Saturday, April 30, 2011

Romeo and Juliet - Stars

Juliet. ...Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow'd night,
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Stars, of course, are a huge theme in Romeo and Juliet. It's in the context of stars, and the power they wield in the lives of humans, that we are introduced to the couple for the first time by the Chorus:
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life (1.1.6). But I love the quote opening this post, spoken by Juliet, because it doesn't just touch on the lovers' impending mortality - Juliet also uses stars as an image for the wonderfulness of Romeo. The passage is just so, so lovely, and shows us a new way to see these young lovers - as bright and beautiful, burning like stars. It's also so sad, as we know that Romeo will die - but the ugliness and pain of his self-slaughter by poison does not, for me, match Juliet's hopeful image of a translation after death into dazzling stars in the night sky.

(Juliet looking at the night sky -
"Juliet" by Philip H. Calderon)

 Though I, at any rate, often feel very exasperated throughout the play with R & J, who constantly do dumb stuff (ie threaten to/actually commit suicide),

Friday, April 29, 2011

Romeo and Juliet - Mercutio

Romeo. Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.
Mercutio. No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but 'tis enough,'twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o'
both your houses!...

 A plague o' both your houses!
They have made worms' meat of me: I have it,
And soundly too: your houses!

Romeo. This gentleman, the prince's near ally,
My very friend, hath got his mortal hurt
In my behalf....

Mercutio, Romeo's friend, stands outside the families that clash in the Capulet-Montague feud. He, related to the Prince, perhaps represents the rest of Verona; he has connections to both of the fighting families - a friend to Romeo, yet invited to the Capulet's party. However, despite his situation as an outsider to the conflict...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Romeo and Juliet - Requited Love

Romeo. Then plainly know my heart's dear love is set
On the fair daughter of rich Capulet:
As mine on hers, so hers is set on mine;
And all combined, save what thou must combine

By holy marriage...

Romeo and Juliet is really very different from most love stories. My own impression of romance/chick flick "formula" is that boy and girl meet and either 1) dislike each other heartily; 2) one likes the other but the beloved does not reciprocate. Either way, the couple has to learn to love each other. Shakespeare himself follows this format himself a lot - where would Twelfth Night or Much Ado About Nothing be without unrequited love and "frenemies"? Romeo and Juliet, however, is different. No doubts or delays for our young lovers - they see each other and zowie! Requited love! Of course, there's the whole problem of their families being deadly enemies...but emotionally, that hurdle is easy to overcome. (Practically, of course, it's another matter - that's where the conflict comes in!)

I think that this eager, easy mutuality of Romeo and Juliet's feelings is highlighted by that awkward character, Rosaline - the girl that Romeo had been swooning over before he met Juliet. Romeo was eager to love someone, and he thought Rosaline was the one. The problem? She didn't like him back! Rosaline is mentioned A LOT in the play, and she doesn't really fit in that well with a reading where Romeo and Juliet are like these amazing, fated, once-in-a-thousand-years type of lovers. Rosaline gives the lie to that: Romeo could have been quite happy with someone else, and if Juliet had given him the cold shoulder, I'm sure he would have kept on looking. The difference between Juliet and Rosaline?
... she whom I love now
Doth grace for grace and love for love allow;
The other did not so.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Romeo and Juliet - Dreams

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....

(Romeo and Juliet, 1.4.596 - 600)

Romeo and Juliet, those legendary lovers, live in a world of signs and tokens, where the influence of the stars shapes destiny and dreams, in some mysterious way, come true. Romeo doesn't want to go to the Capulet's party because of a dream, and his mystical feelings about the evening come true:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Birthday!

...then there was a star danced, and under that was I born.
Much Ado About Nothing, 2.1.710


Friday, April 15, 2011

Richard II - Sad Stories of the Death of Kings

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

(Richard II, 3.2.1565-1580)

Richard, though politically tone-deaf at times in this play...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Richard II - Mirrored Men

High-stomached are they both and full of ire;
In rage, deaf as the sea, hasty as fire.
(Richard II, 1.1.18-19)

Richard II

Though Richard II is certainly noteworthy for the lyrical beauty of its language, I also really like...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Richard II - This Other Eden

John of Gaunt. Methinks I am a prophet new inspired

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,

Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!
(Richard II, 2.1.713-750)

John of Gaunt's speech about his country is justly famous - surely one of the most beautiful patriotic things ever written by anyone, anywhere...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Richard II - Shakespeare Girl's Dad is Correct

When I told my dad that I had read Richard II this week, his face just lit up. "Don't you love it? Don't you just love it?" he exclaimed. And I agree with his reasons for valuing this play - it's so beautifully poetic, so thoughtful. In the rich, detailed text, we see a lot of nature imagery, especially references to gardens and the sea; there's a lot of focus on time, and a constant theme of pilgrimage. The character Richard II also has a fascinating awareness of his own theatricality - himself as being worthy story material. I'm really looking forward to digging deeper in commentary for the blog. I love it, dad!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Love's Labour's Lost - Not Gentle

Holofernes. This is not generous, not gentle, not humble.
Princess. Alas, poor Maccabeus, how hath he been baited!
(Love's Labour's Lost, 5.2.617, 619)

This passage practically leapt off the page at me, and Holofernes' accusation is, I think, probably one of the very most important lines in the whole play. Holofernes, a Latin-quoting schoolmaster, is playing the character of Judas Maccabeus in a sort of pageant of worthy and famous men. This pageant is meant as entertainment for the Princess and her waiting gentle-women, and as such was requested by the King and his men as part of their campaign to win the ladies. However, since that time their plans have been somewhat
impeded by the ladies' tactic of treating the gentlemen as figures of fun, much to their chagrin.

This ridicule seems to have brought out the worst kind of desperate defensiveness in all the men, and they respond by savagely mocking these lower-class fellows who - at their bidding! - are attempting to please them with their acting. They are MEAN. And Holofernes, who has henceforth appeared as rather a foolish fellow, pulls himself together and straight-up rebukes these guys! He tells them the truth about their behavior and leaves with his dignity, at least in my eyes, restored by his bold and clear proclamation. And he gains the Princess' compassion. Perhaps Holofernes' moment of clarity helps the women to decide on a course of action, having seen the men's behavior as what it is - ugly, selfish, not generous, not gentle, not humble.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Love's Labour's Lost - Failure of Wit

Biron. O, never will I trust to speeches penn'd,
Nor to the motion of a schoolboy's tongue,
Nor never come in vizard to my friend,
Nor woo in rhyme, like a blind harper's song!
Taffeta phrases, silken terms precise,
Three-piled hyperboles, spruce affectation,
Figures pedantical; these summer-flies
Have blown me full of maggot ostentation:
I do forswear them; and I here protest, ....
Henceforth my wooing mind shall be express'd
In russet yeas and honest kersey noes...

As I mentioned before, I found all the frivolous wit in this play very annoying. Imagine my delight when Biron, one of the main offenders, realizes the error of his ways and promises to be more homely, plain (russet and kersey) and sincere in his use of language. All the elaborate posturing that the men have "put on" order to win the women - wearing masks, disguises, writing flowery sonnets - was not only ineffectual, it was actually counter-productive in a way because it kept the true self hidden. How could a person love someone that was a caricature of a Renaissance lover without knowing the real individual underneath? Though the men were very confident that they would have no problems courting the Princess and her ladies - "Longueville. Shall we resolve to woo these girls of France? King. And win them, too!" - the mocking responses of the women seem to show that it isn't just the twist of fate at the end that makes their love's labour's lost; rather, their showy, by-the-book wooing is not as valuable as simple sincerity. Perhaps all of love's "labour," if expressed as Biron explains in opening quotation, is just a loss and a waste.

Love's Labour's Lost - Oathbreakers!

Biron....Then fools you were these women to forswear,
Or keeping what is sworn, you will prove fools.
For wisdom's sake, a word that all men love,
Or for love's sake, a word that loves all men,
Or for men's sake, the authors of these women,
Or women's sake, by whom we men are men,

Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves,
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths.
It is religion to be thus forsworn,
For charity itself fulfills the law,
And who can sever love from charity?


Biron and the rest of the boys in the King's court have taken a vow not to pursue any woman, in order not to be distracted from study. But when actual women appear on the scene, the students quickly turn into lovers - and like expert rhetoricians, they easily justify breaking their oaths. Surely a stupid vow is better broken than kept? And it's not difficult to convince me that their vow was foolish. However, there's something very jarring about the cavalier way that the men blithely set their vows aside - we've seen this kind of self-justifying argument against keeping your word before, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and it wasn't pretty.

The women seem to sense that something isn't right with this promise-breaking thing. They simply can't trust that the men mean what they say - and they might very well be right. Who's to say that someone who breaks one oath won't break another? And so the gentlemen, who so confidently planned to win their ladies, are confronted with accountability for their words:

Princess. Nor God nor I delight in perjured men...
...virtue's office never breaks men's troth.
(5.2.2266, 2270)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Love's Labour's Lost - A Lack of Common Sense

Biron. What is the end of study? let me know.
King. Why, that to know, which else we should not know.
Biron. Things hid and barr'd, you mean, from common sense?
(Love's Labour's Lost, 1.1.56-58)

This whole week Love's Labour's Lost has been annoying me. I found myself dismayed by how much I disliked it - a rambling comedy about frivolous, unkind, proud, mendacious people. The very set-up is extremely silly - the King of Navarre ropes three of his lords, plus the Spanish dandy Don Adriano, into vowing to dedicate themselves to study and not even look at women for three years. But when the Princess of France and her three waiting women arrive on the scene, who thinks for one minute that the boys will hold to their oath?

Despite all the Renaissance trappings that decorate this play - the masks, the disguises, the sonnets, the elaborate wordplay - I found Shakespeare's general portrait of the King and his lords to be an almost uncannily accurate depiction of young people with pretentions to intellectualism. The opening quotation demonstrates this - while preening themselves on their studiousness, finding out things beyond "common" perception, they don't even pay attention to or value "common sense," thinking themselves above it. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons that I found all the characters in Love's Labour's Lost so irritating - as a college student, I already spend enough time with 20-somethings who think that they are better and smarter than everyone else, disdaining "ordinary" life and relationships, yet managing to get into more than their fair share of romantic tangles. I suppose it's kind of sweet really - one way to read this play, right? - but it does get wearing after a while.

However - spoiler alert! - the title, "Love's Labour's Lost," gives us the clue that this play is perhaps not only what it seems to be on the surface. After heartily disliking the play throughout the first four acts, I felt a lot better after reading the final act. Hooray, I don't have to hate Shakespeare for writing this play anymore!