Shakespeare Solved™ versions of these plays solve the mysteries surrounding them by taking us back in time to see the plays as they were performed for the first time in history.


This blog explains these new versions, and explores the life and times of Shakespeare, in order to build support for my new film versions of the plays.


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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company


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1. Shakespeare's Shylock SOLVED 2. Shakespeare's Othello Finally Identified 3. Shakespeare In Love Sequel SOLVED 4. The Real Romeo and Juliet 5. Shakespeare's Schoolroom

Friday, November 21, 2014

Globe Player from Shakespeare's Globe


In case you have not heard, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has just created a Globe Player online video service.




You can visit the Globe Player here:


Many of the productions online so far are from 2012 Globe to Globe Festival, which include a Hamlet spoken in Lithuanian, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Korean, Titus Andronicus in Cantonese and many more. I saw the production of Venus and Adonis spoken in various African languages, when it toured to the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.


Stephen Fry and Mark Rylance in Twelfth Night

Roger Allam as Falstaff

Jamie Parker as Henry V


But there are also some of their better known productions like Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry (which I saw in New York City), Henry IV parts 1 and 2 starring Roger Allam as Falstaff and Jamie Parker as Prince Hal (my review here), and Henry V starring Jamie Parker (my review here).

I hope you watch as many of these plays as possible on the Globe Player. Because if the Globe Player is as successful as it should be, then they will hopefully put more plays online, and many more in the future.

Cheers,




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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Shakespeare's Sisters & Shakespeare on TV



I read that there will be a TV show about young William Shakespeare, and his early days as a playwright in London.

You can read the full article here:


The US show is called Shakespeare's Sisters. It is “described as a tale of black magic, romance and revenge" and "the drama is set in 1590s London and chronicles a young Will Shakespeare's rise to prominence as he finds himself caught in a deadly conflict among three witches and the most powerful woman in the world, Queen Elizabeth. The project is described as having the grit of HBO's hit fantasy drama Game of Thrones with the wit and heart of Shakespeare in Love.”

The show will be made for the CW Network, which has a very young audience, and has enjoyed some success with the series Reign, about Mary, Queen of Scots as a young woman. The show is being developed by actor/producer Mark Harmon, most famous for the hugely popular NCIS TV show.


The Grafton Portrait
This may be what Shakespeare looked like in 1588, age 24

I think this is an exciting idea for a show, and I love the idea of Shakespeare’s story being told across many episodes and hopefully many seasons. So much happened in his life, and so much was happening around him that a single film, even a 3 or 4 hour film, can not contain it all.

And yes, there is a great story to tell about the early days of Shakespeare’s career. In fact, Shakespeare’s entire life is a very dramatic story that deserves to be told. 

However, I am worried about the idea of a “deadly conflict among three witches” and the “black magic.” I’m not sure what that means, but I do hope that the show does not become some sort of supernatural thriller. Shakespeare’s life is a gripping story already, and it does not need witches and black magic to sex it up.

Also, there is no mention of how Shakespeare’s plays themselves will be presented. Will they be front and center in the series, or will they be in the background? Will the meaning and real purpose of the plays be addressed thoughtfully, or mangled? If the meaning of his Macbeth play is reduced to the idea that Shakespeare actually met and knew three witches, then it is dumbing down Shakespeare to the point of absurdity, and it would truly be an insult to his memory.

I’m not sure what Game of Thrones has to do with Shakespeare. As much as I love Game of Thrones, it is in the fantasy genre. The world in which Shakespeare lived, and the life that Shakespeare lived, was much more political than it was fantastical.

As much as I love Shakespeare in Love, it is a Disney version of Shakespeare, and it does not even pretend to tell a true account of Shakespeare’s life.

As I have written before, what we have not seen is a story about Shakespeare that rivals the story about Mozart that was the film Amadeus — a drama about  Shakespeare that tells as the truth about his life and his plays, set in a world that was experiencing great upheaval, and was filled with religious and political violence.

If there is one TV show that would provide an example of the kind of show that should be made about his life, it would be House of Cards -- which incidentally is based on Shakespeare's own Richard III play. 

The reason why House of Cards is so successful, is much the same reason why the Richard III play has endured for four centuries, and why any of Shakespeare's plays are watched today -- because he lived in a ruthless political world of intrigue and murder, and he wrote plays that are ruthlessly entertaining. As I like to say, he killed his audience before they could kill him.

Last year I read about another TV show that was going to be made, called Will. The series was written and produced by Craig Pearce, who has collaborated with Baz Luhrmann on The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, Strictly Ballroom, and Moulin Rouge.

That show was described as telling the story of Shakespeare’s early days in London, and the show promised lots of sex and violence.

I don’t know what the status of the show is now, or whether it will ever get made. I hope it does. I think the world suffers from too little Shakespeare rather than from too much, and I’m sure there will be many people who would watch two different shows about the young Shakespeare. I know I would.

What do you think? What kind of story do you want to see about Shakespeare?

Cheers,



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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mike Tyson as Shakespeare's Othello?


Mike Tyson and Shakespeare?

You don't hear those two names together very often.





Boxer Mike Tyson say he wants to do some Shakespeare!

He expressed interest in playing Othello, on television perhaps.

You can read more about it here:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/mike-tyson-hardest-bard-est-ex-4640496


What do you think?

Should Iron Mike do it?

Do you think he's joking?


He may be joking, and it does indeed sound funny at first.

For me, I think he should do it.

It would certainly be unlike any other Shakespeare play you have ever seen before.

In the hands of a good director, and with a good supporting cast, it could be a good production.

It could be either unforgettably bad, or unforgettably bad. 

But I think there would be an audience to see it.


In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as truly bad Shakespeare, and every production has its merits and its failures.

In fact, Mr. Tyson could very well introduce Shakespeare to an audience that might never bother watching Shakespeare.

Also, when is the last time you saw an actor portray Othello, a celebrated general, who really knows something about fighting?


Cheers,

David B. Schajer

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Muse Of Fire Shakespeare Documentary


I just watched the Shakespeare documentary Muse of Fire, and it’s great.

I highly recommend it!




The documentary is now on Apple iTunes, and here is a link to their website for more information:


Two young actors, Dan Poole and Giles Terera,  had the idea to interview famous actresses and actors who are famous for their love of Shakespeare.


Giles Terera and Dan Poole

There are too many names to list, but there is Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Ewan MacGregor, Tom Hiddleston and many many more. There is even an interview with Romeo and Juliet director Baz Luhrmann.

Judi Dench

It’s a fun and funny documentary, and these two actors are very entertaining guides as they journey around England, to Denmark’s Elsinore Castle, and across the USA, in their quest to explore the meaning and importance of Shakespeare in the world today.


with Ian McKellen

There are lots of surprises, and it’s the twists and turns in their journey that often can be the most entertaining moments of all.


Tom Hiddleston

My only complaint is that I wanted the documentary to be much much longer, and the interviews to be more in depth. As for me, I could just sit and listen to Judi Dench and Ian McKellen talk about Shakespeare for hours.

But not to worry, they have just posted many of the full interviews online for free! Here:


I do hope they add more as soon as possible, especially Tom Hiddleston, Dominic Dromgoole, and Mark Rylance.

Do yourself a favour and watch this exciting documentary. It’s worth every penny.

Cheers,




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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Neil MacGregor's Shakespeare's Restless World


I don't often review or recommend books I read in my study of Shakespeare, but I want to make an exception for Neil MacGregor's excellent Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects, which has just recently been published in paperback.




It is one of the very best books I have ever read regarding Shakespeare's life and plays. It does a wonderful job of transporting us backwards in time to Shakespeare's world through 20 objects Mr. MacGregor has carefully chosen, all of which act as something like time-travelling talismans.


Neil MacGregor with one of the 20 objects

Every individual chapter is worth the price of the book. The book covers so many topics and synthesizes so much information that I would recommend it highly to anyone (especially a High School or College student) who wants just one single book to read as an introduction to Shakespeare. But even if you consider yourself a veteran Shakespeare buff, you will invariably find much that will surprise and entertain you.

The book dives into Shakespeare's life, the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James, and brings their world to life like nothing I have ever read. 

There are so many wonderful pictures throughout the book. They not only complement the individual chapters, but they are powerful examples of what a living breathing man named William Shakespeare saw and thought about during his lifetime, as an Englishman, and as a playwright. 

In a sense, with a book as good and effective as this, we can more easily imagine that there was a man named William Shakespeare, and we can more easily relate to him as a real historical person.

Mr. MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, has chosen 20 objects to explain the world in which Shakespeare lived, and what kinds of influences he had when Shakespeare sat down to write a play.


Sir Francis Drake's Circumnavigation Medal

Some of the objects are what you might expect, like Sir Francis Drake's Circumnavigation Medal, which helps us understand the spirit of adventure in an England that was just beginning to dominate the world; or Lucas de Heere's painting Allegory of the Tudor Succession, which shows Henry VIII together with his successors, most of all Elizabeth, as the culmination of the Tudor dynasty.


Dr. John Dee's Mirror

But most of the objects are not what you might expect, like a magical mirror which belonged to Dr. John Dee, who was a famous occultist and scientific polymath, and who famously told fortunes for Queen Elizabeth; or a pedlar's trunk whose significance goes far beyond the fact that it was used by recusant Catholics.


A pedlar's trunk

Perhaps what I enjoyed the most about Mr. MacGregor's approach to these objects is that while he does a masterful job of explaining the individual objects themselves, he takes you on an exciting journey beyond the object itself, and covers so much Elizabethan and Jacobean history. With every object he introduces, you never quite know where the discussion of that object will go.

He also does a wonderful job of connecting these objects to Shakespeare's plays. The book is full of direct quotes from the plays, which refer to many of these objects. 


A dagger found on the shore of the Thames

For example, one of the objects he has chosen is a dagger which was discovered on the banks of the Thames. Using this object as his starting point, he explores the styles of fencing in London at the time (Vincentio Saviolo's Italian style versus George Silver's English style) and how Shakespeare's character Mercutio referred to this in Romeo and Juliet.

I should warn you however. There is one great flaw to this book. It is too short, and you may be upset when you are done reading it. It really should be expanded to more objects in Shakespeare’s life. Mr. MacGregor is such an entertaining and knowledgeable guide that you don’t want the tour to end.

Cheers,



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Friday, November 7, 2014

Tamburlaine at Theatre For A New Audience


I saw Tamburlaine on Wednesday in Brooklyn, at Theatre For A New Audience.

It’s astonishing. It’s disturbing. It is quite unlike any other play I have ever seen.

It is not for everyone, but I recommend it very highly.

It is very rarely staged, and even if you have little interest in the play, you should not miss this opportunity to see it.

It runs through 21 December. Here is a link for more information and tickets:





I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share some of my thoughts with you.

Is the play good? Is the play bad? It is very hard to say. It is a play that is beyond good or bad. 

I’m not even sure it can be called a play.

Yes, there is a stage and actors but what happens on stage is so strange and violent and unusual that it’s very hard to put into words.




Also, it made me think of the violent and gory plays of Seneca, whom the Elizabethans like Christopher Marlowe were imitating in plays like Tamburlaine, or Shakespeare’s blood-spattered Titus Andronicus and Richard III

But Seneca’s plays were arguably never supposed to be performed, only read aloud, and the images that are spoken of are meant to be heard and then seen only in the mind of the audience, and not visualized on the stage. 

The Elizabethans may have been basing their violent plays on the wrong assumption.

So, when I watched Tamburlaine, I could not help but think that this is not a play at all, it is almost impossible to act, and that it’s endless displays of violence and gore (while very tastefully done, and not gratuitous) are meant to be imagined in our minds and not seen on the stage.




The actors are all excellent, and I immediately got to my feet at the end to give them a standing ovation.

Because as fine as the performances of these actors were, it was incredible how hard they worked to perform a play that defies actors and performances.

What I mean is that the plays characters are so larger than life and so impossibly inhuman that it is like it is not even written for actors. I can’t help but think that Marlowe wrote it to be read first and foremost, and it’s success on stages in London circa 1590 was incidental, an accident perhaps.




As far as the violence is concerned, I warn you the play is bloody.

But how else can you tell a story about a real historical figure, Tamburlaine (or Timur the Lame) who sacked whole cities, conquered whole empires, and is believed to have killed during his reign upwards of 17 million men, women and children?

If that 17 million figure is accurate, then he killed approximately 5% of the population of the world. How incredible. How horrible.


A map of the Timurid Dynasty, the land Timur conquered

The fact that this story is somehow fit into the space of a 3 1/2 hour play is something like a miracle. The pace of the play is relentless, the conflict between Tamburlaine and his enemies is so constant, and the deaths, murders and suicides so frequent that it becomes at times mind-numbing.

And yet, it is a play that should be seen, at least once in a lifetime.

John Douglas Thompson as Tamburlaine is a force of nature. He gives an incredible, outstanding, bravura performance that I will never forget as long as I live. 


John Douglas Thompson as Tamburlaine
in rehearsal

There is a central moment in the play where he rides a chariot and cracks a whip to drive on, ever forward into the next scene and next fray. Mr. Thompson was just incredible how he propelled the play forward on and on, keeping it at sometimes a breakneck speed where occasionally my mind couldn’t keep up with what he was saying, but I was forced to embrace the next scene, the next moment, and try to catch my breath.

There is not a lot of nuance to Tamburlaine the man. There are not a lot of soul-searching soliloquies. He calls himself the “scourge of God” and he is constantly projecting himself to be a larger than life figure, who is always ready to do battle with the Almighty. Mr. Thompson captures this insane and megalomaniacal spirit and never lets it go, not for a moment.

I don’t know many actors who would even consider tackling such a herculean role, and his performance deserves to be seen.

The rest of the cast is incredible.

I was thrilled to see Chukwudi Iwuji again. I saw him as Edgar in King Lear, at Shakespeare in the Park this last July. He was the best Edgar I have ever seen, and his performance here was simply brilliant. He has some of the quietest and most human moments in the play, and he makes them as heartbreaking as possible.


Chukwudi Iwuji
in rehearsal

Patrice Johnson Chevannes as his wife shares some of those heartbreaking moments, and she was just terrific. It is a very difficult role, since she has to be ferocious as Tamburlaine’s enemy, and very compassionate as his slave and prisoner, but Ms. Chevannes made it seem effortless.

Merritt Janson as Zenocrate, a princess whom Tamburlaine takes as a spoil of war, also finds a dignity to her role that I found very moving. And as hard as it was to believe that a princess like her would ever come to love a barbaric monster like Tamburlaine, Ms. Janson makes it seem real and plausible.

The entire cast gives very impressive performances, and many in the cast perform more than one role. But their energy never flagged, and their excitement to perform this often ignored play was evident throughout.

The director is Michael Boyd, who was the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 2002 to 2012. He deserves great praise, for staging this play, for editing both parts into a manageable whole, for facing the politics and bloodshed of the play straight on, and for pulling no punches. 


Michael Boyd
in rehearsal

Perhaps it’s just me, since I was watching the play during a full moon over New York, on the 409th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, but I couldn’t help but think how important a play this is, since it brings us face to face not just with the bloody and monstrous Tamburlaine and the horrors and bloodshed of the past, but it also brings us to face horrors, the bloodshed, and the monsters in our modern world.

Christopher Marlowe, and Shakespeare, lived in a world where religious violence was an ever-present threat. As much as times have changed, and cultures have changed, there are still great dangers, still great violence, and there are still men in this world who believe that murder, killing, and conquest confers greatness.

So, as much as the world has changed in 400 years, it has not changed much at all.

If there is a moral to this story, if there is any meaning to this play, perhaps this is it.

If you see this, please let me know what you think of it.

Cheers,




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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Julius Caesar at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre


I just went to see Julius Caesar on Sunday at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.

It's a great production and if you are anywhere near Washington, D.C. you should not miss it.

It runs through 7 December. Here is a link for more information and tickets:


I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would like to share some of my thoughts with you.


Maurice Jones as Mark Antony
all photos by Teresa Wood

I have seen several plays at the Folger, many of which directed by Robert Richmond, and all of them have been very good, but I would have to say that this is his most ambitious production, and in many ways it is the most memorable of them all.

It is always interesting to see if and how the Folger changes the set design. In a recent production of Richard III, the stage was moved to the center of where the audience usually sits, so it was a theatre in the round, and it allowed King Richard to move about the stage in a way that I had not before seen at the Folger.




This time for Julius Caesar the set held a massive and new design, that resembled stone, and gave the set an ancient quality. But the set could be manipulated for modern effects. It was very impressive, and really set the tone of the play.

This ancient versus modern tension was worked throughout the play, with the costumes which did not specify a time period in the beginning but then eventually transformed into a more modern period that strongly evoked the battlefield uniforms of World War I.

But what was most interesting thing about the look of the play was the frequent use of long and dingy robes to cover the characters. The robes looked like they belonged to the Weird Sisters in Macbeth, and there were very strong echoes of that play in this -- which shouldn't be that strange, since Julius Caesar receives a prophecy from a Soothsayer just as Macbeth receives prophecies from the Weird Sisters.




The robes gave the entire production a much darker, moodier, and scarier tone than I have ever seen before, and I think it was a risk that pays off. The play became much more effective, and this immersive mood only heightened the drama, and the violence on stage. 

The music was excellent and complemented the action and the actors very effectively, as did the lighting which was choreographed very well, and was used to great effect.

The actors are very good, and as an ensemble they are excellent.


Louis Butelli and Anthony Cochrane

It was great to see Louis Butelli again, whom I have seen before at the Folger, as Bardolph in Henry V, and Feste in Twelfth Night, and his Cassius here was to my mind the real star of this production. 

I don't usually focus on this character as much as I do Brutus or Mark Antony, but there was something about Mr. Butelli's performance that really stood out. There was an energy to it, and an edginess to it that was very entertaining. 

Also, this actor really does have a "lean and hungry look." Watching him on stage, I was reminded of how Mark Rylance was described, as having an "animal cunning."


Louis Butelli and Anthony Cochrane

Anthony Cochrane is a very compelling Brutus. He has a great everyman kind of quality to him, that makes our sympathy and empathy for him all the more effective. His scenes with the excellent Shirine Babb as his wife Portia were especially moving.

Maurice Jones was a great Mark Antony. He made Mark Antony's duplicity, his slickness, very appealing, especially when he speaks to the crowd. It is a difficult scene, in order to make Mark Antony seemingly sincere even when he is at his most disingenuous, but Mr. Jones gets right to the heart of the character. His ability to make him seem human and three-dimensional is very entertaining. 


Anthony Cochrane and Michael Sharon

Michael Sharon was a great Julius Caesar. I have never really cared for the character, since I find him to be an arrogant stiff. It is a difficult challenge for the actor, to make Julius Caesar human. We should feel horror when he dies. But also, we must understand why the assassins would conspire to kill him.

Mr. Sharon threads that needle very well, making him both repellant enough to understand his murder, but compelling enough that we find his murder very troubling.




I applaud the director Robert Richmond for taking something of a risk with this production, since with this carefully chosen and excellent group of actors, the risk more than paid off.

I would venture to guess that Mr. Richmond wanted to make a Julius Caesar unlike what you have seen before, in the hopes that it will stay with you, and perhaps even haunt your memory. If that was his ambition, he more than succeeded.

Cheers,


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