Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Home from ALA

I'm home, and mostly unpacked, and have cleaned the messes that my hubby created all on his ownsome this weekend (the kids are away with their father at a family reunion). I've gone through all the real mail and all my email, and I really, really, really want to tell you all about my time at ALA, but I find myself in dire need of a nap.

I'll be back later with the details, but the short version is "It was AWESOME!", with a slightly longer postscript of "My Lord, but my friend Tanita gave one helluva speech at the Coretta Scott King awards this morning!" Meanwhile, I completely forgot to mention that my poem, "After", is featured (with my permission) in this post over at Images for Renewal.

And now to sleep, perchance to uncross my eyes.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Measure for Measure part 2 - a summary of Act I

Welcome to Measure for Measure, a comedy with serious bite to it. So serious that this play is sometimes categorized as a "problem play" rather than a comedy, since it involves someone's execution along the way and since the marriages at the end are not all voluntary events, as you shall see.

New characters will be italicized when first introduced. Actual quotes from the text will be in quotes or blocked. The rest is my doing, for which I apologize.

Act I

The whole play is set in Vienna. Ostensibly.

Scene 1 Inside a room in the Duke's palace.

Duke Vincentio: Hey Escalus. I've got a hankering to go . . . somewhere. Somewhere . . . else. Which I will not disclose. I'm leaving you and Angelo in charge.

Escalus: Angelo is a the worthiest man in town. Nobody better or more pure in heart than Angelo.

Angelo: *enacts the We're not worthy scene from Wayne's World* Where is it you're going again?

Duke: Away. And no, you can't escort me. It's top-secret Duke vacation time. Peace out. *exits*

*Escalus and Angelo confer about the meaning and extent of their powers*

Scene 2: In a street

*Enter Lucius and two no-name guys to engage in witty repartee involving religion and venereal disease. The dialogue is exceptionally witty and pun-laden and was undoubtedly pee-your-pants funny in Shakespeare's time, since he's dancing around the edges of sacred territory with the religion jokes and straying into nether regions with the STD talk, but it does not lend itself to summarization. If you wish to read it, you may do so here.*

*Enter Mistress Overdone - she's a prostitute/madam, and her name means she's been "done" too many times. Get it? Because Shakespeare's contemporaries certainly would have.*

Mistress Overdone: Check it out. Claudio has been arrested and is to have his head chopped off in three days' time!

Lucio: Say what?

Mistress Overdone: Yep. Knocked up his fiancée.

Lucio: We'd best go chat with him.

Other guy: It'll let us find out more about the proclamation.

*Exit Lucio and two no-names, enter Pompey*

Pompey: "Yonder man is carried to prison."

Mistress Overdone: "Well; what has he done?"

Pompey: "A woman." Also, there's a proclamation says all the whorehouses in the suburbs of Vienna have to be torn down. Those in the city are allowed to stand because some smart burgher stood up for them.

Mistress Overdone: *sings "What Will Become of Me?"*

Pompey: Don't worry. You'll be taken care of. *Exits with Mistress Overdone, but not before a here comes Claudio moment*

*Enter Claudio, Juliet, the Provost and others*

Claudio: Dude. What's with the parading? Can't I just go straight to jail, do not pass GO, do not collect $200?

Provost: Your Monopoly reference is anachronistic. Also, Angelo said the parade was mandatory.

Claudio: Figures.

*Enter Lucio w/cronies*

Lucio: "Why, how now brown cow, Claudio!" What's with the chains?

Claudio: It's the result of too much liberty. Liberty so big one could say I was a libertine. I made a bit too free, let's say.

Lucio: Was it MURDER?

Claudio: Nope.

Lucio: Lechery?

Claudio: That's as good a word as any. You know how I've been engaged to Juliet? Well, we were waiting to get married because we were hoping for a dowry, but, well, we did the nasty and now she's with child, and the new douche deputy duke decided to enforce the law that makes premarital sex illegal. He's trying to make a name for himself, I guess.

Lucio: Bogus! Send after the duke and make an appeal.

Claudio: Tried that. Nobody knows where he went. Do me a favor, Lucio. Go find my smokin' hot sister, Isabel. She's entering a convent today, but hopefully you can catch her before she takes orders. She is a very persuasive orator, and I hope you can convince her to plead my case. Between her youth and beauty and her verbal skills, I figure she's my best chance at getting not-dead.

Lucio: Tally-ho, and awaaaaay I go!

Scene 3: At a monastary (NOT the convent)

*Enter Duke Vincentio and Friar Thomas*

Duke: I'm here in hiding because, in short, I've been rather lax as a ruler and I figured I'd give the reins to Angelo. He's a bit of a hard-ass, you see, and will enforce the letter of the law and then I can go back and relax things just a bit, but have them tighter than they were.

Friar Thomas: Dude, that was your job, and would have made more of an impression on the populace if you'd done it.

Duke: Yeah, I figured since I allowed them not to obey the law, that my enforcing it against them would be too much like a trick. I figure that while Angelo's sorting things out, I'll disguise myself as a friar and walk among my people and also check up on Angelo. Here's why:
. . . Lord Angelo is precise;
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
That his blood flows, or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone: hence shall we see,
If power change purpose, what our seemers be.
Scene 4 A nunnery. The convent kind, not the whorehouse kind.

*Enter Isabella and Francisca*

Isabella: I just want to make sure I understand all the nun rules before I sign on. I kind of wish there were more of them, really, because I like restraint.

Francisca: Nope. That's it for rules. *hears knocking at that door* Sounds like there's a man at the door. You answer and talk to him. Since I've already taken my vows, I can't speak to him unless the prioress is here or my face is covered, but since you haven't taken your vows, you needn't worry about that stuff.

*Francisca leaves, Lucio enters*
Lucio: I see by the pink of your cheeks that you're a virgin. I'm looking for Isabel, sister of the unhappy Claudio.

Isabella: What a coincidence! I am she! But why do you call Claudio "unhappy"?

Lucio: In short, he's in jail.

Isabella: Woe me! for what?

For that which, if myself might be his judge,
He should receive his punishment in thanks:
He hath got his friend with child.
Isabella: You're having me on.

Lucio: Am not. I mean, usually I would be, but you being a nun, you're as good as a saint.

Isabella: Don't mock me.

Lucio: Sorry. Don't mean to. Allow me to explain the situation crassly, using agricultural terms:
Your brother and his lover have embraced:
As those that feed grow full, as blossoming time
That from the seedness the bare fallow brings
To teeming foison, even so her plenteous womb
Expresseth his full tilth and husbandry.
Isabella: Is it Juliet? Why doesn't he marry her?

Lucio: . . . to sum up, duke's gone, Angelo's a hardass, and he's condemned to die. And about Angelo - he is:
. . . a man whose blood
Is very snow-broth; one who never feels
The wanton stings and motions of the sense,
But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge
With profits of the mind, study and fast.
I hope you'll go plead Claudio's case to Angelo.

Isabella: I doubt . . .

Lucio:"Our doubts are traitors/ And makes us lose the good we oft might win/ By fearing to attempt." Go talk to Angelo. Men often succumb to the pleas of young women, especially if they kneel and cry.

Isabella: "I'll see what I can do."

Lucio: And step on it, sister.

Isabella: I'm on it. I'll just tell the reverend mother what I'm up to and then I'm off to see Angelo.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Measure for Measure part 1

I'm totally cheating today. I'm going to give you a full summary of Measure for Measure tomorrow, but today, I give you two scenes involving a novice nun named Isabella (pretty and clever and sister to a man condemned to die) and Angelo - proof that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (as my high school history teacher used to say - turns out the phrase was coined by Lord Acton - but I digress).

First up, a scene performed by Tessa Gratton and her monkey friend Tom. Using unicorn and dragon figures. Tess explains the set-up quite well in her post, complete with the actual text of the soliloquy that closes the scene. Here is Tess's selection from Act II, scene 2:

And here is Tessa's bonus treat, which she emailed me last week - it involves David Tennant as Angelo in quite a physical role in the subsequent meeting between Angelo and Isabella that occurs in Act II, scene 4:

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Julius Caesar and Macbeth - some thoughts

I know I already pointed out some similarities between Julius Caesar and Hamlet, but there are some bits that I think Shakespeare borrowed from himself, either on purpose or without really thinking about it.

There are some big-picture similarities. For instance, both plays deal with regicide. But more than that, they deal with valiant warriors (Brutus and Macbeth) who are manipulated by power players (Cassius and Lady Macbeth) to strike down a king that they actually liked or respected. In both cases another valiant warrior (Antony and Macduff) arrive to avenge the death of the true king.

In both cases, the death of the antihero (Brutus and Macbeth) is a foregone conclusion. Both men see it coming (Brutus for longer than Macbeth, who doesn't realize he's doomed until we find out that Macduff was born by C-section) and want to die nobly in battle. Macbeth succeeds in that he falls in combat to Macduff; Brutus succeeds in committing the Roman equivalent of seppuku.

Another similarity involves the deaths of the spouses of the antiheroes. Where Lady Macbeth is one of the most active forces of malice in the play, she gets a bit hinky (sleepwalking scene anyone?), then dies off stage, evidently by suicide (Malcolm later states that word is that Lady Macbeth killed herself - violently). Portia, the faithful spouse of Brutus, is obviously a more feeble sort of woman from the start, as references are made to her questionable state of health and she's all swoony. She also kills herself off-stage, reportedly by eating fire. Jenn Hubbard () tells me that one of her teachers said she swallowed live coals, thereby burning her innards and asphixiating. Not one of your less horrible ways to die, methinks. In both cases, the husband is sad, but doesn't have sufficient time to mourn his spouse's death. Macbeth: "She should have died hereafter;/ There would have been a time for such a word." Brutus: "Why, farewell, Portia. We must die, Messala:/ With meditating that she must die once,/ I have the patience to endure it now." Both turn their thoughts toward strategy and battle immediately after their brief meditations on their dead wives.

Yet another similarity involves the presence of independent practitioners of supernatural arts. The Scottish play opens with three witches, who foretell what is to be. That they purposefully withhold at least some of the information from Macbeth is part of their charm, and a large cause of mischief in the play. Julius Caesar involves a soothsayer, who hollers "BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH!" at Caesar, along with supernatural portents (a severe, massive storm; lions whelping in the streets; cats & dogs, living together; etc.) and word from augurers (who have done some sort of divination involving ritual sacrifice). Where the plays diverge is that Macbeth listens to his portents when he ought not, and Caesar doesn't listen when he should. As pointed out before, Caesar, like Hamlet, "defies augury." (In an aside, where Macbeth and Hamlet intersect involves one of the superstitions about the play. One of the "cures" for having said the name of the Scottish play inside (or near) a playhouse when not in performance or rehearsal is to say "Angels and ministers of grace defend us." (Hamlet, Act I, sc. iv.) But I digress.)

Also in common? Sleeplessness. In Julius Caesar, you have Brutus talking about how he hasn't slept since Cassius first wound him up about Caesar; in Macbeth, you learn that Macbeth "hath murdered sleep". Sleeplessness is closely aligned with a guilty conscience in both cases. Lady Macbeth doesn't sleep well, either, but walks and talks in her sleep, obsessing over the bloodstains she imagines on her hands.

If the play had only one or two of these similarities, it would seem more accidental to me, but I think these are themes Shakespeare enjoyed exploring (for whatever reason - some say it's a subtle swipe at a repressive society), and that he enjoyed weaving these particular story fronds together in his work. Tomorrow: On to another play!

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

It's a Contest!

First, what you're playing for: a brand-new, never-been-read copy of So Long As Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of Shakespeare's Sonnets by Clinton Heylin. I bought myself a copy when it came out last year, and just a few months back, I inadvertently purchased a second copy. Truly, I do not have room for two copies of this lovely, hardcover book about the history of Shakespeare's sonnets, which is based in large part on the fact that they were bootlegged in the first place - or, as Heylin puts it, "booklegged". (Heylin pretty much made his name writing about bootlegged rock tapes, most notably those of Bob Dylan, but his research skills and knowledge carry over well in this story of how the Bard's private stash of sonnets went public.) I've talked about Heylin's book before in this post on Sonnet 106 and this post on Sonnet 86.

The book takes its title from Sonnet 18, which closes with this lovely couplet:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Second, this week's rules on how to enter:

Drop me a comment to this post - this one, the one you are now reading - quoting your favorite line from my Julius Caesar summary AND/OR leave a comment telling me your favorite part of each individual summaries by leaving a comment on the individual summary posts. That's SIX CHANCES TO ENTER: one per summary, plus this bonus here.

The summary posts are:

Act II - Conspiracy!
Act III - Et tu Bruté?
Act IV - Waiting for the other sandal to fall
Act V - "and then the conspirators die. The End."

If you think that I'm (shamelessly) trying to get more comments, you're kinda right - I spent hours and hours writing my summaries and got very little feedback, and, as you may know, comments sometimes feel like love. So - comment to win this wonderful book, folks! And what could be easier than quoting me back to me? It's almost cut-and-paste simple! In fact, it is cut-and-paste simple!

This here contest closes at noon Eastern time on Tuesday, since I've got a make-up contest to run between now and the end of next week. I sure hope some of you will enter. (Note to Jennifer Hubbard: Your entries are duly noted, and you've scored a BONUS entry for your post ordering encouraging people to read the Caesar posts, so I've got you at six already. You know what to do to get seven entries, right?

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Julius Caesar and Hamlet - some thoughts

I'm pretty much positive I'm not the first or only person to notice the similarities between these plays, but I definitely couldn't pass up a chance to talk about something that jumped out at me as I read Julius Caesar. In fact, if you read my summaries of Act II, scenes 1 and 2, Act IV, scene 1, and Act V, scene 5, I've already flagged some of them. It's not just the similarities in the natures of some of the characters - for instance, Brutus is extremely noble, as is Hamlet. There are some factual similarities, too: Both talk to ghosts. Both suffer the loss of their female love interests. Both are seeking to bring down someone who has wrongfully taken power. Both are recognized as extremely worthy, noble men at the close of the plays in remarkably similar terms.

I assure you that this post is based on my personal observations and thoughts - I didn't manage to quickly find an essay on this topic. So you will forgive the lack of actual scholarliness, I hope.

In addition to factual points of comparison, the plays share similar language in places. One of the most memorable lines in all of literature comes from Hamlet: "To be or not to be, that is the question." That line is so memorable because it kicks off Hamlet's second soliloquy, in which he again considers killing himself (as he did in his first soliloquy). In Julius Caesar, we have Brutus pondering a different sort of quandary. He's wondering whether Julius will be a good leader, and he says "How that might change his nature, there's the question." Now, it's possible that the "To be or not to be" line wasn't as iconic in Shakespeare's time as it now is. And it's possible that Julius Caesar came before the final version of Hamlet, although likely that it came after the first version (sometimes referred to as Ur-Hamlet). Julius Caesar is believed to have been written around 1599. The "final" version of Hamlet was written between 1599 and 1601 (so, possibly at the same time as JC), though it's widely believed that an earlier version of the play existed as much as a decade earlier.

Which line came first? Shakespeare knows, but he's not saying. Still, the similarity is striking. But when it comes to comparing these plays, it's not just this line from JC, Act II, sc. 1 and the one from Hamlet, Act III, sc. 1, that are similar.

There are other similar lines - as when characters in both plays make references to smiling villains (Hamlet in Hamlet, Act I, sc. 5 and Octavius in Julius Caesar, Act II, sc. 2), both have references to defying augury/ignoring portents (Hamlet in Hamlet, Act V, sc. 2, and Caesar in Act II, sc. 2), and the closings of both plays sound remarkably similar (Hamlet, Act V, sc. 2 and Julius Caesar, Act V, sc. 5).

And there are some similarities between the characters of Hamlet and Brutus. Hamlet spends a lot of time thinking about suicide, as we can tell from his first soliloquy ("O that this too, too solid/sullied flesh would melt"), which dealt with suicide, and his second ("To be or not to be"). Similarly, Brutus mentions the idea of killing himself early on in the play, as a noble way of avoiding improper servitude or submission to an unworthy ruler.

Between their discussions of death and the general set-up, it's pretty clear from early in both plays that Hamlet and Brutus are probably going to end up dead, in part because both of them embrace the notion so fully. Hamlet would prefer death because he is so distraught over his father's death (and then all the subsequent turns of event that make continued survival such a living hell - like knowing that his mother and uncle were adulterers, and that his uncle offed his dad, and that he killed Polonius by mistake and that Ophelia is now also dead through a suspicious accidental death/possible suicide); Brutus would welcome death as an honor under a number of circumstances - being killed in battle (very Viking-like, no?) or at his own hand under a few different circumstances (one of which comes to pass). He has killed Caesar, a man he actually respected and liked, for the good of Rome, only to find that perhaps he was in error, and his wife, Portia, has actually killed herself by swallowing fire.

There is a fitting and somewhat ironic mirror-image at work between the plays as well. Throughout his play, Prince Hamlet talks about offing himself, only to die in a battle of sorts (the duel with Laertes, in which he is also opposed by Claudius). Meanwhile, Brutus actually goes into battle against others, but eventually kills himself by impaling himself on his own sword in a sort of assisted suicide. (And yes, I called it "self-inflicted shish-kebabery" in my summary of Act V of the play.)

I can't help but notice that Julius Caesar has more than a few similarities to Macbeth as well (written after both of the plays discussed today), but that will be a topic for another post.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sing it with me:

"I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it . . . "

Because I have just signed my contract with ME Media, the parent of tiger tales books, for a picture book I wrote entitled At the Boardwalk. I am delighted to be working with the very nice people at tiger tales (who do not capitalize their name, btw), and am thrilled to have a book of my very ownsome coming out in the wide, wide world.

For those of you interested in details, it is a rhyming picture book text about time spent at the boardwalk. My trip to Ocean City last month was for research purposes to take notes to add a couple-three stanzas to the poem, since I've already been working with my wonderful editor on revisions. She tells me that the book is to come out in 2012, and now that it's all signed and official, I couldn't wait to share my news with all of you!


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Julius Caesar, ACT V - a short summary

Summaries of previous acts are available here:

Act II - Conspiracy!
Act III - Et tu Bruté?
Act IV - Waiting for the other sandal to fall

Act V

Scene 1

*The plains of Philippi*

Octavius: Dude - you said we'd have to chase them, but the enemy has come to us!

Antony: They hope to convince us that they're brave, but I know better.

*Enter Messenger*

Messenger: So, like, the enemy is pretty much hear.

Antony: *sings "You take the high road, and I'll take the low road . . . *

Octavius: I'll take the high road.

Antony: WTF?

Octavius: Don't piss me off.

*Drums. Drums in the deep. They are coming.*

*Enter Brutus, Cassius, and other reprobates*

Brutus: "They stand, and would have parley."

*Enter several confused pirates*

Captain Jack Sparrow: Parleley, parlelellyleloooo, par le nee, partner, par... snip, parsley...

Ragetti: Parley?

Captain Jack Sparrow: That's the one. Parley. Parley.

Pintel: Parley? Damn to the depths whatever man what thought of "Parley".

Captain Jack Sparrow: That would be the French.

Antony: Look, you're not in this play. Savvy?

Captain Jack Sparrow: Right. We'll just be off then.

*Exeunt pirates, stage left*

Octavius: Right. Where were we? Um . . . shall we sound the battle trumpet?

Antony: No, Caesar. We'll have a chat first. It'll be fun. We'll load it up with sexual innuendo

Brutus: Words before blows: is it so, countrymen?

Octavius: Not that we love words better, as you do.

Brutus: Good words are better than bad strokes, Octavius.

In your bad strokes, Brutus, you give good words:
Witness the hole you made in Caesar's heart,
Crying 'Long live! hail, Caesar!'
Brutus: Nice job threatening us, jackass.

Antony: Better than you guys, who scraped and bowed to Caesar while Casca stabbed him in the back.

Cassius: See, Brutus? This is why I wanted to kill him in the first place. But noooooo, you said let him live.

Octavius: Enough small talk. You're all a pack of traitors. Let's rumble. *breaks into a Sharks & Jets routine*

Brutus: You should be so lucky as to have me kill you!

Cassius: Yeah. You're a mere schoolboy prancing with a clown!

Antony: Shut it, geezer.

Octavius: Enough talk. If it's a fight you want, you've got one. We'll be waiting on the battlefield if you're men enough to turn up.

*Exit the righteous*

Cassius: "Why, now, blow wind, swell billow and swim bark!/The storm is up, and all is on the hazard."

*Brutus and Lucilius step aside to chat in private*

Cassius: Messala, wish me a happy birthday, won't you? Although I'm not all that happy. On the way here, eagles came down and ate from the hands of our soldiers, but now that we're here, it's all carrion fowl that fly above us. I think it's an ill portent.

Messala: Nah.

Cassius: I only believe it in part. I'll do my best to win. So, Brutus . . . I'm hoping the gods favor us so we can grow old together. If not, this may be our last time together. What do you plan to do?

Brutus: I won't kill myself, that's for sure, but neither will I allow myself to be captured. I'll play this through to the end:
And whether we shall meet again I know not.
Therefore our everlasting farewell take:
For ever, and for ever, farewell, Cassius!
If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made.
Cassius: Good plan.

Brutus: If only we could know how it will all turn out. I guess we'll see!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Julius Caesar, ACT IV - a short summary

Summaries of previous acts are available here:

Act II - Conspiracy!
Act III - Et tu Bruté?

Act IV

Scene 1

*A meeting between Lepidus, Octavius, and Mark Antony*

Antony: Okay if we kill your brother, Lepidus?

Lepidus: As long as we also kill your nephew, Antony.

Antony: Deal

*Lepidus is sent on an errand*

Antony: That Lepidus is only good for running errands.

Octavius: He's a good soldier.

Antony: So's my horse. I guess we should plan plans, since Brutus and Cassius are trying to rally troops.

Octavius: Agreed. For "I set it down that one may smile and smile and be a villain". Oops. Wrong play. Let me say, rather:

Let us do so: for we are at the stake,
And bay'd about with many enemies;
And some that smile have in their hearts, I fear,
Millions of mischiefs.
Scene 2

*Outside Brutus's tent, amid war drums - Brutus, Lucilius, Lucius, Titinius & Pindarus*

Brutus: Stand, ho!

Lucilius: Give the word, ho! and and stand.
Something tells me that this would have been as funny to the groundlings in Shakespeare's time as it is to me now.

Brutus: Hey there, Lucilius, is Cassius nearby?

Lucilius: I think so. And here's Pindarus.

Brutus: I gotta tell you, Pindarus, your boss has given me reason lately "to wish things done, undone."

Pindarus: I'm sure my noble master will be noble and honorable.

Brutus: Yeah, right. Tell me, Lucilius, how he treated you.

Lucilius: With courtesy and respect, but not with real friendliness.

Thou hast described
A hot friend cooling: ever note, Lucilius,
When love begins to sicken and decay,
It useth an enforced ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith;
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle;
But when they should endure the bloody spur,
They fall their crests, and, like deceitful jades,
Sink in the trial. Comes his army on?
*Enter Cassius, amid military pomp and foolishness*

Cassius: "Most noble brother, you have done me wrong."

Brutus: The hell you say! I don't even wrong my enemies, let along my brothers!

Cassius: I think you're two-faced. Only I said it a nice way so you might not quite catch my full drift.

Brutus: *in what I imagine to be a soft but deadly tone, sort of like Leroy Jethro Gibbs* Speak like a friend in front of the troops, asshat. You got something to say, say it in private inside my tent.

Cassius: Pindarus, take the men and stand over there.

Brutus: Lucilius - what he said.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Julius Caesar, Act III - a summary

Summaries of Act I and Act II are already done, so it's on to the middle of the play.


Scene 1

Caesar: It's the Ides of March and I'm still alive - nonny nonny boo boo!

Soothsayer: The day's still young.

Artemidorus: "Hail, Caesar! Read this schedule." (The line cracks me up - but Artemidorus wants Caesar to write his "watch out for backstabbers" letter ASAP, and Caesar is insisting on waiting until he's done his other business.)

*The scheming plotters scheme and plot, and decide that Casca is to strike first.*

Metellus Cimber: *sings "Please release him, let him go" in honor of his brother, Publius Cimber, who has been banished-Banished-BANISHED!*

Caesar: *is having none of it*

Brutus: I second the petition.

Cassius: I third it!

I could be well moved, if I were as you:
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me:
But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
Cinna: "O Caesar - "

Decius Brutus: "Great Caesar - "

Casca: SIC SEMPER TYRANUS! (Oh. Wait. That's John Wilkes Booth's line.) "Speak, hands, for me!"

*Everyone stabs Caesar*

Caesar: "Et tu, Bruté? Then fall, Caesar."


Cinna: "Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!"

Cassius: Proclaim it far and wide!

Brutus: Hey everyone, don't be frightened. Things are cool now.

*Trebonius comes running in*

Trebonius: Mark Antony ran home! People all over the city are afraid!

Brutus: I have a GREAT idea!
. . .Stoop, Romans, stoop
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood
Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords:
Then walk we forth, even to the market-place,
And, waving our red weapons o'er our heads,
Let's all cry 'Peace, freedom and liberty!'
Because nothing says "peace, freedom, and liberty" like bloodied men, hollering and brandishing swords.

Cassius: We are totally heroes! People will sing our praises for ages!

Brutus: We totally rock!

Cassius: We shall be called "the men that gave their country liberty!"

Decius Brutus: Shall we?

Cassius: Surely. Brutus can go first.

*Mark Antony's servant enters*

Servant: My master asked me to come to you, Brutus, and suck up to you a bit. He'd like to hear why you did this, and promises not to be mad about it if you have a good explanation.

Brutus: Sure thing. Invite him over!

*Servant leaves*

Cassius: To repeat my theme from yesterday, I don't trust Antony.

*Antony enters*

O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.
If you guys are going to kill me, I can't think of a better time or place for it than here and now, in the presence of this wonderful Caesar, etc., etc.

Brutus: Lighten up, Francis. We don't want to kill you. We still like you. We'd like to hug you. You'll see, this is a good thing.

Cassius: You'll still be powerful.

Brutus: Just let us go calm the masses, and then we'll sit down and explain ourselves.

Antony: Let me shake each of your bloody hands. I have something I want to say to you. But first, I want to directly address the corpse and talk about how horrible it is that I'm shaking hands with your murderers. *waxes eloquent about the horror - THE HORROR*

Cassius: Umm, Mark Antony . . .

Antony: Well, people are bound to say stuff just like this.

Cassius: We're wondering what the hand shake was about?

Antony: Sorry. I got distracted by the corpse. I'd like to know why you thought Caesar was dangerous.

Brutus: There were good reasons.

Antoony: Alrighty then. I'd like to speak at his funeral.

Brutus: Sure. Fine. Good.

Cassius: WTF? That is NOT COOL, Brutus. He'll incite the people.

Brutus: Good thinking. I'll establish conditions.

Cassius: I must say at least once more - I do NOT trust that Antony.

Brutus: Hey, Antony - you get to talk, but only after me, and also, no trash-talking us or we . . . won't let you speak. Yeah. That's it.

Antony: "Be it so./I do desire no more."

*Everyone leaves Antony along to deal with Caesar's corpse*

Antony: I feel a magnificent soliloquy of wrath coming on.

O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,--
Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue--
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
Antony sees a servant who works for Octavius Caesar, and sends him off to report what happened. After helping him move the corpse, of course. And mentioning that he hopes Octavius will turn up to help set things right.

Julius Caesar, Act II - a summary

Last night I (finally) managed to put up my summary of Act I of Julius Caesar. Today, we're on to Act II. As with yesterday's post, I'll italicize the names of new characters as they are first introduced.

Act II
In which (in the words of George Villiers, 2d Duke of Buckingham) the plot thickens very much upon us.

Scene I

*In Brutus's orchard*

[KRF: In case you're wondering, all these outside locations were purposefully chosen so that props could be few and far between. No need to decorate a room if you can have your conversation outside.]

Brutus: "I cannot, by the progress of the stars,/Give guess how near to day." (Note how while he means he's not sure what time it is, he is also referencing "the stars" because there was an active belief in and practice of astrology back then - it manages to echo all those omens and portents we saw in Act I involving soothsayers and portents.)

Brutus calls Lucius to ask for a candle.

Brutus: *Makes a long soliloquy about social climbers who turn their backs on their origins and references to snakes*

I'd like to point out this line of Brutus's, for it's similarity with a line by everyone's favorite tormented Dane, Hamlet, a version of which play is believed to have existed prior to Julius Caesar, and the "final" version of which was written at or about the same time as Julius Caesar. I have to wonder whether the "borrowing" was on purpose, to firmly establish Brutus as our brooding antihero by association with the Dane, or whether Shakespeare knew not what he did. I rather suspect the former. Here's Brutus's line about Caesar:

"How that might change his nature, there's the question."

Uncanny, no? It echoes one of the most famous lines ever, does it not? Moving on . . .

*Enter Lucius, with a note*
Lucius: Hey, there's a candle inside. And I found this note while I was there.

Brutus: "Is not to-morrow, boy, THE IDES OF MARCH?"

*Lucius nips off to check the calendar of doom*

Brutus: There's so much lightning out here that I can read this random note from persons unknown.

'Brutus, thou sleep'st: awake, and see thyself.
Shall Rome, & c. Speak, strike, redress!
Brutus, thou sleep'st: awake!'
*puzzles over the meaning of "et cetera", and over the meaning of "speak, strike, redress", but not over "thou sleep'st: awake!", which is in there twice and probably doesn't refer to him being in bed. Silly Brutus*

*Lucius nips back in to say that 14 days have already passed in March, then pops back out to get the door*

Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar,
I have not slept.
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
The Genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.
[KRF: If you've got time for inspiration and learning, check out Elizabeth Gilbert's TED speech, which explains the ancient notion of the genius as being a separate entity residing outside of the human world while being extremely motivational.]

*Enter Lucius*
Lucius: Cassius is here with a bunch of disreputable looking guys trying to hide their identities.

Brutus: "Let 'em enter."

*Lucius leaves to bring in the treasoners*

Brutus: The conspiracy is here, hiding itself under cover of night.

*Enter Cassius, Casca, Descia Brutus, Cinna, Metellus Cimber, and Trebonius*

Cassius: Hail, hail, the gang's all here. *performs introductions for the sake of the audience*

Negotiations are undertaken: Cassius wants Cicero to be included in the conspiracy, and wants to kill Antony as well as Caesar. Brutus says no on both counts*

Cassius: I fear Antony, because of his love for Caesar.

Brutus: Pish.

Cassius: I worry that Caesar won't turn up in the Capitol later today. He's especially superstitious lately, and what with soothsayers and auguries and portents . . .

Decius Brutus:
Never fear that: if he be so resolved,
I can o'ersway him; for he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betray'd with trees,
And bears with glasses, elephants with holes,
Lions with toils and men with flatterers;
But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being then most flattered.
Cassius: Nah, we'll all go get him at 8 a.m.

*The conpirators choose another possible member and depart*

Brutus talks to his wife, Portia, who wants to know what he's up to, but they're interrupted by Ligarius, who has arrived to join the conspiracy despite having a bad cold.

Scene 2

*at Caesar's house - still night, still thundering and lightning*

Caesar: *in his nightgown*
Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace to-night:
Thrice hath Calpurnia in her sleep cried out,
'Help, ho! they murder Caesar!' Who's within?
*sends a servant to have the priests perform a sacrifice*

Calpurnia: You're not going out! Are you out of your mind? You ought to stay home. Have you heard the stories of what's been going on? A lioness has whelped in the streets, the dead walk again, ghosts are everywhere, armies battled in the sky and rained blood down on the capitol . . . And to sum up, I'm afraid.

What can be avoided
Whose end is purposed by the mighty gods?
Yet Caesar shall go forth; for these predictions
Are to the world in general as to Caesar.

When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
Again, echoes of Hamlet here, no? I'm thinking of Hamlet's "we defy augury" speech in Act V, scene ii, where he says "Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes?" But I digress.

Caesar: "What say the augurers?"

Upon being told that the omens all say he should stay at home, Caesar defies augury and says he'll go out. So there. Whereupon Portia says "pretty please?" and Caesar decides to stay home.

*Enter Decius Brutus with a pack of lies*

Decius Brutus: Portia's dream is actually a good one, and people will think you're a sissy if you stay home and will decide not to give you the crown. Come to the capitol. All the cool kids are doing it. You'll be pop-u-lar!

Caesar: Let me get my wrap. And lookie here! All the conspirators good men in Rome are come to fetch me! *Calls roll*

Caesar: *in a foreshadowing sort of tone* You guys all stand really close to me today, okay?
"Good friends, go in, and taste some wine with me;
And we, like friends, will straightway go together."

Trombonius Trebonius: *in an aside* Your actual friends will wish I'd stood farther away!

Brutus: I'm a bit mopey and unhappy. Also, "like" friends and actual friends aren't the same thing.

Scene 3

*a street near the Capitol*

Artemidorus: *reads a note* Dear Caesar: Beware of Cassius. Don't trust Casca. Or Trombonius. Or any of the other conspirators. XO, Artemidorus

Right. I'll just stand here and slip him this note when he walks by. If he reads it, he'll live; if not, then the Fates are on the side of the conspirators.

Scene 4

*the street outside Brutus's house*

Portia: You, boy, run to the Senate and back.

Lucius: And then??

Portia: Go to the Senate.

Lucius: And then??

Portia: Come back. Oh. And tell me how Brutus looks. And who's hanging out near Caesar. Do you hear that noise?

Lucius: WTF?

Portia: There's a rumour around the Capitol. *ponders singing "Have You Heard?" from Anastasia, but opts out

Lucius: Nope. Heard nothing. "Sooth."

*speak of the devil and he will appear*

Soothsayer: You rang? I'm worried that Caesar may come to hard. IDES OF MARCH! Soothsayer OUT!

*Soothsayer heads off to see if he can have a word with Caesar, Portia goes inside to faint*

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Julius Caesar, Act I - a summary

Act I

It's all about the scene-setting and foreshadowing. Seriously. Named characters being introduced for the first time are italicized.

Scene 1

Marullus and Flavius: Yo. 'sup, commoners?

Commoner 1: I am a carpenter!

Commoner 2: I am a mender of soles. I am concerned with awl. Allow me to amuse/abuse you with a lot more shoe/religion puns.

Marullus and Flavius: You commoners used to cheer for Pompey and now you're down with his adversary, Caesar? Fie! Now run along, while we go denude the decorated statues in this here town.

Scene 2

Caesar: Hey, Antony (no, he is not speaking like Sly Stallone, but if you prefer to think of it that way, who am I to stop you?) Be sure to touch my woman on your way by, so's I can knock her up later. Because obviously if we aren't procreating, it's all on her. Because I said so.

Antony: Um, okay.


Caesar: Say what?

Brutus: The soothsayer says BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH!

Caesar: Bring the soothsayer forward. Soothsayer, what did you say again?

Soothsayer: BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH! *mumbles something about stupid inattentive near-deaf people in high places*

Exit Caesar, laughing at the silly soothsayer.

Whereupon Cassius and Brutus have a private chat.

Brutus: I'm a bit mopey and unhappy. Also, I worry that the people want to make Caesar their king.

Cassius: Caesar is a weakling. Let me count the ways . . .

Enter Caesar and his entourage.

Caesar: That Cassius guy over there looks like he's plotting against me. He's obviously dangerous because (hand to God, this is what he says) "He reads much", but he doesn't like plays and music, so obviously, he's dangerous.

Antony: Don't fear the Reaper Cassius.

Everyone leaves but Casca, Brutus and Cassius. And yes, all the C names get messy in the abstract.

Brutus: What was all the cheering about?

Casca: Antony offered him the crown three times, and each time Caesar pushed it away, although with a bit less energy every time. And then he had a seizure in the middle of the marketplace. He was upset when he figured out that the crowd didn't want him to take the crown, but after his seizure, some of the nearby women were nice to him.

Cassius: Did Cicero say anything?

Casca: Yep. But he spoke Greek.

Cassius: To what effect?

Casca: Those that understood him smiled, but it was all Greek to me. (Actual line: "but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.") P.S. Marullus and Flavius from Scene 1 are in Big Trouble. Casca out!

Brutus: Okay, Cassius - we'll talk tomorrow. TTFN.

Cassius: *twirls his mustache a la Dick Dastardly*

Mwahaha, Brutus, I see what mettle/metal you are made from, and you are mine to toy with. I'll chuck a few notes through your windows tonight saying how great everyone thinks you are, and how everyone thinks Caesar wants to be king.

Scene 3

*Thunder and lightning in the street*

Cicero (*skipping in a Greek sort of way*): Hullo, Casca! How's things?

Casca: There is a terrible tempest. A tempest like in The Tempest! ALSO: Portents are flippin' EVERYWHERE! People on fire who do not burn. Lions who don't attack people. A night bird out in the middle of the day - it's like the opening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone, with owls EVERYWHERE! "Dogs and cats, living together - real wrath of God stuff" (to foreshadow the Ghostbusters).

Cicero: Yeah, that's weird. I guess. So . . . is Caesar coming to the Capitol tomorrow?

Casca: Um, yes.

Cicero: Get inside. It's bad weather out. *exit Cicero/enter Cassius*

Casca: Isn't this a horrible night?

Cassius: Say what? I've been spinning about in the middle of the marketplace singing "The hills are alive with the Sound of Music".

Casca: Dude why would you tempt fate like that? *mutters something about how Cassius should have been singing "If I Only Had a Brain"* You're supposed to bow to the gods. DUH!

Cassius: Grow a pair, Casca. Also:

. . . You look pale and gaze
And put on fear and cast yourself in wonder,
To see the strange impatience of the heavens:
But if you would consider the true cause
Why all these fires, why all these gliding ghosts,
Why birds and beasts from quality and kind,
Why old men fool and children calculate,
Why all these things change from their ordinance
Their natures and preformed faculties
To monstrous quality,--why, you shall find
That heaven hath infused them with these spirits,
To make them instruments of fear and warning
Unto some monstrous state.
Now could I, Casca, name to thee a man
Most like this dreadful night,
That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars
As doth the lion in the Capitol,
A man no mightier than thyself or me
In personal action, yet prodigious grown
And fearful, as these strange eruptions are.
*Time out to point out that the reference to eruptions is a double entendre to do with outbursts as well as venereal disease*

Casca: It's Caesar, right?

Cassius: It is who it is. Romans' bodies are hearty, but "our fathers' minds are dead,/And we are govern'd with our mothers' spirits;/Our yoke and sufferance show us womanish." [KRF: Oh no he di-in't!]

Casca: They say that Caesar will be crowned king tomorrow.

Cassius: Then I'll kill myself. If Caesar is king, then the gods have chosen to make the weak strong, and those of us who are strong must, er, kill ourselves. Nobly. I can throw off tyranny by dying!

Casca: Me too!

Cassius: *Ooh - it's like Emily Dickinson is going to say, in her poem "I'm Nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too? Then there's a pair of us!"* The only reason Caesar is being lionized (pun intended) is because Rome is so weak. Caesar is the king of garbage. "Bow to the queen of slime, the queen of filth, the queen of putrescence! Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo." Oh, heck - maybe you're a loyal bondsman, in which case we will have to fight.

Casca: I'm no tattletale.

Cassius: Good news. I'm in the middle of a takeover plot. You in? By the way, here's yet another guy who's name starts with a C - it's Cinna, and he's part of the plot.

Cinna: Hey, I've been looking for you. The other plotters are all waiting for you.

Cassius: Here - go cause trouble for Brutus to soften him up.

O, he sits high in all the people's hearts:
And that which would appear offence in us,
His countenance, like richest alchemy,
Will change to virtue and to worthiness.
Cassius & Casca leave, talking about getting Brutus on their side before dawn.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Dream, part 4 - Puck's epilogue

At the end of the play, Puck, with a nod and a wink, addresses the audience to tell them (in a lovely bit of trochaic verse) that the play has been a sort of dream. "Nothing to see here - move along. Move along." Or, if you prefer, he's Obi Wan Kenobi "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

In a speech which echos a bit of the prologue to "Pyramis and Thisbe" within the play (which runs amok due to misplaced punctuation), and which picks up on Theseus's comments that the best actors are shadows. It also presages lines in Act V, scene 5 of a certain "Scottish" play written by Shakespeare nearly a decade later, in which Macbeth says "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."

Puck, one of the names of Robin Goodfellow, closes the play as follows:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

I tried to find Robert Sean Leonard's performance in the version of the play nested inside The Dead Poets' Society, but to no avail. Instead, you can watch Stanley Tucci, starting at about 3:42 in this version:

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Dream, part 3 - The Rude Mechanicals

Shakespeare takes four plot lines and mixes them around delightfully in A Midsummer Night's Dream. They are:

1. The marriage of Theseus to Hippolyta, and the ensuing feast with entertainment

2. The four young lovers, who begin unbalanced: Helena loves Demetrius, Hermia loves Lysander, and both men begin in love with Hermia, whose father treats her like chattel (which she would have been) and wants her to marry Demetrius or be put to death. More on that in the next post.

3. The "rude mechanicals": a small company of artisans with theatrical aspirations, and the topic of this post.

4. The fight between fairylord Oberon and his queen, Titania, over a small changeling boy. The fairy monarchs each have histories with the opposite-sexed human monarch.

Much of the magic in this play comes from the way the plot lines intersect and, specifically, from how the magic of the fairies affects various individuals. But some of the magic of this play comes from its wit and humor, and that is seen clearly in the case of the "rude mechanicals", who create magic all their own in the form of their production of Pyramus and Thisbe.

An introduction to the players:
The group wants to produce a play, in hopes that they will be asked to perform for Theseus and Hippolyta after their wedding banquet. They want more than the pleasure of performing - they are hopeful that they will get paid. If they succeed, they will gain respect and acclaim and hard, cold cash. If they fail, they may make laughingstocks of themselves. (As it turns out, they probably manage to do both.)

1. Quince, the carpenter: Peter Quince, carpenter by trade, is the playwright for and director of this amateur theatre troupe. He also recites the prologue, which reveals that the players are hoping the nobles will learn a little something from them. (Their later interruptions tends to indicate that rather than learning from the mechanicals' example, they are instead rude - similar to the scene that plays out in Love's Labour's Lost, when the nobility is guilty of offense and misconduct in the portion of the play pertaining to The Pageant of the Nine Worthies.

2. Snug, the joiner: Snug is never given a first name. His name is chosen for comic effect, and would have made "the groundlings" roar with laughter (snug joints - get it?). The groundlings were the people in the cheap seats - so cheap, in fact, that there were no seats at all, and they actually stood on the ground in front of the stage throughout the entire production.

3. Flute, the bellows mender: Ah, Flute. One blows on a flute to play it, and a bellows blows on the coals to fan the fire, whence comes the humor in his name. Poor Flute is a young man, and is just starting to be able to grow a beard - hence his horror at having to shave it off in order to play the part of the lady. Being the youngest, he is probably also considered by the company to be one of the least, and yet it is his performance as Thisbe that secures the approbation of Theseus and his company. Don't believe me? Check out Sam Rockwell's amazing performance here - it's all fun & games until he drops his falsetto and then pulls off his wig - this performance makes me cry every. single. time.:

4. Snout, the tinker: Tom Snout plays the part of the Wall in the play, and I find his lines explaining his role as the wall to be hilarious. I'm not certain whether any particular occupational link existed between Snout and Tinker - perhaps tinkers had a reputation for poking their nose into other people's business? - but Snout is funny on its own.

5. Starveling, the tailor: Robin Starveling ends up with one of the funniest roles in the play, as he is supposed to represent moonlight. He is heckled by the "noble" audience, resulting in a particularly funny exchange. His name probably was meant to reflect the poverty (and therefore thinness) of tailors; it is possible that he was played by someone extremely thin (so the name fit) or by someone extremely fat (so that it was made funny by being so very opposite).

6. Bottom, the weaver: Nick Bottom's name is hilarious due to its double meaning. A "bottom" at the time was not only another name for the buttocks, but was also the name for a bobbin or spool, around which thread was wound. So just as Snug the joiner's name is related to his profession, so is Bottom's name. It just happens that Bottom's name means two separate things, both of which make his name funny. When Puck transforms Bottom's head into that of an ass, Quince says "Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou art translated!" - a direct play on words to show the connection between bottom and ass, and a repetition of the joke that Shakespeare piles on in this scene, with Bottom referring to Snout being "an ass-head" and him speaking of how the troupe wishes to make an ass of him.

That Bottom is a bit of an ass in general is established early on, since he's full of braggadocio. He is also, however, intelligent and earnest and hardworking and a leader among men, and he is not afraid to address people of a different class than he - whether it be Titania or Theseus and the rest of the nobles. In some ways, Bottom is the heart of this play - the one being that moves in all circles, and who has one of the most interesting journeys, including finding success on the stage (albeit because of Flute's performance as Thisbe). It doesn't mean he's not also an ass, however - but perhaps that was necessary in order to "excuse" what would otherwise be impertinence to those in power.

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Monday, June 07, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Dream, part 2: the opening of Act V

After all the skipping about the woods with the fairies - which is, of course, the bulk of the play - Act V finds us back in the daytime with Theseus and Hippolyta, who are about to celebrate their nuptials.


'Tis strange my Theseus, that these
lovers speak of.


More strange than true: I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!


But all the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy's images
And grows to something of great constancy;
But, howsoever, strange and admirable.
First, some swooning over Theseus's words

"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/Are of imagination all compact". That's right - crazy people, lovers and poets are not in their right minds, but have an overabundance of imagination. Especially funny words for Shakespeare, fine poet that he is, to poke fun at poets. And take note: He asserts in brief that lunatics see devils where there are none, the lovers see beauty where there is none (or little), and then he waxes poetic (I know - I kill me!) about how crazy poets are - they imagine things out of thin air and make them real through their words!

The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
I cannot help, reading this, to think of how very often I stare into space or out a window while writing poems. Or thinking about Billy Collins's poem, "Monday", which begins "The birds are in their trees,/ the toast is in the toaster,/ and the poets are at their windows . . . "

He manages to have Theseus disparage poets for being overly imaginative at the same time that he accurately describes what poets do and manages to exalt poets. Tricksy.

Second, a point about Hippolyta, who has very few lines in this play. Hippolyta, as queen of the Amazons, did battle with Theseus, who defeated her. He is now set on marrying her - in Shakespeare's play, not necessarily in a "spoils of war" way, either, and certainly not in the "kidnap and rape" way presented in myth.

On the one hand, Hippolyta is almost a nonentity within this play, although many in Shakespeare's audience might have been familiar with her story from other sources. On the other, Hippolyta's closing comment to Theseus here - you will notice that she gets the last word in - was a bit unusual. It was common in Shakespeare's time (and, indeed, into the early 20th century, really) for wives (or fiancées) to openly contradict their actual or intended spouses. And yet here is Hippolyta, who has listened to Theseus's carefully crafted speech about how the lovers probably all hallucinated, telling him that he is wrong. He is wrong, she says, because they all have such a similar account of what transpired that it must be true. Were Theseus correct, she argues, they'd have varying stories.

When we get to The Taming of the Shrew at the end of the month, this is a theme that will return - the idea that a woman is subservient to her husband and must therefore agree with him in all things. (In Shrew, Petruchio makes Katherina agree that the sun is the moon, thereby demonstrating that he has "tamed" her - a misogynistic topic for another day.)

The thing is, Theseus doesn't bridle at Hippolyta's contradiction, just says "here come the other couples". Hippolyta straightens her husband out and doesn't get called on it. And in Shakespeare's play, she doesn't get kidnapped and raped and knocked up and abandoned (all without marriage) - nope, Theseus is marrying her. She has helped to beat his sword into a ploughshare. And if you think I had a double meaning there, then bonus points to you.
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And the winner is . . .

The winner of our first contest for this year's Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month is Lizanne from LiveJournal!

Congratulations, Lizanne, you are the proud owner of a brand-new copy of Hamlet! Please send me a private message here or an email at my website to let me know your address!

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A Midsummer Night's Dream, part 1 - the VERY short version

Last year, I put up a post with a brilliant short version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. And no, I'm not crowing about my own work - this short version was created by Becky Levine's son, who wrote it for his seventh-grade English class. It was as if the whole world (or at least her son's class at school) had gotten the message that it was time to brush up one's Shakespeare.

Here again is the extremely condensed version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, arranged in what I am assured is called a Humorous Nonalogue, reproduced with permission of its author, , who is, in my opinion, effing brilliant.

When Shakespeare wrote his plays, they hadn't invented a language that anyone could understand. In fact, the definition of "comedy," I'm not kidding, straight out of the theatre dictionary, was a happy ending. . . . Here's "A Midsummer's Night Dream," condensed and the way Shakespeare meant to write it, if he hadn't been shackled by Olde English:

LYSANDER: I love Hermia.

HERMIA'S DAD: You're a son of a biscuit.

HERMIA: (running away with Lysander) L8ter, Dad-io!

TITANIA: I like this kid we kidnapped.

OBERON: Too bad. Puck, dose her.

PUCK: Oops, Bottom's an ass. Okay, sir, your wife loves a donkey!

DEMETRIUS: Hey, Helena, let's go find my would-be girlfriend, I say as I'm standing right next to you.

OBERON: I feel sorry for Helena. Let's dose her boyfriend.

PUCK: "Oops," wrong dude. Uh, "sorry."

OBERON: You're "forgiven."


THESEUS: Yo, Hippolyta, I almost killed you, your name reminds me of the fat thing in that swamp, let's get married.

LYSANDER: Even though I loved Hermia so much we ran away, I now love Helena, for no apparent reason.

OBERON: If you want anything done in this play, you have to do it yourself.

DEMETRIUS: Hey, that's funny, now I love Helena.

HELENA: Both of you shut up.

OBERON: What the hey. I think I'll just snap my fingers and impossibly achieve the happy ending that "comedy" is all about. There, everyone's happy...except for Hermia's dad, who I'll completely forget about.

SNOUT: I am a wall.

EVERYONE: YAY! There's so many loose ends that no one knows what happens next, but everything's just DUCKY and UBER! Yipee!

                 (that means end)

I'll be back later in the day with more about A Midsummer Night's Dream and, of course, to announce the winner of last week's contest. But first, I am off for some real-life lunch with a good friend that involves more driving time than face time.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Tempest, part 7 - Film versions and wrap-up

Here's a list of links to all the posts related to The Tempest:

The Tempest, part 1 A summary of the play
The Tempest, part 2 Caliban, the native
The Tempest, part 3 Check and mate
The Tempest, part 4 Shipwrecked!
The Tempest, part 5 Ungentlemanlike behaviour
The Tempest, part 6 A conversation with Lisa Mantchev

Tomorrow we're moving on to A Midsummer Night's Dream, a play that we covered last year, but it's simply too delightful not to take it up again. And as I have lunch plans far from home tomorrow, I won't be around to pile posts up early in the day - that's right, it's not all Shakespeare, all the time around here. At least, not quite. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I confess to not having seen a single screen adaptation of The Tempest, so please do not consider these personal recommendations.

As mentioned in my conversation with Lisa Mantchev, there is a new film version that is going to come out in December of this year, starring Helen Mirren as Prospera (it's the only gender-change in the casting, but it should make for an interesting interpretation, and reports from early screenings are that Mirren is transcendant (as per usual, really). I have not, of course, seen it because it's still 6 months away, but I will be all over it once it's out.

The 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet is a sort of adaptation of The Tempest, but certainly not a faithful retelling. In that version, the role of Ariel is played by a robot. Haven't seen it, not interested, but those of you who are into B-movies might like it.

I refuse to mention any of the other filmed versions because I understand that they are all pretty much crap, based on reviews and on Reduced Shakespeare: The Attention-Impaired Reader's Guide to the World's Best Playwright by Reed Martin and Martin Tichenor, a review of which is forthcoming.

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The Tempest, part - a conversation with Lisa Mantchev

Today, another conversation with Lisa Mantchev, author of The Théâtre Illuminata series, the first two books of which are currently available in stores everywhere. You can read my reviews of Eyes Like Stars and Perchance to Dream, and/or my interview with Lisa for the Summer Blog Blast Tour in the linked-up earlier entries, if'n you want, as well as our conversation about Ophelia, which I posted last week. Lisa is a bit of an expert on these plays herself, due to her theatre training, and because Ophelia (from Hamlet) and Ariel (from The Tempest) are both important characters in the Théâtre Illuminata books. See the cover from Perchance to Dream there on the right? That white-haired boy is Ariel. Ooh! And before I move on, I simply must pimp the book trailer for PTD, which is quite possibly the most gorgeous book trailer I've ever seen – it involves a custom-made pop-up book, and it is STUNNING:

Kelly: Prospero: Hero or villain? I'd love to know your thoughts on this, since I see him as a complete mish-mash of a character. On the one hand, he behaved improperly (when he was still the Duke) by ceding his authority to his brother in order to study magic, and by causing the shipwreck. On the other hand, he doesn't allow anyone to be killed, even the true malefactors who sought his own death and/or seek the death of others during the course of the play.

Lisa: My take on Prospero isn't very flattering . . . I always pictured him as a blowhard nincompoop (something entirely due to one of Noel Streatfield's books, Theater Shoes, in which Sorrel's pompous uncle plays him onstage) and it's an image that's stuck with me over the years. Certain incarnations of the character are certainly more likable--it's easy to picture him as a Shakespearean version of Dumbledore, really!—but at the end of the day, he's a bit of a tyrant and a slave owner.

Kelly: Dumbledore? Really? Because Dumbledore seems so much more complex and competent to me than Prospero.

*ponders this further and seeks appropriate HP analogy*

For blowhard nincompoop, I suppose there's always Gilderoy Lockhart. What say you to that?

Lisa: You're right. It's only in his own head that Prospero is like Dumbledore . . . wise and magnanimous. But really, he's much more Gilderoy, who thinks he is doing mankind this huge favor just by showing up. There's potential for sympathy in this character, depending upon direction and casting, and I'm SLOBBERING to see Helen Mirren portray the feminine version, Prospera, but hold out no hope that movie will be released any time soon!

Note to readers: There exists in a can somewhere a completed film version starring Helen Mirren as Prospera, and the following additional cast members: Felicity Jones as Miranda, Djimon Honsou as Caliban, Ben Whishaw as Ariel, Alfred Molina as Stephano, Russell Brand as Trinculo (brilliant casting for the drunken servants), Alan Cumming as Sebastian, Chris Cooper as Antonio, and David Strathairn as Alonso. Like Lisa, I am salivating for this production, which was directed by Julie Taymore. Here's the rub: It was a Miramax project, and Miramax has gone under, so it was temporarily derailed, but late word is that it has undergone some recent advanced screenings and is probably going to be a December release. Early reports are that the movie completely rocks (with the possible exception of the guy playing Ferdinand).
Kelly: Man, I can't wait to see that either. *taps foot impatiently*

About Prospero's use of magic: Why do you think he gave it up at the end? After all those years of study and practice and exile, and then to come into his own as a powerful mage, I didn't quite understand why he felt the need to give up the practice of magic in order to return to society. Couldn't he have returned as a magically powerful Duke, rather than choosing one or the other? Or is that the "message" of the play – that one must choose the world of magic OR the world of men?

Lisa: I always felt that his powers were strongly tied to the island.

(Oh, dear, now I'm imagining the Lost version of The Tempest!)

*ahem* As I was saying, I think quite a lot of his great powers and abilities had to be tied to his place of exile, that he was drawing strength from it, as well as Ariel's air-magic. So I do think it's the world of magic or the world of men decision: would he have wanted to remain on the island, alone? What good is power if there's no one over which to wield it? He had freed Ariel, after all . . .

Kelly: I think that the Lost version of The Tempest would make more sense than the Lost version of Lost. I just hope that Naveen Andrews is in it, because I think he's dead sexy.

So do you think that most of Prospero's actual power was "borrowed" from Ariel, and wasn't really his own? Are his powers always the power to command (people as the Duke, supernatural beings as the mage)?

Lisa: I don't think all Prospero's magic came from the island, but it did feel every elemental to me (creating the namesake tempest from the waters, commanding Ariel, and enslaving Caliban, who is a very earthy, tortured character.) Elemental manipulation would have smacked of witchcraft and occultism to an Elizabethan audience, and Shakespeare could hardly reward someone who practiced the Dark Arts (eep, another HP reference!) with the successful return of this Dukedom. Easier to have him renounce it and tie everything up with a Happily Ever After bow.
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The Tempest, part 5 - ungentlemanlike behaviour

If you saw this post over at LiveJournal, you'd probably say, "Hey Kelly, what's with the Mr. Knightley icon? Isn't he an Austen guy?" Allow me to 'splain, and I promise that, while I open with a bit of a digression, it all ties in later.

One of the key themes in Emma, by Jane Austen, is an exploration of what it is to be a gentleman. The book compares Mr. Knightley (and yes, that name is somewhat allegorical), a model English gentleman, with Frank Churchill (who has adopted a different surname than what he was born with, and whose first name, which might imply candor, is instead associated with "French" manners - though charming, he is secretive and duplicitous and a bit irresponsible; he wants to live a life of idleness and pleasure (like the Prince Regent, whom Austen disliked), and he wants out of England ASAP). Mr. Knightley is honest and actually frank (he says what's on his mind), and he attends to all of his duties as a landowner, whether it's meeting with his tenants or policing and improving his estate or paying the proper calls on people.

A true gentleman, you see, attends to his responsibilities. If he owns an estate, he (like Mr. Knightley) must actively oversee his estate. He must be fair to his tenants. He must help to keep the peace (as Knightley does when the gypsies are in the area or the poultry thieves are about). He should attend to the poor (which Knightley does by indicating his familiarity with his tenants as well as with his generosity to the Bateses). In short, if he has any obligation or responsibility, he should keep on top of things and discharge his duties properly.

This notion of proper conduct comes from a long English tradition, and certainly extends to what was expected of lords and kings centuries earlier. And so we come to Prospero, who is rapidly established as being deficient in the execution of his duties as Duke. (Yes, I know he was the Duke of Milan and not the Duke of, say, Essex, but in Shakespeare's time, one could not create fictional dukes and kings in England and get away with it - one either wrote a "history", gussied up so as to stroke the current monarch's history and beliefs, or one set their play elsewhere.)

Prospero himself tells us that he neglected his duties in Act I, scene 2, when he unfolds his story to Miranda and tells her how he turned his back on his duties as Duke in order to (selfishly) pursue his study of magic - decidedly NOT a proper reason to abnegate one's responsibilities. In order to further his selfish goals, he hands the reins over to his brother, Antonio, who steers the state extremely well.

The abdication of responsibility is a big, bozo no-no, not only in Shakespeare's time, but for a few hundred more years in England and elsewhere. (As stated earlier, proper attention to one's duties remained a key indicator of mensch-hood in Austen's time, which is why characters like Darcy and Knightley and Wentworth and Edmund Ferrars and Henry Tilney and Edmund Bertram are good men - they live up to their responsibilities - whereas characters like Wickham and Frank Churchill and William Elliot and Tom Bertram & Henry Crawford are not, since they do not behave like "proper" gentlemen and they shirk at least some of their responsibilities.)

Add to this the somewhat repressive Christian society (and that was in flux in the time of Elizabeth I and King James, certainly), the practice of magic was also questionable, so the combination of abnegation of duty and the choice to pursue magic tend to mark Prospero as a questionable character.

His decision to cause the shipwreck that begins the play also shows questionable morality, and yet as the play unfolds, his character eventually reveals a strong moral center, apart, perhaps, from his treatment of Ariel and Caliban, although even then, he eventually does the right thing: he frees Ariel and leaves Caliban in peace (one hopes) on the island. He learns to forgive at least some of those who have wronged him - especially Alonso - and he opts in the end to cease his practice and study of magic and to return to his dukedom and to behave as a responsible gentleman ought. In this sense, one could classify The Tempest as a morality play, since Prospero learns to keep his emotions in check and to shoulder his responsibilities as he ought, but doing so would be a gross oversimplification, since this play is "about" a lot of different things - which is why Shakespeare remains relevant hundreds of years after his death, whereas Sir Dingly Dang ("You don't know, do you!") has been forgot.

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Letters from Juliet - a movie review

I was going to wait until we get to Romeo and Juliet to mention this movie, which (as the title indicates) is tangentially related to that play, but I am concerned it might exit the theatres before then, and I wouldn't want you all to miss it. And I am really not kidding there - I have actually seen this one several times, because I like it so very, very much.

Similar to Enchanted and Leap Year (both of which star Amy Adams, incidentally), this movie is one of those romances where the heroine believes herself in love with one man at the beginning, only to travel to a foreign country where she meets and has an adventure with another man, who proves to be her One True Love, although they of course rub each other the wrong way at first, and their entire adventure takes only a few days.

I happen to adore this trope, for whatever reason, but this movie gets it 100% right, in part because of the "adventure" involved: In this case, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) - a fact checker for The New Yorker who wants to be a writer (and you know I love that trope as well!) - goes to Verona with her fiancé, Victor, on a holiday that quickly skews to business for him. There, she meets Charlie (Chris Egan) because she has found and answered a letter written by a woman named Claire 50 years earlier - and Charlie is there with his grandmother, Claire, who is hoping to find her long lost first love, Lorenzo, to apologize for standing him up. Wanting to help Claire, she accompanies them on Claire's quest and involves this adorable scene in which Charlie is transfixed by her writing and declares her to be "a writer, not a fact-checker". Sadly, embedding has been disabled.

The movie includes footage of Verona, Sienna, and the Tuscan countryside, all of which is gorgeous, and Vanessa Redgrave is charming (and gorgeous!) as Claire - and her real-life husband, Franco Nero, is smokin' hot. But I digress. There is footage of the courtyard containing Juliet's balcony, including her statue (it's good luck to grab her breast for a photo), and there is one specific reference to the play itself, which can be seen in this short clip, where Charlie says what he would do if he were in Romeo's shoes.

In one scene, Charlie and Sophie lie in the grass to look at the stars, quoting Shakespeare - Hamlet's "Doubt thou the stars are fire", to be precise. This film has it all - excellent romantic chemistry, a wonderful "quest", a lovely romance between Redgrave and Nero, an extremely entertaining turn by Gael Garcia Bernal as Sophie's fiancé, gorgeous scenery, humor, and a terrific soundtrack. In the screenings I've seen, people just sit there listening to the closing song or chatting with their companions or nearest neighbors - nobody wants to spring up and rush out (except for the occasional bathroom-seeker), hoping to keep the magic alive just a bit longer.

Um, yeah - I guess you could call this a big thumbs up from me. If it's your blend of tea, see it before it moves on.

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The Tempest, part 4 - Shipwrecked!

In June of 1609, the Sea Venture set off from England, bound for Virginia with between 150 passengers and a lot of supplies. One of those passengers was William Strachey, secretary of the mission. It was the flagship of a seven-ship fleet carrying between 500-600 people total. About seven weeks later, the fleet was beset by what was probably a hurricane. The Sea Venture was separated from the remainder of the fleet and struggled for three days, taking on water. The ship's master intentionally grounded the ship in order to avoid her foundering, and all 150 people - and one dog - went safely ashore on what is now Bermuda.

They spent nine months on the island, during which time they constructed two new ships out of Bermuda timber and pieces taken from the Sea Venture. Some settlers died while on the island, and two men were intentionally left on the island for unspecified crimes.

In 1610, survivor Sylvester Jordain published a book entitled A discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Devils, which apparently included an account of the storm and the wreck. That same year, William Strachey wrote a letter detailing the wreck and what followed (including his time in Jamestown). The letter was published in 1625 as A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir THOMAS GATES Knight, but the Jordain book would have provided some of the same information as Strachey's account of the storm and the wreck - to say nothing of everyone surviving it, at least in the first instance, and then living to not only tell the tale, but also to sail off to their original destination (where they found nothing but death and the dying at Jamestown, but that's a different story) - definitely match up with some of The Tempest's plot points. I do not believe it likely that Shakespeare saw Strachey's letter, but the information in its contents tells some of the story of what transpired aboard the Sea Venture.

Here's a (relatively) short excerpt from Strachey's letter to the "Excellent Lady". A longer portion of the letter is available on the Folger Shakespeare Library website.