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Romeo and Juliet – Not my fav but respected

Photo - Wikipedia

Photo – Wikipedia

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy by William Shakespeare (1595-6). It portrays the brief lives of two “star crossed lovers” who come from feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues.

In Shakespeare’s time it was one of his most popular plays, as it remains today.

Myself, I never really liked Romeo and Juliet too much. It seems small and dark. Romantic love is fine. But when it gets all messed up and doesn’t work out right, it doesn’t really capture my imagination.

I find it sort of silly and dramatically frustrating that someone would commit suicide because he thought his true love was dead. And guess what? She wasn’t even dead after all. So what happens? She wakes up and kills herself.

Maybe I just like happy endings. I realize life doesn’t always turn out that way but still, Romeo and Juliet for me is a bit of downer.

Like many of his plays, Shakespeare didn’t come up with the idea out of the blue. There were precedents, some very clear.

Romeo and Juliet borrows from a tradition of tragic love stories dating back to antiquity. One of these is Pyramus and Thisbe, from Ovid‘s Metamorphoses, which contains parallels to Shakespeare’s story: the lovers’ parents despise each other, and Pyramus falsely believes his lover Thisbe is dead. The Ephesiaca of Xenophon of Ephesus, written in the 3rd century, also contains several similarities to the play, including the separation of the lovers, and a potion that induces a deathlike sleep.

One of the earliest references to the names Montague and Capulet is from Dante‘s Divine Comedy, who mentions the Montecchi (Montagues) and the Cappelletti (Capulets) in canto six of Purgatorio:

Come and see, you who are negligent,
Montagues and Capulets, Monaldi and Filippeschi
One lot already grieving, the other in fear

Image - Wikipedia

Romeo and Juliet (detail) by Frank Dicksee – Wikipedia

In 1938 the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev wrote a ballet after the story. And Berlioz (1839) and Tchaikovsky (1869) also wrote classical pieces on the theme.

There have been several screen adaptations. One of my favorites is Franco Zeffirelli‘s 1968 Romeo and Juliet. I remember marveling at Olivia Hussey as a kid when I saw the film in junior high. For me, she was the epitome of womanly beauty back then.

¹ See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet

In India, the Mahabharata epic tells of a family feud that leads to total war between the Pandavas and the Karavas. This war is also central to The Bhagavad Gita, which is a part of the Mahabharata (some believe a later addition because it differs stylistically). I don’t think the Capulets and Montagues were related but the Pandavas and Karavas were. Of course, Shakespeare most likely did not have access to Hindu myth (in this case, the Puranas) because it hadn’t been translated into European languages yet. But for thinkers like Adolf Bastien, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung (who believe that certain psychological “patterns” or “structures” arise independently around the world) this wouldn’t have been a huge problem.

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Ophelia – Victim of a twisted parent

Mary Catherine Bolton (afterwards Lady Thurlow...

Mary Catherine Bolton (afterwards Lady Thurlow) (1790-1830) as Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1813, opposite John Kemble’s Hamlet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ophelia is a tragic Shakespearian character whose twisted father asks her to reject her lover, Hamlet. Ophelia’s father exploits her misguided loyalty to him and manipulates her into agreeing to reject Hamlet.

Ophelia’s father also had been spying on her while she was seeing Hamlet.

Tormented by conflicted loyalties, Ophelia eventually goes mad. Ophelia represents the too many women (and men) pushed into insanity by a misguided sense of loyalty to an unscrupulous parent or parents.

Mary Pipher reflects on this dynamic in her book, Reviving Ophelia (1994):

Psychologist Mary Pipher named her non-fiction book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (1994), after Shakespeare’s Ophelia. In it, Pipher examines the troubled lives of the modern American adolescent girls. Through her extensive clinical work with troubled young women, Pipher takes a closer look at the competing influences that lead adolescent girls in a negative direction. For example, Pipher attributes the competing pressure from parents, peers, and the media for girls to reach an unachievable ideal. Girls are expected to meet goals while still holding on to their sanity. These pressures are further complicated when young women undergo physical changes out of their control, like the biological developmental changes in puberty.¹

Actor Jean Simmons provides a classic performance of Ophelia in Sir Laurence Olivier’s film version of the play. Simmons’ vacant stare and melodious voice give Ophelia a mystical, ethereal quality just before her demise.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophelia

Related » William Shakespeare


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Othello – remembering Iago, a captivating psychopath

From the Library of Congress: TITLE: Thos. W. ...

Thos. W. Keene. Othello  1884 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Othello, The Moor of Venice (1604) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The plot is quite straightforward¹ but the emotions are complex: The good but overly trusting man, Othello, is tricked into murdering his wife, Desdemona, and is eventually brought down by the devilish and scheming Iago.

I must admit that I find Iago the most memorable character in the play. I watched the BBC TV production several years ago, and can still remember being captivated by Iago’s psychopathy. Iago is so crazy that he even laughs when carried off to receive his punishment.²

LODOVICO

[To IAGO] O Spartan dog,
More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea!
Look on the tragic loading of this bed;
This is thy work: the object poisons sight;
Let it be hid. Gratiano, keep the house,
And seize upon the fortunes of the Moor,
For they succeed on you. To you, lord governor,
Remains the censure of this hellish villain;
The time, the place, the torture: O, enforce it!
Myself will straight aboard: and to the state
This heavy act with heavy heart relate.³

I’m not sure if Shakespeare added that laugh in brackets in the original script. But it was a nice touch in the BBC production. And if anyone has the cred to modify Shakespeare, it’s the BBC. In the following clip, we see how easily Iago shifts from being false-friendly to genuinely hateful.

¹ http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/othello/summary.html

² For more, see the entry Iago and interesting comments there. The power of Shakespeare, I think, it not only in his beautiful economy of expression, but also in his open-ended meaning.

³ Thanks to http://shakespeare.mit.edu/othello/full.html for making this easier to reproduce.

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William Shakespeare

Jimmie – shakespeare resources2

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English playwright and poet born in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare worked as an actor in London, where he began to compose sonnets.

With the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of players to become known as the King’s Men, Shakespeare leased the first Globe Theatre, erected in 1598. The first Globe burnt down in 1613 but Shakespeare and his troupe had already been performing at a new Globe Theatre.

The genius of his work, written mostly for the Globe, was recognized by Queen Elizabeth and her extensive court. So, unlike some ignored geniuses, Shakespeare enjoyed great success and considerable wealth in his lifetime.

Shakespeare's Globe, London (rebuilt 1997)

Shakespeare’s Globe, London (rebuilt 1997) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, many forget that his plays were written to be seen, not read.

If theatre going isn’t a practical choice, a good alternative is the BBC television series (VHS/DVD) of Shakespeare’s plays. This production boasts authentic costumes, on-location castles and the players’ ancestrally inherited accents to help bring the mystical bard’s works to life.

It has been suggested that Shakespeare is the greatest writer ever, not only in the English language, but in any language. Some feminists contend this idea, suggesting that writers like Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson are equal if not superior to Shakespeare’s wit and wisdom. And others maintain that, if Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had not written in German, he might have rivaled Shakespeare’s literary throne.

Sir John Gilbert's 1849 painting: The Plays of...

Sir John Gilbert’s 1849 painting: The Plays of William Shakespeare, containing scenes and characters from several of William Shakespeare’s plays. Since the artist died in 1897, this work is now in the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I converted to Catholicism I visited an Anglican Church (the Church of my baptism). An Anglican minister preaching about the Biblical Book of Job said that it was “like Shakespeare.” The way he said it seemed to imply that Shakespeare was better literature than the Bible. Many might disagree, and popularity is not necessarily an indicator of absolute value, but from 1986 to 1993 Shakespeare ranked third in the Top 10 Authorities cited in academic journals of the Arts and Humanities, with the Bible at 5th place.¹

¹ Institute for Scientific Information as cited in The Globe and Mail, Toronto: Southam, February 11, 1993. I’m not sure if those stats include Religious Studies and Theology. And I would be willing to bet that worldwide readership of the Bible is far stronger than that of Shakespeare. So these stats might be a good indicator of how persuasive statistics can be, depending on the selection, interpretation and presentation of data.

Related » Arjuna, Atlantis, George Berkeley, Glamour, Hamlet, Homer, Iago, John Keats, Macbeth, Madness, Merchant of Venice, John Milton, Othello, Pericles, Psychosis, Radha, Reincarnation, Romeo and Juliet, Shylock, Unconscious

 


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Glamour

Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches on the ...

Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches on the Heath, Chassériau 1855 via Wikipedia

The root of the word glamour (or glamor) comes from the Scottish glaumour (a corrupt form of grammar) and the French grimoire

Glamour originally refers to knowledge of the occult, such as the questionable art of black magic found in the Middle Ages. This could have involved magical spells cast by witches to make ugly persons or things appear beautiful.

Interestingly enough, the three witches in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth (1603 and 1607) proclaim that the young Scot will become Thane of Glamis.

While there doesn’t appear to be any strong etymological connection between glamis and glamour – especially since the first (surviving) written appearance of the English word glamour is 1720 – it’s possible that Shakespeare is playing on known words² that hadn’t yet been written. Or possibly he was intuiting future usage (after all, many creative geniuses do seem to get glimpses of the future).

Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more!”³

While this connection might seem a little far fetched, maybe it isn’t. Scholars suggest that the three witches use their otherworldly wiles to subtly tempt Macbeth through prophecies of worldly power and glory.

While the witches do not tell Macbeth directly to kill King Duncan, they use a subtle form of temptation when they tell Macbeth that he is destined to be king. By placing this thought in his mind, they effectively guide him on the path to his own destruction. This follows the pattern of temptation used at the time of Shakespeare.4

In any case, Macbeth’s worldly success didn’t do him much good. He ended up beheaded and his name became “a hotter name than any is in hell.”5

¹ “glamour | glamor, n.”. OED Online. December 2011. Oxford University Press.

² Just as modern writers make a play on, for instance, history and herstory.

³ http://nfs.sparknotes.com/macbeth/page_58.html

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glamour_%28presentation%29

5 http://nfs.sparknotes.com/macbeth/page_208.html


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Hamlet

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act I, Scene IV by ...

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act I, Scene IV by Henry Fuseli. Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus, and the Ghost, on platform before the Palace of Elsinor via Wikipedia

Hamlet is a Shakespearean character in the tragedy, Hamlet Prince of Denmark (1600-1).

As the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet’s unjustly slain father appears as a ghost. The spirit tells Hamlet that the crime was committed by Claudius and urges revenge. Unfortunately Hamlet kills the wrong man, flees, returns, eventually kills Claudius and is himself killed.

Perhaps most memorable about the play is Hamlet’s extensive philosophical musing prior to making significant decisions. His acute ability to consider countless angles to problems often paralyzes him into inaction. When he does act, he goofs, or partially succeeds without really knowing how (e.g. he seizes a poisoned sword meant to kill him).

The historian of literature, William Rose Benét, says that Hamlet is often regarded as the world’s first “modern man.”

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Iago

Shakespeares Globe by Kieran Lynam

Shakespeare's Globe by Kieran Lynam via Flickr

Iago is William Shakespeare‘s devilishly clever ‘sour grapes’ character in the tragic play Othello.

Passed over for a promotion in the Venetian army, Iago gets insanely jealous of anyone with anything and plots and schemes his chilling revenge through lies and treachery.

Through his deceits he exemplifies intelligent evil at its worst.

After manipulatively tricking Othello into murdering his wife, Desdemona, Iago is finally discovered and, in the compelling BBC TV production of the play, goes to his grisly fate cackling with maniacal glee. Iago is content with the knowledge that his hideous revenge has been secured, despite his captor Lodovico’s decree, The time, the place, the torture,—O, enforce it!

The Bard adds:

It is interesting that, while we learn about Iago’s “fate,” we do not actually see him punished (on stage, that is) which Shakespeare could have easily arranged (given the number of fights and deaths in the play). So, in one sense, evil incarnate goes unpunished before our eyes. The question, of course, remains–why?? » See in context

Ari Moore adds:

I disagree that Iago was “evil” – there are numerous allusions in the play to his being impotent, ferociously intimidated by what he believed was Othello’s superior sexual prowess. I don’t know if that makes him “evil” so much as misguided and unable to deal with life in a healthy way. » See in context