Team B: Bite My Thumb – Romeo and Juliet: Act 1 Scene 1

After doing a close reading of Act 1 Scene 1 from Romeo and Juliet, we decided that in our portrayal, we wanted to demonstrate the absurdness of the fighting between “two houses alike in dignity” and match the boyish bravado and humour that Shakespeare uses. This witty repartee can clearly be seen between Sampson and Gregory and even continues with a bit of added malice when the Montagues arrive. But after the fighting starts the humour is lost and the malice and anger takes over.

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Close reading of text (in pencil).

We wanted to demonstrate two ways of demonstrating this humour and absurdity. One way was without any spoken text, driven by actions. And the other way was completely driven though the words, in the form of a musical.

In the silent film, we emulated physical acting in the silent film period and cartoonish over-acting to illustrate the aforementioned themes drawn from the close reading. We drew reference from Charlie Chaplin films and from cartoons like Popeye.

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A Capulet (with black sock puppet) – Instigators

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A Montague (with white sock puppet) – Retaliators

Musicals and theatre often use over-acting to demonstrate emotions and make the desired themes clearer for audiences. And constantly bursting out into song adds a bit of absurdity. We drew inspiration from West Side Story, which drew inspiration from Romeo and Juliet. Our snapping and dancing (inspired from West Side Story as mentioned previously) is meant to represent the fight scenes.

QnggIZE

WE MUST… OVERACT… EVERYTHING!!!!! *shift left*

We used costume colour choices (black and white – in the silent film) (red and blue – in the musical) to represent the different houses. We tried to use props and sets that would illustrate the humour and absurdity that we hoped to highlight as well as to mimic the set and design choices of the inspirations for each depiction.

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The Capulets (instigators) in red. The Montagues (retaliators) in blue.

Our camera work and editing choices were intentionally chosen to mimic the inspirations style and demonstrate the absurdity and humour of the scene. The colour effects in the musical reinforce the colour theme which helps separate the two houses.

The music for the silent film is upbeat ragtime, which matches the inspiration format and depicts the desired theme. Brianna Morton adapted the music from Romeo and Juliet the Musical composed by Conrad Askland. Brianna wrote the melody line and rap, and recorded it with the aid of her choir friends. Despite this being Brianna’s first attempt at Garageband, Brianna hoped to use the upbeat, fast tempo, slightly dissonant music to demonstrate the absurdity of the Capulets and Montagues fighting over nothing and the humour Shakespeare injects into his work. The pitch was modified to sound more like men, as it is men of the two houses that are fighting.

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First page of the score for the musical

These two artistic style choices are polar opposites from the more formal acting style in traditional Shakespeare. We hope that we have helped in the interpretation of the opening scene in Romeo and Juliet by depicting it in two drastically different formats.

 

Brianna Morton, Ore Arowobusoye, Paolo Juego, Kari Major and Fernando Girotto

 

Brianna Morton: Hamlet: Act 5 Scene 1

HAMLET, Act 5 Scene 1

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Screen Cap: Gravedigger, Act 5 Scene 1

“Why, e’en so. And now my Lady Worm’schapless, and knocked about the mazard with a sexton’s spade. Here’s fine revolutionan we had the trick to see’t. Did these bones cost no more the breeding but to play at loggets with ’em? Mine ache to think on’t.” (5.1.110)

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My Notes: Hamlet: Act 5 Scene 1

From just reading this scene, I thought it was rather morbid. They were talking about death and there was nothing in the notes to indicate that it was supposed to be humorous. When I watched the film version I realized that the gravedigger was making light of the whole situation. (It was either that or he was off his rocker.) Hamlet was speaking the words, but the visual was the gravedigger handle skulls. This created a levity that I had not gathered by just reading the text.

The 4-hour, unabridged, film version helped me appreciate and understand Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a way reading the text could never have given me.

Resources:

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. Print.

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh. 1996. Web.

Notes Reflection – Brianna Morton

Reading and watching Shakespeare requires different skills. Reading requires an ability to understand Middle English and personalized interpretation of emotion. In films, director and actors have interpreted the text for you. This makes the meaning easier to understand initially but removes freedom of imagination. When studying Shakespeare, I prefer to analyze both text and film for a broader understanding and more enjoyment of the work.

The ideal way to understand Shakespeare is to read it aloud. However, most Shakespeare plays are long, my voice gets tired. So I try and find an audiobook version. This captures my interest better and allows me to follow along and look at all the footnotes that explain certain portions. An unabridged audiobook works better than reading along with a movie because directors often cut large sections of text in the interest of time, and visual cues can change your interpretation more than pure audio. When annotating, it is important to pick the most important sections, because not every word Shakespeare wrote was vital, some of it was filler. If you look up a synopsis of the plot, you can get a general idea of the major plot points. When you come across a major plot point, there is often a soliloquy. This is what I spend my time on. Shakespeare obviously spent time crafting these speeches and his word choice is important. In dialogue, you only have so much choice, so it is less intentional, and therefore less important.

Despite suggestions that annotating margins is the best way to analyze a text, I cannot bring myself to blaspheme. So, when analyzing these soliloquies, I find an online copy and use computer software to annotate it. This includes, highlighting, commenting, and modifying text (bold, italic). I focus on the words explained in the book, repeated or rhyming words, metaphors, similes and alliteration and anything with significant punctuation (!, ?). I also write the whole thing in my own words. These techniques allow me to focus on key components, understand the meaning and contemplate Shakespeare’s choices. I find these annotation methods to be very effective and I deem them to be successful if I learn or notice at least one new thing that I hadn’t caught just by reading the passage.

My pristine copy of Romeo & Juliet. Note I don't like to open it too wide in order to keep the binding in tact. I love books and I love reading, but I'm a bit neurotic.

My pristine copy of Romeo & Juliet. Note that I don’t like to open it too wide in order to keep the binding in tact. I love books and I love reading, but I’m a bit neurotic.

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Henry V (3.1.1-34) – Henry before Harfleur Putting a text in my own words (italics)

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Henry V (3.1.1-34) – Henry before Harfleur Example of highlighting repeated words, alliteration, important word choice

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Henry V (3.1.1-34) – Henry before Harfleur Another example of highlighting and bolding – this version divided by line number and has different pronoun choices marked

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Henry V (3.1.1-34) – Henry before Harfleur Example of comments on text – this example is of the footnotes copied from the print version – metaphors and other larger concepts were also explored this way

Annotating a film is very different. The focus shifts from Shakespeare’s text to artistic interpretation. Director’s choices about which words to add or remove, which character speaks the lines, tone, presentation, inflection, to whom the words are addressed and of course setting, costume design and other aspects are important to consider when analyzing a film adaptation. In depth analysis is better suited to intentional choices about major plot points and soliloquies rather than required dialogue and storyline continuation. Directors have two choices when doing Shakespeare. They can remain as close to traditional Shakespeare as possible, using costumes, sets and acting that reflect what would have been present in that time period. Or the director can choose to modernize Shakespeare through music, setting, costumes, props, etc. These choices affect mood and meaning and can also provide some interesting insights into someone else’s interpretations of what they view as important or crucial to the storyline.

After finding an important soliloquy, I write Shakespeare’s original soliloquy in my own words. Then I compare the film version to the original revealing the changes, which can drastically affect the meaning. After analyzing textual changes, I note production choices such as setting, props, costumes, and music as well as how the actors delivered the lines, and to whom they were delivered. Any deviation from traditional Shakespearean style reflects a deliberate choice and these creative choices affect the mood and meaning. Comparing different film versions as well as the original version can reveal interesting aspects that I may have overlooked if I had only analyzed one source. Film analysis is more about appreciating different artistic choices when presenting another’s story rather than word choices made by the original author, as is the case with written analysis. Noting the artistic choices for portraying major plot points across various versions of the same text can deepen one’s understanding of the source material as well as give insight into different possible interpretations. I consider my film annotation to be successful if I identified a deliberate difference that changed some aspect of the meaning or interpretation.

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Transcription of text from Laurence Olivier’s and Ian McKellen’s versions of Richard III’s soliloquy in act 1 scene 2 compared to the original soliloquy from Shakespeare. Highlights indicate places where text was cut from the film versions. Bolded words indicate differences from original text.

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Richard III – Example of notes of different stylistic choices

For both Shakespeare mediums, interpretation and analysis is easier with a focused area of interest. Allowing annotation to be guided by an overarching theme can provide direction for analysis. Various annotation techniques, starting with modernizing the Middle English, allows for successful analysis marked by the acquisition of new knowledge.

Scene Comparison: Richard III

I chose to compare Laurence Olivier’s and Ian McKellen’s versions of Richard III’s soliloquy in act 1 scene 2 that we saw in class. We analyzed these scenes in our first class and I feel like more can be said. Our general consensus was that we preferred McKellen’s version, because it was more modern and less stuffy. McKellen’s version was humorous while Olivier’s version was dignified. But that’s as far as we got.

In Olivier’s portrayal of Richard III, he chose to stay very traditional. The set design and costumes were accurate to the original setting and time period. Olivier delivered his soliloquy in the style of Shakespeare, overly dramatic and poetically enunciated. His tone was nasal and he delivered his lines pompously. He is alone in a courtyard delivering his lines without any musical background or other visual or audible distractions. The focus is entirely on him. This gives the illusion that we are accessing his personal thoughts. This is a private moment and we are not intruding per say, but we are witnessing something that he would not have shared with another character in the play.

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Laurence Olivier’s Richard III

Both speeches were much shorter than the original soliloquy. Olivier cut out two-thirds of the text and McKellen cut out half. This is often necessary for screen adaptations, but because they cut out so much, they lose some of the meaning. Olivier omits the part that recounts the acts of evil he committed, namely killing Anne’s sweet husband and father, and that despite this and his physical deformities, Anne overlooked his faults and basically agreed to be with him. McKellen omits the part that depicts how sweet Anne’s deceased husband was but left in the recap of Richard’s evil deeds.

Of the text that Olivier chose to include, he made one notable change. “My dukedom to a beggarly denier” [1.2.253] became “my dukedom to a widow’s chastity.” Overall, the general meaning remains the same. Richard believed for so long that he was ugly in the eyes of others, especially women, because of his deformity. But the woman of his affections seemed to overlook his deformity, and all his other faults. He is as incredulous that this woman thinks he is good-looking as if his dukedom had been transformed into something lesser. The word choice for the lesser part of the comparison changes the meaning of the phrase significantly.

A denier is a coin of low value (one-twelfth of a sou), beggarly means poverty stricken or deplorable. In Shakespeare’s original text, Richard’s dukedom, which represents his wealth, status and power, was compared to one lowly, basically worthless coin. This means that Richard was as shocked that a woman could think him handsome as if all his wealth, power and status was worthless.

A widow is a woman whose husband has died. Chastity is sexual abstinence. A widow, who had previously had sex with her husband, was expected to remain abstinent after her husband’s death for the remainder of her life. This rarely happened. So not only is a widow no longer a virgin, but she is unlikely to remain abstinent after her husband’s death. In Olivier’s adaptation, Richard’s dukedom was compared to the oxymoron “widow’s chastity.” This means that Richard thought someone liking him was as unlikely as if his wealth, status and power was a fallacy.

Set in 1930’s Nazi Germany, McKellen played Richard III as a Nazi officer. Upbeat jazzy music played in the background and McKellen walked through crowded hospital hallways interacting with other characters, who were unaware of him talking or breaking the fourth wall. This is in stark contrast to Olivier’s more traditional, silent, solitary ponderings. McKellen looks directly into the camera as it follows him down the hall and questions the audience directly, as if asking them to join in his exuberance at successfully wooing Anne. He is manically happy to the point of being frightening, whereas Olivier was calmer and more pensive, while still being contented.

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Ian McKellen’s Richard III

Both Olivier and McKellen delivered the line “shine out” [1.2.264] abruptly and loudly. McKellen continues in an upbeat way, almost laughing. You can hear the giddy pride in his voice. The jazzy music climaxes as he climbs stairs and exits. McKellen starts by pointing to the sun, and then turns back to the camera to brag to the audience about how good he looks. Olivier delivers all his lines to the sun. He looks skyward and continues calmly, quietly smug. Olivier’s speech ends with ominous music and his shadow falling on Anne’s skirts.

Olivier and McKellen both portrayed Richard III, but did so very differently because of divergent stylistic choices.

 

References:

Richard III, William Shakespeare (1592)

https://www.playshakespeare.com/richard-iii/scenes/898-act-i-scene-2

Films:

McKellen – Richard III, Richard Loncraine (1995)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wxGfjcfZkA

Olivier – Richard III, Laurence Olivier (1995)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyW_JkBsLss