Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

EBOOK, 126 P.
1600
SOURCE: PUBLIC DOMAIN

From Goodreads:

Shakespeare’s intertwined love polygons begin to get complicated from the start–Demetrius and Lysander both want Hermia but she only has eyes for Lysander. Bad news is, Hermia’s father wants Demetrius for a son-in-law. On the outside is Helena, whose unreturned love burns hot for Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander plan to flee from the city under cover of darkness but are pursued by an enraged Demetrius (who is himself pursued by an enraptured Helena). In the forest, unbeknownst to the mortals, Oberon and Titania (King and Queen of the faeries) are having a spat over a servant boy. The plot twists up when Oberon’s head mischief-maker, Puck, runs loose with a flower which causes people to fall in love with the first thing they see upon waking. Throw in a group of labourers preparing a play for the Duke’s wedding (one of whom is given a donkey’s head and Titania for a lover by Puck) and the complications become fantastically funny.

I think I first saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream on stage at the age of ten and ever since then it has been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Over the years I’ve seen a few productions, but before this month, I’d never actually read the original play itself. After I finished reading the latest book in the Shakespeare’s Star Wars series earlier this month, I craved for more wit and wisdom from the Bard and thus decided to pick up this classic.

The story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set in Athens where a young couple, Hermia and Lysander, decides to run away because they are expected to marry other people. Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius instead of Lysander, and her friend Helena is madly in love with Lysander. Thus, when Helena finds out that the young lovers plan on fleeing, she allerts Demetrius and together they follow the couple into the mystical forest outside of the city. However, in the forest Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of fairies, are feuding. Oberon plans to win the argument with the help of a potion that will make the person fall madly in love with the first thing that they lay their eyes on. Puck, however, ends up mistaking two people together and love changes course as she who was once loved is now scorned and vice versa. At the same time a group of workers is rehearsing for a play to be performed in the Duke’s wedding, with little no knowledge of acting.

Reading Shakespeare can at the same time be very rewarding and very frustrating. At least for me, I almost never get the full gist of the play until after I’ve read it or upon re-reading. However, that also makes every reading experience fun, because there are always new things to discover and to focus your attention to. Although I remembered the plot of the play very clearly and knew some of the quotes by heart, the experience of reading the play still felt new and fresh to me. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s fantastical comedies, but more than just being a funny love polygon, it also deals with identity and the balance of rationality and irrationality. There are some laugh out loud moments but also moments that make you ponder on the modernity of the play in some ways.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d only seen the play performed before and thus reading the play revealed some things that I either hadn’t noticed or had been cut in the production. I also noticed that the final scene depicting the worker’s play, which was horrible and absolutely hilarious at the same time, was often either cut or shortened in productions that I’ve seen. In terms of a dramatic structure it is perhaps not what you want to end with, but in terms of hilarity, it is superb – a play within a play. I cannot review A Midsummer Night’s Dream objectively in any case, but if you haven’t yet read this Shakespearean comedy, I’d highly recommend that you do so immediately.

5/5

Through the forest have I gone.
But Athenian found I none,
On whose eyes I might approve
This flower’s force in stirring love.
Night and silence.

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Review: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher (Shakespeare’s Star Wars #4)

HARDCOVER; 176 P.
QUIRK BOOKS, 2015
SOURCE: FROM THE PUBLISHER

O Threepio, Threepio, Wherefore art thou, Threepio?

Join us, good dentles, for a merry reimagining of Star Wars: Episode I as only Shakespeare could have written it. The entire saga starts here, with a thrilling tale featuring a disguised queen, a young hero, and two Fearless knights facing a hidden, vengeful enemy.

‘Tis a true Shakespearean drama, filled with sword fights, soliloquies, and doomed romance… all in glorious iambic pentametre and coupled with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations. Hold on to your midi-chlorians: The play’s the thing, wherein you’ll catch the rise of Anakin!

The Phantom of Menace is the fourth book in the Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. Reviews of the first part of the series can be found here: Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, and The Jedi Doth Return.

The wit and wisdom of the Bard joins once again forces with one of the most well-known sci-fi film series as Ian Doescher rewrites the first of the second, Episode I – The Phantom Menace, into Shakespearean metre. Having enjoyed the first three of the series, I was elated to find out that the following three will all be published in 2015: first one in April and the following during the summer. Fun times ahead!

As mentioned above, The Phantom of Menace begins the prequel series to the original trilogy, and it is the only one of the entire series that I’ve actually seen the film of – a shame, I know! Hence I was expecting to know the full storyline of the book before I started, but it turned out, my recollections came only after about 100 pages into the book. To those whose knowledge of the story is as hazy as mine, The Phantom of Menace is set in time where peace between The Republic and The Federation, the two ruling powers, is crackling. The darker forces are gaining more influence and the citizens of the poorer planets suffer hunger and oppression. Two Jedi Knights are sent to negotiate terms of a trade agreement, but the end result leaves them stranded on a desert planet with a broken ship. With the help of a peculiar young boy, Anakin Skywalker, they must reach the Senate in Coruscant before the planet Naboo and its citizens are doomed.

Writing in iambic pentametre is extremely hard as it is, so I cannot but applaud the work that Ian Doescher has done. He manages to complete the task and weave in multiple references to Shakespeare’s own works, such as Romeo and Juliet. Even though I am great fan of Shakespeare’s works, I could not catch them all – luckily there’ll be a small reference guide! As in the previous titles, there’s always something extra added to the story, and in this case it is the deeper understanding and background to the character of Jar Jar Binks, the “fool” of the story. I laughed out loud reading some of the scenes about the travel through Naboo as well as during the soliloquies of Rumour, and gripped the edges of the book during the pod-racing (even though I knew the end result!). To the fans of the film series, Shakespeare’s Star Wars is a must-read, but it also offers joy and excitement to the fans of the Bard.

The Phantom of Menace is released on April 7th, 2015.

4/5

We have acquir’d a hyperdrive and in
The acquisition comes a boy as well
What strange part shops have they on Tatooine
That do include a lad with ev’ry sale!
‘Tis double-dealing ta’en to an extreme.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

My review of Verily, A New Hope (#1), The Empire Striketh Back (#2) AND The Jedi Doth Return (#3).

Review: William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher (Shakespeare’s Star Wars #3)

HARDCOVER; 168 P.
QUIRK BOOKS, 2014
SOURCE: FROM THE PUBLISHER

The epic trilogy that began with William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and continued with The Empire Striketh Back concludes herein with the all-new all-iambic The Jedi Doth Return – perchance the greatest adventure of them all.

Prithee, attend the tale so far: Hans Solo entombed in carbonite, the princess taken captive, the Rebel Alliance besieged, and Jabbe the Hutt engorged. Alack! Now Luke Skywalker and his Rebel band must seek fresh allies in their quest to thwart construction of a new Imperial Death Star. But whom can they trust to fight by their side in the great battle to come? Cry “Ewok” and let slip the dogs of war!

Frozen heroes! Furry creatures! Family secrets revealed! And a lightsaber duel to decide the fate of the Empire. In troth, William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return has it all!

This is the third book in William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. To read my review on the first book, Verily, A New Hope, click here and the second book, The Empire Striketh Back, here.

Excitement is gathering as we face the final book in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars trilogy. By now this intergalactic battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire has seen many victories, losses and chance escapes, and it is finally time for the epic finale. And to be sure, I was excited for this book. This book series has made me re-think my stand to science fiction, and though I’m still not fully won over, I’m eager to watch the Star Wars movies.

The Jedi Doth Return follows the plot of Episode VI – Return of the Jedi where the band of rebels fly to rescue one of their friends from the arms of Jabba the Hutt. With this mission, new secrets are revealed and the blueprints for the final battle are prepared. The story includes a mixture of suspense, secrets, plotting, family relationships, and humour. The illustrations fill in on the description of all the creatures and new characters, and Doescher has again delivers writing that cleverly incorporates some of the famous passages of Shakespeare’s work. (For more, see the study guide on Quirk Books website.)

Although the plot line and its twists have been referenced several times in popular culture, I did not know how the ending would wrap up. Thus the book still held some elements of mystery, which I enjoyed. However, as a whole The Jedi Doth Return was probably my least favourite of the trilogy. I believe that the book stays very loyal to the movie, but in my opinion there are scenes that do not translate well to paper. This is often a problem with plays, as you cannot really describe silent scenes and the action scenes often seem a bit redundant. The overall feeling of this book is more science fiction than Shakespeare, although many of the themes echo the Shakespearean tragedies.

As a whole, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is an interesting take on the famous movie saga. One of the inspirations for Ian Doescher was Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a book that draws parallels between the traditional hero stories in the world – using Shakespeare as an example. In fact, the director of Star Wars saga, George Lucas applied this theory when he was writing Star Wars and it was interesting to see how all the phases appeared in the book adaptations. I highly recommend Campbell’s book – as an avid reader and lover of all stories, it really opened my eyes to structures and themes employed in storytelling. But not to digress to far from the original topic, The Jedi Doth Return is a must read for the fans of Star Wars, but also recommendable to those who are interested in Shakespeare.

The Jedi Doth Return is released on July 1st, 2014.

3.5/5

Until that day I shall be on the scene,
To play my part as pilot: faithful, true,
Committed to the play that doth play out,
Determined to help write our final act –
To lift our noble cause e’en by a Wedge.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

My review of Verily, A New Hope (#1), The Empire Striketh Back (#2) AND The Phantom of Menace (#4).

Review: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher (Shakespeare’s Star Wars #2)

HARDCOVER; 176 P.
QUIRK BOOKS, 2014
SOURCE: FROM THE PUBLISHER

The saga that began with the interstellar best seller William Shakespeare’s Star Wars continues with this merry reimagining of George Lucas’s enduring classic The Empire Strikes Back.

Many a fortnight have passed since the destruction of the Death Star. Young Luke Skywalker and his friends have taken refuge on the ice planet of Hoth, where the evil Darth Vader has hatched a cold-blooded plan to capture them. Only with the help of a little green Jedi master – and a swaggering rascal named Lando Calrissian – can our heroes escape the Empire’s wrath. And only then will Lord Vader learn how sharper than a tauntaun’s tooth it is to have a Jedi child.

What light through Yoda’s window breaks? Methinks you’ll find out in the pages of The Empire Striketh Back!

This is the second book in William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. To read my review on the first book, Verily, A New Hope, click here.

If flurries be the food of quests, snow on. When the second volume to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars begins with a adaptation of one of my favourite Shakespeare quotations, it can’t go wrong. In The Empire Striketh Back, the rebels have taken refuge on a icy planet called Hoth. The group is undecided upon the next move and as the Empire is hot on their heels there isn’t much time to dillydallying. Luke wants to find the mysterious Yoda, Han wants to clean his reputation, and the droids… well, they have a lot to say.

The Empire Striketh Back continue is the same style as Verily, A New Hope. Although Doescher has reduced the amount of chorus, the play continues in iambic pentametre. In fact, the only exceptions are Boba Fett, who speaks in prose, and Yoda who’s lines are in haiku. Again, there is an abundance of puns and references to Shakespeare’s own works (an educators guide is provided in the Quirk Books website). Doescher himself thinks that out of the original Star Wars movies, Episode V – Empire Strikes Back is the most Shakespearean of all. It contains romance, betrayal, estranged family relation, etc. Thus it transformed well into the form of a Shakespearean play. However, unlike the movies, the play also gives a voice to creatures and machines such as AT-ATs and the space slug.

I’d say that my Star Wars edutainment is definitely working. Exhibit A: I saw Lego – The Movie last week and actually understood all the references to Star Wars! Plot-wise, the problem in The Empire Striketh Back is that the “big twists” in the story are already common knowledge and thus lose some of their surprise effect. My reaction to the great father-son revelation was just “Oh, this is it”, before I continued reading. As for the sci-fi, the more that I read of this reality, the more I feel out of place; nevertheless, I’m also slowly starting to understand it. To sum it up, I recommend this book and the whole series not only to Star Wars fans, but also to fans of Shakespeare. And yes, I can’t wait for the continuation.

4/5

LEIA: [aside] – He kisses by the book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

My review of Verily, A New Hope (#1), The Jedi Doth Return (#3) AND The Phantom of Menace (#4).

Review: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher (Shakespeare’s Star Wars #1)

HARDCOVER; 174 P.
QUIRK BOOKS, 2013
SOURCE: FROM THE PUBLISHER

Inspired by one of the greatest creative minds in the English language—and William Shakespeare—here is an officially licensed retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations—William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

Alas, what a book! Ever since I first heard someone talk about this book, I’ve marked it as one of those which I want to read. I thought the idea sounded very interesting, and though I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, I thought I would enjoy this. Thus when Quirk Books was looking for book bloggers to review the series, I thought: “Why not?”

To begin, I’ll recap the plot to those who (like me) are not familiar with the storyline of Star Wars. Verily, A New Hope is based on the movie Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). The story begins when a space station is attacked by the Empire, and Princess Leia is taken into custody. The Princess is one of the leaders in a revolution against the cruel Empire. However, two droids escape the space station and land to a planet Tatooine, where they meet Luke, a young farm boy who dreams of adventures. Luke sets to help these droids to find a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi, and upon meeting him hears that his destiny is tied to this strange man.

Verily, A New Hope is science fiction written in Shakespearean language. The book is written in iambic pentameter with a lot of references to Shakespeare’s own works, such as Hamlet (see quote below). Along the text are beautiful illustrations of the characters as well as some of the scenes. Science fiction is a genre that I’ve read very little and find hard to get into. This also goes for movies, and the only Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen is Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999). I know these movies (especially the early series 4-6) are cult classics, and referenced often in popular culture. In fact, reading the book inspired me to plan a Star Wars movie marathon once I’ve read the next books in the series, The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return (out in July). Call it edutainment.

What I loved in Verily, A New Hope was the language, puns and all the Shakespeare references. (Side note: A study guide explaining these references can be found on Quirk Books website.) The movie has been adapted into a play, with only little description of surroundings and a chorus narration. Although this works well for most of the story, there are some scenes which are hard to grasp without previous knowledge of the story. For example, building the tension fell flat in some scenes and especially with “gibberish languages” it was hard to figure out whether the character was playful, sad or furious. Putting that aside, I must praise the effort that Doescher has put into transforming the story into its Shakespearean form.

Overall, Verily, A New Hope was a very enjoyable read. A must read for fans of the series, but recommendable also to others who are interested in reading how science fiction would have been written by the greatest writer of the English language. I have the next episode sitting on my bookshelves, waiting for me to continue the journey.

4/5

Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not,
yet have I taken both uniform and life
From thee. What manner of a man wert thou?
A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?
A man with helpmate and with children too?
A man who hath his Empire serv’d with pride?
A man, perhaps, who wish’d for perfect peace?
What’er thou wert, goodman, thy pardon grant
Unto the one who took thy place: e’en me.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

My review of The Empire Striketh Back (#2), The Jedi Doth Return (#3) AND The Phantom of Menace (#4).

Review: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

PAPERBACK; 132 P.
SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2003/1606
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

‘Stars, hide your fires! Let not light see my black and deep desires.’

One of Shakespeare’s darkest and most violent tragedies, Macbeth’s struggle between his own ambition and his loyalty to the King is dramatically compelling. As those he kills return to haunt him, Macbeth is plagued by the prophecy of three sinister witches and the power hungry desires of his wife.

I didn’t plan to read anything special on Halloween but it turned out that Macbeth fits the day – or should I say night – perfectly. Witches, assassinations, tragedy – Macbeth has it all. The story follows a man named Macbeth, a distinguished hero and a Thane of Glamis (for the word thane, see Oxford definition). Returning from a battle with his friend Banquo he meets three witches that tell him he shall first become the Thane of Gawdor and later the King of Scotland. Macbeth dismisses these words as lies of the devil but when the news is brought that the current king has decided to name him Thane of Gawdor, Macbeth begins to believe that the witches were truly foretelling his future.

I originally picked up this and Twelfth Night because I’m working on a group presentation on Shakespeare based on these two plays. As I mentioned in the review of Twelfth Night, I am ashamed of how little Shakespeare I have actually read. Alas, I am now very much falling in love with Shakespeare. His plays are fast paced with multiple characters and still manage to have elements that ring deeper than surface. In the introduction of this play, the editor puts forth the idea that Macbeth is a fairly simple play with a straightforward plot and a distinct opposition between the good and evil. However, as one starts to read deeper into the play, the simpleness of the surface disappears leaving questions behind.

Shakespeare’s works do have a reputation of being hard to read (mostly because of the language) but I still recommend people to give it their best shot. The plays are fairly short and once you get past the old English and the verse structure, the story will carry you till the end. (Reading aloud helps sometimes.)

4/5

Fair is foul, and foul is fair, hover through fog and filthy air.

Review: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

PAPERBACK; 101 P.
WORDSWORTH CLASSICS, 1992/1602
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

The gentle melancholy and lyrical atmosphere of Twelfth Night have long made the play a favourite with Shakespearian audiences. The plot revolves around mistaken identities and unrequited love, but is further enlivened by a comic sub-plot of considerable accomplishment. In it, Tony Belch and his companion outwit their most outrageous and insulting practical jokes, emerges as an almost noble figure.

I have not read much of Shakespeare. In fact, I’ve seen more on stage than I’ve read. The story of Twelfth Night starts with a shipwreck where identical twins Viola and Sebastian are separated, both believing the other has died. Viola dresses up as a man (Cesario) and begins to serve Count Orsino. Orsino is madly in love with Olivia, who’ll have none of it. Olivia however falls in love with Cesario, who works as a messenger for Orsino (whom he/she is falling in love with). Hence, it is a comedy.

I have never seen Twelfth Night on stage but I’ve watched a movie adaptation (She’s the man, 2006) and enjoyed it. Reading a play is different from reading a novel mainly in that there is less description of settings and emotions. The play in question is a short one and jumps quickly from one scene to another without much explaining. Thus the reader is left with a lot of unanswered questions such as “why the cross-dressing?”, “what about Antonio?”, and  “Is that it?!” For some this might be annoying, but I enjoyed the gaps – they leave more room to imagination.

The main plot was more interesting to me than the comic sub-plot. For a today’s reader the practical joke pulled on Malvolio seems too cruel; to drive someone to the brink of sanity is not funny. I hope that I’ll see Twelfth Night on stage one day because I feel that reading a play does not do justice to a work that has been planned to stage. That said, I would definitely recommend this to others.

4/5

For what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’