9.28.2006

what i'm reading and what i'm watching: shakespeare

Today we're seeing Soulpepper's production of King Lear. Allan reminded me that the cast is comprised fully of actors we haven't seen yet, so I'm a little more hopeful for a good show. I couldn't imagine anyone we've seen so far raving on the heath.

In preparation for the play, we both read King Lear over the past week. For me it's the most tragic of all Shakespeare's tragedies. Positively heartbreaking.

A few years ago, I decided I would read one or two Shakespeare plays a year, re-visiting what I read in college or reading some for the first time. I am always utterly floored by the beauty and genius of the language. I've been buying these great little Pelican editions. They have very well written introductions, easy to use footnotes, and these terrific matching covers that make me want to collect them all. And they're only five bucks!

The re-reading plan was inspired by one of our Netflix festivals, as we call it when we gorge on movies by one director or with one actor, this one featuring Kenneth Branagh's adaptations of Shakespeare. I believe we've seen them all - Hamlet, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and As You Like It. I don't know if Branagh plans to make more. I hope so.

Another memorable movie was Michael Almereyda's production of Hamlet, featuring Ethan Hawke. The action was transposed into New York City at the end of the 20th century, with a multinational corporation standing in for a kingdom. Allan and I both thought it was brilliant. Only original language was used, but the reconception brought additional power and immediacy to the action. I related to the action in a personal way, which I don't always find with Shakespeare.

Purists hate this kind of thing, but I see no reason why Shakespeare must be performed by men in tights. So-called purists don't seem to mind women playing Juliet or Desdemona, even though in Shakespeare's time those roles were played by boys. The way I see it, the language is Shakespeare, the rest is theatre, and open to interpretation.

So today, King Lear! I'm going in with an open mind. Soulpepper, surprise me.

11 comments:

M@ said...

Ever seen Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night? I think it came out in 1995. Ridiculously hard to find. But beautifully, intelligently, masterfully done. (For some reason I feel the need to plug that movie all the time...)

I liked Branaugh's work less and less over the years -- I know I'm in the minority but I couldn't stand his Hamlet. His Henry V was on the old teevee a few nights ago, though, and it's still just as engrossing as when I saw it in the theatre.

Shakespeare is annoying, isn't he? You can open a Complete Works at random, put your finger on a page, and find a piece of writing that's so easy, so elegant, so smooth and beautiful... man, if I wrote like that, I'd be so unbearably smug.

L-girl said...

Ever seen Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night?

I have! I'll see anything that man has touched. Amazing.

Shakespeare is annoying, isn't he?

LOL, that's so funny. I kind of deify him. Thinking of Shakespeare as more than a mere mortal helps reduce the sting.

I'll write about Lear tomorrow. For now I'll just say: they surprised me, utterly.

James said...

Kenneth Branagh's adaptations of Shakespeare. I believe we've seen them all - Hamlet, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and As You Like It. I don't know if Branagh plans to make more. I hope so.

I always liked the scene in Blackadder Back and Forth where a time-travelling Edmund Blackadder meets William Shakespeare. After chatting a bit, he sucker-punches Bill and leaves him lying on the floor. "That is for Kenneth Branagh's four-hour Hamlet!" he said.

"Who's Kenneth Branagh?" gasps Shakespeare.

"I shall tell him you asked that, and he shall be very hurt!" replies Blackadder, smugly.

(My own taste in theatre tends more towards Beckett, personally)

Jenjenjigglepants said...

Hey nonny nonny L-girl,

Have you seen Wayne and Shuster's "Shakespearian Baseball" sketch? Seems like a combo of two of your favourite things (to refer to one of my other faves...). I know it's available on line somewhere.

Certainly a better Canadian addition to Shakespeare stuff than Keanu in Branagh's Much Ado: "I am... a man of... FEW words". Too bad Will didn't script a speeding bus. Keanu's performance was made worse by the 13-year-olds behind us who gasped everytime he appeared on screen, squealed during the bathing scene(not that it didn't have it's redeeming features), and then discussed how they had no idea what was going on for the rest of the movie. Oh well. At least they tried. But really, Keanu? When Emma Thompson is in the film too? Now there's a person to crush on... >>sigh<<

Cheers, Jjjp

L-girl said...

Have you seen Wayne and Shuster's "Shakespearian Baseball" sketch?

I have! We saw a piece of it in some CBC show about Canadian comedy, then I looked it up online and watched the whole thing. Thanks for thinking of me. :)

When Emma Thompson is in the film too? Now there's a person to crush on...

Oo, I couldn't agree more. Now why don't I remember Keanu Reeves even appearing in that movie? Bathroom scene, you say? Should I rent it again, perhaps...? Hmmm...

M@ said...

I too loathed Keanu in that film. What surprised me was Michael Keaton -- I don't think there's anything of his I've really liked but he was stellar in Much Ado.

LOL, that's so funny. I kind of deify him. Thinking of Shakespeare as more than a mere mortal helps reduce the sting.

Oh, absolutely. I vacillate between "how DARE you be so astoundingly good!?" and "why am I wasting my time writing instead of reading Shakespeare?"

Looking forward to hearing about Soulpepper's Lear. I saw it at Stratford a few years ago with William Hutt. Best I've ever seen.

teflonjedi said...

Ah, that reminds me...should I ever escape China and get home, I should pull out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and watch it again. Loved it!

redsock said...

Laura may post on it, but Lear was great. Amazingly well done -- surprising, since the other plays we've seen this summer have had their moments, but generally have been kind of flat.

And reading it the week before (I'm not sure I've ever read it) helped immeasurably.

L-girl said...

And reading it the week before (I'm not sure I've ever read it) helped immeasurably.

I knew it would be key.

You know, reading these comments about Branagh's Much Ado, I'm wondering if I really saw it, or if we maybe missed that one.

I also don't know if I saw his Hamlet. If it came out around the same time as the Ethan Hawke Hamlet, we didn't. I'll have to look into this.

God, my memory sucks.

Jenjenjigglepants said...

Bathing scene: As all of the soldier's of Don Pedro's (Denzel Washington)group are seen riding down the road (set to very dramatic music) a flurry of undressing/redressing ensues among the members of the household. Meanwhile, the soldiers as they ride up, get off of their horses and jump into the fountains to wash off. Good, good whole wheat fun.

L-girl said...

Oh yes, I remember now. The words "Denzel Washington" brought it back to me. Mmmm.

Thanks Jen :)