Thursday, April 26, 2007

Will the Bard

Chris suggested that one of us wrote an article about Shakespeare, who features especially in Lara Eakins's 'TudorCast'". Since my pencil eraser says 'Out Damned Spot' on it (thanks to the RSC gift catalogue of several years ago), and my fountain pen is named Edmund, after Gloucester's legitimate son in King Lear, and that other Tudor Great, Edmund Blackadder, I think I qualify.

My desk calendar informed me that the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and death was on Monday (also St George's day, of course). Here are some brief thoughts about Shakespeare and Puritanism.

Religion on the whole gets a very mixed treatment from Shakespeare, prompting a number of theses and responses, including:
- He was a closet Catholic;
- He was a closet Atheist;
- His mixture of Catholic and Protestant sentiments demonstrates the residual Catholic beliefs in England at the turn of the sixteenth/seventeenth centuries;
- Different people with different religious beliefs wrote different plays of his;
- He was a closet puritan (*highly dubious*, especially given some of his early writings like Titus Andronicus and the Rape of Lucrece, which are more the stuff that horror-movies are made on).

'Puritans' who feature in Shakespeare's plays include ice-cold Angelo in Measure for Measure, 'a man of stricture and abstinence' who turns out to be a lustful hypocrite in his attitude to heroine Isabella. But then Isabella, too, is a bit of a puritan, which is possibly what attracts him. The fact she expresses this in her desire to be a nun, and the fact all of this is set in Vienna, is besides the point - critics tend to agree that he is really talking about London and contemporary, Protestant, England. Another famous puritan is Malvolio in Twelfth Night, who eventually becomes plagued by his own ambition, and ends up wandering around in yellow cross-garters.

But parallels can also be drawn between the Bard's other plays and poems and puritan spirituality and life. His early 'time' sonnets, for instance, emphasise the brevity of life and pine after a more lasting reality (although they claim to find it in the youth of his affection).

The theatres suffered a tempestuous relationship with the authorities of the day (Shakespeare in Love gives a fairly good picture of that), and the re-built Globe was eventually closed down in 1642 (and destroyed; until it was rebuilt in the late 20th century).

By the way, I am coveting an RSC 'thinking cap'.


Bridges said...

I was going to post something on Malvolio (his sub plot in Twelfth Night is interesting), but after reading Susan's post, mine sounds like contrived drivel.

Thanks Susan. Great post!

My contribution to keeping Shakespeare's memory alive comes every year on March 15th. On that day I usually conjur my best Ceasar impression and say to my wife, "The ides of March have come!" Then she will roll her eyes, and with a sigh she will respond as the soothsayer, "Aye, Ceasar, but not gone."


Susan A said...

sorry for stealing your post space! i for one would still like to hear about Malvolio and his sub-plot!

Bridges said...

I just realized that I spelled Caesar wrong twice in my comment.

"Better a witty fool than a foolish wit" (Twelfth Night; I.v)

Not that I am witty. Unless, foolish wit counts.

H.C. Ross said...

Good on both of you! Thanks much for this, Susan -- better than I could have expected. I took the liberty of editing your use of "HT"; what I meant was that somewhere in your post you might want to write that because it means "Hat Tip to Lara Eakins, [of the] TudorCast [for prompting this post]". HT is a bloggism for "thanks to [person/blog] for this idea".

Great job!

H.C. Ross said...

BTW, just to prove I'm not a cretin who knows no Shakespeare, I'm going to write this stirring line from Henry V from memory:

"Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more ... or close the wall up with our English dead!"

There, told ya. (And no, I didn't learn that by watching Kenneth Branagh; I taught language arts to 7th graders once, and we read the play.)

What a line! (Though I must admit, I'd rather just charge into the breach than be one of the dead folks clogging it up.)

Susan A said...

Thanks for editing the HT thing Chris... I wondered what it meant. Also, I realised this morning I knew nothing about blogging. I had to ask my sister about the easiest way to make links. I was still in the antediluvian days of writing 'a href' into everything.

And in Henry V - yes, what a speech! I have to say I love the Laurence Olivier version the best. My friends and I used to celebrate St Crispin's day...

Edwin Tay said...

Somehow there seems to be a little of Shakespeare in all of us. Here's what has stuck in my mind from "Julius Caesar" since secondary 3 (I was 15 yrs then):

"These growing features plucked from Caesar's wings will make him fly an ordinary pitch. Who else will soar above the view of men and keep us all in servile fearfulness?" (I think it was Cassius who spoke them in his soliloquy was it Susan?)

Not sure if it's perfect, but sounds right. Strange how such archaic utterance has stuck in my mind all these years.

Chris Coleman said...

I named my blog after one of the Bard's characters. Apemantus: the cynical philosopher from "Timon of Athens." I chose Apemantus as a caricature of my stance toward American Evangelicalism. Here's a quote from Apemantus:

"I wonder men trust themselves with men."

I love the Bard's sonnets. Some of them are so beautiful. But, sometimes, I find them more difficult to interpret than Koine Greek!

Thanks for the post on the Bard and his relation to the Puritans.


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