All is Not Well

The joke about All's Well That Ends Well is, of course that it doesn't end well at all. Helena, the plucky young daughter of a famous physician, bets everything that she can cure the sick King of France. When she succeeds, he promises, in typical fairy tale manner, to give her whatever she likes in…

Soft Spot

Othello is the most tragic of Shakespeare's outsiders, because it almost seems as if he has overcome the barriers that alienate him from his cultural environment. He has had to create a persona that excels in every conceivable way - he has had to become a war hero of matchless courage, a leader radiating cool…

Depth Charge

Maybe you have to listen to Shakespeare's plays in chronological order to get the full force of Measure for Measure's shock value. After a stream of dynamic forceful women, beginning with Joan of Arc and Margaret of Anjou, continuing through Kate the Shrew and the two Portias, Julia and Viola and Rosalind, you might get…

Things Fall Apart

Troilus and Cressida is often regarded as Shakespeare's great anti-war play, but the label doesn't quite stick. One after another, ancient heroes and the cause for which they fight are mercilessly exposed as stupid and futile. Helen of Troy seems perfectly and stupidly happy with her equally twitter-pated kidnapper Paris; Achilles is psychotic, the Greek…

Not one of us

The problem with Twelfth Night is that Malvolio never quite lives up to his name. With all his priggish narcissism he is never quite genuinely mean enough to give his humiliation true comic value. When he chides the midnight revelers to keep quiet and cease their drunken brawling he does have a point, after all.…

Sweet Prince

Hamlet's appeal is inexhaustible - everyone can sympathize with the character who finds himself alone and without allies in the midst of an apparently hostile or at least unfriendly environment. No life is without responsibilities that must be undertaken alone and without anyone else to share the risk or the blame. Hamlet is faced with…

Escape

As You Like It, my favorite Shakespeare comedy - everyone runs off to the forest and hijinks ensue. Evil Duke Frederick has overthrown his brother, the rightful Duke, and banished him and some others - including, later on, the banished Duke's daughter, Rosalind. Since Frederick's own daughter, Celia, is Rosalind's close friend, the two girls…

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Julius Caesar used to be a common text for high school english textbooks (is it still?) I had read just enough about the play by the time my class read it in high school to know the basic hero/villain classification - Brutus was the tragic hero and Mark Antony the villain. But I fell into…

War Noises

I've thought on this recording for several days, unable to wrap my head around it. Henry V gives me the same uneasy feeling as Merchant of Venice - the sense that it's pitched for a very specific audience that no longer exists. Shakespeare takes a familiar popular theme and scrambles it, adding elements that appear to…

I got nothing

Stuck. Stuck and ashamed. I can't think of anything to say about Much Ado About Nothing. I have no hook to tie together a short essay, no vaguely relevant memoir of my personal life, no obscure theatrical figure to research. The play is one of Shakespeare most nearly perfect compositions. The deft interweaving of serious…