Friday, June 28, 2013

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: June 2013

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Macbeth: The Folio Edition
Writer: William Shakespeare
Artist: Von
Image via Sprezzatura Macbeth

My exposure to Shakespeare began in the second grade when the sixth graders put on a much-abridged performance of Macbeth for the school.  Perhaps because it was my first, Macbeth has always been my favorite of The Bard's plays.  Then again, there is so much to like about The Scottish Play.  Murder, intrigue, insanity, power lust, dark magic - what's not for a boy to love?

We read the play in high school, of course.  Surely, everyone in the English-speaking world does.  The real treat of that experience, though, was a school trip to the Folger's Elizabethan Theatre in Washington to see the tragedy performed live.  The production was mesmerizing.  The scene with Banquo's ghost - accomplished literally with smoke and mirrors - will stay with me for life.

Shakespeare has become a big part of my life over the past several months. My teaching partner, Drama Guy, is an extremely gifted educator who has done a great deal to reinvigorate my own career over the past two years.  He is also a Shakespeare nut.  This spring, we co-directed Romeo and Juliet at the middle school where we both work.

In each of the past three years, Drama Guy has produced Shakespeare plays at the high school with tremendous success.  This was his first time trying it with middle schoolers.  While my drama chops are not up to DG's level, literary analysis is very much in my wheelhouse.  I spent a lot of time with the students helping them understand their lines.  The process had its ups and downs, of course, but I was quite sad to see it all come to an end.  Usually, I'm relieved when a performance is over.  I ran the light board for the show and actually got a bit teary as I brought the lights down on the Prince for the very last time.

Part of my wistfulness was over the students, of course.  The cast were wonderful and quite a lot of the more talented ones will be moving on to high school next year.  The ones who put the most work in definitely got a lot out of it.  I also realized when it was over that I was going to miss Shakespeare.  I've read a few Shakespearean plays and seen several more performed but this was easily my most intimate interaction with his language. I don't think it's possible to work that closely with the material without being affected by it. The thought of taking on a similar project with a younger, less experienced cast next year is daunting but we're cautiously optimistic. We're both keen to try them on Macbeth!

My Wife has had this comic book version of Macbeth since high school.  Von's interpretation, which includes the full text, is long out of print - a shame because it's very nicely done.  Reading Shakespeare in graphic novel form feels a bit closer to a stage performance than mere text on the page.  Missing are the annotations one would find in a Folger edition or similar but the illustrations help provide context.  From a comic reading perspective, panel- and text bubble order are occasionally confusing.  I am eager for more Shakespeare in general and will certainly seek out more graphic novels.  John McDonald has a series that looks promising.

Any other Shakespeare enthusiasts out there?  If so, you must check out Shakespeare Uncovered, an outstanding PBS series from this past winter.  If you're looking for a good film version of Macbeth, Kurosawa's Throne of Blood is excellent.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post July's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is July 26th.


42 comments:

  1. My post won't actually be up until Saturday. Too much chaos here tonight for me to finish writing it. I can tell you the book, though: Doc by Mary Doria Russell.

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    1. Awesome! I shall look forward to it.

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    2. Doc is up.
      Should have said last time:
      Macbeth is my most read Shakespeare but not by choice. It's just the play I ended up covering over and over again in school. I do like it, but it's not my favorite by him.

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    3. I'll be over to visit soon!

      So, which is your favorite?

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    4. Oh, I don't know. I like Hamlet, but, then, there's Taming of the Shrew. And there's Midsummer's.
      Just not Romeo. Bah on that one with its stupid teenagers.

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    5. Hamlet and Midsummer's are both amazing. I've actually never seen nor read Taming of the Shrew. It's on the to-read list.

      R&J - the language is miraculous but I hate the ending. I always have. Still do. To me, suicide is the ultimate narrative cop-out. I actually like the way West Side Story ends much better.

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    6. Oh, man, I love Taming. The language is so clever; it's fun to read. And to see. But some of his plays aren't excellent reads; they require the action to be fully appreciated. That's not so with Taming. It may be his most cleverly written play.

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    7. I do remember the Moonlighting episode that was based on Taming. That was fun. Apparently, the play was part of the original inspiration for the series.

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    8. That's cool; I didn't know that. Of course, I never watched the show, either.

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    9. I didn't know about the original inspiration part until just now, looking it up on Wikipedia - wanted to be sure I had the right play.

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  2. My favorite part of this month's installment:

    'I ran the light board for the show and actually got a bit teary as I brought the lights down on the Prince for the very last time.'

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    1. Our Prince was a particularly earnest actor. He brought just the right amount of gravity to the closing speech. Timing the fade to match was crucial.

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    2. I'm helping DG install a new snake for the lighting system in a couple of weeks. I don't even entirely understand what that means (perhaps you do) but I'm excited!

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    3. No idea what a snake is (in this context) but the timing thing, there's everything with lighting and sound (in this context.)

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    4. Yes, and so much of it is intuition one can gain with experience. What I need to learn is how to do more of the initial programming on my own. That's what summers are for.

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  3. Pretty sure I am one of the only people on earth who hasn't read a single Shakespeare play all the way through, except maybe R&J. And yet I don't know that I've read that WHOLE one.

    I didn't do lit in high school, just plain English, so my study was a bit different to the lit gang.

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    1. In the States, it's fairly standard practice to read one Shakespeare play in each year of high school. R&J, MacB and Hamlet are seemingly obligatory with some variance on the fourth. Many high schools, including mine, go with Julius Caesar. My wife, on the other hand, read The Merchant of Venice.

      It's never too late, Trisha! Given your reading interests, I might recommend The Tempest as a starter. Midsummer Night's Dream is a lot of fun, too, if you'd prefer a comedy.

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    2. I have seen more than one interpretation of Midsummer Night's Dream and I love to see that play performed. My favorite was in a canyon. I took my English students to go see it on an evening field trip. It was a joy! Magnificent venue.

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    3. Shakespeare in a canyon - very cool. In my new geek realm, I must know: how did they light it?

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    4. It was called Shakespeare on the Rocks. Cool, huh? :)

      What I recall of the lighting is vague but here's my best shot at describing the effect on an audience member: Peripheral blues, greens and pinks; lots of spots with perpetual fades (in and out.) Highly non-technical product of a happy memory.

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    5. Okay, so they did have a full stage set up with lights and everything. That answers my question.

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  4. Tis a dark one you have chosen for this month. I have known a lot of Lady Macbeths over the years, to my and everyone elses' detriment.

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    1. Well yes, I suppose I have, too - not the sort of person you actually want in your life. But without a doubt in my mind, she is one of the greatest fictional characters ever - male or female.

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  5. Once I have finished revisions on my third book, I intend to spend the rest of the summer reading. I might join you at that point!

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    1. I hope you will, Alex! Good luck with your revisions.

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  6. I have a degree in English lit but I have never read Macbeth. I even took an entire class just on Shakespeare and we didn't read it. I studied literature in Scotland and we didn't read it. We read Shakespeare in high-school but this was never assigned. (Romeo & Juliet was, as it was to my daughter.) I've always wanted to read it but never got around to it -- must remedy that now!

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    1. Wow, I'm amazed you managed to avoid it this long! Yes, you must read.

      Interested in Scottish literature? Have you ever read Trainspotting? I read the book before I saw the movie and much preferred the book. I tried his earlier book, The Acid House, and didn't like it as much.

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  7. I love Shakespeare. I used to love teaching Hamlet in my classroom. Macbeth is another one of my favorites.

    So I just submitted my link to join the group and I hope I'll get my post up soon...

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    1. Oh good, I'm glad you're joining us.

      I also love Hamlet and it's a close call as to which I like better. In the final analysis, I prefer power lust to reluctant revenge.

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  8. I acted in high school (and a bit in college), so I know the thrill of a production. I was Choragos in Antigone, and that was good fun, the priest in Rashomon, the narrator in Our Town (the last of which I would undoubtedly play very differently today than I did back then), and the dude who can't understand what the heck's going on in "The Argument Sketch" from Monty Python. Plus some other far less impressive roles. But I never did Shakespeare. That would be something.

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    1. That's a decent resume, sir!

      I love Our Town. The best production I ever saw was at Arena Stage in DC. Robert Prosky was the stage manager.

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  9. You know, I've always had a hard time connecting to Shakespeare. I want to say it's the language, but I don't think that's it. I will say I like the gritty version of Romeo and Juliet Baz Luhrmann put out a number of years ago. I enjoyed the fact that he broke down this stuffy way we tend to view Shakespeare and brought it to a modern audience, kind of the way he recently did with The Great Gatsby.

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    1. You're not alone. We had to sell the idea of R&J repeatedly - first to the cast, then to the audience.

      Shakespeare is not easy - as a reader, as a teacher, as an actor or as a director. Before this most recent experience, I would have said that I liked Shakespeare, admired Shakespeare, appreciated Shakespeare. But through the process of helping others to understand his language, indeed to live it, I became addicted to it.

      A famous director (sorry, don't know the name - DG's story) once said that those who have played the part of Juliet remember it for the rest of their lives. In their dying moments, they recall lines from the soliloquys. I would not have fully understood that sort of impact before. Now I get it.

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  10. I read some Shakespeare in high school and college, and very little since. My favorite connection to the bard was watching my drama-major sister perform his plays years ago. She is still my go-to Shakespeare reference--I especially love listening to her explain the intricacies to my sons.

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    1. You are very lucky to have an in-family expert!

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  11. I am a fan of Shakespeare, although I don't read it as often as I used to. I still remember MacBeth's soliloquy that we had to memorize back in high school. I practiced it so much I think I could have recited it in my sleep, LOL. Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle...

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    1. Funny - your mention of "Out, out brief candle" triggers a memory of my own, probably not properly accessed in 20+ years. When we read Macbeth, our teacher told us that she wouldn't make us memorize anything but if one were to memorize only one Shakespeare soliloquy, it should be "Out, out brief candle." Doesn't get any better than that.

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  12. When I was in college I told my parents I was looking forward to taking a semester's worth of Shakespeare. My dad said "That is the last class I'd want to take!" I don't know how I was born into the family that I was. I love Shakespeare, but it's been awhile since I've read a play. MacBeth is a great choice for your middle school students. They'll remember it forever, their first Shakespeare.
    My favorite play is King Lear.

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    1. Well, it will be the first Shakespeare for the kids who didn't do R&J with us...

      I've never read Lear. I do like Kurosawa's version: Ran.

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