses in the human soul. His visions expand human knowledge, but still mirror his environment’s bitter irony and reflect with the insight of darkness the existential crisis created by violence and evil. Because he frees himself from all yardsticks he belongs not primarily to the era of Elizabeth but to the future… Of course Shakespeare is history, but he is also of the present. And it is his significance in our present, his sense of both the human and the mysterious outside the human that makes him an important part of history. He is one of the geniuses who unites us in a common frame of reference…it is that which has made him a part of the common European heritage.’  Fine words! 
Further since last time:
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Antony and Cleopatra
  • Ordered and received: CD From Shakespeare with love – the best of the sonnets because David Tennant reads several of them
  • Translated into Swedish for the Swedish Shakespeare Society’s magazine: ‘Richard and Henry do history’

 Posted this month
  • This report

Sunday, April 30, 2017

May 2017

Dear Shakespeare friends,
Today, 1 May, is the day for international solidarity. It’s needed more than ever. Things do not look good in the world at the moment. Racism, sexism, fear and hatred, religious fanaticism amongst followers of all the religions, environmental catastrophe and blindness and denial of science, all of this is frightening. But let us remember: ‘The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together,’ Shakespeare wrote in All’s Well that Ends Well. And surely together we can, in solidarity, counteract the ill and strengthen the good.

Meanwhile, again life has conspired against Hal and me and we have been unable to read any Shakespeare plays together. Hopefully next time!

As always I will once again mention to visitors of this blog that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase. Please help promote the book by buying it, of course, and telling your friends about it, by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you. Your support is needed to keep this project alive.

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare Calling – the book is promoted by

Shakespeare sightings:
  • The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer is, as I mentioned last time, a wonderful book. Here are some more sightings that are well worth repeating:
    • Shakespeare often mentions bad breath, which was indeed a big problem in Elizabethan England. There were many rotten teeth due to eating too many sweets.
    • Considering the vicious delight Elizabethans take in seeing bear baiting and other cruelty to animals, Mortimer wonders how they could also appreciate Shakespeare’s humanism.
    • One of the most famous bears in England’s bear-baiting enthusiasm was called Sackerson and Shakespeare mentions him in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
    • Seeing that Elizabeth loves to go to Paris Garden to enjoy the bloodshed of bear-baiting Mortimer finds it odd that she never went to the Globe to see Shakespeare.
    • Music plays an important part in Elizabethan society and Mortimer writes: ‘Although no one has yet conclusively proved that music is the food of love, there is little doubt that Shakespeare himself thinks it is. More than 170 passages in his plays allude to music or musicians…’
    • Many musicians live in the parish of Saint Helen Bishopsgate, as does Shakespeare.
    • ‘Shakespeare has given voice to so many of our feelings. Probably no other Englishman has been more influential. His influence is not militaristic or nationalistic, nor is it the discovery of a scientific phenomenon; it is simply that his writings are the biggest step ever taken along the path towards understanding the human condition. It is a path we are still following.’
    • ‘If Shakespeare is ‘for all time’, then so too is Elizabethan England.’
  • Norda Mullen, flutist for the Moddy blues, compares Justin Hayward’s lyrics to Shakespeare – ‘everyone can relate’. Well, I wouldn’t go that far.
  • In the musical film Singing in the Rain aspiring actor Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) tells silent star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) that real acting is only done on stage such as Shakespeare and Ibsen. When she shortly thereafter pops up out of a cake as a dancing girl he asks her for Hamlet’s soliloquy or some lines by Juliet. Later in the song ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) sings that you could do Shakespeare but it’s better to make ‘em laugh. The song writer had apparently never seen a Shakespeare play.
  • On the TV quiz show Vem vet mest? (Who knows the most?) the question was who directed The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover? The answer: Peter Greenaway and the program leader said, ‘He also directed a film of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.’
  • On another TV quiz show Smartare än en femteklassare (Smarter than a six year student) one of the kids is going to be in a summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • In Dagens Nyheter Johan Hilton writes: ‘Without having a doctorate in the subject I can still claim that all political leaders in the world, now and historically, can find their role model in one of Shakespeare’s kings. Emmanuel Macron? Henry V, with a little luck. Theresa May? Henry VI. Vladimir Putin? Undoubtedly Richard III. With Donald Trump it’s harder. Richard II, the vain title role in one of Shakespeare’s best plays maybe? …History professor Rachel Weil writes that Trump is unpredictable, lives in a dream world and solves conflicts with the help of narcissistic impulses. He therefore risks, like the king, undermining the legitimacy of the whole administration. I don’t know though. Trump is closer to the swashbuckling liar Falstaff. Minus the charm.’ Hmmmm.
  • In Tana French’s novel The Secret Place Detective Stephen Moran finds a book amongst one of the suspects’ belongings: ‘…it looked old, Shakespeare old.’

Further since last time: Well, that’s it.

Posted this month
  • This report

Monday, April 3, 2017

April 2017

There has been little Shakespeare this month as life sometimes has other ideas. No plays or movies, few sightings. But one event has made up for it. Språklärarnas riksförbund (The National Association of Language Teachers in Sweden) invited me to give my presentation ‘Why Shakespeare?’ at their conference and what a pleasure it was! A keen audience, the chance to meet Shakespeare enthusiasts from round the country, and I even met up with old friends. Annette Å, whom Hal and I met in London in 2013 at the Shakespeare course arranged by Shakespearesällskapet (see my reports in June and July of 2013 here on the blog) was at the conference and we had a nice chat reminiscing about the great time we had then. Hal and I met Ingrid A, one of the arrangers of the conference, originally on a bus trip to England in 2011, on which we visited Stratford upon Avon and began talking over a book about Shakespeare. Ingrid was responsible for arranging for me to speak now at the conference. So, a wonderful Shakespeare day to round off the last month and begin this one. Thank you, Ingrid and Språkbad väst!

As always I will once again mention to visitors of this blog that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase. Please help promote the book by buying it, of course, and telling your friends about it, by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you. Your support is needed to keep this project alive.

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare Calling – the book is promoted by

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Belinda Bauer’s novel The Beautiful Dead  the police suspect that the serial killer will strike at a West End theatre during a performance of Romeo and Juliet. When Romeo collapses during the poison scene, and stays collapsed, the police rush to the stage but he revives, as the killer calmly murders the theatre manager…
  • In Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor in the episode ‘Sleep No More’ says, ‘Never shall Cawdor sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more. Shakespeare. He really knew his stuff.’
  • In Dagens Nyheter there was
    • a review of a satirical Hamlet which ‘must be seen…..’ This production is high quality nightmare theatre…’
    • an advert for the coming return to the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Rickard III with the brilliant Jonas Karlsson. Hal and I saw it the first time round.  In the advert it says, ‘He is manipulative, murderous and power-mad. You will love him.’ Yep.
  • In Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising she explains ancient pagan customs in Britain and quotes Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor: ‘There is an old tale goes, that Herne the Hunter…’ and continues by describing this frightening spirit.
  • The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer is a wonderful book. I’ve read it before and written about the Shakespeare sightings in it before but it’s well worth reading again, which I’m doing now, and some of the sightings are well worth repeating:
    • Shakespeare has reason to be proud when he buys New Place in 1597, ‘with its brick, glazed windows and chimneys – a far cry from the smelly house where he spent his boyhood (and where his aged father still lives). And you can see why William’s wife, Anne, is pleased to be living in New Place rather than the two-room farmhouse in Shottery where she grew up.’
    • The Mermaid in Cheapside is ‘the drinking haunt of William Shakespeare of Stratford’.
    • Writing books is not considered professional and Shakespeare is one of the ‘very few writers who manages to elevate himself from a relatively humble level to the status of a gentleman.’
    • Shakespeare is an example of those many who move to London to make their fortune before returning to the place of their birth.
    • It is the custom to kiss one’s hostess on the lips when greeting her and Cassio mentions this custom to Iago when greeting Emilia with a kiss.
    • Though a later portrait of Shakespeare shows him wearing an earring (in fact this is the portrait – which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London – used on the cover of Shakespeare calling – the book) it is highly unlikely to be accurate as few or no men in Elizabethan times pierced their ears. 

Further since last time:
  • ‘Why Shakespeare?’ in Gothenburg (see above) 

Posted this month
  • This report

Sunday, March 5, 2017

March 2017

We have yet to survive this year’s Ides of March but we’ve come this far. Much of our Shakespeare activity since the last report has involved Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve always loved the play but this time the darker side seems important, and that’s what I wrote about (see link below). We haven’t chosen our next play yet but it’s always an exciting moment to get started on a play.

Now, to the report for March.
As always I will once again mention to visitors of this blog that Shakespeare Calling – the book is available for purchase. Please help promote the book by buying it, of course, and telling your friends about it, by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it.  Thank you. Your support is needed to keep this project alive.

or Adlibris. Or contact the publisher

Shakespeare Calling – the book is promoted by

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Donal Ryan’s novel All We Shall Know Melody Shee is going to teach traveller Martin Toppy to read but realises that she only has such material as Shakespeare and Yeats.
  • Beloved Swedish actor Björn Granath has died. Dagens Nyheter informs us that he is known, amongst much else, as a Shakespearean actor and he was scheduled to play Buckingham in the upcoming repeat performances of Richard III with Jonas Karlsson. We were fortunate to have seen him in this role in 2014.
  • In Alison Weir’s fascinating biography of Elizabeth I Shakespeare pops up frequently. Here are some of the most interesting sightings:
    • Some of Shakespeare’s plays were performed at court, ‘usually at an average cost of £400 each.’
    • Employed by the queen was ‘Monarcho, an Italian fool, who is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost.’
    • Elizabeth was ‘painfully aware that, since a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II in 1597, some of her subjects saw in Essex a second Henry of Bolingbroke, who might overthrow her as Henry had overthrown Richard.’
    • In 1601 Essex in fact ‘paid a reluctant Shakespeare and his company of actors…forty shillings to stage a production of the inflammatory Richard II, with its banned abdication scene, at the Globe Theatre in Southwark.’
  • In Doctor Who, now played by Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor, the Doctor is undercover as a caretaker in Clara’s school and he thinks her colleague who wants to talk about Shakespeare is her boyfriend. The Doctor approves, but it isn’t her boyfriend at all.
  • In A Hard Day’s Night, recently watched for perhaps the twenty-first time, Paul hams it up with, ‘Oh that this too, too solid flesh…’ The first time I saw that in 1964 I had no idea it was Shakespeare. Probably not the next 19 times either.
  • In Ben Aaronovitch’s third Peter Grant novel, Whispers Underground, Peter’s mentor Nightingale speaks of wizards he knew who had given up their magic, calling it ‘breaking theirs staffs.’ Later, one of the suspects in Peter’s murder case, the annoying Zach, says smugly to Peter: ‘Let’s just say that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’ then informs him, ‘That’s Shakespeare, that is.’
  • In Dagens Nyheter there was a review of the ‘completely corny and freely improvised’ Henry V. Peter Viitanen’s Henry is described as ‘flopping about,’ skinny, cheeky with a crown that keeps falling down over his eyes. A clever satire, according to Pia Huss.
  • In English Society 1580-1680 by Keith Wrightson uneasiness over the threat of mob violence, which in reality was minimal, is described thus: ‘…fears and protestations were given some colour by reported expressions of class hatred worthy of Shakespeare’s Jack Cade.’
  • In Dagens Nyheter just today there is a review of Hamlet now on at Folkteatern in Gothenburg. It even quotes Jan Kott. Otherwise the review rambles. I think the critic Tomas Forser liked it. Frustratingly, the play will be going while Hal and I are in Gothenburg but it collides with my lecture on Shakespeare at the Language Teachers’ conference.

Further since last time:
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Much Ado about Nothing
  • Watched five versions of Much Ado About Nothing.

Posted this month

With friends like these... cruelty in Much Ado about Nothing

With friends like these…
The cruelty of friends in
Much Ado About Nothing

     That Don John is cruel is a given. That sweet Hero, valiant Claudio, noble Don Pedro and loving Leonato are also cruel is obvious, as well, isn’t it? But for some reason ignored.
     This time I can’t ignore it.
     Sweet Hero, knowing her cousin and dearest friend Beatrice is listening, she says the most hurtful things about her. Sweet Hero says:

Disdain and scorn tide sparkling in her eyes,
…her wit
Values itself so highly that to her
All matter else seems weak; she cannot love…
She is so self-endeared (Act III.1).

     Sweet Hero says, when Ursula comments that such carping is not commendable:

But who dare tell her so? If I should speak,
She would mock me into air. O, she would laugh me
Out of myself, press me to death with wit (Act III.1).

     Sweet Hero proposes:

I’ll device some honest slanders
To stain my cousin with (Act III.1).

     Disdain, Scorn. Self-endeared. Mocking. Thus sweet Hero describes her kinswoman and promises to spread damning lies about her. Is this not cruelty?
     Valiant Claudio, we see at the revels, is very quick to think the worst of his friends when he suspects Don Pedro of stealing Hero’s love though Don Pedro had explained what he was going to do, woo Hero for Claudio. When then Don John manipulates Claudio into believing Hero is unfaithful, Claudio is not only very quick to believe in Hero’s supposed infidelity before seeing any evidence whatsoever but almost immediately promises the cruellest of actions: ‘If I see anything why I should not marry her tomorrow in the congregation where I should wed, there will I shame her’ (Act III.3). and then he does it, our valiant Claudio:

There, Leonato, take her back again.
Give not this rotten orange to your friend.
She knows the heat of a luxurious bed:
Her blush is guiltiness…
[I will not] be married …
…to an approvèd wanton.
…you are more intemperate in your blood
Than Venus or those pampered animals
That rage in savage sensuality…
…fare thee well most foul… (Act IV.1).

     Oh, valiant Claudio! Rotten? Wanton? Savage? Foul? To the woman you profess to have loved? At the altar in front of family and friends? Is this not cruelty?
     The noble Don Pedro, who was so quick to help Claudio woo Hero, is just as quick to join him in condemning her. Immediately after Claudio announces, ‘I will shame her,’ noble Don Pedro declares, ‘And as I wooed for thee to obtain her, I will join thee to disgrace her’ (Act III.2). And he does. When Claudio has rejected Hero at the church and Leonato says, ‘Sweet prince, why speak not you?’ Don Pedro says:

What should I speak?
I stand dishonoured, that have gone about
To link my dear friend to a common stale (Act IV.1).

     He stoutly claims to have seen Hero with another man and that’s that. The gentlemen stick together and grievously regard themselves as the dishonoured ones. Not only cruel but stupid.
     Dear old dad, then? The loving Leonato?
     After Claudio’s accusation Leonato turns, not to his daughter, but to Don Pedro, then on Claudio’s challenge to ‘bid her answer truly’ does Leonato say, ‘I charge thee do so, as thou art my child’ (Act IV.1). He ignores her answer and cries, ‘Hath no man’s dagger here a point for me?’ When Hero then faints from the shock Leonato says:

Death is the fairest cover for her shame
That may be wished for (Act IV.1).

     When Hero revives he continues:

…doth not every earthly thing
Cry shame upon her?...
Do not live, Hero…
Why ever was thou lovely in my eyes…?
…foul-tainted flesh!
…Would the two princes lie, and Claudio lie,
Who loved her so that, speaking of her foulness,
Washed it with tears? Hence from her, let her die. (Act IV.1).

     Well, enough said. Not only a pact amongst the men against this young woman but unspeakably cruel words heard from a once loving father.
     This is a comedy, one of Shakespeare’s funniest and most beloved. Beatrice and Benedick are brilliant, and the only ones of Hero’s circle to believe her and defend her. Dogberry is wise and amusing and insistent that the wrong against Hero be righted in some of Shakespeare’s most entertaining scenes. For these reasons the play is also amongst the most often performed. As it should be. But the dark side should never be toned down and it almost always is.
     Beatrice forgives Hero her cruelty. Hero forgives less than valiant Claudio, ignoble Don Pedro and unloving Leonato their cruelty.
     I do not.

Films seen this time:
  • BBC, 1984. Director: Stuart Burge. Cast: Benedick – Robert Lindsay; Beatrice – Cherie Lunghi; Claudio – Robert Reynolds; Hero – Katharine Levy; Leonato – Lee Montague; Don Pedro – Jon Finch; Don John – Vernon Dobtcheff; Dogberry – Michael Elphick.
    • An enjoyable production in which the two leads provide a strong performance. Less enjoyable is Jon Finch's campy Don Pedro; it doesn't strike the right note. A pity, after his well-done Henry IV.
  • 1993. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Benedick – Kenneth Branagh; Beatrice – Emma Thompson; Claudio – Robert Sean Leonard; Hero – Kate Beckinsale; Leonato – Richard Briers; Don Pedro – Denzil Washington; Don John – Keanu Reeves; Dogberry – Michael Keaton; Margaret – Imelda Staunton.
    • What can I say? I love this movie. Oh Sir Ken, please make more Shakespeare movies! With Emma. You're still friends, aren't you?
  • Shakespeare Retold, 2005. Director: Brian Percival. Cast: Benedick – Damian Lewis; Beatrice – Sarah Parish; Claudio – Tom Ellis; Hero – Billie Piper; Leonato – Marvin Jarvis; Don John – Derek Riddell.
    • Fun and believably adapted. Especially Damian Lewis and Billie Piper do a good job.
  • 2011. The Globe. Director: Jeremy Herrin. Cast: Benedick - Charles Edwards; Beatrice - Eve Best; Claudio - Philip Cumbus; Hero - Ony Uhiara; Leonato - Joseph Marcell; Don Pedro -Ewan Stewart; Don John - Matthew Pidgeon; Dogberry – Paul Hunter; Margaret – Lisa McGrillis.
    • A mixed production. Edwards is good as Benedick. Best is, as usual, excellent in her contact with the groundlings but has an irritating habit of speaking almost all her lines to the upper gallery. Their interplay, though, is very entertaining. The rest of the cast are quite anonymous. Enjoyable but not a masterpiece. As so often, the Globe itself plays the best part.
  • 2012. Director: Joss Whedon. 
    • We were fortunate to see this film in London, at the Barbican, on its premiere in 2013. I gave it 5* of 5. I wouldn’t be quite so generous this time, but then we weren’t in London, in the Barbican, this time. The impressive and beautiful black and white cinematography can’t quite hide the flaws of some mediocre character interpretations and the altogether too jolly ending. Still, a wonderful film.