Friday, October 10, 2008

Poetry Friday: Shakespeare Behind Bars

Today, I have poetry on film for you. Several months ago, I watched director Hank Rogerson's documentary, Shakespeare Behind Bars. I still think about it.

The premise is simple. The documentary follows a group of prisoners who are rehearsing Shakespeare's The Tempest. And what a storm it is.

Here's what Patricia Freeman says at
“When is a man forgiven?” [...] an inmate at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Kentucky asks this seemingly innocuous question. Yet [...] these words encompass the very heart of the film; they force viewers to consider extreme states of our human existence and to reconcile how both society and man struggle to embrace felony and felicity, reproach and redemption, vice and virtue, punishment and pardon.

If this film asked us to hate these men, that would be easy. If it asked us to ignore them, that would be easy, too. But it doesn't. It asks us to see them for who they are: men who have killed people. And then we go from there into territory that only Shakespeare seems to have the language for.

I can't recommend it enough.

Go here to watch a trailer

And here for an article in the Christian Science Monitor

And here is the ending of The Tempest, which the prisoners perform:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air -- into thin air --
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Ironic, isn't it? Everything dissolves, and yet... these words don't. They find new spirits to conjure them. And the insubstantial pageant rages on.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Picture Book of the Day.


  1. Wow -- that looks fascinating. Thanks, Sara.

  2. Allright. That's it. I'm gonna find that documentary. I couldn't get the trailer to download, but it's not like I needed it to convince me anyway.

  3. They did an episode about that Shakespeare program on This American Life, and it had me sobbing by the end--it's so hard to know what to think of it all.

  4. Again, you move into places and have interests that always fascinate me! As a person who first taught in the California State juvenile justice system, I'm a big fan of education within the prison system, and this sounds -- moving and heartbreaking and eloquent and thanks for sharing it.

  5. That looks like just what I need to watch this weekend. Thanks for the links.

  6. Looks fascinating. Will have to check it out!! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Sounds fascinating and complicated. Since TV's such a wasteland, this might be on the weekend viewing menu! Thanks!

  8. They did a This American Life on this... I cried. Now I must must see the film...

  9. Wow--this looks great. Thank you.


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