For Pride Month, I’d like to draw some focus to a celebrated LGBTQ film, based on a play that, while not Shakespearean, it was by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and one who influenced Shakespeare a lot. This film, Edward II, directed by Derek Jarman, was based on the play of the same name by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). The film came out in 1991, during the AIDS crisis, when gay and lesbian people were not only fighting for their lives against a devastating epidemic but also for acceptance from the heterosexual community. This film is not only a striking, well-acted, well-directed adaptation of Marlowe’s play; it is also an encapsulation of the fears, struggles, and anxieties of the LGBTQ+ community at the time.
Plot Summary/ Great Quotes
Biography Of King Edward II
Edward II was the son of the infamous King Edward I, aka, Edward the Longshanks, the Scottish Hammer. He lived from 1307-1327 – until he was assassinated.
Fact Vs. Fiction
Aside from a few historical footnotes, I’m betting that when we think of Edward II, we mostly think of this portrayal in the 1995 film Braveheart. Frankly, most contemporary accounts of Edward II’s reign are similar to this portrayal- vain, spoiled, weak, deluded, and an utter disgrace to his warrior father. One of his greatest embarrassments was his army’s catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Edward’s sources mainly portray him as weak and feeble compared to his father, but we have to remember that this was a cruel, warlike society with very little place for anyone who didn’t conform to stereotypical masculine virtues. Probably in the minds of the English court, Edward’s homosexuality was linked with his failures as a king. It was up to Jarman’s production to make Edward feel more like a real man, and not just a gay stereotype.
Play Vs. Movie
In the play, it’s ambiguous whether Galveston really loves Edward, or if he’s using him for the king’s power and protection. In the movie, Galveston is definitely using Edward, making the king’s fawning all the more pathetic and tragic. As his son asks: “Why do you love him when all the world hates him?” This makes our sympathies teter between Edward and his court- we wish Edward would open his eyes and get rid of Galveston, but at the same time, who hasn’t been blinded by love? At the same time, Galveston has been hurting the country, and taking Edward away from his court and his queen. Like many other stories of monarchs in love, including the real-life story of our current king, there is a constant tension in the court between the monarch’s personal desires, and his or her responsibilities to the country.
Biography of Marlowe
Edward II and Richard II
Many scholars believe that Marlowe’s play helped influence Shakespeare’s Richard II, as they both center around weak, sometimes effeminate kings that fall prey to the machinations of other lords. In Shakespeare’s play, it is possible to play Richard as being in love with some of his favorite courtiers, but nothing is explicit. Obviously, Marlowe was much more overt in Edward’s love for Gaveston. To demonstrate how these plays are similar, here’s Ian McKellen playing Richard II:
Is this play Homophobic?
On the one hand, the story shows Edward as effeminate, weak-willed, and poor in judgment which does align with offensive homosexual stereotypes. On the other hand, the other lords of the court are portrayed as cruel and intolerant, and Jarman definitely makes Mortimer a cruel and homophobic individual. In addition, when Edward’s son Edward III, who famously conquered England and France, he is shown in the movie wearing drag, which clearly shows that a member of the LGBTQ community need not be weak or ineffective. It also shows that Edward III has inherited his mother’s strength, not his father’s weakness.
Romeo and Juliet is still taught more than any other text in American high schools, and since it’s a play not a book, teachers will inevitably want to show a movie in class to show some of the action to the students. Since this is the most recent high-profile film version of Romeo and Juliet, it seems inevitable that this will be the one teachers will show to students, so I will try to review this film from the point of view of an educator, not a Shakespeare fan.
This film was financed by the Swarosvski Crystal Company and in the words of their own chairperson, the film is an extension of the Swarosvki brand. So if I were to describe this film’s concept it would be to dazzle the viewers with expensive costumes, exotic locations, beautiful visuals, and young, attractive actors:
To be clear, I agree with the director that Shakespeare should be updated every few years to keep it fresh and relevant. However, I would argue that this film doesn’t go far enough to make this concept fresh, and this version is destined to age poorly. Without a unique view of the play other than- “love is pretty”, the film lacks vision and is not very distinct. That said, it perhaps is a good way to introduce young people to the play, as we’ll see below:
Changes to The Plot
The Act I Tournament
The film opens, not with two servants fighting (yet), but with a tournament between the Monaegues and Capulets, where they joust instead of fight to avoid bloodshed. It is a striking image to be sure, and it is less confusing than starting a fight over biting a thumb, but it is a little odd that the Prince has this tournament to avoid street fights, and then they wind up fighting anyway over the results of the tournament. It works within the story but it makes the Prince seem dumb and it adds little to the story other than spectacle.
As you can see from this clip, the dialogue of this film is changed liberally. The writers change Shakespeare’s lines to make them sound less Shakespearean. They also heavily cut the speeches to shorten the duration of the film. Cutting long speeches and substituting a word here and there is pretty standard for most Shakespeare movies, but what I find really irritating in this film is the number of lines that they add. It’s generally understood in Shakespeare that a director or actor can subtly change a few lines in a play- change pronouns, change an archaic word or two to make it easier for an audience, but this movie has the dubious record for most lines added to a Shakespeare movie. Some of these lines are paraphrases of the Shakespearean text, like all the dialogue of Sampson and Friar Laurence’s speech explaining the sleeping drug plan to Juliet. Some of the additions are character lines, like the scene where Benvolio admits he wants to woo Rosaline, (which to be fair, is an interesting change and I don’t mind it). Finally, some of the lines are designed to summarize speeches that the script cuts.
I know I sound like a purist here, but I feel that if you’re going to do Romeo and Juliet, use the text of Romeo and Juliet, and don’t change it unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re going to do an adaptation like Gnomio and Juliet or Tromeo and Juliet, you can throw out the Shakespearean dialogue and play around with dialogue using the plot and characters Shakespeare wrote. This film does neither- it mangles Shakespeare’s text but rigidly adheres to the story and characters, so it fails to pick a lane between faithful depiction or creative adaptation.
Mercutio is a Montegue now. This matters because in Shakespeare’s version, he was related to the Prince, which is why the Prince takes pity on Romeo for avenging Tybalt’s death. Changing his allegiance robs his death of some of the tragedy that he was a neutral party who got caught up in other people’s quarrels.
Tybalt is in love with Juliet, which admittedly, I’ve seen in other productions. It gives him more motivation to hate Romeo and makes him even more distasteful to the audience.
Sampson and Gregory appear, but they are not named, nor do they bite a thumb.
Benvolio’s role is merged with Balthazar and the actor is the youngest person in the cast. I honestly like this change a lot- Balthazar is a great character but he is functionally identical to Benvolio in the plot, so merging the two parts makes a lot of sense. Both Balthazar and Benvolio spend the play looking out for Romeo yet Benvolio disappears once Tybalt dies, so giving the actor Balthazar’s lines is a welcome change. Now Benvolio is literally with Romeo to the end, which makes us feel sorry for Romeo and his best friend.
Benvolio is in love with Rosaline and makes a play for her after Romeo falls in love with Juliet. This might be a subtle nod to their relationship in the novel “Romeo’s Ex.”
Rosaline is Juliet’s cousin now, which is not mentioned in Shakespeare’s version.
Rosaline actually speaks, remarking on the foolish nature of silly Romeo, the Montague, and the Capulets. She still has no effect on the plot though, and her dialogue adds nothing.
Concerns for Teachers
If you are a teacher, I would recommend you show parts of the movie, specifically the fights and some of the action in the second half rather than the whole thing, but once you read the rest of this review, you can draw your own conclusions. As I mentioned before the Shakespearean dialogue is heavily cut, new ‘modern’ dialogue is added in, and even some of the action is also changed. Because of this, DO NOT TRY to read the play along with this film, as your students will get extremely frustrated. In my class, I actually played a game where the students write down what the movie changed from the play to try and get them to engage with it. I would also recommend asking questions or quizzing the students on the plot or the famous lines since those are more or less intact.
According to Common Sense Media, the film is relatively tame for students, (which of course was one of the goals of making it), so the violence is toned down, there is little nudity and little cursing (there actually is a little PG-13 language added near the beginning, but not much).
Though the film is populated with English and American actors, the majority of the crew is Italian and principal photography was done in Italy, both on-location in places like Verona, Mantua, Rome, and other Italian locations.
The original story of Romeo and Juliet is set in the 1400s but based on the references to contemporary fashion and music, we can assume Shakespeare set his version around 1593- (the year it was probably written). This production, based on its fashion and architecture is probably set around the early Baroque period, (c. 1600).
This time period was notable for abandoning neck and sleeve ruffs in favor of lace or linen collars (Source: https://fashionintherenaissance.weebly.com/fashion-timeline.html) . The famous pumpkin pants were also replaced with less fussy breeches as well. All these fashion choices are in the Romeo and Juliet movie and it’s fascinating to look at the choices they made for the film in behind-the-scenes documentaries. I shouldn’t be surprised here, but studying this period made me enjoy the film more- I lost myself in the spectacle and ignored their handling of the story.
As you can see from the close-ups above, the Swarovski Crystal company definitely showed off some of their wares in Juliet’s costume. In fact, Swarovski sells a version of Juliet’s wedding ring.
You can also see in these costume renderings the influence of Pre-Raphelite artwork on the costumes, like this famous painting by Francis Dicksee (1884).
Many of the street locations for Romeo and Juliet were filmed at Cinecitta Studios in Italy, but as you can see from this behind-the-scenes footage, most of the film was filmed on location in beautiful real-life baroque buildings in Italy:
Many of the locations remind me of the high baroque architecture of the celebrated Italian sculptor and architect Gian-Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), who had his own Romeo and Juliet-style drama in terms of sordid love affairs, duels, and exiles:
One location I found very interesting to research was the Grotto of Sacro Speco in Subiaco, which was the location for Friar Laurence’s cell. This is a very holy site to many Catholics- it is the celebrated Cave of St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine monks. Friar Laurence is a Franciscan monk so this isn’t entirely accurate, but it does provide some wonderful religious eye candy during the scenes at his cell, and it does beautify the wedding scene.
The Music (rant alert)
THE MUSIC NEEDS TO SHUT UP! Especially in the love scenes, I feel like the music is too loud and drowns out the dialogue. I also find it irritating that the score makes so much use of the piano, which wasn’t invented until 1700 since the movie is trying to be historically accurate. To be fair, the loud piano is actually the sound department’s fault, but the fact that pianos didn’t exist at this time took me out almost as much as the overpowering score, (which somehow won two International Film Music Critics Awards (IFMCA)!
Reviewers usually love to rag on whoever plays Romeo and Juliet. It’s kind of a no-win scenario here- If they’re young, they’re inexperienced and thus, don’t know how to speak Shakespeare. If they’re older, they’re too old and shouldn’t have been cast in such a youthful role. So rather than falling into that trap, I’ll be positive about the casting and say what I like about the performances, while criticizing the direction, because I feel that in general, the acting in this film is fine, but there are some odd choices that the director should’ve thought twice about.
Romeo (Douglas Booth)
Booth might actually be my favorite film Romeo- he’s beautiful to look at, sweet, impulsive, naive, everything Romeo should be. He also knows how to deliver Shakespeare and can convey complex ideas through poetry. I could argue that he lacks the rage that Romeo should have when killing Tybalt, but I don’t think that’s what he was going for this Romeo is a good guy who is too sheltered and lacks proper guidance, so he makes rash choices because nobody is there to tell him why they are.
Juliet (HailiEe Steinfeld)
I don’t fault Ms. Steinfeld for this, but her worst scenes are sadly, the most famous. Her delivery during the Act I dance and the famous balcony scene is monotonous and dull. I think the director told her to act as if love put her in a trance, but the effect is that she sounds like she’s half asleep. Again, I know she can do Shakespeare because her scenes with the Nurse and Lord Capulet are much better; she’s passionate, articulate, and full of emotion. I think the director failed to give her proper direction to play a love scene realistically, and intentionally slowed the scene down so the audience could pick out the famous lines.
Some people argue that Lord Capulet is actually a good dad, but not this film. As I’ll show you later, this film is trying to play up the forbidden love aspect of the story, and what is more classic than an angry, disapproving father? To this end, even though Damien Lewis starts out jovial and sweet to Juliet, by Act III he is full of resentment and rage:
Tybalt (Edward Westwick)
In my opinion, Ed Westwick steals the show every time he’s on screen. He knows how to speak the Shakespearean lines and he makes the added lines sound Shakespearean (which is to say, actually good). With his fiery gaze and his thick, deep voice, he reminds me of a young Mark Strong and is equally good at playing smarmy yet compelling antagonists. You love to hate this guy, yet you feel sorry when he dies.
Friar Laurence (Paul Giamatti)
Giamatti rivals Pete Postlethwaite for my favorite Friar Laurence. He was a perfect choice and he has an effortless Shakespearean delivery. I think it’s telling that his lines of dialogue are the least altered from Shakespeare- the director knew Giamatti could make them work without any alteration. He also has a great rapport with both Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld.
Moments to Watch For:
This film does well at portraying the forces that rip Romeo and Juliet apart- Tybalt’s maniacal hatred of the Montagues, Lord Capulet’s scheme to marry Juliet, and the influence of maligning fate. For this reason, the film is actually better in the second half, once the romance is over and the tragedy sets in. Again, a lot of this is due to the excellent performances of Ed Westwick as Tybalt, and Paul Giamatti as Friar Laurence, who frantically strains his brain to help the lovers and is thwarted at every turn. I wonder if, since the film was adapted by the creator of Downton Abbey, in which Giamatti starred, the writer placed most of the success of the film on Giamatti’s shoulders, intentionally or not.
My Reaction: Shakespeare for Twi-hards.
Forgive me for getting a little conspiracy-theory-ey here but, since the Twilight saga concluded in 2012 and this film came out the next year, I suspect that thisRomeo and Juliet was partially produced to cash in on the success of Twilight. After all, Twilight: New Moon is full of references to Romeo and Juliet:
As the video below demonstrates, Twilight and Romeo and Juliet are both examples of Petrachian love, which is to say, love thwarted, so similar themes and tropes are baked into both stories.
There are also stylistic similarities to how this particular Romeo and Juliet are filmed, such as the lush landscapes, the prevalence of piano in the score, the heavy uses of glamour shots, and even some of the Italian locations evoke Twilight:
Worst of all, I feel that this film tried to make Hailee Steinfeld, an Academy Award-nominated actress, try to act like Bella Swan in the Balcony scene. I think this is why the first half of the film drags and seems slow and dull- it is trying to emulate Twilight’s visual style and forces the actors to adopt a “Twilight School of Acting.”
So in conclusion, the film is uneven- it has talented people working on it, but I think the studio and the company were a little preoccupied with selling the film to a specific group of young people. Does it work for classrooms? For now, but I worry that this version won’t connect with young people for long, and because of its lack of focus and clear direction, it will probably go the way of Twilight– a brief cultural blip that is pretty to look at, but that is quickly forgotten.
If you like this analysis, you might be interested in signing up for one of my Outschool Course on Romeo and Juliet Link down below. Share this class with a friend and you will get $20 USD off!
I’m working on Part II of my Shakespeare’s Star Wars podcast and I thought I’d share some of the clips I’ve been editing together. First is a short clip of Darth Vader saying lines to express his sorrow and anger when Luke plummets down the Cloud City shaft, rather than go with his own father. I wrote the text myself, adapting it from this speech of King Leontes in “The Winter’s Tale:”
Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er head and
ears a fork'd one!
Go, play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I
Play too, but so disgraced a part, whose issue
Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamour
Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play. "Winter's Tale"
I re-purposed this speech as Vader’s angry response to Luke choosing to fall down the air shaft. I think it conveys Vader’s anger, but also his grim determination to turn his son to the dark side:
Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er head and
ears a fallen one!
Go, fall, boy, fall: So Obi Wan, and I
Fell too, but thou shalt live and come to me again
My master will hiss thee to my path: darkness and pow’r
Will be my friends. Go, fall, boy, fall!
If you listen to the podcast, you can hear that I mainly focused on Vader and Luke and how they convey their emotional journey through soliloquies like this. In the second part, I will talk about the romantic foils to Luke and Vader- Han and Leia! STAY TUNED!
Support the show
If you like my dramatic readings and analyses of the “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars” series, please consider donating to my podcast.
Well today is May 4rth, when a lot of people have chosen to celebrate one of the most iconic movies of the 20th century: Star Wars! And why not? The story is full of conflict, introspection, love, change, the conflict between fathers and sons, and occasionally guidance from ghosts. Wait, that sounds familiar- it’s a lot like Shakespeare! Yes, the movie has a lot of parallels with the Shakespearean canon, and I’d like to share some of those similarities here. Below is a post I did for the American Shakespeare Center about how the Star Wars prequels parallel Shakespeare’s history saga of Henry the Sixth:
As I was writing William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, I was surprised to realize I had made more references to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing than any other play. Much Ado is a comedy—probably my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies—so it was strange that lines from it kept popping up in the darkest of the original Star Wars® trilogy.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is a series of parody plays written by Ian Doescher that takes the prose screenplays of the Star Wars story and transforms them into Elizabethan verse. Last time I mentioned how much I loved the cheeky references to Shakespeare and Star Wars, and how Doescher adapts the cinematic quality into Elizabethan drama very well. In my podcast, I also emphasized the way Doescher gives each character verbose Shakespearan language that works very well for radio and theater:
What I want to do with this post, (and the accompanying podcast), is to see whether this edition captures the fun, the clever wordplay, and the Shakespearean storytelling of “A New Hope,” with the second installment of the series, and if it helps to capture the shift in tone between the two movies, as Luke is tempted by the dark side and Han is betrayed and frozen by Lando.
Notes about the play
The first play in the series, “Verily, A New Hope,” took plot and structure inspiration from Henry V; it tells the story as an epic heroic story of Luke’s heroic deeds, much like how Henry V is about a king who grows from boy to man.
By the playwright’s own admission, the dialogue is stuffed with lots of re-purposed quotes from Much AdoAbout Nothing, Shakespeare’s comedy of a womanizing, self-centered soldier who becomes a devoted husband. This is appropriate since the Leia/ Han plot within the play and movie starts out with them bickering like Beatrice and Benedick. Doescher says this was an accident, but I think he might have subconsciously taken inspiration from their love affair to help structure the dialogue. In the accompanying podcast episode, I talk more about how the use of Much Ado quotes helped to flesh out the characters of Luke, Leia, and especially Han.
Movies and plays follow a similar structure where the action starts at a static place, tension rises, and finally, things get resolved at the end. A lot of the same elements are in both issues. The main difference is how they are arranged. Let’s see how Doescher translated the three-act structure of a screenplay, to the five-act structure of an Elizabethan tragedy.
As you can see, films have a 3 act structure
Elements to Watch for:
A Chorus is a short speech where a character who is not part of the action of the play introduces the plot. It functions the same way as the famous title crawl at the beginning of Star Wars.
I mentioned last time that “Verily: A New Hope” uses choruses liberally, which is appropriate because the tone of this story is so much darker, and since the action follows the journeys of Han and Luke so closely Ian doesn’t use choruses as much. I suspect this is partly because unlike The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope jumped around more between planets and locations and used wipes and other transitions heavily:
Below is a link to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Learning Zone, where you can learn about the language of the Henry V chorus.
The literary technique of stichomythia has characters who speak at more or less the same time, using slightly different forms of dialogue. Doescher uses this well as a staging device by having Vader and Luke speak similar lines as Luke plummets down the shaft after losing his lightsaber duel:
These similar lines highlight the connection these two have (no spoilers), and also emphasize that, though the actors might be physically close onstage, their characters are meant to be far apart; they wouldn’t be saying this to each other.
In Romeo and Juliet, there’s an excellent example of stichomythia in Act IV, Scene iv, right after Juliet’s parents and Nurse discovers her, apparently dead. There is a long series of laments by her parents and nurse where they are shocked and horrified at her sudden death:
Lady Capulet. Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day! 2702 Most miserable hour that e’er time saw In lasting labour of his pilgrimage! But one, poor one, one poor and loving child, But one thing to rejoice and solace in, And cruel death hath catch’d it from my sight!
Nurse. O woe! O woful, woful, woful day! Most lamentable day, most woful day, That ever, ever, I did yet behold!2710 O day! O day! O day! O hateful day! Never was seen so black a day as this: O woful day, O woful day!
Paris. Beguiled, divorced, wronged, spited, slain! Most detestable death, by thee beguil’d,2715 By cruel cruel thee quite overthrown! O love! O life! not life, but love in death!
Capulet. Despised, distressed, hated, martyr’d, kill’d! Uncomfortable time, why camest thou now To murder, murder our solemnity?2720 O child! O child! my soul, and not my child! Dead art thou! Alack! my child is dead; And with my child my joys are buried.
Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Scene v lines 2702-2723.
When I played Friar Laurence and the cast and I rehearsed this scene, the actors playing the Nurse and Juliet’s parents were struck by how similar the lines are and worried that these long passages of laments would get tedious to an audience. I realized by looking at the similar lines, the similar words (especially at the ends of lines), and the fact that Friar Laurence interrupts them at the end, led me to believe that these lines are meant to be spoken AT THE SAME TIME. This creates an effect of organized chaos where the actors seem to be wailing and ranting, but are actually speaking a carefully composed quartet of grief. Thus Doescher cleverly mimics Shakespeare’s use of stichomythia to convey Vader and Luke’s physical distance, and complementary feelings at the same time.
3. Parody Lines
The biggest appeal of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is the fact that it is a parody, and I’ve said for many years that parody and gentle riffing on Shakespeare is a great way to get students to overcome their fear of Shakespeare and engage with him. Students who know Star Wars but don’t know Shakespeare will recognize the familiar characters and plots of the movies and then see how Shakespeare’s language tells the story anew. Similarly, people who know Shakespeare will recognize the way Doescher re-tools famous Shakespeare quotes to give to characters in the Star Wars Universe, like here, where he spoofs the intentionally bad speech of Snug the Joiner and gives it to the Wampa from Empire Strikes Back:
Peter Keavy as Snug the Joyner in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” 2017.
In the Educator’s guide, which I’ve attached below, Doescher tells you exactly which lines he has parodied and the plots of the original plays so the students can learn about Shakespeare through these famous speeches. Orson Wells once said that “We sit through Shakespeare in order to recognize the quotations,” and this edition gives us thrilling space battle, wonderful characters, and witty dialogue to keep us entertained while we wait.
As Doescher worked his way through all nine installments of Star Wars, he continued to expand and experiment with his storytelling. There are a couple of moments in “Empire” that work only onstage such as the aforementioned moment of stichomythia after the lightsaber duel, and the scene in Act II, Scene ii where the Imperial Walkers known as AT-ATs actually speak to each other onstage. Like the French in Henry V, it’s interesting to see the battle from the enemy’s point of view, albeit a highly biased one. I won’t reprint it here for copyright reasons, but I will put this funny sketch in as a placeholder:
Although I loved “Verily, A New Hope,” I feel that Doescher didn’t go far enough to adapt the dialogue in interesting ways and play with the stagecraft of Star Wars to make it more distinct from the film and the first installment. My favorite moment of the play was the Wampa speech which was great because it not only parodies one of my favorite speeches in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it also made the Wampa attack tonally distinct from the film- the film is tense and grim, while the Wampa speech is funny and charming. I wish Doescher had embraced the parody and silly tone he shows in this speech and applied it more to the rest of the play; we already know Empire is the darkest installment of the series, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be played like that the whole time.
What I think works best in the film is the romantic comedy between Han and Leia; Doescher does a wonderful job pointing out the parallels between Han and Leia and Benedick and Beatrice which is not only fun, but helps Star Wars fans appreciate the comedy of Much Ado About Nothing even more. This is why I’m glad Doescher took painstaking notes on how he parodied Much Ado and other plays in the guide below:
This is part of my upcoming podcast where I demonstrate how similar Yoda’s speech is to some Shakespearean dialogue. Actor and puppeteer Frank Oz, who puppeteered the character and supplied the voice explained that the idea behind the character’s iconic speech pattern was a discovery he made reading through the script:
“It’s funny you ask about [Yoda] because I was just looking at the original script of The Empire Strikes Back the other day and there was a bit of that odd syntax in it, but also it had Yoda speaking very colloquially. So I said to George [Lucas]: ‘Can I do the whole thing like this?’ And he said: ‘Sure!’ It just felt so right.”
There are a lot of in-universe theories as to why Yoda speaks like this. David Adger, from Queen Mary University of London has a theory that, much like many Latin languages have a different syntax than English, perhaps Yoda is speaking in the syntax of his language while speaking English:
He’s speaking English but changed the structure of it to be like his native language,” Adger points out. “We can find out something about Yoda’s native language by looking at how he speaks English, in the same way as I can find out about a French person’s native language by looking at how that French person speaks English. Yoda says things like ‘the greatest teacher failure is’… If you were to say that in a language like Hawaiian … it would be almost exactly the same … putting the predicate before the subject,” the professor used as an example.
From a Shakespearean perspective, what Yoda is doing is called anastrophe, a rhetorical technique that is used for emphasis. Instead of the familiar- Subject-Verb-Object syntax of English, the order is flipped to grab the reader/ listener’s attention:
According to Silvae Rhetorica (The Forest of Rhetoric), the word Anastrophe is Greek for “backward turning,” where the writer twist the word order around. As I said before, this creates a surprising effect, much like this painting by Picasso:
“People take the eye for granted. If I paint an eye in an eye socket, they take it for granted. If I take it out of the eye socket and stick it somewhere else, it comes as a shock, and they see the eye anew.”
— Pablo Picasso
In the following slides, (which I found from Slideplayer.com), you can see examples of how Shakespeare and Yoda use anastrophe.
While researching for my upcoming podcast on Shakespeare’s Star Wars, I found this great article by fellow Shakespeare blogger William Shakespeare In Media. They have a great analysis of Ian Doescher’s parody “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars,” with some details I didn’t know the first time around! So please show them your support, and tell them Shakespearean Student sent you!
Also, feel free to peruse my podcast and post on “Verily: A New Hope.”
I’m very excited for the content I have coming up, BEGUN STAR WARS WEEK HAS!!!
For Shakespeare’s birthday, I thought I’d re-visit one of my most popular posts, especially since the Royal Shakespeare Company is celebrating by putting on an adaptation of Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet:
Just like his famous father, we know very little about the life of Hamnet Shakespeare. Since infant mortality rates were high, we don’t know his exact birthday, only that he was baptized on February 2nd, 1582. Like most 11-year old boys, he probably had started going to school at the King Edward Grammer School, the same as his father. This means he spent long hours away from his parents learning to read and write in Latin and Greek. When he was home, he lived with his mother, his two sisters, and his grandparents in the house of Henley Street.
O’Farrel portrays the boy Hamnet as sensitive and somewhat lonely, which makes sense, since he probably didn’t see his father for long periods of the year; Will Shakespeare spent much of the year writing, going on tour, and performing at the Globe- he commuted from London to Stratford for most of the year. He probably only came around during Lent, Christmas, and times of plague when the theaters were closed.
Never mind what I know. You must go.” She pushes at his chest, putting air and space between them, feeling his arms slide off her, disentangling them. His face is crumpled, tense, uncertain. She smiles at him, drawing in breath. “I won’t say goodbye,” she says, keeping her voice steady. “Neither will I.” “I won’t watch you walk away.” “I’ll walk backwards,” he says, backing away, “so I can keep you in my sights.” “All the way to London?” “If I have to.” She laughs. “You’ll fall into a ditch. You’ll crash into a cart.” “So be it.
The novel portrays Anne Shakespeare realizing that her husband is stifled and unhappy living with his parents in Stratford, and so she suggests to his father that he go to London to ‘expand the family business,’ though in reality, she wants him to go to make his fortune and find more fulfilling work. Scholars have wondered for years how Shakespeare got his start in theater- as a man with children he was legally unable to become an apprentice, and as a glover’s son from Stratford, he didn’t know anyone in London. O’Farrell solves the mystery by making him start out as a costume maker and mender for a theater company, who later became a writer and actor.
This idea of Shakespeare starting out as the company’s glove mender actually has some historical merit- records from the time confirm that many playwrights and actors were also local artisans. Men like John Webster, Richard Tarlton, Edward Kyneston, and even Richard Burbage were skilled drapers, textile merchants, haberdashers (men’s tailors) and ( like the Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,”) some of these men were weavers-turned actors (Source: Anna Gonzales) So it’s entirely possible that Shakespeare started in London by selling gloves to theaters, before selling his plays.
When Will moved to London, he lived in a number of locations throughout the city, probably because it wasn’t a safe place. Theaters were located in the same districts as bear baiting and brothels, so Will probably had to move to get away from bad neighborhoods, as this video from The History Squad illustrates:
A glover will only ever want the skin, the surface, the outer layer. Everything else is useless, an inconvenience, an unnecessary mess. She thinks of the private cruelty behind something as beautiful and perfect as a glove.
Almost immediately after Will leaves, Anne is full of remorse. She knows his work in London will consume him and his success will make the distance between him and her even greater.
She walks back, more slowly, the way she came. How odd it feels, to move along the same streets, the route in reverse, like inking over old words, her feet the quill, going back over work, rewriting, erasing. Partings are strange. It seems so simple: one minute ago, four, five, he was here, at her side; now, he is gone. She was with him; she is alone. She feels exposed, chill, peeled like an onion.
He wants to tear down the sky, he wants to rip every blossom from that tree, he wishes to take a burning branch and drive that pink-clad girl and her nag over a cliff, just to be rid of them, to clear them all out of his way. So many miles, so much road stands between him and his child, and so few hours left.
As I’ve said in previous posts, Shakespeare survived three epidemics of Plague; one in 1563, (before he was born), one in 1593, and one in 1603. In O’Farell’s novel, the germs that kill Hamnet came not from a massive outbreak, but a few germs that were transported in a box that his sister had the misfortune of opening. This frightful passage shows the grim tenacity and eve-present fear that, while England expanded and became more interconnected with the world, it also brought death and disease to and from the rest of Europe.
In the book, the plague germs that infect Judith and later Hamnet, lie inside a box with some glass beads that the Shakespeare’s ordered from Italy to decorate a pair of fancy gloves. As this video from National Geographic shows, trade routs then as now are prime spreaders of disease and even one ship that slips by can turn any box of goods into a Pandora’s Box, waiting for a poor unsuspecting girl like Judith to release it unto the world.
He can feel Death in the room, hovering in the shadows, over there beside the door, head averted, but watching all the same, always watching. It is waiting, biding its time. It will slide forward on skinless feet, with breath of damp ashes, to take her, to clasp her in its cold embrace, and he, Hamnet, will not be able to wrest her free.
In the novel, Hamnet somehow takes the plague away from his sister and dies in her place. Though it is hardly conclusive, I do find it interesting that Shakespeare stopped writing comedies about twins for another four years after Hamnet’s death, until he wrote Twelfth Night, which unlike earlier comedies like The Comedy of Errors, has a pair of twins mourning each other’s apparent death. They seem to share one soul, and one tries to resurrect the other, like Viola mourning her brother by, (in a sense), becoming her brother.
What should I do in Ilyria? My brother is in Elysium
Viola- “Twelfth Night”, Act I, Scene ii.
ELIZABETHAN FUNERAL CUSTOMS
In the book, Anne makes a winding sheet for her son. This was a cloth of linen or wool that was wrapped around dead bodies, since at the time, coffins were re-used. This must have been a somber and deeply upsetting activity for Anne.
As this quote from “The Evolution of the English Shroud” illustrates, the act of making a winding sheet was a sort of sad family responsibility, a way of ensuring that your loved ones die with dignity, and Anne clearly takes the task of making one very seriously.
The 16th-century shroud for the poor and lower middle classes was a large sheet that was gathered at the head and feet, and tied in knots at both ends, covering every part of the body. It resembled earlier Medieval practices and was a functional, yet modest way of preserving the deceased’s dignity. It was also economical, with very little cost involved, as the burial sheet was usually taken from the family home. At this point, linens dominated as the material of choice; after all, it was a biblical tradition as Jesus was wrapped in a linen cloth. Linen was also considered more fashionable than wool.
Coffin Works Archive
The Aftermath Of Hamnet’s Death (Spoilers)
She discovers that it is possible to cry all day and all night. That there are many different ways to cry: the sudden outpouring of tears, the deep, racking sobs, the soundless and endless leaking of water from the eyes. That sore skin around the eyes may be treated with oil infused with a tincture of eyebright and chamomile. That it is possible to comfort your daughters with assurances about places in Heaven and eternal joy and how they may all be reunited after death and how he will be waiting for them, while not believing any of it. That people don’t always know what to say to a woman whose child has died. That some will cross the street to avoid her merely because of this. That people not considered to be good friends will come, without warning, to the fore, will leave bread and cakes on your sill, will say a kind and apt word to you after church, will ruffle Judith’s hair and pinch her wan cheek.
The Women of Hamnet
The most unique thing about this novel is how it shows the interdependence of women in Elizabethan society. Since Shakespeare spends most of the novel away from Anne, her support system mostly comes from Will’s mother Mary, as well as Anne’s daughters, her sister, and all the other women of the town. Nowadays we do most of our socialization online and barely know our own neighbors, but in the 1590s, especially for women, community was a way of building strength where women got through things like childbirth, loss, the managing of households, and many other difficulties through their relationships with other women. This video below shows the kinds of home remedies that women would share and later write down during the Tudor period:
Other Mysteries Solved
Once Hamnet dies, Will buys her a new house, New Place so she isn’t forced to live with his parents and no longer has to live in the house where her son died. But Will’s success comes with a price- he still has to leave for London. he offers to move them there but Agnes won’t hear of it. This solves the riddle of why Shakespeare commuted between town and country for his entire career- she knows the plague that took her son literally came from London, and she won’t risk losing her daughteras well. She probably also sees London like another woman that took her husband away as well, and therefore refuses to look it in the face.
It is no matter,” she pants, as they struggle there, beside the guzzling swine. “I know. You are caught by that place, like a hooked fish.” “What place? You mean London?” “No, the place in your head. I saw it once, a long time ago, a whole country in there, a landscape. You have gone to that place and it is now more real to you than anywhere else. Nothing can keep you from it. Not even the death of your own child. I see this,” she says to him, as he binds her wrists together with one of his hands, reaching down for the bag at his feet with the other. “Don’t think I don’t.”
The Shakespeares’ Marriage after Hamnet
I mean’, he says, ‘that I don´t think you have any idea what it is like to be married to someone like you.’ ‘Like me?’ ‘Someone who knows everything about you, before you even know it yourself. Someone who can just loo at you and divine your deepest secrets, just with a glance. Someone who can tell what you are about to say- and what you might not- before you say it. It is’ he says, ‘both a joy and a curse.
The ugly truth that O’Farrell highlights in Hamnet is that it must have been very hard for the Shakespeares to endure Hamnet’s death, especially since Will was probably not there when it happened, and probably didn’t stay around long after burying his son. It must have been catastrophic on his marriage, sort of like this tragic moment in the musical Hamilton, where the couple mourns the loss of their son, who died in a duel trying to defend his father’s honor.
Agnes is a woman broken into pieces, crumbled and scattered around. She would not be surprised to look down, one of these days, and see a foot over in the corner, an arm left on the ground, a hand dropped to the floor. Her daughters are the same. Susanna’s face is set, her brows lowered in something like anger. Judith just cries, on and on, silently; the tears leak from her and will, it seems, never stop. — How were they to know that Hamnet was the pin holding them together? That without him they would all fragment and fall apart, like a cup shattered on the floor?
Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet
The Second Best Bed mystery
Though Anne is angry at Will for a while, she does eventually forgive him, as evidenced by another solved historical mystery. In Shakespeare’s will he gives his wife “My second-best bed, with the furniture,” which O’Farell explains, is their marriage bed. The best bed was the one they gave to guests and was therefore newer. In the book, Will offers to replace it after Hamnet dies, but Anne won’t hear of it; although she partially blames Will for Hamnet’s death, she still loves him and her love is stronger than her grief, as is her love for her surviving daughters.
What is the word, Judith asks her mother, for someone who was a twin but is no longer a twin? Her mother, dipping a folded, doubled wick into heated tallow, pauses, but doesn’t turn around. If you were a wife, Judith continues, and your husband dies, then you are a widow. And if its parents die, a child becomes an orphan. But what is the word for what I am? I don’t know, her mother says. Judith watches the liquid slide off the ends of the wicks, into the bowl below. Maybe there isn’t one, she suggests. Maybe not, says her mother
Raising the Dead
At the end of the book, Shakespeare plays the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, and writes Hamlet as a tribute to his late son. We don’t know for a fact that the real William Shakespeare did this but Stratford legend says that Shakespeare played the Ghost of Hamlet’s father onstage, and this has captivated the imagination of authors and scholars alike. In any case, as Stephen Greenblatt says in his book Will In The World, Shakespeare’s father’s health faded around the same time that he wrote Hamlet. it must have been hard for Shakespeare to write a name that was one letter away from his son’s over and over again. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play, and the titular character has over 40% of the dialogue, so it must have been haunting at the very least for Shakespeare to have to write his son’s name nearly 4,000 times.
Whatever he determined at the time, Shakespeare must have still been brooding in late 1600 and early 1601, when he sat down to write a tragedy whose doomed hero bore the name of his dead son. His thoughts may have been intensified by news that his elderly father was seriously ill back in Stratford, for the thought of his father's death is deeply woven into the play. And the death of his son and the impending death of his father--a crisis of mourning and memory--could have caused a psychic disturbance that helps to explain the explosive power and inwardness of Hamlet.
Greenblatt, 2004, p. 8)
In the book, Anne secretly goes to London to see Hamlet onstage and is overcome with emotion. Not only does Will play a ghost as tribute to his dying father, not only does he put his son’s name onstage, he directs the actor playing Hamlet to affect his own son’s mannerisms and gestures, to use theater to bring his son back from the dead. Anne is both appalled and moved by this act- Hamnet is dead, but his story is now immortal.
O’ Farrell has done a fantastic job of taking what little we know about the Shakespeare’s lives, infusing them with some clever inferences from the plays of Will Shakespeare, and finally fleshing them out with her own Shakespearean knowledge of the human heart- how it feels to bury someone, how it feels to go through trauma and what it’s like to be part of a family and to truly love someone, even though they often fail to properly love you back. As the end of the book implies, maybe Will didn’t intend to immortalize his son and share his powers of theatrical resurrection with the world, maybe this was just his way of apologizing to the love of his life. To try to make amends for the time he lost and to express a wish that he could give her son back to her, which in a way, he does:
Hamlet, here, on this stage, is two people, the young man, alive, and the father, dead. He is both alive and dead. Her husband has brought him back to life, in the only way he can. As the ghost talks, she sees that her husband, in writing this, in taking the role of the ghost, has changed places with his son. He has taken his son’s death and made it his own; he has put himself in death’s clutches, resurrecting the boy in his place. “O horrible! O horrible! Most horrible!” murmurs her husband’s ghoulish voice, recalling the agony of his death.
Bray, Peter. “Men, loss and spiritual emergency: Shakespeare, the death of Hamnet and the making of Hamlet.” Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, vol. 2, no. 2, June 2008, pp. 95+. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A189052376/LitRC?u=pl9286&sid=bookmark-LitRC&xid=ea79f235. Accessed 20 Apr. 2023.
Document-specific information Creator: Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon Title: Parish Register of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon Date: 1558-1776 Repository: The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK Call number and opening: DR243/1: Baptismal register, fol. 22v View online bibliographic record