arisha: (troy helen)
[personal profile] arisha
It's done, it's done! It took me from mid-October to June 3rd, but I have completed my goal of watching one version of each of the plays in the Shakespeare canon. I'm very happy to have done this Shakespeareathon and I'm pretty proud that I was able to finish it. I learned a lot about Shakespeare's plays and I'm excited to keep learning about them (as well as the plays of other Elizabethan/Jacobean playwrights).

UNFORTUNATELY, this excitement is only just returning some twenty days after I finished the Shakespeareathon. I didn't plan it this way at all, but the last three plays I watched were among my least favourite plays of the whole thing, and that definitely killed a lot of my Shakespeare-related enthusiasm. With all apologies for a belated entry, here are my thoughts on the last seven plays of the Shakespeareathon~

33. Richard III
I watched the 1995 Ian McKellen movie, which I had seen before. I watched it out of order (storywise it comes after the Henry VI plays) because I felt like watching something I already knew I would enjoy. This production cuts a lot of lines and at least one character, but I still think it's one of my favourite Shakespeare movie adaptations because of the way it so thoroughly commits itself to its twentieth century setting and sets its scenes to match - even changing the context of "My kingdom for a horse!" I think Robert Downey Jr.'s line readings are kind of terrible, but he's great when he's just there to fill in the background. I actually do mean that as a compliment! And Maggie Smith as Richard's mother (even though she's only five years older than Ian McKellen haha) is fantastic. One of my Facebook friends recently used this play as an example of an obscure and difficult Shakespeare play, which confused me because I think it is one of the most accessible and enjoyable ones!

34. Henry VI (Part One) / 35. Henry VI (Part Two) / 36. Henry VI (Part Three)
I'm listing these together because I kind of messed up! Earlier this year I tried to watch the version of Henry VI (Part One) that's available on the Globe Player, but it's an attempt to stage one of Shakespeare's most populated plays with a very small cast and there weren't even any costume changes and as a result I had no idea who was who or what was going on and gave up on it. When it was time to try again, I decided to watch this video and this video, which I believed were Parts One and Two, but I very slowly realized that they are actually all three plays, with scenes cut and reordered to turn the three plays into two. Ohhhh welllll. I guess staging these three plays as two isn't so uncommon - the upcoming Hollow Crown series will be doing it as well - but I'd still like to see all three of them in full sometime.

But anyway! I had been dreading these plays, just a little bit, because they seem to be the least appreciated of the history plays that are frequently discussed, but - I kind of loved them?! The videos I watched are actually part of a much longer production of all of the plays from Henry IV (Part One) to Henry VI (Part Three), and they reminded me quite a lot of Yukio Ninagawa's production of The Greeks (shameless link to my Trojan War blog) - one cast with minimalist sets acting out a huge story about a few different families and what happens to them during a war. Clearly this is my kind of story or something because I really enjoyed both of them. The acting in these Henry VI plays is really great, and the story was more interesting than I thought it would be (although near the end I did start to feel like they were just going to pass the crown back and forth from here to eternity). And Margaret, whose presence confused me when I saw her in a live production of Richard III (she isn't in the McKellen movie, although some of her lines are!), was PRETTY AMAZING. She's the kind of character who sneaks up on you a bit; she didn't do anything special in her first few scenes, but then later she's leading armies into battle? And being super brutal to prisoners? And then I honestly found her last scene to be the most heartbreaking scene in all of Shakespeare. Third time tearing up in the Shakespeareathon FOR SURE.

Aahhh~ I really thoroughly enjoyed the Henry VI plays and am definitely planning to watch the whole series that the above productions are a part of.

37. Henry VIII
I really don't have anything to say about this. I watched the BBC version and it was very bland. There was a lot a lot of talking. Things happened but I still finished it feeling like nothing had happened. Apparently this play was very popular in its day? I can never predict what those Jacobeans will like.

However, it was interesting to watch this (one of Shakespeare's last plays) right after watching the Henry VI plays (three of Shakespeare's earliest plays) - as Shakespeare's career progressed, his language got more complicated, something I found hilariously obvious right from the start of Henry VIII.

38. The Winter's Tale
I watched this production. I'd seen this play live some years ago and hadn't liked it very much. After watching and enjoying Pericles - which has some major elements in common with The Winter's Tale - earlier in the Shakespeareathon, I was sure my opinion would change. It did, but only a very little bit, and only because I had completely forgotten about the second half's comic minor characters, whose antics I quite enjoyed. The main story is still irritating to me. The entire first half is this huge, over-the-top tragedy, spurred on by basically nothing, and then the ending has a huge and sudden act of magic, spurred on by basically nothing, and it's just too much. I know I'm the only one who likes Pericles but, for me personally, Pericles handles everything much better.

39. Edward III
I watched this production which was probably much better to see live than in this filmed version, where the camera is quite far back and never moves and I sometimes had difficulty figuring out who was speaking. My opinion of this play is basically the same as my opinion of Henry VIII - things happened, but I felt like they didn't. There were a lot of politics and a lot of characters that I had no interest in or attachment to. These last two plays are what I was afraid the history plays would all be like until I discovered that most of the history plays are actually pretty great. Edward III was a terrible play to end the Shakespeareathon on ... definitely by the end of it I was watching the clock more than I was watching the play. Maybe someday I will see a production that changes my opinion of it. I am open to the possibility!

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arisha

July 2015

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