Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare's earliest tragedies. A detail that comes through in many aspects of the play, particularly its over-the-top, iTitus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare's earliest tragedies. A detail that comes through in many aspects of the play, particularly its over-the-top, in-your-face violence. Little is left to the audience's imagination except for the rape and mutilation of Lavinia and the execution of Quintus and Martius, Titus' sons.
Many would like to distance Shakespeare from this play. As if it were a piece of hackwork he threw together to pay the rent but it's actually quite Shakespearean, if a bit rough around the edges. One can see glimpses of Iago and Othello in Aaron the Moor, King Lear in Titus and Cordelia in Lavinia. And many of the tropes one comes to expect in Shakespeare are also adumbrated: Revenge (of course), Order out of Chaos (like Octavian in Julius Caesar, Edgar in King Lear, or even Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream), or the ability to speak as a sign of full humanity (Lavinia).
My favorite character is, of course, Aaron the Moor. Unrepentant in his villainies and instigator of truly vile crimes (rape, murder, mutilation), nevertheless I can't condemn him as utterly evil since it was Titus who began this cycle of tragedy when he hacked Tamora's oldest son Alarbus limb from limb as a sacrifice. Are his deeds any more "evil" because they are not sanctioned by honor and law?
Julie Taymor filmed a marvelous adaptation (Titus), starring Anthony Hopkins (Titus) and Jessica Lange (Tamora), which deserves a look.
It's a telling comment on our own times that Majorie Garber considers Titus Andronicus the most "modern" of Shakespeare's plays, and, of his tragedies, the one most easily accessible to today's audience. ("Titus Andronicus," Shakespeare After All pp. 73-88)...more
I just started listening to the play this afternoon on my way in to work. Having recently listened to Henry VIII it struck me how distinctive the voicI just started listening to the play this afternoon on my way in to work. Having recently listened to Henry VIII it struck me how distinctive the voices are in this play. Within a few words or lines, you can figure out who's speaking almost without fail. Whereas in Henry VIII, I often couldn't distinguish one character's speeches from another's.
I'm not sure how profound this insight is but I enjoyed having it....more
I'd probably have a higher opinion of Romeo and Juliet if I hadn't had to teach it every semester to my Freshman English classes for 3 years.
But evenI'd probably have a higher opinion of Romeo and Juliet if I hadn't had to teach it every semester to my Freshman English classes for 3 years.
But even second-rate Shakespeare is first rate English prose.
Having just finished reviewing Stanley Wells' Shakespeare, Sex, and Love and rereading Romeo and Juliet, I have to reassign this play to the Bard's first tier. Like any good crit-lit, Shakespeare, Sex, and Love exposes a "tired old warhorse" in a new light, and a greater appreciation in the reader's eye.
What I don't understand is why our high schools teach this "pornography"? Has anyone alerted the Texas School Textbook Commission or the Family Research Council?...more
I finished my rereading of The Tempest earlier today. As usual when I reread one of the Bard's plays, I appreciate it more. I can definitely upgrade mI finished my rereading of The Tempest earlier today. As usual when I reread one of the Bard's plays, I appreciate it more. I can definitely upgrade my initial reaction to a solid 3 stars. It's still not a favorite; many of the qualms I had from my original review remain. Except perhaps at the end when Prospero gives up the power his magic gives him, though I couldn't tell you why he does so - Shakespeare doesn't give us much in the way of motivation for any of his actions. For example, why does he forgive Antonio? How secure is Antonio going to be with a restored Duke Prospero? Why is Prospero OK with Ferdinand courting his daughter? (I realize that in the context of Elizabethan and Jacobean England it's usual but the modern reader must realize that Miranda is only 15 years old. I wonder how young she was when Caliban - how old is he? - attempted to rape her, and was it really "rape" or just two children playing "doctor"? Considering Prospero's decidedly aristocratic temperament, I can easily see him overeacting and the incident becoming more and more lurid with each passing year.)
That aside, The Tempest is a good play by itself. I was particularly taken with Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano who came across as the most "real" in this reading. (I'm sure something else will engage me the next time I read the play.) ______________________________________________________
This is probably the least 3-starry play amongst my Shakespeare reading. More like a 2.5 or 2.6; I'm rounding up because it is Shakespeare and I do wish I could write half so well.
The greatest impediment to a full-throated 3 stars is that I don't find anyone in the play all that admirable or interesting. The two characters I feel any regard for (and it's sympathy) are Ariel and Caliban, enslaved these dozen years by Prospero, whom I think Caliban rightly calls "tyrant."
My practice over the last year, ever since I discovered that my Glendora library has all of the plays on Audio CD and most of BBC TV's versions on DVD, has been to read (or reread) the text, listen to the play, and watch a version (or versions). Perhaps when I get the time to watch the DVD this weekend, I'll have more sympathy for the play.
(And I just wanted to mention: I'm not approaching this from the point of view of colonialist-native. Heck, I'm one of the white males who've been oppressing the rest of you for four centuries. Prospero's a "tyrant" by any measure.)...more
In anticipation of the release of a new filmed version of Coriolanus, I reread the play in Dec 2011.
It remains a difficult play to enjoy, and I'm goinIn anticipation of the release of a new filmed version of Coriolanus, I reread the play in Dec 2011.
It remains a difficult play to enjoy, and I'm going to retain my 2-star rating - it's OK compared to other Shakespeare plays.
The protagonist is an arrogant, spoiled, immature patrician whose disgust for Rome's plebeians is so manifest and violent that his enemies easily manipulate the citizens into banishing him. He flies to his chief enemy, Tullus Aufidius, the leader of the Volsces, and returns to Rome at the head of an invading army.
Coriolanus' enemies suffer for being relatively pale and forgettable. In Rome, the cynical manipulators of the rabble are the tribunes Sicinius Velutus and Junius Brutus; and Tullus is a coldly pragmatic politician, not a charismatic villain like Iago (Othello or Aaron (Titus Andronicus) (as Marjorie Garber notes in Shakespeare After All, comparing him to the Octavian of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra).
The most interesting character in the cast is Volumnia, Coriolanus' mother. Though I think for most modern readers there's little to like or sympathize with in a woman who exults in her son's bloody mindedness:
I pray you, daughter, sing; or express yourself in a more comfortable sort. If my son were my husband, I should freelier rejoice in that absence wherein he won honour than in the embracements of his bed where he would show most love. When yet he was but tender-bodied and the only son of my womb, when youth with comeliness plucked all gaze his way, when for a day of kings' entreaties a mother should not sell him an hour from her beholding, I, considering how honour would become such a person, that it was no better than picture-like to hang by the wall, if renown made it not stir, was pleased to let him seek danger where he was like to find fame. To a cruel war I sent him; from whence he returned, his brows bound with oak. I tell thee, daughter, I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child than now in first seeing he proved himself a man. (Act I, sc. 3)
Another reviewer has pointed out another problem with the play and that's its unrelenting grimness. I recently watched an Othelloperformed at the Globe Theater in 2008 where the importance of humor (even if dark) was showcased in the performance of Othello's servant and the hapless naivite of Roderigo. There are a few scenes that could be milked for laughs (in particular I'm thinking of Act IV, sc. 6, when the citizens are falling all over themselves saying how they really didn't mean to banish Coriolanus) but they are few.
This being Shakespeare, though, the language is marvelous and our author always manages to articulate the views of all his characters. In light of the current political climate both here in the U.S. and abroad, I found some passages particularly a propos. E.g.,
Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their storehouses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there's all the love they bear us. (Act I, sc. 1)
He that will give good words to thee will flatter beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs, that like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you, the other makes you proud. He that trust to you, where he should find you lions, finds you hares; where foxes geese; you are no surer, no, than is the coal of fire upon the ice, or hailstone in the sun. Your virtue is, to make him worthy whose offense subdues him, and curse that justice did it. Who deserves greatness deserves your hate; and your affections are a sick man's appetite, who desires most that which would increase his evil. He that depends upon your favours swims with fins of lead and hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust ye? With every minute you do change a mind, and call him noble that was now your hate, him vile that was your garland. What's the matter, that in these several places of the city you cry against the noble senate, who, under the gods, keep you in awe, which else would feed on one another? (ibid.)
Let me have war, say I; it exceeds peace as far as day does night; it's spritely, waking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy; mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible; a getter of more bastard children than war's a destroyer of men. (Act IV, sc. 6)
I watched a version of this play set in 19th century Japan recently. I don't know why it was set in 19th century Japan since all the principals remainI watched a version of this play set in 19th century Japan recently. I don't know why it was set in 19th century Japan since all the principals remained European and they all ended up in the Forest of Arden dressed like...well, 19th century Europeans.
But it did prompt me to reread the actual play, and I found I enjoyed it much more on the second go around.
(And despite my reservations about the setting, the video was pretty good, too.)...more
Measure for Measure, as the title suggests, is all about weighing out appropriate portions – of love, of mercy, of justice. The plot is simple enough.Measure for Measure, as the title suggests, is all about weighing out appropriate portions – of love, of mercy, of justice. The plot is simple enough. The Duke of Vienna, concerned that his people have thrown off restraint and have sunk too far into liberty, leaves the city in the hands of Angelo, a man notorious for his strictness and inhuman discipline. As Lucio observes in two instances (once to Isabella and again to the Duke):
“…Upon his place, Governs Lord Angelo; a man whose blood Is very snow-broth; one who never feels The wanton stings and motions of the sense, But doth rebate and blunt his natural edges With profits of the mind, study, and fast.”
“Some report a sea-maid spawned him; some, that he was begot between two stock-fishes. But it is certain that when he makes water his urine is congealed ice; that I know to be true: and he is a motion generative; that’s infallible.” (Act 1, scene 4; Act 3, scene 2, respectively)
In the meantime, the Duke disguises himself as a humble friar to observe what transpires.
Angelo, true to form, imprisons and condemns Claudio for lechery – he has got with child his fiancée Julietta. Isabella, Claudio’s sister, a woman who plans to enter a nunnery, importunes Angelo for mercy. Angelo refuses unless she sleeps with him (and even then he plans to kill Claudio; as Angelo says: “He should have lived, / Save that his riotous youth, with dangerous sense, / Might in times to come have ta’en revenge, / By so receiving a dishonor’d life / With ransom of such shame”).
At this point, the Duke (in his guise as friar) steps in and devises a plan whereby Isabella will appear to submit, but in her stead will step Mariana, Angelo’s spurned fiancée, who still loves him (for some reason; you’re reminded of Helena’s inexplicable love for Bertram from All’s Well That Ends Well). The bed-trick succeeds and Angelo is hoist on his own petard. The Duke pardons him and Claudio, and both men marry their women. Lucio (in a subplot) is forced to marry a prostitute whom he got pregnant (in punishment for lese majesté), and the Duke proposes to Isabella:
“… Dear Isabel, I have a motion which imports your good; Whereto if you’ll a willing ear incline, What’s mine is yours and what is yours is mine.” (Act 5, scene 1)
Isabella’s reply (wholly nonverbal) depends upon how the play is staged: Does she accept? Does she decline? Is she left standing in confusion, as some productions have played?
And, again paralleling All’s Well, it’s an open question as to what the future holds for these couples as only one is a mutual love match (maybe two, if you accept Isabella falling for the Duke).
Though he gets away with rape and sexual harassment, I think Angelo is the most interesting character in the play. His unswerving commitment to the abstract ideal of justice comes face to face with the reality of his own, human nature and he finds that it’s not so easy to be a paragon of the law:
“From thee, even from they virtue! What’s this, what’s this? Is this her fault or mine? The tempter or the tempted, who sins most? Ha! Not she: nor doth she tempt: but it is I That, lying by the violet in the sun, Do as the carrion does, not as the flower, Corrupt with virtuous season. Can it be That modesty may more betray our sense Than woman’s lightness? Having waste ground enough, Shall we desire to raze the sanctuary And pitch our evils there? O, let her brother live! Thieves for their robbery have authority When judges steal themselves. What, do I love her, That I desire to hear her speak again, And feast upon her eyes? What is’t I dream on? O cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint, With saints dost bait thy hook! Most dangerous Is that temptation that doth goad us on To sin in loving virtue: never could the strumpet, With all her double vigor, art and nature, Once stir my temper; but this virtuous maid Subdues me quite. Ever till now, When men were fond, I smiled and wonder’d how.” (Act 2, scene 3)
Listening to Richard II, I've swung between awarding 2, 3 or 4 stars to it. Initially, the play didn't impress, and the soliloquies seemed overwroughtListening to Richard II, I've swung between awarding 2, 3 or 4 stars to it. Initially, the play didn't impress, and the soliloquies seemed overwrought and overlong. However, the persevering soul will find some amazing, four-star-worthy passages, the most famous perhaps being Gaunt's paean to England in Act II, scene i. Another one is found in Act III, scene iv, where a gardener laments the sorry state of the "garden" of England since its caretaker has so neglected it.
It may not be as "accessible" as Shakespeare's more popular plays. There're no grand villains like Iago or Richard III, nor are there any great heroes like Henry V. There're not even any angst-ridden Danes, though there's plenty of soul-searching and questions of identity and legitimacy. Richard II is the unhappy story of two essentially decent men who find themselves opposed, the weakness of the king precipitating a confrontation that results in his destruction. Richard's fundamental weakness is made manifest in the first scene of the first act. Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) and the Duke of Norfolk quarrel and Richard attempts to intervene:
We were not born to sue, but to command; Which since we cannot do to make you friends, Be ready as your lives shall answer it...
Despite his flaws, Richard rules as best he can but is handicapped by an inability to inspire love, trust or cooperation; and is utterly incompetent as a politician, driving Henry (whom he banishes and disinherits) into rebellion. Whether he wills it or no, Bolingbroke must depose Richard, who rules by divine right, and justify his usurpation. I don't think Shakespeare ever resolves the problem throughout the entire cycle of history plays (which include Henry IV, parts 1 and 2 and Henry V), and certainly not in this play. But it is interesting to see the struggle proceed.
A word about the audio: While the production values were quite good, one of the drawbacks of solely listening to the play is that it can be difficult to tell who's saying what, particularly in the beginning. A minor caveat. A prospective listener might want to read (or reread) the play before donning the headphones. Or watch a production (I've already added two filmed versions to my Netflix queue)....more
The Life and Death of King John is a very good play. It's similar to my recently reviewed Richard II in that there are no outright heroes or villains;The Life and Death of King John is a very good play. It's similar to my recently reviewed Richard II in that there are no outright heroes or villains; it is instead a play about fallible men attempting to control events that are beyond their capacity.
The central character is King John. Not unintelligent but not a good king. He's unable to command the respect of his nobles, and even his villainies are small-minded and weak. Compare his treatment of Arthur with Richard III's treatment of his nephews. Both kings order their deaths, yet John rues his order when his barons protest and recants. And then the coward blames his henchman Hubert for the "misunderstanding." (It's pointless in the end as Arthur throws himself from the battlements of the castle where he's incarcerated.)
The most interesting part is that of Richard Plantagenet, the bastard son of Richard I (a wholly fictitious character). He's brave, resourceful, intelligent, pragmatic and an English patriot. Clearly the only thing keeping him from the throne is the fact that he was born on the wrong side of the sheets. What prevents him from being a shining hero like Henry V is his pragmatism. While his bravery and wisdom are unquestioned, he has a hard-headed streak of cynicism that makes it difficult to believe he has the introspection to make the soul-searching soliloquy about the burdens of kingship that Henry does in Henry V Act IV, scene ii. Despite that, Richard does get the final word in a patriotic speech the equal of Gaunt's in Richard II and Henry's St. Crispin's Day lines:
O, let us pay the time but needful woe, / Since it hath been beforehand with our griefs. / This England never did, nor never shall, / Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror, / But when it first did help to wound itself. / Now these her princes are come home again, / Come the three corners of the world in arms, / And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue, / If England to itself do rest but true.
The real villain of the play is the papal legate, Cardinal Pandulf, whose first appearance in Act III shatters the fragile, new-minted peace between France and England. Later he encourages the dauphin Louis to pursue his claim to the English throne (through his marriage to Blanche of Castile) when Arthur is captured, only to abandon him when the Pope gets what he wants - John's submission to papal suzerainty.
An undeservedly neglected play, I would recommend King John strongly....more
Rereading this for one of my Shakespeare groups here at GR.
Definitely not one of the Bard's best efforts. It has its moments - Talbot'sRereading this for one of my Shakespeare groups here at GR.
Definitely not one of the Bard's best efforts. It has its moments - Talbot's and his son's scene before they both die in battle or the back and forth in the garden between York and Somerset - but there's not much here (certainly not compared to other plays).
As a lead in to 2 and 3 Henry VI and the masterpiece Richard III, 1 Henry VI is a good introduction....more