Parallels

August 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

As may be obvious from my non-interest in the Shakespeare authorship question, I am not much for conspiracy theories. So, the multiple theories on whether or not there may have been a sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost parallels for me the conspiracy stuff and let’s just say I won’t lose sleep over the possibilities.

But, LLL leaves so many loose ends that it does seem possible (maybe even probable) to me that there was a sequel that brought it all together. There are historical references to a play called Love’s Labour’s Won… although it has vanished without a trace (to date).

I read this in an online discussion group on the topic and it makes sense to me:

(1) In 1952 a bookseller’s inventory was discovered that listed both LLL and LLW as separate listings in alphabetical order…The bookseller would have had no reason to fabricate the names in his stock.

(2) The internal evidence in LLL is even more evocative. The play does
not end like a traditional comedy, as Birowne notes (“Jack hath not
Jill”), and the ending is full of strong hints of a continuation after a
year (“it wants a twelvemonth and a day, / And then ’twill end. That’s
too long for a play.”). In other words, “stay tuned.” The tasks
assigned the various gentlemen provide good grist for another comedy.
Posted by Larry Weiss at Shaksper, the Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference

List of several plays from the verso of the 1603 leaf used to bind a book of sermons in 1637, including ''Love's Labour's Won''

I don’t know anything about the person who posted this and to be honest, I did not read most of the discussion. But this quote pretty much describes what’s been in the back of my mind. There is historical evidence that a play named Love’s Labour’s Won existed. We don’t have it today. The play Love’s Labour’s Lost ends oddly, with loose ends, with tasks assigned to the characters that could be material for another play. I agree that Berowne’s words sound like “stay tuned” and that the second play would probably wind up with four (or more!) weddings.

Theories
That said, another idea is that maybe Love’s Labour’s Won was just a subtitle for another play. Or maybe it was an alternate title for another Shakespearean play… one that we are familiar with by a different name. There are various ideas about this–possibly The Taming of the Shrew, All’s Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing or Troilus and Cressida.

In the article “Wonne” is “Lost, quite lost,” G. Harold Metz analyzes the literature on the subject (published in 1986, so maybe it’s out of date, but I found it interesting) and came to this conclusion:

The attempts to identify Love’s Labour’s Won with an acknowledged Shakespearean play are seriously or even fatally hampered by the fact that we do not have any knowledge of the play beyond the title… It seems clear that we are left with the conclusion, however unhappy to contemplate, that this title in Meres’s list represents a lost Shakespearean play…

The probability that Love’s Labour’s Won has been lost need not lead us to conclude that it is forever beyond recovery. Q1 of Titus Andronicus, which was known to Langbaine in 1691, dropped from sight for two centuries until the unique copy now in the Folger Shakespeare Library came to light in the modest book collection of a Swedish postal employee in 1904. We may hope that a similar stroke of good luck will someday restore Love’s Labour’s Won to us. But at this moment in time, except for the title, Wonne is “all, all lost, quite lost.”

“Wonne” Is “Lost, Quite Lost,” G. Harold Metz, Modern Language Studies Vol. 16, No. 2 (Spring, 1986), pp. 3-12

Much Ado About Something?
As Metz points out, most of the scholars he cites admit that Love’s Labour’s Won is probably a lost work, and yet they are unable to stop themselves from conjecturing which existing play it might have been.

So, in that vein, I will do the same and since Much Ado About Nothing is the only one of the possibilities that I’m fairly familiar with at this point, I will talk about it (for no purpose other than to talk, since I don’t really think Much Ado is LLW!).

It is not hard to see parallels between LLL and Much Ado About Nothing. Let’s consider a few:

The Sparring Love-match: Berowne and Rosaline’s sexy sparring is reminiscent of Much Ado’s Beatrice and Benedick. In both cases there was a relationship prior to the play’s action and in both cases, they apparently did not part amicably and that history colors the sparring. However, in Much Ado, it was Beatrice who was hurt by Benedick prior to the play, while in LLL, it appears that Rosaline may have dumped Berowne. Also, there is deeper character development in Much Ado and I am more emotionally attached to B&B than B&R. I find Beatrice and Benedick a much more likable pair… they sizzle and seem well-matched. Rosaline is not so likable for me and in general, I care less about the outcome of R&B’s romance, while I root for B&B and am pleased by their marriage.

Masks/Mistaken Identities: This occurs in both Much Ado and LLL. The reasons for and outcomes of the masks are quite different. In Much Ado, these mistakes are central to the plot and affect nearly all the characters. In LLL, the masks and mistakes are just pastimes and tricks.

Mocked Men: Berowne and Benedick are teased pretty mercilessly by their guy friends in both plays. In LLL, all the guys are in the same silly boat, being mocked by the ladies, as well. In Much Ado, that’s not the case.

Eavesdropping: In both plays, there is some silly eavesdropping to out the men’s true feelings. In LLL, the men eavesdrop on each other to prove that each of them have broken their oath to give up women, but it does not bring B&R together. In Much Ado, the eavesdropping brings B&B together.

Intercepted/Mocked Love Letters: Both plays have ‘em. In Much Ado, Beatrice gets to read Benedick’s letter and it melts her heart. In LLL, Rosaline never sees the letter from Berowne.

Rustic Foils: Both plays have a comic constable: Dogberry in Much Ado and Dull in LLL. However, Dogberry’s verbal style and silliness has more in common with LLL’s Costard.

I will stop there. There are similarities, for sure. But the characters and plays feel very different to me. What I want is a Love’s Labour’s Won where we see the king attempt (and fail) to be a hermit for a year and Berowne to work in a hospital and care for the sick (for a day or two) and Dumaine and Longaville to fail at whatever they are supposed to do for a year, and Don Armado to faithfully farm and take care of Jaquenetta and her child (whoever the father really is!) and for everyone somehow to get happily married at the end!  I will be sure to post about that if the lost play is found!

The Owl and the Cuckoo
Love’s Labour’s Lost ends with a parallel that I really don’t understand… the song about the Owl and the Cuckoo. Don Armado brings it up at the end:

This side is Hiems, Winter, this Ver, the Spring;
the one maintained by the owl, the other by the
cuckoo. Ver, begin.

THE SONG

SPRING.
When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!
When shepherds pipe on oaten straws
And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!
WINTER.
When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
V.2.873-894

What the heck does this song mean? Can anyone help me understand the purpose of the song and how it relates to the rest of the play? The play within the play, the Nine Worthies, is nothing but interrupted, and yet this song, meant to end the Nine Worthies (and how does it even relate to the Nine Worthies?), is sung in its entirety, without interruption or comment. Why?

Twas the Night Before Christmas
And now I will end with a fun parallel. When I first read the honey-tongued old lovemonger Boyet’s speech to the Princess (below), I thought it reminded me of the Grinch (I always have Dr. Seuss on the brain) but then I realized it was A Visit from St. Nicholas that rang the bell. (“When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer…”) Hear the rhythm?

Why, all his behaviors did make their retire
To the court of his eye, peeping thorough desire:
His heart, like an agate, with your print impress’d,
Proud with his form, in his eye pride express’d:
His tongue, all impatient to speak and not see,
Did stumble with haste in his eyesight to be;
All senses to that sense did make their repair,
To feel only looking on fairest of fair:
Methought all his senses were lock’d in his eye,
As jewels in crystal for some prince to buy;
Who, tendering their own worth from where they were glass’d,
Did point you to buy them, along as you pass’d:
His face’s own margent did quote such amazes
That all eyes saw his eyes enchanted with gazes.
I’ll give you Aquitaine and all that is his,
An you give him for my sake but one loving kiss.
II.1.233-248

On that silly note, I think I will end my thoughts on Love’s Labour’s Lost. I would love to hear from anyone, comments, clarifications, disagreements… whatever you like.

I am looking forward to the next play: The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Maybe it will not take me a whole year!

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Remuneration

August 5, 2011 at 9:17 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

remuneration (plural remunerations)

  1. something given in exchange for goods or services rendered
  2. a payment for work done; wages, salary, emolument
  3. a recompense for a loss; compensation

Source: Wiktionary

Words, words, words, and more words! Love’s Labour’s Lost is filled with word play… words for the sake of words. Once you get used to the silliness and utter farce of this play, the wordiness becomes enjoyable. To be honest, I have trouble explaining this to myself.

The play was nearly unreadable for me the first time around, and watching the BBC TV version was trying (the first time). But a year has passed since my first foray into this play, and on second reading (and multiple viewings of the BBC show and the other videos)… I find the wordiness no longer bothers me at all. In fact, I like it. It all felt so pedantic and annoying and snooty to me the first time around, but no longer. I cannot explain.

I can make some recommendations, though, so that you don’t repeat my mistakes. I highly recommend beginning with the Globe Theatre production of the play. Start here (maybe end here!), then read it. Then, watch the Kenneth Branagh musical. Then, if you feel like it, try the BBC version. I have to admit that even subsequent viewings of the BBC version sent me into an almost immediate coma-like sleep. It takes me a while to get through, but I like it now. (I cannot explain.)

I have not seen a live performance of this yet, but I think clearly, this is a play that is better savored in performance than as literature. There is no doubt that the physical comedy, really slapstick silliness, and the comic timing of the lines, the facial expressions… you really need this in order to enjoy the play. It is hard to read.

So, I stuck with this play, and there’s my remuneration… a big pay off in laughs. And words! One of the episodes of the British TV series Playing Shakespeare that I watched last fall (where Royal Shakespeare Company actors and the director John Barton show how they work with a text to put it on the stage) describes the Elizabethan love affair with language. The elasticity of the language, the beauty of words… Shakespeare was a product of the culture that loved wordplay and punning: they loved words! His plays were popular with the mass audiences because these people “got” the wordplay. They loved it!

An example of this in the Playing Shakespeare series was a bit from Love’s Labour’s Lost where Costard (the “rustic clown”… in other words, the lowbrow foil to all the highfalutin characters in this play) plays with the word “remuneration.”

Don Armado asks Costard to deliver a love letter to Jaquenetta and flips him a coin in payment, calling it a remuneration. Costard is disappointed at Armado’s cheapness and wraps this up with the meaning of the word remuneration. Then, Berowne asks Costard to deliver a love letter to Rosaline and flips him a coin, calling it a guerdon (a reward… pretty much a synonym for remuneration), and Costard goes off on the difference between “remuneration” and “guerdon.” It is wordplay extraordinaire! Again, realizing that this is better seen in performance than reading it (Costard’s tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. make a huge difference), I hope the fun here shines through.

I will let Shakespeare speak:

ADRIANO DE ARMADO
I give thee thy liberty, set thee from durance; and,
in lieu thereof, impose on thee nothing but this:
bear this significant
Giving a letter

to the country maid Jaquenetta:
there is remuneration; for the best ward of mine
honour is rewarding my dependents. Moth, follow.
Exit

MOTH
Like the sequel, I. Signior Costard, adieu.

COSTARD
My sweet ounce of man’s flesh! my incony Jew!
Exit MOTH

Now will I look to his remuneration. Remuneration!
O, that’s the Latin word for three farthings: three
farthings–remuneration.–’What’s the price of this
inkle?’–’One penny.’–’No, I’ll give you a
remuneration:’ why, it carries it. Remuneration!
why, it is a fairer name than French crown. I will
never buy and sell out of this word.
Enter BIRON

BIRON
O, my good knave Costard! exceedingly well met.

COSTARD
Pray you, sir, how much carnation ribbon may a man
buy for a remuneration?

BIRON
What is a remuneration?

COSTARD
Marry, sir, halfpenny farthing.

BIRON
Why, then, three-farthing worth of silk.

COSTARD
I thank your worship: God be wi’ you!

BIRON
Stay, slave; I must employ thee:
As thou wilt win my favour, good my knave,
Do one thing for me that I shall entreat.

COSTARD
When would you have it done, sir?

BIRON
This afternoon.

COSTARD
Well, I will do it, sir: fare you well.

BIRON
Thou knowest not what it is.

COSTARD
I shall know, sir, when I have done it.

BIRON
Why, villain, thou must know first.

COSTARD
I will come to your worship to-morrow morning.

BIRON
It must be done this afternoon.
Hark, slave, it is but this:
The princess comes to hunt here in the park,
And in her train there is a gentle lady;
When tongues speak sweetly, then they name her name,
And Rosaline they call her: ask for her;
And to her white hand see thou do commend
This seal’d-up counsel. There’s thy guerdon; go.
Giving him a shilling

COSTARD
Gardon, O sweet gardon! better than remuneration,
a’leven-pence farthing better: most sweet gardon! I
will do it sir, in print. Gardon! Remuneration!
Exit

III.1.888-935

Anyway. I find Costard a really fun character. He mashes up and mixes up words like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, but then he shows his wordy finesse here and when he uses the longest word in the Shakespearean canon: honorificabilitudinitatibus (the state of being able to achieve honors). Ha ha!

I know I am not alone in liking Costard. I was watching (semi-dozing) the new Winnie the Pooh movie and guess what I heard? I think it must be Owl that says: Remuneration! And then another character (as I say, I wasn’t watching too closely and was taken a bit by surprise by it coming up) echos Berowne and says “What is a remuneration?”

Made my day.

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Hey Nonny, Nonny

July 1, 2010 at 12:04 am (Analysis and Discussion, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.
II.3.62-69

I’m wrapping things up here with Much Ado About Nothing. I just have a few miscellaneous thoughts.

Hero
I’ll just say it straight out: I don’t like her. She’s no hero in my book. She’s dumb. She’s mean-spirited. She’s two-faced. In her defense, she’s mightily wronged by Claudio in this play. Also, I suppose to her credit, she’s obedient to her father. It doesn’t make me like her.

Let’s start with dumb. Via hearsay (her uncle’s servant’s misnoting of an overheard conversation), Leonato tells Hero to expect Don Pedro to propose to her at the masked dance (and to say yes to Pedro, who is a good catch). I assume when she is proposed to at the dance, that she assumes it’s Pedro (it is). But Pedro is wooing her for Claudio (why?). And then when things get ironed out with (dumb) Claudio, she is okay with all of it and apparently lovey-dovey with Claudio. Is she indifferent about who she marries? Does she love either Pedro or Claudio? Unclear, but she doesn’t appear to have a lot of smarts (or personality).

Okay, and mean-spirited. Hero is in on Pedro’s plot to bluff the sparring B&B and transform them into lovebirds. She leads the charge on Beatrice. Yet while baiting the hook here (with Beatrice eavesdropping), she is a bit overly harsh.

But Nature never framed a woman’s heart
Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice;
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
Misprising what they look on, and her wit
Values itself so highly that to her
All matter else seems weak: she cannot love,
Nor take no shape nor project of affection,
She is so self-endeared.
III.1.49-56

Really now? Hero goes on and on slandering Beatrice while she knows Beatrice is in the bushes hearing every word. What a sweet cousin! Of course, she’s doing it all under the guise of jest, as a big prank to get Beatrice to think Benedick is in love with her. It’s all done in good fun, but… not very nice!

Let’s go on to two-faced. When Hero is dressing for her wedding, she gossips to Margaret about her cousin Beatrice. She says:

HERO
No, pray thee, good Meg, I’ll wear this.

MARGARET
By my troth, ‘s not so good; and I warrant your
cousin will say so.

HERO
My cousin’s a fool, and thou art another: I’ll wear
none but this.
III.4.7-11

Whew! Bridezilla! All this while Beatrice never breathes a critical word about Hero during the whole play, but stands by her steadfastly through the worst. Beatrice is so true to Hero that she asks Benedick to kill Claudio to avenge the slander against her! Hero doesn’t deserve Beatrice’s fierce loyalty.

Claudio
I think the modern Shakespeare Retold version portrays this couple correctly as they bond over mispronouncing “meteorological.” Claudio is also dumb. He’s mean-spirited. He’s two-faced.

The dumb part… I don’t know where to begin. Why does he allow Don Pedro to woo Hero for him? Maybe because he’s dumb and shy and naive? Or maybe because he has no choice, since Pedro is a prince. Why does he believe Don John’s lies about Pedro wooing for himself? Maybe because John is a convincing liar. Or maybe Claudio is just dumb. The window scene… Claudio gullible? Or John just so masterfully deceiving? I can go on and on. Dumb just seems a plausible explanation for Claudio’s behavior throughout the play.

Mean and two-faced: the wedding scene. That is an incredibly mean deception on Claudio’s part. He goes to the wedding solely to humiliate Hero in public. He believes he saw her with another man at her bedroom window the previous night, yet he shows up to the wedding ceremony calmly, as if nothing is awry. And then he lets loose a torrent of hateful stuff at Hero. This really goes beyond mean; he’s pathological.

After he jilts Hero at the altar, Claudio is disrespectful to the old men Leonato and Antonio, who are upset that he slandered Hero. When the old brothers leave in a huff and Benedick approaches, Claudio says:

We had liked to have had our two noses snapped off with two old men without teeth.
V.1.115-116

I hate this quote. It’s so unfeeling. At this point, Claudio believes Hero is dead, and to say this of her elderly father and uncle is just cold.

And as Hero seems indifferent early on about marrying Pedro or Claudio, at the end, Claudio parallels her indifference, by happily agreeing to Leonato’s odd suggestion that he marry his niece, sight unseen. Sure! No problem! What’s love got to do with it? (Oddly, at this point, I wonder if he is expecting to marry Beatrice, since she is Leonato’s niece.) And when Claudio lifts the mask to discover it’s his Hero, woohoo! A match made in heaven.

The Nature of Love
So, to summarize Claudio and Beatrice’s courting: Claudio comes back from war and Hero is a sight for his sore eyes. He falls immediately in love with her. Her feelings are unknown. Her father prepares her to expect a proposal from Don Pedro. She is an obedient daughter, so it’s assumed she’ll accept. Except the proposal comes from Claudio via Pedro’s mouth (odd situation). So is she accepting Claudio or Pedro? Does she know?

Not clear, but it’s Claudio that meets her at the altar. And Claudio comes to the altar planning to jilt her publicly (which he does, thinking she’s a whore). Her family pretends she’s dead hoping that Claudio will show remorse. He doesn’t. The truth comes out of Hero’s innocence and Claudio now shows remorse. Since Hero is dead, Claudio agrees enthusiastically to marry Leonato’s niece, who he’s never met. Then it turns out to be Hero and so he marries his first choice after all.

Umm, does anyone see this marriage as having a stable future?

Now, let’s talk about B&B. They have a history. We’re not totally clear about the nature of their earlier relationship and how it ended, but it ended badly and Beatrice shows the scars. She says:

DON PEDRO
Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of
Signior Benedick.

BEATRICE
Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.

DON PEDRO
You have put him down, lady, you have put him down.

BEATRICE
So I would not he should do me, my lord, lest I
should prove the mother of fools.
II.1.261-270

There is some sadness, some bitterness in Beatrice early on in the play, and yet you can see clearly the sparks flying between the two whenever they are near each other. The feelings are already there, just suppressed. They both protest too much, swearing up and down that they will never marry anyone, least of all each other. 

It does not take much for the merry pranksters to plant the seeds that grow into full-blown love for both B&B. It is a clever love-trap that Pedro comes up with. B&B are helpless to resist.

So, they are both starry-eyed, but is that true, lasting love? Then after Hero’s jilting, Benedick checks in with Beatrice and offers to do anything to help with her family’s situation. Beatrice is very clear: “Kill Claudio.” It’s a shocking statement. Certainly, Benedick is shocked! But he sticks around long enough to hear why Beatrice feels so strongly that this is the only answer to the wrong done to her cousin.

Benedick comes around to her reasoning and agrees to challenge Claudio. And when he goes to talk to Claudio, he is all business — there is none of the playful and witty repartee of the Benedick we’ve seen prior to this. He is deadly, bluntly serious with Claudio. There is no doubt he’s taken Beatrice’s feelings to heart. And then (much to his relief) Benedick is let off the hook when Hero’s reputation is cleared. 

So, in contrast to Claudio and Hero who hardly know each other and seem indifferent to who they pair with, B&B have a longterm relationship (even if it has been a “merry war” of words much of the time), they enjoy each other’s company, others see them as a good match, their relationship stands the test of loyalty in crisis, and they end the play clearly joyously in love with each other. Hey nonny, nonny!

Please let me know your comments about Much Ado About Nothing! I think this is my last post on the play, unless a reader brings up something new for me to think and post about. Next on my reading list is Love’s Labour’s Lost. Read it with me!

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And Be You Blithe and Bonny

June 22, 2010 at 8:31 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , )

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.
II.3.62-69

I love Balthasar’s song. It describes the play’s action in a nutshell. The men in Much Ado About Nothing are deceivers. The women let them off the hook. Hero forgives Claudio for his (in my mind unforgivable!) actions and marries him. Beatrice, though nursing some past wrongs from Benedick, sees past them and marries him. We hear nothing from the maid Margaret regarding ill will toward Borachio for using her in order to frame her mistress Hero.

And so they all move into hey nonny, nonny (nonsense words… like la, la, la — letting go). The men here make much ado about nothing; the women make no ado about much, in my opinion. In any event, we are left with everyone blithe and bonny at the end, lightening their heels, as Benedick instructs them to dance as they strike up the band! So Balthasar’s song really summarizes the play for me.

Let’s focus now on the blithe and bonny part. These words mean lighthearted and merry. There is certainly much to laugh at in the play! I know my post on the many deceptions of menfolk may leave the impression that it’s a rather dreary combination of conniving, maneuvering and trickery. That’s not the case at all (although the dark stuff is all part of the plot!). The play is also filled with lighthearted mirth and slapstick humor. It’s quite fun!

Dogberry
We’ll start with the slapstick: Dogberry. He’s an oddball. He’s in an authority position as the constable in charge of the watch (he’s like the police chief). It becomes clear (when Conrad calls him an ass) that he thinks highly of himself and he can’t believe anyone would see him in a different light. And truly, he ends up doing his job well here — because of him and the watchman working for him, the truth of the window scene deception is uncovered and Hero’s reputation is cleared.

HOWEVER. Dear God, could Shakespeare possibly have created a more ass backwards character? He really is an ass. A complete and utter ass. I totally see the wisdom of portraying Dogberry and the watch as the Keystone Kops. He is so beyond silly and ridiculous. Ludicrous. I don’t even know how to describe this character.

His language is so wrong that it’s hard to glean meaning from it. Literally, I need a translator, and it’s not because it’s Elizabethan English. It’s because Dogberry says the opposite of what he means or he makes up words that sound like they could be meaningful, but have no meaning whatsoever. And he does it all very seriously. It’s so crazy-silly! Here are just a few examples from his first appearance:

First, who think you the most desertless [meaning deserving] man to be constable?
III.3.9

You are thought here to be the most senseless [sensible] and fit man for the constable of the watch. Therefore bear you the lantern. This is your charge: you shall comprehend [apprehend] all the vagrom [vagrant] men…
III.3.23-26

Okay, that gives you a small sense of the liberties Dogberry takes with vocabulary. These flips are constant and unceasing.

But beyond that, his meaning (and again, he takes a most serious posture with everything he says) is also often ass backwards. I mean, in his first scene where he is giving instructions to the watchmen, he basically tells them to go ahead and sleep on their watch and to leave the drunks to their own devises.

So, I find myself sitting here scratching my head a lot of the time with Dogberry. What did he say? What did he mean? And then, what makes the whole schtick even funnier is that his cohorts all go along with him like he makes sense. It really is the silliest thing. Frankly, it’s all so crazy that I’m left not really understanding (or trying that hard to understand) all the foolery. 

Now, maybe a reader will comment about what an intriguing character Dogberry is and I will need to consider him in more detail as I did when I said it might be just as well to yada yada through Mercutio’s constant sexual puns in Romeo and Juliet!

The Pranksters
Oh sheesh. Don Pedro comes up with the idea of getting Benedick and Beatrice together by tricking them into each thinking the other is just about sick with love and unable to voice it. Pedro seems to do this for sport… it’s a pastime as they while away the long days until Claudio and Hero’s wedding. It’s also maybe because of the challenge he made to Benedick early on when Benedick is swearing up and down that he’ll never get married. Pedro responds: “I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love.” I.1.235

In any event, Pedro comes up with the merry plan of bluffing these two into love, and everyone else falls merrily into the plot, loving every minute of it and playing it to the hilt! They are all just a giggling mess as they’re baiting the hooks and reeling B&B into their nets. It’s so silly!

Who is in on the game? Everyone! Pedro, Claudio and Leonato pull the wool over Benedick’s eyes. And Hero, Margaret and Ursula mess with Beatrice, all at Pedro’s instigation. Oh, how they laugh! Pssss, psssss, psssss… whispering like I do when I’m telling secrets with my kids. They lay it on so thick. Here’s a little taste:

CLAUDIO
Hero thinks surely she will die; for she says she
will die, if he love her not, and she will die, ere
she make her love known, and she will die, if he woo
her, rather than she will bate one breath of her
accustomed crossness.
II.3.168-172

It goes on and on. And they do this with Benedick eavesdropping, trying to catch every last morsel about Beatrice, who he suddenly sees in a new light! Benedick, newly starry-eyed and bamboozled, says, “Love me? Why, it must be requited.” II.3.213-214

And the pranksters are just laughing themselves silly. Pedro says:

The sport will be, when they hold one an opinion of
another’s dotage, and no such matter: that’s the
scene that I would see, which will be merely a
dumb-show. Let us send her to call him in to dinner.
II.3.206-209

He’s saying he can’t wait to see the two of them together after Beatrice has gone through the same shenanigans, because then they will each just be bursting with their newfound feelings… maybe even tongue-tied! B&B tongue-tied! That will be a sight! Oh, they are laughing at all this.

And then Hero, Margaret and Ursula work their magic on Beatrice, just as thick. And the newly starry-eyed and bamboozled Beatrice falls for it, just as heavily as Benedick: “And Benedick, love on, I will requite thee.” III.1.111

B&B
I save the best for last. Dogberry is ridiculous; he is like the Three Stooges on steroids. Don Pedro and his pranks are silly business. But the barbed banter of Benedick and Beatrice is something else to behold. Their exchanges are witty and bright, fun, funny, punny and light. The humor of B&B’s wit keeps you on your toes.

It’s not all easy to get; and some of it has darker double meanings. Particularly Beatrice, who has been hurt by Benedick in the past, has an edge… a very sharp edge, on her rapier wit. Here is their first interchange in the play. They have not seen each other in several years. They feed off each other and they are each quick on the return parry.

BEATRICE
I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior
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 Signior 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.

BEATRICE
A dear happiness to women: they would else have
been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God
and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I
had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man
swear he loves me.

BENEDICK
God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some
gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate
scratched face.

BEATRICE
Scratching could not make it worse, an ’twere such
a face as yours were.

BENEDICK
Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.

BEATRICE
A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.

BENEDICK
I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and
so good a continuer. But keep your way, i’ God’s
name; I have done.

BEATRICE
You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.
I.1.110-139 

It is always like this between B&B. It’s exhausting! You can just imagine all the onlookers gawking at the back-and-forth like the audience at a tennis match. Funny? Oh my gosh, yes. But also, it’s easy to sense some bitterness hidden not far below the surface with Beatrice. Maybe much of her humor is defensive; a protective mechanism, saving her from facing the injury Benedick dealt her in the past.

Benedick is a worthy and witty adversary, but Beatrice often has him by the seat of his pants. At the masked dance, Benedick pretends to be someone else and not even acquainted with Benedick; Beatrice (I believe not fooled) is then freed to go off on a witty tangent about what a dull fool Benedick is. Benedick can’t believe that Beatrice doesn’t recognize him and would say such things — he is hurt by her words.

I think the next scene is the funniest in the play. Benedick is talking to Pedro after the masked dance and then sees Beatrice coming toward them. He begs Pedro to send him on any errand to any spot in the known world to give him an excuse to avoid Beatrice. Here’s the exchange. 

DON PEDRO
The Lady Beatrice hath a quarrel to you: the
gentleman that danced with her told her she is much
wronged by you.

BENEDICK
O, she misused me past the endurance of a block!
an oak but with one green leaf on it would have
answered her; my very visor began to assume life and
scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been
myself, that I was the prince’s jester, that I was
duller than a great thaw; huddling jest upon jest
with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood
like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at
me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs:
if her breath were as terrible as her terminations,
there were no living near her; she would infect to
the north star. I would not marry her, though she
were endowed with all that Adam bad left him before
he transgressed: she would have made Hercules have
turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make
the fire too. Come, talk not of her: you shall find
her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God
some scholar would conjure her; for certainly, while
she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a
sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose, because they
would go thither; so, indeed, all disquiet, horror
and perturbation follows her.

DON PEDRO
Look, here she comes.

Enter CLAUDIO, BEATRICE, HERO, and LEONATO

BENEDICK
Will your grace command me any service to the
world’s end? I will go on the slightest errand now
to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on;
I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the
furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of
Prester John’s foot, fetch you a hair off the great
Cham’s beard, do you any embassage to the Pigmies,
rather than hold three words’ conference with this
harpy. You have no employment for me?

DON PEDRO
None, but to desire your good company.

BENEDICK
O God, sir, here’s a dish I love not: I cannot
endure my Lady Tongue.

Exit
II.1. 224-260

I can just imagine the tears running down Pedro’s face, he must be laughing so hard. It’s all so fast and furious, there’s hardly time to take a breath! Poor Benedick, in such a tizzy over the lady Beatrice. Game, set, match! (But which one won?!)

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Men Were Deceivers Ever

June 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.
II.3.62-69

Much Ado About Nothing is a study in male deception. It’s interesting, because the men make much ado about female deception — with incessant teasing and reference to the cuckold horns (referring to a man whose wife is unfaithful). Constant joking on this and yet there’s no grounds for it – women in this play are true.

But the whole play is about deception. The introduction in my edition points out that the words “nothing” and “noting” were pronounced the same in Elizabethan English, so Shakespeare was punning on the title. Another way of reading it is Much Ado About Noting, referring to noticing what others say or eavesdropping. And from that perspective, nothing really is the way it’s noted! Nothing is as it seems. There is much deception. Let’s take a look.

Don John: We’ll start with the most obvious deceiver. Don John’s whole purpose in the play is to deceive. And his deceptions fuel the plot. First, he tricks Claudio into believing that Don Pedro woos Hero for himself and not for Claudio. Claudio notes what John says and believes that Pedro has deceived him. Yet, there is nothing to it; Pedro did as he said, he wooed Hero for Claudio.

When nothing comes of that deception, Don John kicks into high gear and engineers the deception most central to the plot by convincing Don Pedro and Claudio of Hero’s disloyalty and then taking them to witness the supposed deed itself at the window on the night before the wedding. This is an evil deception with evil intent — Don John despises Claudio for his closeness with Don Pedro and wants him to suffer. He’s a despicable character. Again, though, there’s nothing to this… ultimately Claudio realizes that nothing he noted is what he thought. Hero is not a whore with another man on the night before her wedding, and there is nothing true about the accusations against her. Much ado about nothing.

Borachio: He’s Don John’s follower and he’s paid well by John for coming up with the idea of the window scene deception. Yes, although Don John lays the foundation by talking Don Pedro and Claudio into believing in Hero’s disloyalty and taking them to view the scene, the idea for this evil deception comes from Borachio. Borachio is the man at Hero’s bedroom window, there with Margaret and calling her “Hero.” Although Claudio and Don Pedro see what they believe they’ll see (in this case because Don John has prepped them and they believe they will see Hero with a man), it is Borachio’s acting that fulfills the deception. Borachio also apparently deceives Margaret, who he claims later is innocent and not a knowing participant in the conspiracy leading to Hero’s downfall.

Don Pedro: What is up with Pedro? He is apparently an older man, a prince and leads men in battle – you would think he’d be sensible and level-headed. The more I get to know Pedro, the less I like him. At best he’s a nosy and foolish prankster.

First, I do not understand why he offers to woo Hero for Claudio. What an odd little game of a deception to come up with. Why? Like Claudio is too shy to woo her for himself? That is not made clear in the text to me, yet Pedro comes up with this bright idea. It’s so odd and unnecessary! He deceives Hero, pretending to be Claudio while wearing a mask. What’s even odder here is that due to the misnoting of Hero’s uncle’s man (much gossip and eavesdropping going on in this play!) Hero is actually all set for Pedro himself to propose to her! So, who knows if she’s actually deceived by Pedro’s prank — she may have assumed Pedro was really proposing to her! But if not, what an odd turn it takes for her. Ultimately, it’s a harmless prank, as Pedro really does woo Hero for Claudio’s sake, but it’s so odd!

Then, the next prank comes quickly into Pedro’s head: Let’s trick Benedick and Beatrice into loving each other! It’s all his idea to have Benedick overhear him and the other men discussing how much Beatrice loves him. And then he tells the women to get Beatrice to overhear them talking about Benedick loving her. Much ado about noting! He’s the prankster supreme here… just loving the whole big joke.

Claudio: Claudio is in on this joke to deceive Benedick. He has no qualms about it. It’s all so much fun! Also, earlier, Claudio pretends to be Benedick while wearing his mask — Don John knows it’s Claudio, but pretends to think it’s Benedick and Claudio never sets him straight. Then, Claudio believes John because he thinks that John thought he was telling Benedick about Pedro’s supposed deception, wooing Hero for himself instead of for Claudio. Much ado about nothing!

Leonato: Leonato gets in on the deception. Benedick only believes the pranksters regarding Beatrice’s supposedly being sick with love for him because of Leonato’s participation in the ruse. If the gray-haired man, the governor of Messina, is involved, it must be true! So Leonato’s deception is instrumental in the matchmaking ploy. In addition, Leonato has no problem going along with the later deception, pretending that Hero is dead.

Friar Francis: Even the good friar is guilty of deception. It’s his idea to pretend that Hero is dead. He hopes this deception will lead Claudio to miss her and feel remorse for the accusations against her.

Antonio: Old Antonio, Hero’s uncle, falls neatly into the deception about Hero’s death. He knows she’s not really dead, yet he puts on a convincing (and if it were real, touching) display of anger and heartbreak as he lashes out at Claudio for his accusations. Wow. These folks are eager and natural deceivers!

Benedick: I’ll end with our protagonist. He is generally a good man in this play, honest and true to his word. But even he is guilty of deception. Before the play’s action, Beatrice tells us that Benedick deceived her and broke her heart. During the play, Benedick plays the rather minor and flirty deception at the masked dance, pretending to be someone else while dancing with Beatrice (and I don’t believe Beatrice is deceived). And then finally, Benedick works hard at deceiving himself, telling himself over and over again how happy he is being a bachelor and how much he dislikes Beatrice. This self-deception turns out to be amazingly easy to undo with just a little deception from the other men as he eavesdrops on the gossips.

Yes, indeed. Men were deceivers ever. And nothing is as noted. And it’s all much ado about nothing!

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Bits and Pieces

May 6, 2010 at 10:11 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

I am winding down on my posts about A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about.

Pyramus and Thisby : Romeo and Juliet
Pyramus and Thisby, the play-within-the-play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is pure farce the way it’s presented by the “rude mechanicals.” But the story itself is of two star-crossed lovers whose families keep them apart and who end up tragically committing suicide at a tomb.

Sound familiar? Romeo and Juliet was written by Shakespeare around the same time, so I’m sure there are parallels if we look for them. It seems like Shakespeare had some fun making fun of R&J by presenting a very similar story in P&T in such a silly way—bringing comedy to the tragedy.

Another similarity that strikes me is the sexual puns. They are a constant in R&J, but they are absent (or at least pass right by me) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, except for in P&T. The note in my edition puts it this way: “… a network of obscene jokes running through the mechanicals’ play.” There are puns on words like “chink” and “hole” and “stones” in the wall, etc.

So Bottom is an obscene punner like our old friend from R&J, Mercutio. Maybe there are other comparisons to make between the two characters? One thing I notice is their use of words. Mercutio has a razor-sharp wit and his words and puns are excessively pointed. Bottom is an extreme contrast to Mercutio: he’s a silly ass and his language is full of malapropisms and verbal mistakes. 

More on P&T
The wedding party makes many witty and snobby comments while watching P&T, but I wonder if they appreciate the sexual jokes. I wonder if Peter Quince wrote them into the script on purpose, as appropriate for a pre-wedding night entertainment!

The other thing I wonder about P&T is how and why it seems to change so much over time. When the mechanicals originally meet and Quince gives out roles, he includes both parents of Thisby and casts himself as Pyramus’s father. Later, when they meet in the woods to rehearse, they discuss someone needing to play Wall and Moonlight, so I guess Quince rewrites the play to get rid of all the parents, give lines to Wall and Moonlight and take himself out of the play except for reading the prologue. And the lines Pyramus and Thisby rehearse when Bottom is turned into an ass by Puck are not present in the final version of P&T performed for the wedding party. There is probably no need to analyze any of this, but it occurred to me that the changes might mean something. Or maybe not.

Questions
I have a few random questions lingering in my mind as I wrap things up.

Why does Oberon want the Indian boy? It seems like his anger with Titania amounts to a temper tantrum for not getting his way. Titania doesn’t obey; Titania must pay.

Why does Egeus want Demetrius to marry Hermia? Since his daughter loves another man (Lysander) and Lysander claims to be of as high rank or better than Demetrius, it seems odd that Egeus is more willing to have Hermia die than marry a man she loves. Hermia does not obey; Hermia must pay (with her life).

I don’t mean to overplay the misogyny card. My edition’s notes point out that the standard (misogynist) view of women during the Elizabethan period stereotyped them as the ones likely to stray romantically. So Hermia and Helena’s constancy throughout the play (neither for a minute doubting her own love for her wayward man) earns the audience’s sympathy, while Lysander and Demetrius appear ridiculous with their sudden shifts in affection.

Why does Demetrius want to marry Hermia? What caused him to lose love for Helena? There are no answers given in the play. The questions linger in my mind. Love, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is all rather ephemeral and senseless. Maybe that is the point! Lord, what fools these mortals be, as Puck says.

Favorite Quotes
There are some great lines and beautiful imagery in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here are a couple of lines that I love.

I love when Oberon and Titania meet and Oberon says:

Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania. (II.1.60)

Isn’t that a great way to greet someone you’re quarrelling with?!

I also love Lysander’s smart aleck line to Demetrius in the opening scene:

You have her father’s love, Demetrius,
Let me have Hermia’s: do you marry him.
(I.1.93-94)

It cracks me up every time. He’s saying: you and her father love each other so much, why don’t you marry him! Cracks me up; it’s such a typical teenage wisecrack.

Lastly, I get a big kick out of P&T. The whole thing is so ridiculous. Every time I hear the following lines I start laughing. Pyramus goes to the tomb to meet Thisby and instead finds her bloodied scarf and (wrongly) thinks she’s dead:

    But stay: O spite!
    But mark, poor knight,
What dreadful dole is here?
    Eyes, do you see?
    How can it be?
O dainty duck, O dear!
(V.1.271-276)

It’s just so “mechanical” and silly! 

Okay, I think that’s about all I have to say about A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Please let me know if you have any comments, things you are thinking about the play or anything you’d like me to think about. I’d be happy to hear from you. I have a couple more film adaptations to watch, and then I will move on to the next play: Much Ado About Nothing.

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Einstein in Fairyland and Horton Hears a Who

May 4, 2010 at 11:41 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Analysis and Discussion, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

Thanks to reader Tue for commenting about Shakespeare’s vision of understanding the Truth through science. I want to mention a couple of things I’ve been thinking about.

Four Days
The play opens with Theseus telling Hippolyta it will be four days until their wedding day.

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon
I.1.1-3

Theseus tells Hermia she has until his wedding day to decide whether she will marry Demetrius, die, or become a nun.

Take time to pause; and, by the next new moon–
The sealing-day betwixt my love and me,
For everlasting bond of fellowship–
Upon that day either prepare to die
For disobedience to your father’s will,
Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would;
Or on Diana’s altar to protest
For aye austerity and single life.
I.1.83-90

Then, all the play’s action in the forest occurs (the Midsummer Night’s Dream). It seems to take up a single night. On the morning of Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding, the hunting party finds the four young lovers asleep in the forest.

But speak, Egeus; is not this the day
That Hermia should give answer of her choice?
IV.1.131-135

So, somehow, four days (and four, or maybe even five nights) have past.

And yet, I can only account for two nights, not four. In the opening scene, Lysander tells Hermia to meet her in the forest the following night.

                                          If thou lovest me then,
Steal forth thy father’s house to-morrow night;
And in the wood, a league without the town,
Where I did meet thee once with Helena,
To do observance to a morn of May,
There will I stay for thee.
I.1.163-168

It’s really a minor detail when you watch the play, but I keep thinking about it. Were the kids wandering around in the woods for two days and two nights (or more)? The forest and fairyland seem like a different world, so maybe time works differently there.

I keep thinking of Einstein; it’s as if the Athenian lovers enter some kind of space/time continuum… like a wormhole.

Unseen Forces
Because Dr. Seuss is never far from my thoughts, I find myself thinking about Horton the Elephant while reading and watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Horton faintly hears a tiny voice coming from a speck of dust on a flower, and realizes that there is a whole planet with a town called Whoville with lots of Whos living on that speck. The Whos’ reality is shaped in part by the unseen influence of things in Horton’s world. So, when the flower holding the dust speck containing the Whos is stolen by an evil eagle and dropped into a field of identical flowers, the Whos suffer cataclysmic damage to the infrastructure on their world. Says the mayor of Whoville:

“We’ve really had trouble! Much more than our share.
When that black-bottomed birdie let go and we dropped,
We landed so hard that our clocks have all stopped.
Our tea pots are broken. Our rocking-chairs are smashed.
And our bicycle tires all blew up when we crashed.
So, Horton, Please!” pleaded that voice of the Mayor’s,
“Will you stick by us Whos while we’re making repairs?”

I see a parallel to the influence of fairyland on the mortal world in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Arguments between Titania and Oberon cause natural disasters in the mortal world. Titania describes the mayhem that their fighting causes:

These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
(II.1.81-117)

Beyond that, Oberon and Puck choose to influence individual mortals directly via the love juice and pranks like turning Bottom into an ass. Dr. Seuss’s Whos are somehow aware of the source of the unseen force that causes mayhem in their world; they realize there is a world beyond and encompassing their own. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the force (the fairies) are invisible and mortals are unaware that their reality is shaped and changed by the actions of fairies.

This also seems Einsteinian to me (not that I know much about Einstein’s theories)… like layers of an onion with each containing a different world—separate, yet interrelated. I also think of this when I read the introduction in my Pelican Shakespeare edition. It says:

Shakespeare’s comic assault on the proud and their smug conceptions of order and truth contributes to his larger challenge to conventional notions of ontology—to our sense, in other words, of who we are and what constitutes reality. If Puck’s proud narration of the havoc he creates in the mortal world—causing spills, knocking old ladies off stools—troubles our sense of causality and human control, his own mistake in anointing the wrong Athenian’s eyes might provoke further speculation. Perhaps yet another unseen agent causes Puck to err for the amusement of a higher god?

And then like my onion analogy, it goes on to say:

Shakespeare’s manipulation of perspective takes its most revelatory form in the arrangement of the play-within-the play. During the performance of “Pyramus and Thisby,” we may imagine the stage and the theater and the world as a series of concentric circles. At the very center are Bottom and Flute, playing tragic lovers. They are watched by actors playing the courtly lovers, characters whose experience might have paralleled that of the doomed Pyramus and Thisby but who fail to notice the similarity. They, in turn, are watched by the theater audience, spectators who laugh smugly at the smugness of the onstage audience. This set of symmetries implies that we may be mistaken in thinking of ourselves as the final audience. Isn’t it possible that we, too, are performing for unseen spectators, that our delight in the foolishness of what we see may itself be a brand of folly, and that the world we take to be real may be nothing more than a stage set for a divine audience?

Hmm, something to ponder there! 

A Dream Through a Jungian Lens
I’m glad I took the time to re-read the introduction (by Russ McDonald from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). It is fascinating. There is much discussion of the psychological “dream” aspects of the play. McDonald says:

At the risk of oversimplifying a symbolic relation explored with great subtlety, we may say that the fairy kingdom is to the natural world as the unconscious is to the conscious mind, or the imaginative to the logical faculty. This correspondence is thematically crucial, the relation to which all the other parallels and contrasts between the human and the fairy world contribute.

I am far from understanding, but there is much to think about here… physics, philosophy, psychology, oh my! And I was okay before with just the silliness of the situations and beauty of the words and images.

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The Course of True Love

May 1, 2010 at 10:28 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Analysis and Discussion, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

The course of true love never did run smooth.
(I.1.134)

This is one of the more famous lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Lysander says this to Hermia as they bemoan their own problems and discuss various ways that love can go wrong. They hatch a plan to elope and when Helena wanders by, they tell her of their plan to meet in the woods and run away together where Athenian law can’t follow them.

Poor Helena. She is lovesick for Demetrius. She says, “The more I love, the more he hateth me” (I.1.199). She cannot wrap her mind around the switch in his affections to Hermia. Helena says:

As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured every where:
For ere Demetrius look’d on Hermia’s eyne,
He hail’d down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt.
(I.1.240-245)

It’s at this moment that Helena thinks to tell Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander plan to run away to the woods. She then will follow him and throw herself at his feet in her desperation to win back his affection.

I’ve been thinking about Helena’s motivation here. This has been weighing on me since I watched Picture This. In screenplay writer and director John Fisk’s video about adapting a Shakespearean play he explains his reasoning for veering from a strictly Shakespearean storyline. One of his reasons has to do with what he sees as Helena’s selfish motives. He feels she deserves different consequences than Shakespeare provides (her apparently happily-ever-after marriage to the apparently permanently love-juice-influenced Demetrius). Fisk points out that true love cannot come from a place of selfish interests. Because Demetrius is drugged, Fisk says, it’s not true love. Picture This provides a different ending for this couple than Shakespeare.

John Fisk commented on my blog about this: “I know ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a comedy however when watching the play or a movie version of it I’m always struck by how Helena treats her friend Hermia. In writing screenplays, the theory goes that, it is really important to look at the choices which your characters make. This really defines the character. In other words the character is the choices that they make.”

I appreciate his point and I really appreciate him stopping by this blog and sharing his thoughts with us. I can see how he could interpret Helena’s actions as selfish. In the video, Fisk says one of the main questions for him in writing the screenplay was: “Can love that comes from a dark and selfish place lead to a true love of total selflessness?”

It’s a great question. I totally get what he did in the film Picture This and it makes a whole lot of sense if you’re coming from the viewpoint that Helena is selfish. I have thought about Helena’s motivation each time I’ve viewed a film adaptation or read the text since hearing this idea; I still don’t interpret her actions the same way as Fisk. (If he returns to read this, I hope he understands that I’m using his opinion as a point to ponder; he’s entitled to his viewpoint!).

I have a lot of empathy for Helena. She loved Demetrius with all her heart and he returned her love (this is prior to the play’s action, but it’s referred to by Lysander and Theseus in the opening scene).

LYSANDER
Demetrius, I’ll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar’s daughter, Helena,
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
Upon this spotted and inconstant man.

THESEUS
I must confess that I have heard so much,
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof;
But, being over-full of self-affairs,
My mind did lose it.
(I.1.106-114)

We are not given an explanation for Demetrius’s switch from Helena to Hermia. All we know is that he has Egeus’s permission to marry Hermia. It’s not particularly clear to me that he loves Hermia. Maybe the betrothal was a business transaction between Demetrius and Egeus. Who knows? Hermia would have nothing to do with him; she loves Lysander. The strongest language Demetrius uses toward Hermia is:

O, why rebuke you him that loves you so?
Lay breath so bitter on your bitter foe.
(III.2.43-44)

It’s not that convincing to me. Still, why drop Helena if he loved her. Who knows?

Back to Helena’s motivation. She is a little conniving in her decision to tell Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander will be in the woods. However, her intention is not to hurt Hermia. She already knows Hermia has no feelings for Demetrius and is, in fact, eloping with Lysander and planning to leave Athens forever. If she did nothing, Hermia would be out of the picture and Helena could try her luck getting Demetrius back.

It seems to me that she’s just lovesick and not thinking clearly. She knows Demetrius will follow Hermia into the woods. She sees this as an opportunity for herself to follow Demetrius and throw herself at him. She is Desperate with a capital D. Who can blame her? She has loved Demetrius and has no idea why his love turned away. She thinks she can somehow win it back. She doesn’t seem selfish to me so much as confused and desperate. I don’t think she means any harm to anyone.

Hermia goes through a similar out-of-body experience when Lysander is under the spell of the love juice and claims to hate her. She can’t believe her ears:

You speak not as you think. It cannot be.
(III.2.191)

And then as Lysander continues, Hermia thinks he is joking. When she realizes it’s not a joke, she’s just confused:

Hate me! wherefore? O me! what news, my love!
Am not I Hermia? are not you Lysander?
I am as fair now as I was erewhile.
Since night you loved me; yet since night you left me.
Why, then you left me–O, the gods forbid!–
In earnest, shall I say?
(III.2.271-277)

At this point, Hermia reacts with anger toward Helena, assuming that Helena must have done something to cause Lysander’s eyes to wander.

To me, Helena’s quiet jealousy of Hermia and desperate offers to Demetrius are normal reactions, as are Hermia’s confusion and anger. Both women are behaving as you might expect under confusing circumstances where a once trusted and professed love is suddenly gone.

Selfish? Deserving consequences? I don’t see it that way. Sad and confused and desperately trying to make sense of altered reality… yes.

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch Cherry Bomb!

April 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Analysis and Discussion, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , )

I went to see the movie The Runaways about Joan Jett’s first band last weekend, and I can’t get this song Cherry Bomb out of my head. It may seem like a stretch to find something Shakespearean to say about Cherry Bomb or The Runaways, but I can’t get it out of my mind. So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a very funny play. It’s silly, there are fairies, there’s magic, the four teenagers are great sport to watch, and the ending is happy. But as I pointed out in my post about Titania, there’s darker stuff here, as well.

It boils down to this: misogyny. As Picture This director John Fisk points out in his video about adapting a Shakespearean play, “The world in which Shakespeare lived was a world of misogyny.” Women were made subordinate to men.

This is so true when you start picking through A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hippolyta is tamed. Titania is tamed. Hermia is her father Egeus’s property and he can do with her as he wants! Theseus advises Hermia:

To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
(I.1.47-51)

This is the law of Athens and Theseus says Hermia will be put to death or forced to become a nun if she doesn’t subordinate herself to her father’s wishes.

So what does all this have to do with Cherry Bomb? The Runaways were an all-female band trying to break into the mostly-male rock and roll world. Manager Kim Fowley cherry picked Cherie Currie at age 15 for lead singer of the fledgling band due to her blonde bombshell looks. She inspired the song Cherry Bomb because that’s what she represented—jailbait.

It’s a catchy tune, but the situation these girls were in was exploitive and misogynist. The band members start out just wanting to play rock n’ roll. During rehearsals, Currie wants to do slower songs and isn’t comfortable with the graphic lyrics or the gyrations. But they all do what Fowley tells them they have to do to get noticed. In an odd way, the girls in The Runaways are tamed in the same way that we see Hippolyta and Titania tamed. They do what they have to do to get by in a male-dominated world.

I see other themes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in The Runaways… defiant youth, impulsive youth, the chaos of youthful love. So, as blog reader Chris pointed out, yes, it all comes back to Shakespeare. 400 years later, the universal themes and issues in his plays are all around us still.

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Proud Titania

April 26, 2010 at 7:38 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Analysis and Discussion, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

I love the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I love the magic, the beauty, the naughtiness of Puck, the haughtiness of Titania. There are some things that really baffle me, though.

Titania. She starts out so wonderful. She’s angry with Oberon. She has presence. She’s nobody’s fool and she’s not going to let Oberon push her around. She calls a spade a spade. She is angry with Oberon’s philandering (II.1.64-73).

When she talks about the impact of their quarreling, she speaks with such eloquence. She could have just said, “Our fighting is causing mayhem in the mortal world.” That’s how my small mind translates her beautiful words. What images!

And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original. 
(II.1.82-117)

And then she continues with the beautiful, heartfelt explanation of why she cannot give the mortal boy to Oberon. Here’s my simplistic version: “I loved his mother and want to take care of him in her memory.” Here are the words Shakespeare put on Titania’s tongue:

Set your heart at rest:
The fairy land buys not the child of me.
His mother was a votaress of my order:
And, in the spiced Indian air, by night,
Full often hath she gossip’d by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking the embarked traders on the flood,
When we have laugh’d to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
Following,—her womb then rich with my young squire,—
Would imitate, and sail upon the land,
To fetch me trifles, and return again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;
And for her sake do I rear up her boy,
And for her sake I will not part with him.
(II.1.121-137)

Luscious, isn’t it? The words and images are so beautiful. They speak to the character and strength of this fairy queen. I’m in awe of her!

And then it’s all downhill for Titania. It’s depressing. Oberon puts the love juice on her, she falls for the ass-headed ass, Bottom, she dotes on him. It’s embarrassing. She gives Oberon the mortal child with no fight. Then Oberon gives her the antidote to the love juice, she sees in horror that something awful happened to make her love an ass. And that’s that. The last we hear of her is this:

Come, my lord, and in our flight
Tell me how it came this night
That I sleeping here was found
With these mortals on the ground.
(IV.1.98-101)

That’s it? No wrath from the proud Titania? What a letdown.

I understand there is some connection to how it goes between Theseus and Hippolyta. The notes in my edition point out that Theseus/Hippolyta and Oberon/Titania are parallel couples and often played on the stage by the same actors since they never appear on stage together.

I had to think this through a bit, because the connection is not obvious to me. For me, Hippolyta is almost a nonentity. She’s hardly present in the play. I only know she’s queen of the Amazons because it says so in the list of characters. I only know that Theseus captured her in war because it says so in the note… and Theseus says “I wooed thee with my sword” (I.1.16). She is a non-presence in the play.

And then I thought… maybe this is the point. This is how she parallels Titania. Hippolyta was the queen of the Amazons. She must have been a proud and powerful woman. Theseus subdued her and now he will marry her. She has nothing to say in the matter. She is tamed.

And so it goes with Titania. We just catch up with her a little earlier in the process. We see her at the height of her strength, we witness the war with Oberon, we see her downfall. She is tamed.

Both Hippolyta and Titania follow this path, but we only see it happen in the play with Titania. It is a sad turn of events for me. Of course I appreciate the comedy of Bottom in her love nest. But, she’s a drugged zombie.

I have to agree with John Fisk, screenplay writer and director of Picture This. Oberon deserved different consequences for his cavalier treatment of Titania. Watch John Fisk’s excellent video about adapting a Shakespearean play for more on his viewpoint about Oberon’s misogyny.

I will let it go at that. Titania’s character seems to have so much to offer us and then the payback is just comedy at her expense. I want more!

P.S. Oh my goodness, 2000 hits on my blog! Thanks for reading! Please keep commenting… your comments give me ideas to write about.

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