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I wasn’t online when The Bard’s 400-year anniversary of death rolled around, but no matter, I’ve been reading Shakespeare for years. This New York Times obituary is lovely, and contains dozens of interesting tidbits. One of them: “of the six surviving signatures the great man himself left behind, not one is spelled Shakespeare.”
Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616, went largely unremarked by all but a few of his immediate contemporaries. There was no global shudder when his mortal remains were laid to rest in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. No one proposed that he be interred in Westminster Abbey near Chaucer or Spenser (where his fellow playwright Francis Beaumont was buried in the same year and where Ben Jonson would be buried some years later). No notice of Shakespeare’s passing was taken in the diplomatic correspondence of the time or in the newsletters that circulated on the Continent; no rush of Latin obsequies lamented the “vanishing of his breath,” as classical elegies would have it; no tributes were paid to his genius by his distinguished European contemporaries. Shakespeare’s passing was an entirely local English event, and even locally it seems scarcely to have been noted.
…Though Shakespeare’s theatrical artistry gave pleasure, it was not the kind of pleasure that conferred cultural distinction on those who savored it. He was the supreme master of mass entertainment, as accessible to the unlettered groundlings standing in the pit as to the elite ensconced in their cushioned chairs. His plays mingled high and low in a carnivalesque violation of propriety. He was indifferent to the rules and hostile to attempts to patrol the boundaries of artistic taste. If his writing attained heights of exquisite delicacy, it also effortlessly swooped down to bawdy puns and popular ballads.
Some of my favorite Shakespeare film adaptations:
- Hamlet (1996, Branagh)
- Throne of Blood (1957, Kurosawa)
- The Lion King (1994, Allers & Minkoff)
- Much Ado About Nothing (1993, Branagh)
- Richard III (1955, Olivier)
- Henry V (1989, Branagh)
- She’s The Man (2006, Fickman)
- Ran (1985, Kurosawa)
- Caesar Must Die (2012, Taviani)
- My Own Private Idaho (1991, Van Sant)
Yes, yes I know, I haven’t seen Chimes of Midnight or Godard’s King Lear. It is a crime, I know. Richard Brody would be ashamed.
Speaking of Richard Brody, I caught up with some of his writing in the past week. I particularly liked his work on on the writings of experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas and about liking a director’s later work because it represents the growth, if not the culmination, of a lifetime of creativity.
Sobering and scary investigation into the GOP’s gerrymandering efforts, and how it led the groundwork to splinter the party and probably can’t be fixed until the mid-2020s at earliest. Democracy was undermined systematically. One small nugget:
In Pennsylvania there are almost 1.1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans. In the 2008 Obama wave, Democrats took a 12–7 advantage. Republicans reversed it to 12–7 in the 2010 GOP wave — and then they locked in such advantageous new lines that their majority grew to 13–5 in 2012 — even as President Obama crushed Mitt Romney by some 310,000 votes, and despite 2.7 million votes for Democratic House candidates compared to only 2.6 million for Republican nominees. Democratic House candidates won 51 percent of the vote and only 28 percent of the seats.
Over his life, Joseph Frank wrote a five-volume biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky that I will never read and that is ranked as one of the finest achievements in literary biography in the past century. I came across his obituary. It’s a good read:
Joseph Frank, whose magisterial, five-volume life of Fyodor Dostoevsky was frequently cited among the greatest of 20th-century literary biographies, alongside Richard Ellmann’s of James Joyce, Walter Jackson Bate’s of John Keats and Leon Edel’s of Henry James, died on Wednesday in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 94 and lived in Palo Alto.
Adam Gopnik on Paul McCartney. There’s nothing new or even particularly interesting in the essay, but I like the way the sentences unspool:
Not long ago, on one of the Upper East Side avenues he haunts, Paul McCartney bumped into a woman (my wife, as it happens) who as a small child had seen him onstage and held her ears against the screaming, and, like every woman of her generation, has idolized him since. “I know you,” he said cheerily, and then, stepping forward, realized he didn’t. “I’m so sorry,” he said, at once. “I’m really sorry to intrude.” It must have been the first time in fifty years that McCartney had had to apologize for bugging someone on the street, rather than the other way around. That he still knew how to do it is a sign of his grace.
Reebok sold special edition Ripley shoes. Yup, Ripley, the feminist icon from the Alien franchise. But, oh! Just in men’s sizes.
Cool feature in The Hollywood Reporter about the Los Angeles Review of Books. I didn’t realize there was so much starpower reading it. The Chronicle of Higher Education feature on LARB is still my favorite.
Fantastic feature in Highline on Trump’s long history of slurring the military, and on the military’s relationship with presidential politics.
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