Richard III by William Shakespeare

8853EBC9-8629-4FB1-B2FF-2C6E331176EEThis month, for the #ShaketheStacks challenge I read one of my most favorite Shakespeare plays, Richard III. It is the fourth and final part of the Henry VI tetralogy. For as much as I enjoyed Henry VI Part III Richard III is leaps and bounds better.

In this final chapter of the bloody war of the roses, the House of Plantagenet finally ascends the throne, putting our anti-hero, Richard, a stones throw from the throne. This play chronicles Richard’s assent from Richard Duke of Gloucester to King Richard III. It is full of blood and lies and fantastic wit and dialogue. Richard has all the things you want from a bad guy, he is clearly the smartest and most detestable person in the room. I won’t give anything away, but he is delightfully terrible.

I was lucky enough to be in two different productions of Richard III, and grew to learn about the text intimately. Shakespeare layers so much in each line, drawing back to the three previous plays, and verbal sparring that is thrilling to read, let alone watch. As with all his plays, Shakespeare has a point of view on what we’re watching. He centers the play around a corrupt ruler and his unchecked power and entitlement, not to mention his deep seated misogyny. Sound familiar? Richard III still holding up hundreds of years later.

My favorite scene in the play encapsulates all that is good (not morally) in Richard III, Act IV Scene 4. The scene is led by the women of the play, of which there are four insanely amazing independent and vibrant women characters, and it weaves from cursing to courting to sorrow and rage. The scene is dynamic and is the one moment when truth is spoken to power. It is powerful and exciting and smart. A total force that sucks the air out of the room, weather you’re reading or watching the play.

If you’ve yet to read this play, you should. Or better yet go see a production or watch the film. If I’m ranking Shakespeare’s plays it is in my top five (so far, but if I’m being honest I haven’t read them all yet).

Next month I leave the histories behind and read The Taming of the Shrew. I hope you’ll read it with me.

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (June 13, 2017)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Richard III on Amazon

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Henry VI Part 3 by William Shakespeare

99FDDE2B-D633-4E55-935F-DFA48A78B68FThis month, I read Henry VI Part 3  for my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge. The book is part three is a four part series that fictionalizes The War of the Roses in medieval England.  If you’ve been following along with my Shakespeare reading you know that I was not a huge fan of Henry VI Part 1 or Part 2however, Part 3 is good.

The first three acts of Henry VI Part 3 are fantastic. The acts are filled with fights over who is heir to the throne, who succeeds who, and how that can all be change. The scenes are smart and occupied with ruthless characters unafraid of hurling insults and doing much worse. Richard (soon to be Richard III) and Queen Margaret stand out as the leaders of their sides, and the most cutting with their words and deeds. As the play moves toward its conclusion there is more focus on preparation for The War of the Roses and less attention to interpersonal fighting. The first part of this play stands out more, for being high stakes and deeply emotional.

I read the majority of this play out loud to myself, and the use of verse drives the speed of this play. There where moments when I heard the words I was saying and got chills from their power. There are a few speeches in this play that truly stand out to me. One is from the elder Edward, Duke of York  (Act I.4), where he mourns the death of his son. There is devastation and curses and deviance and rage. It is a beautiful speech. Another is from Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Act III.2) where he speaks directly to the audience, telling us of his plans to become king. This soliloquy is self loathing mixed with raw ambition. It is masterful and you can’t look away. When done right, it becomes the turning point in the entire play, in the entire tetralogy.

I was less than impressed with the first two parts of this tetralogy, but Henry VI Part 3 did not disappoint, and makes me even more excited to read Richard III next month.

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Henry VI Part 3 on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Henry VI Part 2 by William Shakespeare

4D9EB7E2-D692-4C3B-B298-41F3BF217869It is time for the August installment of #ShakeTheStacks. This month I read, the second book in the War of the Roses tetralogy, Henry VI Part 2This play sets up the reader nicely for the action of the war itself, and the fall out that is, Richard III.

I have to admit, this is not my favorite Shakespeare play, not even close. The history plays can fall victim of having too many characters, and trying to cram in too much action, Henry VI Part 2, is no exception. There are very few scenes that illicit any emotional response. The play is mostly just a really long prologue for whats to come. It is in both plot and function the set up to the war. Quiet literally picking sides and getting the troops lined up.

My favorite character in the tetrology is Queen Margaret, she is the only chracter present in all four of the plays, and she is a force that shakes up the stage from the moment she enters at the end of Henry VI Part 1 through to her last scene in Act 4 of Richard III. She is smart and politically savvy. She is not afraid of any man, and doesn’t back down from a fight. She also has a soft side, which is seen in my favorite scene from this play, Act III Scene 2. I won’t give anything away, but it is between the Queen and Suffolk, and its tender and tense and romantic and all the things. Not what you expect to find in Shakespearean history play, however they all have these scenes. This kind of scene is what makes Shakespeare one of the best. Intimate scenes between the most rich and powerful people that are explosive.

Again, like with my review for Henry VI Part 1, I don’t know that I would suggest you read this play or see a production of it on its own. I think its best as part of the four play series. Like any good TV show, you want to know how it plays out, not just watch one episode.

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 2/5 stars
  • BuyHenry VI Part 2, on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Henry VI Part 1 by William Shakespeare

A146DD7D-E97E-40CB-8CBE-98228784EA85I’m onto month two of The Shake the Stacks Challenge, my 37 month journey to read the complete works of William Shakespeare. You can read more about the challenge here. I am going in a sort of chronological order, even though the chronology of these plays is widely disputed. I’m using the list from Open Source Shakespeare. This month I took on the first play of Henry the Sixth.

In Henry IV part 1 we are joined into the world of England after the death of Henry V, and the tumult that comes with the changing of kings, the pledging of loyalties, and the battles that surround this type of activity. The play is a major set up for the next three plays that are part of this tetralogy, culminating in Richard III. Which all goes to say, this play is kind of boring. You’re meeting a ton of characters, and then they’re talking about fighting battles, and introducing you to other people and contextualizing relationships. Basically, a lot of talk an not a lot of action.

There is one character of note, who sticks out to me in this one, and thats Joan la Pucelle aka Joan of Arc. Of all the characters in this play she is the one you remember. She leads the French in winning and losing battles against the English. She speaks truth to power, and she fights like hell. We all know what happens in the end. She isa great character in mediocre play.

This play is clearly meant to serve as exposition for the plays that follow, and thats fine, but it also makes for a pretty boring read. I would imagine if you could see all three of the Henry VI plays followed by Richard III this play would be more fun and feel more purposeful. There are some really beautifully written scenes and speeches, but for the most part its all set up, The War of the Roses comes next, and that should be exciting.

If you’re interested in this tetralogy, you should certainly read this play, but as a stand alone piece it doesn’t do much.

  • Paperback: 123 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Henry VI Part 1 on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

08D6C99F-E2BF-4C67-A8D8-0F07030CC87DThe journey begins. I have committed to reading all 37 of William Shakespeare’s plays, one month for the next three years. It is all part of my #ShakeTheStacks challenge. You’re all invited to join me, as I read through the bard’s collection in chronological order (according to this website).

The first book up, The Comedy of Errors. This play is the story of two sets of twins who get all mixed up by everyone they run into. Its a true farce, with the comedy coming from bawdy jokes and moments of slapstick mistaken identity. It is also Shakespeare’s shortest play, and all the action takes place in the course of a day.

This was a fun place to start. The play is very straight forward, four men who keep getting confused. There isn’t a ton of substance to this play, but don’t let that confuse you with a lack of skill. Shakespeare does an excellent job of weaving the stories and characters together giving us scenes full of physical comedy and tons of wit. The characters are moving constantly and never quite have a breath, which leads to an enjoyable (and emotional) denouement.

While this play isn’t all silliness and running around, its mostly that. Its a sweet little treat, but nothing special (especially knowing other plays coming down the pipeline). I will say however, that even from this early work, Shakespeare is dealing with big themes and ideas. In this play we are confronted with womanhood. There is certainly some criticism of how women are rarely believed and how they are blamed for the woes that befall their husbands. Its an idea we see through out his work, and I loved seeing it this early on. We also are asked to hold the comedy of the play in stark contrast to the tragedy that precipitates it. A very Shakespearean device, and one that I love and appreciate for its complexity.

As far as structure and comedy this play is an A+. Its a great starting point,  language is straight forward and so is the plot. Have you read or seen this play? What do you think?

  • Paperback: 79 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (September 1, 1999)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Comedy of Errors on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Shakespeare Challenge — #ShakeTheStacks

EF56F06F-1235-4BBF-ACDD-4FF5EBA340BFLast month I read Othello for the first time in years. I read it to refresh myself on the story in order to discuss Tracy Chevalier’s adaptation New Boy. I was a little nervous to go back to reading Shakespeare, it had been years since I had opened a play by The Bard, despite having studied his work extensively in college. I was shocked at how enjoyable it was, and how rich the text is. The work felt relevant and touches on issues we’re currently discussing as a society. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed his plays, and how exciting it was to read them again.

So I decided that I’m going to commit to reading one Shakespeare play a month for the next 36 months (since I already read Othello). Some of them will be re-reads for me, and there are about 12 I’ve never read. I think it’ll be fun, plus then I can say, I’ve read every Shakespeare play. Who doesn’t love a little literary bragging. Its a long term goal,  and I won’t be done until 2021, which I also like.

I’m calling this challenge #ShakeTheStacks and I would love to have company on this journey weather you want to read the full 37, or just read the handful that are on your list.

I know folks can be intimidated by Shakespeare, myself included. So here are my suggestions on how to make reading Shakespeare a successful endeavor.

  1. Relax. The stuff is complex and thats what makes it everlasting. So if you miss something or don’t quite understand it, thats OK. Keep going, Shakespeare’s characters repeat themselves a lot.
  2. Play the part. These are plays, which means they’re meant to be heard aloud. If you get stuck, try saying the words out loud.
  3. Get into the groove. The verse is written in iambic pentameter, and it is there to help you. Allow yourself to fall into rhythm when you’re reading. Thats Shakespeare’s way of guiding you through, and keeping you on track.
  4. Get good notes. Try to find translations that have notes that make sense to you. I love the Pelican Shakespeare. The notes help but aren’t so long they get in the way.
  5. Read the ending first. Well not actually, but if you do better when you know the plot, go ahead and read a synopsis, so you can really indulge in the language and poetry instead of sifting for clues. Generally if the play is a comedy it will end in a wedding and the tragedies end in death.
  6. Trust yourself. You’re not dumb, and you do understand it. Take the pressure off. Think about how many times you’ve seen a play or movie and missed something, or gotten confused as to what was going on. It happens to us all the time. Don’t let the idea of Shakespeare freak you out.
  7. Enjoy. The whole point is to read something and enjoy it. If you’re not into the play move on. Or better yet, watch a the movie, or listen to a staged reading. Find a way to enjoy the Bard, this isn’t punishment.

Now I just have to figure out which order to read these plays. Do I got with chronological? Alphabetical? By genre? Or mood read? What do you think?

If you’re joining me make sure to tag any posts with #ShakeTheStacks, this way we can keep track of all our Shakespearian progress.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

IMG_6194 2Have you ever picked up a book thinking, this is “my kind of book”? Before you read it, before you even hear other people’s opinion of it, you know this is a book for you? Well, thats how I felt about New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello. It is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, a group of novels written based on Shakespeare plays.  I knew it was going to be a hit with me, I love Shakespeare, so I even made it a pick for The Stacks Book Club. The only problem is, I ended up not liking the book at all.

Here is a little more about the book, before I dive into my thoughts.

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Peeking over the shoulders of four 11 year olds – Osei, Dee, Ian, and his reluctant ‘girlfriend’ Mimi – Tracy Chevalier’s powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.

Even re-reading that blurb of the book, makes me excited about all its potential. However, Chevalier does not deliver. The racism and bigotry in this book is handled as if it is no big deal. Its a lazy and inaccurate depiction of how prejudice works in America and on the school yard. The teachers, refer to Osei as the “bla— new boy” as if they are caught in the urge to say black, but must be PC. Considering how overtly racist these characters are, these seems like a unrealistic, false modesty. Its contrived at best. The book would be better off being more direct, the title should be Black Boy. The teachers should call Osei “colored” (as they would have in the 1970’s) and the current political correctness should be done away with.

This is the root problem with this book, there is no punch. There is no edge. There is no hurt. Its all a little too clean, and kind. If you’re talking about racism, lets talk about it. Its too big of a deal to get polite and shy away. Shakespeare certainly didn’t. IMG_6171

There is another major flaw in the story telling. There is no where for Osei to fall. In all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, those who end up as the tragic characters (Hamlet, MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet etc.) start off high and end in utter disrepair. The plays start off as near comedies, and then there is the fall. Othello, is leading ranks in the army, beloved by his troops, newly married, and off on another great battle. In New Boy, Osei is hated from the moment he walks on the school yard. Students notice him and shun him right away. He is nothing and therefore has nothing to lose. There are no stakes. The same is true of the Iago character, Ian. Ian is hated by all the kids, everyone is terrified of him, and he is known as a bully. Why would anyone ever listen to or trust him? In Othello, Iago is constantly called “honest Iago” and people love and trust him. This is what makes his betrayal and lies so devastating. We don’t see any of this in New Boy.

The book takes place over the course of a school day, this also diminishes any chance of building real emotions and consequences. How could any one of these children want to destroy one another after just a day? Chevalier really belittles her efforts by narrowing the time frame and the characters in this way.

This book minimizes the many characters and their motivations. It also neglects to embrace the complexity of racism and the feelings of entitlement that are clear in Shakespeare’s original. Chevalier has successfully stripped away much of what makes Othello great, and leaves us with the most simple and trivial version of what was once a complex and nuanced narrative.

I would not recommend this book to anyone, unless you’re planning to read through all of the Hogarth Shakespeare collection to compare the work of many contemporary artists, and to see how they each dive into Shakespeare’s source material. The good thing is that New Boy is very short, and an easy read. Its too bad the content isn’t any good. There are so many books on race, alienation, betrayal, and entitlement, that I can not suggest you spend time on this one. Honestly, you’re much better off reading the original (you can find my full review of that here).

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth; Reprint edition (February 13, 2018)
  • 1/5 stars
  • Buy New Boy on Amazon

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

Ep. 10 New Boy by Tracy Chevalier — The Stacks Book Club (Vella Lovell)

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgThis week, actress Vella Lovell (Crazy Ex- Girlfriend, The Big Sick) is back on The Stacks. This week we’re talking about New Boy by Tracy Chevalier. New Boy is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which modern day authors retell Shakespeare’s classic works. New Boy is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello, set in a 1970’s elementary school in Washington D.C.

We talk about this book in comparison to its source material, where Chevalier’s book wins and where it misses. Just like Othello itself, this episode covers a lot of subjects, from racism and sexism, to what makes a good adaptation of Shakespeare?

While we do discuss New Boy in detail, we don’t really spoil the book if you’re familiar with Othello. If you don’t know Othello then there may be spoilers for you. Listen at your own risk.

Here is what we discussed this week

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To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

Othello by William Shakespeare

AF5A379C-606C-48A1-AF83-92754A187CF9I have to admit up front, I am a total Shakespeare nerd. I love his plays and I actually enjoy reading the verse. I also feel that these stories are plays, and should be heard and seen. However, for an upcoming episode of The Stacks, we are discussing New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, which is a retelling of Othello, so I thought I should brush up on the original text.

Here is an introduction to Othello if you’re not familiar with this great tragedy.

In Othello, Shakespeare creates powerful drama from a marriage between the exotic Moor Othello and the Venetian lady Desdemona that begins with elopement and mutual devotion and ends with jealous rage and death. Shakespeare builds many differences into his hero and heroine, including race, age, and cultural background. Yet most readers and audiences believe the couple’s strong love would overcome these differences were it not for Iago, who sets out to destroy Othello. Iago’s false insinuations about Desdemona’s infidelity draw Othello into his schemes, and Desdemona is subjected to Othello’s horrifying verbal and physical assaults.

I find Othello to be one of Shakespeare’s most relatable and easy to read plays. The story is very straight forward, there are not a lot of characters or subplots, even the language is relatively simple (for a Shakespeare play). If you’re a little intimidated by reading Shakespeare, this is a great place to start.

What makes Shakespeare masterful is how he was able to weave together so many themes and ideas into a short play. In Othello we are looking at the themes of, fear of the outsider, entitlement, sexism, love, trust, truth, rage, racism, and jealousy, and thats just to name a few. Shakespeare employs his characters to engage in debate over these issues, weather it be a conversation about jealousy, or a monologue on faithfulness. He uses the words to speak directly to the audience and drive home his points. You’re being asked to think as you read (or watch).

One of the things that stuck out to me upon re-reading Othello, is just how current the story feels. Iago might as well be the “Trump Supporter” we have heard so much about in the last few years. The white man who feels he is owed some standing in the world, and can not handle life not being what he thinks he is entitled to. He is racist, misogynistic, and thinks if he didn’t earn it he can just take it. His reality doesn’t meet his expectations of where he thinks his life should be, so he acts out instead. He throws the whole tragedy in motion, because of his fragile ego.

The last two acts of this play are fantastic. They move at the perfect speed and deliver a gut-wrenching finale. Each scene tops the one before, until you’re left with a feeling of what just happened here, and a pile of dead bodies, a staple of a Shakespearean tragedy.

If you’ve never read this play, I think its worth a read. If you read it years ago, it might be time for a re-read. It is that good. Its short and powerful. It is current. I would love to hear from you, so add your comments below.

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group (July 3, 2001)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Othello on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

The Stacks Book Club June Picks

790DB80A-4D74-426E-B8D9-052C6E9265FA.JPGHere are the next picks for The Stacks Book Club. These books will be covered in the month of June on The Stacks Podcast. Make sure you read the books and then join us for our in depth conversations.

June 6th, I’ll be joined by actress, Vella Lovell and  we will discuss Tracy Chevalier’s  New Boy. This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which contemporary author’s reimagine Shakespeare’s plays. New Boy, is a retelling of Othello, set in a 1970’s suburban Washington School yard.

On June 20th join founder of Black Arrow FC, Aaron Dolores, will join the show to discuss How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer. This book uses soccer as a lens to reexamine the most pressing issues of our day, from globalization to racial and cultural dynamics. We’re reading this book at the start of the World Cup, to help contextualize the most popular sport and sporting event on the planet.

Once you’ve read the books, don’t be shy. Please send over your thoughts and questions so we can incorporate them into the podcast. You can leave a comment here, or find us on our Instagram @thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.