Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hilberry Does Hamlet

Yes, the Hilberry Theatre CAN do Shakespeare well (on occasion). 

I know this, having just attended a performance of Hamlet yesterday. It was directed by Dr. Blair Anderson, who is the Chair of the Department of Theater at Wayne State University. For the most part it was a very nice text-driven production with only a few slightly odd cuts and rearranging of scenes (or parts of scenes). It was well-cast (except perhaps for the part of Polonius who seemed too young for me). In the play-within-a-play scene the dumbshow (something I have real trouble with-Does Claudius see this?-Doesn't it give the whole "catch the conscience of the King" plan away?) was done very well (without "giving the plan away"),  although it was a little jarring for me (I hope I'm not being too sexist) that the Player Queen was a "full-figured" tall woman and the Player King a slight, shorter man. Nevertheless I do recommend going to see this production (I may even want to see it again-how about it, Oberoners?  Another road trip?)

The Hilberry is also doing Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, although not usually on the same day as Hamlet. They were doing both yesterday, but I was unable to attend the evening performance (a dinner for my sister's birthday took precedence). There is one more day when both productions are on offer. This is January 14 (a Saturday) when R&G is the matinee with Hamlet in the evening. Maybe we can plan on this for a group outing.

I'm not sure of this, but I believe that there is cross-casting with the same actors taking their same roles in both plays (although of course R and G are the main roles in one play and are minor characters in the other and vice versa with Hamlet, Claudius, and Gertrude). I suspect this because of the reaction of some members of the audience when R and G came out in Act II, scene 2. Unless they knew the play really well, I think the reaction was because they had seen the two actors already in these roles. Unfortunately, one of the lines cut from Hamlet (indeed the entire role of the speaker along with the whole Fortinbras subplot) was the English Ambassador at the end of the play saying "...Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead." This would probably have drawn a good audience reaction (maybe the director wanted to avoid it).

But probably the best thing about going to the Hilberry yesterday was the opportunity to go with my cousin Dana, now a freshman student at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY (she and her parents are now visiting here for Thanksgiving). I find to my delight that Dana is a budding Oxfordian. This is partly due to me, but I also have to give credit to one of her professors, Lary Opitz, the Chair of the Theater Department at Skidmore. I gather from Dana that he is partial to the Oxfordian theory and mentions it in class. She is now taking what sounds like a fascinating Freshman seminar called "Shakespeare was Jewish?" They are predominately studying Merchant of Venice, but are doing other things as well. I have asked Dana to send me information on this class (course syllabus, any handouts, etc) by E-mail when she gets home, so I might have more information on this later. I note that Professor Opitz is not yet listed as a signatory on the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt. Perhaps we can work on him a little (maybe he simply doesn't know about it).

I am looking forward to communicating with Dana in the future about Shakespeare and the Authorship Question. I am extremely sorry that I didn't know that she was so interested in these things (I had only had limited conversations with her when I used to visit her at her parent's house in Houston or see here in Michigan at holiday times) as she could have come to our last SOS/SF conference (which was only three hours away by car from where she is in school). Well, maybe she will want to visit her parents in Houston next November when the next Conference will be held.

Of course, I can't see Hamlet without being bombarded with the parallels with Oxford and how this play is so important in the whole Authorship Question. I won't go into any of it here now, but I do have to say that I can never help getting choked up when I hear Hamlet's last words (or almost last words) to Horatio: " me and my cause aright To the unsatisfied...what a wounded name (Things standing thus unknown) shall live behind me! If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity awhile, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, To tell my story" 

I am confident that, with the help of Dana and others of the "next generation", we will finally succeed in doing this.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oberon gives thanks for another wonderful year

Dear Oberon,
I can't believe it. Finally.  A day off and nothing to do but drive to our niece's in Ann Arbor, hug everybody, eat, watch the Lions  until they are hopelessly behind (approx. the middle of the first quarter), sleep, and drive back hopefully while awake.  In this especially tough time, there is still no end of things to be thankful for.  It is good to take the opportunity to think about our blessings.
At our Oberon meeting last Thursday, we recalled the highlights of 2008.  There were certainly many more than any one of us remembered individually. We were all surprised at how long the list came to be.  Please help us to make the list as complete as possible by replying with anything we forgot.
First of all, the monthly meetings.  I think it's safe to say that those of us who attend regularly look forward to these, to the interesting conversation, to the camaraderie, to the informative presentations (memorably this year from Ron, Linda, Tom T and Robin among others), to the treasurer's  reports, to the post meeting at Ruby Tuesday's, and even the pre meeting in the library coffee shop.  If you weren't able to be with us in 2008, we hope to see you in 2009.
The Hamlet Project.  Bigger than we thought. We hope to finish it in 2009.
Oberon Up North.  First of what we hope to be an annual event. Rosey remembered the fun we had driving around the Old Mission peninsula in Traverse City looking for the Old Mission. There is no Old Mission. It's a long story.  And how can we ever forget Sue and Mark's warm and generous hospitality at their place on Torch River?  And during Oberon Up North part 2, we got to meet Richard's wonderful artist friend Marina.
Interlochen, during Oberon Up North, where we saw Twelfth Night and were treated to the first rate hospitality of Tom Townsend's good friend Gordon Berg, Interlochen's PR guy, who literally carted us around on a whirlwind tour.
Speaking of annual events, the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson which defied the common wisdom and staged a lively All's Well That Ends Well. An additional highlight was that John Neville Andrews, the director of the play and the festival's artistic director, joined us for dinner. We feel so supportive of the festival that we actually spent some of our treasury on an ad in the program.
Also plays at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, including  a great All's Well.  We believe that two separate productions of All's Well within days of each other and only a few miles apart must set some kind of Shakespeare record.
A major development--Richard's memorable reports from the various conferences. These are informative, funny, insightful, breezy summaries of what goes on at these meetings. They are becoming a kind of tradition now.  Look for them on our blog and in the SOS newsletter.  We lay claim to them first of course because Richard is one of us.  When Richard becomes famous, we hope that he will still come to our meetings.
Sue and Richard on the SOS board.  I'm darned proud of what these two are bringing to organized Oxfordianism, which, before they got at it, was an oxymoron if there ever was one.  If Sue and Richard can't get the movers and shakers to focus, there truly is no hope.
Our six members at the joint SOS/SF conference in New York this October.  It was a great meeting, and 10% of the attendees were from Oberon!  Look for Richard's upcoming reports.
Barb Burris' two readings from her forthcoming Oxfordian mystery novel.  This is good stuff. Stay tuned to our announcements for the date of her next reading. Don't miss it.
Linda Theil's a-maze-ing potluck which is becoming another Oberon tradition in September.
The wonderful Oberon blog which Linda created and maintains.  Because of Linda, Oberon is on the internet via our blog.  We have already had contact with random web travelers who have found us via the blog, including Philip Davis, author of Shakespeare Thinking, who sought to thank Linda for her positive comments about his work.  Linda has also established and maintained contact with the Fellowship web site and posts our activities there.
Our January meeting featured Charles Adams Kelly and the exciting work he has done on the Hamlet quartos. 
Driving across Michigan for a Stephen Greenblatt lecture at Grand Valley State in Grand Rapids, talking with him afterward and making contact of sorts, and stopping--surprise!--to see Richard's friend Marina.  He was driving. We had no choice.  Just kidding. It was a delight to see her.
The Reasonable Doubt petition signed by many Oberoners and raised to the next level this summer by Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi at the Chichester Festival in England.  You will be hearing more about this in our plans for 2009 when we hope to take a more active role.
Gee, the cooking smells are emanating from the kitchen, and already I'm getting hungry this Thanksgiving 2008 morning.  I know I have missed a bunch. Please let me know about 2008 Oberon highlights which you recall which are not listed here.  Have a wonderful holiday.
Your devoted chairperson, truly grateful for people like you,

Monday, November 24, 2008

Reading Macbeth

I spent an enjoyable three hours at the recent first meeting of the Plymouth Shakespeare Reading Group yesterday. My thanks to Prashant Andrade for forming this group. You can read more about it in a previous entry in this blog.

I and twelve other hardy souls (most of them students from Salem High School in Plymouth) tackled Macbeth. We got through it with virtually no difficulties and I think everyone had a great time. I myself was able to be Banquo in Acts I and II, Macbeth in Act III scenes 1 and 2, Lady Macduff in Act IV (scene 2) and a messenger in Act V, scene 5 (an important part-how else would Macbeth know about Birnam Wood approaching Dunsinane?)

In order to be properly prepared, I brought along my copy of Richard Whalen's Oxfordian edition of Macbeth (available from Llumina Press, In between waiting for my cues, I was able to scan most of Whalen's excellent annotations. Of course, many of these are the sort of annotations found in any good edition of the play, but Whalen does put in great explanations of the many Oxfordian implications.

For example, orthodox scholars continue to state that Shakespeare wrote the play to please the new King James. Actually, there is no record of the play being performed during the reign of James (it was first printed in the First Folio) and it does seem strange that someone would write a play about the murder of a Scottish king by an usurper who consorted with witches to please a Scottish king (James) who was terrified of witches and was always fearful of personal attacks. The play refers to things that James detested (such as the practice of the monarch "touching for the evil" [scrofula]).

The play reveals the author's knowledge of Scottish geography, weather, laws, and customs, something easy to explain for Oxford who was actually in Scotland on a military expedition and less easy to explain for Stratford Will.

The play makes use of the chronicle of William Stewart (1531-5) for some details not found elsewhere, a document only available in manuscript form and held by the Scottish royal family. Only someone in royal circles, like Oxford, would have had access to it.

There is also the introduction of the character Lennox (not in any historical accounts), perhaps to honor Oxford's friend the 4th Earl of Lennox who was Elizabeth's regent in Scotland?

The author is familiar with court intrigue, as evidenced by the political machinations of the character of Ross.

I could go on like this, but I will stop here. I have to keep a little back for discussion purposes later.

I would recommend that more of the Oberoners consider attending a meeting of the Plymouth Shakespeare Reading Group. The next meeting is December 21, when we will be reading Twelfth Night (unfortunately I don't have an Oxfordian edition of this play so I'm on my own).

In the meantime, I note that both the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Stratford Festival are doing Macbeth in their upcoming seasons. Maybe there's still an opening for the messenger in Act V. I'm on it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tom extends invitation to Nov. 20 meeting

Dear Oberon,

Please mark your calendars for our next meeting on Thursday, Nov. 20 (two weeks from today!) at our usual place, the Farmington Library on 12 Mile Rd. in Farmington at our usual time 6:45. We will have Conference Rm A at our disposal.

The meeting will include videos of a presentation available to us to make to community and school groups as well as more information about the joint SOS/SF conference in New York last month. Good stuff. Cutting edge.

Plus, we will be looking ahead to 2009, which appears to be developing into another exciting year. Bring your ideas, your Shakespeare moments, your insights, your dreams, your druthers, your baked goods and so on.

As always, your faithful chairman, looking forward to seeing everybody on the 20th,

Tom Hunter