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Brushing up my Shakespeare [Apr. 26th, 2016|10:04 pm]
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The Queen and I appear to have reached a tacit understanding: she doesn't make a fuss about my birthday, and I don't make a fuss about hers. Shakespeare is another kettle of fish entirely, and we have been enjoying a week filled with Shakespeare-related activities, mostly but not exclusively organised by the Lit & Phil, and starring the fabulous Gail-Nina Anderson.

We started with Gail's Tuesday lunchtime lecture on Shakespeare in Art: when does a painting depict a scene from a play, when a scene from a performance and when is it just a portrait of an actor in a particular rôle? Why did the pre-Raphaelites choose the most exquisitely awkward moments from the plays, and why did the Victorians think it was acceptable to paint naked women as long as you said they were fairies? Time ran out just as we reached photography.

Wednesday early evening was Gail again, this time with portraits of Shakespeare. We got caught in traffic and roadworks and other miscalculations, so we missed the beginning, but I hadn't previously come across the Sanders portrait, so that was intriguing. I've known the Droeshout engraving as the face of Shakespeare for so long that I don't suppose I'll ever imagine him differently, however strong the proof, and it really isn't that strong. Even so... Then back in time for the pub quiz, which this week had a Shakespearean theme. This could be pretty oblique (for example, a reference to the "rude mechanicals" introduced a round of questions on mechanics). The Elm Tree had clearly not got the memo, and was festooned with Saint George's crosses.

On Friday, the Lit & Phil's contribution was a showing of Rivette's Paris nous appartient (good grief, it's available on YouTube, all two and a quarter hours of it - one of Rivette's shortest films!). As Shakespearean theming goes, this too was pretty oblique: yes, the thread which holds the film together is a doomed production of Pericles, but the film is not in any sense about Shakespeare. I don't care: screen a Rivette movie and I'm there. The film deserves a post of its own, but it would just be a series of questions - actually, that's a temptation. So much to post, so little time! I would have told you that I had at least a rough idea of the plots of all Shakespeare's plays, but Paris nous appartient revealed that I have no idea at all what happens in Pericles: so that's a bonus, of sorts.

Saturday being the actual birthday, that's when we hit peak Shakespeare, starting with the morning paper: two sonnets by Wendy Cope, and a 'commemorative' crossword to entertain us on the train (no, it wasn't about Cervantes).

Back at the Lit & Phil, Gail-Nina gave us one woman's view of A Midsummer Night's Dream, complete with monkey glove puppets, inflatable bat-wings and more paintings of nude fairies. Gail takes a strictly practical view of the duties of the jobbing playwright, and explains the origins of the Dream by a desire to get some use out of that ass's head that was hanging around in the props cupboard. Why was there an ass's head in the props cupboard? Well, says Gail, it must have been left over from Shakespeare's lost nativity play - no, think about it, it's completely plausible, a well-established dramatic genre, the virtuous couple, the ruffianly innkeeper, some comic shepherds, a dramatic wicked king (Burbage would have made a fine Herod) an ox and an ass... Lost, presumably, because it was suspected of displaying Catholic sympathies, leaving the company with an underused ass's head. Come to think of it, this is why the setting, this very English woodland, is displaced to "near Athens" - at some point there must have been a scene, which didn't make the final cut, in which Theseus relives his triumph over the Minotaur (the ox's head).

Thereafter, there was winding down in the pub across the way, with good conversation and late lunch. There was shopping at Richer Sounds, with the help of samarcand and her magic phone (despite which we have hit a complication: more on that some other time). Then durham_rambler and I gatecrashed a World Book Night party at the Great North Museum: we were invited, but the party was primarily organised for the reading groups and library staff who had been involved in the 'Great North Book Run', a collaboration (if I've got this right) between PanMacmillan and the Reading Agency to promote reading for pleasure. You don't often get to commune with a narwhal over a glass of wine, so that was special. We also chatted briefly with Ann Cleeves, and with Alison O'Donnell who plays Tosh in the TV Shetland series - which handed her rather a plum in the last storyline. We barely talked about that, because we were too busy talking about Fair Isle.

Back home, we half-watched the live broadcast of the RSC's Shakespeare celebration, reading the paper through the hip hop Shakespeare and the opera Shakespeare, but enjoying the chunks of the plays. I was entertained by a sketch in which a gaggle of Hamlets correct each other's reading of THAT line: "No, it's 'To be OR not to be, that is the question'" "'To be or not to BE, that is the question'". My preference goes to "'To be or not to be, THAT is the question'", but I suspect we were supposed to take "'To be or not to be, that is the QUESTION'" as definitive, since the Prince of Wales, who had been very visible in the audience, came down on stage to deliver it. I know it was a joke, but how often do you get even five minutes of textual analysis on Saturday night television? The show closed with the ending of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I was impressed by David Tennant as Puck.

Next weekend, something completely different: back to the Lit & Phil for Newcastle Noir!