I’m a huge mythology buff. I’ve been obsessed with mythology, especially Greek mythology, ever since I was small. In a nostalgic coincidence, I had the privilege of being able to take this Shakespeare course alongside a Greek and Roman mythology course. This blessing in scheduling made me extremely happy, as I love Shakespeare and mythology. An unexpected plus came when I realized that both classes would be covering the Trojan War. However, (please don’t hate me for this) the Shakespearian coverage of this major mythological event disappointed me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading Troilus and Cressida— as its own separate story. However, as a proclaimed Iliad fan fiction, it fell dramatically short of my expectations. Not only did it focus on a love plot that didn’t really interest me and subdued an epic war story for its sake, but they completely changed one of my favourite characters in classical literature.
In the Iliad, Achilles was a tortured, driven, powerful hero, and Shakespeare turned him into a snivelling, shallow coward. People talked in tutorial and in the lecture about how spoiled and arrogant Achilles was. Though I don’t deny that Achilles was arrogant and proud in the original stroy, I wanted to clear his reputation as a coward by jumping back to the actual myth. Shakespeare’s Achilles was portrayed as a lazy, lackluster warrior. Homer’s Achilles was a hero standing on the very edge of humanity itself, walking a line between heroism and monstrosity. Let me explain why Shakespeare’s interpretation ticks me off so much.
“Rage – Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds…”
So begins Homer’s epic The Iliad, a grand tale of horror and heroism in Bronze Age Greece. This initial quote paints Achilles as a deadly hero, balanced on the edge of humanity. Compare this carrion pile imagery with the one kill we see Achilles make in Troilus, when he lets his men attack Hector in cold blood.Herein lies the problem with Shakespeare’s interpretation: Achilles isn’t written as the hero I know him to be. He’s deemed spoiled and insolent by other characters in the play, and neglecting his backstory and true motives for staying out of the fight takes away his depth of character. In Troilus, Achilles stays out of the fight because his lady love pleads with him in a letter to. In the Illiad, his boycott of the war is a matter of honour and the heroic code. Agamemnon had taken away his war prize, a girl called Briseïs. Achilles refused to fight after this because he considers Agamemnon to be a greedy, corrupted hero, and can not fight alongside a man with no regard for the justice of the heroic code. This is a more logical explanation, and a much more interesting one.
Achilles motives are also greatly influenced by the death of his friend (and possible lover) Patroclus. This is made into a big deal in the Iliad, but its importance is glossed over in Troilus. In Act 5, Agamemnon makes a sort of role call for the dead, saying “Polyxenes is slain,/Amphimachus and Thoas deadly hurt, Patroclus ta’en or slain…” (5.5.11-13). In the Iliad, Patroclus was not just another man down; he was a martyr for the cause. Concerned for the losing Greek forces, he asks Achilles for his armour, hoping to frighten the Trojans by impersonating the terrible hero. Achilles agrees, but warned him to leave ‘man-killing’ Hector alone. Despite this warning, Patroclus runs into Hector and is killed in the combat. This is the turning point for the Greeks, as Achilles returns to battle with a vengeance. In Troilus, Ulysses rejoices at this event: “O, courage, courage, princes! Great Achilles/Is arming, weeping, cursing, vowing vengeance./Patroclus’ wound’s have roused his drowsy blood” (5.5.30-31). Patroclus’ death does spur Achilles to rejoin the battle; however, “rous[ing] his drowsy blood” is the understatement of the century. Achilles is consumed by a murderous rage and goes on a killing spree, to the point that the Scamader river becomes congested with corpses. Overcome by a heroic need for justice and revenge, he becomes a vessel of retribution, completely abandoning his humanity. The Iliad tells us that he stops eating and sleeping completely, ascending to a demonic plane of existence. While fighting, he adopts the mentality of “all must die” that terrifies those who oppose him. If you meet Achilles, you’re carrion; it was as simple as that.
Because of this, Hector would be in the worst danger imaginable if he ran into Achilles. In Troilus, however, Hector and Achilles meet several times before Hector actually dies. Achilles actually lets Hector go in Act 5, claiming, “I do disdain thy courtesy, proud Trojan./Be happy that my arms are out of use” (5.6.16-17). In the context of the Iliad, this is completely inaccurate. Achilles, if you recall, is essentially a demon at the point. He doesn’t get tired. He doesn’t need to take a break. He’s utterly bent on killing Hector and anyone else who gets in his way. This little scene completely undermines his character, as well as his commitment to revenge for Patroclus.
One of my favourite parts in The Iliad is the final confrontation between Hector and Achilles. Achilles’ return to battle has the Trojan warriors running in terror. Hector, however, refuses to retreat. In true heroic fashion, the Trojan prince runs around the city walls three times before facing the Greek hero in a fight to the death. When Hector and Achilles finally meet in mortal combat, Hector attempts to make a pact that allows the defeated man’s body to be handled with honour. He wants the body to be treated with respect, and to be returned to their people for a proper burial. Achilles refuses. As he explains to Hector, “There are no binding oaths between lions and men– wolves and lambs can enjoy no meeting of the minds– they are all bent on hating each other to the death. So it is with you and me” (22.310-313). He’s no longer part of the human species, and this scene makes it perfectly clear. Eventually, Hector is defeated in the duel, and his corpse is lashed to the back of Achilles chariot. This contrast of the heroic and the moral horrifying is one of the more interesting aspects of the piece. Achilles has morphed into an inhuman demon with no regard for human virtue, but one that holds on to the core beliefs of a hero.
To my utter devastation, Shakespeare completely destroyed this aspect of the legend. In Act 5, scene 9 of Troilus, Achilles faces Hector for the final time. However, instead of facing him in a honourable, heroic duel, Achilles finds Hector in a vulnerable position and attacks him with a crowd of men helping out. Achilles calls his Myrmidons to action, yelling, “Strike, fellows, strike! This is the man I seek” (5.9.10). One of the main themes in heroic legend is the idea of heroes facing their most feared enemies alone. By arming him with a group of highly trained goons, Shakespeare completely abandons any heroism Achilles had. Achilles does tie Hector’s body to his chariot as he did in the Iliad, but this seems to be merely out of spite and mean spirit. Shakespeare’s Achilles has no character arc, moving from lazy, shallow warrior to a treacherous coward with no regard for heroism at all. The depth that Achilles had in the Iliad is desperately absent from Troilus. His motivations seem petty and shallow, and the action he takes is disappointingly dishonourable. Some may argue that Shakespeare was trying to make him a fallen hero, but I would argue that he wasn’t written as much of a hero to begin with.
I appreciate Troilus and Cressida, I really do. What I hate is the warping of a complicated, flawed hero into a petty, cowardly brat. I wish Shakespeare would have stuck to the source; it would have created a richer, more compelling story.
Shakespeare, William, and David M. Bevington. Troilus and Cressida, 1609. New York: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2013. Print.
Powell, Barry B. Classical Myth. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education, 2012. Print.
Naftali, Bryan. “The Trojan War.” GRST 209. University of Calgary, ST 140, Calgary. 1 Mar. 2015. Lecture.
Let me just start out by saying I’m not an artist. I’m sure you’ve seen my sister’s doodles and been absolutely amazed like I was (If you haven’t, search up ‘King Lear Visual Memory.’ You will not be disappointed). If you’re expecting anything remotely similar from me, prepare for earth-shattering disappointment, for I was not blessed with artistic finesse. My portfolio consists of stick figures and badly drawn, minimalistic pieces that looked a lot cooler in my head than they do on paper. Nevertheless, I’ve still attempted to create a few little doodles while reading these texts.
I’m prepared for judgement.
I liked the idea of having the three daughters inside the crown, since the political throw down and the family breakdown make up the entirety of the play. Cordelia’s silhouette is left white, while Goneril and Reagan are coloured in black, just to emphasize the contrast between the sisters. To add some of the insanity issue into the mix, I coloured in the crown like a jester’s cap, to draw attention to the whole ‘Lear as the fool’ shtick.
Sonnet 19 (and 60…and 116…and…)
In so many of Shakespeare’s sonnets, Time is personified as an enemy that the speaker constantly tries to fight against. I drew the speaker as a generic sort of stick man (cough I can’t draw anything else cough) holding a pen above his head to defend himself from Time’s attacks. He’s clearly going down, but not without a fight. I made Time an indifferent, deathly sort of figure with “his bending sickle” (116.10), facing away from the writer without a care in the world. [Hannah’s now telling me I should have drawn an epic boss battle like something out of Attack on Titan. Now I’m really regretting not doing so to begin with.]
Seriously, how relatable is that line? It seems like people spend a lot of their time in front of a mirror or looking at a clock. We’re never satisfied with what we have until its slipping away from us. So I drew the mirror and the clock side by side. Bang. Point made.
The Rape of Lucrece
First of all, can we all just take a moment to revel in how bad I am at drawing feet?
I tried to draw a foot in the process of crushing a rose. Lucrece is constantly being associated with flowers in this piece, so I drew the rose to represent Lucrece. The foot is obviously Tarquin, trampling over the pure Lucrece to get what he wants. I also added a little bit of red blood coming from the rose, foreshadowing the tragic conclusion to the story.
I also doodled a little drawing of Lucrece, sitting hunched on the floor, contemplating her situation. I used rough lines and a minimalistic lines, combined with a little splash of colour, to convey the despondency and sadness of Lucrece feels, as well as the turmoil she feels as she contemplates what to do next.
Troilus and Cressida
In retrospect, making the Trojan helmet different than the Greek one was a mistake. Now the symmetry is all thrown off. Oh well.
I drew Cressida and Troilus trapped in the helmets of the Greek and Trojan armies. Since they’re separated at this point, Troilus is facing away from the Greeks, focused solely on his sword, while Cressida is still reaching out towards him. I wanted to combine the love plot and the political plot seamlessly in the piece while clearly revealing how the two relate. I think I did pretty well. Hopefully.
In this one, I tried to focus on the contrast between Viola and Cesario. I tried my best to make the two look as similar as possible, even drawing them in the same colour scheme. I wanted to emphasize that they are (obviously) the same person, and how the difficulty in separating the two drives most of the action in the play.
You’ll notice The Winter’s Tale is missing. I direct you to my drafts of possible posters. Yes. I actually had drafts for my doodles. Some good they did me.
Suffice to say every attempt at The Winter’s Tale ended up in the recycling. So here’s my doodle of a polar bear.
I absolutely adored seeing this play. I found the performances outstanding, the story enthralling, and the setting and props the perfect balance between elaborate and simplistic. The actors brought their characters to life with a new depth I hadn’t seen till that point, and used body language and facial expressions to explore character dynamic more than the dialogue itself. Hopefully I’ll get to see more Shakespeare productions from Theatre Calgary in the future!
So, in collaboration with Hannah Anderson, I bring to you the rest of the transcript from the video blogs we recorded right after seeing the play! Our navigational skills are questionable at best, and we’re tired as all get out, but we talked about some good ideas and thoughts we had about the play. Hopefully they made sense.
King Lear Vlog: Transcript Part 2
In collaboration with Hannah Anderson
H: Hannah Anderson
K: Kate Anderson
The Drive Home
Together: [stare at each other]
[Moment of silence]
H/K: HOLY CRAP!
H: Okay, okay, well, wow, okay… That was…
K: We wanted blood but not that much blood.
H: So, we’re going to go through a recap of everything that happened in this play; it was really quite intense and…
K: Can I turn off the light?
H: Yah… the light’s going to go off, so you’re just going to be… [light turns off] look at that, my creepy face; hi! Yah, you’re just going to hear us talking about the play and all the intricacies there…
K: Holy crap, man!
H: Oh my gosh, it was like…
K: Oh my gosh, don’t even, no…
H: I can’t even. It was really, really good.
K: It was great. I loved it!
H: So, we had a list of things we wanted to say about this play; it was pretty extensive. There were some… [Turns to Kate] Just so you know this is a one way so please don’t kill us. Yes, that way.
K: I know. We’re driving right now.
H: Yes, we’re navigating through downtown, and it’s snowing like crazy and … what was I going to say? I had a whole list, of… [screams].
K: [distantly] Sorry.
H: Okay, the light is green now! And that is a one way, okay! We’re good, guys!
[Kate laughing distantly]
H: We’re doing seriously quite well. Okay. Let’s look at my list. We have a big list of things we wanted to talk about.
K: Do I go left?
H: Yes. Yes. We are going left. Right? Yes? I think so. We will figure this out. We are terrible navigators, and this is downtown. This’ll be interesting. So we wanted to talk about… [Holds up a notebook]. Alright, first off, setting. The was the stage was set up, there was a structure that looked a lot like rough, dark-wood scaffolding, and that served as the castle walls, it stood during the battle scenes…
K: It mostly represented the castle walls, but stayed set up for the entirety of the play. It was too bulky to take down.
H: But they moved the stairs around, and they had these grates that the put in front. So if it was a gate of a castle, they’d have the grates up, if they were inside, the grates would be off…
K: They had tapestries up if it was a scene indoors, as we previously mentioned.
H: Yes, they’d have the beautiful green and gold brocade up… was it brocade? Probably.
K: No, probably not. But we’ll just say its brocade because it sounds way classier than saying “Oh look, a piece of cloth that’s really cool looking.”
H: Exactly. Anyway, there was a table at the beginning…
K: In the first scene, as Lear is dividing his kingdom, they’re in the middle of a banquet. So they’re sitting at a very long banquet table, piled high with goblets, pitchers, and plates, with cushioned chairs all around it…
H: And candles! Cool candles! They were fake candles, but they were cool looking!
K: Yes, there were candles…
H: And they had torches! Later on they were carrying these awesome wicked torches that had actual fire! And it was really cool.
K: [glares] Anyway, in the following scene, they didn’t take the table off right away. When they moved the props for the scene to Goneril’s castle, they split the table into two, and put one on either side of the stage. So the big props never left the stage right away, but they were moved around and utilized very well. It was quite an efficient use of scenery. [To Hannah] What did you think of the bigger set pieces?
H: The bulky scenery…hmm. I really liked the scaffolding; it was really cool. It was a very interesting use of the space, because the characters could climb up different levels. Like in the beginning, King Lear comes down the stairs from the second balcony, and stays on them when he’s yelling at people, and it’s just a very interesting…power play, almost? Like, saying who’s in control and what not.
K: Yes, height was often used to convey power, which I found a unique and interesting interpretation of the play as far as stage direction goes.
H: And… ugh. [Kate laughs] It’s too late for this.
K: And I don’t really have anything bad to say about this.
H: It got a standing ovation at the end! Everyone was clapping and cheering, and I was almost asleep, because it’s… what time is it?
K: I don’t know.
H: I don’t even know, but I’m exhausted.
K: Let’s focus on the play, not your personal problems.
H: So, in the Maxbell theatre, they had the stage with the scaffolding set up, and the front of the stage is made of stairs. So actors were moving up and down the stairs, and there was a lot of stumbling about, and I thought people were going to fall, but they didn’t.
K: The couple of the exits were through the audience, so they’d run off the stage, around the back of the audience, and out through the doors.
H: It was an interesting way to include the audience in the action.
K: What with the stage stairs and the stairs on the scaffold, there was a lot for the actors to work with. But I actually found the scaffolding stairs a bit cumbersome in some instances, just because they used them during scenes that were supposed to be outside. They’d be on a moor, and characters would come on stage from the balcony and come down the stairs holding onto the rail. I don’t know if that was intentional, but it lessened my suspension of disbelief a bit because someone’s taking the stairs in the middle of a field.
K: It was fine, I know they had to take advantage of whatever they could, but it was a little weird in context of the scene.
H: Yah, it was odd. Anyway, in the beginning of the play, everyone comes on the stage right away, and you get to see some interaction before the action actually starts. Like, we saw some silent interaction among Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril, and could automatically infer that the sisterly relationships are strained, at best. I mean, it was obvious that they did not like each other at all.
K: We were also able to look closely at the characters and how they presented themselves on stage. Just by looking at the way he acted, I could tell Albany seemed like a pretty solid guy. And I don’t know if this was intentional, but Cornwall had a facial expression like a rat. That sounds really mean, and I don’t know if that was an intentional casting choice, but it gave me more insight into the character.
H: The casting choice for Edmund was interesting too, because he was the only person in the play who was not white. It added another layer of complexity onto the bastard problem. But his appearance didn’t matter too much, but his bearing, the way he walked onto the stage, tells you automatically so much about his character. The way he nonverbally reacts when his dad’s talking to Kent conveys how unenthused he is about being called a bastard regularly. He just looks so upset that his dad thinks he’s less than, and you kind of feel for him for a little bit. And then you get to his monologues and you realize he’s just conniving!
K: But his reactions were phenomenal! I was watching him while Gloucester was speaking, and his facial expressions as people are talking over him are fantastic! There’s so much you can infer about his character just by looking at him when other people are talking. And especially when he’s in the middle of tricking someone, he just has this look of child-like glee on his face, and it is so fun to see!
H: Yes, that was the best. In the beginning of the play, Cordelia’s facial expressions were on point too! I was watching her primarily in that scene, and as Lear’s talking about the kingdom and her sisters are buttering him up, you can immediately tell what she’s thinking. They didn’t even need to do the asides, I don’t think, because her expressions conveyed everything.
K: It is part of the play.
H: Yah, it is part of the play, so that was a good call from the director. Moving back to Edmund’s awesome facial expressions. When Edmund’s giving his dad the letter that is supposedly from his bro, Edgar, and Gloucester is reading this letter, Edmund looks just so pleased with himself. I mean, he looked like a little kid in a candy shop!
K: He was practically jumping up and down with glee! Actually, he nearly did…
H: Yah, after Gloucester left the stage, he basically did a little jazz hands and leapt into the air, like “Guess what I did, guys!”
K: “I am awesome!”
H: Precisely. The stage directions, overall, were very well done.
K: The sounds were also phenomenal, too.
H: Yah, the beginning choral music that preceded the play gave me full out shivers, and totally sucked you in to the tragedy and the world of the play.
K: It almost echoed the animal like nature of the play, and how everyone’s going to kill each other.
H: The rain and lightning sounds later on were fantastic too, and incredibly well timed. The sounds, especially the lightening strikes, were so effective in highlighting important parts of the play, and were really powerful. They also used fog during the storm, which helped to set the tone.
K: They used sound and body language really well to convey the weather and the rain, I thought. The actors actually looked like they were drenched even when no water was used at all. You could actually see rain falling on the characters when there really wasn’t. The backdrop and lights also gave the stage a sense of depth, like there was more going on then what was being focused on in centre stage.
H: The stage was a lot deeper than met the eye… The cool thing about the scaffolding is that you could see through it. Like in the second scene, when Regan and Goneril are talking to each other, you can see France and Cordelia leaving Lear’s castle from behind the scaffolding, which was pretty cool.
K: Yah, you saw them leave as other people were talking, and just seeing them walk out was like “No, Cordelia, come back!” That was an interesting interpretation, and it didn’t really occur to me that they could do something like that. But it worked really well.
H: They also should Edgar being chased about. Like people with torches running about on stage, like “Edgar, you can’t hide, we’re going to find you!” And he actually climbed up to the tiny, third balcony and… stripped. Essentially.
K: [laughs] That was an interesting call on the director’s part.
H: And I guess there was a little mud up there too, in a jar, or something, so he smeared mud all over himself… So that was an interesting bit.
K: Did that take away from it for you?
H: Um, no. It actually… It enhanced it. He was a muscular dude, let’s just leave it at that.
K: [stares at Hannah]
H: [coughs awkwardly]
H: The other bit was…in the end scene… it was so sad, I cried! The actor who played Lear… was just so phenomenal, alternating between happy, like “Oh, look it, she’s so beautiful,” and crying that she was dead and everyone was a traitor for not saving her.
K: He was mad, by that point, and that was conveyed fantastically.
H: And in that scene as well, Cordelia actually had make-up on her neck to look like bruises from a rope, ‘cause she had been hanged, just like fool in the BBC version, and that was an interesting parallel… wait, did that even happen?
K: No, and that sort of confused me a little bit. In the BBC version, he got hanged, onstage, and I thought that was a really good way to knock him out, but in this version…
H: He just walked off the stage.
K: Yah, he just handed his stuff to Edgar and walked off the stage. I mean, do you have any reason to walk off the stage? I didn’t understand it. Did he die? Did he just take a vacation? Did he go to Hawaii or something? I mean, this was probably truer to what would have happened in an original Shakespearian production, but I preferred the Royal Shakespeare Company’s interpretation better.
H: Anyway, Cornelia’s make-up looked exactly like a rope-bruise, and it was incredibly done.
K: Well, we’re home now, so we’ll get to the infamous eye scene in a minute.
H: Yes, once we get out of this car and get inside, we’ll talk some more. See you in a minute.
K: Bye, guys!
Late Night PJ Talk
H: It’s really late.
K: It is quite late, yah.
H: I wanna go to bed now.
K: But first, more Shakespeare.
H: Yes. So, before we go to bed, we wanted to talk quickly about a couple of things… first off Cordelia. When we first see Cordelia in the second half, she comes on stage in chain mail.
K: She has a sword!
H: And she’s fighting with France, like, equality! Yes!
K: It was a good, empowering sort of costuming decision.
H: Cordelia was doing her own thing.
K: It gave her a little more character, and little more depth. Like, in the BBC version, she’s just wandering around in a cape, doing little to nothing.
H: In this one, she’s ready to fight!
K: That was sort of annoying later, and a bit contradictory, ‘cause they walked in after the battle, and Lear and Cordelia were prisoners, but her sword was still hanging off her belt.
K: Yah, she still had her sword with her!
H: What? Why didn’t she kill someone?
K: I know, right? I was, like, “Draw it and kill someone!”
H: Cordelia, you missed a golden opportunity.
K: Yah, you could have saved so many lives if you had just killed Edmund right then and there. And all your problems would have been solved.
H: She may have still died though.
[They share a thoughtful look]
K: Yah, she might have.
H: Anyway, she had her own powerful character, and it was cool.
K: You wanna say anything about the eye bit?
H: Right. There was so much blood.
K: We said we wanted blood, we said if we didn’t see blood we’d be disappointed, but… that was too much blood. I couldn’t actually watch it; I had to look away.
H: First of all, they tied him to a post. Which was worrying. And then Cornwall stabbed out the first eye…and there was so much blood. They did some sort of slight of hand, and the make-up was put on in seconds.
K: The effects for that were freakily good. His eye went black and bloody right away.
H: And for the next one, Cornwall pulled Gloucester’s eye out—we actually saw that—he held it for a while, and then he dropped it. And then he stepped on it!
K: It was disgusting! He just shoved his hand in there and… [flails hand around wildly] AHH no no no no…
H: It looked so real! There were two older women beside us who basically lost their minds. [Kate laughs] As soon as the eyeball dropped, they just lost it. And it was hilarious.
K: Anyway, it was quite a dramatic adaptation with lots of elaborate choices in costumes, scenery, and effects—except for the fight scenes, for the most part. The eye scene, especially, was amazingly done. The actors were fantastic, and allowed me to see past the elaborateness of the props and really focus on character dynamics.
H: I thought it was really well done. The actors turned the poetry in prose very well, making the play easy to understand even if you hadn’t seen Shakespeare before. Character interpretations were also fantastic. Lear was awesome; Cornelia just conveyed so much strength of character, even though she wasn’t on stage as much… Edmund was a conniving little cuss…
K: He was… he was just so happy about it. He was evil and happy about it. And besides the monologues, it was conveyed almost entirely through body language while other people were on stage.
H: It was a good play. Would you give it a number rating?
K: No. Not really. I thought it was well interpreted, combining elaborate props and incredible performances to create an engrossing play.
H: I would agree. I really enjoyed going.
K: Anyway, that’s all for our King Lear… I don’t know what to call this.
H: We’ll try to get this posted… soon? Yes.
K: [muttering] I need to go to bed now.
H: [muttering] Me too. Anyway.
And thus, any hope of becoming Shakespearean focused YouTubers we had promptly fizzled out and died.
As Hannah has previously posted, we went to the Theatre Calgary production of King Lear a week or so back. We recorded a total of 7 vlog clips with a combined run time of approximately 1 hour before we realized we had no means of sharing our newfound skills at improvised analysis with the general public.
As such, we are working together to create a transcript of our conversations to deliver the best of our critiques and observations of the performance with you all. It should be up by the end of the weekend!
In our tutorial today, we had an interesting discussion about what exactly Leontes felt towards Hermione in The Winter’s Tale. They’re husband and wife, that much is certain, but there were differing opinions concerning the emotional status of their relationship. The class was divided over whether Leontes actually loves Hermione. Some people said yes, others no, while still others considered both options valid.
During tutorial, I was firmly on Team “No,” based mostly on how quick Leontes was to become suspicious of Hermione, and how hard it was to change his mind, even with the help of the Oracle’s message. However, when I went back to look more closely at Act III scene ii, my allegiances shifted to a neutral ground. This scene is quite complex, so I did a close reading of a few key points to see if I could come to a single conclusion.
In line 80, Leontes says outright “your actions are my dreams.” While this is meant to support Leontes’ case against Hermione, it only makes him seem even more paranoid. Comparing his suspicions to dreams, insubstantial figments of imagination, only serves to emphasize the fact that he has little to no physical evidence to substantiate his claim. The fact that he’s accusing his wife of adultery with little to no evidence suggests that their relationship may be strained a bit in the first place.
Another interesting piece of this particular speech is Leontes insistence that the only justice to be found requires Hermione’s death. Now, I’m not in a relationship, but I would tend to believe that if you love someone deeply, you don’t want them to die, much less to kill them yourself. Even if they hurt you, I would imagine you’d be devastated, but still care for them. Perhaps I’m just a romantic that way. In any case, Leontes’ determination for Hermione to die puts his emotions into question, and tends to suggest that he doesn’t truly love her.
Lines 130 to 136 highlight Leontes’ stubbornness. Once he makes up his mind about Hermione’s infidelity, it won’t be changed easily. Even a message from the Oracle at Delphi, a revered religious centre in the ancient world, doesn’t sway him. “There is no truth at all i’th’ oracle,” he states after hearing it. Only the sudden death of his son, which could be mythologically attributed to the deadly arrows of Apollo, alerts him to the truth and his own injustice. Faced with the wrath of the gods, he’s only too willing to admit his folly.
Around line 145 is where my previous opinion began to get a little bit hazy. After hearing about the death of her son, Hermione faints away, prompting Leontes’ plea, “Beseech you, tenderly apply to her/Some remedies for life.” This suggests that Leontes is actually sorry and has revoked his previous desperation to kill his wife. However, the next part of his speech, beginning with “Apollo, pardon/My great profaneness ‘gainst thine oracle,” puts his true motive into question. The fact that the first thing he says after his wife is carried out is an apology to a god suggests that perhaps Leontes is afraid of summoning negative divine attention. As he lists out all his wrongs and lays out what he will do to make things right, I wondered if this was out of legitimate regret or out of fear of divine retribution.
As Leontes continues his long-winded speech, he praises “the good Camillo” and juxtaposes Camillo’s honour and humanity with his own wrong doings. He even compares his honour to armour that Leontes tried to tarnish with rust. However, no amount of remorse he feels for his actions can stop righteous anger pouring down on him. Paulina uses a variety of language that brings to mind martyrs, torture, and prosecution. This speech recalls a couple of her previous statements in Act II, mainly when she states “It is a heretic that makes the fire,/Not she which burns in it.” This creates what I refer to as “the martyr motif,” and occurs quite a few times in the play as a whole. I found an additional repetitive piece when Paulina address Leontes directly as “tyrant,” when she had previously assured him “I’ll not call you a tyrant” (Act II.iii.114).
Another aspect of this scene that surprised me came after Paulina brought the court the news of Hermione’s ‘death.’ He barely says anything after the proclamation, only encouraging Paulina to keep knocking him over the head with his many errors, and vowing to visit the grave of his wife and son daily to cry. This lack of voice could be attributed to genuine shock from grief, but it could also be interpreted as a lack of caring. In the closing speech, he seems genuinely sorry, but the delivery of the words could be twisted in a variety of ways depending on the artistic interpretation.
In conclusion, this is a argument without a clear, correct answer; the readers have to look at the play and decide for themselves. But it’s an interesting idea that definitely deserves some extra thought.
I find it difficult to annotate. Not necessarily because I have nothing to note about the play, but because I find it difficult to stop reading long enough to write down anything terribly insightful. I always read Shakespeare’s plays with 5 or 6 pens beside me, so if I notice a key point, I can jot it down right away. I generally use blue for details relating to character or setting, purple for figures of speech, black for paraphrasing, red for motifs and important points, and green for personal connections and insights. Sometimes I’ll abandon the colour coding entirely, and simply go nuts with whatever pen I think is the prettiest. As a result, my pages never look the same.
This can be confusing for people who pick up my book and flip through it. Take my copy of Troilus and Cressida, for example. Any one page will often hit one of two ends of a spectrum. Either the page will be covered in scribbles and messy notes…
…or the lines will be nearly pristine.
More often than not, however, the page will usually fall somewhere in between.
As I annotate more and more, I hope I’ll be more consistent in my notes. Until then, at least it looks like I know what I’m doing.