Shakespeare’s Macbeth as new film


This June 2015 video is called MACBETH – OFFICIAL TEASER TRAILER.

By George Marlowe and David Walsh in the USA:

Bloody instructions … return to plague the instructor”

A new film version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

19 December 2015

Australian director Justin Kurzel, a relative filmmaking newcomer, has brought to the screen a new version of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The production, starring Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, is engrossing and disturbing, if uneven.

Kurzel’s version eliminates certain sequences, rearranges others (a few, questionably) and makes much of the Scottish countryside and weather, but remains faithful to the contours of Shakespeare’s drama.

The story takes place at a time of upheaval and civil war in Scotland, with rival nobles and their supporters, along with foreign powers such as England and Norway, fighting for the upper hand. (The historical Macbeth reigned for 17 years as “King of the Scots” in the mid-11th century.) Macbeth is kin to the king, Duncan (David Thewlis), but, along with his wife, aspires to much more.

After Macbeth and a fellow noble, Banquo (Paddy Considine), lead their troops––including child soldiers––to victory against a rebel army backed by Norway, Duncan plans to reward Macbeth with the title of Thane [one of the king’s barons] of Cawdor. Macbeth and Banquo encounter the famed “weird sisters,” played here like poor, outcast women, who predict Macbeth’s rise, even to the kingship, but the eventual crowning of Banquo’s heirs.

Macbeth is spurred on by desire and ambition, but vacillates as he thinks to himself, “Stars hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.” He writes to Lady Macbeth and tells her of his present success and future prospects. She is concerned, however, that he is “too full o’th’ milk of human kindness” to be sufficiently ruthless. Cotillard chillingly prays in front of a church altar: “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood / Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse.”

When Macbeth vacillates (“I dare do all that may become a man”), in the face of assassinating the king, Lady Macbeth convinces him, through a combination of taunts. allurements and bravado (“We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.”) Assisted by his wife, Macbeth murders the king in the middle of the night and places the blame on Duncan’s guards. The dead king’s son, Malcolm (Jack Reynor), flees Scotland and Macbeth ascends to the throne.

As Kurzel’s film unfolds, the logic and consequences of Macbeth’s initial murderous act oblige him to commit one crime after another to protect his rule, including the murder of women and children (“Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill. … [T]hey say, blood will have blood”). Lady Macbeth meanwhile falls away, in bitterness and remorse (“Nought’s had, all’s spent, Where our desire is got without content”).

The action proceeds with harrowing intensity. Macbeth’s tyranny and megalomania rally his enemies and, ultimately, a large army––including English forces––forms against him. His mental state disintegrates to the point of madness, self-destruction and acute nihilism. After his wife’s death, possibly by suicide, life becomes for Macbeth, in the famed soliloquy, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The acting of the two leads, Fassbender and Cotillard, in particular is very affecting and moving. The entire cast seems deeply sincere and committed. Certain scenes––of battle, the death of children and the psychological breakdown of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth––are powerfully presented.

Cotillard’s hallucinatory turn as Lady Macbeth attempting to wash the imaginary blood off her hands is riveting (“Out, damned spot! … All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. … What’s done cannot be undone”). She represents Lady Macbeth’s tragic fate with an unusual degree of sympathy. When Fassbender half-smilingly proclaims, “O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife,” it is sinister and unnerving. The scene of Banquo’s ghost appearing at Macbeth’s banquet also stands out.

The moody cinematography and desolate-beautiful Scottish landscape add an eerie quality and match the overall tone of the performances. There are striking images and inspired moments in this Macbeth that linger in one’s mind with a dreamlike force. There is much that is commendable here––although there are significant problems too, which we will discuss below.

Literary historians suggest that Macbeth was written in 1606 or so. There appear to be references in the play to the Gunpowder Plot (a conspiracy by a group of English Catholics to blow up Parliament and murder King James I of England and VI of Scotland) of 1605.

The play is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, only a little more than half as long as Hamlet. It is a frightening work, as every critic (and audience member) has attested to. In the early 19th century, British commentator William Hazlitt observed that Macbeth is “driven along by the violence of his fate like a vessel drifting before a storm.” He is “hurried on with daring impatience to verify” the predictions of the witches, “and with impious and bloody hand to tear aside the veil which hides the uncertainty of the future.”

In more recent times, A.C. Bradley noted that “Darkness … broods over this tragedy.” It is difficult, Bradley wrote, “to be sure of [Macbeth’s] customary demeanour, for in the play we see him either in what appears to be an exceptional relation to his wife, or else in the throes of remorse and desperation.” Harold Goddard described the play as a “Descent into hell.” For G. Wilson Knight, “Fear is predominant. Everyone is afraid. … The impact of the play is analogous to nightmare. … The central act of the play is a hideous murder of sleep.” Polish-born critic Jan Kott, in the postwar period, observed: “Everyone in the play is steeped in blood: victims as well as murderers. The whole world is stained with blood.” American critic Harold Bloom described Macbeth as “a great killing machine” and “the bloodiest of all Shakespearean tyrant-villains.”

The play is frightening, not only because of the events, but because of the insight we obtain into Macbeth’s bloody and restless imagination. Among the perpetrators of crime or murder in Shakespeare, including Richard III, Iago, even Brutus and others, Macbeth is unique in his ability to envision his misdeeds and their possible consequences and to constantly anticipate and later relive them. They are always present with him and with us. Much of the drama takes place in his evolving consciousness (which may, in fact, contain the ghosts and spirits). A villain by any objective standard, Macbeth is endowed with perhaps the most unrelenting, corrosive conscience in world literature.

Shakespeare, with his customary thoroughness and psychological insight, took on the problem of political ambition, usurpation and tyranny. The play was written at a time of considerable instability and insecurity: the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I and the first years of James I’s rule. Conspiracies abounded, and repression was severe and cruel. However, it is worth bearing in mind that Macbeth is a historical play, set nearly five centuries before its writing. Shakespeare may well have had in mind aspects of contemporary life, the behavior of rival factions in his own time, but if his play had been perceived as a direct commentary on England’s ruling circles, he would have been clapped in jail.

One of the difficulties with much of the commentary, and Kurzel’s film itself, is the lack of historical perspective. Macbeth’s world, often with references to Hitler and Stalin, is gloomily proclaimed to be identical with ours. Bloom, who freely cites Nietzsche in his essay, goes so far as to assert that “Shakespeare rather dreadfully sees to it that we are Macbeth, our identification with him is involuntary but inescapable.” This is one of those, “Speak for yourself!” moments.

Kott writes that “There is only one theme in Macbeth: murder. History has been reduced to its simplest form, to one image and one division: those who kill and those who are killed.” Macbeth’s supposed recognition that “a man is he who kills, and only he,” the Polish critic terms the “Auschwitz experience.”

Kurzel’s Macbeth, of course, does not go so far or presume so much. However, the occasionally jittery and often close-in camera work, especially during the battle scenes, which suggests video footage, somehow draws in the spectator and implicates him or her. We are meant to see this as “our world,” in some fashion. So too Kurzel’s ending, with Banquo’s son practicing with a sword and running into the murk, suggests too easily that the “cycle of violence” will continue.

However, neither 11th-century Scotland nor Shakespeare’s era of royal absolutism is our world. Things have changed and historically progressed in many ways. Of course, we have bloodiness today, but it is not feudal or even pre-feudal bloodiness. Class society still exists, but there are great differences. Whether they are conscious of it or not, the filmmakers’ ahistorical and somewhat bleak approach has the effect of resigning the viewer to his or her supposedly unalterable fate (“You see, things have always been like this––and always will be”).

Associated with that, there is simply too much bloodiness. We get the point after two or three throat-slashings and such, which in the play largely occur offstage.

The artistic method is somewhat simplistic as well: to suggest the brutality of the period, Macbeth has to look and feel just as “brutal.” One is disinclined to agree with that. The bloodiness is too close, too immediate to provide any intellectual-aesthetic distance. The brutality at times seems to overcharge the performance with the suggestion, again, that everyone is implicated in the monstrousness.

There are other issues. The filmmakers make too much of an effort, too self-consciously, at times to impress with a visual splash. Also, occasionally, the overemphasis on the authentic Scottish accents tends to obscure the play’s incredible language. The direction of the actors, in the interest presumably of realism, sometimes reduces them almost to a whisper and mumble in a number of scenes. Certainly, avoiding heavy-handedness or pompous declaiming is a legitimate goal, but the lines still need to be heard and understood.

The tone is somewhat “one-note” throughout. This Macbeth is missing some of the emotional-intellectual texture of the play and some of its earthier, healthier figures.

These are real issues, and we raise them, not to pick points, but because Kurzel’s film as a whole is such a serious effort. The performances and the dramatic tension leave a distinct imprint. Even if it stumbles somewhat over its historical appreciation of Shakespeare’s drama, this Macbeth, at its best, conveys a genuine sense of the corruption and barbarism of our own times.

William Shakespeare, King Lear and King James I


This video is called KING LEAR by William Shakespeare. Starring IAN HOLM.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Shakespeare: a man of his time – and ours

Saturday 17th October 2015

1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear
by James Shapiro
(Faber & Faber, £20)

MOST of the vast output of Shakespearean criticism naturally comes to the Bard through his works. With so little known of the man, even the numerous attempts at biography have had to rely on his poetry and plays.

Indefatigable US academic James Shapiro, though, ploughs a rather different furrow. Following his in-depth study of the social and political context of key years in Shakespeare’s development in 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare — which could have been subtitled The Year of Hamlet — he has produced a sequel exploring the playwright’s dramatic and theatrical responses to the new, troubled Jacobean age.

The new king James I, determined to cement his position by uniting England with Scotland, faced a world of factional infighting fed by the toxic mix of politics and religion. At the centre¸ of course, was the Gunpowder Plot, the equivalent of potential twin-towers devastation.

If successful, it would have wiped out the whole Establishment and the inevitable reaction to its discovery affected every area of the country — even Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare and his company, newly appointed The King’s Men, were inevitably drawn into the world of the court both as part of the lavish entertainment and official attendants. Having been relatively quiet for a time, the playwright set about writing and producing three of his greatest plays, King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

All mirror in language and action the political currents of the time. So where Macbeth is built around the seemingly innocuous term “equivocation,” contemporary theatre-goers, probably the great majority of London’s populace, would have recognised a loaded accusation which had played a key part in unmasking the “traitors.”

There must too have been a note of critical daring in Shakespeare’s King Lear. No doubt James, the uneasy possessor of England’s throne, would [not] have been pleased to have his subjects shown a foolish king dividing his kingdom.

Shakespeare’s play, unlike his sources, does not end triumphantly but with the king’s death and no certainty of a rosy future.

Shapiro’s book reads like a splendid detective story as it fleshes out our recognition of the world from which some of the world’s greatest dramatic works emerged.

In making Shakespeare a man of his own time, it draws him even closer to us.

William Shakespeare and the English language


This video says about itself:

Shakespeare – The History of English (3/10)

1 July 2011

Frpm daily The Independent in Britain:

These are all the words that William Shakespeare is credited with inventing

by Evan Bartlett

24 August 2015

Despite passing away nearly four centuries ago, William Shakespeare has left an indelible mark on the English language.

The likes of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth have seen Shakespeare regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.

While those plays are still widely read and celebrated, the Bard has arguably left a far greater legacy in all the words and phrases that he is credited with inventing, or at least first popularising through his work.

Here is a list of 117 words credited to Shakespeare (just try and having a conservation without using any of them):

  • academe
  • accused
  • addiction
  • advertising
  • amazement
  • arouse
  • assassination
  • arch-villain
  • backing
  • bandit
  • barefaced
  • beached
  • bedazzle
  • bedroom
  • besmirch
  • bet
  • birthplace
  • blanket
  • bloodstained
  • blushing
  • bump
  • buzzer
  • caked
  • cater
  • champion
  • cheap
  • circumstantial
  • cold-blooded
  • compromise
  • countless
  • courtship
  • critic
  • dauntless
  • dawn
  • deafening
  • discontent
  • dishearten
  • drugged
  • dwindle
  • elbow
  • embrace
  • epileptic
  • equivocal
  • excitement
  • exposure
  • eyeball
  • fashionable
  • fixture
  • flawed
  • frugal
  • generous
  • gloomy
  • gnarled
  • go-between
  • gossip
  • green-eyed
  • grovel
  • gust
  • hint
  • hobnob
  • honey-tongued
  • hurried
  • impartial
  • impede
  • inauspicious
  • invulnerable
  • jaded
  • label
  • lacklustre
  • laughable
  • lonely
  • lower
  • luggage
  • lustrous
  • madcap
  • majestic
  • marketable
  • metamorphise
  • mimic
  • monumental
  • moonbeam
  • mountaineer
  • negotiate
  • nimble-footed
  • noiseless
  • obscene
  • obsequiously
  • ode
  • olympian
  • outbreak
  • panders
  • pedant
  • premeditated
  • puking
  • radiance
  • rant
  • remorseless
  • sanctimonious
  • savagery
  • scuffle
  • secure
  • skim milk
  • submerge
  • summit
  • swagger
  • time-honoured
  • torture
  • tranquil
  • undress
  • unearthly
  • unreal
  • varied
  • vaulting
  • vulnerable
  • well-bred
  • worthless
  • zany

Citations for where the majority of these words can be found in Shakespeare’s plays can be seen here.

Did William Shakespeare smoke marihuana?


This video from Britain is called Shakespeare’s Mother: The Secret Life of a Tudor Woman. BBC Documentary 2015.

If William Shakespeare did indeed smoke marihuana, then he was lucky not to live in South Carolina in the USA in 2015 …

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Was William Shakespeare high when he penned his plays?

Pipes with cannabis residue were found in the Bard’s garden

Francis Thackeray

Saturday 08 August 2015

State-of-the-art forensic technology from South Africa has been used to try and unravel the mystery of what was smoked in tobacco pipes found in the Stratford-upon-Avon garden of William Shakespeare.

Residue from clay tobacco pipes more than 400 years old from the playwright’s garden were analysed in Pretoria using a sophisticated technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry.

Chemicals from pipe bowls and stems which had been excavated from Shakespeare‘s garden and adjacent areas were identified and quantified during the forensic study. The artefacts for the study were on loan from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The gas technique is very sensitive to residues that can be preserved in pipes even if they had been smoked 400 years ago.

What were they smoking?

There were several kinds of tobacco in the 17th century, including the North American Nicotiana (from which we get nicotine), and cocaine (Erythroxylum), which is obtained from Peruvian coca leaves.

It has been claimed that Sir Francis Drake may have brought coca leaves to England after his visit to Peru, just as Sir Walter Raleigh had brought “tobacco leaves” (Nicotiana) from Virginia in North America.

In a recent issue of a Country Life magazine, Mark Griffiths has stimulated great interest in John Gerard’s Herbal, published in 1597 as a botanical book which includes engraved images of several people in the frontispiece. One of them (cited as “The Fourth Man”) is identified by Griffiths as William Shakespeare, but this identification is questionable.

Possibly, the engraving represents Sir Francis Drake, who knew Gerard.

Gerard’s Herbal refers to various kinds of “tobacco” introduced to Europe by Drake and Raleigh in the days of Shakespeare in Elizabethan England.

There certainly is a link between Drake and plants from the New World, notably corn, the potato and “tobacco”. Furthermore, one can associate Raleigh with the introduction of “tobacco” to Europe from North America (notably in the context of the tobacco plant called Nicotiana, from Virginia and elsewhere).

What we found

There was unquestionable evidence for the smoking of coca leaves in early 17th century England, based on chemical evidence from two pipes in the Stratford-upon-Avon area.

Neither of the pipes with cocaine came from Shakepeare’s garden. But four of the pipes with cannabis did.

Results of this study (including 24 pipe fragments) indicated cannabis in eight samples, nicotine in at least one sample, and in two samples definite evidence for Peruvian cocaine from coca leaves.

Shakespeare may have been aware of the deleterious effects of cocaine as a strange compound. Possibly, he preferred cannabis as a weed with mind-stimulating properties.

These suggestions are based on the following literary indications. In Sonnet 76, Shakespeare writes about “invention in a noted weed”. This can be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use “weed” (cannabis as a kind of tobacco) for creative writing (“invention”).

In the same sonnet it appears that he would prefer not to be associated with “compounds strange”, which can be interpreted, at least potentially, to mean “strange drugs” (possibly cocaine).

Sonnet 76 may relate to complex wordplay relating in part to drugs (compounds and “weed”), and in part to a style of writing, associated with clothing (“weeds”) and literary compounds (words combined to form one, as in the case of the word “Philsides” from Philip Sidney).

Was Shakespeare high?

Chemical analyses of residues in early 17th-century clay “tobacco pipes” have confirmed that a diversity of plants was smoked in Europe. Literary analyses and chemical science can be mutually beneficial, bringing the arts and the sciences together in an effort to better understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

This has also begged the question whether the plays of Shakespeare were performed in Elizabethan England in a smoke-filled haze?

One can well imagine the scenario in which Shakespeare performed his plays in the court of Queen Elizabeth, in the company of Drake, Raleigh and others who smoked clay pipes filled with “tobacco”.

**

This piece is based on an article published in the South African Journal of Science in July 2015.

Francis Thackeray is Phillip Tobias Chair in Palaeoanthropology, Evolutionary Studies Institute at University of the Witwatersrand.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, play and film


This video says about itself:

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Trailer

19 August 2014

An immersive cinematic record of director Julie Taymor’s (The Lion King) virtuosic stage production of Shakespeare’s immortal fantasy.

By David Walsh in the USA:

Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

24 June 2015

Directed by Julie Taymor; written by William Shakespeare

Julie Taymor’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was screened in a number of movie theaters in North America this week for one night only (on or about the summer solstice). The film was shot during a run of Taymor’s version of the play at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn in 2013-14.

Scholars theorize that Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, perhaps for an aristocratic wedding, in the mid-1590s. The comic-magical play, one of the few whose basic outline the dramatist did not derive from another source, has several interconnected plot strands.

Duke Theseus of Athens and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, are making preparations for their wedding day; four young lovers—Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius—attempt to sort out their relationships, in the face of a host of external and internal pressures; Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of Fairyland, are in the midst of a quarrel, with all sorts of implications for the natural world around them; a group of Athenian “mechanicals” (workmen) are rehearsing a play, the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe [a story that resembles Romeo and Juliet], to be performed at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.

Much of the play takes place in the moonlit woods presided over by Oberon and Titania. Angered at his queen, Oberon has his “sprite,” Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, locate a flower whose juice, smeared on the eyes, will make any creature fall in love with the next person—or animal—he or she sees. Puck changes the head of one of the workmen, Bottom the weaver, into a donkey’s, and Titania, on seeing him, falls madly in love.

Meanwhile, the four lovers are stumbling around the forest. At first, both Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Hermia, much to the unhappiness of Helena, who adores Demetrius. After Puck drops some of his potion in the wrong eyes, Lysander and Demetrius direct their affections and attentions toward Helena, who becomes convinced that the other three have conspired to play a cruel prank on her.

Bottom passes the time with Titania and her attendant fairies, until Oberon and Puck intervene and restore him more or less to his previous condition. In the end, Oberon and Titania are reconciled, the three other couples find their way to the altar, and Bottom and his fellow workmen stage their play successfully at the wedding reception.

Taymor (born 1952) is best known for spectacular theater stagings, especially of The Lion King (1997) and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (2010). She has directed a number of films, including Titus (1999, based on Shakespeare’s bloody Titus Andronicus), Frida (2002), Across the Universe (2007) and The Tempest (2010). While visually intriguing, none of these films was an artistic success. Frida, about the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, was significantly misconceived.

Taymor’s work in general has seemed a triumph of style over substance. Fortunately, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream she has taken on a work that brings her considerable skill to the fore. Imaginatively staged and exuberantly performed, Taymor’s effort is largely a delight. If it does not explore the play or its themes deeply, and it does not, it certainly allows an audience to experience something of the work’s relentless beauty and poetry.

The play takes place on a stage deeply thrust into the audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn. A central image is a giant silk bed-sheet that makes itself into a balloon, a sky, a sort of hammock, a projection screen and a good deal more. Taymor makes great use of lighting, harnesses, trapdoors and a variety of equipment, especially in the Titania-Oberon-Puck scenes.

Kathryn Hunter as an androgynous Puck, who twists herself into any number of poses, is thoroughly engaging, as are David Harewood as Oberon and Tina Benko as Titania. A crowd of small children charmingly represent the fairies. To her credit, Taymor has made the play accessible to contemporary audiences, without sacrificing the original play.

There is something genuinely breathtaking, almost “unbearable” (as I noted in a review of Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film version of the play), about the sweetness of the language in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is Oberon to Puck:

Thou rememb’rest
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea maid’s music?

And further:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and eglantine.

And that sweetness is powerfully brought out here, by Taymor, Harewood, Benko and Hunter in particular.

As we noted in 1999, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps “the gentlest of Shakespeare’s works.” That review went on:

“Puck plays his pranks, and Oberon takes his relatively harmless revenge on Titania, but this is not a nightmare, it is a dream born of a warm summer night. Oberon takes pity on Helena, ‘a sweet Athenian lady … in love with a disdainful youth.’ Puck says, although mistakenly, of Hermia lying near Lysander: ‘Pretty soul, she durst not lie / Near this lack-love, this kill-courtesy.’ Later Oberon instructs Puck to prevent a fight between jealous Demetrius and Lysander, and declares his intention to release Titania from her spell, ‘and all things shall be peace.’ Or, as Puck puts it, even more suggestively, ‘Jack shall have Jill, / Naught shall go ill.’”

One of the remarkable themes of the play, bound up of course with great changes in social relations in Shakespeare’s time, is the extraordinary and novel malleability of human personality and emotions. Granted that Oberon and Puck intervene supernaturally from time to time, but the four young people, as well as Titania herself, demonstrate that love, for example, is hardly a sentiment fixed for eternity.

Demetrius observes that his love for Hermia—which he was only cured of the night before!—“seems to me now / As the remembrance of an idle gaud / Which in my childhood I did dote upon.”

Titania declares her undying love for Bottom at the beginning of one scene (“O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee!”) and, only a few scant moments later, once having woken from her “visions,” exclaims, “How came these things to pass? / O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!”

As we noted in 1999, A Midsummer Night’s Dream suggests “a world of infinite possibility. After all, this is the only one of Shakespeare’s plays in which a man on the Bottom sleeps with (or by) a Queen, at her instigation no less. In the forest in the middle of the night in a dream all things pass into one another and are transformed, love and hate, man and animal, spirit and matter.”

The rapid, dramatic changes of Taymor’s set and design have the advantage of suggesting something of this transmutability.

The weakest point here is Max Casella’s Bottom, or rather, not the actor, but Taymor’s direction. Casella is far too broad, with his clichéd New York-New Jersey accent, and works far too hard for broad and rather cheap laughs.

Shakespeare was not writing his play principally for “mechanicals,” for laborers, although they formed a section of his audience. And certainly there is a degree to which the playwright laughs along with Duke Theseus and the rest of the Athenian elite at the artistic-theatrical pretensions of the weaver (Nick Bottom), carpenter (Peter Quince), bellows-mender (Francis Flute), tinker (Tom Snout), joiner (simply “Snug”) and tailor (Robin Starveling).

As occasionally foolish as the “mechanical” actors are, however, their essential geniality, solidarity and sincerity come through. Is there a genuinely warmer moment in Shakespeare than that in which Bottom makes his reappearance, after losing his asses’ head, among his fellow artisans?

BOTTOM

Where are these lads? where are these hearts?

QUINCE [and the others]

Bottom! O most courageous day! O most happy hour!

BOTTOM

Masters, I am to discourse wonders: but ask me not what; for if I tell you, I am no true Athenian. I will tell you every thing, right as it fell out.

QUINCE

Let us hear, sweet Bottom.

Essential to the success of the “mechanical” scenes is the workers’ spirit of togetherness. Despite their various idiosyncrasies, they stick up for and stand by one another. In Taymor’s version, Brendan Averett as Snug, Joe Grifasi as Quince, William Youmans as Starveling, Jacob Ming-Trent as Snout and Zachary Infante as Flute all do well, even memorably. Infante’s “death scene” as Thisbe is quite remarkable. On the other hand, portraying Bottom as something of a scene-stealer and “ham,” and not simply an enthusiast, is a mistake and detracts from the work.

Whatever intentions he had in his head to begin with, Shakespeare was Shakespeare, and once he began to work through a character’s situation, he generally got to the heart of things. We recently noted the comment by Orson Welles that Shakespeare’s Falstaff (who appears in a number of the history plays) was “the most completely good man, in all drama.” Then Bottom is certainly one of the kindest and most endearing.

He is the favorite of the artisans; during the time he spends away from them in Titania’s company, they are at a loss. He has, according to Flute, “the best wit of any handicraftman in Athens,” and he is “the best person, too,” adds Quince. “O sweet bully Bottom,” cries Flute, sadly.

We noted in 1999: “The weaver is unfailingly thoughtful and considerate, and apparently unfazed by any of the astonishing things that befall him. When Titania unexpectedly proclaims that she loves him, he replies, ‘Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that.’ Nonetheless, it is not unthinkable, for ‘to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.’

“Offered the part of a lover in the workmen’s theatrical, Bottom expresses the desire to play a ‘tyrant’ instead. No one is less fit for such a part. So concerned is he about the ladies in the audience becoming frightened, because a lion appears in the piece, he explains that were he to play the part, ‘I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove. I will roar you an ‘twere any nightingale.’

“Worried as well about the impact on the female spectators of his character killing himself, Bottom suggests adding a prologue in which he will explain that ‘we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus [his character] is not killed indeed; and for the more better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver. That will put them out of fear.’ I think Harold Bloom is entitled to assert in his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human that Bottom is ‘a sublime clown … a great visionary … and a very good man, as benign as any in Shakespeare.’”

In any event, despite the missteps in this regard, Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is enjoyable and absorbing. It will open more widely later in the year.

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice on stage


This video says about itself:

19 August 2009

Brandon Ewald performs a monologue as Gratiano from William Shakespeare‘s “The Merchant of Venice” Act I Scene 1 at the Globe Theatre in London.

By Gillian Piggott in England:

Timely note of tragedy

Wednesday 6th May 2015

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice has dark undertones which directly address issues of racism today, says GILLIAN PIGGOTT

The Merchant of Venice
Globe Theatre, London SE1
3/5

WITH the election battle waged in sections of the media dominated by the issue of immigration, The Merchant of Venice is the perfect Shakespeare play to mount at the present moment.

So it proves in Jonathan Munby’s engaging production in which Shylock, the tragic outsider at the play’s core, is given due gravitas by Jonathan Pryce.

He stands not only for Jews but for all immigrants — or their second-generation offspring — struggling to rub along with host nations while maintaining religious and cultural identity. British Muslims or eastern European immigrants, so maligned by the far right, spring readily to mind.

Munby makes a compelling case for Shylock’s descent into vengefulness in a production which underlines how Antonio (Dominic Mafham), Bassanio (Daniel Lapaine) and the rest of the Christians are a thoroughly racist lot.

Contemptuous and self-satisfied, they openly despise and bully the Jew, with Mafham’s creepily charming and self-regarding colonialist merchant resorting to physically assaulting Shylock before bargaining his flesh for cash.

Pryce’s Shylock has the integrity and dignity that invites audience sympathy in the trial scene. An actor of presence, his wonderful voice breaks into vibrato at moments of passion and his simple truthfulness make his refusal to show mercy convincing.

And it also makes the unravelling of Shylock’s case and the legal bias and conspiracy ranged against him by Portia (Rachel Pickup) all the more ruthless.

With the emphasis on the Christians’ culpability, Jessica’s betrayal of her father is even less intelligible. Munby attempts to address this by having Shylock’s enforced baptism — a violating and brutal ritual — witnessed by Jessica (Phoebe Pryce), who sings a threnody bewailing the destruction she has helped heap upon her father.

It’s a powerful echoing of sectarian violence but it fails to solve the mystery of why Jessica does what she does.

Another issue with the production is that Munby does not appear to know how to make the Globe space work. He obscures the back half of the stage with a trellis and all the action takes place in front of the pillars.

And, while experienced actors such as Pryce and Mafham know how to speak the verse and use their voices effectively in the space, younger members of the company are less technically accomplished.

Intelligibility, unlike the quality of mercy, is thus sometimes strained.

Runs until June 7, box office: shakespearesglobe.com