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Visceral Reactions to Shakespeare

Updated on May 31, 2016
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Andrea is a freelance writer. She writes on topics from interior design, relationships, ghosts, to anything creative. Contact her for work.

Out of the following, what is your favorite Shakespeare play?

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I decided to do a project. A rather insane one. I am going to go through ALL of Shakespeare.

I decided that plays and movies that stick to the script are completely allowed in this reading adventure, because I can use the subtitles. This may be slightly cheap, but it gets the job done.

I haven't gotten too far into the bard's plays, but I have noticed some things. I think at this point, I can adequately write a bizarre response to the famous bard. I've noticed since doing this project my articulation is better, the weirdness of Shakespeare's language starts to wear off and you get used to words like "sans" and "forsooth." There's a real beauty to the language, especially the creative constellations of the words in the sentences. Trying to understand Shakespeare isn't just some ancestral practice, it's a living text. It still matters. Many of the themes still touch upon the realities we deal with today, from broken dysfunctional families, madness, the complications of love, and the inevitability of death. Often the characters are in unfortunate mishaps or misunderstandings. The following hub will cover

King Lear



A Midsummer Night's Dream

Taming of the Shrew


King Richard I

Shakespeare's Thing for Royalty

God. Shakespeare loves to follow royal families.

Especially their bizarre misunderstandings of each other. The inevitable collapse of the family is frightening; those we share a common DNA with are the ones we have such fierce vulnerability with.

King Lear focuses on two things: King Lear's misinterpretation of his daughter's love and King Lear's inevitable lapse into madness. Madness is the crux of several of Shakespeare's plays. Madness honestly is the crux of a great deal of literature because in all honesty -- how are we to objectively look at ourselves and always know whether we, as a species, are sane or mad? Some of the greatest revelations have come across as madness. Hamlet caught my attention, I watched the Kenneth B. version. The madness of Hamlet, his charismatic, narcissistic behavior was absolutely impressive and genius. Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play, and so far I would crown it as at least one of his top three. I was somewhat disappointed when watching King Lear, especially since many have said it is Shakespeare's greatest. Hamlet, on the other hand, is freakin' brilliant. I couldn't help but love Hamlet, pity Ophelia (and somehow relate to her), or even be impressed by Laertes inner turmoil with the fall of his family. The plot was incredible. I just realized in this adventure I watched The Merchant of Venice. So that too will be added to the pile listed in this summary.

I didn't just watch The Merchant of Venice. I watched the movie... then went to the park and saw a strange community performance of the play set into modern times. One of the characters in the play stepped onto the stage with Tupac's California Love. It was one of the more bizarre and convoluted mash-ups I have ever seen. The Merchant of Venice impressed me. The urgency Shylock has, Bianca's agency for control, the whole play is enchanting. I love how we come across the generational changes through Shylock's daughter and also the pressing issues carried by our religious rites. Shakespeare had a predominantly Christian audience, so when Shylock was forced into becoming Christian, which in modern times seems sadistic and beyond harassment, and though I think that interpretation could be applied to the original audience as well, I think this ending was meant to be happy in that Shylock being forced to convert was given ultimately to heaven (as a literary device, mind you, a literary device). Why does this fascinate me? Because it's interesting to see how audiences will translate material overtime. Different implications can arise with the audience's knowledge, or lack of knowledge.


Shakespeare keeps up his pace in good fight with magic. A Midsummer's Night Dream had me asking questions about past interpretations about science and magic. I loved the world of fairies in the forest, and the haphazard encounters the humans had in the forest. It's a layered play with intertwining plots. Puck steals the show for me, not Oberon even if he is more powerful. Puck has a certain innocence, lore, and pluck to him that fascinates me. It's the magical characters in training that make you ponder because they are in the process of becoming, and there's the beauty of wondering how they'll arrive. The Tempest was not my favorite, but I was enchanted by the premise. I liked how the grand wizard himself may have been split into different compartments in order to resolve his trauma of being banished from society. Cleopatra seeks guidance by a soothsayer, Hamlet encounters his father's ghost, Puck is caught in dizzying magic, and regardless of whether these things are fantasies or plot devices, they are nonetheless memorable, exciting, and offers those of us in the present a glimpse at the imaginations of the past. We come from very imaginative ancestors who both were trying to piece together reality and also had fun trying to make up things on the side. The fairy world in Midsummer's Night Dream comes off believable. Renaissance science totally impresses me.

Outlandish Characters

Shakespeare is a master of creating rounded characters with a dosage of insanity, honesty, and originality. We often see the characters throw up their minds in soliloquies in ways that do beg the question of whether all these Shakespeare plays really belong to him -- how is he able to create so many unique characters with unique minds? Hamlet has such a strong, fierce voice about him that for me it was hard not to be on his side. The trauma with which he experienced internally due to his father's death led to a whole series of inner developments that helped him to recognize the truth around him. His genius was opened by trauma, though the people around him were not equipped to understand his genius, nor bear the consequences of it. Ophelia in her innocence was at the wrong square at the wrong time, she literally was like a Queen in a chessboard that happened to go in the wrong place to be killed multiple times by the Rook, Bishop, and King himself. There was nothing wrong she actually did, except be in the wrong circumstances against Hamlet.

Hamlet not only covers the madness of the title character, it reveals the inner struggles of kingdoms, the vulnerable family relations we put stock into, and the horror of being human and not omnipresent. If we could see everything around us, if we could know all the elements, then so many tragedies could be prevented, but we are limited and oft short in being able to usurp crime, protect ourselves, or protect the people we love.

Then we have Taming of the Shrew. Kat has one of the most florid, wonderful senses of independence in history, and though it may sound bitingly awful to see a group of men try to break her independence, it is clear that Kat never loses her independence. But through it gains the best man. Her flightly sister Bianca is only a catalyst, a plot device to set Kat in motion. Bianca is like Lucy from Dracula and Kat is Mina.

Cordelia drives the story of King Lear with her dedication to innocence, if she had not kept to such piety at the beginning, perhaps King Lear would have never lost his mind. By being true and pure, the oddest of things can come out of synch. The unfortunate turn to aging and mental hysteria is gruesomely tragic in King Lear, and Cleopatra -- honestly felt like the feminine version of King Lear.

1. Hamlet

Could there be said anything new of Hamlet? The play centers around Prince Hamlet's stress after his father was killed by his uncle. Hamlet through his own mental faculties is able to figure out the truth behind his father's death. He may have either witnessed his father's own ghost or was so intent on figuring out what happened, and was so grieved, that his mind was able to piece it altogether anyway. Unfortunately, Hamlet was so focused on his father's death that he wasn't present for some of the other events happening in Denmark. He was disconnected in his relationship with Ophelia and become highly disinterested in her which ruined her. In Ophelia's time, women found their identity either by being in their father's household or being married. By not having either figure to hold onto herself, she went into madness and killed herself.

Hamlet is a series of unfortunate events. One terrible catalyst ignites another. The death of Ophelia sent her brother Laertes after Hamlet to take the final blow. Hamlet's life could have been on the right trajectory, he could have been the next king, but because his uncle intervened, the kingdom went through great upheaval... and the prince was ill prepared to survive it. The only silver lining is that he was able to determine who killed his father. But the intensity of knowing his father was killed by his uncle who then married his mother -- of course that would send any person into a rage, especially a royal rage. Hamlet lost control of his entire life. All the variables were turned upside down. For such an eccentric character, there was only so much he could control in and of himself.

And what of Gertrude? Hamlet's mother? She couldn't stand to Claudius either. She is almost the spitting image of an older Ophelia.

2. Taming of the Shrew

Is there anything better than Heath Ledger singing to woe Julia Styles? No, it's pretty much the most '90s thing ever. Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies. The men are wanting to Petruchio seeks out to tame Kate to be his wife. She could care less about this game while Bianca, her younger sister, who is confronted by a number of suitors. The problem is that Bianca cannot marry until Kate first marries. Therefore, Hortensio sends Petruchio in Kate's direction; Petruchio had arrived in Padua after his father's death and his goal was only to wed.

Petruchio uses reverse psychology on Kate. Whatever she says, whether biting or not, he takes as gentle -- this slowly feeds her into submission. Once the two are engaged, Bianca has to deal with her three suitors. Petruchio in Verona tries to get Kate to agree with whatever he says, no matter how ridiculous. Of course, this is incredibly demeaning and concerning in our day and age, but it is supposed to be in good jest. Petruchio is making sure he aligns with him, he's making her soften from her shrewish ways.

In the final scene of the play there are three newly married couples; Bianca and Lucentio, the widow and Hortensio, and Katherina and Petruchio. The men quarrel about who is the most obedient, vying that Katherine is still a shrew. Petruchio proposes a wager whereby each will send a servant to call for their wives, and whichever comes most obediently will have won the wager for her husband. Katherina is the only one of the three who comes, winning the wager for Petruchio. She then hauls the other two wives into the room, giving a speech on why wives should always obey their husbands.

What could this mean in present day? That under a person's decisive control we can be malleable and turned into puppets? What does it really mean to be a woman? There is a great deal of gender politics happening throughout the entire play. Katherine has the power to make other women sulk because of Petruchio's control over her, but also he is able to come off as the alpha male because of how he treats Kate. Is it really control and misogyny or balance?

3. Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is classic, it's one of the most studied texts in high school, and young Leonardo DiCaprio is enough to make a heart swoon. The tale of feuding families and young lovers is still prevalent today. Mercutio is the catalyst for change; whether encouraging Romeo toward a path of romance, or in bringing destruction. With his death, the Capulets and Montagues... lose their minds. There is a play director who is studying Shakespeare and trying to get it into how the language sounded in the past. Ben Crystal, to be exact. He looks deeply at plays and their structure -- and in Romeo and Juliet, when the two characters are introduced, they speak in couplets and in iambic pentameter. In Shakespeare, more profound, higher moments are in poetry... other parts are in prose.

(taking JULIET’s hand)
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this,
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do.
They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.

ROMEO Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

kisses her

Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.

Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

ROMEO Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.

(They kissed again)

5. Othello

Jealously. The entire theme for this play is jealously, and how if you can make someone jealous, you can control them. Iago usurped the Moorih general by leading him to think his wife wasn't so innocent. Jealously grew as a madness, eventually leading to the end of the couple's marriage. Iago kept nudging people to think one way. He never really cared for Othello; he was more of a mastermind using the people as puppets. The play shows how if you follow the trail of betrayal, everything becomes divided, even the one pulling the strings. Iago was upset with Othello because he promoted a less experienced soldier than him. Even though the play centers around Othello, Iago has more lines. We see into the madness of Iago and his projected jealously through the representations of other people.

If it wasn't for these men's egos, they may have been able to see clearly. It was their egos that blinded them, leading them to jealously, and ultimately leading them to destruction. This ends with murder, suicide, and a non-fatal stabbing. It's gruesome, and a wondrous depiction of masculine emotions. Everything becomes muddled when we are suspicious of others, and more likely than not we lose what is precious to us, including those we love and ourselves. We have to be humble rather than praise ourselves, because that's when an enemy will strike. It is those who are haughty who will fall, and the meek may be dragged with them. Desdemona did nothing to egg on anyone in the play; she was fair, well liked, and beautiful. But unfortunately, her husband was the target of one man's well developed jealously. The smallest seeds can corrupt everything. Every step is precious, and can easily become precarious.


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