Sunday, October 31, 2010
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing and Richard III I really didn't focus on just one particular topic. Each play had me think about something different and what I interpreted from it. Taking a look at all three of my blogs I can see that they are very much different in the way that I am writing them. In my very first blog I didn't find much context from the plays that supported my idea compared to my recent blog from last week. I found the further we got into the semester my blogs got a little better from the ones before. What I interpreted from them isn't very far fetched from what others would think or feel reading the plays as well. My topics are relatively clear and are almost always discussed and covered in the following class.
In my first blog about A Midsummer Night's Dream I focused on whether or not act v of the play was pointless or not. There was much speculation that the last act wasn't necessary but, from looking into the play more and researching if others found the last act to be pointless as well, I found that it was very much needed. Shakespeare purposely added this act because he wanted people to see that the play was not only just a comedy but a tragedy as well. In this particular scene in the play Thisbe and Pyramis run away and when the lion comes in and takes Thisbe's cloak , Pyramus sees the cloak covered in blood, he kills himself with the sword. As both Theseus and Hippolyta watch this being acted out on stage Hippolyta finds this to be the funniest thing she has ever seen. In my blog I then bring up the fact that this is where we begin to see Hippolyta as a caring person the most caring we have seen throughout the entire play. Philostrate is worried that the plays bad acting will embarrass both Theseus and Hippolyta but Theseus tells him not to worry because the play cannot be bad if it is created by simple people who try hard. Hippolyta shows emotion and doesn't want people looking bad when they try to do something good.
My second blog about Much Ado About Nothing dealt with Beatrice and Benedick. I blogged about the idea that the ending of the play was not surprising to myself or many others. We knew from the beginning both Beatrice and Benedict would end up together. These two characters bickered back and forth like little children. They both had the same views about love and marriage and because of that everyone around them did everything they could to bring them together. This play isn't just about the love Claudio and Hero share that we are so easily fooled to think but, the tension that is so easily seen between Beatrice and Benedick. After rereading this blog I found that I stayed on the topic well and I had evidence to support the text.
My last blog was about the recent play we are reading for class now, Richard III. I mainly focused on the idea that Richard is one of the biggest villains we have read about so far this semester. He is purely evil and only cares about himself, he doesn't care who he hurts along the way as long as he gets to be king. In act one we meet Anne who at first seems like a strong woman but, it is later seen that she is being drawn into believing Richards lies. He is extremely manipulative and has people believing he is doing things for their best intentions. To support my topic for my blog I used a lot of textual evidence from Act one between Lady Anne and Richard. He is easily able to get into people heads and have them believing he is a good person and doesn't mean to cause harm on others.
I have really enjoyed blogging so far and have found that I can talk about what I took from the reading and have others post their opinions as well. I think the blogging is also a great way to get everyone fully involved in a discussion if they don't like doing so in class. I enjoy blogging because I can discuss an idea or even raise some questions that I may have. I think blogging should be used in other classes as well. It's always interesting to read what others make of the same readings that you have read.
The three posts, therefore, individually deal with the depiction of men versus women based on societal roles, the use of literary devices or elements, and the importance of language, rhetoric, and persuasive elements. However, in reading through each post for this blog, I noticed that despite the fact that each post discusses different aspects of the play that interest me, there is one glaring similarity in that they all focus on characteristics of Shakespeare’s writings and how they allow a character to develop.
In re-reading my posts I find it surprising that despite the inherent differences in each post, they all illustrate my attempts at studying aspects of different characters’ behavior and speech in order to acquire a deeper understanding of the character’s and what motivates or drives them. I particularly enjoyed the posts for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado about Nothing, and would willingly revisit their ideas. In terms of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I wrote my post “Love?” because I have always been particularly interested in the way women are portrayed in literature. The evolution of literary female characters over the years is both a telling and inspiring glimpse at the transformation of female societal roles throughout history. There is not one play by Shakespeare that would not warrant a discussion of women’s roles as reflected in the female characters. My blog post, “Opposites Attract” discusses Shakespeare’s use of literary devices, and is another topic I would revisit. So much of today’s vocabulary, figures of speech, even curses, have stemmed from Shakespeare’s ability to make words dance, and any study of his literary devices or elements would provide me with a chance to understand English as it is known today.
There are several aspects of our weekly blog posts that I enjoy. Blogging, as a writing medium, has the perfect mix of formality and informality that allows you to infuse your knowledge of the play as well as your own opinion and personality. I like being able to explore an aspect of the story that interests me, and developing a theory or idea while being able to include what I know, in the form of quotes and explications, and what I don’t know, in the form of closing questions. Another feature of blogging that I enjoy is reading fellow students’ blogs, and reading and writing comments. By having everyone share their unique perspectives of Shakespeare timeless plays, I am able to garner an incredibly in-depth and multifaceted understanding of his works that do not stem from my perspective alone, but also that of my gifted peers as well.
After reading and reflecting through my blog posts throughout the semester I can see a difference and how my posts became more detailed and focused more and more on character relationships, and concrete ideas rather than simple ones. Each of Shakespeare's plays have many aspects worth focusing on such as relating the play to social issues, social ranking, unrequited or forbidden love, lies, deception and gender roles. I noticed I tend to focus on Shakespeare's characters and their personality traits, it seems he took a common human characteristic/feeling/emotion and developed it into a character- such as Othello can be represented as the trait of jealousy taken to an extreme (the murder of Desdemona). I also tend to compare and contrast two or more plays in my posts-such as my post about what makes "Othello" a tragedy and how its not so different from that of "Twelfth Night" or "Much Ado About Nothing" until the end which classifies it as a tragedy.
I think blogging for class has many advantages and I know it helps me to learn and develop my ideas along with class discussion to the fullest extend. I look forward to continuing to blog throughout this semester and would love to see it used in other courses.
In my first post, I commented on the relationships within the soap-opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream with that came the focus on the ever changing gender roles that have been a major factor within Shakespeare’s plays. There is an interesting question as to whether or not Shakespeare himself believed in the gender switches that he performed (Viola, Beatrice, Desdemona etc.) and I personally am very intrigued by those un-answered questions that Shakespeare poses within his works.
On the same thought-process the next post was in regards to Twelfth Night where the role of identity seems to be engrained within physical appearance. What I found interesting in re-reading my post I again found signs of role switches that would be considered taboo if one was to read a history book (women dressing up as men or servants trying to “jump ranks”). I again was unable to answer the question of whether or not Shakespeare himself believed in these unheard of and in some cases punishable traits that popped up within his characters.
Last but certainly not least was my post regarding the language use for Iago within The Tragedy of Othello. This last post is not so much about the physical topics that are unanswered within the plays (gender/identity roles) but it has to focus on what is and is not said within the play itself, “I am not what I am.” There is this continual confusion specifically within my posts on the topics that seem to confuse the reader but at the same point the reader is completely aware of what is going on within the story itself. The confusion seems to make the play for me and as a result I wonder why I haven’t watched more soap-opera’s in my life if these are the topics that seem to catch my interest.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Hate is one of the strongest emotions and I’ve heard it said that the closest emotion to hate is love. Now doesn’t this seem ironic? I’ve also heard it said, and agree, that part of what makes Shakespeare’s writing so timeless is that he explores human nature, which everyone everywhere can relate to since we are all human. Naturally all his plays deal with love and hate, usually more of one than the other, but the character of Anne is certainly the greatest and craziest embodiment of these two I have ever encountered. After noting this duality in her behavior I did some lite reading on the science of emotions, specifically love and hate. I read online that these two emotions are indeed scientifically linked. Some of the nervous circuits in the brain used when feeling hatred are the same ones used when experiencing the feeling of romantic love. It is impossible to know if Shakespeare had this scientific knowledge but one thing is sure: Shakespeare had a great insight and understanding of human nature and this character (Anne) is certainly an example of a mind boggling connection between two seemingly opposite emotions.
here is one of the articles that i read on love and hate:
The parallels between Much Ado About Nothing and Othello have been something that has always fascinated me. While the stories are placed into two completely different genres, the first being a comedy while the second classified rightly as a tragedy. But what makes these two things to be so similar? It’s quite simple. With the exception of the ending, the general plots are almost identical.
In Othello, the villainous Iago wants revenge and decides that he’s going to get it no matter the cost. He’s going to take down Othello and conspires against not only him, but against Cassio, the one who took on the promotion that he wanted. Deception is something that Iago seemed to pride himself in. He created a ploy to trick Othello into thinking that his wife, Desdemona, was being unfaithful to the Moor by having an affair with Cassio. He plants on Cassio the handkerchief Othello gave his wife, solidifying Othello’s jealousy. His plan was fool proof. “Honest Iago” as he is called by the titular character. By the end of the play, he succeeds in his plan at the result of Desdemona’s murder and Othello’s suicide. Tragedy at its best.
The comparison to the comedy of Much Ado About Nothing is something that proves just how fine the line between comedy and tragedy is. Don John wants a similar taste of revenge by going after Claudio and Hero. He sets them up in a similar fashion, to trick Claudio into thinking that his betrothed was unfaithful. By having Claudio and Don Pedro spy on one of Don John’s men in the window having sex with Hero’s chambermaid, calling her Hero to trick Claudio. He goes on to shame Hero at the wedding resulting in her almost dying of a broken heart. What makes this a comedy with a happy ending is the band of bumbling watchmen who learn of this crime and turn the villains in.
How easy it could be for Othello to have turned into a comedy. What would have happened if in Othello, we had a similar group of people catching Iago in his plotting? What would have happened if it had turned out that they all learned Iago was lying? Simple. We would have had a comedy. Othello would not have killed his wife, they would have gone on to have children, Emilia would still be alive and Iago would have been caught and arrested for his crimes. All a happy ending.
But do you honestly think that Othello could work as a comedy? I personally do not. In all honesty, the work in itself is deemed as one of the most important tragedies because it shows off the human condition, specifically in regards to the world of jealousy. Granted that Othello takes things to the extreme, we have to see that the ending of this could only end in tragedy.
On an unrelated note, a comedic look on the tragedy of the Moor. One of my personal favorite segments from The Complete Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abriged).
Monday, October 25, 2010
While reading Act 1 of The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, I noticed several similarities between Richard and Queen Margaret. Both characters are viewed as “others” by many of the characters and they are pushed to the outskirts of the community. Richard and Queen Margaret are also both viewed as ugly and this adds to the rejection they face from various characters. Lastly, Richard and Queen Margaret feel that they have been kept form something that they deserve or are entitled to and this seems to feed their bitter dispositions.
Richard is pushed to the outskirts of the community because he is viewed as someone who hates the wife of his brother, Queen Elizabeth, and rejects all of her people. She states that Richard does not love her, nor anyone. Richard acts with discontent and bitterness towards, which only works to feed into or further his discontent and marginalization. Queen Margaret, similarly, is viewed as a hag or a witch who curses others. Her words and actions towards other characters only continues the poor perception that the community has of her. Both Richard and Queen Margaret are also viewed as ugly characters and this adds to the rejection they face.
However, should Richard and Margaret be held accountable for their dispositions or do they deserve sympathy? Margaret was pushed out of her position and out of her home. Richard was born as a disfigured and ugly boy who felt like he couldn't be loved. They both are unhappy because they feel like they can't get what others freely have. Margaret has been removed from her high status and comfortable living situation and Richard seems to want love, but becomes a controlling villain who is power hungry to make up for it.
While reading the first act of Richard III, I was strongly reminded of a television show I watched a few years ago in which the main "protagonist" was a mass murderer with a God complex. I spent the entire show waiting for our magnificent bastard of a main character to die. We are only one act into Richard III, and already I am wishing for this main character's bloody demise as well. ...And this is probably what makes this play so absorbing.
Richard of Gloucester is a villain through-and-through, and I'm really looking forward to his downfall. I suppose it's a case of loving to hate someone. I don't think we're meant to sympathize with his plight of being "not shaped for sportive tricks/Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass" (1.1.14-15). Frankly, his physical deformities don't seem to hinder his ability to court women, as proven when he woos Anne—and keep in mind that Richard recently killed Anne's husband, so he must be a real charmer. Richard claims in the beginning of the play that his ugliness makes it impossible for him to be involved in romance, and this is what makes him so miserable, but it seems like a transparent excuse for his inherently malicious and jealous nature.
It's also easy to hate Richard after all of his plotting. He manipulates and has a hand in the deaths of both of his brothers, puts Elizabeth in a bad position, and even courts Anne just for the pleasure of knowing she would readily succumb to the charms of her husband's killer. Richard manipulates everyone around him: He makes Anne believe that she is to blame for her husband's death, because Richard was just so taken with her that he had to kill him. He makes sure his brother Edward begins to distrust their other brother, Clarence, and has Clarence thrown in the Tower. He even manipulates Clarence so well that, even when the murderers reveal that Richard is the one who sent them, he tells the murderers, "It cannot be, for he bewept my fortune,/And hugged me in his arms, and swore with sobs/That he would labour my delivery" (1.4.232-34).
To be able to manipulate and deceive everyone around him so completely, and to ensure the deaths and downfalls of so many, Richard can't feel any sympathy for his victims. He doesn't seem to have much of a conscience. As such, I don't feel particularly bad about hating Richard and looking forward to the unraveling of his plans. He's a villain—and unlike most villains, where you can follow some reasoning and possibly find some sympathetic points, I feel nothing but disdain for him and hope he gets everything Margaret said he will.
Learning from the form of our recent tragedies completed in class, I can assume that the turns being thrown by Richard III in Act I are very unlikely to right themselves.
After Richard III double crosses his younger brother, Clarence, by telling rumors to lock him in the tower, I couldn't help but recall Iago when Richard III confides in Clarence, "We say the King is wise and virtuous, and his noble Queen well struck in years, fair and not jealous. We say that Shore's wife hath...a bonny eye, a passing pleasing tongue." (1.1, 90-95) What struck a likeness to Iago for me was the way Richard III was maintaining Clarence's confidence in him while suggesting to Clarence that it may have been King Edward, his wife, or perhaps Lady Shore that is responsible for his imprisonment. Richard III is as two-faced and slippery as Iago, projecting the same type of cringe-worthy artifice that runs through many Shakespearean tragedies.
In comparing Richard III to other antagonists, I must draw attention to the obscurity that surrounds the motives of Shakespeare's villains and what causes them to do as they do. Don John, of 'Much Ado About Nothing', for example, went to great lengths to muddle up the established relationship between Claudio and Hero, chalking up his incorrigible behavior to his insignificance and jealousy of being the bastard brother to Don Pedro. Don John's reasoning of familial resentment hardly seemed consistent with the damage it wrought over Hero's sense of self-worth and reputation and 'Twelfth Night's' Iago takes a vow of silence before relieving the audience with the explanation they yearned for.
These villains, among others, were brought to my mind during Richard III's opening speech which already details why he is so rotten, "I that am rudely stamped and want love's majesty...cheated of feature by dissembling nature, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time...And therefore since I cannot prove a lover...I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days." (1.1, 16-31) Richard III chiefly cites his physical deformity and inability to woo as the source of his bitterness and evil ways, yet he also notes a different frustration having to do with Edward, "Instead of mounting barbed steeds...he capers nimbly in a lady's chamber." (1.1, 10-12) Richard III resents his brother, King Edward, for his prowess with women and at the same time is frustrated with his ineffectiveness as a ruler. I both intrigued and filled with dread of reading further in this play and discovering what other awful instances Richard III is going to manifest these inhibitions.
In Richard's first monologue he describes to the audience his deformed physical attributes which in some ways explains why he feels the need to turn his brothers against each other in order to gain control of the throne. I watched Ian McKellan's performance as the Duke of Gloucester in the 1995 movie version of Shakespeare's Richard III. Aside from the choice the director made for the time in which the story takes place (fascist Britain in the 1930s) I enjoyed seeing how they began the text of the play with Richard speaking to an audience at an extravagant ball, then following him into a restroom where we watch him urinate. I had originally assumed this entire first speech was a soliloquy spoken directly to the audience but after watching this scene I saw how the beginning of the speech works as a monologue as well. When Richard is no longer speaking to a room full of people we hear his more private and self conscious thoughts. The Duke describes himself as:
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up--
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them (19-23).
McKellan embodies this description well. He has a lame arm hanging by his side and walks with a limp. Richard is clearly self conscious and self loathing, to go as far as to say dogs bark at him when he walks by because he is so ugly to behold. He explains that “since I cannot prove a lover/ To entertain these fair well-spoken days,/ I am determined to prove a villain/ and hate the idle pleasures of these days” (28-31). He believes that because he is deformed and miserable he has no choice but to play “the villain” and loathe his and everyone else's existence on this earth and plot against them.
Despite his self consciousness about his appearance he still has the audacity to seduce Lady Anne, widow to Prince Edward and daughter in law to King Henry VI, both of whom he personally killed. This is not an easy task and she is not willing to listen to him at first. Almost everything she says is an insult about his appearance, my favorite being “thou lump of foul deformity” (57). After hearing countless insults Richard III is bold enough to suggest that he is “fit” to see Lady Anne in her bedchamber.
I originally thought Iago was Shakespeare's perfect villain, but Richard III has challenged this belief and has thus far exceeded my expectations of what a villain is capable of.
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasure of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous…(1.1.30)
Unlike Iago, he openly declares both his motivations and his plans. He is deceptive, but only to the other characters in the play. The audience is his confidante- but why? Why did Shakespeare chose to break down the fourth wall between the villain and the audience in this play, yet years later decide to have his villain Iago’s motivations and personality be ambiguous and unknown to the audience?
To answer this, we need to examine both characters and their roles in the play. Richard is the main (and title) character in Richard III. The entire plot focuses on his plan to become king and kill anyone who comes in-between him and the throne. He is the center of the play,the antagonistic protagonist of sorts. However, in Othello, Iago is not the main character- Othello is. Iago is rather the driving force behind the plot line and also behind Othello, a noble character who is driven to murder by Iago’s manipulation.
Both villains portray themselves as being good-natured and sincere to the other characters. Iago insists he is being a good friend by letting Othello know his wife is cheating on him, and Richard complains to Queen Elizabeth and her family that the people at court are picking on him because he’s such a genuine, honest man, saying:
Cannot a plain man live and think no harm,
But thus his simple truth must be abused
With silken, sly insinuating jacks? (1.3.51)
There is one major difference between their deceptive portrayals of honesty: no one suspects Iago of being a villain, whereas Richard is disliked and also outright called a villain by Anne. Richard has already murdered those loved by the other characters in a war setting, while Iago’s murderous side is yet to be revealed. Despite being called a villain by Anne, Richard still manages to soften and persuade her into letting him woo her- quite impressive, considering she spat at him only minutes before! Iago’s manipulations are also impressive, as he makes Othello believe his wife is unfaithful with a mere handkerchief.
It’s important to note that Shakespeare wrote Richard III twenty to thirty years before Othello. Making Iago’s motivations unclear was a distinct choice, a clear difference between his previous choice to have Richard confess his incentive to the audience. To create an evil character whose motivations are unknown is to create an entirely unsympathetic character, someone who the audience cannot possibly identify with, or understand on a foundational human level. Perhaps Shakespeare thought Richard wasn’t evil enough- I mean, a fight for power was common in those times, and still is. Of course he is still brilliantly deceptive and manipulative, but we know why he puts on his act. He wants to become king. Yet why would Iago put on his act? Why would he hide his true motives? Without a known motivation, Iago’s level of wickedness is amplified beyond a level that the audience could comprehend. When Shakespeare wrote Richard III, he may have still been exploring how to create a villain. Richard is a commonly-found type of villain: selfish, ambitious, power-hungry. Shakespeare’s audience would’ve understood that. Perhaps as the play progresses we will see how Richard’s evilness progresses- will he still confide in the audience, and carry out his murderous plan as we understand it at this point in the play? Or will there be a twist that takes his evilness to an Iago-like level?
The Willow Song
The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree
Sing all a green willow
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee
cho: Sing willow, willow, willow, willow!
Sing willow, willow, willow, willow!
My garland shall be;
Sing all a green willow, willow, willow, willow
Sing all a green willow
My garland shall be.
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmer'd her moans
Sing willow, willow, willow
Her salt tears fell from her and soft'ned the stones.
Let nobody blame him, his scorn I approve
Sing willow, willow, willow
He was born to be fair, I to die for his love,
I call'd my love false love but what said he then?
Sing willow, willow, willow
If I court more women, you'll couch with more men.
This shows us that Desdemona isn't an unruly woman anymore, but she has lost all of her hope. The song suggests that both men and women are unfaithful to each other. The way that Desdemona interprets this song is that it represents an alienation of herself from Othello's affections and also is very melancholy. It also leads her to question Emilia's infidelity and whom she really is. Desdemona is truly hurting and feels like she has nothing left to give. She doesn't think she will ever find someone to love because of the experiences she has been through.
On the other hand, when discussing Emilia, it is completely different.Emilia speaks up for women which is against what Desdemona is saying. Emilia claims that women are human and have the sexual desire and appetitess just like men do. She also feels that women have affections. She speaks out for women's rights to be treated as equally as mens; she feels that we've been wronged by men so we have a right to wrong them as well. I happen to agree with Emilia, I don't think that it is okay for men to do things to us which they think are okay but if we were to do something to them it would be a completely different issue!
It's interesting to remember that Shakespeare's spoken English was roughly the same as the first settlers in America. I like the point that in studying the pronunciation of his language, we are looking at the origins of American speech, as well.
My favorite part of this play so far is when he talks about wooing Lady Anne even though he can't stand the site of her. Lady Anne despises him so much for killing her husband and father in law, but at first he insists it wasn't him that killed them. These two are like little children going back and forth arguing with one another it was quite amuseining to read. His intentions are nothing more than pure evil. Richard says, the readiest way to make the wench amends is to become her husband and her father. He doesn't love her at all, but he gets something out if it. He tells Anne there is a man who can love her better than her husband and she wants to know who. He tells her it is Plantagenet and she says that is her husbands name but Richard says someone else has that name and that person is him. The only reason why he killed her husband was so she could get a better husband . The thought sickens Anne and she spits at him wishing that she could spit poison, but she is still willing to argue with him instead of walking out and just leaving him there to talk to himself. It seems like Anne gets full enjoyment out of going back and forth with Richard. It is getting her absolutely no where because he could sit there for days and tell her how Beautiful she is. It was her beauty in the first place according to Richard that made him kill King Henry and her heavenly face that set him to work. Towards the end of Act one scene one we see the Lady Anne is beginning to let her guard down and is starting to believe all of his lies. When Anne curses Richard and asks that the gods punish him he begins begging to explain himself. He then takes the sword and tells Anne to pierce his chest but she can't bring herself to do so. Even though she can't stand him she won't be the one to kill him. She becomes so weak at the end of this scene that she tells Richard that he can bring King Henry's body to his final resting place. Just before all this she could have ripped his heart out now she is becoming rational with him. This part bothered me so much because I couldn't believe she would fall into one of his traps, I thought she would have stayed strong. I am interested in seeing how this relationship will progress and how many more of his lies she will believe before she figures the truth out or even if at all.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
At the end of the play it seems as though Iago is at a loss for words his last lines in the play are “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word”(5.2.309-310). It seems as though for the first time all play Iago can’t talk his way out of the situation he put himself in he is at a loss for words, his is caught and can’t manipulate anyone to set himself free. I found this a little ironic because from the beginning of the play we see Iago manipulate himself in and out of situations. I am also left with a sense of uneasiness because we really don’t get any indication if Iago feels bad for his actions and what they caused people to do, and how many people were killed along the way.
Because Professor Mulready has already mentioned Richard III a few times this semester, I have been looking forward to experiencing for myself who he has referred to as “one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains”. Even after only reading the first act of the play, I have not been disappointed. In addition to his plots of murder and betrayal, one particular instance in the first act has caught my attention.
This occasion is in scene 2, when he intrudes upon the funeral procession of Henry VI. He is there to speak to Lady Anne, Henry’s daughter-in-law. He is responsible for Henry’s death, and is also the man who killed Anne’s husband, Edward. Richard intends, as part of his “master plan”, to woo Lady Anne despite of what he has done to break up her family.
From the beginning of their encounter, Anne is repulsed by Richard. She curses him, asking God to punish him. Richard is unrelenting, begging for a chance to explain himself. Her accusations do not stop, but Richard declares that he finds her to be beautiful. He admits that he has killed her husband and father-in-law, but claims to be penitent. He gives her his sword and bares his chest, telling her to kill him. When she begins to soften, he says that he will kill himself if she truly wants him to. She really begins to come around then, and accepts a ring that he quickly offers her. She is even convinced so far as to give him her father-in-law’s body to let him bury it.
The reason that this part of the play has stuck out so much for me is because I find it amazing that Richard is able to manipulate someone who, five minutes ago, had spit on him. Shakespeare artfully portrays the true nature of his character so immediately and successfully. I truly need no other evidence to despise this man, though I am sure that I’ll find many more reasons to as the play goes on. I simply find it fascinating that someone could be so evil, yet obviously so charming and convincing when he wants to be.On the other hand, I also would love to be able to reach into the play and give Lady Anne a good slap in the face to make her realize that this man is foul, and should in know way be trusted. I look forward to seeing how her character develops in the rest of the play. Hopefully she will snap back to reality and beat this evil creature at his own game, but something tells me I won’t get the pleasure of seeing that happen.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
The play begins with the simple idea of revenge. Cassio's promotion to lieutenant affronts Iago who believes himself more deserving of the position. It would be a simple plot to have Iago destroy Cassio and step into his place but Iago desires more. He wants nothing more than the complete destruction of the world around him.
Did Shakespeare mean to cast Iago as a symbol of anarchy? In Act I, Scene I, he does say, "We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot be truly followed." (1.1.43-44) He even goes so far as to say, "In following him [Othello] I follow but myself." (1.1.57-58). More than revenge seems to be motivating Iago, he wants to subvert the social structure. As a military man, the idea of hierarchy would be as automatic as breathing but Iago wants nothing to do with the system.
If Iago were simply interested in overthrowing the social order of the military, why not content himself with destroying Cassio and Othello thus leaving Venice vulnerable to its enemies? Why does he go farther destroying Roderigo, Desdemona, and Emilia. Iago is not simply a destructive force but an abyss.
Iago declares proudly to Roderigo, "I am not what I am." (1.1.65) If he is not what he is, then what is he? The audience never knows fully what Iago is. Even his motivations are murky. He throws out many reasons for his plot- Cassio's promotion by Othello, Emilia's possible infidelity with Othello, love for Desdemona, or for Roderigo's money. In the end we never know as Iago's last lines in the poem are, "From this time forth. I never will speak word." (5.2.310)
This confusion about Iago makes the tragedy more poignant. Desdemona is killed. Emilia is killed. Roderigo is killed. Othello is dead. Cassio suffers a career ending injury. All of this carnage is the result of Iago who will not speak. His silence is as poisonous as his speech.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The actors did a great job of portraying that "Twelfth Night" was indeed a comedy and seeing it acted out after reading it really reinforced that factor. Small things such as facial expressions and gestures can really help the audience understand the intentions of the actor and character better. I found the characters of Feste, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew especially comedic and they really reinforced how important that seeing emotion rather than reading it is, the sarcasm and overall silliness of these characters defines who they are.
I also found the fact that Cesario/Viola was kept in men's clothing for the ending of the play (such as we discussed in class where some versions show her back in women's clothing). Subtle observations like this and relating them to our class discussions provided me with an overall better understanding of the play. Overall I would say, especially for a college production, the cast did a great job of performing one of Shakespeare's masterpieces.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I felt that the cast, some more than others, had a wonderful grasp on the language which is arguably the most important element of Shakespeare. Specifically, Viola, Olivia, Feste, and Mariah had a colloquial elementa bout their speech and that shows great understanding of the language and of each sentence. I think that is the most telling judge of a Shakespearean actor and for the most part this college cast did a great job.
I attended SUNY New Paltz’s production of Twelfth Night this fall under two mindsets; that of a student of Shakespeare’s literature as well as of an average theater-goer. In context of the latter, this Twelfth Night was a slow show to watch and delivered a more bland performance of the comedy than it should have.
Not to say that Twelfth Night did not have its captivating moments. The most enjoyable scenes seemed to be any featuring Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste, preferably all three. Granted they were playing the comic relief of the play, but they were also the most animated and pleasurable to watch. Playing the role of fool to a tee, they were loud and exaggerated their speech and gestures.
As a student of Shakespeare, I appreciated the clear division of performance between the lower class and comical characters (Maria, Feste, etc.) compared to the noble protagonists of the play (Olivia, Viola/Cesario). When reading the play, I detected some indulgence in Duke Orsino’s pining for Olivia that gave the text a humorous flair, but I found this absent in New Paltz’s rendition. In the New Paltz production, Duke Orsino was rather flatly portrayed as all-sorrowful, lacking the dimension of secret pleasure in chasing Olivia that I picked up from reading the play. Also, an inconsistency in how all the characters seemed to have a formal English accent except Olivia disturbed my suspension of disbelief.
All things considered, I would recommend that any observer of a Shakespeare play, on Broadway or off, give reading the play a try in order to have the richest experience absorbing the performance.
In our readings of Twelfth Night, Orsino comes across as a rather weak character prone to whining and melancholy. It almost feels like Viola doesn't find love as much as she is sentenced to Orsino and his moody ways. On the stage, the actors did a wonderful job of giving life to this relationship. Orsino is a man in love with being in love. He is over-flowing with emotion and seeking the right person to be worthy of this love. Olivia is the perfect foil for this role because she doesn't receive his love. He's left to wrestle with these emotions and in comes Viola/Cesario.
From the first moment, Orsino is instantly attracted to Cesario. At first, it seems that he/she is useful but unlike his other servants, Orsino's voice softens and becomes playful when speaking to Cesario. Orsino is acted as a powerful man and presence on the stage. He is played as man with a dual nature. On the one hand he is the authority figure in this region and he must command in his public persona. In private, we see a man who doesn't just want a wife but he wants to find love.
The play did a great job of showing the developing attraction between Orsino and Viola/Cesario. Viola as Cesario knows that she is the perfect vessel for his love but she can not act because of her disguise. Orsino, as Duke of Illyria, finds himself touched emotionally by Cesario in a way that no man has ever affected him before. The moment when Orsino and Cesario almost kiss on stage, the audience is holding its collective breath hoping for this to happen. When they break away, the audience feels the full frustration of Viola's situation.
I thought all the performances were strong and especially thought the comic relief of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria balanced the frustration and confusion of the lovers. Even Antonio, is full of smiles at the end of the play, having reclaimed the love of his "friend" Sebastian. One can imagine Antonio hanging around house keeping Malvolio in check.
Seeing the play on stage made me change my opinion of how Shakespeare meant to represent the character Malvolio. Originally when I read the play, I thought that the mistreatment of Malvolio was supposed to be humorously satisfying to the audience, who would be happy to see the pompous jerk getting what he deserves. However, during the last scene in which all of the characters were laughing at him, I felt terrible for Malvolio. This feeling of sympathy was intended by the director- I could tell because the rest of the audience was as silent as I was while the characters on stage laughed uproariously.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Well, perhaps Emilia is not a martyr in the literal sense. However, although her part may seem relatively small compared to the whole play, she has a dominant role in how the events pan out. Yes, she may be a pawn in Iago's grand scheme, but she is the one that contributes to his ultimate undoing.
Throughout the play, Emilia sits in the back, especially when considering her marriage to Iago. The one time when she is able to please him (something she is insistent on doing) is when she takes Desdemona's handkerchief, and even then, Iago doesn't show her his gratitude: "Be not acknown on't. I have use for it. Go, leave me." (iii.iii.324). We know that Emilia cares for Desdemona, and when the time comes to unveil Iago's plans to Othello in Act V, its almost like her way of defending her friend, clearing Desdemona's good name, and in a way absolve herself of taking the handkerchief.
What I think is the funniest, if not ironic, aspect of Emilia's character is that although she is Iago's wife, it seems like she is the one Iago knows the least about. He is spending so much of his time plotting against the men throughout the play, its like he thinks nothing about it if his wife finds out. Emilia is the only character Iago doesn't think about bringing down, and in the end she is the one that uncovers that he is not "honest Iago". Isn't it funny how that works out?
One of the most heartbreaking failed relationships is between Othello and Desdemona. The love Othello and Desdemona shared at the beginning of the play seemed like one of the most balanced relationship we have been presented with, making their downfall and Othello’s spin out of control even more depressing to watch. Othello’s sheer hatred of Desdemona comes about so quickly after he is tricked his own fears have become a reality. His awful attitude is so potent, Othello says:
“Minion, your dear lies dead,
And your unblest fate hies. Strumpet, I come.
For, of my heart, those charms, thine eyes, are blotted.
Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted.”
Othello is unbearably angry! His quick to jump to conclusions and disregard for his wife’s opinion reminded of Claudio in Much Ado about Nothing. Hero is quickly ruined by Claudio once he questions her purity and at their own wedding! The issue is resolved on the surface as they later get back together but could Claudio’s extreme disregard of trust allow for his marriage to continue happily?
The past three plays have ended in marriage and Othello is the first text in which we encounter the couple already married. Could this play be Shakespeare commentary on what happens after the wedding? What a morbid thought!
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is the only piece that resolves the play is Puck’s love potion correction and the final happy performance by the rude mechanicals and the wedding night? Lysander is able to completely flip-flop on his love for Hermia but all of the shallow relationships are accepted as true happiness.
Would Othello still be a tragedy if Puck arrived, sprinkled some love potion (or maybe this time sanity potion) so that Othello and Desdemona could live on together?
Even without the downfall of Othello we are still left with one of the most evil characters, Iago.
PS: I would like to give a shout out to Emilia, even though she was critical in setting up the downfall of the characters by giving her evil husband Desdemona’s handkerchief it was great to see someone stand up to Iago! And to have a woman call out Iago on his wicked selfishness gave the tragic plot a moment of good.
Monday, October 18, 2010
There are many pros to the handling of Shakespeare's work by Hollywood. For instance, film has allowed for mass audiences to witness the acting prowess of artists like Kenneth Branagh, who possesses a mastery of the material and spirit of the work that allows him to dive into the whimsy of Much Ado and the grim of Othello (years of stage experience no doubt assisted in this prowess, according to a biography). Also, film allows for the plays, once confined to a stage, to be opened up into the real world; countryside cinematography, an enhancement of emotional responses are of the many qualities that a Hollywood production can amplify in a way that theater can not.
And yet, there are many cons to Shakespeare's journey to Tinseltown. While masters like Branagh make the cut, as do quizzical castings like Keanu "Whoa" Reeves in Much Ado and Lawrence "Cowboy Curtis" Fishburne in Othello. Shakespearean work is often a tricky affair (timing of the pauses, for instance) and most productions that exist solely on American actors often possess a flavor-of-the-week mentality and a marketing eye, which in turn leads to a performance that often equals "awkward" instead of "awe" of tradition. (even though I will admit that the extremely American Midsummer adaptation was really good)
As time goes on, one wonders what play will be next earn a trip into the proverbial plastic surgery that is Hollywood, and if the results will lead to an appreciation and embrace of the art, or a psychotic bearhug of the desire for the box office.
A Midsummer Night's Dream trailer
Much Ado About Nothing trailer
Perhaps it is our other characterization of Othello that makes us feel his rage is unbreakable and his reason is irrecoverable. His painting as an exotic man, an outsider, a man from afar. A wild man, a 'barbary horse.' Without more elaboration on these characterizations, since specifically they are beside the point, does Othello's inability to halt himself now seem more believable, or even expected?
But, regardless of Othello's traits, is Iago's plot not too inhumane to be detected by a soul?
Similarly to in The Merchant of Venice, where a Jewish character faces anti-semetic speculation and determines he must seek revenge based on (an anti-semetic stereotype) monetary accounts, we see Othello the Moor unable to contain a rage that progresses him into uncivil and animalistic fits.
Shakespeare is not perpetuating stereotypes. Othello is barred to his torment by a destructive and inescapable vice, an expertly lying close friend. Does the audience accept Othello's tragic fate as a finality for every man, perhaps even moreso difficult because of Othello's nobility, or is it seen that a different type of man would be able to regain a level head and bring an outcome to be rejoiced?
Language can be described as the ultimate marker of humanity: we think in it, we understand ourselves and the world through it, and it enables/constrains knowledge. Iago, then, disrupts the fundamental organizing tool of reality. He turns language from a tool that facilitates communication and understanding, from a tool of designation and denotation with which human beings can identify and construct their realities, to a tool of obfuscation. His language brings ambivalence and uneasiness to the world of the play. For example, the speech Othello gives to the Duke in act 1 illustrates his mastery of the medium: he uses pathos, false modesty, and elements of performance and storytelling to lure his audience to his side. His language is concrete, and it is fecund in that it promotes empathy, which is how he gets Desdemona to fall in love with him. When he speaks to Iago at 4.1.34-41, however, his ability to speak has completely disintegrated because he has been so thoroughly led astray by him. He speaks in short, furtive sentences. At times he doesn’t even use full sentences and just spits out nouns: “Handkerchief--confessions--handkerchief,” and “Pish! Nose, ears, and lips!” which is interesting because it reminded me of cubism and how post WWI artists used it to depict the violence that occurs when the world becomes fragmented--which is essentially what happens to Othello. His emotional world was constructed on the basis that Desdemona was virtuous and faithful to him (“Honey,” “O my sweet,” “It gives me wonder great as my content to see you here before me,” “My dear love,” “I do love thee”) so when he believes that this is untrue, then everything around him unravels. Othello mimics the unravelling of his world with what wishes to do to his wife, which is to “chop her to messes” (4.1.190.) He wants to cut her up into pieces the way language and his identity have been. Not only does this show how Iago has fractured language, it also shows that his language is not fecund: it is the exact opposite of Othello’s and leads to death. If language is an indicator of humanity, then Othello’s inability to speak signals that he is being dehumanized--he is turning into the beast that Iago compared him to at the opening of the play and his killing Desdemona serves as a justification for the xenophobia and racism Iago advances. Ironically, Iago tells Othello to “keep time in all,” or to maintain control. He is referring to Othello’s passion, which he claims is “most unsuiting to a man,” but because his passion is one of the things that differentiates Othello from the other ‘civilized’ Venetians, Iago actually wants him to lose control of it--another instance of the bastardization of language.
Through the de-signification of language, Iago creates a world in which there is a total eradication of truth, but only he is aware of that. What does this mean for the characters of Othello? It means that Iago is a tyrant, of sorts, who manipulates people and impels them to do as he wishes. His tyranny is of the worst kind, however, because it is insidious; he forces people to do as he dictates while allowing them to believe that they are acting of their own volition. By giving people wrong information he forces them to make decisions according to a script that he has laid out. A cruel joke is being played on the other characters: they no longer recognize the rules of the game. Each character believes that he or she is making a decision for a reason: Othello kills Desdemona because she has committed adultery; Roderigo tries to kill Cassio because that will help him “get” Desdemona--but the truth of the situation is that all of their decisions are based on nothing. Desdemona’s adultery is a complete fabrication (much like this play: ironically Othello says that “It is not words that shakes me thus” but it is. It is the power of words that “shakes” him, just as they “shake” the audience--it’s as if Iago is putting on a play, but instead of being in the audience Othello is in the middle of it.) All the destruction and devastation their actions inflict, then, is for nothing. The tragedy of the play is overwhelming in its thoroughness because there is no point to it; it is totally devoid of meaning. This is emphasized by the fact that Iago never gives us a real reason for his actions. He tells us first that it is because he has been passed over for a promotion, then that it is because he suspects Othello has slept with his wife. But we cannot trust his “reasons” and even if we do, there still remains an imbalance: surely the obliteration of Venetian military power (which is what Othello’s death means) cannot be tantamount to adultery or workplace advancement? Even at the end of Lear there is a bit of hope in the form of Edgar: I’m not sure where the hope is going to come from at the end of this play.
It is as though Iago is using Othello as a source of entertainment for his own pleasure. It is as though by watching Othello get so angry with the situation at hand he feels a sense of power. You can't help but feel bad for Othello knowing that what is being told to him is just to get him worked up.
The handkerchief plays a large role in Othello's life and his relationship with Desdemona. Igao takes advantage of this and manipulates the handkerchief in such a way that Othello is lead to believe that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him. It is funny that Othello would believe that a handkerchief would keep his to wife faithful. This is another example that Othello can be gullible when it comes to love and his relationship with his wife. As discussed in class it only took one word , "lie" for Othello to start to jump to the conclusion about his wife and her infidelity according to Iago's observations.
During this time it is also apparent that another side of Othello is beginning to surface. A more barbaric side of him. It is as though Othello is treating the situation that has been created by Iago as if it were another war he was to fight. This situation that has been created raises many questions about Iago and Othello which can only be answered by the audience.