Hamlet–Act II

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Polonius opens the act with the “staging” of Laertes’ vices in order to find out if his son is being a good boy in France. Which, if you think about it…”The plays’ the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King” (II.ii.606-607)…Is pretty much what Hamlet is doing to Claudius. To present a feigned vice and through that presentation, reveal the truth of whether the person has committed said vice.

It’s different, though, isn’t it? One’s done through gossip, the other through a play. It seems okay to make this falsehood in a play, but not in gossip, right? Is that just a feeling I’m having? Because if we separate the action and the idea, the ideas are the same. And, honestly, I think we should look at what makes the “lie” of fiction different. And I think that’s what Shakespeare may be looking at, too. With this whole…play within a play thing.

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I’m going to be dwelling on the players for a bit, actually. Probably until the fourth act, so bear with me. I have a thousand thoughts, and these are the only vaguely-coherent ones.

Polonius notes that, “Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light” (II.ii.401-402), which is followed by the first player telling at great length the story of Priam’s death and Hecuba’s sadness. There’s a link here. They’re Roman. And Hamlet’s response? “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to her/That he should weep for her?” (II.ii.559-560)

To be brief, I’m wondering if it doesn’t have to do with what I was thinking earlier–that there is something afoot in Shakespeare’s work that he’s going above and beyond the tragedians in the past. That said, I’ve been spending too long dwelling on this act tonight, so I think perhaps tomorrow will reveal more.

Macbeth–Act IV

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So, rather than fix his problems by, oh, not killing more people, Macbeth goes to the witches for more knowledge about the future. They conjure three apparitions for him:

  1. A disembodied head with a helmet–Look out, MacDuff is going for you, bro.
  2. A child covered in blood (symbol of all the innocent people he’s killed?)–Don’t worry, no man that was born of a woman is going to hurt you. You’d think that’d be comforting.
  3. Child, not bloody, crowned–When this entire forest is raised, that’s when you’ll be defeated.

By all means, it seems like Macbeth is going to be okay, all in all. But then why is the next apparition show eight kings from Banquo’s line? Well, I know the outcome, but it hasn’t been revealed just yet.

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I realized today why Macbeth begins to come down this path–he’s following that which is unnatural. He’s led by the witches and his wife (who has a propensity for things unnatural, like wanting to be more manly and over-ruling her husband) in this entire affair–which is displacing the natural line of kings. I was saying that the witches were supernatural before, but I’m going to take it back, because they aren’t above the natural order of things, but they use the base and disgusting parts of nature to contort nature herself. They’re unnatural. There isn’t really a supernatural thing in the whole play.

Also, Macbeth, I think you made a really bad move killing Macduff’s wife and kids. All you’re going to do there is spurn a load of revenge. And let’s not forget your inability to kill Fleance, who watched his father get murdered.

Macbeth–Act III

Sorry to make the hiatus so long! I was going to try and cram the rest of the play in the weekend, but found I was to busy to do so, so I figured I’d start on Wednesday and finish out the week like normal.

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Ahh, guilt. How wonderfully Shakespeare illustrates the nature that guilt weighs upon our conscious in times of grave sin. Macbeth is now dragging himself into a mire–to relieve feeling guilty, he hires the murder of Banquo, in order to stop the witches prophecy (uhh, wait, the same prophecy that spurred him into killing the king? That sounds a little discordant…), but he fails at the escape of Fleance. He wants to relieve his guilt of spilling blood by spilling more blood, which seems to be the nature of sin–to correct sin with more sin. “Blood will have blood” (III.iv.121).

A quick note about the prophecy–Hecate belittles the sisters in telling Macbeth and Banquo the future–but it seems if they had not intruded and let this “fate” be known, it would not have happened. The supernatural enters the world, allows men to know the future, but it’s only a future that exists because of that supernatural intrusion. If that sounds confusing, I think it’s because I’m a little confused about the role of the supernatural in this play (other than it is a bane on the lives of everyone here, yet it sometimes reveals the true nature of things, such as Banquo’s ghost revealing Macbeth’s guilt).

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One last thing: Macbeth hires two murderers. Where the heck does this third come from? He says “Macbeth,” but we haven’t seen that interaction. What is Shakespeare showing us in not showing us the hire of this third murderer? He’s also the one who points out the error of striking out the light and allowing Fleance to escape. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole-hill, but murderer number three, I’ve got my eye on you…

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.

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)

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 Henry IV, Part I–Act II

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My apologies that this is going to be another shorter entry. Few main points:

  1. No one ever seems to know the time. Yet, the play is a history, set at a particular time. But, seriously, no one knows what bloody time it is.
  2. The trick they play on Falstaff to, well, in a certain sense, humble him, does the opposite. What kind of man are we dealing with? I daresay, he’s referred to by Prince Hal as a sort of…Socrates? “That villainous abominable misleader of youth,” (II.iv.46), which, if I remember correctly, is the exact same slander that Socrates was tried and executed under.
  3. Hotspur’s denial of Kate’s love. Can a man only thinking of war be capable of love? Doesn’t look like it.
  4. The scene with the common folk that opens this act–to me, I always think of the “commoner” scenes as a deeper reflection of the world at large that we tend to be pre-occupied with in the rest of the play.

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Sadly, I again am lacking in the time department this evening. With Valentines Day and my mother’s birthday approaching, I’ve been lacking time to do other things.

Until tomorrow.