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.

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Hamlet–Act I

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That’s not a happy face.

To begin with the first line, “Who’s there?” (I.i.1), we open with the subtle fact that the way the Danes understand their identity and recognize one another is through the king. Later, Laertes states to Ophelia–regarding their relationship and how it can only be passing–“…his wil is not his own./For he himself is subject to his birth…for the choice depends/The sanity and health of this whole state” (I.iii.17-18, 20-21). The state of the kingship–and complete disarray  that is Hamlet’s family–is vital to the polis and its relation to itself.

So it’s no surprise to us that we open with watchmen who are awaiting the outbreak of war with Norway. Which brings me to my next point.

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The ghost of the old king is dressed as he was for war with Norway–the war that was won by the hands of Hamlet, when he slew the older Fortinbras–and he is asking Hamlet again  to intercede on his behalf and win a different kind of war. The war against Hamlet’s uncle, the new king, who poisoned not only the king, but the entire heir-system that this country is founded upon.

I’ll get back to the ghost after these messages.

  1. Notice that in scene three, the only characters are Ophelia, Laertes, and Polonius. Family.
  2. The word prodigal is used three times in reference to Hamlet’s emotions to Ophelia. Now, prodigal is an odd word to be used, and to be used three times in one scene. Shakespeare’s got binders full of words, and here he’s using one that brings to mind a little story called “The Prodigal Son.”
  3. Hamlet’s not allowed to go back to school because of his depression. Hmm.

One more thing, and I’ll get back to the ghost, I promise.

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Hamlet has a little monologue I want you to look at a little closer, in case you missed it in the sea of monologues that is this play:

So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth–wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin–
By the o’ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o’er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature’s livery, or fortune’s star,–
Their virtues else–be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo–
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault. (I.iv.23-36)

So, I have this theory. Many of you may not have been lit majors, doomed to only understand literature via Aristotle’s poetics (because a few of your teachers are philosophers only) and haven’t had the term FATAL FLAW shoved into every fiber of your being. My theory is–once Christianity hits the scene, Aristotle’s Poetics are nice, good, true, beautiful–but at this point they’re getting half the picture, because what Christianity does is erase the entire notion of a flaw in your character determining your fate. There is no Oedipus in a Christian world. What is Hamlet’s fatal flaw? Because I can’t find it. And here, Shakespeare is making the tragic figure himself outline what a fatal flaw is and how it operates. Shakespeare. You are too cool for school.

So. I lied. About talking about the ghost. Does he come from hell? I could argue that. Purgatory? I could argue that too. I said all I had to say about the ghost in the beginning. Ha! Fooled you.

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.