Shakespeare, With Balls

August 25, 2011 at 10:33 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations) (, , , , , , , , )

Bowling balls, that is. Oh. My. God. Let me explain.

What if… William Shakespeare wrote The Big Lebowski?

Why would anyone ask themselves this question? No one is sure, including writer Adam Bertocci who wrote The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski in an inspired frenzy in late 2009 and saw it play on stage in New York City the following spring.

In his afterword, Bertocci points out that Elizabethans were constantly reworking earlier stories and that most of Shakespeare’s plays can be linked to obvious sources. He says, “This is my contention: If The Big Lebowski had premiered in 1598, Shakespeare would have ripped it off by 1603.”

I just finished reading it, and wowzas, it’s a bit funny. It’s an adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski. If you don’t remember the story line, take a gander at the Wikipedia article. It’s an odd movie… the unemployed, laid-back, pot-smoking Dude (Jeff Bridges) and his Vietnam vet bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman) are embroiled in goofy hijinks involving a rug, mistaken identity, a pseudo-kidnapping, missing ransom money, spiked White Russians, misplaced toes, ears, urine, and ashes, and well, throw in a bunch of F-bombs, and I think I’ve set the stage. Remember, it’s the Coen Brothers.

So, Bertocci took this and said “let’s make it Shakespearean.” He rewrote the entire story in Shakespeare-like heightened language, even throwing in Shakespearean references (he claims there are references to all the plays, sonnets, and other works and I believe him!). Bertocci follows the film’s plot closely and even works in the lyrics to some of the songs used in the film.

It somehow works. I can’t really convey how funny it is. It had me laughing out loud several times, and smiling with amusement most of the rest (it’s a really quick read if you are familiar with the movie… I just watched it on Netflix last week, so the story was fresh in my mind).

It is almost too difficult to pick out a few examples, as the whole thing is so hilarious and I feel like the examples will sound dumb out of context. Well, here is one. You may recall my love for Balthasar’s song in Much Ado About Nothing. I started many of my posts with it and used it as my theme.

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

Bonnie asking the Knave to blow on her toes, from the DMTheatrics' production of The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, photo by Steph Cathro

Okay, so Bertocci’s reference to it in Two Gentlemen of Lebowski is sung by Bonnie (Bunny in the film), the slutty porn star wife of the Big Lebowski as she asks the Knave (the Dude) to blow on her green toenail polish:

With toe-nails of verdant and forester’s green
With a hey-nonny-no and a hey-nonny-nonny
Blow thrice on my toe-nails and I’ll be thy queen
And ever preserve me as thine, blithe and Bonnie.

Bertocci also includes textual notes that are… ahem…worth reading. So on the same page as the reframed Balthasar’s song, I’ll take note of an example. Bonnie says to the Knave:

I ask this deed of you thrice now; and that which a damsel craves
constantly is the service of a tongue most moved in capability.
Look to my foot; I cannot reach that far. Blow, wind!

The accompanying note reads:

tongue most moved: i.e., capable of dexterous speech and cunning linguistics

Alrighty then. Another note later in the play:

lance: euphemism for penis; see also most nouns in Shakespeare

So it goes on in that vein, page after hilarious page. Okay, I can’t let go of the toe thing. You may recall in the movie that a severed toe is delivered to the Dude and it appears to be Bunny’s (with green polish). Walter denies that it’s Bunny’s toe. So, here is Walter’s reply in the TGOL version:

O toe!
Thou wouldst have a toe? A toe can be obtain’d.
Ways are known, Knave. Thou wilt not like to hear.
I’ll have a toe for thee this afternoon
Ere singeth cockerel at three o’clock.
These amateurs would have us soil’d with fear.

I really wish I could see a video of it in performance, but alas, the Coen Brothers have apparently put the kibosh on future productions. There are two short videos that are worth watching on the DMTheatrics’ American Shakespeare Factory archives. I can imagine with music and dancing, it would be a really fun show to see.

The Knave abideth.

The Knave bowling in his dreams, from DMTheatrics' production of The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, photo by Wojciech Wilczak

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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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Fairy Funny

July 4, 2010 at 12:39 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, My College Papers, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

A couple weeks ago, my drive down into the mountains of Virginia got me thinking about college. I went to school a few hours deeper into those beautiful hills, at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Anyway, then I realized I forgot to post about my college papers. Yep, I wrote one on A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in November 1986. Yawn. Why did I keep these papers? Why would I ever want to read them again? It’s a mystery. Anyhow, this one is entitled: “The Fairies’ Contribution to the Humor in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Yawn.

How do professors psyche themselves into reading this stuff over and over, year after year? How? It’s a mystery. Yawn. This paper is bleeding with red ink, but the guy should have been an MD… his handwriting is so bad I can’t make out what most of his notes say. I see “develop” and “expand” in a couple places; not sure what good comments like that do on a paper that would never be further discussed or revised. Anyway.

Actually, I kind of enjoyed reading the paper because it made me think about the difference between what I’m doing with this blog and what I did in school. In school, I’m sure I just did the minimum required. This paper is only 4.5 pages long, which was probably the minimum requirement (I bet there was a required word count and since this was typed on a typewriter… I bet I actually counted the words).

Also, I wonder about the whole concept of undergrad theme papers. Is it a useful way of teaching? Again, because I never went back and revisited the themes/rewrote the paper/had any useful conversation or input about it, I’m not sure what I got out of it. I guess just the exercise of coming up with something to put on paper is useful in itself. I guess.

On the other hand, I’m having a lot of fun with this blog and think I’m learning a lot. I can write about anything I want and not worry that every statement is backed up with “impressive” evidence that will get me a grade. And also, here I find I have more questions than answers. I’m just putting my thoughts out there and not always drawing conclusions. (I’d love to get more comments about my posts… that would be fun!)

Also, I like writing on the blog because it’s my party and I can do what I want. I can say things I’d never put in a school paper. I don’t have to mind my p’s and q’s so much… I can use slang and sentence frags when I feel more conversational and casual — sometimes it’s less cumbersome to get my meaning across without worrying about the presence and placement of all the parts of speech. I can neglect to ital titles, because I feel like it. I can do what I feel like because no one is grading me! This is more fun. I can spend as much time as I feel like on each play… no deadlines! And maybe (especially if you comment!) I get more out of it than I did from my college papers.

Alrighty. Let’s see. Is there anything insightful in this paper? I talk a bit about the popularity of nonhuman beings in folklore. How people enjoy fairy tales about sprites possessing both human foibles and magical powers. And how this combination of traits is especially amusing because it allows for more imaginative stories — not limited to the predictability of the human world.

For all their humanlike feelings, the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream have resources for dealing with them that set them firmly apart from mortals. This endears them further to the audience, because the fairies deal with problems we can relate to, but they deal in ways that humans can only fantasize about. Yet for all their powers, they mess things up pretty well. There’s a lot of humor in that.

I compare and contrast the whimsical magic of the fairyworld to the slapstick shenanigans of the mechanicals. I also contrast the mystical, mischievous fairyworld here to the scary underworld of evil spirits, witches and scary magic in folklore. We have love juice here, not death spells. We have the mischievous, but not malicious, Puck.

I go into some detail about Puck — how this character was well-known to Shakespeare’s audience. Puck was the Elizabethan euphemism for today’s gremlins — the causers of all those little, inexplicable things that occur when no one is looking. Shakespeare recounts Puck’s exploits so that the audience is reminded of who he is. He’s a very funny character to include in the play because of his universality: everyone can relate to him because everyone has had a brush with Puck (I used the word “universalism” here, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t talking about religion!).

I talk a bit about the poetic language of the fairies. How their pretty, ethereal language creates their mystique. And I compare it to the heavy-handedness of the mechanicals’ language. Let’s see, I go into the humor of Oberon’s prank, and the farce of Titania’s doting on Bottom. And then I talk about the humor stemming from dramatic irony… because the audience sees the fairies, but the Athenians don’t. We know all the silliness among the lovers stems from the love juice, but they are unconscious of the cause.

I wind it up by giving the fairies credit for putting things to right, one hilarious step at a time, for leaving everyone feeling like it was all a strange dream, and for making this one of Shakespeare’s most entertaining plays. B+

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Hey Nonny, Nonny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And Be You Blithe and Bonny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEATRICE
I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior
Benedick: nobody marks you.

BENEDICK
What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?

BEATRICE
Is it possible disdain should die while she hath
such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?
Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come
in her presence.

BENEDICK
Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I
am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I
would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard
heart; for, truly, I love none.

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

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

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

BENEDICK
Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DON PEDRO
Look, here she comes.

Enter CLAUDIO, BEATRICE, HERO, and LEONATO

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

DON PEDRO
None, but to desire your good company.

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

Exit
II.1. 224-260

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

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Men Were Deceivers Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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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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