What was up with Will Shakespeare?

It’s 1588.  You walk into a play-house.  A guy walks out on stage and says:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention, a kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire crouch for employment.

But pardon, and gentles all, the flat unraised spirits that have dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object: can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France?

or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?

O, pardon! since a crooked figure may attest in little place a million; and let us, ciphers to this great accompt, on your imaginary forces work.

That’s how Henry V opens.

That ref to the wooden O is (as I understand the only time) we hear about the Globe Theater from Shakespeare himself’s mouth or pen or whatever. Got to thinking about it in London in May.

Shakes is so good.  That “o for a muse of fire” is so good.  Like a Jimi Hendrix moment:

A dude who’s gone so far in his art that he’s got nothing left to do but scream at Heaven to let him ascend.

One time Yang saw this at my house and said, “is Shakespeare good?” Solid question.  To answer it I suggested we watch:

which, I think is pretty good.  Yang pointed out that in this version, the music does do a lot of the work.

By the time Shakespeare wrote Henry V he’d already done  Romeo & Juliet, Richard IIIA Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Much Ado About Nothing, and thirteen other plays.

That’s if you believe the story.

The “Chandos Portrait” at the National Gallery in London.

There was a def a real guy Shakespeare, a real person who was born and died.  In his own lifetime this Will Shakespeare was famous for writing plays.  Pirate editions of plays with Shakespeare’s name on them would be sold like scripts of The Godfather on the streets of New York.

Far as I can see, Will Shakespeare gave no evidence of giving a shit about the text/publishing of his plays.  Didn’t appear to care.  The fact we are reading them now would’ve probably shocked him or else he also wouldn’t have cared about that.  What he cared about was like getting a coat of arms.

Is this headline correct?  I dunno, I think he wasn’t exactly a nobody in Stratford.

There’s much bureaucratic evidence that Will Shakespeare existed.  Probably at least sometimes he was a semi-gangster.

He was around brothels and bars.  The last hot young playwright got stabbed to death in a bar.

from Wiki

Read this book recently:

I agree with some of the points in this New Criterion hammering of it.  There’s a lotta coulda woulda shoulda.  But then again if there wasn’t the book would be like five pages long.

Did Shakespeare really write all those plays?

The evidence suggests to me that yeah, real guy Will Shakespeare wrote at least most of them.

Top piece of evidence: in Shakespeare’s lifetime, real guy Shakespeare was known for writing these plays.  His name was on ’em.

Well, some of ’em.

I don’t see Shakespeare’s name in the “bad quarto” of Henry V.

The scholars tell me that’s fine.  Consider the folios!  Put together by Shakespeare’s friends after his death!  Henry V is in there, perhaps typeset from the “foul papers” of Shakespeare himself in fact!  It counts.

OK whatever.

Second best piece of evidence: Shakespeare’s fellow writers were jealous of him.

Catty remarks from the time are recorded.

He also turns up in a contemporary diary getting off a pretty good joke about boning a groupie.

Third best evidence: there’s a “voice” to the Shakespeare plays.  You can feel if if you read a bunch of the best plays.  I admit I haven’t read all of ’em.  But I’ve read maybe a third, and I’ve read some Christopher Marlowe plays and some Ben Johnson plays, and you can tell a difference.  The plays marked Shakespeare are better.  In fact half the time that’s how they decide whether to include one or not.

That’s the weakest evidence, who knows what kinda bias my brain is bringing to the table when they’re presented as Shakespeare plays.  Some computer/AI type analysis of word usage and so on suggests maybe he didn’t write the Henry VI ones but those suck anyway I’m told.

I think you have to admit Shakespeare wrote some of Shakespeare’s plays, right?

Not everyone agrees:

Rylance thinks now that William Shakespeare was most likely a front for a small band of writers, perhaps headed by Francis Bacon, which included, among others, Lady Mary Sidney. He argues that in the seventeenth century it wouldn’t have been appropriate for persons of rank to write for the public theatre; therefore they would need to do so anonymously. “If you even suggest that Shakespeare would have had to be at court, it’s heretical,” van Kampen said. “It’s a metaphor, and it’s about Englishness.”

(from this New Yorker profile by Cynthia Zanin).

The idea that Shakespeare was really Francis Bacon feels to me like someone five hundred years from now claiming

perhaps Barack Obama wrote Dave Chappelle’s routines and Kendrick Lamar’s raps.

or maybe

it’s possible Hillary Clinton wrote Shonda Rhimes’ shows.

 “I want to be Shakespeare,” he told us. “You should all want to be Shakespeare, too.”

That’s Denis Johnson.  I think that quote got me back into Shakespeare.

Shakespeare scholars are not usually people who are in the habit of cranking out scripts on tight deadlines or have necessarily been around showbiz.

The experience of seeing how scripts get writ makes me wonder if Shakespeare was a showrunner. If we should think of him like Aaron Sorkin or Shonda or Ryan Murphy.  Both himself a wildly talented craftsman but also a quality controller supervising and directing other writers.

Shakespeare is a happy hunting ground for minds that have lost their balance

Joyce has Stephen say in Ulysses.

 

 

 

 

 


The Gambler (2014)

Saw this clip on some retweet of this fellow’s Twitter.

I was struck by

  • the bluntness and concision of the advice
  • the fact that the advice contains a very specific investment strategy down to what funds you should be in (80% VTSAX, 20% VBTLX)
  • the compelling performance of an actor I’d never seen opposite Wahlberg (although I’d say it drops off at “that’s your base, get me?”)

It appeared this was from the 2014 film The Gambler

The film is interesting.  Mark Wahlberg plays a compulsive gambler and English professor.  There are some extended scenes of Wahlberg lecturing his college undergrads on Shakespeare, Camus, and his own self-absorbed theories of literature, failure, and life.  The character is obnoxious, self-pitying, logorrheic and somewhat unlikeable as a hero. Nevertheless his most attractive student falls in love with him.  William Monahan, who won an Oscar for The Departed, wrote the screenplay. The film itself is a remake of 1974 movie directed by James Toback, in which James Caan plays the Mark Wahlberg role.

Here’s the interesting thing.  Watching the 2016 version, I realized the speech I’d seen on Twitter that first caught my attention is different.  The actor’s different — in the movie I watched it’s John Goodman.

What happened here?  Had they recast the actor or something?  The twitterer who put it up is from South Africa, did they release a different version of the movie there?

Did some investigating and found the version I saw was made by this guy, JL Collins, a financial blogger.

Here’s a roundup of his nine basic points for financial independence.

He did a pretty good job as an actor I think!  I believe the scene in the movie would be strengthened from the specificity of his advice.  And the line about every stiff from the factory stiff to the CEO is working to make you richer is cool, maybe an improvement on the script as filmed.  I’ll have to get this guy’s book.

It would make a good commercial for Vanguard.

VTSAX vs S&P 500:

Readers, what does the one to one comparison of JL Collins and John Goodman teach us about acting?


Will Kempe, Will Shakespeare, and Falstaff

In Shakespeare’s time, there was a comic actor who was more famous than any playwright.  His name was Will Kempe.  His most popular bit was morris dancing from London to Norwich.

In February and March 1600, he undertook what he would later call his “Nine Days Wonder”, in which he morris danced from London to Norwich (a distance of over a hundred miles) in a journey which took him nine days spread over several weeks, often amid cheering crowds. Later that year he published a description of the event to prove to doubters that it was true.

Perhaps Kempe originated the part of Falstaff in Shakespeare’s plays.

Kempe’s whereabouts in the later 1580s are not known, but that his fame as a performer was growing during this period is indicated by Thomas Nashe’s An Almond for a Parrot (1590).

An Almond for a Parrot is a great title.

Perhaps he was the Will Ferrell of his day.

Although he had been a sharer in the plans to construct the Globe Theatre, he appeared in no productions in the new theatre, which was open by mid-1599, and evidence from Shakespeare’s Henry V, in which there is no promised continued role for Falstaff, and Hamlet, containing its famous complaint at improvisational clowning (Act 3, Scene 2), indicates some of the circumstances in which Kempe may have been dropped

The lines in question:

HAMLET

O, reform it altogether! And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the meantime some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it. Go, make you ready.
Enjoyable to imagine Shakespeare so pissed at Will Kempe hamming it up all the time that he has Hamlet slam him.

“Just say the lines dude.”

Also enjoy that Shakespeare’s killing himself writing Hamlet while meanwhile this dude is crushing audiences by morris dancing.
from this Radio Times (UK) article by Ben Dowell:

In real life Will Kempe was the Shakespearean clown who was the superstar of his day.

Audiences would flock for miles around to watch the great man perform his Falstaff or famous jig at the Globe theatre after one of the plays by the great darling of the stage – and the age – Will Shakespeare.

And in Upstart Crow, Ben Elton’s BBC2 comedy reimagining of the life of the great poet and dramatist, Kempe is presented as… a cocky C16th Ricky Gervais.

 

I’m excited to see Tom Hanks as Falstaff.

Henry IV, Part One (and Richard II)

Time to read Henry IV: Part One.  Let’s just dive right in. 

Dammit!  Fine.

Didn’t get a ton out of Richard II, to be honest with you.  Professor McHugh tells me I’ll appreciate it if I read:

It’s all about how weird and hard it is for frail, weak Richard to be king.  He’s got his actual human body, which sucks, trying to rise up to be the Body Politic, the kingly body.  Or something.

I appear to have marked this for some reason.  

Anyway.

The play is mainly about a king waffling and reversing himself and causing problems.  Much of the play is people introducing themselves at a long tournament scene.

We do meet Henry Bolingbroke, who has a son whose thing is prostitutes and being a wastrel:

HENRY BOLINGBROKE

Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?
‘Tis full three months since I did see him last;
If any plague hang over us, ’tis he.
I would to God, my lords, he might be found:
Inquire at London, ‘mongst the taverns there,
For there, they say, he daily doth frequent,
With unrestrained loose companions,
Even such, they say, as stand in narrow lanes,
And beat our watch, and rob our passengers;
Which he, young wanton and effeminate boy,
Takes on the point of honour to support
So dissolute a crew.

HENRY PERCY

My lord, some two days since I saw the prince,
And told him of those triumphs held at Oxford.

HENRY BOLINGBROKE

And what said the gallant?

HENRY PERCY

His answer was, he would unto the stews,
And from the common’st creature pluck a glove,
And wear it as a favour; and with that
He would unhorse the lustiest challenger.

That’s really gonna be the problem for the next couple plays: Henry Bolingbrook trying to get help from his son who would rather be unto the stews.

Without his unthrifty son, Bolingbroke still manages to depose Richard.

I got deposed

This makes him King Henry IV, but it’s kind of an unsteady position.

Henry IV feels bad when Richard ends up murdered, so he promises to go on a crusade to Jerusalem:

I’ll make a voyage to the Holy Land

To wash this blood off from my guilty hand.

March sadly after; grace my mournings here,

In weeping after this untimely bier.

And with that we:

FINIS

OK.  We’re ready for:

Now, listen.  Is reading Shakespeare even a worthwhile thing to do?

The plays were written to be heard, not read.

Right.

When Ben Jonson published his first folio, he was considered uppity for imagining that his plays were worthy of consideration. They were sketches for a whorehouse. You have to imagine Shakespeare’s plays being written between strippers carrying on.

so says Mark Rylance in this New Yorker profile.

Somewhere I can’t find now — the playbill for Jerusalem? — I read an interview with Rylance where he said something like.

In Shakespeare’s day you wouldn’t say have you seen Hamlet, you’d say have you heard Hamlet.  In that sense it was something more like a concert.

(Not an exact quote but close-ish).  More from Rylance, in The Telegraph:

He believes that Shakespeare “did not write literature”, claiming it is as bizarre to read his work on paper as it would be to study the Rolling Stones as poets.

“To take a song like Honky Tonk Woman and study it for its literature is fair enough, but if you’re going to then revere it as literature I think you’re doing a disservice to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards who would like it to be revered as a great rock and roll song,” he says.

Cool take.

Is reading Shakespeare as foolish as like, reading Nas raps written down?

So stay civilized, time flies. Though incarcerated your mind dies, I hate it when your moms cries. It kinda makes me want to murder, for real a/I even got a mask and gloves to bust slugs but one love

Both are bursts of verbal exuberance from a chaotic, semi-criminal urban world of blended culture and language.

illustrating a Smithsonian article, “William Shakespeare, Gangster?

How much was Shakespeare’s Southwark like Crown Heights?

There are some powerful phrases in Henry IV, Part One.  I like when Sir Walter Blunt arrives, and the King says he is

Stained with the variation of each soil

Betwixt that Holmedon and this seat of ours.

The story of this play is that Henry (The King) is having a hard time with rebellious Henry Percy, aka Hotspur.   Not helping him is his son, Prince Hal, who just likes to party and drink with his pal Falstaff.

An 1829 watercolor by Johann Heinrich Ramberg of Act II, Scene iv: Falstaff enacts the part of the king.

Hotspur the rebel is a better, more viral example than his own son, and Henry knows it!  Driving him nuts.

Spoiler alert: by the end of the play Prince Hal gets his act together somewhat.

He and Hotspur face off at the battle of Shrewsbury.

Hal kills Hotspur.

Hotspur.  O Harry, thou hast robbed me of my youth!

I better brook the loss of brittle life

Than those proud title thou hast won of me.

They wound my thoughts worse than thy sword my flesh.

But thought, the slaves of life, and life, time’s fool,

And time, that takes survey of all the world,

Must have a stop.  O, I could prophesy,

But that the earthy and cold hand of death

Lies on my tongue.  No, Percy, thou art dust,

And food for —

[Dies]

The big star of Henry IV, Part One, the guy who gets a lot of stage time for his clowning, is Falstaff.

Falstaff.  Why, there it is!  Come, sing me a bawdy song, make me merry.  I was as virtuously given as a gentleman need to be, virtuous enough: swore little, diced not above seven times a week, went to a bawdy house not above once in a quarter of an hour, paid money that I borrowed three or four times, lived well, and in good compass, and now I live out of all order, out of all compass.

Are you laughing your ass off yet?

Look, we’ll have more to say about Falstaff

Orson Welles as Falstaff

who will soon be played, right here in Los Angeles in a limited run next month, at the Japanese Garden of the West Los Angeles VA Healthcenter, by Tom Hanks.

(I believe tickets are free to veterans).

We intend to file a dispatch.

Just when one is about to give up on the whole project of reading the Henriad, you get to Henry IV, Part II.

which starts off with a friggin bang:

for which of you will stop

The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Will Kempe

Let’s pick up there next time!  Thanks for joining Henry IV study buddies!