Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bottom's advice to the players (MND, 1.2)


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

He Is Not A Dreamer (Julius Caesar, 2.2)


Monday, March 14, 2011

What a Girl Wants (As You Like It, 3.2)


Friday, March 11, 2011

What Gets Us Into These Messes (Twelfth Night, 1.1)

Please visit me at my new location:




Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Howling Mob of Blockheads (Coriolanus 1.1)

Nearly every Shakespearean tragedy begins with a question.  And rightfully so.  Questions represent doubts, doubts represent problems.  If everything were ok, then there wouldn't be anything in question.  The objective of the next five acts is to unfold or try to arrive at possible answers, solutions, or resolutions to the opening question.  For instance, one such question that immediately comes to mind is Kent's question about Albany and Cornwall--the very first line of King Lear.  The play ends with Albany in charge (regardless of the issue as to whether or not he is fit or right for the job).  In Hamlet, the question is "Who's there?" during a time in which Fortinbras is basically knocking on Denmark's door.  The play ends with Fortinbras in charge.

Coriolanus begins, as does Julius Caesar, with the authority of Rome and the loyalty of Roman subjects in question.  In Julius Caesar, Romans are just fickle.  In Coriolanus, however, an actual quality-of-life issue is raised: the price and availability of corn, to which the following question is raised by the First Citizen:

                You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?

This is an interesting question that not only incites further rabble, but that also raises the question about the value and sanctity of life.  "Is not life more important than quality of life?' versus, "What is life without quality of life?"  The First Citizen has an insightful response to this question: he speaks in hunger for bread, not thirst for revenge.  His anger is, to take from The Godfather, business, not personal.  If he were eating, then he wouldn't necessarily have a problem with the men in charge.  Let them do whatever they want, as long as we get to eat.

The play begins with a question about Caius Marcius (later called, Coriolanus) and ends with an answer: the slaying of Caius Marcius. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

All the World is this Great Stage (King Lear, 4.6): Part II

So when Lear says that we wawl and cry, we have a Job-like moment in which Lear deems it better to have never been born at all.  He is once again "every inch a king" who realizes that "cares and business" make like a hassle.  Better to have never been born at all.  What's so great about being great?

There is a parallel here between Lear's "shake all cares and business from our age" and Hamlet's "shuffle off this mortal coil."  By diving his kingdom in three, conferring them upon younger strengths, Lear was trying to shuffle off his mortal coil, "shake the superflux (3.4)," and die peacefully.  One could call this a selfish move; Lear's only worried about his health.  One could call this a selfless move; Lear, concerned about his health, is also concerned about the health of his kingdom--if he is no longer fit, then he is no longer fit to rule; time to pass the torch.  However, if ignorance is the mother of all tragedy, then the problem is that Lear doesn't really seem to know his daughters and how they will respond to his act, whether it be selfish or selfless.  Good initiative, bad judgment?  There are a number of possible explanations, not really the point right now....

The other point of interest in these words to Gloucester is the implication of his sons-in-law.  Lear has already put his daughters on trial.  He doesn't know that Cornwall is the one responsible for gouging out his loyal statesman's eyes, but seeing blind Gloucester triggers Lear to basically say that he's not going to let his sons-in-law off scot-free either.  And, once again, horse imagery.  "Darkness and devils!  Saddle my horses....(1.4)"  Just as for King Macbeth and King Richard III, the horse appears on Lear's way to dusty death.  On their way to riding out into the sunset....

Monday, March 7, 2011

All the World is this Great Stage (King Lear, 4.6)

Perhaps the most beautiful moment in all of Shakespeare's works is when Lear recognizes Gloucester.  This most likely causes Gloucester to weep profusely; at this point, nothing matters more to him than being known or recognized by the man for whose life he had risked his own and had his eyes gouged-out, as a consequence. 

Lear, who did not want water drops staining his man's cheeks in 2.4, is touched by Gloucester's tears and once again resumes to role of Father of His Country that he began to take on with the Fool in 3.2.  Basically, what Lear says to Gloucester is that what he is going through right now isn't anything compared to the pain of being born (almost as if he is transferring birth pains from the mother to the child, which is significant, since this is a play that wants a mother):

If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes.
I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloucester:
Thou must be patient; we came crying hither:
Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air,
We wawl and cry. I will preach to thee: mark.
Alack, alack the day!

          When we are born, we cry that we are come
          To this great stage of fools: this a good block;
          It were a delicate stratagem, to shoe
          A troop of horse with felt: I'll put 't in proof;
          And when I have stol'n upon these sons-in-law,
          Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!

To be continued....

Friday, March 4, 2011

Acrostic Universe (A Midsummer Night's Dream, et al.)

It's Friday, so that can only mean one thing.  No, not re-run.  Better.  Guest Host!

Today's post comes to us by way of Florida and Jane Austen studies.  I'm very pleased to present my good friend, Arnie Perlstein.  Take it away, Arnie:


Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Patrician Bids You Beware (Julius Caesar, 1.1)

Much of Shakespeare's audience most likely had a pretty decent handle on Roman history--the decline and fall of both the republic and the empire.  But let's say the play Julius Caesar is one's first lesson in Roman history.  If this is the case, then, once again, a tip of the hat needs to go to the way Shakespeare crafts his plays.  In the roles of Flavius and Marullus, he creates two brief candles who strut and fret their, in this case, minutes upon the stage and then are heard no more.  But the tale they tell is extremely important.

Once again, the beginning of a Shakespeare play provides a glimpse into the future.  In this case, the future is not just the end of the play, but real historical circumstances.  In Marullus' famous harangue to the throng, he calls the people of Rome out on their fickleness and reckless thinking:

              Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
              What tributaries follow him to Rome,
              To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?
              You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
              O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
              Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
              Have you climb'd up to walls and battlements,
              To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,
              Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
              The livelong day, with patient expectation,
              To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome....

Render unto Pompey?  But how quickly and easily the plebeians of Rome shift their loyalty!  This will happen two more times in the play, after the two funeral orations.  And since the play's the thing that holds the mirror up to nature, then what we are witnessing here in this shiftiness and inconstancy of thought and values is the first pressure change, so to speak, in 500 years worth of tides in the affairs of the Roman Empire....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

It Takes One to Know One (The Merchant of Venice, 1.3)

Today's post was originally going to be about Shylock's big speech in 3.1, but I continue to have a hard time wrapping my mind around it.  Of course, that's the beauty of the speech.  Wondering, is it meant to make us empathize with Shylock more thank we may already do?  Is it meant to villainize him even more in our eyes?  The answer is, yes.

The line from that speech that really gets to me is, "If you tickle us, do we not laugh."  This one really strikes at the core.  Takes the train of thought and derails it!

Instead, because I don't think anyone is really fundamentally good or evil in this play (especially in this play)-- ok, before I continue, a note about Portia.  And I am breaking some rules, here.  Getting a little subjective.  But on the "quality of mercy speech."  First, if you have access to it, then I strongly recommend that you read Steven Doloff's article, "The Qualitas of 'Mercy': Etymological Conversion in The Merchant of Venice" from the Winter 2009/2010 issue of The Shakespeare Newsletter.  If you don't, then just look what this speech leads to: Shylock having to choose between his losing his wealth or converting to Christianity.  Granted, he chooses conversion, but what kind of way is this to admit or accept someone into the Christian fold?  This is the mercy that Antonio can render Shylock?

Antonio is my least favorite character in all of Shakespeare.  This does not mean that I think he is a poorly written character.  I don't.  I just fail to find any redemptive quality in him.  He's a wonderfully written character who is just in no way wonderful.  The purpose of the "sacrifice" that he makes, is willing to make, for his friend Bassanio is defeated by two things. 1) The fact that it leads to a public hearing.  If Antonio really knows his scripture--more on this very shortly--then he should know that his act of charity, no matter what it leads to, should not be made public or turned into a spectacle.  2) It still comes at the cost of someone else, even if that someone else is Shylock.  Yet another gain made by Antonio at Shylock's expense.

The title of and basis for today's post comes from something particularly despicable that he says in 1.3.  This is in response to Shylock's speech about Jacob and Laban's lambs:

                Mark you this, Bassanio,
                The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
                An evil soul producing holy witness
                Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
                A goodly apple rotten at the heart:
                O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

It's almost as if Antonio is describing himself!  Thus ends my catechism....

Read Doloff's article.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hotspur to Prick the Sides (1 Henry IV, 1.1)

Not unlike, say, Priam in the face of Achilles, does King Henry highly respect the drive of Young Henry Percy; aka, Hotspur.  He calls Hotspur "Fortune's minion," in light of the fact that his own Harry (or Hal) is out there running with the "minions of the moon," "Diana's foresters."  Hotspur is prodigious; Harry, prodigal:

               Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
               In envy that my Lord Northumberland
               Should be the father to so blest a son,
               A son who is the theme of honour's tongue;
               Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
               Who is sweet Fortune's minion and her pride:
               Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
               See riot and dishonour stain the brow
               Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved
               That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
               In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
               And call'd mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
               Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.

It is sad, but King Henry seems to see a reflection of his younger self in Young Percy than he does in his own son.  No wonder.  Look at how Percy responds to the exile of Mortimer (1.3), then go back to Richard II and see how Bullingbrooke (now King Henry) responds to his own exile.  The fiery quality of the Earl's son is a bit reminiscent, then, and is intense enough to lead the King to exit as soon as he is through demanding that the Percy's turn over their prisoners of war.

The theme of honor's tongue.  Of course, another man with a very large presence will have something to say to that later on....