Shakespeare In The Alley

I went to see the production of The Tempest at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) a few days ago. This production is part of something called The Bridge Project, organized by the director Sam Mendes, in which British and American actors collaborate on new productions of, this time around,  Shakespeare. Mendes has paired As You Like It and The Tempest for this season of The Bridge. Sam Mendes is something of a Bob Dylan aficionado: if you have seen his movie Truly, Madly, Deeply, you can enjoy hearing Alan Rickman, playing a ghost, reciting the opening lines to Tangled Up in Blue to a sleeping woman who in fact has red hair. (Thanks to commenter below, I stand corrected on this! It seems more honest to strike it out this way instead of just removing it.)  And although I have not seen the As You Like It, I’ve been told that there is a fairly obvious and affectionate Dylan parody in one of the songs. I hoped for an allusion of some kind in The Tempest. And it occurred to me only now that I may have found it.

Not Caliban, played here by Ron Cephas Jones, but what he’s kneeling upon, which you should be able to make out as sand. The stage setting is dominated by a circle of sand intended to give a physical space to Prospero’s magic. Prospero observes and manipulates the action from outside the circle, and enters it to interact with those he is manipulating. Need we look any further? Aren’t these characters on this island silhouetted by the sea? And aren’t memory and fate the materials Prospero must work with to bring his plot about? He repeatedly provides characters with the stories of their own pasts, and then engineers their fates. And finally Prospero’s own tools and identity, staff and book, driven deep beneath the waves as he determines his own fate, by relinquishing his past and those inscrutable powers of his. Well, I would like to say that Mendes has provided the circle of sand where Prospero may serve as ringmaster.

I may be tireless and lunatic in my desire to find companionship in La Vita Dylan, but I wonder if anyone else who has seen this production finds any substance to my flight of fancy here.


9 thoughts on “Shakespeare In The Alley

  1. Ummmm, FYI … Anthony Minghella directed “Truly Madly Deeply”, not Sam Mendes.

  2. RATS!!! Thank you for correcting me, and promptly too. I was so excited by my theory! I’ll take out the incorrect reference, and hope that this will weaken the theory only 40% or so.

  3. Hey Nina,

    I saw As You Like It, in which the wandering melancholic Jaques, played by Stephen Dillane, does a very obvious Dylan impression. Dillane/Dylan, get it? When I heard it I felt the brief rising of a bristle, but it was loving and worked in the play and to remind me of Dylan’s and American Folk’s use of the English country ballad.

    Two other notes: I have twice heard Forever Young being played at the end of TV shows about men, aging, and virility (or the depletion of). Once on a recent Men of A Certain Age, and once on a Big Love from the second season.

    Better than that, though, yesterday in class I played Buckets of Rain, first the M. Ward/Beth Orton duet, and then Bob, and asked the students to match lines from the song to any line from Keats’s major odes in order to make of the pairing an illustration of Negative Capability.

    I got great results, the most gratifying to my Dylan/Keats obsession being the association of “If you want me/honey baby I’ll be here” with “for ever panting, and for ever young” in Urn. Given no chance that this first-year student has read Christopher Ricks, I gave her beyond full credit for the intertext!

    Love Peace and Hair Grease, Dylan People

  4. Not a Shakespeare reference, but I had a similar sensation at a Turner exhibition here in London recently, encountering this painting, Landscape, with Woman with Tambourine (visible on the internet at ). Surely, surely…. this is so perfect a depiction of evening’s empire, of ancient empty streets, that if it had been painted now, someone would ask, Mr Turner, is your picture intended as a tribute to Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man? Fortunately we cannot expose ourselves to the cantankerous old Cockney’s ire in this way.
    I would like to think Dylan saw this picture (which is now in Japan, so I don’t know how he would have done). Or maybe the tambourine is a more important part of collective unconscious symbolism than we knew.

    1. I routinely traipse through our Museum of Modern Art and assign Dylan lyrics to what I see. De Chirico’s charged unreadable mysterious spaces, often enough with towers in them, always make me think of All Along the Watchtower. But that’s not what you mean. Tambourines. Gypsies. Gypsies live in the margins of civilized society, they threaten and exploit and entice and corrupt. Gypsies are very…id. Who else has tambourines? Jesters. Minstrels. Wanderers by trade, outsiders. Does it take any real skill to play a tambourine?

  5. And (returning to the tempest) who but Turner could paint a “swirling ship”?

  6. Wow, Eruke! First of all, I’m jealous that you were able to attend that show while, alas, we Texans have very little in the way of nationally (and world) renowned theatre. I just had a chance to read this post and these comments, and it feels like a recapitulation of my class over the last few months. I will bring this up with my students, who’ve just read The Tempest, discussed Dylan, and studied Keats, negative capability, and Turner. Eruke, since the circle in the sand has been in almost every version of the Tempest, I don’t know that this was intentional Dylan allusion on Mendes’ part. And now thinking about it, I’m starting to feel uncomfortably like a Dylan version of my students who were Lost conspiracy theorists, claiming the show was based on The Tempest. But the narrator in “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Prospero definitely share an adventurous melancholy. Dylan aside (gasp!), between Keats and Turner, there seems to be some similarity in dispositions. When required to paint his self-portrait, (, Turner apparently objected, “Lest a patron believe such a man was incapable of creating beauty in art.” And of course Keats said, “I hold that place among Men which snub-nosed brunettes with meeting eyebrows do among women.” So maybe that humility/insecurity in appearance transfers to humility about artistic endeavors. (Keats did say “He always made an awkward bow” and his name “was writ in water.”) Maybe I’m taking this too far, since I don’t know too much about Turner and am unsure about the source of the above quote from him, but methinks this is all related to negative capability. The poet/artist/musician thinks, “Maybe I don’t have any talent, any lasting power, anything conducive to celebrity, but I will write anyway. I will embrace the inconclusive because I must accept it.” But Keats’ caveat about his own worthlessness (he actually calls himself “trash” in the letter to Fanny Brawne that’s quoted above), is that he can be valued if he finds someone with similar passions. I think he has. Good for him. And good for me to read this blog and know that I’m not alone in wanting to go on with endless comparisons of Dylan and Keats (and Turner)…There’s already one book out there, called The Monstrous Debt, that includes an article on Keats and Dylan, though I haven’t read it yet. I’m curious to know if anyone else has.

    1. This being the only production of The Tempest I’ve ever seen, I can’t now bow out of my Dylan hic et ubique perspective, which sees all sand circles reflecting the circus sand. Apologies to Mr Mendes for embroiling him in my little conspiracy theory. Some of Keats’ self-effacement was touched with dismay, and I thank you for reminding us also that Keats’ wit is often neglected in our idealization of him. Negative capability is a withdrawing of self, rather than a denigration of self. I like your spinning out relations among these artists and your relation to them. The comments on Turner here are provided by Mr John Gibbens, whose book on Dylan’s language, The Nightingale’s Code, I guarantee you would relish and also want to share with your students:

  7. Does it take any skill to play a tambourine? I direct you to “Standing in the Shadows of Motown”, a documentary about the Motown session players, and the playing of Jack Ashford, whose tambourine drove more great records than you can shake a ….

    PS. Thank you for the plug!

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