sábado, outubro 31, 2015

The Greatest Game Ever Played On Earth: All Blacks vs Wallabies

I'm of course refering to Rugby...I believe New Zealand will have the advantage at the lineouts, goal-kicking, forward ball carriers, speed and agility in the backline and all round attack, while the Wallabies have the advantage in the scrum, the breakdown and defense.


"How can anyone write in a language that nobody reads?"

I had a couple of years a curious conversation with a German friend of mine, She also writes in English fluently. We exchanged some complimentary words, and when she realized that I was Portuguese (writing in Portuguese), only asked: "How can you write in a language that nobody reads?" It was an aggressive question, but she was not being hostile. 

There is, however, something insidiously iconoclastic in the way the "honorary English" of every Tom and John is integrated in the English tradition.

I do not know if this example of cultural integration should be cause for optimism or pessimism for literary survival of languages ​​that "nobody reads."

sexta-feira, outubro 30, 2015

Unreliable Memories: "The Last Witness" by K. J. Parker/Tom Holt

“I’ve been told I have an unforgettable face. Ironic, really.

I have a gift; I can browse through the library of your mind and remove individual memories. You’ll never know I was there, and you’ll never miss what was taken. Useful for grieving widowers, more so for ambitious politicians.
But I’m holding so many memories I’m not always sure which ones are actually mine.
Some of them are sensitive; all of them are private. And there are those who are willing to kill to access the secrets I’m trying to bury…”

Is SF dead in 2015?

I'm not sure. I've stopped reading some current SF because sometimes the feeling of deja vu is so strong that I cannot keep on reading the stuff I'm holding in my hands.

Is the problem the fact that technology seems to have stopped? Where are the new technological equivalent artifacts like the warp drives and teleportation that first appeared in the Golden Age of SF? Did SF writers really run out of ideas? I think the problem has less to do with the inability to imagine new technologies, but rather with the fact that these artifacts are utterly absent from our everyday lives. Many of the SFional things we keep turning to in our lives come from a need, and not from an inability to imagine beyond the realms of reality.  Whether the functions of a real world warp drive will be the same as described in the Star Trek universe is not really important. What matters to me is the symbolic idea of the device itself.

This to talk about the SF of K. J. Parker. Without using technology, Parker always seems able to churn out stuff that looks brand "new" SF-wise. I'm not sure what it is. I've been reading and writing about Parker's work since 2013 (see links below), and I keep bumping into new things each time I tackle one of his works.

When I started reading it, I felt something different. First of all, the first-person narrative is the real protagonist; I think, this is the first time where a Parker book is told in this mode. It’s a very personal rendering of the story, and it worked wonders to its texture.  In mundane fiction, the use of the unreliable narrator is not uncommon. In SF not so much. Using first-person narrative makes different demands and steeper demands on the writer’s ability. And let’s be frank about it. Some SF “writers” are plain little plodders. I could name a few, but I won’t, in case they happen to run across my diatribes.

Reading Parker/Holt, one can say with certainty that SF is not dead.

Writing from the Gray Zone: "Academic Exercises" by K. J. Parker
"The Folding Knife" by K.J. Parker

NB1: This is the first of a Parker work I’ve reviewed where his identity is already fully disclosed.
NB2: The cover is simply awful...

SF = Speculative Fiction.

terça-feira, outubro 27, 2015

"The Project Management Advisor - 18 Major Project Screw-Ups, and How to Cut Them off at the Pass" by Lonnie Pacelli

Published 2004.

“- A critical project task that quickly gets to 90% complete and takes forever to get the last 10% done
- You’re about to release your product and a stakeholder that wasn’t involved in the design jumps up and down and causes significant product rework
- Your project team spends more time fighting and finger-pointing than working together to get the project done”

Working in IT, sooner or later, one may have the chance of having a go at project Management. Project Management had been just another part of my life for more than 15 years.

I’ve failed in that role a few times, but in order to have lived one’s life to the fullest, one has to have failed as well…

Sometimes we think everyone’s success is all about luck. We never stop to think that to get there, those people we see having success have failed as well. Everyone has failed. Everyone has failed horribly (I’ve too). Failing is a part of the each one’s story that is life. We all experience failure. We’ve all failed, and guess what, we will continue to fail, because we absolutely need it! Failing is all about the process of trying. Without trying we never have a chance at making it big. The faster one deals with failure, the quicker one is ready for success. Each failure is a stepping stone to success. The problem is some people have trouble dealing with failure. Inconsequence they stop trying. Nothing can happen without the process of trying. Life is all about trying, and taking chances. In life, nobody has a 100% score in terms of success. Failure and success. Two opposites and so different, and yet, one needs the other. In order to appreciate success, one has to appreciate failure. My motto is to live my life, and keep on trying. Be it at Project Management, or at something else. Trying things is living. The biggest obstacle that keeps someone from succeeding is the fear of failure. I’m always ready to accept failure. But I always expect to succeed, because in the end, I will. I’ve always thought my own success can be mapped directly to the number of times I failed, which can also be mapped directly to the number of times I tried. The way to maximize success I always try to give it my all. Sometimes it’s not easy. Motivational factors sometimes get in the way of things. Nevertheless, the only way to truly experience life at its fullest is by trying.

It was quite funny to read about someone else’s failures at project management. I thought they only happened to me…

I’ve been involved in project management for more than 15 years, starting as a project team member. I was also able to make the transition through being a project manager of various hues, to running teams of project managers. As project management goes it has its ups and downs – but overall it was great fun.

Pacelli’s books showed me to fail is normal, but I’m better off if I don’t get used to it, be it project management or anything else…

"Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises; and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest, and despair most fits."

All's Well That Ends Well

domingo, outubro 25, 2015

Shakespeare vs Computer Science: "Can a Computer Write a Sonnet?"

Following up on one my latest book reviews, I dug some more about the theme of Stylometry. Several chapters in Edmonson’s and Well’s book deal with this topics in terms of proving Shakespeare authorship of his plays. Very interesting stuff to follow-up on.

It was recently in the news that computer analysis had been used to determine that the play “Double Falsehood” by Lewis Theobald, first published in 1728, is possibly the work of William Shakespeare in conjunction with John Fletcher. Computer programs were used to analyze the writings of all three men and the result is that some people think this is a lost play by Shakespeare. It is still quite controversial. I am just offering it up as an example of computers being used in conjunction with literary analysis:

Personally, I think computer programs are only as good as the people who write them, meaning that they may inadvertently contain flaws or biases. An additional layer of human error enters the mix in how the data is interpreted. Then there is the question, is there such a thing as a fixed and rigid interpretation. I have been doing my own personal literary analysis for many years and when I revisit something like a play by Shakespeare I find that my views and interpretations have changed over the years. However, I wouldn't totally discard Data Science. It produces interesting facts and features, which might serve to reinforce our initial human reactions to what we are reading.

Having said that, let’s delve some more into it.

Performing a textual analysis on a Shakespeare text has nevertheless some interesting points, namely, our ability to improve on the techniques we use in Data Science. Is there a worthier subject than devising a machine learning algorithm that would enable us to pin-point what makes Shakespeare? When I say "pin-point" I'm thinking in mathematical terms.

Everyone will have a distinct opinion on what makes Shakespeare the greatest playwriter of the English Language. My (Shakespeare) Nirvana would be to have some kind of enlightenment coming from the field of Computer Science, that would tell us that certain "traits" are what differentiates Shakespeare from the rest of the pack (e.g., Ben Jonson, and Thomas Middleton).

Shakespeare's flair is one of a kind, granted, but is it possible to name instances where we can say for sure why Jonson and Middleton did not capture people's imaginations the way Shakespeare did. Again, I'm not talking about individual opinions. I have my own on what makes Shakespeare. I'm more interested in identifying data (e.g., patterns) that would have the weight of science behind it. Might these "patterns" be identified and supported through the use of word selection and frequency?

I've just run a statistical analysis on the "Much Ado About Nothing" play in order to identify all of the atomic components in the text, and what came out was this:

Surprisingly (or not), the number of prepositions is not very high, maybe due to the fact that in Elizabethan times its use was not so widespread as it's today (e.g., the use of the pronoun "its" is seldom used by Shakespeare). It'd be interesting just for analysis sake to make a comparison between the works of Jonson, Marlowe and Middleton, just to name three of the icons writing at around the same time period.

Another analysis I did was by using Google Books Ngram Viewer and selecting three words that Shakespeare is said to have coined. I went to Shakespeare-online.com for this and chose the first three words that appeared on the list - academe, accused and addicted. I selected a start date of 1600 and this is what I came up with. It is interesting that the first large spike for the word "accused" occurs around the time if the English Civil War. I also reran the data with a start date of earlier than 1600 and the word "accused" may actually predate Shakespeare's writing! So one does tend to wonder where the data from shakespeare-online.com came from:

It seems that the number of words Shakespeare likely coined has been exaggerated for a couple of reasons. Not all that much survives from Shakespeare's day and before, so he's one of the few places to look for any words in usage at the time. Of the works available, Shakespeare's work is far and away the most famous and a 'got to' source. According to one article I read, the originators of the OED had a tendency to stop if they found something in Shakespeare and attribute it to him as the first usage. Many words attributed to him have been found in earlier works since, but often the attribution to Shakespeare hasn't been changed. It's never made sense to me that Shakespeare could have SO many new words in individual plays- he wasn't writing cutting edge, pretentious plays- he was writing plays that average people would go to and if every fifth word was 'new,' the plays would have been practically unintelligible to their initial audience. Shakespeare certainly invented some words and skewed the meaning of other words by using them in intelligible ways that they hadn't been used in previously. I'm sure he came up with even more new phrases which have become common knowledge and which could have been understood on first hearing, but he didn't 'invent' nearly as many words as some claim. 

Nevertheless I completely agree about the priority of the text. Even when I use computational analyses, I find they should be coupled with close readings of the texts. The promise I see with computer analysis is that it can point out large-scale patterns that may not have been visible with close reading alone, particularly when you have a large corpus that you're working with -- it would be difficult to compare 1,000 early modern plays with only close reading (and the reason we might want to look at 1,000 early modern plays is to better characterize early modern literature and the individual texts therein). There is a lot of talk recently among digital humanists about how computers can help us access what Margaret Cohen calls the "great unread" of literature, which would include texts that are left out of traditional canons and that we can't feasibly close read because there are so many.

There is so much to gain from Shakespeare. Why would we limit our gains by restricting the methods with which we can derive meaning? Watching a performance, making a close reading, performing algorithmic analysis--all these methods can work hand-in-hand.

Shakespeare reflects life and life is a glorious muddle of comedy, tragedy, romance and problem plays! And let's not forget history. Indeed, how can we even say that Shakespeare writes history plays? They are not accurate enough to be used as a history source, but they are wonderfully rich dramas.

I'm not sure whether a machine would be able to write Shakespeare-like literature or not. But let's lower the bar. What about a sonnet of average quality? Could a machine be able to write "something" that we'd consider having some quality? (I'm not going into the debate of what I mean by quality).

Let's do a little test. 

Would you say the following sonnet was written by an human or a machine? 
(This is another form of a Turing Test.)

"Whose shade in dreams doth wake the sleeping morn,
The daytime shadow of my love betrayed
Lends hideous night to dreaming’s faded form;
Were painted frowns to gild mere false rebuff,
Then shouldst my heart be patient as the sands,
For nature’s smile is ornament enough
When thy gold lips unloose their drooping bands.
As clouds occlude the globe’s enshrouded fears,
Which can by no astronomy be assail’d,
Thus thine appearance, tears in atmospheres,
No fond perceptions, nor no gaze unveils.
Disperse the clouds which banish light from thee,
For no tears be true until we truly see."

(Later on I'll post the provenance of the abovementioned sonnet...)

sábado, outubro 24, 2015

Sacred Chant: "Laudate Dominum" (Taizé version) by Musicam Sacram Ensemble

(Musicam Sacram Ensemble)

Some days I feel as if a leprechaun is running around inside my brain...When I set out to do something, there's a good chance I'll procrastinate. When this happens, I know it's time to sit down to read, write or sing...

My life has been pretty busy these last few weeks but this year I was able to sing Taizé chant at a world-wide event. It was just what I needed!  The purpose of a Taize chant is to meditate upon the words being sung.

This particular kind of chant allows me to experience a basic reality of faith that is quickly understood when I sing it. The driver is the words being repeated over and over and over until it is infused in my whole being. I can feel the chant resonating within me.

The way to deal wih Taizé chant is to let myself get past the repetitiveness, i.e., a kind of letting myself go...

Taize, the "Laudate Dominum" chant in particular, is meditative and spiritual. I can't get enough of it, especially when my wife sings it as in the first example beneath...I've sung it many times and I'm always moved by its power.

(Laudate Dominum)

(As I Kneel Before You)

NB: Laudate Dominum = “O, Praise the Lord”.

sexta-feira, outubro 23, 2015

The Sweet Swan of Avon: "Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - Evidence, Argument, Controversy" by Paul Edmondson, Stanley Wells

Published 2013.

Disclaimer: I do firmly believe that William Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems attributed to him, and some of them in tandem with his fellow playwrights.

The keep an open mind argument really grates on me as it implies something is wrong with those who don't agree. I'm quite capable of analyzing data and discarding faulty propositions. I have done a lot of reading and research on this issue and there is 100% nothing to it. The entire argument is based on either making untrue statements or by revealing incomplete or out of context information and thereby making something sound compelling which is not in reality meaningful. For example, there is no extant written document in his hand other than signatures on several documents. What extant plays, letters, diaries exist for other playwrights of the day? Other than Ben Jonson there is almost nothing. One possible signature in Marlowe's hand (spelled Marley) and one possible scrap of paper with a few lines from a play on it. There is not a single extant handwritten example of a play which was published- the only ones that were saved were the single handwritten copies of unpublished plays. Shakespeare did not own his works so there was no reason to mention them in his will; they had no monetary value. Books were listed on the inventory of the will and his is lost. In any case, why is the only sufficient proof of authorship a handwritten play? If that's what's necessary, how can it be that no handwritten play of DeVere's has come to light? How could he not have saved and hidden them away? How could he not have at least safeguarded the plays he produced under his own name? Shakespeare's plays were performed by his troupe and they were published with his name on them. Many people of the time who were involved in the theater and personally worked with him and knew him agreed that he was the author of the plays attributed to Will Shakespeare, the Sweet Swan of Avon.

I have looked into the "authorship question" very thoroughly (Edmondson’s and Well’s book is just another one among many on the subject; Shapiro’s “Contested Will” is much, much better and much less dry than this one) and I find no good evidence at all that Shakespeare's works were not written by William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, despite the all too familiar claims of a very vocal minority with nothing better to do than to indulge in conspiracy theories. I do not intend to waste any more time on it here - I am off!

segunda-feira, outubro 19, 2015

Richard Through Several Doppelgängers: "Richard III" by William Shakespeare, Tónan Quito

This Richard III brought together 6 "words" that keep on forming an important nexus in my life: Shakespeare, English, German, SF, larger than life acting, and cinema. The most compelling aspect of this Richard III was Romeu Runa's performance - a bravura turn that almost seemed aimed, in its intimate moments, for the first-person mode. With me there's always an element of snobbism, an Anglophilia that draws me to the British actors who come out of a theatrical tradition. British actors, even when they appear in Hollywood films, are an alternate reality, a glimpse into the worlds of Shakespeare and theatrical tradition, which is, I think, far more worthwhile, far more compelling than mere movies.

Some Shakespeare plays have little to do with Shakespeare. That the medieval painting gave way to easel painting in oil that does not make paintings and oil paintings identical. On the contrary, the qualities that make a painting a particular medium can more easily be isolated when it's differentiated from, rather that collapsed with oil painting, watercolours, etc. "Everylike is not the same", as Brutus would have said.

Shakespeare in a language other than English, necessarily avoids the principal challenge a theatre director faces in adapting Shakespeare to the stage: how to give life to the verse and prose out of which "Shakespeare" as text and as cultural object is fundamentally constituted. As a result, this Richard "inhabits" another stage space.

I've always firmly believed Shakespeare in translation shifts an audience’s attention from the words to the action. I had just finished re-reading the play in English before going to see the play. While I was sitting in the theatre, the unfamiliar language and theatre conventions had a Brechtian distancing effect on me, as if I was watching very familiar stuff through fresh eyes, as well as getting to experience an unfamiliar form of theatre via a story I already knew.

"Mastering" Shakespeare is synonym with the mastery of the English language, i.e., the power and beauty of his expression in Shakespeare's English.  I don't really care about the plots (Shakespeare was not particularly good at writing plots). For me they are always secondary to his gift with words. Shakespeare in translation, however thorough, substitutes a parallel or similarity which is no longer the work of the author and which changes it. A translation might have a different value from the original but that's not to say it has no value. I feel I only really discovered "King Lear" when I saw Kurosawa's film, "Ran", so if one loves the plays, I find it interesting to see them reimagined in new forms, like the one I just watched. Some choices are debatable. Yes, they are. But who cares? What I really care about is whether the vision is consistent from beginning to end, and Tónan's Verfremdung is exactly that. Something different to ponder about.

On with the play:

NB: At the end of the play, when Richard III/Romeu Runa was doing his horsey ballet, an English woman in the audience hollered "Take me out of here. This is, this is..." There's no accounting for taste...

NB2: SF = Speculative Fiction.

quinta-feira, outubro 15, 2015

Pensate Profunde: 400 posts, 300 Book Reviews

There were times when the posts almost wrote themselves. But there were also times when I couldn’t write anything worth reading.

Fortunately I love writing even when the process itself does not flow. On top of that, there were not many times when I didn't feel like writing at all.

So it was not such a huge surprise that this week my blog crossed over a big milestone: There are now 400 blog posts and 300 book reviews published (*pat on the back*).

When do things stop being just useful?  My aim when I started this blog in 2006 was to make people think and in the long run to inspire and change lives. Tall order I know…Even If I didn’t impact people all that much, at the end of the day, I learned a lot of stuff along the way. Not exactly Quantum Physics stuff, but something along those lines…lol. We always aim to build long and lasting relationships with people. If that doesn’t work, I’m still happy when I’m doing some deep thinking on my own.

I firmly believe it’s impossible to publish 400 posts and 300 book reviews without accomplishing something significant or even life changing. I know my view on lots of things changed because of the stuff I’ve been writing. That’s enough in my book.

Publishing 400 blog posts also taught me a lot of stuff about things that matter to me. Maybe many of those things are only important to me, like close-reading Shakespeare, SF, writing about art exhibitions or why I love to sing. But I don’t really care. We are what we are.

“As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

Keep you thinking hat on at all times and don't sleep on the job even when the nebula is pretty thick...

400 posts amounted to 213 640 words, resulting in 534 words per post. 
1942 words per month (110 months). 
534 words per week (400 weeks)
23 738 words per year (9 years and 2 months).

It'd result in a book with 1294 pages in a paperback format (6x9).

SF = Speculative Fiction.

segunda-feira, outubro 12, 2015

When I die I’ll come back, to fetch the moments I didn’t live by the sea: "Obra Poética" by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen

(Obra Poética = Poetical Oeuvre)

Published 2010.  

Quando eu morrer voltarei para buscar
Os instantes que não vivi junto do mar
(When I die I’ll come back
To fetch the moments I didn’t live by the sea)

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, one of the greatest poets of Portuguese Literature, 1919 – 2004 (Camoens Award). Her paternal great-grandfather was Danish, and on her mother’s side she belonged to Portuguese aristocracy.

I know Sophia’s poetry like I know myself.

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen is one of the best poets I've ever read. I wish everyone would read her one day, be it in Portuguese, German, or English. Portuguese literature from its roots is a literature of the seas (Portugal is located on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula and plateau, that divides the inland Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean); Sophia is also a poet of the water. The sea is something that’s deeply ingrained within every Portuguese, even in the ones living in the countryside. The sea is always in our minds…

This massive tome of some 1000 pages was the first time I read Sophia’s poetry in its entirety (I started this quest in August). And it gives me a different taste and appreciation for her poetry. I’ve always identified myself with her poetry of the sea, being a “seaman of the mind” myself. The winds and waters of the west coast of my country can be rough and wild, and the beaches there are often good places for those who seek solitude or a bit of space to themselves.

Why do I like Sophia and the abovementioned so much? Not sure. I’ve written many times when I'm a little down, and in those moments her poetry deeply resonates within me.  It’s about death, and how things in life teach us about death. I’ve always thought that Portuguese poets have a special affinity with richness in thought and words. Her poems are otherworldly and her words are so richly evocative that it's nearly unbelievable. As with all top-notch poetry, so evocative, beautiful, and lasting.

Besides her work as a writer, she also translated Dante and Shakespeare into Portuguese.

1950, 2010 (Obra Poética)

Attempt at translating the untranslable into German (Strand/Praia):

Die Kiefern seufzen, wenn der Wind hineinfährt
Die Sonne heißt den Boden, und die Steine glühen.

Dort draußen wandeln unwirkliche Meeres-Götter,
Salzweiß, wie Fische leuchtend.

Wilde Vögel plötzlich,
Wie Steine gegen das Licht geworfen,
Schwingen sich auf, zu sterben steil im Himmel,
In weite Räume werden ihre Körper heimgeholt.

Die Wellen stoßen prall gegen das Licht,
Die Stirnen aufgeputzt mit Säulen.

Eine uralte Sehnsucht, mast zu sein,
Wiegt sich in hohen Kiefern.

(Maria de Fátima Mesquita-Sternal)

sexta-feira, outubro 09, 2015

To Adapt or not to Adapt Shakespeare, That is the Question: "Cinematic Shakespeare" by Michael A Anderegg

Published 2003.

“For nearly half a century, students have been told that Shakespeare is theatre and his plays essentially performance texts. The way to teach Shakespeare is to perform him. The method is reading aloud, acting out scenes, learning Elizabethan stage practice, and, not incidentally, looking at the movies. Shakespeare is easy, not hard; he is a working playwright, not a precious ‘poet’; he is a craftsman, not an artist; and, most significantly, he is a capitalist, a shareholder in a business venture who retired at an early age on a comfortable pension, not some poor schlemiel living in a garret and practicing his ‘art’ for its own sake. Shakespeare, it turns out, is really one of us.”
“No matter how deeply the text is cut, no matter how updates the setting, no matter how avant-garde the production, Shakespeare films […] exhibit an almost mystical devotion to Shakespeare’s words – the language and diction of Elizabethan English, a language and diction at once poetic and theatrical. […] no other writer has had his or her words treated with a similar fidelity. The temptation to simply paraphrase Shakespeare’s language is almost always resisted.”

Anderegg’s take on Shakespeare film is a weird one. I don’t agree with much that was written, but it made me re-evaluate (by watching once again the movies) some of the things I thought I knew about some Shakespeare movies of my personal acquaintance: Branagh’s, Luhrman’s, Zeffireli’s, Whedon’s, etc. Rather than regurgitate Anderegg’s arguments (some of them seemed very convoluted, particularly when it came to analyzing Branagh’s work: “Much Ado About Nothing”, “In the Bleak Midwinter”, and “Hamlet”), I’ll give you instead my take on the movies I’ve seen recently. It goes without saying, I’ve re-watched some of them just to make sure my vision was still true…

I’ve seen Shakespeare’s lines being deliberately mutilated. Shakespeare (or the editors) deliberately jam those 14 syllables into a 10 syllable (5 meters) poetic line.  That, as a performer, tells me the character has a lot going on (emotionally) in those moments (look at many of Lady Macbeth’s monologues in the Scottish play- extra syllables and enjambment all over the place). So with the "O, Romeo" line, the actor can take the easy way out (and ruin the poetic meter) or deal with the poetry and use the elisions and repetition in a way that Shakespeare purposely wrote it.  Perhaps with a sense of urgency, fear, excitement etc., but not (in my opinion) in a slow, elongating, contemplative moment, which many performers think it calls for. 

It might be a case that we have seen it done on film and in contemporary theatre performances so often that way (badly) that young actors think that that is how to perform the moment.  One could also argue that Shakespeare is all about reinvention and that staying within the meter is not that important.  Personally, I believe we never "Act" the poetry, but we need to scan the poetry to find the "clues" to characterization that Shakespeare as a writer gives us in the abnormal poetic lines. It is always interesting how 11 syllables is often a sign of strong emotions. A few months I watched several “Much Ado About Nothing” films (Branagh’s, BBC’s, etc.) Watching both films one after the other brought to my attention the way one of Beatrice's speeches can be uttered. For me, both of the lines below ending in "thee" are 11 syllable lines, and, of course, we know the elation Beatrice must be feeling having just overheard Hero and Ursula reveal that Benedick is in love with her:

What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemn'd for pride and scorn so much?
Contempt, farewell! and maiden pride, adieu!
No glory lives behind the back of such.
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand:
If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee
To bind our loves up in a holy band;
For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly.

I do love the clues that Shakespeare gives to a performer in his irregular lines. He splits those two lines with the very irregular line which scans as: /trochee/ iamb/ trochee/ iamb/ iamb/     "Taming/ my wild/ heart to/ thy lov/ ing hand/

The two trochees are this little moment of chaos, and then it resolves back to order.

I keep digging into Shakespeare and realize I have just scratched the surface.  More and more worlds and insights appear.   You have to put his words in one’s mouth and let them roll around in there.
Branagh’s and Whedon’s versions are very different from one another. While Branagh's version of the play was kind of rustic and matched the play's settings and time, I felt that Whedon's version was something new, modern and different. The whole Black and White thing worked for me. I enjoyed the 'suits' and 'limousine' feel which added to the richness of the movie. I found it clever that the Director chose to make Conrade a woman, having an affair with Don John (!) rather than sticking to the original idea of Conrade being one of the male followers of Don John.

With regard to the "Kill Claudio" segment in Whedon's adaptation, I could definitely feel the anger and frustration in Beatrice's lines. Amy Acker has acted phenomenally throughout the movie, and has only increased my admiration for the strong, feminist Beatrice.

The use of color or black and white is an interesting decision made by these two directors. Branagh's use of color lends a happy, comic tone to the entire movie. He reinforces this with music, and the camera angles and camera movement. The camera "dances" about like a happy individual, soaring up, and swirling around at times. So the tone is predominantly very light. This means Branagh has to be careful to lend the appropriate amount of seriousness to the scenes where things become dangerous for Hero.

Conversely, Whedon chooses black and white and a film noir tone, almost a detective story seriousness. So he has to make sure that comedy shows through where appropriate. To counteract the seriousness there is a certain amount of slapstick, visual comedy such as when Beatrice is overhearing the conversation about herself in the kitchen and also where Benedick is being called in for dinner and is trying to impress Beatrice with his physical fitness. I think these scenes work well in this black and white, modern setting and bring some needed levity to the tension.

Branagh has succeeded in bringing out the Elizabethan costumes and acting to the fore. The first scene, in which Beatrice and Benedick have a 'war of words' has been shot extremely well, what with the other characters encouraging them and hooting around them. It meant that this war of words was a natural, and on-going battle between the two youngsters and that everyone was aware of it.

What I also found interesting were the choices made by both actresses who play Beatrice.  I Whedon's version, Beatrice's actions are in line with the setting.  Modern, small, closed and in keeping with a modern day woman who feels let down by life and has allowed her world to shrink smaller to accommodate her mood.  She is not bitter as much as resigned.  Her anger at Claudio reads more like heartache for her cousin and the unfairness of it all.   She is a woman, resigned to the fact that a man must do her bidding.  In Branagh's version Beatrice is larger, more resistant to the constraints of her role as a woman.  She too has given up on love.  She uses her wit to battle men from her position.  A position she chafes against at every chance.  When she demands that her love kill Claudio she is filled with anger and with frustration at the constraints of her sex.  If she were a man she would not have to rely on anyone to avenge her cousin, she would be free to do so.  She is free to walk around the bright, vast grounds but she is constrained by the fact that she is a woman.  Branagh's Beatrice is angry, not just at the injustice done to her cousin, but the injustice done to her by being born a woman.

I also realized that these directors had made the same decision that we all did, they had made Shakespeare their own and presented it to the world, and who was I to criticize that kind of courage? Kenneth Branagh adds on all the splendor, drama and extravagance without making it vulgar. He depicts the characters as happy, full of bustling life, enjoying a splendid day with a field picnic and fine literature; making memories. Emma Thompson, who happens to be one of my favorite actresses, reprises her role of the sarcastic and witty person from “Sense and Sensibility” and she is again brilliant at it. She decides to depict Beatrice as full of a witty light, a happy and positive creature, one admired and loved by all. Again Beatrice gets an air of bouncy extravagance. Now with Joss Whedon’s film, we experience not a total but a partial antithetical departure from the earlier film version. Beatrice here is the same sarcastic and witty person we know but is a shade darker and not just because of her noir colors. This is a real, relatable person, who has experienced her fair share of unpleasantness in life. That comes out splendidly from the actresses. I think we understand Beatrice a lot more and deeply in the second movie. Whedon appears to have turned this into a mafia genre and all for the better. He blends centuries old characters seamlessly and poetically into a world of the 20s (approximately).

Branagh brings us in over the country side, (after the beautiful recital of Sigh No More), and in to the villa.  Lush and romantic. Making clear this is a story from the past.  But it's also a place we know at least from modern tourist brochures, if we haven't visited the region itself. It's a setting we can understand, setting us up for a story that is still in a world we understand.  And as we come in closer it's a world with absolutely seductive happenings. We'd love to be part of that world.

Whedon has a wonderful prologue before the credits.  A man creeping out of the bed where he's had (we assume) a one night stand.  And the woman is not so impressed when she wakes and realises this.  Of course, it's Beatrice who's less than impressed with Benedict's manner. Setting up her later annoyance with him and urge to take him down a peg or two. And also fixing with references in the play later on to their shared past. This also sets us very firmly in our modern world - Sex and the City, indeed.  So, a story that's very much part of our contemporary world - even if we don't have wonderful homes like that.  And this also works well with making Conrad into Conrade.  Remember the scene in the Whedon that starts with Don John groping her on the bed before they're interrupted.  An interesting interpretation of the power relationship between them, and a good reason for Conrade to happily be a hanger-on of Don John. Whedon's filming in a modern home also augments this feeling that this is a story of our day - let alone the mood that communicates of a group of friends coming together to do this play. Branagh uses lenses with greater depth of field, and sharpness. One of the pleasures is watching the backgrounds.  Even in scenes just between two characters there is often a lot going in - quite clearly - in the background. Whedon generally uses shallower depth of field, throwing a different focus on the characters in the scene.  I don't prefer one or the other. Both are legitimate. Noticing this, there is a wonderful pleasure to be had from the Whedon watching his mise-en-scene, and the constantly evolving frame compositions.  Whedon doesn't use tight close-ups as much as Branagh, but his framings really do reflect the changing relationships of a scene.  In a scene with three characters, shots will alternate between two shots and singles, but changing as one character gets more in sync with another, moves into the frame and the other drops out.  Branagh's framing and compositions also keep moving, and just as intelligibly. It's worth following both films for this aspect alone. The soundtrack. The music by Patrick Doyle is of course one of the joys of Branagh's version. And it is very much to the foreground. Whedon uses his score more surreptitiously.  Overtly, we hardly notice it. But it's often there, subliminally reinforcing the emotion of a given moment.  His songs are also appropriately right, if not as sublimely original as Sigh No More in the Branagh.

Surely with Shakespeare there can be no definitive version - and who would want it? His genius is that different performances can highlight different ideas in the play.  A few months ago, I saw “LOVE'S LABOUR'S WON” - yes, that title.  It's actually a recent RSC presentation of Love's Labour's Lost, which they apparently mounted in tandem with “Love's Labour's Won”, seeing both plays as a pair, taking place before and after World War I.  (They've been screening as events in some cinemas around the world recently.) Here one of the big gains was in the presentation of Dogberry.  Sometimes I find Shakespeare's comic characters ones you need to make a few allowances of credibility for.  But here, Dogberry comes across as a soldier, back from the trenches, somewhat shell-shocked and/or gassed. No wonder he muddles his words. No wonder his colleagues make allowances and go along with him. 

I’m also familiar with Baz Luhrman's style of cinema. “The Great Gatsby”, which incidentally casted Leonardo DiCaprio again, made sure of that. And his style was much suited to a story like that of Gatsby's rather than for a soft classic like Romeo and Juliet. I might sound like a bit traditionalist, but I do not, at all, agree with this adaptation. Indeed Shakespeare might have rolled in his grave or filed a suit against Luhrman. He obviously wanted to adapt the play to a modern time, but in doing so, it lost some its basic defining characteristics and its subtlety. The costumes and the decor were altogether another story, an awful one at that. Mr. Luhrman here emphasizes the crossing of the stars that is so much associated with Romeo and Juliet. He wakes Juliet up just in time to see her beloved on the brink of death, just enough to allow a small exchange of words and an enormous regret and then she sets out to join Romeo. The camera's focus on DiCaprio's and Danes' young faces kind of brings about a raw and bewildered innocence to the scene and portrays their suffering throughout their life through their family feud and now at this last hour. It feels almost criminal that such young and angelic faces should suffer so much. Of course the death is more drawn out and dramatized and Fr. Lawrence is nowhere to be seen and this I do not accept and neither the fact that Juliet blows her brains out. This implementation of modern tools somehow makes the tragedy a little less sacred and bit more profane and vulgar, though the flashback entire-life-passing-through-your-eyes-scene is a noteworthy addition.

Now, Mercutio's death is a little more violent and lacks the grace of this. The scene and the settings are again dramatized, what with the weather acting up. You do feel relieved at Mercutio's death but dread what is going to follow. The camera's focus on the market near the beach and the beach itself distracts you from the death. A punk twenty something uttering his last dying words on a beach sounds more out of a drug-deal-gone-bad-flick than a Shakespearean classic.

While reading Anderegg’s take on Shakespearean film, I also took the time to look at six different versions of THE TEMPEST, and it's fascinating to look at them all in a short space of time. 

I started with a version from 1908 (it's also on YouTube.) Of course, it reflects the early stages of cinema, and is only 12 minutes long. So a lot of plot lines vanish and because of the need for very strong light to register on the primitive film stock, it's all filmed outdoors - with some very theatrical backdrops used. Outdoors is not a problem for THE TEMPEST, of course.  Already, cinematically you can see editing being used effectively to achieve particular effects and convey story points. Understandably, at 12 minutes, the plot is quite truncated - how Prospero and Miranda got to the island is completely passed over.  But it makes an interesting starting point for THE TEMPEST at the movies

In 1979 Derek Jarman - British visual artist, gay activist especially after his diagnosis with AIDS, provocateur - made a very low budget version. Perhaps the story line is not as emphasised as it could have been, but it is a visual feast.  Scenes look deliriously like they've been staged using any and everything that could be begged or borrowed from some Rococo or Baroque opportunity shops. And poor Ferdinand loses all his clothes in the shipwreck so this handsome Adonis has to wander around completely naked and unashamed for quite a while into the film. It's probably described as a traditional imagining of the play with more attention to its visuals than to its story or themes.  But it's a version to certainly be enjoyed for its visuals.

I think most people would be aware of Julie Taymor's version - especially from the clips used in the lectures for our course. The transformation of Prospero into Prospera works overall, I feel, with perhaps only tiny little niggles you may have. The play to me has very much the feel of a parent reaching the stage in life when consideration must be given to leaving the child safely provided for in all ways - materially and emotionally. Giving this concern to a mother adds an interesting dimension to this parental concern.  Of course, with Prospero there can be a sexual undertone to his relationship with his daughter, especially when they are the only two of their kind on an island. He knows he needs to provide a partner for his daughter. At the same time, there is an inevitable potential for an element of jealousy towards the man who take his daughter from him. There is just so much to love in this film, including the wonderful visuals.  How well cinema can materialise (and de-materialise) the character of Ariel.

Also in Anderegg’s book is his take on Zeffireli’s version. It´s interesting to compare the lush vegetation in Zeffirelli´s version with the George Cukor´s Balcony Scene, in the 1936 film version (Norma Shearer & Leslie Howard as R&J  - available in https://youtu.be/pblrEyCJLg8).

No exaggerated greenery in Cukor´s Capulet´s garden (?). The scene depicts a fairly realistic Italian orchard, sober, almost bare, with some plants around and a few fruits tree (mentioned in the text: “Lady, by yonder blessèd moon I vow/That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops”) and Cukor's Romeo climbs a wall and not a tree (as Zeffirelli´s) to approach Juliet. In fact Shakespeare´s text calls the place an “orchard” and not a “garden” and he does not need vegetation to hide Romeo, as: "I have night’s cloak to hide me from their eyes..."

There is a danger over-interpretation in this line of discussion. I credit the lush vegetation in the 1968 film version to Zeffirelli´s style and nothing else. He may have intended all sorts of symbolic imageries (enchanted forest, youth, Garden of Eden, a tribute to the 1960´s emerging ecological consciousness, etc.) in line with his romantic interpretation of the play. But the fact is that Zeffirelli´s style in this film IS “over” and not just as far as greeneries are concerned. The “hide and seek” performance of R&J in the party is an example of his style of direction, leading to over-acting by Olivia Hussey and driving the scene to a comic if not ridiculous tone. The same style can be appreciated in other movies by Zeffirelli, especially in his biography of Saint Francis ("Fratello sole, sorella luna") which dates from the same period (1972) and has a “colour and atmosphere” very close to his R&J. Compare. A “lush vegetation” scene – this time surrounding Francis and Clare - is also used there. The scene is available in Youtube: https://youtu.be/yyMr6VEJQzU.

Sorry if I've gone on a bit about this. Shakespeare and cinema are both two of my favourite subjects. When I get going, it’s hard to stop…

NB: The Tempest: Julie Taymor's version (My movie review)