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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: April ::
FYI Ron Rosenbaum's Shakespeare List
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0235  Tuesday, 22 April 2008

From:		Al Magary <
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Date:		Sunday, 20 Apr 2008 00:04:57 -0700
Subject:	FYI Ron Rosenbaum's Shakespeare List

Reading list: What Slate writers are reading.

Shakespeare for Everyone
The most interesting books, movies, and Web sites related to the Bard.
By Ron Rosenbaum
Slate, Saturday, April 19, 2008, at 12:09 AM ET

http://www.slate.com/id/2189316/

America celebrates Shakespeare's birthday this April 23 with a sonnet 
contest at the Folger Library and festivities at New York's Shakespeare 
Society. But as Peter Ackroyd's recent Shakespeare: The Biography 
reminds us, we're not sure if April 23 was the day Shakespeare was born 
or the day his birth was assigned.

Do you care? It's unfortunately typical of the slippery, 
unresolvable-and often tedious and irrelevant-conflicts of Shakespearean 
biography. It's sad that some people forgo rereading or watching 
Shakespeare's plays (have you seen the amazing new Laurence Olivier 
boxed set, especially the brilliantly iconic, diabolic Richard III?) and 
waste time on such evidence-deprived controversies as the recent dust-up 
between Germaine Greer in Shakespeare's Wife and Stephen Greenblatt 
(initially in Will in the World over the unanswerable question: Did 
Shakespeare love his wife? (Greer: Yes. Greenblatt: No. Actual evidence: 
Nil.)

A rare exception to the futility of biographical Shakespeare is Charles 
Nicholl's recent The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street. 
Nicholl, a master at digging up four-century-old actual documentary 
evidence, focuses on a 1612 lawsuit in which Shakespeare gave testimony 
that reveals him to have been involved in a dispute over a daughter, a 
dowry, and a wig-maker he lived with, a veritable French farce 
originally enacted just at the time (1604) when he was writing some of 
his greatest tragedies. Nicholl turns the complex reverberations of the 
lawsuit into a highly entertaining introduction to Shakespeare's London 
world.

Still, the best guide to centuries of Shakespearean biographical folly 
remains Samuel Schoenbaum's Shakespeare's Lives, recently reissued (with 
a foreword by the Post's Michael Dirda), which reveals just how much the 
fragmentary apocrypha of Shakespearean biography act as a Rorschach on 
which the biographers project their own fantasies.

Nonetheless, as I sought to demonstrate in The Shakespeare Wars, there 
are exciting and thought-provoking controversies about Shakespeare to be 
found, but about the words and the work, not the wife and the life.

Some of the most provocative and insightful "scholars" of Shakespeare 
are great directors such as the U.K.'s visionary Peter Brook (don't miss 
his amazing film of King Lear starring one of the great actors of our 
age, Paul Scofield), the polemical Sir Peter Hall, and a group of 
Americans including New York's Brian Kulick and Karin Coonrod, D.C.'s 
Michael Kahn, and Barry Edelstein, whose book Thinking Shakespeare is a 
particularly rewarding exploration of how Shakespearean actors seek to 
capture the thought behind the words.

Ah, but what are Shakespeare's words? Did he revise them? Perhaps the 
single most important controversy among academics not mired in the 
now-antiquated discredited French farce of deconstructionism is the 
question of what kind of writer Shakespeare was. Was he the 
devil-may-care wastrel of Shakespeare in Love, who sent his manuscripts 
off to the playhouse and then fell to wenching? Or, as a highly 
influential group of textual scholars have argued, did he care enough 
about his work as literature to carefully revise some of his most famous 
works? The latter side of the case is most comprehensively argued by 
Lukas Erne in Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist. Did he return to Hamlet 
for instance to make changes large and small that cumulatively give us 
two or more versions of that play (and Lear, too)?

Recently, the notoriously erudite footnote-laden Arden edition of 
Shakespeare caused a stir by giving us a unique three-text Hamlet edited 
by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor on the carefully argued belief that the 
three surviving texts of Hamlet-the 1604 "Good Quarto," the posthumous 
1623 Folio version, and the black sheep "Bad Quarto" (1603)-deserve 
separate consideration. (In two versions of Hamlet and the two versions 
of Lear, the dying, perhaps defining, words of the tragic heroes differ.)

The best way to experience the duality of the two most substantial 
Hamlet texts is to take a look at the online Enfolded Hamlet, which 
graphically dramatizes how many small yet telling differences there are 
and allows you to speculate about why Shakespeare (if it was he-it could 
have been some actor, printer, or theater manager) made the revisions. 
And, by the way, what is, to my mind, the best Hamlet I've ever seen-a 
recording of Richard Burton's 1964 Broadway stage performance (directed 
by the great John Gielgud)-is now out on DVD.

One final plea. I don't want anyone to give up on live productions (see 
the National Endowment for the Arts list). But I've long argued that 
there are certain Shakespearean films that allow one to experience the 
greatest actors of the past century doing Shakespeare in a way you might 
not get a chance to see it live in your lifetime. And perhaps the 
greatest of these is Orson Welles' compression of the two Henry IV plays 
under the title Chimes at Midnight. You can find some used versions on 
Amazon, but-typical of Welles' output-the only readily available new DVD 
is a Brazilian edition that I was tipped off about by Slate Editor Jacob 
Weisberg, a fellow enthusiast for the film. He says if you ignore the 
Portuguese subtitles, the English soundtrack, badly synched as it is, 
will still leave you astonished and deeply moved. So here's my plea: 
Could somebody somehow get a remastered version of this masterpiece to 
market? Without the Portuguese subtitles?

[Editor's Note: Thanks to Al Magary for submitting this piece. 
Interested subscribers should read the article online at SLATE in order 
to have access to the hot links embedded in the text. I do have one 
quibble with the last paragraph. I sincerely hope that those who hold 
the copyright for Welles' _Chimes at Midnight_ will eventually let a 
highly reputable DVD producer (Criterion for instance) release a 
remastered version with plenty of extras. However, let me put in a word 
for the Brazilian release, which is the best available version of the 
film. Turning off the subtitles and playing the English soundtrack is a 
fairly simple procedure. The Stale editor, however, needs a gentle 
correction: Welles dubbed the soundtrack and in the best of versions the 
soundtrack is badly synched - this synching will not be corrected in any 
remastered release. I recall the poorly synched soundtrack from the film 
I saw in my graduate school days in the early 1970s. The images on this 
Brazilian release are far superior to either that 16mm film version that 
I screened several times and the VHS version I own. Further, I do not 
have the time to check now, but it seems to me that the print used to 
make this DVD appears to me to have more footage than my VHS tape, the 
soundtrack of which is awful compared to how clean this one is. One 
other comment, the link to the Brook Lear with Paul Scofield in the 
Slate article <http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0002AAPQW> uncovers in 
Amazon.com a used $79.99 VHS version. The Brook Lear is another film 
that deserves a quality Region 1 (US) DVD release. However, there is a 
UK DVD release (Region 2) for $20 if you have a multiregion DVD player 
to play it on. You can play it on a computer with a program like 
InterVideo WinDVD for 3 to 6 times before being shut out by the 
mismatched region. While I am at it, I also own the Williamson Hamlet 
directed by Tony Richardson. It too is a Region 2 (UK) PAL release, and 
it too deserves a US (Region 1) release. -Hardy]


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