Shakespeare’s Greatest Characters

The Telegraph offers a list of the 25 greatest Shakespeare characters and it is a rather interesting list. On this list there aren’t many of the brand-name characters like a Romeo, Juliet or a Hamlet and several are from lesser known plays like Comedy of Errors and Two Gentlemen of Verona.  The run the gambit as well some are heroes other villains others are bit parts. Their list is as follows with my comments after each.

Rosalind (As You Like It): Greatest female characters by Shakespeare? I haven’t read or seen.
Prince Hal (Henry IV/V): This is reason to watch/read the Henriad. Prince Hal is the one character who changes the most from when we first meet him.
Richard II: Not that brilliant of a King and he goes mad what’s not to like about that.
Emilia (Othello): Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid servant is one of the most complex characters.
Malvolio (Twelfth Night): The puritanical steward of Olivia who is the butt of the jokes and torments. The greatest tragic character in the comedies.
The Witches (Macbeth): Everyone likes the witches and they’ve been just about everywhere.
Hotspur (Henry IV, part 1): The romantic of the history plays he seems like the better Henry compared to Hal but when it comes to a fight it doesn’t end well.
Viola (Twelfth Night): Sebastian’s twin sister who spends most of the time as Cesario, the most strong willed of Shakespeare’s women.
Shylock (The Merchant of Venice): A difficult character as it really depends on how you want to look at him how to interpret him monster, victim, clown?
Lady Macbeth (Macbeth): We all know she’s one of the most memorable female ever written.
Autolycus (The Winter’s Tale): Never seen or read this one either so I don’t know
Nurse (Romeo & Juliet): She’s the best mother character we see
Falstaff (Henry IV/Merry Wives of Windsor): Perhaps the greatest character in all of Shakespeare to have a drink with. He is my favorite.
Regan and Goneril (King Lear): The bad sisters in this wonderful family drama
Cassius (Julius Caesar): sets the assassination plot a foot and is sort of an early Iago-like character
Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing): Wittiest of all the characters Shakespeare wrote
Tybalt (Romeo & Juliet): This guy really?
Drunken Porter (Macbeth): The strangest item on the list as I don’t even remember him at all
King Lear: “Everest” of acting roles this medieval/modern role that we sort of are living with today.
Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse (Comedy of Errors): Never seen/read before
Lance (Two Gentlemen of Verona): Never seen or read not a clue here
Timon (of Athens):  starts rich goes poor, wants to see cities crumble
Mercutio (R+J): The fun loving, mercurial character who everyone likes the Riff to Romeo’s Tony.
Jaques (As You Like It): He’s got the All the World’s a stage speech
Richard III (Henry IV/Richard III): He’s got to be here the brilliant anti-hero before they were popular

So I need to read/see As Your Like It, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Winter’s Tale, and Comedy of Errors. It’s a fun list and I enjoy that it isn’t the same old Hamlet, Puck, Juliet and Romeo. Shakespeare wrote a lot of characters so it’s nice to see some who would slip your mind on a list.

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Theatre and Politics

These are two things that go together and have been since the beginnings. The Ancient Greeks had The Trojan Women and Lysistrata which were commentaries on events that the Greeks faced during the Peloponnesian War. Shakespeare did a great job at working politics into his works as well. This was transformed by the Soviets into Agitprop (Agitation propaganda). Politics have always been an influence to playwrights and still inspires directors today.

So when the news that the New York City’s Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar was using Donald Trump as a model for their Julius Caesar. I didn’t think it was out of line over the year many a President has been taken as a way for the audience to relate with the story. As Michael Kahn, Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC, notes in a Time article it is pretty hard to avoid mixing contemporary politics and Shakespeare together. It was a lens for us to look at the story and society has been doing it since at least a 1937 Orson Welles production where Caesar has fascist overtones, and over the years he’s been interpreted into just about every major political figure. Julius Caesar isn’t about the assassination or saying it is a good thing, Caesar even dies halfway through the play making Brutus perhaps the main character in the play.

Now we need to be able to live in a world where we are not walking on egg shells all the time and this seems to be what is happening in the world today. Everyone is on edge and ready to snap at the smallest problem. Yet if we look at other shows and even movies we can get to similar interpretation like how the upcoming film Geostorm, a film coming out this October, is a response to Trump withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

For my birthday my sister got me a unique gift a trilogy of books which are Star Wars written in the style of Shakespeare. The plays were written by Ian Doescher and they offer a unique look at the world of Star Wars. Ian Doescher has written both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, I’ve only read the Originals but I first heard about this work from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s podcast, where Ian was interviewed.  I am a huge Star Wars fan and have a deep admiration of Shakespeare as well so these were a wonderful thing for me to read. Once I finished reading I found on Youtube that people have put on production based on the the scripts. These are pretty amazing to watch and it looks like it works well on stage as well.

 

Shakespeare

It’s been almost 400 years since William Shakespeare died, and fifty-two or so more since he was born. This one playwright has had the most impact on culture. His play are constantly staged and pop culture is littered with references to or cleverly adapted from his works. Then there is just all the phrases and words that Shakespeare coined. Not to mention those wonderful graphic novels like Kill Shakespeare and William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. There are many TED(x, ed) talks about Shakespeare and how he relates to the modern world. If you have some time this weekend perhaps take some time and watch one of his play in any form, or if you are in the DC area the newest play by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) is at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Lesser known…

Crispin and Crispinian (circa Third Century)
Most of us have heard of Saint Crispin, there’s that famous speech from Shakespeare, but who exactly is Crispin. They, Crispin and Crispinian, are twin brothers who were born to a noble Roman family. They fled to Soissons to get away from persecution. In France they preached to the Gauls and made shoes at night. From their shoes they earned enough to live comfortably and aid the poor. The governor heard of them and had them tortured and thrown into a river with millstones around their necks. They both survived but were eventually beheaded by Diocletian. Or Crispin and Crispinian could have been from Kent somewhere near Canterbury, but after their father died for displeasing the Roman Emperor their mother persuaded that they flee to London. The brothers made their way but stumbled upon a shoemaker’s workshop in Faversham and decided to stay there.  The English version of the story has no information about how they were martyred.

Pope Evaristus (died c. 107)
Evaristus was the Fifth bishop of Rome. Evaristus was originally a Hellenistic Jew on his father’s side from Bethlehem.  He divided Rome up into titles, or parishes these have grown to the Titular Church that Cardinals are given when they become Cardinals. Evaristus also appointed priest to these Churches and appointed seven deacons for the city.

Chiara Badano (29 October 1971 – 7 October 1990)
Chiara is a member of Generation X and is proof that regular people can still become saints. I felt compelled to mention Chiara Luce, her nickname given by Chiara Lubich,  even though she is only a blessed since a couple weeks ago I read about her and felt that her words are something that we need to hear in the world today. Chiara was born in a small village in Italy and her parents had waited and prayed for her to come for eleven years. Chiara got involved in the Focolare Movement in Italy at nine. The Focolare Movement was started by Chiara Lubich in 1943. In 1988 her life was changed dramatically as Chiara felt a twinge in her shoulder while playing tennis and it turned out to be osteogenic sarcoma, a rare and painful bone cancer.  When Chiara heard this she simply declared, “It’s for you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it, too.” This is remarkable as all that Chiara wanted was to be married to Jesus, and at her funeral she got her wish. Before Chiara died she told her mother “the young people…young people…they are the future. You see, I can’t run anymore, but how I would like to pass on to them the torch, like in the Olympics! Young people have only one life and it’s worthwhile to spend it well.” I hope that many young people take up the torch of Chiara and live always with a light that radiated from within from a heart full of the love of God.

News Roundup

Shakespeare: When I first read the Wall Street Journal’s piece on this it sounded like one of the stupidest ideas I’ve heard yes I have a degree in English and have read and seen more Shakespeare than the average person, so I understand that it’s something that some people have been clamoring for ages about but this. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has announced that it has commissioned translations (transcriptions) of all 39 Shakespeare plays into modern English. The reasoning behind it is that modern audiences have no clue what about 10% of the words mean, but that mean 90% of the text modern English speakers can understand. I understand where this is coming from, just look at the No Fear Shakespeare line of books which has a modern text version alongside the Shakespearean text. There are also No Fear versions other works as well, including Huck Finn. Sure it will be a gimmick but will these new plays go any further or are they just a one off deal. As The Oregon Shakespeare Festival want to broaden the audience and by using the words that Shakespeare would have used if he wrote today. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival which debuted the first of these works last year with Timon of Athens transcribed for Modern Voice by Kenneth Cavander  had an interesting study guide which had an example of the transcribing. So after reading what the OSF is actually doing it make more sense and I like the idea and hope that these plays get seen more than once.

Hamilton: So since the last time I did this Hamilton, that little musical that Lin-Manuel Miranda has been working about the past decade, dropped online and through digital downloads, the physical copy comes out October 16. Set aside two hours and have an experience listening to American History unfold before you. It’s a musical about American History, a kin to 1776 but this is about Alexander Hamilton, so you learn some more with this musical. Reviewers have been agog about the show. Many have speculated that Hamilton might be a contender of the Pulitzer Prize. The Atlantic has a cool story about how this musical is playing a role is reshaping American History and hopefully informing that the problems that we are facing today are not that different from those which the Founding Fathers had to deal with. As a side note Lin-Manuel Miranda has been name one of the MacArthur Fellows Program commonly known as “the Genius Grant”. Miranda is currently working on the music for the Disney film Mona and acting in Hamilton.

Richard III: the reburial

I have been following this story for some time now. Richard III is a unique figure in English history with the whole War of the Roses and all that as well. The official events leading up to the re internment of the body have started. This is the first Royal funeral that I will have memory of and the first in England since 1952. I really hope that CNN or BBC America or someone like that simulcasts the events for Anglophiles in the states. As the service sounds interesting  as it is said that there will be some pre-reformation elements to the service. Since at the time England was rules by Catholics, it is unfortunate that Richard is not being buried in York or at the Catholic church in Leicester, unfortunately there is no Catholic Cathedral in Leicester. However I understand that putting Richard in a Cathedral is important since he was the King.

Hopefully with the renewed scholarship on Richard III we will begin to see a new interpretation of him in Shakespeare’s plays. The first such place may be in the second part of The Hollow Crown series which did the Henriad  (Richard II, Henry VI (i,ii) and Henry V) for their first series and in 2016 the second part will focus on the Wars of the Roses (Henry VI (i,ii,iii) and Richard III).

News Roundup

Beer: As we enter the holiday season where there is sure to be a good deal of drinking this is a great place to start. Budweiser is having trouble attracting Millennials to drink their beer. The Atlantic reports and I can confirm that young drinkers are not going to buy a Budweiser when they can easily get something that tastes a whole lot better with spending a little more money. Now Budweiser is not going to change they way it brews its beer or introduce a new product line to attract millennials, like Pizza Hut just did, but is just going to change up its advertising by putting the iconic Clydesdale’s on the sideline, at least for the holiday season.

Shakespeare: This is a really cool story a first folio has been found in France. This folio was found in the library at Saint-Omer as it had been sitting on a shelf for the past 200 or so years. The book they say is missing some pages and was most likely brought by some fleeing English clergy member and they were welcomed by the Jesuits at Saint-Omer. During the French Revolution the Jesuit library became the public library. The library also had a Gutenberg Bible.  The finding of the folio is remarkable as there are little over 200 or so that still exist.

Language: I stumbled upon this the other day it’s 2 year old but It was interesting that some linguist is claiming that English is a Scandinavian language. Now this is a silly idea as pointed out on the Language Log it basically says that there is no real concrete evidence of this. It goes on to talk about how English is a West Germanic language and has grammar elements from the Scandinavian language and some loan words from the French and Norse but this is common with many languages that there is contact with another language and things get assimilated and over the year morph into something new look at how much English has changed since Shakespeare or take a look at the English spoken in the United States and that in the United Kingdom.

Dido, Queen of Carthage

This past weekend I went and saw Christopher “Kit” Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, maybe it was just the production that I saw but although called a short play, it ran about an hour, it felt like a full length play. Dido was the first Marlowe that I’ve actually seen as I have only read Doctor Faustus and enjoyed it. After seeing Dido I am not sure why there are any groups of people who claim that Marlowe faked his death and wrote under a new name William Shakespeare  I have not seen anything really compelling about the real argument, as do most scholars in the world today. Since just like today people are influenced by other people’s work, just look at the television and movies that are popular today. Marlowe may have been someone who influenced Shakespeare but that is about as far as the argument can do.

Dido, Queen of Carthage is based on Virgil’s Aeneid and focuses on Dido. It begins with a scene which to me seemed superfluous with all the gods talking to one another. Then we are treated with the actual play where Dido and Aeneas deal with each other, with Dido falling in love with Cupid’s help with Aeneas. The whole play is about how the gods play an ever present role in our lives and the only way that we can escape them is through death. The play asks the question do we really control our lives or does something thing else control it. This is a similar though that Shakespeare would have later saying “All the world’s a stage and men and women merely actors players”

Lesser Known Saints

John Twenge (John of Bridlington) (1319–10 October 1379)
John was born in Yorkshire to a prominent Catholic family (although it’s prominence wasn’t there yet) He went to Oxford and then joined the Bridlington Priory where John rose to Prior a position he held for 17 years. During his lifetime John was known for his miracles, it is said that he turned water into wine and once five sailors were in danger of a wreck and they prayed to God in the name of John of Bridlington, the sailor’s prayers were answered and  the prior himself appeared to them in his habit and brought them to shore. John was the last saint canonized before the English Reformation and Henry V partly attributed his victory at the Battle of Agincourt, on Saint Crispin’s Day, to John Twenge.

John of Capistrano OFM (24 June 1386 – 23 October 1456)
John was born in Capistrano Italy and had a relatively normal life he became governor of Ladislas until 1416 when war broke out and John was sent to Malatesta to try to broker a peace deal. John was imprisoned and started studying theology with Bernardino of Siena. After John was freed he joined the Friars Minor where he became a noted preacher as he had to preach in town squares as the churches were too small to fit everyone. John was also a reformer as he wrote tracts on heresies and help Bernardino reform the Franciscans as well. At the age of 70 he lead a Crusade in Hungry against the advancing Turks, he might have won the battle but during it John contracted bubonic plague and died. Two Spanish Missions in America are named for John of Capistrano, the one in California was known for the swallows that nested in the mission.

Crispin and Crispinian (died c. 286)
October 25th is Saint Crispin’s Day. This is perhaps the one of the better known saints that appears in literature, or at least the mention of the feast day. In one of the most memorable speeches from Shakespeare’s  Henry V in it King Henry rouses his “band of brothers” on the eve of battle against the French. I’ve always wonder who Crispian is. Crispin and Crispinian were twin brothers from Rome  during the 3rd century. They both fled persecution and ended up in France preaching to the Gauls during the day and making shoes at night. According to legend they were very successful in their preaching and the Roman governor had them tortured and thrown into a river with millstones around their necks, they both survived and were beheaded by the Emperor.