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!