Saturday, 7 June 2014

Weekend Quote #51

I am sorry, I have truly forgotten to post a Weekend Quote yesterday. This is bad, because it means that for those who live in Eastern part of the world will have very short time to join us.
Mine ears against your suits are stronger than
Your gates against my force.
Another from Coriolanus. It's one of those times when the words just stick with you and won't leave yo even in your sleep.

Menenius was trying to persuade Coriolanus not to attack Rome. Coriolanus was so bitter in soul that nothing he said could sway him from his decision to burn the town down with all its inhabitants. Thus the words.

To be honest, the lines are pure stubbornness, or if you want a more positive term, determination. But, still, I'd say stubbornness. Honestly, can you think of a better way, in the character of Coriolanus, to express it?

(I would heed my friend's advice and try to read and write something not Shakespeare-related next week, lest I'd bore my readers and lest this blog changes into a Shakespeare blog, which I already have in another URL.)

Richard II: "Two buckets filling one another"

At last I tackled some of Shakespeare's histories. Huft. This genre has long been my "untouchable" list. I was so scared to read history plays because I know next to nothing about the real history of England and because I assumed they would be tedious. Well, Richard III, one of my first attempts, was so full of murder that it's a bit of discouragement to take up another. But thankfully, I did! Yay!

So first, the plot. The play opens with a trial. Bolingbroke and Mowbray both accuse the other of treason, and are presenting their case in front of the king. The trial scene ends with both of them agreeing to decide the matter with a 'trial by combat'. The ever-changing Richard, however, stops them during the battle, and arbitrarily banishes both of them - Mowbray for his entire life, and Bolingbroke for 10 years (reduced to 6 the next few seconds).

After Bolingbroke's banishment, Richard's 'flatterers' persuade him to wage war with the Irish. Around the same time, Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and Bolingbroke's father, is dying. Richard consents to visit him, praying that he dies quickly so that could take his riches and use it for his war.
Now put it, God, in his physician’s mind
To help him to his grave immediately.
The lining of his coffers shall make coats
To deck our soldiers for these Irish wars.
Come, gentlemen, let’s all go visit him.
Pray God we may make haste and come too late
Gaunt is still alive when Richard gets there. With his dying breath he condemns Richard's abuse of power and shows Richard his faults. The young king is too proud to receive any correction. Instead of mending his life and rulership he seizes all Gaunt's riches immediately after his death. Now, again, his other uncle, Duke of York, warns him that by taking from Bolingbroke his hereditary right, he just puts his kingship in peril. However, doesn't the king himself know that Bolingbroke is more popular than himself in England?
You pluck a thousand dangers on your head,
You lose a thousand well-disposèd hearts
And prick my tender patience to those thoughts
Which honour and allegiance cannot think.
As always in Shakespeare, the play stays true to the prophecy. Bolingbroke returns to England, aided by his followers Northumberland, Ross, and Willoughby. Whilst the king is away in Ireland dealing with rebels, Bolingbroke musters power and men, with the purpose of claiming his right. Only that. But when he says this to the king, face to face, Richard sees his act as a request for his abdication, and agrees to give his kingdom to Henry.
My gracious lord, I come but for mine own.
Your own is yours, and I am yours, and all.
So far be mine, my most redoubted lord,
As my true service shall deserve your love.
Well you deserve: they well deserve to have,
That know the strong'st and surest way to get.
Cousin, I am too young to be your father,
Though you are old enough to be my heir.
What you will have, I'll give, and willing too;
For do we must what force will have us do.
Even though Richard voluntarily (although unwillingly) renounces his throne and gives it to Henry, the supporters of both parties are still unsatisfied. Henry's supporters, such as Northumberland, desire that the king gives away his crown in public, witnessed by all. The scene, however, becomes the most uneasy scene in this play, where Richard stabs Henry's heart with every word he can think of. (Here's Jamie Parker as Richard. Amazing interpretation of the lines.)

For Richard, his status as king - as Richard, King of England - is all his being. Without his crown, he is nobody. Although Richard is a whiny, spoiled king, his deposition scene no doubt pricks Henry's conscience to the core. He then asks Henry to send him away, and Henry sends him to the Tower. (The Tower at that time was also a royal residence, so Shakespeare's Henry possibly didn't mean to cruelly imprison Richard there. He only wanted to make sure that Richard wouldn't do anything dangerous.)

A thwarted plan to kill Henry and re-enthrone Richard establishes Henry's rule as England's king, while Carlisle's prophecy of civil war establishes Shakespeare's future and past history plays. You know, these tricks have been in use since Homer and Hesiod walked the earth.

The play ends with Richard's death by Henry's supporters and Henry's mourning over it.


I won't add much to this already lengthy post. I just want to say that Shakespeare was a cruel, unfeeling playwright in the way that he plays with people's feeling.

For the first part of the play, I side with Henry Bolingbroke. Actually I kind of side with Mowbray in the first Act. But as for Richard, for the first three acts of the play, I feel like I just want to punch his face. Annoying, whiny king is not really mu taste. But oh, dear, the fourth act! I can feel Henry's awkwardness, being for the first time addressed as king, and confronting Richard, the ex-king, who throws thorn after thorn to him. I mean, I feel almost guilty for supporting Henry. And Henry must feel the same, because he tries to be nice to him.

A minor but important (I think) thing in this play is the dialogue about Harry the Prince of Wales. He is the real main character of this tetralogy. Richard II is the prologue to all the fun of Henry V. But we will come to that later, when I am calmer, and less hyped up by all the qualities in Henry's character.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Coriolanus: One Against the World

It's never easy to make a Shakespeare play review. There are so many things to say, and yet I don't know where to start or how to say them. Being somewhat excluded from the "famous" tragedies such as Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear, I find Coriolanus has been underrated, where it deserves better acknowledgement.

The setting is Rome. Caius Martius is a renowned soldier who fights with all his heart and might for Rome. His iron-like character he partly owes to his ambitious mother, who, like Alexander's, desires glory, honour, and prestige for her son. Raised as a soldier, Caius Martius becomes an excellent war-machine, but a bad politician - especially when it comes to his relationship with the plebeian. He hates them, and they hate him.
He that will give good words to thee will flatter
Beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs,
That like nor peace nor war? the one affrights you,
The other makes you proud. He that trusts to you,
Where he should find you lions, finds you hares;
Where foxes, geese:
Who deserves greatness
Deserves your hate; and your affections are
A sick man's appetite, who desires most that
Which would increase his evil. He that depends
Upon your favours swims with fins of lead
And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust Ye?
With every minute you do change a mind,
And call him noble that was now your hate,
Him vile that was your garland.
After his glory in Corioles, he is granted the position of a consul and the nickname 'Coriolanus'. Not for long. Soon after, he takes the bait that the tribunes lay for him, and he loses control of his temper, giving a speech that ruins everything he has. He is banished shortly after. Or, from his point of view, he banishes the people.

Coriolanus has one dire enemy - Tullus Aufidius, a Volsce. They have fought several times and Coriolanus always wins. Both share the same hatred toward one another. But his banishment changes everything. Now he goes to Aufidius and offers him help to defeat his own country. Aufidius accepts the offer, thinking that he will be the one who benefits.
Now this extremity
Hath brought me to thy hearth; not out of hope--
Mistake me not--to save my life, for if
I had fear'd death, of all the men i' the world
I would have 'voided thee, but in mere spite,
To be full quit of those my banishers,
Stand I before thee here.
That my revengeful services may prove
As benefits to thee, for I will fight
Against my canker'd country with the spleen
Of all the under fiends.
Not really. Aufidius envy Coriolanus' charisma that inspires people - his people - to follow him. He doesn't shine beside Coriolanus. Aufidius decides to find a way to get rid of this Roman. He gets his chance soon enough.

The people of Rome, hearing that Coriolanus has joined armies with Aufidius, send messenger after messenger to seek his mercy. These messengers are his old friends, and yet, Coriolanus doesn't budge. No, he is determined to see Rome destroyed. But Coriolanus, stubborn and hard-hearted as he is, still has some soft spots in his heart. So when his mother, wife, and son come to meet him, his determination melts away. He proposes peace between Rome and Volsce. Aufidius sees this as a reason to kill Coriolanus, and he seizes the chance without delay.

Coriolanus, Act V, Scene III. Engraved by James Caldwell from a painting by Gavin Hamilton.
The ending is by no means fair for the hero. Alone he dies while his mother becomes a patroness. Alone he dies, with none of his family and friends knowing. His death doesn't change anything in the system that he hates so much. Just another fall of man.


If there's any fault in Coriolanus' character, I don't think it is pride, as Brutus and Sicinius think. A proud man would love to hear his "nothings monster'd", or his deeds shouted loud with "acclamations hyperbolical." No, it is not haughtiness or pride. Coriolanus sets a high standard for himself and measures other people's worth using the same standard. That's his problem.

He hates the people because they ask much without showing they deserve to have the things they demand. He calls his fellow soldiers cowards because they don't show courage and valour equal to his. He despises people who puts his own interests, especially materially,  over the country. This standard he follows, and he thinks he's just doing what he -and everyone else - should do.
I have done
As you have done; that's what I can; induced
As you have been; that's for my country:
He that has but effected his good will
Hath overta'en mine act.
His second fault is of course his unbridled tongue. His friends, such as Menenius and Cominius might share his feelings and opinion about the people, but they keep their mouth shut. They know how to 'flatter' the people - saying things that they would love to hear (pretty much like many politicians nowadays). But Coriolanus cannot speak words that 'are but rooted in his tongue'. He speaks what's in his heart too plainly that it sounds so harsh and rude.
His nature is too noble for the world:
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for's power to thunder. His heart's his mouth:
What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent;
And, being angry, does forget that ever
He heard the name of death.
It's so easy to sympathise with people in this play. I mean, Shakespeare's always brilliant when it comes to characterization, but Coriolanus is one of those that just sticks in one's head. Not just him. Cominius and Menenius, Volumnia and Virgilia, even Aufidius, are all fascinating characters that people can easily relate to.

To sum up all, Coriolanus, for me, is another play about a man "more sinn'd against than sinning."