Present Horror

The litmus test for a production of Macbeth is Act II Scene IV. It should be deeply disturbing. An unknown old man talks to the Thane of Ross about how unglued everything has become since the head of state was wantonly murdered in his own bed in the dead of night. And we audience members,…

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People Who Hate People

Bill Hicks, Texas-born comedian of the Outlaw School that flourished in the late 80s and early 90s, had an oddly abbreviated bit that he would trot out on occasion. He'd announce the creation of the People Who Hate People Party, founded by himself, and then quickly describe the fatal conceptual flaw. "Come together!", he would…

Where You Put Your Eyes

When I approach King Lear directly after All's Well That Ends Well, Lear takes on some of the fairy tale atmosphere of the earlier(?) play - Tolstoy's objections, withering as long as there is any pretense of modern psychological insight, vanish under the monolithic weight of archetype. And so all of the mental playgoer post-its…

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…