Henry IV Part 2 ★★☆☆☆ my roles: Lady Percy, Francis, Bardolph, Prince John, Servant, Harcourt, Porter, Simon Shadow, Second Groom
I have made no secret of the fact that I kind of hate the Henriad – sorry @ all of Shakespeare scholarship but Henry IV Part 2 is hands down my least favorite play of the 31 that I’ve read so far. The thing about this play is that I just don’t care – I know that’s on me and that it’s not an objective criticism in any way, but it is what it is. I think Hal is a tremendously well-written character whose arc is decently compelling (and those scenes with Henry IV at the end of this play are god-tier as far as emotional devastation goes, which isn’t even to mention Henry IV’s final lines – sob), but that just isn’t enough to really earn my investment in this nearly 3-hour long affair. And as I mentioned in my review of Henry IV Part 1, I find Falstaff insufferable and the comedic subplots in these two plays are frankly painful to slog through.
ALL THAT SAID I haven’t even mentioned the LIGHT OF MY LIFE, Kate Percy. She only appears in one scene in this play and still she delivers what has to be in my top 10 Shakespeare monologues, roasting Northumberland for letting his son Hotspur die in battle 1H4 at the hands of Hal (Monmouth) without sending backup:
MIC DROP. I ADORE HER.
Anyway, this wasn’t my favorite Project Shakespeare simply because it’s so Falstaff-heavy (though our Falstaff was brilliant so plenty of credit where it’s due to her) and because I was really failing to follow along with the story even though I’d already read it (I don’t think ANYONE was following along with the story that night, idek), but the individual performances were really shining! Oh and I had something like 16 costume changes and my bangs were a complete mess by the end of the night from swapping John’s crown with Bardolph’s baseball cap.
The Merry Wives of Windsor ★★★★☆ my roles: Caius, Pistol, Anne Page, Servant, First Servant, Second Servant
Yes, I know, I just said that I can’t stand Falstaff – no one is more surprised than I am that I didn’t hate Merry Wives. And actually, far from it – it’s probably one of my favorite comedies. It helps that even though Falstaff is the protagonist he is very much the butt of the joke, and it’s lively and refreshing and downright charming to watch all these clever women playing tricks on him. This one was very, very fun to perform.
Coriolanus ★★★★☆ my roles: Menenius, First Roman, Citizen, Seventh Citizen, Third Lord
I might change my rating of this one to 3 stars… I don’t know. I firmly believe that Coriolanus is the single most frustrating Shakespeare play. This play has greatness within its grasp and it is so close to achieving it but it just misses the target. The conflict it sets up is brilliant but it takes an agonizingly long time to get there (I have yet to find a single compelling reason why acts 1-3 can’t be condensed), the play never justifies its length, and the titular character’s lack of interiority can make the reader/viewer feel as though they’re running up against a brick wall. What I do adore about this play though is the dynamic between Coriolanus and Aufidius which I think is one of the most fascinating things Shakespeare ever wrote (I mean… this monologue…..!!) I don’t know – on the one hand this play just has this je ne sais quoi that hooks me and on the other I find it dull and tedious.
Anyway, when I read this play and subsequently watched two different productions Menenius didn’t make much of an impression on me despite his 500+ lines, but I unexpectedly loved playing him, so this was a lot of fun.
Henry VI Part 1 ★★★★☆ my roles: Suffolk, Vernon, Bastard of Orleans, Third Servingman, First Warder, Porter, Scout
As my unconventional taste in the histories continues to thrive, I loved the first installment of the Henry VI saga. This play arguably suffers from a lack of a central, cogent narrative conflict (while England v. France is obviously that conflict in a broader sense, it’s rather sweeping in scope), but for whatever reason I find all the mini-conflicts to be equally fascinating, and I thought this play was incredibly entertaining from start to finish. Also, the two back to back scenes where Talbot urges his son to flee when he knows he’s at the brink of death but his son refuses to leave his side are legitimately DEVASTATING. I mean:
It’s just one small moment in the play but I also think it effectively captures the tragedy of war better than anything.
I also loved playing Suffolk and I think his scene with Margaret is just delightful and utterly absurd and I cannot wait to see her character development over the next two (well, three) plays.
Next up – Two Noble Kinsmen which will surely be a delight. Stay tuned to hear about that in four more weeks.
As I mentioned in this post, the lovely Jennifer asked you guys to submit Women in Translation recommendations, which we’ve compiled into this post here. We got some really incredible submissions – so enjoy, and read Women in Translation year round! 🙂
The Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Dubravka Ugrešić (translated from Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth)
If one looks up a definition of a museum, one will get an explanation on the lines of a building containing artifacts of importance. However technically, going by that definition, every dwelling is a museum of sorts. In The Museum of Unconditional Surrender Ugrešić takes this concept to interesting territories.
Throughout the novel we readers are presented with pictures and artifacts while the narrator of the book explains their significance to her own personal history , these memories and objects range between quirky to bleak. By the end of the book the reader learns how a personal history, encapsulated in objects, has a way of contributing to events in world history. I’m a fan of playful narratives and this does not disappoint.
Rachel Matthews, Nottingham, England
Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich (translated from Russian by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait)
In Chernobyl Prayer, Svetlana Alexievich manages to create beauty out of devastation. She brings together a series of monologues from the people of Chernobyl affected by the 1986 nuclear power plant accident. The choices she makes in how the monologues are structured elevate this from being a simple record of events to something closer to poetry with themes of hope, duty and uncertainty running throughout. The reference to prayer in the book’s title is fitting as those sharing their stories do so without confirmation they will be read, some will die before the book is even published, but they speak anyway in hopes that their sacrifice will not be forgotten. Alexievich has immortalised their words in this wonderful book and it was a truly humbling experience to read.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez (translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell)
Mariana Enriquez’s Things We Lost in the Fire is a beautiful and chilling short story collection which most definitely warrants a read. Under the shadow of Argentina’s former dictatorship, characters must undergo constant challenges to their values and must negotiate between their morals and their survival. The horror in these stories succeeds because it strikes a balance between the violence visited upon the characters’ bodies and the psychological terror that comes with self-knowledge and experience.
Father Maybe an Elephant, and Mother Only a Small Basket, But… by Gogu Shyamala (translated from Telugu by Various)
Shyamala’s stories, written in Telugu which is a prominent Indian regional language, are cut from the fabric of her own life and seek to depict the complexity of Dalit experiences. Even though each story has a different translator, overall it’s a translation that mimics and retains the unique flavours of Shyamala’s Telugu, quite distinct from the more standardized version. These stories deal with serious themes like discrimination, caste violence, and emancipation, yet are never pedagogic or heavy-handed. The prose is simple but sensuous, especially in its lush descriptions of nature. Published by an indie press that prides itself on its anti-caste focus, this collection creates marvels out of the mundane, distils the essence of life, and leaves a bit of itself inside the reader.
Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi (translated from Bengali by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak)
Mahasweta Devi focused on women’s lives in her writing and explored how a female subaltern is doubly marginalized, first for being female and second for being subaltern (here meaning belonging to a lower caste or class). This micro-collection of three stories centres around the image of breasts to highlight the callous oppression and gross objectification of women through their bodies. During any conflict or war, a woman’s body becomes the primary target of an attack as she is seen as a receptacle of honour and shame by a patriarchal society. Devi explodes this extremely twisted notion in these three stories and shows how a body, especially the female body, can become a site of exertion of authoritarian power as well as of gendered resistance against that power.
Emma Wilson, Canberra, Australia
Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated from German by Susan Bernofsky)
In this slim and eerie novel, Erpenbeck tracks the fortunes of one lakeside house in Brandenburg. At first I couldn’t be fully immersed because of how removed the perspective seemed, as the different inhabitants over the course of a century come in and out of focus. But in the end I think that’s the book’s strength: its wider view of a century of massive change for Germany. I loved the idea that places are haunted by disappearances, dispossessions, and repossessions, and how the house itself remains both stoic and affected throughout.
There’s an aching feeling of loneliness as well as a foreboding sense of danger throughout Hanne Ørstavik’s short, razor-sharp novel Love. The story concerns Vibeke and her adolescent son Jon who have recently moved to a small town in the north of Norway. Jon is about to turn nine years old, but rather than prepare to celebrate they embark on independent journeys deep into the night meeting strangers and travelling through the freezing near-empty landscape. The narrative continuously switches focus between the mother and son’s points of view without any line breaks or indications that it’s changing. This produces the curious effect of a synchronicity and connection between the two, but, as the novel continues, it becomes apparent there’s a dangerous disconnect between them. Although there’s little plot, a quiet tension hums throughout each section making this a deeply meditative, haunting and curiously mesmerising novel which captures an eerie sense of estrangement from the people we’re supposed to be closest to.
Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (translated from Latvian by Margita Gailitis)
Soviet Milk alternates between the perspectives of an unnamed mother and daughter over a number of years from 1969 to 1989. They have a tumultuous relationship with each other and both struggle to find their place in society because this was a period of time when Latvia was still under Soviet rule. The mother is a skilled doctor specializing in female fertility, but finds life in the communist system stiflingly oppressive. Equally the daughter struggles to grow and nurture her developing intellect in such a regimental system. This is a moving and deeply poignant story of an unconventional mother-daughter relationship and a country undergoing radical social change as Latvia regains its independence. It illuminates the distinct personalities of certain characters in how the weight of history impacts them, but also shows a cumulative sense of national identity.
Elena Faverio, Smithtown, New York, United States (Elena Faverio)
Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya (translated from Japanese by a few different companies and a lot of hardworking fans!)
Fruits Basket is about a young orphan, Tohru Honda, who gets involved with the mysterious Soma family who are suffering under an ancient family curse. Whenever one of the family members is ill, stressed, or embraced by a member of the opposite sex, they transform into one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. This was the first ever manga I read (way back in 2007) and it has recently come back into mainstream popularity with a reanimation of the 26-episode anime series (it was first animated in 2001)! It is one of the most popular Japanese manga of all time, with over 18 million copies sold. Fruits Basket is light-hearted, tender, heart-wrenching, and funny in turns–and it’s a great read for young and mature readers alike!
Shielding the Flame by Hanna Krall (translated from Polish by Joanna Stasinska & Lawrence Weschler)
Shielding the Flame if translated word for word from Polish would be titled “To make it before God,” which doesn’t sound as smooth as the former, but illustrates more clearly the doomed fight Krall’s reportage describes.
In the seventies of the last century, Hanna Krall published a series of interviews with Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Edelman, a man reluctant to talk about the past in a myths-creating manner, in Krall’s reportage, commemorates the ghetto’s insurgents, but he also exposes everyday life during the most dehumanising circumstances.
Those who have never read Holocaust literature, fiction or non-fiction, need to brace themselves for the inhumane imagery of that period. Additionally, this set of interviews alternates between the Ghetto Uprising and the post-war life of Edelman, who became a well-known cardiac surgeon, which might make it a bit harder to follow. However, even though it’s a gut-wrenching read, it is gripping and extremely current too, due to its overarching humanism.
Marek Veselý, Czech Republic
Purge by Sofi Oksanen (translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers)
This book was intense but so good! Aliide is an old woman living alone in Estonia when a Russian girl named Zara shows up on her door, running from some kind of trauma. You learn about both their (very traumatic) backstories, but probably the most memorable thing is the atmosphere. There’s resentment and unspoken pain behind every interaction. And the more you learn about both (especially Aliide) the more sympathies change. Not a book for the faint of heart but definitely well-written and impactful.
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono (translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel)
Set in Central Africa, this coming-of-age novella follows the orphan Okomo whose grandmother has warned her away from befriending a group of young women she considers “indecent and mysterious.” Naturally, Okomo begins spending time with them. When she finds herself falling in love with their leader, she has to decide whether to follow the strict conventions of her Fang culture or rebel and become an outcast alongside her gay uncle. La Bastarda subverts all kinds of cultural norms and western ideas about queer love, community, and identity, which scholar Abosede George does an excellent job of contextualizing in the afterword. It’s also worth noting that this is the first novel by a woman from Equatorial Guinea to be translated into English, making it a landmark addition to the canon of translated literature.
Vagabonds by by Hao Jingfang (translated from Chinese by Ken Liu)
Set in the year 2196, Vagabonds follows a group of young delegates returning to Mars after a five-year cultural exchange on Earth. Mars won the war for independence a hundred years prior, but now escalating tensions between the two planets threaten the peace. After her return, Luoying, a Martian dancer, struggles to reintegrate to her homeland’s collectivistic society after experiencing the independence and creative freedom of life on capitalist Earth. Meanwhile, Eko, a documentary filmmaker from Earth, experiences opposing internal conflicts over his surprising appreciation for Martian society, with its open access to information and non-existent intellectual property laws. The two are vagabonds, stuck between cultures, never to be fully at home again on either planet. It’s easy to think of Mars as representative of China and Earth as Western society, but this meandering, philosophical novel cracks open readers’ assumptions and veers away from simple metaphors. It’s a lengthy tome, but well worth the investment.
Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri (translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles)
Tokyo Ueno Station paints a picture of life in modern-day Tokyo as if observed from a crowded train platform. You may only catch snippets of conversation, the call of a bird as it passes overhead, or a glimpse of an umbrella dripping with rain. These observations are woven together with reflections and ruminations of an unhoused man who later becomes a ghost. Both in life and death, he occupies a park near the Ueno train station and reflects on his life and his surroundings. There is so much to consider in this novel about Japanese history, our legacies, death, and how we treat one another. I really loved it for its brevity and thematic complexity, although its style may deter some readers.
Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica (translated from Spanish by Sarah Moses)
This is a novel about a near-future in which people begin breeding and raising humans for consumption. The normalization of cannibalism is blurred and ambiguated through carefully controlled language and a redefinition of what it means to be a person. What makes this novel great is how it goes beyond its premise to examine the power of language, the danger of individualism, and the lengths people will go to in order to get what they want. I don’t consider myself to be a squeamish person, but this novel had my stomach fluctuating between queasy churning and a knotted pit of dread. Tender is the Flesh is a visceral, often unpleasant read that will not appeal to everyone, but I found it quite impactful. I was also grateful that it was relatively short, as I do not know if my constitution could have handled much more body horror.
The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart (translated from the French by Barbara Bray)
This novel is about the end of slavery on the Caribeean island Guadaloupe and the end of a family line, Télumée being the last of a long line of mothers and daughters. But of course it’s not really the end; the effects of slavery are ongoing, and Télumée is such a vivid, arresting presence that it’s impossible to believe she’ll leave no trace. You may have gathered that this is not a light novel, but the writing and the translation is light, as in airy, and dreamlike. The prose is so effortless and perfect, it’s easy to forget this is a translation, but it’ll also make you want to read in the original French, if you can.
The International Booker Prize isn’t always the most accessible place to start diving into translations. They tend to favour the experimental. This 2020 shortlister probably qualifies, but it’s actually accessible at many levels. Are you familiar with the foundational Argentinian epic poem El Gaucho Martín Fierro? Perfect, this is a satire and you’ll love it. Not so much? That’s fine too, you can relax and enjoyr a drug-fueled romp across the pampas, or get serious and appreciate the sharp post-colonial and feminist critique. Oh, and if you need a 19th century lesbian romance to hold you over till Ammonite is released, China Iron‘s got you covered.
Four by Four by Sara Mesa(Translated from Spanish by Katie Whittemore)
Insular communities are an excellent setting for gothic stories, and Four by Four is no exception. Set at Wybrany College –– only allegedly established in 1943 –– is an “elite alternative to the orphanages and shelters of the day,” where the wealthy keep their kids away from the rapidly depopulating city of Vado. The “Specials”, those on scholarship, become pets to the elite students; students pets to the masters; and on it goes. Through its short chapters, erratic timeline, and two-part narration the school’s web of exploitation is gradually weaved. Just try to find your footing in this unsettling milieu.
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney)
Valeria Luiselli’s irreverent second novel in Spanish was written in collaboration with workers at a Jumex factory in Ecatepec. The workers would listen to chapters as they worked, discuss them, and return the recordings of their discussions back to the author. The story follows Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez, an auctioneer in Mexico City. His wares? The teeth of notorious and infamous people from Petrarch to Marilyn Monroe. Highway is endearingly eccentric and charming company on this hilarious, madcap journey on which his only aim is to impress his son.
After the Wall by Jana Hensel (translated from German by Jefferson Chase)
This is a memoir about growing up in East Germany, and what it’s like to have childhood experiences that don’t exist anymore. My favorite element is the contrast of generations; older East Germans find it harder to adapt to the change, but younger Germans can’t completely understand what it was like to grow up in a divided country with such different experiences on either side of the wall. Hensel writes in a collective voice to show that she’s speaking for her cohort who have one foot in the past and another in the present. Really recommend this!
Isy Abraham-Raveson, Philadelphia, United States
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lingren (translated from Swedish by Florence Lamborn)
Pippi Longstocking is a joyful story of an unconventional, super-strong girl teaching others the importance of breaking conventions and being oneself. Pippi is wonderfully imperfect. She can be self-centered and is easily annoyed, but also hates injustice and always stands up to bullies, whether they are little boys or police officers. Unfortunately, the book is not free of racism–Pippi is full of strange tales of racialized others from her worldly travels. If sharing this book with children, it would certainly require a discussion about prejudice. But overall, Pippi is a role model for all of us, embodying courage, strength, independence, playfulness, and the power of eccentricity.
The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous (translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette)
The Frightened Ones explores the psychological traumas of living under dictatorship in present-day Syria through an intimate look into the pressure-cooked minds of two women. It is an emulsion of reality and memory, blurring storytelling boundaries between an in-person narrator and one in a manuscript. The effect creates a sort of meta-autofiction, where truth is overrun by fear and we as readers are left questioning what is commentary, biography, or fiction. The complexity of Wannous’ text softens its focus, making it hard to describe, but its propulsive pace and meticulous sense of atmosphere make it worth the effort. Ultimately, The Frightened Ones reads less like a novel and more like an experience.
There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (translated from Russian by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers)
Gessen and Summers collected various stories from this renowned author and placed them into four categories: Songs of the Eastern Slavs, Allegories, Requiems, and Fairy Tales. But they all share dark, fable-esque perspectives on jealousy, repression, and revenge. I realized while reading this that I’d come to expect a certain interiority from short stories in general, and a focus on minute personal psychology. But Petrushevskaya’s stories are externalized; the outside world is treated as a nightmarish reflection on the grimness inside. There’s a sense that we’ve made the world in our image, and that the result is not pretty. This then raises the question of how you cope if what’s inside you doesn’t match the stories the world is feeding you, forcing characters to create or to find their own worlds. It’s fabulous in all senses of the word, and whether or not you speak Russian, I encourage you to look up some video interviews with this author, if only to appreciate her enviable hat collection.
Last year around this time Hannah and I created a 2-person readathon to tackle some of our ARCs, and we are going to do the same this year, for the last two weeks of September.
I say it’s a 2-person readathon just because we are not planning on doing prompts or hashtags or anything that would accompany an Official readathon, but if you want to join us, by all means do! The only prompt is to read your ARCs.
I’m not going to do a set TBR because I know I won’t follow it, so I’m just going to show you all of my possibilities.
So without further ado… my ARCs. These are only the ones I’ve acquired since this time last year but I think this is more than enough to choose from.
So… what should I read?! Help!
EDIT: I’ll update this as I go.
Catherine House ★★★☆☆ | review The Lost Village ★★★☆☆ | review
This is my first ever post with the block editor so… oy, bear with me, confused is an understatement.
Anyway, that’s right, we’ve apparently been doing this for SIX MONTHS (read: 4 calendar weeks x6 – not quite six months but close enough). You know the drill by now. Previous wrap ups here.
The Taming of the Shrew ★★★☆☆ my role: Lucentio
This is a play that I want to hate for obvious reasons, but the reality is that I don’t, at all. It’s lively and charming – the B plot with Tranio, Lucentio et al is nothing short of delightful – and I actually find it more (a) entertaining and (b) intellectually stimulating than the vast majority of the comedies that I’ve read. That said, the misogyny is, obviously, a hard pill to swallow, and I find it almost impossible to navigate that element in a contemporary production in a way that feels palatable without going against the text. (Incidentally, The Public Theatre’s recent radio play of Richard II includes an interview with a professor who mentions her opinion that we should halt all stagings of Othello, Merchant of Venice, and Shrew until we figure out a way to navigate their unfortunate optics, and the more I think about that comment the more I agree.)
There’s been a recent trend of playing Kate’s final speech (an infamous ode to patriarchy which, addressed to a group of other wives, literally contains the line “place your hands below your husband’s foot”) as sarcastic; implying that the shrew has not been tamed, she has merely learned to perform subservience. It’s a reading that doesn’t totally sit well with me – I just have to wonder, if Kate is performing, to what end? She’s still tied to a marriage with an abusive man, and if her spirit has been broken enough to even perform sincerity rather than continuing to obstinately refuse, to me that feels like a hollow triumph. Of course, watching the alternative, where the shrew has been tamed and Kate’s spirit is irrevocably broken, kind of feels like swallowing glass, especially in the context of a play which is otherwise jovial. It’s hard to walk away from this play feeling the sort of warmth you’re generally meant to experience while watching the comedies.
Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Project Shakespeare’s Kate and Petruchio were actually cooking up a third avenue: they choreographed it so that after Kate’s final speech and Petruchio’s final lines, Kate murders Petruchio. (Click that link to witness 10 people’s complete and utter shock unfold in real time, and scroll down to watch the full 30 second video.) Is it tonally incongruous, PERHAPS, but it was wonderfully cathartic when performed to an audience of feminists and staunch Petruchio haters. This was honestly the only acceptable way for this night to end.
Henry IV Part 1 ★★★☆☆ my roles: Lady Percy, Vernon, Francis, Carrier, Welsh Lady
Probably my most noteworthy unpopular Shakespeare opinion thus far is that (with the exception of Richard II) I strongly dislike the Henriad. (Seriously side-eying everyone who promised me that Henries IV-V would be my favorite history plays, when they are all… solidly my least favorites. JUSTICE FOR KING JOHN.) This one gets a generous 3 stars because I find the conflict between Hal and Hotspur decently compelling, but otherwise… there is not nearly enough here to hold my interest. I also have to confess to zoning out every time Falstaff opens his mouth.
Cymbeline ★★★★☆ my roles: Queen, Guiderius, Lady, First Brother, First British Captain
I really love Cymbeline. I’m not sure I could argue that this is one of Shakespeare’s better plays – it’s a bit of a mess in the same way Pericles is a bit of a mess, which I adore it for – but god it’s entertaining. I’m weirdly charmed by the genre-hopping in his later plays. Also, this was one of my personal favorite Project Shakespeare performances. Even though it lasted three whole hours (it’s the third-longest Shakespeare play), I was weirdly sad when it ended. The ghost sequence is the hardest I’d laughed in ages.
Julius Caesar ★★★★★ my roles (first show): Calpurnia, Cinna, Second Citizen, Soothsayer, Second Commoner, Lucilius, Ligarius, Lepidus my role (second show): Brutus
When I first read Julius Caesar earlier this summer, it quickly became one of my favorite plays; I’ve since read it a handful of times, watched three different productions, and now performed it twice, so… it’s been a whirlwind love affair. One of the reasons I love it so much is purely sentimental so let’s just get that one out of the way – I have never loved anything academically as much as I loved all four years of my high school Latin class, so part of what I love about Julius Caesar is simply that it continues the dialogue around a historical event that I first learned about in a context that I adored. But beyond that, I just think it’s a damn good play. The theme of human fallibility is one that I particularly gravitate toward – and I love the inherent ambiguity built into this play. Whether the assassination of Julius Caesar was ‘correct’ – morally or politically – is a question that has given historians pause for centuries, and what I love about this play is that it has no interest in answering that question. This isn’t a play about heroes and villains, it’s about people making impossible choices and suffering the consequences. And getting to play Brutus was a dream. What a role.
Next up: Henry IV Part 2 – solidly my least favorite play of the 25 I’ve read so far – and then I can be done with the Henriad ONCE AND FOR ALL (we’ve already done Henry V).
I’d like to point out that I’m titling these wrap ups somewhat misleadingly: I’m not going by calendar months, but rather, posting once every 4 performances. So we haven’t quite been doing this for five months… but we have been doing it for a pretty damn long time. Previous wrap ups here.
my role: Constance
I think King John is a marvelous hidden gem; I’m sure it’s one of the less popular ones for a reason, but I don’t care, I honestly love this play. Part of that is simply down to what interests me (I love a good succession drama and find the central conflict in this play so much more compelling than the histories which have a bigger focus on battle), and part of it is how insanely brilliant this ensemble of characters is. Philip the Bastard is great fun, the Arthur/Hubert scenes are filled to the brim with pathos, Elinor/Eleanor has some of the sassiest banter, and my fierce, prideful, savvy girl Constance is – I am not exaggerating – my favorite female character that Shakespeare wrote. I read this monologue and decided that if I didn’t get to play her I WOULD DIE:
Thou mayst, thou shalt; I will not go with thee:
I will instruct my sorrows to be proud;
For grief is proud and makes his owner stoop.
To me and to the state of my great grief
Let kings assemble; for my grief’s so great
That no supporter but the huge firm earth
Can hold it up: here I and sorrows sit;
Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it. [Seats herself on the ground]
But that’s not even the best one! I MEAN:
Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows’ cure!
If that’s not the most gutting thing you’ve ever read I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO TELL YOU. (I wrote about the potential influence of Hamnet Shakespeare’s death on this monologue here.)
I think the titular character is probably one of the weaker titular roles in all of Shakespeare’s canon and perhaps that is the reason why this play is so oft-overlooked, but weakness is an intrinsic part of John’s character in a way that I find very effective. So yes – I really really love King John and playing Constance was a personal highlight for me.
Evening of Scenes & Othello Book Club
I talked about this in my review of Othello, but since our small group is mostly all-white, we will not be performing the plays with non-white characters. Instead, we did two things: we had a bookclub discussion of Othello on Sunday, and on Saturday night, we had what we called an ‘Evening of Scenes’.
In the weeks leading up, Abby (our fearless leader) and I probably spent about five hours on Zoom reading and acting out various scenes from various plays. We then chose a selection of scenes that stood out to us, had everyone in the group request a scene they’d like to do, and divvied them up. I think we ended up doing fourteen scenes in total, from the following plays: Romeo & Juliet, Midsummer, Twelfth Night, King Lear, Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado, Hamlet, and Othello (Iago/Cassio and Iago/Roderigo scenes only), and in between scenes we also had people perform monologues. We had: Viola’s “I left no ring with her,” Malvolio’s “O, ho! do you come near me now?”, Lady Anne’s “Set down, set down your honourable load,” Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger,” Hal’s “Once more unto the breach,” something of Queen Margaret’s, Macbeth’s “To be thus is nothing,” Miranda’s opening monologue, and of course “To be or not to be.”
The whole thing was a goddamn delight. I ended up playing: Olivia in Twelfth Night, Titania in Midsummer, Cassio in Othello, and Gertrude in Hamlet, and I did Macbeth’s “is this a dagger” monologue (which I’ve had memorized for about a decade for no particular reason, so I finally got to put that to good use). I think everyone had an amazing time and we will definitely be doing this again.
As for Othello: you can read my review if you’re interested in my thoughts, but in short: I think it’s an incredibly engaging and dynamic play but the racial optics are a nightmare to untangle, to say the least.
my role: Aumerle
It was Abby’s birthday this week, and her birthday present to us all was playing Richard and doing a really really really extraordinary job. We took inspiration from the David Tennant RSC production (which you can watch on Marquee.tv – it’s a paid subscription but there’s a free trial) and erased Sir Pierce Exton entirely – I just read his lines still in character as Aumerle. While the Richard/Aumerle romance from that production was really shoehorned in there (in a way that I didn’t mind!) I feel like the decision to have Aumerle kill Richard actually works well with the text and is a much more compelling end to the arc of the Richard/Aumerle dynamic, and more narratively satisfying than some rando off the street killing Richard. Anyway, I like this play; it’s not my favorite, I find the ensemble characters uniformly uninspiring, but Richard is a tremendously compelling character and the language in this play is outstanding (‘for god’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings’!!!!!)
Love’s Labor’s Lost
my roles: Maria and Holofernes
What a bizarre play. When I inevitably do a ranking of all Shakespeare plays at the end of this, I already know that Love’s Labor’s Lost is the one that’s going to give me the most grief. I don’t think this is a good play, at all – I think it’s disjointed and a structural mess and the narrative is incredibly flimsy and it feels insane that I’m giving it 4 stars when I gave 3 stars to Twelfth Night and Much Ado… but for a comedy, I actually really, really enjoy this? I love the characters and the wordplay and the incongruously somber note at the end.
This is also a really great ensemble show; we all had such fun performing this one. I also created a whole schtick where I performed Maria as Maria from The Sound of Music… even though my character’s name was technically supposed to be pronounced Mariah, but, you know. Artistic liberties.
What’s your favorite Shakespeare scene? I need inspo for Evening of Scenes round 2!
Wait, what, I have reading interests outside Shakespeare?!
Last summer I wrote a piece on Women in Translation month that you can read HERE if you’re looking for a primer on what this is all about!
Every August the wonderful Matthew, Kendra, and Jennifer from booktube host the Women in Translation Readathon – this year it’s taking place from August 24th – 31st. There are 3 prompts this year:
Prompts (bonus for any if the translator is also a woman!):
1. Read a book published by an independent press
2. Read a genre title (SFF, romance, crime, thriller, horror, etc.)
3. Read a book that was published in its original language pre-2000
My own TBR is as follows:
Prompt 1 – Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated from the French by Tina A. Kover (published by Europa Editions)
Prompt 2 – The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani, translated from the French by Sam Taylor (thriller)
OR Out by Natsuo Kirino, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (thriller – also works for prompt #3, originally published in 1997)
Prompt 3 – Abigail by Magda Szabó, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix (originally published in 1970)
My big priority here is Disoriental, but I will be getting to as many of these as I can that week!
But this year there’s an exciting component to the readathon that affects me – and potentially all of you!
If you’ve wanted to try your hand at written reviews but don’t have your own platform (or maybe you have a smaller platform that you’re looking to grow), there are two exciting options. You can review ANY book by a woman in translation and submit your pieces to Jennifer – they’ll either be featured in Open Letters Review or here on my blog! Guidelines below:
Written Review Options:
1) Open Letters Review (https://openlettersreview.com/): Any full reviews of 2019-2020 releases. Send to me by Sunday, September 6th and she’ll edit them so they can run on the site. Welcome to send before that date as well! Typical review is 600-800 words. (Contact: email@example.com)
2) Pace, Amore, Libri (https://paceamorelibri.wordpress.com/): Rachel has agreed to host shorter bits about WIT books published in any year on her blog! We’ll be doing a collective piece: people can contribute 6 sentences per title, 2 titles maximum per person, and we’ll run them as a big recommendations post together. Deadline for this will also be Sunday, September 6th. (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
I know I start all of these wrap ups by going ‘how are we already x months into this’ but HOW ARE WE ALREADY FOUR MONTHS INTO THIS?! That is absolutely wild. Well, let’s jump straight in, shall we? Previous wrap ups here.
Romeo & Juliet
my role (first show): Chorus, Lady Montague, Servant, Third Musician, Page
my role (second show): Romeo
I wholeheartedly love this play, and it’s fine if you don’t but honestly I’ve never heard a single criticism of it that I don’t find inane (‘it’s just instalove!’ completely disregards the fact that theatre has different storytelling conventions than novels and that you can’t be sat there for eleven hours while a slow-burn romance unfolds before your eyes; not to mention – the fact that they’re rash young teenagers is one of the play’s significant themes; their romance isn’t narratively treated as Rational). Anyway, to each his own, but Romeo & Juliet is very much my cup of tea – compelling characters, engaging story, beautiful language, and a devastating yet inevitable conclusion that reads like a punch to the gut every time.
This probably sounds silly given that we are not performing these on stage but rather to a group of about 10-15 people (friends) on Zoom, but playing Romeo is literally one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life. I was petrified. The thing about Project Shakespeare that makes it so fun and magical is that people actually try; everyone allows themselves to be vulnerable and actually act rather than sitting there and reading the lines with a straight face. As I’ve talked about before, I’m not an actor, this is all new territory for me. So the morning of the second performance, I was just hit by the most crushing self-doubt, because… I asked to play Romeo? Romeo? I actually asked for this? Who the hell do I think I am?! So, it was hard, but it was also one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done. I just adore this character so much and I would be kicking myself for the rest of my life if I had chickened out of doing this. Plus I played Romeo opposite my good friend Will (of Books and Bao)’s Juliet (+ the night before we had a female Romeo and female Juliet), so we kind of just gender-fucked the whole play all weekend and that was a fantastic choice. Just, amazing times all around, this was one of my favorite weekends.
All’s Well That Ends Well
my role: Widow, First Soldier
In contrast, I… do not love this play! In fact, it’s solidly my least favorite of all 19 I’ve now read. I’ve talked about this before, but in general the comedies really do not do it for me; I rarely find them amusing and find that they lack a certain heart, which I feel is the case with All’s Well. It has some great characters, I’ll give it that, but it really doesn’t come to life for me on the page, and reading it was a pretty massive chore. Which is why it surprised me that our performance of this ended up being one of my favorites yet – it was just so damn camp and delightful. Our talented Helena and talented Countess were giving Broadway-worthy performances while the rest of us just acted like complete clowns for a couple of hours, and I just had the best time. I still don’t love the play and I don’t think I’d even enjoy watching it on stage, but getting to be a part of it (in peak melodrama form as the Widow) was a delight.
my roles: Lysimachus, Lychorida, Lord, Escanes
The biggest surprise for me so far as I make my way through the Complete Works – and probably my biggest Unpopular Opinion to date – is that I FUCKING LOVE PERICLES. This is – and I cannot stress this enough – the stupidest, most absurd play I have ever read. It starts with a comically unnecessary riddle about incest; it takes place over twenty years in approximately twelve different countries and it feels like it’s trying to be about eight different genres along the way; at one point a major character is about to be killed and right as the murderer draws his knife she’s kidnapped by pirates who then leave the play about two seconds after they deliver her to a brothel… this play is just a hot mess all around. So, why do I love it? You know the lack of heart that I was just talking about; I find the opposite of Pericles – I think it has heart in abundance. The titular character’s journey is really quite devastating, but it culminates in two beautiful reunions and the final scene is one of my favorite things that Shakespeare wrote (there are plenty of authorship questions surrounding Pericles but it’s generally believed that the first two acts were written by George Wilkins and the final three by Shakespeare). I also just think it’s an unapologetically fun time – I dare anyone to read this and not be entertained.
Measure for Measure
my role: Escalus
Measure for Measure was also a pretty big surprise though, I must say. Only a comedy by technicality, this is genuinely… one of the darkest plays I’ve read so far. I knew nothing about this play going in, but interestingly, though it’s set in Vienna, I could tell within two minutes of reading that the source material it’s based off is Italian (not just the character names – the setting and the themes in particular are undeniably Italian). I have a (useless!) major in Italian Lit and this brought me back to… literally every novel I ever had to read in college, so there was something sort of comfortably familiar about it that I think endeared me to it. It’s not my favorite play and I won’t be in a hurry to read it again any time soon, but I also found it rather interesting and unsettling in a way that stuck with me for days. Performing it was good fun too and it was a rather cathartic choice to do the ultimate ACAB play on the 4th of July.
Up next: King John, which I read for the first time a few weeks ago and which is one of my new favorite plays! I’m really looking forward to this.
Also, before I go, I just want to briefly comment on the fact that I’ve been rather terrible at blogging lately. I had a week off work last week and I thought I mind find my blogging motivation then, but that didn’t happen; but upon reflection I actually think I work blogging into my life more easily when my days have more structure. So, I’m sorry that I haven’t been more active on here – not only on my own blog, but especially everyone else’s – but quarantine has been weird times. I’m optimistic I’ll soon get back on this horse, but, I’m sorry again – I do miss all of you guys.
Anyway, leave a comment to talk about Shakespeare or anything else!
It’s kind of mind-blowing that we’re three months into this already, but let’s just dive straight into this! Months 1 and 2 wrap ups are here and here respectively – see month 1 if you’re unsure what this whole thing is all about.
Much Ado About Nothing
my role (first show): Leonato
my role (second show): Hero
We had another double feature, doing our regular Saturday evening show and then a Sunday matinee. I played Leonato one day and his daughter Hero the next, two rather different experiences. Hero is the character that I like and connect with the most in this play, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to play her. Leonato I didn’t ‘get’ quite as much, so when in doubt, overcompensate by laying on the drunk, corny dad energy thick.
Much Ado was new to me, and I had high hopes as this seems to be everyone’s favorite play – or if not their favorite, at least in their top 5. I can see why; it’s charming and witty and a healthy dose sassier than its oft-compared Twelfth Night. I desperately wanted to like it more than I did. This is the play that really confirmed for me that I’m never going to love the comedies (at least, not this type of comedy; something like The Tempest is a different story). This week more than most made me really reflect on what works for me in Shakespeare’s plays (and literature in general, more broadly) and what doesn’t. Ultimately I just need there to be something of consequence at stake, and ‘whether or not Beatrice and Benedick hook up’ just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t dislike this play at all but neither is it a new favorite.
The Winter’s Tale
my roles: Florizel, Time, Gaoler, First Lady
This play is very tonally uneven, so my thoughts about it are all over the place. The thing is, I can enjoy both halves of what Shakespeare is doing in this play. I can get behind an aged ruler making terrible and selfish decisions that lead to the death of his loved ones (Lear) and I can get behind jaunty forest shenanigans (Midsummer), but the fusion of the two… does not work for me here, probably because I don’t find a single one of these characters interesting or compelling in the slightest. I like isolated moments in this play but overall it really fails to move me. I do like Florizel well enough though, and playing Time was fun. This was an enjoyable read-through; we went a bit wild with “exit, pursued by a bear” with everyone providing their own interpretation of The Bear. But, I don’t know, this one is just a bit too weird for me overall.
Timon of Athens
my roles: Painter, Varro’s Second Man, Third Friend, Some Speak, Third Bandit
Speaking of weird plays… Timon was also new to me and I find it both interesting and underwhelming in equal measure. Interesting in that it reads more like a fable than a tragedy, and its tone is probably the most singular of any Shakespeare play I’ve read so far (which would make sense, given that it was cowritten), so it was just a bit of a different experience overall. Underwhelming in that I found the language in this one rather static and not terribly moving (though once Timon begins to descend into madness he does get some poignant monologues), and I didn’t find any of the characters particularly intriguing.
This read-through was just as chaotic as you would expect from a play with 50+ characters, only 4 of whom really have any kind of significant role. But chaos can be fun sometimes, and that was absolutely the case here. There were ridiculous accents everywhere, me and Abby poured glasses of water over own heads in a scene where Timon throws water over a crowd of spectators, and the whole thing was grounded by a brilliant, elegant portrayal of Timon by Will, who stayed up until 3 am for this nonsense, for which we were all SO grateful.
my roles: Katharine, Duke of Orleans, Duke of York, Sir Thomas Grey
I had a somewhat lukewarm experience reading this script, but while I was reading I had the thought that it would be a terribly compelling play to see on stage. And indeed, if our performance is anything to go by, damn, this is a brilliant piece of theatre. This was my favorite Project Shakespeare performance since Lear, and I loved every second of it. Seeing my college roommate and name twin Rachel shine while playing Hal was probably the highlight, but the leek scene had everyone in hysterics, and getting to perform a whole scene in French is one of my favorite things that I’ve gotten to do in weeks. She’s a small role, but Katharine quickly became one of my favorite Shakespeare characters – I dare anyone to read this scene of Katharine learning English (linking to No Fear Shakespeare for the English translation) and not be overwhelmed by how cute it is. I just can’t even explain how great everyone’s energy was for this performance. Bring on the rest of the histories, tbh!
Up next: a Romeo & Juliet double feature, with me playing Romeo on Sunday, which is… an exciting and terrifying prospect!
As you’ve probably noticed, Shakespeare has utterly taken over my life lately, in the form of weekly readings over Zoom. If you missed my first Project Shakespeare wrap up you can read that here, but now we’re done with month #2, which is a little surreal to think about. Anyway, let’s talk through these plays:
As You Like It
my role: Celia
The thing about As You Like It is that it’s… really fucking weird?! The conflict that’s set up in the first act never really materializes into anything (what even happens to Frederick?), character development happens entirely off-stage or without reason (Oliver’s a good guy now! because… Celia needs a husband!), there is an OFF-STAGE LION ATTACK? IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FRENCH FOREST?, there’s a wedding in which two people are married by… an actual god?! What even is this play???! (Potentially a satire of the pastoral genre, I know; still, regardless of its intentions, it’s weird as hell and it’s hard to totally warm up to.)
But it’s equally hard not to be at least a little charmed by it. The friendship between Rosalind and Celia is one of the most pure and touching female friendships that Shakespeare wrote, and I had a blast playing Celia, who starts out sweet and simple and becomes increasingly more jaded and frustrated by Rosalind’s shenanigans, while still lending her support. Celia is truly the unsung MVP of this play. Though, shout-out to Patrick for his minute-long dramatic entrance as Jaques (Jay-kweez).
my role: Laertes
I mean… it’s Hamlet. This is actually only one of two Shakespeare plays I ever studied in school (the other being Macbeth), so I feel like I have a stronger grasp on it than some others, and I do enjoy it immensely.
As a group, I think we were all a little nervous about Hamlet – it was only the second tragedy we’ve done after Macbeth, and Macbeth is still a ‘fun’ play in a way that Hamlet isn’t. The prospect of putting on a 3+ hour Zoom production of Hamlet was a little daunting, but those 3+ hours positively flew by. We divided the role of Hamlet into two (everyone knows that Hamlet is a massive role, but for context, he has twice as many lines as Prospero in The Tempest, which is… already a massive role), jokingly into Ham and Let, and both halves of our Ham/Let duo brought so much heart and passion (and sass) that it was a joy to watch. The two other clear stars that emerged were our Claudius and Ophelia; two characters I’ve never given much thought to, Claudius being so easy to portray as a mustache-twirling villain and Ophelia being The Generic Tragic Ingenue. But Abby brought such a pathos and humanity to Claudius that this monologue gave us all chills, and Pamela broke all of our hearts with her tender portrayal of Ophelia. Really incredible acting all around this week.
Comedy of Errors
my role: Solinus
Following Hamlet, we opted for the shortest play. And what an unexpected breath of fresh air this was! All I knew going into this was that it was one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays and that it was about two sets of twins and mistaken identity, and, indeed, that’s pretty much all there is to it. Heavy on the commedia dell’arte vibes, Comedy of Errors is just an unapologetically stupid romp, and I enjoyed every second of it. Its short length is absolutely part of its charm, because it smartly does not overstay its welcome (these dumb characters already take far too long to catch on to what’s happening), but by the time it ended I think everyone wanted another hour of it.
my role: Edmund
I actually have no words for this experience but I’ll try to come up with something. King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play – I’m utterly obsessed with the high-stakes drama and scale of tragedy. It’s also thematically satisfying and narratively ambiguous in a way that REALLY works to my tastes, and I think it has the most devastating ending of any Shakespeare play. Edmund is my favorite character – he’s the one I’ve always been the most compelled by, and I think he’s one of Shakespeare’s more interesting villains. Because in a lot of ways, he’s set up to be a sort of underdog hero – most of his ‘thou nature art my goddess’ monologue appeals directly to the audience and is actually disturbingly compelling. Because yes, who among us has not been screwed out of something we deserve; why shouldn’t he fight for what’s been denied to him by unjust social custom? Of course, that’s up until his line ‘well then, legitimate Edgar’ when the monologue takes a turn for the sinister and you realize that Edmund’s ambitions are naturally at the expense of his own family. But even after he is set up as the play’s chief antagonist (along with Goneril and Regan), his motives remain clear and cogent and perversely sympathetic – and his dying moments show a flicker of tenderness toward his brother that suggest that power for power’s sake was never the goal so much as being accepted by the family that he betrays – and I am unendingly interested in untangling the knot that is his character.
Anyway, much as I love Edmund, I felt nervous about requesting him. If you’ve been following the roles I’ve been taking, you will see a very clear pattern: Straight Good Men and ingenues. Both of which I’ve had a lot of fun with, but neither of which require a whole lot of… acting? (Or at least, you can get away with less acting; I should put it that way.) But I decided fuck it, I would never have this opportunity again and I would be kicking myself if I requested Cordelia out of fear (though I do quite like Cordelia).
Everything about this production was magical. I know it probably sounds hyperbolic to call it a production, but the caliber of everyone involved blew me away. (You can watch the eye gouging scene here; I truly cannot recommend it highly enough.) Abby and Rachel choreographed that scene beautifully and Abby, who was a brilliant Gloucester, played the rest of the show with a blindfold on. Maggie played Kent’s disguise with an Irish accent; Ashley played Edgar with FOUR ACCENTS. And Pamela and Chelsea were the absolute heart and soul of this production as Lear and Cordelia respectively; I have chills just thinking about the final act and how much the two of them broke my heart (and has there ever been a more chilling line than ‘Never, never, never, never, never’). Anyway, it’s hard to evaluate your own performance with any kind of objectivity, but I am proud of having pushed myself out of my comfort zone for this, as playing Edmund was an absolute dream and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Doing a play a week has been brilliant but I’m finding it a little hard to move on from this one!
So that’s that! Up next: Much Ado About Nothing. Stay tuned for the next installment in a month.
Shakespeare question of the day and in honor of me memorizing both ‘thou nature art my goddess’ and ‘this is the excellent foppery of the world’ this week – what’s your favorite Shakespeare monologue? Comment and tell me!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Reading Ireland Month!
You can read Cathy’s post about it HERE, but basically, it’s what it says on the tin: you read Irish books throughout the month of March. You can read exclusively Irish lit all month, or you can mix it up – I’ll probably end up doing the latter since March is when the Women’s Prize longlist gets announced, but I still want to cram in as much Irish lit as I can.
Cathy laid out a schedule which you are welcome to follow, should you so desire:
2nd – 8th March – Contemporary Irish Novels
9th – 15th March – Classic Irish Novels
16th – 22nd March – Irish Short Story Collections
23rd – 29th March – Irish Non-Fiction
Last year I themed my reading around the schedule and it worked out really well, but this year I think I’m going to do things a bit more free-form.
Before you see this massive list and panic on my behalf, I am under NO illusions that I will read all of these books in March. This is just a selection off my shelves that I feel particularly drawn to at this moment in time. Who knows what I’ll end up going for.
So without further ado, here are some of the books I’m thinking about picking up in March:
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan If All the World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton The Dregs of the Day by Máirtín Ó Cadhain The Cruelty Men by Emer Martin For the Good Times by David Keenan The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel Being Various edited by Lucy Caldwell The Long Gaze Back edited by Sinéad Gleeson
Honestly I think if I manage to read even 2 or 3 of these, I will be happy! Or maybe I’ll read something else entirely, but this list is what I’m feeling drawn toward at this very moment. So there you have it. Have you read any of these, and what are your Reading Ireland Month plans? Comment and let me know!