Boozy Plays: As You Like It

As You Like It. And you better believe you’re gonna like it, reader. It’s a fun, fast-paced, sweet, witty romp that ends with four weddings and NO funerals. Not interested? What if I told you there was a murderous brother, a cross-dressing love triangle that somehow exists between two people, another love triangle/square/thing involving just about everyone, and recitations of foolishness as only a fool can deliver? It’s all there and more. Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy is pleasing on many levels without being contrived or convoluted. It’s a favorite amongst audiences and though critical response has been fractured throughout its history, it contains some of Shakespeare’s most often quoted speeches and has provided roles for the likes of Helen Mirren, Patti LuPone, Alan Rickman, and Kevin Kline (all of whom are wonderful, and C will direct you to their filmed versions as applies).

The play begins in France though a majority of the action takes place in the forest of Arden. Duke Ferdinand has usurped his older brother’s power and exiled Duke Senior. Ferdinand allows Rosalind, his niece, to remain behind as she is his own daughter, Celia’s, only companion. Meanwhile Orlando is seeking his fortune since his older brother, Oliver, has denied him his inheritance and an education. He falls in love with Rosalind when he is at court. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando as well. Then Duke Ferdinand exiles Rosalind and she, Celia, and a fool run away to the forest of Arden. Mayhem and shenanigans ensue. 

Listen, I’m not going to give away the whole plot… Just read it. It’s a relatively easy Shakespeare read, in my opinion. In fact, I think some critics have referred to it as a lesser work simply because it’s accessible, and they’re weirdly elitist. No, it’s not one of Shakespeare’s deepest explorations of the human condition, but it’s a solid, story with a well-written heroine, some fabulous speeches, and a very, very, very, very (one very for each couple) happy ending.

So what to pair with this fizzy cocktail of love and life? Make it a mimosa. You just can’t be in a bad mood with a mimosa in your hand and you can’t have a bad mood when you’re reading or watching As You Like It. It’s bubbly and fun, and maybe a little fruity. Perfection!

Enjoy!

-A

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Monday Muse: On Why Rosalind is a Modern Heroine

Happy Monday, readers! Shakespeare-a-palooza is well underway here at NCHQ and the anticipation for Stratford is OUT OF F***ING CONTROL. Sorry, that may have been a tad more aggressive than necessary… Anyway, it’s up to me to kick things off this week with one of Shakespeare’s comedies. As You Like It. As it happens, I like it very very much. Admittedly, my love of AYLI stems pretty exclusively from the treatment Shakespeare gives his female lead, Rosalind. But with good reason! Oh, sure she’s strong, witty, charming, and smart, but if you look at the context of the play, she’s well beyond her time in breaking gender roles and courtly boundaries. 

Now, I know, I know, there are multiple cases of gender-bending disguises in Shakespeare’s plays… but (in my opinion) this is by far the best use of the trope. Rosalind does not don men’s clothing as a deliberate means to get close to her romantic interest, Orlando. Her use of the disguise is a direct result of the necessity to quit the city where she is threatened. She recognizes the need to find a way to travel without being molested while also protecting her cousin, Celia. Y’know, cause they’re beautiful women, traveling alone… and some men would take advantage of that. Shakespeare understood the shit women put up with. Way to go, Shakespeare.

Anyway, when As You Like It begins Rosalind is already portrayed as an independent woman. She and Celia do not appear to be restricted, wandering the grounds and deciding to watch the wrestling match of their own accord. Rosalind is clearly the leader, definitely possessing a ready wit and strong will that overshadows Celia without question (this is the reason her uncle banishes her). Rosalind has no problem speaking with the men of court and shares a repartee with Touchstone, the Fool, that is both friendly and competitive. Even before she takes on the disguise of Ganymede she is an exceptionally outspoken woman so it is no surprise that she hatches the plan and volunteers to take on the mantle of Celia’s protector.

Rosalind seems well-adapted and quite adept at her role before she encounters Orlando in the woods. When she does, the play shifts its attentions to the romantic relationships being built within, but the way Rosalind handles and manipulates her own story is what makes her such a standout in Shakespeare’s comedies. Rosalind convinces Orlando to woo her (Ganymede, a man) as though she were Rosalind (a woman) and herein lies the fascinating (and very modern) hint of sexual fluidity. We see Ganymede and Orlando form a relationship that from Orlando’s point of view may be confusing, but is obviously fulfilling. Rosalind even becomes jealous of her alter ego, seeing how committed Orlando is to wooing Ganymede. But it is Rosalind’s unique position as friend/lover/teacher/man/woman that results in the combination of what the audience believes to be “masculine” or “feminine” behaviors that truly captures Orlando’s attentions. 

However, it should be noted that even as Ganymede, Rosalind maintains all of the same character traits. She is just a strong and witty, the only difference seems to be that as a man she feels more free to act aggressively in love. The fact that Rosalind’s personality is unchanged from man to woman helps strengthen her relationship with Orlando because regardless of her sex he seems to genuinely like her as a person. This is the genius of Shakespeare. This love story, among a sea of shallow instances of lust, is based on the fact that these two charters legitimately like one another. And Rosalind’s determination and disguise both aid in creating the happy ending she dreams of. BAM.

I’ll be back on Friday to pair As You Like It and give you the full rundown. Hopefully this analysis of a really stellar character gets you excited to read and drink once we hit the weekend. See you then!!

-A

Silly Sunday: But I Don’t Wanna History!

Heyo! And welcome to the silliest day of the week here at Nerd Cactus!

This has been a damned boring week, hasn’t it? Yeah, I admit that this week’s plays aren’t Shakespeare’s most exciting fare. Like King John, they’re the purview of the Shakespeare trivia champs of the world. (As is knowing where that quote is from.)

But what if you AREN’T a Shakespeare-obsessed historian with a penchant for 15th century England? What if you want to be able to talk Shakespeare’s histories without really reading Shakespeare’s histories? Maybe win some trivia and be a hero to all your friends and talk about how you won trivia for them that one time and OMG, you’re AMAZING!

Well, I have got that covered. For Richard II. Because learning about Henry IV (both parts) means getting to watch Tom Hiddleston, so you really don’t need my help there.

Anywho… here you go. Richard II with stick figures!

Now you can skip reading AND watching. But, really… you should read it. And see it. Because it’s Shakespeare, and Shakespeare is always worth it.

(Yes. Even Titus Andronicus.)

A’s up tomorrow with either As You Like It or Macbeth. Whichever she chooses.

C

Shakespeare Saturday: What to Watch

Hi there, readers (and fellow Shakespeare enthusiasts)! Welcome to Nerd Cactus Presents: Shakespeare-a-palooza 2016 day 3! C paired Richard II and Henry IV pt 1 yesterday so now it’s up to me to set you up with some of the best filmed adaptations of both. Admittedly, there are waaaay fewer adaptations of Shakespeare’s histories than his comedies and tragedies, but LUCKILY there’s the BBC. Good ‘ol British Broadcasting. They have filmed all of Shakespeare’s works (yes, all of them) and for that we are most grateful. I’m especially grateful, because without BBC’s commitment to preserving Shakespeare in its performed state I wouldn’t have much to share with you today. That being said, let’s get started!

We’ll begin with Richard II. Richard II… Where to begin? There have been zero big-budget, wide-release adaptations of Richard II. Believe me, I checked. Several times. There are several TV movies, but that’s it. We’ll just go ahead and ignore the 1978 TV production because it stars Derek Jacobi… and he’s a butthead who thinks Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays but continues to make a career off Shakespeare’s works. Dick.

Ok, sorry, here we go. Richard II. There’s a 2003 production starring Mark Rylance, but good luck finding it; it doesn’t even have a “poster” on IMDB. The highest recommendation I can give (so I will) is for the BBC’s “Hollow Crown” Richard II from 2012. Starring Ben Whishaw, Patrick Stewart, and Rory Kinnear, it’s beautifully executed and easily accessible. If you must watch Richard II (if only to get into the Henry IV story) watch that one.

As for ‘ol Henry IV. There have been just as many, if not fewer, adaptations of Henry IV, so let me once again reiterate my love of the BBC. The “Hollow Crown” Henry IV is excellent. And why shouldn’t it be? It stars Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, and Julie Walters. It’s really very well done on a production scale and the acting is phenomenonal. Definitely give it a watch! It’s fairly easy to track down and Tom Hiddleston is worth your time.

That’s all for today, folks! Tune in tomorrow and the rest of the month for continued Shakespeare-a-palooza posts.

-A

Boozy Plays: Richard II & Henry IV pt One

Heyo! Welcome to the first of this year’s special Boozy Plays features, and the second of our posts during Shakespeare-a-palooza 2016!

If you missed it, Monday’s Post was about Shakespeare’s Histories and why a stickler for historical accuracy such as myself (or just me) can still love the histories despite their being… not very historically accurate.

Today’s post is basically just Boozy Books only with plays. *gasp* I know, I know… what a revelation. The plays we’ll be pairing are those we’ll be seeing up in Stratford at the end of this month. First up, Richard II and Henry IV pt One. I’ll keep them brief so you’re not stuck here reading an essay.

Richard II is about, you guessed it, King Richard II of England. It focuses on the final two years of Richard’s life, particularly as it relates to his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV), son of Richard’s primary adviser, John of Gaunt. (In fact, it is Gaunt who delivers my favorite speech from the play, in which he compares England to a garden.) Richard is an indecisive, petty, arbitrary, and abrupt ruler (note: he’s a bad ruler), who agrees to hear a dispute between Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, then decides at the last minute to exile both men. When Gaunt dies, Richard seizes all of Bolingbroke’s lands and money (which were due him as John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster’s, son), causing Bolingbroke to return and seize the crown for himself. Richard’s horrible leadership sends most people to Bolingbroke’s side, and he ends up broken in Pontefract (Pomfret in the play) castle, murdered by one of Bolingbroke’s supporters (note: this is one of those historical inaccuracies I mentioned on Monday. It’s far more likely Henry IV let Richard starve to death). Henry repudiates the action and heads to Jerusalem to cleanse himself.

This play, then, is the fall of a bad King and the rise of a new King (as well as the beginning of the House of Lancaster, which would later play such an important role in the Wars of the Roses). We know from history that Bolingbroke hardly turns into a heroic ruler, but he is absolutely seen as the heroic, decisive leader to Richard’s… Richard.

Rebellion continues to be a theme into Henry IV pt 1 (which is, I’m sure, why the play we’re seeing that combines the two is called Breath of Kings: Rebellion). This time, we’re seeing the results of Bolingbroke’s rebellion, the Henry who is forced to rule once he has taken the throne. (And, as Henry says, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”) He wants to deal with his personal misgivings over usurping the throne by going on Crusade (because killing the heathens is just so relaxing), but is forced to deal with problems in Scotland and Wales. He also has to deal with the rumblings of the Percy family, the preeminent northern family who supported Henry’s coup, and Edmund Mortimer, Richard II’s heir (resist the urge to history at them, C… resist… no one likes genealogy as much as you do). Henry’s imperious nature essentially drives the Percys, the Scots, Edmund Mortimer, and Owain Glyndwr (the leader of the Welsh rebellion, called Owen Glendower in the play) together into shared open rebellion, which all culminates in the Battle of Shrewsbury. (Basically, Henry IV’s reign was pretty constantly beset by rebellions.)

Meanwhile, Prince Hal, the future Henry V, is a drunken, dissolute fool who has forsaken the court to pal around with his friends, including one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters: Falstaff. The comparison between Henry Percy (Hotspur) and Prince Henry actually forms one of my favorite components of this play, because Henry IV spends a great deal of it wishing his son were more like the apparently noble, valiant, strong-willed Hotspur. But, in the end, it is the Henry (Hal) he disdains that ends up being the truly loyal, regal, noble son Henry (IV) always wanted. Because, at Shrewsbury, it is Hal who defeats Hotspur, shedding his youthful foolishness and proving himself a true warrior (who ultimately becomes Henry V & gets his own play). The King’s forces prevail on the back of Hal’s personal victory, and the Percy rebellion is defeated.

Of course, there’s all those other players to contend with (Mortimer, the Archbishop of York, Glendower, Northumberland, etc), so the play ends with a “TO BE CONTINUED” rather than a real end. But that’s OK, because I’ll tell you all about it in two weeks.

Now… what to drink? I suppose I could go into an analysis of drinks that seem frivolous, but’ll actually kick your ass, like a Hurricane or a Long Island Iced Tea, but I don’t want to go there. Mostly because I hate both of those drinks and prefer to stick with Whiskey Sours. Instead, I want to recommend my favorite, oh-so-punny hard cider from Trader Joe’s: Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed (for) Cider. I literally giggle every time I see it and think of Henry IV pt One, so… I have to recommend it. We wouldn’t want anything drippy and gross like Richard II, now, would we?

OK, so you made it. And because this ended up being longer than I wanted it to be, here’s a reward for you: Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal.

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Sorry for keeping you here so long. Tomorrow, A will give you recommendations of Richard II and Henry IV to watch. Obviously, the above version will be on that list.

See you Sunday!

C

 

Monday Muse: Shakespeare’s (Problematic) Histories

Heyo! Welcome to what is not only today’s Monday Muse but also, by virtue of it being August 1st, Day One of Nerd Cactus’ Second Annual Shakespeare-a-Palooza, aka We’re Going to Stratford At the End of the Month and Want to Talk to Y’all About Shakespeare! I think you’re in for a treat because we’re at our best when we’re focused, and we’re totally focused for the next month.

Now, A probably gets the more exciting plays to work with, but I chose to work with the histories because, well… historian. Yeah. So, I’ll be covering Richard II/Henry IV pt 1 and Henry IV pt 2/Henry V and A gets Macbeth and As You Like It. I promise not to take it personally if you skip my weeks and wait for hers…

*sniffle*

I promise.

Anyway, let’s get going.

A lot of people don’t really think of history when they think Shakespeare. They assume that all of his plays fall into either tragedy or comedy, i.e “everyone dies” or “everyone gets married”. And, yeah… insofar as Bill’s most famous plays are concerned, that is kinda what happens. Aside from “friends, Romans, countrymen,” I think most people would forget the histories entirely if Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch hadn’t played Prince Hal/Henry V and Richard III recently. But, for me, Shakespeare’s histories are some of the most fascinating plays to study, and not just because I’m a sucker for the Wars of the Roses.

The reason they’re so fascinating to me is because, given how I feel about the duty of storytellers to history, I really shouldn’t like them.

I’m one of those writers who believes that, when using history in a story, it is the duty of the writer to change their story to fit what we know about history. If we know Mehmet II’s forces defeated Vlad Tepes’, don’t have Dracula kill Mehmet at the end of your movie for a heroic ending. (Apparently, that’s how Dracula Untold ends. I have never seen it. A actually told me not to see it because, frankly, shit like that makes me genuinely angry.) Don’t characterize William Wallace as some woad-wearing, tartan-sporting Highland lord when EVERYTHING WE KNOW ABOUT THAT PERIOD SAYS THAT SHIT IS WRONG!!! (Also, and probably more importantly, don’t make Isabella of France, who was three at the time of the… wait. No. I’m getting side-tracked by anger parentheticals…)

Shakespeare’s histories are the kind of thing where the actual history is less important than the story being told. So why don’t his plays drive me into apoplectic fits of rage? Even Richard III, though that’s the one that causes my eye to twitch because, for God’s sake Bill, he wasn’t evil fucking Quasimodo! But why, then, do I tend to give William Shakespeare a pass?

Because he lived in a time where saying the wrong thing about the wrong person could get you killed.

For Shakespeare, then, history served as a distancing tool, a framing device a la Hamlet’s play-within-a-play scene. It allowed him to tell a more pertinent, topical story, a more political story, within the guise of people long dead. Richard III needed to be evil because Queen Elizabeth was Henry VII’s (Richmond in the play) granddaughter, and a man had to be an idiot not to make Richard a villain. There’s some thought, as I discussed back in April, that Richard III might have even been a character stand-in for Robert Cecil, and the story itself an allegory about the succession from a Catholic-sympathizing Shakespeare. Here’s the post if you’re interested. Henry V, with all its bombastic, pro-England speeches and victories, is like the Patton of its day. You could almost see Henry standing in front of the St. George Cross delivering speeches to the troops about St. Crispin’s Day and Agincourt. It was a piece of pro-English propaganda (though also remarkably nuanced in its depiction of war, particularly Henry’s violence in Harfleur, but I’ll get into that next time). So, then, especially with Shakespeare’s English histories, it is the conceit of keeping his head that causes Shakespeare to manipulate history to tell a larger truth. (It must also be noted that Antony and Cleopatra was not performed until after Elizabeth I had died, as writing about the fall of a great Queen might not have been particularly politic during her life.)

It also helps that Henry V gives us some great speeches, Richard II gives us John of Gaunt’s “this scepter’d isle”, and Richard III (though… terribly problematic… stupid withered arm and killing Somerset when he was two…) gives us a great (if, again, problematic) villain. Of course, it also pleases me that even Shakespeare, so determined to keep his head Shakespeare (which, of course, I support him in that because who wouldn’t?), couldn’t rob Richard III of his bravery in battle. The “my horse, my horse” line, so often misused out of context to demonstrate Richard’s cowardice, is actually Richard looking for a horse so he can charge back into battle against Richmond’s army. I’ve got a soft spot for Richard. He killed a lot of my family (and was family), but I kinda like him. Despite Shakespeare.

(That crazy lady who found his bones though? Calm down, lady. He wasn’t a saint just because Shakespeare turned him into an unduly villainous caricature.)

Anyway. That’s it for me today. Sorry I rambled. I’ll be back on Friday for this month’s inaugural Boozy Plays, where I’ll be pairing Richard II and Henry IV pt One. See you then!

C

Silly Sunday: Balloons!!!

Happy Sunday, reader! As we come to the end of another weekend and another month, let’s take a moment to put aside our differences and enjoy something silly. We try our best to avoid politics here at Nerd Cactus HQ, but today’s silliness features a former president and his long-surpressed love of balloons.

The final night of the DNC was historic for several reasons: a woman was nominated to represent a major political party in the race for president AND the nation discovered that Bill Clinton loves balloons. Regardless of your political affiliation, the following links should give you a smile and a chuckle. Because, I mean, the happiness and strangely childlike wonder in Bill’s face is amazing. And who doesn’t love balloons?

Here, we enjoy Bill’s delight in pictures.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/lyapalater/bill-the-balloon-guy?utm_term=.pnJkYBWqx#.oredoLr8G

Next, we see that Hillary also enjoys balloons.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/claudiakoerner/hillary-and-bill-clinton-had-a-fucking-ball-when-the-balloon?utm_term=.nlKq5VwnQ#.mw61K6L8B

And, for those who were concerned that Bill denied a little girl a balloon…
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/07/29/heres-what-happened-to-that-giant-balloon-bill-clinton-carried-off-stage-in-philadelphia/

Hope you enjoyed the sillies! Back tomorrow with the start of Shakespeare month and our countdown to Stratford!!!!

A