The setting sun, and music at the close,
As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last,
Writ in remembrance more than things long past.
– William Shakespeare,
The Tragedy of King Richard the Second
The setting sun, and music at the close,
Much Ado About Nothing seems preoccupied with inconstancy or deceit. Disdain is suddenly transformed into love, men and women’s marital unfaithfulness is often mentioned, and masks (which may be taken on or off suddenly) or disguises are also involved in the play’s plot.
Benedick, the ever changing, is convinced to love Beatrice once he learns of her supposed love for him. And Beatrice, the constant, is convinced to love Benedick once she learns of his supposed love for her. Both of them discontinue in their long-held war, and instead become fast friends (with a few squabbles here and there). Deceit is used by their friends to get both of them to like each other.
Balthasar’s song, especially the line “Men were deceivers ever,” speaks of this prominent theme. The villain, Don John, also uses false appearances to hide his deceit and fickle attachment to his brother.
And at the play’s end, who should be taking off a mask, but Beatrice. This mask could be symbolic of the way that both she and Benedick had been fooled about the other, they were both wearing masks which hid their true character, in a sense, from each other.
And Leonarto draws attention to the fact that men are often inconstant in that they give advice, but rarely follow it. In his speech to Antonio, he states “‘Tis all men’s office to speak patience/ To those that wring under the load of sorrow,/But no man’s virtue nor sufficiency/ To be so moral when he shall endure/ The like himself.”
And Benedick, at the play’s end, summarizes: “For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.”
There are several noteworty quotes from this play. Because some of them need to be heard in context to be appreciated, I have included passages I especially liked.
BENEDICK…all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none. And the fine is – for the which I may go the finer – I will live a bachelor.
BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other mettle than earth. Would it not griee a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? – to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none. Adam;s sons are my brethren, and truly I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more./ Men were deceivers ever./ One foot in sea, and one on shore,/ To one thing constant never./ Then sigh not so, but let them go,/ And be you lithe and bonny,/ Converting all your sounds of woe/ Into hey nonny, nonny.
Sing no more ditties, sing no more./ of dumps so dull and heavy./ The fraud of men was ever so/Since dummer first was leafy./ Then sigh not so, but let them go,/ And be you blithe and bonny,/Converting all your sounds of woe/ Into hey nonny, nonny.
BEATRICE: I love you with so much of my heart that non is left to protest.
LEONATO: No, no, ’tis all men’s office to speak patience/ To those that wring under the load of sorrow,/ But no man’s virtue nor sufficiency/To be so moral when he shall endure/ The like himself.
BENEDICK: And I pray thee now tell me, for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?
BEATRICE: For them all rogether, which maintain so politic a state of evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them. But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?
BENEDICK: Thou and I are too wise to woo peacably.
BENEDICK: Here’s our own hands against our hearts. Come. I will have thee, but by this light, I take thee for pity.
BEATRICE: I would not deny you, but by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consupmtion.
BENEDICK: For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.
I love this play!
It was the second play I ever read by Shakespeare, and I distinctly remember being surprised at its extremely sharp wit, expressly referred to as “skirmishes of wit” in the play. From the first dialogue between Beatrice and Benedick, I knew that I was in for some fun.
Now, I have not read the play in over two years, almost three. (But it is on my summer reading list.)
This was a play of “firsts” for me: the first time I encountered one of Shakespeare’s many strong women characters, the first time I experienced the biting sarcasm that I have grown to love, the first time I remember reading something I recognized as a famous Shakespeare quote.
About a year later, I watched the movie starring Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington. Although it was entertaining, I did not at all care to the portrayal of Benedick. I had pictured him as much different, but I cannot explain exactly how.
Anyway, I enjoyed my reading of the play better than the film version.
But I often wonder what exactly I think of when I think of characters. I always picture them in my mind when I am reading a book (or play), but it is an indefinite picture, blurry as in a dream. But for all that fogginess, I am always able to distinguish a film version’s portrayal of a character as being definitely wrong according to my definition of that character. I do not exactly know why this is, but it is one reason I prefer reading to viewing.
Some characters are admittedly more difficult to picture than others, but generally, it is not a problem for me to get caught up in the world of the characters, and so see them as living individuals.
Maybe that is what I so much enjoy about Much Ado About Nothing – its incredibly clear, incredibly alive characters. Their speech so completely distinguishes them, that one cannot help but feel that he or she has actually heard them deliever their speeches in person. Although Benedick’s actual physical appearance may be somewhat foggy, I can distinctly picture his attitude and mind with the words he speaks. For example, here is the first exchange between the two B’s in the play:
BEATRICE: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick. Nobody marks you.
BENEDICK: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?
BEATRICE: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signor Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.
BENEDICK: Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted. And I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart, for truly I love none.
Yes, these are clear characters, which one feels rather than sees. I can hear them speaking as I read, tell by the words they say how they say those words. This is not always the case with Shakespeare, so I will enjoy it when I can!
Bombast is boastful or ranting language. In Midsummer Night’s Dream, bombast is used most often by bottom as a humorous indication of his arrogant stupidity and ignorance. He says in scene 1.2., that he will play the lion’s part and roar so convincingly that the Duke will tell him to roar “again and again.” He also uses it when he is with the fairy queen Titania by constantly boasting of his qualities. He seems to always be uttering some absurdly over-exaggerated statement! This is why his character is so funny! By using bombast so often with in the character of Bottom, Shakespeare sets the almost exaggerated tone of the whole play. Things happen so quickly, so strangely, and so unexpectedly in the play, that it seems to parallel the strange, humorous, bombastic speeches of Bottom.
Also adding much comedy to the play is the use of malapropism, which is the misuse of words. The “rude mechanicals” are the main characters who use this. One example of this element of language is the way Quince uses the wrong order of words in the sentences he speaks when introducing their play to the Duke in the final scene. By putting periods in the middle of sentences and mixing up the whole passage, using words in wrong order, thereby changing their meaning, he makes a humorous blunder of wording. There are many other instances in which both he, Bottom, and the other mechanicals use the wrong words, like when Bottom says “defect” when the correct word is “effect.”
All these misuses of words cause the mechanicals to seem significantly more ignorant than the other charcters. This is another way humor is conveyed in the play: we laugh at the absurdity of a powerful fairy queen falling in love with a stupidly ignorant, ass-headed mechanical, ignoring his misuse of language.
Ironyis the contrast of one thing in relation to another. It can be both verbal or dramatic. Verbal irony is where something is said while the speaker intends another meaning besides the obvious. Examples of this may be seen in scene 5.1 where Theseus and company frequently make fun of the mechanicals’ performance. They state the obvious, while often meaning something deeper that the mechanicals often miss.
Dramatic irony is when one scene, event, or line contrasts sharply with another. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there is a lot of this. The instant change in Demetrius’ attitude towards Helena is ironic – he says he cannot possibly love her, then becomes madly in love with her. Lysander likewise says he could never cease to love Hermia, then falls madly for Helena. In this example, irony is both humorous and tragic. Humorous because for Helena, the sudden change of events is good. Tragic because they are not so great for Hermia. There is also the irony of the audience knowing what is happening throughout, while the characters do not know about the fairies (Puck). When Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, we know who is who, but he doesn’t. And of course, he does not realize his mistake. This is ironic because our knowledge contrasts with his ignorance (along with most of the other characters in the play) to give his actions special meaning to the audience.
Again, this use of irony is what makes A Midsummer Night’s Dreamboth comic and tragic. It is highly comical when confusion reigns, yet it is also sobering and tragic to realize the extreme chaos and randomness everything experiences in the play. When Lysander falls for Helena because of Puck’s mistake, Hermia is heartbroken and we are faced with the reality of this sudden change of fortune for the two women. Irony then gives deeper meaning to the words and events in this play. It serves to both lighten and make heavier the entire mood of the play.
There several perspectives a person might use to analyze a literary work, especially one of Shakespeare’s.
Gibson outlines the perspectives and defines them as follows:
Feminism: A fairly new perspective concerned with a “women’s view” about gender equality in roles of institutions such as religion, politics, work, etc.
Psychoanalysis: Is preoccupied with love, hate, dreams, fantasy, and confusion. Seeks to make distinctions between the explicit and implicit meanings of a script. Psychoanalytics have a field day with Hamlet.
Structuralism: Derived from a particular view of language, located in the theories of linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. A structuralist approach to a Shakespeare play assumes that certain structures or systems govern or explain each play. Example, a genre such as comedy is a structural category, because its literary and dramatic concepts strongly influence how a particular play is written, what its topic will be, how it will end, and how it is likely to be performed. Measure for Measure provides structuralists with a headache.
Deconstruction: Is derived from one of structuralism’s assumptions about language, that it is a ‘system with no positive terms.’ In other words, no word or thing has meaning in itself, but derives meaning from the relationships it has within the structure of language. Meaning is always deferred, never absolute. Deconstructionists look at what is missing from a Shakespeare play rather than focusing on the meaning of what is there.
New Historicism: Is mainly concerned with the conditions of Shakespeare’s own time, and environment. It sees the plays and theatre of that time as strongly influenced by, and reflecting, contemporary politics, economic, and ideological conditions. Claims that Shakespeare’s plays are ‘centrally and repeatedly concerned with the production and containment of disorder.’
Cultural Materialism: Argues that culture and materialism, are always related. Shakespeare cannot be understood without reference to the economic and plitical system of his age, and that of our own. Says that studying Shakespeare is a political activity because Shakespeare is not separate from other social practices, but is shaped by politics, ideology, and economics.
Textual and Critical Scholarship: Shows how Shakespeare texts have been constructed over the centuries. because every edition is a different one, no script has the coherence and stability it appears to claim. Claims that all interpretations are to some extent shaped by ideology and focuses on the social class of the critics and the particular circumstances of the time at which they wrote.
Reception Theory: Sees reading as a creative, constructive process. It emphasizes the reader’s active role in ‘making’ any text or script, and therefore epitomizes those teaching practices which stress personal response. Readers are not passive,but actively make some sense out of what they read.
Obviously, each perspective has its advantages and disadvantages, some more than others. There is something to be said for the various perspectives, especially in teaching Shakespeare, but for the average enjoyer/reader of Shakespeare, they are not necessary. Basic familiarity is nice, and will probably be helpful in allowing the reader to gain multiple views of a play, but for the perspectives to be useful at all, the reader must first decide which perspective he or she agrees with and will stick to.
King Lear is a play particularly well-suited to various perspectives. Not only do all the characters have individual ‘perspectives’ on life, the play itself could easily be interpreted several ways through several perspectives.
Who is Prince Harry/Hal really?
The stately, wise, and seemingly thoughtful ruler of King Henry V is much different from the scheming, crude, less kind, and rowdy Hal in King Henry IV.
But who is the real one?
Is the rudeness, the unrefined manner of Hal simply an act, disguising the true Harry? Or is the dignified Harry simply an act disguising the true Hal?
I believe that he is really Harry, not Hal. But I also believe that he is a master of disguise and an excellent actor. Because of this, it is difficult to know when he is really being true to himself. For example, the lines spoken by Harry to Catherine in King Henry V are beautiful, more romantic than those in Romeo and Juliet. But does he really mean them, or is he simply pulling off yet another performance so that he can get what he needs?
He has shown himself to be a very talented and capable actor and performer – he has performed for armies, large crowds, friends, family members, advisors, politicians, clergymen, among others.
He always seems to have the right words to say, and know exactly how to say them.
He is also a highly intelligent man, look at his soliliquy in King Henry IV after tavern scene with Falstaff. He is calculating, and scheming.
Yet Hal seems more calculating and hypocritical than Harry does. To me, Harry is a completely sympathetic character: he seems to do the right things, cares about people, accepts his humanity, and acknowledges the evils that exist in a fallen world. In effect, Harry seems in balance with his humanity and his political authority and position while Hal seems very unbalanced in that regard. He first tries to live only by satisfying his humanity and the desires associated with that, while denying his political authority and the responsibilities that come with that, but he later abandons his humanity for his political authority and power.
Harry, it is true, still has abandoned Falstaff, which is not commendable because it is traitorous. Even though Falstaff is not the best moral figure in the world, he was still Hal’s friend, and Hal used him quite a lot. So when Hal abandons Falstaff in King Henry IV, part ii, he is a back-stabbing friend. But, he seems to be loyal to his subjects now, especially the soldiers.
One thing philosophical discussion that comes up in King Henry V is that of divine right of kings and the morality of war – whose fault is it when soldiers die? The king’s for sending them to the war? Or the soldiers and opposing army? And when are wars just or injust – and who decides that: God of the king?
Anyway, the true “Hal” seems to be King Harry. He is at his best, both politically and humanely, and he seems most capable in the position of king.