Tag Archives: marriage

Thoughts on “Henry VI, Part I” by William Shakespeare

This was my first time reading this play. Honestly, I shied away from the histories in the past, and tended to focus on the comedies and tragedies. I guess some part of me felt they might not be as enjoyable. But the truth is, this is a very enjoyable play and much more interesting than I expected.

The play is steeped in politics. It is set during the English battles with the French, where Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc) demonstrated her force on the field. It also explores the political strife that led to the War of the Roses. So there is a lot going on, but in spite of that, it is pretty easy to follow.

There is speculation that Shakespeare may have collaborated with Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe on the writing of this play.

Some regard Henry VI, Part 1 as the weakest of Shakespeare’s plays, and along with Titus Andronicus, it is generally considered one of the strongest candidates for evidence that Shakespeare collaborated with other dramatists early in his career.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Personally, I feel this play is way better that Titus Andronicus, but that’s just my opinion. That said, there are a few passages of interest that I want to share.

Charles: Then come, o’ God’s name; I fear no woman.

Joan la Pucelle: And while I live, I’ll ne’er fly from a man.

(Act I, scene ii)

What I love about these two lines is that they succinctly sum up the patriarchy mentality, and the rejection of that paradigm. As king of France, Charles embodies the idea of male dominance. But Joan is the feminist archetype. She rejects this male-dominance idea completely, and asserts that she will never allow herself to be subservient to someone strictly based upon gender. Not surprising, men of power view strong women as a threat, labeling them as witches and servants of evil.

Here, here she comes. I’ll have a bout with thee;
Devil or devil’s dam, I’ll conjure thee:
Blood will I draw on thee, thou art a witch,
And straightway give thy soul to him thou servest.

(Act I, scene v)

While factionalism in politics seems extremely pronounced these days, Shakespeare reminds us that politics have always been contentious and factional.

Good Lord, what madness rules in brainsick men,
When for so slight and frivolous a cause
Such factious emulations shall arise!
Good cousins both, of York and Somerset,
Quiet yourselves, I pray, and be at peace.

(Act IV, scene i)

As I look around me, I notice that we are living in a fear culture. The news media provides a steady stream of “what if” scenarios and opinions intended to increase your fear and keep you coming back to the channel or website. This is having a terrible effect on society, as well as on individuals. And as Shakespeare points out in this play, fear is one of the worst of human emotions.

Of all base passions, fear is the most accursed.

(Act V, scene ii)

And the last quote I want to share concerns marriage.

A dower, my lords! disgrace not so your king,
That he should be so abject, base and poor,
To choose for wealth and not for perfect love.
Henry is able to enrich his queen
And not seek a queen to make him rich:
So worthless peasants bargain for their wives,
As market-men for oxen, sheep, or horse.
Marriage is a matter of more worth
Than to be dealt in by attorneyship;
Not whom we will, but whom his grace affects,
Must be companion of his nuptial bed:
And therefore, lords, since he affects her most,
It most of all these reasons bindeth us,
In our opinions she should be preferr’d.
For what is wedlock forced but a hell,
An age of discord and continual strife?

(Act V, scene v)

I love this quote because it extols the importance of love when it comes to matrimony. It is clearly a romantic view that puts the focus on the compatibility between two people, as opposed to the financial or political advantages that might be gained from an arranged marriage.

While I agree that this is not Shakespeare’s greatest play, it is still good and worth reading. If for nothing else, it provides a glimpse into the writing of a young Shakespeare, as he was developing his skills as a wordsmith.

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“The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” by William Blake: Opening the Doors of Perception

MarriageHeavenHell

This is probably my favorite work by William Blake. It is fairly long (about 15 pages), so it is too long to include in this post, but I am sure you can find digital versions online should you need. The piece is a combination of prose and poetry, so the style and tone changes throughout the text. Essentially, you have a debate between angels and devils about heaven and hell, good and evil, reason and emotion, and so forth. The key concept is that you cannot have one without the other, that contradictions are necessary for existence. As such, Blake is challenging all the established ideas of his time. Coming out of the Age of Reason, he argues the importance of creativity and emotion (embodied by the Romantic movement). Additionally, he challenges the doctrines of the church, which are represented by the passive, and asserts the importance of energy, or the passionate desires and instincts that Christian ideology seeks to suppress.

One of the key things to keep in mind when reading this text is that Hell is not inherently evil, but it is a symbol for energy, passion, emotion, and creativity. The fourth section of the text is subtitled “Proverbs of Hell” and include several pages of short proverbs intended to teach the importance of tapping into creative energy. I will include a few of my favorites to give an idea of the concepts embodied in the proverbs.

  • The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

  • He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.

  • A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

  • He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.

  • No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.

  • What is now proved was once only imagin’d.

  • One thought fills immensity.

  • You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

  • Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement are roads of Genius.

One of the most interesting aspects of this piece is the exploration of the subconscious through the use of altered perception. Blake asserts that in our normal state of consciousness, we are unable to perceive the divine. It is only through altered consciousness that we can catch a glimpse of the divine realm.

The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert that God spoke to them; and whether they did not think at the time that they would be misunderstood, and so be the cause of imposition.

Isaiah answer’d: “I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover’d the infinite in everything, and as I was then persuaded, & remain confirm’d, that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences, but wrote.”

In his famous quote regarding the doors of perception, Blake acknowledges that the use of hallucinogenic substances, such as those used by indigenous shamanic cultures, can shift one’s consciousness to the point that an individual can perceive the divine. This quote and idea would later go on to inspire Aldous Huxley and later the rock group The Doors.

I then asked Ezekiel why he ate dung, and lay so long on his right and left side. He answer’d, “The desire of raising other men into a perception of the infinite: this the North American tribes practise, and is he honest who resists his genius or conscience only for the sake of present ease or gratification?”

. . .

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

Blake then goes on to describe a mushroom-induced experience of what it’s like to shift perception and plunge into the subconscious realm of visions and inspiration.

So I remain’d with him, sitting in the twisted root of an oak. He was suspended in a fungus, which hung with the head downward into the deep.

By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city; beneath us, at an immense distance, was the sun, black but shining; round it were fiery tracks on which revolv’d vast spiders, crawling after their prey, which flew, or rather swum, in the infinite deep, in the most terrific shapes of animals sprung from corruption; & the air was full of them, and seem’d composed of them—these are Devils, and are called Powers of the Air. I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot? He said: “Between the black & white spiders.”

Toward the end of the text, one of the devils makes an argument about Jesus, essentially asserting that Christ was rebellious and acted from impulse and passion, and did not restrain his desires as is taught by church doctrine. The result of the devil’s argument is that the angel who was listening embraced the flame (symbol of enlightenment and passion) and became one of the devils.

The Devil answer’d: “Bray a fool in a mortar with wheat, yet shall not his folly be beaten out of him. If Jesus Christ is the greatest man, you ought to love Him in the greatest degree. Now hear how He has given His sanction to the law of ten commandments. Did He not mock at the sabbath, and so mock the sabbath’s God; murder those who were murder’d because of Him; turn away the law from the woman taken in adultery; steal the labour of others to support Him; bear false witness when He omitted making a defence before Pilate; covet when He pray’d for His disciples, and when He bid them shake off the dust of their feet against such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments. Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules.”

The text concludes with a powerful line, asserting the divinity inherent within all things.

For every thing that lives is Holy.

I hear this line echoed in Allen Ginsberg’s great poem “Howl.” And I firmly believe this. Every living thing has a spark of the divine within it, but sometimes our perception is shrouded and we cannot see it. And this is the message of Blake’s text; We must clear away the debris that clouds our vision and seek to perceive the infinite and divine essence that is all around us.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you have an inspired day.

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“Sonnet 10: For shame! Deny that thou bear’st love to any” by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare

For shame! Deny that thou bear’st love to any,
Who for thy self art so unprovident.
Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,
But that thou none lov’st is most evident:
For thou art so possessed with murderous hate,
That ‘gainst thy self thou stick’st not to conspire,
Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate
Which to repair should be thy chief desire.
O! change thy thought, that I may change my mind:
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be, as thy presence is, gracious and kind,
Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove:
Make thee another self for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.

In this sonnet, Shakespeare’s criticism of the fair youth failing to marry and procreate gets a little harsher than in the previous nine sonnets. No longer does he try to coax the youth into accepting his paternal responsibilities; instead, he lashes out at him, accusing him of acting out of spite and disregard for future generations.

Accusing the youth of being “possessed with murderous hate” is pretty strong. No longer is the youth just being fickle, self-centered, or fearful. The youth is now depicted as hateful, to the point of destructiveness. I think this destructiveness exists on two levels. First, his actions are certainly destructive to the ones who love him, and according to line 3, there are many who love the youth. But I also see this as internal destructiveness. It almost feels like Shakespeare is accusing the youth of self-hatred. Line 12 certainly supports this interpretation, where Shakespeare entreats the youth “to thyself at least kind-hearted prove.”

It is not surprising that the tone has gotten stronger and more accusatory. This is a natural progression when someone feels that their advice and entreaties have been ignored. One cannot help but become angry, and this sonnet definitely expresses frustration at the continued refusal of the fair youth to marry and procreate.

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“Sonnet 9: Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye” by William Shakespeare

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye,
That thou consumest thyself in single life?
Ah! if thou issueless shalt hap to die,
The world will wail thee, like a makeless wife;
The world will be thy widow and still weep
That thou no form of thee hast left behind,
When every private widow well may keep
By children’s eyes her husband’s shape in mind.
Look, what an unthrift in the world doth spend
Shifts but his place, for still the world enjoys it;
But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,
And kept unused, the user so destroys it.
No love toward others in that bosom sits
That on himself such murderous shame commits.

This poem is another of Shakespeare’s “fair youth” sonnets. Basically, Shakespeare is asking the youth if the reason he fears marriage and children is because he is afraid of causing his wife pain should he die. I suspect that this is a legitimate concern for some, but I think it is just a lame excuse for many. Commitment, especially marriage and having children, is scary, especially for a young person. To say that you do not want to marry because your wife might suffer if you die is no reason to deprive yourself or another of the happiness of marriage.

When my wife and I began discussing having kids, I was unsure. I did not view the world as a great place and had genuine concerns about bringing kids into a world that seems to be crumbling before my eyes. But now, I am so grateful for my children. They are a blessing and my glimmer of light and hope. I could not imagine a life without them.

Fear should never prevent you from doing what you know in your heart to be right. Whenever we are confronted with fear, we should counter it with faith and courage, and place our trust in the fact that we are doing what is best.

Cheers!

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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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“Sonnet 8: Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?” by William Shakespeare

"The Musicians" by Caravaggio

“The Musicians” by Caravaggio

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lovest thou that which thou receivest not gladly,
Or else receivest with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tunèd sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: “Thou single wilt prove none.”

As a musician, this poem really works for me. I connected with the musical metaphors used to convey familial harmony.

Shakespeare is again addressing the fair youth and asking why the songs (or poems) encouraging marriage and children make the youth sad. As with most youths, he likely views marriage as the loss of freedom and liberty. He does not want to be tied down to responsibility. But as Shakespeare points out, marriage is more than just responsibility and commitment; it is about the joy of being in harmony with other human beings.

If we look deeper at the metaphor of musical harmony as used to express marital happiness, we can see just how appropriate this is. In music theory, a basic chord is built on a triad, which is comprised of three notes: the root, the third, and the fifth. The traditional family structure is also based upon a triad: “sire and child and happy mother.” While each individual string can create a note, it is the combination, the strumming of multiple strings, the shared vibrations, which create rich chords. Likewise, it is the family, the shared love, which creates richness and harmony in life.

In music, the combination of the various parts creates something that transcends the individual elements. It is the same with a loving family. When humans bond and share their feelings, it creates something that surpasses the sum of the individuals, and this is what Shakespeare is encouraging the youth to discover.

Thanks for stopping by, and may your day be filled with joy, music, and harmony.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 16

"Reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus" by Henri-Lucien Doucet

“Reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus” by Henri-Lucien Doucet

This episode corresponds with the scene in Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus is reunited with his son Telemachus in the hut of Eumaeus prior to his return to Ithaca. In Joyce’s novel, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are in the cabman’s shelter having coffee and a roll. Bloom is offering “fatherly” advice to Stephen, particularly in regard to his choice of friends and his tendency to visit Nighttown, Dublin’s red-light district. Because Odysseus was in disguise in the Homeric epic, images of impersonation, disguise, and false identity permeate the episode.

Throughout this episode, Bloom tries to present himself as an erudite person, which he is not. It is a disguise he dons in the hopes of gaining the trust and friendship of Stephen. Bloom uses clichés and big words to try to sound smart, but in truth, doing so only draws attention to the fact that he is significantly less educated than Stephen. It is also worth pointing out that Stephen provides terse responses, almost as if he is intentionally hiding his intelligence.

—Everybody gets their own ration of luck, they say. Now you mention it his face was familiar to me. But leaving that for the moment, how much did you part with, he queried, if I am not too inquisitive?

—Half-a-crown, Stephen responded. I daresay he needs it to sleep somewhere.

—Needs, Mr Bloom ejaculated, professing not the least surprise at the intelligence, I can quite credit the assertion and I guarantee he invariably does. Everyone according to his needs and everyone according to his deeds. But talking about things in general, where, he added with a smile, will you sleep yourself? Walking to Sandycove is out of the question and, even supposing you did, you won’t get in after what occurred at Westland Row station. Simply fag out there for nothing. I don’t mean to presume to dictate to you in the slightest degree but why did you leave your father’s house?

—To seek misfortune, was Stephen’s answer.

(p. 619)

As the conversation in the cabman’s shelter continues, the topic of Parnell comes up, along with his scandalous affair with Kitty O’Shea, who was married to Captain William O’Shea. This causes Bloom to think about his marriage to Molly and her relationship with Blazes Boylan.

The eternal question of the life connubial, needless to say, cropped up. Can real love, supposing there happens to be another chap in the case, exist between married folk?

(p. 651)

Joyce then makes the connection back to the Odyssey, pointing out that men will hang around waiting for their chance to move in on a married woman, in the same way that the suitors waited around for their chance at Penelope in Homer’s epic.

He personally, being of a skeptical bias, believed, and didn’t make the smallest bones about saying so either, that man, or men in the plural, were always hanging around on the waiting list about a lady, even supposing she was the best wife in the world and they got on fairly well together for the sake of argument, when, neglecting her duties, she chose to be tired of the wedded life, and was on for a little flutter in the polite debauchery to press their intentions on her with improper intent, the upshot being that her affections centered on another, the cause of many liaisons between still attractive married women getting on for fair and forty and younger men, no doubt as several famous cases of feminine infatuation proved up to the hilt.

(pp. 655 – 656)

Toward the end of the episode, Bloom convinces Stephen to return with him to his house. As they walk off together into the night, they talk about music, sirens, and usurpers. The episode concludes with a streetsweeper’s impression of the two walking together which I found to be beautifully written.

The driver never said a word, good, bad or indifferent. Me merely watched the two figures, as he sat on his lowbacked car, both black—one full, one lean—walk towards the railway bridge, to be married by Father Maher. As they walked, they at times stopped and walked again, continuing their téte-à-téte (which of course he was utterly out of), about sirens, enemies of man’s reason, mingled with a number of topics of the same category, usurpers, historical cases of the kind while the man in the sweeper car or you might as well call it the sleeper car who in any case couldn’t possibly hear because they were too far simply sat in the seat near the end of lower Gardiner street and looked after their lowbacked car.

(p. 665)

We’re nearing the end of the book. The next episode ends on page 737 in my version with what appears to be a large bullet-like punctuation.


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section16.rhtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eumaeus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Stewart_Parnell

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