Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shakespeare Challenge: Ten Relationships

The final Shakespeare Challenge: finding ten relationships, good or bad, harmonious or dysfunctional.

10. Relationship [1] Othello and Desdemona

Against all societal convention, Othello and Desdemona fall desperately in love and marry. They treat each other as equals—at first. Desdemona makes Othello happier than he could have imagined, and Desdemona deeply admires the experienced Othello. One gets the impression that they would have had a long and happy marriage if everything didn’t go AS BADLY AS IT POSSIBLY COULD.
OTHELLO: Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul
But I do love thee! And when I love thee not
Chaos is come again.

10. Relationship [2] Benedick and Beatrice

Beatrice and Benedick have a long “friendship,” which consists of exchanging barbed insults. They talk about how much they despise one another until, thanks to interfering friends, the two fall in love. Their relationship is one of equals, as they have met their match.
BENEDICK: Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.

10. Relationship [3] Cassius and Brutus

Cassius manipulates Brutus into killing their friend and leader, using his strong moral sense against him. But Cassius relies on Brutus. They conspire together and go through great danger together.
BRUTUS: When I spoke that, I was ill-temper’d too.CASSIUS: Do you confess so much? Give me your hand.BRUTUS: And my heart too.CASSIUSO Brutus! 

10. Relationship [4] Hotspur and Lady Percy


Hotspur and his wife have a, shall we say, fiery relationship. The macho and sexist Hotspur has an equally headstrong wife, Lady Percy, or Kate. But underneath their many arguments lies a true affection.
LADY PERCY: In faith, I’ll break thy little finger, Harry,
An if thou wilt not tell me all things true.

10. Relationship [5] Bottom and the Rude Mechanicals


The enthusiastic, arrogant, and bombastic Bottom is one of Shakespeare’s funniest creations. He and a group of laborers are part-time actors. In spite of his immense stupidity, his confidence inspires the other actors’ admiration. They flee from Bottom when fairies turn him into an ass (get it?), but they reunite to perform in front of the court. Their shenanigans and tragic play are absolutely hilarious, and there is something endearing about their dedication to one another and to the play.
QUINCE: If we offend, it is with our good will. That you should think, we come not to offend, But with good will. To show our simple skill, That is the true beginning of our end.

10. Relationship [6] Mistress Ford and Mistress Page


These two badass ladies run rings around the men in their lives. One husband is super jealous, the other is laid back. One man tries to seduce them both to get their money. They find all this to be hilarious. They’ve known each other since childhood, and when together, they are as mischievous as clever schoolgirls.
Above: their secret handshake in a production I saw at the London Globe.
FORD: I think, if your husbands were dead,you two would marry.

10. Relationship [7] Rosalind and Celia


Rosalind and Celia are very close cousins. When Rosalind is banished, Celia defies her father and goes with Rosalind into the forest. Rosalind dresses as a boy and Celia as a peasant girl. They share secrets about love until their relationship gives way to heterosexual romance.
CELIA: we still have slept together,Rose at an instant, learn’d, play’d, eat together,And wheresoever we went, like Juno’s swans,Still we went coupled and inseparable.

10. Relationship [8] Macbeth and Lady Macbeth


Macbeth admires his wife’s steely resolve. Though Lady Macbeth berates and pressures her husband, one gets the impression that this relationship is fairly equal. They consult and advise one another. They have gone through hardships together. Once the killing starts, though, the two become increasingly estranged until Macbeth is too numb to mourn his wife’s death.
MACBETH: Bring forth men-children only, For thy undaunted mettle should compose Nothing but males. 

10. Relationship [9] Henry V and Catherine


After defeating France, Henry V woos French princess Catherine over a language barrier in a charming scene. However, there is plenty of ambiguity here, considering this is an arranged marriage between conquered and conqueror.
KING HENRY V: O fair Catherine, if you will love me soundly with your French heart, I will be glad to hear you confess it brokenly with your English tongue.

10. Relationship [10] Antony and Cleopatra


Unlike most lovers on this list, Antony and Cleopatra are middle-aged. In spite of their experience, they are rash, dramatic, and passionately in love. But balancing love and work, when it involves running countries and working at cross purposes, can be messy, even for the most formidable historical icons.
ANTONY: Egypt, thou knew’st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by th’ strings,
And thou shouldst tow me after. O’er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knew’st, and that
Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
Command me.

That's it. Hope you enjoyed it! :) 

Shakespeare Challenge: Nine Protagonists

9. Protagonist [1] 

BerowneLove’s Labour’s Lost


Literary, cynical, and merry, Berowne is a delightful protagonist who can argue for or against anything. He delivers gorgeous, witty speeches, and, to me, represents a young Shakespeare.

9. Protagonist [2]

CleopatraAntony and Cleopatra


In many ways, Cleopatra is a stereotype of a histrionic woman. However, I eventually came to admire how open she is about her desires and emotions as well as her more tactical side. Mark Antony brags about how independent he is from Cleopatra, but in battle, in spite of her genuine love for Mark Antony, Cleopatra is the one thinking about numero uno.

9. Protagonist [3]



How could I not include Hamlet, one of the most famous, complex characters of all time? This intense young prince is overwhelmed by grief and circumstances that are out of his control. Deeply emotional, philosophical, troubled, and witty, Hamlet is often hailed as a modern man whose thought surpasses his action.

9. Protagonist [4]



The titular Othello has lived a hard life, but he considers himself a lucky man. In spite of being a black Moor in Italy, he has become a general and married a senator’s daughter. Othello is remarkably cool-headed and respected—until his close friend, a comrade-in-arms, starts spinning lies to play on his deeply buried insecurities. Othello’s fall is one of the greatest and most tragic in Shakespeare.

9. Protagonist [5]

LearKing Lear


Lear is a highly flawed king, bombastic, self-righteous, and, in his old age, unwise. Yet his decline into dementia is devastating. After the betrayal of his daughters, he vacillates between lucidity, confusion, and extreme bitterness.

9. Protagonist [6]


The audience watches as Macbeth turns from respected soldier to manipulative and bloody villain. Spurred on by three witches and his wife, he is at first reluctant to kill for the throne. Yet once he starts, paranoia takes over, life and love lose meaning, and Macbeth can’t stop murdering friend and foe to keep his power.

9. Protagonist [7]

RosalindAs You Like It

Rosalind is the vivacious daughter of a banished duke. After her uncle also banishes her, she heads for the woods, dons men’s clothing, and cheekily names herself Ganymede. She uses her disguise to flirt with her crush and teach him about love, teasing and obsessing over him along the way.

9. Protagonist [8]

BenedickMuch Ado About Nothing

Benedick is a misogynistic if hilarious fellow who swears off marriage. He loves war, his comrades at arms, and cracking jokes. By the end of the play, he sides with a woman while other men malign her and consents to both love and marriage.

9. Protagonist [9]

BeatriceMuch Ado About Nothing

DON PEDRO: Your silence most offends me, and to be merry best becomes you, for out o’ question you were born in a merry hour.
BEATRICE: No, sure, my lord, my mother cried, but then there was a
star danced, and under that was I born.
Beatrice is free-spirited, outspoken, fiesty, loyal, and witty. Her friends list her flaws as being proud and sometimes merciless. Basically, she’s the bomb. Delightful company, great entertainment, and a friend who will defend you to the end.

Shakespeare Challenge: Eight Plays

8. Play [1] Hamlet


What can I say about Hamlet, the character or the play? They are never ending, fascinating puzzles, portrayed and interpreted countless times. The plot follows a young prince driven to avenge his father’s murder. Along the way, the audience is treated to existential meditations about the human condition. Don’t worry, though, there’s humor as well. Filled with iconic quotes and characters, the play is considered by many to be a remarkably modern study of an individual’s grapple with purpose, life, and death.

8. Play [2] Othello


Though written four hundred years ago, Othello deals with racism, sexism, and psychopathy. It includes gorgeous language and well-drawn characters. Othello is a black “Moor,” a former slave who becomes a renowned general. He and Desdemona, a young white daughter of a senator, fall desperately in love and marry. Unfortunately, Iago, one of Othello’s comrades and closest friends, takes the opportunity to play upon Othello’s weaknesses. The audience watches in fascination and frustration as a one of the most wicked villains of all time torments sympathetic but highly flawed protagonists. Sometimes problematic, always controversial, the play is one of Shakespeare’s most painful tragedies.

8. Play [3] Much Ado About Nothing


Much Ado About Nothing follows two couples, one young and innocent, the other slightly older and much more cynical. When slander drives their small community apart, the play veers awfully close to tragedy. Thankfully, it remains a delightful comedy, with scintillating banter, buffoonery, and a battle between the sexes. In spite, or perhaps because, of the play’s genuine tension and heartbreak, one leaves Much Ado thinking of the ridiculous wonders of love and how “man is a giddy thing.”

8. Play [4] Measure for Measure


A very dark comedy, Measure for Measure includes sexual coercion, the threat of beheading, and lots of prostitution. The few “moral” characters are, at best, hypocrites. There is some hilarious and ribald humor deriding draconian laws and pious attitudes, particularly when it comes to sex.

8. Play [5] The Winter’s Tale


The Winter’s Tale is a beautiful play of grief and loss, joy and restoration. A king, in a mad fit of jealousy, disrupts his court and destroys his family. The character “Time” divides the play in two. The second part takes place years later, where the warmer spring winds offer second chances and fresh hope. There is a hint of the supernatural, but perhaps it is simply the power of love that renews the human soul.

8. Play [6] A Midsummer Night’s Dream


At first, I thought A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a remarkably silly play. But now I couldn’t do without the enchanting setting and abundant humor. Mismatched lovers, bickering fairies, magic spells, a hilarious troupe of actors, and one ridiculous play within a play add up to make one of Shakespeare’s most memorable comedies.

8. Play [7] Antony and Cleopatra


I’ve only read Antony and Cleopatra once, and, truth be told, I don’t remember it in detail. I do remember the vivid, plausible characters who grew on me over the course of the play. The romance initially comes across as overwrought and gendered before revealing itself as complex and mature. It is ultimately a moving and complicated political story of the end of an era and a love between two great figures with personalities to match.

8. Play [8] Romeo and Juliet


This tragic story of two very young lovers has been adapted both before and after Shakespeare’s version. It is filled with beautiful poetry and lively characters, such as our heroine’s bawdy nurse and our hero’s wild friend. The love story illuminates the rashness and innocence of youth in a community fraught with prejudice and violence.

Shakespeare Challenge: Seven Themes

7. Theme [1] Nihilism


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


7. Theme [2] Reconciliation

They looked as they had heard of a world ransomed, or one destroyed: a notable passion of wonder appeared in them; but the wisest beholder, that knew no more but seeing, could not say if the importance were joy or sorrow; but in the extremity of the one, it must needs be.

(The Winter’s Tale)

7. Theme [3] Mistaken Identity

Why, how now, gentleman! why, this is flat knavery, to take upon you another man’s name.

(Taming of the Shrew)

7. Theme [4] Girl Power


But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth: is’t frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.


7. Theme [5] Bigotry


He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

(The Merchant of Venice)

7. Theme [6] Duplicity


For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.


7. Theme [7] Irreverence


DEMETRIUS: Villain, what hast thou done?
AARON: That which thou canst not undo.
CHIRON: Thou hast undone our mother.
AARON: Villain, I have done thy mother.

(Titus Andronicus)

Shakespeare Challenge: Six Settings

6. Setting [1] The Winter’s Tale


The setting of The Winter’s Tale beautifully conveys a sense of rejuvenation. The first half takes place in Sicily’s winter and covers what is essentially a tragedy. Sixteen years later, the second half happens mostly in Bohemia’s summer, a time of harvests, festivals, dancing, and singing, of humor, love, and forgiveness. What better way to depict the thawing out of old men’s hearts and the magic of redemption?

6. Setting [2] King Lear


King Lear is set in pre-Christain Britain, an ageless place, bereft of tangible society and context. The setting is as dark and chaotic as Lear’s mind. Even though several countries are mentioned, the play could take place in the absence of space. This emptiness directly reflects Lear’s and humanity’s absurd position at the hands of insensitive fate. Our protagonist howls into the abyss. But is there any response?

6. Setting [3] Macbeth


Macbeth’s tale of ambition and bloodshed can be set anywhere, including the 1970s (like in the hilarious Scotland, PA) or a postapocalyptic battleground. But there’s little question as to where the original is set. It is even referred to as the Scottish Play starring the Scottish King, due to theScottish Curse that brings harm when “Macbeth” is uttered in a theatre. Supposedly based on real king, Medieval Scotland is a perfect gothic setting for witches and warring factions.

6. Setting [4] A Midsummer Night’s Dream


The woods play a huge part in Shakespeare’s works. They represent magic and moral chaos, a place away from society. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, fairies reign in Athens’ ancient forests. Spells are cast, people are transformed, and couples fall in and out of love. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is often one of Shakespeare’s most visually beautiful plays due to the setting’s fantastical possibilities.

6. Setting [5] The Tempest


The Tempest is a rare Shakespearean play that follows Aristotle’s “unities” theory: unity of action, time, and place. The Tempest happens in one day on one island. The setting is of utmost importance as the magician Prospero and his daughter have been stuck on this island for more than a decade. Prospero creates a storm that shipwrecks a passing boat which carries his wicked brother. Now they are on his land, as Prospero has mastered the island and its spirits. The setting illuminates themes of colonization and the human fear of something untamed and wild.

6. Setting [6] War of the Roses


The War of the Roses tetralogy, which includes Henry VI parts one, two, and three, and Richard III, covers several decades in 15th century England. The plays are an epic retelling of political maneuvering and slaughter. The tetralogy portrays an essential part of English history, and is intriguingly complex historical propoganda.

Shakespeare Challenge: Five Minor Characters

5. Minor character [1] Lucio


Lucio lies in order to stir up trouble, but he tells some serious truths about society and humanity. A mischievous knave, a flippant rascal, and a helper and a hinderer, Lucio frequently skewers puritanical laws against sexuality and other human “sins.”

5. Minor character [2] Barnardine


Barnardine (right), a prisoner of nine years, says only a few lines, yet he is highly memorable. The characters in Measure for Measure describe him best:

Provost: A man that apprehends death no more dreadfully but as a drunken sleep; careless, reckless, and fearless of what’s past, present, or to come; insensible of mortality, and desperately mortal. 

Duke: He wants advice.

Provost: He will hear none. He hath evermore had the liberty of the prison: give him leave to escape hence, he would not: drunk many times a day, if not many days entirely drunk. We have very oft awaked him, as if to carry him to execution, and showed him a seeming warrant for it: it hath not moved him at all.

He appears in a hilarious exchange in which he is threatened with execution, which he refuses, due to being too drunk. Amazingly, this excuse works, as he marches right back into his cell to live and drink another day.

5. Minor character [3] Mercutio


In the above painting, the aptly named Mercutio is shown with fairy midwife Queen Mab. She appears in a detailed speech that displays Mercutio’s imagination. He also possesses a bawdy sense of humor, which makes him delightful if sometimes overbearing company. However, he can quickly lose his temper or sink into melancholy. Mercutio is both avid entertainer and haunted, tragic figure. Shakespeare supposedly said “he was forced to kill him in the third act, to prevent being killed by him.” Check out Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet for John McEnery’s beautiful interpretation of the character.

5. Minor character [4] Caliban


If the spirit Ariel is protagonist Prospero’s ethereal superego, Caliban is his id. Born to a witch, is he man or monster? A crude portrait of an indigenous, Irish, or African slave? A sympathetic underdog or a base creature? Though ignorant and subversive, Caliban can be achingly poetic. One of Shakespeare’s most debated characters, Caliban is one to fear, laugh at, and cry for.

5. Minor character [5] Octavius


Octavius appeared briefly in Julius Caesar, but Mark Antony was the young manipulator who made an impression in his rise to power. In Antony and Cleopatra, Antony is older, and Octavius is the up-and-coming threat. When others celebrate and drink, Octavius abstains and observes. His icy calculation is frightening, but his motives might actually be loftier than our hedonistic protagonists’.

Shakespeare Challenge: Four Villains

4. Villain [1] Iago


I don’t think there’s a greater, more malevolent, unrepentant, intelligent, repulsive, inscrutable, or fascinating villain in Shakespeare or in fiction than Iago. It’s not what he does to his enemies but to his friends that is so frightening. He destroys others from the inside out, using their flaws or virtues against them. A devil figure and a textbook psychopath, Iago is both endlessly cunning and mundane. The audience never witnesses his death or gets a satisfying explanation for why he led his comrades into spectacular disaster.

4. Villain [2] Richard III


Scholars consider Richard III to be one of the most maligned figures in history, thanks in large part to Shakespeare’s dynamic creation. This Richard III ruthlessly kills his way to the throne, playing with victims as he goes. He is despicable, yet he seduces audiences with his brilliance and wicked sense of humor. Unfortunately, we eventually realize that he has also duped us. Once king, Richard becomes a paranoid despot, revealing himself as nothing more than an empty, lonely mad man.

4. Villain [3] Aaron


In a play filled with heinous individuals, Aaron the Moor stands out as the most cunning and sadistic. Though he refuses to repent and delivers epic speeches about reveling in depravity, his position as a slave and his love for his infant son are points of sympathy. Aaron is one of Shakespeare’s most charismatic and evil characters.

4. Villain [4] Shylock


Shylock is one of Shakespeare’s most written about and most controversial characters. Both an antisemitic charicature and a sympathetic figure, Shylock craves money and blood and gives stirring speeches about the mistreatment of Jews. He has been used in arguments defending and condemning bigotry. Ultimately a bitter, sad, and vengeful man, ill-treatment has warped Shylock’s humanity. He is a reminder of prejudices present in Shakespeare’s time and now.

Shakespeare Challenge: Three Quotes

3. Quote [1]


Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible
Than are the tender horns of cockl’d snails;
Love’s tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste:
For valour, is not Love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?
Subtle as Sphinx; as sweet and musical
As bright Apollo’s lute, strung with his hair:
And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.
Never durst poet touch a pen to write
Until his ink were temper’d with Love’s sighs;
O, then his lines would ravish savage ears
And plant in tyrants mild humility.
From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain and nourish all the world:
Else none at all in ought proves excellent.

(Berowne, Love’s Labour’s Lost)

This whole monologue is gorgeous, and David Tennant’s delivery of this speech in the 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company's production made me feel as though I was watching a young Shakespeare stand before me.

3. Quote [2]


Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too—
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out—
And take upon ’s the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies. And we’ll wear out
In a walled prison packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by the moon.

(Lear to his daughter Cordelia in King Lear)

The description of my blog features a quote from this speech. Almost nothing is more heartbreaking than the end of King Lear. All too late, Lear wants to reconnect with his one loving daughter and enjoy life.

3. Quote [3]


Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

(Caliban, The Tempest)

Choosing favorite quotes from Shakespeare is ridiculously difficult. Shakespeare contains so many modern phrases and beautiful passages. So for my third choice, I’ll go with Caliban’s speech. That Caliban, “this thing of darkness,” has the most beautiful little monologue in The Tempest is still remarkable to me.