Seducin' Along with Shakespeare

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shakespeare can be exasperating, whether you're scrambling to make sense of Mercutio's Queen Mab speech two hours before your high school final on Romeo and Juliet, sitting through your artsy girlfriend's ambiguously gay friend's op-art-techno-goth production of Timon of Athens, or just trying to discern why so many people are named "Pompey." But he can also teach us a lot. A wise teacher (or possibly a boozed-up derelict) once gave us this advice (possibly before voiding himself on our footwear): Choose a scene, passage, or dialogue, get an idea of the context, and read, reread, and rereread. Disregard the rest of the act or even play and focus on that one excerpt--take notes--and you may be disheartened to realize how much is going on. We, for example, applied it to this passage from Julius Caesar and were impressed with the profusion of subtext--you can practically read Cassius's thoughts.

Open with a neutral question, but phrase it as an invitation to subtly indicate interest

Will you go see the order of the course?

Moderately stern response; counter with playfully noncommittal

Not I.

Pause between ”you” and “do” – you want to sound encouraging, not eager

I pray you, do.

He’s talking more – a good sign – possible slight toward Antony would be good to follow up on, but not right now – the main objective is keeping his attention – the combination of mid-sentence address followed by immediate retreat is coy

I am not gamesome: I do lack some part
Of that quick spirit that is in Antony.
Let me not hinder, Cassius, your desires;
I'll leave you.

Make up a sympathetic, yet open-ended observation to let him think you care – flatter -- exaggerate the extent of your relationship; you’ll appear too nice a guy for him to call bullshit.

Brutus, I do observe you now of late:
I have not from your eyes that gentleness
And show of love as I was wont to have:
You bear too stubborn and too strange a hand
Over your friend that loves you.

You got him talking more – blah, blah, blah, conflicting passions – “Good friend; be you one” means you’re in. “Poor Brutus with himself at war”: schmaltzy self-pity – offer a consoling hand, but don’t appear too concerned or they’ll gas about their problems all night.

Be not deceived: if I have veil'd my look,
I turn the trouble of my countenance
Merely upon myself. Vexed I am
Of late with passions of some difference,
Conceptions only proper to myself,
Which give some soil perhaps to my behaviors;
But let not therefore my good friends be grieved--
Among which number, Cassius, be you one--
Nor construe any further my neglect,
Than that poor Brutus, with himself at war,
Forgets the shows of love to other men.

Reaffirm their loving nature while you allude to their situation, then gently sway the conversation toward yourself before they get too wrapped up in their woes. Mention you’ve been having some similarly deep and intriguing thoughts to get their interest, then change the subject again to keep it. Ask a lead-in to start casting doubt.

Then, Brutus, I have much mistook your passion;
By means whereof this breast of mine hath buried
Thoughts of great value, worthy cogitations.
Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?

Segue from the physical impossibility of self-reflection to imply that he can’t see what’s inside of him…but you can.

No, Cassius; for the eye sees not itself,
But by reflection, by some other things.

Flatter him again by telling him he’s worthy and that the people call out for him. The mention of Antony earlier suggests that it might be a good time to make an overt slight to Caesar, but nothing too radical – you don’t want to scare him off until he’s too far in to escape.

'Tis just:
And it is very much lamented, Brutus,
That you have no such mirrors as will turn
Your hidden worthiness into your eye,
That you might see your shadow. I have heard,
Where many of the best respect in Rome,
Except immortal Caesar, speaking of Brutus
And groaning underneath this age's yoke,
Have wish'd that noble Brutus had his eyes.

He’s wary, but he’s still talking. The fact that he responds with a direct question instead of flat-out ending the conversation indicates interest. Reaffirm your character and point out his admitted weaknesses

Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius,
That you would have me seek into myself
For that which is not in me?

Reaffirm his inability to see inside himself, reaffirm yourself as his "mirror" as well as your good character and honesty before slightly disparaging yourself so he'll start to defend your character.

Therefore, good Brutus, be prepared to hear:
And since you know you cannot see yourself
So well as by reflection, I, your glass,
Will modestly discover to yourself
That of yourself which you yet know not of.
And be not jealous on me, gentle Brutus:
Were I a common laugher, or did use
To stale with ordinary oaths my love
To every new protester; if you know
That I do fawn on men and hug them hard
And after scandal them, or if you know
That I profess myself in banqueting
To all the rout, then hold me dangerous.