This week we talk proto-feminists, servitude and abuse. And yes, this is somehow still a comedy and this is all very funny, right?
First, we take a look at our twinned servants as they face off in a battle of words to gain access to Antipholus of Ephesus’ house. Dromio of Syracuse and his master are inside Antipholus of Ephesus’ house, but the rightful master has been locked outside while his wife thinks the wrong Antipholus is her husband.
While this is happening, Antipholus of Syracuse is inside the house macking on ‘his’ wife’s sister, Luciana. She’s freaked out that he brother-in-law is creeping on her and keeps trying to get Antipholus of Syracuse to act like a proper husband. (In this case, like Antipholus of Ephesus.)
I guess it’s kind of reassuring to think that Antipholus of E. might be a pretty decent husband because Adriana deserves it. She and her sister certainly put up with a lot of crap throughout the play for the sake of these two Antipholuses. (Antipholii? Whatever.)
After being brushed off by Luciana, and being forced to play husband to Adriana, Antipholus of Syracuse again describes the city of Ephesus as some sort of dangerous magical place filled with witches and mermaids.
That’s some pretty strongly gendered language for a play in which two sets of men spend all of their time confusing the hell out of all the women around them.
Welcome back Brawlers to the Bard Brawl! Apologies for the delay but we had some technical difficulties with scene 2 of our recording. It got cut off, just like Lavinia’s tongue and hands, and just like (spoiler) Titus’s right hand.
In the end, we wrangled up some designated hitters and powered on through to bring you act III of Titus Andronicus!
Lavinia was raped and mutilated, Titus’s lemming sons Martius and Quintus have been framed by Aaron the Moor for it, and now Titus is begging the tribunes and senators not to put them both to death.
He’s begging his little heart out but they just pass him by and ignore him. He keeps pleading until his son Lucius shows up and points out that he’s standing on the street alone and no one’s there to here him beg for his sons’ lives. It’s not looking great.
Also, bad news: Lucius tried to rescue his brothers so now he’s been banished from Rome. More bad news: Titus sees Lavinia for the first time since Chiron and Demetrius raped her.
Thing’s aren’t exactly looking up for Titus but then Aaron shows up and tells Titus that if either Lucius, Marcus or Titus chops off their hand and sends it to the Emperor, that he’ll spare Titus’ sons.
Good deal, right?
The three of them argue about whose hand should be cut off but then Titus sends Lucius and Marcus off to get an axe to do the chopping and while they’re away, Titus has Aaron cut off his hand.
Why did Lucius and Marcus run off to get an axe? What the hell did Aaron use to cut off Titus’ hand? Come on, Shakespeare. You’re better than this!
Lucius and Marcus come back and Aaron runs off to deliver the hand. And then a few minutes later, a messenger arrives carrying the heads of Martius and Quintus. Oh, and Titus’ bloody hand.
That didn’t go so well. Maybe cutting off your own hand wasn’t the smartest move, dude. Kind of like stabbing your son to death was not too bright.
Well, since Titus pretty much has nothing left to lose, it looks like it’s time for some epic level revenge!
For starters, Lucius flees Rome and plans to recruit an army of Goths to overthrow Saturninus and Tamora. (Not sure why they would want to join the fight with the son of the guy who stomped them into the ground and stole their queen from them, though. Guess when someone offers you a chance to sack Rome, you take it.)
Meanwhile, in scene II, Titus and Marcus plan out how to kill Aaron. Actually, Marcus mostly tries to do that while Titus spends a lot of time whining. Then Marcus kills a fly, a black fly (get it?), and it’s as if the idea of killing Aaron occurs to Titus for the first time.
Heck, if between the two of them they can kill one fly, then for sure they can take on the Emperor, Tamora, Aaron and their cronies. Makes perfect sense.
But before that vengeance goes down, time for dad to read depressing stories to his daughter in a closet, while young Lucius watches.
Yeah. that’s not creepy.
Stay tuned for the next scene, where I’m going to assume some more people die.
Also, welcome back to the pod the Bard Brawl’s original sonneteer Maya Pankalla with sonnet 63!
Check out the rest of the amazing writers and artists in ‘Zounds!
Buy Volume II NOW. Volume III coming soon. Very soon. Like, Thursday, May 14th soon.
Act III, scene 1. Henry Bolingbroke and his allies have holed up at Bristol castle and they’ve taken two of King Richard’s cronies captive, Bushy and Green. Hank B’s not too pleased that these two brown-nosers have been spreading rumours that got him banished and that they’ve been living it up on the profits of his stolen lands. To show the world that he is a gentleman (meaning a true-blooded badass and not to be f****d with), he has them killed.
In the mean time, King Richard’s been off in Ireland fighting and comes back to England to discover that Bolingbroke’s back for what’s his. Richard’s followers are afraid that he’s in danger of losing the crown. But the Bishop of Carlisle reassures him that since God made him king, that there’s no way that God would let that happen, right? Provided that he stop whining like a baby, stopped hiding out in this castle in Wales and actually tried to do something about it!
Richard’s not worried though because he knows that the presence of his mighty, supernatural, divine awesomeness will break the rebellion!
But then comes the bad news.
He’s got no army. Worse, a bunch of the nobles who were supposed to back him have switched to Bolingbroke’s side.
Not feeling so mighty now, eh?
Bolingbroke’s forces march their way to Flint castle in Wales where Richard is holed up so Bolingbroke can make his formal demands. He kneels and swears fealty to the king and promises to service him faithfully if he gets his lands back and has his banishment repealed. But just in case, he does remind King Richard that he’s got a pretty big posse ready to kick down the doors and take what he wants by force.
Does Henry mean it when he says he didn’t come here for the crown? I’m not sure but it certainly does remind me of a few other “No, no. Really, I don’t want the absolute power” moments in Shakespeare. There was a certain Richard Gloucester (you know, Richard III) who refused to rule. And also this guys Julius Caesar which you might have heard about.
Finally, the queen’s pretty bummed about all of this Bolingbroke business and her lady is trying to distract her from her doom and gloom thoughts. She’s not having much success. When some gardeners show up to work on the queen’s garden (get your mind out of the gutter!) the two hide to overhear them. Of course, they’re talking about the latest news which is that Richard is probably going to be deposed. She takes it out on the messenger and runs off to find Richard in London.
(Here’s what really going on with all of the gardening crap. It’s an allegory for the kingdom. They’re really describing how Richard II was a bad ruler who couldn’t weed out the dangerous plants and snakes from his garden. He just assumed that being anointed king was enough and that everything would just sort itself out because, hey, he’s the king. Then along comes Henry Bolingbroke looking to graft himself into the royal family tree as king, get it? Sure you do. You’re pretty smart)
That’s it for act III but stay tuned for act IV soon!
The brawl welcomes back the lovely voice of Kayla Cross, who digs into and delivers sonnet 54 like only she can.
And hey! Buy ‘Zounds!You’ll never regret or forget it. Volume II is OUT NOW.
Welcome back to the Bard Brawl! With the madness of the ‘Zounds! launch party behind us, we were finally able to get the crew together to record act III of Romeo and Juliet where no doubt nothing but steamy love-making scenes and happily-ever-afters await us!
Lots of action in this act and it starts right away with a confrontation between Mercutio and Tybalt in scene 1. Benvolio and Mercutio are hanging out in the sun when Benvolio suggests they should probably head inside to avoid the roving bands of wild Capulets which are wandering the streets. Before they can leave though, Tybalt shows up with ‘others’ and Tybalt tries to start some shit. Mercutio seems eager to go at it too but Benvolio tries to get them to either calm down or get out of the street so they don’t get caught fighting.
Eventually Romeo shows up and tries to break things up but Mercutio just thinks he’s being a pussy and ignores him. He draws his sword; Tybalt draws his. As they fight, Romeo steps in but Tybalt uses him as a screen, skewers Mercutio and splits. Mercutio tries to crack a few jokes about being stabbed and killed in a gang war, blames Romeo for getting in his way and says “a plague on both your houses” a few times before biting the bullet. Tybalt comes back (for some strange reason) and then Romeo kills him.
Taking Benvolio’s advice, Romeo runs the hell away. Of course, as soon as he’s gone, Benvolio snitches to the Capulets, Montagues and the Prince. The prince is fed up and banishes Romeo. I would have just killed him and been done with it. I’m sure Juliet would have learned to love Paris, right?
Anyhow. Scene 2. Juliet’s waiting at home for her nurse to come back with the rest of the plan and a rope ladder for her to sneak off to marry Romeo. Eventually the nurse does come back with a ladder and some bad news. Something about Tybalt being dead. Also something important about Romeo… something about Tybalt… Romeo… Tybalt…
This goes on for a while until eventually she gets it out: Romeo killed Tybalt and has been banished. Juliet is worried she’ll die a virgin so she sends the nurse back out to fetch Romeo so he can collect his… goodbye kiss.
Since running away from the scene of the crime, Romeo’s been hiding out at Friar Laurence’s. He’s bitching and moaning about how banishment is worse than death, he’s dead without Juliet, how he wishes the prince had just killed him, yadda yadda angsty teenager stuff. Friar Lawrence talks some sense into him: ‘Hey pathetic excuse for a man (almost)! We’ll just come up with a plan to sneak her out of the city and you can still be together in Mantua until all of this blows over!” Yay!
So what’s this genius and totally fool-proof plan? Friar Lawrence says he’ll sort it out but, in the meantime, Romeo’s got some marital business to attend to in Juliet’s bed.
Even in the crazy world of R&J, death in the family means that weddings needs to be postponed. The wedding between Juliet and Paris which Lord Capulet and Paris are already planning out, and which was scheduled for the way-too-soon date of ‘this Wednesday,’ has been pushed back all the way to the much more socially respectable ‘this Thursday.’ It just seemed like the right thing to do. (It’s currently Monday morning.)
Seems like Shakespeare decided to cut out the explicit portion of this act (bummer) because when scene 5 opens, Romeo and Juliet have already consummated their marriage and are lying in bed doing what all young couples do after their first time: discussing ornithology. They’d love to lay there and talk about nightingales and larks all day (are these even indigenous to Italy?) but Lady Capulet comes knocking. Romeo sneaks out the window, educating young boys the world over in the proper behaviour after such a nocturnal encounter: “I’ll call you.”
Juliet isn’t convinced this is all going to work out.
Once the coast is clear, she lets her mother in. Lady Capulet first promises her that as soon as they find Romeo, they’ll kill him for Tybalt’s death which she is sure will make Juliet very happy. But not quite as happy as this next bit of news: Juliet’s going to get married to the amazingly wonderful and bland Paris who her parents totally approve of!
No way, mom and dad: I’m into bad boys!
Dad’s not too happy and basically tells her that she has two alluring options: either she can shut up and show up to marry Paris on Thursday or she can choose to be disowned by her father who would cast her out to starve in the streets.
What can she possibly do now? Run over to Friar Lawrence who’s probably had enough time to think of something by now.
While things are looking pretty grim right now, in an alternate universe where it’s always 1988, Romeo and Juliet had a daughter and this lovechild of a torrid night of passion produced this:
Here’s hoping you aren’t crying yourself to sleep each night to this song while thinking about the Romeo and Juliet who could have been but whose love was ruined by people with no appreciation for fedoras, round shades, trench coats, big hair and sand.
With creditors knocking at his door, Timon turns to his friends to lend him a little money so he can avoid bankruptcy. He sends his servants out to see the three lords who he feels pretty confident will be able to bail him out.
Flaminius arrives at lord Lucullus’ house in act III, scene 1. Lucullus greets Timon’s servant warmly as he expects that he is here to deliver some sort of gift. When he discovers that Flaminius is there to ask for money, Lucullus puts on his best ‘I told him not to be so generous’ act and then tries to bribe Flaminius so he’ll pretend he wasn’t able to find Lucullus. Flaminius tosses the cash back at Lucullus then curses him (and all other selfish jerks like him) to be boiled in a vat of molten coins.
The next lord to be visited is Lucilius. By the start of this scene, he has apparently heard that Lucullus refused to bail Timon out. He finds it deplorable and says that of Timon had turned to him instead, he would have been happy to help him. And on that cue, Servilius enters. Lucilius also seems to think that Timon’s servant is here offering gifts at first. When he finds out that Servilius is here to beg some cash for Timon, Lucilius replies that he would love to be able to help Timon out but – wouldn’t you know? – he just spent the last of his available funds this very morning, just before Servilius arrived. What an unfortunate coincidence.
Are all of Timon’s friends flattering jerks? Surely Sempronius isn’t like Lucius, Ventidius, or Lucullus? At the start of scene 3, Sempronius seems disgusted by the fact that the others lords have refused to help Timon. Even worse, Sempronius is disgusted that he wasn’t asked first, as this might suggest that maybe Timon doesn’t like him as well as the other lords. So, if Timon doesn’t care for him as much and his close friends refused to bail him out, why should Sempronius have to help him out? He proclaims to Timon’s servant that any man who would dishonour him in this way won’t get any help from him.
With no one left to ask for money, Timon has locked himself up in his house in scene 4. In a hall in his house, his creditor’s servants want to be paid. Seems that the servants aren’t too keen to be collecting from Timon when they know full well that their masters walk around with the jewellery that Timon once gave them. As they wait, Timon’s messengers return to announce that they have failed to get any money for Timon’s debts.
Timon eventually enters the hall in a rage and is greeted by the collectors’ bills. He offers to pay with his blood and flesh and chases the servants out of his house. Once they are gone, he asks his servants to invite all of his former friends back to his estate for one final banquet.
We leave Timon behind for a moment as scene 5 takes place in the Athenian senate-house and features the general Alcibiades. It appears that one of Alcibiades’ soldiers was involved in the violent crime in Athens. The law calls from his execution but Alcibiades, as his commanding officer, is here to beg the senate for leniency. The senate refuses. When Alcibiades is a little too insistent in his critique of the thanklessness of the Athenian senate, they banish him from the city despite all of the wars he fought for them. This should remind you of another general who was forced to turn his back on his city.
The last scene of the act takes place in Timon’s house. The lords have all arrived for the feats and are commenting that clearly Timon’s need for money must not have been so great as they have heard. Timon greet them all and escorts them into the dining room where for each guest is layed out a covered dish. The lords sit down, Timon curses all of Athens’ flattering lords, and once the covers are removed, each guest sees that their meal is warm water and rocks. Timon slashes the water in their ungrateful faces and then drives them out in a hail of stones.
The craziest part of the whole thing is that none of the lords seems to have a clue as to why Timon would be pissed at them…
Penniless and friendless, What’s next for Timon? Find out next week!
At the end of act 2, we learn that Pericles is finally getting married and the lucky winner is Thaisa, the daughter of Simonides. Once they get hitched, it’s off to Tyre! Gower, as usual, brings us up to speed in his prologue.
(FYI, the Shakespeare edition which we use for the show is a little messed up for Pericles. In this case, the prologue for act III is about halfway down the page. It starts with: “Now sleep y-slaked hath the rout”. Act III, scene 1 then start right afterwards, on the same page.)
Of course, what happens on the return trip in act III, scene 1? Yup. Another storm at sea. To make matter worse, Thaisa goes into labour while the storm rages around the ship. The child, Marina is born but Thaisa is pronounced dead and is given a hasty burial at sea. Pericles orders the mariners to set sail for the nearby coast which – as it happens – is the coast of Tarsus.
In scene 2 the action shifts to the home of a Ephesian physician, Cerimon (Not to be confused with this guy). A few men have come to him after they found a sealed casket washed ashore. When they open it, they discover Thaisa and Cerimon realises that she’s not dead. With the help of some cutting edge medical procedures he revives her. It seems strange to me that given the opportunity to really set up a surprise later on, Shakespeare doesn’t even wait a few scenes before revealing to us that Thaisa is still alive. Not to mention that Gower is constantly telling us what’s about to happen in the next scene…
Pericles has made it to Tarsus and after a brief stop to refit the ship, is ready to embark on the final leg of the journey which will take him home to Tyre. For some reason that’s not really clear to me, Pericles leaves his daughter Marina in the care of Clear and Dioniza who accept to raise her as their own until she is old enough to be married. It’s your standard kind of exchange: Pericles has provided Cleon with corn to feed his people, so the only fair thing is for Pericles to ask him to care for his daughter for 15 years.
We return to Thaisa and Cerimon in the last scene of the act. Cerimon has brought her up to speed on where she is. She seems to think that there is no way she will ever be reunited with Pericles so she decides that she going to do the only sensible thing she can and become a nun at Diana’s temple.
Here are some of the characters introduced in act III:
Cerimon: He’s a physician in Ephesus. He revives Thaisa. He’s kind of like Miracle Max in The Princess Bride. (I guess she was only mostly dead…)
In act III, scene 1 we have what is probably the most famous speech of the play: “Hath not a Jew eyes…” This comes right after Shylock has heard of his daughter’s disappearance with a good sum of Shylock’s money. It seems unclear from the scene whether he’s more upset at the theft than at Jessica’s eloping with Lorenzo but he is intent on revenge against Antonio. One of Shylock’s friends, Tubal, then arrives with news of Jessica’s activities. It’s never clear if these are just rumours or if this is the truth, which is interesting because what Tubal next tells Shylock – that Antonio’s ships have all been lost – turns out to be false by the end of the play. We’ll see Tubal again, particularly in courthouse scene, when he’ll seem much less interested in fanning the fire of Shylock’s vengeance. (Another excellent line from this scene: “I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.”)
In act III, scene 2 we have our final casket scene, where Bassanio picks the lead casket and wins the hand of Portia. In true Shakespearean comedic style, Gratiano immediately declares his intention to marry Nerissa during Bassanio and Portia’s ceremony. Their happiness is short lived, however, as Bassanio receives a letter that tells him Antonio is going to die at Shylock’s hands for forfeiting the bond. Portia sends Bassanio to Venice with a bunch of money to pay back Shylock and save Antonio. The women give their paramours each a ring as a sign of their new relationships. These rings will become very important in the next two acts.
After a brief scene in which we Shylock basically tells Antonio he’s a dead man (and Antonio seems not to bothered by his impending death), we see Portia and Nerissa slip away from Belmont. They plan to dress up as boys and make their way to Venice to see what their husbands are up to. Portia is clearly intending to take an active role in the events to come, however, as she sends some letters for legal counsel to a cousin of hers in Padua. (Not sure how she knows she’ll need the help.)
The last scene is a strange (funny? disconcerting?) scene involving Lancelot, Jessica and Lorenzo on the subject Jessica’s conversion. With Bassanio and Portia gone, Lorenzo and Jessica take their place as interim rulers of Belmont and some of the potential cracks in their relationship start to be hinted at.
I wrote in the last post about the source of the three caskets love test in The Merchant of Venice. I mentioned it in general terms, but there are a few interesting differences between the source and its treatment in Shakespeare’s play. In the Gesta Romanorum the lottery is designed to test the virtue of a woman who wishes to marry the king’s son. In The Merchant of Venice, it is the men who are being tested: by the caskets but also – as we’ll see in the following acts – by their wives. If the casket test is a sort of moral test (as it is in the original text), it raises the question of what do we discover about Bassanio’s character? Or about Portia’s? If we look closely at song in act three, scene one, there is a conspicuous rhyming scheme that seems to suggests that Bassanio might have been tipped off…
The principal source for The Merchant of Venice, however, is the tale of “The Merchant of Venice” from Ser Fiorentino’s 14th century collection of stories, Il Pecorone (The simpleton, loosely). Most of the main story elements are found in the original, with some differences. For instance, the Bassanio character needs to win the Portia character by spending the night with her without falling asleep. He’s eventually helped out by the Nerissa character who tells him not to drink the drugged wine. A night of crazy sex ensues and he wins the girl and the kingdom, saving his merchant benefactor in the process. Added bonus, the merchant gets to shack up with ‘Nerissa.’ (As the merchant in this version is also ‘Bassanio’s’ uncle, this is slightly creepy.) The main difference though is Shylock. The Jewish merchant in the original seems to have no personal reason for wanting to harm the merchant, his hatred is stereotypical. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare goes to great lengths to humanize Shylock. The story provides him with ample reasons for despising Antonio: Antonio prevented Shylock from collecting interest on loans by bailing out his friends who were late with their payments, he regularly spits on him (and promises to keep doing so) and he was accessory to his daughter’s elopement. Further, Shakespeare gives Shylock some of the most compelling lines in defense of his actions and feelings.
I’ve mentioned this passage before, and I think it’s worth citing it in its entirety:
SALARINO: Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take
his flesh: what’s that good for?
SHYLOCK: To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine
enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.
Perhaps most provocatively, as we see in this passage, Shakespeare opposes Shylock’s catalogue of reasons for hatred with Antonio’s one: the Shylock is a Jew. It’s enough to make one wonder at the nature of the Christian charity which ‘triumphs’ at the end of the play.
Keep on brawlin’ on!
(I tried to find an English translation of Il Pecorone online but after about an hour of searching I wasn’t able to find any that included the “Merchant of Venice” story. If anybody finds one, please let me know and I’ll post a link to it.)