Let’s Keep Killing Shakespeare!

Eric Jean

Hey Brawlers! It’s finally “next time!”

No, that doesn’t mean a new recording of Titus Andronicus – though we’re hoping to finally get some Brawlers together to  get act V out Soon™.

I mean that it’s finally time to find to talk about IDW Publishing‘s comic series Kill Shakespeare again! You know the awesome graphic novel / comic book series created and written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col.

As Daniel pointed out, we’re reading the hella slick “Backstage Edition,” a hardcover edition of all twelve issues of Kill Shakespeare. If you can swing it, I highly recommend picking it up here. May as well pick up the other volumes while you’re at it. And while you’re shopping, why not load up on some Kill Shakespeare t-shirts.

On an unrelated note, Christmas is coming up in a few weeks…


Issue Five: O Coward Conscience

Courtesy – IDW PublishingSoft! I did but dream.

“O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!”

– Richard the Third, V.iii

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”

– Hamlet, III.i

Hamlet’s still confused about what’s going on in issue 5. He’s still convinced that Richard III is a good guy and that Juliet, Othello and the rebels are disruptive elements of the benign king’s just rule. Also, Iago just saved Hamlet’s life so he’s still pretty convinced that Iago’s on his side. Juliet and Othello aren’t buying any of it though. And Othello’s pretty mad, bro.

It’s hard to take Hamlet and Falstaff seriously of course as they’re still walking around in dresses after their getaway in the last issue but what’s Shakespeare without cross-dressing?

Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth and Richard are negotiating. He wants the use of her Black Guard troops but she’s not budging: she’s planning to keep them stationed in her lands. She’s smokin’ hot but Radcliff’s right – she’s trouble for sure.

Hamlet tries to run off in the middle of the night with Iago but Juliet spots him and tells him he’s got to go on alone if he wants to leave. So off he goes and wanders into a walking nightmare. Hamlet sees his father’s image go all zombie undead, pulling at his skin and growing snakes out of his flesh.

That drives him a little nuts but he comes to his senses as he wanders right unto a scene of Don John and Richard’s conies beating up some townsfolk to find out where Hamlet’s hiding. Don John even cuts out Shallow’s tongue and, like a wuss, Hamlet hides in the bushes until they pass.

When Juliet and company arrive in Shrewsbury, they are told not to stick around seeing as the fear of Richard’s men might make someone rat them out. Seems like some good advice.

Finally, Hamlet eventually falls and knocks himself out in the woods trying to run away from Don John and his troops. He’s found by Lysander, Demetrius and Adriana who are on their way to Shrewsbury. Along the way, they drop some truth about their beneficent King Richard.

Characters introduced: Lysander, Demetrius, Adriana


Issue Six: Lend Me Your Ears

Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.”

– Julius Caesar, III.ii

Turns out that crazy walking nightmare wasn’t just some bad food but was some sort of spell cast by Lady Macbeth and the weird sisters. (You know, the ones who tell Macbeth he’s be king one day but that Banquo’s kids will take over from him.) In this version, it seems like Lady M’s tapping into their juju to mess with Hamlet (and Skype with Iago, eventually).

In Shrewsbury, Iago’s messing with Othello’s mind by playing nice but “accidentally” saying stuff to set him off. And Juliet and Falstaff find Hamlet sleeping in some stables and guilt him into working the fields to pay for his free lunch.

While they work, Adriana drops some hints to Hamlet who’s totally clueless (Hey dude! Wake up! She wants to “care for thy coat!,” know what I’m saying?) But Hamlet’s too busy being emo Hamlet on account of his being a wuss earlier and not fighting Don John to save the peasant’s tongue.

Elsewhere, King Richard sleeps with Lady Macbeth.

Juliet makes a rousing speech to convince the people of Shrewsbury to join the rebellion against Richard. Rolls a natural 20 on her Diplomacy check. Everyone’s all in!

Ooops! Guess that was a little loud. Seems like Don John and co. hear that, too and now they’ve got the place surrounded and have started beating up on folks!

This time, Hamlet’s ready to throw down though and he clubs a guard in the head. A rumble breaks out and Juliet brains Don John. Even Iago gets in on the action and after they win the fight, beer and food for all.

Oh, and it turns out that Iago’s been serving Lady Macbeth this whole time because he, too, has been hypnotised by her gratuitously giant comic book boobs. (I mean just like Richard, not me. I don’t get hypnotised by cartoon boobs.)

Characters added: no one, but Don John is dead, which is a nice bonus!


Issue Seven: The Play’s The Thing

Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“[…]I’ll have grounds
More relative than this: the play ‘s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

– Hamlet, II.ii

So Iago’s been using his own magic to Skype with Lady Macbeth who is totally willing to keep using the promise of her body to get stupid men to do stupid things. This isn’t like real life at all, guys.

It’s Twelfth Night in Shrewsbury (well, everywhere else in England too, I would imagine) and Juliet and company are convinced to stick around for a play staged by Feste and Sir Toby Belch. Or just plain Belch here.

Hamlet finally gets a clue and dances with Adriana but the dance is interrupted by the start of the play. Feste’s asking for an audience member to join them on stage.

Feste: “No, not you. No… Ah, Hamlet. Shadow King. You’ll do. Get your ass up here! Here’s a costume.”

Hamlet” What the hell am I supposed to do?”

Feste: “Oh, it’s just an old play called the Murder of King Hamlet. Errr, I mean,Gonzago. The murder of Gonzago. You get to be the murderer. Fun, right?”

Hamelt: “GAHHHHHHHH!” (Exit stage right, running and screaming)

Feste: “Was it something I said?”

Of course, the Murder of Gonzago mirrors the Mousetrap play in Hamlet. This one retells the story of the murder of Hamlet’s father by his brother Claudius. But the names are different so how did Hamlet figure it out? Must be because he’s always making everything about him.

So where does he end up when he runs off? In a crazy, trippy house of mirrors of course. Could there by some symbolism going on? Anyhow, Juliet’s worried about him so she runs off after him and discovers him going all emo again about his dad. So she confides in him about how her lover Romeo (I’ve heard that name before…) killed himself because he thought she was dead but she was just knocked out by some special totally creepy knock-out juice that made her sleep for 2 days.

Hey wait! I thought Juliet died in R&J? Yup. But she gets saved in this version just before she stabs herself and ends up leading the rebellion.

Then cue full-page image of Juliet and Hamlet on either sides of a wall, all Pyramus and Thisby style, talking through a wall and commiserating.

Characters added: Feste, Sir Toby Belch


Issue Eight: Journeys End in Lovers Meeting

Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.”

– Twelfth Night, II.iii

Hamlet and the others run into Morton. (Not to be confused with this Morton.) He was discovered spying for the rebellion and just barely managed to escape. Falstaff’s had enough of Hamlet’s waffling and declares that it’s time to find Shakespeare and get all this shit fixed.

In the mean time, Iago and Othello are training the resistance militia. Iago is giving some advice on how to beat stronger opponents like Othello. Seems that some of the advice is doing a number on Othello who gets his butt whipped and then walks off. Iago’s doublespeak is starting to twist and turn him and Othello starts his own #guiltfest.

Didn’t he shaft Iago when he passed him over for a promotion? Maybe murdering his wife Desdemona was all his fault and not Iago’s? And maybe Othello’s just a cool blooded killer anyhow?

Hamlet’s standing on his balcony musing about this whole Shadow King stuff when Juliet calls down from below and then climbs up to him. Some more clever R&J reversal. And finally they make out! The next morning, Falstaff, Iago and Hamlet set out towards… somewhere, to find Shakespeare.

Remember how Lady Macbeth was holding the Black Guard in reserve? Yeah, well Richard kinda went behind her back and invited them and their leader Philip the Bastard to join him in fighting the rebels. Pwnd!

Iago and Falstaff are poking fun at Hamlet about this whole Juliet thing when they are accosted along the road by a bunch of well-armed and armoured paladins or holy warriors. They’re not really buying this Shadow King stuff so their leader steps forward and asks Hamlet to prove it.

Who’s their leader? Romeo Montague, much less dead that previously reported.

Oh snap!

Characters added: Philip the Bastard, Orsino, Romeo

 

What happens next? Well, I know but you should probably pick up the graphic novel to find out for yourself. But if you’re willing to wait, we’ll eventually tell you when we cover issues 9 through 12.

Enjoy, Brawlers!


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Looking for Richard (1996), Director Al Pacino

Laura MacDonald

Prologue

Was ever woman in this humour wooed?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
                        Richard III, 1. 2

As anyone who has lived with me can attest, I am a notoriously grumpy movie watcher and as this video was popped into the DVD player I muttered, “There better not be any special features.  This movie is, like, all special features.  All behind the scenes stuff…grumble, grumble…”

To which my much better half replied, “That’s pretty much what a documentary is, sweetie.”

I responded with silence (silence and the sound of a chip bag being opened).

Looking for Richard and Finding Al

It’s a docu-drama type thing.

Al Pacino

Spot on, Al.  Spot on.

Touted as a behind-the-scenes look at the production of an American film version of Richard the III, featuring one of Shakespeare’s most villainous of villains, we watch the tension, the struggle and the efforts to understand Shakespeare from a modern day perspective and yet, here’s the catch: there is no movie being filmed.

This is the movie.  Richard the III is not.

Looking for Richard is a movie about Al Pacino playing Richard.  Cultivating the perfect scenario where he can rule the Shakespearean landscape as he sees fit, cutting and pasting the text to meet his aim, charming famous actors into joining him in his ill-defined endeavour, ruling the silver-screen…his way.

Sound familiar?  Richard as King, Al as director.

Hmmmm…

Now, after tactlessly implying that Al Pacino is an amoral, murderous, covetous scoundrel, I will follow up by saying that I really did enjoy some of his directorial choices.   The aim, as stated early in the film, is to make Shakespeare accessible to an American audience.  I believe that they have achieved this in Looking for Richard – that by the end of the movie we, the audience, do find him.

By allowing us to sit in on the table readings and the discussions and debates that ensue, we learn about the play along with all the famous players in this film (Hey! That’s the premise for the Bard Brawl).  As audience members, we aren’t intimidated because we can see that we are not the only ones who are confused.  Even the seasoned actors are more than a little bit muddled. We are merely joining the ranks of centuries of confused Shakespeare-o-phobes.

We are also given a glimpse at the common-folk as Pacino and co. take a casual walk down a New York street falling into lockstep with locals who give their two cents on Shakespeare.  They meet resistance (“It sucked”).  They meet clichés (“To be, or not to be”). They meet pragmatic Brits (“He’s a great export”).  They also meet a wise-beyond-his-toothless-grin man who believes that Shakespearean language gives us access to our feelings and that, “if we felt what we said we’d say less and mean more.”

Yeah, what that guy said.

Pacino also does a beautiful (albeit an overt) job of juxtaposing the urban New York landscape with the opening lines from Richard the III and we start to see how that Shakespeare can thrive in modernity.  Thrive but not without obstacles.  We watch as Pacino and his gregarious cohort Frederick Kimball try to seek inspiration by travelling to England to visit the actual birth room of Shakespeare only to be interrupted by the sound of sirens.  Alternatively, there is a lovely brief moment when Pacino is walking down some city street and we can hear the sound of horse hooves clopping by.

It gives a whole new meaning to the word timeless.

Another shining moment in the film is when Kimball is explaining iambic pentameter by comparing an iamb to an anteater:

And five of them: Da-da da-da da-da da-da da-da.  Make a pentameter line, five iambs.  An iamb is like an anteater. Very high in the back and very short, little front legs: da-DA!

You just can’t beat a solid anteater analogy.

What falls short in Looking for Richard are the scenes from the “movie they are filming”; all the characters seem considerably more believable with their backwards baseball caps, messy hair and civvies.  Their Elizabethan garb becomes a distraction and actually goes against their effort to make Shakespeare accessible to an audience that is not familiar with the plays.  This is not to say that it never works but, in the context of this film, when we are being thrown from rehearsal to table work and back, from in-costume to baseball cap to in-costume again; from trendy Ray Bans to bejeweled crowns, it is a lot to take in .  Pacino, speaking about the language of Shakespeare, asserts that it is not difficult.  He just says, “you have to tune up”.  I would suggest that he take his own advice when it comes to the costume as well – our eyes need to get accustomed to the floppy hats, over-sized crowns and Alec Baldwin in a puffy Seinfeldian shirt.

Truth be told, I started getting anxiety while watching Looking for Richard but was too scared to ask if the movie version of Richard III was ever really produced because if it was, I might have to watch it.  One of the scholars in the film stated that “The action of the play, the sense of exciting movement is Richard’s finding out the point beyond which people won’t go.” I believe that sentiment holds true for this film as well.

Epilogue

An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told.
                        Richard III, 4. 4

In terms of introducing an unfamiliar play to the general masses, Pacino was on the right track by stacking the deck with so many familiar faces: Alec Baldwin, Derek Jacobi, Sir Arthur John Gielgud, Winona Ryder, Kenneth Branagh, the principal from The Breakfast Club (though he has no lines, let alone a gem like “Don’t mess with the bull, young man.  You’ll get the horns”) and Kevin Spacey, to name a few.  We get a peek at the struggle and discovery involved in putting up Shakespeare for a modern day audience.  Or at least the struggle involved with thinking of putting it up.  And since struggle and discovery are the ingredients to every good quest, I say it’s worth embarking on the journey…as long as you have plenty of chips.

Laura Macdonald

Richard III (1955), Laurence Olivier (director)

Daniel J. Rowe

Though in a certain sense dated, Olivier’s Richard III is a great piece of film largely thanks to the director/star’s scene chewing greatness.

When looking at William Shakespeare’s work on film, one will, in a very short time, collide with “cinema’s first great Shakespearean artist“, the godfather of them all, Sir Laurence Olivier.

Richard III is the final of his three directorial efforts (he acted in eight); the other two being Hamlet (1948) and Henry V (1944). He began what Orson Welles and Kenneth Branagh continued. Branagh, like Olivier, started his bard-on-film odyssey with Henry V. Sir Kenneth followed that promise by bumbling through roles he had no business playing (Hamlet, Iago), and hasn’t done much for a while. Here’s hoping he doesn’t decide to cast himself as R III.

Olivier’s Richard III suffers from one thing: age. It is hard for a contemporary viewer to appreciate the film when Richard Loncraine’s 1995 adaptation is staring us in the face. Sir Ian McKellen’s Richard is just so sexy. The ascetic of Olivier’s R III suffers datedness in three respects: costumes, set and music. Oh the music. So bad.

By the way, are we a little fast and loose with the knighthoods Windsors? I guess all it takes is making a few Shakespeare movies and you’re in.

The “it’s dated” criticism, even with the billowy tights and static sets, misses the forest for the trees however (ask Macbeth the consequences of that). Richard III is always about the title character. If Richard is good, so goes the production. Olivier is, surprise, surprise, very good. He bounces through his manipulation of the Yorkish court with the cheshire cat grin of a true sadist. He loves what he’s doing, and dreads it in the same scene at times. His soliloques to camera are chilling, as are his “friendly” moments with his nephews. Olivier, as per normal, chews up the scenery.

His directorial choices, as well, work. He splits speeches and changes the order or scenes to make the very confusing plot of the play make a little more sense. He opens with the court, so we can at least see the characters of Richard’s opening soliloquy. Of course the opening, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” loses a little power if not performed loud and proud on fade in.

The use of shadows is a little obvious. Yes we get it, Richard is a shadowy figure whose only pleasure is to “spy my shadow in the sun and descant on mine own deformity.” The director’s choice is understandable, as is the Edward court brightly lit, Richard court gloomy lit decision.

A particularly good scene is Richard’s coronation. Lady Anne (Claire Bloom) plays torture victim off Richard’s Machiavel creating a gut wrenching balance of hell that is the last York king’s court. The murder of Clarence (Sir John Gielgud) is harsh, hard to watch and perfect in its callousness. Gielgud, another knight, it should be noted, was called the greatest Shakespearean actor of the 20th century; he was in Branagh’s Hamlet and died in 2000. He directed his own version of Hamlet in 1964.

The historical Richard III has recently found his way into the headlines with the discovery of a skeleton thought to be his under a carpark. His historical footprint has been as much outlined by Shakespeare as any scholar, and thus the play remains important.

Olivier’s Richard III is worth the watch. Richard ranks with Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear and Othello as Shakespeare’s finest and most difficult characters. Any bard brawler must appreciate the role, and catch a master knee deep in the guck. Olivier is a master.

Note to Queen Elizabeth II: We bard brawlers are part of the commonwealth and waiting for our knighthoods.

Daniel J. Rowe is c0-creator of the Bard Brawl.DSC_0180

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