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kottke.org posts about plays

Shakespeare in the Park’s Much Ado About Nothing Streaming Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2020

One of many cancellations due to the pandemic is the Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park performances. But for the next three weeks, PBS is streaming their Great Performances recording of last year’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Much Ado About Nothing for free on their site (embedded above, reviews here).

This bold interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedic masterpiece features Danielle Brooks (“Orange is the New Black,” Broadway’s “The Color Purple”) and Grantham Coleman (“Buzzer,” “The Americans”) as the sparring lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Tony Award winner Kenny Leon (“American Son,” “A Raisin in the Sun”) directs with choreography by Tony Award nominee Camille A. Brown (“Choir Boy”).

To whet your appetite, you can check out some of the highlights of the performance in this short video.

P.S. You can also watch this 2009 production of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart in the lead role. (via laura olin)

The Books Shakespeare Read

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 26, 2019

metamorphoses.jpg

Five Books is a pretty cool website I’d never heard of before; it’s a recommendations website, anchored by interviews with experts who pick a certain number (guess how many!) of books to recommend. Most are sorted by topic, so you get the best books about X; this interview, with Shakespeare expert Robert S Miola, examines five books that influenced Shakespeare, especially (but not only) as source material.

What I like especially is how Miola deftly deals with the whole problem of influence in an era when what it even meant to read or own a book was very different from our own age.

One thing we’re coming to appreciate is how print culture existed side by side with a vibrant and flourishing manuscript culture. Shakespeare’s sonnets, for example, were passed around in manuscript, from what we can gather, as were most of John Donne’s poems. Many have pointed to the importance of print because at that time, schools had texts that people could study. And, more importantly, individuals could collect libraries.

This leads to one of the great mysteries: where did Shakespeare find these books? Whose libraries did he raid? John Florio was known to have a big library, as did Ben Jonson, who famously wrote a poem about its burning. And there were collectors, too. Yet we still haven’t discerned from the available clues where Shakespeare got access to his books…

When you get a passage in Shakespeare—or any Elizabethan—you can’t really assume that the author knows the whole text. He or she might just have 12 lines from Virgil. The reading practice was that knowing lines might help you in another situation in your life. Scholars get upset because they can’t be sure that someone really knows Virgil; the lines might have been taken out of context from Virgil’s Georgics on beekeeping or gardening, for any reason whatsoever.

That’s one way to look at it. But the other is to say that they believed in Virgil so much that they took him as a guide for daily life. And that is the way they saw it. It takes an imaginative leap to understand just how much they valued books, and just how much they read.

The discussion of what Shakespeare took from Ovid, not just in terms of content for stories, but stylistically, is great:

Ovid is like Shakespeare as a poet; both possess extremely rapid wit and move magically and unpredictably on the surface of the text, from image to image and metaphor to metaphor. They defy expectation. Reading them is always surprising. Here, you have a great contrast with Virgil. I think Shakespeare read and liked Virgil, but Virgil is stately, imperial, and marvellously well-wrought, whereas Ovid is quick, shifting, and interested in surface and glitter.

Another nugget gleaned from this interview right away: only two of Shakespeare’s plays are thought to be more or less original in their plots — A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest. Everything else was borrowed, in whole or part, from classical, historical, or contemporary sources.

How to play “Wolf Hall”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2015

Mike Poulton adapted Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for the stage. The play premiered last year in the UK and just began its run on Broadway here in NYC. There’s a book version of the adaptation that contains some notes that Mantel wrote for the actors playing the various characters. The New York Review of Books has an excerpt of Mantel’s notes; here’s Anne Boleyn:

You do not have six fingers. The extra digit is added long after your death by Jesuit propaganda. But in your lifetime you are the focus of every lurid story that the imagination of Europe can dream up. From the moment you enter public consciousness, you carry the projections of everyone who is afraid of sex or ashamed of it. You will never be loved by the English people, who want a proper, royal Queen like Katherine, and who don’t like change of any sort. Does that matter? Not really. What Henry’s inner circle thinks of you matters far more. But do you realize this? Reputation management is not your strong point. Charm only thinly disguises your will to win.

The BBC aired a six-part TV version of Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies that finished up a month ago, and PBS will start showing it this weekend. I’ve watched all but the last part and it’s really well done.

A play for one

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2014

When I Left the House It Was Still Dark was a three-month long play performed in 2013 by Odyssey Works for the benefit of one person, author Rick Moody.

It began one evening when Rick’s priest gave him a children’s book titled “The Secret Room,” to read to his daughter. This book, which appeared to have been written in the fifties, was actually a creation by Odyssey Works.

Shortly after this, Rick was given an invitation to visit Sid’s, a vacant hardware store in downtown Brooklyn. The store became his own secret room, and he continued to visit it weekly for the rest of the summer. In the space, he encountered a variety of objects foreshadowing moments to come in his odyssey. Among these was a notebook detailing the story of a man searching for a cellist whose music deeply moved him, a recording of string music, and a photograph of a prairie. One day after visiting Sid’s, Rick was brought to the airport and given a plane ticket to Saskatchewan, Canada. When he arrived, he was driven to the prairie in the picture where he found the cellist from the story performing a variation of the music he had been listening to for weeks.

I would love to hear about this from Moody’s perspective. Here’s an interview with the artistic director of Odyssey Works; they specialize in grand performances for very small audiences. See also a recent Bob Dylan concert for one fan.

Infinite Jest, the play

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2012

A German experimental theater recently put on a production of Infinite Jest. They turned the 1079-page book into a 24-hour play that took place all over Berlin.

The play is Infinite Jest. Yes, the 1,079-page David Foster Wallace novel. Germany’s leading experimental theater, Hebbel am Ufer, had the gall not only to stage the world theatrical premiere of an Infinite Jest adaptation, but to play it on the grandest stage possible: the city of Berlin itself. Over the course of 24 hours, the shell-shocked and increasingly substance-dependent audience is transported to eight of the city’s iconic settings, which serve as analogs for the venues to which the discursive novel continually returns.

But so we’re at this AA meeting in a Boston school cafeteria, which in this case is the cultural center of a city quarter that was drawn up from scratch in the 1960s in the far, far north of Berlin, like practically halfway to the Baltic, this sticks-of-the-sticks-type section of town. And the actor sharing his history of teen addiction to Quaaludes and Hefenreffer-brand beer is droning on far too long and starting to give me the howling fantods.

Every internet article about Wallace is required by law to include footnotes and this one is no exception. (thx, paul)

Careers in thermometrics

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2008

David Mamet, speaking on Jeremy Piven’s decision to leave Mamet’s play, Speed the Plow, in the middle of its run because of mercury poisoning:

My understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.

Piven’s elevated mercury levels came from eating too much sushi and other fish.

List of lines from Shakespeare plays that have become cliches.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2006

List of lines from Shakespeare plays that have become cliches.

Everything and Nothing rounds up a list

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2005

Everything and Nothing rounds up a list of searchable versions of the work of that most famous of English wordsmiths, William Shakespeare. The public domain rocks.

Shakespeare put coded messages about Catholicism into

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2005

Shakespeare put coded messages about Catholicism into his plays that, due to the “Protestant, Whig ascendancy”, have not been decoded until now.