Tag Archive: Shakespeare


SHAKESPEARE by Bill Bryson (Harper Press, 2007)
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Do we really need another book about William Shakespeare? The answer is, of course, a resounding ‘NO’.

In fairness, Bill Bryson is fully cognizant of this fact. He is honest enough to admit that this book contains not so much his own opinions “but is instead about what I learned of William Shakespeare from people who have spent a lifetime studying and thinking about him”.

Bryson makes the accurate observation that the Bard of Stratford-Upon-Avon is “not so much a historical figure as an academic obsession”.

He is in his element when debunking some of the unsubstantiated claims the so-called ‘experts’ have made in an attempt to uncover the man behind the myth. Continue reading

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STATION ELEVEN by Emily St.John Mandel (Picador Books, 2014)

Not for the first, or last, time I find myself at odds with the consensus. Most reviewers on Good Reads see fit to give it a five star rating to this novel and it has garnered widespread critical praise.

The blurb on the back cover is headed by a quote from George R.R. Martin who says it is “a book I will long remember”.

For my part, it’s a book I will easily forget despite the promising premise of  a civilization all but wiped out by a deadly strain of Georgian flu. Continue reading

HAMLET directed by Laurence Olivier (1948)
HAMLET directed by Franco Zefferelli (1990)

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How about this as a summary of Shakespeare’s most famous play turned movie?:

“This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.”.

If that seems too reductive, how about this:

“A guy comes home from school to discover that his father’s dead. To top it all off his mother is horsing around with his uncle. Add to that, the ghost of the old man comes back to tell him that it was his uncle who knocked him off so he could run off with the Queen. The guy goes off his nut”.

The first is Laurence Olivier’s voiceover before the main action begins.

The second is from an interview with Mel Gibson included in the extras on the DVD of Zefferelli’s film.

Frankly, neither really cuts the mustard but both are obviously aiming to pitch the story in an accessible fashion. Continue reading

A POST-MODERN GOLDONI FLOP

Carlo Goldoni’s Il Servitore di due padroni (The servant of two masters) rewritten by Ken Ponzio (Teatro Bonci, Cesena)

Spot the difference! The classic Harlequin and Roberto Latini as the post-modern version.

Spot the difference! The classic Harlequin and Roberto Latini in the post-modern version.

Prepositions have never been my strong point. The consequence of this is that I failed to appreciate the significance of the fact that this Venetian theatre company’s production was ‘da’ and not ‘di’ Carlo Goldoni. The first means ‘from’ the second means ‘by’.

The distinction is crucial because the only connection Ken Ponzio’s version had to the original play from 1743 is in the character names and token references to the plot.

In the programme notes Ponzio seeks to justify his presumptions act of literary terrorism: “Our way of perceiving comedies and tragedies has changed. Today’s expressive methods are radically different from those of Goldoni since we have experienced two world wars, been to the moon and we’ve read Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Heiner Müller; our way of seeing has fundamentally changed”.

When the curtain  rose my heart sank. The set was a characterless hotel hall with three doors on each side. A pot plant, some chairs, a telephone and a TV (tuned to American shows) are the only props. Continue reading

HENRY V by William Shakespeare directed by Thea Sharrock (BBC Two)

So there we have it. Shakespeare’s TV tetralogy (a word I have never knowingly used before) is complete.

This quartet of the bard’s history plays have triumphantly brought the very best of the British theatrical tradition to the small screen and for this we should be truly thankful.Any accusations of the BBC dumbing down its drama will have to put on hold for a few years at least.

The Henrys (IV + V) were directed in a more traditional manner but , aside from the flop of Falstaff, they have provided a master class in acting. Richard II was the boldest and most cinematic of the four which is why it remains the highlight of the series for me.

In Henry V, Tom Hiddleston cuts a dash in a leather bomber jacket. Not for him the burden of regal regalia as he defies the “confident and lusty French” and leads his not particularly merry “band of brothers” to win the Battle of Agincourt against all the odds. Continue reading

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