Open Thread: Shakespeare

One more open thread, because it's Monday and I totes need it.

Shakespeare adaptations: favorites and hated.

I can't stand "Romeo + Juliet". I can't immediately explain why, but I think it's because I didn't think the original voice fit well with the flashy modern setting. I loved "O". I liked the setting and the adaptation, but I additionally loved that 'Desi' and 'Emily' were given really strong characters in a play that has sometimes been approached from a very problematic perspective. (There's an awesome essay out there about misogyny through famous Othello performances and how it often revolves around how the scarf is lost/taken from Desdemona.)

I am also extremely fond of "King of Texas" (King Lear) and this adaptation of "Richard III".



Makabit said...

I love "Romeo + Juliet". It seems to be very much a YMMV adaptation--most people I talk to can't stand it. Something about its over-the-top setting, the oddly spliced text...actually, I fell in love with the newscaster doing the Prologue, and after that, I was totally sold. I also like the Zeffirelli, although the prevalence of blue-eyed English actors in heavy tan makeup does make me giggle a little. This is counterbalanced by the fact that Olivia Hussey is so beautiful that it's almost unbelievable.

As I've mentioned here before, the Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh "Much Ado About Nothing" is fabulous. The ending still sucks--Shakespeare's ending sucked, and the movie's ending sucks, and there's relatively little to do about that--but the cast is phenomenal, and it's just so PRETTY.

"Throne of Blood", the Kurosawa adaptation of Macbeth. It's done in Japanese, and is only vaguely related to the original. It still works. I was told by my English teacher that we'd remember the scene where Macbeth dies, but what I actually recall all these years later is Lady Macbeth, in formal kimono, washing her hands over and over, and crying.

And, although it is about an actor doing Shakespeare, rather than being Shakespeare, I must give a shout-out to "The Goodbye Girl", if nothing else, for the moment when Richard Dreyfuss yells "Gay liberation is going to hang me from Shakespeare's statue by my testicles!"

Hate--I had weird issues with the Al Pacino "Merchant". It's such a problematic text anyway, and they didn't seem to know what the hell they were doing with it. At one point I paused the movie and went to help my husband find something, and then I realized: "Wait, that was Al Pacino doing 'Hath not a Jew eyes' and you just walked away? WOW this could have been better." Not sure, once again, if it's that the play itself, frankly, is not just loaded, but not really the best of Shakespeare's plots (and Shakespeare's plots, especially in comedy, can be doofusy), or that they really didn't know what to do with it, or both.

bekabot said...

I lovelovelove the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet. It's got everything: love, sex, war, dysfunctional family dynamics, philosophy and a funeral and a palace!!!. (Squeeee!!) OK so it's more than 4 hours long: it's a movie and don't need no stinkin' scene changes and it runs like jackalope created in a lab. George Bernard Shaw promised that any version of Hamlet which would run full length, with few to no cuts and with short scene changes would "not be tedious" and I think the Branagh version of this play proves him right. (I also think that Branagh was influenced by Shaw's criticism when planning this movie.)

I like the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet because of the gorgeous Juliet. She's got fantastic hair. I don't think I need a better reason than that.

Ana Mardoll said...

Seconding the love for MUCH ADO and HAMLET. Funny thing about Hamlet: I think that's the first role I saw Brannagh in and I just thought he was SOOO dreamy. Maybe it's the bleached hair.

hapax said...

That episode of "Moonlighting" where the cast did Taming of the Shrew.

Maybe it's just because I loved Moonlighting, but we showed it to our kids -- who had never heard of the show, and weren't much up on Shakespeare, either -- and they loved it.

Also, the Flying Karamazov Brothers version The Comedy of Errors.

Dav said...

I really love Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, too, especially how heat-drenched the setting is, and how fantastically great Emma Thompson is.

I admit to not really liking Hamlet all that much. There are productions I like, but the play doesn't grab me on any visceral level. I think Branagh's Hamlet is great, and Patrick Stewart as Claudius is awesome-sauce, but I prefer others.

Did anyone see the BBC drama Shakespeare remakes? They did Macbeth ( and Taming of the Shrew, and a couple of others. Some were great, some not so much, but I did really like their Macbeth.

In other news, I've got a grad school interview this week. This is pretty much my one shot this year, so all happy thoughts are appreciated. I even mostly solved the "what the hell am I going to wear" crisis, which was non-trivial. Finding appropriate clothes when you're fat, short, busty, inclined towards dishevelment, and have no foundation stuff to work from is hard, y'all.

Michael Mock said...

I'm more than a little embarrassed to admit this, but I was watching 10 Things I Hate About You for the second time before I realized I was looking at The Taming of the Shrew. And, I don't know, it's a little cheesy, but I enjoyed it.

The one that really blew my mind, though, wasn't Shakespeare at all. It was Cruel Intentions - I would never have guessed that Dangerous Liaisons would translate into a high school setting anywhere near that well.

Rikalous said...

This MacBeth ( ) is very cool. It's very atmospheric, with lots of concrete and industrial lighting, and stars Patrick Stewart with a Stalin 'stache.

Brannagh's performance made it impossible for me to not read Hamlet as bipolar.

Susan B. said...

One of my favorites is Scotland, PA--a comedic interpretation of Macbeth. Macbeth is an employee at a diner called Duncan's, and when he takes over after Mr. Duncan's mysterious death he changes the name to McBeth's (complete with large golden "M"). The whole thing is very funny if you like dark comedy.

Fluffy_goddess said...

I remember those! They were, as I recall, very, very good. I really loved their Taming of the Shrew, especially the actress who plays Katherine. Plus, the ending, jurer gurl fgngr gung gur jvsr'f qhgl gb ybir naq borl ure uhfonaq vf rdhny gb uvf qhgl gb ybir naq borl ure, which is just lovely.

Of course, my second favourite version of Taming of the Shrew is Kiss Me Kate, because Shakespeare + Cole Porter is an awesome combination. It is key, though, to *watch* the damn thing, or at least read the liner notes, because if all you do is listen to the soundtrack you'll miss a good chunk of the plot, including the subtext of the ending. (Fur fubbgf gur nhqvrapr n tvnag jvax nf fur fvatf nobhg ubj jbzra zhfg borl gurve uhfonaqf, juvpu xvaq bs gheaf gur fbat sebz bu-tbq-jung-gur-urpx-vf-fur-fnlvat gb bu-vg'f-n-wbxr-fur'f-fgvyy-na-vaqrcraqrag-jbzna. Vg'f n cvrpr bs irel arprffnel fgntrpensg, va zl bcvavba.)

Mary Kaye said...

Not a movie, but the Oregon Shakespeare Festival did _The Tempest_ with Prospero and his brother both women, and for some reason that was such a huge improvement that I'm not sure I'll ever appreciate the original again. It just did wonders for Prospero's motivations.

Neither my husband nor I can stand _Romeo and Juliet_ and we have never seen a production to change our minds. Last OSF festival the family started talking about this (my siblings are drama buffs) and we plotted out a production in which Romeo and Juliet are elderly people in a nursing home, and the families standing in their way are their siblings and kids, not their parents. I'd like to see that production, actually. I think it would go a long way to justify their sense of urgency if they knew they only had a few years left to live in any case.

Ana Mardoll said...

we plotted out a production in which Romeo and Juliet are elderly people in a nursing home, and the families standing in their way are their siblings and kids,

Oooooooooooh. I really like that idea!

Rebekah said...

I am waiting for the day HBO or Showtime decides to make a miniseries out of the Histories. They are so trashy and sexy, and there's so much power struggling going on in every single scene, so many bad jokes and petty insults that blow up in people's faces and actually wreck the whole Joan of Arc and people making out with decapitated heads and sons discovering they've killed their parents only after the fact and queer subtext and fierce warrior queens...come on cable networks!

Miri said...

Yes to Shakespeare plus Cole Porter! I agree with the Kiss Me, Kate love (especially when starring Brian Stokes Mitchell, mmm) but even in little throwaway bits it's a winning combination - one of my favourite Cole Porter lines just for the delicious dryness is something like:

"Was it Romeo, or Juliet
Who said when about to die:
'Love is not all peaches and cream'?"

Nora said...

Yes to Scotland, PA! Christopher Walken as the Macduff character (his name is even Macduff), some really funny dark stuff (or dark funny stuff, whichever way you see it), and three hippies as the three witches. Also, in this version, the Macbeths were clearly and obviously hot for each other, which worked very well with the plot.

Susan B. said...

Wow, Romeo and Juliet in a nursing home--that would be AMAZING!

Samantha C said...

Totally enjoyed about Ten Things I Hate About You - we watched that one immediately after reading Shrew and it was a lot of fun. I do feel like I never quite enjoy any production as much as the one in my head when I read the play, which kind of misses the point but eeh...

My mom always used to tell me about a run the Flying Karamosov Brothers (the juggling team) once did where they recited Shakespeare while juggling. She said it was suddenly easy to pay attention, especially to such slight-of-hand comedies as Comedy of Errors.

bekabot said...

Scotland PA, yay yay yay!!

"Maybe McBeth should kill McDuff's whole family?"
"Yeah that would work, like 1,000 years ago!"

Time has no effect on a really hardy trope...

"Maybe it's the bleached hair."

Bleached hair and black clothes. Yummmmmmmm. Like vanilla fudge covered up with chocolate death sauce, Beefcake Edition.

(BTW, I'd like to apologize to ana for not having thanked her for all the times she told me that I had a good point or that I was right [which I love]. I never said "thank you", thereby proving my bad manners. So, in order to make up for my remissness, I'm saying "thank you" now.)

Launcifer said...

I quite liked the version of Coriolanus that got released in the United Kingdom last month. The final act's a bit of a damp squib and there I think it could have done with a little bit more money being thrown at it but, considering it was probably a bit of a vanity project, Ralph Fiennes deserves a helluva lot of credit for the feel of it - and for coaxing an actual performance out of Gerard Butler.

Also feeling the love for Throne of Blood. I got six of Kirusowa's dvds for Christmas last year, and I keep meaning to watch it again. There's also Ran, which has a King Lear vibe going on, though I haven't watched it properly as yet.

I also did a fun version of The Tempest where Caliban was a normal-looking chap and everyone else in the cast was... not.

Dunno how I feel about The Merchant..., actually. I mean, Bassanio's a plot cipher and nothing else, the rubbish with the rings is, well, rubbish and Shylok and Graziano - when done well - feel like refugees from a far better play. That said, Shylok's like he's all over the place as a character and that courtroom scene is just ludicrous.

Ana Mardoll said...

Ah, aren't you sweet? Thank you!!!

Ana Mardoll said...

Heh. I'd love to see that. :D

Fluffy_goddess said...

And perhaps Rachel York? I think that production is still up on youtube somewhere, unless I've confused my male leads.

Though I think Sondheim is just as fond of witty lines. And possibly the old Rogers and Hammerstein musicals. And, uh, most of them, really -- musical theatre is strung together, as my father is fond of describing it, with a lot of jokes, as little sense as they think they can get away with, and somebody in a funny hat. Why the funny hat seems to be a requirement I don't know, but I love them anyway.

Silver Adept said...

I am pleased to note that I have seen just about all of the television/movie/play versions discussed above. I would like to see the Tennant/Stewart Hamlet before passing judgement completely on Hamlet.

I am also mostly with the majority to this point - Brannagh/Thompson Much Ado is kickass, 10 Things I Hate About You is pretty good, Romeo + Juliet was a better concept than the actors were giving it (Gnomeo and Juliet is a much better version in general), the Al Pacino Merchant...just didn't, and I also have to pan the Callista Flockhart Midsummer Night's Dream - it didn't work for me all that much.

As for live performances, the absolute best Midsummer Night's Dream I have seen was a university theater company's - the Queen of the fairies was dressed in drag, the King of the fairies was a chain-smoker, and the sign of his invisibility was flipping up the hood on his hoodie. Minimal set but a great production.

I also got to see a play...can't remember if it was a History or a Macbeth, but in the intermission, the daughter of one of the characters went around soliciting donations for a fun to save her father. (Proceeds, of course, supported the non-profit festival.)

And then I got to see The Tempest...where the first scene was a theater group reading the first scene of the Tempest, and then we went into the play with the set and costumes. Enchanting...

@Launcifer -

I always saw (and played, when we read Merchant in one of my classes) Graziano as the dirty old man of the troupe. What do you think?

Makabit said...

Speaking as a fat, medium height, busty dishevelled person, I couldn't agree with you more. Glad you found something to wear!

Makabit said...

I think that the problem with Romeo and Juliet in most variations is that it's evident, even to teenagers, that this love is not only doomed, but also kind of stupid. Which I think can be argued to be Shakepeare's point to some extent, but still...

I keep feeling that if you could build on it more from the perspective of the families, it would be more...tragic.

As I may have mentioned, I have a stack of notes for a slashfic with an R&J ending, based on the idea that Tybalt and Benvolio are having an affair during the perion of the play, and I actually find that I feel sorrier for the main pair when I try to see them through the eyes of their cousins.

Makabit said...

And speaking of the Histories--I don't know how I forgot Branagh's Henry V. I just love the hell out of it.

depizan said...

I think that the problem with Romeo and Juliet in most variations is that it's evident, even to teenagers, that this love is not only doomed, but also kind of stupid.

Which is why I think you could also stage it as a very black comedy.

Makabit said...

I keep trying to figure out what it is with Shylock. I have to assume that at the end he's just a grasping, funny stage Jew to Shakespeare, beacause otherwise the ending tastes really nasty...and yet, he gives him these lines...

As a twenty-first century Jewish woman, it's almost impossible for me to look at "Merchant" and see what Shakespeare saw, or his audience, or figure out if those are the same things they're seeing. But I keep trying.

Mostly, I think it's an awfully bad play, though. In the Pacino version, I found myself really cheering for Gratiano and Nerissa, because they're the only people I don't want to punch.

Launcifer said...

I might well be influenced by the chap who played him in the production I did ten years ago, actually. The guy was very imposing and just had a way of throwing out his lines like virtually every one was a subtle threat. It got to the point where, during his little bit in the courtroom scene where Graziano taunts Shylok, I was half-convinced the character had a secret life as a seria killer. As a result I've now decided that the character should be the enforcer of Bassanio's little clique.

Makabit said...

I've always thought that Richard III would work well as a comedy. Richard is God's judgement on the House of York. It's horrible, but it's also hilarious. Or could be.

John Cleese as Richard.
Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn as Margaret and the Duchess of York.

(Yes, some people on this list are dead, but it doesn't matter, since I will never actually get to stage it.)

My objection to most Richard IIIs is that they cut out the bickering between Margaret and the Duchess, which really gives the whole thing its zing. And Margaret is one of Shakespeare's greatest underrated characters, in her last hurrah in Richard III.

Launcifer said...

That's the thing, though. I almost want to believe that Shakespeare was going for something less demonising than, say, The Jew of Malta and absolutely bottled it, but that courtroom scene is so needlessly vicious on all sides that I can't sell it to myself.

Then again, that sort of character generally makes me extremely uncomfortable anyway. The only one I can think of that doesn't is Isaac of York in Ivanhoe and, even then, it took the realisation that Sir Walter Scott had apparently based the more stereotypical aspects of the character on a historical figure to ease the squeamishness.

Joshua said...

For a less than completely serious version of Richard III, I love the first season of Blackadder.

I'm also quite fond of the Zeffirelli Hamlet that starred Mel Gibson. Gibson has a very natural line delivery that makes you empathise with the character. His Hamlet was a real person I, at least, could understand. Most of the admittedly limited amount of Shakespeare I've seen performed lacks that - the actors stand there reciting lines in a foreign language while the director desperately thinks of some gimmick to set his or her production apart from 1000 others.

Which is definitely what Romeo + Juliet was doing, although I quite liked it too. Mostly because it looks so fantastic, if that's the sort of thing you like. Its desperate gimmick was done very well.

Makabit said...

"I almost want to believe that Shakespeare was going for something less demonising than, say, The Jew of Malta and absolutely bottled it, but that courtroom scene is so needlessly vicious on all sides that I can't sell it to myself."

It puzzles me. Barabas is a purely evil comic character. Shylock is given these weird, soaring lines where he speaks for himself so eloquently, as he hustles along through a play where he's otherwise a stock plot impediment. (Shakespeare's villains tend to suck, in general. Shylock is rather odd in actually having a real motivation for being a bastard. Or, as some commenter once put it "Lest Shylock be thought a hard man without cause, it should be pointed out that he has been having a hell of a day.")

It's possible that I misunderstand...that Shakespeare thought Shylock's self-explanation would ring hollow and malevolent, and didn't count on a future reader who would actually feel sympathy for the trials of a Jew in Venice. But really--those lines are supposed to be hollow? Hard to imagine.

But if I accept that I'm actually supposed to feel that he is more than a stock villain as he makes his speeches in the first acts, then what am I to make of that final scene in court? The 'heroes' of the piece go after him like hyenas, which is apparently supposed to be the happy ending. Does Shakespeare mean for me to think that Portia and Antonio are soulless monsters? Or did Shakespeare mean for me to listen to "Hath not a Jew eyes" and still see nothing different from Marlowe's Barabas?

I can't fit the pieces together. It may be that Will and I are just too culturally distant to ever connect on this one.

Makabit said...

"Then again, that sort of character generally makes me extremely uncomfortable anyway. The only one I can think of that doesn't is Isaac of York in Ivanhoe and, even then, it took the realisation that Sir Walter Scott had apparently based the more stereotypical aspects of the character on a historical figure to ease the squeamishness."

My 2010 NANO, which I am now going back to, stars a mystery-solving, money-lending Jewish woman living in thirteenth century Winchester. She would have liked Isaac.

It's interesting, looking at medieval England--which is such a familiar setting to me from literature--from the point of view of someone living in the middle of it who is from a cultural perspective that's utterly alien to 99% of the population.

Makabit said...

I apologize to everyone from jumping on this thread so rabidly. I apparently needed to talk about Shakespeare.

depizan said...

Nothing wrong with needing to talk about Shakespeare.

Dav said...

I still totally want to read your 2010 NANO. Whenever it gets written.

The Othello rap makes me cringe, but it has some great lines, too.

Desdemona she was fearful, she was chastity-tight.
She was the daughter of the Duke (yeah, she was totally white).
Now Othello loved Desi like Adonis loved Venus.
And Desi loved Othello --
'Cuz he had a big sword.

Makabit said...

The version I know goes:

But Iago was a freak from the planet Venus,
He was crafty, he was sly, he had a big sword,
He said 'I'm gonna shaft the Moor',
'How you gonna do it? Tell us.'
'Well you know his tragic flaw is that he's too damn jealous.'

Rebekah said...

"And Margaret is one of Shakespeare's greatest underrated characters, in her last hurrah in Richard III."

Yes!! I personally prefer her in the Henry VIs, when she is slinging a sword around and having her own damn sex life if her super-pious husband won't oblige, thankyouverymuch, but she's basically amazing in every play she's in.

Nick said...

Ugh, I hate "Romeo + Juliet" so much.

Michael Mock said...

Also, I am now legally compelled to traumatize you all with the version of Macbeth that completely broke my brain:


Michael Mock said...

Sorry, not MacBeth: Julius Caesar.

I need more coffee.

Will Wildman said...

A few years back I saw the first couple of episodes of an anime series called Romeo X Juliet. It's a bit meta, as well as being a weird genre mashup in that way that anime loves to be - it's set on a flying city and Juliet has a secret identity as a sort of Zorro rogue, the Red Whirlwind, destabilising the oppressive regime of the Montague family, who murdered all the other Capulets when she was an infant. There are also dragon horses. But, you know, other than that it's basically like Shakespeare.

I thought the recent Tennant/Stewart edition of Hamlet was pretty excellent, but then I'm willing to say that of most productions in which the actors speak Shakespeare's dialogue as if they're actually talking, rather than reciting at each other.

Fluffy_goddess said...

That... is indeed brain-breaky.

Though if I could find it on youtube, I'd offer up the version of King Lear we watched in highschool: the production values were, to say the least, awful (you could see the tinfoil wrapped around their swords, and all the costumes had that shiny look of 70s-era B-movie science fiction), all the actors said their lines, stopped, and then reacted to what had just been said, and the only emoting done in the whole film was between Edmund and Edgar.

I walked out and traumatised my friends my stating that I could've slashed those two, but nobody else had any chemistry on screen at all.

Makhno said...

This seems as good a thread as any to plug my book in:

(I'm not a spambot, I'm a regular reader and occasional commenter who happens to have written a book on the subject under discussion!)

Makhno said...


> Barabas is a purely evil comic character

*Everybody* in "The Jew of Malta" is a bastard. Barabas is a bastard with style.

hapax said...

My favorite final scene of a TAMING OF THE SHREW was one in which, after Katherine gave her little lecture on wifely duty:

Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot:
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready; may it do him ease

Petruchio places his booted heel in her outstretched palm -- and Katherine promptly flips him flat on his back and walks away, wiping her hands in satisfaction.

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