Theater of Blood

Suggested by Timothy Lane • A Shakespearean actor who, having attempted suicide and been saved by a group of homeless people, now takes a horrible revenge (based on scenes from the plays he starred in his final year) on his critics — even modifying one of the plays.
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11 Responses to Theater of Blood

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    One of my favorite scenes in the movie comes when one of the critics goes to a wine-tasting at George Clarence and Sons, when the next play to be used as a model (the actor, Edward Lionheart, had used his last season’s plays in sequence) was Richard III. Then comes Price speaking of “our winter of discontent” (he does a speech from each play at each murder), and the critic gets to have a close encounter with a butt of malmsey.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      a wine-tasting at George Clarence and Sons

      Very droll.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        There are many such amusing scenes — Shakespeare was a believer in occasional comic relief in tragedies, and this reflects that. One of the plays is The Merchant of Venice, and they get the critic to play in it, noting that they’ve made a few modifications “and one rather large cut”. They do the trial scene, with Lionheart’s daughter as Portia, her father as Shylock, and the critic as Antonio. He calls for judgement, and Portia calls for mercy (I don’t recall if she gives the entire speech — I’ve only seen it on TV). Then Lionheart steps forward to note that they’ve come to the scene in which Portia, through a bunch of “legal pettifogging” gets Antonio off. This is left out, so he cuts out a pound of flesh next to the heart and sends it to the critics’ association.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          noting that they’ve made a few modifications “and one rather large cut”.

          My laugh for the day, and it came early. Thanks.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            And it’s performed better than it’s read, with exquisite pacing, by Diana Rigg. She wanted to do the movie at least partly for the same reason so many actors did — hitting back at the critics is always popular among their targets.

            But she was also about to do some Shakespearean acting of her own, and figured that it made a nice lead-in. I’ve seen her in a couple of televised plays, as Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Regan in King Lear. In the latter she was gifted with my favorite line from the play, after the blinding of Gloucester (which Lionheart uses as a model for the final confrontation in Theatre of Blood): “Turn him loose, and let him smell his way to Dover.”

            That’s one of my two favorite wicked quotes out of Shakespeare. (Dick the Butcher’s “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” during Jack Cade’s rebellion in Henry the Sixth, Part Two is in a different category.) The other is that of one of the murderers in Richard the Third who hesitated over murdering George of Clarence until reminded of the reward: “Where is your conscience now?” “In the Duke of Gloucester’s purse.”

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Yes, Dick’s line has a completely different feel from the other two.

              I think “Let him smell his way to Dover” is particularly cold-blooded and cruel.”

              There is something about mocking one’s victims which always puts the mocker beyond the pale. He becomes the stereotypical villain that the audience likes to boo.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I see what you mean. Of course, King Lear is notorious for villainy — I had it in my college English, and the commentary on it (by Lionel Trilling) noted that Regan, Goneril, Cornwall, and Edmumd are among the most evil of any of Shakespeare’s villains. But Regan is mocking someone she had just helped blind, and the murderer is just being cynical about his motives.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                There is something particularly vicious about humiliating one’s victims. It is also stupid.

                I believe most people can take a good dose of pain better than a good dose of humiliation. They pain goes away fairly quickly, the humiliation doesn’t.

                I consider humiliation as motivation is much underrated throughout history. A sense of grievance for humiliations suffered or imagined, is one of the main instruments used by all revolutionaries and rabble-rousers to stir up trouble.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Good thoughts on humiliation, Mr. Kung. I do think that is a big motivating force.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I think that’s a good point; humiliation is remembered a long time. Duels are fought over such slights, not over past physical wounds, and wars are started by monarchs for the same reasons they would fight a duel or just quietly bump someone off.

                Of course, the physical wounding in this case involved blinding, which is already sufficiently humiliating in a medieval or ancient society (the authentic Lear, such as he has anything to do with the play, was an ancient British monarch, but I think Shakespeare’s Lear has a medieval milieu). In any case, of the villains in the play (who were responsible for blinding Gloucester), Cornwall was already dead (mortally wounded in the brawl), and Regan soon would be (murdered by her sister in rivalry over Edmund).

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                I think the modern left’s stress on “victimhood” has much to do with the fact that if one is a “victim” of others, it is natural that one feels humiliated. The simple fact that one allowed oneself to become a victim is already humiliating in the mind of many.

                I think Christianity saw the evil in this way of thinking and spoke out against it in various ways.

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