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

Ophelia among the flowers

Date: 2011
Posted by: Brian Kawimbe
Cast: Harriet Carter (Ophelia)
Credits: Directed by Csongor Dombovari. Produced by Pinja Tenhunen and Brian Kawimbe. Director of Photography Joel Honeywell. Camera operator Wei Kong. Focus puller Nikki Rosen. Gaffer/Grip Pano Kimbigelis. Sound Emma Hill. Edited by Lotti Jones and Laura Fegan. Production design Aimee Bick. Costume design by Danae Stamatiou and Holly Whitefoord. Make-up and Hair Lucie Snow.
Duration: 3.33

Here is a painting in motion. The camera pans slowly along twisted branches and fallen leaves while just off-screen a woman sings. The pan continues until it finds her muddied and scratched feet, then reveals a young woman in a stained white dress, lying among rocks and reeds, weaving a crown of twigs. The camera track further to her face, at which points we hear water starting to rush in. Gradually water begins to pour over her, her expression ranging back and forth from fear to delight. Fade to black as she breathes her last, the whole film just the single shot.

Unlike many Ophelia visualisations, this was not inspired by Millais but rather by painting “Ophelia among the Flowers” by Odilon Redon. The painterly quality lies not just in the inspiration and the lateral composition, but in the acute eye for detail, accentuated by sharp Super 16mm photography (we don’t get too many online videos which originated on film these days). This is cinematic, mysterious, a work to be read by what it make visible, not in words (there are none). It’s the sort of short film from which one can extrapolate a greater narrative, like an extract from an imagined feature film. A very professional piece of work.

Vimeo page
“Ophelia among the flowers” at the National Gallery


Date: 2012
Posted by: The Voices Project
Cast: Emma Campbell, Melanie Araya, Dianne Kaye Aldé, Patrick W Richards, Izzy Stevens, Reece Vella, Ebony Vagulans, Lavinia White, Kathy Nguyen, Leo King Hii (all Hamlet)
Credits: Director: Damien Power, Producer: Bec Cubitt, Co-Producers: Eva DiBlasio, Eleanor Winkler, DOP: Guido Gonzalez, Editor: Nikki Stevens
Duration: 2.16

The multi-voice Hamlet ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy has become, if not quite a cliché, then if a familiar, even instinctual video response to the play. I think it was the South Bank Show in the UK, in a 1989 programme on the history of Hamlet in performance, which first edited together clips from different renditions into one soliloquy (Olivier, Gielgud, Burton etc.). What looked like a witty one-off has turned into a way to demonstrate how these are the words of everyman or woman being spoken to everyman or woman. The speech becomes not just one person’s thoughts, but anyones.

Such video intepretations find a natural home on Vimeo or YouTube, where the space available is best suited to the soliloquy. The prime example of the multi-voice soliloquy is the Hillside Student Community’s Hamlet’s Soliloquy, already praised on BardBox, where schoolchildren share the words with uncanny knowingness, and there are several examples on YouTube where someone has edited together clips from different feature film versions

Now we have TO BE, courtesy of the Fresh Ink programme of the Australian Theatre for Young People (atyp), which is looking at monologues through its Voices Project. As part of the project they have produced this video with ten young performers from Sydney who take it in turns to speak Hamlet’s words – on the beach, on a subway platform, on a basketball court, in a car, and so on – the monologue as multilogue. It has a particularly effective opening, in which each of the actors gets to say their ‘to be’, before the rest of the soliloquy is spoken by each in turn. The peformances are fresh, varied and meaningful, making us hear and see the words anew.

It is interesting to see how the online video medium encourages close engagement with the camera, the performers either looking directly at us or turning their heads towards us mid-shot. Feature film Hamlets seldom look us in the eye; stage ones never; online video ones continually. It is because they know that we are looking closely, on our laptops, smartphones or tablets. Online video is encouraging a more personalised, sharing form of Shakespeare, one in which we become as much a part of the performance as the performers – through watching, through our comments, through blogging and embedding, through sharing links, through the intimacy of address. The online video reaches out to a multiplicity of platforms; a video with multiple voices such as this is therefore emblematic of the whole genre. It is Shakespeare that can come from anywhere, and can be anywhere.

Vimeo page
Fresh Ink
The Voices Project on Facebook
Behind the scenes photos on Flickr


Date: 2009
Posted by: Book MMS
Cast: Sofia Mesquita (Ophelia)
Credits: Made by Anaïs Dujardin, Chrystel Orsati, Mélodie Simon. Music by Julien Ruggiero, Amandine Glauser
Duration: 5.07

There is only one Ophelia, and she is drawn to water. Were this film and its protaognist given any other name we would probably see no Shakespearean connection at all, but with the name the film turns into a tantalising, mysterious gloss on Shakespeare’s character. A young woman, in distress at thoughts unspoken (there are no words), gets out of bed and wanders through a house littered with empty water bottles. She is desperate for water (what exactly for is not made clear) and eventually climbs into an empty bath, where she would appear to fall asleep. The camera tracks back, revealing a trail of the empty bottles.

This rough-edged film has a rawness to it, a sense of something personal that had to be expressed but equally needed to remain hidden (the comment function on Vimeo has been disabled for the video). It is also slightly absurd, so that the film teeters on the edge between sorrow and silliness. It is a striking example of the considerable number of Ophelia-themed videos out there, part of a larger online cult that had spread across forums, video and photo-sharing sites in which young women variously inhabit the character Ophelia. Alan R. Young’s essay and website Ophelia and Web 2.0 usefully analyses the phenomenon (including comments on the convenience of choosing bathtubs over rivers or ponds in which to recreate Ophelia’s end). He concludes:

If treated with something like the same intellectual respect now increasingly given to film and television appropriations, the Web 2.0 images and videos of Ophelia’s death will be seen, not as a mere interesting digression away from a Shakespeare-centric world, but as a valid contribution to an already large and ongoing commentary upon Ophelia and upon Gertrude’s speech describing her death.

Indeed this is no digression but rather an extension of Shakespeare’s art into our post-modern world (even if it is arguable whether the greater influence may be Millais rather than Shakespeare, as it is the image of the drowned Ophelia in Millais’ painting – midway between life and death, midway betwen air and water – that so often provides the template for these imaginings). As with online video Shakespeare overall, we see his plays spilling out naturally into the media of our times. If we are looking for Ophelia today, she will be as much on YouTube as she is on the stage or printed page.

Vimeo page
Ophelia and Web 2.0

Romeo speech from Romeo and Juliet

Date: 2011
Posted by:RSC Sound & Fury
Cast: Dyfan Dwyfor (Romeo)
Credits: None
Duration: 1.24

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Sound & Fury project brings together contemporary spoken-word and hip-hop artists and Shakespeare, working with London schoolchildren. ‘Word-artists’ and actors taking part have included polarbear, Kate Tempest, Toby Thompson, and here actor Dyfan Dwyfor giving Romeo’s speech from beneath Juliet’s balcony, “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?”. With apposite contemporary feel, he gives the speech to a self-held camera while standing in a street with traffic going by. He gives every impression of providing a quick confidence to the camera before uploading the results onto YouTube. The video opens and ends abruptly, consciously not crafted except to be in a form that its target audience will instinctively understand. Hopefully.

Some of the results of some of the work with students in 2011 are seen here, in this fourteen-year-old’s sharp-worded riff on the Hamlet soliloquy.

Vimeo page
RSC Sound & Fury

To Be or Not To Be

Date: 2007
Posted by: fenian47ronin
Cast: Voice by Tamo Noonan
Credits: Produced by Tamo Noonan
Duration: 2.12

Tamo Noona aka fenian47ronin describes himself “writer–film critic, journalist, novelist”. As far as the world of online video is concerned, he’s a producer of reveries into the modern state of things, often laced with passages of Shakespeare. His videos bring together portentous imagery heavily treated with Photoshop and Affect Effects, with unclear music and his distorted voice laid over the top. When it works well, as it rather does here, the effect is kind of a stream-of-visual-consciousness with jazz overtones. The Hamlet soliloquy is spoken with heavy echo, with images of cities, skeletons, statues, basketball players, armed forces, the Titanic, and Noonan himself, and a jazzy drumbeat muttering underneath.

To Be or Not to Be is part four of a five-part video series he calls Empire not Liberty as describes as

five “pieces of work” made in response to the war in Iraq and how rampant consumerism began matching the insane military spending…

So now you know. The other five parts are Othello11tamo, Rogue & Peasant Slave, Drop ’till ya Shop!, and Piece of Work. They’re not going to stop war or consumerism (especially if so few people have actually viewed them so far), but they do show the visual power of Shakespeare’s words, whether heard or half-heard, and the efficacy of using distorted images to portray a world gone wrong.

YouTube page
fenian47ronin YouTube Channel
fenian47ronin website

Klingon Hamlet: taH pagh taHbe’

Date: 2009
Posted by: klingonhamlet
Cast: Brian Rivera (Hamlet)
Credits: Cinematographer, assistant editor and director, Amir Sharafeh; capture editor and sound, Suzanne Tyler; costume, make-up designer and editor, Brian Rivera. A Still Picture Production.
Duration: 3.25

Firstly, I must admit to a strong aversion to all things to do with Star Trek and indeed to any cultish science fiction. Secondly, if anything were to make me change my mind and see virtue in what on most occasions is mere childishness, then it would be a sincere and effective rendition of the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy in Klingon. And here one is.

Claiming to have been coached by Jane Lapotaire, no less, Brian Rivera gives an intense and expressive rendition of Hamlet’s speech in pure Klingon (the language of the villainous race of beings in Star Trek which has been constructed by addicts of the television series and films). As invented languages go, it is convincing and rich in tone, while for those of us whose feet remain on planet Earth, there words are given in English subtitles. And who would have thought there would have been a Klingon word for ‘contumely’?

The location is a little strange: a road bridge at night, with a tree overhanging the speaker (with full Klingon make-up), one of whose branches hangs distractingly over his face. Such minor details aside, this is something to watch with interest, then to listen to alone with increased interest. Truly, as Gorkon says (in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, naturally), “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon”.

YouTube page
Hamlet in Klingon (the text, that is)
Klingon Hamlet MySpace