Monday, June 22, 2009

Phaedra: Get Thee to a Cinema

This is slightly off-topic, but an interesting experiment in world-wide theater is coming up this week that is worthy of note in this space: Helen Mirren's acclaimed star turn in the British National Theatre's production of Racine's tragedy Phèdre(aka Phaedra) will be simulcast live to 80 different cinemas around the world on Thursday (June 25).

The modern-dress production uses an adaptation -- by one-time English Poet Laureate Ted Hughes -- of the (French) text and has been the talk of the London theatre world. No less significant, for younger fans, is the fact that Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia!) shares the bill with the acclaimed elder stateswoman of the British stage. Links after the jump.

National Theatre's Phèdre page
June 25 international simulcast: UK, US, elsewhere
Conversation with Helen Mirren on BBC Radio 4's arts & culture program "Start The Week"
Glowing review of Phèdre on "Theatre Talk" from KCRW (Santa Monica, Calif.)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mark Twain: The other Shakespeare centenary

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shake-speare's Sonnets -- one of two important Bard-related centennials to come up in 2009.

The other is the 100-year anniversary of the publication of Mark Twain's signature anti-Stratfordian book, Is Shakespeare Dead?, an authorship-related tome that still hasn't been matched in its wit and breezy readability.

Today's New York Times' Times Traveler archive blog reprints a mini-tempest that was stirred up when Twain printed his witty diatribe against "Stratfordolators," as he called the orthodox Shakespeareans. Clips after the jump.

The controversy arose over Twain's excerpting of 22 pages-worth of the classic anti-Stratfordian book The Shakespeare Problem Restated by George G. Greenwood.

Ironically, Twain reprinted a chapter from Greenwood's landmark book and stated as much -- but, crucially, he also neglected to cite Greenwood by name as the excerpt's author.

Below are excerpts from the June 9, 1909 NYT article "Can Mark Twain Be A Literary Pirate?"

[Twain's publisher Harper & Bros. stated,] "The manuscript, exactly as he gave it to us, with the title, 'Is Shakespeare Dead?' was put into book form as quickly as we could do it.

"No one thought of looking particularly to see if Mr. Twain had given credit to Mr. Greenwood. It was noticed that the book itself was credited, and that seemed sufficient. Later on, when the John Lane Company [Greenwood's publisher] called our attention to it, we learned that Mark Twain had failed to speak of Mr. Greenwood. We felt very sorry about it then, but it was too late to recall the edition. We don't put the blame on Mark Twain exactly. Of course if we had noticed the omission we would have called his attention to it. Quite likely it escaped his notice, as it did ours. He didn't mean to be unethical."


'"Is Shakespeare Dead?" is being sold here [in the U.S.] unrestricted, but in England the John Lane Company, protected by copyight laws which do not extend to their books in this country, are watching to prevent a copy of Mark Twain's volume from being marketed.

"We don't like to be discourteous about this," said Mr. [Rutger Bleecker] Jewett [manager of John Lane Co.], "but we feel we must protect the authors who put their confidence in us. Mark Twain should have been more careful."


An effort was made yesterday to see Mark Twain, but he was not at his home in Redding, Conn., and could not be reached."

[h/t to G.Q. and W.N.; Creative Commons image from Okinawa Soba]

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Titanic: The Prequel

Historian, author and blogger Robert Sean Brazil notes today that exactly four centuries ago, on June 2, 1609, English adventurers set sail for the New World on a mission that would end in a famous shipwreck.

Orthodox Shakespeare scholars argue that accounts of the July 1609 shipwreck are a crucial source for The Tempest. As has been discussed in this space before, those claims have since been refuted.

All the same, the story of the 1609 shipwreck is still an amazing nautical tale, and Brazil delivers the storytelling goods.

Excerpts from Brazil's account of the 1609 wreck after the jump

He writes:

The Sea Venture is said to have been England’s first built-to-order emigration vessel…a tradition that climaxed in the industrial age when thousands of Scots and Irish were forcibly uprooted and relocated to Nova Scotia and other destinations. The Sea Venture displaced 300 tons and had an innovative new design that placed her 24 defensive cannons on the main deck. However, with all this high technology employed, the Sea Venture’s fate was similar to the ill-fated Titanic. Both vessels did not survive their maiden voyages.

The Sea Venture set sail from Plymouth on June 2, 1609, bound for Jamestown, Virginia. Everything was going smoothly until the flotilla ran into a monstrous hurricane. By July 24, the winds had driven the vessels apart from each other and it was each ship for herself. Because the Sea Venture was brand new, the caulking and joining was still loose and the great vessel began coming apart and leaking. They threw the heavy guns overboard. On July 25, with water in the hold rising fast, Admiral Somers spotted land and purposely drove the ship ashore. He wrecked his vessel but discovered Bermuda.

We now know the Bard didn't use this gripping material for his scripts. But it's never too late. Somebody should.