Its All a Game

Earlier in the semester we listened to a guest lecture by Geoff Way about Shakespeare video games.  The concept of a Shakespeare video game seems rather odd; Shakespeare’s work is regarded as the pinnacle of Western art and video games are supposedly relegated to the realm of children and immature, socially awkward adults.  Recently opinions have started to change in the academic discussion of both Shakespeare and video games.  Video games are becoming more and more respected as an art form and Shakespeare, once restricted to the stage and the classroom, has become ubiquitous in various mediums and has been adapted, appropriated, sometimes dishonored, sometimes illuminated by professionals and amateurs alike.  It is natural, given Shakespeare’s popularity and appeal, that as this artist’s work becomes a starting point for myriad creative projects the Bard has found himself caricaturized in a digital form as the subject of an ever-growing number of video games.

Video game is a very broad term, and in the sense of this discussion it could be disingenuous not to clarify what role Shakespeare games have in the greater video game industry.  The Shakespeare games which we witnessed in class and which I have done some research on fall into different categories.  Most are simple flash games: platformers, puzzlers, shooters, trivia games, ect… These games are free to play on the internet and require no installation.  Some of the Shakespeare games are a bit more ambitious, such as Shakespeare adventure games and even a failed MMO called Arden: The World of William Shakespeare, which supposedly aimed to combine literature and social research into a massively multiplayer game package.  There are so far no Shakespeare video games which have been developed by major industry teams or published with huge budgets.  Even the smaller projects so far have been developed, it seems, not by indie developers interested in making a good game for cheap but instead people desirous of getting Shakespeare into a game, online, with little concern for the quality of the finished product.

For example, let’s examine a typical Shakespeare game.  I searched for Shakespeare games online and one of the first results was for a web page called Shakespeare for Kids.  In the corner of the page is a picture of a preening cartoon Shakespeare holding a skull.  In the right corner is the command “Solve a Maze”.  On the left hand side the rudimentary controls are explained and underneath is a scroll which says “Select other mazes below”  There is a scroll bar but it appears to be merely an image since it doesn’t function and there is only a blank list, so apparently, this is all we’ve got in the way of mazes.  The starting location is marked by an arrow and the word “START” next to an image of Shakespeare wearing shades. Hmmm, this is a game so Shakespeare obviously needs sunglasses.  You know, to be hip.  The game itself consists of controlling a small ball through a maze with the arrow keys.  The ball inexplicably leaves a line behind it, showing where you have been I guess, but for some reason there is room to move laterally within the confines of the walls so the line takes on all sorts of janky shapes and it all becomes a mess.  Once you have solved this maze, you arrive at your goal, a castle with an Old English script letter visible inside, because Shakespeare and castles and letters.  It should be noted that all this action occurs in what can only be described as a poorly planned web layout.  The maze itself takes up only a small portion of the screen, the rest is black space and white space.  Furthermore everything is left centered which looks very odd.  Upon completion of this maze you are taken to a screen with Sunglass Will and a Queen who says “Tis Well Done”.  There is some random trivia about two of Shakespeare’s plays and the Queen thrown down below in small type because the most important thing to teach a kid about Shakespeare is that he knew the Queen.

The game which I describe I think highlights perhaps the biggest problem with Shakespeare video games so far: they have not been made by talented video game developers who are motivated to make a great game which features elements of either Shakespeare’s historical persona or his works.  In order for a great Shakespeare game to be released a great game has to be developed.  A game.  Not some sort of educational/promotional tie-in hastily commissioned and created without respect for the medium or the people who will be playing this game.  That is not to say that a Shakespeare game cannot teach people things and allow them to learn more about literature, culture, history, what have you.  I just think that for a Shakespeare game to be successful the game aspect of it has to be emphasized, or else what you have is some sort of offensive hybrid which nobody likes: a game which is no fun to play and a Shakespeare appropriation which belittles the source material so thoroughly that the greatness of the original is destroyed.

Of course there is also the problem that a game may be fun but it only references Shakespeare on a superficial level, like a competitive shooter which includes a William Shakespeare skin or something.  This, I believe, is less egregious than the aforementioned scenario because if the gameplay is well designed people will be enjoying themselves and logging time into the game, so the cursory nods to Shakespeare would function within the principles of advertising that brand recognition and identification can be powerful incentives for consumers.  In this case the brand is Shakespeare and the consumers are people who would hopefully become interested in Shakespeare’s works.

The ideal Shakespeare game is certainly one in which the life or art of Shakespeare is integrated seamlessly as an essential aspect of the story, visuals, dialogue, and gameplay.  This would require a huge amount of creativity and dedication on the part of the developer but it is not impossible.  For now I think that the video game industry still mainly targets the young male demographic, and as such the dream of a good Shakespeare video game remains elusive until video games become pervasive among a greater segment of the population.  It is not that the talent to make such a game is not there, but the motivation most likely is not because the game would be difficult to make and would almost certainly sell poorly among current game consumers.  I hope that as video games develop as a medium and as an art form eventually the current genre restrictions will become obsolete and games which involve different goals and forms of interaction in terms of gameplay, storytelling, ect… will emerge.  When this occurs and games start achieving a potential which is only starting to become acknowledged then perhaps we will see a Shakespeare game on the shelf between Pokémon Mauve and Call of Battlefield XXVIIII.

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The Youtube

Youtube provides a wealth of content in every genre and category imaginable.  One of the benefits of Youtube is that it allows people to not only create original videos but also to post electronic excerpts of video from other media sources.  The three clips that I analyze in this essay are all from children’s shows which use Shakespeare’s play Hamlet as a source for comedy.  The overarching theme which is evident from these clips is that classic literature and high art can provide rich material for deconstructing and reinterpreting in a new medium for a new audience, although appreciation of this type of humor relies primarily on a previous familiarity with the subject matter.

On June 20th, 2010 InvaderWakkoReborn posted a clip from the animated show Animaniacs.  This clip contains a sketch which opens with orchestral music and a narrator in a haughty voice announcing a scene from Hamlet.  He says the scene is “translated for those viewers, who…have no idea what he is talking about,” a reference to the perceived inaccessibility of Shakespeare’s works for a modern audience.  The setting of this scene is a graveyard full of floating mist.  The cast is comprised of Wakko playing the part of the gravedigger, Jakko Hamlet, and Dot the translator.  The scene which is shown is a heavily abridged Act V Scene I.  Wakko digs up Yorick, who is represented by a floppy white puppet with a drawn-on grimace and a tiny hat.  Yorick is very humorous.  Jakko speaks lines 171-179 of Hamlet’s famous speech to Horatio about Yorick.  His delivery is overly dramatic and full of histrionic movements.  Much of the humor in this sketch comes from the contrast between Hamlet’s dramatic, lofty speech and the brunt, witty translations that Dot provides in language familiar to young audiences.  The speech going on in the foreground occupies part of the audience’s attention, but so does the action in the background.  During Jakko’s recitation Wakko digs a grave and finds ridiculous things like a giant octopus, a car, and a rocketship.  Wakko eventually digs up a stylized lady meant to be attractive.  She quickly bonks him on the head, providing the physical comedy expected from such cartoons, then runs off.  Jakko’s Hamlet speaks lines 180-182 “Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let/her paint her face an inch thick, to this favor she must/come; make her laugh at that.”   Dot translates as we see the Yorick figure chasing after the lady into the background and being bonked on the head.  Viewer response in the comments indicated nostalgia for the show and appreciation for the humor.  However, the overwhelming response was recollection of watching this clip in English class in high school while learning Hamlet. The view count for this video is 21,307 views.  The related videos included clips from other Animaniacs episodes and other short, humorous Hamlet animations.

The Simpsons Laertes’ Revenge, posted by TheRandomMaster123 on November 24th, 2011, is a poor quality video; a portion of a Simpsons episode which appears to be filmed from the uploader’s television.  The setting is established as Hamlet, Act IV Scene VII.  Laertes, played by Ralph, tells Claudius, played by Moe, that he is going to kill Hamlet.  The humor here is derived from Ralph’s behavior.  He seems happy and naïve, and appears to have no idea what murder involves. He shows his “angry face” and reverts back to blissful ignorance.  It is obvious that Moe is behind this, just as Claudius manipulates Laertes in the play.  More humor comes from the fact that Moe is applying poison to basically everything in the castle, including the food and the window drapes, which pokes fun at Claudius’ decision to poison the cup which Gertrude eventually drinks from.  The sketch then shows Carl and Lenny as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who congratulate themselves for killing Hamlet before falling dead.  Although these characters are probably only included to involve more familiar Simpsons’ characters on screen, the fact that Carl and Lenny are introduced and immediately killed off to no concern of anybody shows the disposable nature of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  Next the sketch transforms into a version of Act V Scene II in which Hamlet and Gertrude (Bart and Marge) enter the royal hall and Laertes attempts to kill Hamlet.  Ralph, inept as ever, hastens to stab himself; this is a clever farce on the fact that in the play Laertes is killed by his own sword when Hamlet manages to disarm him and cut him.  Bart stabs Moe but then slips on a pool of blood and dies.  Marge, looking on at the carnage in front of her, declares she won’t be responsible for cleaning up the mess and commits suicide by hitting herself with a mace.  Obviously the sketch departs significantly from the events of the play, but the ending encourages to the audience to laugh at the ridiculousness of the sudden eruption of bloodshed in the final scene of this tragedy.  Since this clip is relatively new it has only 2,467 views and a single comment repeating a line from the video.  Related videos include other Simpsons clips and animated Hamlet shorts.

The Sesame Street Monsterpiece Theater video was uploaded by jonnytbirdzback on September 18th, 2007.   The video contains a sketch from Sesame Street which is framed as a parody of Masterpiece Theater, the long-running television show which adapted famous novels for a small-screen audience.  The introduction is a direct parody of the Masterpiece Theater opening.  The camera moves around a lavish private library, focusing on close ups of famous books and elegant antiques.  The music that plays is very similar to the classical music which serves as the opening theme of the PBS show.  The camera then cuts to Cookie Monster, sitting in a high-backed chair while introducing the segment.  This parallels Masterpiece Theater’s opening in which host Alistair Cooke acts in essentially the same way; Cookie monster even calls himself Alistair Cookie.  Our narrator references Shakespeare’s play’s status as high art when he says “It don’t get classier than this”.  The sketch cuts to a scene of Hamlet on the battlements of the castle Elsinore.  Hamlet is played by Mel Gibson, who, in 1990 played the same character in Zeffirelli’s film adaptation of the play.  The following scene between Gibson and Elmo references Act II Scene II of the play, in which Polonius confronts Hamlet in order to discern the cause of his madness.  Elmo, speaking in exaggerated old English speech which a lay audience might equate with Shakespeare, questions Gibson about what he is reading that makes him chuckle.  Gibson replies “Words, words, words” (II.ii 191).  This exchange is repeated multiple times, with Gibson expressing sadness, then anger.  Each time when Elmo questions him about the cause of his mood, Gibson replies with the same line.  Since Sesame Street is an educational show aimed at children, the point of this sketch is that reading books is important and entertaining because they make you feel different emotions.  Gibson makes other references to Hamlet during this sketch.  At one point Elmo asks him where he can find a book and Gibson tells him “Get thee to a library,” an obvious reference to Hamlet’s Act III Scene I lines to Ophelia.  Also when Elmo leaves to get a book Gibson says “At last, now I am alone” a reference to Hamlet’s line in Act II Scene II; this line played for laughs because soon Elmo returns with a book and noisily disrupts Gibson’s concentration.  The comments on this video primarily focus on the inclusion of Mel Gibson and his checkered history.  The video has 93,207 views.  The related videos for this clip include other Sesame Street Monsterpiece Theater takes on classic literature and even the aforementioned Simpsons Laertes revenge video.

These three videos represent a small cross-section of the expansive amount of video content on the internet parodying and retelling Shakespeare’s famous plays.  It is interesting to consider the Youtube users who may be experiencing Shakespeare’s work for the first time through electronic sources such as this.  As long as Hamlet and other Shakespeare plays remain canonical there will always be an appreciative audience for such videos, but as the internet becomes more prevalent there will also an increasing number of people whose introduction to Shakespeare’s work will come not from staged-productions or readings in school but from online videos such as these.

Olivier V Branagh

Laurence Olivier’s 1944 version of Henry V and Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 version are both great film adaptations of Shakespeare’s history play, but they are quite different in tone and visual style.  The differences in the movies come not just from technological differences but also from the two directors having different goals.  Olivier wants to depict a glorious moment in British history when a righteous king fought off the villainous French and brought peace between the nations.  Branagh on the other hand is more concerned with showing a dramatic war film in which both sides suffer greatly.  In order to understand the differences between the films it is appropriate to examine the ending scenes of each, which represent quite well the different ideologies of the different directors.

The Olivier ending starts with Henry jubilantly asking the King of France if Kate can be his wife.  There is a mid shot of Henry and Kate, then a reverse zoom out until the camera cuts to a long shot as the King of France speaks a condensed version of Queen Isabelle’s final lines from Act V scene II of Shakespeare’s play as he holds both the King of England and his daughter’s hands in his own.  At this point the soundtrack swells and a choir starts singing.  In keeping with his choice to represent the play itself as well as the context in which it is staged, Olivier includes the choir within the mise-en-scene.  The film audience realizes that they are supposed to be singers at the theater since they are standing high up above the stage.   The camera then zooms in from behind as Henry and Kate walk to the rear wall of the palace, where the camera shows a close shot of Henry smiling and then pans to Kate smiling, acknowledging the theater audience who has broken out in applause, further drawing the film viewer back to the framing device of the audience watching a play which Olivier started his film with.  A priest appears from behind Kate and Henry, and stands still in a symbolic position as the camera pulls back and the Chorus closes the curtain in front of the actors.   The final speech from the Chorus in Olivier’s version is spoken in exaggerated fashion, with the Chorus standing with arms outstretched in a theatrical manner.  The camera then cuts to a view from the gallery which shows audience members looking down at the Chorus as he speaks his lines.  In order to maintain the fairy-tale quality of his filmic rendition of Henry V, Olivier chooses for the Chorus to speak a condensed version of the speech Shakespeare included in his epilogue.  He omits lines 7-12 of the Epilogue which detail how history played out with Henry VI mismanaging England, losing France, and bringing suffering upon his people.  This conscientious omittal serves to preserve the happy ending of the film and maintain England’s spotless image which Olivier has worked to cultivate throughout the movie.  The camera angles up to show an actor leading the boys choir in song, then angles up more to show musicians playing, then angles up even more to show a worker taking down the flag flying over the theater.  Then the camera cuts to an exterior view of the theater and zooms out at a medium speed to reveal the rest of the city, in a moment of parallelism harking back to the opening of the film.

The Branagh ending begins with a high angle long shot of the French palace room.  In comparison to Olivier’s depiction of this setting, Branagh’s palace is more realistic, situated in a stone castle which is much sparser than the gaudy French palace in the 1944 version.  It is also darker, lit only by the natural light coming in from the small windows and a skylight.  In this version of the movie Branagh chooses to show the wooing scene before the treaty between the English and French is agreed upon, which reverses the order of events from Shakespeare’s play.  Furthermore, this contrasts with Olivier’s version of the film, in which mention of the punitive treaty is not included, so as to portray England as more merciful.  Branagh however has represented a more two-sided conflict between nations in his film and he continues this during the ending scene.  As the treaty is being agreed upon the representatives of the two nations stand on opposite sides of the room, a visual depiction of the continued animosity between the countries.  Henry, with no trace of Olivier’s mirthful playing, forces the French King to meet all his demands then demands Kate’s hand in marriage.  There are close up shots of the two rulers, Henry looking smug and the French monarch looking somber.  There is another close up of the King as he signs the treaty and then the camera cuts to a long shot of the two sides situated across each other at the table, reinforcing the division between them.  The camera cuts to a medium shot of the King placing his daughter’s hand in Henry’s and recites lines 345-352 from Act V Scene II in which he entreats no more bloody war between the nations.  Branagh includes these lines to remind the audience of the history of war between these European nations and its dreadful cost.  After this speech there are close ups of Henry preparing for a kiss and Kate looking forlorn and resigned to her fate as a political object to be bandied about between rulers.  There is then a mid shot of Henry and Kate kiss; as they pull apart the King of France is revealed, sadly looking upon this scene which he is helpless to stop.  This is in direct contrast to the overjoyed King of France in Olivier’s version.  As the camera reverse zooms out of the scene Henry speaks lines 356-365 from Act V Scene II, which in the play are recited by Queen Isabelle.  Neither Branagh nor Olivier includes the character of Queen Isabelle with any lines, due to their shared desire to carry the film by themselves, showing film audiences their acting prowess by reciting all the best lines.  The Chorus then appears and speaks the entirety of the Epilogue in a grave manner, then shuts the door to the scene just as he had opened it in the beginning of the movie.  As the credits role the chant “Nobis Dominae” plays, the same song which was sung as the English collected their dead after the Battle of Agincourt.

Both Olivier’s and Branagh’s versions of Henry V are incredibly impressive.  Both films serve as mediums to show the play of Shakespeare in an exciting way to a larger movie-going audience.  Also both films serve as star-vehicles for their respective directors, who also choose to act the part of the protagonist.  Oliver and Branagh are successful in not just their acting but also their directing; these films show two valid approaches of adapting Shakespeare’s work for the film medium.

Is She the Man?

2006’s She’s the Man directed by Andy Fickman is a modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night set against the backdrop of rival soccer academies.  It was marketed as a teen comedy, and indeed it does all it can to make the Shakespearian plot work in a context of kids entangled in romance and intrigue.  There are a number of reasons to dismiss this movie.  First off, it is difficult to appreciate a movie that appropriates from a famous play rather lazily.  Furthermore it is unclear why the references to Twelfth Night are even kept in the script, because audience members familiar with the work will no doubt be disappointed by the lack of fidelity to the text and those who the film is marketed at won’t care about the seemingly obscure references anyway.  It is as if the film-makers were tasked with making a modern day Shakesperian film and they did their best to supress the Shakespeare and focus on more crowd-pleasing elements.

This is not to say, however, that the filmmakers don’t succeed at providing a pleasurable film experience.  Despite the prevalence of some incredibly cheezy scenes (such as the opening montage, which was uncomfortable enough to make me worried about what was to come), the movie actually manages to be rather clever and funny for the majority of its runtime.  I think this partly has to do with the strength of the comedic actors in this film.  Amanda Bynes is hugely charismatic and goddam her scenes when she is disguised as Sebastian were very entertaining.  She uses facial expressions, vocal inflections, and physical comedy in order to elicit numerous laughs.  The socially-awkward girl Eunice at first appears terribly cliched but she has some of the funniest lines in the entire movie.  Also, David Cross’ role as the dean of Illyria is typically hilarious.

I also think that Channing Tatum does a good job of playing the Orsino character Duke.  Yeah, he’s not gonna win an oscar but he doesn’t need to; he is clearly attractive and does a good job portraying a soccer star who is uncomfortable dealing with girls.

The ending of the movie falls into the cheezy category, but at this point I didn’t care too much because I was enjoying seeing the main characters achieving success and being happy.

Overall this movie might appear to be lite-fare upon cursory examination but it is quite a lot of fun and suprisingly very rewatchable.  I approve.

4 STARS

Much Ado About Keanu

In Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing Keanu Reaves stars as the Bastard Don John, evil brother of Don Pedro.  Don John is no fun; everybody is enjoying themselves at Leonato’s home but Don John is determined to ruin the good times and cause chaos and grief.  He cooks up a deceitful plan using his underlings to slander Hero’s reputation and thrwart her marriage to Claudio.  This sets off a chain reaction of no-goodery which affects everyone.

Now some people may say that Keanu’s portrayal of Dohn John is bad.  That his acting is poor, that he is woefully inept at delivering Shakesperean dialogue.  Perhaps they would say that he is only in the film in order to attract mindless Keanu lovers, and that he is outshined by all the other stars of the movie.  To this I would say NAY!  People must reconsider the Key man’s role in this film for what it is: pure, unfiltered dramatic genius.

How could this be you say? Well, consider:

You think KeReeves is stiff, emotionless, and lacks basic human qualities?  Good, thats what he wants you to think, because Don John is a cold, unsociable misfit with ambiguous motivations for his evilness.

You think the Sir Issac NUton’s acting is either missing or comedically over the top? Of course you do, because Don John is one crazy dude.  He’s all over the map.  He doesn’t know what he wants.  He’s real yo, he don’t have to act natural, he is natural.

But wait.  Maybe you find it hard to take all the villainous villainly serious when Keanu is half-naked and covered in oil for exactly 97% of his on-screen time.  Well you know what, DON JOHN DONT NEED NO STINKIN CLOTHES!  He’s a man, man.  Shirts are for girls.  And oil massages from other guys are just relaxing, ok.  OK?

So you see, once you take some time to look deep within the depths of the Kemeister’s performance, you obviously realize that he has done something remarkable: he has fully inhabited the part of Don John through no doubt extensive, mentally exhausting method acting.  So next time you watch this movie, judge not Keanu, but instead, look inside yourself and say “I accept that I am unworthy.  The Great ReeveMaster has blessed me with a gift from acting Valhalla.  I cannot criticize.  I cannot cry out for help.  All I can do is close my eyes and let it happen”

In case you need a refresher of the Supreme VishNU’s performance, here is a taste.

DSCH

Shostakovich’s 1st Violin Concerto was written by the composer during 1947-48 in the postwar Soviet Union.  It is notable for being one of the first concertos in four movements, these being 1. Nocturne: a slow, dark mvt 2. Scherzo: A wild dancelike mvt 3. Passacaglia: another dark mvt which leads to a crazy cadenza and 4. Burlesque: a fast, energetic finale.  David Oistrakh, the famous violin soloist helped Shostakovich to work on the concerto. Because of strict censorship of the arts in Soviet Russia Shostakovich had to wait until after Stalin’s death in 1953 to publish this work.   Shostakovich dedicated this concerto to Oistrakh and Oistrakh premiered it in 1955 with the Leningrad Philharmonic.

Why am I talking about this work, besides the fact that it is a great concerto?  Well, David Oistrakh is quoted as expressing his apprectiation for the “depth of its artistic content”and furthermore describes the solo violin part as a  “pithy ‘Shakespearian’ role”. Shakespeare!  What could he mean by this?  I think that this statement has to do with the fact that Shakespeare’s work is famous for being of excellent quality.  For Oistrakh to compare playing this music to acting in a Shakespeare drama indicates his high praise for this work and also acknowledges that the music is dramatic and full of emotion.  This reference draws on the perception of Shakespeare’s work as high art, full of pathos and nobility.  This is true of course but Shakespeare’s plays, even his most serious tragedies, include humor.  Shostakovich’s 1st Violin Concerto also includes small moments that could be described as humorous, although within the context of the work it is more likely that they are meant sarcastically since the overall tone is rather dark.  This is not so different from moments in Shakespeare, such as the humor in the grave yard scene in Hamlet.

 

Source: Wikipedia

All Are Punish-ed!!

Baz Luhrmann’s kinetic screen vision of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a film which I had a lot of thoughts on so I thought I would give it a review.  On the one hand the   dialogue from the play sounds very odd being spoken in this modern setting, plus many of the adult actors do not do a very good job, for example Juliet’s mother and the Prince (a role which I think the actor could have had a lot more fun with).  However, there is also some very effective acting from Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and I thought the Friar Laurence character played by Pete Postlethwaite was quite interesting and good.

The greatest strength of this film, I think, is its unique world which it creates as an alternative to the traditional setting of R&J.  I really liked the urban setting in this film, from the huge religious statues ala Rio de Janiero to the beaches with palm trees, the lavish Capulet mansion, and the crumbling Sycamore Grove theater stage which frames the death of Mercutio in a clever metacinematic touch.  I particularly liked this film’s depiction of Mantua, where Romeo is exiled to after he kills Tybalt; the place is in the middle of the desert, dusty, and Romeo is living in a trailer.  I also enjoyed the costuming: the Montagues in their Hawaiin shirts and punk aesthetic and the Capulets with their Hispanic gang apparel.  The setting and characters contributed to making this vision of Verona into a fully realized film world, not an attempt at realism or traditionalism but a gleefully stylized depiction of a city and its warring factions.

Another aspect of the film that I enjoyed almost despite myself was the editing and cinematography.  As is obvious from the get-go, this film is heavily edited in a manner in which the editing itself becomes part of the attraction.  The rapid quick-cuts, slow-motion, fast-forwarding, zooms, pans, and freeze-frames at first was so shocking I did not know what to think but as the film went on I found myself enjoying this and I think overall the visual effects were incorporated quite well into the film.  One shot that stands out to me is when Romeo and Juliet are lying dead on the funeral pyre and the camera is positioned above them so that it appears they are floating above the candle-lit floor.  I also particularly enjoyed the cross motif which occurs in many different forms throughout the movie.  I am sure that the symbolic meaning behind this could be elaborated upon, but I will just say that in the film it functions among other ways as a visual emblem which connects all the characters and suggests some sort of greater force.  I went into this film thinking that I would not like it because of things I had heard beforehand but I was thoroughly entertained for the whole movie even if parts of it had me nearly cringing and I have to say that this was a very creative and high-energy take on Shakespeare’s classic play, and it is a success.

Jesters

I noticed that there are lots of comedic characters in Shakespeare’s plays.  Sometimes these characters are specifically court jesters. The fools from Shakespeare’s plays were valued in their society because of their ability to entertain and amuse. This got me thinking.  What is the modern day equivalent of Shakespearean jesters?  Well I believe the answer is standup comedians.

Stand up comedy is a great live form of comedy in which the performer interacts with the audience to a degree, lending a feel of intimacy to the show.  Stand up comedy comes in all different forms, but a common thread seems to be it is derived from humorous scenarios that normal audiences can connect with, except embellished by hyperbole in order to make it “closer to reality than real life.”  It certainly takes a lot of work to be a good stand up comedian, make no mistake.  One has to come up with original jokes, work on timing and rhythm, and deal with a life spent on the road and in comedy clubs.

When audiences laugh and applaud for a stand up comedian they are showing appreciation for the legacy of comedic entertainers stretching back to Shakespeare’s time and before.

Taste in humor is very subjective, but there are so many good stand up comedians whose routines you can watch online that you are sure to find something you like.  Here are some examples

Ralphie May

Louis CK

Hamlet on youtube

Heres a clip of the classic animated comedy The Simpsons.  This is their take on Hamlet.  The quality is a little rough because I think somebody filmed this from their tv in Scandanavia or something.

The connections between Shakespeare’s work and the Simpson’s TV series are evident upon closer examination.  Both works are characterized by interesting characters and sharp writing.  The humor in both works is witty and sharp.  The greatest strength of the Simpsons I believe is its ability to craft a vibrant world with its own industries, history, and politics.  The characters all have backstories that are fleshed out throughout the course of the series and the connections between characters are elaborated upon.  Shakespeare’s plays also have memorable characters but the expositions are somewhat minimal and a lot is implied.

This highlights the differences in medium between play and television: plays leave a lot up to the imagination and jump right into the action usually, while television has a lot more time to develope stories and characters.  I think this explains why Shakespeare has been adapted to film many times, because that medium includes 2 hour or so works which fit with the length of the plays as long as some material is cut or condensced. If somebody wanted to make a television series related to Shakespeare I think it would be nearly impossible to base it off a single Shakespeare play, unless a lot of new creative material is added and the play-text is used only as the jumping off point.

Shakespeare Shreddin

Here’s some more classical music.  If nothing else, the settings in which these three artists perform makes me think of Shakespeare: ornate palaces and whatnot.   There is a royal theme about them.

First David Russell playing Choros No 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos:

Next John Williams playing Asturias by Issac Albeniz

Segovia El Noi de La Mare by Miguel Llobet

It is certain that Shakespeare was familiar with music and musical instruments of his time, from the numerous references in his plays and poetry.  He would certainly have known of the lute, the precursor to the modern classical guitar, which was quite popular in Medieval and Renaissance times.  Mention of the lute in particular appears in such plays as Two Gentelman of Verona, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, Pericles, Much Ado About Nothing, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and multiple Henry histories.  Furthermore, in Trevor Nunn’s anachronistic Twelth Night, Ben Kingsley’s Feste not only sings but also plays the guitar.   In the film, Feste is in fact valued by the members of Olivia’s household as much for his musical talents as for his quick wit.  The song he sings as he walks through the hills is very enjoyable and contributes greatly to the emotional quality of the ending.

The baroque guitar was the next iteration, appearing around the year 1600.  It had 5 “courses” with a total of 9 or ten strings.  The early Romantic guitar appeared around 1780.  It has 6 strings and was popularized by composers during the Golden Age of classical guitar repertoire in the 19th century.  The modern classical guitar was standardized in the middle of the 1800s by Antonio Torres Jurado, who made innovations in guitar construction.  Nowadays, despite the advancements in instrument technology and musical composition, music from the Baroque era remains hugely popular in many forms including the lute suites by Bach.