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Archive for August, 2013

As you’re probably well aware, there are bazillions of versions of Romeo and Juliet on film. From the silent era through the present day, the pair has inspired countless adaptations from the faithful to the fun-house.  Below I’m listing a few of my favorites, but please share your favorites in the comments!

R&J Animated

When I was growing up, one of my favorite tapes to rent from Video Scene was the BBC Animated Romeo and Juliet featuring several famous voices and gorgeous animation by Christmasfilms. Using an abridgment of Shakespeare’s text, adapter Leon Garfield unfolded the tragic tale in under 30 minutes. It’s available on DVD, now, but preview it on YouTube!

The BBC Television Shakespeare series from the 1970’s might not be the most engaging to watch in its entirety, but if you’ve ever wanted to see a young Alan Rickman in tights as Tybalt, well, this version is a treat! No matter which scene you want to focus on, this full-text version is sure to have it, too. Keeping with the traditionally set, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film is still held in high regard. It’s authenticity of setting and the leads’ ages, as well as the wonderful performances by the entire cast make it infinitely watchable, even today. (Though, of course, with at least one scene post-wedding edited out for classrooms!)

Romeo+JulietSome modern-setting versions have kept the original text, as well, most famously in Baz Luhrman’s 1996 version set in Verona Beach. Even while it pokes fun (the guns are named “Dagger” and “Longsword,” for example), the story, edited from Shakespeare’s text, moves with an intense urgency. Additionally, the independently conceived and filmed Private Romeo uses Shakespeare’s text with a group of army-school cadets left alone at their campus. While it falters in places, it’s beautiful to see these young men using Shakespeare’s words to express themselves.

Finally, there are some wonderful new stories inspired by Shakespeare’s inspiration to re-tell the timeless cautionary tale of two warring groups whose youthful innocents fall in love with each other. West Side Story is the most familiar along these lines, and is a theatrical hallmark in its own right. Comparing this musical to Shakespeare’s play when I was a kid is what led me to be so interested in adaptation as an art form. Potentially less-inspiring, however, it’s worth noting that both The Lion King II and Gnomeo and Juliet are also inspired by these themes, though with happier endings for their young audience.

Shakespeare in LoveThere’s not much room to mention Shakespeare in Love, but I’m going to have to. It’s a funny and touching imagining of how young Will Shakespeare was inspired to write this famous play from his own romantic experience . It’s totally laughably historically inaccurate, of course, but it does not claim to be so and is, instead, a whimsical love-letter to the Bard.

This could go on and on, of course. There are ballets, operas, TV mini-series, anime series, and so many other milieus into which this play has been re-imagined. Sometimes these adaptations illuminate different facets of Shakespeare’s play for consideration the next time we study it. Do these examples fit the bill? Not always, but at least we can enjoy the ride. What is your favorite example of Romeo and Juliet on the big screen?

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After spending so much time in the original texts of Romeo and Juliet this month to compare them to the Fellowes’s adaptation (billed in ads as “Shakespeare’s,” hence the frustration), I went home to my very large shelf of Shakespearean adaptations to remind myself of some great examples of how that text has been explored in different ways. As I did with Macbeth and Hamlet in the past, I’ll reserve a separate upcoming post for movies based on the star-cross’d lovers, and reserve this post for books.

Shakespeare himself was an adapter, re-writing the timeless legend of the doomed lovers from several sources. In Shakespeare’s Storybook, Patrick Ryan shares many possible inspirations that Shakespeare may have used, including Romeus and Juliet translated from the French by Arthur Brooke and Il Novellino by Salernitano Masuccio, among others. He didn’t claim the story, he re-told it in a way his audience would appreciate in his own words and put his own name on his work. What about Shakespeare’s work makes it so ripe for adaptation, but still somehow overshadows the adapters themselves?

romeo's exIt’s wonderful to read a familiar story from someone else’s point of view. One of my favorite novels about this play is Romeo’s Ex by Lisa Fielder. Creatively, Fielder explores the life of the character who sets much of the action in motion and yet is never seen onstage in Shakespeare’s play. Rosaline, a Capulet herself, is not interested in the love-struck Romeo, and is even less interested in her family’s dangerous quarrels with the Montagues. If your students could write the story from another character’s point of view, who would they pick?

warm bodiesWhen You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle is a young adult novel set in the present day which asks if Romeo and Juliet were really right for each other at all, or if they were always going to lead to their own destruction. What does it mean to be “star-cross’d?” Then there’s the futuristic Warm Bodies which gives the love story a new twist with one side of the warring factions being zombies. What is it about human (or zombie) nature that makes us so prone to hating the “others?”

AfterlivesSeveral other novels like Robin Maxwell’s O, Juliet and Juliet by Ann Fortier take on more contextual Italian history and explore what could have doomed the pair in their own time. Still others, like Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors and The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper approach both Shakespeare’s play and the Juliet legend from the perspectives of teens and consider our desire to change the tragic course of events. There is also a chapter devoted to Romeo and Juliet in the non-fiction  Shakespearean Afterlives by John O’Connor that explores the ongoing cultural perception of the couple, and our immediate instinct to compare any romantic boy or tragic girl to this particular pair.

This is, of course, just a small sampler of the many many books that take on Romeo and Juliet as inspiration. I enjoyed reading them all (some more than others) since each new perspective gave me something new to think about in Shakespeare’s play. Do you have any favorite book adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, or have you read one of these books? Please tell us about it!

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It seems we’re not alone in our disappointment with Julian Fellowes’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (sans Shakespeare’s words). While the language still sounds lofty, they’re not Shakespeare’s word choices – and that’s a big deal.

R&J Posters - Shall I Compare Thee to a Quarto

Terry Guerin suggested in the comments that one of the quotes was perhaps based on First or Second Quarto language – which made me think that maybe Fellowes was working from an early text instead of the ones with which we’re more familiar. So I went to the library sherpa, Alan Katz, who linked me to the texts in the Luna database so I could reference them from the comfort of my own desk (where I can still consume coffee and cookies – unlike in the Reading Rooms!).

Using images of each page from a 1597 First Quarto and 1599 Second Quarto, I ran through the quoted lines from the Fellowes trailer again. The results for a few notable differences are below, but this reminded me so strongly of a really cool video segment and activity idea from our 2012 Electronic Field Trip, that I just have to share that first:

In this clip, Dr. Gail Kern Paster speaks about how comparing two texts of the same play is useful for editors as they make their choices about what language to use when they create their edition of the play, and she references these two Quartos. On page 4 of the accompanying teaching guide for this program, we included images of the passages Dr. Paster references for students to compare in their own classrooms.

It becomes obvious, below, that Fellowes’ “translation” is not even close to First or Second quarto language, and is actually closer to that blasted “no fear” than anything else – which I’ve included, too.

What do these comparisons make you think? What’s gained and lost with each iteration?

Fellowes: On honor of my blood, I’ll strike him dead
First Quarto: Now by the stocke and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it for no sin.
Second Quarto: Now by the stocke and honor of my kin, To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin
Folger Edition: Now, by the stock and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.
No Fear: Now, by the honor of our family, I do not consider it a crime to kill him.

Fellowes: [Juliet, if your heart like mine is full then tell the joy that weights us this night,]
I cannot tell of what is limitless.
First Quarto: NOT FOUND
Second Quarto: My bountie is as boundlesse as the sea, My love as deep, the more give to thee The more I have, for both are infinite:
Folger Edition: My bounty as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite
No Fear: My generosity to you is as limitless as the sea, and my love is as deep. The more love I give you, the more I have. Both loves are infinite.

Fellowes: Romeo! Come settle with me, boy!
First Quarto: Bace boy this cannot serve thy turn, and therefore drawe.
Second Quarto: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries That thou hast done me, therefore turn and draw.
Folger Edition: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries That thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.
No Fear: Boy, your words can’t excuse the harm you’ve done to me. So now turn and draw your sword.

Fellowes: What have I done but murdered my tomorrow?
First Quarto: Ah, I am fortunes slave.
Second Quarto: O I am fortunes fool.
Folger Edition: O, I am Fortune’s fool!
No Fear: Oh, I have awful luck.

Fellowes: Then you are mine no more, so help me God.
First Quarto: If you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend: If not, hang, drowne, starve, beg, Dye in the streets: for by my Soule Ile never more acknowledge thee, Nor what I have shall ever doe thee good, Thinke ont, look toot, I doe not vie to jest.
Second Quarto: And you be mine, Ile give you to my friend, And you be not, hang, beg, starve, dye in the streets, For by my soul ile nere acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good: Trust too’t, bethink you, ile not be forsworne.
Folger Edition: An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good. Trust to ’t; bethink you. I’ll not be forsworn.
No Fear: If you act like my daughter, I’ll marry you to my friend. If you don’t act like my daughter, you can beg, starve, and die in the streets. I swear on my soul, I will never take you back or do anything for you. Believe me. Think about it. I won’t break this promise.

Fellowes: Take this vial… and drink through the last drop… and there will be no sign of life within you.
First Quarto: take thou this Violl, And this distilled Liquor drinke thou off: … No sign of breath shall testifie thou livst.
Second Quarto: Take thou this violl…And this distilling liquor drink thou off,… No warmth, no breast shall testify thou livest.
Folger Edition: Take thou this vial… And this distilling liquor drink thou off… No warmth, no breath shall testify thou livest.
No Fear: take this vial, mix its contents with liquor, and drink… Your flesh will be cold, and you’ll stop breathing… It will seem like you’re dead

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I was speaking with Folger Theatre’s resident Dramaturg, Michele Osherow, this morning as she prepared for an on-camera interview. While catching up, I mentioned that my husband would be working on a performance of Measure for Measure during his first year of graduate school – one of my least favorite plays. Michele replied that Measure for Measure is one of her favorites because it is so messy and unsettling, the same reasons I don’t like it.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Michele went on to point out that while her college students express distaste for Measure for Measure or Troilus and Cressida during her class, those complicated and uncomfortable plays are the ones they return to explore in their final papers and presentations. They’re the plays that stick in their minds because there’s so much to explore even as it discomfits us.

My favorite plays tend to contain comic banter. I like how the words intersect and dance around each other, especially out loud, in plays like Much AdoTwelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet (before it becomes a tragedy). I also enjoy the bumbling comic characters in Midsummer, as you already know, because I feel so close to Shakespeare as a player in those scenes. I enjoy talking about the use of language and the playing with the several meanings of words in performance.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

For Michele, those complicated plays are very close in nature to modern theatrical experiences. They make us question how we feel and what we think about the world we live in – just as Shakespeare’s audience must have felt and thought. Is marriage a reward or a punishment? Is your best friend a good or bad person – are you? Who do you relate to: the villain or the hero – or is there a character you can identify as either role?

This reminded me of several videos in our Teacher to Teacher series – especially ‘Beauty in Difficulty‘ from Kristyn Rosen on plays that will challenge her students. Additionally, there is a whole section of videos related to teachers responding to the question “What is your favorite Shakespeare play to teach?” They cite relatability, good discussions, fun, and playable moments as their best reasons for one play or another.

What is your favorite play to read, see, teach, or talk about?

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Children participating in a Shake Up Your Saturdays family event at the Folger

One of the most exciting weekends at Folger is Family Fun day, when we “Shake up Saturday” with a program for students and parents.

This past Saturday, we had children and families sharing the stage as we learned about Elizabethan theatre and Shakespeare’s time. Then we worked together to perform a short version of Twelfth Night, with children ages 6 to 12 speaking Shakespeare’s lines from the Folger stage. Parents and families cheered mightily from the audience.

We also looked at drawings of theatres in Shakespeare’s time and discussed what it would have been like to put on a play. We saw a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, and even a bracelet made out of Edwin’ Booth’s hair. (For information about upcoming programs, visit www.folger.edu.)

What we experienced was family fun with Shakespeare. What we also experienced was parent involvement in their children’s learning.

At Folger, we love it when students and families learn together. We throw upon our doors to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday and invite children and families to experience Shakespeare and learn together.

Studies show that parental involvement in their children’s learning has numerous positive outcomes. Children with involved parents are more likely to attend school consistently, value education, do well in school, graduate, and pursue further education. Support of children’s learning in and out of school make a significant difference to children’s learning success.

Folger Family programs are one way we try to bring families into the world of their children’s learning. How do you encourage students to share their learning experiences with their parents and families?

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Looking for something epic to do this summer?

Gather up your family and friends! Join us for Folger’s Shakespeare Summer Adventure!

This summer, the Great Hall is closed for renovation. That means Folger is offering several smaller exhibits for families and friends to enjoy.

Nelson Mandela served 18 years as a political prisoner at Robben Island, a prison off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. While there, another prisoner smuggled in a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Mandela and 33 of his fellow prisoners read the book and signed their names (often with notes) in this book. For the first time, this volume is on display in the United States—at Folger Shakespeare Library. Come visit the book, along with a series of sketches Mandela made in the early 2000s, reflecting on his prison life.

Down the hall from your South Africa experience is the world of Shakespeare and the Folgers. See the First Folio, printed in 1623 and hailed by Mr. Folger as one of the most important books ever printed. Without the First Folio, half of Shakespeare’s works would have been lost to us. Thanks to our touch-screen kiosk, you can page through Romeo and Juliet and see the lines as they were printed just seven years after Shakespeare’s death. Along with the First Folio, see items of particular importance to the Folgers, including a bracelet made from famed American actor Edwin Booth’s hair.

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What was theatre like in Shakespeare’s time? Find the answer in our Elizabethan Theatre. The carved wooden panels and Tudor look will make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Then take a look in the Shakespeare Gallery to see what it might have looked like to prepare the Globe for a production. You can also watch a video exploring the impact of Shakespeare and his works on students, actors, experts, and more.

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We know you are working to make Shakespeare come alive in your classrooms—we invite you to see him come alive at Folger Shakespeare Library!

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