To Wit, To Woo

August 5, 2010 at 8:34 pm (Film Adaptations, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

Oh, I’m tired. I’m witless from witty banter. I just finished reading Love’s Labour’s Lost and I’ve watched the 1984 Elijah Moshinsky version for the BBC Shakespeare series. I’ve watched it twice now. As I say, I am tired and witless from all the witty banter.

I had never read this play or seen it performed, so this was all new. It’s an acquired taste. I was lost the first time I watched the BBC version. The play is all about wit and puns and there’s very little action; it is difficult to keep up with the dialogue and make sense of it on casual viewing.

Then I read the play; I watched it again. Okay. I get it now. It’s very thick satire. Extremely thick, non-stop mockery of people who have nothing better to do than to be impressed with their own wit. So I say: To Wit, To Woo. That is, I think, Shakespeare’s pun on the lyrics in the final song representing the owl’s cry, “tu-whit, tu-who!”

The whole play is about wit and wooing. Or maybe, as the introduction in my text says, “Perhaps the men have been too witty to be able to woo effectively.” The banter and wordplay is just all-around too much for me. But I’m critiquing the content of the play itself, and that’s hard not to do when it’s the basis for the film.

I read that this is Shakespeare’s most intellectual play, and so one that is less accessible to modern audiences. And in fact, it probably was not originally produced for the general public, but for a learned audience who would get the thick allusions and wordplay. It’s not easy.

That said, I think that the BBC version does a good job of making it at least a bit accessible (and I’ve read that this play can also be quite enjoyable performed live… even when much of the witty banter goes right by you). There is really not a serious moment until the very end and the film keeps moving along briskly (not belaboring the wordplay at all).

The BBC setting reminds me of a Fragonard painting… a frothy 18th century French fantasia. The actors are well-suited to their roles. I especially like David Warner’s version of the endearingly goofy Don Adriano de Armado. I also enjoy the Beatrice/Benedick-esque sparring between Rosaline (Jenny Agutter) and Berowne (Mike Gwilym). But unlike Beatrice and Benedick, these characters are never developed enough in the play to really care about them and the sparring is all just verbal play — there’s little emotion behind it.

That’s a critique of the play again, not the BBC production. I cannot say I like this play much. It’s smarmy and pedantic. I feel like a pedant just saying that. When I start getting the jokes I feel like Miss Smartypants. The whole thing is making fun of smarmy pedants, but you have to be one to get the joke. And so the joke’s on you. Sneaky guy, that Shakespeare.

I appreciate that this BBC version is a fun take on Shakespeare. I can’t say I recommend this for people who are not familiar with the play. I don’t think most people will enjoy it or get much out of it on casual viewing.

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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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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BBC = Gets the Job Done

June 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm (Film Adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

I found Stuart Burge’s 1984 version of Much Ado About Nothing (part of the BBC’s Television Shakespeare series) quite enjoyable. It’s a straightforward rendition, true to the text, and nothing odd (i.e., green fairies) or annoying (i.e., boring, beige people). There are no bicycles, no Keystone Kops, no surreal umbrellas.

This is the 35th film adaptation I’ve watched for this blog, and I’d gotten so used to gimmicks, I’d kind of forgotten that Shakespeare could be staged in a straightforward Elizabethan setting… and work! Yes, this film works for me.

The setting is not breathtaking like the luscious Tuscan villa in the Branagh version, but it’s fine. The set is a lovely castle, the costumes are lovely Elizabethan costumes, the actors are all good. Now I realize how unusual that last statement is. None of the actors stand out as incredible, I knew none of their names going into it, and I don’t recognize any of them. They’re all good! None are floundering with their lines, none seem uncomfortable in their roles… I see now that this must be very difficult to achieve with Shakespeare.

Beatrice (played by Cherie Lunghi) is quick-witted and sharp-tongued. Lunghi has Beatrice down to a T. I found myself sometimes comparing her in my mind to Emma Thompson in the role, but she doesn’t fare poorly in the comparison. I love Emma Thompson… I find her facial expressions and facility with the words really amazing. But Lunghi does a great job. Her Beatrice is a bit more uptight in prim Elizabethan outfits than Thompson’s loose-limbed ease with her open-necked bodices. But still, it works well. No complaints.

And, she’s got great chemistry with Benedick, played by Robert Lindsay (it’s funny, I see now that Lindsay also played Lysander in the BBC version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I didn’t recognize him at all). I really appreciate Benedick’s transformation in the film from scruffy, bearded soldier to clean-shaven, handsome swain.

Besides B&B, the rest of the actors do admirable jobs. In the introduction in my edition of the text, it says that the character Don John is “taciturn and opaque–and for most actors almost unplayable.” I had my strong issues with Keanu Reeves in the role in Branagh’s version. With this in my mind, I admire Vernon Dobtcheff’s take on Don John in this BBC version. He’s socially awkward and villainous… a devilish combination. I think he does a good job. I’m not terribly fond of Don Pedro in this version (played by Jon Finch), but I think he’s true to the text. The more I get to know the Don Pedro character, the less I like him.

Anyway, this version is straightforward Shakespeare. Nothing fancy, but it works. It has the drawbacks, I guess, of the Elizabethan setting and British accents (for people who find that intimidating). I like it all. Thumbs up to the BBC and thumbs up to B&B. They put on quite a smooch at the end.

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Much Ado About Nothing, Abridged

June 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm (Much Ado About Nothing, Plot Summaries, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

Here is a summary of the plot, and as always, I hope it will entice you to read the actual play. This play is very funny, but there are also some very dark themes. The witty banter between the characters, especially Benedick and Beatrice, can be a bit hard to follow, but it is nonstop and very entertaining. Dogberry and his bumbling cohorts are also very amusing. This play is quite short. I hope you will read it!

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… Much Ado About Nothing.

Overview
In short, we could call this Three Weddings and a Funeral (although neither the weddings nor the funeral actually take place during the play!). The play is set in Messina (Sicily). The plot centers on Hero and Claudio’s relationship. They plan to marry, but on the night before the wedding, the villainous Don John tricks Claudio into believing that Hero is an unworthy whore.  Claudio jilts her at the altar, causing Hero to faint, and it appears she is dead. Her family hides her, hoping Claudio will miss her and feel remorse. Eventually, thanks to the bumbling Dogberry and the watchmen, the truth comes out, and Hero is proved innocent. Claudio and Hero end up marrying.

It’s interesting because Shakespeare creates the plot around fairly minor, unengaging characters. Hero doesn’t speak much; Claudio is immature and not very likable. Even more interesting is that the plot moves along due to the actions of Don John, an incredibly leaden character who speaks almost not at all in the play!

None of this sounds very funny, does it? The play is quite light-hearted. The fun centers on the banter between the main characters, Benedick and Beatrice. These two have very little to do with the plot, but everything to do with the fun of the play. They begin as bantering adversaries. The other characters see the potential love connection and conspire to bring the two together. Their efforts are fruitful. B&B get married at the end along with Hero and Claudio!

The Soldiers Return
The play opens with a messenger arriving to tell Leonato, the governor of Messina, that Don Pedro and his soldiers are returning from battle and will arrive shortly. Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, asks the messenger if Benedick is returning with the others (he is) and she goes off on a witty tangent about him. She asks who Benedick is hanging out with these days, and the messenger tells her Claudio. This sends the sharp-tongued Beatrice into another tirade.

Don Pedro and his men arrive and Leonato greets them warmly. There is some “guy talk” — lighthearted joking about whether Leonato is Hero’s father (so his wife told him and he didn’t have any reason to doubt her since Benedick was but a child at the time, har, har). Benedick goes on a bit longer than necessary and Beatrice makes fun of him for continuing to talk when no one is listening. This gets the two of them going at each other for the first time in the play. Their witfest is pretty much non-stop whenever the two are near each other. They each profess to being happy if they never marry and neither can stand the other.

In the meantime, Don Pedro has been catching Leonato up on the latest news. Don Pedro agrees to stay in Messina for at least a month. Leonato also invites Don Pedro’s brother Don John, who has been off sulking by himself.

Love Struck
Claudio has seen Hero and has fallen in love. Benedick teases him mercilessly, but Claudio is starry-eyed. Don Pedro thinks she’s a lovely girl and a good match for Claudio.

Benedick makes it clear that he doesn’t trust women and will happily stay a bachelor forever. Don Pedro takes this as a challenge and tells Benedick he’ll see him fall in love. There is much, much, much joking (here and throughout the play) about cuckold horns (referring to women being unfaithful).

Don Pedro and Claudio continue their discussion about Hero, and Pedro offers to help Claudio win her hand. They are attending a masked dance that night, and Don Pedro will pretend to be Claudio, woo Hero, discuss marriage with her father Leonato, and do this all on Claudio’s behalf.

This conversation is overheard and discussed twice. Leonato’s brother Antonio hears it from his servant, and gets it all wrong. Antonio tells Leonato that Don Pedro is going to woo Hero and ask Leonato if he (Don Pedro) can marry her.

Then, Don John, busy telling his man Conrad about how unhappy he is, hears the real story from his man Borachio. Don John is very jealous of Claudio’s closeness with his brother Don Pedro, so hatches a plan to hurt Claudio.

The Masked Dance
Don Pedro makes a beeline for Hero and they dance. A number of other couples dance and chat. B&B spar, with the sharp-tongued Beatrice acting like she doesn’t know that she’s speaking to Benedick, so she says mean things, calling Benedick the prince’s jester and a very dull fool.

Don John tells Claudio that Don Pedro woos Hero for himself. Claudio believes him. When Benedick tells Claudio that Don Pedro was successful in wooing Hero, Claudio leaves in anger to sulk (thinking that Don Pedro wooed her for himself). Benedick tells Don Pedro and Don Pedro says he’ll make it right with Claudio.

Pedro teases Benedick about quarrelling with Beatrice. Benedick is nearly overcome just remembering the conversation with Beatrice. Then, when she approaches, he comes up with a number of hilarious errands he hopes Pedro will send him on to the far reaches of the known world, just to avoid having to hear Beatrice’s voice again. He escapes before she corners him again.

Here Beatrice mentions to Don Pedro that she had once before fallen in love with Benedick and that he deceived her and hurt her. This explains some of her bitterness toward Benedick.

Claudio arrives in a huff and Don Pedro sets him straight, explaining that he wooed Hero in Claudio’s name, as promised, and all is well. While Claudio and Hero get cozy, Don Pedro teasingly proposes to Beatrice. Beatrice turns him down lightly and leaves to run an errand for her uncle Leonato.

Don Pedro tells Leonato that Beatrice would be a fine wife for Benedick. Leonato points out, “O Lord, my lord, if they were but a week married, they would talk themselves mad.” (II.1.333-334)

Leonato asks Claudio to wait a week to marry Hero. Don Pedro hatches a plan to get B&B together while they wait for Claudio and Hero’s wedding. Claudio, Hero and Leonato agree to help.

The Plot Thickens
Borachio tells Don John that Claudio plans to marry Hero, but that Borachio knows how he can put a stop to it. He says Don John should tell Claudio that Hero is disloyal and get him worked up about it. For proof, he should bring Don Pedro and Claudio to stand outside Hero’s window. Borachio says that Hero’s maid Margaret has a thing for him, and that she will go to Hero’s window with him and he’ll call her Hero and it will fool Claudio and Don Pedro. Don John loves the plan and promises to pay Borachio well if it works.

Baiting the Hooks
Benedick is busy talking to himself about how happy he is being a bachelor and how no woman will ever catch him. He hides when he hears others approach.

Don Pedro and Claudio see Benedick hiding. They ask Balthasar to sing. He sings his song:

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.
Sing no more ditties, sing no moe,
Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leafy:
Then sigh not so, & c.
II.3.60-73

After the song, Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro proceed to bait the hook for Benedick. They know he is eavesdropping, so they go on at length about how much Beatrice loves Benedick and how she is sick with love for him, but can’t say anything and he would just make fun of her and torment her if he knew. They lay it on so thick. So thick. Here’s an example:

CLAUDIO
Then down upon her knees she falls, weeps, sobs,
beats her heart, tears her hair, prays, curses; ‘O
sweet Benedick! God give me patience!’
II.3.143-45

They are so ridiculous, and Benedick hardly believes them except that he can’t imagine Leonato would be in on a mean joke like this. So, Benedick believes that Beatrice loves him and it awakens his love for her.

So, Benedick is reeled in. Now the other hook is baited. Margaret tells Beatrice to go out in the garden because Hero and Ursula are talking about her. Beatrice runs out and hides herself so she can eavesdrop. Ursula and Hero go on and on about how much Benedick loves Beatrice but that Beatrice is too scornful and proud to even tell about it. They lay it on thick. They reel her in. She believes them, her love for Benedick awakens, she must requite it!

Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro see Benedick and joke that he must be in love (he’s shaved his beard and wearing cologne).

The Window Scene
Don John tells Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero is disloyal and that he can prove it if they meet him beneath her window that night. Claudio believes Don John and vows to disgrace Hero at the altar. Don Pedro agrees.

The window scene is pivotal to the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, and yet Shakespeare doesn’t include the scene in the play. He alludes to it, we see the fallout from it later, but it isn’t staged.

Dogberry and the Watch
Dogberry is the constable, in charge of the watchmen, Messina’s security force. He is a crazy ridiculous character. Much of the time, he says the exact opposite of what he means. A fair amount of the time, he just makes up words. He says everything very seriously, and it all seems to make sense to him! I have to admit he does not always make sense to me.

So, on his first appearance in the play, Dogberry gives the watchmen their orders for the night. And he tells them they should be quiet and fall asleep on the job. And they should mess with the Prince (Don Pedro) if they see him. That kind of thing. It’s odd! ( But funny.) The watchmen take it all in stride and seem satisfied that they know what to do!

Conrad and Borachio (from the Spanish word for “drunken”) chat about “the window scene” that was not seen on stage. That is, Borachio boasts to Conrad about being with Margaret at Hero’s window and calling her Hero while Claudio, Don Pedro and Don Juan watched from below. The watchmen overhear the conversation and arrest both Conrad and Borachio.

In the morning, Hero gets ready for her wedding, and there is much discussion between her and Margaret about the fashion of her gown.

Dogberry and his sidekick Verges try to tell Leonato that they have arrested two suspicious men who they think Leonato should see. However, they are so roundabout and annoying that Leonato loses patience and tells them to examine the suspects themselves and give him the executive summary later. He is too busy getting ready for his daughter’s wedding to be dealing with the bumbling Dogberry.

The Wedding, Interrupted
This is a truly cruel and awful scene. The wedding begins and Hero is blissfully ignorant that anything is wrong. Claudio and Don Pedro say nothing of what they’d witnessed the night before (they think they saw Hero having sex with Borachio at her window) until after Friar Francis begins the ceremony. At this point Claudio starts railing about Hero being a whore and Don Pedro backs him up.

Hero is dumbstruck. She can barely speak. She can barely defend herself. She simply says:

I talked with no man at that hour, my lord.
IV.1.85

Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John go on about what they saw, and Leonato believes them. When her father turns on her, Hero faints dead away. Claudio, Don Pedro, and Don John leave.

Friar Francis believes Hero is innocent and unjustly accused. He comes up with a plan to pretend that Hero is dead, hoping that Claudio will miss her and see how good she really is. And failing that, they can send her off secretly to a convent.

Benedick Tested
Up to this point, Benedick and Beatrice have been flirtatious and silly, but here is a turning point in their relationship. Beatrice is sick about her cousin Hero and knows she is innocent. Benedick asks what he can do to help, and Beatrice replies, shockingly, “Kill Claudio.” (IV.1.288)

At first, Benedick cannot believe she asked this of him, but they keep talking and slowly Benedick comes to understand the depth of Beatrice’s feelings about Hero’s innocence and Claudio’s treachery. She would do it herself if she were a man. Benedick finally agrees to challenge Claudio.

Dogberry is an Ass
The watchmen describe to Dogberry the conversation they overheard between Borachio and Conrad. Dogberry has the sexton write everything down so that they can show it to Leonato. As always, Dogberry is very roundabout and back asswards in his speech, and Conrad actually calls him an ass. Dogberry is utterly offended and cannot believe anyone would say such a thing.

Limbo
The next part of the play I see as a sort of limbo. Everything is in uproar. Leonato tells his brother Antonio how sad he is for his daughter Hero. Antonio is angry and lets loose a tirade on Claudio. Claudio and Don Pedro close ranks and deny slandering Hero — they are confident in the whoring they saw at the window. Claudio is very callous to the old men and acts like he doesn’t care that Hero is dead.

Benedick arrives and Claudio hopes his usual wit and humor will lighten the mood. Twit. Benedick is in an evil mood toward Claudio and threatens him. Don Pedro tries to lighten things up by teasing about Beatrice, but Benedick will have none of it. He tells Don Pedro he can no longer be friends and he will fight Claudio. He tells them they have killed an innocent lady and that Don John has fled the city. Don Pedro is very surprised that Benedick takes this all so seriously.

The Truth
Dogberry walks by with Conrad and Borachio bound. Don Pedro recognizes his brother Don John’s men and asks why they are detained. Borachio, now penitent, tells the whole story of the window scene and the deception and says that Margaret was innocent. Borachio takes full responsibility for Hero’s death. Claudio cannot believe his ears.

Leonato comes and Borachio also tells him the story and takes responsibility for Hero’s death. Leonato tells him that his guilt is shared with Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John.

Leonato tells them to hang an epitaph at Hero’s tomb, explaining her innocence. He then tells Claudio he is forgiven and that he will give his neice to Claudio in marriage the next day. Claudio can’t believe his good fortune! He agrees to the marriage, sight unseen.

Dogberry is still upset about Conrad calling him an ass, and he tells Leonato all about it, hoping this will increase his punishment. Leonato gives Dogberry some money to thank him for his good work and to get him to leave.

The Happy Ending
Margaret teases Benedick as he tries to write a love sonnet to Beatrice. He is so besotted he stumbles over the rhymes. When Beatrice arrives she asks what happened with Claudio and Benedick says he challenged him. This changes their mood to witty banter regarding what they first loved in each other.

Ursula arrives with the breaking news that all has been set straight in Messina. Hero was falsely accused, Don Pedro and Claudio were misled, everything was the evil Don John’s doing, and he has left the city.

Claudio and Don Pedro put the epitaph on Hero’s “grave.” Claudio promises to return annually in her memory.

Everyone is glad at the happy turn of events. Benedick is relieved that he does not need to fight Claudio. Leonato tells the women that he will call for them and he wants them to come masked when he calls.

Benedick asks Leonato if he can marry Beatrice. Leonato agrees. Don Pedro and Claudio show up at Leonato’s house as planned. Leonato asks Claudio if he is still willing to marry his niece and Claudio agrees. There is much needling back and forth between Claudio and Benedick.

The women come out masked. Claudio agrees to marry the niece unseen. She then unveils herself and it is Hero! She’s not dead! They are all shocked to see Hero alive. She assures Claudio she is still a virgin. Leonato explains that Hero was only “dead” while the slander against her lived.

Benedick asks which masked woman is Beatrice. She comes forward. There is a little friction between them as they argue a bit and realize that their love was based on the tricks played by the others. However, Claudio pulls out one of Benedick’s love sonnets to Beatrice and handily, Hero has one Beatrice wrote to Benedick, and they both give in and accept their love for each other.

So, Claudio is ready to marry Hero, and Benedick is ready to marry Beatrice, and Benedick calls for the weddings to be delayed so they can dance. A messenger arrives with the news that Don John has been caught and returned to Messina. Benedick is too festive and says they will deal with him tomorrow. Now, let’s have some music!

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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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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Fun in the Pun

March 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Stop it!  Stop it!
That’s enough, sir.
I can’t say such silly stuff, sir.
    Mr. Knox, Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sorry for all the Seuss references. He’s a big part of my life right now! Anyhow, as I read through all the puns in Romeo and Juliet I keep thinking of Fox in Socks and sometimes I feel like Mr. Knox. Stop it! Stop it! That’s enough, sir!

Romeo and Juliet is just filled with sexual puns. I’m sure they were obvious and right out there to the Renaissance audience. It’s all slang and double entendres and many/most go right over my head unless I stop to decipher them in the footnotes. It takes a lot of effort for me to get them, and after a while, I find them mind-numbing. I mentioned in an earlier post, I thought a new reader might want to “yada, yada” through much of Mercutio since he is so dense with puns.

I’m sure that the audience back then did not have to work to get the joke, and so the joke was funnier. That being the case, the “tragedy” of Romeo and Juliet was at many times a light-hearted comedy and witfest. I’m sure people were on the floor laughing at all the clever back and forth and anatomical references. I really think I lose out in needing to have the jokes excruciatingly explained to me, and then still not really getting them a lot of the time. It must have been really funny in an Animal House kind of way. Right?

So, let’s take it from the top, because that’s what Shakespeare did. He starts right out by laying it on thick. Act I, Scene 1, and the servants Sampson and Gregory are on a witty roll. Geez, as I look at it now, I don’t even know where to start. Whenever they use words like “stand,” “take the wall,” “thrust,” “heads,” “piece of flesh,” yada yada… sorry, I get glazed over right from the start. It’s just too much! Stop it, stop it, Mr. Fox, sir!

Seriously, I have trouble with that aspect of the play (not offended… it just bores me after a while!). “Draw thy tool,” “My naked weapon is out.” Hello? This is all in the first 32 lines of the play! I’m tired reading the footnotes already, and I haven’t even met Mercutio yet.

Alrighty then. So, I’m sure that whole thing set the tone for the rest of the play for the bawdy audience way back when. They’re into it. They’re getting it. They’re loving it. Enter Mercutio.

Here’s the (modern) meaning of the name Mercutio: “The name comes from Mercury, the Roman messenger god. It may also be related to the vocabulary word “mercurial,” originally designating someone with the characteristics of eloquence, shrewdness, swiftness, and thievishness attributed to the god Mercury, or more commonly with an unpredictable and fast-changing mood.” (Source: ParentsConnect)

As I mentioned in my last post, I find Mercutio one of the least mercurial of the characters in this play. But he sure has a swift wit and eloquence. Tybalt may be the King of Cats, but Mercutio is the King of Puns. Maybe Act II, Scene 4 shows him at his finest. Every word out of Mercutio’s mouth is perfectly-pointed. Jab! Jab! His death may come from swordplay, but wow, in life he is a master of wordplay.

It’s dizzying. Romeo is up to the task and keeps right up with Mercutio (boy, you’d have to watch yourself around these guys… I bet I set myself up there using the word “up” if they’d been around to pun off me!). They’re having a lot of fun. Romeo (playing on Mercutio’s last words) says:

Swits and spurs, swits and spurs! or I’ll cry a
match.
(II.4.68-69)

My edition’s note says that means “keep your horse (wit) running fast” or Romeo will claim victory (“cry a match”). Whew!

Benvolio always seems a bit left out of the back and forth and uncomfortable with it. He finally sees Mercutio going off too far (involving “bauble in a hole”) and says “Stop there, stop there!” (II.4.92). It makes me think of poor Mr. Knox again:

I can’t blab such blibber blubber!
My tongue isn’t made of rubber.

And just like Seuss’s fox, Mercutio is a man possessed and CANNOT BE STOPPED. He goes on punning off of poor Benvolio’s own innocent words (“whole depth of my tale”). Yee gods.

And then! And then… oh my, Juliet’s Nurse arrives on the scene! Seriously, I can hardly catch my breath from all the wordplay and dirty jokes and then she comes in and Mercutio is just merciless on her. She is dumb (like a fox?) and plays unknowingly (?) right into Mercutio’s jokes (II.4.100-142). Oh my, oh my. “Saucy merchant” and “scurvy knave,” indeed! Whew! (By the way, I find this scene in the Zeffirelli movie really funny.)

Oh. My. Oh. My. And the Nurse is no innocent herself when it comes to sexual puns. She has many bawdy lines, although the notes in my edition say these are often unintentional puns. I wonder about the Nurse. She plays an interesting stupid/savvy character. Anyhow, look at her go!

O, he is even in my mistress’ case,
Just in her case! O woeful sympathy!
Piteous predicament! Even so lies she,
Blubb’ring and weeping, weeping and blubb’ring.
Stand up, stand up! Stand, an you be a man.
For Juliet’s sake, for her sake, rise and stand!
Why should you fall into so deep an O?
(III.3.84-90)

The puns are on words like “O,” “case,” “rise and stand,” etc. Yep.

They sure are all having a lot of fun in the pun. I find them funny/tiresome. It’s just too much for me, in many ways. But again, I wonder if that’s mainly because it’s so much work for me to decipher them and I’m sure I still don’t appreciate the jokes the way they were intended back then. How do you all like the puns?

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Reading Shakespeare

February 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm (Asides, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , , )

I’m reading Shakespeare tonight! Just wanted to share some thoughts about it.

I really enjoy the language of Shakespeare. I know that it’s a barrier to a lot of people… the Elizabethan English turns them off from even making the attempt. For me, there is a real beauty to the words themselves and the rhythms and rhymes. It has been a very long time (over 20 years) since I’ve read Shakespeare, and I am enjoying it a lot.

If you have never taken the time to read Shakespeare for enjoyment (I know most people have to do it for a class somewhere along the line, but that’s different), I really recommend it. Plays are short. They’re meant to be performed in a couple hours, and although it takes me longer than that to read through one, it’s still shorter than a modern novel. So, there’s really not much time commitment involved in reading a single play.

I started with Romeo and Juliet, because it’s one of the most well-known plays. See my Reading Order for more information… the archived blog post there: “An Overview of Shakespeare’s Work and a Few Words of Advice for the New Reader” is really interesting and makes a lot of sense to me about progressing through the plays in a sensible way.

So, R&J may be a good place to start because the basic story is familiar. That said, it’s not necessarily the easiest play to read. I blame Mercutio. He is such a nut. If you knew him in real life, he’d be one of those people you shake your head at. You can just see Romeo and Benvolio grimacing at this guy’s dirty jokes. His incessant punning is a little mind-numbing, and I tire myself out reading the footnotes to figure out his silly double entendres. Really, my advice to a new reader might be to “yada, yada” through Mercutio. He’s funny and witty and all, but I think the rest of the play is much easier to read.

Anyway, as for reading Shakespeare in general… I like to read through a play once to get the lay of the land, a feel for the story line, and read through the footnotes to get the basics down. Then I read the play a second time for enjoyment… listening to the language and noticing the ins and outs of themes and characters that maybe were not evident on first reading.

I’m not saying I’ll read through all the plays twice now, but it is how I like to read Shakespeare’s work… twice in quick succession. That way, on the second read-through, I don’t need to look at the footnotes again, interrupting the rhythm and flow of the words. Because they’re plays, and relatively brief, it’s really not that big a time commitment to read them twice (and the second time goes faster since I can skip the footnotes).

Shoot, I recently read The Terror for my book club, and THAT was a time commitment! Shakespeare offers a lot of bang for your reading buck, I believe. That’s part of my love of these works. Each play is a little gem… everything—plots, themes, character development—is  accomplished succinctly (and poetically!).

So, I’m reading Romeo and Juliet tonight. And enjoying it. And as I read, I’m thinking about plans for this blog. I do not have a grand plan… I just want to read the plays and get to know them. I want to watch film adaptations as I’ve been doing the last couple weeks. And I’d like to go see some live performances when I can.

But what will I blog about as I read the plays? I think first I’ll post a quick and dirty summary of each play, so that people who are unfamiliar with the story lines can still follow my blog. Maybe my summaries will encourage people to read the actual plays? I hope so.

Then, I’ll just write about whatever strikes me in the play I’m reading. With Romeo and Juliet, I think I will probably talk about various characters, the annoying punning of Mercutio, the instant and complete switch in Romeo’s love interest from Rosaline to Juliet. We’ll see what else I feel like writing about.

I welcome any suggestions and discussion… I definitely want to immerse myself in each play. I want to take as long as I feel like with each play and return to it when I feel like. I have no goal other than to read through all the plays, share what I learn here, and talk about it with you!

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