Thursday, October 27, 2016

Faith in Mercy: Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure deals with the consequences of an imperfect judicial system. Problems arise when Claudio has consensual intercourse with his fiance, Juliet, and is imprisoned and sentenced to execution as a consequence. The law is depicted as random and harsh, possibly because Claudio’s crime was something Shakespeare himself was guilty of with Anne Hathaway. The play centers around the harsh imprisonment of Claudio and the even more depraved actions of Claudio’s judge, Angelo, who offers Claudio freedom only if his sister, Isabella, will sleep with him. Angelo’s hypocrisy is an important theme of Measure for Measure. Can there really be justice in society run by humans? By looking at a comparison to Greek mythology Isabella makes in Act III, it’s clear Shakespeare had little faith in an ideal judicial system, but did have faith in mercy.

The comparison Isabella makes in Measure for Measure is between man and giants. Giants from Greek mythology were a mixture of heaven and earth and were creatures fallen from heaven. Shakespeare was comparing giants to man who are often seen as fallen, but with a portion of the divine. When Isabella first mentions giants she is speaking to Angelo, trying to convince him to have mercy on her brother. She says “O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.” In other words, the law gives you power, but to exercise it unjustly is to be like the giants: foolish and base. The giants of Greek mythology were beast-like, despite their divine heritage. In one of Isabella’s most powerful speeches she compares man to the apes, angry and rash, while the God’s weep over mankind’s poor choices.

Though the ideal punishments should be proportional to the crime and the criminal, when man is endowed with heavenly power, they are often unable to deal justly. Angelo and to an extent, the Duke, represent this power and the flaws of the ensuing system. Since true justice is an ideal impossible to humanity, mercy makes up the difference. Like when you post your blog super late, but your professor is merciful. If I were to research this topic further, I would study Greek mythology and how it was perceived in Shakespeare’s day in terms of justice and mercy.

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Twelfth Night and Christianity

The role of Christianity in Twelfth Night is unclear. Throughout the play, there is pagan reference after pagan reference, which contrasts Shakespeare's usual theme of Christianity. Instead of discussing heaven and hell, Viola says "My brother he is in Elysium" (1.2.4). Elysium is the heaven of the Greek afterlife, and since Viola and her brother have been separated because of a shipwreck, she assumes he is dead. Why isn't she assuming that he is in the Christian heaven?
The farther in to Twelfth Night you get, the more pagan references there are. In my discussion with Garrett on slack, we noticed this contradiction between Twelfth Night and other Shakespeare plays. Why does Shakespeare decide to reference Greek mythology rather than Christianity? Eventually, mother Eve is mentioned as well, putting the pagan alongside the Christian.
If I were to write a paper about Twelfth Night, the religious aspect is one I would want to deeply explore. I want to do more research on the presence of Greek mythology in Shakespeare's England and in the context of Twelfth Night, and try to understand Shakespeare's motives a little better. Because this theme is so prevalent, I don't think it will be too difficult to find articles and blog posts related to this topic. Does making the play more pagan than Christian add to the storyline? Or was it just a way for Shakespeare to mix things up?
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A Midsummer's Night Dream - Love, Identity, and Setting?

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, there were several noticeable themes that would be interesting to research. In the online group forum of Slack, Gaylie Bowles and I discussed several themes that kept popping up throughout the text. These themes included love, gender roles, and the setting of the play.

Love was a major theme we noticed, and that would be interesting to research for its varying appearances and qualities throughout the play. There is natural love and supernatural love at play, but sometimes they coincide and make those watching or reading believe that they are one and the same. Oberon procures a love potion, a paste to be put on the eyelids of a person, so that the first thing they see when they awake, they grow attached to. He does this as a joke and stab at Tatiana, who refused his love, to get back at her. Upon awaking, she fell in love with a man with the head of a donkey. This alludes to a natural like love caused by supernatural circumstances, which would be interesting to explore through scholarly articles.

Also interesting is how gender is portrayed in this play, and how gender roles are perceived. A line that stood out to me was “And though she be but little, she is fierce” (3.2.342). This line I think perfectly accentuates how gender is portrayed – women are strong and have power, though they are not perceived as such. Hermia and Tatiana exude power and authority, though others would deny it (the men). These strong themes of feminism would be cool to explore throughout a few of Shakespeare’s plays, because, in this play at least, the women are not degraded once out of the city. Out in the wild, they have great power and are equals to the men, which would an interesting thread to explore in other plays.

Setting also played a major role, and it would be neat to view different performances of this play to see how the setting interacts with the themes and characters as much as I believe it does, based on what happens in the play. Much of the drama is caused by marking the wrong Athenian for the love potion, therefore causing a spiral of unhappiness and misery. The Athenians wore their clothes boldly, and though they were sneaking off to get married where they could live freely together, Lysander and Hermia had no other thought than keeping their connection to their identity. It would be interesting to see how identity interacts with the other themes that we found while reading, and then to place their identities within the context of the setting.
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Embracing Sexuality in Measure for Measure

Throughout Shakespeare's play, Measure for Measure, justice is executed with unmitigated stringency, as Angelo condemns Claudio for fornication. Angelo's own hypocrisy regarding the sexual law he so strictly enforces becomes apparent as he promises to grant Claudio pardon on condition that Claudio's chaste sister, Isabella, will yield herself to him. Though it becomes apparent in the play's ending that mercy is critical in tempering justice, allowing the scales of justice to become balanced, Shakespeare's play does not exalt chastity and virtue in the end of the play.

As Hanann and I discussed Measure for Measure on Slack we noted Shakespeare's ambiguous stance on morality. Angelo's villainy does not reside in his desire to have sex with Isabella, but the contradictory nature of his desire, as he is executing Claudio for the sin he wishes and designs to commit. The play's characters certainly lie on a wide spectrum of morality, as Angelo is characterized as demonstrating no integrity or morality, while Isabella is epitomized as the pure figure of morality and integrity.

Some might certainly point to Shakespeare's own morality when analyzing the moral intent of his play, as his child was born shortly after his own marriage. Disregarding his personal life experience, is becomes evident throughout the play that Shakespeare suggests that sexuality is natural, as even Lucio observes the naturality of sexuality in nature itself in the screen shot included above. He refers to Angelo's strict enforcement of the sexual law when he states, "sparrows must not build in his house-eaves, because they are lecherous." I started to conclude that Shakespeare sought to convey that sexuality even celibacy is fine, but one must remain true to oneself. Although Isabella seeks to yoke herself to a life of celibacy in the play's beginning as she enters a convent, she too yields to the sexuality of love when she consents to marry the Duke in the ending of the play. Each character within Measure for Measure undergoes a transformation throughout the play, but all the characters inevitably experience a more realistic conception of sexuality.

If I were to research this topic further, I would love to be able to reference film adaptations of the play, but I found that there are not many modern adaptations to refer to. I was particularly interested in listening/watching Wagner's Liebesverbot, as this opera was derived from Measure for Measure. I would love to explore how the music depicts each character's sexuality and whether the music positively represents sexuality through the play, or condemns it. This might be a little abstract, but it would be interesting to explore!

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A Midsummer Nightmare: Prewriting

An example of the elevated diction used to describe love in ShakeSpeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
 I finally took the opportunity to read Shakespeare's, A MidSummer Night's Dream. For a long time I have heard about this play in casual conversation, it would spring up in a passing comment or flit by in a piece of a movie scene. Well, while it wasn't exactly what I expected (Strangely the sublime, intangible concept it is always hovering just beyond complete understanding and realization) however, it certainly had some choice lines and interesting points.

I would enjoy taking a closer look at the stereotypical portrayal of love(See picture above). At some point, Europeans at least, (I am less familiar with the literary traditions of other groups of people)  decided that love required more eloquence. It became common practice to write love poetry or to sing Odes about your beloved, and the subject (love generally, or yours specifically) demanded a sort of elevated diction (or your best attempt, as was clearly often reality). This concept is present in the writings of Shakespeare, Samuel Coleridge, Elizabeth Browning, and many others. I believe this is because love, like that unintelligible, half-baked, preconceived notion, is associated with the sublime and thus in an effort to seek the extraordinary people turned to language to pursue what was ordinarily out of their reach. I think it would be interesting to examine this psychological phenomenon by comparing Shakespeare's descriptions of love and lovers with those of some of the other well known writers.

Another aspect of the play that drew my attention was topic of gender roles. I have often heard that there are lots of arguments for feminism in many of Shakespeare's works. While that is true, these are sometimes brought to light through characters who argue against feminism. The quote pictured above was an example of one of these. This metaphor of a rose as a symbolic objectification of a woman has several disturbing implications. For example, "But earthlier happy is the rose distilled / than that which, withering on the virgin thorn" suggests a divided future for a woman. If she wishes to be happy she must yield her agency and choice to a man. notice the impersonal verb "distilled". However, if she chooses to maintain her ability to choose she does so by sacrificing happiness and companionship. I could spend several pages unpacking this metaphor and denoting the implications its message would have on the lives of women.

Finally, as I am in a dance class this semester I was interested by the element of dance that frequently pops up in reference to the fairies and their ability to control the seasons and maintain order. Often times dance used to be use as a social mechanism. Dances were performed in a specific way and used to celebrate a sense of community. Underlying their celebratory nature is also an affirmation of society's structure and thus, it's rules and regulations. I am considering writing a paper analyzing this play through that lens.
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Julius Caesar: What's in a Name?

If I were to write a paper about Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, I would actually want to focus on a famous line from one of Shakespeare’s other well-known plays:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

While Juliet uses this line to say that names are artificial and meaningless conventions, and that she loves Romeo no matter what his name is, I would argue that the use of names throughout Julius Caesar is not meaningless, but rather shapes and manipulates one’s understanding and interpretation of information.
I wouldn’t focus on character’s literal names, but rather how they describe themselves and one another. For example, Brutus appeals to the crowd by calling them, “Romans, countrymen, and lovers” (3.2.14). Antony then refers to the plebeians as “Friends, Romans, countrymen” and “Good friends, sweet friends” (3.2.82, 222). Antony repeatedly calls the men who killed Caesar “honorable men,” and refers to Brutus specifically as, “Caesar’s angel” (3.2.92, 96, 103, 108, 193). Antony also compares Lepidus to a horse (4.1.33). Even before Caesar’s death, Cassius describes Caesar to Brutus as a mortal man no different from either of them, as a god, and then as a “sick girl” (1.2.104, 123, 135). It seems to me that Cassius was able to manipulate Brutus into betraying Caesar through his speech, Brutus was able to calm the crowd through his funeral speech, and Antony was able to incite mutiny through his speech. Obviously there were other things at play, but I think it would make an interesting paper to argue that the names used to describe each person all had a strong persuasive influence on each listener.
Research that I would enjoy moving forward would be to watch different movie renditions of the play and compare differences and similarities of interpretation of how to portray the movie. There’s the Warner Brother’s 1953 black and white production, BBC’s production, Common Wealth’s production, and a 30 minute animated production posted on, but originally aired on BBC2. I also found an interesting article that focuses on characters that one normally doesn’t pay as much attention to if you center in on the fall of Brutus. It was a little long, but I would love to study it more in depth to see what it says about Caesar and the common people.
For a play that is so concerned with loyalty, betrayal, fear, and pride, I would be very interested in examining these themes through the lens of names and language used to describe one’s fellowman.
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Sam's Ideas of Character Development in Macbeth

The character development in Macbeth was something that really interested me. The play features a lot of really fascinating characters that change as the play goes on, which is so interesting. If I was to write a paper on Macbeth, I think I would do something along the lines of researching character development in both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. I would like to be able to pinpoint the moment when they changed. Macbeth went from a rather cowardly but ambitious person to being bloodthirsty and absolutely fearless in the face of war. Lady Macbeth was the driving force, at first, behind her husband's ambitious murder spree, but she later snaps and is found sleepwalking and attempting to wring her hands clean. There is a really revealing line in act 5, scene 1, lines 37-42. She says "Out, damned spot, out, I say! One, Two, Why then, 'tis time to do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier and afeared? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have though the old man to have had so much blood in him?" She had mocked her husband's guilt and later, as shown in that scene, succumbed to an entirely more intense guilt of her own. It would be interesting to me to do a psychological analysis of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, as both individuals and as a couple.
I would probably focus my research on psychological articles and use those to analyze the characters myself. I don't know what I would find, exactly, seeing as I'm not well-versed in the science of psychiatry, but it would be cool to be able to come up with my own conclusions about how, why, and when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth changed. It would be interesting to see what effect witches would have had on their mental state, how the lure of power might have pushed them over the edge, and perhaps what supporting characters such as Banquo or Macduff would have contributed to their changes. I think I would try to avoid articles already written about the mental state and character changes of Macbeth and his wife in order to try and formulate my own argument and not be heavily influenced by the arguments of scholars past and present. I'm sure there is so much that has been written on this subject before, so in order to keep it somewhat original, I would do my best to stay away from those articles.

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Paulina's Personal Prerogative (The Winter's Tale)

Paulina guarding the statue of Hermione, while an extremely
handsome Leontes (right) pleads with her to let him approach.
I have spent the past few days continually contemplating what I would want to talk about, were I to write a paper on The Winter's Tale. I considered writing on the self-referentiality of the play, friendship (especially as founded on shared-meter lines in the play), and themes of power and control. However, through discussion on Slack, I became more and more interested in the person of Paulina. Preliminary research before beginning the play illuminated the discussion about whether Paulina orchestrated the "resurrection" of Hermione through covert means, or whether it was actually magic. I've come to the conclusion that through an analysis of Paulina's rhetoric in specifically significant scenes, Paulina appears to be more in control of the situation than Leontes. This lends validity to the idea of her orchestrating the disappearance and "resurrection" of Hermione in non-magical ways. This claim could include a feminist critique of female and male power struggles within the play.

In making this claim, I would need to analyze the rhetoric that Paulina uses in the scenes she is a significant part of. One scene that lends itself very highly to this idea is act two, scene three. Here, within fifteen lines, she uses several rhetorical devices. These include antanaclasis: "Commit me for committing honor" (59); ethical appeal through parallel structure: "your loyal servant, your physician, / Your most obedient counselor" (66-67); and alliteration involving voiced and voiceless plosives: "Good queen, my lord, good queen, I say "good queen"(72). Each of these has its individual use, but together, they form a picture of one who is skilled at oratory, who is collected enough to express herself eloquently. Compare this to King Leontes, who, although using some rhetorical devices himself, is overall more flustered and out of control. This rhetorically-based Paulina is one who is self-assured, who doesn't need her husband to tell her what to say, or whether to say it (despite Leontes' objections otherwise). This kind of control is the kind that Leontes lacks, and the kind that shows that Paulina is actually the one who is in control.

It would be fun to write about this because I have never explicitly written a feminist critique of the play. It would be good practice to see how Paulina's power, compared to Leontes' or Antigonus', is more valid and overall more effective. I would be able to do research into other feminist readings of the play (I imagine there would be some). I could find if anyone else has analyzed her speeches and dialogue. I could look for critiques of power struggle within the play, and see if any scholars have talked about ideas of control (either as it relates to Paulina or to other ideas such as fate and chance).

Paulina's power gives validity to the idea that she took it upon herself to control elements in the play, culminating in the spectacular resurrection scene in the closing of the play.
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The Question of Duty

In reading The Winter's Tale, I liked focusing on how the text fit into what is typical of the Romance Genre. Having taken a Romance class, I have studied other texts of Romance and it was interesting to see how this one was a Romance, and yet, what made it uniquely its' own. The Winter's Tale has many references to honor, especially versus the love that one character may feel. In the case of the hidden princess, Perdita, and the prince, Florizel, we see Florizel dealing with choosing whether he should follow his love or his duty. In fact, in speaking to Perdita, he states, "I'll be thine, my fair, / Or not my father's"(IV.iv.42-43). In this, he describes how the marriage will make him go against his father, so he can be with her.

 This idea that love and honor cannot coexist is also present in the Italian Romance, Orlando Furioso, by Ariosto. In the story, a female warrior, Bradamante, finds herself torn between her love of an Islamic man, Ruggiero, and her duty to her Christianty. Ruggiero, as well, feels this duty of staying true to his religion, or accepting the love he wants. In both cases, both sets of characters have to choose between what is correct, their duty or their love. However, in both cases, we also learn that rather than being in opposition, their duty and love align with each other. Ruggiero later learns his duty IS to convert to Christianity and his love helps him achieve this. Florizel learns that his duty is to help Perdita find her way home, so that her true identity may be discovered. After, they both can honor their duty, by marrying royalty, and still honor the love they share. Now, this idea is something that is not commonly found in Romances. Generally, duty and love do not line up. In fact, this creates a large conflict in many Romances. And yet, both of these stories contain these moments.

It would be highly interesting to compare and contrast these ideas of duty and love, and see what one could make out of this. In research, I would first like to see if Shakespeare had any knowledge of Orlando Furioso, as it was published 100 years earlier. And, I would also look into researching if there are any other stories that break the mold on duty and honor. 
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Cursed to Read Richard III

If you want to learn how to curse, read Richard III. Curses were definitely some of the most important features of this play. From the very beginning, Richard sees himself as a cursed man and kind of has an “If you can’t be good, be good at it” mentality. His actions only worsen his plight, however, and readers are introduced to some really spectacular curses brought in by an old woman named Margaret, who suffers at his hands.

I highlighted curses everywhere I found them throughout the play, and it was really interesting to go back through and see how each was fulfilled. Margaret’s curses serve as a type of foreshadowing for the rest of the piece, and it was so cool! She would curse the characters with something, and so I knew it was bound to happen, though I didn’t know how. Shakespeare does a great job throwing in some unexpected twists so that each fulfillment is still unexpected.

Mary and I discussed curses and the part that they played in the culture back in Shakespeare’s day. I found a video of Martha Henry, a Shakespeare expert. In it, she is super creepy and says, “Curses were believed in medieval times…so it wasn’t simply somebody saying to somebody, ‘Oh, may you rot in hell!’ It was literally whatever it was you said had substance.” This brought a whole new meaning to the curses, in my opinion! Each one uttered was expected and sincerely wished to be fulfilled. This ups the level of the passion in the play, as well as the hatred.

Perhaps my favorite part of the play, the scene that I would focus on the most, is when the Duchess and Queen Elizabeth question Margaret about how she became such an accomplished curser. She explains to them that it’s brought on by exaggerations of reality, by dwelling on the dark parts of life. “Bettering thy loss makes the bad curser worse. Revolving this will teach thee how to curse.” After she leaves, the Duchess and Queen Elizabeth proceed to rip into Richard with a string of curses that left me extremely impressed.

Cursing is a very prevalent part of Richard III and allows readers to feel the deep emotions of the characters, as well as anxiously anticipate events to come within the play.
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Romeo and Juliet as a Quest for Justice

 As I read Romeo and Juliet, I kept finding instances where justice and the attainment of it became a center of focus for the characters of the play. Although it seems a little silly to me, personally, the drive for revenge found among the Montagues and the Capulets when any one of their respective parties is killed by the other is indicative of that. However, perhaps more compelling is the death of Romeo and the justice in that.
When Riley and I were discussing the play over Slack, we talked a little bit about Romeo's death being a form of justice in a way. I thought it was interesting how it appeared that Romeo felt responsible for Juliet’s death in a way. In my line of thinking, Romeo’s assumption that Juliet died of a broken heart caused by his banishment so soon after their wedding was cause for him to take his own life. Earlier in the play, Romeo demonstrated that he had very clear ideas of justice and how it ought to be carried out. Therefore, it should not be surprising that Romeo decided to take his own life in a sort of repayment for the supposed robbery of Juliet’s.
In fact, this determination was so strong that it even caused him to kill Paris at the Capulet tomb, something I do not think he would have done otherwise, since he had given up the feud with the house of Capulet, and Paris was not even of that family anyway. But since Paris got in his way, he had to go. Furthermore, I believe that this drive for justice is proved even more by the statement, “Here’s to my love”, made by Romeo just before he takes the poison. In my view, if you replace the word “to” with the word “for”, it gives corroboration to Romeo’s quest for justice, and it becomes a statement to the effect of:
“Here’s for my love. You died for me; now I will die for you.” 
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The Power of Appearance

As I was reading Much Ado about Nothing I noticed the great lengths that the characters would go to hide their true selves from others. They all put on appearances, either through their dress, their words, or their actions.  It seems that appearance matters more than reality, in particular for women.  The main conflict in the story is caused by the appearance that Hero is cheating on Claudio, which is not reality. The worth of women in society depends on her appearance. 

In our slack discussion Karee Brown and I discussed how the appearance that Hero has been unfaithful destroys her worth in the eyes of her father, to the point that he thinks she would be better off dead, “Death is the fairest cover for her shame/ that may be wish’d for” (4.1).  This appearance also causes her fiancĂ© Claudio to go from ardent love to hatred and public humiliation, causing him to say, “Would you not swear/ All you that see her, that she were a maid/ By these exterior shows? But she is none” (4.1) in front of everyone at their wedding. Even the Friar, who is one of the only people to see through the deception, acknowledges that if they cannot resolve the issue, “you may conceal her/ As best befits her wounded reputation” (4.1). The power of appearance, even false appearance is enough to send Hero into concealment, because appearance, not reality, is ultimately what matters to the society.

I would also like to look at how when a women’s reputation is ruined she cannot defend it, or fix it on her own. Claudio is ruining Hero’s life by accusing her of infidelity in front of everyone she knows, and Hero is unable to resolve this problem without the help of the Friar. There is also a point in the play where Beatrice wants to help Hero and says “O that I were, a man! What, public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancor,-O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place” she wishes to defend her friend but is unable to because she is a woman, and therefore convinces Benedict to do it for her. Neither Hero nor Beatrice is able to defend her honor without the help of a man.  

I would like to look into the power of appearance across Shakespeare’s plays, and see if there this theme appears in other plays. I would also like to do some background research and see how women were treated, and what was expected of them during Shakespeare’s time to see if the ideas in this play reflected what was actually happening. 
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Classical Imagery in "The Merchant of Venice"

The Merchant of Venice is notable in Shakespeare's catalouge as being fraught with ambiguity.  From the vague Antisemitism of Shylock's characterization to the possible romance between Antonio and Bassanio, the play is interesting in how it utilizes contradictions and ambiguities to create engaging characters.  There is therefore a lot of material for a research project in this play.  Based off my reading and discussions with my colleague Elise Simmons, I would like to potentially research how the repetition of classical imagery presents characters who are trapped in the past and have a difficult time moving forward.
In my Slack discussion with Elise, much of our discussion centered around how Shakespeare's careful manipulation of literary devices animates a series of fascinating, three-dimensional characters.  Salerio, for example, uses a lot of pretentious, flowery metaphors in contrast to Antonio's plain speech.  Portia and her maid use prose instead of verse when they are speaking in Act 1 Scene ii.  Lancelot  meanwhile speaks in short, exclamatory sentences which underscore his possibly deranged state.
As we were focusing on these formal elements, I noticed that there were multiple references to classical mythology and poetry in the play.  Portia, for example, compares herself to "a golden fleece;/Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchis strand/And many Jasons come in suit of her"  (1.ii).  Here classical imagery is used by Portia to express discontent with her situation.  At the other end of the play, Lorenzo also uses classical imagery that highlights his removal from the reality of his romantic triste with Jessica.  I therefore came across the idea thta classical imagery is used to develop characters who haven't come to terms with their reality.
If I were to run with this idea for a research paper, I would enjoy seeing what previous scholars had to say about the use of classical allusions in Shakespeare.  I could then see if these elements are used to signify an emotional stagnation, as they do in other contemporary plays like Marlowe's Doctor Faustus or Middleton's Revenger's Tragedy.  Perhaps they are merely a common trope in Elizabethan theater regardless of characterization.  I would have the opportunity to look through other plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries that I have read, linking them back to potential classical sources.  I could even look at film adaptations of the Merchant of Venice, such as the 2004 adaptation starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons to compare these representations of the characters with my analysis.  The potential research project would therefore give me a lot of material to explore in my analysis of Shakepeare's classical references within the Merchant of Venice.
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Romeo and Juliet: A Precurser to Transcendenalism

"Romeo and Juliet:" A Precurser to Trandscendentalism

While reading "Romeo and Juliet" so many things came to mind to write about; nevertheless, inspiration struck while I was reading Walden last night by Henry David Thoreau.  I kept finding parallels between the play and transcendentalism. Strange? I know. But bear with me. 

The other night my roommate was railing on Romeo and Juliet and how much she hates the play - particularly how she views the play to be a satire on love. She argued "Shakespeare couldn't possibly have wanted his audience to read that play as being romantic. He's obviously making some sort of commentary on childish impulsivity." I contended that I think the play is more about exposing the beauty of childlike idealism in the face of institutional hatred. Often times we can look at young people and ridicule their irrationality or impulsiveness - and yet, I think we also admire their willingness to do what is said can't be done. To tear down fences where we thought there were walls. Thus the Page’s words encapsulate the play’s transcendentalism when he says “I am afraid to stand alone / here in the church yard. Yet I will adventure” (5.3.10-11).  

The primary tenant of transcendentalism is the notion that societal institutions corrupt the purity of the individual. And while Romeo and Juliet verge away from the idea of bona fide self-reliance - they nevertheless embrace the idea of spiritual truth over physical truth, as well as the idealism of an individual with excess faith. However, they have put their faith in love and in each other. The love and idealism of the play’s young lovers reflect the invigorating pleas of Henry David Thoreau; in the face of institutional immorality it is better to be civilly disobedient than lose yourself within the machine, after all, “are we not men first and subjects afterwards” (Thoreau 275)? In “Civil Disobedience” Thoreau argues against the fatalist. However, there are copious fatalistic elements within “Romeo and Juliet.” However, last night during mine and Grace’s slack conversation, we questioned the use of Shakespeare’s excessive use of foreshadowing in the play – nearly every scene explicitly hints at what is to come. Why would Shakespeare do this? Does is not hinder suspense? I feel like it challenges the play’s theme of fatalism. Shakespeare’s foreshadowing makes culprits of the audience – we know what is going to happen. While this may suggest a fatalist argument, the audience is also overtly aware of all the ways this tragedy could be avoided. They see the possibilities and yet are helpless to enact them – inspiring indignation against the society that asserts a capital T truth in the face of various individualistic truths. However, this is just an idea I’m toying with at the present – I will need to track the use of foreshadowing in the play. 
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Love or Duty?

Were I to write a paper on Antony and Cleopatra, I would write it on the clear juxtaposition of passion vs. discipline. Shakespeare sets up Antony and Caesar as clear foils for one another, and Antony's love for Cleopatra and resulting irrational behavior ultimately falls to Caesar’s clear vision and careful plans.
What Shakespeare doesn’t do is set up one person to be more virtuous than one another. Caesar is the antagonist of the play, but he isn’t shown to be vicious or hateful. In fact, he both likes and admires Antony, and mourns often that they are in opposition to one another.
When he hears of Antony’s death, he says, “But yet let me lament / With tears as sovereign as the blood of hearts / That thou my brother, my competitor / In top of all design, my mate in empire, / Friend and companion in the front of war, / The arm of mine own body, and he heart / Where mine his thoughts did kindle – that our stars / Unreconcilable should divide / Our equalness to this.” (5.1 49-57). This doesn’t sound like someone untouchable or angry. Caesar merely doesn’t let his emotions cloud his judgment. After this monologue, he immediately proceeds to deal with more state business.
Leah and I discussed on Slack how Caesar doesn’t show a whole lot of emotion. He’s not a robot, but he definitely isn’t given to the outrageous displays of passion we see from Antony and Cleopatra. When he hears of Antony’s betrayal, Caesar is upset, but mostly pities Antony. However, unlike his fellow triumvirate, Caesar does not put emotion over ambition, so he proceeds to crush him in battle anyway.Image result for love and dutyShakespeare juxtaposes this situation with another between Antony and Cleopatra. When Antony discovers that Cleopatra has betrayed him, he is furious, calls her a number of hurtful names, and orders her out of his sight. We see none of Caesar’s control and distance. This ultimately leads to both their deaths, for Cleopatra decides to pretend to kill herself to win Antony’s love back, but Antony believes the ploy and commits suicide for real.
Yet the audience’s sympathy is with Antony and Cleopatra, for their love is hard to resist. They are easy to be attached to and easy to love, and even easier to shake your head at. They are the dynamic center of the play, and you root for them even when you know the end is coming.
To write an actual paper on this, I’d want to research more about the real Antony and Cleopatra. The play starts in the middle of their relationship and leaves out key scenes (like Antony coming back to Egypt and reconciling with Cleopatra after his marriage), so I’d be curious to find out more about what they were really like. Plus, the battles and constantly changing alliances could be confusing so it wouldn’t hurt to get more background on Caesar’s war for dictatorship either.
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The Queens of Richard III

Image result for shakespeare queen margaret creative commons
Margaret of Anjou
Richard iii may very well be my favorite play to have read so far this semester. It is very clever in its use of wordplay and plot development.  The theme of conscience is huge and brought together through so many character’s interactions.  There's a lot I could write about, but what I think particularly strikes me as something that I might want explore further is the place of women in this play. There's a surprising number of women portrayed, and yet, when you google women in Shakespeare’s play, these characters are almost never mentioned. 
Shelby and I noticed and discussed the role of these women right away.  At first, I didn’t think it was really that significant because I didn’t think the women of the play would have an important role.  However, but the end of the play I saw the women characters to actually be the stronger ones. 
The entire of the tragic events of the play are laid out in curse originally by Queen Margaret showing that women’s words have power, although most people think of her as mad and do not take her seriously until the end, when her curses come to pass.  She has receive a lot of attention, but a less acknowledged and yet very powerful character is Queen Elizabeth, the wife of one the Edwards whom Richard kills. She proves to be a strong-willed character in the play and is one of the few that actually calls Richard out on his villainy.  When he asks her how to woo her daughter, after he’s killed many innocent people, she responds boldly,
“Send to her, by the man that slew her brothers,
A pair of bleeding-hearts; thereon engrave
Edward and York; then haply she will weep:
Therefore present to her--as sometime Margaret
Did to thy father, steep'd in Rutland's blood,--
A handkerchief; which, say to her, did drain
The purple sap from her sweet brother's body
And bid her dry her weeping eyes therewith.
If this inducement force her not to love,
Send her a story of thy noble acts;
Tell her thou madest away her uncle Clarence,
Her uncle Rivers; yea, and, for her sake,
Madest quick conveyance with her good aunt Anne.” (4.4.284-296)

She could easily have been killed for words like this, but she has had enough of standing by while Richard destroys her and everyone else’s lives.  This is just one selection of her bitter remarks.  Most readers, however, don’t seem to look into the strength of her character. 
I did find one interesting discussion reading the comments here that does explore women's roles a little, but could really be expanded.  There are so many views on Shakespeare and feminism or his portrayal of women and so many opinions on this play that I feel like this topic could really flesh out well in a paper.
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The Conspiracy of Julius Caesar

Were I to write a paper about Julius Caesar I think I would really like to go into the idea of conspiracy because throughout the play it seems that everyone conspires with one another: Caesar conspires with Antony to become emperor, Brutus conspires with Cassius to kill Caesar, etc. One line from the play really emphasizes this in a letter to Caesar that says, “Security gives way to/conspiracy” (2.3.7-8). It seems that everyone is confident in
his or her security but everyone is betrayed in the end.
Another thing that came up in the play that would be interesting to write about is this idea of free will v. fate, because so many people viewed Caesar as the man destined to become king, while the conspirators viewed him as a normal man and that destiny had nothing to do with it, leading them to despise Caesar and really the ideals that he was a symbol.
Another idea that I had that might not be a great English paper but perhaps a good history paper is comparison/contrast thesis between this betrayal of Caesar and that of other political betrayals (such as Lincoln). I think a compare/contrast between Caesar and Brutus would be really interesting to me as well; Brutus seems to be on a similar path as Caesar because both characters have friends that have aspirations for what they should do, Caesar should become king, Brutus should kill Caesar. Even people begin to shout for Brutus to be king at one point.

I think the research behind a play like Julius Caesar would be really fascinating because not only can you look for literary articles but you can also look at the actual history of what happened. I can delve more into the relationship with Brutus and Caesar, or the assassination itself. Because they talk as if Caesar and Brutus were best friends and I would love to see what was really entailed within that friendship. There just seems that there would be a lot of research to look into because for so much of our history, people have been obsessed with classicalism and trying to achieve this Roman ideal.
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Love and Foolishness in "Twelfth Night"

     After reading some of "Twelfth Night" I think there is so much in it that could be analyzed. The second alternate title for the play is "What You Will," which is almost Shakespeare saying, "get whatever you will out of this comedy." With its similarity to stories like “She’s the Man,” this play offers the ridiculousness of love.
     One of the things I noticed right away was not just the humor, but where the humor was coming from. When Viola disguises herself as a eunuch, and then is described as feminine and compared to women, we get situational humor. The same holds true for when Olivia falls in love with Viola. But there are characters in the play who are just funny, as well. Sir Toby is a drunk, and much of what he says is comical. He plays on words and has Andrew dance for him, but is still able to say profound things: "What dost thou mean? Is it a world to hide virtues in?"
     Then there is the Fool. He is just returning from a trip and needs to get into Olivia’s good graces. The first thing that happens is not in his favor:
            Olivia. Take the Fool away
Fool. Do you not hear fellows? Take away the Lady.
I laughed at this part, but he goes on to explain how Olivia really is being a fool for her prolonged mourning.
     Meanwhile, Orsino is pining after Olivia. And it seems to be all he does, despite Olivia’s rejections. The play seems to point out how love is what makes people foolish, not the usual things, like being drunk or actually being a Fool. This comparison of love and foolishness is fascinating. For further research I would look up articles that have probably been written about the subject, but also I might look at other plays by Shakespeare that have similar tones. I would especially look at his other comedies to see if they might have similar themes that Shakespeare liked to explore.
     I'll mention one more direction I could go in my research. "Twelfth Night" includes a lot of pagan symbols, which doesn't strike me as odd in a story full of deception. It reminds me somewhat of some of those old greek mythological stories. I might look into the images used in the play and see how they relate to the mythology.
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Shakespeare vs. Cervantes: The Race to Invent Metafiction

Shakespeare famously writes so that his characters will often break the fourth wall. The most cited example of this is the closing scene of The Tempest when Prospero delivers the epilogue and asks the audience for their applause. However, in the play The Merchant of Venice some of Shakespeare's characters also seem aware of a higher power controlling their destiny. We specifically looked at the example of Antonio's resignation to his fate. In the very first scene, he says "I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,/ A stage where every man must play a part,/ And mine a sad one" (1.1.81-83). Such determinism seeps throughout the entire play; Portia can not influence whom her husband will be, and despite Shylock's loses the trial and a substantial sum of money despite his multiple desperate attempts to break his cycle of misfortune. A glance at the included screenshot shows Shylock's passion and effort to earn justice. Yet life, or at least his artificial life in the play, consistently denies him what he so desires.

Hence, the idea of metafiction comes into play. Traditionally, scholars hail the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes as the inventor of literary metafiction. His novel Don Quixote de la Mancha features a protagonist who learns that he is a literary figure. His wild and absurd adventures then take on a new meaning as the reader wonders what is real, what is fiction, and what is simply Don Quixote's crazed imagination. The book was published in 1605.

Cervantes and Shakespeare were contemporary one to another. In fact, they died within the same week. Shakespeare debuted many plays before the publication of Don Quixote, so I would like to investigate just how many plays of his feature elements of metafiction. Both authors are well known and studied often, so I am not worried about a lack of information. Additionally, BYU is holding a lecture on the similarities between Cervantes' work and Shakespeare's plays this week, as it is the anniversary of both of their deaths.

Ultimately, I am unsure just how much influence Cervantes had outside of Spain directly after the publication of Don Quixote.  Research concerning the reach of each author would enlighten me as to who truly introduced the idea of self-aware characters to the world.
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