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 III

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There’s been oodles of scholarship done on the “To be or not to be” speech, so I’m only going to reference it. And later.

Notice we open, again, with a staged meeting–only this isn’t for Laertes and the discovering of virtues and vices, but it’s a staging to figure out what in the dickins in going on with our main man Hamlet. Which reveals nothing, so the King wants to send him to England.

Now, the speech I am interested in is Hamlet’s conversation with the players (told you, I’m not going to let them go for awhile), because it is a reflection on what a play does and how it operates. I’m going to block quote it now, and let it speak for itself.

                            …Suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o’erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure.(III.ii.19-25)

Earlier, Hamlet also has a line about the players being, “the abstract and brief chronicles of the time” (II.ii.524-525). It’s been awhile since I read Claire Asquith‘s book Shadowplaybut I highly recommend it if you want the “chronicle” of the time, which is much better than I will even try to do here. But there is a rant I want to go on about what this means…

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Onto Claudius’ desire for repentance. There’s a play between inherent character traits and actions going on here–he still has the same vices that brought him to the heinous act of killing his brother, so he cannot be allowed forgiveness for his action. Now, having a vice doesn’t make a person unforgivable–it’s to act upon that vice that makes an action good or bad. I’m not even going to get into the fact that Hamlet won’t kill him because there’s a risk Claudius might go to heaven.

Onto my last point which relates to the players a little bit as well. In the course of conversation with his mother, Hamlet states, “…but heaven hath pleased it so,/To punish me with this and this with me,/That I must be their scourge and minister” (III.iv.175-177). I’m thinking, and this might be over shooting here, that Hamlet might not be in control of his actions as the other characters in this play. The rest are showing “virtue her own feature” primarily by choices made that show the privation of virtue. I spoke earlier about there not being an Oedipus in a Christian understanding of man, but I think I may have been wrong. While the rest of the characters have choice, it seems that Hamlet is operating from something other than himself–he’s fated to commit his actions. They have flaws they can choose to act upon–he has an action he must do.

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I think this explanation may be the cause of Hamlet’s constant rumination on suicide. It’s the only thing that is his choice, if that makes sense. I don’t know how clear my argument is, so I’ll have to think on it a little more.

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.

Antony & Cleopatra–Act III

Sometimes life throws you punches and you have to sleep for a week to reconfigure your life.

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Enobarbus. He’s calling all of Antony’s bluffs and faults, mainly, “that would make his will/Lord of his reason” (III.xiii.3-4). The whole theme of the play, kids. Make your will or pleasures the master of your reason, you’ll make a few political mistakes, war against Caesar by sea (which obviously isn’t your strong suit) and flee the minute your buttercup leaves the fight. I’m a little obsessed with Enobarbus (despite the fact that it takes me a few tries to type his name correctly), because he’s incredibly aware of everything. And awareness is sexy.

I’ve been thinking about this line of his, “I see men’s judgments are/A parcel of their fortunes, and things outward/Do draw the inward quality after them/To suffer all alike” (III.xiii.31-34). And I actually have to think about it more before I can say anything about it. It’s too cool for school, and right now my thoughts are a-jumble with “negative capability” and “outward manifestations of internal truths” and I can’t put them together quite yet.

REPUTATIONS: RICHARD BURTON, TAYLOR MADE FOR STARDOM

That said, I have a feeling certain loves are not reciprocated by other loves. And the in-continuity of Antony no longer being himself with Cleopatra, and Cleopatra’s identification that she is only herself with Antony…things are going to get a little interesting on the “who is who in relation to who” front here soon. Love, that which makes us not ourselves…but this one doesn’t seem to…fit. 

Antony & Cleopatra–Act II

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So, Antony gets married to Caesar’s sister to smooth over Caesar’s quarrel with Antony. Let me state the obvious. Or better yet, let’s let Enobarbus state it for me. “He will to his Egyptian dish again. Then shall the sighs of Octavia blow the fire up in Caesar, and, as I said before, that which is the strength of their amity shall prove the immediate author of their variance. Antony will use his affection where it is. He married but his occasion here” (II.vi.126-131).

I’m wondering what the greater message is here–for Antony marries Octavia out of duty, but it will be his undoing when he returns to the bed of Cleopatra. The Literature major in me says that perhaps there is a conflict in letting passions rule reason? The marriage to Octavia is purely rational, while the affair with Cleopatra stems from Antony’s passion.

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And Menas. Quite the Machiavellian, killing everyone while they’re drunk on a ship? Or at least conspiring to. Pompey, thankfully, believes more in his honor than in his accomplishments.

I had more to say, but that was before I went to work. My apologies that this couldn’t be a better entry.

Until 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–Acts IV &V

The past few days have been a whirlwind.

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My biggest complaint, or perhaps confusion, deals with the relationship of Antipholis S. and Luciana–it doesn’t make sense to me that there’s a big to-do about his affection for her in the middle of the play, and yet there’s not a mentioning of their getting together in the end. But perhaps this is done on purpose–the reuniting of the two brothers and their parents is more important than trifles of love. But I’m not set on that, because unless they’re going to get together, why spur Adriana into a fit of jealousy? It would have been just as confusing, and just as easy for her to think Antipholis E. crazy without it interrupting their marriage as considerably as it did. Perhaps it shows Adriana’s good character and dedication to her husband?

I…don’t really have much more to say, actually. This play, despite some character confusion and complication, is actually pretty straight forward. I’ve read it was one of his earlier plays (with so many a rhyming couplet) and perhaps there’s more here than I can see, or perhaps the Bard revised his work later in his life.

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The next few days are going to be hectic for me–I’m going home Tuesday to see my family, so I’m going to try to at least do what I did this week–keep on top of the readings and do big cluster posts. Thank you, my dear followers, who remain patient with me as my life gets so busy!