Expanding Eyes: A Visionary Education
By Michael Dolzani
Expanding Eyes: A Visionary EducationDec 03, 2023
Episode 140. Twelfth Night, Act 2. Sebastian, Viola’s Brother, and His Friend Antonio. Orsino and Olivia Both Infatuated with the Disguised Viola. The Revelers Plot Against Malvolio.
Viola’s brother Sebastian, disguised as Roderigo, and his good friend Antonio. Orsino is increasingly drawn to Cesario, the disguised Viola. But Olivia is as well. The reveling crew of Sir Toby Belch hatch a plot against Malvolio. Songs of carpe diem and of death.
Episode 139: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Act 1. Introduction of Characters. Orsino, Mooning in Love. Olivia, Refusing to Love. Sir Toby Belch, Andrew Aguecheek, Maria. Feste and Malvolio.
Viola, dressed as a young man named Cesario, is sent to woo Olivia on his behalf. Olivia is shut up, wearing a veil, vowing to mourn her brother for 7 years. In comes Cesario, and Olivia promptly is infatuated with her, not realizing that “Cesario” is another woman. The antagonism between the steward Malvolio and the rowdy crew of Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Maria. The contrast between Feste the Clown and Malvolio, the “refuser of festivities.”
Episode 138: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The Background of Shakespearean Comedy. The Sea Imagery: Transformation Emerges Out of the Sea, as Viola Survives Shipwreck on the Shores of Illyria.
Shakespeare transforms the New Comedy or comedy of manners pattern by having the action move through some realm of mysterious transformation. In Twelfth Night, Viola, the heroine, comes of out the sea, surviving shipwreck, disguises herself as a male, and enters the court of Duke Orsino, which eventually leads to the transformation of the whole society of Illyria, an imaginary country, the intersection of “delirium” and “illusion.”
Episode 137: Shakespeare’s Henry V. Act 4, the Aftermath of Agincourt. Comic Scenes with Fluellen. Act 5: The Wooing of the French Princess Catherine Despite the Language Barrier.
The mystery of how the English won, suffering small losses, though hugely outnumbered. Slapstick scenes with Fluellen, the true honorable soldier who publicly humiliates the fraudulent braggart soldier Pistol. Act 5 ends the play like a comedy, with a betrothal. The comic wooing of the princess Catharine by Henry, though neither speaks the other’s language very well.
Episode 136: Shakespeare’s Henry V. The Larger Context of the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses. Henry Rallies the Troops at Night. The Battle of Agincourt.
The conflicts in Shakespeare’s tetralogy are one phase in the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, followed by the Wars of the Roses, a civil war that ended the Plantagenet dynasty. The astonishing victory at Agincourt on October 25, 1415, against seemingly impossible odds. The question of whether Henry followed the honorable rules of war.
Episode 135: Shakespeare’s Henry V. Central Themes and Patterns in the Play. The Death of Falstaff, and a New Humorous Character, Fluellen. The Siege of Harfleur.
The central theme of the play: what is justified in Henry V’s career? The death of Falstaff, and his replacement by the comic Welshman Fluellen. The comic pattern of alazon vs. eiron, boaster vs. self-deprecator. The siege of Harfleur. Another theme: the power of language. Henry’s speeches.
Episode 134: Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act 1. Henry as Idealized Model of a Ruler. Legal Arguments over Henry’s Right to Rule France. Act 2: The Lower Class Characters Return. News that Falstaff Is Ill
The portrait of Henry in this play as an idealized model or “mirror” of a “Christian king, not a realistic characterization. The mirror contrast with Richard II, who uses his imagination as escape into narcissistic fantasy. Henry inspires the imagination of others. A long disquisition over Henry’s legal right to rule France. In Act 2, the return of the lower-class characters, the quarreling Nym and Pistol, who note in passing that Falstaff is ill.
Episode 133: Shakespeare’s 2 Henry IV, Act 5. Hal’s New Father Figure, the Lord Chief Justice. The Rejection of Falstaff, the False Father. Introduction of Henry V, the Last Play of the Tetralogy.
Henry IV dies offstage between Acts 4 and 5. Hal, now Henry V, embraces his brothers and vindicates the Lord Chief Justice, who had had him arrested, notwithstanding he was the future king of England. The play ends as he rejects his false father figure, Falstaff, in a devastating speech. Henry V opens with a famous Prologue that is in fact about the power of imagination, working through language, necessary to swell the bare “O” of the stage into two nations and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
Episode 132: Shakespeare’s 2 Henry IV, Acts 4 and 4. Prince John Defeats the Rebels. Henry IV Collapses and Lies Unconscious. Hal Puts on the Crown. The King Accuses Him.
Prince John defeats the rebels without battle by breaking his word to them with cold calculation. Falstaff carouses with Shallow and Silence, and remembers the “chimes at midnight” from the days of their youth. On the good news of the rebels’ defeat, Henry IV collapses. Hal enters his chamber, sees him unconscious, assumes him dead, and puts on the crown. Henry wakes and accuses Hal of being eager to assume the crown.
Episode 131: Shakespeare’s 2Henry IV. Northumberland Betrays the Rebel Cause a Second Time. Dysfunctional Behavior in the Tavern: Falstaff, Mistress Quickly, Doll Tearsheet, Pistol.
Northumberland is persuaded by his wife and Hotspur’s widow to betray the rebel cause a second time and flee to Scotland. An extraordinary reality-TV-style scene in the tavern. The prostitute and “drama queen” Doll Tearsheet loves to pick fights with men just as entertainment. She picks a fight with Falstaff, then with Pistol, the braggart soldier, and gets the two men to fight each other. Act 3 opens with the soliloquy of Henry IV: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” in despair of England and of life.
Episode 130: Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2. A Dark, Ironic Sequel. A Personified Rumour Spreads Fake News of the Battle of Shrewsbury. Northumberland Is “Crafty-Sick.”
Part 2 mirrors Part 1 but has a harsh, almost naturalistic realism that is quite different and modern-seeming. It takes place immediately after the first part, and a personified Rumour spreads fake news about the outcome of the Battle of Shrewsbury. Northumberland throws away his crutches and decides he isn’t sick anymore, now that the battle is over. Falstaff encounters the incorruptible Lord Chief Justice but succeeds yet again in exploiting Mistress Quickly, who loves him maternally and will do anything for him.
Episode 129: Shakespeare’s I Henry IV. Act 5: The Battle of Shrewsbury, July 21, 1403. The Death of Hotspur at the Hands of Prince Hal. Falstaff’s Famous Speech about Honor.
The king offers clemency, but Worster and Vernon lie to Hotspur and Douglas and say the king showed “no mercy.” Walter Blunt is killed by Douglas. Falstaff’s famous soliloquy about honor. Hal saves his father’s life, then fights and kills Hotspur. He thinks Falstaff is dead, but Falstaff is “counterfeiting” death and “rises” once Hal leaves. The rebels lose and are captured.
Episode 128: Shakespeare’s I Henry IV, Acts 3 and 4. At the Center of the Play, the Confrontation between Father and Son. In Act 4, All the Rebels Back Out Except Hotspur and Douglas.
The intense and moving confrontation of father and son, Henry IV and Hal, in which the king says that Hal is not only a failure but, for all he knows, possibly a betrayer. But Hal placates him. In Act 4, Falstaff has allowed the good men to buy their way out and instead conscripted troop of pathetic failures. On the eve of the decisive battle, one by one all the rebels send word that they are backing out, finally leaving only Hotspur and Douglas. Most shockingly, Northumberland abandons his own son.
Episode 127: Shakespeare’s I Henry IV, Acts 2 and 3. The “Henriad”: Shakespeare’s Epic Vision. The Unexpected Humor in the Play, and Why. Hotspur’s Baiting of Welsh Owen Glendower.
The double tetralogy of history plays as the “Henriad,” a quasi-epic. Yet the surprising amount of humor in the play, subverting epic high seriousness. Hotspur and the Welsh Owen Glendower argue while trying to carve up a map of England. Hotspur deflates Glendower’s pretensions as a mighty magician. Hotspur and Kate: an attractive marriage, full of bantering, poignant because we know that Hotspur will die.
Episode 126: I Henry IV, Act 2, Continued. The Social Chaos Resulting When the Rule of Law Is Set Aside. Rebellious Nobles, Out-of-Control Lower-Class Characters.
Plays relevant to our time, because they explore the social chaos that ensures when the rule of law is overthrown by various kinds of people with interests of their own. Henry’s allies have turned against him, the lower-class characters in the tavern are out of control. There is nothing to constrain aristocracy who do not like to be constrained, or who are psychologically disconnected from reality. There is nothing to constrain lower-class characters from anarchistic behavior.
Episode 125: Shakespeare’s I Henry IV, Acts 1 and 2. King Henry’s Allies Turn Against Him. Hal’s Opposite Number, Hotspur. The Prince and Poins Rob the Robbers.
Within a year, Henry’s allies turn into his enemies. We see those who put him on the throne in Richard II now begin to plot against him in 1.3. Hotspur, who fancies himself a man of restless action but who is really driven by his own fevered imagination. In contrast, Falstaff, weighed down by his enormous body. Hotspur and Falstaff: mind and body. Poins and Hal disguise themselves and rob Falstaff and the rest of the gang after they have robbed the king’s men—Hal is helping to rob his own father. A glorious joke.
Episode 124: Shakespeare’s 1Henry IV. Act 1: Scottish and Welsh Rebels, Hotspur the Rebellious English Ally. Prince Hal Missing from Action, Hanging Out with Falstaff and His Gang in a Tavern.
It has been a year since the end of Richard II. Henry IV is king, but faces Scottish and Welsh rebels. Hotspur, son of Northumberland, refuses to ransom prisoners until Mortimer, his brother-in-law but also heir presumptive to the throne, is ransomed in return. Where is Hotspur’s counterpart, Prince Hal? In a tavern with Falstaff and his gang, planning robberies. Hal’s soliloquy that he is only pretending to be a ne’er-do-well. Falstaff: one of Shakespeare’s greatest comic creations, but introduced in a history play. He is not historical: why is he here?
Episode 123: Shakespeare’s Richard II. Act 5. The Final Parting of King and Queen. Aumerle Denounced by His Own Father. Richard’s Final Soliloquy and Brave Death. Henry’s Allies Now His Enemies.
The Queen sent into exile in France: the imagery of a “divorce.” York discovers that his son Aumerle is plotting again Henry and goes to Henry to denounce him as a traitor. His wife helplessly tries to intervene. A scene that degenerates from seriousness into farce, a pattern in the play. Richard’s lyrical soliloquy of himself as a microcosm, but one divided. His unexpectedly heroic death. In the final scene, Henry learns that his former allies are now rising up against him. In a key line, repeated verbatim, the word is set against the word.
Episode 122: Shakespeare’s Richard II. Act 4, the Deposition Scene, Not Printed Until after the Death of Elizabeth.
Richard is deposed in a public trial, which Bolingbroke and Northumberland hope to turn into a Soviet-style mockery in which Richard confesses all his wrongs. Instead, he steals the show, and makes them look like bullies and himself like a martyr—like Christ as the Man of Sorrows. The scene was not printed until after the death of Elizabeth, who is reputed to have said, “Know ye not I am Richard II?”
Episode 121: Shakespeare’s Richard II. Act 3: Richard’s Descent from the Walls of Flint Castle, His Willing Surrender into the Hands of the Rebels.
Richard, having made enormous, though eloquent, speeches of self-pity instead of bolstering the morale of what followers remain to him, holes up in Flint Castle. But when confronted by Bolingbroke and his fellow rebels, descends, slowly and ritualistically, from the walls, surrendering without the slightest resistance into the hands of his enemies. In the next scene, the Queen, speaking to a Gardener, speaks of her husband’s fate as a second fall of Man.
Episode 120: Shakespeare’s Richard II. Bolingbroke Gathers Forces Against Richard. Richard Returns from Ireland and Makes Grandiose Speeches about Being God’s Anointed King.
The exiled Bolingbroke lands in England and gathers an army, claiming he has returned only to claim his legal rights as the heir of John of Gaunt. Old York, the last of the 7 sons of Edward III, helpless and feeble, switches his allegiance to Bolingbroke, the symbolic turning point of the play. Richard returns from Ireland and makes a bizarre, theatrical speech about how the earth itself will rise up and angels descend to aid him because he is God’s anointed king.
Episode 119: Shakespeare’s Richard II. John of Gaunt’s Famous Deathbed Speech. Richard’s Determination to Take Gaunt’s Estates After His Death, Which Rightly Belong to Gaunt’s Son Bolingbroke.
John of Gaunt is inspired on his deathbed with a famous speech about the glorious land of England—now fallen on hard times due to the corrupt Richard II. Richard comes in, and Gaunt tells Richard what a fool he is being, angering Richard. Gaunt dies offstage, and Richard immediately moves to take his estates, which should go to Gaunt’s son Bolingbroke, in order to fund wars in Ireland. This not only gives Bolingbroke yet more reason for rebellion but creates sympathy for his cause. Richard puts old, feeble York, the last of the fabled 7 sons, in charge of England while he is in Ireland.
Episode 118: Shakespeare’s Richard II, Act 1, Scenes 1-3. Bolingbroke Accuses Mowbray of the Murder of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, a Member of the Royal Line. A Trial by Combat, Aborted.
In a ritualized, formal scene, Bolingbroke opens the play by accusing Thomas Mowbray of having murdered Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. Mowbray denies it, and a date for a trial by combat is set. Mowbray hints what is widely believed, that he was acting on the orders of Richard II himself. Gloucester’s widow seeks justice from John of Gaunt, but Gaunt says nothing can be done because the king, who is clearly guilty, is nonetheless “God’s anointed.”
Episode 117: The Genre of the History Play. Shakespeare’s Double Tetralogy of History Plays. Introduction to Richard II.
The place of the history play among the four genres that Shakespeare wrote in. Its origins as a native form of drama, unlike tragedy and comedy, derived from Classical literature. The historical background of the plot of Richard II, the first of Shakespeare’s double tetralogy dramatizing English history for well over a century before his time.
Episode 116: Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, Act 5. The Symbolic Death and Rebirth of Hero, and the Happy Ending.
After the crisis of Act 4, with two sets of lovers estranged and good friends quarreling, a happy ending brought about by Hero’s symbolic death and rebirth. A ritual at her supposed tomb is followed by a wedding of Claudio to a masked woman, who turns out to be Hero. Much Ado is a play about the instability of the human condition, the revolution of opposites: merry and melancholy, love and hate, friendship and enmity, youth and age. peace and war. The hope is that such instability can be good as well: it means we can change, that we can undergo “conversion.”
Episode 115: Much Ado about Nothing, Act 4. Hero Publicly Accused of Sexual Betrayal at Her Own Wedding Ceremony. All Hell Breaks Loose.
Claudio, out of revenge, publicly shames Hero by accusing her of infidelity at her own wedding ceremony. All the men behave badly in reaction—except Benedick. Benedick and Beatrice finally confess their love for each other in a short but touching scene.
Episode 114: Much Ado about Nothing, Act 3. Twin Plots. Their Friends Plot to Bring Benedick and Beatrice Together, While Don John Plots to Break Claudio and Hero Apart. Comic Relief.
Their friends contrive through staged conversations intended to be overheard to bring Benedick and Beatrice together. Meanwhile, Don John and his henchmen also stage a false drama, attempting to make Hero seem unfaithful. Dogberry and the Watch, the lower class characters, overhear the plotting and actually arrest Don John’s henchmen, but they are not “noted” by their social superiors.
Episode 113. Much Ado about Nothing, Act 2. The Masked Ball. Beatrice Wounds the Disguised Benedick. Claudio Believes that Don Pedro Woos Hero for Himself instead of for Him.
Don John the melancholic. “Merry” and “melancholy” as two of the play’s many opposites. His attempt to cause mischief by telling Claudio that, in the masked ball in the first part of Act 2, Don Pedro woos Hero for himself rather than for the sake of Claudio. Meanwhile, Beatrice wounds the disguised Benedick by telling him that no one respects Benedick because he is too “merry,” always joking and frivolous. Much ado about “noting,” i.e., about taking note of: a comedy of gossip, rumor, deliberate lies spread both innocently and malevolently, a play with a new relevance in the age of social media.
Episode 112: Much Ado about Nothing. Much Ado about “Noting”: the Theme of This Comedy of Manners.
A comedy of manners, a great deal of it in prose, about “noting,” i.e., taking note of. “Nothing” would have been pronounced “noting” in Shakespeare’s time. Rumors and misinformation spreading like wildfire and wreaking havoc with social life: Much Ado takes on new meaning in the age of social media. Two romances with two women: the lively, independent Beatrice and the patriarchally controlled Hero.
Episode 111: The End of Hamlet. A Genre-Bending Play: Hamlet as an Attempt to Encompass All Three Tragic Thematic Patterns.
The mystery of Hamlet’s seeming “conversion” in Act 5. Most of the cast wiped out in the final scene. Can the complexities of Hamlet be drawn together into a unified pattern? Three types of tragedy: (1) of social order; (2) of isolated, alienated consciousness; (3) of love and gender. Hamlet as an attempt to encompass all three.
Episode 110: Hamlet Act 5. The Graveyard Scene and the Skull of Yorick. The Funeral of Ophelia. Hamlet and Laertes in the Grave. Hamlet’s New and Unexpected Sense of Divine Providence.
The mixed mood of the famous graveyard scene, mixing seriousness and humor in violation of the neo-Classical unities. Hamlet and the gravedigger speaking of death as leveler of social distinctions. The skull of Yorick the jester, whom Hamlet knew as a child. The funeral of Ophelia. Hamlet and Laertes struggle in her grave. Hamlet’s new sense that “There’s a divinity shapes our ends.”
Episode 109: Hamlet, Act 4, Concluded. A Bad Day at the Court: Ophelia’s Threefold Mad Scene, a Vengeful Laertes, a Letter from Hamlet Announcing His Return.
Act 4, Scenes 5 and 7, form a continuous series of dramatic interruptions of the Court. Ophelia’s mad scene, which is also her suicide, in fact consists of three entrances, although the last is by messenger only, announcing her death by drowning. The psychoanalytic complexities of Ophelia’s songs and speeches. Laertes also bursts in, ranting melodramatically about revenge in a way that out-Herods Herod. The court is interrupted yet one more time as Horatio delivers Hamlet’s letter to Claudius announcing his return after having been captured by pirates (!). Meanwhile, Laertes and Claudius plot Hamlet’s death.
Episode 108: Hamlet, end of Act 3. Gertrude’s Guilt—or Partial Innocence. Act 4. Hamlet’s Riddling Yet Suggestive Speech about Polonius’s Dead Body. Fortinbras’ Army: Action without Thought Again.
Gertrude feels guilt over her marriage to Claudius—but was she ignorant of the murder? The key word “nothing” begins to resonate through the play. Hamlet has hidden Polonius’s body. When confronted about it, his seemingly mad speeches revolve around the idea of metamorphosis—in the words of Ophelia, we know not what we may be. Ophelia’s mad scene.
Episode 107: Hamlet, Act 3. Hamlet’s Advice to the Players. The Mousetrap Play and Its Aftermath. Claudius’ Soliloquy as He Attempts to Pray. Hamlet Confronts His Mother.
Hamlet tells the Players not to overact, to suit the words to the action. Audience conversation before the play: Hamlet’s passive-aggressive sexual remarks to Ophelia. The Mousetrap play. Claudius leaves. His guilty soliloquy. Hamlet chooses not to kill him while he is praying. He goes instead to his mother’s bedroom to confront her.
Episode 106: Hamlet, End of Act 2, Opening of Act 3. The First Player’s Recitation. Hamlet’s Soliloquy about His Own Inaction. Act 3, Scene 1: “To Be or Not to Be.” Hamlet’s Furious Tirade.
The First Player, at Hamlet’s request, recites a passage from Virgil’s Aeneid, the death of King Priam at the hands of the son of Achilles. Why is this in an already-long play? The most famous soliloquy in all of drama, “To be or not to be.” Why not suicide? Hamlet’s furious tirade when Ophelia tries to break up with him, following her father’s orders. Is this misogyny, justified because Ophelia is indeed spying on him for his enemy, or both?
Ep. 105: Hamlet, Act 2. Polonius Spies on His Own Son. Hamlet’s Pretended Madness with Ophelia. Fortinbras Averted. Polonius, Then Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Spy on Hamlet. The Arrival of Players
Everyone is acting. Polonius instructs his servant to act a part and spy on Laertes. Hamlet pretends to be mad to Ophelia. Polonius bursts into the Court, where Claudius has averted an attack by Fortinbras, and reads a love poem from Hamlet to Ophelia—a very bad poem. Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, courtiers, attempt to draw Hamlet out. The arrival of the Players.
Episode 104: Hamlet, to the End of Act 1. Polonius’s Advice to His Son and Daughter. Hamlet’s Humor, against the Rules for Tragedy. Hamlet’s Conversation with the Ghost
Horatio and two other friends tell Hamlet they have seen the ghost of his father. Polonius gives longwinded advice to his son Laertes, and a humiliating admonishment to his daughter Ophelia for believing Hamlet’s professions of love. Hamlet talks to the Ghost, who claims to be from Purgatory, and speaks of “murder most foul.”
Episode 103: Hamlet, the First Two Scenes. The Play in Microcosm.
The opening scene: darkness, paranoia, uncertain identity. Threats from without and within: invasion and the Ghost. Scene 2: The Court. Hamlet’s Biting One-Liners. Hamlet’s first soliloquy: rage and sexual disgust.
Episode 102: An Introduction to Shakespearean Tragedy and Hamlet
The fascinating background of Hamlet. Its enormous influence on 19th and early 20th century writers and critics due to its themes of alienation, isolated consciousness, and the ambiguity of reality. The origin of the basic plot in Danish legendary history. The vogue for the “revenge play” in Shakespeare’s time. The uniquely complex textual background of the play, which means that any modern edition you read may differ from other editions.
Episode 101: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What Is the Purpose of Act 5? The Rude Mechanicals’ Play. Life as a Dream.
The plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is over by the end of Act 4. Is Act 5 a mere crowd-pleaser? Or, rather, does it widen the play’s thematic perspective? Theseus’s skeptical speech about the imagination is clearly not the whole story. Among the many opposites reconciled by the play are reality and imagination, but Shakespeare leaves the transforming power as a mystery, something we cannot understand, something language cannot even speak of. In the words of Bottom’s speech, it is a bottomless dream.
Episode 100: A Milestone. The Lovers’ and the Fairies’ Conflicts Resolved in Act 4. Duke Theseus’ Famous Speech on the Imagination. But Parallel with It, Bottom’s Speech about a “Bottomless Dream
The action of the play is over by the end of Act 4, culminating in two speeches. One is the renowned speech of Theseus on the imagination—of which he is completely skeptical. The other is Bottom’s soliloquy about having had a “bottomless dream,” which echoes I Corinthians 2:9. The sense of a mysterious power that has shaped the ends of all the characters, including the fairies, a power that works by recreating conflicting opposites into a two-in-one.
Episode 99: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “Night-Rule”: The Overturning of Order. But behind the Chaos, a Pattern of Interchanging Opposites.
The riotous farce in the middle of the play, courtesy of Puck and the “love juice.” Titania infatuated with Bottom, who has the head of an ass. The male lovers keep changing who they are in love with, resulting in complete confusion. Yet behind all this there is a strange order reflected in imagery of opposites that are yet identified with each other and interchanging.
Episode 98. A Midsummer Night’s Dream as One of the “Green World” Comedies. The Meaning of “Midsummer.” The Marital Discord of Oberon and Titania. Bottom Given the Head of an Ass.
In the “green world” comedies of Shakespeare, the action moves from ordinary society out into a wood in which all sorts of transformations happen. The uncertain dating of the play’s action, though “midsummer” is the summer solstice (June 21). Women’s friendship, a theme that Shakespeare is exceptional in regarding as important. The theme of metamorphosis and influence of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Episode 97: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Acts 1 and 2 Continued. The Imagery of the Play: the Moon and Its Many Thematic Associations; the Celtic Imagery of the “Goddess Cultures”
Male-female power struggles occur in all four of the play’s sub-plots, even in the comic relief of the “rude mechanicals,” who are preparing a dramatic version of the story of the star-crossed lovers Pyramis and Thisbe out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The lunar imagery of conflicting opposites: love versus irrational social law; madness versus reason; feminine versus masculine; stable identity versus metamorphosis. The fairies: originally the Faery, out of Celtic mythology, itself emerging out of the feminine imagery of the “Goddess cultures.”
Episode 96: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1. A “Festive Comedy” from Shakespeare’s “Lyrical Period.” The Dating of Shakespeare’s Plays. Four Groups of Characters.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a “festive comedy,” i.e. associated with seasonal festivals, from Shakespeare’s “lyrical period.” Three interlinked plays all dating from around 1595: Richard II, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The contrapuntal plotting of the comedies. Here, four interlinked sub-plots, three of which represent social class distinctions: the ruling class (Theseus and Hippolyta), the well-born elite (the lovers), the working class (the “rude mechanicals,” and the fairies.
Episode 95: An Introduction to Shakespeare. The Self-Effacing Artist. What We Know about Shakespeare, and What We Don’t. The Nature of Comedy.
What we know for sure about Shakespeare, contrasted with the numerous speculations and conspiracy theories. The four genres of Shakespearean drama: comedies, tragedies, history plays, romances. The theory of comedy, and comedy’s poor reputation in the critical tradition.
Episode 94: Samson Agonistes, Acts 4 and 5. The Giant Harapha. Samson Pulls the Arena Down upon the Philistines.
Comic relief: Samson has mysteriously recovered his high spirits and his martial vigor, and challenges the giant Harapha to single combat. The cowardly Harapha refuses. What has changed Samson? He has resisted temptation and cast off an inward passivity. As a result, obeying another inward “motion,” Samson agrees to go perform for the Philistines, and brings the arena down upon the Philistines, killing himself along with them in the process. Two versions of Christianity, both valid. In one, God is transcendent, in the other, immanent, an inward “motion,” an Inner Light. Milton inclines to the latter, and in doing so is the forefather of the Romantic theory of the imagination.
Episode 93: Act 3 of Milton’s Samson Agonistes: Divorce Story. The Bitter Conversation with Dalila.
Dalila comes to visit Samson in an attempt at reconciliation. Samson furiously rejects her attempt, abetted by a misogynistic Chorus whose Ode should not be identified as Milton’s own opinion of women. Dalila’s betrayal cannot be justified, but is it possible to view her in part sympathetically, as a woman caught in a power game, trapped in a no-win situation?
Episode 92: Samson Agonistes, Act 2. Samson in Dialogue with His Father, Manoa, Takes Responsibility for Betraying a Secret to Two Wives, Thereby Failing Both His Country and His God
In Act 1 Samson defends himself to the Chorus: in twice marrying Philistian women, he was following inward “motions” from God. But in Act 2, speaking to his father, Manoa, he takes full responsibility for allowing those women to manipulate and betray him. His mood by the end of the second act is hopeless and near suicidal, and the Chorus, so confident in the first act that God’s ways were justifiable, is severely shaken and finds God’s ways baffling and disturbing.
Ep. 91: Christmas Special. Milton’s Nativity Ode, the Greatest of All Christmas Poems. The Paradox of Christianity: The Redemption Is “Now,” but “Not Yet.” The Nativity Is Potentially in Every Moment.
Written at the age of 21 while on Christmas break from Cambridge, the Nativity Ode almost amounts to what Milton later called a “brief epic.” Its theme is “our great redemption from above,” the descent of a miraculous power down the vertical axis of being to our fallen world, redeeming in a moment of new Creation. But that moment of redemption is paradoxical—“now,” but “not yet.” And yet now—as there is a “paradise within,” there is a miraculous birth possible at every moment if we look with the inward eye of the spirit, which is to say the imagination.