Tuesday, February 28, 2017

For Thursday: Chapter Eight, “From Comical to Tragical” from Gross, Shylock: A Legend and Its Legacy (p1992/handout) and Leggatt, “The Merchant of Venice: A Modern Perspective” (p.211)

[NOTE: If you missed class on Tuesday, please pick up the handout in the box on my door. You'll need it for the questions below and our discussion on Thursday.] 

Answer TWO of the following: 

Q1: How does Leggatt view the role of Shylock and the possibility of anti-Semitism in the play? Since he calls this play a “comedy,” how does he account for Shylock’s presence in such a comedy? What might he mean when he says, “these readings [sympathy for Shylock] are allowed rather than compelled by the text” (216)?

Q2: Related to the above, how does he view the role of Jessica in Act 5? Does she complicate or conform to the demands of comedy? What might he mean when he suggests that “Her uneasiness also makes a revealing contrast with Portia’s attitude to her disguise, and suggests there may be a parallel between the two women” (219)?

Q3: According to Gross’ essay, “From Comical to Tragical,” when did the tide begin to turn for reading The Merchant of Venice as more “Shylock’s tragedy” than “Portia’s comedy”? What did it take for audiences to begin to see the Shylock we know so well today? Does Gross suggest whether this is actually in the script, or it came from the actors’ imagination?

Q4: Often, other forms of literature can have a profound affect on how we read historical works, including Shakespeare. What role did Edgeworth’s novel, Harrington, play in shaping public perception of Shylock? How could a novel, which has nothing to do with the stage, somehow change our understanding of a theatrical performance? 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

For Those Interested: Attributing the Henry VI plays to Marlowe and Shakespeare

I've posted a link below to a podcast about recent computer scholarship that seems to authenticate Marlowe's hand in Shakespeare's early Henry VI plays, which are now being jointly credited to him. Needless to say, many are very resistant do seeing Shakespeare as a co-creator of anything, but the evidence continues to mount: http://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/christopher-marlowe-attribution-henry-vi

The questions for Tuesday's reading are posted below. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

For Tuesday: Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Acts 4 and 5

[Above: A clip from the trial scene (Act 4, Scene 1) of the 1974 Lawrence Olivier version of The Merchant of Venice] 

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: The Christians spend most of Act 4, Scene 1 trying to convince Shylock to relent and show mercy of Antonio. What reasons does he offer for his refusal? Are his responses somewhat like Iago’s (the villain of Othello) who when asked why he framed Othello and his wife says “Demand me nothing: what I know I know./Never again shall I speak word.” Or does Shylock offer a more compelling argument for his cruelty?

Q2: Are we meant to feel sympathy for Shylock in Scene 1? While Shakespeare’s audience would have naturally cheered for Portia’s victory (this is a comedy, after all!), could Shakespeare have writing against the grain of audience expectations? Consider Shylock’s final words, “I am content,” and “I am not well.” Given his earlier confidence, are these comically brief...or concisely tragic?

Q3: Act 5 opens with an extended scene of love banter with Jessica and Lorenzo. Using the footnotes on the side, what makes their allusions to Cressida, Dido, and Thisbe somewhat surprising? How might this scene suggest Jessica’s state of mind after fleeing her father’s house and finding herself in the Christian world of Belmont? Is this ‘happily ever after’ for her, or is she constantly looking over her shoulder?

Q4: In Act 4, Scene 1, Portia tells Shylock, “in the course of justice none of us/should see salvation” (155). Does she offer the same compassion to her own husband in Act 5? What do you make of her bizarre interrogation of Bassanio, which culminates in her claming she has slept with Balthazar, the lawyer, to obtain the ring? Does she feel betrayed by Bassanio...or is she toying with him the same way she toyed with Shylock during the trial scene?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

For Thursday: Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Acts 2 & 3

Read Acts Two and Three for Thursday; we'll do an in-class writing based on one of the ideas below:

* This is one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays, with more rhyming verse than elsewhere in his canon, particularly in Belmont. How does this affect how we read and experience the play? Does it make even a dark play sound more ‘comedic’? Is the music meant to smooth over the rough edges of the play?

* Why does Shakespeare give Lancelot, the clown, such a big role in this play? Unlike Wagner or Robin in Dr. Faustus, he has long speeches (Act 2, Scene 2) that more or less derail the play. Since Shakespeare’s fools often have a truth-telling role in his tragedies, what role do they seem to perform in his comedies? (if this is a comedy)

* Is there more than one Shylock in this play? Is he more consistent than Barabas in The Jew of Malta, who appears sometimes as a master of verse, elsewhere as a fake French musician? Is he also a “dissembler” like his predecessor? Note that in Act 3, Scene 3, the Quarto designates him only as the “Jew,” and not Shylock, almost as if he’s a stock character. Is he less himself in this act?

* Where do we hear echoes of The Jew of Malta in this play? Why does Shakespeare include them? Is he parodying the earlier play? Or performing an act of homage? (look at Act 2, Scene 8, for example)

* Why do you think we get the scenes with Morocco and Aragon in Act 2? Since both choose unwisely, why have them at all? What do they add to the play, and how might they be important if this play is a comedy?

* Why is Shylock’s famous speech in Act 3, Scene 1 in prose? It contains some of the most famous lines in Shakespeare...so why isn’t it glorified in imabic pentameter?

* How does Portia emerge as a character, and perhaps a foil, to the men in the play? What aspects of her character seem to most interest Shakespeare? 

Friday, February 17, 2017

For Those Interested: TEDx Lecture: Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Their Jews: John Kleiner

For those interested in the 16th century portrait of Jews in Elizabethan Drama, here's a short lecture (about 17 minutes) by a Renaissance scholar and professor at Williams College, John Kleiner. We might watch some of this in class, but either way, you might want this for your future research or simply to help understand The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice

NOTE: The questions for Tuesday are in the post below this one...

For Tuesday: Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, Act V and Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act I

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In Act V, Barabas tells the audience, “Thus, loving neither, will I live with both,/Making a profit of my policy” (331). In the same way, Shylock does business with Christians, though admits in an aside, “I hate him for he is a Christian” (29). Does Shylock seem to have the same reasons for his “policy” with the enemy? Is he doing it simply to make money, or are hints of revenge woven into his cloth?

Q2: The Merchant of Venice exploits prose far more than any previous play in class. Discuss a passage where a character (or characters) venture into prose from poetry. Why is this? How does it help us understand the relationship between these characters, and when do they resume speaking in iambic pentameter?

Q3: Antonio has nothing but contempt for Shylock, as we see in his response, “I am as like to call thee so again,/To spet on thee again, to spurn thee, too.” (35). How might this interaction help us understand why Ferneze turns on Barabas in Act V, ultimately betraying him to the Turks and boiling him alive in a cauldron?

Q4: In Act One, Scene Two of The Merchant of Venice, we get the first scene in any of our plays where only women speak (not counting the brief appearance of the Serving Man). In this play, what makes the women stand apart from the men? How does he characterize their language and relationship? Related to this, why would we never mistake this scene for a passage in Marlowe? 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

For Thursday: Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, Acts 3 & 4

[NOTE: A brief trailer for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of The Jew of Malta...note how several people say how "funny" is was!] 

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: When Abigail decides to become a nun for the second time, Barabas goes off on a rant, proclaiming her “False, credulous, inconstant Abigail!” (197). He then hatches a plan which sounds like his boasts from Act 2, Scene 3: he decides to poison the entire nunnery with poisoned pottage. Does his broken heart drive him mad in this scene? Does he love Abigail even more than his gold? Or is he simply too vain to accept that anyone could choose a life apart from him? How does this confirm or complicate Barabas’ character?

Q2: Acts 3 and 4 most closely resemble the plot and tragic-comic elements of Titus Andronicus much more than Dr. Faustus. Where do we see echoes of this later play, that might prove Shakespeare studied it closely when writing his own, and/or worked with Marlowe in writing it?

Q3: Barabas is a master dissembler, not only in lying but in manipulating different roles throughout the course of the play. Discuss a scene where his language ‘clothes’ him in a different character: how does it impress the characters around him? Do they buy his performance? Do we?

Q4: Act 4, Scene 4, is arguably the funniest scene in the play: in the right hands, it could bring down the house. What makes this scene so humorous and over-the-top? Does the low comedy of this scene threaten to ruin the “tragedy of a Jew” that Machevil promised in the Prologue? 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

For Tuesday: Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, Acts One & Two

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Strangely, The Jew of Malta opens with a Prologue spoken by Machevil, a corruption of Machiavelli, author of the infamous political text, The Prince (1532). Based on what he tells the audience (and his language), why might we assume that this character is played by the same actor who performs Barabas? Or do you think he actually resembles another character we meet in the play?

Q2: While this play is often singled out for its traditionally anti-semitic views, how does Marlowe portray the Christian authorities in this play—esp. Ferneze, Del Bosco, and others? Are they the ‘heroes’ of the play, or its moral center? Consider Act 1, Scene 2 in particular, when Ferneze summons Barabas and the Three Jews to court.

Q3: Act 2, Scene 1 contains a balcony scene that is strangely reminiscent of the same scene in Romeo and Juliet (written only a few years later). How does Marlowe parody the traditional ‘love scene’ in this passage, and why might it have inspired Shakespeare when he depicted Romeo and Juliet?

Q4: One of the most famous passages in the play is when Barabas and Ithamore try to one-up each other on the evil deeds they perform in Christian society, such as “I walk abroad a-nights/And kill sick people groaning under walls” (2.3.). How does this passage support what we’ve seen of Barabas’ character thus far in the play? Is Barabas another Aaron, who is sympathetic one moment and horrific the next? Or do you think he’s simply trying to get Ithamore to show his true colors (and is thus lying, as he does throughout the play)?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Short Paper #1 Assignment

Option #1: The Player Makes the Part
“When admiring Shakespeare’s authorship of his great tragic roles, we should remember that he created them for Burbage, and could not have done so without this actor’s particular and remarkable gifts” (Hackett 64).

For this option, consider that Marlowe and Shakespeare shared many of the same actors when composing their plays; to make a play successful, you had to fit the part to the actor’s talents/abilities. We know that Edward Alleyn of the Admiral’s Men performed in Marlowe’s plays and continued acting until 1600 (long after Titus). Additionally, many other actors performed in different companies and for different playwrights. With this in mind, discuss a single character in Dr. Faustus and in Titus Andronicus that you think was written for the same actor. How does this role seem to suggest a specific set of qualities, abilities, and characteristics? What kind of actor does it seem written for? Is the language fluent and poetic? Short and comic? Full of bawdy innuendos? Or dripping with Classical allusions? Through close reading, make the case that each role shares certain qualities that would make it likely to be played by the same actor—or even a certain type of actor.

Option #2: Collaboration is King
“Chettle was one of a stable of writers…[who] contributed to some 49 plays between 1598 and 1603, of which 36 were collaborations. His colleague Heywood claimed to have had ‘either an entire hand, or at the least a maine finger’ in no fewer than 200 plays” (Hackett 67).

For this option, explore the idea that both plays (Faustus and Titus) are
collaborations by Shakespeare and Marlowe. In Faustus, Marlowe would have
been the chief writer with Shakespeare more a junior collaborator, whereas
Shakespeare took the lead on Titus with Marlowe simply adding a “hand or a
finger” to its composition. With this in mind, discuss two specific passages (at
least one from each play) that seem to illustrate the same quill at work. How
can we tell that this is Shakespeare writing or Marlowe writing? You don’t have
to prove this through sources/documentation, but rather, focus on themes,
characterization, and language to illustrate your theory. Where do two speeches
sound uncannily alike? Is there an obsession with a specific theme? A recurring
metaphor? A linguistic quirk? Through close reading, analyze both passages and
help us see the man behind the meter.

·        4-5 pages, double spaced
·        Must quote from both plays and analyze these quotations
·        Cite all quotations using MLA format with a Works Cited page
·        Due Thursday, February 9th by 5pm

Thursday, February 2, 2017

For Tuesday: Hackett, English Renaissance Drama, Chs. 3 and 4 “Marlowe” and “Shakespeare”

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: According to Hackett, what qualities distinguish the verse of Marlowe and Shakespeare? Similarly, what makes them distinct from one another? What does Shakespeare attempt in his lines/speeches that is rarely (if ever) encountered in Marlowe?

Q2: Why does Marlowe’s biography (or what little we know of it) shape the content of his plays? How did this lead to the Renaissance scholar, A.L. Rowse to proclaim “Faustus is Marlowe”? According to Hackett, where might we see some of his character in the plays or characters themselves?

Q3: The great 18th century poet Alexander Pope once wrote of Shakespeare: “His characters are so much Nature her self that ‘tis a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as Copies of her...every single character in Shakespeare is as much an Individual as those in Life itself” (99). While this might be hyperbolic, how does Hackett explain the basis for this sentiment? What makes many of his characters seem “universal” or “natural”?

Q4: Writing just before Shakespeare took the stage, the poet Sir Philip Sidney attacked the theater for creating plays where “you...have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and so many other under-kingdoms that the player, when he cometh in, must ever begin with telling where he is” (109). How did both Shakespeare and Marlowe commit these artistic ‘sins,’ and why do you think they did so? Shakespeare, especially, was flagrant in disregarding the classical rules of theater.