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Shakespeare And Movie Versions > A not-very-modest proposal

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message 1: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new)

Robert | 10 comments There's another Goodreads group I'm in called "Literature and Film" where the members choose a book each month and discuss both the book and a filmed adaptation of it. It's been fairly active (the first selection was "A Clockwork Orange") and has resulted in some interesting discussions. I'm proposing that we do something similar here. Choose a different play each month, in connection with one or more of the various film versions. Any takers? For the first month - we can shoot for January if you want time to debate the choice - I'm nominating either "Titus Andronicus" - because I'm eager to watch the recent film version - or "As You Like It", since Kenneth Branagh's new film recently premiered on HBO..

message 2: by Rob (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new)

Rob McMonigal | 1 comments Sounds like a workable plan. :)

message 3: by Alison (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new)

Alison Hi, Robert. I'm not stalking you, I promise. This sounds fabulous to me. Would be fun to apply the same treatment to Tennessee Williams plays/films as well. Both choices sound great.

message 4: by Farrell (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:57PM) (new)

Farrell I think that would be a great idea. I think either choice is good. I am not as familiar with Titus Andronicus so that would be my choice.

message 5: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:57PM) (new)

Robert | 10 comments "Titus Andronicus" has always had a bad reputation (I remember a time when it was routinely - and undeservedly - described as Shakespeare's worst play) but I re-read it recently and found it to be a lot more complex than I recalled. Yes, it's a revenge story and the violence is fairly extreme, but the sheer treachery of the villains and the growing desperation of Titus could be said to justify the gorier details. I also ran across a comment recently from a critic who said something to the effect that the play was awful on the page, yet exhilarating when seen in performance.

message 6: by Farrell (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:58PM) (new)

Farrell I'm not one to shy away from a complexity. I would be happy with "Titus" as the selection. Since I am a true Shakespeare fan, I would be happy with any choice.

message 7: by Martin (new)

Martin | 1203 comments
Robert, I would be very interested in a discussion of Titus A. with you and the other members here. The recent film version: do you mean the one with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange?

I don't know if you good Americans get access to the BBC series of Shakespeare, but the Titus A. they did with Trevor Peacock in the leading role was very well done, I thought.

message 8: by Rolls (new)

Rolls | 2 comments Hey guys! I think an investigation of Titus is a good idea. I love the play and think Julie Taymor's movie is really quite good. The thing I think is important to remember about Shakespeare is that love or hate them on the page every play in the canon is eminently stageworthy. I've heard countless stories of how impressed people were with a production of such "junk" as: Timon of Athens or Pericles or Two Gentlemen of Verona. It's made me realize that to obtain the true measure of one of these plays you have to actually see it (in a good production hopefully)!

message 9: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Martin, Trevor Peacock is a fabulous actor and I must see if I can find that recording. The BBC series is pretty well known here in the states, at least in a city that features a good library. This is the series that includes the Derek Jacobi Hamlet with Patrick Stewart and Clarie Bloom. The only thing that makes me nervous is that Timon of Athens IS my least favorite Shakespeare play and I am loath to revisit it. On the other hand, as Rolls notes, the quality of the production counts for a lot and I admit the performance I saw may have failed to do the text full justice.

To address Robert's original post, my favorite movie version of a Shakespeare play is definitely the Branagh Hamlet. Many people were turned off by the length but I found it to be the shortest four hours I ever spent. Truly, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Most importantly, while Hamlet is widely and justly revered as a tragic character study, its more romantic and humorous elements are often neglected and ignored. Branagh found the comedy and the romance and played them up to a marvellously positive effect.

Alison is quite right that Tennessee Williams can also be approached in this way. Surely, he is as important to the history of American theatre as Shakespeare is to world theatre. Alas, I hate to pick a choice that is so obvious as to border on the cliche but I have to vote for Elia Kazan's landmark film of Streetcar Named Desire. I read the play when I was 18 and really did not have the life experience to fully appreciate the plays nuances. The film helped in this regard (especially in terms of understanding the character of Stella). Today, I recognize both for the masterworks that they are.

message 10: by Martin (new)

Martin | 1203 comments
This thread seems to be advancing very slowly! And where is its initiator, Robert Hunt, shadowy under his trilby?

Clearly the difficulty with this read will be starting it.

On balance I think I agree with Matthew that I'd prefer to do AYLI. To me it is a very puzzling play, and one where the gap between the reading and the seeing experience is at its widest. I think Robert H needs to come back and make a decision for us.

message 11: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments I have never seen As You Like It; I've only read it. So it's particularly interesting to encounter Martin's comment that the difference between reading and seeing experience is greatest here. I should definitely catch the Branagh broadcast, for I certainly did not enjoy the reading.

On the flip side, my only experience of Pericles was seeing it on the aforementioned BBC series. The wonderful actor, Mike Gwylim, played the title role and I absolutely loved it. It is probably my favorite of Shakespeare's "lesser" works.

message 12: by Martin (last edited Jan 17, 2009 06:24AM) (new)

Martin | 1203 comments AYLI: we read it at school, and I remember the disappointment after the dramatic opening of banishments and wrestling matches petered out in a series of pastoral scenes that, to my early teenage mind, seemed very dull indeed. This memory coloured a later reading, when I really failed to derive any pleasure from it. Then I saw a stage version in Norwich, and the rich humour of the whole thing suddenly came alive. Jacques was the perfect detached philosoper, Touchstone a standup comic doing his routines straight to the audience. Rosalind was beautifully done by Kate O'Mara who, no matter how old she becomes, can still play young heroine roles with perfect conviction. I realised it was something I had to see to understand, that is, to see why it worked so well as a play.

A couple of years ago I saw the Peter West production at Stratford,

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this is (left to right) Touchstone, Celia, Rosalind. The sets showed no hint of forest. It was a beautiful production, and I remember the sense of puzzlement about the play as a whole which it gave me. For example, on Shakespeare's stage, Rosalind is a boy playing a girl disguised as a man pretending to be a girl teaching love lessons to Orlando. Does Orlando recognise her? Why is their intimacy taken so far if not, and if so, what purpose is it serving? The two Dukes were (as is often done) played by the same actor. Are they in a sense the same man? What is one to make of Oliver's transformation from villian to Celia's lover? And so on ...

I remember Peter West was a few seats away from us, furiously making notes throughout the performance. Perhaps he had the answers!

The only "film" version I've seen is the BBC one from the series we've been talking about. To me it seemed very limp, and I felt it was not a successful production.

message 13: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments The BBC series was one of hits and misses to be sure. It introduced me to Twelfth Night with Alec McCowen, Sinead Cusack, and the aforementioned Trevor Peacock and I was in love. But it also produced a rather lackluster Richard III in which Ron Cook was excellent in the lead but all other aspects were dull in a play that SHOULD be thrilling.

I think my favorite of the bunch is the Jacobi Hamlet that I mentioned earlier, also featuring Patrick Stewart, Eric Porter, Claire Bloom, Lalla Ward, and the wonderful David Robb. Jacobi was also great as Richard II but his Bolingbroke was played by the somewhat overrated Jon Finch, a handsome and charismatic man with a beautiful voice but not much ability at characterization or variety.

My least favorite of the BBC series has got to be Love's Labors Lost (even the best efforts of Mike Gwylim couldn't save it). I have often read that this is Shakespeare's most contemporary play and I think it shows its age. For a writer whose greatest genius is the timeless quality of his work, one does not traditionally think of his writing as dated but I believe this is an exception.

message 14: by Martin (new)

Martin | 1203 comments
Yes I would agree, but don't let the Beeb's Loves Labours Lost give you too bad an opinion of it. I have seen LLL done very successfully. The Beeb version was quite awful, the lovers were too old, the comic roles not funny. And why do the visiting princesses spend all their time lying on the ground?

But I see Robert Hunt has not been into goodreads since November. "Some say he is with the Emperor of Russia; other some, he is in Rome: but where is he, think you?" I suspect he has melted into air, into thin air ...

More generally, it is a frustration of how people dash in and dash out again. This place is too big. The previous online reading group I was in did not have that problem. It had few members because it was hard to find on the internet, and they were dedicated contributors. Unfortunately it died with the server that hosted it.

message 15: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Perhaps, Martin, this is why you and I have fallen so comfortably into conversation with each other so quickly and easily (the last seven posts here consist of our exchange). The internet has a way of doing what you describe in many circles. We take what social and intellectual pleasure we can and acknowledge that, sometimes, real life gets in people's way.

I have only been on Goodreads since November and, while greatly enjoying the site, didn't join any groups until last week. Just getting the feet wet, so to speak.

Your point about LLL is a good one. It's no secret a bad production can kill a good play. For this reason, I won't completely write off any play until I've seen it at least twice under two different circumstances.

For all its silliness, I do enjoy Branagh's musical of LLL, but mainly because I love Berlin, Porter, and Gershwin and the cast attacked it with such enthusiasm (if not always with equal ability). That kind of spirit is precisely what was lacking in the BBC production even though it was more loyal to the letter of the law. Branagh's production certainly didn't have much to do with Shakespeare but, given its purpose and its spirit, I don't think the bard did any grave-rolling.

The Shakespeare play I have seen the most often is Hamlet and GOD KNOWS some of the productions have been pretty awful. Yet it does seem to be an unruinable play. Even in the worst performance, there was SOMETHING to take away from it that I enjoyed.

message 16: by Martin (last edited Jan 18, 2009 06:38AM) (new)

Martin | 1203 comments Matthew, I think you are right. Goodreads is like a real place, but instead of the intimate club we desire, it is more like Grand Central Station (see footnote).

But two regulars is not enough to start a reading group.

I have an "immodest proposal" of my own, which is that one person nominates one scene from a Shakespeare play (not a long scene), and the group reads it and shares thoughts on it. This could be taken down to the speech level. We would take it in turns to nominate a passage for reading.

footnote: I am not one of those foreigners who pretend a familiarity with New York after only a few fleeting visits to the place: I have never even been there! If ever I do, and "beguile my time and feed my knowledge with viewing of the town", I will remember your service of guided tours.

message 17: by Martin (new)

Martin | 1203 comments
Matthew, I have messaged all the earlier contributors to this thread (hard work!) to see if Robert Hunt's idea is still alive or not.

message 18: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Hi Rita,

Martin is quite right in his comment to me that two regulars are not enough to start a reading group. Three of us, however, might be worth a go. What do you think, Martin?

I am very familiar with folios though I confess I find later editions an easier read and often simply reference the First Folio for the purpose of settling possible confusions. I'm not sure it's quite fair to say "original manuscripts" because it is believed, in some quarters, that the quartos pre-date the First Folio but only as works in progress and that the First Folio is essentially the original "final draft" so to speak.

What is your opinion, Rita, about John Barton's claim that modern American English maybe closer to the language Shakespeare spoke than modern British English is? He mentions this in his wonderful Playing Shakespeare series from the early '80s.

I'd be happy to discuss Titus or LLL after a re-read/review but I admit that neither one is my first choice. In spite of all my years of studying Shakespeare, there are still four plays in the canon which I have never read or seen. They are, thus, essentially new to me except in terms of reputation. They are Antony and Cleopatra, All's Well That Ends Well, Merry Wives of Windsor, and Winter's Tale. If it isn't too much of an arm-twist for you guys, I would love to start with one of these as it would get me one play closer to completing the canon. If you don't agree, it's not a big deal; just let me know.

message 19: by Martin (last edited Jan 19, 2009 01:49PM) (new)

Martin | 1203 comments Hello Rita, great to see you here.

I think we are closing in on a decision. I'm ignoring Matthew's "read a scene" thread for now, and backing Rita's first choice, All's Well.

If Matthew agrees, I'll start a thread for reading that play. Three is enough, even if we're three fools to try ("Have you never seen the picture of we three?") I may be able to rustle up some additional interest from elsewhere ...

message 20: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Great! If we are agreed to start with All's Well, then... all's well!

But, I must confess, I don't have a "read a scene" thread. William credited me with Martin's suggestion but I'm all for jumping in and just reading the play.

message 21: by Martin (new)

Martin | 1203 comments
Certainly Dottie, CR (constantreader) has gravitated here, but with 1000+ members, I did not feel it needed further advertisement! I was however thinking of adding a note into CR saying that a reading of AWTEW (All's Well That Ends Well) will shortly begin here.

(The problem of desultory postings is I think severe. For example, in CR, x began a thread that effectively said "Did you like such-and-such a movie? I didn't." This led to several replies, most expressing enthusiasm for the movie. I also replied, asking x to explain why she was disappointed. But x never replied. If you check it out - you click on x where it says "message 1: by x" - you find x has only ever made 2 postings in CR, both in 3 minutes of each other. Possibly x has never looked at the thread since. So why are we giving these considered replies? In the old CR this was not a problem, because we all knew each other.)

Dottie I too have "real life interference" with reading. It is evil stuff called "work". Even so, I'm going to try the AWTEW experiment, and you are most welcome to join us.

message 22: by Martin (new)

Martin | 1203 comments
The thread is there now, Rita, with some comments on reading speeds. See

I'll try and post something on Act I scene 1 in the next couple of days.

message 23: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Excellent. The game's afoot.

message 24: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
Hey...I own the dvd version of Titus A with Hopkins and Lange.

I can jump into a disussion with a days notice.

I haven't looked at my HBO schedule yet...but someone said Brannagh's new movie is airing? I might be able to pull it up with an "on demand" feature.

So hey...we are slow to start...but I am in for either...both movies!

Redutsa, I'm reading All's Well online...couldn't find my huge Shakespeare comilations...just as well it's so difficult to hold!

I'm enjoying reading online because it's easy since it's broken into scenes easy to find.

message 25: by Mori (new)

Mori (kermit) | 2 comments I like the idea, I don't care about which one we choose.

message 26: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
I have ha! tried to begin a discussion on the movie's there...but I've been a terrible space cadet.

Mori...dive into Titus help me out!

I've been so focused on catching up with new release in order to enjoy familiarity with the films during Oscar show...that I've neglected the topic...I am not far away though...

message 27: by Mori (new)

Mori (kermit) | 2 comments Well i have never read/seen titus, so yeah, i'll vote for that one.

message 28: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
Mori, why not go rent it, or look for it on YouTube...and then see...look there is already a thread started...come and help us out!

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