A Comment Tree By the Side of the Road 9/7

Please add a leaf or two.

Your host is back home and adapting to the way things need to be done for the time being. Will get the laptop set up today. I hope.

169 thoughts on “A Comment Tree By the Side of the Road 9/7

  1. @Msb:

    Macbeth and Lear are Shakespeare’s two “social tragedies”: I.e. They turn on what happens when you stress the interpersonal bonds that hold a society together (Macbeth) or break them (Lear).

    And now I’m convinced it has to head toward the top of my stack o’ readin’. (In some alternate universe, there’s a ballad/blues about Stackoread.) That’s a subject that interests me intensely. I’d never thought of Lear in quite that way before, being focused so tightly on the personal tragedy. Perhaps I must reread them both.

    And perhaps I read Macbeth too early. All I got from it was blood and violence, which I don’t favor unless the work justifies it. Gimme comedy, gimme sex, gimme capers, gimme damn near anything but blood and gore unless you’re bringing your A game along with it. Like John Barnes in his best books.

  2. There’s only one witch in Throne of Blood, but she’s plenty scary. She’s a wispy spirit in the woods, spinning some kind of web.

    For film versions of Macbeth, I live Throne of Blood, which is different since it’s set in Japan with samurai. But it is awfully good. I’d probably go with a different one first and then try Throne of Blood to compare/contrast.

    I might start with the Orson Welles 1948 one, which definitely has a horror movie feel, with a little bit of voodoo. The mood is great. It’s a little more classic.

    I loved the Patrick Stewart one from 2010 taped for the BBC. (It was a staged version that they filmed so it would be saved for posterity and I am so glad they did.) It has this war hospital/insane asylum feel to it, plus a whole lot of in your face gore. It’s brilliant and shocking and it works.

    The more recent one (2015, I think) with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard is fine, but not as theatrical and big as Patrick Stewart’s, if that makes sense. It looks great and Marion Cotillard is really fantastic. She is a softer, sadder Lady Macbeth than Kate Fleetwood in the BBC version, who is OMG fierce.

    Roman Polanski directed a good movie version, too, and there’s an Australian one that is also very good. The witches are schoolgirls kicking over gravestones. Plus an RSC version with Judi Dench and Aidan McKellen. And if you want to get away from Shakespeare’s words, try Scotland PA. Or House of Cards. I don’t watch it but lots of people like it. Lots of good choices!

    Macbeth is not my favorite Shakespeare play but it may be the best one on film. It is drama with a capital D.

  3. Othello is the only play, Shakespeare or otherwise, that I love more than Macbeth, and for similar reasons. The inexorable march of good people to utter tragedy and ruin guts me. It happens whether I’m reading the plays, watching a moderately competent version in modern dress, or seeing the best production very good actors can contrive. Even when I first read Shakespeare (I was young and didn’t know to read aloud to really understand the magic), those were the two that mattered most.

    I detest Romeo and Juliet (talk to each other, people), although I never turn down an opportunity to see the play, and I’m cold to Lear (really, dude?) and Hamlet (must you?). Everything else depends on the acting.

  4. In the 8th grade I played Dromio of Syracuse, from A Comedy of Errors, in the school play. I was terrible.

  5. Bill on September 7, 2016 at 1:42 pm said:
    S. M. Stirling released another of his Change books yesterday.

    I wish I could get those books in a UK-accessible ebook format. I managed to get the first four or so books as imported paperbacks in the UK but then stalled in the series when I moved, and as much as I enjoy them they’re not the sort of books that justify super-expensive shipping.

  6. Now that you’re back at home, you can admit that you were bitten by a rabid puppy, right?

    My most recent reading has been a re-read of the first two books of James Morrow’s Godhead trilogy, Towing Jehovah and Blameless in Abaddon. This re-read was kicked of by a discussion of theodicy with one of my nephews. My own perspective on such has changed somewhat since they first came out, and they worked much better for me this time. I’ve not read The Eternal Footman, but the experience of re-reading these two has pushed it way up on my to-be-read list.

    Those two were preceded by Harry Bingham’s newest Fiona Griffiths novel, The Dead House. They’re excellent police procedurals set in Wales, with a fascinating protagonist and a rich backstory that’s oh-so-slowly being revealed. A lot of folks compare them to Stieg Larsons novels of Lisbeth Salander (“The Girl Who…”), but I find the Bingham to be better-written and Griffiths more believable. And weirder.

    Also re-read in the last few months – John Boyd’s The Last Starship From Earth (which held up well) and Simak’s Way Station (which didn’t).

    On the non-fiction front, Simon Baatz’s story of the Leopold and Loeb murders, For the Thrill of It, made for interesting courtroom drama and the politics of the Chicago machine of the era, but didn’t give me much insight to the killers.

    At the top of the to-be-read pile – the already-mentioned Morrow, Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton, and Richard Rhodes’ Twilight of the Bombs. The last is (according to Rhodes) his concluding volume on the political and technical history of nuclear weapons and how they affected international politics through the first and second Gulf wars. I’m already part-way through it, and it’s pretty fascinating (insert politics and sausage cliche here, season with caesium-139 but don’t consume).

  7. [on S.M. Stirling]

    I wish I could get those books in a UK-accessible ebook format. I managed to get the first four or so books as imported paperbacks in the UK but then stalled in the series when I moved, and as much as I enjoy them they’re not the sort of books that justify super-expensive shipping.

    Agree. It it worth checking the Amazon prices and the New and Used options. I picked up the last two in hardback for about £2 each plus shipping a couple of weeks ago, but I’d rather have affordable eBook.

  8. On filmed MacBeths: I’ve always enjoyed the 1983 BBC production with Nicol Williamson and there’s a 1961 black and white version made for Canadian tv starring a pre-Bond Sean Connery which really should be seen if not actually enjoyed.

  9. Sorry for the typos in my last note. Why did it change Ian to Aidan? Who knows? This is what I get for typing on the phone.

    I suppose this means I can’t be pedantic and say that Macbeth has no capital B, seeing as how my previous post was ridden with errors.

    My favorite Shakespeare plays are Hamlet and Much Ado, by the way. But Measure for Measure and A Winter’s Tale are growing on me.

  10. Here’s the archive.org page of Shakespeare by Orson Welles, from radio broadcasts and 78s. It includes a Macbeth that’s an hour and eighteen minutes, so maybe about complete (it’s the shortest Shakespeare tragedy, as I learned in my class last year).

    An interesting echo of Macbeth is Barbara Garson’s parodical pastiche, MacBird, which puts the long-eared Texan into the tragic role, and includes some pretty good speeches (including some straight from the Bard, as I found out). Of course, MacBird figures in the murder of John Ken O’Dunc. I found the following somewhat chilling, in light of future events. John’s brothers, Ted and Robert, fear for their lives after he is assassinated:

    Well then, let’s flee.

    You make a better target when you’re bounding
    Through empty fields, a silhouetted form.
    I think it’s safer milling in the herd
    Where any shot may give another mark.
    The hunter must give pause when he observes
    A single shot may cause a wild stampede.

    I learned in class that “Walking Gentleman” is a term of art for a certain class of non-speaking role, and that “Walking Shadow” is below them on the ladder: the lowest of the supes.

    The folio text, I was told, may be a shortened revision. Some of it may be by Middleton. The witches’ rhymes are in 4-beat, rather than the usual pentameter. I also see in my notes that Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth were about the only loving, supportive married couple in Shakespeare’s works.

    On the subject of Hamlet, apologies if this is where I mentioned it recently, but A Night in Elsinore is a burlesque on Hamlet that really worked for me. It’s the casting that does it: Horatio is a fast-talking Italian-sounding guy, the Ghost is silent, communicating with mime, and Hamlet scuttles around the stage with a cigar, making wise cracks. You get the idea—and the writing makes it all work. There’s at least one performance on YouTube, but I’ve been afraid to watch.

  11. Oooh fav Shakespeare:
    Richard III – never trust a Yorkshireman
    Julius Ceasar – its not complex but great speeches
    The Tempest – does fizzle out a bit at the end though

  12. As a group project, we could divide up Shakespeare’s plays and each write a proposal based on our play. We might want so skip Macbeth, though, now that there’s a lesbian YA Macbeth in a haunted boarding school. Who can beat that?

    Quick, who wants Troilus and Cressida?

  13. Throne of Blood is by far my favorite Macbeth version.

    Though, if we are talking about Shakespeare plays, I heartily endorse the show Slings & Arrows. Each season covers a theatre troupe performing one of Shakespeare’s plays. Second season is Macbeth, but all three seasons are amazing.

  14. My favorite bit of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (and the only thing I remember) is when the troupe currently performing Romeo and Juliet are at an inn, wenching it up. The actor playing the Nurse is asked, “What’s it about?”
    “Well,” he says, “There’s this nurse…”

  15. @John A. Arkansawyer may not forgive me, but due to the trajectory of my life**, I tend to think of operas when I think of my favorite Shakespeare performances — mostly the Metropolitan Opera movie theater presentations in recent years.

    Verdi composed “Macbeth” early in his career, and “Othello” and “Falstaff” at the end of it, when he was composing for his own pleasure. One particular “Othello” is in our family lore — it was an awful touring opera company and people kept walking out, but we were riveted to our seats by the drama.

    I like Gounod’s “Romeo & Juliette” a lot. The local music school students are performing that one, this fall.

    Ambroise Thomas took some liberties with the action of “Hamlet” and that would probably offend purists.

    Thomas Ades’ 21st century opera “The Tempest” — well, it certainly was a thing. Ariel’s musical lines were difficult to sing and difficult to listen to.

    The Metropolitan Opera put together a “pasticcio” of baroque opera arias (lifted from other operas) set to a plot which was a “fanfic” of “The Tempest” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and that was corny fun.

    Berlioz has “Beatrice & Benedict” drawn from “Much Ado About Nothing,” which I only know from recorded excepts and student workshopping.

    ((** I got seriously interested in opera around the time I gafiated and dropped reading SF in the late ’80s.))

  16. I hate The Taming of the Shrew with the passion of a thousand suns. Because it starts so well, and then TORTURE. (I once had a Shakespeare professor who opined it was her favorite play, because “it was so romantic”. I wrote my final paper on Shrew, doing a point-by-point comparison of Kate’s treatment to brainwashing in POW camps and by cults. (This was in the ’80s; cults were big in the news….) The professor was utterly horrified and wrote unhappy marginalia in red throughout my paper, but I’ll give her full marks for professionalism; she gave me an A on the paper. (Now I rather wish I’d kept it, just for the red margin notes….)

    I do enjoy Much Ado, because Beatrice and Benedick have that same spark without the torture. And who could not like Dogsbody? “Write me down an ass!”

  17. > “I do enjoy Much Ado, because Beatrice and Benedick have that same spark without the torture. And who could not like Dogsbody?”

    I agree, but the end of the Hero/Claudio plot keeps it from being at the top of the list for me. “After that public humiliation based on lies, we’ll be happily married after all!”

  18. Nigel wrote: “I love MacBeth, because I’m a big fan of his 87th Precinct books – Carella, Kling, Meyer, all the gang. Someone should reboot those books as procedurals.

    Heh. One of the notes in my Stories To Write Someday list (which would probably be more accurately titled Stories I’ll Probably Never Write, because there are dozens or so for every story I do manage to write) is “Stark/Westlake’s Parker pulls a heist job in McBain’s 87th Precinct”.

  19. Very, very happy to hear that you are home again. Hope the rest of your recovery is speedy and complete!

  20. The best Shakesphere is Midsummer Nights Dream, the first one I saw performed. And Lords and Ladies is one of my favorite Disc world books also.

  21. Ahhh! “Slings and Arrows!” I (mis)spent my twenties doing live, broke theater and “Slings and Arrows” is the most accurate, loving but unflinching depiction of an actor’s life ever! And the discussions of Shakespeare are marvelous, too!

  22. OMG WELCOME HOME MIKE!!!!!! 😀 We cleaned it up real good for ya. 😉

    But as usual, @Camestros Felapton did it better. In video!

  23. @ Bill: I wonder who wrote the description for that book, because it’s very wrong in one important particular. John is only second in line for the throne of the High Kingdom, but he will be the Lord Protector of Portland when his mother dies. There’s really no significant question concerning the path his life is ultimately supposed to take.

    Not gonna grab that right this minute — I’ll wait and see if it’s available from someone at FenCon first. But if not, I’ll be ordering it as soon as I get home.

    @ Kyra: You and me both. I enjoy the A-plot of Much Ado, but the B-plot almost entirely ruins it for me. Everybody turns on Hero, and it’s nauseating.

  24. Mike: good to see you’re home.

    Lenora Rose: Friesner’s comic fantasy varies wildly. I’m especially fond of Elf Defense.

    John A. Arkansawyer: wrt Ford: Gaiman commented on this non-repetition in his intro to Ford’s collection From the End of the Twentieth Century. Do you also know his ~mimetic novel The Scholars of Night?

    @Steve Simmons: I’m amazed that you find Boyd holds up; I find only a husk left by the suck fairy. And I’m curious what you think breaks in Way Station; certainly it has to happen in the decade it was written in, but that’s no more a weakness than it is for much of Sturgeon.

    Kip W: Macbeth in 88 minutes can’t possibly be complete; the performances I’ve seen have been long enough to need the intermission Shakespeare left room for. (“Shortest” is relative to some long works.) But Welles always liked to see how far he could edit S.

  25. Having only recently read Way Station for the first time, and having loved it, I’d be interested to know that, too. I loved the atmosphere and pacing.

  26. Ack. I had a life all day* (boo hiss) and so have no time to catch up, but


    *Mostly mundane stuff, but I also finished the new Toby Daye book.

  27. Current Reading:
    – Welcome to Night Vale – The plot is slower paced than I’d like. The biggest weakness so far is that all the little asides of extra weirdness that work when spoken by a radio announcer and his guests on a radio show don’t seem to work in the general narrative of a novel, and are one of the major causes of things dragging.

    If you’re referring to the novel, I had much the same experience. Thankfully, the third act plays out satisfyingly, but it was at times a slog getting there.

  28. I just finished Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter, recommended here some time ago. What a beautiful story! It made me cry happy tears more than once. Thank you!

  29. Welcome to Night Vale:

    I won’t say it was a disappointment, but that’s only because my expectations were low – I really don’t think the show’s humor is translatable to prose format.

    And even if it is, this wasn’t it.
    It wasn’t playing to Night Vale’s strengths – at its best, Night Vale gives dark twists on innocuous, everyday life; plays with narrative structure; surprises us; reaches a philosophical thought in a weird way.
    This… was not that. The book does some interesting work in metaphor-becomes-real in terms of the protagonists’ issues. But most of the bulk is a lot of fanservice-y references; rehashing jokes we’ve already heard; going into greater “depth” but not finding anything particularly creepy or funny once we’re down there.
    There’s also just a lot of running to and fro and asking random people if they can solve all their problems. Or if they “know anything”. Nobody does.
    It picks up considerably towards the end, but until then it spends all its energy treading water and keeping us from getting anywhere. Alas.

    Slings and Arrows:


    Glorious, fantastic series. SO MUCH FUN, and so well-written.

    I first found it via an excellent post by Abigail Nussbaum, which is typically insightful and intriguing.

    Currently Reading:

    I ordered a couple of Karen Joy Fowler books – her short story collection What I Didn’t See, and her detective-metafiction which I’ve never heard any mention of The Case of the Imaginary Detective (titled Wit’s End in the UK, I believe).

    Fowler is one of my absolute favorites. Her writing is unfailingly delightful and unflaggingly perceptive. I have a few days of dull, dull reserve duty coming up, and I intend to spend them glutting myself thoroughly.



    Continuing to wish you a full and speedy recovery.

  30. @Kendall
    Ooooooh! That Raksura cover is gorgeous. Thanks for the link. I had the idea this was a trilogy, guess it’ll just be a duology. Sad that this is the last Moon, Jade, Stone novel, but really hope she can find another way to visit that world again. Fascinating place, and she writes such good characters.

    I had no idea she was that close to quitting! I really liked her Il-Rien books and didn’t realize she wasn’t just holed up writing more books when there wasn’t anything new for a couple of years. Hopefully the Raksura success has given her some financial security.

    When is the first year the series Hugo could go into effect, 2018? And the last Raksura is 2017? Hmmmmmm. :^)

  31. John A Arkansawyer: I just re-read [How Much…] last week. Gosh, it’s good! Sure wish I had a copy of The Final Reflection to go with it.

    I know it’s not the same as in hardcopy, but because Pocket has the overarching rights to all the ST novels, you can get The Final Reflection in ebook. (Used hardback and paperback copies are available, too.)

  32. Chip Hitchcock:
    Of course you are right. I was too lazy to add up the times of the tracks of a complete audio edition here, but 78 minutes was somewhat absurd. In my defense, I was a great deal younger when I made the comment.

  33. @ John A Arkansawyer

    And now I’m convinced [Macbeth] has to head toward the top of my stack o’ readin’.

    Yay! Shakespeare rules!

  34. @ Lee

    I enjoy the A-plot of Much Ado, but the B-plot almost entirely ruins it for me. Everybody turns on Hero, and it’s nauseating.

    Not quite everybody. Beatrice believes her, supports her, and demands that others do too. A great example of women being allies rather than rivals. While Shakespeare has a lot of casual misogyny, he also managed to write some great female friendships.

  35. Hampus: I believe the actual superstition is that one should not mention Macbeth (or indeed quote from it) in the theatre.

    Which works of Shakespeare would be eligible for Hugos? Macbeth, clearly, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Several more if you count anything that has a ghost in it, but this may be stretching things.

  36. Andrew M:

    “Hampus: I believe the actual superstition is that one should not mention Macbeth (or indeed quote from it) in the theatre.”

    Wouldn’t it be very hard to put on the play then?

  37. I’ve always thought the superstition was naming it in backstage conversation and that it was countered by calling it “The Scottish Play”.

    @Chip Hitchcock: I am hoping someday my wonderful ex-wife will find me a copy of those three John Ford books I really want, the one I’ve mentioned and have read, and the two I’m hottest to read, The Scholars of Night and Web of Angels. She knows that I avoid eBay and AbeBooks and such in the interest of our kid having something to inherit besides books and records, and has the sort of self-control I lack. Most of my Merril anthologies and neat Heinlein items come from her diligent searching. Now that we’re split up, she doesn’t gift me like she did when we were together, but she still drops the nice item on me now and then.

    Somehow, The Dragon Waiting didn’t catch me like the rest of the ones I’ve read did. I’ll have to figure out why someday. I’d like to understand.

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