William Shakespeare

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The words of William Shakespeare might be in more places than you think. 

This month, English professor Douglas Bruster wrote “Shakespearean Spellings and Handwriting in the Additional Passages Printed in the 1602 Spanish Tragedy.” In the article, he argues that the author who wrote “Sir Thomas More” was also the author of 325 lines that were added to Thomas Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy” approximately 10 years after it was written. Bruster argues this based on his observation of certain spelling variations and handwriting features that the two works share.

Bruster said his research came from years of scholars’ work on the texts, and the more he researched, the more he realized that some of the lines in “The Spanish Tragedy” were a rough transmission.

English graduate student Maley Thompson said she has been a teaching assistant for Bruster and has worked closely with him on her master’s report.

Thompson said she thinks that Bruster’s insight is ingenious; however, she said she can understand the opposition to his argument. She said one of the sets of handwriting in “Sir Thomas More” is referred to in academic circles as Hand D.

“You have to believe that Shakespeare was Hand D to believe that the handwriting from that document can be used as evidence for spelling variations in ‘The Spanish Tragedy,’” Thompson said. “I am not entirely convinced that Shakespeare is Hand D. I want him to be. That fulfills my fantasy of Shakespeare as a moonlighting collaborator.”

English professor Eric Mallin said that he finds Bruster’s work impressive because of the way it adds to the growing body of knowledge being assembled in this field. Mallin said Bruster’s paper “solves” a long-standing textual problem in the additional lines, and the paper can serve as a good model for other research because Bruster’s close reading turned the text into a form of objective data.

Bruster said that he will continue to work in collaboration with Genevieve Smith, ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student, focusing specifically on finding the chronological order and years that Shakespeare wrote his works.

Thompson said that she is currently helping Bruster and other scholars anthologize the newest compilation of the complete works of Shakespeare called “Bankside Shakespeare,” which will be published in 2016. As with the two previous editions of the compilation, the “Bankside Shakespeare” will include the additions ascribed to Shakespeare in “Sir Thomas More.” But this edition will have something new: For the first time, it will contain the additional passages of “The Spanish Tragedy.”

“The 38 or so plays that we have [from Shakespeare] are an inexhaustible resource, but people always want more,” Mallin said. “If there were, for instance, undiscovered recordings from the Beatles, Stones or Sex Pistols, I suspect that music historians, and more than a few fans, would want to hear them.” 


Photo Credit: Betsy Cooper | Daily Texan Staff

“Anonymous” director Roland Emmerich played a large part in getting the film made, but a man famous for bringing audiences explosion-happy apocalyptic films such as “Independence Day” and “2012” should probably stay away from the period pieces.

“Anonymous” is by no means Emmerich’s trademark disaster fare, but that doesn’t stop the film from being a straight-up disaster, something that becomes clearer with each self-serious, excruciatingly overwrought frame of the film.

Based upon a theory that William Shakespeare’s many seminal works weren’t actually written by the great author, “Anonymous” posits the author was instead the Earl of Oxford (an unrecognizable Rhys Ifans). Shakespeare (played here by a drunken, idiotic Rafe Spall) isn’t even the Earl’s first choice for a public face for his plays, which can never be published under his own name due to the British royalty’s disdain for playwriting. However, when Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), another playwright, rejects the Earl’s offer, both he and Shakespeare are loosely drawn into the Earl’s web of Victorian intrigue, which includes a passionate affair with Queen Elizabeth (played by mother-daughter duo Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave).

If all of that sounds incredibly dry and convoluted, that’s because it really, truly is. “Anonymous” fails on a basic storytelling level in every way, unable to decide if it wants to be a large-scale tragedy (despite lacking engaging characters or plot), or just a really long episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — despite missing that show’s pulpy satisfaction. Either way, the film wouldn’t work, simply because Emmerich’s take on the Shakespearean mythos is so clumsily handled and unconvincing that audiences will dismiss the theory simply because of the turd of a movie that presents it.

There are a few redeeming qualities, though they are few and far between. The film’s theatrical bookends, centered on monologues delivered by the reliable Derek Jacobi, are a clever framing device, and Emmerich’s construction of Victorian-era London is detailed and extremely impressive.

As always, Shakespeare’s writing is a fascinating thing to watch on-screen, and the film’s most powerful scenes involve the performance of one of the Bard’s many plays and manages to portray a few interesting ideas about the power of art. On the acting side, many of the performances range from scenery-chewing to dull delivery of dusty dialogue, but Vanessa Redgrave stands out as the half-mad Queen, selling every beat of the queen’s sense of betrayal as her mental stability is stripped out from under her.

Unfortunately, Redgrave’s is the only performance that’s worth noticing. The rest of the characters range from bland to indistinguishable from others, something only hurt by the two timelines the film alternates between. As various Earls are introduced to us via pompous exposition without any reason to exist in the story, the film gets bogged down. Even when the overall story arc begins to take shape, the muddled screenplay has kept us at arm’s length for so long that it’s hard to care what happens. The script’s lack of subtlety and an incredibly ill-advised final twist make “Anonymous” even more frustrating to watch.

Usually with passion projects such as “Anonymous” one can usually find something to like, some sort of messy charm to the film that makes it worth watching despite its flaws.

However, “Anonymous” makes the biggest mistake a film can make: It’s boring, presenting a half-baked — at least in the film — theory that suggests a lowly commoner such as William Shakespeare could never have the writing ability of the high royalty the Earl of Oxford inhabits. There might be some clumsy social commentary to be pulled from that, but to do so would require more thought and effort than Roland Emmerich appears to have put into this mess of a film, so it simply doesn’t seem worth it. And watching the film? Maybe a good idea if you’re looking for something to put you to sleep in five minutes, because to sit through “Anonymous” is a chore — in every sense of the word.

Printed on Friday, October 28, 2011 as: 'Anonymous' suffers from convoluted plot

The Improvised Shakespeare Company will perform completely off-the-cuff Shakespearian plays based on audience suggestions this weekend. (Photo courtesy of The Improvised Shakespeare Company)

A night spent with The Improvised Shakespeare Company is not an average night at the theater or a typical Shakespeare play. The audience may see some forbidden love or fierce sword fighting, but The Improvised Shakespeare Company is really searching for some honest laughs in a unique, brand new story.

The Improvised Shakespeare Company will be at the Long Center starting Oct. 27 performing improv plays based on the language and themes of the works of William Shakespeare. The play is unnamed because it changes every time the group performs. Blaine Swen, director and founder of The Improvised Shakespeare Company, explained that he takes suggestions for titles from the audience and bases the entire play off those few words.

“The great thing about improvisation is that everyone in the room is experiencing something together for the first time and this is something we will all share together,” Swen said. “Nobody else will get to experience this because it’s the first and last time it’s being created.”

Ann Ciccolella, artistic director of local theater group Austin Shakespeare, said she has seen the improv group perform before.

“A lot of people in town are interested in improv, and this is a really sophisticated version of it,” Ciccolella said. “I don’t think you have to be a Shakespeare fan or a Shakespeare lover though. Obviously if you are, it makes it all the more tasty.”

The Improvised Shakespeare Company got its start in Chicago in 2005. The group has since performed off-Broadway shows and at festivals around the country, receiving awards such as the “Best Improv Group” from the Chicago Reader and a New York Nightlife Award for “Best Comedic Performance by a Group.”

While Swen and the rest of the company cannot practice their lines because everything is improvised, there is plenty they do to prepare. Swen compared the practices to those of a sports team, honing the skills it takes to be a great improvisational performer like athletes practicing skills for game day.

The company practices the skill of supporting each other on stage and their Shakespearian skills with things like vocabulary quizzes. Swen said sometimes they watch Shakespearean films together or see plays together. The group also studies Shakespeare with two professors at Loyola University in Chicago.

“We become more and more versed in Shakespeare. We’re not necessarily experts, but we are certainly passionate about Shakespeare,” Swen said. “He has so much to say about the human condition, it’s just an enriching study.”

Improvisational Shakespeare is an established niche within the improv world. Andy Crouch, educational director at the Hideout Theatre, has directed an improv Shakespeare show in Austin three times and has seen The Improvised Shakespeare Company perform. He said the experience of performing one of these plays is a unique and rewarding one.

“It’s just such a natural fit. Improvisation is a very young art form and Shakespeare is one of the oldest, still-acted theatrical formats that people work in. So there’s something really enjoyable about mixing the two of them,” Crouch said.

Swen said that what he enjoys most about performing is what they call “truth in comedy,” and the honest laughs received from the audience in response to a good story.

“We will try to play scenes honestly and not always just for laughs because when you play a scene honestly, a lot of time the laughs that come are more realistic and deeper and richer,” Swen said.