Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Captain’s Log, Day Twenty-Two

A ship’s chaplain once confided in me, “When the world sinks into darkness, may love light your way.”
Here at HMS Copeland, we had relatively calm waters. An electrical lapse caused Capt C a jolt of anxiety during a discussion with scholars. And the natives worked in equal parts to terrorize and heal one another.
Capt C joined the Sorensen18 Fleet for a Captains’ Quorum this evening. Conversing, swilling grog, sharing laughs—it was a ray of sunshine. Thank you, Admiral Hazard, for convening us.
The stories from other ships are what matter. When a fellow captain is hurting, I want to tack starboard, bring supplies, watch natives, deliver hugs. In the absence of normality, though, glimmers space. If we choose, every day dawns with new ways to connect, to care, to create.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay distant. But love creatively.
One of my favorite ships in all the ocean is in rough seas. I’ll be praying for their captains and crew. I believe that light is still present in the darkness, and love doesn’t see light or dark. Love is more like ocean water, surrounding all and connecting ships even when the lookout in the crow’s nest can’t glimpse a single thing on the horizon.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Captain's Log, Day Twenty-One

Capt A deemed today Pirate Day, and the natives were tasked with constructing a brig, building a (safe) campfire, designing cartography to result in treasure, composing jaunty sea shanty, and swimming with crocodilians.
The natives unwittingly locked a door leading to the ballast room. Capt C cast dice to resolve who would unshackle the door. Though it required prodding, a systematic exploration occurred, and the natives achieved success.
Both captains performed multiple ship-to-ship calls, but this also meant a lapse in maintaining discipline aboard HMS Copeland. The female native donned warpaint from Capt C's stores; much scrubbing was required for her ablutions.
Afternoon sunshine and mandatory calisthenics, delicious suppertime grub, and marvelous novel ended the day on a positive note. The captains' work, though, is not yet terminated for the evening.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Captain’s Log: Day Twenty

Capt A labored in his quarters for many hours this day. As a result, Capt C scampered between all the ship’s levels, balancing ship-to-ship calls, scholar queries, and the complaints of natives.
The natives, garbed in nightshirts throughout the day, are equal parts restless and reckless. Raucous actions hold more allure than complying with standard nautical hierarchy and regimens.
Essential supplies from an InstaCart Rowboat arrived to replenish our stores. Despite the collapse of our ship’s social order, we appreciate our good fortune to have supplies and maintain our health. Wishing every ship out there fair weather and safe passage during this turbulent time!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Captain's Log, Day Nineteen

Mutiny afoot!
The natives spent the afternoon packing sundry trunks due to their desire to exit this ship posthaste. The male native concentrated on gathering garb, writing utensils, and animals of the stuffed variety. The female native planned for more permanence; she gathered water casks, utensils for cleaning dentition, and her winter coat.
Laboring long hours and connecting with too many other ships while being marooned on a single ship has walloped the captains indisputably this week.

Captain’s Log, Day Eighteen

Today’s lucky number was eight!
The male native celebrated his eighth year navigating this wild world. He enjoyed trinkets, pure sugarcane, moving pictures, and parties (via a wonderous technology called Zoom) with friends and family.
Capt A negotiated a bustling ship, deftly balancing his labor tasks with pleasing the male native. By day’s end, Capt A needed forty or forty-two winks.
Capt C chose to commemorate a hectic day by watching a favorite tale of a knight, strangely dressed and bearing the name of a canine, finding salvation with his father. Superb!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Captain's Log, Day Seventeen

A midday thunderstorm raged outside our ship but the natives aimed to match the sound and fury inside as well. Capt A deems them to have succeeded in that endeavor.
The Commander of the HHS Wanker instructed me in graphical design, though we used tools slightly more advanced than my trusty sextant. The Commander pronounced me ready to solo-fish, at least when I'm in MS Word Bay and similar bodies of water. Trawling in the open ocean is still best left to true professionals.
Preparations for the male native's natal day celebration included disguising trinkets in festive garb; creating a concoction with sugar, flour, eggs, and cacao beans; and garnishing said concoction with more sugar and glitz. The celebration will commence, I've been warned, at precisely 0700 hours.

Captain’s Log, Day Sixteen

The days blur. Multiple ship-to-ship communications combined with the female native’s desire for dominance combined to result in exhaustion. It’s also why this Captain’s Log suffered a delay.
The weather, at least, remains sultry. Capt C rejoices; Capt A grumbles.
The natives eagerly anticipate the fourth month of the year because, for both, it represents another concluded journey around the solar sphere. It may be a ploy to gain bestowals and sweetmeats. Tomorrow, the male native declares his commemoration must occur.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Captain’s Log, Day Fifteen

In an effort to stem the discord of yesterday/week/month/2020, your captains instituted a multi-bipedal physical fitness requirement for the natives. The results were mostly impressive—less animosity, though still considerable sass (possibly a personality attribute).
For supper, Capt A rowed to the Galley of AdamantineBorough. ‘Twas delicious and the natives, who had scampered from the victual area prior to being dismissed, were denied morsels of peanut butter pie. Infinitesimal victories (plus sweets) provide blissfulness.
Enjoy your weekend! We shall be here, moored at the top of the Nelson Triangle via the Port Republic Channel in the Sea of Harrisonburg.

Captain’s Log, Day Fourteen

I know what banshees sound like.
The natives can sense the tension onboard. The male native yelled that Capt C wasn’t his instructor of record. The resulting conversation ended poorly for all parties.
Nature provided some respite. Capt C and the natives planted hyacinth bulbs in the forward deck. The natives created a game that involved running down a steep hill. They aided Capt C in replenishing the land desecrated by our mangy cur, Miss Penny.
Capt A decided to host a wrestling match with the natives. He boasted that they tried to bring him to his knees, but he never wavered. According to his verbal log, all parties emerged with feelings and limbs intact.
Capt C talked with scholars late into the evening, yet still found time to plan for the natives’ birthday celebrations, both happening in the fourth month in the 2020th year of our Lord.
Send strength. And fermented grapes.

Captain’s Log, Day Thirteen

Teeth have begun to jump overboard. And, honestly, I am enameled of their ability to disengage from the gumline when prodded by a nearly-8-year-old native.
Beyond dentition, we maintained the status quo on board today. Natives ran the captains ragged; work seemed plentiful.
Though my labor intensifies every day, I also feel as though I’m paddling in circles. Luckily, the waters of Korea have provided needed respite for Capt A and me. Both of us eagerly await the natives’ bedtime so we can delve into the glory of Korean cinema.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Captain's Log, Day Twelve

The ship keeps sailing but the lack of destination seems to wear on all occupants.
The natives might end up being jack-of-all-trades; they used colored writing instruments for sketching, tickled the ivories, and performed dish duty adequately. I taught the elder native how to determine the quality of scholarly essays. The younger native has been singing "One Day" from _Les Miserable_. We all cope in our own ways.
Capt C and Capt A are able to converse outside the ship consistently, but the natives clearly want to converse with literally anyone who is not related to them.
Capt A ventured to the Nourishment Leo in a rowboat while I captivated the natives by regaling them a tale of my favorite shabbily dressed, absolutely exhausted, and obviously lycanthrope professor.
Your captains will now explore a Crash Landing On You made from the wilds of Korea.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Captain’s Log, Day Eleven

My day started innocuously enough—conversing with other captains, solving puzzles, sailing proudly over calm seas.
Before our noontime fare, the natives and I went on what I’ve heard some tribes describe as a Walk-About. A jolly time was had and we were even gifted some flower bulbs. The natives rejoiced in relocating a Lumbricus terrarium to our forward terrestrial locale.
After the noontime fare was supped, I had many more meetings with captains. There was much to plan and share but some news was rather more disheartening.
In a fit of semi-despair, I chose physical exertion. I scrubbed the deck while the natives frolicked in the waterfall (and subsequent mud) below. When I concluded my labors, both natives required immersive baths. Capt A was instrumental in corralling the muddy scamps.
Your captains fed to and read with the natives. We may even have embarked on a journey to determine whether lycanthropy can survive take tales (spoiler: it can when Capt C is at the helm!).
After the natives deigned to drift off in their hammocks, your captains enjoyed a repast from Magnolia’s Tacos, delivered by an efficient rowboater.

Captain’s Log, Day Ten

The sun glittered in the sky, save for one short rain spell.
Capt C entertained the natives by having them stretch their bodies into various poses. While conversing with scholars and fellow ship captains, your captains forced the natives to explore a summer solstice adventure set in a desert featuring two young, and quite musical, paramours.
After some shenanigans kicking a round and patterned sphere, the natives were assigned to sweep the decks.
While Capt A created grub, the natives danced several jigs and then Capt C read aloud a story about an orphan child who meets an innocent criminal. Can we ever be truly innocent, though? The rats always discover the truth; or else the rats are the truth.
Capt C chose an indulgent bath for her evening entertainment. If you ask the female native, she’ll fabricate a story of hauling buckets of water up the stairs because Capt C is a taskmaster. I declare that it could be quite a fine idea!
Your captains finished their day by exploring how nothing brings a family together like murder. But there’s no need to investigate. I promise. The Captain of America (aka my other Capt A) was present.

Captain’s Log, Day Nine

Hurricane-force winds, in the shape of rascally natives, battered the ship today.
I felt under the weather today, and native-to-native kicking did not raise my energy levels. One native ripped my artwork to shreds when my vision of a rainbow did not match her own.
Capt A buffeted the winds, acted as galley chef, and deserves every huzzah under the sun.
Let’s hope tomorrow brings more sunshine, calmer waters, and friendly natives.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Captain's Log, Day Eight

Stationed in the middle of the sea, the crew saw this middle of the week as a middling day. Sensible.

While your noble captains toiled, the natives investigated how white female saviorism functions in a Nordic setting when said female savior (and her sister and a frozen stack of snowballs and reindeer and the sister's strapping mate) can sing exceedingly well. 

Sir Newton's Third Maw of Motion propelled the natives' lessons today as they experimented with balloons and varying levels of thrust. Sparring with balloons occurred later.

Capt C felt personally victimized by these natives today. The male native, while attempting to stand on his hands, requested that Capt C hold his legs. While she complied, he rudely broke wind. The female native held Capt C's head during a lengthy kiss goodnight and transferred a substantial amount of nose slime to Capt C's philtum.

The quaffing of wine will commence momentarily.

Captain's Log, Day Seven

Today Capt A began to resemble Capt Ahab...
I was locked in my cubicle most of the day discussing moving pictures with scattered scholars. So Capt A, who also had a very busy work schedule, dealt alone with the scallywagging natives for many hours.
In my cubical, I heard shrieks of laughter and running water (extraordinary ships these days!). When I ventured out to the galley, the natives chose to demonstrate their ability to fling themselves off furniture items. During rest time, the natives competed to see who could scream the loudest.
I supervised and enforced chores at the end of the day and one native thought a game of hide-and-seek would be brilliant. She neglected to tell me where she was so I had to lure her out with the promise of Oreos.
The natives did tickle the ivories well and cheerfully eat their grub. While Capt A took them on a walk, a neighboring ship called for the fire brigade! Our neighbor’s ship is sound (thank goodness!) and our natives were elated by the fleet of fire vessels sent.
Poor Capt A needs a nap. Capt C may not even make him put on his device to cease snoring! (Spoiler: She still will.)

Monday, March 23, 2020

Captain's Log, Day Six

Perhaps I’ll start writing these logs on weekend, but those holidays seem to be less tempestuous.
The seas were rough today. The Guv’ner of Our Commonwealth decreed all young natives would be tutored on board rather than rowed to and from shore each day. The captains of this ship expected the news but it still came as a blow to our future productivity. The natives mourned as well.
Capt C and Capt A tried loosening the onboard schedule today, but the loosened ropes only caught the captains ‘round their own necks.
When the natives danced jigs and puzzled, all was well, but anarchy ruled while the captains communicated with scattered scholars and far-flung sailors and landlubbers.
An early bunk time was enforced. How long until these natives become scallywags? Or are they already there?

Captain's Log, Day Five

Ten years ago, Capt A and Capt C embarked on a partnership on the high seas!
The natives volunteered to celebrate, for they erroneously assumed there would be sugarcane, but first we had to navigate a whole day.
Tossing eggs overboard amused the natives.
Playing “The Fishing Game,” though, resulted in the natives biting one another. Attempts to capture for posterity a dramatic puppet show met with failure. Catastrophic, tear-filled failure.
On my watch, communicating with other ships has the same allure as walking the plank. The ocean seems so peaceful, and other ships make me feel helpful and necessary.
Back fully on my ship, post-dinner, we played cheery games and then Capt C was tasked with clipping toenails. It’s a glamorous task, and Capt C womanfully resisted the urge to hack off the limb from the protesting native.
With the natives in their hammocks, Capt C and Capt A will shortly quaff wine, feast on salmon, and smile at each other over the candlelight.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Captain's Log, Day Four

One native awoke me early today to tell me that I looked peaceful in my sleep. Her torture skills are quite advanced.
Luckily, the other native did his chores (and the other native's chores), joyfully performed calculations and word problems, happily drew pictures, and mastered dribbling an orange ball.
Sailors throughout the world required Capt A's sailing knowledge; Capt C juggled natives and communication with a bevy of young scholars.

The natives stretched their bodies with yoga and stretched their minds by watching an Empire Striketh Back.
The sun shone forth and there was much rejoicing and even a wild rumpus in the afternoon, while Capt C scribbled suggestions on how to advance arguments to those young scholars.
Tonight, as I charted our progress by the starlight, the shore seemed so far away. But we have plenty of oranges, and I just hope everyone's ships can come safely to shore soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Captain's Log, Day Three

I should have sensed the impending storm. Today started off rather jolly. I slept in a bit later than normal and both natives joined me for snuggles and reading time in bed. In retrospect, I should have never gotten out of my bed.
The natives joined me in a noble quest to ascertain what makes ice melt the quickest. Elaborate charts and sets were created. Patience was taught. In my hubris, I believed the natives were better for having me in their lives.
The day began to unravel. Tasks, whether they be athletics, math, reading, art, or eating, only took 10 minutes apiece, leaving much more time for the natives to lodge complaints or duel with one another.
Schedules conflicted for Capt A and Capt C; at times, both captains were engaged in critical missions that distracted from the reality that the natives now had full control of the ship.
'Twas not all horrid, though. Commander Mo Willems masterfully distracted the natives for 30 minutes. Capt A, out of sheer determination, prepared a delicious feast. Gambling soothed the natives. And sighting familiar faces via technology restored faith and goodwill.
As the end of the day grew near, though, the ice melted. One native admitted to a theft, earlier in the day, of frozen sugar water sticks. Both natives had stored the frozen sticks in the hull, and, in a fantastic twist of logic, refused to account for melting. (Yes, even though our quest earlier in the day had focused on what maketh ice melt quickest!) Capt C, stymied by the natives’ audacity, scrubbed the hull as an exercise in anger management; the slightly calmer Capt A corralled the natives into their sleeping quarters.
All rations that have the slightest amount of sugarcane in them shall be hidden, forevermore, from the natives. Your captains are feasting on treats from the land of Samoa and PBPatty (formerly the Republic of TagALong).
My final thought: The days stretch on to infinity, and I fear the natives are only gaining strength.

Captain’s Log, Day Two

I do not understand the natives’ sense of time. One native now claims to be “almost a teenager.” Yet both natives awaken at the dawning of the new day, which seems unlikely for a teen.
There was anarchy afoot early in the day. The natives resisted swabbing belowdecks. Capt C narrowly avoided a full mutiny, and the subsequent science lesson brought sunshine back into their lives. Recess, math, lunch, and mindfulness apparently tired them because both took a long hammock nap! (Score uninterrupted Captain work time!
Post-nap writing, reading, and piano led to a track training session. The natives were very chatty at dinner.
The day ended with a viewing of some creatures who “bounced here and there and everywhere.” Their energy inspired one native to resist the sweet call of her hammock. The captains fully deserved their Guinness and apple ale.

Captain's Log, Day One

The natives seemed eerily composed. They mostly followed a schedule of chores, science time, snack, recess, creative time, mindfulness, and lunch. During rest time, though, rebellion was in the air. One native roosted under her brother’s bed, for unknown reasons.
Reading, writing, and yoga met mixed results.
After afternoon recess, while dinner was being fixed, the natives rejoiced in 15 minutes of screen time. Dinner, followed by some gambling, led by Capt A, gave a false sense of control. While readying for bed, a dress ended up in the toilet.
Despite setbacks, Capt C and Capt A managed 5 classes, 1 part time job, and 1 full time job while wrangling natives, so they enjoyed fermented grapes while doing laundry.
Until tomorrow...#parentinginthetimeofcoronavirus

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Shakespeare2020: King Henry VI, part iii

If you want wars, this is the play for you. It's a constant circle of Henry in charge, Henry in charge (via York), then York, then Henry (via Queen Margaret), then York (via Warwick), then Henry (via Warwick), then York (via Richard, Duke of Gloucester). To me, this is the warm-up to the splendidness that is Richard III.  (Also, the love for Richmond--eventual Henry VII--is pretty obsequious. Shakespeare is good at that. I love that man.)

To prove that I'm right about the warm-up, Shakespeare included the longest soliloquy that he ever wrote (III.ii.124–195); he gave it to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (who will be Richard III soon!). It's a gorgeous piece of writing and it begins the themes that Shakespeare will later use with R3, namely that in between the bloodthirsty ambition of Richard, there's a likeability and an honesty that resonates with audiences.

Of course, the play is called Henry VI and we do get to see that weak excuse of a monarch quite a bit. (I'm not positive, but I think he gets more lines in this play than in part ii--and of course it's more than he gets in part i.) In Act I, Henry is more than happy to throw his progeny to the wolves if he can keep power for a little longer. By Act II, when Henry sees the son who has killed his father and the father who has killed his son, Shakespeare uses Henry as less of a monarch and more to develop a connection to the audience.

Now, when it comes to women, there are a lot of interesting elements in this play.
a. Queen Margaret is rightfully pissed off, and it's invigorating. She's the whole reason that we have a play because, if it wasn't for her, Henry would roll over. She fights (and, boy, does Richard initially underestimate a woman's army! underestimating women is a move that Richard will repeat again), she plots, she plans, she inveigles, she whines, she protests, she wins, she loses, she kills, she lives, she protects.
b. Lady Grey, who becomes Edward's Queen, doesn't have much personal power in this play. But Edward wooing her is a master lesson in awkwardness and, of course, Edward thinking with his nether regions causes so many unnecessary problems. When will men learn??  :)
c. Connected to Queen Margaret: "O tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide!" (I.iv.137). It's one of my favorite lines and I kind of like to try to emulate that line whenever I'm trying something new or someone seems to say that I'm just not good enough or that women aren't strong.

That's a wrap on Henry VI and I'm breaking from the Shakespeare2020 line-up so that I can go straight on to Richard III! We're ready to trade in kingdoms for a horse!  :)

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Shakespeare2020: King Henry Vi, part ii

If part i of King Henry VI was all about armies of men moving and being defeated, then part ii is when the nobles start to die. And die they do. It reminded me of a low-budget Tarantino-esque production at times, simply because, to announce every death, they keep showing off the heads of slain nobles. We won't get to see blood gushing from the stage in these productions, but we still get grisly sights--Queen Margaret almost making out with a dismembered head is pretty wild.

The quick summary--Queen Margaret marries Henry and plots against him with her lover, Suffolk. York begins to assert his power in different ways: inciting Jack Cade to lead a rebellion, then leading a rebellion himself. But, don't worry, Henry knows that he's a terrible ruler. In Act VI, scene ix he says, "Come, wife, let's in, and learn to govern better; For yet may England curse my wretched reign." You have to appreciate that at least he knows he's a terrible ruler. It ends in the aftermath of the Battle of St. Albans with Henry and Margaret running away, and York planning to follow Henry to London so he can fully gain the crown.

The things that stuck out to me:
1. In Act I we have a conjuring scene, but it's almost wholly a Ouija board type of event. They aren't asking for any spirit-interference, just predictions, but punishments rain down on their heads. In Macbeth, Shakespeare will go much more deeply into whether the Weird Sisters have power and what role predictions have, but this simplistic execution of conjuring acts as solely a decent plot device.

2. Oh, the Yorks! I love me some Yorks! Yes, York peppermint patties, of course, but also I'm totally Team White Rose. (That's another post for another day.) Now, in King Henry VI, part ii, we get to see Richard (later King Richard III) onstage at the end [being belittled by a"heap of wrath, foul indigested lump, as crooked in thy manners as thy shape" (V.i, 157-158)]. But the main focus is on the Duke of York (Richard's father). The Duke of York shows us where Richard gets his wonderful ability to connect to the audience through asides and descriptive monologues. One of my favorite lines ever is this gem from York: "My brain, more busy than a labouring spider, Weaves tedious snares to trap mine enemies" (III.i.340-341). Gorgeous, gorgeous! His history lesson in Act II is marvelous and necessary, especially if you're watching the tetralogy all at once and you need a refresher in the middle.

3. "Game of Thrones" unabashedly stole Cersei's walk of shame from the Duchess of Gloucester's Act II walk. Shakespeare would be proud.

4. Suffolk gets off too easy; Queen Margaret is such a skank. Jack Cade's rebellion reflects the loss of poetry/intellect/beauty if regular citizens ever would gain control. Henry can't read people, can't understand politics, and shouldn't rule.

5. One last thing--Walter and Water. It's so deliciously Britishly brilliant. Suffolk heard that he was to die by "water" but, when he's about to be killed by a dude named "Walter," he totally realizes his mistake. If you're a midwestern American like me, you start to realize that Shakespeare wrote Act VI, scene i just for YOU. Because, when reading it, you have to sound it out, elongate the vowels, subsume the "ell," and genuinely grovel in the artistry of British wordplay for a bit. Of course, it also predicts how misunderstanding prophecies can go quite wrong (*cough* *cough* *Macbeth**cough*).

It's quite a cliffhanger at the end, so I'm happily moving right on to part iii.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Shakespeare2020: King Henry VI, part i

Ah we start into the histories!

Henry VI, part i (it's usually written I Henry VI) isn't one of the most well-known plays, so I'll recap it as part of my discussion of it too. But know that, even if it isn't especially well known, it's still an amazing bit o' writing. And I do like thinking about this in terms of Shakespeare's evolution as a writer. In this play, you can see themes and even a scene that he'll keep toying with and (imho) perfecting as he grows as a writer. I Henry VI was written around 1591 and might be the earliest play by my man W. Shakes, though there's a few areas that you can tell may have been written by another playwright (possibly by another fantastic laddie you may know named Christopher Marlowe! and sweet Thomas Nashe too!). I Henry VI is the first in a tetralogy that spans The Wars of the Roses (Henry VI parts i, ii, and iii and Richard III). Shakespeare wrote two tetralogies [together, they're called the Henriad) and though this was the first composed, it's actually the later in chronology; the other follows Richard II, Henry IV parts i and ii, and Henry V].

Anyway, this play starts in the aftermath of Henry V's death. Henry V was a controlling, egotistical, intelligent, and strong man, and his death has left England in the lurch. His son, Henry VI, is weak, to put it mildly. This is demonstrated beautifully by Shakespeare because Henry VI doesn't even show up in the play until Act III. 🔥

So, what is this play about? Nobles arguing, England waging war in France, nobles arguing, Joan of Arc doing a bit of witchcraft, nobles deciding that Henry VI should marry, and (yes I may have mentioned this) nobles arguing. The play ends with Henry and the nobles (mostly) agreeing that Henry should marry Margaret of Anjou (much more about her in the rest of the tetralogy), and a peace with France somewhat exists (but, characters assure us that it won't last long!).

So, that's the quick and dirty synopsis. What I want to point out are some aspects where I can see Shakespeare's broader themes and ideas being tackled for the first time:

a. Hmmm, women might be evil?
My darling Shakespeare starts to play with this idea, which will get much more sound and more well-constructed in later plays (and when he has stronger female characters).

  • Joan of Arc is the most dominant female character. She appears very early in the play when the Bastard of Orleans introduces her to Dauphin Charles (who leading a rebellion in France against the English). She wins a duel against Charles and, as a reward, is sent to command the French armies, which start to do pretty well. But, she ultimately loses her power to have visions (if she ever had this power), her sexuality becomes a joke to the French and the English (does she control Charles through sex? is she a tramp? is she really pregnant? who's the father?), and she ends the play, destined to be burned at the stake, pleading for her life.
    What can we tell from her representation? Although it is a fairly typical progression of the female trope in this early play, there are moments of unexpected power. Joan's fight and battlefield knowledge, her ability to talk to spirits, and her sexuality are all prized assets at times. Certainly, Shakespeare shows that winners write history and, if those winners are males angry at a woman, then the end result will be a harsh caricature of a woman. But I do think that by showing us her strengths, even if for a short time, Shakespeare does point to the hypocritical nature of "winners write history." Moreover, by having the English reduce Joan in such petty and typical ways, I would argue that Shakespeare emphasizes the unimaginative nature of "winning" males. 
  • The Countess of Auvergne, a very minor character, tries to capture Talbot, and levies some pretty hilarious insults at him during the scene (which he laughs off). The Countess sub-plot is pretty silly, immediately debunked, and doesn't add much to the text. It emphasizes that not all women's machinations will work. And it clearly shows the difference between Charles (easily bewitched by Joan) and Talbot (easily able to overcome a woman). In Richard III, we'll see women being wooed to showcase how Richard's power changes in concert with the exposition of the play. That trope is much better crafted, and takes up much more time, than the Countess scene.
  • Last, Margaret of Anjou is a carefully constructed creature. We don't see much of her or her personality in this play, but I think this is a deliberate choice by Shakespeare. She needs to be introduced and will become a very major character, but Shakespeare primarily uses her introduction to set up Henry's reliance on Suffolk and the apprehension that it causes with Gloucester. Shakespeare knows how to introduce a character (independent of gender) in order to show other characters' development/alliances. 

In this play, Shakespeare shows the vileness of women but points to men's prejudice as a reason that women are being twisted thusly. He'll do it much better in later plays, but that theme is clearly present.

b. Fatherhood and a lineage of power
Talbot is quite the major role in this play. He's discussed (as a hero to the English, as a thorn in the French's side) as strong; he's shown as capable; he even has a sense of humor. (Spoiler alert: He dies in battle at the end of the play.) Now, Shakespeare shines in his brilliant crafting of multi-dimensional characters, and Talbot's character construction shows several aspects that will become deeper, more pervasive elements of later characters. Talbot almost seems like an exercise in melding humor and wisdom, in seeing how strengths can showcase character flaws, in how to combine a dominant character with weaker characters in a way that still explains their interactions evenly. When Shakespeare shows Talbot arguing against his own selves/desires, I see glimpses of Macbeth and Hamlet; when Talbot demonstrates a twinge of evilness covered in a coat of likable humor, I see stirrings of what will become Richard 3 and even Iago. But Talbot most often reminds me of Othello--a strong warrior who focuses so much on how others might view him that he loses his mind. Talbot doesn't lose his mind and does care about his son, but Talbot thinks that all problems will be solved by war/brute strength, knowing that the nobles he's trusting to support him are weak-willed cowards. He assumes that the nobles will have courage when courage is needed but he underestimated their cowardice and pettiness.
In addition, the scene between Talbot and his son is a wonderful precursor to the Banquo/Fleance scene in Macbeth (though Banquo is more forceful and definitive, and we have a "never-ending line of kings" that proves that Banquo's delivery equates with success 😜). But the Talbot/son scene nicely sets up an element of lineage-derived power which is in, I would argue, every single Shakespearean play.

c. Roses are red, or are they white? Which color is right?
Yep, the WARS OF THE ROSES are a-starting! The Wars of the Roses were a series of English Civil Wars between the House of Plantagenet (white roses) and the House of Lancaster (red roses). Shakespeare deals with this more fluidly in subsequent plays of this tetralogy, but the Act II of this play is notable because we start to see which nobles will be on which side and why. It's an interesting exposition strategy that Shakespeare uses because he is introducing an idea that was very well known to audiences at the time but absolutely needs to be said. He doesn't want to bore the audience, but we need to see the teams assembling, to be blunt. The scene is constructed in a fluid and basic form, which makes it rather rich for interpretation by directors. I've seen a few versions of this play and this scene usually is the most different between directors. Some like to have roses in a garden being plucked (i.e. a visual delineation); others will play with an actor's volume (whispering and voice pitching) to explore potential alignments and misdirections. It's fascinating the complexities that are within this scene.

d. Supernatural baby!
This play talks about angels, God, spirits, witches, and demons. There's an entire scene kinda showing Joan summoning demons. It's a rich tapestry of supernatural creatures and discussions! [A little about me: I adore exploring how Shakespeare uses the supernatural onstage to bring forward subversive social, economic, religious, political, or ideological views. I did quite a bit of graduate work in Renaissance Literature and the supernatural was my specialty.] In this play, there's a lot of talk about the supernatural and one instance of a pseudo-performance of witchcraft, but they are fairly basic and typical. The talk doesn't go beyond basic tropes of supernatural creatures and the witchcraft pseudo-performance is muddled, decidedly weak, and useful only for highlighting Joan's waning power and the weak nature of Dauphin Charles. I also call it "pseudo" because the play only notes Joan talking to herself not to any other characters, and most actors play it as Joan simply wandering around, pretending to talk to the air; this is in direct contrast to later plays where supernatural characters will talk and interact as major roles.
Shakespeare will go much, much further with his use of the supernatural in subsequent plays, but it's always nice to see what he was starting from; it makes me appreciate his facility in using the supernatural in later plays even more. To me, this is how a beginning writer would use the supernatural. But as Shakespeare begins to understand the power within a a role defined and strengthened by "otherness," he experiments more and finds avenues that highlight ambiguity and unnatural/supernatural strength, and he draws on more traditions (going beyond folklore and into Greek/Roman/ Egyptian supernatural tropes).

So, obviously I'm a nerd, and I didn't think I'd write this much about I Henry VI, but I suppose I've shown you my excitement. Please do read the play. It's a snappy and swift read. Onward to part ii!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Shakespeare2020: Twelfth Night

I was excited to start out with this play, I must admit. I am following the schedule laid out by the creator of the Shakespeare 2020 project, and it's fun to have someone else decide when I should read these plays. With that said, I know 12N pretty well. I've read it dozens of times and taught it a couple of times. Whenever people tell me that they don't like Shakespeare or are uncertain what to read of Shakespeare, I often tell them to read 12N or Much Ado.

I'm going to talk about three areas that I found myself mulling over during this year's reading of the play.

1. Emotional Willingness: Viola and Sebastian have never really seemed very much like twins. I have tended to just accept that they are brother/sister and the cross-dressing and all to reach the resolution. I've admired Viola but she's no Beatrice or Lady Macbeth. But, for this reading, I really saw how, emotionally, Viola and Sebastian are very similar.
It stems from how quickly they fall in love. Viola is just in love with Duke Orsino from the second that we see her in his court. There's not much of Orsino in the text at all and you really do have to make some leaps in judgement to belief that Orsino is worthy of Viola's love, but that's for a different story. Sebastian loves/trusts Anthony immediately; then, he goes along right away with Olivia and marries her.
I've usually read it as amusing and quick because it needs to be quick--the play is ending and you gotta wrap up those plots! But I saw it somewhat differently this time. Both Viola and Sebastian fall in love quickly but they don't fall out of love. Is it a way of looking at the world, engaging your first impression, and sticking with it? Is it why people can meet in high school, marry each other, and live very happy lives together? That wasn't my type of love so perhaps the more trusting nature of Viola/Sebastian has been foreign to me until I became a mother and did fall immediately in love with a human being. I'm not sure, but I'm glad that I can start to understand that emotional trust may not just be a clever play-ending move. It might just be how some people truly engage with the world. (However, poor Olivia, though--she deserves better!)

2. Humoral Madness: In the spring of 2008, I took the most fabulous graduate course with a visiting professor Dr. Ivo Kamps. We studied the Early Modern understanding of Madness, and I simply adored the the class. We did study 12N as part of the course. The language of humoral madness expresses itself mainly in the Maria/SirToby Belch/Sir Andre Aguecheek/Malvolio scenes, when the trio of Maria/Belch/Aguecheek are trying to devise punishment for Malvolio. Throughout their discussion, they offer reasons why Malvolio is straight-laced and, especially Maria, seems to connect it to a humoral imbalance.
In case you don't know, in the Early Modern understanding of bodily health, there were four humours: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. To be in good health, there was a balance of these humours; however, more often, humours were unbalanced, causing, they believed, disease and emotional fluctuations. There's no proof that Shakespeare believed in humoral theory, but he placed it in his plays quite a bit. It makes sense. It's an easy way of connecting to a current (to early modern audiences) knowledge base and it allows the audience to easily see both why a character might be ostracized and how others inside the play view an ostracized character.
What I liked about my current reading this time was that I could clearly see how Maria uses humoral imbalance not to convince herself that Malvolio is a problem but to convince Belch/Aguecheek that something should be done to Malvolio. Maria functions like the author in this way. She manipulates a current belief so that her purpose can be fulfilled. She's a canny lass, that one. If you're reading it, look to how she uses humoral color theory combined with emotional and physical appearances to paint a picture of Malvolio that Belch/Aguecheek easily grasp.

3. Malvolio's Revenge: This one is deeply personal to me.
Poor Malvolio--fancies himself in love thanks to a manufactured letter, humiliated, locked in a mental asylum, mocked while in said asylum...sure he gets that great line "I'll be revenged on the whole pack you!"but, wow, I want to see his revenge. I mean, we've all somewhat been in that sort of situation. And, the more I read this play and teach this play, the more horror I have for Malvolio's situation. It's played for laughs, of course, but I think that's what Shakeapeare wants you to do. He wants his audience to feel arrogant and to laugh at this poor fool who was easily tricked. Shakespeare wants us to be on the Maria/Belch side of things, feeling confident and getting our laughs from watching someone suffer.
But that's where the genius comes in to play. Why should we laugh when others are suffering? Why do we want to share in the Maria/Belch bond of "winners?" Why do we want to laugh at a person who, if we're being brutally honest with ourselves, could easily be us? At times, we're all one silly incident away from being humiliated and locked up against our will and disbelieved. And that's genius. Shakespeare needs us to think about these aspects, to realize the dissonance inherent in watching a play and cheering for bad to befall someone who's just a bit different. I love that Shakespeare makes me think.

Ok--those were the three things that stuck out to me during this reading of 12N. Feel free to comment, if you like. If you feel differently about any of these points, it's okay to share that. I really just love sharing ideas and hearing others opinions. My ideas on all of these pieces has changed dramatically as I had more experiences, met more people, and heard more people's strong and confident voices. I'm just one crazy voice among a few billion, but I hope you've enjoyed seeing inside my mind for a little bit. I'm off to Henry VI next...if I can control my desire to read the tetralogies out of historical chronology and in written chronology instead!

Shakespeare2020: Introduction

Hello! It's been quite a time. I've been busy with kids, and running for office, and living life. But, as a sort of resolution, I was inspired to do Shakespeare 2020 and to read all the works of Shakespeare during the 2020 calendar year. I figured I could also use the challenge to update my blog page, so here goes...

For this challenge, I'll do a short write-up when I finish each play, poem, etc. But, it's not going to be a book report type-of-write-up. It'll be a little bit more messy. If you want to read what happens, find a Spark Notes (or ask me!). But, I'll be digging in more to a few parts of the text that leapt out at me or that I thought differently about with this most recent reading. I have read the whole Shakespeare body of work several times (and certain plays many MANY times); I attended a doctoral program in Renaissance Literature (as I call it "Shakespeare + Friends); and I'm excited to talk about in a casual yet comfortable way. we go, on to Shakespeare2020!

Here's proof that I've been busy! I'm the one on the left.  :)