Silly Sunday: Silly Macbeth, Crowns Are For Non-tyrannical Rulers

Or… you know… whatever.

I know for a fact A forgot to do this because she’s currently on my couch preparing to sleep and I literally just remembered that we were supposed to silly today. We got chicken and waffles for dinner, and I think that put us into some sort of stupid. Plus, both of us are tired from doing last minute preparation. I mean… it’s not like we’re going on a plane ride tomorrow.

Oh wait. Yes it is.

TOMORROW (well… today, in 30 mins), WE’RE GOING TO STRATFORD!!!

Now… before I silly, let me give y’all a head’s up on the schedule this week. We will not be following the usual routine of Muse, Booze, etc. Instead, we will see the plays and then talk about the production the following day (or, in the case of Wednesday, that afternoon as we only have a matinee on Wed). Our first show is Tuesday night (The Aeneid), with A Chorus Line following the next afternoon. Thus, you can expect any review we might write on those Wednesday. As for the Shakespeare, Macbeth is up first on Thursday, As You Like It is Friday, and both of the history plays are on Saturday (so you might not get a review of them until Monday depending on how we’re feeling and if there’s time to kill at an airport). Last year, we took the week after Stratford to talk about each of our experiences, then got back to normal (albeit reluctantly). We think that works, so we’re going to stick with it.

Now… on to the silly!

There’s a lot of silly related to this very, very unsilly play, so I picked out a few that made me chuckle:

(We’ve posted this one before, but it’s still funny.)

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(The ever-funny Good Tickle Brain brings you this, very silly version of the Witches’ famous ‘double double’ scene.)

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(The wonders of Tumblr.)

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Aaaand a really fricken funny argument over semantics! Which you should totally read because it’s funny as hell.

Alright. That’s it. I’m out. I’m sleepy, and I am out. See you live from Stratford!

C

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Shakespeare Saturday: You Can Say Macbeth if You Watch it On A Screen

Heyo! Welcome to the very last of Shakespeare-a-palooza 2016’s Shakespeare Saturdays! The next time you see me (C), Nerd Cactus will be in lovely, amazing Stratford, Ontario for some Shakespeare! (And Moliere, Virgil, Shakespeare in Love, and A Chorus Line. Yeah, we’re seeing eight plays.) My God, am I excited! I’ve spent the last few days obsessively checking the weather (especially because there’s a low pressure system just to the south of us and planes don’t take off in storms), looking for cool places to eat that we didn’t try last year, and watching all the trailers for the plays at least four times.

But I’ve taken a break from all that to give you a few offerings of what to watch. Because not seeing a play live is no excuse to never see it at all. In this day and age of film, there are a ton of ways to experience the Bard, and it is my job today to share a few of those with you.

Macbeth should not involve kilts. I just want to throw that out there. Unless it’s being staged out-of-period, or something, of course, because plays are often staged in different periods to highlight different aspects of the narrative. But, for the most part, Macbeth is kept in period. As  such, if you see a kilt… blow it a raspberry. No kilts. It’s too early in Scottish history for kilts. At most, you’re going to have brats (pronounced like the abbreviated version of bratwurst, not like annoying kids), which eventually developed into the earliest form of the kilt much later. But I digress. Well, not that much. A lot of people don’t realize that Macbeth was a real dude; Shakespeare’s version is the supernatural version of that story, focusing more on how the Devil is evil and we should not fall prey to his workings. (Seriously. Modern audiences tend to focus on the unchecked ambition thing, but Jacobean audiences would’ve known Shakespeare was writing about the threat of the Devil.)

While Hamlet is my favorite of the Big Four (Othello being the other), I am fond enough of Macbeth that I tend to be really damn critical of adaptations. I’ve fallen asleep during boring ones, yelled at the screen during bad ones (only at home, though), and just generally disliked what I’ve seen most of the time. But I’ll go ahead and recommend versions without too much commentary and let y’all decide what you want to see. There are a lot… so many.

I think the first place to start is with direct adaptations, then move on to a couple of my favorite looser adaptations (I tend to like those better). First up in the “straight” versions of the play is Orson Welles. It’s a movie from 1948, so totally a talkie (I skipped the silent versions), but… let’s just say, Olivier did a version of Hamlet about the same time, and I think that one is better. It’s just really unfortunate Welles agreed to can the idea of making everyone put on outrageous perfect Scottish accents. But! There is a way you can find that extended/Scottish version, and it’s actually better that way.

 

The next version I’m going to suggest is Roman Polanski’s version from 1971. It was directed in the aftermath of the murder of Sharon Tate, Polanski’s wife, by the Manson family. It’s a tad lurid, and sometimes uneven, but it is chock full of real depression, bleakness, and pain, obviously a reflection of the director’s state of mind. It’s graphic and intense, has a weird soundtrack (on purpose), and goes a tad hallucinatory for a bit, and it’s a technically brilliant piece of directing. (This is not the one that made me fall asleep.)

(This is.) Usually, I’d recommend the good ol’ standby, the BBC Television Shakespeare, but this is the one where I fell asleep. It’s good, serviceable, and even… but, again, I fell asleep. It’s easy to acquire, though. And really allows a viewer to focus on the words rather than crazy set pieces. To be fair, I might’ve just been really tired when I started watching…

Of all the versions I’m going to recommend that aren’t set in restaurants or Japan, this one is my favorite. It’s not set in period Scotland, but isn’t on the moon, or anything. Patrick Stewart (yeah, Picard/Professor X, aka coolest guy ever) is Macbeth, and the film (which is based on an earlier staged version) makes some really cool comparisons between Macbeth and Stalin. It also won a Peabody.

The most recent adaptation is the one that came out recently with Michael Fassbender (yeah, Magneto!) as Macbeth. I’m… OK with it. I think I need to watch it some more before I can make a decision, but it’s just about as opposite from the BBC TV Shakespeare as can be. It’s not about the words… it’s about the set pieces. It’s about telling a beautiful story and makes a few emotional updates (burning Lady Macduff and her children at the stake, for example) that make the piece more evocative to the GoT generation, who’d gotten used to swords. The best part is Fassbender himself.

As for my favorite “on the moon” adaptations, I’ll begin with Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of the play. It takes Macbeth and places it in feudal Japan, making use of traditional Noh elements and abandoning the narrative of the play as needed. Actually, I think it’s the fact that Kurosawa didn’t feel the need to remain devoted to Shakespeare that allowed the emotional resonance of the film to be so damn strong. Seriously… it’s so good. Not that Rotten Tomatoes should ever be used as a metric for a film’s worthiness, but it’s got a 98% Fresh rating over there. It’s probably my favorite adaptation of Macbeth ever.

Now… for my favorite cast of any adaptation, and my last suggestion. ShakespeaRe-Told takes the play and sets it in a Scottish restaurant. James McAvoy (yup, another Professor X) plays Joe Macbeth, a very unhappy sous chef whose work is constantly being passed off as the head chef, Duncan’s. So, when three magical binmen tell Macbeth he’ll own the restaurant, Macbeth and his wife (played by Keeley Hawes) decide to kill Duncan. But along comes Macduff (Richard Armitage) to mess shit up for them. I mean, you know the plot of the play. I just like McAvoy and Armitage fighting.

Well… that’s it for me today! We’ll be back tomorrow for some silly! AND THEN STRATFORD! We’ll review each play after seeing it, and our first Shakespeare is Wednesday, so no new posts until Thursday once next week rolls around.

C

Boozy Plays: Macbeth

Happy Friday, everybody! Only two more sleeps ’til Stratford!!! The packing, organizing, and ticket printing have begun and Macbeth has been re-read. (Fun fact: I played Lady Mac in high school and one of the witches in a comedic musical adaptation I performed professionally.) So now, in the midst of my uncontrollable excitement, I must put together a cohesive Boozy Plays. I can do it! 

It all begins on a blasted heath, deserted but for three witches who have come together amidst thunder and rain. They plan their fateful meeting with Macbeth. There’s no turning back now…  

Macbeth has everything. Revenge. Political ambition. Murder. Betrayal. Witches. Kilts. A tormented king. A strong, independent, crazy badass of a leading lady. Battles. It’s dark and intense and contains a little of all the worst traits of humanity. It’s a delicious tragedy as virtually every character is faced with death and demons in a power struggle that begins thanks to the prophecy of some crones on a hill. 

If you don’t know the story of Macbeth… You really should get on it. I’ll try and give you a quick breakdown without spoilers, but seriously just read it. It’s one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays so just go for it! (PS the length of Macbeth was totally on purpose as James I was known for his impatience.)

Anyway, Macbeth begins as battle ends. We meet the victorious generals Macbeth and Banquo when they are greeted by the three witches and their prophecies. They tell Macbeth he will be king and his ambitions begin to swell. Now, Macbeth’s ambition is no match for his wife’s, for Lady Macbeth convinces him to kill King Duncan and take the throne immediately. The plan is hatched and executed, though Macbeth is consumed by guilt and doubt and Lady Macbeth takes over a fair share of the proceedings.

The witches prophecies included that general Banquo would father a line of kings. Though King Macbeth is successful, this part of the prophecy worries him. He orders Banquo and his son, Fleance, murdered. Banquo is killed, but Fleance escapes. Macbeth, now having been tormented by the ghost of Banquo and becoming increasingly disturbed, visits the witches again. He is given more prophecies. He is told that no one of woman born shall harm him and that he will be safe until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. The prophecies make no sense and Macbeth begins to feel secure knowing that all men are born of women and trees don’t walk… But it’s a tragedy so of course everything goes to hell in a handbasket and Macbeth finds ruin.

In case you couldn’t tell, Macbeth is the Shakespearean play I’m most looking forward to seeing this coming week. It’s a tremendous show – intense and passionate and desperate – and I can’t wait to see Stratford’s take on it. 

For this play I initially thought to pair it will something heavy, deep, complex, and, preferably, red. While a port might hit the mark, I think going with something Scottish is more appropo. So I’m recommending Scotch Ale. It’s a strong ale believed to have been invented in Edinburgh. The beer is often sweet and full-bodied and has the complex smokiness similar to that of whisky due to the type of malt used in the brewing process. 

Sláinte!

-A

Monday Muse: Macbeth’s Witches

Hello everybody! It’s the Monday before Stratford and it’s time for our last week of pre-Stratford Shakespeare! This week I have the honor of bringing you Shakespeare’s dark, grisly, and (some say) cursed, “Scottish play”. That’s right! Macbeth! (As a theatre person I’m not supposed to say it, but that’s only if you’re actually in a theatre… And I only wrote it so nothing bad could possibly AAAAHHHH!)

Just kidding.

Anyway, Macbeth is one of four Shakespearean plays that rely heavily upon the supernatural to further the plot. I’ll wait while you figure out which ones they are…. Ok, fine, it’s Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest. Now, the use of the supernatural in Macbeth becomes particularly interesting when you consider a few underlying factors. Examining Shakespeare’s source material combined with the knowledge of who was sitting the English throne at the time it was written, make Macbeth an unabashed tailored-for-royalty piece.

Shakespeare’s inspiration came from Holinshed’s “Chronicles of Englande, Scotlande, and Irelande”. It was first published in 1577 and reprinted in 1587 and provided historical accounts of Scottish Kings Duncan and Macbeth. James I of England was James VI of Scotland before he inherited Elizabeth’s throne so Shakespeare writing a Scottish play is indubitably a nod to his sovereign.

But that’s not all. No, Macbeth is rich with pandering to the newest reigning monarch. The use of the supernatural as a bringer of doom, a persistent evil, is a drastic change from Holinshed’s “Chronicles” and a direct result of James’s fascination with, and hatred of, witchcraft. Holinshed’s account describes “nymphs or fairies”, while Shakespeare’s three sisters are portrayed as maniacal and ungodly, utilizing sacrificial animals and spelling disaster for Macbeth.

James I had a thorough fascination with the supernatural and, in 1597, published Daemonologie, a treatise which would inspire a new age of witch-hunts. His zeal was sparked by multiple events though none as strongly as the “unnatural” storm that threatened his fleet as he and his new wife, Anne of Denmark, sailed to Scotland in 1589. Macbeth was first performed during a visit from Queen Anne’s brother and Shakespeare repeatedly alludes to magical tempests, thus confirming the wickedness of witches. In his genius, Shakespeare also introduced brand new elements to the stereotypical witch which lives on to this day. This includes the use of familiars, gibberish spoken spells, and the use of cauldrons. 

So Macbeth’s witches kinda created the outline for the stereotypical Halloween-y witches of today. But like, seriously, Macbeth’s witches are intense and their dialogue is so vivid that you can’t help but be drawn into their magic. This is the play I am must looking forward to seeing and hopefully I’ve gotten you hyped for Boozy Plays this Friday. See you then!

-A

Silly Sunday: Historical Sillies!

Heeeeeyyy! Welcome to Week Three’s Silly Sunday, aka the opportunity for me to post silly history/Shakespeare jokes to my heart’s content! YAY!

 

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Since it’s my last week to be silly before Stratford, I’m not going to worry about keeping this on the topic of the Henrys. Instead, I’m going to post a bunch of silly stuff related to Shakespeare’s histories in one way or another. Why? Because I can. So… let’s get silly!

First up: Shakespearean History Bingo. Grab all the filmed versions we’ve been recommending for the histories you can, sit back with your drink of choice (or, better yet, one of our pairings), and see who wins! Prizes can definitely be determined by household, but I’d say the winner should get more drinks! Or, even better… books! A nice copy of the histories, maybe? Or Holinshed’s Chronicles, aka Shakespeare’s source material for his English history plays? I’d enjoy that.

Shakespearean History Bingo — Good Tickle Brain: A Mostly Shakespeare Webcomic:

Or maybe you’re feeling like… no, I don’t want to watch all that. Even if it does mean I win a copy of Holinshed’s Chronicles. Well then… I guess we’ll just have to bring back our old friends, The Reduced Shakespeare Company and their hilarious take on Bill’s historical plays. (Caution: for those of you who aren’t into sports or American football in particular… tough luck. This is fricken funny.)

 

Did you want something actually from the plays we’ve covered of late? Well, I guess. OK. I give you one of my favorite Shakespearean insults, straight from Henry IV pt 1:

William Shakespeare - "[Thou] mad mustachio purple-hued maltworms!". funny, shakespeare, henry-iv:

Aaaand… some Tom Hiddleston. Because do you really want me to go a whole post without mentioning Hiddles? I’ll let Katherine answer for me:

King Henry V and Kate - this is funny.

And, one more. Because, even though we’re not seeing it and I actually hate it, but I really love it, and I love him… even though he totes killed my family (and is also family, really)… Richard III!

And here I was, all proud of myself for staying quiet in a closet for half an hour!:

OK! That’s it for me today! A will be here tomorrow with a discussion of The Scottish Play! Which is also, technically, history… but not really. Men in kilts! (But not. Because that play happened WAAAAAAYYYY too early for kilts. You know what else happened WAAAAAAAAYYYY too early for kilts? FUCKING BRAVEHEART.) *cough* I mean…

I think I’m going to make a sidecar and watch some Hiddles. See you next Saturday!

C

Shakespeare Saturday: Henry IV pt. 2 and Henry V (live, talking, and in technicolor!)

Hi there loyal Nerd Cactus followers! Welcome back. If you don’t know already, this week’s Shakespeare-a-palooza offering features Henry IV pt 2 and Henry V. If you didn’t know, now you do. Take a look-see at C’s Boozy Plays recommendation from yesterday here: Boozy Plays: Henry IV pt 2 and Henry V.

Of course, if you aren’t in the mood to read one (or more) of Shakespeare’s histories, feel free to enjoy that sidecar while watching a fully realized, decently budgeted and filmed, production of either or any Henry that you please. Today is our film recommendations day so take a look at these most excellent adaptations of Shakespeare’s work.

Let’s begin with Henry IV pt. 2. Because going chronologically seems like a good idea. My first recommendation is going to be BBC’s continuation of the Hollow Crown series because A) it’s extremely well done, and B) Tom Hiddleston. But really, fan-girling aside, it’s a glorious production and it doesn’t hurt that Hal is easy on the eyes. The BBC also produced a version in 1979, which, you know is good, because BBC.

There’s also a video available from the Shakespeare’s Globe production in 2010 which gained critical acclaim and, after it’s successful simulcast, was made available on DVD. It’s important to note that their production of Henry IV part 1 is also available. I didn’t add that to the recommendations I made two weeks ago so consider it added. So… sorry about that and please add it to your watch list. Another noteworthy adaptation of Henry IV is Orson Welles’s 1965 film “Chimes at Midnight” which condenses both Henry IV 1 & 2 along with Richard II… Welles plays Falstaff. That’s why it’s noteworthy.

Let’s move on to your options for Henry V. There are plenty of good ones! Both Branagh and Olivier have tackled the role on the silver screen so *absolutely* watch one, or both, of those. Emma Thompson and Christian Bale are also in Branagh’s version so that’s a plus. Of course, Derek Jacobi also makes as appearance as “the chorus” and you all know how little we appreciate actors who insist Shakespeare didn’t write his plays and then make their career off his genius. Yeah, that’s right, Jacobi. We’re calling you out.

And, of course, the continuation of the Hollow Crown series is a must. We’ve recommended each one leading up to Henry V (because they’re great), and Henry V is no exception. Tom Hiddleston handles Hal’s transition to Henry V beautifully and the production value is topnotch. Just try not to think about the fact that Hiddleston burned his man card when he publicly wore an “I heart TS” T-shirt at Taylor Swift’s beach party… Oy.
That’s all for me, my friends! Enjoy!

-A

Boozy Plays: Henry IV pt 2 and Henry V

Heyo! Welcome to today’s Boozy Plays, wherein we attempt to pair some Shakespearean classics with their proper alcoholic partner. I’ve covering two plays this week, so let’s get going.

Last time, I brought you Richard II & Henry IV pt One. This time, I’ll be covering the other half of the Henry IV duology and finishing out the first half of Shakespeare’s Plantagenet Plays with Henry V. One of those plays is more fun than the other, and it’s the one on which I’m going to focus my pairing efforts. Because it’s just better.

Part Dos of the one-time Bolingbroke’s tale focuses less on the titular King and more on his son, the future Henry V. In fact, it shouldn’t be viewed as a continuation of the historical record as much as of the narrative from the previous play. In fact, Henry IV’s role in it is mostly to get sick and die so Hal can take the throne and become awesome. So, in essence, Part Two is more prequel than sequel. That’s how cool Henry V is. So, to sum up: Falstaff goes on being Falstaff, but he’s getting older and sicker; Prince Hal is still hanging out with London degenerates, but repudiates them and rejects Falstaff in particular; there’s another rebellion, but Prince John (as if to make up for another English prince named John) uses duplicitous political machinations to end that; and Henry IV gets sick and dies, but not before Hal transforms into Henry and decides to be super serial about being King. Then there’s an epilogue where Shakespeare totally convinces tells the audience he’s not making fun of a political rival using Falstaff.

Basically, the best part of this play is the elegiac comedy of Falstaff and the power of the repudiation scene, which, if done right, can be pretty damn powerful. Though I do like the parallel of both of Prince Hal’s fathers — his real one and his surrogate — sickening and dying over the course of the play. While Falstaff survives to the next play (sort of) and the once Bolingbroke dies, Henry ultimately decides to follow the path of the latter and let Hal die. By the end, he is Henry V.

Not that he wasn’t always cool, mind. When he was fighting at Shrewsbury (the battle from part one), he took an arrow to the face and kept fighting. Keep in mind, he was sixteen at the time. Six-freakin-teen. Take a moment to look up what he had to go through to get the arrow out and you’ll wonder why more people don’t talk about it. Henry V was a beast taking arrows to the face (and just breaking them off to keep fighting) at an age when most of us are complaining about our parents not understanding. Seriously.

But let’s talk about his play. The vast majority of it is taken up by battle, as I discussed on Monday, with a weird detour into romance, and then an untimely death that threw England into chaos because his stupid son kept going catatonic at really, really bad times. (If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll get to follow my nightly conversations with a historical fiction writer of the Wars of the Roses, some of which are really fun!)  It is England’s Independence Day, or something equally patriotic that doesn’t involve aliens. The PatriotPatton? I think I said Patton last time, because I could totally see Henry V standing in front of a St. George’s Cross (remember, no Union Jack yet) or the Plantagenet lions/leopards (it depends on who you ask).

Anyway, it opens with the Southampton Plot, which was an attempt to assassinate Henry that definitely failed (and also served to show that Henry V was NOT TO BE F****D WITH!), but quickly moves to war efforts against France because, if you know your history at all, England had once owned half of France and wanted it back. It’s a quick-moving play, stopping every once in a while to let Henry make great speeches like the “once more unto the breach” speech at Harfleur and then the St. Crispin’s Day speech (“we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”) before Agincourt, which is also the climax of the play and results in an astounding English victory. (Historically, it was the battlefield and the ineptness of the French that really won the battle, with some help from the famous English longbow, but it was totally Henry V’s heroism here, OK?) Then Henry has to woo Katherine of Valois even though neither speaks the other language (which is adorable) and claim his place as the heir to the French throne (setting up that whole Joan of Arc thing). Then, at the height of his glory, he dies, leaving an infant to rule and England to rot. If you want to see the rot, read all ninety-seven parts of Henry VI (OK, there’s only three) and Richard III, where the grandson of Katherine of Valois through her second marriage manages to take the throne and start the Tudor dynasty.

Did I use this as a chance to talk history? Yes. Yes, I did. But now you get your reward! DRINKS! I wanted to pick something English, but then I thought… why not something slightly French, too? And maybe something that the English and the French each claim as their own AND came into existence during a war? Is there such a drink? YES! YES,THERE IS! And it’s called a Sidecar! Either invented in London or in Paris at the end of WW1, it’s a mix of Cognac, Triple Sec, and lemon juice, and perfect for this play. I’m going London School and recommending this version, which calls for two parts of Cognac to one part everything else. It’s super delicious, and I’m not the hugest brandy fan.

Alright! That’s it for me today! Sorry for rambling again. I like history…

A will be in tomorrow to recommend something for your viewing pleasure!

C