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Shakespeare's Plays

Google is truly the outsourced mind for the modern generation. So damn easy for people to commit mistakes in a couple of keystrokes. Goodness knows I've committed damn a lot of them myself.
So I got to se the National Theatre's performance of Timon Of Athens the other day. No, I wasn't in London, but I just happened to walk past my local cinema and saw a big sign saying "Timon Of Athens - Live From London on the big screen". Apparently the last performance of it, too.

The moon's an arrant thief, And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.

And I thought it was, for the most part, pretty brilliant - not perfect, but as adaptations of Shakespeare set in contemporary times go, it's certainly timely. To be honest I've probably read the play once, years ago, and it's not one that left very strong memories so I can't say how much is Shakespeare and how much is adaptation (in an interview shown before the performance, the director said that since Timon is unfinished and most likely was never performed in Shakespeare's time, he has no qualms about editing the text since Shakespeare would have had to do the same). As Shakespeare plays go, it's not one of his strongest; a very thin plot, heavy on satire but light on the sort of sharp characterisation and witty wordplay that you'd expect from a Shakespeare play - hell, several of the characters aren't even named in the version that's been preserved.

Bounty, being free itself, thinks all others so.

But not unlike Fiennes' Coriolanus, this version of Timon isn't so much filtered through Occupy protests, financial crises (it's set in Athens...) and crumbling social order as positively steeped in it. Timon here is a financial bigshot, one of the elite rich who spend their days scratching each others backs, praising and lavishing gifts upon each other, ignoring the rumbling in the streets far below, the words "Let them eat cake" all but spoken aloud... and when one of them (Timon himself) falls on hard times as his wealth crumbles, built as it is on a house of cards all marked "IOU", everyone else turns on him for not meeting their austerity requirements even as they're still full from dining at his table the night before. Yeah, the director knows what buttons he's pushing here.

For every grise of fortune Is smooth'd by that below.

Of course, the other side, the horde outside the gates - dressed in hoodies, carrying slogans, sleeping in cheap tents, directly from the set of Cronenberg's Cosmopolis - don't fare much better; the slightest hint of gold and they'll sell anything, kill anyone. For all of Shakespeare's humanity, he wasn't necessarily a great liberal democrat (as opposed to a Liberal, a Democrat, or a Liberal Democrat) by today's standards; his sympathy isn't necessarily with the disenfranchised as with the noble. So between the rich who have too much money and don't understand how good they have it, and the poor who simply want what the others have, that leaves the director with the choice of almost accepting Timon's complete misanthropy as he stands, for the entire second half of the play, in the wilderness (here a dirty city street), clad in rags behind a Tesco cart filled with garbage and worthless gold, cursing mankind (and damn, Simon Russell Beale is fantastic... Deborah Findlay, perhaps, slightly less so). Before we end on a note that's as cynical about the nature of power and privilege as it gets.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Not a perfect play, not an entirely perfect performance, but thanks for reminding me that Shakespeare never ceases to be relevant.
In the past month, I've been watching DVDs of Shakespeare adaptations. So far, I've seen two Hamlets, three Macbeths, two Romeo and Juliets, and one Richard III. I have to turn on the subtitles to watch these, otherwise they're no different from a foreign film. They've gotten me into the spirit of iambic pentameter and the language of Old England. I really like the fact that I don't hear any cliches and trite phrases. It's refreshing. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I only understand a fraction of what is uttered. I have to rely on the acting talents, the tone, the music, the body language, etc. to understand what's going on. Despite the difficulties, I watch because they're strangely addictive.

I've read Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet in high school but it's been so long, I've forgotten almost everything.
You know, last year I saw the Royal Shakespeare Company put on The Comedy of Errors and I was a bit apprehensive being able to follow the language but they did such a great job that after the first ten minutes or so, I understood everything.
You know, last year I saw the Royal Shakespeare Company put on The Comedy of Errors and I was a bit apprehensive being able to follow the language but they did such a great job that after the first ten minutes or so, I understood everything.

I think you have a better ear than I do.
all you need to know about Romeo and Juliet is that a. half the language you think you understand and don't is terribly crude and rude b. two nit-wit overdramatic teenagers make a suicide pact because their families have a long standing feud keeping them apart, which only one goes through with :)

Hamlet - distraught neurotic prince whose mother is having an affair with his uncle and murdered his father has all kinds of existential anxieties about the meaning of life. oh and his girlfriend died too.

Twelfth Night - typical British 'nudge nudge wink wink' type puns and double entendre with cross dressing twins and the confusion that results.
I think Shakespeare (whoever he actually was) had a good understanding of what the 'great unwashed' liked to see. He pandered to the toffs romantic notions about themselves while shoving in rude bits for the peasants to have a laugh at the toffs they were taking the piss out of secretly behind their backs. I could well imagine him doing very well writing blockbuster movies that are popular but not necessarily actually very good.

So yeah Shakespeare performed in the park on a summer's night is a nice bit of fun to watch. It's entertaining, but I can't sit and swallow the 'great' literature bit. We did Shakespeare for years at school and then again in English at university (college). I got into huge amounts of trouble because I plain refused to spout the party line about it being any good. What then really annoyed me was despite showing the plot weaknesses, contradictions and inconsistencies and rude bits (and they are really are rude) the professors refused to acknowledge that my point of view was as valid as theirs. Although now, that probably was the problem more than the strength of my argument. Rule no. 1 - thou shalt not disagree with thy teachers!
I always thought the assassination plan in Macbeth was somewhat stupid and amateurish. Also, I couldn't stomach the many scenes showing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffering from guilt/mental illness.

Romeo & Juliet = nit-wit teenagers, per Meadow337 is right. But man, Olivia Hussey was hot.

Mel Gibson's portrayal of Hamlet was laughable. He just spent his time skulking around -- and not in an inconspicuous way -- to listen to gossip.
oh you can't really compare the film adaptations to the actual works. Some are good, some are bad and some are so-so, but they do strengthen my argument about Shakespeare (whoever he actually was) having an understanding of what would be popularly accepted. The fact that they translate so well into film and do reasonably well at the box office is proof of that. I suppose some would argue that that is what makes them 'great' but is it really? All that indicates to me is that people haven't changed much.