Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday April 29 2013

And so it has arrived, the last Monday report for this spring.  I’ll be working full time in May but that will go fast and I’ll be back on May 27th when my vacation starts. It’s been a bit of a frantic shuffle to get the text for Measure for Measure ready to post but I made it. Though I won’t be on this blog, I’ll do the movie blog on weekends. There are several more Hamlets in the wings. See you there (on the movie blog, not in the wings)!

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • The Bermudas were in the news towards the end of Shakespeare’s career because of several much reported shipwrecks there and it seems reasonable to believe that Shakespeare used this in The Tempest, though the play itself doesn’t actually take place there.
  • John Blunt is not exactly one of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters.  He doesn’t even have a speaking part but simply appears on stage in Henry IV Part Two in order to escort another character off stage.  He’s included here because he’s one of the few characters Hal and I have actually seen on stage, H4:2 being the only Shakespeare play we’ve ever seen in England and one of the few we’ve seen in English. Can’t say I remember old Blunt though…

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity the neurotic protagonist Rob is for the nth time moaning about ended relationships, for which one solution is: “you can take the Romeo route” which he doesn’t seem to think is a good idea.
  • In the novel Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, the brother Ben is in prison for the murders of his family, but he’s turning his life around by getting an education, even reading Shakespeare.  Hmmm.  Well, there are a lot of family murderers in Shakespeare so this isn’t any creepier I guess.
  • There was a small notice in Dagens Nyheter which makes some kind of incomprehensible comparison between Tobias Billström, the conservative Minister of Migration and Asylum Policy, and The Tempest.
  • In case you’ve forgotten that Inspector Morse’s first name was Endeavor, British television has given the whole series about the young Morse the title Endeavor and in the episode we watched yesterday evening the murderer had written the words “an bancio ancora”, on the door to the boxcar where his first victim was left. The young opera-loving Endeavor informs us that these are the last words in Verdi’s opera Othello.
  • There was a glowing review in Dagens Nyheter this morning of Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear performed by the Malmö Opera.  It’s called “bold” and “risky” and “ecstatically received.”

Further this week:
  • Finished: text on Measure for Measure.
  • Finished reading: Thomas Goltz’ Assassinating Shakespeare Confessions of a Bard in a Bush.
  • Listened to: Blogging Shakespeare’s web debate on April 26 about the authorship of Shakespeare (the two Stratfordians’ arguments can be heard on but the debate itself I can’t find.)  Nothing revolutionary, but it was interesting to hear the reasonable arguments of the two Stratfordians, Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, countering the non-arguments of the single debater (sorry, I missed her name) trying to convince us there is no evidence to show that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.  I felt rather sorry for her; it was quite brave of her to take part, but clearly very frustrating for her, and she certainly didn’t convince me.

Posted this week:
  • Text on Measure for Measure, “The Duke, the Professional Virgin and the Dastardly Deputy”.
  • This Monday report
  • Reviews on Ruby Jand’s Movie Blog of more Hamlet related movies and now the Hamlet movies themselves

The Duke, the Professional Virgin and the Dastardly Duke

The Duke, the Professional Virgin and the Dastardly Deputy

Measure for Measure

                      The first time Hal and I read Measure for Measure aloud, we said, “Huh?”  But that was when we were just getting into Shakespeare so we figured we just didn’t get it. The second time, on our first read-all-the-plays-in-chronological-order sessions, we said, “Huh?” Now we’ve read it in our second read-all-the-plays sessions and this time we said, “Huh?”
                      This is just a really hard play to understand.  Not the story. That’s easy like all of Shakespeare’s stories. The Duke temporarily hands over the power to rigid but virtuous Angelo and pretends to leave town but comes back disguised as a friar to connive and manipulate everybody.  Angelo immediately uses his power to enforce a long-ignored law against pre-marital sex and condemns poor amorous Claudio to death for impregnating his bride-to-be Juliet.  Claudio’s sister is in the process of becoming a nun.  She asks Angelo to spare Claudio’s life. Angelo says he will if she’ll have sex with him. She says, “Oh horrors. Never.” The Duke arranges things to make Angelo think he is having sex with Isabella but he’s really having sex with his long-rejected fiancée Mariana.  Things sort of turn out in the end. Claudio doesn’t get executed anyway.
                      The problem is, why are they all so neurotic and perverted and disgusting?  Well, not all of them. Some of the characters are puzzled and troubled by the events but the main three – the Duke, Isabella and Angelo –are horrible and I just can’t figure them out.
                      Seeking enlightenment I took several books from our Shakespeare shelves and because I had found Wilson Knight’s chapters on Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida interesting, I started with him.
                      I was skeptical from the start because of his title: “Measure for Measure and the Gospels” but I read it. Not surprisingly he compares the whole play to the measure for measure story in the biblical Book of Matthew and concludes that the whole play is a warm, deeply ethical play.
                      The Duke, according to Knight, stands “for a psychologically sound and enlightened ethic.”  He is “the prophet of an enlightened ethic.  He controls the action from start to finish…he is lit at moments with divine suggestion comparable with his almost divine power…and wisdom” (page 80).  Knight cannot praise the Duke highly enough. He tells us, “The Duke’s sense of human responsibility is delightful throughout: he is a kindly father, and all the rest of us are his children” (page 86).  That’s meant as a compliment. I think. Knight says of the Duke’s monologue to poor about-to-be-executed Claudio about life being lousy so it’s better to die, “The thought is profound” (page 92). Well, it is, but I think he means that it’s a good profound thought.  Knight concludes that the Duke had been right from the beginning to be lenient, and that the marriage between the Duke and Isabella will be “the marriage of understanding with purity; of tolerance with moral fervor” (page 107).
                      He’s got to be kidding.
                      Isabella then. She stands for “sainted purity” (page 80). I think he means this as a compliment too. He emphasizes her plea to Angelo for mercy but he also realizes that her “saintliness” is “self-centered” and her “sanctity” is “ice-cold” (page 102).  She “lacks human feeling” (page 103) and her fall, Knight thinks, is deeper than Angelo’s because “she sees her own soul and sees it as something small, frightened, despicable, too frail to dream of such a sacrifice…she, like the rest, has to find a new wisdom” (page 104). When Mariana pleads in the last act for Angelo’s life because she loves him anyway (which Knight doesn’t seem to find unreasonable), Isabella “suddenly shows a softening, a sweet humanity.” Angelo’s passion has “thaw[ed] her ice-cold pride” (page 104). The Dukes sees that she has learned her lesson and “she bows to a love greater than her own saintliness” (page 105). So she (supposes Knight) marries the Duke and “will learn from him wisdom, human tenderness, and love…” (page 107).
                      He’s kidding, right?
                      Yucky Angelo then, what’s Knight’s take on him?  He sees Angelo not as “a conscious hypocrite: rather as a man whose chief faults are self-deception and his own righteousness” (page 94) but realizes that “he swiftly becomes an utter scoundrel” (page 97). Then Knight comes to the odd conclusion that “Angelo is the symbol of a false intellectualized ethic divorced from the deeper springs of human instinct” (page 98). What?! When he is exposed in Act V Angelo realizes he had “aimed too high when he cast his eyes on the sainted Isabel; now, knowing himself, he will find his true level in the love of Mariana…his acceptance of Mariana symbolizes his new self-knowledge” (pages 105-106).  What acceptance? Yes, Mariana inexplicably loves him still even though he has been “a little bad” (Act 5.1) but he gives no sign in the play that he accepts this love.  He marries her because the Duke tells him too.
                      Hm. So much for Knight. My reaction is still, “Huh?”
                      The introductions in the plays in the Norton edition have been consistently helpful in understanding the plays so next we read this one by Katherine Eisaman Maus. It does indeed clarify some things. She puts the Duke’s, Isabella’s and Angelo’s views on sex as evil and dangerous to society in the historical context of Plato and later the Christian church’s equation of sex with sin.  However it would be completely wrong to say that everybody in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance actually thought this way and KEM asks the question, “What makes sexuality so troublesome in this play?”  In Measure for Measure Shakespeare’s linking in the earlier comedies “between heterosexual desire and marriage seems to have snapped” (page 2040). In this play the more reasonable characters – Lucio, Pompey, Escalus – regard chastity as a good enough thing but not for them.  But the Duke’s system of oppressive laws against sex “would not have been unfamiliar to Shakespeare’s original audience” (page 2041).   Moreover the Puritans were on the rise and KEM wonders if Shakespeare was asking in this play “what would happen if, as some argued, sexual misconduct could be punished with death?” (page 2041). By setting the play in Catholic Vienna, Shakespeare protects himself from offending the contemporary English Puritans but the parallels are surely there.
                      About the three characters we are looking at in this study KEM offer this:
                      The Duke like the others sees sex as “sordid…a sign of degradation rather than a means of creativity or love,” (page 2040) and he is in charge of a system that also makes it illegal.  She points out that his character is controversial amongst critics and viewers. Some see him as nearly divine (she means Knight, perhaps?). Others see a parallel to King James I who had recently succeeded Elizabeth I, while still others see him “as a schemer who foists his dirty work onto political subordinates and meddles impudently, even sacrilegiously, with the lives of his subjects” (page 2045).
                      Isabella, too, is interpreted in different ways and probably elicited the same mixed reactions in Shakespeare’s time as in ours, according to KEM.  Is she defiantly heroic for defying Angelo or chillingly selfish to let Claudio die? Chastity was a serious business back then, and as KEM points out “her obstinacy seems justified after the fact, when Angelo has Claudio executed anyway” (page 2043). But KEM goes on to point out that Isabella isn’t as pure as she seems.  “She not only shares Angelo’s assumption that the sexual act is a defilement but like him she finds the discipline exciting” (page 2044).  Well, that’s interesting.
                      So, on to Angelo.  KEM deals with him brusquely. He is “rigid and self-righteous…[he] imagines himself as tainted meat rotting all the faster under the very sun that gives life to innocent, lovely things…[he] is sexually aroused by prohibition…If he rationalized his behavior on Isabella, he would lose the nearly sensual luxury of self-hatred” (pages 2042-2043).  In the end, as KEM points out, he shows no gratitude for having been spared and given Mariana as his wife (page 2045).
                      So I’m not the only one who thinks these three are awful. KEM helps me put them into a believable framework.
                      Now Professor Harold Bloom, author of Shakespeare – the Invention of the Human. I always wonder what he’s going to come up with since he’s so often a mish-mash of nonsense and brilliance. And what’s this? He starts out by stating that Measure for Measure and Macbeth are his favorite plays. Another “huh?” Macbeth sure, but M for M?  Now I’m curious.
                      The Duke, then, what does Bloom have to say about the Duke?  Words like “dubious”, “peculiar”, “sanctimonious” appear early in the essay.  Bloom compares the Duke to Iago but says there “is no Othello for the Duke to bring down, but he seems to plot, quite impartially, against all his subjects, for ends in no way political or moral” (page 361).  About Duke Vincentio’s way of running things Bloom says, “The idea of order in Vincentio’s Vienna ultimately is an idea of death” (page 375). The Duke’s treatment of poor Claudio in his life-is-lousy speech, more properly known as the “Be absolute for death” oration, “is blasphemously anything but Christian comfort”.  It sounds impressive…but the emptiness at our core that harried Hamlet appears to be a rather good thing to the Duke-friar. If he is serious, then he is half-crazed, which very well may be the case” (page 369).  Bloom sees the Duke’s relationship with Isabella as more or less the same as Angelo’s: “Angelo’s sadomasochistic desire for the novice nun is more palpable than the Duke’s lust, but the difference between them is in degree, not in kind” (page 365).  He manipulates the terrified Claudio as part of his seduction of Isabella and stoops to “the sadistic degradation of lying to Isabella that her brother has been executed” (page 379).  And then he publicly proposes marriage to her. Why? Because he “has emptied life of all value…he wants [Isabella because] he is so vast a sensible emptiness that her zealous chastity at least might spur him on to some zest of his own” (page 372).
                      Bloom also notes that “Vincentio invariably speaks nonsense” (page 376).“Vincentio makes no sense whether as Duke or as friar” (page 378).The Duke’s “flight from the city’s stew of sexual corruption is manifestly a flight from himself” (page 370) and “Vincentio is his own Vienna, he is the disease he purports to cure” (page 371).
                      Yes! Thank you, Bloom! You saw through the Duke! I’m not the only one who really thinks the Duke is a creep!
                      On Isabella, Bloom has less to say but what he says is pithy.  He points out that she “is nothing but the voice of the dead father, feeding upon life” (page 372).  This in her regard to her happiness when Claudio says he is ready to die: “There spake my brother: there my father’s grave/ Did utter forth a voice.  Yes, thou must die” (Act 3.1).  When she then turns on him viciously because he pleads with her to help him live and calls him “O, you beast!/ O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch!” (Act 3.1), Bloom rightly calls this “plain nastiness” (page 374).  He shows her to be “sublimely neurotic” and “unable to distinguish any fornication whatsoever from incest” (page 360).  She is simply “maddest of Vienna’s mad” (page 372) and her “peculiar” defense of Angelo in the last act (and her last lines in the play) are described thus: “Isabella, being crazed, must be serious” (page 379).  Isabella as crazy – that works for me.
                      Finally Angelo. None of us like him.  Why should we? Bloom says it “is difficult to decide who is more antipathetic, Angelo or Duke Vincentio” (page 365) but at least Angelo is blatant about his lust for the forbidden. “One feels,” observes Bloom, “that Angelo’s heaven would be a nunnery” (page 366) and sums him up thus:  “This splendid Return of the Repressed makes for wonderful melodrama, particularly when its theatrical context is comic, however rancidly so.   Angelo is bad news and Shakespeare happily sees to it that the news gets no better, right down to the end of the play” (page 367).
                      And that brings us back to Shakespeare. What does he mean?  What is Measure for Measure about?  What’s the bigger picture?
                      Wilson Knight sees in it a play about “Christian redemption” (page 81), the Duke’s “gospel ethic” (page 80), “Christian ethic” (page 80), a satire “directed primarily against self-conscious self-righteousness” (page 83), “the moral nature of man in relation to the crudity of man’s justice” (page 79). Knight sees the Duke to be “like Jesus…the prophet of a new order of ethics” (page 88).  To Knight the play is a “masterpiece of ethical drama” and “must be read, not as a picture of normal human affairs, but as a parable, like the parables of Jesus…it will be found to reflect the sublime strangeness and unreason of Jesus’ teaching” (page 107-108).
                      No. Sorry. That just isn’t it.  If you want this play to reflect Jesus then Jesus isn’t the good guy a lot of people want him to be.
                      Katherine  Eiseman Maus, in the spirit of the New Historicist interpretation in the Norton edition, writes as mentioned earlier that this play must be seen/read within the framework of the Christian church’s fear and loathing of sex.  While Shakespeare is not recommending anything, KEM points out that he is “deeply attentive to general issues about the often-vexed relationship between civic life and human passion, and between religious commitment and the conduct of secular affairs. What happens to individuals and a community when sexuality…becomes the subject of public discipline” (pages 2041-2)? This question, KEM adds, is highly relevant in our day too.  The question of chastity in Shakespeare’s play must also be seen against the backdrop of both the Catholic and the Protestant paradoxical views on sex.  Neither church could (can) make up its mind on what to do about sex.  This, if I have read KEM right, is one of the things Shakespeare was trying to point out.
                      I certainly have no argument with that.
                      Bloom is definitely not a New Historicist. In fact he rails quite wildly at times against them (us).  But here there is no conflict. On Measure for Measure he minces no words on the question of Christianity. The fact that the title is taken from the Sermon on the Mount “has suggested an interpretation as crazy as the play but much less interesting: certain Christianizing scholars ask us to believe that Measure for Measure is an august allegory of the Divine Atonement” (pages 359-360). Shakespeare, Bloom says, “involves his audience…in the…simultaneous invocation and evasion of Christian belief and Christian morals. The evasion decidedly is more to the point than the invocation, and I scarcely see how the play, in regard to its Christian allusiveness, can be regarded as anything but blasphemous” (page 359).
                      Wow. Dear old Bloom. We’ve had our differences. You’ve called me names (or at least people who think like me) and I’ve called you names. We will undoubtedly do so again but here?  Hats off to you! You have made this play work for me. “Nihilistic”. “Outrageous”. “Blasphemous”. The Duke, Isabella, Angelo, and all the rest fall into place (their historical place, I might add!). They are neurotic and perverted and disgusting. I was right all along.
                      Knight’s Christian view? The Bible has many words of wisdom but this play is not a representation of them. So no thanks.  KEM’s New Historicism? Absolutely. That’s always right. But Bloom’s blasphemy? Oh yes. I like that.
                      I like that very much. Now Measure for Measure makes a kind of crazy sense.  I think that’s what Shakespeare was aiming for.

Works cited:
  • The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition. 2008.
  • Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare - the Invention of the Human. 1998.
  • Eisaman Maus, Katherine. Introduction, Norton edition.
  • Knight, Wilson. The Wheel of Fire. 1930 and 1989.

Film seen:
  • BBC, 1979. Directed by Desmond Davis. Cast: Isabella – Kate Nelligan; Angelo – Tim Pigott-Smith; the Duke – Kenneth Colley; Claudio – Christopher Strauli; Lucio – John McEnery; Escalus – Kevin Stoney; Pompey – Frank Middlemass; Mariana – Jacqueline Pearce.  A straightforward interpretation that seems to miss the essence of the play.  The cast is for the most part earnest, except for Lucio who is silly when he should be sardonic and cool.  The disgusting absurdity Shakespeare is trying to show us is not presented as an outrageous comedy, but as a … I’m not sure what.  Still I enjoyed it quite a lot until the final scene when Isabella smiled and took the Duke’s hand.  That kind of ruined everything.

Seen on stage: no.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday April 22 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013
It’s been a Measure for Measure week. We finished reading it, we watched the BBC version, I wrote a rough draft of a text and by next week it’ll all be wound up for the spring session of the blog with it.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Bedlam had become a treatment center for the mentally ill by the 15th century and was a symbol of madness by Shakespeare’s day.
  • Belgia - Several contemporaries of Shakespeare, for example Ben Jonson and Sir Philip Sydney, had served in the war in the Low Countries, of which Belgia, or Belgium, is one.  It has been said, though with no evidence, that Shakespeare fought there too.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • I played Peggy Lee’s classic “Fever” in class for my English students the other day and after a few seconds I remembered, “Oh, yeah, Romeo and Juliet are mentioned here, aren’t they?” And sure enough: “Romeo loved Juliet, Juliet, she felt the same. When he put his arms around her, he said, Julie baby you’re my flame. Thou givest fever. When we kisseth, fever with thy flaming youth. Fever, I’m on fire. Fever, yea I burn forsooth.” It’s a good song. Listen!
  • In the novel Alys, Always by Harriet Lane the young theater student Polly wants to join a group of actors doing Shakespeare. It doesn’t work out.

Further this week:
  • Finish reading aloud with Hal: Measure for Measure
  • Watched BBC’s version of same.
  • Read several analyses of same.
  • Started writing text on same, and finished the rough draft this morning.
  • Started reading Thomas Goltz’ Assassinating Shakespeare Confessions of a Bard in a Bush
  • Finished reading Jasper Fforde’s fourth Thursday Next novel Something Rotten.  An absolute must read for anyone with the remotest interest in Shakespeare.  As usual with Thursday Next, the plot is a tad unbelievable and not terribly important (war against Denmark etc). The Hamlet angle is of course completely believable and goes like this:  Hamlet is staying with Thursday’s mother, as is Thursday, while he deals with his problem with indecisiveness.  He goes to places in Swindon with her.  He is charmed by hearing his To Be or Not to Be monologue on the Will Speak machine and is delighted (though sometimes critical) to see his play and movies.  He likes the Mel Gibson version but is very curious to see himself played by the up and coming Branagh. He is having an affair with Horatio Nelson’s not quite wife Lady Emma Hamilton (also a refugee in Mrs. Next’s home). He is very upset to hear that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have their own play now and that Ophelia has tried to stage a coup d’etat in his absence.  The real problem is that a dastardly character is in the process of rewriting Hamlet out of all recognition and Hamlet is in danger of disappearing completely.  Thursday must rescue him! So she and her friends sneak into the Social Republic of Wales where the surviving Shakespeare clone is hiding to get him to write the play again and…well, it all works out and all’s well that ends well.  See, that was totally believable, right?  In short, it’s the best Thursday Next so far and I laughed out loud all the way through it.
  • Reminder about Blogging Shakespeare: information about an exciting web debate on April 26 – Friday - about the authorship of Shakespeare

 Posted this week:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday April 15 2013

Back to a more frugal Shakespeare Calling week.  It seems a shame since I only have two more Mondays before I have to start working full time again for awhile but that’s life.  My plan is to get a text on Measure for Measure up on the blog before then. I’m also busy getting texts on the Hamlet spin offs on the movie blog. Not to mention Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next. So Shakespeare is happening, after all.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Barbary is the northern coast of Africa. In Shakespeare’s time the Barbary States were part of the Ottoman Empire. Much of the sugar at the time was produced there. Shakespeare mentions it often in his plays.
  • Barnardine is the murderer in Measure for Measure who refuses to be hanged when scheduled because he has a hangover.  Hal and I read that scene yesterday.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • A notice in Dagens Nyheter a day or so after the death of Margaret Thatcher mentioned that Shakespeare in Love was one of the many good films produced in England after Thatcher had lost power. This in connection with an article about how Thatcherism had put a serious damper on cultural production.
  • In Lasse Berg’s book Gryning over Kalahari (Dawn over Kalahari) about the origins of humanity in Africa, he writes about David Lewis-Williams, professor in cognitive archeology, who has made comparisons between Shakespeare’s metaphors and the metaphors of the cave paintings from thousands of years ago found in many place around the world.

Further this week:
  • Continued reading aloud with Hal: Measure for Measure
  • Started reading Jasper Fforde’s fourth Thursday Next novel Something Rotten.  This event has been promoted from Shakespeare Sightings to a full Shakespeare reading since there is simply so much Shakespeare in these novels. And sure enough, not only is the very title of the book from Shakespeare, but Hamlet himself has moved in with Thursday to try to deal with the shame of having once again lost the Book World’s  “Most Troubled Romantic Lead” award to Heathcliff .  To avoid detection in the non-fiction world of Swindon he goes under the alias “Cousin Eddie” but so far Thursday has introduced him to her family under his own name.
  • Reminder about Blogging Shakespeare: information about an exciting web debate on April 26 about the authorship of Shakespeare

 Posted this week:

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday April 8 2013

After two weeks of drought the number of Shakespeare sightings increased dramatically this week. We have also finished the A’s in the Dictionary. So with no further ado…

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Asia was mentioned in many of the plays and was seen in Shakespeare’s time and plac as “as an exotic place rich in gold, jewels and wonder.”
  • Athens, in Shakespeare’s time, was under Turkish rule, the Parthenon had been turned into a mosque and it “was just another town under Ottoman rule.” However during the Renaissance the very name evoked images of the glorious Athens of the Antiquity.
  • Athol is a Scottish earldom mentioned in Henry IV, Part Two and on a personal note, the name of a bottle of whiskey bought in a small shop and brewed in a local brewery in Pitlochry on our visit to Scotland last summer.
  • Ave Marie is the last entry in the A’s and it was used in the Henry VI plays.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • Joyce Carol Oates, in her novel Black Girl White Girl mentions Shakespeare as one of the “drearily matched leather bound books” in one of the cottages on the liberal college campus  the two title characters attend.
  • In Louisa Young’s powerful novel about World War I, one of the main characters Riley remembers that his working class father had seen Sir Henry Irving (a well known Victorian actor) as Shylock at the Lyceum.  Riley tries to get through the horrors of the trenches by thinking of writers. Later in the novel another character Rose thinks of Hamlet’s line, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” And at the end a third character Nadine thinks about “the naked Ophelia” as she steps into a bath after returning from her work as a nurse at the front: “this is perfect.” She seems to have forgotten what poor Ophelia was doing in the water.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers, in her novel Five Red Herrings mentions Shakespeare twice in the first sixteen pages. Wimsey says, “A plague on both your houses” to a couple of brawling pub patrons and then he says about the murdered man, “Nothing in life became him like the leaving it, eh, what?” Guesses on which play?  No more sighting from this novel, though, I gave up on it, rediscovering that I don’t like Sayers’ books.
  • Dagens Nyheter
    • had a notice about how Shakespeare hoarded grain during a famine, calling him “a ruthless businessman.”
    • In the Saturday crossword had the clue “Shakespeare king”.  A regular, but it’s been awhile.
    • In an article about books about family’s King Lear was described: “Poor Lear!  He’s such a hopeless blockhead (fåntratt, for you Swedish speakers).
  • The Roswell saga continues (do any of you remember the series? Have you even heard of it?)
    • The “other” Isabel, one of the punk quartet, tells the real Isabel’s father that she’s dressed up like a punk because playing Juliet in a punk production of R&J. Later this other Isabel asks the real Max and Tess if they’ve made the beast with two backs yet.  I kind of like this evil punk Isabel.
    • Isabel again, the real one this time (the others were defeated and are who knows where) is dream surfing and enters Kyle’s dream in which Buddha is sharing pearls of wisdom, one of which is “To thine own self be true” to which Isobel says arrogantly, “That’s Shakespeare!”
  • In The Big Bang Theory Sheldon’s “World of Warcraft” account has been hacked and stolen and he cries, “It’s time to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!” Any guesses on the play?

Further this week:
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: Measure for Measure
  • Learned from friend LR that Joey Tempest of the 80’s hot Swedish hard rock group Europe took his name from (in Joey's words) some “poetry by Shakespeare”.
  • Of interest from the latest issue of “Shakespeare”, the magazine of the Swedish Shakespeare Society:
    • The first translation of Shakespeare into Swedish was in 1813 by the Swedish poet Erik Gustaf Geijer. It was Macbeth. English was not understood by most Swedes at the time,
    • Shakespeare was first performed in Sweden in 1776.  Eight performances are known of in Sweden between 1776-99. In the second half of the 20th century about six performances a year are noted. Now we’re up to about 10.  This does not count smaller amateur productions.
  • Reminder about Blogging Shakespeare: information about an exciting web debate on April 26 about the authorship of Shakespeare 

 Posted this week:

Shakespeare, Feminism and Gender

Shakespeare, Feminism and Gender, in the series New Casebooks, edited by Kate Chedgzoy 2001.  Read in November 2010.

                      The title of this book was tantalizing and I looked forward to being enlightened on many subjects that interest me generally and connected to Shakespeare. The following quote from the intro sounded promising: (a teacher turned down tickets to a production of Romeo and Juliet because of the cost but in the papers this was reported as a protest against play’s content); this affair…”and Baz Luhrman’s film both…vividly [demonstrate] how anxieties about gender, sexuality, race, class and cultural hierarchy intersect on Shakespearean terrain, and thereby [underline] why Shakespeare’s plays and his continuing iconic status remain a matter of concern for the politically motivated critics whose work is included in this volume” (p. 4).
                      And there are many interesting essays in the book.  The first one for example by Kathleen McLuskie shows how feminist critics who consider Shakespeare’s plays to be misogynist are wrong. She explains: “In tragedy his women are strong because they are coherent…and the attacks which are made on them are the product of male resentment at this strength….the comic heroines…laugh to see themselves absorbed into the ordinary human comedy; the heroes rage and weep at the difficulty of actually being as extraordinary as they feel themselves to be” (pp. 25-26). She then goes on to analyze King Lear and Measure for Measure.
                      Another essay looks at how The Taming of the Shrew has been seen throughout the ages; several look at the question of homoeroticism in the plays; Hamlet, Macbeth and other plays are examined.  Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin take an interesting look at Henry V’s wooing of Katherine (shown in Olivier’s film as romantic and cute, in Branagh’s version as much more tragic and problematic) and how it, “as a kind of rape” in the history plays “illuminates the dark underside of the emergent conception of marriage as the proof of manhood and the necessary basis for patriarchal authority” (p.93).
                      Essays on Shakespeare and the questions of state politics and ethnic politics are also included in this book.
                      The anticipation of “Oh wow!” was not exactly fulfilled in my reading of the book but it is consistently interesting, useful in the analysis of Shakespeare’s plays and well worth reading. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monday April 1 2013

Shakespeare’s plays were really written by Thursday Next who took a time machine back to the 16th century together with Jasper Fforde.  April Fool!  But actually I like this theory (I made it up myself) better than the others who try to explain that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. As noted in last week’s Monday report, the non-debate goes on and it will be interesting to hear how the Blogging Shakespeare team handles it.  But now to this week’s report.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Aristotle is the Greek philosopher who shaped the way we think in so many ways. But, according to the Dictionary, there is little indication in the plays that Shakespeare was “particularly familiar” with his writings.
  • Arthur, the legendary king of Camelot, became very popular in the 12th century with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s tale. The Dictionary tells us that Arthurian romances became a big industry in the Middle Ages and the legend makes its way into Henry IV Part Two and Henry V.

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the second season of Roswell Max comes back from the future to tell Liz she has to stop being in love with him because the world will end…(it’s sort of believable in the context). He tells her they had gotten married at the age of 19 though he told her at the time that they were too young. Liz had then said that Romeo and Juliet had been even younger, but she later realized that it was a tragedy and that they had died. She adds, “There isn’t anything romantic about that!” And I’m going into so much detail on this sighting because I love Roswell, and because that’s the only sighting this week!

Further this week:

 Posted this week:
  • This Monday report
  • “Who and Who?” in Troilus and Cressida.

Who and Who in Troilus and Cressida

Who and Who??
Troilus and Cressida

                      This play could have been called Achilles and Hector, or Achilles and Ajax, or Ulysses and Nestor Talk a Lot, or Thersites Hates Everybody, or Andromache and Cassandra Warn the Guys Not to Go to War.  But it’s called Troilus and Cressida. I’m sure there’s a good reason for that and probably a lot of scholars know about it but I don’t. Tell me the truth. Unless you’re a Shakespeare expert or an Iliad or Chaucer expert, have you ever even heard of Troilus or Cressida? They weren’t even extras in the epic movie Troy (which some people loved - I didn’t).
                      I’m not going to try to solve the mystery of why these two somewhat minor characters are honored with the title of the play and I’m not so interested in Troilus who seems to be one of Shakespeare’s typical young hot-headed romantic fools, but Cressida?  She’s in only about a fourth of the scenes and is talked about in another fourth but somehow emerges as one of the most interesting of the play’s characters.
                      But first let’s recap the contexts in which Cressida lives her life. It’s the Trojan War, you know the one blamed on Helen, a married woman who was kidnapped/ran away voluntarily with Paris of Troy. We arrive on the scene when the war has been going on for some time and at the moment it’s at a stalemate. Troilus is Paris’ little brother. Cressida is the niece of Pandarus, a lord in the court of Priam, father to Paris, Troilus, Hector, Cassandra and a bunch of other kids.  The Greeks are: Achilles, Ajax, Ulysses, Nestor, Menelaus (husband of Helen)  – you’ve heard of them all and Shakespeare makes them all look like jerks. The Trojans too, for that matter. It has been called Shakespeare’s most bitter play.  It’s also very funny, mainly because Thersites, a Greek slave, is so hilariously nasty to everyone. Next time, maybe I’ll write about him.
                      Troilus and Cressida have met at court and are of course in love.  Or think they are. Or say they are. Sort of.
                      The play actually opens, after the prolog, with Troilus sighing over the fair Cressida. He fancies himself in love with her but her uncle Pandarus has tired of the situation and refuses to continue being the necessary go-between. Why they can’t just sneak off like most lovers do is unclear but it’s probably because Cressida’s love for Troilus is less than ardent.  Troilus moans: “I cannot come to Cressid but by Pandarus….As she is stubborn-chaste against all suit” (Act 1.1).
                      Indeed in the next scene, Act 1.2 – the longest one in which Cressida is on stage –  she seems not so much stubborn as uninterested.  Watching the parade of soldiers going by on the street below with her servant Alexander and then Pandarus she admires Ajax because the man “makes me smile”, Hector, and Achilles (a better man than Troilus) but merely laughs at Troilus when Pandarus tells her about an amusing encounter between Helen, Paris and Troilus awhile back.  When Pandarus does his best to arouse Cressida’s interest in Troilus by over praising him, she counters, rightly, by calling Pandarus a “bawd”, that is a pimp.
                      Only when left alone on the stage does she reveal her feelings.  Yes, she loves Troilus – “my heart’s contents firm love doth bear,” but she also knows that “women are angels, wooing;/ Things won are done.” In other words a man may call his sweetie sweet names to get her to bed but after that he’s out of there. So Cressida is not going to let him know how she feels.
                      What do we know about Cressida at this point? We are told that she is beautiful, that she has been left behind in Troy by her father who has defected to the Greeks. This puts her in a vulnerable situation. She is clearly accepted, or at least tolerated, by the Trojan court but possibly they don’t really trust her. We have seen that she is clever and has a good sense of humor and that while she can, and does, love, she’s not swept away by her passion.  She observes and she thinks. Surrounded by warring, calculating Trojans and Greeks she has analyzed the way things work and so holds back. Cressida is not impulsive.
                      Why then in Act 3.2 does she end up with Troilus?  Not, it seems, because she has become uncontrollably passionate. She enters, veiled, and Pandarus has to repeatedly tell her to quit backing away and get in here already. She is described as a wild bird to be subdued, captured and tamed. No words of undying love are spoken.  Cressida uses instead such words as dregs, fear, stumbling, monstrous.  Troilus admits that “the desire is boundless and the act a slave to limit,” to which she replies: “They say all lovers swear more performance than they are able, and yet reserve an ability that they never perform: vowing more than the perfection of ten, and discharging less than the tenth of one. They that have the voice of lions and the act of hares, are they not monsters?”
                      Troilus vows that he “shall be such to Cressid as what envy can say worst shall be a mock for his truth; and what truth can speak truest, not truer than Troilus.” True, true , true Troilus.   Hmmm, methinks….Would you trust him?
                      But apparently she does because now she dares to speak.

“Boldness comes to me now, and brings me heart.
Prince Troilus, I have loved you night and day
For many weary months.”

                      She then immediately backs away again, ashamed of her boldness, and though Troilus gives a convincing performance of loving her, she tries to leave.   Troilus won’t let her and she admits that “to be wise and love/ Exceed man’s might.” And woman’s apparently. Troilus again proclaims his faithfulness and Cressida is prompted to give the declaration that has ever since been used against her: “If I be false, or swerve a hair from truth…let them say, to stick the heart of falsehood/ ‘As false as Cressid’.”
                      Pandarus then butts in (he’s been there for awhile) and urges them to seal their vows (why does he care?) while confirming himself as a pimp and his name Pandar to mean go-between.  And off the two lovers go, to bed.
                      A lot happens with the Greek and Trojan warriors – there is a war going on after all – but then in Act 4.2 it’s the morning after.  Cressida is upset because Troilus is leaving: “You men will never tarry.” Pandarus shows up (how would you like your uncle to walk into the bedroom just after you’ve made love?) and she turns to him and accuses him of first flaunting her, then mocking her.  Which is more or less the case. Exit T&C.
                      Two seconds later Aenaes comes and tells Pandarus that Cressida is to be handed over to the Greeks, to Diomedes specifically, in exchange for the Trojan prisoner of war Antenor.  Troilus comes in and hears the news but doesn’t seem terribly upset.  He seems more concerned that his night with Cressida be kept a secret, then off he goes.
                      In Act 4.3 (after no real break with Act 4.2) Cressida is told her fate. She is upset. “O you immortal gods! I will not go.” And Pandarus says, “Thou must.”
                      Those two words pretty much say it all.   Cressida weeps, tears her hair, sobs, and promises to “break my heart/ With sounding Troilus!  I will not go from Troy.”
                      In Act 4.5 she and Troilus weep together but instead of declaring that he will defend her and keep her with him, he blames the gods for being angry with him for loving her – “…the blessed gods, as angry with my fancy…take thee from me” – and adds, “Hateful truth,” but, yeah, she has to go.  Then he nags at her again and again, “Be thou but true…” and says it so often that she is deeply hurt, because he doubts her.  They both protest their fidelity to the other, and I use the word advisedly because they clearly do not trust each other.  Not only that but Troilus says, “And suddenly …injury of chance…strangles our dear vows…”  What? Is he saying that they have, by this forced separation, been freed from their vows?  Why is he so upset later on then? Because he means that she hasn’t been freed.
And in comes Diomedes who says, “OK, come on, you’re mine now.” Or words to that effect. Troilus, after actually welcoming him, hands her over.  He does make a few noises about you better treat her right or else but Diomedes says casually, “When I am hence/ I’ll answer to my lust.”  Instead of challenging Diomedes here on his own territory – well, Cressida’s – Troilus mutters you better be scared of me then tells Cressida, OK you gotta go now.
                      Cressida literally has no say in the matter. She speaks not a word more in Act 4.5. She leaves with Diomedes. She must. She really has absolutely no choice. There is a war going on. She is a young woman alone and deserted by her father. The men have decided. The man she loves has given up on her. She is a pawn. She goes.
                      And arrives in Act 4.6 in the Greek camp where she is passed from Agamemnon to Nestor to Ulysses to Achilles to Patroclus to Menelaus for a welcome kiss from each about which Cressida rather tartly wonders, “In kissing do you render or receive?”   Whether they admire her for her “quick sense”, as Nestor calls it, or condemn her as “wanton” as Ulysses does, is unclear.  Whichever, she leaves with Diomedes who could at this point be seen as a protector against all the lusty men of the Greek camp. Maybe.
                      In Cressida’s final scene, Act 5.2, she is being spied upon by Troilus and Ulysses who are being spied upon by Thersites. She is with Diomedes. It is here she is shown as being unfaithful to Troilus. Or is she? Does she deserve to be literature’s synonym for unfaithful?
                      Shakespeare doesn’t seem to think so. In the end she seems to accept, though reluctantly, that she is leaving, or lost to, Troilus:

Troilus, farewell. One eye yet looks on thee,
But with my heart the other eye doth see.
Ah, poor our sex! This fault in us I find:
The error of our eye directs our mind.
What error leads must error. O then conclude:
Minds swayed by eyes are full of turpitude.

                      Whatever happens, she isn’t happy about it.  She sees her own wavering as shameful but she certainly isn’t suddenly in love with Diomedes. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most mysterious scenes. What does she whisper in Diomedes’ ear? If it’s a promise to go to bed with him, why does she whisper it and not say it aloud? Whatever she whispers, why doesn’t she say it aloud?  And why does she keep changing her mind? “Well, well, ‘tis done, ‘tis past, - and yet ‘tis not.  I will not keep my word.”
                      But which word? To Troilus? To Diomedes?
                      It’s almost like Hamlet’s to be or not to be. In the end Hamlet wasn’t. In the end Cressida wasn’t.  Hamlet is a hero.  Why isn’t Cressida?
                      Maybe she is. Maybe that’s what Shakespeare was telling us. That just like the heroic Ajax, Achilles, Ulysses and Nestor of the Iliad are made to be loud mouthed foolish braggarts in Shakespeare’s version, the Cressida shown in the Iliad as the sluttish betrayer of Troilus’ true love, thus symbolizing the untrustworthiness of women, isn’t the real Cressida.                In this the bitterest and most hilarious of plays about a deadly vicious war fought because men believe they own women, Cressida – the one who has the least choice of anybody - comes off as the only likeable person of the play, the only one with any depth or insight, and maybe the truest. Maybe not to Troilus, who was hardly worth it anyway, but to herself. After all, remember what Polonius said. To thine own self be true.  At least she tried, didn’t she? Isn’t she just trying to survive?

Works cited:
The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition. 2008.
While not quoting other scholars, I am indebted to the following for information and inspiration:
  • Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare - the Invention of the Human. 1998.
  • Cohen, Walter. Introduction to the Norton Edition.
  • Dotterer, Dick, editor. For Women: Pocket Monologs from Shakespeare. 1997.
  • Earley, Michael and Philippa Keil, editors. Soliloquy – The Shakespeare Monologues, the Women. 1988.
  • Knight, Wilson. The Wheel of Fire. 1930 and 1989.
  • Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary. 1964.

Film seen:
  • BBC, 1981. Directed by Jonathan Miller. Cast: Cressida – Suzanne Burden; Troilus -Anton Lesser; Hector – John Shrapnel; Ulysses – Benjamin Whitrow; Pandarus – Charles Gray; Thersites – the Incredible Orlando; Achilles – Kenneth Haigh; Ajax – Anthony Pedley: Agamemnon – Vernon Dobtcheff; Cassandra – Elayne Sharling; Diomedes – Paul Moriarty;  Andromache – Merelina Kendall. This is an uneven production. Anton Lesser gives the most solid performance and makes Troilus almost likeable, at least we feel a little sorry for him.  Suzanne Burden starts out good but can’t really manage to carry through and when it really matters she goes from unnecessary hysterics to inappropriate coquettishness, falling for the stereotype of Cressida, the one Shakespeare is trying to change. Charles Gray is convincing as an aging gay Pandarus and the Incredible Orlando is an outrageous old drag queen as Thersites, not at all how I picture him but a funny and very possible interpretation.  The others do OK generally but I certainly would like to see a modern movie production of this play by say…oh why not Kenneth Branagh or Julie Taymore?

Seen on stage: no.