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.

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.

King Henry IV, Part I–Act II

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My apologies that this is going to be another shorter entry. Few main points:

  1. No one ever seems to know the time. Yet, the play is a history, set at a particular time. But, seriously, no one knows what bloody time it is.
  2. The trick they play on Falstaff to, well, in a certain sense, humble him, does the opposite. What kind of man are we dealing with? I daresay, he’s referred to by Prince Hal as a sort of…Socrates? “That villainous abominable misleader of youth,” (II.iv.46), which, if I remember correctly, is the exact same slander that Socrates was tried and executed under.
  3. Hotspur’s denial of Kate’s love. Can a man only thinking of war be capable of love? Doesn’t look like it.
  4. The scene with the common folk that opens this act–to me, I always think of the “commoner” scenes as a deeper reflection of the world at large that we tend to be pre-occupied with in the rest of the play.

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Sadly, I again am lacking in the time department this evening. With Valentines Day and my mother’s birthday approaching, I’ve been lacking time to do other things.

Until tomorrow.

Two Gentlemen of Verona–Act I

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When I begin a play, and the first two characters are named “Proteus” and “Valentine,” my inner love for allusions gets so excited. Firstly, I love that the two friends that open the play have names that derive from two different Mediterranean languages and mythologies–Proteus, like the old man in the sea of Greek mythology versus Valentine, Latin root and the name of a well known saint in the Roman Church–because I love the rubbing up of ancient Greek and Christendom Rome.

Secondly, when you hear “Proteus” you think of something being protean–ever changing. Yet, he seems, from this first act, to be a fairly rooted character, since he doesn’t desire to leave his homeland because of his love for Julia. Julia resembles more of a protean character, judging by her interactions with her maid.

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I have never read the play before, but I’m venturing to guess that Proteus does actually leave, given by the genitive in the title “of Verona.”

Twelfth Night–Wrap Up

Ugh. I have literally put this off all day.

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So, at first I was thinking I would say how “time reveals truth” and quote Viola’s speech in Act II, then the revelations that take place in Act V. But, that’s a no brainier. It’s a comedy, for crying out loud. It’s not anything like the nature of Cymbeline’s revelations, and I’m not quite sure I have a solid understanding myself about what this reveals about truth itself, if anything at all.

So, what do we have here? Well, I really just want to pose a few questions about what’s in a name. The play’s name: Twelfth Night (it’s also called “What You Will,” but I don’t like that name as much, because this play is nothing that I would have willed.)

Sir Toby (however, on my Kindle edition, it’s Feste) sings, “O’ the twelfth day of December–“(II.iii.84 which is cut off by Maria. Now, songs are important, particularly in a play that begins speaking about songs and their relation to love. My inner Literature major is irking me to bring up the importance of December, the idea of the twelve days of Christmas (which would make sense that the play would be more happily named Twelfth Night, since the emphasis of the feast of the twelve days of Christmas deal with a particular night, revealing a particular truth, etc., etc.), but of course, that’s a knee jerk reaction from someone who’s trying to see beyond the face value of this play and having a difficult time.

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Well, “now that’s done, and I’m glad it’s over,” and tomorrow begins Two Gentlemen of Verona.

 

Twelfth Night–Act II

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Now we meet Sebastian, Viola’s twin, about to find Duke Orsino…I look forward to seeing how that plays out, but we are left with that as a build up for later.

Meanwhile, there’s a building of a new deception–Maria’s fooling of Malvolio into thinking Olivia is in love with him! And we find the Countess fond on Viola, I stand corrected, Cesario…

I find this play to be one of the easiest to understand in the Shakespeare canon I’ve read so far. No one seems to have more than one motive for their actions. It actually confuses me more than if it were more complicated, because I can’t think that Shakespeare’s doing more than what he’s saying on the surface. But, drudge on I shall, and perhaps more will be able to be said at the end of Act III.

 

As You Like It–Act II

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Yesterday, I was a little too gung ho about the infringement of the ‘estate model,’ and it carried over a little into today’s reading, but not without precedent. Scene three made my political-loving self blush, when Adam tells Orlando his virtues will be his downfall.

Why does this make me blush? Because of what it means when it comes before Orlando’s response to Adam’s loving dedication to him. “O good old man, how well in thee appears/The constant service of the antique world,/When service sweat for duty, not for meed./Thou art not for the fashion of these times, Where none will sweat but for promotion,/And having that, do choke their service up/Even with the having…(II.iii.56-62).”

Doesn’t the tension between self-interest and duty give your twenty-first century, democracy-loving-self chills? Adam’s dedication to his master–and Orlando, it seems, has inherited the good virtues of his father–belongs to that older antique model, in the same way that Orlando’s virtues are his downfall simply because of Oliver’s self-serving disposition. Mmm. Exciting.

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However, in the forest of Arden, who cares about estates? The theme I’ve been noticing seems to leave the play–Shift to the Duke proper and his crew, Ros and Celia, Adam and Orlando–all driven to the woods. Duke Freddy’s only knowledge of where Rosalind and Celia are has to do with an overhearing that is a complete misunderstanding of the ladies actual plans. He thinks they’re with Orlando. Only, the two have bigger matters than Rosalind and Orlando’s flirting to overcome. Smart ladies, not getting side-tracked by attractive men to do what needs to be done. The only other thing I will say about these two, for now, it that I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they met a hospitable shepherd -with an inhospitable master–and ended up attaining the farm.

Now, to the matter of Jaques famous “All the world’s a stage” speech. It is made directly after the Duke makes the comment, “Thou seest, we are not all alone unhappy;/This wide and universal theatre/Presents more woeful pageants than the scene/Wherein we play in” (II.vii.136-139). Jaques drives this home, but he offers a broader, more universal part that man plays. While the Duke sees the players of mere tragedy, Jaques’ players are representative of all mankind. Quick list of the seven stages of man:

  1. Infancy
  2. School
  3. Lover
  4. Soldier
  5. The Justice
  6. “Slippered Pantaloon” (what a great way to phrase that stage right after middle-age and right before super old)
  7. Second childhood

And, what happens after he makes this famous speech? NONE OF THE CHARACTERS CARE A LICK ABOUT IT. I’m reading, thinking “What the flip, kip, is going on?”

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It’s like he never made the speech to the people around him. The audience is like “oh, that was brilliant,” but what about the characters? I know, Orlando re-enters the scene here with Adam, but come on. No snarky comment on Jaques melancholy? No, “Ooo, Jaques, you’re sooooo smart.” Nothing. What do I do with this?

Until tomorrow.