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Friday, November 23, 2012

James Bond 007 Skyfall and William Shakespeare

Shakespeare. William Shakespeare.

Is it just me or is there a little Shakespeare in the new James Bond Skyfall movie?



I love Daniel Craig as Bond -- there is more emotional depth and dramatic complexity than in the previous Bond films.

But this new one goes even deeper, and is arguably the best of the three -- which is hard to believe since Casino Royale was so perfect.

The film's director Sam Mendes recently produced the excellent Hollow Crown series of Shakespeare adaptations, so it should come as no surprise that some Shakespeare might find its way into this Bond film. And I'm not just talking about the introduction of Ben Whishaw as the new Q -- who of course was Richard II in the Hollow Crown series, and was Ariel in Julie Taymor's Tempest.

Sam Mendes & Daniel Craig

Also, the Skyfall screenplay was co-written by John Logan, who recently adapted Coriolanus, with Ralph Fiennes -- who makes quite an entrance in this new Bond film. It seems that Fiennes has had a lifelong obsession with both Bond and Shakespeare.

Sam Mendes has even said that there are "strong similarities" between the Bard and the Bond. I'm not sure I agree with that, but I think it is likely that he would want to inject some Shakespearea into the film, and I definitely applaud that.

So with all of these people, all of whom have strong Shakespeare backgrounds, what if anything is there in the film that is Shakespearean?

Is it just me or is the always excellent Judi Dench -- no stranger to Shakespeare herself -- meant to be something of a King Lear character?

It occurred to me that she might be a Lear, as she is out on the Scottish moors in Skyfall -- which is reminiscent of Lear's wandering on the heath.



She seems to have a king-like power as the head of MI6. In the film there is the topic of her possible retirement, or forced retirement, which is not dissimilar to Lear's retirement as King. Her M seems to be losing control of the forces around her, and she is eventually stripped of all of her agents and is removed from the agency itself, with only Bond to protect her -- again not unlike Lear when he loses his guards.

But when I try to think of James Bond and Silva, the brilliant Javier Bardem, as Lear's children then my theory starts to fall apart.

But what about Bond and Silva as Edgar and Edmund? Ah, that actually makes a certain sense.

So if we accept that Judi Dench's M is a Lear/Gloucester character, then there seems to be a certain logic to it.



Gloucester has two sons, the legitimate and good Edgar and the illegitimate and evil Edmund. I love Harold Bloom's description of Edmund as a "strategist of evil" and as the greatest nihilist, worse even than Iago from Othello. The same can be said of Javier Bardem's Silva, who has endless evil strategies and wants nothing more than to burn everything down.

Edgar emerges victorious at the end of the play, but at a terrible cost. Bond of courses emerges victorious from Skyfall but there has been an unprecedented level of destruction for a Bond film -- on the personal level for James himself. The slate is wiped clean, as it were, and the film sets up an entirely new series of films.


And the funny thing is that William Shakespeare himself, 400-something years ago, was no stranger to spies and spy craft.

He lived in a time where spies were common and the royal spy network, controlled by Queen Elizabeth's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, was very effective. Just about every plot against the Queen was infiltrated by spies and informants -- and therefore were foiled before the Queen was ever really in danger.

From what I have read, people informed on each other, neighbor against neighbor in England, and especially in London. It sounds more than a little like the Stasi network in the former East Germany.

Shakespeare was familiar with and in fact was friends with people who conspired against the Queen -- the Earl of Essex and the Essex Rebellion for example -- and while I would not say that Shakespeare was ever an anti-monarchist, he certainly knew that there were plots all around him.

He had lived his whole life with the knowledge that the Queen was in peril from her own subjects -- especially after the Pope excommunicated her and called upon Catholics to kill her by any means necessary -- in 1570, when Shakespeare was 6 years old.

One of Shakespeare's greatest friends (and rivals) was playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was believed to have been a spy, and perhaps even a double-agent, working for and against the Queen. Marlowe is believed to have been killed by government agents.

When I watched Javier Bardem as Silva, a former agent for MI6 who has now become the greatest threat to MI6, I thought of Marlowe.

Harold Bloom, in his masterful Shakespeare: Invention of the Human, writes that Lear's "Edmund is a representation of Christopher Marlowe." Aha!

Therefore Marlowe = Edmund = Silva.


I know that I might just be imagining things, some kind of occupational hazard in writing and thinking about Shakespeare all the time perhaps. But even though I wear Shakespeare-colored glasses, I think there is something to this theory.

What do you think?

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


If you like this, you may like these other blog posts about Dame Judi Dench & Daniel Craig:

Dame Judi Dench and Listening to Shakespeare

Dame Judi Dench and Shakespeare Solved

Shakespeare In Love, Part Two?

Daniel Craig and Shakespeare

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