tempestsarekind: (brighter than sunflowers)
Wow, I just managed to make myself really sad about the way that both Romeo and Juliet talk explicitly about how little time they've been married before Tybalt's death and Romeo's banishment (Romeo cries out that he is "an hour but married"; Juliet calls herself Romeo's "three-hours' wife") - because that's why it's so important that Romeo has to die in Juliet's tomb, even to the extent of killing Paris to get there; that's where they can be married forever: their timeless end, their dateless bargain, Romeo's everlasting rest. I mean, I already knew this - it's there even in Juliet's early line "my grave is like to be my wedding bed" - but for some reason it just hit me at an odd angle today.

Also, tomorrow is Juliet's birthday - "Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen" - so I also managed to make myself really sad about the fact that at the beginning of the play, we know exactly how many days are left ("a fortnight and odd days") until that fourteenth birthday she will never see.
tempestsarekind: (martha at the globe)
Ever since watching the R&J episode of Shakespeare Uncovered, I've wondered what Jade Anouka was like as Juliet. Turns out that in creating their new Teach Shakespeare website, Shakespeare's Globe posted a handful of - snowy - clips from their 2013 Playing Shakespeare production. Here you can see the lovers' sonnet:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sf-L9hlcRQ

(I'm afraid I don't remember the name of the actor playing opposite her - and the website isn't great on metadata.)

The website, with more videos, is here:
http://teach.shakespearesglobe.com/romeo-and-juliet-videos?previous=/library/category/video-9

also

Jul. 7th, 2016 07:48 pm
tempestsarekind: (trespass sweetly urged)
I just bought my ticket for the screening of Branagh's Romeo and Juliet. I'm still kind of miffed about the whole Jacobi-playing-Mercutio thing, and I don't really get why he seems to have filmed the production in black-and-white, but Romeo and Juliet are my babies, so I really have little choice but to go.

Anyway, might be worth checking your local cinemas, if they screen these sorts of things and update their websites regularly. The screening here isn't until September 1 (although the UK screenings started today, I think?), but other cinemas will probably have other dates.
tempestsarekind: (ophelia)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKssqbesfZo

We spent quite a bit of time on Juliet's "vial" soliloquy in class this year - which is not particularly relevant to anything, except that we spent a lot of time talking about how the verse picks up the pace as it goes along, as Juliet's shorter, more measured sentences become this long tangle of a sentence that keeps breaking off and starting over, as she gets more and more frantic. It's interesting to listen to an acclaimed Victorian actress recite the speech, presumably in a way that audiences approved of,* as it's so different: stately, and magisterial, and I'm sure thrilling, but not frantic in the way I'd expect it to be based on the language. But acting styles change, of course.



*My favorite Ellen Terry story - not that I have tons of them or anything - is still that guy who proposed to his sweetheart by saying basically, "Since Ellen won't, will you?" I should find that anecdote again.

noooo why

Jul. 18th, 2015 06:39 pm
tempestsarekind: (excuse me what)
So Branagh is doing Romeo and Juliet and The Winter's Tale at the Garrick Theatre in London, alongside Terrence Rattigan's Harlequinade, which is apparently a play about a company that tries to put on Romeo and Juliet and The Winter's Tale. I like the idea of this grouping, and a lot of the casting sounds really amazing (Dame Judi Dench as Paulina! Michael Pennington as Antigonus!) or intriguing (Jessie Buckley as Perdita! Her Miranda for the Globe had a lot of potential). But then there's this weird thing:

Reuniting the stars of his celebrated film of Cinderella, Kenneth Branagh directs Richard Madden and Lily James as Romeo and Juliet and Derek Jacobi as Mercutio, in Shakespeareʼs heartbreaking tale of forbidden love.
http://www.branaghtheatre.com/romeo-and-juliet/index.php

I just - no. 1) Mercutio is not an elderly man; that's just creepy and weird. (I know productions have done middle-aged Mercutios, but…come on, man, why is this old dude trying to fight Tybalt?) 2) This (casting a way more famous actor) looks like exactly the kind of move people make when they want to make Mercutio more important than the lovers, and I hate that: there isn't another Shakespeare tragedy where people are constantly trying to downplay the presence and importance of the title characters, but of course Romeo and Juliet are just stupid teenagers, and Shakespeare really cared about Mercutio. Double plus ugh. And 3)…I don't actually like Derek Jacobi doing Shakespeare all that much? Of course I respect his talent, and I recognize that this is totally my problem, and probably my bad taste, rather than an objective judgment, but his performances just bounce off of me and leave me cold.

Anyway. I have no particular feelings about Lily James, since I've only seen her in Downton Abbey, or Richard Madden, since I don't watch Game of Thrones (although I liked him in the Birdsong miniseries - but I didn't watch it very carefully). Apparently Richard Madden played Romeo in the Globe's touring production of R&J back in 2007, though - and his Adopt an Actor blog posts are up on the website:

http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/discovery-space/adopt-an-actor/archive/romeo-played-by-richard-madden

So that could be interesting: it's rare that an actor gets to take a second crack at playing Romeo professionally because he's such a young character. (The same is true of Juliet.) But now I'm all unnecessarily crabby about a production I won't ever get to see (unless perhaps they film it).
tempestsarekind: (dido plus books)
Reading an interview with Gugu Mbatha-Raw pulled up this tidbit:

At RADA, Gugu’s contemporaries included Ben Whishaw, Tom Hiddleston and Andrea Riseborough, all former nominees for the Rising Star gong. Shortly after graduation, she was Juliet to Andrew Garfield’s Romeo at the Manchester Royal Exchange, when they were both 22.

Well, this is the worst; everything is terrible. (Oddly enough, I was thinking "I bet she would have made a wonderful Juliet" at an earlier point while reading this article, because Harry Lloyd got mentioned, and he was one of my fancasts for Romeo for a while.)

I mean, I did see her as Ophelia opposite Jude Law, but… Juliet, you know? My heart-girl, my best beloved. I can just imagine Gugu's radiance in Belle in that role.
tempestsarekind: (where comedy meets romance)
I thought I posted this when I wrote it - back in October - but it wasn't in my Globe tag when I went looking for other productions I'd seen James Garnon in. I like how this is incredibly representative of me, in that it turns into a Romeo and Juliet rant partway through. At least I'm consistent?

29 October 2014

One of these days, I would like to see The Tempest and have the director take Miranda seriously, and not make her into a whiny, stomping child. Unfortunately, yesterday was not that day - although I did get a wonderfully alien Ariel in Colin Morgan, and a fascinating Caliban from James Garnon, who is quickly rising to the top of my Shakespeare's Globe Awesome People list. (I don't really have a list; I haven't seen enough repeat actors in Globe parts to make a list. It would basically be him and Philip Cumbus, and possibly Joseph Timms.) Seriously, though - Miranda is one of those Shakespearean heroines that I have feelings about but I’m never sure whether anyone else does (Hermia and Emilia belong on this list), and the whole point of her part of the play is that she is growing into a woman; even if she's somewhat sheltered and untried, she needs to be mature and poised enough to make decisions for herself, including the decision to get married. And in the text she is. Jessie Buckley, in the performance I saw last night, had to add the whining over the top of a line like "My affections are then most humble. I have no desire to see a goodlier man" (imagine a sitcom teenager stomping her foot and going, "Daaaaaaaad! You're so embarrassing! GOD," and you'll basically have the tone) – when textually, that line is all about Miranda standing up to her father and expressing her own desires. And it was a real shame, because there were moments last night where I could see the less stereotypical version in Buckley's performance, and she could have been really good at that: you could practically see her Miranda growing up in front of us in the way she said "Hence, bashful cunning," for example. (That line is so much like Juliet's "But farewell, compliment," and I love it for similar reasons: they're no longer playing by the rule book that's been set out for them.)

(I also think a lot of productions have similar problems with Juliet: they don't know how to make her seem young without making her into a caricature of a teenager or a whiny idiot - which is nowhere in the text, really, unless you think she's not supposed to get upset when terrible things happen to her, I guess. It's sort of like how people complain about Romeo being "whiny" when he's crying in Friar Lawrence's cell - you know, a couple of hours after one of his best friends died more or less in his arms, and then he killed a man, and then he found out he was being banished from the only home he'd ever known and would never be able to see his new bride again. I mean - yeah, suck it up, Romeo, you baby. Real men don't cry when they kill people.) (I honestly think one of the weirdest R&J phenomena is the way that people take the Friar's words as an accurate summation of what's happening in the play, or how characters should behave. I mean, that dude does not have the best track record? Ah well.)

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

While I'm posting random Shakespeare things from October 2014 that I thought I'd already posted, here's another:

I have a weird and irrational antipathy to Tom Hiddleston's Prince Hal/Henry V - I couldn't even watch the episodes because every time he said something, it was like nails on a blackboard. I mean, why would you even put the stress on "And gentlemen in England now abed / Shall think themselves accursed they were NOT here"? The whole point - and the natural stress pattern of the line - is that they are not HERE, with all the other soldiers who form the St. Crispin's Day brotherhood. The goal is to glorify the "here," not care about the others' absence. (Also, bizarrely, I think his clear love for the H5 speeches gets in his way, because he treats them with too much reverence and not enough point; he forgets what they're for, which is to convince and inspire the very specific individuals in front of him, not just to sound generally stirring in a broad sort of way.)

(back to me today) This is the most nitpicky thing to get upset about, and I swear I am not usually one of those "Respect the verse!" people (like Charles Kingman in Slings & Arrows), although I think that the stress patterns can give you cues and clues if you let it, but Hiddleston's line readings kept throwing me off so badly when I tried to watch Henry V that I never even went back to try the Henry IVs. Some of it was clearly residual Jamie Parker adoration - the way he reaches out as if to touch the very air on the word "here" is still imprinted on my mind - but not all of it.
tempestsarekind: (geoffrey)
In class on Wednesday, we were talking about the word "cousin" in Shakespeare, and how it gets used for close familial relationships even if the characters aren't literally cousins. One of my students declared that Hamlet calls Horatio "cousin" at one point; I was skeptical, but she was insistent, and I don't have the play memorized, so I let it go. I just looked this up using Open Source Shakespeare, though, and it turns out that there are only four uses of the word "cousin" in Hamlet - and every one of them is Claudius to Hamlet. I find this fascinating, that attempt to insist on closeness when there are onlookers present. "How fares our cousin Hamlet?"

(…oh no, now I am having feelings about the fact that Romeo calls Tybalt "cousin" in the Capulet vault; he's claiming him out loud as family in a way he couldn't do when Tybalt challenged him, this is the worst and everything is terrible.)

(also, there are apparently only three uses of "cousin" in Othello, and only two of those are terms of address - which makes a lot of sense, because Desdemona gets cut off from her kinsmen by joining Othello in Cyprus, and Othello has no community ties of that sort; they are both terribly isolated and vulnerable.)

eeeee yay!

Nov. 21st, 2014 12:01 pm
tempestsarekind: (danielle laugh [ever after])
The Globe is doing Richard II next year!

http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/globe-theatre/richard-ii-2015

Now if only they decide to cast Jamie Parker as Richard (and film it, of course)…


In not really related news, we started doing Juliet's "Gallop apace" today in class. Bliss. Stressed syllables and plosives together, how wonderful.

hmph.

Sep. 30th, 2014 11:45 am
tempestsarekind: (berowne [david tennant 2008])
There is a wrong answer in this Guardian quiz, and it's really annoying me:
Quiz - which Shakespeare characters speak these lines about love?
http://www.theguardian.com/stage/quiz/2014/sep/30/quiz-shakespeare-characters-lines-love

So question 2 asks you to guess who says the line "Love each other in moderation"… the problem is that this isn't actually a Shakespeare quotation. The answer is supposed to be Friar Laurence, who *actually* says "Therefore love moderately; long love doth so." "Love each other in moderation" - at least as far as I can tell from Google - is actually the "No Fear Shakespeare" translation of this line.

Bah.

(It is true that I would probably be less annoyed if this mistake didn't remind me that "No Fear Shakespeare" is a thing that exists.)

[Addendum: when you search for "moderation" in a Shakespeare concordance - okay, when I just did this out of curiosity - you only get one result, which is from Troilus and Cressida and nothing like that line in the Guardian quiz. This is surprising to me, though; I would have expected a lot more results. And "moderate" only comes back with seven, two of which are also from Troilus. "Immoderate" and "immoderately" both come back with one result (the latter I should have remembered, since it's from R&J: "Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt's death.") I kept trying to remember what Claudius says to Hamlet - "unmanly" grief, while Gertrude, of course, uses "common" and "particular" to mark out Hamlet's lack of moderation. I thought that perhaps "seemly" and "unseemly" would get more hits, but there are only two uses of the first and one of the second. "Temperate," though, has eight uses in the plays and one in Sonnet 18.]
tempestsarekind: (globe)
We may make it as far as Romeo and Juliet's farewell scene today ("Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day"), although I have my doubts. Still, in preparing it for discussion, I'm struck again - this has been the case throughout this reading of the play - by how alive the language of Romeo and Juliet is. Literally so, almost: the two of them make everything participate in their love affair; they personify everything, turning day and night themselves into witnesses and conversation partners and teachers ("Come, civil Night, / Thou sober-suited matron all in black, / And learn me how to lose a winning match / Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods"). Characters like the Nurse, and Lord and Lady Capulet, rely on cliches and proverbs and abstractions, but Romeo and Juliet - and this is hard to remember, because their speeches have become so famous - see everything with new eyes, question everything, ask how to make some new observation about the world. Yes, sonnets often compare a lover's eyes to stars or the lover to the sun - but Romeo talks back to the moon ("Be not her maid, since she is envious. / Her vestal livery is but sick and green, / And none but fools do wear it") and imagines that stars might hold some conversation with Juliet's eyes ("Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, / Having some business, do entreat her eyes / To twinkle in their spheres till they return"), and then still isn't content until he's explored that imaginative idea more fully: "What if her eyes were there, they in her head? / The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars / As daylight doth a lamp" (my emphasis). Juliet demands that the night listen to her, and move faster - I think she ought to *run* onstage with that first line of her first soliloquy, with that first stressed syllable unlike your usual iambic rhythm: "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds, / Towards Phoebus' lodging…" (Can we talk, as well, about the plosives in "Gallop apace"? And then the sharp, emphatic alliteration of "fiery-footed", and of "such a waggoner / As Phaeton would whip you to the west"? This girl means business.)

Which is why Romeo's final personification, of "insubstantial Death" as "amorous," breaks my heart, because it's that same imaginative energy, to the very last, but put to such a final, tragic use.

[I wrote this before class. We didn't actually get to the scene after all, but we'll start there tomorrow.]
tempestsarekind: (where is my romeo)
I wrote this a while ago, and then couldn't get LJ to let me post it; I just found it again in my files:


I'd more or less forgotten that I took notes on that ASC production of Romeo and Juliet, in a cafe in Staunton between conference panels. So I'd completely forgotten that I wrote this: "I want to find a way, someday, to really stress the stakes for Juliet especially. I think we have a stubborn cultural amnesia about the fact that Romeo and Juliet aren't just boyfriend and girlfriend; they are husband and wife."

Because we do have an annoying tendency to talk about the leads as though they were just going to "break up" in a few weeks if they hadn't died - and that completely belittles the actual commitment they've made to each other. And Juliet, especially, is placing that tie above her old kinship ties: when the Nurse is appalled that she can speak well of Romeo, who killed her cousin, her immediate reply - and it's so important that this is a moment of isocolon, that the lines echo each other almost exactly - is "Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?" She takes that absolutely seriously, her chosen duty as a wife. Which is the whole *problem*, I don't really understand why people are so quick to be dismissive about this - the whole problem is that Juliet is already married when her father decides she should marry Paris; Juliet is desperate, in her own words, to "live an unstained wife" to her new husband. This isn't just some fit of teenage overreaction; she's trying not to forswear herself. And Shakespeare pretty much punches us in the face with the word "husband" after Tybalt's death, but somehow people just act like this doesn't matter, because she's just a stupid melodramatic teenager, right?

And, like, what are Juliet's options after Romeo kills himself? The Friar wants to hide her away in a convent, and she's already learned that her parents are ready to throw her out onto the streets the moment she does anything to displease them, so apparently their love and care are conditional - but she's already married the son of her family's greatest enemy, she can't take that back even though he's dead, and they were ready to disown her for less; is it any wonder that she doesn't exactly feel like she's got a future to live for?

And Romeo...he's *killed* someone (the ASC made this great decision to have Romeo flinch bodily away from the Friar, weeping, every time the Friar said the name "Tybalt": he was completely unable to cope, to face what he'd done, and there's the Friar telling him to be a man, when the awful, wrenching *point* is that he's a child), and his best friend is fatally wounded in his arms, because of him, and he's banished from the only home he's ever known -so basically the only thing he has left is Juliet, and the possibility that they might be together in the future (that bit where he says that all their woes "shall serve for sweet discourses in our time to come" just shatters my heart, when it's done right - because he's still imagining that future, the one that might turn all of this nightmare into something good) - and then, nope, sorry, Juliet's dead, as far as he knows. So he gives up - and that's terrible, but it isn't *stupid*.

[Oh, this play. It's not my favorite Shakespeare play - probably fourth or fifth - but it's the one I love that I most constantly want/need to defend. Even if people personally don't like Hamlet, they're usually like, "eh, I hear it's pretty good, though." (And most people I meet have no opinion about Twelfth Night.) But people think R&J is a bad play, often because they've had such bad experiences with it, and partly because culturally we now think rhetoric is bad (one of the things I loved about the ASC production I just saw was that they *got* it, how that rhetoric is often the vibrant play and one-upsmanship of teens - although the couple seated next to me was of the opinion that this was all wrong, that Benvolio's name meant "good will" and he should be serious, "the Horatio to Romeo's Hamlet," and I *may* have thought uncharitably that it's the fault of people like you two that people don't like this play?), but also because we as a culture habitually dismiss the actions and emotions of teenagers as stupid and unimportant.

Also, Juliet is the best, okay. Still upset that Mariah Gale wasn't in a better production, because I'd love to see a really good Juliet in a production that could match her.]
tempestsarekind: (trespass sweetly urged)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHoaPLO6Zd8

Sam Troughton as Romeo and Mariah Gale as Juliet, balcony scene, RSC 2011

*sigh*

I don't think I ever wrote about this production, which my friend and I saw during its run at Lincoln Center. (We saw it at the very end of the run; Sam Troughton had injured himself, so Dyfan Dwyfor was playing Romeo. Also, the fire alarm or something kept going off, and Romeo's torch in the final scene wouldn't go out when it was meant to.) It was a frustrating production - not because of the technical hiccups, but because of various odd gimmicks that didn't quite work: Romeo and Juliet were dressed in modern clothes while the rest of the cast wore Elizabethan-style costumes, until the end, when Juliet dons a white Elizabethan wedding dress, because...their tragedy is that they can't overcome the restrictions of their world with their modernity, I guess. Mostly it made me feel like I was watching a Statement rather than a play - same with the way the production opened, where "Romeo" is actually just some poor modern-day tourist who gets sucked into the action of the play after listening to the prologue as a tourist's guide on an iPod. Also the Capulets' ball was weird and "tribal," don't ask me why. It was all a bit disappointing, because I thought Mariah Gale was wonderful a lot of the time, coltish and smart and wry. (She was a brilliant Celia in the season's AYLI, too, really lovely and playful.)

Anyway, this scene was perhaps the best one, because there's not much in it to gimmick up.
tempestsarekind: (palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss)
Not even sure how I stumbled across this, but here's yet another No Fear Shakespeare "translation":

[The immediately preceding line is "The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand..."]

Romeo: And, touching hers, make blessèd my rude hand.

No Fear: and then I’ll touch her hand with my rough and ugly one.

I don't - I can't... One of the things that is so frustrating about these things is that when they're not changing one word in a perfectly comprehensible line (or in addition to when they're doing that, which is probably more accurate), they completely fail at giving any indication of the figurative language in the original. (They're completely crap at puns. Apparently they translate the Nurse's husband's "fall backward" as "have sex," which...might not be precisely *wrong*, but is totally tone-deaf about the fact that the phrase needs to have two meanings at once in order to be funny.)

I don't think the original line is particularly confusing for a student with a working knowledge of English (I can imagine a student being thrown by "touching hers" and not understanding the need to supply "hand" from the end of the line, but that's a type of construction one can find outside of Shakespeare, and a student who was confused by it would likely have difficulties with modern texts as well). But the translation takes no notice of the range of meaning suggested by "blessed," which leads into the dialogue between Romeo and Juliet ("If I profane with my unworthiest hand..." It's almost like Shakespeare planned the scene out or something). It's a part of Romeo's character, the need to deify Juliet, and it runs throughout the play - but it starts here, in this one little word. And implying that all of that meaning is extraneous, that the only thing that matters is the bare bones of denotation, makes me so frustrated. Students don't need any help thinking that, in my experience; they need resources that show them that connotation and ambiguity are crucial and fascinating - and instead what they get is No Fear Shakespeare.

Bleh.

(There's also meaning in the fact that this is a part of a rhyming passage, which isn't clear in the translation - and that's another thing students tend not to be sensitive to, shifts from prose to verse or blank verse to rhyme, so that's another way in which No Fear Shakespeare is fantastically unhelpful - but I've ranted long enough.)
tempestsarekind: (berowne is perplexed [dt])
David Tennant is playing Malvolio in a BBC Radio 3 production of Twelfth Night on April 22:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01g4vgj

There are also some Globe actors on board: Naomi Frederick (Rosalind in the production of AYLI with Jack Laskey and Jamie Parker) is Viola, and Trystan Gravelle (Berowne in LLL) is Sebastian. They're also doing R&J the week after, with Trystan Gravelle as Romeo.
tempestsarekind: (books and flowers)
Finished reading A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz yesterday. Did I shed some tears at the author's closing paragraphs about what Austen left to the world, out of my gratitude for her existence? Maybe.

I enjoyed the book, overall; if you're familiar with Austen's novels you may find the lessons that the author draws from the parallels between his life and each book somewhat predictable (there are only so many ways the story can wind up, if you're comparing your rich friends to the Bertrams in Mansfield Park), but there are lovely little moments of close reading sprinkled in as well, and those were my favorite bits. (I, too, am predictable.)

I'm bailing on How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche, though. I feel a little bit bad about this, especially because it had been misplaced at the public library when I went to look for it, so the very helpful young woman at the information desk had to make phone calls to different departments and everything. But I've skimmed about half the book, and it's lightweight and rather annoying--it never made me want to move out of skimming mode, let's put it that way. Funny how mainstream Shakespeare books are almost never about Shakespeare--you know, the actual poems and plays, and why we might want to read them.* This one follows suit; it's mostly shallow passes at familiar trivia collected together around vague themes. The chapter that made me give up on the book was the one where Shakespeare supposedly invented teenagers; the one about Othello, for example, was just as tangential and contained an equally tenuous assertion that somehow Shakespeare was responsible for Obama's presidency (because he's...Black! And articulate! And that means that he's cannily reworking the Othello narrative that's so embedded in American culture!), but at least the paragraphs about Paul Robeson and Ira Aldridge were interesting (I suppose, if you hadn't already read this material before; but even then I think the real value of the chapter would be in introducing you to those figures, not what Marche actually has to say about them, which is not all that much), because those men were interesting. The "teenagers" chapter consists of a lot of vague comments about how teenagers are gross and ridiculous but also kind of amazing, and...Shakespeare wrote about that in R&J. And also created the state of teenagerhood as we know it, because (and I'm not making this up) 1) Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes became the face of '90s teendom through playing those roles; and 2) Justin Bieber (...I just realized that I don't know how to spell "Bieber." "Beiber?" They both look equally right to me) was from Stratford, Ontario, which is the home of North America's biggest Shakespeare festival.

Seriously.

This chapter also sheds a bit of light on something I found frustrating at times about A Jane Austen Education as well. Clearly William Deresiewicz cares deeply about Austen; the point of the book is that reading Austen actually made him a better human being. Whether or not one thinks that's possible, he certainly does. But at times this has the effect of turning Austen into something that's good for you but not particularly pleasurable--particularly, though not unexpectedly, with Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility. He goes so far as to tell us that he never was able to grow to like Fanny Price, but he did learn the lesson that the book was meant to teach us by making her the heroine instead of the ebullient Mary Crawford. And with S&S he claims that while Austen respected Elinor Dashwood, she clearly loved Marianne.

And this latter comment in particular is where my feelings about Deresiewicz' book dovetail momentarily with my feelings about Marche's: they both claim to have knowledge about what the authors meant to do that is based on their negative feelings about characters. Because Deresiewicz doesn't care for Elinor but loves Marianne, Austen must have felt the same way and intended for us to feel that way. Because Marche finds Romeo and Juliet ridiculous, Shakespeare must have meant for them to be ridiculous. That's the point, you see! I'm skeptical of those moments, and my hackles go right up--because to me that sort of thing reads like dismissal in disguise: you don't need to question your reaction to a character if you can claim that the author meant for you to feel that way in the first place.

It's true that I'm more aware of these moments because they tend to center around characters that I love (it's possible that people make claims like this that I just miss because they correspond to my feelings). I love both Romeo and Juliet, and I don't think that they're ridiculous. That doesn't mean that we're necessarily supposed to hold them up for emulation or praise, either; they get things horribly wrong, and they make decisions that I don't always agree with. But I don't think the story works if we look down our noses at them, or even if we chuckle fondly and indulgently at their youthful foibles. (I also think that Shakespeare was more than capable of creating a ridiculous lover--see Silvius in As You Like It, who draws our attention to the performance of his love as an attitude in a way that Romeo never does, because Romeo actually believes in all the things some critics and viewers laugh at--so if we were "supposed" to laugh at Romeo and Juliet [I mean as our sole way of engaging with them], there would be more evidence for that view than the falsely syllogistic logic that we're supposed to find them ridiculous because teenagers are ridiculous, and Romeo and Juliet are teenagers. And even Silvius is more than just ridiculous: Rosalind, for all her welcome poking at posturing, chimes in with sympathy for his feelings, and he gets a lovely speech that turns into a communal round; he finds words that speak for all the lovers in the forest. "Ridiculous" is usually far too simple a judgment.) I think the story totally falls apart if we sniff at them and think, "Yeah, if they hadn't killed themselves, they would have broken up in three weeks anyway, because no one loves like that for real." I think it only works if we can imagine that they could actually forge a new community, and "turn [their] households' rancor to pure love," as Friar Lawrence puts it--or at least, if we can understand that they really believe it. They're trying to do something unprecedented, something brilliant; if they fail, and if they don't know how to cope when it all falls apart on them (oh, they're so desperately young), it doesn't mean that they were foolish or ridiculous to try.

Ahem. Anyway. You all know my feelings about Fanny Price and Elinor, too--and maybe it's that I imprinted on Austen, but when Deresiewicz says that "we" think love should be what Marianne believes it to be, an effortless meeting of soul mates instead of a relationship founded on cold-fish words such as "like" and "esteem," I don't recognize myself at all in that "we." He seems to see these two novels in particular as an exercise in denial: Austen holds back the thing we really want, the sparkling heroine and the throbbing love story, in order to teach us to examine our expectations. But the problem with this reading for me, personally, is that I'm always on the side of like and esteem. I'm sure I've said this before in some shape or form, but for me the most romantic line in Pride and Prejudice is not "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you"; it's "For herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him." That takes my breath away, every time I get to that sentence. Being proud of someone you love, being able to like him, esteem him, respect his judgment and his understanding and his character? That's the most romantic thing there is.

(Ugh, I've gone all swoony. Help.)

I know I've said before--probably in conjunction with Edmund Bertram, who usually needs similar defending--that I think "steadiness" is a very sexy word. And if you look at the characters I wind up loving best, from Austen's heroes to my lovely, loyal Rory Williams-Pond, you can see that if I learned a lesson from reading Austen, I learned it really, really well. It's just difficult for me to see that as only a lesson, an exercise in correction, authorial abstemiousness in order to teach us something we didn't really want to know. I think there's an ardency in dependability, and that gets ignored in discussions like these, as though we need to learn how to prefer what is thin and flavorless instead of recognizing that these virtues have a flavor all their own.



*This is also true of a book I otherwise enjoyed, Paul Collins' The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World. I got to the end of the book, which was a nice history of the ups and downs of this famous book as a physical object, and realized that the part Collins left out was why we should care--why we do care; I think that's more accurate--about this book in the first place. It's just taken as a given that we know Shakespeare and that we love him, and I don't think that's true for many, many people. Probably those people aren't likely to be reading these books in the first place, I suppose. I suppose there are people who care about Shakespeare, and people who don't, and the idea that you could make the latter into the former by getting them to read a book is sort of silly. I wish I'd come to that realization before putting myself through years of grad school, though, since that possibility was the whole point of this endeavor.
tempestsarekind: (books and flowers)
Finished reading A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz yesterday. Did I shed some tears at the author's closing paragraphs about what Austen left to the world, out of my gratitude for her existence? Maybe.

I enjoyed the book, overall; if you're familiar with Austen's novels you may find the lessons that the author draws from the parallels between his life and each book somewhat predictable (there are only so many ways the story can wind up, if you're comparing your rich friends to the Bertrams in Mansfield Park), but there are lovely little moments of close reading sprinkled in as well, and those were my favorite bits. (I, too, am predictable.)

I'm bailing on How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche, though. I feel a little bit bad about this, especially because it had been misplaced at the public library when I went to look for it, so the very helpful young woman at the information desk had to make phone calls to different departments and everything. But I've skimmed about half the book, and it's lightweight and rather annoying--it never made me want to move out of skimming mode, let's put it that way. Funny how mainstream Shakespeare books are almost never about Shakespeare--you know, the actual poems and plays, and why we might want to read them.* This one follows suit; it's mostly shallow passes at familiar trivia collected together around vague themes. The chapter that made me give up on the book was the one where Shakespeare supposedly invented teenagers; the one about Othello, for example, was just as tangential and contained an equally tenuous assertion that somehow Shakespeare was responsible for Obama's presidency (because he's...Black! And articulate! And that means that he's cannily reworking the Othello narrative that's so embedded in American culture!), but at least the paragraphs about Paul Robeson and Ira Aldridge were interesting (I suppose, if you hadn't already read this material before; but even then I think the real value of the chapter would be in introducing you to those figures, not what Marche actually has to say about them, which is not all that much), because those men were interesting. The "teenagers" chapter consists of a lot of vague comments about how teenagers are gross and ridiculous but also kind of amazing, and...Shakespeare wrote about that in R&J. And also created the state of teenagerhood as we know it, because (and I'm not making this up) 1) Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes became the face of '90s teendom through playing those roles; and 2) Justin Bieber (...I just realized that I don't know how to spell "Bieber." "Beiber?" They both look equally right to me) was from Stratford, Ontario, which is the home of North America's biggest Shakespeare festival.

Seriously.

This chapter also sheds a bit of light on something I found frustrating at times about A Jane Austen Education as well. Clearly William Deresiewicz cares deeply about Austen; the point of the book is that reading Austen actually made him a better human being. Whether or not one thinks that's possible, he certainly does. But at times this has the effect of turning Austen into something that's good for you but not particularly pleasurable--particularly, though not unexpectedly, with Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility. He goes so far as to tell us that he never was able to grow to like Fanny Price, but he did learn the lesson that the book was meant to teach us by making her the heroine instead of the ebullient Mary Crawford. And with S&S he claims that while Austen respected Elinor Dashwood, she clearly loved Marianne.

And this latter comment in particular is where my feelings about Deresiewicz' book dovetail momentarily with my feelings about Marche's: they both claim to have knowledge about what the authors meant to do that is based on their negative feelings about characters. Because Deresiewicz doesn't care for Elinor but loves Marianne, Austen must have felt the same way and intended for us to feel that way. Because Marche finds Romeo and Juliet ridiculous, Shakespeare must have meant for them to be ridiculous. That's the point, you see! I'm skeptical of those moments, and my hackles go right up--because to me that sort of thing reads like dismissal in disguise: you don't need to question your reaction to a character if you can claim that the author meant for you to feel that way in the first place.

It's true that I'm more aware of these moments because they tend to center around characters that I love (it's possible that people make claims like this that I just miss because they correspond to my feelings). I love both Romeo and Juliet, and I don't think that they're ridiculous. That doesn't mean that we're necessarily supposed to hold them up for emulation or praise, either; they get things horribly wrong, and they make decisions that I don't always agree with. But I don't think the story works if we look down our noses at them, or even if we chuckle fondly and indulgently at their youthful foibles. (I also think that Shakespeare was more than capable of creating a ridiculous lover--see Silvius in As You Like It, who draws our attention to the performance of his love as an attitude in a way that Romeo never does, because Romeo actually believes in all the things some critics and viewers laugh at--so if we were "supposed" to laugh at Romeo and Juliet [I mean as our sole way of engaging with them], there would be more evidence for that view than the falsely syllogistic logic that we're supposed to find them ridiculous because teenagers are ridiculous, and Romeo and Juliet are teenagers. And even Silvius is more than just ridiculous: Rosalind, for all her welcome poking at posturing, chimes in with sympathy for his feelings, and he gets a lovely speech that turns into a communal round; he finds words that speak for all the lovers in the forest. "Ridiculous" is usually far too simple a judgment.) I think the story totally falls apart if we sniff at them and think, "Yeah, if they hadn't killed themselves, they would have broken up in three weeks anyway, because no one loves like that for real." I think it only works if we can imagine that they could actually forge a new community, and "turn [their] households' rancor to pure love," as Friar Lawrence puts it--or at least, if we can understand that they really believe it. They're trying to do something unprecedented, something brilliant; if they fail, and if they don't know how to cope when it all falls apart on them (oh, they're so desperately young), it doesn't mean that they were foolish or ridiculous to try.

Ahem. Anyway. You all know my feelings about Fanny Price and Elinor, too--and maybe it's that I imprinted on Austen, but when Deresiewicz says that "we" think love should be what Marianne believes it to be, an effortless meeting of soul mates instead of a relationship founded on cold-fish words such as "like" and "esteem," I don't recognize myself at all in that "we." He seems to see these two novels in particular as an exercise in denial: Austen holds back the thing we really want, the sparkling heroine and the throbbing love story, in order to teach us to examine our expectations. But the problem with this reading for me, personally, is that I'm always on the side of like and esteem. I'm sure I've said this before in some shape or form, but for me the most romantic line in Pride and Prejudice is not "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you"; it's "For herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him." That takes my breath away, every time I get to that sentence. Being proud of someone you love, being able to like him, esteem him, respect his judgment and his understanding and his character? That's the most romantic thing there is.

(Ugh, I've gone all swoony. Help.)

I know I've said before--probably in conjunction with Edmund Bertram, who usually needs similar defending--that I think "steadiness" is a very sexy word. And if you look at the characters I wind up loving best, from Austen's heroes to my lovely, loyal Rory Williams-Pond, you can see that if I learned a lesson from reading Austen, I learned it really, really well. It's just difficult for me to see that as only a lesson, an exercise in correction, authorial abstemiousness in order to teach us something we didn't really want to know. I think there's an ardency in dependability, and that gets ignored in discussions like these, as though we need to learn how to prefer what is thin and flavorless instead of recognizing that these virtues have a flavor all their own.



*This is also true of a book I otherwise enjoyed, Paul Collins' The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World. I got to the end of the book, which was a nice history of the ups and downs of this famous book as a physical object, and realized that the part Collins left out was why we should care--why we do care; I think that's more accurate--about this book in the first place. It's just taken as a given that we know Shakespeare and that we love him, and I don't think that's true for many, many people. Probably those people aren't likely to be reading these books in the first place, I suppose. I suppose there are people who care about Shakespeare, and people who don't, and the idea that you could make the latter into the former by getting them to read a book is sort of silly. I wish I'd come to that realization before putting myself through years of grad school, though, since that possibility was the whole point of this endeavor.

...yeah.

Jan. 3rd, 2011 02:40 am
tempestsarekind: (wtf?)
I almost forgot: this book has apparently been out for months, but I only saw it for the first time the other day, in the library. So:

Romeo and Juliet and Vampires
http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Romeo-Juliet-Vampires/?isbn=9780061976247

I just...I can't even.

...yeah.

Jan. 3rd, 2011 02:40 am
tempestsarekind: (wtf?)
I almost forgot: this book has apparently been out for months, but I only saw it for the first time the other day, in the library. So:

Romeo and Juliet and Vampires
http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Romeo-Juliet-Vampires/?isbn=9780061976247

I just...I can't even.

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