Coriolanus

The Play’s the Thing: Some rioting citizens of Rome meet up on a street corner to provide some back story. Essentially the citizens are hungry and are convinced the ruling class are hording grain for themselves and not sharing like they should. They particularly blame Caius Marcius and are convinced if they kill him then they can’t grain at their own price. There’s a bit of a debate over whether Caius Marcius is really such a bad guy; he’s a war hero who’s fought for his country. However, someone else points out that everything he’s done has been to please  his mother. Menenius Agrippa then shows up to talk down the plebs. Once he’s calmed them down, Caius Marcius shows up and starts complaining about how quickly the mob change their minds. Menenius asks about what went down on the other side of town and we find out the mob was granted the request of nominating five tribunes to represent them to the senate. Two of the tribunes are Junius Brutus and Sicinius Velutus. Right after this news has been passed on a messenger shows up tell Marcius that the Volsces are “in arms.” Marcius heads off with Cominius to go fight the Volsces. Sicinius and Brutus stay behind to trash talk Marcius and talk about how proud and conniving he is. In Corioli, Tullus Aufidius talks with the senators about his battle plans and we learn that Aufidius and Marcius have faced off multiple times. Back in Rome, Marcius’ mother, Volumnia, and his wife, Virgilia, are hanging out when their friend, Valeria arrives. Virgilia is worried sick about her husband and doesn’t want to leave home while he’s gone. Volumnia, on the other hand, thinks that whether her son lives or dies, his honour will be greater for the battle. Valeria just wants the girls to come out with her. Eventually she and Volumnia go and Virgilia remains at home. Finally we get many scenes of the battle at Corioli. A lot of things go down but suffice it to say that Marcius wins against all odds and in addition to his battle prizes, is given the honorary name of Coriolanus. Elsewhere, Aufidius vows to eventually defeat his long-time enemy

Menenius is chatting with Sicinius and Brutus about the rumours that there will be news soon. S&B (they are never apart so let’s just call them that from now on) are once again bitching about Coriolanus’ flaws, especially his pride. Menenius defends Coriolanus to them until the three Vs walk by with the news Coriolanus is about to arrive in Rome. Mommy V and Menenius trade some talk about Coriolanus’ battle scars which will go a long way towards winning the hearts of the plebs. Coriolanus then shows up, spends more time talking to Mommy V then Wifey V (there’s a fun home dynamic) and heads off to the Capitol. S&B trash talk him some more and note that they’ll be able to use their influence with the commoners to turn them against him and hold on to their power and prevent him from being made consul. There’s then some prep for Coriolanus standing for consul, Coriolanus then speaks before the Senate who decide to make him a consul. The only catch is he must also get the support of the plebs. This requires him to stand on a street corner and ask people for their support. Coriolanus has a lot of disdain for the plebs and doesn’t want to but Menenius talks him into it. Coriolanus manages to get the support of the people, although he refuses to show off his battle scars (apparently a thing other people have done before). However, after Coriolanus has gone in to the senate, S&B show up and get the citizens to turn on him.

Coriolanus is chatting with his pal, Cominius about the news that Aufidius and the Volsces are ramping up for battle again. They then run into S&B who tell Coriolanus not to go into the marketplace as the citizens are seriously pissed. Coriolanus gets uppity and is all, “Well, screw them. I hate the unwashed masses way more than they hate me.” There’s a lot of political maneuvering with S&B working super hard to make sure Coriolanus gets nowhere near power. S&B maneuver to have Coriolanus executed. Menenius tries to talk them down and is sent to fetch Coriolanus, who is getting a bit of a scolding from Mommy V for not working with others better. Coriolanus gets talked into trying and appeasing the plebs by Mommy V, Menenius, and Cominius. But when he gets to the marketplace, S&B wind him up and Coriolanus ends up insulting the mob. He’s then banished from Rome.

Coriolanus says goodbye to his two friends and the Mommy and Wifey Vs and leaves Rome. Mommy V then verbally attacks S&B and gets seriously worked up. On a random highway a Roman and a Volsce meet up and trade gossip. The Volsce learns Coriolanus is banished and the Roman learns the Volscans are about to attack again. At Aufidius’s house, Coriolanus is the world’s haughtiest party crasher. He comes in and tell everyone that due to his mistreatment by the Romans he’s going to join the Volscans in their attack and lead their army. Back in Rome, S&B are gloating and enjoying being the big men on campus and telling each other how lovely everything is now that Coriolanus is gone. Of course, they then get rumours that the Volscans are about to attack which they try to smother only to have believable news saying the same thing with the added note that Coriolanus is leading the army. Menenius and Cominius tell S&B that they hope the pair are happy after everything they’ve done. In the Volscan camp, Aufidius talks with his Lieutenant about Coriolanus’ insane charisma which draws soldiers to him like nobodies business. Aufidius hints that when they’ve taken Rome, he will do everything in his power to take out Coriolanus.

In Rome, S&B talk Menenius into trying to convince Coriolanus not to to attack Rome. Menenius fails. Coriolanus is in the midst of telling Aufidius that nothing will get him to stop the attack on Rome when the Mommy and Wifey Vs with Coriolanus Jr. and the third V in tow. Mommy, Wifey, and Jr all plead with Coriolanus and eventually Mommy (of course) is successful. The Volscans murmur about it but Coriolanus decides not to attack Rome. In Rome, Menenius and S discuss the odds of the 3 Vs success and receive word that the plebs are beating on B. They then get notice that the 3 Vs worked their magic and Coriolanus won’t be attacking, much to the delight of the Romans. In Antium, Aufidius plots with some co-conspirators to assassinate Coriolanus to make sure he stops stealing Aufidius’ thunder. Coriolanus comes into town and is lauded by everyone as a hero until Aufidius calls him a traitor, the two men have a verbal showdown, the citizens turn against him, and Aufidius and his conspirators kill him. The lords of Antium shame Aufidius for killing such a good man and Aufidius suddenly has an attack of conscience. He serves as one of the men who carry Coriolanus’ body off stage.

Heroes and Villains: There really aren’t any characters in this play that I have strong feelings about either way, so no favourite character this time around.

Wordsmith:

  • against the grain (II.iii)
  • thwack (IV.v)
  • death by inches (V.iv)

Speech to Know: Coriolanus may be an annoying and arrogant character, but he knows how to give an impassioned and mildly insulting speech.

“You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead caracasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, – I banish you;
And here remain with your uncertainty!
Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts!
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair! Have the power still
To banish your defenders; till at length
Your ignorance, – which finds not till it feels, –
Making not reservation of yourselves –
Still your own foes, – deliver you, as most
Abated captives, to some nation
That won you without blows! Despising,
For you, the city, thus I turn my back:
There is a world elsewhere.” (III.iii)

View from the Pit: As a study in characters, Coriolanus is an interesting play (which is probably why my instructor chose it as one of the plays for my Shakespeare class in undergrad). The dynamic between Coriolanus and his mother is fascinating; add in the limp dish rag that is his wife, Virgilia, and there’s all kinds of psychological speculations to make about a man with such a dominant mother having such a passive wife. Coriolanus himself is an intriguing mix of the military hero who wishes to maintain his privacy and the member of the upper class who detests the general population. In this conflict between Coriolanus and the citizens of Rome, neither side is particularly appealing. Coriolanus is condescending, arrogant, and elitist while the masses are easily led and capricious. While this might lead the audience to then favour Aufidius, but his assassination of Coriolanus is cowardly and his own immediate regret over the action makes him even less likable. I’d respect him far more if he’d killed Coriolanus and had enough conviction in his actions to feel no remorse. Ultimately, a play with an interesting mix of characters but none of them are particularly likable and the plot is likely to appeal only to those who are particularly interested in (predictable) political maneuverings.

The Tempest – Freewill Shakespeare Festival

As promised a couple weeks ago, here is the second of my reviews from the Freewill Shakespeare Festival in Hawrelak Park. Along with Julius Caesar, the festival is also doing a production of The Tempest, which was the first play I read for the blog (you can refresh your memory here).

As I’d guessed in my review for Julius Caesar, the blue stage works tremendously well for the play and adds that slightly strange atmosphere that the island requires. Thanks also go to mother nature who rained for the entire play and provided some nice ambiance (yay for the tent and rubber boots!). The rotating section of the stage is used very effectively throughout and the small piece of ship was a great (and impressive) touch.

The costumes were beautiful and visually interesting. Prospero’s cape was just the right level of unusual you’d expect of a sorcerer. Miranda’s costume was simple, functional, and reflected her innocent character. All of the shipwrecked royals were mild biker gang garb (leather jackets, dark jeans, big black boots) and I was particularly fond of Ferdinand’s jacket (I like clothes that lace up, what can I say).  Trinculo and Stefano were dressed just as you’d expect of fools. Caliban’s costume made him look a bit sea-monster-ish but it worked really well. But the most impressive costume was Ariel’s which was visually interesting, reflective of her unearthlyness, and just gorgeous. I particularly loved the feather mohawk on her head piece.

On to the production itself. The cast did an excellent job of making a play that can seem extremely weird on the page (or even in some film productions) thoroughly enchanting. They even added additonal moments of much-need humour even when Trinculo and Stefano aren’t around (special shout out to Mat Simpson as Ferdinand who really brought some subtle comedy to many of his scenes). John Wright is brilliant as Prospero and made a character who can come off as capricious and a bit crazy very sympathetic. His interactions with Miranda (played by Calyley Thomas-Haug) play a major role in this. As you’ll remember from my original encounter with the play, I’m very fond of Miranda and Ferdinand, whose courtship is just so innocent and endearing. Cayley Thomas-Haug and Mat Simpson did not disappoint and were thoroughly adorable. However, my favourite performance came from Amber Borotsik as Ariel. She made the character utterly fascinating to watch and I was always thrilled when she popped up.

Definitely a fun production to check out, even if it is raining. The Freewill Shakespeare Festival runs until 22 July 2012.

Timon of Athens

The Play’s the Thing: The play opens with a poet, a painter, a merchant, and a jeweler all trading notes about the awesomeness of Timon who is always willing to purchase any of their wares. They watch some Senators go in to Timon and then talk about how generally well thought of Timon is by everyone in Athens. However, there is a bit of blatant foreshadowing from the poet who reminds us that when Fortune turns against those she’s favoured, all the friends of the one who was favoured will watch him decline without lending him aid. Timon himself then shows up and shows off his magnanimity by lending five talents to a friend in prison for a debt and then setting up a marriage between one of his servants and a woman in town, by giving the money the woman’s father thinks is necessary. Timon looks at the wares that the poet, painter, merchant, and jeweler have all brought to him and agrees to take them all. Then Apemantus arrives. His character description in my edition is “a churlish philosopher” and he lives up to that title by being super cynical over all the people fawning over Timon and Timon’s ongoing shows of wealth. Timon receives word that the general, Alcibiades, and twenty of his men are about to arrive. Timon says to add them to the dinner party and welcomes Alcibiades himself. At the dinner party all of the guests flatter Timon and thank for the extravagant gifts he’s given them, except for Apemantus, who continues to be cynical about Timon’s flatterers. Then a guy dressed as cupid and a bunch of ladies arrive. Everyone dances and Timon sends the ladies on to dinner. Timon then sends his servant Flavius to go fetch one of his jewels. In an aside, Flavius hints that Timon really shouldn’t be doing all the gift giving that he has been because Timon is flat broke, but Flavius realizes that this is not the right time to bring it up. Timon gives some gifts to everyone but Apemantus and then everyone heads home.

Over at one of the Senator’s houses, he’s tabulating up all of the debts that he knows Timon owes (about 25 000 talents) and can’t figure out why Timon continues to give such extravagant gifts. He then sends his servant to go claim some of the money Timon owes him. At Timon’s house, Flavius is lamenting the extravagant spending Timon continues to do, mostly for the benefit of others. He then runs into servants from three different men of Athens all claiming money from Timon. Timon arrives and tries to put everyone off for a day but they refuse. He turns to Flavius in confusion who takes him aside. There’s a brief interlude with Apemantus, the servants, and a fool that’s mostly just an excuse to throw insults around and then we go back to Timon and Flavius who is shocked at how in debt he is. Flavius is all, “I tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen.” Timon is convinced he can fix the situation by selling land and then learns that most of it has been mortgaged already. Then he decides to send servants to a few of his friends to ask them to lend him money. He’s sure that they’ll be more than willing after all of the gifts they’ve lavished on him. Oh Timon…

We then get several successive scenes of Timon’s servants going to his friends and asking for a loan only to be rejected for a range of ridiculous reasons. Back at Timon’s house, more servants from other men are trying to claim money from Timon. They meet one of Timon’s servants who tells them that Timon is unwell and won’t be coming out today. However, Timon shows up shortly afterwards to yell at the servants and tell them that he has absolutely no money give. Then he has a brainwave and tells Flavius to invite all of his friends over for a dinner party. Meanwhile, the Senate is sitting in judgement on a man accused of murder and have decided he will get the death penalty. Alcibiades is there pleading on behalf of the accused man, arguing that what he did was in the heat of the moment and that his punishment should be lessened. The Senate refuse and when Alcibiades persists, they banish him from Athens. He gets super angry about this as he’s done nothing but fight wars for these people and now they’re turning on him. He vows to come back with an army. Back at Timon’s house, all of his friends are there speculating about why he came to them asking for money and now he’s throwing a fancy dinner party. Timon arrives, gives a blessing on the dinner which basically insults everyone there, and then have the dishes on the table uncovered to reveal just bowls of warm water which he then proceeds to throw at them as he chases them out of his house.

Outside of Athens, Timon curses everyone who lives there for their general lack of sympathy when he was in trouble and then he heads into the woods to live where he’ll never have to see another human again. At Timon’s house, his servants are sad that he’s fallen out of favour. Flavius shares the money he’s saved up with all of the other servants and then they all head out to find new employment. Flavius then gives a great speech about the unfairness of Timon’s fall from grace and heads out to continue to serve him wherever he’s ended up. In the woods, Timon is digging for roots (of the edible variety) outside his cave and railing against humanity when he comes across a bunch of gold. Then Alcibiades happens to come along with two ladies of the night and an army. Timon gives them all gold so that they’ll get as far away from him as possible and he tells Alcibiades that when he attacks Athens with his army not to show mercy to anyone. After the group leaves, Apemantus arrives to see if the rumours that Timon is now acting exactly like him are true. They are and the two men insult each other for a while and then Timon chases off Apemantus by throwing rocks (I kid not). Then some thieves show up hearing that Timon has gold. Timon chats with them and they change their minds about taking gold and head back to Athens. Finally, Flavius arrives (for a cave in the middle of nowhere, there is a LOT of traffic here). Timon is so impressed by his loyalty and Flavius’ willingness to work for him without any expectation of being paid, Timon gives him a bunch of gold and tells him to go live somewhere secluded as Timon doesn’t want any human companions at all.

Back at the cave, the poet and the painter from the beginning of the play are hanging out by Timon’s cave because they’ve heard about all the gold he’s giving out. Timon is unimpressed by their flattery and chases them away. Then Flavius brings a few Senators over to Timon. They’re there to ask him to come back to Athens, where they populace has realized they were too harsh and want to put him in a position of power. Especially if he can convince Alcibiades not to attack Athens. Timon fakes them out a bit and says a few things that sound like he’s going to accept the offer but then he turns them down flat. The Senators return to Athens and pass on the bad news that Timon isn’t going to be giving them any help. Back in the woods, a soldier passes Timon’s cave and sees a tomb. He takes an imprint of the headstone to bring to his leader since he can’t read. In Athens, the Senators convince Alcibiades to be more merciful and only punish those that did harm to him and Timon and to spare the rest of the town. Alcibiades then receives the imprint, which is the epitaph Timon wrote for himself and which reflects only his later hatred of men. Alcibiades then heads into the city to lay down the law.

Heroes and Villains: The definite winner here is Flavius, who is the very definition of a faithful servant. He never condemns Timon for his excessive spending and he continues to remain loyal to Timon, even after his fall from grace. Definitely the kind of friend you want to have.

Wordsmith:

  • height of our displeasure (III.v)

Speech to Know: Unsurprisingly, this one comes from Flavius, after Timon’s fall from grace.

“O, the fierce wretchedness that glory brings us!
Who would not wish to be from wealth exempt
Since riches point to misery and contempt?
Who would be so mock’d with glory? Or to live
But in a dream of friendship?
To have his pomp, and all what state compounds,
But only painted, like his varnish’d friends?
Poor honest lord, brought low by his own heart,
Undone by goodness! strange unusual blood,
When man’s worst sin is, he does too much good!
Who then dares to be half so kind again?
For bounty, that makes gods, does still mar men.
My dearest lord, – bless’d to be most accurs’d,
Rich only to be wretched, – thy great fortunes
Are made thy chief afflictions. Alas kind lord!
He’s flung in rage from this ingrateful seat
Of monstrous friends; nor has he with him to
Supply  his life, or that which can command it.
I’ll follow and enquire him out:
I’ll ever serve his mind with my best will;
Whilst I have gold, I’ll be his steward still.” (IV.ii)

View from the Pit: Timon of Athens is really just a good old-fashioned Greek tragedy, minus any appearances from the Greek gods themselves. Timon isn’t too bad as a main character. He’s extremely likable for his open-heartedness and open-handedness with his friends (and anyone who wanders in his front door, basically) but his character swing when he falls from grace keeps him from being too likable. General resentment of the people who accepted all of his help and gifts but then refused to help him when he needed it is understandable. Expanding his hatred to all humanity is a little extreme. However, the best character to come out of this is Flavius who is such an unendingly loyal employee and friend to Timon, even when his employer is broke and gone ‘round the bend. He’s definitely the best thing about this play, which is enjoyable if you’re into depressing Greek tragedies like I am.

Troilus and Cressida

The Play’s the Thing: The play opens with a prologue letting us know the play is set during the Trojan, reminds us of the basics (Greeks went to war against Trojans for taking Helen), and notes that when the play starts, the war has been underway for a while. The proper action then starts with Troilus, one of Priam’s sons, talking with Pandarus, Cressida’s uncle. Troilus is having Pandarus woo his niece on behalf of Troilus but Pandarus hasn’t been too successful and is getting tired of being a go-between. Pandarus leaves to be replaced by Aeneas who brings word Paris was injured and convinces Troilus to come out to the battle. In the streets of Troy, Cressida is walking with her servant who gives the background of Ajax, who is half Trojan but fighting on the Greek side and has killed tons of Trojans, much to Hector’s chagrin. Pandarus then shows up and serves as commentator on the male fashion parade as the Trojan warriors return home at the end of the day, where he bends over backwards to make Troilus seem as awesome as possible. Then one of Troilus’ servants comes to summon Pandarus to meet him leaving Cressida to have a brief soliloquy in which she reveals that she loves Troilus but is making him work for it. Over in the Greek camp, Agamemnon is scolding his military leaders for failing to defeat the Trojans after 7 years of battle (sorry, Aggie, you’ve still got 3 more years to go). Nestor and Ulysses provide some advice, the gist of which is that Achilles and Patroclus, by refusing to fight, are dragging down morale. Aeneas then shows up to tell the Greeks that Hector is offering to fight one man in single combat. Ulysses and Nestor conspire to make sure Achilles doesn’t fight Hector as it’ll just boost his ego and instead decide to send Ajax to fight Hector.

In another part of the Greek camp, Ajax (not the brightest torch in the fire) is trading blows for insults from Thersites (the ancient Greek equivalent to a fool). Achilles and Patroclus then show up to join in the banter and then give the news that there will be a lottery to see who will fight Hector. Back in Troy, Priam is consulting with his sons about the latest offer from the Greeks where if they return Helen and funds/goods to repay for all the time and loss the Greeks have accrued the Greeks will head back home. Troilus would continue fighting while Hector is all for giving her back. Then Cassandra shows up and says that if they don’t give Helen back, Troy will rue the day. Of course, no one believes her (poor Cassandra) and Hector switches sides and decides to continue with the war after some convincing by Troilus. In the Greek camp, Thersites is back to insulting Achilles and Patroclus when Agamemnon, Ulysses, Ajax, and a couple others show up. Achilles hides in his tent when he sees them coming and refuses to come out and using Ulysses as a go-between refuses to fight the next day. Ulysses uses this to stir Ajax up to fighting Hector and the big lug goes along with it.

In Troy, Pandarus meets with Paris and Helen, mostly to tell Paris to cover for Troilus at dinner in case dad asks where he is. However, Helen also cajoles Pandarus into singing her a song, after Paris agrees to the cover story. Later, in Pandarus’ orchard, he brings Troilus and Cressida together where he woos her, she eventually admits she loves him, and they make a vow of fidelity. Then they head off to Pandarus’ house for some hanky-panky. In the Greek camp, Calchas, Cressida’s father, negotiates with Agamemnon for him to return the Trojan Antenor in exchange for Cressida. Agamemnon agrees and sends him back to Troy with Diomedes who will courier Cressida back. Achilles and Patroclus are hanging out by their tent and Ulysses decides to prick Achilles’ ego by sending a bunch of the military leaders past him and have them mostly ignore him. Achilles, of course, freaks out, Ulysses then flatters him (all part of a bigger plan to have him join the battle) and lets him know that he knows the reason Achilles isn’t fighting is because Achilles is in love with one of Priam’s daughters. Achilles decides to send word to Ajax to have him invite the Trojans over to Achilles’ tent for dinner after the battle.

In Troy, Paris meets Aeneas and Diomedes who gives news of the exchange of Antenor for Cressida and Aeneas notes that Troilus is not going to be happy about the deal. In the courtyard of Pandarus’ house, Troilus and Cressida are having some morning after sweet talk when Pandarus shows up and drops a lot of innuendo to make Cressida blush. Aeneas then arrives to bring the news of the impending exchange. Troilus and Cressida make vows to be faithful, Troilus giving Cressida his sleeve and she gives him a glove as tokens of their vow. Troilus then makes Diomedes vow to treat Cressida well and Diomedes insinuates that he thinks she’s a definite hottie. Cressida then heads off to the Greek camp. She arrives just as the Greeks and Trojans are prepping for the fight between Ajax and Hector. Most of the Greek commanders make an excuse to kiss Cressida and then she’s ushered off to Calchas’ tent. Ajax and Hector fight for a bit but then Hector calls it off because he doesn’t want to kill his cousin. He then heads over to meet all the Greek commanders. Meanwhile, Troilus goes with Ulysses to check up on Cressida.

Hector goes to meet Achilles. The two men size each other up, trash talk a bit, and then head off to dinner. In another part of the Greek camp, Troilus and Ulysses watch Cressida who has apparently fallen for Diomedes. She gives him Troilus’ sleeve, then tries to take it back as she values it too much, but Diomedes refuses to give it back. Troilus is disgusted at her faithlessness and vows to track down Diomedes in battle the next day. Back in Troy, Cassandra is trying desperately to convince Hector not to go into battle as it will only lead to bad things. Of course, he doesn’t listen to her (poor Cassandra). We then have several battle scenes where Troilus and Diomedes fight but neither really wins, Patroclus is killed, and Achilles kills Hector. Troilus delivers the news of Hector’s death to the Trojans and also tells Pandarus of niece’s unfaithfulness. And then the play ends.

Heroes and Villains: There’s no real stand out characters in this one. Cressida is initially a very promising character but then her development sort of peters out and we never get any insight into why she decided to break her vow to Troilus and take up with Diomedes. So I’ll pick Cassandra as my favourite because although she has very little page time, I always felt bad for her whenever she came up in Greek mythology.

Insults with Style: Thersites and Ajax have some real gems of insults during their exchange in II.i. Here are some of the highlights:

  • cobloaf
  • stool for a witch
  • thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows
  • wears his wit in his belly, and his guts in his head

Wordsmith:

  • “give you the nod” (I.ii)
  • “Here, there, and everywhere” (V.v)

Speech to Know: As mentioned above, Cressida starts out pretty well. Her soliloquy about her secret love for Troilus is one of the better speeches in the play.

“Words, vows, gifts, tears, and love’s full sacrifice,
He offers in another’s enterprise:
But more in Troilus thousand-fold I see
Than in the glass of Pandar’s praise may be;
Yet hold I off. Women are angels, wooing:
Things won are done, joy’s soul lies in the doing:
That she belov’d knows naught that knows not this, –
Men prize the thing ungain’d more than it is:
That she was never yet that ever knew
Love got so sweet as when desire did sue:
Therefore this maxim out of love I teach, –
Achievement is command; ungain’d beseech:
then though my heart’s content firm love doth bear,
Nothing of that shall from mine eyes appear.” (I.ii)

View from the PitTroilus and Cressida is really far more Shakespeare’s attempt to do the Iliad. While Troilus and Cressida get some considerable page time, it is not truly their ill-fated romance that is the focus of the play, but rather the Trojan war that is the major focus of the play and both elements end up suffering for the lack of focus. Troilus and Cressida’s relationship disappears almost entirely from the second act and there is never really a satisfactory reason given as for why almost thirty seconds after vowing her eternal love for Troilus, Cressida drops him for Diomedes. The Trojan war also just doesn’t get all of the details that it deserves. Although Shakespeare gets the highlights, there are so many amazing details that he leaves behind. If he’d just left the Iliad to Homer and made it more of a background element to Troilus and Cressida’s relationship, the play would be much stronger. As it is, it’s just decent.

Julius Caesar – Freewill Shakespeare Festival

Julius Caesar Title Logo

Fair reader, you’re in for a treat today. I had the privilege of attending the opening night of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival’s production of Julius Caesar (otherwise known as Shakespeare in the Park) so now you get to reap the benefit of a review. However, I first need to give my thanks to @EJ_Extra on Twitter as I won my tickets from them.

I’ve been going to Shakespeare in the Park every year since high school and I’ve rarely had a bad experience and this year’s production of Julius Caesar was another great experience. The stage design for this year is really beautiful. While the initial impression of blue might seem an odd choice, it actually serves as a great contrast to the generally darker costumes the cast wear (I also have a feeling it works well for the Festival’s other play this year, The Tempest). There are also some great features built into the stage that work well, particularly in the second half, but I won’t go into detail as it’s much more fun to be surprised by them. A shout-out also to the lighting and sound. That fake lightning made me jump a time or two.

The costumes are an intriguing mix of mob chic with lots of dark suits, shiny metallic leggings for the ladies under some pretty awesome, Caesar in long shirts and matching pants, and, my personal favourite, Marc Antony making his entrance in a red tracksuit (he does change into a proper suit later on). Of course, for the second half of the play there’s military jackets, pith helmets, berets, and combat boots galore. Possibly the most interesting choice though is the actors’ make-up, which is extremely pronounced with most faces being painted white, heavy black eyeliner, and black or metallic shades underlining cheekbones (also, Marc Antony has a bit of the game-maker from Hunger Games beard going on for the first half). It’s a very striking look and tends to accentuate facial expressions and the look grew on me once I got past my initial impression that everyone had the face make-up of a French mime.

The cast does an excellent job with the play and although tragedies tend to be far more sombre there are some moments of levity, particularly at the beginning. The two stand out performances for me though were by from Belinda Cornish as Portia and Chris Bullough as Brutus. Cornish brings so much passion to Portia that her performance is riveting, particularly during the scene in which she demands Brutus share his secrets with her. Although the character’s presence in the play is relatively small, she leaves such a tremendous impact that you thoroughly understand Brutus’ later grief over her death. And speaking of Brutus, the play may have Caesar’s name on it, but it’s really all about Brutus. Bullough makes him an amazingly sympathetic character in all of his striving to preserve the freedom of his fellow Romans and you cannot help but feel regret at his inevitable downfall.

A thoroughly enjoyable production even for those who aren’t a fan of the play itself like my theatre buddy, Argenplath. As mentioned above, the Festival is also doing The Tempest which I will also be seeing some time in July, so look forward to that review in the next few weeks. The Freewill Shakespeare Festival is in Hawrelak Park and runs until 22 July 2012.

Film Review – Henry VIII (1979)

Let’s face it, fair reader, when it comes to The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series, I have given up on watching the complete films. It’s just not happening anymore. So I’ve switched to a new approach any time I have to sit through another one of these. I’m now just picking one of the acts that I most want to see and watching that one. So for Henry VIII, I watched Act IV because it had a lot of Katharine in it. It also happens to be the shortest act in the play. Although I swear that wasn’t a motivating factor.

The act opens with Anne looking at herself in a mirror (probably a transition from the prior act). We then get to spend some time hanging out with the two random dudes on a streetcorner. Although for the film, they’ve put them on a small set of stairs rather than a street corner. One of the random dudes is a foodie apparently because he eats for the entire scene. The other random dude is Barty Crouch Senior from Harry Potter (David Tennant’s dad in Goblet of Fire, if the character reference is too obscure for you). The random dudes are intercut with actual on location footage of the procession leaving Anne’s coronation. Anne looks cold but pretty. The costumes for this one are actually really great. We get some overlong and silent shots of Anne being crowned and Henry sitting on his throne. Not once do either Anne or Henry speak in this entire act. Yay me for picking an act where the titular character is barely in it and doesn’t speak.

Katharine, Henry VIII

Katharine early in the play. She looks sicklier later on.

The rest of act is Katharine being sick prior to her eventual death. But I am so impressed because there are real sets! Not just wooden stilt thingies on a soundstage but actual sets that look like real rooms and actual furniture that looks… not that comfortable really. Anyway, the actress playing Katharine is pretty decent. At least she looks convincingly sick. During the part of the scene where Katharine has her vision (I may have skipped this in my play recap, it’s just girls dancing near Katharine with a garland that’s symbolic of death) there’s a weird bleed through effect that I’m sure was cutting edge in 1979. Now it’s just… underwhelming. Katharine progressively sicker over the course of the scene and we then are treated to an overlong shot of Katharine’s corpse laid out in state on her bed. And that’s the end of the act. See how painless that was? My one act approach is totally the best plan ever.

With that, we’re done with the English histories! Huzzah! Sunday (possibly Monday, it is a long weekend) I will be diving into the ancient histories with Troilus and Cressida. Until then, fair reader.

Henry VIII

Role Call:

  • Henry VIII
  • Cardinal Wolsey
  • Cardinal Campeius
  • Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Duke of Norfolk
  • Duke of Buckingham
  • Duke of Suffolk
  • Earl of Surrey
  • Lord Chamberlain
  • Lord Chancellor
  • Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester
  • Cromwell, servant to Wolsey
  • Queen Katharine, Henry’s first wife
  • Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife

The Play’s the Thing: The play opens with a prologue which basically says this isn’t a comedy but a serious play. You’ve been warned. Buckingham and Norfolk are discussing the current treaty negotiations with France and how annoying Wolsey is. Particularly because of his habit of outmaneuvering anyone who might even possibly develop a closer relationship with Henry than the one he has. Wolsey then shows up, he and Buckingham make faces at each other, and then Wolsey disappears. Shortly afterwards, Buckingham is arrested and shipped off to the tower along with some other people. Henry is holding court when Katharine shows up. She’s there mostly to get Henry to reconsider Buckingham’s imprisonment as Buckingham is well-liked by the people. But Henry trusts Wolsey so he’s not changing his mind. There are then some trumped up witnesses who say Buckingham is plotting to take the crown for himself. Henry sends Buckingham to a formal trial and says he’ll abide by whatever decision that body makes. There’s a scene that doesn’t really contribute much and then we get another where Wolsey is throwing a party. Some guys in disguise (including Henry) crash it. Wolsey recognizes Henry, invites him to sit down, and Henry meets Anne and thinks she is a fine looking lady.

Out on street corner, two dudes meet up and discuss Buckingham’s trial. He was found guilty. And the guys are totally blaming Wolsey. Buckingham then shows up and gives a big speech to the people on the street where he makes amends with some guys and tells people to tell Henry that Buckingham was really a good guy. Norfolk, Suffolk, and the Lord Chamberlain chat about Henry and talk about how Wolsey is manipulating him into reconsidering his marriage to Katharine (who was his brother’s wife first). They creep up on Henry who tells them off and prefers to hang with Wolsey and Campeius. In the only scene where Anne actually appears and says more than one line, we get an interlude where she’s talking with her pal, Old Lady (no lie, that’s what she gets named as in the character list) about how she has no desire at all to be queen (if if makes you feel better, Anne, it won’t stick long). Then a messenger shows up to give her a title care of Henry. We then come to a scene where Katharine eloquently tells Henry she’s not going to stick around while he weighs the pros and cons of continuing their marriage after 20 years. She leaves, he talks about how great she is but that he’s got worries about the legitimacy of his heirs.

Katharine is hanging out in her garden listening to one of her wenches (her words, not mine) sing a sad song when Wolsey and Campeius show up. They’ve brought the news that Henry’s breaking up their marriage and she’s not queen anymore. Norfolk, Suffolk, and company are bitching again about Wolsey and crowing because Henry found a letter from him to the Pope asking the Pope to delay on his decision in order to prevent a marriage to Anne (which it’s too late for anyway). Wolsey has Cromwell hand over a package to Henry. Unfortunately for Wolsey, it details all of the money he’s been stockpiling for his eventual bid for power in the church in Rome. Henry calls him out on it and Wolsey falls from grace. For several pages.

Our two random dudes are back on their street corner, this time chatting about Anne’s coronation which is happening that morning. They’re joined by a third random guy who witnessed it and tells them every detail. Meanwhile, Katharine is in the country somewhere and dying. There’s some stuff that happens but it’s not very interesting.

The next act opens with the news that Anne is in labour. Henry then meets with Cranmer to let him know he’s trouble and will be appearing before the council the next day. We then get news that Anne has had a baby girl. There’s then some political maneuvering around Cranmer being let in. Suffolk and Norfolk are asses, Henry puts them down for flaunting their power over Cranmer. He then pardons Cranmer and tells him he’s going to be a godfather to the new princess. There’s then a scene of porters having to deal with plebs going wild with partying for the christening for the princess. It’s pretty dull except for the joke about this one christening leading to thousands more as a result of that night. We then get the actual christening of Elizabeth and an entire scene of compliments to her reign. Then there’s an epilogue apologizing for the play’s shortcomings.

Heroes and Villains: My favourite character for this play is Katharine. She’s one of the few characters with anything approaching a personality, she has some decent speeches, and she stands up to Henry. Not bad for a woman who only has a few major scenes.

Pick Up Line with Style:

“O beauty/ Till now I never knew thee” (I.iv)

Speech to Know: There’s no amazing speeches in this play but Katharine has a decent one when Wolsey tells her that Henry is dissolving their marriage.

“Would I had never trod this English earth,
Or felt the flatteries that grow upon it!
Ye have angels’ faces, but heaven knows your hearts.
What will become of me now, wretched lady?
I am the most unhappy woman living –
Alas, poor wenches, where are now your fortunes?
Shipwreck’d upon a kingdom, where no pit,
No friends, no hope; no kindred weep for me;
Almost no grave allow’d me: – like the lily,
That once was mistress of the field flourish’d,
I’ll hang my head and perish.” (III.i)

View from the Pit: Despite the awesomeness of the source material, Henry VIII is boring. Shakespeare is so careful to make no one too much of a villain that there never really is one and the play skirts almost all conflict, making it rather uninteresting. Having taken an entire history class on the Tudors, I can tell you that there is a lot of juicy stuff to play with from this period of Henry’s reign and yet Shakespeare barely touches it. He barely even hints at the break with the Catholic church that happened during this period. Anne Boleyn is basically a cardboard figure to lavish praises on (probably safe to say as little about your monarch’s mother as possible I suppose). And the final scene of the play is basically just an extended compliment to Elizabeth I. But really, the play isn’t that great and I almost wish Shakespeare had saved the ink. If you’re only going to take the safe approach to recent history (which is a fair position to take when the monarch could have your head chopped off if she really doesn’t like it) why bother doing it at all.

Film Review – Richard III (1955)

Fair reader, you are going to be so impressed with me. For the first time in weeks, I’ve made it all the way through a Shakespeare film. And you are going to be so glad I did. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So the reason I made it all the way through the film this week is that I didn’t have to watch a Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare film. Instead I was treated to the classical acting style of Laurence Olivier. Take a look at the trailer and then on to the review!

So the cast in this is pretty decent although the only name that’s really stuck around with any sort of reputation is Olivier himself who plays Richard III (of course). In terms of playing Richard, while he has a bad wig (as does every male character in this film almost), Olivier is really too good looking to be playing Richar,d who is deformed. Olivier gives him a limp (which varies in severity over the course of the film) and he holds his left hand in a weird fist but there’s no effort made for the hunchback that you’ll see in other representations of Richard.

The film is in Technicolor and it looks pretty good. The sets are believable as actual castles, although the proximity that’s given between the palace and the Tower seems a little too close to me (as in, I step out this door, cross a tiny courtyard, and look, I’m at the Tower!). However, the real beauty is in the costumes. While the men’s are just fine with the requisite funny hats, it is the women’s gowns, particularly Anne’s, that are really gorgeous. Also I’m a sucker for hats with veils, even when the hats are ridiculously tall like the ones in this film.

Olivier, Richard III

Laurence Olivier as Richard III

Now on to the actual content. The film opens with Edward IV’s coronation and there’s some small speechifying before Richard gets to deliver his “Now is the winter of our discontent speech” which provides the historical context necessary but it lacks the drama of that cold opening. Olivier has also edited Richard’s speech adding in content from a later soliloquy in Act I so that it all happens at once. However, the interesting visual motif that recurs throughout the film (besides that of the crown) is shots of Richard’s shadow on the ground. Beware the evils of the shadow. Olivier also delivers all of his soliloquies and asides directly to the camera and he has this sort of smile that makes the viewer an almost co-conspirator in his evils.

The other major change is Richard’s interchange with Anne which has been split into two separate scenes, which makes it a bit more realistic. They’ve changed the corpse in the coffin from that of Anne’s father-in-law to her husband, and it takes two exchanges before Anne agrees to marry Richard. But she comes across as a bit detached verging on catatonic towards the end of the film.

Richard and Anne, Richard III

Anne’s most proactive moment

Given the age of the film, there are some acting moments that made me laugh out loud as there are some weird facial expressions from Olivier (with dramatic music to accompany them). I also chortled when everyone in the room at the news of George’s death all gasped at exactly the same time and exactly the same way. But the biggest laugh came at the end of the film (I swear, I’ll get to it soon).

Unlike the play, all of the murders happen on camera (except Anne’s). Sadly the ghosts suffer from the lack of creepiness that comes with 1950s special effects. Of course, the weird stage whispers the actors use aren’t particularly terrifying either. However, while final battle scenes are filmed in the real outdoors, California makes a very poor England.

Now the ending deserves a paragraph all its own. The battle lacks a certain epicness one could hope for. And the armour Olivier is wearing is highly ridiculous. But it is Richard’s death scene that truly takes the cake. It really makes the 2 1/2 hours all worth while because this may just be THE most over the top death scene ever committed to film. Take a look for yourself (if you’re really interested you can go back about a minute to hear Olivier deliver my favourite line from the play, “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!). Amazing, no?

Laurence Olivier, Richard III

Hello ridiculous death scene

So final verdict on this one is that once again, Richard doesn’t come across as evil as I would have hoped. Really, I was hoping he’d be more Moriarty-esque (and if you have not watched BBC’s Sherlock, go do that right now). Instead, despite the hideous things he does, he comes across as just mildly evil.

Next week will be our final English history play (huzzah!) with Henry VIII. Looking forward to some head chopping.

Richard III

Role Call:

  • King Edward IV
  • Edward, Prince of Wales and later King Edward V (Edward IV’s son)
  • Richard, Duke of York (son of Edward IV)
  • George, Duke of Clarence (brother of Edward IV)
  • Richard, Duke of Gloster and later King Richard III (brother of Edward IV)
  • Henry, Earl of Richmond and later King Henry VII
  • Duke of Buckingham
  • Earl Rivers, brother to Edward IV’s Queen
  • Marquis of Dorset and Lord Grey, sons of Edward IV’s Queen
  • Lord Hastings
  • Lord Stanley
  • Queen Elizabeth (Edward IV’s wife)
  • Queen Margaret (Henry VI’s widow)
  • Duchess of York (Mother of Edward IV, Clarence, and Richard III)
  • Lady Anne, it’s complicated but she eventually marries Richard III

The Play’s the Thing: The play opens with Richard bemoaning the fact that everything is too peaceful for his tastes although he’s doing his best to stir up trouble. Edward IV is ill and paranoid and Richard has planted rumours that there’s a prophecy that someone who’s name starts with G will kill his sons, with the hopes Edward IV will imprison and/or kill George, leaving open the road for Richard to more easily nab the throne. He then sees George being carted off to the tower and has one of many two-faced moments where he swears that he’ll do his best to get Edward IV to release George. Richard worries that Edward IV will bite the dust before Richard can have George whacked. Meanwhile, in another part of London, Anne is following the corpse of Henry VI which is on its way to be buried. To get things straight now, Anne is Henry VI’s daughter-in-law who was married to his son, Edward, who is also dead, both of whom we’re killed by Richard. She curses Richard (literally, she places a curse on his future wife) but then through some very impressive verbal exercises, Richard charms her into agreeing to marry him. Bad idea, Anne. Back at the palace, Queen Elizabeth is discussing her concerns about Edward IV’s health with her sons and then there’s some insults tossed around as some of the lords are not fans of the fact that Elizabeth has raised much of her family into the nobility even though they were nobodies prior to her marriage to Edward IV. Queen Margaret then shows up and curses everyone in sight, and this being Shakespeare these are all curses to take note of as they all come true later in the play. Everyone then gets called on to see Edward IV but Richard lingers behind to chat with two murderers he’s sending to whack George in the Tower. They head over to see George who tries desperately to talk his way out of the situation but only succeeds with one of the murderers and George is killed with the other.

Back in the palace, Edward is getting everybody to kiss and make up for the sake of his heirs. He then gets news George has been killed and gets depressed about it because while he briefly wanted him dead, he rescinded the order. Richard spreads rumours among the lords that Queen Elizabeth’s family made sure George was killed. The Duchess of York is hanging out with George’s kids when they bump into Queen Elizabeth who has gone a bit ’round the bend as Edward IV has died. The Duchess and Elizabeth have a grief off and it comes across as a bit Greek chorus-y (there will be more of this later). Meanwhile, Richard and the lords make plans to have Prince Edward, now Edward V brought to London for his coronation. Richard and Buckingham conspire to have Rivers and Grey (Queen Elizabeth’s family members) whacked. Elizabeth gets word of this and she and the Duchess worry about what Richard could possibly be up to.

Gloster meets Edward V and brings young Edward’s brother, York (referring to him by his title is just easier than having two Richards floating around right now). He sends the two brothers of to the Tower, even though Edward V isn’t too fond of the idea, to prep for the coronation. Meanwhile, Richard is conspiring with Buckingham to have himself crowned king. Queen Elizabeth’s family members are taken off to a place of execution (the first set of off-stage deaths). Richard breaks up plans for Edward’s coronation and manages to have some more lords executed for supposedly using witchcraft to cause Richard’s physical deformities. Despite some initial reluctance from the people, Richard eventually manages to wrangle mass support for his claim to the throne.

The Duchess, Anne, and Queen Elizabeth all meet up in front of the Tower where they’re headed to congratulate Edward V on his upcoming gig as King when they get word that Richard has made himself King. No one is pleased and there’s another grief off where Anne foretells her own death (which happens off-stage, of course).. Richard confides in Buckingham that he wants him to whack the two princes in the tower but Buckingham balks. Richard then gets someone else who’s so desperate for money he’ll do anything to organize the murders (more off-stage deaths). Richard is pleased as punch with the news his nephews are dead but then receives word that Richmond is sailing to England, likely in a bid for the throne himself (Henry VI foretold in the last play that Richmond would one day be king. Surprise! Any prophecies or curses in Shakespeare always come true! Too bad, Richard). Meanwhile the ladies have yet another grief off over all the horrible things Richard has done to them. Richard then shows up and attempts to convince Queen Elizabeth to woo her daughter on his behalf (a ploy to cement his position as King) but Elizabeth has none of it and although she says she relents, she really doesn’t. Richard then gets word of rebels and Richmond and heads off to battle.

Buckingham is executed (off stage!) for joining the rebels against Richard. Richmond and Richard set up their camps and prepare to face off the next day. While Richard’s forces are larger, what he doesn’t know is that most of his troops don’t like him and are willing to switch sides at the smallest provocation. While Richard and Richmond sleep the ghosts of Edward IV, Henry VI, George, Queen Elizabeth’s family members, another lord, the two young princes, and Buckingham all show up to curse Richard and bless Richmond. Richard wakes up and has a bad feeling about his odds but heads off to battle anyway. We get news that Richard is fighting like mad on foot even after losing his horse. There’s a brief sword fight between him and Richmond which ends with Richard’s (surprise!) off-stage death. Richmond then gives a speech about ending the civil war by joining the houses of the red and white roses through his marriage with Queen Elizabeth’s daughter.

Heroes and Villains: Richard III is considered one of Shakespeare’s best villains, right up there with Iago. And for good reason as he manipulative, charming, and scheming throughout. You never like him nor is he ever sympathetic, but he is fascinating to watch in his inexorable rise to and later fall from power.

Wordsmith:

  • Take that, and that (I.iv)
  • dance attendance (III.vii)
  • a very prey to time (IV.iv)
  • A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse! (V.iv)

Speech to Know: Richard’s speech which opens the play begins with one of Shakespeare’s better known lines and gives the first glimpse of Richard’s hideous plots for the future.

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lower’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, – instead of mounting bared steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries, –
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, – that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
to strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time,
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them; –
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun,
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, – since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days, –
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” (I.i)

View from the Pit: I had high expectations for Richard III, which were only half-met. Richard comes with a reputation as being a villain on par with Iago, who is not only my favourite Shakespearean villain but probably my favourite villain in all fiction, so I was looking forward to my first encounter with him. And while as a character he is fascinating and his actions heinous, his climb to power and later fall from the throne are diluted by a lot of subplots and scenes that may be important for the historical context but slow down the action. The play is not as tightly plotted as some of the tragedies I’ll be spending time with later this year. That being said, it is far more interesting than much of the Henry VI trilogy. My only major complaint is that we have strong women who stand up to Richard for pages of fast-paced dialogue only to cave to him over and over. Now admittedly, this makes him even more interesting as a character to see how he can manipulate these women into changing their minds, but I would have liked to have seen Elizabeth beat him out in their verbal match instead of hearing later that she had ultimately turned against him.

Film Review – Henry VI Part 3 (1983)

Fair reader, I just want to have a moment of silence for the fact that this film wasn’t directed by Kenneth Branagh. Are you sick of me mentioning him? Too bad. It keeps my brain from atrophying while I try to watch these Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare films. So you’ll probably have to live with it for a while longer.

Like last week, I did not make it through this entire film (212 minutes!). I made it through about 45. And there’s not hugely interesting or new things to say about this film. The sets are basically the same from Part 2, except the wood structures have all been painted black. The costumes are still bad and most of the “leather armour” just looks like bad 80s punk fashion. But at least the actors are now age appropriate for their parts so that’s a positive. I was also excited to see the actor playing Richard, mostly because I adored him as Chivery in Little Dorrit (go watch it, it’s awesome). However, the actor playing Clifford has a really badly faked Scottish accent. In my 45 minutes, nothing super exciting happened. I got one battle sequence which was basically groups of men shoving each other back and forth while they both held pikes (not a euphemism, although that would have made things far more interesting). So enjoy the one screen cap of the film I could find (even the general internet hasn’t watched this film much).

File:Fathers and Sons BBC.jpg

I’ll be back on Sunday with Richard III, my penultimate English history play, and our chance to encounter one of Shakespeare’s great villains.