Wednesday, April 24, 2013
HAPPY BARD DAY
Was ever an artist more open to radical interpretations of his work—and in so many media—as William Shakespeare?
All of life is encompassed in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, which continue to inspire and influence creative artists 400+ years later. I'm a day late for his official birthday, but there's still time to share some of my favorite interpretations of Shakespeare's life and times, as well as adaptations of his work.
Romeo and Juliet (film, 1968)
From the heyday of the hippie era, Franco Zeffirelli's luscious teenage romance (starring luscious teenagers Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey) could not have been more contemporary—although set in an utterly ravishing Renaissance Verona.
It helps—hell, it's almost essential—to have seen this as an impressionable 16-year-old girl, as I was. I wrote a lot of awful love poetry for a few weeks afterward, and produced this brooding watercolor and India ink composition. (Long on atmosphere, although sort of an architectural disaster...) But this is the thing abut Shakespeare—you get so caught up in the drama you can't help chiming in!
Shakespeare In Love (film, 1999)
Don't mistake this for a history lesson, kids. But do enjoy it as a rollicking romantic comedy that imagines two weeks in the life of young Will Shakespeare whilst writing his first great play.
With crisp comic direction by John Madden, a sparkling script co-written by Tom Stoppard, a delightful supporting cast (Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Rupert Everett) and all the raucous pageantry of the Elizabethan Age, it's a frisky comedy and a wry meditation on art, life and the creative impulse.
Ink & Steel (novel, Elizabeth Bear, 2008)
This first book in "The Stratford Man Duology" (coupled with the equally exquisite Hell & Earth), by sci-fi/fantasy writer Elizabeth Bear, envisions an extra-teeming Elizabethan England in league with the underground world of Faery to suppress the forces of Dark Magic.
Will Shakespeare is pressed into service to work protective magic into his verse as a reluctant, but brilliant replacement for verse-master Christopher Marlowe, recently deceased—but newly resurrected in Faery. A triumph of poetry, audacious eroticism, tenderness, and unfettered imagination.
The Tempest (San Francisco Ballet, 1981)
The jewel in the crown from Michael Smuin's tenure as Artistic Director of SFB, this lavish full-length ballet based on Shakespeare's last play has it all—Smuin choreography, a lovely original musical score by Paul Chihara, sprightly humor, wistful melancholy, and enough pageantry and spectacle to make Shakespeare himself weep with delight.
Best of all it has the incredible David McNaughton as the least earthbound Ariel you will ever see without special effects!
I'm sure this must be available on DVD (it was televised on Dance in America on PBS in the '80s), and it's well worth tracking down. I was lucky enough to see it live on stage at least two or three times, and it was magical every single time.
Hey, remember what I said about diverse media! Okay, I'm a big fan of Tarot decks, and this is one of my favorites. I especially love the artwork by Cynthia von Buhler—simple, yet effective. And I like the way author A. Bronwyn Llewellyn matches up Shakespearean characters with the Major Arcana.
Sure, Shakespeare himself as The Magician, Feste as the Fool, and Romeo and Juliet as The Lovers are no-brainers. But Katharina and Petruchio, from Taming of the Shrew—together—as the Strength card, and Puck as The Devil are unexpectedly clever!
But wait! I didn't even mention Christopher Moore' comic novel, Fool, a hilarious, lewd, yet strangely poignant riff on King Lear. Or Neil Gaiman's outstanding A Midsummer Night's Dream, a graphic novel from his landmark Sandman series (collected in Sandman Volume Three; Dream Country), in which Shakespeare's acting company performs The Dream outdoors on a moonlit night for an audience of genuine fairy royalty and their court.
Well, I could go on and on, and I'm sure you could too. the point is, Shakespeare leaves us an inexhaustibly rich legacy that continues to morph, mutate, and reinvent itself from one age, generation, and medium to the next. A legacy well worth celebrating—even one day late.