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Imagination and Evil Spirits in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Part 2)

January 20th, 2011 Comments off

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(I, iv., 30.) He not only listens to the ghost’s lengthy epilogues but also takes them up with fiery emotions. Mr. Eliot, a critic whose main goal was to show that Shakespeare took on a work too much for him, notes how “Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear.” (Eliot) After he sees the ghost, his emotions rise to overflowing and he acts very oddly with those he knows, making no sense at times. He is bold and brazen, unkind and uncouth; alternating between all at once. Some in King Claudius’ court interpret it as lovesickness for Ophelia, who eventually loses her own sanity and kills herself, and Hamlet is called insane. In his emotional state, Hamlet even doubts himself: “Yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, And can say nothing.” (II, ii, 575.) “In effect Hamlet is creating a paronomasia of performance, moving from politeness to brutality; and it seems to come out almost unbidden.” (Brown) He comes to such a low point that he becomes suicidal, his warped mind eventually turning suicidal to solve his problems. “To die: to sleep; No more; and, by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d.” (III, i, 60.) Mrs. de Grazia, PhD in English, observes of Hamlet’s problem: “Hamlet falls short of dialectical self-realization,” and “advances against his own until in the final scenes, he is ‘bandied from pillar to post’ and ends up ‘sandbanked.’” (Grazia) He talks to himself constantly, fails to kill King Claudius at an opportune moment, kills another by mistake, and eventually dies from a poisoned stab wound in a duel fought with Ophelia’s brother, Laertes. In the end, the idea planted by the spirit in his already-suspicious mind influences him enough to cause the deaths of not just one, but several people.

The turning of Hamlet’s mind and heart to the surreal is the very work of an evil spirit, who works in men’s minds to cause evil. In the play, Hamlet ponders this very fact: “The spirit that I have seen May be the devil: and the devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy As he is very potent with such spirits—Abuses me to damn me.” (II, ii, 605.) But he did not take this thought to heart and try to rid himself of the Satanic overclouding from his soul. It eventually led him to do desperate actions, and his own sad death. “Through Hamlet, this tragedy affirms the world of the mind over against the world of matter, the unresolved and independent conscience over against the answers that can be provided by others or demanded by society in its political, religious or familial manifestations.” (Brown) With truly beautiful language and eloquent poetry, Hamlet is a fascinating read; but once read through in its entirety, it is depressing and dark as well. The reader is taken up in the downward path of Hamlet’s life, and into the very intricacies of his fertile, but infected, mind. Mr. Coleridge said that in the conversations found in this play is “a proof of Shakespeare’s minute knowledge of human nature.” (Coleridge)

References

Brown, John Russell. “Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet.”

Connotations. http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/connotations/BROWN21.HTM

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare and Other English

Poets.” Shakespeare and His Critics. 2001. http://shakespearean.org.uk/ham1-col.htm

Eliot, T.S. “Hamlet and His Problems.” Bartleby Great Books Online. 2010.

http://www.bartleby.com/200/sw9.html

Grazia, Margreta de. “Hamlet’s Thoughts and Antics.” Early Modern Culture. 2001.

http://emc.eserver.org/1-2/degrazia.html

“Hamlet.” Wikipedia. May 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamlet

Shakespeare, William (2006). Hamlet. New Jersey: Wiley Publishing

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Imagination and Evil Spirits in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

January 20th, 2011 Comments off

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Around the late 1590s, Shakespeare penned the “most powerful and influential tragedy in the English language,” Hamlet. (“Hamlet”) Set in Denmark, this play tells the story of Prince Hamlet, who takes revenge on his uncle Claudius for murdering Hamlet’s father, taking over the throne, and marrying the Queen, Hamlet’s mother. But can it truly be summed up in one sentence? Throughout Hamlet, Shakespeare’s longest play, an intense, deep course is charted; with supernatural elements, treachery, revenge, insanity, moral corruption, death, and victory. Woven together in beautiful language, it is a fascinating read. Samuel Coleridge’s 1818 lecture on Hamlet is one that truly explores this deepness and explains it in equally deep fashion. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he says, the balance between real and imaginary is disturbed: “his thoughts, and the images of his fancy, are far more vivid than his actual perceptions, and his very perceptions, instantly passing through the medium of his contemplations, acquire, as they pass, a form and a colour not naturally their own. Hence we see a great, an almost enormous, intellectual activity, and a proportionate aversion to real action consequent upon it, with all its symptoms and accompanying qualities.” (Coleridge) In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there is an overbalance between the real and imaginary, towards the imaginary. This overbalance of the imaginative power is specially seen in the person of Hamlet, when an already-suspicious mind is met at an opportune moment by a Satanic spirit; then when his mind becomes warped, shaken by the supernatural apparition of his murdered father, and constantly occupied with shadows; and his clouded brain throws a mist over everything common-place.

In Shakespeare’s play, Prince Hamlet first appears on the scene with skeptical doubts about his new stepfather and many suspicions. His already doubting mind becomes completely shattered when his dead father’s ghost appears and warps his view of reality. He remains home after the funeral of his father, and begins to suspect his stepfather, King Claudius, thinking that Claudius is treating him far too personally, calling Hamlet his own son. “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” (I, ii, 65.) He also suspects his mother for marrying Claudius so soon after her own husband’s funeral: “That it should come to this! But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two: So excellent a king.” “Why, she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on; and yet, within a month, Let me not think on’t: Frailty, thy name is woman! A little month…married with mine uncle, My father’s brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules.” He also notes the incestuous part of the marriage: Claudius married his sister-in-law, and the Queen, in marrying him, married her dead husband’s actual brother. (I, ii, 135-155) So far, we see that Hamlet has somewhat validated reasons for suspicion. Marriage of the dead King’s wife to the dead King’s brother not two months after the King’s death is indeed odd. However, objectively looking on things, this is no actual proof or reason for Hamlet’s final and ultimate belief, that King Claudius murdered Hamlet’s father. So, when Prince Hamlet is finally met by the spirit who puts on the form of his dead father, a mind brooding with suspicion is a perfect fertile setting for the words of the ghost to settle well in.

Hamlet’s mind becomes shaken upon seeing the ghost, so much so that he threatened his friends with death when they tried to stop him, warning him away from the ghost. (I, iv, 85.) He is desperate to hear the words of the ghost, his mind thirsting for what he already has suspicions for in his mind. Upon the word revenge, and murder, he is aroused; when the ghost declares, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder;” so much so, that he immediately replies upon the spot, “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.”

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The Life and Times of William Shakespeare (Biography)

July 25th, 2010 Comments off

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William Shakespeare of Elizabethan England lived a mysterious and sometimes scandalous existence, causing puzzlement and great fantastic stories, both true and false, to abound. His education remains to be speculated at as does his marriage. After leaving for England, what profession did he take up before appearing on stage? The most prominent mystery surrounding the magnificent bard’s life is the idea that he may have not even written any of his own play or poems at all. Exploring these unknown facts and rumors sheds light on our understanding of the immortal genius.

England’s greatest poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, the third of the eight children of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. According to the parish register of the Holy Trinity Church, he was baptized on April 26, 1564. Following ancient custom, babies in Stratford were baptized on the third day of life, placing William Shakespeare’s date of birth to be April 23, 1564. This date was also marked St. George’s Day and the day of his own death fifty four years later. Young William was born of John Shakespeare, a successful landowner, moneylender, dealer of wool and agricultural goods, and glover. William’s father moved to Stratford-upon-Avon in the mid-sixteenth century, and in 1556 he purchased a home on Greenhill Street, in addition to a house adjoining his place of occupancy on Henley Street. It is in this “double-house” on Henley Street (ninety miles northwest of London) in the county of Warwickshire that the brilliant poet was said to have been born. In 1557, John Shakespeare had married Mary Arden, the mother of William. Her family was Roman Catholic but when she married John Shakespeare she became part of the English church to escape persecution by the Queen. Mary Arden was a land-owning heiress with a fifty-acre estate by the name of Asbies recently inherited from her father, Robert Arden, in 1556. The name of Shakespeare is quite an old one in Warwickshire, dating back as far as 1248, when William Sakspere was executed for thieving. By 1561, John Shakespeare was elected as one of Stratford’s fourteen burgesses where he served as one of two chamberlains, administering government property and revenues. William’s father became an alderman in 1568 and three years later he was elected Bailiff, the modern day equivalent of mayor. Around 1576, John Shakespeare fell upon hard times, losing is council position and was even listed as one of nine mean who failed to go to church for fear of being arrested for their debts.

Little is known about William Shakespeare’s childhood, but what can be deciphered is that it was time in his life with mixed emotion; moments of happiness were stained by heart-breaking tragedies, which perhaps later dictated how he expressed the world through his plays. Stratford-upon-Avon, although a small town, had a long history of excellent free education. It is fairly certain that William Shakespeare attended the King’s New School from the age of seven to thirteen, renamed in Edward’s honor, which at the time had a reputation that rivaled Eton. The teachers of this prestigious grammar school were all graduates of Oxford, so William probably greatly profited from their lessons. Students would spend nine hours a day in school for the entire calendar year and when a student misbehaved, the teachers were allowed to physically punish the student. The only surviving school desk from Stratford is a standing desk, and it has been speculated that on many occasions a schoolmaster would fight off a the winter morning frosts by beating his boys when he first got to the school to warm himself. While there are no records to prove that William Shakespeare attended the King’s New School, adding to the mysteries about his life, his knowledge of Latin and Classical Greek would support this theory. Also Shakespeare’s first biographer, Nicholas Rowe, wrote that John Shakespeare had placed William “for some time in a free school. ” (Pressley) William’s father would have been able to enjoy the absence of tuition for his young son as a benefit of his position. Furthermore, John Shakespeare took a special interest in grammar school, being a member of the committee responsible for major restorations and for nominating the headmaster. More support for this claim comes in his play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, where he re-enacts a school-room scene, right down to the learning of Latin by memorization. In 1575 when William was eleven years old, a great plague swept the country and Queen Elizabeth journeyed out of London to avoid its consequences. She stayed for several days at Kenilworth Castle near Stratford during the hot month of July, enjoying festivities arranged by her host Lord Leicester. It was probable that these events may have made a strong impact on the developing mind of the young poet and playwright.

Throughout the sometimes free spirited, high times of Shakespeare’s youth, he was haunted by growing debts of his father and the deaths of relatives very dear to him.

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The Life and Times of William Shakespeare (Biography) (Part 2)

July 25th, 2010 Comments off

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Five of William’s siblings out of the eight lived beyond childhood: the first Joan, who was born in 1558, and Margaret, born in 1562, died as small children, so William was not only the eldest son but eldest surviving child. His brother Gilbert and sister the second Joan lived into adulthood, but Anne, born in 1571, died at the age of eight when William was fifteen. This must have been a very painful loss for William. Also William’s beloved grandmother, old Mrs. Arden as she was often referred to, died just after Christmas in 1580. Edward Arden, high sheriff in 1575 and cousin of William Shakespeare was Catholic, forced to worship in secret. He kept a chaplain, formally disguised as his gardener but well known to be a priest called Father Hall. In Edward Arden’s house allegedly there was wild talk against the Queen. A deranged son-in-law of his, John Someville, is said to have set off for London on a personal mission to kill the Queen. This asinine scheme supposedly was too complicated and abstract to have been contrived by Edward Arden. John Someville frequented the taverns of London, apparently declaring his intentions directed towards the Queen to whomever would listen. He was arrested, and under torture stated that he was in Edward Arden’s empowering and that Father Hall conceptualized the entire plot. John Someville was declared to have strangled himself in prison so that his evidence could not be withdrawn. Father Hall was arrested and then released without a trial, but Edward Arden was hanged, drawn and quartered, and his head stuck on a spike on the London Bridge. Edward was killed when his cousin, William Shakespeare was merely nineteen, producing a anxiety inside of William for his mother’s safety. Since she was a devout Catholic in private, he feared for her life as he had for his cousin’s life.

(Levi 19)

During William Shakespeare’s youth, he was said to have had a very mischievous personality. The Lucy family lived at the great Charlecote Park, three miles outside of Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. In the late seventeenth century, while William Shakespeare was still a young man, it was said that he had poached Sir Thomas Lucy’s deer on several occasions. The first editor of Shakespeare’s plays and biographer of his life, Nicholas Rowe, said that he was arrested and severely punished, consequently leaving Stratford to escape further persecution. Despite these accusations, there is no direct evidence of this story. The fact that there were even deer in Charlecote Park at the end of the sixteenth century is mere speculation. Sir Thomas Lucy, however was very much involved with game-preservation, and so perhaps there could have had several deer roaming in the woods outside of his estate. If William Shakespeare had been proven guilty, which he was not, his punishment would have almost certainly have been payment of three times the damage and costs and imprisonment for three months.

The next documented event in Shakespeare’s life is his marriage to Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582. In 1582 when William Shakespeare was eighteen, he got the orphan Anne Hathaway pregnant, who was twenty six, eight years his senior. She was of Shottery, a short walk from Stratford through the fields, providing an easy opportunity for Anne and William to meet. Anne’s pregnancy seems to have happened in late September because the child Susanna was born on May 23. At the time, William Shakespeare was a minor, and the last chance for the

calling of the banns before Advent had been missed. So on November 27, 1582 two friends of the bride’s family rode to Bishops court at Worcester to negotiate a special marriage license. The bishop, John Witgift, asked them to get letters from their consenting parents as was required for very young couples. The license was granted on November 28 and the two friends, John Rychardson and Fulke Sandells, both farmers from Stratford-upon-Avon, gave £40 that no hindrance to marriage would later come to pass. The clerk of Worcester court had probably entered the marriage license on his register on the 27th of November; in all probability it took a day to draw up the document. There is no direct documentation of the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway although most historians accept that an entry in the Bishop’s register in November of 1582 does not refer to the famous bard. In this register is recorded the issuing of a marriage license to William Shaxpere and Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton. One of the most fascinating mysteries of Shakespeare’s personal life is the question of the identity of Anne Whateley from Temple Grafton. Some observers that the marriage clerk misheard the name Hathaway as Whateley. Others believe that William Shakespeare became engaged to an actual Anne Whateley but their betrothal was broken off when news of Anne Hathaway’s pregnancy spread.

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The Life and Times of William Shakespeare (Biography) (Part 3)

July 25th, 2010 Comments off

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The banns were asked only once in church instead of the traditional three times, because the bride was some three months pregnant. In the year of his marriage, Shakespeare worked in Stratford with an income of some kind. William’s and Anne’s first daughter, Susanna was born on May 23, 1583. Later on February 2, 1585, Richard Barton of Coventry christened Hamnet and Judith, the couple’s twins, whose birth date is uncertain.

From the birth of the twins until his first appearance in London as a troubadour, there is no record of what William Shakespeare was doing or where he was. During these years, stretching from the mid-1850s to the early 1590s, speculation runs rampant, and these years are romantically termed “lost”. It is very important to emphasize the emotional closeness and stamina of his family link, because numerous biographers have over-stressed the significance of Shakespeare’s lost years. Many imagine that Shakespeare completely deserted his wife and three children in search of an unclear aspiration, yet there is no indication that he even left home. The view of love that he constantly displayed indicated his fondness of his family, and it would seem odd for him to abandon his new wife and three young children at this point in his life.

There is no evidence of Shakespeare’s professional career after he left grammar school and married Anne Hathaway. It is relatively certain that William Shakespeare never proceeded to university schooling. If he had continued his education onto the university level, his Greek allusions would have been broader and manifested differently. Although he did not attend higher level schooling, William probably learned a great deal from the forests and farms surrounding his residence, for his plays suggest he had an extensive knowledge of hunting, hawking, and “the appetite of worms in a rural cemetery. ” (Gay)

Many scholars believe that Shakespeare was a page-boy or a lawyer’s clerk upon leaving grammar school during his “lost” years. If William Shakespeare had been a page-boy, it is supposed that he would have been granted permission to visit nobles and after gaining their support, traveling with them to London. Another reason why many believe Shakespeare was a page-boy is that his father, John Shakespeare, was running very quickly out of money and wanted to use his son’s connection with the household of which he was employed to get back his previous stature. Shakespeare could have conceivably been a lawyer’s clerk, but there is only circumstantial evidence which can be used to draw a conclusion about this theory. Throughout his younger years, William became well acquainted with local Stratford lawyers through his father. John Shakespeare’s professional proceedings in both money-making and local business would have provided young William an excellent opportunity to meet many lawyers. Also William Shakespeare had always been very involved with the purchasing, selling, and leasing of land. Thirdly his most famous plays often contained legal phrases and lawyers, demonstrating an expansive knowledge of the legal system.

The discussion continued as experts proceeded to contemplate Shakespeare’s profession after leaving school. John Aubrey, the author of Brief Lives written during the seventeenth century, states that “He understood Latine pretty well: for he had in his younger yeares a School-master in the Countrey. ” (Evans 20) Perhaps, like many of his contemporaries, he taught school before setting out to write on his own. Aubrey tells another story, “ I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he exercised his father’s Trade, but when he kill’d a Calfe, he would doe it in a high style, & make a Speech. ” (Evans 21) Many boys of that time period began their occupation as apprentices of their fathers. Another career path that Shakespeare may have taken was to become a soldier of fortune. He seems to be quite knowledgeable in his plays about the soldiering and weaponry used in

military campaigning. Although he could have started his professional life in this way, it is unlikely because he would have left his wife and children in England while going to a foreign country.

For whatever reason, by 1592 Shakespeare had made a place for himself in the theatrical world of London as a playwright and actor, leaving his family behind in Stratford. Perhaps drawn to London by the glamorous reputation of the theatre, many believed that Shakespeare’s first job in London was at the Globe Theatre tending the horses of patrons. Although this cannot possibly be true because the Globe Theatre was not built until 1599, at least ten years after Shakespeare arrived in London, it illustrates his desperation to get near dramaturgy. There can be no doubt that he was in London at this time placing quill against paper. Proof of his presence in London appeared in a 1592 pamphlet written, Groats-worth of Witte by Robert Greene on his deathbed. In this most famous literary snarl, Robert wrote: “for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.

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The Life and Times of William Shakespeare (Biography) (Part 4)

July 25th, 2010 Comments off

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” (Gray) This passage is notable because it clearly refers to William Shakespeare and is the first documentary evidence that Shakespeare has risen to prominence in London. The importance of the passage shows to the modern reader several truths of Shakespeare’s life at the time to be evident. He had become successful to make Greene and other peers jealous and had become well known throughout the professional world of London theater. Also he was a man known for his numerous abilities including acting, play writing, and play mending. When the pamphlet was published after Greene’s death, its preface, which was written by an acquaintance of Greene, apologized to Shakespeare and acknowledged his growing importance.

In London Shakespeare lived alone in rented accommodations while his wife and children remained in Stratford. Why his family did not move to London is unknown. Some scholars speculate that it was Anne’s wish to live apart from her husband because she reportedly had a Puritan background. The Puritans looked upon the theater as a path to all wickedness.

When an epidemic of the Bubonic Plague closed the theatres in 1592, the resourceful bard wrote plays and other poetry until the theatres reopened in 1594. In that year, he joined a newly formed drama company known as The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. As a part of this group he acted as writer and played principle roles as well as taking upon himself the management of the company. They performed publicly at the Blackfriar in the beginning, a theatre built by James Burage in 1576 north of the city.

Theatres within London boundaries were often closed to halt the spread of infectious diseases or heavily fined if reopened. The Lord Chamberlain’s had been forced into a year’s idleness by this law and during this time when new plays were not in demand, Shakespeare began to write poetry. In 1593 he dedicated the lengthy poem Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton and the Baron of Titchfield. Also dedicated to the Earl of Southampton was the Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare’s second poem printed in 1594. After several years of inactivity, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men moved to the site of the Globe across the river where they would no longer be subject to London’s law that closed all theaters. Always industrious, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men did actually move their old theatre. The actors and stagehands carried away every timber of the Blackfriar theatre on a warm summer’s evening in 1598 and used them to construct the Globe, even though the previous theatre had only been leased, not purchased. The owner was away on business at the time, and upon his return, he sued the company. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men won the lawsuit, making the Globe their more permanent home.

William Shakespeare solidly established himself with the reassembling of the playing companies of London after the reopening of theaters when their popularity peaked. Not only were The Lord Chamberlain’s Men the most popular company at they time, they were the favorites of Queen Elizabeth, a patron of theatres across London, who invited them to act for her every Christmas at the palace. For several years, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men alone held the privilege to act for the Queen on this holy day. Shakespeare himself was able through his great success to sell octavo editions or “penny copies” to the literate people in his audience. Never before had a playwright been so well loved within his own time that his plays were sold like novels. Shakespeare quickly became a sharer and householder in The Lord Chamberlain’s Men acting company, sharing in the profits as part owner. The revenues from this position provided him the economic stability necessary for him to write freely without burden while he was the company’s primary playwright, producing approximately two plays a year before his retirement in 1612.

In conclusion, not much is known about the personal and professional life of William Shakespeare, the most superlative, renowned playwright and poet that has ever existed. According to George Steevens, a knowledgeable Shakespearean scholar of the 1700s, “All that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakespeare, is that he was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, married and had children there, went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems and plays. ” (Classic Notes: About William Shakespeare) Certainly records from Elizabethan England are not as detailed as records from more modern times, but we know more about Shakespeare than we know about most playwrights from his era. Scholars have discerned that he existed for they have all the major documentation of his life and have even found the costuming bills from his theatre company.

Philosophers have fumbled with accusations that William Shakespeare may have not written plays or poems at all, but instead allowed Francis Bacon to use his name or a committee of intellectually brilliant authors to write in collaboration with the pen name “Shakespeare”.

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The Life and Times of William Shakespeare (Biography) (Part 5)

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It has been stated that Francis Bacon may have written the plays, but since he viewed authorship as a lowly profession, not wanting it to be associated with his name, he used the name of a common peasant living in Stratford. Upon closer study of both Bacon’s and Shakespeare’s work’s, no correlation can be found as the styles of both writers sharply contrasted each other’s. Also there is no foreseeable connection between Shakespeare’s life and Bacon’s life, suggesting that they never came into contact. Bacon who thought that the classical language of Latin was far more superior than the quaint jargon of English, wrote mostly in Latin where as Shakespeare wrote almost solely in his native language. The few English works of Bacon do not show as much imaginative exploration of metaphors or other literary techniques as did Shakespeare’s works did. Bacon, being a well known man about town, would have found it quite difficult to keep such a secret. Many analysts in support of the Bacon theory have pronounced that there are hidden messages in Cryptograms in William Shakespeare’s plays. The Great Cryptogram by Ignatius Donnelly was published in 1888, claiming to have direct evidence that Bacon was the author of plays that were supposedly written by Shakespeare. This book explained in great detail how one can find these messages in the First Folio, however Shakespeare’s plays contained so many words as a whole, it could be quite easy to identify hidden messages. Some disbelieving critics of Shakespeare’s plays concluded that no one man could have possibly written so many fine works of literary art as this versifier did in his lifetime. Perhaps, they state, all thirty-seven were drafted by a entire committee of

skilled writers, all agreeing to use the pseudonym “Shakespeare”. Not uncommon was it for more than one writer to work in partnership with another one a single play during Elizabethan times. Despite these startling remarks, most level headed critics believe that William Shakespeare was actually the author of his own plays. (William Shakespeare)

Other contenders for the versifier’s crown include Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, and even Queen Elizabeth I. The contemporary of Shakespeare, Edward de Vere, represents the idea that a commoner could never have written such ingenious works. A well educated and worldly man, Edward de Vere of Queen Elizabeth I’s court, has seemed to many a likely author of the thirty seven works conventionally thought of as written by William Shakespeare. Another candidate is Christopher Marlowe, who although presumed dead in 1593, having been stabbed to death in a tavern brawl, still lived to pen Shakespeare’s works. Some believe that his death was faked and that Marlowe, an occasional spy in the employ of the Queen, lived long enough to complete all of “Shakespeare’s” plays. Other notable contenders include William Stanley, Earl of Derby; Ben Johnson; Thomas Middleton; Sir Walter Raleigh; and even the Queen herself. There have been many speculations concerning the authorship of William Shakespeare’s plays, but none have been concrete enough to seriously threaten to discredit the famous troubadour.

The primary reason that many speculations of Shakespeare’s identity have arisen over the centuries is the question ever lingering inside of the minds of anyone who has even read one of his plays. How could such a simple country boy with an education only a high school diploma write such timeless masterpieces. A controversy has even arisen because some scholars believe that William Shakespeare was illiterate. Four documents with his signature have survived over the centuries, most hardly legible and even spelled differently. Factual knowledge, intricate theories, and deep philosophical ideas as well as marvelous writing ability flow freely through each and ever one of Shakespeare’s works. Although Shakespeare had previously been thought of as an absolute genius, one must realize that not all the reflection in his plays is his own original conceptualizing. Shakespeare, through the knowledge of being a worldly man, could have written such immortal plays with the creativity and pure intelligence that he possessed without ever going to university or studying any certain subject in depth.

Ultimately, one can clearly see that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon lived a very controversial life full of mystery, myths, and legends. By disproving all of the incorrect theories and bringing light of those ones not proven to the modern reader about Shakespeare’s life, one can learn what a truly magnificent writer the bard was as he made his eternal stamp in literature.

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The Sexual Motives of Duke Vincentio in William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

July 11th, 2010 Comments off

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Concrete characters, like people, have many different aspects of their personality and are complex creations. These characters leave room for analysis and provoke the reader into asking questions about the character’s personality. Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure presents such characters that can be read and interpreted in numerous different ways. One particular character, Duke Vincentio, seemingly manipulates the events of the play to result in a happy ending. Carolyn Brown’s article, “The Homoeroticism of Duke Vincentio”, suggests that the Duke has hidden, sexual motives that are discreetly expressed in his speech, his actions, and through his relationships with other characters.

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Carolyn Brown first turns to historical facts to support her argument. She compares the play’s plot and the character of the Duke to the real life events surrounding the reign of England’s James I. According to Brown, James I abused his power by using it to “fulfill his sexual desires and to reward and protect his favorites. ” These partial actions on behalf of the king included “giving these young men power and positions as a way to show affection for them and to win their attentions” and “protecting his favorites for crimes they had committed” (Brown). In Measure For Measure, the Duke clearly does both of these things by undeservingly giving Angelo the temporary absolute power that should have gone to the older, wiser Escalus and later absolving him from all moral or lawful crimes at the end of the play. James I was also notorious for having relationships with young, handsome men and his frequent and public displays of affection for them caused great controversy amongst his subjects. The Duke, if interpreted in the manner that Brown suggests, reflects this behavior in the play and shares the same sexual motivations as King James I. Furthermore, the author insists that the Duke’s role as a reflection of James I is hidden through general praise because Shakespeare wanted to avoid any repercussions for any negative portrayal of the king. Shakespeare’s audience related to the fictionalized situation of an unfair and morally unsound ruler because they themselves were upset with similar problems in their court. The questionable legitimacy of a ruler with a blatantly compromised moral character was, according to Brown, “hotly debated during James’s reign. ”

The relationship between the Duke and Angelo can seem to be unimportant or casual because they do not share much time together in the play. Closer examination, however, exposes a possible intimate relationship between the two.

From the beginning of the play, the Duke treats Angelo with great fondness. He addresses the young deputy with affection and uses “language that seems unusually intimate” and contains “subtext that strikes us as markedly familiar” (Brown). These phrases are scattered throughout the play and include referring to Angelo as being “so near us” (5. 1, 123), and that he has “drest [Angelo] with our love” (1. 1, 19). He chooses Angelo over Escalus to execute his leadership in his absence, despite Escalus’ more appropriate age and experience. The Duke states that he made the decision to give Angelo the power with “special soul” (1. 1, 18). Carolyn Brown attributes this gift to Angelo as an expression of love and an attempt on the Duke’s part to win the affection of his depute through gratitude. Furthermore, upon transferring power to the inexperienced depute, the departing Duke asks for Angelo’s hand (another possible indicator – he asks for Angelo’s hand in both of the scenes that they appear in together) and pauses to give advice. His advice, however, does not relate to his obligations as ruler, but is on a personal level. Instead of offering political advice, the Duke launches into a carpe diem speech about Angelo’s desires, urging him to use his “torch” (1. 1, 32). He also repeats several times that Angelo can do whatever he pleases with no limitations. Brown suggests that the Duke repeats the terms of his gift in order to make Angelo more appreciative.

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Categories: drama, literature, Shakespeare Tags:

The Sexual Motives of Duke Vincentio in William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (Part 2)

July 11th, 2010 Comments off

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The Duke departs, and Angelo is left with absolute rule. It is not clear whether he realizes that the Duke’s advances are sexual in nature, but perhaps he does understand the situation. Escalus says to him, “A power I have, but of what strength and nature/ I am not yet instructed. ” Angelo replies: “’Tis so with me” (1. 1, 79-81). Angelo may be referring to his political power, but it can also be interpreted as uncertainty about his sexual nature and his desirable affect on the Duke. Finally, the Duke forces Angelo to marry a woman who does not appeal to him while the Duke himself proposes to a woman that he had not shown any romantic or sexual interest in. Brown believes this to be “a front of a socially sanctioned union” to provide the two men opportunity to engage in a relationship without immediately causing a controversy.

Carolyn Brown suggests that the Duke has homosexual tendencies and that his relationships with specific characters reveal his discreet desires. The author points to his relationship with Lucio for evidence to support her argument. During conversations with the disguised Duke, Lucio insists that he has a close, personal relationship with the ruler: “Friar, thou knowest not the Duke so well as I do” (4. 4, 151). The false friar demands that Lucio identify himself, and he is met with a confident response: “Sir, my name is Lucio, well known to the Duke” (3. 1, 396). He also expresses his loyalty to the Duke, telling the friar that he “know[s] him and [he] love[s] him” (3. 1, 387). The use of the word “know” here could be used to imply a sexual knowledge, as it is often used in that sense in other Shakespearean plays. While Lucio seems to believe that he speaks the truth, he has a tendency to lie throughout the play. Brown acknowledges this; “undoubtedly Lucio shows signs of being a braggart and taking creative license with the truth. But…Lucio’s numerous references to the Duke’s sexual proclivities and the confident manner in which he asserts them suggests that he has intimate knowledge of the Duke himself. ” The existence of a sexual relationship between the two would also explain Lucio’s continuous cries for attention at the end of the play, which seem to be without fear of punishment. Perhaps he does not expect to be held accountable because of this special relationship. Another possible interpretation that Brown’s argument presents is one that portrays Lucio as a disgruntled, jealous former lover of the Duke. This interpretation explains Lucio’s constant verbal attack on both the Duke himself and the Duke’s new love interest, Angelo. All of these attacks seem to focus on one thing specifically: Angelo’s sexuality. He calls him a “sexless thing” (3. 2, 108), “one who never feels/ the wanton stings and motions of the sense” (1. 4, 57-58), and says that “he is a motion ungenerative” (3. 1, 356), a phrase meaning sexually impotent. Finally, the Duke’s response also supports this interpretation. He expresses his anger at Lucio’s “back-wounding calumny” (3. 1, 417). Naturally, the Duke is rightfully angry at this slander, but perhaps he is also referring to this verbal harassment as a betrayal between two (once) intimate men.

The Duke’s sexual motivations influence his actions, his speech and his relationships with other characters in the play. Through close examination, Carolyn Brown highlights an interpretation of the Duke, Angelo, and Lucio that could otherwise easily be overlooked. The achieved level of success that the Duke’s attempt to place Angelo in a “compromising position and rescue him to gain his gratitude and affections” by showing favoritism towards him is unclear. Perhaps Angelo’s response to the Duke’s return answers the question: “You make my bonds still greater” (5. 1, 9).

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Categories: drama, literature, Shakespeare Tags:

William Shakespeare’s Commentary on Female Political Rulers through the Character of Lady Macbeth

June 28th, 2010 Comments off

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The authorship of William Shakespeare frequently places the ultimate power in the hands of female protagonists, and in doing so, implicitly suggests that women’s involvement in politics at the sovereign level represents a danger to society at large. To gain credibility as an autonomous leader, or the means behind the “puppeting” of a male in power, each female character must be stripped of every ounce of femininity, just as was the case in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In his characters, particularly Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare explores gender anxieties; in his plot, he embraces conflict and turmoil stemming from this anxiety, and in his play’s resolution, he bestows power back into a patriarchal system, satisfying the desires of the people for governmental stability. It is through the evolution of Lady Macbeth’s nature that Shakespeare offers an indirect commentary of his time concerning female leadership capabilities.

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The control of Lady Macbeth throughout the play, first possessing a strong grip upon her husband but diminishing as he becomes increasingly independent, reflects the social circumstances and governmental situation of the time of its composition. Lady Macbeth can be viewed as an allegorical Queen Elizabeth I of England, holding vast amounts of power because she does not embody the typical characterization of aristocratic women. The suicide of Lady Macbeth, which renders to the reestablishment of a patriarchal monarchial system, mimics the transition, although bloodless, from Queen Elizabeth I to James VI of Scotland, her chosen successor, reinstalling the line of male sovereignty. Written between the years 1605 and 1606 to be performed before King James VI shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth in March of 1603, the story of Macbeth along with the characterization of its leading lady offers a celebration to the restoration of male-dominated normalcy in Renaissance England.

The instability of the Tudor monarchy, plagued by events preceding the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, is presumed to be a result of female rule and thus is inherently dangerous for the state. The belief that a woman can not effectively lead a nation into war, exercise power over male subjects, or become wed without transferring her power to her husband and to his family all produce anxiety regarding the ability of women to rule and thus left it a culture yearning for the stability represented by a king, not a queen. To cure this insurgent hesitance and to express confidently the needed attributes to occupy power, Queen Elizabeth, much like her counterpart, Lady Macbeth, could not act in a womanly manner. The “Virgin Queen” as Elizabeth I was dubbed, resulting from her desire to strip herself of feminine sexuality, could nevertheless escape her femininity because of her appearance and the bias that existed against women in power at the time. Through the examination of the political attitudes against the late Queen of England, one can identify the parallels that Shakespeare conveyed through his character, Lady Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth possesses unbridled ambition and an insatiable hunger for power, typical male sentiments which are deemed unladylike when compared to the traditional characterization and role of women. Women during this era are expected to be quiet and opinion-less in speech, gentle individuals who watch over home and servants, functioning to primarily please their husbands. This idea is further concurred by Joan Klein in her essay entitled “Lady Macbeth: ‘Infirm of Purpose,” as a result from Eve’s original seduction of Adam, all “women were bound by nature and law to obey their husbands as well as their God,” distinguishing Lady Macbeth as an oddity (168). Instead of fitting this mold, Lady Macbeth operates as the manipulative character in this play, pushing to obtain great power for personal gain through her husband’s lethal deeds. Following the slaughter of Cawdor in battle, Macbeth becomes alarmed when he learns that King Duncan’s son, Malcolm, not himself for his heroic actions, will be the next heir to the throne. After this meeting, Macbeth composes a letter to his wife, informing her of his resentment, and quickly she learns that King Duncan will be paying a royal visit to their castle, Inverness. To hasten the prophecy outlined in her husband’s letter, one that proclaims Macbeth will first be named Thane of Cawdor and then king, Lady Macbeth devises a plan to murder the King. Through the derision of her husband’s weakness, and the brilliancy of her plan, which seems to be fated by destiny, Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth to commit regicide against a king he once followed. Such manipulation of events and the greed, which drew her to seek out to kill the king, are ultimately characteristics are typical of a man, rather than a woman. With this ploy, Lady Macbeth assumes the absolute power of the state, behaving as if she is to not be held accountable and deserves no blame. Her disruption of political stability stems from her own ambition, and it is this ambition that makes her standout as unnatural for her gender.

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