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.

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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.

Macbeth–Act II

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“I have done the deed” (II.ii.14). Woo, intense is the act that ends with a body count of three.

Macbeth’s monologue in the first act interests me, insofar as it deals with trusting in the sense of sight. “or art thou but/A dagger of the mid, a false creation”(II.i.38-39) and then, “Mine eyes are made the fools o’ th’ other senses,/Or else worth all the rest” I see thee still”(II.i.44-45). Which contrasts with the next scene, “Didst thou not hear the noise?”(II.ii.14). And Macbeth hears two prayers, a blessing from God on his deed and a mere, “Amen.” Amen, the word means “it is so” or it is a simple “yes.” Smells like the deed is done…

Musings on the trustworthiness of the senses. I find in tragedies, I don’t know what or who to trust. And that may be the point.

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Now, for the last scene, Rosse’s conversation with the old man–addressed as “Father,” so I am assuming he’s a priest, because I like to assume things–regarding the internal nature of man’s actions correlating with the outer nature of the heavens. I made a point of this in The Tempest, that storms in Shakespeare plays have a tendency to be symbolic of workings of the character’s soul or the state of souls in the commonweal. (I may not have actually said this, but I think I meant to if I didn’t.) If the heavens are representing an individual, who? Macbeth? Duncan? Banquo? Lady Macbeth? Or is it representing what is about to happen to the entire foundation of the Scottish Monarchy? Take your pick, send me a message.

 

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?

Julius Caesar–Act II

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I don’t know why, but when I read a stage direction of someone entering into an orchard, I get really exited. It’s the Literature major in me, I think. My brain yells, “Allusions!” Which today’s entry is mainly focused on allusions (and the allusions within the allusions. It’s like Inception for English nerds.)

Brutus opens us with a debate within himself–the question of whether or not Caesar will abuse his power and become a tyrant. In this monologue, he reveals something extremely telling about the type of man Caesar is–which Aristotle would declare makes him a good king–a man ruled by reason. “To speak truth of Caesar/I have not known when his affections swayed/More than his reason” (II.i.19-21). This is Brutus’ inner turmoil–the possibility of Caesar’s tyranny, by which his nature changes (due to power’s ability to corrupt) is a giant risk on his beloved city of Rome, but he loves Caesar. Rome and honor come first–the risk is too great.

Next–death.

To cut the head off and then hack the limbs,
Like wrath in death and envy afterwards;
For Antony is but a limb of Caesar:
Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.
We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar;
And in the spirit of men there is no blood:
O, that we then could come by Caesar’s spirit,
And not dismember Caesar! But, alas,
Caesar must bleed for it!

They wish to kill the spirit of Caesar by killing the body of Caesar. However, in the killing of Caesar’s body, don’t the conspirators actually keep the spirit of Caesar alive in Rome (and the rest of the entire Western World) for an eternity?

Which brings me to my final point. The allusions to Christ and the allusions that Caesar is not Christ. There are lines in the last scene that are almost verbatim/follow the same events of Christ’s betrayal in the garden–alluding to Caesar as Christ. But! Woven into them are direct correlations to Christ that are Caesar’s opposite, showing that Caesar’s betrayal differs IMMENSELY from Jesus of Nazareth. I’m now going to point these out, because I can’t help but read these passages in this light. Please, if you have another interpretation of them, I would be glad to hear it. Sometimes I get on this train and I don’t get off for a long while.

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Firstly, Decius’ interpretation of Calphurnia’s dream. “Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck/Reviving blood, and that great men shall press/For tinctures, stains, relics and cognizance” (II.ii.87-89). Sounds like the teaching of the Last Supper. Sounds like what happens in the Church years upon years later at the Eucharist and with relics. But there’s a big ol’ distinction here. It’s spoken by a man who is flattering him to get him out of the house. It isn’t spoken in truth or love. It’s spoken as a down right lie. I think the allusion is there, but then the allusion falls a part. It’s not the last time we are thrown an allusion to Maundy Thursday, only to realize something doesn’t quite smell right about it…

CAESAR
Bid them prepare within:
I am to blame to be thus waited for.
Now, Cinna: now, Metellus: what, Trebonius!
I have an hour’s talk in store for you;
Remember that you call on me to-day:
Be near me, that I may remember you.
TREBONIUS
Caesar, I will: 
[Aside] and so near will I be,
That your best friends shall wish I had been further.

CAESAR
Good friends, go in, and taste some wine with me;
And we, like friends, will straightway go together.
BRUTUS
[Aside] That every like is not the same, O Caesar
 (II.ii.118-128)

That last line. “That every like is not the same.” I think Shakespeare is coming a little into the audience. He’s saying, “Yes, I have made these similes and allusions…but these things are not the same thing. There is a difference. Keep that difference in mind as you listen, and as you watch these events unfold.”

That’s it for me today. I’ve practically written a thesis for today’s entry, and I’m not the least bit sorry.

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.

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.