Comedy of Errors–Act I

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I generally don’t think plays with the word “Comedy” in their title begin with impending death, but here Shakespeare proves me wrong again. Also, I’ve never been more confused while reading a Dramatis Personae.

Most of the act is story-telling, giving us the background of poor Egeon and the fate of his wife and sons. He states, “…the my end/Was wrought by nature, not by vile offence” (I.i.33-34), which I think may be a setting up of the main theme of the play–fate versus our actions. 

Side note: he was saved by fishermen of Corinth. Which smells a little familiar to me…

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Antipholus of Syracuse–I can’t find a definition of Antipholus or Pholus or…anything, though I came across the word Centaur among some astrology pages. I do enjoy his plan to lose himself for the sake of his mission, self-giving for the sake of something other. Which, since we’re already getting to see a little confusion with the twin brothers, I won’t be surprised if there is quite a bit of losing oneself. 

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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.

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.

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.

Measure for Measure–Act II

Anything I said defending Angelo in my last post, I take back right now. I am livid. I’ve never been so inflamed.

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Before I go raging about Angelo, I want to make a point about Elbow. I was reminded of Dogberry, in the way he can’t seem to understand the words that he uses, and I am beginning to see a reason for it. There are those in Shakespeare plays that are very good talkers, but that we never should trust–Richard III, Don John, Edmund, to name a few. “Beware of slick talkers,” my professor in Rome used to say. And I think this way of talking is revealing also in the third scene of this play, when Isabella begins by speaking “coldly.” I think it is her humility that keeps her from speaking properly in the beginning. I am going to try to focus on speaking more throughout the rest of my readings, regardless if I am right or wrong about this point.

One more point before my rage overtakes me. Escalus’ little rhyming couplet at the end of scene one. “Mercy is not itself, that oft looks so;/Pardon is still the nurse of second woe” (II.i.278-279). This is the beginning of a point I want to make about the differences between Isabella and Angelo, the point being that there is a distinction here between earthly understanding of mercy and a heavenly understanding of mercy. What I mean to say, is that Escalus’ statement here is an understanding of mercy that rests upon justice, while Isabella (and the Duke, when he speaks with Juliet) has an understanding of mercy that rests upon love.

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Isabella hits Antonio hard when she states,

                                               Go to your bosom,

Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know

That’s like my brother’s fault. If it confess

A natural guiltiness, such as his,

Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue

Against my brother’s life.

She’s arguing from an understanding of mercy that a Pharisee can understand (“Let he among you without sin cast the first stone” sound familiar to anyone?). She speaks in earthly terms.

Is her virtue her downfall? Angelo claims her virtue is what drags him into the sin of wanting to love her (and not a proper love by any means). He seems to take her literally–if he sins as Claudio, he will show mercy to Claudio. Arghskjdafljdjknasdkfhadsfj.

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I’m actually not going to turn this into a big rage against Angelo. Instead, I won’t allow myself to dwell on his horribleness, but on Isabella’s virtue. She illustrates by her actions a concept that tends to be the subject of religious debate–can one commit a sin in order that good may be accomplished? The answer, if we follow Isabella, is no (and, if we read our catechism, that is the correct answer). This brings me back to the difference between the heavenly and earthly understanding of justice and mercy. Angelo’s “virtues” and notions are merely earthly, and the request of Isabella’s body in exchange for the life of her brother is a fair earthly trade. Mercy based on proportional justice. No good can come from the forfeit of ones soul, it isn’t a sacrifice to damn oneself to Hell so that one may be saved. It’s an act against Faith. Oh, and Chastity.

Until tomorrow.

Measure for Measure–Act I

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Nuns!

The play begins with a temporary transfer of authority to Antonio, who, from his humble refusal at first, seems like a good dude. The first scene deals with Antonio’s good character, and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. His harsh enforcement of the law stems from his adherence to justice. That’s not bad in and of itself. Now, the Duke reveals in scene three that he has failed to properly enforce the laws of his city, and to allow infractions against the law is not merely to allow evil, but to encourage it. “Sith ’twas my fault to give the people scope,/’Twould be my tyranny to strike and gall them/For what I bid them do: for we bid this be done,/When evil deeds have their permissive pass,/And not the punishment” (I.iii.35-39).

I find it interesting that the law which we see enforced–Juliet being with-child out of wedlock with Claudio–is the sin that earlier is joked about with Mistress Overdone. Claudio’s account of liberty reveals the nature of sin. “Our natures do pursue,/Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,/A thirsty evil; and when we drink we die” (I.ii.128-130). There’s a tension here, methinks, between the laws of the commonweal and the laws of God. But there’s a distinct difference; the laws of the commonweal are based upon justice, “Measure for Measure” to steal the plays name, while the laws of God rest upon the justice of God, based upon love which is revealed in mercy.

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With that said, I’m curious if this tension of laws might be revealed also in the opening of scene four–the ‘lack of strictness’ in the Order of Saint Clare. The Poor Clare’s are a Franciscan order, which poses itself against the decadence of the age–and if we look at what is going on in the city of the play, there is quite a bit of decadence. Isabella points out her understanding of the order is much more strict than the little nun reveals to her. An order against decadence is not strict, the duke of the city is not strict in using authority–these smell like they are of similar stuff, so to speak–perhaps these similarities reveal more than might appear.

Post. Script. Isabella means God’s promise or devoted to God. I’m assuming her name will reveal itself to mean both by the time this play is over.

Until tomorrow!