A Matchless Allusion to Romeo & Juliet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.168  Tuesday, 3 May 2016

 

From:        Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 1, 2016 at 5:38:45 PM EDT

Subject:    A Matchless Allusion to Romeo & Juliet

 

The other day, I was reading the following speech by Capulet to daughter Juliet, in which Capulet (like Sir Thomas Bertram in /Mansfield Park /or Mrs. Bennet in /Pride & Prejudice/) is astonished by her refusal to docilely accede to the husband he has chosen for her. Beyond those (unsurprising) Austenian echoes, I was jolted by the unexpected echo of another, very well known story – can you guess what it is? (the words in ALL CAPSin Capulet’s speech give you a giant hint):

 

CAPULET

 

Soft! take me with you, take me with you, wife.

How! will she none? doth she not give us thanks?

Is she not PROUD? doth she not count her blest,

Unworthy as she is, that we have wrought

So worthy a gentleman to be her bridegroom?

 

JULIET

 

Not PROUD, you have; but thankful, that you have:

PROUD can I never be of what I hate;

But thankful even for hate, that is meant love.

 

CAPULET

 

How now, how now, chop-logic! What is this?

'PROUD,' and 'I thank you,' and 'I thank you not;'

And yet 'not PROUD,' mistress minion, you,

THANK me no THANKINGS, nor, PROUD me no PROUDS,

But fettle your fine joints 'gainst Thursday next,

To go with Paris to Saint Peter's Church,

Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.

Out, you green-sickness carrion! out, you baggage!

You tallow-face!

 

Did you guess?

 

My mind was blown when I read “Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds”—what I was reminded of were the ironically negating lyrics of the final stanza of the song “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from /Fiddler on the Roof/, in which big sister Tzeitl scares Hodel and Chava out of their romantic yearning for a perfect husband:

 

[Hodel & Chava]

 

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.

Find me a find, catch me a catch.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, look through your book

And make me a perfect match.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, I'll bring the veil.

You bring the groom, slender and pale.

Bring me a ring, for I'm longing to be

The envy of all I see.

For Papa, make him a scholar.

For Mama, make him rich as a king.

For me, well, I wouldn't holler

If her were as handsome as anything.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.

Find me a find, catch me a catch.

Night after night, in the dark, I'm alone.

So, find me a match of my own.

 

[Tzeitl]

Hodel, oh Hodel, have I made a match for you.

He's handsome! He's young! All right, he's 62.

But he's a nice man, a good catch. True? True!

I promise you'll be happy. And even if you're not,

There's more to life than that. Don't ask me what!

 

Chava! I've found him! Will you be a lucky bride!

He's handsome. He's tall! That is, from side to side.

But he's a nice man, a good catch, Right? Right!

You've heard he has a temper. He'll beat you every night.

But only when he's sober- so you're all right!

Did you think you'd get a prince?

Well I do the best I can.

With no dowry, no money, no family background,

Be glad you got a man!

[All three of them]

 

Matchmaker, matchmaker, you know that I'm

Still very young. Please, take your time.

Up to this minute, I've misunderstood

That I could get stuck for good.

Dear Yenta, see that he's gentle.

Remember, you were also a bride.

It's not that I'm sentimental.

It's just that I'm terrified!

 

Matchmaker, matchmaker, PLANME NO PLANS.

I'm in no rush. maybe I've learned

Playing with matches a girl can get burned.

So bring me no ring, GROOM ME NOGROOM,

FIND ME NO FIND, CATCHME NO CATCH.

Unless he's a matchless match!

 

Think it’s just a coincidence? In a 2003 thread in this very same Shaksper listserv…. http://tinyurl.com/zaz2ewv …Capulet’s two consecutive “neologizing imperative retorts” [for other examples, see Dale Randall’s “X Me No X’s…” American Speech, 64/3 (Aut. 1989), 233-43] were noted, but, since /Fiddler on the Roof /is never associated with Shakespeare, no one heard what I believe is, from the right perspective, an obvious allusion.

 

So now, please allow me to introduce you to the evidence I’ve quickly assembled. First and foremost, there’s striking, multifaceted parallelism between these two scenes in /Romeo /and /Fiddler/. Both scenes are about daughters coerced by parents to marrying rich older men those daughters don’t want to marry- plus Tseitl, like Juliet, has already secretly declared her love to a younger suitor. In /Romeo & Juliet/, Capulet spews abuse at Juliet, an insane overreaction to her diplomatic, deferential, and desperate attempt to avoid his draconian fiat. In /Fiddler, /the girls in that final stanza seek to do exactly the same as Juliet—by not challenging parental authority directly, but instead cajoling diplomatically, asking “only” that no match be brought “unless he’s a matchless match”!

 

And there’s also a subtly ironic pun in the word “matchless”, that I never noticed till today—on the surface, it’s a comparative; i.e., the ideal husband is unmatched by all the other suitors. But there’s also a subversive “chop-logic” hidden meaning –he can be a “match” only so long as he’s “matchless”, meaning he must not be a match….imposed on her against her own free choice! And by the way, we hear that same comic chop-logic in the rabbi’s prayer that God keep the Czar (who, like Capulet, is prone to cruel, irrational, and deadly edicts)……far away from the Jews he victimizes!

 

And, it turns out that throughout /Romeo & Juliet, /the word “match” is repeatedly used, by four different speakers, as Shakespeare walks this versatile word through the paces of its many meanings, including that very same pun in that last stanza of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” I decoded in the previous paragraph!:

 

ROMEO [re Rosaline]

 

One fairer than my love! the all-seeing sun

Ne'er saw her MATCH since first the world begun.

 

[and it’s that same pun on “match”, as both arrange marriage and comparison, in “matchless match”!]

 

Then, after Romeo & Juliet first meet, we read the Chorus intone in the next Prologue:

 

Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,

And young affection gapes to be his heir;

That fair for which love groan'd for and would die,

With tender Juliet MATCH'D, is now not fair.[again, that same pun on marriage and comparison!]

Now Romeo is beloved and loves again,

Alike betwitched by the charm of looks,

But to his foe supposed he must complain,

And she steal love's sweet bait from fearful hooks:

 

Then, Romeo and Mercutio trade witty jests:

 

ROMEO O single-soled jest, solely singular for thesingleness.

 

MERCUTIO Come between us, good Benvolio; my wits faint.

 

ROMEO Switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I'll cry a MATCH.

 

This is yet another meaning of match, as game, a pun which is then unwittingly and darkly echoed by Juliet hears that Romeo having killed Tybalt:

 

…Come, civil night,

Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,

And learn me how to lose a winning MATCH,

Play'd for a pair of stainless maidenhoods:

Hood my unmann'd blood, bating in my cheeks,

With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,

Think true love acted simple modesty.

 

And finally the Nurse does an abrupt 180, and advises Juliet that Paris is a better match for her than Romeo, which unites the meanings of arranged marriage and comparison via “it excels your first”:

 

Then, since the case so stands as now it doth,

I think it best you married with the county.

O, he's a lovely gentleman!

Romeo's a dishclout to him: an eagle, madam,

Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye

As Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart,

I think you are happy in this second MATCH,

For it excels your first: or if it did not,

Your first is dead; or 'twere as good he were,

As living here and you no use of him.

 

That is an extraordinary matrix of punning poignant wordplay that makes it crystal clear that the lyricist of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” was very specifically pointing to Capulet’s rant—which adds a dark depth to a song that already was darkened by the agitated minor key interlude of Tseitl’s cautionary tale.//

 

I wondered how this translation of /Romeo & Juliet /to /Fiddler /came about, and Google quickly led me to the following discussion in the late Mark Van Doren’s 1939 classic, /Shakespeare/, as he pointed out ”…the relentless rush of time as the Thursday of Juliet’s enforced marriage to Paris is tolled by Capulet the perpetual motion MATCHMAKER—

 

Day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play

 

Alone, in company, still my care hath been

 

To have her MATCHED;(3.5)

 

…Romeo & Juliet will have [the older generation] with them to the end, and will be sadly misunderstood by them. The Capulets hold still another view of love. Their interest is in ‘good’ marriages, in sensible choices. They are MATCHMAKERS, and believe they know best how their daughter should be put to bed…..She is ‘a wretched puling fool, a whining mammet,’ a silly girl who does not know what is good for her….” Whereupon Van Doren then quoted Capulet’s “proud me no prouds” speech.

 

There you have yet another set of remarkable echoing, which to me is strong evidence that the lyricist of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” read Van Doren’s authoritative tome, while grafting /Romeo & Juliet /onto Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories. And it was then that I recognized a clue to answering that question, right in front of my eyes (and next to my ears), in parallel scenes from two films made a decade apart:

 

First, the “To Life” number in /Fiddler, /which begins with Tevye and Lazar Wolf toasting each other after the former consents to the latter’s marrying Tseitl (which will be undone in the next scene), then morphs into a complex dance number involving many dancers from among the Jews and Cossacks of Anatevka:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9J4RsUwMh4

 

And second, there’s the opening scene in /West Side Story/, in which the Anglo Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks dance their way through the first of several, increasingly tense confrontations:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxoC5Oyf_ss

 

When you examine it, the parallel is much more than the obvious fact that Jerome Robbins wrote the choreography for both—it’s that Robbins and his collaborators clearly chose to consciously revisit, in /Fiddler,/ the Us vs. Them theme from /West Side Story;/ but instead of Sharks and Jets, it’s Russian Jews and Gentiles! And the subtle, pervasive leitmotif of that echo is the Jets’s finger snaps, which are revisited in the finger snaps by the Chasidic dancers in the Bottle Dance scene in /Fiddler/:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sH3mjOsZY0 

https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%Fv%3D9sH3mjOsZY0&h=yAQF1wQLH

 

The following account in Robbins’s Wikipedia page bears out my claim of that revisiting:

 

“In 1947, Jerome Robbins approached Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about collaborating on a contemporary musical adaptation of /Romeo and Juliet/. He proposed that the plot focus on the conflict between an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the Easter–Passover season. The girl has survived the Holocaust and emigrated from Israel; the conflict was to be centered around anti-Semitism of the Catholic "Jets" towards the Jewish "Emeralds" (a name that made its way into the script as a reference).”

 

When Robbins’s initial conception morphed away from his original Jewish theme into /West Side Story/, he never forgot it, and then played a key role in eventually transplanting it to Czarist Anatevska!

 

And that would have been enough…but then, I turned to the rest of /Fiddler/, to see if I could spot any other /Romeo & Juliet /echoes in it. As I browsed Juliet’s speeches searching for other /Fiddler /antecedents, my eye was caught by two conversations between Juliet and her mother, which I believe find their way into the subtext of /Fiddler. /

 

//

 

First, as Lady Capulet seeks to persuade Juliet to accept Paris as a husband, she turns to a metaphor of Juliet and Paris as fish: “The fish lives in the sea, and 'tis much pride For fair without the fair within to hide.” In other words, fish, especially attractive fish, should be paired off together, as in Noah’s ark.

 

That seems to meto be a direct source for Tevye’s attempt to persuade Chava not to continue her growing intimacy with the righteous Gentile Fyedka, but this time Tevye turns Lady Capulet’s fishy metaphor on its head, using it in a negative sense: “In other words, a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?”

 

//

 

And second, we have what Juliet says to her mother later in the story, when she must conceal that she plans to run away to Mantua to be with the banished Romeo:“God knows when we shall meet again.”

 

That reminded me of the exchange in /Fiddler: /

 

Hodel: Papa! God alone knows when we shall see each other again.

 

Tevye: Then we will leave it in his hands.

 

And I checked in Sholem Aleichem’s original story, and saw that Hodel does indeed say the same thing to Tevye there as well.

 

That exchange leads right into Hodel’s poignant solo in /Fiddler /that Juliet could have sung had she actually been able to pick up and openly move to Mantua, far from Verona, and live with Romeo there.

 

How can I hope to make you understand

Why I do, what I do.

Why I must travel to a distant land,

Far from the home I love.

 

Once I was happily content to be

As I was, where I was,

Close to the people who are close to me,

Here in the home I love.

 

Who could see that a man could come

Who would change the shape of my dreams.

Helpless now I stand with him,

Watching older dreams grow dim.

 

Oh, what a melancholy choice this is,

Wanting home, wanting him,

Closing my heart to every hope but his,

Leaving the home I love.

 

There where my heart has settled long ago

I must go, I must go.

Who could imagine I'd be wand'ring so

Far from the home I love.

 

Yet there with my love, I'm home.

 

These three echoes of Romeo and Juliet in the love stories of Tseitl, Hodel, and Chava in /Fiddler /raise a deeper question: whether this /Romeo & Juliet /subtext in /Fiddler /was entirely the work of its American creators, or was any of it already present in Sholem Aleichem’s original stories?

 

My sense is that the great Yiddish storyteller /did/ know Shakespeare (as well as Austen—especially /Pride & Prejudice/, as I’ve previously claimed many times), and decided to use Romeo and Juliet as a model, but in an outside the box way—in effect, Sholem Aleichem split Romeo and Juliet into three couples, in order to separately highlight three different sides of their complex story:

 

In the triad of Tseitl, Motel, and Lazar Wolf, we see Juliet, Romeo, and Paris; except that S.A. “corrects” Capulet’s tragic error of going berserk on Juliet, by allowing Tevye to change his mind. Then, in Hodel and Perchik, S.A. foregrounds Juliet wishing to marry the “outlaw” who is banished for a serious “crime”, and being willing to following him anywhere. And finally, in Chava and, S.A. brings out the Juliet who wished to marry the forbidden lover, who is part of the ancient enemy of the bride’s clan.

 

Before I close, I want to bring out two fainter echoes of /Romeo & Juliet /in /Fiddler, /which would not stand alone, but which nicely complement all of the above:

 

First, the joyous exuberance of “the tailor Motel Tamzoyl”, after Tevye (again, so opposite to Capulet) reverses himself and consents to Tseitl’s marrying him, in “Wonder of Wonders”, seems to point to Romeo’s following two exuberant love paeans to Juliet on the theme of “wonder”:

 

She speaks:

O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art

As glorious to this night, being o'er my head

As is a winged messenger of heaven

Unto the white-upturned WONDERING EYES

Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him

When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds

And sails upon the bosom of the air.

 

&

 

'Tis torture, and not mercy: heaven is here,

Where Juliet lives; and every cat and dog

And little mouse, every unworthy thing,

Live here in heaven and may look on her;

But Romeo may not: more validity,

More honourable state, more courtship lives

In carrion-flies than Romeo: they my seize

On the white WONDER of dear Juliet's hand

And steal immortal blessing from her lips,

Who even in pure and vestal modesty,

Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin

 

Part of what makes me think this “wonder” allusion is intentional, is that Motel calls himself a Daniel, and I have long seen more than a little of the Biblical Daniel in Romeo the dreamer. So, I believe, did Sholem Aleichem, by means of his clever parody on Daniel, the faux-prophetic dream of Tevye which he uses in order to bring his wife around to the notion of Motl as a good match for Tseitl.

 

And finally, I invite you to read the following exchange through the lens of all of the above:

 

TYBALTMercutio, thou consort'st with Romeo,--

 

MERCUTIO Consort! what, dost thou make us minstrels? An thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing butdiscords: here's my FIDDLESTICK; here's that shallmake you dance. 'Zounds, consort!

 

The image of a fiddler on the roof as a symbol of the Jew in Eastern Europe was clearly derived by the creators of /Fiddler /from Sholem Aleichem’s story “On the Fiddler” in his collection /Jewish Children/. I suggest that those imaginative minds also looked at /Romeo & Juliet/, and found in Mercutio a Shakespearean analog for S.A. fiddler– the fearless artistic soul who teeters precariously on a knife’s edge of divided loyalty between the Montagues and Capulets, seeking to seduce the warring factions into “dancing”—i.e., making peace---with each other. All it earns him is an early death, as he literally gets caught between the crossed swords of Tybalt and Romeo—tragically similar to the Jews whose ancient balancing act in Eastern Europe is brought to a similarly abrupt end, first by the Czar with his pogroms, and then later by Hitler’s Holocaust.

 

And so, in that fiddler on the roof, we see the genius of Jerome Robbins et al – the symbol of dance and music as a force for peace between ancient enemies—most of all in those scenes from /West Side Story /and /Fiddler /I gave YouTube links for, with their astonishing synthesis of music, dance—especially in that brief moment of hopeful possibility, when Tevye and his Cossack counterpart first start to dance together arm clasping arm.

 

To life (and also to Shakespeare, to Sholem Aleichem, and to Robbins and his /Fiddler /partners)!!

 

Cheers, 

ARNIE

 

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.168  Tuesday, 3 May 2016

 

From:        Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 1, 2016 at 5:38:45 PM EDT

Subject:    A Matchless Allusion to Romeo & Juliet

 

The other day, I was reading the following speech by Capulet to daughter Juliet, in which Capulet (like Sir Thomas Bertram in /Mansfield Park /or Mrs. Bennet in /Pride & Prejudice/) is astonished by her refusal to docilely accede to the husband he has chosen for her. Beyond those (unsurprising) Austenian echoes, I was jolted by the unexpected echo of another, very well known story – can you guess what it is? (the words in ALL CAPSin Capulet’s speech give you a giant hint):

 

CAPULET

 

Soft! take me with you, take me with you, wife.

How! will she none? doth she not give us thanks?

Is she not PROUD? doth she not count her blest,

Unworthy as she is, that we have wrought

So worthy a gentleman to be her bridegroom?

 

JULIET

 

Not PROUD, you have; but thankful, that you have:

PROUD can I never be of what I hate;

But thankful even for hate, that is meant love.

 

CAPULET

 

How now, how now, chop-logic! What is this?

'PROUD,' and 'I thank you,' and 'I thank you not;'

And yet 'not PROUD,' mistress minion, you,

THANK me no THANKINGS, nor, PROUD me no PROUDS,

But fettle your fine joints 'gainst Thursday next,

To go with Paris to Saint Peter's Church,

Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.

Out, you green-sickness carrion! out, you baggage!

You tallow-face!

 

Did you guess?

 

My mind was blown when I read “Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds”—what I was reminded of were the ironically negating lyrics of the final stanza of the song “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from /Fiddler on the Roof/, in which big sister Tzeitl scares Hodel and Chava out of their romantic yearning for a perfect husband:

 

[Hodel & Chava]

 

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.

Find me a find, catch me a catch.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, look through your book

And make me a perfect match.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, I'll bring the veil.

You bring the groom, slender and pale.

Bring me a ring, for I'm longing to be

The envy of all I see.

For Papa, make him a scholar.

For Mama, make him rich as a king.

For me, well, I wouldn't holler

If her were as handsome as anything.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.

Find me a find, catch me a catch.

Night after night, in the dark, I'm alone.

So, find me a match of my own.

 

[Tzeitl]

Hodel, oh Hodel, have I made a match for you.

He's handsome! He's young! All right, he's 62.

But he's a nice man, a good catch. True? True!

I promise you'll be happy. And even if you're not,

There's more to life than that. Don't ask me what!

 

Chava! I've found him! Will you be a lucky bride!

He's handsome. He's tall! That is, from side to side.

But he's a nice man, a good catch, Right? Right!

You've heard he has a temper. He'll beat you every night.

But only when he's sober- so you're all right!

Did you think you'd get a prince?

Well I do the best I can.

With no dowry, no money, no family background,

Be glad you got a man!

[All three of them]

 

Matchmaker, matchmaker, you know that I'm

Still very young. Please, take your time.

Up to this minute, I've misunderstood

That I could get stuck for good.

Dear Yenta, see that he's gentle.

Remember, you were also a bride.

It's not that I'm sentimental.

It's just that I'm terrified!

 

Matchmaker, matchmaker, PLANME NO PLANS.

I'm in no rush. maybe I've learned

Playing with matches a girl can get burned.

So bring me no ring, GROOM ME NOGROOM,

FIND ME NO FIND, CATCHME NO CATCH.

Unless he's a matchless match!

 

Think it’s just a coincidence? In a 2003 thread in this very same Shaksper listserv…. http://tinyurl.com/zaz2ewv …Capulet’s two consecutive “neologizing imperative retorts” [for other examples, see Dale Randall’s “X Me No X’s…” American Speech, 64/3 (Aut. 1989), 233-43] were noted, but, since /Fiddler on the Roof /is never associated with Shakespeare, no one heard what I believe is, from the right perspective, an obvious allusion.

 

So now, please allow me to introduce you to the evidence I’ve quickly assembled. First and foremost, there’s striking, multifaceted parallelism between these two scenes in /Romeo /and /Fiddler/. Both scenes are about daughters coerced by parents to marrying rich older men those daughters don’t want to marry- plus Tseitl, like Juliet, has already secretly declared her love to a younger suitor. In /Romeo & Juliet/, Capulet spews abuse at Juliet, an insane overreaction to her diplomatic, deferential, and desperate attempt to avoid his draconian fiat. In /Fiddler, /the girls in that final stanza seek to do exactly the same as Juliet—by not challenging parental authority directly, but instead cajoling diplomatically, asking “only” that no match be brought “unless he’s a matchless match”!

 

And there’s also a subtly ironic pun in the word “matchless”, that I never noticed till today—on the surface, it’s a comparative; i.e., the ideal husband is unmatched by all the other suitors. But there’s also a subversive “chop-logic” hidden meaning –he can be a “match” only so long as he’s “matchless”, meaning he must not be a match….imposed on her against her own free choice! And by the way, we hear that same comic chop-logic in the rabbi’s prayer that God keep the Czar (who, like Capulet, is prone to cruel, irrational, and deadly edicts)……far away from the Jews he victimizes!

 

And, it turns out that throughout /Romeo & Juliet, /the word “match” is repeatedly used, by four different speakers, as Shakespeare walks this versatile word through the paces of its many meanings, including that very same pun in that last stanza of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” I decoded in the previous paragraph!:

 

ROMEO [re Rosaline]

 

One fairer than my love! the all-seeing sun

Ne'er saw her MATCH since first the world begun.

 

[and it’s that same pun on “match”, as both arrange marriage and comparison, in “matchless match”!]

 

Then, after Romeo & Juliet first meet, we read the Chorus intone in the next Prologue:

 

Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,

And young affection gapes to be his heir;

That fair for which love groan'd for and would die,

With tender Juliet MATCH'D, is now not fair.[again, that same pun on marriage and comparison!]

Now Romeo is beloved and loves again,

Alike betwitched by the charm of looks,

But to his foe supposed he must complain,

And she steal love's sweet bait from fearful hooks:

 

Then, Romeo and Mercutio trade witty jests:

 

ROMEO O single-soled jest, solely singular for thesingleness.

 

MERCUTIO Come between us, good Benvolio; my wits faint.

 

ROMEO Switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I'll cry a MATCH.

 

This is yet another meaning of match, as game, a pun which is then unwittingly and darkly echoed by Juliet hears that Romeo having killed Tybalt:

 

…Come, civil night,

Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,

And learn me how to lose a winning MATCH,

Play'd for a pair of stainless maidenhoods:

Hood my unmann'd blood, bating in my cheeks,

With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,

Think true love acted simple modesty.

 

And finally the Nurse does an abrupt 180, and advises Juliet that Paris is a better match for her than Romeo, which unites the meanings of arranged marriage and comparison via “it excels your first”:

 

Then, since the case so stands as now it doth,

I think it best you married with the county.

O, he's a lovely gentleman!

Romeo's a dishclout to him: an eagle, madam,

Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye

As Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart,

I think you are happy in this second MATCH,

For it excels your first: or if it did not,

Your first is dead; or 'twere as good he were,

As living here and you no use of him.

 

That is an extraordinary matrix of punning poignant wordplay that makes it crystal clear that the lyricist of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” was very specifically pointing to Capulet’s rant—which adds a dark depth to a song that already was darkened by the agitated minor key interlude of Tseitl’s cautionary tale.//

 

I wondered how this translation of /Romeo & Juliet /to /Fiddler /came about, and Google quickly led me to the following discussion in the late Mark Van Doren’s 1939 classic, /Shakespeare/, as he pointed out ”…the relentless rush of time as the Thursday of Juliet’s enforced marriage to Paris is tolled by Capulet the perpetual motion MATCHMAKER—

 

Day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play

 

Alone, in company, still my care hath been

 

To have her MATCHED;(3.5)

 

…Romeo & Juliet will have [the older generation] with them to the end, and will be sadly misunderstood by them. The Capulets hold still another view of love. Their interest is in ‘good’ marriages, in sensible choices. They are MATCHMAKERS, and believe they know best how their daughter should be put to bed…..She is ‘a wretched puling fool, a whining mammet,’ a silly girl who does not know what is good for her….” Whereupon Van Doren then quoted Capulet’s “proud me no prouds” speech.

 

There you have yet another set of remarkable echoing, which to me is strong evidence that the lyricist of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” read Van Doren’s authoritative tome, while grafting /Romeo & Juliet /onto Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories. And it was then that I recognized a clue to answering that question, right in front of my eyes (and next to my ears), in parallel scenes from two films made a decade apart:

 

First, the “To Life” number in /Fiddler, /which begins with Tevye and Lazar Wolf toasting each other after the former consents to the latter’s marrying Tseitl (which will be undone in the next scene), then morphs into a complex dance number involving many dancers from among the Jews and Cossacks of Anatevka:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9J4RsUwMh4

 

And second, there’s the opening scene in /West Side Story/, in which the Anglo Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks dance their way through the first of several, increasingly tense confrontations:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxoC5Oyf_ss

 

When you examine it, the parallel is much more than the obvious fact that Jerome Robbins wrote the choreography for both—it’s that Robbins and his collaborators clearly chose to consciously revisit, in /Fiddler,/ the Us vs. Them theme from /West Side Story;/ but instead of Sharks and Jets, it’s Russian Jews and Gentiles! And the subtle, pervasive leitmotif of that echo is the Jets’s finger snaps, which are revisited in the finger snaps by the Chasidic dancers in the Bottle Dance scene in /Fiddler/:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sH3mjOsZY0 

https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%Fv%3D9sH3mjOsZY0&h=yAQF1wQLH

 

The following account in Robbins’s Wikipedia page bears out my claim of that revisiting:

 

“In 1947, Jerome Robbins approached Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about collaborating on a contemporary musical adaptation of /Romeo and Juliet/. He proposed that the plot focus on the conflict between an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the Easter–Passover season. The girl has survived the Holocaust and emigrated from Israel; the conflict was to be centered around anti-Semitism of the Catholic "Jets" towards the Jewish "Emeralds" (a name that made its way into the script as a reference).”

 

When Robbins’s initial conception morphed away from his original Jewish theme into /West Side Story/, he never forgot it, and then played a key role in eventually transplanting it to Czarist Anatevska!

 

And that would have been enough…but then, I turned to the rest of /Fiddler/, to see if I could spot any other /Romeo & Juliet /echoes in it. As I browsed Juliet’s speeches searching for other /Fiddler /antecedents, my eye was caught by two conversations between Juliet and her mother, which I believe find their way into the subtext of /Fiddler. /

 

//

 

First, as Lady Capulet seeks to persuade Juliet to accept Paris as a husband, she turns to a metaphor of Juliet and Paris as fish: “The fish lives in the sea, and 'tis much pride For fair without the fair within to hide.” In other words, fish, especially attractive fish, should be paired off together, as in Noah’s ark.

 

That seems to meto be a direct source for Tevye’s attempt to persuade Chava not to continue her growing intimacy with the righteous Gentile Fyedka, but this time Tevye turns Lady Capulet’s fishy metaphor on its head, using it in a negative sense: “In other words, a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?”

 

//

 

And second, we have what Juliet says to her mother later in the story, when she must conceal that she plans to run away to Mantua to be with the banished Romeo:“God knows when we shall meet again.”

 

That reminded me of the exchange in /Fiddler: /

 

Hodel: Papa! God alone knows when we shall see each other again.

 

Tevye: Then we will leave it in his hands.

 

And I checked in Sholem Aleichem’s original story, and saw that Hodel does indeed say the same thing to Tevye there as well.

 

That exchange leads right into Hodel’s poignant solo in /Fiddler /that Juliet could have sung had she actually been able to pick up and openly move to Mantua, far from Verona, and live with Romeo there.

 

How can I hope to make you understand

Why I do, what I do.

Why I must travel to a distant land,

Far from the home I love.

 

Once I was happily content to be

As I was, where I was,

Close to the people who are close to me,

Here in the home I love.

 

Who could see that a man could come

Who would change the shape of my dreams.

Helpless now I stand with him,

Watching older dreams grow dim.

 

Oh, what a melancholy choice this is,

Wanting home, wanting him,

Closing my heart to every hope but his,

Leaving the home I love.

 

There where my heart has settled long ago

I must go, I must go.

Who could imagine I'd be wand'ring so

Far from the home I love.

 

Yet there with my love, I'm home.

 

These three echoes of Romeo and Juliet in the love stories of Tseitl, Hodel, and Chava in /Fiddler /raise a deeper question: whether this /Romeo & Juliet /subtext in /Fiddler /was entirely the work of its American creators, or was any of it already present in Sholem Aleichem’s original stories?

 

My sense is that the great Yiddish storyteller /did/ know Shakespeare (as well as Austen—especially /Pride & Prejudice/, as I’ve previously claimed many times), and decided to use Romeo and Juliet as a model, but in an outside the box way—in effect, Sholem Aleichem split Romeo and Juliet into three couples, in order to separately highlight three different sides of their complex story:

 

In the triad of Tseitl, Motel, and Lazar Wolf, we see Juliet, Romeo, and Paris; except that S.A. “corrects” Capulet’s tragic error of going berserk on Juliet, by allowing Tevye to change his mind. Then, in Hodel and Perchik, S.A. foregrounds Juliet wishing to marry the “outlaw” who is banished for a serious “crime”, and being willing to following him anywhere. And finally, in Chava and, S.A. brings out the Juliet who wished to marry the forbidden lover, who is part of the ancient enemy of the bride’s clan.

 

Before I close, I want to bring out two fainter echoes of /Romeo & Juliet /in /Fiddler, /which would not stand alone, but which nicely complement all of the above:

 

First, the joyous exuberance of “the tailor Motel Tamzoyl”, after Tevye (again, so opposite to Capulet) reverses himself and consents to Tseitl’s marrying him, in “Wonder of Wonders”, seems to point to Romeo’s following two exuberant love paeans to Juliet on the theme of “wonder”:

 

She speaks:

O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art

As glorious to this night, being o'er my head

As is a winged messenger of heaven

Unto the white-upturned WONDERING EYES

Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him

When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds

And sails upon the bosom of the air.

 

&

 

'Tis torture, and not mercy: heaven is here,

Where Juliet lives; and every cat and dog

And little mouse, every unworthy thing,

Live here in heaven and may look on her;

But Romeo may not: more validity,

More honourable state, more courtship lives

In carrion-flies than Romeo: they my seize

On the white WONDER of dear Juliet's hand

And steal immortal blessing from her lips,

Who even in pure and vestal modesty,

Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin

 

Part of what makes me think this “wonder” allusion is intentional, is that Motel calls himself a Daniel, and I have long seen more than a little of the Biblical Daniel in Romeo the dreamer. So, I believe, did Sholem Aleichem, by means of his clever parody on Daniel, the faux-prophetic dream of Tevye which he uses in order to bring his wife around to the notion of Motl as a good match for Tseitl.

 

And finally, I invite you to read the following exchange through the lens of all of the above:

 

TYBALTMercutio, thou consort'st with Romeo,--

 

MERCUTIO Consort! what, dost thou make us minstrels? An thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing butdiscords: here's my FIDDLESTICK; here's that shallmake you dance. 'Zounds, consort!

 

The image of a fiddler on the roof as a symbol of the Jew in Eastern Europe was clearly derived by the creators of /Fiddler /from Sholem Aleichem’s story “On the Fiddler” in his collection /Jewish Children/. I suggest that those imaginative minds also looked at /Romeo & Juliet/, and found in Mercutio a Shakespearean analog for S.A. fiddler– the fearless artistic soul who teeters precariously on a knife’s edge of divided loyalty between the Montagues and Capulets, seeking to seduce the warring factions into “dancing”—i.e., making peace---with each other. All it earns him is an early death, as he literally gets caught between the crossed swords of Tybalt and Romeo—tragically similar to the Jews whose ancient balancing act in Eastern Europe is brought to a similarly abrupt end, first by the Czar with his pogroms, and then later by Hitler’s Holocaust.

 

And so, in that fiddler on the roof, we see the genius of Jerome Robbins et al – the symbol of dance and music as a force for peace between ancient enemies—most of all in those scenes from /West Side Story /and /Fiddler /I gave YouTube links for, with their astonishing synthesis of music, dance—especially in that brief moment of hopeful possibility, when Tevye and his Cossack counterpart first start to dance together arm clasping arm.

 

To life (and also to Shakespeare, to Sholem Aleichem, and to Robbins and his /Fiddler /partners)!!

 

Cheers, 

ARNIE

 

 

 

 

 

Bertram’s Velvet Patch

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.167  Tuesday, 3 May 2016

 

From:        Alan Dessen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, April 29, 2016 at 1:05 PM

Subject:    Bertram’s Velvet Patch

 

Bertram’s Velvet Patch

 

Here is a problem that continues to puzzle me and has resurfaced in recent conversations. My long ago “solution” in 1986 has convinced no one (and I will not trot it out again here), but I would like to hear what others have to say.

 

The exchange below between Lavatch and Lafew is found near the end of 4.5 in Folio All’s Well.

 

Clo   O Madam, yonders my Lord your sonne with

a patch of veluet on's face, whether there bee a scar vn-

der't or no, the Veluet knowes, but 'tis a goodly patch

of Veluet, his left cheeke is a cheeke of two pile and a

halfe, but his right cheeke is worne bare.

Laf   A scarre nobly got,

Or a noble scarre, is a good liu'rie of honor,

So belike is that.

Clo   But it is your carbinado'd face.

 

The playwright (or playwrights if one accepts the Maguire-Smith argument for Middleton’s hand in the play) seems to be preparing the playgoer for something soon to be seen and provides in advance three different ways to evaluate that image. Most obvious is Lafew’s inference that the velvet patch worn by “the young noble soldier” (line 97 in Arden 2) covers “a noble scar” or “a good livery of honor,” a worthy emblem of heroic deeds (the kind of scar one associates with Coriolanus). In contrast, Lavatch’s cynical reference to “your carbonadoed face” suggests that under the patch lurks a scar of less worthy origins, an incision “made to relieve syphilitic chancres” (G. K. Hunter’s Arden gloss). The third possibility is supplied in the clown’s comment: “Whether there be a scar under’t or no, the velvet knows, but ‘tis a goodly patch of velvet.” Bertram’s left cheek, like his right, may be bare of any scar at all.

 

Here then is the puzzle. No further mention of patch or scar is to be found in the Folio. Given that silence, critics and editors rarely comment upon the patch’s presence or possible function in the final scene; directors either ignore the problem completely or cut the Gordian knot by eliminating Lavatch’s lines in 4.5 or provide some token resolution (in the l977 Stratford Festival Canada production, Nicholas Pennell had a tiny black spot the size of a “beauty mark”).

 

There are at least three options (and perhaps more that I am missing). 1) The exchange in 4.5 may be an “unrevised first thought,” residue from a Plan A that has been superseded by a Plan B (equivalent to Innogen aka Mrs. Leonato in two early stage directions in Quarto Much Ado). 2) The patch should be visible in 5.3 (perhaps large enough to be an echo of Parolles’ blindfold) but with no resolution of the three options. 3) Some stage business involving the patch though not specified in the Folio (and such s.d.s are often missing in both printed texts and MSS – my mantra is “the norm is silence”) should follow – though that option takes us into the inventive and iffy world of conjecture.

 

What do you think?

 

Alan Dessen

 

 

 

Queen Elizabeth and Martin Frobisher

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.166  Tuesday, 3 May 2016

 

From:        Sidney Lubow <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 2, 2016 at 8:52:33 PM EDT

Subject:    Queen Elizabeth and Martin Frobisher

 

Short and Sweet:

Tips for living the abundant life

 

QUEEN ELIZABETH I & THE FIRST CANADIAN GOLD RUSH….

 

One of the popular myths is that Canadian history is dull and uneventful, that all the real action happens in the United States.  Yet as Pierre Burton has shown us, Canada is a very exciting country if you just dig below the surface of our congeniality.  How many of us have realized that the Canadian North was first ‘discovered’ 422 years ago by an English pirate?  A pirate, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.  Sir Martin Frobisher was arrested at least four times for high-sea piracy, but was let go with a scolding by Queen Elizabeth I.  Confiscating Spanish ships was one thing, but a good English ‘sea-dog’ was always supposed to keep his hands off English goods.  Frobisher ended up spending time in jail for confiscating English wine vats that had been on a French ship.  Upon release from prison, Frobisher decided to sail over the top of Canada through the mythical Northwest Passage to China.  His goal was to become rich by finding an alternative route for Asian pepper.  There was no refrigeration in those days.  So Pepper, which dominated the European economy, was used by Europeans to make their meat palatable.

 

One of Frobisher’s specialties as Captain was to punish sabre-duelling crewmates by chopping off their right hands.  Frobisher was also a brave leader who thought nothing of diving into iceberg-strewn waters to rescue drowning sailors.  Once while on their way to Baffin Island, his ship Gabriel fell over on its side and began filling up with water.  Without a moment’s hesitation, Frobisher grabbed an axe and hacked off the foresail, enabling the ship to right itself.  Though a rough-and-tumbles privateer, he never went anywhere on his daring voyages without his bible.  Upon returning to England with three Inuit hostages and a mysterious black rock, Frobisher kicked off Canada’s first Gold Rush.  The Russian Tsar officially protested this kidnapping of Asian Siberians!  Frobisher claimed that his Inuit hostages were being held to seek the release of five of his crewmembers that had disappeared.  Before dying from English fog and food, the 3 Inuits thrilled the Queen by shooting royal birds and kayaking down the Avon River.

 

All the credible scientists told Frobisher’s financial backer, Michael Lok, that the black rock was worthless ‘fools gold’.  But Michael Lok, being an early stock promoter of the less reputable kind, ignored their advice and instead consulted an Italian alchemist, Giovanni Agnello, who used ‘black magic’ to discern that Martin Frobisher’s rock was indeed gold. 
The English business community, backed by Queen Elizabeth I, became so excited about the first Canadian Gold Rush, that they sent 15 Ships to Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island.  The Queen even lent her own 200-ton ship AID.  Gold Rush fever brought together the largest Armada of English ships ever assembled until World War II. 
What is it about gold that tends to turn our brains to mush?? Click to find out more…

 

 

 

"Shakespeare in 2016" by Todd Landon Barnes

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.165  Tuesday, 3 May 2016

 

From:        Kristi DiLallo <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 2, 2016 at 11:28:30 AM EDT

Subject:    "Shakespeare in 2016" by Todd Landon Barnes

 

SHAKESPEARE IN 2016

Todd Landon Barnes

 

May 1, 2016 — Over the last four centuries, we’ve reinvented Shakespeare to suit our purposes, much as Shakespeare borrowed from his past to do the same.1 2016 commemorates the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It’s also a year forged in the aftermath of ISIS attacks in Brussels and Paris, Richard Dear’s attack on a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado, the Bundy brothers’ occupation of federal land in Oregon, and Donald Trump’s brazen demonization of immigrants and refugees.

 

With this in mind, I turned to three recent, and very different, meditations on Shakespeare’s drama—James Shapiro’s history The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, Justin Kurzel’s film adaptation of Macbeth, and Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time, a novelization of The Winter’s Tale—to search for ways each engages the plays to address contemporary anxieties.

 

Today’s Global War on Terror looks different after reading Shapiro’s study, which unearths a relevant yet often ignored history of white Christian terrorism. Kurzel’s Macbeth, though set in the 11th century, presents us with a strikingly contemporary image of violent masculine insecurity. His Macbeth, traumatized by the destructive powers of war, is equally anxious about the generative powers of female bodies. Winterson’s novel, the most explicit examination of what the author calls the “power-plays of maleness,” also links the patriarchal violence of Shakespeare’s world to the financial violence today’s predatory banking class continues to inflict upon the young and vulnerable. Each of these works succeeds in highlighting what, four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare’s plays can teach us about the violence still terrorizing us today.

 

Shapiro offers much to readers looking to historicize the present, despite making few explicit references to it. The book examines three plays Shakespeare wrote in 1606: King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. In 2005 Shapiro published A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, and The Year of Lear feels like that book’s tragic sequel. Shapiro depicts 1606 as a particularly “fraught” year for Shakespeare and King James’s “anxious nation,” a year shaped in advance the previous November, when the Catholic gentlemen later known as the Gunpowder Plotters attempted to blow up Parliament and wipe out England’s Protestant ruling class. This sectarian violence stoked fears of insidious plots by Catholic terrorists. Every chapter in Shapiro’s book illustrates England’s fever pitch of anxiety, suspicion, and “xenophobic fervor.” It’s a history at once familiar and strange. In January, Parliament debated legislation proposing that Catholic recusants be separated from their children, while moderates argued that “there were essentially two sorts of Catholics: a loyal majority … and a potentially treasonous minority.”

Today, as we remember last year’s Scottish Referendum and await the Brexit Referendum this June, European unions may seem shakier than ever. Shapiro’s book informs current debates when he narrates how King James spent 1606 similarly frustrated by his unsuccessful attempts to unite the kingdoms of Scotland and England as “Great Britain.” This was the year Shakespeare’s plays became distinctly “British,” rather than “English,” as he and his fellow players joined James’s political architects in rewriting, performing, and plotting a distinctly British history. Shapiro narrates how James literally re-plotted history by digging up and reburying both Queen Elizabeth and his mother Mary, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth, along with her childless sister (“Bloody”) Mary, was moved to Westminster Abbey’s margins, while James’s mother was given pride of place along with other, fertile, monarchs. By appropriating the bodies of the powerful women who came before him, James revised “English” history and secured his place in what would eventually be called “British” history.

 

Shapiro’s wide-reaching erudition draws upon a wealth of information—scholarship, source material, sermons, illustrations, correspondences—and he shows himself to be a great synthesizer of generations of scholars. Shapiro carefully reads maps, city architecture, and almanacs to imaginatively place the reader alongside paths Shakespeare “perhaps” traveled.2 He doesn’t, however, provide access to Shakespeare’s mind. Instead, he keeps readers at a proper distance by acknowledging and then checking such desires. Shapiro tells his reader that he’s “painfully aware” of what “cannot be recovered.” His text hovers around things about which “one can only wonder,” things that “mystery will always surround,” reminding us that “it’s a challenge, four centuries later, to imagine” how Shakespeare felt about his world. Scholarly qualification and dissensus are relegated to a “bibliographic essay,” providing Shapiro an unobstructed stage upon which to perform a truly captivating tale.

 

A note in the bibliographic essay reveals that much of his research was gathered in the service of a 2012 BBC4 miniseries. The book feels like the series from which it’s derived, but, unlike the book, the series explicitly foregrounds the present. Shapiro, a Reithian host, walks the streets of contemporary London, discussing King James’s debt, royal monopolies, the Gunpowder Plot, and the enclosure laws that privatized communal land. Each of these issues is connected, respectively, to today’s debt crises, Occupy Wall Street, terrorism, and privatization—connections that remain implicit yet unexplored in the book. But even as the series foregrounded the present, it also fetishized the pastness of its historical objects. Shapiro is breathless with excitement when in the presence of rare artifacts or manuscripts. Such extremes are softened in his book.

 

Shapiro describes Shakespeare’s treatment of his sources, illustrating how such material “allows us a glimpse of Shakespeare as literary architect—performing a gut renovation of the old original, preserving the frame, salvaging bits and pieces, transposing outmoded features in innovative ways.” We discover a politic Shakespeare whose innovations allude to yet carefully sidestep the explicitly seditious. Fellow playwrights faced serious consequences for engaging the contemporary. After serving months in prison for his hand in the Isle of Dogs scandal of 1597, Ben Jonson was again imprisoned—and nearly had his nose and ears slit—when his Eastward Ho (1605) mocked King James’s practice of rewarding Scots with English titles.

 

Shapiro’s reasons for disavowing the present are less clear. In his books on 1599 and 1606, he illustrates how studying Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order highlights the concerns of each play’s specific moment. This chronological understanding, Shapiro claims, has been obscured by a longstanding collective desire to see the plays as “not of an age but for all time.” But perhaps pitting responsible micro-histories against naive appeals to Shakespeare’s universalism presents a false choice. In his study of 1599, Shapiro acknowledged how focusing on a single year may not adequately address “more gradual and less perceptible historical shifts.”3 His BBC series, which covers King James’s entire reign, explores just such gradual shifts. I share Shapiro’s New Historicist commitment to avoiding anachronism and respecting what makes the past different from the present. But I’m also enough of a presentist to believe that discussions of early modern political violence are enriched and given force when we acknowledge how this history produced the terrorists (Christian and Islamic) and forces of neoliberal privatization (militial and corporate) that today threaten unions (Anglo-European and American) as precarious as James’s emergent Britain.

 

Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth strikes an interesting balance between presentism and historicism by drawing subtle connections to the present, despite its medieval setting. The film opens on a shot of the Macbeths’s dead child. The grieving Macbeths, played by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, place stones on their child’s eyes and light the pyre. Subsequent funeral pyres punctuate the film and saturate it with an earthy, blood-orange palate. The dead child, whom Kurzel adds to Shakespeare’s playtext, reframes the familiar tale as a domestic tragedy. These Macbeths mourn yesterday’s personal loss as much as they fret about the politics of “to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow.” The opening sequence showcases the film’s scope, establishing the drama though wide shots of the Scottish Highlands. This width and height give the film a gravitas and production value missing from most Shakespeare films of the last 15 years.4 It is not a Macbeth to be watched on your phone or laptop.

 

Despite its visual scope, the film is very quiet. Like Macbeth’s life, the film carries “curses, not loud but deep.” Go to the cinema to watch the film, but listen to the soundtrack in private with headphones. Kurzel’s brother, Jed Kurzel, provides a discordant and persistent dirge composed of droning cellos, punctuated by a relentless tambourine and creaking violins. Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography mirrors the crawling pace of this dirge. Battle scenes suddenly fall into extreme slow motion and then freeze, offering the viewer a series of tableaux morts depicting teenage soldiers at the verge of death. Then, just as quickly, life rushes back to full speed. Such scenes dramatize the temporality of PTSD. One gets stuck in the trauma of a moment, unable to recalibrate or keep pace with a persistent and elusive present. We see Macbeth in such a state, frozen on the battlefield. A sleepless Macbeth is haunted throughout the film by flashbacks depicting the traumatic deaths of young soldiers. This PTSD conceit drives the film, illustrating the nature of a markedly secular form of haunting.5

 

Despite its breadth, the cinematography is also intimate, especially when tracking its leads, who whisper in claustrophobic close ups. Characters whisper lines we’re used to hearing shouted, and they shout lines we’re used to hearing in more ruminative soliloquys and asides. Macbeth’s typically anguished “Prithee, peace! I dare do all that may become a man,” isn’t shouted defensively; it’s whispered threateningly, his hands hovering over Lady Macbeth’s neck. When her emasculating asides are spoken directly to Macbeth’s face, her insults become a kind of sadomasochistic play. When she commands him to “screw” his courage to “the sticking place,” Cotillard transforms admonishment into sexual innuendo and invitation—one he accepts. His orgasm brings on his resolve. Kurzel and Cotillard transform Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth into a woman who collaborates with her husband, rather than seeming to “nag” or “castrate” him. No doctor attends her hand-wringing, and the play’s “hysteria” is reframed as a rational response to maternal loss. Her loyalty to Macbeth shifts only after she witnesses Macbeth publicly burning Lady MacDuff and her children at the stake. Unlike her husband, Lady Macbeth is always on the side of the children.

 

Nearly every director cuts Shakespeare’s playtexts, operating through omission. Kurzel and his co-screenwriters omit too, but they also do something much less common: they edit the script like one edits film, experimenting with rearrangements that intricately weave lines from one act into scenes in entirely different acts. These cuts present a laconic and frighteningly decisive Macbeth, one lacking any ambivalence.

 

Shapiro and other scholars have argued that Macbeth reflects Jacobean debates around “equivocation,” the deceptive use of language to signal a public meaning at odds with the speaker’s private intentions. Equivocation became a buzzword in 1606 when, during the trial of the gunpowder plotters, authorities discovered a “Treatise on Equivocation.” The document instructed Jesuit spies on how to mislead authorities without outright lying. Jacobeans suddenly found that priests, once figures of authority, had seemingly plunged the world into a post-truth era.

 

Kurzel’s Macbeth is noticeably devoid of equivocation. Macbeth never struggles to present a “false face.” Kurzel eschews the privacy provided by most of the play’s soliloquies, transforming them into monologues delivered boldly and publicly. The Macbeths rarely panic or wring their hands. Fassbender’s Macbeth, it seems, would redden the sea with blood before he’d let the sea cleanse his. His Macbeth dwells in a world like ours, a mansplaining world where volume and bravado signal truth, and equivocation is useless—a world in which Trump can claim, unequivocally, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters.

 

Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time is the first installment of Random House’s Hogarth Shakespeare project, launched to coincide with the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The series recruits novelists, acclaimed (Ann Tyler, Margaret Atwood) and best-selling (Gillian Flynn), to reimagine Shakespeare’s plays in novel form. Winterson’s “cover version” of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale initially seems more optimistic than Kurzel’s or Shapiro’s projects, likely because she chooses to work with one of Shakespeare’s romances, a genre invented in the 18th century to categorize plays written late in Shakespeare’s career when, after the big tragedies, he began crafting comedies infused with tragic pathos. Like the Gunpowder conspiracy, which ended with trials and executions that only partially satisfied audiences, the late romances summon danger and potential tragedy but end—often awkwardly or unconvincingly—with miraculous redemption and reunion.

 

The Winter’s Tale’s first half reads like an abridged revision of Othello’s tragedy. In a jealous tirade, King Leontes accuses his pregnant Queen, Hermione, of sleeping with his lifelong friend Polixenes. Leontes imprisons her, and in his rage plots the destruction of his family, which seems accomplished when his wife and son die of grief, and his newborn daughter, Perdita, is left for dead in Bohemia’s pastoral wilderness.

 

Winterson relocates the drama to post-recession London. Leontes becomes Leo, who forms a hedge fund called “Sicilia, Ltd.” after he’s fired from Barclays Wealth Management for incurring “reckless losses” leading up to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. A foul mix of Steve Jobs and Donald Trump, Leo wears a t-shirt that reads, “I AM THE ONE PERCENT.” His misogyny and misanthropy—unexplained in the play—are now motivated by specific traumas. After his mother abandoned him and his father for another woman, Leo began a homosexual relationship with Xeno Polixenes, his childhood friend. Unable to embrace his sexuality, Leo violently disavowed his desire for Xeno, pushing him off a cliff and leaving him for dead. Leo’s paranoid policing of MiMi’s body—and his desire to imagine it penetrated by Xeno—reveals itself as a fantasy born of his disavowed homosexual desire: “Leo needed to webcam the whole house. He needed to webcam her cunt … Leo in her cervix, waiting with his mouth open for Xeno to worm his way in.”

 

When a pregnancy test proves Leo the father of MiMi’s unborn child, we learn that “DNA tests are 99 percent accurate, but Leo liked to call himself the one percent.” When Leo accuses the pregnant MiMi of infidelity, he rapes and batters her. Minutes later, her water breaks and Leo refuses to call an ambulance, effectively blocking her access to healthcare. This scene was particularly difficult to read, as Winterson does not mute Leo’s violence, misogyny, or insecurity. An equally troubling scene occurs when Macbeth meditates on his “fruitless crown” and “barren sceptre.” A soliloquy in the playtext, Kurzel’s Macbeth delivers these lines directly to Lady Macbeth while he points a dagger at her uterus. He advances on her, the dagger now under her dress as he menacingly speaks of night’s “bloody and invisible hand” which might “cancel and tear to pieces that great bond which keeps [him] pale!” She pushes him away as a single tear falls down his face.

 

After a “gap of time,” the novel’s second half follows Perdita, now 16, who returns to London to reunite with a contrite Leo. The novel seems to ask how such predatory masculinity can be redeemed. Leo’s penance feels unconvincing. He reluctantly engages in a cheap philanthropy he describes as “responsible capitalism.” The novel ends at a concert Leo organizes to raise money for Save the Children. Like Kurzel’s Macbeth, or King James’s hereditary monarchy, Leo’s redemption depends upon his mastery of women’s bodies and their links to future generations.

 

Characters in The Gap of Time regularly offer cheap and tautological truths that simply invert and repeat the problems with which they begin: “We can’t because we don’t and we don’t because we can’t.” The narrative is filled with gaps, ellipses, breaks, and holes. Characters figure and refigure time throughout, as though looking for a way to overcome the “reckless losses” of the past. Leo repeatedly fantasizes that, like Superman, he might circle the earth to turn back time and save Lois Lane. But Leo’s hypermasculinity, his supermanhood, only offers the uncoordinated violence of a selfish child, a “boy eternal.” One character comments, “He’s a typical Alpha Male. They don’t grow up, they just get meaner.”

 

Winterson appears at the end of her novel like an actor delivering an epilogue after a stage play. In this epilogue, she describes how Shakespeare’s romances end by “leaving it to the kids to get it right next time.” Kids like Perdita must engage in their generation’s battle against the “necrotic suicidal longings of their forbearers, usually the males,” but the novel doesn’t seem convinced of its own claim that children can redeem the future. When Xeno optimistically tells Leo, “Every generation gets the chance to do it better,” Leo tells him “You sound like a mindfulness DVD.” Novel and play close on the happy marriage between Perdita and Zel (Florizel), but in the novel’s final pages Perdita repeatedly notices that Zel holds her wrists “too tight.”

 

Winterson’s characters, like Shakespeare’s, seem to fail when they pin their hopes on an increasingly suspect belief that children will redeem, rather than repeat, the past. However, even when their characters fail, these works succeed when they connect reproductive failure to larger political dramas or histories, and when they suggest that the focus on literal babies might only mystify our anxieties about reproduction. Perhaps our failure to reproduce—our barrenness—originates in Christian patriarchy, neoliberal austerity, and privatized accumulation, forces which today starve a public body no longer able to produce, invest, maintain, or support its people—young and old. In this sense, we are all cast in the role of the orphan Perdita, the disinherited Cordelia, and the sterile Macbeths. Like the Macbeths, we all have PTSD. And just like King James, we are all terrorized and as vulnerable as babes.

 

1 Gary Taylor’s Reinventing Shakespeare (Oxford University Press, 1989) impressively recounts how audiences, over four centuries, reinvented Shakespeare to satisfy their historically specific desires.

2 The Year of Lear doesn’t foreground its methods, as Shapiro did in A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, by telling readers, in the latter’s opening pages, that much of what he will claim is “speculative” and by offering a “global qualification” so as to not litter his narrative with an abundance of perhapses, maybes, and probablys (A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 [Harper Perennial, 2005], p. xviii).

3 Shapiro, A Year in the Life, p. xvi.

4 The 1990s and early 2000s marked an unusually productive and financially successful period for Shakespeare on the big screen. One notable exception to the above claim is Vishal Bardwaj’s Haider (2014), a Hindi adaptation of Hamlet set in Kashmir, where the Himalayas give the film a similarly impressive scope and production value.

5 Fassbender and Kurzel were explicit—and confident—about Macbeth’s diagnosis at the film’s premiere at Cannes.

 

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Kristi DiLallo

Editorial Intern

Public Books

 

 

 

British Shakespeare Association - May Bulletin

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.164  Tuesday, 3 May 2016

 

From:        BSA <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 1, 2016 at 4:41:57 AM EDT

Subject:    British Shakespeare Association - May Bulletin

 

THE BSA BULLETIN – MAY 2016

 

Registration for Hull 2016

 

The BSA’s 2016 conference, ‘Shakespearean Transformations: Death, Life, and Afterlives’, takes place 8-11 September 2016 at the University of Hull. Registration for the conference will open next week. The early bird rate (before 1 July) is £180/£90 concession, and the conference dinner at The Deep aquarium will cost £40. All participants must be members of the BSA in good standing. 15 bursaries for postgraduate students will also be available, and details will be posted on the conference website shortly.

 

In addition to previously noted events, the organisers are delighted to announce an additional public lecture on 8 September by Professor Stuart Sillars on Shakespeare and visual art, as part of the Ferens Fine Art Lecture Series 2016. Please visit the conference website for full details.

  

 

Irish Renaissance Seminar supported by the BSA

 

As part of the Shakespeare celebrations in Northern Ireland and Ireland this year, Queen’s University Belfast will be hosting the Irish Renaissance Seminar on Saturday 7 May. The BSA are delighted to be able to support this event, which includes a round-table discussion of Terra Nova’s multi-cultural Belfast Tempest production taking place this April, in addition to a line-up of international speakers. Please contact Mark Thornton Burnett at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

 

 

Shakespeare 400 events sponsored by the BSA

 

The BSA was pleased to sponsor two events celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death: ‘Disability and Shakespearean Theatre’, a conference at the University of Glasgow on 20 April, and ‘Shakespeare 400: New Perspectives’, at the Chichester Festival Theatre on 23 April. Reports on both events will be posted shortly on the BSA website.

 

 

BSA Journal – new articles

 

New articles published online this month include Laurie Johnson’s review of Neema Parvini’s Shakespeare and Cognition and David McInnis’s discussion of a previously unrecorded promptbook for Samuel Phelps’ Antony and Cleopatra. Current members can subscribe to the journal – including the physical volume and full online access – at the heavily discounted price of £15. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details and missing volumes.

  

 

BSA Event Videos  

 

Our website hosts video recordings of BSA events. Members can currently watch the inauguration of Chris Grace and Dame Janet Suzman as honorary fellows of the association, complete with their reflections on their work with Shakespeare. A taster of the recording is available to all on the website, and members in good standing for the current year have been emailed a password for the full recording.

 

 

Teaching Shakespeare issue 9 available now

 

Issue 9 of the BSA magazine Teaching Shakespeare issue includes a bumper noticeboard and royally ushers in the year with two articles on the Henry IV plays by Michael J. Collins and Howard Gold. Submissions for Issue 10 can be sent to the journal editor at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Issue 9 can be downloaded from the BSA website.

 

 

Bardolph’s Box: An Introduction to Shakespeare

 

In March and April the BSA supported Up the Road Theatre's Bardolph’s Box, a theatre production designed by BSA member Nicola Pollard for children aged 8-12 and their families. For more information, please see the company website. To read Nicola’s report from the road, please see the post on our website.

 

 

THE BSA MEMBERS’ BULLETIN

 

We are pleased to advertise news and activities by our members and other Shakespeare associations. If you would like to advertise a Shakespeare-related activity, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Items below are not affiliated with or endorsed by the BSA – please use individual contact details for more information.

 

 

Shakespeare400 activities in London 

 

Shakespeare400 events in May include Battling Shakespeare (May 4th), which will discuss Shakespeare’s lasting influence on our perceptions of English kings; MultiLingual Shakespeare Mash-Up (May 8th), a multi-lingual performance of extracts by The Swiss Stage Bards; and Playing The Curtain (May 13th), looking at the long history of this early playhouse. For full details and to reserve tickets, please visit http ://www . shakespeare400 . org .

 

 


Exclusive offer on new Shakespeare artwork 

 

To commemorate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, TAG Fine Arts has published a new limited-edition print by Adam Dant (official artist of the general election). ‘William Shakespeare’s Shordiche’ is his depiction of how the area might have looked 400 years ago, with its original road names, points of interest and a few characters one might have encountered there. To receive a 15% discount, simply type in the code HappyBirthdayWilliam at the checkout before 1 June.

 

 

Shakespeare: Birmingham King Lear workshop 

 

Shakespeare: Birmingham is running a day workshop on May 8th on ‘Cordelia & the Fool; 2 sides of the same coin?’, which will focus on what links these roles, what makes them different, and how are they used by Shakespeare. Tickets cost £10. Shakespeare: Birmingham organises weekly gatherings / Shakespeare play readings at the Birmingham & Midland Institute in the centre of Birmingham (Tuesdays, 6.30-9.00pm). For details of meetings and workshops, please visit the website at http ://shakespearebirmingham . co . uk.

 

  

Shakespeare in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle  

 

As part of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations join Royal Librarian Oliver Urquhart Irvine on May 10th for an exclusive insight into the rare and captivating treasures included in the exhibition at Windsor Castle. See how the relationship between the royal family and Shakespeare has developed over the past 400 years through these remarkable objects. The lecture is followed by wine and a private view of the exhibition. For booking and more information, see the website.

 

 

Metamorphosis at Senate House Library 

 

Senate House Library is commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a season of activities running from 14 April to 17 December, including a free exhibition, a programme of events and a website with digital content and research resources. Based loosely on the ‘seven ages of man’ speech from As You Like It, the season will reflect the changes in Shakespearean text and scholarship over four centuries. For full details, please visit the website.

  

OCR GCSE English Conference 2016

The GCSE English Conference 2016 will be held on 6 June at Shakespeare’s Globe. All teachers working with GCSE-level students are invited to attend a day of practical workshops, discussions and networking opportunities, including a keynote conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro. For more information, please visit the conference website

 

 

The Merchant of Venice in Venice, 27-28 July 

 

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is organising a fundraising event in Venice to support its re-presentation of New Place. You are invited to attend a production of The Merchant of Venice in the Jewish ghetto (500 years old this year). Tickets (priced at £450) also include talks from Shakespeare experts and theatre practitioners, a three-course lunch at Locanda Cipriani, coffee and a drinks reception. For more information, or to reserve a place, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

  

Call for Papers:  'Shakespeare and his contemporaries' Conference in Brazil

 

The 'VI Jornada de Estudos Shakespeareanos: Shakespeare e seus contemporâneos' will be held at Universidade de São Paulo (USP, São Paulo, 10-11 November 2016). Abstracts in English, Spanish or Portuguese are due 30 June 2016. For more information, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or jornadashakespeare . blogspot . com.

 

 

Shakespeare Documented online exhibition

 

Shakespeare Documented is a multi-institutional collaboration convened by the Folger Shakespeare Library to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. This free online exhibition constitutes the largest and most authoritative collection of primary-source materials documenting the life of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). It brings together images and descriptions of all known manuscript and print references to Shakespeare, his works, and additional references to his family, in his lifetime and shortly thereafter.

 


BBC Shakespeare Archive now available to UK schools 

The BBC has recently launched the BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource. This new online resource provides schools, colleges and universities across the UK with access to hundreds of BBC television and radio broadcasts of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and documentaries about Shakespeare. The material includes the first British televised adaptations of Othello and Henry V, classic interviews with key Shakespearean actors including John Gielgud, Judi Dench and Laurence Olivier, and more than 1000 photographs of Shakespeare productions.

 

 

 

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