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63. Cymbeline (2nd)

Seemed less strange this time 'round - Shakespeare's not so much making fun of the Fletcherian boy-actor tragicomedy (more like a melodrama, in modern terms) as pushing it to its limits. The thirty straight pages of revelations at the end, all of which we're already privy to except maybe some etymological business in Jupiter's prophecy, aren't so much parody as a way to maximize the appeal of that kind of ending. It's the happiest ending ever, at lest quantitatively, and we pretty much know it will be going in. I wonder how well that works in performance? This is a sturdy play, in its fashion, linguistically fresh and quite fun, but I'm not sure it does much more than turn up all the dials in someone else's dream machine. Shakespeare was never above slumming.
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60. Much Ado About Nothing (2nd or 3rd)

man is a giddy thing

Such a fun play. Maybe nothing more to be said about this one.
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I think Bloom still hasn't mentioned it, despite his obsession with both poems, but doesn't he imply - and isn't it likely - that Browning had "Tom o'Bedlam" in mind when he wrote "Childe Roland"?

In Edgar's song in King Lear, Childe Roland comes to an apparently already identified dark tower and is noticed by some kind of apparently already identified male, one assumes a giant or some other monster with power of speech, who (mis?)identifies him as English by the smell of his blood, and then seems to repeat this as a kind of threatening mantra; we're to understand they're probably going to fight, and as Roland is our countryman but isn't yet a knight we're worried about him. Giants who can smell your blood are bad news. But this may be how Roland will become a knight, by overcoming a high profile challenge. So we're rooting for him too. We hope and fear.

Wouldn't be worth any of this attention except that Browning develops these verses into his most, maybe only, enigmatic poem.

"Tom o'Bedlam" is unfortunately towerless, but it's another freaky song with quest elements that Edgar puts all of us in mind of because Tom o'Bedlam, to what extent influenced by that particular anonymous song we'll never know, is exactly who Edgar's pretending to be when he sings the Roland fragment. The unequivocal quest language is all in the last stanza of "Tom o'Bedlam":

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world's end.
Methinks it is no journey.

A visionary quest, thus more like Browning's Roland's than Shakespeare's Edgar's Roland's. We don't see who or what the later Roland eventually confronts, though strangely we do see a bunch of ghosts of defeated knights at the very end. Roland apparently has been summoned to fight the denizen of the Dark Tower, the tower does seem to exist somewhere outside reality as the landscape magically shifts on Roland at least twice on his way there, and the fact that it does so twice in what may be rapid succession means that in terms of distance it really might not have been much of a journey.

The first four lines are an iffier fit, beyond the obvious fact that he's wandered into the wilderness: Browning's Roland doesn't have a horse of air, though he does have no horse, and does wander by a very skinny one he isn't fond of. I don't think we're told anything about his weapon, unless the horn thing he blows at the end counts. Whether he has a host of furious fancies depends on how you interpret the poem - for example, the poem itself may be such a host if he's hallucinating, or the childe may be a poet approaching a fight with some force obstacular to the furious fancies of poetry.

Some earlier lines in "Tom o'Bedlam" may also be relevant:

I know more than Apollo,
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars
In the wounded welkin weeping

A sky weeping at its stars shedding one another's blood, rhetoric curiously Lear-like (Bloom wants Shakespeare to have written this but agrees there's no proof), reflects the waste Browning's Roland passes through, where the mud seems made from the blood shed in some vast and pointless ancient battle. A cosmos that has itself been wounded is presumably a projection, hence something we might expect from mad Tom, not knight-caste Roland, but it's a vision they've both experienced. "Tom o'Bedlam" is largely a moving account of the terrible life lived by someone mentally ill four hundred years ago, but the flashes of prophetic vision and intensity of the verses do make one think of the lot of poets (who Shakespeare's Theseus considered at one with madmen and lovers), who maybe see what the rest of us can't but also were generally social outcasts who ended up starving in garrets.

Tom may know more than Apollo, but it's not clear even he thinks he's going to win this fight with a knight of ghosts and shadows, no matter how hot his spear is burning. Can such entities be fought, assuming they quite exist? Can they be defeated? The poem doesn't say, it just ends. Like Edgar's, like Browning's. A fight you were doomed to fight but whose outcome is unknowable and pushed past the margin of observation, maybe of imagination, inevitably makes us think of the Big Question Mark that's death, but of course the fate of a poet's poems, one point of which may be to carry the poet forward into some kind of life beyond death, are as much of a question mark - who will read them, and with what understanding, and for how long? The second death of not being read, or not read correctly, or not staying somehow alive in what's read and understood, has to be a big worry. But that's a fight you come to armed, with talent and tricks and fancies or whatever might suffice, unlike your bout with natural death, which you're going to ultimately lose.

And the bout with death is fought in this world. Beyond the world - could this be beyond one's death?

Like I said, it's a story you can't not dimly make out after reading enough Bloom, though he's of course usually more interested in the Influence angle when looking at "Childe Roland," but I don't remember him flat out telling it.
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36. Othello

Read it aloud until my voice weakened, then just did Othello and Iago aloud. Yes, the best play in the world. Maybe the other three tragedies would rival it if their texts weren't so corrupted and/or overstuffed. No one has ever suspected that Othello's text isn't the director's cut.

It seems at first strange that my own unlucky years have echoed the central anguishes of all four, excepting Lear, but I guess there's only so many ways to be unlucky. And I guess aspects of Lear resonate too, just not the main ones.

I don't accept that Iago's motiveless. Emilia as much as says that someone had Iagoed Iago, egged him on to jealousy. Which may have been deserved (though my sense is that it wasn't), given her cavalier, jesting attitude toward adultery, but the point is it hit him as hearsay. The career grievance combines with it, sure, but the more for the two people keeping him from his rightful place just happening to be the ones said to have put him out of his invisible nest. Iago drives Othello crazy in twenty amazing pages - how long had he been crazy himself?

I think my reading of Romeo and Juliet applies here, too, unexpectedly, and to slightly different effect: the only other marriage exhibited is that of Emilia and Iago, and the only other kinds of amorous interest presented are Roderigo's stalking and Cassio's demi-pimpish exploitation of Bianca. A universe of mockeries of love, of obsessive, self-interested, bitter sex is set up in the supporting casts of both plays. So maybe Othello and Desdemona are peerlessly loving and guileless because that's just them, but maybe their love is worth killing and dying for because, virgins, they don't yet sense it has limits. Maybe Shakespeare is just letting this element in here to toss some more stars into catastrophe - or maybe it's to get us further into Othello's shoes, by making us doubt true love's existence outside of the foolishly high expectations of the uninitiated, by Iagoing us up a bit ourselves. The strangest thing about this play is its complete plausibility, outside of the mechanics of strangulation, even with all the heightened rhetoric and impossible speed and superheroism, superheroineism (1604-style), supervillainy of the leads - Shakespeare has you buying every second of it. I think it's because we're made to face the blatant fact that Iago or even some much stupider imitator could get any of us; even if we haven't been betrayed, we've all been led to fear we were by some accident or other, experienced the horror of how quickly the ground we base our life on can be pulled away, the other horror of how apt we were to believe it had been when it hadn't. We can't even trust ourselves to trust. And we can love more than we love our own life and still not trust there is such a thing.

We're not very safe. But that's a dangerous thing to let ourselves realize.
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29. Love's Labor's Lost
30. The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald is a magician. And here's another invisible house, albeit of the visible variety, and another instance of land flowing like water. And the glaring precursor of Citizen Kane, Catcher in the Rye, and some things in Crowley.

My high school theory that Gatsby arranged for Nick to come out, had set up his job and home for him, does fit the facts but seems superfluous. Ockham lops another.
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28. The Comedy of Errors
A. Chekhov's Later Stories (1888-1903)

Wasn't in the best mood for the former, but it passed the time. Probably his least baroque play, pun battles excepted - Shakespeare likes to have stuff falling out over the edges, but this one's quite streamlined.

Loved all the Chekhov, most of them even more than Logue. Garnett's very good with him - not head and shoulders better than V&P or Hingley, but she translated tons more. I really like this Modern Library volume - only complaint at all is that I still think '92 or '93 is a better organic cut-off. I guess The Steppe just has some traditional status as gateway to Major Chekhov, which perhaps it is, but "Gusev" or thereabouts is the gateway to Glorious, Hamlet-obsessed, Hopping Mad Chekhov, probably best read sequentially while up all night drinking tea.
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22. Richard II
23. Selected Poems of Apollinaire, tr. Oliver Bernard
24. Selections from Paroles, Prevert/Ferlinghetti
25. Twenty Prose Poems, Baudelaire/Hamburger

Just being silly now - latter three are among the shortest books I own. There's a character in one of the movies titled Kicking and Screaming who vows to read all the great short classics of Western literature.

Didn't like Richard 2 much this time till his jailhouse speech, which is phenomenal. I'm reading as a fan and not critic these days, but I guess the main point of the play is that all these people talk pretty but everyone's a dick. You sort of have to wipe all the divine right of kings stuff away first, which Shakespeare is obliged to go on about but of course doesn't buy in the slightest - though underneath that the king's still sacred, his welfare still reflected in that of the nation, in the pragmatic sense that keeping your bad legitimate king will cause less violence and confusion than throwing him out. Which follows from everyone being a dick: if superstition or inertia or whatever it is that unites everyone under a king can keep the state comparatively stable, then good. If not all the dicks come out. Which may be a sound assessment of an early modern monarchy, but that isn't a topic I'm very invested in. And that's really all I got out of this one, past light amusement. Until the speech, where Shakespeare's almost as on as he is in Mercutio's or Theseus'.

I did also like "ay no no ay" punning on "I know no I" - and of course you can't help spotting all the setting up being done for the Henry & Hal plays, and yes, anticipations of Lear abound all through. It isn't bad, I'm just missing whatever I once saw in it - maybe I liked the rhymes back then. I think in general I don't feel verse as strongly as I once did, though I'm probably more aware of what it's doing. One of those Wordsworthian trade-offs that you can't help and that aren't worth it.

[Further explanation of disappointment: going back to add some tags to things, I found in an early entry I list as my favorite Shakespeare plays Othello, Love's Labor's Lost, A Winter's Tale, Richard 2, Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet. Definitely not on there now. The rest shall keep as they are.]
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We saw the National Theatre's King Lear film tonight. Julie, new to it, says it's good but doesn't compare with Othello or Hamlet, her favorite.

I'd never seen this on stage or screen. I was struck by the cliff scene - I hadn't noticed before that because on stage the cliff would be imaginary anyway, Edgar has to let us know through an aside that he's making it up, that the imaginary cliff is an imaginary imaginary one.

I was also struck by all the Hamlet parallels, highlighted since I was seeing it on the same screen put on by the same production company two months after. Approximate length, mass dueling/stabbing/poisoning final scene, protagonist's best friend saying he'll kill himself, feigned madness, bewilderingly multiplied foils/doubles, idealized victim girl whose name ends in -elia, "Where did she die"/"Drowned! O, where?" question asked about said girl, family conflicts that veer bloody, general 'life sucks' theme. I actually agree with Julie that this one's not his greatest success, but it may have been, in part, an attempt to recreate or outdo the play that was. To outdo Hamlet! What other task could he have set himself next? Or perhaps it's when he felt he might have lost whatever he'd had there at his peak, wanted to reclaim it. I wonder if his relative failure at that could be ascribed to something like influence anxiety (maybe just because you've become your own precursor it doesn't make that relationship tidier). One of the hallmarks of influence anxiety, formal or structural elegance and balance - complexity that stays coherent - suffering while the intensity level of certain peak effects gets turned up even higher, might explain some of the play's explosiveness and redundancy, or at least why choosing a story given to those might have appealed to Shakespeare. He wanted something even more devastating. Which maybe it is. But did that come at a cost, some loss of what it could have been?

(And of course Edmund is a revision of Iago - and not an improvement on him, to my mind. Julie says Iago is the best character ever.)
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10. Troilus and Cressida

Found myself giving Pandar the voice of Eric Idle's "Nudge nudge" guy. I still like this play a lot. Its intentions are half send-up but half indescribable. It's from Shakespeare's eclipse-dark midlife crisis, so much like Bergman's three hundred and sixty-five years later, but one of the more buoyant examples. His language, in particular, is about as on as in any of the Four Tragedies. It put me onto:

11. Kings

This is Christopher Logue's adaptation of The Iliad 1 & 2 and it is fantastic. Everyone who would know says it's fantastic and it turns out they do know. Can his original verse be this good? My only exposure to him was as Swinburne to Oliver Reed's D.G. Rossetti in Dante's Inferno.

I have all his other Iliad installments - collectively called War Music - here but Cold Calls which I hope Julie's library's got. There's a final section he's still working on, which despite the fact he's only adapted about half its 24 books is apparently not based on any section of The Iliad (!). He's an octogenarian, started this thing in the 1950s.

I have never cared the slightest about The Iliad but he is giving it the full Carson and I'm excited now.
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Three allusions in a row in Troilus piqued my interest:

1. "Why, she is a pearl / Whose face has launched above a thousand ships"

Slight modification of the most famous line from Dr. Faustus. Shakespeare quotes "whoever loved that loved not at first sight" in Winter's Tale [Edit: As You Like It], but identifies that quotation with a further allusion to a sad [Edit: dead] shepherd: Marlowe's one surviving lyric being "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love." And though I've found my Pavane, I'm still missing the allusion Shakespeare makes to the Jew of Malta's "but that was in another country and besides the wench was dead" arch-startlement which I can't seem to convince myself I hallucinated, along with passages from Proust and Tolstoy. You wonder if any other playwright even mattered to him.

2. "Paris, you speak / Like one besotted on your sweet delights."

"Sweet delight" is a phrase Spenser uses in his Garden of Adonis episode, then Marlowe in his Dr. Faustus prologue, Shakespeare in The Rape of Lucrece and apparently here, Webster in Malfi, and Blake much more famously in "Auguries of Innocence" and I think at least a couple other places? It's at least inclusively sexual everywhere but in Marlowe, where it refers to Faust's love of forbidden magic - which we later find, proto-Zuckerberg that he is, was about sex too. Are any two words together more sweetly delightful? Blake retired the phrase, we all just think of Blake now.

[Google finds it a couple times in The Mirror for Magistrates too. Maybe a classical source?]

3. "Unlike young men, whom Aristotle thought / Unfit to hear moral philosophy."

Hector walks off-meter in that line so Ben Jonson, conceivably playing one of the characters on stage, has a second to completely lose it. Bloom's sure the 'Coast of Bohemia' in Winter's Tale was planted to give Ben a hernia. This one here couldn't possibly not be.
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Not all bad Shakespeare plays are boring, though it's hard to not find all his boring ones bad.

Still, these ones are boring but probably not bad:

Henry 8; Coriolanus; Pericles; maybe Two Noble Kinsmen

Relatively bad but not boring are:

Titus Andronicus; Henry 6, Part 2; Henry 6, Part 3; Richard 3; John; Taming of the Shrew; Merry Wives of Windsor; Timon of Athens; Henry 5, if I'm allowed to say so; Merchant of Venice, ditto

Bad and boring:

Henry 6, Part 1; All's Well that Ends Well; Two Gentlemen of Verona

Henry 6-1 gets a partial reprieve for starting a non-boring but bad series, but if I ever read those last two plays again it will be out of perversity.

Such is the nature of life that I recommend the second group over the first, actually. But for after one's read and reread the ones I didn't list.


Sontag said boredom is a form of frustration, a phrase that's stuck in my head for fifteen years because it's presented with such authority despite so clearly being wrong. I mean, obviously a lot of boring things are frustrating because they're so damn boring.

Of course I see what she means - when you're trying and failing to grasp something, you're bored because you're alone with your own failure. The ungrasped something may be blameless. So there's a lame version of boredom, and I may have this re. Coriolanus. But there is also a completely justified boredom, like trying to wade through the non-Shakespeare parts of Pericles. If that's frustration too, it's a frustration that's a form of boredom.

I've been kind of annoyed with her ever since reading that. Never drop qualifiers - "can be" in this case - from an otherwise sensible statement to get attention. It's frustrating.
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I have discovered the ultimate procrastination activity: write down all the dialogue you remember from Hamlet.

Long, inaccurate, spoils things. )
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1. Antony and Cleopatra

I never think I'll like this play but it always wins me over. Which is a strange thing to have happen again and again, so I suspect it must instead be that the play gets better as it goes, or maybe relies on accumulation for some of its effects. It's kind of ending even before it begins, and the end of the end is, what, the whole last two acts? It's drawn out to a degree comparable only to the ends of Ghost and A League of Their Own, which are both intolerable to me (and to all males? or all humans?). But A&C earn it because it really is all about back story, a back story that draws in a lot of history, geography, prior Shakespeare. Maybe this is another of his experiments: the two don't show their best sides early on, and you're soon pretty much on Enobarbus', who's shown getting very sick of them. It's not like their annoying sides disappear later, either, it's just the other ones show up. What happens with Eno works as a kind of sacrifice of those parts of the audience mind that want A&C to die for their obnoxious sins against plot. They're worse than procrastinators, who are absolutely intolerable in narrative (a challenge Shakespeare took up a few plays earlier), because they are perpetually distracted - they simply don't notice the obvious. The most difficult thing pulled off may be that they don't come across as idiots. They're drunk on who they are together, and we eventually come around to finding that valid - maybe by becoming drunk on their rhetoric. Marvell's "Coy Mistress" poem is practically an epitome of this play, even down to the different speeds of the two halves. The most used word in the play may be "world." The world is their ball. They make Augustus run.

What are my favorites? I love Julius and Romeo, but I'm not sure to what extent that's just because I feel I understand them. Midsummer probably likewise. Love's Labor's Lost I need to read again; it was my favorite of his comedies once. Winter's Tale is fascinating.

I'll reread it shortly to check, but ever since I first experienced it I've felt Othello is even better than Hamlet. It must be the best play in the world. Despite what those others and Peer Gynt and Prometheus Unbound mean to me.

I'm also going to reread Troilus, Comedy of Errors, Richard II and Cymbeline, all of which I remember liking.

Bloom ranks the plays something like this: Lear, Hamlet, Henry IV (both together), Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Antony and Cleopatra, Winter's Tale, Twelfth Night. Then Othello, Midsummer, As You Like It, Merchant of Venice and maybe Tempest in the runner-up group.

I'm fond of all those, possibly excepting Merchant.
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Thinking about Lear again: I may have never had that dislike for Lear ruin the play after all, but instead remembered the state of disliking him that all of us are always in as we start the play, roughly: "You j-j-jerk, Lear, she's just being t-t-truthful man! Jesus fuck almighty, powerful entitled old men just totally suck! This guy needs to burn!" The most blatant effect in the play is how Shakespeare makes us as livid as possible to then make us awed that we forgive him, to the point of shame at our violent wishes toward him, which after all come true - an effect well-imitated in Sabbath's Theater (for some of us) and several of the vignettes in Steinbeck's Wayward Bus. Must have been attempted elsewhere, too. That lawyer in Tale of Two Cities? That blond guy in the Last of the Mohicans movie, that one was memorable. But no, those latter examples ruin themselves because we forgive because of redemptive acts, not understood shared humanity.

I imagine this kind of forgiveness, at least in Shakespeare and Roth, is supposed to get us to realize how immoral it is to use their morality as a standard of the value of others' feelings or lives - since doing that only would make for a nasty feedback loop of saviors saving only saviors (for the sake of future saving of saviors etc.). In Shakespeare we're given the further provocation of whether to extend forgiveness to the bad sisters, the rage engine Cornwall, and sociopath Edmund. Albany refuses to, as I recall - basically dismisses their suffering, at least relative to that of the good people. But even they sometimes love, are loved, mean to do some good.

Maybe a trivial, if foundational, point from a humanistic perspective, but dramatically really something (and of course a chastisement of something we constantly get wrong even when we know better). A dramatic strategy original to Shakespeare? He demonstrates awe at audience/mob bloodthirstiness in pretty much every tragedy.

The play dances around notions of causes of goodness and badness in people (e.g. astral influences, laughed down by Edmund), presumably because the concept of cause isn't really important - if it were the action of another person, e.g. Gloucester's sending Edmund away from him for years at a time, we'd just be tempted to then transfer blame back a peg, anyway. But that blameworthiness too would have been caused, by cause logic. We want to isolate the mystery to human hearts, then smoosh a toothpick flag into each, labeled "Bad Heart." But bad hearts feel too - do not pricked pricks bleed? To not see that is itself our most common prick move.
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Sudden Hamlet!

We were at a plaza by a movie theater and wandered by in the cold to see what's playing. It was 7:10, and turned out Hamlet was on. Which Hamlet? An apparently satellite-cast (U.K.) National Theatre one starring Rory Kinnear, who has a speech impediment-style lisp but was fantastic. Best I've ever seen, though I'd never seen a genuinely good one in any medium (maybe a few scattered moments of Olivier's passed muster). But very moving. And serendipitous - we didn't end up even missing any, as when we got into the theater some boring British guy was setting the play up.

(North of Seattle where we used to go to buy cheap books and decent Chinese and Mexican food - both entirely absent from Vancouver, the former despite/because of all the Chinese people - there was a long stretch of suburban road with several signs that cracked us up reliably. One was "Sudden Printing.")

They're doing a Lear in February. Derek Jacoby.
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Flu and other ailments have eased - just weak with a headache now. I read King Lear aloud to myself today, and that's definitely how to read it.

Things noticed, this time: the play is completely exhausting and then heartbreaking - the one happens for the sake of the other, to some extent so that you think the ending will be a happy one since the happy-seeming things start to come about around when the play should be ending, i.e. when you're out of audience juice. The other shoe drops seemingly arbitrarily so that it surprises you. Surprises you like death. Shakespeare anticipatorily out-Tennyson's Tennyson with bewilderment at how death is in that last scene - he passes staring at her lips to see if they'll move, somehow breathe. (Why do I feel I never noticed that? I obviously noticed it every time I read it, but I have no memory, it's like I never had.)

He rubs your face in it the way it does.

I'll correct that, the thing about expecting a happy ending - I wouldn't say you ever feel things won't end tragically, but you maybe feel they'll end a bit less tragically or more composedly tragically. Sure, Lear will die, but maybe after learning something! This is flip, but I just mean the play leaves tragedy to be something worse. And, hints aside, you're not convinced it will until it does.

The knave/fool division, that that's all one can be. Time and again someone steps forth surprisingly as good or as bad, as better or worse than you'd think. Shakespeare even gives the balance to good, which feels true, but he makes it not matter. The bad plus the world plus death makes the good just fools, though better than the bad. Who are all fools too - it never works out for them. Which also to me feels true.

Everyone left alive is familyless.

I'd been thinking of the play all year. Mostly because when my father was alive but old when I saw or contemplated old men hurt or in danger or dying it was terribly painful. Whereas a while after I became rather numb to it. I don't know if that was self-defense or just that that specific fear was gone.

I don't remember this too well either but I think in one previous reading I was maybe very annoyed with Lear, had trouble liking him the way people can, that that hurt my involvement. To me now that seems inexplicable.

I read it in Bloom's noteless edition, which I think helped, though a handful of things, usually vocabulary in the mad speeches, were opaque. Though I'm not sure which version that even was - presumably the right one. But aloud, damn, do it aloud.

The gamble this play takes (for a reader - and maybe for less talented directors?) is with numbness, when and how numbness will hit you. Aloud, getting into each character with your voice, I think it hits and lifts just where intended.
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Been thinking about Hamlet's famousest soliloquy. You know the one--short version: Does it reflect better on me to take all this misery stoically or to die fighting? And if I die does that really end it, or is there just more misery to follow, and of some unknowable quantity and kind? Ultimately there's no telling, and I guess that's why we all just take it.

It's confusing that Christians let this be enshrined as a cultural high point (many things about these Christians are confusing). I guess they have some vague sense that it shows how God's shell game with his own existence teaches us to endure evil. That seems foreign to the very universe of this language: the fascinating thing about it is that engagement with Christianity, or something sounding like it, should be cued exactly here. But he's not talking God and heaven, he's talking Something, and not the way people who annoy me by saying they believe "in something out there" talk--like there's a consoling hand on their back they're just not sure whose.

Hamlet doesn't expect well of the aftersomething. It's bad, for him, because it's more existence, and he judges existence to have so far been all wrong; it's worse, for him, because it might be worse. This latter point might explain some of his this-existence-is-bad judgment. The good things he had went away, therefore weren't good. Some crucial part of the good is the promise of more of the same good, is that you can trust it. Some crucial part of the bad may thus be that there's no promise of more of the same, no reason to think you'll get used to it, learn how to take it.

It should startle us that we're hearing of afterthings but not of gods (just as much as that the prospect of more life is being deplored as a horror). The only thing person-like in Hamlet's cosmology (this one, anyway) is people. A god here, if there were one, would have to be vile. The speech pines for a merely material world in which Hamlet could peacefully let himself die.
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How is it possible that art/literature can capture what things are like? Because it is not merely an emptying out of the mind into an element alien to it in which its structure is lost--following a similar operation of the world's incoherently emptying itself into the mind--but an emptying out of the mind into an element alien to it in which its structure is lost that is observed by the mind itself. Some things go less wrong than others, the artist perceives. This ability to compare by feel, hence self-correct, + time -> the inevitability that what things are like will get into notes, strokes, words to the point we need them to do so. To the extent the writer needs them to, anyway--and to the extent we meet her needs when she meets ours (aided by her likely needing what she's finding just as much as we do), enough artists working over enough time will get us what we want, what we're like.

(This probably helps explain why traditions are needed, but also why art goes downhill so fast after some peak figure or generation appears. Mediocrities, wonders, con-men are permitted because the needs have been met (as much as they plausibly could along that particular line, at least) while the artistic role, because of our gratitude, is treated as sacred, as needing to remain filled. And we hardly knew what hit us, after all--it wasn't us that did it, it was the few artists, the one artist. Maybe there's more where that came from, if the approach is changed slightly, we think, thereby putting Scheherezade off the hook and on retainer. We barely let the real ones subsist, because we didn't yet know what they could do, what what they could do really was, but those who followed we throw money at, love at, titles--and then a generation later we forget them all, unless the government should fund the dying art for reasons of national pride, or the young should demand to have something new just for them.

No one asks for Super-Shakespeare after reading Shakespeare--no one asks for Super-Michelangelo, Super-Mozart. The honor of their profession rises in their wake just as expectations fall--because who cares? You have the thing, or at least far more of it than you dreamed possible. Hence the obsession with changing how it's done, among latecoming artists--your one hope is to break some new genre out of an older one, if you care about being remembered rather than merely paid. And every new genre follows the same curve, doesn't it?)
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William Shakespeare:

Among other things he figured out, Shakespeare figured out that the best of us, those that go out past town where the others commote until we are alone, do not know who we are, but move on, solving thing after thing, until we reach what cannot be solved. The different ways to be come about because there must be a choice of solutions, when we are faced with what cannot be solved--even if we cannot choose, we cannot help choosing. The choice to not choose is a choice, and maybe one resembling all the others at once, or in sequence. Shakespeare figured out that the best of us are therefore fucking crazy. In town there is no choosing. Town-people.

False solutions are not level. Where they leave the level, dirt gathers and dead leaves cake and animals wander in and make homes and die and are snowed on and suffused by fungi and layers calcify or are pressed into oozes and as seasons change feed strange-eyed flowers courted by fat flies and bees. Cornercake-people.

But Shakespeare, figuring out that this was so, got past the choice, and maybe (because how would I know) thought, what got me past the choice? What kinds of people get out past the choice? What rocking back and forth do you need to do to have been everywhere recently enough to remember it? What magic is this, what art, what wit? Shakespeare, all alone but sane, gave names to the Shakespeares that got him there. It was really something for a while; but of course the Shakespeares died, one by one, and the last went back to town. Shakespeare-people.
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I've been on a secret Shakespeare strike for these last five plays, coasting on prior knowledge for the little papers and in-class discussion. A recharge, but now I need to read those and two others in short space, and with papers resurrecting Titus and Julius Caesar from the first half of the term. H4-2 paper will probably require referencing H4-1 some, also, but I practically have that one by heart now.

Othello/Measure for Measure/Lear/Macbeth/Winter's Tale
Tempest/Henry 4, Part 2
Titus Andronicus/Julius Caesar

The Titus thing won't actually require rereading it, though I should note what Taymor cut. My fiancee refuses to watch the movie again because of the twig hands.

My grades don't matter except to keep on the good side of these professors. I may go Renaissance, after all.


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