Measure for Measure

William Hunt - Claudio and Isabella

The Play’s the Thing: The Duke of Vienna is leaving on a trip and invests one of his lords, Angelo, with running the state until his return. While the Duke is supposedly gone, he has actually disguised himself as a friar in order to observe how Angelo does at enforcing the laws of Vienna. In his new role of power, Angelo condemns Claudio to be beheaded for having pre-marital sex with his fiancee, Juliet, and impregnating her. In an effort to get Angelo to reverse his decision, Claudio sends for his sister Isabella, who is about to join a convent, to plead on his behalf. Isabella does as asked and goes to see Angelo, however the passion of her pleas makes Isabella particularly attractive to Angelo. He makes her the offer of sparing her brother’s life if she’ll sleep with him. Outraged, Isabella refuses and goes to the prison to visit her brother to let him know that she wasn’t able to help him. The Duke/friar, who is visiting Claudio in the prison, overhears Isabella relate the offer Angelo made her. He suggests that Isabella tell Angelo that she will do as he asks after all, but instead of going herself, send Angelo’s jilted fiancee, Mariana, whom he ditched after her brother drowned in a shipwreck with her dowry aboard. Isabella and Mariana agree. The Duke then sends letters to Angelo letting him know that he’ll be returning to Vienna and tells Angelo to meet him at the city gate. The Duke as the friar then tells Isabella to accuse Angelo of everything that has happened in front of the Duke. She does and there’s a bit with the Duke pretending not to believe her, leaving for a bit, returning in disguise as the friar, and then being revealed to be the Duke. He forces Angelo to marry Mariana, forgives him for his hypocrisy, forgives Claudio for his crime and tells him to marry Juliet, and finally, proposes to Isabella.

Heroes and Villains: Isabel definitely wins this honour. She’s well-spoken, strong-willed, and is actually capable of acting for herself.

Insults with Style: O gravel heart! (IV.iii)

Wordsmith:

  • test made of my metal (I.i)
  • the baby beats the nurse (I.iv)
  • Our doubts are traitors,/ And make us lose the good we oft might win/ By fearing to attempt. (I.v)
  • Condemn the fault and not the actor of it (II.ii)
  • I am so out of love with life that I will sue to be rid of it (III.i)
  • dark deeds darkly answered (III.ii)
  • time out of mind (IV.ii)
Speech to Know: Claudio gives this speech when Isabella tells him that she wasn’t able to secure his pardon.
“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods or to reside
In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thoughts
Imagine howling! – ’tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.” (III.i)

View from the Pit: Measure for Measure is a bit of an oddity. Technically classified as one of Shakespeare’s comedies, there are far more tragic elements to the plot than comedic. Claudio is unfairly condemned to death, Isabella is put into an untenable position, and the Duke is hanging around in disguise to see how his subjects act in his absence (actually, that plot point is more common in the histories). While intriguing for its discussions of death, morality, and the difficulties of enforcing the law, the play is not filled with the wit in some of the better comedies. There’s a lot of punning and some bawdy humour (only natural when one of the minor characters is a prostitute and the other is the Shakespearean equivalent to a pimp) from the minor characters but the main characters are absorbed with the rather dramatic plot and there’s no bantering at all. Isabella is a wonderfully strong character and I love that Shakespeare wrote such a proactive woman. However, I’m not entirely thrilled with the fact that she ends up marrying the Duke. While comedies are basically defined by the fact that they end in marriage, I would almost be happier if Isabella after preventing her brother’s beheading went back to her previous plans to join the convent, especially as she and the Duke never have a scene that indicates any sort of spark or attraction. Other than that minor quibble, the play is an interesting one in a study of the origins of the tragicomedy.

Film Review – Twelfth Night (1969)

Twelfth Night Cover

It’s film review time again. And I was super excited for this one because OBI-WAN KENOBI plays Malvolio. That’s right, everyone’s favourite Jedi master (after Yoda, of course) is in a Shakespeare play. It’s probably what he earned the knighthood for. Anyway, after that bit of geeking out, let’s move on to the film itself.

First off, this was originally aired on television in 1969 so the backgrounds are obviously painted landscapes and the costumes while beautiful and vaguely Elizabethan still manage to have that 60s feel. So let’s go over our main characters. Duke Orsino has a bit of a weird hairdo going on (most of the men in this movie do, sadly, except for OBI-WAN!) but the guy himself is actually not bad looking, if you take a gander at some of the photos on his IMDb page. In an interesting choice that avoids the whole suspension of disbelief issue, the actress who plays Viola/Cesario also plays Sebastian. As a result, she ends up doing two man voices, one for Viola pretending to be Cesario and one for Sebastian. An impressive range (at least in my opinion, as I can barely do a man voice at all unless I have a cold).

Viola

Viola post-shipwreck

The actress playing Olivia (who is featured most prominently on the film cover at the top of this post) is actually very pretty and she gets some fantastic dresses. As for the rest of the clothes, a lot of men in tights and then fancy jackets. On the bright side, Viola’s man-clothes are just like every other man in the production, which makes the cross-dressing much more acceptable.

The play itself is very well done with only minor changes to get the film to its 1 hour 47 minutes run time include flipping the first two scenes so that Viola arrives at Illyria before the Duke gives his excellent speech about music being the food of love. Also, while I didn’t notice it explicitly, some of the servant hijinks were cut down. The two most interesting choices made for the film is that Viola, dressed as a woman, first sees Duke Orsino before deciding to cross-dress and join his court and that all soliloquies are done as voice-overs. The first choice made for an interesting melding of the first two scenes and added a dash of love at first sight to the plot. The second choice got a bit awkward with Viola’s facial expressions while the voice-over played.

Now, on to OBI-WAN as Malvolio. He is deliciously pretentious prior to the come-uppance and I wish I could convey to you the ridiculousness that is seeing this man with yellow stockings cross-gartered. Sadly, Google has failed me once again (I guess that’s what I get for watching obscure Shakespeare adaptations).

Twelfth Night is interesting because Shakespeare includes so many songs (sung almost exclusively by the Clown) and seeing how adaptations deal with Shakespearean songs is always a bit of an adventure. This version proves how much of a product of its time it is by giving them a very folksy feel (reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel).

Clown and Maria

Clown: I am such a good singer. Maria: Mmm, yeah, about that...

Following the final resolution of the play with Olivia and Orsino getting their respective twins, most of the cast goes off the stage in a procession (hello favourite closing exit of every Shakespearean adaptation watched so far) and then (as is written in the play), the Clown sings a song. However, the best (or possibly worst) part of this is that the lighting on the set goes very blue with a single spot on the actor, which just makes me giggle and think of 80s tv specials for various musicians. So not a bad film overall and you do get to see OBI-WAN, but don’t rush out to get your hands on a copy of this.

Twelfth Night

A Scene from Twelfth Night - William Hamilton

The Play’s the Thing: Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, is in love with Olivia, a rich countess whose father and brother have both died recently. Olivia has refused all of the Duke’s advances and devotes herself to grieving. Meanwhile, Viola has just come on shore after surviving a shipwreck. Believing her twin brother, Sebastian has drowned, she decides to disguise herself as a man (more specifically, a eunuch) and serve in Orsino’s court until she figures out what to do. Viola, whose male alter-ego is called Cesario, ends up being Orsino’s favourite and selected for the job of wooing Olivia on Orsino’s behalf. Olivia still refuses the Duke’s advances but falls in love with Cesario instead, much to Viola’s dismay. Of course, Viola has fallen in love with Orsino. Meanwhile, Sebastian arrives in Illyria with Antonio, the pirate who rescued him, and thus begins many cases of Sebastian and Cesario being confused with each other. In the subplot, Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch and several of her servants decide to torture the insufferable Malvolio, one of Olivia’s servants, by convincing him that Olivia is in love with him and then taking him to the point where he appears mad and is locked up. Eventually, Sebastian ends up marrying Olivia, who thinks he’s Cesario. The Duke finally meets Olivia in the street and attempts to woo her at which point she tells him that she married Cesario. Viola is confused and tells Olivia that she didn’t marry him. The priest is brought in as a witness and then Sebastian himself shows up. There’s a lot of double-takes and Sebastian and Viola are overjoyed that the other is still alive. The prank against Malvolio is revealed and he is freed although he vows revenge against Sir Toby Belch and his cronies. Orsino realizes that Viola has been in love with him all along and decides to marry her.

Heroes and Villains: My favourite character in this play is definitely Viola who is perhaps the best incarnation of the Shakespearean trope of women disguising themselves as men. She’s bright and resourceful and deals well with all of the craziness that comes with cross-dressing. The runner-up for this category, is the Clown who is thoroughly entertaining and plays along the border of fool and wise man so deftly.

Wordsmith:

  • Journeys end in lovers’ meeting/ Every wise man’s son doth know. (II.iii)
  • a horse of that colour (II.iii)
  • Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. (II.v)
  • a heart of stone (III.iv)

Speech to Know: Orsino’s first speech that opens the play has a very well-known first line but the whole speech is worth knowing.

“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die. –
That strain again; – it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet south,
that breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing, and giving odour. – Enough; no more;
‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou!
that, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soever,
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute! so full of shapes is fancy,
that it alone is high-fantastical.” (I.i)

View from the Pit: Twelfth Night has always been one of my favourite comedies. The gender bending that Shakespeare is so fond of is particularly well done in this play, with Viola doing her best to play the part of a man and largely succeeding, although her reluctance to swordfight is the catalyst that leads to the play’s ultimate resolution. There’s a lot of debate within the play about whether men or women love more strongly, a theme that is fascinating as Orsino argues men love much more than women but is later the one to do an about-face and swiftly go from loving Olivia to loving Viola. While there is always a heavy need for suspension of disbelief that Viola’s male disguise makes her identical to Sebastian, we’re willing to let it go for the sheer joy of the hijinks that ensue while the reader remains in the know throughout. A delightful comedy with some more insightful strands interwoven, mostly from the Clown, this play is definitely one of the better comedies.

Film Review – The Merry Wives of Windsor (1982)

Another film from The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series from the BBC. However, unlike our last encounter with this series, this film has some redeeming qualities. First and foremost is that there are some actually decent actors in this cast. Uncle Vernon from the Harry Potter films plays Falstaff with a full beard that is probably all his. Probably lesser known to some is Mrs. Jennings from Sense and Sensibility (also in the Harry Potter films as the original Gryffindor portrait Fat Lady) plays Mrs. Quickly. But perhaps the most impressive cast member is Ben Kingsley (before he was a Sir) playing Mr. Ford. Our young couple of Fenton and Anne are actually pretty good looking but once again the internet has failed in providing me with pictures of them. Sadly the actor playing Fenton gets stuck in the high collars and poofy trousers and tights look for the entire film, the poor sod. I seriously doubt those were comfortable.

Speaking of the costumes, everyone is pretty well-dressed in their Elizabethan finery. With the exception of the fairy scene at the end of the play, no one’s skirts are too wide. The gents also get a pretty good deal with their costumes and only have to wear knee high stockings with their short pants rather than the full-on tights look. I was particularly envious of Slender’s hat which sadly isn’t in the picture below, but you can see he’s a pretty tatty dresser.

Anne and Slender

The back of Anne's head is not a great indicator of how pretty she is. But isn't Slender a tatty dresser?

The best part of this film, which at 2 hours and 47 minutes is best viewed in chunks rather than in one sitting, is the superb acting of Ben Kingsley. He takes Ford’s jealousies to neurotic heights and makes the character an insecure and fidgety man who is forever trying to get the other men to pay attention to his cries of his wife’s unfaithfulness. His scenery chewing reaches even greater heights when he plays Ford pretending to be Brook for Falstaff. His voice, laugh, and facial expressions are priceless. Sadly, Falstaff wasn’t nearly as funny and came across as far harsher than I had read him. Although seeing him in the ridiculous fringed hat when he was dressed as a woman was pretty entertaining and actually overshadowed him when wearing stag’s horns on his head.

The director on this film did a really decent job with the material. Soliloquies and asides are addressed directly to the camera with the actors being unafraid of looking straight at us, which makes it far more enjoyable. I also really enjoyed the silent subplot that the director inserted of Mrs. Quickly hooking up with Pilot (one of Falstaff’s former cronies) as their eye-flirting was pretty hysterical.

Creepy fairies

Unfortunately, the ending of the play wasn’t quite as awesome as I’d hoped for. While the children dressed up as fairies are pretty adorable, the picking on Falstaff felt far too choreographed and didn’t have the feeling of chaos that I thought the scene deserved. However, the choreography of Slender and Dr. Caius running away with their “Anne”s while the real Anne runs off with Fenton is well done. Once all is resolved, the film ends with singing and a procession of the actors walking across the “hills” leaving me to wonder if there’s some unwritten rule in this series that all films must end this way.

Thus ends our first encounter with Falstaff, who will crop up again later in the year. On Sunday, we’ll move on to one of my favourite comedies, Twelfth Night.

Merry Wives of Windsor

Merry Wives of Windsor

The Play’s the Thing: Sir John Falstaff is in a tight situation financially and comes up with the brilliant plan of courting two women who gave him the eye in the local pub in an effort to get them to give him some of their husbands’ money. The two women in question, Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, are outraged when they receive Falstaff’s letters of elicitation as they did nothing on their part to indicate any kind of interest, and are even more upset when they compare their letters and find that other than their names, the letters are identical. In an effort to teach Falstaff a lesson, they cook up a plan that will punish Falstaff and also Mrs. Ford’s husband who has a ridiculous jealous streak. Convincing him that Mrs. Ford is interested in his advances, they bring him to the Ford house while Ford is out only to have Ford come back again and force Falstaff to escape in the most ridiculous ways possible, first in a basket of dirty laundry that gets dumped in the Thames and then disguising him as an old woman suspected of witchcraft who gets beaten by Ford on ‘her’ way out of the house. Meanwhile, with all of the antics going on with Falstaff, three gentlemen are all courting Anne Page (the daughter of the aforementioned Mrs. Page and her husband, Page). Slender is courting Anne mostly for her dowry at the behest of his uncle, Shallow, and the Welsh parson, Sir Hugh Evans. Dr. Caius, a French doctor, has been convinced by his maid, Mrs. Quickly that Anne actually is in love with him (Mrs. Quickly is not too bright and serves as a go-between for practically everyone in the play). And finally, Fenton who is in love with Anne and whom Anne also loves. Of the three suitors, Page wants Anne to marry Slender, Mrs. Page wants her to marry Dr. Caius, and neither of them want her to marry Fenton. In the final prank against, Falstaff, the wives reveal their plots to their husbands who join in the plan to have Falstaff dress up as a horned spirit believed to haunt an oak tree in the park near Windsor in order to finally have a rendez-vous with Mrs. Ford. Then a whole group of children and many of the other minor characters show up dressed as fairies to torment Falstaff with pinches and minor burns. Page tells Slender to use the confusion to steal away Anne and marry her. Mrs. Page tells Dr. Caius the same thing. Anne and Felton make their own plot to use the moment to run away and get married which they do successfully. In the end, Falstaff is forgiven for his exploits and given some cash by Ford, Ford and Page gain a greater appreciation for their wives, and the Pages ruefully accept the marriage of Anne to Fenton.

Heroes and Villains: My favourite character of the play has to be Falstaff (and I’m in good company because Queen Elizabeth I was also a big fan). His ridiculous self-confidence that two married women would find him attractive is thoroughly entertaining, especially as he’s described as an older man with a very large belly. His reactions to his plights are particularly funny and many of his speeches had me laughing out loud as I read them.

Wordsmith:

  • upon familiarity will grow more contempt (I.i)
  • burn daylight (II.i)
  • the world’s mine oyster (II.ii)
  • this is the short and the long of it (II.ii)
  • all rhyme and reason (V.v)

Insults with Style:

  • you Banbury cheese! (I.i)
  • mechanical  salt-butter rogue

Pick-up Lines with Style: Shakespeare definitely knew how to write a line that could charm the skirt off a lady. Fenton uses this line on Anne when admitting that he originally courted her for her dowry.

“Yet, wooing thee, I found thee of more value
Then stamps in gold, or sums in sealed bags;
And ’tis the very riches of thyself
That now I aim at.” (III.iv )

Speech to Know: There are no deep or insightful soliloquies in the play, but Falstaff’s speech after her returns to the inn after being dumped in the Thames is extremely funny.

“Have I lived to be carried in a basket, like a barrow of butcher’s offal; and to be thrown into the Thames? Well, if I be served such another trick, I’ll have my brains ta’en out and butter’d, and give them to a dog for a new year’s gift. The rogues slighted me into the river with as little remorse as they would have drowned a bitch’s blind puppies, fifteen i’ the litter: and you may know by my size that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking; if the bottom were as deep as hell I should down. I had been drowned but that the shore was shelvy and shallow: a death that I abhor; for the water swells a man; and what thing should I have been when I had been swelled! I should have been a mountain of mummy.” (III.v)

View from the Pit: Merry Wives of Windsor is definitely among the better class of Shakespeare’s comedies. Unusual in its focus on the lower classes rather than the ruling class that Shakespeare usually wrote about, the play is still full of sharp wit. Falstaff is his wonderful self and it’s good to know he’ll be the bright spot in some of the histories that I’ll be reading in the future. But even better are the strong female characters that are the true source of momentum in the play. Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford are loyal women who have no issue taking their husbands down a peg and also plotting appropriate punishments for Falstaff whose pride is definitely in need of a bit of deflating. Even better, Anne takes an actual role in getting the husband that she wants rather than bowing to any of the familial or monetary pressures. Strong women and great physical comedy makes for a truly entertaining read.

Film Review – The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1983)

First film review on the blog! Tremendous excitement! Unfortunately, this film is so not worth all of the excitement. Part of The Complete Works of Shakespeare series put out by the BBC in the 1980s, these are the film editions that my high school English teachers would often make us watch. And during the slightly more than two hours this film ate up of my life, I’m pretty sure I had a high school flashback or two. But all is not lost, despite its tendency to bore me thoroughly, there are several moments worth mocking. So let’s move on shall we?

First, the casting.

Proteus and Valentine

Meet Proteus and Valentine

No one in this film is worth writing home about. Also I’m desperately hoping that the two gents who played Proteus and Valentine were wearing wigs because I don’t want to think about what they looked like with that hair in anything other than tights and puffy shirts. Sadly, these are not the only two men with horrifically bad hair. Poor Speed, who is played by a teenager whose voice occasionally tends towards pubescent squeakiness, has a chin-length bob and bangs. Sad, sad boy.

Of course, bad hair is not limited to just the guys.

Julia

Julia and her yellow hair

Julia appears to have been attacked by a crimping iron and her hair reaches epic levels of fluffiness as it stretches towards the base of her spine. Silvia is much better looking than the rest of her cohorts but sadly, Google has failed to provide me with a picture of her so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Moving on to the actual film, my scrawled notes that I took while watching reveal a lot of moments where I wondered what exactly the director was thinking. There is a lot of recorder and lute music in this flick and some very lame songs that do very little for me. Period instruments they might be, but awe inspiring they are not. There are also some weird insert shots of mute characters, the most creepy of which are two children wearing gold body paint (even their hair has been painted) dressed up like cherubs that hang out in the courtyard every time Silvia is around. Speaking of the weirdness that surrounds Silvia, for the first three acts, any time she walks into the courtyard, two guys toss their capes on the ground and the creepy cherubs toss flower petals into the air as she walks across the capes. It’s odd.

Sadly, the few soliloquies in the play are not given the best treatment either. The actors never seem capable of deciding whether they’re breaking the fourth wall or not and so are forever dancing around looking directly in the camera but getting awfully close. The only speeches I really enjoyed were from Launce about his dog as he was actually funny and the dog was cute.

Mostly the actors tend towards overacting, that often had me laughing at its ludicrousness. Julia spends almost all of her scenes from Act III on crying, to the point where I was breaking up every time she did. And the entire fifth act had me cracking up. Which was really not the intent based on all of the serious faces and the crying. Oh man, Proteus crying. There are no words. But perhaps the best moment where the film goes over the top is in the scene right after Proteus has seen Silvia for the first time and is swiftly falling out of love with Julia and into love with Silvia. Left alone on the set, there are actual thundercracks as the actor attempts to convey with his face the change that is going on. And the thunderstorm continues throughout the entire speech. You know, in case you couldn’t tell that the character is going through a major change we’ll convey it with dramatic weather!!!

However, my biggest gripe with this play is the lack of convincingness with the cross-dressing. While every other dude in the film is wearing tights, puffy shirts, and often toss in a cape to really complete the look, when Julia turns herself into Sebastian, she wears those hideous pants that are baggy from hip to knee and then tight over the calves and a jacket buttoned up practically to her neck. Never mind the poor job they do of sticking all of her hair under a hat. It takes a tremendous suspension of disbelief to wonder why no one is asking who the girl in trousers is.

You could hope that this play ends on a high note, but instead there is a group hug between the four primary characters and then more awkward lute and recorder music with singing as everyone goes in a procession off-camera. Sigh.

And with that, we end all of our time with Two Gentlemen of Verona. Sunday will bring our first encounter with Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Two Gentlemen of Verona - Angelica Kauffman

The Play’s the Thing: Valentine and Proteus are two best friends from Verona. Valentine is headed off to the court of the Duke of Milan to distinguish himself while Proteus stays in Verona to continue pursuing the girl he loves, Julia. Valentine is convinced this whole love thing is idiotic and ribs Proteus about it before leaving. Proteus’ father, Antonio, convinced his son isn’t doing anything useful in Verona (because he’s in the dark about Proteus’ love for Julia), ships him off to the Duke of Milan’s court to hang with Valentine and distinguish himself as well. Julia gives Proteus her ring as a token to remind him of her love and he heads off. Meanwhile, Valentine has been forced to eat his words as he has fallen in love with Silvia, the Duke’s daughter. He’s very glad to see Proteus again and lets him in on the plot Valentine has to steal Silvia away in the night so that they can elope. However, after seeing Silvia, Proteus forgets all about Julia and falls madly in love with Silvia too. In an effort to shove Valentine out of the way, he reveals the eloping plot to the Duke who is furious because he wants Silvia to marry Thurio, who mostly serves as the butt of everyone’s jokes but has a lot of money. The Duke banishes Valentine from Milan and he heads off to the wilds of Mantua where he joins a group of outlaws and lives out a Robin Hood fantasy. Meanwhile, Julia misses Proteus something fierce and decides to travel to Milan to see him, but in order to avoid all those evil men in the world, decides to cross-dress. Proteus is having no luck wooing Silvia who thinks he’s a first-class jerk for forgetting Julia and stabbing his best friend in the back. Julia, disguised as her new alter-ego Sebastian, sees Proteus trying to court Silvia and is upset but ends up working for him. Silvia enlists the help of Sir Eglamour to help her track down Valentine in the wilds of Mantua and runs away only to encounter the merry band of outlaws. Proteus and Julia rescue Silvia and Proteus attempts to force his love on Silvia only to be stopped by Valentine. Julia faints and there’s a bunch of stuff with rings that results in her true identity being revealed. Valentine forgives Proteus, gets the Duke’s permission to marry Silvia, and Proteus wises up and goes back to loving Julia. Valentine also secures a pardon for the band of outlaws because apparently they’ve reformed. A double wedding for Valentine, Silvia, Proteus, and Julia looms in the near future.

Heroes and Villains: My favourite character award goes to Silvia who is full of wit and banter when she interacts with Valentine, is totally faithful, and calls Proteus on his truly asinine behaviour. Julia would be a close contender except for the fact that she takes Proteus back after he proves to be such an ass.

Wordsmith:

  • wonders of the world (I.i)
  • love is blind (II.i)
  • bitter pills (II.iv)
  • hot lover (II.v)

Insults with Style: whoreson ass (II.v)

Speech You Must Know: Julia makes the following speech about love to her maid, Lucetta, before heading off on her cross-dressing adventure.

The more thou damm’st it up, the more it burns;
The current that with gentle murmur glides,
Thou know’st, being stopp’d, impatiently doth rage;
But when his fair course is not hindered,
He makes sweet music with the enamell’d stones,
Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge
He overtaketh in his pilgrimage;
And so by many winding nooks he strays,
With willing sport, to the wild ocean.
Then let me go, and hinder not my course:
I’ll be as patient as a gentle stream
And make a pastime of each weary step,
Till the last step have brought me to my love;
And there I’ll rest as, after much turmoil,
A blessed soul doth in Elysium. (II.vii)

View from the Pit: Two Gentlemen of Verona isn’t going to be winning any prizes as my favourite Shakespearean comedy. While there’s a fair share of punny exchanges between several of the servants and a few jokes about jerkins and codpieces, the relationships between the two main couples aren’t as sparkling as in some of the other comedies. While Silvia sends a few barbs Valentine’s way, there’s not a lot of sparkage or sweet romance between them. While Proteus and Julia do have their fair share of romantic speeches, Proteus actually gets a lot of hatred from me. Ditching the girl you’ve professed to love forever after just seeing another woman is bad but he gets a massive loads of contempt for threatening to rape Silvia. That is never ok. And to have that moment come so closely to the closing moments of the play really taints it for me. Especially because shortly after that unfortunate moment Julia then takes Proteus back. Girlfriend needs a reality check. And that’s what bugs me about the happy ending. Valentine and Silvia should definitely be getting married but Proteus ending up with the very lovely Julia seems wrong.

As proof that this isn’t one of the more sparkling of Shakespeare’s comedies, the only  film adaptation I could track down is from 1983. Look forward to that review on Wednesday.

The Tempest

Miranda - The Tempest

The Play’s the Thing: Prospero, ousted from his position as Duke of Milan by his brother, Antonio, is living on a deserted island with his daughter, Miranda. However, as luck would have it, Prospero is a bit of a sorcerer and the island is full of spirits, including Ariel who is loyal to Prospero after he released the spirit from his imprisonment. Also hanging out on the island is Caliban, the deformed bastard son of a witch (seriously) who is the slave of Prospero and absolutely detests him. Prospero uses Ariel’s powers to cause the titular tempest that founders a ship carrying Alonso, the king of Naples, the king’s brother, Sebastian, the king’s son, Ferdinand, Prospero’s brother, Antonio, and a few other lords and all the other people you’d expect to travel around with the king. Between Prospero and Ariel, they use their magic to split up the group on the island and torment many of them as punishment for the roles they played in aiding Antonio in usurping Prospero. Left alone, Ferdinand encounters and falls in love with Miranda, with Prospero’s blessing. Sebastian and Antonio plot to murder Alonso but are punished for their plotting and their entire group fall into madness. A couple of servants fall in with Caliban who plot to murder Prospero and are punished for their efforts. The play ends with Prospero revealing himself to the royal party, forgiving his brother for the overthrow, regaining his dukedom, and the king blessing Ferdinand and Miranda’s planned marriage.

Heroes and Villains: The proud winner of the prize of my favourite character in this play is (drumroll please) Gonzalo. Not only does he win for having a truly epic name that reminds me a little of Gonzo, but because the man enters into a really fantastic banter session with several of the other lords when they land on the island in Act II that is full of puns. A close runner-up is Stephano whose character description is actually drunken butler and when he shows up in the final act with all of the other characters is recognized for the fact of being the drunken butler. I bet his momma’s proud.

Wordsmith: Shakespeare coined many phrases that are now a common part of the vernacular. Some that cropped up in The Tempest include:

  • sea-change (I.ii )
  • what’s past is prologue (II.i)
  • misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows (II.ii)
  • brave new world (V.i)
  • in such a pickle (V.i) -> this one blows my mind

Insults with Style: No one can craft an insult like Shakespeare and ignoring some of the more common ones like dog, whoreson, and cur (which will do in a pinch), there are still some choice terms with which to wither someone you really dislike. Only one insult that stands apart from the standards cropped up in The Tempest, but it’s definitely a gooder: “you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!” (I.i)

Speech You Must Know: In Act IV scene i, Prospero gives the following speech to Ferdinand:

“Our revels now are ended : these our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

View from the Pit: The Tempest is just one island full of crazy sauce. Prospero is running around putting everyone who ever bothered him through some really nutty hoops with the help of Ariel, who is Prospero’s loyal sidekick but really just wants to be free (think the Genie in Aladdin). Meanwhile, Miranda falls for the first man, other than her father, she’s ever met and he is also immediately smitten with her (unbelievable love at first sight, party of two), but they really crack me up because when they’re finally revealed to Alonso, they’re playing chess. Nothing wins a girl’s heart like a good game of chess, apparently. While there’s quite a lot of crazy going on in this play with a liberal dose of comedy, on the page it’s unclear why Prospero forgives his brother so easily. Maybe it’s because if Antonio didn’t give up the dukedom, Prospero would just ditch him on the island with Caliban. There are a lot of sub-plots and none of them really go anywhere, but it’s enjoyable to just watch the nutty express go by and have the happy ending arrive with love and fairness for all.

I will eventually be watching the new adaptation of The Tempest with Helen Mirren, but I’m still waiting in the hold line for it at the library. So look for that review in a couple of weeks. Next week will be the first dose of twin comedy, with Two Gentleman of Verona.