Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Don Freeman: Will's Quill (John Mutford's 3rd Pick For The Shakespeare Challenge)

The Shakespeare Challenge comes to a close at the end of June and I'm way behind. What better time to add in a picture book?

Most people know Don Freeman from the classic Corduroy. Before Corduroy was branded and lower quality books "based on the Don Freeman creation" flooded the market, Freeman was acknowledged as a great children's author and illustrator. His Fly High, Fly Low was even a Caldecott Honor Book.

Will's Quill (or How A Goose Saved Shakespeare) was given to my kids as a Christmas gift and I'll admit being a bit skeptical at first. The illustrations, while detailed and well-done, weren't overly vibrant. And the story of a goose saving Shakespeare by offering up his feathers as quills didn't seem overly exciting. Yet my kids were drawn to it.

Really, I shouldn't have been surprised. I loved Corduroy and A Pocket For Corduroy when I was a child and though we like to focus on "how the world has changed" kids today don't need stories that go 110 km/hr with puns in every other sentence, nor do their books need to resort to cheap sentimentality in order to be "nice." Freeman excelled with gentle books.

There are laughs in Will's Quill. At one point the goose Willoughby Waddle gets doused with dirty water and vegetable scrapings thrown down from a window. But perhaps the most uproarious moment comes when Willoughby misunderstands that a play is being performed and attempts to rescue Shakespeare from a duelling scene by biting his opponent on the seat of his breeches.

Willoughby Waddle has come from the country to make himself useful in the city. He soon finds out that life in Londontown is rougher and more hectic than he'd anticipated but, just as the indignities start to pile up, a kind stranger by the name of William Shakespeare offers him a hand. Determined to pay back his kindness, Willoughby searches over the city for him and finally discovers a way. On the back of the book Shakespeare is quoted as saying, "How far that little candle throws his beam/ So shines a good deed in a naughty world." A fine message that could have become the Pay It Forward of children's books, but Freeman prevents it from being overly saccharine with just the right balance of humor and plot.

And of course as an added bonus, children are introduced to Shakespeare as a historical figure. They won't walk away experts on the bard but they'll learn that he lived in Londontown and wrote well-respected plays that were performed at the Globe. This introduction is a brief one, but wrapped in a tale that kids seem to enjoy, might be remembered a little better than a book that sets out to teach his biography to kids.

(Cross-posted at The Book Mine Set)

Monday, May 26, 2008

I'm So Proud of Myself

I did it. I finished the challenge - my very first. I didn't finish three of the books I had in my list but I read three others.

  • The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl
    The story of Shakespeare's life in the neighborhood where he lived from 1603-1605, as seen in relation to the home of his landlords - the Mountjoys, French Huguenot immigrants in the clothing trade. The details are remarkable and give a wonderful picture of life in Shakespeare's London and environs.
  • Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt
    Another excellent non-fiction book that shows the correlation between events in Shakespeare's time that he may or may not experienced, but which appear to have influenced his plays.
  • The Book of Air and Shadows: A Novel by Michael Gruber
    This was a complicated but well organized and well written novel. An unknown play about Mary Queen of Scots may have been written by Shakespeare - under the impression he was doing King James a favor. Told from the point of view of an attorney and a would-be film maker, the story leads the reader through numerous twists trying to determine what is real and what is fake. In the end, the loose ends are tied up and connections that need to be made are and others that didn't need to be made are still a bit tenuous.

I went into more detail on my blog about both the books I read and the ones I didn't finish.

I really appreciate Historia's sponsorship of this challenge. It encouraged me to read more on The Bard and gave me a framework to concentrate on. I plan on continuing to read more Shakespeare since there are so many books out there. And I'll revisit the plays. Thanks Historia.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Shakespeare Author

Remember I posted a comment a while ago about Amelia Bassano possibly being the real Shakespeare? Well here is the first play she wrote - which will be performed at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in NYC in July.

she wrote
As You Like It; The Big Flush (classic/experimental)
by Amelia Bassano Lanier a.k.a. William Shakespeare
directed by Stephen Wisker MFA
presented by John Hudson & Jenny Greeman
featuring: The Dark Lady Players, Workshop Production
Non Equity
Running time; 1 Hour 30 minutes

A Jewish toilet joke written using double allegories-this adaptation highlights the two characters called Jaques/Jakes (Elizabethan for toilet), and the character whose pocket watch identifies him as Sir John Harrington, the inventor of the flush toilet!

What are they, a dunghill, and many references to excrement doing in this play? Why does As You Like It end with Jaques warning that Noah's flood is coming? Why are there other flood references, like Hercules cleansing the Augean stables of manure? Why does Touchstone go off to the ark with Audrey, who is named after St Ethelreda, the woman who was saved from a flood? Could this be the Last Day?

What exactly is this strange 'forest' with its many peculiar features? The author has left us clues! Guess what actually was surrounded by a 'circle', was a 'temple', turned into a 'desert', where everyone was starving, where there was a massacre of 'greasy citizens', people were hung on trees, where a 'lodge' was indeed burnt, and where there was a real 'Roman Conqueror'? Yes indeed, this detailed description fits only one historical circumstance-the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans 66-70C.E.! The play was written as a satirical allegory against Vespasian Caesar, the Roman conqueror of the Jews, who appears as the satanic Duke Senior. At the end, both he and his children (Titus and Domitian Caesar, who also make an allegorical appearance in the play), will be flushed away in an act of fantastic comic revenge by the English Jewish poet Amelia Bassano- who is the basanos or Touchstone, a misunderstood poet like Ovid--- wearing her allegorical disguise of the inventor of the toilet!

The Dark Lady Players, one of the world's most experimental Shakespeare companies, bring scholarship alive! They perform the allegorical level of the Shakespearean plays to show that they were written as Jewish revenge literature. This workshop production will demonstrate the validity of the latest of the top ten theories to be accepted by the Shakespearean Authorship Trust, that the plays were written by England's only Jewish poet the so-called 'Dark Lady', Amelia Bassano Lanier (1569-1645). To watch an extract from a forthcoming documentary go to http://www.darkladyplayers and click on Watch Video. Look for forthcoming article, perhaps on 19 May, in the Globe &Mail. A national and international tour for 2008/9 is being planned.

Show times for As You Like It; The Big Flush are as follows;

Sunday 20 July at 4.30pm
Saturday 26 July at 3.45pm
Sunday 3 August at 7.30pm
For tickets contact 212-279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com
We are part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival in NYC

About the Director; STEPHEN WISKER is an English Theatre director who received a MFA in Directing Shakespeare from the University of Essex and trained at the Royal National Theatre's Studio Directors Course. He has been the Shakespeare teacher for Atlantic Acting School/ NYU Tisch School of the Arts. New York Shakespeare directing credits include Something Is Rotten on W37th: A Modern Adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet at The Zipper Theater and The Tempest at The Belt Theatre. Recent productions in Europe include: Love's Mistress at Shakespeare's Globe, Shakespeare e Il Gentil Sesso at the Edinburgh Festival, Antony and Cleopatra at the Birmingham School of Acting, an all-female Julius Caesar at The Man in The Moon, and Pyramus and Thisbe, a devised piece with an international cast, at the Actors Centre which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival. He first came to New York in 2002 to direct two World Premieres: Charles Evered's Adopt A Sailor and J. Dakota Powell's Exodus at the Brave New World Festival: New York Theatre Responds to 9-11 on Broadway, and directed the Spring 2005 production of Can't Pay! Won't Pay! at the Loft. Before moving to New York Stephen taught Shakespeare at the Actor's Centre in London. A devotee of clowning, self-conscious theatricality, and non-traditional casting, his work explores storytelling with physical as well as verbal language.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing: John Mutford's 2nd Pick For The Shakespeare Challenge

Of all the movie genres, I probably dislike romantic comedies the most. It's not a guy thing; I'm not opposed to love stories. However, romantic comedies tend to have an unbelievable love story and typically aren't funny. Yes, I can think of a few exceptions, but even those can't convince me to even consider going to see Made of Honor and the like.

Much Ado About Nothing was almost doomed from the get-go. And before you Shakespeare goons start with the "the man was a genius" argument, I'll quickly point out the mistaken identities, the eavesdropping, and the faked death near the end of this play. I hate to always come back to Three's Company when I refer to ridiculous situations, but again, it felt like such an episode.

But since I actually enjoyed Three's Company, I questioned why Much Ado About Nothing wasn't doing it for me. Was it too over the top? Perhaps. But then his tragedies are pretty over the top, and I like those. When half a cast is wiped out with brutal murders and suicides, it's really no more authentic than Don Pedro dressing up at a masquerade ball, pretending to be Claudio, and wooing Hero on his behalf.

Eventually I came around on it a little. It was a farce. It was entertaining. The love-hate chemistry of Benedick and Beatrice was good for a few witty chuckles. However, it still felt like Shakespeare just didn't seem to put the same care into this one. Most of the characters (except for the aforementioned Beatrice and Benedick) were flat and unconvincing. Hardly any time was spent on their motivations and some of the cast, such as Don Pedro and Claudio, seemed virtually indistinguishable from one another. Contrast this to the soul searching Hamlet or the guilt-ridden Macbeth. Or perhaps I just need a bit of blood-- maybe it is a guy thing after all.

The Soundtrack:
1. (You're The Devil) In Disguise- Elvis Presley
2. Jigs: Eavesdropper's/Both Meat and Drink/Off We Go- Great Big Sea
3. Your Cheatin' Heart- Hank Williams
4. I Hope I Don't Fall In Love With You- Tom Waits
5. It All Turns To Gold- Popa Chubby

Thursday, May 1, 2008

More Authorship Debate Books

I have 2 months to read 3 books about Shakespeare to finish my own challenge. I have recently purchased several books covering the Authorship debate, so I will be reading these.

Three of these books claim that the REAL authors were Christopher Marlowe, Sir Henry Neville or Edward De Vere (Duke of Oxford).

Christopher Marlowe

Sir Henry Neville

Edward De Vere (Duke of Oxford)