Life’s pretty poor for Shylock as is, but his world falls apart when his flighty daughter elopes with a ne’er-do-well Christian lad, taking his fortune to boot. Famously, Act III scene i sees the dam of his frustration and resentment overwhelmed, leaving him only the potential satisfaction of revenge against his mortal enemy, Antonio.
But why is Shylock’s speech so memorably powerful?
Partly because I’m teaching Richard III to a new A Level class, partly because my exam class will benefit, should they ever visit (you know who you are), and partly because yes, they are fun.
You can see the full rules here, but if you’ve been before, the task is to write a prize-winning forensic analysis of a very short extract in just 250 words, working to OCR’s mark-scheme in order to provide some models for my students.
In this passage, I returned to the dramatic moment when deposed Queen Margaret of Anjou, devastated by the killings of her son and then her husband (within 17 days, historically), calls down the heavens to curse Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who in the Henry VI cycle did what had to be done. It’s a very tense moment …
Maybe it’s growing up in the 70s, but I enjoy an infantile dirty joke as much, if not more, than the next fellow. They don’t always work in the plays, or perhaps audiences are now vastly more sophisticated: I can imagine that even the weakest ones would have had them rolling in the aisles at The Globe.
This week, I decided to work my favourite Shakespearean knob-gag … ooh err!
Richard II = Edward II = Prospero = Duke Vincentio = Henry VI = every useless boss you have ever worked for,
Richard II appears on my reading list for Edward II each year. It’s not just me – this is what Jonathan Bate, who I recently gushed about, has to say:
Richard II’s relationship to Edward II is so obvious that it is not very interesting. The structure of the two plays is identical: the King is surrounded by flatterers and pitted against an assemblage of nobles with vested interests of their own, then isolated and uncrowned, stripped of his royal identity, thus forced to discover his inner self by means of a supple, reflective soliloquy delivered whilst humiliatingly in prison. In each play the Queen is pushed to the margins in part because of the king’s homoerotic leanings. Marlowe is bolder than Shakespeare in his explicit portrayal of the homosexuality and his neat device of joining the Queen with the rebels in revenge. [a]
It should be easy to find something in Richard which’ll look familiar to my Edward students, right? Let’s have a go …