Category Archives: category-in-waiting

The Lonely Female and Her Nonexistent Agency

There is a glaring lack of women with agency (or women at all for that matter) in The Tempest. The romance as a whole is oddly reminiscent of something out of Disney – there’s certainly no doubt Disney has adopted this story line in some aspect of a Princess film – but even more so than the romantic happy ending plotline, the protective, paternalistic figure controlling the destiny of his daughter narrative is one that has been told and retold in all aspects of entertainment. Although considered a “heroine,” Miranda evidently lacks the confidence or power to be considered a strong woman or a symbol of feminism by any means. Certainly, she is young and her innocence informs her emotional reactions, the first of which is to the shipwreck. In her very first lines, Miranda sympathizes to an almost depressive level, claiming “I have suffered/ With those that I suffer: a brave vessel,/ Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her/ Dashed all to pieces!” (1.2.5-8). A melancholy, emotional girl of little direction, Miranda looks to her one and only companion and superior, her father, for any and all answers. Continue reading

Prospero, the Witch

Magic plays a big role in Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the protagonist Prospero uses magic to conjure the eponymous tempest which stirs the play into motion.

During Shakespeare’s time, magic was divided into two camps, white magic and black magic. The former was thought to be beneficial and healing, while the latter was meant for harm and practiced by witches. People believed that witches had minions or animals that would do their bidding for them, the actual deliverers of the black magic. White magic operated much like totems or charms which could ward off evil. So called magicians would sell their wares, promising immunity, good health, and other miscellaneous effects. In place of science, people relied upon magic to cure them of ailments and to wish for good fortune. When tending to medical wounds, magic was often used to try and cure the ailment. One cure for headaches involved taking a lock of one’s hair, boiling it in one’s urine, then boiling the entire thing over fire.

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The Unsolved Case for Nature and Nurture

The theory of nature vs. nurture in the upbringing of children is a theme we have seen in several of Shakespeare’s plays. The theory questions to what extent a person’s personality and skill are inherited by nature or the extent to which they depend on the nurture provided in ones upbringing. The effects of nature and nurture are difficult to attribute and quantify in the real world where nature and nurture of a specific child cannot be isolated or recreated to be scientifically studied.

Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, introduces two characters, Miranda and Caliban, who have been almost completely isolated on an island for all or nearly all of their lives. This set up allows us to compare and examine how two children differ though nurtured in nearly identical ways. Shakespeare offers us a scientific control case of the theory of nature vs. nurture. But ultimately we are still left wondering, as many philosophers and scientists do today, are there any obvious conclusions to be made about the roles of nature and nurture? Continue reading

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Well, it’s not exactly an angel…

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, after being shipwrecked on an island, Antonio, Sebastian, and Alonso seek food and shelter. Unbeknownst to Alonso, his two followers seek to murder him in his sleep, eager to increase their own political power. Stumbling across a banquet full of food placed by invisible spirits , the travelers sit down and begin to feast. Out of the blue, a harpy (a female monster with a human head and a bird body), crashes their treat-laden party by landing on the table and castigates the villains for their terrible deeds. Continue reading

Our Corporeal Boundaries

Pico della Mirandola’s seminal Renaissance discourse, Oration of the Dignity of Man, championed the sovereign individual: “Whatever seeds each man cultivates will grow to maturity and bear in him their own fruit”. At the center of the creative ladder, human beings can grasp the ‘fruits’ of God, but only once equipped with the ‘seeds’ of reason. The ascent of man requires deliberate cultivation, establishing ordering structures of religious and civic codes to abate the savage, anarchic alternative: the unfettered reign of nature.  Continue reading

Angelo, Law, and Falling from Grace


Pay your taxes, do not drive above the speed limit, do not steal things, do not park in handicap parking spots, do not commit indecent exposure in public…etc. Laws such as these and many others regulate our lives. In some instances they benefit the general public, such as laws that state murder and arson. Yet other laws regulate less malicious activities but can officially inflict harsh punishments, such as potentially receiving five years in prison for breaking a window or other property damage. This is not a new quandary; in fact Shakespeare encapsulates and explains this conundrum in Measure for Measure. Continue reading

Shakespeare and Whetstone in Inter-textual Society

A (hypothetical) portrait of Shakespeare at his desk. It's very possible that he would have worked with multiple popular texts to compose his own

A (hypothetical) portrait of Shakespeare at his desk. It’s very possible that he would have worked with multiple popular texts to compose his own

To the reverent eyes of modernity, Shakespeare’s fame is infallible. His very name has almost been chiseled into a byword for literary genius, and accords a respect approximately proportionate to say, Einstein in terms of the sciences. Yet, simple investigation often shocks readers when they discover that Shakespeare’s plays are often, on the schematic surface, markedly derivative of prior cultural productions. Often lifting or borrowing entire plots and characters, Shakespeare’s plays skirt towards imitation, superficially at least, to a degree that would furrow the brows of modern-day anti-plagiarism culture. The instinctive reaction can be disillusionment. Entire visions of romantic inspiration shatter when any adequate glossary explains that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a rehashing of a popular tale, and a contemporary poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (the companion edition of G.B. Harrison, in my case). Measure for Measure is no exception to this practice. Yet dissecting the inspirations, influences and derivations is not necessarily to abolish Shakespeare’s genius, or dramatically rip the mask from literature’s idol. Instead, as critical analysis has long accepted, detecting Shakespeare’s sources only contextualizes his plays, not as spontaneous innovations, but as deeply imbedded in a society chafed by rapidly modernizing views of injustice, yet festering with crime proportionate to unprecedented urbanization.

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What Goes Around Comes Back Around

There’s a saying in the fashion world that talks about how the things that are in style come back in cycles; what was fashionable once comes back years later as stylish. Such cyclical trends are true of history as well. Despite all of our history lessons, it repeats itself. While Measure for Measure is considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, it retains a robust performance history.

During the Restoration period, the play was appropriately adapted to fit the culture of the time. Restoration plays were known to be incredibly flamboyant, making use of elaborate costumes and set designs with sophisticated moving parts. Additionally, they included plenty of dancing and singing to add to the merriment of the play. One particular production during this time period blended Measure for Measure with another Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing, creating an entirely new plot dubbed The Law Against Lovers. The Law Against Lovers, and no doubt other performances of Measure for Measure, followed the Restoration trends by being visually extravagant. The memorable musical numbers and stunning visuals tried to compensate for the more problematic issues within Measure for Measure. The translation from text to stage focused more upon catering to the audience’s tastes through interpretation and focus upon the superficial to garner higher praise.

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It’s a Duke’s World and We’re All Just Living in it

The Duke in Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure plays a role in nearly every affair between characters throughout the play. Whether he is explicitly fulfilling his role as the Duke of Vienna or in disguise as a friar, the Duke acts as a puppeteer and pulls most of the strings throughout the play. Continue reading