Some falls are means of happier to arise.
Cymbeline; Act IV, Scene II.
This is probably what I would get a tattoo of if I were ever to get a tattoo. It’s also my personal mantra. It’s one of those lines in Shakespeare that kind of sneaks up and floors you. Yes, a lot of Shakespeare’s language is heightened, but uses the simplest language to produce the greatest emotional effect. It’s absolutely genius.
It’s a tie between 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
With 126 as a close third:
O thou, my lovely boy who in thy pow’r
Dost hold time’s fickle glass his sickle hour,
Who has by waning grown, and therein show’st
Thy lovers withering, as thy sweet self grow’st—
In nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,
As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill
May time disgrace, and wretched minute kill.
Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure;
She may detain but not still keep her treasure.
Her audit, though delayed, answered must be,
And her quietus is to render thee.
DAY 28: YOUR FAVORITE JOKE
Twelfth Night: Or What You Will; Act I, Scene III
I know, I know, it’s not intentionally a joke. But it just slays me.
All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
DAY 27: YOUR FAVORITE COUPLET
The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene VII
I mean, it’s impossible to choose just one, so this question is inherently ridiculous. I picked this one largely because The Merchant of Venice hasn’t gotten nearly enough love during this countdown. The poetry in this scene is also stunning
So this 30 days of Shakespeare thing has kind of turned into two months of Shakespeare, so I’m going to blame it on the fact that I graduate in under a month. I’m just prolonging everything.
My favorite couple is, of course, Benedick and Beatrice, but since I’ve already talked about them here, I’m going to talk about my second favorite couple: Florizel and Perdita. They may not readily appear to be that badass a couple, but hear me out. They fall in love with each other before their true identities are revealed, so they spend months getting to know each other as equals, building up trust and respect for each other. Then, when Florizel is threatened with losing his inheritance if he doesn’t leave Perdita, he flat out refuses.
Florizel and Perdita are, quite simply, a lovely couple. They’re also a couple that I think will last, which is a rarity in Shakespeare. This might make them a bit boring, but sometimes all I want is to believe that some people can be happy. So there.
Definitely Hal. I know he’s not the best of people, but the difference between Hal and Falstaff is that Hal grows and changes. Falstaff just gets drunker and more pathetic as the plays continue. I know we all love Falstaff, but who is he really? A privileged lord who has nothing to do, so he spends all his time drinking and getting his friends into trouble. When it comes down to it, he’s a coward and a bit of a waste of space. He might be funny and charming, but at his core, he’s not someone I would want to know.
I know that Hal can be a real shit and maybe the way he rejects Falstaff so publicly is uncalled for, but I understand why he is the way he is. Hal is destined to be king and the absolute ruler of his country: a life he never asked for. His younger brother is the perfect son and Hal just never seems to measure up. As cruel as it might seem, Hal does what he has to with the life that has been dumped in his lap.
So yes. That’s my decision.
The list of roles I want to play in the canon is a really long list, but I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve had the great fortune of playing two of my dream roles: Lady Macbeth and King Lear.
But there’s still one of my ultimate Shakespearean dream roles that I haven’t had an opportunity to play yet. And that’s Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew. I’ve wanted to play Kate ever since I saw the 2003 RSC production directed by Trevor Nunn (to date this was still the most successful production I’ve ever seen) and the opportunity has never arisen. When The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival was still around, I begged for them to pick it to be the show for the Teen Performance Program my last year there. They picked The Comedy of Errors instead (no regrets, it was an awesome show).
I know that …Shrew is a problematic play, but Kate is easily one of the most fierce and nuanced of Shakespeare’s heroines. She only has two or three monologues and even then, Kate shares very little of her true feelings with the audience. This is especially interesting considering every time Kate does speak, she raises hell with her. For an actor, that leaves so much up to you. What else could be more exciting?
Oh G-d. We’ve arrived at this day. It’s unpopular opinion time, guys.
I think Hamlet is very overrated.
Now, I’m not saying that Hamlet is a bad play. Far from it. Shakespeare really only wrote a few bad plays and even his bad plays aren’t too bad. But I just don’t think Hamlet is nearly as good as many of his other plays. To me, Hamlet has always felt like an experiment and I think it shows in the looseness of the play itself. The play is far too long, typically running at 4 hours uncut, and much of it does absolutely nothing dramatically. Hamlet himself spends more of the play reflecting inwardly than he does moving the play along and that can get old really quickly. Hamlet constantly pushes the play forward one step, only to take us back by two in the next scene. It takes a really exceptional actor to play Hamlet in a way that feels dynamic. I can list on one hand the actors who I think have done it successfully. Like I said, the play is an experiment and it isn’t always successful.
Hamlet was written at a major turning point in Shakespeare career. He was moving away from the lighter fair of his early and middle career into much darker territory. He had never really written a tragedy like Hamlet before Hamlet and he never wrote another play like it again. I understand why people like Hamlet, I genuinely do. There are passages in it that are profound and powerful and it is possible to perform well. I just don’t think you can call Hamlet, a deeply flawed play, the best play in the English language. Shakespeare wrote much better plays.
This one’s a no brainer. My favorite is definitely 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s actually pretty close to the play on which its based (The Taming of the Shrew), and, more importantly, I think the movie does what any adaptation should: it captures the heart of the play while still translating the play into a new context. I also think 10 Things I Hate About You solves some of the problems of …Shrew with ease and wit.
And what’s more, Ten Things I Hate About You has Heath Ledger in all of his early 90’s glory.
Last year, I wrote a paper about Shakespeare on film and whether or not I think that it’s actually possible to translate Shakespeare to film and still hold on to the heart of the plays themselves. I came to the conclusion that, yes, it is possible, but their are sacrifices that need to be made. Film, ultimately, is a visual medium. Shakespeare’s language is very visual. This was primarily a function of Elizabethan theatre of the imagination. We often get long descriptions of scenery and scenes of messengers re-counting battle scenes. They work theatrically, but not so much onscreen, when all of what is spoken can be summed up in a few shots. Often, film versions of Shakespeare plays visualize things that really ought to remain imaginary (most frequently, the “dagger of the mind” in Macbeth). So there are a lot of pitfalls and it’s really hard to get a film adaptation of a Shakespeare play right. There are a few films that I think are really successful: Franco Zephirelli’s Romeo and Juliet,Trevor Nunn’s Macbeth (even though its technically just a filmed stage production, it works really well), Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, and Ian McKellen’s Richard III; but I think all of them have their flaws. The film I think is probably the most successful translation of a Shakespeare play from the stage to film is Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus.
Coriolanus is a really difficult play to stage. Not only is the title character exceptionally difficult to get behind, the rest of the characters are equally complicated. The play is really violent, but its also dealing with intricate political ideas. Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus managed to balance every element of the play with confidence and ease. The play is definitely streamlined, but nothing of the heart of the story is sacrificed. I’m normally wary of any film version of a Shakespeare play that puts the play in a modern setting or adds some kind of modern commentary. It typically obscures more things than it illuminates and generally forces the play into constraints that can make the play more complicated than it actually is. Coriolanus avoids all of those pitfalls. The film is set in a highly militarized, modern version of Rome that conjures present day political tensions without hitting us over the head with them. Coriolanus shares a cinematographer with The Hurt Locker and, as a result, the battle scenes in Coriolanus take on the same tense, heart thumping, gritty, realism as those in The Hurt Locker.
The performances are, across the board, excellent. Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus is close to perfection and Fiennes’ grasp on who and what Coriolanus is: a career soldier thrust into an unwanted political career, exploited by men with an ounce of his bravery. Vanessa Redgrave’s Volumnia scared the ever loving crap out of me and Brian Cox’s Menenius is effortless. Gerard Butler even makes a solid, believable Man of the People as Tullus Aufidius.
I really hope Ralph Fiennes continues to direct and adapt Shakespeare for the screen because he does it really well. His understanding of the text and how Shakespeare’s plays work is evident and, as such, he understands exactly what can be cut and what is essential in bringing Shakespeare to the screen.
Sorry this turned into a novel of a post. This movie just gave me a lot of thoughts and even more feelings.
EDIT: Also, they kept ALL of the homoerotic subtext in. So that’s a huge win right there.
LORD POLONIUS: My lord, the queen would speak with you, and presently.
HAMLET: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
LORD POLONIUS: By the mass, and ‘tis like a camel, indeed.
HAMLET: Methinks it is like a weasel.
LORD POLONIUS: It is backed like a weasel.
HAMLET: Or like a whale?
LORD POLONIUS: Very like a whale.
Act III, Scene II
I am a big fan of all of the bits in Shakespeare that make you do a double take. In our collective imagination, Shakespeare is more often than not portrayed to be some kind of divine genius. We think of his work as being perfect and pristine, the ultimate expression of human achievement. Then he writes shit like this and we remember that he was once as flesh and blood as we are now. That he had a wicked sense of humor and was not above silliness. This piece of dialogue comes after the play within a play, which is easily one of the most tense, wrought scenes in the canon. Hamlet has just ripped Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a new one and then he turns around and pretends that the clouds look like camels, weasels, and whales. And then we get ANOTHER turn right after this exchange:
Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft! now to my mother.
O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom:
Let me be cruel, not unnatural:
I will speak daggers to her, but use none;
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites;
How in my words soever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent!
DAY 17- YOUR FAVORITE SPEECH
King Lear. Act II, Scene IV. This monologue breaks my heart. It marks a major turning point in Lear’s story. It is the start of his downfall from an aged but still powerful king to a broken, dying old man. In this moment, Lear begins to realize the colossal mistake he has made in disowning Cordelia and it saps the power out of him. Lear goes from purposeful fury: “Peace, Kent!/Come not between the dragon and his wrath./I loved her most, and thought to set my rest/On her kind nursery. Hence, and avoid my sight!/So be my grave my peace, as here I give/Her father’s heart from her!” (Act I, Scene i) to sputtering, heart-broken ravings: “I will have such revenges on you both,/That all the world shall—I will do such things,—/What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be/The terrors of the earth.” This monologue is simply perfection.
I’m not entirely sure, but I think the first live production of play I saw was an outdoor production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival. It was an outdoor production in the middle of summer and I remember laughing a lot when none of my friends were. I’ve always loved language and unusual words, and I think something woke up inside me that night because the next summer at camp, I signed up for the Shakespeare class. And the rest was history.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of reading Shakespeare. The First Folio was only published posthumously and many of the plays included in the first Folio had never been published in quarto form. The idea of a heavy, leather bound, Complete Works would have been ridiculous to Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s plays have always been meant to be heard and seen. Frankly, I think the reason why most people can’t get their heads around Shakespeare is because they’ve been forced to read it.
The first play I ever read was A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the only reason I read it was because I was going to be in the play. There are a few Shakespeare plays I enjoy reading (King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing, etc…) and I have read most of the plays in the canon, but if I have a choice between listening to a recording, watching a film version, or seeing a production of a play and reading it, I’m always going to go with the former. It’s just the better way to go.