Love’s Labour’s Lost
Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare, 4/5
Armed only with the ambiguous aid of some humourless footnotes and crusty endnotes, I could sense a veritable jet stream of jokes, puns and witticism blowing right over my head. How I missed my customary “cheater’s edition,” with its modern English translations on each facing page! Unfortunately for me and my limited understanding of Elizabethan English, the play is more dialogue- than plot-driven and, though the premise is cute and there were many funny moments, I often found myself quoting one movie-watcher’s insightful comment on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999): “I can’t understand a damn word they are saying…”
[Why I read it: One day last week, I had an hour to kill while waiting for a ride. Imagine my horror when I looked in my backpack and found myself bookless (French homework obviously doesn’t count). Like a literary knight in shining armour, my sister produced her personal copy of Love’s Labour’s Lost, thus banishing my unhappy state.]
The Sonnets of William Shakspere, edited by Edward Dowden, 5/5
*a note on spelling: according to Wikipedia, "Shakspere" was the preferred spelling in the late 18th through early 19th centuries.
In general, these sonnets are inventive, passionate and beautiful, using vivid metaphors to make new the old topic of love. They are difficult enough to reward a second or third reading (and a quick look at the editorial notes) but not so opaque as to be frustrating.
Though I had never read the entire set of sonnets before, they had strong connotations to me as the epitome of romantic poetry, of fuzzy-around-the-edges, pastoral scenes; Willoughby reading aloud to Marianne, hopelessly romantic young girls in white sun dresses pining over small leather-bound editions or receiving love letters full of ink blots and badly paraphrased plagiarisms. That sort of thing. So, I was extremely surprised to discover that almost all of the sonnets were written from one dude to another. In context, even “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” (Sonnet 18) was most definitely not written for/about a woman. It’s not like I thought Shakespeare in Love was made by the History Channel, but I did kind of assume that Shakespeare was a hit with the ladies and now I’m almost as confused about his sexuality as he seemed to be.
While I found the “procreation sonnets” to be quite creepy (who writes 17 poems insisting that a male friend is robbing the world if he doesn’t pass on all his fantastic [and presumably inheritable] traits to offspring, asap?), there were many others that I loved. My favourite has to be Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
I wish I could find more information about this book edition. All I know is that it was bound in 1933 by renowned bookbinding firm Sangorski & Sutcliffe, for the department store Marshall Field and Company. Sangorski & Sutcliffe are famous for their elaborate, jewel-encrusted book bindings, such as the famous edition of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that was lost with the Titanic, though I suspect cheaper, less sumptuous bindings such as mine helped the company survive the Great Depression.
[Why I read it: still on a quest to read all of Shakespeare’s works and couldn’t resist picking up this beautiful book for a few dollars at the thrift store.]
Coriolanus by Shakespeare, 5/5
I can’t believe that I had never heard of this Shakespeare play before my brother recommended I watch the epic 2011 film version starring Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler. After watching the film, I was very motivated to read the play for myself and enjoyed several additional parts that were changed or cut out of the movie.
The depth, drama and pathos of Coriolanus is belied by its uncompromising simplicity; the characters are given no facets, their decisions no moral judgments, their actions no alternatives. And yet, there is a richness to its portrayal of humankind’s tendency to twist virtue into vice – the pride so deep it manifests as humility, the honesty that is damaging in its harshness, the courage that exists for itself alone instead of in its proper function as facilitator of other virtues.
As You Like It
The Tempest by William Shakespeare, 3/5
This seemed much shorter, shallower and preachier than the other Shakespeare plays I’ve read and I didn’t feel much of a connection with any of the characters. Given the straightforwardness of the plot, I could see this making a much better theater experience than a reading one.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!! Almereyda’s Hamlet (“starring” Ethan Hawke) is one of the most atrocious films I have ever seen! How in the name of all that is holy did this movie win awards and get mixed reviews? Don’t even get me started on its portrayal of the play, which is heart-wrenchingly, mind-crushingly deficient. No, my complaints are much less subjective.
For example, someone forgot to inform the actors that Shakespeare left spaces between the words, so mostofthelinessoundlikethisbutdeliveredwayfasterthanyou’rereadingrightnow. The cameraman seemed to be using his elbows to maneuver the camera. The b-roll footage appeared to be lifted from an entirely different movie by an editor with ADD. Right at the beginning, there is a speech dubbed over video of an actor who is obviously forming completely different words with his mouth. The visuals were cluttered, the sets sloppy, the shot compositions senseless and the staging horrendous (examples: action cramped awkwardly into the half of the frame that isn’t being taken up by a curtain, dialogue where one person’s head completely blocks the view of the other person’s… I could go on, but I don’t have 72 minutes like the director of this hideous film did).
But the most original, startling, thought-provoking performance of all was from that boom mic, yes an entire boom mic, that reflected boldly off a window and right into my narrowed, unbelieving, pained eyes. In the director’s inept hands, the characters’ [usually tragic] deaths were mercy killings that finally released both them and me from the textbook enactment of film gaffes that is Almereyda’s Hamlet.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Othello by William Shakespeare, 4/5
Well, this is pretty depressing. In Hamlet and Macbeth the villains at least have some redeeming humanity, but Iago is pure evil and his motivation is not well-enough established to make it believable to me. Also, Othello is an idiot. Besides that, it is very exciting and I enjoyed it.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare, 5/5
This is much less substantial than Hamlet and the characters are less complex, but it is still enjoyable, with many memorable passages. I was surprised to learn that Shakespeare didn’t invent the story, but adapted it from Holinshed’s The Chronicles of Scotland. I appreciated that this edition (Oxford University Press) included the source version of the story at the end.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare, 5/5
In the past, I had viewed Shakespeare’s works with disinterest, bordering on distaste. Then, I Stumbled upon (literally – using the StumbleUpon toolbar) the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of Hamlet, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart. Since I adore Tennant as Doctor Who and recognized Stewart from Star Trek, I decided to give the film a try. The following three hours were pure transport; I fell in love. The depth of emotion portrayed and the connection I felt with the characters was completely unexpected. There are not many works of literature that I approach from the movie end, but in some cases, an affective film portrayal is the perfect inspiration to dive into gnarly or otherwise off-putting writings. After watching the film version twice, I was more than ready to read the work for myself. I very much enjoyed it, however I spent a lot of time reading the margin notes in order to understand the difficult vocabulary. A second time, I will read less technically and focus more on the poetry, wit and wordplay, which are everywhere evident.