Friday, November 28, 2014

Hamlet - Summary


O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

Quite a grim piece of work, this Hamlet. But rather than offering my own summary of what transpires I'll leave that to Horatio, who manages to survive the mayhem and who has this to say.

And let me speak to the yet unknowing world
How these things came about: so shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters;
Of deaths put on by cunning and forc’d cause,

In my thoughts on Act I, I remarked that Hamlet quite a page turner and that if it kept on that way it would be my favorite of the seven plays I've read so far. It is.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hamlet - Act V

Act V

Alas! poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rises at it.

Hamlet, thou art slain.

Many of the players converge upon a graveyard for the opening of this act, musing upon great concepts like life, death and whatnot while two clowns dig Ophelia's grave. Laertes and Hamlet are there and things get out of hand a bit, with them tangling in an empty grave.

Back at the castle Hamlet reveals to Horatio that there was a plot to do away with him (Hamlet). Shortly thereafter Hamlet and Laertes make nice but honor requires that they go ahead and duel anyway. They both end up dead, as do the king and queen - the latter is poisoned from a cup apparently meant for Hamlet. After this bloodbath is finished, word also comes that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also dead.

No happy ending here, friends. Move along.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hamlet - Act IV

Act IV

Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service; two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end.

The king sends Hamlet off to England. Which doesn’t seem like it’s going to end well. Meanwhile, here comes Laertes busting into the joint flipping his lid over the death of his father, Polonius. A death that has apparently caused his sister, Ophelia, to go off the rails. After he calms down a bit and the king receives a letter stating that Hamlet is returning the two plot the demise of the prince. But not before one final injury added to insult and injury - the revelation that Ophelia has drowned herself, apparently singing merrily all the while.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hamlet - Act III


Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.

Things get rolling here with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. I had not realized how many phrases had seeped from this relatively short snippet into the culture at large, but here are a few of them.

To be, or not to be: that is the question.
To sleep: perchance to dream
Ay, there’s the rub
What dreams may come
shuffled off this mortal coil
the undiscover’d country

Following which we see a performance of the play that Hamlet has rigged to unsettle the king and queen and get them to display their guilt over the death of his father. Which seems to work pretty well, as strategies go.

Then Hamlet proceeds to rip the queen a new one and bumps off Polonius. Who should turn up just about then but the ghost of the old king. Whom the queen cannot see and who doesn’t really hang around for long. It’s just a brief interlude and then Hamlet goes back to berating his mom and then makes off with the corpse of Polonius.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hamlet - Act II

Act II

I have of late,—but wherefore I know not,—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

Seems that Hamlet has gone a bit nutso. Which causes no small amount of dismay among those who know him best.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s childhood friends, are called by the king and queen to sort out things out. It occurred to me at this point that he might be trying to pull a fast one and indeed, it turns out that this is the case. Hamlet is crazy like a fox and proceeds to cook up a plot to rat out the new king.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Interlude - Cento on Hamlet I

Have you eyes?
You may see the inmost part.
Kill a king.
Kill a king.
Such an act
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty.
Heaven’s face doth glow.
Roars so loud and thunders.
Rebellious hell.
Where every god did seem to set his seal.
Have you eyes?
Have you eyes?
Flaming youth
Frost itself as actively doth burn.
I see such black and grained spots.
At your eyes your spirits wildly peep
Upon the heat and flame.
Have you eyes?


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hamlet - Act I

Act I

I am thy father’s spirit;
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg’d away.

Holla! Bernardo!

I don’t know if Hamlet is the most popular or the best known of Shakespeare’s plays but I bet it’s near the top of the list. I’m only one act in but if it continues at this pace I’d say its ranking in the canon is well deserved. So far it’s been much more of a page turner than the other six plays I’ve read – or slogged through, as the case may be.

Things kick off in fine fashion with the night watch being upset by the ghost of their recently departed king. As for Hamlet, he’s having a tough time dealing with said death, not to mention the fact that the queen has recovered indecently quickly and taken up with the new chief bottle washer – Hamlet’s uncle.

When he finds that his father’s ghost has been lurking around, Hamlet plans to meet up with it (him?). Lo and behold, when they get a chance to chat the moldy old shade drops a bombshell, advising Hamlet off the following:

The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown.

Well now, I’m no prophet, but methinks this just won’t do.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cymbeline - Summary


The fingers of the powers above do tune
The harmony of this peace.

Cymbeline was said to be written near the end of Shakespeare’s life. For my money (keeping in mind that I only have five other plays to compare to thus far) it seems that he still had a pretty good handle on this whole playwriting thing even at this relatively late date. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that he did all this in about five decades, which makes me want to ramp things up a bit here in my own fifth decade.

Even though I’m only six plays in thus far I’ve noticed that certain plot devices are rather common. There’s the forbidden love thing, of course, which old Will is renowned for. There’s the one about the guy who bets that his beloved will remain truthful to him when her fidelity is put to the test. There’s also that bit about switching identities and cavorting about in disguise, with women dressing up as men a rather common device.

All of which and more made for a right entertaining piece of work that I placed just a smidgen below Antony and Cleopatra. About the only thing that put me off a bit was how it seemed – kind of like in a Hallmark movie – the author seemed to be doing backflips to make sure that everything ended happily.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cymbeline - Act V

Act V

The imperial Cæsar, should again unite
His favour with the radiant Cymbeline,
Which shines here in the west.

Things wind up in fine form here. First Posthumus whips Iachimo in battle but leaves him alive. Then the Britons beat the Romans and when it's all over Cymbeline tosses Posthumus in prison. Where has a vision in which his dead relatives appear along with Jupiter.

It's looking grim for Posthumus but as things wind up all parties are gathered together, including Belarius and the king's long lost sons and Iachimo, the Roman leaders, and of course Imogen, who is still in disguise. It might seem a bit clichéd to say they all live happily ever after. But there it is. Calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Cymbeline - Act IV

Act IV

With his own sword,
Which he did wave against my throat, I have ta’en
His head from him; I’ll throw ’t into the creek
Behind our rock, and let it to the sea

Cloten has lost his head several times thus far but now he loses it in the most literal sense of the word, at the hands of one of his step brothers - though he doesn't realize that's who it is. When Imogen comes upon his body she takes it for that of Posthumus and is understandably quite distraught. She throws herself on the body - pretty grim stuff, I say - and is still lying there, still in disguise, when Caius Lucius and a few of the other Romans happen to wander on by.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cymbeline - Act III


Make pastime with us a day or two, or longer; if you seek us afterwards in other terms, you shall find us in our salt-water girdle; if you beat us out of it, it is yours; if you fall in the adventure, our crows shall fare the better for you; and there’s an end.

Something of a marathon, this Act III. As it opens it seems the Romans are about to declare war on Cymbeline, though I haven't ascertained why. Maybe it's just because they're Romans. Imogen receives a sharply worded letter from Posthumus and misinterprets it, since she’s keen to ride out and meet him. Next up, we’re introduced to Belarius, who was banished by Cymbeline and who has lived in the mountains since then, along with Cymbeline’s two sons, whom he kidnapped when they were young.

Posthumus’s servant shows Imogen a letter from his master ordering him to terminate her...with extreme prejudice. Pisanio is not keen to carry out the order but Imogen is distraught by the whole affair and encourages him to get on with it. Instead he cooks up a scheme whereby she’ll dress like a man – a favorite Shakespearian tactic, I’ve come to realize – and ingratiate herself with the Roman ambassador. For what reason, I’m not clear on.

Back at the palace they discover that Imogen is gone. Cloten finds out where and plots some nasty misdeeds to be perpetrated on her and Posthumus. Meanwhile, Imogen just happens to come across the mountain hideaway of Belarius and his two "sons." How's that for a coincidence?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cymbeline - Act II

Act II

That such a crafty devil as is his mother
Should yield the world this ass!

Imogen has agreed to look after a trunk for Iachimo, rather naively, if I may be so bold as to say so. Sure enough, when she drifts off to sleep he pops out of the trunk, creeps around her bedroom for a while, takes her bracelet from her arm (sound sleeper, that Imogen) and disappears back into the trunk.

Next up, Cloten, the king's stepson, tries to put the moves on Imogen, but she's not having any of that. Then Iachimo manages to convince Posthumus that he has had his way with the alleged tramp Imogen. Some of Posthumus's pals try to encourage him not to be so easily swayed but he's not having any of that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cymbeline - Act I

Act I

If after this command thou fraught the court
With thy unworthiness, thou diest. Away!
Thou’rt poison to my blood.

So the theme here is forbidden love, it seems. Cymbeline, the king, has banished the curiously named Posthumus for the crime of being unsuitable for the king’s daughter. As the play opens Posthumus is lurking around again and proceeds to get himself re-banished. Following that, he makes a sizable bet with Iachimo regarding the virtues or lack thereof of his beloved. If Iachimo can corrupt her he wins the bet. If not he loses the bet and there will be some throwing down as well. Iachimo tries a mix of sweet talk and deception on Imogen but she’s not having any of it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Summary

The Comedy of Errors

We came into the world like brother and brother;
And now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.

Are we there yet? Yes, we are. Thank the lord. Enough said.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act V

The Comedy of Errors
Act V

I see two husbands, or mine eyes deceive me!

The action builds and finally one of the Antipholus brothers is about to be executed for his perceived misdeeds. Which should have been the climax of the play and the good part and I guess for many readers or viewers it is. But by this time I just wanted to get through it. Not my cup of tea, as the saying goes.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act IV

The Comedy of Errors
Act IV

How now! a madman! Why, thou peevish sheep,
What ship of Epidamnum stays for me?

Good lord. More hijinks based on the premise of mistaken identity. Your mileage may vary but I'm finding it kind of tedious. If it weren't for the fact that I'm trying to work through all of the plays in their entirety I'd probably not have have bothered to finish this one.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act III

The Comedy of Errors

No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip: she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her.

Good grief.

I probably wouldn’t be the first to remark that Shakespeare can be tough going at times. That's definitely the case here. I have lost the thread of the narrative. Maybe I never had a firm grasp of it in the first place.

I’ve tried not to do any research into the plays before reading them but by the middle of Act III I was so befuddled that I took a peek at the Dramatis Personae. It reveals that there is an Antipholus of Ephesus and an Antipholus of Syracuse and that they are twin brothers and sons to Ægeon and Æmilia. And there is a Dromio of Ephesus and a Dromio of Syracuse and they are twin brothers and they are attendants on the two Antipholuses.

Not one of Shakespeare's finer moments if you ask me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act II

The Comedy of Errors
Act II

Why is Time such a niggard of hair, being, as it is, so plentiful an excrement?

A pair of women moan and complain about men. Then there's more bickering about money and battle of the sexes type stuff and I think there might be a case of mistaken identity but damned if I can figure out what the hell is going on. I guess old Will is working around to a point but I seem to be missing it thus far.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act I

The Comedy of Errors
Act I

Now, as I am a Christian, answer me,
In what safe place you have bestow’d my money;
Or I shall break that merry sconce of yours

A bit of a muddle so far, this one. Ephesus and Syracuse have an agreement whereby anyone from the latter who is found in the former must pay a fine or forfeit their goods and their life. Or something like that. Which is the case, if I've got it right, with a merchant who finds himself trapped in Syracuse after a shipwreck. Followed by a seemingly pointless scene in which a man and his slave bicker about some missing money. Which will presumably have some significance as the play progresses.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Coriolanus - Summary


Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus. -T.S. Eliot-

It’s still too soon to draw any firm conclusions but once again I’ve found that one of Shakespeare’s tragedies works better for me than his comedies. Coriolanus didn’t do it quite as well for me as Antony and Cleopatra but it was more of a grabber than the two comedies I’ve read so far. As the story goes, these two plays were also among T.S. Eliot’s favorites (better than Hamlet, saith he, about Coriolanus) and he even wrote a poem that paid tribute to Coriolanus.

Coriolanus is many things, and especially a great warrior, but he seems to not have the knack of being a ruler – which ultimately leads to his undoing. It’s a story that’s fairly unornamented and to the point and, as I mentioned elsewhere, even though the hero triumphs at various points throughout there is a foreshadowing of how it’s going to turn out. Or maybe I just guessed right.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Coriolanus - Act V

Act V

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill him!

I don't know if a 400-year-old play really needs spoiler alerts but consider yourself warned. Coriolanus certainly has his ups and downs throughout the play and as we near the end he is about to take his revenge on Rome. But as things proceeded I couldn't help feeling that it was going to end badly for him. Various Romans come to Coriolanus and try to dissuade him from ravaging Rome but he's not having it. Then his family tries and he finally relents. That doesn't sit well with his new allies and, just as I suspected, it doesn't end well for Coriolanus after all.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Coriolanus - Act IV

Act IV

For I will fight
Against my canker’d country with the spleen
Of all the under fiends.

The act kicks off with a scene that’s comprised mostly of Coriolanus telling his friends and family not to blubber as he takes his leave of Rome and them telling him how wonderful he is. Following that, the great man’s wife and mother come upon Sicinius and Brutus in the street and mince no words in ripping them a new one for stirring up the populace against Coriolanus. Who has left Rome now and wastes no time in seeking out his old nemesis, Aufidius, of the Volsces. Not surprisingly, he is seeking to form an alliance and take revenge against the Romans. This can't end well.