RANKING · SHAKESPEARE

SHAKESPEARE: RANKED

Well, this has been a long time coming. I really wanted to do something fun and new for my ranking post, and then life happened. I finally had some time to myself today, so here we are. Surprise! It’s an unscripted, podcast-esque 58 minute disaster for your ears (complete with super chill Elizabethan lute music)! Perfect to help you pass the time while you do your chores.

“But you don’t have a voice for radio at all, Shereen,” you think, immediately clicking pause 41 seconds in. I can acknowledge that, so here’s my list for those of you who just want to get down to the nitty gritty of it:

COMEDIES

  1. Measure for Measure
  2. Much Ado About Nothing
  3. Love’s Labor’s Lost
  4. The Tempest
  5. The Merry Wives of Windsor
  6. As You Like It
  7. Twelfth Night
  8. The Winter’s Tale
  9. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  10. All’s Well That Ends Well
  11. The Taming of the Shrew
  12. The Merchant of Venice
  13. The Comedy of Errors
  14. The Two Gentlemen of Verona

TRAGEDIES

  1. Julius Caesar
  2. Romeo and Juliet
  3. Othello
  4. Hamlet
  5. Antony and Cleopatra
  6. King Lear
  7. Titus Andronicus
  8. Coriolanus
  9. Cymbeline
  10. Troilus and Cressida
  11. Timon of Athens
  12. Macbeth

HISTORIES

  1. Richard III
  2. Henry V
  3. Henry IV, Part One
  4. Henry IV, Part Two
  5. Henry VI, Part Three
  6. Henry VI, Part Two
  7. Henry VI, Part One
  8. Richard II
  9. King John
  10. Henry VIII

NOT IN THE FIRST FOLIO – and therefore gets to be #1 in its own category!

  1. Pericles

Now all that’s left for me is to make posts about the remaining plays, write about fiction based on Shakespeare’s plays, and – well, you’ll see.

Happy listening/reading!

PERSONAL · SHAKESPEARE

THE SCIENCE OF LOVING SHAKESPEARE

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As usual, I have absolutely no business showing my face around here. I was hoping to have been done with Pericles by now – heck, I should be done with Henry VIII by now. It’s just that I’ve been going through a rough patch, and I’ve been struggling to keep my spark alive. Shakespeare has been playing a role in saving me, in a sense. I was too gloomy to care about finishing Pericles, but I eventually picked it up a week or two into my sad spell and, for the first time since the beginning of this year, I felt serene.

“Every time you’re down, I always end up telling you to bring more Shakespeare into your life,” my best friend (who is decidedly not a Shakespearean) said over text. “It’s what you need.”

I have to say that I’m feeling very hesitant about writing this post. This is a blog about Shakespeare, and here I am trying to write something personal. And I’m always afraid that I’ll just sound insufferable if I talk about myself, and especially if I try to discuss my very first world problems. But, hey, at least I’m self-aware, right?

I went to a Shakespeare reading at the library a couple of weeks ago, and it was terrible. My subpar experience combined with the fact that I’m going through some kind of weird quarter life existential crisis left me sniffling pathetically in my car after I had left the library. Sadness, of course, turned into annoyance. I was annoyed that a silly experience could take away my enjoyment for Shakespeare. And, of course, annoyance turned into a stubborn determination to never let anybody or anything ruin Shakespeare for me ever again.

To say that I love Shakespeare is an understatement. I tried to describe just how much in my last post of 2016, a post I made before embarking on this adventure of mine. I remember the first time I read Shakespeare so vividly. “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York,” is not an exciting first line, especially since I hadn’t read Henry VI. But I kept reading because, well, I had to. I’m nothing if not a total teacher’s pet. “But I, that am not shap’d for sportive tricks, nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty to strut before a wanton ambling nymph; I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, cheated of feature by dissembling nature, deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time into this breathing world scarce half made up, and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me as I halt by them.” Now that is a set of lines so intriguing that I saw the scene laid out in my mind, crystal clear. And by the time Richard declared his dedication to villainy, I was beyond hooked. Everybody knew. My father, who would drive me home every afternoon, would jokingly ask, “And how is Richard today?” At school, I was teased to no end. But, honestly, it didn’t matter. Shakespeare was something that was mine, and mine alone. Years later, when Richard III’s body was discovered under a parking lot, I woke up to multiple texts and Facebook notifications. When I say that I am everybody’s Shakespeare friend, I am not exaggerating.

After Richard, my dramatic teenage self was sure that I would never love a play with such intensity ever again. Henry IV, Part One was the Shakespeare play chosen by my school. You may be wondering what kind of nonsensical school I attended, given that I wasn’t being assigned Hamlet or Macbeth. It’s easily explained: I went to school in the United Arab Emirates, and what my school was doing was choosing the plays that they believed to be the most tame. Discussions about sexuality and homoerotic subtext had no place in our classrooms, and so the least offensive plays were chosen. So we hopped from Richard III to Henry IV, Part One. And that was how I found myself face to face (face to text?) with Hal – and you all know how I feel about Hal.

I remember a boy asking me who my favorite character was. I was very quick to answer that it was Hal – of course it was Hal. He rolled his eyes and said, “Typical girl. Your favorite would be the knight in shining armor.” I didn’t bother explaining that I loved Hal for his human messiness, that I adored the fact that he was a walking disaster, struggling to carry the weight of his duty and desperately searching for a way to reconcile his personality with his birthright. To this day, I find myself faced with professors who simply refuse to see Hal as anything other than a monster. Maybe I would feel the same if I hadn’t spent all of my lonely hours trying to figure Hal out. Lonely hours turned into years, to be honest. In 2012, I was walking across the Millennium Bridge in London, having just left a performance of Henry V at the Globe. My friend, who I have since lost touch with, walked alongside me.

“You really have Henry all figured out?” she asked, unconvinced.

“I do,” I replied immediately, confidently. “I know who he is. I think I’ve always known his story would turn out like this.”

I wasn’t quite sure about my own story, though. I was just a kid back then, clinging very desperately onto the feelings of elation that Shakespeare gave me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In 2010, when I was applying to universities, I remember longingly looking at English under the list of majors. “Well, if you love it so much, what was stopping you?” you ask, rolling your eyes at the melodramatic tone of this post. What was stopping me was my culture. To Arabs, success comes with an engineering degree or a medical degree. English? English was for failures. My only other bookish friend was stubborn enough to major in it anyway, and I still admire that to this day. I chose biomedical engineering, and I was good at it. I’m still good at it.

Sometimes (I know how this is going to sound) I wish I were only scientifically inclined. Yes, I know, boo-hoo. How terrible it must be to be so well-rounded. It’s a non-issue, I know, and a really stupid thing to think, but I just cannot explain how difficult it was for me to throw myself into engineering when Shakespeare was being taught right across the hall. And when I did sign up to take Shakespeare classes “for fun,” I found that I never heard the siren call of engineering from across the way. There was no siren call. The fact that I was so happy in English classes and so unhappy in my other classes meant I was constantly on the phone with my parents, crying. They were vehemently against a change in major, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. And it wasn’t just them: I simply cannot abandon something once I’ve started it. It’s akin to failure to me.

But things just kept getting worse, and the only solution was Shakespeare. I didn’t ask to participate in the Shakespeare summer abroad program in London. I always ask permission, but this time, I just told my parents I was doing it. I wrote an essay about what Shakespeare meant to me and landed a scholarship that covered my airfare. And I went, and I was so incredibly happy. I hopped out of bed every day, ready to read and talk and stand in the same city where Shakespeare once stood. And when I eventually flew back to California, as I was unpacking all of my treasures from my adventure, I burst into tears. I asked my mother, “Why did you let me go?”

Engineering has never called to me, but Shakespeare always has and always will. I lived out an alternate existence that summer in 2012, and going back to my normal life was devastating.

But back to the Shakespeare group that I went to earlier this month. I took my love for Shakespeare with me, ready to share it with everybody. But most of my contributions were swiftly dismissed and, well, everybody was old. So not only am I an engineer who loves Shakespeare, I am a young engineer who loves Shakespeare.

And I feel alone. There is nothing I want more than to share my passion with everyone I meet – with the entire world, really. But my mother once told me that it’s a boring hobby that nobody understands. She didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but her words caused me to button up about Shakespeare immediately and indefinitely. I feel like I can’t talk about it in my real life. And when I looked for people who might feel the same way as me, I was dismissed and made to feel like a silly little girl.

I suppose there’s no real end to this story. Luckily, because I am who I am, nothing anyone says or does will change how much I love Shakespeare. I often daydream about using my degree to make a bunch of money, and then using that money to pay to get my PhD in Shakespearean studies. In my daydreams, I am always accepted into these programs, though I do know that probably wouldn’t be the case in real life. But maybe I’ll try one day. In an ideal world, an incredibly influential Shakespearean scholar would read this and feel for me enough to become my mentor. In reality, I will probably have to navigate the mysterious world of Shakespeare by myself until I meet a kindred spirit, or until I am brave enough to leave the comfort and security of my current profession. I would love to teach Shakespeare. I know I’m not the only 25 year old Shakespeare nerd in the world – I just wish I knew how to make sure that nobody my age is lonely in their love for these often confusing but oh-so-fulfilling Elizabethan plays. I just wish I knew where to go, where to find comfort. Until then, I’ll be reading plays by the soft pink light of my salt lamp and dumping my thoughts into the void, hoping that someone will find them useful.

I feel like this post is entirely pointless, but I have to say that it was very therapeutic to write out. I shouldn’t call it pointless, though, because there’s a minuscule chance that someone in the world needs to read these words. There’s a microscopic chance that I’ll help people feel less alone, and that’s why I write.

Anyway! Enough of my melodramatic ramblings. My post on Pericles will come soon, and then I’ll only have two plays left. Then I’ll be presented with the daunting task of ranking all of the plays, and I’m agonizing over my list already. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – Pericles first, three thousand word essays on what the best plays are later.

 

 

SHAKESPEARE

#MYSHX400

The Folger Shakespeare Library (i.e., the library that owns my soul because I can’t stop buying their wonderfully annotated plays) is celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday by asking his readers why we love him! That’s me up there, recalling when I first connected with Shakespeare. You should participate too – the library will be keeping all of our reflections in their archives!

I only answered one question, but I do want to type up my other responses.

What does Shakespeare mean to you?

Shakespeare means discovering what it is to be human. It means finding comfort and peace in only dialogue. It means laughter, bloodshed, and tears. And for me, it means happiness.

Which words and lines from Shakespeare do you love the most and why?

I love this exchange between Berowne and Rosaline from Love’s Labor’s Lost:

BEROWNE
Did I not dance with you in Brabant once?

ROSALINE
Did I not dance with you in Brabant once?

BEROWNE
I know you did.

ROSALINE
How needless was it then
To ask the question.

I like my Shakespearean ladies to be witty and sharp-tongued, and Rosaline certainly delivers!

Here’s another one: in Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice’s uncle says he hopes to see her married one day. This is her response:

BEATRICE
Not till God make men of some other metal
than earth.

This is 100% something that I would say myself.

And, finally, you all know how I feel about the final scene of Henry V. Not the most popular wooing scene in Shakespeare, but definitely the one that’s closest to my heart.

Share your favorite Shakespeare quote.

KING HENRY
Upon the king! Let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children, and our sins, lay on the king!
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing! What infinite heart’s ease
Must kings neglect that private men enjoy!
And what have kings that private men have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
And what art thou, thou idol ceremony?

I love this passage in particular because we really get to see how vulnerable Hal is. You know how much I love Henry V – and it’s mostly for Henry himself. My six posts on the matter will tell you as much!

Tell us about your favorite play and why it is your favorite.

My favorite play is, and always will be, Richard III. It was my very first taste of Shakespeare, so there’s that. But I also love how skillfully Shakespeare manages to have the audience be manipulated by Richard as well. I am not easily manipulated, so it was thrilling to read a play that could affect me as both a reader and audience member.

Which Shakespeare character speaks to you and why?

I’m going to say Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. She and I are one and the same. I love her wit, her sharp tongue, and I adore how much she loves and supports Hero. I seem to be missing my Benedick though, hmm.

What is the most memorable production of Shakespeare that you’ve seen?

Unsurprisingly, it was a production of Richard III. I was at the Globe in the summer of 2012, and I was a groundling. It just started pouring in the middle of the theatre, and I couldn’t hear anything but the roaring of the rain. I distinctly remember thinking, “Well, it’s a good thing I have most of this play memorized!”

When did you first see or read Shakespeare?

I answer this in my Instagram video, but it was 10th grade. I will never, ever forget the opening to Richard III for as long as I live because of that classroom experience. The first time I actually saw Shakespeare was when I still lived in Abu Dhabi – I saw a modern production of Richard III. It was in Arabic, but luckily they had screens with English subtitles! Shameful for an Arab girl such as myself to have to use them, but even I can’t keep up with all the dialects people speak in the Middle East. Catesby was Iraqi, I remember, so I understood him, at least.

How would you answer these questions? I’d love to hear your thoughts! I am almost done with Richard II, so I’ll be seeing you around these parts very soon! Have a good World Book Day this Sunday, and remember to spare a thought for our favorite playwright.

SHAKESPEARE

WILL? WILL WHO?

Shakespeare’s will, written in secretary hand.

In the name of God Amen. I William Shackspeare of Stratford upon Avon in the county of Warwickshire gent., in perfect health & memory God be praised, do make & ordain this my last will & testament in manner & form following. That is to say first, I commend my Soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping & assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour to be made partaker of life everlasting. And my body to the earth whereof it is made.

For someone who is fully aware that we know very little about Shakespeare, I sure do spend a lot of time thinking about him…and thinking about how annoying it is that we know so little. Who was he? What were his worldviews? Was he a kind man?

I should preface this post by saying that I personally believe that Shakespeare was a bit of a forward-thinker for his time. You could think otherwise – and that’s fair. I came to my conclusion through reading his plays, and analyses of his work are always up for debate.

Whenever I suggest that Shakespeare was something of a modern thinker, I always have somebody mention how his female characters are treated. And that person is almost always thinking about The Taming of the Shrew. And, hey, they aren’t wrong. The Taming of the Shrew was written by a man who truly believed that Petruchio’s taming of Kate (achieved through endless abuse and gas-lighting) was a happy ending. But, like most people in this world, he experienced some personal growth. And we see his perspective on women shift as he moves forward – and shift in a way that is not what you would expect of a man living in Elizabethan England.

The way women are treated as characters has always been very important to me. And stumbling upon work by your favorite playwright that suggests that he didn’t understand women can be a hard pill to swallow. I started writing this post a few days ago, but stopped and went out to pick up Tina Packer’s Women of Will: The Remarkable Evolution of Shakespeare’s Female Characters. She writes:

Shakespeare broke a mold. After about five years of writing, he saw women as women, including the bind they had been put into. No other playwright, writing before Shakespeare or at the same time as Shakespeare, had ever seen women as women.

[…] Whether he was writing as Romeo or Benedick or Antony, the fact is that Shakespeare himself was brave enough to change, to undergo an internal journey that means his heroes have the capacity of self-reflection as well as for fighting a battle or giving pleasure to others. And the women are full partners with the men. The artist Shakespeare inhabited the women’s world with as much depth as he did the men’s.

Expecting your favorite ancient playwright to understand what was popularly accepted as the lesser sex is ridiculous. But for whatever reason, Shakespeare did begin to understand. And we see traces of modern thought in him as he explores his female characters, what they can be, and what sort of power they can wield. Packer suggests that Shakespeare began to understand women once he fell in love with The Dark Lady, who is referenced in Sonnet 130. And maybe that’s true. But regardless of whether or not it is, Shakespeare opened his own mind to different viewpoints and allowed himself to grow and change even as the times remained largely the same. And if he did fall in love, well, it’s nice to know that his brand of passion included fully understanding his partner – body, soul, and mind.

The Merchant of Venice is an uncomfortable play for many reasons. Our main heroes are blatantly antisemitic, and it becomes difficult to root for them. And you can’t help but ask yourself if Shakespeare feels that way himself. Again, expecting your favorite dinosaur of a playwright to be anything other than a product of the times he lived in is ridiculous and a bit naive. And yet –

SHYLOCK
To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my grains, scorned my nation, thwarted my
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine
enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.

This, of course, does not prove anything. But I can’t help but wonder why Shakespeare decided to include these sentiments at all. Why not have Shylock just be the Jewish antagonist the audience would love to hate? Why give us a reason to pity him at all?

When I was a freshman in college, I took a seminar where we explored Shakespeare and religion. We spent the whole quarter on Antony and Cleopatra, and we tried to come to a conclusion about Shakespeare: was he Catholic, or Protestant? I came up with wild theories about how Antony represented Catholicism and Octavian Protestantism, and we went quite far with my theory. But when the quarter ended, my answer about Shakespeare himself had remained unchanged – he was neither Catholic or Protestant. He was just Shakespeare.

Having come from a mixed Catholic/Protestant family, and having felt the tensions between both religious groups outside of his home, I had doubts that Shakespeare would have been too invested or interested in religion. I still have those doubts, six years after taking the seminar. And perhaps it was his non-relationship with religion that allowed him to write Shylock, a Jew, as a human rather than as a tired stereotype. Again, Shakespeare impresses by trying to view lives different from his from all angles. I find this ability to be one of someone interested in intellectual and emotional growth – and I find that interest to be a modern and enlightened one.

Now that the year is ending, I wanted to write about my personal feelings about Shakespeare. Every time I’ve tried to, I’ve come up short. I can easily say things like, “I really love Hemingway’s work,” or “John Keats writes the best poetry I’ve ever read,” but I’ve never been able to properly articulate what Shakespeare means to me. I’m going to try now, for the sake of tying up 2016 with a neat little bow, but it probably won’t be pretty, so brace yourself.

Shakespeare has a bad rep among high school students. I was indifferent toward him in that I didn’t care. And, yes, perhaps I did feel a little bit of dread when we were assigned Richard III in eleventh grade. But in the middle of the first act, I was absolutely smitten.

I could very easily just tell people that I love Shakespeare, but the statement seems too simple. When I read Richard III, I was falling in love with characters, and I was getting emotionally invested in the predicaments they were in. But, in a way, I was also meeting Shakespeare for the first time. It was as if I was reaching out into a dark, uncertain void of the English language, and grasping at the hand of somebody who had the same intense curiosity about humans, and what humanity is. And the more I read, the more desperate I became to understand Shakespeare in the same way I was understanding his characters. An impossible task, obviously, but it’s that same desperation that left me enrolling in college-level Shakespeare classes years later.

Reading The Tempest in London was something close to a religious experience. This was Shakespeare – he was trying to communicate with us through Prospero, laying his magical staff down and leaving the isle. And I have no doubt that I will feel that same excitement when I read Love’s Labor’s Lost, another play that is allegedly something of a self-insert story. I have never in my life been so curious to know a writer in the way I’ve been curious to know Shakespeare. It is difficult to tell people that I disliked a play, because they always doubt how much I really love Shakespeare. But I do. I could read a thousand bad plays and my dedication to him would remain untouched. He is as curious as I am, and as a result he has become an extension of myself.

It’s funny – for all my effort to write posts on this blog using academia appropriate language, I can’t help but dissolve into a mess of strange emotions by year’s end. But nothing I wrote is exaggerated – I mean every word. Maybe I love too much, maybe I cling to something that is not worth clinging to – but that is the way I am, and the way I’ll always be. Shakespeare was the same, feeling every emotion at an unnatural intensity and throughout every facet of his being.

And, you know what? I don’t think I’m special for loving Shakespeare this way. I think every single person in this world can love Shakespeare the way I do, because we are all curious about each other as humans in the way Shakespeare was. It only takes a play to tap into that dormant curiosity.

There are 24 of Shakespeare’s plays that I haven’t read. In 2017, I will be reading two of them a month, and I hope you’ll join me! Have a safe New Year’s, and I’ll see you soon with Henry VI in hand.

MACBETH · SHAKESPEARE

FIRE BURN, AND CAULDRON BUBBLE

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According to A.C. Bradley, “[Macbeth’s] inability to understand himself is repeated and exaggerated in the interpretations of actors and critics, who represent him as a coward, cold-blooded, calculating, and pitiless, who shrinks from crime simply because it is dangerous, and suffers afterwards simply because he is not safe. In reality his courage is frightful. He strides from crime to crime, though his soul never ceases to bar his advance with shapes of terror, or to clamor in his ears that he is murdering his peace and casting away his ‘eternal jewel.'”

I think it goes without saying that Macbeth has somewhat of a dual personality – that is, he is very divided. On one hand, he is power hungry and willing to murder. On the other, he feels incredible guilt and worries about what he has done. But I do not necessarily agree with using the word courageous to describe Macbeth. It is not as if he strides from murder to murder because he is fundamentally brave enough to ignore his conscience – he continues to kill because he is easily manipulated, and finds himself in situations where he feels he has no other choices. Courageous is a strong word that Macbeth is not deserving of.

We were asked the following question in class: who has the more flexible and inclusive definition of masculinity? Macbeth, or Lady Macbeth?

The answer is, surprisingly, Macbeth.

MACBETH
We will proceed no further in this business.
He hath honored me of late, and I have bought
Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon.

LADY MACBETH
Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account they love. Art thou afeared
To be the same in thine own act and valor
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,”
Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage?

MACBETH
Prithee, peace.
I dare do all that may become a man.
Who dares do more is none.

LADY MACBETH
What beast was ‘t, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both.
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.

And so on. Although Lady Macbeth does not follow strict gender roles herself, she still has a very clear idea of what makes a man. To Macbeth, backing out of his initial plan to murder Duncan doesn’t compromise his manhood in anyway. But his lack of resolve, and the fact that he’s floundering, is decidedly unmanly to Lady Macbeth. If he were truly a man, he would do as he promised. Macbeth is an awful person, yes, but he does seem to have a more open idea of what makes a man.

Moving on – Macbeth’s first public fit happens in a dining room. He sees the ghost of Banquo sit in his chair. I find this image to be very striking. Although Banquo is the most recently murdered of the bunch, technically, any old ghost could have shown up to harass Macbeth. But the fact that it was Banquo makes this scene very dramatic. It forces Macbeth to finally face what he has done. I mean, he’s murdered Banquo – a man he loved very differently from the way he loved Duncan. Look at what you’ve done, Macbeth! Before, Macbeth would only share his inner turmoil with Lady Macbeth. But with this outburst, everyone else in the room is finally seeing Macbeth’s unhinged behavior.

In the fourth act, Malcolm is very suspicious of Macduff. Poor, stupid Macduff. He leaves his wife and child (for shame!) behind in Scotland, goes to England, and is met with distrust from Malcolm. The argument is that this distrust is healthy – after all, Duncan met a gruesome end because he was far too trusting of Macbeth. Hal also has this distrust in Henry V. It is a form of self-protection, and once Malcolm feels he can trust Macduff, he drops his act.

I have to say, however, that as someone who has never read the play, I thought I was having an out-of-body experience. Malcolm basically says that he won’t be better than Macbeth because he’s greedy and addicted to sex. This had become far too soap opera-like to me, and I was seconds away from howling with laughter. Fortunately, it ended up being a giant act. Nice work, Shakespeare. Fooling me is quite the challenge, but he definitely succeeded. In my defense, why would I believe otherwise about Malcolm? We’d seen very little of him up to this point.

Hilariously, Macduff is pretty sure that sex addiction and greed aren’t nearly as bad as all the awful traits Macbeth has. And maybe they aren’t! Fortunately, Scotland will never have to find out, because Malcolm ends up being a total angel.

As I said before, I do not love this play. The characters are a bit too easy to analyze, and the plot is a little bit nonsensical. It’s really difficult to root for anybody, which makes it difficult for me to enjoy. That’s not to say that it’s been torture trying to get through this! Quite the opposite, I haven’t laughed this much during a play since…well, ever.

Not quite the effect Shakespeare intended, I’m sure.

MACBETH · SHAKESPEARE

LOOK LIKE TH’ INNOCENT FLOWER, BUT BE THE SERPENT UNDER ‘T

Image result for macbeth
Miami University Department of Theatre

Ah, Macbeth. Loved by high schools worldwide – but not mine. When everybody else was reading this play, I was falling in love with Richard III and Henry IV. No matter, though, because I finally got my chance to start it this past week.

Shakespeare has written plenty of fantastic murderers – Richard III and Iago come to mind. Macbeth, however, is too weak a character to join their ranks.

MACBETH
[Aside.] This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success
Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make seated heart knock at my ribs
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is but what is not.

Macbeth’s language here is very reminiscent of the strange ramblings of the three witches, but what is important is that we see here what Macbeth’s true issue is. Unlike other iconic murderers from Shakespeare, he is very indecisive and undergoes a mental battle just at the thought of murdering Duncan. Although this is the first we hear of his murderous tendencies, Macbeth still comes off a little unhinged here because, well, why would murder even cross your mind? In any case, Macbeth’s constant flip-flopping makes him a shabby murderer, especially when you compare him to Shakespeare’s other bloodthirsty characters.

Unlike her husband, Lady Macbeth presents herself as having a steely exterior. Both she and her husband have ambition, but at this point, only Lady Macbeth seems to have no moral issues with doing what she thinks needs to be done.

LADY MACBETH
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false
And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou’d’st have, great Glamis,
That which cries “Thus thou must do,” if thou have it,
And that which rather thou dost fear to do,
Than wishest should be undone. Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear
And chastise with the valor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have crowned thee withal.

Here, Lady Macbeth feminizes her husband a bit – soon, we’ll realize that this is a habit of hers. She does not believe her husband has what it takes to seize the crown and, to be quite frank, I agree with her. However, she also comes across as unhinged, doesn’t she?

According to my professor, some scholars see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as being very passionately in love with one another. At this point (mind you, I’m just now starting act four), I think I could safely argue that Macbeth loves his wife. He constantly goes out of his way to prove himself to her, and is very easily manipulated by his words. One could argue that he does this out of love. You could, I suppose, also argue that he does this because he is retaliating to having his buttons pushed – we could take love out of the equation quite easily.

But does Lady Macbeth love her husband? I’m not sure. I think this is one of those things that could depend on the direction of the play. I want to know: what is her body language? What tone of voice does she use when speaking to her husband? Does she chastise him coldly, or in the hushed whispers of a concerned wife only looking out for her husband?

If we read the text plainly, Lady Macbeth does not appear to love her husband at all. As I said, she is power hungry and ambitious – I’m not sure I would describe her as a loving wife by any means.

But who knows? All in all, Macbeth has been a wild experience for me so far. I understand why people find this play intriguing – Macbeth in himself has so many personality traits that are fun to pick apart, from his self-doubting nature to his utter lack of self-control. I will say, however, that although this is not my favorite play of Shakespeare’s, I do think it is a good entry point for those looking to get into his work. The play is relatively easy to follow, the dramatis personae isn’t pages long, and I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t be drawn in by the promise of murder and guilt tearing characters apart.

Well, except me, I guess.

HENRY IV · HENRY V · RICHARD II · SHAKESPEARE

THE HENRIAD

What is the Henriad? Where did the word “Henriad” come from?
Henry V (Sam Ashdown). Photo by Karl Hugh, 2016. Utah Shakespeare Festival.

As promised, I forced myself to put Henry V back on the shelf. I’ve already started Macbeth – I’m only two acts away from its gruesome close.

But, as expected, I cannot move on from Henry V. This is no surprise, as I’ve always clung to Shakespeare’s histories…like a new-married wife about her husband’s neck. See? I’m even quoting, for heaven’s sake.

I spent most of last night looking for a very specific book that I’m afraid does not exist. I wish I were in a position to spearhead the publication of such a book! Since I am not, and likely never will be, I thought I’d just write the idea out so that it can stop plaguing me.

What I was looking for, specifically, was a nice, large volume containing the entirety of the Henriad. For you Shakespeare hatchlings, the Henriad is the name given to the tetralogy of Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry V. Those four plays in particular, I think, are a real experience if read one after the other. I do not feel this way about the other histories – in fact, I see no reason to have to plod through all the parts of Henry VI just to get to Richard III. But to read Henry V without touching upon the rest of the Henriad is just criminal and can really ruin a reader’s enjoyment of the play.

I was so sure that a collected volume would exist, but it doesn’t. For shame! Of course, in the midst of my disappointment, my imagination began to get carried away with itself. Not only am I dreaming of a volume collecting all four plays, I’m dreaming of a leather-bound volume. The thought of illustrations crossed my mind…before it was swiftly replaced with fantasies of the entire thing being fashioned as an illuminated manuscript. Can you imagine? And, oh, think of all the thoughtful and inspiring essays that could be sprinkled in between the plays. Think of all the history that can be contained in such a publication of the Henriad – does such an amazing tetralogy deserve any less?

The leather of the cover would be embossed with intricate patterns influenced by the art of the time period in question, of course. And the style of the illustrations that accompany the plays do not have to be accurate – who’s to say that there isn’t an artist out there capable of capturing the magical, golden haze of an illuminated manuscript and the beauty of anatomically correct, aesthetically pleasing art?

Any large illustrations would be followed by that lovely, translucent, almost wax-like paper that you sometimes discovered while flipping through especially precious books as a child. Do you know the type? Even if the illustrations didn’t need it, I’d want them in this collection anyway because they always give the distinct feeling that you’re handling something special and fragile.

I guess it’s worth wondering who would be interested in such a volume of the Henriad. Obviously, any Shakespeare lovers or historians out there would fall in love with the idea immediately. But I also think there would be something attractive about it for new readers – I mean, owning a beautiful book won’t make you love Shakespeare any faster, but it does help, doesn’t it?