Shakespeare Final Summative Entry

How has your study of Shakespeare expanded your understanding of human nature?

Well, it’s complicated… That’s what I’ve learned. Shakespeare, like life, is extremely complex and multi-layered. There are meanings beneath meanings and subtext where you least expect it. Am I talking about Shakespeare or just humans in general? Well, both. That is his gift; he captures our confusing complication so well.

In Romeo and Juliet he demonstrated the juxtaposition of love being expressed though hatred. For the Capulets and Montagues, to love one’s kin meant to bitterly hate the perceived enemy of your tribe. Romeo and Juliet, being struck by blind cupid’s arrow, challenged this belief system and payed a tragic price. Their death finally ended the blood feud between their warring families and to this day hopefully reminds readers and audience members that the path of hatred and war can only lead to one outcome: destruction. Love may seem weak in the terrifying face of violent malice, but love is a creative force, whilst hatred destroys both the hater and the hated.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream gave us a humorous look at the potential of love to cause chaos in the lives of us mere mortals. Again we met an unfortunate couple pursuing a forbidden love. In this play Shakespeare employs quarreling and mischievous spirits whose interference in human affairs help illustrate the unpredictable and sometimes absurd whims of the mortal heart when it comes to love. Where love is concerned we truly are at the mercy of some mystical influence that can overwhelm our reason and cause even the wisest of us to act the fool.

cupid

King Lear took us back to the dark side of love and loyalty. This play seemed more concerned with the hollow declarations of affection and fidelity being used as a way of deceptively acquiring wealth and power. The foolish King Lear gives away his throne to two treacherous daughters in return for fictitious ego stroking and is left destitute and insane. The one daughter whose devotion was authentic and attempted to be honest with him was banished and despised by the king. This was a tragic lesson in the power of vanity and our need to feel appreciated by those closest to us. This can be used against us by unscrupulous, silver tongued manipulators who wish to take advantage of us. I guess the simple cliché that may help us all avoid this trap would be: “actions speak louder than words”

We ended our journey with The Tempest, another journey into the world of magic and wonder. However, this one, while having elements of humour, I believe had a rather more serious message for us. This play left me with questions regarding justice and redemption. Prospero had the power to destroy his enemies, yet he chose to forgive them; although he only did this when he was convinced that they were truly repentant for their deeds. I was not quite convinced that they were. I believe they were, like many criminals, only sorry that they were caught and punished. Shakespeare does not force his opinion on us, he merely facilitates the debate. Prospero was done wrong by his brother, but was he himself doing wrong to Caliban? The play like life has many ambiguous qualities.

My study of Shakespeare has been a wondrous and enlightening experience. The texture of the language and richness of the characters are fascinating. Analysing and brainstorming the text with the class gave many valid insights that I would not have discovered alone. Shakespeare’s writing has both complicated and simplified my understanding of human nature. If that last sentence makes sense to you then you may well be ready to immerse yourself into the marvelous world of the bard.

onion-layers

Week 9: A Letter to Gonzalo

It is hard to know if Gonzalo was joking or not when he described his ideal commonwealth. I get a sense of his yearning for a better society than the one he lives in, but I am sceptical as to how much thought he has put into what he presents in Act 2 scene 1 of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Dear Gonzalo,

After looking more closely at your description of your utopian kingdom I am convinced that you must be joking! You speak of a kingdom without a king and then proceed to place yourself on the non-existent throne and call yourself ruler. You spout nonsensical lines such as “All things in common nature should produce without sweat or endeavour” (2.1.51). Indeed nature can provide, but someone must hunt, harvest or forage in order for a large group to survive. Where will these people shelter? Production without labour! Surely you jest sir!  I see a kingdom of homeless, naked and starving wretches! A society where everyone does nothing is doomed to deprivation and possible extinction. If your people will not farm, nor hunt and gather, famine is sure to follow fast.

I certainly share your loathing of the inequality of wealth and opportunity among the people, but transforming the kingdom into a disorganised rabble would only end in chaos and tragedy. Inevitably, people need someone to plan and organise in order for any group to function effectively. The larger the group becomes the more leaders are required. I believe that one word holds the key to a more egalitarian society; “leader”. A true leader serves the people, they do not dictate. You my dear Gonzalo are still employing the word “ruler” whilst speaking of a free society.

Your Shangri-la holds too many contradictions to be taken serious and I must believe you are mocking us with its suggestion. I will take you at your word when you pronounced that you were indeed joking and merely offering empty words. The dream of a better and more equitable society is a noble one, but one that will not be achieved by haphazard anarchy.

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Shakespeare Peer Review 7

Awesome! It was so cool how you seemed to merge poetry and prose. The altered positioning of the words visually added to the  atmosphere you were creating. Very inspirational and creative. Running may not always be possible,  sometimes you may stumble and it is fine to slow it down a bit while you  catch your breath. Moving forward is moving forward. Always remember the hare and the tortoise 🙂

https://christinarujicica.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/eng-210-blog-entry-5/

 

Week 8: Connecting with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146

I suffer with depression. Many themes in this sonnet relate to some important ideas that I needed to help me when I was languishing at the bottom of that angst ridden pit. A lot of the negative emotions sprang from worrying about how I would be perceived by others. Would they see me as weak, stupid or a waste of space? The shame of being depressed compounded the problem. My desire to present myself as being “OK” was precariously held together by lies and a false smile.

Shakespeare’s sonnet urges us to let go of our ego driven need to look good according to the standards of others. Boasting and adorning ourselves with trinkets is a hollow and endless rat race. We need to nurture our souls and take care of our inner selves. Why compete with others when it is their love that you wish to attain? You do not need to be better than someone in order to gain their friendship. We need to help each other navigate the ups and downs of this troublesome thing called life.

I have recently looked back at some of my old poetry attempts and found a few relevant to what we are studying. This one I found was written while I was in the middle of a very bad episode. I find it fascinating to read now and can see many similarities with Sonnet 146. There is nothing like a severe bout of depression to teach you humility and get you searching for what is really important in life. I was in a very bad way so please excuse the language.

MY HOUSE

 

The walls are cracking.

I can see the gaps opening.

All the lavish extensions falling away.

They amount to nothing.

A futile attempt to cover the truth.

The substructure is fucked.

 

My house will crumble.

There is no stopping this.

I have built a mansion

On foundations of shit.

And no matter what I attach to the exterior,

The base support is disintegrating.

 

I fought it long and hard.

Desperately trying to conceal the feeble foundations.

But there is no escaping the simple truth.

I must let it fall.

I must start again.

I will rebuild a new and reliable structure.

 

One that is grounded in truth.

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Shakespeare Peer Review 6

I agree this painting is a wonderful blending of images and ideas that allows the viewer to use their imagination to add a to the already complex story taking place. You did an excellent job of describing the subject and meaning of the picture, but I would have enjoyed reading where your imagination took you. I’m sure it would be very different from mine and that can be a lot of fun.

 

https://tkottaridis.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/week-5-renaissance-art/

 

Week 7: A letter to Cordelia

It is difficult to write a letter of congratulations to someone for honorable actions when you know that the consequences will be so tragic. The person writing this letter would not have such hindsight. Would the person writing this letter actually know of Cordelia’s sister’s hardhearted selfishness? I was tempted to include a line like “what could possibly go wrong” or “I’m sure everything will work out for the best” but opted not to. It was an interesting exercise.

 

Dear Cordelia,

It is with trepidation that I write to applaud your courageous decision to not collaborate in the shallow avarice of your older sisters. I am saddened that you were unable to assist your father in seeing through their thinly veiled greed. While I wholeheartedly support your valiant and honest stance I am most troubled that the king will be left to the mercy of such self-centered and treacherous offspring.

I can only imagine the brain-freezing astonishment you must have experienced when your father placed you three sisters on the spot and requested you to exchange ass-kissing for inheritance. I can fully understand your disbelief and contempt when your sisters were all too eager to not only bow down and comply, but to actually compete with one another. This disgusting display and the distress it caused most certainly aggravated your tongue tied condition.

I do not wish to admonish your decision not to partake in such a foolish and frivolous competition, but you may have sprinkled a little sugar on your words if only to avoid banishment. I know you love and cherish your father and would certainly wish to prevent him from placing himself in such a perilous predicament. For you to play a losing but nobly attempted hand in this petty tournament would have allowed the king to maintain his illusion whilst keeping his true (if sadly unacknowledged) protectors close at hand.

You are of course the King’s daughter and not his mother and saving him from himself is not your duty. For better or worse the dice have been rolled and now we can only watch and wait. I sincerely believe you made the most virtuous decision possible under extremely difficult circumstances. I do not for one moment doubt your dedication or love for your father and can only lament his blind and egotistical foolishness.

 

Yours faithfully,

Sir Jarvis Winterbottom III

 

 

Week 6: Poem inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30

It’s so easy to allow the past to haunt us. It’s not so easy to let it go, or to write poetry for that matter, so here goes nothing…

 

Completely immersed in thoughts of naught.

That one word arrives uninvited.

The scar torn open and anguish reborn.

Once again my identity spited.

 

Damn them!

 

One word,

One insult,

One memory,

So much power it holds.

 

Damn it!

 

The moment gone by.

Yet I re-visit these roasts.

Fuel for this grief I supply.

My tormentor’s but ghosts.

 

Damn.

 

I drink this poison and only I shall suffer.

Live and let live, return to the now.

Recall when you next wish to libel another.

This pain it may teach if you allow.

 

Well I’ll be damned.

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Week 5: Mars and the Vestal Virgin

Shakespeare lived in a Christian society where belief in a single omnipotent deity was in the majority. The ancient mythological Gods like the one in Jacques Blanchard’s painting (above) were much more fallible and prone to human-like egoistic behavior. In one way this makes unfortunate events easier to deal with for the mere mortals. If something goes awry it is probably due to the intervention of some malevolent or mischievous God.

This type of divine meddling is comically portrayed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At any moment the mortals may be subjected to the whims of a deity. Luckily for the characters in Shakespeare’s play these magical creatures were mostly considerate. Oberon seems quite concerned when Robin mismatches the recipient of the love potion and insists on putting things right. Robin for his part is merely playful and not malicious in his games.

The poor woman in this painting however shows another much more sinister side of this relationship between Gods and mortals. The fact that a God can rape a woman with impunity simply because he desires her is quite frightening, but such selfish and callous Gods may explain the horrendous misfortunes that so randomly occur among us humans. Obviously the idea of Immaculate Conception is taking things to an incredible extreme; however the terrible calamities that befall mortals beyond their control may be easier tolerated if they are attributed to a mythical being.

The terrible mishaps that lead to the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet could well be ascribed to a troublesome God who has personal reasons why he should deny them a happy ending. The Christian belief offers very little explanation of bad luck. “The Lord works in mysterious ways” is the stock response. In the case of Romeo and Juliet a Christian may well take solace in the truce accomplished by the deceased lovers sacrifice; this may have been God’s grand scheme all along. One problem with this is that there is no place in Heaven for these ill-fated lovers because suicide is a definite no-no; rather a cruel plan God.

Like it or not we are definitely at the mercy of something we cannot control. Careful as we may be, bad things do happen to good people and bad luck may strike at any time. A painting like this may be seen as a visual interpretation of the forces beyond our control. Call it The God, a God, fate, karma, luck, the universe, physics, mathematical probability, Gremlins….