King John

Date: 2015
Posted by: Hassan Jamal
Cast: B.T. Taylor (King John), Frank Ugochukwu (Messinger [sic]), Dr Lou (Death)
Credits: Homewood & Frankstown TV. Dr D (Camera Upload), Director/Camera (Hassan [Jamal])
Duration: 3.23

Here’s another example from the excellent L.A. Subway Shakespeare Project, the creation of post and playwright Hassan Jamal. The project is a series of black-and-white videos featuring African-American performers shot at metro stops around the Los Angeles. The virtue in the series in how exemplifies the best of ‘street Shakespeare’ – taking the poet’s words and giving them a raw immediacy through placing them in a modern street setting, with passers-by and traffic noises an essential part of the ambience. There’s a compulsion about the renditions, by which the street encourages the verse.

There scene here was filmed close by Leimert Park Crenshaw Metro Station. It’s a little-known passage from King John, specifically the king’s exchange with a messenger (bringing him bad news from France), from Act 4 Scene 2, beginning “They burn in indignation. I repent / There is no sure foundation set on blood” (though there is some free interpretation of the text). They meet on a street corner, while wide-eyed man gyrates in a way that says that either he is made or he knows that those around him are the truly mad (the credits reveal him to be Death). The words and finely spoken (especially by B.T. Taylor) and one feels the power of the exchange even if the precise reasons for it are unfamiliar. The camerawork is shaky, but that only adds to the sense of poetry torn from tradition on to a truer stage.

Other videos in the series are The Merchant of Venice, Othello, another Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Passionate Pilgrim.

Links: YouTube page

King John Rap

Date: 2009
Posted by: Tventura1000
Cast: Not given
Credits: Music: Wild Cherry, ‘Play That Funky Music’
Duration: 2.57

OK, so maybe this isn’t the greatest Shakespeare rap video – and there are a great many of them out there – but how many people have thought to rap to King John? Featuring three American students playing John, Frenchman and the Pope (a bold introduction of someone merely referred to in the play), with Wild Cherry’s ‘Play That Funky Music’ the chosen track, they goof around, rap (dubbed), have a swordfight and dance. And you get a pithy summary of the play, which shows they know whereof they rap. There’s nothing to suggest that this is a student project (and who would be teaching King John?), so one has to assume that this was done out of sheer love of one of Shakespeare’s minor plays. Full marks for novelty and enthusiasm.

YouTube page

Infinite Monkey Syndrome

Date: 2012
Posted by: James R. Ford
Cast: Not given
Credits: Produced by James R. Ford
Duration: 1.30

A few months ago it was reported that US programmer Jesse Anderson had set up a virtual set of some millions of monkeys (using Hadoop), all of them tying at random on virtual typewriters, and had managed produce something that was 99.99% Shakespeare – the first text to be achieved in this way being ‘A Lover’s Complaint’. Anderson had cut corners however, because every time the random typing came up with words that roughly matched something from the Shakespeare canon then they would be retained, if not then discarded. With this and other constraints, Anderson could achieve his goal. The purely random production of Shakespeare by an infinite number of monkeys remains something for the philosophers and theoretical mathematicians.

Or for a videomaker. This droll piece, made by British artist James R. Ford, is an extract from a 9 minutes 8 second loop (therefore designed in principle to run forever). It shows us a woman in a monkey suit, typing Shakespeare, as the tags to the video tell us, because otherwise we would not know (a photograph of the typewriter on the artist’s website indicates that only gibberish has been produced – so far). Is is a Shakespeare video? I say that it is – and so it is (and just to make the point this post has been tagged with all of the plays and poems). A video to watch, infinitely.

Jesse Anderson explains more about his project on this video:

YouTube page
BBC online news item on Jesse Anderson’s project
Jesse Anderson’s Million Monkeys Project
James R. Ford’s personal website

Shakespeare Biography with Eggs!

Date: 2007
Posted by: HarassedTofu
Credits: Directed, filmed and edited by Kimberley Durkin, for Harassed Tofu Productions
Cast: Eggs (voices by Kimberley Durkin)
Duration: 5.01

Rudimentary (to say the least) animation with eggs, telling us the story of Shakespeare’s Stratford home life, starting from the point where the young Shakespeare is taken to see a play and becomes besotted by the theatre. The film ends poignantly with the death of his son Hamnet (yolk is spilt), commemorated by words from King John (Act 3 Scene 4), ‘If that be true, I shall see my boy again’, while Carmina Buruna plays in the background. Cracking.

YouTube page