Shakespeare was born in Stratford upon Avon, from a quite rich family.
He studied at Stratford Grammar School, where he learnt a little Latin, but there is nothing certain about him. We know that he didn't go to the University and the other writers made fun of him. He marry very young, because she was pregnant (incinta), but he left her as soon as possible.
He established in London and worked at London Theatre, firstly he looked after the horses, then he became an actor, a playwright and then a share.
He didn’t publish anything, because of the competition between companies and because drama wasn’t considered an art. We have the tests because people sometimes wrote down dialogues while they were watching plays, but it’s very difficult to decide what he really wrote and when he did it. Critics use 3 different methods:
1. The internal reference: he talks about a certain historical event, so we know it was written after it.
3. The literary evidence: play itself tells it: style, use of words, or for example the use of poetry and prose.
His production is divided into 4 periods:
1. 1590-1595: Experimentation: He takes inspiration from English facts of 1400 (Henry VI, Richard II). He tries different genres, copying plays of Christopher Marlowe, or inspiring at Seneca, Plautus ("Titus Andronicus", The Comedy of Errors).
2. 1595-1600: He focuses on romantic comedies: a Midsummer night dream, the Merchant of Venice, Much noise about nothing, Romeo and Juliet.
3. 1600-1607: Period of great tragedies (Hamlet (revenge tragedy), King Lear, Macbeth, Othello) and historical plays (Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra). It's the pessimistic period.
4. 1607-1612: Period of tragicomedies (romances): we see a sort of solution or hope for human conditions, after the pessimistic period: The Tempest (in which there’s a happy end).
5. 1612: when he retired.
It's different from the classical tragedy, where the hero always died
The normal form of Shakespeare’s plays is blank verse, which is unrhymed pentameter, much easier to understand and write, but less literal.
Comic characters speak in prose, to differentiate themselves from the hero. Special moments are in poetry.
The features of a tragedy:
1. The hero is always a person of high status (general, noble), who has also a moral standing and a strong personality, but a fault (difetto, for example ambition, pride, jealous), too.
2. The tragedy comes from the way the hero act and make mistakes (he’s not a hero anymore), and all the tragedy is determined by the human actions, very little is left to fate.
4. The hero always has an antagonist, who helps him doing mistakes (he is also called “the villain” and he has such an important role that actors wanted to play this part). Iago in Otello is a villain. Macbeth is both of them.
5. Comic relief: some minor characters and short scenes are comical and amusing, because of the kind of audience.
Tragedies are divided into three parts:
1. EXPOSITION: act 1 the situation is presented by a chorus, protagonists and some back ground information are introduced.
2. CONFLICT: divided in 2 parts:
act 2 rise of the hero, he became more important, he is in the foreground (primo piano).
act 3 and 4 decline of the hero.
3. CATASTROPHE: act five hero’s ruin, he normally dies, but before he has recognised and admitted he had failed, so he dies as a hero.
*Macbeth: worried, sorry, upset, he has lost his mind, he is in panic.
*Lady Macbeth: rude with him, cynical, she keeps cool, she has a strong personality at the beginning.
They call the murder “the deed” and they never refer to it in a direct way, they are unable to do this and so we can say they are conscious of the gravity of what they’ve done:
1) they murdered a king, who was king for God’s will, so they did a blasphemous thing, they went against the natural order of things, they didn't kill a ordinary man;
3)the king Dunkan was a relative of them, Macbeth acted against his own blood.
Their murder goes against all the values of the time.
Three key words in all the tragedy:
1. SLEEPLESSNESS: he won’t sleep anymore and she will become crazy, because they couldn't forgot what they had done.
2. BLOOD: their hands are dirty and they won’t never be clean again, but the idea of blood returned back also in other part of the tragedy.
3. MADNESS: he’s afraid to become mad; she goes sleepwalking and she will kill herself at the end.
The murder and many other scenes, happen indoor and during the night: it's more frightening, it emphases the atmosphere of violence and horror (in fact this is one of the darkest tragedies) pessimistic vision of life, Macbeth is disillusioned, he is the enemy of himself. Life just goes on, but it's empty; he almost wishes he could die.
Probably it was dedicated to James I, who succeeded to Elisabeth, but from the plot we can understand it was such a great homage. It was a very difficult period for English people and we can see their doubts and their pessimism in this tragedy.
Theme: NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS
- the witches say: “fair is fowl and fowl is fair”, il bene è il male e viceversa
- Macbeth at the beginning is loyal and brave, then he becomes the enemy of his king to gain power.
- Lady Macbeth accept the king as a guest at her castle and then she says "We have to kill the king". At the beginning she was sure in what they were doing, but then she became weak and mad.
Act 1: Romeo is in love with Rosaline, he is longing (desiderare) for her love. It's an idealised woman who is always in his thoughts. He goes to Capulets’ (the rival family) great party, because he thinks to see her, but instead of her he meets Juliet, the Capulets’ daughter. They fall in love since the first glance (real and passionate love).
Act 2: He has to do something, he didn't want only to look at her, he desires to speak with her. He goes to Capulets’ home at night and sees Juliet at the balcony. They tell each other their love and they decide to marry the following day, and to do this they ask Friar Lorence for help.
Act 3: There’s a fight between Capulets and Montagues and is killed Mercutio by the hand of Tybald, and Tybald by Romeo, who is obliged to escape. Before he goes away, the newly wed-couple spend together their first wedding night. But Juliet’s parents have decided to marry her to an important boy of the city, Paride (Paris) and so she asked for advice to Friar Lorence.
Act 4: Friar Lorence suggests her to drink a magic potion which will make her sleep for few days, so that she will seem dead; he says that he will tell Romeo the true, so after the solution of the problem they could live together in peace. In fact everyone think that Juliet was dead, but unfortunately Romeo, in Mantua learns only that Juliet is dead.
Act 5: He reaches her in her tomb, where he found Paride. He kills him and then kills himself. Juliet wakes up and she sees Romeo is dead, so she kills herself. The two families with the Friar arrive and discover what tragedy they have created and decide to live in peace.
When they met during the ball and after at the balcony their speeches are built in a certain way: it's a sonnet.
Romeo: seems to be very impulsive, he doesn’t care about dangers and this is what will ruin him (they got married 2 days after they had met, and he killed himself immediately when he saw Juliet dead).
Juliet: compared to a source of light, her eyes to stars. She is the symbol of life for Romeo and she is a completely different kind of love for him: Rosaline was an idealised woman, because she didn’t reciprocate his love, the love for Juliet is more passionate). Contrasting between light-life (represented by Juliet) and darkness-death (far from Juliet, Romeo is nothing. He says he prefers to died if he can't have Juliet's love)
Friar Lorence: he believes in magic (in the morning he was collecting some herbs).
He tries to bring the two families in peace together, through the wedding of the young boys. We know that the story comes from an original of Matteo Bandello, and one of the changes is the character of friar (which was more negative before).
Mercutio: is a friend of Romeo, but he’s not part of the family. He often makes fun of Romeo for his lovers (Rosaline and then Juliet), because he’s much more cynical and rational, love has no effect on him. In fact during the battle he can’t understand why Romeo doesn’t want to fight.
Tybald: he is the villain of the story. He is quarrelsome, ready to fight, even if it is not necessary, he wants to kill everybody. He doesn’t represent the typical figure of a courtier (cortigiano), as Mercutio.
Family of Juliet: her parents love her, her dad at the beginning doesn’t want her daughter to marry anyone, because he says she’s too young. He’s very understanding, because, on the other hands, we know that at the time marriages were established by the families in order to make money.
- LOVE: but presented not in a traditional way, not Petrarcan style. It is associated to death since the beginning (star caused love = innamorati che dipendono dal fato). They have to fight against the world and at the end themselves (destructive world, because it is so powerful and uncontrollable)
- RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INDIVIDUAL AND SOCIETY: They are alone against the world and social institutions; the family (they were enemy), the law (he is forced to abandon the city), costumes (girls couldn't decide to marry), honour (because Romeo tries not to fight against Tebald, even if he had challenged -sfidare-him). The lovers are happy only when they are alone in darkness.
- FATE: which will be less important in other works of Shakespeare. Romeo says: ”I defy (sfidare) you stars” before killing himself. The plot evolves basing on misunderstanding and accidental events which are the results of fate.
Differences between who belongs to the upper class (ricchi) and lower class (poveri):
- the poor people are here to provide the comic relief (aiuto), for example the nurse, the servants.
- they don’t understand why to fight and love.
- only rich can devote their life to passion, poor people have to think about illness and hungry;
- when they talk about love they reduce it to sex.
It’s an historical play (so he takes inspiration from Plutarc), written in the period of maturity.
It’s about life and death of Cesar: in 45 BC he was at the high of his power and some people want to kill him because they were afraid that he could turn the Republic into Monarchy (Empire).
Among those there was Brutus, his stepson, who could approach Caesar. In Rome there were riots and Plutarc says that Brutus decided to speak to people in order to explain why. Then he let Caesar’s friends to speak, Antony convinced people that this was a great crime, and an army was prepared, which defeated at Philippi Brutus and the others. He killed himself.
It was written in a period of worrying because Elisabeth had no hairs. There is the idea of power and his limits, and politics.
Brutus uses prose, and call people Romans, countrymen, friends in this order because firstly they are Roman citizen (they have rights, they are proud). He focuses on his honour, for this reason people have to believe him, and he admits that has killed Caesar, who loved very much, because he was too ambitious, not because he wanted the power, but because he considered his country more important. A dead Caesar and Rome free, or an alive Caesar and Romans slaves?
The speech is very effective, he uses a lot of devices.
And all the people agree with him.
Antony will benefit of the death of Caesar, even if he was not part of the conspiracy. He could talk only because Brutus wanted, he might be killed too if he said something wrong. He start saying: friends, Romans, countrymen, so since the beginning we understand he wants to be more friendly, to establish an emotion. He speaks using blank verse (poetry, unrhymed). He starts saying he doesn’t want to pray Caesar, even if he will do this. He immediately uses Brutus' arguments: his honour and reminds the crowd of what Caesar did; he has brought many slaves and money to Rome, he was a great general, he was in favour of poor people and refused 3 times the kingly crown. So in his opinion he was not ambitious.
Probably people don’t remember this. But Antony has made them change their mind, they now feel sorry for Caesar. Antony continues saying that he prefers to offend the dead Caesar and himself than honourable Brutus. But then the crowd ask him to read Caesar’s will. Antony wants to show to the crowd he’s not deceiving them, he’s a simple man as them, while Brutus is an orator and politician, and he convinces them to mutiny. Caesar in the will has left 75 drachmas to every man and his property to Rome. Antony is promising people money. Antony uses a lot of concrete words (money, etc.) while Brutus abstract words (honour); Brutus focuses on the politic figure of Caesar while Antony focuses on his friendship with him, he makes him similar to the crowd, also the killing seems a private murder, not a political one.
PRETERITHIO (it comes from classical world): when you claim something which you don’t want to say. As with the will: when Brutus has it on his hand but he doesn't want to show it.
Brutus speech is full of “if” which makes it difficult to follow and theoretical, there are a lot of parallelisms (as...) but it is a very complex speech. There are not hypothetical sentences in Antony’s speech, even if there is a parallelism (Brutus is an honourable man); he presents also a sort of syllogism.
Power is the main idea of this dialogue.
Two way of exercising power: Brutus focuses more on the values, he is an idealist person but he is deceived by his friends and let Antony speaks. He’s not really effective and astute. Antony is moved by personal interests, but he seems nearer to the crowd. He’s ambitious too as Caesar.
The crowd has got the power to decide who wants to send at the government, but is very easy to manipulate them (they aren’t interested in the values, they only want more money).
Shakespeare has a very pessimistic and cynical vision.