Category Archives: William Shakespeare

All Is True Movie Review

When we talk about legendary men such as William Shakespeare, we speak of them as if they are icons, instead of human beings who have become icons over time.

In the new movie, All Is True, William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film) is dealing with the twin troubles of the fire that destroyed the original Globe Theatre and mourning the loss of his son.

But returning home for a little r&r is not going to be so easy. Though Shakespeare receives a visit from his old friend, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen), this is the easiest of the relationships with those around him. His wife, Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench) feels put upon by the years of emotional and physical distance between them. His eldest daughter, Susanna (Kathryn Wilder) is going through a rough patch in her marriage. His younger daughter Judith (Lydia Wilson) rages against the injustices that women in her era experience on a day to day basis.

Branagh is an old hand at Shakespeare. His career has been built upon the life and the work of this film’s subject. What I liked about this film is that is presents Shakespeare as a human being, warts and all. His Shakespeare is not a young man at the height of his career, but an older man whose better days are behind him. He carries the weight of his world on his shoulders and the mistakes he has made along the way.

I recommend it.

All Is True is presently in theaters.

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Happy Birthday, Ruth Bader Ginsburg!

We often make assumptions based on another’s appearance. One of the factors that use to make those assumptions is the height of a person.

Today is Ruth Bader Ginsburg‘s 86th birthday. Born in Brooklyn in 1933, she was part of the first generation of women in the 1950’s who sought out a professional career while maintaining a marriage and raising children. Though she facing discrimination on multiple fronts, she knew that the fight for the rights of American women was paramount. In 1993, she became the second female Justice on the Supreme Court when President Bill Clinton appointed her as the then newest member of SCOTUS.

I think the best quote to sum up Justice Ginsburg comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Though she be but little, she is fierce!”

Justice Ginsburg is one of the many women who paved the way for this generation of American woman. She fought for our rights and lit a fire under our collective bottoms that will never go out.

Happy Birthday Ruth Bader Ginsburg!

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Filed under Feminism, History, New York City, William Shakespeare

Flashback Friday-Shakespeare Uncovered (2012-2018)

William Shakespeare is more than a writer. He is an icon who told human stories about human characters.

The television series Shakespeare Uncovered (2012-2018)  is an in-depth exploration of Shakespeare’s work. Hosted every episode by a different actor who at one time, played a major character in a Shakespeare play, the purpose of the program is to do a deep dive into the play that is that subject of each episode. Combining interviews, performances, historical research, the host’s personal experience while playing the character and analysis of the play, the audience is introduced (or re-introduced) to Shakespeare’s work in a way that they have not seen before.

What I love about Shakespeare Uncovered is that it’s more than a dry academic blow-by-blow of his work. The program is intellectually stimulating, fascinating and mind-blowing at moments.

I recommend it.

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Filed under Flashback Friday, Television, TV Recap, William Shakespeare, Writing

The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Hits Too Close To Home

This morning started off like any morning for the members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. At approximately 10:30 am EST, a gunman walked into the synagogue and killed 8 people with at least 4 more injured in the shooting. He stated the following as a reason for the shooting: All Jews must die.

This shooting hits too close to home for me. Other than attending services on the high holidays (and perhaps for a special occasion), I haven’t attended Saturday morning services regularly since high school. But I come from a Jewish family where attending regular Saturday morning services is a just part of the weekly calendar. I count my blessings that none of my loved ones were in that synagogue, but it also hurts like h*ll.

I am scared, angry and on the verge of tears.  Antisemitism is alive and well in America. The people who were killed were only killed because they are Jewish and happened to attend services at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

This should not be happening in 2018. We should be able to go about our business without being afraid of being killed for who we are. Religious institutions should not need to hire armed guards or security so their members can attend services and feel safe in doing so.

According to news reports, the accused gunmen was found with an AR-15 and a handgun. An AR-15 was also used in the shooting in Las Vegas and Florida.  What will it take for our government to enact reasonable gun control laws? How many will die before we come to our senses?

Of course, you know who sounded Presidential, be we all know that he is part of the problem. His antisemitic dog whistles has allowed those who believe as shooter did that they are right.

This should be classified as a hate crime and if convicted, the shooter should receive the harshest legal penalty possible.

May the memory of those killed be a blessing and may we all see each other first and foremost as human beings.

I am going end this post with Shylock’s speech from The Merchant of Venice. Though this speech was written hundreds of years ago, it feels relevant today.

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.-Act III, scene I

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Flashback Friday-Tristan + Isolde (2006)

The story of forbidden love is akin to catnip for many writers. The question is, can the writer or writers create a story that stands out from the pack?

In the 2006 film, Tristan + Isolde, James Franco plays Tristan, a prince who is second in line to the British throne. Sophia Myles plays Isolde, the princess from an Irish clan who is feuding with the British. Needless to say, this is not a match that would be approved by either side. Isolde marries Marke (Rufus Sewell), but does not forget the man she loves. Will the lovers be able to build a life together or will they be fated to hide their love to survive?

The film is based on the story of a mythical, yet forbidden love between Cornish Knight and an Irish Princess. The problem with this film is that unlike another famous tale of forbidden love (Romeo and Juliet), it does not have same oomph. While it helps that Rufus Sewell’s character is the main reason that the lovers are kept apart, even he cannot save this film.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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RIP Marin Mazzie

Cancer knows no bounds. Race, class, income, education, etc mean nothing to this insidious disease.

Today, Broadway lost one of their brightest stars. Marin Mazzie, best known for her roles in Ragtime and Kiss Me, Kate, passed away this morning from Ovarian cancer. She was 57.

I saw her in Kiss Me, Kate when I was in college. Her performance was absolutely mesmerizing. Especially the song “I Hate Men”. Despite the late 1940’s setting of Kiss Me, Kate and the unrelenting sexism in the show and it’s originator, William Shakespeare’s Taming Of The Shrew, the audience is clued into the underlying feminism of the play. The song is feminist rage exploding on stage in a way that almost liberates the text from the rampant sexism that is unfortunately part and parcel of the narrative.

My thoughts and prayers are with her husband and her loved ones.

May her memory be a blessing.

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King Lear Review

A dysfunctional family is never a good thing. A royal dysfunctional family is even worse.

William Shakespeare’s King Lear is the story of a king who gives up his throne to his daughters. While his sanity slowly fades, the kingdom falls apart.

Last night, King Lear made its premiere at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

King Lear (Anthony Sher) has decided to step down from his thrown. He has three daughters and declares that she who loves him best will receive the biggest largest share of his kingdom. His elder daughters, Goneril (Nia Gwynne) and Regan (Kelly Williams) proclaim their love for their father. His youngest daughter, Cordelia (Mimi Ndiweni) is not as vocal about her love for her father as her sisters are. As a result, she is banished from her father’s kingdom.

The story then snowballs into treachery, madness and war.

While the play is a bit slow, it’s very well done. Shakespeare was making a point not just about family, but about politics, which can both be incredibly messy sometimes. Anthony Sher, in the title role, plays Lear with a mixture of conceit, insanity, foolishness and ultimately regret. It is a powerful play that for obvious reasons, is still as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1606.

I recommend it.

King Lear is playing at the BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn NY 11217) until April 29th. Check the website for showtimes and tickets. 

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Filed under Broadway Play Review, New York City, William Shakespeare

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays Book Review

On the surface, writing is a very simple process. It is turning the computer and opening the word processing program or taking out the pad and pen and beginning to write.

But the reality is that writing is both an art and a skill. Especially if the writer is playwright. Writing a play is very different from writing prose. Beyond the standard issues of character and narrative development, there is also the very specific format and the idea that the play is not just in the hands of the writer. It is in the hands of the director, the actors, etc. All have a part in creating the final product which will hopefully be seen by an audience.

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays, written by David Ball and with a foreword by Michael Langham, is about the craft of writing plays. The book touches on everything a playwright would need to know about including character and narrative development to imagery, conflict, theme, etc. Using William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an example, this book should be required reading for every playwright, especially if they are just starting out.

This book was recommended to me by a writer friend. It was an educational and eye-opening read. It was also a reminder that writing plays and writing prose are two different animals and requires writers to think differently when writing a play vs. writing a novel.

I recommend it.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Book Review

Of all the intangible things in the world, innocence is the most precious of intangible things. It is also the easiest to take away.

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne, Bruno is the young son of a German officer. His family is removed from their house in Berlin to a house in the country where his father has relocated for work. Bruno does not understand why they had to move. He soon meets Shmuel, a boy his own age who lives behind barbed wires and wears striped pajamas. Despite not understanding why Shmuel lives why he lives, Bruno and Shmuel become friends. This friendship will briefly enrich both boys lives, but will lead to devastating and heartbreaking consequences.

While this book is concise, it is mind-blowing. Told through Bruno’s point of view via third person, the story is told from an angle not seen in Holocaust fiction previously: a young boy who is unaware of the hate he should have in his heart and befriends another child whom he should hate, but doesn’t.

I keep thinking of the end of Romeo and Juliet when I think of the ending of this book.

See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love;
And I, for winking at your discords too,
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d.

If nothing else, this book reminds me that hate and love have equal power in this world, it is just matter of which one we choose to embrace and if we are truly wiling to accept the consequences of this hate if we choose that path.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Desperate times often calls for desperate measures. The questions are, what are we willing to give up in the process and how does that process change us?

In the new movie, Lady Macbeth (which has no connection to William Shakespeare character other than the title of the film), Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young woman sold in the name of marriage to an older man. Forbidden from doing much of anything, Katherine is left alone with only her servants for company while her husband and father in law go out into the world. She starts sleeping with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), one of her husband’s groomsman. The affair quickly becomes an affair of the heart. But things get messy when her husband and father in law return home. Katherine and Sebastian try to clean up the mess they have created. But the more they try to clean it up, the messier it becomes.

The best way to describe this film is that it is a hybrid of the psychology of an Alfred Hitchcock film with the imagery and narrative of a Wuthering Heights adaptation. It also speaks truth to power about what a woman will do when she has no direct power and must use other means to get what she wants. The three things that stand out for me are a) the diverse cast b) the lack of music and how background sounds play a role in telling the story and c) how I felt as an audience member when the film was done. I disliked Katherine for her actions, but in understanding her motivation, it made for a very well done film.

I absolutely recommend it.

Lady Macbeth is presently in theaters.

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Filed under Books, Emily Bronte, Feminism, Movie Review, Movies, William Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights