Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Call me Hamlet!

One of the first things I remember my father saying when I asked about the Bard was a remark about how difficult it was to begin reading him, but once you "got into it" it was absolutely wonderful. Well, Pericles and Cymbeline gave me a hard time, but fortunately they aren't among the best, and it served as a proper initiation. Since then I have finished all the tragedies I hadn't read last year- (except for Coriolanus) and read a few comedies as well. As it would take an insanely long time to record opinions and memorable passages of individual plays, I'll just write a brief account of my Shakespearean journey over the last one week or so.

First was Antony and Cleopatera. A brilliant, moving portrayal of human follies and Antony's description, though historically incorrect, holds true to the Shakespearean tragic heroes' "fatal flaw" - here, I suppose, it is the ardour of his love for Cleopatera which makes him blind to everything else. Cleopatera herself is one of the few Shakesepearean tragic heroines who has some substance to her. In the end, I felt sorry for Antony's death but not for Cleopatera's. I can recall one brilliant line: "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark- my definite favourite so far. I absolutely loved the character of Hamlet, drawing infinite parallels with myself, loved how the play unfolded and especially the end. One passage I've read so many times I think I know some of it by heart...

"To be or not to be, that is the question
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The arrows and slings of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them; to sleep, to die
Thus to make an end
Of the thousand shocks and- ah, something...
That flesh is heir to;
To sleep, perchance to dream; ay, there's the rub
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. The onyl disappointment was Ophelia being surprsingly cardboard.

Timon of Athens- Another classic tragedy. This time the hero's flaw is over-generosity to false friends- and the way they turn around and betray him in his hour of need is almost heart-rending. The transformation of Timon from a kind-hearted, generous lord to a confirmed hater of the human species is blunt, sharp, almost jarring... and his death is both tragic and moving.

Titus Andronicus- This play left me absolutely shaken. Such graphic violence, such... viciousness was shocking. As a play it is structurally brilliant, of course, and the language, as always, is comparable to Beethoven's Fifth in music. But let's see... Titus' daughter is raped, her hands cut off, her tongue torn off at the root, her husband murdered... Titus accidentally kills one of his own sons, and two other of his sons are executed on false charges... he himself loses a hand... consistently through the play innumerable people are stabbed... the villain of the piece is buried alive and left to starve to death... I really can't say I enjoyed it.

Well, that took a far longer time than expected... so I guess I'll postpone "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "Much Ado About Nothing", "As You Like It" and "King John" to tonight.


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