Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sir Frank Kermode died August 17, 2010

Literary critic Sir Frank Kermode, 90, died August 17, 2010. The traditional Shakespeare scholar and onetime proponent of deconstructionist literary theory, famously said of one of the elite universities where he taught, "Cambridge, of course, is exceptionally hostile to any kind of thought at all, as far as the English faculty is concerned." (Criticism in Society by Imre Salusinszky and Jacques Derrida, Methuen 1987) Kermode's Shakespeare-related works include: 

  • The Patience of Shakespeare 1964
  • On Shakespeare's Learning 1965
  • Four Centuries of Shakespearian Criticism 1965
  • Shakespeare: The Final Plays 1965
  • Shakespeare's Language 2000
  • The Age of Shakespeare 2004

Obituaries
Telegraphhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/books-obituaries/7952711/Sir-Frank-Kermode.html
Heraldhttp://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/obituaries/sir-frank-kermode-literary-critic-1.1049572?localLinksEnabled=false
Independenthttp://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/sir-frank-kermode-academic-and-preeminent-literary-critic-who-reached-out-to-a-nonspecialist-audience-2058091.html
Washington Posthttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/18/AR2010081806386.html
New York Timeshttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/books/19kermode.html?_r=1

Robert Brazil tribute online

Barb Flues announced today that a memorial tribute to authorship researcher Robert Brazil has been posted to the Brazil/Flues Internet site Elizabethan Authors. Robert Brazil, born in 1955, died on July 11, 2010. Flues said: 
The Elizabethan Authors website now features a brief tribute to Robert Brazil, with comments taken from messages that were sent, or forwarded to me.
Flues thanked Marty Hyatt for assisting her in posting the Brazil memorial to the Elizabethan Authors site at:
http://www.elizabethanauthors.com/memorial.htm

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anonymous to debut March 25, 2011

Los Angeles headquartered Exhibitor Relations -- a public relations firm that provides box office numbers, feature-release dates, and production notes to the media -- announced yesterday that Sony Pictures has scheduled Roland Emmerich's Shakespeare authorship epic, Anonymous, to debut March 25, 2011.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stratford 2010

Thanks so much, Oberoners, for making my birthday so memorable and such fun. I didn't even realize that anyone knew the date of my birthday, so I was taken by surprise. I was given some lovely gifts and a perfectly delicious cake, guaranteed to put at least five pounds on anyone who tasted it.

While we were in Stratford, Michael and I watched The Tempest, which is a must see for anyone able to visit. Christopher Plummer is the best Prospero either of us have seen, although his sails lost a little wind near the end. Julyana Soelistyo, as Ariel, was extrordinary, and the three revellers, Bruce Dow, Geraint Wyn Davies, and Dion Johnstone (Caliban) were hysterically funny. The scene with Ferdinand, Miranda, and the logs had the audience rolling in the aisles--or should that be isles?--but I don't think I should say why as it would spoil the surprise. The masque appeared to be truncated--what would a modern audience make of it, after all?--but the special effects for it were incredible, unearthly. Highly recommended!

We also saw Kiss Me Kate. It was a bit of a letdown. The whole production was way too loud, and Bianca's voice, both speaking and singing, was so screechy she was incomprehensible. I wish I'd taken earplugs. I'd hoped for more dancing, but with the exception of one number, didn't see very much at all. It was the poorest musical we'd seen at Stratford in several years.

We're going to see Evita in October, and hope to get back to see the other "Oxford" plays before Stratford is over for the year.




Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happy birthday, Lynne!


Lynne and Michael Kositsky at Swiss Chalet in Stratford, Ontario

Oberoners Tom and Rosey Hunter, Tom and Joy Townsend, Richard Joyrich and Linda Theil met Minerva's Voyage author Lynne Kositsky and her charming husband Michael for lunch at the Swiss Chalet in Stratford, Ontario yesterday. We all wished Lynne a happy birthday and many happy returns of the day as she blew out the candles on her chocolate cake.

After lunch Oberons attended the Stratford Shakespeare Festival matinee performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona, then joined Lynne and Michael for dinner at Demetre's where we polished off Lynne's cake, and fulfilled all our wishes at a magnificent production of The Winter's Tale directed by Marti Maraden -- whom Richard says is the only person who really knows how to direct Shakespeare. If you are able to make your way to Ontario, we highly recommend this production that runs until September 25, 2010. Staging, costumes, casting -- the play delighted in every way.
Yanna McIntosh/Hermione, Seana McKenna/Paulina, Ben Carlson/Leontes in Stratford Shakespeare Festival's 2010 production of The Winter's Tale (photo courtesy stratfordfestival.ca)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cleveland Plain Dealer features Theil comment on review of Shapiro

The Cleveland Plain Dealer featured my comment on their Saturday review of Contested Will in their Books Comment of the Day column this morning. I got a kick out of seeing this headline:
Books Comment of the Day: 'I say that the authorship question is worth exploring'

I submitted the comment yesterday in reply to David Walton's August 7, 2010 review titled:
'Contested Will' from James Shapiro is solid examination of William Shakespeare

Here's the first paragraph of my comment that also features the first sentence of Walton's review:
Regarding your statement, "The question of who else besides William Shakespeare could have written the poems and plays of Shakespeare is undoubtedly one of the most useless, fruitless, and irresolvable that humankind could devise.", I reply that the fact that the authorship inquiry is of no importance to you does not mean that the topic is of no importance.
http://www.cleveland.com/books/index.ssf/2010/08/conetsted_will_from_james_shap.html#comments
http://www.cleveland.com/books/index.ssf/2010/08/books_comment_of_the_day_i_say.html

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Leslie Hotson redux

Bored and disgusted with the unsubstantiated maundering of many traditional Shakespearean scholars, I had never read the work of Canadian-born researcher Leslie Hotson (1897-1992) until this May when I picked up a used copy of his The First Night of Twelfth Night at West Side Books in Ann Arbor.

  • I was immediately enthralled by Hotson's clear-minded, lively prose and meticulous research. Although a traditional Shakespearean, Hotson indulges in no "would have", "could have", "may have", "might have", "surely must have" fol-de-rol. He follows primary sources wherever they lead; and, although his theses were reportedly attacked by his peers, his reasoning and support are impeccable -- and fascinating.

  • In my opinion, Hotson's research supports the anti-Stratfordian view that Shakespeare's plays were created by a court insider. His First Night of Twelfth Night brings the Elizabethan court to life with a view of the great play commissioned and presented as a holiday extravagance for visiting Italian nobleman, Don Virginio Orsino, Duke of Bracciano. His meticulous reportage extends to walking us through palace corridors using original architectural drawings and court records. But, I knew Hotson for a true Shakespeare-lover when I read this passage on page 65, at the beginning of his third chapter, titled "Shakespeare's Arena Stage":
In the attempt to bring Queen Elizabeth's Twelfth Night out of its centuries-old obscurity, Shakespeare's performance must stand as the prime object. Every slightest clue which might conceivably lead to light in that direction must be intently followed. We are all aware, however, of an ever-present danger: nothing is easier in any kind of investigation that to overlook a vital piece of evidence staring us in the face. For if that piece of evidence does not seem to corroborate or to fall in with our already-settled ideas, our minds either simply ignore it, or else wrest it by 'interpretation' to make it mean what we think it ought to mean. Such behavior is certainly very human, but it blocks the road to knowledge.
How can you not love a guy who talks like that? He had the mind and soul of a skeptic, witness Hotson's Dec. 3, 1992 obituary in The Independent, wherein Glynne Wickham said:
If the whole corpus of Hotson's published work in English Renaissance Drama, ranging as it does from the 1530s to 1660, seems idiosyncratic and eclectic, a unifying strain is detectable in an unwavering sense of mischief which, from the 1930s until the publication of Shakespeare by Hilliard (1977), underpinned his meticulous and exhaustive exhumations from dusty archives. Designed to shock, infuriate, stimulate and please, his narrative style ensured that all this work would be as widely scrutinised by critics and reviewers as it would command readers.
Hotson's book is available free online at Questia, Inc. --  First Night of Twelfth Night by Leslie Hotson  (Macmillan Co. 1954)

R. C. Bald's review of First Night of 'Twelfth Night' published in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1956), pp. 246-248 is available at: Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2866448

Michigan Shakespeare Festival: To Be Or Not To Be

Dear Oberon,

Our Saturday (yesterday, July 31) at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival turned out to be most enjoyable, from the monologue contest to Romeo and Juliet to our dinner with special guest Robert Duha, managing director of the Festival, to Richard Joyrich’s Bard Talks presentation about Comedy of Errors, and finally to Comedy of Errors itself.

Early in the day, we met Festival founders Rick and Debbie Davies. I wanted Mr. Davies to know that modest as it may have been, Oberon has supported and enjoyed the Festival as long as we have known about it. I told him of our hope that the Festival will become a true Shakespeare festival for the whole state of Michigan and will eventually rise to the stature of festivals like those in Ashland, Cedar City, and Stratford. One thing I always liked about Robert Duha was his intention to challenge Stratford for area Shakespeare pre-eminence. Thus this year’s slogan: “Great Shakespeare. No Passport Required.”

If MSF is to rise to such heights, it must put out a superior product. It is not only capable of doing that very thing, it has done just that in the past. In recent years, it so happened that MSF and Stratford both ran All’s Well That Ends Well. MSF not only held its own in comparison, but in many ways Oberon members who saw both thought MSF’s production, one of artistic director John Neville-Andrews’ last before leaving, to be the superior.

Thus the Michigan Shakespeare Festival has held such promise in large part because its Shakespeare has been so well played. I wish I could say the same for both of this year’s productions as witnessed by this reviewer on Saturday. The results were at best mixed. I believe that it is important to have this discussion since the future of the Festival could very well hang in the balance.

Let’s start with the good news.

The Festival’s production of Comedy of Errors is a romp. It takes a play presenting difficulties of production and deals with them not only creatively but hilariously. Long speeches, a problem in early Shakespeare, are broken up by such means as the lighting and the reading of them and by inventive stage business.

Identities of characters are established early on even though the basis of the play is confused identities. The actors develop their characters into beings both comedic and sympathetic. You know who these people are. Despite the ridiculous situations, you are with them all the way.

After the attention getting prologue and opening scene, the play goes through a slow period, but that is more than forgotten as the post-break half of the play unfolds.

Admittedly this play is filtered through 21st century consciousness, but the clearly unShakespearean asides and interjections work because one suspects that Shakespeare probably would have been all in on the additions. For the most part, this production can therefore be forgiven the sin of rewriting Shakespeare. By the way, the business of this play—all the actions and goings on which may be suggested by the script but are not in the script--is some of the best that this reviewer has seen.

While the audience of Comedy of Errors went home with great memories of what they had just seen, I’m not sure sure that Romeo and Juliet provided the same result. Please understand that the following comments on Romeo and Juliet are made in the spirit of support of the Festival and of wanting to see it succeed.

I can’t think of any other words to describe the Festival’s Romeo and Juliet than “pedestrian” and “disappointing.” The greatest mystery to me was that while the same company in Comedy, a play of much less depth, developed the characters of the play with great success, the characters of Romeo and Juliet, came off as flat and often lifeless, with the possible exceptions of Benvolio and at times Mercutio and the Nurse. Most bothersome was that they all talked the same with clipped and quick reading of the lines. Where was the understanding? Where was the revelation? Where were Shakespeare’s exquisite characters? Where were the human beings? Where was the vision?

Certainly we know that Shakespeare masterfully presents all of these things in this play, but where were they Saturday? How could this humanistic tragedy become so superficial?

In the same vein, resisting the danger of providing these characters with any individual, human quality, the costuming was woefully monotone, again with the possible exception of Benvolio’s hat. One gets the impression that no theater production of anything is ever going to keep this actor, Brandon Saunders, down. There is also the strange spectacle of the gang members parading around in Edwardian suits adorned with the swords and knives which the Montagues and Capulets needed for their feud.

Maybe it was problems with the main characters. Romeo seemed too much like an advertising executive to be an adolescent in the throes of melancholy and new love. And OK, I get it, Juliet could be an eye-rolling teenager of today twittering away on her cell phone, but after a few lines of beautiful poetry were destroyed by her screeching, it became apparent that this production favored sounds over Shakespeare’s words. Could there be a greater sin in the theater than that?

There was so much to be picky about. Where was Capulet’s ball? Where were the merrymakers, the dancing, and the music? Where was the subtle, developing love between the two young title characters? Even the reading of some of the most beautiful lines of the play, the lovers’ sonnet dialogue (“If I profane with my unworthiest hand”) was stark and isolated although, to the actors’ credit, sensitive.

The final scene was disappointing to say the least. Where it should have come to final focus on the Prince’s pronouncements, he was off to the side behind other characters and the lines were thrown away along with so many other important lines in the play

The omen to all this was Juliet moving her leg when she was still supposed to be dead to her family gathered around her on her funeral pyre. Maybe it was a matter of timing. The family was leaving but they could hardly have missed their daughter rolling to the side while deceased. Maybe the director needed to remind everyone that Juliet was not really dead, but we all knew that, didn’t we, and Shakespeare provides for this most adequately, thank you very much. It is an example of how stage business fails in this production and is not the only example, just among the most egregious.

The takeaway for this reviewer is that it is almost as if this play was taken for granted.

But all was not lost. The swordfight choreography by David Blixt was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone this reviewer talked to. Not only was it effective, it also appeared to be authentic, which would be no surprise since Blixt, an actor who has been associated with the Festival for many years, wrote a well researched historical novel which creates a kind of setting for the family feud which fuels this play.

Stay tuned for developing news about Michigan’s Shakespeare Festival. Michigan deserves Shakespeare. The Festival deserves our support. Every year Oberon members spend the entire day there soaking up the Shakespeare and enjoying the ambiance and the experience. This year, the Festival showed great promise with its production of Comedy, with its high school monologue contest, now a Festival feature and a precious project for Shakespeare education, and with its popular Bard Talks in which Oberon participated for the first time and was well received. Plans for next year include Pericles, Much Ado About Nothing, and Tartuffe. The question as it now stands for this Festival is whether next year will ever come.

Handley says anti-Strat position is "irrefutable" -- Beauclerk? not so much

Reviewer Garrett Handley skewers Charles Beauclerk for his presumption in Handley's review of Beauclerk's Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom: the True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth (Grove Press, 2010). Handley's review "The Ass Made Proud" , is published in the August 2010 issue of Open Letters Monthly: an Arts and Literature Review.

Handley says the anti-Stratfordian viewpoint is valid, but Beauclerk -- like many other anti-Stratfordians -- refuses to quit while he's ahead:
What [Beauclerk is] saying is simple and (at least at the beginning) irrefutable: the sheer amount of specialized learning and epitomized world-experience in Shakespeare’s plays is not just vast but extraordinarily so.
The basic articulation of his point is this: lacking any autographed copies, it’s a much, much greater leap to attribute those plays to somebody like William Shakespeare than it is to attribute them to somebody else. If you do as Beauclerk asks, if you divest your estimate of all tradition and received opinion and simply match the works to the man, if you pretend for a moment that there is no contemporary evidence that seems to link a man named William Shakespeare to the works we know under his name, the matter couldn’t really be much clearer. As Mark Twain pointed out a century ago, there’s no evidence the man from Stratford ever read a book, much less owned one – and there’s much evidence of posthumous tampering with his reputation. Occam’s Razor leaves the man from Stratford in ribbons.
If the anti-Stratfordians – if any anti-Stratfordian – stopped right there, they would stand on firm ground. If they stopped right there, all they’d have to explain are a few apparent factual discrepancies, if that (the dates traditionally given for some dozen plays, for instance, fall after the death-date of the Earl of Oxford). But they never stop right there.
Beauclerk certainly doesn’t. His mental exercise is perfectly telling: if we were told that a pipe-fitter’s son with a grammar school education and some rental properties to his name was also the author of the collected works of Lionel Trilling – if we were told to believe it simply on the basis of tradition and a few scraps of ambiguous corroboration (did Trilling once mention pipe-fitting in an essay? Or perhaps a contemporary satirist made a jeer about an author ‘trilling’ a new song?), we would quite rightly refuse. We would say, “Look, I’m not a snob, but the plain fact is, that guy couldn’t have written the works in question … he didn’t know any of the matter involved, didn’t speak or read any of the languages quoted, hadn’t – and couldn’t – read any of the hundreds of books quoted and paraphrased, hadn’t met any of the people or the kind of people described, and most importantly, hadn’t achieved the breadth of mind that a lifetime of rigorous scholarship – and world citizenship – can impart.” And we’d be right to say it. Beauclerk says it, and he’s quite convincing. The problem is, he says a lot more.
 The entire review is available on the web at: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/the-ass-made-proud/

Melissa Murphy wins Michigan Shakespeare Festival High School Monologue Contest

First-place winner Melissa Murphy

Home-schooled student Melissa Murphy of Southgate, MI was named first-place winner of the 2010 Michigan Shakespeare Festival High School Monologue Contest yesterday (July 31, 2010)  for her presentation of Hero's Act III, scene 1 "lapwing" speech from Much Ado About Nothing. Several Oberon members attended the contest finals at Jackson Community College and all concurred with the judges' choice of Murphy who showed poise, projection, and maturity in her command of her body and theatrical space. Murphy won a monetary prize of $350 and a Michigan Shakespeare Festival jacket.

Second-place winner Lonnie Robinson wears his MSF prize jacket.

Charismatic Lonnie Robinson of Ecorse, MI won second-place for his powerful and passionate presentation of a speech from Julius Caesar. Robinson was one of seven students of Ecorse Community High School teacher Dr. James Allen Jones who presented at competition semi-finals in Ann Arbor. Jones' student Stephen D. Steffan II placed fourth in the finals -- behind third-place winner Caitlin Dunlap of Onstead, MI -- with his powerful interpretation of Iago. Oberon hopes to host Dr. Allen and his students at an upcoming Oberon meeting.

Dr. James Allen Jones and Mrs. Jones at MSF Monologue Contest finals at Jackson Community College, July 31, 2010.

First-place winner Melissa Murphy was coached by Carol-Ann Black, artistic director of Big Girl Productions in Allen Park. Black's company is currently presenting Midsummer Night's Dream at 8 p.m. August 6 and 7 at the Royal Majestic Theater inside Trillium Academy, 15740 Racho Road in Taylor. Murphy also directs Shakespearean troupes of young students. Contact her at 734-771-2515 for more information.

Acting coach Carol-Ann Black