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. 

Macbeth–Act IV

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So, rather than fix his problems by, oh, not killing more people, Macbeth goes to the witches for more knowledge about the future. They conjure three apparitions for him:

  1. A disembodied head with a helmet–Look out, MacDuff is going for you, bro.
  2. A child covered in blood (symbol of all the innocent people he’s killed?)–Don’t worry, no man that was born of a woman is going to hurt you. You’d think that’d be comforting.
  3. Child, not bloody, crowned–When this entire forest is raised, that’s when you’ll be defeated.

By all means, it seems like Macbeth is going to be okay, all in all. But then why is the next apparition show eight kings from Banquo’s line? Well, I know the outcome, but it hasn’t been revealed just yet.

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I realized today why Macbeth begins to come down this path–he’s following that which is unnatural. He’s led by the witches and his wife (who has a propensity for things unnatural, like wanting to be more manly and over-ruling her husband) in this entire affair–which is displacing the natural line of kings. I was saying that the witches were supernatural before, but I’m going to take it back, because they aren’t above the natural order of things, but they use the base and disgusting parts of nature to contort nature herself. They’re unnatural. There isn’t really a supernatural thing in the whole play.

Also, Macbeth, I think you made a really bad move killing Macduff’s wife and kids. All you’re going to do there is spurn a load of revenge. And let’s not forget your inability to kill Fleance, who watched his father get murdered.

Macbeth–Act I

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I’ve read Macbeth before, when I was a Junior in High School. This is what I remember:

  1. “Out, out, damn spot” and a lot of guilt.
  2. Someone was born a really crazy way, and it fulfills a prophecy.
  3. There are witches and they speak in rhyme.

Now that I’ve made one of many obligatory lists, let’s begin.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (I.i.11), is delivered right before Macbeth comments, “so foul and fair a day I have not seen”(I.iii.38). When words repeat themselves (post.script. the word “selfsame” is used a bagillion times as well), I get into my little obsessive dictionary mode. Fair: free from dishonesty-ample-promising-favorable. Foul: offensive to the senses (how shall the witches appear? thunder, lightning, rain–that which is sensible)-filthy-unfairly-vilely. That which is promising and favorable–Macbeth’s kingship–is about to be sought by vile, dishonest means. Two things strike me about Macbeth that makes this prophecy–deriving from evil sources–work upon his mind in such a way.

Numero uno: His disposition to chance and fortune. We learn a little about his character in the second scene. “For brave Macbeth (well he deserves the name),/Disdaining Fortune…”(I.ii.16-17). Perhaps it is minor, but here we see–through the account of another–that there is a characteristic in Macbeth that draws him to rise above fortune. This is contradicted (all I can see in this play are contradictions) in his own later statement, “If Chance will have me King, why,/Chance may crown me” (I.iii.144). Which is later contradicted by…

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Numero dose: Macbeth’s lovely wife.

From unnatural news derives the desire for the unnatural. Lady Macbeth, upon learning the prophecy of the old witches, desires that nature itself be overrode for the ambitious desires. I mean, her whole speech about killing a child that she’s nursing is one of the most disgustingly -foul- things I’ve read in a Shakespeare play thus far.

So, disruption of nature, prophecy, truth from evil sources, ambition…what brilliant themes we have at the outset!

Until tomorrow.

The Tempest–Act II

So, on a completely unrelated note, here’s a dipiction of Caliban:

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Here’s what I’ve been picturing in my head:

Preciousssss, nasty masters, nasty Prospero, we likes the nice masters, the nice masters that gives us wines, yes, Precious, we does.

Preciousssss, nasty masters, nasty Prospero, we likes the nice masters, the nice masters that gives us wines, yes, Precious, we does.

End of side note.

Gonzalo is being jeered at by the conspirators, Sebastian and Antonio, which obviously means we are to trust Gonzalo and take him seriously. I say “obvious” because we already know from the last act that Gonzalo was the man who helped Prospero when he was driven to this isle. Also, the conspirators are jerks. And generally, jerks don’t like good people. It’s like the unwritten rule number one of jerkdom.

So, supposing we take Gonzalo seriously, what are we to make of his comment on the effect of the salt water on everyone’s garments? He’s not making a point about fashion…oh, no, the lit major in me is beginning to rear her head…perhaps the significance of their apparel–which the “bad guys” fail to notice, because they lack any ability to see good things–is that there is a correlation of their exterior state on the island and their own interior state, putting them in a position set apart from the world they knew before.

Ugh, she’s gone now.

That said, Antonio makes a very interesting distinction about hope. Sebastian has no hope that the prince is alive, but Antonio says this is where hope lies. He’s equating hope with ambition. There is hope in ambition to usurp power, now that there is no heir to the throne of Naples.

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In the next scene, we’re on the verge of a second storm. Is Prospero behind this one too? That remains to be seen.

We’re introduced to two fools–a jester and a drunkard–and I have an affinity for Shakespearean fools. Caliban renounces Prospero for Stephano (the drunkard) on account that “the liquor is not earthly”( II.ii.124). I find this interesting, because his master is obviously a true-blue magician–Caliban knows real magic by his service to Prospero, who possesses an unearthly magic–and he’s rejecting his knowledge of other-earthly powers for the sake of a very real and earthly power–i.e. wine.

Small list of other little notes:

  1. Antonio gets pretty angry at Gonzalo’s comment that Dido is a widow. I don’t know how to look at this, someone help me out here.
  2. Trinculo makes a point that the “dead” monster that is Caliban would fit in perfectly with the “beasts” that are in England.
  3. What is the point of Ariel’s song when it makes everyone sleepy except for Antonio and Sebastian?

Measure for Measure–Act V

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So, the Duke orders everyone’s death. Ha! Death to self, everyone’s punishment is marriage!

So, today’s reflection is mostly abstract, Lit. major ramblings, because I don’t have much else to give you. But their punishment is also their reward, which sounds familiar to me. when Adam and Eve are thrown out of paradise, they are punished. Man must toil for all things to produce fruit, and woman must be subservient to man. Now, as Yeats says, “It’s certain there is no fine thing/Since Adam’s fall but needs much laboring.” Why would a man toil and why would a woman be subservient to her husband? Because they love. Their punishments purify their love, they have to really love each other, not merely lust after one another, to be willing to suffer for them.

Now, the Duke’s punishments is that all guilty are to be married to the ones they transgressed against. He is merciful. And one thing that a sinner has a hard time accepting and understanding is mercy. He craves it, but there is always the temptation of falling into despair, because it is something undeserved. Angelo, with his rooted sense of justice, has a difficult time understanding and accepting the Duke’s mercy, because he operates on a principle of “giving one his due.” And Angelo says, “I am sorry that such sorrow I procure,/And so deep sticks it in my penitent heart/That I crave death more willingly than mercy;/’Tis my deserving, and I do entreat it” (V.i.471-474). If you ever are surrounded by children long enough, you will come to understand that humanity has a natural propensity to desire justice. We choose hell, because when faced with the light of truth, knowing our transgressions against it, we desire the portion that is given to us.

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Yet, look at the mercy that is bestowed upon everyone in the illumination of truth in this play. Isabella forgives Angelo his trespasses, and kneels for his forgiveness. The Duke shows mercy, and allows all transgressors to live, while they must also forfeit themselves in love to their newly betrothed wives.

I could have more to say, but since this is already coming to you a day late, I will save it. I also need to get ready for work.

Measure for Measure–Act II

Anything I said defending Angelo in my last post, I take back right now. I am livid. I’ve never been so inflamed.

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Before I go raging about Angelo, I want to make a point about Elbow. I was reminded of Dogberry, in the way he can’t seem to understand the words that he uses, and I am beginning to see a reason for it. There are those in Shakespeare plays that are very good talkers, but that we never should trust–Richard III, Don John, Edmund, to name a few. “Beware of slick talkers,” my professor in Rome used to say. And I think this way of talking is revealing also in the third scene of this play, when Isabella begins by speaking “coldly.” I think it is her humility that keeps her from speaking properly in the beginning. I am going to try to focus on speaking more throughout the rest of my readings, regardless if I am right or wrong about this point.

One more point before my rage overtakes me. Escalus’ little rhyming couplet at the end of scene one. “Mercy is not itself, that oft looks so;/Pardon is still the nurse of second woe” (II.i.278-279). This is the beginning of a point I want to make about the differences between Isabella and Angelo, the point being that there is a distinction here between earthly understanding of mercy and a heavenly understanding of mercy. What I mean to say, is that Escalus’ statement here is an understanding of mercy that rests upon justice, while Isabella (and the Duke, when he speaks with Juliet) has an understanding of mercy that rests upon love.

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Isabella hits Antonio hard when she states,

                                               Go to your bosom,

Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know

That’s like my brother’s fault. If it confess

A natural guiltiness, such as his,

Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue

Against my brother’s life.

She’s arguing from an understanding of mercy that a Pharisee can understand (“Let he among you without sin cast the first stone” sound familiar to anyone?). She speaks in earthly terms.

Is her virtue her downfall? Angelo claims her virtue is what drags him into the sin of wanting to love her (and not a proper love by any means). He seems to take her literally–if he sins as Claudio, he will show mercy to Claudio. Arghskjdafljdjknasdkfhadsfj.

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I’m actually not going to turn this into a big rage against Angelo. Instead, I won’t allow myself to dwell on his horribleness, but on Isabella’s virtue. She illustrates by her actions a concept that tends to be the subject of religious debate–can one commit a sin in order that good may be accomplished? The answer, if we follow Isabella, is no (and, if we read our catechism, that is the correct answer). This brings me back to the difference between the heavenly and earthly understanding of justice and mercy. Angelo’s “virtues” and notions are merely earthly, and the request of Isabella’s body in exchange for the life of her brother is a fair earthly trade. Mercy based on proportional justice. No good can come from the forfeit of ones soul, it isn’t a sacrifice to damn oneself to Hell so that one may be saved. It’s an act against Faith. Oh, and Chastity.

Until tomorrow.