Sunday, December 11, 2011

Taking it in

Here comes another reflective post.  Well.
(at the risk of sounding like Shylock)

Final Project
This is where I give the rundown of how the Engaging Shakespeare event that my class put together went for me.  To be honest, I had two or three ideas of how I could share what was up during the process.  If you watch the documentary, you'll see me saying how I've never done any acting before, so this was all a new thing to me.  I am amazed at how well things worked out for the entire group that was involved in "Lovers of Shakespeare."  Even more, I'm amazed at how well I was able to accomplish the task at hand and still do really well.  We spent a lot of time on everything, but the entire process from concept to final production passed very quickly. There were several levels of learning and engaging Shakespeare that went into the above mentioned event.

Basically everything in this project was a new experience to me.  I had to cut my own script, deciding whether or not to stay true to what Shakespeare wrote for Biron's lines, or whether I wanted to outright show my own interpretation through the lines I picked.  In the end, it was a mix of both, which I believe happens any time a cut of Shakespeare's script happens.  I wanted Shakespeare's lines for Biron to show the heart of his relationship (or lack of one) with Rosaline, which I feel I accomplished quite well, especially with the help of Martina.
Where my script was originally drafted--my own notebook!

Martina and I (Rosaline and Biron, respectively in the play) met up a few times outside of class and even outside of normal rehearsal time in order to write our scripts and later practice them.  I work off campus and more than 20 hours a week (the limit for campus-employed students), so I usually don't have the most time for meetings like these, what with work and other homework.  However, I became increasingly excited about the mini play and what kind of learning experience it would be for me.  Relating back to personal aspects, I should mention that I'm a very hands on learner, I grasp things better with personal experience, it's how I truly internalize things.  Spending the extra time with Martina to make sure our script was top notch or afterward practicing lines was key to portraying Biron and Rosaline how they were supposed to in "Lovers of Shakespeare."

I'm not the first to say it (i.e. Martina and Averill), but I loved the six-person group for the mini play.  I'm a small group person, so this number was perfect for my personality in a sense of staying actively involved with everything.  Besides the natural chemistry that our group had together, on a more professional level, Averill really did an astounding job directing the mini play she headed up.  Although she stressed when the rest of us were just 'playing' around (apologies), the vision she had for the stage once we committed to what we wanted to convey.  Again tying back to a personal level, it was really nice to know my comments, suggestions, ideas, and interpretations were taken seriously, and often enough even adopted.  It was quite the process and fairly stressful for everybody to an extent, but when we finally converged on what we wanted to portray through the play, everything clicked and the acting and blocking were all that was left.  We were very ready at the end, thanks to personal and combined efforts.

Engaging Shakespeare:
On the week of the event, I had developed high expectations for everything.  I knew there wouldn't be over 100 people there, but I knew how much time had to go into each and every project.  I'm usually skeptical of getting my hopes or expectations up, but I made an exception for this occasion and was still surprised at how well received the event was.  My two friends/roommates that came vocalized afterward how pleasantly surprised they were at the caliber of the play.  They were expecting something somewhat cheesy and were happy to find a well done production.  I personally loved that the Daily Universe even got involved in it, with an article featuring our class's Shakespearean event night.
My blog idea page

Learning Outcomes
So as to not be repetitive, I shall first refer to my midpoint mile marker.  Feel free to read it now if you have time, otherwise just know I'm mostly just building on other aspects that may have not been fully delved into at the mid-semester point.

Gain Shakespeare Literacy
Earlier, I had more developed breadth and depth, which I have furthered by reading King Lear, a play I was unfamiliar with before this class.  Also, on a performance note, I watched the most recent version of The Tempest with some of my final group and enjoyed analyzing it throughout and after watching it.

Analyze Shakespeare Critically
I didn't end up sitting down and writing about any close reading I did about the play I cut (Love's Labour's Lost) for "Lovers of Shakespeare."  However, in the cutting, my acting partner and I did quite a bit of critical analyzing of what parts were necessary to our play.  Memorizing our selected lines was also supplemental to my learning and critical analyzing of Shakespeare for the final project.  I also was able to think about the other two couples' parts in the mini play and what traits of their relationship their actors and actresses chose to put forth. On a non-project level, I looked at names of characters in King Lear at an attempt to find correlations between their actions and given names.

Engage Shakespeare Creatively
In my case, this was the focus for the final project.  I was able to, through my final project, explore and experience the performing side of Shakespeare by being an actor for a short period of time.  Doing something completely new like this caused me to understand more personally the feel of (in our mini play's case) three Shakespearean couples dealing with love.  I know more how it feels to be one of those people I love watching when I attend events like the Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, Utah.  As a final note here, it feels really legitimizing to be a contributing part of every aspect of the creation of an original mini play.

Share Shakespeare Meaningfully
For my earlier self-analyzing post, I focused more on how I shared Shakespeare through my blog.  I've continued this, but I've also shared my most recent experiences with Shakespeare via other means which are a little more personal like word of mouth, Facebook posts and messages, emails, and even text messages to those who are closest to me.  I've often shared with a close friend of mine thoughts that have come up concerning blogging about Shakespeare, the final event, and the class as a whole.

In contrast to my jokingly made dramatic statement on my first blog post, I want everybody to know that

I love Shakespeare.

*note*: My sincere thanks to Dr. Burton, as his methods of involvement have helped me to better engage myself not only in just Shakespeare, but all aspects of life.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You can pick your blog, and you can pick your neighbors blog . . . wait

I think I messed up the analogy.

I have been MIA for the past while due to the wrap up of the semester and constant practices of the mini play I'm a part of, "Lovers of Shakespeare."  Okay, so constant sounds negative, as I'm actually really loving my experiences thus far with the production.

But that's not what I'm writing for right now.  It has come to a time where I must pick my two favorite blog posts, one of my own and one from the blog of a friend of mine.  I'll cut the chatter and just post them here.

If I could, I'd say my entire series of analyzing The Merchant of Venice, but I must pick one.  I choose this one despite it being fairly early in my blogging life.  This post is virtually when I first found myself finally connecting my thoughts with what I was experiencing, and being able to concisely put it in a blog post.  I don't think it's necessarily the deepest post I've done, but I did get good responses, which I have learned is a great addition to my learning in blogging.

And my friend in Shakespeare: Mason
I choose this one for various reasons, including because I found it an individualized way to connect one's life to Shakespeare's works, I can't draw and I love sketches, and it's just the one post that I didn't do that I remember the most.  Mine tended to have a picture or two with mostly wordage, so I find this to be a good counterpart to mine, focusing on visual learning.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fantasy and The Tempest

So it's been just over two weeks since I went to the Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake to see their production of The Tempest.  There was a good amount of analysis done the next week by those of us who went.  Being two weeks in the past, really only the strongest impressions remain, so I will share them.  It is necessary to mention that several of us arrived late, due to traffic, so we completely missed the first scene, the shipwreck.  I was pretty disappointed in missing that, but I had a good detailed recap of what happened, so that was nice.  Naturally, upon getting into the theater, the first thing I noticed was the stage and how immovable it seemed.  I thought a fairly static stage was an interesting idea in contrast to the ever shifting walls and occasional 'grass' floor that was seen in Cedar City.  Also, the stage had three tiers, and I was excited to see how all would be used.  Unfortunately, there wasn't much use of anything but the bottom.  Had I made it to the play on time, I would have witnessed the use of the top tier, but otherwise I noticed it wasn't used near as much as I hoped.
I see Caliban as an earthy goblin--cowardly,
carnal, disrespectful to authority, etc. Props
to whoever did this Warhammer figurine.

How I envision Ariel to be
I also noticed how mechanical the magic was in this depiction of the play.  Somebody called it steampunk, which I find to be a very accurate label.  Fun fact: I've always loved the fantasy sub-genre of steampunk, but I didn't know that the word existed until seeing this play.  Speaking of fantasy, here's my take on a few characters.

After having plenty of time to think about this play, and being a lover of fantasy books and video games, I look back and see the elements' roles play major parts to the aesthetic feel of the play.  When it comes to characters, Ariel is obviously air, it says so in the list of characters.  This is where I was somewhat disappointed and even disagreed with PTC's depiction of her as steampunk, as air elementals (if you will) are not metallic in the traditional fantasy way.  I also see Ariel as a more feminine character, as again, the usual depiction of sylphs is feminine.

What is the opposite to air?  Earth.  The opposite to female?  Male.  Caliban is a stark contrast to Ariel by dedication in serving their master, along with a few others.  Shakespeare was pretty thorough in his contrast of the two servants.  Caliban is base, low and earthy.  Ariel is elevated and airy.  There are others besides these two, but they are the two most pronounced depictions of elements in the play.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Little Name Calling

Just a bit of a list of meanings of names from various sources. I've recently been curious about name choices in this play. As a heads up, here's where I get most of these definitions, I just directly copied what they have at the site. Definitions are marked using a different color.

What's in a name?

  • Lear
    Clearing.  Alternately, "of the meadow."
  • Goneril
    Unfortunately, I find almost nothing on this besides that it's a "Shakespearean name."  However, given her personality, I associate it with other horrible things, such as venereal diseases, namely, gonorrhea. Sorry about any unpleasant images this association might cause.
  • Regan
    My main source didn't have any meaning on this one, but elsewhere I found it means "royal" or "regal."  Ironic?  Well, not necessarily, I'm sure there were many royal folk in Shakespeare's time that he could subtly make a jab at through this character.
  • Cordelia
    The name is of uncertain derivation. Some claim it is from the Welsh name Creiddylad, allegedly meaning 'jewel of the sea', although other reliable sources state there is no evidence for a true Celtic origin. Another theory derives the name from the phrase 'coeur de lion'. It may also be an elaboration of the Latin 'cor' (heart).  
    I particularly like this one, since its origin is uncertain and has a few different possibilities.  I personally like the 'coeur de lion' take, as it means heart of lion in French (hence King Richard the lion-hearted), and Cordelia truly does have a brave heart to still desire to help her father even when he so wrongly disowns her. 
  • Edgar
    From the Anglo-Saxon 'eád' or German 'ôt' - 'good, property, inheritance' and 'gar' or 'ger' meaning 'spear'. This combines in the meaning 'spear of prosperity', 'protector of the good (with the spear)'.
  • Edmund
    From the Old English elements 'ead' (prosperity, fortune) and 'mund' (protection). This concludes in the meaning 'prosperous protection' but another possible meaning is 'protector of prosperity (or inheritance)'.
  • Oswald
    It is of Germanic origin. It might be derived from the Old English elements os "god" and weald "rule".
"King Lear and the Fool in the Storm"
by William Dyce
(Thank you Wikipedia)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bulimic blog posting isn't healthy.

I should start by saying that I'm not a fan of lists, however, the occasion sometimes calls for one, and when that occasion is convenience, I'm all for using one. The list I'm referring to is one concerning my progress in studying Shakespeare (surprise!). This might be lengthy, so I'm not going to mince words. Here it is, my journal entry of sorts for the masses to read, if they so choose.

Learning Outcomes

How have I gained Shakespeare literacy?
A good place to start my self-analysis is the breadth of my Shakespeare literacy.  Growing up I've been familiar with many of Shakespeare's plays, including several that I've read for class.  However, out of the 6 that I'll have read by the end of this lovely class, I've only read one before, Hamlet, and that one is definitely worth re-reading.  In other words, I have taken 5 steps to my goal of reading (or watching) every Shakespeare play before I kick the bucket.
As for depth, I've had experiences where I look more deeply into a work, but not so much with Shakespeare.  My solo experience with The Merchant of Venice was a great experience to help me see what I can accomplish when I focus on a work.  While I didn't necessarily feel super original in my thoughts about the play, I learned what kinds of things to look for, especially implicit things or just things up for interpretation.
One main thing in Shakespeare that is fairly up for interpretation is staging (both live and for the screen).  I grew up watching plays, about once a year.  However, I never really analyzed them as for some odd reason I felt it might detract from my experience with the production.  Nowadays, I've grown out of that idea and find myself not 'full' after the play 'til I've had a good session of not only analyzing a production's staging, but having an engaging, meaningful discussion with friends (or anybody really) about it.
As for the screen, I watched two versions of the play I studied independently of my class The Merchant of Venice.  I really enjoyed the Al Pacino version, as it obviously put religious differences as the major theme to the production.  It's been an awesome realization that so many Shakespeare plays are still relevant today, even if not necessarily fully adapted to today's culture.

How have I analyzed Shakespeare critically?I admit I haven't focused near as much on textual analysis as I thought I would, in respect to things like formal devices.  Part of that is because I've not been the most familiar with some words, i.e. synecdoche, until this class.  However, when it comes to context, I've done the most on that when it comes to my personal studied play mentioned above, researching a little bit of historical context, i.e. Jews in England during Shakespeare's time.  Also, I've had many thoughts about contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare (not just about the merchant), but I haven't written about them yet.

How have I engaged Shakespeare creatively?This is one thing I look forward to doing more of as I'm not naturally artistically inclined.  I hope to be able to participate with a group in class in acting out a scene or two.  Sadly, I don't feel the most creative in my journey with Shakespeare yet.  I have written down ideas to write about, but they're not developed yet, so hopefully I'll get those out there soon.

How have I shared Shakespeare meaningfully?When it comes to sharing Shakespeare, this blog is the main means.  I have, just in the natural course of conversation and life, brought up thoughts I've had about plays to my friends.  I got my roommate to watch the 2004 adaptation of The Merchant of Venice with me recently, and it was fun and good to be able to share what's become an important part of my life.  Not necessarily just the play, but the journey I took to get to the thoughts I had.

Self-directed Learning
When it comes to self-directed anything, it's something I've had to learn to be good at, but it's paid off.  I am for sure not at the point I want to be at yet, but my personal blogging has been a great product of the initiative I've taken to think about Shakespeare and what his works mean to me in my life.  I've learned in the past few years that writing notes down when I have inspiration in spiritual matters is the best way to preserve and later act on feelings I have.  I have adapted this to Shakespeare, and I have a good list in a little notebook of things that I either want to blog about, or just do a bit of looking into whenever, not necessarily for school.  I have decided that Shakespeare's canon is somewhat like a temporal version of the Biblical canon in that people everywhere can use it to find answers to questions in life.  I admit it can be argued either way, but just like religion, Shakespeare means something different to each person.  So to get back to the subject, I feel that I'm on my way to better becoming a self-directed learner because of things like blogging and writing down ideas.

Collaborative and Social Learning
Here I look at and think about how others in my class have affected my learning concerning Shakespeare.  We had groups arbitrarily set up from the beginning of the semester, and those in my group have often brought up issues and different focuses in plays that we've read.  I've enjoyed and learned from these new friends of mine, and am more interested in what they have to say about other things, given I now know more about their patterns of thinking.  I feel legitimized in my writings when they comment on posts I've written, in a way much more scholastic and meaningful than Facebook.  I also have loved the worthwhile conversations/analyses I've had with those in the car I rode in to the plays in Cedar and Salt Lake.  Hours of analytic applied thinking about Shakespeare in a more today context has helped me find myself wanting to share Shakespeare with more of the world.

Looking Ahead
Luckily for me, where I'm at is by no means my final destination, as I haven't fully tapped into every tool I could use to look more into Shakespeare, especially social media and finding out what people have to say about things I'm studying.  I'm also intrigued and excited to think of things I can do for a final project with a group of people.  Unlike earlier stages in my life, I'm pretty open to anything.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The entree of Shylock (but no pork)

Is Shylock such an antagonist?
The next part of my fragmented analysis of The Merchant of Venice was going to be about the use and importance of oaths in this play.  However, there's not as much there as I originally thought, so I'll just finish up with interesting depictions of Shylock in the BBC version, so I'll focus a little more on the video presentation.  Sadly my technical skills haven't leveled up enough to embed the clip of the video I wanted to put here, but at the end of Act III Scene I, Shylock speaks with his Jewish friend Tubal about the turn of events concerning his lost daughter and money.  The main action that caught my attention was at the end of the dialogue, where Shylock rends his coat.  Having a bit of Old Testament knowledge, and doing a little standard Google/Wikipedia searching, I was reminded that rending one's clothes is a normal act in Jewish culture upon hearing the death of a loved one.  Shylock's daughter Jessica basically eloped with a Christian, which according to this adaptation is her death to him, probably in a spiritual way along with the fact that the religious differences between Jews and Christians weren't easily or even realistically settled.

Shylock rending his garment
The depiction of Shylock throughout this version is at times up to interpretation, but other times he's just the stereotypical stingy Jew.  I haven't seen the full Al Pacino 2004 rendition of The Merchant of Venice, but the Shylock he shows is one with more passion, which I believe could be seen as a response to past Antisemitism by those before us.  The BBC version isn't terribly old, but Shylock is depicted as an obvious antagonist in parts.  For example, in contrast to the Al Pacino clip of Shylock's monologue, here Salanio and Salarino just laugh at him the entire time until he gets to his words about revenge.  They really don't take him seriously at all, and I'm not going to lie, I was very much indignant the entire time I watched it.  While I'm not a follower of Judaism, the entire time they were laughing at him, I wanted to tell them to shut up and let him finish what he was saying.  I don't know if the producer of that version was even thinking about who they might be hating on when filming that scene.  I could be just taking more offense than he meant, but I had a hard time picking the Christian side after seeing him get picked on.

It makes me wonder, why did Shakespeare choose to write this play?  Jews weren't allowed in England during his lifetime, so why this?  Was he going for exotic factor, like he does in other plays?  Or was he bringing up religious issues of his day?

The Merchant

Red theme--symbol of blood. Also
relates to Jesus Christ's sacrifice.
I originally planned on covering one of these subjects a day this week, but obviously I didn't.  Good thing I agree with the use of mercy, something I lightly covered recently. I mentioned at the end of said post that I saw there being a need for a third party when it comes to matters of justice and mercy. I originally wasn't really planning on looking for Christianity within Shakespeare's plays, but I feel like I just can't help it.  I think it may be largely influenced by the church-owned Christian university I'm currently attending, but I admit, I look for themes of religion in a lot of things I study, including foreign languages and culture.  At any rate, to prevent deliberating myself to death, I'll jump now to what I've noticed while reading and watching the BBC production of the The Merchant of Venice.  Here's something from Antonio that will show you what relation I noticed (in Act V):

Antonio. I once did lend my body for his wealth; 
Which, but for him that had your husband's ring,
Had quite miscarried: I dare be bound again, 
My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord 
Will never more break faith advisedly.

Antonio's actions for Bassanio show his selfless love for his BFF.  Christian relation?  Jesus lent his body to the cause of obtaining heavenly wealth for those whom he sees as his best friends--those who were most loyal to him during their mortal lives.  Antonio was ready to give a pound of his flesh to keep his bargain for his friend's temporal happiness.  Again likewise, Jesus gave his flesh for the souls of his followers' eternal happiness.  The comparison isn't flawless (but what comparisons are?), but I find that Antonio can be seen as a mortal foil to Jesus in this play.

Last thing before I forget; justice and mercy.  I think of Portia's role as the lawyer in the trial of Antonio vs Shylock as a foil to Jesus' merciful role in saving souls.  I admit I don't feel it's as developed of a parallel as Antonio's foilship (note: not a real word), but that there's a loose connection there, as without her, Antonio wouldn't have received the mercy all his friends feel he deserved.  What do you think?

Next, I'll bring up a few themes common to this play and religion.  But that will be a different post.