King Lear Class Notes -Incomplete

Posted in King Lear with tags , , , on April 13, 2009 by Saera

James I was king while King Lear was written. He wanted to unite England, Scotland, and Wales.

Lear looks at the world that contains humanity, rather than the character/individual interior such as Hamlet does.

There is a primary philosophical/dramatic conflict between the “naturalists” and the “medievalists.” The one gives importance only to “facts,” while the other gives facts to importance.

The sense of smell is key in this play.

Gloucester’s situation with his sons  parallels King Lear’s relationship with his daughters, and both men’s situations parallel each other as far as their desperation drives them to madness and harm.

Is Cordelia an echo or representation of the Gospel or a divine figure? I do not see her as such…inless it is to show that she is in the right, because she is imitating Christ? Or is it the opposite – to show that Christ is bad, or a lie, since Cordelia dies, and seems merely an imitation? Either way, it seems to be a stretch.

Edgar wants to show his father how fate is not purely random – Dr. Gurney says he contrives a “fake miracle” for Gloucester. So does this show that miracles (which are associated with the Divine) are non-existent, and that men contrive them, that they are fake? Is this a comment on the perceived absence of God and the supernatural? It does seem to be…as Dr. Gurney mentioned, Gloucester’s physical fall leads to his spiritual rise. Interesting point…

Edgar has saved his father’s life by a necessary fiction.. And, all of Edgar’s disguises (he has several) are fictions, in a sense.

This whole play seems to be a parody of the real  and the divine. Fictions, disguises  seem to be real, despite their false appearance, but those things that seem to true and normally not able to be seen or have an appearance ( such as God or destiny,  moral order, hierarchy of design, etc.) are shown to be false, in the sense that they are virtually non-existent in the play. Yet, is this because they do not exist, or because the characters act as if they do not, and ignore them? Cordelia’s “I am” is again connotative of God…but is she meant to be overtly associated with God, because she says she “is” but, unlike God, at the play’s end, she is dead.

“Ripeness is all.”

Shakespeare uses many compound words in King Lear: pell-mell, handy-dandy, child-changed, tender-minded, full-flowing, villain-like, bare-gnawn, canker-bit, eldest-born, wide-skirted, self-same, emty-hearted, fore-vouched, still-soliciting, to name a few.

“O undistinguished space of woman’s will!”

“Pray you now, forget and forgive. I am old and forgetful.”

“Gilded butterflies” section….beautiful!

“I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; My master calls me, I must not say no.”

“The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices/ Make instruments to plague us.”

“Come, let’s away to prison./ We two alone will sing like birds i’the cage…/ So we’ll live,/ And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh/ At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues/ Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too -/ Who loses and who wins; who’s in, and who’s out;’ And take upon’s the mystery of things,/ As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out,/ In a walled prison, packs and sects of great ones,/ That ebb and flow by the moon.”


The Tragic, Comic, and Historic King Henry IV

Posted in King Henry IV Part I with tags , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2009 by Saera

King Henry IV is like its counterpart King Henry V in that it incorporates elements of all three genres of Shakespeare’s drama: tragedy, comedy, and history.  This is done by working plotting, characters and scene arrangements.

The characters are both humorous and serious. King Henry, his court, and the men surrounding Hotspur are very serious. Northumberland, Worcester, and Glyndwr are the serious, authoritative figures of the rebels while King Henry, Blunt, and Lancaster are serious and authoritative figures of court.

In contrast, Falstaff and Hal are humorous characrers who provide comic relief throughout the play. The other tavern-buddies are also humorous, but Falstaff is the main comedian. Hotspur and Hal can both be very serious (as can Falstaff) but they can also be highly comical. Many characters are historical, but several are fictitiously added to the story.

Plotting is important to this play’s combination of tragedy, comedy, ad history as well because through the various added events of the play that did nothappen historically, the audience is shown a more realistic picture of what happened. Instead of focusing on the purely historical perspective (because everyone would have known what happened), Shakespeare adds the whole “tavern” element, and embellishes the characters of Falstaff, Glyndwr, and Prince Harry and Hotspur. The whole incident of the double robbery serves as a very comic element of the play (as well as a rather symbolic foreshadowing of what Hal would do in the future), and the added strife between Hal and King Henry serves at first as a tragedy, then as a more comical element in their reconciliation at the end.

By including the fighting scenes, Shakespeare successfully incorporates historically accurate and embellished events which certainly seem tragic to the one sympathetic character of Hotspur and comic for the other sympathetic character Prince Henry. The fight between the two is charged with emotion and the audience is torn between who they will sympathize with the most. By giving equal development to Hotspur and Hal, Shakespeare gives the audience that tension: it knows someone will be the loser, but both Hal and Hotspur are now sympathetic to them. So when Hotspur dies, it is tragic, because we liked him. On the other hand, we rejoice when Hal wins because we liked him also. Both men are portrayed well; they are shown in their familiar surroundings and their comic natures make them endearing. So by using plotting to successfully develop these two most important characters, Shakespeare incorporates comedy, tragedy, and the historic elements of the story.

Some arrangement is also used to make elements of comedy, tragedy, and history combine. The battle scene, by being placed at the end of the play, makes this tragic because the finality of Hotspur’s death is emphasized. Audiences had earlier seen him joke with his wife, brag about his strength, attempt to compile a rebellion army, and then, after following his pursuits so closely, they see him die in the last act. Although, as previously mentioned, the “comedy” of Hal’s victory is also felt, it is marred significantly by the finality of Hotspur’s death. His death is the more tragice because it follows after the scene in which he learns that his reinforcement help (with his father and others) have basically deserted him and left him on his own. With Hal, his assumption of the “royal” role almost seems tragic as well. he turns his back on Falstaff and abandons his drinking parties at the tavern to become the serious prince and fighter his father desired him to be.  While this change in morality seems positive, it also is rather tragic because we have seen the fun times, the tavern has become familiar to us, so by turning his back on it, Hal seems to die to a certain aspect that we liked about him and with which we were well acquainted.

Class Notes on King Henry IV, Part I (taken from Shakespeare and His Age class)

Posted in King Henry IV Part I with tags , on April 9, 2009 by Saera

“Strong man” concept of rule versus Divine Right? Which is right? God is still in control of both – although man seems to get credit for the first…Look at the history of nations…

Does Falstaff really love Prince Hal?

Honor is keyword of play, according to Dr. Gurney. Time and history are also major themes.

Prince Hal is caught between two characters which represent the two sides of himself or his attitudes: Hotspur (representing the part of Hal that wants political power/has ambition, and desires honor) and Falstaff (representing the part of Hal that simply wants to live and enjoy life).

The Greek word for grace is charisma. Falstaff has lots of Charisma…although it doesn’t seem he has much grace.

Is Falstaff a combination of both Puck and Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Does Falstaff represent humanity, in how not everyone is on the road of politics?

Dr. Gurney sees these two sides as being fundamentally incompatible – how can one maintain personality, a sense of right and wrong, when they are involved in politics? He believes that politics force people to abandon themselves in a sense, and become forced to be a slave to power.

It is very obscene when religion is used for political advancement. God isn’t fooled, though. And yet, that does not mean that all “religion” in politics is wrong, does it? What does Christ say about following him? Humbleness, care for others, care for God, not allowing people to pressure you into anything, yet being incredibly aware of others’ interests and well being – more so than one’s own. SO this is compatible with politics only when it is done truly for the people, not the politicians.

But, in order to gain  following, a politician must play himself up as well as become controlled by those in power, even if he does effect positive change or help the people.  Sell your soul, basically…is that why Christ was so concerned with the individual? Personally helping the widow across the street instead of trying to eliminate hunger for all widows? We don’t need politics to enable us to help others, but can we still be in politics?

Daniel was, and he maintained purity of heart and integrity. Paul was, in a sense. David certainly was, but it often got him into trouble. All the Israelite judges (and Moses) were…

Is Hal a deceptive hypocrite? Or “politically accurate?”

Does he have a split personality? Or is he merely assuming his “political ruler” role? Is Hal’s soliloquy representative of his full/complete idea about his rule/ political intentions? Or is this just a part of Hal, which is later abandoned with his abandonment to revelry?

Is Hotspur incapable of disguising his motives in front of others in order to achieve his goals, as Dr. Gurney says? How do he and Hal compare? He has almost no control over himself and his emotions, while Hal has too much control, not only of himself, but also of others.

Line 15-20 of 2.2: The Percy’s/Northumberland and Bolingbroke are thieves of the throne and now are not true to each other…

Plagues, Protestants, Patrons, Performers

Posted in King Henry V with tags , , , , , , , on April 8, 2009 by Saera

The Bubonic Plague was very effective in Shakespeare’s time, as it was a major cause of the deaths in England. In Romeo and Juliet, it figures into the play as Mercutio curses the feud between the Capulets and Montagues and says “A plague on…” It affected the Elizabethan theatre as when a certain number of people died from it in cities, that city’s theatres were closed. The play actors often could contact this disease themselves, and it obviously would affect their work if caught. It could potentially affect the play’s audiences also, because if they suspected the theatre as being a breeding ground for disease (which it was!), they would avoid attending performances.

Catholics and Protestants

The Catholics in Elizabethan England were persecuted because Elizabeth was Protestant, so England was Protestant. The Protestants were very concerned with the possibility of a Catholic rebellion or uprising, which would be associated with an attempt to dethrone Elizabeth and so they carefully censored all publications, including plays. Shakespeare’s works all had to be censored and this is reflected in his plays by the absence of explicit Catholic materials. The Reformation had just finally been accepted in england with the divorce of Henry VIII, which was the major factor in England’s religious conversion. Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, was a Catholic who rigorously persecuted the Protestants of England when she ruled after Henry VIII. SO England experienced major shifts between Protestant and Catholic rulers and there was a general sense of confusion and uncertainty about one’s religious freedom – who knew when the ruler would be overthrown by someone of another religion?

Elizabeth I

She was Anne Boleyn’s daughter by Henry VIII, who came to the throne in 1559. She helped England defend against Spain, she was a Protestant, and she was a patron of Shakespeare. She was also very willing to do whatever it took to maintain her kingdom and she censored Shakespeare’s plays heavily for anything that would challenge her position. She had a network of spies that she used to enforce order and keep her informed as to people’s opinions about her. She had no qualms about killing or imprisoning her friends if they crossed her (look at what she did to Sir Walter Raleigh). Although she seemed kind and “feminine,” she was a tough queen and Shakespeare knew this. She questioned him after he wrote Richard II because she thought it was associated with a plot to dethrone her and lead an uprising. But overall, Shakespeare enjoyed her favor.

All-Male Acting Companies

Because all of Shakespeare’s actors were male, he needed men who could sound and act like women. He also was limited in how many women’s roles he could assign each play. Therefore, there are more men’s roles than women’s in his plays. This again reflects how the Elizabethan stage relied on the use of language to capture their audience’s attention. Special effects, scenery, and realistic portrayal of characters (especially women) became less important than the lines those characters spoke. For example, no one cares what Juliet looks like – her lines reveal her character, which is that of an attractive, strong, loving , firm woman. We eagerly await her responses to the events of the play, not caring about how beautiful the actor is. The acting companies frequently traveled around, which is perhaps one reason why they did not include women. Some critics viewed the cross-dressing of the male actors as female characters as being evil, but most people did not seem to mind.

Pertinent Facts About the Play and Its Performance

Posted in Shakespeare Is Human with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Saera

globe-theatre2The Globe Theatre of 1599 was located in Southwark, and so out of the jurisdiction of inner-city London, which did not look kindly on play-acting, gambling, prostitution, etc. The theatre was designed as an outdoor one, with cheap seats, standing room around stage, or galleries that cost much more. It was a non-lighted theatre and certainly a more public one than the later Blackfriars Theatre was. The stage had a roof, but the rest of the theatre was open. The stage platform was about 5 feet high, and did not contain many props or even a curtain, such as modern theatres do.

The Globe is significant to both Shakespeare studies and the Elizabethan stage in general because it was the most public theatre that Shakespeare wrote plays for, and the plays he wrote for this theatre vary from those he wrote for the more private, elite audiences of Blackfriars theatre. Because of its size and many cheap “seats” or standing room, it allowed many people to see Shakespeare’s plays, increasing their popularity.

As mentioned earlier, stage props were used sparingly during Shakespeare’s time, but certainly more so than was scenery. The staging of Shakespeare’s plays was emblematic. Costumes were used extensively. Scenery was practically non-existent. This is significant because it meant that the bulk of “pretending reality” rested on the emblematic aspects of a play’s staging as well as the language of the play, not the “scenery,” to be realistic.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Company was founded by the Lord Chamberlain and his son-in-law, the Queen’s officer in charge of licensing playing companies. Shakespeare joined this company around 1594. Because of a ban on plays being performed anywhere but specially-built, official playhouses, the company, one of two important ones 9the other being the Lord Admiral’s Men), performed in the Theatre, in Shoreditch. This is significant to Shakespeare studies because it helps one understand the play better if he or she understands its intended audience.


Posted in King Henry V with tags , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Saera

Catherine is the daughter of the king of France, who eventually marries King Harry in King Henry V. In scene 5.2, Catherine’s true colors come through as she accepts Harry’s proposal of marriage (in a very roundabout way). She has already been introduced earlier, but only appeared in one scene. This time, she has center stage. She really does not talk much, in comparison with Harry, but certainly says enough for audiences to understand her. She acts coy, and because she cannot speak good English, must have an interpreter. This serves to compliment Harry because it shows how he really can speak fluent French. This scene also shows Harry’s human, personal side. By being the object of his love, Catherine’s role in this scene is to allow this side of Harry to shine through and to draw his personality out. In the play, her dramatic function is to provide some comedy (through her bad attempts to speak English), to allow the side of Harry the man versus Harry the king and soldier to come out, and to introduce romance to the play. Thematically, her role is to bring up the issue of whether Harry will be a good ruler for France or not, to also reinforce the theme of Harry the man (not just a “king”), and to show Harry’s superiority of sorts, as seen by his humbleness and mastery of the French language.


Posted in King Henry V with tags , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Saera

Fluellen is a captain of the English army under King Harry in King Henry V. He is a Welshman. In scene 3.3 of the play, Fluellen is introduced and right away establishes his temper and accent! In this particular scene, his role seems to be to give the audience some insight as to the “warfare” oart of the play 9one of its essential themes) and expose the small factions and fights between nationalities (Scot, Welsh, Irish, etc.) that could become a major source of contention, but do not. He also gives the audience some comic relief with his extreme accent and bobmastic character qualities. He almost gets into it with MacMorris, but he shows restraint and calmness when necessary. His dramatic function in the play as a whole seems to be to add comedy and diversity to the play, as well as allowing some explanation for the audience as to what is going on in the war, and to give them a different perspective, from a higher ranking officer in the army, than just King Harry’s view. Thematically, he reinforces the idea of King Harry’s ability to command respect of and unify various peoples from various nationalities. He also provides some contrast to King Harry’s character and temperament, allowing audiences to better understand both characters. Fluellen is both lovable and laughable, and arrg, a better man you’ll not be seein’ too soon, lass!