Thursday, March 31, 2011

Angoor - The Comedy of Errors, Bollywood Style

This is William Shakespeare. He was a famous playwright of the 16th century. And is still considered to be the greatest. This story is based on his novel, which he called "Comedy of Errors." Several writers have penned stories revolving around twins, but Shakespeare is the only one to write a story based on 4 twins.
(Subtitles translated from Hindi)

So begins the 1982 Bollywood film "Angoor," which takes Shakespeare's basic story of two sets of twins separated in infancy and re-sets it in contemporary India.

Like the original source play, "Angoor" is highly comedic, with many...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Richard III - Movies

Catching up from our play from a few weeks ago, it's time for a run-down of Richard III movies! Richard seems to be a fairly popular subject for the screen, so I'll be breaking my reviews up into a few different categories, starting with fairly standard adaptations of the play. I'll begin with my favorite:

1. The Tragedy of Richard III (BBC, The Complete Shakespeare, 1983)

This is just the best Richard. The story is told clearly...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Comedy of Errors - Water

Adriana. Ah, do not tear away thyself from me!
For know, my love, as easy mayest thou fall
A drop of water in the breaking gulf,
And take unmingled that same drop again,
Without addition or diminishing,
As take from me thyself and not me too.


Water and the sea play a very important role in The Comedy of Errors. The sea drives the twins apart; Antipholus of Syracuse plots his escape from Ephesus by means of a ship; much of the anxiety about money in the play relates to a need to pay a merchant who wants sail away on the soonest tide. However, water also is used as a metaphor for relationships between people. Adriana likens marriage and the relationship between husband and wife to the inability to separate drops of water; Antipholus of Syracuse speaks of his status as a twin in the same terms: I to the world am like a drop of water/That in the ocean seeks another drop.... These speeches are some of the most beautiful in this rather straightforward play, and help us understand why we feel so happy with the reconciliations that end the story: there are some people, some relationships, that should not be separated. When the family comes back together, it heals a hurt that was as unnatural as two drops of water being torn apart.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Comedy of Errors - Money

Antipholus of Syracuse. Upon my life, by some device or other
The villain is o'er-raught of all my money.
They say this town is full of cozenage,
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like liberties of sin:
If it prove so, I will be gone the sooner.
I'll to the Centaur, to go seek this slave:
I greatly fear my money is not safe.

One interesting theme in this play is the constant thread that runs through it of concern about MONEY. The play opens with Aegeon being able to purchase his life only if he is able to raise the money; the Dromios run here and there delivering vast sums of money to the wrong master; Angelo the goldsmith needs to be paid; Antipholus of Ephesus needs money to bail himself out of jail. And as is seen in the opening quotation, Antipholus of Syracuse's priorities seem kind of bonkers: he's just expressed that he's concerned about sorcery that can maim the body and soul - but then runs off to safeguard his money. Hmmm.

Of course, all this talk about money makes for some quotable quotes -

 Tis dinner-time,' quoth I; 'My gold!' quoth he;
'Your meat doth burn,' quoth I; 'My gold!' quoth he:
'Will you come home?' quoth I; 'My gold!' quoth he.

but in a larger sense, the concern about money trivializes things - the tension is lessened, as we know that the Antipholi twins have the money, it's just not always at the right place at the right time.

 I was thinking over the plays we've read this year, and I can't think of any of the other plays so far that put such an emphasis on money. Taming of the Shrew, of course, deals with rich dowries, but the history plays, for example, seem to deal more with life and death than dollars and cents. Of course, at a certain point in The Comedy of Errors, we're getting close to the two questions being one and the same, with Aegeon depending on money for his life and Antipholus of Ephesus being taken as mad for missing his money. However, though in this play it's money, not just moral choices, that allows mercy to be shown (Adriana: ...I sent you money to redeem you...[4.4.1334]), the whole tone of the story is so light that we never remain in suspense as to whether the money or the mercy will come through. This is very different than Shakespeare's other, later "money" play, The Merchant of Venice, where once again money - and mercy - are inseparably intertwined.

The Comedy of Errors - Story Time

Solinus. Well, Syracusian, say in brief the cause
Why thou departed'st from thy native home
And for what cause thou camest to Ephesus.


The Comedy of Errors begins in an interesting way. Rather than dropping the audience right into the thick of the action, as it seems that Shakepeare usually does, instead Shakespeare gives us a little story time: Aegeon, who has been arrested for being an enemy alien in the wrong part of the Greek world, tells the whole story of his life. This, of course, violates the first rule of writing that my little sister mentioned to me the other day -  "show, don't tell," quoth the experts. However, Aegeon's tale would be kind of hard to stage - he travels, his wife gives birth to twins, they are SHIPWRECKED (exciting, exciting), and the twins and the husband and wife are SEPARATED never to meet again!!

This story lets us know a few different things about the play.
1. say in brief = a very long story
2. There are twins - they will inevitably meet. Don't put a gun on stage unless it will be shot.
3. One of the sons is looking for the other. This reveals to us the fact, after we meet him, that Antipholus of Syracuse is a little bit of a well-meaning idiot. He tells us he's looking for his twin -

I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself:
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.


 - but when he's addressed and recognized by people he doesn't know, he fails to put two and two together. Too bad he didn't listen to his father's story at the beginning of the play to remind him of what's going on!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Comedy of Errors - A Comedy! Hooray!

Antipholus of Syracuse. A trusty villain, sir, that very oft,
When I am dull with care and melancholy,
Lightens my humour with his merry jests.

Wow, those poems - V & A somewhat goofy but with a dark side, Lucrece a straight up tragedy - left this happy little blog reeling a little. It's been a little slow around here lately - so THIS is what happens when you have finals at school and try to move at the same time! - but with the delightful, farcical silliness of The Comedy of Errors we're back in the saddle again with something guaranteed to cheer us up. Mistaken identity! Twins! Reunions! Just as Antipholus' trusty servant Dromio "lightens [his master's] humour," Shakespeare's merry jests in this play lighten my spirits too!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rape of Lucrece - Soul and Body, pt. 2

For me, I am the mistress of my fate,
And with my trespass never will dispense,
Till life to death acquit my forced offence.


In my last post on this poem, I looked at the relationship between the soul and the body - are they divided or united? -  in reference to Tarquin. However, there's also quite a bit of discussion about this in the poem surrounding the character of Lucrece.

We hear about both her wondrous beauty (body!) and her nobility and virtue (mind and soul!) - both of which, united, seem to fascinate Tarquin. Yet Lucrece, while acknowledging that her body is separate on some level from her spiritual and intellectual identity, in practice perceives her body and soul as irrevocably intertwined.

'My body or my soul, which was the dearer,
When the one pure, the other made divine?

Whose love of either to myself was nearer,
When both were kept for heaven and Collatine?
Ay me! the bark peel'd from the lofty pine,
His leaves will wither and his sap decay;
So must my soul, her bark being peel'd away.


This unity leads her to a rather terrible logical position: the body being defiled, all - virtuous mind, innocent soul - must go, discarded with her self-slaughtered corpse. Interestingly, this position - that the body is so linked to the mind and soul as to warrent suicide when the body is compromised against the will of the mind - is not shared by Lucrece's husband and the other men of Rome who hear of the case:
With this, they all at once began to say,
Her body's stain her mind untainted clears...

Yet, as is seen by the opening quotation, Lucrece makes an independent decision - she will keep control of the destiny of her body in her death, as she could not in her life. Lucrece's "I am the mistress of my fate" rings somewhat hollow for me, however, as this desperate assertion of control reveals how profoundly her fate has been shaped by an outsider - Tarquin has hijacked Lucrece's destiny so completely that she can only regain some agency by annihilating herself! Controlling your fate by disallowing any fate because you're dead doesn't seem like the perfect solution.

This situation, and the wording of the opening quotation, immediately called to mind for me a poem that I have always disliked, William Ernest Henley's Invictus, which famously ends with the words "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." I don't like this sentiment for the same reason I don't like Lucrece's suicide - sometimes things happen that are out of the "captain's" control. What then? We have Lucrece's answer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Caesar. [To the Soothsayer] The ides of March are come.

Soothsayer. Ay, Caesar; but not gone.

-Julius Caesar, III, 1

Today is the 2055th anniversary of Julius Caesar's demise - in Shakespeare, unlike life, the soothsayer is always right.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Here the Gentle Lark

A few months ago, I found and fell in love with this old recording of Nellie Melba singing the song "Lo, Here the Gentle Lark." BUT, until today, it had escaped me that the words are lines 875-886 from Venus and Adonis!!!

There are other, more modern recordings of this song, but I like this one best. The old fashioned singing style suits the song so well - and even with the scratchy old recording, Melba's voice is amazing!

Lo, here the gentle lark, weary of rest,
From his moist cabinet mounts up on high,
And wakes the morning, from whose silver breast
The sun ariseth in his majesty;
Who doth the world so gloriously behold
That cedar-tops and hills seem burnish'd gold.

Venus salutes him with this fair good-morrow:
'O thou clear god, and patron of all light,
From whom each lamp and shining star doth borrow
The beauteous influence that makes him bright,
There lives a son that suck'd an earthly mother,
May lend thee light, as thou dost lend to other.'

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Rape of Lucrece - Soul and Body

My heart shall never countermand mine eye:
Sad pause and deep regard beseem the sage;
My part is youth, and beats these from the stage...

(The Rape of Lucrece, 227-229)

A lot of the discussion in the poem The Rape of Lucrece has to do with the differences and conflicts between one's body and the other aspects that we look on as making up the personality - the soul, the heart, the mind. Are these all one? Is the condition of one's mind and soul dependent on the desires or experiences of the body, or can the soul and mind exist on a different sort of plane altogether than the body? As we see from the opening quotation, Tarquin rejects his mind's reason and the his heart and soul's concience that urge him not to commit this crime  - rather, he chooses to follow his eye, the desires of the body. We then see a very stark comparison between Tarquin and Lucrece - he all body, she all soul:

So o'er this sleeping soul doth Tarquin stay,
His rage of lust by gazing qualified...


But the poem goes on to deal a bit with the state of Tarquin's soul - just because you ignore your soul doesn't mean it goes away!

Besides, his soul's fair temple is defaced;
To whose weak ruins muster troops of cares,
To ask the spotted princess how she fares.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rape of Lucrece - Night

Now leaden slumber with life's strength doth fight;
And every one to rest themselves betake,
Save thieves, and cares, and troubled minds, that wake.
(The Rape of Lucrece, 175-177)

In this poem, night is definitely a time where bad things happen - the darkness of the world without the light of the sun reflects or enables DARK DEEDS. Night is likened to a theater where actors perform wickedness:

'O comfort-killing Night, image of hell!
Dim register and notary of shame!
Black stage for tragedies and murders fell!

There is a suggestion in the opening quotation that night is the time for sleep, and those who aren't following this pattern are going against nature for a variety of regrettable reasons. The bad position that Tarquin is putting himself in by sneaking around at night, plotting, etc. rather than sleeping, is accentuated by the company he finds himself keeping - EVIL NIGHT ANIMALS!

No comfortable star did lend his light,
No noise but owls' and wolves' death-boding cries...


Night-wandering weasels shriek to see him there...

Alas, though Tarquin is up to no good in his staying up late, there's something that rings very true in the descriptions in this poem of the nightmarishness of it all - the isolation of staying up in the dark, the exaggeration of all sounds, and just the unnatural weariness of staying up when you should be in bed. I myself have to work at night, and several people in my family have night jobs as well. Though my working life does not quite involve having a night-wandering weasel shriek at me (not EXACTLY), I completely agree with Shakespeare on this one - there's something rather horrible about living in the night as if it were the day. Don't stay up at night! Go to sleep - only thieves and troubled minds wake.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Rape of Lucrece

This earthly saint, adored by this devil,
Little suspecteth the false worshipper;
For unstain'd thoughts do seldom dream on evil;
Birds never limed no secret bushes fear:
So guiltless she securely gives good cheer
And reverend welcome to her princely guest,
Whose inward ill no outward harm express'd:

For that he colour'd with his high estate,
Hiding base sin in plaits of majesty;
That nothing in him seem'd inordinate,
Save something too much wonder of his eye,
Which, having all, all could not satisfy;
But, poorly rich, so wanteth in his store,
That, cloy'd with much, he pineth still for more.

(The Rape of Lucrece, 136-149)

We continue with Shakespeare's exploration of the theme of unrequited desire turning to force with another narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece. (See my post on Titus Andronicus for a rationale as to the value of works dealing with this ghastly and shocking theme of violence against women.) Lucrece is even longer than Venus and Adonis, but whereas...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Venus and Adonis - Deadly Kisses

'But this foul, grim, and urchin-snouted boar,
Whose downward eye still looketh for a grave,
Ne'er saw the beauteous livery that he wore;
Witness the entertainment that he gave:
If he did see his face, why then I know
He thought to kiss him, and hath kill'd him so.

'Tis true, 'tis true; thus was Adonis slain:
He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear,
Who did not whet his teeth at him again,
But by a kiss thought to persuade him there;
And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine
Sheathed unaware the tusk in his soft groin.

'Had I been tooth'd like him, I must confess,
With kissing him I should have kill'd him first;
But he is dead, and never did he bless
My youth with his; the more am I accurst.'
With this, she falleth in the place she stood,
And stains her face with his congealed blood.
(Venus and Adonis, 1127-1144)

In a previous post about this poem, I touched on some of the elements of the "love" story here that give us pause - 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March Shakespeare Plays in Portland

I haven't seen either of these yet, but I like to let people know when Shakespeare is coming to town! Click the links for times, addresses, etc.

Two Gentlemen of Verona, at the University of Portland. Mar. 3-6 (already missed those) and 9-11. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

Macbeth, at Bag & Baggage. Previews Wed & Thu Mar 9 & 10, $12 all tickets. Opening Fri Mar 11, Runs through Mar 27, $16-23

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Venus and Adonis - Love or Lust?

'Call it not love, for Love to heaven is fled,
Since sweating Lust on earth usurp'd his name;
Under whose simple semblance he hath fed
Upon fresh beauty, blotting it with blame;
Which the hot tyrant stains and soon bereaves,
As caterpillars do the tender leaves. 

'Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,
But Lust's effect is tempest after sun;
Love's gentle spring doth always fresh remain,
Lust's winter comes ere summer half be done;
Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;
Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies.
(Venus and Adonis, 815-826)

(Venus Lamenting the Death of Adonis by Benjamin West, 1768. This painting seems be of the Ovid version, as it all seems much more peaceful than Shakespeare's interpretation)
There is a lot of discussion of different aspects of love in this poem, even down to one of the title characters - Venus, a personification of love - being referenced by "love" as a name. But is the story about love or lust? 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Venus and Adonis - What's Going On?

Even as the sun with purple-colour'd face
Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,
Rose-cheek'd Adonis hied him to the chase;
Hunting he loved, but love he laugh'd to scorn;
Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,
And like a bold-faced suitor 'gins to woo him.
Over one arm the lusty courser's rein,
Under her other was the tender boy,
Who blush'd and pouted in a dull disdain,
With leaden appetite, unapt to toy;
She red and hot as coals of glowing fire,
He red for shame, but frosty in desire.
(Venus and Adonis, 20-26, 50-56)

(Venus and Adonis - Jusepe de Ribera, 1637)

Welcome to Shakespeare's poetry. So far we've just read his plays, which besides prose include a lot of poetic elements: iambic pentamenter in blank verse, and (in some plays more than others) rhyming couplets or various other rhyming elements. However, here we've got a full blown lengthy narrative poem with an unrelenting ababcc rhyme scheme!

We want another play! Why did Shakespeare do this to us?
(Not that we mind. We're tough. We can take it.)

Well, some scholars speculate, given its original 1593 publication date, that Shakespeare wrote the poem to keep himself busy and to bring in some cash and publicity when the London theaters were closed for a while due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Nothing like the Black Death to get the poetic juices going, right?
Surprisingly to those of us who are used to our present age's historically uncharacteristic disinterest in narrative poetry, this poem was very popular and often re-printed within Shakespeare's lifetime. We tend to prefer his plays. For the Elizabethans, this was not necessarily the case.

Shakespeare based his plot on one of the classical stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses, which all involve things - usually people - turning into something else. The stories tend to be rather disturbing, with gods often chasing after or messing with humans in some way that causes them not to be human any more. :(  

So, quick synopsis of the story.
Venus, the goddess of love, sees this gorgeous young kid (Adonis) and goes crazy with desire. She grabs him in a vice-like grip and for the next 800 lines of poetry holds him captive against his will, kisses him A LOT, tells him that he is really beautiful, and tries to convince him that he should like her and want to be with her because she is really beautiful too. He, however, is pouty, exasperated and scornful, and rebuffs all her advances. She won't let him go for a WHOLE DAY, but finally relents, but tells him that she has a really bad feeling that he's going to die! He doesn't care! And goes boar hunting with his friends! A boar kills him! (OH NOES!) Venus finds his body wallowing in blood! Then the corpse transmogrifies into a flower! Venus looks at the flower, says "I know you want to live, little flower, but I don't care, I'm going to pick you anyway," and then she does. The End.


In my next post, I'll pick up on the theme of Adonis as victim. Why does Shakespeare give us yet another portrait of desire forcing itself upon an unwilling subject?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

National Theater Live: King Lear

Derek Jacobi isn't one of my favorite actors. I know he's very well thought of, but I often find his delivery of the Shakespearean line to be something akin to thundering down the hill in a runaway train and crashing in the valley - that's the end-stop - below. Over and over and over again, for hours on end. It wears me out.

 HOWEVER, last weekend I attended (thanks to the Shakespeare class teacher at the university where I work) a telecast in a Portland theater of the well-reviewed National Theatre Live/ Donmar production of King Lear, starring Jacobi. We haven't gotten to King Lear yet - difficult as it may be to believe, the Donmar does not schedule its productions around What Shall Shakespeare Say Today - but these telecasts don't come here too often, and I really wanted to check it out, whether Jacobi was the star or not, and never mind the reading schedule. And I'm happy to report...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Richard III - Home

Richard. And yet I know not how to get the crown,
For many lives stand between me and home:
And I,—like one lost in a thorny wood,
That rends the thorns and is rent with the thorns,
Seeking a way and straying from the way;
Not knowing how to find the open air,
But toiling desperately to find it out,—
Torment myself to catch the English crown:
And from that torment I will free myself,
Or hew my way out with a bloody axe.
Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile...

(Henry VI part 3, 3.2.1661-1671)

Although this speech is from Henry VI part 3 rather than Richard III, I wanted to highlight it as it reveals so much of Richard's character. In this portion, Richard starts off with a proposition that we, as the audience, find appalling - he wants to usurp the throne away from his own brothers. Yet, being Richard the silver-tongued orator, he soon refers to his desires in such a way that we cannot help but sympathize with him: he's lost, he yearns for the crown as his "home" - a powerful, emotional word. The passage where he speaks of being lost in a thorny wood creates such a strong image of claustrophobia and desperation, showing us that he is barely in control - a far cry from the confident manner that Richard puts on before his brothers and the court. Of course, finally, being Richard, he turns his thoughts in a way that horrifies and fascinates us - I will...hew my way out with a bloody axe. He's drawn us in by sharing the desperation of his heart - now he pushes us away. It's an extraordinary speech!

To read the whole soliloquy, click here and scroll down to line 1615. Emma posted a video of John Barrymore delivering  portions of this speech, and for a performance in contrast to that, check out this video of Ron Cook as Richard in the BBC Shakespeare Henry VI part 3. The lines I quote here start at 3.05, but watch the whole speech!