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.

 

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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.

Richard III–Act IV

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Body count: 8

When the scene starts off, we have all the ladies gathered, none at this time know that the princes have been slain, Richard is King or that Anne is about to be made his wife. It is from a slip by Brakenbury that they learn what fate holds for them.

I find it interesting that there is not a set scene for the coronation. We merely see Richard as king–the audience misses out on the pomp and circumstance. I think this is actually quite fitting. Ceremony is the physical embodiment (in action) that expresses an idea. Graduations represent endings. Weddings represent two becoming one flesh. Coronations represent someone coming into the throne to properly guide a country. Too bad this is a country soaked in blood–it’s all too fitting there is no ceremony.

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At the end of scene two, Buckingham realizes that he’s really of nothing to Richard, and gets ready to take off.

The Literature in me wants to turn the topic to the idea of conversation at the end of this scene. Comedies tend to hold everything in conversation, tragedies tend to be the long monologue that is never conductive to conversation. Buckingham realizes his relation to the king in the king’s complete lack of conversation–he’s basically talking to himself.

With the entrance of Margaret, we have the full list of the dead–lists show an expanse of something, this one shows how much blood England’s royalty is standing in. Everyone’s crying for revenge.

The act ends on the eve of war, and that is how I leave you.

Until tomorrow.