But seriously folks, tip your ale wenches. And try the mutton. I’m here all week.
For the record Shakespeare’s best play is Hamlet… about an indecisive mama’s boy with some serious daddy issues. Always a contemporary theme. For instance, when Hamlet discovers that his pals Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are spying on him for his evil uncle, it’s just like when Michael Corleone discovers his brother Fredo has betrayed him. “I know it was you, Rosie,” says the sourpuss Danish prince. Then instead giving him the kiss of death, Hamlet runs him through with a sword.
Plus, Shakespeare used Hamlet to show he was the only writer ever with the guts to kill off ALL of his main characters. He out-Tarantinos Tarantino. By the end of the last scene, the only people left in the castle are a janitor and the cute little chambermaid the king stepped out with on weekends.
See… and they say Shakespeare is boring. But oh, all that bloodshed… Yuck. I need to go to my happy place now.
By the way, don’t quote me on any of the above. I never fact-check.
But do quote me on this: before winning an Oscar for the screenplay of Shakespeare in Love, Tom Stoppard took on old Will in an earlier and very quirky, artful film based on his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Tim Roth plays Guildenstern… or was he Rosencrantz? (That’s a lame inside joke… and by the way, what are two schmucks with such Jewish-sounding names doing smack in the middle of Denmark?!) Anyway, Gary Oldman plays the other one. It’s like This Is Spinal Tap for Shakespeare geeks, but with some very cool filmic gags thrown in as well. Go rent it.
If not that, then the 1995 Richard III –with Ian “Gandalf” McKellen dressed as and acting like a WWII era Nazi-type heavy — has some great scenery-chewing. Also, I think the Mel Gibson Hamlet is underrated, the Midsummer Night’s Dream film with Kevin Klein and Calista Flockhart is good, any Shakespeare film that Kenneth Branagh put together is excellent (with Much Ado About Nothing, in ’93, being the easiest to like) and the 1982 film Tempest with John Cassavetes and wife Gena Rowlands was a unique modern variation exploring some of Shakespeare’s themes (aging, faithfulness) in a mostly original story.
Oh, speaking of Tempests: my wife’s old theater teacher Frank Galati is acting for the first time in years, in Steppenwolf Theater’s first ever Shakespeare production. The Tempest, Will’s last play, is running there thru the end of May.
If you prefer nonfiction: Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard documentary is quite amusing and informative, both about Al and about American opinions on Shakespeare.
So there are my recommendations, for some do-able Shake-y activities.
Oh, one more: This American Life ran a great program on a Hamlet performance in a prison last year. When real murderers got their hands on this stuff something mysterious, spiritual, and maybe even a bit magical happened. Click above to stream it, or download for 95 cents. (Speaking of TAL, their live cinemacast is tonight, to hundreds of movie theaters around the country. Go help raise money for this essential radio show, and see/hear some classic Chicago and New York liberals, humanists and wackos do what they do best: tell stories… like Shakespeare did, only the radio show mostly uses soliloquys and monologues.)