William Shakespeare – Richard III

 

David Garrick as Richard III

David Garrick as Richard III 

As with any Shakespeare play I feel quite intimidated when I start reading any of his plays. I think this is because whenever I hear or read someones opinion or analysis of one of Shakespeare’s play it is always very insightful and detailed, while I usually do not seem to get any further than.. yes was nice. This blog is therefore also a forceful attempt for me to become more eloquent in expressing my opinions regarding a work of fiction (or non-fiction for that matter). So here we go;

 

In this play its eponymous villain is the most memorable of all characters not only because of his physical deformity but the fact that he revels in his depravity. It is this that makes the play so captivating to me and more even interesting is that Richard III’s real remains were at that time being examined to guarantee their authenticity. The question that is woven throughout the play is how Richard became so villanous. Is it a result from the scornful treatment he receives from the court because of his hunchback?  Or is he truly a Machiavellian creature who happens to have a hunchback? Since the recently exhumed body of the actual King tells us that the historical person did no have an actual hunchback, you might deduce that the invention of the hunchback character is a great example of Tudor propaganda. Yet it also makes you wonder whether a one becomes or is a villain because one looks heinous.

 

The plot of Richard III is fairly straightforward; Richard is the younger brother of the King Edward IV and the Duke of Clarence and incredibly jealous of their power. In the beginning he vows to “prove a villain” and immediately matches his words with deeds. He marries the Anne Nevil the widow of the previous Lancastrian Prince of Wales and has the Duke of Clarence locked up on grounds of treason, which in turn is based on a prophecy that someone with whose name starts with a G will kill the young princes. Richard hires two murderers to kill his brother in the Tower, who is tormented by ghosts of the dead. Richard’s murders kill the Duke and shortly afterwards the King dies and his young sons disappear leaving the way open for Richard to become King of England.

 

Center stage in this play is Richard development in a full-blown villain. Although he is villanous at the start his actions become more monstrous and immoral throughout the play. Although his actions appear to be unscrupulous, Richard seems to have some kind of conscience returning to him at the end of the play.  In the night before the battle at  Bosworth Field, Richard is haunted by ghosts of those who died at his hands resulting in Richard doubting his leader abilities. This doubt and lack of leading qualities is perfectly conveyed through his battle speech, or rather his attempt at a battle speech as he only conveys his doubts on his men of which some desert him to join the opponent’s army. It is interesting that at the end of the play Richard cannot even pity himself. He realises what he has done to get here and how immoral and gruesome those actions were. He has no one to blame for this but himself and his incapability to pity himself shows both his completion (so to speak) as a villain and his inability to become a villain. As the inability to pity can be said to be characteristic for a villain, yet Richard awareness of his immoral acts show some kind of conscience whether that be a tainted one or not.

 

The play ends with Richard’s inevitable dead, but not without shouting the illustrious words “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”. The play end in an apparently happy ending with the marriage between the two houses York and Lancaster, yet Richard’s villanous leaves a bitter aftertaste.

 

I can say I really liked this Shakespeare play, but then again I always prefered his histories over his tragedies and comedies. It is quite long and there are many characters in this particular play, but if you read carefully and are willing to put aside the early modern English spelling and vocabulary you will find a beautifully written and moving play.

 

Classic Club Meme – February

 “What classic has most surprised you so far, and why?”

James Joyce statue next to O'Connell street in...

James Joyce statue next to O’Connell street in Dublin. 

The classic club meme for February made me reflect upon the, still minute, list of book I’ve read for the Classic Club and made me realise first of all how few I have read up until now, but also how blown away I was by James Joyce. As mentioned in my post about The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man I was quite weary about actually reading a book by James Joyce because I heard from many people how difficult and diffuse it was. I must admit at times it could be a tad difficult to follow, but overall I was amazed by this novel and still think I is one of the best books I read last year. This book has also made me quite curious to read other novels by Joyce (luckily I have to read Dubliners this term for a course) and I learned how to look at it as an Irish story as well.

 

William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet

I always have had a complex attitude towards this Shakespeare play, which I think stems from the connotation that Romeo and Juliet is the most romantic and doomed love-story ever told. To be honest I always thought

Romeo and Juliet with Friar Laurence

Romeo and Juliet with Friar Laurence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

this was utter nonsense. First of all because it is called the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and not the romance, so I could understand the doomed section of the story, Yet I have always rejected the idea that it is a romantic story and now I have finally read the complete play I’m still not certain whether it is a love-story at all.

 

Being arguably the most famous play out of Shakespeare’s oeuvre, I was curious as to what qualified this play to receive the most attention above others. While reading the play I felt that although the play’s focus is often on the romance between Juliet and her Romeo, the power struggle in the background of the play eventually will decide the faiths of the lovers and of Verona. Both the Prince of Verona and Friar Laurence set out to mend the irreconcilable breach between the Capulet and Montague’s whose dormant feud has flared up again. Both Friar Laurence and the Prince seek to mend this feud through different means, yet their plans have no regard for the budding love between Romeo and Juliet, who get caught in the middle of this feud.

 

Romeo and Juliet’s hasty marriage and courtship can be seen as the result of this feud, especially since both the lovers are manipulated by Friar Laurence who uses them as pawns in his political game. I prefer to see their courtship as budding love rather than a full-blown romance, since both the lovers seem so young and almost childish in their actions prior to their meeting. Romeo’s quick infatuation with Juliet and his dismissal of Rosaline shows how rapidly he switches between lovers.

 

Juliet on the other hand show relatively more levelheadedness regarding the practicality and possibility of revealing their marriage to their families, especially in relationship to her father’s threat. Yet the only way for Friar Laurence’s plans to succeed is by sacrificing Romeo and Juliet for the peace of Verona. This impossibility of enjoining their married life and their brutal end is what makes their love tragic. The end of the play sees all the young characters dead and the older characters are left behind to reflect upon their deeds and acts that have  led to this conclusion.

 

James Joyce – The Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man

I always have been a bit wary about reading any book by James Joyce, mostly because several people kept

James Joyce, one of the controversial omission...

James Joyce, one of the controversial omissions of the Literature Prize (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

repeating that his works were so complex and diffuse that it was a very difficult tasks to actually understand his books. Although I read excerpts from his works Dubliners and Ulysses before in literature classes, I never had read a complete novel by him. Up until now.

And I was completely blown away by it. The intricacy and complexity of this bildungsroman, to me, portrayed very credibly the trials and errors a young man (or person) can encounter during his childhood/adolescence. Although the novel takes place in a period and society very much removed from my present day experiences, I could empathise with Stephen Daedalus and for me this showed how many insecurities or worries that teenagers/adolescence might have are not bound to time or place but are more or less universal.

Joyce masterfully intertwines the trails of growing up in turn-of-the-century Ireland and coming-of-age of a young man in a Catholic family. Though I must admit that at times Joyce’s uses of the stream-of-consciousness can be quite disjointing or difficult to follow at times. I realise that the stream-of-consciousness techinque can be quite off-putting for some people. Personally, I  find that the reading process becomes easier when you put aside the notion that the text should be presented as a coherent narrative.

I could summarise the story as well, but I find that especially stream-of-consciousness novels should be experienced (and you can find summaries of this novel anywhere on the internet). Although this novel might seem challenging and difficult at first, I do think that you should stick with it and see it as if someone was talking to you in this fashion.

Reading this book makes me want to read more works by James Joyce (although I’m still dreading Ulysses).

 

J.M. Coetzee – Foe

I read Foe initially for one of my classes, but I was still intrigued by this novel as I often had heard about its important place in postmodern literature and especially the historal (or historographic metafiction) novel.  As I am personally very interested in the historcal novel and the way it is constructed, I felt that I had to read this book and in hindsight; I’m glad I did.

Usually when reading historical fiction I will be confused for the first 50 odd pages and then settle into the setting of the novel. Yet with Foe  it was not that difficult to enter the narration in the begin as Susan is a very lucid and strong narrative voice. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the strong stance she takes in her society, especially as a women in the late 17th and early 18th century, but then again it is a novel about questioning structures of language and power and the position of racial or sexual otherness within those structures.

This questioning and challenging of the structures of 18th century England is what makes this novel so interesting to me, especially when you realise that Coetzee is writing in 1980s South-Africa. The novel tells the story about Susan who is shipwrecked and stranded on an island where only Cruso and his servant Friday live. During her time there she tries to uncover the story of Friday and Cruso, but Cruso does not see the point of relating a story to her when they all are likely to die there anyway. Neither is he interested in writing down the story as he believes that his legacy will be the terraces he made in the area. Friday, most remarkably, cannot talk and as such in never able to tell his story. This relying on other people to tell his story can be seen in the light of structures of power in the late eighteenth century where the “white man” takes control over the story of the “coloured man” who in return is silenced and unable to talk about his own history and traditions, forced to adopt the tradition of the west.

The same can be said for Susan’s narrative. After she, Friday, and Cruso escape from the island and Cruso dies during the journey, Susan is convinced to publish their story as truthfully as possible, but she is unable to do so a the public does not believe that it is a true story. To be able to fulfill her wish she seeks the help of the well-known author Foe (or as we know him Daniel DeFoe) who is willing to take her story and work with it. Yet unbeknownst to Susan, Foe takes the story and refashioned it into what we nowadays know a Robinson Crusoe. This exclusion of Susan from her own tale is again an example of the structures of power taking precedence, because as a woman Susan is unable to publish and fashion this story, yet as a male Foe is more than willing to take this story away from her and returns to Susan her long-lost daughter, or at least that is what Foe wants her to believe.

Although  the ending of the novel still confuses me and probably will continue to do so for some while, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it.

Jane Austen – Emma

Having read Emmaa few years ago I was quite keen on rereading it and see whether my previous opinion of

English: "The wedding was very much like ...

English: “The wedding was very much like other weddings” – the wedding of Emma Woodhouse and John Knightley. Austen, Jane. Emma. London: George Allen, 1898. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

this Jane Austen novel could be changed. I read Emma roughly three years ago for the first time and it was my least favourite book out of all of Jane Austen’s novels I had read. Mostly because I found Emma a very annoying and headstrong character at the time and I felt  that this clashed with the heroines of her previous novels, or at least the once that I had read. All in all at that point, Emma was my least favourite Jane Austen novel.

I must confess that after rereading this novel I did a complete 180 turn. It has now risen to be on the same level as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. While rereading this novel I became aware of the complexity of Emma’s character, but most of all the moral and spiritual growth of her was what had me spellbound. The way Jane Austen constructed this growth is so intricate and slow that as reader you are just as unaware of the moral growth as Emma at times is.

Just as all her other books, Emma is a good example of Regency period writing. Jane Austen wonderfully captures the decadent and elegant period of the Prince Regent’s reign. Especially the intricate class system and the unstable political society. There are so many ways of looking at this novel that it has my mind spinning (I am following a Regency Writing course at present). You can interpret Emma as a comment on the Regency Period society with Emma symbolizing the Prince Regent being influenced on how she should ‘rule’ her own little ‘kingdom’, with Mr. Knightley representing the past times and all good virtues and Frank Churchill as the new decadent and unstable society.  Thus Austen writes a highly critical response to the new Regency and the overtly elangance and decadence that became part of society, opposed to the more simple rural life she was used to.

All in all I’m happy that I’ve reread Emma and in all probability I will reread it another time in the far future. I slowly begin to get more respect and love for Jane Austen as a written and I hope this may continue to grow.

Book: Emma
Pages:378

 
 

Classic Club Meme – September

Pick a classic someone else in the club has read from our big review list. Link to their review andoffer a quote from their post describing their reaction to the book. What about their post makes you excited to read that classic in particular?

 

Cover of "Dubliners (Dover Thrift Edition...

This month we were asked to look at a review of another Classic clubber. My attention was caught by one of the two James Joyce reviews and I decided to check out Patty at A tale of three cities.’s review of James Joyce’s Dubliners. As I am studying in Dublin right now and often heard from my professors how Dubliners is a good starting point for reading Joyce, my attention was peaked. Yet I wasn’t quite sure wheter I should read it myself just yet, as I have a massive pile of reading work to do for my classes.

 ” these stories are meant to be reflections, for a limited time, of the life of a Dubliner, and I was left with a feeling of wanting more.”

Reading Patty’s review, and particularly this sentence , made me curios about the way Dublin and DUbliners are portrayed in this book. Now I am resolved to read Dubliners before I leave in May. As these stories reflect the life of the ordinary Dubliner, I hope to find a glance of modern day Dublin in the stories and maybe even a glimps of the stories in Dublin.