Tag Archives: comedy

Folklore in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by William Shakespeare

This was my first time reading this play, and I have to say, I really liked it. It is very funny and accessible. And while I have also never seen it performed, the language is so rich that I could easily picture the scenes in my mind’s eye as they would be acted out on stage. The play is full of sexual jokes and puns, which I’m sure went over really well with audiences during Shakespeare’s time. But what interests me the most about this play is the folklore woven in to the story.

When plotting revenge on Sir John Falstaff, Mistress Page presents a folk tale about Herne the Hunter

There is an old tale goes that Herne the Hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree and takes the cattle
And makes milch-kine yield blood and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner:
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Received and did deliver to our age
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.

(Act IV, scene iv)

While the archetype of horned deities that roam the wooded areas are myriad and ancient, what is fascinating about this myth is that Shakespeare’s reference to Herne is the earliest known reference in existence.

In English folklore, Herne the Hunter is a ghost associated with Windsor Forest and Great Park in the English county of Berkshire. He is said to wear antlers upon his head, ride a horse, torment cattle, and rattle chains. The earliest mention of Herne comes from William Shakespeare’s 1597 play The Merry Wives of Windsor, and it is impossible to know how accurately or to what degree Shakespeare may have incorporated a real local legend into his work, though there have been several later attempts to connect Herne to historical figures, pagan deities, or ancient archetypes.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So this begs the question: Was Shakespeare drawing on local folklore when writing this play, or did he just make up the tale of Herne to help drive the story? There is no way to know, but all mythology and folklore must begin by the telling of a story, and that’s what is really important here. It doesn’t really matter whether Shakespeare made this up, or if he heard it being told around a pub. What matters is that the tale was written down, and the myth was given birth, and it persisted. Herne may just be an artistic personification the archetypal forest god, but in the telling of the story and the acting of the play, Herne is given life and brought into existence within our collective consciousness.

The number three has been considered a mystical number for as long as humans have contemplated the magical nature of numbers, which is why Falstaff’s short passage regarding the number three caught my attention.

Prithee, no more prattling; go. I’ll hold. This is
the third time; I hope good luck lies in odd
numbers. Away I go. They say there is divinity in
odd numbers, either in nativity, chance, or death. Away!

(Act V, scene i)

This concept of the mystical power of 3 has become part of folk belief. The phrases are many: “Third one’s a charmer,” “Death comes in threes,” “Three strikes and you’re out.” Once a concept becomes planted in the collective consciousness, it manifests in folk sayings, as shown in the sayings concerning the number three.

Finally, no exploration of English folklore would be complete without mentioning the Fairy Folk, which Shakespeare also does in this play.

About, about;
Search Windsor Castle, elves, within and out:
Strew good luck, ouphes, on every sacred room:
That it may stand till the perpetual doom,
In state as wholesome as in state ’tis fit,
Worthy the owner, and the owner it.
The several chairs of order look you scour
With juice of balm and every precious flower:
Each fair installment, coat, and several crest,
With loyal blazon, evermore be blest!
And nightly, meadow-fairies, look you sing,
Like to the Garter’s compass, in a ring:
The expressure that it bears, green let it be,
More fertile-fresh than all the field to see;
And ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ write
In emerald tufts, flowers purple, blue and white;
Let sapphire, pearl and rich embroidery,
Buckled below fair knighthood’s bending knee:
Fairies use flowers for their charactery.
Away; disperse: but till ’tis one o’clock,
Our dance of custom round about the oak
Of Herne the Hunter, let us not forget.

(Act V, scene v)

While the fairies in this scene are just people pretending to be fairies in order to tease Falstaff, the imagery is consistent with the folklore surrounding fairies. And of particular interest is the custom of dancing around the oak tree. The idea of the oak as a sacred tree dates back to Greek mythology. It is mentioned in Celtic, Norse, Baltic, Slavic, Druid, and Wiccan mythology. It even has significance in the Bible as being the place where Jacob buries the foreign gods of his people and under which he erects a stone as the first covenant of the Lord. (Source: Wikipedia)

There is one more folk belief that is in this play that I want to mention, and it is a dark one: the “trial by fire.”

With trial-fire touch me his finger-end:
If he be chaste, the flame will back descend
And turn him to no pain; but if he start,
It is the flesh of a corrupted heart.

(Act V, scene v)

This conjures some very dark images for me. I cannot help but envision innocents accused of witchcraft or heresy tied to a stake and set a flame, as a way to test their guilt or innocence. This serves as a warning to us, that while there is much wisdom to be gleaned from folklore, we must also be vigilant and approach these tales with a critical mind.

In spite of the one dark spot, I still think this is a great and funny play. I hope to see it performed sometime in the near future.

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 4: The Portrayal of Women

quixoteandwomen

So for this post, I wanted to look at the way women are portrayed in Don Quixote. I’ll start by sharing a few passages and then provide my thoughts.


If, then, the mine of her honour, beauty, virtue, and modesty yields thee without labour all the wealth it contains and thou canst wish for, why wilt thou dig the earth in search of fresh new veins, of new unknown treasure, risking the collapse of all, since it but rests on the feeble props of her weak nature?

(p. 337)


At these words Luscinda looked up at Cardenio, at first beginning to recognise him by his voice and then satisfying herself by her eyes that it was he, and hardly knowing what she did, and heedless of all considerations of decorum, she flung her arms around his neck and pressing her face close to his, said, “Yes, my dear lord, you are the true master of this your slave, even though adverse fate interpose again, and fresh dangers threaten this life that hangs on yours.”

(p. 377)


I follow another, easier, and to my mind wiser course, and that is to rail at the frivolity of women, at their inconstancy, their double dealing, their broken promises, their unkept pledges, and in short the want of reflection they show in fixing their affections and inclinations.

(p. 525)


At first, I felt disgusted and angered at the way women are depicted in this book. I find it deeply offensive to assert that anyone’s race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation makes that person less than equal. I understand that ideas shift throughout history, and what is considered an acceptable belief at one point can be completely rejected at another stage in history, but that still doesn’t make it any more palatable to me.

But as I sat and pondered on this, an idea struck me that changed my view of how Cervantes was portraying women. This text is a complete farce. It is meant to be ridiculous and comical, while addressing truths between the lines. This made me begin to wonder if Cervantes was putting these beliefs out there as being ludicrous, in the same way that Don Quixote’s beliefs regarding chivalry are completely insane and comical. And the more I thought about this, the more it seemed to ring true for me. I believe that Cervantes was pointing out just how silly the established belief of women being lesser than men actually is. He basically used comedy as a form of social criticism, and I love that.

When artists challenge the paradigms of their time, humor is a great tool. It is less threatening, but still forces people to face their prejudices and biases, a tradition that is still alive and well thanks to SNL and Stephen Colbert.

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Devi Witchblade

DeviWitchblade

I was recently in the local comic store picking up my cache of comics, and the owner told me he had added this one to my folder, knowing I followed the Witchblade saga. He told me that it was a one-off “crossover” issue that they published after the conclusion of the series. I looked at it and considered whether or not to buy it. I decided that since it is just a single issue story, I would buy it and give it a read.

Now I have to say that I immediately wanted to hate this. I felt annoyed that they had published the finale of Witchblade and then not long after released this. And then there was the cover. It looked like something from an adolescent lesbian fantasy. I was sure I would hate this comic.

After reading it, I can say that, overall, I did not like it; but I did not hate it nearly as much as I thought I would. My biggest complaint about this is the sexually objectified depictions of the women. There is one panel in particular where Sara looks like an inflatable love doll. It borders on the offensive. I guess some people like that, but for me it does nothing.

There are some redeeming qualities to this tale, though. The Indian city of Sitapur (which a quick Google search has confirmed is an actual city in India) is depicted as a blending of ancient and modern, symbolic of the merging of the mystical with the worldly. The goddess Devi is also presented in a similar manner, as a unification of the divine with the physical. This I found interesting and wished that it was more the focus instead of near-naked women in provocative poses. Also, there is some humor thrown in which I found entertaining and which offered some comic relief (yes, pun intended).

So, if you really loved Witchblade, then you might want to pick up a copy, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to do so. Personally, I hope they don’t release any more “crossover” issues. Lay the story to rest with some dignity.

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Doctor Strange: Issue 02

DoctorStrange_02

Prior to this arc, the only Doctor Strange I had read was the early Stan Lee and Steve Ditko incarnation. I have to say that this arc, while enjoyable, is somewhat on the silly side compared with those early issues. As I read this, I couldn’t help wondering about the upcoming Doctor Strange film which is in the works. Will it be more like the earlier Strange, or more like this newer version? Personally, I hope they lean more toward the earlier.

This installment is still laying the foundation for the story. Doctor Strange has treated a woman, Zelma Stanton, who was infected with Mind Maggots. Zelma is a librarian and Strange convinces her to help him organize his extensive collection of occult books. We also discover that a group called the Empiriku is seeking sorcerers across dimensions to destroy them. One does not need the powers of prescience to see that they will eventually come after the Sorcerer Supreme.

As is my wont, I like to include a quote or two from what I read. This one made me chuckle to myself. As a bibliophile, I was able to relate to Zelma’s reaction when she encounters Doctor Strange’s collection of books.

AAIEEE!!! That’s the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen!!! Do you really put all your books in piles like that?! God, you’re a monster!

Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to read something today!

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Kaptara: Issue 3

Kaptara_03

This comic is very, very funny. There were several times where I actually laughed out loud. And the humor is a great blend of low-brow jokes and witty satire. In addition, the story is really good. It’s a great blend of science fiction and fantasy populated with a host of quirky and interesting characters. And if that’s not enough, the artwork is excellent. Lots of detail and the characters are wonderfully expressive in appearance.

I’ll include one quote in this post, because I just love this quote so much. I hope it whets your appetite and motivates you to check this comic out.

“It’s not the years in your life that matter, it’s the life in your years.”

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool and inspiring stuff.

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Kaptara: Issue 1

Kaptara_01

On a recent visit to Comic Envy (my favorite local comic store), the manager was kind enough to give me a comp copy of this comic. She said that she thought I would enjoy it and I most certainly did.

The story features a gay bio-engineer named Keith who is part of an expedition to Mars. The craft gets pulled into a wormhole and the crew escapes via escape pods. They land on a planet rich with surreal plants and animals, including some that are seriously ferocious. Keith is rescued by the inhabitants of the planet, which is named Kaptara. It is discovered that the wormhole was created by an evil dude named Skullthor who has traveled to Earth in order to rule there. The Kaptarans assure Keith that they will go to Earth to free the planet from Skullthor.

This definitely falls into the space-fantasy genre, which I have an affinity for. The writing is very good, as is the artwork. There is also a good serving of humor in here, which works nicely. It seems to have struck a good balance between sci-fi, fantasy, and comedy.

So the question is, do I add this to my list of comics that I will follow? I think I can swing it. There are a few arcs that have come to a close recently, and one which I am intentionally dropping, so I think I can take this on. It certainly has potential based upon this first issue. I’ll probably pick up the next issue today. I’ll let you know my thoughts on that one soon.

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Parody in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

HitchhikersGuide

It’s hard to believe that I had never read this book before, but I have finally gotten around to it. It was a popular book when I was a teenager, but for whatever reason, I just never read it. The book is very funny and full of witty parodies. I blew through it in no time at all and was thoroughly entertained from cover to cover.

I figure rather than writing a summary of the book, I would instead look at some of the parodies that stood out for me.

One of the first parodies that struck me was the Guide’s detailed explanation of the importance of a towel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapor; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you—daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

(pp. 27 – 28)

Reading this reminded me of Rabelais, who also used long lists as a form of parody. What comes to mind are the pages in Gargantua and Pantagruel where he describes all the various things that one can use to wipe one’s behind.

Another scene which I found hysterical was when Ford and Arthur are captured by the Vogons and as a form a torture, they are forced to listen to Vogon poetry, which is considered to be the second worst in the universe. So not only does Adams parody bad poetry, but he pokes fun at pompous scholars who write criticism. He does this by having the captives try to come up with a critique of the offensive poetry to make it appear to be some form of high art.

“Oh yes,” said Arthur, “I thought that some of the metaphysical imagery was really particularly effective.”

Ford continued to stare at him, slowly organizing his thoughts around this totally new concept. Were they really going to be able to bareface their way out of this?

“Yes, do continue…” invited the Vogon.

“Oh… and, er… interesting rhythmic devices too,” continued Arthur, “which seemed to counterpoint the… er… er…” he floundered.

Ford leaped to the rescue, hazarding “… counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the… er…” He floundered too, but Arthur was ready again.

“… humanity of the…”

Vogonity,” Ford hissed at him.

“Ah yes, Vogonity—sorry—of the poet’s compassionate soul”—Arthur felt he was on a homestretch now—“which contrives through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other”—he was reaching a triumphant crescendo—“and one is left with a profound and vivid insight into… into… er…” (which suddenly gave out on him). Ford leaped in with the coup de grace:

“Into whatever it was the poem was about!” he yelled. Out of the corner of his mouth: “Well done, Arthur, that was very good.”

(pp. 66 – 67)

The last parody I will discuss is a brilliant bit of satire that lampoons philosophers and workers at the same time. The philosophers are depicted as individuals who feel they have a monopoly on the truth. They are also extremely self-righteous and just like workers are ready to go on strike at a moment’s notice if things do not go the way they want. So in this section, the philosophers are incensed because a computer is being tasked with discovering the answer to the ultimate question of existence, which the philosophers feel is their domain and if the answer is discovered will jeopardize their jobs.

“I’ll tell you what the problem is, mate,” said Majikthise, “demarcation, that’s the problem.”

“We demand,” yelled Vroomfondel, “that demarcation may or may not be the problem!”

“You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, “and we’ll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. You want to check your legal position, you do, mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job, aren’t we? I mean, what’s the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?”

“That’s right,” shouted Vroomfondel, “we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”

Suddenly a stentorian voice boomed across the room.

“Might I make an observation at this point?” inquired Deep Thought.

“We’ll go on strike!” yelled Vroomfondel.

“That’s right!” agreed Majikthise. “You’ll have a national Philosophers’ strike on your hands!”

(p. 172)

So as you read the craziness in the news and start to worry that the end of the world is nigh, just keep in mind the profound words of advice from this sage book: DON’T PANIC.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

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