Saturday, May 19, 2012

Midterm blog

     Looking back at my posts, I find that I most interested in the characters’ motives and actions within the limitations of their environment. Shakespeare wrote about society as having the English, Christian characteristics of his own place and time, whether his play was taking place in his own contemporary time, centuries before he lived, or even in Italy. This framework of society where everyone has a role to play and rules to either obey or break cause the characters to act and react in the ways that they do. 

     I like to see characters stepping out of the role that society prescribes for them. Shakespeare does this with different outcomes in his plays, which is admirable because all of the characters have to play by the same societal rules. It is their personalities and the reasons they reject society which determine the outcome.  For example, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s ambition to rule is driven by ambition, pride, and greed, they are able to dispose of Duncan, but they are not able to live with the consequences or mental stress which their crime causes. In an inverse way, King Lear aspires to give up his throne and responsibilities, but maintain the benefits of being king, and his decision causes a disordering of the social structure continues all the way down to the lowest tier of society, where a servant steps out of his social parameter to challenge Cornwall’s cruelty.  Bolingbroke’s decision to challenge Richard II and take the throne has the power of changing the course of history, and in Elizabethan audience’s views, perhaps even the character of God and the universe itself.  Jessica’s choice to abandon her father’s religion and marry a Christian does not seem to be able to make her able to fit in with society, she is one of those characters who are not able to successfully change her situation through social defiance. The theme that I see through all of my posts is that society is that catalyst for making these characters who they are.

Hal's reputation

     Scene 3.3 in 1 Henry iv is my favorite scene because it is a comic scene which illustrates a very serious theme that ties Hal’s story to his father’s. Falstaff, who has accepted bribes from men wealthy enough to pay to avoid being drafted, has arrived at the tavern showing no remorse for his dishonestly, even when the other patrons tease him about it. By this action, he shows that he does not respect Hal as the prince, but considers him an equal. Right before Hal enters the scene, he jokes :”…The Prince is a jack, a sneak-up.” “’Sblood, an he were here I would cudgel him like a dog if he would say so.” Of course, this is just talk coming from Falstaff, and is taken as comical. He later says “Why, Hal, thou knowest as thou art but man I dare, but as thou art prince, I fear thee as I fear the roaring of the lions’ whelp.” When Hal asks why not as the lion, Falstaff replies:”The King himself is to be feared as the lion. Dost thou think I’ll fear thee as thy father?” In this way, Hal’s legitimacy as prince is questioned, as his father’s legitimacy as king is questioned after overthrowing Richard II. 

     The pick-pocketing incident further displays this question of how legitimacy is determined. When Falstaff asks Hal if he admits that he’d picked his pocket, Hal replies, “It appears to be the story.” Shakespeare uses this moment to question truth in history. Hal picking Falstaff’s pocket is reminiscent of Bolingbroke stealing the throne from Richard II. Henry IV and his heirs are considered legitimate because as the ruling party, they get to write history. History is a series of stories that can be interpreted in different ways. By picking Falstaff’s pocket, Hal is showing that he has the power to take control of the kingdom and dictate what his own story will be. This is also a foreshadowing of his eventual abandonment of Falstaff, in order to fulfill his role as king.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

The threat of disorder

                 The world of Richard II is a highly ritualized, idealized place from the view of King Richard. The play begins with an example of this: Henry Bolingbroke (the duke of Herford) accuses Thomas Mowbray of killing Thomas Woodstock, the duke of Gloucester, who was King Richard’s uncle. They attempt to settle their differences with a duel, which Richard delays, before cancelling the duel altogether and banishing both men, Mowbray for life, and Bolingbroke for six years, a reduced sentence from ten years as Richard has considered the fact that Bolingbroke’s father is ill. This reduction doesn’t have much compassion, as a man who was ill in Shakespeare’s time wasn’t likely to live six years; so six years versus ten would make very little difference. It is also hinted that Richard wants Bolingbroke out of the way because he plans to use his status as king to justify taking Bolingbroke’s inheritance away from him in order to finance the war he is waging on the Irish. Richard borrows money from nobles and rents out their land in order to gain capital. This is the first example we see of Richard’s misuse of power, and it sets up the driving question for this play: What is the right thing to do when a king is not behaving in a kingly, chivalric way? This indicates not just an ailing, corrupt kingdom in debt, but a disorder affecting the entire universe. 

              The answer to this question isn’t as simple as disposing the king, as it was believed that the king was the direct representative of God on earth in his country. By accusing the king of wrongdoing, a person was questioning the will of God, which put their own soul in jeopardy. At the start of Richard II, I found it difficult to side with Richard, however. In Shakespeare’s England, to challenge someone above your own rank was discouraged, as people understood their role in society in relation to other people’s statuses. To question Richard is twice as worse, because it means that Bolingbroke is challenging God’s divine plan, implying that God is a crooked character. Throughout his life, Bolingbroke will continue to second guess his actions, despite acting on what he inwardly feels is right and wrong. What is most tragic about his character is that in challenging corruption, he cannot reassure himself that he is not a force of evil. 

          It is no surprise that this would have troubled Elizabethan audiences, because it means that if Bolingbroke is successful in questioning the king, it would mean that one single person is able to destroy the social structure of both England and the entire universe.

Role reversal in Macbeth

     Lady Macbeth’s strong personality and ambition are the driving force in the play, and so I find it extremely odd that she exits the play so quietly, with her death offstage. I was wondering if it was a case of her character having served its purpose, but in cases like that (Christopher Sly, and the Fool from King Lear, for example) the character simply vanishes, while Lady Macbeth’s death is mentioned and mourned , although in a terribly brief speech. (“she should have died hereafter”)

     While there was once a strong relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, he no longer has the time, or perhaps the capacity, to properly mourn his wife.  At the start of the play, Macbeth is prone to attacks of conscience as seen in his “sleep no more” speech, while Lady Macbeth mocks his sensitivity as being a lack of manliness. By the end, any trace of sensitivity in Macbeth’s personality is blunted, and Lady Macbeth’s increased sensitivity mirrors the change in her husband’s personality. 
      In a tragedy, it is natural that Lady Macbeth should die, but the offhandedness of how it happens suggests that she is somehow no longer the focus of the evil behind the Macbeth’s actions. In class we discussed the implications of Macbeth telling the doctor to “cure” his wife, one interpretation meaning that he wished to have her killed in order to silence her. Throughout the play, Macbeth does not disobey his wife, but there seems to be a change in him when he acts to murder MacDuff’s family without consulting her. It seems as Macbeth slowly loses his conscience, Lady Macbeth loses her sanity. Inversely, her insanity is directly related to her increase in guilty conscience for the murder of Duncan. She becomes incapacitated by the increase in her guilt, while Macbeth becomes more able to act on his plans by his decrease in guilt.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bells and Whistles

Based off the reading question “Macbeth hears something at 2.1.62--what is it? Note that this is the first of many sounds that Macbeth and other characters hear throughout the play. What other sounds are in the stage directions or mentioned by various characters?”, I took a moment to consider the auditory significance of the noises in the first two acts. The interplay between stagnancy and the alarming sounds adds to the psychological thriller-quality of the play, exposing the mental aguish of Macbeth and his wife.
The “delicate air” that Duncan notes as he enters the castle is a false foreshadowing of the tension filled nights to come (1.6.2). The first bell rings as Lady Macbeth’s signal that she has prepared Duncan’s murder for Macbeth, to which he replies “I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.” (2.1.651).  In almost trance like state, Macbeth is commanded by the instructional sound —Duncan’s murder a product of Lady Macbeths agency.
After the devious deed is done at Act 2 scene 2, the paranoia associated with sound escalates for Macbeth and his wife. “Hark! Peace! /It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman, / Which gives the stern'st good-night.” (2. 2. 649-651) Referring to the bell tolls that marked executions, Lady Macbeth associates the screech of the winged predator to the terror of death. When Macbeth returns from murdering Duncan, he asks “Didst thou not hear a noise?” to which Lady Macbeth replies “I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. Did not you speak?” (2.1.14-15). In their discrepancy, the two obsess over noise to make sure there is no evidence of their crime. The owls and crickets illustrate a naturalistic vision of the murder, the unheard cry of Duncan represented through the sounds of prey. Circadian rhythm of nature works in conjunction with the mechanical ticking of a clock, the stillness of night broken by the sound of bells and owls.
The repeated stage command of “Knock (within)” between Act 2 scene 2-3, marks the entry of others finding out about Duncan’s murder. The suspense drives Macbeth to psychosis; “Whence is that knocking?/ How is't with me, when every noise appeals me?/What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes.” (2.2.721). The self-mutilating nature of his paranoia is made explicate in the last line. In the next scene, the porter in the hallway hears the knocking and refers to the gates of hell. The knowledge of Duncan’s murder is foreshadowed by this demonic vision, as stated by the porter himself “knock; never at quiet! What are you? But this place is too cold for hell” (2.3.772). Here we note the welcoming castle in Act 1 contrasts a castle “too cold for hell”. Duncan’s murder has transformed the setting to a hypersensitive reality, picking up on the misdeeds conducted by Macbeth even before others do. The knocking’s change from being alarming to being an ignored monotony illustrates the dynamic use of sound within the context of characters. For Macbeth it is mental torture, and for the porter, it is a moment for intuitive inquiry.
Especially within the performance of a play, sound makes the tension of Macbeth a shared experience between the audience and the actors on stage. As markers of agency and precursors to exposure, ringing and knocking alarms people as fast as they can be ignored.  When a sound gets repeated, it either lose its significance or it becomes a source of mania. In Macbeth we witness examples of both, as the start of consequences falls on our tragic anti-hero.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Macbeth is fighting an internal conflict throughout the majority of Shakespeare's play. Macbeth has allowed himself to be shamed into the crime by Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth plays on this internal conflict and see's a loophole where she can attain power. Women during this time may have had no voice outside of their husband, yet Lady Macbeth used the weakness lurking in her husband to satisfy her own greedy ways. the efforts on Lady Macbeths' part to attain the thrown are successful yet it leaves her husband even more aware that he has given up his soul. the realization that Macbeth has allowed his wife to associate him with something so gruesome as the murder of Duncan makes him want to secure his kingship even further. Macbeth is even more sensitive to the crime he commits with his wife because there is a fear that he will be discovered. This insecurity that the crime will be discovered is what plays on Macbeth's internal conflict. This mental instability worsens and weakens Macbeth when we see him talk to the ghosts and to the witches. Banquo was present the first time Macbeth saw the witches which makes him believe even more that he will be found out by Banquo. All of these motives are what drives the madness and the murder in the play. As an aside immediately after the witches disappear from the sight of Macbeth and Banquo, Macbeth says "Two truths are told/As happy prologues to the swelling act..." (Shakespeare 1.3.126). This sets up the madness that ignites the internal conflict in the mind of Macbeth. At any rate, Macbeth knows that if Banquo himself does not make an attempt, Macbeths children will not succeed Macbeth and Banquos will. Macbeth says, "Come what may/Time and the hour runs through the roughest day" (Shakespeare 1.4.145). What ever happens will happen one way or another. At this point in the play Macbeth has already decided that he needs to make things happen. Lady Macbeth is experiencing all of this through her husband and this may also be the point in the play where she realizes she needs to act fast and in Macbeths internal doubts and conflicts. In this Shakespearean world we have to remember that men do not only work for themselves but also for the next generation. This is a point in time that is crucial to two very important families. The children of these two men will carry out the name in honor. We see this idea playing out after the murder of Duncan where Macbeths conscience had brought him to immobility yet he still decides to murder Banquo and Fleance. It is because of Lady Macbeth and her ability to make Macbeth mobile. It is clear that Macbeth will stop at nothing to secure his thrown.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Concluding King Lear

The ending of King Lear was at one time completely changed for performance, and it is not difficult to determine why. While the play is a tragedy and deaths are to be expected, the gravity of the situation at hand in this play is just immensely sad. First of all, the number of deaths in the play is exceedingly large. Regan and Goneril end up poisoned, Gloucester, Edmund, Lear, and Cordelia all end up killed in different ways, and Cornwall dies from wounds inflicted upon him by a servant.  In some interpretations the fool dies as well, and that death in particular seems completely unnecessary and uncalled for. However, the aspect that makes this play truly hard-hitting when it comes to how depressing it is definitely the fact that Cordelia's death is supposed to be prevented, but isn't simply because the messenger doesn't get to her in time. 
When King Lear enters with his daughter's body and shouts "howl, howl, howl, howl! O you are men of stones" the ending gets even more intense (p. 2565, 5.3.256). Both Lear's animalistic qualities and pure human aspects are coming together to grieve for this horrible loss that has been forced upon him, and we can see and feel how truly affected by this loss Lear is and as a reader we feel his pain. When Lear then dies shortly thereafter, it is almost something of a relief for him, and whenever death offers relief for anyone in any situation it is incredibly indicative of what sort of situation surrounds him or her.
Once all of the deaths have taken place, the conclusion of the play shows us Kent, Edgar, and Albany being the only characters left alive. They discuss how they must begin to rebuild their world and say that “the weight of this sad time [they] must obey” (p. 2567, 5.3.322).  What can be seen here is that even the three men who until this point (or various points which were all very recent in the text) were not prone to feel sympathy towards these dying characters can feel and are feeling the full impact of the emotion during this conclusion. The whole ending combined with the madness that occurs within the play as a whole merges to make for an incredibly emotional journey for the reader and the characters within the work.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Change of Character

The final act of MacBeth lays out a total reversal of what has gone on up until this point. We see the once powerful and domineering Lady MacBeth racked with guilt, wandering the halls in a dream like state, mumbling secrets, and trying desperately to wash her hands of blood she senses upon them. She is reduced down to this almost pathetic ghost of a person because of the evil in which she took part. Her physical form cannot withstand the force of guilt that comes with overthrowing a King, and ultimately that guilt destroys her.

MacBeth, on the other hand, seems to have finally taken control of the situation. He calls in a Doctor to "cure her of that..." meaning, it is assumed, to cure Lady MacBeth of her penchant for walking the halls and revealing treasonous secrets from their collective past. Yet it is the first time we see him really take charge of anything. We see MacBeth calling the shots and issuing orders.  He has reached a position of power and command, and he is embracing his power.

 Later however, in  5.3, after the death of his wife, he delivers one of the most famous speeches of all time.

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

We see again a weaker side of MacBeth, even a remorseful side, as he realizes that life is so incredibly brief and so often amounts to nothing. He struggled and deceived and committed horrible crimes simply to advance his standing in this world only to realize that in the grand scheme of things none of it really mattered. He's lost his wife, he's lost his whole reason for being and improving. He has fulfilled the witches' prophesy but for what? He will die and he will die alone after much drama and nothing of real true worth will have been accomplished. He gives us a glimpse into what kinds of thoughts have been haunting him.

I think it is so interesting how these characters exhibit this sense of remorse at the end of the play. We have seen evil and conniving characters in other tragedies by Shakespeare. But how often do we see them overtaken with guilt for their actions. How often do we see them wish for things to have turned out differently?

I was reminded of the fate of Henry IV towards the end of his life. Covered in lesions, succumbing to disease; thus is the fate of a usurper, Shakespeare seems to show us. He is warning us against the danger of trying to seize power that does not rightfully ours. This guilt, these pitiful ends we see the characters of MacBeth come to are not meant to cast usurpation or rebellion in anything but a negative light. It's meant to show us that no good can come of an overthrow. We are meant to pity them yes, but only in the way one pities a criminal being sent to his death. We wish things could have been different for them but we take heed and learn not to follow the same path as them. Shakespeare is using their remorse to teach us what is acceptable and unacceptable in our world. The overthrow of a King can never and will never be acceptable. At the very least, not for a playwright who has just been made one of the "King's Men" to deem acceptable.

All Things Change

The final act of Macbeth could not be any different from the beginning of the play. The power dynamic between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth shifts as the play progresses and by the end it is the polar opposite of what we saw in the first acts. In the first acts of the play Lady Macbeth is a strong female character who seems to have many masculine attributes. When she learns that King Duncan will be entering her house she immediately begins plotting his death. Lady Macbeth is more ready to commit murder than her husband, she worries that his nature “Is too full o’th’milk of human kindness” (1.5.15). She wonders if Macbeth is too full of goodness to carry out the deadly deed, it’s interesting that Shakespeare uses the word milk in this line. Milk is usually associated with motherhood and obviously mothers are female, but Lady Macbeth wonders if her husband is too full of this female trait; which in turn makes her seem more masculine. She distances herself from those female images and instead uses them to describe her husband. She seems to be more masculine by showing more bravery than Macbeth when she goes back into the room and smears the blood over Duncan’s servants, she tells him “My hands are of your colour, but I shame To wear a heart so white” (2.2.62). Lady Macbeth again shows her more powerful masculine side by finishing what Macbeth could not do himself. She is obviously a very brave and powerful woman. She is even able to keep her composure through the middle acts of the play as Macbeth begins to show signs madness.

But by the beginning of Act 5 Lady Macbeth is in worse shape than her husband. She has succumbed to her guilt over the murders and sleep walks at night. She begins to let details of the murder slip out in her madness. Her guilt drives her to obsessively wash her hands; she is attempting to wash Duncan’s blood off her hands, she cries, “Out, damned spot; out I say… What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power into account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him?” (5.1.30-34). Lady Macbeth is giving away secrets and implementing herself in Duncan’s murder, and even mentions Banquo’s death adding more suspicion on she and her husband.  She seems to be hysterical when she cries out, “To bed, to bed./There’s a knocking at the gate./ Come, come, come, come, give me your hand.” (5.1.56-57). Hysteria was considered to be a female illness. Shakespeare stripped Lady Macbeth of all of her masculine qualities and has given her a specifically female ailment. Lady Macbeth is no longer the powerful decision maker. She has been reduced to a raving hysterical female.

Macbeth on the other hand seems to have taken on her aggressive attitude. He commands the doctor to “Cure her of that” (5.3.41) just as Lady Macbeth commanded him to go back and place the daggers and blood on the servants in Duncan’s room. As Lady Macbeth loses her mind her power also decreases, and Macbeth seems to latch on to and carry it for a little while. From the beginning of the play it looked as if the women would hold all the power as they did in King Lear. But as the actions in the play unfold Lady Macbeth is left powerless. Even her death is not seen on stage. Malcolm informs the audience that she has presumably committed suicide. This is the ultimate diminishing of power. Lady Macbeth began the course of action that propelled the plot of the play; and by the end she is stripped to nothing. The last time she is on stage she is raving like a mad woman and then she is seemingly forgotten.         

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The New Macbeths

The final act of this play reveals a lot about the main characters in this play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. In Act 5 there is a huge reversal of these characters behaviors.

Act 5 opens with a doctor and gentlewoman discussing the state of a patient. As it turns out the patient is none other than Lady Macbeth. After learning about her condition, Lady Macbeth wanders into the scene rubbing her hands together in a subconscious attempt to remove her hands of the proverbial blood in which they are covered. What is so interesting about this is that in every other scene with Lady Macbeth, not only has she been awake, but she has been strong, cunning, and steadfast in her conviction to kill Duncan and take the crown. Here though in act 5, she has gone through a change. We now get a glimpse of the guilt that had been secretly racking Lady Macbeth's mind. It's interesting to see this other side of Lady Macbeth. This is the first sense of humanity and guilt that we see Lady Macbeth convey which contradicts her outward toughness. Personally, I welcome this scene as a revelation of Lady Macbeth's inner workings. Rather than having her be hyperbolically cruel and heartless, we see the effects that the dramatic series of events that has unfolded in this play has had on her.

Conversely, Macbeth seems to have gone in the other direction. In the beginning, when conspiring with Lady Macbeth, Macbeth was unsure and nervous, so much so that he was having hysterical fits in a hall full of people which Lady Macbeth had to control. Now, in act 5, Macbeth seems to have given up on the guilt and uncertainty of everything and has taken the prophecies to heart. Either that or he has submitted himself to fate and has decided to go full stop into the future, fighting whomever and not worrying himself over being defeated due to the prophecies told to him. He does have a moment of reflection in 5.3 where he realizes the futility of battling time and fate but from then on, he is lion-hearted and single-minded, nearly pounding his chest and laughing in the face of his challengers. This is a stark contrast to the Macbeth from earlier in the play.

Act 5 is probably the most important scene in this play. It is the culmination of every event and prophecy and it shows us the effects that the dramatic series of events has on the Macbeths.

Disgraceful Death

Act V is a series of small scenes which encompass a larger picture, the picture of Macbeth’s failure, one in which he had taken 4 Acts to accomplish. The form in which Shakespeare conveys Act V is an interesting one and it is to be noted that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s close planning led to a whirl of scenes which not only ended all their plans, but also the lives they so carefully nurtured. 

What becomes of Lady Macbeth is even more ironic for the life that she nurtured became, at the same time, insane. As slowly as she sought to set her place next to her King was as quietly as madness took over her soul and left her without anything even when she thought she had everything. In the end of the day, she lost, and it was not because of an outer force but because of her own self. She constantly see’s her hands as stained with the blood of the dead king and admonishes it by screaming, “Out, damned spot.” Her paranoia is further reinstated when she cries out of anguish how unreal it seemed to her that, even after so long, the stain of Duncan’s blood remained on her hands and wonders how he had “so much blood in him?”

Lady Macbeth’s original confidence and carelessness for the murder of the King is now ruthlessly replaced by an agonizing irony of the deed that she had committed. She had not foreseen that not only would the murder cause her sleepless nights but would also result in her death and this is Shakespeare, I believe, showing us how a human’s first instinct is selfish but even that selfishness can turn upon themselves.

What I found even more painfully satirical was how Lady Macbeth’s death was conveyed. Her death was not shown on stage and it was also not taken with many emotions from her husband, whom she seemed to have loved so dearly. Even though it may have been from the shock of the situation and the growing worry over the upcoming war, Macbeth revealed a deadened response to his wife’s death. Not only was Lady Macbeth’s death not showcased honorably but it was not treated with honor either, a irony that she strove all her life to avoid.