Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Gist of Shakespeare

From the title of this post you can probably guess what it's going to be about. I am building up a small library of Shakespeare's plays. I recently changed from Penguin to Arden. The Penguin copies are fine but I just thought the Arden series has everything, great introductions and notes etc and DB recommended them. It feels I'm some how closer to Shakespeare reading Arden. Christmas is coming and everyone knows what to get me, as long as they speak to each other and coordinate their choices. I am still finding it difficult to read the plays but that is where the gist of it comes in. After I finish reading one of the plays, most recently Coriolanus, I always have the gist of what it is about. Then if I'm lucky enough I will see the play on DVD and it is all clear to me. I can't explain the kick I get out of reading Shakespeare, you might think I'm mad, reading something I don't really understand. But I get a funny feeling in my heart when I do get immersed in the writing. Do you think that sounds crazy? Well these are only my thoughts.
It's been quite a while since my last post and I've been thinking about it all that time, how to explain my thoughts, without sounding like a moron. Not sure if I succeeded.

I mentioned Coriolanus before and great news, they have made it into a movie with Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler and Brian Cox. I am really looking forward to seeing it. The trailer looks great, you can easily find it on YouTube. I think there are some people who cant get there head round the idea of Shakespeare's plays been set in modern times, I have no problem with it, as long as they stick to the original text. Macbeth with Patrick Stewart is a brilliant example as is Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet. Both fantastic films. I am going to try and get myself organized next year and somehow manage to get down south and visit Stratford upon Avon and London. I would love to see a play in the Globe and all the other Shakespearean theaters. I love my DVD collection but you can't beat the real thing.

This post seems to be all over the place and I'm glad I've finished it. I'll try and be more coherent next time, not promising though. I might say something about Shakespeare & Co By the great Stanley Wells. Which I've just started reading and I'm very excited about it

So Long, Till Then.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Lear and Anonymous

My DVD of King Lear arrived the other day. It is the version with Paul Scofield as Lear. Directed by Peter Brook. Its been a strange sequence of events. Our postman came late and put the DVD through the letterbox when I had just sat down to watch Twelfth Night. So I put it on the shelf and thought I'll watch it tomorrow. Tomorrow was St Crispin's day, which is today now, if you see what I mean? Anyway, I thought logically its St Crispin's day so I'll watch Henry V. Nah! I couldn't wait so I watched King Lear. It was sitting on my shelf looking at me and its only a month or two since I watched Henry V. So King Lear got the nod. King Lear was the first Shakespeare play I ever saw live at the theater. It was years ago at the Edinburgh festival and I think that's what gave me my love for Shakespeare, that's what kicked it all off. So I have a great love for this particular tragedy. Brooks film is very gritty, shot in black and white and filmed on the frozen tundra. I think the location is in Denmark. Paul Scofield as Lear is immense and all the supporting cast are fantastic. All the treachery and tragedy are there, its a very grim story with poor old Gloucester getting his eyes gouged out. Lear's daughters Goneril killing Regan then killing herself. When Cordelia his third daughter is murdered at the end, the old man is left to mourn his daughter, the only one who loved him in the first place. Then he himself dies. There is a lot more to the story than that and it'll not be long before I watch it again.

Something I have noticed while studying Shakespeare, you have to really pay attention. That little summary above is not nearly good enough. Its lazy and light on detail. There is so much going on in a Shakespeare play, when I try to write about one of them, its like coming up against a brick wall. I mean when I start to write about certain characters, I haven't got the confidence to go on in case I am talking rubbish. So if you leave a comment, be gentle and point me in the right direction. You don't have to be too gentle, I've got a thick skin

A quick word on this new film coming out, Anonymous. It was on the news tonight. In Stratford-upon-Avon all the statues and anything with Shakespeare on it was covered with white sheets including his name blanked out. All in protest of this movie. I can't help feeling its a bit of an own goal. I mean why give them any more publicity. I have come late to Shakespeare and I'm damned if I'm going to let a load of clever, full of themselves academics. or not so academic Holywood money grabers, tell me he didn't write his own plays. And the thing is, I'm a truck driver from Scotland and I wasn't around in Shakespeare's time, but neither were they and neither was Robert Plumer Ward or Thomas Looney, who I would put in the same league as Dan Brown The Davinci Code "expert" I know there are other theories but you can't keep attacking one man with a scatter gun full of candidates. I'll finish now pointing you in the direction of 60 minutes with Shakespeare Think that will get you there. @DaintyBallerina and @stanley_wells on twitter are two great champions of Shakespeare, seek them out their defence makes more sense than mine.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


How do I start this post? I want to talk about The Merchant of Venice. Had an empty house this afternoon, a rare occasion. So I had peace to watch the DVD. It is a fantastic movie, great locations, magical music and wonderful actors. But what about the story, the play. It is a fantastic tale. Bassanio needs money to be able to go and win the the heart of Portia, a rich beauty. He asks his friend Antonio to stake him. Antonio who appears to be in love with him, borrows the money from Shylock, a Jewish money lender. In their bond Shylock asks only for a pound of flesh if he fails to pay the dept. Antonio's investments, merchant ships that will make him rich, are all wrecked. So he can't pay the dept. There is a lot more to the story and I urge you to see it.

The part I would like to comment on, is the scene when Shylock demands his pound of flesh. Portia dressed up as a young Doctor (Lawyer) is able to save Antonio's life. She is very clever and to me is one of Shakespeare's greatest characters, she makes all the men in the play, look like idiots.

Its the question of antisemitism that I would like to address. This blog is called A Shakespeare Journey and I am still at the start. There is a lot of controversy surrounding Shakespeare. One of the debates is. Was he antisemitic? When Portia in, The Merchant of Venice, gets Antonio off the hook, the punishment met out to Shylock is very heavy. Half his fortune is to be given to Antonio and half to the state. He is forced to renounce his Judaism and become a Christian. Now this is a dangerous conclusion from me. I have only saw the DVD and not read the text of the play. All through the play we see how Jews are mistreated in Venice, not given the same freedoms as Christians, being spat upon in the streets and canals. I think Shakespeare showed us, how it was at the time, all over Europe. My conclusion is that like writers of today, he exposed the predgdices of the people at that time and hopefully helped change opinions. In Shylock's speeches he describes, as I see it, that we are all the same. If you prick me, do I not bleed. I thought it was heart breaking the way he is persecuted and brought down to his knees. It may have been symbolic of how Jews have been persecuted down through the ages and to this day, still suffer antisemitism.

Shakespeare wrote this play with those speeches. That is why I think he was a genius and wasn't antisemitic. These are just my thoughts, I hope they are not too simplistic. This post was really hard to write, I felt as if I was tying myself in knots sometimes. I hope I was not biased because of my love for Shakespeare. I would hate to think he was antisemitic. And I, don't think he was. I hate bigots, racism, antisemitism and wish we could all just live and let live. I know, that's a cliche. how else can I put it? If you don't agree with my views, well, you can leave a comment.

Sunday, 9 October 2011


When I started this blog, DB said I should write my thoughts on Shakespeare. Somehow I had forgotten that and I think, tried to be a half assed scholar. I wish I was, I'm not. In the past, I've mentioned that I don't have much time to myself. I do think about Shakespeare every day and try to read something, whether its a blog or the notes from one of the plays. I will have to buy more books. I have a few and read them all. The best thing for me though, is watching it live in a theater. That is a very very rare treat. Second best is the DVDs, and I love them. When I'm on the road, I have loads of time to think, daydream more like. Sometimes I will think of one of the plays, say The Merchant of Venice. I will think of scenes, speeches and characters. Al Pacino "If they prick me, do I not Bleed". Fantastic. Or maybe one of the comedies, my favourite Twelfth Night. I'll think about it all day, then I'll promise myself to watch it when I get home. Never happens, always too tired.

On Twitter I follow @ShakespeareBT. They are brilliant, with links to blogs and little film clips from Stratford-upon-Avon. There is a great series of blogs now, on the sources of the plays, and how Shakespeare takes an old story and makes it his own. There is a big debate going on just now. All about whether Shakespeare wrote the plays, some people think it was someone else. I think it is probably an old debate and one I'll follow with interest. I get the feeling that the non believers are a load off windup merchants and are a bit full of themselves. There is a new movie coming out, which tries to prove Shakespeare didn't write the plays, I guess you know who's side I'll be on. And I ain't lining up with the philistines. There is a great defence been setup, 60 brilliant people give you 60 seconds each, telling you why Shakespeare did write his own plays. Its a website called 60 minutes, you'll find it easily on google. It's fantastic, Dainty Ballerina is on it and you get to hear her voice, very posh! and her real name, which I'll not repeat here. You will have to check it out yourself.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Thank God for the Edinburgh Festival. Two weekends ago, We were in Edinburgh, it is only thirty minutes away by train. Having a day out at the festival is always a treat, The weather was fair witch was lucky. We watched a comedian at The Comedy Stand and tried to book tickets for a second one but were disappointed, he was soled out. We had lunch, then walked along George Street heading for the book festival at Shandwick Place. There are one or two venues on the way and we stopped of in one for a drink. Over a bottle of Becks I was reading one of the programs, from the venue we were in. There on the front cover was Macbeth. I'm sure my heart missed a beat. I had no idea it was on, my own fault, like everyone living in, or close to Edinburgh. We kind of take the festival for granted. I was really excited, thought this was going to be my first time seeing Macbeth on stage. I was to be disappointed. We had missed it by about two hours. It was on every day at one o'clock, so no problem then but I had made arrangements for Sunday and I was back to work on Monday. So it had to be the following weekend and I only had Saturday off, it was going to be tight. So all week I was looking forward to it.

I booked tickets on line and collected them at the festival box office, Saturday morning. We walked the length of Edinburgh and arrived in time for a beer then curtain up. The production was by The Icarus Collective It was an absolute thrill. Their were seven members of the cast, which to be honest was sometimes a little confusion. It was all there though. The Weird Sisters, Ghosts, Daggers and murders. I'm not writing this blog as a critic, I don't suppose this production was perfect, all I know is I loved every second of it. I was mesmerised. Sophie Brooke as Lady Macbeth was outstanding, hope she becomes a big star. Matthew Bloxham as Banquo, Costa Chard as Macduff and Joel Gorf as Macbeth were all fantastic. Really the whole cast were magnificent. Special mention for Zachary Holton as Duncan. Like the rest of the cast he played multiple parts, he was also the stage manager and the lighting designer. He's been around a long time and his experience shone through, as Duncan he was immense. All the information I have used I got from the program. They are touring the rest of the UK with this production. If you get the chance, go see it.

This will not be the last time I visit The Scottish Play. I am waiting for The Illumination's production of Macbeth on DVD. With Sir Patrick Stewart, Most highly recommended by The Wonderful Dainty Ballerina. I can't wait.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Othello or Henry V? That was the choice I was going to have to make. This is the dilemma I am facing on my Shakespeare journey. I want it all, right now. There is so much to read and watch, I cant make up my mind what to look at first. I am going to have to learn to be patient, and cover one play at a time. I decided to buy Othello. The reason I went for Othello is, I have watched the DVD of Henry V, and I loved it. The scene where they hang Harry's old friend for looting a church is heart breaking, his old beaten face and the look in his eyes, when he just stands on the wagon with the noose round his neck. Richard Briers, absolutely crushing. Once more into the breach; is stirring stuff, with Kennith Branagh on horse back, with the castle walls behind him. Heroic. But, I want to watch and read King Henry IV Part 1-2 first, Try and follow them in order.

So that is why I bought the wee Penguin copy of Othello. I am going to take my time on it. I'll read the play and all the introductions and commentary's first, then get the DVD. I don't know which movie to buy, I think it will be the one with Sir Ian Mckellen as Iago. That's favourite just now, unless someone suggests a better one.

Its just occurred to me, The Merchant of Venice has to be addressed as well. That's what I mean about choices. Banging my head of my laptop here. If there is anyone still reading this, and you are brave enough to stay with me, you might see me explode, or at least witness my breakdown. I'm not going to give up. there is no other person I know personally, that quotes Shakespeare. Badly. I try to tell them what they are missing out on, who knows maybe one or two of them may start to take an interest.

Another choice is Twelfth Night. I think I mentioned it in a previous post, I loved the DVD, but I haven't been able to get a copy of the book. Penguin of course. It really is my favourite so far, so I want to read the play and all the commentary that I can find.

Looking through my copy of The Arden Shakespeare Miscellany by Jane Armstrong. I realise how big a choice I have. So really what have I got to complain about. I am being pulled into a world of wonder and tradition with the finest writing in the English language. This is where the words fail me, trying to describe how I feel about the whole world of Shakespeare. I feel an affinity with all the characters in this world. From Actors to Editors. Blogers and Academics. I am only a novice with a spell check facility on my laptop, but who cares we are all in the world of Shakespeare together. Wish I could think of a good quote to finish on. I cant, there is such a big choice.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Prince of Denmark

This is becoming a difficult journey, a very difficult journey. In two ways. First, witch is really the main factor is the time. The time it takes me to watch and study one of the plays. Second is finding the time to write this blog. I told the DB that I have got a bit of a writing bug, and its true I love to write. Leaving comments on other peoples blogs, writing on twitter and sending emails, its great. But the blog is the most rewarding and the most difficult to do. I drive a lorry for a living, its long hours, when I go on twitter, I have to pull into laybys to tweet, so sometimes my tweets must be a bit odd. Because of the long days, it means I get home late in the evening, and I'm usually to tired to fire up the lap top and start writing. If I do then its always when the rest of my family are in bed. Witch is exactly what has happened right now. When I said before that I study the plays, I don't want it to sound like I am doing it purely academically, I'm not. I'm doing it because I love Shakespeare, and I want to get as much out of it as I can. The reason I have told you all this is because, I feel as if its all slipping away from me, and I don't want that to happen. So enough of self pity, on with the journey.

I watched Hamlet with David Tennant the other night. I thought it was fantastic. When it came to perhaps the most famous speech in the English theater. To be or not to be, that is the question; I honestly wasn't expecting it, I had forgotten it was in Hamlet. I have saw it parodied many times by comedians and hammed up for effect by second rate actors. When David Tennant started to speak, I nearly forgot to breath. To see it done for the first time by a proper actor, was absolutely spellbinding. I thought it was a terrific production. Very sad at the end, and poor Ophelia my heart bled for her. Another sad note to report. I miss laid my little Penguin copy of the play. Its in the House somewhere, god knows where. It will turn up I'm sure.

So that is my first of the tragedies. I think the next DVDs I'll order will be Richard III and I really want to see Macbeth, the new version with Patric Stewart. Another thing that has intrigued me is the character of Falstaff. Came across him for the first time in Henry V. I thought he had a very small part in the play, and I wondered why he is such a famous Shakespearean character. Then thanks to my copy of The Arden Shakespeare Miscellany by Jane Armstrong, I discovered he first appears in King Henry IV Part 1. So I am really looking forward to getting my teeth into them.

I don't think this has been a particularly good post, and I am truly sorry. The next time I will write about Henry V. All heroics and battles. "Once more into the breach" cant remember the rest it might be Dear friends, but I'm not going to take the chance. its late and I'm very tired. Anyway the next time I promise I will make it more uplifting. Oh yes and just before I go. "Alas poor Yorick" I have only ever saw that in parody. As with To be or not to be that was obviously the first time I'd seen it done properly. And I think Ophelia is my favourite girls name in Shakespeare's plays. not my favourite female character, that so far, is Portia from the Merchant of Venice. She is definitely my heroine, for now. I just have to say Hamlet Is magic!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Juliet is the Sun

Juliet is the sun. the whole quote is. But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, It goes on as everyone knows, a very famous speech. I watched the DVD of Romeo and Juliet. It is the version with Leonardo DiCaprio, an up dated version. I did enjoy it immensely, so now I am reading the play in my little Penguin copy. The reason it is significant to me is, I was half way through the book when I realised, I'm starting to get the hang of this language, it was very exciting when I realised I'm actually starting to get it. Think it may be the most beautiful writing I have ever read. I would love to see the play in the theatre, or perhaps a more traditional movie version. Loved the up to date version but, to be honest it took a bit of adjustment. It wasn't that they called their guns swords or that they drove around in cars. It was things like the prince, Escalus being the chief of police, didn't feel right to me. Just a little thing. DiCaprio was very good as Romeo. Miriam Margolyes as the nurse and Pete Postlethwaite as the friar were fantastic. After I have read the whole text I will watch the movie again.

I have a fantastic book, The Arden Shakespeare Miscellany by Jane Armstrong. It was recommended to me by the Dainty Ballerina, here forth known as DB. if you have read any of my other posts you will know that it was DB's help, encouragement and inspiration that made me write this blog. Jane Armstrong's book has a wealth of information, its great to dip in and out of. I have always been a bit confused by the plays King Henry VI parts 1 2 and 3. Jane's book has given me a way in and I am really looking forward to getting my teeth into them. This is endless, I think I may go under. And how is my writing going to do it justice, to the whole Shakespearean journey. Its quite easy when I am describing my enthusiasm, its all very naive and like a kids writing. Its a different story when I try to get into a play. I feel a bit lost and out of my depth. DB has emailed me some helpful literature on how to write an essay, so maybe I can make it a bit more academic and less school boy

To finish this post. The DVD of Hamlet arrived, and I bought a little Penguin copy of the play. I love the Penguin books they are fantastic, with a commentary at the back. I'm building a wee library of them. So my next blog might be about Hamlet. Still to write about Henry V though. Absolutely loved that. Anyway that's for the future.


Saturday, 21 May 2011

Start of the journey

The life and works of William Shakespeare are a vast subject, and for me, it is difficult to know how and where, to fight my way in. I have so many questions, opinions and ideas going round in my head. Its hard. The first thing, is probably the most obvious. The language. When I watch, usually a DVD or read one of the plays, I think, right now, I'm struggling to understand, not the words but the way they are put together. A friend has told me when reading the plays, to say the words out loud, its like learning french, god help me, though I do think, that will help. Watching the plays, I have no problem following the story, just feel I'm missing out a bit, I don't really have any worries it will come to me, eventually. After all that is what it is all about, the language of Shakespeare. I love it, when I hear one of the famous and well known lines or speeches. If music be the food of love, then play on. If that is not the correct quotation, feel free to set me strait. From Twelfth Night. I watched the DVD, with Imogen Stubs, Nigel Hawthorne, Ben Kingsly and Helena Bonham Carter. I thought it was absolutely outstanding. That is another thing I love. The actors. They line up to be in one Shakespeare's plays. When I was growing up, it was Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, terrific players. Wish I had saw them on stage, chewing up the scenery, as Maggy Smith once said about Olivier, it was something like that. The actors of this generation are also fantastic. I really thought Imogen Stubbs was wonderful in Twelfth Night, as was Nigel Hawthorne.
I am coming to a lot of these plays for the first time, So I feel really privileged, excited and lucky. Some of them, I seem to know the story. as if through osmosis or something. But take Twelfth Night for instance, I did not know what it was about. I had heard of it, of course. You have no idea how delighted I was with it. Made me laugh and when I was laughing, I thought this is magic, it gave me such a buzz and I felt as if I had joined some kind of exclusive club of Shakespeare lovers. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't think it will be to long before I watch it again. That is why I feel lucky. There are a lot of the plays like that, I will be seeing them for the first time and I'm sure a lot of them will have the same impact on me.
I seem to have been talking a lot about Twelfth Night. That might be the way I shall write this blog, picking on one play, each time. I don't know though, I would not like to put any restrictions or boundaries, on how I go on with my Shakespeare Journey.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

For Dainty Ballerina

My love for Shakespeare started when I was a small boy, at my little primary school in Stoneyburn. We were studying history, Scottish history. Most of it was about Bannockburn, Culloden, The Highland Clearances and the road system. All subjects I really liked. Maybe not so much the road system. One day we turned to Scottish Kings and Macbeth came along. I can remember the text book, in particular the picture. it was of a castle surrounded by trees. When we read the story we discovered that there was an army behind the trees. Found out today that Macbeth was a real King of Scotland around 1060's and Shakespeare based it loosely on him. I got mixed up between fact and fiction. This must have been my first introduction to the historical plays.
Years later, I was really lucky to see Kenneth Branagh. I think with his own company, at the Edinburgh festival. I wish I had the program, lost it years ago. That's a common thing with me. They performed two plays King Lear and A Midsummer Nights Dream. I had to jump through hoops to get time off work on two different nights. I will never forget it, my first time seeing Shakespeare live in the theater. And what a great cast, with Emma Thompson and Richard Briers. In King Lear, Briers played Lear, Branagh played Edgar and Directed. Emma Thompson was the Fool, unrecognizable all wrapped up in bandages. She was really creepy a bit disturbing and fantastic. A Midsummer Nights Dream, Directed by Branagh was magical and funny, very different from Lear. I remember it being a play within a play, and I was glad, at last to see Emma Thompson without all the rags and bandages, and looking beautiful.
That will do for now. If anybody ever reads this, I hope its not been to boring for you. I must warn you there will be more. I haven't even scratched the surface. Another warning, I am slightly dyslexic and I trust the spell check. Sometimes I will get mixed up with things like, no and know or been and bean, its always been embarrassing, but thanks to the spell checker, I can write like everyone else. Oh aye! I'm hopeless at grammar as well, so reading this will be more painful for you than me. One last thing. Not sure if this is the right place to say this, but hear it is anyway. Thank you to the Dainty Ballerina. You are a Princess.