‘O Heavenly Rain,’ a Poem by a Friend

Here’s a poem by another Facebook friend of mine, Amy Elizabeth Sisson Riberdy. (Here’s more of her poetry, if you like what you read below, Dear Reader.) Again, I’ll be putting the poem in italics to distinguish her writing from mine:

O dark grey heavens, give it your all
Open! – Release the iron floodgates
Of rushing rains and crashing thunders
Send those healing waters rushing down
To a parched and hungry world that thirsts
For the nourishing life only you
Can give down to him and me and them
And all who cry for the mercy of
Your rain

O shrouded heavens, cool the dry ground
With your pounding, seething cleansing rains
As we lift our pleading mouths to drink
Let the swords of angels tear and rend
The dark shrouds to free the cascading
Torrents of great black billowing clouds
That rise above our beseeching hands
We pray thee, O merciful heavens
Please let loose the soothing showers of
Your rain.

O merciful heavens, drench the dust
Of white hot desert sands and fill these
Mud – caked rivers to the very brim
With all that man desires to savour
Let me swim in your cooling blessings
Caressing your refreshing embrace
And be lost eternally down in
Swirling waters of endless oceans
Cleansed forever in the freedom of
Your rain

…and now, for my analysis.

The yearning for rain immediately made me think of King Lear in Act III, Scene ii, lines 1-9, then lines 14-24:

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulph’rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world!
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!…”


“Rumble thy bellyful. Spit, fire; spout, rain.
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters.
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness;
I never gave you kingdom, call’d you children;
You owe me no subscription. Then let fall
Your horrible pleasure. Here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak and despis’d old man;
But yet I call you servile ministers
That will with two pernicious daughters join
Your high-engender’d battles ‘gainst a head
So old and white as this. O, ho! ‘Tis foul!”

The next piece of classic writing that her poem made me think of was the Great Flood narrative in Genesis, a drowning of the Earth to wipe away all of sinful mankind and replace it with Noah’s righteous (or so they’d seem) family.

Now, the contrasts between these three literary examples of great rainfalls are themselves great. Amy is begging for rains that will restore life to the dried and dying earth. Lear is saying that the rain may be as cruel to him as it pleases. God floods the earth to cause death to all sinners.

Yet, even in these contrasts we can see points of dialectical comparison. Amy wants to “Send those healing waters rushing down/To a parched and hungry world that thirsts.” (thesis) Lear would be accepting of the cruelty of the storm (negation); for the very destructiveness of the Great Flood will rid the world of evil, purify it, and allow for new life in the end (sublation).

To enjoy “the mercy of/Your rain,” we must first accept the pain of a purge of all that is evil, “With your pounding, seething cleansing rains.” When “the swords of angels tear and rend,” we again see the juxtaposition of harshness and violence (“swords…tear and rend”) with sweetness (“angels”). We cannot have happiness without sadness.

Nobody likes going out in the rain and getting soaked, but we need rain to water our plants and give us food. So, in order to live, we must experience unpleasantness. As Robert Plant once sang, “upon us all a little rain must fall.”

Though God destroyed the world with rain, Amy calls up to the “merciful heavens” to “let loose the soothing showers of/Your rain.” Lear would have pour the “horrible pleasure” of the rain. In all three cases, one is grieved to one’s heart. Amy is grieved by the drought she sees all around her, be that a literal or metaphorical one. God is grieved and regretful of the sinful humanity He sees on the Earth. Lear is grieved by the wickedness of his two daughters, Goneril and Regan, and by the good daughter, Cordelia, to whom he was so wicked in disowning. All three would be relieved of their pain…through the powerful downpour of rain.

Amy would “swim in your cooling blessings/Caressing your refreshing embrace”…that is a really beautifully written line, such music in the words. She’d “be lost eternally down in/Swirling waters of endless oceans,” reminding me of my oft-used metaphor for Brahman, the title of a song I wrote years ago, and the title of my blog. She’d be “Cleansed forever in the freedom of/Your rain.”

“Your rain” is a refrain appearing three times. This trio can be symbolic of the dialectic I noted above (thesis/negation/sublation), the Trinity, the Hindu Trimurti, the triple-goddess, or any other conceivable group of three, for three is a magical, richly-symbolic number, representing beginning, middle, and end. Indeed, the three verses can be seen to symbolize three massive rainfalls, or even three huge raindrops, if you wish.

Rain’s wetness irritates, but it also cleanses.

Let it fall.

Analysis of ‘The Tempest’

The Tempest is a play Shakespeare is believed to have written around 1610 or 1611; it is therefore probably the last play he ever wrote alone. It isn’t easily categorized: it’s part comedy, part fantasy/romance, part semi-autobiographical (in a metaphorical sense), and part allegory on the European colonization that was current at the time.

A number of interesting film adaptations have been made of The Tempest, including the BBC TV adaptation with Michael Hordern as Prospero, the homoerotic 1979 Derek Jarman adaptation with Toyah Willcox as Miranda, and Julie Taymor‘s 2010 adaptation with Helen Mirren as a female Prospero…’Prospera.’ Other adaptations include the 1991 film Prospero’s Books, with John Gielgud in the title role, and Aimé Césaire‘s Une Tempête, a stage adaptation set in Haiti.

Here are some famous quotes:

With hair up-staring, — then like reeds, not hair, — 
was the first man that leapt; cried Hell is empty, 
And all the devils are here.
” –Ariel, I, ii, lines 212-215

“This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, 
Which thou tak’st from me. When thou cam’st first, 
Thou strok’st me and made much of me, wouldst give me 
Water with berries in’t, and teach me how 
To name the bigger light, and how the less, 
That burn by day and night; and then I lov’d thee, 
And show’d thee all the qualities o’ the isle, 
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile. 
Curs’d be I that did so! All the charms 
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you! 
For I am all the subjects that you have, 
Which first was mine own king.” –Caliban, I, ii, lines 331-342

“Come unto these yellow sands, 
And then take hands; 
Curt’sied when you have and kiss’d, 
The wild waves whist, 
Foot it featly here and there, 
And, sweet sprites, the burden bear.” –Ariel, I, ii, lines 375-380

“Full fathom five thy father lies; 
Of his bones are coral made; 
Those are pearls that were his eyes; 
Nothing of him that doth fade, 
But doth suffer a sea-change 
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: 
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.” –Ariel, I, ii, lines 396-404

“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, 
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not. 
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments 
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices, 
That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep, 
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming, 
The clouds methought would open and show riches 
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I wak’d, 
I cried to dream again.” –Caliban, III, ii, lines 130-138

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and 
Are melted into air, into thin air; 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on; and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep.” –Prospero, IV, i, lines 148-158

“But this rough magic 
I here abjure; and, when I have requir’d 
Some heavenly music — which even now I do, — 
To work mine end upon their senses that 
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, 
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, 
And, deeper than did ever plummet sound, 
I’ll drown my book.” –Prospero, V, i, lines 50-57

“Where the bee sucks, there suck I; 
In a cowslip’s bell I lie; 
There I couch when owls do cry. 
On the bat’s back I do fly 
After summer merrily. 
Merrily, merrily, shall I live now, 
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.” –Ariel, V, i, lines 88-94

“O, wonder! 
How many goodly creatures are there here! 
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t!” –Miranda, V, i, lines 181-184

“Now my charms are all o’erthrown, 
And what strength I have’s mine own, 
Which is most faint: now, ’tis true, 
I must be here confin’d by you, 
Or sent to Naples. Let me not, 
Since I have my dukedom got 
And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell 
In this bare island by your spell; 
But release me from my bands 
With the help of your good hands. 
Gentle breath of yours my sails 
Must fill, or else my project fails, 
Which was to please. Now I want 
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant; 
And my ending is despair, 
Unless I be reliev’d by prayer, 
Which pierces so that it assaults 
Mercy itself, and frees all faults. 
As you from crimes would pardon’d be, 
Let your indulgence set me free.” –Prospero, Epilogue

Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, was stripped of his dukedom and banished with his daughter Miranda twelve years before the play’s beginning. Gonzalo, a kind and optimistic giver of counsel, gave them provisions so they’d survive on the seas, ultimately arriving on the island where the two have been living since.

His usurping brother Antonio, along with King Alonso, Gonzalo, Sebastian, Stephano the drunken butler, Trinculo the jester, and the king’s son, Ferdinand, have been sailing on a ship at the beginning of the play. They find themselves in the middle of a tempest that Prospero, a sorcerer, has created to cause their ship to crash-land on his island, for he wants to right the wrongs done to him.

In this wrong done to Prospero, we see the main theme of the play: disenfranchisement. Now, his disenfranchisement doesn’t give him the right to do the same to others, which indeed he does. He uses his magic to control a number of spirits, Ariel in particular, who expresses his displeasure at it and demands his freedom (I, ii, lines 242-250). Prospero offers a weak justification for making Ariel his servant by reminding him of how he freed him from a spell the witch Sycorax put on him, having caged him in a tree.

Sycorax, banished from Algiers and subsequently the first colonizer of what’s now Prospero’s island, was undoubtedly cruel in her treatment of Ariel; Prospero’s freeing of the spirit, however, in no way absolves him of similar colonizing and enslaving. Such an absolving would be like saying that the Spanish Empire’s brutal treatment of the natives (of what is now Latin America) makes US imperialism’s subsequent treatment of ‘America’s backyard’ negligibly oppressive–a truly absurd argument.

Mention of Sycorax brings us to a discussion of her son, the deformed Caliban, another native of the island forced by Prospero into servitude. Caliban is a near anagram of cannibal, and a pun on Caribbean; such associations give us a vivid sense of how he is a victim of colonialism, a native denigrated by his oppressor as ‘uncivilized’ and ‘savage.’

Indeed, Prospero rationalizes his enslaving of Caliban by claiming originally to have been kind to the grotesquerie, that is, until his attempted rape of Miranda, which he gleefully admits to. Not to excuse Caliban for his scurrilous behaviour, but the degradation of slavery, often with torturous punishments for being slack or slow in service, nevertheless seems a bit much. After all, Prospero’s denigration of Caliban’s bestial nature reminds us of the racism colonialists have used to justify their dehumanizing of the natives they subjugate.

Indeed, for all his faults, Caliban has his virtues, too. He speaks poetically sometimes, as in the above quote from Act III, scene ii, lines 130-138. This quote shows how he is sensitive to the poetic, reminding us of the creativity of indigenous people; colonialists like Prospero make little of natives’ artistic gifts, but kinder souls like Gonzalo show their appreciation of what’s good in people like Caliban. Recall his words in Act III:

“If in Naples
I should report this now, would they believe me?  
If I should say, I saw such islanders—
For, certes, these are people of the island—
Who, though they are of monstrous shape, yet note
Their manners are more gentle, kind, than of
Our human generation you shall find  
Many, nay, almost any.” –Gonzalo, III, iii, lines 26-34

Prospero, hearing Gonzalo’s words, agrees with them, but only insofar as they describe the Neapolitans present, whom he describes as “worse than devils.” (III, iii, line 36) He makes no mention of agreement that the natives have virtues. He should also consider including himself among the Neapolitan devils; recall Ferdinand saying that Prospero is “compos’d of harshness.” (III, i, line 9) What must be kept in mind is how Prospero prospers by using others. Wealth causes poverty, and this is especially true of imperialists and neocolonialists in relation to the aboriginals they exploit.

Prospero’s magic exploits nature, e.g. the tempest, to bring Alonso’s ship ashore; this symbolically can remind us of how big business today degrades nature for their gain. Prospero openly admits that he exploits Caliban: he says of his slave, “he does make our fire,/Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices/That profit us.” (I,ii, lines 311-313)

Prospero uses his magic on Miranda, putting her asleep (I, ii, lines 184-186); in this way, he controls her sleeping and waking moments to limit her acquisition of knowledge. She and Ferdinand don’t merely fall in love; her father manipulates their meeting, for in their future marriage he hopes to consolidate his power as the restored Duke of Milan. Prospero may be giving up his magical powers, but in return he wants political power.

It can be argued, in fact, that he has never been truly worthy of being a duke; since during the time that he ruled the dukedom, prior to Antonio’s usurpation, he was so absorbed in his books (I, ii, lines 68-77, 89-93) that he cared little for his people. He admits this when he speaks in gratitude of Gonzalo’s help: “Knowing I lov’d my books, he furnished me/From mine own library with volumes that/I prize above my dukedom.” (I, ii, lines 166-168) Note here that “prize” is in the present tense: Prospero admits he still loves his books more than the people of Milan; remember this Freudian slip when we consider his later promises to “break [his] staff” and “drown [his] book.”

Yes, he promises to renounce his magic (which we never see him physically do!), and so as the reinstated Duke of Milan, he’ll presumably focus on the needs of his people; but he says that in Milan, his “every third thought shall be [his] grave,” (V, i, line 311) suggesting he’ll still be too self-absorbed and retiring to think about his people.

So, Prospero enslaves and exploits the natives of the island, always promising to free them in the end (though we never see him use his magic to unbind them, so for all we know, these promises could be empty); he manipulates his way back into power, assuming he deserves this reinstatement (though the above two paragraphs put this worthiness in doubt); and he uses his daughter to make a political alliance with the king, manipulating her emotions to make her fall in love with whom he wants her to love.

Thus, in Prospero we see not only an exploitative colonialist, but also a man taking advantage of the authoritarianism of the patriarchal family. His cunning is contrasted with the naïveté of his daughter, Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo. Where Prospero is artful, these latter four are artless. Indeed, where there’s a dialectical relationship between wealth and poverty, as noted above (i.e, the one causes the other), there is also such a relationship between ability and inability, between cunning and innocence.

Consider the sweetness and innocence of Miranda. She sees the good in everyone indiscriminately. She has compassion for all the sailing sufferers of the storm; she’s oblivious to how her wicked uncle Antonio is one of the men on the boat. In her naïveté is kindness, in Prospero’s worldly-wisdom…not so much kindness.

Having seen so few people in her life, and assuming goodness in all humanity, she is delighted to see all those men before her at the end of the play (V, i, lines 181-184), rather than mindful of the possibility that a few of them (Antonio and Sebastian) aren’t so “goodly.”

Her artlessness is outdone by the outright stupidity of Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban. In his drunken stupor, Stephano can’t recognize supine Trinculo’s legs sticking out from underneath Caliban’s gaberdine (being the court jester, Trinculo is presumably wearing distinctive motley colours); instead, he imagines the supine monster Caliban has four legs. Trinculo, having originally assumed that Stephano died in the tempest, later looks the drunken butler in the eyes and has to ask him twice if he’s “not drown’d” (II, ii, lines 100-105). Finally, Caliban, after drinking Stephano’s supposedly divine wine, thinks the drunkard is a god!

In their foolish simple-mindedness, the trio think they can kill Prospero and rule the island. They can’t even avoid falling into a smelly pond, though, Trinculo later complaining of smelling “all horse-piss.” (IV, i, line 199)

Later, once they reach Prospero’s abode, Stephano and Trinculo can’t help but be distracted by the sorcerer’s “frippery.” (IV, i, line 226) The two fools try on Prospero’s clothes while Caliban warns them to focus instead on the plan to kill his hated master. They don’t listen, and Prospero has Ariel chase the fools away with hellhounds.

The way alcohol and fashionable clothes can make fools of people is paralleled today in how such distractions prevent revolutionary action. We today have every bit as much as, if not more than, an imperialist ruling class that mesmerizes the common people with foolish trifles. We’d all usurp the rule of our hypnotizing politicians and rich overlords…except we keep letting ourselves get hypnotized.

Along with the class conflict between rich land-owners and the poor, between the First and Third Worlds as symbolized in the Neapolitans on the one hand, and the island natives and spirits respectively, there’s also conflict between different factions of the ruling class. This latter conflict is evident when Alonso and Gonzalo are put to sleep by Ariel, then Antonio convinces Sebastian to make an attempt on the king’s life.

Later, this group experiences a sensual distraction that is comparable with the wine and finery that dazes the three drunken fools. An illusion of a table covered with a delicious feast is put before the nobles’ eyes. Sweet music is heard. The men prepare to eat, but Ariel appears in the form of a harpy and makes the feast disappear; the scene reminds us of the one in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, when King Phineus of Thrace was tormented with a feast that got ruined by attacking harpies.

This depriving the nobles of a meal reminds one of a modern equivalent in Luis Buñuel‘s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Tantalizing Alonso et al with a meal is punishment for what the king and Antonio deprived Prospero and Miranda of. The illusory meal, as a distraction from important political matters, is also–like wine and “frippery” for Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban–an example of bread and circuses.

The ‘bread’ aspect of Prospero’s distractions was noted in the mirage feast table; the ‘circuses’ aspect, if you will, can be seen in the masque with the singing goddesses (Iris, Ceres, and Juno; IV, i, lines 60-138) presented to Ferdinand and Miranda. Recall how their falling in love has been engineered by her father, who is using their marriage to solidify his power as the reinstated Duke of Milan.

He takes advantage of her scant knowledge of men to make her fall for handsome Ferdinand, “the third man that e’er [she] saw; the first/That e’er [she] sigh’d for.” (I, ii, lines 445-446) Prospero’s test of the boy’s virtue, by enslaving him and making him do essentially Caliban’s work (fetching wood), is a weak test–as if mere diligence were enough to prove Ferdinand’s worthiness of her. It’s ironic how making Ferdinand play the role of Miranda’s would-be rapist should prove him a good husband. Prospero even says to her, “Foolish wench!/To th’ most of men this is a Caliban” (I, ii, lines 479-480).

At the beginning of Act V, Prospero has his disenfranchisers brought near his abode (that is, his “cell”), and he immobilizes them so he can upbraid Antonio and Alonso for their collusion in the usurpation of the dukedom, as well as the former and Sebastian for having conspired to kill Alonso. Prospero speaks kindly of his “true preserver,” Gonzalo, of course; and he recognizes that forgiveness is “rarer” than taking vengeance, so he says he forgives his “unnatural” brother, though we can’t be sure if his heart is in his words.

This making of the nobles to “stand charm’d,” just like Prospero’s making Miranda fall asleep and his ‘bread and circuses’ distractions of everyone again shows the dialectical relationship between his power and the powerlessness of all the others. Prospero promises to “break [his] staff” and “drown [his] book” (V, lines 54 and 57), but should we believe he’ll keep his promises? As a duke, he is a kind of politician, and politicians who keep their promises are the exception rather than the rule.

If, Dear Reader, I seem to have too judgemental an attitude towards Prospero, consider the alternative: surely he is aware of the danger of giving up all his powers; one shouldn’t assume he’ll never again be the victim of a conspiracy once “what strength [he has is his] own” (Epilogue, line 2). Antonio and Sebastian are probably still plotting.

Of course, the fact that Shakespeare identified himself, the magic-making playwright, “such stuff/As dreams are made on,” with Prospero suggests that the promise to “abjure” his magic will be kept; after all, the Bard was about to retire from “the great globe itself” shortly after the first performances of The Tempest.

So my next question is: since Prospero represents, on the one hand, the colonialist/imperialist and exploitative/manipulative politician, and on the other hand, the magic-making playwright, what relationship can we see between these two otherwise contrasting representations?

Marx wrote of a base and superstructure that keep the class structure of society intact. The superstructure is composed of such things as the media, religion, and the arts. Now, Marx was describing modern capitalist society, as opposed to the feudalist one Shakespeare lived and wrote his plays in; but the seeds of modern capitalism had already been sown in his day, and feudalism was as much a form of class conflict as capitalism is.

Shakespeare’s plays tended to justify class hierarchies by glorifying kings (the deposition scene in Richard II, so offensive to Elizabeth I, being one of the noteworthy exceptions) and the imperialistic plunder of other countries (Henry V). Contrast this with his tendency to portray poor workers as not much more than buffoons (consider Falstaff, Bardolph, et al in the Henry IV plays, or the “rude mechanicals” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as two sets of examples, to see my point). The tragic flaws of Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, etc., ennoble them by inspiring Aristotle’s pity and terror; the faults of the poor in these plays generally inspire our contemptuous mirth.

What I’m saying here, of course, is not true in an absolute sense: there is a considerable grey area between the white of the nobility and the black of the peasantry in the Bard’s plays. Osric, who “hath much land,” is foppish in the extreme. Falstaff has much depth of character, and his passing is grieved most touchingly by his friends at the Boar’s Head Inn; still, he’s also mercilessly ridiculed in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Christopher Sly‘s transformation from drunken tinker into a lord is a mere prank. Malvolio, with his cross-gartered yellow stockings and ridiculous grinning, is the lady Olivia‘s subordinate, her steward. In The Comedy of Errors, the twin Dromio servants are constantly being abused and picked on by their twin Antipholus masters, a form of slapstick humour. The two gravediggers in Hamlet are referred to as clowns in the script.

My point here is that the grey area of relative equal worth between upper and lower classes doesn’t disprove the black and white of the hierarchy that Shakespeare affirmed as a truth in the world. His plays never fundamentally challenged class antagonisms. For all the many faults of the nobles in Shakespeare’s plays, even when they are outright wicked, they have a dignity far elevated above that of even the best of the poor.

In these ways, Shakespeare as Prospero could be seen as part of the superstructure of Elizabethan times, reinforcing notions of the ‘superiority’ of the landowning ruling classes as against the ‘inferiority’ of the poor labourers and peasants of his time. His portrayals of Caliban and Sycorax as monsters and fiends were probably inspired at least in part by the biases of the time, namely, the notion of Christian superiority over the ‘devil-worshipping’ heathens of the rest of the world (i.e., the worship of Setebos by Caliban and Sycorax).

Still, as much as I have issue with the politics of Shakespeare at times, I’ll continue to love and admire his art, as we all should. Many talented artists in remote and more recent history (Shakespeare, Dali, Frank Zappa, etc.) are people with whom we may have issues as regards their political stances. In this way, my judgement of Prospero can be seen, in a symbolic sense, as ambivalent rather than unilaterally condemning.

My leftist worldview must be more forgiving of what I see as politically lacking in the Bard. His aim as a playwright wasn’t mainly to promote a certain political agenda; it “was to please.” Therefore, let my indulgence set him free.

Nothing Either Good or Bad


[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

We sufferers of C-PTSD often find ourselves overwhelmed with bad thoughts, thanks to our inner critic. It seems as though negativity is a permanent, static state to be in.

As hard as it is to believe for sufferers of complex trauma, though, neither good nor bad states exist permanently; good and bad flow back and forth between each other like the waves of the ocean. This is part of the reason I use ‘infinite ocean‘ as a metaphor for universal reality. The good moments are the crests, and the bad moments are the troughs; we must be patient in waiting for the troughs to rise into crests.

Recall Hamlet‘s line to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Only our thoughts cause this flow (of one opposite to the other) to ossify into rigid absolutes. Freed of that rigidity, we experience the flow of good to bad, to good to bad, to good, as a Unity of Action.

This Unity of Action is the unity of opposites, an idea found in philosophical traditions around the world, throughout history. It was part of Heraclitus‘s thought: “the path up and down are one and the same”; he also understood how these opposites flow into each other in a state of endless change, for “everything flows”, and “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. Dialectical monism is central to Taoist philosophy, particularly in the concept of yin and yang. Unity in duality is seen in the idealist Hegelian dialectic, which Marx turned into a materialist version, and Lenin, Stalin, and Mao in turn all expanded on Marx.

My point in bringing up these various testimonies to the validity of a universal dialectic, many from independent sources, is to show that talk of a Unity of Action is not just some New Age sentimentality. When a great thinker such as Hegel affirms the truth of dialectical monism, we know it’s not something to be airily dismissed.


I like to use the ouroboros as a symbol of the dialectical relationships between opposites such as happiness and sadness. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, all opposites can be seen at the extreme ends of a continuum, rather than in rigid terms of black and white. This continuum can be coiled into a circle, with one extreme phasing into its opposite. The biting head and bitten tail of the ouroboros can represent those meeting extremes.

I’ve demonstrated how the ouroboros, representing the Unity of Action, is manifested in class struggle, in the development of capitalism, in the relationship between oneself and other people, and in the relationship between mental health and various forms of mental illness, in the form of a general theory of the personality.

Now, I’d like to show how we can use dialectical thinking to turn negative emotions and experiences into positive ones. When we’re seriously upset about some problem, it’s often hard to imagine a solution, especially if we’re emotionally dysregulating and making a catastrophe of the problem in our minds. Good and bad are imagined in terms of black and white, with an insuperable barrier between the problem and a solution.

However, when we see the problem and possible solution dialectically, in the form of the ouroboros, we can now imagine a path from the bitten tail of the problem, passing along the length of the serpent’s body towards greater and greater hope, all the way to the biting head of a solution.

Since, as I described elsewhere, one can compare the three parts of Hegel’s dialectic (which I, admittedly, am simplifying here, for the sake of brevity) to the tail (the “thesis,” or abstract), the head (the “antithesis,” or negation, a logical challenge to the original abstract idea), and the length of the serpent’s body (the “synthesis,” the concrete, or sublation, a resolving of the contradictions between the head and tail to form a higher truth…a new abstract tail to be negated and sublated again and again in endless cycles), we can see how dialectical thinking can help us turn negative thinking into positive.


When we have a problem, negative thought, or any reason to be depressed or anxious, we start with the “thesis,” or abstract. Next, we imagine the negation, which is the solution to our problem, or the happy state of mind we wish we were in. Since there is a unity of opposites, we know we have no reason to believe a solution to our problem is unreachable.

We must now work out the contradiction between the difficulty and the solution we wish we could find; this is the sublation we need to work out, that path along the circular serpent’s body towards the solution. How can we do this? We can start by asking what we could learn from the problem. We can always learn from past mistakes, or learn to avoid repeating past misfortunes. Second, we can acknowledge what we have to be grateful for; we can count our blessings, all those things and people (i.e., friends) we take for granted, but shouldn’t, at this moment of crisis.

I’ll now give an example of how to negate negativity, as I did with regards to my family. As I explained here, I started with my parents’ vices–my father’s bad temper, bigotry, parsimony, and closed-mindedness, as well as my mother’s lack of empathy, narcissism, and habitual gaslighting, triangulating, and smear campaigning–and I used them as the “thesis.” Since writing The Inner Critic blog post, I’ve added my siblings’ vices–their bullying and verbal abuse, as well as my sister J.‘s constant attempts to reform me into the brother she wants me to be–to the collective family “thesis,” or abstract.

Now, for the “antithesis,” or negation: in The Inner Critic, I wrote of meditating on and visualizing, in hypnotic trance, kind, loving parents who pick you up and cuddle with you. In the case of my parents, I imagine the dialectical opposites of those vices I mentioned above: I visualize a new father who is easy-going, tolerant, giving, and open-minded; I imagine a new mother who values lifting up her children’s self-esteem, as well as promoting family harmony; added to these, I meditate on a supportive, protective older brother (something my brothers, R. and F., never were), and a sister who wouldn’t change one character trait of mine, but rather considering my eccentricities as part of my charm. Instead of the old family sneering at me, I imagine the new family cheering for me. This alone, done with the right intensity and focus, makes me feel much better.

As for a “synthesis,” the concrete, or the Aufhebung, my repeated and intensive auto-hypnotic meditations on the negation should, over time, counterbalance all the negativity I suffered from my family over four decades of dealing with them. I note how the idealized family of my self-hypnosis represents who my old family should have been; also, my memories of the old family are no less ghosts in my mind, old bad object relations, than are the newly internalized objects of my idealized new family, who are there to heal me and eliminate my inner critic. Combine this visualization with my “Christopher Sly” meditation–a tossing aside of my past ghosts as having no more right to be considered reality than are the new family of my meditations–and I should balance out the negative past with my positive present, and thus have a median, realistic self-assessment.

abstract background beach color
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Remember how suggestible the mind is during hypnosis, which is just a meditation in a relaxed, yet focused mental state. Note also that the mind doesn’t distinguish between reality and imagination: that’s how we can get emotionally involved in a movie, which of course is pure fiction and illusion. So we can use this suggestibility to our advantage in curing ourselves of our C-PTSD.

As I’ve said before, we sufferers of narcissistic and emotional abuse tend to imagine a fragmented world where the shattered pieces can’t be put back together. To solve this problem, I see it as imperative that we all cultivate an outlook of seeing the underlying unity in all things. This means seeing a unity between oneself and others to end C-PTSD isolation and alienation, The Unity of Space.

It also means putting the past behind us, worrying less about the future, and focusing on NOW, The Unity of Time. Finally, we also need to stop seeing an insurmountable wall existing between our sorrows and the happiness we crave, but see instead how all opposites are dialectically unified, as symbolized by yin/yang and the ouroboros, The Unity of Action.

Such unifying replaces despair with hope, alienation with belonging, and anxiety and depression with joy in the present moment–a lasting cure for complex trauma.

Analysis of ‘Richard III’

Richard III, though called “The Tragedy of King Richard the third” in the First Quarto, is a history play written by William Shakespeare in the early 1590s. It’s the last play in a tetralogy on British kings, the first three being parts I, II, and III of Henry VI, which are among the earliest plays the Bard is known to have written.

While Henry VI, Part I is considered one of Shakespeare’s worst plays, and thus is also believed to be a collaboration (these same two assessments have been made of another early Shakespeare play, Titus Andronicus), Richard III is the Bard’s first great play. It is also his second-longest play (after Hamlet).

Richard III is great literature, but it isn’t good history: essentially a propaganda play, it vilifies its namesake in order to justify his usurpation by Henry VII, the first monarch of the House of Tudor (Elizabeth I, contemporaneous with Shakespeare, being the last Tudor monarch). While the theory–that Richard III was responsible for the deaths (or, rather, disappearance) of the princes in the Towerseems the most probable one to explain the fate of the two boys, it is by no means proven; accordingly, the Ricardians are trying to rehabilitate Richard III‘s reputation.

Here are some famous quotes from Richard III, and from plays associated with it:

“Why, love forswore me in my mother’s womb;/And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,/She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe/To shrink mine arm up like a wither’d shrub;/To make an envious mountain on my back,/Where sits deformity to mock my body;/To shape my legs of an unequal size;/To disproportion me in every part,/Like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear-whelp/That carries no impression like the dam./And am I then a man to be belov’d?/O, monstrous fault, to harbour such a thought!/Then, since this earth affords no joy to me/But to command, to check, to o’erbear such/As are of better person than myself,/I’ll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,/And, whiles I live, to account this world but hell/Until my mis-shap’d trunk that bear this head/Be round impaled with a glorious crown./And yet I know not how to get the crown,/For many lives stand between me and home,/And I, like one lost in a thorny wood,/That rends the thorns, and is rent with the thorns,/Seeking a way, and straying from the way,/Not knowing how to find the open air,/But toiling desperately to find it out,/Torment myself to catch the English crown;/And from that torment I will free myself,/Or hew my way out with a bloody axe./Why, I can smile, and murther while I smile,/And cry ‘Content!’ to that which grieves my heart,/And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,/And frame my face to all occasions./I’ll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall,/I’ll slay more gazers than the basilisk;/I’ll play the orator as well as Nestor,/Deceive more slyly than Ulysses could,/And like a Sinon take another Troy./I can add colours to the chameleon,/Change shapes with Protheus for advantages,/And set the murtherous Machiavel to school./Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?/Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI, Part III, Act III, Scene ii, lines 153-195

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York
And all the clouds, that lour’d upon our house,
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag’d war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, — instead of mounting barbed steeds,
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,—
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, — that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty,
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable,
That dogs bark at me, as I halt by them,—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene i, lines 1-31

“Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I’ll have her; — but I will not keep her long.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene ii, lines 227-229

“I cannot tell: the world is grown so bad,
That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch:
Since every Jack became a gentleman,
There’s many a gentle person made a Jack.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene iii, lines 70-73

“But then I sigh, and, with a piece of scripture,
Tell them that God bids us do good for evil:
And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With odd old ends, stol’n out of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene iii, lines 334-338

“O momentary grace of mortal men,
Which we more hunt for than the grace of God!
Who builds his hope in air of your fair looks,
Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast,
Ready, with every nod, to tumble down
Into the fatal bowels of the deep.” —Hastings, Richard III, Act III, Scene iv, lines 98-103

“O bloody Richard! —miserable England!
I prophesy the fearfull’st time to thee
That ever wretched age hath look’d upon. —
Come, lead me to the block; bear him my head:
They smile at me who shortly shall be dead.” –Hastings, Richard III, Act III, Scene iv, lines 105-109

“I must be married to my brother’s daughter,
Or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass: —
Murder her brothers, and then marry her!
Uncertain way of gain! But I am in
So far in blood, that sin will pluck on sin.
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.” –King Richard, Richard III, Act IV, Scene ii, lines 62-67

King Richard: I am not in the giving vein to-day.
Buckingham: Why, then resolve me whe’r you will or no.
King Richard: Tut, tut, thou troublest me; I am not in the vein. —Richard III, Act IV, Scene ii, lines 120-122

“The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham’s bosom,
And Anne my wife hath bid the world good night.” –King Richard, Richard III, Act IV, Scene iii, lines 38-39

“Is the chair empty? is the sword unsway’d?
Is the king dead? the empire unpossess’d?” –King Richard, Richard III, Act IV, Scene iv, lines 470-471

“Despair and die!” –The Ghosts of Edward, Prince of Wales; Henry VI; Clarence; Grey; Rivers; Vaughan; Hastings; the boy Princes; Anne and Buckingham, Richard III, Act V, repeatedly throughout Scene iii

“Give me another horse! — bind up my wounds!
Have mercy, Sweet Jesu!” –King Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iii, lines 177-178

“I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die!
I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
Five have I slain to-day instead of him.” –King Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iv, lines 9-12

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” –King Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iv, line 7, then again at line 13

“Inter their bodies as becomes their births.
Proclaim a pardon to the soldiers fled,
That in submission will return to us;
And then, as we have ta’en the sacrament,
We will unite the white rose and the red: —
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown’d upon their enmity!
” —Henry, Earl of Richmond, Richard III, Act V, Scene v, lines 15-21

“Off with his head; so much for Buckingham” –King Richard, Colley Cibber‘s 1699 adaptation of Richard III

“Richard’s himself again!” –King Richard, Colley Cibber’s adaptation of Richard III

Because Richard III is part four of a tetralogy, which Shakespeare assumed his audience had seen in its entirety, he makes allusions to the first three parts that would be lost on audiences who’ve only seen the last part. (Colley Cibber tried to solve this problem with his 1699 adaptation.) Hence, to understand Shakespeare’s play, one must give a précis of the first three plays; I refer mostly to those parts relevant to understanding Richard III.

Henry VI, Part I

Henry V has passed away, way before his time, meaning his son, the child Henry VI, must be the new king. Squabbling and mismanagement of the kingdom under the Lord Protector and other nobles, as well as rebellions led by Joan of Arc, have lost England the French territory won under Henry V’s rule. Factions in King Henry’s court choose to side either with the White Rose of York or the Red Rose of Lancaster. Suffolk‘s plan is for Henry VI to marry Margaret of Anjou, as against the advice of the Lord Protector, so Suffolk can control the king through her.

Henry VI, Part II

The king marries Margaret. Bickering between the two factions leads, by the end of the play, to the Wars of the Roses. The Lord Protector; Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, has been imprisoned for treason and killed by hired murderers. The Duke of York, claiming the right to the throne, fights against Henry VI’s Lancastrian faction. The king, too meek and pious to fight, will let his wife, Queen Margaret, lead the Lancastrians.

Henry VI, Part III

The Duke of York briefly gains the upper hand and is made king, but the Lancastrians regain power, put a paper crown on York to mock him, then kill him. Henry VI is king again, but not for long, as the Yorkists get the upper hand again, and York’s eldest son is made King Edward IV. Hunchbacked Richard, Edward’s youngest brother, is made Duke of Gloucester; he lusts for the crown, but in a soliloquy (see first quote above) speaks of how he doesn’t know how to get to it; he compares his difficult quest for power to cutting through a “thorny wood” to get to a clearing. During the ongoing civil war, Warwick is killed by King Edward, as is (in the Battle of Tewkesbury) the Lancastrian Prince of Wales by all three of York’s sons, Edward (the king), George, and Richard, the last of these three later killing imprisoned King Henry VI, who prophesies that the Earl of Richmond will be king after the future King Richard III’s reign. The Yorkists win, Margaret is banished, and the Yorkists celebrate.

Richard III

Only Richard, Duke of Gloucester, doesn’t celebrate with the others, for he is still scheming to eliminate his rivals to the crown. In a soliloquy (see second quote above), he speaks of the great change that has just occurred: from war to peace, from “the winter of our discontent” to “glorious summer by this sun of York” (that is, the Yorkist badge of the sun, or, son of the Duke of York, Edward IV). Instead of making war, the people are making love.

This soliloquy introduces the theme of vicissitudes, or continually revolving changes in condition or fortune (especially from good to bad luck, for as we will see, Gloucester hates this shift from killing to copulating). The theme is established clearly by repeating, over and over again, how bellicosity has changed to such things as “the lascivious pleasing of a lute”.

Gloucester, however, is too ugly to be a lover. No woman would want this hunchback, who has been “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,/Deform’d”, with one leg longer than the other. So, since he “cannot prove a lover”, his emotional rejection, combined with his ambition, has him “determined to prove a villain”. He is determined by fate and by his resolve to become king.

Through Gloucester’s scheming, his elder brother George, Duke of Clarence, is being sent by Brackenbury to the Tower because a prophecy says that “G” (George, apparently, but actually Gloucester) will kill King Edward’s heirs. Thus we see the vicissitudes of Clarence’s fortunes, traded with those of Hastings, who has just been freed from the Tower, a change to ill fortune only in the eyes of his enemies, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan.

To help secure him on the throne, Gloucester must wed Anne Neville, who hates him for having murdered her father, Warwick, her husband, the Prince of Wales at Tewkesbury, and his father, Henry VI. Getting her to change her attitude to Gloucester will be a formidable task for him, but he succeeds within one scene of fiery dialogue with her: he feigns both repentance and love for her, even offering either to have her stab him with his sword or to kill himself. She agrees, amazingly, to marry him by the end of the scene. Vicissitudes follow each other so closely, they’re like a pair of feet stepping on each other’s toes.

Indeed, immediately after she leaves, Gloucester has gone from imagining himself too repellent to woo women, to being a “marv’llous proper man”, and he wants to go out and buy himself some fashionable clothes and gaze on himself in a looking glass.

The nobles have changed from celebrating their victory to squabbling among each other. Elizabeth, Edward IV’s queen, knows how dangerous Gloucester is to her family. He stirs up more rancour among the nobles by comparing the rise in power of her family to how “wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch”. He claims that, in his opinion, lowly people like her family have become gentlemen, while truly noble people like himself have been abased. More vicissitudes, both real and imagined.

Speaking of abased nobles, Margaret of Anjou, former queen to Henry VI, has defied her banishment and walks among the, in her opinion, “every Jack [who] became a gentleman” and curses them for causing her ruinous vicissitudes. They all scoff at her curses (her curse at Gloucester seeming to be sent back to her by him–Act I, Scene iii, lines 216-234), but by the end of the play, they’ll be weeping or dead, and she will be seen as a prophetess (Act I, Scene iii, lines 299-303–more on the theme of curses, i.e., self-inflicted ones, later).

Gloucester has hired two murderers to kill Clarence in the Tower. He warns them to be quick about it, for if they let his brother speak, his clever words will surely dissuade them from doing the murder. Indeed, his words almost do, and only one of the murderers actually kills Clarence by drowning him in a malmsey butt of wine, presaged in a dream Clarence has had of being knocked off a boat by falling Gloucester, and drowning in the sea while seeing the horrid ghosts of all those Lancastrians Clarence killed (Act I, Scene iv, lines 9-23, then lines 43-63).

Act II begins with ailing Edward IV pushing the squabbling nobles to be reconciled with each other, getting forced exchanges of love between Hastings and Rivers, Buckingham and Queen Elizabeth, etc. All would seem well in the eyes of the smiling king, until Gloucester shocks everyone with the announcement of Clarence’s death. More vicissitudes come when the king dies of grief, causing, in turn, the mourning of the queen, Clarence’s children, and the Duchess of York, the mother of the dead king, Clarence, and Gloucester (Act II, Scene ii).

Though preparations are being made for Edward IV’s elder son, Prince Edward, to become King Edward V, Gloucester, as the Lord Protector, is making preparations to get rid of the twelve-year-old boy and his younger brother, Prince Richard of York.

Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan are to be executed on a trumped-up charge, causing lamentations in Elizabeth over “the ruin of [her] house” (Act II, Scene iv). As the three condemned men bemoan their vicissitudes, they remember Margaret’s curses not only at them, but at their enemies, Gloucester, Buckingham, and…Hastings, too! Now they can go to their deaths with a kind of gloating solace (Act III, Scene iii).

Elizabeth has her nine-(ten?)-year-old son, Prince Richard, Duke of York, put in sanctuary for his protection from Gloucester and Buckingham. The boy’s vicissitudes turn sour when Buckingham argues that he’s too young to understand, and therefore merit, the Church’s protection (Act III, Scene i, lines 44-56); so he’s taken out of sanctuary and into Gloucester’s ‘protection’ with his older brother, the boy who would be king…if not for Gloucester.

Though Lord Stanley warns Hastings of a bad dream he’s had presaging Hastings’s death at the hands of Gloucester (the boar), Hastings dismisses the danger, riding high on the news of the execution of his enemies, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan (Act III, Scene ii). Catesby asks Hastings if he’ll support Gloucester over the two boy princes as the next king; Hastings says he’ll give up his own head before he’ll allow that. Vicissitudes lead to his head, indeed, being chopped off, and what a dramatic swing in fortune do we see when Hastings’s smile is so quickly changed to a frown, all from having said “If“.

So soon after the two princes’ rise in power do we see their vicissitudinous fall, first into the gaping mouth of the Tower, then to being slandered as bastard sons of lascivious Edward IV (Act III, Scene v, lines 72-94), then to their murder by men hired by Tyrell, who at first craves financial gain from just-crowned King Richard III (Act IV, Scene ii, lines 32-41), then quickly switches to remorse upon the sight of the smothered innocents in their bed (Act IV, Scene iii, lines 1-22).

The new king, fearing losing his power, is disappointed with Buckingham, who flinches at the idea of approving of the killing of the princes in the Tower. Buckingham has thus switched from being the king’s loyal friend–who had until now been crucial in helping Richard’s rise to power–to being his enemy. Irked at how the king “Repays…[Buckingham’s] deep service/With such contempt”, Buckingham changes his allegiance to Richmond.

Richard III has undergone vicissitudes, too: he’s gone from being a gleeful villain, who “can smile, and murder while [he] smile[s]”, to a paranoid tyrant who no longer has “that alacrity of spirit/Nor cheer of mind that [he] was wont to have”, and who increasingly hates himself, knowing no one–not even his mother, the Duchess of York–loves him (Act V, Scene iii, lines 177-206).

He’s had his queen, Anne, killed, and he feels the only way he can secure his kingdom is to marry the daughter of the former Queen Elizabeth, who naturally would abominate such a foul marriage, preferring an alliance of her daughter with Richmond. The king tries to charm Elizabeth into allowing the marriage as he did with Anne, but vicissitudes mean he hasn’t the success he had with Anne (Act IV, Scene iv, lines 196-431).

Indeed, the only way Richard can get even the semblance of an agreement from Elizabeth for him to marry her daughter is to curse himself if he ever proves false to her (Act IV, Scene iv, lines 397-417). Since he’s already proven false to that family (as well as to his own) so many times before, he doesn’t need to prove himself false to his would-be bride; so his pretend curse on himself comes true.

This unwitting curse on oneself is not unique to Richard. Anne Neville has cursed any future wife of his, not knowing “his honey words” would make her that accursed future wife (Act IV, Scene i, lines 66-86). Richard Gloucester turns one of Margaret’s curses on herself (Act I, Scene iii, lines 216-240), though this doesn’t stop her curses from having effect on the Yorkists. Buckingham curses himself if he ever proves unfaithful to Queen Elizabeth, saying his own friends, Gloucester et al, should likewise prove untrue to him (Act II, Scene i, lines 32-40)…and this curse, as we know, comes true (Act V, Scene i, lines 12-29).

These self-inflicted curses are made because Anne, Buckingham, and Richard are overconfident, not provident enough to consider how quickly vicissitudes can turn good fortune into bad.

Indeed, with the rise in Richmond’s power and decline in Richard’s, we see a perfect illustration of this trade in fortune in their shared dream, that of Richard’s victims (the Prince of Wales slain in Tewkesbury, Henry VI, Clarence, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan, Hastings, the princes in the Tower, Anne, and Buckingham) cursing the tyrant to “Despair, and die”, then wishing success to Richmond in the upcoming Battle of Bosworth Field (Act V, Scene iii, lines 118-176).

During that battle, Richard fights bravely, but before his death, he despairs so greatly that, limping on the grass, he would trade the kingdom that has meant everything to him…just for a horse, so he can escape from his enemies.

From craving rule of the kingdom, craving it so much that he would kill anyone standing in his way (family, his wife, even children), to achieving it; then willingly trading that coveted kingdom for a mere horse: such extremity of vicissitudes.

Analysis of ‘Henry V’

Henry V is a history play that Shakespeare wrote in about 1599.  It is part of the second of two tetralogies he wrote to chronicle the history of England’s kings.  The first tetralogy, among his very first plays, were Henry VI, parts one, two, and three, and Richard III, his first great play; the second tetralogy dealt with the years before the first, and are thus a ‘prequel tetralogy,’ so to speak–Richard II, Henry IV, parts one and two, and Henry V.  While most of these plays are dark and gloomy, sometimes even tragic in tone (indeed, Richard III is fully titled The Tragedy of King Richard III), Henry V is largely the one ray of sunshine in the whole cloudy chronicling.

Here are some famous quotes:

1. “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend/The brightest heaven of invention.” –Chorus, Prologue to Act I, lines 1-2

2. “We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;/His present and your pains we thank you for./When we have match’d our rackets to these balls,/We will in France, by God’s grace, play a set/Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.” –Henry, Act I, scene ii, lines 259-263

3. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;/Or close the wall up with our English dead./In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man/As modest stillness and humility;/But when the blast of war blows in our ears,/Then imitate the action of the tiger.” –Henry, III, i, 1-6

4. “This story shall the good man teach his son;/And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,/From this day to the ending of the world,/But we in it shall be remembered–/We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;/For he today that sheds his blood with me/Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,/This day shall gentle his condition;/And gentlemen in England now a-bed/Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,/And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks/That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” –Henry, IV, iii, 56-67

The main theme running through this play is that of pride, in all of its variations and permutations: arrogant, overweening pride, wounded pride, honour, shame, humility, and even maidenly bashfulness.

The play opens with the Chorus humbly admitting that an Elizabethan stage cannot properly show the vast fields of France (see Quote #1, above), or a battle with hundreds of knights either marching or on horseback.  Thus, with the play’s producers’ pride held firmly in check, the Chorus, speaking on their behalf, asks us, the audience, to use our imaginations to fill in the play’s imperfections, and to judge it kindly.

When King Henry V is presented with tennis balls, a gift meant as a slur on his abilities as a king, his pride is wounded (see Quote #2).  The sender of this insulting gift is the arrogant Dauphin of France, next in line to be the French king…except for Henry.  While feeling his power threatened by King Henry’s plans to invade France and claim the country as his by right, the Dauphin haughtily presumes that Henry is the same reputedly dissolute youth of his earlier years as a prince, and imagines Henry must be a similarly feckless king now.

With the ‘moral’ sanction of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely (who would rather their king invade and loot France, causing death and destruction there, than deprive the English Church of funds, for such is the arrogance of the Church’s sense of entitlement), and now angered by the Dauphin’s proud provocation, King Henry promises to “play a set” with those tennis balls that will so shock the Dauphin as to turn his pride into shame.

Speaking of shame, when the king is in Southampton preparing to cross the English Channel to France with his men, he uncovers a plot engineered by three traitors, Richard Earl of Cambridge, Henry Lord Scroop of Masham, and Sir Thomas Grey, who have been suborned by France to kill Henry.  When his knowledge of the plot against him is shown to the traitors, they admit to their guilt and shame, wishing only death for themselves, as their pride knows that receiving the death penalty willingly is the only honourable way out.

Other dishonourable knaves in the play show their pride in other ways.  Nym and Pistol squabble over who gets to have Mistress Quickly, hostess of the Boar’s Head tavern.  Pistol has already married her, but Nym is too proud to accept this.  Pistol comments on Nym’s excessive pride, saying, “O braggart vile and damned furious wight!”  A swordfight between them is stopped just in time by Bardolph.

Meanwhile, in France, the Dauphin continues to scoff at what he considers Henry’s weak resolution, saying the French court should consider the preparation for war to be little more than “a Whitsun morris-dance.”  Even his fellow courtiers cannot endure his presumption.  The king of France humbly holds his pride firmly in check when he acknowledges the strength of Henry and his family, who have shaken and shamed France in defeats in war in the past.  Indeed, the other courtiers (apart from the Dauphin) realize how much Henry has changed, and the Duke of Exeter, visiting the French king, relays the contempt of the English onto the proud Dauphin.

Already in France, Henry’s men have besieged the castle in Harfleur, where he urges them to carry on fighting (see Quote #3).  During peacetime, it is proper to be modest; but during war, one should fight as proudly as a tiger.

Later during that scene, we see such soldiers as the Welsh Fluellen and the Irish Macmorris proudly arguing over whether Ireland is deserving of the scorn Fluellen gives her, and whether Macmorris’s supervision of the digging of the mines is up to standard in “the disciplines of the war”.

The French princess and Alice discuss learning English; but the French princess is shocked at how some English words sound dangerously close to certain rude words in French.  Namely, Alice mispronounces ‘gown’ as ‘con,’ a French word that refers to a certain part of the female anatomy–one that in English also begins with a c; the other word, ‘foot,’ is mispronounced so as to sound like the French word for a certain intimate bedroom activity, a word for which the English equivalent also begins with an f.  The princess’s pride would rather not allow her to degrade herself by saying words of such an immodest sound.

When the French learn of Henry’s victory at Harfleur, they feel their pride wounded, and fearing that their women will dishonour them by preferring Englishmen as lovers who will litter France with bastard sons, the French king will have his army meet Henry’s with their “sharp defiance,” and his herald, Montjoy, is to send Henry a warning: either pay a ransom for the damages he’s caused France, or be her prisoner.  The Dauphin’s pride is wounded at not being allowed by his father, for the moment, to join the other French to fight Henry.

Montjoy meets with Henry and gives him the French king’s warning, saying proudly, “Though we seem’d dead, we did but sleep; advantage is a better soldier than rashness. Tell him we could have rebuk’d him at Harfleur, but that we thought not good to bruise an injury till it were full ripe. Now we speak upon our cue, and our voice is imperial.”

Henry proudly replies, “forgive me, God,/That I do brag thus! This your air of France/Hath blown that vice in me. I must repent./Go therefore, tell thy master here I am;/My ransom is this frail and worthless trunk,/My army but a weak and sickly guard;/Yet, God before, tell him we will come on,/Though France himself and such another neighbour/Stand in our way.”

On the night before the battle of Agincourt, in a tent in the French camp, the nobles all show proud impatience for the sun to come up, so they can kill the English and prove the valour of the French.  The Constable brags that he has “the best armour of the world,” and the Duke of Orleans brags of his horse; but the Dauphin’s boasting of his horse is so excessive that it annoys the other French nobles.

Meanwhile, in a tent in the English camp, Henry borrows a cloak from Sir Thomas Erpingham to cover himself with, and thus keep his identity unknown to his men as he goes about to learn of their true feelings about him and the next day’s battle.  In bringing himself down to their level, he briefly forgoes his royal dignity and pride, and humbles himself, for he needs to know how his men really feel.  And with “A largess universal” he “doth give to every one…A little touch of Harry in the night.”

When he encounters Williams’s proud disdain of the king’s–to him–questionable justification for war, and the risk of his men’s lives, Henry gets angry, and the two proud men agree to a personal quarrel after the battle, if both men survive.

The next morning, the English are daunted by the far greater number of French adversaries they must face.  Then King Henry approaches, and in his St. Crispin’s Day speech (see Quote #4), he proudly speaks of how he covets honour, greedily wanting as large a portion for himself, and for each of his men–however smaller a number they may be in total–as possible.  Indeed, he is content to allow any men without a stomach for the immanent battle to return to England.  And those men in bed in England on this day will, in the future, feel greatly wounded pride in the presence of any who have fought with the king on St. Crispin’s Day.

This rousing speech fires up the pride of Henry’s men, whose fear has been changed to steely valour.  In the ensuing battle, their smaller number gloriously defeats the over-confident French (thanks in no small part to the English archers and their use of the effective English longbow).  The pride of the French changes to the heaviest shame.

Their shame increases by their ignominious act of killing all the boys in the English camp, a deed that infuriates King Henry.  But when he learns of the huge number of dead French as against the small number of English dead, he forbids himself pride, insisting instead that God won the battle for him.  He has his men sing ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum’ to show their humble thanks to God.  After this moment of humility, Williams is made to realize that the man he was to quarrel with would have been the king himself, and Williams must humbly beg Henry’s forgiveness.

Later, Fluellen makes Pistol, who has insulted the Welsh, swallow his pride by force-feeding him a leek, the symbol of Wales.

When the English and French kings meet, with their respective nobles, to go over the terms of the peace treaty, Henry has a private meeting with the French princess, whom he hopes to marry.  As he woos her in English, she replies in her still far-from-perfect English; then he swallows some pride in speaking just-as-broken French, moving her only to laugh at him.

Finally, he asks to kiss her, but her maidenly modesty won’t permit her to do so, for her pride won’t allow her to dishonour herself.  But he proudly insists that kings and (future) queens are the makers of manners (“nice customs curtsy to great kings”), and then gets a kiss from her.

The play ends with the Chorus reminding us of how England, after her glorious victory over the French, all too soon would feel her pride wounded when the poorly-managed English kingdom of the child King Henry VI would lose France.  This story, of course, had been presented many times on the London stage, in the Henry VI tetralogy mentioned above.

Detailed Synopsis of ‘King Lear’

Act One:  King Lear, an octogenarian monarch of pre-Christian England, has assembled all of his nobles to discuss the future rule of his kingdom after he relieves his aged self from its burdens.  Before he arrives with his daughters and their husbands, the Earls of Kent and Gloucester discuss how they think Lear will divide the kingdom.  Will it be equally divided?  If not, which son-in-law will be favoured with a better portion?

Edmund, who is with the two earls, now becomes the subject of discussion.  Gloucester tells Kent that Edmund is his illegitimate son, describing with lustful glee how much he enjoyed the night he slept with Edmund’s mother.  All Edmund can do is quietly, patiently listen to his father speak disrespectfully of his mother to Kent (one can safely assume Edmund’s had to put up with this kind of thing his whole life).

Lear and the others arrive.  Lear tells Gloucester to get the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy, suitors to Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia.  Gloucester leaves to get them.  Lear announces his plan to retreat from the burdens of rule (though he’ll keep the title and dignity of king), and to give those responsibilities to his daughters and their husbands.  Whichever daughter loves him the most, and can thus express that love the best (see Quote 1 from my ‘Analysis of King Lear‘), will receive the best third of the kingdom.

Goneril, the eldest, speaks first, giving a flowery speech about how she loves her father more than words can say, more than any of the most basic human needs.  Flattered and contented, Lear gives one third of the kingdom to her and her husband, the Duke of Albany.

Nervous Cordelia doesn’t wish to flatter her father with phoney speeches of love just to gain land.  She’d rather “Love, and be silent.”

Regan, the middle-born daughter, is next to speak.  Like Goneril, Regan gives her father a honey-tongued speech of her ‘love’ for Lear, going so far as to say Goneril’s speech describes Regan’s very love of her father, though her own love surpasses Goneril’s by far.  Regan says nothing else gives her happiness but Lear’s love.

Again pleased, and not at all aware of how fake these speeches are, the vain king gives Regan and her husband, the Duke of Cornwall, their third of the kingdom. Though Cordelia doesn’t want to flatter the father she so dearly loves, she’s confident he’ll know the sincerity of her love well enough to overlook her laconic expression of it.

Unfortunately, she’s wrong, for he turns to her and, since she’s his favourite daughter, he expects an even more poetic speech from her, resulting in the best third of the kingdom.

She insists that she has “Nothing” to say; he warns her that the lack of a pretty speech will result in the lack of a third of the kingdom (see Quote 2 from my ‘Analysis’).  She says that she returns his love as is fitting a daughter, “no more nor less.”  She adds that when she marries, half of her love will go to her husband; she finds it odd that her married sisters give all their love to Lear.

Angered by Cordelia’s bluntness, the vain king suddenly disowns her.  Shocked, the Earl of Kent intervenes and passionately pleads for her, saying she loves Lear no less than Goneril or Regan, but rather doubtlessly loves him much more, given the phoniness of the elder sisters’ speeches.  Lear warns Kent not to continue, but Kent does, arguing that Lear’s actions are dangerously foolish, and Kent has always done everything he could to protect his king, faced every danger, and even now does so, risking the king’s displeasure, to protect him from his “hideous rashness.”

Lear can no longer endure Kent’s upbraidings and banishes him, giving him five days to leave England.  Kent leaves after wishing Cordelia well and hoping, though doubting, that Goneril’s and Regan’s treatment of Lear will match the words of their gushing speeches of love.

Gloucester enters with the King of France and Duke of Burgundy.  Lear offers Cordelia to them, but with no dowry, indicating only his “hate” for her as his reason.

The King of France is shocked to hear this change in Lear’s attitude, for the French king knows Cordelia was always Lear’s favourite daughter, and he wishes to know what monstrous thing she could possibly have done to deserve no dowry and such hate.  Cordelia says it is no sin not to flatter, and that, though she’s unhappy to have displeased her father, she’s glad she has no glib tongue.

Impressed with her virtue and honesty, valuing them over a lust for land and power, the French king would happily have the dowerless bride.  He asks Burgundy if he would have her, for “She is herself a dowry.”

Burgundy will have her only with the dowry, but Lear coldly says, “Nothing.”  Burgundy apologizes to Cordelia, regretting that she must lose a father and a husband in himself.  Knowing he wants only the dowry, she sees no loss in Burgundy’s ended suit.  He leaves with Lear.

The King of France accepts her as his queen, and before they leave, he’d have her say goodbye to her sisters.  She asks them to take good care of Lear, though she has every reason to believe they won’t.  When Goneril and Regan tell her not to prescribe to them their duty, we see the evil daughters’ true colours for the first time.  Cordelia and the French king leave; then Goneril and Regan discuss Lear.  They worry about how rashly he has disowned his favourite daughter, knowing it’s because his aged mind is going, and that he has little knowledge of his true self.  They plan to correspond regularly with each other, informing each other of any volatile changes in his mood that could be a danger to them.  They leave, as does everyone else.

Edmund is alone in Gloucester’s castle, expressing his resentment over custom’s unfair preference of legitimate children over those, like him, born out of wedlock.  Envying his legitimate brother Edgar, Edmund plans to cheat him out of his inheritance from their father.  Edmund holds a letter he’s forged, one imitating Edgar’s handwriting, one that purports to persuade Edmund to help Edgar kill their father and take all of his land and property.

Gloucester enters, and Edmund hides the forged letter, doing so in a way so as to attract Gloucester’s curiosity about its contents.  When Gloucester asks what the letter is, Edmund guiltily says, “Nothing,” and continues to seem reluctant to have his father read it, though of course he very much wants Gloucester to read it.

Gloucester insists on reading it, and Edmund sheepishly gives it to him, saying he hopes Edgar is merely testing Edmund’s loyalty to their father by writing it.  Gloucester is shocked when reading the contents, calling Edgar an “Abominable villain!”  He then hopes Edgar doesn’t really feel the way the letter makes him seem to feel.  Edmund pretends to hope the same thing.  They will note Edgar’s future words to see if they match his words in the letter.

Gloucester then mentions Kent’s banishment for the crime of “honesty”; he imagines an unfavourable astrological influence is to blame for everyone’s recent misfortunes.  Gloucester leaves, then Edmund speaks contemptuously of people’s foolish faith in astrology.

Edgar enters, and Edmund now speaks as though he himself believes in astrology.  Then he tells Edgar that their father is mad at him.  Edgar rightly assumes someone has done him wrong; Edmund, of course, agrees that there’s an unknown villain among them, and advises Edgar to avoid their father for his safety.  Edgar leaves, knowing he’ll stay in Edmund’s home; Edmund gleefully contemplates his imminent inheritance of Gloucester’s land.

A month later, and in Goneril’s castle, she complains to her servant Oswald about the noisy, troublesome hundred knights Lear has with him; she also tells Oswald to slacken in his service to Lear, as should the other servants.

Kent has shaved, changed into the clothes of a poor man, and will speak in a different accent to disguise himself while in Lear’s presence; thus he’ll be able to continue to serve his king.  He’ll call himself ‘Caius’.

Lear enters with his retinue of one hundred knights.  ‘Caius’ introduces himself to Lear and offers the king his services.  Lear accepts, and asks where his fool is; the Fool is so saddened over the disowning of Cordelia that he’s avoiding others’ company for the moment.  Oswald walks by, and Lear calls to him, but he ignores the king.  Furious, Lear has a knight fetch Oswald back, but the knight returns without Oswald, and sadly tells Lear that he doesn’t believe the king is any longer being given the ceremonial respect he deserves.

Oswald finally comes back, and Lear stops him angrily, asking him who Lear is; Oswald impudently says Lear is Goneril’s father, rather than the king, which angers Lear even more.  ‘Caius’ then trips Oswald and scolds him for his lack of deference.  Oswald runs off, and Lear pays ‘Caius’ for his service.

The Fool enters, offering his coxcomb to ‘Caius’ for following a foolish king.  The Fool continues to indulge in a series of witticisms, indicating how Lear is the real fool for giving all his power to Goneril and Regan, and for disowning Cordelia, the only daughter he can really trust.

Goneril enters, complaining to Lear about his noisy, riotous hundred knights.  Lear insists they’re well-behaved, but she would have half the number dismissed, leaving Lear with fifty to follow him.  Lear is enraged at this.  The Duke of Albany, having just entered the room, is at a loss as to what has angered Lear so.  Lear curses at Goneril, wishing either sterility on her, or for her to bear children as cursed with thanklessness as she is; then he leaves her for Regan’s castle.  ‘Caius’, the Fool, and Lear’s knights follow, ‘Caius’ to rush ahead with letters for Regan and Gloucester, preparing them for Lear’s arrival.

The Fool continues his witticisms with Lear, explaining that Lear shouldn’t have gotten old till he’d become wise.  Lear hopes he won’t go mad.

Act Two: In Gloucester’s castle, Edmund warns Edgar of their father’s wrath, and before Edgar runs away, he and Edmund act out a brief sword fight, Edmund yelling for help.  Alone, Edmund cuts his arm, and when Gloucester and his servants arrive, Edmund tells his father that Edgar has wounded him.  Gloucester tells his servants to chase after Edgar.

Regan and her husband, the Duke of Cornwall, arrive.  Gloucester expresses his grief at Edgar’s apparent disloyalty; Regan tells of how she doesn’t wish to receive Lear at her castle, having received letters from Goneril of Lear’s rage, something with which neither daughter sympathizes.

‘Caius’, having already arrived at Gloucester’s castle, sees Oswald come, and he speaks abusively to Oswald, knowing the knavish servant of Goneril is no friend to Lear.  ‘Caius’ then threatens physical violence against Oswald, who cries for help like the coward he is.

Gloucester, Regan and Cornwall arrive, asking what the matter is.  Oswald claims that ‘Caius’ is a ruffian whose life he’s spared out of respect for his age; ‘Caius’ says Oswald is a cowardly knave.  Having no sympathy for ‘Caius’, Cornwall asks what Oswald’s fault is, then says ‘Caius’ is the real knave, since he affects “a saucy roughness” and is proud of his bluntness.  Cornwall and Regan have him put in the stocks, his legs bound; ‘Caius’ says it’s a shocking thing to stock the king’s messenger, but Cornwall will gladly take responsibility for that.

Everyone leaves ‘Caius’ after Gloucester has apologized for Cornwall’s excessive punishment.  Alone, ‘Caius’ takes out a letter he’s received from Cordelia, one which says she’s raising the French army to invade England and restore Lear to the throne.  He falls asleep.

Having run a long time to escape his father’s pursuing servants, Edgar is in the open country, and in a soliloquy discusses his plan to remove his clothes and cover himself with mud.  He’ll pretend to be ‘poor Tom’, a mad Bedlam beggar, so no one will know his true identity.

Lear, the Fool, and the knights arrive at Gloucester’s castle, shocked to see ‘Caius’ in the stocks.  Lear can’t believe his daughter and son-in-law would dishonour him by stocking his messenger, but ‘Caius’ insists they have.

Lear has Gloucester fetch Regan and Cornwall, so they can explain themselves; Gloucester returns, saying they say they are tired from travelling long (a feeble excuse not to obey their king) and won’t come at the moment.  Enraged that he is being treated with the same lack of respect he received in Goneril’s castle, Lear demands that Gloucester go back and fetch them.  Embarrassed, Gloucester goes back to get them.

‘Caius’ is released from the stocks, and Lear is angry to know that Cornwall, having finally arrived with Regan, is indeed responsible for stocking ‘Caius’.  When Lear complains of Goneril’s attitude, Regan rationalizes her sister’s actions and asks Lear to return to her castle with only fifty knights.  When furious Lear says Goneril has his eternal curses, manipulative Regan tearfully complains that he’ll curse her when he’s again in a rash mood; but he reassures her that he never will.

Goneril arrives, to Lear’s dismay, and he is further chagrined to see Regan hold her sister’s hands, loyal to her rather than to him.  He says that Goneril is his only in the sense that a disease or a boil on the skin belongs to someone, out of unfortunate necessity, rather than out of love.

Goneril and Regan rationalize the reduction of knights to fifty, saying it would be almost impossible to provide for one hundred men, and that fifty should be more than sufficient.  Furthermore, Goneril’s and Regan’s servants should be sufficient to attend to Lear’s needs.  This upsets the king all the more.

Regan finds attending to even fifty knights to be too burdensome, and says she’ll reduce Lear’s number to twenty-five.  Since Goneril’s love seems to double Regan’s, he says he’ll return to her; but even Goneril won’t accept fifty knights now.  She and Regan wonder why he needs even twenty-five knights, or any at all!

Now without even one knight, Lear knows he has lost all power and authority, and in his feelings of having been betrayed, he’s even losing his sanity.  In a fury, he leaves the castle with ‘Caius’ and the Fool.

A rainstorm has begun outside, and Goneril, Regan, and Cornwall fear that Lear and his dismissed knights may storm the castle.  Gloucester is ordered to lock his castle doors, leaving the old king homeless in the storm at night.  Gloucester reluctantly does so.

Act Three: Out in the rainstorm, Kent tells a gentleman about the division between the Dukes of Albany and of Cornwall, and about the plan to take Lear to Dover, where the French army will be, to help settle the dispute.

In his madness, Lear rants and raves while being soaked in the rain and wind.  (See Quote 3 from my ‘Analysis’.)  He insists that he finds no fault with the inclement weather, since he gave nothing to it, as he gave Goneril and Regan, who should be grateful.  He “will be the pattern of all patience”; he will endure whatever harshness the wind and rain hits him with, for his daughters’ wickedness is far more insupportable.  (See Quote 4.)  ‘Caius’ and the Fool urge Lear to find shelter, but the mad king insists on braving the weather still.

In Gloucester’s castle, Gloucester tells Edmund of the plan to restore Lear to the throne, the French army having landed in Dover.  Though Gloucester assumes Edmund won’t tell Goneril and Regan about what they will consider treason, he of course will.

Still standing in the storm, Lear imagines the suffering of the homeless during this night; his heart aches to know that he, their king, has done too little for them.  To be in their wretched condition seems therapeutic to Lear, for he can truly pity them, and by becoming their equal, he knows justice is finally being done for them.

The Fool goes into a hovel where he and ‘Caius’ hope Lear will soon take shelter, but the Fool is frightened by a madman in there; both come out.  The madman is really Edgar, covered in mud and calling himself ‘poor Tom’.  He rants and raves wildly about all the devils he’s known and been possessed by.  Lear assumes ‘Tom’ is mad because his daughters have betrayed him, as Lear’s have him.  As ‘Tom’ continues ranting about devils (Quote 5), Lear is impressed, imagining the madman to be a “Noble philosopher.”

Gloucester has come out to them, and he leads them to an outhouse nearby his castle, where they can sleep for the night.

When Cornwall learns of Gloucester’s colluding with Lear and the French army, Gloucester is deemed a traitor.  Cornwall promises to make Edmund the next Earl of Gloucester; Edmund pretends to be sad about betraying his father.

In the outhouse, Lear gives an imaginary trial for Goneril and Regan.  Edgar, noting the real insanity of Lear, finds relative comfort in how his own sufferings aren’t as severe.

In Gloucester’s castle, when Goneril and Regan learn of Gloucester’s treason, the former suggests plucking out his eyes.  Goneril, Edmund, and Oswald leave, while Gloucester is searched for.

Gloucester, now apprehended, is brought in and pinioned to a chair by two or three servants.  He demands of Regan and Cornwall why he, the host of his castle, is being so mistreated by his guests.  Regan and Cornwall call him a traitor; Regan plucks his white beard contemptuously.  She and Cornwall ask where “the lunatic king” is being sent.

Gloucester tells of receiving a letter from “a neutral heart”, and of sending Lear to Dover.  When they angrily demand why to Dover, Gloucester says he’d not have them pluck out poor old Lear’s eyes.  Though he hopes to see the day of Lear’s revenge, Cornwall says he never will.

Cornwall puts out one of Gloucester’s eyes, leaving him with only one.  One of the servants fights with Cornwall, trying to stop him from putting out Gloucester’s other eye.  Cornwall is mortally wounded, but Regan takes a sword and kills the rebelling servant.  Cornwall goes back in pain to Gloucester and puts out his other eye.

In his agony, Gloucester calls out for Edmund, but Regan tells him that Edmund, having informed them of Gloucester’s treason, hates him.  Now Gloucester, like Lear, despairingly knows which of his offspring to trust, and which not to.  Regan has him thrown outside.  Cornwall dies of his wound, though Regan, secretly in love with Edmund, doesn’t care.

The servants, pitying Gloucester, will get flax and egg-whites to apply to his eyes.

Act Four: Outside, Edgar is horrified to see an old servant guiding blind Gloucester, who in his despair doesn’t want any help.  Gloucester has no way to go; having distrusted the wrong son, he stumbled when he saw.  If he could only have Edgar with him again, it would be as though he had eyes again.

The heaviness of Edgar’s sorrow returns to see his father in such a wretched condition.  Still all covered in mud, he’s still known to everyone as ‘poor Tom’, the mad beggar.  Gloucester imagines a similar cruelty inflicted on ‘Tom’ as on himself, a cruelty the gods inflict on all of us (Quote 6).  He tells the servant to find clothes for ‘Tom’, since he wants the madman to lead him from now on.  After all, only a madman would willingly lead Gloucester to a cliff in Dover, from which the suicidal blind man hopes to jump.

Before Albany’s palace, Oswald tells Goneril of how the Duke of Albany, her husband, is gladdened by the arrival of the French army, and saddened by her coming.  She assumes Albany acts this way out of cowardice and weakness.  Secretly in love with Edmund, as Regan is, Goneril gives him a love-token and a kiss.  Edmund leaves, and Albany enters; the latter has even more contempt for her than she has for him, knowing what she, Regan, and Cornwall have done to Lear.  He’s then horrified to learn that Gloucester’s been blinded, and though Albany must help fight against the French invaders, he hopes to avenge Gloucester for his eyes.

Kent and Lear have arrived at the French camp near Dover.  Kent speaks with a gentleman about the current situation, and about Cordelia, who is deeply distressed for her father.  They must prepare for the armies of Albany and Cornwall; Kent will take the gentleman to where Lear is.

Also in Dover, Cordelia has her men search for her mad father, whose head is crowned with weeds, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, etc.

Regan, aware of Goneril’s love of Edmund, and therefore jealous, tells Oswald to give Edmund a note she’s written.  She says that since she is now a widow, Edmund is more appropriate as a husband for her than for Goneril, who obviously doesn’t love her husband.  She also tells Oswald that if he should find Gloucester, he should kill him–he’ll be rewarded for such service.

Now also in Dover, Edgar leads Gloucester to what he says is a cliff; to look down at such a deep fall, Edgar says, is frightening.  Gloucester gives ‘poor Tom’ a jewel in a purse and tells him to leave.  Edgar steps back, whispering that his plan is to cure his father of his despair by pretending to indulge it.  Gloucester says some loving words for Edgar, then jumps.

The ‘cliff’ that Gloucester has fallen from is nothing of the sort; he’s done little more than fallen down.  Edgar, now pretending to be a man in the country (for that’s where they actually are), comes over to Gloucester and praises the gods for preserving him after such a long fall.  Gloucester is confused as to whether he’s actually fallen or not; Edgar says that a vile-looking devil at the top of the cliff was with Gloucester when he fell.  Edgar says the gods, in preserving Gloucester’s life, surely want the blind old man to continue living.

Edgar and Gloucester find mad King Lear, dressed in weeds.  Lear rants on and on about how Goneril and Regan lied in their professing of their love for him.

Gloucester, recognizing Lear’s voice, asks if he’s the king; Lear affirms this, as if it were obvious (Quote 7).  Lear continues ranting insanely, imagining he’s forgiving men for adultery, since illegitimate Edmund seemed better to Gloucester than legitimate Goneril and Regan were to Lear.  Besides, he needs soldiers, so he would have “copulation thrive”.  Edgar can only pity Lear’s “Reason in madness!”

A gentleman and attendants come to get Lear and take him to Cordelia; but first they have to chase after the mad king, for he suddenly runs away.

Oswald then finds Edgar and Gloucester, and brandishing a sword, prepares to kill the blind old man, who welcomes the thought of being put out of his misery.  Edgar fights Oswald and mortally wounds him.  Before Oswald dies, though, he tells Edgar of a letter Goneril has written for Edmund to read.  Edgar reads it, scowling from learning of her plot to kill Albany and marry Edmund.

In Cordelia’s tent, Lear has been bathed, changed into clean clothes, and tended to by doctors, who have used medicines to treat him.  He is sleeping.  Cordelia thanks Kent for his efforts to take care of her father; he doesn’t want her to reveal that he’s Kent until he deems the time fit to do so.  She continues to worry about her father.  The doctor would have Lear wake, since he’s been sleeping for a long time.

Lear wakes up and looks at her; he’s not sure, but he thinks she’s Cordelia.  She tearfully affirms this, while he assumes she hates him for disowning her; she, of course, can easily forgive his rash treatment of her at the beginning of the play.  He now knows that, underneath all the kingly pomp, he’s just a foolish old man.

Act Five: At the British camp near Dover, Goneril and Regan continue in their jealous rivalry over Edmund, bickering with each other, with him and Albany present.  The sisters and Edmund leave.  When Edgar, still in a poor man’s rags, has a chance to speak alone with Albany, he gives him Goneril’s incriminating letter.  Albany reads the letter, and is horrified at his wife’s treachery.  Edgar says a man will challenge Edmund to a duel after the war; he leaves Albany.

Edmund has promised himself to both Goneril and Regan.  Whichever sister he chooses, he knows the power he’ll acquire mustn’t be threatened by Lear or Cordelia, whom he plans to have executed after the war.

The war happens, and the French lose.  Edgar tells Gloucester they must leave, for Lear and Cordelia have been taken prisoner.  Gloucester is still in bad thoughts, and his son must continue to try to comfort him.

Though Lear is Edmund’s prisoner, he’s content to have Cordelia’s love, and so he says that, in prison, they’ll “sing like birds i’ th’ cage.”  She asks if he wants to see Goneril and Regan; he says emphatically that he doesn’t, and guards take them away.  Edmund gives a captain a note, telling him to have the two prisoners executed.

Albany enters, demanding to have Lear and Cordelia under his protection.  Goneril and Regan continue in their bitter rivalry over Edmund, though Regan is ill.  (In an aside, Goneril admits to having poisoned Regan: see Quote 8.)  Regan, growing sicker, leaves.  Albany accuses Edmund of treason; if after a trumpet blows, and no man appears to challenge Edmund to a duel, Albany will.

The trumpet blows, and a masked man appears, accusing Edmund of disloyalty to his family and to his country.

The two men fight, and Edmund is mortally wounded.  Goneril is hysterical over dying Edmund.  Albany produces her incriminating letter, and she runs away to kill herself.

Dying, Edmund asks who the masked man is.  The mask comes off, and it’s Edgar, who then tells the story of how he took care of their blind father; then, when he finally revealed himself as Edgar, Gloucester died of a heart attack, being caught between extremes of joy and grief.

Edmund is actually moved to hear the story of his pitiful father.  A gentleman holding a bloody knife informs all that Goneril has killed herself with the knife, and Regan has died of the poisoning.  Kent appears, no longer as ‘Caius’, and asks where his king is.  Edmund tells them that Lear and Cordelia are to be executed; in spite of his nature, Edmund will do some good in reversing the order of execution.  A servant rushes off with Edmund’s sword as proof of the order’s reversal.  Edmund is borne away.

While Lear has been saved, it’s too late for Cordelia.  A wailing Lear enters carrying her lifeless body (Quote 9).  Lear would have a glass put by her mouth; if by chance the glass fogs up with her breath, she’ll still be living.  He killed the servant who hanged her.  Kent, Edgar, and Albany watch the king in horror and profound pity for his suffering.

A messenger enters, mentioning the death of Edmund.  Albany dismisses his death as a trifle in comparison to the tragedy he’s watching with Kent and Edgar.

Lear says his “fool is hanged”: is this the Fool, or his daughter (i.e., his ‘foal’)?  He asks why an animal should be allowed to live, but not Cordelia.  Then suddenly, Lear thinks he sees her lips moving; in a confusion of joy and grief similar to that of Gloucester, Lear dies of a heart attack.

Kent is amazed that Lear was able to endure for so long.  Albany imagines the rule of England will be divided between Edgar and Kent; but Kent, hearing the voice of Lear’s ghost, must kill himself to continue serving his king in the afterlife.

Edgar concludes the play by saying we must “Say what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

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Analysis of ‘Julius Caesar’

Julius Caesar is a tragedy Shakespeare is believed to have written in 1599; the play is based on the assassination in 44 BC of the ancient Roman dictator and its aftermath in the Battle of Philippi.  While Dante, in his Inferno, portrayed both leading conspirators, Brutus and Cassius, as traitors whose treachery is comparable to that of Judas Iscariot, Shakespeare portrays Brutus as being the only conspirator who acted selflessly, for the good of Rome.

Here are some famous quotes:

1. “Beware the ides of March.” –Soothsayer, Act I, Scene ii, line 18

2. “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus, and we petty men/Walk under his huge legs, and peep about/To find ourselves dishonourable graves./Men at some time are masters of their fates:/The fault, dear Brutus, is  not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”    –Cassius, Act I, Scene ii, lines 135-141

3. “…but for mine own part, it was Greek to me.” –Casca, Act I, Scene ii, around line 282

4. “Cowards die many times before their deaths;/The valiant never taste of death but once./Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,/It seems to me most strange that men should fear;/Seeing that death, a necessary end,/Will come when it will come.” –Caesar, Act II, Scene ii, lines 32-37

5. “Et tu, Brute?  –Then fall, Caesar!” –Caesar, Act III, Scene i, line 77

6. “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.” –Mark Antony, Act III, scene i, line 274

7. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;/I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him./The evil that men do lives after them;/The good is oft interred with their bones;/So let it be with Caesar.” –Mark Antony, Act III, Scene ii. lines 73-77

8. “But Brutus says he was ambitious,/And Brutus is an honourable man.” –Mark Antony, Act III, Scene ii, lines 86-87

9. “There is a tide in the affairs of men/Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;/Omitted, all the voyage of their life/Is bound in shallows and in miseries./On such a full sea are we now afloat;/And we must take the current when it serves,/Or lose our ventures.” –Brutus, Act IV, Scene iii, lines 216-222

10. “Caesar, now be still:/I kill’d not thee with half so good a will.” –Brutus, Act V, Scene v, lines 50-51

The main theme of this play is constancy versus inconstancy, everyone in the play manifesting varying combinations of these two opposites.

First, we’ll look at examples of constancy.  At the end of the play, Mark Antony honours Brutus for being the one conspirator who acted not out of envy, but for the good of Rome.  Indeed, his constant loyalty to Rome even outweighs his loyalty to his friend, Caesar.  In all of Brutus’ speeches, be they public or private, he always puts Rome first.  In his home at night, before the other conspirators arrive, he speaks of how those who gain power often ignore the base degrees from which they’ve climbed.

“Th’abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins/Remorse from power; and to speak truth of Caesar,/I have not known when his affections sway’d/More than his reason.  But ’tis a common proof/That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,/Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;/But when he once attains the upmost round,/He then unto the ladder turns his back,/Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees/By which he did ascend.  So Caesar may.” (Brutus, Act II, Scene i, lines 18-27)

During the plotting with the conspirators that night, Brutus rejects Cassius’ recommendation to kill Mark Antony, too, feeling their “course will seem too bloody”.  Only Caesar has to die.  After killing Caesar, Brutus tells the other conspirators to dip their hands in Caesar’s blood, and to plead their cause to the people: killing Caesar was for the good of Rome, not for the conspirators’ private profit, and they are to reveal themselves proudly as liberators from Caesar’s growing tyranny (Act III, Scene i).

Later in that scene, Brutus’ constancy is so full that he would allow Mark Antony to honour Caesar in his funeral for the good he did in his life; this generosity, of course, is a risk Brutus is taking, and one that ultimately leads to his death, but it also shows how constant he is.

When Brutus learns of officers in Cassius’ army taking bribes, he shows his opposition so openly that he wounds Cassius’ pride, resulting in a quarrel (Act IV, Scene iii). Brutus’ duty to Rome outweighs his kindness to his friends; such noble constancy is rare.

Finally, when all is lost in the wars between Brutus’ army and those of Mark Antony and Octavius (later Augustus), Brutus runs into his sword, accepting the continuing power of Caesar even after his death (see quote 10).

Portia, Brutus’ wife, is offended that he won’t tell her what’s troubling him and keeping him awake at night (Act II, scene i); she feels he doubts her constancy, which she proves by cutting a wound in her leg.  Later, when she fears for him and his shaky fortunes in the wars after killing Caesar, we learn she’s killed herself by swallowing burning coals, or fire, as it says in the text (Act IV, scene iii).

Julius Caesar’s constancy seems the greatest of all.  Though fearing suspicious types like Cassius, he insists “always I am Caesar” (Act I, scene ii).  He says “I am constant as the northern star” when he is asked for pardon for the banished brother of Metellus Cimber, one of the conspirators (Act III, scene i).  The conspirators, of course, almost immediately after, in the same scene, show their inconstancy to Caesar by stabbing him to death.

His power lives on after his death, though, for Mark Antony and Octavius act as his avenging agents.  His ghost appears to Brutus (Act IV, scene iii), showing us how Caesar still exists, even if no longer in physical form.  Brutus acknowledges the constancy of Caesar’s power when his avengers defeat Brutus and Cassius in the battles toward the end of the play, causing Cassius and his loyal friend, Titinius, to kill themselves.  “O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet!/Thy spirit walks abroad and turns our swords/In our own proper entrails.” (Brutus, Act V, scene iii, lines 93-95)

Now we’ll examine inconstancy, of which there’s plenty in this play.  Cassius’ inconstancy is particularly blatant.  He fears the growing power of Caesar, but is inconstant with the truth when he forges letters of complaint about Caesar’s tyranny, and has them tossed in the windows of Brutus’ home to trick him into joining the conspirators.  “I will this night,/In several hands, in at his windows throw,/As if they came from several citizens,/Writings, all tending to the great opinion/That Rome holds of his name; wherein obscurely/Caesar’s ambition shall be glanced at.” (Cassius, Act I, scene ii)

Cassius is opposed to Caesar’s corruption, but is lenient over the bribery his soldiers are guilty of; hence Brutus’ accusation that Cassius has an “itching palm” (Act IV, scene iii, line 10).

Cassius is constant, though, towards his friend, Titinius, when he, believing his friend has been taken by the enemy, kills himself.  “O, coward that I am to live so long/To see my best friend ta’en before my face!” (Cassius, Act V, scene iii, lines 34-35)  When Titinius, having not been taken, returns and sees Cassius lying dead on the ground, he kills himself, too.  “Brutus, come apace,/And see how I regarded Caius Cassius./By your leave, gods.  This is a roman’s part./Come, Cassius’ sword, and find Titinius’ heart.” (Titinius, Act V, scene iii, lines 87-90)

Conflicted Brutus is constant in his loyalty to Rome, but inconstant is his loyalty to his friend Caesar; hence, after his reluctant stab at Caesar, the betrayed, dying dictator gasps out his last words, “Et tu, Brute?” (Act III, scene i, line 76)

When Brutus, Cassius, Titinius, and Messala discuss the battle plans against the army of Mark Antony and Octavius, there is disagreement over where to meet the enemy: should they wait for them to arrive, tired from long marching, while their own armies are well-rested and ready, or should they march on and face the enemy farther ahead?  Cassius argues for the former, while Brutus argues the latter, based on the principle of inconstancy.

“The people ‘twixt Philippi and this ground/Do stand but in a forc’d affection;/For they have grudg’d us contribution./The enemy, marching along by them,/By them shall make a fuller number up,/Come on refresh’d, new-added, and encourag’d;/From which advantage shall we cut him off,/If at Philippi we do face him there,/These people at our back/…You must note beside/That we have tried the utmost of our friends,/Our legions are brim full, our cause is ripe./The enemy increaseth every day:/We, at the height, are ready to decline” (Brutus, Act IV, scene iii, lines 202-210, 210-215; then see Quote 9 above)

Brutus wants to fight Mark Antony and Octavius while his and Cassius’ armies still have the men “‘twixt Philippi and this ground” on their side, for, being “but in a forc’d affection”, those men may switch to the enemy’s side if Mark Antony and Octavius meet them before the battle.  If Brutus’ and Cassius’ armies cut the enemy off before they can meet those men in between, inconstancy won’t have an opportunity to give those men over to the enemy.

Elsewhere, Mark Antony seems constant in his loyalty to Caesar and to Rome in his “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech, in which he passionately demonstrates Caesar’s love of the Roman people while sarcastically parroting Brutus’ “honourable” intentions.  Once he has the ever-malleable crowd following him, however, he seems happier to use this support for his own political ascendancy than for Caesar’s revenge.

“Now let it work.  Mischief, thou art afoot,/Take thou what course thou wilt,” Antony says as he watches the people of Rome riot, loot, and search for revenge for Caesar’s death (Act III, scene ii, lines 261-262).

Caesar himself is mostly constant, though he fears “lean and hungry” Cassius, and wants fat men about him; almost in the same breath, however, he says, “always I am Caesar”.  Also, he thrice refuses a kingly crown, though, as Casca reports, he refuses it less and less.  (Act I, scene ii, lines 220-240, etc.)

On the day of his murder, he allows the entreaties of his wife, Calpurnia, to make him stay at home (Act II, scene ii) when she tells him of a dream she’s had, seeming to portend his bloody death; yet when Decius Brutus gives a misleadingly positive interpretation of the dream, Caesar quickly changes his mind and leaves home with the conspirators.

The most blatant example of inconstancy, however, is that of the crowd of common Romans outside the Capitol after Caesar’s murder.  At first, they’re shocked and horrified that their beloved leader has been assassinated in a conspiracy (Act III, scene ii); Brutus quickly sways their opinion in his favour in a brief speech:

“If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his.  If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: Not that I lov’d Caesar less, but that I lov’d Rome more.  Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all free men?”

Then Mark Antony sways the people’s opinion back against the conspirators in his repeated ironic reference to Brutus, Cassius, et al as “honourable”, during his “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” speech.  All of this swaying of public opinion happens in the same scene, within a period of about a half hour.  How quickly a mob can be manipulated.  As passionate as they may be, they are rarely constant.

Detailed Synopsis for ‘Macbeth’

Act One: Three witches are in an open place, discussing how they’ll meet again before the sun sets, after Scotland wins a war they’re waging against Norway and Ireland, when they’ll meet Macbeth.  (See first quote from my ‘Analysis of Macbeth’.)

King Duncan, his sons, and some Scottish nobles discuss the outcome of the war with a wounded soldier, who praises Macbeth’s valour; he mentions how Macbeth confronted the enemy and killed him with his sword–he “unseam’d him from the nave to th’ chaps.” The king has the soldier taken away to be treated for his wounds.

The Thane of Ross discusses Scotland’s victory against Norway and Ireland, the heroism of ‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ (Macbeth), and the traitor Macdonwald, Thane of Cawdor, who has been captured and will be executed.  Duncan tells Ross and the other nobles to confer on Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor.

The three witches meet again on a blasted heath, waiting for Macbeth to appear.  One speaks of a woman who munched on some nuts.  When the witch asked for some, the woman shouted at her to go away, calling her a witch.  The witch will have her revenge on the woman by causing her husband to suffer in a tempest at sea.

Macbeth and Banquo walk together towards where the witches are.  (See second quote of my ‘Analysis’.)  The witches accost them, each greeting Macbeth with the titles ‘Thane of Glamis‘ (his original title), ‘Thane of Cawdor’, and ‘king hereafter’.  He is shocked, even frightened, by such a ‘prophetic greeting’.  Banquo asks of his future; the witches predict that he will beget a line of kings, though he himself will be none.  The men demand that the witches explain their meaning more clearly, but the three mysteriously vanish.

The Scottish nobles greet Macbeth with the title ‘Thane of Cawdor’, thus confirming one of the witches’ predictions.  Macbeth is dazed with his growing ambition to be king, and his fear of it.  (Quote 3)  The nobles explain that Macdonwald, the original Thane of Cawdor, gave aid of some sort to the enemy, thus deserving execution for treason, and making Macbeth his replacement.  They leave to meet the king.

With the king now, Macbeth and Banquo are honoured for their valour during the war.  Malcolm, Duncan’s son, tells of the execution of Macdonwald.  Malcolm is made Prince of Cumberland: Macbeth knows this appointment is an obstacle to his becoming king.  They will go to Macbeth’s castle to celebrate the victory and stay the night.

At his castle, a letter he’s written is being read by his wife, Lady Macbeth.  She reads of one of the witches’ prophecies coming true, thus making that of his becoming king also quite possibly true.  Now her ambition has been fired up; but she knows her husband is “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way”, so she must be especially ruthless to compensate for his weakness.  She calls on devils to fill her “from the crown to the toe, top-full/ Of direst cruelty.”

Macbeth arrives at his castle, greeted by Lady Macbeth as “Great Glamis!  Worthy Cawdor!”  They plan to kill Duncan that night in Macbeth’s castle.  This is too perfect an opportunity to pass up.

When Duncan arrives, he says, “This castle hath a pleasant seat.”  Lady Macbeth cordially greets him, and a feast is prepared.  During the banquet, Macbeth goes off alone, and in a soliloquy expresses his doubts and fears.  He notes the kindness of the king, who’ll plead for mercy like angels if Macbeth cruelly kills him.  He realizes that only his ambition pushes him to want to kill Duncan. (See fourth quote.)  He resolves not to do it.

Lady Macbeth finds him and asks him why he isn’t with the others.  When he remorsefully says he won’t kill Duncan, she questions his manhood and reassures him that they can succeed.  The men guarding Duncan’s prepared room for the night will be given drugged wine, which will knock them unconscious when Macbeth is to kill Duncan; Macbeth is to put the bloody daggers in the sleeping guards’ hands to incriminate them.  Macbeth is turned back toward the plan.

Act Two: There is a brief scene between Banquo and his son Fleance; then Banquo and Macbeth chat about the witches.  Banquo speaks of dreaming about them, while Macbeth lies that he doesn’t even think about them.  Banquo and Fleance leave to go to sleep.

Macbeth is alone, about to go to Duncan’s room.  He hallucinates, seeing a dagger hovering in front of him.  (See fifth quote.)  It seems as real as the daggers he has to kill Duncan with, but it seems to be “a dagger of the mind”, a product of his stress and fear.

As he continues on to Duncan’s room, Lady Macbeth is emboldened by the wine she’s drunk, though an owl’s hoot briefly frightens her.  Nonetheless, all is ready: Duncan’s guards have drunk the drugged wine, and they’re unconscious.

Macbeth returns with bloody daggers, shaking after having murdered Duncan.  (See sixth quote.)  Lady Macbeth tries to calm him, but is shocked to see the daggers in his hands.  He doesn’t dare return to the murder scene, so Lady Macbeth takes the daggers from him and puts them in the hands of the sleeping guards.  Now her hands are as bloody as Macbeth’s.  They hear a knocking on the front door of the castle, so they must quickly wash the blood off their hands and remove all evidence linking them to the murder.  Still, Macbeth is too scared to move, the loud knocking continues, and Lady Macbeth must push him to action.

A porter goes to answer the knocking.  His scene is one of comic relief.  He jokes about being porter to the gates of Hell, and speaks of a damned ‘equivocator’, among other unrepentant sinners.  He opens the door and in come Macduff and Lennox who, needing to speak with the king, ask why the porter is so slow to answer the door.  The porter explains how everyone in the castle was drinking wine and celebrating till late; then he jokes about how wine equivocates by provoking sexual desire, but taking away the male ability to perform sexually.  Macbeth appears, and takes Macduff to Duncan’s room.

Horrified to see the king murdered, Macduff shouts and wakes everyone up.  Lady Macbeth feigns fainting to hear the news, and Macbeth confesses to having killed the guards out of a fit of passion (actually, to silence them).  Now plans must be made to learn who “suborn’d” the guards, and to crown Duncan’s successor.  (Speaking of whom, the king’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, plan to flee immediately to England and Ireland respectively, for fear of their lives.  Later this will cause them to be suspected of plotting their father’s murder.  The way is clear for Macbeth to be the next king.)

Act Three: Macbeth is now king.  Banquo is impressed with the accuracy of the witches’ predictions, but he wonders if Macbeth “play’dst most most foully for’t.”  He also remembers the prophecy that his descendants would be kings.  He tells Macbeth he has urgent business to attend to, and will be late for a banquet Macbeth has invited all the nobles to that night.  Banquo leaves.

Macbeth also remembers the witches’ prophecy about Banquo, and he fears the future of his own rule.    Macbeth hires two murderers who, hating Banquo for past injuries he’s done them, are to kill him and his son Fleance when they approach Macbeth’s castle that night.  Lady Macbeth worries about how Macbeth has changed from a good man into a power-obsessed ruler.

That evening, Banquo and Fleance are nearing the castle while the murderers, suddenly and awkwardly joined by a third, lie in wait.  The three murderers surprise Banquo and Fleance, killing the father while the son escapes.

One of the murderers tells Macbeth at the banquet that Banquo’s ‘throat is cut’ (which the reporting murderer himself did), “With twenty trenched gashes on his head”, but Fleance escaped.  Macbeth is not pleased with the latter news.  He joins his guests and drinks a toast to Banquo, who he says sadly isn’t with them.

The Thane of Ross asks Macbeth to sit with them, but Macbeth sees someone sitting at the chair Lennox gestures to.  No one else sees anyone sitting there, but Macbeth insists the chair isn’t vacant.  He looks closer, and is shocked to see Banquo’s ghost.  Everyone is surprised at Macbeth’s wildly fearful reaction, since only he sees the ghost.

Lady Macbeth takes him aside, demanding that he control himself.  She makes up an excuse to their guests that Macbeth has suffered a psychological condition from childhood, causing momentary fits that will soon pass.

The ghost disappears, and Macbeth is calm again.  He confirms Lady Macbeth’s excuse about his ‘infirmity’, then he drinks another toast to absent Banquo, whose ghost suddenly reappears.  Macbeth’s manic reaction shocks everyone so much that Lady Macbeth tells everyone to leave.  The guests wish good health on the king before leaving.

As Macbeth is calming down (the ghost is gone), he wonders why Macduff never attended the banquet.  Macbeth also says he wants to visit the witches again.

(An apocryphal scene has the goddess Hecate reprimanding the three witches for using their art on Macbeth without involving her.)

Lennox and a lord discuss the current, wretched state of Scotland: word is out that Macduff has joined Malcolm in England to raise up an army to invade Scotland, kill the increasingly suspect King Macbeth, and give Malcolm the crown.

Act Four:  The witches prepare a spell, throwing such ingredients as ‘Eye of newt’, ‘Nose of Turk’, and ‘Liver of blaspheming Jew’ into the cauldron (Seventh quote.).  One of the witches says, “By the pricking of my thumbs,/Something wicked this way comes.”  “Open locks, whoever knocks,” when Macbeth arrives.

He asks them of his fate.  Their ‘masters’ tell Macbeth, in visions, three prophecies: beware Macduff, the Thane of Fife; none of woman born will ever kill Macbeth; and he won’t fall until Birnham forest moves to high Dunsinane hill, where his castle is.  The second two prophecies give him a false self-confidence, since he imagines it impossible for them ever to be manifested.

Then he asks of Banquo’s future.  The witches reluctantly show him a vision of Banquo’s descendants, a long line of kings that seems to stretch out till the end of time.  This upsets Macbeth terribly.

He learns, from Lennox, of Macduff joining Malcolm in England: this makes Macduff a traitor.  Macbeth would have Macduff’s castle surprised, and his family slain.

At Macduff’s castle, Ross has informed Lady Macduff of her husband’s flight to England.  She is upset that Macduff could abandon his whole family so suddenly.  Ross leaves.   She talks with her son about Macduff.  The boy’s clever remarks about traitors are touching to hear; this makes the coming tragedy all the more heartbreaking.

A messenger warns her of hired murderers coming to kill them; he leaves, making her wonder where she could go.  She imagines that, being innocent, she needn’t fear danger; but in this corrupt world, it is often the innocent who are harmed, while the guilty prosper.

The murderers arrive and call Macduff a traitor.  The boy angrily calls his father’s accuser a ‘shag-ear’d villain’, and is stabbed.  Then they kill Lady Macduff.

In England, Macduff tries to convince Malcolm to fight for his right to the crown.  Malcolm, testing Macduff’s loyalty, pretends to be unworthy of being king.  He claims his lust and greed are limitless; then Macduff says they can find plenty of willing women and gold to satisfy Malcolm’s thirst for them.  Malcolm then insists that he has no virtues to compensate for his vices.  Macduff despairingly laments the dismal fate of the country he’s exiled himself from.

Satisfied that Macduff has proven his loyalty, Malcolm disavows all the vices he’s claimed to have had.  Macduff, surprised, finds it difficult to reconcile these opposing self-characterizations.

Ross arrives with bad news from Scotland, still mired in Macbeth’s tyranny.  When Macduff realizes evil has come to his family, he demands Ross tell him quickly.  Ross delays as best he can, then finally tells Macduff his whole family has been “savagely slaughter’d”.  Malcolm tries to comfort Macduff, who in his shock at first can’t seem to believe what he’s heard.  Malcolm advises him to “let grief/ Convert to anger”.  They all resolve to raise an army to invade Scotland.

Act Five: At night, a doctor has been asked by a gentlewoman to watch Lady Macbeth, who has been sleepwalking and confessing her and Macbeth’s crimes.  The doctor and the lady watch sleepwalking Lady Macbeth enter the room; she seems to be washing her hands in imaginary water.  Her eyes are open, but she sees only her dream.  Guilt is overwhelming her.

She despairs that she can never get the blood off her hands (8th quote).  The doctor and lady are shocked to hear Lady Macbeth confess to the murders of Duncan, Banquo, and Lady Macduff.  Lady Macbeth imagines she’s hurrying Macbeth out of the room, as she had on the night he’d killed Duncan.

Lennox and other nobles have shifted their loyalty away from ‘the tyrant’ and towards “Malcolm,/ His uncle Siward, and the good Macduff” in England.  They know that Macbeth’s men obey him only from fear, not from love.  They plan to meet the English army at Birhnam wood, and join them in the invasion of Scotland.

In his castle, Macbeth receives messages of the army from England coming to challenge him.  Macbeth is still overconfident, remembering the second and third prophecies of his fate.  He asks the doctor why he can’t cure Lady Macbeth of her “mind diseas’d”.  The doctor says only she can do that for herself.  Macbeth curses medicine as useless.

Malcolm leads the English army to Birnham wood, where he tells them to cut off branches of the trees, and carry them to Dunsinane, to hide their soldiers’ numbers.  The men do so.

As Macbeth and the men in his castle prepare for war with the English, the cry of  women is heard.  Seyton goes to find out what’s happened.  He returns, telling Macbeth, “The queen, my lord, is dead.”

Macbeth gives a speech on the meaninglessness of life (9th quote).  A watchman calls out that he sees trees from Birnham forest moving as a group toward the castle.  Macbeth threatens to kill him if he’s lying.  Now he begins to see the worthlessness of the witches’ equivocal prophecies.  He tells his men to prepare for battle, knowing that at least they’ll die bravely.

Malcolm, Macduff, and the English soldiers arrive at Dunsinane.  Malcolm tells them to throw away their branches.

The battle begins.  Macbeth, though fighting fiercely, wonders in frustration who wasn’t born of woman.  Macbeth fights young Siward, who, fighting bravely, is soon killed by Macbeth.  The king says, “Thou wast born of woman.”

It’s clear that all is lost for Macbeth.  Macduff, knowing the ghosts of his family will haunt him forever if he doesn’t avenge them, frantically searches for Macbeth.  They find each other.

Macbeth remembers he must beware Macduff, and after fighting awhile, Macbeth proudly says he bears “a charmed life, which must not yield/ To one of woman born.”  Macduff tells him to despair of his charm, for Macduff was born of Caesarean section.  Macbeth now is too afraid to fight.  Macduff says Macbeth will thus be publicly shamed as a coward before the rabble.

Now Macbeth’s pride is piqued, and he’ll “try the last”, that is, fight to the death, preferring that to dishonour.  They fight, and Macduff kills him.

In the final scene, Macduff brings the severed head of Macbeth to Malcolm and the others to see.  They note that Lady Macbeth is also dead, a presumed suicide.  Sympathy is shown to old Siward for the slaying of his son; the father, however, is comforted knowing young Siward fought bravely.  Malcolm will be crowned king at Scone.

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Analysis of ‘Macbeth’

Macbeth is a tragedy Shakespeare is believed to have written between 1603 and 1607.  The play’s Scottish war hero turned tyrannical king  is based on, but bears little actual resemblance to, King Macbeth of Scotland (reigning from 1040 until his death in 1057); the historical king is believed to have actually been a good and able king.

The play includes many magical incantations thought to have been taken from real witches without their permission, angering them and causing them to curse the play in revenge.  For this reason, the play is considered unlucky.  Accordingly, when actors are rehearsing the play, referring to it or the title character by name is taboo.  Instead, one calls it ‘the Scottish play’, ‘MacBee’, etc.  If one accidentally says ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre, there are cleansing rituals that can be done to avert disaster, one example being spinning around three times as fast as possible, spitting over one’s shoulder, and uttering an obscenity.  Disastrous performances from the play’s history have contributed to the superstition.  The BBC comedy ‘Blackadder the Third’ did a hilarious sendup of this superstition in the episode, ‘Sense and Senility’.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h–HR7PWfp0

Macbeth is the shortest Shakespeare tragedy, with a quick-moving first act and, apart from the title character himself, minimal character development, causing some scholars to believe we don’t have a complete copy of the play.  Banquo’s son Fleance is supposed to have begot a line of kings leading up to James I, the (as of the writing of the play) new king of both Scotland and England, after the death of Queen Elizabeth I: this long lineal connection to Fleance is thought to be a politically-movitated praising of the new king.

Here are some famous quotes:

‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair;/Hover through the fog and filthy air.’ –3 Witches, I, i, lines 10-11

‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen.’ –Macbeth, I, iii, line 38

‘Two truths are told/As happy prologues to the swelling act/Of the imperial theme.’ –Macbeth, I, iii, lines 127-129

‘I have no spur/To prick the sides of my intent, but only/Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself/And falls on the other.’ –Macbeth, I, vii, lines 25-28

‘Is this a dagger which I see before me,/The handle toward my hand?  Come, let me clutch thee.’ –Macbeth, II, i, lines 33-34

‘Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no more!/  Macbeth does murder sleep.‘ –Macbeth, II, ii, lines 35-36

‘Double, double, toil and trouble;/Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.’ –3 Witches, IV, i, lines 10-11

‘Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!’ –Lady Macbeth, V, i, about line 34

‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time;/And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle!/Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/And then is heard no more.  It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.’ –Macbeth, V, v, lines 19-28

Three prophecies for Macbeth’s fate:

I) Beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife.

II) None of woman born shall harm Macbeth.

III) Macbeth shall never fall till great Birnham wood come to high Dunsinane hill.

One important theme in Macbeth is that of fertility versus infertility, or of life versus death.  Banquo’s fertility allows him to begin a line of kings that continues right up to the reign of King James, almost six centuries later, and during Shakespeare’s time.  Macduff, the one eventually to kill Macbeth, has several children, ‘all [his] pretty chickens’, whom Macbeth has had killed.  Macduff observes that Macbeth, however, ‘has no children’.

Macbeth is defeated when Birnham wood comes to Dunsinane; all those tree branches, symbols of life and fertility, coming to Macbeth, symbol of death and infertility, to end his reign of terror.

The most important theme of Macbeth, however, is that of equivocation, perfectly embodied in the quote, ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair.’  These opposites appear several times throughout the play, as in the second quote above.

Other examples include when Banquo asks why, upon hearing the witches prophesy of Macbeth being Thane of Cawdor and the future king of Scotland, Macbeth starts in fear on hearing of things ‘so fair’.  Later, when Macbeth has been crowned king (having murdered Duncan, the previous king, to get the throne), Banquo correctly suspects that Macbeth ‘play’dst most foully for’t.’

The beginning of the play is ‘So foul and fair a day’, for it is foul with the smell of the blood of war, and yet fair with Scotland’s victory over Norway and Ireland, thanks to Macbeth’s valour.

Macbeth says the witches’ prophecies ‘Cannot be ill; cannot be good’; for if bad, how do they result in good for him, making him Thane of Cawdor?  If good, why do the prophecies frighten him with the firing up of his murderous ambition?  Macbeth shudders over the ‘fair’ prophecies of his being Thane of Cawdor and the future king, for these spur his ‘Vaulting ambition’, his tragic flaw, which will change him from the fair war hero at the play’s beginning to the foul tyrant who must be killed at the play’s end.  Indeed, even though the play ends happily with Macbeth killed and Scotland restored, it is still a tragedy in how a good man is turned into a bad man, who ultimately must be destroyed.

Banquo’s prophecies are also foul and fair.  He is, according to the witches, ‘Lesser than Macbeth, and greater’; ‘Not so happy, yet much happier’.  For though Banquo won’t be a king himself, his descendants will be, right up to King James, and as Macbeth imagines, possibly ‘to th’ crack of doom’.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth switch the roles of foul and fair midway into the play, when he is crowned king.  Before that, he is still somewhat good in his feelings of guilt and fear over the plotting of King Duncan’s murder; Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, relishes in her wickedness, even calling on evil spirits to keep her constant in her ambition.  After he’s crowned, however, it is Lady Macbeth who is fearful and remorseful, while he is grinning in his machinations.  He frowns only from his fears of losing his power; he never repents.  Though Banquo’s ghost frightens him, the witches’ prophecy–that ‘none of woman born’ will kill him–gives him a false ‘fair is foul’ kind of confidence.  (More on that later.)

Lady Macbeth, after disposing of the bloody daggers her husband has used on King Duncan, says ‘How easy is it’ to wash the blood off; later, during the sleepwalking scene, the imaginary blood she has on her hands is impossible to remove, as is the erasing of her guilt.  The fair of easy becomes the foul of impossible.

Even the porter speaks of equivocation in bawdy humour.  Wine’s effect on a man ‘provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance…makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep,…’ etc.

Finally, the second two prophecies of Macbeth’s ultimate fate are equivocal in his destiny being both foul and fair at the same time.  That he will never lose his power till the forest of Birnham moves to his castle sounds as though he’ll be king forever…fair.  How can the trees be uprooted and made to move up to Dunsinane hill?  Macbeth doesn’t consider, however, that the English army, led by Duncan’s son Malcolm, will cut off branches from the Birnham trees and carry them to Dunsinane, to hide their numbers.  Within the time frame of this play, these branch-carrying usurpers of Macbeth seem to come very soon, too…foul.  When Macbeth learns the truth of this, he begins ‘To doubt th’ equivocation of the fiend/That lies like truth.’

Furthermore, the cocky self-confidence Macbeth gains from the prophecy ‘none of woman born’ will kill him (that is, none born by going through his mother’s birth canal) makes him forget all too easily the first prophecy, ‘Beware Macduff’, who wasn’t born of woman, but ‘was from his mother’s womb/ Untimely ripp’d’, that is, born by Caesarian section.  Again, what makes Macbeth feel invincible–fair–should actually make him feel most vulnerable–foul.

Analysis of ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s first great tragedy (his very first being Titus Andronicus), was probably written around the early to mid-1590s.  Its plot was based on an Italian tale, translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562.  Shakespeare expanded the plot by developing supporting characters, particularly Mercutio and Paris.

The archetypal young lovers have the bad luck of being born into two powerful families, the Montagues and the Capulets, who have hated and fought with each other for as long as can be remembered.  Romeo’s and Juliet’s love for each other is as passionate as their families’ hatred for each other is virulent.  Fate seems to conspire against the lovers.  Romeo is banished from Verona for killing Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, who’s killed Romeo’s friend, Mercutio.  (The latter victim is kinsman to Paris and the Prince of Verona, who’s tried unsuccessfully to stop all the fighting.)  The lovers’ misfortune continues with Juliet’s seeming suicide–misinterpreted as actual by Romeo, who poisons himself in her tomb–and her actual suicide on seeing his body.  With the lovers’ deaths at the end of the play, Old Montague and Old Capulet finally end their hatred.  The tragedy seems to be heaven’s only way of stopping the feud.

The play is set mostly in Verona, Italy, and briefly in Mantua.  Here are some famous quotes:

Two households, both alike in dignity,/In fair Verona where we lay our scene,/From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,/Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean./From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,/A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;/Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows/Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife./The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,/And the continuance of their parents’ rage,/Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,/Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;… (Chorus, Prologue, lines 1-12)

Why then, O brawling love!  O loving hate!/O any thing, of nothing first create!/O heavy lightness!  Serious vanity!/Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms! (Romeo, I, i, lines 174-177)

My only love sprung from my only hate!/Too early seen unknown, and known too late! (Juliet, I, v, 136-137)

But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?/It is the east, and Juliet is the sun! (Romeo, II, ii, lines 2-3)

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?  (Juliet, II, ii, line 33)

What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose,/By any other name would smell as sweet. (Juliet, II, ii, lines 43-44)

Good-night, good-night!  Parting is such sweet sorrow/That I shall say good-night till it be morrow. (Juliet, II, ii, lines 185-186)

A plague o’ both your houses! (Mercutio, III, i, line 103)

All are punish’d!  (Prince, V, iii, line 294)

Apart from the theme of fate, the most important themes of this play are those of dualism and duality.  The words in boldface in the above quotes give some of the many references to dualism, or opposites that either complement or do battle with each other, or duality, groups of two.

Significantly, the very first word of the play is ‘Two’, and the Chorus’ opening sonnet in the Prologue to Act One is riddled with references to ‘two, ‘both’, ‘pair’, and juxtaposed opposites, as well the doubled ‘civil’ in line four.  This emphatic reference to duality and dualism clearly establishes these central themes, right at the beginning of the play.  (Incidentally, there are two narrative sonnets that the Chorus recites; the second one, in the Prologue beginning Act Two, is usually omitted in productions of the play.)

Other examples of duality are, of course, the boy and girl who are in love, but from two families that hate.  Indeed, this is as much a hate story as it is a love story, the hate giving paradoxical intensity to the love.

Two other opposites, given shortly after the Chorus’ first narrative sonnet, are Benvolio (literally, ‘good will’), who is Romeo’s well-meaning, peace-loving cousin and friend; and Tybalt (the ‘prince’ or ‘king of cats’: I wonder, is his name, its spelling at least, a pun on ‘tyrant’?), Juliet’s fierce, belligerent cousin.  The cousins’ opposition is again highlighted in the opening fight scene, further establishing the dualism theme at the beginning of the play.

Other opposites are Friar Laurence, Romeo’s ‘surrogate father’, as it were, and the Nurse, Juliet’s ‘surrogate mother’, since their actual parents seem to show little interest in their lives.  The friar would have Romeo and Juliet married, for he sees in their union an end to the families’ fighting; whereas the nurse is reluctant to match the lovers throughout the play, fearing the ill consequences of their most unlikely match-making.

Of especial importance to the play’s symbolism is the opposition of night and day, of light and dark.  Interestingly, most of the wooing and love-making is at night, and most of the fighting in the day; this suggests a yin and yang-like intermingling of opposites.  The perfect mingling of opposites is in all of the many references to stars throughout the play, for stars are lights in darkness.  To a lesser extent, this mix of light and dark is also seen in the references to the moon.

The intermingling of opposites is also apparent in the many paradoxes heard in the play, such as the plethora Romeo gushes out in front of Benvolio when we first see them together (some of those paradoxes were seen in the second quote above).  Other paradoxes come from Juliet, when she reacts to Romeo’s killing of Tybalt: ‘Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!/Dove-feather’d raven! wolfish-ravening lamb!’  Indeed, she goes back and forth between cursing and praising Romeo in that scene.

The first two acts of the play are mostly happy, and could almost even be part of a comedy; the remainder is essentially sad and tragic–more dualism.  At the beginning of this ‘sad half’, we have two killings, the accidental one of Mercutio and the deliberate murder of Tybalt.  The play also deals with two marriages: the planned marriage of Paris and Juliet, and her real marriage with Romeo.  Juliet commits suicide two times, a fake suicide with Friar Laurence’s drugs, then her real suicide by stabbing herself with Romeo’s dagger.

As for duality, groups of two, there are two friars, Laurence, and Friar John, who was unsuccessful in delivering Laurence’s letters to Romeo in Mantua.  Indeed, there are two cities that the play is set in: Verona and Mantua.  Romeo has two romantic interests, Rosaline and Juliet.  There are two Capulet parties, the actual one in which Romeo meets Juliet, and the planned party for her marriage to Paris.  There are two drugs: Juliet’s, from Friar Laurence, fakes death; Romeo’s, from the Apothecary, causes real death.