Tag: William Shakespeare

The Power of Guilt

Tragedy upon tragedy, that’s been the consensus drawn from this Shakespeare class. My final paper addresses whether or not Macbeth is a moral play.

According to this website http://www2.cedarcrest.edu/academic/eng/lfletcher/macbeth/papers/ksteiner.htm, a morality play, or moral play, is when a hero is tempted, falls from grace and must be brought to justice for order to be restored.

Compared with the other happy and uplifting (sarcasm drips from my fingertips) plays we’ve read this term, Macbeth seems to fall into this form more than the form of a simple tragedy. In fact, Macbeth doesn’t seem to have the ambition to promote himself in the beginning of the play and haply serves Duncan.

I’ve always felt that Lady Macbeth resembled Pilate’s wife. The greatest difference is that Lady Macbeth cajoled and belittled her husband until he finally became a murderer – thrice over in one night. Afterward, guilt ate at her, driving her to walk in her sleep while trying to wash the blood from her hands.

Pilate’s wife had a dream and warned Pilate not to condemn Jesus Christ. This was a wife who pushed her husband in the moral direction. Unfortunately, Pilate tied his hands by offering the mob a choice.

Guilt seems to affect Macbeth at first, too. He sees the ghost of Banquo at a dinner party he’s hosting and all the guests think him mad. Once he becomes king, he hires his evil deeds out and assassinates the family of one of his peers, after being warned to “beware Macduff.” This seemed to be the point when he carried things too far and began losing the support of his own men.

Guilt wields cutting power to rival a sharpened scimitar. Of course, guilt can be silenced and disarmed if a person has no moral compass. Guilt’s power comes directly from the assumption that there are absolute truths and standards. Once these standards are disregarded, guilt salutes the offender with a resounding “en garde.”

Macbeth shares characteristics with moral plays, but Shakespeare broke away from being “preachy” and gave the audience the freedom to determine the guilt of Macbeth.

Talk about a Dysfunctional Family

Working in a middle school in a town that is the county seat in a state with an unemployment rate that exceeds the national average, I see plenty of dysfunctional families. Who would have thought I would have been amazed by the crazy family dynamics of a play written in 1605.

Things I see in my everyday student interactions include:

  1. Students with four sets of parents
  2. Students whose parents are in jail
  3. Students who live with their grandparents or aunt and uncle
  4. Students with hyphenated last names because of their parental marriage situation
  5. Students who don’t have enough food, clean clothes or their own bed to sleep in
  6. Homelessness

I could continue, but just writing this down is depressing me.

In King Lear, we have a crazy king with three daughters (no one knows what happened to Mrs. Lear) and a lord who has two sons. None of these people live happily ever after.

The king disowns his youngest daughter for no apparent reason and bequeaths his worldly goods to the other two (and their spouses) with the stipulation that he will reside a month at a time at either of their estates. He will arrive to the oldest daughter’s home with his retinue of 100 knights shortly.

These loving daughters turn him away. He can’t stay unless he gives up his knights. How could they possibly support such a hoard of hungry men? Oh, I wonder. Using the money you just inherited from the very father you’re denying perhaps?

From USAToday

Our other model family is Lord Gloucester and his sons. His oldest son seems somewhat dense but fiercely loyal. His youngest son is illegitimate and weary of being overlooked. Big brother gets all the strokes and carries around dad’s name. He decides to betray them both.

First, he manufactures a plot against his father and says his brother planned it. He sends the brother away, claiming he will take up his cause with their father. Not a chance. Later, he allows the father’s eyes to be gouged out and the brother to wander aimlessly.

In the end, they all die. After all, this is Shakespeare. The two older sisters fight over the illegitimate son and poison each other. The older brother kills the younger brother in a duel. The disowned daughter is murdered and the king dies of a broken heart.

It’s worse than any soap opera aired today. Exponentially worse.

Do you feel that Shakespeare needed to kill so many of his major characters to get his point across? Do people have to die for a story to be considered tragic? I’d love to hear from you.

Hamlet – Not much of a Hero

While critics everywhere agree that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular play, those same scholars find little to admire in the title character. He seems plagued by a “lack of will to act,” they say.

While watching the 1996 Branagh version of Hamlet, I followed the text in my weighty textbook. A few additions (from another version of the text apparently) were the only variations from what Shakespeare penned hundreds of years ago.

I enjoyed the film. While lengthy soliloquies covered a page in the book, the filmmaker gave visual flashbacks or cutaway scenes to explain what was being rambled on about in the tiresome speeches. It helped me understand the depths of plot that Shakespeare layered in this play.

Hamlet, in a deep state of grief over the sudden death of his father, resents the marriage of his mother and uncle less than a month after the funeral. A visit by the ghost of his father directs him to wreak vengeance on his murderous uncle. Hamlet voices his own moral quandary for carrying out this revenge.

It is this constant questioning and his need for verification of his uncle’s guilt that immobilizes him. What right does he have to be the executioner of this sentence? Won’t his vengeful retribution make him as much a murderer as his uncle?

In the film, it was easy to see that Ophelia and Hamlet had a preexisting love relationship, but it’s nonexistent in Shakespeare’s manuscript. What motivated the only suicide in this play?

Is it strange that I find the multiple murders at the end of the play preferable to the suicidal body count in the other three plays I’ve read this term? In fact, the true tragedy of this play is that a country is left without a monarch. An invader walks in at the end to claim the throne, the conquest for it accomplished by the royal family he deposes.

Even though I enjoyed reading (and watching) this play enormously, I have to admit that Hamlet’s character isn’t the compelling ingredient. So many famous sayings and familiar quotes are in this play, it’s obvious The Bard outdid himself with the turns of phrase in this story.

What do you think of Hamlet? Is he a hero? Who do you think was the hero in this play?

Romance or Tragedy?

With difficulty, I managed to keep myself from gagging, choking and puking over the gushing responses of some of the women in my Shakespeare class. They seriously consider Romeo and Juliet an accurate depiction of true, deep, abiding love.

These are probably some of the same people that put Titanic at the top of the box office in 1997. Meeting someone and having sex with them a few days later isn’t true love.

When Titanic came out, one of the girls in the church Bible study group I directed repeatedly went to the theater and extolled the virtues of this as a true love story. I finally asked her what made it seem that way to her.

“He stopped her from killing herself.” That was her answer. Doesn’t general Christian charity compel us to keep another human being from physical harm?

In fact, it was Cameron’s masterful direction of the movie that stirred the heart strings. I found it incredibly depressing. Thousands of people died. Nice for the main character to use the tragedy as a start to a new life, but why was she so deserving?

Shakespeare introduces us to Romeo as he pines for Rosalind. A few scenes later, he’s wondering who the lovely girl at the ball is. They exchange brief lines and suddenly they’re smitten. What idiotic blather!

How many of you met someone and were immediately attracted to them? Dozens of hands go up, I see. How many of you got to know that person and within a month or less realized it was all physical attraction? Pretty much the same hands are raised here.

Who knows why we feel initial sparks of attraction to people? Some scientist, I’m sure, believes they have the answer. The point is: most of the time the initial attraction wanes. In a few rare instances, it might lead to abiding love.

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, not a romance. Here are two teenagers (Juliet was 13) that get married after talking to each other for less than an hour and then kill themselves in a fit of tragic loss a few weeks later.

I see melodrama. I see middle school fickleness. I see suicide being touted as a viable route to escape life’s seemingly insurmountable problems and losses. I don’t see true love that is united by death.

What do you see? If there are some Shakespeare aficionados out there, I want to hear from you. Make me believe this is romance.


What’s up for Winter Term?

Exhibit A - Murder by Shakespeare
Exhibit A – Murder by Shakespeare

Are you looking for a weapon? Perhaps you have a hard-headed relative that could use a good whack on the noggin. In that case, let me recommend The Complete Pelican Works of William Shakespeare.

Who knew several hundred sonnets and 38 plays could create such a monstrous tome? Bound with hard, red covers, my copy can certainly double as a weapon or a mallet for “Whac-A-Mole.

My other textbook caused the man who gave me a pedicure on Saturday to grin like a devil. Naked Playwriting: The Art, the Craft, and the Life Laid Bare is the textbook required for my other class this term. Any guesses on the names of these two courses?


The dread course descends. As an English/literature major, I shouldn’t have such an aversion to The Bard. Actually, I have enjoyed every Shakespeare play I’ve watched. Reading it is a different thumbscrew altogether.

The professor delights in his Elizabethan Era torture devices. We’ll read eight plays before the term subsides. I’m looking forward to Hamlet because of the allusions to it in Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars, which I read aloud to student a few years back. In that novel, Schmidt also alluded to the only chance for laughter we’ll get this term – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nothing will compare to the yellow tights with flowers on the butt that Schmidt’s protagonist wore, I’m sure.

In addition to all this reading and the discussion boards that accompany it (we have three different forums for this first week), we are required to write two essays. Do I even know what they are about? No. The first one is due on January 27. We will get the specifics on it one week in advance of that.

Is there any doubt that my blood pressure has sky-rocketed? I need time to write and think and write some more and rewrite. A week is hardly enough time to muster a C paper.

The last week, while reading our lone comedy, we will be expected to answer several essay questions for our final examination.

I’m happy there won’t be a huge research paper this term. Do I actually know there won’t be? Having so few details inspires me to imagine the worst.

Play Writing Workshop

“You might be SNHU’s own Shakespeare,” my academic advisor told me when I registered for these two courses together in September.

That is a scary thought. As in “laugh out loud” absurd. I have no desire, or aspiration, to resemble Shakespeare in any aspect of my writing. Okay, it might be nice to be quoted 400 years from now, but I don’t want to write with such verbose complexity to earn that distinction.

Dawn rises on my final writing workshop. I haven’t been looking forward to it.

Surprisingly, I think that has changed after reading the introduction and the first chapter of the textbook. (No, I won’t be doing any naked play writing.)

The professor is extremely engaging, so that’s a positive sign. Of course, the fact that I have very short writing assignments each week adds delight. My major project is a 10-minute one-act play and all the other assignments build toward that.

The next two months might be looking up. I should be able to stay on top of writing this blog. I might even compel my creative muse to sprinkle some magic over my fantasy novel.

I couldn’t answer this question: what’s your favorite Shakespeare play? I’d love to be convinced to make your favorite – mine.