arisha: (ai takahashi)
[personal profile] arisha
Apologies to those of you with no interest in these entries! I am a mere seven plays from the end, at which point we will return to our regularly scheduled programming of Sarah and her boring life.

18. A Midsummer Night's Dream
I watched this not too long after "Love's Labour's Lost," which meant that I watched two plays in a row that end with the secondary characters putting on plays. A strange coincidence! Anyway, I watched the 1935 movie version (because I love Olivia de Havilland) and I was pleasantly surprised by it. It wasn't as stiff as the other early Shakespeare films I've seen and the scenes that combined special effects with the music of Felix Mendelssohn made me feel like I was watching a live action Fantasia. I also thought Mickey Rooney made a pretty entertaining Puck, although I did get a little tired of the way he laughed after every single line. As for the play itself, I didn't love it, just because I went in with an idea of what the play would be like that turned out to be almost completely wrong! For one thing, the human characters had way more lines than I'd expected. I also think the humour was played in a very 1930s way, and that left me a little cold. I'll be interested to see a different production of this someday.

19. Othello
I watched the movie that stars Laurence Fishburne as Othello and Kenneth Branagh as Iago, which I watched in full for the first time early last year. I'd wanted to watch a version that was new to me, but unfortunately this was the only one that was both easily accessible and didn't have a guy in blackface playing Othello. It's seriously gross how recently Othello has been played by white men.

Anyway, the play - I think it's one of Shakespeare's masterpieces and I say that as someone who finds it very difficult to watch. Absolutely I think you could argue that all of Shakespeare's great plays have something to say to the current era, but for me "Othello" is the one that speaks most clearly to the life of the average person, the one that could most easily happen in real life today. In Shakespeare Uncovered, Stephen Greenblatt talks about how the scene where Othello asks Desdemona to produce the handkerchief always makes him want to run onstage and intervene; for me, the entire second half of the play is like that. It's brilliant theatre that I find really hard to sit and watch.

The Laurence Fishburne movie is the only "Othello" I've seen so far, but I think it's extremely well done. One criticism of the play that I've seen is that it's not realistic that Iago could worm his way inside Othello's head so quickly. This movie offers a solution to that by staging the scene where Iago first suggests that Desdemona has been unfaithful as though their conversation is taking place over the course of an entire day, or maybe even an entire week. And ugggggh, how fantastic is that scene. The way Iago hints at what he wants to say and pretends to be reluctant to say it until Othello draws it out of him, the way he tries to pass it off like he's just thinking aloud ... it's one of my absolute favourite Shakespeare scenes and I love how fresh it feels even though it's some four hundred years old.

I also really love Emilia and I love how she flat out tells Iago she's leaving him when she finds what he's been doing. It's also kind of fascinating to think about the structure of this play - with a different ending it could very easily be a comedy, "Much Ado About a Handkerchief" or something. Somehow I think this makes the ending even more upsetting.

20. Titus Andronicus
This was my second time watching the Julie Taymor movie. I probably could have found another version, but I really wanted to watch this movie again and so I did. Although I think watching the Taymor movie twice has really affected the way I think about this play. Of course every production I've watched during my Shakespeareathon has had its own style that's affected how I think of the plays, but the style of Taymor's Titus is so strong and so unique and, in certain ways, so otherworldly that I've definitely noticed its influence a lot more. It will be interesting to see how my opinion of this play changes when I finally see a different production!

At the moment, my opinion of this play is that it is extremely violent and definitely not the sort of thing I would usually watch, but it is oddly compelling and I honestly enjoy it. I've heard the argument that the violence is so extreme because it's supposed to be funny. I can definitely see where that argument is coming from, but the thought of an audience laughing at Lavinia after she's been raped and had her hands and tongue cut off makes me feel sick. I much prefer to take the play seriously, although even taking it seriously I do find a couple scenes to be darkly humourous, e.g. the scene where Titus agrees to cut off his hand and his son and brother go eagerly running off to find a knife, as if they both want to be the one to find it first.

Watching this, I teared up for the second time during this Shakespeareathon, in the scene where Marcus finds Lavinia after she's been raped. I actually have mixed feelings about this scene, because of the way it focuses on Marcus's pain while all but ignoring Lavinia's, but in the moment I found it pretty heartbreaking.

Related, here's one of the best things I think I've ever read about Shakespeare (from a forum thread that otherwise irritated me and that I am failing at finding right now): "Gender bending is as Shakespearean as rapist pie."

21. Antony and Cleopatra
I tried to watch the 1974 film with Janet Suzman as Cleopatra, and while she was excellent the rest of the production was less so. The Egypt scenes had sets but the Rome scenes were filmed in an empty void and I found it so distracting I gave up halfway through. Instead, I watched the 1972 movie with Charlton Heston as Marc Antony. The sets were an immense improvement but I strongly suspect they cut a large amount of dialogue, so in the end I'm not really sure which movie is the better one to watch. Anyway, I really enjoyed the play. It's like "Romeo and Juliet" if Romeo and Juliet had huge amounts of power. I was also really surprised by the character of Cleopatra; since watching this play I keep seeing people refer to her as one of Shakespeare's greatest characters, but I don't remember ever hearing much about her before. She is super entertaining, though. I really enjoyed the scene where the messenger is telling her about Antony's new wife and she's desperate for information but can't help screaming at the poor guy any time he tells her anything.

22. The Taming of the Shrew
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh this play. I have read quite a number of blog and forum posts arguing that it is secretly feminist and I have yet to be convinced by any of them. Maybe one day I will see a production that plays it that way and then it will all make sense to me, but I admit I don't have high hopes. This time around I watched the 1967 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor. It is a super weird adaptation! They cut almost the entire subplot (i.e. the part of the play I actually like!) and replaced it with wacky visual humour and a long scene where Petruchio chases Kate across a rooftop. They even added a joke where Kate makes her final speech and then hurries out of the room when Petruchio isn't looking!! I'm sure some people think that's blasphemy but I loved it haha. Overall I enjoyed the movie rather more than I expected to, but unfortunately it is still a story where a man denies his wife food, destroys her belongings, embarrasses her in public and gaslights her, and then she makes a big speech about how women should obey their husbands. Sooooooooooo yeaaaaaaaah.

23. Timon of Athens
I watched the BBC version starring Jonathan Price (Governor Swann!) as Timon. I enjoyed the first half of this play, but so little happens in the second half that when Wikipedia informed me that some scholars think this is a first draft I went, "Yup, that sounds right." I found this especially disappointing because when Timon found a whole bunch of buried treasure in his cave my first thought was that the play was going to turn into Shakespeare's version of The Count of Monte Cristo, and how awesome would that be?! The huge difference between this play's first half and its second half means I'm really not sure how I feel about it overall, but I feel like I have to give it bonus points just because Shakespeare decided to make Alcibiades, a most entertaining ancient Athenian, one of his main characters for some reason.

24. King Lear
I watched most of the Ian McKellen version but got sick of its ugly sets and depressing colour scheme (am I always this picky about sets??) and ended up watching this Peruvian performance instead. It was filmed in a burned down theatre, which I think makes for a fantastic backdrop, but unfortunately that's about everything good I have to say about this play. This was the first time in the Shakespeareathon where I really had to force myself to finish a play! I know "King Lear" is considered one of the greats, but I don't like it at all. It's just so unpleasant from start to finish. And not unpleasant in an entertaining way or a thought-provoking way, but unpleasant in a "Why am I watching terrible people do terrible things?" kind of way. I guess we're supposed to like Cordelia, but she really frustrates me because why does she keep being so nice to her father when he was so terrible to her!! The people who enjoy "King Lear" are welcome to it; I don't get the appeal at all.

25. Two Noble Kinsmen
I watched this university production. I REALLY liked the scene early on where Palamon and Arcite are in jail and talking about how they're going to be just fine as long as they have each other. It actually reminded me a lot of Miguel and Tulio in The Road to El Dorado and I was excited to watch a wacky buddy comedy! Unfortunately in that moment I forgot that this play is not a comedy but a romance. I have yet to really enjoy any of Shakespeare's romances. The mix of tragedy and comedy never quite works for me.

I was also frustrated by the character of the jailer's daughter. At the start of the play she was awesome! She knew what she wanted and she was going to go after it! Then her love interest didn't love her back and she went insane. I am so completely over this trope you guys. Every time I watch something now where a woman goes insane or thinks about killing herself because a guy doesn't love her back, I want nothing more than for Medea to fly in on her dragon chariot all "WHY ARE YOU CRYING WHEN YOU COULD BE DESTROYING EVERYTHING HE LOVES???"

Or, you know. The woman could just get over the guy and go live her awesome life without him. That would be good too.

ALSO there is a part in the middle of the play where a group of nameless characters comes and does a dance. As far as I can tell this has nothing to do with the plot, so you might forgive the production linked above for replacing whatever dance they originally had with an over-the-top dance to a medley of pop songs, among them Rihanna's "S&M." In my opinion, though, it ... didn't fit.

26. The Two Gentlemen of Verona
I watched this performance in a park. It's unfortunate that the sound quality in that video is not so great because the production is awesome. I super enjoyed it even with all the airplane noise! The plot of this play is fairly silly and they acted it in a silly way complete with many pratfalls. And some of the secondary characters were hilarious! The scene where Launce uses his shoes to help him reenact his parents' reaction to his leaving home was pretty great. I seem to be enjoying Shakespeare's lesser known comedies more than his famous ones, although I wonder if that's just because I've been going into the lesser known ones with low expectations.

27. Coriolanus
As previously mentioned, way back at the start of the Shakespeareathon I tried to watch the Ralph Fiennes movie and thought it looked great but unfortunately the way it was filmed made me motion sick! One day I discovered that the Tom Hiddleston production had been uploaded to YouTube (it seems to have disappeared now, which doesn't surprise me), so I finally got to watch this play in full. And I'm really not sure what I think of it. This particular production had really cool transitions between scenes and really intense special effects. I'm not convinced that Hiddleston is a good choice for the role; he gives the impression of being a very thoughtful person, and I'm not sure that fits Coriolanus, who often seems to act without thinking. I wanted very much to like this play but there is a lot of talking and I didn't always understand characters' motivations and I really didn't like how quickly Coriolanus was persuaded to make his fateful decision at the end. But I seem to have got it into my head that I should like this play so I will probably revisit it at some point to try again. Admittedly I was very super distracted with real life stuff when I was watching it this time!

28. The Merry Wives of Windsor
I watched this performance in a park. This one is quite different from the other plays I've seen in parks. Instead of the actors and the audience staying in one spot, this production had the audience move from one part of the park to another, as if moving between each location where the story is unfolding. I think this is one of those ideas that's really cool in theory and really impractical in practice, but it looks like there were a lot of people willing to be part of the audience so maybe I'm wrong. Personally I feel like having to get up and walk after every scene would really distract me from the story.

Anyway, ignoring that, I really liked this play! I didn't expect to, because I still have yet to understand the appeal of Falstaff, but his role wasn't as large as I had been led to believe and the new characters were pretty funny. The guy who played Ford was pretty hilarious when he was in disguise. And I loved the scene where Mistress Page and Mistress Ford were laughing at how Falstaff had sent them each the exact same love letter. It made me want to see a modern day version where Falstaff is one of those guys who sends the exact same message to every girl on OKCupid.

This was also one of the few Shakespeare comedies where I didn't feel like at least one of the marriages at the end was doomed from the start. So bonus marks for that!!

29. Troilus and Cressida
I'm sure you guys don't need to hear any more of my thoughts about this play, so I'll keep it short. I am one of probably about five people who count this among their top favourite Shakespeare plays. I love it not just because it's Shakespeare taking on my favourite story of all time - which would be enough for me to love it anyway - but because it's Shakespeare taking on my favourite story of all time and experimenting. Shakespeare is clearly not interested in telling the story the way it's usually told and he's clearly not interested in portraying the characters the way they're usually portrayed. My favourite description of this play is that it's "a systematic hollowing-out of the Troy legend." The result is a very bitter play with no a real resolution. I find it difficult to recommend, but oh man do I love it.

This time, I watched the BBC version, which sadly is the only English version I know to have been filmed. It was a little bland in places, as the BBC versions tend to be, but some of the choices they made were really interesting. Both Pandarus and Thersites read as flamboyantly gay. Thersites especially so - in his first scene he even wears a dress. I'm not sure why they decided to play the characters this way but I have no problem with it, and it did make for more interesting watching! (And it actually fits pretty well with the theory Simon Russell Beale apparently worked with when he played Thersites, which is that the reason Thersites treats Patroclus so badly is because Thersites used to have an Achilles of his own and doesn't understand why Patroclus is willing to go to war and risk losing Achilles.) Oddly enough though, they did pretty much nothing with Achilles and Patroclus, which I find to be a bit of a mystery. If you're having trouble with the dialogue you could totally miss that Shakespeare hints at their relationship.

I don't have anything interesting to say about anyone else ... Here's hoping I get to see a newer English version at some point!! (But the next time I watch it I will probably watch the Globe to Globe Maori version, which I recently discovered is available on the Globe Player!)

30. Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Even though this feels more like a fantasy novel than a play, and even though some of the poetry is pretty clunky, and even though Pericles has almost no personality, and even though it has a lot of the same plot elements as "The Winter's Tale" which I didn't enjoy when I last saw it, and even though the king in the opening scenes is the dumbest character in history, and even though the scenes of Marina in the brothel are pretty ridiculous ... I really enjoyed this play. Don't tell anyone but I think like half of the reason is that I watched the BBC version and found the guy who played Pericles to be oddly attractive. I am also a ginormous sucker for scenes where characters are reunited with loved ones they believed to be dead, and this play has not only one but TWO such scenes!! When I get to "The Winter's Tale" it will be interesting to see whether or not my opinion of that play has improved. These two plays are honestly so similar that I'm not sure it makes sense to like "Pericles" but dislike "Winter's Tale." They're like the same story except that in one version the protagonist is nice and in the other he's mean.

31. Measure for Measure
So I watched half of a version that I found on YouTube, then decided to watch the rest the next day. But when I came back, it was gone! Not too unexpected with YouTube but I was still frustrated that I had to start the play over again. In the end I watched this version. I don't have many thoughts on this play. I didn't love it. I felt like it needed some more plot or something, I got tired of the storyline pretty quickly. (Maybe because I had to watch half of it twice.) Like "All's Well that Ends Well," this play features a bed trick, so I didn't love that. And there were an awful lot of coincidences at the end. So I dunno. Hopefully I'll like it better when I revisit it one day.

32. King John
I got the BBC version from the library, watched the first half, borrowed it again a month later, watched the second half. It wasn't bad or anything but there's a long stretch in the middle where it feels like nothing much is happening and I wasn't able to make it through it on the first attempt. To be nitpicky about sets once again - it didn't help that all the France sets look like an attempt to recreate It's a Small World in cardboard!

I'm not really sure what I think about this play. I was glad to finally see the famous "Grief fills the room up of my absent child" lines in context, although I actually found them less powerful in context, just because the character who says them spends all of her lines talking about how sad she is. Philip the Bastard was interesting but after the start of the play he never really did anything. I thought he would at least fight the King of Austria or something. I also thought King John would be killed by one of the characters we'd met, but then he was poisoned by an offstage monk?!?! With the exception of that long middle I enjoyed watching this play, but overall I'm not sure what my opinion of it is.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-27 03:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shake-the-stars.livejournal.com
I'm of the theory that Titus Andronicus was dashed off in a week and a half because Shakespeare had bills coming due. I feel like this is a terrible thing to say, but it really isn't a good play.

The best King Lear, for my money, is Ran :D

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-27 06:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arisha.livejournal.com
Hahaha, I admit there are plays where I've thought "This was totally written right before a deadline." With Titus, though, you may or may not be aware that it is believed to be a collaboration with George Peele, about whom I know basically nothing. So maybe the parts you dislike weren't Shakespeare's fault!

I have yet to see Ran but I intend to! It is on my list of Shakespeare-ish movies to watch after I finish the Shakespeareathon. :D

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-29 05:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lysanderpuck.livejournal.com
I 100% agree with you that Taming isn't a feminist production. One of my professors told me that the modern interpretation came from this version and Mary Pickford's wink: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Taming_of_the_Shrew_%281929_film%29 And everyone's picked up on it being a comedy about a man who has a stubborn wife since.
My very favorite version of Taming (done by the UK's Propeller theatre company) had Kate absolutely broken by the final speech and it really showed me how awful and abusive the play can be so I can't ever see it as a feminist production again. D:


Also I know Titus is kind of a terrible play technically but I absolutely love how goddamn ridiculous it is. Like, Bill, what?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-30 05:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arisha.livejournal.com
I'm glad you left this comment because last night I watched a video where someone very confidently referred to Taming of the Shrew as an "early feminist text" and I have this problem where I start to doubt myself very quickly when I hear someone state an opposing opinion with great confidence. (Whether or not they offer any evidence to back it up!)

I didn't know that the Mary Pickford version sparked that interpretation! That's super interesting. Did you watch that movie? I'm curious to see it now, especially because Wikipedia says it was filmed as a silent and then dubbed over later?!

I think the Elizabeth Taylor version I watched could be said to follow in Pickford's footsteps, although it was really more interested in wacky hijinks than anything else.

The Propeller production sounds suuuuuuper interesting!! I would be really interested to see a production with a similar interpretation. I would imagine it didn't feel much like a comedy anymore, but maybe Shrew should go the way of Merchant of Venice and lose its happy ending ...

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