November Reads

Hey there,

I thought I’d try something new on the blog here. I mostly talk about knitting, sewing and craft related things on this blog, as that’s what I’m very passionate about. However my other great love is literature. I think most of you know that I read quite a lot. My major, English language and Culture, is literature focused, and I read a lot in my spare time as well. I don’t think crafting and reading is a very odd combination, as I know many knitters who are fond of reading as well. That’s why I thought it’d be fun to try something with books on the blog. For now the plan is to do a monthly installment of the literature that I read each month, and we’ll see how things get on from there.

First up, this month there are a lot of plays, specifically Shakespeare plays. My university requires that each student of English Language and Culture takes a course on Shakespearean plays and their context towards the end of their bachelor’s. The “last leg of your study” bit is stressed here. The idea is that towards the end of your study you’ve mastered (at least to some degree) literary theories and historic events of the time as well are familiar with the early modern language and the context in which the plays were written. Therefore. understanding the plays and it’s many layers should be less of a problem. I have to say that for me at least it really helped to get more meaning out of them. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the plays a couple of years ago, but the extra knowledge really helped with opening my eyes to the many layers that are in them. I’m not saying that everyone who wants to read Shakespeare should have a literary degree (absolutely not!) but the plays are more fun if you are at least a bit familiar with the context they were written in.

Now… onward with the plays. You join me at the end of the course, so at this point I’ve already read quite a bit of his plays. This month I read four plays, three of which were by Shakespeare and one by Ben Johnson.  I  read Measure for Measure, Macbeth and King Lear by Shakespeare and Volpone by Ben Johnson. First up are the Shakespeare plays.

Macbeth – William Shakespeare
A tragedy? Written by Shakespeare? As a reaction to the witch-hunts? A play that is believed to be cursed by actors over the centuries? Hand it over to me! Macbeth, or ‘the Scottish play’, is one of Shakespeare’s famous works and  rightfully so! Possibly my favourite Shakespeare play. It blew me away when I read it, and I hadn’t expected it to do so.
Plot: MacBeth, a Scottish Thane, rides home from battle with his friend Banquo. In the field they meet a group of witches, who prophecy some rather good fortunes for the two thanes. When the prophecies start to come true, MacBeth and his wife initiate a rather bloody game of intrigue and murder to ‘help’ the other prophecies to come true, including the one where the witches proclaim MacBeth ‘King of Scotland’.
Things I loved:  I loved the witches. Seriously they were amazing. Macbeth’s downfall rather complicated, as he constantly doubts himself and ultimately does it because of Lady Macneth’s manipulation. This makes Macbeth a slightly more complicated character, instead of relishing in his evil, like for example Iago, Macbeth questions his deeds even before he does them. Finally there is Lady Macbeth who has got to be one of the most badass characters Shakespeare has ever written about. If you haven’t read any of Shakespeare’s plays, this is a good starting point. 
In Short: Must-read classic. Great story with a lot of suspense.

MacBeth and Banquo encounter the witches for the first time

Measure for Measure – William Shakespeare
This is one of Shakespeare’s plays that is less well known, he wrote this play somewhere around 1603/1604 and it’s written as a comedy, albeit a dark comedy. This makes the play very different  from the other two I’ll be discussing. It’s regarded as one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’. Overall I really enjoyed reading this play, and think it’s one of the more accessible plays.Often I like Shakespeare’s plays not necessarily because they’re rounded, closed narratives, but precisely because it leaves open room for unanswered questions. This play is no exception. It’s a play that lays bare some issues, but doesn’t solve them.
Plot: We’re taken to Vienna, where the Duke decides to leave the city for a few days, leaving his nephew Angelo in charge of things. Angelo decides to enforce the laws in place much stricter than the Duke ever did. So strict, that many much more sympathetic characters fall victim to his rule. Soon enough we find out that Angelo is not such a do-goody as he wants the public to believe…and where is that Duke of too? 
Things I liked about the play: The complicated nature of the Duke, is he good? Is he bad? I like Isabella as a strong female character, even though in the end she’s not strong enough to let the patriarchal world crumble. I like how Shakespeare uses Vienna to portray what was going on in London (in short: the puritans tried to ban everything that was fun for the public, this included brothels, but theaters as well). In general I liked how Shakespeare used the play to comment on the religious tensions that were going on at the time. I liked the complicated ending, because again, it raises a lot of questions about the Duke and his motives. Finally, I liked Isabella’s silence, even though it is also an incredibly sad moment. I know that this silence has been interpreted differently over the time, but my favourite interpretation is that it represents a final form of resistance. What I did not like about the play was the moralistic tone, that sometimes is a bit too present.
In short: Great political analogy with a good story of it’s own. Powerful female character and complex ending.

Ian McKellen as King Lear

King Lear – William Shakespeare
King Lear is Shakespeare darkest and gloomiest play that I’ll discuss today. It has a devastating ending, and you should not read it when you’re in the mood for something uplifting. Of all the mad characters Shakespeare has written, and that list is long, King Lear is probably the maddest. From the beginning of the play it’s pretty clear that he has lost his marbles. I think Ian McKellen shows that really well in his depiction of King Lear of the 2008 film (side note, what is it about this guy that he has had a role in basically every Shakespeare play?).
Plot: King Lear is a mighty king. However, he’s slowly (or quickly?) descending into madness. He’s got three daughters, the youngest of which is closest to him. King Lear dictates that each of his daughters should inherit a third of his kingdom, but only if they can publicly prove their love for him…
What I liked: Perhaps it was because I had a bursting headache when reading this, but to me this was one of Shakespeare’s least accessible plays. There was one character, the Fool, commenting about certain things happening in the play. The fool supposed to be witty, and enigmatic in his comments on the other characters, but I somehow it didn’t come across to me.
In Short: A bit confusing with many Elizabethan in-jokes. However, a great story and perfect character development on the  Mad King.

Volpone – Ben Jonson

Portrait of Ben Jonson, Oil painting

So, you are in the mood for a comedy, with fable elements, from the Jacobean Era? Congratulations, we’ve got just the thing for you! These days Jonson doesn’t ring a bell for most people, so it might be hard to imagine that this was one of the most popular and most performed plays of it’s day. I have read other works by Jonson before, but never this one, even though it is his most famous play. It has humour, lots of it, but not in the same way as Shakespeare wrote comedies. I found, that at least for this play, it was a more accessible, perhaps lower form of satire, whereas Shakespeare is, most of the time, a bit more refined and because of that perhaps less accessible. While I did like reading the play, I preferred reading Shakespeare’s work. Sorry, Jonson… you’re probably sick to death of hearing this for the thousandth time.

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

Okay, so I’ll finish this month’s reading with something lighter and different all together. The book was recommended to me by a friend, and I picked it up when I was in need of some light, non academic reading.
Plot: We join Cath just as she leaves home for university. She has to cope with getting used to new surroundings, new courses and new people while at the same time she has to learn to let go of her old life, her dad and her twin sister. This is no small task, especially not for a shy, socially awkward girl who has a hard time of letting go of the things she is used to and trying new things. At the same time has to uphold her “secret life” as a well-known fan fiction writer on the internet, She tries to branch out with a creative writing course, which proves to be much more difficult than she imagined.
What I liked:
-The coming of age aspect of the novel. It is about this girl who goes to university and her growing as a person from her experiences.
– It was a coming of age story from an introvert’s point of view. The social awkward situations were relatable.
-The writer’s aspect and the exploration of fan fiction as a literary genre.
– The fandom around this “Harry Potter, but let’s not call it Harry Potter”-series in-world.
– The romance story was cute,  though it never consumes the story. I felt that towards the end some of the other themes in the book were sacrificed for the romance plot, which was a shame.
 Overall I liked this novel, I flew through it in just a couple of hours. It’s probably not something I’ll remember for years to come. But that’s okay, it’s not meant to be that kind of book.

There were also quite some fanfiction bits included, written by the main character . For me they didn’t add much to the story,and could have been left out.

So that was it for this month. I’m pretty excited about this new addition to the blog, but I’m curious to know what you think about it as well.  I’ll be back later this week with a new finished project and next month with more bookish thoughts.

8 thoughts on “November Reads

  1. Goed gedaan de verhalen in een samenvatting te brengen.
    Zo krijg je echt zin om de boeken te lezen. Ik zal de text printen maar moet eerst de printer nakijken want die werkt niet goed.
    Net als jij lees ik liever van papier dan van een scherm.
    Goed gewerkt Nelson.
    De groeten aan iedereen.


  2. I read Shakespeare when I was 12. So obviously a lot went over my head and I found it hard to follow everything, I totally missed all the dick jokes. Do you feel it is better to view the play as it is written, or just read the play as is?

  3. I haven't read Shakespeare in fifteen years, I must have missed most of the layers. One (or both?) of his main theathers shared house with a brothel, so no wonder he made fun of the puritans (which by the way were pro sex – inside matrimony, and not just to make babies either). I read this article a while ago (warning: highly addictive), about the massive amount of sexual innuendo in Shakespearian plays (and sonnets). I notised nothing of the sort when last I read Shakespeare, but I didn't know what to look for. I guess the brothel/theather combination wasn't so strange either. Anyone wanting to have sex without having 14 kids went to prostitutes, and there were plenty of those. Theathers were shady business in those days, not fine arts as it is today (a fate shared with ballet, once dubious entertainment).

  4. Ha Paul,

    Bedankt! Ja mijn persoonlijke voorkeur is indedaad gewoon boeken. Ik lees eigenlijk altijd van papier. Soms als ik veel academische artikelen voor school moet lezen, lees ik van het scherm omdat ik anders zoveel moet printen. Maar verder eigenlijk nooit.


  5. Hahaha, yes I think most don't realise that Shakespeare had such a dirty mind. I think because he had the gift of being able to put it in such fancy words.

    I'm used to reading plays, as I had to read a great number of them for uni. My lecturer however swears by the theatre.

    As they don't often perform these British plays over here, I would like to see a performance in England eventually. In case you want to see what your preference is you could try the 2008 version of King Lear. It is on youtube and the few scenes I've seen look good!

  6. @Veronika

    Yeah, I think you're right. As I said, it's hilarious how many people don't realise these layers, but then again, I wouldn't have either if some of them wouldn't have been pointed out to me.

    Have you read The picture of Dorian Gray? It shows the Victorian 'underworld', where theatre and brothels were indeed still very much related!

  7. I haven't read it yet, but I think it's in my bookshelf somewhere. Have you seen the series Penny Dreadful? He is depicted quite vividly there, hehe. Maybe I'll dig it out and make it my christmas reading =)

  8. @Veronika

    No, I hadn't even heard of it! The premise sounds interesting. I might check it out during the holidays, thanks for making me aware of it's existence! Do you it is a good series?

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