Macbeth–Act I

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I’ve read Macbeth before, when I was a Junior in High School. This is what I remember:

  1. “Out, out, damn spot” and a lot of guilt.
  2. Someone was born a really crazy way, and it fulfills a prophecy.
  3. There are witches and they speak in rhyme.

Now that I’ve made one of many obligatory lists, let’s begin.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (I.i.11), is delivered right before Macbeth comments, “so foul and fair a day I have not seen”(I.iii.38). When words repeat themselves (post.script. the word “selfsame” is used a bagillion times as well), I get into my little obsessive dictionary mode. Fair: free from dishonesty-ample-promising-favorable. Foul: offensive to the senses (how shall the witches appear? thunder, lightning, rain–that which is sensible)-filthy-unfairly-vilely. That which is promising and favorable–Macbeth’s kingship–is about to be sought by vile, dishonest means. Two things strike me about Macbeth that makes this prophecy–deriving from evil sources–work upon his mind in such a way.

Numero uno: His disposition to chance and fortune. We learn a little about his character in the second scene. “For brave Macbeth (well he deserves the name),/Disdaining Fortune…”(I.ii.16-17). Perhaps it is minor, but here we see–through the account of another–that there is a characteristic in Macbeth that draws him to rise above fortune. This is contradicted (all I can see in this play are contradictions) in his own later statement, “If Chance will have me King, why,/Chance may crown me” (I.iii.144). Which is later contradicted by…

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Numero dose: Macbeth’s lovely wife.

From unnatural news derives the desire for the unnatural. Lady Macbeth, upon learning the prophecy of the old witches, desires that nature itself be overrode for the ambitious desires. I mean, her whole speech about killing a child that she’s nursing is one of the most disgustingly -foul- things I’ve read in a Shakespeare play thus far.

So, disruption of nature, prophecy, truth from evil sources, ambition…what brilliant themes we have at the outset!

Until tomorrow.

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King Henry IV, Part I–Act V

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While I tend to be on the side of glory, honor, and all things heroic, I can’t help but understand Falstaff’s sentiments on going into battle. “What is honour? A word. What is that word honour? Air. A trim reckoning!” (V.i.133-135). I’ve been thinking more and more about the character of Falstaff. I’ve been doing some background reading on the play, and it seems the influence of this play comes from Holinshed’s Chronicles. From my internet sleuthing, there is no Falstaff. What does his character change about this “history” play? I’m trying to capture what dimension he adds to understanding Shakespeare’s unfolding of Hal’s character.

I do think Harry does, in a certain way, love Falstaff. During the scene where they find Falstaff stabbing dead Hotspur, Falstaff taking the duty for killing him, Harry doesn’t get angry with Falstaff–even though the past three scenes have drove into our minds that Harry killing Hotspur is how he’s going to regain honor. Though, supposedly, it’s just a word.

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Moving on, the crux of this battle falls on Worcester’s decision to lie regarding the King’s mercy. Perhaps Hotspur would have fought regardless, but honestly, Worcester, you seriously just caused hundreds of lives, including your own, in order to risk not being treated as a traitor. Ugh. Sorry, I must vent my frustration. Who lies about mercy? Proud, arrogant jerks.

Let’s look at Hotspur’s ending words:

O, Harry, thou hast robb’d me of my youth!
I better brook the loss of brittle life
Than those proud titles thou hast won of me;
They wound my thoughts worse than sword my flesh:
But thought’s the slave of life, and life time’s fool;
And time, that takes survey of all the world,
Must have a stop. O, I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue: no, Percy, thou art dust
And food for– (V.iv.176-185)

It echoes with Falstaff’s speech about honor, except, for Hotspur, that word is what he has spent his life earning. With his death, those things are taken by Harry, which haunts his lasting thought. Next to him, is the “pretending to be dead” Falstaff. Perhaps this is the expanse of a kingdom, the expanse of battle within the kingdom–the honorable next to the base. Who understands it better than Harry himself?

I’m going to start Part 2 this coming Monday. However, I have a trip to Louisville that I am taking, so if I am able to update, it will be extremely brief.

King John–Act II

Am I a bad person for being a little disappointed in how well this war for “the true king of England” ended? Probably. But, my feelings are not my thoughts. Moving on.

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My main focus is on Hubert (or, the First Citizen, on my Kindle…which I almost prefer him being nameless, in a way. If anyone has information on what the First Folio names him as, I would really appreciate it.) and both what is said about him and what he says.

For starters, this train of thought started because of the comment made by the ol’ Bastard: “By heaven, these scroyles of Angiers flour you, kings,/And stand securely on their battlements,/As a theatre, whence they gape and point/At your industrious scenes and acts of death”(II.i.373-376). While reading these lines, I was thinking, “As a member of the audience, I feel compelled to be on the side of this town. I’m watching the fight. And I’m not even rooting for a specific character to win the kingship.” Hubert is also the voice of reason among the kings, and it is his idea that brings about peace…And he has a sweet line that goes,

A greater power then we denies all this;
And till it be undoubted, we do lock
Our former scruple in our strong-barr’d gates;
King’d of our fears, until our fears, resolved,
Be by some certain king purged and deposed.(II.i.368-372)’

I think I might just be in love with Hubert/the First Citizen’s inability to judge the merit of which king is proper without them proving it. But that’s modern. In the feudal system, Arthur ought to be king. There’s an amazing tension here, between merit and blood-line nobility.

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My after-thought is solely: Constance seems to be the only one who actually cares about righting the wrongs of the throne.

Until tomorrow.

Richard III–Act V

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And we end with a body count of fifteen, including Richard himself.

In the opening, we have a frame of reference to the time in which the action takes place. Buckingham is going to be executed on All Soul’s Day. And we see all of the souls that Richard has taken.

And now, for a brief comparison between Richard and Richmond:

  1. Richard goes to bed with a bowl of wine (very Roman), while Richmond kneels down in prayer before retiring. The old Rome vs. the new. Oh, not to mention that the East is capitalized when Stanley refers to it…Nothing cool comes from East to West in history…oh…wait…
  2. Richard mentions saints (Paul, the saint of conversion–right after his conscience is eaten away by the “dream” of the ghosts–and George, the saint of battle) but never actually prays to them, while Richmond seems in constant prayer to God and the saints.
  3. Their speeches contain what they are fighting for–Richard appeals to material needs, such as their land and wives, while Richmond makes the appeal to justice, God, and England herself. Richmond’s speech gets you going! Richard, far from the plays opening speech, is just…flat.

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“My kingdom for a horse!” (V.iv.7). Richard dies on the field of battle by the hand of Richmond. But, wait, I thought historically he lost the battle and was imprisoned in the tower. What is Shakespeare saying by making him die during the context of the battle? Perhaps that the battle is where his life, as he made it, truly ended there? Or that we needed to see justice served?

The play ends in a prayer, that England will never again be soaked in so much blood. Historically, that doesn’t exactly happen…and Shakespeare is writing during such a time where things are rather…bloody. Points to you if you guess who’s blood is being shed and under who’s reign it begins. Richmond’s final speech is also to note the reconciliation between houses. Very very cool, and extremely satisfying after watching such a body count amass during the play.

I’ll do a final wrap-up of general themes through the play for Sunday. Until then, “Now civil wounds are stopp’d; peace lives again” (V.v.40).