Category Archives: Shakespeare

‘FAT HAM’ WINS 2022 PULITZER PRIZE FOR BEST DRAMA (MORE)   ·

(Hillel Italie’s article for the Associated Press, appeared in USA TODAY, 5/9.)

Joshua Cohen’s “The Netanyahus” has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The work, titled in full “The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family,” is a comic and rigorous campus novel set around 1959-60 and based on the true story of the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking a job in academia. The novel has been highly praised for its blend of wit and intellectual debate about Zionism and Jewish identity.

“It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I’ve read in what feels like forever,” The New York Times’ Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote last June.

The winners of seven arts categories were announced Monday afternoon at Columbia University, which administers the awards. This year’s Pulitzers recognize work done in 2021, and many of the winners in the arts were explorations of race and class, in the past and the present. 

The late artist Winfred Rembert won in biography for “Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,” as told to Erin I. Kelly. Rembert, who survived years in prison and a near-lynching in rural Georgia in the 1960s, died last year at age 75.

In an interview Monday, Kelly spoke of the book’s long and unexpected back story. She is a professor of philosophy at Tufts University and had come across his work several years ago while working on a different project, on criminal justice. She contacted Rembert, who was living in New Haven, Connecticut, and found him so compelling that she wanted to make sure his life was properly documented.

“He was both charismatic and down to earth,” she said. “He had an incredible grasp of language and an incredible visual memory.”

Rembert had been in poor health and died before “Chasing Me to My Grave” came out, although he did get to see an edited manuscript.

“We both felt a great sense of urgency to get the book done,” Kelly said.

Andrea Elliott’s “Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City,” which builds upon her New York Times investigative series about a homeless Black girl from Brooklyn, received a Pulitzer for general nonfiction. Elliott’s book has already won the Gotham Prize for outstanding work about New York City.

Two prizes were awarded Monday in history: Nicole Eustace’s “Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America” and Ada Ferrer’s “Cuba: An American History,” which traces the centuries-long relationship between U.S. and its Southern neighbor.

Diane Seuss won in poetry for “frank: sonnets.” Her collection, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Prize, draws in part on her roots in rural Michigan and features her fierce and lyrical reflections on gender, class and substance abuse among other subjects.

“My father died very young. My mom raised my sister and me. Young me came to poetry by instinct alone,” Seuss said Monday, also citing influences ranging from Frank O’Hara to Amy Winehouse. “I consider ‘frank: sonnets’ a collaborative effort — with the living and the dead.”

The music award Monday was given to Raven Chacon for his composition for organ and ensemble, “Voiceless Mass.” Chacon created “Voiceless Mass” specifically for the pipe organ at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, where it premiered in November 2021. Chacon is a composer, performer and installation artist from the Navajo Nation. His art work, currently on display at the Whitney Biennial, is inspired by protestors at the Oceti Sakowin near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

“This was my first time writing for a church organ and I wanted to make a statement about the space that this organ is housed in,” said Chacon, who is Diné, the Navajo word for “the people.” “I wanted to think about the church’s role in the forming of the country, particularly as it pertains to Indigenous people.”

His 2020 opera, “Sweet Land,” co-composed with Du Yun, was performed outdoors at the Los Angeles State Historic Park earned critical praise for its revisionist telling of American history using different narratives simultaneously. The opera was awarded best opera by the Music Critics Association of North America for 2021.

Chacon has been mentoring hundreds of Native high school composers in the writing of string quartets through the Native American Composer Apprenticeship Project since 2004.

Chacon told The Associated Press in an interview after learning of the Pulitzer win that he wants his work to stand as a reminder that Indigenous people are involved in chamber music and classical music.

“I am happy that this work was heard. I think overall chamber music is not something that can always be accessible to a broad audience,” Chacon said. “There’s an opportunity for anyone to listen to chamber music and I am happy I am able to contribute to that.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez congratulated Chacon, saying the artist exemplifies the tremendous potential of Navajos.

“His award showcases the talent, innovation and creativity of Indigenous people and shows our young people that anything is possible through hard work and prayer,” Nez said in a statement to the AP.

Chacon graduated from the University of New Mexico and the California Institute of the Arts and is scheduled to start a residency at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia in 2022.

His solo artworks have been displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Institute’s American Art Museum and National Museum of the American Indian and many more.

Drama finalists included “Selling Kabul” by Sylvia Khoury and “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” by Kristina Wong.

The drama award is “for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.” Ijames is a Philadelphia-based playwright and Wilma Theater co-artistic director whose “Fat Ham” production was streamed last summer. 

The Pulitzers are considered the most prestigious honor in American journalism. Winners of each category get a prize of $15,000, except for the public service award, which comes with a gold medal.

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NEW EVIDENCE SUGGESTS SHAKESPEARE MAY HAVE STOLEN THE PLOT OF CYMBELINE ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Observer, 4/24; PhotoTom Hiddleston as Posthumus and Jodie McNee as Innogen in Cymbeline at the Barbican in 2007. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

Notes from a 1533 book put Sir Thomas North in the frame for one of the bard’s later plays

A rare 16th-century book offers “compelling evidence” that William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was inspired by a now-lost play by Sir Thomas North, an Elizabethan courtier and writer, new research claims.

A 1533 edition of Fabyan’s Chronicle, a compendium of British and French history from Roman times to Henry VII, bears notes in the margin in North’s hand that have been linked to the plot and other details of Shakespeare’s tragicomedy, set in Roman Britain.

Michael Blanding, who unearthed the book in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, said the marginalia could not have been based on Shakespeare’s play because North died about six years before the conventionally accepted date of its first performance, 1609-10.

“It is a revolutionary discovery that is hard to interpret in any other way than that North used the book to write notes for his own play, which Shakespeare later adapted,” he said.

The marginalia have been analysed by an independent researcher, Dennis McCarthy, who since 2005 has used plagiarism software to reveal links between Hamlet, among other plays, and North’s writings. His research inspired Blanding’s book North by Shakespeare, published by Hachette last year and to be released shortly as a paperback, retitled In Shakespeare’s Shadow.

Since then, Blanding has tracked down dozens of 16th-century books once owned by the North family. Several bear North’s marginalia.

Blanding said that, while North is known as the translator of Plutarch’s Lives, a recognised source for Shakespeare’s Roman plays, the marginalia in Fabyan’s Chronicle “often provides a point-by-point correspondence with the historical plot of Cymbeline”.

“For example, both the marginalia and the play refer to Julius Caesar’s repeated attempts to invade Britain, and display an obsessive focus on the theme of tributes being paid to Rome by British kings,” Blanding said. “In addition, both focus on Cymbeline’s sons, Guiderius and Arviragus, include a strategy of a character disguising himself to kill an enemy, and incorporate a battle by a ‘wall of turfs’, historically fought in Scotland.”

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***** HENRY VI: REBELLION / WARS OF THE ROSES REVIEW – THRILLING GAMES OF THRONES ·

(Mark Lawson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/21; Photo: Frail body, strong mind … Mark Quartley in Henry VI: Rebellion at the Royal Shakespeare theatre. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz/RSC.)

The three plays about King Henry VI rank low in the Shakespearean canon for character and poetry but paradoxically have the heaviest popular culture presence, as an acknowledged source for the regicidal TV epic Game of Thrones. The middle drama also contains one of Shakespeare’s most quoted lines, “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” spoken by an ally of Jack Cade, the populist demagogue who, as proxy for the Yorkists, threatens the House of Lancaster’s hold on the throne.

The production by Owen Horsley (RSC boss Gregory Doran, on compassionate leave, is “consultant director”) imposes no strenuous topicalities but is alert to the fact that a wobbling monarchy and the vulnerability of a populace to muscular false promise particularly chime with this revival. Shakespeare covers most human and political possibilities and, through Cade, skewers the year zero egotists of which Boris Johnson is the latest exemplar.

“Burn all the records of the realm. My mouth shall be the parliament of England,” declares the self-glorying rebel during a campaign based on denigrating the French and pledging unlimited state expenditure. Warned that he has said something “false”, Cade shrugs: “Ay, there’s the question; but I say ’tis true.”

Aaron Sidwell’s swaggering braggart, giddied by the possibility of tyranny as success swells him, directly references no current public mannerisms, but those who watched prime minister’s questions on their phones just before the 1pm start at the Royal Shakespeare theatre marvelled anew at Shakespeare’s historical prescience.

What academics call the H6 plays are staged rarely and, even then, in mashups of the English history cycle. Horsley and Doran create Henry VI: Rebellion from the first four acts of part two and join the remaining scenes to part three to create Wars of the Roses.

Such reshaping reflects that these are early plays, the dramatist sketching scenes of witchcraft, a deranged exiled king, women who out-power their men and the dynamics of popular power that will mature in Macbeth, King Lear and Coriolanus.

Another complication is that the bloodlines and fault lines between the founding fathers of Yorkshire and Lancashire, thickened by French intermarriage, can seem impossibly convoluted: this version helps by giving characters white or red roses on their costumes like November poppies, and using live video capture on a downstage screen to underline those being mentioned or remembered.

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THE GREATEST, MOST BEAUTIFUL PLAY EVER, WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF SHAKESPEARE ·

(Rebecca Mead’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 4/11; Mike Bartlett Illustration by João Fazenda.)

A few years ago, the British playwright Mike Bartlett offered an ingenious take on future events in “King Charles III,” a drama that appeared in the West End, and then on Broadway, about the Royal Family in the imagined wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth. Startlingly, but somehow entirely aptly, its characters spoke in blank verse: “My life has been a ling’ring for the throne,” Charles soliloquized in the first scene. When the curtain rose last week at London’s Old Vic on Bartlett’s new play, “The 47th,” a very different head of state was center stage, announcing himself to the audience in iambic pentameter: “I know, I know. You hate me. So much, right?”

In “The 47th”—the title refers to whoever will come after Joe Biden, the forty-sixth President of the United States—Bartlett again employs Shakespeare’s idiom to fashion a contemporary succession drama. “I’ve known for a while that Trump was sort of a Shakespearean archetype, in the way that Charles was,” Bartlett explained the other day, during a break from rehearsal. “Charles is the man who waited: he waits his whole life to be king, and then he’s only got a short period, so what’s he going to do with it? And Trump, as a sort of seductive, show-biz, bitter, iconic figure, is also quite Shakespearean—quite ‘Richard III.’ ” It was only after the storming of the Capitol, in January, 2021, that Bartlett felt inspired, he said, to give the former President the stage from which he had been ushered in the election of 2020, and to set the play slightly in advance of the 2024 election. “After that happened, I realized American democracy, as a project, is in jeopardy,” Bartlett said. “So it’s not just about: how does one defeat Trump? It’s: how does one engage with that?”

The cast is a mix of British and American actors: Trump is played by Bertie Carvel, who won an Olivier Award for his performance as Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda” and a Tony for playing Rupert Murdoch in “Ink”; Kamala Harris is played by Tamara Tunie, who appeared in more than two hundred episodes of “Law & Order,” as the medical examiner Dr. Melinda Warner. To capture the forty-fifth President’s distinctive speech patterns, Bartlett watched hours of rallies and debates—just kidding! “I didn’t have to listen to any—I’ve heard enough,” Bartlett said, grimly. He salted his text with Trumpisms, especially in the early scenes. “It was so beautiful, so many jobs,” Trump says of the economy during his tenure. But, Bartlett explained, “as the narrative comes through, and the characters come through, some of that drops away.”

Instead, “The 47th” playfully riffs on Shakespearean rhythms and tropes. In a “Lear”-like setup in the first act, Trump discusses dividing his fortune among his three older children: Don, Jr., who models himself on his namesake (“I am your mirror, father. Donald named / And Donald Trump in bloody nature, too”); dopey Eric, “a sniv’ling wreck with little sense,” as Eric himself puts it; and cunning Ivanka. “Your rightful heir will never beg, but trade” is Ivanka’s response to her father’s entreaty for loyalty, before Trump declares that a three-way split “feels not aligned / With my philosophy: to find the art / Within the deal.”

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‘ROMEO AND JULIET’ ON BBC RADIO 4 IN OUR TIME (DISCUSSION PROGRAM) ·

Romeo and Juliet

Listen

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, written in the early 1590s after a series of histories and comedies. His audience already knew the story of the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Verona and the fate of the young lovers from their rival houses, but not how Shakespeare would tell it and, with his poetry and plotting, he created a work so powerful and timeless that his play has shaped the way we talk of love, especially young love, ever since.

The image above is of Mrs Patrick Campbell (‘Mrs Pat’) as Juliet and Johnson Forbes-Robinson as Romeo in a scene from the 1895 production at the Lyceum Theatre, London

With

Helen Hackett
Professor of English Literature at University College London

Paul Prescott
Professor of English and Theatre at the University of California Merced

And

Emma Smith
Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson

‘THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH’ FROM JOEL COEN ·

(Odie Henderson’s article appeared on Roger Ebert.com 12/23; via Pam Green; photo: Roger Ebert.com)

My high school senior year English teacher, Mr. Kilinski would be proud that I remembered every single stanza and line from Macbeth he made his students memorize. As Denzel WashingtonFrances McDormand, and others worked through the Bard’s words as adapted by director Joel Coen, I felt myself lip-syncing under my mask. I covered the greatest hits, and lines I didn’t even realize I knew. Keep in mind that I learned these words 35 years ago, yet they were as fresh in my mind as if I’d committed them to memory that morning. The Scottish Play holds a special place in my heart, because it forced me to do a complete 180 on William Shakespeare. After my freshman year run-in with Romeo and Juliet and my sophomore year’s Julius Caesar, I was through with this dude and his fancy writing about topics that put my adolescent self to sleep.

Macbeth made me reconsider. Back then, I couldn’t put my finger on why it spoke to me so powerfully that it made me want to read more Shakespeare. But, as an adult, I understood. This play is like a film noir and I was a budding noirista as a teen. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” visually leans into my noirish interpretation. It’s shot in silvery, at times gothic black and white by Bruno Delbonnel, has a moody score by the great Carter Burwell, and takes place on incredible (and obviously fake) sets designed by Stefan Dechant. It also has more fog than San Francisco, the setting for so many great noirs. This makes sense, as Coen and his brother Ethan visited neo-noir’s genre neighborhood more traditionally in their 2001 film, “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” One might consider their debut, “Blood Simple” a neo-noir as well.

Like those films, this one also features McDormand as a shady lady, namely Lady Macbeth. She’s married to Washington’s Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis. As the casting indicates, this couple is older than the one the Bard envisioned, which changes one’s perception of their motivations. Youthful ambition has given way to something else; perhaps the couple is way too conscious of all those yesterdays that “lighted fools/The way to dusty death.” At the Q&A after the free IMAX screening of this film, McDormand mentioned that she wanted to portray the Macbeths as a couple who chose not to have children early on, and were fine with the choice. This detail makes the murder of Macduff’s (Corey Hawkins) son all the more heartless and brutal, an act Coen treats with restraint but does not shy away from depicting.

Since The Scottish Play was first performed 415 years ago, all spoiler warnings have expired. Besides, you should know the plot already. Banquo (Bertie Carvel) and the Thane of Glamis meet three witches (all played by theater vet Kathryn Hunter) on his way back from battle. They prophesize that Macbeth will eventually be King of Scotland. But first, he’ll become the Thane of Cawdor. When that part of the prediction becomes true, Macbeth thinks these medieval Miss Cleos might be onto something. Though he believes chance will crown him without his stir, Lady Macbeth goads him to intervene. As is typical of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the stage will be littered with dead bodies by the final curtain, each of whom will have screamed out “I am slain!” or “I am dead!” before expiring. Coen leaves that feature out of the movie, as you can see quite graphically how dead the bodies get on the screen.

King Duncan’s murder is especially rough. Washington and Brendan Gleeson play it as a macabre dance, framed so tightly that we feel the intimacy of how close one must be to stab another. It’s almost sexual. Both actors give off a regal air in their other scenes, though Washington’s is buoyed by that patented Den-ZELLL swagger. He even does the Denzel vocal tic, that “huh” he’s famous for, in some of his speeches, making me giddy enough to jump out of my skin with joy. Gleeson brings the Old Vic to his brief performance; every line and every moment feels like he’s communing with the ghosts of the famous actors who graced that hallowed London stage.

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‘EXCEEDINGLY RARE’ FOLIO EDITION OF SHAKESPEARE’S HENRY IV FOR SALE ·

(Alison Flood’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/25; Photo:  William Shakespeare Photograph: Stock Montage/Getty Images.)

An original fragment from the first folio, estimated to be worth up to $100,000, will be auctioned this week

An “exceedingly rare” fragment from Shakespeare’s first folio, comprising the whole of the play Henry IV Part One, is to be auctioned this week.

The play has been authenticated as an original fragment from Shakespeare’s first folio by Shakespeare scholar Eric Rasmussen. The first folio was published in 1623 and is the earliest collected edition of Shakespeare’s works. When Shakespeare died, in 1616, only 17 of his plays had been printed. Without the first folio, which collects 36 plays, 18 of his works, including Macbeth and The Tempest, might never have survived. The works were collated and edited by John Heminges and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare’s actors and friends, and approximately 750 first folios were printed. Two hundred and thirty-three are known to survive today.

The fragment has been valued at $50,000-$100,000 (£36,000-£73,000) by Holabird Western Americana Collections, which will auction it on 29 October. Officially titled The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry Sirnamed Hot-Spurre, it consists of 13 printed antique paper pages and is one complete play in the two-part production of Henry IV.

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CHICAGO REVIEW: ‘OTHELLO’ AT COURT THEATRE HAS ALL THE CHILL OF THE LAST YEAR, PACKED INTO A SHAKESPEARE TRAGEDY ·

(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 10/19. Photo: Kelvin Roston, Jr. and Amanda Drinkall in “The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice” at Court Theatre in Hyde Park. (Michael Brosilow photo / HANDOUT)

When theater historians seek to know the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the arts in Chicago, the wisest heads will pay some attention to Court Theatre’s 100-minute cutting of “The Tragedy of Othello.”

It won’t be because this production of the Shakespearean tragedy celebrates the pleasure of being back together, as we’ve all heard in curtain speeches in recent weeks elsewhere. There is nothing whatsoever joyous about this chilly, fractured take on “Othello,” a conception that has a dystopian sensibility running through its core.

The show was conceived when it seemed likely that capacity in theaters would remain limited, so just 81 seats are being sold for each performance. Much of the auditorium at the University of Chicago is unused and is covered in a cloth, even as people are seated, masked but without being socially distanced, in a section of the theater.

If this was not a conscious commentary on the shared experience of the last 18 months, then it sure was permeating the subconsciousness of the co-directors, Charles Newell and Gabrielle Randle-Bent.

Some of the audience is seated on the stage in swivel chairs, isolated even from their most immediate companions, rocking and swaying like nervous competitors in a quiz show. Much the same could be said for the conceptions of the characters in what is typically William Shakespeare’s most intimate tragedy.

Most of the time here, they appear to be consumed by their inner thoughts and trapped by barriers of their own construction on John Culbert’s set, a design that wants to embrace not being a design at all. They watch each other as if at a sad and sculptured remove; the stylized movement makes it appear as if they are no longer alive, at least in the usual humanistic sense. The sensuality — this typically is Shakespeare’s most sensual play — is mechanical and cold.

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