Here's a promo for the production of Hamlet that Su and I are going to see in just over a week. I'm really looking forward to it. As much as I enjoy some Shakespeare films, I think the best way to see Shakespeare's plays is in live productions. I think there's an immediacy to the acting and the text that is missing from most films based on Shakespeare's plays. I think Su will really love it, because she's at the right age to really appreciate what's going on.
This one is shorter than the Simpsons clip I posted earlier, but I actually find it a bit funnier! This is Phillip (as inTerrance and Phillip, of South Park fame) doing a Canadian summerstock production of Hamlet. True to SP's depiction of all Canadians, there are a bunch of utterances of "buddy" and "guy" added to Shakespeare's text. Watch and enjoy.
I'll be taking Su to see a live production of Hamlet in just over a week. It will be the first time she's seeing live Shakespeare since she was really little. As preparation, here's Shakespeare's story as told by The Simpsons.
Wow! It's been over a month since my last post...what can I say, things have been busy. Anyhoo.......
I've been having some fun lately watching/listening to some debates between King James Only advocates and normal people. In case you don't know about this subject, let me elucidate. There are some folks who don't just prefer the King James Bible (you know, the ones who think the English of the KJV just "sounds like the Bible"); rather, they actually believe that the King James Version is the only inspired translation of the Bible into English. In fact some of them believe that it is the only inspired, preserved word of God in any language. Let that sink in. The only version of the Bible that can truly be said to be "the Bible" is a version that was translated 400 years ago...according to some of these folks. To many of them, modern versions (NIV, ESV, CSB, and the like) are not only incomplete--they're actually perversions of Scripture that have been designed to lead the faithful astray.
Well, it doesn't take long to see that some of these KJVO folks are not always the nicest people in the world. After all, if you're going to criticize other believers for using the wrong Bible, for being the wrong kind of Christians, you probably don't put a lot of value on being kind to other people. They often share groovy memes like this one:
Wow, gotta love that wicked font! Really gets the point across.
Or how about this classic from a Chick tract? (The late Jack Chick was a big KJV Only guy...)
Notice how there's what looks to be a Catholic cardinal in that one? Well, I forgot to mention, many KJVOs are also rabidly anti-Catholic, and so they also promote the theory that the modern versions are part of a diabolical Roman Catholic plot, to lure Christians away from the "good ol' King James Bible." Of course!
My favorite video to watch about this whole fascinating issue is this one from the 90s, a discussion on the John Ankerberg program:
It's long, but boy, is it entertaining. (I know, I have a bizarre notion of what constitutes "entertainment"...)
Here's the thing, though: I love the King James Bible. I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, and I don't think there are two works more important to the English language than the King James Bible and the First Folio of Shakespeare's works. I have all kinds of different editions of the KJV in my collection, and I love to dig into the majestic sweep of its language. But when a KIVO like Sam Gipp (in the video above) says, without a hint of irony, that non-English speakers would need to learn English to experience the actual word of God, I think that's insane.
Anyway, that's what I've been doing with my time lately. May write more on the subject later...
From time to time, I have enjoyed posting videos of a few different actors doing the same Shakespearean soliloquy, in order to compare/contrast the different approaches actors take to the same text. Today, I've decided to do it with one of my favorite soliloquies: Richard's opening speech in Richard III. The one that goes as follows:
Now is the winter of our discontent
First, I'll show the classic interpretation by Sir Laurence Olivier, from his 1955 film version. This one is famous not only for being one of the most popular, enduring film portrayals of Richard, but also for Olivier lifting a bit of a monologue from the last Henry VI play (Act III, Sc. 2). One has to appreciate the way Olivier addresses the camera, and the various levels he finds within the speech. Despite some of the melodramatic style, it's a pretty good performance.
Ian McKellen's portrayal in the 1995 film, forty years after Olivier's film, is a very different kind of performance. Some of the speech is in front of the crowd, followed by a very intimate chat with the camera in the men's bathroom. McKellen also includes a few lines from Henry VI in his screenplay, but not nearly as much as Olivier. It's a much more subtle performance, and more convincingly sinister.
Here's a very "minimalist" reading of the soliloquy from British actor, David Morrissey (widely known for his role as The Governor in AMC's The Walking Dead). I like being able to focus purely on the text in this performance, and I also enjoy hearing a bit of Morrissey's North Country accent. It's maybe not quite as impressive as McKellen or Olivier, but it's a fine reading, nonetheless.
Finally, this last video is a very fun, idiosyncratic reading of the soliloquy, featuring Irish actor Jonjo O'Neill, from the Royal Shakespeare Company. This is a unique rendering of the character: O'Neill sounds unstable, bordering on psychotic, with a dark current of humor underneath the text. And talk about communicating with the camera! He comes right up to the lens, making the viewer feel like he's right there in the room. Very enjoyable...
I wish I could have found a clip of Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Richard in The Hollow Crown, because it was pretty good, as I recall. He did the monologue shirtless, with a creepy looking prosthetic hump. It really highlighted Richard's deep bitterness about his physical deformity, in a very visual way. If I can find a clip, I'll add it to this blog post.
So that's it...Richard III, one of the ultimate Shakespeare baddies. Hope you enjoyed it!
Well, I don't believe I've ever stumbled upon this before: it's an online copy of the "shooting script" for Franco Zeffirelli's film version of Hamlet (1990). It's the one that starred Mel Gibson as Hamlet. A few things interest me about this script: first of all, for many years, this was my favorite film version of Hamlet (it isn't my favorite any more, but it still occupies a special place in my heart, as I've seen it so many times); second, it's interesting to see how many things were cut after this draft of the script was written; finally, it makes me smile to see, on the first page, the words "freely adapted from William Shakespeare's tragedy." I mean, most Shakespeare films are pretty heavily cut, particularly adaptations of Hamlet. But Zeffirelli seems to have drawn an awful lot of criticism for his cuts of Shakespeare's text, especially when compared to Branagh's version, which came out half a dozen years later, and which featured a "complete" text. (I put "complete" in quotes, as Branagh's script is also a creative work of editing, due to his conflation of Folio and Quarto texts, so one could just as easily accuse him of artificially expanding the text to a degree that it can't possibly resemble anything ever performed in Shakespeare's time.) Heck, Olivier's version of Hamlet even cut the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern completely! And his film continues to be one of the most highly praised Shakespeare films in history. Anyway, I'm going to enjoy reading this script of Zeffirelli's more closely.
I have encountered many clips from this series in the past, but I was excited to see recently that all the episodes of this remarkable series are now online at YouTube. I'm speaking of Playing Shakespeare, a series done by the Royal Shakespeare Company back in 1982 (not too long after I first became interested in Shakespeare), a workshop led by English director John Barton, which features a remarkable group of well-known RSC actors: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, David Suchet, Ben Kingsley, and many others.
Watching such talented Shakespearean actors get inside the text, interact with each other, even disagree with each other from time to time, is a great gift. Oh, if only I had had access to this series back in the days when I was studying acting! I'm looking forward to watching all 9 episodes!
[Don't let the title on YouTube fool you. Despite what it says, the series was first broadcast in 1982. I looked it up on IMDB. And if you can't trust IMDB, who can you trust?]
I had so much fun doing the comparison of Macbeth's "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" monologue a few days ago, I thought I'd do something similar with a few actresses who have played Lady Macbeth. I've chosen the famous "sleepwalking scene" as an example of how different actresses have approached this last scene in which the character appears.
First, one of the finest performances of the role was from Dame Judi Dench in Trevor Nunn's production of Macbeth that was filmed in 1978. Dench is fabulous in this scene, particularly in her long, drawn out screech towards the end of the scene (beginning around the 3:20 mark in the video). This is a remarkable performance.
My favorite Lady Macbeth of all the versions I've seen is probably Kate Fleetwood, who played the role in Rupert Goold's production of 2010 (the one starring Patrick Stewart as Macbeth). Fleetwood's transition from a cold, cruel woman in her earliest scenes to this neurotic, broken woman in the sleepwalking scene is amazing to see.
Finally, we have the very understated performance of Marion Cotillard in the 2015 film of Macbeth. Cotillard's Lady Macbeth begins the film as a broken woman, in a non-Shakespearean scene at the beginning of the film, where she and Macbeth are burying a child. Although her performance lacks some of the power of Dench's and Fleetwood's renditions, there is a quiet beauty to her acting that has its own value.
So there you have it: three very different performances of a powerful scene (perhaps one of the finest moments of any female role in all of Shakespeare). Once again, it's amazing to me how differently various actors can approach the same scene. I would love to hear from others, as to who their favorite Lady Macbeth is (or was). Thanks for reading (and watching).
From time to time, I have enjoyed sharing a few different performances of a famous Shakespeare soliloquy, just to highlight some of the different choices actors make in their interpretations. It demonstrates some of the vast range of possibilities that are possible with Shakespeare's text. Today, I've been watching a few different approaches to the famous speech from Macbeth, that contains those haunting words: "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day..." It's a dark and beautiful (and rather short) monologue, that also has the famous description of life as "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The first version I want to look at is Sir Ian McKellen, in Trevor Nunn's production from 1978:
The look of distaste on McKellen's face is something that I find intriguing, and almost mesmerizing. Her looks as if he is trying not to throw up. There's a quiet menace behind every word. It's really a stunning performance. And then there's that huge pause between "signifying" and "nothing" (a word which he separates into two very distinct syllables). Tremendous.
The next version of the soliloquy is from a much more recent production, starring Sir Ian's good friend Sir Patrick Stewart in the title role. It's from the production directed by Rupert Goold in 2010, a very contemporary setting, in which Macbeth is presented as a much more world weary figure. There's a great weight to everything Stewart utters in the speech. Watch and enjoy...
Finally, here's Michael Fassbender in a recent film version in 2015. I don't know if Fassbender's performance quite matches the other two actors, but it's still well worth watching, i think.
One bonus video that I found absolutely fascinating is this "lecture" from Ian McKellen, given just a year or so after the Trevor Nunn production. McKellen breaks down the soliloquy piece by piece. Really marvelous stuff...
There you have it. A fine speech, looked at several different ways. Hope you enjoy it. Thanks for watching.
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)