All’s Well That Ends Well–Act I

Thanks for you patience, guys! That was s long unintentional hiatus.

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If I were asked to summarize what this play is “about” from only reading the first act, I would tell you, among other things:

  1. The playing out of the next generation
  2. Inherited rank versus inherited merit
  3. How virtues imbued in birth are ramified by good action

Insofar as I am concerned about the first point, the very first line of the play revolves around the death of the head of household of the first generation, “In delivering my son from me, I bury a second husband” (I.i.1). Not to mention, love of Bertram replaces the love that Helena had for her father after his death. And, well, the rest of my point is made with the last two.

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The cause of Helena’s despair over Bertram revolves heavily in my second point. She loves a man that outranks her in birth. Clearly she’s a pretty feisty, smart, rad lady, and she’s the main heroine of a Shakespeare comedy, which means that she’s one of those ladies you marry the instant you meet her. And we have evidence of that by the countess’ comment, “…her education promises her dispositions she inherits which makes fair gifts fairer; for where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, there commendations go with pity; they are virtues and traitors too” (I.i.39-42).

Sadly, I’m pressed for time, as per usual, but I wanted to get back on schedule, at least a little bit.

I’ll leave you with this last line from Helena (I’m not getting into the roots of her name–Helen–and what I think it says about her):  “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,/Which we ascribe to heaven” (I.i.216).  Natural disposition cultivated in action?

We’ll see tomorrow.

Antony & Cleopatra–Act I

Sorry. I needed the week off last week.

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Onwards and upwards–Let’s look at the name: “Antony & Cleopatra.” I had a professor that liked to point out that in tragedies that involve lovers, their names are always separated, only joined by an “and.” This is important, especially to this play–we have two lovers that are having an affair. Unlike lovers that are married–thus making two one flesh–they are separated despite being together. Which is probably going to lead to most of the tragedy.

We open with the changed nature of Antony–He has gone from warrior to lover, and it seems that these two tensions within him play upon his character throughout the rest of the play. “[Y]ou shall see in him/The triple pillar of the world transformed/Into a strumpet’s fool” (I.i.11-13). I like this line, because it shows the gravity of Antony’s change–he’s one of the pillars of the world, but now, melted into the embraces of Cleopatra, he ceases to uphold his end. What happens when pillars melt? Probably what ensues in the rest of this play.

Oh, and then the next line Cleopatra is asking for a measure of love. I don’t think these two understand love at all. Love as a boundless thing has a measure? King Lear made the same mistake, and look what happened to him.

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One more note on the lover’s notions about love. “Here is my space!/Kingdoms are clay! Our dungy earth alike/Feeds beast as man. The nobleness of life/Is to do thus, when such a mutual pair/And such a twain can do’t” (I.i.35-39), states Antony. Yes, what makes man as man is love. Kingdoms will crumble, but man’s ability to love separates him from beasts. But their love is based solely upon pleasures, did I mention that they’re having affairs?

Which is shown to us by the way Cleopatra regards Antony’s lack of mourning his wife’s death–will he act this way when I die? But if he were to mourn Fulvia, she would also throw a fit equal to the one she throws at his lack of weeping. Women. Anna Karenina acts the same way.

Side note: Cleopatra=queen of Egypt. So why is she always referencing Greek gods? Is there an historical reason for this, or is Shakespeare showing us the state of disorder we find ourselves in during this play? The understanding of man toward the gods, the understanding of Antony’s role in the polis, Rome coming into war–all linked and expressed by small mentions of gods from another area of the map entirely.

Until tomorrow, kids.

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. 

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–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.

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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.

Julius Caesar–Act I

Sadly, today is another day that I must make my comments brief. That whole needing to work to eat thing.

Opening notes on the title–The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Now, we already know he’s going to die, everyone knows the story of the “Ides of March.” Tragedies involve a man’s fall…Now, Julius died, but…did he fall? Did he fail? The question to keep in mind in Shakespeare’s retelling is: Who’s tragedy is it, really?

And let’s not forget the comment, “for always I am Caesar” (I.ii.211), stated by the man himself. Always? Has a kind of eternal ring to it.

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We open with the question of identity. The common folk are acting as if on holiday, not wearing the tools which mark which trade they bear. They all seem the same. No definition of trade. And they are gathering for the sake of seeing Caesar. Hmm. All the common men become similar for the sake of seeing their soon-to-be-king.

This ties into the later comments made by Cassius–Caesar is no god, but a man prone to the same sicknesses and trials of men. He is to be elected king, though he is no better than the men of the republic. The men of Rome have ceased to be true Romans, they are willing to let themselves be ruled by an ambitious tyrant. A man who has made himself a god. Cassius makes a very clear point to rebuke fate, because all men are in charge of their own fate. Cassius, the voice of equality. The voice of choice.

That’s most of what I have time for (and most of what I have to say regarding my opening remarks). Until tomorrow, let’s watch the tragedy unfold.

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!