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Category Archives: Shakespeare

Well, I’m enjoying it…

Hot on the heels of Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography, I am reading Will (Christopher Rush 2007). There’s an excellent review here by Joyce McMillan from The Scottish Review of Books. Rush follows Ackroyd’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s life quite closely but has involved himself in Shakespeare studies for several decades. He certainly knows his man.

Rush doesn’t spare us the smells as well as the sights of Elizabethan/Jacobean London. If you want to know just what was involved in hanging, drawing and quartering, or in bear baiting, you will be more than satisfied. Much of the book is pastiche, a mash-up of lines from the Bard – and I mean that as a compliment as it is most cleverly done. Here is an earthy and believable Will Shakespeare on his deathbed going back over his life as he dictates his will to his rather Falstaffian lawyer – a device that could stretch belief just a bit if you let it.

Joyce McMillan knows a lot more about the Scottish author than I did.

…In terms of the development of Rush’s own work, the origins of this book are not difficult to trace. It’s no secret that following the sudden death of his first wife in 1994, Rush experienced years of despair, depression and writer’s block, released only when he was able to write his own painfully frank 2005 memoir of that experience, To Travel Hopefully: Journal Of A Death Unforeseen. As a lifelong teacher of literature, he found some small, companionable solace even then in the profound knowledge and awareness of death that runs through all Shakespeare’s work; and now, he has gathered all his feeling for Shakespeare’s mighty dialogue with death into this startilng first-person account of the life, set in the framework of the last days – the settling of accounts, the making of bequests, and the final walk into the dark.

At first – as Will talks of his chiildhood and family, his brutal schooling, his father’s humiliating business failure, his early trade as a slaughterman’s boy, and his sudden dizzying fall at 17 into lust and love with Anne Hathaway, followed by a suffocating early marriage and fatherhood – the dialogue format works well, with the gluttonous Francis alternately shovelling down food, and chirpily contributing his own local insights and opinions. Later, the structural moorings begin to slip a bit, as the more familiar Shakespeare of the London years emerges, in great avalanches of narrative and descriptive prose to which Collins has little to say.

But always, Rush’s prose retains the same intense, hallucinatory quality, a strange mixture of brisk, frank modernity and Shakespearean pastiche, alarmingly laced, at every turn, with sudden shifts into Shakespeare’s own words, culled from those ever-present plays…

I am thoroughly enjoying the ride. star_icons25 star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2009 in Best read of 2009, book reviews, Fiction, Shakespeare

 

Two non-fiction books that have impressed me lately

star_icons25 star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25 1. Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008)

Yes, I know: Tariq Ali, famous 1968 alumnus and “wild man” of the Left. But even London’s Spectator, hardly famous for Marxist leanings, concedes, while also drawing attention to the book’s very pleasing style:

… Tariq Ali’s universal cynicism might have been oppressive, but in fact his narrative is funny and gossipy, the high points being his own encounters with key players, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir and Indira Gandhi. He believes that the country’s satirists, writers and poets serve as Pakistan’s collective conscience and uses writers and poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Habib Jalib and Ustad Daman to provide the moral compass for his wanderings.

Political turbulence has revived interest in stories from an earlier period of Muslim in the region, Ali says. He relates a 16th-century story that — with some modifications — sums up life in today’s Pakistan with painful accuracy. A man is seriously dissatisfied with a junior magistrate’s decision. The latter, irritated, taunts him to appeal to a senior judge.The man replies, ‘But he’s your brother, he won’t listen to me’. The magistrate says, ‘Go to the mufti’. The man replies, ‘But he’s your uncle’. The magistrate says, ‘Go to the minister’. The man replies, ‘He’s your grandfather’. The magistrate says, ‘Go to the King’. The man replies, ‘Your niece is engaged to him’. The magistrate, livid with anger, says, ‘Go to Hell then’. The man replies, ‘That’s where your esteemed father reigns. He’ll see to it that I get no satisfaction there.’

The government, the political parties, the civil service, the mullahs and the army all have reason to be angry with Tariq Ali and The Duel will outrage as many in Washington as in Islamabad. But Americans should read it for its explanation of why so many in Pakistan hate the US, blaming it for the dire situation in which they now find themselves.

In fact this sprightly romp should be read by anyone who wants real insights into Pakistan. It is as good a primer on Pakistani politics as you will find, with the caveats that it is not the whole story, it is not always accurate and Ali’s prejudices are his own.

Yes, but he makes more sense of this part of the world (including Afghanistan as these stories are inseparable) than most. I see a great love for his subject despite what the Spectator calls cynicism – and indeed cynicism seems to me quite rational in this case.

See also Democracy Now and The Independent. There is also a one hour YouTube and some shorter ones you may access from there.

star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25 2. Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography (2005)

THE biography – a touch presumptuous that! But this is nonetheless a feast of a book which until recently I had just nibbled at for reference purposes. Some say Ackroyd speculates too much, but I find many of the speculations fruitful. It is also very grounded in excellent social history. Here’s a quick taste.

… Of his earthly life there was much less certainty. In the sixteenth century, the mortality of the newly born was high. Nine per cent died within a week of birth, and a further 11 per cent before they were a month old; in the decade of Shakespeare’s own birth there were in Stratford 62.8 average annual baptisms and 42.8 average annual child burials. You had to be tough, or from a relatively prosperous family, to survive the odds. It is likely that Shakespeare had both of these advantages.

Once the dangers of childhood had been surmounted, there was a further difficulty. The average lifespan of an adult male was forty-seven years. Since Shakespeare’s parents were by this standard long-lived, he may have hoped to emulate their example. But he survived only six years beyond the average span. Something had wearied him. Since in London the average life expectancy was only thirty-five years in the more affluent parishes, and twenty-five years in the poorer areas, it may have been the city that killed him. But this roll-call of death had one necessary consequence. Half of the population were under the age of twenty. It was a youthful culture, with all the vigour and ambition of early life. London itself was perpetually young.

The first test of Shakespeare’s own vigour came only three months after his birth. In the parish register of 11 July 1564, beside the record of the burial of a weaver’s young apprentice from the High Street , was written: Hic incipit pestis. Here begins the plague. In a period of six months some 237 residents of Stratford died, more than a tenth of its population; a family of four expired on the same side of Henley Street as the Shakespeares. But the Shakespeares survived. Perhaps the mother and her newborn son escaped to her old family home in the neighbouring hamlet of Wilmcote, and stayed there until the peril had passed. Only those who remained in the town succumbed to the infection.

The parents, if not the child, suffered fear and trembling. They had already lost two daughters, both of whom had died in earliest infancy, and the care devoted to their first-born son must have been close and intense. Such children tend to be confident and resilient in later life. They feel themselves to be in some sense blessed and protected from the hardships of the world. It is perhaps worth remarking that Shakespeare never contracted the plague that often raged through London. But we can also see the lineaments of that fortunate son in the character of the land from which he came…

See also Looking at Shakespeare, in 3 Different Ways.

 

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Friday poem #7 – Ben Jonson

220px-Cobbe_portrait_2009-03-09

Not Ben Jonson, but William Shakespeare

That portrait of William Shakespeare came to light recently. Its authenticity is vouched for by leading Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells, though there are doubters. If it is authentic it is the only surviving portrait painted during the playwright’s lifetime.

To the memory of my beloved,
The Author
MR. W I L L I A M S H A K E S P E A R E :
A N D
what he hath left us.

To draw no envy (Shakespeare) on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy Booke, and Fame;
While I confesse thy writings to be such,
As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much.
‘Tis true, and all men’s suffrage. But these wayes
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise;
For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but eccho’s right;
Or blinde Affection, which doth ne’re advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance;
Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,
And thine to ruine, where it seem’d to raise.
These are, as some infamous Baud, or Whore,
Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more?
But thou art proofe against them, and indeed
Above th’ ill fortune of them, or the need.
I, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age !
The applause ! delight ! the wonder of our Stage !
My
Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont
lye
A little further, to make thee a roome :
Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses ;
I meane with great, but disproportion’d
Muses :
For, if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,
I should commit thee surely with thy peeres,
And tell, how farre thou dist our
Lily
out-shine,
Or sporting
Kid or Marlowes
mighty line.
And though thou hadst small
Latine, and lesse Greeke,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke
For names; but call forth thund’ring
Æschilus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Paccuvius, Accius, him of Cordova
dead,
To life againe, to heare thy Buskin tread,
And shake a stage : Or, when thy sockes were on,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison
Of all, that insolent
Greece, or haughtie Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my
Britaine,
thou hast one to showe,
To whom all scenes of
Europe
homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time !
And all the
Muses
still were in their prime,
When like
Apollo
he came forth to warme
Our eares, or like a
Mercury
to charme !
Nature her selfe was proud of his designes,
And joy’d to weare the dressing of his lines !
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other Wit.
The merry
Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus,
now not please;
But antiquated, and deserted lye
As they were not of Natures family.
Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art,
My gentle
Shakespeare,
must enjoy a part;
For though the
Poets
matter, Nature be,
His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he,
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses anvile : turne the same,
(And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
Or for the lawrell, he may gaine a scorne,
For a good
Poet’s
made, as well as borne.
And such wert thou. Looke how the fathers face
Lives in his issue, even so, the race
Of
Shakespeares
minde, and manners brightly shines
In his well toned, and true-filed lines :
In each of which, he seemes to shake a Lance,
As brandish’t at the eyes of Ignorance.
Sweet swan of
Avon!
what a fight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
And make those flights upon the bankes of
Thames,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere
Advanc’d, and made a Constellation there !
Shine forth, thou Starre of
Poets,
and with rage,
Or influence, chide, or cheere the drooping Stage;
Which, since thy flight fro’ hence, hath mourn’d like night,
And despaires day, but for thy Volumes light.

B E N: J O N S O N.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2009 in poets and poetry, Shakespeare

 

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The Bard in Surry Hills

I noticed this in Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s latest email newsletter, which I have been receiving ever since we enlisted her aid, in her role as a member of the NSW Legislative Council, for Lord Malcolm last year.

* SHAKESPEARE BY NORTHCOTT: A special, one-off performance will take place at Belvoir Street Downstairs Theatre on Monday 20 October 2008 at 1pm. Residents of Northcott Housing estate in Surry Hills take to the stage in their own production of a selection of Shakespeare’s plays.

You may find The Northcott mentioned here from time to time, and it has featured in my documenting of Surry Hills on Ninglun’s Specials.

ssh 012

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, local, Shakespeare, Surry Hills

 

The Sourcebooks Shakespeare

These are just brilliant, though I admit I am judging from just two — Othello and Macbeth — which (glad to say as a pensioner, sad to say from the publisher’s viewpoint) I bought last week at the remainder shop at the end of the Devonshire Street tunnel at Sydney’s Central Station. I have been going through Othello with a student in the past few weeks, and that motivated the purchase. I had no idea whether it would be worth the $9.95, but it emphatically was. 🙂

There is a website too: THE SOURCEBOOKS SHAKESPEARE. Read all about them there, and even hear some of the CDs that accompany them.

sourcebooks

On Othello, for example, you get speeches and extracts, sometimes in pairs so you can compare interpretations. You may contrast Janet Suzman’s amazing 1987 South African production starring John Kani (left below) with the historic Paul Robeson (right below) interpretation from the 1940s. Even more amazing, there is F Scott Fitzgerald doing a speech from Act I Scene 3, and if that isn’t amazing enough, a recording of Edwin Booth, the brother of the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, performing the role in 1890! The CD is beautifully narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi. On top of that are essays on aspects of the play, and a very user-friendly complete edition. Just great!

othello1 robeson

Both images are links…

This post is also on English/ESL.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2008 in Best read of 2008, education, English studies, Shakespeare

 

Child porn playwright sought

NSW Police, acting on complaints by Interested Citizens, are on the point of cracking Child Pornographer William Shakespeare. “I have never heard anything so disgusting in my life,” Prime Minister Rudd told Good Morning Australia.

“But I was disgusted long before Kevin Rudd, and no child will have to pay for petrol under a Coalition Government,” responded Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson on Sunrise.

Shakespeare — not to be confused with Australian singer Johnny Cabe whose suggestive lyrics (see the YouTube) do explain his choice of “William Shakespeare” as a stage name — has been foisting his filth on impressionable young Australians for years, informed sources say.

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Orson Welles “Othello” (1952, restored 1992)

I saw this just now, thanks to Surry Hills Library. It is brilliant, though there are still a few rough patches because of the way it was made. The DVD has a good documentary on that, and how it was a particularly challenging (and brilliantly done) restoration job. The movie was never seen in anything like the form Welles intended until 1992! Just look at the sublime opening!


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Posted by on January 20, 2008 in film and dvd, movies, Shakespeare