Film Review – The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

Our film this week is actually a bit of a classic, starring Elizabeth Taylor and the man she married twice, Richard Burton. Enjoy the sample of what a trailer was like in the 1960s and then we’ll move on to the review.

Unsurpisingly, the film (like almost any adaptation of the play I’ve seen) skips the Induction and jumps directly into the film proper with Lucentio and Tranio arriving in Padua. While Taylor and Burton are the only recognizable names in this film, fans of Gilmore Girls will recognize the actor playing Lucentio as Asher Fleming with some crazy facial hair going on. I didn’t particularly dig the actress playing Bianca, who came across as simpering and a little irritating. Elizabeth Taylor is really brilliant at playing the wildness of Kate, although the changes in her character still seem a little too quick. However, her crazy eyes and thousand-yard stare should be studied. Richard Burton’s interpretation of Petruchio didn’t really work for me. I have always seen Petruchio as a relatively sane man acting outlandishly in order to get his wife to chill out a little. However, Burton has made Petruchio a crude and frequently drunk man who’s just as crazy as his wife. There are brief flashes of his softer side, but overall, I didn’t find Petruchio particularly sympathetic.

Elizabeth Taylor, Taming of the Shrew

Crazy eyes.

The film focuses far more on the preliminaries and on Kate and Petruchio than any other aspect of the play with the first two acts taking up more than half of the film. Dialogue has also been played with, and while it’s all still Shakespeare, some lines are cut while others are repeated multiple times over the course of a scene. What I found most interesting was the inclusion of songs from other Shakespearean plays (I specifically noticed the closing song from Twelfth Night creeping in). Perhaps the most interesting touch was taking the first verbal exchange between Kate and Petruchio into a physical chase as well, which takes them all over the house, including up onto the ridgepole of the roof. Taylor and Burton’s chemistry is riveting of course and they truly make the scene work better, although a little less inarticulate huffing from Taylor would have been nice.

Taylor and Burton, Taming of the Shrew

The end of the chase sequence.

The costumes are very rich in that  style that many films from the 60s seem to have. Elizabeth Taylor’s gowns are gorgeous, particularly her wedding dress (although the fact that the dress later gets dragged through water and mud makes me just a little sad). She’s also the only actress (ignoring the harlot with the crazy platform shoes) who has her cleavage shown off. All. The. Time. Burton’s costumes tend more towards the ridiculous, adding to the craziness of his character. One other notable look is Hortensio’s scholar disguise which looks a bit like a cross between Rasputin and a Marx brother.

Taylor and Burton, Taming of the Shrew

That gorgeous wedding dress.

As mentioned before, Kate’s transformation still seems a bit sudden and although Taylor does her best, that final speech still seems to come out of left field. However, the film makes the interesting choice of after having Kate make that speech and kiss Petruchio, she then disappears off into the crowd, leaving Petruchio to chase her once again in a way highly reminiscent of their first encounter.

Taylor, Taming of the Shrew

Still not sure I buy this transformation.

Definitely a film that will appeal more to people that love other films that came out of the 60s, it’s a decent adaptation of the play, but ultimately it comes off as a vehicle for earning funds off the publicity gold mine that was Burton and Taylor’s first marriage. Next week we’re on to The Winter’s Tale. Until then, fair reader.

The Taming of the Shrew

Taming of the Shrew - Augustus Egg

The Play’s the Thing: Starting with a sort of meta-theatrical opening that never really goes anywhere, the play begins with an Induction where a drunkard gets kicked out of the tavern, falls asleep in the street, and is happened upon by a lord and his followers who have just returned from hunting. They decide to have a bit of fun, take the drunkard, dress him up like a lord, and convince him that he’s actually been mad for the past fifteen years and imagined being a poor schlub. They also hire some players to put on a play for the lord. This entire opening is ignored for the rest of the play, with one minor interjection at the end of I.i, and we thus move into the play proper.

Lucentio has just arrived, with his servant Tranio, in Padua to take up scholarly studies when he comes across Bianca in the street with her father, Baptista, her sister, Katharina, and Bianca’s suitors. We quickly learn that Katharina is a complete terror and no man wants her, and thus Baptista sets a rule that no one can marry Bianca until Katharina is married, and until that time, he will ensure his daughters dedicate themselves to their studies. Lucentio, of course, falls in love with Bianca and comes up with a plot to disguise himself as a tutor for Bianca and have Tranio pretend to be him as needed. Petruchio, freshly arrived in Padua as well, is on the hunt for a wife and goes to check up on his friend Hortensio, one of Bianca’s suitors. Hortensio jokes about setting him up with Katharina but then says she’s definitely not worth the trouble no matter how big her dowry. However, Petruchio is intrigued and decides he’ll check out this crazy woman. Meanwhile, Gremio, another of Bianca’s suitors, has hired Lucentio to be a tutor for Bianca and plead his case. Hortensio, like Lucentio, is also going in disguise as a tutor to try and court Bianca. All three men are very excited that Petruchio is going to take on Katharina as if he’s successful, Bianca will be on the market in short order.

Katharina takes on the role of abusive older sister, tying up and smacking around Bianca a bit while they discuss Bianca’s many suitors. Baptista rescues his younger daughter, Katharina notes that Bianca is daddy’s favourite and she resents it. Petruchio presents himself to Baptista as a suitor for Katharina and manages to fenagle a one-on-one interview with the woman. We then get one of the best verbal pyrotechnic shows ever. While Katharina obviously hates Petruchio, he decides he’ll marry her and tells her father that he’ll back in a week for the wedding. With the wedding planned, Gremio and Tranio as Lucentio put in various bids for Bianca’s hand with “Lucentio” eventually winning Baptista’s consent.

Lucentio and Hortensio use their tutoring sessions with Bianca as attempts to woo her, with Lucentio winning out. On the set wedding day for Katharina and Petruchio, everyone’s concerned as no one has seen the groom at all and Katharina freaks out a bit. Petruchio eventually shows up on a poorly accoutred horse and dressed very oddly himself. He dashes off to marry Katharina and then decides to skip his own wedding feast and leave right away with Katharina, despite the tantrum she throws.

Petruchio and Katharina arrive at his country house where he acts even crazier than Katharina ever has, which he reveals as his ultimate plot in order to tame his wife. Hortensio shows up in the middle of this, having given up on courting Bianca, and coming to visit Petruchio in order to pick up some woman taming tips as he plans to marry a rich widow he knows. With all this craziness, Katharina doesn’t know up from down and Petruchio decides it’s time to head back to Padua for Bianca’s wedding. Back in Padua, Lucentio and Bianca run off to the local priest to get married. On the road, Katharina and Petruchio have another showdown, with Katharina finally giving in and going along with her husband’s craziness. They run into Lucentio’s father on the road, and all head back to Padua together.

There’s a bunch of comic stuff leading up to Lucentio being revealed to be himself and Baptista giving his blessing to Lucentio and Bianca’s marriage. At the wedding feast, Lucentio, Hortensio, and Petruchio all wager as to whether they can get their wives to come when they call them. Neither Bianca nor the widow show up, but Katharina does. Petruchio then has her fetch the other women, and Katharina then gives them a lecture about obeying their husbands who deserve respect. And then everyone marvels at how Petruchio has tamed the shrew that was Katharina.

Heroes and Villains: Katharina gets my love this time around for being the brilliant strong female character for which I adore Shakespeare for writing. She’s a bit harsher than some of my other favourites, but her sharp tongue is endlessly entertaining.

Insults with Style:

  • whoreson malt-horse drudge (IV.i)
  • A whoreson, beetle-headed, flap-eared knave! (IV.i)


  • gaze your fill (I. i)
  • break the ice (I.ii)
  • I speak but as I find (II.i)
  • kiss me, Kate (II.i)

Speech to Know: There are no really awesome monologues in this play, but the first verbal exchange between Petruchio and Katharina is epic, with just a few dashes of bawdiness to keep it interesting. I’ve included just a sample of the dialogue below:

Petruchio: Good-morrow, Kate; for that’s your name, I hear.
Katharina: Well have you heard, but something hard of hearing:
They call me Katharine that do talk of me.
Petruchio: You lie, in faith; for you are call’d plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;
But, Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,
Kate of Kate-Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all cates; and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation; –
Hearing thy mildness prais’d in every town,
Thy virtues spoken of, and thy beauty sounded, –
Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs, –
Myself am mov’d to woo thee for my wife.
Katharina: Mov’d! in good time: let him that mov’d you hither
Remove you hence: I knew you at the first
You were movable.
Petruchio: Why, what’s a movable?
Katharina: A joint-stool.
Petruchio: Thou has hit it: come, sit on me.
Katharina: Asses are made to bear, and so are you.
Petruchio: Women are made to bear, and so are you.
Katharina: No such jade as bear you, if me you mean.
Petruchio: Alas, good Kate, I will not burden thee!
For, knowing thee to be but young and light, –
Katharina: Too light for such a swain as you to catch;
And yet as heavy as my weight should be.
Petruchio: Should be! should buzz.
Katharina: Well ta’en, and like a buzzard.
Petruchio: O, slow-wing’d turtle! shall a buzzard take thee?
Katharina: Ay, for a turtle, – as he takes a buzzard.
Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp; i’ faith, you are too angry.
Katharina: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
Katharina: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp wear his his sting?
In his tail.
Katharina: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Katharina: Yours, if you talk of tails; and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail? nay, come again,
Good Kate; I am a gentleman.
Katharina: That I’ll try (striking him)

View from the PitTaming of the Shrew is an interesting play in a few ways. The Induction alone could be endlessly discussed, as wondering if the false transformation of the drunkard reflects in some way on Kate’s transformation. The whole “taming” process is equally fascinating. Kate is a strong woman, verging on the hellion and that Petruchio could alter such a woman in such a short period of time is problematic. Knowing that I actually wrote an essay on that topic in my Shakespeare course in undergrad, I actually went and dug it out to see what my thoughts were on Kate’s transformation. I argued that Kate did not actually change, but simply learned the best way of dealing with her husband in order to get her own way, when her previous methods did not work with this man. As my professor wrote in his comments, I “energetically argued” my point but I’m not sure if I agree with my ideas now. However, I do prefer to see Kate as the strong female personality that refuses to let her husband cow her than the submissive woman her final speech emphasizes a good wife should be. Either way, if my Shakespeare prof ever stumbles across this, thanks for the A-, Chuck!

All’s Well that Ends Well

The King, Countess, Lafeu, Bertram, Helena, Diana, lords, attendants, and widow

The Play’s the Thing: The Countess of Rousillon, who has recently lost her husband, is seeing off her son, Bertram, who has been called to the court of the slowly dying King of France. The Countess’ ward, Helena, whom she took in after Helena’s father died, is grief-stricken that Bertram is leaving as she’s in love with him, even though she knows that socially speaking he’s far above her. Also going with Bertram is his friend, Parolles, who is a total ass. The King is pleased at Bertram’s arrival as he resembles his father greatly and the King hopes that he will also be similar in character (spoiler alert: not so much). The Countess finds out from her servants that Helena is in love with Bertram and confronts her about it. Helena’s a little evasive and then she and the Countess discuss Helena’s plans to go to the King’s court as she’s remembered that her father left her a recipe for a medicine that will cure the King’s ailment. The Countess sends Helena off to Paris with her blessing.

The King is seeing off some of his lords who are headed to Florence to provide aid in the wars there. He is then told by Lafeu that a young woman has come offering a medicine that will cure the King. The King agrees to see her. There’s a bit of discussion between the King and Helena how no medicines have worked before and that the best medical minds have all given up. Helena makes a deal with the King that if the medicine doesn’t work, he can have her tortured to death. If it does work, she can have her pick of any of the single lords in the King’s court (it’s a high-risk version of The Bachelorette essentially). The King agrees. Unsurprisingly the medicine works, everyone’s thrilled, and the King is more than happy to honour the bargain he made with Helena. Helena, of course, picks Bertram as her husband. However, Bertram does his best to refuse her as he thinks she’s below him, even when the King tells him that he’s bestowing Helena with titles and money. To keep the King happy, Bertram finally agrees but he then refuses to take Helena to bed and runs off to join the war in Florence, sending her back home to the Countess.

The Countess is disappointed in Bertram and tells Helena she wishes she were her actual daughter and that Bertram didn’t belong to her. Bertram has written Helena a letter in which he tells her that until she has put a ring on his finger and is pregnant with his child, he refuses to be her husband. He also tells her “Till I have no wife in France, I have nothing in France.” Worried that he’ll die in the war, Helena decides to leave France so that he’ll go back home. She leaves a note for the Countess telling her she’s gone on a pilgrimage to St. Jacques. On her pilgrimage, Helena happens to stop in Florence where she meets a widow and her daughter, Diana. Turns out that Bertram has been courting Diana, who has refused all his advances as everyone in Florence knows that he ditched his perfectly wonderful wife back in Florence. Helena stays with the widow, as she’s one of the regular pit-stops on the pilgrims’ journeys. In the army camp, Bertram is being told by several other lords and soldiers that Parolles is a total coward and they reveal their plan to send him off on a mission, capture him while they pretend to be Italians, and then prove he would be a turncoat. Bertram is interested to see how it turns out. Helena reveals herself to the widow as Bertram’s wife and they cook up a plan to have Diana pretend to accept Bertram’s advances, get him to give her his family ring, and set up an appointment for them to sleep together, which Helena will fulfill.

The lords capture Parolles, and after putting a hood over his head, bring him back to their own camp. Diana executes Helena and the widow’s plans and sets up a midnight rendez-vous with Bertram. She also tells him that she’ll give him a ring of her own when they’re in bed that night. In the camp, the lords discuss that  Bertram received a letter which told him that Helena has died, and gossip about his dalliance with Diana, and discuss that peace has been declared. Then Bertram arrives, they pretend to be Italians interrogating Parolles, who of course turns out to be a traitor. They reveal themselves and then they all head back to France, leaving Parolles behind, who decides to head back to France as well. Helena asks the widow and Diana to accompany her back to France in order to complete the last of their plot concerning Bertram. Back in France, the Countess is upset to hear about Helena’s reported death. She discusses with Lafeu that the King has forgiven Bertram for ditching Helena and will have Bertram marry Lafeu’s daughter.

Helena and the girls arrive in Marseilles, discover that the King isn’t there, and head off to Rousillon where he’s set to marry Bertram off to Lafeu’s daughter. Parolles arrives in France and gets Lafeu to take pity on him. The King and the Countess are commiserating over the loss of Helena until Bertram arrives. The King then tells Bertram he’s arrange for him to marry Lafeu’s daughter. Bertram is fine with that and hands over a ring to be given to the daughter. The King is appalled because it’s the ring he gave to Helena after she healed him and which she told him she’d only give it away if it was to her husband in bed. Bertram swears it’s just some trinket an Italian hussy tossed at him out of a window (great engagement present for Lafeu’s daughter, that). The King is positive it’s Helena’s ring, begins to suspect that maybe Bertram murdered Helena, and has him taken away by guards. Diana suddenly arrives, telling the King that she’s claiming Bertram as her husband. Lafeu is disgusted and tells the King he’s definitely not marrying his daughter to Bertram. The King has Bertram brought back where he admits he slept with Diana but says she’s just a common whore that hung around the camp. Diana then produces his family ring and the Countess knows her claims are true. Parolles is then brought in as a witness to testify that Bertram did his best to seduce Diana. The King then has a discussion with Diana about the ring she gave Bertram and wants to know where she got it. She runs verbal circles around the issue and he has her arrested. Helena then comes in, who is now conveniently pregnant and has got her own ring around Bertram’s finger. Bertram is suddenly pleased to be married to her. The King is thrilled that Helena is alive and promises Diana she can marry any man she wants to and he’ll provide her dowry (because that worked so well for Helena).

Heroes and Villains: I didn’t particularly love any of the characters in this play, but Helena wins the prize of being my favourite character this time around, as she has some of the most beautifully articulate speeches in the play. However, she loses major points for being such a doormat.


  • Love all, trust few,/ Do wrong to none (I.i)
  • hoodwink’d (IV.i)
  • a heaven on earth (IV.ii)
  • Mine eyes smell onions; I shall weep anon. (V.iii)

Speech to Know: Helena’s first speech that outlines her unrequited love for Bertram is quite beautiful.

“I am undone: there is no living, none,
If Bertram be away. It were all one
That I should love a bright particular star,
And think to wed it, he is so above me:
In his bright radiance and collateral light
Must I be comforted, not in his sphere.
The ambition in my love thus plagues itself:
The hind that would be mated by the lion
Must die for love. ‘Twas pretty, though a plague,
To see him every hour; to sit and draw
His arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls,
In our heart’s table, – heart too capable
Of every line and trick of his sweet favour:
But now he’s gone, and my idolatrous fancy
Must sanctify his relics.” (I.i)

View from the Pit: Oh man, so much of this play drives me crazy. While I get Helena’s inferiority complex given the social strata that exist between her and Bertram, that she continues to let the man walk all over her for the rest of the play and still wants him after he’s ditched her in France, told her he’d rather be in an entirely different country from where she is, and is attempting to seduce another woman, just boggles my mind. She’s an intelligent woman, as evidenced by her plot to swap herself out for Diana, and fulfill all the requirements Bertram told her she needed to have in order to be able to call him husband, I just don’t understand why she would WANT to. Bertram is an ass and he’s never redeemed. At best, he’s mildly sad when he receives word of Helena’s “death” but doesn’t regret the fact that he played such a role in killing a woman that everyone else respects greatly. Even when he’s confronted by Diana about his supposed seduction of her, he’s still lying (TO THE KING, which is such a no-no) and not even mildly repentant. The fact that I’m supposed to rejoice that Diana ends up with such a prick sits poorly. Despite its title, this play definitely didn’t end well for me.

Film Review – As You Like It (2006)

Fair readers, I present to you part the third of my ongoing love letter to the awesomeness of Kenneth Branagh and his work with Shakespeare. Take a look at the trailer and then on to the review.

The film begins with some title cards establishing the setting in 19th century Japan and the merchant settlements that were established during that time. We then get a haiku that concludes with “all the world’s a stage” (which conveniently is five syllables) and then we get some truly beautiful establishing shots. Branagh has made the choice to actually show the deposing of the Duke by Duke Frederick, so we get to see the court as they watch a sort of silent play (I’m poorly versed in Japanese culture so I’m sure there’s a name for this but I don’t know it) intercut with shots of warriors creeping towards the house ominously (there’s even a scene with moving bamboo straws in the pond, I thought that trick only worked in cartoons). We then see the Duke deposed, and move into the play proper. Branagh has shifted a few scenes around in the first act to make it flow a little better for film and fit with his opening, but otherwise the film is very faithful to the text.

Celia and Touchstone, As You Like It

Celia and Touchstone

The casting of this film is, of course, brilliant. Bryce Dallas Howard is a brilliant Rosalind and Romola Garai takes the smaller role of Celia and brings a brilliant level of comedy to it. The two actors cast as Orlando and Oliver are super attractive and have wonderful screen presences. Alfred Molina makes Touchstone amusing to watch, if only for the epic hairdo. Brian Blessed plays the dual roles of the deposed Duke and Duke Frederick and makes the one sweet and sympathetic and the other truly menacing. The other actor of note is Kevin Kline as Jacques, who brings the right dose of melancholy and delivers the “All the world’s a stage” speech with a great level of gravitas.

Kevin Kline, As You Like It

Jacques during the "All the world's a stage" speech

The locations, sets, and costumes for this film are absolute gorgeous. IMDb informs me that the film was shot in England, and the locales are beautiful. While there is the general feeling that it is inhospitable without being truly harsh. The costumes run the gamut from late 19th century British garb to more Asian influenced kimonos and military garb. Branagh lets the setting creep into the play in several ways to make some of the details more acceptable for a modern audience. Charles is now a sumo wrestler, which makes Orlando’s defeat of him even more impressive. And the lion attack seems far more likely in the wilds of Japan than in France (although in both cases, I still think it’s pretty slim. The major suspension of disbelief required is that anyone believes that Rosalind is actually a boy. While her clothes hide her curves pretty well, her face is still so feminine that she just looks like a woman in period clothes and a ponytail. But she’s so pretty and charming, it’s easy to let it go.

Rosalind and Orlando, As You Like It

"You really believe she's a boy? Really?"

The film rolics along and with some of the silent touches makes the alterations in characters like Oliver and Orlando, more believable. Branagh makes the decision to imply that Duke Frederick has beaten Oliver to get information about Orlando’s whereabouts out of him. Also, the mildly scary scene of the lion attack depicted in the film makes Oliver’s willingness to forgive Orlando far more believable. Additionally, both he and Celia manage to really sell the love at first sight angle and make it truly charming. As for Duke Frederick’s conversion, Branagh makes a point throughout the film of having every group of characters that enter the forest to encounter a monk that sits in front of a tree. Thus, when Duke Frederick encounters him we’re prepared for his sudden conversion to pacifist.

The conclusion of the film is beautiful with all four couples in their wedding finery and tall white flags with red and pink streamers fluttering in the background. And in the true amazingness that is Branagh directing Shakespeare, he makes the concluding song part of the film without it being ridiculously over the top or annoying. Of course, I could have just been distracted by how pretty everything was.

Rosalind and Orlando, As You Like It

Look at all the prettiness.

Next week we’re on to All’s Well That Ends Well. Until then, fair reader.

As You Like It

Scene from As You Like It - Francis Hayman

The Play’s the Thing: Orlando and his older brother, Oliver, have a contentious relationship. Oliver has kept Orlando at home, provided him with no education, and appears to hate him for no reason, all of which Orlando resents. Oliver meets with the usurping Duke Frederick’s wrestler, Charles, as Orlando intends to go up against him. He lies and says Orlando intends to kill Charles by whatever means necessary and therefore Charles should do his best to kill Orlando. Meanwhile, Celia is trying to rouse Rosalind out of her melancholy. While Rosalind’s father, the Duke, has been banished, Duke Frederick had Rosalind stay at court because Celia loves her so much. A courtier comes to the ladies and tells them that Charles has already defeated three young men (likely to the point of death) and that he is about to wrestle with another and that the girls should come watch. They do, and watch as Orlando defeats Charles. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando, as he does with her. However, later that day, Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind from court due to his suspicion of her and the people’s love of her. Celia decides to go with Rosalind into exile, and the pair decide to disguise themselves. Rosalind will dress as a man and call herself Ganymede, while Celia will dress like a common woman and pretend to be her sister, Aliena, and they’ll bring the clown, Touchstone, with them.

The Duke is living in banishment in the forest with a small group of lords who have remained loyal to him, and other than the cold weather, life in the woods is pretty good. Meanwhile, Orlando heads home only to be told by Adam, an old servant, that Oliver intends to kill him and he should head into the woods in order to save his life. The two men will live off of Adam’s life savings until they find a more permanent means of support. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone are all exhausted and hungry when they come across a pair of shepherds who tell them that there’s a cottage and the associated sheep for sale. Rosalind and Celia buy the cottage. One of the Duke’s followers, Jacques, is depressed most of the time and philosophizes periodically throughout the play. Orlando and Adam are also hungry and tired in their trek through the woods. Orlando leaves Adam behind to rest and goes off in search of food. He comes across the Duke’s party and initially threatens them to get food but when he realizes that they’re civilized people like himself, he makes friends and they have a meal together.

Duke Frederick believes that Orlando has helped Celia and Rosalind escape and so tells Oliver that he must find his brother, dead or alive, otherwise Duke Frederick will confiscate his house and lands. In the forest, Orlando is writing poetry about Rosalind and his love for her and sticking it to trees. Rosalind and Celia both find some of the poetry and Rosalind is thrilled to discover that Orlando has been writing poetry for her. She then encounters him in the wood and, as she’s disguised as a boy, tells Orlando that she can cure him of his love by pretending to be Rosalind and being so capricious that he’ll get angry and fall out of love with her. Orlando firmly believes he’ll remain in love whatever she does, and agrees to the scheme. Touchstone meets a woman named Audrey and attempts to get her to marry him with a fake priest, but it doesn’t work out. Rosalind, irked that Orlando is late for an appointment, watches Silvius, a shepherd, as he tries to woo Phebe, a sheperdess. Rosalind scolds Phebe for being so hardhearted and Phebe predictably falls in love with her and sends a letter to “Ganymede” delivered by Silvius declaring her love.

Rosalind and Orlando meet up in the wood, and after she scolds him for his lateness, has him woo her until he is called away to attend on the Duke at dinner. He promises to return by two o’clock. Silvius delivers the letter from Phebe to Rosalind, who reads it aloud, and then tells Silvius to tell Phebe she really ought to love Silvius. Oliver meets Rosalind and Celia and tells them that he was sleeping in the woods and was nearly attacked by a snake and a lion, but Orlando fought them off and saved his life. The two brothers were then reconciled, returned to the Duke’s hideout in the woods, and then discovered that Orlando was wounded by the lion. Rosalind faints but tries to say she faked it upon returning to consciousness. Touchstone meets a man who wants to marry Audrey, William (and there’s a delightful joke about William being “a fair name”), and very deftly sends him on his way. Orlando and Oliver chat and we learn that Oliver and Celia have fallen in love at first sight and will be married the next day. Rosalind comes to visit Orlando and tells him that if he wants to marry Rosalind, she will bring her to him the next day and they’ll be married at the same time as Oliver and Celia. Silvius and Phebe then show up, and Rosalind has Phebe vow that if the next day she decides not to marry her, she’ll marry Silvius. Everyone agrees. The next day, Rosalind meets everyone, has them confirm their vows, disappears, and then returns with Hymen, who reveals all. Orlando marries Rosalind, Oliver marries Celia, Silvius marries Phebe, and Touchstone marries Audrey. And then the happy news is brought that Duke Frederick on his way into the woods to kill his brother, met a monk who convinced him to join a monastery, so the Duke can now return to court. Everybody dances, and then Rosalind delivers an epilogue.

Heroes and Villains: Unsurprisingly, Rosalind is my favourite character in the play. She’s yet another brilliant cross-dressing Shakespearean heroine, and while not as witty as some of her fellows, her epilogue is thoroughly charming and just a little proto-feminist.


  • cast away upon curs (I.iii)
  • live a little (
  • neither rhyme nor reason (III.ii)
  • can one desire too much of a good thing? (IV.i)

Speech to Know: This play includes probably one of the most famous Shakespearean speeches outside of Hamlet, delivered by Jacques in Act II.

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances:
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
When the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” (II.vii)

View from the PitAs You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s lighter comedies, and it includes a lot of his greatest hits like cross-dressing, love at first sight, and temporarily deposed leaders. While Rosalind has a great deal of wit, Orlando doesn’t match wits with her and is instead undeniably earnest. However, Shakespeare does write one of his best speeches in this play with his “All the world’s a stage” bit. While there’s a lot going on, it never becomes confusing and the characters are all distinct. However, Rosalind is definitely the stand-out and her epilogue is a fascinating exploration of gender roles in just a few lines.

Film Review – The Merchant of Venice (2004)

Merchant of Venice Poster

Being a more serious play, this film has some serious actors. Check out the trailer and then we’ll dive into the review.

Casting for this one is superb. Al Pacino is a truly impressive as Shylock and I have a massive soft spot for Jeremy Irons, so I was really pleased that he was playing Antonio. Joseph Fiennes is entirely capable as Bassanio, and while he does have a tendency to deliver his lines at a weird volume (he whispers for probably half the film), he’s not hard on the eyes. Although his wig does look weird in the back for a couple scenes. The actress playing Portia is very pretty and she carries the role very well. And for once, we have believable female crossdressing! But more on that later.

Jeremy Irons, Merchant of Venice

Jeremy Irons is endearing even when riding in a plush gondola.

The film very firmly sets itself in Italy in 1546. The film starts with footage establishing the antisemitism in Venice with some expository text over it to explain the time period and the situation between Jews and the other residents in Venice. We also get the footage of Antonio spitting on Shylock, that Shylock mentions in his big speech later, and Pacino  and Irons are both brilliant and make the scene truly discomfiting. In fact most of the scenes that involve these two men leave you slightly uncomfortable. Both sides of the conflict are flawed and the film definitely emphasizes this.

The other side of the coin to Shylock and Antonio’s conflict is Portia and her suitors. The film makes every effort to bring out the humour in these scenes and giggling at the pomposity of these various men, helps to lighten the mood. Also, her romantic scenes with Bassanio are actually pretty sweet. And her dresses are amazing. I must also mention briefly the actors playing Gratiano and Nerissa who are also delightful. It took me a bit to place the actor who plays Gratiano and then realized that he is “Colin, God of Sex” (and if you don’t get that reference, I’m very sad for you).

Merchant of Venice

The very pretty lovers.

The film definitely goes for a more gritty and realistic feel. I found it to be a period film first and a Shakespeare film second. Not that the film is unfaithful to the play, but rather that the focus seems to be on portraying the reality of the time and place (goat slaughtering and prostitutes hanging their boobs out, anyone?)  rather than exploring the richness of the language and characters as much. The film will definitely appeal to fans of Elizabeth.

That said, the high point of the film is the court scene. All of the actors bring their best and Pacino makes Shylock, who is at his most vengeful, a sympathetic character. Jeremy Irons does likewise, and as a viewer you are disappointed in both of them for the decisions that they make. The actress playing Portia also really knocks it out of the park. First off, she really does look like a man in her garb (a very pretty one, but a man nonetheless), and in this scene that is filled with rampant testosterone from the various onlookers and the painful conflict between Shylock and Antonio, she is a strong presence that believably makes the judgment that is the crux of the play.

Merchant of Venice, Court Scene

Powerful, but not easy to watch.

The ending for the film feels a bit odd. Partially because of how Shakespeare has written it, as the comical conflict between the two sets of newlyweds makes for an odd contrast after the emotional heights of the court scene. But the film problematizes it further by giving us shots of Antonio and Shylock that make us pity them and wonder what exactly will become of them. What is even more ambiguous is the final shot of the film which shows us Jessica and it is unclear if she is regretting her decision to elope or simply misses her father after hearing about him. Also, the shot of men shooting arrows into the water (to catch fish?) is probably symbolic but I can’t figure it out. Ultimately, an unsettling film, but one that does justice to the complicated source material.

Merchant of Venice, Shylock

One of the ambiguous final shots.

Next week it’s on to the lighter side of the comedies with As You Like It.

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice - Alexandre Cabanel

The Play’s the Thing: Antonio, a merchant in Venice, is a bit depressed but is more than happy to help his best friend, Bassanio, when he asks him. Bassanio needs money so that he can go and woo Portia, a rich heiress in Belmont. Antonio has no ready money as he has a multitude of ventures currently in the works, but he tells Bassanio that he can use Antonio’s name when speaking with potential creditors. Meanwhile, Portia and her maid, Nerissa, chat about the many men who have come to court Portia and the likelihood that they’ll be foiled by the conditions laid out in Portia’s father’s will for any man to be able to marry her. Back in Venice, Bassanio convinces Shylock, a Jew, to lend him three thousand ducats with Antonio as guarantor. Antonio and Shylock detest each other, but Shylock agrees to lend the money with the proviso that in the contract it be laid out that if Antonio cannot repay him in three months’ time, Shylock will be repaid with a pound of flesh to be cut from Antonio’s body by Shylock himself. Antonio agrees, believing that he will have the money from his various ships by then.

Back in Belmont, the Prince of Morocco comes to court Portia and we learn that in order to marry her, a suitor must choose to open one of three caskets. If he chooses the casket with Portia’s portrait inside, he gets to marry her. Back in Venice, Bassanio is planning his trip to Belmont and agrees to take his friend, Gratiano, with him. They also agree to help their friend Lorenzo elope with Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, before they leave. Jessica takes money and jewels from her father’s house and leaves with Lorenzo to be married. In Belmont, the Prince of Morocco is making his choice. One casket is gold and engraved with “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.” The second is silver and engraved with “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.” The third casket is lead and is engraved with “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” While all of us who are even vaguely familiar with folk tales know which casket he should choose, the Prince of Morocco chooses the golden one and, of course, does not find the portrait. Back in Venice, the first rumour that one of Antonio’s ships has been lost is being heard. Meanwhile, another suitor, the Prince of Arragon has come to pursue Portia and chooses the silver casket. He likewise, does not find the portrait.

In Venice, Shylock is outraged that his daughter has left him and stolen some of his money. News has also reached him that Antonio has lost another two ships and the likelihood that he’ll be able to pay appears slim. Asked if he’ll be merciful, Shylock swears that he’ll get his pound of flesh rather than the money as he’s desperate for revenge for the slights Antonio has made against him. Bassanio finally makes it to Belmont where he chooses the lead casket, and he and Portia are both thrilled that they will soon be married. Gratiano announces that he plans to marry Nerissa at the same time as the other couple. However, a letter arrives from Venice, letting Bassanio know that Antonio is likely going to have to give Shylock a pound of his flesh as he’s gone broke and all his ships are reported lost. With his wife’s money in hand, Bassanio heads back to Venice with Gratiano in order to try and save Antonio. Portia and Nerissa plan to disguise themselves as men and follow after them, with a brief pit stop to visit  Doctor Bellario. Portia leaves Lorenzo and Jessica in charge of her household while she’s gone.

In Venice, Antonio has been brought before the Duke so that Shylock can exact his entitlement. Although Bassanio has tried to pay the debt on Antonio’s behalf, Shylock has refused it, preferring revenge. The Duke has desperately hoped to find a way to get Antonio out of this contract and is thrilled when two representatives of Doctor Bellario arrive to serve as interpreters of the law. Portia, disguised as a man, presides as judge and tells Shylock that the contract fairly entitles him to a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Shylock exults, but his joy is cut short when she tells him that there is a law in the books that prohibits the willful shedding of a Venetian’s blood. So he must get his pound of flesh without shedding Antonio’s blood or he will be forced to forfeit half his estate to Antonio and the other half to the state. Shylock admits defeat and Antonio refuses his share of Shylock’s wealth instead demanding Shylock be forced to convert to Christianity and he must stipulate in his will that his wealth go to Lorenzo and Jessica. There’s then a comic bit with Portia, Bassanio, Gratiano, and Nerissa back in Belmont. Antonio receives word that three of his ships, originally thought lost, have come into port. And then everyone goes to bed.

Heroes and Villains: I’m very fond of Antonio as he really is a wonderful man and his friendship with Bassanio is truly touching. But despite being the focal point of the play, he doesn’t actually say or do much. Thus, Portia is my favourite character of the play because she does what all of the men in the play are incapable of doing: saves Antonio. And she does it with her wits which makes her even more awesome.

Pick-up Lines with Style:

“I would out-stare the sternest eyes that look,
Out-brave the heart most daring on the earth,
Pluck the young sucking cubs from the she-bear,
Yea, mock the lion when he roars for prey,
To win thee, lady.” (II.i)


  • I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano -/ A stage, where every man must play a part,/ And mine a sad one. (I.i)
  • the doing of the deed (I.iii)
  • with ‘bated breath (I.iii)
  • it is a wise father that knows his own child (II.ii)
  • in the end, truth will out (II.ii)
  • in the twinkling of an eye (II.ii)
  • all that glisters is not gold (II.vii)
  • There is no vice so simple but assumes/ Some mark of virtue on his outward parts (III.ii)
  • a pound of flesh (III.iii)

Speech to Know: There are several really brilliant speeches in this play, but Shylock’s speech about his desire for revenge against Antonio is full of thought-provoking questions and a fascinating level of rage.

“He hath disgraced me and hindered me of 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 sufference 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.” (III.i)

View from the PitThe Merchant of Venice is a play I wish I’d had the opportunity to study in school. The play is full of rich speeches, it is intriguingly about the merchant class rather than the very rich and the nobles whom we usually encounter in Shakespeare’s plays, and most impressively, the resolution of the major conflict in the play is actually brought about by a woman (disguised as a man, but still). The central threat in the play, of course, is a cultural touchstone, as references to someone wanting or getting his “pound of flesh” are ubiquitous. But it is Shylock that truly fascinates me. Antisemitism is rampant in literature from the 17th century through to the early 20th century and while it rightly makes a modern audience uncomfortable, I am left to wonder whether the conflict in the play is really about good Christians versus a bad Jew. The speech I quoted above seems to make the case for Shylock that he is simply an outraged human being part of a marginalized group. The play does not lead us to dislike all Jews, as Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, marries Lorenzo and is respected and treated well by all of the other characters (although, admittedly, she does convert to Christianity). The central question this play leaves us with is whether Shylock is the villain because he is a Jew or is he the villain because he is an unkind human being who shows no mercy towards Antonio when given the opportunity? The play, despite its rather fluffy ending, is ultimately thought-provoking and a thoroughly fascinating exploration of prejudice, anger, and mercy.