Michael Macrone
Books
Be Thou Now Persuaded cover
Be Thou Now Persuaded Living in a Shakespearean World
Compact Disc Box Set : Rhino, 1999
Amazon  |  Discogs
This out-of-print six-CD box set of Shakespeare performances came with a book that features my synopses of the Bard's works. Enjoy!
Comedies

The Comedy of Errors

A Syracusan master and servant named Antipholus and Dromio have each a lost identical twin, also named Antipholus and Dromio. One day the Syracusan pair lands in Ephesus, where, unbeknownst to them, their brothers are living. Also unbeknownst to them, the masters’ father is under arrest in Ephesus, where his lost wife is an abbess. In a hilarious series of mix-ups, all the twins get mistaken for one another, as spouses, friends, a courtesan and an exorcist all think “their” twins are mad. After numerous arguments and beatings, the truth emerges, and the twins and parents reunite.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Or rather, One Gentleman, since the other’s a cad. The good guy, Valentine, travels to Milan to try his fortune, and there he falls in love with Silvia, the duke’s daughter. His “friend” Proteus soon follows, also falling for Silvia, though he’s got a girlfriend (Julia) back home in Verona. Proteus gets Valentine evicted from Milan, but Silvia still won’t give him the time of day. Julia arrives, disguised as a boy, to witness her lover’s treachery. In a forest, Proteus attempts to rape Silvia, but Valentine intervenes and Julia faints. Everyone inexplicably forgives Proteus, and Valentine wins Silvia’s hand.

The Taming of the Shrew

The wealthy Baptista of Padua has two daughters: shrewish Katherina, the elder, and demure Bianca, who’s forbidden to marry before her sister. Things look bad for Bianca’s three suitors until Petruchio arrives from Verona; while he doesn’t care for Kate’s attitude, he loves her dowry, so he resolves to “tame” her, marry her, and bag the loot.

Petruchio’s plan is to give Kate a major dose of her own medicine. After negotiating the match with Baptista—and ignoring Kate’s abuse—he turns the tables. He’s deliberately late for the wedding, where he arrives in filthy clothes on a broken horse; he shouts and swears during the ceremony, and then drags Kate off through the mud to his country house, without attending the reception. Once home, it’s more of the same, only worse, which drives Kate to exhaustion and cures her of her taste for trouble.

Back in Padua, Lucentio, the best of Bianca’s suitors, has outwitted his rivals through an elaborate scheme of disguise and pretense. But once he and Bianca are wed, she begins to show her true colors, turning shrewish. The tamed Kate then gives a long speech on the duty of wives to utterly submit to their superior husbands.

Love’s Labor’s Lost

King Ferdinand of Navarre persuades three of his courtiers, plus a few other fools, to join him in three years of austere study—no fun or women allowed. This rule proves to be a problem when the Princess of France arrives, on a mission of state, with her retinue of three lovely ladies. The men of course all fall madly in love with the women, embarking an embarrassing round of folly, deceit, and dishonor. After the princess hears that her father has died, the ladies all reject their wooers, condemning them to a year of suffering for breaking their oaths.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Hermia loves Lysander, but her father Egeus insists that she marry Demetrius, who’s jilted Helena. Duke Theseus backs Egeus, so Hermia and Lysander flee Athens. Demetrius and Helena follow in hot pursuit.

In the forest, Oberon and Titania, fairy monarchs, have a spat. In revenge, Oberon orders the fairy Puck to drop nectar on her sleeping eyes so that she’ll fall in love with the next creature she sees. Oberon, observing Demetrius’s cruelty to Helena, also bids Puck to fix that situation with more of the nectar. But Puck goofs, mistaking Lysander for Demetrius, so that Lysander ends up falling in love with Helena, who still loves Demetrius, who still loves Hermia, who still loves Lysander.

In the midst of this confusion, a group of bumbling artisans arrives in the forest to rehearse a play for the wedding of Theseus to the Amazon queen, Hippolyta. Mischievous Puck gives the weaver Bottom the head of an ass, and Titania falls for this monster.

Oberon finally charms the right lovers—so Demetrius loves Helena again, and Lysander Hermia—and cures Titania of her folly. Back in Athens, the two young couples are married along with Theseus and Hippolyta. During the festivities, the artisans stage a travesty, to much smug ridicule from the aristocrats.

The Merchant of Venice

To help his friend Bassanio woo Portia, a country heiress, the merchant Antonio applies for a loan from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. As Antonio has abused him before for charging interest—and for simply being a Jew—Shylock proposes a special deal: he will charge no interest on the loan, but if Antonio defaults then Shylock will get to cut off a pound of his flesh.

By choosing correctly among three caskets in a Renaissance version of Let’s Make a Deal, Bassanio wins Portia’s hand. But then disaster strikes: Antonio loses some ships and sea and defaults on the loan, so Shylock demands his pound of flesh. The Duke of Venice, unable to dissuade him, calls in an outside legal expert to help judge the case. The “expert”—actually Portia in disguise—also pleads for mercy and fails, but then beats Shylock at his own game. He can have his pound of flesh; but if he takes so much as a drop of Antonio’s blood—which wasn’t mentioned in the bond—he’ll be put to death. Shylock retreats, but too late; half his estate is seized, and he’s forced to convert to Christianity.

Much Ado about Nothing

Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, arrives in Messina to visit his friend Leonato. With him are his evil brother, Don John; Benedick, who wages a “wit war” with Leonato’s niece, Beatrice; and the callow Claudio, who winds up engaged to Leonato’s shy daughter, Hero.

In a merry mood, Pedro maneuvers Beatrice and Benedick into a love trap: Benedick eavesdrops on his friends as they swear that Beatrice loves him, and Beatrice eavesdrops on her friends as they swear Benedick loves her. The two gulls swallow the bait, which proves they were already at least half in love.

Hating all this happiness, Don John arranges his own deception. He gets one of his henchmen to have a girl dress in Hero’s clothes for an amorous meeting. When John brings Pedro and Claudio to view this scene, they mistake the girl for Hero and are convinced that Claudio’s engaged to a slut. On their wedding day, Claudio marches up to the altar and heaps abuse on Hero, then stalks off with Pedro after she faints.

Hero pretends to be dead until her innocence is proved, whereupon Claudio repents and is allowed to marry her. Beatrice and Benedick trade a few last desperate barbs but then march to the altar themselves.

As You Like It

The evil Frederick has usurped his elder brother, Duke Senior, who now holds court in exile in the Forest of Arden. Another bad brother, Oliver, abuses and cheats his younger sibling Orlando, who also flees to the forest, after falling in love with Duke Senior’s daughter Rosalind, best friend of Frederick’s daughter Celia. Soon enough, Rosalind and Celia wind up in Arden too, with Rosalind disguised as the young man “Ganymede.” To cure Orlando of his love-sickness, “Ganymede” satirizes romance, even as Rosalind secretly falls deeper in love with Orlando. Meanwhile, the jester Touchstone makes a witty hash of country life, and the melancholy Jaques looks on the dark side of everything.

The fun is interrupted when Oliver, on Frederick’s orders, enters the forest in search of Orlando, Rosalind, and Celia. When he’s attacked by a snake and a lioness, Orlando rescues him. The brothers make up, and for good measure Oliver proposes to Celia. The next visitor is Frederick, who is also cured of his evil ways when he finds religion in transit. With all threats removed, Rosalind reveals herself to Orlando and they marry, joined in a quadruple wedding by Oliver and Celia, Touchstone and a country wench, and a pair of risible rustics.

Twelfth Night

Shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, young Viola dresses up as the boy “Cesario” to become a page to Duke Orsino, who fruitlessly courts the indifferent countess Olivia. At Olivia’s place, her puritanical steward (and admirer) Malvolio tries to stamp out the rowdy fun of Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, and his merry cohorts, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (another suitor), Maria (her gentlewoman), and Feste (her jester).

Orsino sends the disguised Viola with petitions of love to Olivia. But Olivia falls instead for Cesario, who is herself in love with Orsino, in the classic Shakespearean triangle. Elsewhere, Toby and Maria humiliate Malvolio by forging a cryptic love letter, supposedly from Olivia. Following its cues, Malvolio acts so bizarrely that Olivia thinks he’s mad, and his enemies lock him in a dark cell, where Feste taunts him.

Meanwhile, Viola’s twin brother Sebastian, who’d been lost in the shipwreck, arrives on the scene and is of course confused with his disguised sister. When Sir Andrew picks a fight with his rival Cesario, he winds up being trounced by Sebastian. Then Olivia whisks Sebastian off to be wed, after which Viola doffs her disguise and is married to an admiring Orsino. The abused Malvolio storms off in a pique, vowing revenge.

Troilus and Cressida

The Trojan War grinds on and on, as various so-called heroes bluster, sulk, and preen. The lustful Trojan Troilus enlists his prurient friend Pandarus to procure him an amorous meeting with the latter’s coquettish niece, Cressida. This takes half the play to achieve, but the result is one hot night in bed and mutual oaths of fidelity. But when Cressida is traded to the Greeks, she abandons her vows and falls into the arms of Diomedes, as Troilus looks on. A bloody battle ensues, marked by scenes of vanity and cowardice, as the Greek cynic Thersites looks on and mocks.

All’s Well That Ends Well

For saving his life, the French King grants Helena the choice of any courtier for a husband. She chooses the petulant Bertram, who runs straight off to Italy without even kissing the bride, insisting that until Helena can get a ring off his finger and show him a child she’s begotten by him, he’ll never acknowledge her as his wife. Helena goes underground, traveling incognito to Florence, where she manages to slip into bed with Bertram, who mistakes her for somebody else. She gets his ring in the bargain, and when he returns to France she shows him the ring and announces she’s pregnant. So Bertram gives up.

Measure for Measure

The lenient Duke of Vienna turns his government over to the puritanical Angelo and then goes into hiding disguised as a friar. Angelo wastes no time cracking down, condemning Claudio to death for fornication. When Claudio’s sister, Isabella, pleads with Angelo for mercy, Angelo, lust-stricken, says that if she’ll fornicate with him, he’ll let Claudio go. Isabella refuses, until the disguised duke convinces her to agree, letting Angelo’s jilted fiancée take her place in bed. The ploy succeeds, but Angelo tries to execute Claudio anyway, another bit of treachery the duke manages to foil. In the end, Angelo is exposed and humiliated, and the duke grabs Isabella for himself.

Histories

King John

John’s rise to the English throne over the better claims of his nephew Arthur leads to a series of wars with France. He then defies the Pope and is excommunicated. When Arthur is captured, John orders him killed; though the attempt fails, Arthur dies in an accident and John is blamed anyway. John retreats to an abbey, where he’s poisoned by a resentful monk.

Richard II

King Richard, whose riotous tax-and-spend policies have already made him unpopular, disastrously mishandles a spat between two hotheaded noblemen—one his nephew Henry Bolingbroke—by sending them both into exile. Worse, when Henry’s father dies, Richard seizes the estate to finance an Irish excursion. With Richard out of England, Bolingbroke returns to reclaim his inheritance; but when the scale of Richard’s unpopularity becomes clear, he starts getting bigger ideas. Once Richard returns, Henry swiftly deposes him, becoming Henry IV and leaving Richard to wallow in poetic self-pity until one of Henry’s flunkies kills him.

Henry IV, Parts 1–2

While his son Prince Hal runs riot in London, King Henry is beset by rebellious barons in the provinces. The rebels are a motley crew, but in Henry “Hotspur” Percy they have an impressive champion. While Percy dreams of honor in battle, Hal passes his days cavorting in a dubious tavern with the decrepit Sir John Falstaff, until they’re summoned to battle. To everyone’s surprise, Hal fights courageously, rescues the king, and slays Hotspur—a deed for which the coward Falstaff takes credit.

The rebels regroup under Northumberland (Hotspur’s father) and the Archbishop of York. King Henry, never all that healthy, grows more ill as the rebels swing into action. While Henry moans about how hard it is to be king, Northumberland has a change of heart, and Hal and Falstaff return again to the field to battle the Archbishop. Hal’s brother John brokers a deal with the rebels, but when they give up, they’re promptly executed.

Though victorious, Henry IV dies soon after, having mended fences with Hal, who’s crowned Henry V. When Falstaff appears, looking for favors, the king rebukes him and expels the fat knight from London.

Henry V

Egged on by scheming prelates who stand to gain from war, Henry lays a dubious claim to large portions of France. When the French reply with scorn, Henry sails the channel with a ragtag army. He takes the town of Harfleur before moving on to Agincourt, where the English face a much larger, but also much sillier, French force. Henry rallies his men with stirring speeches; battle is joined; and, unbelievably, the English lose only 25 men as they slay 10,000 Frenchmen. Henry’s happiness is sealed when he wins the French princess as part of a settlement.

Henry VI, Parts 1–3

Henry begins his reign as a child and ends it as a weakling, doing very little in between. He does manage to lose his father’s French conquests, thanks partly to Joan of Arc, and to marry the French femme fatale Margaret, who’s trouble from the get-go. But Henry can only stand helplessly by while his faction, the Lancastrians, loses the Wars of the Roses to the Yorkists. In the end the three York brothers—Edward, Clarence, and Richard—stab Henry’s heir; Richard finishes the job by murdering Henry; and Edward takes the throne.

Richard III

The Yorkists have won (see Henry VI), and Edward IV reigns over England; but his deformed and envious brother, Richard, won’t be happy until he himself is king. To this end, Richard first has his brother Clarence murdered, and soon after Edward falls ill and dies. Richard promptly locks up Edward’s sons in the Tower of London, then executes anyone else who fails his loyalty tests.

When the populace starts to get restless, Richard and his pal Buckingham stage a phony show of Richard’s great virtue and total indifference to power. The crowd at least pretends to buy the act, so they offer Richard the crown he pretends not to want. As resistance forms at home and in France—where Richmond, the last son of Henry VI, stews in exile—Richard goes on a spree. He gets rid of his wife, has Edward’s sons smothered, and executes Buckingham while he’s at it.

Richard marches to meet Richmond at Bosworth Field. But the night before the battle, the ghosts of all his victims arrive to curse Richard and bless Richmond. The next day, Richard loses his horse, and then Richmond kills him. It was a pretty brief reign, but fun while it lasted.

Tragedies

Titus Andronicus

The Roman general Titus defeats the Goths, captures their queen, Tamora, and then sacrifices one of her sons. When Tamora marries the Roman emperor Saturninus, Titus’s troubles begin. Two of Tamora’s sons, urged on by her lover Aaron, rape Titus’s daughter Lavinia, then cut off her hands and tongue. Saturninus executes two of Titus’s sons on trumped-up charges, before Lavinia manages to identify her attackers. Titus, gone mad, traps Tamora’s sons, chops them to bits, and feeds them in a pie to their mother. In the bloody conclusion, Titus kills Lavinia and Tamora, Saturninus kills Titus, and Titus’s last son takes over the state, commanding that Aaron be starved to death.

Romeo and Juliet

The Prince of Verona orders a halt to the bloody feud between two Veronese families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Later, at the Capulets’ masked ball, Romeo (a Montague) spies old Capulet’s daughter Juliet (age: 13) and is immediately infatuated. Juliet likewise falls completely for Romeo, even as her father is arranging to marry her off to a fancy young gentleman named Paris.

Romeo and Juliet declaim some poetry in the dark; the next day they’re married by Romeo’s confidant, Friar Laurence. Then Romeo and his friends Benvolio and the foul-mouthed Mercutio run into Tybalt, an angry Capulet. Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo kills Tybalt, and the Prince throws Romeo out of the city.

Juliet’s parents—still in the dark—step up their campaign to marry her off to Paris. At her wits’ end, Juliet runs to Laurence for advice. He feeds her a sleeping potion that will make her look dead, until Romeo can return to fetch her away. But even Romeo is fooled, and he sneaks back to poison himself at Juliet’s tomb, killing Paris along the way. Juliet awakes, brushes Laurence off, and then stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger. Old Capulet and Montague arrive next, observe the bloody denouement, and decide that enough is enough.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, flush with recent victories, begins to affect the airs of a king, if not of a god. During the Roman feast of Lupercalia, a soothsayer warns him to beware the Ides (15th) of March, but Caesar, though superstitious, dismisses the advice, believing himself invulnerable. Caesar’s arrogance and seeming ambition spur a gang of envious aristocrats, led by Cassius, to plot an assassination. To lend their scheme credibility, Cassius persuades the honorable Brutus, Caesar’s friend, to be the front man.

On the Ides, despite ill omens, Caesar ventures to the Senate, expecting to be offered a crown. Instead, he’s offered a bouquet of daggers, the most cutting that of his former friend: “Et tu, Brute!” Marcus Antonius, Caesar’s right-hand man, outwardly submits to the assassins but secretly plans revenge. After Brutus’s plodding oration justifying Caesar’s death, Antony inflames the crowd with a brilliant speech on Caesar’s virtues, and the conspirators flee the city.

Next, Antony joins forces with Octavius, Caesar’s steely heir, and with Lepidus. Brutus and Cassius fall to squabbling, but after making up they decide to meet their enemies at Philippi. Haunted by Caesar’s ghost and foiled by poor communications, Brutus and Cassius fall on their swords.

Hamlet

Old King Hamlet of Denmark has been murdered by his brother Claudius, who then marries the widowed queen, Gertrude. The old king’s ghost tells his son Hamlet what happened, and Hamlet vows revenge. His lover Ophelia grows distant, on the advice of her busybody father, Polonius, the new king’s counselor.

Hamlet acts insane and thinks some more on revenge. Claudius gets two of Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on him. Hamlet puts on a play at court that shows Claudius the prince is wise. Hamlet thinks some more on revenge. While yelling at his mother, Hamlet kills Polonius behind a curtain. Claudius decides to pack Hamlet off to England, with secret orders that he be executed.

Things don’t go as Claudius planned. Hamlet escapes, leaving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to the fate meant for him. Ophelia goes mad and sings naughty songs before drowning herself. Her brother, Laertes, vows revenge, and teams up with Claudius to plot Hamlet’s death.

Hamlet and Laertes have a fencing match. Laertes mortally wounds Hamlet. Hamlet kills Laertes. The queen drinks poison, and then Hamlet kills Claudius. Four new bodies are now littered across the stage, which brings the death toll to eight, not even counting the old king.

Othello

Othello, a successful Venetian general but also a simple and credulous Moor, elopes with Desdemona, fair daughter of Senator Brabantio. Brabantio’s outrage—stoked by Othello’s envious ensign, Iago—fails to scotch the mixed marriage. But on the very day of their wedding, Othello is ordered to sail for Cyprus to head off a Turkish attack. He’s followed by Desdemona, Iago, Iago’s wife, Iago’s dupe Roderigo, and the lieutenant Cassio (whom Iago despises).

Though the Turks never arrive, Othello is still in peril. The evil genius Iago hatches a cruel device to simultaneously disgrace Cassio and wreck the Moor’s marriage. First, he gets Cassio drunk and then dismissed from service. Then, as Desdemona intercedes on Cassio’s behalf, Iago employs a mix of lewd persuasion and circumstantial evidence to convince Othello that she’s been sleeping with Cassio. With Othello’s blessing, Iago sends Roderigo to murder Cassio, but Roderigo blows it so Iago stabs him.

The insanely jealous Othello grows more and more abusive to the innocent Desdemona. When he’s recalled to Venice—leaving Cassio in charge of Cyprus—Othello snaps. He suffocates his wife in bed, only to discover that he’s been thoroughly duped by Iago. Othello kills himself, and Iago is led silently off to execution.

King Lear

For refusing to gratify his ego, King Lear of Britain disinherits his loving daughter Cordelia, dividing his kingdom between his other two daughters, the flattering vipers Goneril and Regan. The good king of France rescues and marries Cordelia, while Goneril and Regan begin disempowering their father.

Meanwhile, another old fool, the Earl of Gloucester, disinherits his good son Edgar when his bad son, the bastard Edmund, claims that Edgar is trying to kill him. Fearing for his own life, Edgar goes into hiding, disguised as the madman Tom O’Bedlam.

Abused and shut out by his evil daughters, Lear wanders the stormy countryside, ranting madly against human corruption and filial ingratitude. Alerted to her father’s plight, Cordelia lands at Dover with a French army and contacts Gloucester, who rescues Lear from the storm. For this good deed, Gloucester has his eyes put out by Regan’s husband, Cornwall, who dies soon after. Blind old Gloucester eventually stumbles on Tom O’Bedlam, and the pair heads for Dover.

The British forces under Regan, Goneril, and Edmund defeat the French, taking Lear and Cordelia prisoner. Then the corpses begin piling up. Goneril, who’s having an affair with Edmund, poisons Regan, who wants to. Edgar slays Edmund, while off-stage Gloucester dies of remorse. Goneril commits suicide, and Cordelia, on Edmund’s orders, has been hanged. To cap things off, Lear dies of a broken heart.

Macbeth

Bedeviled by the ambivalent prophecies of three “weird sisters,” and spurred to action by his power-hungry wife, Macbeth murders his cousin, King Duncan of Scotland, while the king is a guest at his castle. As Macbeth himself is crowned king, Duncan’s son Malcolm flees to England, where he’s joined by Macbeth’s nemesis, the virtuous Macduff.

Other prophecies lead Macbeth to more depraved crimes. He sends assassins to murder his friend Banquo, believing Banquo’s heirs will supplant his own. (Banquo dies, but his son Fleance escapes.) Then Macbeth dispatches more killers to take care of Macduff’s family. Guilt-wracked and jittery, Macbeth takes some comfort in the witches’ claim that no man born of woman can ever harm him, and that he shall rule Scotland until Birnam Wood marches on his castle at Dunsinane.

Malcolm and Macduff lead an English army into Scotland. For camouflage, Malcolm suggests they hold up branches cut from trees in Birnam Wood; thus equipped, they advance toward Dunsinane.

Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth, who’s gone mad from guilt, commits suicide, as Macbeth muses that life is a meaningless tale told by an idiot. When he hears that Birnam Wood is actually marching on his castle, Macbeth panics, but then recalls that no man born of woman can harm him. Macduff, a man not “born” but rather delivered by Cesarean section, kills Macbeth in the final battle.

Antony and Cleopatra

Marc Antony, who rules the Roman Empire with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus (see Julius Caesar), falls under the spell of the bewitching queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Her exotic pleasures distract him from his duties, which results in several disasters and which severely strains his relationship with Caesar. Antony rushes back to Rome to patch things up, and he even marries Caesar’s sister.

But Cleopatra’s charms are too alluring, and Antony soon returns to Egypt, where he and the queen proclaim themselves lords of the eastern empire. Octavius, who’s already disposed of Lepidus, decides to stage a showdown with Antony. Cleopatra proves an unsteady ally, deserting Antony in a sea battle and then pondering a deal with Caesar. Unwisely, Antony soldiers on, even though most of his forces and friends have deserted.

When Antony next meets Caesar at Alexandria, Cleopatra’s fickle navy defects, all but dooming Antony’s cause. To escape her angry lover, Cleopatra feigns suicide. When Antony hears that she’s dead, he falls on his sword, but survives long enough to be carried off to Cleopatra’s monument, where he discovers he’s killed himself for nothing. Knowing that Caesar will make her a public mockery, Cleopatra kills herself for real with poisonous asps, joining Antony in some pagan afterlife.

Coriolanus

When Martius, a haughty Roman aristocrat, defeats the venomous Volsces at Corioles, his bravery earns him the title “Coriolanus.” It also earns him a nomination for Consul, but his disdain for the masses is so severe, and their hatred of him so intense, that he’s forced to quit the city altogether. Vowing revenge, Coriolanus joins forces with his erstwhile enemies, the Volsces, and leads them back against Rome. On the verge of taking the city, Coriolanus is stopped in his tracks by his mother, the overpowering Volumnia. When Coriolanus pulls back, the Volsces lynch him.

Romances

Pericles

Pericles, Prince of Tyre, is returning home by sea after a forced absence when his wife Thaisa seemingly dies in childbirth. Fearing the baby, Marina, might not survive the trip either, Pericles deposits her in Tarsus and then forgets to pick her up for 14 years. When he finally returns, he’s told Marina is dead, which strikes him dumb with grief. Actually, Marina’s been sold by pirates to a pimp in Mytilene, though she’s so virtuous that she reforms all her customers. Pericles wanders the seas aimlessly until he lands in Mytilene and is joyfully reunited with Marina. And on Ephesus they discover Thaisa, alive after all!

Cymbeline

When Princess Imogen of Britain marries the poor but noble-spirited Posthumus instead of her worthless half-brother Cloten, King Cymbeline banishes Posthumus. In Italy, Posthumus is duped by the schemer Iachimo, who “proves” that Imogen has slept with him. Enraged, Posthumus orders his servant Pisanio to murder Imogen, but Pisanio helps her escape in disguise to Wales. There she meets two noble savages who will turn out to be her long-lost brothers. One of them beheads Cloten, whose corpse Imogen mistakes for Posthumus. Iachimo leads a Roman army against Britain, but Posthumus and the lost princes defeat him. In the aftermath, Iachimo admits that Imogen is innocent, and everyone who was supposed lost or dead is reunited.

The Winter’s Tale

Consumed by irrational jealousy, King Leontes of Sicilia tries but fails to poison his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, then imprisons his pregnant wife, Hermione. When a daughter is born, Leontes orders her killed, but the baby, Perdita, is abandoned in Bohemia instead. Leontes’ son dies of grief and Hermione is reported dead as well, which brings Leontes, too late, to his senses.

Sixteen years later, Perdita, now a shepherdess, falls in love with Polixenes’ son Florizel. Polixenes tries to break this up, so Perdita and Florizel sail to Sicilia, where Perdita discovers her true identity. When Polixenes follows, the kings make up, and then Hermione amazingly emerges from hiding.

The Tempest

Prospero, the ousted Duke of Milan, studies magic on a remote desert island, where he lives with his lovely daughter Miranda, his deformed native slave Caliban, and a handful of helpful spirits. When his usurping brother Antonio sails nearby with his co-conspirator, King Alonso of Naples, plus other fellows both guilty and innocent, Prospero shipwrecks them.

With the aid of the spirit Ariel, Prospero toys with the stranded party like puppets. Alonso’s virtuous son Ferdinand is whisked off to meet Miranda, and the pair falls in love. A plot between Antonio and Alonso’s brother Sebastian to kill Alonso is defused. Caliban falls under the influence of two fools and their wine and dreams of murdering Prospero, but doesn’t get very far.

After thoroughly testing Ferdinand’s character, Prospero throws his daughter an engagement party, while Ariel tricks and taunts the evil trio of Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian. Believing Ferdinand dead, Alonso repents, but the other two remain defiant until they’re all brought to Prospero’s cave and given a stern lecture. Prospero lays aside his magic and prepares to resume his rightful place in Milan. Ferdinand and Miranda are produced, the ship is repaired, and everyone makes merry before the big trip home.

Narrative Poems

Venus and Adonis

The love-goddess Venus lusts after Adonis, a rather undersexed youth. Though she exerts all her considerable charms, coming pretty close to raping him, Adonis boldly resists, making perfectly clear that he’s rather be hunting. He finally gets his wish, only to be gored in the groin by a boar.

The Rape of Lucrece

That Lucrece is the chastest of all Roman wives only pricks the lust of Tarquin, son of Rome’s king. One night, while her husband is gone, Tarquin breaks into Lucrece’s bedchamber and rapes her. After making her family swear to avenge her, Lucrece stabs herself to death. With the aid of Junius Brutus, Lucrece’s family drives the Tarquin clan out of Rome, and with them goes the monarchy.

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