Showing posts with label Shakespeare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shakespeare. Show all posts

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer


Rating: WORTHY!

I haven't read anything by Germaine Greer since I read The Female Eunuch a long time ago, which I thought was interesting, educational, and insightful, but not anything spectacular. This book was along those lines, too. I have taken to avoiding books which have a title which makes a woman an appendage of a man in the title. By this I mean books of the form, "The ________'s Daughter or 'The ________'s Wife, because they're abusive to women. Women deserve better than to be an afterthought!

So why read this one? Well, apart from the fact that I found it to be engaging, well-researched and entertaining (and filling me with ideas!), and while the author had a choice in the title and I would expect a woman with Germaine Greer's credentials to do better than to name it this way, I have to wonder if she deliberately rendered the title in this form because it realistically portrays the reality of the situation disturbingly well.

The sad fact is that the content is forced to relate to Agnes Hathaway in the same way that the title does - as an appendage of someone else rather than a person in her own right precisely because there is so very little history available about the older woman who married Shakespeare and then was practically abandoned for twenty years. Had she not been married to Shakespeare, and had he not become famous, she would probably have been lost to history altogether.

The book is really detailed! Sometimes it's too detailed for me. Yes, it's a welcome addition to see something of what life was really like back then for your average citizen, but on the other hand, we don't need so many details about so many things, with Greer going off on long tangents into displays of how well the author researched the book, rather than displays of what we know or can reasonably deduce about the woman who is central to it. Fortunately this is quite well-balanced by Greer's take on the story as we've all-too-typically had it fed to us: that history is made by men and the little women must of necessity be confined to the sidelines. Well, I call bull's-pizzle on that one!

Greer deftly redirects us, at every reasonable opportunity, to reconsider the standard story and ask: could it possibly have been this way rather than that way (where 'that way' typically demeans and/or impugns Agnes (pronounced Annis, and shortened to Anne)? She very often, but not always makes a strong case for her view. One problem is that Agnes all-too-often is lost under the rain of research details with which Greer pads this book. Less of that and more of the realistic look at what is known and what are reasonable assumptions based on what's known would be welcome, but then we're simply back to how little is known. I think Greer does a sterling job with what's available, but she need not have padded it just because it's available, especially if it had little bearing on what Agnes may or may not have done, thought, or felt.

This is why her story, as opposed to history, is an important one, because the idea that Shakespeare is this lone genius who is isolated from, and above his world - as he is in most of his worshiper's minds - is nonsensical. All of his ideas and inspirations came from somewhere (often from someone else's work that he'd read and appropriated!). He was not living in a bubble, and part of his world was his roots, and his kids, but a huge portion of it was his loyal wife, expertly holding down the fort while he was off playing in London.

Tammy Wynette's song, Stand by Your Man could have been written about this couple, and you cannot isolate him from her (Agnes, not Tammy!), no matter how much it superficially looks like he chose to do so himself. Unlike Shakespeare's plays, this is actually a true story that's worth thinking about, and this book is worth reading.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Merchant of Venice (Manga Shakespeare) Richard Appignanesi, Faye Yong


Rating: WORTHY!

I found this at my most excellent library just sitting on the shelf begging to be read. It was adapted from Shakespeare's original and illustrated in an odd elfin-style by Faye Yong. The story was adapted (this typically means trimmed) to fit this format by Richard Appignanesi.

The story was eminently readable and for the most part delightfully illustrated, although the occasional image here and there seemed a bit off to me. The drawings are black and white line-drawings with some grayscale shading, and with a handful of color introductory pages at the beginning, to identify the cast.

The story begins with Bassanio, a Venetian noble, trying to marry Portia, but he has no money. Most of it he spent on wine, women, and song. The rest he just wasted. I'm kidding. Or maybe not: he did squander it one way or another, and now finds that he must get his hands on 3,000 ducats to woo his chosen maiden. Ducats were so named because they were the Duke's coinage and this courting price was something like 80,000 dollars in today's currency (assuming my math is any good, but be warned that it usually isn't). Those Belmont stakes are pretty high you know!

Antonio, the Merchant of Venice, agrees to bail his friend out (yet again), but all his money is tied-up in his shipping ventures. He does agree to underwrite him if he can find a money-lender who will take on the debt. Thus we meet Shylock, a Jewish "banker" who agrees as long as Antonio, who liked Jews about as much as Heinrich Himmler did, guarantees the loan and agrees, famously, to allow Shylock to take a pound of Antonio's flesh if Bassanio defaults.

Over in Portia territory, Bassanio has to contend with Portia's father's will, whereby a suitor must chose from one of three caskets labeled with a taunt rather than the contents. One casket is gold, one silver, and the third lead. Only one of them, however, contains any treasure, in the form of an image of Portia. If the prospective husband picks that one, he wins her hand. Those Venetians, I swear to gold!

Italian loving, had me a blast!
Cruising canals, happened so fast!
I met a girl crazed as can be!
She had me chose, from caskets three!
Venetian days drifting away to, oh oh those Venetian ni-ights!
Tell me more, tell me more, what was top of the picks?
Tell me more, tell me more, like did you get the pix?

The gold casket is labeled: He who chooses me will get what many men want. The silver is inscribed: He who chooses me will get what he deserves, and the lead one says: He who chooses me must give and risk all he has. The Prince of Morocco chooses the gold casket and fails ("All that glisters is not gold"). The Prince of Arragon tries his luck with the silver and discovers that only felt the shadow of joy - Joy, not Portia! Both men are sworn never to reveal their choice or the casket's content. Bassanio of course selects the lead, and thereby wins Portia's hand.

So far so good, but Antonio's ships all founder, and his is now in default to Shylock, who is now particularly pissed-off with Christians after his daughter Jessica ran off with one (Lorenzo), ditching her faith, but replacing it with a boat-load of Shylock's treasure. This turns out to be totally Tubal-er when a messenger arrives with no news of Jessica's whereabouts, like for shore! The vengeful Shylock brings Antonio up before the magistrates in the court of the Duke of Venice.

Meanwhile, Portia and Bassanio having completed their nuptials, but not their wedding night, immediately take-off to Venice to bail Antonio out with Portia's money. They travel with Gratiano and Nerissa, who is Portia's handmaid. Despite Bassanio's very generous offer of twice what Shylock is owed, the latter insists upon his pound of flesh, and all seems lost. Bellario, unable to attend the case himself, appears to have sent a representative named Balthazar. Of course, in true Shakespearean tradition, it's a woman in disguise: in this case, Portia herself. Her assistant is also a woman in disguise: Nerissa, evidently representing that prestigious law firm, Trans, Vestite and Nailem.

Portia begs Shylock to show mercy, but hell-bent on revenge for all the abuse he has suffered over the years, some of which came from Antonio, he flatly refuses. As he is about to scythe his flesh from Antonio, Portia points out that his contract specifies only flesh - not blood. he must, she advises him, not spill a single drop of Antonio's blood, not take a one sliver more than his pound, lest he himself breaches the contract and loses everything, including his life.

Shylock belatedly realizes that he should have accepted Bassanio's generous offer, but now that he seeks to resort to this, he finds he has lost there, too, but Portia points out that he's already on record as rejecting it. Worse than this, as a foreigner (read Jew), who has sought to take the life of a Venetian citizen, he now must forfeit everything, although the Duke does pardon him from his death sentence, and even allows him to retain half his fortune as long as he converts to Christianity - a fate worse than death, it would seem, from Shylock's perspective.

Bassanio gets himself into trouble by rewarding the "lawyer" with a ring he had promised Portia she had given him which he in turn vowed he would never give up. Nerissa achieves the same sort of gift from Gratiano. These guys are morons. Their wives refuse them any bed time until they recover the rings!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Graphic Classics Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds


Rating: WORTHY!

I found this to be somewhat rudimentary in illustration (and bizarre in parts, and unintentionally amusing in others), but very well done overall. It's a graphic novel based on Shakespeare's famous play, as written by Francis Bacon (yeah right! LOL!). One thing which hit me was that the appearance of the text in speech balloons and descriptive text boxes, really focused my attention on Shakespeare's words - and all the classic lines are here:

  • Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
  • My only love sprung from my only hate
  • That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet
  • O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
  • But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun
  • Parting is such sweet sorrow
  • A plague o' both your houses!
  • ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man

Despite it being in fair Verona where we lay our scene, there are few Italians on view be warned! The illustrations show largely dark-skinned and moderately dark-skinned people. Juliet is predictably lighter than is Romeo the rebel. Not that Italians can't be dark-skinned of course, but I'd wager they were a lot more scarce than depicted here in the era when this play is set.

Some obscure words were defined at the bottom of the page on which they appeared, but a lot of Shakespeare's wording/meaning also went uncommented, so this struck me as a bit patchy. Fortunately I'm familiar enough with Shakespeare that this was not a problem, but it occurs to me that it might be for people who are approaching this who are new to Shakespeare - the language is not modernized at all.

The story is well-known: Romeo Montague, pining for Rosaline, a niece of Lord Capulet, goes to a party at the house of his mortal enemies, where he meets Juliet Capulet, whose parents want married off to Count Paris. When she meets Romeo, all other priorities are cast from her mind as they are from Romeo's, too, who now has no feelings for Rosaline at all. That's how fickle he is! After knowing each other for five minutes, these two declare their love and plan to marry, despite Juliet being thirteen, and her own father having just talked Paris into waiting for another two years at least. Yes, Romeo and Juliet are morons, but that said, the play makes for a fun read, awash in Shakespeare's cheesy puns.

It goes wrong, of course. Juliet is to take a potion which will give her an affectation of death. When she has been interred in the family vault, the padre will send Romeo to her and the two of them can run away together. Well, Romeo doesn't get the message and the padre is delayed reaching the church. Romeo thinks Juliet is dead and takes a potion he'd had prepared when he first heard of her 'death'. He dies, and When Juliet wakes up, she stabs herself with his dagger. Thus endeth the lesson. I recommend this for anyone who is interested in the Shakespeare lite version of this play.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night by Anthony Del Col


Title:
Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night

Author: Anthony Del Col
Publisher: IDW
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by the author. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is sometimes reward aplenty!

This graphic novel appears to be mainly Hamlet & Juliet (given the cast), with some Othello thrown in, but considering the immense amount of blood-letting and violence, it was far more like Titus Andronicus than ever it was like any other Shakespeare play.

I wasn't able to follow it. For one thing, The language was wrong, with expressions from different eras getting mixed together such as, for example, one sentence which read: "You hold thy belly"! Say what?

There was - in my ARC - no title page or preliminary pages giving writer/artist/publisher, or other information. It appeared to start in the middle of a story, which made it look like pages were missing, or like this was a continuation from a previous volume which I've not read. Which of those it was, I have no idea.

I tried to get into the story and follow it, but it was nonsensical to me. There was no story as such, that I could discern. It was just an endless fight, either verbally between crew (it was set on a pirate ship being pursued by a ship of cannibals, apparently) or violently with swords, cudgels, daggers, etc. The character's idea of a good exchange was to attack someone and preferably end the 'conversation' by ripping out their heart and stamping on it.

It wasn't interesting or intelligible and I cannot recommend it. Letting Shakespearean characters run rampant outside the confines of their particular play, and interact with each other is a great idea, but that wasn't evident in this particular work.


Friday, April 11, 2014

A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchinson






Title: A Wounded Name
Author: Dot Hutchinson
Publisher: Lerner
Rating: WARTY!

Yes, this is an overly florid, if not pretentious, re-telling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. I should have known from the limp title that it wasn't worth my time, but I was foolish, I admit! In this version, the main character, Ophelia (whose last name is presumably 'Pain') is the daughter a school administrator at a boarding school. I couldn't get past the first two chapters, because it was so mind-dumbingly (and numbingly) boring that it put me to sleep. I've seen some reviews which say that the writing is beautiful, but I disagree, if this novel had had that much going for it, I would have stayed longer, but not only was the writing tedious, the 'action' was, too. And none of the plotting made sense.

With the original Hamlet, as over-blown as that was, at least it made some kind of sense. The monarchy is hereditary, and the death of a king is momentous (if you buy into royalty, which I don't), but in this novel there is no royalty. The dead "king" is no more than the Big Man on campus, a member of the Hamlet family (!), leaving his tortured son, Dane behind. Seriously? We’re expected to believe that this family has "ruled" the school for generations. What? We're also expected to believe that his death has thrown everything into chaos. Double what? Whence the school board? This man was not the king!

Dane’s uncle, of course, announces plans to marry the widow Me Miserum, and insane Dane (whose last name is undoubtedly 'Gelded') is conveniently thrown into the company of Ophelia Pain. The problem is that there isn't just one ghost in this story; there's a whole pantheon of fairies, and Ophelia can see them all. This is technically known in the medical world as 'having issues'. The fairies are called the bean sidhe for reasons unknown. Maybe it’s explained later in the novel but from the reviews I've read, nothing is explained. What definitely isn't explained is why this novel, based on a play set in Denmark, has an Irish term for the fairies! They may as well be the bean burrito, or the has-been sidhe. Suffice to say that Ophelia is under a regime of medication which she isn’t following as well as perhaps she ought. This explains a lot, IMO!

That’s pretty much all I can say having read so little of this. I picked it up (fortunately for my wallet) at the library and it sounded, superficially, to be interesting. It wasn't. It might have been, had a competent book editor had her way with it. As it is, it just goes to show that Big Publishing™ isn't about getting the best out of writers. It’s about getting the most out of them (and for 'most out of them' read, 'milking them dry'). An interesting number of reviews began with the preface, "This book isn't for everyone..."! You know when a review begins like that, the news can’t be good. I rate this novel 'warty' based on what I read. Your mileage may differ, but for me, life is too short to waste in trying to wade through a novel that doesn’t grab me by the balls of my feet. I was rewarded for my disloyalty to this by picking up a much better novel (one I did buy!), which I'll be reviewing (read: raving over!) here before long. Well, not right here specifically, that would be foolish, but in the blog somewhere….


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach





Title: Shakespeare's Secret
Author: Elise Broach
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: worthy

At first blush, this appears to be a Shakespeare conspiracy novel! The theory is that Shakespeare's plays were really written by Elizabethan nobleman Edward de Vere. We're offered a limp triad of evidence supposedly supporting this bizarre claim: firstly that Shakespeare wasn’t well-enough educated to have written his plays, having "only" a grammar school education; secondly that when he died he was not eulogized throughout the land as a famous playwright ought to have been, and thirdly, that Shakespeare left no collection of books and manuscripts behind when he died. I can’t believe that Broach uses the utterly absurd argument that Shakespeare used different spellings of his name! That's downright ignorant, especially when she puts it into the mouth of a purported Shakespeare scholar! I'm not a big fan of Shakespeare, so what do I care? Well, I do care about dishonesty purveyed as truth!

The fact that the Oxfordian 'theory' of Shakespeare authorship (which attributes Shakespeare's plays to contemporary Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford) was invented by a guy whose last name was "Looney" should tell you all you need to know about that. The fact that de Vere was evidently such a great author that he could compose twelve of Shakespeare's plays long after his own death in 1604 ought to tell you everything else! The spelling of words (and particularly of names) was not solidified until relatively recently, so the fact that Shakespeare (and everyone else, including de Vere) used variant spellings is meaningless. Strike one leg of this three-legged stool (with the emphasis on stool).

The fact that Shakespeare was grammar-school educated and clearly could write (if he could write his name!) means there is no issue at all with him being technically capable of writing plays. The fact that he was one of the world's best known rip-off artists, copying his plays from earlier works by others, and making a few changes here and there, removes any need for Shakespeare to have been a well-read and well-traveled man, and it also removes any basis for an argument that "a merchant" could not have dreamed up the ideas. Strike leg two. Shakespeare was revered in his own time, but not throughout the country, and not in all circles. It was only posthumously that his name has become so famous and so widely known, so it’s hardly surprising that there was no national outbreak of mourning upon his death. Thus the entire stool crashes down.

But let’s focus on the novel. Hero Netherfield and her family, including older sister Beatrice, are in Maryland - a new state, a new town, and a new school starting in the morning. Why they left their move to the last minute isn’t explained. They’ve moved into a house which supposedly has a diamond hidden somewhere on the property. Beatrice, attending as different school to hero, easily adapts to new places and new people. Hero always feels like she's the odd one out. Their parents met in an Eng. Lit. class and found a common language, and whilst each member of her family seems to have found a source of contentment, Hero has yet to find hers.

Hero is a twelve-year-old who is your standard YA (in this case pre YA, but it's all the same) female: disaffected young girl, moved to a new town, starting at a new school, doesn't fit in, she's plain yet the hottest guy in school falls for her, everyone makes fun of her, mean girls are nasty to her. On short it's the saddest collection of pathetic tropes imaginable - and it's too young for me! So why the interest? Well, I haven't reviewed anything with a Shakespeare element yet in this blog, and this novel did sound interesting. Plus, bonus: it's not first person PoV! Hurray! Elise Broach actually gets it. Also, Hero is part of an actual family! She's not all alone, or with a step parent, or from an orphanage or a broken home. And Broach can write. The intrigue and drama are a bit forced, but it's acceptable to me, and I'm sure the intended age range would have no trouble with it.

The basic plot consists of Hero's discovery that there is supposedly an old and valuable diamond hidden somewhere on the property she just moved into. Being named after a character in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Hero is awakened to the Elizabethan era, to Shakespeare, and to King Henry's the Eight's first beheaded wife. She has to search the house for the hidden diamond, all there's the whole wondering what Miriam and her new friend Danny are up to. The ending is a bit trite and quite predictable, but for the age group, it'll do!

I had some real issues with the "Shakespeare really didn't write his works" wacko angle that Broach seems to buy into. I'll go into that soon on this blog, but be prepared for a huge amount of bias confirmation in the Broach approach, with liberal lack of any critique of the Oxfordian perspective. There are no real Shakespeare scholars who buy into alternative authorship of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, so that oughta tell ya everything you need to know about Shakespeare conspiracy theory! Broach is also seriously, indeed dishonestly, misleading about the Elizabeth 1 - Catherine Parr - Thomas Seymour scandal. Other than that, the story is a worthy read for the intended age group.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Shylock's Daughter by Mirjam Pressler





Title: Shylock's Daughter
Author: Mirjam Pressler
Publisher: Dial
Rating: WARTY!

Mirjam Pressler is a noted German author, and this is an English translation of one of her novels. Based upon Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and set in the sixteenth century, a hundred years after Shakespeare's time, this novel takes the original story and bends it to the daughter's perspective. One thing I didn't like about this novel almost from the off was Pressler's habit of using foreign words immediately followed by their English translation. This was a big distraction, constantly reminding me that this was a story, and preventing me from becoming completely immersed in it. But that's just me!

In line with the original play, Jessica, Shylock's daughter, is in love with Lorenzo and he with her, but because he is Christian and she is Jewish, and he is rich and she merely the daughter of a money-lender, their future cannot be one they spend together - until it can be. However, Jessica has made it possible for herself to meet with Lorenzo, at least in the short-term, by visiting her friend, the doctor's daughter. Lorenzo also frequents this house, and so they can spend some time together if only in secret.

I really tried to get into this story but the problems I outlined in the first paragrpah (augmented by the insane number of tiems Pressler reminds us that the Jews had to wear a red hat when out of their ghetto!), plus the occasional first person chapter which featured a whiny whiny whiny "other daughter" (which I actually believe was the real daughter referenced in the title, not Jessica) just drove me completely away. I felt like I was reading a manifesto rather than a novel, and so I pretty much skimmed it, reading sections here and there and the last chapter and none of that made me feel like this rated anything other than a warty appellation. Life's too short to read a book which doe snothing to draw me in.