Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oh, Argh

Falstaff ain't dead! I hate that fat bastard!

To refresh, in case you've forgotten: Falstaff (Sir Fat Bastard) appears in both parts of Henry IV. He was a close friend of the prince, who goes on to be Henry V. At the end of Henry IV part 2, Shakespeare promises Falstaff will be in the next one, too, but he isn't. Just somebody comes on stage and announces that he died.

Now, suddenly, he is alive again and central to the plot of Merry Wives of Windsor. This one is about a bunch of rich, self-involved couples who have nothing better to do with their time than wonder whether they'd all be faithful to one another if they were tempted to be otherwise, and Sir Fat Bastard is more than happy to be the temptor. He winds up dressing in ladies' clothing, hiding in a laundry hamper, dressing as a tree sprite of some sort, and finally getting his ass kicked but good in the wilderness (well, technically, he gets his ass pinched, but I gather that was really humiliating for him). He ends this play all come-upped, exactly as I wished he would have all along.

I wasn't sure when this play was supposed to have been set. I'm trying to read the histories in order (except for one mistake I made with, I think, one of the Richards), but the comedies and tragedies I'm just plowing through as I grab 'em. I didn't realize Sir FB was going to be in this one, so I didn't know I probably shoudl have read it before he up and died. So I looked it up.

Turns out nobody's really sure. Did he write it in the middle of the Henrys or after or before? Is it set at the time of them, and if so, why doesn't he mention any of the goings-on? For that matter, why isn't he going with the goings-on? Etcetera.

Well, you know what? I got all the above information from the wikipedia page about it, so I really have no idea what I'm talking about, but here's what I think happened:

For some reason, those Elizabethan audiences really loved the Fat Bastard. That's why Shakespeare made sure to mention at the end of Henry IV part 2 that he'd be appearing in Henry V. But then he just didn't have room for him in Henry V, what with all the other derring-do that had to be there (and what with the Prince's new character and everything), so he left him out -- with just that nod to his death to remind us who Henry V used to be, and to let the audience know he hadn't plain forgotten.

Now, I bet the audiences were pissed. They liked him, they'd been promised him, and he wasn't there. I bet Shakespeare just knew he could make a load of cabbage if he wrote a whole new play featuring him, and so he did. And it's kind of like "The West Wing" -- it exists in a parallel contemporary universe, in which no true events have any bearing on the story.

Ta da! Problem solved.

Any other lingering quanndaries anyone want to run by me?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I'll Take the Fail

I read Henry the Sixth, Part III. Finished it weeks ago. Well, two weeks, at least. But I just can't think of anything to say about it. Lots of dead people, lots of turncoating, lots of typical royal bullshit. I've been simmering it, thinking I'll coe up with something, but I haven't, and tomorrow, if all goes well, I will finish reading the next play on my list. So I've decided:

Not always, but in lots of college classes that I took, you would get one free pass. One lab report you were allowed to fuck royally up on, one paper that you were allowed to hand in late, one weekly quiz you were allowed to skip completely. It was like an acknowledgement of the fact of human foible, and an act of forgiveness for it.

So I choose this one. Maybe because there are just too many plays about dead kings, I've gotten bored. Maybe because I don't know enough about English history to put it into context (although, from what I've read, these stories aren't always so much accurate themselves). Or maybe just because I'm coming down the home stretch and I'm getting lazy. But whatver the reason is that I can't do this one, I can't, and so I'm taking a pass.

Or a fail.

Whatever.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Five Study Questions on The Merchant of Venice

1. Did Shylock make a dishonest loan? Or is the whole thing Antonio's fault because should have known there was a possibility his ships would sink and he wouldn't be able to pay it back? Discuss.

2. Didn't two random guys have a big conversation on page one about how ships sink all the time? Isn't foreshadowing your key to quality entertainment? Or am I thinking of thinly-disguised metaphor? Discuss.

3. I'm still not clear on how Portia winds up getting to play the judge? Discuss?

4. Shouldn't Shylock have taken the money from all the other folks who offered it? But then again, they were all really mean to him, weren't they? But if he wanted to kill Antonio, why didn't he just hire some old grunt to do it, like every royal person always does? Shylock is definitely the bad guy here, even if he's right to be pissed off at being called a Dirty Jew, right? But that means the good guy is the rich guy? How's that possible? Hasn't Shakespeare ever read a fairy tale in his life? Discuss.

5. Either way, don't you think taking all the stuff away from the person who makes the bad loan, giving half of it to his debtors and half to the government is a really good idea? Don't you think we ought to have more cross-dressing, unqualified judges on the court? Discuss!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who's In Charge Here, Anyway?

When Johnny and I went to Istanbul a couple years ago, we went to the Topkapi Palace and I laughed at the stories of the Sultans. They couldn't stay in power for more than a couple years before somebody killed them and took their place -- sometimes they couldn't stay alive long enough to get to power, because people would kill them just to take their place in line. And usually it was the mothers orchestrating all of this, because for a woman there was no greater honor in the land than being the Queen Mum, so to speak. So a potential Sultan Mama would off her nephew or brother or whatever just to give her own son a leg up. We read about one guy who was crowned (or whatever you call it) at the age of thirty-something having spent his entire life to that point in a cage -- literally in a cage -- to protect him. Once he because Sultan they had to let him out, though, and somebody snuffed him out within the year.

I may have some or all of those details wrong, but my point is this: Henry VI sure has a lot of parts! Seriously, I just finished II and it isn't over yet. I don't know how there's going to be anybody left to act in # III, though, seeing as how they're offing one another right and left.

I am no scholar of history. The parts I remember are all from high school, and have to do with important milestones like the Norman invasion, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and The Curse (regarding which Mr. Trocchio lied -- he said if we were ever in doubt we could use it as the answer to a question, but when I did, he wrote "Nice try, Ellia," and marked it wrong. The bastard). So although it's stupid, it should not be surprising that I really was under the impression that all these English kings and queens with all these numbers after their names were succeeding one another honestly according to generation. This is just not so.

I must interrupt myself here to vent about a common Miss Manners rule violation that really bugs me, and I don't know when I'll ever have the opportunity to point it out again, so here we go: Kings and queens are the only ones allowed to have numbers after their names larger than, say, IV. The rest of us are only as many as there are alive. If you were a III and your father and grandfather are both dead, then you are now Sr. and your son is Jr. That's just how it works. It doesn't matter if your family's been passing the name down since they came over on the Mayflower. They should have stayed in England if they wanted the opportunity to be an XVI.

And apparently they would have got it, too, because according to this book, just about everyone can trace their lineage to royalty somehow. And if you can keep your head on your shoulders, it just might wind up underneath a crown.

Or course, if you can't, it might wind up on the queen's lap having its hair brushed like a beauty salon doll.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's Really Quite Atrocious

Love's Labour's Lost is an extraordinarily apt title for an extraordinarily odd play.

It starts out with three friends (it doesn't even really matter that one of them's a king, except that it means he gets to tell his friends what to do, and isn't there one of those in every gang?) deciding to swear off women for a while. They have all these high-falutin reasons, but they don't matter. What matters is that they last about as long as Kramer did in the "Master of Your Domain" episode of "Seinfeld." One falls, but he has a good excuse and no way out of it, and so the other two decide to fall as well.

Now, the ladies are interested in the boys as well, but because it's Shakespeare, they cannot go gently. So there's this whole interior plot about the boys dressing up as Russians, and the ladies dressing up as one another, so everybody can whisper sweet nothings into the wrong ear and then say mean things about each other to their face. It's a hoot, I'm telling you.

Anyway, after much ado, it all gets straightened out. The No Ma'am pact gets tossed by the wayside, everybody figures out who everybody is, and they are all officially In Love with the proper partners. And then, for no reason that I can figure, they just suddenly drop the ball and run away.

One of the ladies decides the best next step to take is to send her boy to live in isolation for a year, and if he still loves her when he returns, well then happy days. He, naturally, thinks this idea is cracker. The other two couples follow suit and then this fourth couple -- who've only been incidental to the story -- decide to go for three years, just to be safe. And that's the end.

Love's labor's lost, indeed.

He even says right on the last page (well, okay, it's like the third-to-last page in my book, but whatever):

Berowne: Our wooing doth not end like an old play;
Jack hath not Jill; these ladies' courtesy
Might well have made our sport a comedy
King: Come sir, it wants a twelvemonth and a day,
And then 'twill end
Berowne: That's too long for a play. 

You bet your boop it is. So why bother? What a bizarre turn of events. All the hysterical dress-up stuff, odd circumstances, guys with funny accents, jokes in Latin, and even, in the middle, a "great feast of languages" including the word honorificabilitudinitatibus -- and all for naught!

Ah, I see. Wikipedia says there was a sequel written, that has since been lost to the ages. It was called, of all things, Love's Labour's Won, and in it, supposedly, the whole gang gets back together and has another bunch of wacky misadventures.

A Very Bardy Christmas, if you will.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eli Manning Is a Witch and a Slut and a Liar and a Whore

I've been reading some about Henry VI Part I, because it didn't seem to me to be about Henry VI at all, and I wanted to make sure I was understanding it correctly. What I've learned is #1. Yes, the Sir John Fastolfe in this play is indeed supposed to be the same Sir John Falstaff who, um, died in Henry V. #2. This is either the first play Shakespeare ever wrote, before he had any idea what he was doing, or else he didn't really write the thing at all, and #3. He seems to have gotten most of the facts regarding Joan of Arc 100% wrong.

#3 is actually cited sometimes as evidence of #2. He presents St. Joan as a witch and a slut and a liar and a whore, and people say someone as educated and as worldly as the Bard couldn't possibly have misunderstood her so completely. But I say bunkum. I say he didn't misunderstand the girl at all. I say he was merely an Englishman writing about a French national hero -- a French national hero, by the way, who played an instrumental role in the English having had their asses handed to them in the Hundred Years War -- and he his natural inclination was to present her in the worst possible light.

I, of course, and above such petty foolishness. I am four hundred years more evolved, four hundred years better educated, and -- thanks to air travel -- significantly more worldly than Shakespeare ever was. I, myself, would never stoop to such lowly and unfounded character assassination.

Never.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Quickie Twofer

I have no time this morning, but it's been like a month since I've been home on Sunday, and I've read two plays, so I've got to say something about them both before I explode.
1. Henry V is a waste of time. He spends the whole play fighting a war (and Shakespeare has a special narrator come on and explain about the fighting -- "Please imagine lots of blood and horses in this next scene" kind of thing) that, in the end, is nullified when he suddenly just up and marries the Princess of the Country he was fighting, so he automatically becomees th King of That. Which was France, by the way.

2. I guess I was confused about King Lear. I have a bit of an obsession with it that I can't explain, but I simply cannot seem to leave it on a shelf. Not in a new-book store, but in the Goodwill or a yard sale or whatever, I buy King Lear every time I see it. Don't know why. Up until 2002 or so, I'd never even read it. Then I did, and now I have again, and let me tell you: I guess I was confused. First of all, I thought the blind madman who hurled himself off a cliff was King Lear, but it totally wasn't. Second, what happened to the chests of gold and silver and whatever? I guess that must have been a different play. This one, it turns out, is all about how if parents don't trust their instincts about their kids, they're going to get shafted for it in the end. By which I mean: if they act good and you think they're good, then they probably are good, no matter what anybody whispers in your ear.

The End