Over the past few days I have been struck by the paradox in which life seems to go by so fast, driven at breakneck speed by the demands of work and family and often leaving us little time to relax, but it can at the same time grind to a halt at key moments and leave us little to do but contemplate life itself.
As I sit by my father’s bedside and look out the window of his hospital room, watching the long morning shadows fade and transform in bright sunshine and reappear later in the day, this passage from Macbeth V.v has been running through my mind.
I’ve had plenty of time to think about what it means. Thoughts about the transience of life, the fleeting shadows, the fact that tomorrow is neither promised nor guaranteed, and how easily one’s candle can be snuffed out have been foremost in my mind.
The irony and contrast of interacting with my students on Monday and watching a performance of Macbeth from the Globe Theatre and then spending so much time in this quiet hospital room since Tuesday, thinking about the roles I play and the importance of how I play them, has not escaped me.
While “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, II.vii) I’d like to think at this point I am not a poor one. Whether at work or at home, and especially this week taking care of my dad, I have chosen to prioritise integrity and kindness. I will not deliver rehearsed lines, seeking instead to project and embody meaningful words with total commitment to my character and roles as daughter, career, sister, advocate, communicator and encourager.
Life’s But A Walking Shadow #Reflection #LifeisStrange #ThoughtForTheDay #FridayThoughts #Shakespeare
This short speech by Macbeth is his response to the news that Lady Macbeth is dead. It is not as emotional as Macduff’s response to the death of his wife and children, but instead is quite poignant and philosophical. A soliloquy might have been more expansive on his thoughts and feelings.
It is a reflection on the brevity and meaninglessness of life. Every day we live is someone else’s last, and our stories are full of noise and bother, but ultimately pointless.
Perhaps he anticipated her death, given her descent into guilty madness. His observation that “She should have died hereafter;There would have been time for such a word” suggeststhat he thought he had bigger problems at that point, and he simply didn’t have time to grieve properly. Implying that her timing was inconvenient is the kind of self-interest that those who love to hate Macbeth might find…
My family are definitely looking out for me while we’re all staying home. Just this week, two of my nieces sent me messages about opportunities for free entertainment while we’re all staying home and staying safe. I’m super grateful to them both for thinking of me and passing on the details of things they knew I would love.
In factt, those opportunities are so good, they deserve sharing with you, too.
The Globe Theatre is streaming a free Shakespeare play each fortnight, starting with Hamlet on April 6th. What a fabulous opportunity to watch great productions by some of the best in the world! And for any Shakespeare lovers who, like me, live somewhere that means they’ll never get to see as many of the plays as they wish to in live theatre, this is a fabulous chance to see more of the canon in near-to-live performance.
The Shows Must Go On! features productions of various Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, free of charge, on YouTube. The first show available is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor TM Dreamcoat. Given that I directed that show last year, anyone who knows me will tell you there is absolutely zero chance of me not singing along with every word.
(Edit: already watching… already singing. Strange as it seems… )
I know it’s not the same as actually going to the theatre, but such fabulous, free entertainment is most welcome, especially while we’re all maintaining social isolation and trying to maintain our wellbeing.
Fabulous, free entertainment opportunities for #StayingHome #StayHome #entertainment #WhatToDoDuringQuarantine #WhatToWatch
Of all the scenes written by Shakespeare, this is the most Halloween-worthy. What is more appropriate for All Hallow’s Eve than a haunting, right?
Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ portrays Richard as an evil, conniving, murderous villain who plots and murders his way onto the throne of England. His deeds are ruthless and his victims are many.
In Act 5, Scene 3, the ghosts of all of Richard’s victims haunt him in his tent the night before the battle. Each of them bids him to “despair and die”, which becomes a powerful refrain that haunts him as he sleeps. This kind of regular repetition of a phrase is called epimone (uh-pim-o-nee): it compounds and gives power to an idea by dwelling on it.
Each of the ghosts also visits Richard’s opponent, Richmond, as he sleeps, bidding him to live, conquer and flourish. It is significant that their words to him are not…
Often referred to as the Weird Sisters, the witches of ‘Macbeth’ open the play with a powerfully macabre and horrifying scene. There is a cauldron in the middle of the cavern, around which the witches dance and recite the list of ingredients in the potion they are making.
Just reading the recipe is enough to make one’s skin crawl – and we are nowhere near as superstitious as Shakespeare’s original audiences.
In 1606 when the play is thought to have first been performed, audiences then would have both living memory and current knowledge of witch trials and persecutions, and would have been very wary of anything to do with witches and magic.
Shakespeare knew what we was doing, though. James I had been king of England for a few years, and did not enjoy universal popularity among his English subjects. By portraying the witches and Macbeth as evil, he was…
I have more than one friend who likes to stir a pot of whatever they are cooking and say in a witchy voice: “Bubble bubble, toil and trouble…”
At times – usually when it is someone I don’t know well – I choose to be diplomatic and just let them go. They’re having fun.
When it’s a friend who I know will not be offended, I have told them gently what the correct line is, and given them a few extra lines to use when the family asks, “What’s for dinner?” “Eye of newt and toe of frog” is a family favourite in my own kitchen, with “fillet of a fenny snake” a close second.
When I asked one of them if she knew she was quoting Ducktales, not Shakespeare, she took it in her stride and immediately switched to a voice that sounded almost exactly like Donald Duck. It was most impressive, and I should have been less surprised by that given that we’ve done theatre together.
Still, it is a quote that people do get wrong.
In the opening scene of Macbeth, he witches actually say “Double, double, toil and trouble, / Fire burn and cauldron bubble” as the refrain of their song about making a potion in the cauldron in the centre of the stage.
My favourite opening scene among all Shakespeare’s plays, this is a passage that is super cool and super creepy at the same time. Despite the fact that the witches are brewing something potent, the song concludes with a witch declaring that “something wicked comes” when Macbeth enters. It’s a powerful statement of how dark and deadly the central character of the play will turn out to be.
Pretty much anywhere you go, whoever you talk to, if they know only one thing about any play by Shakespeare, it’s the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s possibly the most famous scene ever written.
There’s just one problem with that: there was no balcony.
There. Never. Was. A. Freaking. Balcony.
In the script, the stage direction is clear: JULIET appears above at a window.
I don’t know who invented it, but it was a killer idea that I bet Shakespeare would wish he had thought of, were he still alive today.
Of course, directors can stage a play however they like, and make use of whatever structures and sets the theatre provides.
Filmmakers can do likewise, but one must keep in mind their tendency to just change whatever they want. Hollywood is notorious for that. The mayhem that comes from mass misunderstanding occurs when directors think they know better than the author, and when people watch a movie instead of reading the book.
It makes people and their assumptions about the original text wrong, and leaves them marinating in their wrongness until their wrongness is so commonly accepted that most people think it’s right.
It just goes to show that what your English teacher always said is true: there really is no substitute for reading the book.
These days, when people talk about a “foregone conclusion” they mean something is a given: it is inevitable, it will happen, it may safely be assumed. As certain as it sounds, it is still a statement of conjecture about an event that is yet to occur.
When Shakespeare had Othello speak those words in Act 3, Scene 3 of the play that bears his name, it had quite the opposite meaning. In this scene, Iago is manipulating Othello’s thoughts and making him believe that Desdemona has cheated on him.
Othello says, “But this denotes a foregone conclusion: Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be a dream.”
Here, he is speaking of the adultery between Desdemona and Cassio as something that he is certain has already happened. This gives the phrase “foregone conclusion” the opposite meaning to that which it holds today.
This, and statements such as “I’ll tear her all to pieces” and “O blood, blood, blood!” are evidence that Othello has already made up his mind about the guilt of his wife and former second-in-command.
The scene ends with Othello swearing his loyalty to Iago and thinking of ways to kill Desdemona. Charming, I know.
This morning’s conversation in my kitchen is a clear demonstration of just how much of a Shakespeare Nerd I really am.
H: I need egg cartons. Where do I get egg cartons? Me: How many do you want? I pointed to the top of my fridge where there sat a stack of egg cartons. Me again: Take them all. H: Oh wow! Thanks! K: That’s awesome! I’ll grab them in one foul swoop and put them in the car. Me: Well, that’s decided my blog post for today. K: Huh?
In Act 4, Scene 3 of ‘Macbeth’, Malcolm and Macduff engage in testing one another’s loyalty to Scotland rather than to Macbeth, who has become king. During that conversation, Macduff learns of the murders of his wife and children at the order of Macbeth, whom he describes as a “hell-kite” who has slain his “chickens” in “one fell swoop”.
The deed was certainly foul, but that isn’t what Shakespeare wrote. He wrote “one fell swoop” which is an entirely different thing.
Here, fell means ‘fierce’.
It’s an image of violent attack, of hunting, and of predator and prey, which leaves the audience in no doubt that these murders were calculated and precise. The term “hell-kite” leaves the audience in no doubt of the evil motivations behind the slaying.
These days we understand the phrase “sea change” to reflect something new and positive in one’s life. It is frequently used to describe a significant transformation in a person or in one’s lifestyle.
In Australia, it has also come to mean a physical move from the city or the country to live closer to the ocean, or even taking a holiday at the beach.
The phrase hasn’t always had such positive associations.
In Act 1, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s play ’The Tempest’, Prospero’s familiar spirit Ariel sings a song that makes Ferdinand believe that his father, Alonso, has drowned in a shipwreck, and that his father is buried at sea “full fathom five”, or five fathoms deep. Through the action of the water on his remains, his body is undergoing substantive changes: his eyes are turning into pearls and his bones into coral. There is nothing left of him that has not been transformed by the sea.
Even worse, this story of the shipwreck and drowning is not true. It is, in fact, a ruse by Prospero to orchestrate a marriage match between his daughter, Miranda, and Ferdinand. Prospero is quite comfortable with using trickery and misleading magic to achieve what he wants to, and this is not the only time during this play that he willingly deceives others to get what he wants.
So, even though it does still reflect a significant transformation, it has much darker connotations than the term does now. Deceit, manipulation, grief and emotional blackmail all factor into the origins of this phrase that we use so differently today.