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“That Bearing Boughs May Live”: What Did King Richard II Author for the World?

It is 2020, the Summer of #BlackLivesMatter, and this week, in a moment of uncommon synchronicity, the theater company who would (in another non-Covid-19 world) be performing at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park are instead presenting King Richard II to homebound Internet streamers. Today’s resonance of the Bard’s words testifies not only to word craft but also to boldness, for King Richard II articulates revolution against repressive political and theological systems. Moreover, its nuanced language cultivates sympathy, allowing us, in the words of Shakespeare scholar Ayanna Thompson, “to grieve the loss of something even if we think it’s the right thing to get rid of,” as pertinent to “Defund the Police” protesters as their counterparts in 1776 America, 1789 Paris, 1791 Haiti, and 1917 Moscow (The Public). King Richard II asks its audience to consider the legitimacy of overthrowing a Pope-anointed monarch without damning the usurper’s mortal soul, and within the play’s text, King…
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"Foul as Vulcan's Stithy": A Different Perspective on “The Mousetrap” and Its Intended Audience

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet illustrates how the dead can drive the living to fulfill their unfinished business. Armed with secrets of his murdered father’s specter, Hamlet conceives “The Mousetrap,” a play within a play, its stated purpose—"to catch the conscience of the king,” his uncle Claudius—though Hamlet himself sabotages his gambit during the performance (Shakespeare 2.2.606). This alone, however, should not measure its success, for Hamlet’s audience is wider. Queen Gertrude is also targeted by the piece. Indeed, she is the prince’s true focus, and there is no question here of Hamlet’s glorious success, the ramifications of which condemn them all to tragic death.Though Hamlet mourns his father, he is more disturbed by Gertrude’s choice to speedily remarry his uncle. Maquerlot proposes Hamlet’s “disgust at the world” is “generated by disgust at his mother” (98). Hamlet’s revulsion is most dramatically demonstrated when he requests “a passionate speech” he heard performed o…

My 2020 Hugo Ballot

I have finished my Hugo reading for the year. My eyes are so blurry, but I am brimming with happiness. Here are my choices along with a brief word on each category: Best Novel Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing) I read all 6 of the novels this year, and they were all spectacular. I would not argue against a vote for any of the others: the polar locked (both the planet and two characters) The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor;Titan), the Leguinian dispossessing A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK), or the lyrical The Ten Thousand Doors of January (Redhook; Orbit UK), by Alix E. Harrow.
One reason I chose Gideon the Ninth is because of its original voice. The protagonist is Gideon, the adopted cavalier of the Ninth House, who sees the world through a lens of sarcasm, tempered by humor, understandable in that she serves…

To “Fall from Bias of Nature”: A Dissenting Opinion on Good Cordelia

There is an old German saying that an apple generally does not fall far from its tree. A pure nature versus nurture argument, it is usually reserved for decrying unpleasant traits inherited by a wicked person’s offspring, but this philosophy has uses for dramatists too; and in King Lear, Shakespeare often paints Goneril and Regan with the same brush. In the flattery contest of the opening scene, for example, they echo each other in manner and deed. Regan even makes the point that she is “made of that same metal as her [older] sister” (Lr 1.1.69). Younger Cordelia, may appear as an anomaly, claiming to be selfless and true, however a closer analysis reveals she shares many of the same characteristics with her sisters, especially in her capacity to petrify and emasculate, suppressing King Lear’s masculinity (not necessarily a bad thing) as she asserts her sex. Edgar, ironically by using deception, manifests a truer more selfless love. Cordelia is a sympathetic character who values hone…

“By the Strength of Their Illusion”: Reflections on the Scottish Play

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although the signifier “mirror” is absent from Macbeth, and “glass” only appears twice, once as a prop instruction and once in dialogue, The Scottish Play fairly bristles with reflections, though like the mirrors of its time, they are somewhat deceptive. First, of course, is the mirror in the apparition shown by the three witches to the haunted king. Macbeth’s vision of Banquo’s kingly successors, especially “the eighth [who] appears, …bear[ing] a glass… show[ing]… many more” dooms his erstwhile ally (Mac. 4.1.118). The doctor and gentleman who watch Lady Macbeth sleepwalking in Act V, Scene I, are another mirror, this time reflecting the play’s audience. Finally, there are the transgressive mirrors addressed by Garber, those “taboo border crossings” (91) “between a thing and its reflection,” (93) such as “sleep/waking, male/female, life/death, fair/foul, heaven/hell, night/morning,” which pervade Macbeth, seasoning it with Umheiml…

A Book About John Bolton's Dereliction of Duty.

The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir by John R. Bolton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is truly appalling that someone who purports to be a public servant would maintain silence in the face of so much corruption going on in the same room, however this review is not about John Bolton, but this book he has written. Bolton's perspective comes with the assumption he is the smartest person in the room. Everyone else is a dummy, inexperienced, or otherwise lacking the ability to perceive the nature of evil in the world. That may be what he is going for, but he just comes off as a monstrous, spiteful, warmongering chickenhawk. All of his choices rely on using sticks, and he has no flexibility at all. Therefore, as a diplomat, he is a useless ass, but there is such a lack of self-awareness that you watch him patting himself on the back with "clever" tactics to avoid responsibility and accountability, dodging here and there, always aiming higher, always just a little bit s…

Finding Redemption in the Deep

The Deep by Rivers Solomon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trying to do this without spoiling it for you, so bear with me. I'm not going to reveal too much more than the synopsis.

First, I really liked the root concept of the story, the origins of the Wajinru, the merpeople. Solomon creates a compelling story of their parallel development with the "two-legs" (humans) and puts her main character Yetu in a predicament that defines whether her species will survive. The story raises many questions about the role of history in indigenous people, and even the survival of languages and artifacts when all the people are gone.

Second, I love the gender bending romance in the middle. It added a necessary stake after the story had stalled for reasons better left to Yetu to explain. I had difficulty connecting with Yetu, but she is, after all, an alien, because I am a Two-leg, so this is actually an example of good writing making me uncomfortable.

The only issue I had with the story is how it …