Shakespeare

Shakespeare and East Asia is one of the latest titles released in the Oxford Shakespeare Topics series. Edited by Stanley Wells and Peter Holland, the Oxford University Press series is pitched at the elusive general reader who is seeking a primer on one of the many topics proliferating within the bustling industry of Shakespeare studies. Written by one of the directors of the MIT Global Shakespeares Archive, this book invites readers to think about the significance of Shakespeare’s continuing influence on cultural production in the Far East, and how Asian adaptations of his corpus participate in creating a contested image of Asia for audiences both in the region and in the Anglophone West. Assembling a varied body of cinematic and theatrical reworkings of Shakespeare from countries like Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, Joubin tells a story about Asian Shakespeares that is also a story about how a particular region has negotiated the imperatives of globalisation and the tacit anglicising effects of global culture.

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Macbeth 

Melbourne Opera
by
24 May 2021

As the third Verdi opera on offer in Melbourne this season (along with Opera Australia’s Aida and Ernani), Melbourne Opera’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth at Her Majesty’s Theatre is a mixed offering. Verdi wrote Macbeth ­– one of his earliest operas and less celebrated than his later Shakespearean works, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893) – when he was thirty-three; it had its première in Florence in 1847. Both musically and dramatically, it is clearly rooted in the bel canto era, which prioritised beautiful singing above all else. In 1865, Verdi revised the opera for the Paris Opera. Usually, one version or the other is performed; however, this performance saw an amalgamation of the two. This creation of a new version of Verdi’s work might be considered either innovative or musicologically messy. Regardless, it further complicates the relationship between source work and adaptation that is, for better or worse, always at play in Shakespeare-based opera.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream 

Adelaide Festival
by
01 March 2021

Comparisons can be odious, odorous, even otiose. Yet while I have lost count of the number of takes on Shakespeare’s play I have seen over the years – theatre, ballet, modern dance, knockabout collages of dance, movement and music, and opera – five stay in the memory. In the order in which I saw them, they are: the first revival at Sadler’s Wells in the mid-1960s of Britten’s 1960 opera, which marked the beginning of James Bowman’s stellar career; Max Reinhardt’s 1935 film; Peter Brook’s version of the play, which redefined it for not just one but several generations; Elijah Moshinsky’s powerfully evocative take on the opera from 1978 (also starring Bowman); and Declan Donnellan’s inspired and laugh-out-loud shaking up of the work for the Donmar Warehouse in the mid-1980s.

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January 5

We have lost our Hermia, so Sally-Anne Russell comes round to sing for me. She has fished out Benjamin Britten’s Charm of Lullabies and her score of The Rape of Lucretia. We work on both, but particularly on the aria in which poor Lucretia threads together gorgeous lilies into a funeral wreath, her response to what the boastful, ghastly Tarquinius has done to her. Sally-Anne has not sung the opera for twenty-five years, but it sounds as though she’s fresh from recording it, so inside the role is she, so beautiful and rich her voice. I phone Neil Armfield. We have found our Hermia.

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In an early episode of the cult Canadian television series Slings & Arrows (2003), the director of the ‘Burbage Festival’ finds himself addressing a corporate audience, forced to teach management strategy through Shakespeare: ‘Do any of you seriously believe that you’re going to sell more plastics products to the construction industry by studying, say, the crisis management techniques of Claudius?’ Fortunately, Scott Newstok wouldn’t be answering that question in the affirmative. His How to Think Like Shakespeare doesn’t strain analogies or instrumentalise Shakespeare’s plays and characters to make Shakespeare seem relevant to patently unrelated contexts; rather, it explores both Shakespeare’s thinking and the ‘educational assumptions that shaped Shakespeare’ (since these frequently differ from our own system of education). At the heart of this book is Newstok’s conviction that ‘education must be about thinking – not training a set of specific skills’. After all, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

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The figure of the child stands at both ends of human experience in Shakespeare’s plays. The span between our ‘mewling and puking’ infancy and our ‘second childishness’ of old age runs to little more than a dozen lines in Jacques’s famous ‘seven ages of man’ speech in As You Like It, before we slip into ‘mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’ In the intervening years, our identity as children might shift as we undergo rites of passage into adulthood, as our relationships with our own parents evolve or as we become parents ourselves. But the child – the archetype of our essential nature – waits patiently for our return. Even Lear, the grand patriarch who disowns the truth-speaking child of his heart, must be racked on the fiery wheel of experience before he can become the ‘child-changed father’ Cordelia recognises in the end.

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Macbeth 

West Australian Opera
by
21 October 2019

In a much-cited letter to Francesco Maria Piave, his librettist for Macbeth, Verdi wrote, ‘This tragedy is one of the greatest creations of the human spirit. If we can’t do something great with it, let us at least try to do something out of the ordinary.’ As it happens, they did do something laudable with the Scottish Play ...

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Titus Andronicus 

Bell Shakespeare
by
02 September 2019

What can you do with Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, a play full of murder, mutilation, and rape, culminating in a mother eating a pie filled with her sons’ ground-up body parts? For centuries it was dismissed as the early aberration of a genius, a sop to the bloodthirst of Elizabethan audiences ...

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Ben Jonson famously derided Shakespeare’s grasp of ‘small Latin and less Greek’, and vocal sceptics in our own time refuse to believe that a grammar-school education was sufficient to enable the man from Stratford to write the plays attributed to ‘Shakespeare’ ...

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There is much conjecture around the concept of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’; critics disagree not only on the strict meaning of the term – F.S. Boas saw them as works that used a protagonist’s dramatic situation to illustrate a social problem, while Ernest Schanzer insists they turn on an ethical dilemma ...

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