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message 1: by Martin (last edited Jan 20, 2009 09:41AM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments This is the All's Well That Ends Well reading thread. Postings only from people reading the play please.

There are 23 scenes, so if we spend two days on each scene we should allow 6 weeks for the whole read. That may seem slow, but it gives us to time to study and absorb the poetry. Feel free to go faster than that, but try not to include story spoilers ahead of the reading schedule.

The reading is not necessarily tied to any film version, but the 1981 BBC production by Jonathan Miller could be recommended for its quality, and faithfulness to the original text.

message 2: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
I'm digging out my copy today...

message 3: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 40 comments Martin, I agree, the 1981 film with Angela Down is excellent and an interesting setting in the Dutch Siecle Or.

message 4: by William (new)

William Two days per scene: a good approach to the play, Martin, and one that has us doing Shakespeare scene-by-scene after all. Clever of you.

Of course, we all have favorite scenes, sometimes believing that they are somehow ours and that we alone have spotted them; it is an absurd conceit but somehow one that the private deal done between author and reader encourages. Graham Vickers, Chasing Lolita

message 5: by Martin (new)

Martin | 1162 comments
Okay, me, Matthew, Rita, Candy, Jenna, William, ... more than sufficient to do this read. Perhaps it is up to me to start things off. Not easy, because I realise too late there there is no limit to what even a few words in Shakespeare can get you thinking and talking about.

Lafew is the diplomatic courtier, wrapping up his compliments in an elevated language of balanced epithets - somewhat euphuistic. I wonder if his style seemed a little old fashioned to Shakespeare's first audience? Parolles later speaks of an old courtier, wearing a cap out of fashion. The Countess gives us some very puzzling sentences, as in the section

"I have hopes for her good ... derives her honesty and achieves her goodness"

I wonder sometimes if Shakespeare doesn't put in passages that are intended to go over the audience's heads. Although the drift is clear enough, that Helena's education supplements her natural abilities. (The Countess seems to be thinking of a moral rather than an intellectual education.)

Here is a question: the opening section is so poetic, why did Shakespeare do it in prose? For example, the Countess says of Helena's tears, "Tis the best brine a maiden can season her praise in". It is interesting to compare this with Olivia's tears in Twelfth Night, she will,

water once a day her chamber round
With eye-offending brine - all this to season
A brother’s dead love ...

They both use the metaphor of tears=salt water=brine=seasoning (in the sense of preservation). Purely poetic.

Parolles is a wonderful invention. A man of chatter, as his name suggests. His chatter may be oppressive and offensive to those on stage, but it does not bore the audience. At least I greatly enjoyed his talk on virginity.

message 6: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 40 comments Paraolles also strikes me as necessary -- every one else is very serious in the play, from Bertram to Helena and the Countess Rousillion. Sort of like Lucio in Measure for Measure

message 7: by Martin (last edited Jan 22, 2009 01:05PM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments Well that could be classed as a spoiler, Jenna, how do we know at this stage that the King will not be a laugh riot?

Just kidding ...

Tillyard also suggested Parolles was necessary, but for his evil, not his humour. He said,

"Parolles, though a lightweight as a character, is Bertram's evil genius, and essential to the balance of the play"

(from "Shakespeare's Problem Plays", 1950.)

In I.1 Helena already understands Parolles and quickly gets the better of him. He acts as a foil to her to reveal her superior intelligence and strength of character. Another use for him perhaps.

All's Well and M for M were written around the same time. My guess is that the same actor did both Parolles and Lucio.

message 8: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
Some of this scene is so funny. And I found I was lightly laughing and not sure why.

I also had a chilly moment...


Bless our poor virginity from underminers and
blowers up! Is there no military policy, how
virgins might blow up men?

Because we can all understand in contemporary news how a virgin might blow up a man with some suicide bombers beliefs.

But then...the chill passes and something funny in verse comes along...

There is a lot of gravity and humour in the virgin dialogues...some of Parolles lines...

message 9: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 40 comments Tillyard was right, I think. Feels like Bertram might not have gotten himself into the fixes he does later, without Parolles at his side.

message 10: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
I didn't give much thought yet to I'm getting the idea from your posts Jenna that I should keep a sharp eye on him in the future huh? I found his comments to be kind of a buzzkill, and bitter about virginity. Like he would goad a woman to lose her virginity.

I'm getting the feeling we haven't heard the last from him eh? I'm still in the first scene...haven't read a head yet...

message 11: by Martin (last edited Jan 22, 2009 01:58PM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments Candy, yes, I was struck how readily we see Parolles war metaphor in terms of contemporary war, with all its horrors. His metaphor for virginity shifts, from warfare to a suicide, to a "peevish" person, to the avoiding of useful financial speculation, to a non-saleable commodity. But the warfare one is the most startling.

Of course he is thinking not of today's bombs, carried and detonated, or dropped from above, but the bombs of siege warfare, where the miners, or engineers, dug holes under the castle or city walls to blow up the defense works. The woman is "blown up", that is made pregnant, but Parolles interprets Helena's answer so that the man being "blown up" is the man getting an erection again. He slips from using "you" to "thou", a sure sign of his increasing impertinence.

I love the way this first scene begins with its images of death, moves through hopeless love, and comes through a section of comedy to a sense of hopeful resolve.

message 12: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
Martin, yes, the puns and play with metaphjors...and done so economically and quickly are an achievemnt in character writing. I think Helena is a force to be reckoned with...she reminds me of Rosalind in Love's Labour's Lost.

Redusta, It is an hilarious way to start a conversation. You must have a lot of fun...and responsibility...teaching this play to young people!

Okay...more than two days has passed...I am off to read the next scene.

message 13: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
Oh...this line caught my eye

Since I nor wax nor honey can bring home Said by the King.

I wondered what it comes from. I guess honey I could see being a "draw" for the bug or person...a trap? Where does wax fit in...and the bee situation? Is it an adage?

message 14: by Martin (last edited Jan 24, 2009 04:43AM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments I'm already behind in the read! But I've had a busy few days and will catch up this weekend.

Have been thinking about "Are you meditating on virginity?" ever since Redutsa mentioned it (are we to call you Redutsa or Rita), and wondering what exactly does it mean. Is Parolles suggesting that Helena is unlikely ever to marry? Or that she looks over-pious when he sees her? Or is he merely trying to turn the conversation towards sex? Or what?

I've known a number of beekeepers, and what I've learnt from them is that the hive is a pretty ruthless place. When a bee is too old to be useful it is thrown out of the hive and left to die on the ground. The King is saying that when he's too old to be useful to the human hive (when he can't bring back either honey or wax) he should be thrown out similarly to make room for the other "labourers". The idea is incongruous in many ways: the King is not a "labourer" in his own state, but has a position like the queen bee; a King cannot make room for others, it is a lifetime appointment; the bee doesn't actually take wax into the hive. So the King (is this Shakespeare's only King with no proper name?) is talking about himself while putting to one side the fact that he is King.

(Something on Shakespeare grammar, which really used to puzzle me before I understood it. "nor wax nor honey" means "neither wax nor honey". "or wax or honey" would mean "either wax or honey". "either wax or honey" would mean (and this is the killer!) "both wax and honey". So for example,

When yellow leaves, or none or few,

means either no yellow leaves or just a few yellow leaves

Either death or life shall thereby be the sweeter

actually means that both death and life are made sweeter.)

message 15: by William (last edited Jan 24, 2009 02:50PM) (new)

William Martin wrote: Or is he merely trying to turn the conversation towards sex?

If so, Helena offers no resistance. She is his better in banter and, though she cannot (will not) mount him, she does manage him.

message 16: by Candy (last edited Jan 26, 2009 10:07AM) (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
Thank you Martin, now thaat I've read your comments here I wonder what on earth was wrong with my own thinking ha.

We're getting a wide berh of insights into what women were's a lot of fun!


What, one good in ten? you corrupt the song, sirrah.


One good woman in ten, madam; which is a purifying
o' the song: would God would serve the world so all
the year! we'ld find no fault with the tithe-woman,
if I were the parson. One in ten, quoth a'! An we
might have a good woman born but one every blazing
star, or at an earthquake, 'twould mend the lottery
well: a man may draw his heart out, ere a' pluck


I love this following verse because it has so many images and referenes in such a small space! Alchemy, the fox and grape aesop's fables, prometheus, rebirth, pheonix....


O, will you eat no grapes, my royal fox?
Yes, but you will my noble grapes, an if
My royal fox could reach them: I have seen a medicine
That's able to breathe life into a stone,
Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary
With spritely fire and motion; whose simple touch,
Is powerful to araise King Pepin, nay,
To give great Charlemain a pen in's hand,
And write to her a love-line.


And from virginity to bottoms!


It is like a barber's chair that fits all buttocks,
the pin-buttock, the quatch-buttock, the brawn
buttock, or any buttock.

I have lost track of what page we are on...I am starting act 2 scene 2...and maybe I am ahead or cough...ahem...behind...


message 17: by Candy (last edited Jan 26, 2009 10:53AM) (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
('m trying to include a diagram but for some reason...I'm not able to easily use the html legend provided...still experimenting, sorry)

Northrop Frye asserts in Anatomy of Criticism (1957) that all narratives fall into one of four mythos. Each mythos has six phases, sharing three with the preceding mythos and three with the succeeding mythos.

I realize that Northrop Frye is probably old fashioned for a lot of readers...but I find his ideas still hold up in my opinion...He at least is a stepping stone... I have always really foud use in his work on Shakespeare.


message 18: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Sorry I'm so late to the party, guys. It's been a crazy weekend and the coming week is beginning to look even crazier.

I like the beginning with extreme mourning and declarations of love. It is a great way to grab the audience and, let us never forget, this is drama first and foremost... before literature, before poetry.

I do wish Jenna had not made mention of "fixes Bertram gets into later". Going into this play completely blind, I was hoping to be free of even the hint of spoilers.

The most notable dialogue in the first three scenes is definitely between Parolles and Helena but I'm not sure I agree with the notion that she outbanters him. To an adult woman, virginity seems to be the most overrated of traits. I understand that this was less so in Shakespeare's day but that merely leads to the notion that the play is dated, hardly consistent with the work of a writer whose greatest attribute is his timelessness.

Also, the only aspect of Parolles that I have, thus far, encountered to suggest that he is a horrid knave is the fact that Helena says so and that the dramatis personae describes him as a "parasitic follower of Bertram". But my actual experience of the man on stage suggests a delightfully clever fellow with whom I wouldn't mind chatting over a pint.

message 19: by Candy (last edited Jan 27, 2009 09:58AM) (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
"chatting over a pint"

Now we're getting somewhere!


I am first taken with the way he and Helena speak more than anything. Perhaps neither wins a status battle of words...

It is always a kind of climate or culture change/shock when beginning a Shakespeare play isn't it? And I think Matthew you make a great point about remembering it is the drama first and foremost.

In some ways...the kind of acclimatation one has to feel out when beginning a play is not unlike what it may have been like in "real life" in shkespeares time.

Frye says

"In Shakespeare's society, the first question you would ask yourself about anyone ouwld be: is he or she supieroir, inferiour or equal?".

And I find I am asking...not class questons but rather who are these people...and the way the dialogue leaps in this play has made me aware of my asking...who are these people...and who are they to each other.

Something about the sense of drama propels these questions almost more than any other

Matthew, I suppoe virginity mightbe over rated to a contemporary adult woman today...but that depends on if it is also true for an adult male, heh heh? Do men care if a woman is a virgin or not?

Perhaps we are more concerned with "how many" rather than just virginity.

And is Helena really in the same role socially as an adult woman? I took her to be rather young. And certainly for contemporary young women...virginity is as much an obsession as it ever was.

message 20: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments I don't agree that beginning a Shakespeare play is a "climate or culture change/shock". Indeed, the lack of such shock is precisely what I love about his work. He knows human beings so well that it is easy to become comfortable with him. If we have to take into account the time and the place, this immediately suggests limitations that I do not traditionally associate with his work.

As for the notion that "certainly for contemporary young women...virginity is as much an obsession as it ever was", all I can say is that this is not so in New York.

Candy makes an interesting point about Helen's age. Let's estimate a number: Just how old is she? One aspect of a play's characters with which I do tend to take the time of the writing into account is that people were "adults" at a much earlier age in the 16th century than today. At 13, Juliet is much older than your average 13 year-old in the 21st century and the way she is almost invariably cast bears this out. When directors attempt to cast Juliet according to her actual chronological age, the results tend to be disastrous (granted, with certain notable exceptions).

Candy is quite right that the virginity issue is as relevant to men as it is to women, to the degree that it is relevant at all (at the end of the day, it really boils down to an individual's priorities). I specified an adult woman because that is the character we are discussing. I also acknowledge that I speak from my comfortable position as the father of a daughter whose adulthood is still a long way off. We'll see if I still feel this way 12 years from now.

message 21: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
Ah, well I guess for me I have a culture shock with the language and verses. (not the content or themes...) It always takes me a bit of time to get used to reading Shakespeare. As much as I love him...and I do obsess over him...I still after a lifetime, find I have to relax and surrender to his wording and style of verses. So it just must be me.


I didn't mean climate so literally. Perhaps I should have said I feel a challenge to the poetry each time I begin to read a new play of his. As far as relating to his stories I feel comfy. I believe it was Michael Wood who said one of the reasons Shakspeare is so timeless and suits our society today is because he lived ina time of violence and terrorism...and so do we.

I howled wihth laughter about the women in New York. I must qualify that by young women...I mean 12-20 years olds.

All the young women I know...have seemed quite obsessed with their bodies and changes and responsibilities...with pregnancy, disease, family population, carreers, hormones...and the good stuff too...romance and love...

Matthew, you've got some fun times ahead of you!

I got the feeling Helena is somewhere between 15 and 20.

But now...I'm not sure why I feel that...because she is not married I guess.

message 22: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
p.s. I'm trying not to look up any references to this play yet...till after I've read it because it's one I'm not familiar with...

message 23: by Candy (last edited Jan 27, 2009 12:06PM) (new)

message 24: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Candy,

It probably isn't just you. I grew up with classical poetry. My brother and I used to recite "The Owl and the Pussycat" verbatim before we could read and, at bedtime, our dad was as likely to read a poem as a story. I saw my first Shakespeare play at six and read my first at nine. So, I know I'm a little weird and had a pretty weird childhood as well.

I must confess that Michael Wood's comment strikes me as a cop-out. ALL times are times of violence and terrorism. They are also times of religion, professions, love, parenting, adolescence, hard work, etc. These are fairly basic human traits. If violence and terrorism were suddenly wiped out, that would not make Shakespeare's works any less relevant.

You are probably right about Helena's age. That was my guess too. And I submit that she lives in a culture wherein, if you weren't married by age 20, you were an old maid.

message 25: by William (new)

William In Will in the World, Stephen Greenblatt writes as follows of Will Shakespeare's marriage to Anne Hathaway:

It is not known if Will's parents approved of the marriage of their eighteen-year-old son to the pregnant twenty-six-year-old bride. Then as now, in England eighteen would have been regarded as young for a man to marry; the mean age upon marriage for males in Stratford in 1600 (the earliest date for which there are reliable figures) was twenty eight.... Women in this period were on average two years younger than their husbands.

The mean age at marriage of women, at least in Stratford, was therefore twenty six. If an old maid's life began at age 20, then Stratford was littered with them.

message 26: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments William,

That last statement is true if, and only if, Greenblatt is correct. But I am highly skeptical of his data. Shakespeare himself discusses the marriageable age for young ladies of his day in Romeo and Juliet:

But saying o'er what I have said before:
My child is yet a stranger in the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years,
Let two more summers wither in their pride,
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

Younger than she are happy mothers made.

Later, Lady Capulet mentions the same to Juliet in pointing out "I was your mother much upon these years that you are now a maid."

Now, even if we are to accept these twelve year-old mothers as an exception (which they undoubtedly were), we still have Lord Capulet's desire for a mere two year delay to consider Juliet's ripeness for the marriage bed. If that is still on the young side (as, indeed, I'm sure it was) you can see how the pressing of twenty increases the marriage pressure.

By the way, the fact that Hathaway was already pregnant sheds a little light on Shakespeare's opinion of the importance of virginity.

message 27: by William (new)

William In Will in the World, Greenblatt also provides this insight into the what may have been Shakespeare's view of virginity and the frequent consequence of its loss, which was bastardy:

It is eminently likely that Anne, three months pregnant, rather than the young Will, was the prime source of the impatience that led to the bond. To be sure, this was Elizabethan and not Victorian England: an unmarried mother in the 1580s did not, as she would in the 1880s, routinely face fierce, unrelenting social stigmatization. But the shame and social disgrace in Shakespeare's time were real enough; bastardy was severely frowned upon by the community, as the child would need to be fed and clothed; and the six pounds thirteen shillings would only be given to Anne when she found a husband.

If you, Matthew, are going to cross swords with Stephen Greenblatt over these issues, please let me know where and when. I will happily act as your second, though I won't be covering your bets.

message 28: by Matthew (last edited Jan 27, 2009 10:47PM) (new)

Matthew | 91 comments I must protest the notion that bastardy was the frequent consequence of the loss of virginity. This could only happen when the virginity was lost out of wedlock (and, even then, luck had to be against the couple in question). Remember, if a bride loses her virginity on the night of her marriage, that is still a loss of virginity.

As for crossing swords with Greenblatt, it is Shakespeare himself who has done that. I am merely acting as his second. (though I am a good swordsman, like Laertes, with rapier and dagger!)

message 29: by Martin (last edited Jan 28, 2009 07:13AM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments Well, let's not drift too far away from the play itself! I think in I.2 the King is not rambling about age, but looking at the passage of time, (and of course in this scene devotes the first half of it to state business). It makes the clock a most appropriate element in a metaphor about honourable behaviour,

. . . . and his honour,
Clock to itself, knew the true minute when
Exception bid him speak, and at this time
His tongue obeyed his hand.

These lines haunt me.

The image is of a clock sounding, determined by the movement of the minute hand. This transfers to the man, who sounds when something has happened (an "exception") against which he must, in honour, protest. The clock's bell is the man's voice, and the clock's hand stands, I take it, for the man's sense of honour and duty. Whether the word "hand" could carry that meaning in Shakespeare's time I do not know.

I entirely agree with what Candy says about our response to the characters: you recognise class difference as important to them, but it is not so important in the way we try to understand them as people. Again the King's speech underlines those differences,

. . . who were below him
He used as creatures of another place

"of another place", I take it, means equal to or above him, (place in society, not space).

And bowed his eminent top to their low ranks,
Making them proud of his humility,

A reversal of roles, where the eminent man is humble, and his inferiors proud -- but only possible in a world where the opposite is the norm.

As for the age of Shakespearean heroines etc ... one must be careful here. Granville-Barker's notes on Hamlet's age in his Preface to Hamlet are very wise I think. Briefly his point is that when Shakespeare gives an age it is for dramatic and not biographical purposes. Similarly for deductions from Shakespeare's biography. The difficulty being that he hardly has a biography. (His wife's greater age is, I believe, not entirely certain.)

message 30: by Martin (last edited Jan 28, 2009 07:11AM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments What I notice in this reading are the strong thematic links between what are, or used to be called, the Problem Plays,

Troilus and Cressida
Measure for Measure

-- especially the last two. To say more now would be to incur the wrath of Matthew (entirely justified!) by introducing spoilers, so just one example. Bertram, impatient to leave for the court of France, gets his mother's blessing in the form of moral advice. This is like Laertes in Hamlet, off to the court of France, getting the famous advice from his father, "neither a borrower nor a lender be" etc. Another example is the King, on his first appearance steering a neutral diplomatic course in a war that has just started in Tuscany. This is like Claudius trying to steer between "old Norway" and "young Fortinbras" in a war against Poland.

message 31: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
I am in utter heaven reading the posts that appeared since yesterday. And a sword fight!!!

I have so much to think about in reading these posts.

You know it's funny...I don't know a lot of people who read Shakespeare in my "real" life and he has almost always been a personal I can't tell you how humbling and exciting it is to read the posts of such a serious, funny and diverse group of participants.

I am aware of "Problem Plays" but until this last week...I did not know that AWTEW was one of them. Very interesting stuff.

Martin, the verse with the Clock is haunting indeed. Makes me want to seize the day!

Matthew and William, really enjoyed the variety of information on age,'s all daunting, but I love it.

Redutsa, great to know a little more about you!

message 32: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments "The wrath of Matthew?" I like the sound of that but I hope I was not overly harsh before. I attempt, especially in a forum such as this, to follow Polonius' advice, "Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar."

Martin makes a very interesting statement with "when Shakespeare gives an age it is for dramatic and not biographical purposes." At the risk of straying a bit from this play, would you be willing to expound on that.

But the point on the sketchy biographical notes on Shakespeare is very sound. I am reminded of Oscar Wilde's quote, "History does not repeat itself; historians repeat each other." By and large, this is true. But when it comes to Shakespearean biographers, they are like the congregation of a Reform Jewish Synagogue in New York... try getting any two of them to agree about anything!

message 33: by Martin (last edited Jan 28, 2009 07:45AM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments But going back to this "age of marriage" business, it is possible that Greenblatt's data is okay, but that he has misinterpreted it. I think it may have been Alan Macfarlane who told me that the reason average age of marriage seems high in the past is that life expentancy was so much lower, so remarriage was common. Milton for example married 3 times, outliving his first two wives. The question is, what was the average age of first marriages? This is harder to answer, since you'd need evidence of widowhood among those getting married.

I'd recommend Macfarlane's "Letters to Lily"; I have not read his main work on this,

For Alan in action, see

and many other youtube films!

message 34: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
I like "the wrath of Matth" even more.

Don't worry, sometimes people need to take slight risks and share stands in order to get to the heart of things. I see no courtesies crossed.

I think all of you have been fascinating and I hope the lively exchange is a sign of more discussion. Honestly, I am so pleased to read these thoughts and studies and personal references to Shakespeare etc.

message 35: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Martin is quite right about remarriage and, indeed, I thought of that especially in instances of tremendous age differences. However, I am not aware of any scholarship on the subject of Hathaway's widowhood. Then again, there's one more potential chink in the armor of the vast community of Shakespearean biographers.

message 36: by William (new)

William Matthew on Parolles:
The only aspect of Parolles that I have, thus far, encountered to suggest that he is a horrid knave is the fact that Helena says so and that the dramatis personae describes him as a "parasitic follower of Bertram". But my actual experience of the man on stage suggests a delightfully clever fellow with whom I wouldn't mind chatting over a pint.

Martin on Parolles:
Tillyard ... suggested Parolles was necessary ... for his evil.... He said, "Parolles, though a lightweight as a character, is Bertram's evil genius, and essential to the balance of the play" (from "Shakespeare's Problem Plays", 1950.)

There's a world of difference between a horrid knave and an evil genius. I'm with Matthew on the horrid knave part, at least for Act 1. For Martin's evil genius label to stick, we need to wonder whether Bertram would have been different (for the better) without Parolles than with him. Time will tell.

message 37: by Martin (last edited Jan 28, 2009 02:28PM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments Horrid knave or evil genius, as you say, perhaps time will tell ....

Incidentally, I think the way the play's opening gets us thinking about virginity and marriage is right on target and just what Shakespeare intended.

Lavache, I would think, is something of a problem for modern directors. Unlike Pompey, the Hamlet gravedigger, and Thersites (approximate equivalents in the other "problem plays") he belongs to someone, namely the Countess, and she seems to derive so little satisfaction from his performance you wonder why she keeps him. Malvolio wondered that Olivia "took delight in such a barren rascal" as Feste, but at least she did, which guaranteed Feste a place in her household. Lavache by contrast seems likely to get the sack.

An obvious approach to Lavache is not to give him a clown manner. This is what Jonathan Miller does (BBC Shakespeare). Lavache emerges as a blunt ordinary man, conscious of his own needs. But to make this consistent, Lavache's singing/reciting is cut out. If left in it's not to clear to me how it would be done. It doesn't seem quite appropriate to me that he should take out a mandolin and strum a musical interlude. Lavache has the added difficulty that he gets no support from the characters on stage, and for comedy is less entertaining to the audience than Parolles. Again an analogy with Measure for Measure (Pompey overshadowed by Lucio.)

His song about Helen of Troy I like, and it forms, I think, a link with Troilus and Cressida.

message 38: by William (last edited Jan 29, 2009 06:44AM) (new)

William Thank you, Candy, for Frye's comment about Shakespeare and class:
In Shakespeare's society, the first question you would ask yourself about anyone would be: is he or she superior, inferior or equal?

As an example, in Act 1 Helena chafes under the burden of having been born humble:

... 'Tis pity...
That wishing well had not a body in't
Which might be felt, that we, the poorer born,
Whose baser stars do shut us up in wishes,
Might with effects of them follow our friends,
And show what we alone must think, which never,
Returns us thanks.

message 39: by William (last edited Jan 29, 2009 06:34AM) (new)

William Martin mentions the BBC version. During Helena's soliloquy just before Parolles' entrance, Jonathan Miller has her sitting at and playing (guess what instrument) a virginal. Nice touch.

message 40: by Martin (last edited Jan 29, 2009 04:37AM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments Matthew asked me: "when Shakespeare gives an age it is for dramatic and not biographical purposes." At the risk of straying a bit from this play, would you be willing to expound on that.

Well, I was following Granville-Barker here. In the late 19th century the emphasis was on Shakespeare's characters, and their realism. A.C. Bradley treated the plays as exact evidence for constructing biographies, rather as a historian might treat a collection of surviving letters between real people. You can imagine the problems: the Gravedigger says of Yorick's skull,

"Here's a skull now; this skull has lain in the earth
three and twenty years."

so if Hamlet remembers Yorick, he must be pushing thirty, whereas at the beginning of the play he'd just left Wittenberg University. How is this possible? (Hamlet being thirty is still pushed by journalists and other amateurs.)

G-Barker discusses this in a long footnote in his Preface to Hamlet (p. 43 out of 260). The audience doesn't do the arithmetic, but unconsciously accepts a more mature Hamlet at this late point in the play. A younger skull (ten years old say) would not have suited the dramatic purpose so well.

Similarly the youthfulness of the heroines (Juliet, Miranda) is stressed at the beginning of the play they are in, not later on.

In any case time is used loosely throughout Shakespeare. Some plays (Measure for Measure) run on two clocks. And his anachronisms are famous.

message 41: by Martin (new)

Martin | 1162 comments
William, the virginal -- very good. I did not notice that.

What did you think of Jonathan Miller's version?

message 42: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Martin,

The information about Hamlet's being 30 also comes from the gravedigger, the same man who mentions the skull being 23 years in the earth. If he is wrong about one, he can easily be wrong about the other.

However, you make an interesting point about how some plays run on two clocks. The popular debate about Hamlet's age and the Wittenberg association (also mentioned in only one scene and, thus, no more reliable than the gravedigger) begs the question of how much time elapses in between the scenes of the play. And it is clear, as you observe, that Shakespeare is a lot less careful about this in some works than in others.

As for the extreme youth of Juliet, Miranda, and their ilk, I have always felt that this is stressed in the beginning of the play because, especially in Juliet's case, the fact that she essentially grows up in a very short period of time is a key dramatic element to the work.

Anyway, back to the play at hand --

In the last scene of the act, we have one of the most charming elements of comedy inserted into a beautiful and heartfelt declaration of love. When Helena says:

"Here on my knee, before high heeaven and you,"

Then, she realizes she has gotten the order of her listeners backwards and corrects the mistake:

"That before you, and next to high heaven,"

I have seen actresses do this in auditions and it is interesting how some get the humor of the moment and play it beautifully while others get so wrapped up in the poetry and the romance that they completely miss the comedy.

message 43: by Candy (last edited Jan 29, 2009 08:58AM) (new)

Candy | 2515 comments Mod
The G-Barker idea that Shakespeae uses age for dramatic affect rather than biographical or historical purposes is really a terrific attitude, at least for me. I've seen some discussions just fall apart because of concerns over "historical correctness" or "age"...

As much as I love Elizabethan history (I love Elizabethan ocullt!) I prefer to enjoy the imagination of Shakspeare rather than fuss over it's "correctness"...

but don't get me wrong...that is the passion I enjoy about th e work...I love reading all the study you all have at your hand. And I do read what I can track down on Shakespeare. I guess, I just wanted to share that at the end of the day...I find myself involved in a more spiritual and emotional enjoyment of his work and his themes. I love his vast imagination.

(an favourite reading about Shakspeares time and work has been done by Frances Yates. I'm a bit of a Yates geek)

Okay sorry...for such a side track...

message 44: by Martin (last edited Jan 29, 2009 02:20PM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments Matthew wrote: "Martin,

The information about Hamlet's being 30 also comes from the gravedigger, . . .

--ouch! yes! -- because he's been sexton there 30 years and started digging graves when Hamlet junior was born!

(Note to self: beware of Matthew. As well as being tough on spoilers, he's always one jump ahead when it comes to detailed knowledge.)

Candy, I don't regard what you wrote as a side track. Shakespeare's essential quality is the poetry.

In I.3 I'm again haunted, by the Countess's lines,

Even so it was with me when I was young:
If ever we are nature's, these are ours; this thorn
Doth to our rose of youth rightly belong;
Our blood to us, this to our blood is born;
It is the show and seal of nature's truth,
Where love's strong passion is impress'd in youth:
By our remembrances of days foregone,
Such were our faults:--or then we thought them none.

The move into rhyme at this point exactly matches the lyricism of what she says. I like the contrasting ideas of lines 2 and 4: "we belong to Nature, these [our sufferings in love:] belong to us", and "our blood [passions:] are born from us, and this [our suffering:] is born from our passions." At least, that is how I understand it. Again the contrast between apparent obscurity and our ease of understanding.

"Youth's the season made for joys", but I'm inclined to agree with the Countess here, that it can also be a time of great suffering.

I am a bit puzzled by Lafew (or Lafeu) and his meeting the King. Is this reading right?

LAFEU: Pardon, my lord, for me and for my tidings.
(In his excitement he kneels before the king)
KING: I'll fee thee to stand up.
(Lafeu is an old friend, so the king asks him to stand.)
Then here's a man stands that has bought his pardon.
(bought his pardon by having knelt -- a small joke)
I would you had kneel'd, my lord, to ask me mercy;
And that at my bidding you could so stand up.
(Lafeu is saying that he wishes the king were well again, that is, could stand up as easily as Lafeu has, but the king could take this as insulting, since it sounds as if Lafeu wished the king to kneel. So he says)
KING: I would I had; so I had broke thy pate,
And ask'd thee mercy for't.
(Lafeu asks pardon after an insult; the king might ask pardon after a blow)
LAFEU: Good faith, across;
(Good heavens! What a clumsy stroke!)

All this is in good humour since they are old friends.

Lafeu's later statement

I am Cressid's uncle,
That dare leave two together

makes another connection with Troilus and Cressida and the character of Pandarus. (It would be nice to think the same actor originally played Lafeu and Pandarus.)

message 45: by Martin (last edited Jan 30, 2009 12:40AM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments The virginal in the BBC version bears the motto,


which means "when alive I was silent, dead, sweetly I sing." This is the wood speaking.

For more on Shakespeare and virginals, see this note but be warned that the writer is a mere amateur.

message 46: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 40 comments Sorry all, I am so far behind! I have been enjoying reading everyone's comments (so much better than some threads I've read with things like "Yeah, it was good" and "I liked it too.") I'm going to try to catch up/or pick up at some point; I've read the play several times and acted some of the scenes from it, but not recently!

message 47: by Martin (new)

Martin | 1162 comments
"Doctor she"

2.1 is the scene, I think, where we suddenly see Helena emerge as perhaps the most remarkable of all Shakespeare's Comedy heroines. Candy sees a similarity with Rosalind in LLL and I think that is right. In the opening scene she has the same wit and control. She sends Parolles off discomfited (whatever Matthew may say). But she also has Juliet's love, Viola's sensitivity, Rosaline's (AYLI) adventurousness, and so on. Her unique quality is that she works to a plan.

2.1 begins in blank verse, shifts to prose for Parolles' sake, back to blank verse, but ends in a chain of rhyming couplets. There is no abrupt shift into rhyme, the transition is prepared by a few occasional rhymes. It happens without our noticing it at first. The rhymes take us into a world that is semi-magical, where Helena has the sudden gift of healing. She is both a Doctor using new medicines ("Doctor she" as Lafew calls her), and a female wizard using old wisdom.

We seem to go back in time,

He that of greatest works is finisher
Oft does them by the weakest minister:
(the origins of Christiany)
So holy writ in babes hath judgment shown,
When judges have been babes.
(Daniel, according to penguin edition notes)
Great floods have flown
From simple sources;
(Moses striking the rock)
and great seas have dried
When miracles have by the greatest been denied.
(the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.)

It is clear in the text that Lafew is much taken with Helena. In the BBC production, this transfers to the King, who is clearly greatly enamoured by her. This I think works very well.

message 48: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments Jenna is quite right. There is nothing on God's green earth more boring than wading through an internet chat filled with "I liked it" comments.

When I first delved into such internet discussions, I actually asked people why they didn't back up their ratings with commentary. I was told to stop being so elitist and that no one should have to defend their opinion. I'm glad such forums have come a long way in the last decade.

message 49: by Martin (last edited Jan 31, 2009 12:17AM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments "the pin-buttock, the quatch-buttock, the brawn buttock..."

I need illustrative examples. Shakespeare has really got me thinking about buttocks.

message 50: by Martin (last edited Jan 31, 2009 01:30AM) (new)

Martin | 1162 comments Candy, I watched the youtube clips you refer to above. Great fun.

I found this, which is very good,

-- for the rehearsal clips and later discussion. (I have always loved Brian Dennehy's acting.)

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