A Harsh Truth From Coriolanus

One of the most monumental moments in Shakespeare’s tragedies comes in Act four of Coriolanus. After he has been banished from his native Rome, he travels to Antium and submits his life and service to his inveterate arch rival Tullus Aufidius, the military leader of the Volsces. This initially struck me as puzzling since Coriolanus’ very name was awarded from destroying the Volscian city of Corioles, and now he purposed to fight for the side that he had been fighting so tirelessly against for years on end. Coriolanus was truly a great warrior, yet he himself knew it all too well and condescended the common people of Rome. When he is awarded the title of Coriolanus and is informed that, “The senate are well pleased to make [him] consul,” he is asked to speak to the people. He arrogantly replies with, “let me o’erleap that custom,” having nothing but contempt for them. This creates a fundamental problem since he is warrior dedicated to fighting the cities’ enemies, yet cares nothing for the people he’s fighting for. Shakespeare notes in the play, “The people are the city,” and I believe much of this play is a meditation on that one idea.

Despite this flaw in Coriolanus’ character, he still almost ends up winning the consulship; but two newly elected tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus revolt against him by reminding the people of how Coriolanus cares nothing for them, and how they believe his consulship would be a disaster for the people. The people turn against Coriolanus much like they turn against the conspirators in Julius Caesar and he is publicly denounced and extirpated into exile.

The problem here is obvious if we make the distinction that Coriolanus is more a warrior that fought against his enemies rather than for Rome; a warrior nonetheless at heart, he has to be in action somewhere, and naturally he picks a target that fuels him most; the country that thanked his years of life-risking service with humiliation and banishment. He goes to Aufidius and tells him that he will, “fight against his canker’d country with the spleen of all the underfiends.”

Where before Coriolanus fought against Aufidius because he was, “a lion that [he was] proud to hunt,” presumably because Aufidius was the only one that could actually rival him in battle and one of the only men he respected, his reason now turns to, “mere spite,” “revengeful services,” & “benefits for thee[Aufidius]”.

This moment in the play is a very interesting commentary on how great men can fall when they are acutely aware of their own greatness and feel obligated to put it to use whether for good or ill; yet exercised nonetheless.


Wisdom From A Problem Play

In Measure for Measure Claudio is condemned to die by Angelo, the man commissioned by the duke to take his place for an interim term. Claudio’s offense is particularly mild as he merely got his girlfriend Julia pregnant before they were officially solemnized. Claudio’s life goes from happy to dire overnight, and death pervades his every thought while he awaits to see if he will end up paying with his life at his young and inexperienced age.

The duke, disguised as a friar, goes to visit Claudio in prison. He asks him if he hopes for pardon from the acting deputy Angelo. He responds that he is prepared for death yet hopes to live. The disguised duke responds with one of the most magnificent speeches in all of Shakespeare which begins:

“Be absolute for death: either death or life shall thereby be the sweeter.” 3.1 5-6

Shakespeare is showing the vexing nature of having a divided mind, and how having an attitude of indifference makes bad haps seem worse and good ones seem unimportant; we therefore must be absolute. This actually makes sense applied to anything. If we set out to do and we are absolute, we are either going to achieve what we set out to accomplish, or fail knowing that we gave it our all, which is a win in itself. If we are not absolute our failures sting the more and our triumphs seem all the more as trivial.

Shakespeare cautions us to be grateful in any case:

“Happy thou art not; for what thou hast not, still thou striv’st to get, and what thou hast, forgetest.” 3.1 21-23

10 Tragedies; 10 Dangers

Titus Andronicus; the Dangers of Revenge.

Romeo and Juliet; the Dangers of Forbidden Love.

Julius Caesar; the Dangers of Persuasion.

Hamlet; the Dangers of Doubt.

Othello; the Dangers of Jealousy.

Macbeth; the Dangers of Superstition.

King Lear; the Dangers of Wrath.

Antony and Cleopatra; the Dangers of Lust.

Coriolanus; the Dangers of Pride.

Timon of Athens; the Dangers of Money.

Macbeth: an Embellished History! Part 1

If someone were to ask you if you knew the story of Macbeth, you might think someone was insulting your intelligence, but the real story has been obscured by the riveting rendition by the Bard. Historically Macbeth’s wife actually had a reasonable claim to the throne as her grandfather had been King. Her grandfather, King Kenneth III, was killed by King Duncan’s grandfather in battle, and the Moray’s {Macbeth’s family line} had an inveterate rivalry with the Scottish Kings. Historically, King Duncan was not killed during an overnight sojourn with Macbeth but at the Battle of Pitgaveny. Shakespeare may have borrowed the idea of a lavish banquet coupled with an impending act of treachery from a legend regarding a golden apple and the Scottish King Kenneth II. It goes something like this: a highborn woman’s son had been sentenced to death by this King Kenneth the second; and because her son had justly deserved this punishment, the King didn’t suspect she would seek retaliation on him. But this was a malicious and vindictive woman who had in fact helped her son commit the murder which he was being sentenced for; moreover, the King didn’t suspect any retribution on the mother’s part was because the crime was actually committed against this woman’s own father. After the King carries out this sentence on her son, she then invites this King to visit her own dwelling for an extremely lavish banquet [perhaps flattering him for his Virtuous Justice]. Knowing the King’s taste for magnificence, after the end of this great feast, she leads him to an adjoining room glazed in copper, with flowers, marvelous imported furniture, rich tapestries interwoven with gold, and also a majestic bronze statue of the very King himself holding a glimmering gem-laden golden apple. They stood in front of the statue admiring all of its intricate detail until she told him that the golden apple was a gift for him. She walks away at this point pretending to admire a tapestry in the corner; and he, brimming with joy and gloating over his lavish gift, takes the glimmering apple into his hand…and BOOM! It sets off a hidden contraption she had built into the statue, imparting multiple lethal wounds all over his body. Her retribution for her son is satisfied. Shakespeare chooses to make the Macbeths’ motive for murder ambition rather than revenge, yet by incorporating the device of offering hospitality as an accomplice to one’s odious intentions, he emphasizes the theme of deception, a recurring theme in the tragedies. After Macbeth’s death in 1057, it was actually his wife’s son Lulach {his stepson} that inherited the crown, but because he was ambushed shortly thereafter by Malcolm, who was then coronated and reigned for over thirty years, Shakespeare chose to excise that detail. Although Shakespeare paints Macbeth’s reign as brief and full of strife, his time as King was primarily stable, and the lengthy seventeen year reign he enjoyed should not be abridged out of his life’s story. Reserved for Kings held in high regard, he was buried in the anointed ground of Iona.

Wisdom from the Fool

“I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are. They’ll have me whipped for speaking true, thou’lt have me whipped for lying, and sometimes I am whipped for holding my peace.” The fool shows the idea here that with some people we just can’t win. Saying the truth, they consider it not our place to speak. Lying, we’re a lowlife, and saying nothing we’re somehow a co-conspirator just as guilty as the culprits. That’s why before making a decision to argue, we can ask ourselves if this person is going to make us wrong no matter what. When settling disputes, we can put pride and blame aside and work towards an actual solution. The fool notices how people have an insatiable desire to always be right; however being right doesn’t really prove beneficial, unless it leads to reconciliation. The rub of all this is that when someone actually is in the right, they tend to flout this with an egotistical scorn engendering hate and resentment. This in turn sabatoges any chance of moving forward heating animosity and spite which can only be relieved with humility, understanding, forgiveness & love.

Helena; She Gives All For Love! All’s Well That Ends Well

“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to heaven.”

Helena is going to pursue the Count Bertram, although, it will be anything but easy. Helena cures the King and asks to be granted one request; the count’s hand in marriage. She accomplishes the King’s restoration from remedies left by her father. She was fortunate to know her father’s cures, but that alone does not win her cause. After hazarding her own life against the success of her father’s medicines, she exemplifies a great example of persistance and courage, pursuing her heart’s desire even after being harshly scolded by the count for her simple backround.  She is a hero that inspires us to attain the impossible. Helena jumps through hoops in order to fulfill Bertram’s two impracticle requests; {getting} a child by him (after he had foregone all association with her) and procuring off his very finger the treasured and invaluable family ring that he promises to never part withal, yet All’s Well That Ends Well in this story of intrepidity. Bertam affirms the hint of an engagement and promises to love her dearly, ever ever dearly. In spite of our reservation’s about him, Bertram does stay true to himself. Yet after agreeing to marriage and appeasing the King, he skips town altogether becoming a soldier and tarnishing our view of the constancy of his character, yet ultimately he redeems himself and shows he was simply presaging a motif from The Tempest; Prospero’s philosophy of…

this swift business I must uneasy make, lest too light winning make the prize light.

Was Bertram perfect, no; he said some very unkind things at the King and Helena’s attendance, yet Helena fancied him and that’s all that matters. Shakespeare sheds light on the notion that when you love someone, you don’t love them because they’re perfect, but rather because that’s what your heart feels. To borrow from Midsummer, “Things base and vile, holding no quantity, love can transpose to form and dignity. ” Yes, Bertram verbally agrees to marry Helena and then books it out of town, planning to never reunite, yet putting our judgmental hat aside we can look at his character from a sympathetic perspective. He is pressured by the King to marry Helena with yes being the only acceptable answer. According to the King, she is young, wise, [and] fair, but these words spoken are from the King just cured of being gravely ill. The King is here at least partially biased. Bertram doesn’t like the idea of someone choosing for him; we may be reminded of Portia [Merchant] who laments, “O me, the word choose! I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike.” Maybe he is accustomed to some idiosyncrasies of Helena’s which he just can’t stand. In any case, Bertram has no say; the King puts him in a position where if he absolutely rejected her, he would lose all the honor he enjoys as a count. Bertram’s having none of that and consequentially gives Helena a seemingly impossible task. The fact that Helena endures what she does; following him through dangerous war zones and using the bed-trick in order to have his child, clearly shows there’s more to her love than meets the eye. She obviously loves some things about him that no one would understand unless they were her. The fact that he is good-looking [his arched brows…his curls…his sweet favour] isn’t enough to justify her undying zeal to win his love. Perhaps Bertram’s lesson to Helena was akin to Portia’s father’s counsel: who chooseth me must give and hazard all (s)he hath. After the vicissitudes of her journey, we can say with confidence that Helena satisfied this.

Pericles Journey!

The essence of Pericles is hope and miracle. At the beginning of Act Three, a strong tempest rages at sea. 

The Queen Thaisa bears Pericles’ daughter, Marina, at sea and is consequently presumed lifeless following childbirth (as was common in Shakespeare’s day). Pericles laments, “O you gods! Why do you make us love your goodly gifts, and snatch them straight away?” The storming waters cause the sailors to panic and demand that the Queen’s body go overboard; they are superstitious and believe the turburlent waters will refuse to abate; Pericles immediately calls them out on their illogical thinking, yet the sailors are headstrong and not-to-be-changed; Pericles has no choice but to relent. He offers a farewell to Thaisa that is simply heartbreaking;

A terrible childbed hast thou had my dear

No light, no fire, The unfriendly elements

Forgot thee utterly! Nor have I time

To give the hallowed to thy grave, but straight

Must cast thee, scarcely coffin’d, in the ooze

Lying with simple shells

he then requests three items to give her the most dignified burial he can; spices, to give pleasant aroma to her casket, ink and paper, to facilitate a solemn appeal for her burial, [should the casket be retrieved from the waters] and jewels, to fund the dignified burial that she so deserves. Pericles writes thus:

Here I give to understand,

If e’er this coffin drives-land,

I, King Pericles, have lost

This queen, worth all our mundane cost.

Who finds her, give her burying;

She was the daughter of a king.

Besides this treasure for a fee,

The gods requite his charity!

Although he had no expectation of ever seeing her again after the sailors put Thaisa overboard, Pericles reserved a modicum of hope that she might be found and revived.

Miraculously, her case does indeed wash ashore; and even more miraculously, she manages to cling to life through the tempestuous waters.

Pericles and Thaisa are ultimately reunited almost twenty years later, and Pericles thanks the gods most robustly:

“You gods, your present kindness makes my past miseries sports.”

In a moment of overwhelming joy he bids her, “Come, be buried a second time within these arms.” 

Shakespeare is teaching us the magnitude and power the force of hope can hold. Pericles had every reason to resign to what appeared to be a foregone conclusion, but with what hope he kept, close within his heart, it grew most beautiful into the gift of a miracle.

How Hamlet Defines What it Means to be Human Part. 2

Shakespeare’s contemporary Montaigne writes, in his essay, “Of The Inconsistency Of Our Actions,” that, “Whoever will look narrowly into his own bosom will hardly find himself twice in the same condition. I give to my soul sometimes one face and sometimes another, according to the side I turn her to. If I speak variously of myself, it is because I consider myself variously; all the contraries are there to be found in one corner or another; after one fashion or another: bashful, insolent; chaste, lustful; prating, silent; laborious, delicate; ingenious, heavy; melancholic, pleasant, lying, true; knowing, ignorant; liberal, covetous, and prodigal: I find all this in myself, more or less, according as I turn myself about; and whoever will sift him to the bottom, will find in himself, and even in his own judgement, this volubility and discordance.” These contraries are most prevalent in our title character throughout Shakespeare’s monumental tragedy. So much so, in fact, that more is written on Hamlet than almost any other subject in existence.

We witness Hamlet’s melancholic side when he says of his mourning black attire, “I have that indeed which passes show, these but the trappings and the suits of woe.” 

We see his creative side when he contrives a scheme to expose the king’s treachery, boldly resolving, “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” 

We see his charming and affable side when he greets the players come to town, jovially remarking, “You are welcomemasters; welcome, allI am glad to see thee wellWelcome, good friends.” 

His abusive side is made evident through Ophelia’s confiding to her father that Hamlet, “took me by the wrists and held me hard.” 

His conflictive nature is apparent when he denies loving Ophelia, scolding her and claiming, “not I, I never gave you aught,” then later professes, “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum.” 

We see a satirical side to Hamlet with Polonius in the “words, words, words” scene, when he conjures the sarcastic response, “Yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.” 

We also see a gentle and kind side to Hamlet. In his private conversation with his loyal friend Horatio; he eloquently confides his admiration, “Give me that man that is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him in my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of hearts, as I do THEE.”

We even see his cruel side; as in the closet scene with Gertrude. He rails at her with a hateful ferocity that vexes her so deeply, she desperately pleads to the son she so dearly loves, “O speak to me no more; these words like daggers enter in my ears. No more, sweet Hamlet.”

We are as varied within ourselves as the snowflakes that in winter fall. Hamlet is a man of contraries, and so are all of us; some more than others. He exemplifies the multi-faceted nature of humankind, showing our inherently dynamic essence.

We know what we are but not what we may be.”

Love’s Labour’s Won, not lost after all? You decide.

It has been generally accepted that Love’s Labour’s Won is The Bard’s lost comedy. Although I acknowledge this theory as a reasonable possibilty, I do not believe it to be the case. Love’s Labour’s Won was first mentioned by the minister Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia pamphlet published in 1598, subtitled: Wits Treasury. He lists twelve plays in total, five of which, for relevance sake, I will name; listed in this order they are: The Comedy Of Errors, Love’s Labours Lost, Love’s Labour’s Won, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merchant Of Venice. The only play out of these five unfamiliar to Shakespeare’s canon is Love’s Labour’s Won. If we look at the plot of its companion, Love’s Labour’s Lost, we understand how its title is appropriate; at its conclusion, all of the gentlemen’s efforts, including The King Of Navarre, to woo and win their ladies do in fact fail, and their Labour has been Lost

Concerning the supposed lost play, my opinion, which is shared by others, including Gregory Dolan of the RSC, is that Love’s Labour’s Won & Much Ado About Nothing are the same play. In 2:1 of Much Ado, carefully scan what Don PedroThe Prince Of Arragon declares to his companions. He says, “I will in the interim undertake one of Hercules Labours, which is, to bring Signior Benedick and Lady Beatrice into a mountain of affection the one with the other.” Not only is the actual word Labours used but it’s used in the context of pursuing the goal of causing two people to fall in Love; which in the end, if we read Much Ado, we find out ends up being Won. Add to that the fact that the most famous part of the Hercules Legend, especially in Shakespeare’s time, was the triumph of his twelve Grueling Labour’s; which to draw another parallel, the Love between Benedick and Lady Beatrice isn’t achieved with ease, but with persistent effort.

The quarto copy of Much Ado, printed in 1600, mentions on the title page to have been acted many times before. If we take this into consideration and compare it to other quartos such as King Lear, published in 1608 and generally accepted to have been written in 1605, we get a three year window, putting a likely composition date for the potential LLW as 1597. LLL first recorded performance was at Court on Christmas in 1597 for Queen Elizabeth. The two comedies likely being written together, the “sequel” being performed subsequently forthwith, is reasonable evidence that Francis Meres would have been acquainted enough with the play we know as Much Ado in time to list it in his Wits Treasury when published in 1598 and catalogued with the Stationer’s Register September 7th.

It’s also important to point out that The Merchant Of Venice [mentioned among the five plays I named as listed in the Palladis Tamia] was published in quarto the same year as Much Ado [1600], making it reasonable to deduce that Much Ado was extant in performance around the same time as Merchant; taking this liklihood into account, because both Merchant and LLW are specified on the same list and there is no mentioning of a Much Ado About Nothing leaves the possibility that Meres’ reference to LLW was the play we know as Much Ado.

Given the tremendous success of Much Ado, as well as its popularity and critical acclaim, it seems inconceivable Meres would excise the play from his list of The Bard’s best, leaving us to deduce that he did in fact include it in his list but recorded it under an alternate title.

It’s important to note that this wouldn’t be the only time an alternate title would be used for one of Shakespeare’s plays. Henry VIII was also known as All Is True, Twelfth Night as What You Will, not to mention that the quarto of King Henry VI Part II, published in 1594, was titled without even mentioning King Henry, being labeled as The First Part Of The Contention.

Now I want to call your attention to The First Folio of 1623; if we suppose that The Much Ado About Nothing we know today is, in fact, Love’s Labour’s Won, and if we take the five plays in the Palladis Tamia that I initially mentioned, beginning with The Comedy Of Errors and ending with The Merchant Of Venice, The SAME FIVE plays are grouped ALL TOGETHER in The FF of 1623; almost in the Exact Same OrderErrors is first on page 85, then Much Ado/LLW on page 101, then LLL on page 122, then Midsummer on page 145, and then finally Merchant on page 163. If Much Ado/LLW was printed successive to LLL instead of Errors, the order would be identical. If we consider LLL and LLW two plays written together, primarily to complement their contrasting conclusions, and we don’t dwell on which one is sequel to the other, then these five, for all practical purposes, are printed in the same order found in Francis Meres’ Palladis Tamia.

Lost play? OR… Have we had it all along?! What do Y’ALL think?! Maybe sleep on it? Anyways, that’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading, and REMEMBER TO MAKE IT A BARDTASTIC DAY!