Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

On Monday, August 22nd, at Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents Richard Burton’s 1964 *Hamlet,* the first film in our Shakespeare in Film Series for 2016-17. Film starts at 7:30pm, and the concession stand will be open.Free and open to the public!

For more information about the film, visit:

For information on upcoming films, visit:


This is actually Burton playing Hamlet in 1953, but the photo was too good to pass up. See:


Back for its 14th season, Tuscaloosa’s The Rude Mechanicals will present Shakespeare’s comedy “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” 8 p.m. each night, June 1-4, in The Park at Manderson Landing; in case of rain, the show will move indoors to the Allen Bales Theatre, Rowand-Johnson Hall on the UA campus.

Free admission. Live pre-show music begins at 7:30 p.m.

Patrons should bring blankets, chairs or other seating material. For more, call 348-0343.

The Facebook Event

Hamlet Poster (IF) copy 2

Next Wednesday, October 7th, 2015, at 7:30 PM, Improbable Fictions will present a staged reading of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Come join us! Free and open to the public.

TN (Eyelashes) for IF copy

The Facebook event: here.

The program: TN (Lips) for IF

It’s hard to believe the life that Improbable Fictions has had thus far: twenty five separate staged readings since 2010, covering Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Euripides, Elizabeth Cary, and Terry Pratchett, readings that have drawn on actors and audience members from the University of Alabama and the community of Tuscaloosa. It’s my pleasure today to announce a few details about the seventh season of IF. (Wait a moment, I’m quickly checking my math…yes, SEVENTH SEASON).


Wednesday, October 7th, 2015, 7:30pm at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center (here) IF will present Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, adapted by Alaina Jobe Pangburn and myself back in 2010. You can find the script here (Helms.Jobe.Twelfth Night Script, Aug 2015), and if you’re interested in participating you can reach me at Hopefully this time around I’ll just be directing and won’t have to play Orsino as well!

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015, also at the CAC at 7:30pm, IF will present Shakes’ Hamlet, adapted and directed by Jacob Crawford, whom you can reach at

We’re also working on a reading of Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine in December and a possible performance at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in October. Details will be announced when I have them!


The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents its final film of the 2014-15 Shakespeare Film Series, Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 Love’s Labour’s Lost. Free and open to the public.

The Facebook Event

LLL poster
Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

The King of Navarre and his three attendant lords make a pact to forswear women for three years so that they can steep themselves in academic pursuits. Almost immediately, the Princess of France arrives on a mission from her father, accompanied (of course) by three attendant ladies. We all know where this is going. Each man falls in love with a different woman but keeps his love a secret, until a scene when each man, thinking he’s alone, confesses his love by reading a sonnet out loud. Realizing what has happened, the men break their vows and agree to pursue their women, who do not allow themselves to be won so easily. Love’s Labour’s Lost contains many of the tropes of Shakespearean comedy: wooing lovers, mixed-up letters, bawdy puns, secondary characters who serve as foils and comic relief, and the promise of marriage. More than that, it is a play about language, containing more rhymed verses and new words than any other play in Shakespeare’s canon. It plays with poetic form and delights in linguistic excess while also mocking characters like the Spanish Don Armado, whose attempts at verbal brilliance fail miserably and hilariously. The play’s ending differs from other comedies by moving toward marriage but suspending it after news arrives that the King of France has died. The couples will separate for a year, as the women return to France and force the men to renew their vows of chastity. What happens next remains unknown: records survive of a Shakespeare play called Love’s Labour’s Won, but it has never been found.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Kenneth Branagh (2000)

British actor-director Kenneth Branagh is generally credited with ushering in a new era of Shakespeare films in the 1990s. Beginning with 1989’s Henry V, Branagh envisioned himself as the Laurence Olivier of the modern era, but with a twist. Branagh became famous for his casting of both notable British stage and film actors (including himself, Emma Thomson, Adrian Lester, and Richard Briers) and Hollywood actors (including Robin Williams, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Alicia Silverstone, and Matthew Lillard), and his films strive to popularize Shakespeare’s plays for contemporary audiences. His Much Ado About Nothing (1993) earned critical and commercial success, while his “uncut” four-hour Hamlet (1996) was a star-studded tour de force. With Love’s Labour’s Lost, Branagh took a risk. How would he translate Shakespeare’s play about language and wordplay to the screen, when the play itself was rarely performed on stage before the mid-twentieth century and is one of Shakespeare’s least well known? The answer is a 1930s-era musical comedy that includes music by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter and showy song and dance numbers by its non-musical theater stars, with the exception of Nathan Lane, whose Costard reminds everyone that “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Critics and audiences were generally unimpressed and the film failed at the box office, but there is much to delight in here. Sure, the film is cheesy and imperfect, the musical numbers aren’t perfectly polished, and only about a third of Shakespeare’s words survive, but the film’s use of song and dance and the sheer absurdity of many scenes remind us of the joy and wordplay highlighted by the play. Beneath the razzle-dazzle, Branagh keeps the dark undercurrent of Shakespeare’s play with newsreels of European conflict and an ending that reminds viewers that loss is a part of life and that love must sometimes wait.

~Dr. Natalie Loper

We’ve had some good press recently for tonight’s performance of Hamlet. Check out the articles in The Crimson White and The Tuscaloosa News. You don’t want to miss the show! Remember, it’s free and open to the public, and seats are available on a first come first seated basis. There will be a merchandise table in the lobby selling large programs.

Join us!

Revised Hamlet Poster March 1 8.5x11


This year the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies begins a Shakespeare on Film series at the Bama Theatre in downtown Tuscaloosa. All films are free and open to the public. We’ve scheduled a range of films, some you’ve no doubt seen and loved, others you’ve not. Next up is To Be or Not to Be, a serious comedy starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, shot during World War II. Please enjoy for the first time or again! And please let your students know about this series!!!

Here is the remaining line-up:

* December 16, 2014: Strode Film Series – To Be Or Not to Be
* January 19, 2015: Strode Film Series – West Side Story
* February 16, 2015: Strode Film Series – Deliver Us From Eva
* March 11, 2015: Strode Film Series – Forbidden Planet
* April 27, 2015: Strode Film Series – Love’s Labour’s Lost

All films start at 7:30pm, and are free and open to the public.

Brett Chatham’s program notes for this film are included below.

Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Any discussion of To Be or Not to Be must consider the comedy within its historical context. The film began production in the fall of 1941, wrapped a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and began showing in theaters in the spring of 1942. The official position of the United States had changed dramatically since the film’s conception, but Lubitsch and his cast and crew defended their work. Contemporary critics, however, were quite offended—and understandably so. The film made light of a most serious threat; in the thick of World War II, American audiences were hardly ready to laugh at any zany Nazis. Even several generations removed, we may still find some of the films famous lines in bad taste. For example, a recurring gag—“So, they call me ‘Concentration Camp’ Ehrhardt?!”—seems especially uneasy in light of what we now know of the Holocaust’s horrors. (At the time, the Allies knew almost nothing of Hitler’s death camps.) Yet we laugh at the speakers’ uneasiness rather than our own; both the real and the fake Colonel Ehrhardts carry on conversations worse than they carry out orders. Similarly, the line that most offended audiences then—“What he did to Shakespeare, we are doing now to Poland”—was only meant to deflate “that great, great Polish actor, Josef Tura.” Lubitsch certainly understood the implications of such provocative jokes but contended he never meant to dismiss or minimize the Nazi invasion of Poland: “What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology.” The film encourages us to be ever vigilant against man’s capacity for evil but careful not to give such “ridiculous” ideas too much credibility in themselves. When we retreat from ridiculing our enemies, we empower them. As a Jewish German-American émigré, Lubitsch had a more personal connection than most to the events unfolding in Europe, but he understood the war effort required fighting off the field as well on. And he could give the enemy quite a beating with his vaudevillian shtick.

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (~1600) and The Merchant of Venice (~1597)

To Be or Not to Be takes its title from the best-known soliloquy in Shakespeare. Indeed, that first line is so associated with its author that its very utterance elicits more thought of theatricality than mortality. Here, as he contemplates being and nothingness, Hamlet appears to be thinking aloud to himself, but privy to those thoughts are King Claudius and his counselor Polonius, both hiding onstage. The audience knows this, and perhaps the Prince does as well. Hamlet seems ever aware of his role as an actor—at the Danish court and even, self-referentially, on the English stage. As such, “To be or not to be” explores not only existence but artifice, appearance, acting. Shakespeare wrote several plays about his art, particularly concerned with how the theater both reflects and affects life. (Consider Hamlet’s play-within-a-play, the aptly named The Mousetrap, in which the Prince hopes to catch the King’s conscience by staging the King’s crime.) Hamlet must act to save his own life, avenge his father’s, and end his usurping uncle’s, but he is much better suited to soliloquizing. To Be or Not to Be features actors who transform the European theater of World War II into an improvisational black farce, impersonating Nazis to save the Polish underground. In the film, the titular speech signals romantic rendezvous, arranged by a star actress while her “Hamlet” husband is occupied onstage, but another Shakespearean monologue, delivered on three separate occasions by a mere “spear-carrier,” actually plays a more prominent part in the plot: Shylock’s so-called Rialto speech—“Hath not a Jew eyes?”—from The Merchant of Venice. This more poignant speech signals changes in how the Polish actors view their relationships to one another and to their foreign occupiers. The troupe must identify with the enemy well enough to fool them. Merchant examines similar tensions of identification. Though Merchant is much less about theatricality than Hamlet, the earlier play’s themes still resonate strongly in the film, pointedly so considering the anti-Semitism of both settings, places hostile to their displaced populace. Ultimately, the question becomes whether to belong or not to belong.

Here’s what Dr. Natalie Loper had to say about 10 Things I Hate About You, the first film in the Strode series this fall.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

10 Things I Hate About You is an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, which is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and remains one of his most popular. This popularity troubles many people, fearful that the play’s treatment of women is inappropriate in the 21st century. They do have a point, since the play participates in a long tradition of anti-feminist literature, including folk tales, ballads, and puppet shows in which unruly women are bullied, humiliated, and even beaten into submission. In Shakespeare’s England, women who did not conform to social norms—who scolded their husbands, disobeyed their fathers, or were a nuisance to their neighbors—could be forced to wear a metal bridle with a bit between their teeth, pulled through town on the back of a horse-drawn cart, or strapped to a “cucking stool” and dunked in a river until they agreed to be quiet. Church homilies and English laws upheld the rights of husbands to govern their wives. Pamphlets advised husbands on how to tame their wives, often using methods used to tame hawks for hunting, and Shrew shows Petruchio using them, too. Shakespeare’s Kate is described as a shrew and a scold; she flies into rages, hits people, and throws things. Only one man, Petruchio of Padua, is up to the challenge of marrying her, and by the end of the play, Kate seems to have been reformed; she submits to her husband’s will and advises other women to do the same. Her sister, Bianca, changes, too. At the beginning of the play, she is the model woman: quiet and submissive, she publicly defers to her father’s authority. Privately, however, she slyly manipulates her three suitors and her father in order to marry the man she desires. Is Shakespeare using popular stereotypes about women to entertain people, to reinforce social norms, or to critique a misogynistic culture? The debate has yet to be decided.

10 Things I Hate About You, directed by Gil Junger (1999)

10 Things I Hate About You stars Julia Stiles as Kat Stratford, an unruly teenager who would rather read Sylvia Plath and listen to Riot Grrrl music than attend what she calls “antiquated mating ritual[s]” such as keg parties and her high school’s prom. This causes a problem for her younger sister Bianca (played by Larisa Oleynik), who wants to be popular and date popular boys. The problem? Their father has decreed that Bianca can’t date unless Kat does. Luckily, Bianca has two suitors who scheme to get around this rule: nerdy new kid Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) provides the brains, while pretty-boy Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan) provides the money. Their goal is to convince the mysterious and scary Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Kat. The results of this scheme have divided critics nearly as much as Shakespeare’s play has. Some people applaud the film for how it updates Shakespeare’s play: Kat’s reputation as a shrew stems from her feminist ideals, and the film is seen as a journey of self-discovery rather than a forced submission to social norms. Others think the film offers a restrictive view of feminism and claim that Kat’s transformation is no less disturbing than Kate’s because it perpetuates gender stereotypes and upholds the status quo. Even so, the film remains a popular 1990s teen film, and it contains many elements of the genre: distinct high school cliques, adults whose authority is questionable but nonetheless maintained, and teens who struggle to balance competing desires for autonomy, acceptance, and approval from their peers, parents, and teachers.

~Dr. Natalie Loper

The spring semester is winding down, and it’s time for me to recap IF’s recent work. February’s reading of The Merchant of Venice, directed by Deborah Parker, was a complete success: great performances, great adaptation, great audience. February’s snowpocalypse and subsequent school cancelations forced us to move the show back by two weeks, however, and also forced us to push back the performance date for Steve Burch’s A Tiger’s Heart, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s first tetralogy. IF ran several cold read workshops to assist with the adaptation process, but there just wasn’t enough time in this snow-laden semester to bring the material to a satisfying performance. We decided to postpone A Tiger’s Heart to a future semester, TBA. Blame the snow!


Many of IF’s regular readers are graduating this semester. Congrats especially to Joey Gamble, Adella Smith, and Amber Smith, who have worked with IF for the past four years. Needless to say, these seniors were swamped this April, so we tried a new format for our staged reading of Comedy of Errors: no rehearsals, complete improvisation. The script was cut, cast, and distributed before the show, but wasn’t put on its feet until the night of April 18th. It proved to be an excellent experiment by my lights, especially for a comedy concerned with error. The audience’s laughter seemed to come not only from Shakespeare’s humor but also from the enthusiasm of the actors as they tackled the material, making mistakes but sticking doggedly to the play in the process. It’s not an approach that would work for every play, but it’s something we may return to occasionally. You can hear the results here:

Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, adapted by Nic Helms

And now, announcements! The fall 2014 season is still very much in flux. Right now I have my heart set on two shows: Shakespeare’s Richard III and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. More to come when I know things for certain.

Here are two Rude Mechanicals shows you can definitely put on your calendars: Julius Caesar, directed by Steve Burch, May 28-31 in Mars Spring Park; Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Mark Cobb, June 25-28 in Mars Spring Park.

As always, if you’re interested in being involved in IF or the Rude Mechs, reach out to us via blog, Facebook, or email and we’ll be sure to get you involved.