Archive for Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing

Posted in Much Ado About Nothing with tags , , , on May 6, 2009 by Saera

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!


Shakespeare’s Use of Language in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Posted in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Language with tags , , , , on April 27, 2009 by Saera

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.


Posted in King Lear with tags , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2009 by Saera

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.

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.

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.

Three for One – Shakespeare’s Best Offer

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

In Henry V, Shakespeare combines elements of comedy, history, and tragedy through various means. Because of this masterful combination of everything – deep themes, philosophical musings, comic characters, tragic characters, historical plot, wit, humor, romance, tragedy -I believe this play is one of my favorites, and one of Shakespeare’s best works.henry20v20dvd20review20criterion20olivier20pdvd_011-01

Shakespeare relies mainly on the various nationalities and speaking accents of the play’s characters to give comedy to the play. The English, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish captains all speak with pronouncedly differing accents that are highly comical, especially since they each tend to either misunderstand one another or make fun of each other because of these accents. Then there is Catherine, and the way she often butchers the English language with her French ways. Although Alice tries not to correct her, she often is forced to step in and correct the princess’  mispronunciations. However, Alice herself often goofs up the English she is trying to teach Catherine! This is not pointed out by any character, but obvious to the English-speaking audience and remarkably funny. Also, the play’s seemingly happy ending makes this play like a comedy.

There is also irony that can be both funny and tragic. When King Harry disguises himself as a common soldier, Williams mistakes him as such ad the irony of Harry’s speech to Williams and Bates is at first comical because we as the audience are let in on the “joke,” but later when Williams brings up the subject of the divine right of kings, or their responsibility for soldiers’ deaths, it becomes almost tragic because we understand the extent of the burden that Kind Harry bears.

But there is also tragedy in the piece as seen in the main battle scenes and their aftermath. There is also tragedy in the deaths of the traitors to King Harry, as well as the death of Falstaff. The character of Pistol further seems to add tragedy because he is so rude, ruthless, and selfish that he constantly proves a danger  or annoyance to the “good guys.” Finally, in the end of the play, the epilogue foreshadows what will happen soon to King Harry and the kingdom he has worked so valiantly to establish and enlarge. His death seems so imminent; although he has won the battle, he cannot enjoy his success long.  As actual history says, he will soon die, causing his country to become embroiled in a severe civil war.

Historical elements are present in Henry V as well, and come mainly from the storyline of the play. Shakespeare follows Harry’s battle successes and his conquests for the French throne, as it really happened. Shakespeare was making use of the fact that most of his audience would have been familiar with the famous English hero, King Harry, and his history, so he stays fairly true to the historical part  and uses the audience’s knowledge of this history to form the tragic element of King Harry’s soon-present demise, as just mentioned.

All three elements of history, comedy, and tragedy are seamlessly woven together. Harry experiences loss, but eventually gets his girl in the end (but we know he won’t last much longer), and he does (in the play) what he did in real life, at least as far as warfare is concerned. So the characters are the main source of comedy, the plot/storyline is that for tragedy, as is our knowledge of Harry’s history, and the plot is also the basis for the element of history in the play.