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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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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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Hellboy: Krampusnacht

Tis the season: lights, decorations, Yule logs, nativity scenes, mistletoe, holiday cheer, and of course, Krampus.

One of the things that I love about the Hellboy series is the way that the creative team incorporates myths, legends, and the occult. Myths are such powerful forms of storytelling and they convey profound wisdom and insight into the human condition that they are able to be re-imagined with each new generation. And that is exactly what this issue does—it presents the story of Krampus in a way that resonates with the average American reader.

You’re going to have to bear with me. I’m an American. Over there we’ve got Santa Claus and the elves with toys. Over here… you’ve got Saint Nicholas and his monster sidekick, the Krampus. While Nick’s handing out toys, Krampus–that’s you–hits the bad kids with sticks and rides them around in a basket.

Toward the end of the tale, Hellboy and the professor discuss the possible origins of the Krampus legend.

Professor: Well, I wonder what old Harry Middleton will make of this. I’ll have to call him in the morning… For years he’s maintained that the Krampus was actually the demon goat of the witches’ sabbath, done up in fancy dress for the holidays. And I’ve argued that it was just a slightly nastier variation on the Scandinavian Yule Goat.

Hellboy: “Yule Goat.”

Professor: Yule Goat. Joulupukki. The pre-Christian goat-man version of Father Christmas.

I had never heard of Joulupukki before, but a quick search online provided me with some background on the myth.

Joulupukki is a Finnish Christmas figure. The name “Joulupukki” literally means “Christmas goat” or “Yule Goat” in Finnish; the word pukki comes from the Teutonic root bock, which is a cognate of the English “buck”, and means “billy-goat”. An old Scandinavian custom, the figure eventually became more or less conflated with Santa Claus.

Pagans used to have festivities to honour the return of the sun and some believe Joulupukki is the earliest form of present-day Santa. The Yule Goat was thought by some to be an ugly creature and frightened children while others believe it was an invisible creature that helped prepare for Yule.

Most theorists believe when Christianity began incorporating Pagan ways into their festivals in order to justify the action, they merged the Pagan figure with an already existing Catholic legend known as Saint Nicholas to create Santa Claus.

(Source: Wikipedia)

While the holiday season is a time of celebration throughout cultures and traditions, there is also a touch of the mystical associated with it, and this is often conveyed through ghost stories related to the season.

There must always be ghost stories at Christmas, Elizabeth.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you have a blessed holiday season and a joyous New Year.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #5

Sabrina_05

It’s been nine long months since the last installment in this series. I had pretty much given up on it. But lo and behold, on my last visit to Comic Envy, there was a new Sabrina issue in my folder. It felt like Halloween came early.

It was worth the wait! Sabrina is so dark, so well written and illustrated, so steeped in the occult, there is really nothing that compares to it.

In this installment, Sabrina is placed on trial for alleged sins against the Satanic Church of Night. The trial is presided over by none other than Aleister Crowley. Sabrina is forced to undergo cruel tests to prove her innocence, reminiscent of Puritanical tests administered during the colonial witch trials.

After Sabrina’s “innocence” is established, she undertakes the dark rite of necromancy to raise her dead boyfriend, Harvey. The scenes of the rite are visually chilling and the text is as dark as the imagery.

The witches set about their grim task. First, a symbol representing the gateway between life and death is grooved into the dirt with a snapped-off branch. The branch is symbolic of the Tree of Life, as well as the pole Charon, ferryman of Death, uses to cross the River Styx. Next, a set of the dead person’s clothes is laid out on the ground, over the symbol. So that when the revenant comes back, they may cover their nakedness. Then five candles are lit and positioned around the clothes, so that there is light guiding the dead back to this plane of existence. Then, Sabrina is given the dread Demonomicon, and she recites the diabolical incantation: “…corpus levitas, diablo daminium, mondo viciim…” (The Demonomicon being a sister-book of the unholy Necronomicon.) The infernal dance comes next, and the chanting… “…for you who sleep in stone and clay, heed the call, rise up and obey, pass on through the mortal door, assemble flesh and walk once more…”

The spell works, but there is a very dark twist. Sorry, no spoilers here. You will have to purchase a copy and read it yourself.

One last thing I want to say about this issue. Superimposed over the main story is the enactment of Macbeth by the high school. It works spectacularly! I cannot emphasize enough how well the corresponding scenes connect to and add depth to the overarching storyline. It’s nothing short of brilliance in the genre of graphic horror.

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #3

Sabrina_03

This graphic tale just gets better and better. It’s scary, exciting, intellectually intriguing, and visually enticing. I cannot find a single flaw in this issue. It is truly a masterpiece of graphic horror.

Sabrina, now turning sixteen on Samhain during a full moon and an eclipse, prepares to participate in the dark baptism, where she will take her place among the followers of Satan. The ceremony is set to take place in the woods, a scene right out of a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale.

… where? Where witches have been dancing with Satan since Lilith was banished from the Garden… the woods, Martin… the woods are the Devil’s cathedral…

The illustrations depicting the ritual are dark, disturbing, and fascinating, all at once. When Sabrina sacrifices the goat to conjure Satan in the flesh, it is like a ghastly and surreal projection from the darkest regions of a Goya painting. This is horror raised to the level of art.

When horror as an art form is done well, it forces one to stare into the darker places within the psyche and face the inner demons that populate that realm. This series does that, and does it well. It is impossible to read this and not get drawn into the story. It is also impossible to read this and not pause to contemplate your own inner darkness. Everything is a balance of light and shadow, and this coaxes you to gaze into that shadowy part of yourself, regardless of how scary it is doing so.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #1

Sabrina_01

I have been eager to begin reading this graphic tale ever since I read the Afterlife with Archie comics. It took some effort to acquire this first copy (it seems Sabrina is in high demand), but persistence paid off and I luckily came across a copy last week at a local shop.

As with the Afterlife series, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is dark, creepy, and reminiscent of horror from the 60s. Stylistically, the creative team draws on writers like Lovecraft, films like “Rosemary’s Baby,” and of course the classic horror comics of the era. All in all, the team has created something fresh and unique while tapping into familiar motifs that have become a part of the darker regions of our society’s collective consciousness.

This first issue traces Sabrina’s early years, from birth to her early teens. Sabrina is a “half-breed,” whose father (Edward Spellman) was a black magician and whose mother (Diana) was human. At age 1, Sabrina is taken from her mother and given to her two aunts to be raised as a witch. Diana resisted and Edward scrambled her memory, then had her committed to a mental institution where she was lobotomized. In a very eerie image, Edward is later depicted as trapped within a tree. It is not revealed why this happened or who was responsible, adding a level of mystery to the tale which works quite nicely.

I think the most impressive aspect of this comic is the wealth of references. The pages are strewn with allusions to occult figures, mythology, literature, and history. I had to look up a couple references with which I was unfamiliar, such as Ed Gein. I discovered that he was a most unsavory character who was a serial killer and body snatcher, exhuming corpses from graveyards and fashioning trophies out of bones and skin. He was supposedly the real-life inspiration for characters such as Norman Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.

The issue leaves off with a very dark cliffhanger, where two foolish teenage girls have summoned a female demon from Gehenna. The imagery associated with this is nightmarish and the implications hinted at suggest that the upcoming installments will be nothing short of terrifying.

The bottom line is, I LOVE this comic and if you are a horror fan I strongly urge you to seek this out and read it. Issue #2 has not yet been released, but I have placed a request for my local comic dealer to hold a copy when it is finally published. One last thing, at the very end of this issue is a short comic strip from the original Sabrina which was published in October 1962. It serves as a nice contrast between the two comics, while at the same time giving a nod to the source of this amazing comic.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments below. Cheers!

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Afterlife with Archie: Issue #6 (Blending Lovecraft and Pop Culture)

AfterlifeArchie_06

Alright, I’ll admit it. I am completely hooked into the Archie horror comics. They are so damn good, I can’t get enough of them. In fact, after reading this issue, I am going to delve into the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina series. I believe there are two or three issues out, so I should not have a problem getting those.

This issue focuses on Sabrina, who is in a mental institution run by Doctor H. P. Lovecraft. There are lots of great allusions to Lovecraft’s writing, which works really well in the story. In addition, the artwork is downright creepy and draws on Lovecraftian imagery that crawled right out of the primordial slime and onto the pages of this comic. At this point, I’m issuing a spoiler alert, because I could not do this review justice without revealing what happens.

Sabrina discovers from another of the youths at the institution that Lovecraft plans to resurrect the old gods.

Erich: Lovecraft? He’s not a doctor, he’s a procurer. He procures for them.

Sabrina: What?

Erich: And Godzilla? From the movies? He’s one of them—one of the elder gods—Yig. Same with the Creature from the Black Lagoon—he’s Dagon.

At the end of the issue, Sabrina is offered as a bride to Cthulhu, who is summoned from the depths. And while the imagery and artwork are outstanding, it is the writing which is really the most amazing aspect of this comic. It is some of the best writing I have ever encountered in a graphic horror publication.

Then they all back away from me, and I’m alone in the Temple of R’lyeh, and I hear it, the sound of thunder… Of the world cracking in half… Of a universe being born… or dying… And it rises in front of me, from beneath the ocean’s depths, where it had been asleep… until I—I—awoke it by reading that spell that was meant to save Hot Dog… It blots out the sun—or maybe the sun simply ceases to be… And in the forever-darkness, I hear Dr. Lovecraft, on the edge of reality, saying: “All hail, Sabrina Spellman, Queen of Carcosa…bride of Cthulhu.”

This passage really captures the psychological symbolism which makes Lovecraft’s stories so engaging. It expresses the surfacing of the darker shadow aspects of the subconscious mind seething up to the forefront of the psyche. I personally got chills when I read it.

I am going on the assumption that this leads into the Sabrina comics, and honestly, I cannot wait to start reading them. This is one of the best graphic series I have ever read. If you are a horror fan, I guarantee you will love these comics.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!

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