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.

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Macbeth–Act V

So, as it turns out, I didn’t actually get the extra time to do a good entry like I had wanted, and since I’m working almost every day next week, I’ve got to get back on track, or I’m going to lose it! When you’re a bartender in Louisville on Derby week, you don’t have time for extra Shakespeare, I guess.

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One brief thing I noticed about Lady Macbeth. “You mar with all this starting” (V.i.45-46) struck me, particularly because once Macbeth started down this line, he’s fallen to the point that, “what’s been done cannot be undone” (V.i.69). And after Lady Macbeth’s suicide, or I’ve always assumed it was suicide, perhaps there is another dozen interpretations, Macbeth falls into despair. To Macbeth, her death is a result of the great chain of being that we are all a part of–we will all die–and it seems he doesn’t see, or chooses not to see, his role within her death.

Oo, now that we’re talking about death, a side note to point out lines that made me say aloud, “That’s so cool!” Macduff states, “Make our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death” (9-10). The reason this strikes me as being so wicked awesome, lies in the image of breath. To give another one’s breath or blood, in any ancient understanding, signifies the giving of ones life. Breath=life. But here, it is a signifier of war, death, the end of life–but the giving of ones life too.

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Which brings me to my last point. Death. In this play, those that die are innocent, some are even the descendants of generations that will never live on. What Macbeth has done results in the destruction of the generation under him. He is truly a tyrant, in that sense. But, did not Caesar do the same? He completely destroyed the Republican consciousness of the Roman people by elevating himself to the point of king. There are a few allusions to Caesar in this play, made by Macbeth mostly, and I wonder what Shakespeare is saying about these two men and their tragedy. How they affect the generations after them, what types of men are they? Caesar did not listen to the oracles–Macbeth did. Who turns out the better?

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.

King Lear–Act III

I’m going to throw this out there, hopefully without making anyone think I’m a jaded and terrible person who loves violent scenes and people going insane–but I think this is my favorite act of the play. Every time I read it or see it, I am tricked–I know what is going to happen, but there is always an alternate option that I’m hoping the characters take this time.

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So, two main points of discussion: the tempest and the blinding of Gloucester. We’ll begin with the first.

The tempest is many things:

  1. It is the great and natural equalizer. King, servant, fool, nature does not treat them differently because of their status. However, it’s not a symbol about how lovely equality is–it is a sad sad depiction of how low that Lear has come, for his fool and servant have become wiser than he. (Forgive me, for I am once again going to quote from my Kindle, so I do not have specific line numbers.) “Take physic, pomp;/Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,/That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,/And show the heavens more just” (III.iv). Lear is saying this to the fool, but as well to himself and the tempest. He is shed of every possible outward sign of his kingship–that which separates him from beasts. 
  2. To get super lit. major on you: the storm is the external reflection of Lear’s internal battle. 
  3. Lear begins to serve his servants and look to a madman as his councilor.

There are many more things that can be said about the storm, but I’m beginning to lose my train of thought. So onwards to Gloucester.

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First and foremost–this happens on stage. We see this horrific act happen–it is not just given to our imagination. Is that actually better? Is it worse? I’ve heard it said before that King Lear is a play that cannot be fully conveyed upon the stage–that we actually have to imagine a scene like this for it to hit home. And it does, at least for me, every single time I read it.

So, the theme is blindness–duh, we could see this from a mile away. From Kent’s plea to Lear before he is banished to Gloucester’s inability to see that Edmund is a conniving jerk, there has been a very apparent blindness going on throughout the whole play. And now we have to see it. Literally. When you take something from the figurative to the literal, you’re making a big, big statement. And I want to say it has to do with those very first lines–no one can see their own faults. Gloucester is joking about his lust that conceived Edmund, like it isn’t a problem that he created and is responsible for a life, right at the opening. Lear thinks that “nothing” is a measurement of love–but “nothing” is boundless and immeasurable. They take whatever is given them, the “face-value” and cannot conceive of truth beyond their senses.

Directly after Gloucester has his eyes gauged out, he realizes Edgar is innocent. He has taken all that Edmund has said, and now truth is revealed through his loss of sight. Lear becomes mad–madness is itself an inability to see reality, however, he was already unable to see what was real insofar as we think about the love of his children.

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We, as an audience, see the characters for how they truly are from their actions–we have no doubt who in this play is evil and who is good, it is a clear-cut line. We only have two characters who act upon how things seem, and not how they are. And the ramifications, well, look at them.

I want to say more–about feigned madness, about the servant who dies, about nature, about the imagined trial that Lear puts on–but I promised myself to only speak about these two things.

Until tomorrow.