A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘Julius Caesar’

‘Julius Caesar’ is a brilliant play in which Shakespeare demonstrates his genius is in taking a story we all know and making the characters familiar in a personal and almost tangible way. Shakespeare takes one of the most famous men in history and portrays him as fully human, flawed and even vulnerable in different ways. It’s not the way we’re accustomed to thinking about ‘historical giants’ like Caesar., but Shakespeare makes it all seem quite natural. 

At the beginning of the play, even while he is being celebrated as Rome’s all-conquering hero, his first interactions cast him as a husband who is acutely aware of his wife’s childlessness. We don’t know if his instructions to Calpurnia and Antony are motivated by sorrow or by his desire for an heir to whom he might pass his empire, but either way, Caesar doesn’t miss an opportunity that might make a difference.  

Before long, we see him as a man afflicted by disease when he is struck by a seizure, and is obviously bothered by the fact that is happens in public. He may control all of Rome and its empire, but he cannot control his illness. 
We also see him as a man keenly aware of popular opinion, sen in his public refusal of the crown not once, but three times, yet ignorant of the way his own senators feel about him personally. Regardless of his aspirations, he is astute enough to know that actually accepting a crown as Emperor is not the best move for him at this point in time. 

In these things, the audience begins to see the great historical hero Julius Caesar as a complex, thoughtful man, one who holds a variety of responsibilities and obligations that he takes very seriously. He is very much human, in contrast to the Roman tendency to venerate their heroes almost as gods. We see his humanity rather than his pride, although we know that exists because it is his hubris that brings about his downfall. 

Shakespeare’s portrayal of other characters is equally powerful.

Caesar’s assessment of Cassius is profound: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” In those few words, Shakespeare establishes a vivid image that shapes our perception of the man and positions the audience to distrust the character. 

Brutus is shown as a moral man struggling with a dilemma that weighs heavily on him. A strong sense of foreboding settles on the audience when he puts his trust in Cassius, making himself vulnerable to a man whose thoughts and conspiracies are indeed dangerous, particularly for Caesar. At this point, even though both Caesar and the audience like Brutus, his destiny as one of the conspirators is sealed. 

In all of this, Shakespeare makes expert use of dramatic irony and foreboding to keep the audience in suspense as Caesar’s train speeds ignorantly toward its derailment. This is established right at the start of the play with the mysterious soothsayer who delivers the warning, “Beware the Ides of March”. 

While it is a history play, it has some elements of  a tragedy in that Caesar is completely oblivious to the fact that his actions are contributing to his own eventual demise at the hand of the conspirators whom he still perceives as friends and allies. The pathos of his question to Brutus: “Et tu, Brute?” — “You too, Brutus?” makes the moment of his all-too-late realisation one of almost palpable betrayal and sorrow. In that moment, Caesar dies knowing that he is truly friendless and alone.

It’s important to note that the play makes it clear that assassinating anyone is not a good idea, and the assassins do not prosper as the result of their actions. It wasn’t in Shakespeare’s interests to be seen to promote or condone assassinating the established ruler, as he was reliant on the good favour of Queen Elizabeth I and, after her, King James. He wasn’t encouraging anyone to try to kill their leader: he was showing that, historically, doing so didn’t actually achieve what the conspirators hoped it would. 

It’s a very direct and straightforward play – there are no real subplots and the political undercurrents are all really obvious because they are what drives the play. This makes it a great play for a “first Shakespeare play” for those who are just beginning their Shakespeare journey. 

For the word-nerds, this is the text from which we get great, still commonly used phrases like “It’s all Greek to me” and “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. It’s also the source of the title of John Green’s enormously popular novel ’The Fault In Our Stars’. 

Advertisements

Why I Started Book Blogging

I discovered this post on the abooknation today. It reminded me of starting my own book blog, although my reasons were slightly different.

Like this blogger, I have always been an avid reader, but it was really only when my first book was published that I began to understand the true value of a review for an author.

It’s really the only feedback you get from readers.

A negative review can crush your soul until you think about the fact that you haven’t liked every single book you’ve picked up, either. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste.

A thoughtful review helps you improve your writing and motivates you to keep going. And if someone praises your work, it’s incredibly satisfying and fulfilling because you know you’ve connected with a reader’s soul.

The fact that such a small proportion of readers leave reviews does not really surprise me, because I had never done so before, either.

Once I recognised the need for reviews of Indie books, I saw that this was an opportunity for me to use my love of reading to help other Indie authors by leaving an honest, constructive review.

Thus, Book Squirrel was born.

After developing my confidence with book reviews, Book Squirrel’s blog extended to include author spotlights and interviews, book events and, recently, a range of integrated Indie book promotion services.

I love blogging about books and supporting other Indie authors. I enjoy giving back to the Indie author community and showing others how positive and proactive Indying is done.

Book Squirrel brings me, and others, joy.
And that is the best reason ever to keep going.

abooknation

I’m not sure if I’ve actually ever mentioned why I got into book blogging but if I did I don’t think I made a blog post about it so… HUR WE GOO:

I’ve always loved reading but I feel like I went through phases where I went on a bit of a (very) long slump until I read a book that hooked me back into reading! I’m someone with the shitest memory, even now when someone asks me for book recommendations I have to skim through my posts to jig my memory of what books I’ve read. So around 4/5 years ago when I got back into reading, I had no idea that book blogging was a thing, I thought why would anyone want to hear my rambling thoughts about a book I’ve read??????

Whenever I finished a book I would write up a review and literally just leave it…

View original post 117 more words

Thursday Thoughts: I’m Textually Active.

If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that when I’m not blogging, reading or writing, or strutting my stuff on stage in musicals, I’m a teacher. 

Teaching is demanding and tiring and stressful, but I am always up for a great booknerdy discussion with my students, who I happen to believe are some of the coolest kids on the planet. That is one of the parts of my job that I really love. 

Last semester, my Year 9 English class studied ‘Beowulf’ and Year 11 studied both ‘Richard III’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’

The fun continues this semester. I’m excited to be teaching four more texts I really enjoy. 
My Year 9 English class are going to study ‘Much Ado About Nothing’  and ‘Treasure Island’
My Year 11 English class will be studying ‘The Complete Maus’ and ‘The Book Thief’. 

Teaching teenagers can be a tough gig sometimes, but it also has its perks.

If you had a teacher you liked, I’d love to know what it was about them that appealed to you or inspired you. Leave a comment and inspire me!

How to Talk to Your Cats About Shakespeare

I Never realised how lacking my relationship with Scout Kitty and Abbey the Labby has been.

I’ve been selfish. I’ve been keeping the Shakespeare all to myself.

After reading this fabulous post that I discovered today, I have just apologised to them both, and told them that it’s all about to change.

The cat yawned and went back to sleep, but the dog shall have her day.

Gerbil News Network

My cats are big Shakespeare fans; in the case of Rocco, who’s been letting himself go a bit, a huge devotee of the Bard–fifteen pounds at his last checkup.  We have assembled on the patio for a reading from Julius Caesar.  Titus Andronicus was checked out of our local library, and my wife, the family Shakespeare-hater, is out of town.

“This foul deed shall smell above the earth/with carrion chipmunks, groaning for burial.”

I’ve told them the best way to read Shakespeare is that taught to me by Merlin Bowen, my freshman humanities teacher; once through quickly without checking the footnotes, then the second time more slowly, and thoughtfully, looking up the buskins and petards as you go.  Easy for him to say since he didn’t have chemistry and social studies and phys ed and French and drugs to take at the same time.

“I didn’t finish the reading assignment–okay?”

Rocco is…

View original post 949 more words

My Kind Of Person.

Today my brother, sister-in-law and I took our elderly and increasingly frail Dad out for lunch. 

We went to one of our favourite local places: Lake Edge Cafe on the shore of Lake Purrumbete. The view is lovely in any weather, but it was nice and warm inside. 

While we were waiting for our lunch, another family group came in and took the table next to ours. It looked to be a man around my own age, three boys, and the boys’ grandparents. 

“Shall I tell you a bit about the menu?” the waiter asked. 

“Could you wait a bit, please?” the guy responded. “My wife will be in in a moment… she’s just finishing the final few pages of a book.” 

I smiled. Anyone who stays in the car to finish a book before lunch is my kind of person. 

In case you were wondering, I ordered the pumpkin, prosciutto, pine nut and cherry tomato fettuccine. It was amazing. 

A Mutual Kidnapping.

Today, my best friend and I have kidnapped each other. 
We’re going to spend the whole day doing whatever we want to do. 

Our phones are on silent. 
We haven’t told anyone what time we’ll be home. 
We haven’t even decided where we’ll go. 
We’re winging that part.

We might visit somewhere new. 
We might go on an adventure. 

But we did both bring a book, just in case. 

A Big Thing For An Indie.

Yesterday afternoon I took some friends to one of my favourite bookstores — which I lovingly refer to as book rescue shelters — in Bendigo. 

While looking through the Historical Fiction section, I was delighted to find two books from the ‘Plantagenet Embers’ series by Samantha Wilcoxson that I really enjoy. 

What made that such a cool thing for me is that Samantha is an Indie author from Michigan with whom I have interacted on social media. I have read several of her books on Kindle, and they are really well written. 

As Indies, most of our sales are on Kindle, Kobo or other ebook stores. We don’t get big, fancy distribution via a global publishing company. so it’s great to see that Samantha’s papaerbacks have made it to Australia! That’s really exciting! And now I own two of them, because I knew right away I couldn’t leave them there. 

These are excellent books that I am proud to have in my collection.
And now that I have books 2 and 3, I may have to see if I can buy a signed copy of book 1 direct from the author. That would be an awesome addition to my bookshelf! 

A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘King Lear’.

I have loved ‘King Lear’ ever since I saw a performance of the play in my teens and was completely transported by it.
I find it impossible to consider a parent being betrayed by their child without thinking of Lear, and am compelled to utter the quotation, “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks. Rage! Blow!” at least once during every good storm I witness. 

‘King Lear’ is the story of a king with one daughter who actually loves him and two who are the most selfish, greedy, and deceitful women the kingdom had ever seen. The problem was that he was unable to tell which was which. And so, his story turns to tragedy. 

Shakespeare didn’t have to worry about being historically correct or pleasing the right people with this play, although it wouldn’t be right to show the king as being a bit of an idiot when it comes to his family relationships, so he was sure to stay safe by putting the blame on the king’s horrible daughters and their ambition to take what was not rightfully theirs. Loyalty and faithfulness were, after all, very important qualities and concepts for anyone living in Elizabeth’s England, and you couldn’t have people just seizing land and power that didn’t belong to them. 

It’s not just Lear’s elder daughters, either, that turn on their father. The Duke of Gloucester, faithful supporter of Lear, also feels the dagger of betrayal planted firmly in his back Edgar, by his bastard son, Edmund, who is seeking to take all that rightfully belongs to his brother Edgar. 

In all of this, there are valuable lessons to be learned about who to trust, how to discern who is really loyal to you, and the fact that some people are far more driven by greed and ambition than they are by familial love. Given that we live in a world where kids have been known to turn on their parents and even divorce them in some cases, and where families are divided and sometimes irreparably broken by disputes over money and property,  ‘King Lear’ is clearly a play that still holds relevance for us today. 

It is a beautifully crafted story, full of pathos and tragedy and heartbreak. The language and imagery is magnificent. The dramatic irony of Cordelia’s fall from grace and Lear’s subsequent fall from power at the hands of General and Regan is heartbreaking. Cordelia’s fate hangs in the balance right up to the end of the play while, it seems, the evil people win. That is another point of relatability for the audience: we don’t like seeing the evil people win, and we want to see them get their just desserts. It’s a theme that Shakespeare explores at length in this play, and he expertly positions the audience to keep hoping that Lear and Cordelia will win the day. 

It is the nature of Shakespearean tragedy, however, that pretty much everyone dies and there are a few minor characters left to pick up the pieces at the end, so the audience has to be content with the poetic justice delivered to some and the beautifully tragic ending that comes to others. 

The fact that it doesn’t have a happy ending is one of the things I like about it. Life often involves less-than-happy endings, and it has always seemed to me that those who hope only for happiness are setting themselves up for an enormous struggle when adversity shows up instead. We can’t always have what we want, and Lear would have done well to remember that. Cordelia would have been better off if she had realised that not everyone who should recognise your integrity will do so, and that sometimes you need to play the game better than the cheats do in order to make them lose. 

Sure, I believe in happiness, but I know from my own experience that life is generally far more complex than being able to achieve happiness and simply stay there. We are constantly challenged to maintain a balance  between necessity and luxury, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, lest we be overrun by one or the other. Achieving that balance is the art of life. 

The Power of Historical Fiction

I love a great historical fiction read, so when I discovered this article yesterday, I thought it well worth sharing.

I fully agree with the author’s comments about what distinguishes excellent historical fiction from the rest. There is no substitute for research and ensuring that a story is entirely consistent with the time, place and people involved.

In keeping with the encouragement to pick up a work of historical fiction, I’d like to recommend some that I have found to be excellent.

  • To Be A Queen by Annie Whitehead
  • Miriamne the Magdala by J.B. Richards
  • A Daffodil for Angie by Connie Lacey
  • Blood and Ink by DK Marley
  • The Artist by Lyra Shanti

I do hope you enjoy this excellent post by Steve Cochrane.

The Power of Historical Fiction

Encounters of Faith in Asia: Past, Present and Future

IMG_4116

I love to read. For the past 20 years plus, I’ve read on average 150 books a year. I even keep a list in my journal of all those books, so could prove it to you if you wanted! Books on history always figure prominently on that list, but not only non-fiction. I also love the genre of historical fiction. My latest one is titled Cutting for Stone by Indian-American writer Dr. Abraham Verghese.

This book has the elements of what I value in historical fiction. It is set in Ethiopia over a period of about forty years, dealing with issues of immigration from India and set in a hospital in the capital of Addis Ababa. The first element I value is what this book has in rich measure, a well researched context. Historical context must be accurate, or the book should rather be in the science fiction…

View original post 511 more words

A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘Macbeth’

Macbeth is a play that has always fascinated people, engaging their superstitions as well as their imaginations. For this reason, its often called The Scottish Play by actors and theatre folk, as it’s believed to be unlucky to say ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre.

It’s a cracker of a story. The supernatural ‘weird sisters’ tell Macbeth he’s going to be Thane of Cawdor, and then tell him he is going to be king. In response, Macbeth does everything in his power to make it happen, only to be haunted by his victims and unable to actually enjoy his success when it does. You really do have to wonder how it would have all worked out if he’d responded with, “That’s nice!” and let things happen as they would. 

Of course, you can’t just blame it all on Macbeth. His wife – whom I like to call Lady Macdeath – plays a significant part in engineering him onto the throne, mostly by bullying him into doing things he doesn’t really want to do.

The play has some fabulous macabre moments— the witches are spooky, their prophecies are uncanny, and you can bet your last dollar you don’t want to eat what they’re cooking in that cauldron. Even better is the part where Banquo’s ghost shows up for dinner shaking his “gory locks”: that is my favourite scene in the whole play.

Laced with suspense, intrigue, and dramatic irony, ‘Macbeth’ keeps the audience hooked to the very end, even though we all know by now how it’s going to work out. There’s more magic than just “Double, double, toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble” in this play. 

Strangely enough, reading the text has brought me some odd comfort this weekend as I contemplate the fate of people who manipulate, lie and use others for their own nefarious purposes. I have taken dark satisfaction in seeing those who chose to do evil get what they deserved in the end. It may not be gracious, but it is quite therapeutic to think that maybe the Fates really do have things under control. Sometimes you need to take your catharsis wherever you can get it. 

That, of course, is the genius of all Shakespeare’s plays. He deals in the emotions we all understand – ambition, greed, love, anger, jealousy, pride, and the experience of being at the receiving end of the bad behaviour of others. The language may have changed slightly, but human nature certainly has not. 

Shakespeare doesn’t have to work hard to make the audience dislike Macbeth and his cold-hearted shrew of a wife: we get it. We have all seen people succeed by means of deceiving and manipulating others, or by stabbing someone else in the back, and we don’t like them, either.