#Covfefe … or ‘President Trump and Shakespeare are more alike than you might think’

“This morning, I was completely covfefe’d. I arrived for a training session at one location, but didn’t realise the training had been moved to a different part of town. Oops!”

See what I did there? I used a word that didn’t exist 24 hours ago, and you probably understood what I meant by it. Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, has created a word, and now everyone is using it. Sure, we don’t *actually* have an exact meaning for that word at this precise moment in time, but Twitter, Urban Dictionary, and keyboard warriors world-wide are working on that, and I predict that ‘covfefe’ will be a word that we hear more of in the future.

CoverKnow who else created loads of new words that people had never heard of, but that we now use all the time in everyday conversation? William Shakespeare, a guy from 17th-century England who was (depending on your opinion) either the world’s greatest playwright, or the man we have to blame for making us suffer through never-ending plays where everyone wanders round in disguise, talks to ghosts, and takes an absolute age to die (Romeo Montague, I’m looking at you!).

Let’s face it, Shakespeare’s plays aren’t the easiest things to read – they have way more than 140 characters, there are some really weird words in there that we don’t use now, and the film adaptations your English teacher shows you are most probably ancient, with bad lighting and hideous makeup and special effects. … And people talking really… really… really slowly, so the whole thing sucks up hours of your life that you can’t get back.

CoverWhen it’s that hard to read his plays, you might be asking yourself a few questions: Why’s this guy so famous? Why do people think he’s such a great playwright (that’s the fancy name for an author who writes plays instead of books)? Who reads plays, anyway? and Why do I need to read this when it has nothing to do with real life in 2017?! I asked lots of those same questions myself, because studying Shakespeare every year of high school was about as fun as gouging my eyes out with a rusty spoon. (OK, fine, I haven’t actually tried that to see just how much fun it is, but I can imagine it probably isn’t too far off hearing the Bard’s words mangled by teenage girls and desperately trying to stay awake as the teacher made us analyse every. single. word. and discuss exactly why this actor had to exit on this side of the stage and not that side).

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But … SPOILER … Shakespeare was a really cool guy! He actually wanted his audiences to enjoy his plays, he invented loads of new words that we still use today, and his plays are like the soap operas of today – 1600s Shortland Street, if you will. He wrote some really cool stories about love, life, lust … and loss … and he wanted us, his audience, to have fun with his plays, and escape from their normal, everyday life. He wanted us to get caught up in the murders and passion and insanity so that we forget about the normal, boring, everyday things like homework, looking after your annoying family members, or the fact you’ve just broken up with the love of your life.

HE DIDN’T WANT US TO BE BORED SENSELESS!

So, how can we make Shakespeare more fun? Easy. Basically whatever type of book you like to read, there will be something to do with Shakespeare that it will be easier to read than the plays you’re doing at school.

Graphic novels are like watching a movie on a page. You can look at the pictures, which makes it so much easier to work out what’s actually going on.

CoverThere are pick-a-path versions of his plays where you put yourself in to the story, and choose what happens. Want to play Hamlet as a girl? Do it. Want to turn Romeo and Juliet into aliens and send them off to a distant planet? Do it. Want to cause a zombie invasion or apocalypse and just end the story early? Guess what, do it. Because you can. You can even follow the story the same way Shakespeare wrote it, if you want to.

Learn how to swear and insult people, or find out more about the gross, stinky, and ugly parts of Shakespearian life with some informative non-fiction.

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Prefer to read on your device? Not a problem. There’s a whole series of eBooks that at retell his plays in normal language so they actually make sense. And they’re written by authors who write normal books, so they’re heaps easier to read.

If you prefer reading fictional, made-up stories, there are heaps that have Will as a character, or are based around his life and plays. Some of these have more Shakespeare in them than others, but there could be something that you like the look of, so have a look at them and see what there is. I wouldn’t quote these in your NCEA exam, but you could still learn some interesting facts.

The last, and quite possibly best, way to get excited about Shakespeare – Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show)! Christchurch’s own Court Theatre is putting on a show of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a video game, and it looks A. MA. ZING! We’ve been chatting to The Court Theatre about this show and it sounds like a must-see.

If you hate Shakespeare, go see it – it has action and guns! If you love Shakespeare, go see it – it’s Hamlet! If you need to take someone on a date, go see it – it’s the theatre, but it’s also a video game! Seriously, guys, this show sounds like it is going to have something for everyone.

Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) is on at The Court Theatre from June 3 to June 24, and tickets are only $24. I reckon that sounds like a bargain for this show. I can’t wait to see it!

New titles on Access Video

Access Video LogoDo you find that appealing offerings on TV are rather meagre these days? If so, why not check out Access Video?

Access Video is one of our many eResources. It gives you access to thousands of streaming world-class documentaries, award-winning educational films, and helpful instructional videos on every known subject. The videos can be watched as a whole or just in  segments. Some titles even have transcripts so you can read along if your hearing is impaired.

The library has recently added over 100 new titles to this collection. Although most are about some aspect of American life, there are many of interest to those of us Down Under.

They include a group about dance theatre, mainly set in New York, e.g.:

  • David Rousseve, Part 1 and Part 2, which include some of his work and interviews
  • Douglas Dunn & Jim Neu #1, which pokes fun at at America’s obsession with health clubs
  • Jeff McMahon & Brian Webb, a multi-disciplinary work that looks at the issue of intimacy in the age of AIDS
  • Sosua: Make a Better World, which tells the story of Jewish and Dominican teenagers in New York City’s Washington Heights, who together with the legendary theatre director, Liz Swados, put on a musical about the Dominican rescue of 800 Jews from Hitler’s Germany.

There are also many on important social issues, such as

  • Loose Change, which challenges the official record of September 11, 2001
  • Trump: What’s the Deal? which investigates the reality behind this most public of figures
  • Chernobyl’s Café: Chernobyl is emerging as a popular tourist destination, with local industry on the rise
  • My Jihad, a film about the growing number of young Muslims from all over Europe who are leaving their home towns to fight for ISIS
  • Football Hell, where it is alleged that 4,000 workers will die in Qatar to put on the 2022 Football World Cup
  • Allow Me to Die, which follows the stories of two Belgians considering assisted suicide, exploring the moral difficulties behind the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world
  • Abortion: Ancient and Modern, which explores the ethical, legal and religious dimensions of the abortion debate
  • Reflections on Media Ethics, which includes in-depth discussions with renowned filmmakers, journalists and academics, and interviews with Noam Chomsky, Albert Maysles, George Stoney, Amy Goodman, Jon Alpert and Mary Warnock

And for the Shakespeare fans or newbies, there is The Tempest (S1), presenting the Bard’s work as an animated masterpiece.

So instead of shaking your head in dismay at what’s on the box, try out Access Video – all you need to access it is your library card number and PIN/password.

The play’s the thing – 400 years since the death of Shakespeare

On 23 April 2016 it will be 400 years since William Shakespeare died. He is believed to have been born on 23 April 1564. Certainly in the English language, few writers will have left such a legacy as this most celebrated of playwrights.

Shakespeare

As an actor as well as a playwright he performed his own material, and in the four centuries following his death this material has continued to be performed, reinterpreted and reimagined in a huge variety of ways. His language can seem impenetrable, at least at first, but its richness, uncanny relevance, profundity and humour make it all worthwhile.

Some of his plays are performed with great regularity – who hasn’t seen a fluffy version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in some lovely gardens on a pleasant summer evening? (No, MSND is not one of my favourites) Others are far more obscure – King John, anyone?

Very broadly speaking Shakespeare wrote comedies (eg As You Like It), histories (Henry V) and tragedies (Hamlet). Yet a good number of the plays cannot be easily pigeonholed, for example Troilus and Cressida and The Winter’s Tale. As Polonius says:

The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.

Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2.

As for my favourite Shakespeare? Hard to say – I find Troilus and Cressida fascinating and wish I could have seen the Te Reo Māori version at the 2012 International Shakespeare Festival in London. I love Richard III – a masterful and still influential piece of Tudor propaganda that works just as well played for comedy as deadly serious. Who cannot love Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing – a star truly did dance when she was created.

It’s so hard to choose – Macbeth is so fast paced and profound, and as for Hamlet. Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act 4, Scene 4 might just be my favorite piece of his writing – but what about Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2:

Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?                                                                                         Was ever woman in this humour won?

Exit pursued by a bear.

What’s your favourite Shakespeare?

Brush up on your Shakespeare

#shakespeare400 tweets

Ngaio Marsh and Shakespeare

There’s a Ngaio Marsh birthday party event at Christ’s College Old Boys Theatre this Sunday 24 April. The event is a fundraiser for the Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust, and includes wine, nibbles, and a talk on crime fiction by Professor Ken Strongman. Find out more on the Ngaio Marsh birthday event on Facebook.

Crime writer and theatre director Ngaio Marsh’s actual birth date is 23 April, and she shared a birthday with Shakespeare. It’s doubly appropriate – as her production of Shakespeare’s plays were widely acclaimed. This is Ngaio as Hamlet …

Baverstock, William Sykes, 1893-1975. Ngaio Marsh - Photograph taken by W S Baverstock. Dacres-Mannings, J :Photographs relating to Dame Ngaio Marsh. Ref: PAColl-0326-09. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23167157

If you want to find out more about Ngaio and Shakespeare, I recommend the splendid Inaugural Ngaio Marsh lecture – it was given on 22 April 2012 by Elric J. Hooper, MBE who appeared in several of Dame Ngaio Marsh’s acclaimed Shakespeare shows. He explains how they met (pages 10 and 11):

Three years later, in 1956, I was appearing in a student revue in the Civic Theatre and Gerald Lascelles told me that Ngaio Marsh and Charles Brash wanted to meet me. I went up to the empty stage after the performance. Two figures were standing there. The man was reticent. The woman was flamboyant. She was dressed in a handsome, three-quarter length seal skincoat. She was wearing a grey woollen skirt – not trousers. Her hair was wildly dressed. She smoked a cigarette. She asked me what I had been doing. Said Macbeth.
“Not the thane!” she said in alarm.
“No, A lord. Lennox.” I said putting her at her ease.
She mentioned that she was about to direct Lear.
A few weeks later, I auditioned for Ngaio. I was chosen to play the Fool in King Lear.
It was a memorable production with Mervyn Glue as the King, salivating so copiously that looking up into the lights one did not have to imagine the rain and storm. The costumes and set were blue grey. The set was a curved podium which a descending ramp on one side and steps down the other. In the centre was a kind of shelter for hovel. It worked extremely well.

Cast of Hamlet. Marsh, Ngaio :Photographs of theatrical productions. Ref: PA1-q-173-73-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23074208

His summary of Ngaio as Shakespearean director is a good one (page 10):

One of the great features of Ngaio’s Shakespeare were the moments that can only be described as “Theatrical.” Hamlet, at the end of the speech which concluded the first part, “The play’s the thing whereby I’ll catch the conscience of the King,” threw the loose sheets of the play in the air and stood there while the leaves descended around him. In Julius Caesar, hands were bathed in blood. In Lear, the eyes were ripped out.

Hamlet, produced by the University of Canterbury Drama Society and performed at the Civic Theatre [11 July 1958] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0039
Hamlet, produced by the University of Canterbury Drama Society and performed at the Civic Theatre [11 July 1958] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0039

More about Ngaio Marsh

Three New Zealanders: Ngaio Marsh

#shakespeare400 tweets

Shakespearean Spinach – Auckland Writers Festival and beyond

Cover of Shakespeare Saved My Life, by Laura BatesIt’s tricky to write anything new about a man born 450 years ago, tricky to sum up what an impact he’s had on the world with words, just words. After thousands and thousands of adaptations and spin offs, it seems there’s always more to say and always a new angle to take. That’s why I’m fascinated to see what they have to say about Shakespeare in the Auckland Writers Festival free session: Shakespearean Spinach. Notre Dame University professor Peter Holland will be talking about what Popeye, the Dude, R2-D2 and Quentin Tarantino have to do with Shakespeare. If you’re in Auckland for the festival, come alone to this free session and find out!

Closer to home, see who else is coming to the WORD Christchurch events in May, or if you need a Shakespearean fix right away, head along to the Canterbury Repertory Theatre’s production of Richard the Third on till March 28th. 

Or even closer to home (in fact you don’t even have to leave your home) you can join in with the Big Library Read and read Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard, on till April the 1st.

There are hundreds of books in our collection on the topic of Cover of Shakespeare: The Bard's Guide to Abuses and AffontsShakespeare, and even more in our e-book collection, including an incredibly valuable resource of insults, Shakespeare: The Bard’s Guide to Abuses and Affronts, available through Overdrive.

You can also kick back with Naxos Video Library’s collection of Shakespearean plays, which you can stream through library computers or at home with a library card and PIN.

Then you can search our catalogue for Shakepearean DVDs, graphic novels, audiobooks, and so much more

This is only brushing the surface of everything the library can offer when it comes to Shakespeare, as we can only really brush the surface of the impact he’s made on the world. On a personal note I, for one, probably wouldn’t exist at all without him, because my parents met through a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That starts off a train of thought about the countless number of connections people have made with each other through Shakespeare over the last centuries. Do you have any serendipitous connections in your life relating to the Bard of Avon?

A Midwinter Christchurch’s Dream of Shakespeare 基督城冬季的莎士比亚之梦

Cover of ShakespeareWith 23 April 2014 marking the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare‘s birth, the Court Theatre is celebrating the Bard by bringing the midsummer heat into our Christchurch winter!

It is currently staging one of Shakespeare’s most imaginative and magical plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and, fittingly, it is presenting it in a unique conception.

Talented Chinese actors from Peking University’s Institute of World Theatre and the Court Theatre’s favourite Kiwi actors are performing together to interpret this masterpiece. The result promises to be a fascinating blend of their individual creative approaches.

Not being an expert on Shakespeare myself, I thought I’d translate and paraphrase part of a poem written by a brilliant Chinese poet (王佐良 1916-1995)33 years ago:

Shakespeare, with open mind and heart, absorbs one’s charisma,  莎士比亚, 你的心胸坦荡荡吸收这个的俊逸,

Imitates the other’s wildness, 模仿那个的开阔,

To write touching plays, 只要能写出动人的诗剧,

Lets emotions on stage fuel up flames, 让感情在舞台上燃成烈火,

More eternal than fire. 但又比火永恒.

The fate of many characters became the subject of deep thoughts: 多少人物的命运留下了长远思索的命题:

A young intellectual’s confusion, 一个青年知识分子的困惑,

An elderly father’s moaning in the wilderness, 一个老年父亲在荒野的悲啼,

A warrior husband’s love and paranoia, 一个武士丈夫的钟情和多疑,

Another warrior’s awakening at the edge of life, 另一个武士在生命边缘的醒悟,

Made many travellers stop by, 都曾使过往岁月的无数旅人停步,

Searching for the path of life again. 重新寻找人生的道路.

Do you agree with this assessment? Do you think it reflects Shakespeare’s work accurately? What changes do you envisage Chinese actors will bring to the feel of this special staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

 Cover of A Midsummer Night's DreamP.S. Given the multicultural nature of this performance, I thought you might enjoy seeing the following translations of “William Shakespeare” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in different languages.

Chinese:   莎士比亚  –  仲夏夜之梦

Māori:   Rurutao   –  Te Wawata o te Pō Raumati

Korean:   윌리암 셰익스피어  –  한 여름 밤의 꿈

Japanese:   ウィリアム・シェイクスピア  –  夏の夜の夢

I particularly like the fact that Shakespeare translates in Māori as “to stab at one’s emotions” – if you do speak another language, do feel free to share with us how Shakespeare’s name and A Midsummer Night’s Dream have been translated in it.

Making the most of the New Zealand International Film Festival

The Christchurch leg of the New Zealand International Film Festival has just recently finished. While I may be a little late with this blog there are ways to keep engaging with festival entrants. I am certainly going to be keeping my eyes peeled to see if some of the films I missed get a general release, are purchased for the library’s DVD collection or come to Alice in Videoland. The programme  is currently still available online, and the festival is still going on in other parts of the country.

A number of festival films were adapted from books –  this listing is a very handy resource if you want to find details of the books they were based on. For further inspiration, the library website has a list of upcoming film and TV adaptations  and a huge list of books that have previously been filmed.

Cover of What Maisie KnewSlightly overwhelmed by choice I ended up going to two films right at the end of the festival. I had been rather put off Henry James by the 1997 version of The Wings of the Dove, but the combination of Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan and Alexander Skarsgård tempted me along to What Maisie Knew.

This was a well crafted film, directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, about a young girl, Maisie, caught in the middle of her parents’ bitter split. The film is quite literally told from Maisie’s point of view (a wonderful performance from Onata Aprile) with the adults in her life appearing and disappearing, and by turn loving her, abandoning her and using her as a bargaining tool.

Cover of Much Ado about NothingI was also part of a large audience who appeared to thoroughly enjoy Joss Whedon’s elegant take on Much Ado About Nothing. Featuring Whedon regulars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as Beatrice and Benedick and filmed in atmospheric black and white, it was shot in 12 days at Whedon’s own Santa Monica house.

This was a confident, hilarious and slightly sozzled modern dress version of Shakespeare’s popular romantic, but slightly sinister, comedy (Shakespeare must have invented the rom-com, right?). Also appearing were Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk as incompetent crime fighters Dogberry and Verges.

What did you see at the film festival? What do you hope to catch up with at a later date? What films (or TV shows) have inspired you to read the book?

A book of genius!

If you’ve been inspired by the recent Shakespeare in the ParkAll Men of Genius book cover, or you’re a big fan of Oscar Wilde, try this wee gem of a book. All Men of Genius, by Lev AC Rosen, is a gorgeous mash-up of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (my favourite!), and Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with a big dollop of steampunky Victorian goodness thrown in.

Don’t be misled by the slightly age-inappropriate cover, this is a great read for grown-ups (although older teens would enjoy it too), with its blend of romance, adventure, and steampunky science.  Plus, there’s automatons, cross-dressing and a selection of quite risque inventions …  All Men of Genius is one of those books that I read with a great big goofy grin on my face, and I am now eagerly waiting to see if first-time novelist Rosen has anything else on the way.

Matinee idols and opera stars

photoDid you ever wonder what our forebears did for amusement? Was early Christchurch a cultural wasteland, bare of entertainment apart from the male preserve of the pub? Surprisingly the answer is no. There was a Theatre Royal in various guises from 1863, which hosted both amateur and professional theatricals.

A quick look through Papers Past reveals visits from such luminaries as English actress Mrs Scott Siddons in 1877 and opera diva Nellie Melba in 1903.

1905 bought something a bit different in the form of the Giantess Abomah known as the Amazon Giantess and the African Giantess, who traveled all over the world as the tallest woman in the world.

Hilda Spong star of screen and stage performed in 1912.

In 1914 a rather dishy matinee idol Julius Knight starred in A Royal Divorce.

There were in addition various Shakespearian plays, as well as musical productions by local opera societies and touring companies. Gilbert and Sullivan musicals were popular, along with choral recitals and the occasional full blown opera. There seem to have been several opera societies on the go – The Christchurch Opera Society was reborn several times, and The Christchurch Amateur Opera Society and Sydenham Opera Society seem to be operating at the same time.

At times the theatre was as heavily booked as we are used to it being, leaving no gaps between different performing groups. Nor did the Theatre Royal have the show all to itself. In 1879 for example, both the Gaiety Theatre and the Oddfellows Hall were also running shows, as this advertisement demonstrates. Even Lyttelton got in on the act, although their entertainments are a little harder to decipher from this distance.

Not too bad for a small town at the bottom of the world.

Hamlet by any other name

Someone lent me this book: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and when I returned it I said: I love modern adaptations of Shakespeare. Said friend looked blank. I said: It’s Hamlet. She looked even blanker…sigh. Obviously schools aren’t  doing their bit to keep the Bard alive and well. And no, I am not being old and crusty. One of my most surprising experiences in teaching was constantly finding that kids LOVE Shakespeare. Juniors and Seniors. Boys and girls. Especially with all the wonderful film versions around today. Who could fail to fall in love with Leonardo di Caprio in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet? Who could fail to thrill to Ian McKellen’s Richard the Third. A good story is a good story is a good story.

But to get back to the book: Edgar Sawtelle is recommended by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Normally this wouldn’t do much to impress me, but I was reading the other day on Wikipedia that Oprah Winfrey is considered by some to be a serious American academic intellectual because of her book club’s impact on the reading public. She is gauged to have up to 100 times more power to sell books than any other media personality. How Wikipedia manages to confuse intellectual grunt with media clout and marketing ability is beyond me (It’s my own fault for reading Wikipedia in the first place.)

But Edgar Sawtelle is an entertaining version of the timeless tale of a bloke who can’t decide what to do, transplanted into 1960s heartland America. Edgar is a young man who can’t speak. His parents aren’t royal, but they are famous for the dogs they breed – Sawtelle dogs. It’s a happy nuclear family, until Uncle Claude arrives in his Impala. Ha – any good story needs a villain. Except no-one knows exactly how villainous Claude is, until Edgar sees his father’s ghost appear in the rain to show him he was murdered, not felled by a brain aneurysm as everyone thought.

Edgar then spends a lot of time trying to decide what to do. But it is even harder for him than Hamlet, because he is only a child. Luckily there is no Ophelia to confuse him. And it takes another death, by his own hand, to force his hand and drive him out into the wilderness. The real wilderness, not the fevered brain of the adult Hamlet. 

My friend said she was disappointed that Edgar dies at the end. But as I pointed out, a Shakespearean tragedy can end no other way. See, if you know your Shakespeare, you don’t get upset at the ending. I knew there was a point to learning that stuff.