Tag Archives: authority

Metatheatricality in “The Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare: A Play within a Play

I read this play many times when I was in college, because it was part of my senior thesis, which I called “Order and Authority in Shakespeare’s Comedies.” I basically argued that Petruchio was a play on words and symbolized Patriarchy, and that the play sought to reestablish patriarchal rule that was being challenged by the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Needless to say, I didn’t feel the need to read it again for a long time. But reading it again, I realized that I had totally forgotten that this is the classic example of metatheatricality, or a play within a play.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, metatheatre is “theatre which draws attention to its unreality, especially by the use of a play within a play.”

Shakespeare places an Induction before Act I. Basically, it has a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly who passes out, and as a trick, is dressed up as a lord and treated as such when he awakens. His “servants” then have him seated to watch a play performed, which is “The Taming of the Shrew.” So unlike “The Mousetrap” within “Hamlet,” here we have the entire play set within a play.

The Induction also functions as a foreshadowing of the events that will transpire in the play itself. For example, the main theme of the duty and obedience which a wife is expected to show to her husband.

Sirrah, go you to Barthol’mew my page,
And see him dress’d in all suits like a lady:
That done, conduct him to the drunkard’s chamber;
And call him ‘madam,’ do him obeisance.
Tell him from me, as he will win my love,
He bear himself with honourable action,
Such as he hath observed in noble ladies
Unto their lords, by them accomplished:
Such duty to the drunkard let him do
With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,
And say ‘What is’t your honour will command,
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her love?’

(Induction, scene i)

And when the page meets Sly disguised as a woman, he reiterates the idea that a woman must be subservient to her husband.

My husband and my lord, my lord and husband;
I am your wife in all obedience.

(Induction, scene ii)

In addition to the obedient wife theme, there is also the theme of clothing, and changing of clothes to change or disguise a person. This is a key component of the Induction, and then plays out in the actual play. For example, Lucentio disguises himself and takes on the name Cambio, which is Spanish for “change.” It is in this changed manner that he woos Bianca.

His name is Cambio. Pray accept his service.

(Act II, scene i)

I suspect that Shakespeare used metatheatre to create an additional layer of protection for himself. If the play was intended to be a subversive jab at the Queen’s authority, he could argue that it was not intended to be taken seriously, hence twice removed from reality. Artists challenging authority do so at grave risk, so one cannot be too cautious, especially in a time and place where sedition is dealt with in the harshest of ways.

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“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” by Alan Moore

I watched the film adaptation of this graphic novel many years ago, before I even knew about the graphic novel. I liked the film a lot. It spoke to my interest in science fiction, adventure tales, and 19th century literature. All of these things are brilliantly blended together in this book, which is lavishly illustrated by Kevin O’Neill.

This omnibus edition includes two full volumes, as well as a wealth of supplemental material that is all worth exploring. There are coloring pages, games, instructions for crafts, everything that an intrepid nerd could ask for.

In addition to all the fun material and the brilliant artwork, there is Moore’s incredible writing, which flows effortlessly while focusing a lens on human nature, and also touching on the mystical and unusual in experience.

Moore uses the character of Miss Mina Murray as a voice of criticism against the male-dominated society of the 19th century.

Mina Murray: “Why are men so obsessed with mechanisms that further nothing but destruction?”

Here she is not only speaking out against patriarchy, but she is also making a bold comment on the industrial revolution, and the negative impacts that it had on society. She then goes on to express how challenging it can be for women in positions of authority.

Mina Murray: “The point is that I’m supposed to be the person organizing this… this menagerie! But that will never do, will it? Because I’m a woman! They constantly undermine my authority, him and that Quatermain…”

Shifting the focus away from social criticism, I want to share a well-written passage describing Allan Quatermain’s drug-induced altered state of consciousness.

Quatermain had felt the consciousness torn from his body, gripped by the drug’s phantasmal diamond fist. He’d heard Marisa scream and then the awareness was dashed from him by a cold, obliterating light. Now he was lost. As sensibility returned, he found himself afloat, a ghostly form amidst a shimmering violet limbo. What had happened? This was not the breathtaking immersion in past incarnation that the drug had hitherto provided. All about him dream-like forms congealed from viscous twilight, half-materialized before once more dissolving into opalescent nothing. Smoldering ferns and mollusk spirals, scintillating on the brink of substance.

Describing the experience of a shift in consciousness is not an easy task for a writer, since the nature of this experience is generally beyond words. But Moore does a great job is conveying the experience.

One of the characters in this book is Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. As the tale progresses, Jekyll fades out of the story and Hyde becomes the dominant character. This symbolizes what happens when the dualistic nature of humans gets out of balance. As Hyde points out, there has to be a balance. If the light becomes too strong, or the dark becomes too strong, then there are negative effects on the individual.

Hyde: “Anyway, what that silly bastard did , he thought is he quarantined all these bad parts, what was left would be a ****ing angel. huh-huh.”

Driver: “Hang on. If you’re this chap’s sins, how did you end up so bloody big?”

Hyde: “Good point [chlop]. That’f a very goob poimp. I mean, when I started out, good God, I was practically a ****ing dwarf. Jekyll, on the other hand, a great big strapping fellow. Since then, though, my growth’s been unrestricted, while he’s wasted away to nothing. Obvious, really. Without me, you see, Jekyll has no drives…and without him, I have no restraints.”

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I will say, though, that the last section is very long, comprised entirely of small-type text and is intended to mimic a travel almanac. While you may be tempted to skip over this somewhat tedious part of the book, I found it worthwhile to read through it. It is brimming with literary and pop-culture references to fictional locations, and is done so in a very creative way. It is not easy to read, but I think it’s worth it. I found lots and lots of subtle allusions to books I had read in the past, which stirred some good memories for me.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading stuff.

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“Measure for Measure” by William Shakespeare – #MeToo

I had not read this play since college, and it bothered me back then. But reading it now, in light of the whole #MeToo movement, it was even more infuriating.

This play is a “comedy,” not because it is funny, but because it ends with marriage (as opposed to a tragedy, which ends in death). It is definitely considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, along with Merchant of Venice. It is a play that explores questions of justice, law, punishment, and mercy. But what is most problematic for me is the depiction of how women are sexually exploited by men in positions of power and authority.

Basically, what happens in the play is that the Duke of Vienna places all authority to enforce laws upon his Deputy, Angelo. Angelo is strict and supposedly steadfast, and the Duke claims he wants to test Angelo’s resolve. Angelo begins enforcing a long-ignored law sentencing people to death for having sex out of wedlock. His first example is Claudio, who has a virgin sister named Isabella. Isabella goes before Angelo to plead for her brother’s life, and Angelo basically tells her he will only spare her brother if she agrees to have sex with him.

And now I give my sensual race the rein:
Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite;
Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes,
That banish what they sue for; redeem thy brother
By yielding up thy body to my will;
Or else he must not only die the death,
But thy unkindness shall his death draw out
To lingering sufferance. Answer me to-morrow,
Or, by the affection that now guides me most,
I’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you,
Say what you can, my false o’erweighs your true.

(Act II, scene iv)

I won’t spoil the details of how everything plays itself out, but suffice to say that Isabella manages to save her brother and her virginity, with the aid of the disguised Duke. But that sets us up for what, in my opinion, is the most offensive part of this play—the very end.

Long story short, the Duke pardons people, measures out justice that seems to be tempered with mercy, and thereby reinstates order out of the chaos. But it is the Duke’s “pardoning” of Claudio that is the major issue.

If he be like your brother, for his sake
Is he pardon’d; and, for your lovely sake,
Give me your hand and say you will be mine.
He is my brother too: but fitter time for that.

(Act V, scene i)

Basically, the Duke is doing the same thing Angelo was doing, pardoning Claudio on the condition that Isabella giver herself to him. And while, yes, the implication here is that the Duke intends to marry her, it’s still not OK. He is still using his authority to get what he wants, taking advantage of a young woman, and even worse, not applying the scales of justice evenly to himself as to others (namely Angelo).

I don’t claim to know Shakespeare’s intent when he wrote this play. Maybe he was making a critique against the patriarchal hierarchy, or maybe he was claiming it is OK to take advantage of a woman as long as you are “responsible” and marry her. But the fact is, in the 21st century, this attitude towards women is offensive, to say the least.

In spite of the gender issues in this play, it is still worth reading for the exploration of law, justice, punishment, and mercy. As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the play. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading challenging stuff.

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“The Garden of Love” by William Blake

GardenOfLove

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.

This poem, included in the Songs of Experience, is an attack against the church and ecclesiastic authority. The Garden of Love symbolizes the Garden of Eden, which Blake associates with sexual freedom. Sexuality is not sinful in Blake’s eyes, but a beautiful and natural part of the human experience.

The image of the chapel in the midst of the Garden implies that the church and religious dogma are preventing humanity’s return to the Edenic state. As a result, the statement “Thou shalt not” takes on two meanings. The obvious is “thou shalt not” have sex out of wedlock, which is contradictory to the natural human state as Blake sees it. But also, “thou shalt not” re-enter the Garden of Eden. The church is like the cherubim blocking the return to the Garden.

The other metaphor I want to point out is the image of “tombstones where flowers should be.” The flower symbolizes the woman who has reached sexual maturity. Sadly, in Blake’s society, a woman who gave in to her sexual desires was cast out and shunned, often left desolate on the streets and destined to die at an early age. For a woman back then, sex before marriage too often resulted in death.

Although we have come a long way in accepting our sexuality, there are still cultures that condemn women for engaging in intercourse out of wedlock and we see news stories of women who are murdered for doing so. The big difference is that most of us are horrified by these occurrences, which is a sign that as a society we are slowly moving in the right direction.

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Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel” by Hope Larson

WrinkleTimeLarson_1

Earlier this year, my daughter and I attended a convention and Hope Larson was one of the guests. We picked up a copy of this book and got it signed, then it joined the other books on the waiting list. Anyway, I finally got around to reading it.

I remember reading the original book as a kid, but it was so long ago that I really didn’t remember anything about the story. What I did remember was the impression it left, that I had really liked it and that I had felt inspired after reading it. Since I do not remember the details of when I read the book back in elementary school, I cannot say for sure how accurate Ms. Larson’s adaptation is to the original, but I will go on the assumption that it is true to L’Engle’s classic.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that the artwork is excellent. Larson uses shades of blue and black in all her panels, and it works very well. As I allowed the images to guide me through the story, I actually felt like I was moving through another dimension. The color scheme gave everything a slightly dreamlike or surreal quality, while the images kept me somewhat grounded. There is one image of Meg glaring angrily at someone, and she is literally staring daggers. It is a great image and I laughed out loud when I came across it.

WrinkleTimeLarson_2

Now on to the text.

I could not help but interpreting the three women who guide the children through time and space as a manifestation of the Triple Goddess: Mrs. Whatsit (the younger of the three) representing the maid, Mrs. Who representing the mother, and Mrs. Which as the crone. Each of the women seems to embody the characteristics that you would expect from the aspect of the Goddess that they represent.

There is a great section in this book that addresses the issue of differences between people. It puts forth both sides of the argument: on one hand, differences are the root of unhappiness for people, who tend to judge themselves and others based upon observable inequalities; but on the other hand, differences are the source of happiness, allowing people to be individuals and pursue their own paths.

Charles: On Camazotz we are all happy because we are all alike. Differences create problems. You know that, don’t you, dear sister?

Meg: No.

Charles: Yes, you do. You’ve seen at home how true it is. That’s the reason you’re unhappy at school. You’re different.

Calvin: I’m different, and I’m happy.

Charles: But you pretend that you aren’t different.

Calvin: I’m different and I like being different!

Meg: Maybe I don’t like being different, but I don’t want to be like everybody else either.

(p. 255)

Another passage that fascinated me was when Meg’s father explains to Calvin how he was able to resist IT.

Because IT’s completely unused to being refused. That’s the only reason I could keep from being absorbed, too. No mind has tried to hold out against IT for so many thousands of centuries that certain centers have become soft and atrophied through lack of use.

(p. 299)

There is a lot to consider in this brief passage. Firstly, if we interpret IT as a symbol for institutional authority that demands conformity, then this passage can be viewed as encouraging dissidence and a breaking of social mores. The only way that society advances is when brave individuals challenge the accepted beliefs and refuse to be just another cog in the wheel. But there is something else that really struck me about this passage: the issue of parts the brain becoming atrophied through lack of use. I truly believe this, and I believe it on two levels. Certainly, mental stimulation helps keep the brain sharp (hence I am such an obsessive reader). But also, I think this ties into thought and consciousness. There are parts of our psyche that are neglected as we go through our mundane routines of daily life. We can easily forget to exercise our creative sides through art, meditation, visualization, spirituality, and such. If we go down that path of neglecting our spiritual and creative sides, we run the risk of allowing those parts of our consciousness to become atrophied.

I have to say that although I didn’t remember the details of when I read this book as a kid, I can certainly see how the lessons have become a part of who I am. I value individualism and appreciate the differences in others. I understand the importance of continuous learning and challenging established beliefs. And finally, I believe that there are myriad undiscovered realms in the infinite universes which exist within us and around us.

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“Evil” by Arthur Rimbaud

Rimbaud

While the red-stained mouths of machine guns ring
Across the infinite expanse of day;
While red or green, before their posturing King,
The massed battalions break and melt away;

And while a monstrous frenzy runs a course
That makes of a thousand men a smoking pile-
Poor fools! – dead, in summer, in the grass,
On Nature’s breast, who meant these men to smile;

There is a God, who smiles upon us through
The gleam of gold, the incense-laden air,
Who drowses in a cloud of murmured prayer,

And only wakes when weeping mothers bow
Themselves in anguish, wrapped in old black shawls-
And their last small coin into his coffer falls.

(translation from http://www.poemhunter.com)

This is a very intense poem and I see it as a strong critique against tyrannical rulers who abuse their power, particularly those associated with the Catholic Church. Rimbaud sees this as the ultimate evil, to commit murder in the name of God, or to gather money from mourning mothers to bolster wealth. And it seems as if he is making a connection between the two, that young men are being sent off to die in the name of God and King, and then the mothers of the dead soldiers are exploited, manipulated into giving up their money in the hope that doing so will secure a place in Heaven for their dead sons.

HussardThe one part of this poem that puzzled me was the reference to red and green. After doing a little research online, I came up with two possibilities. The first is that Rimbaud was referring to the hussars, a regimen of soldiers who fought under Napoleon. According to Wikipedia: “Hussars were notoriously impetuous, and Napoleon was quoted as stating that he would be surprised for a hussar to live beyond the age of 30 due to their tendency to become reckless in battle, exposing their weaknesses in frontal assaults. The hussars of Napoleon created the tradition of sabrage, the opening of a champagne bottle with a sabre.” Anyway, the hussars wore green and red uniforms.

The other possibility is that Rimbaud was referring to the colors of liturgical vestments worn during Catholic services. In that period, different colors were worn for different liturgies, and red or green vestments were fairly common colors, depending upon the service. (Source) It is also possible that he was referring to both.

I am inclined to agree with Rimbaud’s thoughts. People who use their power to exploit others are the embodiment of evil. Unfortunately, this is something that still occurs today. But, on a more optimistic note, I think society is less tolerant of people who abuse their authority, and that bodes well.

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