'William Shakespeare: Complete Works' edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen

One of the great myths perpetuated about the audience reaction in the original Globe Theatre is that the groundlings, the peasants standing just in front of the stage were like a modern football terrace, shouting loudly through the action, cheering and jeering with equal measure, the gentry sitting in the rafters taking in the linguistic and artistic brilliance of the verse and the allegorical details of the storytelling. In fact, as Jonathan Bate’s sublime general introduction to William Shakespeare: Complete Works explains those groundings would look up in silence awed by the sounds and language they were hearing, oh so otherworldly whilst it was the apparent nobility who would be criticizing and analyzing the quality of the words.

Lord knows what they would make of this edition of the canon, the so-called First Folio edited for the first time since its fourth edition over three centuries ago. The first edition was published posthumously by two of his friends as a way of commemorating the work of their friend. It’s on its shoulders that the legacy sits, fulfilling Ben Johnson’s famous expectation from his introduction that ‘he was not of an age, but for all time’ and were it not for their endeavor there are a raft of plays which we simply wouldn’t have in any form (and indeed there are couple which have been lost because they weren’t included).

There have been reprints and facsimiles in the meantime but what Bate, Eric Rasmussen and their team of editors have set out to do is present a modernised version of that original text as close as possible to what Shakespeare intended, correcting the work of the sometimes flaky printers and offering finally a sense of the state the plays were in at the time of his death. As they note, it’s impossible to have a definitive version of any play since like many play writes he would be rewriting and correcting throughout the life of the work which, along with poor handling of publication during his lifetime, some of the plays particularly King Lear and Hamlet appear with varying structures and lengths.

The plays that were included in the Folios are presented in a single column with fidelity to the acts and scenes but ignoring the locations and most of the stage directions which have been added to some editions in more recent years. The five act structure was an invention that occurred during Shakespeare’s time when productions moved inside to intimate locations and time was required to relight the candles and so those plays in which these were a later addition also include a note as to were the original breaks were. Since this is a complete works, those plays which didn’t make the cut way back when – the collaborations Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles are supplemented at the end followed by the poems and sonnets, all given the same care and attention.

Despite appearing as it should at the front of the book, the centrepiece is the general introduction which even to this fan is a revelation. Most of the dozens of biographies I’ve read or watched cover the main points of his life: son of a glove maker, decent schooling, goes to London, acts, writes, becomes a theatre owner, acts, writes some more with the backing of the Queen then King, goes into semi-retirement, maybe has a few too many to drink and dies, with plagues, theatres closures, a family and potential mistresses or boys weaving in and out. Bate includes some of this, but spends much of his time teasing out exactly what it was like for Shakespeare starting out in the business and working his way up to celebrity and unlike most of those other life stories, isn’t afraid to diminish some of the idolatry.

Comparison is made, for example, with the Hollywood scripting process, in which more often than not the text is passed amongst many hands often to the point of not resembling the original intent at all. In Shakespeare’s day it wasn’t unknown for plays already in the reparatory to be passed to some new writer in the company for a sprucing up and indeed there’s an implication here that some of his earlier plays are really just that. What set Shakespeare apart is that it was fairly rare for an actor to be carrying out this work and with an ability which would eventually lead to him authoring his own work. The aging writers of the original plays were none to happy with that actor who would presume to improve their work (especially since they wouldn’t profit from it) and even published a pamphlet to say so.

This then naturally flows into one of the best arguments I’ve seen about lone authorship; I’ve always found the suggestions that some other person could have written Shakespeare’s plays a bit specious, especially since much of it seems to stem from his ‘background’, even though the education he had as a boy filled with Latin and the like was probably far more complex than you’d find in some universities these days. As Bate notes the overwhelming evidence is that Shakespeare has to have written the plays simply because there were too many people watching him and as the number of eyewitness sources increases there would have to be a massive conspiracy at foot simply designed to cheat future scholars. It’s not unknown for people to be fronts to other writers (as portrayed in relation to the Hollywood black list in the Woody Allen film The Front) but how would it have worked in the collaborations in which the two writers must have spoken about the work and indeed rewritten each other?

Each of the plays is prefaced with a similar introduction, crucially considering a range of topics but often concentrating on a single aspect of the work rather than futily trying to create a rounded picture (there’s the excellent Rough Guide available for that kind of thing). That completes the impression that this is as much an authored as edited book, which offers the viewpoints of two scholars more interested in presenting a cohesive vision than a confusion in completeness. Although an extract from Sir Thomas Moore is here, they don’t include the newly canonised (by some) Edward III because they’re not convinced by the evidence that Shakespeare was a co-author and Arden of Faversham is similarly only given lip-service. Such material is available elsewhere (including the excellent website which accompanies the book) and would muddy what is being accomplished here – a modern edition of one of, if not the greatest book in the English language.

Even as an object this is special. It comes in a box and though the pages are thin, they’re sturdy. There's an amazing selection of stills of various RSC productions contrasting the different approaches. The impression is of a family bible but instead of the word of a god this is drama from the mind of one man (plus his sources and collaborators). You can’t help yourself – you just have to sit and hold it, turning the pages watching the verse pass by. The cover eskews the usual clichés of a late painting of the man or of Elizabethan London to tastefully give the impression of the original publication may have looked. On the shelf, nestled next to countless other complete works I’ve collected, it stands out, definitive and authoritative in contrast to the brown and black of the others. I’ll glance up at the yellow of the cover and as you might a nice car or stereo and wonder how I could possibly own it. If you don’t have a complete works in the house, this is the one to have.

the obligatory Spotify post.

Music Over the past couple of days, two questions seem to have been bouncing around the interweb, one more rhetorical than the other. The first is “How great is Obama?”, as so far, in just sixty odd hours, he’s already the President we’d hoped he’d be, offering a timetable for the closure of Gitmo and for pulling US troops from Iraq, firm decisions on how America should treat both its allies and enemies and generally making everyone feel rather more positive about the world than we did even last weekend. I’d very much recommend subscribing to The Guardian’s Barack Obama RSS feed or you favourite news source’s equivalent and watch the world become a better place, one update at a time.

The other, probably more frequent question is “Does anyone have an invite for Spotify?” I asked it myself on Tuesday of all days and Pete offered this link which seems to actually work without an invite. That’s this link. Within half an hour, I’d tweeted back “Thanks very much. That's amazing. Why would you ever need to buy music again?”

That is quite a review considering I had one eye on the Mall in Washington and BBC News’s desperate attempts to have a correspondent get through a sentence without the line going down. It’s very easy to become blasé about new software releases, since most of them are simply new or free versions of venerable warhorses, or in the case of Microsoft new ways of fucking up processes which worked perfectly adequately before, thanks very much. The bloody ribbon in the new version of Office, for example. It's like they've gone out of their way to hide some things. Why would I need to count the number of words in a document?

For the uninitiated, Spotify, is iTunes meets Last.FM though better than both. After registering, download the client, type your favourite musician in the cream search box on the otherwise very grey interface and watch as probably every song they’ve ever released pops up on a list. Double click on something, and (depending on your connection) seconds later you’ll hear that song pulsing from your speakers. It’s gloriously easy, so easy in fact you feel that it must be illegal in these litigious times.

What stops it from being illegal, what pays for the service, is that, assuming you’re using the free service, about once an hour of listening, an advert pops into the music stream or a banner ad becomes part of the interface, the revues from which presumably go both to the company and to pay royalties. There is a premium ad-free ten pounds option too, though the audio ads aren't that annoying and on the uk service are so far only government sourced (tax returns and direct.gov) which gives the whole exercise an even greater legitimacy than something like the original Napster which was fundamentally anti-authoritarian.

That’s it. Suddenly a whole world of music is at your fingertips. Almost. Spotify is still only in beta so although the aim is to have everything ever recorded available, there are omissions, some record companies aren't involved yet, and deleted music tends not to be there. It’s not very good with film soundtracks either or world music and now and then an album is missing from a discography. For better or worse, every top forty album is included, except oddly for Roger Whittaker (in at number 16 this week). I’m listening to Beyonce’s This is Sasha Fierce as I type and thinking about something else.

I said last night that I think this is going to revolutionise music, which it is. Once this remote version goes mainstream and proper favourites storage has been sorted out, we’ll never have to mess about with music mp3s in portable devices again and if the service adds podcasts or talking books in the future, assuming the cost of using the web drops, that’s the mp3 market dead with some types of music radio looking depressed (here is a rather good investigation into these issues).

The idea of working your way through 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die has potential or you can spend a couple of hours listening to Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs (ish). Students who’re studying a particular composer can call up whatever piece of music is being considered, no longer having to hope that it’ll turn up on Radio 3/be returned to the university library/pop through the letterbox from Amazon before the assignment’s due. And since compilations are also included, you can finally hear that track whatisname recorded for some charitable cause a decade ago.

The treatment of music online changes too. Each track, artist and album has a unique URL which means that if Spotify catches on, and I can’t imagine why it won’t, and everyone’s assumed to have a copy, when music websites review albums, they’ll be able to link to Spotify so that we can listen to them. I recently read this interview with Siobhan Donaghy on the occasion of her previous (and probably last) work Ghosts being voted the most underrated album of all time [via]; it’s heavily out of circulation but now you can click this link, Spotify will open and you can decide for yourself.

There are some drawbacks. If you’re on a limited plan, it is expensive data usage wise. I’ve only been listening for an hour and already racked up 100 mb. But as you listen, a cache is created on your hard disk which keeps a encrypted copy of the track so that if you listen again you don’t have to stream the thing more than once (and you can set how big this cache is).

It’s also hellishly addictive as before you know it you find yourself discovering how various artists have covered your favourite and not so favourite songs; Blossom Dearie knocks Blue Moon out of the sky just as Avril Lavigne should not have been allowed within a planet’s diameter of Imagine. Last night I linked to this jazz tribute to the music of Star Wars which I think might be the most exciting bit of noodling I’ve heard in a long time.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, you can also create playlists of your favourite tracks, for your own pleasure and to pass on to other, like a guilt free Muxtape. As well as this Nick Hornby playlist (which usefully shows the gaps in the database -- no Zeppelin, a predictable lack of The Beatles), I’ve created this to deposit some of the music I’ve written about on the blog, last year’s mystery music project and the old soundtrack. You can have collaborative playlists too, Pop Justice (where I first read about Spotify) has one and so have I, should you want to recommend something. I think I’ve written more than enough. You really just need to go and try this – how you listen to music may never be the same again.

This has been the obligatory Spotify post. Because every blog will have one. Assuming they haven't already.

Update: I've since posted some tips on finding new music.

the obligatory Oscars post.

Film So to the obligatory Oscars post. As ever, I haven't seen any of the nominated films (with one exception) so the following predictions are based on stuff I've read online, in magazines and personal bias.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

I rewatched Sunshine recently and to my mind its as good a science fiction film as any of those which inspired it and it only confirmed my opinion that Danny Boyle's one of our great directors. For that reason alone...

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke, for Diner.

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

For her Golden Globe speech. Despite all of the crowing, she experienced the kind of mental lapse I'm increasingly becoming afflicted by. For a whole week I couldn't remember Ross Kemp's name, not that I'm saying that's a bad thing you understand.

Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Because it's the film I have seen and he was extraordinary and should have received the award himself if he was still with us. He completely subsumed himself in the character and was unrecognisable.

Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

Because she's Penelope Cruz and it's the nomination for a Woody Allen film for the first time in ages, though I think Marisa Tomei will get it in the end -- like As Good As It Gets, it'll be in the acting categories The Wrestler will get the respect. Marisa was very laid back about the whole thing. She was interviewed by Simon and Mark on Radio Five Live this afternoon (podcast here) and had literally just been woken up by a friend to tell her, having slept through the announcements.

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk

See above.

Frozen River
In Bruges

I have a good feeling about this.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Because more plays should be turned into films. Or something. Also, since Michael Sheen was once again snubbed. What does the man have to do? They can't be holding his outrageous overacting in the Underworld series against him can they?

Kung Fu Panda

PIXAR. Also, no Waltz With Bashir?

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

British and whatnot.

The Baader Meinhof Complex
The Class
Waltz With Bashir

There it is.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

Because it somehow created a Gotham City which was entirely realistic and recognisable yet also very other.

Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton, Craig Barron, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber, Paul Franklin, The Dark Knight
John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick, Shane Mahan, Iron Man

It's Brad Pitt. He's old, he's young, he's short, he's dancin'.

Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Lee Smith, The Dark Knight
Mike Hill, Dan Hanley, Frost/Nixon
Elliot Graham, Milk
Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire

Entirely arbitrary, though I suspect that real work had to go into the cross cutting between the two different stories, of Nixon and Frost.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Those vistas. IMAX.

Alexandre Desplat, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Danny Elfman, Milk
James Newton Howard, Defiance
Thomas Newman, WALL-E
A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire

I have nothing to say about this other than you should listen to this on Spotify right now (especially the Cantina Band). In case you're wondering what Spotify is, look here. Once complete, it's going to revolutionise music. How else could I also point you to this instrumental track that shares the title of one of the nominated films? More tomorrow.

“Down to Earth,” from WALL-E (music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, lyrics by Peter Gabriel)
“Jai Ho,” from Slumdog Millionaire (music by A.R. Rahman, lyrics by Gulzar)
“O Saya,” from Slumdog Millionaire (music and lyrics by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam)

More Spotify links above, with one to YouTube for Gabriel. I like Jai Ho very much; to my untrained ears it sounds like a rather good fusion between the kind of western pop perpetrated by Timberland with the Bollywood sound.

Greg Cannom, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Caglione, Jr, Conor O'Sullivan, The Dark Knight
Mike Elizalde, Thom Floutz, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Because it'll probably go to Benjamin Button. There's a theory apparently, that the academy voters hardly ever vote for something which looks obviously like make up unless it's to make a human younger or older.

Catherine Martin, Australia
Jacqueline West, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Michael O'Connor, The Duchess
Danny Glicker, Milk
Albert Wolsky, Revolutionary Road

Because you can never have enough corsets. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

it's a new day.

As with election night itself, yesterday was an emotional, historic occasion. I sat glued to television and monitor from early in the morning until some time close to midnight, watching what looked like the world tilting ever so slightly on its axis. Barack might have stumbled over his words when he took the oath, but during the speech he couldn't have been clearer, it's a new day. As Harry Rosenfeld said to Woodward and Bernstein in All The President's Men, "You're on the story. Now don't fuck it up."

On legs.

How to emulate every Nintendo system in Windows
Yes, even Virtual Boy.

Photographer Peter Carr: The picture is always worth it
My Mum thinks his photographs of the interior of the Anglican Cathedral are the best she's ever seen.

If Obama and Khamenei want to get along, they should start watching TV
There's a promo for the the BBC's new Persian channel on YouTube; there's a rather jolly moment at minute 2:56 which seems to be a homage to Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animation.

Hacked Ikea table sculpture
Looks like the London Olympics logo. On legs.

Cover for Kevin Smith's latest lacks something ...
... like the rest of the title.

People Who Deserve It: Full Meal Movie Goer
Number three on my list of reasons I don't go to the pictures as often as I'd like. There are some 'posh' cinemas offering waitress service too which sounds like a nightmare for anyone who cares about watching the actual film.

What Will Happen When You Move to Dubai
Strangely misses "Someone will park a ruddy great TARDIS on your roof."

Reply-All can get even more fun when multiple timezones are involved.
It can. On September 11th, I sent a round robin email out to check everyone was ok, mostly bloggers and people I'd met online. It sped around the world, which, and I hadn't considered this, resulted in total strangers connecting with each other. I wonder if any of them are still in touch with each other.

Slashdot reviews Lord of the Rings: Conquest.
"The AI in LotR: Conquest is more comical than effective. As your mage launches his fire nuke at a group of enemies, they'll alertly shout "Watch out, Fire Wall!" while blithely standing in the fire and dying."

Conspiracy of silence: Could the release of secret documents shatter Felix Mendelssohn's reputation?
It means reputation in the 1840s sense of the word. The music still stands up.

Make your own inauguration souvenir
It's the new President's head in cotton. There's possibly some symbolism there.

A pornographer and proud
"What I object to is the (male) journalist's attitude that writing sexually explicit material is something to be ashamed of."

KFC Has No Frakkin' Clue What "Frak" Means
Do you think there was a meeting?
KFC: So um, the word, 'Frak'. Would be ok to use that in the advertising?
BSG: You bet (sniggers).
KFC: What?
BSG: You do know what it means don't you?
KFC: Sure. (pause) Well of course we know what it means. That goes without saying.
BSG: Oh OK. So long as you're ok with it ...

Forever Cool -- Dean Martin
Rather odd album which samples Deano's voice so that he can duet with top pop acts and Kevin Spacey. Inspiring and creepy in equal measure [listen to it on/through/at Spotify]

Tennant: to DVD or not to DVD
Petition to film, Tennant's Hamlet. Well done you.

What now?

Review 2008: President Obama

Suggested by Annette.

Dear Mr. President,

It’s difficult to know where to begin when writing a letter to the person who’s supposed to be the most powerful man in the known world, especially on their first day in office. So much to do, and though eight years seems like a long time, and a wise man once talked about how much the White House was capable of doing in a single day, the business of politics isn’t that easy and time is bound to slip away.

The media are already chockablock with columnists and pundits suggesting what your priorities are and as people shake your hand during the inaugural ball, I suspect a couple of them will take the opportunity to whisper something in your ear. I’m not invited. But if I was, there’s one thing I’d ask. A single favour. Please be your own man.

One of the perennial problems with US Presidents is that they ultimately let the trappings of office and the seal consume them, the oval office becoming a prison without corners or bars for whatever hopes they may have. More often than not, at least recently, they spend most of their presidency trying to live up to those who’ve gone before.

Sometimes, it’s almost as though everything has been about becoming president and it’s not until they’re in office that they decided to y’know try some stuff and see if it works. The first four years become about re-election and then the next four are spent legacy fishing.

Setting aside his incompetence and deceit, the reason your predecessor came across as being so unpresidential was because he spent most of his time trying to be. When giving speeches, he was forever opening sentences with an attempt at great weight, but the gravitas usually drifted away, presumably to the bathroom.

Time and again he gesticulated and stammered, hoping against hope that we’d somehow manage to work out what he was trying to say even though he didn’t have the capacity to say it, famously when he was asked what mistakes he may have made. He had an irritating inability to speak more than a few words without taking a breath, as though he’d been to a public speaking coach and was following his trainer's suggestions to the letter.

Every indication so far is that this isn’t you. You’ll win that second term by simply doing a good job and your legacy will be nothing less than the rebuilding of your country into a better place, something you’ve been planning to do since you were in college. You have a dignity and capacity to string two words together President Bush lacked that already makes you the better statesman.

Much was made during the campaign about your work as a community organiser, but the substance of that, finding jobs for people is an indication that unlike Bush who basically fell into politics because he couldn’t find anything else to do, public service has been your life, using your intellect and rhetorical power of persuasion to make the lives of others better.

Surprisingly, I’m not sure there’s much else I can do to advise you. I’m just a short haired blogger from Liverpool who’s been watching agog at the quality of the people you’ve selected to help in your crusades from aids to experts. There’s been some criticism of these choices because they tend to be from the good schools like Harvard and Yale.

Oddly I can see their point – it sends a message that intelligent people worthy of higher office can’t come from the public school service, but on the other hand why not put the thinking class in key positions at such a critical time when wars are being fought in deserts and caves and on Wall Street? It’s inspiring that you’d unabashedly embrace elitism at a time when the mere idea is treated with such disdain.

During your inauguration speech, you used words and rhetoric which has been persona non grata for the past eight years and even before. You mentioned non-believers and the importance of science, talking to enemies rather than simply demolishing them with tanks, suggesting that everyone can be a hero if they’re prepared to make tough choices. Words difficult for some to hear, and yet you said them on your most important day.

I appreciate you have a busy evening ahead, so I don’t want to keep you much longer, but I just wanted to end by offering another, surprising underscoring of your achievement, if the tears of Jesse Jackson and the general outpouring of support you’ve received from across the political divide and across the world haven’t been enough.

Have you seen the film Undercover Brother? A parody of 1970s blaxploitation films but with the aesthetic of McG’s remake of Charlie’s Angels, it clicked the ears of the cultural stereotypes people of colour have of themselves and caucasians. It’s very funny. Neil Patrick ‘Doogie Howser’ Harris is the token white guy in a spy organisation called the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. and the main villain is simply called The Man. You might have met him – I think he was your opponent in the presidential campaign.

One of the key plot elements is about a potential black candidate for president, a Vietnam war hero played by Lando, sorry, Billy Dee Williams. Somewhere in there he’s brainwashed into opening a chain of fried chicken outlets instead, but the reason I’m mentioning him, and this film is that it illustrates that just six years ago, in 2002 when this film was made, the idea of a black president seemed like a gag, unlikely. Which is the scale of your achievement – you’ve turned a notion which only seemed possible in fantasy, worthy of parody, into a reality.

That’s amazing.

Take care,


Moving Snow.

Life More of the snow:

A Snow Day.

A snow day.

Life Surprisingly few snow showers happen in Liverpool. I've been told The Pennines stop much of the really exciting weather from heading in our direction, so it's always an unexpected surprise to see this kind of spectacle through our windows. I dashed about taking photographs, though I don't think any of these convey the size of the flakes, which were as big as the kind seen blown from those foam machines used in Doctor Who Christmas specials. I'm having some of the leftover plum and cranberry chutney on my sandwiches to celebrate.

A snow day.

A snow day.

A snow day.

the scene at the Clayton Square disengagement

Commerce The latest local Zavvi closure is at Cheshire Oaks. The property has changed hands a few times since the retail outlet village (or whatever they're called these days) opened. It was originally rented by an independent, and in my pre-internet days when it was almost impossible for me to find some films on VHS, this was a great place to pick up the kind of so-called art house films which are deleted even before they're released such as The Sticky Fingers of Time or Clockwatchers.

That was bought out by Virgin who also ran it as a discount store, until the Zavvi take over just turned it into an ickle version of the usual high street seller and, well, there we are.

This was the scene at the Clayton Square disengagement a couple of days ago:

Zavvi Clayton Square Closed

The frosting in the window still betrays its origins.

It's a scene which is being repeated across the country, I know. Clayton Square is turning into a perfect storm for closures, with a Mark One and Woolworths also gone. Those large black and green signs in the window offer a cruel kind of false hope:

Zavvi Clayton Square Closed

A printout on the door reveals the real truth:

Zavvi Clayton Square Closed