Archive for the 'Scenes' Category

Thy Fifty Yet Doth Double Five and Twenty

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

Based on the overwhelming response to yesterday’s post listing my top five and twenty favorite scenes from Shakespeare, I’ve decided to post my next five and twenty favorite scenes from Shakespeare. The standard disclaimers apply.

50. Antony and Cleopatra: Act 5, Scene 2
The captured Cleopatra has been placed on suicide watch. But she has a poisonous asp smuggled in, and delivers the fatal wound to her bosom. “Does thou not see the baby at my breast,/That sucks the nurse asleep?”

49. Macbeth: Act 5, Scene 5
In the heat of battle preparations, Macbeth receives news that his wife has died. He allows himself a reflective moment where he ponders the meaninglessness of brief life. And for that moment, we remember that this monster was once a human being with the capacity for reason and love.

48. Richard the Third: Act 3, Scene 7
In the final stages of his plan to seize the crown, Richard orchestrates a show where his friends and lackeys beg him to be king, and he says no. Finally, he relents. “I am not made of stone”

47. Henry the Fourth, Part Two: Act 5, Scene 5
Now that his buddy Prince Hal has become King Henry the Fifth, Falstaff thinks that he’s going to play a very important role in the new administration. Falstaff has another think coming.

46. As You Like It: Act 3, Scene 2
This is a somewhat varied scene, and a lot of fun things happen in it, but the main point is that, having discovered that Orlando is writing love poems to her and hanging them on trees in the forest, Rosalind decides to allow him to believe she is a boy, and offers to cure him of his love by pretending to be his love.

45. Henry the Sixth, Part One: Act 2, Scene 4
In the Temple garden, partisans of the King and of Richard Plantagenet pluck red and white roses respectively to show their support. Could this lead to war? And what might we call such a war?

44. Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 3
Returning from battle, Banquo and Macbeth are greeted by three witches who predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then King. Then, messengers from the King arrive and tell Macbeth he has just been named Thane of Cawdor. Things that make you go hmmm…

43. Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 2
Unsure whether or not to trust the ghost’s word, Hamlet stages a play mirroring the circumstances of his father’s death, so he can watch his uncle’s reaction. Does the plan work? Big time. And Hamlet’s famous advice to the players is in this scene, too.

42. Henry the Sixth, Part One: Act 4, Scene 5
The great Lord Talbot fears that his forces will be defeated in tomorrow’s battle. So he sends for his son, young John Talbot, and tells him to flee before the battle. John refuses, and they debate in rhymed couplets. It’s not a long scene – go read it.

41. King Lear: Act 1, Scene 4
The banished Kent returns in disguise and offers to serve Lear. We meet the Fool, whose jests reveal both a fondness for Lear and a bitter disapproval of his actions. Lear’s curse on Goneril at the end makes the scene extraordinary.

40. Henry the Fifth: Act 2, Scene 2
Henry has discovered three traitors among his officers. Before revealing this, he asks them what the penalty should be for traitors. His own oratory in this scene is powerful.

39. Julius Caesar: Act 4, Scene 3
Brutus and Cassius, having murdered Caesar, now lead an army against his partisans. In this scene, the growing tensions between them explode, and lead to an unexpected outcome.

38. Henry the Fourth, Part Two: Act 4, Scene 5
Prince Hal finds his father asleep, assumes he’s dead, and helps himself to the crown. When Hal returns, Dad’s awake, and the two of them have at it. And at the end of the scene, the prophecy he’s been talking about since like two plays ago is fulfilled.

37. Othello: Act 4, Scene 3
A quiet scene between Emilia and Desdemona before all hell breaks loose. This is a study in contrast between the innocent naif Desdemona and the world-wise Emelia.

36. Macbeth: Act 5, Scene 1
Lady Macbeth has been a rock through all of the killing and deception that put her husband on the throne. But now she’s sleepwalking, and everything comes out. Except for that spot of blood.

35. King John: Act 4, Scene 1
King John has sent Hubert to murder the young Arthur to eliminate his challenge to the throne. But the boy talks Hubert out of it. Shakespeare wrote this play after losing his own young son to the plague.

34. Romeo and Juliet: Act 2, Scene 2
Well, what can I say? It’s the balcony scene.

33. Much Ado About Nothing: Act 4, Scene 1
Hero is disgraced by Claudio at their wedding and her cousin Beatrice is beside herself. Claudio’s friend Benedick stays to comfort her. And amid this emotional turmoil, they confess their feelings for each other. He tells her he’ll do anything for her. Her response: “Kill Claudio.”

32. Hamlet: Act 5, Scene 2
Talk about a big finish. This scene is so imprinted on our collective psyche that it almost turns invisible when making a list like this. Almost.

31. Julius Caesar: Act 3, Scene 1
I really like the pacing of the lines just before the assassination. After the deed, the killers are so sure of history’s favorable judgment. And finally comes Antony’s stirring monologue. But my favorite part of this scene is the first two lines.

30. The Taming of the Shrew: Act 2, Scene 1
The first meeting between Petruchio and Kate. Need I say more?

29. King Lear: Act 4, Scene 7
Lear is rescued by and reunited with the daughter he banished. His mind is nearly gone by now, but as he begins to recognize her, he is deeply ashamed of his earlier behavior.

28. Macbeth: Act 3, Scene 4
King Macbeth sees the murdered Banquo at a banquet, but nobody else can see him. Is this the ghost of Banquo come to haunt him, or another hallucination brought on by guilt?

27. Twelfth Night: Act 1, Scene 5
Here we see the first meeting between Olivia and the disguised Viola. At first, Olivia toys with the youth, but then realizes that there’s more to this young “man” than meets the eye.

26. Richard the Second: Act 4, Scene 1
Richard’s reluctant abdication paints a portrait of a man who never asked to be king, but can’t quite give it up. It’s a moment in English history that sparked enough strife for no less than eight Shakespearean histories.

The Top Five and Twenty

Five and Twenty Scenes

Friday, April 6th, 2007

As long as we’re making lists, how about our top five scenes? I made my list (see below), feel free to play along in the comments, or on your own blog, or both. As before, this list is based on my own personal preferences at this particular moment. I’ll be using the scene divisions from

And, as before, my top five list has twenty-five entries. Enjoy!

25. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act 5, Scene 1
I had to include the Pyramus & Thisby performance at the end of Midsummer. The happy ending to the real story has already come, and now we can just relax and enjoy the show.

24. Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 4
The effect of Hamlet’s berating his mother in her bedchamber, and raising the tension until it is released by his killing Polonius, is devastating on stage. When the ghost arrives, we must listen.

23. King John: Act 1, Scene 1
Robert Faulconbridge claims that his brother Philip is a bastard, not entitled to his father’s lands. King John and his mother recognize the madcap Philip as natural son to the late King Richard, and welcome him into the royal family.

22. Richard the Third: Act 1, Scene 2
Richard has killed Anne’s husband and his father. He woos her and wins her hand, reveling in overcoming impossible odds. There is some really elegant use of language in this scene.

21. The Comedy of Errors: Act 3, Scene 1
This scene cracks me up. Antipholus of Ephesus is locked out of his house, because his wife thinks he’s inside. Actually, it’s his long lost twin brother. The rolling verse makes the scene.

20. Twelfth Night: Act 2, Scene 4
Viola is in love with Orsino, but he thinks she’s a boy. She tells him of her love using a supposed sister. Orsino is in love too, and both of their passions are stirred by a song. This scene “gives a very echo to the seat where love is throned.”

19. Measure for Measure: Act 2, Scene 4
Angelo has sentenced Isabella’s brother to death, but he offers to release him in exchange for sex. She tells him to stick it. But now she’s in a bind. In the hands of talented actors, this scene kills.

18. Henry the Sixth, Part Three: Act 1, Scene 4
The Duke of York has made a claim to the throne, but now is captured by Queen Margaret who taunts him with a paper crown and a napkin dipped in the blood of his dead son. He curses her, and she has him killed. “Off with his head!”

17. As You Like It: Act 5, Scene 4
Rosalind and Celia reveal their true identities to their astonished lovers. And if four weddings and some songs aren’t enough of a happy ending, the banished Duke is restored. I couldn’t resist including it.

16. King Lear: Act 1, Scene 1
This scene could be a play unto itself. Cordelia refuses to participate in flattering her father for his land and is banished. But then she weds the King of France and lives happily ever … no, wait.

15. Othello: Act 3, Scene 3
Through subtle innuendo and hints of suspicion, Iago brings Othello from being completely free of suspicion toward Desdemona, to a jealous rage against her.

14. Measure for Measure: Act 5, Scene 1
Shakespeare spent the whole play setting up the dominoes and lets them fall in this final scene. Isabella has a big choice to make, and she takes the high road. But what about her final choice? Shakespeare doesn’t say.

13. Macbeth: Act 5, Scene 7
The prophecies have all come true, but Macbeth isn’t ready to give up the crown yet, let alone the ghost. In defiance of law, of country, of nature, and of fate itself, he fights. And he dies.

12. Hamlet: Act 5, Scene 1
Hamlet jokes and reflects on death with a gravedigger and Horatio before learning the grave is to be Ophelia’s. And the gravedigger started working the day Hamlet was born. Think about that for a moment.

11. Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 7
Lady Macbeth goads Macbeth into regicide by attacking his manhood and questioning his love. He’s against killing the king on moral grounds, until she presents a plan with a good chance of working, and then he’s in.

10. Henry the Fourth, Part One: Act 2, Scene 4
A fun tavern scene with Jack Falstaff telling tall tales, and a role-playing exercise that turns sour.

9. King Lear: Act 5, Scene 3
The sisters undo themselves. Edgar defeats his treacherous brother Edmund. And then Lear dies with Cordelia in his arms. Good has triumphed over evil, but what spoils are left for the victor?

8. Richard the Third: Act 5, Scene 3
The ghosts of all Richard’s victims disturb his rest the night before the decisive battle. In the morning, he and Richmond deliver orations to their troops, contrasting their different leadership styles.

7. Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 1
The “To be, or not to be” soliloquy is great, but the scene with Ophelia that follows is what makes the list. Love has turned to resentment and bitter mistrust. He must continue to play mad, but his actual sanity is now at risk.

6. Julius Caesar: Act 3, Scene 2
At Caesar’s funeral, Antony, who has promised not to speak ill of the conspirators, delivers an oration that turns the crowd against them. It’s a testament to the power of good rhetoric, and the power of love and loyalty.

5. Othello: Act 5, Scene 2
Othello murders Desdemona and then discovers the truth of the plot against him. Othello’s passionate speeches of angst and remorse are contrasted with Iago’s dispassionate demanor after being caught.

4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act 3, Scene 2
The four lovers, giddy with love’s madness, quarrel to the shock and amusement of the fairies. After going to much trouble to set it up, Shakespeare doesn’t let us down. This is just pure fun.

3. Macbeth: Act 4, Scene 1
Obsessed with succession, Macbeth demands answers from the witches, who tell him much more than he really wants to know. The witches’ brew part alone is for the ages. “Double, double, toil and trouble…”

2. King Lear: Act 4, Scene 6
The mad Lear meets the blind Gloucester. Lear’s speech is filled with sense, and yet is nonsense. Gloucester, who has by now realized he was blind when he had eyes, now says he sees the world feelingly. Also notable is Edgar pretending to lead his blind father to the edge of a cliff. Heartbreaking.

1. Richard the Third: Act 4, Scene 4
By the fourth scene of the fourth act of the fourth play in the series, most of the bad stuff that was going to happen has already happened. The widows gather and compare their losses. Then Richard, the cause of their misery, enters. He recieves a blistering rebuke from his own mother. He is then left on stage with his sister-in-law, whose two sons he has murdered. And he asks her for the hand of her daughter, his niece, in marriage. Now that’s chutzpah!