Sunday, September 18, 2011
Thursday, July 7, 2011
However, it goes beyond that as Tony Tanner notes: "It is all, simply and literally, too much--Titus' grief is as uncontainable as Aaron's evil. Shakespeare was always drawn to the study of what 'disdaineth bounds'--excess of all kinds". The horrific violence, the sudden changes on the part of Titus from mourning his sons to killing a son who opposed the emperor's desire to marry his sister who was already promised to another, the barbarian empress encouraging her sons to rape and murder--it becomes unreal. As does the ending--Lucius, the remaining son of Titus Andronicus becomes emperor and hopes to "govern so, to heal Rome's harms and wipe away her woe!" Yet in some way, I think he was responsible for the whole mess--it was his suggestion in the first place to sacrifice Tamora the Goth's son at his brothers' tomb in revenge for their deaths at the hands of the Goths. And this led to the escalation of Tamora's revenge against the whole family. Lucius himself was exiled in the process and used the Goths, his former enemy, to bring down the emperor, Tamora, and her African lover, Aaron. His final words do not presage an end to the extremes, merely an end to his enemies--Aaron is to be half-buried alive to starve to death and Tamora's body is to be left for the birds to consume. If this is how "civilized" Rome will continue to deal with her enemies, what will keep her from falling back into the violent extremes at the hands of another Aaron or Tamora? Unlike most Shakespearean tragedies, no lessons seem to have been learned.
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While the play had a lot to say about family and identity, it also, less obviously, added to the nature/nurture debate and, I think, comes down on the nurture side. Egeon and Emilia, husband and wife, and parents to twin boys with twin servant boys, were both shipwrecked. Fate would have it that each parent lashed themselves to a spar with one of each twin. Egeon and his set ended up in Syracuse while Emilia was separated from hers. When the play opens, the adult Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse have been searching for their counterparts and have become separated from Egeon, who arrives in Ephesus to find them. (Needless to say, all the important family members are now in Ephesus, the home of the other A & D, and the place in which Emilia has lived as an Abbess, unbeknownst to her two).
The adult Ephesian Antipholus is a womanizer who makes his wife Adriana miserable with his absences. He also seems to regularly abuse his servant Dromio, who is engaged to a large cook in the household. Syracusan Antipholus seems more amenable to a solid marriage--he speaks of his love for Luciana, Adriana's sister: "I am thee: Thee will I love and with thee lead my life". Luciana thinks he's acting true to character, however, because she mistakes him for his brother. Also, this A. allows Dromio to tease him and treats him more like a friend, at least until the craziness of their situation intensifies. Also, this Dromio finds his brother's fiance grotesque and over-powering. The main difference between both sets of twins is that one set had a father and the other set was "orphaned" with their mother missing. That and the Syracusans knew they had missing twin brothers.
This is definitely a play I'd enjoy seeing staged, though again, I would be curious about how believable it would seem.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Hope all of you who signed up are still plugging along with your plays and hope to see some more reviews soon! Also please feel free to link to any interesting performances coming up over the summer.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Added 4/4: My Review for 3 Henry VI
While part of me is saying, "phew, finally done with Henry", most of me really enjoyed the journey. Overall, the three plays are a great prologue to Richard III. I look forward to rereading that one this month with a much more thorough background knowledge of the characters, especially the title one who appeared very vicious already in 3 Henry. For example, he says in a soliloquy in Act III: "Would he [his brother, King Edward] were wasted, marrow, bones, and all, That from his loins no hopeful branch may spring, To cross me from the golden time I look for!" Edward has only recently become king, ousting Henry and yet already Richard is hoping to be rid of him and his brother George of Clarence as well. By the end, after murdering Henry in the Tower, he kisses his young nephew Edward, naming himself as Judas in an aside, perhaps foreshadowing Edward's death in the Tower yet to come.
Throughout the play, Henry becomes more priest and prophet than king. He is told not to join the various battles because his wife, young son, and knights fight better without him. Also, in Act IV his nobles say farewell, kissing his hand, and he blesses each one more like a maiden than a king: "my Hector, and my Troy's true hope. . .Sweet Oxford, and my loving Montague." However, he does bless Henry, Earl of Richmond aka Tudor, and predicts that he is England's hope. And when Richard comes to kill him, he recounts all the evil signs that came at his birth as well as the orphans, widows, and old men who will mourn because of him. I felt sorry for him, yet it was clear that Shakespeare held him and his haughty queen responsible for the civil war. Various characters hinted that if he were more like his father (Henry V) this wouldn't have happened. The Yorkists even say through (King) Edward that they would not have pursued the throne so strongly if Margaret hadn't been his wife because she cost England treasure and land in France, leading to dishonor.
It's almost unnecessary to state that this is a very violent play. From Clifford exacting revenge on Richard Plantagenet for his father's death to various sons killing their fathers and fathers killing sons to the York brothers stabbing Prince Edward (Lancaster) before his mother Margaret to Richard killing Henry VI in the Tower; I would be interested to see how all of this appeared on stage.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
As Tanner writes, "In the first part of the trilogy, England lost its old heroes. In this second part, it loses (in the symbolic form of one man) its law-givers." The new queen, Margaret of Anjou, Suffolk, and Cardinal Winchester plot against Gloucester, the Lord Protector. His wife is accused of witchcraft and imprisoned and he is eventually murdered, though historians doubt the latter. All these complicated plans backfire, however, and leave the kingdom open for Richard, Duke of York (father of Edward IV and Richard III) to claim the crown and begin the War of the Roses. The play depicts the fall of a leader and the descent of the nation into mayhem with riots, pirate attacks, and battle.
Interestingly, one of my historical sources pointed out that the War of the Roses would not have been severely felt by most of the common people. There were only two major battles and the skirmishes may have had negative affects on the towns and fields nearby but the whole nation was not embroiled by the conflict and most of the deaths were of the nobility. Now what that meant for the government at large is a different matter, perhaps why Shakespeare is so interested in displaying the dangers of civil war.
I will be interested to see how the Yorkists become "evil" as the play progresses. Richard, Duke of York didn't seem especially villainous--I was cheering for him to re-attain his family's title in part I. Also, young Richard III appears, already with hints of malice, though in most scenes he either would have been elsewhere, imprisoned with his mother, or would have been too young to be present.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
That have consented unto Henry's death!
At the same time, the battle scenes were confusing, especially the siege of Orleans. I had to keep checking to see which side was supposed to be inside the town because sometimes it seemed like they switched places. Also, I was unsure as to why France settled with the English that Charles would merely be a viceroy when it seemed like they had been winning. Was Joan of Arc's capture really that crushing of a blow? I seem to remember that in "real" history they handed her over to the English.
I think the play would have been much tighter had Shakespeare written it later. There were several layers of plot and at least three sets of characters that were vying against each other throughout besides the French and English forces as represented by Talbot and Joan of Arc. This is not unusual for Shakespeare but it seemed like too many loose ends in this case and no central story. The jockeying between the Lord Protector and Cardinal Winchester for control over the young king was one interesting strand, as was the conflict between Somerset (red rose) and York (white rose). Both were resolved quite inefficiently by their sovereign demanding them to shake hands and make peace in his name. And the final twist of Suffolk arranging the marriage of Henry with Margaret of Anjou seemed to come out of left field--who was this random earl? I suppose that's why there are two more plays to come. Overall, I'm glad I read it and look forward to seeing how Shakespeare deals with all the confusion in the next play.
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Monday, January 10, 2011
1 Henry VI begins Shakespeare’s first historical tetralogy, if you leave out Henry VIII and King John. Though chronologically out of order, he wrote the Henry VI plays and Richard III before Richard II, the Henry IV plays, and Henry V. I’ve never read these early works, probably because they are not highly regarded and for many years were disputed in terms of authorship by some. It seems quirky, if nothing else, that Shakespeare devoted three plays to the story of such an ineffectual, possibly mad king as Henry VI. Nevertheless, as Hershel Baker wrote in the Riverside intro, “if the Henry VI plays had served no other purpose, it would have been enough that they supplied him [Shakespeare] an apprenticeship and prepared him for that great event [writing Richard III].”
All three plays deal with England’s gradual loss of French territory, increased factions among nobles, and eventual civil war due to internal strife. This first part focuses on the loss of France--if one can call a compression of thirty years into five acts focusing--and encompasses Henry V’s funeral, Joan of Arc’s triumph and death, hints at the beginning of the War of the Roses, and ends with the betrothal of Margaret of Anjou to the king. The plays may be viewed as a justification for the Tudor rule after Richard III but also more broadly as Shakespeare’s attempt to dramatize the causes and patterns of a medieval past for the audience of the Elizabethan present. (See Tony Tanner’s Prefaces to Shakespeare for more if you’re interested--it’s great!)
I’m curious to see if the play will seem “less Shakespearean” since it was his earliest. I’d also be interested to find out whether there are any recent performances that have been recorded of it. I noticed in passing somewhere that the three plays have been combined and abridged in various performances but I’m not sure if 1 Henry VI has been performed on its own very often.
Brief challenge housekeeping notes: Please feel free to post comments or links to anything you all are posting about your reading here. I will create a January review page once I finish my own reading but if I’m too slow for you, please feel free to post your review links here as well. Also, if you’ve joined recently and your blog requires an invitation to view it, please invite me! And, welcome everyone--I’m so excited that so many of you joined me!