Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reflecting on Shakespeare; or, The End...? Hopefully Not...

Since this is my last blog post for this class, I thought that I would take the liberty of reflecting on some of the things that I've enjoyed about engaging Shakespeare. 

I think that one of my favorite things was the group/social aspect.  Working with other people provided great opportunities to interact with ideas that I might not have come up with and to experience Shakespeare's works in a variety of media.  It was interesting and useful to have a chance to engage people who had different talents and approaches to Shakespeare. 

The Engaging Shakespeare project really brought home to me the fact that Shakespeare is not meant to just be read.  It is meant to be experienced. And that means watching, performing, reading (out loud), acting, everything.  The best thing about the project was that it brought a little of all of these things to the class and to each of us individually.  I enjoyed getting a chance to take part in creating an e-audiobook.  I'd never done anything like this before, and acting and thinking about how I was going to portray my characters helped me form new opinions on Hamlet

As I mentioned above, seeing all the other exhibitions/performances was great as well.  The art curriculum, music video, and play/documentary all did a great job in not just presenting their own interpretations of Shakespeare but making his works applicable to modern life.  It's easy to think that Shakespeare is meaningless in a modern society, but the project, in my mind at least, helped show that that conclusion is erroneous. 

Learning Outcomes:
So, now it's time for a personal moment.  With me.  At the beginning of this class, we discussed our four learning outcomes, our canon of how to measure our growth in the class and our Shakespeare knowledge:
1. Gain Shakespeare Literacy
2. Analyze Shakespeare Critically
3. Engage Shakespeare Creatively
4. Share Shakespeare Meaningfully

In a previous post, I discussed how the learning outcomes were going, and how I felt I was meeting them.  I believe that I can honestly say that I have improved in all of them, especially the last 2, which were slightly lacking the last time I posted. 

I feel as though my Shakespeare literacy has increased as this class has gone on and we have studied more plays together.  I've been able to see more connections between past experiences in my life and Shakespeare's works, and to find references to Shakespeare in outside media.

I feel as though analyzing Shakespeare critically has always been one of my strengths in this course.  I've been able to explore themes in many of my posts, and I've been able to tie these themes back to my interests in history. 

Engaging Shakespeare creatively is the outcome where I feel like I have improved the most.  Creating the audiobook was a learning experience for me.  It took all of us in our group sometime to get comfortable with recording and with playing our characters effectively (I definitely tried too hard the first time that I did the Ghost's lines).  But we got much better and much more natural as we recorded more (and struggled through our technological impairments). 

Completing the final project also helped me share Shakespeare meaningfully.  I'd been able to share some things before-in some unconventional settings-but the project helped our group reach out to others both online and in the classroom.  I thought that the project was a great success in that regard.  Even my roommate who attended it expressed his jealousy over the fact that our class did such a fantastic set of projects (he's in another section of ENG 232), which is a mark of success in my book. 

All in all, I really feel as though I have grown personally and in my knowledge of Shakespeare, and that is why I believe that I have met the learning outcomes from this course.  I hope to be able to use the knowledge and skills that I have gained elsewhere, so I can benefit myself and others.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Almost done with the project!

On Saturday we recorded (and re-recorded) the last parts of our cut of Hamlet.  The only things left to do now are the editing-we have to remove some extra sounds, and add some others-and the distribution.  Honestly, I'm excited.  I played two roles in this audio production, Claudius and the Ghost, and I am very interested to see how my portrayals of them both turned out. 

I had a great time playing two kings of Denmark, and this project gave me a firsthand look into the world of acting, introducing me to the nuances of tone, voice, and character. 

I also learned how to effectively abridge a story so that it still communicates the original's essence.  I feel that each of our group members did a great job editing and compiling our own individual parts (each person had an act). 

Can't wait for the finished product!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Is it ironic that so often in plays or novels or other literature characters end up saying or doing something by the end that they disdained so much in the beginning? 

Let's take Edmund.  When he is first introduced and discusses the idea of omens and fate with his father Gloucester, he tells us after the conversation: "This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are
sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion/knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance/drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc'd obedience of/planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on (1.1.443-449).  Edmund is a skeptic, to say the least. 

His attitude reminds me of Hotspur in Henry IV, part 1, who I mentioned earlier in one of my musings. 

Unlike Hotspur, however, Edmund apparently has a change of heart when he is dying.  Edgar tells him: "The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices/Make instruments to scourge us/The dark and vicious place where thee he got/Cost him his eyes," and Edmund comes back with, "Th' hast spoken right; 'tis true/The wheel is come full circle; I am here." 

So...Edmund fulfills his own words.  When he's in charge, fate is something to be laughed at.  When he's dying, obviously "the wheel" brought him to that place. 

How often do we do the same thing?  It's easy to think we're in charge when things are going our way.  However, it's just as easy to blame others when things don't. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Becoming Claudius

Before I get started, apologies to all for not really posting anything over the Thanksgiving weekend.  I've only recently (yesterday) emerged from a turkey-induced stupor that left me completely unable to analyze King Lear (kidding...mostly...)

The game is up, Patrick.  We know.

Anyways, I've been looking over my group's script and deciding how I want to read my lines.  I see Claudius as a sort of wannabe puppet master in this play.  He thinks that he's committed the murder very smoothly and gotten away with it, so for the first half of the play (at least) I have to be imperious monarch who is congratulating himself on a job well done. 

KHAAN! Sorry, wrong captain.
The second option might look like this though.
But in the last part of the play, some kind of other emotion has to come into it.  For example, Claudius' aside, "It is the poison'd cup; it is too late" (5.1.3944) could be taken either as simply regretful, as in "Oh well, she's dead too.  Now I have to find another wife and son..."  or it could be "No!  My plan is coming undone right in front of my eyes!  It's claiming unintended victims! Hamlet really is crazy!"  You get the point. 

So which Claudius is more realistic?  Dispassionate egomaniacal killer or...emotional egomaniacal killer? 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Attitude of Gratitude

Since it is Thanksgiving weekend, I thought that I would say a few words about gratitude...It's necessary to be happy.  Think about what you're grateful for not just this weekend, but always...and don't let your wants eclipse your needs. 

If Lear and his family had attempted to cultivate true gratitude for one another, things might not have ended as they did.  But nearly everyone in the play (except for Cordelia, Kent, and Edgar) puts their own desires above the people whom they should treasure most, and tragedy results. 

It might seem a little facetious to use fictional examples for an exhortation towards thankfulness, but the example of Lear and his dysfunctional family invites all of us to examine ourselves and how we treat our fellow human beings.  Think about it. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recording pt. 2

It didn't look quite like this.
So this last week I found out that recording is tons of fun!  Our group went to a recording studio in the first floor of the JFSB to make the first part of our audio presentation. 

The first thing we discovered:  We don't really know how to run recording software.  But the front desk people were very nice and helpful, so we got off the ground eventually.

The other thing that took some getting used to was doing the actual recording.  I did the roles of both Claudius and the Ghost, and I tried to change my tone for each one (not too sure how I did at that, by the way.  Hopefully Amy will be able to change up the Ghost just a little bit). 

I also learned that knowing the lines is important.  Yes, we can bring the script into the studio.  No, that does not mean I know how to pronounce all of the Elizabethan-era terminology.  I still don't know how everyone else in the group knew what a "matin" was.  So over the break I'll be working on reading the script and getting up to speed...wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Was Blind, But Now I See

King Lear.  Yeah.  I think that I found Shakespeare's most depressing and most profound play.  King Lear is about what happens when innocent people have to deal with tragedy inflicted on them by circumstances beyond their control. 

The particular tragedy that drew my attention was Gloucester's loss of his eyes, which we discussed in class.  Firstly, kicking someone's eyes out is a ridiculously brutal thing to do, and would inflict a large amount of physical pain.  Secondly, Gloucester has realized that he believed the wrong son and that Edmund has betrayed him, which would cause mental and emotional agony.  All in all, this guy's life is terrible. 

Gloucester then utters the famous lines we discussed in class: "I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;
I stumbled when I saw." (4.1.68-69)  When I read this, I thought of Christ's words to the Pharisees who asked him if they were blind after he healed the man blind from birth in the Gospel of John: "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth."  Christ said that he came to give sight to the blind, and that those who claimed they saw were those who were truly blind. 

Gloucester didn't see until he was made blind.  Until he was forcibly humbled, he was unable to percieve the reality of the situation around him.  We're so often the same way...we don't realize what is happening until it is too late.  At least Gloucester gets a happier ending than Lear does...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Shakespeare Abridged

So in addition to reading King Lear (holy cow.  Can anyone say brutal! Poor Gloucester...) I worked this weekend on a cut of Hamlet, Act V for an audio recording.  I discussed in a previous post how an audio recording becomes effective, but reading through the act and deciding what to cut out made me think about it all over again. 

How does an abridgement still manage to adequately get across the point of the story while still retaining its "integrity?" (Is that even the right word?)

I ended up cutting most of the first scene, only keeping the lines about Yorick, because they are so well known, and the funeral of Ophelia.  I cut most of the scenes with the clowns (seriously.  What is Shakespeare's thing with clowns?  Maybe I just have the thing with clowns after It and The Dark Knight.  But I digress), a lot of the dialogue between Horatio and Hamlet, and the discussion of Hamlet going to England.  Hopefully this will be sufficient to get the point across...guess I'll have to see on Tuesday!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Power of the Word

I joined a new group yesterday!  I am now part of the group that will be doing an audio recording of the play Hamlet.  Our group discussed what exactly makes a good audio recording and asked us all to do some research...

Here's the first one that I found, from LibriVox:

The second sample recording, from

And last, a recording of the Richard Burton Hamlet from Amazon:

The goal of an audio recording, similar to that of a text, is to create images in the mind to substitute for a lack of visual material.  In my opinion, the sample from LearnOut Loud is the best because it incorporates background music and effects, which enhance the listening experience by helping the listener get a sense of what is happening. 

For us to create an effective audio recording, we need to create images inside the head of the listener by setting tone and mood with good voice acting and sound effects.  Enjoy the samples!

Monday, November 7, 2011

King Lear

You try and stay awake through
a 3-hour Japanese movie.
"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is/To have a thankless child!"

-King Lear (1.4.815-16)

I've never read King Lear before.  Here are the ways I've interacted with it before:
1. I've had the above line quoted to me by my parents when they don't feel like I'm grateful enough.
2. I saw most of Ran, Akiro Kurosawa's famous Japanese adaptation about a Sengoku-era warlord.  I fell asleep 2/3 of the way through. 

It seems like an interesting play so far, with Lear's renunciation of the only daughter who really loves him and his fights and quarrels with the other two, who tell him they love him so they can get his land.  The fault isn't only theirs though...Lear doesn't seem to realize who really does care about him, and he doesn't value true virtue, unlike the king of France, who agrees to marry Cordelia without a dowry because he's so impressed by her character. 

Here's what I've noticed about tragedies and comedies in Shakespeare-the only way they seem to differ is the ending.  The Tempest and The Winter's Tale both had some potential issues-thinking a family member is dead is not fun, but everything was okay in the end.  It's almost as though a tragedy is a comedy that doesn't quite make it. 

Along with that, I noticed that most of Shakespeare's plays tend to deal with family relationships and their difficulties.  That made me think about the line I quoted at the beginning of this post.  A serpent's tooth.  Out of all the animals that attack people, Shakespeare used the metaphor of a serpent to describe the pain of betrayal.  Snakes that are known for biting people are usually venemous, and in many cases snakebite will cause agonizing death if untreated. 

Poisonous relationships cause emotional, spiritual, and mental agony to those who are trapped in them, especially those who are blameless in them (Lear isn't really without blame, but that doesn't mean his pain isn't real).  This metaphor drives home the point that family can bring us our greatest pain as well as joy. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Prospero's Redemption in the Production

On Saturday, I went with my class to Salt Lake City to view a production of The Tempest, which was put on by the Pioneer Theater Company.  I really enjoyed the production.  It was well done and brought out some motifs in the play that I hadn't thought of before. 

The biggest thing that I noticed was the theme of redemption.  It had been brought up previously in class discussion, but I never noticed till I saw the play that the character who needed redemption the most was Prospero.  He was shown as consumed by his anger and desire for revenge, at least until he had his conversation with Ariel and came to his senses (the one in the play where he almost hit her, from Act V, scene 1). 

Case in point.

Sure, his change felt a little overdramatic, but it made me think.  What's so great about forgiveness?  I've found in my life that the person most changed by forgiveness is the person who was wronged.  Those who can let go of their anger can find peace that those who continue to hold grudges never discover. 

On a more serious note though, I felt like this production treated a much more serious-and difficult-side of redemption than did The Winter's Tale.  In that play, Leontes was seeking forgiveness.  He had to be penitent and humble and receive it from others.  Prospero, on the other hand, had a harder test in front of him.  It's relatively easy to ask others for forgiveness, but difficult to grant to them.  That's the true test of our own mercy, when all is said and done.  Can we forgive other people?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Measuring My Shakespeare Literacy (Among Other Things)

This post is going to be a little long, because I am going to look back at my blog over time and see what's changed for the better and what can still be improved.  So here goes...
Learning Outcomes:
Shakespeare Literacy
I feel as though my Shakespeare literacy has improved dramatically since the beginning of this class.  We have studied five different plays (Hamlet, Love's Labour's Lost, The Tempest, The Winter's Taleand I read Henry IV, part 1) and I have explored each one of them at some point during the class.  I have especially learned more about my assigned play, Henry IV, part 1, since I read it extensively without other members of the class to gain information from.  I have seen three performances of Shakespeare's works so far as part of this class, two on stage (The Winter's Tale and The Tempest) and one film (Henry IV, part 1) and have analyzed these performances in my blog.  I have related the plays we have studied to everything from historical events to popular television sitcoms
Analyzing Shakespeare Critically
I could definitely do better with this part of the learning outcome.  I have done a good job of analyzing Shakespeare in his historical, contemporary, and cultural context-I'm a history major.  It's what I do.  However, though I have posted in the past before about themes in Shakespeare and such, it hasn't really been a big focus of my learning up to this point.  I should probably look into that a bit more. 
Engaging Shakespeare Creatively
Again, another area that could use improvement.  I can't honestly think of any ways in which I have engaged in literary imitation of Shakespeare.  I'm a boring analytical person.  What can I say?  However, I am going to be part of Averill Corkin's final project (Thanks Averill!), in which we will perform a one-act production of a play (I think it's Love's Labour's Lost), so I will have the chance to personally perform Shakespeare before this class is over. 
Sharing Shakespeare Meaningfully
Finally, an area in which I can say that I've done better.  I have not only been able to post regularly about Shakespeare, but I have been able to reach outside the class in order to share ideas about Shakespeare and apply his work to the lives of others (I did it during my home teaching!  I'm still kind of excited about the fact that I actually made it fit).  I do my best to engage with others in the class in conversations about themes, ideas, and facts that we bring up on our individual blogs. 
Self-Directed Learning:
I would say that the biggest thing that I have done to show that I have taken charge of my own learning about Shakespeare is to put the effort that I have into learning facts and exploring Shakespeare on this blog.  I look up ideas and facts (mostly historical) on a regular basis to provide background on Shakespeare, and my searches have taken me to a variety of Internet sites on Shakespeare and his plays.  I do well at planning and documenting my learning, especially now as compared to the beginning of the class.  I have to confess, I was not that excited about blogging when the class started, an attitude that reflects itself in my earliest posts.  But since then, I have put more effort into learning about the history and background of Shakespeare, and that effort has showed in the quality of my blog posts. 
Collaborative and Social Learning:
I feel as though the assigned groups work well for learning about Shakespeare.  I enjoy gaining new perspectives on the different plays that we read.  I don't really see any problem on how we are doing them as of right now, although I have wondered if they can be switched up sometimes.  It's not that I have a problem with any members or anything; it's just that there doesn't seem to be a lot of interaction between groups and I don't get to see a lot of other blogs (Maybe it's just me).  Out of the members in the class, Angela Grimes and Mason Bennett have been very helpful in commenting on my blog and providing me with questions to think about.  I could do a little more to apply Shakespeare in social settings (Maybe I should just try to talk to English majors all the time...might make that easier) although I did mention that I shared Shakespeare with the people that I home teach.  I also posted a review of Henry IV, part 1 on Goodreads. 
Looking Ahead:
My main plan to meet the outcome of engaging Shakespeare creatively is to involve myself with Averill Corkin's play as my final project.  I hope that this will allow me to examine Shakespeare in a new way by experiencing it firsthand. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sharing Shakespeare

"And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell"
-St. Matthew 5:30

The assignment this week was to share Shakespeare in person and online, which I tried my best to do.  The in-person experience was fairly interesting because I did it-wait for it, group-during my home teaching visit.  I couldn't really run through the whole plot of my assigned play, and I also had to have a spiritual element to the message.  So I ended up talking about the relationship between Falstaff and Hal.

Falstaff is the devil's advocate of this play.  He's around to eat, drink, and be merry, and provide humor for everyone.  But he doesn't do anything other than that.  Hal, meanwhile, is going to become Henry V in a few short years, and while he is enjoying running around with Falstaff and his other friends, he has a royal destiny and has to accomplish it. 

So I told the girls that I visit that they needed to be like Henry V and cast off anything that might be holding them back from their royal destinies as God's children.  God has a plan for us, and wants us to accomplish it, but there are a lot of things in this world that can distract us and keep us from living up to our potential.  So we need to do our best to minimize those influences in our lives, just like Henry V began to leave behind his old life to embrace his true character.  (I did not, however, tell them about the part where Henry kills some people close to the end.  I felt like it would defeat the purpose of the visit.  Just a little). 

As for sharing online, I did two things.  I posted a comment on the blog by the all-female company I mentioned last week who put on a production of Henry IV, part 1, hoping to initiate a conversation and find out about their perspectives.  However, this did not happen and I found out that my comment was apparently deleted (Who knows?) Fortunately for my Internet presence, I also posted a Goodreads review of my play.  Here's the link:

I'm hoping to get some comments soon.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tempest Spectacular

I'm really excited to see The Tempest on Saturday.  The play is fascinating to me, with its dearth of real plot and heavy focus on human interaction.  Almost like a lot of movies that seem to come out nowadays.  Still, The Tempest is a compelling play, and the sheer extravagance of it is astounding to the modern reader, and must have been more so to the viewer of Shakespeare's day

A harpy.  I looked for a long time for
a blog-appropriate picture, by the way.

I especially enjoyed both Ariel's denunciation of Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio as a harpy, and the appearance of Juno, Ceres, and Iris to Ferdinand and Miranda.  Part of the appeal of this play, to me at least, is its power to create images in the mind, just like any other good novel.  So is it better to read or see the play? 

There's no question that Shakespeare was meant to be watched and not just read.  But when it's performed, I feel almost the way that I do when I see a movie after reading a book.  For example, whenever I read Lord of the Rings, I still picture in my mind the actors and characters from the movies (which were great, by the way.  Not disparaging them). 

Ceres, goddess of
the harvest. 
Juno, queen of the Roman
Pantheon (originally named Hera)
It just seems to me that any visual interpretation of a text forces its imagery onto the mind.  Perhaps it is just me, but for my English 251 class last semester, I read a selection by Wayne Boothe (here is an annotation of the essay) about how ethical reading involved interaction with the author and mental submersion in their work, in essence visualizing and recreating the work inside your own head.  So is watching the movie or play before reading the text an unethical reading?  Is it simply accepting another's interpreation?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Social Discovery!

I found Henry IV, part 1 to be interesting and engaging, despite my initial reservations.  I especially found looking into the characters of Hal and Hotspur to be interesting and informative, and that was originally going to be my only focus, but I found as I kept reading the play and watching the BBC production that this isn't just about the two of them.  This play is character-driven.  Unlike The Tempest, which is about spectacle and mystery, the drama, action, and humor in this play comes from the characters, and I feel like any appropriate analysis of this work will be mostly centered on the characters

Let's start with Hotspur.  He is impulsive (as his name suggests), honor-driven, and youthful.  He's willing to sacrifice anything to maintain his honor, including his soldiers, as he shows here when he learns that his father the earl isn't coming to help the rebels:
I rather of his absence make this use:/It lends a lustre and more great opinion/A larger dare to our great enterprise/Than if the earl were here; for men must think/If we without his help can make a head/To push against a kingdom, with his help/We shall o'erturn it topsy-turvy down (4.1.2299-2305).
He likes looking awesome more than he cares about his army's chance of victory.  He exhibits a trait that the Greeks would have called hubris, excessive arrogance and self-confidence.  I previously discussed how this even extends to the supernatural realm (or at least one person's claim to the supernatural).  Hotspur is the classic tragic hero.  Young, strong, rational, and clever, but with that ultimate fatal flaw: arrogance.  The BBC production put more emphasis into this reading of Hotspur, showing his impulsive temper and condescension towards others. 

I also found online a fantastic blog in which the cast of an all-female production of Henry IV, part 1 wrote about their experiences playing various characters, and I thought the post from the actress who played Hotspur was a particularly valuable insight into the character.  Here's the link:

Then there's Hal.  Hal is a little more subtle than Hotspur.  Okay, a lot more subtle than Hotspur.  Hal is the consummate manipulator.  Some have taken this play as Hal's realization of his role in life and his acceptance of the responsibilities of the crown, but the thing is, he already knows what his role is supposed to be.  He's just planning for it by pretending to resemble a lowlife so he can look that much greater when he's the king.  Very Machiavellian, is Hal.  The film brought this out even more, especially during the dialogue when Hal and Falstaff are impersonating Henry IV and Hal at court.  Falstaff gives his famous line "banish not him thy Harry's company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world" and Hal responds with "I do, I will."  The look on Falstaff's face when he realizes that Hal isn't joking anymore really brought the point home to me that Hal is using his friends as part of his plan.  I thought the director and actors really made that scene telling in the film. 

The man himself.

I was also struck by Henry's character.  I noted earlier that the film brought out his piety and real devotion to the Church, including his desire to crusade.  As I searched the Internet though, I found something I didn't consider: Henry does not consider himself the true king of England.  Historically, Henry IV seized power from his cousin Richard II, and had him executed.  In the play, Henry regrets this and feels as though his honor has been compromised.  He is a cross between Hal and Hotspur, combining Hal's semi-Machiavellian tendencies with Hotspur's desire for honor.  He shows this when he wishes that Hotspur had been his son instead of Hal.  Unlike either of them, however, he tries to redeem himself through the Church rather than seeking solace in combat and rationalism like Hotspur or social vindication like Hal.  Here's a link on Henry's motivations and ideas:

I felt with this play that Shakespeare's point was to show some of the hard, cold facts of life: it isn't always the heroic characters who succeed in life.  Hotspur dies at Hal's hands, even as Hal finishes Hotspur's last thought-that he is food for worms, and nothing more.  In most plays, the hero succeeds.  In this play, the hero is mortal just like everyone else, and it is the cold, calm planner who comes out on top. 


Monday, October 17, 2011


For those of you who noticed, I retracted my last post.  Here's a rule: When your own post bores you, it's not a good thing. 

I began reading The Tempest over the weekend (I'll be back to Henry IV, part 1 later in the week!) and I have to say I'm excited.  This is classic Shakespeare!  Admittedly, there was not a whole lot of interest in this play until the 19th century, and even then real analysis of the work came with the advent of post-colonial theory. 

I'm a little unsure about the whole "Tempest as colonial advocate" idea, mostly because the postcolonial mess that the world extricated itself from in the mid-twentieth century was not at all the same world that existed in Shakespeare's time, although the foundations for European empire were starting to be laid.  That's a topic for a different post though. 

I'm a little intrigued by Shakespeare's treatment of human nature, though.  Let's take Caliban.  His mother Sycorax, a "foul witch," died before the events of the play, and Caliban was adopted by Prospero when he came to the island.  By both Prospero's and Caliban's accounts, Prospero raised Caliban well and educated him, until he attempted to rape Miranda (Hide your kids, Prospero.  Hide your kids). 

Prospero explains this by saying to Caliban "thy vile race, though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures could not abide to be with."

In other words, it doesn't matter that Caliban got educated.  He is what he is.  This is probably not a racial discourse (Sycorax, his mother, is from Argier {=modern Algiers, in Shakespeare's day the seat of the Barbary Pirates, who were mainly comprised of Arabs and the native Berbers} and is described as "blue-eyed") but more to explain the fact that some people (Miranda and Ariel) are good and some people (Caliban) are not.  Angela made a good point about Shakespeare's treatment of fate in her post about MacBeth.  The Tempest would seem to be another play in which Shakespeare states that human destiny and character is fixed.  Does Shakespeare believe that fate governs peoples' lives? 

Friday, October 14, 2011

So, Hal, we finally meet for the last time...

The purpose of this post is mostly to state that I finished reading the text and watching the production of Henry IV, part 1.  SPOILER ALERT HOTSPUR DIES!!! Final duel at the end of the play-epic win for Henry V.

Now that I've got that out of my system, I can get ready to look at various analyses of the play.  Like I said before, I'll be looking at the characters of Hal and Hotspur in their historical contexts, with perhaps the occasional glance at other characters, like Henry IV, Glendower, or Falstaff. 

This blog will occasionally be interrupted by posts about other plays (look for The Tempest: coming soon to a lot of blogs near you!), characters, random facts about history, more random facts about history, and grumbling about my life.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In Shakespearean England, women trick you!

Rhyme.  Don't talk to me about rhyme.  I haven't discussed Love's Labour's Lost much because the constant wordplay and copia (a Renaissance practice of finding as many ways to say the same thing as possible) have been getting to me a little bit, as I mentioned previously

Anyways, rant that could possibly draw ire from Prof. Burton and his love of English over.  I found the way the women were portrayed to be quite fascinating, especially in light of the time period.  The Princess and her friends deceive Ferdinand and his friends, who have disguised themselves as Russian dignitaries in an attempt to get close to the Princess and her retainers.  (On a side note, this is the second time I've seen Shakespeare mention Russia-the first mention is in The Winter's Tale- which had only become a major state in 1547.  He might simply be using it to represent foreignness, as Russia was the farthest country away that could still really be considered European). 

We are not amused.

The Princess sees right through their disguises-come on, who wouldn't?- and has her ladies disguise themselves as each other.  Hilarity ensues, and the women come out on top in the end, even setting the terms on when they will allow the men to court them again and possibly marry them.  Umm...redefinition of gender roles, anyone?  It seems as though these kinds of things are a lot more likely to happen in comedies than anything else. 

Maybe it's because people in his time felt safer with pushing the envelope if it was in a comedic format.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that a woman, Queen Elizabeth I, was currently ruling England and definitely fell into the category of a strong woman. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Random Thoughts on Henry IV

I began watching the BBC production of Henry IV while reading the play.  I decided to take the approach of reading an act, then watching the act, so I could compare the two easily.  While I was doing this, I noticed something I thought was interesting.  The BBC production script is taken straight from the text, which means that in order for me to glean interpretation from the film, I had to pay attention to how the actors said things instead of just their lines, in addition to their actions and surroundings.  I noticed a couple things about how the subject of religion is treated in the play. 
In the very beginning of the play, Henry IV complains that he and his nobles cannot go on crusade because of the domestic problems (Scotland, Wales, and the rebels) happening in England at the time.  When I read the play, I honestly didn't think anything of this scene.  Going on crusade was a way for nobles of the time (Crusades went down all the time.  The famous crusades to Jerusalem that we normally think of happened from about 1096-1291, a little before Henry's time-1367-1413, but there were also crusades against southern France, the Baltic region, and pretty much anyone who was an infidel or a heretic) to redeem themselves and be absolved by the Church without any of those things like self-reflection or forgiveness mentioned by Jesus. 

Above: The New Testament says to treat people like this, right?

Anyways, due to the historical context of crusading in general, I didn't think anything of this when I read it, but when I watched the movie, it showed Henry as a devout, solemn, practicing Catholic who was serious and genuine about redeeming the Holy Land.  Everyone at the time was Catholic in England (the Anglican/Catholic split hadn't happened yet) but I thought it was interesting that the movie played up Henry's religion. 

On the other side of this religiousness are Hotspur and all his pals, the most notable of whom is Owen Glendower, a Welsh soldier who in real life was an effective guerilla leader who evaded the English for his entire life and is now a Welsh national hero, but in Shakespeare is a crazy semi-wizard who rambles about how awesome he is.  Anti-Welsh prejudice (admittedly, nearly anti-everything prejudice) had existed in England for a long time, but what I found more interesting than Glendower's weirdness were Hotspur's rebuttals to his claims in Act III, scene I:

Glendower. I cannot blame him: at my nativity/The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes/Of burning cressets; and at my birth/The frame and huge foundation of the earth/Shaked like a coward.
Hotspur (Henry Percy). Why, so it would have done at the same season, if your mother's cat had but kittened, though yourself had never been born.

And again:
Glendower. I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur (Henry Percy). Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

Hotspur seems to take a rational approach to Glendower's claims of supernatural ability.  Rather than denounce Glendower as a sinner, or as against the Church or Christianity, Hotspur simply tells him that he is not rational, and that the earth is going to behave the way it does whether people try to influence it or not, and he also implies that there is no power in adherence to the supernatural, as the "spirits" aren't going to come if called for.  The character of Henry Percy used to be considered the star performance of the play, with the idea that the main character is Hal (Henry V) being a fairly recent idea.  Is Shakespeare advocating rationalism in this play?  I think I want to look into the debate on Shakespeare's religious preference as part of my looking into Hotspur's character. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Addendum to the Last Post

Sorry about the uncreative title.  I read through the assignment again and found out that I was supposed to preview video productions of the play as well.  Oops.  Well, I went back to the Internet and HBLL library and did some looking around, and didn't find a whole lot...Seems as though people aren't jumping at the chance to adapt Henry IV, part 1.  The BBC did do a production in 1979, which is probably the version I'm going to view (I think it's the one we subscribed to with Theater in Video).  The BBC generally makes good adaptations, if only because I'll actually see English actors playing English characters (Does anyone else cringe when they see English actors playing Germans or other European nationalities in old war movies?  I kinda do.  It's just weird to hear a supposedly German character pronounce territories as terr-e-trees.  But I digress).  Also, the library only has videocassettes available of this play, which I'm pretty sure I can't watch at home, since our VHS player doesn't work.  Really, library?  Really?  Who has those anymore?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Just Can't Wait To Be King

My assigned play is Henry IV, part 1.  I had to admit, when I saw it on the assignment list, my first reaction was "What? I've never read that play in my life!"  I'm going to assume that I was assigned a history play because I'm a history major (Just a guess), although truth be told, I was hoping for Henry V if I was going to get a history-come on, the St. Crispin's Day speech is awesome, and Agincourt was a legendary battle both in Shakespeare and in real life-but I think I like this play too.  It'll be very interesting to learn the facts behind the events narrated in Henry IV, part 1. 

I've been looking around that font of all knowledge, the Internet, for information on my topic, and I think I want to examine the characters of Hotspur (Henry Percy) and Hal (the future Henry V), the main antagonist and protagonist respectively.  This interests me as a historian because these were the two historical characters who were fictionalized the most in the play.  Hotspur, in real life, was an older noble, a contemporary of Henry IV who led the rebellion, rather than a hothead youth who is pressured into fighting Henry by his noble relatives.  Hal, the Prince of Wales, is a semi-serious youth who runs around with a group of lowlife friends, most notably a fat old man named Falstaff.  He apparently has other motives for doing this, though, as he wants to "imitate the sun, who doth permit the base contagious clouds to smother up his beauty from the world, That, when he please again to be himself, Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at" (1.1.300-05).  In other words, he's using his friends to look bad so he can look better as king.  Shakespeare deliberately altered the identities of these two historical characters when he didn't have to.  I want to know why that is. 

Falstaff and Hal-Friends don't let friends use them to become King of England.

Here are some links to look up summaries and background on Henry IV, part 1 in case you're interested.  (I won't be upset if you  aren't). 

General Information/Summaries/Analysis:
Battle of Shrewsbury/Rebel Motives/Historical Analysis:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Without Rhyme or Reason

I don't want to turn this blog into too much of a formulaic notetaking on the weekly reading, but I will say this-Reading dialogue that is being spoken in rhyme for an entire scene is annoying.  It doesn't sound very real.  You know what I'm talking about. 

Moving right along...

Is Hamlet a crazy person?  Or is he the sane person?  Honestly, who knows?  How do we judge a person to be insane?  I read a Terry Pratchett novel once, pretty sure it was Night Watch (nobody quote me on this, please, it's going to be an awful paraphrase)  Although Prof. Burton thinks Terry Pratchett is funny.  Maybe he knows which book this is from) where Pratchett described one of his villains, Carcer, as "very, very sane", as he simply woke up one day and decided that all the rules in society didn't have to apply to him if he didn't want them to.  Is Hamlet the first literary sociopath?  People like that make us think differently about the world, and to be honest, it's a little frightening to me, to know that there are people who think the way that Hamlet does, who see the wonderful things about humanity and can sum it all up as the "quintessence of dust."  (As another side note, that quote immediately follows the "What a piece of work is a man" speech that people like to quote at Church meetings-they're missing the point of the speech.  Prof. Burton talked about this in class once and I thought it was funny).  Hamlet doesn't seem to be a violent sociopath-he's no Carcer or Joker- but he seems to be a sociopath nonetheless.  Anyways, that's just my thoughts on it...Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vengeance is Mine

"Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."

- St. Matthew 26:52

Revenge!  Everybody likes a good story of revenge, from Hamlet to The Count of Monte Cristo to the Odyssey to The Cask of Amontillado.  The great majority of us enjoy seeing the "bad guys" get their just desserts (I am very much in this camp, by the way.  This is not a self-righteous finger-pointing session), no matter how brutally it is handed out to them (example: the movie Taken). 

The major difference between Hamlet and all the other stories mentioned above is that Hamlet does not get away with his revenge, unlike many of the main characters in these kinds of tales.  Instead, both Hamlet and Laertes, who are revenge-obssessed, kill each other-although Claudius does get what he deserves too.  Hamlet's revenge also leads to the deaths of two innocent people, Polonius and Ophelia, who suffer the consequences of Hamlet's tenuous grasp on reality. 

Shakespeare doesn't seem to be an advocate of revenge in this play, which is a little surprising to most readers considering the sheer egregiousness of Claudius' crimes.  Shakespeare instead demonstrates that revenge is not desirable, either in hot-bloodedness (Laertes) or cold and calculating (Claudius.  Hamlet is a little bit of both).  Those who lead lives guided by vengeance will not get away and enjoy their revenge. 

Monday, September 26, 2011


The performance on Saturday...excellent.  I was very impressed by the actors that they cast for each of the parts.  Watching The Winter's Tale really helped me understand who was speaking to whom, where the action was being directed, and what the characters were feeling.  The actors' behavior put more emotion into the play, and it really drove home the fact that Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not simply read.  That means that interpretations of the play can change quite dramatically (yes, I went there), but that's part of Shakespeare's magic, I guess.  That ability to lend itself to anyone's imagination and still show us profound insights into the human mind. 

I was intrigued by the way the director chose to modernize the costumes.  To me, that was probably the most jarring aspect of the play, the part that stood out to me the most.  I don't believe that the original text was altered in any way-I could be wrong here, please correct me if I am-so seeing people in twentieth-century getup (I heard someone say that they looked like they belonged in The Great Gatsby) beg the forgiveness of Apollo and refer to themselves as monarchs and courtiers was a little strange.  Perhaps the director modernized the costumes to demonstrate the fact that Shakespeare's insights are still valuable to "modern" people, that we can still learn something about redemption and forgiveness. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Shakespeare vs. History, or The Search for a Motif

So I'm trying to look for an overarching theme for my blog, something that will provide some kind of framework for the research that I will do in this class, and also something that will help me do well in the class and meet the learning outcomes.  The problem is, as is usual in our lives, making a choice.  I'm currently trying to decide whether I should go with a historical approach to Shakespeare, but I see two major obstacles to this idea:
1.  This approach has most likely been beaten to death by centuries of scholars, revived, stitched back together, and then killed again.  Viciously. 
2.  If most of you liked reading about things that actually happened, you probably wouldn't be taking English classes. 

It also seems like too easy of an approach to take, and I feel like my posts would simply become "yes, this play is somewhat historically accurate," or "no, that crazy Shakespeare is mixing modern (for his time) kingdoms with old outdated pagan ideas and beliefs again."  More on this later...

Above:  Historical details? Who needs those?

Did anyone else think The Winter's Tale wrapped up much too neatly?  I was ridiculously surprised by how quickly it ended in comparison to the build-up.  I did notice the themes of forgiveness though, especially in the beginning of Act V when Cleomenes and Dion beg Leontes to let go of his guilt. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lovable Rogues and Identity Crises

So, I read Act IV of The Winter's Tale, and my favorite character by far is Autolycus.  The scene where he pretends to have been robbed by highwaymen and then takes advantage of Clown was extremely clever in my opinion (almost like a parody of the parable of the Good Samaritan).  He even mocks Clown in a later scene when he listens sympathetically to Clown's story of being taken advantage of on the highway.  Immediately after boasting of picking everyone's pocket after the fair, he helps Florizel and Perdita escape by switching costumes with Florizel.  What is it that draws us to the lovable rogue?  The person who, though outside "normal" society, still turns out to have a heart of gold?  The rogue is a common character in many stories across time (Tom Sawyer, Coyote from Native American stories, Shawn and Gus from Psych), and even though we see essentially the same character in all the stories, we still laugh.  Something touches us about their desire to help others in spite of their antics. 

Winter's Tale a comedy or drama?  I've heard it both ways.

And now for something completely different...

Another thing that drew my attention was how no one recognized Autolycus/Florizel after they switched outfits.  Clown, for example, had met Autolycus twice prior to his encounter with the "courtier" and failed to recognize him each time (this could in fact be because Clown is dumb.  But other people, like the Old Shepherd, fell for it as well).  It reminded me of something I learned in New Testament last semester-the idea that identity is represented by clothing.  My teacher showed me this example with the parable of the Prodigal Son, who went from rags to fine clothes, and the instance in the gospel of Luke where Jesus casts a devil out of a man, who is first described as naked when possessed, but clothed when healed.  What we choose to wear determines our perception of ourselves and other's perceptions of us.  Shakespeare shows this in several of his plays, this changing clothes to change identity (it's a common motif in lots of literary works).  No one seems to ever notice these changes-and in some cases, like Twelfth Night, you really think they should.  I think that Shakespeare is making the point that identity is fluid, that we can change the way we see ourselves, which will in turn change the way others see us. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Continuing the Winter's Tale

So, I read Acts II-III of The Winter's Tale, and I'm still not impressed by the character of Leontes.  All the other characters have interesting nuances to them-Hermione and her impassioned pleas of innocence, Paulina and her defying of gender stereotypes, and Antigonus and his aversion to the king's madness coupled with his fear of disobediance.  Leontes' turnaround was also too shallow for me to believe easily.  Maybe I'm just too cynical about this play after discussing Hamlet, but these characters seem too openly didactic for me.  There's something to learn from each of Shakespeare's plays, but this one seems intent on putting that message into the open. 
Another thing...where is the comedy?  I haven't seen any yet...unless you count Antigonus being chased and eaten by the bear, and then being discovered by Clown.  (Admittedly, I did find exit, pursued by a bear to be funny, as well as the part where Clown finds Antigonus, learns his name, and then leaves him to get mauled by the bear, only to go back and loot/bury the body later.  Maybe that says more about me than the play though).  Maybe the next two acts will be more revealing about this, or maybe there is just a different definition of comedy just as there is for romance.  Does anyone know about this?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Winter's Tale

With our abrupt switch to The Winter's Tale, I thought I'd blog about that today (I'm still a little unsure about what we are supposed to blog about, but that's okay)  I'm not very familiar with this story, as this is one of Shakespeare's plays that I have not read.  With this in mind, I looked up plot details about the play online, and discovered a few interesting details:
1. In the past, there has been discussion over whether this play is a comedy or a dramatic romance.  It shows details of both. 
2. Shakespeare was ridiculed in his time for talking about the "coast" of Bohemia, which is a landlocked province of what is now Germany, and in Shakespeare's time was a fiefdom of the Holy Roman Empire.  Some historians have tried to vindicate Shakespeare by showing that in his time Bohemia's boundaries included part of the Adriatic coast.  History in Shakespeare...I was waiting for my major to crop up in this class...

The first act of The Winter's Tale was interesting, but so far I think that I like plays such as Hamlet or Othello better.  Leontes seems to be a one-dimensional character to me, with his instant switch from best friend to attempted murderer.  None of Hamlet or Othello's soul-searching for Leontes, he seems to be more the Anakin Skywalker-type villain, for those of you who have seen Star Wars: Episode Three (Confronted with a problem?  Don't talk to your wife or best friend.  Just join the dark side and start executing people).  Perhaps Shakespeare was trying to make a point about jealousy with Leontes' dramatic transformation, showing how people can rapidly become consumed and change by hatred.  However, I thought Othello was a much better example of jealousy and character depth, as he was manipulated, deceived, and finally decided to trust his enemy after a lot of mental torment.  Leontes' sudden change seemed slightly unbelievable to me.  Maybe more insight into his character will be revealed in the next act. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hamlet...Crazy, Devious, or Both?

I have to admit, I enjoyed today's discussion on the character of Hamlet.  I really had never thought about the language that he uses and how he uses it to manipulate others.  I found the idea that "to be or not to be" could have all been for Ophelia's benefit an intriguing idea, as  in all the years of picturing Hamlet I had always envisioned him alone desperately grappling with the purpose of life, rather than putting on a facade for his family and friends.  We already know that Hamlet trusts next to nobody (with the exception of Horatio), as he plays Polonius for a fool, acts crazy around Ophelia, and refers to his childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as "adders fang'd" (to say nothing of what he thinks of Claudius and Gertrude).  Is Hamlet aware that people are after him because of natural suspicion, or is he making things up and happening to be right? 
The fact that Gertrude cannot see the ghost in Act 3, Scene 4 would seem to me to lend a lot of credence to the idea that Hamlet is simply going mad.  Hamlet seems to have transformed the ghost into an aspect of himself, from a messenger showing the facts about the his father's death to a fiend driving him towards revenge.  As we discussed in class, Hamlet's casual murder of Polonius also demonstrates his erratic personality-Hamlet can't kill a murderer simply because he has encountered him while he is praying, but he can strike down an unarmed man just for listening to him behind a curtain (I see serious issues here with Hamlet's beliefs about revenge and how it should be carried out).  Personally, I am looking forward to discussing the play more in class.  Today's thoughts gave me a lot of insight about the play, and about how to analyze and look at the text, the context, and the characters.  Who knows?  By the end of our Hamlet discussion, I might have changed my mind on my verdict of Hamlet's madness.  Or I might not.  It all depends on whether I can learn to read Shakespeare in a different way than I have before. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Previous Shakepeare Encounters

My encounters with Shakespeare throughout my childhood were sporadic yet interesting.  According to my mother, my dad read Hamlet to me when I was a baby and he was bored, but aside from this perhaps premature exposure to severe familial difficulties, I never really gained an interest in Shakespeare until high school.  We did the traditional Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar, and I found, in between having to explain difficult passages to my peers and engaging in half-hearted class acting (I think it's great when Shakespeare is performed, except when I have to do it) that I really enjoyed the stories and characters that Shakespeare produced.  I've  always been interested in seeing just how much Shakespeare has influenced literature around the world, probably more so than any other work with the exception of the Bible.
I would have to say, if pressed, that my favorite play is Othello (confession number 1: This might change.  I haven't read every single one of Shakespeare's plays.  The Tempest is high up there as well).  I really enjoy the characters in this play, especially Iago (and here's number 2.  I really enjoy a good villain, not just the I'm so misunderstood variety) but all of the other characters as well.  I feel that Othello provides great insights into how people view themselves in relation to each other.  I studied Othello in English 251 Winter 2011 semester and realized that not only did I like this play, but I liked discussing Shakespeare with other people as well.  My previous experience had been mostly on my own, but I found that I gained new insights and perspectives when I talked about what I thought in class.  I am looking forward to what I will learn and what I can share this semester.