Hamlet–Act III

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There’s been oodles of scholarship done on the “To be or not to be” speech, so I’m only going to reference it. And later.

Notice we open, again, with a staged meeting–only this isn’t for Laertes and the discovering of virtues and vices, but it’s a staging to figure out what in the dickins in going on with our main man Hamlet. Which reveals nothing, so the King wants to send him to England.

Now, the speech I am interested in is Hamlet’s conversation with the players (told you, I’m not going to let them go for awhile), because it is a reflection on what a play does and how it operates. I’m going to block quote it now, and let it speak for itself.

                            …Suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o’erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure.(III.ii.19-25)

Earlier, Hamlet also has a line about the players being, “the abstract and brief chronicles of the time” (II.ii.524-525). It’s been awhile since I read Claire Asquith‘s book Shadowplaybut I highly recommend it if you want the “chronicle” of the time, which is much better than I will even try to do here. But there is a rant I want to go on about what this means…

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Onto Claudius’ desire for repentance. There’s a play between inherent character traits and actions going on here–he still has the same vices that brought him to the heinous act of killing his brother, so he cannot be allowed forgiveness for his action. Now, having a vice doesn’t make a person unforgivable–it’s to act upon that vice that makes an action good or bad. I’m not even going to get into the fact that Hamlet won’t kill him because there’s a risk Claudius might go to heaven.

Onto my last point which relates to the players a little bit as well. In the course of conversation with his mother, Hamlet states, “…but heaven hath pleased it so,/To punish me with this and this with me,/That I must be their scourge and minister” (III.iv.175-177). I’m thinking, and this might be over shooting here, that Hamlet might not be in control of his actions as the other characters in this play. The rest are showing “virtue her own feature” primarily by choices made that show the privation of virtue. I spoke earlier about there not being an Oedipus in a Christian understanding of man, but I think I may have been wrong. While the rest of the characters have choice, it seems that Hamlet is operating from something other than himself–he’s fated to commit his actions. They have flaws they can choose to act upon–he has an action he must do.

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I think this explanation may be the cause of Hamlet’s constant rumination on suicide. It’s the only thing that is his choice, if that makes sense. I don’t know how clear my argument is, so I’ll have to think on it a little more.

Macbeth–Act II

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“I have done the deed” (II.ii.14). Woo, intense is the act that ends with a body count of three.

Macbeth’s monologue in the first act interests me, insofar as it deals with trusting in the sense of sight. “or art thou but/A dagger of the mid, a false creation”(II.i.38-39) and then, “Mine eyes are made the fools o’ th’ other senses,/Or else worth all the rest” I see thee still”(II.i.44-45). Which contrasts with the next scene, “Didst thou not hear the noise?”(II.ii.14). And Macbeth hears two prayers, a blessing from God on his deed and a mere, “Amen.” Amen, the word means “it is so” or it is a simple “yes.” Smells like the deed is done…

Musings on the trustworthiness of the senses. I find in tragedies, I don’t know what or who to trust. And that may be the point.

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Now, for the last scene, Rosse’s conversation with the old man–addressed as “Father,” so I am assuming he’s a priest, because I like to assume things–regarding the internal nature of man’s actions correlating with the outer nature of the heavens. I made a point of this in The Tempest, that storms in Shakespeare plays have a tendency to be symbolic of workings of the character’s soul or the state of souls in the commonweal. (I may not have actually said this, but I think I meant to if I didn’t.) If the heavens are representing an individual, who? Macbeth? Duncan? Banquo? Lady Macbeth? Or is it representing what is about to happen to the entire foundation of the Scottish Monarchy? Take your pick, send me a message.

 

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.

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.

The Tempest–Act I

You may be aware that I didn’t make a post for the final act of Julius Caesar. I basically didn’t feel like repeating myself, so I didn’t find it necessary to post.

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Now, I must admit something. Whenever I read a storm in a Shakespeare play, I instinctively categorize it as one of the following–My criticism sometimes is from habit. So, when the act opened, I thought one of the three things:

  1. The storm is the external manifestation of a disposition of one of the most important characters
  2. It is symbolic of the indomitable forces of nature, that pass and continue despite human life and death that takes place within it’s workings.
  3. It symbolizes Divine nature.

The act that follows, however, reveals that this tempest doesn’t fit my usual criteria. It’s all three of the aforementioned, and it’s also none of the above. I don’t know what I’d do if I were given a multiple choice exam question in regard to the tempest.

The storm sets up the revenge of Prospero. And, let’s take a minute to look at that name. Prospero means fortunate, from the Latin “Prosper” which takes a modern English meaning as prosperous. Now, given that his dukedom was usurped and he wound up on an island, Prospero doesn’t seem that fortunate. However, he was usurped because he took no interest in affairs of the state, but rather devoted himself to study, and even cast away onto an island, he continues learning. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself. Oh, and he’s constantly speaking of how fortune has fallen upon him in regards to the storm–for which he is responsible–and he’s also a magician? I’m looking forward to this unfolding. I love when Shakespeare gives me a great name and an interesting character. It’s like a little gift for people who like words.

Prospero Caliban and Miranda

 

I have a rant at hand, and I’m debating whether or not to go on for a long time, or making a bullet point of things that I’ve notices in the second scene. Hmm. Decisions.

Let’s just make a list for the sake of easy reading and easy writing.

  • The pity of Caliban is manifested in teaching his words, to name things, and to know things. He’s far from something human, we could say he bares the mark of Cain, but we may be stretching it, but he’s given the gift and duty of man–words and naming.
  • It is through words and language that Ferdinand recognizes Prospero and Miranda as human.
  • Music brings Ferdinand to seeing the lovely Miranda
  • Ariel–actually, I have nothing to say to this, other than I really like him. Looking forward to seeing him free. And why he wants freedom and what he plans to do with his freedom.

It’s probably apparent I was going to go on a long-winded tangent concerning words. But, the points are made, and I am exhausted on thoughts.