Punk Rock Shakespeare!

 

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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!)

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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!

 

 

 

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Mary’s Manifesto

 

mary

I never set out to be a feminist icon, yet they made me one. I was an inadvertent example of the movement. At the time, I did not yet realize there even was a movement, although I knew  a woman’s place in society was fundamentally wrong.  I simply tried to acquire some freedom for myself. I wanted independence, my own income and a life where I would not be solely defined as ‘wife’.

On the downside, I was also an uptight thirty-something Minneapolis transplant, on the rebound from a failed relationship and one step away from doormat-ism. But to call me a representative of 2nd wave feminism? That was hardly accurate.

Take my first day at work. Sure, I became an associate producer at WJM News. It was a fancy title, yet my pay was ten dollars less than the lowly secretaries. When my boss, Mr. Lou Grant interviewed me, the first thing he asked was my religion. The second thing was my marital status. When I informed him that I was Presbyterian and single, he asked why. Why I was single that is.  I should have automatically  said “Nunya bizness bitch!” (It was, after all, an illegal question.)  But no. I stammered, clasped my hands and choosing my words very carefully, I began to explain to this total stranger, who was in a position of vast authority over me, that there were a multitude of nuanced reasons as to  why one was ‘still single’ at the ripe old age of thirty.

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Mr. Grant was not interested in my explanation, which made me wonder why he had asked in the first place.

That very same night a drunken Mr. Grant showed up at my apartment. He told me, among other things, that I had a ‘great caboose’. He was lonely and his wife was out of town.

In the meantime, my ex-fiancé (who had been persuaded by my landlady to come rescue me) also showed up at my door with flowers. My ex was a doctor and he proceeded to inform me he had stolen the flowers from a very sick patient.

There I stood, a resistant sex object, not even worthy of receiving store bought flowers. See what I mean about doormat-ism?

I sent my ex fiancé packing. Mr. Grant typed a letter to his wife, then staggered out to mail it. I was relieved to be rid of them. The next day at work I was given a stack of pencils to sharpen. My pseudo-feminist career had begun.

The good thing was I realized then I could take care of myself. Every woman needs to realize she is able to take care of herself.

Up till my last day in the newsroom I could never get past calling my boss ‘Mister Grant’ although everyone else called him ‘Lou’. Even my best friend Rhoda, a fast talking New Yorker, would saunter in his office and boldly call him ‘Lou’.

My self assertion was wrought with shortcomings. I was no Betty Friedan. Gloria Steinem hated me.

giphy

As for the traditionalists, they didn’t like me either. I heard Phyllis Schlaftly was appalled because I often stayed out all night with my dates. ( Oh yes, I did have dates! A plethora of men called on me. I had no intention of marrying any of them.)  This type of thing was a real no-no for a nice Midwestern girl in 1972.  I remained polite.  Never once did I speak of my sexual escapades. After all, those who DO, do not speak, and those who SPEAK, do not DO. Yet I was a sexually liberated woman. A ring never crossed my finger.

So you see, on the spectrum of feminism I really fit right in the middle. People loved me for it. My ratings soared.

In years to come the women’s movement would explode. Every issue would be tackled, from reproductive rights to equal pay to single filing income tax to home ownership. (Even Miranda of Sex and the City was expected to have a husband or father sign off as joint owner of her condo!)

Gender roles would be questioned. Non-traditional family structures would be accepted. Single motherhood and ‘childless by choice’ became (almost) okay.  Young women became more and more vocal in their demands.   And precisely at the time when they were given almost everything they wanted — young women would demand more. They took to the streets wearing pussy-cat ears and Styrofoam genitalia. ( I could not join them. It was simply not my style.)

Rhoda got married and then divorced. The newsroom closed in 1977. As far as Mr. Grant’s behavior, nowadays he would be sued. Ironically, I would not have wanted to sue him. He was, believe it or not, a good boss.

In re-runs I remain America’s sweetheart.

mary-rhoda

One of the best parts of my show was of course its theme song! Who knew this catchy little number would inspire the likes of Husker Du and Joan Jett?

I, Mary Richards am now permanently signing off, but I will leave you with this final statement: