Log in

No account? Create an account
10 April 2019 @ 03:34 pm
Breaking down 'Beowulf'

Researchers use statistical technique to find evidence that Old English poem had a single author
25 March 2019 @ 05:08 pm
I'm not even going to blame PBS' usually terrible advertising for its Shakespeare offerings, because to be fair, I've been busy enough that I haven't been watching much PBS lately - but still, it seems like someone (maybe the Donmar Warehouse, since I signed up for their mailing list about the Shakespeare Trilogy and all!) should have informed me of this before now, when I randomly discovered it through looking for a Shakespeare Uncovered interview about Macbeth with Harriet Walter and Antony Sher!

Anyway. The Donmar's all-female production of Julius Caesar is airing on Great Performances this Friday, March 29, at 9 PM, and will be available for streaming on Saturday.

So...that's happening. I'm not even going to be mad that I very easily could have missed this, and will instead be glad that I went on a tangent in my English 10 class about the question of whether the Macbeths have had children, which led me to see if I could find that Shakespeare Uncovered clip I only dimly remember from the first season...
23 March 2019 @ 05:14 pm
I just finished reading a book of letters from the National Theatre archives (Dramatic Exchanges: The Lives and Letters of the National Theatre, edited by Daniel Rosenthal), which I found out about via the NT podcast, on which actors did a dramatic reading of some of the letters in the book. The section on the "Nick Hytner years" is relatively short, possibly because Hytner recently released a memoir of his time at the National, but there were a couple of letters from Alan Bennett about The History Boys - and a photograph of the cast listing from the first reading, which is where I "discovered" that Jamie Parker originally read for Rudge! (I don't want to go so far as to say that this was never mentioned in any of the interviews I've read with Jamie over the years, or on the DVD special features - or possibly even in Hytner's memoir - but if so, it didn't sink in.) The mind boggles, a bit.

(Also, Ben Whishaw read for Scripps???)
I don't know whether I will ever actually see Mary, Queen of Scots or The Favourite, but I am enjoying this thing where suddenly everyone is thinking about early modern queens:

The Real Story Behind Margot Robbie’s Wild Queen Elizabeth Makeup
25 November 2018 @ 02:07 pm
An essay on the Publisher's Weekly website by Samantha Harvey, author of the historical fiction novel The Western Wind*:

Bartering with the Facts: How a Novelist Solves a Historical Problem

It probably says...things about me that I am fine with the "inventing confessional boxes early" idea (hey, it's only in one fictional village!), but totally indignant about the idea that you could call hose "trousers." (Where will it end?!? Also, I feel like my answer to this modern-associations problem would just be to call them "hosen," although that doesn't address the "modern man" problem.)

*yes, I do always have the utterly predictable reaction to this title. See also Madeleine L'Engle's The Small Rain.
18 November 2018 @ 08:53 pm
welp, Laurence Fox and Kate Fleetwood are in the new Victoria trailer, so I guess I have to ... catch up on all of last season or whatever

(I honestly have no idea how many episodes I've seen of this show; I never seem to have time to sit down and watch it properly.)
Why is shmoop.com even a thing, seriously?
At Windsor Castle, Richard II just wants to chill out and enjoy the benefits of being a king who (almost) everyone thinks has been handpicked by God to rule England. But he can't relax because two seriously angry noblemen have arrived at the castle and want him to play Judge Judy.

02 November 2018 @ 07:53 am
With all that's going on in the world, it feels almost unbearably petty to nitpick this upcoming film (called All Is True, ironically*) where Kenneth Branagh plays Shakespeare, but...who was in charge of the numbers for this thing?

Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench to star as Shakespeare and wife in Oscar-tipped film

I mean, there's an eight-year age gap between Shakespeare and his wife, and a...twenty-six-year age gap between Branagh and Judi Dench? Meanwhile Ian McKellen is playing Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton; McKellen is twenty-two years older than Branagh, whereas Southampton was nine years younger than Shakespeare. (This seems especially bizarre because Southampton is so frequently suggested as a candidate for the "fair youth" of Shakespeare's sonnets; given McKellen's current age of 79 and the fact that the film is supposed to take place in 1613, McKellen's Southampton would have been 59 in 1593, the year I have somewhat arbitrarily chosen for ballparking the composition of the sonnets, and which also happens to be the publication year of Venus and Adonis, which was dedicated to Southampton. This is...not exactly Fair Youth territory.)

Finally, the film seems to have moved Hamnet's death up to 1613, according to this article, instead of placing it in 1596 when it actually happened. This would make Hamnet twenty-eight when he died, as opposed to eleven (unless they've correspondingly moved up his birth date as well). These are all things you can do, I guess - Shakespeare changed the ages of historical figures all the time - but I'm having a hard time imagining the dramatic relevance of any of these changes. And I'm miffed about the Anne Hathaway one, precisely because it chimes with the nasty way biographers so often write about her, with nothing resembling proof, as an old maid who trapped our baby genius Shakespeare in a loveless marriage.


Besides, the only Shakespeare family member I actually want a biopic of is Judith. :(

I guess this is of a piece with Branagh's inexplicable Elderly Mercutio casting a few years ago, but what even.

*Yes, I know this is the alternate title of Henry VIII, which is (as a history play) necessarily a fictionalized version of events, and that they've clearly decided on 1613 (when the Globe burns down during a performance of this play) as a good moment around which to build this story. But changing the ages of all the surrounding characters by so much suggests possible directions for the narrative that I'm just not thrilled by.
20 October 2018 @ 12:31 am
I just watched the Shakespeare Uncovered episode about Measure for Measure, with Romola Garai, who was a perfect host (I remain gutted that I couldn't see her as Isabella, although it sounds like the shock-value stuff in the production - blow-up sex dolls? really? - might have driven me up a wall). This season of Shakespeare Uncovered has so far been a lot less rage-inducing than the previous ones, for the simple reason that they show more of the darn performances. I enjoyed it, but towards the end, Jonathan Bate made this goofy comment about how Measure is surely Shakespeare's goodbye to comedy or whatever, and people are always saying this about totally different plays (THEY CAN'T ALL BE HIS GOODBYE TO COMEDY, PEOPLE), and it makes me see spots. So I am slightly miffed about this. Just let the man write comedies! Stop trying to save him from being tainted by the genre!

But anyway, Jade Anouka was Isabella in the episode (in the bits where they have Globe regulars perform bits of text; maybe one day I will actually get to see her in a whole part, that would be cool), and I learned a thing from her performance: the appalled start she gave when Claudio said, "Ay, but to die, and to go we know not where" reminded me, or made me aware, of the other gulf between her and her brother in this moment, not just the one where he wants her to do something terrible to save his life. It's a startling thing for him to say in any case - though less so to us, maybe, because Hamlet's "To be or not to be" intervenes with its "undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns" (though Claudio's speech is weirdly bleaker, because Hamlet - being Hamlet, our pensive prince - is more afraid of the not-knowing than the destination, whereas Claudio is terrified of the pain and suffering to come, in a way that suggests he can't imagine any other outcome). But it's all the more startling for him to say it to a sister who has chosen to become a nun, to devote herself to God: she lives in a world of fierce and shining clarity, one that encompasses a certainty about heaven and hell; this is part of why she cannot trade her chastity for her brother's life, because she is adamant that the cost would be her soul, her eternal life. (Incidentally: I could scream forever about the way people so casually try to pathologize Isabella for making that choice, like in the NYT review I read just this week of the Cheek By Jowl/Pushkin Theatre co-production - which declared that this "deal" is "a no-brainer" that Isabella should just go ahead and take - IS IT?!? IS IT A NO-BRAINER?!? - but this is not the place, I guess.) What must it be like for her to hear her brother, her own flesh and blood, express such doubt? It's no wonder that they find themselves speaking to each other from opposite sides of such a great divide.

...I wish I liked Measure more. I find everything to do with the main characters fascinating, but there is only so much Pompey Bum &c. I can take. (Like, I get it, the way he goes from one form of profiting off of human flesh to another in going from bawd to executioner, and the hypocrisy of a society that would cast one of those professions as sinful and the other as lawful. And "Truly, sir, I am a poor fellow that would live" is a great line. But...I don't know. I should reread it, probably; I've only read it twice.) Maybe it would help to see a good production - I have seriously mellowed in my distaste for Falstaff after loving Roger Allam's performance - but I've only seen the play once (the recent Globe screening with Mariah Gale as Isabella), and I just wasn't quite feeling it; it never came together as a coherent whole.
15 September 2018 @ 10:59 pm
I watched the first installment (of three) of The Miniaturist on PBS, which was...very pretty to look at. (I should say that I never managed to read the book, despite flipping through it once or twice. So I can't say whether my issues with the adaptation are as much of a problem in the book. And the adaptation could well get better, although the first hour is nevertheless...maybe where you want to establish interesting characters and things like that?)

I don't know why Romola Garai - who I know has more than one tone of voice, I've even heard them - is playing her entire part in a monotone forbidding drawl, as a caricature rather than an actual person, but I think my major problem stems from the premise itself: if you know that your family has a Deep Dark Secret (I managed to flip through the book just enough to discover said Secret, although I have no idea what happens after that), and a perky, inquisitive girl marries into your family, then maybe, if you want to keep that Deep Dark Secret a secret, you should be less awful to that perky, inquisitive girl, so she doesn't spend all her time wondering what the hell is wrong with you lot and trying to figure it out? I mean, just let the girl have her darn parakeet and eat some freaking marzipan* instead of intoning at her about how sugar rots the soul! Maybe don't sneer "Nobody forced you to marry him," like she knew she was going to come to a house full of utter wack jobs and should have been prepared! Like, if you know her new husband is already going to be weird as hell because of this Deep Dark Secret, the rest of you should be aggressively normal and welcoming and kind - or at least, you should maybe TRY, I mean, jeez. And then, if the majority of the characters weren't spending all of their time being squirrelly, condescending/petty**, or vaguely threatening to this young woman who has done nothing wrong (since you lot are the ones who decided that this marriage was a good idea, for reasons of your own that she knows nothing about!), then maybe they would have some personalities? And then, when Nella inevitably finds out about that Deep Dark Secret (because that is how these stories always go), then - if you'd been kind and welcoming, instead of inexplicably terrible to her - maybe she would care for you enough to want to help you keep that Secret!

Also, it's just ridiculously irresponsible to send this girl out into the world, knowing that you have weird insinuating enemies, and not to prepare that girl for their behavior. If you are in the habit of trying to keep Deep Dark Secrets, it only takes one innocent question from Nella, or one insinuating remark that she then wonders about, to bring the whole simulacrum of a normal house (ooh, symbolism!) crashing down. Which is basically what happens, of course - and maybe it would have been impossible to plug every hole in the dike (so to speak), but maybe y'all could have at least tried a little bit?

But then, I just have very little patience with Gothic nonsense. It never makes sense to me that the people who live in these Gothic mansions are like, "well, got a tragic secret up in the attic that no one new should ever find out about, guess we should invite a stranger into the house but not give her any explanation for the weird stuff that's inevitably going to happen, that seems fair and totally safe and unlikely to cause that stranger to go poking around in corners for answers we don't want her to find! Let's do that."

*Literally the only thing I know about Petronella is that she likes marzipan. (And, I guess, that she is poor enough that her family needs her to marry this wealthy randomer in Amsterdam, but that is a plot demand, not a personality trait.)

**Romola's character Marin has to order new dresses for Nella, and she orders them all too big even though she has Nella's measurements, which is the most unnecessarily petty BS with which to start this relationship that Marin is - presumably? - hoping will be beneficial for their family in the Helping to Keep Their Deep Dark Secret department. Nice way to make Nella feel totally unwelcome for no good reason, when that runs directly counter to your own interests! Just, why.

Problem 2 that may stem from the source material but is certainly present in the first installment of the miniseries: the conceit of the book is that Nella's husband buys her this huge dollhouse that she then needs to fill with furnishings from the miniaturist of the title. After the miniaturist sends Nella some creepily accurate miniatures of things inside her real house, miniatures she didn't ask for, Nella tells the miniaturist to stop sending items, but they keep coming anyway. So first, Otto the manservant acts all threatening to get Nella to stop getting miniatures, but she just TOLD YOU that she didn't ask for the stupid things anyway, so how is she supposed to stop them? Your growling at her won't do any good! But that's the bigger problem: Nella is a totally passive character; she just gets these figurines that give her details - a set of keys hidden in a drawer she didn't know about, for example - and she follows these details like a trail of breadcrumbs. She doesn't even make the choice to keep getting them! So we're just watching a girl unwrap a lot of packages. The problem with this narrative - and maybe a potential pitfall of the Gothic in general - is that it relies on our interest in the Mystery of the House to keep us engaged in the story...but if that interest falters, then you don't have any characters to back it up. The Mystery demands that all the characters in The Miniaturist are just squirrelly and secretive all the time, so I don't care about them, and since Nella is just dropped into this world, she doesn't have any meaningful relationships with the other characters and can't form them because all the others ever do is intone things like "We stand or fall together" at her (which, if true, really means that it's unconscionable to have brought her into this household for your own ends, since she'll be brought down into your ruin if the Secret gets out, without sharing in any part of that Secret). And I just don't care enough about who the miniaturist is and why (s)he knows all this stuff about the house and feels compelled to reveal it in tiny figurines, because all the characters have about as much personality as their miniature counterparts, sorry.

(I say all of this with the usual disclaimer that I certainly don't know how to create interesting characters, especially not in historical fiction where you can't even use the modern trappings to create an initial sense of recognition between the character and the reader. But other people do seem to manage it, so it is possible.)