A lesson on bard basics courtesy of Muse of Fire

Daniel J. Rowe

Two dudes self-fund a documentary to discover one thing:

Why are people scared of Shakespeare?

“Because it’s hard to read,” says one girl in that sing songy teenage voice we all love so much. Yes. Shakespeare’s hard.

Muse of Fire stars actors Dan Poole and Giles Terera, who really, really want you to know that they’re a) actors and b) like Shakespeare. I think. At least they’re interested in Shakespeare.

The two grew up in the 80s “watching Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Batman and Robin.” Wait a second. Batman and Robin? The only Batman I can think of from the 80s was Michael Keaton’s in 1989, and there was sure as shit no Robin in that one. Oh well. I get what they’re saying.

Muse of Fire is pretty good. Kind of like a poor man’s Looking for Richard. It’s funny and explores why Shakespeare is so unapproachable and taught so horribly so often. It also gives a nice glimpse of why the bard is so great. I.E. when Gandalf reads Romeo and Juliet. Now that’s a pleasure to any of the senses.

It’s a perfect for secondary school students. Find a copy, show it and sit back and enjoy teachers of English. The show will do your work for you.

*If you click this link, you can watch the full interviews with those found in the film.

The two actors start with “the good, the bard and the ugly,” and trot around asking actors of varying levels of prestige why the language is so difficult. Almost all of them from Ewan McGregor to the guy who plays Gareth in the Office to Gandalf, errr, I mean Magneto, sorry, I mean Sir Ian McKellan say that Shakespearean language is hard, but you just have to do it; more or less.

Almost all the interviewees recall horror stories of being taught Shakespeare in school and hating it, but, later in life when they’re all grown up, can appreciate it. I think most people can appreciate that sentiment.

Then there are these kids at Shakespeare camp (where the Hamlet was Shakespeare camp when I was a kid?!) who are acting it out, and seem to be having real fun. See. Even kids like it.

The best part of Muse of Fire are the interviewees and there are a lot of them. Dame Judi Dench is a particularly incredible interview, as are the ones mentioned above.

The two dudes then set off for Denmark to catch Jude Law in Hamlet.

Hamlet, in Denmark with Jude Law?! Very jealous.

Law’s interview is predictably great, and he says one line that touched this brawler’s heart very fondly.

“In the end, you just have to say it,” says Law.

Yes you do. Welcome to the Bard Brawl Mr. Law. We’ll see you next week.

“It’s so rich. You have no chance to think that you can get everything every night in the language, but what you can get is a sense of journey emotionally through that scale of writing,” he goes on.

Law talks about Hamlet shifting depending on the actor, time, audience and any other number of variables. Amazing. This is why those, ‘this is how Shakespeare wanted it’ types are a tad bothersome and always produce the show in “period” English. Oh, and those types are always a treat to have in class with you.

“Your responsibility is to that audience and to that production, not 400 years of incredible actors who have played him before,” Law says.

Well said.

Much like Pacino’s documentary, the filmmakers take a jaunt into the wonderful world of the iambic pentameter that, if you didn’t know what it was already, probably skipped a few classes in high school or were at the back of the class working on your fantasy football team. It’s just one of those things you should all know.

iambic pentameter

noun

a common meter in poetry consisting of an unrhymed line with five feet oraccents, each foot containing an unaccented syllable and an accentedsyllable

Word Origin

French iambique ‘of a foot or verse’ and Greek pentameter ‘measure offive’

Oh, and just like in Pacino’s film, they put a team of actors together to go through some of the language.

And, just like Pacino, the people on the film give the Duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum explanation of the term.

Hmmm, seems like they might want to have mentioned the Pacino film maybe once. I’ll help you out boys: Looking for Richard.

Throughout the documentary, the two actors love shooting themselves doing their “everyday things,” which is less interesting that the subject at hand.

No one cares how struggling actors spend their days boys. Move it along.

Then there’s the Wizard of Baz part…

Now, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is a lot of fun, and a great gateway production to get kids into the bard, but the weird scene of Poole and Terara fawning over the DVD copy in the bookstore is kind of odd. They interview Luhrmann which is fine, but we already saw interviews with Gandalf, Jude Law, Judi Dench, Obi-Wan Kenobi and a bunch of other amazing people, so the director of Strictly Ballroom is less than it could be. Does he really have more to add than Alan Cumming (an interview the filmmakers barely used by the way)?

I shouldn’t be harsh though. Muse of Fire is fun, and nice at moments, and, like stated, is perfect for a classroom.

It’s always fun to see the greats talk about what the bard means to them, and even better when they read the words.

That, and the Bard Brawl would gladly welcome the budding actors into our ranks should they choose to join and give their thoughts.


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