Punk Rock Shakespeare!

 

audeince 2

Are you watching TNT’s new series ‘Will’, about the life of young William Shakespeare as a newcomer in the London theater scene, circa 1588?

And if not, WHY NOT???

Okay, okay.  I know Shakespearean scholars are rolling their eyes, saying how DARE this series take such liberties?  They have changed Elizabethan London into a gritty  punk rock world of mohawks and warpaint!  They have used historically inaccurate costumes! They have made up a background story of Will as a persecuted Catholic.  They have given him a fictional lover named Alice Burbage and set him in a (horror of horrors)  rap showdown with fellow playwright Robert Greene! And they expect any educated sincere student of Shakespeare to watch this trash?

The answer is YES!!

For far too long, Shakespeare has been buried in a dusty old cellar of books marked ‘highbrow’, ‘difficult’ and ‘boring’.  People do not realize he was once a 24 year old trail blazer, full of talent and ambition, thrown into a vicious, provocative and cosmopolitan city.  He had a wife and three children to support and was determined to make his mark.

I am here to defend this series and tell you why — if you are interested in the Bard and his ilk — you must watch at once!  Or at leas watch this trailer.

 

First of all, there is very little we  know for sure about young Will Shakespeare. He married Anne Hathaway at age 18, had three children, somehow ended up in London and became the most famous playwright in the world.

Documentation tells us that his twins, Hamnett and Judith, were baptized on Feb. 2, 1585. In 1592 there was a derogatory review written by playwright Robert Greene which referred to Shakespeare as an ‘upstart crow’ and a ‘Shake-scene’.

upstart-crow

Other than that, no one really has any idea what young Master Shakespeare was doing between the ‘lost years’ of 1585 to 1592.

Most likely he was in London, perfecting his craft, making contacts and worming his way into the theater.  Anyone who has read the plays knows  he was a man of passion. He could not possibly have written all he did without some actual life experience.

There are  some other things, though, that we DO know about the young Bard  —  which give clues to possible truths portrayed in the new series

1)  Being Catholic?

Shakespeare very well may have been a closet Catholic.  His mother’s family, the Ardens, were devout Catholics.  Years later, Catholic artifacts such as rosaries and Extreme Unction kits (which had been forbidden) were found in Shakespeare’s childhood home.

rosary pd

Being a closet Catholic was dangerous and life threatening in Protestant England.

When Queen Bess came to the throne in 1558, Catholicism was outlawed, but people still practiced in secret.  Bess would probably have been lenient, but eventually, as more Catholic plots threatened the Queen’s life, laws against Catholicism got stricter. Practicing Catholicism could get you drawn and quartered.

This meant basically that they would cut you in quarters and pull out your intestines before hanging you as a traitor.

Quartering

Yeah. I’d keep it a secret too.

 

2)  Elizabethan Theater = Punk Rock? You bet!

The entertainment scene of the 16th century was not  respectable in the least. Theaters were bawdy places full of raucous nut jobs who engaged in drinking, whoring and pick-pocketing.  All along the south bank of the Thames River, arm in arm with the theaters were houses of prostitution and dens for bear baiting.   Some theaters even doubled as bear pits on their off days!

Bear baiting was like dog fighting — on steroids. A chained bear would be teased and tormented  by dogs, then let loose to claw them to pieces.  Which shows just how dangerous/ crazy this environment was.

Playwrights were often arrested for writing seditious material.  It was a constant envelope-push to see how much politically incorrect  and offensive stuff they could get away with.

British Design at V&A - God Save The Queen Poster by Jamie Reid

Plays provided cheap, rowdy entertainment. Any peasant could come in off the street, pay a half-penny entrance fee and stand in front of the stage. These were known as ‘groundlings’  —  unwashed, unkempt, swilling ale, and not beyond throwing stuff at the stage if the entertainment was not good enough.  Sound familiar?

audience Will

Besides that, the costumes used in the series are creative, stunning and tailored.   Queen Bess meets Vivienne Westwood.  It may not be historically accurate but…

Would you really want to watch guys dressed like this?

tudor style

No, I wouldn’t either.

 

3)  The Many Loves of Will Shakespeare?

Shakespeare’s plays deal with love in all its forms — forbidden, absurd, sublime, fulfilled and unrequited. He arguably knew the minds of women better than any other male writer of his time and beyond.  Much like the 90’s movie ‘Shakespeare in Love’, the TNT series attempts to show how young Will may have gotten his inspiration.

Her name is Alice. She is the daughter of theater owner James Burbage  and sister to actor Richard.  In real life, James Burbage had no known daughters, but Alice’s character is an ambitious, intelligent woman stifled by 16th century rules. She defies her father and often cross-dresses for her own safety — providing the inspiration Will would have needed for his female characters.  (Think Portia, Viola, Desdemona and Juliet.)

And what of Christopher Marlowe?  The notorious playwright/ spy who dominated the Elizabethan theater scene  until his untimely death at age 29 is played by the amazing Jamie Campbell Bower.  Marlowe, openly gay and staggeringly handsome, may prove an additional temptation for Will.

Who was the ‘Fair Youth’ of Shakespeare’s love sonnets? (Hint: Not a woman!)

jcb 2

 

4) Eerie Resemblance?

No one really knows what young Will actually looked like.  This portrait, dated from the late 16th century, unearthed with other actor’s portraits and coinciding exactly to his age, is often thought to be Shakespeare.

shakespeare-grafton-portrait

Compare to the actor cast as Will:  Laurie Davidson

will 2

Weird  resemblance, right? Perhaps a ghost is present!

By now I should have convinced you to take a look a this series. You can watch the first episode free here: Will Sneak Peak.

Let me know what you think!

 

 

 

Shakespeare’s Capers

 

shakes dance

The Bard knew capers. He used a lot of court jesters and clowns in his plays, so capering should naturally be a part of his stories. It is a colorful word, conjuring up images of frolic and flirtation.  But capering is not all fun and games!

Take Richard III.

richard 3 pd

When the War of the Roses ends, Richard should be happy.  His house, Team York, has won.  Not only is his brother Edward declared the undisputed King, but now the York men have a lot of free time on their hands and they could spend it wooing the ladies.

“Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front; 
And now… 
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber 
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.”

Yet Richard is apparently still in the winter of his discontent.  There will be no capering in the ladies chambers for him, as he feels he is not handsome enough to engage in sex play:

“But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, 
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; 
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty 
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph; 
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, 
Cheated of feature; Deformed…
 
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, 
Have no delight to pass away the time, 
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun 
And descant on mine own deformity:” 

Ouch! Poor Richard. He had nothing better to do during peace time than watch his own shadow and lament his deformity.  (Later he began to plot against his family and lock his nephews in the Tower…)

But Shakespeare may have been unfair.  Phillippa Gregory gave Richard better looks and a better disposition in her treatment of the story, called ‘The White Queen’. This book was  made into a series on Starz.

Richard III was played by this guy.

Richard III

Nuff said. But back to capers.

Consider Fenton from the Merry Wives of Windsor. Fenton is an eligible bachelor who hopes to marry Windsor’s number one It-girl Anne Page. The Innkeeper tries to recommend him to Anne’s father:

“What say you to young Master Fenton? He capers, he 
dances, he has eyes of youth! He writes verses, he 
speaks holiday, he smells April and May.”

Who would not want Fenton? He capers, he dances, he even smells good! Anne’s father, however, is suspicious.  The Page family is rich, and Fenton (who is also a penniless playboy) may be a gold digger. Mr. Page answers:

“Not by my consent, I promise you. The gentleman is
of no having.  He kept company with the wild prince 
and Poins!  No, he shall not knit a knot in his fortunes 
with the finger of my substance! The wealth I have waits on 
my consent, and my consent goes not that way.”

Mere capering will not a good marriage make! Do they get together in the end? Read the play and find out!

And finally, what may be the smartest words of all about capers.

Touchstone, the jester in As You Like It philosophizes about love:

“I remember, when I was in love, I broke my 
sword upon a stone, and bid him take that for coming a-night to 
Jane Smile; and I remember the kissing of her batler, and the 
cow’s dugs that her pretty chapt hands had milk’d; and I remember 
the wooing of peascod instead of her; from whom I took two cods, 
and giving her them again, said with weeping tears ‘Wear these 
for my sake.”

He is so devoted to Jane Smile that he kisses the stick she carries, and also the cow’s udders she milks. He practices his flirtation speech on a pea pod. That’s dedication.

But then again, he IS the Clown.

clown pd

Shakespeare’s clowns are usually the wisest characters.  In fact, Shakespeare invented the term ‘wise fool’.

Touchstone goes on to say:

“We that are true lovers run into strange capers
but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal
in folly.”

We are all fools in love. But we can be forgiven, for we are only human. And humans (even Shakespeare!)  lose their common sense when it comes to affairs of the heart.

 

Shakespeare_in_Love

 

 

 

 

Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

midsummer-nights-dream

“Now, until the break of day,
Through this house each fairy stray.
To the best bride-bed will we,
Which by us shall blessed be”

— William Shakespeare

To my thinking, it would not be midsummer without a nocturnal visit from Puck, Titania, Oberon, Peas-Blossom, Cobweb and the whole fairy gang.  These are, of course, Shakespeare’s notorious sprites who haunt and bewitch four young lovers that find themselves lost in the forest on midsummer night.

To be fair, I should mention it is the humans who create the problems in the first place, with jealously, rivalry, impositions and demands.

midsummer lovers

Helena is in love with Demetrius.  Demetrius is in love with Hermia.  Hermia cannot STAND Demetrius, but loves Lysander.  Hermia’s father forbids her to marry Lysander and insists she marry Demetrius.  Poor Helena is left with no one.  That is, until Puck the trickster uses a magic flower potion to mix up everyone’s affections, resulting in extreme chaos.

“Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand;
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover’s fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

In the meantime, fairy King Oberon is arguing with his wife Titania, and decides to trick her with the same magic potion, thus causing her to fall in love with Bottom.  Bottom is a human who has, for midsummer night, been changed into a donkey.  Titania does not seem to mind.

“Out of this wood do not desire to go:
Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.
And I do love thee: therefore, go with me;
I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee.”

midsummer donkey

Shakespeare reveals the simple, painful truth: Love is unfair. It is also confusing, nonsensical, often forced upon us and taken from us.  Not to mention absurd, improbable and given to bestiality.

Consider yourself warned. If you wander into the woods tonight be very careful… Puck is waiting 🙂

midsummer shadow

 

If you are looking for some midsummer entertainment, I hope you’ll like this magical rendition of  Shakespeare’s play, called ‘The Dream’.  It was first presented in 2014 by the American Ballet Theatre. Music is by Felix Mendelssohn, choreography by Frederick Ashton.  Running time is about one hour.

Happy Midsummer!

 

“Cupid is a knavish lad,
Thus to make poor females mad.

Trip away; make no stay
Meet me all by break of day.”

midsummer shakespeare

 

 

 

Anne Hathaway Speaks

AnneHathawayAndShakespeare

My husband Will was not inattentive to me, though this is what most folk assumed. True he lived in London and I saw him scarce, but when he arrived back to Stratford, O then! Much welcoming and merrymaking there was and I greeted him with open arms.

Will’s true home was the theater, his soul poured forth from his quill and ink pots. When I married him I knew this. How could I not?  He spoke in rhyme when he wooed me. The sonnet sprung from his lips, a stretch of beat and iamb, beautiful words and I trust not a woman in all of Stratford would have resisted young Master Shakespeare. He was tall and handsome, quick witted, dark eyed.  And I?  I was the original summer’s day, Venus to his Adonis.

When he moved to London it was with  that very poem he acquired patronage from the Earl of Southampton.  He had since compromised his words, winking to the the faire youth and dark lady.  Leave gossip for the tongue wagers.  I suspected he had lovers, both women and men.  Of course he did.  After all, his time in London was long. Yet the green monster of envy raised not its head.

One must understand. He was but a boy of eighteen when I married him, and I a woman of twenty six. And though I was with child, I knew his wild oats were not yet sown.  Faithfulness was never expected.  Therefore we lived in harmony.

But I!  Yes I.  Was the mother of his children, the keeper of his hearth. More importantly, not a word of his plays did he scribe, not a scroll did he bring to the King’s Men without my approval.  That was my gift, though none knew of it.

“Anne,” he said to me, “thou art my Juliet, my Beatrice, my Titania in all splendor of the fairies.” His meaning more specific, I was his muse.

merchant of venice pd 2

Consider his play of Juliet. What a botched thing it was,  before I took my hand to it. “The lovers must commit suicide, Will,” quothe I. “Nothing less will do.”

“How so?” he asked.

“By poison of course. And a stabbing, the bloodier the better! In London they crave all means of violence, death, destruction and swordplay. You must give the public what they want, Billie Shakespeare! Else all is lost and the words for naught.”

The same was true of his characters Ophelia, Gertrude and Hamlet. My husband would have written it mildly, trippingly on the tongue as he liked to say. “O no Will,” I corrected. “There must be tragedy. Sweet Ophelia, tormented by madness, will drown herself in a river amongst the heavy flowers and willows that weep.”

“Another suicide?” He shook his head.

“Another, and many more. Trust me.”

Consider Macbeth.  A lame play until I corrected it, making Macbeth a milquetoast to a treacherous and evil woman! She was perhaps the most cunning of my creations.

“The Lady Macbeth must urge the man forward,” I insisted. “It is she who plots killing of King Duncan, she who will bloody her hands most.” His jaw hung and he turned a bit pale at this notion.

“She,” I continued, “will unsex herself, ruthless and scheming. She will drive herself to madness, never eliminating the the damned spots of blood that haunt her like Banquo’s ghost!”

macbeth

He argued with me. “Surely, wife, the gentry will loathe such a vile woman.”

“They will love to hate her,” I assured him. For what better entertainment than an evil femme fatale and what better place to lay blame?

I was correct.

And so it was the box office flourished. “Sell admissions cheap, not more than a penny,” I advised him.

“But Anne,” quothe he, “Baron Hundson will not have it. The Globe itself will be closed should we not turn a profit.”

“You’ll turn a profit and you’ll turn it handsomely,” I insisted.  When the groundlings poured in, seatless in the mud and mire, but not lacking to pay their penny, Will saw that I was correct. I was always correct.

The money pots scattered and we quickly made a fortune. “To tell and sell a story,” I told him, “is the noblest of professions. None will tire of it, for they seek desperately to escape the boredom of their mundane lives.”

And so it was, back home in Stratford, by our fortune I acquired land and houses. New Place was mine, a brace of animals and horses, thriving farms and plenty of servants to do my bidding. When we accumulated enough wealth I urged Will to purchase a Coat of Arms. The motto ‘Not Without Right’ were my own words, because indeed we were not without rights to our own status of Gentle.

shakesepare coat of arms

One day I waited for the clomp of horse hooves upon our pavement. ‘Twas the twenty third day of April, the day of his birth and Will returned home to celebrate. My cooks had prepared a great feast. There would be games and diversions. I smiled as I saw him ride up the road, clothed in boots and britches. He pulled a scribbled parchment from his doublet.

“What’s this?” I kissed him on both cheeks, then took the parchment.

“My latest,” he answered. “It is called Othello.”

“And what story?”

“A marriage between a Moor and a Venetian. Their love will be the purest and they shall live happily ever after.”

I shook my head and tore the parchment to pieces.

“Their love,” I said defiantly, “shall be fraught with tension. The Moor black as jet and the Venetian white as pearl. She a young seductress, he a skilled soldier.   There will be coupling, the mounting of the beast with two backs, they insatiable in their lust!  There will be jealousy and betrayal, one named Cassio who will claim her…”

I narrowed my eyes, thinking of what would enhance this plot. “Add a handkerchief, the most intimate of objects.”

Will popped his eyes. “Surely not a handkerchief!”

“Yes, husband. And ‘twill end in a murder.  Othello driven to savage madness, kills his wife in her very own bed! Then he, driven to suicide, slays himself and falls next to her. Give the people blood and lust and lovers and yet more blood.”

“My dear, are you sure? Such a thing shall be most controversial.” He cocked his head.

“Trust me.” I answered. I then took his hand. “Let the birthday celebrations begin.”

That night we finished revisions. I predicted the story of the Moor named Othello and his wife Desdemona would be among the greatest of my husband’s many tragedies. I predicted the plays would last on into posterity, for hundred of years, maybe thousands, created anew by each generation, constantly revealing human truths, constantly entertaining each audience.

And I was always correct.

“She hath a way,  so to control

and rapture the imprisoned soul

and sweetest heaven on earth display

that to be heaven, Anne hath a way

She hath a way, Anne Hathaway,

To breathe delight, Anne hath a way.”

                                                          — William Shakespeare

Born April 23, 1564, Died April 23, 1616

Birthday-Shakespeare

 

 

Which Shakespeare Character Are You?

 

shakespare-to-thine-own-self pd

 

I am pretty sure that Shakespeare, in his writings, must have explored every possible personality type. His plays brought a blur  of notorious and memorable characters —  heroes, villains, wenches, fair ladies and noblemen.  Which one most represents you?  Here is a fun little quiz for all Shakespeare fans!

Which Shakespeare character are you?

Please post your results in the comments! Have fun 🙂

As it turns out, I am Portia from ‘The Merchant of Venice’. I have no objections —  after all she was a smart woman who knew the law 🙂

i-am-portia

 

If you have never seen ‘The Merchant of Venice’ you are in for a treat! This 2004 version stars Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. Running time about two hours. Hope you get a chance to watch it.

 

 

 

 

 

Twelfth Night

 

12thnightgraphic

Viola is in love with Orsino.  Orsino is in love with Olivia.  Olivia is in love with Viola. Malvolio is in love with Olivia.  Antonio is in love with Sebastian. Sebastian is in love with Olivia.  Maria is in love with Sir Toby.  Sir Toby is in love with beer. (Here is where you say, “Love sucks!”)

But to complicate the situation — Viola (for personal reasons) has been dressing like a boy.  Sebastian is Viola’s twin brother.  Olivia (in love with Viola) takes one look at Sebastian and — well, you should watch the movie!

Twelfth Night is a farcical comedy, written by William Shakespeare in around 1601. It is a perfect play for the celebrations of Twelfth Night (January 6th) which mark the end of the Christmas season. Role reversals, mummers and merry-making were the Elizabethan order of the day. The Lord of Misrule came to rule. Servants were masters and masters were servants.  The play’s full title was ‘Twelfth Night or What You Will’, seemingly because Twelfth Night is a night to do precisely what you personally will.

I still say The Shakes was way ahead of his time, constantly delving into themes of gender identity, cross-dressing and homoerotic love, centuries before they ever became political or civil rights issues.

If you have never seen Twelfth Night, you are in for a treat! This 1988 version, made for television and produced by Kenneth Branagh is one of my favorites. Running time is about 2.5 hours. Hope you get the chance to watch it, or — do What You Will!