The Tempest–Acts IV & V

Sorry about that brief hiatus yesterday.

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Scenes in which gods come out of the sky will probably always strike me as a “what…the…” moment. In Cymbaline, I was just like, “What do I do with this.” But at least in Cymbaline, it was some kind of representation of fate, or something–no, Isis, Juno, Ceres, the big three ladies of mythology–but here, they are under the control of Prospero. Perhaps all things are under the power of fortune? If we are to go by this airy, head-in-the-clouds thinking, that Prospero is a physical manifestation of fortune, than what does it mean when fortune acts so forgiving and kindly to his enemies? That doesn’t sound like the fortune I know…

Or, does it?

Tangent aside, there’s more things to say about Prospero’s actions and words than I have the time or ability to say or even think. While reading the last two acts, I’ve been trying to think of a clear way of articulating what his character operates as in the story, because he is the driving principle of every action within it. But I haven’t thought of a way of clearly putting him into a mold of driving characters.

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I just want to end on a final note about the epilogue. It’s spoken by Prospero as a petition to the audience to allow him to be free. Ariel servant to Prospero, having done all he wanted, he was allowed his freedom. Now, here we have the driving design behind the whole play making the same petition to the audience. I would say this is because he has been under our power, his power goes only as far as our suspension of disbelief will allow, and now the play is over, and it is time to leave this crazy island and return.

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Measure for Measure–Act V

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So, the Duke orders everyone’s death. Ha! Death to self, everyone’s punishment is marriage!

So, today’s reflection is mostly abstract, Lit. major ramblings, because I don’t have much else to give you. But their punishment is also their reward, which sounds familiar to me. when Adam and Eve are thrown out of paradise, they are punished. Man must toil for all things to produce fruit, and woman must be subservient to man. Now, as Yeats says, “It’s certain there is no fine thing/Since Adam’s fall but needs much laboring.” Why would a man toil and why would a woman be subservient to her husband? Because they love. Their punishments purify their love, they have to really love each other, not merely lust after one another, to be willing to suffer for them.

Now, the Duke’s punishments is that all guilty are to be married to the ones they transgressed against. He is merciful. And one thing that a sinner has a hard time accepting and understanding is mercy. He craves it, but there is always the temptation of falling into despair, because it is something undeserved. Angelo, with his rooted sense of justice, has a difficult time understanding and accepting the Duke’s mercy, because he operates on a principle of “giving one his due.” And Angelo says, “I am sorry that such sorrow I procure,/And so deep sticks it in my penitent heart/That I crave death more willingly than mercy;/’Tis my deserving, and I do entreat it” (V.i.471-474). If you ever are surrounded by children long enough, you will come to understand that humanity has a natural propensity to desire justice. We choose hell, because when faced with the light of truth, knowing our transgressions against it, we desire the portion that is given to us.

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Yet, look at the mercy that is bestowed upon everyone in the illumination of truth in this play. Isabella forgives Angelo his trespasses, and kneels for his forgiveness. The Duke shows mercy, and allows all transgressors to live, while they must also forfeit themselves in love to their newly betrothed wives.

I could have more to say, but since this is already coming to you a day late, I will save it. I also need to get ready for work.

Much Ado About Nothing–Act V

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I’m never quite sure what to do with the opening of this act, particularly in the question of whether we take Leonato seriously as a herald of truth or if we are to look at him rather foolishly like Polonius giving advice in Hamlet. Is it true that counsel, philosophy, and truth do not provide us consolation in times of suffering? “For there was never yet philosopher/That could endure the toothache patiently” (V.i.35-36). I’m not so sure what to make of it. I could say there are two fools in this play–Dogberry and Leonato, one being superior to the other. Or I could scrap that thought altogether.

Now, the confession of Borachio. While he was merely caught bragging before in Act III, here he actually comes forth with a heart full of repentance. This stems from the phrase of the Friar, “Die to live,” for the only thing I can think of that has changed in the course of the Sexton interviewing Borachio and the present scene is the “death” of innocent Hero. The death of an innocent bringing forth a repentant heart? Smells familiar.

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Benedick was, “not born under a rhyming planet’ (V.ii.39-40), and thus is unable to flatter Beatrice with flowery words. Shakespeare deals with the figures of Leander (who swam a heck of a long way for a lady) and Troilus (don’t get me started, but essentially, he’s a man of all words) as paradigmatic poetic lovers. I would dare to say he prefers a Leander to a Troilus, and Benedick seems more on the Leander side of the argument. Beatrice in the previous act and this one calls Benedick to action, for, “Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome” (V.ii.51-52). Relationship advice from Shakespeare–stop talking about it and do something for your lady. Boom.

This play ends perfectly–Don John is caught, everyone’s getting married, there is singing and dancing, Hero is alive and innocent as ever–and it isn’t an annoying, “Deus ex machina” perfection that cheapens a nice “Happily ever after.” It’s one of the elements that makes me love this play–people convert their hearts to love and truth in a believable manner (not that all conversions are the same, some real-life realizations are sudden and “unbelievable” in their nature) and even Don John isn’t punished until after the joyful activities. I wish I could say more, but I find I am running out of thoughts to express my fangirl-esque love for this play.

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And, truly, to love one no more than reason? It’s humble, it’s honest, it’s true…and it’s quite a compliment. 🙂

Thanks everyone for your patience during my move. Now that I have everything settles and a routine, I will be back to posting like the days of old.

Much Ado About Nothing–Act IV

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The first scene of this play has three parts: The Wedding/Shaming, the Friar’s counsel, and Benedick and Beatrice revealing their affections. Let’s begin!

I think the most important thing to note with Claudio and Don Pedro in this scene is that they make a petition that no one trust their eyes to Hero’s innocence. Yet, the ground on which they base their scorn is rooted in their sense of sight. Shakespeare often uses the image of poison when he sculpts the speeches of his Iago’s, and I think the image fits well here–they are poisoned by their sight to see the truth of the blushing and innocent Hero.

I’ve seen many renditions of this play, and I usually have one particular qualm with many of them–they cut out the Friar’s line by which we understand what his plan does. He states, “For strange sores strangely they strain the cure./Come, lady, die to live” (IV.i.251-252). Now, maybe some of you are not neurotic like me, but I stress myself out over the fact that the Friar cures a lie with lying. I’ve gotten better, mostly because of the aforementioned line, and the paradox of dying to live. Now, the scene began with Leonato not wishing the Friar to catechize the duties of being husband and wife prior to their actual wedding. What is a wedding but a death to self, two becoming one flesh? While I feel unable to reconcile the whole “lying” aspect of the Friar, I think back to the Catholic Church printing off fake baptismal records to Jews in WWII. It helps me sleep at night.

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Ah, and now for everyone’s favorite part. If it isn’t, it ought to be. And…I’m just going to quote my thesis again. Sorry folks!

Their moment alone goes well, until Beatrice calls Benedick to prove his love in action, by killing Claudio. Benedick’s initial response is no, because she is asking him to forsake his previous office under the service of the Prince Don Pedro and to forsake his friendship for Claudio. The action she calls him to is a renunciation of self. She is enraged by his response, because his profession of love for her is not to be demonstrated by himself and his own interests for the sake of his love for Beatrice and her request. Then he relents and obeys her call to action, using his hand as a testimony of his promise to challenge Claudio for the dignity of Hero’s honor. He states, “Enough, I am engaged: I will challenge him. I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you. By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account. As you hear of me, so think of me”(IV.i.329-332). In their first conversation, not only do they profess their feelings for one another, but Beatrice submits to her role as a woman, while Benedick submits to her call for him to act. In the time allotted by the Friar for the truth about Hero to be revealed, the fruition of Don Pedro’s intentions behind his deception for Benedick and Beatrice’s good comes to be—they communicate and humble themselves in “a mountain of affection the one with the other.””

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Finally, I leave you with this…

Oh that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass: though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. (IV.ii.74-77)

Much Ado About Nothing–Act III

My hiatus is over! I am officially settled in to my new town, new room, new life! And, without further ado…Let’s continue.

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Firstly, there is a common thread between Benedick and Beatrice’s reactions (and the deceiver’s). Firstly, the deceiver’s make a point in outlining Ben and Bea’s flaws–particularly how proud and scornful they are–because it is the only way they will hear such flaws and be open to transforming themselves to the truth. Their personal flaws are the first thing they reject in their monologues (also note that there is no other time in this play where we find someone alone reciting a monologue, and note that we don’t really see monologues happening in Shakespeare’s comedy). They first deny themselves before confessing their love for the other. Does this not ring true with how we love?

It is the scene directly after that sets up Don Pedro and Claudio. Now, Claudio reacts as his rash, young, self. However, depending on the control the actor has in this scene, there is an explanation for Claudio’s reaction aside from his rashness. He’s hurt. And so is Don Pedro, who, as a good prince, wants the good for his men. We don’t see the reactions of Don Pedro and Claudio to the “evidence” that Don John shows them (we do in most portrayals on stage of the play, but not directly in the text itself) unlike the deceiving of Benedick and Beatrice. I would say this is an illustration of the nature of truth and falsehood. The second scene takes place at night–and where else does falsehood lead one, except into darkness.

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Dogberry. The man who mixes phrases. Yet, he’s clearly able to see what is true, his timing is actually perfect, but because he has an inability to communicate, his goodness falls on deaf ears. Notice how much of this play relies on communication  overhearing, reporting, gossip and hearsay. The cruel deception of Don John doesn’t happen by hearing–it necessitates sight.

Oh, speaking of Dogberry, let me go on a side-note and say how excited I am to see Nathan Fillion (Captain Mal to us Firefly fans) play Dogberry in Joss Whedon’s film adaptation of this play. (And how excited I am that Joss Whedon, if he follows Shakespeare and doesn’t take liberties, can’t kill off characters that I love for once in his bloody career).

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I want to speak of Borachio’s confession in a later scene. I think I have made my basic points for this act. I’m going to follow the old schedule and post through the rest of the week. Then I’ll be back on track to continue the project every weekday.

King John–Act V

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King John repents to the bishop as an attempt to keep peace with France, who has led most of his allies into revolt. Always a man of business, this John. And he dies as he lived–working on state matters.

Aside from King John’s disconnect from the spiritual life (and that “kill the kid” incident, which I think was a spur of the moment act of fear) I don’t see him as a particular villain. I was expecting to see a more notorious picture painted of him, and given the feelings about the Catholic Church when Shakespeare is writing, he seems to be a kind of fated-to-doom character.

Oh, and since I brought up the Church, the day that the war sets on in the beginning is the beginning of the Triduum (the three day solemnity/celebration of Easter) which paints a very interesting picture. You know, with all the war and marriage and death.

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I was surprised that the Bastard Phillip turns out to be a legitimate servant to his king. I bring this up, because the last lines are spoken by him. “This England never did, nor never shall,/Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,/But when it first did help to wound itself” (V.vii.112-114). I’m leaving this really as food for thought. England shall not be conquered, unless it is by the mistakes she makes herself. Hmm. At the end of a history play (and my knowledge of English history is not extremely extensive prior to, well, really the Victorian era–but I’m reading this to attempt to make up for that…as well as this) these three lines left me pondering on how this is pertinent to a kind of “English understanding of being English.” Perhaps my friends across the pond may be of service?

King John–Acts III & IV

My apologies, I have been rigorously working on getting my life together and make myself a career in something a little more academic than bar-tending. Prayers, if you can!

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So, Act III satisfied my “the war ended to quickly” proposition, thanks to the entrance of a bishop. Rome visits, excommunicates, and causes a huge complication of which fundamental religious honoring to take–the alliance between England and France that has at it’s foundation the Church’s Sacrament of marriage VERSUS the authority figure from the Vatican directly telling King Phillip that he’ll be excommunicated with King John. Poor Blanch.

So, we have these two poles that the audience gets to swing between: France and England. France’s leader concerns himself primarily with matters of the soul above the matters of state, both in his breaking of the alliance and with Louis’ trust in the bishop’s prophecy that England will fall. Ol’ John is excommunicated for putting his own matters of state above the Church and he has no concern for his soul, so long as he has looked out for his body and reputation (the assigning of Arthur’s assassination).

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Act IV reads like a tragedy–the too late realization that killing an innocent kid might be a mistake. King John, on the cusp of losing his allies, states, “They burn in indignation. I repent:/There is no sure foundation set on blood;/No certain life achiev’d by others’ death (IV.ii.105-107). Arthur’s alive and let go! Then he’s actually dead. And no one saw him fall. So, obviously, King John was up to mischief, setting himself on a foundation of blood that he only too late realized was not in his best interests.

Oh, and the whole thing is taking place during late, very close to the feast day of the Ascension. I’m wondering if Blanch’s lamenting her wedding feast turning into a blood bath has more to it than meets the eye….