Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Review: The Lodger Shakespeare

The Lodger Shakespeare: His life on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl

In the grand tradition of Will in the World and 1599, Nicholl's new books is not so much a biography of Shakeapeare but a snapshot of the world in which he lived and how it might have affected his writing. Unlike the previous books, however, Nicholl narrows his focus by concentrating on Shakespeare's court appearance, the only known documentation of Shakespeare speaking in his own voice. This results in a portrait of the Mountjoy family of Silver Street, with whom Shakespeare lived in the early 1600's, and speculations as to the family's interactions both with each other and their famous lodger.

Like any book on Shakespeare, a large part of Nicholl's arguments are based on speculation and inference. Some of these seem plausible (Mary Mountjoy as contributing to his lost-daughter themes in the later plays, the appearances of brothel scenes around the time he was collaborating with a pimp) while some still seem like a hefty jump (Marie Mountjoy's supposed affair stands out in my mind as more of a good story than a likely actuality), but the picture he paints of the quotidien experience Shakespeare might have had is still an interesting contrast to the larger picture contextualization of Greenblatt and Shapiro. In keeping with this vein, his connections ot the plays are more tenuous, and there is far less line-by-line connections between life and art. Instead, Nicholl chooses to present an atmosphere, a series of vignettes that were common in the day and therefore allow us to place ourselves in the house on Silver Street (or houses like it) and get a taste of time. An absorbing read for anyone wishing to know more about the world of Wm. Shakes.

See what others say:
The Guardian
The New York Times
The Washington Post

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Today is the bard's birth (and death) day, so why not celebrate by speaking the speech? Here is a handy list of words for the day:

Avaunt! –go away
Avouch- testify, prove
Betimes- soon/early
Choler- irritable temper
Con- study
Conceit – idea
Divers- various
Entreat- beg, plead
E’re – before
Fain – be inclined to
Fardel – burden
Fell – terrible
Forsooth – truly, honestly
Ifaith – honestly
Jakes – lavatory
Lief – (I had as life) prefer
Methinks – it seems to me
Naught – nothing
Parley – talk
Prithee – I beg you
Repair - make your way to
Riggish – playful
Sack- wine
Sith- since or because
Varlet – low-class rogue
Zounds! – God’s wounds!

Happy Birthday, Billy, and here's to another 444 years fo awesome!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

preliminary objective notes on the scottish play

to be formatted/editted later.

-set a square tiled room, at times a kitchen, morgue, hospital,basement (?). very cold and industrial
-1.1 and 1.2 switched, nurses in the hospital tending to the wounded captain then become witches and kill him
-england scene takes place in a make-shift music hall (idea of war converting places) with piano and chairs. macduff's reaction to children's death very quiet but anguished, words come out strangled
-banquet scene staged twice, no either side of intermission. first time, we hear all the lines and see banquo's ghost come out of the service elevator and stalk down the table. second time macbeth's conversation with the murderer is unheard and banquo does not appear, so we know only as much as the guests themselves
-odd business where macbeth takes a lit cigarette from a guest and crushes it over the guest's head
-witches serve the banquet, first time with knoves behind their backs, second time without
-macduff arrives to the castle with family in tow, establishing family connections early on. some lines of the porter scene given to lady macduff
-boy and old man discussing natural events of the night of the murder given to banquo and fleance. fleance open the scene by sneaking to the fridge to get a piece of cake, which macbeth takes back from him when he enters and puts away
-moment of announcing malcom an heir, malcom and macbeth side by side so it looked like duncan as about to announce macbeth. looks on macbeth's face one of "you like me! you really really...oh,no you don't..."
-macduff family killed on-stage. lady macduff realizes they're in peril and keeps trying to leave, but menacing figures appear at every exit and the family backs up against itself in the center. lights black out, then come up slightly so you can just barley make out each member being sluaghtered (including the youngest, teddy-bear-wielding daughter having her throat cut by a hacksaw)
-scene with the witches giving the riddled warnings takes place in a morgue. each "vision" they conjure is a corpse momentarily brought back to life to give his prophecy
-intense video projections during the witch scenes and the final battle. really vibrant, jungle greens used for birnam wood.
-final battle somewhat chaotic
-macbeth makes and eats a sandwich while hiring banquo's murderers. funny and oddly humanizing, though showing a disparity between attitude and action
-lady macbeth's mad scene very fearful, distracted, desperate. uses bleach to wash her hands and the sink (downstage right, spotlit) runs blood
-initial castle scene takes places in the ktichen with staff all around hacking vegetables and fowl for the meal. warmer lighting tones in this earlier scene, eventually becom colder and more clinical as the humanity lessens. when the couples exits, resolved to kill duncan, they bring with them a chocolate cake (model host/hostess)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Drawing from Life

William Shakespeare lived in an incredible time, and no doubt drew inspiration for his work from events that surrounded him. Here are some contemporary passages from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that he may have found helpful....

If any person had either the gift or the style to win the hearts of the people, it was this Queen. All her faculties were in motion, and every motion seemed a well-guided action; her eye was set upon one, her ear listened to another, her judgement ran upon a third, to a fourth she addressed her speech; her spirit seemed to be everywhere. Some she pitied, some she commended, some she thanked, at others she pleasantly and wittily jested, condemning no person, neglecting no office, and distributing her smiles, looks and graces so artfully that thereupon the people again redoubled the testimony of their joys, and afterwards, raising everything to the highest strain, filled the ears of all men with immoderate extolling of their prince.
-Sir John Hayward on Elizabeth I's entrance into London
November 28, 1558

We princes are set as it were upon stages in the sight and view of all the world.
-Elizabeth I
October 29, 1586

He carries his love and his hatred on his forehead.
-Unknown person describing the Earl of Essex

She walks much in her chamber, and stamps with her feet at ill news, and thrusts her rusty sword at times into the arras in great rage.
-Sir John Harington on Elizabeth's reaction to Essex's uprising
February, 1601

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Words, Word, Words

"Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not 'seems'.
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath...
That can denote me truly;."
- Hamlet, I.ii.79

deep sighing, intense breathing

all entries for "Words, Words, Words" taking from Shakespeare's Words: A Glossary and Language Companion by David and Ben Crystal, Penguin Books, 2002

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Words, Words, Words

"....and Petruchio is the master;
That teacheth tricks eleven and twenty long,
To tame a shrew and charm her chattering tongue."
- The Taming of the Shrew, IV.ii.57

eleven and twenty long
meaning: just right, perfect
derived from: a winning hand in the card game of Thirty-one

all entries for "Words, Words, Words" taking from Shakespeare's Words: A Glossary and Language Companion by David and Ben Crystal, Penguin Books, 2002

No better reason to go to Utah

"William Shakespeare's Hamlet gets a sequel — and a musical one, to boot — in "Hamlet 2," a new addition to the Sundance Film Festival lineup."

I want it. I want to see it RIGHT NOW.