Wednesday, 30 April 2014

What is Macbeth Saying in the 'Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow' Speech?

Is tomorrow another day, or a petty pace that
creeps from day to day?
"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/To the last syllable of recorded time..."

One of Shakespeare's most famous speeches, the 'Tomorrow' soliloquy comes from act 5, scene 5, of the play, and, although there are another three scenes, in many ways Macbeth's melancholy musing marks the end or, at the very least, the beginning of the end.

We tend to think of 'tomorrow' as a concept that brings hope - "After all, tomorrow is another day," Scarlett O'Hara quite rightly tells us. For Macbeth, however, 'tomorrow', and another day, is simply a monotonous, futile crawl toward an inescapable end.

Context of Macbeth's Tomorrow, and Tomorrow Speech

Despite being known as the 'tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow' speech, those words don't actually come until the third line of the soliloquy. 

The Macbeths have a loving relationship at the beginning
of the play, but Macbeth's reaction to her death is
pretty emotionless
The speech begins with Macbeth's response to the news of his wife’s suicide, which is rather muted and almost indifferent.

This is, obviously, a far cry from the affectionate relationship the pair shared at the beginning of the play, and, I think, tells us something about the complete lack of emotion Macbeth is able to feel about...well, anything.

And it's worth bearing in mind Macbeth’s mental state at this point in the play. We start to see his sanity unravel even before the murder of Duncan, “A dagger of the mind, a false creation,/Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?” (II,i). But by act 5, insomnia and increasing paranoia are really starting to take their toll.

What's Macbeth Talking About?

A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon
the stage and then is heard no more
So, we know the speech takes place directly after Lady Macbeth's plummet to her death. And the soliloquy suggests Macbeth is suddenly struck by a very clear recognition of the fragility, and ephemeral nature, of human existence.

In other words, it's his 'all the world's a stage' moment.

Macbeth’s speech is an extremely depressing view of not just human mortality, but also what we leave behind. And what we leave behind is, essentially, nothing.

His assertion that, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/And then is heard no more." (V,v) suggests he now believes his efforts to become king have been in vain. The temporary nature of existence will ensure that his memory dies with him.

He goes on to say, "It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing."(V,v). In other words, life, as far as he's concerned, has no real lasting meaning. No matter what we struggle to achieve, and no matter how hard we work, it's all gone when we're gone. Thoroughly depressing stuff!

And, of course, for Macbeth this possibly has more truth, simply because he has no heir. 

With Malcolm and Macduff storming the castle, his reign is precarious, and no one is there to take the helm or even to avenge him. He's done some terrible things; sacrificed his morals and his sanity..and for what? A short spell on the throne, which will evaporate with his death.

How is Shakespeare's Tomorrow, and Tomorrow Speech Written

So, we've looked at where the speech comes in the play and what Macbeth is saying. How about the form Shakespeare wrote it in, and how does that affect the impact, and our understanding, of Macbeth's words?

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Well, the speech is written in iambic pentameter, with lines one, three, seven and nine having a feminine ending (eleven beats instead of ten). It is probably no coincidence that Shakespeare chose to use the same poetic technique in Hamlet’s 'To be or not to be' speech - an equally uplifting little number! 

What that steady rhythm does is provide an accentuation of Macbeth’s feeling of hopelessness, and the seemingly pointless passing of 'tomorrows'. See it in action below, with a stellar performance from Patrick Stewart in the 2010 televised version of the 2007 stage adaptation, directed by Rupert Goold. 

It feels like we're being led to inexorable end; a little like the drums that might accompany a march to the scaffold. That regular beat, coupled with the repetition of the word 'tomorrow', gives us a sense of the incessant march of time, which leads to that, 'last syllable' and, ultimately, death...or nothing.

To learn more about Macbeth, check out What's It All About, Shakespeare? A Guide to Macbeth.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

What was Going on in 1564? | The World Shakespeare was Born Into

What was going on in the world in 1564?
So, you probably know that Shakespeare was born in 1564, but what other momentous events took place in that year? What kind of world was Shakespeare being born into?

Often, when we're getting to grips with Shakespeare's plays, it's useful to look at them in the context in which they were written.

For that, it's handy to know what the world was like over four hundred years ago. It can also be helpful to look at what was 'modern' or contemporary in Shakespeare's eyes.

What was happening while he was growing up? What could he have seen, or done, or read about, or heard? All of those things could have shaped his work as a poet and playwright.

The finishing touches are being put on the facade of the San Francesco della Vigna in Venice. The church was designed by Andrea Palladio (who was greatly inspired by Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, and was responsible for the Villa Capra 'La Rotonda'), and took two years to build. If Shakespeare ever visited Venice, perhaps he took in this impressive site.

The facade of the San Francesco della Vigna in Venice (built 1562-1564)

Michelangelo dies. In February of 1564, at the ripe old age of 88 (he did very well for a man of his era), Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni died in Rome. He left the world with some of the most beautiful pieces of artwork, including David, Pieta and, of course, that graffiti he scrawled all over the Sistine Chapel.

The Creation of The Sun and Moon (definitely a
moon in there!), from the Sistine Chapel  
Although there is no evidence that allows us to state categorically that Shakespeare visited Italy, given that 13 of his plays are set (partially if not wholly), in Italy, there is understandable speculation that he may have travelled there.

If he did, it's reasonable to assume that he may have seen some of Michelangelo's work 'in the flesh'.

Chained library is opened in Zutphen. A chained library is, exactly as it sounds, a library in which books are chained to their case, enabling people to read the tomes, but not make off with them.

In 1564, a chained library was established at the church in St. Walburgis, in Zutphen, Netherlands.

It offered the general public, or at least those who were literate, access to books. And it's one of only five 'chained libraries' still intact today.

Shakespeare probably never went to the Low Countries, but chained libraries would, no doubt, have been familiar to him.

The Catholic book of banned books
was updated in 1564
An updated version of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was printed. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, which translates as 'List of Prohibited Books' does exactly what it says on the tin: it's a list of heretical, anti-Roman Catholic or just downright dirty books that are banned by The Catholic Church.

In England, at this time, Catholicism is having a problematic time, to say the least. Henry VIII shook himself free from the Pope between 1533 and 1536. His daughter, Mary, reinforced Catholic rule (brutally), in 1553.

And then, Elizabeth I tossed it out again, with equal brutality, in 1558.

Shakespeare was born into a country where Catholicism was outlawed - although, there are rumblings that he may have been a Catholic.

Monas Hieroglyphica is written. John Dee, was astrologer and magus of Elizabeth I's court. In his book, Monas Hieroglyphica, he explains the meaning of his symbol (of the same name), which unites the moon, the sun, the elements and fire.

John Dee's
Monas Hieroglyphica

Maximilian II takes over as Holy Roman Emperor. Obviously a believer that you can never be too rich, too thin or have too much power, Maximilian was King of Bohemia, as well as the head of state in Germany, Hungary and Croatia. He also took over as Roman Emperor after the death of Ferdinand I, and remained in the gig until his death in 1576.

Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Penrith, Cumbria
Queen Elizabeth Grammar School established in Penrith. Celebrating its 450th year, The Queen Elizabeth Grammar in Penrith, Cumbria, is still going strong, although the premises have moved.

Now a coeducational, it has around 830 students and takes in just 120 new pupils (based on a exam system), each year.

French settlers abandon Charlesfort. French colonists, led by Jean Ribault, landed on what is now Parris Island, South Carolina, in 1562.  Ribault travelled back to France, leaving 28 men to establish and build 'Charlesfort', but things didn't exactly go to plan.

Jean Ribault, French naval officer
and coloniser
While Ribault was being arrested in England, due to the French Wars of Religion, mutiny and fires removed leadership and suppliers from the settlers, and, in 1563/1564 all but one set sail (without maps or compasses), for home.

The New World was a preoccupation for much of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Voyages of discovery, new lands and new peoples were very much in vogue. It's likely that tales of colonisation, even failed ones, may have inspired Shakespeare in plays like The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and The Tempest.

First report of a 'rat king'. Although the exact date is unknown, its believed that 1564 was the first documented report of a rat king; when a large group of rats (usually black rats) become entangled by their tails. In folklore, the rats grow together while entangled and are, traditionally, a bad omen - this might have a lot to do with the plague.

The first recorded rat king was found in 1564
While Shakespeare may never have seen a rat king, after all they're thought to be fairly rare and are mostly associated with Germany.

But the plague was something that most certainly did affect him; possibly claiming the life of his son Hamnet, and causing a hiatus in his career as a playwright when public venues, including theatres, were closed to quell the spread of the disease in 1593, 1603 and again in 1608.

So, there you have it: just a few of the things that were going on in 1564, the year of Shakespeare's birth.

These things might not tell us a whole lot about the man, or his work, but they do give us a little peek into the world he was brought into.

If you'd like to learn more about Shakespeare, check out What's it All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations Around The Globe

This year marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, and it's a date that's being celebrated not just up and down the British Isles, but also across the length and breadth of the whole darn world. 

The work of the planet's most famous playwright has had more exposure than he could probably ever have imagined was possible. And, four and a half centuries on, his birth is being celebrated in style!

So, here are just a few of the events where participants will be partying like it's 1564.

Celebrating Shakespeare's Birthday in The U.K.

The RSC - The Royal Shakespeare Company is going all out, as could be expected, with a string of events over the course of the next three years (celebrating both 'jubilee years' 2014 and 2016 - the latter being the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death). 

The birthday bash takes place on Wednesday the 23rd of April (the date Shakespeare's assumed to have been born), with a fireworks display to follow that evening's performance of Henry VI Part I at The Globe.

The following weekend (commencing the 26th of April), as part of the traditional annual celebrations, there will be a host of free activities, including theatre skills workshops (for all the family), music and storytelling. For more information on the various events (and locations), take a look at the RSC's site.

Stratford-Upon-Avon - The other place that can be relied on to pull out all the stops is, of course, Stratford. And Shakespeare's birthplace is not going to disappoint. 

Shakespeare's birthday has been celebrated in the town for almost 200 hundred years, and, this year, between the 26-27th of April, they're bringing music, theatre and pageantry to the streets, where thousands (from all over the world), are expected to turn out.

Shakespeare in Love has been adapted for the stage
as part of the  450th Shakespeare celebrations
Shakespeare In Love - The 1998 film has been adapted for the stage as part of the year-long anniversary celebrations. 

On at the Noel Coward Theatre, the play's due to open on the 2nd of July, 2014 and is set to star Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen.

For more information, or to book tickets, visit the official site.

Victoria and Albert Museum - On the 8th of February, the V&A unveiled its 'Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright' installation, which will be running until the 21st of September. 

Including objects from the museum's collection and interviews with modern theatre practitioners, the exhibition takes a look at how Shakespeare's universal themes have proved so timeless.

Celebrating Shakespeare's Birthday in The U.S.

The interior of the Folger Library
The Folger - Leading the charge across the pond is The Folger Shakespeare Library, which has had events since January, and will continue to have all manner of excitement through 'til October. 

Some of the highlights still to come include the annual gala, which takes place on the 23rd; Fiasco Theater's run of The Two Gentleman of Verona, which plays until 25th of May and has a selection of special performance nights; and a visit by James Shapiro, on the 12th of May, to discuss his new book, Shakespeare in America.

King Lear - There are at least six 'major' productions of King Lear being produced in 2014 - these are being played in Canada, London, Stratford and New York. 'Theatre for a New Audience' is producing its version, starring Michael Pennington, at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn. The play began its run on the 14th of March and goes through 'til the 4th of May.

Heart of America Shakespeare Festival - In Kansas City, on the  26th of April, Shakespeare's 450th birthday is being celebrated with food, drink, music and good old-fashioned revelry. Something tells me the Bard would approve! 

The Newberry 'The Bard is Born' - In collaboration with Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Shakespeare Project of Chicago, The Newberry Library is hosting an exhibition of over forty items, including a First Folio. The event is free, opens on the 21st of April, and closes on the 26th with a reading of All's Well That End's Well by the Shakespeare Project of Chicago.

Celebrating Shakespeare Birthday in Australia

Bell Shakespeare - A week long celebration is being organised by Bell Shakespeare and Google Australia. 

Marloo Theatre, Perth - In celebration of Shakespeare's 450th birthday, Marloo Theatre is putting on three plays: Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's dream and Othello. The festival has already been running since the 1st of April and will be on until the 26th, with the three plays on a rotation. 

Celebrating Shakespeare's Birthday in Europe


Beautiful Clonakilty is becoming 'Clon-Upon-Avon'
as it celebrates its inaugural Shakespeare festival this year
Ireland 'Clonakilty Shakesepare Festival' - For the very first time (and what better time to choose!), the West Cork town of Clonakilty is hosting a Shakespeare festival

With events spanning five days, it will include 'The Shakebox', a human jukebox who has a playlist of thirty eight Shakespearean excerpts.

Running from the 23rd of April to the 27th, it promises activities for the whole family. 

Romania 'The International Shakespeare Theatre Festival' - This year marks the 9th annual International Shakespeare festival in Romania. Running from the 23rd of April until the 4th of May, theatre companies from numerous countries, as varied as China and South Africa, are performing across twelve locations.

France 'Shakespeare 450' - The French Shakespeare Society is holding a week long conference, from the 21st of April to the 27th, in Paris. With lectures, seminars, workshops and exhibitions, there's a whole host of events spanning a number of venues. 

The Globe Theatre in Neuss, Germany
Germany 'Shakespeare Festival' - At a racecourse in Neuss, on the west bank of the Rhine, there is a reconstructed 500-seat Globe Theatre. 

There, each year, is a Shakespeare festival. This year, to mark Shakespeare's big anniversary, the Bremer Shakespeare company is staging All's Will That Ends Will: a tribute to the Bard.

This is, of course, just a small selection of the many celebrations and festivals that are taking place across the world. I've only just scratched the surface with this list, which goes to show, as Wet, Wet, Wet said, Shakespeare really is all around....oh no, that was love...well, you get the idea!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Who Else is 450 Years Young? | Other Famous Names Born in 1564

Shakespeare isn't the only one with a
big birthday this year
This month (at the time of writing), marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. It's an event that will be celebrated worldwide, with performances, parties and parades. 

But, William Shakespeare, isn't the only one hitting that hefty milestone this year.

There are other famous names who were brought into this world in 1564, and their birthdays aren't being quite so widely talked of.

Christopher Marlowe

In fact, poor Christopher Marlowe's 450th birthday passed without nearly as much hoopla.

Marlowe was born just two months before his more famous Elizabethan playwriting counterpart - the closeness in age, of course, one of the reasons it's been suggested that Christopher Marlowe was Shakespeare.

Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare had many
things in common, they were even born in the same year
Born in Canterbury, to John and Catherine Marlowe, Christopher attended The King's School and, later, Corpus Christi college in Cambridge.

However, there was some hesitancy in awarding him his M.A., because he planned to attend a college in Rheims (the assumption being that he planned to become a Catholic priest).

But, thanks to the intervention of the Privy Council, who wrote a letter lauding his "faithful dealing" and "good service" to the crown, his degree was given after all.

Nobody knows exactly what 'service' Marlowe carried out for Queen Elizabeth, but it was clearly of a closeted nature, and this has sparked theories that he was a secret agent.

In any event, if Marlowe ever did intend to join the priesthood, Catholicism's loss was theatre's and poetry's gain...until 1593, when he was killed (possibly in a bar fight), in Deptford at the age of just twenty-nine.

Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard, Countess of Suffolk
was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth's
No, not the wife of Henry VIII, obviously. Born Catherine Knyvet, she married Thomas Howard in 1580, and became the Countess of Suffolk. 

Catherine has a couple of claims to fame. First, her half-brother, Sir Thomas Knyvet, was one of the men who was largely responsible for foiling Guy Fawkes and his motley crew. Second, Emilia Lanier's poem, 'Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum' is dedicated to her. 

And Catherine was a firm favourite in the Queen's court. She was given a place in Elizabeth's bedchamber and dubbed 'Keeper of The Jewels' in 1599. For the sake of keeping things clean, we'll assume that title was literal rather than figurative.

She was even thought so highly of that she was to be named godmother of Queen Anne's daughter, Sophia. But, sadly, the baby died. 

However, she was not quite as loyal as it was believed. In fact, she was acting as a go-between for Spain and Robert Cecil, and demanding bribes for the task. It's also said that, after a string of affairs during her youth, she spent her later years extorting her ex-lovers. 

In the end, her treachery was discovered and she, along with her husband (the Lord Tresurer at that time), were exiled from court.

Galileo Galilei

While Shakespeare was busy writing plays,
Galileo was changing our understand of the
universe and our place within it

Born in Pisa, in February of 1564, Galileo was the son of a musician and composer. 

He would grow up to be a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and physicist, who played a hugely significant role in the scientific revolution and pre-Enlightenment. 

Insisting that the universe was not geocentric, he would face the Spanish Inquisition for that little piece of heresy.  

He was told, in no uncertain terms, to stop pursuing the Copernican/heliocentric theory, and for the following ten years, Galileo steered well clear of the subject. However, after the election of a new pope, he began writing on the topping once more.

Giving us the Galilean telescope, observations of the Kepler supernova, the discovery of three of Jupiter's moons, the study of sunspots, the discovery of lunar mountains and craters, and the Milky Way - to name just a few things - Galileo's contribution to the modern world cannot be overstated.

Sir Henry Neville

Did Henry Neville really write Shakespeare?
Another man who was born in the same year as Shakespeare, and has subsequently been put forward as a possible author of Shakespeare's works, Neville was raised in Berkshire and would later attend Merton College at Oxford.

Best known as a courtier and diplomat, he acted as ambassador to France. And made fruitless attempts to act as a negotiator between King James I and his parliament. 

It's only since 2005 that he's been offered up as another 'possible' in the authorship debate.

Curiously, though, he does have a definite link with Shakespeare, albeit a distant one: a relative (by marriage) of Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden. His candidacy for authorship, however, hinges on the fact his life, and travels, parallel the plots and locations of Shakespeare's plays. 

Still seems like a tenuous link to me, but then I'm not an anti-Stratfordian.

Wang Xijie (Empress Xiaoduanxian)

Empress Wang Xijie was born in the same
year as Shakespeare

And on the other side of the world, born to a common family in Yuyoa, Wang Xijie was born in the same year as Shakespeare.

At barely thirteen years of age (which was not as outrageous in the 16th century as it seems to us now), she was married to Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty, and she would remained married to him until her death in April, 1620.

She is the longest serving consort in Chinese history, and she was the only consort of Wanli's to bear the title 'empress'. 

According to the historian Ray Huang, she was little more than an accessory to Wanli - which should come as no real surprise considering the era.

However, she was ruthless as far as her servants were concerned, regularly ordering that they be beaten...sometimes to death.


This, of course, is just a very small selection of the historical figures born in the same year as Shakespeare. But, no matter how many others there are, I'm willing to bet nobody's will be celebrated with quite as much enthusiasm as the Bard's. 

If you'd like to learn more about William Shakespeare, be sure to check out What's It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.