And There’s the Humor of It

March 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm (Asides, Hamlet, Live Performances, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew) (, , , , )

Phlegm, Image from Deutsche Kalendar, 1498. Courtesy Pierpont Morgan Library.

Why am I sick? Why is he greedy? Why is she a shrew? In Shakespeare’s time, these questions would have been answered using the four humors. I realize that means very little to most people today. In Shakespeare’s world, people were thought to be ruled by four bodily fluids (called “humors”) — blood, phlegm, black bile (also called melancholy), and yellow bile (also called choler). Each of these fluids was believed to have inherent qualities that when in balance brought good health. When the humors were out of balance, illness and behavioral/personality problems resulted.

Medicine focused on bringing the humors into balance. Each humor was associated with moisture and heat. So, to bring them back into balance, the physician might add the opposite quality or take away whatever was in overabundance. For example, heat would help someone suffering from too much phlegm or melancholy (“cold” humors). Bloodletting would help a person with a fever, who must have an overabundance of blood (a “hot” humor).

Based on a picture from the book "The Seventy Great Inventions of the Ancient World" by Brian M. Fagan

How do I know all this? I live in a cool place (phlegmatic?!). The Folger Shakespeare Library is, of course, a very cool place for Shakespeare lovers. But there is a whole lot more coolness in the Washington DC area. There is the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Why is this a very cool place for Shakespeare lovers? They currently have an exhibition called And There’s the Humor of It: Shakespeare and the Four Humors.

The exhibition is lovely, with books from the National Library of Medicine’s collection tracing humorism back to its roots in antiquity… Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen. Humorism, especially as expanded upon by Galen, was a comprehensive system and was used to explain… just about everything. From the exhibition’s website:

William Shakespeare (1564–1616) created characters that are among the richest and most humanly recognizable in all of literature. Yet Shakespeare understood human personality in the terms available to his age—that of the now-discarded theory of the four bodily humors—blood, bile, melancholy, and phlegm. These four humors were thought to define peoples‘ physical and mental health, and determined their personalities, as well.

The language of the four humors pervades Shakespeare‘s plays, and their influence is felt above all in a belief that emotional states are physically determined. Carried by the bloodstream, the four humors bred the core passions of anger, grief, hope, and fear—the emotions conveyed so powerfully in Shakespeare‘s comedies and tragedies.

Today, neuroscientists recognize a connection between Shakespeare‘s age and our own in the common understanding that the emotions are based in biochemistry and that drugs can be used to alleviate mental suffering.

Bonny Kate, the Shrew (e.g., full of choler), W. Joseph Edwards, Angry face of Katharine Minola, 1847. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

I attended a lecture  called “Shrew Taming and Other Tales of the Four Humors” at NLM by Gail Kern Paster, the former director of the Folger and co-curator of the current NLM exhibition. According to Paster, Shakespeare’s audience would have understood life through the lens of the four humors, and there would have been no way for them to separate the psychological from the physical qualities attributed to the humors. So, she said to read Shakespeare “humorally,” that is, with the humors in mind, brings a much deeper understanding of his work.

Paster calls the humors “a code largely opaque and unknown to us” since they have no place in modern medicine and are largely forgotten now. But she says they were pervasive in Shakespeare’s time, and taking the effort to look for the language of the humors (i.e. references to heat, cold, moisture, and dryness) helps decipher meaning in Shakespeare and adds depth to understanding his works.

Paster focused her talk on the humors associated with three Shakespearean characters: Shylock, Ophelia, and Katherine Minola (bonny Kate, aka the Shrew). These characters were selected for the NLM exhibition because they displayed evidence of the “darker emotions” associated with melancholy and choler (much more interesting than boring phlegm which corresponded to a lack of activity).

Melancholy, Henry Peacham, “Melancolia,” Minerva Britanna, 1612. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

The humors were thought to literally make you who you were. Because humorism was so all-encompassing, Shakespeare couldn’t help but to write with the assumption that his audience understood the context, implications and references to these things that simply go right over our heads today. However, we can watch for triggers that indicate Shakespeare is speaking humorally… often when he is describing emotions in physical terms.

The Greek physician/philosopher Galen expanded on the humoral system and added a whole host of other things to consider including the environment, place of birth, gender, age, etc. Paster noted that “The power of Galenism is it is so multifactorial… pick your factors and you have an explanation.” So, for example, the taming of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew involves manipulating a number of Galenic elements like diet and activity level to deal with Katherine Minola’s overabundance of choler.

Bloodletting, 1860. Photo from the Burns Archive.

Paster’s talk was fascinating and introduced me to a whole layer of “stuff” in Shakespeare that I had never before heard of. I have to say, I will certainly be on the lookout for humoral references from now on, even if I understand them imperfectly. The thing that amazed me most is that this system was used for about two thousand years, and it is only in the last 150 years or so that it has been almost completely erased. Bloodletting continued well into the 1800s. Think about how much things have changed!

If you live in the DC area, you may want to take a trip to Bethesda to view the exhibition at the NLM. It will be on display at the History of Medicine through August 17, 2012. While you’re there, be sure to take in the very nice (and much bigger) exhibit on Native American medicine (you really need a couple hours to do it justice). The Shakespeare exhibition includes a traveling exhibit that will be touring the country. If you can’t see it in person (and even if you can, actually), check out the excellent website they have put together. For teachers, there are extremely well-done lesson plans for middle and high school, as well as a college-level teaching module. Maybe you will get as interested in humorism as I have!

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My Shakespeare

March 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm (Film Adaptations, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , , )

Paterson Joseph, an actor who grew up in one of London’s gritty, inner-city neighborhoods, challenges himself to bring Shakespeare back to the ‘hood by directing a high-quality, West End production of Romeo and Juliet using kids off the streets as actors. He gives himself a month to accomplish the entire task.

My Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet with Baz Luhrmann is a 2004 PBS documentary that follows Paterson through the whole process, from casting through final performance. Baz Luhrmann provides long-distance advice and moral support from Australia via videoconferencing (pre-Skype, which appears very clunky now!). Paterson deals with enormous challenges as he helps cast members learn lines (many of the actors are immigrants), gain confidence in their ability to act, their ability to commit to something like this, to attend practices, pay attention, try hard, see it through to completion… every bit of it is new for all of them, including Paterson himself, who has never directed a play before.

I thought the story was very touching… how Paterson was able to really reach these kids and demonstrate for them the relevance of Shakespeare in their lives. The girl playing Juliet is a shy Afghan refugee who begins rehearsals completely unable to imagine herself kissing a man at all, let alone in front of an audience. Paterson helps her gain confidence and bring emotion into her part and her final performance is lovely! The boy playing Mercutio identifies fully with the part and is able to really project the meaning of Mercutio’s words, including the difficult Queen Mab speech. Romeo is so taken with his experience that he decides to pursue an acting career!

I really disliked Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes. In this documentary, in addition to serving as Paterson’s long-distance mentor, Luhrmann also is interviewed extensively and serves as the resident expert on directing Shakespeare and teasing out Shakespeare’s relevance in the modern world. I found him somewhat distracting and pretentious much of the time, as he’s interviewed from his enormous, swank Sydney mansion against a Wall of Fame in honor of himself with posters from the film and lots of candles everywhere. But getting past my prejudice, I think he does sometimes add interesting insights into working with Shakespeare with modern audiences.

I like this film a lot. I worried with Paterson about whether he had bitten off more than he could chew. I empathized with Juliet about whether she could really pull off this whole acting thing. I enjoyed watching them all learn to emote physically — Paterson has them do exercises where they express joy, pain, sadness and other emotions at different levels on a scale from 1 to 10. It was riveting hearing from Romeo about his actual stabbing in a street fight and what this brought to his understanding of the fight scenes in the play. I felt sad that the girl playing the Nurse just did not have it in her and had to be replaced days before opening night. I loved watching the actors tour the Globe Theatre and imagine themselves there with the Bard. And finally, I was so happy for them, as they performed the play admirably to their West End audience. Very nicely done!

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Hobart Shakespeareans

November 27, 2011 at 2:28 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Hamlet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , , )

My kids go to school in Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the best districts in the U.S. and yet my 10 year old is struggling to put words onto paper. Here I am, a writer, an editor… a person who loves words. And I have really struggled with helping my son, because the way he is taught makes no sense to me. He brings home the most inane worksheets, character maps… busy work! I don’t write like that and I don’t even like thinking about them.

I’ve struggled with this and then last week, Jay Mathews, an education columnist in the Washington Post, wrote a column that put my ambivalence into words: Writing Lessons? Please stop. He speaks of the mechanical way children are taught to write. This was what I needed to see. This is the paragraph where I had my epiphany:

The result of such clerical work is usually unreadable. Few people who learn to write this way ever make it their life’s work. The professional writers I know got excited not in class but while compiling personal journals, or composing poems and songs, or sending long letters or e-mails to friends, or working for the school newspaper.

A friend of mine who teaches said she uses the “hamburger model” — layering sentences in each paragraph — for teaching writing to little kids. No offense, Debbie, or if any of my kids’ teachers read this, but… I can’t imagine getting excited about writing that way. It is clerical. It’s boring! No, it’s mind-numbing. And it has very little to do with translating thoughts onto paper. I have a vague and excruciating memory of being forced to write a paper on Huckleberry Finn in high school using outlines and this kind of structured paragraph. Eeek!

I essentially studied reading and writing in college (English lit, history and Spanish) and wrote a whole lot of papers. I skipped Freshman English, but had a writing seminar first quarter Freshman year where I learned a lasting lesson. My professor, Michael Squires, covered my papers with T’s for “Tighten”! Say what you mean in as few words as possible. Cut to the chase. I’ve been writing professionally for decades — research reports, proposals, articles, books. I have never once thought about structuring my paragraphs like hamburgers. I think about what I’m trying to say… and then I make sure I say it clearly. And I Tighten (thank you, Dr. Squires!). And I edit, edit, and re-edit my own work.

So, I struggled with helping my son, and then a light went off and I thought… no, I cannot help him with any of the busy work, but I can help him learn to write, because I love to write and I am good at it. Reading and writing and learning about words and loving them… that I get. I know that teachers have a tough job, but using structured methods is not the way to teach a creative skill. Jay Mathews is apparently getting quite a lot of feedback. The latest column asked people to share their anecdotes: What made you a better writer? I’m looking forward to the follow-ups columns.

So, with this all recently on my mind, it was with great interest that I watched The Hobart Shakespeareans (made by Mel Stuart for the PBS series POV). In the mode of Jaime Escalante, made famous 25 years ago in Stand and Deliver for hooking inner city kids on calculus, this documentary follows Rafe Esquith, who uses Shakespeare and great literature to hook his 5th graders. A veteran elementary school teacher who has respect and high expectations for his students, Esquith loves what he does and he sees huge rewards for his efforts.

In contrast to the suburban school my kids attend, Esquith teaches in a huge inner city Los Angeles school surrounded by inner city crime. In one scene, there is a murder a block away and they lock down the school rather than letting the kids walk home with a killer loose. The kids take it in stride — this is the reality where they live. Yet Esquith has created an oasis for these kids with two rules: Be Nice. Work Hard.

And they do. They learn to play music, they read great literature they can relate to like Of Mice and Men, The Lord of the Flies, and Huck Finn (hopefully without writing outlines and hamburger paragraphs!). And they read and play Shakespeare. In the film, Shakespearean actors Michael York and Ian McKellen (who the students treat like a rock star) visit the class to share their love of the Bard. The children put on a performance of Hamlet. A teary McKellen notes that what always impresses him in Esquith’s class is that the children understand Hamlet… they really understand the words. He notes that this cannot be said for all actors who play Shakespeare.

Esquith is realistic. He is shown speaking to a shocked audience at a teachers conference about the fact that some kids will get left behind… that he knows that’s the truth and that some kids fail. His point is that if everyone is given a fair chance, it is then up to the kids to decide to do the work. He has a big poster in his classroom that reads, “There Are No Shortcuts,” and in one scene he is shown talking to some kids he caught cheating… he talks to them quietly and says afterward that he knows it won’t happen again.

The students are from immigrant families — the year this was filmed, all the students spoke English as their second language and spoke their native language with their families at home. Most are Latino or Korean. The neighborhood is rough. Esquith wants them to get out. He wants them to get a taste of the world they can strive for, so he takes them on trips to Washington DC and Mount Rushmore and they stay in nice hotels and eat at good restaurants (a nonprofit organization started by a former student funds their activities).

He takes them to colleges so they can see what it is like in a place of learning and respect where everyone is working hard and no one will bother them. He tells them he believes in them and he knows they can do it. I wish my kids could have an experience like this instead of the busy work “great curriculum” that results in high standardized test scores (I guess) at their school.

I love writing about literature, but please deliver me from ever having to fill out a character trait map about Romeo or Hamlet. Dear God. I think it would stop even me from wanting to write. Stop me dead and put me into a coma. You should see what it does to my 10 year old. And yeesh, you should see the mess he makes on these things trying to scribble crap into the little boxes and circles. (To be fair, maybe it helps some learners organize their thoughts… it does not work for me, and apparently not for my son!)

I’m reminded of a quote my friend uses: “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” (Not sure if this originally comes from Yogi Berra or Einstein or computer scientist Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut!) I think it describes the situation at my kids’ school. There is a disconnect when they teach mean, median, and mode to second graders who haven’t yet mastered division. There is a disconnect focusing on the mechanics of writing and leaving out the art and creativity and meaning. I think teachers like Escalante and Esquith make the connection between theory and practice. They create a passion in the kids and help them find meaning. It’s a rare gift.

The film about the Hobart Shakespeareans ends after their performance of Hamlet, as the children are filled with emotion and many in tears. Esquith gives them a final pep talk, telling them that they have learned things they never thought they could learn and that this is just the beginning… that he knows they can do so much more. Reminding them of the life lessons they have learned, he quotes Hamlet by saying, “The readiness…” and the children finish “is all!”

The readiness is all.

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It’s Too Darn Hot

November 4, 2011 at 11:53 pm (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Taming of the Shrew) (, , , , , , )

The Fall colors really popped out today and I played hooky from all the work I shoulda coulda woulda been doing. So, instead, I went to see Anonymous, which I will blog about soon. And, in a Shakespearean double whammy for the day, I took in a really fun performance of Kiss Me, Kate done by Rockville Musical Theatre.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen a show on Broadway, but I was getting those good pre-show vibes while I was listening to the musicians warm up. I just kept feeling transported to New York and was all excited waiting for the show to start (of course, the tix were a lot cheaper in Rockville than Times Square!).

The show is fantastic! I can’t remember if I’ve seen Kiss Me, Kate before. If I did, it was decades ago. The story is so cute, set in post-WWII Baltimore and involving the relationship between the actors Lilli and Frederick as they play the roles of Kate and Petruchio in a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew.

It’s great fun how the 1940s storyline mirrors and weaves in and out of the play within the play (and they stage quite a lot of The Taming of the Shrew!).  The actors do a wonderful job, the leads have beautiful voices, and the dance numbers are well-done (I especially enjoyed Too Darn Hot).

The Cole Porter tunes are familiar and fun and the musicians are excellent. I was surprised to see one of my kids’ pediatricians as the musical director… that’s what I love about community theater! And while I was impressed with this production all around (singing, dancing, music, acting, costumes, sets), what I like best of all on the Rockville Musical Theatre’s website is their “Oh S#%t Awards” for the biggest goofs during each production. I got a good laugh out of that (but did not notice anything tonight that would earn the award)!

Anyway, great fun and I highly recommend it to anyone in the DC area. Kiss Me, Kate continues this weekend and next at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville. Tickets are $20 and I was pleased to see a good crowd there tonight! Head on out, folks. It’s Wunderbar!

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Forces of Nature

August 27, 2011 at 8:25 am (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Taming of the Shrew) (, , , , , )

A storm’s a-brewin’ here in the DC area as we await Hurricane Irene. It’s been a weird week here, what with the big earthquake and all.

These forces of nature formed the backdrop of a lovely evening of theater last night in Olney, Maryland. The National Players presented a free outdoor Summer Shakespeare show, The Taming of the Shrew, at the Olney Theatre Center.

Director Clay Hopper set the stage by first checking the hurricane app on his iPhone… “It’s not here yet!” he announced as he looked up at the lovely evening sky. Then he noted that we were in the safest theater around in case of another earthquake (outside, backed by some woods and serenaded by cicadas). With that, the show began, and what fun!

They jumped right in with a rowdy wild West theme that worked well for me. Very stylized acting/fighting and lots of funny sound effects brought out the farce of the play. Bianca was literally all white from head (very blond hair) to toe (dressed in sparkly white). No-nonsense Kate, in leggings and corset, played the part well — athletically taking on Petruchio and even cartwheeling away from him… a force of nature, indeed!

The staging was great fun and judging from all the laughter, a big hit with the audience. The National Players are in their 63rd year and presenting their 22nd free Summer Shakespeare production. The show is supposed to continue tonight in Olney, but I have a feeling that Hopper’s hurricane app may sing a different tune than last night. My trees are already a-blowin’ here in Gaithersburg.

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Renaissance Rom-Com

August 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm (Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays, The Two Gentlemen of Verona) (, , , , )

I had the pleasure of watching Don Taylor’s 1983 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (part of the BBC’s Television Shakespeare series). This is one of Shakespeare’s first plays, and although it is not among his best, I find it entertaining. This BBC version remains close to the text and is easy-to-watch.

It is a straightforward Renaissance setting with lovely vistas and blue skies. Much of the courting in this courtly-love quadrangle takes place in a garden graced by statues of Amor (love) and Fides (Latin for trustworthiness). Early on, golden cherubs shoot an arrow into the sign for amor, cluing us into Proteus’s preference for following his heart at the expense of his integrity.

The play’s action is not particularly well-drawn, but Shakespeare returns in later plays to many themes raised here, so maybe it can be viewed as Shakespeare’s internship project. Proteus is a silly boy acting on infatuation, willing to give up his true love with Julia and his lifelong friendship with Valentine, hurting everyone along the way, in his efforts to win over the disdainful Silvia. Shakespeare ties up all the loose ends at the end of this play by creating a sudden and unexpected return to reality for Proteus, while everyone he has injured instantly forgives him, and all live happily ever after. It’s a bit far-fetched.

This production is fun to watch. Proteus and Valentine are both wide-eyed boys, falling in love at first sight with pretty girls and sharing trysts and secret kisses with them where ever they can. Silvia is portrayed as the other-worldly woman on a pedestal — as she walks (lightly, in flowing gowns), flower petals are strewn on her from above. She’s the object of everyone’s infatuation.

Poor Julia, who dresses as the boy Sebastian in order to visit her wayward love Proteus in Milan, is lovely and heartbroken when she sees Proteus throwing himself at Silvia.

The comic foils in this play, Speed and Launce (along with his dog, Crab), are great fun with their quick-witted wordplay, often mocking the courtly lovers. I especially enjoy Speed, Valentine’s quick-talking and always-smiling servant, who is played here by a teenager.

Along with the set and costumes, the music in this version is lovely. From the chorus at the beginning to quiet lutes in the courtly garden, the Renaissance-inspired music is a nice addition.

The other thing I really enjoy here are the actors’ facial expressions. Valentine’s wide-eyed adoration of Silvia, Speed’s mischievous smiles, Julia’s heartbroken sadness as she listens to Proteus serenade Silvia… the actors do a great job. I think my favorite of all is the Duke of Milan (played by Paul Daneman) whose steely glare and raised eyebrow show that he knows exactly what kind of “friend” Proteus is for telling him of young Valentine’s secret plan to elope with his daughter Silvia. That is a great moment.

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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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Love’s Labour’s Lost, Abridged

August 4, 2011 at 10:54 am (Love's Labour's Lost, Plot Summaries, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

A year after I began… here is a summary of the plot. I began disliking this play very much. I found it very hard to read at first. There is thick satire, intricate wordplay, difficult allusions… it is not easy reading. I was waylaid by other things in my life, but I am glad I had all this time to think about this play. I like it quite a bit now and find it quite light and funny, which was not at all evident to me on first reading.

So, as always, I hope this summary will entice you to read the actual play. There are some wonderfully funny characters here, especially Don Armado and Costard. There are some very funny situations. It is essentially a play about girls versus boys. In this case, the boys are very silly and naive and the girls are more worldly and cynical.

There is very, very little plot to this play, and essentially all the real action happens at the very end. The rest of it is sheer folly (wit and wooing) and words, words, words… or as the introduction in my Penguin edition says, “extravagant excesses of language.”

It makes reading the play a challenge, especially if you take it too seriously! Really, it’s much easier when you do not take too seriously the crazy pig-Latin type lunacy of Holofernes and the over-flowingly flamboyant Armado and the earnest-but-common-sense-lacking King of Navarre. Just go with the flow and enjoy the sexy repartee (when you can understand it).

The ending is very ambiguous… not at all the happily ever after expected in a Shakespearean comedy. No one gets married! Maybe, as some scholars believe, there was a companion play (now lost): Love’s Labour’s Won, that wrapped things up. Or maybe Much Ado About Nothing began in this role and Shakespeare changed his mind. We don’t know. But it’s an intriguing question, because this play ends rather abruptly and with loose ends.

If anyone sees any errors, let me know so I can fix them—this is just based on my casual reading of the text, so I could easily have things out of order or get the details wrong.

Without further ado, here’s… Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Overview
The young King of Navarre and the three young lords, Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville, all sign an oath to study for three years with no distraction. They agree to eat and sleep sparingly and to give up the company of women for three years(!), so that they can focus on their serious quest for knowledge.

Berowne points out how difficult it will be to keep these oaths, especially because the Princess of France is due any minute on a diplomatic visit that the King of Navarre forgot about. The King decides to make the Princess and her entourage stay in a field so that the oath that no women come to court isn’t broken.

The Princess and the ladies Rosaline, Katherine and Maria indulge in much girly chatter about the boys who they hear are at court in Navarre. They know them from previous social gatherings and are excited to get reacquainted on this visit. Everyone is in love!

The boys are instantly smitten with the girls when they meet in the field. Thus ensues the silly and extravagant wooing in this play, involving the boys visiting disguised as Russians, and the girls mocking and laughing at the boys as they themselves wear masks and trick the boys by switching places.

There are side stories featuring the rustic clown Costard, the dreamy Spaniard Don Armado and his page Moth, the lusty maid Jaquenetta, and the constable Dull, who lives up to his name. These folks along with the schoolmaster Holofernes (he of the silly Latin) and the cleric Nathaniel, put on the ridiculous play within the play about the “Nine Worthies.”

The poor players are mercilessly heckled during The Nine Worthies, and then Costard and Don Armado prepare to fight when Costard oddly breaks into the play to announce that Jaquenetta is pregnant by Armado. The fight is interrupted by the entrance of a messenger from France, who tells the Princess that her father, the King, is dead.

At this news, the Princess decides to return immediately to France, but the King of Navarre professes his love and asks her to stay. She and the other ladies tell the boys they thought the wooing was all in jest and that if they are in earnest, they must all wait a year and a day and come to France if they still feel the same and want to marry.

The play ends with the singing of a song about Spring (the cuckoo) and Winter (the owl) and Don Armado has the oddly poignant last lines: “The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You, that way: we, this way.” And everyone parts and goes their separate ways. Not the usual celebratory end to a Shakespearean comedy!

The Four Stooges
The play seems so serious at first, as the Earnest (with a capital E!) King of Navarre asks his lords to sign the oaths they have agreed to take in order to focus on their studies and seek Knowledge (with a capital K!). Dumaine and Longaville jump right in, excitedly signing up.

It soon becomes ridiculously apparent that these are impulsive boys and they have agreed to take oaths that will be impossible to keep… even for a day! Berowne, before signing, points out the difficulties of keeping these oaths for three years(!), with the hope that maybe there is some wiggle room. After all, it does not really seem reasonable to get by on one meal a day (with a fast day thrown in each week!), three hours of sleep per night with no napping, and worst of all… to give up the company of all women, who are thereby outlawed from the court.

Giving in to peer pressure (not wanting to appear a wuss), Berowne agrees to sign the oath, but immediately points out that they are going to break it when the Princess of France arrives any minute on her diplomatic mission. Navarre has forgotten about this, and decides that they can break their oath this time “on mere necessity.” Berowne will have none of that, as he says if they do it this time, they will all find a zillion reasons down the road to break the oath “on mere necessity.” So, Navarre decides that if they meet the Princess in the fields outside Navarre, they are not technically breaking the oath.

Three More Stooges
Berowne asks if they will really just study, study, study for three years, with no entertainment, and Navarre points out that the Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado will be around, and he should provide a steady supply of material to mock. Longaville notes that the hayseed Costard will also be around for a good laugh.

Then, the aptly named constable Dull arrives with Costard and a letter from Don Armado tattling on Costard for being caught with the country maid Jaquenetta. Apparently Costard is also supposed to forgo the company of ladies for three years, even though he is not part of the oath. When asked if he knew the new law, he said he’d heard it but didn’t really pay any attention to it. Navarre sentences Costard to a week of fasting under the supervision of Don Armado.

Don Armado converses with his page Moth, who appears to have more common sense than all the other characters combined. Dull delivers Costard to Armado. Armado professes his love to Jaquenetta before Dull takes her away. Moth takes Costard away to “prison,” leaving Armado feeling floridly poetic from his love for Jaquenetta (who you will remember, he just caught in a compromising position with Costard!).

The Princess and her Ladies
The Princess of France and her entourage approach Navarre and send the courtier Boyet ahead for information. He comes back with news of the lords (Berowne, Longaville and Dumain) who are at court with the King of Navarre. This sends the girls all into a flurry of excitement, as they know the boys: Maria has met Longaville, Katherine knows Dumaine, and Rosaline has danced with Berowne. The princess teases them that they are all in love.

Boyet also warns them of the King’s oath and the fact that he intends for them to camp out in the field outside Navarre. Minutes later, the King of Navarre appears and welcomes them to court. The princess rebuffs him for leaving them out in the field. Berowne and Rosaline flirt.

The “Plot”
There is very little plot in this play, but perhaps the diplomatic purpose behind the Princess’s visit to Navarre can be considered the plot. Navarre claims that the Princess’s father, the King of France, owes him money. The Princess claims that it is paid and that she can produce the paperwork to prove it. However, Boyet points out that the papers will not actually arrive until the next day… thus requiring the ladies to stay in Navarre, and providing the opportunity for the extensive wooing that ensues.

Love’s Labours
And then the “courting” begins. Berowne and Rosaline flirt and spar. The boys, like lovesick puppies, take turns asking Boyet about the girls: Dumaine asks about Katherine, Longaville about Maria, Berowne about Rosaline. Then, the girls are all flirting and teasing with Boyet. Boyet tells the Princess that the King is in love with her.

Meanwhile, Armado, who has been writing poetry to Jaquenetta, tells Moth to go get Costard, so he can take the letter to Jaquenetta. There is much punning back and forth between Moth, who stretches every word to its last possible meaning, and Armado, for whom English is a second language, and who has that florid Latin style to his speech.

Don Armado pays Costard to take the letter to Jaquenetta. Costard has a good deal of fun over the word “remuneration” which Armado calls the tip. Costard is then asked by Berowne to take a letter to Rosaline and he flips Costard a coin, which he calls a “guerdon,” leaving Costard to enjoy (verbally) the difference between remuneration and guerdon.

The Thrill of the Hunt
The ladies are out hunting to pass the time. Costard arrives and gives them the wrong letter (Don Armado’s letter intended for Jaquenetta). Boyet reads it (realizing the error immediately) and then there is some rather smutty back and forth between Rosaline and Boyet, with Costard joining in.

Costard and Jaquenetta (who can’t read) take the other letter to Holofernes, the school teacher (also called the Pedant) who reads it and believes since it is from Berowne to Rosaline that it represents treason and should be delivered immediately to the King.

True Confessions
There follows a very comic scene where each of the boys, in turn, enters and thinking themselves alone, declare their undying love for their lady. First Berowne sees the King approach and hides, so he overhears the King say how much he loves the Princess. Then Longaville approaches and the King hides to listen. Then it’s Dumaine’s turn. Longaville calls Dumaine on it (acting all innocent himself). The King comes out of hiding and calls Longaville on it (acting all innocent himself). And Berowne comes out of hiding and calls the King on it (acting all innocent himself).

Costard comes in with the letter Berowne wrote to Rosaline, and so that kind of gives him away, as well. They have all broken their oath to give up women (within hours of making the oath!).

Berowne then eloquently explains that women are actually essential to intellectual achievement, so they all decide it’s fine to break the oath and woo the girls in earnest.

Entertainment
Next is a scene that is truly best not to take too seriously. Holofernes and Nathaniel complain at length about Don Armado’s abuse of the English language (for example, not pronouncing the “l” in calf). And then Costard finds a reason to use the longest word in the English language: honorificabilitudinatatibus. In other words, there is much ado about nothing.

Don Armado finally gets around to asking Holofernes for help planning some evening entertainment for the Princess and the ladies. Holofernes immediately comes up with the idea of presenting a play about the “Nine Worthies” — ancient kings and leaders of note. They decide who will play which parts in the play within the play.

The scene ends with the line that gets the biggest laugh in the play from audiences:

Holofernes: Via, goodman Dull! Thou hast spoken no
word all this while.
Dull: Nor understood none neither, sir.
V.1.139-141

Favors and Masks
The girls get together to gossip about the gifts and letters they have received from the boys. They make fun of the poetry and the Princess tell them they are wise girls to mock their lovers.

Boyet (who has a knack for warning the Princess about whatever is coming next) arrives to tell the Princess that he was eavesdropping and overheard the boys discuss a plan to disguise themselves as Russians and come visit the ladies. They would recognize which lady to woo based on the favors (gifts of jewels) they had just sent.

The Princess immediately decides they should trick the boys by masking themselves and switching favors so that the boys woo the wrong girls. Rosaline will switch with the Princess, and Katherine will switch Maria. Madcap mayhem ensues!

The Muscovites
The men arrive dressed as Russians (Muscovites) and go after the wrong girls, based on the favors. The King goes after Rosaline (thinking she’s the Princess), Berowne after the Princess (thinking she’s Rosaline), Longaville with Katherine (thinking she’s Maria), and of course, Dumaine goes after Maria (thinking she’s Katherine).

The ladies mock the boys. The boys retreat, tails between legs. The girls giggle at the boys’ folly.

Boyet (always the harbinger) tells them that the boys will be back, unmasked. So, the ladies prepare, unmasking themselves and giving the favors back to the rightful owners.

The boys return and ask Boyet to get the girls. Berowne points out that he doesn’t trust Boyet. The girls come out and there is much teasing as it becomes clear that the girls know it was they who were dressed as Muscovites. Rosaline is pretty relentless making fun of them. The boys are humiliated and Dumaine says they should just admit to it.

The King asks the Princess to excuse them for their folly in dressing up. The Princess keeps up the teasing, telling the King he wooed Rosaline and will have to take her now. And telling Berowne all the sweet nothings she heard him say and that now she is his. Berowne blames Boyet for giving the ladies the heads up about the ruse.

The Nine Worthies
Costard arrives and asks if they can now perform the evening’s entertainment: The Nine Worthies. The King worries that the play will be so awful that it will further humiliate them in front of the ladies, however, the Princess intervenes and says she wants to see the play.

Costard comes out in costume as Pompey the Great. Then, Nathaniel does his rendition of Alexander, and is heckled by Boyet. Holofernes portrays Judas Maccabeus, and everyone heckles him. Armado is next, playing Hector, and again he is in the midst of being heckled by the lords and Boyet when Costard interrupts the play to announce that Jaquenetta is two months’ pregnant with Armado’s baby.

Armado challenges Costard, but as they prepare to fight, they are interrupted by the arrival of a messenger from the court of France who tells the Princess that her father, the King of France, is dead.

The Wrap Up with Many Loose Ends
The Princess (now Queen) wants to return to France immediately, but the King of Navarre asks her to stay. She doesn’t understand him and Berowne explains that although they did stupid things, they were serious and are in love with the ladies. The Queen tells them that the girls thought the flirting was all light-hearted pastime and not serious.

The Queen tells Navarre that although she doesn’t trust his oaths (!) that if he is serious, he should become a hermit for a year and if he still feels the same way for her, he can then come to her and she will marry him. Each of the ladies gives her guy a similar put-off for a year… the men are not pleased, but what can they say?

Berowne points out that this is too long for a play. We won’t know if any of them marry (or even see each other again).

Armado enters and says that he has vowed his love to Jaquenetta and will wait three years for her. And then he asks if they would like to hear the song prepared for the end of their play: in praise of the Owl (winter) and Cuckoo (spring). The songs include the bird calls with “cuckoo” sounding like “cuckold” and so not pleasing to married men’s ears. And the owl’s call: “Tu-whit, tu-who!” sounding an awful lot like “To Wit, To Woo” which pretty much sums up the action of this play!

The play then ends with Armado’s parting line: “You, that way: we, this way,” as everyone (including the audience) goes their separate ways.

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Carnival!

August 1, 2011 at 12:32 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

I love to get out during the summer to see outdoor Shakespeare. I’ve been wishing and wanting for months to see the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s carnival-themed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company lets kids in for free, and I thought this might be the perfect play for my boys, who are 6 and 9 and not very good at sitting still. Many of the shows begin at 8 PM, which is too late for us, but I made it out tonight for their 6 PM show, the last of the season! I am so glad.

I meant to get there early for the pre-show carnival games and fun, but we got tied up in DC beltway traffic and only made it about 15 minutes before showtime. The kids still enjoyed some games and had a quick burger before the show began. There was face painting and a sprinkler set up for the kids (I am kind of immune to the heat here, but I think the temp was in the high 90s at the show’s start… it felt pleasant to me and all the seats were in the shade). We brought a blanket and could have sat right up front, but the boys wanted to sit on folding chairs. There are no bad seats.

Molly Moores as Titania & Jose Guzman as Oberon from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

I saw Chesapeake Shakespeare do Much Ado About Nothing last year, and I described their incredible outdoor performing space at the ruins of an antebellum finishing school in Ellicott City, Maryland. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they transform the ruins into a circus, with a tightrope, some signs, and lights… the carnival theme is not taken too far.

The show begins with some magic tricks, but again it’s not taken too far. Oberon is dressed as the circus master and Titania is his assistant, but other than that, the carnival theme fades and we’re in familiar forest and fairyland.

Jamie Jager as Puck & Stacy Downs as Peaseblossom from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

I love this play, and there were no weak parts in this production. The Athenians were hilarious, and I loved watching them running all around, progressively losing their clothes and getting more worn out, leaves in their hair, etc. Funny. It was hilarious watching their fighting and insults and fun to watch Puck and Oberon sitting up in the windows of the ruins “enjoying the sport.”

Puck is great fun in this production — a big guy with cool shades. He’s very funny.

I loved Bottom in this production, as well. My boys have seen bits and pieces of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on video, and the part they know best is where Puck turns Bottom into the ass-head that the love-juiced Titania falls for. This had my 6 year old bending over laughing.

They also loved the Mechanicals — especially Flute playing Thisby. Both of my boys were laughing like crazy whenever Flute was out. They got a big kick out of the chink in the wall (fingers held out), too. The little one kept saying, “This is Ridiculous!” And indeed, it was. This version of Pyramus and Thisby was thoroughly ridiculous… as it should be!

I’m so very glad that I got out to see this production. My 9 year old pronounced this “the best day ever!” on our way home (we also had a hike in the morning and went fishing and butterfly hunting, so there was a lot for a little boy to love today). But I was glad that their first experience watching a full-length live production of Shakespeare was such a success. Bottoms up!

David R Tabish as Bottom, Robby Rose as Snout from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

If you live in the DC area, think about joining the Shakespeare Explorers Meetup Group. They get out to a lot more shows than I do. For example, they’re going to see Taffety Punk stage King John for free at the Folger Theatre tomorrow!

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