Wednesday, January 26, 2011

G is for Gertrude

This narrative speech is a good example of how Shakespeare could create dramatic tension without actually showing the dramatic event.  In this scene, Gertrude enters suddenly, interrupting the dialogue between King Claudius and Laertes.  She has arrived to announce that Ophelia, Laertes' sister, has drowned.  Her detailed description of the scene is very effective at conveying its tragic nature.  Her comments -- her comparison of Ophelia to a mermaid and her suggestion that the tree branch broke from envy -- are impossible to show through action.  Shakespeare used passages like this to bring the audience up to speed on events that happened off stage or took place over long periods of time.  Another example of this technique is seen in Enobarbus’ description of Cleopatra’s appearance on her barge in Act II, Scene ii of Antony & Cleopatra.  Note too the use of iambic pentameter -- a "soft" syllable followed by a "hard" syllable, five times in each line.  When reading this passage out loud, don't pause at the end of a line unless there is punctuation; read the third line "there with fantastic garlands did she come of crow-flowers" without stopping.

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook.  Her clothes spread wide;
And, mer-maid like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element; but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Hamlet, Act IV, Scene vii

Sunday, January 9, 2011

C is for Cordelia (not Hamlet!)

Hamlet, Hamlet Hamlet.  It's all anyone ever talks about when they want to describe the eternal, essential parent and child conflict.  Hamlet this, Hamlet that.  Hamlet is shocked about his father's untimely death.  Hamlet is conflicted about his mother's lust.  Hamlet is jealous of his uncle's power, which should be his own.  Hamlet has issues.  Poor Hamlet.  I feel sorry for you.  Now go away.

If Hamlet is all you ever think, or talk, or write about as "the" Shakespearean story exploring the nature of mankind and our path to what ever this thing is that we call adulthood, you are wearing an enormous set of gender-specific blinders and you are going to miss a lot.

For a change, pay attention to the way that Shakespeare's heroines interact with their parents:  Desdemona in Othello, Katharine in Taming of the Shrew, Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Cordelia in King Lear.  In this passage, Cordelia has been ordered to flatter her father, King Lear, in exchange for a piece of his kingdom.  First, she refuses to answer.  The question is asked a second time, and she declares that she loves him no more than as a dutiful daughter should.  A third time she is asked to speak, and she replies as Desdemona does, using careful logic to explain him that she cannot love and obey her father above all others, since when she marries she must become devoted to him.  The king becomes furious, and orders her banished and dis-inherited.  She now gives an eloquent and dignified reply that seals her fate. 

Unlike Hamlet, Cordelia has no doubts about what is, or is not, or might be.  She meets the parent-child conflict head-on, as a honorable and principled individual should, and in Act I, Scene i, to boot.  Here we see the vanity of every parent, wanting a child to be an obedient puppet, and acting like a child when we don't get what we want from them. 

I yet beseech your majesty,
If for I want that glib and oily art
To speak and purpose not, since what I well intend,
I’ll do’t before I speak, that you make known
It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness,
No unchaste action, or dishonour’d step,
That hath deprived me of your grace and favour,
But even for want of that for which I am richer,
A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue
That I am glad I have not, though not to have it
Hath lost me in your liking.

[Translation:  no, dad.  I'm won't be a kiss-ass.  I say what I mean and I mean what I say.  Go ahead and kick me out.  Make sure that you tell everyone it's not because I was disobedient or did something evil.  I'm not a sycophant*, and if you want to hate me for that, so be it, because I know it makes me a better person].

In the folk-tale on which the Lear story is based, the daughter tells her father that she loves him "as much as meat loves salt" or "as much as bread loves salt."  He is furious because he thinks salt is a common mineral that is worthless compared to gold or silver.  But of course, salt is what preserves meat and enhances its flavor, and bread is completely tasteless without salt.  So in fact it has a great deal of value, and she has paid him a higher compliment than he realized.

I am still looking for followers, so if you are out there, let me know!


*kiss-ass, brown-nose, a yes-man.  someone who tells you want you want to hear instead of the truth.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hamlet help!

Anyone out there reading?  I need a source for some Shakespeare analysis. 

Given that we all studied Shakespeare in high school, and may not have been paying close attention the whole time, it's likely that I only remember part of what I think I remember.

I am trying to write a few posts that talk about Shakespeare's "trio" of metaphors.  I remember hearing something about these trios -- in Romeo and Juliet, something about books and hands (and one other thing) that get repeated in several passages by different characters; in Richard III, something about horses and bridles and leaping.

Any tips on an explanation for this?  I have been doing some reading and can't find what I am looking for.