Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Thoughts on “Julius Caesar”

September 28, 2022

After finding most of the plays I’d read so far a bit disappointing, here is one that I was looking forward to as one of the more famous dramas that I had never read.  I was hoping that it would turn out to be really good, both because I’d get a really good Shakespeare play but also because it would mean that, yes, the good plays are indeed good plays and so validating my complaints about the other ones.  No, it’s not me or how I’m reading it, but instead it’s that the good plays and the good plays and the less famous ones are less famous because they aren’t as high quality as the famous ones.  On the other hand, if I still disliked it then I’d be in the rather awkward position of at a minimum saying that, in general, I just don’t like Shakespeare, and since the objections I’m making are things that I think apply more objectively I’d end up saying that at least most of the works of the most acclaimed playwright in English history are mediocre at best, which many people will point out says more about me than about him.

As it turns out, I really liked “Julius Caesar”.

This is made all the more shocking because in structure this is one of the historicals, which are the plays that I’ve most disliked in general.  As per Shakespeare’s wont in historicals, it turns out that the play is not about Caesar at all, and he is dead halfway through after only having a couple of scenes.  In DS9, Garak complained that he knew that Brutus would betray Caesar in the first act, but Caesar didn’t figure it out until the knife was in his back, but as per the actual play everyone knew that Brutus was going to betray Caesar in the first act because Shakespeare has him recruited to Cassius’ cause in the first act, and Caesar dies soon afterwards and so we don’t really get a sense of what information he had access to to determine that he would be betrayed.  Moreover, a great deal is made of how much Brutus loves Caesar which would make the betrayal emotional enough to get the “Et tu, Brute” line even if he suspected him.  And Cassius and his plotters indeed use that love to both recruit Brutus and to explain why they really needed him on their side.

Ultimately, this is not the tragedy of Caesar, but is instead the tragedy of Brutus.  This might be what Shakespeare tried in the other historicals, but here it works because Shakespeare is very careful to ensure that Brutus is seen in the play and by everyone as being an honourable man who only betrayed Caesar because he thought that Caesar being made overwhelming tyrant of Rome was bad for Rome.  As he says, he would not love Caesar so much if he didn’t love Rome more.  And his honour is what ultimately led to his downfall, because it spurs him to spare Mark Anthony and also to get him to speak at Caesar’s funeral while Brutus left him alone, and Anthony takes the opportunity to call them all honourable men while attacking their claim that they had to kill Caesar because of his ambition.  This turns the people against the conspirators and leads to the battle where Brutus and Cassius ultimately die by their own hands.  As the last lines say, Brutus was the only honourable one out of the conspirators and the only one who did what he did for Rome rather than for his own ambitions, but at the end he dies along with the rest of them.

So, the play works fairly well as it places the focus on Brutus and makes it clear that his death, at least, is a tragedy.  Thus, as noted, this isn’t the tragedy of Caesar, but the tragedy of Brutus, despite how some many think that the play really is about Caesar and the tragedy is his death (as I believed until I read the play).  Understood in that light, I really liked it, which gives me hope for the other plays going forward.

Up next is “As You Like It”, which is a play I recall from it being quoted by “Wayne and Shuster”.  No, really.

Thoughts on “The Merry Wives of Windsor”

September 21, 2022

So, this is another comedy, and so far as I’ve noted before the comedies have been a bit disappointing.  I kinda liked “Much Ado About Nothing” and liked “The Taming of the Shrew”, but disliked “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and found the others I’ve read so far to be okay at best.  But I had to get through this play before I could read “Julius Caesar”, which as a famous drama I was looking forward to, since the dramas in general worked better for me than the comedies and the historicals.  So I was hoping that this would at least be entertaining enough so that I wouldn’t be wishing that I was reading “Julius Caesar” — or any drama — instead.

This play includes Falstaff who was originally from “King Henry the Fourth”, and was a character that was famous and yet one that I didn’t care for in that play.  Here, he continues his roguish ways, hanging around with thieving companions and looking to get money out of whomever he can.  In his arrogance he thinks that the wives of two important nobles in Windsor are enamored with him, and thinks that he can woo both of them and gain money out of the deal.  Of course, once he approaches them they are completely disinterested, but decide to play with him out of revenge for his unwarranted at the same time.  However, their husbands find out about Falstaff’s approach and while one of them is not worried about his wife’s fidelity, the other get jealous and tries to pay Falstaff to court his wife and report back to him the details (doing so in disguise), adding a complication to that plot.  There’s also a minor subplot where the daughter of the first noble is being courted by three men:  one her father favours, one her mother favours, and one that she actually likes but that her father dislikes because he first came to them seeming to only want her for her money but now has actually fallen in love with her.

I find that Falstaff works better in this play.  He’s still a pretty shady and disreputable character, surrounded by other disreputable characters where it is possible that he’s the least disreputable of them, for all of his flaws.  Since he’s neither moral nor immoral enough to work as a contrast to his companions, it’s really difficult for the character to find an interesting niche to make us want to follow his exploits.  Here, however, his arrogance in thinking that the wives were interested in him runs him up against them and their plan for revenge, and so his part in the plot is him getting the just deserts he has earned for his schemes, and so it makes him a bit of a butt monkey, with lots of bad things happening to him but the wives and others dragging him back for more humiliation by playing on his known foibles.  The fact that he’s a disreputable schemer with an overinflated sense of his own abilities works for the character here, making it clear that he deserves what he gets but with the sense that his own personal sins aren’t really worth anything more than some humiliation.  So while I still don’t care for him as a character, I think the character works here.

What makes this comedy work for me when some of the others didn’t work so well is that the plots themselves are indeed light enough to work.  The wives playing tricks on Falstaff to humiliate him for his approaches on the married women is indeed a classic comedic plot and one that Shakespeare manages to keep mostly light, aided by the fact that Falstaff is absolutely deserving of that treatment.  The complications from the jealous husband are light enough to work as well, especially given that we know that he has nothing to fear on that score and so he looks a little foolish, especially since the other noble is entirely correct in trusting his own wife.  And the plot with the three suitors is also light enough that it doesn’t clash with the lightness of the main plot.  In general, the entire play is finally a simple, light romp that isn’t overcomplicated with extra plots,

Which does make the extra plot with Anne Page — the daughter — a bit odd.  It is mostly disconnected from the main plot and also isn’t developed all that well.  However, it is certainly prominent enough that it needed to be resolved at the end, with the parents each trying to get her to run away with their preferred suitor during the last humiliation of Falstaff, while the daughter takes the opportunity to run away and get married to her preferred suitor.  The plot itself is a good one and there’s a lot of comedic potential there, but it gets ignored for much of the play only to leap into the forefront at the end.  Shakespeare does love his subplots, but for the most part I’ve found that most of them don’t really add much and often take away from the main plot and hurt the plays.  This one doesn’t do that, but it seems like a waste of a pretty good comedic plot to put it in this play and give it so little attention.  I wonder if this might come about because Shakespeare had to ensure that the plays were long enough to fit the runtime that plays of that era had, and so when writing them he added a number of plots that he could expand or contract as needed to pad out the runtime.  That’s something that’s fairly standard in episodic writing today — when you need or needed to make an episode hit the around 45 minutes needed for a one hour TV episode that includes commercials — but maybe he falls too much in love with his subplots and so is unwilling to cut them out and fill out the main plots.  Before, I felt they should have been cut because they didn’t work well with the rest of the plots, but here I feel this one should have been cut because it needed more attention and probably would have worked as its own play.

Ultimately, though, I enjoyed this one.  It worked well as light entertainment and while it didn’t make me laugh it did manage to keep that light tone throughout.  All the characters are at least somewhat sympathetic other than Falstaff, who isn’t supposed to be, and the suitors lose out to true love and not due to any real fault of their own (other than, perhaps, a lack of enthusiasm on the part of one of them).  It’s a comedy that finally pretty much all works, as even “The Taming of the Shrew” had an issue where we aren’t sure at the end of Petrucchio really loves Kate or was just in it for the money.  So while I still like “The Taming of the Shrew” better, this one was indeed a perfectly serviceable comedy that, as noted, all fits together in a way that I don’t think most of his comedies had up to this point.

As already stated, next up is “Julius Caesar”, which is a play that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  We’ll see if it lives up to my expectations.

Thoughts on “Much Ado About Nothing”

September 14, 2022

As those who have been following my progress through the complete works of William Shakespeare, my experience with them has been hit and miss for the most part.  I’ve liked some of the dramas (especially “Romeo and Juliet” and parts of “The Merchant of Venice”) but haven’t been that fond of the historicals and the comedies (other than “The Taming of the Shrews” and some of “Love’s Labour’s Lost”).  So here I am, following up on a relatively famous historical that I wasn’t fond of to return to a comedy in “Much Ado About Nothing”.  I’m really looking forward to getting around to the more famous dramas.

One of the issues I’ve had with the comedies is that in the ones I didn’t like Shakespeare tended to end up using a fairly serious plot to run his comedy, which made me less likely to want to laugh at it than to be upset by it.  The two I’ve liked have been ones where the plot itself is indeed a light plot that can run a comedy, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” had a set of lighter plots but joined too many disconnected ones together and the main one was portrayed in a way that I found depressing rather than funny.  Here, the plot is lighter and is mostly played out properly.  The daughter of an important noble is sparring with a separate noble in such a way that we’re pretty sure that they are going to get together at the end though the machinations of their friends, while her cousin is being courted by someone else and two dastardly villains set out to break it up just because (yeah, that’s pretty much their reasoning:  the one dislikes the parties and wants to embarrass them and the other is getting paid to do it).  The villainous plan manages to cause the suitor to think that his intended bride is false and when he accuses her of that she swoons, he leaves, and they pretend that she’s dead to try to induce guilt in him, while the daughter encourages her beau to challenge the suitor to a duel to pay him back for slighting her cousin.  Of course, at the end everything is resolved and everyone is happy together.

I found this play more enjoyable than most of the other comedies.  While I only laughed at it a couple of times, Shakespeare managed to keep it light and did manage to focus on the banter that he is really, really good at.  While I found the fake death scene unnecessary — they could have dropped it entirely and simply focused on trying to make right the cousin’s shame, which they had to do anyway — while it could have been too serious for a comedy Shakespeare actually plays it right here and so it plays into the plot without depressing us.  That being said, them faking her death makes the duel plot redundant and problematic, since the daughter and her beau were in the room when they talked about faking the cousin’s death and so knew about it, and so her pushing him to add a duel to the mix seems a bit much, especially considering that the two of them were quite good friends.  If they hadn’t faked her death, then the upcoming duel to defend the cousin’s honour could have been the driving force behind figuring out what really happened and unmasking the villainous plot, and would have been something that it would make sense for the daughter to demand from her own suitor, and something that it would make sense for him to grant.

That being said, doing this allows Shakespeare to set up an actual good prank.  Shakespeare loves pranks, but I’ve found that most of them have fallen flat, either being inappropriate for a drama like in “The Merchant of Venice” or of being a bit too mean-spirited, at least, for me to enjoy.  Here, while it’s extraneous, the prank is to have the suitor marry the cousin’s “identical cousin” instead in recompense for that he did to the cousin.  Of course, she really is the cousin which is revealed at the wedding.  This is a prank that’s light enough to work at least in the moment and shows just how remorseful the suitor is over that.  You might think that getting to marry someone who looks just like the woman he was going to marry would be a “Oh, don’t throw me in the Briar Patch!” moment, but consider that he didn’t know that it was the same woman and definitely felt guilty about, presumably, driving the cousin to her death through his false accusations.  Living with someone who looked exactly like her but wasn’t her.  He’d be living with a constant reminder of the mistake that cost him his love and his shame.  That he was willing to do that really does show that he was dedicated to her and to making up for the sin he had unwittingly committed, but does so in a way that doesn’t strike us right away and so doesn’t bring the play down and ruin the humour.

I liked this one a lot more than at least some of the other comedies, although I don’t consider it a true classic.  We’ll see if this continues with “The Merry Wives of Windsor”.

Thoughts on “King Henry the Fifth”

September 7, 2022

This is the last of the pure English historicals for a while, and as you know I haven’t been a big fan of the historicals.  This one, sadly, is no exception, despite the fact that it is probably one of the most famous historicals with a number of scenes and and speeches from it being referenced in other places, even up to “Star Trek:  The Next Generation”.  And I have to concede that when I pay attention to them the quotes and dialogue is indeed quite good.  Shakespeare does have a gift for that.  But the issue I’m having with the historicals, at least, is that they seem to want me to feel things for the characters that I, displaced in space and time from the original intended audience, don’t feel.  So even the great speeches fall flat for me because I don’t really care about them, but a lot of the speeches happen in conversation which makes them seem long-winded rather than impressive because they aren’t really giving me any real insight into the characters nor are they doing a good job of setting up the exposition for what is going to happen.  From my recollection and experience so far, the soliloquies work because they give us insight into that character and the more banter-like dialogues move faster and so are more entertaining, but I have indeed gotten a bit tired of the characters who pronounce their conversational positions as speeches.  Here, the best ones are ones where a character is giving some kind of a pep talk to other characters, which justifies a speech better, but there are still a number of conversational speeches that seem to drag on for me.

The play follows on from “King Henry the Fourth”, following Harry from the first play.  This in theory should give me a connection to the character, and the play does focus sufficiently on him unlike “King Henry the Fourth” what did for him, but the issue is that in the previous play he was a scoundrel and a wastrel who had a bit of a miraculous redemption and conversion at the end of that play, and here he is the reformed character.  Thus, the character that I’d have continuity with is one that I didn’t like, and the character here is one that I might like but don’t know, and so that emotional connection is lost.  The play also focuses on the battle of Agincourt, which I am familiar with through reading history (it’s a prime example of a battle where the army with the advantage managed to steal defeat from the jaws of victory through arrogance and stupidity).  And I think it does capture the elements of that battle well:  the English were feeling helpless before the French advance but the French in their arrogance threw the battle away, giving the English a victory that they didn’t really deserve that allowed them to gain an advantage and reclaim territory that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.  However, again I don’t really have a connection to the characters and so I don’t really have strong feelings about it, and again I believe that at the time the audience would have had that connection so Shakespeare didn’t feel the need to develop that, which makes it not come off as well for a modern audience.

On some minor points, I think he uses the Chorus much better in this play, using it to provide exposition rather than to passively-aggressively apologize for what he’s written.  That being said, I think much of the time the exposition they provided wasn’t really needed and could have been done more effectively in conversation.  Falstaff from the previous play dies off-stage, having presumably reformed at least slightly as he did return from exile to be with the woman he married at the end of the last play.  The famous scene where Henry goes among his troops leads to a series of japes that I didn’t find funny and didn’t see the point of.  And at the end, to further my thesis above about feelings, Henry takes a significant amount of time to profess love for Katherine — whose hand he demanded as part of the peace treaty — in a scene that comes out of nowhere.  It’s as well-written as any such scene in Shakespeare’s plays, but it feels emotionally hollow because all of a sudden he’s had this long-abiding love for her that comes out of nowhere.  This is the precise sort of scene that justifies my contention, because I assume that theirs was some sort of famous love that Shakespeare is presenting here, but not being familiar with the history I don’t have that to give the scene context and so the emotional connection necessary to really make the scene work.

What I have to say about this, though, is that I think it’s in line with malcolmthecynic’s line about Shakespeare:  even inferior Shakespeare is still pretty good.  Shakespeare’s strengths are still on display here and we can still see the quality of his writing.  This isn’t a poorly written play, but is instead a play that relies on an audience that is not me.  However, I can also add that I was indeed hoping that when I set out on this eight month project that I’d enjoy the plays more than I have, as I’ve found the historicals lacking and have not enjoyed most of the comedies.  We’ll see if this changes as I proceed through the rest of the plays, most of them being the more famous ones in his repertoire.  The next one is “Much Ado About Nothing”.

Thoughts on “King Henry the Fourth”

August 31, 2022

“King Henry the Fourth” is another historical, following on from “King Richard the Second”.  This one is in two parts, and the first part roughly describes King Henry the Fourth putting down a rebellion spawned by Hotspur while showing how his son — the heir to the throne — is a brigand and a wastrel and not on good terms with his father yet accepts fighting against Hotspur and makes a good show of himself, while the second part focuses on another rebellion following on from the one in the first part where his son again accounts well for himself and ultimately takes the throne at the end when his father dies.

I’ve commented in the past that I think one of the main reasons why I don’t care that much for the historicals is because they seem to rely on the audience having knowledge of the events and so already having feelings for the major characters, as the plays don’t really develop the characters all that well.  Here, that perception is only made worse by the fact that King Henry the Fourth doesn’t appear all that much in a two-part play that is ostensibly all about him.  We get him commenting on his son and negotiating with Hotspur, and a few other scenes (including his death) but by no stretch of the imagination is he the focus character for the play.  But for the most part he’s the only real character that carries on from “King Richard the Second”, and given that I, at least, found him to be sympathetic — he only rebelled because Richard took his lands to fund his wars and only took the crown because Richard basically just handed it to him — for pretty much everyone else I would have to build up that impression during the play, and for the most part everyone else is either not terribly sympathetic or else is opposing the one character that I remembered and liked from the previous play.

This hits me the worst for the rebellions.  Hotspur is rebelling against the character that I felt sympathy for and that I know didn’t take the throne invalidly, and so I’m not going to be inclined to think the rebellion legitimate.  And yet in one conversation he outlines that Henry the Fourth promised him some things for his help and didn’t deliver, but given that I don’t know the historical background I have no idea if this is true or not or if there were other reasons for that, and Henry does promise to make up for that in some way which makes me think that they should have been able to resolve it peacefully, and yet it results in a battle that ends badly for Hotspur.  I can’t help but think that the play wants me to be more pleasantly disposed towards Hotspur than it really gives me reason to be, especially since both he and the later rebellion hold Richard in high regard and yet I didn’t find any redeeming qualities in him from “King Richard the Second”.

And yet the resolution of the second rebellion in the second part moves things the other way a bit.  I never felt like they had any real reason to rebel, and when Henry’s son John and another retainer negotiate a peace promising to address their concerns — about the only reason for them to rebel, even though they talk about avenging Hotspur and Richard more — I felt happy that it would have a peaceful resolution … and then when the rebelling army leaves the two of them arrest the leaders of the rebellion anyway, while still saying that they kept their word because they were going to resolve their concerns.  This comes from John, who is portrayed as the good and honourable son, and a reasonable retainer, instead of coming from the shady Harry, and this reflects on the leadership of the army and ultimately on Henry himself.  So that left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.

This is the play that contains the character of Falstaff, who is a fairly well-known Shakespearean character.  And yet … I wasn’t all that impressed.  He is indeed an aging rogue and works pretty well as that, but the issue is that he’s not a roguish character around average or even good characters, so that he could provide some comic relief, but he’s a roguish character surrounded by scoundrels — including the Crown Prince — who are no better and often worse than he is, as when the group decides to engaging in some banditry and the Crown Prince decides to ambush the ambushers as a “joke”, he and his compatriot note that all the others will run away immediately while Falstaff while put up a token fight and then run away.  So Falstaff doesn’t provide a contrast to his companions as comic relief, nor is he in any way a moderating influence to stop them from doing terrible things in favour of more fun jokes.  He’s a cad among cads, and I’m not interested in following cads.  So when he’s with them he’s an unsympathetic character and when he’s alone he’s still an unlikable character.  I can see the appeal of the character, but the context of the character ended up with me considering him rather unlikable, which hurts the appeal for me.  In a different context, I think the character would really work well, but he doesn’t work so well for me in this context.

That being said, his ending as part of Harry’s — soon to be King Henry the Fifth — redemption arc is actually a brilliant scene.  After being a constant companion and having Harry bail him out of trouble, and after joining the army at least in part to help him and expecting a reward that would get him out of his latest debts for doing so, Harry after his ascension essentially tells him that he doesn’t know him and banishes him and his companions.  I could really feel the shock that Falstaff had to be feeling at that point, so it’s a brilliant line in a brilliant scene, especially since it’s a little ambiguous whether King Henry the Fifth has reformed and so doesn’t have anything in common with them anymore and so finds them to be a potential embarrassment, or whether he just considers them an embarrassment and so the banishment is more than they deserve, or whether he just has no need for them anymore and wants to get rid of them and so he’s essentially betraying them.  That being said, Harry’s redemption is a but unearned and he was never really a sympathetic character, but the next play is named for him and so I’ll forgive the ambiguity in the hopes that this can play into that play.

Shakespeare also gives a little speech at the end of the second part somewhat apologizing for Falstaff and imploring the audience to say whether they want him to appear again, which is similar to what he did for the play in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  If I was staging these plays, I’d leave those scenes out, as they don’t add much in my opinion and can be really annoying, especially since it seems a bit passive-aggressive.

At any rate, as another historical I didn’t care that much for it and continues the string of my not liking the historicals.  Sadly, the next play is another historical, in “King Henry the Fifth”.  So far, all these are doing is making me yearn for plays like “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this …

August 24, 2022

So with there not being a Shakespeare post this week, let me turn my attention to something of equal literary and artistic merit:  “Pretty Little Liars”!

No, that first line isn’t serious, but as those who have been following the blog know I’ve watched the TV series and read the books, and even compared the two.  So they were something I enjoyed and so I have a bit of a soft spot for the universe, although I didn’t bother following up with “The Perfectionists”, in either book or show form.  Thus, when I read about the idea that there was going to be a new series/reboot of the show, it piqued my interest.  But after reading about it, I don’t think it’s going to be all that great.

Let me start with the statement that bugged me the most when I first read the article but that I later decided probably wasn’t as bad as it sounded:

The chemistry between this cast, primarily this main group of of girls, is electric, and something that, as fans of the original Pretty Little Liars series, we really needed.

“The magic is when they’re all together in the library, or they’re all together in the bathroom, and they’re all gossiping and talking about what’s going on, and talking about who’s dating who, and who’s cute and all this stuff,” Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa said. “That is the goal,…and that is kind of the secret sauce.”

By talking about it as being the “secret sauce”, it somewhat implied that it was something that this series did that the previous series didn’t, even though the author of the piece clearly would agree with me that that sort of thing was what made the original series good.  Now, on re-reading it the quote doesn’t really imply that, but I think it comes across in sort of the same way as a comment that someone on the rebooted “Charmed” series made about making it feminist that got Holly Marie Combs ticked off enough to ask what they thought the original “Charmed” series was doing.  In both cases, maybe they were trying to talk about having that in the same way as the original series had it, but did so in a way that made their series sound special and something to single out.  Here, I think that’s the biggest issue for me, because the quote here (and the next one about them having independent stories) isn’t something really neat and cool that the series is doing, but instead is essentially what was great about the original series.  So those sorts of things are really table stakes:  if they couldn’t manage to do that, then they shouldn’t be doing the series at all.  They are still going to need to find other things that make them special and not just a shallow copy of the original, but even the shallow copy is at least going to have to do that to be considered any kind of copy at all.

Now, they are trying to do that, by reimagining it as a slasher horror series.  I have … some issues with that, which I will get into a bit later.  But another thing they are doing and talking about worries me as well:

It’s Karen, who’s not just mean but racist and homophobic, that brings this new era of a friend group of teen girls together, all with a shared hatred of Karen. We have Imogen and Tabby, along with Faran (Zaria) who is an avid ballet dancer competing against Karen for the lead role in Swan Lake, Minnie “Mouse” (Malia Pyles) whose overprotective moms have her on a very short leash, and Noa (Maia Reficco) who is walking around school with an ankle monitor after spending time in juvie for drug charges.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that in order to make Karen some sort of villain and a main mean girl, they had to tack on “racist and homophobic” (and I realized later while taking a walk the incredible subtlety of calling her “Karen”).  This is problematic.  First, if Karen really is a “mean” girl in the normal sense — and, importantly, in the sense that Allison was in the original series — then we should be able to come to dislike her without having to tack that on to her character.  Thus, it seems more likely to me that they are probably going to lean on that to make the audience dislike her.  However, this is risky for a number of reasons.  First, I’m pretty sure that the people trying to do that are on the progressive end of the liberal scale, and the problem there is that they tend to think that all you need to do is attach those labels to someone and people will automatically dislike them.  What this means is that they’ll fire off one or two comments about that, and then rely on that to drive the dislike of the character.  Since bad things are going to happen to that character, that might not be enough to do that.  Even worse, progressives often see things — rightly or wrongly — as being egregious instances of racism and homophobia that most people don’t see as being that egregious.  So they risk creating a couple of instances of what they consider terrible racism and sexism that much of the audience don’t see as being that bad.  If the main characters go on about it, then — and there’s no reason to put it in if the main characters don’t go on about it — the risk is that the audience will consider them to be far too sensitive over such things, and if it ends friendships or causes them to not help Karen out when bad things happen to her then it will reflect badly on the main characters, and for a show like this to work we will have to like and sympathize with them even if we see them as flawed (which is, again, one of the great things about the original series).  I’m quite certain that the writers here will not allow us to consider their anti-racism and anti-homophobia stances as flaws, so it had better be the case that Karen is really as bad as the writers and the main characters claim she is.

But maybe they will pull that off.  The issue they have then is that in order for the main characters to have to join together to oppose her, Karen is going to have to be popular and so have influence over them that they need to oppose.  This, then, says something about the school and the town itself.  If she’s open in her racism and homophobia and the others go along with it, doesn’t that suggest that they themselves are racist and homophobic?  This then turns it from a town and school that’s ordinary but flawed into one that’s downright horrible.  But if they don’t go along with it, then why do the girls have to come together to oppose her?  Isn’t everyone already against her?  So the issue is really this:  1) what the writers would probably consider ordinary, everyday racism and homophobia would explain no one opposing her, but isn’t enough to make her a villain and so those aspects would seem extraneous, 2) egregious racism and homophobia would be enough to make her a villain but would be something that more people other than the main characters would oppose which would turn it into them fighting the entire school/town instead of Karen and 3) extremely mild racism will make the main characters look bad for opposing it strongly instead of ignoring it.  It’s a very fine line to carry that off without making people other than Karen look bad.

And the problem is that if they use that to make Karen a villain it will be nearly impossible for them to pull off what the original show did for its main villains (especially Allison and Mona), which is to at least to some extent redeem them.  The main villains in the original show were people who wanted status and control and were selfish and shallow, but they had reasons for their attitudes and it’s far easier to have them lose that as they mature and come to realize that it was pointless and so come to treat people better.  If the racism and homophobia is strong enough to be worth mentioning, then that’s a lot harder to overcome, especially to progressive writers.  So I worry that it will come across like the guy in “The Craft:  Legacy”, where she has to have a complete epiphany and go to ludicrous extremes to be redeemed, which will make the character seem unrealistic and annoying.  And if bad things are going to happen to Karen, then it really seems like she needs to be redeemed in some way.  It won’t give anything like the same sort of tone to the series if the main characters laugh at her misfortunes until they start happening to them as well.  Making the villains redeemable meant that people could think that they deserved their misfortunes but when they went over the top we could still sympathize with them and agonize with them over the question of whether their past bad behaviour means that they deserve what they’re getting now.

And having the main characters come together as a reaction to her loses another thing that the original show had:  the fact that the original main characters were part of Allison’s clique and so participated in and benefited from her bad behaviour.  They were all popular, but were all popular because of Allison’s abilities as a mean girl.  When she went missing and when things started happening because of that, they had to face the fact that they themselves were culpable for the bad things she did.  It started out the earliest with Hannah having to face Lucas whom Allison bullied but who was nice to her (and, yes, had a crush on her) and then having to deal with Mona still treating him that way.  Later, when Allison returns, they have to face the conundrum over whether they should stick with their friend in the face of people they know and sometimes even like not being pleased that their tormentor is back and might start doing it again.  Here, though, other than perhaps one character there’s no one who could have that kind of link to Karen, and she would have cut ties with her at the beginning of the show.  Also, like in “The Craft:  Legacy”, in order to have to band together they pretty much all have to be losers, on the fringes of popularity in the school.  But one of the great things about the original series was that these were all popular girls, who had a lot to lose and yet their popularity, to a large degree, came from the mean girl Allison.  For most of them they could have found enough popularity on their own — Aria, ironically, is the one who is the least able to do this because of her artsy nature, but even she could have found her place in the artsy crowd, while Emily was a sports star and would have been able to fit in with that crowd, Spencer was an academic star and a member of an influential family, and Hannah really just needed to lose some weight, as proven when she and Mona took over Allison’s place in the school — but they didn’t, and had it through Allison.  Also, that starting point let them be friends over something that they themselves, at times, might have found a bit shameful, which added a lot to the group dynamic.  All of that is lost with this set-up.

For the most part, I worry about the “racism and homophobia” angle because it changes the dynamic a lot and isn’t at all necessary.  If they really wanted to talk about it, they could have saved it for “A” where it wouldn’t change things all that much, necessarily.

Now, what I’m also worried about is that they want to focus on making a slasher horror version of the series:

We start in Millwood, Pennsylvania on December 31, 1999 at a party where a teenage girl Angela Waters (Gabriella Pizzolo) jumps off the rafters and dies, a pile of blood spreading on the ground, with five girls look down at her in complete shock.

Moving forward 22 years, we meet Imogen (Bailee Madison), who is managing her teen pregnancy in high school. Her mother receives an envelope at her door with a red A, inside there is a poster for a party that says, “Party Like It’s 1999!” and the back reads “Gone but not forgotten. You can’t ignore the past forever. The countdown is on.”

That night, while Imogen and her ex-friend Karen (Mallory Bechtel) are at Imogen’s home, they see a trail of water and blood coming from the bathroom, only to discover that Imogen’s mom is dead in the bathtub with a red “A” on the wall.

The first thing that jumped out at me wrt this scenario is that it’s, well, the exact same scenario that we found in “The Row”, and in “Scream Queens”.  It worked there, but the former is an hour and a half movie and the latter is a mostly comedic short season of half hour episodes.  I know that streaming series tend to aim for shorter seasons sometimes with longer episodes, but in order to be anything at all like the original series I presume that they’d want to have multiple seasons of this show, and this premise isn’t big enough to cover multiple seasons.  Heck, it’s probably not big enough to cover one season, given that the only TV series to try it was a comedy that had a lot more things going on.  So the premise seems a bit small and shallow for a series like this.

The other issue with this is that one of the key components of slasher movies is that people are killed.  Without that, the slasher doesn’t seem like much of a threat.  But if you are going to build a cast of main characters like the ones in the original series — which, as we saw above, they are claiming they are trying to do — you aren’t going to want to kill any of them off.  So, then, who are they going to kill off?  Side characters?  We won’t care and we eventually won’t feel that the main characters are threatened as there would almost certainly be many cases where they could have been killed but weren’t.  There’s a reason that “A” in the original series hurt and even killed people at times but wasn’t a slasher, as that allowed us to feel that the main characters were threatened without wondering why they never get killed or seriously injured.  “A” wasn’t trying to kill anyone, but was willing to do so if necessary.  A slasher-type villain is actually going to be trying to kill people.

This gets even worse when we tie it in to the idea that the main characters are going to have their own plots and issues to deal with.  This was indeed a big part of the original series and was something that worked really well.  The problem is that it worked really well because those side plots generated secrets, and as “A” wasn’t a slasher-type villain they worked on secrets, so the side plots generated secrets that “A” then used against them, providing a dramatic synergy while still allowing those side plots to give us a break from the suspense and tension.  The issue with a slasher-type villain is that they don’t use exposing secrets as their main threat, and by their very nature deal in violence more than that.  So the side plots won’t generate anything for the villain to use, and more importantly if the slasher ever kills any of the important characters in those plots will unceremoniously cut them off and leave them unresolved.  While sometimes that can be done for shock value, if you do it too often then the audience will get sick of it and stop investing in those side plots, which works against what they exist for.  But if they don’t let the villain kill people who are important in these plots then that’s just another set of people who the slasher can’t kill, even as a slasher-type villain needs to kill people in order to be a real threat to the main characters.

Ultimately, what this means is that they are going to build a series around a villain who is supposed to kill people and then fill it with people that, dramatically, they won’t want to kill off.  In general, this means that either they are going to constantly kill off people we don’t care about or they are going to invent characters for the sole purpose of making us care about them so that they can be killed, which is a trick that audiences usually catch onto and react badly to, especially if it isn’t done properly.

And let me cycle back to the main characters themselves:

Moving forward 22 years, we meet Imogen (Bailee Madison), who is managing her teen pregnancy in high school.

One month later, Imogen goes to school with her friend, horror movie aficionado Tabitha “Tabby” (Chandler Kinney) …

We have Imogen and Tabby, along with Faran (Zaria) who is an avid ballet dancer competing against Karen for the lead role in Swan Lake, Minnie “Mouse” (Malia Pyles) whose overprotective moms have her on a very short leash, and Noa (Maia Reficco) who is walking around school with an ankle monitor after spending time in juvie for drug charges.

Yeah, they’re all pretty much fringe players who could be called “losers”.  They certainly aren’t the sort of people that we would think would have no problems and have a great life.  But one of the great things about the original series was that these were indeed girls who should have had a great life, at least by most people’s standards, and yet when we looked deeper we could see all the underlying issues and problems that they were having.  This generated the secrets and also the separate dramas for each girl.  I maintain that one of the reasons that characters like Hannah and Spencer were so great was precisely because they were supposed to have great lives and acted and treated others like they did but were humbled by what “A” and other people did to them, and the terrible circumstances they found themselves in.  There are no characters here to be humbled, and no hidden darkness to discover behind the happy facades.  So, then, why should I care about them specifically?  It really strikes me that what they are trying to do is hit on a number of current trendy traits to make us care about them from the start, and those traits will fall flat for most of the audience.

So, from this, you can probably tell that I think the premise is horribly flawed.  The writers comment that they wanted something a bit disconnected from the original series, but my big concern — aside from it not being a premise that would work for a show like this — is that it’s too disconnected, not following on from the themes or premise of the original show, which would leave it as “Pretty Little Liars” in name only.   Instead, I would have used things that were part of the show but that were underused as the premise for this one.  The first one I thought of is to use a specific supernatural premise (which would seem to be a no-brainer for writers coming from a supernatural show).  The supernatural was hinted at in the show and explicitly addressed with the spin-off “Ravenswood”, so exploring that a bit more would have worked really well.  The original series ended with the events seemingly repeating themselves with Addison and her friends, so hint that there is some supernatural force that gets something out of this and so repeats similar events every so often (over a longer time period than these shows) but that it didn’t get what it wanted from the “Pretty Little Liars” crew, at least, and so had to try again with Addison and maybe again with these new girls.  Or move it to another town and let the main characters link it back to Rosewood, which would be a great excuse to have cameos from the original actors without having them have to get involved, keeping it in the exact same universe.

The other idea is to take what I thought was the best part of the show, although sadly underused, which was the game scenario.  Instead of making “A” antagonistic, make it so that they are playing a game with the main characters, rewarding them when they do the right thing and punishing them when they don’t.  This allows “A” to be more ambiguous which heightens the mystery of what they want and how the girls are going to finally satisfy them, while keeping a connection to what happened in the original series but focusing on that ambiguous “A” where the original series was definitely more antagonistic.

This is coming to my streaming series, and since I’ve commented on it I probably have to watch and comment on it at some point to see if it turned out as badly as I worried it would be.  I have a bunch of others things to get through first (and it’s not completely out yet either).

Thoughts on “The Merchant of Venice”

August 17, 2022

This is another of the more famous Shakespearean plays, which again always makes me a bit nervous going into it, hopeful that I will indeed really like it but worried that I won’t and will look like a Philistine who can’t appreciate how wonderful it is.  I at least have been able to usually fall back on Malcolm the Cynic’s maxim that inferior Shakespeare is still pretty good, but that didn’t really work for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  Then again, I did really enjoy “Romeo and Juliet” which does make me think that I will like the more famous plays, even if the comedies and historicals tend to leave me a little cold.  So how was I going to feel about this famous play?

As it turns out, conflicted.

The thing is that what pretty much everyone remembers about this play is the plot with Shylock where he demands a pound of flesh as repayment for a loan and the debtor and his friends must find a way to save his life from that demand.  But there are two other mostly disconnected plots in this play as well.  The second is one that is vaguely remembered — Raymond Smullyan uses it as a framing device for some of his logic puzzles — where Portia can only marry the man who chooses the right casket out of three.  It turns out that the reason Antonio, the protagonist, takes out the loan is to help his friend get the money to take a shot at winning her.  The final plot involves Shylock’s daughter marrying a friend of Antonio and company and there being some small conversations between them and a former servant of Shylock.

The main plot is brilliant.  Shylock is actually presented as an ambiguous villain.  The plot makes it clear that he’s greedy and avaricious, particularly by having him be more concerned with the money that his daughter took from him when she runs off with the friend than with anything about her personally, including that she’s going to convert to Christianity.  And yet, it’s clear that his gripe with Antonio is not about money.  He consistently comments that he hates Antonio because of how much Antonio looks down on him as a Jew, and wants to pay him back for that.  He turns down offers of at least three times what he was owed and risks angering the Duke of the city just to make sure that Antonio dies when he can’t pay him back.  So is he no more than a greedy, grasping Jew, or is he reacting to genuine offense against him as a Jew himself?  If he was just greedy, then he’d take the extra money, but it isn’t clear that Antonio actually treated him that badly to be singled out for a special revenge.  Was Shylock overreacting?  Did he see an opportunity to pay all Christians back through this one specific case?  Did Antonio really treat him that badly?  It isn’t clear, and that ambiguity is more interesting than something that hurts the play.

After her plot mostly wraps up, Portia joins the main plot disguised as a male doctor who is made the judge of the case, and again what happens there is brilliant.  Most people will have heard of the clever way she invalidates the contract, by saying that Shylock can have his pound of flesh as long as he doesn’t shed a drop of blood, which is, of course, impossible to do.  But she then ends up judging that Shylock was seeking the unjust death of Antonio and so gets harsh judgement against him, although the mercy of both the Duke and Antonio means that he’ll lose a good bit of his estate — it isn’t clear if she mostly just ensured he wouldn’t disinherit his daughter or if he had to give a large amount of it to her new husband right away — instead of being executed as the law stated.  This might seem a bit harsh and not properly justified, as all Shylock claims to be doing is demanding what is rightfully his.  But Portia’s play there is brilliant, as she arranged to have him offered at least three times as much as owed and appealed to him and had the Duke appeal to him to show mercy towards Antonio, which he declined.  This, then, provides the justification for claiming that he was seeking Antonio’s death, as that was the only thing that would satisfy him.  Once it was deemed unjust, then it was clear that he was seeking that death unjustly.  You could still consider the punishment harsh — since it could have led to his death — but after giving Shylock more than ample opportunity to show mercy and avoid those consequences they could indeed truly say that he brought it on himself … and that they would show mercy to him after that is more of a rebuke than anything else they could have done.

So it’s a shame that the other plots are so disconnected from the main plot and aren’t anywhere near as good, as they take up time that could have been spent exploring the main plot, instead of sidelining it for significant portions of the play.  Portia’s concept is interesting, but it is really jarring to move to it from the plot where Antonio is facing death.  This is even more jarring when, at the end, Portia as the Doctor insists that her husband-to-be give the right that Portia gave him over as payment so that she can mock and tease him for doing that, pretending to have lost it and to be mad at him over that.  She wouldn’t be someone worth marrying if she’d chafe at him giving away the ring as payment for saving the life of the person who was going to die because of him, and to do so with Antonio standing right there and pleading for mercy as well.  I think it’s supposed to be comedic, but it just made me frustrated with her.  I also found the casket plot flawed as well, since the beaus have to choose from caskets made of gold, silver and lead, all of which have different inscriptions on them, with the first talking about wanting what most men want, the second talking about the chooser getting what he deserves, and the last one — the right one — talking about being willing to give everything up to get what they want.  The problem is that this somewhat obscures what her father thought would drive the right person to make the right choice.  It could have been that they just chose on the basis of wealth itself by choosing the more valuable caskets, but then the inscriptions would be irrelevant.  But if they are supposed to choose on the basis of what the inscriptions mean, then the fact that the caskets were of different materials would only obscure that.  And the explanation for the last one being the right one based on the inscription isn’t all that clear itself, but also is pretty obvious to us in the audience, so we can’t see why someone else wouldn’t have guessed it before now.

Still, that plot at least had some interesting elements, but there really isn’t much in the plot with Shylock’s daughter.  There’s a scene where the servant chides them for an inter-racial marriage, but that character isn’t all that sympathetic and the banter between them isn’t all that interesting, and so when the play cuts away to them it’s pretty much pointless and uninteresting.

The fact that all of these plots are disconnected in terms of plot and even in terms of distance really makes this play feel like at least two plays in one, which mutes its impact and takes us away from the far superior main plot to talk about the weaker subplots, and the time taken among the various plots means that we can’t really develop any of the plots as fully as we might like.  In terms of concept and dialogue, the main plot is excellent.  The second plot is a good concept that isn’t developed properly and wedges in some inappropriate humour, while the third plot is a waste of space that is thankfully the shortest of all of them.  So this play has flashes of utter brilliance that would have worked out better if it didn’t try to stuff all of this into one play.

There won’t be a Shakespeare commentary next week because the next play is a two-part historical that I want to wait to talk about until I finish both parts.

Thoughts on “King Richard the Second”

August 10, 2022

“King Richard the Second” is another of Shakespeare’s historical dramas, which I’ve encountered before and wasn’t all that impressed with.  On the other hand, it’s not like I hated them either, but mostly Shakespeare’s style creates an interesting play but I didn’t have the emotional attachment to the plot or characters that I felt I needed to really enjoy it.  This one follows the last years if King Richard the Second’s reign as he tries to put down a rebellion in Ireland and the way he raises the money for that ultimately costs him the throne.

I had the same issues with this historical play as I had with the other ones, and in fact even more so.  I think what’s happening is that Shakespeare’s audience would know and have an opinion on these famous figures in English history, but I don’t, and so Shakespeare can skip over establishing the backstory and the things that would spawn feelings in us knowing that the audience will understand the history and will feel those things, but here, distanced from that, I don’t have that, and so it falls flat.  Here, I wasn’t at all sure who I was supposed to be cheering for.  King Richard seems at the start to be a reasonable ruler, but then after he settles a deadly duel by exiling Bolingbroke he then steals his lands to fund his expedition to Ireland after Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, died.  I actually know a little about John of Gaunt having read a historical book on the topic, which biases me a bit towards his son, but King Richard’s stealing of the lands comes out of nowhere and really seems like a villain move.  In fact, in the play, it also is a villain move, as some of King Richard’s nobles tell him not to do it and some of them abandon him almost immediately, and a host of others abandon him when Bolingbroke returns to press his claim, including the Duke of York, who is established, at this point, to be someone that everyone thinks is noble and honest and trustworthy.  So I, at least, was happy when King Richard lost.  But then the rest of the play makes his fate out to be pitiable and gives him a lot of piteous speeches that only really work if we are supposed to feel sorry for him.  And much of those speeches were about how terrible it was that he was losing his kingship, except that Bolingbroke only wanted to get his own lands back, and King Richard of his own accord offered his crown to him, originally, it seemed, as a plot to buy time until he could muster support that never came.  So aside from not having any inherent connection to the characters, the focus character is one that I can’t figure out how I’m supposed to feel about him, which hurts a lot of the play.

As I said, I suspect that at the time the audience would have their own views and so would be able to interpret the play in light of them, but I don’t have that and so miss out on it, which hurts my experience of the play.  I’m interested, then, in seeing how “Julius Caesar” and “Cleopatra and Antony” work out, because those seem to be much closer to the historical plays than, say, something like “Hamlet” or “Macbeth”, but an English audience might not be as expected to know the full history of these Roman events.  So will Shakespeare add more details like he does in the more dramatic histories?  Or will it be the case that he didn’t, but since I know more about them than I do about the English kings I’ll be able to get the plot and emotions because I have the requisite knowledge?  It will be interesting to see when I get to them.

Next up, however, is another famous drama, “The Merchant of Venice”.

Thoughts on “The Taming of the Shrew”

August 3, 2022

As people who have been following my months-long mission to read all of Shakespeare’s plays will know, I haven’t had much luck with his comedies.  I found “Love’s Labour’s Lost” the most interesting but still a bit flawed, and followed that up with actively disliking the first of the truly famous comedies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  So I was looking forward to “The Taming of the Shrew” with some trepidation, especially since it was a play that I had read in high school and remembered enjoying.  Was I not going to like it, in line with the other comedies?  Or was I going to enjoy it like I did before, meaning that there was something about it that the other comedies didn’t have?

As it turns out, I actually quite liked “The Taming of the Shrew”.

The basic plot (for the few people who aren’t aware of it) is that there’s a rich gentleman who has two daughters.  The younger, Bianca, is being courted by two suitors and a third joins in soon afterwards, but the father insists that his older daughter, Katharina, must be married before his younger daughter can be married.  Unfortunately, Katharina is noted for being a shrew and so no one wants to marry her.  One of the suitors finds that a friend of his, Petruchio, has arrived in the city and is looking for a rich woman to marry, and isn’t at all afraid at marrying a shrew, promising that he will “tame” her.  The rest of the play follows his courting and taming of Katharina, with a subplot where the new suitor poses as a tutor for Bianca while his servant pretends to be him, which causes issues when the suitor’s father arrives in town.

Compared to some of the earlier comedies, this is a comedy that actually has a solid comedic premise and plot.  “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has that as well, but it has multiple ones that aren’t that well aligned and yet are also individually important.  Here, there is the main plot with the taming of the shrew and a minor aside plot with the deception.  Also, most of the humour is not as mean-spirited as some of the humour in the other plays.  While one can argue that Petruchio treats Katharina rather badly, the play does make it clear that he’s doing that not to, say, drive her insane (as he insists that the sun is out and then changes to insisting that it’s night and the moon is out, for example) but instead simply to break through her rather insulting nature.  So he’s not doing that to insult her, but instead as a direct move against her.  Of course, how you feel about that humour will depend on how you view whether that sort of ploy is valid or reasonable, which famously a number of people — especially feminists — don’t appreciate all that much.  Other than that, the humour between, say, Petruchio and his servant is based on simple misunderstandings as Petruchio is prone to using words that are ambiguous that his servant happens to interpret in exactly the wrong way, to humourous effect.  Also, in line with that, the humour is far more based on banter than on speeches, and Shakespeare, as I’ve said before, has an incredible gift for banter.

That being said, I have to address the actual taming, because that aspect is what makes people call “The Taming of the Shrew” Shakepeare’s most misogynistic play.  Coming in and going from my memory of the play, I was sure that it was fair to call it misogynistic.  I remembered that he was demanding and totally unfair, but thought that a way to go about it would be to present that as him trying to out-demand her to show how it felt when someone as unreasonably demanding as she could be.  And the play actually does that.  When he’s courting her, he takes every insult she slings at him and still insists that she’s wonderful and that he wants to marry her, and when they are married he is deliberately unreasonably demanding, which causes her — as someone concerned with social niceties — to actually have to try to pull him back instead of being demanding herself.  So if you can see her as being unreasonably demanding and insulting and his goal being to get her to see how much that hurts others and so see how it’s not a good way to be, you won’t really find it misogynistic.

However, I do think the play ends up being problematic in that regard, for a couple of reasons.  The first is that Petruchio starts off simply wanting a rich wife with a good dowry, and while I think most people — and certainly most defenders of the play — think that he does come to care for her, there isn’t really anything in the play that indicates that.  It’s perfectly valid to believe that at the end of the play he still thinks of her more as a rich wife than as a full wife that he cares about.  This is one of the things that blunts her last statement that if her husband asks her to do something out of his “honest will” she should just go along with it, as that would imply that if he cares about her and thinks that it’s the best thing for them then that definitely isn’t something to get stubborn over (unless it’s clearly wrong).  If he doesn’t really care about her and instead cares more about himself, then that doesn’t work.  The second issue is that when she says that it follows on from him asking her to do things that she clearly doesn’t or shouldn’t want to do just so that he can win a bet with his friend and her father.  That in and of itself wouldn’t be bad, but the second thing he asks — for her to take off her hat and step on it, presumably a hat that she likes — comes after he’s already won the bet, and he basically says after they’ve conceded that he’s going to prove it even more so with that.  So it doesn’t seem like he’s asking for that out of his “honest will”, because the only thing that could be satisfied by that is his own ego.  That she obeys without question, then, doesn’t reflect a relationship where he asks her to do things that she might not want to do because it’s necessary to gain an advantage for both of them, but instead one where he does that to buttress his own ego.

I’m going to talk about an attempt to modernize this — “Ten Things I Hate About You” — later, but I want to note that a lot of attempts to modernize it that try to avoid that tend to do so by dropping the “taming” part, which turns it into more of a feuding couple plot than what it was originally.  Or, at least, that’s my impression.  But I think you can make the basic plot work without falling into what might seem like misogyny.  What you have to start with, I think, is the idea that Katharina, as someone in that time, does indeed want to get married, but isn’t all that impressed with the suitors available, which would also allow you to fix the scene where she ties up and beats Bianca demanding to know which suitor she likes by having her essentially be asking her which of those idiots she cares for (which can then work to have Bianca reject both for the new suitor).  So she wants to find someone that she can at least respect in some way, and is frustrated that so many men aren’t at all worthy of her respect.  However, her father has put her in a terrible situation where he wants her sister to get married, her sister wants to get married, but she has to be married before her sister can.  So Petruchio can come in and impress her by not being driven away by her insults but also demonstrating that he’s clever, and that impresses her (which was what I suggested the movie “Ophelia” could have done with Ophelia and Hamlet).  So he’s a more worthy candidate than the others, which is why she agrees and even looks forward to the wedding.  However, she’s still spoiled and still used to being able to get her own way by demanding it, and so Petruchio breaks out being overly demanding to, as noted above, show her what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that.  At the end, he should only ask her to do those things precisely to win the bet, and the bet should be clearly something that benefits them both.  The best way to do this in line with the original ending is to make it so that Bianca’s father still thinks that she’s the nicer and more obedient of the two, and makes the bet with Petruchio for control of his estate, and so he only overdoes the commands to make it clear that Katharina is more obedient than Bianca is, and only to the point necessary to convince her father.

Doing it this way, I think, would eliminate the more problematic aspects of the play while still maintaining the idea that the shrew does, in fact, need to be tamed and that her being tamed is a good thing, not just for him, but also for her.

That being said, I still did enjoy it.  It’s by far the most enjoyable of the comedies for me so far, which also indicates that I can enjoy one of Shakespeare’s comedies.  Up next is what I assume is another historical drama in “King Richard the Second”.

Thoughts on “Waterloo”

August 2, 2022

So another of the history books that I had never read and wanted to read is “Waterloo” by Bernard Cornwell, which is a relatively detailed description of the famous Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated by the Duke of Wellington.  He starts by describing the historical aspects that led up to the battle, starting from Napoleon breaking his exile and taking over France again to the reactions of the other nations that led to the alliance opposed to him, their organizational issues that Napoleon hoped to exploit, and the reasons why the two of them might not have trusted each other which would lead to them potentially blaming each other for the issues.  After that, it gets into the battle proper, noting the factors that Napoleon was relying on and how the allies almost lost it all but managed to fight it out and win, helped by some organizational issues on Napoleon’s side as well.

Cornwell, at least in this book, had a bit of a tic where he would shift tense from past to present at seemingly random times and for no good reason.  This really, really annoyed me early on, but by the end of the book I barely noticed it.  Aside from that, his writing style works fairly well and he is good at keeping the action moving while making sure that we understand all the details that went into producing the conditions of the battle.

Ultimately, the biggest thing I noted from the book is how much the battle turned on the mistakes from the various sides, and how many mistakes were made throughout the battle.  A number of them were mistakes where the various parties lacked initiative, including one on the first day where Napoleon’s assigned general hesitated during his attempt to take a crucial point that was the linchpin to Napoleon’s entire strategy.  But mistrust and mistakes on the side of the allies made it so that Napoleon could still have won that battle, and things seesawed back and forth until Napoleon’s reinforcements didn’t arrive despite his calling for them — after having drifted too far out of place on a diversionary mission to get back in time or prevent the allies’ reinforcements arriving — while the reinforcements of the allies finally arrived which pretty much ended the battle.

I enjoyed reading about the ebb and flow of battle and the little events and little battles that made it up, along with some of the personal accounts that Cornwell adds to the story.  Aside from the little tic of changing tenses, the style works fairly well.  I find, however, that I don’t find myself anxious to re-read it, probably because it only captures one battle as opposed to the wider books that I usually read.  I am likely to re-read it at some point, but I’ve enjoyed the other books better and so am more likely to re-read them.