My Time of Shakespeare: Love’s Labour’s Lost

LLLI found one! A Shakespeare play for which I care very little – dare I say, I don’t like!

Yet even when confronted with works which do not titillate one’s fancy, I imagine one can still find things to respect or even admire within it. While this play does not stimulate me, it may stand as one of Shakespeare’s best in regards to his occupation as a wordsmith. He effortlessly plays with words like many athletes juggle balls or sticks. His characters dissect words nearly to the point of voiding them of meaning, perhaps leaving the audience look elsewhere for themselves within the play. Comedic? Maybe – to an old English audience more sophisticated in language than this generation.

The privileged and care-free circumstances of the characters also disappointed me. They take their social status for granted and in so doing fail to realize any consequence for their boredom induced mockery of love and relationships. Even the King’s vow to avoid love and pursue study for three years may suggest his longing for meaning in a privileged life but he devalues the pursuit of that meaning (even if in the wrong direction) by abandoning the vow fairly easily. Only at the end, when real consequence halts the lovers’ suits do they realize they do not live in a world apart from agony or sadness rendering their labor’s lost.

I can respect many things in this play but ultimately the word play and character play fail to comprise a coherent plot or stimulating idea. It all seems meaningless. But perhaps we witness Shakespeare’s labor’s lost in this endeavor of his loved passion for play writing.

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Posted by on November 16, 2014 in William Shakespeare


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Thoughts: The Wayward Bus

The Wayward BusThe Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t care at all about what the bus represents.

It might shine as a dumpy emblem of the American journey to either the realization or implosion of our future plans. But the story strikes me more as the common American journey not necessarily from childhood to manhood, like the universal Buldingsroman, but rather the solitary transformation to self-realization from what to who. After all, what can these characters do with a Virgil like Juan Chicroy? The prototypical guide never wavers, never falters, offers insights and leads the way. An effective guide allows the hero to transform through struggle rather than lecturing. But what if the guide does waver and falter? Perhaps if he does, the heros can delve even deeper into their primitive selves and come to a better understanding of the meaning in their lives.

Even if this all rings true, I don’t care about the bus. Steinbeck impresses with his dynamic grasp of character and in no better fashion than exemplified in The Wayward Bus. His others works provide an academic smorgasbord of analytic sweets but in this book we have a company of characters who seem to serve no purpose other than to mirror the readers very own emotional conditions.

Whether Steinbeck intended this or not, I gleaned a sharp sense of relation to these people. Each one not only reflects the emotional states of demographics sharing their circumstances but also exposes the fundamental emotional core from which they all crawl. Any reader who picks up The Wayward Bus will find themselves within its pages with near perfect likeness. They would first find the character with whom they relate but then find themselves in the shoes of the other characters with complete sympathy for their circumstances and emotions as if they share them in reality – perhaps before they even know of people who really live those circumstances.

What a talent! With ease, Steinbeck has me feeling like a middle-aged, unsatisfied and insecure woman, a confined adolescent yearning for life, a cardboard businessman and a happy-go-lucky salesman, feeling the strain of feminine beauty before infusing me with the integral masculinity which fundamentally drives me as a carrot just within my grasp.

So no, I do not care about the bus. But I haven’t read many books in which I care so deeply about the people. They are me.

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Posted by on October 19, 2014 in John Steinbeck


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My Time of Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Act II, Scene 2 from the Painting by Sir J Noel Paton, RSA

Act II, Scene 2 from the Painting by Sir J Noel Paton, RSA

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this – and all is mended –
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I’m an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

As a comedy, this play embellishes Love as its overarching theme. One notices how love effects each character differently throughout the course of the play and yet we understand it as an autonomous essence – a Cupid – something which exists absolutely of its own accord. Helena’s first monologue describes her thoughts on a personified Love. The universal experience of love binds all creatures in a common condition but fuels each individual fire to different outcomes. For some it drives them to humble indignity, others to indescribable bliss, and still others to serve the vengeful will of spite – to be wielded as a weapon of revenge! Yet in one common experience of love, whatever its form, we find ourselves unified, intertwined.

Shakespeare has a notorious sense of humor about mistakes – innocent, meaningless mistakes – which effect the fates of his characters catastrophically, leading them to their direst ends. These mistakes, such as Puck’s accidental “blessing” of Lysander’s eye, and others within Shakespeare’s works, not only serve to engage the audience, but cause one to wonder how Shakespeare himself would have behaved at a future party with nihilists and existentialists. I can only posit that he rebuked the general belief of his day that Fates and supernatural powers spun the world on their finger and jovially jerked us with their puppet strings. Perhaps he felt that these Fates possessed fallibility much like people or if the many twists in life lack the meaning men often place on them.

In any case, these mistakes lend to a much larger idea of manipulation and control within the play. Oberon and Puck use a magical elixir to bend the natural order of love to their will – much like the duke and Egeus try to bend the natural governance of love surrounding Hermia and Lysander to Egeus’ will. Before the fairies enter the play, we have a particular dynamic between our four lovers – Helena, Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander. To begin, the dynamic looks a bit like this: Helena chases Demetrius and Demetrius chases Hermia who loves Lysander. After the first application of the elixir, mistakenly applied to Lysander’s eye rather than Demetrius’, the dynamic shifts to look a bit like this: Lysander chases Helena; Helena chases Demetrius; Demetrius chases Hermia. The fairies spin the sides of the Rubix Cube only to get further from colorful harmony. The second application produces the next dynamic: Hermia chases Lysander and Lysander chases Helena who loves Demetrius.

We now have a perfect inversion of the initial dynamic. Hermia now replaces Helena in the original dynamic – pining after a man who loves another – Lysander replaces Demetrius chasing a woman who rebukes him while shunning a woman who loves him – Helena now experiences Hermia’s previous place and Demetrius Lysander’s. With this inversion we see the very inversion of love as well – into rage and pending violence. Earlier, we witnessed happiness mixed with sadness in Helena and bitterness in Demetrius. Yet it all centered around love. In this dynamic, the men seek to harm each other and Hermia wishes to attack Helena. Yet, amidst this discord, one can hope that it can serve a better purpose in causing each character to sympathize with the one who now experiences their previous position – thus, again, unifying them in one condition.

The natural has deformed into the unnatural – like producing life outside of birth. Consider how Oberon and Titania argue in their first scene about their manipulation of Theseus and Hippolyta. Titania likens it to the shifting of the very seasons.

Yet in addition to the dynamics between the characters, Shakespeare, again, adds further dimension to the play with his signature play-within-a-play. In the final acts, after Puck labels mortals as fools (Act III, Scene II), these mortals witness a play during which they call the players fools, in so many words – adding their commentary and pompous judgement much like the fairies did while entertaining themselves with the mortal’s drama in the woods! With different powers, different parts, and different lives, Shakespeare unifies all characters by exposing a singular, fundamental experience through juxtaposition in similar scenarios. The lovers share the fairies’ experience and the players’ the lovers’.

And yet! as Puck addresses the audience in his final speech, which coincidentally mirrors the Prologue of Pyramus and Thisbe, do we as the audience not see ourselves as the same dramatists in the woods or players in the play? And do we then, with our disbelief no longer suspended, not look at Master Shakespeare as the fairy king manipulating our very senses and feelings?

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Posted by on October 18, 2014 in William Shakespeare


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Thoughts: The Man Who Laughs

The Man Who LaughsThe Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, pathetic division of an intellect, of a will, of a brain, between two brothers who are enemies! the Phantom of Poverty and the Phantom of Wealth! Abel and Cain in the same man!

Romanticism at its finest – or should I say at its most indulgent.

Hugo weaves a tale thematically similar to his others – ascending his poetic podium to lecture on the plight of the socially disenfranchised and the tragically fated – with his signature ability to embellish dualities which simultaneously describe unity between characters and symbols. If we follow him; find our place in his monolithic scope of the human experience, we may even catch a glimpse of warm redemption and happiness within the .

I enjoyed the symbolic feuds and implied parleys. I appreciated the ideas. But I did not myself envision any of them. Hugo takes it upon himself to think for the reader – to analyze every thought-process and action, every scene and character dynamic, leaving the poor reader to either swallow the spoonfuls or reject them outright. But what real choice do we have but to swallow them? It is, afterall, Victor Hugo.

Nevertheless, I admit that his analyses, his definitive romantic tendency to “tell” rather than “show”, even with flawlessly chosen words and artful dictation, burdened the reading experience with a sense of arduous journeying rather than blissful discovery.

But I cannot think of any better lecturer than Victor Hugo.

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Posted by on October 11, 2014 in Victor Hugo


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My Time of Shakespeare: Measure For Measure

Measure for MeasureMeasure for Measure by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alack, when once our grace we have forgot,
Nothing goes right; we would, and we would not

After each Shakespeare experience, I realize how much I have yet to learn The Bard we love so much. If the man wrote average works merely for the sake of his professional livelihood, one might count Measure For Measure among them even if only for its lack of notoriety. I did. Yet Shakespeare must have enjoyed envious blessing in his ability to transform mediocre intent into golden wonder.

I had no idea what to expect as I picked up Measure For Measure. I hadn’t the slightest familiarity with its characters, plot, themes, etc. I did, however, expect an “easy” play. On the contrary, Measure For Measure expounds on ethical conundrums in the oximoronic term “state justice” and the manipulated intent of civil and religious law when it serves to enforce morality.

Surely, Man created Law to protect freedom, not restrain it. Consider Angelo’s analogy of the scarecrow,

We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape till custom make it
Their perch, and not their terror (Act II, Scene I)

However, though I concede Angelo’s point, I have to ask: does the scarecrow exist only to scare crows or to protect the crop? Understandably, the two intentions intertwine yet if we untangle them, we must ask whether the crow, or the crop, represents the public. The Duke describes the public as a caged lion denied the use of its nature. He fears the public may no longer fear the cane once used to control it. The cage now angers them more than the pain of the cane frightens them. So they will endure that pain for the sake of exploding from the cage. Of course, after they explode from the cage, the cane may seem all the more necessary as the public indulges itself on every allowance once denied them. Claudio ponders,

From too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty
As surfeit is the father of much fast,
So every scope by the immoderate use
Turns to restraint. Our natures do pursue, -
Like rats that ravin down their proper bane, -
A thirsty evil; and when we drink we die. (Act I, Scene III)

The public turns to a government to restrain their freedoms when they should rather enjoy the freedom to deny themselves as much as indulge themselves. They would see value, not in the lack of denial, but in the lack of a hand denying them. The problem is not denial itself, but who denies. That power ought to lie in each man. Freedom is power over oneself, not the lack of power at all which leads to irresponsible indulgence – not the ability to do anything, bu the power to choose for our own good. Perhaps Claudio speaks sarcastically, but I can’t argue with him.

Escalus, when pitying Claudio’s circumstances, laments, “Mercy is not itself, that oft looks so; / Pardon is still the nurse of second woe:” (Act II, Scene I). Imagine if the Bishop of Digne had sent Jean Valjean back to prison for stealing his silver. Mercy and pardon always and steadfastly exist as Good and Right and fertilize seeds which grow green among crispy brown stalks. We simply cannot see the future or trust nature and mankind to unfold its story like Hugo’s – to raise the green stalks. Therefore, we believe that we need to snuff mercy and take power away from Fate and the evolution of nature to ensure justice.

Let he who has no sin cast the first stone – yet somehow we convince ourselves that government stands immune to this philosophy. We plead for justice from a civil authority like Angelo. As Angelo solicites Isabel, after her petition for mercy on behalf of her brother, I see a hypocrite but also a trickster. With leading logic, like a seven-figure lawyer, he manipulates her thinking to serve both his pious judgement and crude, base hypocrisy. He nearly resembles a satanic figure preying on a Godly sheep, “my false o’erweighs your true” (Act II, Scene IV). However, one can argue that Angelo labored logically not only to convince Isabel, but himself. If his prisoner’s sister, and a woman of the cloth no less, can defend his judgement than how can anyone else, or he, accuse him of injustice?

Their intellectual battle between civil law and religious reason exposes another concept. By pursuing infallible purity through reasoned or spiritual labor, Man unavoidably faces a crossroads of his reasoned and explained Right versus real, autonomous, unchangeable Right – a Right perhaps beyond analysis but surely constant, unaffected by his ability to grasp it, existing outside of his influence and content to carry on independently of his acceptance. Neither Angelo nor Isabel can flawlessly defend Claudio by means of reason, law or religion (at least within the realms of their understanding). Yet the audience knows Claudio suffers unjustly despite these characters’ inability to explain it. Angelo manages to portray Isabel’s sacrificial willingness as a sin. She follows and agrees, unable to show any conviction in sinning for the sake of saving her brother. Therefore, the audience remains unsatisfied and continue to wait for Shakespeare to present some wise perspective, to show a true Right that makes legally arguable sense among civil and religious law when neither rule has done so yet.

Speaking for myself, as a member of that audience, I sympathize with Claudio not only because he suffers for a behavioral slip which in this day bares minimal legal reciprocity, if any, but because Angelo, a statesman, holds sway over his very life as if he has a right to it. To Angelo, a human life signifies only its part in the machine of the public, of society. If that part breaks, or causes the machine to sputter, Angelo would simply dispose of it. Not only does this bother me, but the idea that Angelo, or any statesman with this power, can decide a man’s fate, or even a machine part’s fate, based on the machine’s performance when he determines the quality or intent of that machine’s function! To another, that machine might appear to do exactly what it ought to do but if Angelo disagrees, the part enters the hearth regardless of if the machine does, in fact, perform as it should according to a constant, autonomous assessment.

I found the Duke terribly interesting. He somehow stands apart from the other judges in this play. He leaves his seat and powers to Angelo, much like God may have done with Satan in the story of Job, and disguises himself as a friar. In contrast to Angelo and Isabel’s opposition, the Duke embraces both agents within himself. I also find it ironic that Venice’s highest judge would orchestrate justice away from his seat of power. I admit I had trouble believing in the Duke since he executes much of his more benign justice under a false guise and by tricking and employing falsehoods in the name of good. Yet he contrasts Angelo by employing “wrong” to accomplish good while Angelo and Escalus believe they do “good” by employing wrong. While Isabel and Angelo argue about the logic of sinning to save, the Duke encourages religiously indictable tricks in the pursuit of justice. Law does not motivate the Duke nor do any metaphysical or philosophical doctrines on justice. To use a cliche, the Duke follows the Golden Rule and feels that someone who has sinned should by no means cast any kind of stone. But if the head of government believes this, how can any man hold sway over another’s life? Lucio even distracts us into wondering, at least, if the Duke himself ought to cast any stones.

Finally, the Duke levies sentences against those who the audience might lead to the gallows themselves. And yet even here justice does not quit. We have yet more to glean about true justice and real Right. Isabel gets her chance to petition again for a life, though this time the life means quite the opposite to her from what Claudio’s means to her. But if she wants to remain true to her spiritual nature, she must pass the test or somehow, without ever anticipating it, find herself likened to her enemy and branded as a hypocrite. Claudio finds his justice, as does Angelo and Lucio. In the end, justice finds satisfaction in rectifying wrongs rather than punishing them.

All do not live happily ever after. But each wrong measure found its righteous and equal countermeasure. And time moves on for more wrongs and more rights and more mercy and more justice to find their places in our lives.

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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in William Shakespeare


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Thoughts: Moby Dick, or The Whale

Moby-Dick; or, The WhaleMoby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very little of this drama, the plot itself, begs any question of me. In fact, Melville never really succeeded in suspending my disbelief. My frame of mind never left the reality of the world in which Melville wrote his masterpiece. I read the events and scientific diatribes as words in a murky book, not as real occurrences marooned on the land of readers’ imaginations.

How brilliant!

This grounding on the shore of reality, interpreting every word as a result of Melville’s pen rather than Ishmael’s…well…experience or imagination, causes me to ask so many questions which truly delve into the depths of the brilliance behind the book Moby Dick.

Why does Ishmael tell the story? Can we trust him? Do the events of the story really happen or does he only indulge his knack for story telling? Does he only want to bolster his own self-efficacy as a man of import, having witnessed such magnificent things? Do the answers matter? And why the Old Testament references? Why the insanity? Why do scenes starring Captain Ahab digress into Shakespearean rhythms? Why the textbook tutelage? Does this only serve Ishmael’s ego? And, ultimately, why whales?

The list of questions go on and on but I must assume that Melville makes his choices intentionally. But to what end? I don’t think he has a message to preach, but maybe a picture to paint of human existence.

Melville concocts Ishmael, the most famous first-person narrator in American literature. Of course, this leaves the entire story exposed to the scrutiny of the readers judicial branch. But would we contemplate this narrative as deeply if an omniscient third-person narrator dictated these events to us? Would we then swallow them as fact? Perhaps Melville doesn’t want us to suspend our disbelief. Maybe he wants us to consider Ishmael’s potential flaws precisely so we might think of his story as a possible myth or allegory. If we do, we open our minds to the ideas which myths and allegories pull best from our psyches. If we consider his word as truth, as we do with those who disseminate facts, we might find ourselves distracted from understanding our experience. One must also concede that the best way to understand our experience may be to listen to one who shares it with us.

Symbols abound in Moby Dick, though different readers might find different ones. Ultimately, among the list of incidental symbols, two formed my interpretation of this narrative.

In several instances, Ishmael likens the sea to the human soul. If we follow this idea, we can glean how the Pequod’s voyage might resemble mankind’s journey within himself. Then we consider how our souls resemble the frighteningly vast power of the world in which they exists. What a struggle for any person – between the abyss of themselves and the vast expanse of the world! We might consider how our psyche constantly wrestles to live within two fearful parallels of the soul and the world.

Also, I can’t believe that a man such as Ishmael, who deifies the Leviathan to such great lengths, does not somehow mean to symbolize God with Moby Dick. Ironically, the anatomy, history and science lectures – which usually serve to pronounce the falseness of a god – might better serve in this case to validate him. In an attempt to intellectually compartmentalize a being which he equally glorifies – by factually describing every part of him – he fails to understand the apparent intelligence in Moby Dick and fails to squeeze his essence into the same construct as the Pequod’s victims. Moby Dick does not fit the scientifically constructed mold of the whale as Ishmael describes it. Yet Moby Dick is physically and undeniably real – but only at the end. The crew must lean on hearsay and the words of captains, both insane and otherwise, to know of his existence. But at the end of the journey, after much toil and searching, they finally catch up to Moby Dick.

Now, considering these symbols (indulge me if you will), what can we take from the idea of a madman pursuing a God figure within the infinite realm of his own soul? By attacking this God figure, to we not, then, attack ourselves? According to the Old Testament, Ahab, Israel’s “most evil” king (1 Kings 16:30) shuns God. Even Elijah shows up to warn Ishmael and Queequeg from voyaging on the Pequod. Why does Ahab need to revenge himself on a God figure? Perhaps because Moby Dick physically harms Ahab, he needs to revenge himself on him. But why the insanity? Other captains came to physical and filial harm by Moby Dick but none lose their minds over it. Perhaps Ahab feels wounded by the idea that something within his soul proves more powerful than his conscious Self – that something dictates his life, his method of physical movement on one good leg. Or perhaps forces outside of Moby Dick govern Ahab’s motivations and lead him toward this interpretation of his circumstances. And these forces twist Ahab against himself, if the God figure exists within his own soul as Moby Dick swims in the sea. After all, Ishmael does introduce us to the mysterious stow-away with devil eyes who speaks in whispers only to Ahab. And we witness the touching moment when Ahab relents in his insanity to Starbuck, crying for peace. The conflict between Ahab and Moby Dick exists only in Ahab’s mind, mutated and twisted by the forces within his soul and without.

One might wonder if Man could live peaceably and happily, as Starbuck implores, simply by leaving Moby Dick alone. But can Man do this? Or, by doing so, would he fly in the face of his instinct? Is the pursuit of Moby Dick the result of an unavoidable force governing human life – wrought from fear and the maddening immensity of the abyss within our own soul, as in the sea, and the forces of the world we inhabit? Must we pursue and conquer Moby Dick in a final effort to control our existence – define it according to our small and insignificant, though comfortable and flattering, terms before the overwhelmingly vast nature of our souls and world crush our psyche? Or do those forces victimize man and inspire him to seek his own death – revenge upon himself?

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Posted by on April 11, 2014 in Herman Melville


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My Time of Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor

from the Painting in the Boydell Gallery, by Rev W Peters


Why, Sir John, do you think, though we would have thrust virtue out of our hearts by the head and shoulders, and have given ourselves without scruple to hell, that ever the devil could have made you our delight?

Has Sir John Falstaff learned the humour of the age? to suffer tactics similar to his own, turning him into a pathetic minstrel unwittingly singing praises of his own demise? Perhaps his humour, as Nym would overly use the word, permeates the age across gender and social barriers. Mistresses Page and Ford do not count themselves above such deceptive tactics to profit in humour. Nor does Master Fenton.

I gladly meet Falstaff again in this Merry Wives of Windsor. Not only did I miss him after finishing the Henry IVs, but I feel that I know a little more about him in terms of his literary merit. On one level, Shakespeare could have intended to use him as a symbol of the haughty hypocrisy and base normality of English nobility, soldiers and knighthood. Yet when comparing this “Merry” John Falstaff to the Falstaff at young Prince Henry V’s side, we see more of a transition than static statement. Falstaff himself represents the turning of the age in England to one of national conscience and meaning, a state in which he has trouble placing himself. These comic characters of Windsor care little about laws, state regulations or anyone other than themselves for that matter. They do not mind humiliating, propositioning married women, venting their anger and insecurities upon innocents, supporting others against each other for profit or neglecting their vocations for, well…silliness. With the coronation of Henry V, this petty rabbling dissolves away.

Of course, it’s just a play and one which assuredly entertained the masses at the Globe, or wherever Shakespeare staged it. On might think that he abandoned some intellectual integrity in order to coax a laugh or two. Alas, should we forget that we speak of Shakespeare? Of his familiar comedies, I think this one had the most complex plot though simplest adhesive. As in other comedies, deception fuels the humour. Yet the audience sees every deceptive move at every level. They also usually see the perpetrator and victim quite clearly and thusly knowing full well with whom they ought to sympathize. Yet with these Windsor folk, they all suffer as the perpetrator and the victim. So how ought the audience react? Who should they laugh at, pity, sympathize with or scorn?

Due to this complexity, I found the play rather flat in terms of meaning. After they bow, nothing changes either within the minds of the patrons or in the hearts of society. We witnessed one big trick over-cooked by several tiny versions of itself. Life moves on as it had.

But it was funny!

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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in William Shakespeare


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