Thursday, 28 March 2013

Julia Stiles and Modern Adaptations of Shakespeare

Julia Stiles as Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You
What do I have in common with Dirk Bogarde, Lady Gaga, Nick Frost and Julia Stiles? We were all born on the 28th of March.

Now, I wondered for a while whether I could somehow weave a connection between Gaga and Shakespeare...has she ever worn anything Shakespeare-themed? If not, perhaps one day she will.

Nick Frost, on the other hand, could probably do some Shakespeare. Given his brilliant performance as Ed in Shaun of The Dead, it's not a stretch to imagine him as an impressive Falstaff or Toby Belch.

As far as I can discern, Dirk Bogarde didn't do any Shakespeare - if he did, there's certainly no reference to it on the all-seeing, all-knowing internet. I dare say, he could have made a very dashing Bassanio, though. And perhaps, in his older years, Antonio.

However, for the purposes of this blog post, I've plumped for Julia Stiles, because she has already starred in three modern adaptations of Shakespeare plays: 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of The Shrew), Hamlet and 'O' (Othello).

Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You

10 Things I Hate About You did not provide Stiles' with her first lead role in a film. However, it was the first to receive a commercial release in the U.S. It was the role that really launched her career, gaining her critical praise from many corners. 

And Kat Stratford, although very much a modern girl, does have undeniable similarities to her predecessor: Shakespeare's Katharina. Now, of course, Stiles can't take all the credit - part of the reason she makes such a great Kat/Katharina is that the film was very well written. And, for the most part, 10 Things I Hate About You is reasonably faithful (as faithful as any reworking that sets Shakespeare in a high school can be) to The Taming of The Shrew.

Julia Stiles in Hamlet

Julia's second modernization of Shakespeare came just a year after 10 Things..., playing Ophelia opposite Ethan Hawke's Hamlet. Here Stiles took on a very different Shakespearean woman - on the face of it, you can't get women more polar opposite than Katharina and Ophelia. Although, of course, they both have facets of unruliness that seems typical of all of Shakespeare's girls.

This adaptation took something of a machete to Shakespeare's original, making it a rather different story, despite the fact they were going for a Baz Luhrmann (keep the dialogue) approach. And, let's be honest, some of the performances leave a little to be desired. In fact, if you're looking for a film version of Hamlet, you're best sticking with one of the many others. Nevertheless, Stiles didn't do too badly. 

Julia Stiles in 'O'

And then, the following year, Julia Stiles took on another of Shakespeare's unfortunate heroines. This time, in an adaptation that takes place in another U.S. high school. 

O isn't always faithful to its original, either. However, Julia Stiles does give a belting performance as Desi, demonstrating her versatility beautifully if we compare her here and in her more comedic role in 10 Things...

It can't be denied that Stiles has talent, and it seems she has an affinity for Shakespeare, though whether that's through design on her part of the way the roles have fallen in her career, I don't know. It would be good to see her in more, though!

If you'd like to learn more about modern adaptations of Shakespeare's work, check out What's It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

How Did a New Monarch Affect Shakespeare?

How did James I's reign affect
Shakespeare's work?
On the 24th of March, 1603, Elizabeth I's nephew, James VI of Scotland, became king of England. Now that the country was under new management, how was Shakespeare and his work affected?

Well, by all accounts this change of monarch was very positive for Shakespeare and his company.

James I's Love of The Arts

James was a huge fan of the arts, specifically theatre. In fact, in the latter part of her reign, Elizabeth sent some of the best English players to Scotland to entertain and impress the Scottish king.

Although we have no proof that Shakespeare was among theses men, it is possible that the Bard went north of the border, during a nine month absence from London, in 1599-1600.

In any event, three short years later, James would be in London as king and one of his first acts as monarch was a move in favour of drama. Shakespeare's troupe would no longer be known as the Chamberlain's Men, now they were the King's Men and had license to not only perform at the Globe, but also town halls and many other suitable spaces in the provinces.

How Shakespeare Flattered James I

Shakespeare's company was no longer
known as the Chamberlain's Men

Knowing only too well that it's wise to stay on a monarch's good side, Shakespeare wasted no time in finding ways to flatter and please his new king and patron.

The most obvious example of Shakespeare's flattery is Macbeth, the Scottish play, which contains witches (a fascination of James'), Scotland (of course), Banquo (who is an ancestor of James') and themes of guilt and conscious (which was another area of great interest to James).

Not to mention, of course, that the main theme of the play is, 'don't mess with the divine right to rule'. For a monarch as paranoid as James, this must have been a very satisfying message.

However, Shakespeare didn't stop there, the fact that Hamlet is set in Elsinore is a nod to James, as it was where he spent his honeymoon with Anne of Denmark.

Now, I know what you're thinking, but despite Hamlet being written before James became king, changes could have been made before it was printed in approximately 1603 or, of course, Shakespeare, like many of Elizabeth courtiers, could have preempted James' ascension to the throne. 

Measure for Measure, which was written in 1604, seems to have a reference to the new king, too.

"I love the people, But do not like to stage me to their eyes. Though it do well, I do not relish well Their loud applause and aves vehement"

Elizabeth had indulged James' love of the arts by sending
players to Scotland
This seems to be a overt reference to James' own opinion of the masses who wanted to gather to greet him as he entered the new kingdom.

Apparently, he forbade this, telling people that he disapproved heartily of the tradition.

And then, of course, there's this vote of confidence from Elizabeth's eulogy in Henry VIII:

"...Her ashes new-create another heir, As great in admiration as herself; So shall she leave her blessedness to one, When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness, Who from the sacred ashes of her honour Shall star-like rise, as great in fame as she was, And so stand fix'd: peace, plenty, love, truth, terror, That were the servants to this chosen infant. Shall then be his, and like a vine grow to him: Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine, His honour and the greatness of his name Shall be, and make new nations: he shall flourish, And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches To all the plains about him: — our children's children Shall see this, and bless heaven."

Let's face it, you couldn't get much more sycophantic than that - not that I'm judging Shakespeare.

After all, not only did he know that being on the right side of James would mean huge injections of cash, but also that being on the wrong side of James could result in his head being hacked off. So, all things being equal, I think we can forgive him a little apple-polishing.

What Happened to Shakespeare Under the Reign of James I?

At the height of his success,
Shakespeare was raking in the cash

Quite simply, things for Shakespeare and his company went from good to better under the reign of James I.

Already a well-known name on the London theatre scene, Shakespeare's popularity increased after 1603; causing him and his fellow company members to become very rich indeed.

On a creative level, Shakespeare also produced some of his best known and highly regarded plays during this period. Now, it could be that James' financial help or inspiration helped Shakespeare to achieve this.

However, I suspect the new monarch had little to do with the higher quality of Shakespeare's output. Rather, the man from Stratford Upon Avon was now in his stride.

No matter who had been on the throne, I believe, he would have been cracking out masterpieces.

If you'd like to learn more about Shakespeare, be sure to take a look at What's It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Things Shakespeare DIDN'T Write

'Hell hath no fury' is not
one of Shakespeare's
The recent Chris Huhne/Vicky Pryce saga prompted a discussion with a family member about where, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" comes from. I had great difficult convincing her that Shakespeare did not write those words, and later found out that her mistake is not an unusual one: "Hell hath no fury..." is regularly misattributed to Shakespeare.

This got me thinking about all the other phrases that are labelled as Shakespeare's, or the instances of misquotations that have seeped into common parlance. So, here are just a few phrases that were definitely NOT written by Shakespeare.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned

People who think this was written by Shakespeare are close in the fact that the words were penned by a playwright and his Christian name was William.

However, they belong to William Congreve, who was a Restoration period dramatist. And while we're being precise, the line, which comes from The Mourning Bride, actually reads, "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." This, for my money, is much better than the common paraphrased version.

Poor William Congreve not only had to
walk around with that hair, but he also
has some of his best work
misattributed to another playwright
And, as we're on the subject of poor old William Congreve, that brings us nicely to another of his lines that has been falsely branded as Shakespeare's.

Music has Charms to Soothe a Savage Breast...

This is also from Congreve's The Mourning Bride, and is the very first line from the play.

Not only is this quote often attributed to Bill Shakespeare, but it's also, readily, misquoted as 'savage beast'.

'Tis Better to Have Loved and Lost Than Never to Have Loved at All

I seem to recall, although please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, that Will Smith mentions this in Men in Black, stating that it was written by Shakespeare. Even if Will Smith didn't say it, many, many, many people have erroneously attributed 'Tis better to have loved...' to The Bard.

In fact, it was written well over two hundred years after Shakespeare's death, and comes from Alfred Tennyson's In Memoriam A. H. H.

So, Farewell Hope and With Hope, Farewell Fear...

'So, farewell hope...' comes from John
Milton's Paradise Lost

This comes not far (some fifty years) after Shakespeare's death, so I can sort of understand the confusion. It is at least from approximately the same era as Shakespeare. 

However, I'm not sure John Milton would appreciate passages of his greatest work being attributed to another poet. This quote is actually from Paradise Lost, published in 1667.

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways...

I find it difficult, given how famous this poem is to believe that anybody would mistake it as Shakespeare's work, but apparently people often do. 

It is, of course, the opening line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's most famous poem, number 43 from her collection Sonnets From The Portuguese.

Oh! What a Tangled Web we Weave When First we Practice to Deceive

This is another quote from a famous playwright and poet, but it's not Shakespeare. Sir Walter Scott penned this beautifully phrase (and sound advice) in 1808, as part of his epic poem Marmion.

Come Live With Me and Be My Love

This is a quote perhaps more understandably misattributed to our friend Shakespeare, because it was penned by one of his contemporaries. 

If Christopher Marlowe wasn't Shakespeare,
then 'come live with me and be my love' is
regularly misattributed
And, of course, depending on your point of view, you might believe that Christopher Marlowe actually was Shakespeare, in which case, you'd be right to call this a line from his work.

In any event, the quote comes from Marlowe's poem, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, which was published in 1599.


These are, of course, just a few of the most common quotes misattributed to William Shakespeare. I suppose that it's flattering to The Bard to think that people assume popular literary and poetic phrases are his. However, it's not quite so flattering for the quotes' true authors, whose talents should never be forgotten.

If you'd like to find out more about the things Shakespeare DID write, take a look at What's It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Psychology of Richard III | What Was Tricky Dicky Really Like?

Does this look like the face of a homicidal maniac to you?
Professor Mark Lansdale and Dr Julian Boon from the University of Leicester have been trying to get into Richard III's head. What have they discovered? 

The real Richard may not have been the psychopath from Shakespeare's play.

Ever since the facial reconstruction of Richard was unveiled, he's seemed that little bit more human, hasn't he?

Well, now Professor Lansdale, the head of Leicester university's School of Psychology, and Dr Boon, a forensic psychologist, have been poring over contemporary and historical documents in an attempt to find evidence that Richard III had any of the common characteristics of the psychopathic mindset, which include:

  • Unreliability
  • Untruthfulness
  • Superficial charm
  • No capacity for remorse
  • Inability to learn from experience
  • Lack of insight
  • Incapable of 'normal' emotions - such as love
  • Sense that 'right' and 'wrong' does not apply to them
  • Cunning and manipulative

What Lansdale and Boon have discovered is...none of the above. In their opinion, there is a complete lack of evidence that Richard had any of the usual traits associated with a psychopathic mentality. And, quite rightly, they point out that if he had been any of the above, the Tudors would have jumped on it, just as they did his slight deformity, in order to paint him blacker than he actually was.

Naturally though, it's difficult to be sure about these things. Dr Boon cannot interview Richard, and none of us can really know what the man was like. Not for sure.

For example, it seems that Richard III was loyal to his brother, Edward IV - and, as no evidence seems to suggest otherwise, we assume that's true. And, of course, it's thought that Richard was deeply distressed by the deaths of his wife and son, indicating that he was indeed capable of love and other 'normal' emotions.

But can we ever know whether these were just outward shows of devotion and love? Could they simply have been part of his cunning plan? Like Blackadder, perhaps he had a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel.

Or maybe I just want Richard III to have been like Shakespeare's version of him.

What about killing his nephews? Well, seeing as murder (even of family members) was not altogether unusual in the era, it's thought that even if he did 'do them in', that alone is not evidence enough to call him a psychopath.

What has emerged is that Richard may have had an 'Intolerance of Uncertainty', which is typically known as IU. This is similar to an obsessive personality, and people with IU often place strong emphasis on justice, as well as having rigid morals. If it's true that Richard had this personality type, it's unlikely that he resembled Shakespeare's character in many (if any) ways.

This is all good news for members of The Richard III Society, who have been working tirelessly to clear the last Plantagenet king's name.

As for Shakespeare's version of the king, well, let's be honest, that character is far too irresistible to ever be completely wiped out - no matter how good the real Richard turns out to have been.

For more information, visit the source - University of Leicester's site.