Book review entries

February 28, 2005

Summary – The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

Not rated

Play opens with Antonio Bologna and his friend Delio talking about Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria and his brother, the Cardinal, and their corruption and hypocrisy – they also mention the sister, the Duchess of Malfi, as the complete opposite of her brothers. Bosola enters, and his painted as a rogue and possible murder who will do anything for social advancement.

Ferdinand and the Cardinal use Bosola as a suitor for the Duchess, but only because they can easily manipulated him – they want their sister, who is a widow, to remain unmarried – and they make her promise not to take a husband, which she does with reluctance. In the next scene, Antonio enters her chamber and they profess their love for one another – they use a loophole in the law to get married in secret there and then.

There is an unpleasant scene in which Bosola and Castruchio (another member of Ferdinand’s coterie) taunt an old woman about her ugliness. Antonio tells Delio his secret, but is interrupted by Bosola. The Duchess arrives and it is clear that she is pregnant – Bosola does not notice and offers her an apricot. The Duchess later goes into labour but Antonio tells everyone she is sick and must not be seen – Bosola’s apricot is blamed. Bosola and Antonio meet at night on their way to the Duchess’ room – Bosola guesses that Antonio is ‘her bawd’ – and then finds a note dropped by Antonio saying that a child has been born – he sends this straight to Ferdinand and the Cardinal in Rome.

The Cardinal is in Rome with Castruchio’s wife Julia, his mistress. They receive the letter from Bosola, and Ferdinand is furious.

Some time later, and Antonio tells Delio that the Duchess has had two more children by him – Delio warns him about Ferdinand’s murderous rage. The Duchess tries to pass it off as rumour to her brother, and Ferdinand lets on that he believes her, hoping that more evidence will lead him to the father of the children.

In the Duchess’ bedchamber, Antonio teases the Duchess, creeping out of the room whilst she is waxing lyrical about her love for him. Ferdinand enters, overhears this and confronts her – he gives her a dagger and tells her to kill herself, declaring that he never wants to see her again. Antonio is urged by the Duchess to flee to Ancona, where she will follow him later. Bosola then enters, pretending to be a sympathetic ear – she tells him where Antonio is, and then Bosola immediately goes to the Duke. The Cardinal and the Duke then confiscate their wedding rings and banish Antonio and the Duchess from Ancona.

Bosola presents a letter to the exiled couple from the Duke saying that he will not rest until Antonio is dead – the Duchess makes him flee to Milan with their eldest son – Bosola then comes to take the Duchess and the two younger children to prison. Ferdinand visits the Duchess and gives her a dead man’s hand with Antonio’s ring on it – he also shows her waxworks of Antonio and the child, making her believe they are dead. Bosola asks Ferdinand to stop this cruelty, but he refuses, saying that he will presently send Bosola to Milan to find the real Antonio. He then surrounds the imprisoned Duchess with madmen who make noise and disturb her. Bosola arrives, disguised as an old undertaker, and tells her he has come to make her tomb – executioners enter with a coffin. The Duchess’ servant-woman, Cariola, tries to protect her mistress but is carried off. The executioners strangle the Duchess, her children and then Cariola. Ferdinand sees the bodies and feels remorse, which he takes out on Bosola, who complains that he was only following orders. Ferdinand pardons the murder but banishes him. In Bosola’s soliloquy, he mentions that Antonio is still alive, and the Duchess, in the last throes of death, hears him, and then dies.

Meanwhile, Antonio and Delio, who have not heard the news, are in Milan, and, hoping for reconciliation, Antonio decides to visit the Cardinal in his chamber. The Cardinal, however, is pretending to Bosola and Ferdinand (who has been sent mad by his conscience) that he does not know about his sister’s death, and tells Bosola to find Antonio through Delio and kill him. When Bosola is alone, Julia enters and they declare their love for one another, and conspire to expose the Cardinal – Bosola hides as the Cardinal enters. The Cardinal tells Julia that he was responsible for the Duchess’ death (and Bosola overhears), but the Cardinal makes her kiss a Bible when she hears it. He then tells her that the Bible is poisoned because he did not trust her to keep the information secret – Bosola reveals himself just as Julia dies. As they are both murderers, Bosola agrees to take the Cardinal’s side and kill Antonio – but again, Bosola is duplicitous, privately vowing to ensure Antonio’s safety.

As Antonio and Delio stand outside the Cardinal’s chamber, they hear and echo from the Duchess’ grave, and Antonio suspects that she has died. Antonio enters the Cardinal’s room and Bosola, thinking that he is the Cardinal, strikes him with his sword. Antonio dies after hearing from Bosola that his wife and children are dead. Bosola brings Antonio’s body to the Cardinal, and draws his sword to kill him too – in the ensuing scuffle, Ferdinand is woken and joins in – Bosola stabs the Cardinal, and Ferdinand and Bosola stab each other – all three die. Delio enters with Antonio’s eldest son and declares that the boy is now Duke.

Summary – Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

Not rated

Play begins with a planned revolt of Roman citizens against the nobles (particularly Caius Martius) because of their revoke of the law which allowed them free corn – they are starving and desperate. Menenius Agrippa enters and placates the crowds, likening Rome to a body, in which the senators are the stomach, which appears to do nothing but in fact provides nutrition for all the other members. Caius Martius arrives, and displays his contempt for the citizens. News is heard that the Volsces (led by Caius Martius’ enemy, Tullus Aufidius), are up in arms – the Senate is called and it agreed that Martius will go to quell the uprising with general Cominius. The people’s tribues, Sicinius and Junius Brutus, comment that although the war will bring Martius honour, his pride will soon alienate him from the people again. Martius’ wife, Virgilia, his mother Volumnia and their friend Valeria discuss Martius’ prowess in battle and agree that he will return victorious.

Martius attacks the city of Corioles – Cominius believes that they should retreat, but Martius and his company take the city bravely. He encounters Aufidius but neither kill each other. Aufidius concedes defeat but vows to avenge himself upon Martius.

Menenius, the two Tribunes and the three women are together when they learn of Martius’ victory – Martius returns and is named Coriolanus for his bravery. Sicinius and Brutus talk again about Coriolanus’ pride and the hatred of the people for him that will no doubt be rekindled. It is thought that Coriolanus will become consul – in the Senate the nobles agree it should be so but the two Tribunes do not – nevertheless, Menenius and Cominius’ support is enough, and now all that remains is a popular vote. Coriolanus refuses to play political games and abase himself before the people, who he hates, but, urged by his friends, he appears in public in a gown of humility and garners popular support. It seems as if his position is secure, but Sicinius and Brutus do not like his attitude and stir up ill-feeling amongst the people, reminding them of the corn issue. The people become incensed against Coriolanus, and despite Menenius’ repeated entreaties for him to be humble, Coriolanus again refuses to make any concessions, and there is an incident in the town in which the people show their displeasure for him, and he has to fight them off and retreat. Tribunes suggest that Coriolanus be executed for this behaviour, and Menenius attempts to justify his actions to them. Again, it is made clear, again by Volumnia, his mother, that all Coriolanus needs to do is apologise. Coriolanus assures his mother that he will try, and both Cominius and Menenius remind him again of this.

Coriolanus again presents himself to the people as a war-hero, but when he is accused publicly by Sicinius of using his fame to gain too much power and become a tyrant, he cannot contain his anger. Sicinius again calls for his execution, and the people agree, but it is decided that because he has served his country so extraordinarily, he will merely be banished. Coriolanus says a brief farewell to his wife, mother and Menenius, and then leaves Rome. Volumnia and Virgilia meet Brutus and Sicinius on the street and accuse them of inciting the rabble. A Volsce meets his Roman friend and learns that Coriolanus has been banished.

Coriolanus goes to Antium (where Aufidius is staying) and finds his enemy’s house. Coriolanus then presents himself before Aufidius, saying he could either kill him now or they could become allies through a mutual hatred of Rome – Aufidius accepts.

Back in Rome, the two Tribunes are under pressure, this time from Menenius, when there are rumours that not only is Aufidius attacking Rome’s colonies, but Coriolanus is with him and they are heading for Rome. Suddenly, Brutus, Sicinius and all the other people regret banishing him and everyone involved denies his own part in it and blames everybody else.

Coriolanus and Aufidius are outside Rome – inside, it is established that Cominius has already tried to reason with Coriolanus but to no avail – so they send Menenius, who has always been like a father to Coriolanus. At first, Menenius cannot even get past the watchtowers, but Coriolanus sees him and tells him that he will show no mercy, and sends him away. Finally, Virginia, Volumnia, Valeria and Coriolanus’ son are then sent to plead – Coriolanus vows that he will not be swayed by them, but eventually they persuade him not to take Rome – he hints that he knows he will be killed for this by the Volsces.

Sure enough, Coriolanus returns to Antium to say that although he has taken back the territories lost to Rome, he has not taken the city itself – Aufidius and his men call Coriolanus a traitor and kill him.

November 03, 2004

Summary – King Lear by William Shakespeare

Not rated

Lear, the old King of England, decides to divide up Britain and share it between his three daughters. He declares that they must first be married, and also asks each of them how much they love him. The two oldest daughters, Regan and Goneril, flatter the king with praise and are rewarded accordingly – Regan marries the Duke of Cornwall and Goneril the Duke of Albany. Cordelia, the youngest daughter, refuses to flatter him, and says she loves him as much as a daughter shout – Lear is enraged, and gives her no land, offering her to the Duke of Burgundy, who refuses, and then the King of France, who accepts and makes her his Queen. The Duke of Kent takes Cordelia’s side and tries to reason with Lear, and is banished from the kingdom. Lear hands over power to Albany and Cornwall. Meanwhile, Edmund, the bastard son of the Duke of Gloucester, vows to reclaim the land that Gloucester gave his legitimate son Edgar. He forges a letter from Edgar which says that he wants to take over his father’s revenues jointly with Edmund, and shows it to Gloucester, who becomes angry. He then tells Edgar that his father is angry with him and pretends to help. Regan and Goneril discuss that although they have power, it must be consolidated by the reduction of the king’s remaining authority.

Lear visits Goneril with his entourage of a hundred knights – she instructs her servants to act coldly to her father, and herself shows disrespect to him by sending away half of his knights. The Duke of Kent arrives, disguised as a servant, Caius, and pledges his services to Lear, and Lear’s Fool appears, calling into question the King’s wisdom in dividing his country up and banishing Cordelia. Lear is angry with Goneril storms out of her house, vowing never to return. Lear goes on to Regan’s house, and Goneril has an argument with Albany, who is uncomfortable with her treatment of Lear.

At Gloucester’s castle, it is announced that Regan and Cornwall are to visit, and it is hinted by the servants that there is trouble brewing between Cornwall and Albany. Edmund persuades Edgar to go into hiding to dodge both Cornwall’s and his father’s rage – then Edmund wounds himself and, when Gloucester arrives, says that it is Edgar who attacked him and ran away. Gloucester vows to capture Edgar and reward Edmund. Cornwall and Regan arrive, and Edmund tells them that Edgar is one of the knights surrounding Lear and that he is plotting to kill Gloucester. Outside the castle, Kent comes across Oswald, one of Goneril’s disrespectful servants – and Kent attacks him for his attitude. Cornwall, Regan and Gloucester hear the commotion and have Kent put in the stocks, despite Gloucester’s objections. Kent reveals a letter from Cordelia saying that she will try to help him from France. As Kent dozes off in the stocks, Edgar enters, and says that to avoid capture he will pretend to be ‘poor Tom’, a beggar. Lear, with the Fool and a knight, arrives at Gloucester’s castle, and finds out that Regan and Cornwall had Kent put in the stocks. They at first refuse to speak to him, and then when he does tell them about Goneril’s disrespect, Regan suggests that she may have been right. Regan then says she will allow only twenty-five men to stay with him – and then both sisters say that if he wants to stay with either of them, there must be no servants at all. Outraged, Lear curses his daughters and head outside into a storm – they lock the doors behind him.

On the heath in the middle of a storm, Kent looks for Lear, and learns from a knight that Lear is accompanied somewhere on the heath by a Fool, and also that there is more trouble between Albany and Cornwall. Kent tells the knight to go to Dover to drum up support for Lear, and to also find Cordelia. Lear curses the weather and his daughters, and is eventually found by Kent who takes Lear and the fool to find shelter.

Gloucester tells Edmund that he too has heard of a conflict between Albany and Cornwall, and that a French army is invading England. Gloucester tells Edmund that there is a letter in his room with details of the French invasion, and that he (Gloucester) is going to find Lear – he asks Edmund to make sure Cornwall does not find out. Edmund decides to betray his father to Cornwall so that he will get his father’s title, land and wealth when he is executed.

Lear refuses to go into the hovel that Kent has found, and the Fool goes inside but immediately runs out again, saying it is haunted. The spirit turns out to be Edgar disguised as Tom. Edgar pretends to be mad, saying that devils are chasing him, and tells Lear that he used to be a wealthy courtier. Gloucester arrives, and tries to take Lear back to his castle, but Lear insists that he will only go if ‘Tom’ comes with him.

Cornwall vows revenge against Gloucester, and makes Edmund the new Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester, Kent, Lear and the Fool take shelter in a building near Gloucester’s castle, and Gloucester leaves to find food. Lear holds a mock trial of his daughters, an exercise in madness. Gloucester hurries back to tell Kent he has heard of a plot to kill Lear, and Kent takes Lear to Dover to allies. Edgar, in his own voice, puts his problems into perspective now that he has seen Lear’s suffering.

Cornwall gives Goneril Gloucester’s treasonous letter, and tells her to give it to her husband, ordering his servants to arrest Gloucester. Gloucester is found and tied up before Regan and Cornwall. Gloucester admits that he helped Lear escape, and Cornwall in his anger gouges out one of Gloucester’s eyes. One of Cornwall’s servants rebels against this outrage and wounds his master, but Regan kills him – then Cornwall gouges out Gloucester’s other eye. Gloucester calls Edmund to help him, but realises that he was the one who betrayed him, and that Edgar was the son who loved him all along. Cornwall’s servants clean Gloucester up and express their shock at what has happened, giving him to the madman to lead away.

On the heath, Edgar is presented with the sight of his blind father – but instead of revealing himself, Edgar continues to pretend to be Tom. Gloucester asks to be led to the top of a high cliff. Meanwhile, Goneril and Edmund arrive at her palace, and she learns that Albany, disgusted with her and her sister’s brutality, has changed sides. Goneril hints that she wants to become Edmund’s mistress. Albany enters, and criticizes her for sending her father mad. They learn that Cornwall has died from his injury. When Albany hears of Edmund’s treachery towards his father, he vows to help Gloucester take revenge.

At the French camp near Dover, Kent is still disguised as a servant. He learns that the King of France has gone back home to deal with more pressing domestic matters, and has left Cordelia in charge of the army. Lear arrives in Dover but refuses to see Cordelia because he is ashamed of the way he treated her – she sends servants to go and find him. They learn that the armies of Cornwall and Albany are marching towards Dover to fight them. Back at Gloucester’s castle, Regan makes it clear that she knows about Goneril’s affair with Edmund and that she wants Edmund for herself – she tells Oswald to find and kill Gloucester. Edgar is still leading Gloucester towards Dover – he pretends to take Gloucester to a cliff, and Gloucester attempts to commit suicide but just falls on the ground, where he faints. When Gloucester wakes up, Edgar pretends to be an ordinary gentleman who has seen Gloucester fall off the cliffs of Dover and survive – it is a miracle. Gloucester accepts that the gods do not yet want him to die. Lear stumbles upon them, and is clearly mad – Cordelia’s men find him and he runs away with them in pursuit. Oswald then comes across Edgar and Gloucester but does not recognise them – Edgar kills Oswald and takes his letters – he reads Goneril’s request that Edmund kills her husband Albany.

In the French camp, Cordelia learns Kent’s true identity but keeps it a secret – Lear is brought into Cordelia and she forgives him for banishing her, though he is mad and assumes Cordelia hates him like her sisters. In the British camp, Regan asks Edmund if he loves Goneril and he says no. Goneril and Albany enter with their army – and despite his sympathy towards Lear and the others, Albany decides to fight against them to repel the French invasion. Edgar, disguised as a peasant, accosts Albany and gives him the letter. Edmund debates with himself over which sister to choose and decides to put it off until after the battle.

During the battle, Edgar fights on Lear’s side – but Lear and Cordelia are captured. Edmund sends them away with instructions as to what should happen to them, and then simply tells Albany that he has sent them away. Regan and Goneril both claim Edmund as their husband. Albany produces the letter and tries to arrest Edmund for treason – he challenges him to a duel and sounds a trumpet to produce his champion. Edgar appears in full armour and wounds Edmund, but he is kept alive for questioning. Regan, who has taken ill, is helped to her tent, and Albany tells Goneril that he knows about her plot. Edgar reveals his identity, reconciling with Albany and saying that he told Gloucester the truth just before he died. A messenger arrives saying that Goneril has poisoned Regan and committed suicide. Kent enters and asks where Lear and Cordelia are – Edmund at this point repents his sins and vows to do good – he confesses that he ordered their hanging but sends a messenger to try and stop it. The messenger is too late and Lear enters with the Cordelia’s body in his arms. A messenger says that Edmund has died from his wounds, and Lear dies with Cordelia in his arms. Albany gives Kent and Edgar their powers back.

November 02, 2004

Summary – Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Not rated

Play begins with Fransisco and Barnardo, guards on the battlements of Elsinore Castle, changing shifts. They are joined by Marcellus, another guard, and Horatio, a scholar, and discuss the guards’ claims that they have seen a ghost. During this, the ghost appears before them, but does not speak to them. According to Horatio, the ghost looks like the dead king Hamlet, explaining that the old king beat the King of Norway, Fortinbras, in single combat, and took both kingdoms, but that Fortinbras’ son of the same name was out for revenge and summoning an army to attack Denmark. The ghost appears again, and seems about to speak, but the cock crows and it disappears again. The guards decide to inform young Hamlet that his father has appeared to them.

King Hamlet’s brother Claudius has assumed the throne and taken his widowed sister-in-law, Gertrude, as his wife. The new king sends two messengers to Norway to try and discourage Fortinbras from attacking, and then he asks a young nobleman, Laertes, why he has requested an audience – it is because Laertes wants to go to France – Claudius asks Laertes’ father Polonius if he agrees, and he does. Turning to young Hamlet, he asks his nephew why he is still in mourning for his father, telling him it is unnatural, and asking him to stay in Denmark rather than going back to university in Wittenberg. Hamlet agrees, but makes plain his distaste for the marriage – he is interrupted by Horatio, Barnardo and Marcellus who tell him about the ghost. Hamlet agrees to go to the battlements with them to look for the ghost.

Laertes, about to leave for France, says goodbye to his sister Ophelia and warns her about Hamlet’s professions of love. Polonius arrives, and warns Ophelia of the same thing, and gives Laertes advice about how to conduct himself whilst in France.

That night, Hamlet and Horatio wait for the ghost to arrive, and when it appears, it beckons Hamlet to follow – he goes and the others decide to follow him. The ghost tells Hamlet that he has been murdered by Claudius and tells him to carry out revenge against Claudius but not Gertrude. Hamlet makes Horatio and Marcellus swear never to tell anyone what they have seen.

Polonius sends his servant Reynaldo to France to keep an eye on Laertes. Ophelia arrives and tells her father that she thinks Hamlet has gone mad – Polonius concludes that it is out of love for Ophelia and they go and see the king and queen about it. Claudius and Gertrude meet with two old friends of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and ask them to spy on Hamlet to find out why he is mad. The ambassadors from Norway have returned with good news – Fortinbras will not attack Denmark, but Poland instead, as long as he is guaranteed safe passage through Denmark. Polonius tells the king and queen that Hamlet is mad because of Ophelia’s spurning of his advances, but they are not convinced, and decide to leave Ophelia in the hall and watch what happens when Hamlet arrives. Hamlet arrives reading a book, calls Polonius and fishmonger and asks if he has a daughter. Hamlet speaks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and guesses that they have been sent by the King and Queen. A trumpet announces the arrival of some players, whom Polonius calls the finest in Denmark, and they recite the story of Pyrrhus, who killed King Priam of Troy. Hamlet asks them whether they can play the murder of Gonzago, and tells them he will write extra lines for them. Hamlet is left alone on stage and says that he hopes that when Claudius sees the murder of Gonzago, he will react badly as it is similar to his own murder of the king, and then Hamlet will know that Claudius is guilty.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern report back to the king and queen, and Polonius invites them to the production. Polonius and Claudius put Ophelia in the room so that she will meet Hamlet, and then hide behind a tapestry to watch. Hamlet grapples with the difficultly of killing Claudius – Ophelia interrupts him and he tells her he never loved her, saying that all women are liars. Claudius believes Hamlet is dangerous, saying that he will send his nephew to England as soon as possible.

Hamlet instructs the players upon how to play the murder of Gonzago, and asks Horatio to observe Claudius’ reaction to the play. The court watches the play, which Hamlet calls ‘The Mousetrap’, with Hamlet making bawdy comments to Ophelia throughout. When the actor pours poison into the King’s ear, Claudius storms out in a rage, and Hamlet and Horatio stay behind, with Hamlet now sure of his uncle’s guilt. Polonius enters and tells Hamlet that his mother wants to see him.

Claudius meets with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, telling them to take Hamlet to England. Polonius informs Claudius that Hamlet going to his mother’s chamber, and tells the kind that he will hide behind a tapestry and watch what is said. Claudius is then alone, and admits to killing his brother – Hamlet walks in on him praying, and draws his sword, but decides not to kill him during prayer because then he will not go to hell. Hamlet then goes to his mother and rebukes her for dishonouring his father – she cries for help and Polonius answers from his hiding-place – Hamlet, thinking that it is Claudius, stabs the figure and kills Polonius. Hamlet explains to Gertrude that Claudius killed his father, and the ghost reappears. Only Hamlet can see it, and Gertrude thinks he has gone mad. Hamlet leaves with the body of Polonius.

Gertrude tells Claudius that Hamlet has killed Polonius, and Hamlet refuses to tell the king where the body is. Claudius tells him that because he killed Polonius, he must go to England, and gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a letter for the King of England, ordering him to kill Hamlet.

Horatio tells Gertrude that Ophelia has gone mad, and she enters singing songs. Laertes has come back from France to avenge his father’s death, and has summoned a mob outside the city gates. Laertes bursts in, and Claudius explains that he has not killed Polonius, but that he will personally arrange Laertes’ revenge. Horatio receives a letter from Hamlet saying that the ship he was on was boarded by pirates, who are taking him back to Denmark while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sail on to England. Claudius explains to Laertes that Hamlet killed Polonius, and there is a letter which says that Hamlet is returning to Denmark. Claudius hatches a plot which involves Laertes and Hamlet fighting with rapiers, with Laertes’ rapier tipped with poison. Claudius then says that he will prepare a cup of poison in case Hamlet wins. Gertrude enters and reveals that Ophelia has drowned.

Two clowns are digging Ophelia’s grave. Hamlet and Horatio come upon them, and Hamlet discovers the skull of Yorick, the court jester who entertained him as a child. Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes and others arrive with Ophelia’s body, and the two men hide. Hamlet realises that it is Ophelia’s body they are burying. Laertes is so overcome with emotion that he jumps into Ophelia’s grave, and Hamlet then jumps into the grave as well, attacking Laertes for this inappropriate show of grief. They are pulled apart and leave. Hamlet tells Horation what really happened on the ship – he stole the letters demanding his death and substituted his own name for that of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. A man named Osric arrives and announces that Laertes and the king have a bet upon who will win in a duel between Laertes and Hamlet – Hamlet agrees to fight against the advice of Horatio.

In the fight, Hamlet hits Laertes twice, and refuses to drink from the (poisoned) cup that Claudius offers him – Gertrude drinks the cup instead and ingests the poison. Laertes then manages to wound Hamlet with his poisoned rapier, but as the fight continues, the rapiers are exchanged and Hamlet wounds Laertes. Gertrude begins to die, and Laertes also falls to the ground – Laertes tells Hamlet they are poisoned and blames the king for everything. Hamlet then stabs the king, and goes back to Laertes and asks forgiveness, which he gets. Horatio grabs the cup and prepares to commit suicide, but a dying Hamlet tells him not to so that he can tell everybody the truth. Hamlet gives his vote to Fortinbras to become king of Denmark. Fortinbras arrives, and Horatio promises to explain the carnage – Fortinbras, in his first act as new king, asks that the soldiers shoot their guns to honour Hamlet’s death.

Summary – Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Not rated

Titus Andronicus, a great warrior, returns to Rome after a successful campaign against the Goths, with Tamora, their Queen, her lover Aaron and her three sons taken as prisoners. Marcus, one of Titus' four remaining sons, demands that one of Tamora's sons be sacrificed to avenge the deaths of Titus' other sons during the war – Alarbus is chosen, and despite Tamora's pleas for mercy, Titus sanctions his sacrifice. A power struggle is going on between two brothers, Bassianus and Saturninus, and although the 'people' have chosen Titus to be the new emperor, he declines and throws his support behind Saturninus. Saturninus shows his gratitude by offering to marry Lavinia, Titus' daughter, but she is already betrothed to Bassianus, and the two of them run away – there is a scuffle between Titus and his sons as they try to stop him from catching her,and Titus kills his son Mutius. Saturninus takes Tamora as his wife instead, and frees her sons and Aaron from slavery.

Demetrius and Chiron both desire Lavinia, and Aaron, bent on revenge, suggests that they both have her. During a hunt, Aaron buries a bag of gold in the woods, and gives Tamora a letter he has forged. He lures Bassianus and Lavinia to Tamora, and then goes to get Demetrius and Chiron. When they arrive, Tamora says that Lavinia and Bassianus have abducted her and intend to kill her – the sons stab Bassianus and throw him into a pit – they drag off Lavinia to rape her. Martius and Quintus, Titus' sons, then fall into the pit containing Bassianus' corpse. Saturninus, Titus, Tamora and Lucius arrive, and Tamora gives Saturninus the letter, which says Titus' sons have murdered Bassianus for a bag of gold – which is then uncovered by Aaron. Everyone returns to Rome, with Titus' two sons under arrest. Lavinia enters the clearing: Demetrius and Chiron have raped her and then cut out her hands and tongue so that she cannot tell anyone – Marcius finds her and takes her back to Rome.

Back in Rome, Titus begs to save his sons' lives, but to no avail – Lucius gets banished from Rome for drawing his sword in defence of his brothers. Marcius arrives with Lavinia, and Titus is almost driven mad with grief. Aaron arrives and says that if one of them chops of his hand, Quintus and Martius will be spared – Titus agrees to do it, and Aaron cuts off his hand. A messenger appears and reveals the heads of Titus' two sons anyway. Titus vows revenge, and Lucius vows to go and muster a Goth army to invade Rome.

Lavinia has been following young Titus around – she takes his copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses and points to the rape of Philomel – then she takes a stick between her teeth and writes Chiron and Demetrius' name in the sand. Titus sends weapons to Chiron and Demetrius, but they do not get the significance of his gift – Aaron does, though, and realises Titus has found out the truth. A nurse arrives with a baby – it is Tamora's and has black skin – it is clearly Aaron's and not Saturninus' – Tamora wants him to kill the baby, but he will not have it harmed – he kills the nurse, and Chiron and Demetrius get a fair skinned baby and substitute it. Titus distributes arrows with notes attached to them to his relatives – they think he has gone mad but fire them into the air. News arrives to Saturninus that Lucius and the Goths are marching on Rome – Tamora says she has a plan to make Titus avert the attack.

Outside the walls of the city, Lucius and the army of Goths have captured Aaron and his baby – and to prevent Lucius from harming the child, Aaron tells him what has happened.

In the courtyard of Titus' house, Tamora and her two sons, disguised as Revenge, Rape and Murder, try to fool Titus into thinking he has gone mad. Titus plays along, and she says that she is Revenge, come to help him – she tells him to invite Lucius, Tamora and Saturninus to his house, and Revenge will do the rest. Titus agrees, but says that Rape and Murder will stay with him – obviously, he knows who they are, and when she has gone, Titus ties Chiron and Demetrius up, and tells them he is going to grind their bones to a paste, cook them in a pie and feed them to their mother. He slits their throats and Lavinia catches their blood in a bowl.

At the feast, Titus enters with a meat pie – everybody begins to eat it. He summons Lavinia in a veil, and kills her, announcing that he has done so to spare her the shame of having been raped by Chiron and Demetrius. Saturninus summons them, and Titus reveals that they are right in front of him in the pie – he then kills Tamora, Saturninus kills Titus and Lucius kills Saturninus. Marcius and Lucius explain what has happened, and Lucius becomes the new emperor. An unrepentant Aaron is brought in and buried in a hole up to his chest and left to die – Tamora's body is to be left for the birds and wild animals to eat.

October 26, 2004

Summary – 'Oedipus The King' by Sophocles

Not rated

Oedipus The King

Plague in Thebes. Oedipus believes that the plague is a result of the gods’ displeasure at the murder of Laius, the previous king. Oedipus vows that he will stop at nothing to find Laius’ killer, and he asks the seer Teiresias to help him. Tieresias speaks in riddles and tells Oedipus that he is the cause of the plague and the killer of Laius, and forecasts great suffering for Oedipus. Oedipus rages at Teiresias, and when Creon suggests that Teiresias might have been worth listening to, Oedipus becomes even more angry, accusing Creon of trying to usurp him. The Chorus, too, tells Oedipus to be cautious.

In a conversation with his wife Jocasta, Oedipus asks questions about Laius, and with her answers, he begins to realise the truth. Horrified, he tells Jocasta that as a young man, the Oracle at Delphi had prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. A messenger arrives from Corinth to say that Polybus, Oedipus’ father, has died of natural causes. Oedipus feels better because he has not fulfilled the prophesy as his father has died of natural causes. However, the messenger tells him that Polybus was not in fact his natural father, but that he was found in the forest as a baby. The messenger says that the baby was given to him by a servant of Laius, and this servant is summoned to the royal palace.

The shepherd arrives and is reluctant to tell Oedipus the truth. When threatened, he says that the child was given to him by Laius and Jocasta, because they too knew of the prophecy, and told to kill it. The shepherd did not kill the baby but instead gave him to the messenger. The baby is identified as Oedipus by a scar.

Jocasta immediately commits suicide. Oedipus gouges out his own eyes. Creon brings Antigone and Ismene to Oedipus to comfort him. Oedipus cedes the throne to Creon and asks to be banished from Thebes.

Summary – 'The Trojan Women' by Euripides

Not rated

The Trojan Women

Play begins with Poseidon lamenting the death of his city, telling us that all the heroes of Troy are dead and now all that remains is for the Greeks to share out the women as spoils of war. Athene appears, telling Poseidon that she is angry with the Greeks for defiling her temple during the sacking of Troy, and the two gods make a pact to cause the Greeks sorrow on their voyages home.

Next we see Hecuba, widow of Priam, sitting in Agamemnon’s tent lamenting her fate. The Chorus are all women in the same situation, unknowing of where they are to be sent. Then the Greek herald, Talthybius, arrives and tells the women that they are all to be sent to different places – he tells Hecuba that Cassandra is to leave as Agamemnon’s concubine, but does not tell her the truth about the sacrifice of her other daughter, Polyxena, instead saying that she is an attendant at Achilles’ tomb. He tells Hecuba that she has been assigned to Odysseus. Cassandra is brought in, and she tells Hecuba not to mourn for her as she is going to bring doom upon the house of Atreus, and make sure that Agamemnon is killed.

Andromache, Hector’s widow, is next to arrive, with her infant son Astyanax. She tells Hecuba the truth about Polyxena’s death. Talthybius comes in and tells Andromache that Odysseus has decided to kill Astyanax, as the son of a great man such as Hector is too dangerous – he must be thrown off a cliff.

Menelaus then arrives, explaining that it was not for love of Helen that he started the war, but for a desire for revenge upon Paris. He expresses his desire to kill Helen, and Hecuba praises him. When Helen is brought in, she pleads with Menelaus to let her explain herself – Hecuba tells Menelaus to listen, but then she (Hecuba) will provide a rebuttal. Helen tells Menelaus that Aphrodite is to blame, not her, and that she tried to join the Greek army again when Paris was killed, but was prevented from doing so by the Trojans – she asks for pity and comfort, not revenge. Hecuba then takes her turn, saying that Helen loved Paris, and she switched sides during the war whenever one seemed to be on top. Menelaus agrees with Hecuba, and sends Helen back to Sparta on a different ship from his own, to face justice there.

Talthybius arrives with the body of Astyanax, explaining that Andromache has already been taken off by Neoptolemus, and so it is now Hecuba’s responsibility to bury the child. After she has lamented over the child and performed a few simple rites, the order is given for Troy to be burned and for Hecuba to be taken to Odysseus. Hecuba attempts to run into the fire but is prevented by Odysseus’ soldiers, and so Hecuba and the women of the Chorus get onto the ship away from the burning city.

Summary – 'Helen' by Euripides

Not rated


Play begins with Helen in Egypt, explaining that it was not her who Paris took off to Troy, but a replica made out of ether by Aphrodite – the real Helen was taken to Egypt by Hermes and given to King Proteus, a virtuous man. Helen explains that as long as Proteus lived she was safe, but now that he is dead, the new king (his son) Theoclymenus wants to marry her. Teucer, a Greek shipwrecked from Troy, enters, recognising Helen and, believing her story, tells her that he thinks Menelaus is dead. Helen, stricken with grief, determines to go to the prophetess Theonoe (Theoclymenus’ sister) to ask about her husband, vowing to kill herself if Teucer’s fears prove to be true.

Meanwhile, a ruined Menelaus lands in Egypt and goes to the house of an old woman to beg for food. The women tells him that, as a Greek, he will be killed if found by the king, and also tells him that Helen of Troy is on the island. Menelaus is confused, but assumes it to be a different Helen. Helen re-enters, cheered by Theonoe’s news that Menelaus is alive, and then she sees her husband. Menelaus at first does not believe her story, but a messenger arrives and tells Menelaus that ‘Helen’ has disappeared into thin air, and so Menelaus embraces his wife. Helen explains to Menelaus that if they are found by Theoclymenus they will be killed, and, as Theonoe already knows that he is on the island, their only chance is to beg her not to tell her brother. Theonoe enters and, moved by their speeches, tells them that she will keep quiet. Helen hatches a plan to tell Theoclymenus that Menelaus has been shipwrecked and that she needs a boat from him to give funeral offerings to the sea, as is the Greek custom. Theoclymenus, seeing that Helen will have to marry him afterwards, agrees, and, thinking Menelaus is a slave who survived the shipwreck, allows him to accompany her.

After the ship has set sail, a messenger tells Theoclymenus that Menelaus and Helen have escaped thanks to Menelaus’ crew overpowering his Egyptians. Theoclymenus, realising that Theonoe has lied to him, vows to kill his sister, but he is prevented from doing so by the Dioscori (the deified Castor and Polydeuces), who explain that Theonoe was just performing the will of Hera. Theoclymenus accepts that Fate took Helen away from him just as Fate had brought her to him.

Summary – 'Orestes' by Euripides

Not rated


Play begins with Electra telling us of Orestes’ killing of Clytemnestra, his subsequent descent into madness and the fact that today is the day that the people of Argos vote on whether or not Orestes and Electra should be stoned to death. She also tells us that Helen has arrived in Argos and is hidden in the palace with her daughter Hermione, and Menelaus is on his way. Helen then asks Electra to go and place an offering upon Clytemnestra’s grave, but Electra refuses and so Hermione is sent. Orestes has a fit of madness but is nursed by Electra. Menelaus enters and has a long conversation with Orestes (interrupted by Tyndareos, Clytemnestra’s father, who expresses his disgust for Orestes), who begs Menelaus to repay his debt to Agamemnon by helping him fight his way out of his predicament. Menelaus refuses to use violence, saying instead that he will try to reason with Aegisthus’ friends who have seized power and are trying to sway the vote. As he leaves, Orestes calls him a coward. Pylades then enters, who vows to share whatever fate is handed to Orestes, and the two of them decide to go to the vote to try and put across their side of the story.

A messenger then comes to Electra to tell her that they have been found guilty and are to be executed. Orestes and Electra decide to kill themselves rather than be killed, buy Pylades has a plan. He reasons that if they kill the unpopular Helen, their crimes will be forgotten, and revenge will also have been taken on the traitor Menelaus. They will take Hermione hostage and threaten to kill her if Menelaus tries to avenge his wife. Electra keeps a look-out, and we hear Helen’s screams from inside – Hermione comes back from Clytemnestra’s grave, and Orestes captures her. A Phrygian slave runs out of the palace, chased by Orestes – Orestes captures him and threatens to kill him, but spares his life. When Menelaus enters, Orestes tells him that when he had tried to kill Helen, she disappeared. Orestes tells Menelaus to make them change the verdict otherwise he will kill Hermione. Menelaus refuses and calls the citizens to arms against Orestes. The god Apollo then appears – he tells Menelaus to be quiet and that Helen has been deified by Zeus, so he must find another wife. He exiles Orestes from Argos for one year, after which he must stand trial for the murder of his mother and be absolved. He tells Electra to marry Pylades, and predicts many years of happiness for them. Finally, he instructs Menelaus to return to Sparta and abandon any designs he has upon the Argive throne. Menelaus and Orestes, in obedience to Apollo, call a truce.

Summary – 'Antigone' by Sophocles

Not rated


In recent civil war, Eteocles and Polynices, the sons of Oedipus and Jocasta, kill each other on opposing sides. Eteocles is given a hero’s burial, but since Polynices was attacking Thebes, Creon, their uncle and the King, decrees that his body is not to be touched and left to rot without burial. Antigone, their sister and Creon’s niece, vows to bury the body of her brother against Creon’s wishes, and asks her sister Ismene to help her – Ismene refuses through fear of the king.

A sentry tells Creon that Antigone has buried Polynices, and Creon summons Antigone to explain herself. Antigone is defiant and refuses to apologise for her actions, embracing the death penalty instead. Ismene also takes responsibility for Antigone’s actions, and tells Creon that she too is willing to die, but Antigone tells Creon that Ismene is innocent. Creon’s son, Haemon, who is betrothed to Antigone, tries to reason with his father, but he only makes Creon more angry. Teiresias then attempts to tell Creon that his actions will lead to his ultimate ruin, but Creon accuses him of trying to usurp him.

Eventually, Teiresias convinces Creon to lift Antigone’s death sentence, but it is too late. Antigone has already been executed, and Haemon has committed suicide. Eurydice, the queen, then kills herself because of Haemon. Creon realises what he has done, and stricken with guilt, abdicates a broken man.

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