“Learning Shakespeare: A Layman’s Guide” updated with “Step 3) Watch the DVD”

Wow, creating  this “Laymans Guide” is taking more time then I thought it would. I had started Step 3 two days ago, had it typed up for the most part, then lost half of it and had to start over again.

I love watching Shakespeare on DVD, the section “Step 3″ describes the methods I use to track down the best versions to watch. I hope you find it helpful.

Heres the link: Learning Shakespeare: A Layman’s Guide

DVD: Romeo and Juliet Directed by Franco Zeffirelli 1968 – Just in Time for Valentines Day

Romeo and Juliet Directed by Franco Zeffirelli 1968

Before I go into the review I want to say that for me, a great Shakespeare movie is not required to be word for word perfect. Throne of Blood, a masterful retelling of Macbeth by Akira Kurosawa, is one of my all time favorite movies Shakespearean or not,  and it’s not even in English.

As far as Romeo and Juliet go, I’d just seen the Maryland Shakespeare Festival do a really nice job with this play which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I had fairly high expectations going into Franco Zeffirelli’s version based on its reputation and reviews I’d seen on IMDB.com.

First I want to say, the costumes and Italian setting were some of the best I’d ever seen, and the score was stunning. And though I may sound harsh below, this movie has stayed with me since seeing it, and may demand a second viewing.

Now as far as the movie itself? I hate to say it, but other then Olivia Hussey as Juliet and Pat Heywood as the Nurse, (And sometimes Milo O’Shea as the Friar), I thought the acting was stiff and completely unbelievable. Every time Romeo entered the screen I could almost hear Franco Zeffirelli telling him “Okay’ bring your eyebrows together and look pensive. Now do it again. More with the eyebrows’ more pensive. Again. Again. CUT!”

And then there’s Mercutio, who’s suppose to be the dirty joke telling 16(?) year old, slightly older friend that goads Romeo to get in trouble, but will always be there when needed. But no, Zeffirelli’s Mercutio was just plain annoying and spastic with no personality. Also they edited out his best (dirty) lines in essence nurturing him. And jumping back to Romeo with his Waxy pensive looks, you know how they wore those hose stockings in the Middle Ages? Well’ Every time the orchestrated musical score would start to soar (Beautifully mind you), and Romeo would give his pensive dreamy look wearing what looked like ballet tights, I swear I thought they were going to break out into a ballet with Romeo pirouetting across the screen.

When you read the play, you will find Romeo is a flighty, hormone driven 14 year old boy. How do we know this? Well right from the start of the play we learn that Juliet was NOT the love of his life, it was Rosaline. Yes’ Rosaline, who we learn from Romeo’s lips is “The all-seeing sun, ne’er saw her match since first the world begun.” So in reality Romeo is fickle. Romeo has the wandering eye. Romeo is acting like a 14 year old, and looking to fall in love… Again. Yet Zeffrelli adds Rosaline to the story with a couple throw away lines pronounced by the Friar in the middle of the movie. Now what about Mercutio’s role in Romeos romances in the play as compared to the movie? He’s the big brother there to both tease and teach. He’s the cool guy with the heart of gold.

“I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes,
By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot,
straight leg and quivering thigh
And the demesnes (regions) that there adjacent lie”. – Mercutio

Then there’s Olivia Hussy’s Juliet. She made the movie, even if there were times she laid it on a bit thick. Still’ She came across in every scene as beautiful, innocent, and honest. The first time she sees Romeo at the dance Olivia Hussy’s eyes glowed with honest emotion, you could believe she was truly experiencing love at first site. Still, Zeffirelli managed to cut some of Juliet’s best lines. When she’s about to drink the drought that the Friar has given her to put her into a death like sleep, what does she say in Zeffirelli’s version? “Love give me strength…Gulp”. Very short and to the point. Shakespeare gave her some amazing lines here, and instead Zeffirelli give’s us the Reader’s Digest version (Gulp).

Here’s what Juliet is really thinking when she sips the potion:

What if it be a poison, which the friar
Subtly hath minister’d to have me dead,
Lest in this marriage he should be dishonour’d,
Because he married me before to Romeo?
I fear it is: and yet, methinks, it should not,
For he hath still been tried a holy man.
How if, when I am laid into the tomb,
I wake before the time that Romeo
Come to redeem me? there’s a fearful point!
Shall I not, then, be stifled in the vault,
To whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in,
And there die strangled ere my Romeo comes?
Or, if I live, is it not very like,
The horrible conceit of death and night,
Together with the terror of the place,–
As in a vault, an ancient receptacle,
Where, for these many hundred years, the bones
Of all my buried ancestors are packed:
Where bloody Tybalt, yet but green in earth,
Lies festering in his shroud; where, as they say,
At some hours in the night spirits resort;–
Alack, alack, is it not like that I,
So early waking, what with loathsome smells,
And shrieks like mandrakes’ torn out of the earth,
That living mortals, hearing them, run mad:–
O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environed with all these hideous fears?
And madly play with my forefather’s joints?
And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud?
And, in this rage, with some great kinsman’s bone,
As with a club, dash out my desperate brains?
O, look! methinks I see my cousin’s ghost
Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body
Upon a rapier’s point: stay, Tybalt, stay!
Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.

3 Shakespeare related goals this week

Okay I had 3 Shakespeare related goals this week:

One, was to watch Romeo and Juliet on DVD after finally seeing it live, but NOOooo. I lost electricity for 48 hours over the weekend and didn’t get the chance yet (Not to mention the temperature dropped to 41 degrees before the heat came back on).

Two,  I was  hoping to catch the Chesapeake Shakespeare Pub Night, but now it Looks like we are getting another foot of snow tomorrow, and they JUST plowed my roads 3 days AFTER the last snow storm.

And finally, number three. This weekend I am looking forward to maybe seeing “The Comedy of Errors”  by the The Shakespeare Factory. But  Considering all the days this week I spent ice bound inside my house, I have a lot of things on my list to get done this weekend, and getting to a play may not be one of them.

Which of course reminds me of what a very wise man once told me, “You can plan a camping trip, but cha’ can’t plan the weather”.

Richard II: Convince me to spend the money

Update: Feb. 18, 2010. We  finally made a play at the Sidney Harmon Hall, where we happened to meet:
Sidney Harman Hall  House Managers Extraordinaire

Well’ I’m going back and forth on this one…

I have seen Richard II  once before, but the production was my least favorite of the 20 or so Shakespeares I’ve seen live. I actually left the play feeling kinda bored… But then after reading the play (Which was great!),  I saw the DVD version with Derek Jacobi and was dazzled. After that it became one of my favorites… So now the question is, do I want to spend the bucks to see Richard II performed by The Shakespeare theatre Company in DC? I’ve never been to the Sidney Harman Hall to see a Shakespeare theatre  Company performance, but I understand they do a fantastic job. Normally I go to smaller venues because I believe Shakespeare is best experienced in an open, lights on kinda fashion… All the glam in the world cannot make Shakespeare sound better.

But there is a wide range of ticket prices from $20.00 to $72.00 for this production. So for $20 am I stuck in nose bleed seats catching maybe every other word? Or for $72 do I get caviar and a foot massage?

I guess I’m just hoping someone will convince me to spend the hard earned cash, and let me know what the best seats are for the buck… Cause after reading the play and then seeing the DVD I really want to give this play another chance live.

You can email me at Jamie@marylandshakespeare.com or just click on the comment link below.

Richard II On DVD: 1978 Staring Derek Jacobi

djacobi_richardI just recently  watched Richard II from the “BBC’s Complete works of Shakespeare” DVD collection, and thought I would pass this on. I had watched this DVD without reading any reviews, so I went in with no expectations. Not to mention I had read that this was one of the more difficult plays to perform, so that lowered my expectations even more. And last, but not least,  the live version I’d recently seen was probably the least favorite of all the Shakespearean productions I had ever seen… period!. So’  if on this DVD, Derek Jacobi came out dressed in a duck suit, and quacked out the Soliloquy from Hamlet I would not have been surprised, and all my expectations would have been met. (Okay’ Now I’m just being silly, and the live version I saw really was not that bad, it just felt two dimensional and I didn’t like the way Richard was portrayed.)

So I popped in the DVD and… Wow! No’ Really, Wow… Derek Jacobi owned this role. I am not a critic who can analyze Shakespeare line and verse, but I do know when I have seen something amazing, and this left me stunned. If you are a Shakespeare, or Derek Jacobi fan, do yourself a favor and check out this version. You can rent it  at Netflix.com (Cheap), or buy it from Amazon.com for $130 as part of the BBC Shakespeare Histories 5 play collection.  Or you can do what I did an go to Amazon UK and buy the BBC’s  Complete works of Shakespeare (Same as the 5 above plus the rest) on DVD for about $122.00 plus shipping directly from  England. Keep in mind if you order from Amazon UK, these disks will not play on your standard DVD player unless that player can handle Region 2 DVD’s or your DVD player is region free. (leave a comment if you need more details).

If you want more details about this DVD you can check out the info at imdb.com where you will find a ton of reviews, casting information, ect.

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