This play has left me with more questions than pleasant emotions or kindly insights. Yes, one must credit Shakespeare with an entertaining "romantic cThis play has left me with more questions than pleasant emotions or kindly insights. Yes, one must credit Shakespeare with an entertaining "romantic comedy" but also chide him, just a bit, for leaving much to the audience member's disquiet. Rarely have I felt such a lack of resolution in such a neatly resolved story.
I quickly lauded Shakespeare's literary construction around the concepts of Nature and Fortune and their relationship to each other. The play begins with a stage set with separation - particularly of Oliver and Orlando and of the Duke Frederick and Duke Senior. Fortune has divided each character respectfully in regards to the kingdom and fathers' will. Fortune, it would seem, guides the lives of these men while their nature simply reacts to their fortunes. Rosalind also finds herself in a similar plight - kept under the heel of her usurping Uncle but with the unwavering companionship of Celia, her cousin.
Along with this separation of characters and of Nature from Fortune, Shakespeare symbolically pits Nature against Fortune via a symbolic wrestling match between Charles and Orlando. Yet with repetitive terms, such as "overthrowing", we can anticipate a reversal of circumstances. As the Duke Senior experiences banishment into the Forest of Arden, with Orlando and Rosalind to follow, we must notice how these characters, quite literally, leave their fortunes for Nature. In leaving their misfortunes behind for sanctuary in the forest, we may interpret that they begin to guide their lives according to Nature rather than Fortune.
In Acts III and IV, sandwiched within the play, Shakespeare begins the folly and entertainment of love, between Silvius and Phebe, Touchstone and Audrey and Orlando and Rosalind. Phebe, who does not dote on Silvius, Touchstone, who behaves as a chauvinist man intent on Audrey's abuse, and Orlando who relents to the curing of love by a disguised Rosalind. Honestly, I found it all very silly. I cannot think of a better word. In nature, unburdened by concern for fortune with its impressing greed and fear - left simply with the quality of their characters - these people stumble about like fools with "fools" to teach them and mock them. Luckily, Shakespeare presents such characters as Duke Senior and Corin to keep the patron informed of the new environment mastered by human nature rather than circumstance. The usurped Duke wisely expounds on sweet uses of adversity in developing a person's nature and Corin explains to Touchstone of the simple exposure of man's nature as a laborer. In this new setting, Nature and Fortune begin to reconcile not as two things outside of a person but rather the same thing embodied within a person which develops a perspective on circumstances endured in the outside world. Worldly things do not determine the nature of someone's fortunes but rather their nature and perspective define those fortunes.
However, as the play resolves, the questions begin bubbling like excited water. Honestly, I found the resolution extremely romantic - in the anti-Hemingway sense. Of course, Rosalind works for the coupling of the eight men and women using her best Shakespearean craft. But why the abrupt changes in the usurping Duke and Oliver, Orlando's brother? Shakespeare offers reasons but they seem completely unsatisfactory and out of character from what we know of them early in the play. Also, did Orlando know of Rosalind's deceit and play along? If so, why? Then, with the usurping Duke's conversion and the return of court fortunes to their "rightful" owners, one's suspension of disbelief snaps irreparably and the patron grimaces at the sudden and perfect arrangement of restored fortunes just when they anticipated a re-imagining of true fortunes to differ from their definition early in the play.
While all of this seems excessively romantic and too perfect, one must remember Jaques and Touchstone. Jaques grows to appreciate the foolery of Touchstone and Touchstone may be the only one of the group who remains true to himself, though not a very respectable self, in nature and away from court. I think Jaques admires this and, in his melancholy, becomes the fool only in as much as he differs in countenance and philosophy from the others. As in all Shakespeare plays, the fool professes wisdom which often flies in the face of accepted truths and reasoning in popularly constructed social circumstances. Within this definition, both Touchstone and Jaques fit the bill. While Fortune and Nature seem to reconcile in the end, perhaps this enlightenment does not settle on Jaques who must journey on.
But what are we to make of Jaques? Why did Shakespeare include him if our good money went to watch a silly play so we could feel good at romantic nonsense? Why does he offer little as to a back story on Jaques? Who is he? What were his circumstances? Why so melancholy? Why is he not of the disposition to appreciate a happy ending as the others?
Like Jaques, I feel awkward and ultimately skeptical about the play's resolution - as if things unsaid haunt the good fortunes of things said and done. Perhaps Shakespeare couldn't stand to leave anything real out of his play....more
I found one! A Shakespeare play for which I care very little - dare I say, I don't like!
Yet even when confronted with works which do not titillate oneI found one! A Shakespeare play for which I care very little - dare I say, I don't like!
Yet even when confronted with works which do not titillate one's fancy, I imagine one can still find things to respect or even admire within it. While this play does not stimulate me, it may stand as one of Shakespeare's best in regards to his occupation as a wordsmith. He effortlessly plays with words like many athletes juggle balls or sticks. His characters dissect words nearly to the point of voiding them of meaning, perhaps leaving the audience look elsewhere for themselves within the play. Comedic? Maybe - to an old English audience more sophisticated in language than this generation.
The privileged and care-free circumstances of the characters also disappointed me. They take their social status for granted and in so doing fail to realize any consequence for their boredom induced mockery of love and relationships. Even the King's vow to avoid love and pursue study for three years may suggest his longing for meaning in a privileged life but he devalues the pursuit of that meaning (even if in the wrong direction) by abandoning the vow fairly easily. Only at the end, when real consequence halts the lovers' suits do they realize they do not live in a world apart from agony or sadness rendering their labor's lost.
I can respect many things in this play but ultimately the word play and character play fail to comprise a coherent plot or stimulating idea. It all seems meaningless. But perhaps we witness Shakespeare's labor's lost in this endeavor of his loved passion for play writing. ...more
I don't care at all about what the bus represents.
It might shine as a dumpy emblem of the American journey to either the realization or implosion ofI don't care at all about what the bus represents.
It might shine as a dumpy emblem of the American journey to either the realization or implosion of our future plans. But the story strikes me more as the common American journey not necessarily from childhood to manhood, like the universal Buldingsroman, but rather the solitary transformation to self-realization from what to who. After all, what can these characters do with a Virgil like Juan Chicroy? The prototypical guide never wavers, never falters, offers insights and leads the way. An effective guide allows the hero to transform through struggle rather than lecturing. But what if the guide does waver and falter? Perhaps if he does, the heros can delve even deeper into their primitive selves and come to a better understanding of the meaning in their lives.
Even if this all rings true, I don't care about the bus. Steinbeck impresses with his dynamic grasp of character and in no better fashion than exemplified in The Wayward Bus. His others works provide an academic smorgasbord of analytic sweets but in this book we have a company of characters who seem to serve no purpose other than to mirror the readers very own emotional conditions.
Whether Steinbeck intended this or not, I gleaned a sharp sense of relation to these people. Each one not only reflects the emotional states of demographics sharing their circumstances but also exposes the fundamental emotional core from which they all crawl. Any reader who picks up The Wayward Bus will find themselves within its pages with near perfect likeness. They would first find the character with whom they relate but then find themselves in the shoes of the other characters with complete sympathy for their circumstances and emotions as if they share them in reality - perhaps before they even know of people who really live those circumstances.
What a talent! With ease, Steinbeck has me feeling like a middle-aged, unsatisfied and insecure woman, a confined adolescent yearning for life, a cardboard businessman and a happy-go-lucky salesman, feeling the strain of feminine beauty before infusing me with the integral masculinity which fundamentally drives me as a carrot just within my grasp.
So no, I do not care about the bus. But I haven't read many books in which I care so deeply about the people. They are me....more
If we shadows have offended, Think but this - and all is mended - That you have but slumber'd here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle
If we shadows have offended, Think but this - and all is mended - That you have but slumber'd here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream, Gentles, do not reprehend; If you pardon, we will mend. And, as I'm an honest Puck, If we have unearned luck Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, We will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call: So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.
As a comedy, this play embellishes Love as its overarching theme. One notices how love effects each character differently throughout the course of the play and yet we understand it as an autonomous essence - a Cupid - something which exists absolutely of its own accord. Helena's first monologue describes her thoughts on a personified Love. The universal experience of love binds all creatures in a common condition but fuels each individual fire to different outcomes. For some it drives them to humble indignity, others to indescribable bliss, and still others to serve the vengeful will of spite - to be wielded as a weapon of revenge! Yet in one common experience of love, whatever its form, we find ourselves unified, intertwined.
Shakespeare has a notorious sense of humor about mistakes - innocent, meaningless mistakes - which effect the fates of his characters catastrophically, leading them to their direst ends. These mistakes, such as Puck's accidental "blessing" of Lysander's eye, and others within Shakespeare's works, not only serve to engage the audience, but cause one to wonder how Shakespeare himself would have behaved at a future party with nihilists and existentialists. I can only posit that he rebuked the general belief of his day that Fates and supernatural powers spun the world on their finger and jovially jerked us with their puppet strings. Perhaps he felt that these Fates possessed fallibility much like people or if the many twists in life lack the meaning men often place on them.
In any case, these mistakes lend to a much larger idea of manipulation and control within the play. Oberon and Puck use a magical elixir to bend the natural order of love to their will - much like the duke and Egeus try to bend the natural governance of love surrounding Hermia and Lysander to Egeus' will. Before the fairies enter the play, we have a particular dynamic between our four lovers - Helena, Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander. To begin, the dynamic looks a bit like this: Helena chases Demetrius and Demetrius chases Hermia who loves Lysander. After the first application of the elixir, mistakenly applied to Lysander's eye rather than Demetrius', the dynamic shifts to look a bit like this: Lysander chases Helena; Helena chases Demetrius; Demetrius chases Hermia. The fairies spin the sides of the Rubix Cube only to get further from colorful harmony. The second application produces the next dynamic: Hermia chases Lysander and Lysander chases Helena who loves Demetrius.
We now have a perfect inversion of the initial dynamic. Hermia now replaces Helena in the original dynamic - pining after a man who loves another - Lysander replaces Demetrius chasing a woman who rebukes him while shunning a woman who loves him - Helena now experiences Hermia's previous place and Demetrius Lysander's. With this inversion we see the very inversion of love as well - into rage and pending violence. Earlier, we witnessed happiness mixed with sadness in Helena and bitterness in Demetrius. Yet it all centered around love. In this dynamic, the men seek to harm each other and Hermia wishes to attack Helena. Yet, amidst this discord, one can hope that it can serve a better purpose in causing each character to sympathize with the one who now experiences their previous position - thus, again, unifying them in one condition.
The natural has deformed into the unnatural - like producing life outside of birth. Consider how Oberon and Titania argue in their first scene about their manipulation of Theseus and Hippolyta. Titania likens it to the shifting of the very seasons.
Yet in addition to the dynamics between the characters, Shakespeare, again, adds further dimension to the play with his signature play-within-a-play. In the final acts, after Puck labels mortals as fools (Act III, Scene II), these mortals witness a play during which they call the players fools, in so many words - adding their commentary and pompous judgement much like the fairies did while entertaining themselves with the mortal's drama in the woods! With different powers, different parts, and different lives, Shakespeare unifies all characters by exposing a singular, fundamental experience through juxtaposition in similar scenarios. The lovers share the fairies' experience and the players' the lovers'.
And yet! as Puck addresses the audience in his final speech, which coincidentally mirrors the Prologue of Pyramus and Thisbe, do we as the audience not see ourselves as the same dramatists in the woods or players in the play? And do we then, with our disbelief no longer suspended, not look at Master Shakespeare as the fairy king manipulating our very senses and feelings?...more
Alack, when once our grace we have forgot, Nothing goes right; we would, and we would not
After each Shakespeare experience, I realize how much I have y
Alack, when once our grace we have forgot, Nothing goes right; we would, and we would not
After each Shakespeare experience, I realize how much I have yet to learn The Bard we love so much. If the man wrote average works merely for the sake of his professional livelihood, one might count Measure For Measure among them even if only for its lack of notoriety. I did. Yet Shakespeare must have enjoyed envious blessing in his ability to transform mediocre intent into golden wonder.
I had no idea what to expect as I picked up Measure For Measure. I hadn't the slightest familiarity with its characters, plot, themes, etc. I did, however, expect an "easy" play. On the contrary, Measure For Measure expounds on ethical conundrums in the oximoronic term "state justice" and the manipulated intent of civil and religious law when it serves to enforce morality.
Surely, Man created Law to protect freedom, not restrain it. Consider Angelo's analogy of the scarecrow,
We must not make a scarecrow of the law, Setting it up to fear the birds of prey, And let it keep one shape till custom make it Their perch, and not their terror (Act II, Scene I)
However, though I concede Angelo's point, I have to ask: does the scarecrow exist only to scare crows or to protect the crop? Understandably, the two intentions intertwine yet if we untangle them, we must ask whether the crow, or the crop, represents the public. The Duke describes the public as a caged lion denied the use of its nature. He fears the public may no longer fear the cane once used to control it. The cage now angers them more than the pain of the cane frightens them. So they will endure that pain for the sake of exploding from the cage. Of course, after they explode from the cage, the cane may seem all the more necessary as the public indulges itself on every allowance once denied them. Claudio ponders,
From too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty As surfeit is the father of much fast, So every scope by the immoderate use Turns to restraint. Our natures do pursue, - Like rats that ravin down their proper bane, - A thirsty evil; and when we drink we die. (Act I, Scene III)
The public turns to a government to restrain their freedoms when they should rather enjoy the freedom to deny themselves as much as indulge themselves. They would see value, not in the lack of denial, but in the lack of a hand denying them. The problem is not denial itself, but who denies. That power ought to lie in each man. Freedom is power over oneself, not the lack of power at all which leads to irresponsible indulgence - not the ability to do anything, bu the power to choose for our own good. Perhaps Claudio speaks sarcastically, but I can't argue with him.
Escalus, when pitying Claudio's circumstances, laments, "Mercy is not itself, that oft looks so; / Pardon is still the nurse of second woe:" (Act II, Scene I). Imagine if the Bishop of Digne had sent Jean Valjean back to prison for stealing his silver. Mercy and pardon always and steadfastly exist as Good and Right and fertilize seeds which grow green among crispy brown stalks. We simply cannot see the future or trust nature and mankind to unfold its story like Hugo's - to raise the green stalks. Therefore, we believe that we need to snuff mercy and take power away from Fate and the evolution of nature to ensure justice.
Let he who has no sin cast the first stone - yet somehow we convince ourselves that government stands immune to this philosophy. We plead for justice from a civil authority like Angelo. As Angelo solicites Isabel, after her petition for mercy on behalf of her brother, I see a hypocrite but also a trickster. With leading logic, like a seven-figure lawyer, he manipulates her thinking to serve both his pious judgement and crude, base hypocrisy. He nearly resembles a satanic figure preying on a Godly sheep, "my false o'erweighs your true" (Act II, Scene IV). However, one can argue that Angelo labored logically not only to convince Isabel, but himself. If his prisoner's sister, and a woman of the cloth no less, can defend his judgement than how can anyone else, or he, accuse him of injustice?
Their intellectual battle between civil law and religious reason exposes another concept. By pursuing infallible purity through reasoned or spiritual labor, Man unavoidably faces a crossroads of his reasoned and explained Right versus real, autonomous, unchangeable Right - a Right perhaps beyond analysis but surely constant, unaffected by his ability to grasp it, existing outside of his influence and content to carry on independently of his acceptance. Neither Angelo nor Isabel can flawlessly defend Claudio by means of reason, law or religion (at least within the realms of their understanding). Yet the audience knows Claudio suffers unjustly despite these characters' inability to explain it. Angelo manages to portray Isabel's sacrificial willingness as a sin. She follows and agrees, unable to show any conviction in sinning for the sake of saving her brother. Therefore, the audience remains unsatisfied and continue to wait for Shakespeare to present some wise perspective, to show a true Right that makes legally arguable sense among civil and religious law when neither rule has done so yet.
Speaking for myself, as a member of that audience, I sympathize with Claudio not only because he suffers for a behavioral slip which in this day bares minimal legal reciprocity, if any, but because Angelo, a statesman, holds sway over his very life as if he has a right to it. To Angelo, a human life signifies only its part in the machine of the public, of society. If that part breaks, or causes the machine to sputter, Angelo would simply dispose of it. Not only does this bother me, but the idea that Angelo, or any statesman with this power, can decide a man's fate, or even a machine part's fate, based on the machine's performance when he determines the quality or intent of that machine's function! To another, that machine might appear to do exactly what it ought to do but if Angelo disagrees, the part enters the hearth regardless of if the machine does, in fact, perform as it should according to a constant, autonomous assessment.
I found the Duke terribly interesting. He somehow stands apart from the other judges in this play. He leaves his seat and powers to Angelo, much like God may have done with Satan in the story of Job, and disguises himself as a friar. In contrast to Angelo and Isabel's opposition, the Duke embraces both agents within himself. I also find it ironic that Venice's highest judge would orchestrate justice away from his seat of power. I admit I had trouble believing in the Duke since he executes much of his more benign justice under a false guise and by tricking and employing falsehoods in the name of good. Yet he contrasts Angelo by employing "wrong" to accomplish good while Angelo and Escalus believe they do "good" by employing wrong. While Isabel and Angelo argue about the logic of sinning to save, the Duke encourages religiously indictable tricks in the pursuit of justice. Law does not motivate the Duke nor do any metaphysical or philosophical doctrines on justice. To use a cliche, the Duke follows the Golden Rule and feels that someone who has sinned should by no means cast any kind of stone. But if the head of government believes this, how can any man hold sway over another's life? Lucio even distracts us into wondering, at least, if the Duke himself ought to cast any stones.
Finally, the Duke levies sentences against those who the audience might lead to the gallows themselves. And yet even here justice does not quit. We have yet more to glean about true justice and real Right. Isabel gets her chance to petition again for a life, though this time the life means quite the opposite to her from what Claudio's means to her. But if she wants to remain true to her spiritual nature, she must pass the test or somehow, without ever anticipating it, find herself likened to her enemy and branded as a hypocrite. Claudio finds his justice, as does Angelo and Lucio. In the end, justice finds satisfaction in rectifying wrongs rather than punishing them.
All do not live happily ever after. But each wrong measure found its righteous and equal countermeasure. And time moves on for more wrongs and more rights and more mercy and more justice to find their places in our lives....more
Very little of this drama, the plot itself, begs any question of me. In fact, Melville never really succeeded in suspending my disbelief. My frame ofVery little of this drama, the plot itself, begs any question of me. In fact, Melville never really succeeded in suspending my disbelief. My frame of mind never left the reality of the world in which Melville wrote his masterpiece. I read the events and scientific diatribes as words in a murky book, not as real occurrences marooned on the land of readers' imaginations.
This grounding on the shore of reality, interpreting every word as a result of Melville's pen rather than Ishmael's...well...experience or imagination, causes me to ask so many questions which truly delve into the depths of the brilliance behind the book Moby Dick.
Why does Ishmael tell the story? Can we trust him? Do the events of the story really happen or does he only indulge his knack for story telling? Does he only want to bolster his own self-efficacy as a man of import, having witnessed such magnificent things? Do the answers matter? And why the Old Testament references? Why the insanity? Why do scenes starring Captain Ahab digress into Shakespearean rhythms? Why the textbook tutelage? Does this only serve Ishmael's ego? And, ultimately, why whales?
The list of questions go on and on but I must assume that Melville makes his choices intentionally. But to what end? I don't think he has a message to preach, but maybe a picture to paint of human existence.
Melville concocts Ishmael, the most famous first-person narrator in American literature. Of course, this leaves the entire story exposed to the scrutiny of the readers judicial branch. But would we contemplate this narrative as deeply if an omniscient third-person narrator dictated these events to us? Would we then swallow them as fact? Perhaps Melville doesn't want us to suspend our disbelief. Maybe he wants us to consider Ishmael's potential flaws precisely so we might think of his story as a possible myth or allegory. If we do, we open our minds to the ideas which myths and allegories pull best from our psyches. If we consider his word as truth, as we do with those who disseminate facts, we might find ourselves distracted from understanding our experience. One must also concede that the best way to understand our experience may be to listen to one who shares it with us.
Symbols abound in Moby Dick, though different readers might find different ones. Ultimately, among the list of incidental symbols, two formed my interpretation of this narrative.
In several instances, Ishmael likens the sea to the human soul. If we follow this idea, we can glean how the Pequod's voyage might resemble mankind's journey within himself. Then we consider how our souls resemble the frighteningly vast power of the world in which they exists. What a struggle for any person - between the abyss of themselves and the vast expanse of the world! We might consider how our psyche constantly wrestles to live within two fearful parallels of the soul and the world.
Also, I can't believe that a man such as Ishmael, who deifies the Leviathan to such great lengths, does not somehow mean to symbolize God with Moby Dick. Ironically, the anatomy, history and science lectures - which usually serve to pronounce the falseness of a god - might better serve in this case to validate him. In an attempt to intellectually compartmentalize a being which he equally glorifies - by factually describing every part of him - he fails to understand the apparent intelligence in Moby Dick and fails to squeeze his essence into the same construct as the Pequod's victims. Moby Dick does not fit the scientifically constructed mold of the whale as Ishmael describes it. Yet Moby Dick is physically and undeniably real - but only at the end. The crew must lean on hearsay and the words of captains, both insane and otherwise, to know of his existence. But at the end of the journey, after much toil and searching, they finally catch up to Moby Dick.
Now, considering these symbols (indulge me if you will), what can we take from the idea of a madman pursuing a God figure within the infinite realm of his own soul? By attacking this God figure, to we not, then, attack ourselves? According to the Old Testament, Ahab, Israel's "most evil" king (1 Kings 16:30) shuns God. Even Elijah shows up to warn Ishmael and Queequeg from voyaging on the Pequod. Why does Ahab need to revenge himself on a God figure? Perhaps because Moby Dick physically harms Ahab, he needs to revenge himself on him. But why the insanity? Other captains came to physical and filial harm by Moby Dick but none lose their minds over it. Perhaps Ahab feels wounded by the idea that something within his soul proves more powerful than his conscious Self - that something dictates his life, his method of physical movement on one good leg. Or perhaps forces outside of Moby Dick govern Ahab's motivations and lead him toward this interpretation of his circumstances. And these forces twist Ahab against himself, if the God figure exists within his own soul as Moby Dick swims in the sea. After all, Ishmael does introduce us to the mysterious stow-away with devil eyes who speaks in whispers only to Ahab. And we witness the touching moment when Ahab relents in his insanity to Starbuck, crying for peace. The conflict between Ahab and Moby Dick exists only in Ahab's mind, mutated and twisted by the forces within his soul and without.
One might wonder if Man could live peaceably and happily, as Starbuck implores, simply by leaving Moby Dick alone. But can Man do this? Or, by doing so, would he fly in the face of his instinct? Is the pursuit of Moby Dick the result of an unavoidable force governing human life - wrought from fear and the maddening immensity of the abyss within our own soul, as in the sea, and the forces of the world we inhabit? Must we pursue and conquer Moby Dick in a final effort to control our existence - define it according to our small and insignificant, though comfortable and flattering, terms before the overwhelmingly vast nature of our souls and world crush our psyche? Or do those forces victimize man and inspire him to seek his own death - revenge upon himself?...more
Why, Sir John, do you think, though we would have thrust virtue out of our hearts by the head and shoulders, and have given ourselves without scruple
Why, Sir John, do you think, though we would have thrust virtue out of our hearts by the head and shoulders, and have given ourselves without scruple to hell, that ever the devil could have made you our delight?
Has Sir John Falstaff learned the humour of the age? to suffer tactics similar to his own, turning him into a pathetic minstrel unwittingly singing praises of his own demise? Perhaps his humour, as Nym would overly use the word, permeates the age across gender and social barriers. Mistresses Page and Ford do not count themselves above such deceptive tactics to profit in humour. Nor does Master Fenton.
I gladly meet Falstaff again in this Merry Wives of Windsor. Not only did I miss him after finishing the Henry IVs, but I feel that I know a little more about him in terms of his literary merit. On one level, Shakespeare could have intended to use him as a symbol of the haughty hypocrisy and base normality of English nobility, soldiers and knighthood. Yet when comparing this "Merry" John Falstaff to the Falstaff at young Prince Henry V's side, we see more of a transition than static statement. Falstaff himself represents the turning of the age in England to one of national conscience and meaning, a state in which he has trouble placing himself. These comic characters of Windsor care little about laws, state regulations or anyone other than themselves for that matter. They do not mind humiliating, propositioning married women, venting their anger and insecurities upon innocents, supporting others against each other for profit or neglecting their vocations for, well...silliness. With the coronation of Henry V, this petty rabbling dissolves away.
Of course, it's just a play and one which assuredly entertained the masses at the Globe, or wherever Shakespeare staged it. On might think that he abandoned some intellectual integrity in order to coax a laugh or two. Alas, should we forget that we speak of Shakespeare? Of his familiar comedies, I think this one had the most complex plot though simplest adhesive. As in other comedies, deception fuels the humour. Yet the audience sees every deceptive move at every level. They also usually see the perpetrator and victim quite clearly and thusly knowing full well with whom they ought to sympathize. Yet with these Windsor folk, they all suffer as the perpetrator and the victim. So how ought the audience react? Who should they laugh at, pity, sympathize with or scorn?
Due to this complexity, I found the play rather flat in terms of meaning. After they bow, nothing changes either within the minds of the patrons or in the hearts of society. We witnessed one big trick over-cooked by several tiny versions of itself. Life moves on as it had.
I feel as though I should have liked this book more than I did. By no means does this render the book bad or
"Do you remember our castles in the air?"
I feel as though I should have liked this book more than I did. By no means does this render the book bad or a waste of time by any stretch of the imagination. I like it. I only wish I liked it more.
Alcott's story of four young sisters coming of age in young America subtly encapsulates themes of feminism and universal human growth. I often found myself playing my own devil's advocate when Alcott presents scenes of domestic bliss wrought with the stench of romanticized femininity resurrected from a future yet to transpire in the 1950s. See? She actually advocates for quiet women contented in child-rearing and home-making. Yet, amid the often grueling moralizing and "telling" rather than "showing" in Alott's style, I sensed a deeper, more universal experience dressed in the circumstantial guise surrounding these women. For someone looking to defend feminist suppression, they can contrive arguments from this book. However, perhaps to a mind unconvinced that a modern audience will fall for such filth and remembering that this modern audience still loves this book, a broader idea may begin to take shape.
Consider the breath of the story. Alcott keenly begins it with young children - very little, barely women - and presents them under circumstances unbecoming to girls who define happiness in life according to material prosperity and social positioning - or, perhaps, according to self-gratification and ideas of fame, leisure and pleasure. Any feminist with static and compartmentalized ideas of feminine freedoms may encourage some of these ambitions but condemn others. Go after fame! Stand tall next to other men who have done so! But do not dream of defining your quality of life according to the social quality of your wedding match.
Alcott models her story's finale in a romantic Austen style displaying the world's most contented middle-aged women who learned much, tumultuously shaped their own characters around the iron-clad morality of Marmee, and prospered because of it despite the surprise brought with that prosperity. Yet their lives in no way emulate their dreams and ambitions - ideas which they had all but completely given up. For shame! To mandate how women live happiest when living a socially prototypical existence as a domestic, finding solace in marriage and abandoning their individual dreams. Go back to the 50s, Alcott!
Whoa, slow down.
As young girls, their ambitious dreams proved the tools of their unhappiness. While living in the moment, they found their true happiness in companionship, friendship and family. They erected their imagined castles in the air according to immature ideas which unfoundedly lead to happiness. They don't necessarily want their fame or their fortune. They want happiness - as do all men and women. We can't easily argue how happiness for women lies only in domestic servitude or ordained maternal occupation. Laurie himself found the same enlightenment as the other girls and found his happiness after abandoning hi mis-founded ambition to shock the world as the next Mozart. Learn to feel contented with yourself, not according to any social ideas either for or against the characteristics of your body or circumstances.
As youth degenerates, maturity begins. The girls shed the skins of their ambitions, the keys to their castles in the sky, not as settling souls dejected by social norms but as elated spirits freed from the chains of their misconceptions about paths to happiness. The knights do not save these damsels in distress, but fill a void defined by the women as individuals who come to understand themselves and choose their futures accordingly. I cannot condone any social idiom, whether sanctioned by bigots or pioneers, which prevents a person from searching, struggling and finally understanding the key to their castle in the air.
I say I wish I liked this story more, even though it subtly matches its ideas with its presentation, by describing these characters' struggles and ultimate enlightenment toward their happiness as individual rather than as social blueprinting, because Alcott deters me a bit with her moralizing (though I hate to imagine myself as Jo's editor who cut all such passages from her stories) and "corny" language. Fortunately, the lack of preferential styling does not hinder the discovery of these ideas. Perhaps Alcott intended for such language and style to serve the ideas somehow. I do, however, imagine Alcott and Tolstoy would have gotten along capitally.
Now, having said that, who narrated this story?!?! That's just brilliant....more
I do not seek to quench your love's hot fire, But qualify the fire's extreme rage, Lest it should burn above the bounds of reason. Lucetta, Act II, Scene
I do not seek to quench your love's hot fire, But qualify the fire's extreme rage, Lest it should burn above the bounds of reason. Lucetta, Act II, Scene VII
I imagine Abbot and Costello performing dramatic devices from The Merchant of Venice for an idea which wouldn't fully mature until Romeo & Juliet.
Shakespeare's tale of romantic love may seem like shallow entertainment. However, as in most Shakespeare pieces, he weaves fundamental and universal elements of the human condition into this humorous rendering of a story experienced by all people.
Love - that meaning of life, that shared bond mastered by none but claimed by all, that passion in life to which we find ourselves chemically dependent though it ironically serves us best when focused on others. Shakespeare boldly claims ignorance to the true nature of love by exploring its crevices and peeks, transforming it from a drunken obsession into a raging demand and ultimately into a sort of mirror to our naked character.
As a comedy, Shakespeare playfully manipulates the essence of his art, planting word-plays and terse dialogue to which only live studio audiences or laugh tracks can provide justice. He arguably constructs a less than believable ending to serve his audience and theater's bottom line.
Yet within the comedy we see two inseparable friends fated by love toward blissful and desperate ends. Love plays the trickster, the maniacal devil of mischief, twisting the relationships and lives of those gathered around its fire. Once revered as a brilliant display, it betrays the friends and lovers with its scorching touch but then ultimately shines its light on the integrity or inconstancy of its pagan idolaters. But we bear the responsibility of indulging the entertainment while seeing the activity in the dark areas over-shadowed by the light which exposes that entertainment. Though motivated by love, one gentlemen becomes the villain who fatefully suffers the forgiveness of one who arguably allows love to transform him. Yet will this villainous friend find happiness in the same way as his forgiver enjoys the fruits of his loving disposition? Even if all ends well, can he call his life free of the envy and animosity which love inspires, that same passion which leads another man to a very different life experience.
Within the text, one may notice the soliloquies jammed between the terse dialogue. During these inner monologues, our characters consider how love will either force them to betray or indulge themselves and how that choice will dictate their lives. Though these characters make different choices regarding self-indulgence or love's self-betrayal, they seem to respect that the shared inspiration of love drives them, albeit to different experiences. Alas, perhaps this only helps me swallow Shakespeare's ending - likely scripted in order to glue a certain smile on every patron's face as they leave the theater only to live what they just witnessed on the stage. ...more
Never has Shakespeare entertained me so much. He has confounded me, interrogated me and mirrored me but never has he handed me a summer Hollywood
Never has Shakespeare entertained me so much. He has confounded me, interrogated me and mirrored me but never has he handed me a summer Hollywood blockbuster - a chilling and thrilling script of violent tragedy stoking societal passions from all sides.
Despite the gripping plot, I tried to focus on Caius Marcius' character. As in all of Shakespeare's plays, the characteristics of a hero or villain shape the play and bend our sympathies - not the action or twisting storylines. Through this reading I discovered the deep tragedy of Coriolanus' life and, again, found myself sympathizing for a man with whom I shared little in terms of personality, characteristics or moral conviction.
Ironically, Coriolanus does not fit anywhere, despite his nurturing which would seek to make him great everywhere. Burdened with his military prowess, all states would willingly use him but then shun him when he exhibits any personal, rather than professional, opinions and choices. Neither Roman nor Volscian societies leave room for the man, only for the great soldier. He must suffer the fate of a product - manufactured and used according to others' needs then discarded when dysfunctional. The tribunes know they share the same function but also know how to remain relevant by manipulating their manufacturer and refraining from exhibiting any personal character. They don't even claim to have their own voice but rather the voice of the people.
In contrast, Shakespeare describes a staunch man in Coriolanus, embittered toward the citizens of Rome. He fully embraces the fact that their support shifts like the winds and how they sooner praise a hero as condemn him. He forces many of democracy's faithful to evaluate its practical application - rulers elected to power by the mob while manipulating that same mob in order to maintain that power which does not technically belong to them but rather to the people. Coriolanus sees the farce and scorns how the people willfully embrace this illusion and how the nobility pander to it. Rather than behave as a tamed agent of that system, like the tribunes, he uncontrollably voices his opinions. He cannot shroud his sensibilities though he would want to, and promises to, several times.
His mother's guidance sets him on a path to standardize warlike honor and to the pinnacle of a soldier's glory. He respects and listens to his mother above all other people and shifts his thinking at the twisting of her tongue. While witnessing their interactions, one sees a man's nature repressed for the sake of a profitable nurturing - a nurturing which would ultimately spurn him. He bows to her advice and represses his natural inclinations. His mother manipulates him in the same way as the tribunes manipulate the people! He speaks of power when his mother cultivates the root of it.
Can one compare Coriolanus to the very people he would see weakened and disavowed of their "power"? the mighty, god-like soldier compared to a group which outnumbers any army or government? the man who sways in his allegiances? someone who willfully succumbs to the illusion of his power when others in government determine his fate? the proudly disrespectful man calmed by the words and manipulations of a loved benefactor?
Why would he resent an entity which resembles him so much? Perhaps Coriolanus' and the people share a similar nature, manipulated and contorted by the nurturing of those in real power. During certain episodes, it seems that Coriolanus opposes the people as if, like his mother, he would oppose himself, his natural self - the weak little boy within who pines after his mother's attention in hopes of feeling accepted for his nature, the society that loves its illusions only because they don't want to feel insignificant.
Consider, also, Coriolanus' relationship with Aufidius. As bitter enemies, they share many similar characteristics - national pride, violent propensities, a deep investment and love for honor and nobility, etc. Yet, as many have said before, two people so alike rarely get along - like two hurricanes colliding with equal force. We witness the demise of Coriolanus at the hands of his mirror image, a representation of Coriolanus' nurturing demolishing the boy of Coriolanus' nature. But even though their nurturing set them at odds, I wonder if they, too, shared natural characteristics and might have shared a friendly bond in appreciation of the magnetic pull that brings the two hurricanes to collision. Perhaps they could have been one hurricane.
Alas, we call this a tragedy because Shakespeare presents Coriolanus as a victim to his inescapable nurturing. Perhaps the boy wanted peace, companionship, acceptance and a family life. But the world denies him as a result of his experience, his nurturing by the will of manipulation. Will the world, then, also deny the people as a result of their experience in the grip of manipulation?...more
After finally watching the movie, I raced to my local bookstore. Waiting on a shipment through an online retailer simply would not do. I had to startAfter finally watching the movie, I raced to my local bookstore. Waiting on a shipment through an online retailer simply would not do. I had to start reading Cloud Atlas immediately, even if I did feel like one among the manipulated masses who the publisher hopes will buy the book after watching the movie.
After finishing the film, I remember lavishing the central idea - the connectedness of people's lives, not defined by a singular birth and death but rather by a non-linear existence unshackled by time or space. I appreciate the artistic license taken by the Wachowski siblings in representing this idea with the same actors playing characters in each storyline. After all, the art of film differs from the art of literature and one must make the most of their chosen artistic vehicle.
Yet each artistic medium wields certain qualities which the other cannot fain to employ. I don't think I have read a book quite like Cloud Atlas though I've come across the idea several times. I believe many writers strive for such excellence in presenting an ancient and universal idea, and, in fact, have thought of framing a book with shifting narrative styles and voices. But few have succeeded with the same profound effect with which Mitchell has succeeded. Could Neal Stephenson interlace his science-fiction mastery with the voice of Daniel DeFoe? Could John Grisham weave James Joyce into his conspiracy narrative? And can they do this without alienating the reader?
Consider the book's form. Zachary's post-apocalyptic world, ironically backwards and decontructed, resembling human infancy rather than civilized glory, represents the focal point of the books construction. The book ends with the beginning while it moves chronologically forward and then backwards after reaching the focal point. Within our traditional frame of mind, Mitchell has debilitated linear integrity lending credibility to the non-linear existence of the Soul.
However, I admit I read the book in awe of Mitchell's talent but felt disengaged at times - like listening to the most proficient virtuoso without feeling moved by the piece. Mitchell fascinated my intellect but, again, at times, failed to charge my spirit. But with any good book, contemplation would connect the idea to a life.
I found the first few subplots random with their characters and stories. Even as I finished the book, I think the Wachowski siblings embellish the connectedness theme more flagrantly than Mitchell does. However, I credit Mitchell for gracefully walking the line between random stories and connected characters. If he blatantly protrays the connections as obviously as the Wachowski siblings do, the reader/viewer might feel isolated from others - thinking that only a select few, divinely gifted with special birthmarks, experience this connection through the ages. Because of the random element, we might consider the possibility of connectivity between all people regardless of historical or divine significance - and think of the birthmark simply as the mark of humanity tattooed on all people.
I also maintain that this randomness helps others to take a more literal interpretation of the idea. If we look for connections among random stories, we don't necessarily find them only in birthmarks and actors' faces. We find them in characteristics, personalities and in reactions and promotions of social constructs. Of course, we have witnessed patterns of oppression, revolution, discrimination, love, etc throughout human history. As Tolstoy would argue, these human elements dictate our history far more than any one person's free choice. This indicates a certain connectedness between people even when separated by aeons.
Not only do our historical patterns indicate a certain connectedness, but our yearning for meaning and belief in life enforce our common bonds. The same 19th century abolitionist would undoubtedly revolt against the Unanimity labor system. And that same revolutionary might delve into the dangerous abyss of investigative journalism to expose the evil plots of powerful men. Should we allow time to dictate how we perceive our existence rather than this obvious and more humane similarity?
Again, I did not find the idea complicated or new. But I found Mitchell's presentation elegant in its style and beautiful in its use of seemingly insignificant and random people. The birth marks, Frobisher's possession of Adam Ewing's diary, Sonmi's fascination with "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish", etc all serve to embellish this idea in a mystical way. As Cavendish said, "As if Art is the What, not the How!" I think Mitchell presented the What with a fascinating and thought-provoking How. Do we need anything else?...more
I imagine Shakespeare sitting as his writing table giggling to himself. In this play, we have carefree nobility, a Dionysus in Don John, a count in loI imagine Shakespeare sitting as his writing table giggling to himself. In this play, we have carefree nobility, a Dionysus in Don John, a count in love and a convicted bachelor with his female counterpart. What would happen if all characters - good, bad, honest or deceitful - shared a similar affinity for cunning and trickery? What would happen if they all felt empowered to steer the course of their destinies according to their whims? To one who finds this illusion humorous, they might sound a bit like our good friend Dogberry!
Trickery litters every circumstantial turn in the play. Ironically, while I think of these characters trying to take control of every twist with cunning and whimsical delight, I imagine Shakespeare resigning authorship to the dictation of trickery, allowing it to determine how things would progress through the play. While the characters plot and entertain an illusion of control, Shakespeare releases control of the plot to their illusion.
While many of the characters seem only like devices to move a plot of trickery, I found Benedick and Beatrice fascinating. Why do they abhor marriage so much? Is this a natural spite or a façade to protect their delicate egos? Do they really yearn for love and companionship but lack the confidence to pursue it? Throughout the first half of the play, they cringe at the shackles of marriage and refute the possibility of any man or woman rising to the task. However, while blissfully happy in the betrothal of Claudio and Hero, the other characters decide to impose their happiness on these steadfast singles and Benedick and Beatrice drop their convictions and succumb to love for one another. For me, this only indicates Benedick’s deep longing for love and how he would only relent to it when he knew the possibility of it falling to him. Beatrice, however, has a deeper tale to tell.
During the climactic trick, when things begin to spin a bit out of their control, Beatrice exhibits a singular reaction to Hero’s demise. One might employ a feminist reading at this point in order to learn more about Beatrice and about the nature of gender roles and marriage. While Hero’s father shamefully disowns Hero and prefers her death to his “shame”, the blot on her perfectly white image which incites familiar masculine chauvinism, Beatrice juxtaposes by asking Benedick to avenge the slander imposed on Hero’s honor on Claudio, his best friend. Beatrice exclaims:
Princes and counties! Surely, a princely testimony, a goodly count-confect; a sweet gallant, surely! O that I were a man for his sake! or that I had any friend would be a man for my sake! But manhood is melted into courtesies, valour into compliment, and men are only turned into tongue, and trim ones too: he is now as valliant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it. – I cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I shall die a woman with grieving. - Act IV, Scene I
It seems that Beatrice extracts the traditionally masculine characteristics ascribed to men and beholds them as universally moral and honorable qualities which men have abandoned. She respects these qualities more than other men but finds herself restrained by her gender from enacting these qualities herself. She deconstructs the traditional gender roles, glorifies these qualities after relinquishing men of their ownership and wails at her inability to enforce them herself. Accordingly, perhaps Beatrice genuinely laments the social expectation of her gender to marry when men do not embrace these moral qualities and women remain restricted to embody them.
Of course, the play resolves as a Shakespearean comedy should – with joy wrought from illusion. Shakespeare might expect us to despise Don John but he matters to me no more than he matters to Benedick. Every character in this play stands guilty of cunning trickery and the events resolve according to their characteristics rather than to their whims. We forgive the other characters because their cunning does not impede love and joy while Don John’s cunning would undo it. Nevertheless, we have a happy ending between Claudio and Hero, her father and the prince, and for Benedick and Beatrice - one who tricks himself among the tricksters and the other who perhaps best avoids the trickery in hopes of remaining true to her heart. ...more
All that glisters is not gold, - ... You that choose not by the view, Chance as fair and choose as true! Since this fortune falls to you, Be content and se
All that glisters is not gold, - ... You that choose not by the view, Chance as fair and choose as true! Since this fortune falls to you, Be content and seek no new.
Shakespeare opens the play with a morose protagonist, a melancholy merchant uninspired by his wealth, unimpressed with his reputation and lacks the arrogant contentment usually common amongst those with numerous friends. The world and her materials cannot fill Antonio's apparent void. I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano - A stage, where every man must play a part, and mine a sad one. Perhaps the impending pound of flesh represents the hole in Antonio's life, a natural home for happiness and a sense of meaning now vacant. It would seem that the law would enforce his unhappiness but love from others fills him again by demonstrably breathing new life into the law. Of course, one might see the conquest of law under the power of love, especially because of Shylock's religious heritage and the dominance of the Judeo-Christian tradition in Western culture. Yet a more diverse audience may understand these concepts through different terms and embrace a broader spiritual endeavor. Considering Shakespeare's immediate development of Antonio's sadness, he may consider Christian themes as terms by which to describe a more universal longing for happiness, fulfillment and meaning. If we associate legalities with the material and temporal processes of the world, we can then interpret how these processes fail to foster happiness and meaning and, moreover, perpetuate the continual squalor of mankind. Yet the love exemplified by Antonio, Bassanio, Portia and Nerissa, also of this world, fails to relieve this squalor as well.
Consider also how Portia begins the second scene by bemoaning her plight. Like Antonio, she has money and people who care for her...and suitors. Her father's edict, preventing her the right of free will in choosing her husband, propels her to reason her way to love or despair when imagining her life with any given suitor. Because she must marry, she employs reason to map a path to a happy union. She judges every characteristic of every suitor according to what she thinks will make her happy. The impossible mix between inevitable destiny and free will renders Portia stunted in melancholy. However, the play will show that destiny, unmolested by free will, brings Portia happiness. I imagine that her father understood the kind of destiny naturally paved before his daughter and the kind of man who would suit her. His game of caskets ensures that this natural progression of destiny to happiness move unhindered by anyone's choice, even his.
Shylock - never have I sympathized with an antagonist to this degree. This sympathy lays the foundation for any further insights I may have gleaned from this play. These Christians, secure in their self-righteousness and blinded by their bigotry, cannot fathom Shylock as a human but only as a hateful, immoral and inferior cur on society. Of course, such detestable qualities cannot but render him beneath those of brotherly love and moral virtue. While Gratiano and friends praise Antonio for his virtue in hating and spiting Shylock, they slander Shylock for his frugality, miserliness and natural reactions toward Antonio's, and others', slander. I do commend Antonio for his speed to sacrifice in friendship. But what difficulty can Antonio find in practicing Christian charity and virtue for friends and loved ones? And what sort of men judge another for the similarities they share with him? They accuse Shylock for openly and maliciously seeking to murder a man with passionate prostrations to the Duke for Shylock's death! These hypocrisies litter the play, not the least of which bulges from the page in the pity over Antonio's pound of flesh while they steal away Shylock's flesh and blood - Jessica, with nary a hesitation or considerate thought! If they wanted to steal a daughter from any one of their peers they would not feel nearly so noble about it, or take the action with such disregard for the father.
During the trial, Shakespeare, not only the poet, flashes his uncanny story-telling powers with a massive twist, displacing the conqueror with the conquered. During an apparent representation of Christ's passion, with Antonio ready to sacrifice his life for a friend and the Jew demanding his death before the Duke, we witness a different result. When they pronounced the verdict and sentence, I did not feel happy for Antonio and his friends, nor did I feel relief or the same pleasure in antagonizing Shylock. The final ruling only seems to feed their already ungratifying bigotry. As the law once fueled Shylock's revenge, it now shifts its alliance and fuels Antonio's perverted sense of mercy. Surely Antonio feels merciful in demanding Shylock's conversion (his soul) and that Shylock bequeath his estate to his lost flesh and blood (Jessica) when he gets to keep his own. But Antonio's misguided notion of mercy serves him, just as Shylock's revenge would have served him.
Perhaps Shakespeare does not intend to justify our sympathetic, self-sacrificing hero by relieving him, but rather to equate him and his peers with Shylock, to expose them as hypocrites, blurring the lines of absolute justice, the natures of protagonist and antagonist.
Consider also how Portia and Nerissa conjure a reason to test their husbands' resolve, chastise them when they fail and then expose themselves and their plot. Even in the end, in the paradise of love's embrace, we have Antonio, still melancholy for the debt he owes them, and Bassanio and Gratiano indebted to Portia and Nerissa for their actions. When will Portia and Nerissa ask for their bond - demanding perfect love from these men or else they should incur their wives' displeasure?
Shakespeare exposes two kinds of debt: that from wrong-doing and from love. Yet real love abolishes debt and cultivates true happiness in people and meaning in life. Debt, not love, binds our heroes and heroines, as it bound Antonio and Shylock, but does not unite them as one flesh or reconcile them in life.
The law cannot provide happiness or reconciliation, nor calm hatred or sooth sadness. It merely propels the pendulum back and forth between people, divided by their vices and injustices, their self-righteousness and revenge.
Love, a doctrine preached so liberally by some claiming Christians who cannot practice it in deed any more than they can infuse it in their natural perspective, has the power to eliminate the pendulum all together, something neither Christian nor Jew wanted to happen in this story. I hoped love would save the day. And it looks as though it did. But this is not Christian love nor Jewish hate. These are people, still yearning for happiness....more
As I finish the second tetralogy's finale, King Henry V, I contemplate Shakespeare's effect on the presentation of history. He devotes nearly half oAs I finish the second tetralogy's finale, King Henry V, I contemplate Shakespeare's effect on the presentation of history. He devotes nearly half of his theatrical contributions to stories plotted in reality rather than born of his imagination. I have argued before that Shakespeare, blessed with a genius' perspective, sees art not only in the creative arena but in reality. The presentation of the human condition happens among humans and not within the faculties of one's mind. Yet in order to present these conditions to his audience, he carefully embellishes, contrasts and juxtaposes the characters and circumstances that best display them. If we want to know the events and scenarios in which these kings lived and acted, we can read school text books. If we want to know the people, the conditions of their lives, the reasons for their choices, we must turn to Shakespeare and decide if his character interpretations best suit history. Perhaps while in school as a boy in Stratford Upon Avon, he studied his textbooks and imagined the joys, sorrows, regrets, ambitions and malicious conceits in each of these kings which best helped him understand and learn the history of his native land.
In King Henry V, we see the clergy, sparked to cunning by a present bill which would strip much of their wealth, manipulate a king into a conquest of France in order to protect their assets. The king would depend on their funding and would never dream of undermining his own enterprise by passing a bill which would rob his benefactors. Yet Henry V transforms the bitterness of such purposes, born of deceipt and cunning, into a resulting eden of unity and equality, love and justice. If John Falstaff truly ascended to Arthur's bosom, he must feel right at home, as if in Prince Henry's good graces again.
Outside the royal court, Shakespeare presents microchosmic examples of this unity. Almost immediately after the nobles resolve for France, Bardolph mediates between Pistol and Nym and begs of their friendship with his sword. And, most apparently, he devotes Act V to the wooing of Princess Katharine, an effort equalled to that of conquering France on the battlefield. Yet the union of England and France comes with their marriage rather than with Henry's sword. Such a union signifies love and peace rather than dictatorship and enslavement. A marriage of love and justice constitutes a unity and differs from a marriage of dominion enforced by a heavy hand - only the former resounds with true unity as both parties maintain a semblance of themselves whereas the marriage of the heavy hand leaves only one party truly alive. How can one unite with nothing?
Alas, with master craftsmanship, King Henry V guides the circumstances under which he administers his justice and promotes equality. He manipultes Cambridge, Scroop and Grey to pronounce the severity of their own sentence rather than condemn them as one higher and of more import. He allows justice to decide the matter and in so doing thinks himself below justice and equal in human value to the defendant. Consider also how he and Williams, under false pretense, exchange gloves to don in their caps as a mark of their violent bet. Then compare this to the feud between Bardolph and Fluellen over the cultural mark of the leek in Fluellen's cap. Both scenarios pit two men, of social, economic and cultural differences, against each other only to resolve in a sense of equality. Whereas the king's disguise, possibly more appropriate for his character, allows Williams to see him as a social equal, the king again allows mercy and justice to waylay the promised violence rather than crush him as a man with more power. And in this action, Williams feels worthy and of equal import himself. Then Fluellen, a Welshman like the king, not only revels in this common ground, but displays his cultural heritage proudly and feels empowered to squabble with Pistol who would rebuke it.
The king not only preaches lofty poetics to inspire his soldiers to war, but acts equally valiant and just which inspires his soldiers to a level of respect and brotherhood. By disgarding signs of distinction and leaving only their common bonds as men, they find their unity amongst themselves and their equality. On the eve of battle, Henry, once again, wallows among the likes of Bardolph, Poins and Falstaff. Even now the pomp of majesty has failed to intoxicate his spirit. He calls ceremony a pitiable reward for the strains of kingly duty when compared to the simple happiness enjoyed by peasants. He does not abandon that strain and revel in ceremony as Richard II had. He carries the soldier's lives on his shoulders and his father's guilt for Richard's fall on his brow. And all the while he finds a way to disrobe himself of all such pomp and unite himself with his countrymen under common banners of honor, bloodshed and English spirit - inspiring in them a feeling of worth and in him a share in the peasant's simple happiness.
We can call this war an imperial conquest, and surely the history books describe it thus. But like a parent reading a storybook aloud to their children, enacting the voices and characters from the page, Shakespeare resurrects a character, the man behind the historical events, and therefore lends meaning and empathy to those long dead. King Henry V may have inspired a renewed sense of worth in us and revived our sense of humanity within the monarchs.
I miss Falstaff. But in closing my reading of the second tetralogy, I credit him for this king. Their times together cultivated a benign monarch who never forgot his naturally common bonds with his base countrymen....more
King Henry IV Part Two ends in transition, both for the English political atmosphere and for the central characters. Part of this transition takes pKing Henry IV Part Two ends in transition, both for the English political atmosphere and for the central characters. Part of this transition takes place in the audiences' perspective. We witness the rise of a young prince and the deterioration of an illegitimate king amidst the fog of civil war. And yet Shakespeare twists the end. The truly naive patron cannot predict precisely how these events will resolve. I did not imagine King Henry IV repenting the means of his ascension, nor did I imagine King Henry V severing his friends, nor did I imagine John Falstaff capable of so much sorrow. However, despite these twists, the resolution holds firm to the true nature of each character and one might argue that any other resolution would seem forced.
Through the first three acts, I labored through what seemed a time-abiding story. The rebellion continues with Northumberland and the Archbishop of York. As the story follows the same plot outlined in the first part, with leaders of the rebellion meeting under a banner of peace with the king's spokesmen, the first twist pricked my ear. The rebels accept the same offer made previously to Percy from their royal opponent only to suffer a stab in the back as Prince John arrests them and sentences them to death for high treason. As opposed to Hotspur, York maintains a reasonable disposition and wisely condemns these rebellious actions as results of the time, not necessarily of Henry IV's malice. It seems that York views these events through a transcendent mind, as a clergyman and not a soldier, and willfully plays his part in the cascading political revolution. As Shakespeare would instruct us through these two plays, Bolingbroke's ascension revolutionized England's political landscape and reformed the minds of nobility and royalty alike by presenting fallibility and cracking the invincibility of the throne. Henry IV's party quells the rebels, not with honorable arms or merciful heart, but with trickery and by manipulating the integrity of an honest clergyman.
The play moves into the king's counsel and finally his chamber where we meet him for the last time. And what a time! The audience witnesses both the sickening effect of paranoia within a king and the resurrection of a man, desperate for love and a connection with his boy as father and son rather than king and prince. As the king and Prince Henry counter over the crown, we hear the king repent the road which brought him to it, but also warn of its overwhelming power. The crown displaced his virtue with fear - fear of losing it despite its debilitating quality, like his "Precious". The crown consumed his spirit and left him empty, caring only for its safety, like a vessel to an alien symbiont. Yet Prince Henry proves wise enough to respect the crown's agency:
Thus, my most royal leige, Accusing it, I put it on my head, To try with it, as with an enemy That had before my face murder'd my father, - The quarrel of a true inheritor. But if it did infect my blood with joy, Or swell my thoughts to any strain of pride; If any rebel or vain spirit of mine Did with the least affection of a welcome Give entertainment to the might of it, Let God for ever keep it from my head, And make me as a vassal is, That doth with awe and terror kneel to it!
The prince, aware of the crown's poisonous power, but unavoidably destined to wear it, may yet prove a worthy and just king, by understanding the true nature of it and prizing humanity above power.
When John Falstaff hears of Prince Henry's coronation, he leaps from his chair, promises high positions to his friends and thanks God for presenting him with a winning lottery ticket! How like Falstaff - eeking through these plays as a rusting anchor on honor, nobility, integrity and all other virtues which righteous upbringing instills in us. But love. Falstaff never cheated love nor shamed loyalty. When King Henry V banishes him, I hear his spirit seep from his often lively mouth and envision all his putrid breath of charm flow from his nostrils. I feel the heat of his tears boiling in his eyes and his blood pause within his heart. Falstaff does not care for his lost position nor do I imagine he laments the suddenly collapsing thrill of his imagined future. But to lose Harry - to the crown - to him King Henry V's royal procession appears as a funeral march.
But we cannot abhor the new king for this! On the contrary, we would likely do so if he abused his position and turned the court into a lavish party with Poins helping him roast Falstaff and Doll bouncing from one sack to the next. The new king enjoys the ability and privilege of washing away his past and renewing himself as a dedicated king while Falstaff must suffer alone the bed he has made for himself. As York said, these things result from the times, from the conditions of our lives and the longings of our vanity, our virtue and our hearts. All must play their role and suffer their fate.
You wave to his administrative assistant from within the elevator. The doors slide shut. You stand motionless for a time before finally pressing the button which will bring you to the lobby. When the bell rings and the doors open, you step out and the boy before you leaps out of your path just before you collide. The flicker of downtown bustle shimmers on the window panes. You tell yourself, with a grin no one can see, "Shakespeare made me sympathize with a fool before kings."...more
You stiffly force the turn of the revolving door flanked by glass panels flashing the buzz of the downtown street. You traverse the shimmering lobby fYou stiffly force the turn of the revolving door flanked by glass panels flashing the buzz of the downtown street. You traverse the shimmering lobby floor and sway with your shifting weight as you await the arrival of the elevator. When it arrives, you leap from the doors as a rush of people flood from the car. Then you enter, alone, light the button for the wrong floor, then the correct floor, and dance your hyper finger on the "Door Close" button. You relax, stare at the glowing numbers count closer to your goal. The doors open. Close. You shouldn't have pushed that wrong button.
After subduing the receptionist with your charms and forged press badge, you enter his office and find him lying on a sofa tossing a ball in the air to himself. Papers laze about his desk like beastly cats on a hot day in the Savanah and you look for his absent computer, then quickly to the point at hand. He looks to you, your lips quiver and you hold out the bottle of wine which dried up your last paycheck.
You just want to ask one question. You will have no other opportunity to question Shakespeare. He bends his brow, sits up impatiently...What will you ask him?
"Why John Falstaff?"
Amidst more civil strife, spawned by an uncomfortable seat which provides only the opportunity to fight for its keeping, we witness two sides of a politically epic tale. One side, starring Henry Bolingbroke as King Henry IV, portrays the warring factions of Lords Northumberland, Worcester and Percy, the very men who aided Bolingbroke's apprehension of King Richard II's throne, against the new King, their one-time friend. Henry Percy, nicknamed Hotspur for his reckless and cavalier temprament, counters a paranoid King obsessed with protecting, washing and wringing his hands, as Jon Finch plays him, in order to parley the guilt of King Richard II's deposition and murder. If only Richard could witness the accuracy of his prophecy when he said to Northumberland,
The love of wicked friends converts to fear; That fear to hate, and hate turns one or both To worthy danger and deserved death.
True to his form, Shakespeare urges sympathy to both sides of this historical conflict, since all angles bear the kink of humanity. I sympathize with Percy's faction because the new King returns the courtesy of their previous aid with scorn and mistrust. Although, to a small degree, I blame Percy's reckless thirst for action which likely exaggerates his intentions against the King. But I do not find his complaint against Bolingbroke without merit. In this, the new king learns how he opened the gate for equality amongst nobility and royalty by usurping a throne designed for the security of perfect succession. How can he assert his dominance when he owes so much to others? How can he expect others to live submissively when he whom they serve sits on the throne by their actions? Humanity has now tainted the divine sanctity of the English monarchy and bears conflict with her.
Shakespeare might have better entitled King Henry IV - The First Part as The Rise of Prince Henry. Beyond the perilous drought of political conflict, we meet Henry, Prince of Wales, who galavants through inns and taverns with baseborn commoners and insignificant, cowardly villains. Presumabely, he abandons the royal court for the court of paupers where he still maintains his title but enjoys a life a bit outside of the law, like a youth above it. But Shakespeare begs his audience to remember the prince's own words:
I know you all, and will awhile uphold The unyok'd humour of your idleness: Yet herein will I imitate the sun, Who doth permit the base contagious clouds To smother up his beauty from the world, That, when he please again to be himself, Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at By breaking through the foul and ugly mists Of vapours that did seem to strangle him. If all the year were playing holidays, To sport would be as tedious as to work; But when they seldom come, they wish'd-for come, And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents, So, when this loose behaviour I throw off, And pay the debt I never promised, By how much better than my word I am, By so much shall I falsify men's hopes; And, like bright metal on a sullen ground, My reformation, glittering o'er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes Than that which hath no foil to set it off. I'll so offend to make offence a skill; Reckoning time when men think least I will.
He plays this part so successfully that the King, his father, preaches to him about his holiday behaviour, comparing it to that of King Richard II, and beckons him to behave as he did, humbly presenting himself to gain favour and support as king. Perhaps I prematurely sympathized with Bolingbroke during King Richard II's time, imagining he only wanted his birthright from Richard. But it would seem, according to his advice, he had his eye on the throne all along, deposing Richard when his birthright would have done. Now in this conflict with Percy he knows his enemies have just grievance against him. So this meeting between father and son, King and Prince, full of advice, with a hint of regret and nostalgia in comparing the prince to King Richard II, and both indicative of the prince's successful ploy and the King's apparaent guilt, marks the prince's return to the royal fold after a very different upbringing than Bolingbroke. After all, Bolingbroke came from Gaunt and nobility while Prince Henry, though of the same blood, wallowed with commoners and miscriants. He has a deeper potential for character and may avoid the shallowness of envy and animalistic paranoia of possession. I wonder if the prince's humble actions with the likes of John Falstaff, conspiring to rob robber friends, mirrors the pompous political circumstances of the state. The king, then, shares this reunion with a purified and strengthened son who can better lead England.
After the battle, the prince describes the nobility of his heart with mournful praises of fallen Percy and mercy for Douglas in return for his valor. But his true grace lies in his love for men like John Falstaff, jolly cowards who provide good company and unshakeable loyalty despite distastes for war, rebukes of honor and shameful behavior.
Yet who is John Falstaff? Like many other characters in your plays, he beckons so many different interpretations. Why did you write him? What purpose does he serve? You spend so much time on this obvious fiction juxtaposed to the historical plot...why? What sort of past does Falstaff carry with him? Who is he?
While away from court, perhaps the prince embraced Falstaff as a kind of father figure. Falstaff brought him up in all his vulgar practices and they enjoyed an intimate familiarity of loving speech and knee-buckling slurs. Falstaff outweighs the prince in years and pounds and they even perform the part of father and son opposite one another, taking turns imitating the prince and the king. Perhaps Falstaff willingly accepts the prince's projections of feelings for his father, perhaps he foreshadows the prince's fate should he choose to hide himself behind the base contagious clouds too long. If Falstaff does serve as a father figure, it would indicate a dual parentage for the prince which serves to strengthen his character for the commons and the nobility - and needless to say, in love, for I do not doubt that Falstaff loves the prince. And all these things combine to create a character that Vernon described:
He made a blushing cital of himself; And chid his truant youth with such a grace, As if he master'd there a double spirit, Of teaching and of learning instantly. There did he pause: but let me tell the world, - If he outlive the envy of this day, England did never owe so sweet a hope, So much misconstru'd in his wantonness.
Thus play I, in one person, many people, And none contented: sometimes am I king; Then treason makes me wish myself a beggar, And so I am: then crushing
Thus play I, in one person, many people, And none contented: sometimes am I king; Then treason makes me wish myself a beggar, And so I am: then crushing penury Persuades me I was better when a king; Then am I king'd again: and by and by Think that I am unking'd by Bolingbroke, And straight am nothing: - but whate'er I am, Nor I, nor any man that but man is, With nothing shall be pleas'd till he be eas'd With being nothing.
I read an act, then watched the act performed by the company supporting Derek Jacobi as King Richard II. I saw the words. Then I heard them. I imagined the words. Then I lived them. Shakespeare wrote The Life and Death of King Richard II completely in verse. He only gifted one other play with such diligent artistry. Because of this rare decision, I must imagine that Shakespeare saw something in Richard's story which wanted poetry's aesthetic purity, its demand for perfect word choices and allowance for multidimensional meaning. Using this form, Shakespeare both plays with language and gracefully crafts it into the clearest and most prodigious form of expression. He masters every angle of a word, frolicking with puns and ruthlessly wringing the word wet towel for every meaning and application to an idea, a feeling. He displays a simple duality, stripped naked and vulnerable, of compared and contrasted characters and situations, opposing viewpoints flipped at the turn of circumstance, which construct the very personage of this English king!
The play seems to divide itself in two. Before he embarks for Ireland, King Richard II plays the dunce with the carefree zest of an adolescent child unchecked by the guidance of responsibility or ethics' urgency. His counselors offer their opinions freely in his presence and those on trial rebuke his entreaties to abandon their griefs at their honor's cost or soul's compromise. Yet he does not rage, or flash his merciless power. He listens but to no consequence. Not because he fears them, but because, like an ornery child facing the chastisement of his elders, he does not care. He cares about his will, the coffers, and the luxuries of power. John of Gaunt eloquently argues against Richard's lease on England and York bitterly pleads against his seizure of Bolingbroke's inheritance. Yet when he returns from Ireland, he endures a harsh reckoning with the world and the pain of invincibility vanished. He must now pay for these stolen eyes with his own.
I wholly embraced this new Richard, this deposed and woeful Richard, who finds himself within the belly of nothingness after the long fall of the blessed. He contemplates his own dual nature as man and rightful king. When facing the insecurity of his position, Richard's convictions swing like a manic pendulum. He wrestles internally with a king's mortally uncomfortable burden and the high spiritual calling and civil duty of his office, owned by him as anointed to the task. Suddenly, Richard, once an immature cliche of a carefree, flattered and corrupt king, transforms into a person contemplating his newly divided nature, a nameless identity. And while Richard splits, so does the world. Men must now speed familiarity with a world newly starred with common royalty, "base glory", enslaved sovereignty, and kingly vulnerability - a world in which fathers prosecute sons and ill-succeeded kings open gates to civil strife as the delicate vale between subject and king weakens and faith in the king's incontestable grace shatters. As Richard must understand his new identity, so must humanity, like newborn babes, understand a world reshaped.
Richard, who embodies this split, this duality of humanity's longing and the dogmatic infliction of position - while we contemplate new worlds pioneered as if into uncharted wildernesses never before seen - reaches out to the patron and begs them to project their own struggle onto the himself. Let him wail for you! Let him contemplate himself for you! Let him grow into a sympathetically tragic martyr on your behalf as he calls his counselors Judas', washing their hands with Pilate, and himself Christ led to his crucifixion. Let him ascend the steps of consciousness and unity between self and identity, leading into the depths of death and social deposition. And listen to the master playwright's language represent the beautiful complexity of our birthright, our guaranteed struggle, our condition....more