TLS Review of Two in the Oxford Shakespeare Topics Series
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.371 Tuesday, 26 August 2014
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: August 24, 2014 at 12:06:43 PM EDT
Subject: TLS Review of Two in the Oxford Shakespeare Topics Series
[Editor’s Note: The following appeared recently in The Times Literary Supplement. If you are not a TLS subscriber and would like a copy of the complete review, please make a request to me by e-mail at
Shakespeare and the Eighteenth Century
232pp. 978 0 19 964237 3
Shakespeare And the Victorians
232pp. 978 0 19 966808 3
Oxford University Press.
Paperback, £16.99 each
Kean as Lear from Folger Shakespeare Digital Library
How Shakespeare has continually been reinvented
By Lois Potter
The various publications in the Oxford Shakespeare Topics series, aimed at both the general reader and the academic one, have generally been successful at combining conciseness and readability. Shakespeare and the Eighteenth Century, by Michael Caines, and Shakespeare and the Victorians, by Stuart Sillars, are part of a sequence that also includes Shakespeare and the Romantics by David Fuller. Though the series has a basic format – each volume ends with suggestions for further reading and has a useful year-by-year chronological appendix – authors have clearly been allowed to work out their own way of shaping an enormous mass of data.
Caines opts for a mainly chronological approach, focusing as much as possible on major figures (Alexander Pope, Lewis Theobald, Samuel Johnson, David Garrick), but he also looks at themes such as “Shakespeare Abroad” and various aspects of forgery and fantasy. A particularly interesting chapter, “As Shakespeare Says”, accumulates evidence of the increasing practice of removing characters from their original context. As is clear from his striking opening sentence, this began early: “The eighteenth century, at least as far as two female friends were concerned, began with Caliban on the throne”. It turns out that Princess (later Queen) Anne and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, sometimes referred to William III by this name in their correspondence. In fact, the practice seems to have started in Shakespeare’s lifetime, since Sir John Falstaff was being used as a code name, also in private correspondence, as early as 1599. Shortly after the revolution in 1688, an anonymous verse satirist wrote that Mary II, James II’s other daughter, was worse than Goneril. A more sympathetic poet might have compared her to Cordelia, since Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear ended with the restored king abdicating in favour of his daughter and son-in-law.
Sillars also looks at allusion, primarily in literary contexts; by the end of the nineteenth century, he suggests, the frequently comic misappropriations of lines from the plays mean that “Shakespeare is being welcomed into the Victorian parlour like a rather remote, distinguished relative but someone who, as one of us, can still relax when off duty”. His structure is largely generic rather than chronological, though his discussions of scholarship, performance, the other arts, fiction and poetry are framed by an initial chapter on the celebrations in 1864, in which Shakespeare was seen largely as a moral force, and a final chapter on the fin de siècle, where aesthetic and iconoclastic responses begin to compete with the established myths.
[ . . . ]
Comparison is not especially useful here, however, since the readership for this series will depend on personal interest or academic requirements. Both authors give a good account of the history of Shakespeare editions: the first recognition that there existed different versions of the same play; the “conjectural emendation”; the abandonment of the view that every edition had to be a variorum, listing every previous editorial view; and the resulting assumption that there was a basic consensus about the text, which lasted until almost the end of the twentieth century. Caines offers specific examples of the treatment of the text by early editors, though he could have said more about the fascinating notes to the acting editions. Sillars, who notes the importance of German scholarship, reveals that Edward III was already being treated as a canonical play in the “Leopold Shakespeare” of 1877, based on the text of Nikolaus Delius.
Probably readers of books like these will be most pleased to have their attention drawn to unknown or underrated figures who would benefit from further research. They will find a good many. Caines describes, for example, an interesting defence of actors, ascribed only to a “Strolling Player”; poems inspired by the erecting of Shakespeare’s statue in Westminster Abbey in 1741; and a novel by Karl Philipp Moritz in which the protagonist undergoes an epiphany when he first reads Shakespeare. Sillars, who seems to have listened to a good deal of Shakespeare-inspired music, writes perceptively about the solo songs of Hubert Parry and Charles Stanford, which he singles out as the best treatments of Shakespeare texts in the period; describes two little-known novels – The Manchester Man by Mrs. G. Linnaeus Banks and The Actor Manager by Howard Merrick – which use quotations as “a way of establishing a bond between text and reader”; and makes a good case for the originality of Charles Knight as editor and biographer. He agrees with recent feminist scholarship in revaluing some of the tales in Mary Cowden Clarke’s often ridiculed The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines as “remarkable pieces of writing”, and suggests that Madame Vestris should be placed alongside William Charles Macready, Samuel Phelps, Charles Kean and Henry Irving in the list of important actor-managers. An interesting touch is his inclusion of a set of exam questions on As You Like It from the 1870s. As he says, “few present-day students would find them straightforward”. Unlike some earlier studies of Shakespeare’s afterlife, neither book makes fun of earlier, and inevitably dated, interpretations and adaptations. Both authors clearly recognize that much of what now seems modern will soon look equally ridiculous.
[ . . . ]
Oxford University Merchant from Folger Shakespeare Digital Library
Haider Movie Trailer (Official)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.370 Tuesday, 26 August 2014
From: Hardy Cook <
Date: August 26, 2014 at 7:38:34 AM EDT
Subject: Haider Movie Trailer (Official)
You can view the Official Trailer for Bhardwaj’s Haider, an adaptation of Hamlet:
Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, Haider - a young man returns home to Kashmir on receiving news of his father’s disappearance. Not only does he learn that security forces have detained his father for harboring militants, but that his mother is in a relationship with his very own uncle. Intense drama follows between mother and son as both struggle to come to terms with news of his father’s death. Soon Haider learns that his uncle is responsible for the gruesome murder, what follows is his journey to avenge his father’s death.
Haider key cast includes, Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Kay Kay Menon, Tabu, Irrfan and is directed by Vishal Bharadwaj. The film releases on Oct. 2, 2014.
Some of you may recall that I wrote about Vishal Bharadwaj other two Shakespearean adaptations, Maqbool (2003: Macbeth) and Omkara (2006: Othello) in 2011: http://shaksper.net/archive/2011/304-august/28064-bollywood-shakespeares
Last Friday (SHK 22.0189), I announced that I had just received two Bollywood adaptations of Shakespeare plays both directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, which had been recommended to me. I have since viewed them. I was thoroughly impressed by them both, finding them completely imbedded in their cultures and suggesting but not bending unnaturally the plots to evoke the originals.
Maqbool (2003) is set in contemporary Mumbai (Bombay). Maqbool (Irfan Khan) is loyal henchman to Jahangir Khan, “Abbaji” (Pankaj Kapoor), a prominent head of a criminal organization in Mumbai. Jahangir Khan’s mistress, Nimmi (Tabu), has an affair with Maqbool and encourages him to kill Jahangir Khan and take over the organization lest it come under the control of his best friend Kaka’s (Piyush Mishra) son, Guddu (Ajay Gehi), who plans to marry Jahangir Khan’s only daughter. Pandit (Om Puri) and Purohit (Naseeruddin Shah), two corrupt policemen, one of whom is an astrologer, represent the weird sisters and a metaphoric representation of the sea is the story’s Birnam Wood.
Omkara (2006): Omkara 'Omi' Shukla (Ajay Devgan), a so-called half-caste, illegitimate son of a high-cast man and a low-cast woman with whom he has an affair, is a baahubali, an enforcer (in subtitles General) for the politician Bhaisaab. Dolly (Kareena Kapoor), the daughter of the advocate Raghunath Mishra (Kamal Tiwari) runs off with Omi, abandoning her own wedding to Rajan, her father’s choice. Bhaisaab is elected to parliament and appoints Omi as a candidate for local election to his former position. Omi in turn selects Keshav 'Kesu Firangi' Upadhyay (Vivek Oberoi), a college-educated philander who is popular with the electorate, rather than his long-serving second in command and hit man Ishwar 'Langda' Tyagi (Saif Ali Khan) who is married to his sister Indu (Konkona Sen Sharma). At Omi’s and Dolly’s engagement, Langda shames Kesu into getting drunk and the enraged Omi strips Kesu of his position. Langda then insinuates to Omi that college friends Kesu and Dolly are having an affair producing a kamarbandh, a jeweled wedding belt that he had stolen and given to Kesu to give to his mistress Billo Chamanbahar (Bipasha Basu) as ocular proof. Havoc ensues.
Orson Welles - Mercury Theater - 1938 Recordings, including Julius Caesar and 4-Minute Video of Voodoo Macbeth
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.369 Tuesday, 26 August 2014
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: August 26, 2014 at 7:27:45 AM EDT
Subject: Orson Welles - Mercury Theater - 1938 Recordings, including Julius Caesar and 4-Minute Video of Voodoo Macbeth
I learned from Will Sutton of the availability of audio recordings of the Mercury Theater, which may be downloaded or streamed from the Internet Archive:
These include Julius Caesar.
1914 Film from Folger Shakespeare Theater Digital Image Collection
Mercury Theater’s radio programmes - 17 from 1938 (July-November) and 2 from 1946
BONUS: 1988 Special Programme - Mercury Theater Remembered with appearances and voices of those who worked in those programmes and still remember how Welles used to work.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In 1937, Welles and the Mercury company earned a reputation for their inventive adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar set in contemporary Fascist Italy. They moved on to productions of The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Heartbreak House, Too Much Johnson and Danton’s Death in 1938. In 1939 Five Kings was produced along with The Green Goddess. The last theatrical production of the company was Native Son in 1941.
Welles had already worked extensively in radio drama, playing the title character in The Shadow for a year and directing a seven-part adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, both for the Mutual Broadcasting System. In 1938, he was offered a chance to direct his own weekly, hour-long radio series, initially promoted as First Person Singular. However, this title was never announced on the air. Radio Guide initially mentioned the series’ debut as Mercury Theatre before later listing it as The Mercury Theatre on the Air.
Welles insisted his Mercury company — actors and crew — be involved in the radio series. This was an unprecedented and expensive request, especially for one so young as Welles. Most episodes dramatized works of classic and contemporary literature. It remains perhaps the most highly regarded radio drama anthology series ever broadcast, most likely due to the creativity of Orson Welles.
The Mercury Theatre on the Air was an hour-long dramatic radio program which began in the summer of 1938 on the CBS radio network. Paul Holler, writing in Critique, described the program’s origin: Radio, with its power to excite the imagination and actually involve the audience in the creative process, had huge potential as a medium for serious drama. It seemed inevitable that the day would come when this medium, which had made Orson Welles a household name across the country, would become a part of his serious theater ambitions. That day came in 1938.
It was in that year that CBS, remembering Welles’ work on Les Misérables the year before, approached him and Houseman about a series of radio dramas for its summer schedule. The idea was conceived as a series of narratives under the title First Person Singular. But the series would be best remembered by the name it assumed with its second production, The Mercury Theatre on the Air.
As with Les Misérables the previous year, Welles was given complete creative control by CBS over the new series. The choices he made in developing the series were informed by what he had learned in previous years in other radio dramas. Chief among those choices was to create dramas specifically for the radio and not to simply adapt dramas in production at the Mercury Theatre for broadcast. In close collaboration with John Houseman and other writers, Welles wrote, directed and performed in the productions. The end result was a series of dramas based on literary, rather than dramatic, works. There were exceptions, most notably Our Town by Welles’ early mentor Thornton Wilder. But it was clear to Welles and Houseman that the medium of radio suited the telling of a story far better than the dramatization of it. As a result, some of the most memorable Mercury Theatre on the Air productions were adaptations of great novels. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Tale of Two Cities, The Magnificent Ambersons, Heart of Darkness and other major literary works were offered to radio audiences during the Mercury Theatre on the Air’s run.
Houseman wrote the early scripts for the series, turning the job over to Howard Koch at the beginning of October. Music for the program was conducted by Bernard Herrmann. Their first radio production was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with Welles playing both Count Dracula and Doctor Seward. Other adaptations included Treasure Island, The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Man Who Was Thursday and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Originally scheduled for nine weeks, the network extended the run into the autumn, moving the show from its Monday night slot, where it was the summer substitute for the Lux Radio Theater, to a Sunday night slot opposite Edgar Bergen’s popular variety show.
The early dramas in the series were praised by critics, but ratings were low. A single broadcast changed the program’s ratings: the October 30, 1938 adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds.
Possibly thousands of listeners thought Martians were in fact invading the earth, due to the faux-news quality of most of the broadcast. Significant publicity was generated, and The Mercury Theatre on the Air quickly became one of radio’s top-rated shows.
The War of the Worlds notoriety had a welcome side effect of netting the show the sponsorship of Campbell’s Soup, guaranteeing its survival for a period, and beginning on December 9, 1938, the show was retitled The Campbell Playhouse. The company moved to Hollywood for their second season, and continued briefly after Welles’ final performance in March 1940. Welles revived the Mercury Theatre title for a short series in the summer of 1946.
Welles used the banner “Mercury Productions” on many of his films, and several of the actors from his Mercury Theatre Company appeared in them, notably in Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and Macbeth.
[ . . . ]
After posting Will’s link to The Mercury Theater recordings on Facebook, I learned from Bob Sawyer of a 4-minute video of the Voodoo Macbeth:
Orson Welles & the Federal Theatre Project’s 1936 “Voodoo” Macbeth (with Annotations)
Globe King Lear at Folger Library and Others
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.368 Tuesday, 26 August 2014
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: August 26, 2014 at 10:12:12 AM EDT
Subject: Globe King Lear at Folger Library and Others
[Editor’s Note: The final performance I saw at The Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London was King Lear with Joseph Marcell as Lear. This was an eight-actor Lear (two supernumeraries) with an ingenious doubling technique. At the back of the stage was a rack with various costumes hanging from it. As the as an actor changed roles, he or she would doff a different costume from the rack. I though it was highly effective. I also thought Marcell was adept at displaying the various personality changes that Lear goes through during the play. The production was only at the Globe for a handful of performances before going on tour.This Shakespeare’s Globe production of “King Lear” is coming to Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. from September 5 -21. It also plays Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond N. Yorkshire, 27-30 August; NYU Skirball, New York, 30 September - 12 October; Arts Emerson, Boston, 15-23 October; Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 30 October; The Broad Stage, Santa Monica, 4-16 November; Calpoly Arts, San Luis Obispo,18 November; University of California, Santa Barbara, November 21; The Moore Theatre, Seattle, 25 & 26 November; Arts Centre, Arcata, CA, 30 November. I highly recommend it. –Hardy]
Here a ‘Lear,’ There a ‘Lear’
By Peter Marks
All over the place, foolish fond old monarchs are dropping like anguished flies. In Chicago and New York, in London and Toronto and Washington, actors in shredded costumes are raging on tempest-tossed sets as stories unfold around them of woebegone fathers and callous children and realms ankle deep in stage blood.
The theater world, in short, is having a “King Lear” moment — well, actually, a whole bunch of “King Lear” moments. The supply of tragic, fulminating royals, in fact, appears inexhaustible. On the heels of the recent Lears of Derek Jacobi and Frank Langella, Stacy Keach and Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen and Michael Pennington, other Lears line up to hit their marks. Simon Russell Beale just completed a regal tour of duty, in a “Lear” at Britain’s National Theatre. John Lithgow did the same this month in New York’s Central Park. With other Lears on the boards of late from Oregon to Ontario, and still others on the near horizon, no one should be surprised to discover Washington’s Folger Theatre is joining the somber processional, with a “King Lear” arriving from Shakespeare’s Globe in London that begins performances Sept. 5.
The Globe “Lear,” featuring Joseph Marcell as the ruler who, in relinquishing his kingdom, loses his sanity and ultimately his life, will be the fifth major staging of the tragedy in this region in the last nine years — more evidence of just how intense is the fascination these days with what is to many Shakespeare’s bleakest play. Except for the comparatively more exuberant “Hamlet,” there have been more productions of “Lear” here during this period than of any other play or musical. And one is compelled to consider why.
This is not, of course, to cast aspersions on the piece itself, as sprawling and enigmatic as any in the canon: The nature of Lear’s madness is a transfixing, sleep-disturbing riddle for the ages. But why is it that “King Lear,” a play so resistant to our culture’s knee-jerk predilections for entertaining uplift and easy explanations, is also one to which we return, not just in rare instances, but again and again? And one that by dint of its challenges — exhausting length, an unwieldy knitting of parallel plots — theater companies find especially hard to get right.
I ask as one who, having seen two shaky “Lears” already this summer, the stagings with Beale in London and Lithgow in New York, approaches each new incarnation with both curiosity and a residual trepidation. I have lost count of the number of “Lears” I’ve attended, going back to an old-school production in the mid-1970s, starring the late Morris Carnovsky, at the now-defunct American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn. The cumulative experience over all these occasions has been discouraging; the play comes together truly meaningfully on only the most remarkable of evenings. It takes some extraordinary level of skill and alchemy to wrangle the disparate, discordant parts of the play, channeled most crucially through an actor who is capable of integrating the various aspects of Lear — prideful king, wounded madman, heartbroken victim — into a captivating whole.
Awful goings hence and comings hither’
Perhaps a factor in its ubiquity is a belief that “Lear” is supposed to be good for you, that audiences see it as a test for them as well as the actors — the theater’s equivalent of a decathlon. A case can certainly be made for it as the jewel in an accomplished actor’s crown, the ultimate showcase for technical and interpretive abilities honed over a career. (Previous Lears have run an esteemed gamut from John Gielgud to James Earl Jones.) And maybe, too, the drama has a hold on us because it suggests it knows a scary truth: that where the plight of human beings is concerned, the universe doesn’t give a hoot. At a time when menace seems so present in the world, a story in which the virtuous suffer and die indiscriminately right along with the wicked may seem jarringly apt.
[ . . . ]
From The Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection