Merchant of Venice, Act 5

And now the couples fight. Ha ha!

You might think all this fuss about two little rings is as silly as the argument between Natalya and Lomov in Chekhov’s “Proposal,” but I would disagree. As I said in my post for Act IV, Portia and Nerissa are trying to test their husbands’ sincerity. They want to know how their husbands will react to such a dramatic accusation. And, of course, they just want to guilt them.

(Act V, Scene 1, Lines 177-185. And Bassanio’s thought in the last panel is from “Madagascar,” which goes to show you how sophisticated and mature my sense of humor is.)

And the ladies get what they want: Bassanio and Gratiano react in two completely different ways. Bassanio, the big softie, is completely apologetic. He tries to explain himself to Portia and shows plenty of emotional regret, the way he reacts to everything in this play. And Gratiano, the big mouth, is completely defensive. He defends all his behavior and comes up with excuses.

And then the ladies pull this bit:

(Act V, Scene 1, Lines 247-251)

Gratiano’s reaction here has got to be one of my favorite Shakespeare put-downs, along with Macbeth’s “Take thy face hence.” I’ve got to use this line if a male writer ever disses me.

When the women “reveal” that they would readily trade their husbands for the doctor and clerk, Bassanio is greatly distressed and Gratiano is ready to fight. They don’t know it, but they just passed their wives’ test. It was never about losing the rings. Portia’s and Nerissa’s funny trick was all about testing the strength of fidelity that the rings represented.

So, the two couples have their disagreements, but it’s tests like this that show they’re going to last.

Source: Merchant of Venice, Act 5

Merchant of Venice, Act 4

BASSANIO: Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is as dear to me as life itself;
But life itself, my wife, and all the world,
Are not with me esteem’d above thy life:
I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all
Here to this devil, to deliver you.

PORTIA: Your wife would give you little thanks for that,
If she were by, to hear you make the offer.

GRATIANO: I have a wife, whom, I protest, I love:
I would she were in heaven, so she could
Entreat some power to change this currish Jew.

NERISSA: ‘Tis well you offer it behind her back;
The wish would make else an unquiet house.

(Act IV, Scene I, Lines 282-293)

This part is too funny.

Bassanio and Gratiano, in there fervor to show support for Antonio, carelessly make vows like this, not knowing Portia and Nerissa are standing right there.

(Yes, I know my portrayal of Portia’s and Nerissa’s disguises is completely inaccurate, but I could not resist giving them suits, mustaches, and monocles.)

Originally, they only came to save Antonio, but these casual remarks made by their husbands give them a new course of action. Portia has dealt with emotional men for years, and although she is in love with Bassanio, she wants to know if there is truth behind this promise he makes to Antonio, or if it’s all bluster. After all, if he is only saying he’d sacrifice his wife in place of Antonio’s to make him feel better, he could have told Portia he loved her for the same reasons.

Portia’s clever. She wants to know how far Bassanio’s careless remarks of passion actually go, and she also wants to know how seriously he takes her love. Hence, why she devises the ring scheme in Act IV Scene II. Unlike Launcelot, who pulls pranks like this just to fool people, Portia has actual motives, and so this seemingly trivial trick holds weight in the fate of her marriage.

(And all this after saving Antonio’s life. I think Portia might be my new favorite Shakespeare heroine.)


Source: Merchant of Venice, Act 4

Merchant of Venice, Act 3

LAUNCELOT: Truly then I fear you are damned both by father and mother: thus when I shun Scylla, your father, I fall into Charybdis, your mother: well, you are gone both ways.

JESSICA: I shall be saved by my husband; he hath made me a Christian.

LAUNCELOT: Truly, the more to blame he:

(Act III, Scene 5, Lines 17-23)

Poor Jessica.

In this scene, our joker friend Launcelot decides to heckle Jessica by telling her she is damned thrice: once for being the daughter of a Jew, once in case Shylock is not her real father and she was born of an affair, and once for becoming a Christian and therefore raising the price of pork. Considering the scornful attitude toward Jews all the characters have, even the otherwise nice ones, the reader might believe that Launcelot is actually concerned for the fate of Jessica’s soul. Except, he isn’t.

We know from Act II Scene 2 that Launcelot loves to mess with people, including people with “handicaps,” as shown by the way he teases his own blind father. While being Jewish is by no means a “handicap,” it would have been seen as a detracting factor at this time, and so his treatment of Jessica is in the same vein as the treatment of his father.

And then when Lorenzo arrives, Launcelot continues making puns and generally being annoying. Not because he dislikes Jessica or Lorenzo, who are probably his only friends, but just because it comes naturally. Doesn’t he have anything better to do? Someone needs to find that guy a hobby.

(By the way, I drew Jessica and Lorenzo to look like the actors who played Chava and Fyedka in my high school’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” They seemed like such similar characters: the Jewish girl who reluctantly defies her father because she is in love with a Christian.)
Source: Merchant of Venice, Act 3

Merchant of Venice, Act 2

So much happens in Act II, but I still enjoy Portia’s scenes the most. Take this one from the beginning.

PORTIA: Yourself, renowned prince, then stood as fair

As any comer I have look’d on yet

For my affection.

MOROCCO: Even for that I thank you:

Act II, Scene 1, Lines 20-24

The Prince of Morocco takes her statement as a compliment, when really, she is only stating facts. Portia holds no resentment toward the prince for his skin color. He has a fair chance as any other prince to win her heart, but “fair” takes on several other meanings. She’s saying that in her eyes, he’s just as white as the other guys who came to suit her, because she didn’t want to marry any of them. Race is not the issue with her; annoying rich guys are.

And then he thanks her, having interpreted her admission as a positive sign of equality and that “fair” also meant “handsome.” I can picture him going on and on about his chances of winning her hand while she’s just standing there smiling, like, “That’s nice. Please leave.”

Portia is just so subtle and composed in her acts of contempt. Shylock and Antonio could learn something from her.

Source: Merchant of Venice, Act 2

Merchant of Venice, Act 1

Act I, Scene 3, Lines 124-136

Shylock is made out to be the villain of this play, but I can’t help but feel some sympathy for him in this scene. Who can blame him for not wanting to lend money to a guy who is so racist toward him. Then again, Shylock is also racist toward Christians, but he’s the guy giving out loans here. I would have expected Antonio to behave more politely toward a person he was trying to borrow money from. After all, why should Shylock happily lend money to a man who, as he says, will continue to spit on him and call him a dog? Antonio doesn’t deny it either, fully believing that Shylock deserves his contempt. His retort about lending money as if he were an enemy shows he is open with all his feelings, and knows there is no point in putting on niceties for someone who hates him. Neither of them know how to put their business in front of their prejudices.

Throughout the lengthy banter between Shylock and Antonio, I also wonder what Bassanio is doing all this time. Probably something more involved than what I’ve drawn him doing here, though.

Source: Merchant of Venice, Act 1


Several of the characters in Nine can be played by a woman or a man, most notably La Fleur, who can be viewed as a sort of antagonist. La Fleur’s minion Lina can also become Leo, and accomplice Stephanie can become Stefan. Certain contexts change in this play depending on the gender of these particular actors. Take this quote:

“Lina/Leo, darling, tell him what I did to that designer who double-crossed me when I owned the Folies Bergeres. (LINA/LEO whispers to GUIDO. He is aghast)” (33).

If La Fleur is played by a woman, the fact that she owned (and probably acted in) the Folies Bergeres means she is flashy and chic, and the intensity of punishment she will inflict on Guido (hinted at when Carla’s gaze snaps fearfully to his groin later) shows she is a strong woman who does not think highly of men, especially womanizers. She is strong, overly romantic, and vengeful.

However, if La Fleur is played by a man, the subtext changes slightly. Of course, the play includes an alternate Grand Canal scene later on so that Monsieur La Fleur wouldn’t have to put on a dress like Madam La Fleur would, but earlier on, there are no significant changes. Take this particular quote. The fact that Monsieur La Fleur would punish another man in that way changes the action from an extremist act of feminism to straight-out ruthlessness. Also, later in that scene, when La Fleur sings about his love of musicals, sappy romance numbers, and happy endings, it makes his character comically conflicted. What kind of man adores sugary musicals, and also castrates his enemies? This guy, that’s who.

Not to mention, if these three characters are female, then the play is about one man in a world of easily angered women, which adds an interesting spin on it, since many (if not most) popular Broadway musicals are male-heavy.

Our school’s production happened to cast La Fleur as a woman, and so I am excited to see how the actress portrays this semi-villainous French producer.

Source: Nine

The Importance of Historical Inaccuracy: Caricatures in Wilde’s “Earnest”

Tara Maginnis’ choice to disregard historically-accurate costume designs in The Importance of Being Earnest effectively portrays the play’s characters and shows a deep understanding for Wilde’s intentions. In her article, she states, “There were silk flowers on lace on ruffles on clear plastic, with even much of the hair (wigs) being made of cellophane, ribbons and roses. In the case of Algy, his hair was simply painted on his head in white and violet makeup” (Maginnis 61). Despite her well-researched knowledge on Victorian clothing, comprising the first part of her article, she instead chose to use cellophane and other anachronistic materials to fashion her wardrobe. Her wildly stylized outfits served as physical caricatures for the character’s true selves: wondrously frivolous, deeply shallow aristocrats.

For example, Maginnis’ decision to simply draw dual-colored squiggles on Algernon’s head rather than give the actor an appropriate wig highlights the irony of his two-facedness and the whimsy of his arrogance. Algernon’s entrance in Act II sums up this visual gag in Cecily’s prediction, “I am so afraid he will look just like everyone else,” and a rather basic stage direction: “[Enter ALGERNON, very gay and debonair]”, to which Cecily exclaims, “He does!” (Wilde 30, 31). A “gay and debonair” man is unordinary enough to contradict Cecily’s comical and seemingly unfitting outburst, and Maginnis’ painted-haired, plastic-wrapped Algernon only capitalizes on that fact. Cecily’s judgement of a pompous man with scribbled-on hair and transparent outer clothes, frilly and white to the core, as looking “just like everyone else” further alerts the audience that wealthy Victorians found uncomfortable (and at times scary) fashion commonplace.

In her extreme exaggeration of each character’s outfit, Maginnis captures the spirit of frivolity in Wilde’s play, and blows it to drastic proportions to make sure the audience cannot possibly miss it. The same way a cartoonist captures a person’s key features by overstressing them to the point of ridicule, Maginnis’ plastic-wrapped Victorians transcend the reality of their time period and wear the contents of their souls on not just their sleeves, but their entire bodies. Wilde’s frequent mocking of societal stereotypes and expectations shows through his cleverly silly, often contradictory dialogue, and Maginnis shapes this satirical wit into tangible, clearly fitting (and fittingly clear) costumes.

Cartoonist Stephan Pastis once wrote in one of his “Pearls Before Swine” treasuries, “Accuracy is rarely my goal,” meaning he doesn’t let an otherwise inconsequential inconsistency in facts deter from an otherwise funny, and therefore successful, comic (?). Likewise, Maginnis purposefully ignores the solid outer cloths of the Victorian era and uses modern-day materials to reimagine and portray Victorian fashion in a fresh, exciting, and insightful style. Because she builds up Wilde’s characters, much like a caricaturist, she is successful in her costume design.

Source: Read and Respond to an Academic Article

Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

I don’t know what makes me happier: Desdemonna yelling “Bullshit” as a battle cry, or cross-dressing Romeo calling himself “Romiet.” And if that wasn’t enough, then Yorrick shows up. YES!

As someone who makes her own Shakespeare mash-up parodies, I thoroughly enjoyed this play from beginning to end. It amazed me how MacDonald could reshape Shakespeare’s lines to match new scenarios (Desdemona and Iago re-using Othello’s lines, Romeo and Juliet killing that random turtle), and how she could mix her own blank verse in a way that perfectly matched the tone of the stories and personalities of the characters. (And the puns!) The only part of the whole story that confused me was the ending.

Constance discovers that she is both the “Wise Fool” character and the original author of the two stories? How can that be? We, the audience, know she could not possibly have gone back in time, written both plays herself, and then gotten ripped off by Shakespeare. (Or could she?) The inscription/prophesy-like text from her manuscript explains what’s going on:

“Where two plus one adds up to one, not three” (MacDonald 88).

The point of Constance’s crazy quest through the two plays was not to discover the original author, but rather, the author of her own life. Desdemona and Juliet are Constance’s favorite characters, and so she identifies them as the two extremes of her personality: Desdemona, the fierce, easily influenced feminist who is too quick to act, and Juliet, the seemingly innocent girl with a morbid passion who is too quick to give up. When Constance yells at both of them to shut up about all the killing and dying, she might as well be giving the advice to herself:

“Life–real life–is a big mess. Thank goodness. And every answer spawns another question; and every question blossoms with a hundred different answers; and if you’re lucky you’ll always feel somewhat confused” (MacDonald 86).

At the start of the play, all she wants is a concrete answer to her thesis. But by the end, she teaches herself, by teaching the tragic heroines, that life is more complicated than people try to make it and having mixed feelings about events is normal and good. It’s not the exciting answer to a Shakespeare conspiracy theory that the audience may want, but it is a profound breakthrough for our protagonist that will surely change the course of her “real life” for the better.

(Or heck, maybe it’s all literal, and she really DID go back in time and change Shakespeare’s plays, and now she’s the REAL author. That would be cool too.)

Source: Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

Foster (8-10)

The plot needs something to happen in order to move forward, so someone must be sacrificed (Foster 84).

So true.

One of the countless examples that prove this statement is the death of Mr. Busman in Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots. He is the first of the main characters to die, one of Domin’s five sidekicks/Helena’s five devotees. His personality is that of a well-oiled ATM machine, and he resorts to money as a solution to every problem. Detached and calculating, out of all five of Domin’s minions, Busman has the least going for him, viewer’s-sympathy-wise. Foster would describe him as a mostly flat character, which makes him prime sacrificing material.

And so, when he attempts to buy his life and the life of his friends, only to touch his own comrade’s electric fence and die, viewers feel upset, but hardly surprised. It was a matter of time before Domin’s pal the math machine got knocked off.

But then, everyone except Alquist dies, including our heroes, Domin and Helena. Does that mean the main characters are offed from their own play? I’d say no: the story shifts between acts 3 and 4. The story of Domin and Helena ends (tragically) and the story of our friend Alquist begins. There is a new main character, and so his friends, comrades, and nemeses should watch out. (Radius, this means you.)

Source: Foster (8-10)

Foster (5-7) in “The Proposal”

Those harmonies may come from the Bible, from Shakespeare, from Dante or Milton, but also from humbler, more familiar texts (Foster 58).

The “harmonies” mentioned here are the similarities between texts that are just different enough to spark interest in the story, according to Foster (58). Just like Foster describes, there is an intertextual relationship in Chekhov’s Proposal.

NATALYA STEPANOVNA: [Wails] Fetch him!

CHUBUKOV: [Yells] He’s coming, I tell you. Oh, what a burden, Lord, to be the father of a grown-up daughter!

How familiar is the scene of a young female adult arguing with her father? The first example to come to my mind is the scene from Disney’s Aladdin where Jasmine is arguing over her arranged marriage with her father, and the sultan exclaims, “Allah forbid you should have any daughters!” (Which is either insulting or very funny, depending on how seriously you take it.) Of course, Chekhov’s play came out decades before Disney’s cartoon, but the story writers at Disney had to get their ideas from somewhere, and a father-daughter argument is a classic scene. It appears in all kinds of legends and fairy tales.

Foster suggests to look to Shakespeare. I am not well-read in Shakespeare, but I am familiar with Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. The relationship between Natalya and Chubukov, a woman in “love” and her incredulous codger of a father, could be compared to Juliet and Lord Capulet, or to Ophelia and Polonius. Except, you might say, Juliet and Ophelia were much younger than Natalya, who actually was an adult. True, but in the context of Juliet and Ophelia’s plays, they were old enough to marry, and therefore old enough to begin their lives as “adult” women.

Whether the girl was actually in love, or in lust, or after the guy’s money, her father didn’t understand his “mature” daughter’s childish whims, and had to ask himself, “why me?”

Source: Foster (5-7)