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Literary Criticism & Bard > Shakespeare and Warfare

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message 1: by William (new)

William This discussion is based on four posts extracted from the AWTEW Reading Thread. Those posts are reproduced immediately following this comment and are by Martin, William, Candy, and Martin.

Perhaps someone will add something to what has been said. Perhaps not.

message 2: by William (new)

William 1st Post from AWTEW Reading Thread by Martin:

For those keeping track, we're supposed to be at Act 3 scene 1.

Some random thoughts on this short scene (3.1):

It is cut in the Jonathan Miller BBC version. But it acts as a bridge between France and Italy, and prepares the change of location.

I often wonder if I'm the only one who struggles with the sense of Shakespeare at the simple level of basic grammar. For example,

. . . a common and an outward man
That the great figure of a council frames

after about a day I suddenly realised that it is the man who frames the figure of the council, not the figure of the council which is doing the framing. And then the whole speech made sense. Do other readers have these difficulties?

First Lord / second Lord run through the play. Are they always the same people? If so, second Lord would know why France isn't helping Florence, since he heard the King's explanation in I.1 -- it would upset Austria.

Warfare is portrayed here (as so often in Shakespeare) as something between altruism and sport. I find this one of Shakespeare's least endearing characteristics.

The scene is shown from the French angle: they are there to help the good side. I feel sorry for the little city of Siena ("the Florentines and Senoys are by the ears"), pitted against Florence and the rest.

message 3: by William (new)

William 2nd Post from AWTEW Reading Thread by William

Martin wrote: Warfare is portrayed here (as so often in Shakespeare) as something between altruism and sport. I find this one of Shakespeare's least endearing characteristics.

Thanks, Martin, for opening a door to this digression. I live in Canada and agree with you that our modern view of warfare is so much more endearing than dear old Will's. What with "surgical strikes" and all that jazz, we've cleaned up our act, haven't we?

I jest, of course, Martin, knowing that my fearless leader in Ottawa, had he an iota of the imagination of dear old Will, would have found something better for Canadian troops to be doing on the world's stage than continuing 30 years of killing in Afghanistan.

Oooop-p-ps! Well, blame it on Martin. Surgical strike coming your way!!

PS. Surely we're all struggling with the sense of Shakespeare. We persist in the struggle because we know that the sense is there, is ours for the getting, if only we could get it, as you have in the instance you site. Thank you.

message 4: by William (last edited Feb 08, 2009 07:26PM) (new)

William 3rd Post from AWTEW Reading Thread by Candy

side note: William, I am Canadian and my problem with Canada in Afghanistan isn't so much the ideal that we might be helping ...because I know only a small percentage of the money we are spending there is for humanitarian aid. So it isn't about Humanitarian Aid our presence there. It's not even about "warfare"...and I am not utterly against war as a desperate form of conflict resolution. The problem I have is that up until this month...Canada may be violating the 3rd Geneva convention and the Canadian Charter of Human rights by transferring prisoners to the Afghan authorities where they may face torture or even execution.

I have wanted Canada out of Afghanistan...and that __________(insert any cuss you like) P.M. Harper OUT of office!

...for a long time!


message 5: by William (new)

William 4th Post from AWTEW Reading Thread by Martin

Candy, your posts are like double-decker buses in England, you wait ages for one, and then three come along at once.

Is the clown jokes where we get the adage "you have an answer for every question" I wonder?

I don't know what you mean here. Could you edit it, because I'm interested in this?

I'm sorry now I made that remark about Shakespeare and warfare. It only relates a few passages in the Works, and does not have much to do with AWTEW.

Perhaps one shouldn't get too hung up on the "totemism and exogamy" thing. Marriage in England has always been flexible, and the class system fluid, even though the class system itself is hugely important. Remember that many of Shakespeare's titled characters marry people who don't have, or don't appear to have titles: Dule/Count Orsino (he is given both titles), Countess Olivia, Duke Vincenzo (M for M). Portia is simply "a rich heiress" and the aristos are queueing up to marry her. Royalty was different, but in the actual history of the British Monarchy it is hard to generalise, the Monarchy itself being so dislocated.

message 6: by Candy (last edited Feb 10, 2009 12:13AM) (new)

Candy | 2722 comments Mod
William very thoughtful to isolate these comments about warfare in Shakespeare for us.

I had one other comment in that thread so I've moved it here as well...even though I haven't linked it's source as you have done. (message #71 "All's Well" topic)


Martin, I am glad you said something about Act 3 scene 1. It's a jolt how short it is and I was like...what!? Yes, I guess it is a way to bridge locations...seems unesesary ina way...but it does feature the warfare discussion...which I believe is more important from you and Williams comments than I may have given it due with a quick reading and wondering why the heck did he have this tiny scene?

I think there is much more here than I first thought. I am not so sure Shakespeare...overall...believes war is between altruism and sport. I would say that Antony and Cleopatra is Shakspeare's essay against war on many levels. Of course, that is a different play...but that is my response.

I actually think when these lines from DUKE:


So that from point to point now have you heard
The fundamental reasons of this war,
Whose great decision hath much blood let forth
And more thirsts after.

When these lines appear...they provide a vast gulf for the attitude that Bertram is taking towards going to war. Bertram is naive and thinks war is his opportunity to outwit regular life, the will he rejcts from his father and society and his responsibilities.

Bertram becomes even less of a person arguing for "societal customs" why he shouldn't marry Helena...but he now is shown to be too casual about war. He has really become a classic contemporary bachelor as I was saying in my post about
"the other" and his fear.

message 7: by William (new)

William Candy wrote: William very thoughtful to isolate these comments about warfare in Shakespeare for us.

You're welcome, Candy!

I created this discussion to accommodate others who might want to comment, hoping to avoid cluttering the AWTEW Reading Thread with so general a subject.

message 8: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2722 comments Mod
I think your idea of isolating the specific topics in a thread is a good one.

I wonder if it might help if someone has written a book on this subject? Are there any references you have on the topic William? Do you have any insight with which to open dialogue?

message 9: by William (new)

William No, Candy, I have no references on this topic.

Martin, however, said that his remark about Shakespeare and warfare, though it had little to do with AWTEW, does relate to "a few passages in the Works." Perhaps he will share with us?!

message 10: by Martin (new)

Martin | 39 comments
No, not now. You are trying to organise us, William, and you have no authority to do so. Why don't you post something in the AWTEW thread about your own resonse to the play? These extra threads you created are merely causing confusion.

message 11: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2722 comments Mod
William, here are some notes for students with some books on warfare in Shakespeare which might be what you are looking for:

Meanwhile...I find the actual play "Alls Well" is providing more than enough info about war in that play...

message 12: by William (new)

William Candy wrote: "William, here are some notes for students with some books on warfare in Shakespeare which might be what you are looking for:

Thanks so much Candy for the link, which I was able to reconstruct. I'm sure I will find something interesting.

message 13: by William (new)

William Martin wrote: These extra threads you created are merely causing confusion.

The subject of Shakespeare and Warfare is, it seems to me, sufficiently general to warrant a separate discussion, which makes the subject visible to people who are not following the AWTEW Reading Thread.

Confusion was not my intention. A thousand pardons, Martin. Consider me chastened!

message 14: by Martin (new)

Martin | 39 comments
William, there is no need to apologise! But honestly, what do you think of the play? Have you been keeping up with the reads? I'd love to get your ideas in the AWTEW thread. I'm sure Candy and Matthew would too.

message 15: by William (new)

William In another thread, there has been some mention and a bit of discussion of Branagh's Henry V film. Here is an excerpt from a document on the website on that film:

The issue of the connection in Henry V between war and nationalism arises in both commentary on the play and in critiques of film adaptations by Laurence Olivier in 1944 and Kenneth Branagh in 1989. Noting the overtly “patriotic purpose” of the first film, Elizabeth Marsland (1995) argues that Olivier's idealization of Henry's French campaign is based on a national tradition that romanticized war. Though she discerns significantly different cinematic devices in the two adaptations, Marsland contends that Branagh was as committed as Olivier to simplistically depicting Henry as merely a heroic figure. Robert Lane (see Further Reading) similarly regards Branagh's treatment of Henry, asserting that Branagh represented the king and his war from a far more approving perspective than Shakespeare did. In her essay, Ellen C. Caldwell (2000) discusses how, over the centuries, English and French artists and writers have portrayed episodes in the Hundred Years' War, noting that on both sides the depictions have been invariably concerned with the idea of promoting a national ethos. Caldwell describes Shakespeare's Henry V as a much more complex delineation of the war and its effects than is typically found in earlier representations and characterizes Olivier's Henry V film as “a vehicle for nationalistic propaganda.”

The entire document, War in Shakespeare's Plays is extensive and, for me, intensively interesting. It can be viewed for the price of a subsciption to the site.

Thank you, Candy, for this reference.

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