Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Characters in the Henriad

Richard II...

Henry Bolingbroke who becomes Henry IV...

Prince Hal... who becomes Henry V...

Hotspur... a fellow rebel, supporter, and then enemy of the Bolingbrokes...

Then, there's the crown's favorite coward... Falstaff!

Then, there's the rest of the gang at Miss Quickly's tavern...

Bardolph... Poins... Anicent Pistol... and Nym...

The Henriad, so called, was actually made into an epic television production titled The Hollow Crown. Check out the trailer...

Oh, and the following is not a speech written by Shakespeare... It's Tom Hanks improvising / stalling for time when the play Henry IV was halted due to a medical emergency of an audience member. Acting as Falstaff, hanks uses his quick wit keep the audience engaged...

Richard Burbage and Early London Theater

Here are some visual notes to help us peek into the early days of Shakespeare's life and career, as well as that of his colleagues.

Here are the plans for the construction of "The Theater." (Constructed in 1576. It was the second permanent structure theater built in London. The first was The Red Lion, built in 1567.

Oh, and in case you didn't know... theaters weren't just for actors...

(Bear Baiting -- behold the works of man.) 

Do you recognize this man???

Heplayed the title character Volpone in Ben Jonson's social-comedy classic. 

(Here's a portrait of Ben Jonson, master of the Comedy of Humours.)


Richard Burbage also starred in plays by John Webster... 

(He's the playwright responsible for the bloody tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi.)

But Brubage is most famous for playing the leading roles in many of the original productions of Shakespeare's tragedies.

He originated the roles of... Hamlet...


and King Lear...

There's also the possibility that he appeared in a play by the handsome young man in a gigantic sweater: Christopher Marlowe...

There were other stars of the stage, though none as big as Burbage. (It helps when your father owns the theater!)

Some of the other actors included Will Kempe... renown for playing clownish characters including Falstaff.

And Augustine Phillips, who perhaps saved the Lord Chamberlain's Players from the gallows!

(Is it prejudice to say that all these dead British actors look alike?) PS -- Check out the details of Phillips' will and you'll get a glimpse of how enmeshed his life was with the theater.

Here's Hamlet's advice to actors of the time...

Here's a great 20 minute promotional documentary about the recreation of the Globe Theater:

Monday, September 17, 2018

Profiling Villains in Literature

I meet a lot of students who want to become detectives, criminologists, and/or FBI profilers. It might be due to the popularity of CSI-styled shows during the last two decades, or maybe they are inantely passionate about injustice. In either case, these types of students enjoy analyzing characters through psycho-analytic criticism, which is a great way to approach a text.

For students who want too peer into a dark mind of a literary character, say perhaps such as an Iago or a Lady Macbeth, I have come up with an entertaining little prompt, a series of questions in which the student attempts to answer from the point of view of the villain.

Here's the prompt... 

Antagonist / Villain Profile (Pretend you are the character)


Approx. Age:


What do you see in the inkblot?

What do you want most out of life?

How do you feel about the protagonist?  Explain:

For each emotion, write the first word or phrase that comes to your mind: 
Society:                                                                       Friendship:

Success:                                                                       Failure:

What do you hate? (Why?)                             What do you love? (Why?)

Do you have any regrets?  Why / why not?

Have you ever experienced a downfall due to hubris?  If so, explain:


One of the creepiest characters in our literature textbook is Arnold Friend from "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" A UC Davis student created an excellent character analysis of this villain, positing the idea that Arnold might be the devil himself.

Read Spencer Martinez's essay: "Satan Drives a Convertible."

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Commedia dell'Arte & the Dawn of Molière

How do you say it? (with a cool Italian accent)

But what is Commedia dell'Arte? According to Encyclopedia Brittanica it is a "lost" theatrical art form. 

We know a lot about this style of theater... but because of the improvisational nature of Commedia dell'Arte, much delivery, dialogue, costumes, and jokes are lost to the ages. 

But we do know many of the key ingredients... 

The Great Outdoors:
Performances of Commedia dell'Arte began in Italy in early to mid 1500s. In contrast to dramas and tragedies, these comedies tended to be performed outside, and were attended by the general population. 

Traveling Troupes:

Actors of Commedia dell'Arte were typically nomadic, traveling from one village (or city) to the next. As the demand for this art form thrived throughout much of Europe (including France), troupe became even more mobile. 

Costumes and Masks:

Distinct colors and fabric patterns denoted the different stock characters. Masks featured highly exaggerated facial features. (I think all of them look creepy, but maybe that's just me.)

Women in the Theater:

Take that, Shakespeare! The first professional actresses (since the fall of Rome) performed Commedia dell'Arte. 

Loose Plot + Improv + Well-Practiced Slapstick = Commedia:

It wasn't pure improvisation... Most shows had a rough sketch with a clear conflict, beginning middle and end. Actors knew each others characters so well that they developed comedic routines, speeches, quips, and pratfalls. 

The medium flourished for centuries... evolving into many different theatrical forms. Including... our hero of the afternoon... 

As well as modern day silly people at Renaissance Fairs... 

And don't forget these guys... 

Unfortunately... when Napoleon took over most of Europe he did not care for the satirical nature of Commedia dell'Arte... So he had it outlawed in 1797. 

But let's back up again... before that that 5 foot, Seven inched general ruined everything. 

In the golden age of Commedia dell'Arte, most troupes consisted of at least ten players. Most storylines contained what was called the Usual Ten... 

Four Innamorati (Two pairs of Lovers)
Two Vecchi (Old men who are often greedy or overbearing or both)
One Captain (who is boastful yet usually a coward)
One Colombina ( often a maid, almost always a trickster -- sound familiar?)
Two Zanni (trickster characters / sometimes servants) 

Now... where does Moliere come into play? He was born Jean-Bapiste Poquelin... he adopted his stage name later in life. The year of his birth was 1622... just six years after the death of Shakespeare. Hmmm... 

(Reincarnation, anyone?)

This French-speaking vlogger provides a quick overview of the playwright's career... 

Kabuki and Bunraku Resources

For an in depth look at Kabuki Theater, check out this video -- which i believe is narrated in part by Jeremy Irons!

Also... here's a video of one of the most popular Kabuki plays in the history of Japanese theater: Yoshitsune and the One Thousand Cherry Blossom Trees.  


I was trying to think of ways in which Kabuki theater has influenced American pop-culture... and at first I couldn't think of anything.

And then I remembered these guys!

Now it's time to explore the fascinating and sometimes creepy world of Bunraku (Japanese Puppet Theatre)...

This clip of a performance may or may not be as disturbing (depending on your dread of puppets)...

Want to dig deeper in to the history of this art form? Begin Japanology has another great 30-minute documentary.

Now, the Bunraku style can be scene in several Western productions, including Paula Vogel's The Long Christmas Ride Home. (Read the New York Times review.)

And the retelling of the Tinman of Oz, The Woodsman...

And one could argue that Bunraku theater inspired the amazing British production of War Horse. (Although, to my knowledge Bunraku puppets are traditional human or humanoid.) 

Noh Theater in Popular Culture

Noh Plays are one of the oldest theatrical traditions in Japan. Here's a glimpse of what it looks like in performance...

Modern film makers from Japan and elsewhere are still heavily influenced by Noh traditions -- especially the trope of mortals entering the supernatural and sometimes forbidden world that lurks beneath the surface of our own.

In Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, a little boy happens upon a wedding party of foxes. It is forbidden for humans to observe such a thing, and the boy must beg for their forgiveness or perish.

In adition to live action film, we can see the influences of Noh in animation... For example: Spirited Away:

I've always thought that the NoFace character in Spirited Away was creepy... but perhaps nothing is quite as unsettling as the little girl from The Ring crawling out of the well

Watch if you dare!!!


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Space Ace -- and other Animated Video Games

I may have mentioned before how, back in the 1980s, I was one of the many children suffering from Arcade Mania. I definitely had Pac-Man Fever. And Asteroids Asthma. And Centipede Sickness. You name the game, I'll tell you about my addiction -- my desperate need to mooch quarters off of my parents just so I could take on a digital army of Space Invaders (or in my case Galaga insects).

The video games that amazed me the most were the ones that were in the style of Disney animated features. I believe Don Bluth created the two that I am thinking of... Dragon's Lair and Space Ace...

I have already blogged about Dragon's Lair... but I did want to mention that a discovered, or should I say rediscovered a game that I had completely forgotten about... Dragon's Lair 2: Time Warp!!!

I totally forgot this existed... I think think I may have only watched others play, because I only recall the beginning action sequence in which Dirk the Daring runs away from his mother-in-law. Pretty funy stuff... but I noticed that halfway through, this cartoon adventure gets SO WEIRD! There's a sequence in which you are the size of a mouse running through Beethoven's music parlor. The animators were having way too much fun, I think.

But the one I've been really thinking about lately is SPACE ACE. I loved Space Ace as much as I loved the original Dragon's Lair -- but god knows I could never get very far into this game before I got zapped.

Now, thanks to YouTube, you can watch the full version and imagine successfully playing through the game without perishing once.

One thing I must say about the influence of this game -- and I don't even think at the time I knew that it was this game that had an affect one me -- several early writing projects of mine wouldn't have been the same without this Sci-Fi action cartoon. 

I used to draw a comic-book called Space Bounty Hunter from Hell... and although the art style and plat were very different, the ship of Space Ace is very similar to one of the space ships I would draw for my cartoon. (I did not recall this until last night when I watched the YouTube video.)

The other more prominent influence... the name Dexter. (That's Space Ace when he's in his pipsqueak form.) I loved that name!!! If you look at the screenplays and book I wrote in my late teens and early twenties, I always put in a Dexter character either as a main character or a supporting one. Before Space Ace, I had never even heard of that as a name. 

I stopped using Dexter, by the way... First because of this guy...

Now, I am certainly not gonna name another one of my characters Dexter, thanks to this guy...  

Back in the Arcade days, I remember another animated game from Japan... It was called Cliffhanger...

Does anyone know of other animated video games from this era and beyond? Leave a comment and let us know.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Your Daily Dose of Catharsis


Examples of Deus Ex Machina in Film

An animated explanation of Dramatic Irony:

Modern Adaptations:Lysistrata Jones