A Selective Reading of The Tempest

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I give The Tempest 8 out of 10 magic brushstrokes. This play was shockingly readable for a Shakespearian comedy which sets out to fool the audience from the get-go. It was interesting to read AND I understood everything that was going on, so that’s 2/2 on my Shakespeare scale.

Question: who would win in a fight, Prospero and his magic cloak, Harry and his invisibility cloak, or Joseph and his amazing technicoloured dreamcoat? FIGHT OF THE CLOAKS!

A: This is a great idea for a new broadway musical.

ANYWAYS.

I read Peter Holland‘s introduction to The Tempest in my titanic edition of The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. At the time of writing the intro, Holland was the Director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, so I guess this guy has some credibility. I should have waited until after I read the text to read Holland’s piece because as it stands I did not understand much of it (as I had no context for it) and remember very little of it. Hang on, I’m going to go scan it again…*scanning*…okay, to recap his article: colonialism, nationalism, performance, ambivalence, and time scale. My recap game is strong.

I can definitely see why the initial exchange between Prospero and Caliban in Act 1, Scene 2 is pilfered by po-co scholars for material. It’s awful and perfect! Especially English language po-co scholars: “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/ Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you/ For learning me your language!” (1:2:54). Right?! Full disclosure: I am choosing to privilege the ‘po-co/slavery is bad’ reading and ignore the fact that Prospero says he only enslaved Caliban after buddy tried to rape his daughter: “I have used thee/ Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee/ In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate the honour of my child” (1:2:53). To which Caliban basically replies “But, babies!” I have to be honest, if I pay too much attention to that little detail, I start becoming WAY more sympathetic to Prospero than I want to be. Because Prospero is a selfish ass-hat and a terrible human being. It’s easier to just ignore details that don’t adhere to my overall sensibilities and preferred reading. I can do that here, because this is my blog, not an academic paper. SO THERE!

One thing I did not understand is how the play ends with Alonso, King of Naples, saying to Prospero: “I long/ to hear the story of your life, which must/ Take the ear strangely” (5:1:117). ERMMMMMM You know the story of his life. You banished him, remember? That was you and his brother, Antonio. You guys did that, together, as a team. Or do you just screw over so many people out of their dukedoms that you can’t remember this one who you put on a boat (with no sails) and set it out to sea (for him to die)? Look at buddy over here, making like this is the first time they’ve met, and Prospero is just going for it, letting it happen. I feel like there’s a murder in their future, for sure.

I digress.

Pro tip: do not watch The Little Mermaid before reading this play. If you do, you will have to constantly remind yourself that Ariel is a male nymph, not a red-headed mermaid who wants to be where the people are.

That’s all for now, I have to get back to research.

Grad research procrastination

Image Sources:
The Tempest: JY Productions, http://www.jyproductions.com/theatre-the-tempest.php
Homework vs Fly: College Xpress, http://www.collegexpress.com/articles-and-advice/grad-school/articles/life-grad-student/20-steps-graduate-researchtold-cartoons/

 

 

 

Okay, Tempest, You’re Up.

A surprising number of the texts I’ve read in my MA have made allusions and references to The Tempest. An exhausting, relentless number of them. It’s been ridiculous, folks.

Having not read The Tempest yet (despite having read METRIC TONS of Shakespeare) this was frustrating for me. Very frustrating. I get it, everyone loves The Tempest.

So now that I’m done my course reading, have some breathing room between papers, and have finished a quick fun read (Interview with the Vampire), I’m listening to the universe and am reading this freakin’ play.

Bring on the storms, boats, islands and magic, Shakespeare!

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona: A Play Delivered in Memes, GIFs, and Images

The Two Gentlemen of Verona was all about love – annoyingly so. I am not new to Shakespeare’s love stories and sonnets, so don’t start in on me about “Well duh, you were reading Shakespeare – what did you expect? People fall in love and everyone dies. That’s his shtick.” This was different. This was a love sonnet in the form of a play that would never end. And no one died, though some characters really had it coming.

Maybe I’m just used to his tragedies, where everyone does die…

Anyways.

To save you from having to read the play yourself, I’ve benevolently provided a brief recap of the play below (as best as I could gather), delivered in a string of memes, gifs and images. You’re welcome.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: A Play Delivered in Memes, GIFs and Images

First, we meet Valentine and Proteus, BFFs who love the poop out of each other.

 

Adorable, am I right?

They are separated because Valentine leaves to serve a duke, and Proteus hangs back to be with Julia, who he loves (d’awwwww). The boys are sad because this means they won’t be together anymore.

It’s okay, though. Valentine’s sadness from being separated from his one true bro is quickly forgotten as he meets Silvia and immediately falls in love with her. For reasons. Isn’t love grand?

MEANWHILE back at home, Proteus’ dad decides he’s going to send his son to meet up with Valentine. You’d think this was good news – WRONG – Proteus doesn’t want to leave because he wants to stay with Julia. They’re in love! If they’re not together, what’s the point of going on??!

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He goes anyway, because that’s what a good son does. Turns out it was all for the best, because when he meets Silvia he falls in love with her and forgets all about Julia!

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Now Valentine and Proteus love the same woman. Can their friendship survive (she said in a movie announcer voice)??

Did I mention that Silvia’s been promised to some other guy, Thurio? What is it with this woman? Honestly! It must be her milkshake. There is no other explanation.

Silvia loves Valentine and spurns all of Proteus and Thurio’s advances, making them feel sad and rejected.

You can guess where this leads, as it is well established that men have historically handled rejection very well. They accept Silvia’s decision and return to their respective lives, leaving Valentine and Silvia in peace.

Just kidding! HA! You didn’t seriously believe me, did you? Of course you didn’t. My readership is made up of wise and clever individuals who wouldn’t be taken in by such a ruse.

No. What actually happens is that the boys convince themselves that increased efforts and persistence will ultimately result in their success. Proteus especially believes this is true. Silvia loves him, she just doesn’t know it yet! “No” doesn’t mean “no” – it means “try harder”!

Throughout all of this, Valentine fails to realize that his BFF, Proteus, has fallen in love for his girl and is pulling a complete Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually on his ass.

So, not knowing any better, Valentine tells his bro about his plans to run away with Silvia. Proteus tattles him out to Silvia’s father, who in turn banishes Valentine. That’s what you get for trusting someone. Sorry ’bout your luck, bro.

Having rid himself of his biggest competition, Proteus figures the time is right to make his move. He asks his boy servant, Sebastian, to give Silvia his ring as a token of his love.

The only thing is, Sebastian is actually Julia, who has disguised herself as a boy and run away to be with Proteus, and the ring is the SAME ONE that Julia gave him so that he would remember her when they were parted, as a symbol of their love and commitment to one another. Jerk.

So now Julia has to give HER OWN RING to Silvia.

 

Thankfully, Silvia recognizes the ring as Julia’s and turns it down. She also gives Proteus shit for trying to give her another girl’s ring. Atta girl.

Fed up, Silvia decides she’s going to run away and find Valentine.

Proteus & Co. form a search party for her. They find Silvia being attacked by a band of outlaws, from whom Proteus rescues her. He then demands a reward in the form of affection from Silvia for saving her life.

Of course he does.

She refuses, so he tries to rape her.

Yup. That happened.

But then, Valentine jumps out of the bushes and stops his bro from raping his one true love. Proteus apologizes: “Sorry, bro. I didn’t know.” Valentine accepts his apology and offers him Silvia as a token of their friendship.

Yup.

Sebastian a.k.a. Julia is just as stunned as we are by all of this, and faints (she was part of the search party looking for Silvia) thus revealing her true identify.

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Proteus decides that Julia isn’t so bad after all, so he goes back to her.

Silvia’s dad gives Valentine his blessing to marry his daughter.

They all get married. The end.

Continue reading

Et tu, Brutus?

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was an amazing read. I found it engaging and I understood 99% of the things that were happening. Yes, those are the two measures I have for Shakespeare now: (1) how interesting is this? and (2) do I understand what’s going on? Julius Caesar scored big points on both scales.

First, the themes were clearly identified and reinforced throughout the play. It is obvious that Shakespeare is dealing with some interesting philosophical questions here (big shocker there, that’s so unlike him! — that’s sarcasm, in case you can’t tell). I mean, it’s not “to be or not to be” meaning of life meta crisis, but there are some poignant ideas presented here nonetheless.

For example, the relationship between folly and courage, which I briefly discussed earlier, is fascinating. Does one genuinely need to be a little bit crazy in order to be brave? I personally think that, yes, one does. In order to do something truly courageous, I think you need to be able to tell logic to STFU for a little while. Otherwise, logic will make good points and will talk you out of it.

Another element of Julius Caesar which I thoroughly enjoyed was the reoccurring juxtaposition of private vs. public selves. The separation which exists between the two, for most characters, appeared to be complete. This is not uncommon in today’s society: there’s work-me and private-me. The characters here seem to understand that there is a different between their public personas and their private selves, however that’s where their awareness seems to get blocked. They enter this mystical world where somehow their corporeal selves are imbued with superhuman strength and mythical protection. They believe that the celebrity of their public selves is ambrosia for their private selves: you can’t kill me, people like me too much! Caesar and Brutus both do this.

Lastly, the power of pathos in this play is awesome. Literally – it fills me with awe. Entire populations moved by speech! I can barely win an argument with my partner relying only on words. That’s one person. Meanwhile Brutus, Marc Antony, and Cassius can bend entire swarms of plebeians to their will. The outcome of this play, and the deaths of many characters, are determined by moving speeches and deliberate confessions.

In closing, I want to mention that Julius Caesar is a special play for me, which warranted some special attention. Making my way through this List has resulted in a lot of Shakespeare (a full quarter of my remaining reads are Shakespeare) and not all of it is good. I have to read all of it, and that means the flops too. There is some Shakespeare that is just a grind. As long as I’ve read more words I’ve made progress and that’s good enough for me!

I couldn’t do that with Julius Caesar. With this one, I promised myself to make the extra effort for a deeper reading. You see, my partner and I had our first date at a production of Julius Caesar and our first kiss along the river after that play. That particular production included roller blades, machine guns, and that we both fell asleep somewhere around Act III or IV. It was a magical night.

To honour my commitment, I am not ashamed to say I relied heavily on SparkNotes. I will not apologize for this. I am not a Shakespearean scholar, nor am I an expert in Olde English, or Roman history or mythology. In light of that, I adopted a three-step approach to Julius Caesar which I think worked really well for me:

Step 1) Read a scene, try to figure it out on my own.

Step 2) Read SparkNotes summary and analysis of the scene.

Step 3) Compare & contrast.

Doing it this was was actually a lot of fun, and a huge boost of confidence, as I saw how much I caught on my own. It also helped to correct any misunderstandings before I got too far in the play, and called my attention to things I would have otherwise missed.

Pensive Brutus in HBO’s Rome

Until next time, plebes!

Up next – Shakespeare!

Up next – Shakespeare!

In the event I find myself wanting a break from the world of Terminus, Trantor, robots and mentalics, I’ve picked my next List read as well!

Epilogue is a beautiful word

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I did it! I finally finished Henry IV Part II. It is so nice to be able to put that one to bed.

You know what that means – time to get the jar out to find out which List read is next! Once I finish the Foundation series I’ll get right back in to it, for true!

Henry IV Part 1: check!

Another one bites the dust! One more Shakespearian play crossed off The List.

I will present my thoughts for Henry IV Part 1 in the form of a pros and cons list.

Pros

  • party time. Prince Harry sounds like a lot of fun, I would like to go to his parties.

    the real Prince Harry partying with Kanye and P. Diddy

    the real Prince Harry partying with Kanye and P. Diddy

  • Shakespeare does his thing. Shakespeare’s wordplay is on point in this play
  • drama. this play features excellent trash talk in most scenes
  • short. whatever your thoughts on this play, it’s over after five short acts.

Cons

  • thou dost protest too much. there is an abundance of monologues and speeches.
  • boring. the plot is kind of dry. With a party boy prince and a battle in the final scene, you would think this was not possible. Maybe I read it wrong.

Although all of Shakespeare’s plays were intended to be seen on-stage and not read on-paper (or screens), some adapt better to the reading experience than others. Henry IV Part One strikes me as a play that would be a lot of fun on stage, but loses a lot when read.

On to the next!

Henry VI Part Two & Three

3H6TitleasI’ll be honest with you; Henry VI Part Two was a bit dry. In Part One I had the excitement Joan of Arc added to the play, and Part Three was an epic battle royale, but Part Two didn’t really have anything that gripped me. If you’re considering reading them, I might even recommend you skip Part Two entirely.

Worried you’ll miss something important? Here are the highlights:

  • Henry VI marries Margaret
  • York declares himself the rightful king
  • Henry VI flees

After Margaret and Henry are married, the play then almost immediately turns to intense bickering, plotting and manipulating – typical Shakespeare, right? Margaret spends her time trying to get Henry VI to act more like a king and less like a spineless child (reminiscent of Lady Macbeth’s “are you a man or a mouse” speech to Macbeth – except Lady M had much better results). Everyone else fights and plots to get the crown – even Gloucester’s wife gets in on the fun! Too bad Gloucester is murdered in Act III. Suffolk gets banished for that (don’t weep for him, he did it), but not before he and Margaret have a chance to declare their love for each other (awww). Then after a crazy plot twist involving pirates, Suffolk has his head chopped off. York can’t contain himself any longer and he declares himself the rightful king. Everybody fights. Henry runs away and York declares victory.

Henry VI Part Three is far more interesting. Henry VI adopts the “peace and love, man” philosophy of a 1960’s hippie and gives the inheritance of the crown to York’s son, Edward, if everyone will promise to just stop killing each other. Everyone agrees except Margaret, who instead raises an army to overturn her son’s disinheritance and starts killing people. As it turns out, Richard and Edward (York’s sons) were planning on killing Henry VI anyway, so it turned out it was a good thing that Margaret had a little Joan of Arc in her. What can I say? We French women know how to fight.

The bulk of Part Three consists of playing out epic battle scenes on stage between York and Margaret’s armies. It’s awesome. It also shows Margaret doing absolutely everything she can to keep Henry on the throne and therefore her son next in line, while Henry himself does a solid job of getting captured, rescued, and captured again. Ultimately the bad guys win – Henry, his son Edward, and Margaret are all killed, and Edward (York’s son) is the King. Shakespeare sets the stage with a little foreshadowing that Richard will attempt to take the throne for himself, and that’s the end of that.

Final Thoughts…

One thing I truly love about Shakespeare’s take on these events is the immense power and influence he gives to his female characters. At a time when women weren’t even allowed to be the actors on the stage, they were still the strongest characters represented there. This is true in many of Shakespeare’s plays, although the only other one which comes to mind at the moment is Macbeth (I’m sorry! Please don’t take away my English minor!). Of course, ‘power corrupts’ is another theme we often see represented in Shakespeare’s works. It follows then, that Shakespeare’s strongest female characters are also often the most villainous. This, in turn, is in keeping with the old school belief that women were evil temptresses sent by Satan to tempt Good Men away from the path of God. Hey, it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it!

Henry VI is not Shakespeare’s best, but the historical context surrounding the play is just fascinating. The battle between the Houses of York and Lancaster for the crown of England is one of the best real-life soap operas history has to offer. The War of the Roses reflects how quickly and thoroughly power can corrupt, and how messy hereditary lines of succession can be. Having read all the plays in Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, I’m really excited to continue on to the Henriad plays.

Henry VI Part 1 (1422 – 1444)

You should know that I have a soft-spot for history and historical fiction. It follows, then, that I should find this play immensely interesting. Reading Henry VI Part One I got to do something I love and have not done in a very, very long time; I researched the historical context of the play and the events/personages depicted within it. Please note I use the term “researched” very loosely in this context.

Henry VI is part of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses cycle which is made up of two tetralogies. Shakespeare’s first tetralogy includes Henry VI (Part One, Two and Three) and Richard III. Henry VI Part One takes us from the death of Henry V in 1422 to the Treaty of Tours in 1444. His second tetralogy, which the Internets have taught me scholars (smart people with glasses who read books; see also academs) refer to as the “Henriad,” consists of Richard II, Henry IV (Part One and Two), and Henry V.

War of the Roses Family Tree www.infographicality.com

click on the image to see the Lancaster and York family trees

To give you a little background, the War of the Roses defined by the decades-long battle between the House of Lancaster and the House of York for the throne of England. The War gets pretty convoluted, especially when you start trying to follow lineage and to keep loyalties straight. Henry VI is a Lancaster and in Act II, Scene IV you can see Shakespeare has laid the groundwork for the symbolism of the roses and laid the foundation for the House of York’s move for the throne:

PLANTAGENET.

Since you are tongue-tied and so loath to speak,
In dumb significants proclaim your thoughts:
Let him that is a true-born gentleman
And stands upon the honour of his birth,
If he suppose that I have pleaded truth,
From off this brier pluck a white rose with me.

SOMERSET.

Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer,
But dare maintain the party of the truth,
Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me.

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Choosing the Red and White Roses by Henry Payne

The Houses eventually come to arms in 1455 after Henry VI goes through a brief period of insanity and looses his grip on the throne.

All of this is part of what’s known as the Hundred Years’ War which encompasses all of the fighting (there was a lot) between France and England from 1337 to 1453.

So much awesome already, right? And I haven’t even started talking about Joan of Arc yet! I can barely handle it.

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Joan of Arc on horseback from a 1505 manuscript (image from Wikipedia)

 

On the French side of things, Shakespeare introduces us to “Pucelle” who is more commonly known as Joan of Arc. Joan’s story basically goes like this: God told Joan to go kick some English ass. Joan said okay and did exactly that, a lot, for a long time. The only problem with that was the English didn’t take too kindly to having their asses handed to them, and so they captured her, called her a witch, and burned her at the stake. No more Joan of Arc. Fun fact: Joan of Arc wasn’t sanctified until 1920 – nearly 500 years after her death.

In Henry VI Part One, we come on to the scene right after the death of Henry V, who had recently won a number of victories over France and been recognized as the legitimate ruler of France by Charles VI, who disinherited his son and recognized Henry V as the rightful heir. Our little Dauphin, Charles VII, was having none of that. With the support of the French people he claimed the French throne as his own. The events we see depicted in the play are that of Charles VII reclaiming his throne and territories with the help of Joan of Arc. That is, until the end of the play, when he does nothing to stop the English from burning Joan at the stake and he passes the throne back to Henry VI. Way to make me proud, France.

I now leave you with some of my favourite passages from Henry VI, Part One:

Act I, Scene V:

My thoughts are whirled like a potter’s wheel; I know not where I am, nor what I do;

Act III, Scene II:

But kings and mightiest potentates must die,
For that’s the end of human misery.

Act III, Scene IV:

Done like a Frenchman: turn and turn again!

Act IV, Scene I:

Good Lord, what madness rules in brainsick men

Act IV, Scene I:

Tis much when scepters are in children’s hands,
But more, when envy breeds unkind division;
There comes the ruin, there begins confusion.

Act IV, Scene V:

No more can I be sever’d from your side,

Than can yourself in twain divide:

Act IV, Scene VII:

O, were mine eye-balls into bullets turn’d,
That I in rage might shoot them at your faces!

Act V, Scene II:

Of all base passions, fear is the most accursed.

Act V, Scene III:

Wilt thou be daunted at a woman’s sight?
Aye, beauty’s princely majesty is such,
Confounds the tongue and makes the senses rough.

Act V, Scene IV:

But you, that are polluted with your lusts,
Stain’d with the guiltless blood of innocents,
Corrupt and tainted with a thousand vices,
Because you want the grace that others have,
You judge it straight a thing impossible
To compass wonders but by help of devils.

Act V, Scene IV:

May never glorious sun reflex his beams
Upon the country where you make abode:
But darkness and the gloomy shade of death
Environ you, till mischief and despair
Drive you to break your necks or hang yourselves.

Act V, Scene V:

Marriage is a matter of more worth
Than to be dealt in by attorneyship;
Not whom we will; but whom his grace affects,
Must be companion of his nuptial bed:
And therefore, lords, since he affects her most,
It most of all these reasons bindeth us,
In our opinions she should be preferr’d.
For what is wedlock forced but a hell,
An age of discord and continual strife?
Whereas the contrary bringeth bliss,
And is a pattern of celestial peace.