Monday, March 31, 2014

Short Paper #2: Re-Writing and Appropriations

Short Paper #2: Re-Writings and Appropriations

 On pages 332-350 of the Norton Critical edition of The Tempest, there are a series of poems which are re-write/appropriate elements of Shakespeare’s final play.  Since Shakespeare is truly a ‘global’ author, his works inform how we see the world—and specifically, how writers and poets see it.  Thus, they re-imagine Shakespeare through the lens of their own poetic vision, shaping Shakespeare’s characters and metaphors to encompass new worlds.  From films, Chinese opera, graphic novels, and elsewhere, Shakespeare is finding his way into forms/genres he never before imagined.

To help you understand how these re-appropriations work, I want you to choose ONE of the poems in this selection and discuss how it re-imagines/re-interprets the characters, themes, or ideas in Shakespeare’s play.  In your paper, you should do most, if not all, of the following:
  • Explain what idea or element of the play the poem is riffing on
  • Close read elements of the poem so we can ‘see’ the poet’s ideas
  • Compare this to elements/passages of The Tempest
  • Explain why the poet used The Tempest as a necessary vehicle for his/her message; in other words, why this play and not some other?
  • Consider what about The Tempest makes it such a mythic play that allows so many poets, from different times and lands, to draw their own ideas from it
 On Monday, April 15th (the day the paper is due) we will discuss this paper in class.  For once, I want you to share your work with the class, so that students who did similar poems can compare notes.  Attendance is mandatory today, so don’t skip class and turn in the paper in my box an hour or two later.  A paper that is not turned in during class (with the exception of school trips or excused absences) is late.  I’m being heavy handed here since I know some people will avoid class seeing it as a “blow off” day.  It’s not—I really want to discuss the play and share our collective knowledge and ideas.  So please come! 

REQUIREMENTS: 4-5 pages double spaced; all quotations following MLA format; cite the poems and the play using the Norton edition: ex, (Norton, 332); due Monday, April 15th in class.  As always, please e-mail me with questions or talk to me in my office. 

For Wednesday: The Tempest, Act 2

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Why does Caliban mistake Stephano for a god—or for the “man in the moon”?  How does this oddly comic scene affect our view of Caliban, and what echoes does it carry of the early encounters of European explorers in the New World?

2. Discuss the humor in The Tempest, particularly in Act 2.1, where elaborate verbal puns totally arrest the plot for several pages/minutes.  How does this act contrast with Act 1, and why might Shakespeare introduce so many seemingly interchangeable sailors speaking so much ludicrous (if witty) prose?

3. How is Antonio something of a mirror-image of his brother, Prospero?  What actions does he try to set in motion in Act 2.1, and how do these mimic what we saw with his brother in Act 1.2?  How does he, like Prospero, reveal who he is and what his motives are to the audience? 

4. What is Caliban: a monster, a human—something in-between?.  Note that Trinculo describes him as “legged like a man, and his fins like arms” (37).  Is this an accurate description of him, or does it suggest Trinculo’s inability to see someone utterly unlike himself?  Consider that the Aztecs who encountered Cortez and his men thought them four-legged beasts, not understanding they rode upon horses.  How should Caliban appear on-stage for the play to work in your eyes?  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Shakespeare Set to Music

NOTE: The questions for Act One of The Tempest are in the post below this one

I'm posting an interesting NY Times article about why Shakespeare is so suited for dance: more ballets have been based on Shakespeare than probably any other writer in history.  On the one hand, this suggests that, like Chinese Opera, Shakespeare can be translated visually--either in visual metaphors, or in the spectacle that his theatre naturally lends itself to.  However, unlike Chinese Opera, we lose all language--everything must be spoken in dance.  What do we lose and gain in this approach?  Is it acceptable as Shakespeare, or is it simply something based on Shakespeare, the same way Tchaikovsky's famous overture to Romeo and Juliet suggests, rather than performs, Shakespeare's text.

You can read the article here:

ALSO: Shakespeare is a natural draw for classical composers, who have created ballets, operas, and orchestral works based on his plays.  Here are a few of the most significant ones that have become almost as popular as the plays themselves:

Mendelssohn, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Overture and Incidental Music (he wrote the overture to evoke the piece at age 16; decades later, he was commissioned to write incidental music to accompany the play, and used his overture as a basis: the famous "wedding march" that we hear at most weddings comes from this music)

Berlioz, Beatrice et Benedict, Overture: this is an overture to Berlioz's opera based on Much Ado About Nothing.  It captures the high spirits and romance of this wonderful comedy, and the adventurous can go on and listen to the entire opera.  (Note: There are many operas based on Shakespeare, notably those by Verdi, who wrote one for Macbeth, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Othello).

Tchaikovsky, Romeo and Juliet Overture, a highly successful 'adaptation' of Shakespeare musically, opening with a solemn theme that represents Friar Lawrence, which soon explodes into the fighting of both houses, and before long, the super famous love theme emerges that has been parodied in everything from soap commercials to Spongebob.  If you can listen with fresh ears, it's an amazing piece.

Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet, ballet: Prokofiev wrote not the first, but the greatest ballet based on the entire play.  It is an extremely moving experience to watch the entire thing, and musically, it evokes much of Shakespeare's language and power.  Especially powerful is the Final Act, where Romeo tries to make a sleeping Juliet dance with him--but she merely slumps over lifelessly.  This scene makes sense like never before.

Sibelius, The Tempest, Incidental Music: Sibelius was an extremely famous Finnish composer in the early 20th century, and he was asked to create music that could suit this very musical play--including the many songs sung by Ariel, Caliban, and others.  He succeeded marvelously with dark, mystical sounding music which occasionally evokes the music of Shakespeare's time.  One of the most powerful pieces is Ariel's song in Act One, "Full fathom five thy father lies" (great alliteration!), which is full of haunting doom, and helps us understand Ferdinand's desolation.

Tchaikovsky, The Tempest, Tone Poem: A "tone poem" is an impression of a poem or story set to music, and Tchaikovsky excelled at these.  Here he took on Shakespeare's last play, opening with a eerie, ferocious storm scene before relaxing into a theme for Miranda and Ferdinand.  It's a lot like the Romeo and Juliet overture, and takes about as long to play out.  (Note: Tchaikovsky also wrote a piece for Hamlet, as well as incidental music for a production, which is equally good--a dark, exciting score).

Vaughan-Williams, Serenade to Music (Merchant of Venice): Not many composers have been drawn to The Merchant of Venice, but Vaughan-Willliams, a 20th century English composer, famously set part of the Final Act of the play (where Lorenzo and Jessica speak of music) to music in a draw-joppingly beautiful piece with soloists, chorus and orchestra.  It belies the darkness and unsettled nature of the final act, but it does capture the essential 'music' of Shakespeare's play.

Walton, Henry V film score: one of the most famous Shakespearean film scores, this was written for Sir Lawrence Olivier's war-time film of Henry V, and contains some of William Walton's most rousing, touching music.  (Note: Patrick Doyle wrote another famous Henry score for Branagh's 1989 version).

Shostakovich, Hamlet, film score: written by a 20th century Russian master, this score is both chilling, humorous, and exciting by turns.  His greatest film score set the standard for all Shakespearean film scores to come, and makes amazing listening in its own right.  Written for a 1960's Russian version which remains an exciting adaptation of this very long and tricky play.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

For Monday: The Tempest, Act One

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below:

1. Compare Act One, Scene One to what we saw of the Chinese Opera production of The Tempest (which covered almost all of the First Act).  How effectively do you feel the opera captured the essence of the characters, the drama, or the ‘music’ of the play?  What elements resisted or escaped translation?  Did the opera help you understand or appreciate the opening act...or was it like reading an entirely different play?

2. The Tempest is classified as a ‘romance,’ which is a very loose category for Shakespeare’s late plays which defy categorization as a comedy, tragedy, etc.  Based on the first act, what makes this play distinct from the previous plays we’ve read (if anything)?  Is there some quality of the plot, characters, or language which makes it feel like a new genre?  How useful is the term ‘romance’ in reading this play?

3. Caliban is arguably the greatest character in The Tempest, and is unlike almost anyone else in Shakespeare.  He enters the play spewing curses, yet he speaks in verse and offers some of the best lines in the play—ex: “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/Is, I know how to curse” (Norton, 19).  How does Shakespeare present Caliban to us in the first act?  Is he more a Shylock or an Edmund?  Why does everyone in the play dismiss him as a “villain”—and should we?

4. Having just read King Lear, how does Prospero strike you as another deposed king?  What kind of man is he, and how does his language offer us a portrait of a very ambiguous protagonist—if not an outright schemer in his own right?  Consider how he, too, has three ‘daughters’—Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban (maybe not all women, but he does preside over them like a tyrannical father).  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

For Friday: Why Does Everyone Need Chinese Opera?

For those of you who want to finish watching Wu's production of The Tempest, click here to watch all 2 hours and 50 minutes of it!  You can also find links to dozens of other Shakespearean 'global' productions at the Global Shakespeares website, some of which you should consider watching for your group presentations.

Be sure to read the excerpt from Huang's book, Chinese Shakespeares, entitled "Why Does Everyone Need Chinese Opera?"  As you read it, consider what Huang feels are the useful and dangerous aspects to staging Shakespeare in this Chinese art form.  How can it be effective and help us see a new (or possibly, more traditional) Shakespeare...and how can it detract from the true power of Shakespeare's art as well as the tradition of xiqu itself?  

Monday, March 24, 2014

For Wednesday/Friday: Chinese Shakespeares

On Monday we watched a short documentary on Chinese opera and discussed some similarities between this unique art form and the theater of Shakespeare's day.  The question is, what might we gain from making Shakespeare more symbolic (and less realistic) and more about spectacle (than mere language)?  In his own day, music played a very important role in the theater, as did sword fighting, dance, and other extraneous elements.  To test this theory, we will watch a Chinese opera version of The Tempest  in class and will discuss it on Friday.  I will also have a short article for you to read for Friday's class as well.

NOTE: Be sure to start meeting or e-mailing one another in your groups to allocate tasks.  I will meet with each group next week to determine where you are in the process, and kick you collectively in the you-know-what if nothing is being done.  The end of the semester draws apace, so start planning your group projects!  It should be fun--not a chore.

If you missed the documentary, you can learn about Chinese opera here:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Criticism: Nahum Tate, Samuel Johnson, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, A.C. Bradley, Jan Kott, Peter Brook (pp.169-181)

If you still haven’t answered TWO blog posts for King Lear, use this post to catch up.  Remember that your course grade is based on your class participation in these blogs (see the syllabus), so if you ignore the blogs you also ignore your grade!  Please join us and participate in this class. 

Respond to TWO of the following as a comment below...

1. Many of the writers argue that Lear is a play that cannot be adequately staged, but is better read on the page or simply imagined.  Why is this?  What arguments do they offer for Lear being an ‘untheatrical’ play?  Do you agree?  Is Lear Shakespeare’s greatest ‘written’ rather than staged play? 

2. Nahum Tate was responsible for revising Lear and making it palatable for 18th century audiences by saving Lear and Cordelia and marrying her off to Edgar.  What reasons does he offer for this revision, and how might others, such as Lamb, argue with this decision?

3. Why does Peter Brook argue that “the absence of scenery in the Elizabethan theatre was one of its greatest freedoms?” (180).  What did the lack of scenery and effects allow Shakespeare to do—or the audience to see?  Why does Jan Kott agree with this assessment?  Why should a ‘modern’ Shakespeare (for them) be a stripped-down Shakespeare, and if possible, a staged rather than a filmed Shakespeare? 

4. Samuel Johnson notes that the “publick” decides which Shakespeare they want, and even if they prefer Tate, the critics have to quietly accept the fact.  Who should get to decide how to stage Shakespeare and what elements—or texts—to promote?  In other words, is Shakespeare primarily for the experts (the critics, actors) or the audience (even those who know relatively little about Shakespeare)?  

Friday, March 7, 2014

For Monday: King Lear, Act V

Answer the following question as a “Comment” below:

In Act V, we get the bloody conclusion to one of Shakespeare’s bleakest plays: Regan is poisoned, Goneril kills herself, Edmund is slain by Edgar, Gloucester’s heart breaks, Cordelia is hung, and Lear dies at her side.  However, many of these deaths were Shakespeare original invention, as the sources for King Lear (including a play of the same name) have her surviving, and subsequent performances of the play restored a happy ending (see page 258-259 for Tate’s revision of Lear which played for 200 years).  Why do you think Shakespeare insisted on doing away with Cordelia, ending the play in utter defeat and despair?  Do we want—or hope for—a happy ending in this play?  Is it another attempt to frustrate our desires or expectations (giving us a play not as we like it?).  Or does Cordelia have to die to make sense of the play? 

Also consider who does survive: Kent, Edgar, and Albany.  Why these men?  And what do you make of Edgar’s enigmatic final line: “The oldest have borne most; we that are young/Shall never see so much, nor live so long” (114)?  Why does he say this when both Kent and Albany are far from “young”?  Or is this statement about some other kind of youth/age?  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

For Friday: King Lear, Act IV

Answer TWO of the following as a Comment below...

1. Read Lear’s speech on page 90 (4.6) that begins “Ay, every inch a king!” carefully.  After emerging from the storm, Lear seems both mad and enlightened, speaking nonsense and ‘sense’ in equal terms.  In this speech, however, he goes on a misogynist rant against women and seemingly blames them for his downfall.  What is he specifically accusing women of here, and does this seem to reflect some ‘truth’ of the play or the playwright?  In other words, is this madness or a satirical barb for his audience?  (To those student from Brit I last semester, consider how this speech relates to the "Dark Lady" sonnets).  

2. In some ways, Cordelia and Edgar are mirror images of one another, each one caring for a damaged father, both exiled, and both of them acting (to some extent).  How might one character help us ‘read’ the other, and how do their paths cross metaphorically—or linguistically—in Act IV? 

3. How do we read the marital discord between Albany and Goneril in Act 4, Scene 2?  Is this the first time he’s seeing his wife like this—or has this knowledge been long known by him?  Is she surprised by his sudden sympathy for her father?  How does the language of their argument help us see them both—and particularly Goneril—in a new light?

4. In Goneril’s scene with Edmund (Act 4, Scene 2), she says, “Oh, the difference of man and man/To thee a woman’s services are due;/My Fool usurps my body” (Norton, 78).  How does her definition of man, a definition defined against her husband, help us understand why she and her sister are so drawn to Edmund—and so angry toward their father?  (and yes, perhaps there is a Freudian element to this moment!) 

Schedule Changes and Mid-Term Paper Assignment

Because of the Snow Day, I've had to revamp the schedule and have shuffled several things around.  Instead of watching a film version of Lear, we'll simply watch another scene or two from the Trevor Nunn version (with Ian McKellen) in class, and move right to a film version of The Tempest when we return from break. NOTE that Presentations aren't too far away...start discussing them with your groups and divide the workload.  It won't be too difficult, but you need to pool your resources and then decide on an 'angle' of interpretation for modernizing the play.  See the schedule below for details:

M 3:       [Snow day]
W 5:       King Lear,  Acts 2-3
F 7:        King Lear, Act 4

M 10:     King Lear, Act 5
W 12:     Supplemental Readings
F 14:       Supplemental Readings/Mid-Term Paper due

[M 17-F 21: Spring Break]

M 24      Introduction to Chinese Opera
W 26      The Tempest (2011, Oh)
F 28:      The Tempest (2011, Oh)

M 31:     Film Discussion

W 2:       The Tempest, Acts 1-2
F 4:         The Tempest, Act 3

M 7:       The Tempest, Acts 4-5
W 9:       Supplemental readings TBA
F 11:       Introduction to Postcolonialism

M 15:     Cesarie, A Tempest/Paper #2 due
W 17:     Cesaire, A Tempest
F 18:      Cesaire, A Tempest

M 22:     Production Presentations
W 23:     Presentations continued
F 25:      Presentations continued

M 28:     Presentations continued
W 30:    Presentations continued

F 2:         Final Thoughts
 Final paper due Wednesday, May 7th @ 5pm

Mid-Term Paper Paper/Abstract: Theme and Variations
Many writers in the course of his or her career strike on a series of pet themes which they then develop over the course of several works.  For some, it is like working out an intricate equation, while for others it becomes an obsession, an idea that he/she simply cannot resist and attempts to view from as many angles—and through the guises of as many characters—as possible.  Shakespeare is unique in this respect since he wrote such a large body of plays, many of which share key themes, ideas, characters, and points of view.  As Philip Edwards writes in his book Shakespeare: A Writer’s Progress, “The diversity of Shakespeare’s plays is quite astonishing...[yet] at the same time, one play constantly reminds us of others, and very often we have the feeling of one play building on another” (27). 

For your Mid-Term paper, which I regard as an “abstract” for your final paper, I want you to trace a theme or a pair of related themes in at least TWO of the three plays we’ve read so far (As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear).  By “theme” I mean a specific idea, character, plot development, philosophy, sentiment, or poetic element.  What you decide to examine is up to you, but it should be something specific, intriguing, and requiring close reading and research to make sense of.  For example, don’t merely say “Shakespeare likes to write strong women,” or “Shakespeare writes comedies that are also tragic.”  Find some element of these ideas that is more specific and might help us understand why the women are strong, or why the comedies turn tragic, etc. 

In your paper, I want you to examine how this theme/idea is stated, developed, and/or transformed from one play to another.  You must be aware of when each play was written to do this effectively (for example, is one play a revision of an earlier one in this regard?). As Phillip Edwards reminds us, “[Shakespeare] was never interested in writing the same place twice...two, three, or four plays considered as a group will assert something that none of them taken alone asserts” (27).  So try to listen for the changes in each play, how variations creep into the theme as Shakespeare experiments with it, takes it apart, and perhaps puts it back together as a completely new idea.  To this end, you might consider looking at two themes that seem different, but are actually connected through the characters, plot, or language. 

Here are some general possibilities you might consider exploring in more detail:
Sex and Love; Female/Male Friendship; The Language of Love; Justice and Mercy; The “Other” vs. Society; Cross-Dressing Women; The Role of Masks; The Family; Flattery and Deceit; Fools and Servants; Country vs. City (or Nature vs. Man); Symbol vs. Reality, etc.  However, these are only suggestions—you are not required to develop any of them.  Be curious, attentive, and find your own! 

  • The Paper should be at least 5-6 pages double spaced (this is a minimum, not a maximum requirement)
  • You must use close readings/discussions of at least 2 plays
  • You should use at least 3-4 secondary sources, including filmed versions, adaptations, articles from the Norton Critical editions, or other sources you’ve discovered from your Group research (however, don’t use 3-4 films and no articles)
  • DUE FRIDAY, MARCH 14th (the Friday before Spring Break)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

For Monday: King Lear, Acts 2 & 3

Answer TWO of the following as comments below:

1. In Act 2, Scene 4, when Regan and Goneril decide to openly defy their father’s demands, Lear exclaims “I gave you all” (52).  This echoes his later line in the storm when he proclaims, “I am a man/More sinned against than sinning” (58).  Do we agree with Lear here; has he been a good and selfless father?  Or is this line simply meant to be read, “whatever I did in the past, I finally gave you all my land, so what more do you want?”  Do we have any sympathy for the daughters here?  Is this a betrayal—or an ironic reversal of the events of Act 1, Scene 1?  

2. How do you account for the extreme cruelty of Act 3, Scene 7, where both sisters and Regan’s husband, Cornwall, gang up on Gloucester?  Though the sisters may have seemed cruel earlier in the play, here they are truly sadistic, taking glee in plucking Gloucester’s beard and removing his eyes.  Why do they do this, and how might earlier scenes have prepared us for this (or explained their motivation)? 

3. Act 3, Scene 6, the so-called “trial scene” only appears in the early quarto version of the play (published in a cheap version around 1608).  The authentic version of Lear was published in the complete version of Shakespeare’s works, the Folio version, in 1623, and this entire scene is missing.  Either Shakespeare thought the better of it and cut it or it simply got lost in translation.  The editors of this version, though following the Folio, decided to reinstate it.  What do we gain from having this scene in the play?  Does it underline or foreshadow important themes or events in the play?  Or is it too much of the same, including a lot of “nothing”?  Consider also how the Manga King Lear uses but considerably shortens this scene. 

4. What do you think Edgar’s role in the play is as “Poor Tom”?  Though he has some of the craziest lines in the play, he is clearly acting, as he pops out of character at the End of 3.6 to talk to the audience.  Is he a foil to Lear?  A rival to the Fool?  Or a mirror to Cordelia (especially if she is the Fool)?  Like Jacques,  is he essential to the story, or is he simply a minor embellishment, fascinating but arguably