Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday August 25 2014

Though we haven’t been reading any Shakespeare plays or seeing any Shakespeare films, a month or so is a goodly length of time for sightings, as you will see in the list below. Next week again there will be no report as we will have house guests from abroad, but after that Shakespeare will be calling regularly, if all goes according to plan.
Oh yes, there was recently an anonymous comment on the text about Shakespeare and Music by Julia Sanders (see “Books of Interest”) mentioning that there are compatibility problems between the blog and some servers. So true.  Internet Explorer is not the way to go. Try Firefox or Google Chrome or, according to anonymous, Safari. Thanks, Anonymous!

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Merlin (he figures quite a lot in this Monday report), gets a long report in D&F. In Henry IV Part One Owain Glyndwr’s followers make use of the Merlin legend to support their cause of Welsh independence. Merlin is also mentioned in King Lear (see below).
  • Mexico, mentioned in The Merchant of Venice, had recently been conquered by the Spanish in Shakespeare’s day.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In A History of World Societies by John McKay et al. Victor Hugo’s great admiration for Shakespeare is mentioned. On the other hand classicists scorned Shakespeare for being “undisciplined and excessive.”
  • In 1Q84  by Haruki Kurakami Shakespeare shows up several times in the 1,318 pages (it’s a trilogy but I read it as one)
    • Describing the world of four hundred years ago, Aomame tells the Dowager that only a “small fraction of the population could gaze at the moon with deep feeling or enjoy a Shakespeare play...”
    • At his father’s nursing home Tengo compares the three nurses to the three witches in Macbeth – “The ones who chant ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair,’ as they fill Macbeth’s head with evil ambitions” – though he didn’t see them as evil. He does this again later on in the book, on page 1024 to be exact.
    • Later, in the cat town, Tengo feels uneasy and this sentence appears, not as a quote or with any reference, but in italics: By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.
    • Towards the end Tamaru says, “Shakespeare said it best. Something along these lines: if we die today, we do not have to die tomorrow, so let us look to the best in each other.”  Hmmm, I can’t remember at the moment which play that is...
  • In sorting through papers and shelves at work I found a list of clever questions among which was, “If all the world’s a stage, where does the audience sit?”
  • In sorting through old essays written by students I found one from 2007 entitled “Which economic, political and cultural aspects steered William Shakespeare when he wrote his plays?” Sadly, this very nice student just didn’t listen to me when I advised her that the subject was too big but if she insisted on keeping the title she should at least answer her own questions.  She didn’t quite but it was an interesting read anyway.
  • In George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistras Flying
    • the gloomy hero Gordon Comstock spends his gloomy evenings in his bedsit reading King Lear
    • Gordon explains that like murder “money will out”.
    • The taxi man avows that “English is good enough for me,” to which Gordon replies, “It was the tongue of Shakespeare.”
    • At a tense dinner, Gordon and Ravelston bore Rosemary with a dull discussion about the meaning of Hamlet.
    • During which Gordon suddenly decides that he hates Shakespeare.
    • In a drunken spree he refers to Macbeth but frankly I have no idea what he means.
  • In the film sometimes called A Merry War, based on this novel,
    • Gordon explains that, “We are the stuff that dreams are made of.”
    • Gordon writes texts for ads and Rosemary tells him bluntly, “Well, you’re not Shakespeare.”
    • When finding a good line for his own poem Gordon tells himself smugly, “Shakespeare never thought of that, poor bugger. A second rate actor.”
    • The kindly prison guard enters the cell of the badly hung-over Gordon with the words, “A cup of tea for Mr. Shakespeare?”
    • Gordon vaguely murmurs, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” but I failed to make a note of what he was talking about.
  • In Thursday’s Children, Nicci French’s best of the series so far in my view, Frieda asks, “What did King Lear say about serpents?” Chloe doesn’t know, nor do I.
  • In Matt Haig’s novel Echo Boy (eerily similar to the Swedish TV series Äkta Människor (Real People)
    • the evil super-capitalist Uncle Alex has a young son he’s named Iago, who is as evil as the original, and a supercar he calls Prospero
    • the young heroine Audrey has Romeo and Juliet among her classics
    • Audrey’s former boyfriend claims that one could now walk into a replicate of an Elizabethan pub and talk to Shakespeare. To which Audrey replies: “”No we couldn’t. It would be a VR-simulation of a pub. And it wouldn’t be Shakespeare. It would be a computer program speaking Shakespeare quotations.”
  • Guy Halshall shows in his Worlds of Arthur – Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages in a very scholarly way what we already really know, that Arthur probably didn’t really exist but he might have but not the way the legends would like us to believe. It is an interesting book about the little we know of the two centuries after the fall (or fading away) of the Roman Empire in Britain but Halshall is not in agreement with other scholars who interpret the archaeological findings in different ways (too complicated for me to follow actually) and he explains: “my attitude...resembles that of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet: ‘a plague on both your houses’.” Scholars can become quite passionate...
  • Anne of Avonlea is the second in L.M. Montgomery’s classic series about the almost unbearably sunny and imaginative young Anne who is now a teacher (at the age of sixteen) who wishes to send young students along on the path to become Shakespeare or Milton. Later her middle aged unmarried friend Miss Lavender says smilingly, “Some are born old maids, some achieve old maidenhood, and some have old maidenhood thrust upon them.”  Of a woman who shows up unexpectedly from a friend’s past Anne says, “She can’t be such stuff as dreams are made of.”
  • Merlin – The Prophet and his History by Geoffrey Ashe has several references to Shakespeare:
    • Geoffrey of Monmouth, the one credited with putting Merlin’s name on paper in his history of British kings written in the 12th century, is also given credit for putting King Lear into a historical context, which Shakespeare does not.
    • Vortigern, enemy of Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, was like Macbeth in that “he could never feel secure while a potential challenger lived.”
    • Spenser also wrote about Lear and his three daughters and Ashe suggests that this was Shakespeare’s source rather than Geoffrey (though he later says Geoffrey is his source).
    • Spenser’s Merlin anticipates Prospero but “the spirits he commands are dangerous creatures.”
    • Shakespeare rates his own chapter title as Ashe makes his way chronologically through the literature in which Merlin appears. The chapter title is “Shakespeare and Others” and Ashe goes through the prose, poetry and drama of Shakespeare’s time in which Merlin is mentioned.  He writes: “While the evidence for Merlin’s popular reputation is sketchy it was well enough established to be made fun of in King Lear,” then he recites the Fool’s long monologue that ends in, “This prophecy Merlin shall make.” Whether or not this is making fun is not clear to me, nor was it when we read the play.
    • In 1661 a play called The Birth of Merlin was published with one of the two authors named being Shakespeare. Not because he had had a hand in writing it but because somebody wanted to make money from his famous name.
    • A 19th century French writer, Edgar Quinet, wrote a long story about a political Merlin (sounds interesting!) in which he meets such characters as Hamlet, Othello, Juliet, Desdemona, Ophelia, Titania (sounds interesting!).
  • The Invention of Wings is a novel by Sue Monk Kidd about the historical Grimké sisters who in the first half of the 19th century were instrumental in starting the abolition movement. One of the characters says to Sarah Grimké when wooing her, “Williams, Williams wherefore art thou Williams?”  Later Sarah slips some forbidden literature to Handful, one of her family’s slaves, among which was The Tempest.                                               
Further since last time:
  • Nothing Shakespearean. Too busy working my day job!

Posted this week:

"She'll not stumble" - Paulina in "The Winter's Tale"

“She’ll not stumble”
The Winter’s Tale

                      Paulina just might be my favourite character in all of Shakespeare. That’s a big claim.  Can she compete with the giants Hamlet, Rosalind, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Beatrice and many others?  Yes, I think so.  To misinterpret a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” My liking for Paulina is based not on her relatively small number of lines in the play - just over three hundred  – but on her power and importance. Her words and actions are the pivot around which the entire essence of the play turns.
                      The story: Leontes, the king of Sicilia, suddenly becomes insanely jealous of his wife Hermione, believing her to be cuckolding him with his oldest and dearest friend, Polixenes, king of Bohemia.  Polixenes flees, Hermione gives birth to her daughter in prison then dies.  The daughter is banished, grows up in exile as a shepherd’s daughter, returns to Sicilia with her beloved, the son of Polixenes. The statue of Hermione is brought back to life.  Miracle. Happy Ending.
                      Paulina first appears in Act 2.2.  Her queen Hermione is in prison.  She is not allowed to see her but is told by another attendant Emilia that the queen has given birth to a daughter.  Everyone, reasonably enough, is frightened of the wrathful king but Paulina takes it upon herself to inform Leontes of the birth of his daughter, believing, or at least hoping, that “he may soften at the sight o’th’ child.”  She doesn’t intend to fawn, however.  Her speech is full of boldness and determination:

If I prove honey-mouthed, let my tongue blister,
And never to my red-looked anger be
The trumpet any more...
I’ll show’t the king, and undertake to be
Her advocate to th’ loud’st...
Tell her, Emila.
I’ll use that tongue I have. If wit flow from’t
As boldness from my bosom, let’t not be doubted
I shall do good (Act 2.2).

                      She also assures the worried jailer, “I will stand twixt you and danger.” Fierce, she certainly is.
She is told the king will see no one but she brushes the attendants aside with the words, “’Tis such as you. / That creep like shadows by him, and do sigh / At each his needless heavings” (Act 2.3), and says she is bringing him the medicine he needs – the truth about his daughter.  The king’s lord Antigonus, Paulina’s husband, admits to the king that it’s not easy to control his wife – “When she will take the rein I let her run, /  But she’ll not stumble” (Act 2.3).
Leontes calls her a witch and a lying bawd to which she retorts:

                      Not so.
I am as ignorant in that as you
In so entitling me, and no less honest
Than you are mad, which is enough, I’ll warrant,
As this world goes, to pass for honest (Act 2.3).

She defends the honour of her queen, avows Hermione’s innocence, and presents the baby as proof of Hermione’s fidelity: “So like you ‘tis the worse...the copy of the father...So like him that got it” (Act 2.3).
To no avail.  He rejects the baby, insists on Hermione’s treachery and threatens to have Pauline burned. To which she replies:

                      I care not.
It is an heretic that makes the fire,
Not she which burns in ‘t. I’ll not call you tyrant;
But this most cruel usage of your queen –
Not able to produce more accusation
Than your own weak-hinged fantasy – something savours
Of tyranny, and will ignoble make you,
Yes, scandalous to the world (Act 2.3).

She leaves the baby with him: “Look to the babe, my lord, ‘tis yours,” and exits.
Paulina is present at Hermione’s trial and witnesses the queen’s collapse at the news of the death of her young son with Leontes, Mamillius. Paulina and the other attendants carry her away; Paulina returns and rails at Leontes in a long impassioned monologue: that Leontes betrayed Polixenes only proved him a “fool, insistent / And damnable ingrateful,” that he tried to force Camillo to kill Polixenes is “poor trespasses” compared to worse sins such as “casting forth to crows thy baby daughter”, or “cleft[ing] the heart [of the son] / that would conceive a gross and foolish sire.” But Leontes’s absolutely worst crime: “The Queen, the Queen / the sweet’st dear’st creature’s dead, and vengeance for ‘t / Not dropped down yet.”  She charges him:

...O thy tyrant,
Do not repent these things, for they are heavier
Than all thy woes can stir. Therefore betake thee
To nothing but despair. A thousand  knees,
Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting,
Upon a barren mountain, and still winter
In storm perpetual, could not move the gods
To look that way thou went (Act 3.2).

In the face of Leontes’s violent jealousy Paulina has stood up to him, risked her life and endured his insults and accusations of witchcraft, by using weapons that women are not supposed to possess – rage, courage and a fiery tongue.
In the introduction to the Norton edition, Jean E. Howard points out that though Leontes’s jealousy seems insane, it “is a symptom of the faultlines in a particular patriarchal culture,” and “in actuality has its roots in the cultural practices that in Jacobean England made men the heads of families, lineages and kingdoms, but at the same time made them crucially dependent on women’s reproductive powers to generate legitimate heirs” (page 2884). To Leontes women, especially Hermione and Paulina, are the enemy. Hermione succumbs to his patriarchal fury. Paulina fights back.
And after her outbursts of fury, indignation, grief and vengeance, she withdraws to plan and carry out her victory over the misogynist king.
Sixteen years pass. We follow the fortunes of the exiled daughter Perdita who returns to the court of Leontes with the son of Polixenes.  And the patience, determination and righteousness of Paulina’s strategic – revenge? generosity? – is revealed.
But first she rubs it in for awhile. Leontes has long repented his jealousy and its dire consequences. Cleomenes tells his king, “Do as the heavens have done, forget your evil. / With them, forgive yourself” (Act 5.1). Leontes replies that as long as he remembers his virtuous queen he can’t forget the wrong he did to himself by making the kingdom heirless (never mind Hermione and the kids, Polixenes, Antigonus, Paulina, Camillo...) to which Paulina  snaps that he will never find a parallel to “she you killed”. To the talk of Leontes marrying again to get an heir Paulina reminds everybody that the gods have hinted that there is a living heir. Leontes agrees. Musing that were he to marry again, Hermione’s ghost would come back to haunt him.  Again a sharp reminder from Paulina: “Had she such power / She had just cause...Were I the ghost...I’d shriek...’Remember mine’” (Act 5.1). She convinces him to promise that he will never remarry without her permission which she will give “when your first queen’s again in breath.”
Aha. Leontes and the rest of us think that that is never but Paulina is now dropping broad hints of what’s been going on for the past sixteen years.
Perdita and company arrive, she is revealed to be the king’s daughter, betrothed to the son of Polixenes, all are amazed, Paulina is reported (we don’t see this) to be torn between grief at the report of the death of her husband and joy that the oracle’s mystical message of the returning heir is now fulfilled. And we are told that there is a statue, so like Hermione that were one to speak to her she would answer.  Seemingly Paulina has had something to do with the creation of this statue. We are invited to go and take a look.
So Paulina reveals what she has engineered. “Behold, and say ‘tis well,” she says in Act 5.3, drawing the curtain for all to see the statue.  An older, wrinkled Hermione stands before them, and us.  With skilled showmanship Paulina draws it out with admonishments not to touch the statue, with exclamations that she’ll remove the statue because Leontes is so upset by it, with concern that she will be accused of using “wicked powers” and finally: “Music, awake her; strike!” (Act 5.3).
Hermione lives. It is not a miracle. It is a loyal determined servant and friend who has had the  courage and fortitude to defy the tyrant king, rescue the wronged queen, convince her to lie low until the time was ripe, then step up once again to the throne. A formidable friend, our Paulina.
Her rage, grief, intelligence, courage and perseverance make Paulina an exceptional woman.  It is the way that she gives Hermione back to us and to Leontes that makes her magnificent.  In a world, like our own, in which the questions of which is superior, art or nature, Shakespeare chooses to show that “in the badly flawed world depicted in The Winter’s Tale, art gradually emerges as one of the resources people can use... to correct old mistakes and to forge new realities...Paulina emerges as the chief representative of the ameliorative artist who uses her skills to make better the world around her” (Howell, pages 2888-2889).
Erik S. Mallin in Godless Shakespeare goes even farther. He shows that Paulina is not only outspoken but downright scary, if you happen to be Leontes.  Shakespeare, through Paulina, shows that “[c]oercion and theatrical larceny are the dramatist’s tool for pushing his miracle through” (page 67). Miracle? Leontes and his court believe it to be so. And Paulina demands that they do so. She “requires” them to believe it a miracle – “it is requir’d / you do awake your faith” (Act 5.3). “Such requirement,” Mallin points out, “steals the marvellous from miracles. And the passive voice of concealed authority underlines her rhetoric of compulsion” (page 68).  The scary part is that, like in all religious faith – and this play has often been praised as a Christian allegory – faith is “the work of conniving, torturing, withholding, and...suffering” (page 69).  Shakespeare, Mallin tells us, “reverses” the Catholic tenet that faith is secret when he has Paulina force the faith of Leontes et al into the open. She has manipulated Leontes for sixteen years and now, in revealing the living statue of Hermione, his faith is required so that he doesn’t see that Paulina has made a fool of him.  “The play,” Mallin said, “and Paulina, have an enormous stake in not showing works,” (page 69). In other words, in not showing all the work and preparation that went into creating the “miracle”.  Mallin again: “Faith awakes, reason slumps into a coma” (page 69).
The Winter’s Tale is considered to be one of the miracle plays. Paulina is Shakespeare’s creation, used to show that miracles and faith are necessary in the theatre, and as theatre goers we let our faith awaken and our reason to slump into a coma.  Is he telling us that the same applies to religion?  Yes, I think that is what he is telling us.  We, like Leontes, let ourselves be duped into believing things to be miraculous that have reasonable though sometimes manipulative causes.
And Pauline did all this! Determined to hide the workings of her “miracle”, she pulled it off.
Oh yes, she’s formidable. I would not want to be the one to deserve her righteous anger and vengeance.  But as long as she aims her alarming skills as revenging artist and miracle maker towards the likes of Leontes – oh yes, I like her very much indeed.
Works cited:
  • The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition. 2008.
  • Howell, Jean E.  “Introduction” in The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition.
  • Mallin, Eric S. Godless Shakespeare. 2007.

Films seen:
  • The Winter’s Tale, BBC, 1980. Director: Jane Howell. Cast:  Leontes – Jeremy Kemp; Hermione – Anna Calder-Marshall; Polixenes– Robert Stephens; Paulina – Margaret Tyzack; Perdita – Debbie Farrington; Florizel – Robin Kermode; Autolycus – Rikki Fulton; Clown – Paul Jesson; Camillo – David Burke ; Antigonus – Cyril Luckham. For the most part I like this production very much.  The minimalistic stage settings are perfect. Generally the cast is good, especially Calder Marshall and Jesson. I don’t much like Stephens as Polixenes though and something about Tyzack isn’t right as Paulina.  As so often, many of the actors are too old for their roles, but the final scene is actually almost a tear-jerker. Definitely worth seeing.
  • The Winter’s Tale, RSC, 1999. Director: Gregory Doran. Cast:  Leontes – Antony Sher; Hermione – Alexandra Gilbreath; Polixenes – Ken Bones; Paulina – Estelle Kohler; Perdita – Emily Bruni; Florizel – Ryan McClusky; Autolycus – Ian Hughes; Clown – Christopher Brand; Camillo – Geoffrey Freshwater; Antigonus – Jeffry Wickham. In some ways this production is brilliant. The trial scene and the ending are very gripping, the sheep shearing scenes are lively, colourful and fun. Stage settings in the Barbican Theatre are terrific.  But there’s just something a little off with the entire cast; nobody is quite right for their role and I simply can’t understand why Gilbreath chose to make her voice so strained and raspy. An odd mix, this one!
Seen on stage:
  • Sadly, no.