Strode presents Love’s Labour’s Lost

The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents its final film of the 2014-15 Shakespeare Film Series, Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 Love’s Labour’s Lost. Free and open to the public.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

The King of Navarre and his three attendant lords make a pact to forswear women for three years so that they can steep themselves in academic pursuits. Almost immediately, the Princess of France arrives on a mission from her father, accompanied (of course) by three attendant ladies. We all know where this is going. Each man falls in love with a different woman but keeps his love a secret, until a scene when each man, thinking he’s alone, confesses his love by reading a sonnet out loud. Realizing what has happened, the men break their vows and agree to pursue their women, who do not allow themselves to be won so easily. Love’s Labour’s Lost contains many of the tropes of Shakespearean comedy: wooing lovers, mixed-up letters, bawdy puns, secondary characters who serve as foils and comic relief, and the promise of marriage. More than that, it is a play about language, containing more rhymed verses and new words than any other play in Shakespeare’s canon. It plays with poetic form and delights in linguistic excess while also mocking characters like the Spanish Don Armado, whose attempts at verbal brilliance fail miserably and hilariously. The play’s ending differs from other comedies by moving toward marriage but suspending it after news arrives that the King of France has died. The couples will separate for a year, as the women return to France and force the men to renew their vows of chastity. What happens next remains unknown: records survive of a Shakespeare play called Love’s Labour’s Won, but it has never been found.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Kenneth Branagh (2000)

British actor-director Kenneth Branagh is generally credited with ushering in a new era of Shakespeare films in the 1990s. Beginning with 1989’s Henry V, Branagh envisioned himself as the Laurence Olivier of the modern era, but with a twist. Branagh became famous for his casting of both notable British stage and film actors (including himself, Emma Thomson, Adrian Lester, and Richard Briers) and Hollywood actors (including Robin Williams, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Alicia Silverstone, and Matthew Lillard), and his films strive to popularize Shakespeare’s plays for contemporary audiences. His Much Ado About Nothing (1993) earned critical and commercial success, while his “uncut” four-hour Hamlet (1996) was a star-studded tour de force. With Love’s Labour’s Lost, Branagh took a risk. How would he translate Shakespeare’s play about language and wordplay to the screen, when the play itself was rarely performed on stage before the mid-twentieth century and is one of Shakespeare’s least well known? The answer is a 1930s-era musical comedy that includes music by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter and showy song and dance numbers by its non-musical theater stars, with the exception of Nathan Lane, whose Costard reminds everyone that “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Critics and audiences were generally unimpressed and the film failed at the box office, but there is much to delight in here. Sure, the film is cheesy and imperfect, the musical numbers aren’t perfectly polished, and only about a third of Shakespeare’s words survive, but the film’s use of song and dance and the sheer absurdity of many scenes remind us of the joy and wordplay highlighted by the play. Beneath the razzle-dazzle, Branagh keeps the dark undercurrent of Shakespeare’s play with newsreels of European conflict and an ending that reminds viewers that loss is a part of life and that love must sometimes wait.

~Dr. Natalie Loper

Forbidden Planet, Wednesday!

Join us this Wednesday, March 11th at 7:30pm in Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre for Forbidden Planet!

Forbidden Planet copy

If you consider yourself a film or science fiction geek and haven’t seen Forbidden Planet before, consider this Wednesday your chance to get right with the world before your geek license is revoked. This movie sets up so many tropes that will come to be hated and adored in later films. For more, see Dr. Russ McConnell’s program notes below:

*****

The Tempest

The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s final plays, is about Prospero, powerful magician and rightful Duke of Milan, and his teenage daughter Miranda, who have spent twelve years on an island after Prospero’s villainous brother Antonio (aided by Alonso, King of Naples) usurped his position and set him and Miranda adrift at sea. They are not the only inhabitants of the island: Prospero is served by the supernatural spirit Ariel and the monstrous, animalistic creature Caliban. When Prospero learns that his brother Antonio is passing close by the island on a ship, he conjures up a tempest to wreck the ship to bring Antonio and his retinue to the island. This retinue includes Prospero’s old and faithful servant Gonzalo, Antonio’s co-conspirator Alonso, and Alonso’s son Ferdinand. The shipwrecked characters explore the island, having various adventures and plotting intrigues, secretly observed by Prospero. Ferdinand meets and falls in love with Miranda, and her father (although secretly approving of the union) forces Ferdinand to become his servant to prove his worth and sincerity. In the end, Prospero brings all the main characters together in a scene of forgiveness and reconciliation, which culminates in Ferdinand and Miranda becoming engaged, Ariel being freed, and plans being made to return to Italy. Prospero resolves to bring an end to his magic: “I’ll break my staff…I’ll drown my book.” In this moment, Prospero is often read as representing Shakespeare himself, the playwright finally declaring an end to his glorious career as a master creator of theatrical magic.

In recent decades, The Tempest has often been read as a play about European colonialism, with Ariel and Caliban as colonized natives. Alternatively, Caliban’s physical appetites (both sexual and bibulous) have caused some readers to identify him less with the oppressed colonial subject than with the repressed Freudian id, opening up the possibility of psychoanalytic interpretations.

There have been many adaptations of The Tempest over the centuries, including The Tempest or, The Enchanted Island produced by John Dryden and William Davenant in 1670 and an operatic version by Thomas Shadwell in 1764. Shakespeare’s original text did not make a reappearance until William Charles Macready’s version of 1838. Adaptations continued in the 20th century, eventually making the move from stage to film.

Forbidden Planet

Fred M. Wilcox’s 1956 film adaptation Forbidden Planet is set on the extraterrestrial world of Altair IV, now colonized by humans, but formerly the home of the Krell, a now-extinct alien species. The film is the first to depict human beings travelling through interstellar space on a craft of their own making, and the first set entirely on another planet, in a remote solar system. The film’s equivalent of Shakespeare’s Ariel is Robby the Robot, and as a piece of technology rather than an enslaved spirit, he seems calculated to avoid inspiring any sense of guilt or distress in a 20th-century audience. He is a creation of the scientist Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who rules Altair IV, whose intelligence has been enhanced to a superhuman level by an encounter with ancient Krell technology, and whose knowledge is beyond the comprehension of the other characters, who consist of the crew of starship C-57D, led by Commander John Adams (Leslie Nielsen). Ultimately, however, their suspicion that no individual human being, however intelligent, can be trusted with such power proves to be vindicated.

Perhaps Forbidden Planet’s greatest innovation is its version of Caliban: a terrifying invisible beast that stalks the planet at night, hunting the crew of C-57D. The true origin of this monster is one of the film’s best surprises. Even though this origin depends upon a theory that Morbius describes as “obsolete,” it nevertheless neatly explains both the monster itself and the extinction of the ancient Krell, as well as evoking a major strand of critical interpretation of The Tempest.

The conclusion of the film departs somewhat from that of its source-text, having some elements of tragedy, and being less about forgiveness and reconciliation than about the essential fallibility of human nature (and, as it turns out, alien nature as well). While in The Tempest, Sycorax’s magic is characterized as full of “earthy and abhorred commands” in contrast to the good magic of Prospero, in Forbidden Planet, the super-science of Morbius turns out to encompass both halves of this dichotomy.

~ Dr. Russ McConnell

Shakespeare on Film, 2014-15

September 15_________Ten Things I Hate About You

November 4_________________The Bad Sleep Well

November 23___________Shakespeare Behind Bars

December 16_________________To Be Or Not to Be

January 19______________________West Side Story

February 16________________Deliver Us From Eva

March 11_____________________Forbidden Planet

April 27___________________Love’s Labour’s Lost

Sponsored by:

The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

All films are free and open to the public.

Hamlet tonight!

We’ve had some good press recently for tonight’s performance of Hamlet. Check out the articles in The Crimson White and The Tuscaloosa News. You don’t want to miss the show! Remember, it’s free and open to the public, and seats are available on a first come first seated basis. There will be a merchandise table in the lobby selling large programs.

Join us!

Revised Hamlet Poster March 1 8.5x11

Deliver Us From Eva, Program Notes

Here you can find the program notes for last week’s screening of Deliver Us From Eva.

deliver us from eva poster

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Although we are accustomed to thinking of Shakespeare as the author of The Taming of the Shrew, this title is first formally established in reference to an anonymous play entered in the Stationers’ Register in 1594. The Stationers’ Register comprises the records maintained by the Stationers’ Company of London, which was a guild which has operated under royal charter since 1557 to regulate practices within the book trade, from printing to bookbinding and bookselling, and in this case it alerts us to what appears to be the first printing of a ‘bad’ quarto version of Shakespeare’s play, probably reconstructed from memory by actors of The Taming of the Shrew. The date of The Taming of the Shrew is a complex question, as there are only scant records about early performances, including a reference again from 1594 to a play called ‘The Tamynge of A Shrowe’ in Philip Henslowe’s Diary which was intriguingly played in the same week as Andronicus which may well have been another early Shakespearean work, Titus Andronicus. However, whilst the first known official attribution of The Taming of the Shrew to Shakespeare comes to us through the First Folio of 1623, the combination of printed and manuscript archival records strongly suggest that this is one of his earliest dramatic creations, and scholarly consensus currently points to a composition date between 1590 and 1591.

            As one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, it is interesting that The Taming of the Shrew draws extensively upon Renaissance comedic pop culture for its narrative: although very few direct sources have been identified for the play’s main characters, the forthright and unforgiving Katherina and her would-be suitor Petruchio, the idea of woman-as-shrew, or scold, was a stock subject for jestbooks in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The ‘scolding of a shrew’ is listed as one of the ‘six ill sounds’ of the world in a joke book in the mid-seventeenth century, the Merry Drollery of 1661 offers guidelines on ‘how to choose a shrew’ in its ‘Advice to Bachelors’, whilst in 1693 a ‘merry Poet’ recalls a tale in which a ‘newly married man’ offers his ‘shrewd wife’ as the best form of torture to punish a wolf who has been ravaging local villagers. Along with Shakespeare’s own Katherina, these examples represent an intriguing combination of deep-rooted misogyny with humor in a way which can be deeply unsettling to modern audiences. It is worth considering the fact that in Richard II in 1597 Shakespeare uses the adjective ‘shrewd’ to indicate the danger of a very sharp sword, and for modern spectators, the shrew may yet be able to transform from a standing joke into a cunning and worthy opponent for her male detractors.

Deliver Us From Eva directed by Gary Hardwick (2003)

In this adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, Eva Dandridge (Gabrielle Union) is a Los Angeles Health Inspector whose career attributes of perfectionism, directness, and bouts of officiousness are not well-received when she applies them at home to minister to the personal lives of her three sisters. Each of the three younger sisters’ plans are thwarted by Eva’s interference, and by reconfiguring Shakespeare’s sisterly dynamic between Katherina and Bianca in relation not only to Eva’s personal qualities but also her professional life, Hardwick’s film begins to elucidate a slightly different picture of the modern-day shrew than that put forth on the early modern stage. For although Eva is, in her own words, ‘uncompromising’ and ‘wear[s] it as a badge of honor’, she is true to her word when she states of ‘principle’ that ‘maybe the world is in short supply, but I am not’. Indeed, Eva takes the concept of the early modern shrew and uses it to launch a stinging attack in a battle of the sexes as she describes ‘women who aspire to culture, and men who aspire to scratch themselves’. In keeping with the source material, Eva hits so hard with her sweeping critique of all men that her words venture into misandry, but as director Hardwick has stated, she emerges as a ‘turbo-feminist’. As in Shakespeare’s play, a potential suitor is recruited for Eva, the ‘Master Player’, Ray Adams (LL Cool J), who is paid by Eva’s three brothers-in-law to distract, seduce, and then dump her. The brothers-in-law hope that Ray will be a sufficient diversion to stop Eva from interfering with their lives. However, after a rocky beginning, it is Eva’s very resolve and intelligence which seduce Ray, and when their relationship blossoms the brothers-in-law find that the newly-content shrew poses an even greater problem than she did before.

            Deliver Us From Eva is an African-American Shakespearean film adaptation, and Hardwick stated that one of his greatest motivations in making the movie was ‘to see Eva on screen. [He had] never seen a woman, much less a black woman, like her in a movie’, and in Eva’s sharp-tongued, witty exchanges the shrew appears less and less like an irritating scold and more and more like an empowered hyper-achiever. Indeed, not only is Eva herself a powerful female character, but her three sisters, Kareenah (Essence Atkins), Bethany (Robinne Lee), and Jacqui (Meagan Good) are likewise outspoken and forthright, allowing this adaptation to suggest that a modern incarnation of shrewishness may actually be more shrewd than shrew.

Dr. Emma Annette Wilson

Reviews of ASC’s Tour, Method in Madness

The American Shakespeare Center’s 2014/2015 tour Method in Madness is coming to the University of Alabama on Sunday, March 1st to perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Details are here. Some of our graduate students recently attended Method in Madness shows in Birmingham, and I want to share their impressions of the great work ASC is doing.

"American Shakespeare Center --June 2014 -- This photograph is licensed to American Shakespeare Center for its advertising and marketing purposes. Other uses, or use of this photograph by third parties, without consent of the photographer, are prohibited."
Patrick Earl as Benedick and Stephanie Holladay Earl as Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Photo by Michael Bailey.

ASC’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Cumberland School of Law, 2/14/15

The American Shakespeare Center’s touring production of Much Ado About Nothing hoists the audience out of Shakespeare’s Messina and drops us, bell-bottoms and all, at a disco somewhere between Love Boat and An Officer and a Gentleman.

Here we witness the “merry war” between Beatrice and Benedick set to a soundtrack of brass and bravura. The accompanying spectacle is fully of heady effusiveness. In suitably irreverent style, the cast takes up the revelry of Shakespeare’s language and recontextualizes it with a little glitz and a lot of guts. What we end up with is a celebration of Shakespeare’s playfulness—the ASC’s Much Ado is a touch campy and a dash cartoonish, and the actors embody this conceit with aplomb.

Stephanie Holladay Earl’s Beatrice is by turns acerbic and sassy. Without sacrificing any of the character’s assertiveness, she balances Beatrice’s defiance of early modern social norms with a tenacious sense of humor. Her performance, ultimately, is both engaging and charming.

As Benedick, Patrick Earl tempers swagger with a boyishness that emerges into maturity as the play progresses. He plays the commitment-phobic soldier with hyperbolic bravado, and through the transition from lothario to lover, Earl’s Benedick remains eminently likeable.

Doubling abounds in this cast, and the actors rise to the task with impressive versatility. Susie Parr effervesces as Hero, while Andrew Goldwasser and Stephen Brunson are riotous as Dogberry and Balthazar, respectively.

This reimagining of Much Ado owes much of its success to its distinctly twenty-first century comic delivery. In a Messina of powder blue suits, Gilligan’s Island slapstick and KISS-themed masquerades, it’s the counterbalance of fond nostalgia and optimistic silliness that gives the ASC’s production its (considerable) charisma.

~Chris Emslie

Andrew Goldwasser as Faustus in DOCTOR FAUSTUS. Photo by Michael Bailey.
Andrew Goldwasser as Faustus in DOCTOR FAUSTUS. Photo by Michael Bailey.

ASC’s Doctor Faustus at the Cumberland School of Law, 2/14/15

Though Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is probably the most well-known Elizabethan play outside of Shakespeare, the drama is not often performed by modern theatre companies. Staging the battle for its protagonist’s eternal soul, the play asks significant questions about heaven and hell, fate and free will, knowledge and power. These questions were addressed cleverly, and in many cases effectively, by the American Shakespeare Center’s production of Doctor Faustus as part of their Method in Madness tour. The company tackled a difficult and ambitious text yet managed to produce a play was both entertaining and thought-provoking.

By following the “basic principles of Renaissance theatrical production”, the ASC ensures that the strength of its offerings lies primarily in the performances of its actors—and the actors in Doctor Faustus did not disappoint. Andrew Goldwasser delivered a magnetic performance as the titular doctor who, seduced by the promises of necromancy, sells his soul to Lucifer for twenty-four years of all the knowledge and power he could desire. Stephanie Holladay Earl played his devilish companion Mephistopheles with the perfect balance of charm and control, wit and wickedness. By interacting with the crowd throughout the play, Earl, Goldwasser, and the other actors quickly pulled the audience into the production, making them complicit in Faustus’s “hellish fall.” A second strength of this particular production was the sophistication of its visual effects, despite the restrictions of the company’s limited touring equipment. These effects were especially apt in conveying the horrors of hell: the use of fire in the production was both dramatic and impressive, and the movement of faceless devils, twisting and contorting in brown body suits, was surprisingly eerie and effective. Comprised of nuanced performances and stunning visual effects, the ASC’s Doctor Faustus was a compelling production of Marlowe’s most enduring tragedy.

~Emily Pitts Donahoe

You can find photos of ASC’s recent shows (and food truck experiences!) at their Tumblr. As always, if you have any questions about our upcoming events, feel free to contact Nic Helms via wordpress or at nrhelms at crimson.ua.edu.

Hamlet!

On Sunday, March 1st, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies will host the American Shakespeare Center’s Method in Madness Tour. The ASC will be performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Morgan Auditorium that night at 7:30pm with pre-show music beginning at 7:00pm. The show will be free and open to the public. Seating is limited and available on a first come, first seated basis.

Revised Hamlet Poster March 1 8.5x11

West Side Story

For those of you who came to see The Tempest last night, thanks so much for supporting what we do! Now, take a deep breath. Release it. That’s about how much time you have before our next offering: the 1962 film West Side Story at the Bama Theatre, Monday, January 19th at 7:30pm.

West Side Story

Here are the program notes for the film, courtesy of Dr. Emma Wilson. Hope to see you there!

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

The story of Romeo and Juliet was already an example of cross-cultural adaptation when Shakespeare took up the gauntlet and created a Protestant stage version of a tragic romance between ill-fated lovers from Catholic continental Europe. There are more sources competing to be Romeo and Juliet’s origin story than there are factions and brawls in Shakespeare’s play, ranging from an Italian novella by Matteo Bandello from the 1550s to a French version by lawyer Pierre Boaistuau. While it is uncertain which, if any, of these texts Shakespeare knew in their original languages, he certainly drew on the first English-language iteration of this story, The Tragical Fate of Romeus and Juliet penned by Protestant militant Arthur Brooke in 1562. Brooke’s attempts to aid the Protestant cause in the French wars of religion were thwarted when he died in a shipwreck in 1563, but in bequeathing Romeus and Juliet to us, not only did he spare us from the joys of John Madden’s spectral Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter from Shakespeare in Love (1998), but he enabled an almost complete English conquest of this tale. Two quarto printings of Romeo and Juliet survive from 1597 and 1599, in addition to its inclusion in the First Folio of 1623, and whilst diarist Samuel Pepys said “it is a play of itself the worst I ever heard in my life”, history has sided with Samuel Johnson as the arbiter of taste when he declared that this is one of Shakespeare’s “most pleasing plays”.

The infamous story of star-crossed lovers from rival Italian families scarcely needs retelling here. From their first chance encounter at a dance to their final reunion in a shared tomb, Romeo and Juliet challenged classical ideas of what it meant to write a tragic play. By giving us not one but two forceful protagonists, who are then subject not exclusively to a series of inevitable and fatal steps, but rather to the more fickle hand of fortune, which delivers a letter too late, Shakespeare reconceptualised tragic procedure for his audience. In so doing, he inspired a slew of subsequent adaptations of this story, each of which would explore the frequently depressing consequences of different types of rivalry and factious behaviors. The 1961 film version of West Side Story clearly speaks to the cross-cultural origins of this narrative, bringing a Shakespearean perspective to cultural and national issues which remain troubling today, including racial tensions and urban discontent. Through these kinds of adaptations, we can think about the ways in which, in the 1590s, Shakespeare was writing a very modern tragedy.

 

West Side Story, directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise (1961)

Winner of the 1962 Academy Award for best picture, in addition to 9 other Oscars including 2 acting awards, and recognition for direction, color cinematography and art direction, costuming, editing, and sound, the film version of Broadway musical West Side Story was rewarded on all fronts on its release. Furthermore, its originator Jerome Robbins was the recipient of a Special Award from the Academy for his choreography of this Shakespearean adaptation. Yet whilst these accolades recognize the translation of West Side Story from Broadway to Hollywood, they do not engage with the other pivotal stage heritage of this film, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. So what was it, in 1961, that made Romeo and Juliet want to be in America? High society of sixteenth-century Verona seems a world apart from 1950s New York City. However, both settings are perturbed by the same key issues of distrust creating bitter divisions between rival factions, with tragic consequences for their young people. Waves of post-war immigration escalated tensions among urban neighborhoods, meaning that 50 years on from the placement of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet at the feet of the statue of Liberty, praising America’s open “golden door”, immigrants were experiencing a much more mixed reaction to their arrival in the Big Apple, ranging from wariness to outright hostility. West Side Story adapts Shakespeare’s rival noble Montagues and Capulets to dramatize these challenges via the established migrant gang the Jets and the newly-arrived Puerto-Rican gang the Sharks in New York City.

Shakespeare’s tale and West Side Story rely upon contrasting the happiness which the young star-crossed lovers experience together, from their first forbidden encounter at a dance to balcony serenades, with their ultimate tragic demise. Through enduringly joyous lyrics such as “America” and “I feel pretty”, Puerto-Rican Maria (Natalie Wood) of the Shark clan, and the audience with her, fall in love not only with Tony (Richard Beymer) of the rival Jet gang, but also with the American dream. However, following the fatal consequences of the ultimate showdown between the Sharks and Jets, the giddiness of the opening scenes evaporates as Maria states, “I can kill, too, because now I have hate”. In so saying, she probes some of the central questions which this Shakespearean adaptation raises: were these events inevitable? Did a chance meeting at a dance really let fly a tragic volley? Or is this a case of “chopt logic” which could have been averted through greater tolerance? In raising these issues, West Side Story allows us to explore afresh what constitutes a tragedy today.

~ Dr. Emma Annette Wilson.

Shakespeare on Film, 2014-15

September 15_____________ Ten Things I Hate About You

November 4______________________ The Bad Sleep Well

November 23________________ Shakespeare Behind Bars

December 16_____________________ To Be Or Not to Be

January 19__________________________ West Side Story

February 16____________________ Deliver Us From Eva

March 11_________________________ Forbidden Planet

April 27_______________________ Love’s Labour’s Lost

Sponsored by: The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

All films are free and open to the public.

IF presents William Shakespeare’s *The Tempest*

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Jan 15th, 2015, 7:30pm at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa. Starring Michael Witherell as Prospero. Our script can be downloaded here: The Tempest, adapted by Steve Burch and Emily Pitts Donahoe

RSVP to the Facebook event!