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Archive for the ‘Shakespeare on Film’ Category

The amount of new technology springing up around us can be dizzying, especially when our students are picking it up so quickly. Much of their daily life is conducted online – so how can our classrooms extend into that area of their life?

Teacher to Teacher - Technology

In these Teacher to Teacher Videos, we’re highlighting some ways teachers are using technology and the internet to engage their students even more deeply in their Shakespeare studies:

Videos in class are tried-and-true, but sometimes might feel like a cop-out. In this video, Josh Cabat gives us several ways in which to use video effectively as a teaching tool with many active applications to try right away!

 

Why should you even consider using new technologies? “It’s collaborative, and it’s available 24 hours a day,” says teacher Robert Barker. Students can connect in their own time to their classwork and each other – strengthening their connection to the material.

 

Finally – you don’t even have to use the technology during class-time. Assigning online homework in a “flipped” classroom, according to Greta Brasgalla, gives you more time and more material to discuss in class.

You can hear more from Robert and Greta from their recorded “What’s Done is Done Online” webinar from last spring.

What technologies are you trying in your classroom? How are your students responding to it? Let us know in the comments!

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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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Well, that’s a disappoinment.

A closer watch of the trailer for the upcoming Romeo and Juliet adapted by Julian Fellowes reveals that the play has not only been adapted as a screenplay (which is all well and good), but has also had its language adapted. Sneakily, too, it took awhile for the differences from the lines used in the trailer to sink in.

And it wouldn’t be such a disappointment if it weren’t being advertised as:

R&J Trailer Still

R&J Trailer Still 2

Adaptation is a fine thing – it can illuminate the play in ways we never expected. Luhrman’s Romeo+Juliet, while garish and dizzying, gave us a new context for the play and a feeling of vitality and importance though we’ve all known the outcome of the story forever. I honestly cannot see the point of an adaptation in which little to none of the original text is used and it’s set in an all-too-familiar setting. It looks exactly like the lavish Italian set of the famous Zeffirelli film, yet the language is ever-so-slightly (and not-so slightly) tweaked. And why? For time? For clarity? What is the purpose of these textual edits? And why, then, advertise it as Shakespeare’s?

I went through the trailer and picked out the lines used, then looked up what I believed to be their equivalents in the Folger Digital Texts to compare what’s being said. For some, it’s a simple word that’s been changed. For others, it’s an entire phrase that’s been re-edited for some reason.

“On honor of my blood, I’ll strike him dead”
vs “Now, by the stock and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.”

“I would not let any harm beset him in my house.”
vs: I would not for the wealth of all this town Here in my house do him disparagement.

“Juliet, if your heart like mine is full then tell the joy that weights us this night,”
“I cannot tell of what is limitless.”
vs: “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”

“These violent passions can have violent ends.”
vs: “These violent delights have violent ends.”

“Then you are mine no more, so help me God.”
vs: “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.”

“What have I done but murdered my tomorrow?”
vs: “O, I am Fortune’s fool!”

“There is no world beyond this city’s walls. Just purgatory… Heaven is here where Juliet lives. Every unworthy thing may look on her but Romeo may not.”
vs: “There is no world without Verona walls But purgatory, torture, hell itself… Heaven is here Where Juliet lives, and every cat and dog And little mouse, every unworthy thing, Live here in heaven and may look on her, But Romeo may not.”

“A greater power than we can contradict has thwarted all our plans.”
vs “A greater power than we can contradict Hath thwarted our intents.”
(not too bad, but is Friar Lawrence really saying that to Romeo? That’s supposed to be his line to Juliet in the tomb.)

“O, Furtune Fortune, send him back to me.”
vs: “O Fortune, Fortune, all men call thee fickle. If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him That is renowned for faith? Be fickle, Fortune, For then I hope thou wilt not keep him long, But send him back.”

“Take this vial… and drink through the last drop… and there will be no sign of life within you.”
vs: “Take thou this vial… And this distilling liquor drink thou off… No warmth, no breath shall testify thou livest.”

“Give me my Romeo. And when he shall die, cut him out in little stars. He will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night.”
vs:
“Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night.”

This is a topic we keep coming back to:

“Bless thee, Thou Art Translated”
“Shakespeare… in Other Words”
“All Students Deserve Shakespeare”
“More to Fear from No Fear”

And it was addressed in our May 14th Webinar, of which you can watch an archived recording: Shakespeare in Other Words.

What do you think? What could the purpose of this sly translation be? What is lost or gained by these edits? How could it affect the way the audience perceives Shakespeare?

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Film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays appear regularly each year. Some of the plays get more attention than others – I mean, just look at the wikipedia lists of film adaptations for Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and especially Hamlet! There was definitely a lot of (deserved) hype this summer for Joss Whedon’s independent Much Ado About Nothing, but nothing matches the well-trod tragedies for film popularity.

Even so, I was surprised to see that not one, but two new film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet are in the works this year. One is the highly publicized adaptation by Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellowes, and the other is a… well… an operetta set in a trailer park in New Zealand? The former is certainly much more faithful to the text, but the latter has this vitality about it that reminds me of some of our student performances at the Festivals – the inspiration of imagination and making the text one’s own.

I’ve seen students present R&J on our stage as a comedy (with a little death at the end), as a serious love story, as a story about swords (with a little love thrown in), as characters from Twilight, as modern teenagers, and just about everything in between. Every class that presents the same play brings something different to the table, just as every film director will bring something new to light in their vision of the play on screen.

I, personally, can’t get enough of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, but I am surprised by how much we’re still making the same ones! Why do you think that is? What plays would you like to see made into screenplays? I’m going to begin a push for Cymbeline, I think…

And can I mention just how much Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth look like Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting?

twor&j

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Ben Jonson once wrote of Shakespeare, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”  Now, almost 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, we live in a world where it gets more difficult every day to convince students of the Bard’s relevance. Cell phones, iPads, and video games seem to have taken center stage in the common teenager’s life.  Is it really as difficult as some suggest to engage today’s student in the study of Shakespeare and his play?  I would argue that Shakespeare is doing just fine in 2013.  In a recent Folger Education Facebook entry, there was a link posted about seven upcoming film or television projects that all involved Shakespeare.  PBS recently began their six episode series entitled “Shakespeare Uncovered” and the first episode examined my all time favorite play, Macbeth.  As someone who feels they have a strong grasp of the play, I was fascinated at all the little insights I gained from watching this episode.  It was especially thrilling for me to see Dunsinane Hill and possibly the remnants of Birnam Wood in the surrounding countryside. As I watched, I was already plotting which clips from the show I wanted to share with my students next year when we study Macbeth.

In addition, I am amazed at how many newspaper and magazine headlines, syndicated columnists, and television shows make references to the Bard’s works.  One recent example that comes to mind was an opinion piece about the US tax code and how it relates to Shakespeare.  On television, CBS’s The Mentalist had two episodes from 2012 where Shakespeare had a major role in the outcome of the show. In the episode, “Something’s Rotten in Redmund” the lead character Patrick Jane investigates a teacher’s death by hanging around rehearsals of Hamlet.  By the end of the episode, Jane is on stage playing the ghost of Hamlet’s father and let’s just say that this ghost has other things to reveal than a usurping uncle. In another episode, “Cheap Burgundy,” Jane catches a killer by misquoting lines from Macbeth that the killer supposedly knew nothing about, but who felt the need to correct Jane’s mistake.  In this week’s Sports Illustrated, there is a college basketball article by Luke Winn entitled “Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of Hoops.”  I love seeing references to Julius Caesar in my favorite sports magazine.

While this was a long-winded introduction to what I want to share, I think it is important that students be shown the numerous examples of how the Bard’s works are alive and well in the 21st Century.   With that said, I also think that, we as educators, need to embrace the technology of today and also get the students out of their desks and experience the plays on their feet.  In this blog, I would like to share two of the activities that I have done in my classroom over the past three years to make the Bard come alive and allow the students to use a plethora of the technology that they love.

One of my most popular classroom activities is the making of a movie trailer after we study a play.  With the majority of newer iPads and cell phones  possessing video cameras that are HD quality, many of the students can film these projects using their own devices.  Of course, actual video cameras may be used as well.  The simplicity of movie editing programs like iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, and other similar programs allow students to use edit the film and use effects that we could only dream of having at our fingertips ten years ago.  So far, my classes have done Hamlet and Othello.  None of them will earn Oscars, but they all have a special place in my heart and the students appear to really enjoy this particular week of my class.

Image

Chris’s students act out scenes from HAMLET for their trailer project.

I will give you a general overview of what the students are responsible for, but if anyone has more specific questions feel free to contact me.  First, the students make groups of 7-10 depending on class size.  Together, we view some film trailers in class and have a short discussion on what was effective or ineffective about each.  Next, the students decide on which scenes or lines must make an appearance in the film.  I try and stress to them that short clips are most effective, but if you watch the links that I provide you will see that they don’t always follow those instructions.  Sometimes their disobedience was effective and other times not so much.  After building the script, Students also need to discuss scene locations(we are limited to our school grounds), costumes, and props.  We usually borrow clothes from the drama department closet, but you will see in the Othello trailers that some were just dressed in normal school clothes. Finally,  we begin the filming process.  Even though the trailer will probably be no more than one to four minutes long, it will probably take at least three or four days to film and we have the block schedule at my high school.  One can never underestimate how many times the “actors” will stumble over their lines, unexpected encounters with  students from other classes or cars that appear in your video backgrounds forcing a cut, or when the laughter bug hits and nobody can keep a straight face.  You can view the bloopers reel at the end of our trailer videos to see what I mean.

After all of the filming is completed, the editing process takes over. I usually do most of the editing with the help of a few students.  I think this is a mistake that I need to remedy.  There is a pretty slick trailer feature on iMovie that my dog could probably figure out with a little time.  My plan this year is to arm the students with iPads and allow them to use the iMovie app to create their masterpieces.  I have included links to our previous trailers here.  Hamlet #1 , Hamlet #2 , Both Othello Trailers.

Staying on the theme of video production, I’d like to quickly share a project that two of my students created on their own that I now plan on having my future classes do as a formal assignment.  They called it the “Shakespeare Infomercial”. Neil and Spencer picked a product to sell that played a role in a specific play.  In one Othello infomercial, they sell an Egyptian handkerchief complete with strawberry embroidery. If the customers acted soon enough, they would also throw in a complimentary scimitar and scabbard.  They finished the video with several satisfied customer’s remarks.  What I enjoyed most about the infomercials was how they threw in several references to the plays and the Bard that were very clever.  Watch the Othello informercial here and then check out their Macbeth infomerical where they sell witch cauldrons among other items.  The portion of the assignment that takes the longest is the writing out of the script. They filmed and edited the video on an iPad in under an hour.

I am out of space, but I hope to share some more activities from my classroom in the future.  Thanks for taking the time to read this and making your classroom one that makes the Bard come alive!

Chris Lavold has been  an English teacher and baseball coach at Mauston High School in Mauston, WI for the past 16 years.  As a 2010 Folger Library Teaching Shakespeare Institute participant, he learned many valuable techniques and insights about Shakespeare and the teaching of his plays.  He has spoken at the NCTE conference for the past two years on behalf of the Folger on topics specializing in technology and the use of film in the classroom. Lavold can be reached at clavold@maustonschools.org  or follow him on Twitter @Shakehitch.

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~by Josh Cabat

It is a trope with which we have become extremely familiar, from endless reality shows higher quality fare like Modern Family and The Office. A scene is played out, only to be interrupted by what in the business is known as a cutaway. Here, the character breaks the fourth wall, addresses the audience directly and describes what was going through his or her head while the action of the scene was happening. Perhaps they might offer some analysis of their own actions or comment upon the actions of others; perhaps they will reveal their deepest fears and wishes. Perhaps they will offer predictions and hopes for what is to come, and maybe even reveal plans for how they intend to accomplish those ends. Does this sound familiar?

Yes, it could be The Situation in Jersey Shore, or a conniving member of this season’s cast of Survivor. But this also describes the opening of Richard III or Macbeth’s dagger fantasia. It is a small stretch to say that today’s ubiquitous cutaways have their roots in the kind of intimate revelation to an audience that was essentially perfected, if not invented, by Shakespeare in his use of the soliloquy. So while I may not be entirely comfortable having Rosalind and Snooki this close together in a sentence, it is certain that our students’ familiarity with the cutaway is an easy path towards approaching the subtext of the plays and the rich interior life of Shakespeare’s characters.

To put this to the test, try this simple exercise, as I did with my 9th graders in our reading of Romeo and Juliet. You can begin in one of two ways; either have the students perform the scene themselves and film it, or rip a pre-existing scene (no longer than 3 minutes’ worth, if you please). We chose the latter approach in addressing the meeting of the play’s doomed lovers in Act I, scene v. Students in each group chose the roles they wanted to play, and as a group came up with the questions that they wanted each character to respond to. For example, the students wanted to know how Tybalt felt when he saw a Montague at his family party but was restrained by Capulet from doing anything about it, or what Romeo was planning to do once he realized the identity of his newfound love. The students playing the respective roles had to come up with answers, in modern English but supported by Shakespeare’s text.

Finally, the students filmed their answers to the questions. After editing them down, they loaded them onto iMovie and intercut them at the appropriate moments of the original clip they had downloaded. They added simple titles, such as the character’s name as their cutaways play out, and that was it. The beauty of this activity was that the students were forced, as any actor or close reader would be, to comb through the text to find support for their character’s responses. I invite you to check out the result, “Modern Families (Both Alike in Dignity)” on YouTube here. As a way inside their characters’ heads, using this trope with which they are so familiar was both intuitive and fun.

Josh Cabat is the Chair of English of the Roslyn, NY Public Schools. He was the co-founder of the NYC Student Shakespeare Festival, and is currently a Teaching Artist at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He is an alumnus of the Folger TSI from 1993, and earned his MA in English Literature from the University of Chicago and his BA in English Literature from Columbia University.

Josh has previously written for Folger Education in his post Vindication: Coriolanus and the Modern Audience.

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During this month’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute, some of our Summer Scholars have chosen to blog their experiences on their own sites, and have given permission to share some of them here. Today we’ll look back on yesterday’s very full day of activities with Greta Brasgalla:

And we are back for another week!  Today was a bit strange because we had lectures all day including an extra one in the evening.

Morning Lecture:  David Schalkwyk on The Sonnets

David is the epitome of the Shakespearean professor–suit, tie, errant hair, and British accent.  In short, completely charming to listen to.  He discussed the sonnets and some of the themes that are present.  He framed his lecture by saying his son was getting married and he wanted to read a sonnet at the wedding.  He soon discovered that none of them are appropriate.

Helen Vendler says that unlike a play, the lyric is empty of any particular voice.  Any person who speaks them, becomes them.

We learned the importance of pronouns in the sonnets.  For those of you who have no idea about this (as I did), here is a summary

  • thee and thou are used for close family, for God, and from Master to servant
  • you is more formal
  • this is similar to the use of tu and usted in Spanish

As one looks through the sonnets ( we looked at 13, 57, 58, 121, 135, 126) you see Shakespeare making use of these pronouns to emphasize his intimacy with the subject and his displeasure with their relationship.

Interesting fact:  The phrase “Do you love me?” is only used once in Shakespeare (the Tempest). “Dost thou love me?” is used many times.

Independent Research and Lunchtime Colloquium on LUNA database

We had some time after lecture to go into the Reading Room and begin research, or work with Stephen [Dickey] and Margaret [Maurer, two of TSI's resident instructing scholars] on EEBO (Early English Books Online).  Both of them really helped me find some items on my research topic:  Venice as another  “other” in Merchant and Othello.

At lunch, we learned about the LUNA database which is accessible to the public.  It hold digital images of everything the Folger has photographed over the years.  You can search “Hamlet” and find pics of costumes and renderings of productions as well as pics of the Folio.  Really great for showing your students different ways of staging a play.  Click on the link and check it out!

Curriculum Presentation:  Mary Ellen Dakin “Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults”

MaryEllen had us doing some video projects today using her idea of the relationship between the Literary/Theatrical/Cinematic connection.  MaryEllen calls this “transmediation.”

Our assignment was to film a scene, but add in scenes of us planning, expert advice, and other tidbits.  MaryEllen used the sample of Al Pacino’s “Looking for Richard” for this.  We filmed our scene and my friend Melanie did some speed editing on Moviemaker.

After dinner, we went back to the Folger for a great lecture by Ralph Cohen about the Blackfriars Theater.  Interesting that the seating in the BF was exactly the opposite of the Globe:  rich people were onstage and in the front of the theater to be seen.

A great day today made even better by the mild weather over here!

Greta heads the English Department at El Dorado Ninth Grade Academy in El Paso, TX.  She holds a Master of Arts degree in English and American Literature and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Theatre Arts from the University of Texas at El Paso, and now has 20 years of classroom experience.

Check back during the month of July for more “TSI Experiences” from participants and staff!

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When he wrote  “Home Thoughts from Abroad” in April 1845, Robert Browning yearned to be back home in England. But in the spring and summer of 2012, Shakespeare lovers might yearn to be in England  because Shakespeare is blooming everywhere.

As part of the Cultural Olympiad, the London 2012 Festival features more Shakespeare than has ever been assembled anywhere.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is hosting the World Shakespeare Festival which features a celebration of Shakespeare as the world’s playwright with over 50 arts organizations and thousands of UK and international artists,  thousands of teachers and young people, seventy productions and exhibitions, plus events and activities, right across the UK and online. The RSC estimates that one million tickets will be on sale, so if you get to England, you’re sure to see tons of Shakespeare.

The Folger will be represented at the RSC’s Worlds Together, an international conference exploring the value of Shakespeare and the arts in young people’s lives. The conference, held at London’s Tate Modern, runs from Thursday September 6 to Saturday September 8.

Meanwhile at Shakespeare’s Globe, one can see 37 plays in 37 languages in six weeks. Their Globe to Globe program began in April and runs until June 9. Some of the more unusual choices are Romeo and Juliet in Brazilian Portuguese,  The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew, and The Taming of the Shrew in Urdu. According to the Globe, if you’re prepared to stand, you can see every play of Shakespeare’s, each in a different language, for only £100.

Shakespeare: Staging the World is on at the British Museum from July 19  to  November 25. According to the museum, “the exhibition provides a unique insight into the emerging role of London as a world city, seen through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays. It also explores the pivotal role of the playhouse as a window to the world outside London, and the playwright’s importance in shaping a new sense of national identity.” Find out more about the exhibition and book your tickets here.

But what about those of us who can’t get to England?

Well, summertime is always outdoor Shakespeare time, so check out those productions in your local area.

Starting in June, BBC television will air new versions of four history plays – Richard II, both parts of Henry IV and Henry V. All four were directed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes and feature Jeremy Irons, Julie Walters, Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey) and John Hurt. Those of us in the US may eventually get them via PBS, though no date has yet been set.

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A new version of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Alan Brown, and featuring an all-male cast,  is sure to become an important film adaptation of this play. Private Romeo will be shown in New York City at the Cinema Village Theatre on E. 12th Street on Friday, February 10th.  If you’re in New York City on the 10th, you should get to the theatre and see it.  The film is suitable for high school students.  It is sure to provoke intense discussion of the play as well as the age-old motifs of love at first sight and all of the implications that come with it.

The film features Matt Doyle and Seth Numrich (War Horse, Lincoln Center run) as two military school students restricted to base, along with a few of their comrades, on a weekend when their fellow cadets go away on a training exercise.  The cadets who remain on base are assigned to continue reading Romeo and Juliet, and the film unfolds from there, with Doyle and Numrich taking on the title roles.  Director Brown has edited the text to a tight 92 minutes, and keeps the vitality of Shakespeare’s language intact. 

Private Romeo (Trailer) from The Film Collaborative on Vimeo.

The film will provide teachers with a number of teachable moments, not only about the language of Shakespeare’s play, but also about his observation that “the course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1.1.136).  The film’s conclusion is sure to prompt debate among viewers.

What films of Shakespeare’s plays have you seen that have generated discussion in class? What’s been the focus of that conversation?

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~by Josh Cabat

Vindication.

That’s the word that kept going through my mind as I sat and watched Ralph Fiennes’ film adaptation of Coriolanus. It’s not so much that the movie will stand among the greatest attempts to put Shakespeare on film, which it surely will. For me, it went much deeper. This is an unloved play, and with good reason; it is a play with no clear moral center, a political tragedy in which all sides are unattractive and which features the most unlikable “hero” in all of Shakespeare. No less an authority than Stephen Booth summed up the general feeling when he said to me, “I don’t know how anybody could love that play.”

But I do, because it’s the play that made me a Shakespeare person. Like many, I didn’t particularly care for Shakespeare in high school. Perhaps it was being forced to sit through an audio recording of Burton’s Hamlet for four days. When I was asked to read it in college, I had never even heard of it. I was immediately and deeply struck by the sheer modernity of the play; aside from the language, and the antiquity of the setting, it felt as though it had been written yesterday. My high school teachers had tried to tell me that Shakespeare was relevant, but I wasn’t buying; Coriolanus finally showed me that this was so, and changed the direction of my career.

Fiennes’ adaptation, a remarkable directorial debut, confirms what I first felt in college. It was almost redundant of him to update the setting of the play, since the connections to modern times are plain to see in the text. That said, the contemporary setting presses the point home most effectively. In the end, I’ve always believed that there was a reason that Shakespeare essentially abandoned tragedy after this play. In playing out these personal and political difficulties to their logical conclusions, it’s as though he realized that these were knots so complex that they could never be untied. Is it any wonder, then, that he subsequently moved on to a genre where the thorniest of problems could be solved with a simple wave of a magic wand?

I have great hope that this brilliant film will deservedly bring the play more into the mainstream. Coriolanus is indeed unlovable; that what makes it such a crucial work.

Josh Cabat is the Chair of English of the Roslyn, NY Public Schools. He was the co-founder of the NYC Student Shakespeare Festival, and is currently a Teaching Artist at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He is an alumnus of the Folger TSI from 1993, and earned his MA in English Literature from the University of Chicago and his BA in English Literature from Columbia University.

Coriolanus is currently playing in NY and LA, and will release for a wider run on January 20th. Will you and/or your students see it? Do you think there are more modern politics or references in Shakespeare’s canon? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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