Thursday, April 29, 2010

King John: You Just Can’t Trust Anybody

Having finished The Life and Death of King John, I feel confident in subtitling the play as I have above. Ought Sir Robert Faulconbridge have trusted his wife not to cavort with King Richard I whilst he himself was away on business? That’s a no. Should Lady Faulconbridge have trusted her sons not to expose her adultery after Richard’s death? Also a no. Should the young prince Arthur, arguably the heir to the English throne ahead of his “usurping” Uncle John, have trusted his uncle or even his own grandmother not to plot his death? Again, that’s a no. Should King John have trusted poor Hubert - picked for the job because John thought since he was ugly on the outside, and he just figured “well, if he's ugly on the outside . . .” – anyway, should John have trusted Hubert to stab out the young boy Arthur’s eyes with a hot poker and then kill him? Or should Hubert have trusted King John not to say “why did you kill my nephew just because I asked you to? Geez, man. You could’ve said something. I would have come to my senses if you'd just said something. But, no. You were all like, ‘Sure, King John, I’ll be happy to kill your little nephew for you’” despite the fact he hadn’t actually killed said nephew? Should Arthur, having puppy-dog-eyed his way out of having his eyes burnt out and his short life ended for him, trusted his ability to survive a jump from several stories up to escape captivity? Exactly! A no to every one of those questions.

You just can't trust anybody, I guess.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Look Again

I decided to try writing a sonnet of my own today. Here's what I came up with:

If you could look again on things that pass’d

And change the part you played in what you see,

Before the die you threw had first been cast

And what you've done in life had come to be,

How much to come would you be proud to keep

Compar’d with all your heart would long to change?

Could you then find another moment's sleep

Until you might a new ledger arrange?

This need not die as but a simple dream;

The chance set here before us all is real.

As strange perhaps a thing like this may seem

Can you doubt what your heart begins to feel?

Of life, today is yet the highest bar;

It is today that makes us who we are.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Richard III: Oh No He Didn't

Wow! Richard is so evil! His “monster” resume is unreal. How does he feel about killing family members – no problem, killing children – no problem, trying to woo the woman whose husband you murdered over the dead body of her father-in-law who, of course, you also murdered – you guessed it, that’s no problem!

The thing about Richard though is that he’s not simply a masked horror movie killer, he is more complicated than that. He has a charm about him, a presence. In fact many of his misdeeds are actually accomplished through manipulation. He can convince others to kill for him, can turn brother against brother, he can somehow convince people they can trust him despite the fact that just about everybody connected to him winds up dead, and yes, he can even get the girl whose husband and father-in-law he killed to marry him. I’ll give you one guess what happens to her later on.

Long story short, Richard proves to be every bit the memorable villain that I had heard him to be.

And there is so much that comes to a head in Richard III. Having followed the whole story which led up to this, I’m not surprised to find the conclusion so satisfying. Chronologically, Richard III is the last play of an eight-part story arc. I think that arc, (with its differing chronology and publication) to be pretty interesting in its own right, so I’ll save that for another post.

There is one more item I definitely wanted to mention about Richard III, that being that Act 5 Scene 3 is easily one of my favorite scenes in any play I’ve read so far. At this point, Richard has been going around killing anybody he felt like for a play and a half, and now on the eve of the big final battle between Richard’s army and the late-arriving hero Richmond’s army, all of those victims come for their revenge. As he sleeps, nearly every victim appears to Richard and commands that his guilt weigh heavily on his heart in the coming battle, and a number of victims end their speech with the passionate and powerful line “Despair and die!” How incredible is that?! The ghosts then turn one at a time to Richmond, also camped out and asleep on the opposite side of the stage, and reassure him saying that the spirits will be fighting alongside him tomorrow. What an amazing scene! It comes to life so vividly on the page that I have to believe that it was larger than life on the stage.

Good one, Shakespeare! Take that, Richard III!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

William's History Lesson

As I mentioned, I'm currently reading my way through Shakespeare's histories. Right now, I'm working through Richard III, which is the ninth of the ten for me (only King John is left after this). And other than the Queen Elizabeths and Henry VIII (who I had always assumed was preceded in some fashion by seven other King Henrys - it turns out that was a good guess), I had virtually no prior grasp of the history of the British monarchy. So I've been doing some online research to sort of fill in the blanks in helping me understand the whos and whens, at least as far as the plays are concerned.

This research has drastically improved my understanding of the surprising number of pop-culture references to the historical monarchs. Allow me to illustrate.

Here is the villainous Prince John as I've most recently encountered in the awesome BBC series Robin Hood. Well - spoiler alert - he goes on to become the King John whose play I'll be reading next. John's grandson, also an English king (though not the subject of any Shakespearean play), is none other than . . .

. . . Edward I, a.k.a. Edward Longshanks, a.k.a. the sadistic bad guy from the movie Braveheart - which was amazing if you've never seen it. My family still has a VHS copy - you know a movie is epic when it takes two VHS tapes to contain it. Anyway, I digress. Edward just happens to be the great-grandfather to a British king who is cool enough to have his own Shakespearean play, and that man is . . .

. . . Richard II. Richard, however, is not cool enough to keep his crown from being taken from him by Henry IV (who gets not one, but two plays). Cue some nasty business between the Houses of York and Lancaster (i.e. The War(s) of the Roses), flash forward almost one hundred years, during which there are six more kings, and then we finally come to . . .

. . . the prolific-marrying, church-schism-creating, wife-killing, Henry VIII. I knew him best from the first couple seasons my fiancee and I watched of the Showtime series The Tudors, which, like Shakespeare, didn't give Henry VII - Henry VIII's dad, the original Tudor monarch - a whole lot of airtime.

For me, it has been really cool to be able to connect all of these dots; and, in the process, to come to understand a number of things I have really enjoyed that much better.