Comedy and History Divisions: Round 3

No one’s laughing now. Puck, the plucky underdog who beat the vaunted #1 seed Rosalind is gone. The Shrew has fallen. The gallant Hotspur beaten (as he must be) by the young Prince Hal. It’s only favorites left: fond friends and steady standbys. No more easy choices. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! Who survives to see Round 4? Vote after the break!

Click here to vote in our Tragedy/Romance Round 3 Poll!

1 ROSALIND (As You Like It)

2 BEROWNE (Love’s Labor’s Lost)

3 PORTIA (Merchant Of Venice)

4 PETRUCHIO (Taming of the Shrew)

5 HELENA (All’s Well That Ends Well)

6 PROTEUS (Two Gentlemen of Verona)

7 ISABELLA (Measure for Measure)

8 SHYLOCK (Merchant of Venice)

9 BENEDICK (Much Ado About Nothing)

This can be no trick:
the conference was sadly borne. They have the truth of
this from Hero. They seem to pity the lady: it
seems her affections have their full bent. Love me!
why, it must be requited. I hear how I am censured:
they say I will bear myself proudly, if I perceive
the love come from her; they say too that she will
rather die than give any sign of affection. I did
never think to marry: I must not seem proud: happy
are they that hear their detractions and can put
them to mending. They say the lady is fair; ’tis a
truth, I can bear them witness; and virtuous; ’tis
so, I cannot reprove it; and wise, but for loving
me; by my troth, it is no addition to her wit, nor
no great argument of her folly, for I will be
horribly in love with her. I may chance have some
odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me,
because I have railed so long against marriage: but
doth not the appetite alter? a man loves the meat
in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.
Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of
the brain awe a man from the career of his humour?
No, the world must be peopled. When I said I would
die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I
were married. Here comes Beatrice. By this day!
she’s a fair lady: I do spy some marks of love in
her.

Yes, it is true that Benedick begins the play as an arrogant, misogynistic, blunt, bachelor but the transformation he undergoes throughout the play, the love he unlocks for Beatrice, and human honesty he finds within himself by the end of the play, make this one of the wittiest and most charming of all of Shakespeare’s characters. Constantly relishing the “paper bullets of the brain” he so often uses (usually towards Beatrice… ‘parrot-teacher’, ‘Lady Disdan!’), Benedick’s sexual puns, anecdotes, and innuendos are some of the best in the canon, only to be matched by his female counterpart, Beatrice. After learning of the false accusation toward Hero, Benedick goes about to set the story straight, crossed between the love he now feels for Beatrice and the friendship he has with Claudio. ‘Kill Claudio’ is how Beatrice replies when Benedick questions how he can fix the situation. Benedick handles the situation, however, with dignity, intelligence, grace, and acts for the first time in the play like a grown up. When all is straightened out, he conjoins the forces and offers a “Strike Up, Pipers” turning this overtly verbally violent play into a dance.

10 VIOLA (Twelfth Night)

I left no ring with her: what means this lady?
Fortune forbid my outside have not charm’d her!
She made good view of me; indeed, so much,
That sure methought her eyes had lost her tongue,
For she did speak in starts distractedly.
She loves me, sure; the cunning of her passion
Invites me in this churlish messenger.
None of my lord’s ring! why, he sent her none.
I am the man: if it be so, as ’tis,
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.

Must all Shakespeare’s strongest female protagonists dress as men? Perhaps not, but there’s an argument to be made that Viola does it better, and makes you feel sad for the rest. Where Rosalind wanders the forest dispensing sage advice and wisdom, Viola actually gets stuff done. She gets a darned job (which is more than you can say for most of Shakespeare’s characters), and she does it well, wooing Olivia so effectively for Duke Orsino that she falls in love with Viola! For her next amazing trick, she survives a duel with swords, and as a finale, she pulls a prestigious trick and appears to be in two places at once (with the help of her long-lost twins brother).

11 BEATRICE (Much Ado About Nothing)

BEATRICE
I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you. 

BENEDICK
What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living? 

BEATRICE
Is it possible disdain should die while she hath/ such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?

As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you: but believe me not; and yet I lie not; I  confess nothing, nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my cousin.

Beatrice is the charming, candid, and slightly older but oh-so-much wiser cousin of Hero. Afraid to be vulnerable (since she’s been burned before), Beatrice has her shields up and is nobody’s lovesick fool. In fact, she swears never to marry (“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”), but after being tricked into believing that Benedick loves her, Beatrice instantly reciprocates. Where Kate uses her sharp tongue in anger against the world, Beatrice uses hers to make merry jest of it – until her dear cousin Hero is slandered on her wedding day. A caring and fiercely loyal woman, Beatrice swiftly jumps to her kin’s rescue and enlists Benedict to help her right this wrong (“It is a man’s office”). Though technically a supporting role, Beatrice’s passion and spirited individuality steals the show.

12 TOUCHSTONE (As You Like It)

13 NICK BOTTOM THE WEAVER (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

[Awaking] When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer: my next is, ‘Most fair Pyramus.’ Heigh-ho!
Peter Quince! Flute, the bellows-mender! Snout,
the tinker! Starveling! God’s my life, stolen
hence, and left me asleep! I have had a most rare
vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to
say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go
about to expound this dream. Methought I was–there
is no man can tell what. Methought I was,–and
methought I had,–but man is but a patched fool, if
he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream
was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of
this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream,
because it hath no bottom; and I will sing it in the
latter end of a play, before the duke:
peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shallsing it at her death.

One must admit that his boldness, rashness, pompousness, arrogance, and of course ass-like qualities make him one of Shakespeare’s funniest and most lovehated characters. From the start, dictating to Peter Quince the correct way to run a rehearsal, Bottom the Weaver is never at loss for a suggestion. When Puck so accurately transforms his head into that of an ass and has Titania fall in love with him, we see Bottom’s indulgence grow even more, forcing the fairies to bow to him, sing to him, and fetch him whatever he wants. While his overzealousness makes up most of his character, he does at times have strokes of eloquence: “And yet to say the truth, Reason and love keep little company together nowadays.” And when we finally see the tragic performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, the most memorable and hilarious moment is undoubtedly the death… and death… and death of poor Pyramus. Bottom is undoubtedly the heart of this dream.

14 DROMIO OF SYRACUSE (Comedy of Errors)

15 KATE (Taming of the Shrew)

16 PUCK (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

1 PRINCE HAL/HENRY V (Henry IV 1-2, Henry V)

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

The model of English heroism and one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters, Henry V is the man most anyone would follow. As the young Prince Hal he is more interested in drink and laughter than affairs of state, but rebellion in the kingdom forces him to grow up. After killing Hotspur and finally gaining his father’s confidence only moments before his death, Hal is crowned King Henry V. The new King rejects Falstaff and his former ways, and develops into an extraordinary leader. A thoughtful military general, Henry V hesitates to invade France until they send him a contemptuous “gift.” Filled with righteous anger (and with God on his side!), Henry invades France. Just before the Battle of Agincourt, Henry disguises himself and wanders the camp to comfort his soldiers. The next day, he delivers the famous St. Crispin’s Day Speech, rousing his armies’ hearts and spirits, leading them to victory. The happy ending is complete when he marries Katherine, joining England and France together.

2 RICHARD III (Henry VI 2-3,  Richard III)

“A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!”
What do I fear? myself? there’s none else by:
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O, no! alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself!
I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.

Was ever audience in this humour wooed? How do we define evil without Richard III? In the final historical showdown of Shakespeare’s history plays, he gives us the “elvish-marked, abortive rooting-hog” Richard III who constantly makes us ask, how does he do it!? From that immediate control of Lady Anne, to the simple chopping off of Hastings head, to the audacity of the prospects of marrying Elizabeth I Richard makes us loathe him so much, and O does it feel so good. A true Machiavellian, Richard III will do anything to claim and keep the throne. The frankness of his villainy and slyness of his charm often can leave us chuckling in our seats. What is seems so great about Richard III is the fact that he seems to have no conscience at all (“Conscience is but a word that cowards use,/ Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.”) And yet there is still some sense of pity we can display for Richard. His self-hatred and disfigurement help us question the internal turmoil of this evilness, and yet can invoke some pity which is perhaps one reason that Richard III is such a popular character in the canon.

SIR JOHN FALSTAFF (Henry IV, parts 1-2)

If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

Jack Falstaff, that big barrel of every joyful, mischievious, cowardly, gross, hilarious, thieving, exciting, fattening, wonderful thing in the world. During his time as companion to the young Prince Hal, he provides a memorable model of everything a king should NOT be. Falstaff is always drunk; he steals from pilgrims, lies, cheats, hides, and never does one selfless thing. But Falstaff laughs longest at any joke. Falstaff dotes on the young prince and is far more free with his time and attention than his absent father, Henry IV.  Jack Falstaff is one of the most beloved characters in Shakespeare’s stable: old, fat, and craven, but as full of joy, spirit, wit, and love of life as the silliest lover. Audiences have loved Sir Jack FOR his faults, and Hal’s promised rejection of the old knight (“I know thee not, old man,”) is one of the most heartbreaking moments in theatre, however much it might be deserved. Still, Falstaff essentially raised Henry V, who on the whole turned out alright: conquering France and all.

4 HENRY IV/BOLINGBROKE (Richard II, Henry IV parts 1-2)

5 QUEEN MARGARET (Henry VI 1,2,3, Richard III)

What, was it you that would be England’s king?
Was’t you that revell’d in our Parliament
And made a preachment of your high descent?
…where is your darling Rutland?
Look, York: I stain’d this napkin with the blood
That valiant Clifford with his rapier’s point
Made issue from the bosom of the boy;
And if thine eyes can water for his death,
I give thee this to dry thy cheeks withal.
Alas, poor York! but that I hate thee deadly,
I should lament thy miserable state.
I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York.

Described as the “she-wolf of France,” Queen Margaret begins her four-play journey as a prisoner of war and ends as a vicious and prophetic Fury. Despite her standing as the Queen of England with Henry VI at her side, Margaret and Suffolk (her secret love) scheme Gloucester’s downfall. Later Margaret assumes a major military role in the civil war, pushing her husband and king aside to lead his armies. She has York captured, sadistically torturing him placing a paper crown on his head and offering him a handkerchief soaked in his son’s blood. Even when the throne is taken by Edward, Margaret is a “tiger’s heart wrapp’d in a woman’s hide” and continues to fight. Finally, when her son is killed in front of her eyes, she begins her journey as a lamenting, cursing specter haunting the remainder of the War of the Roses.

6 KING RICHARD II (Richard II)

7 RICHARD PLANTAGENET, DUKE OF YORK (Henry VI 1-3)

8 LORD WARWICK, THE KINGMAKER (Henry VI parts 2,3)

9 HOTSPUR (1 Henry IV)

10 HENRY VIII (Henry VIII)

11 KING JOHN (King John)

12 LORD TALBOT (1 Henry VI)

13 QUEEN KATHERINE (Henry VIII)

14 CONSTANCE (King John)

15 JOAN LA PUCELLE (1 Henry VI)

16 CHORUS (Henry V)

 

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