Saturday, December 22, 2012

SUNY New Paltz Theatre Department's production of Shakespeare's Macbeth

On Friday December 7, 2012, I attended the production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth staged by the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz and directed by Paul Kassel. This modern take on one of the Bard’s darkest and most powerful plays was set in a Eurasian country beset by civil war. The set’s scaffolding and broken columns portrayed a nation on the brink of ruin and in desperate need of rescue. The play opened to the sounds of modern warfare, with gunshots ringing out as civilians fled for cover. Male and female soldiers dressed in fatigues and armed with contemporary weaponry rushed onstage after them as skirmishes began. In a matter of moments, the fighting ended, and King Duncan (Evan Davis Russell) entered victoriously with his retinue.
            This opening sequence was played to good effect, setting the stage for the events of violence and terror that would follow throughout the course of the play. Macbeth’s world begins in bloodshed and will inevitably end in likewise fashion. This production also took a refreshing take on the character of King Duncan, having him clothed in the business-suit attire of modern world leaders rather than the military get-up of his subordinates, indicating that this is a king who does not do his own fighting. When Macbeth (Stefan Brundage) is hailed by the Witches as “king,” it is not surprising because it was he, along with Banquo, who led King Duncan’s forces to defeat the traitors Macdonwald and the Thane of Cawdor in the preceding battle. Macbeth has proven himself to be a capable leader—why should he not be king?
            The same can be said of Banquo (Paul Boothroyd), though he shows more humanity and patience. He is fated to be the father of kings, a fitting destiny for a worthy man willing to wait for his fortune. Boothroyd’s Banquo played a composed contrast to Brundage’s overeager Macbeth. Brundage’s take on the title character was an extreme but effective one; from the outset, the audience is acutely aware of the instability within him. Therefore, Lady Macbeth (Robin Epes) is the perfect match for him. She is the cool and calculated half of the pair. It is she who harnesses and realizes Macbeth’s and her own ambition. Epes successfully captured the essence of Lady Macbeth’s character. Although arrayed in distinctly feminine and high-fashion clothing, this Lady Macbeth “unsexes” herself with her deep voice, aggression, and intensity.
            The play’s minor characters were played well, though some were more memorable than others. The female actresses in the male roles accented the modernity of the setting, a highlight of the entire production. Shaquana Bell’s Porter gave the audience a break from the negative atmosphere. A breath of fresh air, her extemporaneous take on the Porter’s speech was humorous and memorable. Michael O’Connor appropriately portrayed the vengeful Macduff, and Brendan Quinn was a suitable Malcolm in the production.
This production did, however, have some minor flaws in my opinion. Although Kassel chose to re-locate and update the events of the play—a bold decision as a director—the titles of nobility and place names remained those of medieval Scotland, which made for an awkward incongruity between time periods. Such awkwardness occurs in other productions like Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, where the language and setting are of two different times, but it might just be a personal preference of mine to not mix archaic dialogue with a contemporary setting. (Then again, altering the dialogue would change Shakespeare’s words, which is a travesty to even consider.) Kassel also chose to present a bizarre interpretation of the Witches, instead characterizing their presence on stage as merely spiritual possessions of other bodies. On one hand, this choice made for interesting and rather chilling moments on stage; however, I was slightly confused when random characters were suddenly emitting eerily robotic vocals—it made me think that everyone had the potential for becoming a witch.
Overall, I did enjoy the production very much, and I have a lot of respect for the director, players, and the stage crew who assembled a beautiful and effective set. Out of the few Shakespeare productions I’ve seen in my life, the one put on by the SUNY New Paltz Theatre Department was certainly the most memorable, and I commend all of those involved for their successful interpretation of a timeless Shakespearean classic.

Friday, December 21, 2012

SUNY New Paltz Macbeth Falls Flat

While there were many things I thoroughly enjoyed about the SUNY New Paltz production of Macbeth, the play as a whole fell flat for me; some of the concepts were amazing but poorly executed, the lead role of Macbeth was out-acted and some of the scenes were rushed and confusing.

To start with the high points, the sound and special effects were phenomenal; the realistic gun props even gave me an uneasy feeling at the start of the play ("what if they were real, we wouldn't know until real bullets were fired!) which, considering Macbeth is a supernaturally-influenced tragedy, was appropriate. The stage itself was set-up to make the most use out of a small space; the scene changes had a lot of versatility to work with (however again, the execution of changing scenes was at best confusing and at worst unbelievable).

Knowing that Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, I was expecting a lot of fast action; the action was definitely fast but not exactly easy to understand. Had I no previous knowledge of Macbeth, I think I would have been utterly confused throughout the entire performance (and seeing as I had just read the play, the fact that I was still confused points to poor management of time, stage directions and scene changes). I needed to continuously reference the scene changes on the Playbill to keep up; I expected some kind of indication with props or even sound effects to cue an outdoor scene, a bedroom scene, etc. I was also sorely disappointed that the murder of King Duncan was done behind the scenes and not attempted in front of the audience but, hey, I s'pose you can't have everything. Finally, I thought that Macbeth's performance itself was largely out-shined by the believable portrayals of Lady Macbeth, King Duncan and Macduff. I was waiting with baited breath to see a real obvious destruction visible in Macbeth, culminating with an overall sense of loss (with life, purpose, meaning, etc.) and frankly, saw very few character changes through his performance. Granted, it was a short play (as Shakespeare intended) but I found both Lady Macbeth's dissension into insanity and Macduff's quick switch to utter rage to be both believable and obvious.

Finally, the much waited-for witches worked and didn't work for me as a viewer. I found the first scene with them to be excellent; the possession of the dead civilian bodies was creepy and sort-of believable; I liked the side-step away from the traditional portrayal of witches and was excited to see what else they would do. However, the random possessions throughout the play didn't hit-home with me and seemed both random and confusing; did the other characters realized someone was a witch, or was it purely for the audience and- if so- what exactly was the point? Rather than reinforcing creepiness I found it to be distracting. And finally, the HUGE witch scene where the apparitions come to Macbeth from the cauldron just... wasn't there. There was no cauldron, no tangible witch and simply utter-chaos. I was expecting chaos and a new-age spin on witches, but would have preferred something along the lines of three specific "possessions" that could have more clearly relayed the important premonitions and messages from that culminating scene.

On the whole, I am sad to say I was not entirely thrilled with the SUNY New Paltz production of Macbeth, although I cannot say I wasn't entertained (perhaps just hard to please).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The SUNY New Paltz Production of The Tragedy of Macbeth

Through watching the SUNY New Paltz Production of The Tragedy of Macbeth, I realized that there are some challenges modern audience’s face when approaching Shakespeare. While we have spent an entire semester digging deep into the crux of his works, people with little to no experience with Shakespeare often cannot appreciate productions of Shakespeare’s works. During the play, the friend I brought had a lot of trouble following the plot and the students sitting behind us went on about how bored they were until they finally left at the intermission. This reaction to the play shows us that Shakespeare’s plays are quite different than Modern Drama. While these plays are often limited in characters and plot points (for example Topdog/Underdog, Dutchman, Endgame, No Exit, etc.), Shakespeare’s plays have an overabundance of characters and dramatic action. While this concentration, or density, of Shakespeare’s plays may be slightly overwhelming, it also creates a great amount of intensity. For this reason, I enjoyed the chaotic approach to staging this play as it helped to unravel so much dramatic action within a short amount of time. 

One of my favorite parts of the production was the scene with Banquo’s ghost at the dinner table. While some of my classmates argued that Banquo’s role was not very convincing, I found him to to be one of the best actors of the production. When he reappeared as a ghost I was very impressed with the careful staging of his character. There was something eerie about his blood red costume, and something haunting about his subtle movements. I also enjoyed to watch Macbeth’s highly dramatic and guilt ridden performance. I think the actor successfully portrayed Macbeth’s unstable state of mind in the mix of his all his guilt and worries.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Macbeth Performance

Saturday night I saw New Paltz's production of Macbeth. It was my first time seeing a production of one of Shakespeare's plays and I enjoyed it. I must admit that reading and studying the plays shortly before seeing it performed definitely helped to make it easier to follow and gave me more of an appreciation for it. I was thoroughly impressed with the acting as the characters were presented just as I had imagined them to be and they really brought the play to life.
I also thought that they did a good job of making it more contemporary while leaving most of the script unchanged. The use of sound effects was captivating and interesting, and it made it more exciting in a sense. It was a good addition to the play. I couldn't help but consider the fact that such sound effects would never be possible during Shakespeare's time, but they definitely added to the performance. I was also really impressed with Lady Macbeth's costumes. They were all quite beautiful and apparently quite a bit of work went into them. For example, I heard that the beads on her gold dress were all hand sewed onto it--pretty impressive.
Their use of the stage and set was also interesting. They really used the stage/set to its full potential and they hardly changed it over the course of the play! With the use of lighting, props, and staging of the actors, they made good use of the fairly unchanging set--just as they would have done in Shakespeare's time.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Macbeth Production

Today, Sunday I went to see the schools production of Macbeth. The first thing that stood out to me was their use of sound effects. I really felt engaged in the production and the locations portrayed because of the great sound effects. One of my favorite elements were the beautiful dresses Lady Macbeth was wearing, they dressed her character very well and whenever she entered a different scene, she had on another gorgeous dress!

My favorite scene was when Lady Macbeth and Macbeth were killing the king. They both were covered in 'blood' which I'm sure was red paint but it looked so realistic and the insanity radiating off of Macbeth was fabulous. Also, when the couple has everyone over for dinner and Macbeth begins having his allusions of the ghost was hard for me to understand at first but when I figured out the man covered in red was suppose to the ghost, it created a whole different scene. Macbeth was frightened by the ghost and the way the production dressed and covered the ghost in red made the scene truly scary and believable.

Lastly, the three witches in this production only had one female. I was surprised they used two males instead. The combination seemed to work well anyway but I was thrown off by that. This production created the witches with scary qualities which was not how I imagined in while reading the play in class. Overall, all themes were connected by the end and made a great show!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Macbeth Production

I went to see Macbeth last night in McKenna Theater, and overall I think it was a great show.  The set was amazing, especially the stairs.  It might be my fear of heights talking, but I must say when the characters were running up the stairs and when Lady Macbeth had her sleepwalking sequence walking up&down the stairs at the top, I was so afraid that the stairs would break or that the actors might fall.  The fact that they owned the stage without any fears was impressive to me.  Another thing that impressed me was the fact that the "dead" characters were carried off the stage, and weren't put down until they were completely out of sight.  I'm used to the lights dimming and everyone walks off stage.  This was an interesting detail because it felt more realistic.  The actors did an amazing job with every scene.

I do have a few criticisms, however.  I think the idea of "Macbeth in the Middle-East" was extremely interesting and when Professor Kassel was talking about it during our "Page to Stage" day, I really wanted to see how that was going to work.  I must say I was disappointed, though.  The costumes and the stage were great and set the scene, and there were guns instead of swords, but I think for the most part it was only the setting that felt Middle-Eastern to me.  It didn't really feel "war-like,"  except for the scene in the beginning in which the three innocent people were killed.  That was a scary scene, but I feel like they could have used the setting more and made it more true to reality because it was a brilliant idea. It felt like "Macbeth with a Middle-Eastern backdrop" more than "Present-day Macbeth." I was a little disappointed. 

Also they used the same noise they used for the possession scenes for when the scene was changing.  This threw me off a little because when I heard the noise (why does this sound like conditioning. haha) I thought "Oh no the witches are back"...but it was just the scene switching.

The ending was spectacular though.  I loved the bit where the witches were the only ones left on the stage and they were all possessed.  That was great.  I also liked the fact that Lady Macbeth had her hair down when she was going crazy, which we discussed was a symbol for madness.

The only other issue I had was that I only understood maybe 20% of what they were saying the entire play...that's my own inability to understand Shakespeare's English but it did hinder my enjoyment of the play quite a bit.

All things aside, I thought it was a pretty great show! They should all be very proud.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Macbeth Play / My last blog

                 The Macbeth performance was amazing! This production is directed by Paul Kassel. Before the show started I was thinking of the Macbeth play that I have seen my old High School preform and when they preformed at Shakespeare &Company in Lennox,MA. One of my friends played the role of Lady Macbeth. She used to joke with me that the way she prepared for when Lady Macbeth slips into madness, my friend said "You need to act the right amount of crazy for this role"
            The main role I wanted to focus on was Lady Macbeth, but first I want to comment on the way this production used the witches. The effect was for the audience to hear the witches voices ,but  when they possessed the people that were in the same area of Macbeth to show the connection they were getting through to Macbeth. Most times there would be actors for these roles. In this production gave me chilling feelings when the scenes with the witches and also in Act 4 scene 1, where they had multiple actors read the witches lines as they moved around Macbeth.

               The scene I was most interested in was the great and very powerful scene of when Lady Macbeth slips into madness. The actor that played Lady Macbeth is Robin Epes. Comparing her performance to my friends was difficult. Both performances were amazing and I got to see the different styles of how they act as that certain role. I must admit that these are very talented young actors and that they make the audience feel the passion/ intensity of the scene and can send chills down your spine.
        Although I never acted in the Shakespeare & Co performances, I still get the same feeling when I see the plays. This experience is amazing and I am so glad I got to attend tonight's performance!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Unusual Setting

While reading the first four acts of The Tempest, I couldn’t help but notice the peculiarity of the setting. To my knowledge (from the plays I have read), this is Shakespeare’s only play that takes place on a deserted island, away from organized society. This affects the world of the story greatly as it limits characters and characters’ connection to their familiar society. It also adds a necessary sense of vulnerability for many of the characters as they go from a strictly organizes society, to an unfamiliar island ruled by a power-hungry man who they thought was dead. This aspect makes colonialism an important part of the play and an important thing to consider.
I read part of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe for another class a little while back and I couldn’t help but think about it a little bit when reading The Tempest. Granted, the two are vastly different, but they have some notable similarities that suggest that Defoe was perhaps influenced by Shakespeare’s play when he wrote his novel. I don’t remember a lot of details from the chapters that I read, but I do remember colonialism playing a large role. Crusoe had a need to control all the he could on the island and europeanize his living space. Although the play does not go into detail about Prospero’s living space, it does mention that he has been able to salvage and maintain his books (or rather have them salvaged for him by his friend) and he clings onto and values them, perhaps because they partly connect him back to organized, european society. Crusoe took control over and educated the native, Friday. Prospero takes control over and teaches his language to his daughter, Miranda, and his slave, Caliban, the “monster” that presided on the island before Prospero arrived.
There are various elements of either work of literature that differ, however. Like Prospero having the ability to use magic, making his survival on the island easier, and his control over the natural world greater. This is only one of many differences that the works have, but I do feel that it is very likely that Shakespeare influenced Defoe despite their differences.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Comic relief

So here we are with our final play for the semester, and this is my final blog post. A bitter-sweet end that I know many of my peers can agree with. The tempest, oh what to say about The Tempest? I want to start by saying I am actually really enjoying this play so far. It is a nice relief from all the stresses of the end of the semester. It is a play that I would place in the category of a comedy because it is actually funny! I find myself laughing at parts that I really was not expecting to laugh at. One scene in particular is Act 3 scene 2 especially, when we see that Ariel is invisible and is tricking Caliban and Stephano into thinking that Trinculo is speaking rude things while Caliban is talking. I laughed because I was picturing in my head how this particular line would be played out on stage, the line is spoken by Stephano and it is this, “Trinculo, run inot no further danger. Interrupt the monster one word further, and, by this hand, I’ll turn my mercy out o’ doors and make a stockfish of thee” (63-65).

I could not help but think of the Christmas movie that has been on TV lately Home Alone. All I thought of while reading this scene was how funny it would have been to see poor Trinculo getting smacked around when he really was not the one saying anything. I almost picture his character as being the “follower” of the group and therefore the scapegoat of the bunch!

The other thing that I want to comment on is the “lovey, dovey” scene that Shakespeare included in this play between Miranda and Ferdinand. I am specifically talking about Act 3 scene 1. Miranda asks him, “Do you love me?” (68) and Ferdinand replies, “I beyond all limit of what else I’ th’ world do love, prize, honor you” (71-73). I find that something with this much “LOVE” would be in Shakespeare. We of course have seen characters express love in the work we have read for this class, but none that are quite as blunt as this play displays. I am actually a fan of writing like this, and I am interested to know if any of my peers have read other Shakespeare plays that display a similar love scene in which characters are truly expressing a love for one another like this? I am curious if there are no other plays like this, why that is, and why Shakespeare would even use that in this play if it was not characteristic of his work?

I am looking forward to more laughs for the end of the semester as we finish up this play!

Potter on a Deserted Island

                It is surprising that I found The Tempest so disturbing considering the saturated vampire werewolf and zombie world that we live in.  The supernatural doesn’t bother me. I loved Prospero’s Harry Potter wizard qualities so I had figure out what it was that creeped me out about this play.  The conclusion that I came to is that the way Prospero wields his control in the play creates an imbalance leaning more towards unjust than justice.

                While Prospero was unfairly driven from his kingdom because of his lackadaisical attention he overcompensate son the island. He becomes a control freak.  He is so addicted to the power of controlling others he has difficulty relinquishing power while he has Ariel and Caliban to do his bidding. It seems as if Ariel has paid Prospero back tenfold the way he flits about the island for him, yet Prospero dangles freedom in front of Ariel like a carrot.    In act 1 Ariel inquires about, “My liberty” (1.2.247) and Prospero goes on a tirade reminding him of all he has done for him.  Ariel immediately backs down and continues licking Prospero’s boots (if he was wearing any).  Even at the play’s end it is not clear if Prospero frees Ariel. He is a loyal servant but Prospero only has regard for his plans.

                Caliban is another one of Prospero’s creepy, supernatural servants. Caliban is not at all complimentary of Prospero as Ariel is. Caliban would be dangerous if he was set free which explains Prospero’s control over him. Although Caliban is such a vile thing he would be less offensive to Prospero and Miranda’s sensibilities if he was locked away out of sight but Prospero uses him for physical labor. Even though  Caliban..”didst seek to violate the honour of [his] child” (1.2.350-351) he keeps him around to fetch firewood. A better purpose for him and his long, pig-nut digging nails would be banished out to sea.

                Prospero also exhibits control over his sweet, innocent daughter.   He tests Miranda’s  control of her virtue. Even though he knows that she thinks Ferdinand, “carries a brave form” (1.2.415) and thinks he is “A thing divine, for nothing natural I ever saw noble” (1.2.423-424) he still tests her ability to follow his orders and abstain while she is alone with him.  He does exercise his fatherly duties in testing Ferdinand’s intentions but then he still uses his daughter in his grand scheme to exact revenge.

                While Prospero was removed from his position because of his lack of control he goes overboard once he gains some control. He uses whoever he can to increase his power and move the players in his game as he sees fit.

Prospero's Control

The love between Ferdinand and Miranda is rather suspicious, in my opinion. For one, they have only seen each other once, before falling madly in love. Of course, love at first sight comes to mind, but their love seems to be a desperate, all-consuming embodiment of a rather unhealthy obsession with the other person. Miranda’s innocence and naivety is another aspect of her immediate love that makes the sincerity slightly unbelievable.
She says herself, “nor have I seen 
More that I may call men than you, good friend 
And my dear father. How features are abroad 
I am skilless of” (3.1.50-53).
This declaration could attest to the pureness of her love, but for me, it simply reads as a rushed willingness produced from her inexperience. She’s alone on the island, confined to the company of her father and the savage beast she calls Caliban, but as soon as she sees Ferdinand, she automatically knows that what she feels is love and that she must speak to him and ask for him to marry her, regardless of what her father has said.
“I am your wife, if you will marry me. 
If not, I’ll die your maid. To be your fellow 
You may deny me, but I’ll be your servant 
Whether you will or no” (3.1.83-86). 
Her desperation and somewhat pathetic readiness to throw herself at his feet leaves me wondering whether this is all genuine, or a fabricated emotion that plays right into Prospero’s ultimate design. 
Even as Prospero is secretly watching the interaction between Miranda and Ferdinand, he comments aside “Fair encounter
Of two most rare affections! Heavens rain grace 
On that which breeds between ‘em” (3.2.74-76). 
I couldn’t help but suspect that he had some sort of hand in speeding this odd courtship along, perhaps by enhancing their feelings for one another. He makes it clear at the end of this scene that he is not very surprised by this turn of events. He planned their meeting and contrived their feelings for each other in order to advance his own personal agenda and I can’t help but wondering if he is in complete control of the two young lovers.

Water everywhere

Water is no doubt a central image in Shakespeare’s, The Tempest. In fact the play begins with a shipwreck at sea. But, aside from the cliché representation of water as a cleanser or baptismal, Shakespeare uses the image of water to represent the cycles of rebirth. Prospero, who was usurped, summoned the sea storm by threatening Ariel. The storm and the restlessness of the ocean, represents the chaos, the anger and the problems that are to come with the less than merry crew.  In fact Miranda’s fear for the lives of the sailors in the “wild waters” (I.ii.2) causes her to weep, which further signifies and foreshadows of the future tears that will be shed. It also represents the beginning of birth. Birth is (not from personal experience) supposed to be painful and unpleasant. There are many complications that can develop and fears that doctors and patients have alike during a birth. When the Mariners entered wet and bothered by the others, who did not know how to help prevent the ship from sinking, were given almost a blessing from the sea to be the, “doctors” that try to reassure the family that everything is going to be okay, but they need to do their jobs. They, (the mariners) at that one moment, were able to speak down to the nobles and do whatever they can to stop the problem and bring, “peace” back to the ship. But aside from the birthing imagery, the water also represents rebirth through death.
When first exiled with Miranda, Prospero suggests that he could have drowned the sea with his own tears when he cried over his lost dukedom and his past.  "When I have deck'd the sea with drops full salt" (1.2.18). Again, his past is dead and with the past threat of him almost dying Prospero, must find another life and identity. The death of the past Miranda and Prospero, gave birth to the new versions of the characters. Furthermore Ferdinand, upon hearing Ariel's song, knows it refers to his father's certain drowning:
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 (1.2.20)
Ariel's song leads Ferdinand to believe that his father has drowned and is lost to him forever. Not only that, but the song suggests that his body has been transformed into something unrecognizable. Giving  the further image that now that everyone and everything is dead, you must renew yourself. The water is no longer just a symbol of death, it had renewed them to find something different about themselves and to continue to live. Each of the characters are slowly learning that their fate in the island cannot be relied upon the fact that their past will eventually help them. Instead each of the characters must learn to find their own lives and their own ways to live through this tragedy and become something better.

such stuff as dreams are made on

In looking at the Tempest, I want to focus on one passage that I found particularly striking. Prospero says to Ferdinand in 4.1:

    You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
    As if you were dismayed. Be cheerful, sir.
    Our revels are now 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-capped 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. (4.1 146-158)

Many of the prevailing themes and considerations of the play are crystalized here. The diction is quite telling: “dismayed,” literally, the negation of “may,” from Old English mæg, of Germanic origin meaning “to have power,” or, of course, recalling the month of May (named for the goddess Maia), a time of rebirth and awakening. So Ferdinand looks as if he were powerless, asleep, as it were, to May. And he is indeed spellbound by Prospero’s magical sway. “The revels are now ended,” recalls the disrupted feast of the King, and also the revelers Stefano and Trinculo. Of course “revel” also has a theatrical dimension that resonates with the other language of the stage present in his wordplay. Prospero goes on to say, “These our actors...were all spirits,” calling to mind the theme of the relation between the spiritual and material worlds, “and / Are melted into air, into thin air.” Here the diction reminded me of Hamlet’s “too too solid flesh,” and indeed a similar theme is emerging here (Hamlet 1.2 129-130). In the next line, it’s further elaborated in the difficult description of the “baseless fabric of this vision.” Here we’re asked to imagine a fabric, something of a very tangible, material nature, as if it were a nothing, nothing, that is, that we could touch or feel or see in the usual sense of the words. A thing of the substance of a vision, and also a suggestion that it is “baseless” not only in its lacking a foundation, but also in that it is not of the baseness of this “lower world” in which our earthly destiny is played out (3.3 53-54). Indeed he goes on to list the things of this world, even “the great globe itself,” (again a passing allusion to the theater), and tells us it shall all dissolve—again, recalling Hamlet’s lines, “resolve itself into a dew” (Hamlet 1.2 130). It shall “like this insubstantial pageant faded, / Leave not a rack behind.” The Norton text glosses “rack” helpfully as “wisp of cloud.” But “rack” has several meanings that illumine many thematic threads in the play. It was at one time used to mean “shipwreck,” which of course is quite pertinent to the drama; then of course there’s “the rack,” as in the torture devise—this hints at Prospero’s torture of Caliban and the other two rogues who get a taste of it soon after this passage; but “rack” can also refer to a cut of meat (recalling the theme of revelry) and the process of drawing off wine (the latter usage comes from the Provençal raca meaning “stems and husks of grapes, dregs”). And to go back to the Norton’s gloss, “wisp of cloud” resonates with the theme of the “tempest,” and the relation between Ariel and other spirits to the forces of nature and fate. Prospero concludes his meditation with a line that really sticks with one, “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.” This brings to a point the thematic concerns of the “baseless fabric” of the spirits and our nature as beings who are essentially asleep—it reminds one of his words to Miranda earlier in the play, which I would suggest can be read not only literally but also as metaphor, “thee, my daughter, who / Art ignorant of what thou art” (1.2 17-18). He seems to be suggesting that our nature is to be asleep, to go about our lives, reveling on this great globe, in a world of things with distinct contours and lines, when we are, at the same time, of the stuff that dreams are made of. And so in death one sleeps, a movement of return, return to what one is. To sleep, perchance to dream...

Resolving the Social Order in The Tempest

Because most of Shakespeare’s comedies use marriage as a symbol of a harmonious and healthy social order and The Tempest does not, I was intrigued by the ways in which he uses conflict to reach, one assumes without finishing the play, a resolution. In Shakespeare’s comedies, misunderstandings erupt, blocking situations are used and conquered, and at the end, love triumphs and marriage sets everything right. The social order is restored.  Although The Tempest is considered a romance rather than a comedy, social order is an important aspect of the play, both in terms of the explicit conflict of the play (Prospero’s fight to become Duke of Milan again) and in terms of the play’s constant exploration of the master-servant dialectic, especially when the dynamic appears unsettled or discordant. Prospero creates a masque that will describe to the couple the importance of marriage versus love and lust.

Just as Shakespeare seeks to resolve the conflict of his lost dukedom through the marriage of his innocent daughter Miranda with the Duke of Naples’ son, Ferdinand, the masque uses social and dramatic associations of marriage, and underscores them heavily with the seriousness of the masque.  In doing this, a sense is created that, even though the play’s major conflict is still unresolved, the world of the play is beginning to heal itself. The fact of marriage itself, as it is presented in the masque, is enough to settle the turbulent waters of the story.

The masque begins with a pastoral description by Iris, Goddess of the rainbow and messenger of Juno, starting the show with color and beauty.  Iris declares to Ceres (Greek Demeter, Goddess of agriculture, growth, prosperity and rebirth) that they are there for “A contract of true love to celebrate” on the “blest lovers” (4.1.84,86). Once Ceres ensures that Venus and Cupid are not involved (because they are the gods of lust, not conjugated marriage) and Iris confirms “they to have done/Some wanton charm upon this man and maid,/Whose vows are that no bed-right shall be paid/Till Hymen’s torch be lighted,” we know that Prospero’s insistent theme in the masque is to have them legally wed before any sex take place between them.  Just as the queen of all gods blesses their marriage, she also blesses the children that will come from their union.  Instead, he explores marriage as part of society and family. Juno, the symbol of marriage and family life in Roman mythology, descends declaring, “To bless this twain that they may prosperous be/And honoured in their issue” (4.1.104-105).  In so doing, marriage is subtly glorified as both the foundation of society and as part of the natural order of things, given the accord between marriage and nature in Ceres’ speech when she says,

CERES:  Earth’s increase, and foison plenty
Barns and garners never empty,
Vines with clust’ring bunches growing,
Plants with goodly burden bowing;…
Scarcity and want shall shun you,
Ceres’ blessing so is on  you”

Thus, Prospero has managed to communicate to Ferdinand that his virginal daughter will be his only after their legalized marriage ceremony while blessing their union and, with that union, social order is restored.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Human Desire to Obtain Power: A Look into The Tempest

Throughout dramatic writing, the character’s internal desire for power often creates a large amount of the drama involved within the work. Shakespeare’s dramatic works are no exception to this rule. Many of Shakespeare’s characters are drawn to immoral actions by this tempting appeal of power, including Claudius in Hamlet, Macbeth, and many more. In The Tempest, the theme of power takes on an extremely central role as many of the character’s become consumed by the idea of achieving influence in society. This play therefore uses the isolated setting of an island to highlight and intensify the depiction of this strong human desire-- the desire to obtain power at all costs. 

In 3.2, we see that Caliban has a problem with surrendering to the power of Prospero, and is willing to help Stefano and Trinculo in their plan to destroy him. Caliban says, “As I told thee before, I am subject to a tyrant, a sorcerer that by this cunning hath cheated me on the island” (3.2.40-41). Here, we see that the tension between master and servant arises when there is an abuse of power, and the servants feels like the master has overreached their boundaries. Caliban takes his master’s tyrannical actions as an invitation to rise against his power. He therefore believes that by obtaining power for himself, he will have more influence and control over the establishment of justice in society. 

While Caliban’s desire to achieve power is rooted in his vengeance towards Prospero, Antonio and Sebastian are characters who are simply consumed by the glory associated with achieving power. They want power for the mere sake of controlling the government of the island, and not having to bow down to Alonso and Gonzalo’s rule. There are essentially resistant characters who do not handle authority well. In 2.2, they immorally plot to kill Alonso and Gonzalo as a means to open the way for their own social climbing. In 2.1, Sebastians says, “But for your conscience” (in reference to Antonio’s immoral actions to gain more power). In response,  Antonio says, “Ay, sir, where lies that? If ‘twere a kibe/ ‘Twould put me to my slipper; but I feel not deity in my bosom...” (2.1.272-274). Here, we see that Antonio does not care about the moral implications of achieving political power, and feels no remorse for taking advantage of the power Prospero granted him. Instead he expresses his desire to obtain a greater influence in society at all costs. This example shows us that even those characters with power have a lust for more. Power therefore has an addictive component, and tends to blind the characters of their moral obligations to themselves and others. 

So far in The Tempest, power struggles have been extremely prevalent and morality has been absent in many of these power-hungry characters. While characters, such as Caliban, have some background motives driving them to immoral action, other characters merely allow themselves to become consumed by their internal desire to obtain power. By setting this play on an island, Shakespeare therefore creates the ideal, confined space in which the truth and tragedy of human desire can be exposed.

Macbeth Play

I went to see the Macbeth play on Thursday night, and I was actually surprised by how it was performed based on seeing the set that day in class. I thought that what they decided to do with the three witches was strange. I did not see it as being that done that way. They almost seemed possessed, and it was actually a bit disturbing. I also was not a fan of what they did with Banquo’s ghost. They had him come out in a black outfit with spots of a pinkish color, what I am assuming was supposed to show blood, but really it was just odd looking.

I did not really like the fact that they seemed short on cast members. I could tell when a character was killed off, Duncan for example, and then that cast member was back later on in the play dressed as a soldier. The one thing that was bothering me was that it was ok that they needed to re-use cast members, but they at least could have made them look a little different. That guy in particular looked exactly the same. If I was not familiar with the play, I might have been confused by this and that is not how people want to feel at a performance.

The one thing that I did enjoy was the modern twist and the use of the guns. That was perfect and kept me intrigued! I also liked that the cast walked through the aisles for some parts, it made me feel as though I was getting a full experience and I never really knew what to expect there.

The woman playing Lady Macbeth was FANTASTIC! She looked just as I would have pictured her to look. Her heels were a bit high, and I was always watching to see if she would lose her balance…I know…terrible of me to think…but she was great!

The only “mistake” that I picked out was with the sliding door in the back of the stage. Often the performers would go in and out through there and a few times the cast was supposed to close the doors together (2 cast members, one on each door)…and a few times the door was not closed evenly, so the audience was able to see into that back room, and often I was able to see the different people moving about in the back, and that was a little distracting.

Overall, the play was nice… I would not pay the $18 or whatever it was to see it but the student price was reasonable, and I would recommend checking it out if you have the time and are looking for something to do. I am curious to see other students opinions about the performance.

Macbeth: directed by Paul Kassel

Going to see Macbeth performed here in New Paltz was a very cool experience. In his Director’s Note, Paul Kassel says that “the production will bring you into a violent, intense, supernatural world, showing a man succumbing to the evil around and inside him” and it truly did. In my last post, I wrote about the Weird Sisters. It is my belief that they do not represent evil, but are simply meant to represent The Fates. In this version of Macbeth the Weird Sisters were represented as an evil that “permeates the fabric of the world” (Kassel), so I was very interested to see whether I would be convinced of this interpretation or not.
 With the suspension of my belief, this aspect of the play was very well done. I would especially like to commend the light designer, Salvatore Nicosia, for doing such an amazing job of setting the mood of each scene and the sound designer, Mark Weglinski for making me jump out of my seat. Throughout the play the shadows that played across the stage lent an eerie feeling to acts without the Weird Sisters, representing them in another form. When the Weird Sisters were on stage, albeit through the possession of other characters, their voices lent an otherworldly power to the scenes. This, combined with the darkness, clouds, and shadows created a sort of “spirit of evil” that was very believable.
              In this version of Macbeth I would say that the Weird Sisters do represent evil, but I think the play was changed in crucial ways to create this appearance through the possession of characters and the added lines the Weird Sisters speak, along with the lighting and sound effects. In Kassel’s version of Macbeth, evil in connection with the Weird Sisters saturates every scene while the version we read in the Norton gives them a more observatory role. Still, in Shakespeare’s version it seems to me that Macbeth creates his own evil, either by believing the Weird Sisters or by disrespecting them into creating this fate for him.

However, I do have to note that I think this interpretation of the Weird Sisters is very befitting for what we are going through here in the 21st century. The sneakiness of terrorism, and the fact that we sometimes do not know our enemies from our friends is a concept very relevant to our time. So, although I do not believe this "evil is everywhere" idea was central to Shakespeare in his writing of Macbeth it is central to our understanding of present situations and is therefore a very appropriate amelioration to make to a modern version of the play. 

The Tempest

  • After reading through Acts III and IV, nothing really caught my attention to blog about, but I have a few comments. While witnessing Ferdinand's love for Miranda, it is almost forbidden by Prospero, the two continue talking behind her father's back and the audience discovers Miranda's name means 'admiration', I found this to be very interesting and cute! It is nice knowing Shakespeare packs meaning behind his characters names. 
  • Moving into Act III scene ii, while the lords wander around the island with Caliban in a drunken state. Although unimportant, there decision is to kill Prospero and overthrow his authority. Immediately after reading this I thought of Richard III, Prospero and Richard were two different characters but shared the same reputation with the public. I of course am not a fan of Prospero but I think Richard was a better villain that Shakespeare created! He kept the play entertaining, Prospero needs the help of Ariel to carry out his evil schemes. In a way, Ariel is relate-able to Richard because of her sneaky actions and nobody can see her! 
  • The opening of Act III scene iii describes yet another plot of murder. Antonio is desperate to kill Alonso, Sebastian is also involved in this plan. They noticed Alonso is getting exhausted from the excessive walking around the island and analyze this as opportune time to pounce. After encountering Ariel and her spirits, Alonso decides to drown himself while Sebastian and Antonio decide to pursue the evil spirits of Ariel. As a side note, Shakespeare re-uses the names Sebastian and Antonio in this play from Twelfth Night. I was wondering the significance behinds these two names and why Shakespeare insists on using them again. They also have identical relationships in both plays, they stick together in a close-knit friendship. 
  • After reading though Act IV, I noticed that the ship-wrecked people are always encountering bad luck, they are presented food and Ariel takes it away, then in Act 4, they are presented clothes and it vanishes. I am starting to tie together the 7 deadly sins. I am aware one of them is gluttony and another is greed. For them to overeat the food presented to them is gluttony and stealing the clothes is greed but it could also be sloth. Maybe they were too lazy to make their own clothes and stealing was a lazy way out. 

The Tempest : Tragedy, Comedey, Definitely Both.

Act four has started to really show me why the play is falling under the category of a tragi-comedy especially after we discussed this in class on Friday.  I can see the marriage between Miranda and Ferdinand starting to play out, as Prospero has finally decided to hand off his daughter in the beginning of Act Four.  Prospero says to Ferdinand,  “If I have too austerely punished you, Your compensation makes amends, for I have given you a third of mine own life” (VI.I. 1-3).  This is very interesting me though because as the footnote states, usually a father would denote that his daughter would be half of his life, but instead she is only a third.  This definitely says a lot about Prospero as a character but that would be a different post.  I am curious as to whether the marriage will end up playing at the end of the play especially because of the enhanced amount of “magic” being done by Prospero and Ariel.  I see in Prospero’s comment to Ferdinand later on that he could possibly be foreshadowing a downfall in the situation between the two by telling him, “Look thou be true.  Do not give dalliance to much the rein” (VI. I. 51-52).  I would like to hope that things will in fact work out for Miranda and Ferdinand but like I said since there is a lot of wizardry and witchcraft occurring I cannot be so sure. I feel that some sort of trick is going to be played on the two of them but I hope the ultimate ending of the play will end up with the two of them being able to consummate their marriage.
In the sense of tragedy at the end of act four scene one we can see almost some sort of tragic ending for Stefano Trinculo and possibly even Caliban.  As one of our reading questions address, what is the stage direction that has seemed to infer what the fate of these characters is?  We see at the end of the act with a few lines left to go, the stage direction says “cries within” right after the “spirits in the shape of dogs and hounds, hunting them about” into some sort of cave or mountain (page 3106).  These cries definitely to me signal that the men are dead which could be the tragic ending for some of the characters.  I don’t know if I necessarily like the outcome, because I do not believe the Caliban should have been killed even though he was plotting to kill Prospero.  There was something that was something about Caliban’s bitterness that I felt really suited his character and was appropriate being all the torture that Prospero put him through between all the work he performs and the amount of credit he actually receieves for it.  Neither Miranda nor Prospero ever give Caliban the respect that he deserves, maybe because of when he tried to "rape" Miranda in the past and shows no remorse, but either way I beleive some thanks should be given to him for his work (II.II. 348-351).   Not that I am saying murder would be an acceptable revenge plan, but it is something that Caliban felt he needed to do, unfortunately his plan was not carried out.  I recognize that although it is not a main character that loses his or her life, it is still a life that is possibly lost, three to be exact.  I am not certain that they are dead but I think it is pretty clear that this might have been the outcome for the men.  As one can see there clearly is a fine line between the idea of tragedy and comedy and the two really mix together which makes the story line much more enjoyable.  I think the idea that tragedy and comedy put together also really demonstrates our reality because the two are always occurring concurrently rather than independently.

A Play Within a Play

In Act 4 we find a play within the main play of The Tempest. This tactic is used in several other works of Shakespeare and in every instance there is some significance in what occurs in this mini play in respect to the main play as a whole. In Act 4, Prospero charges his helper Ariel in putting together a group of spirits that will put on this play for Miranda and Ferdinand who are going to be married.

The players in this performance are the ancient mythological gods Iris, Ceres, and Juno. The Norton describes these gods as Iris the goddess of the rainbow and messenger of Juno, Ceres the goddess of agriculture, and Juno the goddess of women and the queen of the gods (3101-3102). These three goddesses come together in front of Miranda and Ferdinand to commend them on their upcoming nuptials, but within their congratulations is a common forewarning message of Prospero. He warned Ferdinand that he cannot consummate/ have sex with Miranda until after they are married or the wedding is off.  Iris mentions that they thought Venus and Cupid had enchanted the couple by giving them lustful thoughts that they almost acted upon but that their presence has sent both of them away (lines 94-101). After that, Juno and Ceres sing a song of blessing upon the couple to ensure that their marriage be a fruitful one, that they should never want, and be filled with passion and love for each other  (lines 107-117). Iris, later on brings forth other nymphs that dance to celebrate the "contract of true love" (line 133). It is this last line which hints to the fact that this love is a contract that will help Prospero gain the lands that were once stolen from him. Now that the two will be married, he will once again be a powerful man in Naples.

This play is technically a rouse created by Prospero and his helper Ariel. Since he uses these important figures in this play, it establishes ethos, making the play believable to both Ferdinand and Miranda. This also in a cunning way reinforces the idea that they should not succumb to the ways of Venus and Cupid, and should stay chaste until they are finally married.