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.

 

Antony & Cleopatra–Acts IV and V

I decided to do these acts together, because I predicted that both would involve at least one of the same thing: The deaths of Antony and Cleopatra.

 

Three things about their suicides:

  1. The idea that this is the only way to be the master of oneself. Antony’s lost everything and will have to submit his life, but if he kills himself, he submits only to himself–same goes for Cleo. What I think is interesting about this in lieu of the past references to being oneself and not being oneself in relation to the other lover–this seems the only way they rectify “oneselfness” again.
  2. The servant dies first. For Antony, he “learns” his option through Eros’ suicide (also, Eros is Antony’s servant? Antony begs his servant Eros to kill him? Eros…love, erotic love…WHAT’S SHAKESPEARE DOING WITH THESE NAMES…I CAN’T HANDLE HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS). Ahem. And Iras dies from…ehh…She just kind of, dies.
  3. Antony dies by the sword, Cleo by poison. Notice this is the opposite of what happens in Romeo and Juliet–And while that tale ends on the sound of woe, this one rings of pity.

One other note: there’s been a war in the last half of this play, and they only bodies we see are from suicides or people who have lost the will to live–non from the war.

Sorry this is late, I’m on a time crunch even as we speak. I’m seeking new employment with better more manageable hours–and one that doesn’t keep me there until one and leaving me so exhausted that I can’t wake up in time to post.

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.

Macbeth–Act V

So, as it turns out, I didn’t actually get the extra time to do a good entry like I had wanted, and since I’m working almost every day next week, I’ve got to get back on track, or I’m going to lose it! When you’re a bartender in Louisville on Derby week, you don’t have time for extra Shakespeare, I guess.

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One brief thing I noticed about Lady Macbeth. “You mar with all this starting” (V.i.45-46) struck me, particularly because once Macbeth started down this line, he’s fallen to the point that, “what’s been done cannot be undone” (V.i.69). And after Lady Macbeth’s suicide, or I’ve always assumed it was suicide, perhaps there is another dozen interpretations, Macbeth falls into despair. To Macbeth, her death is a result of the great chain of being that we are all a part of–we will all die–and it seems he doesn’t see, or chooses not to see, his role within her death.

Oo, now that we’re talking about death, a side note to point out lines that made me say aloud, “That’s so cool!” Macduff states, “Make our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death” (9-10). The reason this strikes me as being so wicked awesome, lies in the image of breath. To give another one’s breath or blood, in any ancient understanding, signifies the giving of ones life. Breath=life. But here, it is a signifier of war, death, the end of life–but the giving of ones life too.

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Which brings me to my last point. Death. In this play, those that die are innocent, some are even the descendants of generations that will never live on. What Macbeth has done results in the destruction of the generation under him. He is truly a tyrant, in that sense. But, did not Caesar do the same? He completely destroyed the Republican consciousness of the Roman people by elevating himself to the point of king. There are a few allusions to Caesar in this play, made by Macbeth mostly, and I wonder what Shakespeare is saying about these two men and their tragedy. How they affect the generations after them, what types of men are they? Caesar did not listen to the oracles–Macbeth did. Who turns out the better?

Julius Caesar–Act III

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So, given that I like rules and guidelines, isn’t Shakespeare breaking a few here? Aren’t you supposed to kill off the title character at the end of the play, when tragedy befalls them? This is what I’ve been alluding (let’s not be coy, I’ve been saying it pretty bluntly) to when I keep saying that the spirit of Caesar lives. The tragedy of the play is not Julius’ tragedy–but I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say it’s Brutus’ fall that we are being called to witness.

And what is it that stirs the people to see Caesar as a loving king and not a tyrant? His will. What Caesar wills. Hmm…what did Caesar say when Decius implored him to come to the Senate? “The cause is in my will, I will not come,/That is enough to satisfy the Senate” (II.ii.71-72). Oh, and right before he died, “Hence! Wilt thou lift up Olympus?” (III.i.74). His will (as in, last will) is for the people. In all the things he wills, in his constancy, he embodies the will of the people in one form. The exact will that the conspirators were trying to uphold. They have failed Rome in trying to save it.

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That’s it for today, kids. Until tomorrow.