We’ve talked about “Chekhov’s gun“–the rule in storytelling that when you show a gun early in a story, you have to use it before the end. You’ve established expectations that need to be fulfilled. We’ve also noticed its use in movies like Birdman. Here are a couple more examples I’ve encountered recently.
Israel Horovitz is a well-known playwright who recently turned his play My Old Lady into a movie with Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Kline plays a bitter sad-sack who has been left a French apartment by his father, only to discover that it is inhabited by its elderly former owner and her daughter (Smith and Thomas). Under a quirky French law, Kline not only can’t sell the apartment, he has to pay Smith a kind of reverse mortgage every month. Drama, heartbreak, revelation, and resolution ensue. There is much talk of death and suicide. And there is a hunting rifle, which Kline plays with early on in the movie. We wait patiently for the hunting rifle to make its next appearance. We are not disappointed.
The movie is not bad but not great. Horovitz obviously knows how to construct a story. But as is often the case, a good play doesn’t always make a compelling movie. Like many adaptations, this one felt claustrophobic and talky to me, and the basic situation and relationships among the characters felt contrived. The ultimate hunting rifle scene is well-handled, though — it took place off-camera, so we don’t know what happened at first. Will this be a tragedy, or a comedy?
The other movie is Stolen Moments, a ridiculously bad silent movie that Rudolf Valentino made just before he became a star. I could write about it in my intermittent series of post about writers in the movies, because Valentino plays “a Brazilian writer of novels in English,” according to the intertitles. But really, it’s not worth it. The storytelling is about as primitive as it can be, and that includes the use of Chekhov’s sword. Valentino’s butler goes takes the sword down from the wall and goes after him in an unmotivated drunken rage. Valentino easily disarms him and sends him packing. And then puts the sword on the table, where it sits patiently awaiting the final, confused climax, when, of course, it will be used to better effect.
The Times today has an article about the possibility that Shakespeare wrote a passage in an edition of The Spanish Tragedy, an early Elizabethan play by Thomas Kyd. The original computer analysis (by Brian Vickers) was very similar to that used to suggest that J. K. Rowling was the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, which we talked about here. Big Think describes what Vickers did:
Sir Brian has employed software called Pl@giarism–a free program developed by Maastricht University to catch law students cheating on their written work–to search a database of the 58 different plays performed in London between 1580 and 1595. But Sir Brian isn’t looking to catch anyone cheating. Rather, he is looking for examples of so-called “self-plagiarism.” The Pl@giarism software identifies every occasion that a sequence of three words appears in Shakespeare’s known works, and then looks for repetitions of these sequences in an unattributed text. Some of these word sequences are common, everyday collocations such as “by the way” or “Yes, my lord.”
Excluding those phrases, Sir Brian focuses on word sequences that are unique to Shakespeare. For instance, the word sequence “eyebrows jutty over” appears only twice in all of Elizabethan drama. One instance is in Shakespeare’s Henry V, written in approximately 1599. The only other instance is found in the fourth edition of Thomas Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy,” published in 1602. This version contains additions to five scenes, totaling 320 lines. In these short passages, Sir Brian found 46 collocation matches that are completely unique to Shakespeare’s poems and plays written before 1596. That evidence is hard to argue with.
What got the Times’ attention was another paper that focuses on Shakespeare’s handwriting and how that helps explain oddities in the passage:
In a terse four-page paper, to be published in the September issue of the journal Notes and Queries, Douglas Bruster argues that various idiosyncratic features of the Additional Passages — including some awkward lines that have struck some doubters as distinctly sub-Shakespearean — may be explained as print shop misreadings of Shakespeare’s penmanship.
“What we’ve got here isn’t bad writing, but bad handwriting,” Mr. Bruster said in a telephone interview.
What I couldn’t find in a cursory Google search was the actual passage in question. It’s easy enough, though, to find the standard sample of Shakespeare’s messy handwriting–the passage from the manuscript of the play Sir Thomas More that is generally agreed to be by Shakespeare: