Saturday, 14 May 2016

True Lovers run into strange capers

True lovers run into strange capers: Audrey and Touchstone in As You Like It

The trouble with Shakespeare

The trouble with seeking answers in Shakespeare is that there is always a contradictory opinion. He always seems to present (at least) two sides to every aspect of life. Love is both a joy and a madness. Love can be comic or tragic, sometimes both in the same play. Despite calling it “the greatest love story in the world” Romeo and Juliet is anything but a great love story – the lovers are immature runaways, both prone to taking drugs and both commit suicide – they are NOT ideal poster-teens for love, even though they do say some wonderful things to each other:
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
Should this really be called a great love story?

If music be the food of love, play on

Duke Orsino, in Twelfth Night, says that the “spirit of love” is “quick and fresh” and he wants “excess of it.”
On the other hand, one speech later, he seems to see love as a tormenting predator that he needs to escape:

O, when my eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence!
That instant was I turn'd into a hart;
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me.
Imogen Stubbs as Viola and Toby Stephens as Orsino

Faithful or Giddy?

Orsino also sees himself as typical of male lovers as being absolutely faithful and devoted to his beloved:
For such as I am all true lovers are,
Unstaid and skittish in all motions else
Save in the constant image of the creature
That is beloved.
Only a few lines later, though, he contradicts this entirely, saying that men are notoriously fickle:
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women’s are
Which is it, Orsino?

Big hearts kill what they love

Orsino boasts about the size of his heart and passion:
There is no woman's sides    
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion    
As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart    
So big, to hold so much….
Unfortunately his strength of feeling might cut off his nose to spite his face:
Why should I not, had I the heart to do it,
Like to the Egyptian thief at point of death,
Kill what I love?
Viola/Cesario with Orsino: Nell Geisslinger & Grant Goodman, Michael Sharon & Shelly Gaza

Each man kills the thing he loves

Shakespeare presents us with the sublime wonder of love and, in surprising places, sometimes within the same character, also presents us with love’s power to recklessly destroy. In The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio asks “Do all men kill the things they do not love?” Oscar Wilde, in The Ballad of Reading Gaol, famously altered that line with lines worthy of Shakespeare himself:
Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice and Oscar Wilde