Henry V, War Criminal? And Other Shakespeare Puzzles

Henry V, War Criminal? And Other Shakespeare Puzzles

Henry V, War Criminal? And Other Shakespeare Puzzles

Henry V, War Criminal? And Other Shakespeare Puzzles

Synopsis

Loose ends and red herrings are the stuff of detective fiction, and under the scrutiny of master sleuths John Sutherland and Cedric Watts Shakespeare's plays reveal themselves to be as full of mysteries as any Agatha Christie novel. Is it summer or winter in Elsinore? Do Bottom and Titania make love? Does Lady Macbeth faint, or is she just pretending? How does a man putrefy within minutes of his death? Is Cleopatra a deadbeat Mum? And why doesn't Juliet ask 'O Romeo Montague, wherefore art thou Montague?' As Watts and Sutherland explore these and other puzzles Shakespeare's genuius becomes ever more apparent. Speculative, critical, good-humoured and provocative, their discussions shed light on apparent anachronisms, performance and stagecraft, linguistics, Star Trek and much else. Shrewd and entertaining, these essays add a new dimension to the pleasure of reading or watching Shakespeare.

Excerpt

Shakespeare loves loose ends. At the conclusion of Love's Labour's Lost, when the women and men have finished their wit contests and seem on the verge of a general wedding, the women suddenly decree a year's delay and a complex penance for the men before they will even discuss the question of marriage--thus necessitating that mysterious sequel Love's Labour's Won, of which only the title, frustratingly, survives. At the end of Twelfth Night, with the twins reunited and Cesario revealed as Viola, and all the lovers paired off with appropriate partners, it is suddenly announced that Viola and Orsino cannot marry until Viola's female clothes, the costume we first saw her in, have been recovered, and that these can only be produced by the sea captain who brought her to shore, who has been imprisoned on some unexplained charge of Malvolio's, who alone can release him, but who has exited swearing revenge on the entire cast--this all materializes in the final two minutes of the play, and seems to require a sequel with Malvolio as its hero. At the end of Measure for Measure, the Duke offers himself in marriage to Isabella, who is given not a word in reply (and in modern productions occasionally mutely refuses him). At the end of All's Well that Ends Well Helena, having passed every test set for her by her beloved but disdainful Bertram, including becoming pregnant by him without his knowledge, is merely given one more test to pass: 'If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly | I'll love her . . .', and the king concludes the play not triumphantly proclaiming the final success of love, but only with the ambiguous 'All yet seems well . . .' Most striking perhaps is the end of The Tempest, in which the reconciliation of Prospero with his usurping younger brother Antonio, toward which the whole play has seemingly been moving, never comes: Shakespeare gives Antonio not a word of apology or contrition.

Shakespeare also loves red herrings. When Cassio is first mentioned in Othello, he is described as 'a fellow almost damned in a fair wife', but the wife is never mentioned again, and for the remainder of the play Cassio is clearly unmarried. Early in The Tempest, Ferdinand alludes to a son of Antonio's among those lost in the wreck, but thereafter Antonio has no son. In The Comedy of Errors . . .

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