“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

Learning Shakespeare: A layman’s Guide

I’ve had someone ask me how I got into Shakespeare, and what I do to understand a play as far as character, plot, and understanding Shakespeare’s use of language. I thought I’d just type up a short little something on the subject, but it had started to grow into something more then I intended. The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe  it deserved it’s own page, so it can grow and change with my own personal experience, as well as with others suggestions.

Here are the first two steps out of the four I use for studying a play:

Link: Learning Shakespeare: A Layman’s Guide

March 16th – Who is King Henry V and Why is He on Trial?

Updated: March 18th

Mock Trial: Judgment at Agincourt at the Sidney Harman Hall in DC:
Presided by Supreme Court Justice Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The most high and Honorable King Henry shall soon be tried for crimes of war by:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, presiding
Justice Samuel Alito
Chief Judge Paul Michel
Judge Janice Rogers Brown
Judge Merrick Garland
Judge Brett Kavanaugh
Judge David Tatel

So who is King Henry the Fifth?
If you went to the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton Va. for the Fall Season of 2009, you might have caught their excellent version of Henry IV part 1, which introduced us to young Prince Hal (Henry). Hal is the son of King Henry IV, and the kings main disappointment in life. Hal, who is next in line to be king, is a selfish fun-loving rouge, hanging around with the lowest class of thieves, robbers and other common folks. But Hal has a plan, it appears there’s not a move or action in his life for which he has not calculated. And soon in Henry IV Part 1 Hal lets us in on his thoughts:

So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will
. – Prince Henry

The lower he sinks in the eyes of men, the higher and more majestically will he appear, as he soars to greatness, and overcomes the baseness of his supposed nature. At the end of this play, Prince Henry  proves his metal, performs great deeds, and achieves redemption in the eyes of his father.

Where the play Henry IV introduces us to Prince Henry (Hal), the play Henry V is about Prince Henry who is now the King. And as King, his advisers have discovered, and shown the king, that he has a legitimate claim to rule all of France. After a display of these proofs King Henry makes a decision to embark from England and take France by storm, though the odds be overwhelming.

So by ship Henry and his army are very soon on the shores of France, and the battles commence. King Henry shows himself to be a very heroic and just commander. Showing great mercies to his surrendered enemy’s at Harfleur, and demanding that his troops while in France show all due respect to the French citizenry. Informing his troops NOTHING shall be taken that is not paid for on pain of death.

So King Henry cuts a path through France, following and respecting the rule of war giving mercy when he can. Until Agincourt.

King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, by John Gilbert

The Kings men are battered and tired, the odds are 5 men to 1 against them, and one of Henry’s men comes in and tells a tale of friendship and death that brings tears to Henry’s eyes. Then an alarm sounds, and Henry, most likely feeling Victory or Defeat hanging by a thread gives the order:

But, hark! what new alarum is this same?
The French have reinforced their scatter’d men:
Then every soldier kill his prisoners:
Give the word through. –
King Henry

And here is the point, “Then every soldier kill his prisoners”. Was Henry wrong to give this order? Even if overwhelmed himself, did he have the right to kill those combatants that have surrendered themselves to his mercy?

That is the question that this court has been convened to answer

Mock Trial: Judgment at Agincourt

Tuesday, March 16, 2010
5:30 p.m. Dinner
7:30 p.m. Argument

Update: March 18 – The results of the trial are in, click here

Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Sidney Harman Hall. Is it worth $72.00?

I had commented in a earlier post about paying $72.00 for a play. Well last Sunday My wife and I finally made it to Sidney Harman Hall for the first time to check out the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington DC.

Now’ you might be asking, if I love Shakespeare so much why hadn’t I been to the  Sidney Harman Hall yet? Well’ I’d been hesitant in the past to checkout a play there for the simple fact of cost. $72.00 seemed like a lot of money, even though that may be cheap by New York standards. But lets face it, there are several plays every year in the DC area that cost any where from $10.00 to $40.00, with at least 2 or 3 productions that are free. So not being what I would call a “Theater Person” myself, (I really don’t have a desire to see any other plays other than Shakespeare) that $72.00 was gonna be really hard to let go of. But’ then the opportunity finally came. Because of the Blizzard of 2010 the STC was doing Henry V (one of my favorites) for $25.00, and I just couldn’t pass up this chance.

The Sidney Harman Hall Experience
So I went on-line, selected my tickets, and made my purchases at STC’s web site. Uncertain as to how good the seats were, I decided to call the box office and was cheerfully greeted by a pleasant woman in no time. She explained where the seats were located that I had just purchased, and suggested a different set of seats which turned out to be wonderful.

Getting to the Sidney Harman Hall was easy enough, I live within walking distance of a Metro, and the Sidney Harman Hall is in the visual line of sight from our destination stop at the Verizon Center Metro. To easy!

The theater itself was very well laid out, we sat in the front row of the upper level mezzanine with a really nice view of all the action. As for the stage, it was surprisingly low, just about a foot high. But this turns out to be really nice since they use stadium seating, the first 3 or 4 rows won’t give you permanent neck problems from having to stare straight up for 3 hours. The acoustics were perfect also, at no time did we have to strain to hear what was being said on the stage. The seats, cushy and comfortable. We were able to lean back and still see all of the stage without any obstructions.

But $72.00! was it worth it?
The long and the short of it is yes. Now let me explain why.
Most of the plays I have seen were using “original staging practices”, which means the lights stay on, the costuming and staging may be minimal, the players generally play multiple parts, and there’s generally some sort of audience interaction. And by audience interaction this could include a bawd sitting on your lap for half a scene (taunting your wife), to you being pulled onto the stage by Sir John Falstaff as he recruits rouges and wretches to be cannon fodder in his dismal platoon! These plays my friend are generally a lot of fun.

So how was The Shakespeare Theatre  Company different? They had complete theatrical stage lighting, full booming surround sound, amazing costumes that looked like they would cost a princely fortune. Suits of armor descending from the roof to the awaiting rank of soldiers below. A battlement in the background for a King to descend by ropes, or a soldier to climb up using hand holds. In essence it was a theatrical event, and a spectacle to see. It felt lavish, and looked quite expensive to produce.

Will I go back again?
Yes, most definitely. There are just some plays that would be incredible to see here, and I can’t wait to do just that. My wife and I missed some of the intimacy of the “original staging practices”, but this is meant to be different,  and honestly the grandeur was just amazing. I can’t afford to do it often, but I will do it again.

Link: http://www.shakespearetheatre.org
link: The Sidney Harman Hall House Managers Extraordinaire

Mondo Andronicus: “All the Depravity and Violence, and None of the ‘Blah Blah Blah’ ”(As they say on their web site)

Update 03/09/10: Review from opening night

Mondo Andronicus presented by the  Molotov Theatre

Titus Andronicus is famous for being  a fairly brutal play. Of course there’s the many different ways  that Titus Andronicus has been portrayed over the years. There’s the artsy versions of this play with pretty red ribbons, symbolizing the blood that represents the woe and angst of poor, poor Lavinia. But I get the impression that “Mondo Andronicus” is not that type of play… At all… In the least bit! “Mondo Andronicus” sounds like it’ll be a gore hounds dream!

Now’ I’ve read this play, seen this play live, and watched it on DVD, and I can tell you this play was written by a young playwright out to make a name for himself. If Shakespeare wrote for Hollywood today, Titus Andronicus would be his Texas Chainsaw Massacre, except Shakespeare’s play is actually more brutal. Titus Andronicus a is sordid tale of rape, gore and unrepentant violence! To the point where several famous critics could not believe Shakespeare could have written such a play as this.

Now I personally have always enjoyed reading and watching horror movies, so none of this offends me. And I’ll be there to see how they’ll pull it off when it opens. So add this to your calendar of ye be brave, but consider yourself warned, this will not be a country stroll through fair Verona.

Mondo Anronicus:  “All the Depravity and Violence, and None of the ‘Blah Blah Blah'”
Presented by The Molotov Theatre Group.

March 6, 2010 – April 3, 2010
Wednesdays through Sundays at 8 PM

You can read more about Titus Andronicus and the evils of  Aaron the Moor here on MarylandShakespeare.com

You can find the opening night review here: Review from opening night

Sidney Harman Hall and the House Managers Extraordinaire

Carol and Kelsey - House Managers

Carol and Kelsey - House Managers

My wife and I finally got to the Sidney Harman Hall  for the first time to watch The Shakespeare Theatre Company perform Henry V.  So’  Sometime within the next couple of days I’ll have a wonderfully deep and insightful review of my impressions of the Sidney Harmon Hall, and how much we enjoyed seeing the play.

But for now I just want to give a shout out to Carol and Kelsy, the House Managers extraordinaire at the Sidney Harman Hall. Who not only convinced me that I really (REALLY!)  needed the Shakespeare bust  they were holding in this picture. They also explained that in doing so I’d also be helping a worthy cause, since part of the proceeds go to keeping Shakespeare alive in the Washington DC Area. So how could I resist, I now have a second Shakespeare bust in my living room.

You can catch our write up about the  Sidney Harman Hall by clicking  Here .

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.


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