Week 2: Wednesday (Stratford-upon-Avon)

From Regency to Renaissance, I’m really geeking it out in England. Since I’m in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of one William Shakespeare, I had already booked tickets to two shows by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company): Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (£5 standing), and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (£16 restricted stalls). Yup, I always go for the cheap tickets, but the sight restrictions don’t bother me (and that’s how I tackled my Bardathon Long Weekend earlier this year).

My day was relatively laid back, starting with a satisfying English breakfast at the New Inn Hotel (£49). While the hotel is a little out of town, most of the accommodation within the centre had already been booked, and I didn’t mind paying a little extra for transport given this was by far the most affordable (and it helps that the staff have been super friendly and helpful so far!). I took a bus into town (£2.70; the taxi back was £7.40), then went to the three Shakespeare Birthplace bits in town. I got a Five Houses pass last November for about £20, and it lasts a year—so for the purpose of my current trip, I got free entry! Yay!

Of course, when I passed a cardboard Shakespeare asking me to take a selfie with him, I had to obey. A lady tried to offer taking a photo for me, but that would’ve been cheating—it had to be a selfie. Always obey the Bard.

My hero! :D

My hero! :D

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Shakespearean Classical Music

I had the great pleasure and privilege of giving a public lecture on Shakespeare and Music earlier today, during which I referred to several pieces of Shakespearean classical music. Since the timeslot was limited–and the world of Shakespeare is immense–I didn’t get to discuss or play most of the music I’d mentioned. Fortunately, there’s plenty of space on my wee blog for both the Bard and Bardastic music, so here are a few Shakespearean pieces (complete with embedded YouTube videos) for your listening pleasure:

Thomas Arne’s Shakespearean Songs

Mr Arne’s settings of Shakespeare’s songs from the 1740s onwards played quite an important role in reviving interest in Shakespearean music. While these songs are from Shakespeare’s plays, they weren’t actually written by the Bard–in most cases, Shakespeare simply took the lyrics of pre-existing popular songs and plopped them into the plays. As I continue to advocate: Shakespeare was the greatest playwright-poet-plagiarist of all time!

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2016 Bardathon: March Giveaway

A super enthusiastic hello from New Orleans! Over the past few days, I’ve been partaking in a pretty epic amount of Shakespearing at the Shakespeare Association of America’s annual meeting (appropriately nicknamed #ShakeAss). Two days before I left for New Orleans, I submitted my PhD thesis, entitled “Shakespeare and the Soundtrack”–two weeks before that, I was in London for my long weekend of catching Shakespeare’s late romances. March has certainly been a massive Bardathon on my end!

But it’s time now to share your Bardathon activities from March, and perhaps even receive a Shakespeare-themed handkerchief in the monthly giveaway. To enter, fill out the form below with a link to a blog post/Goodreads review/Tweet/etc about how you’ve participated in the Bardathon Challenge during the month, and your thoughts about the experience. Entries are accepted until 4 April 2016, and the winner drawn at random shortly thereafter. If you have any questions, please do drop me a line. Good luck!

Late Romances Bardathon Weekend: The Tempest

It seems rather fitting that the last of the four late romances I’ve attended this long weekend is The Tempest, which is not only presumably Shakespeare’s final solo work (he ended his career with a few collaborations, including Pericles), but also the final Globe play under the direction of the outgoing artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, who’s held the position since 2005. While I’ve always appreciated the artistry of The Tempest, I’ve never felt particularly connected to the play, and have had a number of reservations: Prospero’s treatment of Caliban and Ariel, Prospero’s general machinations, the super duper problematic “romantic” relationship between Miranda and Ferdinand, and so on. I suppose the main reason I’ve never taken to the play is my lack of a favourite–or even just a preferred–character, which then means I tend to lose interest in the plot. The high incidence of music and physical comedy also makes it difficult to sit and read off the page, which meant that although The Tempest is not at all my “go-to” play, I always look forward to discovering how stage productions make use of the play-text.


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Late Romances Bardathon Weekend: Pericles

Pericles is one of the few “Shakespeare” plays I hadn’t seen, so I jumped at the opportunity to catch it at the Globe with the other late romances. Having attended Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale in a standing spot, I’d opted to have a seat (albeit restricted by a pillar), which was definitely the right choice, given how much my legs (and poor, PhD back) were protesting.

There’s been much speculation on Pericles‘s authorship, with general agreement that George Wilkins was Shakespeare’s collaborator. While I’ve read the play before (during a three-week pre-PhD frenzy of tackling the Norton Shakespeare from cover to cover), only a few key moments remained with me (namely, the climactic father-daughter reunion). In this sense, I went into the performance as a novice, a feeling in which I luxuriated because there are only so many times one can experience a Shakespeare/Shakespearean play for the first time (38, to be exact).


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Late Romances Bardathon Weekend: The Winter’s Tale

In recent years, I’ve grown especially partial to ideas and works that, by whatever means and through whichever combinations, exhibit and embody a perfect balance. While perceptions of “balance” (and indeed, “perfection”) may be rather subjective, I’d like to think some fundamentals apply, such as the prevalence of opposition in relatively equal proportions. And I’ve always thought The Winter’s Tale a prime example of this balance, with its two halves containing contrasting themes, language, characters, and locations, which, when seen as a whole, are revealed as gloriously complementary.

All this preamble is to foreground my fangirly gushing for the Globe’s performance of The Winter’s Tale under the direction of Michael Longhurst, which, overall, is the best production of the play I’ve seen so far. Leontes (John Light) always bugged me, but here, his explosive reactions to the “perceived” affair between his wife and BFF had me fearful for their lives. Hermione (Rachael Stirling) was exquisite, and, in contrast to Leontes’ rage, her dignified sotte voce deliveries had my heart bursting with simultaneous agony and admiration. I was also very much taken by Camillo (Fergal McElherron), whose devotion was not only beautifully steadfast, but also reminded me of the faithful Pisanio in Cymbeline. In fact, The Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline share similar themes of jealousy, wronged women, and (undeserved?) loyalty, which were all made more apparent by watching one after the other.


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Late Romances Bardathon Weekend: Cymbeline

After heading to the Globe straight from the airport and spending two delightful hours with a friend over lunch (which was actually afternoon tea, with copious sandwiches, scones, and cakes), I entered the Sam Wanamaker indoor theatre for the first of my Shakespeare marathon: Cymbeline.


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Towards Shakespeare’s Late Romances!

My first two months of 2016 have been hectic from the get-go, and the next two will be similarly jam-packed with teaching, conferences, public-speaking engagements, developing a new game, and submitting my PhD thesis to the academic deities. Late last year, having foreseen this constant and pressing 2016 whirlwind, I made a concerted effort to schedule some time away during a relatively “quiet” period, and although I was grumbling to myself while wrapping up some work yesterday, I am now buckled up on a plane to London, grateful for the temporary reprieve, and super excited about my next few days–because, Shakespeare!

My main purpose this long weekend is to see Shakespeare’s four late romances at the Globe’s indoor theatre (to which I’ve never been). These plays are, in the order I will see them: Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, Pericles, and The Tempest. At first, it might seem a little counterintuitive to leave behind my work on Shakespeare so I can charge ahead into four live performances, which will no doubt be gruelling (particularly as I have standing tickets for three of them)–I mean, isn’t a break from work supposed to be…well, a break from work? Why aren’t I gallivanting off to a spa resort instead of filling my overflowing mind with more Shakespeare?


Well, I guess I’ve grown quite fond of the old fella… That, and to a Chinese-Australian like me, the prospect of going to four Shakespearean romances in a reconstructed Renaissance indoor theatre over a long weekend is nothing short of a dream (which will soon be realised, with my first play in 3.5 hours!).

Part of my desire to attend these upcoming four plays is their staging during this wonderfully celebratory year of Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary. Quite different from the comedies, Shakespeare’s late romances exude magic and maturity alike, with a range of characters and situations that might seem extravagant or beyond belief at first, but, at least to me, eventually feel justified and natural. To make things even more exciting, these will be staged in the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker indoor theatre, which will offer a completely different experience from the outdoor Globe–how immeasurably exciting!

I’ll be sharing my post-play thoughts over the next few days, and while they might be a little rough around the edges (having only my phone with me during this trip), I’m quite certain they’ll be full of excitement and passion!

2016 Bardathon: February Giveaway

I am briefly emerging from my thesis cave to apologise for my recent lack of Shakespearean posts, to congratulate Melanie on winning the January giveaway, and to post the February giveaway.

To enter, fill out the form below with a link to a blog post/Goodreads review/Tweet/etc about how you’ve participated in the Bardathon Challenge during February, and your thoughts about the experience. Entries are accepted until 15 March 2016, and the winner drawn at random shortly thereafter. If you have any questions, please do drop me a line. Good luck!

Shakespeare 400: Monstrous Little Voices (review)

Remember this book I mentioned a few days ago?


Well, I’ve finished it, and here are my thoughts! Spoiler-free, because at least with spiders, I can ring my neighbour’s doorbell; with spoilers…just, no.

Blurb: It is the Year of Our Lord 1601. The Tuscan War rages across the world, and every lord from Navarre to Illyria is embroiled in the fray. Cannon roar, pikemen clash, and witches stalk the night; even the fairy courts stand on the verge of chaos.

Five stories come together at the end of the war: that of bold Miranda and sly Puck; of wise Pomona and her prisoner Vertumnus; of gentle Lucia and the shade of Prospero; of noble Don Pedro and powerful Helena; and of Anne, a glovemaker’s wife. On these lovers and heroes the world itself may depend.

These are the stories Shakespeare never told. Five of the most exciting names in genre fiction today – Jonathan Barnes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Emma Newman, Foz Meadows and Kate Heartfield – delve into the world the poet created to weave together a story of courage, transformation and magic.

Including an afterword by Dr. John Lavagnino, The London Shakespeare Centre, King’s College London. (From Goodreads)

Release: 8 March 2016 for the collection, but each story is released separately. See the publisher’s site for more details.

Disclaimer: I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. I also have an academic background in Shakespeare studies, where my research is focused on film adaptations.

Having worked so extensively on Shakespearean adaptations, I’m always ambivalent about approaching works based on or inspired by Shakespeare. While I do read and write plenty of fiction, I find it difficult to switch off my ‘academic mode’ when it comes to Shakespeare, and was admittedly a little cautious about reading and reviewing this collection. In my experience, it’s almost impossible to achieve the ‘right’ balance between the most ‘critically successful’ and ‘enjoyable’ adaptations, and when you throw my own personal tastes into the mix, things can get even more interesting—as it certainly did here.

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