Hard to believe this is the first thread for one of the Bard's works, but I am sure it won't be the last.
The first play of my Shakey course this year and a nice way to start. The fairyland intrudes on the human world after the humans intrude in the fairyland.
There are many strands to this play but a quick synopsis of the plot goes like this. Theseus intends to marry Hippolyta. Egueus approaches Theseus for help with his wilful daughter Hermia, who refuses to marry Demetrius as she loves Lysander. Egeus wishes to exercise Athenian law which allows him to kill his daughter should she not marry Demetrius. And this is a comedy?! Helena loves Demetrius but he doesn't love her. Lost in the forest the four young lovers are met with mischief at the hand of Robin Goodfellow whom acting upon the wishes of Fairy King Oberon, drugs the wrong man and the ridiculousness and flippancy of young love is presented at its most comical.
Meanwhile, Oberon drugs his wife, the Fairy Queen, Titania, to fall in love with the first beast she spies on waking up, who happens to be an artisan called Bottom wearing as ass's head (see michevious Robin Goodfellow).
Now it's quite difficult to discuss or review a complex play such as the ones Shakey was wont to create, in isolation, so I do hope that fellowe Shakey fans in the BGO membership join in and an interesting discussion ensues.
I will say that, while I enjoyed the play very much, and love the malevolence in Fairyland, I wasn't immediately sold on Act 5 - the artisans' playlet Pyramus and Thisbe - it just seemed a little unnecessary and detracted form the main thrust of the play. Of course my study books quickly put me right, but study never entirely changes your opinion. My particular highlight was the details of Robin's error - it was deliciously mischevious.
As Shakey's plays go it is always the tragedies first for me, then the histories then the comedies. And this is one I really enjoy.
Richard II is either a vain, immature, blaspheming King who is prone to excess or a just King, Christ-like in his humility. But at the heart of this play is the question whether an anointed King is untouchable and King by right or if a King should be regarded just by office.
When Richard banishes his cousin Bolingbroke and Mowbray after they both accuse each other of treason, he 'appropriates' Bolingbroke's inheritance (land, title, property, money). When Richard goes off to fight the Irish (with Bol's money) Bolingbroke mounts an invasion of England to take back what is his and eventually depose Richard, which is the initial stage in the Wars of the Roses.
The whole play, language, structure and imagery is carefully balanced to give both sides of the divide, never does Shakey intervene and come down on either Richard or Bolingbroke's side. Likewise, you never really know if Richard is just or unfit for office, or if Bolingbroke is an ambitious usurper and fighting for a just right.
This is much more my to my taste than AMND, I much prefer the rhetorical language, the historical angle, (I won't say realism because Shakey is 'elastic' with historical fact), and the complex divide between two cousins.
The Scottish play. The bloody play. How's about the bloody good play? This is one of my favourite of Shakey's plays and thankfully studying it hasn't ruined that.
An encounter with three 'weird sisters' (think 'weird' as in fate or destiny rather than odd) sets Macbeth on a murderous path. They prophesise that he will become the Thane of Cawdor then more and that no man born of woman will be able to stop him reaching his 'vaulting ambitions'. When the first prophesy comes true, not of Macbeth's doing, he and his wife collude (the balance of power in this marriage is open to interpretation), in events that decimate the line to the throne, leaving the way open for him to seize the crown. But to be safely 'thus' his machinations don't end there.
I think this play has always been a favourite of mine because I am naturally drawn to the more violent and macabre aspects of story-telling, but I never really appreciated quite how torn Macbeth was till re-reading now. The balance of holding sympathy and horrifying the reader/audience is quite a complex and satisfying achievement.
I wasn't much looking forward to this play - Roman and Egyptian history doesn't interest me too much, and well, it just didn't feel like my kind of play. Not nearly enough blood and drama. And to be honest, after reading it, and now having listened to an audio performance of it, I wasn't much wrong.
Antony, is married to Fluvia but having an affair with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Fluvia dies and Cleo expects to step into her shoes, however her plans go awry when to make peace with Caesar, Antony marries Caesar's sister Octavia. In her fury Cleo switches allegiance to and fro, as does Antony's right hand man Enobarbus, and war is raged between Antony and Caesar.
The prose in this play is extremely varied and convoluted and just doesn't flow as well as other works. Plus it is pretty low on any good, solid, meaty drama. Cleo is a vain minx, and extremely hard to like. There is absolutely no empathy with her and therefore that makes it hard to stay engaged.
There is really only monologue that I really enjoyed, when Enobarbus realises his grave error and wishes to die. I'll post it when I have the text to hand.
All I can say is, thank the lord I don't have to do an essay on this one, 'cause I'd be struggling to get passionate about it.
Argubly, Shakespeare's most famous work, Hamlet is a tragedy and definitely one of my favourite plays. Young Hamlet is tortured by the death of his father and immediate marriage of his mother, Gertrude, to his Uncle Claudius. His father appears to him as a ghost and tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius and that Hamlet is to revenge his father.
The many soliloquies and near-perfect lines have almost become cliches themselves, and a good performance, to me, is judged by its ability to make you forget that these lines have been repeated to death. Last year, I think, I saw a theatre performance that didn't quite stop me from cringing at the lines; "to be or not to be...alas poor Yorick...get thee to a nunnery...".
This weekend, in addition to reading the play text itself, I have watched 2 film productions of the play; Branagh's Hamlet, and Franco Zefirelli's. First up was the Zefirelli. Mel Gibson plays Hamlet, and quite a surprising performance it was too. I expected to see flashes of his Lethal Weapon character, but none was evident. He is a brooding, immature, sulky, petulant Hamlet from the off. We are presented with a medieval Elsinore, drab, cold, and grey and much of the 'ghost' action is played out on top of the castle on the battlements. It made for a great stage.
What I didn't like about this production was really all down to Helena Bonham-Carter's Ophelia. There is no attempt made to make you believe that Hamlet and Ophelia were ever in love and there is very little sense of why or how she is sent mad.
There is a preponderance of doors, windows and staircases in this film. Most of the characters, at most points in the play, are framed by at least one of these. It reinforces the sense that for Hamlet Denamrk is a prison. It illuminates the corridors of Hamlet's mind and he struggles to find his way. The doorframes, banisters, and window frames provide Gibson with 'props' with which to act against, show the restraints he exercises over his thoughts, and the prisons he acts against.
The highlight, for me, was the 'to be or not to be' soliloquy which is delivered in the tomb vault which contains the sarcophagus of his father. A perfect setting for Hamlet's consideration of suicide, death, and the escape of dreams. Excellent stuff.
Onto Branagh's. A completely different look and set. A colorful, modern, vibrant royal court set inside a snowbound landscape. The coldness outside is carried through indoors in the blue and white marble of Elsinore. Regal and lavish dress adorns the royals, and grand military garb for the courtiers. Hamlet is much more the insolent brat, playful with words, becoming the court jester at times, and much less the sense that he is wrestling with the torment of his father's murder.
Ophelia though, wonderfully, is just as I would have her. In flashback, we are privy to her and Hamlet's lovemaking before the events that take place now. There is no doubting that they were a loving couple. The dramatic events following the 'rememberances' discussion is brutal, cruel, and soul-destroying - we see exactly how much Hamlet has hurt her and her abuse and sense of being used at the hands of Claudius and Polonius is apparent. She is also witness to her father's body being removed. So, here we see why and how Ophelia is driven mad - we feel for her and understand why she is a victim. Nothing like the Zefirelli production in which her madness is completely inexplicable.
Out of the two, I'd say I prefer the Zefirelli version, I liked the setting, Gibson's Hamlet, and the use of the set to embellish the speeches. The Ophelia is awful and if I could transport Branagh's/Winslet's Ophelia to Zefirella's Elsinore, I would.