Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why is it...

...that having a blog about Shakespeare seems to have greatly diminished my desire to read Shakespeare?

Seriously, I have been busy the past few months, but just not with anything related to the Bard. (As Groucho Marx said, time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.) I hope to return to this blog at some point, but I'm not sure when that will be. Rest assured, the next time I read a Shakespeare play I will post here, so don't unsubscribe to the RSS feed just yet. ;-)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Shakespeare books I've been flipping through lately

Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human continues to provide interesting analysis. I also recently looked at Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare, primarily because Asimov is a long-time favorite writer of mine. I quite like it, but unfortunately I don't have a copy. I'll be sure to pick one up from the library so I can look at everything he has to say about Henry V.

I also found a book on my shelf which I didn't even remember having. It's called A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance, and it is by Northrop Frye. I'm going to be sure to check that out at some point, and I'll post here when I do.

Oh, and concerning the poll...

...pretend it says "Favorite Histories?", with the plural. You CAN vote for more than one; in fact, I heartily encourage you to.

Happy 4th of July!

Of course, good American that I am, I'm going spend part of the day reading Henry V, quite the patriotic play. Never mind that it deals with another country...

I'm up to 3.6 by now. I must give Shakespeare bonus points for having a scene in French; that's pretty fantastic. I wonder whether his contemporary audience would've been expected to know French. I would've doubted it, but then again, Shakespeare wasn't some postmodern artiste. I expect he wrote things which he assumed his playgoers would understand. I should do further research on the subject.

Oh, and when the French King is listing all of the dukes and whatnot who should go after Henry? It really sounds like Howard Dean's speech when he named all the states. I was half expecting a "Byaaaah!" at the end. Just saying...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dear Archbishop of Canturbury,

If you are going to say a long monologue about how Henry V is the rightful heir to the French throne, please don't make it so historically inaccurate that the Arden editors have to correct you pretty much every line.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why I love Ardens

The ridiculously long and awesome introductions.

Seriously, for everyone who has not: check out the Arden Shakespeares. They are fantastic. I've read almost half of the 125-or-so-page introduction to Henry V, and it is very interesting.

I also got a brief start on the play with the first couple of scenes. Two observations:

1) The opening speech is as perfect an apology for the art of theatre as I've ever read. It's also a great ode to the imagination, which I, thinking myself a rather imaginative sort of fellow, quite like.

2) The scene with Ely and Canterbury, while not being quite the way one would expect this play to open (as mentioned in the Arden introduction), is actually quite interesting. We learn some backstory on Henry for those unfamiliar with the Henry IV plays, and we also get a sense of some of the backroom politics of the time. I like how Shakespeare decided to begin what is essentially a war story with some sociopolitical intrigue; it keeps things varied, something he's generally quite good at doing (even as early as 2 Henry VI, with Cade's Rebellion providing a nice tonal shift).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Unexpected update

Well, it turns out that I'm going to be reading Henry V for reasons unrelated to this blog, so I think I'm going to jump ahead in the chronology a bit and post my thoughts on it early. Expect something sometime next week...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Scheduling craziness

So it happens that after I make a Grand Plan for the next month or so, I look at the calendar for the next month or so and realize that it is actually really busy. Ah well... let's just say that I'll probably be postponing my posting here for maybe about four weeks. If I can sneak anything in, I will, but I simply won't have all that much time free.

In the meantime, feel free to vote early and often (well, not often...) in my new "Favorite History" poll. These have been rather fun in the past, so I figure I might as well finish them up. Don't worry, I'll come up with new poll ideas in the future!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Answering my own question

In an earlier post, I asked myself whether Henry VI was being portrayed as a childish or childlike figure. In the context of all three plays, I must say the latter. I view the cycle as being ultimately tragic; certainly the ominous signs of Richard III's subsequent rise to power are not a happy ending. I must point out though that while Henry VI is certainly never portrayed as being an effective ruler, he is certainly a sympathetic one, and that in general the house of Lancaster got a better rap than the house of York.

Yup, I'm back from my assault of laziness which has apparently besieged me the past couple of weeks! The beginning of summer can do that to a person. If I can drudge up any more cool or halfway-insightful things about Henry VI, I'll do so, if not, I'll plow right ahead with Richard III.

My goal by this time in July is to be done with Richard III, Two Gentleman of Verona, and all of the poems except for the Pheonix and the Turtle. If I can add in The Taming of the Shrew in there, I might. Is this a faster pace than I've done thus far? Certainly, but I definitely can do it, and I fully expect you all to heckle me if I don't. Obviously I have no desire to rush through the canon, but I'm finding it all too easy to forget about in the stresses of Life, and therefore I figure a certain degree of scheduling is in order. All right, onward!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

General thoughts on the Henry VI plays

Well, I am done with the Henry VI plays. What to say?

A good place to start is with the fact that they are considered to be among Shakespeare's earliest works, if not indeed his earliest works. This perhaps leads a reader to low expectations regarding their quality. While there are certainly great artists who have burst onto the scene with their greatest works, anyone with a passing familiarity with Shakespeare knows that is not the case, since his best-known and his best-loved works often tend to be those somewhere in the middle of the canon chronologically. Since Shakespeare does not fall into the category of artists whose early works are their best, it is reasonable to assume that he falls into the other category, those artists who more or less steadily matured in ideas and craft over the course of their careers.

I admit that reasoning led to rather humble expectations myself regarding the three parts of Henry VI. In fact, such a preconception was increased by the fact that I have never, ever, seen any of these three plays performed, or even had the opportunity to see them performed. It's hard to think of a more obscure group of Shakespearean plays than these.

Now, of course, my expectations weren't THAT low in the grand scheme of things: I knew I was reading Shakespeare, so I wasn't about to expect the Da Vinci Code or anything. (Caveat: I don't remember the Da Vinci Code well enough to really remember if it was bad. I have a vague sense of enjoying it while I read it, but now I can't even remember any of the characters names, or really anything about the plot, so I suppose that says something about my perception of its quality. But I digress...) But I was not expecting Hamlet, certainly.

In the end, I'd say the plays basically lived up to my expectations, and perhaps slightly exceeded them. First of all, they were good, and had many moments which hinted at the brilliance Shakespeare later achieved. Along the way, I've mentioned some of my favorite moments; many of those stand with the great scenes he would later write with some regularity. In addition, having the story stretched over three plays, although I would venture to say that it was a bad idea (two would've been enough), it did lend a certain epic scope which I have never quite found in other Shakespearean plays. The fact that the ending of 3 Henry VI so clearly is a prelude to Richard III only enhances this grand, saga-like feel.

What I can't say, however, is that these plays are my favorites of Shakespeare's. In fact, they are probably the least favorite of his works that I've read so far. Now, just for the record, as I said before, Shakespeare was such a genius that even what I consider to be his lesser works are still good. However, however much I may like the Henry VI plays, I'm not at all reluctant to say that his abilities as an artist grew over time.

The basic problems I have with the Henry VI plays are these. First, the characters speak in monologues. There is little of the rapid-fire, back-and-forth dialogue which Shakespeare would use more and more often, and to great effect, later in his career. Later, a monologue always signified Something Important. In the Henry VI, characters will go into a monologue about virtually anything. Shakespeare obviously very quickly realized that this didn't work out so well, since I've never been bothered by it in any other of his plays.

The second issue I have is sort of wrapped up with the first. While I appreciate the epic scope of the plays, I don't think that condensing them into two parts like Henry IV would've been a bad idea. It's not that it doesn't work as a trilogy; it does. However, if the plays were condensed to two plays worth of material, I think they would be much tighter. There felt like there was a lot more unnecessary material in these plays than in his later ones (while many productions cut Hamlet, it's not because that material is unnecessary, it's just because a comprehensible play can be fashioned without it: it merely isn't as good a play. With Henry VI, I'm not sure the cuts really would hurt the play much). I read somewhere that a lot of theatres when producing these plays do actually condense them into two parts. I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has actually seen one of those productions as to whether it worked, or whether I'm wrong on this one and there need to be three parts for the story to hold together.

Normally, I don't want this blog to be about judging the relative quality of Shakespeare's plays (except for the fun polls and the like), because it's all so high that arguing about whether Othello is better than Macbeth is not a very interesting exercise after a while. However, I wanted to make an exception here, since these are, or are at least close to being, his earliest works, and therefore it is interesting to note how Shakespeare improved over time. (I also did some Titus-judging earlier, but that's because it is so often considered his worst play). Plus, this blog is for my reactions to reading the canon, so I can talk about anything I want! *cue evil laugh*

Now that I've gotten these general reactions and assessments of the Henry VI plays out of the way, I hope to follow up in the next couple of days with some analysis of their contents, or at least pose some questions. I'll probably talk primarily 3 Henry VI since I have blogged about that one the least while reading it. I'll either intersperse Richard III reactions along the way (I have started it and am enjoying it immensely), or just wait for that until I feel like I've gotten all of my Henry VI reactions down. Onward, then!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wow! May is almost over...

...and I have posted almost not at all. This is disturbing.

However, the good news is that I have definitely finished 3 Henry VI by now, so I should have thoughts on that up very soon. I've just been too distracted by Life stuff to post anything. Ah well. As I said, I'm all done with that play, and I'll follow up those thoughts with my thoughts on Richard III, which I just started reading and am enjoying very much (how I never read that play before now is beyond me).

All right, expect to hear from me a little later today or perhaps tomorrow, when I find a good block of time to sit down and post. To my rather limited number of readers, I hope that spring is treating you well (at least for those of you who are in the US).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Still figuring out this whole blogging thing...

...but one thing I've learned is never say that you're going to post at a specific time, because then Real Life will interfere and you won't be able to.

I'm surprised, but happily so, to see that this blog is being read by more than just the friends I initially told about it. I'm also glad that I'm going to have some more time available in the near future to read Shakespeare and talk about it here. However, I'm not sure whether I'm going to be able to keep up a regular posting schedule or not. I'm going to try, if possible, to read some Shakespeare daily, and shoot for a blog entry at least two times a week. We'll see how this works.

In other news, I've not managed to block out the time to finish 3 Henry VI yet, but I did manage to sneak in the third act, and I must say that I'm liking these early plays more than I thought I would. I will admit that I was on a certain level thinking that "3 acts + obscure play = tedium", and I do in fact think that Shakespeare grew as a writer from the time of these plays, but really, there's something very satisfying about having the story come together now after having two full plays leading up to this point. It lends a certain epic quality which is very difficult to achieve in theatre. All in all, I'm really liking the experience, and especially looking forward to reading Richard III after having all of this buildup.

More thoughts later...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

2/5ths through

Ok, I managed to get to the end of Act II today of 3 Henry VI. My thoughts? Well, I found it very interesting. King Henry is rather pathetic, but sympathetic at the same time. I do root for him against those Yorkists.

All the double-crossing is definitely cool. That is a benefit of the three-play structure; Shakespeare can begin Part 3 with a bang, forgetting all the exposition which tends to drag down most opening acts of any form of storytelling.

Finally, I like how the horrors of civil war are being portrayed. Seeing the father who killed his son and the son who killed his father was moving. Having Henry in the middle of the scene only added to its poignancy.

More thoughts tomorrow when I get to read more (and finish it, time permitting).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Asimov disses Shakespeare

I was reading Isaac Asimov's essay "Revisions" today. In it, he mentioned a Ben Jonson quote concerning Shakespeare, which goes like this:

I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare, that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, “Would he had blotted a thousand,” which they thought a malevolent speech.

Asimov goes on to say "...there are indeed places where Will might have been--shh!--improved on."

Fair? Well, despite the fact that I call myself the Bardolator, I think it's perfectly fair. Just because Shakespeare was arguably the greatest writer in our language doesn't mean he was a perfect writer. I'd argue that the main flaw in Shakespeare's writing was that he had a tendency to ramble. The fact that most modern productions cut significant chunks out of Shakespeare's plays and no one who hasn't read them notices means that surely some of that stuff was just filler. Of course, Shakespeare's plays are better seen uncut, but still, it's something to think about.

I will post something about 3 Henry VI tomorrow, by the way. If I don't... feel free to spam me with obnoxious comments about weather balloons. Promise? Done.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

For he's a jolly good fellow...


p.s. not so happy recorded deathday.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

For all you Joss Whedon (and Quentin Tarantino) fans...

Serenity, if it was written by Shakespeare.

It was inspired by "William Shakespeare's Pulp Fiction":

Kudos to for the link.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Excuses for procrastination

So I realize that I haven't actually read a Shakespeare play in a while. That's not cool. The thing is, since I turned Shakespeare reading into a Project, it's become something that I'm actually putting off, which is crazy, because I like doing it, but I guess that's what happens whenever something becomes an assignment (even if self-imposed).

One way in which I don't read Shakespeare is by reading other things. Currently, I'm in the middle of several others. Here's a brief list, in case you're curious:
  • Foundation and Empire
  • The Seven Year Itch
  • Northanger Abbey
  • The Audacity of Hope
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
  • Hard Times
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  • The Lord of the Rings
A rather eclectic bunch, there. (A couple are re-readings.) But once I get through those I'm gonna try to limit my non-Shakespeare reading to one, maybe two, books at a time. We'll see if I can actually do it!

Oh, and 3 Henry VI? Got a good beginning. Perhaps I shall read the rest of it tomorrow...

p.s. I might do the whole tragedy/comedy uberpost at some later date, but I'm not quite up for it now. Plus I'm not really sure if I have anything to say on the subject at this point.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tragedy vs. comedy


Okay. Not so much. But really, it's no contest. I don't think anyone would dispute that Shakespeare's tragedies are superior to his comedies (for some reason, whenever people talk about this, histories are only mentioned as a footnote, despite the fact he wrote ten of them, and you always get the one person who says about The Tempest or whatever, "but isn't that a romance?" and then you get a long discussion... that's not a bad thing, mind you, said discussions can be quite entertaining...). Of course, now that I've made such a sweeping generalization, someone's probably gonna argue that the comedies are, in fact, better than the tragedies. I'd love to see that. I'd love even more if someone would advance the notion that actually Shakespeare was best at writing history, since that's even more of a left-field position. My opinion, though, is that Shakespeare was pretty darn good at everything, but he was simply better at tragedy than the others.

However, there is a certain general bias that somehow tragedy constitutes High Art while comedy is just fodder for the masses or something. I wonder whether Shakespeare is somewhat responsible for this. I mean, look at his best-known plays. Hamlet. King Lear. Macbeth. Othello. Romeo and Juliet. The only comedy which has that degree of word-of-mouth recognition is A Midsummer Night's Dream. Could Shakespeare's status as the Best Playwright combined with the fact that the first plays of his people think of are tragedies lead to tragedy having an undue place at the pinnacle of Western storytelling? Or does it go back to the Greeks, or earlier?

Perhaps tomorrow I shall write about WHY I don't think tragedy is necessarily better than comedy. Stay tuned...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Speaking of adaptation-like thingies...

I happened to hear about this a while back, figure y'all would find it entertaining:

Yes. There's a Shakespeare connection. Follow the link, my young Padawan...

Friday, April 11, 2008


So I was watching the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice yesterday and today (the one with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth), which I had somehow never seen before, and I was astonished by how good it was. Seriously. It was one of the best adaptations I've ever seen, along with the recent Bleak House on Masterpiece Theatre. It's very hard to take a great novel and make a good movie, since they are rather different media. It's especially hard when the novel in question is more than just great, but is one of the best ever written (as is my opinion regarding Pride and Prejudice. Feel free to disagree, but then I shall seriously question your literary taste. It's just one of those things you have to love, like Hamlet and cheese pizza, and, especially, the combination thereof. End Digression).

However, you'd think that a film of a play would be a lot easier. Indeed, some rather straight play-to-film adaptations have worked very well. Alfred Hitchcock's Rope comes to mind as successful film that is almost indistinguishable in form from a stage play. In fact, the media of film and theatre seem to be close relatives. Indeed, on a certain level, they are. They're both visual forms of storytelling, with actors and directors and costumes and sets, and they both tell stories of similar length due to the fact that most human beings are only willing to sit still for so long. (That's why you can have a single novel, The Lord of the Rings, take up almost a dozen hours of film, even with a bunch of stuff cut out; novels have the luxury of telling longer stories than plays or films can, since there's no expectation that a reader will read a novel in one sitting.)

However, I think on a certain level these things are superficial. I've personally acted in a few plays myself, and also in a couple of student films, and I can tell you that the experiences were not at all similar. What works on a stage doesn't necessarily work on film, and vice versa. I could ramble on for a bit as to why I think this is the case, but I'll admit that on a certain level I don't know. I haven't thought it through enough, maybe. I'd be curious as to other people's thoughts on this. But nevertheless, no matter how distinct theatre and film are, I think that novels differ more from both of them than they do to each other.

Tying this into Shakespeare, I've seen a handful, though not all THAT many, film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays. Not a single one of them has been as good as the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Why is that? Is it because Pride and Prejudice is about five hours long (without commercials)? Possibly, but Pride and Prejudice is simply a longer story than any of Shakespeare's plays. Is it its faithfulness to the original novel? Well, to a certain extent, but no one ever films a novel perfectly accurately, again, since they are very different media. While I think that faithfulness should be striven towards as much as the director or screenwriter thinks reasonable, simply following the text of a great novel to the letter will not lead, in and of itself, to a great film. Besides, while Shakespeare and Austen are authors of similar caliber, for some reason filmmakers think it is acceptable to alter Austen's words, but general only cut (not modify) Shakespeare's, so most adaptations are extremely faithful, unless it is one of those modern-day adaptations which ditch the original language entirely.

But, being someone who really enjoys stage performances of Shakespeare, I find that the films I've seen don't feel like true adaptations to a different medium. They're more like dilutions. I can't quite express why. Am I the only person who feels this way? Maybe I've just watched the wrong ones? The most important Shakespeare adaptation I have not seen is, shamefully, Branagh's Hamlet. I've seen bits and pieces here and there, and it looks pretty awesome, so I shall have to Netflix it now that it is on DVD. Perhaps it will change my opinion of filmed Shakespeare. We shall see.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm not dead!

Hey. Sorry for the utter lack of posting in the past two weeks. I am somewhat ashamed to report that my Shakespeare reading project has not exactly been progressing recently. However, I've decided, that since I've got this blog space, I'm gonna darn well use it. So therefore, a resolution! I shall try to post SOMETHING every day. If I can make a tenuous connection to Shakespeare, all the better. And there will be some play reading updates quite soon, I promise. It's hard when one's free time is divided between at least half a dozen different books... :-)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Comedy poll results

Remember, people could vote for multiple plays, so if you add up the percentages of votes for each play, the total will be higher than 100%.

1. A Midsummer Night's Dream (6 votes, 54%)
2 (tie). The Comedy of Errors; The Tempest; Twelfth Night (4 votes, 36%)
5 (tie). Much Ado About Nothing; The Taming of the Shrew (3 votes, 27%)
7 (tie). As You Like It; Cymbeline; Measure for Measure (2 votes, 18%)
10 (tie). The Merchant of Venice; Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1 vote, 9%)

These are more or less the results I expected, though I would've guessed a stronger showing for As You Like It.

Thanks to everyone who voted!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers

By far the best line of the play.

So I enjoyed 2 Henry VI. At first I wasn't liking it quite as much as its first part. While it seemed to be more tightly constructed, I just wasn't quite as gripped by the story. However, things really picked up at the end, especially with Cade's Rebellion, and a lot of the power plays from the middle of the play to the end, culminating in York's open treachery, were very interesting.

However, I keep getting the feeling that this story doesn't need to be three parts long. This might be the fact that this is one of the earliest (if not THE earliest) plays that Shakespeare wrote, and he hadn't gotten as good at self-editing yet, but none of his later histories were in three parts, even when he was covering arguably more interesting kings.

Cade's rebellion was interesting not just because it was a nice bit of humor in an otherwise serious play (note the line which I named the post for), but also because it led me to wonder whether that part of the play is viewed in the same way by modern audiences as by those of Shakespeare's own time. While he is obviously both wacko and dangerous, Cade makes what appear to be some legitimate complaints about Henry's government. I wonder whether those complaints would have been historically seen as legitimate, though, and therefore giving Cade and by extension York some degree of justification for their treachery, or whether this is projecting our values as a democratic and populist-leaning society anachronistically.

As for Henry himself, he is simply incompetent. His heart seems to be in the right place, though he has a bit of a Messiah complex (he actually said "they know not what they do"!), but he always defers to his lords, which leads to squabbling and infighting and in the end makes York's rebellion possible. But Henry doesn't realize any of this. When York proclaims himself king in Henry's presence, Henry says nothing, presumably so shocked and horrified by this treachery that he can't respond adequately. Was this simply more of his naivety? Or does this go back to his basic incompetence as King, namely, that he CAN'T think of a good plan in light of this new information? Recall that he doesn't come to the sensible conclusion of fleeing in light of failure on the battlefield until Margaret tells him to.

Up next, 3 Henry VI, and more of this period of English history with Richard III.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

La la la

I'm going to be out of town and without access to a computer for the next couple of days, so I won't be updating with my thoughts on 2 Henry VI quite yet. But I have given it a start, and I must say that thus far it is a more focused play than its first part (though it inherits its ridiculously huge cast.) I'll be posting about it sometime this weekend, and maybe I'll even be able to do a mini-marathon of Bard reading as well. No promises though.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Is Shakespeare literature?

My answer: Yes and no.

Okay, so most of the time I'll respond to comments by commenting on the same post myself. However, in this case there's something I want to post, because my answer will sort of explain what mindset I'm approaching the plays with.

Grace wrote this a while ago as a comment to one of my Titus posts:

Titus is really one of those plays you have to see. or do. much like all of shakespeare. Definitely continue reading - just always keep in mind it's not a piece of literature, it's a work of living moving art. (... "art" being a loose term, in the case of Titus.)

Well, what's a play? Is a play literature? Obviously Shakespeare meant for his works to be performed on stage, and not to be read. Having said that, his works were published as words on a page within his lifetime, and if I can sit alone and read it, for me that's literature. What other definition of literature is there, other than a story which one reads?

According to Wikipedia (which as we all know is an incredibly reliable source...), Richard Monette once said that plays on the shelf are literature, whereas plays on the stage are theatre. I don't know what was the context in which he said that, but if he means what I think he means, that plays are both literature AND theatre (though not at the same time), then I entirely agree. I guess I just don't see how they can't be both.

I'm all for this sort of kumbaya come-together approach because while a good deal of my early exposure to Shakespeare was as literature (in the form of a book group which morphed into a Shakespeare group). Also, I come from a clan of English professors, so I sort of have that mindset built into me. However, I've always loved the theatre as well, and have acted in five of Shakespeare's plays. So the bottom line is, I love reading Shakespeare, I love watching Shakespeare, and I love acting in Shakespeare, and on a certain level I don't want to say that any one of those things is more valid than another, though I'd say that my enjoyment of a play slightly increases if I get to see it and greatly increases if I get to act in it (which is why you'll never hear me speak a bad word about Comedy of Errors, whatever its faults).

A play can be great theatre without being great literature, and it can be great literature without being great theatre. Shakespeare's plays happen to be both. But for the purposes of this blog, I'm going to mostly be forced to talk about Shakespeare as literature, since unfortunately all of Shakespeare's plays aren't running simultaneously in my corner of the universe. The little play inside my head which runs whenever I read a script will have to suffice. Though I might use this blog to praise/brutally-tear-to-pieces various Shakespeare film adaptations I see.

To make a long story short... I was too tired to read 2 Henry VI today so I decided to ramble philosophically instead. :-)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Favorite tragedy poll results; new comedy poll

(taking into account that one of the Hamlet votes was by mistake, and that I know the one "something else" vote was for R&J)

1. Hamlet (8 votes)
2. King Lear (4 votes)
3. Macbeth (3 votes)
4. Romeo and Juliet (1 vote)

Thanks to everyone who voted!

I am now putting up a similar comedy poll, however, working on the suggestion of a couple of my readers, I am going to include all of the comedies as options on the poll rather than just some of them. You may also select multiple plays, if you can't decide on just one (though please, only vote once per play). Finally, I'm using the broad definition of "comedy" which also includes what many people call the "romances".

All right, now please go out and vote!

God save King Henry, of that name the Sixth

Thus finisheth I part one of King Henry VI.

First of all, can I say that I am immensely entertained by the fact that the play ended on a cliffhanger? In the film version of the play running in my head I could see the "To Be Continued".

The way this cliffhanger is accomplished is by introducing a new plot strand right near the end of the play, namely that of Suffolk trying to wed Henry and Margaret. Shakespeare normally doesn't introduce new storylines like that so late in a play, but since this is only the first part in the trilogy, I suppose that's to be expected.

The highlight of the play, for me, was the death of the Talbots at the end of Act IV. In a play with the sheer number of characters that 1 Henry VI has, it can be hard to really care about any of them, but I was moved by that scene. I agree with the introduction in the Arden Complete Works which says that Talbot and Joan are the most compelling characters in the play; interestingly enough, King Henry himself is a rather minor character until the end.

Joan of Arc's depiction was simply bizarre for someone like myself who has been raised in a culture which considers her to be a hero. Obviously, Shakespeare was English, as were the heroes of the play, so it's no surprise really that Joan of Arc didn't get a positive portrayal. It's still jarring to my modern sensibilities. One wishes that Shakespeare could have written a version of the story of Joan in which she was actually the main character and wasn't simply being called "witch" by the English all the time. Having said that, she is still one of the most interesting characters in the play, more so than the other French, who all sort of blended together for me (I could keep Charles distinct because he was the Dauphin, but the others...)

There seemed to be an anti-Catholic strand running throughout the play, interesting since presumably all of the characters in the play are Catholic, and presumably Shakespeare was not (though there is dispute about this). The primary reason why I suspect this anti-Catholic undercurrent is the importance placed upon Joan's religion in her first scene, and since Joan is not a character we are supposed to identify with, I don't think it's an accident that her religion is thus emphasized. I could be off-base about this, though.

Finally, I want to talk about King Henry VI himself. Still just a child, he constantly tries to bring peace to various warring factions, not only those within England but also on a grander scale England and France. Is this desire to avoid conflict childlike or childish? In this first part it seems like Henry's goals are noble, and his problem is not his motivations, but rather that his naivety allows him to be manipulated by those around him. I guess I'll have to get onto reading part 2 and 3 to see if my analysis is correct. (Tangent: I don't know/remember the actual history very well, so I can say that I have only a vague notion about what will happen. I've been looking up some things about the actual King Henry VI as I've been reading, though. That's a cool thing about reading Shakespearean histories: it leads me to seek out the real histories, and then I learn cool stuff. End tangent.)

All right, next up in my reading is Henry VI, part two! See you there!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Darn you, life!

So various Real Life stuff has been getting in the way of my actually reading 1 Henry VI (namely, midterms last week, Othello tech this week, etc., etc.). However, since I have this blog, I'm gonna make regular postings on it even if I don't have all that much progress to report. So yes. I am enjoying 1 Henry VI thus far. Considering that Henry VI seems to be the least remembered of the Henries (is that the plural? somehow I doubt it...), things are pretty interesting, though the titular king has not shown up yet, probably cause he's still in swaddling clothes.

I'm going to try as hard as I can to finish the play this afternoon, which means I should be able to give my full thoughts either today or tomorrow morning. I wouldn't bet too much money on it, though. Luckily spring break begins for me tomorrow, so that should free up my schedule a bit. I'll try to do as much Shakespeare reading as I can during these two weeks. Anyone have a goal which I should set for myself? Don't say the whole canon, or I'll disown you.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Hello friends,

I've gotten a very small start on 1 Henry VI. My schedule's been pretty hectic as of late, but I'll try to find some time this weekend to really plow into the play.

You may notice that I've changed the layout a bit. I think it looks slicker this way (though if you disagree, let me know!) In addition to a general new "look", I also have a little poll on the side for kicks and, more usefully, a list of Shakespeare's plays/poems in the chronological order in Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. For a completely arbitrary reason, I'm going to use that list to direct my reading. Of course, that would mean I read Comedy of Errors and Titus out of order, but I say pshaw to that!

BTW, Grace posted a comment on my last Titus post which you should definitely read if you (like me) didn't really "get" Titus. One thing which COMPLETELY went over my head which she points out is that Aaron, who I sort of wrote off as a one-dimensional villain, is the only person who actually loves and protects his family, unlike everyone else in the play. That's certainly interesting. I'm going to post a more detailed response to her as a comment on that post when I've got a bit more time.

Everyone, vote in the poll. And vote for Hamlet. :-)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Titus Andronicus thoughts


I don't really know what to say about Titus Andronicus. It's a tragedy which isn't even remotely tragic. In fact, it's quite funny, but I can't always tell if it is intentionally so. The villain, Aaron, strikes me as being Iago without everything which makes Iago a great character. The "hero", Titus, is such a reprehensible human being from Page 1 that I have absolutely no reason to care when he is finally killed. None of the other major characters are sympathetic in the slightest, either, which means that their deaths are ultimately entirely unemotional.

It is nothing like the other two tragedies of the same time, Julius Caesar and Romeo & Juliet, both of which are much more similar to Shakespeare's later great plays. Titus is more of Shakespeare's thinking "I'm going to write a tragedy as if by Tarantino." What he forgot was that Pulp Fiction was actually on a certain level a COMEDY. I suppose one could read Titus as a sort of black comedy, and in fact it works on that plane much better than it does as a strict tragedy. In many ways, Titus is like Pulp Fiction, but without the heart. And if you are going to reply, "but Pulp Fiction didn't have heart!", then I say to you that it DID; not much, but it was there, and it made it into a great movie rather than a meaningless one.

And that's the thing. I'm sure Titus means something. I just still am not quite sure what it is. Someone today told me that she thought it was about the ultimate meaninglessness of violence. That's certainly plausible, but the only problem I have is that Titus veers into what I'd call "slasher film" territory too often. To explain what I mean, I'm going to quote a passage from Orson Scott Card's wonderful book Characters and Viewpoint:
"The hideous murders in [slasher films] were originally devised to jack up the audience's emotions, higher and higher with each death. Rather sooner than they expected, however, many of the audience stopped being horrified and began to laugh. This is not really a sign of the audience's moral decay or inability to empathize; it's simply that an audience reaches a point where fictional pain is too difficult to bear. When pain or grief become unbearable in real life, human beings often develop fictions to cope with it--we call it insanity. When pain or grief become unbearable in fiction, readers simply disengage from the story and either abandon the tale or laugh at it."

Therein lies the problem, for me. Taking all of the events of Titus Andronicus at face value would make it a simply horrifying play, beyond the likes of even a play like Macbeth. So we don't take it at face value. I found a lot of the play, therefore, to be very funny. But that undermines, for me, any serious message which the play may have been trying to make about violence, or revenge.

Now, I will say that I did enjoy reading the play, and upon reflection I really don't agree with those critics who say that it is simply a bad play, given that there's a lot to think about in it. However, compared to the other works of Shakespeare I've read, I'm sorry to say that Titus Andronicus falls flat. I know that this may simply be that I didn't understand it well; I welcome any comments which might help me shed some light on it.

Next up, I'm going to try to go by the chronological order given by Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, and I'm going to read the Henry VI plays, which are considered Shakespeare's earliest.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

starting Titus Andronicus

I started Titus Andronicus.

It's... interesting.

Thoughts later once I've finished it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Full disclosure

For the record, I was in a production of Comedy of Errors once upon a time, so that may be why I find it so hilarious. I do think it is quite funny on its own terms, however, even though it may not hold up to Shakespeare's later comedies (personally, I'm quite fond of Twelfth Night, but another may replace it as my favorite, who knows...)


Hey everyone,

Thanks for the comments! They didn't, unfortunately, immediately go through, since I had comment moderation turned on. It's off now, and will remain off unless spammers somehow find this blog. So, comment away! You don't need to be registered with blogger to do so.

I have decided that the next play I will be reading is Titus Andronicus. I'll get that started either tonight or tomorrow. It's another early play, which is good; I don't want to mess with Shakespeare's chronology all that much (I will, in fact, be reading The Tempest last.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Comedy of Errors, Acts III-V

So I've finished rereading The Comedy of Errors. My first gut reaction is man, what a short play! If it weren't for Real Life stuff interfering, I would have finished it several days ago. (sorry about that)

In many ways, The Comedy of Errors is much more of a "comedy" in the modern sense than in the Shakespearean one. Namely, there's no wedding at the end, and it has a lot of jokes. In fact, I sort of found it to be Shakespeare's foray into sitcom writing: lots of laughs, ultimately little depth. I say that not disparagingly, for I really enjoyed the play, and I'm sure lots of scholarly treatises have gone at length trying to explain what it "means". What I argue, though, is that whether it "means" anything or not in a grand sense is really besides the point. The Comedy of Errors is a prime example of Shakespeare as an entertainer, pure and simple.

I'll admit here that oftentimes Elizabethan humor completely goes over my head the first time I hear it, and even when I "get" it I don't always find it very ha-ha funny. I did, however, find a lot of the wordplay in The Comedy of Errors to be legitimately funny. Part of that is the quick pace. It reads a lot like a Marx Brothers movie, with the Dromios as Grouchos, throwing out one-liners constantly.

All in all, I really liked revisiting The Comedy of Errors, and I look forward to reading the rest of Shakespeare's canon in the near future.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

CoE 2.2

So this scene is basically hilarious. I can sum it up thus:

Dromio of S.: Time is bald!
Adriana [to A. of S.]: You're my husband!
Antipholus of S.: mmmmm... Kay.

For the record the whole time/hair bit is awesome. In my mind, where Shakespeare had a sketch comedy show, that was a highlight.

Oh, and Antipholus of Syracuse just totally pretends to be the husband of someone he has never met...

CoE 2.1

So 2.1 is actually pretty similar to 1.2: we have a conversation between a couple of characters, and then a confused Dromio of E. shows up, and said Dromio is threatened with corporal punishment.

The scene is really about Adriana and Luciana. At first there seems to be a contrast being set up between Adriana, the empowered woman, and Luciana, who is still trapped in the sexism of the era. But by the end of the scene we see Adriana is worrying about her looks and generally not standing up for herself. This isn't cool. I'm going to see whether I like the way these characters are portrayed more as the play progresses (which I recall from my earlier readings I will).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

continuing Comedy of Errors

So, the second scene of The Comedy of Errors disabuses us of any notion we might have had that we were reading a tragedy, as Dromio of Ephesus gets into some wordplay. Shakespeare loves wordplay, and was quite good at it, even in this rather early play.

What is strange about this scene is that a good deal of it consists of Dromio of Ephesus talking about how he has been abused by his master and his wife. Then we see Dromio getting smacked by Antipholus of Syracuse. Now, you'll remember the play started with a guy almost getting executed. Not only is there a surprising amount of violence in this pretty lighthearted play, it also seems clear that we're not really supposed to take all of the violence too seriously. Because while the Antipholi (and I insist on using that plural) are not shown to be the greatest of people, especially not Antipholus of Ephesus, they end up having happy endings and never pay for their mistreatment of the Dromios. Is this just an early form of black comedy? Certainly a good deal of the violence is played for laughs, but we also have sympathy for the Dromios.

Oh, and we hear the word "mountebank" in this scene. Shakespeare seems to love that insult above all others. I honestly have no clue why...

p.s. Antipholus of Syracuse seems purely motivated by greed. While Antipholus of Ephesus is definitely the worse of the two, Antipholus of S. doesn't seem to care one whit about Dromio's apparent insanity, but really does care about his money. Remind me not to owe this guy money, ever.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Comedy of Errors, 1.1!

All right, for no particular reason, I decided to start with The Comedy of Errors. I'm quite fond of this play, silly as it is. I read the introduction in the Pelican Shakespeare (I don't own a Riverside, sue me...), which got me thinking about the play's genre.

See, when reading Act 1 Scene 1, two things jumped out at me. First of all, Shakespeare managed to get away with having a TON of exposition right at the beginning by putting the character saying the exposition in danger of death. That's clever. Second, just looking at this first scene, the play doesn't seem especially comedic. The only clues we have that we aren't reading a tragedy are the inherent absurdity of the whole pair-of-twins idea, and the fact that the play is titled The Comedy of Errors. But otherwise, this is quite the somber beginning, as the reasonably sympathetic Egeon looks like he's going to die.

Stay tuned for more later as I return to the play...

Hello everyone!

I've always really loved Shakespeare. Reading his plays, seeing them performed, acting in them... the whole deal. However, I realized the other day that I actually have never sat down and read the whole canon. For that matter, I've never read or seen several of his plays, and most of his poems. That's not very good for someone who considers himself to be a huge Shakespeare fan! So I'm going to be reading the whole shebang over the next few weeks (or however long it takes), and to make things more interesting, I'm going to post my thoughts here as I do it. Hope you enjoy it!