Monday, August 31, 2009

Henry IV, Part 1 on Audio

I listened to Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare over this past weekend. a 3 cd set goes by pretty quickly on a 90 mile each way trip. I'm glad i picked this one up.

Henry IV Part 1 is a history play. It has one of the best comedic characters ever written: Sir John Falstaff. I'm not sure how he got the Sir as he seems to be more a brigand. Henry, called Harry or Hal, is the heir apparent to King Henry IV. He is something of a prodigal son; he parties and drinks and carouses with unsavory characters. Falstaff appears to be his best friend. King Henry's former friends and confidante's have rebelled against him for various reasons, led by the Earl of Northumberland and his son Henry Percy, also called Harry or Hotspur. King Henry calls his men to fight: Prince Hal swears to redeem himself by earning glory in combat; Falstaff does his best to take care of himself.

The production was fantastic. I immediately added Part 2 onto my library request list. You don't just get different people for each part, you hear glasses clinking, swords ringing, horses galloping. People get out of breath and burb and drink. I can't recommend the Arkangel production enough.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Taming of the Shrew- John Mutford's 3rd Review

A friend of mine recently told me that she acted in The Taming of The Shrew in her theatre days and because of that it's one of her favourites. Knowing nothing about the play, when it was time to read another Shakespeare play I chose it. I wasn't far in before I had to ask, "you didn't find it all offensive?"

For those in the dark, as I was, the "shrew" is in fact a woman named Kate and the "taming" is a series of emotionally cruel treatments that results in her taking a subordinate position to her husband. If he decides to call the sun the moon, then Kate, too, will call the sun the moon. And it's a comedy.

It turns out that my friend's theatre troupe did as many modern reproductions do: they made Kate's transformation disingenuous. They didn't change any lines per se (though some do), but had the actress deliver them sarcastically.
When Kate lectures the other women at the end, for instance, that men are superior and women must obey, a few simple eye-rolls and the right tone suggest to an audience that she has not been converted at all.

Whether or not Shakespeare intended it this way (I personally think he intended it the misogynistic way), I doubt a modern performance could get away with doing otherwise. But the question remains: does it work?

I'd have to see it performed, and performed well, to pass judgement, but I'm very skeptical. The play oozes cruelty; from the opening framework which targets the lower class, to the play-at-large which targets women, everything is done for laughs. The insults are Shakespearean, and thus should be amusing and witty, but it was hard for me to enjoy myself when some of the characters were being treated so poorly, and without any really nice characters to balance it out. I'll grant, for instance, that Kate wasn't a nice person at the beginning. Had Shakespeare made Petruchio, her husband, a likable character and the victim of Kate's mean behaviour, a reader might be able to at least view Petruchio's later treatment of her as revenge. Not that it would condone cruelty since two wrongs don't make a right, as the saying goes, but at least there'd be some sense of vindication.

On another note, it was only after searching up the play online that I learned it was the basis behind Heath Ledger's Ten Things I Hate About You. I can't say I had any interest in seeing it before, but now I'm a bit curious. Have you seen it?

(Cross posted at The Book Mine Set).