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From History to the Stage - Shakespeare Online
As Hector points out, the Trojans can appeal to neither justice nor reason in support of their determination to keep Helen; the best that anyone can say of her is that, quite apart from what she may be in and of herself, "she is a theme of honor and renown,/A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds." But when we look for such deeds in the play, what we find on both sides are acts of questionable valor at best (as when Hector, having challenged the Greeks to find a combatant to uphold their honor as lovers, breaks off a hand-to-hand duel with Ajax on the grounds that they are cousins) and downright cowardice at worst (as when Achilles, having come upon Hector at a moment when he has removed his armor to rest, merely summons his Myrmidons to slaughter the champion of the Trojans). In the meantime we are treated to the voyeurism of Pandarus, an impotent and diseased bawd whose only pleasure in life is to serve as go-between for Troilus and Cressida, and the homoerotic indulgence of Achilles and Patroclus, who have withdrawn from combat because of a slight the prima donna Achilles thinks he has suffered at the hands of the Greek general, Agamemnon. Small wonder that Ulysses should observe that "degree is shak'd." And little wonder that director Jonathan Miller, in his 1982 BBC television production of , hit upon as the most apt twentieth-century analogue for a satiric seventeenth-century depiction of war as the triumph of unreason, ennui, and depravity.
Like , was completed by 1611 and printed for the first time in the 1623 Folio. Because it refers to the "still-vext Bermoothes" and derives in part from three accounts of the 1609 wreck of a Virginia-bound ship called the , the play has long been scrutinized for its supposed commentary on the colonial exploitation of the New World. But if the brute Caliban is not the noble savage of Montaigne's essay on cannibals, he is probably not intended to be an instance of Third World victimization by European imperalism either. And Prospero's island is at least as Mediterranean as it is Caribbean. More plausible, but also too speculative for uncritical acceptance, is the time-honored supposition that the magician's staff with which Prospero wields his power is meant to be interpreted as an analogy for Shakespeare's own magical gifts--with the corollary that the protagonist's abjuration of his "potent art" is the dramatist's own way of saying farewell to the theater. Were it not that at least two plays were almost certainly completed later than , this latter hypothesis might win more credence.
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 In summary, even though Augustus’ predecessors, specifically his own adoptive father Julius Caesar, are often considered better conquerors, Augustus used his military genius to introduce reforms in order to encourage enrollment, create a standing army and the Praetorian Guard to maintain the borders of Rome and expand the Empire.
What we do have to go on is certainly compatible with the suspicion that William and Anne were somewhat less than ardent lovers. They had only two more children--the twins, Hamnet and Judith, baptized on 2 February 1585--and they lived more than a hundred miles apart, so far as we can tell, for the better part of the twenty-year period during which Shakespeare was employed in the London theater. If we can give any credence to an amusing anecdote recorded in the 1602-1603 diary of a law student named John Manningham, there was at least one occasion during those years when Shakespeare, overhearing the actor Richard Burbage make an assignation, "went before, was entertained, and at his game before Burbage came; then, message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third." If we read the sonnets as in any way autobiographical, moreover, we are shown a poet with at least one other significant liaison: a "Dark Lady" to whom Will's lust impels him despite the self-disgust the affair arouses in him (and despite her infidelity with the fair "Young Man" to whom many of the poems are addressed and for whom the poet reserves his deepest feelings).
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Orphaned at an early age and reared as a waiting-gentlewoman to the elegant and sensitive Countess of Rossillion, Helena presumes to fall in love with the Countess's snobbish son Bertram. Using a cure she learned from her dead father, who had been a prominent physician, Helena saves the life of the ailing King of France, whereupon she is rewarded with marriage to the man of her choice among all the eligible bachelors in the land. She astonishes Bertram by selecting him. Reluctantly, Bertram consents to matrimony, but before the marriage can be consummated he leaves the country with his disreputable friend Parolles, telling Helena in a note that he will be hers only when she has fulfilled two presumably impossible conditions: won back the ring from his finger and borne a childe to him. Disguised as a pilgrim, Helena follows Bertram to Florence. There she substitutes herself for a woman named Diana, with whom Bertram has made an assignation, and satisfies the despicable Bertram's demands.
There is no danger, to be sure, that Hamlet will ever lose his appeal as an articulate and ardent existentialist--as the prototype of modern man in spiritual crisis. But recent critical studies and productions of the play have raised questions about the "matter" of in Elizabethan terms that suggest a somewhat less admirable protagonist than most of us would like to believe the play presents. It is no longer universally assumed, for example, that the play within the play, by proving the Ghost "honest" in his testimony about Claudius's guilt, is sufficient to prove the Ghost "honest" in Hamlet's more fundamental sense. Enough evidence remains in the play to suggest that the Ghost may yet be a "devil" intent on "abusing" the melancholic Hamlet by exhorting him to the kind of vengeance that Elizabethan Christians believed to belong only to God or to his deputed magistrates. And Hamlet's disinclination to "try" the spirit earlier in the play is but one of many indications in the text that he fails to put to proper use what he elsewhere describes as "godlike reason." A close examination of many of Hamlet's reflective speeches, including his celebrated "To be nor not to be" soliloquy, will show that they serve functions similar to those of Brutus in . By bringing the audience into the protragonist's confidence, they endear him to us and incline us to see everything and everyone else in the action through his eyes. But if we pay careful attention to the nuances of thought in these reflections, we will notice that many of them tend to be irrational--peppered with non sequiturs and disclosing the kind of emotional stress that renders a man prone to error.
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What emerges for a theatergoer or reader of the play today is a highly "artificial" comedy about a company of men whose well-intended but ill-conceived attempt to outwit nature makes them all look foolish and lands them in a pickle. No sooner have King Ferdinand of Navarre and his friends Longaville, Dumaine, and Berowne--hoping to conquer the frailties of the flesh and find an antidote to "cormorant devouring time"--forsworn the company of women and withdrawn to their quasi-monastic Academe than they find their fortress besieged by four beautiful ladies--the Princess of France and her attendants Maria, Katherine, and Rosaline--who camp in the park outside and watch with amusement as each of the "scholars" falls in love, forsakes his vows, and gets caught by the others. Eventually the men surrender and propose marriage, but by this time it has become clear that they are so far gone in artifice that they need at least a year of penance--and time in real-world settings such as the hospital to which Berowne is consigned--before their protestations of devotion can be given any credit. Love's labor is "lost," then, in the sense that this is a comedy without the traditional happy consummation in wedding, feasting, and dancing. Its concluding lyrics move from spring ("When daisies pied") to winter ("When icicles hang"), and the year of penance to come is one that requires all of the men to reevaluate their aspirations with a renewed awareness of the omnipresence of disease and the inevitability of death.
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is in many respects the epitome of "festive comedy," an evocation of the folk rituals associated with such occasions as May Day and Midsummer Eve, and its final mood is one of unalloyed romantic fulfillment. Romance is also a key ingredient in the concluding arias of Shakespeare's next comedy, , where Bassanio and Portia, Lorenzo and Jessica, and Gratiano and Nerissa celebrate the happy consummation of three love quests and contemplate the music of the spheres from a magical estate known symbolically as Belmont. But the "sweet harmony" the lovers have achieved by the end of has been purchased very dearly, and it is hard for a modern audience to accept the serenity of Belmont without at least a twinge of guilt over what has happened in far-off Venice to bring it about.
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Which of them came first we do not know, but most scholars incline toward , a play so openly scaffolded upon Plautus's and (two farces that Shakespeare probably knew in Latin from his days in grammar school) that one modern critic has summed it up as "a kind of diploma piece." Set, ostensibly, in the Mediterranean city familiar from St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, the play begins with a sentence on the life of a luckless Syracusan merchant, Aegeon, who has stumbled into Ephesus in search of his son Antipholus. After narrating a tale of woe that wins the sympathy of the Duke of Ephesus, Aegeon is given till five in the afternoon to come up with a seemingly impossible ransom for his breach of an arbitrary law against Syracusans. Meanwhile, unknown to Aegeon, the object of his search is in Ephesus too, having arrived only hours before him; Antipholus had set out some two years earlier to find a twin brother by the same name who was separated from the rest of the family in a stormy shipwreck more than twenty years in the past. By happy coincidence, the other Antipholus has long since settled in Ephesus, and so (without either's knowledge) has their mother, Aegeon's long-lost wife, Aemilia, who is now an abbess. To complicate matters further, both Antipholuses have slaves named Dromio, also twins long separated, and of course both sets of twins are indistinguishably appareled. Into this mix Shakespeare throws a goldsmith, a set of merchants, a courtesan, a wife and a sister-in-law for the Ephesian Antipholus, and a conjuring schoolmaster. The result is a swirling brew of misunderstandings, accusations, and identity crises--all leading, finally, to a series of revelations that reunite a family, save Aegeon's life, and bring order to a city that had begun to seem bewitched by sorcerers.
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