Tag Archives: Shakespeare

The Bard’s Birthday

English: Title page of Shakespeare's Sonnets (...

Title page of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is the day that is typically celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday. He would be 450 today.  To commemorate the day, and although Sonnet 21 isn’t one of his most popular, it has always been one of my favorites.

In it, Shakespeare vows his love is true and the words he writes about his love will be as well, and truth will take the place of the forced comparisons other poets use.

 

 

Sonnet 21

So is it not with me as with that Muse,
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare
With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare,
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O! let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fixed in heaven’s air:
   Let them say more that like of hearsay well;
   I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

 

 

 

‘Til next time,

 

 

Jessica

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes, I Do Still Read: The Weird Sisters

I know, it has been forever since I got a book review up here for you.  You’ll be shocked to hear that I keep getting distracted.  I’m in the middle of at least five books.  (There’s a list at the bottom of the post, just in case you’re curious.)  The Andreas family is much the same, so to say I relate…that would be an understatement.
I really enjoyed Eleanor Brown’s novel The Weird Sisters.  The Andreas family is filled with people as addicted to books as I am.  James Andreas is a professor of Shakespeare at a small, well respected college in the small town of Barnwell, and he speaks almost entirely in Shakespeare quotes.  At least half the time, no one really knows what he’s talking about.  However, his passion for The Bard has given everyone in his family an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare’s work.  He and his wife named their daughters after Shakespeare’s heroines, Rosalind (Rose) from As You Like It, Bianca (Bean) from The Taming of the Shrew, and Cordelia (Cordy) from King Lear.  

The family is all living in their childhood home after their mother is diagnosed with cancer.  Rose never really left Barnwell, choosing to take an academic track and stay to look after their parents.  She is a mathematics professor, the perfectionist, the caretaker, the responsible one.  Very much a typical first born child in the family.  As her namesake is an only child, Rose shares a few characteristics with the As You Like It character.  She mentions, several times, that she feels like the only child again with her sisters gone from the family home.  As the one who stayed, she’s made her life in Barnwell, and hasn’t looked at the potential outside the life she’s created around the care of her family.  She’s built a career, found love in a fellow professor, and is needed.  She’s the responsible one.  When her fiance is offered a visiting professorship in England, Rose faces some hard decisions.  

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Bean, the middle child, returns after the diagnosis, but her mother’s illness covers the fact that she has no where else to go.  Bean gets to share more than just being the second daughter with Bianca in Taming of the Shrew.  Considered to the be the “pretty one” in the family, Bean, like Bianca, is an expert in maintaining a facade.  She’s escaped Barnwell to leave the shadows of her sisters.  Her feelings of inadequacy send her to New York.  There she isn’t Bean, she’s Bianca, and she builds a life that is exciting, fulfilling, and successful on the surface.  As always that facade comes with a price, and her forced departure from New York causes her to take a closer look at who she really is.

Cordy, well she’s the vagabond, and after spending the last several years wandering the country, change is as much forced upon her as chosen.  Just as Cordelia is the beloved daughter in King Lear, so is Cordy the doted upon baby of the family.  She’s never had to be particularly responsible, she works in restaraunts and at odd jobs to earn enough money to move on to the next town, the next music festival, the next…whatever she decides.  Cordy catches rides with acquaintances masquerading as friends, and sleeps in abandoned houses with groups of like-minded people.  When she gets in a bind, she calls home.  The cause of her forced return creates a rift between Cordy and her father, just as Cordelia’s refusal to profess her love to King Lear causes a rift.  Cordy comes home to grow some roots and responsibility.

The Andreas’s love each other deeply, but they feel alone and disconnected.  Communication is not their strong suit.  (What?  The kids of a man who only speaks in Shakespeare quotes have a hard time communicating?) They aren’t what I would call particularly close, but they have a deep and abiding bond of history and love, no matter how insane they make each other.

Books are the family passion, and there are half read books littering every room.  Growing up, they all learned that you don’t go anywhere without something to read.  At one point a sister picks up and begins to read a book she found in the pantry.  (Does anyone else have this problem, or am I the only one who’s found a book in someplace like the fridge?) Rose follows her family members around, placing bookmarks and saving them from broken spines and dog eared pages. That casual disregard for the books, something the younger sisters take for granted, flows over into other areas of their lives.  That sense that someone else will clean up after them, pervades a lot of their choices leading up to their return to Barnwell.  While Rose stays so focused on the care of others, she doesn’t think much about what she really wants.  

I found the voice of The Weird Sisters very interesting.  It is written in plural first person, narrated by all Andreas sisters. (Our mother, our sister, etc.)  This is a voice that you don’t see often in novels, and this unique voice makes this more a collective story than individual story lines woven together.  Enforcing the theme that while the sister’s may not always like each other, and have an especially difficult time communicating, they do love each other.  Like it or not, their stories are intertwined, because they’re family.  You can’t really know any of them without knowing something of their sisters.  Their shared history, their family, as well as their choices made them who they are now.

I don’t know that I’d call this a “coming of age” novel, because none of these women are children, but it definitely a novel of personal revelations and growth.  They all learn more about who they are, about letting go of who they thought they were or who they feel they’re supposed to be, and work on embracing the individuals they are.  Whether that means grasping an opportunity for something different, settling down in one place, or finding the things that really make them happy, each sister faces the same challenge we all do.  That’s why I loved this book, because their struggles are the same ones we all face from time to time, aging parents, familial relationships, and self-discovery.

First Lines:

We came home because we were failures.  We wouldn’t admit that, of course, not at first, not to ourselves, and certainly not to anyone else.

Those opening lines…as someone who moved home for a short time as an adult, I can tell you there were brief bursts in which I felt the same.  Right from those first words, this novel hooked me.

Books Currently Reading (Holy cow, Jessica!  I had no idea…really.)

  1. Smoke & Mirrors – Neil Gaiman
  2. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
  3. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglass Adams
  4. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  5. The Clockwork Prince – Cassandra Clare
  6. The Dark Witch – Nora Roberts
  7. Watchmen – Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

‘Til next time,
Jessica

 

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Coriolanus

I got a text just before we arrived at Circle Cinema for the Nation Theatre Live broadcast of Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston as Caius Martius Coriolanus and Mark Gatiss as Menenius.  “It’s packed already,” the text read.  Truthfully, I wondered how my friend defined “packed”.  Every show I’d seen to that point had filled maybe half the theater, so I couldn’t figure out why she was worried.  Then, I walked into the door.  The line to enter the theater snaked around the corner, through the gallery, and nearly out the back door…hmmm.  Maybe I was wrong to doubt my dear friend. (Sorry about that!)  It was definitely packed.  Fortunately, we had already purchased tickets, so I picked them up and we joined the crowd.  The theater was filled.  As the play began, people were still searching for seats.  It brought joy to my geeky literary heart that so many had turned out for Shakespeare. I’ve been looking forward to this event for…a while, and it was worth the wait.  Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s later plays, and it is one that I hadn’t read or seen before the broadcast.  Considering how much I love Shakespeare, that alone would have made the evening a success.  With a cast such as this, there was no doubt in my mind that it would be an outstanding performance, and I was right.  This production was at the Donmar Warehouse, in London’s West End.  The Donmar is a converted banana ripening facility, so it offers a rather unique space for the production of a play.  With limited space, and therefor stage settings, the use of the walls became essential, and the actors really become the focus.  I love watching Shakespeare performed, because his humor, and sometimes snarkiness, don’t always translate as well on the page.  The beauty of the language really shines through when you can see and hear everything.  When actors are hurling words across the stage, sound and rhythm of the language impact mood and pacing of the story as much as anything else.   Watching the characters, language, and story come to life on the stage permits me to experience well-loved, worn out volumes with fresh eyes.  I knew this would be a great performance going in, but this cast still blew me away. http://youtu.be/2VA3ZSaC2nU In Tom Hiddleston’s performance as the main character, I saw not only a great warrior who was a terrible politician, but also a man who spoke from his heart, didn’t see any need for prevarication or deception, and no reason to sugar coat the truth.   Caius Martius isn’t someone who’s easy to like, his arrogance and surety that there are people meant to rule and others meant to be ruled is off-putting, to say the least. He makes comments about the common people comparing them to measles and remarking that they stink.  Hiddleston’s performance takes him beyond that into a character that has shining moments of humility and caring scattered through…you know, like a real person.  Caius Martius Coriolanus was a man who loved his mother, wife, and child, and wanted to make them proud.  You end up pulling for this guy, even as part of you wonders if you should. Menenius, played by Mark Gatiss, probably came out on top as my favorite character in this play.  Menenius battles as skillfully with wit and humor as Coriolanus does with muscle and sword.  Gatiss’s skill at playing the intellectual politician is evident to anyone who has ever seen Mycroft in the BBC’s Sherlock, but Menenius uses humor and warmth to defuse rising tensions and utilizes sentiment as readily as intellect.  Watching Gatiss’s Menenius deflate overblown egos with a handful of well placed words and a smile, wielding his scarf almost as both a prop and weapon is a joy. Aufidius, the general of the opposing army, played by Hadley Fraser impressed me as a character as well.  Aufidius and Caius Martius met in battle several times, each time Martius emerged victorious.  Aufidius wants nothing more than to defeat this enemy, and swears he would kill him while he was sleeping if the opportunity presented itself.  However, when Caius Martius Coriolanus is banished from Rome he makes his way to Aufidius’s home. Fraser’s character accepts Coriolanus’s offer of service to his former enemy. There is so much I loved about that scene.  The bending of Martius’s stiff pride to ask for help, and putting his life in the hands of his enemy.  Aufidius’s final acceptance of the offer…these actors!  Can I go again? http://youtu.be/1d30XZhnRWs The theater at Circle Cinema was filled with my kind of people.  Shakespeare, Sherlock, and Loki fans alike were out in force, and it made my geeky heart grow three sizes bigger.  I overheard mentions of Loki and Mycroft all over the place.  Both Hiddleston and Gatiss got a cheer during the opening interviews with cast members and directors. Some people even drove 5 1/2 hours just to see the performance, and this was a friendly bunch who struck up conversations with strangers. (Other people do it too.  It isn’t just me!) The whole evening felt like it was spent in a theater packed with friends.  Really, can we do this again? Actually, I have attended four viewings at Circle Cinema in less than two months.  Considering, I maybe went to a movie once a quarter…I thought, maybe I should just become a member, so I did.  Supporting a non-profit independent movie theater is a no-brainer if I get to continue to see these kinds of things.  Other great shows that are coming soon are the National Theatre Live broadcast of Frankenstein, Jerusalem (showing now), Nebraska (showing now), August: Osage County (showing now), Inside Llewyn Davis (showing now), and so many others.  Since three of those feature Benedict Cumberbatch, I would say someone is a member of the Cumbercollective, but that dude just released a wealth of work this past year.  Check out the trailer for Frankenstein below.  Who could resist that?  It looks awesome! http://youtu.be/bLS48tH9Y14 ‘Til next time, Jessica

 

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Shakespeare, Please…With a Side of Hiddleston and Gatiss

Shakespeare has always been one of my favorites.  The plays, the poetry…all of it.  The things that man could do with words…it never fails to impress me.  In this, as everything else, I have my favorites.  Of course, this is me.  I can’t pick just one favorite.  I have…four, yep, four…I think.

Twelfth Night has always been at the top of the list. (Except when it was turned into the modern day movie She’s The Man. I didn’t particularly like it then), but this is one I’ve only read or seen in a movie.  The wit and humor in combination with the beautiful language…Helena Bonham Carter was in a movie version of this in 1996 that tipped it into “favorite status”.  One of my favorite quotes comes from Duke Orsino’s speech…

“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it”
― William ShakespeareTwelfth Night

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is another that I fell head over heels for.   Kevin Klein and Michelle Pfeiffer played in a movie version as Nick Bottom and Titania.  Rupert Everett’s Oberon is spectacular, and Stanley Tucci plays an amazing Robin Goodfellow.  I’ve also seen this as a Shakespeare in the Park production here in Tulsa at Woodward Park.  Although it was in the height of summer and temperatures as the sun set were still in the upper ninety’s (at least!).  It was really great.  The hillside was sparsely lit with twinkle lights, and Oberon’s opening lines were done as he swooped down from the top of the hill on a zip line.  Woodward Park is a great setting. Filled with lush trees and plants, it is near the Philbrook Museum.  They even have a small monument to Shakespeare tucked away.

Othello is another that just…it breaks my heart every single time.  Laurence Fishburn’s performance of Othello in the 1995 film version is just amazing.  My living room features a framed poster with text for the entire play.  The only caveat is that it doesn’t ever hang in my bedroom.  A play about a man who strangles his wife in a fit of jealousy?  Nope. As much as I love that play, it is truly a tragedy, and I don’t need that kind of vibe where I sleep.  My imagination is overactive enough.

Hamlet is another favorite.  I’ve never been able to choose my favorite production of that play.  Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad version either.  Okay, focus Jessica.  

So what does this have to do with Tom Hiddleston?  Well, I get to see a Shakespeare play I’ve never seen before.  After watching the trailer (below), I don’t think I’ve read it either.  I am so excited!  The Coriolanus production done by the National Theatre in London is being broadcast at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema at the end of January.  This production stars Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus and Mark Gatiss as Menenius.

Now, I’ve been a Shakespeare fan for…well, a very long time.  I prefer to see it performed, because that is what it was written for. Reading is lovely, but I tend to get all caught up in the layers of meaning in the beautiful language.  I don’t really appreciate how the syllables string together, the rhyme, or the stories that have captured our imaginations through centuries until I see it on stage.  The opportunity to watch Coriolanus before I read it is pretty exciting.  All the rest I’d read long before I had the chance to see them performed.  (Yes, I’m doing my happy dance…well, just in my head.  It is hard to type and dance at the same time!)

Until a few months ago I knew absolutely nothing about either the Circle Cinema or Great Britain’s National Theatre.  Maybe it is acceptable that I was missing out on the National Theatre, after all I don’t actually live in Great Britain.  Circle Cinema, however, has been a Tulsa tradition since 1928.  They are a non-profit, independent art house movie theater in the historic Whittier Square Shopping Center, and it is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and I love to go through the adjacent gallery to look at the local artists.

Circle Cinema is one of those things that everyone just assumed that I would know all about, because it was totally my kind of thing.  Well, yeah, but no one ever told me about it.  I have no idea how I’ve missed out on it in all the years I’ve lived in Tulsa.  From now on, you all have instructions to just tell me about cool stuff.  Really, I don’t mind.  Promise.  Either I learn something or I get to discuss cool stuff with cool people. 

I discovered National Theatre Live after posting about their production of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller as both Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature.  Just look at the trailer! Can you tell me you don’t think this will be fantastic?  The Frankenstein production just popped up in a feed somewhere.  Benedict Cumberbatch has shot into stratospheric fame, and someone posts something about him once a minute.  (Actually, it is probably a lot more than that.  I’m kind of afraid if I Googled him it would break…the internet due to the sheer volume of responses, and I’m not willing to test that theory.)  This is also being broadcast at Circle Cinema in March.  I’m super excited.  I thought I missed it, and while it isn’t the typical way you spend St. Patrick’s Day, I will definitely get into less trouble…probably…maybe…okay, no promises.  

 Just after Halloween, I thought they were showing Frankenstein, but I was wrong it was the National Theatre’s 50th Anniversary Special.  Although, not what I was expecting, it was really awesome.  There have been some truly amazing actors cross the stage of the National Theatre, and the 50 Years on Stage special showcased some wonderful plays.

My parents have taken me to see Broadway musical performances at Tulsa’s Performing Arts Center since I was…well, a really long time.  I got to see Chicago, 42nd Street, Peter Pan, Guys and Dolls, Hello Dolly, A Tuna Christmas…and so many more.  I’ve loved every single one…much to the dismay of my best friend whose relationship with musicals of any kind is…less…enthusiastic.  Fortunately, the poor singing of show-tunes (or any tunes) didn’t ruin the friendship, but my parents did open doors to something I dearly love now.

Until the National Theatre special, I didn’t realize that, other than Shakespeare, I’ve never seen a play that wasn’t a musical.  Oh, what I’ve been missing!  One of the scenes performed was from The History Boys with James Cordon (otherwise known as Craig, Stormageddon’s Dad), Dominic Cooper, Russel Tovey (Allons-y Alonso!) and so many more wonderful actors.  I enjoyed The History Boys so much, I found a film version on Amazon and bought it for myself for Christmas.  (Okay, I didn’t find the film version, my friend did…that purchase is also why I have a ukulele…long story.)  The scene from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was so amazing that I have to see the rest of the play too.  Angels in America (which actually wasn’t shown in America at the time because it was too controversial),  A Little Night Music, Bedroom Farce, No Man’s Land…so many others that I need to see…well, maybe not the Jerry Springer Opera.  Okay, maybe even the Jerry Springer Opera.  Oh, man now I’m thinking of plays I need to look for…any recommendations?

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends. – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5 Scene 1

‘Til next time,

Jessica

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