Module 2 – Application Project
AP2: SUMMARIES OF FIVE OF SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS
These summaries of selected Shakespearean plays are provided, word-for-word, by the website http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/. [Note: I only changed two of the British spellings to American versions of those words.] Each summary gives the major events that must be addressed in your “new, original interpretation” of the play. Also, in each summary, I have highlighted (in yellow) the characters that must be addressed in your assignment.
Choose whichever play sparks an idea for re-interpretation. I provided these five choices because these are the most often read/studied in high school or college and, therefore, may be most familiar to you. If there is a Shakespearean play that is not provided here but that you would prefer to use as the basis of your assignment, contact me through SU email.
The tribunes, Marullus and Flavius, break up a gathering of Roman citizens who seek to celebrate Julius Caesar’s triumphant return from war. The victory is marked by public games in which Caesar’s friend, Mark Antony, takes part. On his way to the arena Caesar is stopped by a stranger who warns that he should ‘Beware the Ides (15th) of March.’
Fellow senators, Caius Cassius and Marcus Brutus, are suspicious of Caesar’s reactions to the power he holds in the Republic. They fear he will accept offers to become Emperor. Cassius, a successful general himself, is jealous, while Brutus has a more balanced view of the political position. Cassius, Casca, and their allies, visit Brutus at night to persuade him of their views, and they plan Caesar’s death. Brutus is troubled but will not confide in his devoted wife, Portia.
On the 15th March Caesar is urged not to go to the Senate by his wife, Calphurnia, who has had dreams that he will be murdered, and she fears the portents of the overnight storms. He is nevertheless persuaded by flattery to go and as petitioners surround him Caesar is stabbed and dies as Brutus gives the final blow. Against Cassius’s advice Mark Antony is allowed by Brutus to speak a funeral oration in the market place after Brutus has addressed the people of Rome to explain the conspirators’ reasons and their fears for Caesar’s ambition. Brutus calms the crowd but Antony’s speech stirs them to rioting and the conspirators are forced to flee from the city.
Brutus and Cassius gather an army in Northern Greece and prepare to fight the forces led by Mark Antony, who has joined with Caesar’s great-nephew, Octavius, and with Lepidus. Away from Rome, Brutus and Cassius are filled with doubts about the future and they quarrel bitterly over funds for their soldiers’ pay. They make up the argument and despite the misgivings of Cassius over the site they prepare to engage Antony’s army at Philippi. Brutus stoically receives news of his wife’s suicide in Rome, but he sees Caesar’s ghost as he rests, unable to sleep on the eve of the conflict.
In the battle the Republicans at first appear to be winning but when his messenger’s horse seems to be overtaken by the enemy Cassius fears the worst and gets his servant, Pindarus, to help him to a quick death. Brutus, finding Cassius’s body, commits suicide as the only honourable action left to him. Antony, triumphant on the battlefield, praises Brutus as ‘the noblest Roman of them all’, and orders a formal funeral before he and Octavius return to rule in Rome.
King Duncan’s generals, Macbeth and Banquo, encounter three strange women (a.k.a. witches) on a bleak Scottish moorland on their way home from quelling a rebellion. The women prophesy that Macbeth will be given the title of Thane of Cawdor and then become King of Scotland, while Banquo’s heirs shall be kings. The generals want to hear more but the weird sisters disappear. Duncan creates Macbeth Thane of Cawdor in thanks for his success in the recent battles and then proposes to make a brief visit to Macbeth’s castle.
Lady Macbeth receives news from her husband of the prophecy and his new title and she vows to help him become king by any means she can. Macbeth’s return is followed almost at once by Duncan’s arrival. The Macbeths plot together and later that night, while all are sleeping and after his wife has given the guards drugged wine, Macbeth kills the King and his guards. Lady Macbeth leaves the bloody daggers beside the dead king. Macduff arrives and when the murder is discovered Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain flee, fearing for their lives, but they are nevertheless blamed for the murder.
Macbeth is elected King of Scotland, but is plagued by feelings of guilt and insecurity. He arranges for Banquo and his son, Fleance to be killed, but the boy escapes the murderers. At a celebratory banquet Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo and disconcerts the courtiers with his strange manner. Lady Macbeth tries to calm him but is rejected.
Macbeth seeks out the witches and learns from them that he will be safe until Birnam Wood comes to his castle, Dunsinane. They tell him that he need fear no-one born of woman, but also that the Scottish succession will come from Banquo’s son. Macbeth embarks on a reign of terror and many, including Macduff’s family are murdered, while Macduff himself has gone to join Malcolm at the court of the English king, Edward. Malcolm and Macduff decide to lead an army against Macbeth.
Macbeth feels safe in his remote castle at Dunsinane until he is told that Birnam Wood is moving towards him. The situation is that Malcolm’s army is carrying branches from the forest as camouflage for their assault on the castle. Meanwhile Lady Macbeth, paralysed with guilt, walks in her sleep and gives away her secrets to a listening doctor. She kills herself as the final battle commences.
Macduff challenges Macbeth who, on learning his adversary is the child of a Ceasarian birth, realizes he is doomed. Macduff triumphs and brings the head of the traitor to Malcolm who declares peace and is crowned king.
In the opening scene, Iago complains to Roderigo that Othello, his Commander, has passed him over to promote the handsome young Cassio to be his Lieutenant. He vows to get revenge. Iago first asks Roderigo to tell Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, that his daughter has left to marry Othello, a marriage Brabantio opposes because Othello is a Moor. Brabantio confronts Othello, and they take their argument to the Duke, who has summoned Othello to ask him to sail to Cyprus to stop a Turkish invasion. Convinced by Othello and Desdemona that they love each other deeply despite their differences, the Duke gives Desdemona permission to travel with Othello. By the time they reach Cyprus the foreign threat has gone.
Iago manipulates Cassio to make him drunk and gets Roderigo to draw him into a street fight. Iago has his revenge on Cassio when Othello strips Cassio of his rank for misbehavior. Then Iago decides to make Othello believe his wife is unfaithful. He encourages Cassio to ask Desdemona to plead with Othello to be reinstated. Iago suggests to Othello that Desdemona is Cassio’s lover. Trusting Iago, and mad with jealousy, Othello promotes Iago and asks Iago to help him kill Cassio and Desdemona.
Iago plants Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s room. Cassio gives it to his mistress, Bianca. Othello believes Bianca’s possession of the handkerchief is proof that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers. He verbally abuses his wife in front of others, who are shocked at the change in the noble and powerful man.
Iago has manipulated Roderigo into trying to kill Cassio. The attempt goes wrong, and Cassio wounds Roderigo; Iago stabs Cassio in the leg. Othello hears Cassio cry out and thinks Iago has killed him. He returns home, ready to kill Desdemona. Meanwhile, Iago “finds” the wounded Cassio and accuses Bianca of causing Cassio’s injury. Iago quietly kills Roderigo and sends Emilia (Iago’s wife) to Desdemona with news of what has happened.
Othello reaches the sleeping Desdemona first. He kisses her, wakes her, and accuses her again. Over her protests that she loves him and is innocent, he smothers her. Emilia enters and Desdemona revives for a moment, declaring herself guiltless but saying, as she dies, that Othello is innocent of her death. Iago and others enter, and Emilia defends Desdemona’s innocence, recognizing that Iago is behind the tragedy.Othello sees the truth and tries to kill Iago. Iago kills Emilia and flees; Othello condemns himself and commits suicide. Iago is seized and taken away.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
The play opens as the student Lucentio arrives in Padua. He hears that the merchant Baptista has two daughters, but the younger, prettier daughter, Bianca, cannot be married before her strong-willed sister, Katherina. On seeing Bianca Lucentio falls in love with her and changes identities with his servant Tranio. Bianca already has two suitors, but doesn’t like either. The elderly Gremio hires Lucentio, disguised as a Latin tutor, to woo Bianca on his behalf, while Hortensio disguises himself as a musician to get access to her. Meanwhile Petruchio, a young adventurer from Verona, arrives to visit his friend Hortensio. He learns about Katherina and decides to woo her, aided by both Gremio and Hortensio.
Baptista is enthusiastic about Petruchio’s suit because the feisty Katherina is a burden to him and is continually quarrelling with her sister and with him. Petruchio will not be put off as he woos Kate and he fixes their wedding day. At the church, where Kate unwillingly awaits him, Petruchio arrives in an absurd outfit and after the ceremony he leaves for Verona immediately, with his new wife. On reaching there Kate is mistreated by Petruchio and his servants, and is denied food and sleep. To teach her to obey him Petruchio does not allow her new clothes or a hat. Eventually, worn down by her husband’s relentless eccentricity, Kate submits and accepts all his eccentricities. They set off to visit her father in Padua.
On the journey the couple meet Vincentio, Lucentio’s wealthy father, who is subjected to a strange conversation as Petruchio tests Kate’s obedience. The three reach Padua where Hortensio, rejected by Bianca, has married a widow and Baptista has been tricked into believing a passing stranger is Tranio’s rich father. While Vincentio attempts to unravel the complexities of the situation his son Lucentio returns from a secret wedding with Bianca.
Nevertheless, Baptista holds a wedding feast for both his daughters. As the men relax after their meal Petruchio devises a competition to prove whose wife is the most obedient. Bianca and the widow fail to come to their husbands when called while Kate lectures the women on the duties of a wife.
The Earl of Gloucester introduces his illegitimate son, Edmund, to the Earl of Kent at court. Lear, King of Britain, enters. Now that he is old Lear has decided to abdicate, retire, and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. Each will receive a portion of the kingdom according to how much they love him. Goneril, Duchess of Albany, the oldest, and Regan, Duchess of Cornwall, the second, both speak eloquently and receive their portion but Cordelia, the youngest, can say nothing. Her declaration that she loves him according to a daughter’s duty to a father enrages him and she is disowned.
One of Cordelia’s suitors, the Duke of Burgundy, rejects her once she is dowerless but the King of France understands her declaration and takes her as his wife, while the Earl of Kent is banished for taking Cordelia’s part against the King. The kingdom is shared between Goneril and Regan. Lear tells them that he intends to live alternately with each of them.
Meanwhile, Edmund is determined to be recognised as a rightful son of Gloucester and persuades his father that his legitimate brother, Edgar, is plotting against Gloucester’s life, using a deceitful device. Edmund warns Edgar that his life is in danger. Edgar flees and disguises himself as a beggar. Goneril becomes increasingly exasperated by the behaviour of Lear’s hundred followers, who are disturbing life at Albany’s castle. Kent has returned in disguise and gains a place as a servant to Lear, supporting the King against Goneril’s ambitious servant, Oswald. Lear eventually curses Goneril and leaves to move in with Regan.
Edmund acts as a messenger between the sisters and is courted by each in turn. He persuades Cornwall that Gloucester is an enemy because, through loyalty to his King, Gloucester assists Lear and his devoted companion, the Fool, when they are turned away by Regan and told to return to Goneril’s household. Despairing of his daughters and regretting his rejection of Cordelia, Lear goes out into the wilderness during a fierce storm. He goes mad. Gloucester takes them into a hut for shelter and seeks the aid of Kent to get them away to the coast, where Cordelia has landed with a French army to fight for her father against her sisters and their husbands.
Edgar, pretending to be mad, has also taken refuge in the shelter and the Fool, the mad king and the beggar are companions until Edgar finds his father wandering and in pain. Gloucester has been blinded by Regan and Cornwall for his traitorous act in helping Lear. Cornwall has been killed by a servant after blinding Gloucester but Regan continues to rule with Edmund’s help. Not recognised by his father, Edgar leads him to the coast and helps him, during the journey, to come to an acceptance of his life. Gloucester meets the mad Lear on Dover beach, near Cordelia’s camp and, with Kent’s aid, Lear is rescued and re-united with Cordelia. Gloucester, although reconciled with Edgar, dies alone.
The French forces are defeated by Albany’s army led by Edmund, and Lear and Cordelia are captured. Goneril has poisoned Regan in jealous rivalry for Edmund’s attention but Edgar, disguised now as a loyal knight, challenges Edmund to a duel and wounds him mortally. Seeing no way out, Goneril kills herself. The dying Edmund confesses his crimes, but it is too late to save Cordelia from the hangman. Lear’s heart breaks as he carries the body of his beloved daughter in his arms, and Albany and Edgar are left to re-organize the kingdom.