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SHAKESPEARE’S ARTISTIC INFLUENCES PART 2

SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS inspired artists in his own era as well as those who came later. Today in Part 2, we pick up with an important 19th-century invention, the photograph. Other influences are to be seen in 20th-century art and even modern linguistic studies. (Just how did Shakespeare sound?)

Cameras define a new reality. Yet photographers also have artistic inclinations for treating their subjects. In particular, Shakespearean actors of the 19th century and later were able to display their real side, or at least the one they chose to show the camera.

Sarah Bernhardt, 1844–1923, French actress portraying Hamlet, 1899. This and the following images from publicdomain.org.

Nineteenth-century artistic sentimentality was not limited to paintings; photographers could wring hearts as well.

A scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ezhegodnik Imperatorskish Teatrow, 1890.

Twentieth-century genres gave artists striking means of seeing reality—and of reinterpreting Shakespeare’s works. For example, Franz Marc, 1880-1916, was a key figure in German Expressionism. He specialized in almost cubist portrayals of boldly colored animal subjects. Caliban, half human, half monster, is an important character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Caliban from The Tempest, as envisioned by German artist Franz Marc, 1914.

Marc’s life ended tragically. He was drafted in World War I and, as with other artists, his abilities in devising camouflage were recognized. Before orders for reassignment were carried out, Marc died in combat at the Battle of Verdun.

The subject of Shakespeare on CDs comes in a variety of musical, musical with narration, and even linguistic formats. Favorite artists of mine include soprano Frederica von Stade and actress Judi Dench.

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Frederica von Stade, Judi Dench, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa conductor, Deutsche Grammophon, 1994.

William Walton, 1902–1983, was an iconic English composer (see his Battle of Britain Suite). Thus, it’s not surprising to learn of his composing Scenes from Shakespeare over a period of 19 years, 1936 through 1954.

Walton: Scenes from Shakespeare, Sir John Gielgud, Christopher Plummer narrators, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner, conductor.

Shakespeare-Speak is the subject of my concluding example of the playwright’s influence, this time on linguistics. The English language has evolved since Elizabethan times. Actor Ben Crystal and his father Professor of Linguistics David Crystal share knowledge of OP, as in Original Pronunciation Shakespeare.

It turns out that good ol’ ’Merican—or maybe Australian—isn’t far from the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time. And we can enjoy his artistic influences from all times as well. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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