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 60-minutes.bloggingshakespeare.com 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 bloggingshakespeare.com 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.