Henry IV, Part I ★★★★☆


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Title: Henry IV, Part I
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 89
Words: 25K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Henry Bolingbroke—now King Henry IV—is having an unquiet reign. His personal disquiet at the usurpation of his predecessor Richard II would be solved by a crusade to the Holy Land, but trouble on his borders with Scotland and Wales make leaving unwise. Moreover, he is increasingly at odds with the Percy family, who helped him to his throne, and Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March, Richard II’s chosen heir.

Adding to King Henry’s troubles is the behaviour of his son and heir, the Prince of Wales. Hal (the future Henry V) has forsaken the Royal Court to waste his time in taverns with low companions. This makes him an object of scorn to the nobles and calls into question his royal worthiness. Hal’s chief friend and foil in living the low life is Sir John Falstaff. Fat, old, drunk, and corrupt as he is, he has a charisma and a zest for life that captivates the Prince.

The play features three groups of characters that interact slightly at first, and then come together in the Battle of Shrewsbury, where the success of the rebellion will be decided. First there is King Henry himself and his immediate council. He is the engine of the play, but usually in the background. Next there is the group of rebels, energetically embodied in Henry Percy (“Hotspur”) and including his father, the Earl of Northumberland and led by his uncle Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester. The Scottish Earl of Douglas, Edmund Mortimer and the Welshman Owen Glendower also join. Finally, at the centre of the play are the young Prince Hal and his companions Falstaff, Poins, Bardolph, and Peto. Streetwise and pound-foolish, these rogues manage to paint over this grim history in the colours of comedy.

As the play opens, the king is angry with Hotspur for refusing him most of the prisoners taken in a recent action against the Scots at Holmedon. Hotspur, for his part, would have the king ransom Edmund Mortimer (his wife’s brother) from Owen Glendower, the Welshman who holds him. Henry refuses, berates Mortimer’s loyalty, and treats the Percys with threats and rudeness. Stung and alarmed by Henry’s dangerous and peremptory way with them, they proceed to make common cause with the Welsh and Scots, intending to depose “this ingrate and cankered Bolingbroke.”[3] By Act II, rebellion is brewing.

Meanwhile, Henry’s son Hal is joking, drinking, and thieving with Falstaff and his associates. He likes Falstaff but makes no pretense at being like him. He enjoys insulting his dissolute friend and makes sport of him by joining in Poins’ plot to disguise themselves and rob and terrify Falstaff and three friends of loot they have stolen in a highway robbery, purely for the fun of hearing Falstaff lie about it later, after which Hal returns the stolen money. Rather early in the play, in fact, Hal informs us that his riotous time will soon come to a close, and he will re-assume his rightful high place in affairs by showing himself worthy to his father and others through some (unspecified) noble exploits. Hal believes that this sudden change of manner will amount to a greater reward and acknowledgment of prince-ship, and in turn earn him respect from the members of the court.

The revolt of Mortimer and the Percys very quickly gives him his chance to do just that. The high and the low come together when the Prince makes up with his father and is given a high command. He vows to fight and kill the rebel Hotspur, and orders Falstaff (who is, after all, a knight) to take charge of a group of foot soldiers and proceed to the battle site at Shrewsbury.

The battle is crucial because if the rebels even achieve a standoff their cause gains greatly, as they have other powers awaiting under Northumberland, Glendower, Mortimer, and the Archbishop of York. Henry needs a decisive victory here. He outnumbers the rebels,[4] but Hotspur, with the wild hope of despair, leads his troops into battle. The day wears on, the issue still in doubt, the king harried by the wild Scot Douglas, when Prince Hal and Hotspur, the two Harrys that cannot share one land, meet. Finally they will fight – for glory, for their lives, and for the kingdom. No longer a tavern brawler but a warrior, the future king prevails, ultimately killing Hotspur in single combat.

On the way to this climax, we are treated to Falstaff, who has “misused the King’s press damnably”,[5] not only by taking money from able-bodied men who wished to evade service but by keeping the wages of the poor souls he brought instead who were killed in battle (“food for powder, food for powder”).[6] Left on his own during Hal’s battle with Hotspur, Falstaff dishonourably counterfeits death to avoid attack by Douglas. After Hal leaves Hotspur’s body on the field, Falstaff revives in a mock miracle. Seeing he is alone, he stabs Hotspur’s corpse in the thigh and claims credit for the kill.[7] Though Hal knows better, he allows Falstaff his disreputable tricks. Soon after being given grace by Hal, Falstaff states that he wants to amend his life and begin “to live cleanly as a nobleman should do”.[8]

The play ends at Shrewsbury, after the battle. The death of Hotspur has taken the heart out of the rebels,[9] and the king’s forces prevail. Henry is pleased with the outcome, not least because it gives him a chance to execute Thomas Percy, the Earl of Worcester, one of his chief enemies (though previously one of his greatest friends). Meanwhile, Hal shows off his kingly mercy in praise of valour; having taken the valiant Douglas prisoner, Hal orders his enemy released without ransom.[10] But the war goes on; now the king’s forces must deal with the Archbishop of York, who has joined with Northumberland, and with the forces of Mortimer and Glendower. This unsettled ending sets the stage for Henry IV, Part 2.

My Thoughts:

This really should have been entitled “Henry V, the Early Years”. While Henry IV is the titular character, he seems to do little besides provide a reason for more kingdom drama. Everyone is going off to war at a moments notice on what seems pretty much like a whim. During all of this, young Prince Harry (by the by, WHY does the name Henry spawn the nickname Harry? It’s not even shorter for goodness sake) is carousing it up and being a blot upon his father’s name. He is unfavorably compared to the other Harry, the one leading the rebellion against the King.

In the final battle Harry shows his royal colors and mans it up perfectly. He seems to have set his rascally youthful ways behind him and to take his responsibilities seriously. Of course, all his old low friends are sure they are going to be sitting pretty once Harry becomes King, so they do what they want. Oh ye evil men, Judgement is coming!

Once again, I am loving these history plays. I was actually looking forward to reading this when Shakespeare rolled around in my reading rotation. What a change from earlier plays where that word “Shakespeare” brought dread and dismal despair to my heart. In fact, I seriously thought about just reading Part II of Henry IV but thankfully calmer and wiser heads prevailed (ie, my rational self instead of my emotional self).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Richard II ★★★✬☆


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Title: Richard II
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 99
Words: 27K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The play spans only the last two years of Richard’s life, from 1398 to 1400. It begins with King Richard sitting majestically on his throne in full state, having been requested to arbitrate a dispute between Thomas Mowbray and Richard’s cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV, who has accused Mowbray of squandering money given to him by Richard for the king’s soldiers and of murdering Bolingbroke’s uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, meanwhile, believes it was Richard himself who was responsible for his brother’s murder. After several attempts to calm both men, Richard acquiesces and it is determined that the matter be resolved in the established method of trial by battle between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, despite the objections of Gaunt.

The tournament scene is very formal with a long, ceremonial introduction, but as the combatants are about to fight, Richard interrupts and sentences both to banishment from England. Bolingbroke is originally sentenced to ten years’ banishment, but Richard reduces this to six years upon seeing John of Gaunt’s grieving face, while Mowbray is banished permanently. The king’s decision can be seen as the first mistake in a series leading eventually to his overthrow and death, since it is an error which highlights many of his character flaws, displaying as it does indecisiveness (in terms of whether to allow the duel to go ahead), abruptness (Richard waits until the last possible moment to cancel the duel), and arbitrariness (there is no apparent reason why Bolingbroke should be allowed to return and Mowbray not). In addition, the decision fails to dispel the suspicions surrounding Richard’s involvement in the death of the Duke of Gloucester – in fact, by handling the situation so high-handedly and offering no coherent explanation for his reasoning, Richard only manages to appear more guilty. Mowbray predicts that the king will sooner or later fall at the hands of Bolingbroke.

John of Gaunt dies and Richard II seizes all of his land and money. This angers the nobility, who accuse Richard of wasting England’s money, of taking Gaunt’s money (belonging by rights to his son, Bolingbroke) to fund war in Ireland, of taxing the commoners, and of fining the nobles for crimes committed by their ancestors. They then help Bolingbroke to return secretly to England, with a plan to overthrow Richard II. There remain, however, subjects who continue to be faithful to the king, among them Bushy, Bagot, Green and the Duke of Aumerle (son of the Duke of York), cousin of both Richard and Bolingbroke. When King Richard leaves England to attend to the war in Ireland, Bolingbroke seizes the opportunity to assemble an army and invades the north coast of England. Executing both Bushy and Green, Bolingbroke wins over the Duke of York, whom Richard has left in charge of his government in his absence.

Upon Richard’s return, Bolingbroke not only reclaims his lands but lays claim to the very throne. Crowning himself King Henry IV, he has Richard taken prisoner to the castle of Pomfret. Aumerle and others plan a rebellion against the new king, but York discovers his son’s treachery and reveals it to Henry, who spares Aumerle as a result of the intercession of the Duchess of York while executing the other conspirators. After interpreting King Henry’s “living fear” as a reference to the still-living Richard, an ambitious nobleman (Exton) goes to the prison and murders him. King Henry repudiates the murderer and vows to journey to Jerusalem to cleanse himself of his part in Richard’s death.

My Thoughts:

Another good “history” play. I do wonder how close to actual history they hew or if Shakespeare and these plays were the “bastard histories” of yesteryear like the “historical movies” of today are. But not being a history buff nor ever planning on becoming one, I don’t care enough for it to really matter.

And I don’t have anything to say here. I enjoyed this and that was that. * dusts hands off *

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

King John ★★★★☆


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Title: King John
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 265
Words: 76K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

King John receives an ambassador from France who demands with a threat of war that he renounce his throne in favour of his nephew, Arthur, whom the French King Philip believes to be the rightful heir to the throne.

John adjudicates an inheritance dispute between Robert Faulconbridge and his older brother Philip the Bastard, during which it becomes apparent that Philip is the illegitimate son of King Richard I. Queen Eleanor, mother to both Richard and John, recognises the family resemblance and suggests that he renounce his claim to the Faulconbridge land in exchange for a knighthood. John knights Philip the Bastard under the name Richard.

In France, King Philip and his forces besiege the English-ruled town of Angers, threatening attack unless its citizens support Arthur. Philip is supported by Austria, who is believed to have killed King Richard. The English contingent arrives; and then Eleanor trades insults with Constance, Arthur’s mother. Kings Philip and John stake their claims in front of Angers’ citizens, but to no avail: their representative says that they will support the rightful king, whoever that turns out to be.

The French and English armies clash, but no clear victor emerges. Each army dispatches a herald claiming victory, but Angers’ citizens continue to refuse to recognize either claimant because neither army has proven victorious.

The Bastard proposes that England and France unite to punish the rebellious citizens of Angers, at which point the citizens propose an alternative: Philip’s son, Louis the Dauphin, should marry John’s niece Blanche (a scheme that gives John a stronger claim to the throne) while Louis gains territory for France. Though a furious Constance accuses Philip of abandoning Arthur, Louis and Blanche are married.

Cardinal Pandolf arrives from Rome bearing a formal accusation that John has disobeyed the Pope and appointed an archbishop contrary to his desires. John refuses to recant, whereupon he is excommunicated. Pandolf pledges his support for Louis, though Philip is hesitant, having just established family ties with John. Pandolf brings him round by pointing out that his links to the church are older and firmer.

War breaks out; Austria is beheaded by the Bastard in revenge for his father’s death; and both Angers and Arthur are captured by the English. Eleanor is left in charge of English possessions in France, while the Bastard is sent to collect funds from English monasteries. John orders Hubert to kill Arthur. Pandolf suggests to Louis that he now has as strong a claim to the English throne as Arthur (and indeed John), and Louis agrees to invade England.

Hubert finds himself unable to kill Arthur. John’s nobles urge Arthur’s release. John agrees, but is wrong-footed[clarification needed] by Hubert’s announcement that Arthur is dead. The nobles, believing he was murdered, defect to Louis’ side. Equally upsetting, and more heartbreaking to John, is the news of his mother’s death, along with that of Lady Constance. The Bastard reports that the monasteries are unhappy about John’s attempt to seize their gold. Hubert has a furious argument with John, during which he reveals that Arthur is still alive. John, delighted, sends him to report the news to the nobles.

Arthur dies jumping from a castle wall. (It is open to interpretation whether he deliberately kills himself or just makes a risky escape attempt.) The nobles believe he was murdered by John, and refuse to believe Hubert’s entreaties. John attempts to make a deal with Pandolf, swearing allegiance to the Pope in exchange for Pandolf’s negotiating with the French on his behalf. John orders the Bastard, one of his few remaining loyal subjects, to lead the English army against France.

While John’s former noblemen swear allegiance to Louis, Pandolf explains John’s scheme, but Louis refuses to be taken in by it. The Bastard arrives with the English army and threatens Louis, but to no avail. War breaks out with substantial losses on each side, including Louis’ reinforcements, who are drowned during the sea crossing. Many English nobles return to John’s side after a dying French nobleman, Melun, warns them that Louis plans to kill them after his victory.

John is poisoned by a disgruntled monk. His nobles gather around him as he dies. The Bastard plans the final assault on Louis’ forces, until he is told that Pandolf has arrived with a peace treaty. The English nobles swear allegiance to John’s son Prince Henry, and the Bastard reflects that this episode has taught that internal bickering could be as perilous to England’s fortunes as foreign invasion.

My Thoughts:

FINALLY! A Shakespeare play that I fully enjoyed and didn’t feel like pee’ing on after I was done reading it. I don’t know if it was the actual play, the fact that we’ve moved into “recent” history (as opposed to ancient history of Greece, Rome, etc), or what, but I had zero quibbles while reading this.

Lots of drama and people being jerks and lying and backstabbing, but I still understood the context. I guess that was what was missing for a lot of the other plays I read? I couldn’t understand why the characters would do what they did, but here I could completely understand things, even if I thought it was stupid or wrong.

My only hesitation now is that if I liked this so much, perhaps I’m setting the bar too high for the rest of the Histories? Of course, with works like Henry V coming down the pipeline, that shouldn’t be a concern of mine. But I’m a worrier, so I’m going to worry about something that doesn’t matter one whit.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Tempest ★★★☆½


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Title: The Tempest
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 195
Words: 56K

Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

A ship is caught in a powerful storm, there is terror and confusion on board, and the vessel is shipwrecked. But the storm is a magical creation carried out by the spirit Ariel, and caused by the magic of Prospero, who was the Duke of Milan, before his dukedom was usurped and taken from him by his brother Antonio (aided by Alonso, the King of Naples). That was twelve years ago, when he and his young daughter, Miranda, were set adrift on the sea, and eventually stranded on an island. Among those on board the shipwreck are Antonio and Alonso. Also on the ship are Alonso’s brother (Sebastian), son (Ferdinand), and “trusted counsellor”, Gonzalo. Prospero plots to reverse what was done to him twelve years ago, and regain his office. Using magic he separates the shipwreck survivors into groups on the island:

Ferdinand, who is found by Prospero and Miranda. It is part of Prospero’s plan to encourage a romantic relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda; and they do fall in love.

Trinculo, the king’s jester, and Stephano, the king’s drunken butler; who are found by Caliban, a monstrous figure who had been living on the island before Prospero arrived, and whom Prospero adopted, raised and enslaved. These three will raise an unsuccessful coup against Prospero, acting as the play’s ‘comic relief’ by doing so.

Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, and two attendant lords (Adrian and Francisco). Antonio and Sebastian conspire to kill Alonso and Gonzalo so Sebastian can become King; at Prospero’s command Ariel thwarts this conspiracy. Later in the play, Ariel, in the guise of a Harpy, confronts the three nobles (Antonio, Alonso and Sebastian), causing them to flee in guilt for their crimes against Prospero and each other.

The ship’s captain and boatswain who, along with the other sailors, are asleep until the final act.

Prospero betroths Miranda to marry Ferdinand, and instructs Ariel to bring some other spirits and produce a masque. The masque will feature classical goddesses, Juno, Ceres, and Iris, and will bless and celebrate the betrothal. The masque will also instruct the young couple on marriage, and on the value of chastity until then.

The masque is suddenly interrupted when Prospero realizes he had forgotten the plot against his life. He orders Ariel to deal with this. Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano are chased off into the swamps by goblins in the shape of hounds. Prospero vows that once he achieves his goals, he will set Ariel free, and abandon his magic, saying:

I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

Ariel brings on Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian. Prospero forgives all three, and raises the threat to Antonio and Sebastian that he could blackmail them, though he won’t. Prospero’s former title, Duke of Milan, is restored. Ariel fetches the sailors from the ship; then Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano. Caliban, seemingly filled with regret, promises to be good. Stephano and Trinculo are ridiculed and sent away in shame by Prospero. Before the reunited group (all the noble characters plus Miranda and Prospero) leaves the island, Ariel is told to provide good weather to guide the king’s ship back to the royal fleet and then to Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda will be married. After this, Ariel is set free.

In the epilogue, Prospero requests that the audience set him free—with their applause.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this quite a bit. Mostly because I could actually make sense of what was going on and because the people involved didn’t simply do “things” at authorial fiat.

I have to admit, I was kind of dreading this. Back in ’12 I read a novel entitled Prospero Lost which was a sequel to the Tempest and a kind of urban fantasy trilogy. I read the first book and never bothered getting around to the others. Even though I gave it 3 stars at the time and nothing in my review says so, it just left a bad taste in my mouth and I transferred that to the original play.

I am glad I did read this and didn’t skip it due to my inclination from another book. That being said, these are plays, not novels and I have a really hard time talking about these. I am not a english major nor am I a Shakespeare buff. I’m reading all of this because I want to have it under my belt. It is much like eating vegetables at dinner. I don’t dislike vegetables but if I had to choose, I’d eat a slice of pizza any time before I ate the vegetables. You can tell I’m middle aged since I’m pretty much using health as an analogy for how I’m treating Shakespeare. He’s my literary vegetables and I’m shoveling those lima beans down my throat as fast as I can while I tell myself how healthy and good it is for me. All the while I’m eyeing that Stouffers french bread pepperoni pizza.

And I don’t even know why I’m referencing food so much. I’m not hungry, as I just had a Dagwood style turkey and cheese sandwich that was about 2inches thick just a little bit ago. I give up. This review is done.

★★★☆½

The Winter’s Tale ★★☆☆½

winterstale (Custom)

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Title: The Winter’s Tale
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 256
Words: 74K

Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Following a brief setup scene the play begins with the appearance of two childhood friends: Leontes, King of Sicilia, and Polixenes, the King of Bohemia. Polixenes is visiting the kingdom of Sicilia, and is enjoying catching up with his old friend. However, after nine months, Polixenes yearns to return to his own kingdom to tend to affairs and see his son. Leontes desperately attempts to get Polixenes to stay longer, but is unsuccessful. Leontes then decides to send his wife, Queen Hermione, to try to convince Polixenes. Hermione agrees and with three short speeches is successful. Leontes is puzzled as to how Hermione convinced Polixenes so easily, and so he begins to suspect that his pregnant wife has been having an affair with Polixenes and that the child is Polixenes’. Leontes orders Camillo, a Sicilian Lord, to poison Polixenes. Camillo instead warns Polixenes and they both flee to Bohemia.

Furious at their escape, Leontes now publicly accuses his wife of infidelity, and declares that the child she is bearing must be illegitimate. He throws her in prison, over the protests of his nobles, and sends two of his lords, Cleomenes and Dion, to the Oracle at Delphos for what he is sure will be confirmation of his suspicions. Meanwhile, the queen gives birth to a girl, and her loyal friend Paulina takes the baby to the king, in the hopes that the sight of the child will soften his heart. He grows angrier, however, and orders Paulina’s husband, Lord Antigonus, to take the child and abandon it in a desolate place. Cleomenes and Dion return from Delphos with word from the Oracle and find Hermione publicly and humiliatingly put on trial before the king. She asserts her innocence, and asks for the word of the Oracle to be read before the court. The Oracle states categorically that Hermione and Polixenes are innocent, Camillo is an honest man, and that Leontes will have no heir until his lost daughter is found. Leontes shuns the news, refusing to believe it as the truth. As this news is revealed, word comes that Leontes’ son, Mamillius, has died of a wasting sickness brought on by the accusations against his mother. At this, Hermione falls in a swoon, and is carried away by Paulina, who subsequently reports the queen’s death to her heartbroken and repentant husband. Leontes vows to spend the rest of his days atoning for the loss of his son, his abandoned daughter, and his queen.

Antigonus, meanwhile, abandons the baby on the coast of Bohemia, reporting that Hermione appeared to him in a dream and bade him name the girl Perdita. He leaves a fardel (a bundle) by the baby containing gold and other trinkets which suggest that the baby is of noble blood. A violent storm suddenly appears, wrecking the ship on which Antigonus arrived. He wishes to take pity on the child, but is chased away in one of Shakespeare’s most famous stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Perdita is rescued by a shepherd and his son, also known as “Clown”.

“Time” enters and announces the passage of sixteen years. Camillo, now in the service of Polixenes, begs the Bohemian king to allow him to return to Sicilia. Polixenes refuses and reports to Camillo that his son, Prince Florizel, has fallen in love with a lowly shepherd girl: Perdita. He suggests to Camillo that, to take his mind off thoughts of home, they disguise themselves and attend the sheep-shearing feast where Florizel and Perdita will be betrothed. At the feast, hosted by the Old Shepherd who has prospered thanks to the gold in the fardel, the pedlar Autolycus picks the pocket of the Young Shepherd and, in various guises, entertains the guests with bawdy songs and the trinkets he sells. Disguised, Polixenes and Camillo watch as Florizel (under the guise of a shepherd named Doricles) and Perdita are betrothed. Then, tearing off the disguise, Polixenes angrily intervenes, threatening the Old Shepherd and Perdita with torture and death and ordering his son never to see the shepherd’s daughter again. With the aid of Camillo, however, who longs to see his native land again, Florizel and Perdita take ship for Sicilia, using the clothes of Autolycus as a disguise. They are joined in their voyage by the Old Shepherd and his son who are directed there by Autolycus.

In Sicilia, Leontes is still in mourning. Cleomenes and Dion plead with him to end his time of repentance because the kingdom needs an heir. Paulina, however, convinces the king to remain unmarried forever since no woman can match the greatness of his lost Hermione. Florizel and Perdita arrive, and they are greeted effusively by Leontes. Florizel pretends to be on a diplomatic mission from his father, but his cover is blown when Polixenes and Camillo, too, arrive in Sicilia. The meeting and reconciliation of the kings and princes is reported by gentlemen of the Sicilian court: how the Old Shepherd raised Perdita, how Antigonus met his end, how Leontes was overjoyed at being reunited with his daughter, and how he begged Polixenes for forgiveness. The Old Shepherd and Young Shepherd, now made gentlemen by the kings, meet Autolycus, who asks them for their forgiveness for his roguery. Leontes, Polixenes, Camillo, Florizel and Perdita then go to Paulina’s house in the country, where a statue of Hermione has been recently finished. The sight of his wife’s form makes Leontes distraught, but then, to everyone’s amazement, the statue shows signs of vitality; it is Hermione, restored to life. As the play ends, Perdita and Florizel are engaged, and the whole company celebrates the miracle. Despite this happy ending typical of Shakespeare’s comedies and romances, the impression of the unjust death of young prince Mamillius lingers to the end, being an element of unredeemed tragedy, in addition to the years wasted in separation.

My Thoughts:

These Ancient History plays, based on Greek history stuff, bore the stuffing out of me. Plus, the characters act completely nonsensical.

Leontes going into his jealous rage for no reason, then suddenly repenting, it just pissed me off. Of course, he repents after his wife and son die and he has sent his newborn daughter to be killed by exposure. What a bastard.

While I’m always a sucker for a Redemption story, simply changing your mind about some extremely horribly bad behavior is NOT redemption. Gahhhhh, I’m really disliking this Shakespeare fellow at the moment.

★★☆☆½

Cymbeline ★★★☆☆

cymbeline (Custom)

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Title: Cymbeline
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 272
Words: 79K

 

 

Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Cymbeline, the Roman Empire’s vassal king of Britain, once had two sons, Guiderius and Arvirargus, but they were stolen twenty years earlier as infants by an exiled traitor named Belarius. Cymbeline discovers that his only child left, his daughter Imogen (or Innogen), has secretly married her lover Posthumus Leonatus, a member of Cymbeline’s court. The lovers have exchanged jewellery as tokens: Imogen with a bracelet, and Posthumus with a ring. Cymbeline dismisses the marriage and banishes Posthumus since Imogen — as Cymbeline’s only child — must produce a fully royal-blooded heir to succeed to the British throne. In the meantime, Cymbeline’s Queen is conspiring to have Cloten (her cloddish and arrogant son by an earlier marriage) married to Imogen to secure her bloodline. The Queen is also plotting to murder both Imogen and Cymbeline, procuring what she believes to be deadly poison from the court doctor. The doctor, Cornelius, is suspicious and switches the poison with a harmless sleeping potion. The Queen passes the “poison” along to Pisanio, Posthumus and Imogen’s loving servant — the latter is led to believe it is a medicinal drug. No longer able to be with her banished Posthumus, Imogen secludes herself in her chambers, away from Cloten’s aggressive advances.

Posthumus must now live in Italy, where he meets Iachimo (or Giacomo), who challenges the prideful Posthumus to a bet that he, Iachimo, can seduce Imogen, whom Posthumus has praised for her chastity, and then bring Posthumus proof of Imogen’s adultery. If Iachimo wins, he will get Posthumus’s token ring. If Posthumus wins, not only must Iachimo pay him but also fight Posthumus in a duel with swords. Iachimo heads to Britain where he aggressively attempts to seduce the faithful Imogen, who sends him packing. Iachimo then hides in a chest in Imogen’s bedchamber and, when the princess falls asleep, emerges to steal from her Posthumus’s bracelet. He also takes note of the room, as well as the mole on Imogen’s partly naked body, to be able to present false evidence to Posthumus that he has seduced his bride. Returning to Italy, Iachimo convinces Posthumus that he has successfully seduced Imogen. In his wrath, Posthumus sends two letters to Britain: one to Imogen, telling her to meet him at Milford Haven, on the Welsh coast; the other to the servant Pisanio, ordering him to murder Imogen at the Haven. However, Pisanio refuses to kill Imogen and reveals to her Posthumus’s plot. He has Imogen disguise herself as a boy and continue to Milford Haven to seek employment. He also gives her the Queen’s “poison”, believing it will alleviate her psychological distress. In the guise of a boy, Imogen adopts the name “Fidele”, meaning “faithful”.

Back at Cymbeline’s court, Cymbeline refuses to pay his British tribute to the Roman ambassador Caius Lucius, and Lucius warns Cymbeline of the Roman Emperor’s forthcoming wrath, which will amount to an invasion of Britain by Roman troops. Meanwhile, Cloten learns of the “meeting” between Imogen and Posthumus at Milford Haven. Dressing himself enviously in Posthumus’s clothes, he decides to go to Wales to kill Posthumus, and then rape, abduct, and marry Imogen. Imogen has now been travelling as “Fidele” through the Welsh mountains, her health in decline as she comes to a cave: the home of Belarius, along with his “sons” Polydore and Cadwal, whom he raised into great hunters. These two young men are in fact the British princes Guiderius and Arviragus, who themselves do not realise their own origin. The men discover “Fidele”, and, instantly captivated by a strange affinity for “him”, become fast friends. Outside the cave, Guiderius is met by Cloten, who throws insults, leading to a sword fight during which Guiderius beheads Cloten. Meanwhile, Imogen’s fragile state worsens and she takes the “poison” as a hopeful medicine; when the men re-enter, they find her “dead.” They mourn and, after placing Cloten’s body beside hers, briefly depart to prepare for the double burial. Imogen awakes to find the headless body, and believes it to be Posthumus due to the fact the body is wearing Posthumus’ clothes. Lucius’ Roman soldiers have just arrived in Britain and, as the army moves through Wales, Lucius discovers the devastated “Fidele”, who pretends to be a loyal servant grieving for his killed master; Lucius, moved by this faithfulness, enlists “Fidele” as a pageboy.

The treacherous Queen is now wasting away due to the disappearance of her son Cloten. Meanwhile, despairing of his life, a guilt-ridden Posthumus enlists in the Roman forces as they begin their invasion of Britain. Belarius, Guiderius, Arviragus, and Posthumus all help rescue Cymbeline from the Roman onslaught; the king does not yet recognise these four, yet takes notice of them as they go on to fight bravely and even capture the Roman commanders, Lucius and Iachimo, thus winning the day. Posthumus, allowing himself to be captured, as well as “Fidele”, are imprisoned alongside the true Romans, all of whom await execution. In jail, Posthumus sleeps, while the ghosts of his dead family appear to complain to Jupiter of his grim fate. Jupiter himself then appears in thunder and glory to assure the others that destiny will grant happiness to Posthumus and Britain.

Cornelius arrives in the court to announce that the Queen has died suddenly, and that on her deathbed she unrepentantly confessed to villainous schemes against her husband and his throne. Both troubled and relieved at this news, Cymbeline prepares to execute his new prisoners, but pauses when he sees “Fidele”, whom he finds both beautiful and somehow familiar. “Fidele” has noticed Posthumus’ ring on Iachimo’s finger and abruptly demands to know from where the jewel came. A remorseful Iachimo tells of his bet, and how he could not seduce Imogen, yet tricked Posthumus into thinking he had. Posthumus then comes forward to confirm Iachimo’s story, revealing his identity and acknowledging his wrongfulness in desiring Imogen killed. Ecstatic, Imogen throws herself at Posthumus, who still takes her for a boy and knocks her down. Pisanio then rushes forward to explain that “Fidele” is Imogen in disguise; Imogen still suspects that Pisanio conspired with the Queen to give her the poison. Pisanio sincerely claims innocence, and Cornelius reveals how the poison was a non-fatal potion all along. Insisting that his betrayal years ago was a set-up, Belarius makes his own happy confession, revealing Guiderius and Arviragus as Cymbeline’s own two long-lost sons. With her brothers restored to their place in the line of inheritance, Imogen is now free to marry Posthumus. An elated Cymbeline pardons Belarius and the Roman prisoners, including Lucius and Iachimo. Lucius calls forth his soothsayer to decipher a prophecy of recent events, which ensures happiness for all. Blaming his manipulative Queen for his refusal to pay earlier, Cymbeline now agrees to pay the tribute to the Roman Emperor as a gesture of peace between Britain and Rome, and he invites everyone to a great feast

 

My Thoughts:

This was much longer than the previous play or two and by the end I was getting antsy and ready for it to be over. And honestly, there are times I wonder about just reading the wiki page and calling that a day.

This Shakespeare Experiment isn’t going superbly. While not going off the rails on a crazy train, I don’t look forward to these at all. My zeal is definitely flagging and I feel like I’m doing a lot of slogging.

Next!

★★★☆☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

Pericles, Prince of Tyre ★★★☆☆

pericles (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Series: ———-
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play
Pages: 95
Words: 25K

 

Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

John Gower introduces each act with a prologue. The play opens in the court of Antiochus, king of Antioch, who has offered the hand of his beautiful daughter to any man who answers his riddle; but those who fail shall die.

I am no viper, yet I feed

On mother’s flesh which did me breed.

I sought a husband, in which labour

I found that kindness in a father:

He’s father, son, and husband mild;

I mother, wife, and yet his child.

How they may be, and yet in two,

As you will live, resolve it you.

Pericles, the young Prince (ruler) of Tyre in Phoenicia (Lebanon), hears the riddle, and instantly understands its meaning: Antiochus is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his daughter. If he reveals this truth, he will be killed, but if he answers incorrectly, he will also be killed. Pericles hints that he knows the answer, and asks for more time to think. Antiochus grants him forty days, and then sends an assassin after him. However, Pericles has fled the city in disgust.

Pericles returns to Tyre, where his trusted friend and counsellor Helicanus advises him to leave the city, for Antiochus surely will hunt him down. Pericles leaves Helicanus as regent and sails to Tarsus, a city beset by famine. The generous Pericles gives the governor of the city, Cleon, and his wife Dionyza, grain from his ship to save their people. The famine ends, and after being thanked profusely by Cleon and Dionyza, Pericles continues on.

A storm wrecks Pericles’ ship and washes him up on the shores of Pentapolis. He is rescued by a group of poor fishermen who inform him that Simonides, King of Pentapolis, is holding a tournament the next day and that the winner will receive the hand of his daughter Thaisa in marriage. Fortunately, one of the fishermen drags Pericles’ suit of armour on shore that very moment, and the prince decides to enter the tournament. Although his equipment is rusty, Pericles wins the tournament and the hand of Thaisa (who is deeply attracted to him) in marriage. Simonides initially expresses doubt about the union, but soon comes to like Pericles and allows them to wed.

A letter sent by the noblemen reaches Pericles in Pentapolis, who decides to return to Tyre with the pregnant Thaisa. Again, a storm arises while at sea, and Thaisa appears to die giving birth to her child, Marina. The sailors insist that Thaisa’s body be set overboard in order to calm the storm. Pericles grudgingly agrees, and decides to stop at Tarsus because he fears that Marina may not survive the storm.

Luckily, Thaisa’s casket washes ashore at Ephesus near the residence of Lord Cerimon, a physician who revives her. Thinking that Pericles died in the storm, Thaisa becomes a priestess in the temple of Diana.

Pericles departs to rule Tyre, leaving Marina in the care of Cleon and Dionyza.

Marina grows up more beautiful than Philoten the daughter of Cleon and Dionyza, so Dionyza plans Marina’s murder. The plan is thwarted when pirates kidnap Marina and then sell her to a brothel in Mytilene. There, Marina manages to keep her virginity by convincing the men that they should seek virtue. Worried that she is ruining their market, the brothel rents her out as a tutor to respectable young ladies. She becomes famous for music and other decorous entertainments.

Meanwhile, Pericles returns to Tarsus for his daughter. The governor and his wife claim she has died; in grief, he takes to the sea.

Pericles’ wanderings bring him to Mytilene where the governor Lysimachus, seeking to cheer him up, brings in Marina. They compare their sad stories and joyfully realise they are father and daughter. Next, the goddess Diana appears in a dream to Pericles, and tells him to come to the temple where he finds Thaisa. The wicked Cleon and Dionyza are killed when their people revolt against their crime. Lysimachus will marry Marina.

My Thoughts:

Head and shoulders above Two Noble Kinsmen. Still doesn’t mean this was a favorite of mine though. For only being around 100 pages, this felt twice as long.

I am not sure what this current grouping that I am reading fall into. Historical plays, perhaps? I’m just glad Shakespeare didn’t try to do “old timey wimey” talk like in Two Noble Kinsmen. At least I could understand what was going on.

As my Shakespeare journey continues (I think about 25% done with the Complete Works omnibus that I’m going through), I am beginning to have a lot of sympathy for people who read Charles Dickens but don’t necessarily love his stuff. I LOVE Dickens works and so whenever I read one it is a joy. The same cannot be said of me and Shakespeare. I don’t know how much of this I will ever retain and I certainly am NOT going to be going around and quoting Shakespeare.

No matter the rating of these plays, no matter how much I might enjoy, or not enjoy them, this project is not a waste of time or misguided. Shakespeare is absolutely foundational to Western Literature and while I might think some of those foundation stones are closer to swiss cheese than blocks of granite, they still undergird everything we read today.

★★★☆☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

Two Noble Kinsmen ★☆☆☆½

twonoblekinsmen (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Two Noble Kinsmen
Series: ———-
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 1.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play, Tragic Comedy?
Pages: 246
Words: 71K

 

Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

A prologue informs the audience that the play is based on a story from Chaucer.

Three queens come to plead with Theseus and Hippolyta, rulers of Athens, to avenge the deaths of their husbands by the hand of the tyrant Creon of Thebes. Creon has killed the three kings and refuses to allow them proper burial. Theseus agrees to wage war on Creon.

In Thebes, Palamon and Arcite, cousins and close friends, are bound by duty to fight for Creon, though they are appalled by his tyranny. In a hard-fought battle Palamon and Arcite enact prodigies of courage, but the Thebans are defeated by Theseus. Palamon and Arcite are imprisoned, but philosophically resign themselves to their fate. Their stoicism is instantly destroyed when from their prison window they see Princess Emilia, Hippolyta’s sister. Both fall in love with her, and their friendship turns to bitter rivalry. Arcite is released after a relative intercedes on his behalf. He is banished from Athens, but he disguises himself, wins a local wrestling match, and is appointed as Emilia’s bodyguard.

Meanwhile, the jailer’s daughter has fallen in love with Palamon and helps him escape. She follows him, but he ignores her: still obsessed with Emilia. He lives in the forest half-starved, where he meets Arcite. The two argue, but Arcite offers to bring Palamon food, drink and armaments so that they can meet in an equal fight over Emilia.

The jailer’s daughter, forsaken, has gone mad. She sings and babbles in the forest. She meets a troupe of local countrymen who want to perform a Morris dance before the king and queen. Local schoolmaster Gerald invites the mad daughter to join the performance. Theseus and Hippolyta appear, hunting. Gerald hails them, and they agree to watch the yokels perform a bizarre act for them, with the jailer’s mad daughter dancing. The royal couple reward them.

Arcite returns with the food and weapons. After a convivial dinner with reminiscences, the two fight. Theseus and his entourage arrive on the scene. He orders that Palamon and Arcite be arrested and executed. Hippolyta and Emilia intervene, and so Theseus agrees to a public tournament between the two for Emilia’s hand. Each warrior will be allowed three companions to assist them. The loser and his companion knights will be executed.

The jailer finds his daughter with the help of friends. He tries to restore her mental health. On the advice of a doctor, he encourages her former suitor to pretend to be Palamon so that she will be gradually accustomed to see him as her true love. His devotion slowly wins her over.

Before the tournament, Arcite prays to Mars that he win the battle; Palamon prays to Venus that he marry Emilia; Emilia prays to Diana that she be wed to the one who loves her best. Each prayer is granted: Arcite wins the combat, but is then thrown from his horse and dies, leaving Palamon to wed Emilia.

 

My Thoughts:

I did not enjoy this at all.

For one thing, there wasn’t any comedy. I can see where you could mine comedic gold from 2 cousins fighting over the princess of the country they were just fighting against, but this was all serious business.

Secondly, reading Shakespeare can be hard enough, but this time around he used what is I’m guessing his equivalent of “old timey language” to make it appear as if this was some old story. There were times I simply could not comprehend what was being said or what was trying to be conveyed.

Thirdly, in conjunction with that, the plot was almost opaque to me. It wasn’t until I read the Wiki synopsis that I felt like I had a grasp of what I had actually read.

Really felt like I wasted my time and I simply tried to get through this as fast as possible to get it over with. That is NOT how I like to read my books nor do I recommend it to anyone. Poop.

★☆☆☆½

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

Two Gentlemen of Verona ★★★☆☆

twogentlemenofverona (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Two Gentlemen of Verona
Series: ———-
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play, Comedy
Pages: 84
Words: 24K

 

Synopsis:

Two young friends, Valentine and Proteus, go their separate ways as Valentine wants adventure and Proteus wants to woo a local girl, Julia. Valentine heads to Milan.

Proteus father sends him to Milan as well, as he’s afraid of Proteus becoming a namby-pamby wuss. Proteus and Julia vow undying love for each other and Proteus gives Julia a ring as his troth.

Valentine and Proteus are united in Milan. Valentine, who excoriated Proteus for falling in love and allowing his love for Julia to keep him home, has fallen in love with Silvia, the Duke of Milan’s daughter. The Duke has other plans for her though, ie, to marry her to Thurio, a rich man from another city state. Valentine tells Proteus that he and Silvia will steal away and secretly get married. Proteus has himself fallen in love with Silvia and betrays Valentine to the duke.

Valentine is banished and ends up becoming King of the Outlaws, a noble group of men who have been unjustly banished and rob the rich from Milan.

Proteus, under the cover of pretending to help Thurio, woos Silvia himself. She scorns him as a base man who betrayed not only his friend but his lover Julia and also his vows to her. Meanwhile Julia has secretly left Verona to find Proteus and becomes his squire, dressed as a page. She see’s Proteus infidelity and vows to get him back.

Silvia runs away rather than marry Thurio and gets captured by the Noble Outlaws and taken to Valentine. Everyone else is chasing her and also get captured by the Outlaws. Valentine challenges Thurio to a duel for Silvia and Thurio declines, as he has no love for Siliva. The Duke is disgusted, gives his blessing to Valentine and Silvia’s nuptials. Julia faints and Valentine discovers who she is. He and Proteus make up, as Proteus realizes his behavior has been abominable and repents. Valentine then reveals that his page is Julia. The Duke pardons everyone and they all head off for a double wedding in Milan.

 

My Thoughts:

Part way through this play I turned to Mrs B (as is our wont, we were sitting on our couch side by side reading) and said “I just don’t like Shakespeare’s plays. She nodded and agreed. The low-brow humor that Shakespeare uses just doesn’t appeal to either of us.

That being said, I have no intention of stopping. These plays are foundational to Literature as we know it and yes, that is Literature with a Capital L. I don’t plan on becoming a Shakespeare expert by any means, but I do want to have a passing familiarity with them.

One of the things that has bothered me about these plays is how characters can change at the drop of a hat. For example, in this play Proteus proclaims undying love for Julia and then wham, suddenly he’s destroying his own and his friend’s life for another woman. Then at the end of the play suddenly he reverts back to loving Julia. I’m beginning to realize that that is simply how a play operates. It isn’t a book with all the time that a book has. It is a play and many of the things that we expect from a book simply aren’t possible in a play. I don’t like it but I am beginning to be able to accept it. For me, that is a big step forward.

★★★☆☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

Taming of the Shrew ★★★☆½

tamingoftheshrew (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission 
Title:
Taming of the Shrew
Series: ———-
Author: William Shakespeare
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Play, Comedy
Pages: 133
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

The play starts with a rich lord taking a drunk at an inn and doing everything in his power to convince the drunk that he, the drunk, is actually a lord who has been crazy for the last several years. He brings in some players to put on a play and thus the main story begins.

Younger Daughter is sought by all and sundry, as she is beautiful, accomplished and generally pleasing in every way. Her Older Sister is a Shrew with a tongue that can remove metal. Their father declares that he won’t allow the younger daughter to even be courted until the Older Sister is married. Thus several suitors put into action a plan to be tutors to the Younger Daughter and secretly woo her while teaching her.

A Bold Young Man enters the city and hears about the situation from his friends. He decides that Older Sister is the woman for him and he’ll have her no matter her tongue. He approaches the father, gets his approval, has a run in with the Older Sister where words are exchanged like primed grenades and the wedding is set for a week later. Bold Young Man begins acting irrationally to drive his almost wife to distraction and after they are married head back to his home. There he tames her to his behavior and forces her to accept his behavior and mood or go hungry. They return to the city.

The Younger Daughter has fallen in love and with some shenanigans she and the Suitor are married. The Older Sister and her husband return for the wedding and the Tamed Shrew is shown to all, eliciting amazement from all and sundry.

The End.

 

My Thoughts:

I was very annoyed when the play ended and the secondary play about the drunk and the nobleman didn’t end as well. It was obviously just a ploy to start the primary play and to get the audience into a jocular mood. I however, wasn’t jocular at the end, as I like things wrapped up neatly.

I definitely enjoyed this more than some of the other Shakespeare plays I’ve read. I am realizing that in those old books where characters quote Shakespeare from memory and everybody in the book recognizes it, well, that is a lot of bilge. Much like Pop Culture references, it isn’t somethat that EVERYBODY gets, but only the group that cares about it. Reading Shakespeare doesn’t mean you’ll recognize the many quotes that were tossed around in yesteryear. Only those who study the Bard will be able to do that.

Ok, enough of that. Let’s talk about that cover shall we? It took me a tiny bit to realize it was a movie cover, but once that clicked, 5 seconds of Gugle-Fu showed that it was from the 1967 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Obviously THIS cover was meant to draw the male eye while the movie poster I found has a virile Burton striding along with a huge smile while carrying Taylor over his shoulder while she pounds on his back with her fists. I wish I had chosen another cover from Librarything but that was the highest resolution one, I think, and the others (if I’m remembering correctly) reminded me of modern impressionistic paintings, brrrrrr!

Cover aside, I’d call this a successful foray into Shakespeare. With my enjoyment level so varied, I simply never know what I’m going to like or dislike every time I crack the cover on one of these plays.

★★★☆½

 

bookstooge (Custom)