English 431B: Advanced Shakespeare

A survey of the works from the second half of William Shakespeare's career

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

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Dear Advanced Shakespeare 431b students,

Please visit: http://shakespeare431b.blogspot.com/ to discuss and ask questions in a polite and academic setting. It is hosted by Google, and since each of you have UA Catmail you can access this forum using your university Google ID.


Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 notes

• “All’s Well” is very different than the plays of the earlier part of Shakespeare’s career.

–> Lead female character keeps her own confidences rather being open.

–> She uses conflicted language. Depths about her character never probed.

–> Male lead is also very unique. He keeps his own council, but his instincts and treatment of others is not right, he’s ungenerous, not concerned with
feelings of others, tone-deafness that applies to this character.

–> Bertram and Helena are so different it seems they were NOT a match made in heaven.

Bertram is a bounder (British English that means scoundrel).

Bertram fails to see the poor qualities of Parolles and befriends him because of his military affiliation. He takes things for face value with Parolles and Helena and nothing deeper.

Parolles refers to Bertram as a “foolish, idle boy.”

Act 3, Scene 5

Line 18 +

“I know that knave …”

Act 3, Scene 7

Line 15 +

Helena’s plot to get the ring

Act 4, Scene 4

Line 17+

Helena’s cynicism/realism of sexes, sexual relationships

Bed trick is a convention of Shakespearean theatre

44 instances of “bed-trick” in plays

Most notably seen in “Measure for Measure”

Dr. Samuel Johnson, critique/editor of Shakespeare

“I cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram …”

Dr. Kiefer’s journal about one adaptation in Britain:

“… Noble ends justify dubious means.”

At the end of the play the audience the is looking up at the stage, French doors on set, Helena and Bertram are just about to go through those doors. When they enter through those doors they will metaphorically enter their marriage. Stage goes dark then light only illuminates Bertram and Helena’s faces. They are gazing into one another’s eyes. Bertram looks at Helena and communicates this idea: “Now for the first time I see who you are, now I understand why you’ve been after me.”

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012 notes

Act 2, Scene 1
Line 106 +

King’s Palace in Paris
Helena presents herself as possessed of the physician’s secrets
She says her father gave her knowledge of how to cure diseases

King refuses Helena’s offer to heal him

Line 136 +
Helena: “What I can do can do no hurt to try, … He (God) that of greatest works is finisher.”

King still dismisses her offer.
After Helena’s speech Line 150 + King becomes convinced

King’s Speech Line 177 +
Condition: You (Helena) surrenders her life if she fails to save the King
Fairy-tale quality of this agreement (hyperbolic drama)

Line 192 + She says if I help you, what will you give me? King replies, I’ll give you anything you want if you’re successful. She wants a husband (Bertram).

King agrees to Helena’s terms.

Most readers feel at this point feel she will be successful, and guess the identity of the man she has in mind.

In Act 2, Scene 3 the King is healed.

Helena toys with guys, before making the selection at Line 105 +

Bertram is not enthusiastic about the marriage agreement. Bertram says he wants to choose his own wife. He says she’s inappropriate because she is not the same class as him.

King responds by saying he will build up Helena’s title. Bertram is still adamant about not marrying Helena. King has a decision to make – honor Bertram’s or Helena’s requests. He will look bad if he doesn’t honor the agreement he made with Helena.

King uses strong words/threats to convince Bertram to marry Helena.

Bertram agrees to marry her, but doesn’t plan to follow through, beyond the wedding ceremony.

Line 63 + Bertram conceals his real motives

He tells Helena to wait for him at home because he has important business that’s private

Act 3, Scene 2

Line 58 +

Bertram reveals his true colors: tells Helena two conditions must be met in order for her to be his “true” wife

Script doesn’t explicitly say why Helena still wants Bertram after he’s a “dog.” The interpretation is left up to the director/players.

Q: How as we the audience learn who Bertram (or any character) is?

A: Actions, speech, connection with other characters (such as Parolles)

Q: What is the difference between the way we learn about Helena’s character and Bertram?

A: Helena talks more about herself, given soliloquies, Bertram doesn’t have soliloquies, audience don’t have insights into the way his mind works like we do with Helena. Bertram’s character is more reactive, while Helena’s is proactive. First perspective of Bertram is through Helena’s eyes. Bertram’s inner-thoughts come across in letters, but still interpreted through the eyes of recipient. Helena defines herself by what she is not. Both Helena and Bertram are oblique characters.

Q: Why does Helena pursue Bertram so relentlessly?

A: Sexual desire? To rise the social class ladder?

Q: Why did Shakespeare make Bertram and Helena so mysterious when other plays revealed identities of characters worked so well in the past?

A: No good answer. Challenging himself as a playwright?

Bertram is judged mostly by what he does, not what he says. His actions are abhorrent, which raises mystery of her infatuation.

Bertram first makes a significant action/speech in Act 2, Scene 3 when he defies the King.

“All’s Well” has been dubbed a ‘problem play.’ Problems for interpretation the play raises, i.e. who the heck is Bertram? Don’t have a glimmer of who he is until half-way through the play. Bertram is a hypocrite.

Act 4, Scene 3

Line 90 +


Helena’s speeches are mostly in poetry, while Bertram’s are mostly in prose

Artful vs. formal

He makes no big deal about burying a wife of a Duke.

In Act 1, Scene 1 Helena does not ever describe his character. Describes him as an “ideal” but doesn’t explain why. Is this ideal imaginary? She values other characters based on their honesty, virtue and goodness, but not Bertram. Bertram is viewed by audience through Helena’s lens. Bertram seems incapable of introspection. He doesn’t reflect on the world. Even though his conduct upsets those he loves, he has no shame. He can be callous and is incapable of tenderness.

Shakespeare creates a play full of challenges.

Act 2, Scene 5

Lafew points out Parolles as “miles glorious” type character

Source story for this play: continental story by Boraccio titled “The Decameron”

Parolles is from a stock character from Roman literature (Miles glorious – braggart warrior, fraud)

Notes from Jan. 19, 2012

The way Shakespeare’s characters speak on stage

• His language is in verse/poetry written in meter

* Meter: Recurrence in a line of poetry of a regular rhythmic unit

• Stressed vs. unstressed

* i.e. constitution |ˌkänstəˈt(y)oō sh ən|

• Poetic feet:

* u      ´      u          ´        u         ´       u       ´  u        ´
It     is    the    show   and   seal   of   nature’s truth (Act 1, Scene 3)

  • Iambic pentameter, unstressed/unaccented syllable followed by stressed/accented syllable
  • Iamb – a poetic foot
  • Pentameter – five feet

Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter in ALL of his plays, but not all language in plays are not iambic pentameter.

All plays are in iambic pentameter because first playwright who wrote in iambic pentameter, Christopher Marlowe, (Tamburlaine the Great,” 1587) was a huge success. He also shortened the length of the feet in a line.

Prior to this, couplets and rhyming was most typical style.

Shakespeare primarily uses blank verse – or unrhymed language.

14 syllables were used before Shakespeare, which made it hard for actors to get out their lines. 10 syllables were much easier to speak, so they took president.

Blank verse establishes a norm in the script and therefore on the stage.

Not every line in Shakespeare is a 10 syllables long, some are shorter.

Act 1, Scene 3; Line 251

Helena: “By such a day, an hour” (six syllables)

Countess: “Dost thou believe’t?” (four syllables)

Dividing of 10 syllables is meant for one speech to not be followed by a significant pause of another person.

Plays ran shorter in Shakespeare’s day, and today they drag it out because audiences may have trouble with the language.

• Act 1 Scene 2, line 51 +

• Act 1 Scene 3, line 130 +

End-stopped lines: when the actor gets to the end of a line, the thought that’s being expressed is complete.

Semicolon: Indicative a very short pause on the part of an actor

Enjambment: a run-on line, actor/reader has to read onto the next line to get the meaning of the thought.

Shakespeare chooses enjambed vs. end-stopped for different effects.

Punctuation exist within a line, can and often do signify a brief pause. The length of the pause depends on the punctuation marks.

Caesura: pause within a line, as opposed to at the end of a line

Shakespeare writes mostly in meter

In 1590s he writes exclusively in meter. Later on he begins to experiment by using more prose.

• Act 1 Scene 1, Line 160 +

Remembrance of dead count, sadness of Helena losing her father, and sadness over Bertram leaving for France.

Parolles’ character signals a shift in “gears” mood…

Prose: the is no capitalization of every line

Poetry: the first letter of every line will be capitalized

Shakespeare shifts from prose to poetry typically with a purpose

Dramatic pause: at a clause and the end of a sentence

Actors often view verse/blank verse as a “threat.” But it is full of hints, stage direction in short-hand.

Shakespeare was an actor and his verse is to help his fellow actors.

Several members of the Royal Shakespeare Co. say verse makes acting easier.

Helena’s speech (1.1 line 85 +) focuses on hopeless of her love, not passion

Even speaking soliloquies, she is guarded in her speech.

Helena (1.1 Line 223 +) use of couplets helps create a pithy quality to her speech

Sound like axioms, proverbs/wise sayings

Beneath those sayings, there is an emotional turmoil

Is Helena trying to distance herself from sexual desire?

Helena uses an unusually large amount of negative words/phrases

Helena doesn’t want the countess to call her “daughter” because she wants to marry him. Her speech to the countess that indicates the possibility of a future marriage between Helena and Bertram.

Helena defines herself based on the process of exclusion, she lists all she cannot do. (Negative Nancy or rather Hopeless Helena).

Consistent rhymes i.e. 2.1 line 150 + should raise red-flags, five couplets. Why is Shakespeare using rhyme so closely together in this speech. Many people believe in divine intervention (presuming God’s providence).

Major theme: Divide between human free-will and supernatural power.

Boccaccio: “Decameron” is not interested in divinity – Shakespeare is.

Helena’s speech content v. style (content very complex, style very neat). Helena is confident enough to make things happen, but is also subject to reservations like Hamlet.

Never mentions physical passion in soliloquies.

Language is character in Shakespeare and vice versa, inextricably connected.

Website Exposure

On Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 10:39 AM, NoSweatShakespeare <enquiries@nosweatshakespeare.com> wrote:

Hi Matt,

I came across English413B Advanced Shakespeare website when researching decent quality Shakespeare sites to partner with, and really like the content you offer your users.

I’m the webmaster for NoSweatShakespeare.com – a website dedicated to helping students understand the Bard – and wondered if you’d consider adding a link to our site from your links page. I’d be happy to reciprocate and link back, of course.

Alternatively, perhaps you might be interested in an exchange of blog posts? That way we’d both get a fresh piece of content and exposure to the others relevant audience.

Either way, thanks for reading and keep up the good work!

Many thanks,

Website: www.nosweatshakespeare.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/nosweatshakespeare
Twitter: @easyshakespeare

English 431B – Advanced Shakespeare Notes

All’s Well That Ends Well

Act 1, Scene 1

Career 1590s – 1630s
Alls Well written just past mid-point of career
Elizabeth died 1603

Helena dominates the play
Enters the play @ the beginning of the dramatic action
Line 38 Helena cries:

• Mourning the death of her Father

• She also loves Bertram and thinks she can’t ever get him because of class distinction

When a character makes an assertion, it shouldn’t be taken as gospel

• Subject to ambience, other factors

Helena’s soliloquy starts at line 85 uses hyperbole

“There’s no living, none, if Bertram be away”

“Must die for love. ‘Twas pretty, though a plague…”

Idolatrous – image of a god (idol) used as an object of worship or denote any object of excessive devotion

There is a truth to what Helena is saying, she prizes Bertram above all others.

Very class-conscious society, very rigid and virtually never broached

Helena is an orphaned daughter of Gerard de Narbon

Line 93 she says “he is so above me”

Line 223 and on…

“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, …”

“Mine eye” brings imagery of Falcon, hunting

Helena is the hunter

Nature imagery of bringing distant things together… “To kiss like native things”

Helena was fated to be with Bertram because she “hunts” him

Helena challenges power and gender conventions

Elizabethan England society – Puritans

* Becoming increasingly prominent

• Believed in predestination (everything already decided and known by God)

  • Free-will still exists, but God already decided what will happen

Relationship between God’s power and human’s free will is a major theme of this last soliloquy

French theologian John Calvin emphasized this conundrum 

She stands for the individualistic perspective, free-will, sounds almost “American,” “can—do attitude”

Helena doesn’t ignore the powers-that-be (i.e. God)

“My project may deceive me…”

Helena believes Bertram and her are suited by “nature”

New/revolutionary way of world-view from Helena, class won’t matter, merit-based status in society (modern attitude)

This speech was bold/daring on the part of Shakespeare

Like many other heroines of Shakespeare’s comedies, women initiate, give force to love relationships

Only text that centers on ONE love relationship

Without soliloquies she would be an undefined character

Helena is given introspective soliloquies

There’s a lot we need to know about this woman, but we never know it all.

Helena is much given to secrecy.

Unlike other female characters, she does not assume a disguise; yet remains opaque throughout the play

What characterizes her speech is indirectness, audience left to make connections.

Line 172 and on…“Not my virginity…”

Parolles: Do I understand what Helena is talking about?

What: Wishes? Friends? Pity?

Petrarch invented Sonnets; Shakespearean sonnets are different rhyme scheme

Couplets used in this play to make things very settled, straight-forward (not always though)

Helena’s couplets give impression of being straightforward, but it’s only a masquerade

Every transaction between two people is overshadowed by class structure

Helena has grown up alone on the periphery of a great aristocratic household, although she has no claim to be there. Has no money of her own and no status.

Living at Roussillon at the expense of the Countess.

Parolles (name means words) is gutless throughout play.

Juxtaposition between Parolles and Helena.

Helena is most thoughtful/intelligent

King leads Helena in a coranto (lively dance) after he gets well

• She has a sexual effect on King

What is striking is her duality of character; she is modestly shy, obedient and docile around superiors

When in the presence of Parolles she can be ribbled (joking, often about sex).

• Very different from other comedies, which lies in how intimate relations are presented. Linked with cynicism, appears later in the play (the bed-trick).

For Shakespeare is a radically new strong woman character in his plays

Bertram never chases Helena, in fact often runs away from her

Male lead: Bertram is very different, comic characterization that has no counter-part in earlier Shakespeare’s work

Line 3-5 Countess says “In delivering my son from me I bury a second husband…”

Line 75: “Tis an unseasoned courtier; good my lord, // Advise him.”

Pejorative, sort of insults Bertram’s character

Blood indicates imagery of passion

Links for University of Arizona Students

Students can find Dr. Frederick Kiefer’s Website @ http://bit.ly/x8Njt9

And the Undergraduate Department of English @ http://english.arizona.edu

Check out the other pages…

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All Shakespeare’s work for $3 on Kindle!!

Kailey Hart says there is every single Shakespeare work EVER on the Kindle!! It’s called The Complete Plays of Shakespeare. It was about $3.00. Thanks Ms. Hart for the heads up! 🙂

Raymond Thomas says neither the Bookman’s on Grant nor the Barnes & Noble on Broadway have “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

Also, the complete works of Shakespeare are also on CD-ROM @ e-bay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-CD-ROM-COMPLETE-WORKS-SHAKESPEARE-4-WINDOWS-/350498619389?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item519b587ffd


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