Sunday, March 30, 2008


A couple of things sent this wonderful word bouncing around in my head today.

First was watching a couple of ‘turtle doves’ flapping around in one of the parks down by the river.

I watched the Kevin Kline Midsummer Nights Dream last night – and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on it at a latter date – but today the line, “Begin these wood-birds but to couple now?” popped (not poo, this time) up when I saw the birds.

It was the colour that did it – and the naked young couples in the film as the line was delivered; Lots of very fleshy pink. Same as the birds.

I’d always thought of the birds mentioned as wood pigeons (well, I am English and did grow up in urban Manchester in the 1960.s) but Shakespeare must have meant their close relative, the ‘cooing’ or ‘turtle’ dove.

I’ve a couple visit the shelf outside my kitchen window each morning (sorry, I feed the little buggers); they’ve been around for over a year now. They tried to breed last year – but I think they were too young. The nest they built was destroyed in a storm and the eggs in it smashed. They’re looking at a different site this year. Fingers crossed for offspring.

What’s noticeable (and the constant cooing makes them noticeable) is they are almost inseparable – I haven’t checked but I think they must pair for life. So, when Theseus calls the lovers ‘wood-birds’ and says they are beginning to pair – he has seen more than linkage – it is a fidelity shining through too.

That’s what the flapping in the park reminded me of.

Second bit of serendipity came almost at the same time.

I was reading through Peter Brook’s Evoking Shakespeare and getting fired up to review it when, at the end of what was a talk given in Berlin, he answered a question – and came out with something so simple, so obvious I’d not thought of it (bit like the doves really):

(To paraphrase)

Shakespeare was born with a set of abilities, principle of which being a prodigious memory and a capacity to listen and observe; he used these capacities to the full when he wrote his first play.

At this point of first putting pen to paper he hadn’t ‘lived’ – hadn’t the experiences he would be able to add to these innate abilities to write the later ‘great’ plays like ‘King Lear’ and “eventually the Tempest”.

“… one sees a very interesting relationship between what’s inborn and what is developed by life.” (Evoking Shakespeare, pg 30)

Well, yes – that’s exactly what I want to see in this odyssey through the works, I thought.

How much is nature, how much nurture?

(Hopefully the doves have learnt to build a better nest this year.)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hack adaptor?

First play on my list is going to be Two Gentlemen of Verona: And just to prepare the ground, I thought I better check out the sources.

One of those intriguing snippets has poopped (poo, not pop) out about the story - In the words of Wiki, where I checked the original, Shakespeare, "... could have learned of it from an anonymous English play of 1585, The History of Felix and Philiomena, which is now lost."

Hold on ... yesterday we decided Young Will was an actor - he was on stage in other people's plays, and they are going to have an influence on what he writes ...

Today we get his first play is possibly an adaptation of an already written adaptation of a 'prose romance' (Diana Enamorada by the Portuguese writer Jorge de Montemayor).

And hiding in the wings is the second play - The Shrew! Which could also have a source in a previous play - although Wiki ain't good on that: Will someone go and correct them please?

I suspect there is a theme developing here - was Shakes employed to steal and do cover versions of the successes of other theatres?

Makes sense of the way both he and his theatre group kept close his own later works - he learnt from his own experiences.

It also gives a certain piquancy to the much vilified Robert Greene:

There is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers that, with his 'tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide,' supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; being an absolute Johannes Factotum, in his conceit the only shake-scene in a country.

Robert Greene
Groatsworth of Wit (1592)

Friday, March 28, 2008

You're Kyd (ing)

Not content with Howling at the Moon (Barking, Barking!), I'm also dancing with the Hares; it is, after all, still March.

Resisting the temptation to just close the door and start, preparations go on.

The Sonnet issue is resolving itself - there are blocks of sonnets linked together that can be treated as a whole early in the journey - one fascinating little snippet is sonnet 94 being quoted in Edward III (which is dated early).

Today's teaser is what was he doing before he wrote?

- I'm dismissing teaching in Lancashire (I've lived there, I am a Lancashire Lad - I've taught there: I didn't become Shakespeare - ergo, neither did Shakespeare).

He was, of course, an actor - possibly with his wife's encouragement. (La loon, la loon.)

Therefore, he acted - what?

Well, chances are he did some Marlow (e-less) and Mr Kyd was popular 'on the block' too.

Right - need to at least read those two before I set out - and it's looking like The Spanish Tragedy gets the go-ahead (because it was on the shelf in the Library when I was there yesterday - and its on-line, and I like it so re-reading is not a problem).

Some of the best Marlow (e-less) was produced after the first Shakespeare - so, Tamburlaine the Great needs reading before I start, but Faustus after (?).

Damn map is glaring at me though - Holinshed's Chronicles (2nd edition) were published just before .... no, 'tain't a play, didn't act it. Might read bits at appropriate times.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Always need to prepare ...

It is looking very much like I'll be starting with a sonnet!

Andrew Gurr suggested it some time ago - sonnet 145 is likely to have been written early on - possibly when Shakespeare was still in his teens.

There is the serious possibility it was written to Anne, his soon to be wife - which makes it sort of 'sweet' and "Ahhhhhhh"-able.

This would certainly be the earliest of his writings.

I am having not-much-fun trying to sort out the dates of the sonnets - they were collected together and published in 1609 - and arranged in an order that makes a sort of narrative - but they were written in a different order.

Possibly the first 17 were in fact written a little later than the next sequence; and the dark lady poems earlier than the ones before!

What a life!

I am also doing all my preparation with a little programme available from the OU called Compendium: If I ever find a way to do it I'll publish the 'map' I make to go with the journey.

(Just think all journeys should be mapped.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The question has been raised - Have you read all of Shakespeare?

Well, yes, I have - several times in fact. But it is my profession in a way.

Not that I haven't had great pleasure from doing so - even the poems. And I have returned to many of the works repeatedly.

I suspect I am now coming to the end of my "intellectual wanderings or quest": Certain signs in my body prompt expectations of mortality.

Siren like, the words call again.

I have decided, on a whim, to make a final pass through the complete works and have gone into preparation.

Keeping faith with the theatre, I am going to do the journey in performances. Of necessity they will be mainly on DVD - Romanian theatre is limited in live performances, and, as it is Shakespeare's words I want, limited there too.

I hope to get in a trip to The Globe - and possibly the RSC too.

I am fortunate to have the local British Library - they have nearly all the BBC Shakespeare for loan (although, irritatingly, someone has stolen Titus). And I have a selection of my own of the more popular.

Just to add spice, I have plumbed for an unusual (although quite logical) route: I am going to do it in the same order as written.

Now, I know this is a contentious issue - so I am following Stanley Wells and the Penguin Shakespeare Chronology. No objections accepted.

I hope not only to revisit old friends, but maybe get a couple of insights on the way - juxtaposing what was in the craftsman's mind as he worked.

Needless to say (so I will) I'll be blogging along the way.

A travel diary forsooth.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Shakespeare's Wife

Reviewed Ms Greer's Book over on Books Reflected:

I suspect points from the book are going to keep making an appearance here for some time to come.

Selective Truth

Romanian football might not be everyone’s starting point for a quick look at Henry VI (part 3) – but there are parallels.

(I suppose, for cultural clarity, I should, at this point make clear I am talking about the game for men with balls that are not an odd shape.)

Soccer in Romania is dominated by baronets – rich men who ‘own’ clubs. There are 4 or 5 of them and they are very ‘public’ in their ownership: Never a day goes by without one of them appearing on the television; usually it is more than one.

Partisan is an understatement – ‘rude ignorant pigs’ still a bit too subtle.

They interfere in their own teams to the distraction of the managers – buy players who are not needed and sell others without replacing them with anyone to ‘fill the gap’ the exiting player leaves. They complain publicly about the managers performance, undermine their authority continually, and begrudge them the bonus payments when they win. It is strongly suspected that one baron even bribes individuals of his own team to loose matches so he doesn’t have to pay out larger sums to the whole team if they win. Of course, he then goes on television and says the manager is not doing his job properly.

More worryingly they are regularly accused (and even more regularly accuse each other) of corrupting match officials and rigging matches through other nefarious practices.

These are not the mighty magnates of English football – truly rich men who stay quiet publicly, dig deep into their pockets and let the teams get on with the job. These are petty men – pale shadows of the greats they attempt to imitate.

And here is the first link to Shakespeare’s play – gone are the great men of the earlier instalments (apart from York – who exits in Act 1) - to be replaced by much smaller men – men whose vision is not broad enough, token representatives and partisan upholders of faith in themselves.

“Mink coat and no knickers” (as my father used to say).

They ‘ape’ their predecessors but do not seem to understand what it is they copy.

They exist for the moment – there is no real continuity: Strategy is short term only. And so too is their perception of the world they live in.

In Shakespeare’s play, the past becomes a thing for selective quotation – a truth for being economical with. Partial truths about the past are used to justify present actions – and are publicly invoked in that justification.

In exactly such a partial way the truth has been used in an incident between two teams here in Romania.

Straight away, one petty owner leapt in front of the nearest television camera and started screaming about ‘the rules’ the past, the way it was done …

He was quick to add blame for the official (who had just been hit on the head by a flying object – premeditated, according to the all seeing owner).

Dangerous stuff – especially as public disorder, already abroad, was provoked, and awaits a next encounter.

Such are the things of civil war.

What I am left with is the sense of small mindedness, of a gap left which needs filling with truth, with authority based on right, … a worthy King.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

a sudden stratagem

(Or Shakespeare, the surgeon)

The doc has more or less grounded me - not too much excitement and, combined with a 'between courses' week at work - 'Nothing to be done'.

So, browsing away this morning, I took a look at the opening of the 'sundry times lately acted' True Chronicle History of King Lear and his three daughters ...'

Then I had a bath.


It was a trick - the how do you love me question - count out the ways and I'll give you everything.

And a trick specifically to catch out his wayward younger daughter.

She'd tell him more than the others and then he'd spring the trap - right then, do as I say - just as your sisters have done - 'marry the man today!'

Shakespeare wields the knife - he cuts the trick.

Surgical precision converts Lear from trickster to madman: Senility floods, like a sudden summer storm, the landscape - and grey clouds darken every horizon.

Again, the empty spaces - it's the gaps that make the magic - not what you explain - what you don't explain.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In whose likeness?

Just recovering from a serious shock - Greer bbke has stuck the boot into one of my most cherished beliefs - Shakespeare was a rich man - he was, wasn't he?

Serious doubts, seriously expressed by the blessed Greer bbke !

Rather a lot of comparative evidence indicating that money is not the main reward for being the greatest playwright in England - and some serious 'looking into the finances' of 'er indoors'.

One of those naughty little thoughts instantly bounced into my head - all those biographers before who were convinced of Shakespeare's wealth - monetary, rather than linguistic - were they reflecting a material comfort of their own? And is 'The Greer' bbke doing the same - could her Ann really be a mere reflection of the self regressed?

If it is - it is very convincing - and, as I return to plough through more of the 'biography, a dread creeps around the outer extremities of further shattering illusions.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shakespeare Geek goes pimp!

Duane, who does a very worthy blog, linked to above (in fact I read it regularly - even though we don't see eye to eye often: He actually was disparaging about the Sainted Greer bbke) is offering to give away some books.

Anyone from the US reading this this week or next should go beg!

In the rest of the blog there's some good stuff - and he's a great source of odd links.

Been a bit of a ding-dong on Iago too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's in a name?

A question to think on:

Why does Shakespeare call the play Othello, Othello?

And why is Julius Caesar, Julius Caesar?

Well, of course, the first thing to notice is that they weren't:

Julius Caesar, as first published in the First Folio was called:


And the word Tragedie makes a difference -

Othello was called:

The Tragedy of Othello the Moore of Venice

Here we seem to have got the spelling right - but notice the emphasis on Othello's Mooredom and his Venetian-ness!

I don't think we have the playbills for either of these plays - but I wonder what the audience entering the Globe in London thought they were going to see as a consequence of the playbills posted?

By putting the character's name in full view - they become a focus - and that is something we tend to loose a sense of when we spend hours studying the text.

With some plays though, it becomes more important to know exactly what Shakespeare called it in the first place:

In the Folio we have:

The second Part of Henry the Sixt,
with the death of the Good Duke

Which we reduce down to Henry the Sixth, Part two- decapitating poor old uke Humfrey!

But if you go back 30 years to the first performance it had a very different title:

First part of the Con-
tention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke
and Lancaster, with the death of the good
Duke Humphrey:
And the banishment and death of the Duke of
Suffolke, and the Tragicall end of the proud Cardinall
of VVinchester, vvith the notable Rebellion
of Iacke Cade:
And the Duke of Yorkes first claime unto the

Now - not a mention of part 2 nor a mention even of Henry 6! Is it even the same play?

A rose, is a rose, is a ... sweet briar!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Burn, Baby, BURN!

Have we taken the tragedy out of Romeo and Juliet?

Modern audiences believe ‘it is a beautiful thing to die for love’ – deep sighs all around. They are following in that nasty Romantic ‘suicide is beautiful’ nonsense.

The focus is on the wonderful resolution at the end of the story – the united families, the golden statue, the Happy Prince!


What Happy Prince? He’s pretty unhappy and threatening dire consequences as well as begrudging pardon (possibly enforced by separate laws for the clergy).

And hold on – not just a statue, but a golden one? Do I get an echo of ‘Golden Idols’ here? Earthly treasure brings no reward in heaven.

And here is the bit where the tragedy has gone through the window – they go to hell! The two silly children commit suicide and are consequently condemned to eternal damnation.

Romeo and Juliet BURN!

There is the tragedy – that is what we, following the Romantic reinterpretation, have lost – not a beautiful pagan ‘cut out in stars’ ending, swelling strings and a beautiful death – cacophony, devils, eternal pain!

Bring back the Shakespeare!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Shakespeare's Best

In our time have a programme on King Lear this week.

Click on the title above and you'll get somewhere near.

It's downloadable for the week and then available for listening on line for ever.

Love Melvin!

Good discussion - not least because it drops a couple of stakes into the heart of the much overrated Hamlet!

At least three of the four people know rather a lot about the subject (and one of them is Lord Mel).