Cymbeline

Why This Play?:

If I’m being honest, I read it because this was the next DVD that came up in my Netflix queue.  So let’s continue on the late romance trend!

Cymbeline is known as the single play that includes all of Shakespeare's greatest hits -- a woman disguised as a man, a villain who incites jealousy without cause, reunion of family members, war.  And that's just to name a few.  There's a theme that takes over the entire final scene, with more examples than I've ever seen in any other Bard play -- forgiveness.  Repentance/forgiveness happens in many other works (Hero forgives Claudio, Othello is devastated by his actions, etc).  But in Cymbeline, we see it in spades.  Nearly all the characters get into the game of apologizing and showing mercy.  Which of course, gets me thinking about forgiveness in our own lives.  Is there some secret formula to letting go of past issues and moving on without malice?

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The Tempest

Why This Play?:

I wanted to start the year off with a romance play.  There’s something about the dark days and sparkle of the Christmas season that bring me to mind of the literal magic in Shakespeare’s late works.  Both the time of year and the romances can be dark and foreboding while still somehow optimistic and breathtakingly beautiful.  These are the plays that manage to be everything at once, especially The Tempest.  We have here a story of revenge and forgiveness, of magic and mayhem, romance, murder plots, freedom, and some pretty fun comedy.  It’s a tall order, and old Bill delivers.

This play makes me drift back to the part of my childhood that feels like a vivid dream: the year my family lived in Barbados.  Yes, you heard me right.  In reflecting back on my own family’s island time, I had all kinds of swirly thoughts running through my head.  I wondered how if no man is an island, then why do we insist on sometimes acting as if we are? 

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Antony & Cleopatra

Why This Play?:

It was the penultimate play that my FutureLearn class tackled.  I’m still trying to stick to the reading schedule for that course, despite the fact that it ended earlier this month (luckily, the lesson material is still online, so I’m slowly but surely going to finish the course!).  The holidays and other recent events have thrown my schedule for reading/writing off course, and my alone time has greatly diminished the past few weeks.  I have firm plans to get back on track in 2016!

Antony & Cleopatra is like Romeo & Juliet, all grown up.  Because they’re grown-ups, the stakes of their doomed love are much higher -- they’ve built much bigger lives and have a broader scope of influence than a couple of teenagers.  They manage to screw up entire empires over each other.  And throughout the whole ordeal, Antony has a friend who’s watching helplessly as it all unfolds.  It’s an epic love story, and an epic disaster story.  So what happens when you’re the one who’s trying to keep everything from burning to the ground?  It’s a Type-A’s nightmare, y’all.

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Othello

Why This Play?:

Oh, y’all.  I’ve been so very, very behind.  And I have swell excuses.  First off, my years-ago brush with the Macbeth curse reared its ugly head in the exact same manner after just writing about the play – I came down with laryngitis a couple of days after that last blog post.  Cursed, cursed play!  And then here in the States, I hosted our Thanksgiving meal and spent all my free time for a few days refining the menu and prepping dishes.  Then we decorated the house for the holidays, and the kids were constantly under my feet, I’m volunteering at the school…the list of excuses that I have for not writing goes on and on.  But if I’m honest, I’ve been stalling.

I think the real reason I put off writing about Othello is that it is a very disturbing play.  For all my love of horror movies and the gore of other plays, it’s this domestic drama that really scares me.  This blog encompasses my own personal view of Shakespeare – how I interpret and relate to the Bard’s works through events/feelings in my own little life.  No one wants to think Othello’s themes of jealousy, racism, gender issues, domestic violence, or manipulation are represented in her own life.  I’ve been skirting around my thoughts of Desdemona in particular and how she’s the worst-case scenario of what happens when women are viewed as prizes rather than partners.  And let’s face it – every woman has been there to some degree.

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Macbeth

Why This Play?:

I just finished this week’s FutureLearn lesson on Macbeth.  It was easily the most interesting yet.  We examined Elizabethean attitudes about witchcraft, the idea of frenzy versus actual madness, and medical practices of the time.  We asked ourselves about the nature of evil and Shakespeare’s radical idea that in Macbeth, evil comes from within a man himself rather than through divine/demonic intervention. 

We all see glimpses of evil every day.  Simply turn on your phone, scroll through some daily headlines, and read about horrible things that people do to each other.  I thought upon reading this play that I’d probably end up writing about the supernatural (it’s fun and interesting!) in this post.  Last weekend’s news out of Lebanon and France shifted my thoughts to this question: how do we deal with everyday evil?

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Henry V

Why This Play?:

Well, we just passed the 600th anniversary of the Battle at Agincourt (Oct 25)!  Plus, my Shakespeare class covered this play two weeks ago, and I’m slowly catching up.  Plus-plus, it’s nice to fully round off the tale of Prince Hal's transformation to King Harry.  The professor leading my online class did a marvelous job of giving a good background on the Tudor history at the time the play was actually written, comparing the character of Henry V and the reality of then monarch, Elizabeth I, as well as paralleling the battles in France with the coming of the Spanish Armada.  Two stirring orators, two beloved English figures who had a myth about them even during their lifetime, two lonely leaders who make hard decisions for their nation.

The thing that struck me most about the play is that it emphasizes just how lonely it can be at the top.  Everyone doubts leaders at some point – especially themselves.  How can the one in charge trust that he will lead others down the correct path?  

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

Why This Play?: 

Half my life ago, I was a teenager on her first trip to Europe.  My English teachers took a group of students on a two-week literary tour of Ireland and the UK.  In many ways (e.g. my pop culture preferences), I’ve been trying for 17 years to chase the magic of that trip.  On the southern border of Scotland, I purchased a huge, pale pink, perfect cashmere sweater.  Ever since, it’s served as my personal security blanket, and is one of my prized (if battered) possessions.  It’s warm, filled with great memories, and always there when I need it.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my literary equivalent of that sweater.  It’s the first Shakespeare I ever read, back in my dreamy, very bookish twelve-year-old days (eh, what's changed?).  The play that always makes me still kinda-sorta believe in fairies.  It’s the last play in which I performed…although hopefully that is not forever the case.  This is the play I read in the winter when I’m dreaming of warm days and long hikes in the woods.  It’s not necessarily my favorite in all of Shakespeare, but reading or seeing it is always like greeting an old friend.

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The Merry Wives of Windsor

Why This Play?:

Two reasons.  1) After both the Henry IV plays, it was nice to round out the Falstaff saga.  Now I can dust my hands of the man!  2) My MOOC on Shakespeare was diving into this play last week, so it all aligned nicely. 

Merry Wives is a wholly underestimated work.  It doesn’t receive enough credit for the trope of “strong females” when Shakespeare’s heroines are discussed and analyzed in literary criticism and lectures.  This is also the play that is the most…well, normal, in its premise.  The one that’s most similar to the lives of Shakespeare’s actual audience in the London theatres (as opposed to royal viewers at court).  No royalty, no wars, no Italy, no murder, no magic.  Just married folks in a quiet English town, ready to throw down the nasty varlet who arrives to upheave their steady lives for his own gain.

Plenty of critics call it boring, but The Merry Wives of Windsor may just give the stamp of approval on being content with a simple life.  Does that really have to be so boring?

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Henry IV, Part II

Before we dive in, I have to give a hearty hello and internet salute to students of the FutureLearn Shakespeare and His World course (currently ongoing and FREE for any interested parties).  Just wanted to say thanks for the support and encouragement you’ve thrown my way, even in just checking these pages out.  I greatly enjoy getting to interact with such interested and perceptive folks from all over the world through that course.  See you all on the course discussion boards! 

Why This Play?:

I’ve been thinking a lot on the nature of friendship and growing up since my kids started school (my daughter began kindergarten in August, my son just started preschool last week).  They have a few little buddies, but school days are where friendships really begin, right?  In their new little daily worlds, outside of the influence of hovering parents.  I’ve been reflecting on how intimacy can go wrong and where it can be so right.  Why we cut ties versus continuing to nurture relationships.  Friendship tiers, if you will.  Falstaff and Hal seemed like a natural fit for that train of thought.

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King Lear

Why This Play?:

I just saw a very interesting production of Lear this past weekend at California Shakespeare Festival.  I was so excited to see one of the most intense, densest plays I’d ever studied, just to see how that level of drama would be staged (and I’m always curious to see what text gets cut along the way).  Plus, literature-challenged Hubs decided to join me! 

The Tragedy of King Lear would best bear the subtitle “How Not to Be a Family, in Every Possible Way”.  We see here examples on how not to parent, how not to act towards a spouse, how not to treat your siblings, and how not to carry out filial duty.  Generational power struggles abound!  And when is it ever a bad time to dive headfirst into an insanely dark tragedy that studies the cruelties of man as determined through free will rather than a pre-destined course?

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Henry IV, Part I

Why This Play?:

Mostly, it was just time for another history play.  I know I’ve been going at these plays in no real order thus far…and that’s probably going to continue.  There are sure to be 0.43 readers out there who are rolling their eyes that I didn’t do Richard II prior to this play.  I don’t really have any defense – my week’s selection is either based around available performances (ahem, my Netflix queue) or mere whim.  While I know the basics of the War of Roses that make up 8 of the history plays, I’m also trying to write posts that would help make sense of it for someone new to the plays who had zero background knowledge (hi, Hubs!!).  I promise in the case of true sequels (i.e. the Henry plays), I will not read them out of order.  Probably, maybe.

Certainly the first part of Henry IV is a play about growing up.  There’s Hal, messing around and acting the fool, mentored by the ultimate drunken Peter Pan.  Even at the beginning of the play, Hal admits to himself that this time has to be short lived.  He knows that he will eventually take up his royal obligation, and he even states of his time in the tavern: “If all the year were playing holidays,/To sport would be as tedious as to work” (I.ii.201-202).  And good Lord, doesn’t every one of us know that from experience?  

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Much Ado About Nothing

Why This Play?:

Time and again, this play makes an appearance when I need to shake up my life.  Seriously, it magically worms its way onto my path, gives me a kick in the ass, and points me onto the proper bend in the road I didn’t previously notice.  Much Ado’s characters, its humor and love, its theme of redemption/forgiveness in the face of darkness always manages to pull me out of a funk; to kick my ass into gear again. 

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Julius Caesar

Why This Play?:

Behold, the play that everyone studied in high school except for yours truly (my lone wolf teacher pressed Hamlet upon us instead).  For the life of me, I had trouble seeing why this one is so prevalent among tenth grade English classes.  Most kids have studied Romeo and Juliet the year before – how about switching in one of the comedies instead of Caesar?  I mean, let’s grant the youth of America a respite from the suicide motif.  Perhaps teachers spin this play as a cautionary tale against hanging with the wrong crowd?  Not being wrongly influenced by dumbass friends? I searched the Internet for teaching guides on this play, and found my hypothesis to be pretty spot on. Julius Caesar, warning kids of the dangers of peer pressure for decades.  Don’t let your friends talk you into killing a potential tyrant, kids – you may end up causing a civil war and killing yourself over it!

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Romeo & Juliet

In which the “Mama” part of the Dreadpiratemama moniker comes into play.  In other words, I took a 5 year old to see one of the most famous love stories of all time…and it happened to be her very first live theatre experience. 

Why This Play?:

So far, I’ve written on plays that were new to me, so it’s time to dive into a play that I already know well.  Admittedly, it’s weirdly intimidating writing about something that everyone else also knows pretty well.  What new points could possibly be made that haven’t already been beaten to death? 

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Richard III

**Side note: Bear with me, y’all.  I got really excited and just kept writing.  Doubt that future posts will all be this long.**

Why This Play?:

I had never read nor seen this one, which is strange because it’s so freaking famous.  I have a mental block over most of the history plays, somehow thinking that if I don’t know enough about the War of the Roses then I’m not going to have any idea what’s happening.  [All you really need to know about it for now – two families, Lancaster and York, spent decades trading the crown back and forth and killing each other to do so.]  Tudor history I’ve got down, but the generations leading up to that?  Not so much.

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