Einstein in Fairyland and Horton Hears a Who

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

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

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

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon

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

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

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

But speak, Egeus; is not this the day
That Hermia should give answer of her choice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmm, something to ponder there! 

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

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

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

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The Course of True Love

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

The course of true love never did run smooth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O, why rebuke you him that loves you so?
Lay breath so bitter on your bitter foe.

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

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

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

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

You speak not as you think. It cannot be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Proud Titania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Abridged

April 25, 2010 at 10:23 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Plot Summaries, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

Here is a summary of the plot for anyone who would like some context. I hope it will entice you to read the play; Shakespeare’s words and imagery are beautiful. This play is also very, very funny. I think the language is straightforward (not so many puns), making it easy to read. It moves along briskly and is quite short. Give it a spin!

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… A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Taking a pointer from the mechanicals (explained in a minute), I feel the need for a prologue here so that you don’t get too lost in the convolutions of this convoluted story. The overall gist is this: 4 teenagers are bickering. The fairy king and queen are bickering. The fairies intervene magically with the teenagers with some hilarious results. The fairy king messes with the fairy queen with some hilarious results. There’s a very silly play within the play. There’s a happy ending!

Setting the Scene
A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place in ancient Athens. Theseus, the Duke of Athens, has just won a war against the Amazons and he is set to marry Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. The play opens with Theseus telling Hippolyta how excited he is about their upcoming wedding and that he plans to make it a big celebration.

They are interrupted by Egeus who comes in to ask Theseus to help settle a problem. Theseus has promised his daughter Hermia in marriage to Demetrius. However, Hermia is in love with Lysander and wants to marry him instead. There is some smart-mouthing back and forth between Lysander and Demetrius. Lysander points out that Demetrius was recently in love with Helena and Theseus admits he had heard this rumor.

Egeus claims it is his right to do with Hermia as he wants and he wants her to marry Demetrius. Theseus agrees that this is the law and he tells Hermia she must do as her father says and marry Demetrius. If she doesn’t marry Demetrius, she must either die or become a nun. He gives her 4 days (until his wedding) to make her choice.

Lysander and Hermia are left by themselves and Lysander hatches a plan to elope with Hermia to his aunt’s house outside of Athens, where Athenian law can’t follow them. Hermia agrees to meet him in the woods outside Athens so they can run away together.

Helena joins them and she’s in a very bad mood. She is lovesick for Demetrius and extremely jealous of him now loving Hermia, her lifelong friend. Hermia tells Helena of her plan to elope with Lysander. Helena decides she will tell Demetrius about this plan so that he will follow Hermia into the woods, and Helena can then follow him into the woods.

The Rude Mechanicals
A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a “play within the play” called Pyramus and Thisby (P&T). P&T is planned by a group of working men who Puck (we’ll get to him in a minute) refers to as “rude mechanicals,” meaning unsophisticated men who work with their hands. Puck also calls them “hempen homespuns,” referring to their simple clothes. In other words, these are bumpkins. Just about everything they say is ridiculous. P&T is ridiculous.

The mechanicals are: Peter Quince (a carpenter), Nick Bottom (a weaver), Francis Flute (a bellows mender), Tom Snout (a tinker), and Robin Starveling (a tailor). Bottom is the most ridiculous of these silly characters; he’s the quintessential silly ass.

These men are excited about the upcoming wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta and create a play that they hope to perform at the wedding reception. They meet quickly and Peter Quince gives out the parts. Bottom gets the lead role (Pyramus) and also wants to play most of the other parts. Quince quashes that idea and asks the men to learn their lines and meet him in the woods outside Athens so they can rehearse the play in privacy.

Fairyland is another dimension that mortals are usually unaware of. However, happenings in fairyland can affect mortals. Oberon and Titania (king and queen of the fairies) are quarrelling and their quarrels lead to all kinds of disruptions and natural disasters in the mortal world.

The cause of the current quarrel is a disagreement over a mortal boy who Titania adopted. Titania befriended his mother and when the mother died, Titania vowed to take care of the boy in memory of the mother. Oberon wants the boy to use as a servant. Titania refuses to give up the child and leaves abruptly.

Love Juice
Oberon is very angry and decides to play a trick on Titania. He knows of a flower whose juice serves as a love potion when sprinkled on the eyes (the next person/thing seen is the object of infatuation) and he tells his fairy jester Puck (also called Robin Goodfellow) to go find this flower and bring it to him so he can use it on Titania. He wants her to fall in love with something vile (he also knows the antidote herb to take away the spell, so this is meant to be temporary, just as a joke).

At this point, the fairy world collides with the mortal world. Helena has followed Demetrius into the woods (as he went looking in anger for the eloping Hermia and Lysander). Helena humiliates herself in her desperate attempt to get Demetrius to love her again. He ignores her and goes searching for Hermia. Oberon (invisible to the mortals) sees this and feeling sorry for Helena, decides to help her out by putting a little love juice on Demetrius’s eyes.

Puck comes back with the “love-in-idleness” flower and Oberon squeezes the juice on the sleeping Titania’s eyes. He tells Puck to go find Demetrius and do the same to him (Oberon tells Puck to look for the boy with Athenian clothes).

Puck’s Crucial Error
They’ve been wandering in the woods for a while, and it’s getting late so Lysander tries to cozy up to Hermia for the night. Hermia, being a good girl, fends him off and tells him to go find somewhere further off to sleep. Puck wanders up and seeing Lysander’s Athenian clothes, assumes he’s the one Oberon meant for the love juice. Puck sprinkles some on Lysander.

Helena and Demetrius are still running around in the woods. Demetrius is very rude to Helena and finally runs off and leaves her behind. Helena is still beside herself about Demetrius and jealous of his love for Hermia. And then… Helena stumbles on Lysander and can’t tell if he’s alive or dead, so she shakes him. Lysander wakes, sees Helena, and falls immediately in love with her due to the love juice that Puck mistakenly put on him.

Helena is confused by Lysander’s advances and assumes he’s pulling her leg. She leaves and he follows her. Hermia then wakes up from a bad dream to find herself alone in the woods. She goes off to find Lysander.

Picture all four kids wandering around in the woods all night. They’re tired. They’re confused. They’re running on hormones and love juice.

The Mechanicals Rehearse
The mechanicals meet in the woods to rehearse P&T and there is much silliness over the need for a prologue to explain to “the ladies” in their potential audience that there is no need to be upset because Bottom, who is playing Pyramus, is really Bottom the weaver, and he’s not really killing himself. And also that the lion is not really a lion and there’s no need to be afraid. Etc.

Puck sees this silliness playing out right under the sleeping Titania and while watching them he gets an idea. He sees Bottom acting like an ass (get it? Bottom?) and so when Bottom exits the “stage” for a moment during the rehearsal, Puck magically puts a donkey head on him. Bottom becomes a real ass and doesn’t realize it! He returns to the rehearsal on cue and scares all the other mechanicals. They run through the woods to get away from the monster.

Bottom decides they are trying to make an ass of him. He won’t fall for it, so he stays right there and sings a song. His song wakes the sleeping Titania, who immediately falls in love with the silly ass. Puck goes back to Oberon to report the success of the trick!

Sports Fans
Oberon asks Puck if he put the love juice on the Athenian and Puck reports that he did. However, Demetrius and Hermia wander by in the woods and it’s soon clear that Puck put the love juice on the wrong Athenian (Lysander). Oberon is angry and tells Puck to find Lysander. In the meantime, Oberon puts love juice on Demetrius. Then, Puck returns with Helena and Lysander. Puck asks Oberon if they can watch how things play out with the teenagers. “Lord, what fools these mortals be.” So, Oberon and Puck sit back to watch the sport (they are always invisible to the mortals).

Demetrius wakes up, sees Helena and falls in love. So now, both Lysander and Demetrius are crazy, head-over-heels, ready-to-die-for-her in love with Helena. She ain’t buying it. She thinks both boys are making fun of her. What’s worse, she believes Hermia, her friend, is in on the joke. She thinks they are all just being mean, mean, mean.

So, the girls argue because Helena can’t believe Hermia would be so mean. And Hermia has no idea what’s going on. She sees Lysander suddenly acting like he’s in love with Helena, so she assumes Helena came onto him and is a backstabber. Meanwhile the boys are arguing about which of them loves Helena better.

It’s been a long night and things degenerate quickly. They start ganging up on Hermia and making fun of her for being dark-haired and small (but shrewish!).  There’s much name-calling and general meanness. Demetrius and Lysander are ready to duel.

At this point, Oberon has seen enough. He wonders if Puck caused all this mayhem on purpose. Puck professes innocence, but admits he’s enjoying the outcome. He likes watching all the arguing and fighting. Oberon tells Puck to lead the boys around in the woods so that they get confused and don’t harm each other. Lysander and Demetrius chase Puck’s voice around in the dark and eventually they give up and fall asleep. The girls wander around in the woods and eventually fall asleep in the same general area. Puck squeezes the antidote herb on Lysander’s eyes so he’ll love Hermia again when he wakes up.

Titania and Oberon Reconcile
When we last saw proud Titania, beautiful queen of the fairies, she was enamored of an ass. She continues doting on the ass-headed and ridiculous Bottom, having her fairy servants bring him treats and scratch his back, etc. He is a silly ass throughout, making idiotic comments and acting like a clown. 

Oberon finally feels the joke has gone far enough. While under the influence of the love juice, Titania has given up the mortal boy who began their quarrel. So Oberon has what he wanted to begin with, and he feels like he’s gotten Titania back. Oberon gives the antidote to Titania. She awakens from a dream that she was enamored of an ass! He tells her to look down and see her love. The gross ass-headed Bottom makes her sick now. Oberon tells Puck to take the ass head off Bottom and that Bottom will remember the night as if it were a dream.

Morning finally comes and Theseus and Hippolyta mark the beginning of their wedding day with a hunt in the woods. Egeus is with them. They come upon the four teenagers all sleeping peacefully together. They blow the hunting horns to wake the kids up. Lysander stands up half awake and half asleep and unable to account for how they are all there together. He remembers going to the woods to elope with Hermia.

This angers Egeus that they were going against his wishes. Demetrius, also in a dreamy state, points out that it’s fine with him, because he no longer loves Hermia and doesn’t want to marry her. He loves Helena again with all his heart and wants only her.

Theseus accepts all this without blinking and tells the teenagers to follow him back to Athens and they will all get married when he marries Hippolyta later in the day. The adults ride off to Athens to prepare for the weddings.

The four teenagers are still a bit groggy and not even sure what just happened. They finally get it together and realize that Theseus told them to go to Athens to get married. They return to Athens.

Bottom wakes up from his dream and doesn’t know what to make of his memories of being doted on by the queen of the fairies and waited on by her fairy servants. He decides he will tell Peter Quince to write a song called “Bottom’s Dream” that he can perform at Theseus’s wedding. He goes back to Athens.

Pyramus and Thisby
And finally we come to the play within the play. The three Athenian couples have been married and are ready to be entertained at the party afterward. Theseus asks for a list of choices and one choice intrigues him:

A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisby; very tragical mirth.”

Tedious and brief? Tragical and merry? He needs to see this.

So, the mechanicals begin their play with the prologue to explain that what the audience is about to see is not real and no one should get upset about it and Bottom isn’t really Pyramus and Snug isn’t really a lion.

The members of the wedding party (Theseus & Hippolyta, Lysander & Hermia, Demetrius & Helena) are all in high spirits and they joke and make witty comments to each other throughout P&T. They are very amused by the whole thing.

The plot of P&T is very silly. The lovers Pyramus and Thisby are separated by a wall (played literally by Snout) and have to talk to each other through a hole in the wall (which Snout makes with his fingers). They agree to meet each other at a nearby tomb (Ninus’s tomb, which everyone mispronounces as Ninny’s tomb). The scene changes to the moonlit tomb (the moon played by Robin Starveling with a lantern). Thisby gets there first, is frightened away by a lion (played by Snug), and drops her scarf. The lion picks up the scarf and shreds it. Pyramus gets there, sees the shredded scarf, thinks Thisby has been eaten by the lion, and melodramatically stabs himself. Thisby comes back, sees the dead Pyramus, and stabs herself.

And farewell, friends.
Thus Thisby ends.
Adieu, adieu, adieu.

There is no way to get the full idea of how silly this is from reading it, so if you have a few minutes, watch this video of Pyramus and Thisby performed by The Beatles! Paul McCartney is Pyramus, John Lennon is Thisby, Ringo Starr is the lion, and George Harrison plays moonshine. Enjoy!

Fairy Time
As P&T comes mercifully to an end, Theseus sees that it is nearly midnight and almost fairy time so he wishes everyone a good night and they head off to bed. Oberon comes out and instructs the fairies to bless all the newly-married couples and bring them happiness and healthy children. Puck ends the play on the stage by himself asking the audience forgiveness if the play has offended anyone, wishing everyone a goodnight, and asking for their applause.

So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

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Loose Ends

March 14, 2010 at 4:16 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , )

I’m winding down on my thoughts about Romeo and Juliet (for now). I have a couple more film versions in my Netflix queue that I will watch soon, but I think I’ve covered what I want (for now). I think with this blog, as I read through more plays, I may feel the need to revisit plays as I see things in a new context. So, I reserve the right to return to Romeo and Juliet!

And I would love if any readers come back to Romeo and Juliet at any time! Please feel free to rifle through old posts and comment on anything at any time. I’ll be happy for the input and eager to return to this play for more discussion.

Today marks one month since I started posting about Romeo and Juliet on Valentine’s Day. I really have no plan regarding how long I will spend on each play or how many posts I’ll make about each one. It’s kind of random and I have no idea if I’ll spend a month on future plays or want to move on faster (or spend even more time on each!). Stick around with me to see!

Anyhow, as my thoughts wind down on Romeo and Juliet, there are a few things I want to put out there before I move on to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

More on Mercutio
First, I want to thank blog reader Ted. When I commented early on that I thought new readers might want to “yada yada” through Mercutio… he pointed out that he could never ignore Mercutio, who he found a fascinating character. That comment made me re-think Mercutio, and you can see I found quite a few things to post about him the last week or so.

It’s this kind of input that I am so excited to get from this blog. Because if I were just reading on my own, I might really have done more yada-yadaing than I should have. I find reading Mercutio’s parts very challenging. The puns are constant and complex, but I do think he’s a fascinating character if you let him under your skin.

One thing about Mercutio that I find really interesting… he is related to the Prince (and possibly to Paris, who is also related to the Prince). This seems so unnecessary to the plot. Why give him this connection? When I started this blog by watching the Zeffirelli version, I actually thought Mercutio was a Montague—maybe a cousin of Romeo’s; I didn’t give the relationship much thought. But as I read the text, I realized he was the Prince’s kinsman.

Another thing—Mercutio was invited to the Capulet feast! That’s so interesting to me, because doesn’t it seem like he could have easily snuck his buddies in, since he was invited? Yet they’re all worried about how to get in, and he plays right along as if he’s one of the party crashers.

Further on that note, Count Paris seems like such a “catch” for Juliet because he’s an aristocrat. Yet I wonder if Mercutio isn’t just as high in rank and stature. He certainly doesn’t give off any royal airs, does he? He’s one of the guys. Not at all the feeling I get from Paris, although we never see Paris in a casual setting with his buds.

Rosaline was a Capulet!
Rosaline was also on the invitation list to the Capulet feast! See, it’s interesting to me, because Shakespeare never needed to share with us the actual invites to the party—that’s a level of detail that would never be missed in a play. Yet, there’s a whole scene set aside for Romeo to read through the entire list! So, it seems somehow important that we learn that Mercutio is invited and also Rosaline (of course, that gives Romeo the idea to crash the party, but we didn’t need to hear the whole list for that idea to get in his head).

Rosaline is Capulet’s niece, and therefore Juliet’s cousin. I find this detail interesting, because later when Romeo realizes that Juliet is a Capulet, it takes on such weighty meaning to him.

                          Is she a Capulet?
O dear account! my life is my foe’s debt.

Why is it a big deal? He was already doting on a Capulet (Rosaline) before this and her family connections didn’t seem to concern him a bit!

The Nurse
Lastly, I want to mention a couple things about Juliet’s nurse. She is a really interesting character to me. As I’ve said in earlier posts, she is stupid/savvy. Capulet treats her with great disrespect when he is angry with Juliet.

God in heaven bless her!
You are to blame, my lord, to rate her so.

And why, my lady wisdom? hold your tongue,
Good prudence; smatter with your gossips, go.

I speak no treason.

O, God ye god-den.

May not one speak?

Peace, you mumbling fool!
Utter your gravity o’er a gossip’s bowl;
For here we need it not.

Wow, what a nice guy! He has such a bad temper and is so rude to the Nurse here. She does not back down. She talks right back! (“May not one speak?”) She holds her own with the Lord and Lady of the manor. I never note subservience in her tone around them. Interesting!

And her love for Juliet is obvious. Juliet, to her ultimate ruin, loves and trusts the Nurse with her whole heart. I mentioned in an earlier post how the Nurse’s switcharoo from singing the praises of Romeo to singing the praises of Paris causes the tragic switcharoo in Juliet that sends her to the Friar and starts in motion the events that lead to the tragic ending.

The nurse is a pivotal character. It’s interesting, because it would be easy to dismiss her as a fool, as Capulet does. You could mistake her for a somewhat small character. She is not. She is central to the plot. She enables Juliet to pursue the relationship with Romeo. She serves as messenger to set up the wedding and doorguard so they can consummate their marriage. Then her switch to Paris pushes Juliet out the door toward her death. The plot revolves around the nurse!

Parallels: Nurse and Friar
So, in addition to holding her own as a character (in every sense of the word!) and being central to the plot, I find interesting parallels between the nurse and two other characters. She serves as friend and trusted confidant to Juliet in the same way the Friar does to Romeo. Both the nurse and the Friar are enablers of the Romeo/Juliet relationship and marriage. Both should know better! These kids are dumb and acting in a hormone-induced haze—if either the Friar or the nurse had put the kibosh on it at any step of the way, things might have ended differently.

Parallels: Nurse and Mercutio
I find parallels between the nurse and Mercutio, as well. Both are windy, tending to get carried away with themselves and run on at the mouth. Both are pretty hilarious and prone to dirty jokes and puns. And each serves as a best friend. We are aware of no friend other than the nurse in Juliet’s life. She appears to exist within the walls of the Capulet house and have little human contact other than her parents and the nurse. Romeo is out and about in the world and has friends, and Mercutio stands out as his closest friend, willing in the end to fight for and die for that friendship.

And that concludes my thoughts (for now) on reading Romeo and Juliet! Let me know what you think, and stay tuned for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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Mercutio, the Messenger

March 11, 2010 at 7:17 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , , , , , )

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

I’m fascinated by this, because I keep looking for how Shakespeare wove the name’s meaning into the character. In my edition’s notes, I believe it said there was a character named Mercutio in the sources used by Shakespeare, but that the character was not fully developed. Shakespeare just ran with the name. And I note the modern meaning, because Shakespeare didn’t have access to the Internet to look up name meanings, so who knows what he was really assuming.

But so far, we’re doing pretty well: Mercutio was eloquent, shrewd, and had a swift wit. I don’t see theivishness. I’ve stated that he seems less mercurial to me than many of the characters with their quick switcharoos. That’s not to say that Mercutio doesn’t have a changeable quality to him. He’s certainly unpredictable! He’s a nut! You never know what will come out of his mouth next. It’s just not the flip-of-a-switch kind of changes that I see in other characters.

Notably, in his final scene, I can see his temperature rise as he talks to Tybalt. I don’t know if mercury was used in Renaissance thermometers, but I can see him about to blow a gasket with Tybalt as things heat up that hot summer day. He has a temper.

For me, the biggest change in Mercutio is the most mysterious. When we meet him, he spouts the long Queen Mab speech. I have been reading this speech for over a week now, and I still don’t get it. I just finished watching it performed in the BBC video; I still don’t get it. It is so completely different from every other word out of Mercutio’s mouth. For one, there is not any sexual punning. There’s really not that much wordplay at all here… not compared to the later Mercutio.

ROMEO I dream’d a dream to-night.

MERCUTIO And so did I.

ROMEO Well, what was yours?

MERCUTIO That dreamers often lie.

ROMEO In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.

MERCUTIO O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
 She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
 In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
 On the fore-finger of an alderman,
 Drawn with a team of little atomies
 Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
 Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders’ legs,
 The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
 The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
 The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
 Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
 Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
 Not so big as a round little worm
 Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
 Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
 Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
 Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
 And in this state she gallops night by night
 Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
 O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
 O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
 O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
 Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
 Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
 Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
 And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
 And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
 Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
 Then dreams, he of another benefice:
 Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
 And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
 Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
 Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
 Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
 And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
 And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
 That plats the manes of horses in the night,
 And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
 Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
 This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
 That presses them and learns them first to bear,
 Making them women of good carriage:
 This is she–

ROMEO                   Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
 Thou talk’st of nothing.

MERCUTIO True, I talk of dreams,
 Which are the children of an idle brain,
 Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
 Which is as thin of substance as the air
 And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes
 Even now the frozen bosom of the north,
 And, being anger’d, puffs away from thence,
 Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.

It’s baffling to me. It’s so unlike the Mercutio I come to know later in the play. So, that signals to me a purpose to the speech. What is it?

I won’t make a habit of reading analyses of Shakespeare’s works, but this one had me so completely confused that I Googled it. I was getting nowhere figuring it out on my own, so I looked at SparkNotes. I still don’t feel like I get it!

But I feel like there must be a message in these words—a message for Romeo. And Mercury is the messenger, befitting his name. But, what’s the message? I guess I can see what the SparkNotes essay says at the end… that Mercutio is cynical/pragmatic and bursting the dreamy romantic bubble that Romeo lives in.

But… I’m just not satisfied! Does anyone have a better explanation for me? I feel like the Queen Mab speech must be very important, and it bothers me that I don’t get it!

The other reason I feel like there’s a message to Romeo here is the way that Mercutio interrupts him when Romeo mentions having a bad dream. There is so much foreshadowing throughout the play; a big dark cloud hung over all of Verona that week. But here, Mercutio filibusters Romeo out of really talking about his bad dream. Why? Someone, please shed light!

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Fun in the Pun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swits and spurs, swits and spurs! or I’ll cry a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 4, 2010 at 11:43 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , )

mercurial \(ˌ)mər-ˈkyu̇r-ē-əl\
Date: 14th century
1 : of, relating to, or born under the planet Mercury
2 : having qualities of eloquence, ingenuity, or thievishness attributed to the god Mercury or to the influence of the planet Mercury
3 : characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness of mood <a mercurial temper>
4 : of, relating to, containing, or caused by mercury
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (my emphasis added)

Here’s what I’m really fascinated by as I read Romeo and Juliet: the quick switcharoo. The plot moves forward due to sudden, capricious changes. Let’s talk about some of them.

One minute it’s Rosaline. SHING! Next it’s Juliet. The chorus catches the quick switch:

Now old desire doth in his deathbed lie,
   And young affection gapes to be his heir;
That fair for which love groaned for and would die,
   With tender Juliet matched, is now not fair.

It’s a bit mind-boggling. Friar Laurence can’t believe his ears the next morning. He cracks me up. He’s pretty hard on Romeo about it (II.3.65-88). At least he explains here that Rosaline didn’t return Romeo’s affection because she was smart enough to see through him.

                                      O, she knew well
Thy love did read by rote, that could not spell.

The note in my edition says this means “like a child, who cannot read, pretending to read by learning by heart.” This is how Laurence says Rosaline saw Romeo’s tru luv! Oh well, we’ll never know if he was more sincere about Juliet or if Juliet was just not as savvy as Rosaline.

Friar Laurence
Oh dear. Now we see the good Friar do the quick switcharoo right before our eyes. One second he is chiding Romeo for this foolishness. SHING! The next he’s offering to marry Romeo and Juliet. Remember, this is probably less than 12 hours after R&J met at the feast. He’s offering the equivalent of the Las Vegas chapel for these two lovebirds. At least he has an ulterior motive:

For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households’ rancor to pure love.

So, Friar Laurence thinks maybe if he marries these two youngins it will end the feud between the families. This is the reason for his quick switcharoo, but it’s still a bit crazy. He’s been Romeo’s mentor, chiding him often for his immature doting on Rosaline, yet he quickly decides the end justifies the means here if the marriage brings peace.

As I mentioned in a comment to an earlier post (by the way, I’m looking forward to many more conversations like this comment… they really get me thinking in different directions, and this is what I hope for with this blog!), I’m intrigued by the sudden change in Juliet’s father.

When he first meets with Paris, he is in no hurry to marry Juliet off. She’s too young (not yet 14!). He doesn’t know if she wants to be married yet. He doesn’t know how she likes Paris. He tells Paris to woo her and to wait a few years. He says his own opinion is only part of the deal—Juliet needs to want the marriage.

SHING! Fast forward (a day?) to their next meeting, and Capulet is handing his dear daughter off to Paris with no delay! Take her tomorrow! No, maybe that’s too soon, make it Thursday!

More than that, the sudden change of mind occurs literally on stage. We witness it. Act III, Scene 4 opens with Capulet telling Paris he’s had no time to talk to Juliet about marriage and has no idea how she feels, and what’s more he’s tired and would have gone to bed an hour before if Paris hadn’t been there (how rude!). He and Lady Capulet are literally shuffling Paris out the door.

SHING! And then Capulet calls him back:

Sir Paris, I will make a desperate tender
Of my child’s love. I think she will be ruled
In all respects by me; nay more, I doubt it not.

Really? Cuz Juliet has never given any inkling that this would be the case. This switch confuses me more than the first two I mentioned. After all, Romeo is Romeo, and Rosaline wasn’t answering. So… on to #2! And Friar Laurence thinks he sees a way to end the strife in Verona.

But what’s in it for Capulet making this switch? Can anyone help me understand? I don’t get it.

I’ll put out my little theory I’ve been hatching. Let me know what you think. Capulet seems to really be sure of himself. He seems genuinely amazed at Juliet not going along with his plan to marry her off to Paris in a couple days. He’s incredibly angry and shows a very ugly side, telling Juliet she’s a spoiled brat and will basically be disowned if she doesn’t do as she’s told and marry Paris (III.5.142-197).

In the comment I linked to above, I noted this feeling I have that Capulet is a man who cares very much about outward appearances. I see this in his worrying over the preparations for the feast and wedding and in how he threatens Tybalt at the feast when Tybalt wants to fight Romeo for crashing it (I.5.77-89). Capulet seems very, very concerned with being a good host and leaving a good impression.

And I wonder if this somehow leads him to the quick switch with Paris. Because uncharacteristically, Capulet is actually being short and a bit rude with Paris at this meeting. When does a host tell a guest that he’d have been in bed an hour before if not for the meeting!

It’s like SHING! Capulet realizes he’s been rude to an important person and that he has to make up for it right then and there. In a Big Way. Paris is a count and a relative of the Prince, and really Capulet has been a bit cavalier with him to that point. He convinces himself that Juliet will be proud of the match! He’s doing her a favor!

Anyone agree with my ideas here?

Juliet has two sudden switcharoos that I can think of. One is on the balcony. It’s hormones. She goes from ‘this is crazy and we should take it slower’ to SHING! I’ll marry you tomorrow and follow you all the days of my life. Here she’s saying let’s take it a little slower.

                                    Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.” Sweet, good night!
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flow’r when next we meet.

So, within a couple dozen lines, her love goes from a “bud” to SHING! call me in the morning and tell me where to go to get married!

And all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay
And follow thee my lord throughout the world.

Wowza! Romeo never had luck like that with Rosaline! He must be shocked!

Thanks to blog reader Jamie who commented below about the Nurse’s huge switcharoo. It’s true, and I didn’t give her switch the full credit it deserves, so I’m fixing it now and giving her her own section here. The Nurse’s switch is really pivotal to the plot.

Juliet’s nurse is Romeo’s biggest cheerleader and the prime enabler of Juliet’s relationship with him. Then SHING! she switches on a dime and tells Juliet she’ll be better off with Paris. She’s being pragmatic. Romeo is banished and as good as dead to Juliet. Capulet has threatened to disown Juliet if she doesn’t marry the county. Paris is a good catch! See Jamie’s comment below for more detail on this huge switcharoo.

Juliet, Part II
Juliet’s second switcharoo is sad. It stems from the deep betrayal she feels when the Nurse switches from Romeo’s cheerleader to being all about Paris. Juliet does not take this switcharoo well. She feels it is the ultimate betrayal. She trusted her nurse with all her heart, and when she sees how it is, her switcharoo is signaled with a single word. “Amen!” (III.5.230).

She’s acting like she’s agreeing with the nurse, and will marry Paris, when really she’s made up her mind to go to Friar Laurence’s cell to find a (maybe the ultimate) way out. (In the discussion in the comments linked above, blog reader Ted notes this is a climax in the play, as opposed to the more obvious climax when Romeo kills Tybalt. It’s this moment that leads directly to the tragic ending.)

Well, I would love to hear your comments about any or all of these ideas. I find it interesting that Mercutio is one of the least mercurial of the characters in the play. I have a feeling his name is more about meaning #2 in the definition: eloquence and ingenuity. I plan to blog about Mercutio soon.

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

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Romeo and Juliet, Abridged

March 3, 2010 at 11:22 pm (Plot Summaries, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , )

Since I hope I’m reaching new readers as well as people familiar with Shakespeare, I plan to post a summary of each play as I read it. This will give people some context if they want to follow along, and I hope will entice them to read the play themselves. It also helps me think about the play. And 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… Romeo and Juliet!

Setting the Scene
The Capulet family hates the Montague family, and vice versa. The antagonism goes way back and has resulted in a number of street fights. So Romeo and Juliet begins–on the streets of fair Verona, the Capulet servants pick a fight with Montague servants (biting their thumbs at each other, which apparently is like flipping someone the bird and very offensive). Sword fights ensue and the Prince arrives to break it up and send everyone on their way with a stern warning.

Romeo (a Montague) misses the action because he’s off pining for Rosaline, who won’t give him the time of day. Romeo’s cousin Benvolio chit chats with him a bit and they’re joined by their friend Mercutio, who is a bit of a smart mouth… very funny and witty and always needling people or telling a joke.

While they’re chatting, a servant from the Capulet’s comes up and asks if they can read, because he has a guest list for a big party at the Capulet’s and he’s supposed to deliver the invitations, but he can’t read. Romeo reads through the list and sees Rosaline is invited. The boys all decide they will need to crash this party. The servant, not knowing they’re Montagues, tells them they’re welcome, the more the merrier.

Meanwhile, at the Capulet’s house, Paris stops by to ask for Juliet’s hand in marriage. She’s not yet 14, and her father isn’t eager to marry her off yet. He tells Paris to come to the party and woo Juliet or see if he likes someone else better.

The Capulet Feast
Romeo and the boys get to the party and immediately Romeo is star struck by the beautiful Juliet. They play footsie (actually handsie) and share a couple kisses during the party. Rosaline is forgotten.

Juliet’s cousin Tybalt recognizes Romeo and is really pissed off that he had the gall to crash the party. Capulet warns Tybalt not to raise a fuss and ruin the party and to just ignore Romeo and leave him be, because he’s a nice boy and not causing any trouble (no one saw Romeo and Juliet kissing!). Tybalt simmers.

As the party ends, Romeo learns that Juliet is Capulet’s only daughter, and Juliet learns that Romeo is Montague’s only son. Oh no! Bad news for the young lovers. They each just fell in love with the one person on Earth who they shouldn’t love.

The Balcony Scene
The party is over and Romeo gives his buddies the slip so that he can go stare at Juliet’s house and pine for her. And amazingly, Juliet appears at the window and she’s talking to herself. He gets closer so he can hear her, and she says his name! This is the famous “Wherefore art thou Romeo” speech—wherefore means “why” and she means “Why are you Romeo?” or really “Why on Earth did I fall in love with a Montague… the only person I really shouldn’t fall in love with?”

Romeo calls out to her and they have an intimate conversation on the balcony, with both ultimately professing their love. Things move quickly and Juliet asks Romeo to send a message to her the next day with the time and place where they can be married.

Romeo sets up the quickie wedding with Friar Laurence the next morning. Friar Laurence is baffled about how Romeo could go from pining away for Rosaline yesterday to marrying Juliet today. But, he agrees to marry them because he thinks it might help settle the feud between the families.

Juliet’s nurse shows up in town to get the wedding time and place from Romeo. Mercutio is very crudely rude to her. Romeo tells the Nurse that Juliet should go to Friar Laurence’s cell and he will marry them.

Juliet goes there, and they marry. Juliet goes home while Romeo goes back to town.

Mayhem on the Streets of Verona
Meanwhile, in town, it’s a steamy day, and Mercutio is hot and bothered. Tybalt comes out and has a bone to pick with him since he saw Mercutio at the Capulet party with Romeo. There is much witty back and forth, and then the swords are drawn and they start fighting. Romeo tries to break up the fight. While Romeo is between them, Tybalt stabs Mercutio by mistake. Tybalt runs off. Mercutio dies, much to the astonishment of everyone there, who thought he was just telling more of his jokes when he said things like “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.”

Romeo is crazy upset and goes to find Tybalt, gets in a fight with him, and kills Tybalt. He wakes up from his craziness and can’t believe he just killed his love’s cousin. He’s beside himself.

The Prince shows up again, angrier than ever, and banishes Romeo from Verona. He says if Romeo ever shows up in town again, he’ll be put to death.

One Blissful Night
Juliet gets the news that Romeo killed her cousin just hours after their marriage, and she can’t believe it. She is so hurt and upset that Romeo is banished and that she’ll never see her husband. Her Nurse tells her not to be so upset because she knows where Romeo is hiding (at Friar Laurence’s cell) and she’ll go get him and bring him to her.

The Nurse does this, and Romeo and Juliet get their one night of wedded bliss. Then the morning is there before they know it and Romeo is off to his exile in Mantua. They hope to be reunited some day, but have no idea how it can happen.

The Plot Thickens
Meanwhile, Juliet’s father, thinking she is so upset because of Tybalt’s death, decides the best thing to do to cheer her up would be to marry her off to Paris ASAP. So he sets that all up and has Lady Capulet give Juliet the news. Both parents are really angry when Juliet doesn’t go along with the program. Capulet basically tells her she’s a spoiled brat and that he’ll disown her if she doesn’t marry Paris.

Juliet cries to her Nurse and asks what can be done, and to her surprise, the Nurse tells her to just go ahead and marry Paris since he’s such a fine man, and Romeo’s gone, gone, gone. Juliet cannot believe her trusted Nurse could say this. She runs off to the friar to get his advice.

Juliet runs into Paris at Friar Laurence’s cell. He’s all kissy-happy about the upcoming wedding and thinks it’s great that Juliet is there for confession. What a good future wife.

Sleeping Potion
When Paris leaves, Juliet asks Friar Laurence to help her die to avoid marrying Paris. The friar has a sudden idea: he gives Juliet a sleeping potion made from herbs. The potion will make her seem dead for 42 hours–enough time to avoid the marriage to Paris. In the meantime, the friar tells her he will send a message to Romeo in Mantua, letting him know what’s going on and to meet at the Capulet family grave (a building or vault) in time to be with Juliet when she wakes up. Then he’ll help them escape together and live happily ever after. Juliet loves the plan and takes the potion with her back to her home.

She tells her dad that she’s all set for the wedding to Paris. Capulet is so happy that he moves the wedding up to the very next morning and starts making plans for the wedding party. Juliet goes to bed and takes the sleeping potion.

The nurse finds her “dead” the next morning and they have a funeral and lay her near Tybalt in the family vault.

Romeo’s servant Balthasar sees the “dead” Juliet and rides off to Mantua to tell Romeo the sad news. Romeo can’t believe it. He goes to see a pharmacist and asks for strong poison, and then he rides off to Verona to see Juliet in the vault and poison himself.

Meanwhile, Friar John stops by and tells Friar Laurence that he never delivered the message to Romeo. He was around someone that might have had the plague and was quarantined and not allowed to leave Verona, so the message never went to Mantua. Friar Laurence realizes this means Romeo knows nothing about the sleeping potion and the escape plan. He is very worried and runs off to the Capulet vault.

Death at the Capulet Vault
When Romeo gets to the Capulet vault, he finds Paris there strewing flowers around and feeling sad about his lost love. Paris believes Juliet died from sadness over Tybalt’s death. Paris sees Romeo at the vault and recognizes him as Tybalt’s murderer. He’s angry and draws his sword. Romeo fights in self defense and kills Paris. Romeo runs into the vault, sees Juliet’s body, takes his poison and dies while kissing her one last time.

Friar Laurence gets to the vault, finds Paris’s body, then goes in and sees Romeo’s body and Juliet starting to wake up. He tells Juliet to come with him quickly because the night watch (like police) are coming and they can’t be found there. He runs away, but Juliet won’t leave. She sees that Romeo left no poison for her to take. She hears the watch coming, so she wastes no time, takes Romeo’s dagger and stabs herself. She dies.

The watch gets there and finds the bodies of Paris, Romeo, and the bleeding, newly-dead body of Juliet, who had been in the tomb for two days. In this confusion, they start looking around for suspects to question. They find the friar and he explains all. Balthasar corroborates and has a suicide note Romeo left for his father, which further explains the situation with the secret marriage of Romeo and Juliet.

The Prince is very angry and sad that the hatred between the Capulets and Montagues has led two young lovers to such extremes and has left so much death in its wake. Capulet and Montague agree to end their feud. Montague promises to raise a golden statue of Juliet in Verona. Not to be outdone, Capulet says he will have a statue of Romeo made to set beside her. The prince tells them to go discuss the details. And that ends the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet.

Of course, Shakespeare had a nicer way of putting it (everything), so I’ll end it with his own words:

For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

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

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