Friends, Romans, Countrymen; Lend Me Your Ears

Mark Antony’s eulogy of Julius Caesar.  Everyone has heard the first few words.  They’re in my title.  But have you ever watched a dramatization?  Many years ago I saw a small production in the Berkshires.  And in its bare bones presentation; no fancy costumes or sets, it was well done.  But I do not remember Antony’s speech impressing me.

Here are three versions.  Two are Hollywood spectacles.  One with Marlon Brando and one with Charlton Heston.  The third is a solo recitation.  See if you can guess which one I favor.  And I’ll give those who care to watch them a chance to provide their own judgement on which is best.  Lend me your ears.

 

 

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Transgender Hubris Through Lear

Andrew Klavan is a gifted writer. He breathes emotion and conviction into his arguments and they ring true. In this essay he interprets transgenderism and other manifestations of “transhumanism” through the stories of Lear and Prospero in Shakespeare’s plays.

What he points out is the hubris that confused men commit when they ignore that they literally are not God.  When we pretend that the definitions of human life do not apply to us we set ourselves up for the catastrophe that will follow when we attempt to ignore these boundaries.

“We have now reached the nadir of that mode—or the zenith, depending on where you stand. This is that moment that Nietzsche talked about, the “catastrophe” of a civilization awaking to find its foundations gone.”

Klavan sees King Lear as the cautionary tale for human hubris and rejection of the natural order and The Tempest as a fairy story about restoring it.  Well, I like Shakespeare so I like when a gifted writer uses it to make a point.  Bravo Andrew.

Hamlet Scenes

I was rewatching Olivier’s Hamlet today. So I picked out the scenes I thought were noteworthy. The characters are so strange to modern audiences and the plot so improbable. But there are some scenes that are iconic. Many will recognize the famous quote or the scene. My favorite is the gravedigger’s scene. Alas, poor Yorick. Shakespeare’s fools and jesters are obviously his favorites and always have the best lines.

Anyway.

To Thine Own Self Be True

That is the Question

The Play’s the Thing

I Knew Him Horatio

But Let It Be

The Bard’s Birthday

Whether Shakespeare really wrote his plays or they were the product of the Earl of Oxford I would like to take this excuse to heap praise on the man who created so many wonderful words.

Any man who could write:

‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

and

‘To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’

and

‘I  am a man more sinned against than sinning.’

deserves great praise from me.  I have gotten great amusement seeing and hearing and reading his works.  They are a treasure for all mankind.

Happy birthday Billy boy.

 

 

Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) (1966) – A Movie Review

I’ve been looking for a good print of this movie for a few years.  Orson Welles made this in his later years when money for his productions was very hard to find.  So, he allied himself with a Spanish production company.  The movie didn’t make any money and the prints of the film weren’t preserved well.  But at last, I was able to see a good copy.

The story is a pasting together of sections of three of Shakespeare’s plays (Henry IV – Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V) that deal with Prince Hal and Falstaff.  Welles was able to assemble a cast that did justice to the work.  Welles plays Falstaff and was born for the part.  John Gielgud is King Henry IV and Jeanne Moreau plays Doll Tearsheet.  Ralph Richardson performs narration.  The rest of the cast I’m not familiar with but I will say they acquit themselves admirably especially Keith Baxter, the actor playing Prince Hal.

This is Shakespeare, not modern cinema so not all audiences will enjoy it.  But for those who have a liking for the Bard this motion picture will reward your time.  It’s a very human tale of a young man (Prince Hal) rebelling against his place in the world.  And at the same time, it is the story of a larger-than-life character, Falstaff.  A man that combines wit, braggadocio, cowardice, humor, lust for life and villainy in almost equal proportions.

Technically there are some aspects of the film that aren’t up to modern standards.  The audio track isn’t perfect.  But for the most part it’s an engaging production.  Even the battle scene which was made on a very small budget is a cinematic success and enhances the film.

I need to buy a good copy of this film.  I can see watching this one about every six months or so.  Recommended for the lover of Shakespeare.

19NOV2021 – Another Autumn Poem

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare in Film – Part 12 – The Merchant of Venice – Olivier’s 1973 Version

The Merchant of Venice is an odd play.  The romance plot line with Portia and Bassanio is decidedly comic but the Shylock story is a revenge story that verges on the bizarre.  Olivier is Shylock, a Jewish moneylender in Venice.  The story revolves around Antonio, a prosperous merchant whose friend Bassanio is in love with the rich heiress Portia.  Bassanio begs a loan of 3,000 ducats to woo Portia as a nobleman.  Shylock gives Bassanio the money but because of his hatred of Antonio he demands that if the money is not repaid on time Shylock will remove a pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast closest to his heart.  Antonio treats this lightly because he has many merchant ships in route for home that should enrich him many times the 3,000 ducats in cargo value.  But when all his ships are reported lost then the default clause is no longer a joke but a promise of torture and death.

Another subplot has Shylock’s daughter run away from her father and elope with one of Bassanio’s friends, Lorenzo and also convert to Christianity.  It is this insult from his daughter that unhinges Shylock and turns him into a merciless fiend dead set on exacting his pound of flesh.  Luckily for Antonio, Bassanio’s courtship of Portia is successful and when she hears of Antonio’s peril, she tells her new husband that all the funds needed will be available to pay off Antonio’s debt.  But Shylock refuses even thrice the delinquent 3,000 ducats, standing on his contract to extract the pound of flesh he is owed.  Finally, a trial before the Duke of Venice is scheduled.  Portia comes disguised as a learned doctor of the law from Padua with a recommendation to the Duke from Bellario, her lawyer cousin in Padua.  Acting as the judge Portia concedes that the letter of the law allows Shylock to demand his pound of flesh but in a stirring speech she expounds on the “quality of mercy.”  But none of this phases Shylock in the least.  Over and over he refuses the 9,000 ducats and demands his barbaric payment.  Then Portia plays her trump card.  She declares that Shylock can have his pound of flesh.  But not a hair’s weight more or less and without spilling a drop of Antonio’s blood lest Shylock be put to death for it.  Knowing that he is beaten Shylock then asks for the 9,000 ducats but Portia tells him he has already refused that.  Then he asks for his principal back and is equally denied that.  And finally, he is informed that his attempt on the life of a Venetian citizen forfeits his own life and all his fortune.  By an act of mercy, the Duke spares his life and half his fortune with the proviso that Shylock must convert to Christianity and leave his remaining fortune to his daughter and her husband upon Shylock’s death.

After this happy ending there is the usual sexual politics with the disguised Portia demanding as payment from Bassanio for her legal help a ring that she had given him earlier as herself and which he had sworn never to remove.  And when back in her normal appearance she demands to see Bassanio’s ring.  He sadly admits to having given it away.  She produces it and teases him with having spent the night with the doctor of law.  And then there’s a tiff about it that is quickly straightened out when she reveals that she was the doctor of law.  And hilarity ensues.

This is a good production.  It is a good cast and the production values are equally good.  The scenery and costumes are of a Victorian England.  I don’t think this was a particularly good idea but it certainly didn’t harm the story much.  Joan Plowright looked a little too old to be Portia but her acting was everything you’d want for the part.  Jeremy Brett was a good Bassanio and the rest of the supporting cast was very able.  Olivier was very good.  But I was a little let down.  Shylock just isn’t that great a character.  He’s certainly not Hamlet or even Henry V.  He’s doesn’t even have the great villainous lines like Richard III.  A lot of his dialog is odd and melodramatic.  So, for once Olivier is not the main reason for watching this recording.

Plowright has the shining moment.  She gets to recite the quality of mercy speech.  And that alone is worth watching this play.  It is one of the best things Shakespeare ever wrote.  It’s uplifting even for an old deplorable like me.  It almost makes me want to show mercy to my political enemies.  Almost, but not quite.  My conclusion, this is a good version of The Merchant of Venice.

I’ll end with the text of that wonderful speech.

 

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 11 – King Lear – Olivier’s 1983 Version

King Lear is a very strange play to watch.  All of the virtuous characters are banished, disowned or fugitives from justice while all the rest of the characters that aren’t out and out villains are seriously flawed and unable to distinguish good from evil.  There is a continuous downward spiral as the evil characters consolidate their positions and everyone else including the hapless Lear ricochet from one disaster to the next.

I first saw this play back in the 1970s as a Shakespeare in the Park presentation in Central Park with James Earl Jones as Lear.  Some extremely timely thunderstorm activity by Mother Nature made for an exciting performance and I have enjoyed the play since.  But I will admit that the Storm scene is extremely odd to sit through.  Even the actors seem to be slightly at a loss as to how they are supposed to relate to each other during this weird act.

The 1983 version of King Lear starring Laurence Olivier is a British Television production and it is done on a television sound stage and it has the look of a sound stage made to look like a theater stage.  That is not to say that it is badly filmed but rather that it does not have the production values that the budget of a major Hollywood movie can allow.

The cast in addition to Olivier includes some well-known faces.  Lear’s Fool is played by John Hurt.  Leo McKern, who American audiences might know from the British import television series “Rumpole of the Bailey” plays Gloucester.  And if you’re old enough to remember the 1960s spy series “The Avengers” then you would remember Diana Rigg who here plays one of Lear’s evil daughters (Regan).  The rest of the cast is unknown to me but overall, the acting is reasonably good.

In my opinion, you watch this version for Olivier and to a lesser degree John Hurt.  They provide the stand out performances that elevate this above an average television version.  It is sad to see how frail Olivier is here.  He was 75 years old at the time and in extremely poor health.  This was his last attempt at Shakespeare.  But he gives the lines their due.  He allows Lear to make sense to an audience struggling with this bizarre set of characters and circumstances.  He was still a great actor even here at the end of his life.  That is not to say that the performance was perfect, although I believe it had more to do with technical problems of a television production.  During the Storm scene Lear’s voice is difficult to understand over the wind and rain noises.  If the video has captioning then this will not be as big a problem.  Also, some of the staging is a little odd to me.  The torches that were used during some of the scenes look very odd and I assume this was a limitation of the television cameras used to capture the action.

Overall, this is not a masterpiece like Olivier’s Hamlet or even a slick commercial production like Henry V that had a robust budget and a great supporting cast.  This is a modest production with a mixture of greater and lesser talent.  But it is your only chance to see Laurence Olivier as King Lear.  If that interests you then you should see it if it is available to you from whatever source you obtain your movies.

08JUN2020 – Quote of the Day

“I am asham’d that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?”

William Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew)

 

If Camera Girl gets wind of this she’ll probably poison my food.

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