Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween. What does Shakespeare say about Halloween, does anybody know?
With today's posting of my text on Love's Labour's Lost I'll have caught up with all my texts. No more unposted ones in storage. So from now on, on Mondays when I don't post a play analysis I'll be doing short book reviews on books I've read about WS. I'm looking forward to that. But that will probably be in a couple of weeks because next week I hope to post something on A Midsummer Night's Dream (see below).
  • Shakespeare sightings –
    • Having now reached The Goblet of Fire in our Harry Potter marathon we have been to the Yule Ball for which the talented Weird Sisters provide the music. Actually in my versions of Macbeth they're called witches. But that works too in this context!
    • According to DN the production of “Marat/Sade” at the Royal Shakespeare Theater (or Theatre, I suppose I should spell it) in Stratford, is getting distinctly mixed response. It seems one either loves it (standing ovations) or hates it (walks out in the middle). What they hate is the the insanity, nudity, torture and violence. Hmmmm sounds like a Shakespeare play...
    • In the science fiction novel Extras by Scott Westerfeld Othello is quoted: “Reputation is an idle an most false imposition...”
    • Ho hum, another mention in DN of that movie, you know, the one in which Shakespeare isn't Shakespeare. Evidently in the movie he's a thief, a killer and a swindler. No wonder he didn't have time to write his plays! According to this little notice someone's going to sue, though it doesn't say whom or for what exactly. More appropriate, I think, is the second suggestion mentioned, that the director be locked up in the Tower.
    • In Agnes Gray, by Anne Brontë, Agnes tells us, “As I cannot, like Dogberry, find it in my heart to bestow all my tediousness upon the reader...” So, new contest! In which play do we find Dogsberry and in which way is he tedious? Wonderful prizes to the first one who answers correctly!
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • Movie watched: The BBC version of the same
  • Book still being read: Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film.
  • DVDs not yet received from the RSC: a Hamlet, a Macbeth a Twelfth Night (with Kenneth Branagh) and a Shakespeare Sessions.
  • Text posted on blog: Finding...a Few Things in Love's Labour's Lost.

Love's Labour's Lost - Finding

Finding...a Few Things
in Love's Labour's Lost

This is a strange play. It confuses me. It's too fast for me. The analyses I've looked at so far seem to be about some other play. Even dear old Professor Bloom doesn't provoke me. No “aha, so that's what this is about!” No “Are you crazy?” Just a “Hmmm, yeah. Well, OK...”

I have a pile of books here with various analyses and someday I really will do my own intelligent analysis of some very obscure but vitally significant detail from the play (it's full of them!) but this time I'm going to take a vacation from analysis and simply write about a few things that I like about the play. Because in spite of the wary attitude expressed above, I do. Like it. So no analysis, just a list of superb quotes on the subjects of:
1.Education and reading
2.Some really funny language
3.The commons putting the nobility in their place
4.The women winning

1. As a teacher and book-lover, I have to love the mockery and irony of the role of education and reading. The whole idea of four young men locking themselves away from women and the world for three years of constant study reminds me of some of my earnest young students who promise that this time they really are going to complete the course with the highest grades. It could be them saying the following:

Biron: What is the end of study, let me know.
King: Why to know which else we should not know.

But of course my dear students often fail to live up to their oaths, just as our four heroes do. The difference being that my students are more likeable.

Anyway, Biron contradicts himself constantly throughout the play:

Biron: Study is like the heaven's glorious sun,
That will not be deep searched with saucy looks...
King: How well he's read, to reason against reading!
Biron: So study evermore is overshot
While it doth study to have what it would,
It doth forget to do the thing it should;
And when it hath the thing it hunteth most,
'Tis won as towns with fire – so won, so lost. (Act 1.1)

In other words, Biron points out that studying destroys what you want to learn. Still he signs on.

His oath, of course, is soon broken, as Shakespeare's oaths usually are. He and his three friends fall in love with the four Frenchwomen immediately and Biron conveniently explains:

O, what have we made a vow to study, lords,
And in that vow we have foresworn our books. (Act 4.3)

“Books” here being the women's eyes, says the note in Norton. What he's saying is, “OK, guys, forget studying, what we really want to learn about is women and love.”

What I like is the dilemma – school or real life? What's the difference? What's “real” about “real life” (especially the way Biron and friends regard love, as if their love is real...)

Maybe I'll analyze all this with the many more appropriate quotes from the play next time. But to end this section I just have to include a quote I love which shows Holofernes' contempt for the uneducated in his diatribe against an incorrect description of a deer:

...his undressed, unpolished, uneducated, unpruned, untrained, or rather unlettered, or ratherest unconfirmed, fashion, to insert again my 'haut credo' for a deer” (Act 4.2)

I wouldn't want to use a word inaccurately around him! But it's another example of Shakespeare's expertise at insults and leads nicely into my next point.

2. The language of this play, everyone seems to agree, is unsurpassed in English literature. It will take a lifetime of studying to appreciate it but here are a few of my favorites:

the wordy amiable Spaniard in talking of his love for the country wench Jaquenetta: “ still drum; for your manager is in love; yea, he loveth. Assist me, some extemporal god of rhyme, for I am sure I shall turn sonnet. Devise wit, write pen, for I am for whole volumes, in folio” (Act 1.2). A little gentle self-mockery on Shakespeare's part?

In response to Holofernes' expression of indignation (above) over the misuse of various words for “deer” (he says further, “O thou monster of ignorance, how deformed dost thou look!”), Nathaniel, the curate rather gently explains:

Sir, he hath never fed the dainties that are bred in a book.
He hath not eat paper, as it were, he hath not drunk ink (Act 4.2)

Nathaniel and Holofernes make fun of Armado with a great long harangue – in itself worthy of study – to which Mote, Armado's page, and Costard, the clown, note

Mote: They have been at a great feast of languages and stolen the scraps.
Costard: O, they have lived long on the alms basket of words. (5.1)

A few minutes later Armado enters the scene. His speech throughout the play is filled with lines consisting of dozens of words when one would suffice. Here an example: “...the posteriors of this day, which the rude multitude call the afternoon” (Act 5.1).

And finally, after two pages of this kind of babbling exchange between Armado and Holofernes, the latter turns to Constable Dull and says, “Via, Goodman Dull! Thou hast spoken no word all this while.” To which Dull replies, “Nor understood none neither, sir” (Act 5.1). I know the feeling!

I've chosen my examples from the exchanges of the commoners. The nobility in the play are no less wordy and in several instances their use of language is just as funny and/or absurd but that will have to wait. My point is that in all of this, the four noble heroes of the play turn out to be not so noble after all.

3. In his introduction to the Norton edition of the play, Walter Cohen points out that one of the strengths of the play is that the “upper class learns its manners from the lower” (page 773). The best example is at the end when Costard, Nathaniel and Holofernes bravely attempt to present a pageant on the Nine Worthies (Pompey, Alexander the Great, Judas Maccabeus, etc.) only to be taunted by the young lords, to which Holofernes replies with quiet dignity: “This is not generous, not gentle, not humble” (Act 5.2). Unfortunately the the nobles do not listen. Their insults continue.

Still they get what they deserve in the end. They don't pay attention to the rebuke of the commoners but they can't ignore the rebuke of the women.

4. There's a lot of talk of love in this play. It's all spoken by the men. The women don't fall for it. Throughout, the women make fun of the men, mock them, play tricks on them and with clever and cool awareness of men's general shallowness and untrustworthiness when it comes to love, and evade them from start to finish. No romantic, dewy-eyed ending here. The Princess (now Queen of France) tells the king:

Your oath I will not trust, but go with speed
To some forlorn and naked hermitage
Remote from all the pleasures of the world.
There stay until the twelve celestial signs
Have brought about the annual reckoning (Act 5.2).

If he does, she'll accept him. If not, she won't.

Catherine tells Dumaine:

Come when the king to my lady come
Then if I have much love, I'll give you some (Act 5.2).

If, you'll notice. No promises here.

Marie tells Longueville:

At the twelvemonth's end
I'll change my black gown for a faithful friend (Act 5.2).

And finally, Rosaline, knowing exactly how much (or little) value there is in Biron's ceaseless flow of mocking wit and linguistic flights of fancy, banishes him:

You shall this twelvemonth term from day to day
Visit the speechless sick and still converse
With groaning wretches, and your task shall be
With all the fierce endeavor of your wit
To enforce the painéd impotent to smile (Act 5.2)

In a rather chilling realization of his own shallowness Biron protests that, “Mirth cannot move a soul in agony.”

Rosaline responds at length, saying essentially, “Exactly. You finally figured it out.” Like her three friends, she says that if he manages to stick it for a year, there might be a match, If not, too bad for him.

The four men reluctantly agree but Biron's last words, that a year is “too long for a play,” don't really give much indication of an and-they-lived-happily-ever-after ending (what Shakespeare play does?) No, what happens is that the four women “ride off into the sunset without their men” (Cohen, p. 773). Or, as Bloom puts it, “no one gets married, and...we are more than free to doubt that a year's service or penance by the men (unlikely to be performed) will bring about any unions” (Bloom, p. 143).

Hmmmm. I think I'm beginning to like this play. Next time around, I'm going to have to give it some serious thought!

October 2011

Works cited:

  • The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition, 2008.
  • Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human. 1998.
  • Cohen, Walter. “Introduction” in The Norton Shakespeare (see above).

Films seen:

  • BBC, 1984. Director: Elijah Moshinsky. Cast: Mike Gwilym – Biron (or Berowne); Jenny Agutter – Rosaline; Maureen Lipman – Princess of France; Paul Jesson – Costard; David Warner – Don Armado; John Kane – Mote (or Moth); John Wells – Holofernes. Quite a straightforward interpretation. Lipman was best as the Princess of France.
  • The Kenneth Branagh version, 2000. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Kenneth Branagh – Biron; Natasha McElhone – Rosaline; Alicia Silverstone – the Princess of France; Nathan Lane – Costard; Timothy Spall – Don Armado; Anthony O'Donnell – Moth; Geraldine McEwan – Holofernes (Holofernia). I love this film. Set in the 30's just before WWII breaks out, it's a musical using old classics by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Ira Gershwin. This is such a hokey movie and totally romantic. In other words, except for the rather effective use of the war as a sober backdrop, this version is so shallow and sweet that I should hate it. But Branagh is just so good, the cast are obviously having so much fun, the soppy ending is actually believable, the songs and lyrics fit in so perfectly and I'm a sucker for musicals so I fell for it immediately. This is the third time I've watched it but certainly not the last.

Seen on stage: no.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ruby has joined Facebook! I'm sure those of you who are normal don't think this is newsworthy in the slightest but I promise you, it came only after long and agonizing consideration. The decision was finally reached only because AnneliT insisted, claiming that with Facebook an instant worldwide network of Shakespeare fanatics will find their way to the blog – OK, OK, AnneliT, you didn't exactly say that, but according to you chances are better for reaching more people. So, now I'm waiting with baited breath... Those of you who have already checked out my page in Facebook can confirm that so far it's boring but once I figure out how to do things I might add some excitement. However, the real excitement is here so let's get going!

  • Shakespeare sightings –
    • On our way to the subway awhile back (actually this should have been on last Monday's report, which just goes to show that even while looking for Shakespeare sightings, they're so common that they can be missed), Hal and I came across a cultural event at Hallonbergen's Culture Center consisting of music, theater etc. One of the et ceteras was a performance by the actor Hans Wigren (unknown to me) on “The Mystery of Shakespeare's Sonnets”. Unfortunately we couldn't hang around for it because we were on our way to have dinner with friends.
    • Also missed last week Can you find the Shakespeare? Asks Eija. No contest on this one though so just enjoy.
    • DN's Friday crossword: clue - “Was Othello”. Answer: “Moor.”
    • In an ancient ”Populär Historia” (Number 7, 2001) - ”Shakespeare in Gdansk” about the building of a copy of the Fortune Theater. According to the notice, theater troops performed Shakespeare every summer in 17th century Gdansk.
    • DN again – who heaves tired sighs, just like me, over the moldy old theory that someone else wrote Shakespeare's plays. This particular sigh was heaved by the film editor who thinks a movie on the subject must be bo-o-o-oring.
    • In the biography Hal and I are reading about Monet, a painting of Hamlet by Delacroix was mentioned. I guess he did a lot of them. I'd had no idea. Check them out
    • I got this great link from Nadine at Oxford University Press. It's especially interesting at about 5 minutes into the program but history lovers will want to watch it all.
  • Winners of last week's contest with the correct answer being Hamlet, “murder most foul” spoken by the ghost (Hamlet's father) – tied for the first prize of a big smile are Eija and Libby who answered almost simultaneously via email (since posting comments can still be tricky). So here are your prizes: :-) :-) Well done!
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • Book finished: Beginning by Kenneth Branagh.
  • Book started: Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film.
  • DVDs ordered from the RSC: a Hamlet, a Macbeth a Twelfth Night (with Kenneth Branagh) and a Shakespeare Sessions. If you feel a great urge to spend money log in!
  • Text posted on blog: Don't Be Silly – Behind the Comedy in A Comedy of Errors.

Comedy of Errors - Don't Be Silly

Don't Be Silly!
Behind the Comedy
The Comedy of Errors

What a silly play. Laugh-out-loud funny, of course, but so silly. Charming and very likable, yes, but so silly. “Could this actually be the only simple, funny, good-hearted and straightforward play that Shakespeare wrote?” I asked myself while reading it.

Silly me. Shakespeare never wrote a simple or straightforward sentence in his life. I should know that by now.
So yes, The Comedy of Errors is silly and very funny but so much more and it doesn't take a rocket scientist (or whatever the literary equivalent might be) to see it. As Professor Bloom puts it, there are many aspects of the play that “belie our usual first impression of The Comedy of Errors as a purely rambunctious farce” (p. 23). (By the way, I'm very happy to report that not only did I find Bloom's chapter on The Comedy of Errors very entertaining and enlightening but I also agreed with him this time.)

Of interest then, in no special order:

  • Antipholus of Ephesus isn't very nice.
  • Dangerous times when a merchant can be put to death simply for arriving in a town – parallel to the budding cutthroat capitalism of Shakespeare's time?
  • Funny for us, yes, but scary for the poor individuals involved – total strangers claiming all kinds of strange things about you? People you've known for years not recognizing you and claiming not to have just dealt with you a few minutes ago?
  • Power conflict between church and state.
  • Casual violence against one's servants.
  • Restraint on wives.

In other words, I could write a book. Lucky for all of us, I must limit myself to a short text. So I've chosen my favorite – resistance to the inequalities of society. Adriana's protests against the behavior of her husband (and others). The Dromios' protests against the Antipholuses' violence.

Let's look first at Adriana, one of Shakespeare's most interesting women. She is married to Antiphlus of Ephesus and loves him quite matter-of-factly. She is distressed by his infidelities, she is unhappy by what she perceives as his diminishing love for and attraction to her and she is deeply distressed by what seems to be his madness. What is interesting to see is that while the unwitting Antipholus of Syracuse is unfailingly polite and kind to this (to him) totally unknown woman, the real husband Antipholus of Ephesus is unpleasant, impatient, overbearing and finally violent.

Adriana has cause for complaint even before the twin confusion begins. We meet her in Act Two while she frets to her unmarried sister Luciana about her husband being late for dinner. Luciana replies complacently that it's his right to come and go as he pleases – he's the man. Adriana retorts sharply, “Why should their liberty than ours be more?” This is one of those radical rallying cries of women that pop up all over literature. Compare this for example to Eve's cry to God, “For inferior who is free?” in John Milton's Paradise Lost – the significance of which is at best given no more than passing mention, at worst ignored completely by scholars. I see it as a key question. Adriana loves Antipholus, yes, but she won't put up with just anything. To Luciana's ultraconservative platitudes about males of all species being masters of their females and waiting patiently for straying husbands to return, Adriana points out that, “this servitude makes you to keep unwed,” - implying that all men don't want wimpy wives – and further that

...if thou live to see like right bereft,
this fool-begged patience in thee will be left (Act 2.1).

The note in the Norton edition helps us understand her to mean that if Luciana found herself “similarly deprived of rights” she would abandon such foolish thoughts.

In the next scene Adriana confronts the man whom she believes to be her husband and speaks to him in a monologue “full of honest declarations of need and love” with words of “unusual power and wrath” (Early and Keil, p. 22). Not realizing that he indeed doesn't recognize her, she believes he does and sees the distance that has come between them of late:

Ay, ay, Antipholus, look strange and frown:
Some other mistress has thy sweet aspects.
I am not Adriana, nor thy wife.
The time was once when thou unurged wouldst vow
That never words were music to thine ear,
That never object pleasing in thine eye,
That never touch well welcomed to thy hand,
That never meat sweet-savoured in the taste,
Unless I spake, or looked, or touched, or carved to thee.
How comes it now my husband, O how comes it
That thou art estrangéd from thyself? - (Act 2.2)

She goes on to ask him how he would react if she were unfaithful to him:

Wouldst thou not spit at me, and spurn at me,
And hurl the name of husband in my face,
And tear the stained skin off my harlot brow,
And from my false hand cut the wedding ring,
And break it with a deep-divorcing vow? (Act 2.2)

There is no question in Adriana's mind, his reaction to her if she had been unfaithful is what she is feeling now.
She calls herself a “vine” to his “elm”, indicating that she is an appropriately submissive wife but soon says:

Come, come, no longer will I be a fool
To put the finger in the eye and weep... (Act 2.2)

In other words, yes, she's unhappy and angry but enough is enough, it's time for dinner so come on!
Their dinner together does not mend things. Why, Shakespeare doesn't show us, unfortunately, because it would have been funny to see poor Antipholus of Syracuse trying to deal with an angry, loving wife he'd never seen before. What we do see in Act 3.2 is his falling in love with Luciana who is chiding him for not treating his wife right. In other words, though Luciana thinks Adriana should wait patiently for her lord and master, she sternly admonishes Antipholus of Syracuse to at least be kind to Adriana even if he married her for her money or if he loves someone else:

If you did wed my sister for her wealth,
Then for her wealth's sake use her with more kindness;
Or if you like elsewhere, do it by stealth:
Muffle your false love with some show of blindness.
Let not my sister read it in your eye.
Be secret-false. What need she be acquainted?
What simple thief brags of his own attaint?
'Tis double wrong to truant with your bed,
And let her read in thy looks at board.
...Then, gentle brother, get you in again.
Comfort my sister, cheer her, call her wife...(Act 3.2)

She's changed her tune since Act Two. When Luciana then reports Antipholus of Syracuse's infidelity to Adriana in Act 4.2, Adriana is of course furious and calls her perfidious husband (she believes) all kinds of things:

Deforméd, crookéd, old and sere,
Ill-faced, worse-bodies, shapeless everywhere,
Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind,
Stigmatical in making, worse in mind (Act 4.2).

One of Shakespeare's excellent insults, but rather heart-breakingly she says in her next breath, “Ah, but I think him better than I say...My heart prays for him though my tongue do curse.” Neither of the Antipholuses really deserve her, do they?

We see further examples that Adriana is not the rug to be walked all over by her husband that Luciana initially thought wives should be when Dromio of Syracuse comes to get the money to get Antipholus of Ephesus out of jail, put there for not paying for the chain. Her reaction: “This I wonder at, that he unknown to me should be in debt” (Act 4.2), shows that she is involved in the couple's finances (or possibly her finances, according to the quotes above), and doesn't leave it all in his hands. She sends the money immediately and when that doesn't get results she goes to find out what's going on. Though her concern is met with her (real) husband's insults and violence, she doesn't tell him to pay his own damn debts or rot in jail, she says, “I will pay it” (act 4.4). A woman of action, is Adriana.

The confusions continue and they all end up at the priory where Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse take sanctuary. What follows is an odd confrontation between Adriana and the Abbess. This Abbess seems quite powerful, as abbesses tended to be in those days (i.e. in the days when Shakespeare wrote, not necessarily when the play took place, whenever that was). She also seems unfair and arbitrary.

First she tells Adriana that if her husband is unfaithful she “should for that have reprehended him” (Act 5.1). When then Adriana explains that she has, the Abbess haughtily claims that it's Adriana's fault that he's unfaithful because of her “venom clamours of a jealous woman”, “her railing”, her “jealous fits” (Act 5.1). Adriana is stunned into momentary silence and the now plucky Luciana stands up for her:

She never reprehended him but mildly
When he demeaned himself rough, rude and wildly (Act 5.1)

She then asks her sister, “Why bear you these rebukes and answer not?”, showing that she's used to Adriana sticking up for herself. What Adriana replies - “She did betray me to my own reproof” - has evidently been interpreted in different ways, by some scholars to mean that Adriana admits that she was wrong, but by others to mean that the Abbess tricked her into criticizing herself , “and the context (not to mention the rest of the play) establishes that the criticism is not justified” (Thompson, p. 58). My view is that Thompson is right: the Abbess – who we must remember represents the Christian church which diminishes women's role to that of a submissive wife (strange, isn't it, that powerful women so often throughout history, and still, are so virulently against equality for women?) - is quite adamant about insulting Adriana and refusing to let her help her husband, saying that she, the Abbess, is more appropriate. Interestingly enough, it's Luciana, now quite the Amazon, who urges Adriana to appeal to the Duke, bringing this whole conflict into the sphere of the power struggle between the church and the state in a gender twist in which the powerful woman (representing the church and then ending up being the poor sisters' mother-in-law!) oppresses the woman while the powerful man (representing the state) supports her rights, or at least is willing to listen to both sides of the story.

But that analysis is, alas, outside of the scope of this essay. Furthermore I see that as always I've bitten off more than I can chew and thus have no room for the poor Dromios, even though there is a clear connection between the class and gender inequalities. So the Dromios will have to wait until next time.

For now, the conclusion of this essay. In a play that Greenblatt calls “deliciously amusing” (p. 722) and “zany” (p. 717) and Bloom calls “remarkably sophisticated” (p. 21) we find a character of strength and compassion who, as a woman, must deal with “the pervasive, fundamentally inequitable social order” (Greenblatt, p. 722). Which Adriana, though nothing is resolved at the end of the play, does with humor and clear-sightedness in spite of the muddle of the husband/not husband twins.

Shakespeare, Greenblatt points out, is “cannily alert to social inequities” (p. 722). Bloom says, “exuberant fun as it is and must be, this [is] fierce little play” ( p.23). I really knew it all along. It's not silly at all.

September 2011
October 2011

Works cited:
The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition, 2008.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human. 1998.
Greenblatt, Stephen, “Introduction” in The Norton Shakespeare (see above).
Early, Michael and Philippa Keil. Soliloquy, The Shakespeare Monoligues. The Women. 1988.
Thompson, Ann. “Feminist Theory and the Editing of Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew Revisited”. In Shakespeare, Feminism and Gender. Editor: Kate Chedgzoy. 2001.

Films seen:
BBC, 1983. Director: James Cellan-Jones. Cast: Adriana – Suzanne Bertish; Luciana – Joanne Pearce; Antipholus of Ephesus and of Syracuse: Michael Kitchen; the Dromios – Roger Daltry; the Abbess – Wendy Hiller. Bertish and Pearce do not, unfortunately, take advantage of these two interesting roles. Daltry is surprisingly good as Dromio of Syracuse but a bit vacuous as Dromio of Ephesus. Michael Kitchen is brilliant as both of the twins Antipholus, the nice one and the nasty one.

Seen on stage: no.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

There's always a special feeling about a week during which we've finished a play. It's a feeling of accomplishment but also of waiting – to read the various analyses, to see the film versions, to write my own text, to move on to the next play. Satisfaction, anticipation, nervousness, impatience. That's the kind of week it's been.
But let me stick to the formula and get to all this in the listings at the end.
  • Shakespeare sightings –
    • More from Children of the French Revolution by Robert Gildea: about Kean playing Othello at Covent Garden and “the black American actor Ira Aldridge playing Othello and Lear” in St. Petersburg in the 1800's.
    • In the novel Pharmakon by Dirk Wittenborn the character went fishing with a fly rod called Shakespeare – I kid you not.
    • In the novel Ruby Red by Linzi Glass, the main character, a high school girl, gets the assignment to write an essay on the subject “Is love inherently tragic?” using Shakespeare's works.
    • Now this one is important, so pay attention! In “Pirates of the Caribbean 4” (you know I only watch highbrow intellectual movies!) Captain Jack Straw says, describing the mutiny he's convincing his downtrodden shipmates to commit, “Mutiny most foul.” OK, this is another contest. What's the real quote and from which play is it? There were no takers on the last context in spite of the brilliant prize offered (a gold star), so here's another chance! Most important, however, is that here finally is the connection, albeit tenuous, between Shakespeare and Johnny Depp. I've been waiting and waiting. Next step, for Johnny to actually do a Shakespeare play. I've been giving it a lot of thought and have finally come up with the perfect role – Richard III. In this role Johnny can play his gorgeous seducer á la “Don Juan Demarco”, his sad and vulnerable murderous psychopath á la “Sweeney Todd”, his zany sweet braggart á la the aforementioned Jack Straw and finally he could really show his dramatic skills in Richard's “I am a villain” soliloquy. Of course I've also chosen the perfect director of this movie, who else but Kenneth Branagh? So OK, Johnny and Ken, are you listening? Let me know when you've gotten started. I'd be happy to give more expert advice.
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: Love's Labour's Lost.
  • Movie seen: Love's Labour's Lost, BBC version.
  • Movie to be watched this evening: Love's Labour's Lost, Kenneth Branagh version.
  • Rough draft scribbled: “Finding...some things in Love's Labour's Lost.”
  • Book being read: Beginning by Kenneth Branagh.
  • Text posted on blog: None.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lots of Shakespeare sightings this week so here they are:

  • Shakespeare sightings –
    • At our staff meeting on Wednesday, the question once again came up about our poor clocks, none of which agrees with any other clock in the school. Some of us are not at all bothered by this, while others are and colleague MH, who is always the one to bring it up, said, “So once again I must remind you that(in Swedish), time is out of joint”, (in English). To which my colleague and Shakespeare friend, EG, and I whispered in unison “in the state of Denmark”, which is our standard in joke. We say it every time we hear a quote from Shakespeare, no matter what the quote. We're so highbrow!
    • Again at work – I was in the staff room adding to the list of tests to be done when I eavesdropped on a colleague – not known for his interest in Shakespeare – telling some others that he had seen the statue of Juliet in Verona.
    • In the science fiction novel Judas Rose by Suzette Haden Elgin, the subversive title character in the 23rd century, read and understood Shakespeare.
    • Othello, being played in the Swedish town of Falun, was reviewed in Dagens Nyheter. This production has been moved to modern Sweden. Desdemona is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Othello is a Muslim. The emphasis is on The Other in our society and the play got a good review.
    • In the movie “Elegy”, starring Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz and Dennis Hopper, the two old macho guys joke about the beast making two backs and show their literary prowess by pointing out that it's from Othello. Hopper's character also says that he's tired of playing Horatio to Kingsley's character's third rate Hamlet. Neither of these Shakespeare sightings save the movie however. I didn't like it.
    • In Children of the French Revolution by Robert Gildea, Shakespeare's importance the 19th century to the victorious bourgeoisie as a cultural icon is mentioned on four different pages of the thirty or so I've read so far today.
  • Still reading aloud with Hal: Love's Labour's Lost.
  • Tickets booked: to see King Lear in December.
  • Text posted: Curses and Consequences in Richard III.

Curses and Consequences

Curses and Consequences
Richard III

Welcome back, Margaret! It's nice to see you again but I'm glad I'm not in this play – I'd be afraid of your curses!
In a way, though, it would be quite exciting to be part of this gang. In fact, of all of Shakespeare's plays, this is definitely one of my favorites. It's filled with scenes of topnotch psychological drama. Reading it is like bang-bang-bang with only a few opportunities to catch one's breath. Richard is so wonderfully wicked. I just hope I never run into him.
And Margaret is so beautifully bitter. This time Julia Foster in the BBC production has got it just right. Sadly, in the other DVD versions I've see, Margaret has been deleted! How can they do that? Her curses carry the play.
So, out of everything I could have chosen, and wanted to choose, to write about in Richard III this time I am going to focus on curses, everyone's reactions to them, and their consequences.
Margaret isn't the only one who passes out curses, or has reason to. Lady Anne isn't bad at it either, although for her they all backfire. In the first minutes of her appearance in the play, she curses Richard for killing her husband and father-in-law (Henry VI, remember him?):

O cursèd be the hand that made these holes,
Cursèd the blood that let this blood from hence,
Cursèd the heart that had the heart to do it.
More direful hap betide that hated wretch
That makes us wretched by the death of thee
Than I can wish to wolves, to spiders, toads,
Or any creeping venomed thing that lives.
If ever he have child, abortive be it,
Prodigious, and untimely brought to light,
Whose ugly and unnatural aspect
May fright the hopeful mother at the view,
And that be heir to his unhappiness.
If ever he have wife, let her be made
More miserable by the death of him
Than I am made by my young lord and thee (Act 1.2)

She curses his hand, blood and heart, which turns out to be safe enough for her, but unfortunately she goes on to curse any child he might have and his future wife. She didn't have children with Richard (according to the play, but actually they had a son who died as a child) so that curse did little enough harm, but cursing his sleep - “Ill rest betide the chamber where thou liest” - was a bad move since that meant she couldn't get any sleep either, which we see the next time we run into Lady Anne in Act 4. Now married to Richard she bitterly laments the success of that curse:

For never yet one hour in his bed
Did I enjoy the golden dew of sleep
But with his timourous dreams was still awaked (Act 4.1)

Poor Anne! Be careful what you wish for...
That curses can boomerang to strike the curser is gleefully pointed out by Queen Elizabeth when, towards the the end of Margaret's list of curses in Act 1.3, she gloats “thus have you breathed your curse against yourself.” It falls flat immediately when Margaret turns on her.
I'm getting a little ahead of myself though. Let's first take a look at the characters in this dramatic scene who get cursed by Margaret. She starts by addressing them all with, “Which of you trembles not that looks on me?” and then she arrogantly swats away their reminders of earlier curses laid on her for her evil deeds as though they were just pesky flies and gets started with:

Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven
Why then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses! (Act 1.3)

Which are then:
  • Queen Elizabeth: the death of her son and loss of status to finally “after many lengthened hours of grief, Die, neither mother, wife, nor England's queen.” Just like Margaret.
  • Rivers, Dorset and Hastings, for doing nothing while her son Edward was murdered: “None of you may live his natural age.”
  • Richard: that he be unable to sleep, be tortured by nightmares and, perhaps the worst curse of all, “the worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul.”
  • Buckingham, not so much a curse as a prophecy that Richard will one day “split thy very heart with sorrow.”
        She ends with:
        Live each one of you the subjects to his hate
        And he to yours, and all of you to God's.

Exit Margaret, for now. Upon which Hasting says, “My hair doth stand on end to hear her curses.” As well it might. They all have reason to remember this moment:
  • Gray - “Now Margaret's curse is fallen upon our heads,” as he, Rivers and Vaughn are about to be executed (Act 3.3).
  • Hastings - “O Margaret, Margaret! Now thy heavy curse is lighted on poor Hasting's wretched head” (Ditto, Act 3.4).
  • Elizabeth, to son Dorset after hearing of the execution of her brothers and the imprisonment of her sons -
      Hie thee from this slaughterhouse
Lest thou increase the number of the dead,
And make me die the thrall of Margaret's curses
Nor mother, wife nor counted England's Queen (Act 4.1)

  • Richard – I'll deal with these curses below
  • Buckingham - “Thus Margaret's curse falls heavy on my neck”, on his way to his execution (Act 5.1).
An expert curser then, our Margaret. Humbled by the success of all of Margaret's curses, Elizabeth begs for instructions:

O thou well skilled in curses, stay awhile
And teach me how to curse my enemies (Act 4.4)

And so Margaret the Teacher tells her:

Forebear to sleep the nights and fast the days;
Compare dead happiness with living woe;
Think that thy babes were sweeter than they were,
And he that slew them fouler than he is.
Bett'ring thy loss makes the bad causer worse.
Revolving this will teach thee how to curse (Act 4.4).

One more chilling curse is uttered in the play and that is by Richard's mother, the Duchess of York.
Richard has become king and killed anyone in his way, or whom he'd perceived was in his way. Not a fun thing for a mother to face and the Duchess resolutely puts all the blame on Richard himself. We can't help wondering how the poor deformed boy would have turned out if she'd loved him. And shown it. But aside from that, the Duchess at this point outdoes Margaret, for how much more devastating is a curse from one's mother than from a crazy old queen you'd never liked anyway!
The curse:

Either thou wilt die by God's just ordinance
Ere from this war thou turn a conqueror,
Or I with grief and extreme age shall perish,
And never more behold thy face again.
Therefore take with thee my most heavy curse,
Which in the day of battle tire thee more
Than all the complete armour that thou wear'st.
My prayers on the adverse party fight,
And there the little souls of Edward's children
Whisper the spirits of thine enemies,
And promise them success and victory-
Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end;
Shame serves thy life, and doth thy death attend.

Among the strongest acting done in the versions I've seen of RIII is Ian McKellen's superbly evil, sardonic, witty face shifting upon these words from Maggie Smith, who's also perfect, into a small, scared, vulnerable and deeply hurt and rejected little son. For about two seconds. But those two seconds – though not directed by Shakespeare would certainly, in view of what's coming, be approved by him.
And what's coming are the final consequences of Anne's, Margaret's and the Duchess' curses.
  • Anne – uneasy, nightmare wracked sleep, “Ill rest betide the chamber where thy liest,” “Black night o'ershade thy day, and death thy life” (Act 1.2).
  • Margaret - “no sleep”, “tormenting dreams”, “the worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul” (Act 1.3).
  • the Duchess – see above

At this point I must sidetrack to deal with a few important, and a few incomprehensible, points of interpretations made by, in the first case, Jan Kott in Shakespeare Our Contemporary and in the second dear old Bloom in Shakespeare the Invention of the the Human. First Kott, who deals with the tricky question of why Lady Anne lets herself be seduced by Richard (a whole book could be written about that, and probably has been). Kott observes that Anne has lost her family in a world where “all moral standards are broken” and that she does not go to Richard's bed out of fear but chooses “to follow him to reach rock-bottom. To prove to herself that all the world's laws have ceased to must kill oneself...Lady Anne goes into Richard's bed to be destroyed” (pp.44-45). Yes, I agree. But I think Kott could have taken this one step further. In doing this, Lady Anne, in her curse, though it condemns her to the same fate, helps to destroy Richard.
Now Bloom. I really love this guy. He's so arrogantly and proudly wrong sometimes. So very wrong now. What he writes is this:
a) that Margaret is “ghastly”, a blemish to the play, that “Shakespeare would have been much better without the long-winded Margaret” and that he had never been able to “compose a decent line for her” (p.68);
b) that RIII is “any actress's nightmare, for none of the women's parts are playable...Declamation is all that Shakespeare allows them” (p.68);
c) that Richard's soliloquy in Act 5.5 after the visitation in dreams by his victims is, and I quote, “worse than the tedious clamour” of the Henry VI plays (?!), “dreadful”, “even worse”, “filled with “peculiar badness”, “silly” (pp. 67-68).
In all fairness, there are many things in Bloom's text on the HVI's with which I agree and I will refer to them in future analyses. But for now, in this case the mind boggles. My retorts:
a) Margaret is great, her curses shiveringly delicious.
b) The women are effectivly the ones who succeed in destroying Richard.
c) This soliloquy proves it. The language is chaotic, disjointed, out of control. It's perfect. It reveals what Richard has become. He is no longer in control, no longer the manipulator, but as Kott writes, “Now he is really he is simply himself, a man they want to murder....” (pp. 54-55).
And the curses of Anne, Margaret and the Duchess sent him there. The “worm of conscience” gnaws at him in his “ill rest” and “tormenting dreams” as one after another his victims intone, “Despair and die”, surely among the most chilling words ever spoken, again and again.
And Richard's words are, contrary to Bloom's assessment, truly tortured and desperate, spoken by a man who is facing the consequences of his evil. He's all alone in his darkness.

Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh...
...I rather hate my self
For hateful deed committed by myself.
I am a villain...
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain...
...crying all “Guilty, guilty!”
I shall despair: There is no creature loves me
And if I die no soul will pity me (Act 5.5)

Can there be an end more tragic than this? And so Richard goes to battle and is killed. The consequence of the curses hurled at him by the women who were among his victims, but who also proved to be his victors.

September 2011
October 2011

Works cited:
  • The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition, 2008.
  • Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human. 1998.
  • Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary, 1964.

Films seen:
  • BBC, 1983. Director: Jane Howell. Cast: Richard – Ron Cook; Margaret – Julia Foster; Lady Anne – Zoe Wannamaker; Duchess of York – Annette Crosbie; Queen Eizabeth – Rowena Cooper. A well done production. Foster and Wannamaker are excellent. Crosbie is good. Cook has some strong moments.
  • The Good-bye Girl”, 1977. Director: Herbert Ross. Cast: Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason. The connection to RIII is strong enough to include the movie here. Dreyfuss plays an actor who gets a big break when offered the role as RIII in an off-Broadway production. Unfortunately for him, it's a gay version (quite radical in the 70's) and after much agony he does the part the way the director wants him to. And the play flops.
  • The Lawrence Olivier version, 1955. Director: Laurence Olivier. Cast: Olivier, also John Gielgud and Clair Bloom. I have a love-hate relationship to this version. Olivier is once in a while quite brilliant but more often than not hammy and oh so aware of himself-as-a-star. Bloom is a sighing weepy oh-woe-is-me young thing turned on by His Royal Evilness. But the production is a visual masterpiece. The colors alone make the film worth watching. And it's quite faithful to the original text. No Margaret though.
  • The Trial of Richard” - a documentary released with the DVD version of Olivier's RIII. Filmed in the 80's it's a pretend trial, with real-life professional judge, prosecutor, and defender, as well as witnesses and a jury. On trial is Richard for the murder of the two boys. It's really quite enjoyable and they're obviously having fun. The defense line is that Richard had no reason to kill the kids and generally he was considered a pretty decent guy and it was probably Buckingham all along. Richard is actually found not guilty.
  • The Ian McKellan version, 1995. Director: Richard Loncraine. Cast: Richard – Ian McKellen; Lady Anne – Kristin Scott Thomas; Duchess of York – Maggie Smith; Queen Elizabeth – Annette Bening. Set in a fascist state of the 1930's, this is really a brilliant production in spite of its flaws. There's no Margaret, Bening doesn't quite pull it off as the queen, there's too much romance between Henry and the princess (shouldn't be there at all). But Maggie Smith is perfect as always, Kristin Scott Thomas does a very good drugged out Anne, The settings and décor are really gripping and Ian McKellen is absolutely superb. This is one of the films Hal and I watched in the beginning of our getting-hooked-on-Shakespeare period and it was definitely instrumental in getting us hooked!
  • Looking for Richard”, 1996. Director: Al Pacino. Participants: Winona Rider, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Estelle Parsons etc etc etc. I love this movie. I could watch it once a week. Al Pacino is fantastic and the idea is perfect. Why oh why has Pacino not filmed the actual play?

Book read: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, 1951. Inspector Grant is laid up in the hospital and passes the time by trying to solve the mystery of the murder of the two princes in the Tower. He's convinced by a portrait of RIII that he's innocent because of his kind eyes and goes about getting documents with the help of his eager gofer that prove Richard's innocence, putting the blame this time on Henry VII. I must say, I was quite convinced, but as Bloom points out, it's hard to argue with Shakespeare. So I guess we'll have to live with two Richards: Shakespeare's and the real one.
Audio versions listened to: Naxos CD. Performed by: Kenneth Branagh (Richard); Stella Gonet (Lady Anne); Celia Imrie (Queen Elizabeth); Geraldine McEwan (Margaret); Auriol Smith (Duchess of York). This is the first time we've listened to a CD version. We made the mistake of reading along. Next time we'll just listen. Still it's always a great pleasure listening to Kenneth Branagh!

Seen on stage: no.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

A calmer Shakespeare week.
  • Shakespeare sightings –
    • In the book bought this summer in Canterbury, Britain by Bike by Jane Eastoe, Stratford upon Avon is of course mentioned but Shakespeare isn't actually named, only Anne Hathaway's cottage, which is nicely reached by bike, in case you've been wondering.
    • In the very strange movie from the 70's “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, a group of bourgeois school girls in Australia sweetly recite “Shall I compare the to a summer's day...”
    • In the novel about the Russian Revolution, The People's Train, by Thomas Keneally (the same guy who wrote the book that Schindler's List was based on), the main character's father is described as an actor prone to quoting Pushkin and Shakespeare in the family's home. Such stuff as revolutions are made of!
    • In the midst of the Harry Potter marathon now under way (Hal, our friend Y.W. and I are reading the books and watching the movies for the nth time), we watched “The Prisoner of Azkaban” and there it was. I remembered it clearly but not which movie it was in. The choir singing in the dining hall as the students arrive at Hogwart, “Double, double, toil and trouble.” Appropriate, no? Especially the last line, “Something wicked this way comes.” Enjoy:
  • Now reading aloud with Hal: Love's Labour's Lost.
  • Text posted: She's All That - Joan of Arc in Henry the VI Part One

Henry VI Part One She's All That

She's All That
Joan of Arc in Henry the VI Part One

Oh, Will! Why are you so mean to poor Joan? She's a martyr, she's a saint, she's a hero!
Gut reaction to Shakespeare's portrayal of Joan of Arc is, “You can't do this! You can't make her snide, flippant, snide, spineless...” Which, of course, is why I have to explore the question: why did he?
It's not a simple question. Joan is not a simple character: virgin, whore, witch, saint, military leader, patriot, enemy, liar, coward, elocutionist, joker, loser, victor. She's all that. What is Shakespeare telling us?

There are the usual, and relevant, historical answers. At the time Shakespeare wrote the play, England had troops in France supporting the Protestants. England was still in conflict with Spain. There was a need for and an interest in patriotic plays about English military heroes and foreign Catholic bad guys. There was also a wide-spread interest in witchcraft and general bewilderment about how to deal with strong women in power, Elizabeth of course being the prime figure of England's gender quandary. All of this we learn from Jean Howard's introduction to the play, if we didn't know it before. It goes a long way in explaining Shakespeare's portrayal of Joan. With a few adjustments and exaggerations to the legend, she's practically ready-made. But of course, there's more to it than that. Shakespeare never makes things simple. So let's take a look.

In Act One we meet a Joan filled with pert self-confidence. She quickly dispenses with the Dauphin's lame attempt to fool her and proceeds directly to establishing her divine indispensability. No lesser a power than “God's mother” herself has told her to “free my country from calamity”. Not only has God's mother made it impossible for Joan to lose, she has also made her beautiful:

...she infused on me
that beauty am I blest with, which you may see. (Act 1.3)

Joan matter-of-factly puts herself right up there on equal footing with the Dauphin by informing him that

...thou shalt be fortunate,
If thou receive me for thy warlike mate. (Act 1.3)

In case he doesn't realize that he'd be a fool not to, she goes on to explain, after handily proving her superiority with a sword, that she's about to become “the English scourge” and that things have already started going well

Since I have entered into these wars.
Glory is like is like a circle in the water,
Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself (Act 1.3)

In other words, Joan strides in and says, “OK, guys, here I am. Now I'm gonna clean up this mess that you wimps can't handle.”

She wastes no time in confronting Talbot, the macho hero of the English, who is valiantly trying to assert his, and feudal England's, “masculine rule and martial values” (Howard, p. 470) in this war. Talbot's character, especially his obsession with his masculinity, is not subject to analysis in this study. But in order to highlight the extremity of Joan's position it is useful, not to mention amusing, to borrow Harold Bloom's take on noble Talbot: “brave and tiresome...bully boy....” full of “male military vainglory” and a hero by which “Shakespeare himself was unmoved” (p. 45-46). (When I agree with Bloom, which in fact I often do, I find him wickedly funny as well as very enlightening. When I don't, I find him, as you know, overbearing and irritating.)

Anyway, it's no news to us that women who challenge men's monopolies are called all kinds of nasty things and Talbot, as he loses the swordplay with Joan, calls her “strumpet” to diminish her and “witch” to demonize her. He can't just congratulate her on a fight well fought and fairly won. No, losing to her really hurts: “The shame hereof will make me hide my head!” (Act 1.8). Poor macho Talbot. And she's just a teen-age girl!

Joan continues to be admirable and persuasive when she addresses Burgundy's patriotism by convincing him to, “Strike those that hurt, and hurt not those that help” (Act 3.7). In this her most eloquent speech Joan clearly shows that Talbot and the English are the aggressors, France the victim, but then when Burgundy allows himself to be “bewitched” by her words, again implying that there's something unnatural about a powerful woman, Joan flippantly negates the high-flown tone she herself has created, in accordance with her saintly image, by tossing off her “turn and turn again,” to show that she doesn't think much of turncoats.

Joan continues her bulldozing against the English and with a delightful disrespect for Talbot's glorious death, she puts him in his place after being glorified by the grieving Lucy's long list of Talbot's grand titles with her sardonic

Here's a silly, stately style indeed.
The Turk, that two-and-fifty kingdoms hath,
Writes not so tedious a style as this.
Him that thou magnifi'st with all these titles
Stinking and flyblown lies here at our feet (Act 4.7).
Poor macho Talbot...

OK, so far we've seen Joan as self-confident to the point of arrogance in her divine cause, eloquent, militarily superior, bluntly realistic. Then all of a sudden she turns into a...witch?! You mean the men were right all along?! And not only a witch but an incompetent failure of a witch, a pathetic witch?!

Something has happened. The French are no longer winning, the Duke of York threatens. The English are finally united. The Mother of God isn't keeping her side of the bargain.

But wait. This isn't so strange. Like many – most – Christians of the time, Joan has another card up her sleeve. Magic. She's clearly knowledgeable and practiced. But to no avail. The friends and familiars desert her.

This is actually the tragedy of the play. Until now Joan has been, as Bloom puts it, bawdy, courageous, direct, “quirkily memorable”, cunning, funny, satirical, ironic, crude – he uses a lot of adjectives for Joan and honors her by comparing her to his own favorite by claiming that she “anticipates something of Falstaff's grand contempt for time and the state” (page 46). In short, we see Joan as strong, independent, disrespectful, a 15th century punk rocker. But now suddenly she is defeated. She is forsaken. “Hell” is suddenly “too strong for” her “to buckle with” (Act 5.3).

This scene demands a lot from the actress but played well it should confirm Joan as the real strength of the play, the strongest and most complex and tragical character. No longer a buffoon but a hero. Defeated yes, but not a loser.

Joan is captured and Richard of York treats her with the same contempt that the macho Englishmen of the play have shown her all along, calling her “ugly witch” and “hag”. As feisty as ever, she curses not only Richard but also Charles the Dauphin, the only indication that she has been betrayed by the French. It's not a bad curse either:

A plaguing mischief light on Charles and thee,
And may ye both be suddenly surprised
By bloody hands in sleeping in your beds (Act 5.4)
Richard would do well to be a little nervous.

The last scene with Joan is a puzzling one. Why is she so mean to her poor old dad? Why does she suddenly claim a noble birth? I'll have to think about the noble birth part awhile but an explanation for the denial of her father leaps to the eye. The old man is awfully quick to turn on her. After only a dozen or so lines his tongue becomes as poisonous as hers. He wishes she had died miserably as a child, fed rat poison or eaten by wolves. A father's true love would surely stick by her to the end, no matter what? But he orders the English, “O burn her! Burn her! Hanging is too good” (Act 5.6). It's not so farfetched to see this kind of treatment at her father's hands throughout her childhood which would be reason enough for Joan's reaction now. Her father seems to be just the first in a long line of vicious men Joan has had to deal with.

And now she has two more, York and Warwick.

Knowing she is about to die, Joan seems to stumble all over herself, using one lie after another to convince them to spare her life. She once again claims to be high born, not only noble but “from the progeny of kings.” She reminds them that she was chosen by “celestial grace”, claims she has never dealt in witchcraft. Above all, she is still a virgin. In the next breath however, when York and Warwick taunt her virginity, she claims to be pregnant, by one man after another.

What?! Has she gone crazy? Very possibly; she's likely been a bit tetched all along. Aside from that however, I see Joan's last stand as an exuberant expressive contempt for her captors. that are polluted with your lusts,
Stained with the guiltless blood of innocents,
Corrupt and tainted with a thousand vices (Act 5.6)
she says to them, and proceeds to taunt them with their own obsessions. She throws their accusations of being a whore back in their faces. She knows it won't save her but she refuses to go out with a whimper. Her spirit is not broken. Exit Joan cursing.

May never glorious sun reflex his beams
Upon the country where you make abode,
But darkness and the gloomy shade of death
Environ you till mischief and despair
Drive you to break your necks or hang yourself (Act 5.6)

And what a curse! Words indeed to chill the hearts of York and Warwick.

So, there, I've succeeded in talking myself out of the image of the sincere, earnest and oh so saintly heroine and martyr created by such literary giants as my other hero, Mark Twain, and fallen for Shakespeare's loud-mouthed, fast-talking warrior.

Shakespeare wins again!

July 2011
September 2011
October 2011

works cited:
The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition, 2008.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human. 1998.
Howard, Jean. Introduction to Henry VI Part One, Norton edition (see above.)

Movies seen:
BBC, 1983. Directed by Jane Howell. Cast: Joan - Brenda Blethyn; Talbot – Trevor Peacock; York – Bernard Hill; Warwick – Mark Wing-Davey. Brenda Blethyn is great as the arrogant saucy Joan but less convincing as a tragic defiant figure. Trevor Peacock is appropriately macho and frustrated in a fittingly somewhat stupid bullheaded way.
On stage: no