The jokes were sometimes out of my cultural reach, and the technical bits -- like pacing and timing -- sometimes felt a bit off, but I enjoyed this pl...moreThe jokes were sometimes out of my cultural reach, and the technical bits -- like pacing and timing -- sometimes felt a bit off, but I enjoyed this play well enough in written form. And I imagine it'd be considerably better in a well-done stage production.(less)
"That's why they call it a classic." I've read a handful of Ancient Greek plays before this but none of them really grabbed at me, like this one did....more"That's why they call it a classic." I've read a handful of Ancient Greek plays before this but none of them really grabbed at me, like this one did. Who knows? I guess that trite little phrase up above sums it all, but there's something very allusive that makes this a classic and makes me love it so much. I will say that Oedipus reminds me so much of other tragic figures, from Shakespeare. Othello in particular. As I read the introduction to my edition, translated by Robert Fagles, introduced by Bernard Knox, I kept expecting Shakespeare to come up. And he did: Mr. Knox chose Macbeth. And I have to say I love how Oedipus, in a way, is his own downfall. Everyone, from the shepherds to his wife, to the blind man and even Creon (to a point), tries to hold him back from seeing the truth -- but he wants to see, has to know. And the truth is terrible, to a Freud-follower and otherwise. And while some actions in Greek drama seem strange and overblown in the light of today (Medea may have overdone it), I can see many of us, Freudians and otherwise, gouging out our eyes if ever we found ourselves in Oedipus's shoes. (less)
Why have they stopped making silent film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays? Surely it was a terrific idea... And it's what Shakespeare would have wan...moreWhy have they stopped making silent film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays? Surely it was a terrific idea... And it's what Shakespeare would have wanted -- as Troilus put it*: "Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart." Who needs words? Allow me, please, to remake Shakespeare's splendid Troilus and Cressida in silent movie fashion. I wouldn't need any "mere words" and I wouldn't need but thirty seconds and this is how it would go:
A parade, with all the noble combatants of the Trojan War marching along, the Trojans in one column, the Greeks in another. The scene is "Noble", "Resplendent," "Honorable" -- read the Illiad, in other words. From there, however, the imagination of Shakespeare and his times takes over. Next in the parade comes Patrocolus, doing shoddy but apparently hilarious impressions of the warriors in front of him. Then comes Cressida, running away from Troilus (She's not really huffing it mind you -- more like a light jog. What a slut!). Then Pandarus comes, cheering the couple on and making lude gestures all the while. And then...well, I may have to throw the rest in there somewhere or other -- where is Helen in all this, for example? and Cassandra, the Trojan "prophetess"? and Paris? surely he can't march with the men... But certainly the finishing touch, the man to bring up the rear, as they say, would be Thersites, "a deformed and scurrilous Grecian,"** who is marching along with an awful smile, shouting victoriously (albeit silently) things like "all the argument is a cuckold and a whore" and "Lechery, lechery! Still, wars and lechery: nothing else holds fashion."
Certainly it was a gutsy move to use the Trojan War, often called the founding event of Western civilization and covered by no less than three epic poems, several ancient plays, and plenty of modern derivative works besides, as a backdrop for a sort of comedy, a trivial love story, a kind of political "problem play" that makes definite statements on the eternal folly of war. But the man who ventures the most risks will, if successful, reap the most rewards, and certainly some more audacious than I have come to call Mr. Shakespeare one of the most talented avant garde theatre artists of our time.
* "as Troilus put it..." in an entirely different context -- just one more reason not to trust words or the people that bandy them about!
** "a deformed and scurrilous Grecian," as described in the Dramatis Personae added by the eighteenth-century editor Nicholas Rowe. (less)
Medea is an intriguing and difficult play -- the former largely due to the latter. Based on Greek mythology, it follows part of the tale of Jason and...moreMedea is an intriguing and difficult play -- the former largely due to the latter. Based on Greek mythology, it follows part of the tale of Jason and his wife Medea. Medea, a "barbarian" princess from the kingdom of Colchis, follows the Greek Jason, of Golden Fleece fame, to Corinth. Things go fairly well until Jason runs off with a younger woman, the daughter of Kin Creon, the king of Corinth. The play opens with this atrocity; it ends with a far worse one.
Medea is left to languish in her house while the new lovers get familiar amidst the palatial bedsheets. Then the king himself comes to her house and orders her to leave the country. But Medea has murderous intentions. Even her nurse -- a classic example of the wise and temperate servant, set against the excesses and stupidity of the masters, a common trope long into the Victorian era (Nelly, from Wuthering Heights, anyone?) -- speaks of her mistress' plot in the first speech of the play. Medea, in a terrible act of anger towards Jason, but also as a form of self-destruction, plans to kill her two young sons.
She hopes, of course, to gain revenge against Jason. But it is also a form of self destruction. Failing the existence of any maternal love or even plain human empathy, Medea is, at the very least, gruesomely cutting short her bloodline. All hopes of any kind of immortality, therefore, are ended. To say nothing of the children...
Soon Jason himself swings by the house, surely fresh from the "marriage" bed. Although he is confident of his dominant position in society -- and therefore is arrogant enough to feel his acts justified and to order Medea to accept her fate -- still he has misgivings. Perhaps he genuinely feels guilty; perhaps he feels obligated to see after her welfare; perhaps his sole concern is for the children. In any case, the ol' Kobe Bryant tactic doesn't work, and Jason leaves Medea as angry and stubborn (*hmph* women) as ever.
Then the King of Athens comes by -- yes, Virginia, kings do make house calls -- and Medea makes him promise to shelter her in his city after she flees Corinth, and to keep her safe even against military attacks.
Then things get crazy: Medea pretends to be reconciled; accordingly, she has her two boys deliver gifts to the new bride; but these gifts are poisoned, and both the princess and her father die offstage. Jason seems not to like this and returns to the house in a fury. But Medea is too busy for talking -- too busy killing her sons; their cries of terror can be heard from inside the house. Jason holds an argument with his former wife through locked doors. Then the chariot of Helios, the sun god and Medea's grandfather, carries her above Jason's head, to freedom. The End.
A reader can see this play in two lights: in the originally intended, traditional view; or else in the modern idiom. For the former, imagine a Greek theater, with an all-male cast and probably an all-male audience. The play is performed in a heavily patriarchal society; some of the male actors are wearing dresses, assuming high-pitched voices. The play tells the mythical story of a woman who turns bloody and vindictive -- yes, yes, typical woman -- but gets away unpunished -- not typical.
Then there is the chorus. In this play, it was intended to be a group of Corinthian women, who commiserate with Medea and encourage her to seek revenge, though they frown upon "punishing herself" -- ie, by killings her own children. The chorus of Ancient Greek theater usually played a very distinct role -- to play the part of "society," to give the main characters advice and incite into the "right" actions. How odd it is, that this group of vindictive, seemingly vindicated women was played by men -- their lines were written by a man -- in a play performed exclusively for men.
And, to those wondering if Euripides was a kind of rogue, with radical views, remember that the play was based on long-standing mythology. Mind, this play was not particularly popular -- it finished third in the Dionysia festival in 431 BC -- but Euripides certainly was not run out of town. Perhaps some scholars have it all figured out (I hear some call this play an example of proto-feminism!), but I'm still a bit baffled.
Then there is the other light: to look on this play as a work of modern times. Certainly, we don't read it in the Ancient Greek anymore, and the translation I read, by Robin Robertson, seemed especially tuned to the modern ear. This way we can completely, without reservations, sympathize with Medea -- though probably not approve of her actions. And we can pass off her comments on the weakness of women as simple irony. Oddly enough, this approach seems to make this play less of a puzzle, at least for me.
I bet if we had read this in high school instead of Antigone I would have jumped back into Ancient Greek literature sooner. I am only just testing the waters of that hallowed genre, yet I am already certain that Medea must be one of the best plays in the bunch, especially from a modern perspective.(less)
Wow, this really surprised me. I have read some Shakespeare, yes, but strangely enough this is my first Shakespearean comedy. I was expecting it to me...moreWow, this really surprised me. I have read some Shakespeare, yes, but strangely enough this is my first Shakespearean comedy. I was expecting it to me much drier, a string of esoteric jokes that have little foothold on the average modern mind.
I was right to a point -- a few jokes flew right over my head, even with the annotations -- but I was totally unprepared for the bawdiness, the goofiness, the insanity. Some examples: the letter to Malvolio from Maria and friends, and of course the "quarrel" between Sir Andrew and "Cesario" -- that last pair of quotes contains yet another goofy plot line. You, the onlooker, will watch a succession of ill-advised love interests. And you, the onlooker, will discover that Olivia doesn't much care for yellow stockings at all!
As for Feste, the clown, well I think he's just great, my favourite character of the play and perhaps all of Shakespeare (that I've read). His "witty" wordplay -- that usually ends up in a ridiculous mess -- just tickles me all kinds of pink.
I can't wait to see this performed on stage. (less)
While I'm well aware that personal opinions of Shakespeare tend to change with each new reading, my first reading of Antony and Cleopatra has impresse...moreWhile I'm well aware that personal opinions of Shakespeare tend to change with each new reading, my first reading of Antony and Cleopatra has impressed one, solid thought: Cleopatra is a *****. The stars are there not from modesty, but to let the imagination run wild with all those wonderfully negative visions that one or two words just can't create.
I know, my mind is clouded lately by some classical authors, who are always oddly suspicious of women, but I swear Shakespeare meant it. After Antony's death, Cleopatra does not immediately kill herself, apparently under the impression that she may have a chance if she weasels into the heart of yet another conqueror - for the welfare of her country or, more probably, for the welfare of "The Big C" herself? Obviously I lean towards option #2.
Then, to top off the character, Shakespeare puts a joke in her mouth at a terribly inappropriate time. After Antony's death, and after discovering that her conqueror only wants to humiliate her and use her as a trophy, she laments the plays that will undoubtedly be performed at Rome, with her part played by a "squeaky-voiced boy" (or something similar).
Despite the lovey-dovey talk throughout most of the play, I always sensed a darker, more realistic truth under it all. Perhaps, as the dead white guys said, Cleopatra was a bloodthirsty siren bent on the destruction of powerful men. In reality, both lovers were probably anything but - in reality, power hungry and perhaps a bit misguided. And, in the game of History, they were but the losers. (less)