Thursday, June 30, 2016


Now that 'Don Quixote' and 'Leviathan' are all done, it's time to pick the next pieces to read.  They will be:
  • Tom Jones - Fielding
  • Letter Concerning Toleration - Locke
July has a big blob of vacation in it, so I don't know how the reading schedule will go.  No matter, I'm well ahead of any schedule I would have set for the year.  Through the end of June, I have finished 21 of the remaining 59 on the Great Books list.  The original plan sets a goal of 18 per year, so I'm pretty pleased with this progress.  In addition, I've read through almost all of Shakespeare's plays and still had time for the personal reading that I enjoy.

I'm very behind in actually writing up what I've read though.  I owe pieces on Rabelais, Hobbes and the second book of 'Don Quixote'.  I've written up 31 of Shakespeare's plays, so seven more to go.  (Only two more to actually read.)  And I have about half a dozen posts in mind about themes within Shakespeare.  (I know, I know, this blog has become very Shakespeare heavy.  If that bothers you, well, give it some time and I'll be done with it.  My Shakespearean revels soon are ended.)  I'm not sure when I'll get caught up on the writing but once I'm done reading two plays a week, time issues should straighten themselves out. 
Until then, thanks for sticking with me!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Don Quixote (Book One) - Cervantes

The basic idea behind Cervantes' brilliant 'Don Quixote' is well known.  An older man has read so many of the books on romantic chivalry that he loses his mind on the subject.  He goes out and decides to become one of the knights he has read about.  After a brief outing to be knighted by an innkeeper, he returns home and hires a neighboring peasant, Sancho Panza, to be his squire.
His misadventures start immediately.  He sees a plain with windmills on it and perceives them as giants.  He charges off and Sancho can't stop him.  He is dumped from his horse by a windmill arm.  He tells Sancho that this has been the work of an evil enchanter who has changed the giants to windmills (or vice versa).  This 'enchanter' becomes the method of his madness throughout.  This is Quixote's explanation for why things look different to him than to everyone else. 
Early on, he promises great riches to Sancho Panza.  The great knight will doubtlessly win a kingdom or two during his adventures and grant governorship of an island or something to his squire.  This is the way it is in his great 'histories' and no doubt it will happen again.  Sancho becomes fixed on the idea and is willing to go to great lengths for his future governorship.
Again and again they run into trouble.  Quixote sees some group of harmless tradesmen on the road and decides that it is an evil group with a captive princess.  He charges at them and causes some damage.  As soon as one of them catches his wits, he beats Don Quixote from his horse.  (Often Sancho Panza suffers a beating as well.)  They retreat and lick their wounds while blaming everything on evil enchanters.  This basic conflict is repeated again and again.
Meanwhile, all around them, actual romantic adventures are occurring.  Lovers are cheated from each other.  Money is taken and recovered.  Villainous men are brought to justice.  At one point, a romantic story is introduced as a lost manuscript, even though it has nothing to do with the actual story that is going on.  It's all quite entertaining.
Finally, some men from La Mancha find Don Quixote and, while entertaining his madness, bind him up in a cage and transport him home.  This is also explained as the work of enchanters and Quixote goes along with it, despite Sancho's efforts to clue him in on the trick.  The great knight is returned to his home and his worried niece and housekeeper.

I enjoyed this a great deal.  The storyline is a bit repetitive, but entertaining.  Cervantes goes to great lengths to find new ways of getting Don Quixote into trouble and then getting him out of it again.  Sancho Panza is wonderful, simply wonderful.  He is a trying hard to deal with an obvious madman but failing at each point.  He tries to point out the holes in Quixote's stories but gets no where.  And then greed takes over and he starts to find reasons to believe in the enchanter nonsense.
It's easy to see why the book was popular when it was written.  I found myself smiling often while reading it and even laughed out loud a few times.  I also had to share bits of it with my wife.  This is a very fun read.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cymbeline - Shakespeare

Cymbeline is the name of an early English king.  He has a somewhat complicated history.  He had two sons by a previous wife, but they were taken from their nursery at an early age and disappeared.  He has a daughter by that previous wife, named Imogen.  He has since remarried but his new queen has a son from an earlier marriage named Cloten.  To make matters more complicated, Imogen has married herself to man named Posthumus Leonatus, whose father died heroically before he was bon.  This marriage is frowned upon by the king and Posthumus has been banished from England.  (Got all that?)
This is the situation as the play opens.  Very shortly thereafter these things happen:
  • Posthumus makes a wager with an Italian that Imogen cannot be seduced.
  • The Queen mixes a poison that is meant for Imogen.
  • Cloten decides that he must marry Imogen and he won't take 'no' for an answer.
  • Imogen insults Cloten by telling him that he is worth less than her husband's worst clothes.
  • We are introduced to the king's lost boys who have been raised in the wilderness by a disgraced soldier.
  • A Roman ambassador has come to collect tribute owed by England to Rome. 
All of these things mix together in the expected (and unexpected) ways.  It ends with happiness for some and tragedy for others.  I won't spoil it except to say that it feels like a very busy play.

There is something of a remix feel to 'Cymbeline'.  It opens with an early English king rejecting his good daughter, much like King Lear.  There is a bloodthirsty queen, much like in 'Macbeth'.  There are 'lost' children like in several of the romances.  Imogen wakes in a grave next to the dead body of her supposed lover, like Juliet does.  Yet in all of these similarities, the outcome is different, or at least the path is different.
All different but I don't know if any of them are improved. 

Cymbeline is the king involved, but he is really something of a bit part.  The main part of the story is that of Imogen and Posthumus and their difficulties.  I'm curious about the reason for the naming.  (And I don't know if Cymbeline has a hard or soft 'c' sound.)  All in all, this is the least attractive title role that I've come across in Shakespeare's works.

I can see how it could be an effective play, but I can also see how people would pass it by for other, better works.  I guess you can put this on the list of plays that I probably need to see in order to really judge it.  As read, it is a lesser work by Shakespeare.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


A few weeks ago I came across this article regarding Salman Rushdie's advice on learning poetry as children.  'Speaking at the Hay Festival, the novelist described memorizing poems as a “lost art” that “enriches your relationship with language”.'  I've been thinking about it ever since.
I don't have a great memory for poetry.  Or lyrics.  I'm very good at remembering music, but not so good with the words (to my wife's regular amusement).  There isn't a single poem beyond nursery rhymes that I know by heart.
 But I've done large chunks of memorizing in the past, on stage.  A couple of weeks ago I reread 'Romeo and Juliet' and I was surprised by just how much of Romeo's lines I still knew.  Oh, I couldn't give them to you right now, but as I read them, they were completely comfortable in my mouth.  There is still something there.  I suspect that I've just done a poor job of hanging on to it.
So I'm going to learn some poems.  I'm going to know them by heart so that they are always with me.  Now I just need to figure out which ones...  I have a few in mind but I may need some help with suggestions.
I'm going to learn:
Li Po's 'Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon' (which I read about here)
 Something from 'Richard II'. Either one of the fine passages from the deposition scene or the 'let us sit and talk of the death of kings' speech.
Maybe something from 'Fox in Socks' which may seem like a strange choice but I've come to think of him as my spirit animal.
And I don't know what else I should consider. I love Tennyson's 'Ulysses' but that may be of an overly ambitious length. I'm not sure what else I should think about. Suggestions?

Update: I think I've fixed all of the weird text issues now.  Yeesh.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Tempest - Shakespeare

The plot in the 'The Tempest' is on the thin side.  A former duke named Prospero was ousted from power and cast adrift with his young daughter, Miranda.  A loyalist smuggled his books of learning to him and Prospero became a wizard of sorts.  The two landed on an island with magic elements and Prospero took control.  Some years later, a boat went past his island containing the men who wronged him.  Prospero caused a storm, i.e. a tempest, and brought the men to his island.
While there, some of the men show their true colors and try for another power play.  The son of the king falls for Miranda, and vice versa.  Two of the lower class men fall in with the sole native of the island, Caliban, and plot to overthrow Prospero.  But Prospero's control over the island, helped by his servant fairy Ariel, is complete and he is in no danger.
As I said, the story is on the thin side, but the poetry is outstanding.  My favorite is probably Caliban's dream:
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
Very good stuff.  The cloud capp'd towers speech is also very nice:
You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind.
I'd never read the Tempest before this.  Some months ago I bought a book that contains stories from Shakespeare for children.  My daughter recognized that the Tempest was a famous play and asked me to read that story to her.  I didn't want to since I wanted the story fresh for myself when I read it.  So I jumped the line and read the Tempest earlier than I would have otherwise.
Does it deserve the fame?  I'm not sure.  It doesn't read as a stand out from the romances.  I'd put at least half a dozen of the straight comedies above it.  But maybe the poetry reads better from the stage.  Or maybe the spectacle of the magic and storm plays better.  I honestly don't know.

It's always interesting to me how some of Shakespeare's plays are absolutely soaked in magic, while others are incredibly realist.  I read the Tempest while reading the history plays and the difference is striking.  Prospero's magic is over-arching.  Ariel is a (trapped) fairy who can perform seeming miracles.  Caliban is born of a monster of some sort named Sycorax, who had some evil magic.  The entire story depends on magic abilities to do incredible things.  It is all fantasy.

Is Prospero a hero?  That's the question that I kept asking myself.  He was betrayed and kicked out power.  He arrives at an island to find the former ruler has recently died.  He turns her son, Caliban, into a kind of slave.  He frees Ariel (and the others) from the trees where they were imprisoned, but then binds them to do his work. 
Even when the other men show up, it isn't clear if he is a good man or not.  He threatens their ship with a storm but keeps them safe.  He separates them and lets them believe that the others have died.  He 'allows' his daughter to fall in love with literally the first outside man she sees, but then she sets the man onto a pointless task.  In the end, all is revealed and forgiven.  Prospero gives up his books, and magic.  He is restored to his former position.  (Miranda and her new love will be happily married.)   
But is Prospero a good man?  I can't tell.  Something in his manner made me feel that he deserved little or no sympathy.  I wonder if I would feel differently after watching a few performances?

Monday, June 20, 2016


This post is something of a cheat and for that I apologize.  It's more of a status report than anything else. 
I want to set down some ideas on the remaining works of Shakespeare.  I've blogged about all of the comedies and histories.  I've blogged about five of the ten tragedies and the first of the five romances.  I have nine plays left to write about, though I've read all but five.  Since the beginning of May, I've been reading about two a week and I'll be done with the full 38 the first full week of July. 
Unfortunately, I've had trouble writing about more than two of them per week, so I've fallen behind.  That's not that big of a deal, I suppose.  In fact, I'm not entirely certain what I'll fill the blog with once I'm done with the Bard. 
Something will turn up. 

I'm really enjoying 'Don Quixote' and I'll be done with that around the first week of July as well.  After that I want to tackle either Tristam Shandy or Tom Jones.  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pericles - Shakespeare

Near the end of his career, Shakespeare wrote five plays that are comedies, but somewhat different than the ones that he had written earlier.  These plays are often called 'Romances' or 'Late Romances'.  (The Wikipedia entry that I've linked is a pretty good explainer as to why they are treated differently than the earlier plays.)  The first of the romances is 'Pericles, Prince of Tyre'.

'Pericles' is told as something of a whirlwind of action.  The play opens with Pericles trying to marry the daughter of the king of Antioch.  The king forces all suitors to answer a riddle about the princess that reveals that she was forced into incest with the king.  Pericles guesses the answer but is horrified to say it to the king's face.  He demurs and asks for time to answer.  The king grants this and then tries to have Pericles killed.
Pericles flees to his home in Tyre and then flees again to go overseas.  He and his men go to Tharsus where they help relieve a famine.  He then leaves again and his ship is wrecked.  He is the only survivor and is cast up on the shore of Pentapolis.
He is penniless and enters a tournament for the hand of the daughter of the king of Pentapolis, Thaisa.  Thaisa likes the look of him and the king calls off the tournament and Pericles and Thaisa are married.
Some time later Pericles learns that the king of Antioch has died and he must hurry home or be thought dead and no longer be the prince of Tyre.  He leaves with Thaisa but another storm disturbs them.  During the storm, Thaisa gives birth and is thought dead.  The sailors convince Pericles to throw her overboard, which he does after sealing her in a coffin with jewels and a note.
The body washes up in Mytilene and it is quickly discovered that Thaisa is not dead.  She fears that the rest of the ship must have broken up and Pericles must be dead.  She is taken to a temple of Diana to serve there.
Meanwhile, Pericles has sailed back to Tharsus and left the baby there.  (He doesn't have any milk to give her.)  The baby is named Marina, as a nod to her birth on the ocean.  Marina is raised there but the queen thinks that her beauty is crowding out that of the princess and the queen plots to kill her.  This murder is interrupted by pirates (really) and Marina is sold to a brothel in Ephesus.
In the brothel, Marina refuses to be corrupted.  She talks client after client out of taking her virginity.  She even gets the chance to impress Cerimon, one of the nobles of the city.
After all of this time has passed, Pericles has gone back to Tharsus to pick up his daughter.  There, he is told that she has died.  In grief he sails away.  He happens to sail past Ephesus where Cerimon meets him.  Cerimon tries to lighten his mood by presenting the excellent girl Marina.  Father and daughter meet and are thrilled.  They then sail to Mytilene and find Thaisa.  The family is all reunited.

As I said, it's a whirlwind.  It feels crazy busy.  At least, it reads that way.  Maybe it settles down when actually played on a stage.  The action is built on coincidences, like in most of the comedies.  The ending is happy, like in the comedies.  However, it doesn't seem happy.  The family has been split by tragedy after tragedy.  Even as they are reunited, we feel the years that they have senselessly lost. 
In some ways, this felt to me like a rewrite of 'Comedy of Errors'.  That play opens with six family members split up into four groups and scattered away from each other.  They have a series of chance encounters that all bring them back together and it all ends happily.  In both plays, the mother is the last one to be involved and she has been biding her time in a religious order.
But 'Comedy of Errors' seems to fit better in its setting.  Instead of half a dozen different Mediterranean ports, there is only one.  The action all takes place within one day.  And the stakes seem lower.  It is much, much easier to see happiness on the horizon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The History Plays - Shakespeare

Now that I'm done with all of Shakespeare's History plays, I wanted to sum them up with a post.  I won't try and rank them, like I did with the Comedies.  The history plays are too connected for that type of approach.  They have different aims than the stand alone stories of the comedies and tragedies.  (Besides, I have no idea if I prefer Henry IV part one or two better.  Maybe someone does, but I don't.)
There are ten plays in all and they come in two sets of four and two stand alone stories.  I read the 'Henriad' quartet first and I think that was lucky.  It let me read of a fairly straightforward history from the deposing of Richard II by Henry IV, to his son's journey from young Hal to the heroic Henry V.  I was able to read of the comparatively weak Henry VI and the passing of the throne back and forth with Edward IV and the final climb to the throne of Richard III.  (With a brief glimpse of poor Edward V.)  I can honestly say that I have a much, much firmer grasp on that time period of England than I did six months ago.
There are some very compelling stories throughout the group.  I doubt that I'll ever forget either of the Richards.  Richard II has been raised as a king and can hardly believe that his will isn't absolute.  When his crown is taken from him, it is as if a fundamental law of nature has been violated.  The sheer act causes his world to come apart.
Richard III has no such hang up over the sacred nature of the crown.  To him it is a goal that must be attained even at a heavy cost.  He will be king and he doesn't care who he upsets to do so.  Of course, the people of England decided he was a monster, so this was ultimately his downfall.
If there is a theme throughout the history plays, it is probably the questioning of who should enjoy power.  Who deserves it?  What is the natural line for power to follow?  Is the rule of the king absolute?  What do the people do if someone manifestly unworthy becomes king?  We don't think of modern power in terms of kings and crowns, but the questions of leadership and power are still very familiar.

The stand alones are comparative orphans.  King John was a somewhat weak king who lost the faith of his nobles.  He ended up being poisoned by a monk.  Henry VIII, though prettied up, was a man who reveled in the trappings of the throne but was ruthless towards those who got in his way.  He cruelly cast aside his first wife and was lucky to end up with the jewel that was Elizabeth I. 
Neither play is produced much anymore and it's hard to blame anyone for this.  If I was going to rank them, they would be ninth and tenth in some order.  They don't build to a greater story.  Both of them are fine reading, but I'd be surprised if any but completests read them nowadays.

I love the idea of the history plays.  I'd love to see a similar attempt made with American presidents.  They would have to dodge a minefield of propaganda that Shakespeare wasn't able to dodge, but so be it.  It would be worth it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Henry VIII - Shakespeare

Henry VIII is a History play in the episodic form.  The play covers the highlights of the early part of Henry VIII's reign.  We open with the fall of Buckingham, one of the king's close advisors.  It's not clear if Buckingham was guilty or framed but he handles everything with grace.  Even as he is lead off to execution, he preaches piety and faith to the king.
Then we move on to the divorce with Katherine of Aragon.  This is preceded by a trial in which the legitimacy of the marriage is questioned.  The chief complaint is the lack of a male son, which seems to point to general disapproval on the union.  Katherine is shattered but she also is gracious.  She later dies in an aura of holiness.
Another king's advisor, this one named Wolsey, is caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  He is arrested and shamed.  He also dies with grace and humility. 
The king remarries, this time to Anne Bullen (Boleyn).  Everyone hopes for the best.  A daughter is born, the to-be Elizabeth I.  Much praise is heaped on her for she is the hope for a better future.

Henry VIII is an odd play.  It was written (we think) more than ten years after the previous history play, Henry V.  It probably was written as a collaboration.  It feels disjointed.  I'm glad I read it for completest reasons but I wouldn't really recommend it.
It's also interesting because of the timing of the play.  The last scene takes place in 1533.  The play was probably written about 1613, so the time span is much closer than in the other history plays.  This undoubtedly overshadows how the play is set up.  King Henry VIII is not a nice guy and his court was not a nice place.  But everyone accepts their fate and goes off to death or abandon without much difficulty.  It's not hard to see the censor's hands at work there.  (Or perhaps, that really was the prevailing feeling at the time and only later do we see the rougher spots?)  Whichever it is, this play feels like propaganda in the same way that Henry V does. 
There is a bit of trivia that brings the play to the forefront.  It was during a performance of this play that the Globe caught fire and burned down.  The performance was on June 29, 1613.  This is one of the most exact dates of Shakespearian performance available.  We don't know if the play was in its first run or if the script we have was rewritten at some point or not.  But this is more info than we have for many other plays.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Links to the Past

10 Interesting Myths About Shakespeare link

Plato and Aristotle on 'Brexit vs Bremain' (note, I have no opinion on the underlying politics, but I like the exercise of using the big guns to think through it)  link

In defense of reading dead white guys link

Thomas Hobbes and Captain America 'Civil War' link

The Most Beautiful Poems in the English Language link

The French Play Monopoly (Existential Comics) link

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

King John - Shakespeare

King John is sole king of England but he faces a claim from a French prince, named Arthur.  In the face of this challenge, he goes to war.  The English and French forces face off outside of a city called Angiers.  Both sides demand that the city open their gates to them, and only them.  The conversation goes something like this (paraphrased):

Angiers: We're only going to open up for the king.
Eng & Fra: Yes, but which king?
Angiers: (pause) The rightful king.
Eng & Fra: Ok, but which one of us is the rightful king?
Angiers: (longer pause) Um, you figure it out and then we'll open our gates.

So they fight and scheme and fight until it is pointed out that they could join forces to punish Angiers for their indecision.  They agree but then quickly decide that maybe the could stop all of the fighting if the kings married their children together and hammered out a lasting peace.  They do so.
This absolutely horrifies the women behind the kings, Eleanor of Aquitane, King John's mother and Lady Constance on the French.  Both think that their side had given up too much and should have pressed harder.  (Both are very good roles, especially Lady Constance.)  They condemn the action but the marriage has taken place.
Before anything is resolved, an ambassador from the Pope, Pandolf, shows up and ex-communicates King John over a disputed archbishop.  John won't give in and Pandolf leans on the French to attack him if they want to stay in good with the church.  The war resumes and ruins the wedding glow.
Arthur is captured in battle and King John's party returns to England, leaving Eleanor to fight on in France.  The King asks one of his trusty men, Hubert, to kill Arthur and remove the threat.  Hubert agrees heartily but when it comes time to blind(!) and kill him, he cannot do so.  Word gets out that the king has killed innocent Arthur and King John faces a revolt of his nobles.  He repents of his actions and yells at Hubert for agreeing to kill Arthur.  Hubert tells him that he has not done so and the king is overjoyed.
Meanwhile, Arthur has tried to escape and fallen off of a wall and killed himself.  The nobles find his body and blame King John.  They go off to join a French expedition against the king.  King John decides to give sway to the Pope and asks Pandolf to bring about peace.  France decides to press their advantage and fight on.  The nobles go back to the English side and England wins.
As this has happened, King John has retired to a monastery and been poisoned by a monk.  The remaining cast gather around him and wish him godspeed to the afterlife.  The nobles then swear allegiance to Prince Henry, now Henry III.

King John is a big step down from Richard III.  The play, in style is more like Richard II or III in that it describes a long character arc of the king itself, rather than focusing on events of the time.  Even with that though, it falls short in quality of either one.  For one, the character of the king is much less remarkable.
From what we know of the play, it is fairly early Shakespeare.  There is dispute whether or not the story is reworked from someone else or whether a different play was copied from Shakespeare.  One of the most interesting things about reading so much of the man in one shot is finding out just how much we really know about when things were written.
There are some elements that I liked here, especially Lady Constance, but overall this isn't a great play.  It's not unreadable, but I can see why it isn't done in any kind of heavy rotation.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Timeline of Authors

It's been a while since I've done one of these, but I think this will be useful.  At least I've been wanting this as I figure out how to proceed.  This timeline will cover the authors that I'm looking at for the remainder of the year.

Hobbes 1588-1679
Milton 1608-1674
Pascal 1623-1662
Spinoza 1632-1677
Locke 1632-1704
Montesquieu 1689-1755
Rousseau 1712-1778
Mill 1806-1873

Cervantes 1547(?)-1616
Fielding 1707-1754
Sterne 1713-1768
Boswell 1740-1795
Goethe 1749-1832
Tolstoy 1828-1910

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Richard III - Shakespeare

Now is the winter of our wading through mounds of similarly named nobles made glorious by a play which focuses on one central figure.

Richard III is very much a part of the same story that is set up by the Henry VI trilogy (and improved, I think, by reading them together) but it is very different in form.  The earlier plays are more of an epic and sprawling affair.  This one is the story of one man and his ambition.  As the play opens he calmly figures out just who would have to die in order for him to become king.  He then starts the wheels moving towards those deaths.  We, the audience, are invited to come along with him.  I won't go through the plot bit by bit, but I want to point out some of the highlights.

Near the beginning of the play, Richard woos Lady Anne, the widow of Prince Edward whom he had a direct hand in killing.  He meets her over the coffin of Henry VI, who he also killed.  In an astonishing manner, he woos and wins her by telling her that all of this was done for her beauty and for the future of England.  After she leaves, he winks at the audience to let them know that all of this was done for the sake of his schemes.
The deaths begin to mount and soon the only ones between Richard and the crown are his two young nephews.  They are 'invited' to London so that he can protect them.  This is done by stashing them in the Tower of London.  Richard quickly has them murdered.  (The Wikipedia article on the Princes in the Tower makes for good reading.)  Even as this has happened, Richard moves to make them illegitimate and therefore unable to inherit the throne.
The women of the play, Queens Elizabeth and Margaret and Anne, the Duchess of York) gather to lament the dead they have lost.  "I had an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him..."  They list the dead and their killers.  The effect is startling and I would love to see it live.  I'm sure it would bring chills.
Near the end, when Richard III is finally crowned and is readying for battle, he is visited by the ghosts of all he killed.  One by one they come and condemn him and then go over to the other side of the battlefield to bless his opponent, the future Henry VII.  Richard does indeed lose the battle, in part because he is unhorsed.  He is killed and the War of the Roses finally comes to an end.

This play is amazing.  I can see why top actors have tried their hand at the Richard III role.  He is devious and charming.  He is ruthless and evil.  He is a villain in the truest sense of the word.  Richard III is quite possibly the best villain that Shakespeare ever wrote. 
Over in England, they have capitalized on the success of the earlier 'Hollow Crown' series that dealt with Richard II, the Henry IV plays and Henry V.  They have created a sequel of sorts, that moves the Henry VI plays and Richard III into a trilogy.  I'm very anxious to watch it when it comes to the US.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Henry VI Part 3 - Shakespeare

As with the previous part, there is far too much action to try and sum up the plot.  Also, by it's nature, it's very confusing.  Instead I'll simply highlight some of the touching scenes.

The play begins with King Henry in Richard's hands.  They come to an agreement where Henry will live out his life and when he dies, the throne will go over to Richard and his heirs.  Queen Margaret is furious at Henry for selling out their children.  She flees London and goes to the north, where she has support.
There is more battle, near the city of York.  Clifford finds Richard's young son Rutland.  He won't allow him to flee.  Clifford remembers his vow to kill all of the family and kills Rutland there.  Soon after, Richard is captured.  Queen Margaret and Clifford taunt Richard with Rutland's blood and then kill him.  Richard's head is cut off and put on display above the city with a paper crown.  The king is horrified by all of this.
Fortunes reverse and Richard's son Edward is crowned king.  Queen Margaret flees to France.  She tries to convince the King of France to allow his daughter to marry her son, Edward.  As she is making her argument, an embassy by Warwick arrives from the opposing side for her to marry Edward.  The king of France is unsure what to do.  While he is deciding, word comes that Edward has already married someone else.  Warwick is incensed and changes sides.  France decides to aid Queen Margaret.
Another battle and Queen Margaret loses.  The sons of Richard capture her and her son Edward.  They kill him in front of her.  As it's done, Richard's son Richard (the youngest surviving son) leaves for London and the tower.  There, he confronts King Henry and calmly kills him.
King Edward IV is now king with no other major claimant.

Before starting on the Henry VI plays, I read that not many people bother with them.  I can see why.  The plot isn't easy to follow.  The casts are enormous and hard to keep track of.  Most of the nobles use several names, varying between Christian (i.e. 'first') names to their noble names.  Almost all of the important men are named Henry, Richard or Ed.  This would have been an absolute mess to watch.
But I enjoyed it.  In many ways, the three plays together were like an epic mini-series.  Factions gained prominence and were cut down.  Major people are introduced.  They do important things and then find themselves on the wrong end and are killed.  There is a broad scope to the entire spectacle.  (It helped to read some secondary sources on the War of the Roses.)
And the future Richard III gains prominence throughout.  In the third part he has a tasty soliloquy where he talks about how he is surprisingly ok with having to do violence and evil.  The crown is not far from him and he is on the look out for a way to put it on his own head.  He sees this as his certain future.  It's chilling and yet we can't look away.
The Henry VI plays were some of the earliest that Shakespeare wrote and apparently they were extremely popular during the time.  I can see why.  His contemporaries would have been able to follow the action much more easily than we could have.  They would have enjoyed the huge swings of power and fortune.  I'm sure they also shuddered as the villainous Richard III climbed higher and higher too.
I liked it too.