Julius Caesar–Act II

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I don’t know why, but when I read a stage direction of someone entering into an orchard, I get really exited. It’s the Literature major in me, I think. My brain yells, “Allusions!” Which today’s entry is mainly focused on allusions (and the allusions within the allusions. It’s like Inception for English nerds.)

Brutus opens us with a debate within himself–the question of whether or not Caesar will abuse his power and become a tyrant. In this monologue, he reveals something extremely telling about the type of man Caesar is–which Aristotle would declare makes him a good king–a man ruled by reason. “To speak truth of Caesar/I have not known when his affections swayed/More than his reason” (II.i.19-21). This is Brutus’ inner turmoil–the possibility of Caesar’s tyranny, by which his nature changes (due to power’s ability to corrupt) is a giant risk on his beloved city of Rome, but he loves Caesar. Rome and honor come first–the risk is too great.

Next–death.

To cut the head off and then hack the limbs,
Like wrath in death and envy afterwards;
For Antony is but a limb of Caesar:
Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.
We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar;
And in the spirit of men there is no blood:
O, that we then could come by Caesar’s spirit,
And not dismember Caesar! But, alas,
Caesar must bleed for it!

They wish to kill the spirit of Caesar by killing the body of Caesar. However, in the killing of Caesar’s body, don’t the conspirators actually keep the spirit of Caesar alive in Rome (and the rest of the entire Western World) for an eternity?

Which brings me to my final point. The allusions to Christ and the allusions that Caesar is not Christ. There are lines in the last scene that are almost verbatim/follow the same events of Christ’s betrayal in the garden–alluding to Caesar as Christ. But! Woven into them are direct correlations to Christ that are Caesar’s opposite, showing that Caesar’s betrayal differs IMMENSELY from Jesus of Nazareth. I’m now going to point these out, because I can’t help but read these passages in this light. Please, if you have another interpretation of them, I would be glad to hear it. Sometimes I get on this train and I don’t get off for a long while.

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Firstly, Decius’ interpretation of Calphurnia’s dream. “Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck/Reviving blood, and that great men shall press/For tinctures, stains, relics and cognizance” (II.ii.87-89). Sounds like the teaching of the Last Supper. Sounds like what happens in the Church years upon years later at the Eucharist and with relics. But there’s a big ol’ distinction here. It’s spoken by a man who is flattering him to get him out of the house. It isn’t spoken in truth or love. It’s spoken as a down right lie. I think the allusion is there, but then the allusion falls a part. It’s not the last time we are thrown an allusion to Maundy Thursday, only to realize something doesn’t quite smell right about it…

CAESAR
Bid them prepare within:
I am to blame to be thus waited for.
Now, Cinna: now, Metellus: what, Trebonius!
I have an hour’s talk in store for you;
Remember that you call on me to-day:
Be near me, that I may remember you.
TREBONIUS
Caesar, I will: 
[Aside] and so near will I be,
That your best friends shall wish I had been further.

CAESAR
Good friends, go in, and taste some wine with me;
And we, like friends, will straightway go together.
BRUTUS
[Aside] That every like is not the same, O Caesar
 (II.ii.118-128)

That last line. “That every like is not the same.” I think Shakespeare is coming a little into the audience. He’s saying, “Yes, I have made these similes and allusions…but these things are not the same thing. There is a difference. Keep that difference in mind as you listen, and as you watch these events unfold.”

That’s it for me today. I’ve practically written a thesis for today’s entry, and I’m not the least bit sorry.

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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.

Measure for Measure–Acts III & IV

My apologies for yesterday. I had a terrible migraine for half the day.

I have a few odd feelings toward the Duke. I think he signifies something very wonderful in earthly terms–he is the leader of his people, and in order to make things turn out right, he humbles himself as a servant to do the works for the commonweal–while on the other hand, I have a problem with his masquerade as a priest–the ones to be executed, he offers council, but isn’t it more proper for the sake of their souls that they be offered their last confession? Which is an office he can’t perform. This probably is minor, but I think this play deals heavily with souls.

That said, the Duke comes up with the plan that is hoped to spare Claudio’s life and Isabella’s soul, but I’m again at a loss to justify the means of this disguise. Not that it really works, it requires another disguise to save Claudio’s life, since Angelo is not keen on keeping his word with Isabella. I saw that coming, actually–for if he were to have last minute spared Claudio, than his reputation for being the man of justice would be “ruined.”

(I have to make this entry short today, so my last point will be brief.)

What the Duke’s deception does allow is the revelation that Angelo is guilty of the crime he condemns to death and Claudio’s life as something miraculous.

Hopefully I will have more time tomorrow, but as for now, I must get to work, and I have a million other things to finish today.

Much Ado About Nothing–Act II

Doing a schedule change. I’m still doing an act each day, but it may be spread over the course of these two weeks. It is the only thing that can work conveniently enough for my schedule right now.

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The opening of this act holds some of my favorite lines of Beatrice’s, albeit they reveal her over-bearing pride. I’m much more interested in the three different mistakes in identity that happen throughout. For one, when Claudio affirms that he is Benedick, I kept thinking, “Now, what of his character would make him do that.” It seems out of place to me. However, he’s also a fish-out-of-water when it comes to the whole “interacting with women” aspect of life, so I find myself attributing his actions that are seemingly against his nature to relate to that.

I want to make a brief point about Claudio’s rashness. If we hold Aristotle to be true, in that virtue is a “mean between two extremes” than I would dare to say that what served him well on the battlefield (bravery) is transformed to the quick-to-anger Claudio that we see now. Also, notice that Don John’s first attempt to hurt is brother is completely foiled by the honesty of his brother. Which is why the plot has to contain contrived evidence for Don John to get his way.

The difference between the brothers lies in the fact that Don Pedro is honest and his actions come from his love, while Don John is the exact opposite and his actions are spurned from hatred.

Now for Benedick. The scene opens in an orchard, with music. Hmm. These to me set up all my ideas of “world set apart” from the ordinary.

And…Now I am just going to quote my thesis to make the point I want to make about Don Pedro and his deception on Benedick. Because when I wrote this, I was more qualified and better with words than I am to try to recapture what I mean….

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“The initial reaction to Don Pedro’s contrived deception takes place on stage, for the audience to see (which differs completely from the deception of Don John). When Benedick comes forward, the initial words of his monologue reveal his conviction that the conversation he has just overheard cannot be a trick, because of the tone of the conversation and the way in which they sympathize with Beatrice.[1] Moving from recognition of their sympathy, he responds openly to their critiques and acknowledges his pride. He states, “I must not seem proud: happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending.”[2] His statement reveals two things about the effect of the deception played upon him. Firstly, he acknowledges and rejects his pride, which he is happy to do—through hearing his critics; and secondly, his use of the passive periphrastic, “must,” in the rejection of his pride, corresponds with the imperative he uses previously—“Love me? Why, it must be requited.”[3] His rejection of pride and the requiting of her love are two things that must be done, since one cannot love another if one is exceedingly proud. As his monologue continues, he recognizes that Beatrice meets all of his previous expectations of a woman, rejecting his previous disdainful notions of marriage, and resigns himself to “be horribly in love with her.”[4] The fact that the audience is able to witness the success of Don Pedro’s trick—that it has not led Benedick away from truth, but to truth and humility—shows that the deception itself is not founded upon a lie, like Don John’s. Rather, it is rooted in something that is true, but must be carried out in a deceptive-like manner, because of the circumstances and the disposition of the characters involved.”


[1] II.iii.230-234 This can be no trick. The conference was sadly borne. They have the truth of this from Hero. They seem to pity the lady. It seems her affections have their full bent.

[2] II.iii.239-241

[3] II.iii.234

[4] II.iii.246

King Henry IV, Part I–Act I

We open at the end of civil war, and the beginning of England joining the crusades. Oh, wait, nope. End of civil war, but, it’s flaring up again.

I have quite a bit to say about Prince Hal, but I simply don’t have the time. I will leave tonight on a simple note: What if the Machiavellian Prince didn’t turn out to be a big jerk like Richard III? Can you follow the outline of The Prince without being a moustache-twirling villain?

My apologies for this evening. But, at least I posted! Happy Monday!

The Merchant of Venice–Acts IV & V

If you asked me why I didn’t post yesterday, I have no idea what I would say, because I really don’t know.

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So, the trial. I have to say, I physically did a fist-pump in the air when Portia made the case that Shylock could have Antonio’s flesh by law, but not his blood. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

The tension of this scene, if we look at it as two principles fighting each other, is between mercy and justice. And to a large extent, mercy and justice are diametrically opposed. Justice–for the sake of this argument, let’s define it as “getting ones due”–is on, I suppose, Shylock’s side, while every other character in this play with a shred of feeling is on the side of mercy, which goes beyond justice. I love that Portia points out the scale to weigh the :pound of flesh” (ugh, gross), because it’s a wonderful little symbol for justice. But mercy doesn’t have a scale, it doesn’t have a set guide of rules and guidelines. As Portia lovingly points out,

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. (IV.i.182-200)

I think Portia says it better, so I’ll leave the mercy/justice tension to her.

Now, what do we make of the lie that Nerissa and Portia are at a convent praying? Don’t get me wrong, the disguising to save Antonio’s life thing is pretty awesome, but does anyone else feel a little bothered? I suppose I could go really really allegorical, and say that their testament to truth at Antonio’s trial is a kind of prayer, if prayer is said to align our will with the will of God and devote our lives to Truth. Ha. That’s going a little too far.

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Now. The rings. I am having a bit of difficulty on the meaning of Portia and Nerissa taking their lovers rings while in disguise, and then getting upset with them for it. Was this some kind of womanly test? I don’t like to chalk things up so easily, and while I can see it as a test to their devotion, I think it only scrapes the surface to leave it at that. The rings symbolize an oath, and they were asked to forfeit them as payment for Antonio’s life. Well, marriage is a giving of oneself, the giving of a life, and rings as payment for a man’s life…Here you see my interior dialogue tousling around this question. However, I must begin to get ready for work, so I cannot continue. Thoughts from the audience?

The Merchant of Venice–Act III

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Alright, so we were all expecting Antonio’s ship to wreck. What I was not expecting was that Bassanio would get the girl so early on in the game. Aren’t weddings saved until the happily ever after? Shakespeare’s breaking out of his mold, or at least the mold I thought he had.

Before I get lovey-dovey on this post, I want to draw out something I mentioned earlier. About the whole pluralistic society, money being the only common good. Antonio makes a case (against himself) that he must forfeit himself to Shylock due to the very nature of laws that are the only thing binding men to justice in said pluralistic society. “The duke cannot deny the course of law:/For the commodity that strangers have/With us in Venice, if it be denied,/Will much impeach the justice of the state,/Since that the trade and profit of the city/Consisteth of all nations” (III.iii.26-31).

The common good of the polis=how you make laws regarding what is just. Since there cannot be a sheer common good for a pluralistic society (I don’t care what Shylock said about being the “same,” because the fact that we’re human does not mean we automatically share in the common good, precisely if everyone is pursuing self-interest) the law must dictate what justice is however it can.

Common good=money. You make a bond where someone can kill you for not giving them money, it’s totally within the law.

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One note on love: you marry a man or a woman, you marry their friends, you marry their family. Thus, the tension with Jessica and Launce, and the kindness of Portia.