Wednesday, August 29, 2007

As You Like It CD out

The soundtrack CD from Kenneth Branagh's new As You Like It film for HBO is available now. The original music was composed for the film by Patrick Doyle who also scored Branagh's Hamlet, Henry V, Much Ado and L3 as well as many other films.

The music includes Shakespeare's songs from the play such as "Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind" and "It Was a Lover and his Lass" that appear in the play without music, encouraging the songs to be set according to current fashion.

In 2005 the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario produced an As You Like It with original music by Canadian band, Barenaked Ladies. Our Oberon group saw that production during a visit to Stratford that year. You can order the BNL As You Like It CD from BNL Audio.

Setting Shakespeare's songs was also popular in the early part of the Twentieth Century. Roger Quilter and Gerald Finzi are famous for their atmospheric, English art-song, settings. My favorite CD is a compendium of their Shakespeare songs (and Ralph Vaughn Williams' settings of Robert Louis Stevenson poems) sung by Kiwi baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Rhodes sings Quilter's version of "Blow, Blow" and Finzi's "It Was a Lover and His Lass" from As You Like It. The 2005 CD is titled "Vagabond" and is available from Middle Eight Music in South Yarra, Victoria, Australia.

By listening to all three CDs, you can see how three distinct musical stylists responded to two songs from Shakespeare's As You Like It.

If all this talk of Shakespeare's songs has piqued your interest in Shakespeare's use of music in his work, you will find the very fine Shakespeare and Music by University of Leeds professor of Renaissance literature David Lindley wonderfully enlightening. The book was published in 2006 by Thomson Learning as one in the Arden Shakespeare's Arden Critical Companions series.

Parenthetically, Lindley has made available an annotated edition of Beerbohm Tree's 1904 production of The Tempest on the web.

Heigh-ho! Sing, heigh-ho!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Oxfordian theater critic

On our drive to Stratford on Saturday, Richard introduced us to an Oxfordian theater critic he had discovered on the web. According to his website, Bob Bows has been reviewing regional theater for over 11 years. His reviews are broadcast on KUVO 89.3 FM and published in The Denver Post. In an August 10, 2007 review of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's All's Well That Ends Well, Bows had this to say:

"Let's be frank: In Shakespeare, there are no problem plays, only problematic interpretations. The root of the issue is the refusal by entrenched academic and ancillary industries to acknowledge that many think Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the actual author of the plays, sonnets, etc. attributed to William Shakespeare."

On his website, ColoradoDrama, Bows provides an essay explaining why he feels the authorship question has a place in theatrical criticism. He says:

"It is of the utmost importance that we do not allow these misperceptions to continue, for understanding the nature of this genre is as integral to its theatrical presentation as theatre is integral to our spiritual health . . ."

I was pretty much gob-smacked. Who knew there was this guy out there shouting from the mountaintop?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Richard Rose dialogue on Merchant

Dear Oberon,

Having no shame, I recently invited Richard Rose, the director of
Stratford's Merchant of Venice, which some of us will be seeing Saturday, to share the event with us at dinner. I did this despite warnings from one of our esteemed members (you know who you are, Richard) that there were some problems with the production. In politely declining, Mr. Rose has some good answers although we won't have a chance to pose the questions. I thought the exchange might be interesting to Oberon. Mr. Rose has indicated that he is very comfortable discussing his production with us. With his permission, his reply and my reply to his reply follow.

Tom Hunter, Oberon Chair

In a message dated 8/22/2007 8:54:54 P.M. EDT, Richard Rose writes:

Dear Mr. Hunter,

Happy to see your presentation but not sure when I can actually read it as I am onto other projects. I think you will find that this Merchant adheres quite closely to a line by line interpretation (with a few obscurities removed). I think that may actually be the provocation of it because the text does not get interpreted softly and the hatred of the characters does not become forced into the benign. To my mind it is a play about prejudice and about how prejudice comes to be. It is a play about how we know an "other". How we know them via our sense or via our thought? The act of knowing and being known and the desire to be known and to know is pivotal in a racist society as it is in falling in love. Act five is critical.

To my mind, Shakespeare wrote a coherent and complex play. It is only the critics who can't see that not the audience. Act 5 definitely relates to and is a consequence of the Court scene. I very much trust in the coherence of Shakespeare but in our current political climate it would seem very difficult to present how we come to have prejudice without offence hence the rather watered-down versions of this play, the inoffensive versions of this play. It is my feeling that offensiveness is inherent to the play however unpopular it is with the audience.

I will leave you to judge and would love to talk about it more. Very best,

Richard Rose Artistic Director Tarragon Theatre, Toronto

Tom replied:

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your gracious reply and for giving me some things to look for on Saturday. I am heartened by your comments and will be paying close attention to them and to the following.

One of the age old questions is whether the play is a comedy or a tragedy. In Shakespeare you have to be prepared to consider that it is both. The key to answering this question in Merchant is the well recognized theme in the play (and throughout Shakespeare) of outer appearance v. inner reality. That theme applies to the very structure of The Merchant of Venice: the human tragedy within the world’s comedy.

The play’s comedy relies not only on comic business—wordplay, mistaken identity, and other such devices—but on the much broader consideration of the human comedy, the satire attending Shakespeare’s humanistic view of the society which day to day fuels itself on human imperfection. Within the comic shell, the play’s tragedy resides in Shylock whose conflict grows into true tragic conflict as a man at odds with his society, his culture, his history and himself, who, making choices forced upon him by a vicious anti-Semitic society and succumbing to the human imperfection which has created this world of Babel in the first place, chooses ultimately against his religion, his culture, his own values, and ultimately against himself. It is why I titled my paper “Shylock: Jew and No Jew.”

All that said, I totally agree with you that Shakespeare wrote a play against prejudice. He portrayed its vicious social aspects and its tragic consequences. The irony, of course, is that as you suggest, the lesson has been missed—certainly by the vast majority of critics—usually due to the very human imperfections which Shakespeare is portraying.

Central among these is religion itself as a force which divides men from each other. Critics have defined one of the central conflicts as Christianity v. Judaism, of Christian mercy v. Jewish justice. The first mistake is to take Shylock as a representative of all Jews. As the play progresses, he becomes an individual and actually chooses against Judaism’s most central values. He chooses revenge, telling us that he learned it from the Christians and that he would out-do them on it. The critics have got it all wrong. Shakespeare does not oppose Shylock with Christian values, he opposes Shylock with Jewish values.

My paper shows this directly from Shakespeare’s text. But how could that be? The critics have told us that Shakespeare was a creature of his times. He pandered to public opinion to sell plays. All this biographical crap, created by the critics without paying close attention to Shakespeare’s texts, has clouded the issue for centuries. The point is that when you pay attention to what the play actually says, all the cockeyed, strained (Remember, the quality of mercy is not strained) attempts to explain it fall away, and the simple truths of the play remain.

Merchant is not a psychological thriller a la Dostoevsky as Goddard and others who struggle with it and manufacture answers would have us believe. It is a morality play pure and simple. The admittedly difficult—and not so simple—challenge is to portray Shylock’s tragedy, for Shylock is irrevocably human in ways Harold Bloom can never even imagine. Ultimately his humanness overcomes whatever redeeming—that’s right, redeeming—Jewish attributes he has lost.

The play is profoundly supportive of Jewish moral teachings. At its heart is a man who does not follow them. Of course, neither do the Christians in the play practice Christianity. But Shakespeare chose Shylock as his tragic character because his dramatic sense told him that Shylock’s is the greater drama. It truly is, and that is the challenge which I believe directors must answer. It is one thing I'll be looking for on Saturday.

With all due respect, Richard, although your focus on prejudice is right on, the knowing of the “other” is a concern which might work fine in the 21st century, especially as it might relate to Shakespeare’s central theme of identity/mistaken identity but which has nothing to do with Shakespeare’s intentions in Act 5.

However, I am heartened that in your Merchant, “the hatred of the characters does not become forced into the benign.” That is a wonderful way to put it, and I will be looking for that on Saturday, too. It is a key to what this play is all about. Antonio may be a Christian, but he is no hero. He is one of the chief exemplars of the human imperfections targeted in this play.

But I have gone on too long. How amazing that work created 400 years ago so powers these discussions.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Somewhat Obscure Humor

This is a cartoon that was sent around by E-mail to the Oberon members by member Joshua Rohlman and I am posting it here so it can get more widespread exposure. Josh is not really sure where it came from (someone sent it to him). I'm not sure what the original artist meant by it but, with the "ED" written on the coffee cup, I can make up my own interpretation.

Unfortunately, Josh now lives in New Jersey (he used to be in Toledo) so it is not clear when we will see him again in person, but it's nice that he can keep up with us electronically.

Thanks, Josh!

Oberon August report

In past years, Oberon has not often met in August, substituting an outing for a meeting. This year we are doing both. Some of us will be attending The Merchant of Venice in Stratford, Ontario this Saturday, the 25th. In the meantime, a gratifyingly good turnout appeared for the regular meeting on Thursday, August 16. Thank you to Sue, Linda, Mara, Robin, Rey, Richard, Tom, Joy, Barb, and Rosey for making it another enjoyable evening.

There were three highlights in addition to our reliable Treasurer’s Report.

The first was Linda’s presentation on the possibilities of the blog in which she created a entry for our Oberon blog on the computer in front of our very eyes. (See Aug. 16 photo and entry below.) Will the marvels of this electronic age never cease? In addition to being impressive, Linda’s demonstration showed us that blogging offers many possibilities and opportunities to Oberon, including facilitating communication among members; creating a record of members’ thoughts, activities, and research results, among others; and connecting us to the internet, since blog content should show up in search results. Linda has taken the online ball and run with it for us. We owe her many thanks. I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

The second highlight was the report by Rey Perez about the personal e-mail he received from Irwin Matus as a result of Rey’s foray into the Folger during which he met Mr. Matus and struck up a warm acquaintance. Suffice it to say that Mr. Matus has his doubts about any Oxfordian other than Rey, but Rey is to be congratulated for getting through to at least one orthodox Shakespearean. Yes, Mr. Matus, Rey Perez is abundantly human. He’s a good guy. He’s knowledgeable. You have already discovered that. And we like to think that there are more Oxfordians like him than have yet been dreamt of in your philosophy. We may have our differences but, as Patrick Stewart said, we are all Shakespeareans.

The third highlight was a complete surprise for the group. We knew that Barbara Burris has been working on a novel. We know of Barbara Burris’ excellent research into the authorship issue, especially her work reported in the New York Times about the Ashbourne portrait which hangs in the Folger and whose subject was originally referred to as Shakespeare. We knew that she asked to read a chapter or two of her novel at a meeting. Well, she did that on Thursday, and what we didn’t know—but should have—is how excellent it appears to be. Barbara apparently can add fiction to her list of accomplishments. Every word was a delight. Barb said she has a long way to go, but if the rest of it is as good as the part we heard, she should have a success on her hands. It is a mystery with a working title Portrait of Deceit: the Shakespeare Murders. It evolves from her work on the Ashbourne, and it skillfully touches on authorship issues in interesting ways. We are hoping that Barbara will keep us in the loop as the book takes shape, and we thank her for bringing it to us.

Finally, Tom reported briefly on the Utah Shakespeare Festival and some highjinks that occurred when he found Will Shakespeare sitting on a park bench inside the festival theatre.

Next meeting is Thursday, Sept. 20. Linda invited Oberon members to her home on Sept 23 for a special potluck get together. Please check with Linda for details.

Tom Hunter
Oberon Chair

As You Like It on HBO

I was able to see the premiere of As You Like It at my sister's house here in Providence. She also taped it for me, so thank you to those of you who may have done this for me per my last E-mail. You should keep your recordings at put them to good use later.

Anyway, for those who haven't seen it, I recommend it highly. You can check the link Laura provided in the previous blog for the schedule. I think it is very good. It sure beats what Branaugh did for Loves Labors Lost! This production is very lavish and high-spirited. It reminded me of Branaugh's Much Ado. The casting is good. Bryce Dallas Howard (recently seen in Spiderman 3 and movies by M. Night Shamalayan) was Rosalind. David Oyelowo (who has been in many movies, but I remember him playing Henry VI when the RSC came to Ann Arbor for the first time with their "marathon" production of all 3 parts of Henry VI and also Richard III) was Orlando. Alfred Molina and Kevin Kline had nice roles as Touchstone and Jacques. Although Branaugh did not have a role, some of his "stable of actors" (who have been in all of his Shakespeare movies) were there, including Brian Blessed as BOTH dukes, Richard Briers as Old Adam (the role some "scholars" maintain was played by Will Shakespeare), and Jimmy Yuill as Sylvius.

So, once again, see it if you can!


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

As You Like It premiers Aug. 21 on HBO

Richard said:
"Kenneth Branaugh's new Shakespeare film, As You Like It, is premiering on HBO tonight (Tuesday) at 9 PM. It may also be showing at other times in the next week or so. It is set in Japan. It seems like it will be good, judging from the information on the HBO website. Apparently, HBO bought the rights to the film, so it won't be shown in theaters (at least in the US). It may come out on DVD later. We'll see."

And Laura's husband provided this link to the HBO site, along with a schedule with show times from 8/21 through 9/2.

Thanks, guys!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Oberons learn to blog

Oberons stare raptly at a computer wall-screen during an August-meeting, blogging lesson at Farmington Community Library.

Monday, August 13, 2007

August 16 meeting at Farmington Community Library

Dear Oberon,

Don't forget our top of the summer meeting Thursday at the Farmington Library. Regular meeting starts at 6:45. Pre-meeting in the coffee shop about nothing in particular just to hang out for those who arrive early at 5:30.

Linda will be taking us into the world of blogging, as we expand our Internet capabilities. There is a good chance that Tom Townsend will be back with a regular -- and prized -- feature of our meetings, the Treasurer's Report. If the other Tom can get it together, there will be a report from the Utah Shakespeare Festival as well as some direction for the Hamlet Project and a brief retrospective on the Jackson Experience at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, plus possibly a surprise or two.

So the plate is full. Good things happen when we get together. See you Thursday!


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Our correspondent in Stratford

The following reports were sent to us by Oberon founder and Shakespeare Oxford Society board member Richard Joyrich. Thanks, Richard!

WEDNESDAY August 1, 2007

Hi Oberoners,

This is your Stratford, Ontario correspondent reporting in from my scouting mission in advance of our August 25th planned Oberon Invasion (well, there's only 5 people yet, but that can change).

I have already seen two of the four Oxford (Shakespeare) plays on tap here, Comedy of Errors and King Lear. Comedy of Errors was fun, but I think that director Richard Monette went over the top in adding "funny bits". Once or twice for a gag is OK, but not four or five times. King Lear, directed by and starring Brian Bedford (as Lear) was very good, but seemed to lack some of the emotional appeal and "grandeur" of the 2002 production with Christopher Plummer. I still recommend it highly though.

I will be seeing Merchant tomorrow and Othello on Saturday. I'll report on them after I see them.

Now as to future Oberon projects:
We need to get going on our Hamlet Project. This is in part due to the fact that I have just learned that the 2008 Stratford Festival Season will include this play. Actually, in a return to its "roots" the Festival is going to be doing five (count 'em, five) Shakespeare plays (they are also going to restore the official name of Stratford Shakespeare Festival). The other four plays planned for 2008 are Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, All's Well that Ends Well, and Loves Labours Lost.

I think we should get on to all of these plays soon. They all have good Oxfordian connections, especially All's Well and LLL (and I guess Hamlet also). I would like to forward to Jack Scofield (writer of the Prologues book and leader of a daily discussion group here in Stratford) any Oxfordian material we can come up with before he starts writing his book for next season (which he will do before February). I come to his discussion group whenever I am in town here and I think he is becoming more and more open to our point of view. Let's talk about this at our next Oberon meeting (which I think is August 16, right Tom?)

Well, that's it for now. Keep those cards and letters coming.


THURSDAY August 2, 2007

Hi all,

Another day finished and two more plays under my belt. Today I saw the musical Oklahoma which was very enjoyable and The Merchant of Venice which I have to say was disappointing (given what the Stratford Festival should be capable of).

I can go into more details at our next Oberon meeting, but in short I found that Graham Greene didn't really work for me as Shylock and that the director's choice of costumes, set design and music were a little jarring. I guess the director, Richard Rose, wanted to mirror the sense of ambivalence he finds in the Venetian society of the play (according to the video interview with him on the Stratford website) and so chose to do it in a "no period" setting with various contrasting elements, but it seemed to me to be distracting. Maybe I just didn't "get it".

Even though I didn't really like this production (in fact thinking it was one of the worst I've seen), I am still very happy to see it again with the four other intrepid souls who have already decided to brave the perils of crossing the border, driving in Tom Hunter's car (actually very nice), and having to stop at Tim Hortons because I want to share the experience (however painful it is) with others and maybe someone else can explain to me what the director was smoking when he conceived the production.

Despite having lambasted the production, I still invite any other Oberoners who want to come with us to do so. I can still get tickets for it (Saturday, August 25th at 2 PM) so let me know if you need one. I'm sorry, but the four who already have tickets still have to go since I have already paid for the tickets.

There are other options, perhaps, for the four of you who have already committed to coming to Stratford if you are not sure enough of your masochistic tendencies to put up with this travesty of theater (well, maybe I'm going too far now). We could instead decide to come to Stratford on the Friday (Aug 24) for the 2 PM production of King Lear (very good, but maybe not as good as the 2002 version with Christopher Plummer) or the Friday 8 PM production of Othello (I won't see this until this Saturday so I don't know how it will be yet, but it probably won't be as bad as the Merchant was). I will report on Othello after I see it. (Yes, we could also see Comedy of Errors at 8 PM on August 24 or 2 PM on Sunday August 26, but it really was a little too stupid as I reported in my last E-mail)

Let's think about this some more, but don't worry. Whatever we decide to do will result in everyone having a good time (even if it is only the fun of a discussion on what the director SHOULD have done)


PS: I hope you realize that I am being a little tongue in cheek when I describe the production of Merchant I saw as a travesty. It's not really so bad, but it was a disappointment for me.

FRIDAY August 3, 2007

Hi all,

First of all, I will apologize if I scared my four future Stratford co-voyagers by remarks about the production of Merchant that I saw and will soon be "inflicted" on them. It is only a little bit terrible.

I have softened my opinion on the production after talking to other people at Jack Scofield's discussion session this morning and also talking to Sue Sybersma.

For this reason, I retract my suggestions in my last E-mail that we try to see something else. I now find that I would like to hear the opinions of Tom, Rosey, Linda, and Sue M after they see the production. I am even willing to see the thing again (as long as I have others with me to share the pain).

This afternoon I saw a great production of An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde (it was even better than the recent movie with Rupert Everett and Cate Blanchett) and tonight I will see another musical.

I will write again with my thoughts on Othello after I see it tomorrow.


SATURDAY August 4, 2007

OK, here is my last report from Stratford since I will be returning to Michigan tomorrow morning, having seen ten plays.

The best production of a Shakespeare play, in my opinion, was the Othello I saw this afternoon. Jonathan Goad was exceptional as Iago, and the staging at the Tom Patterson theater was first-rate. I thought that Philip Akin (in his Stratford debut) could have been a little stronger as Othello, but he was still very good and the supporting cast was also very fine. Maybe I can convince those of you who are coming on August 25 for Merchant to "stick around" for the 8 PM Othello that day (of course we would have to get tickets).

As I stated in earlier E-mails, King Lear was very good, but still seemed to lack "something". I'd put it second best this year (for the Shakespeare productions). Comedy of Errors was fun, but way too silly and "over the top" and Merchant still holds last place for me (although my opinion of it since talking with others about it has risen from "Oh no, you mean I have to see this thing again?!" to "OK, maybe I should give it another chance.")

As far as most fun or enjoyable Stratford productions this year, I'd have to go with the musical "My One and Only" (with great Gershwin songs and amazing tap dancing) and the incredible solo tour-de-force performance by Lucy Peacock in "The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead" (this production also wins the prize for the longest title) by Robert Hewett.

I also enjoyed highly going to the various Meet the Festival, Talking Theater and Table Talk sessions as well as Jack Scofield's PROLOGUES talks. If we can leave early enough on the 25th we should try to catch Jack's talk on Merchant at 11 AM (it will cost everyone $10 however).

OK enough for now. I have to save some further observations and gossip for our next Oberon meeting.