Plays

Watching A Doll’s House at GCC

Written by Finch Pierson (He/they)

I watched A Doll’s House on the second Friday in which it was produced at Grove City College. Overall, I enjoyed the play, and it was interesting to witness the impact it had on the others in attendance. Putting the play in arena style was an interesting choice and from what I heard from others who were able to see the play multiple times, the different places in the theater gave a different experience.

I thought the use of multiple different sources and types of light gave an interesting effect to the stage. The blue lights on the steps were beautiful and gave the edges of the stage a peculiar and icy look. The added use of lamps, a candle, and a chandelier as well as overhead lights, gave the room a strange warmth to combat the blue. The frozen appearance of the steps contrasted the warm lights that fell upon the stage and gave a feeling of separation. The relative darkness in the rest of the theater made the stage feel even more confined and constrained until it felt like it was choking the characters, mainly Nora.

I found the omission of the children to be interesting. The children that Nora left behind are often a source of debate among viewers are they are seen by some as something that should have kept Nora from leaving, though many others disagree on this. I heard that there were, even still are, arguments after the play over whether or not she should have left the abusive relationship. But I didn’t witness or hear any of these directly.

 I believe that Nora was right in leaving for many reasons. No one is obligated to stay in an abusive relationship and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for leaving one. I have known many people who were in abusive and terrible relationships who decided to stay instead. These people all soon began to take out their anger on others, namely the kids.  A parent staying doesn’t instantly mean a better life for the kids. Their lives could be better with only one parent or with a new parent, in a new home, with a new family, etc.

I think this relates to the idea people seem to have, that children need a man and woman as parents to be okay. They argue that Nora was depriving them of something necessary to them, that by leaving she took away the only presence of femininity in their lives. I would say that she left the children well in the care of the maid who raised her. Regardless though, this idea that a child needs both a mother and a father, doesn’t hold true, people who have LGBTQ+ parents and who live in a single parent household can also grow up healthily and happily.

A Doll’s House is still a very influential play and is often referenced in various media. In the popular series BoJack Horseman, A Doll’s House is referenced as a play that deeply affected the character, Beatrice Horseman. Beatrice was character who felt trapped in a situation very similar to Nora’s. This comment in the show, when understood through the lens of knowledge of Ibsen’s work, added to the depth of the character of Beatrice Horseman. “Last night she went to see A Doll’s House with a couple of girlfriends, and now she had ideas” is how her husband talks about it, he then mentioned how she “locked herself in the bedroom to weep… loudly” (“Free Churro” BoJack Horseman). Knowing the context of the play allows for a better understanding of Beatrice and makes it easier to appreciate her character. Later in this same show the titular character is shown to be directing a production of Hedda Gabler in prison. The importance of Ibsen’s works within the Horseman family adds to their characters only when one understands these plays. They appear throughout books and songs. The influence of Ibsen’s works is present across many forms of media. Interestingly enough, several characters in the series BoJack Horseman demonstrate, to some extent, what could have happened if Nora had stayed. Beatrice Horseman stayed and ended up taking out her frustration on her son BoJack. Beatrice’s mother Honey also stayed in a bad marriage and was rewarded for it by being lobotomized after having a breakdown. After this Honey was no longer fully able to remember Beatrice. The trauma caused by this, by someone not leaving or feeling like they couldn’t escape, bled down onto Beatrice. This extended the family trauma and led the cycles of abuse to continue.

Nora helps people to understand themselves by being a relatable character. And she helps people to understand other, whether those others be actual people or just characters. It helped me understand myself and to some extent others as well. The play can be used as a format for understanding many characters and situations. I personally related to the play and to Nora when I read it (and still do). It affected me in that it forced me to process some traumatic memories and events in my past. The play brought forth many emotions and memories until it left a lingering effect on me. While watching the play at GCC I was able to witness others reacting to the play for the first time.

Overall, I feel that the production at GCC did justice to the original play. While using an alternate version to omit the children, it had a different effect than it could have. Many people get hung up on the idea of the children and removing them from view really allowed the audience to focus more on Nora. And though it still led to intense debate, it seemingly made the debate more balanced. The choices of lighting and costumes suited the play well and the feeling of being in the house but in the shadowy outside as well is a strange feeling. The actors played their roles incredibly well and moved naturally in their costumes that I would have expected people to struggle to navigate in. The music seemed to fit the themes of the play well and fit with the atmosphere and made some note of the play’s Norwegian setting. The props and set were all stunning. The only complaint I would have would be the audience opening the outside doors broke the sense of reality of the play.

Works Cited

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Directed by Betsy Craig, Grove City College Theater Program, 2022, The Little Theater, Grove City.

“Free Churro.” BoJack Horseman, written by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, directed by Amy Winfrey, Netflix, 14, September, 2018.

Plays

Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine: Beatrice, Imogen, Viola, or Rosalind?

Intro

I wrote the essay adapted below for my Shakespeare class at Grove City College. Out of four heroines from Shakespeare, I chose the best heroine. Now, I haven’t read all of Shakespeare, so this is just out of these four plays: Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbeline, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Analysis

Shakespeare is famous for creating strong heroines who win over their audience with stunning lines and autonomous, creative decisions. To analyze these heroines properly, the definition of a heroine must be considered. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a heroine is a “woman distinguished by the performance of courageous or noble actions” and “a woman generally admired or acclaimed for her great qualities or achievements.” While this definition is suitable for real-life heroines, a great heroine in a play must have the added quality of being a great protagonist. To be a great protagonist, one should be a character who exhibits a range of emotions, changes over the course of the play, and is complex and engaging. Among Shakespeare’s heroines, those who stand out by fitting these criteria are Beatrice, Imogen, Viola, and Rosalind. Only one, however, can be considered Shakespeare’s greatest heroine. Arguably, the one who best demonstrates the qualities outlined above is Rosalind, the protagonist of Twelfth Night, who is distinguishable from the rest by her adaptability, by her role as deus ex machina, and by her function as the epilogue at the end of her play.

Another definition of heroine from the Oxford English Dictionary is “the central female character in a story, play, film, etc.; esp. one whom the reader or audience is intended to support or admire.” This definition is broader and thus applies easily to Beatrice, Imogen, Viola, and Rosalind. Due to its broadness, this definition alone is not sufficient for analyzing the heroines, but combined with the previous criteria, it does serve as a proper basis for analysis. As a result, the greatest heroine must be a distinguished woman who acts as a worthy protagonist and induces admiration in her audience; she also must be superior to the other heroines in some way.

The first heroine, Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, is the wittiest among the four. Her trained tongue always turns the conversation in her favor. When poking fun at Benedick and attempting to gauge his success during the war, Beatrice quips, “But how many hath he killed? For indeed I promised to eat all of his killing” (Much Ado About Nothing 1.2.41-42). Rather than simply stating that she believes Benedick is incompetent, she brings up a wager she made with Benedick that reveals her expectations of his failures. Beatrice has more fun at his expense, saying “he is no less a stuffed man. But for the stuffing—well, we are all mortal” (Much Ado About Nothing 1.1.55-56) This is to say that he has the personality of a scarecrow or taxidermic creation, lacking depth and only at best having the label of a mere mortal. Her wit is further demonstrated when she and Benedick are in disguise at a party. Knowing very well who it is she is speaking to, she says of Benedick that “he is the Prince’s jester, a very dull fool” (Much Ado About Nothing 2.1.131). Even Benedick comments on her masterful usage of wit, saying “Thou hast frighted the word out of his right sense, so forcible is thy wit” (Much Ado About Nothing 5.2.53-54).

Beatrice has other positive qualities, such as a deep sense of empathy for her family. Beatrice’s love for Hero is evident when her cousin is falsely slandered. The injustice done to Hero wounds Beatrice almost as much. “Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?” Benedick asks her, revealing her profound sorrow (Much Ado About Nothing 4.1.255). In general though, she is cheerful, which is demonstrated by Don Pedro’s comment: “In faith, lady, you have a merry heart” (Much Ado About Nothing 2.1.298). Moreover, her convictions are strong. When Benedick asks what he can do for her and their love, she says “Kill Claudio” without a second’s hesitation  (Much Ado About Nothing 4.1.288). In addition, she is a well-rounded protagonist who changes to recognize the love within herself by the end of the play.

These qualities all are becoming of the ideal heroine, but Beatrice also has several shortcomings. For instance, “though Beatrice and Benedick pride themselves on the acuity of their mental eyesight, one of their most striking traits is a kind of tunnel vision not far removed from blindness” (King 148). Beatrice is no love expert; in fact, she is incapable of acknowledging her own feelings for Benedick until she thinks that he is fallen in love with her. It is almost as if she is tricked into loving Benedick, although she likely had some residual feelings for him after their first affair that was alluded to multiple times within the play. Furthermore, “Beatrice is far less aware that she is a superb illustration of self-admiration” (King 147). Part of the reason she is set on remaining a bachelor is because of her pride—no man is good enough for her, bearded or otherwise (Much Ado About Nothing 2.1.31-36). Because of her negative qualities, she falls short of the greatest heroine.

Imogen from the play Cymbeline embodies many of the traits expected in a heroine. According to Bonnie Lander, “Imogen was celebrated as the perfect embodiment of Victorian and feminine traits: she was the supreme product of her age, a textual figure shaped exclusively for and by her culture” (158). She is brave and autonomous, willing to go against her father — “His daughter…hath referred herself unto a poor but worthy gentleman” when she was “purposed to his wife’s sole son” (Cymbeline 1.1.5-7). Her integrity is worthy of remark, since she rejects Iachimo with indignation when he suggests they take revenge on Posthumus by having an affair. Imogen rejects Cloten just as firmly, indicating that even Posthumus’s garments are superior to anything Cloten has to offer, including himself. When she learns that Posthumus believes she is unfaithful, she is willing to die for her supposed crime, even though she knows she is innocent, because she feels that it is impossible to live while being regarded in this way by her husband. Indeed, “one would be quite justified in taking Imogen as an example of Shakespearean purity, undergoing extremes of personal suffering rather than giving in to corruption” (Lander 178).When Pisanio is unwilling to do the murderous deed, Imogen adapts well to her changing circumstances, donning the garments of a man and going undercover to avoid detection by her father and retribution from Posthumus. She makes this choice with conviction and trust, saying “I see into thy end and am almost a man already” (Cymbeline 3.4.167-168).

Additionally, Imogen fulfills the qualities of being an ideal protagonist. Her emotions are varied according to circumstance, rather than being regularly depicted as representative of a particular emotion—as a result, she is a dynamic character. She changes from being disobedient to her father’s wishes in the beginning to yielding to them in the end. As Lander explains, “the Shakespearean heroine willingly submits to masculine power” (162). Even though she and her husband Posthumus were next in line for the throne, she modestly cedes this right to her brothers when they are found. As for complexity, she conforms to the standards expected of her often enough that it makes her seem shallow.

Imogen has more negative traits that detract from her heroine status. For example, she shifts the blame for her actions on others, saying to her father “It is your fault that I have loved Posthumus” (Cymbeline 1.1.14). Furthermore, she is over-sensitive, as the queen explains to Cymbeline: “She’s a lady so tender of rebukes that words are strokes and strokes death to her” (Cymbeline 3.5.37-39). While Imogen is loyal to her husband, she does not show the same loyalty to Lucius, who has taken her into his service, indicating that his “life, good master, must shuffle for itself” even when he asks her to beg for his life (Cymbeline 5.5.105-106).

Viola from the play Twelfth Night is a strong heroine. She demonstrates her bravery when she decides to go disguised in a foreign land shortly after the supposed drowning of her brother. Unlike Imogen, Viola’s disguise is an idea that originates with her, revealing her adaptability. She is also a figure of integrity, wooing willingly on Orsino’s behalf even though she would rather be Orsino’s beloved. Even when Olivia offers her love, Viola preserves her integrity and her love for Orsino by refusing her unequivocally and without lying: “I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth, and that no woman has, nor never none shall mistress be of it save I alone” (Twelfth Night 3.1.158-160.) Only those who know of her disguise realize that she is saying she is a woman, and thus is mistress of her own heart. This shows her intelligence as well. Not only does she woo for Orsino, she also does her best to win Olivia over even though she does not have to and even though that works against her own interests. The language she uses to do so is masterful, befitting a heroine, as she says that Orsino loves Olivia “with adorations, fertile tears, with groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire” (Twelfth Night 1.5.250-251). In language reminiscent of Shakespeare’s early sonnets, she chastises Olivia, saying “Lady, you are the cruel’st she alive if you will lead these graces to the grave and leave the world no copy” (Twelfth Night 1.5.236-238). Viola is also remarkable for her generosity. For instance, “only Viola consistently gives freely and graciously with no expectation of profit or power” (Henze 269). As Richard Henze argues, by giving half her purse to Antonio and offering even her life to Orsino, “Viola becomes the embodiment of gracious, nearly divine Twelfth Night giving” (269).

Viola is a prime example of a protagonist. The change that she undergoes throughout the play is one that love wrought within her, as she becomes increasingly attracted to Orsino. As the play progresses, she becomes an expert in love, and she even tells Orsino “Too well what love women to men may owe. In faith, they are as true of heart as we,” for she has learned the depth of romantic and filial love her heart can bear (2.4.104-105). Her emotions vary from profound grief to deep happiness, as well as indignation. Overall, she is well-rounded and complex character with no clear weaknesses.

The final heroine, Rosalind of the play As You Like It, boasts many strengths. For one, she is as brave in the face of adversity as the aforementioned heroines. “Unless you could teach me to forget a banished father, you must not learn me how to remember any extraordinary pleasures,” she says to Celia and not long after is banished herself and has to deal with the repercussion (As You Like It 1.2.3-5). It is her suggestion that she dress as a man, “because I am more than common tall, that I did suit me all points like a man” (As You Like It 1.3.113-114). She further demonstrates her adaptability and quick thinking when she is questioned by others. When Orlando mentions that she speaks as if she lived a courtly life, she says “I have been told so of many. But indeed an old religious uncle of mine taught me to speak, who was in his youth an inland man, one that knew courtship too well” (As You Like It 3.2.336-339). During this meeting with Orlando, she thinks of a plan on the spot, to have him woo her and prove his love to Rosalind, once again showing her quick decision-making skills. Her cleverness is further shown by her interaction with her father while she is still disguised as a man: “I met the Duke yesterday and had much question with him. He asked me of what parentage I was. I told him as good as he” (As You Like It 3.4.33-35). Even when she is honest in speech, she is able to hide her true identity.

As a heroine, Rosalind is especially empathetic toward others. Even though she is dealing with adversities herself, she is able to appreciate when goodness befalls Celia. “Well, I will forget the condition of my estate to rejoice in yours,” she tells Celia (As You Like It 1.2.14-15). When Orlando is getting ready to wrestle against the infamous Charles, Rosalind implores that he call off the match. She shows remarkable insight into his feelings when she promises, “your reputation should not therefore be misprized. We shall make it our suit to the Duke that the wrestling might not go forward” (As You Like It 1.2.172-174). She recognizes the dignity of Orlando and offers him a way out of the situation that would not harm his honor. Rosalind shows similar empathy toward Silvius. “Alas, poor shepherd!” she laments, “Searching of thy wound, I have by hard adventure found mine own” (As You Like It 2.4.42-43). Upon seeing and hearing Silvius, she realizes that the pangs of her heart for Orlando mirror the way that Silvius longs for Phoebe. Finally, her empathy is shown when she faints at the sight of Orlando’s blood on a handkerchief.

Unlike Beatrice, Rosalind is an expert when it comes to love. Her first experience of romantic love in the play is when Orlando participates in the wrestling match. “Sir, you have wrestled well and overthrown more than your enemies,” she admits, revealing that her own heart has been overthrown by the prodigy (As You Like It 1.2.244-245.) It is truly love at first sight, occurring so quickly that Celia asks, “Is it possible, on such a sudden, you should fall into so strong a liking with old Sir Rowland’s youngest son?” (As You Like It 1.3.26-28). When questioned by Orlando, she not only fools him easily, she also poses to him a test of his love: “He was to imagine me his love, his mistress; and I set him every day to woo me” (As You Like It 3.2.397-399). It is clear that she does not believe the depth of Orlando’s love and seeks to find out if he truly loves her. Rosalind shows her expertise in love by looking for the signs of it in Orlando and finding him wanting— “There is none of my uncle’s marks upon you. He taught me how to know a man in love” (As You Like It 3.3.360-361). As Margaret Boerner Beckman suggests, Rosalind “is a woman presenting the voice of critical realism about love” (46-47). She is not one to believe without seeing proof. Furthermore, Rosalind demonstrates this realism when she is advising others on matter of love. When Phoebe is rejecting Silvius, Rosalind tells her wryly, “Sell when you can. You are not for all markets” (As You Like It 3.5.60). This may seem cruel, but it is a part of Rosalind’s honesty, and a sign of goodwill for the couple rather than any jealousy on her part. When Phoebe falls in love with Rosalind, who Phoebe knows by the name of Ganymede and thinks is a man, Rosalind adheres to the social mores of her time and rejects this love with repugnance. Knowing that Phoebe would not want to marry her if Phoebe knew she was a woman, Rosalind tries to reject her as firmly as possible. By the end of the play, Rosalind is well-versed in the language and experience of love.

Perhaps the reason that Rosalind stands out from the rest of the heroines is her importance and power as a character. According to Beckman, “while she seems as helpless as anyone in the play—under sentence of death, without a father or lover, without money, she also seems to have greater powers than anyone else in the play, directing others as she will and finally entering in Act V with the god of marriage himself” (51). Rosalind is truly a deus ex machina in the play, playing matchmaker for Orlando and herself as well as Phoebe and Silvius. In the end, she convinces Phoebe to marry Silvius and Orlando to marry herself by lifting her disguise at just the right moment, tying up all the loose ends in the play. Her importance is further underlined by her appearance as the epilogue at the end of play. It is Rosalind who gets the final word in As You Like It.

Rosalind is an example of a good protagonist because she demonstrates a range of emotions including sorrow, love, happiness, disgust, indignance, and frustration. Furthermore, she is complex due to her wit and creativity, which aided her during her period of banishment in the forest. Ultimately, Rosalind is the greatest heroine because of her profound empathy, her role of power within the play, her expertise when it comes to love, and her adaptability and intelligence.

Works Cited

  • Beckman, Margaret Boerner. “The Figure of Rosalind In As You Like It.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, 1978, www.jstor.org/stable/2869168. Accessed 18 April 2020.
  • Henze, Richard. “‘Twelfth Night’: Free Disposition on the Sea of Love.” The Sewanee Review, vol. 83, no. 2, 1975, www.jstor.org/stable/27542964. Accessed 18 April 2020.
  • “heroine, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2020, www.oed.com/view/Entry/86311. Accessed 18 April 2020.
  • King, Walter N. “Much Ado About Something.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, 1964, www.jstor.org/stable/2868316. Accessed 18 April 2020.
  • Lander, Bonnie. “Interpreting the Person: Tradition, Conflict, and Cymbeline’s Imogen.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 2, 2008, www.jstor.org/stable/40210262. Accessed 18 April 2020.
  • Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It.” The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, Pearson Education, Inc., 2014, 298-332.
  • —. “Cymbeline.” The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, Pearson Education, Inc., 2014, 1479-1526.
  • —. “Much Ado About Nothing.” The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, Pearson Education, Inc., 2014, 223-255.
  • —. “Twelfth Night.” The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, Pearson Education, Inc., 2014, 337-369.

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Christianity, Plays

A Lesser-Known But Intriguing Christian Play

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The House by the Stable by Charles Williams

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is not one of those books I just picked up for the fun of it. It was actually a required text for my Modern Christian Writers class, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it!

Although some Christian works appeal to people of all religions as well as those who embrace no religion, this is likely one that will almost exclusively be appealing to Christians.

Background

Charles Williams is a British playwright, novelist, poet, and theologian. He was also a member of the Inklings, a group in which J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were also members.

Some of his other works that I have read include War in Heaven and Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury.

Summary

The House by the Stable is an allegorical play about a man who courts Pride both literally and figuratively, and unknowingly engages in a battle for his soul against Hell. He also alludes to the innkeeper from the Bible who refused Joseph and Mary a room but offered them a place in the stable.

Pros

  • Compelling dialogue
  • Unexpected choices when it comes to characters
  • The Christmas Story from a different point of view
  • Strong message
    • Powerful understanding of how Pride can corrupt and change a man
    • A testament to the value of grace in a Christian’s life

Cons

  • A little heavy-handed with the message
  • The perfection of the good characters and the extreme wickedness of the bad ones mean that the only relatable character is Man.

Review

Dialogue

The dialogue of this play contributes to its long-lasting value and immediate appeal to readers. For instance, this is what Man’s mistress–fittingly named Pride–says when she is asked why she adores Man so much:

It is no surprise–if you think what you are. Indeed, it were stranger if I adored you less. You are Man, the lord of this great house Earth, or (as its name is called in my country) Sin; you are its god and mine.”

You can tell immediately that Pride is a dangerous character–not only does she pretend to worship Man, she also encourages him to worship himself. Her influence on Man has caused him to lose his friends and to think only of himself. This is undoubtedly a toxic relationship–and that’s the point–that humankind’s relationship with pride is unhealthy and damaging to one’s self and others.

Unexpected Choices

Having the character who represents the angel Gabriel be just a shuffling butler, “that old gossip of heaven” is an unusual choice.

It was also clever to have Pride be the literal mistress of Man, and for Man to be the man who let Mary and Joseph shelter in his stable.

Point of View

Even though Mary and Joseph and the stable where Jesus is born are all part of this play, the focus is on Man, who is a stand-in for all humans who are trapped in sin.

Message

If I had to pin down the message for this play, I would say it is that the negative aspects of pride are humankind’s worst enemy. Charles Williams treats it as one of the most terrible sins. Pride ruins one’s relationship with others and damages one’s relationship with God.

This quote offers another message that is important:

You are my worshipful sweet Pride; will you be so arrogant always to others and humble to me? Will you always make me believe in myself?”

Man

It reveals that self-confidence, while good in reasonable quantities, can be a trap if it is excessive. Overconfidence can be dangerous when it leads to pride and causes one to sin.

Conclusion

This play has some strong insights that made it worthwhile to read, as you saw above. It’s also incredibly short, so if you aren’t a fan, it’s not like you wasted a bunch of time. I would say, give it a try!

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

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