Monday, October 1, 2012

Does Shakespeare want to change the status quo

       This was not one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I've tried to like it. Really, I did. But I just can't. It all seems so familiar. We have a gaggle of confused lovers, rumors, mis-identification and the threat of actual violence. This play is perhaps the easiest to update for the twenty first century, and wouldn't look out of place on any television network, at any hour of the day. Perhaps that universality is what makes the work so timeless. Once again, Shakespeare uses the cloak of comedy to address social issues and questions to be grappled with at the time. After having read a few plays, it's interesting to draw parallels between the works.
       Like the other works we've read thus far this semester, marriage plays a huge roll in "Much Ado". Once again, we are presented with a pair of lovers who've yet to cement they're feelings with marriage (Claudio and Hero). Pretty standard. We're presented with two lovers who don't quite know they're lovers yet, indeed who seem like adversaries (Benedick and Beatrice). This is reminiscent of the start of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", with two pairings who we assume will wind up together in the end (being a comedy, we can assume this happy outcome).
       Once again, the plot is influenced by the power of the state over the individual, as embodied by our villain, Don Jon. This has been a running theme through out the plays we've read thus far, but  The "Bedford Companion" reading about property, marriage and children opened up a world of new idea's that I had not considered before, including why so many of Shakespeare's plays thus far revolve around marriages and the trouble arranging them can raise. The idea of protecting a piece of property by designating heirs for the good of the house is an interesting one, even though it is fraught with dangers to the family as a social body. Don Jon becomes a tragic example of how such a system can affect an individual.
      While not a direct parallel, this issue of property and succession is a theme that runs through all that we've read thus far. Viola wouldn't have had a problem in "Twelfth Night" without such a system. The need to flee out of the city is removed for Lysander and Hermia without the system in place. But is Shakespeare commenting on any unfairness of the situation, or merely using it because it is the policy of the times and he can build a story around it? In this interest the plot resolution results in the embodiment of the unfairness of policy fleeing the city, removing himself from the society. The couples are joined, and the status quo is upheld. While he does address interesting concepts regarding females and their roles in society, thus far it seems Shakespeare favors the status quo. Only more readings will tell.


Samantha Grove said...

I agree! Shakespeare is upholding the status quo! I'm glad someone else recognized this! I actually wrote about it for my example in my research review. You should check out A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare. There's a critical essay you might want to read called “The Great Indian Vanishing Trick ─ Colonialism , Property, and the Family in A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Plus, I'm sure there are other essays that might interest you in the companion as well. Its in the library by the way.

Cyrus Mulready said...

I'm glad you called attention to questions of property and marriage in the play, Josh--these are absolutely central to understanding how things play out. In fact, I agree that at the surface, Shakespeare's comedies tend to be superfluous ("much ado about nothing"!!) and that it's only once we consider the implications of them, and why Shakespeare presents them in the way that he does, that they gain interest.

And thanks to Sam for the great suggestion about further research!