Showing posts with label William Shakespeare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Shakespeare. Show all posts

Friday, June 1, 2018

Othello by William Shakespeare


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third of these short audiobooks. I liked Rome and Juliet, disliked The Winter's Tale, and now I have to say I did not like Othello, so I am done with following this Shakespeare series. One of the things that saddens me about our lack of time travel capability(!) is that I will never see these performed in Shakespeare's time or see Shakespeare act one of his own roles. I am really curious as to how it would work and whether it would look amateur or be brilliant. Would it be fake and stilted like some of the asinine, stentorian over-acting of yesteryear, or would it be as natural as can be?

My fear is that, judged from some of the overblown writing we find too often in Shakespeare, it would appear false and perhaps even risible, so mayhap 'tis for the better that we may not time travel. Certainly this version felt overdone and inauthentic to me. I could not focus on it. It failed completely to draw me in and did not capture my attention or love.

Known officially as The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, the story is of a general in the Venetian army, who has secretly married Desdemona. Once again Shakespeare ripped this off, this time from an Italian by the name of Cinthio, who wrote A Moorish Captain. Shakespeare's story changes details as usual, but the overall arc is pretty much the same. This play may have originated in a true story wherein Christophal Moro, a military man who in 1508, strangled his wife, whom he thought had been unfaithful.

In Shakespeare's version, Desdemona's father Brabantio, having been informed of the marriage by Iago, whose feathers Othello has ruffled when he overlooked him for a promotion, seeks to kill Othello, accusing him of witchcraft in seducing his daughter, but military needs prevent this assassination. Meanwhile, Iago continues to stir things up at every opportunity, getting Cassio fired and then suggesting to Othello that there is something going on between Cassio and Desdemona. This eventually leads to Othello suffocating her in her bed, but even so, she still manages to talk! Ridiculous! From then on it's all downhill, with people dying stage left, right and center. The whole story is stupid, but I can see how Elizabethan audiences would lap it up. Modern audiences still do lap up that crap, especially if it's a real life event rather than a show.

This play is dumb, and this version is so poorly acted that I cannot recommend it.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare - Audiobook


Rating: WORTHY!

This was one I picked up from the library at the same time as The Winter's Tale which I recently reviewed. I'm happy to report that this was much better than the other one. The cast was better for a start, and included David Tennant of Doctor Who, Jessica Jones, and Broadchurch fame) and (if you like him) Joseph Fiennes (of Shakespeare in Love fame in which he starred with Gwyneth Paltrow).

Frankly it would be nice to see a production of R&J which featured actors the actual ages of the principals in the play (Romeo's age remains unspecified, but Juliet, curiously, was thirteen!). I guess modern day sensibilities are far too squeamish for that, and in any case women - even those form wealthy families, did not marry at so tender an age in Elizabethan times, which is why her dad suggests she wait two more years. Childbirth at a later age was safer, but even marriage was unsafe for Juliet given what happened!

The question is though: are there not fine young actors aching for a chance to strut their stuff in this play? So why choose actors in their thirties? Joseph Fiennes who was 33 when this was published, and Maria Miles (who played Elfine Starkadder in 1995's Cold Comfort Farm) was probably around that same age, although little is known about her!

That said, and apart from some sorry over-acting on Fiennes part, this was not a bad full cast production and I enjoyed it.


Friday, May 4, 2018

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare


Rating: WARTY!

This was probably written around 1611, and first published in 1623 in a folio which grouped it with the comedies! It's not a comedy, unless a comedy of error. Some have labeled it a romance, but it's not a romance. To me it's a tragedy in more ways than one because it's not well-written and it's an awful story in the sense of being completely unrealistic. In that regard, it's a typical Shakespeare play where he asks us to remove our brains before entering the theater, but then he does call it The Winter's tale - like it's the mother of all tall stories, told in this audiobook by a very average full cast.

It's also another one of Shakespeare's thefts. He was a monstrous plagiarist. This story is essentially the same as Pandosto by Robert Greene, published some two decades earlier, a story in which the King of Bohemia, Pandosto, accuses his wife of adultery with his childhood friend, the King of Sicilia. Greene in turn may have taken his version from The Canterbury Tales which may have in turn been lifted from earlier stories such as The Decameron And so it goes!

In Shakespeare's rip-off, we're supposed to believe that Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, has so little to do in his own country that he can waste nine months (a curious amount of time) swanning around in Sicilia with King Leontes, whom he hath known since childhood. When Polixenes refuseth, citing pressing business back home, Leontes unreasonably tries to require him to stay, and when he fails in that, he sends his wife to try to talk him into staying. Why he would send his wife who knows this guy less well than does her husband is a mystery, but she persuades him so quickly that Leontes immediately decides she's had sex with him in order to convince him not to go!

Note that Bohemia is part of the present-day Czech Republic, so there is no way in hell a name like Polixenes would be in play there, nor a name like Leontes in Sicilia for that matter, but that's Shakespeare for you. Nor is there any way these two were childhood friends when their countries of origin were so far apart given the vicissitudes of travel back then, but again, Shakespeare expects us to buy this old mystery meat pie. He also expects us to believe the king took his wife to court (not the same as courting his wife) in a complete farce of a trial rather than simply behead her as was the fashion at the time. The reason for the trial is that it's far more an exercise in linguistic strutting and puffery than ever it was a realistic trial.

The wife, of course, dieth after the trial, but isn't really dead, just like the unheroic Hero wasn't really dead in Much Ado About Noting. Shakespeare wasn't original by any means. He even plagiarized himself! In the end, the child he thought had been burned alive on his own orders was in fact raised away from his sight for sixteen years, and the wife he thought was dead was living with a neighbor and lo an behold, all is forgiven at the end.

Horseshit! This king is so clueless that he has no idea what's going on in his own court, let alone his own country! He's so selfish that he won't let his supposed friend go home, and he's so stupid and paranoid that he thinks his best friend and his wife had sex. The guy's an asshole and simply isn't worth reading about. I do not recommend this! If you must indulge in Shakespeare, he has better material to read or listen to than this.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare, Matt Wiegle


Rating: WARTY!

No Fear Shakespeare is a collection of "translated" Shakespeare texts - in other words, delivered in modern English instead of in the antique lingo with which Shakespeare was familiar. A PDF of Romeo and Juliet done in this way with the original English alongside it can be read online here. I reviewed Hamlet done this ways back in January 2017, and liked that one. This one just didn't get there for me, but it is a simpler introduction to Shakespeare if you want to try to get a handle on him.

Everyone knows the story to one extent or another, but to me this story has always been a really bad YA love story. In fact, in a way, if we include Rosalind, who despite being a no-show here, is an important player in the story, it's a bad love triangle. If John Green had written it (barf!), it would have had a truly pretentious title like, "The Absence of Rosalind" or some such trivial drivel.

Yes, Shakespeare does turn out a nice phrase here and there, but this is sadly canceled out for me by the sick bawdiness and the un-pc attitudes of every male character in the entire story, because they're omnipresent with their puerile attitude, and thoroughly out of place here. Yes, I get that this is what audiences wanted back in Shakespeare's day, but that's no reason to worship him today (or even toady). This is often praised as the love story to outdo all love stories, but it's not a love story at all. There's no love here, only a deranged lust and foolishness, shallowness and cluelessness. It's ultimately a story of the brain-dead and the vacuous, a Dick and Shame story, and if we can blame violence in society on video-games, TV, and movies, then we sure as hell can blame relationships gone wrong on Shakespeare's juvenile view of them.

I ask not "wherefore art thou Romeo?" but why Romeo & Juliet instead of Juliet & Romeo? The answer to that is that this isn't actually a story of a love, true and deep, between two people, it's about a mentally disturbed dickhead and his wasted life. Juliet is thirteen years old, and is nothing more than collateral damage here, not really a character at all, but merely a narcissistic mirror in which Romeo reflects himself in all his vainglory. Not that she has any more clue than Romeo, but he doesn't love her, he wants her only as an emollient for his rough and rudimentary lust and need.

Look how the story begins - with Romeo pining for Rosalind! He's all Rosalind all the time, and there never can be another until the instant - not after several weeks of growing to know her, but the very instant - he sets his reality-challenged eyes on Juliet. From that moment, Rosalind is out, passé, forgotten, so five minutes ago, and nothing but a flimsy fantasy. Now it's all Juliet. I call bullshit on that one!

Is this really how Shakespeare viewed love? Very likely. He married at eighteen a woman eight years his senior for no other evident reason than that he got her pregnant, so he was just as irresponsible as Romeo. Worse, he then turned into a deadbeat dad, and abandoned his family to head south to live a Hollywood life - or what passed for it back then. While he may have visited, he didn't actually return to Stratford until he grew old and retired. What did he know of true love? Nothing.

And what of positive influences in Romeo's life? There are apparently none. It seems that all he has known is violence, never love. He never talks to his parents nor they to him. He takes his advice (not that he really listens) only from kinsmen and "friends" who never once try to set him on an even keel, because they're just as shallow, belligerent, and moronic as he is!

There are no responsible women in his life, and no one at all in Juliet's - not close male family, nor female friends. She's completely isolated and essentially imprisoned, having to beg permission even to go to church and confess! What the hell sins does she have to confess? She never goes anywhere to commit any, and does nothing with her short life. She's thirteen for goodness sake, ripe for taking advantage of!

And what of their affair? They meet one evening and marry almost immediately. Instead of looking to how he can make his wife happy and how they can be together, he lets his temper get the better of him and without a thought for any consequences or for his wife, he kills someone from Juliet's own family - the very man he had sworn love and kinship to not an hour or two before! When Juliet says, "O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon" she should have used Romeo, not the Moon. The Moon is actually extremely constant, but Romeo is far from it.

For murdering Tybalt, Romeo is lucky enough to be banished, not killed, but even then he can't get his act together! At the same time as he's banished, Juliet's father pretty much threatens to banish her, so here's the perfect opportunity for the two of them to hit the road and start a new life somewhere, but neither has the smarts to see it! Instead, they both take the easy route out. In short, this story is a badly written one which could have been much improved. Not only did Romeo murder Tybalt, he also murders Paris. His behavior is one of constantly slithering away from taking responsibility for his actions. He won't own-up publicly to being Juliet's husband! paradoxically, he won't avoid a fight, yet he won't fight for his marriage. He's a train wreck not even waiting to happen and in the end the world is better off without him. The real tragedy here is that he derailed Juliet from her life, too. So much for love; try selfishness instead.

As for the graphic novel version, I can't recommend it any more highly. It does tell the full story - including the parts which the movies, even the definitive Baz Luhrman version, routinely avoid, but the artwork isn't very good, and apart from simplifying the story and making it somewhat more accessible, if that's important to you, it really doesn't bring anything new to the table.


As You Like it by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi, Chie Kutsuwada


Rating: WARTY!

So when we're reviewing a graphic novel adaptation of a Shakespeare play, do we review the original work? This isn't the original work. It's an adaptation by Richard Appignanesi. So do we review the adaptive work? Well it's not original, so we can't ignore that from which it was adapted. So what about the graphic portion of it by Chie Kutsuwada? That's the only part of this work that's truly original, but even so it's still derived from Shakespeare's. Aye, there's the rub!

So, in fact, we have to review all three simultaneously. All of Shakespeare's a stage, and all the writers and artists merely players. They have their successes and their failures, and each play in its time fulfills many roles. There are seven stages. First there is the writing of the original, then comes the acting of it on the stage by the original players, then the adaptation by many other actors. Next the catch-phrases enter the lingo, and works of art take the field depicting renowned scenes form the play. Movies then come along in their various forms necessarily shedding much of the original work in order to conform to a silver screen chronology. After this come the novelizations, and the death of the play wrought by crappy YA adaptations which pay little heed to the original and, let's face it, less heed to intelligent story telling.

I have to say if I were reviewing only the Shakespeare portion of this particular story, I would have to rate it warty. The reason for this is the same reason I've rated so many YA novels negatively, because of instadore. Some reviewers call it insta-love, but the fact is that it's not love. Love is a lot more rational than writers give it credit, even as it might seem completely out of control, but what was depicted here not once, but four times, was insanity.

The truth is that what's irrational is this falling in lust (which I call instadore) and stupidly mistaking it for love. Instadore is shallow and far to fast to be meaningful. You'd have to be a moron to trust that. It doesn't mean it cannot grow into love, but the overwhelming chances are that it won't, yet endless YA authors insist otherwise. Fie on them, say I! And fie on Shakespeare's crappy, meandering, confused, and ultimately meaningless of usurpers and exiles and forest foolishness.

What I did like here was the artwork and the adaptation. Both were well done. The art in particular, which was gray-scale line drawings, was very well done, integrated with the text well, and went beyond mere panels depicting the text. It truly was worth reading. If you want to get a handle on Shakespeare and not get enmeshed in his absurd endless punning, and his clueless idea of love, his thoroughly un-pc attitude, and his boorish male characters pandering to the lowest common denominator in his audience, then starting with something like this isn't at all a bad idea. I recommend this one.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Neil Babra


Rating: WORTHY!

No Fear Shakespeare is a collection of "translated" Shakespeare texts - in other words, delivered in modern English instead of in the antique lingo with which Shakespeare was familiar. A web version of Hamlet done in this way can be found here.

I'm familiar Hamlet from its general reputation, and from the Kenneth Branagh and Mel Gibson movie versions, but I've never read the original play. I will be setting that right at some point since reading this gave me an idea for a novel! Those who have no familiarity with this story (the full title of which is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, but shorted merely to Hamlet for this book) might be surprised to discover how many quite well-known English catch-phrases were derived from this play. It seems like it's full of them. This was Shakespeare's longest work and was derived from the medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth which in the beginning is very much like the Hamlet we know, although the ending is rather more convoluted (Amleth ends up with two wives!).

This graphic novel follows the 'No Fear' text, and the black and white line drawings are rudimentary (and predictably shaded dark in many places!), so the artwork was no great shakes (peer!), but overall I liked the way this was done. I found it eminently readable and easy follow (although frankly the text could have been more legibly printed, especially in the reversed panels where it was white text on a black background).

The story is of course that Hamlet's uncle, with the rather un-Danish name of Claudius, murdered Hamlet's father and took over the throne, but disguised the murder and got away with it. This never made any sense to me. Hamlet was old enough to be king, so if his father was king but died (whether murdered or through natural causes), why was Hamlet not king? I think Shakespeare screwed up!

Whether Hamlet was insane or merely faking it to achieve the end result of exposing his uncle is a much debated question. I think at first there is no doubt of his sanity, but certain later actions of his, such as his lack of remorse at slaying the father of the woman he purportedly loved, and his callous rejection of this same woman and lack of concern over her becoming unhinged suggest to me that while he wasn't exactly what I'd term missing a few planks from his stage, he was certainly a folio short of a play!

So in the end, as is the wont in Shakespeare's tragedies, there's a slaughter and, as Prince Escalus might have it, "all are punish'd." Denmark falls to Norway, the very nation which was lost a war with it before the play begins. This part made no sense to me either. Did Shakespeare not know his Europe? It made zero sense that Norwegian armies would need to March across Denmark to get to Poland! Why did they not go directly through Sweden (a country with which they had not been at war recently), or simply sail though the Baltic? That Shakespeare, I tell you! But let's take a page out of Shakespeare's book on this: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so"! So it's all good and I recommend this one.