Saturday, May 2, 2009

King John - Constance

Cindy writes:

Happy spring, Shakespeare lovers,

Despite having only seven days of school left with my antsy seniors and a mountain of grading the size of Mt. Rainier, I guilted myself over to the Erie Public Library to check out King John. Yes, guilted. They didn't have it in a single-play format. Surprise, surprise. So, I'm flexing a few back muscles by toting home the Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works, straining my eye muscles with its tiny print, and massaging my delight muscles with a play I didn't think I would like…much. I'm admittedly not the biggest history play fan, with the exception of Richard III. I get confused by the plethora of characters ― male characters ― and disheartened by the lack of female characters. But this play has GREAT females. I want to play Constance. Constance is assertive, passionate and wily, from her catfight with Queen Eleanor: "My boy a bastard? By my soul I think / His father never was so true begot. / It cannot be, if if thou wert his mother" (II.i.129-131) to her despair over King Phillip's change of heart: "O, if thou teach me to believe this sorrow, / Teach thou this sorrow how to make me die;" (II.ii.29-30), and to her ultimate grief:

Death, Death, O amiable, lovely Death!
Thou odoriferous stench, sound rottenness!
Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,
Thou hate and terror to prosperity,
And I will kiss thy detestable bones,
And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows,
And ring these fingers with thy household worms,
And stop this gap of breath with fulsome dust,
And be a carrion monster like myself.
Come grin on me, and I will think thou smil'st,
And buss thee as thy wife. Misery's love,
O, come to me! (III.iv.23-36)

Constance gets to play a spectrum of emotion and gnash her teeth on some potent imagery. Now, I have about as much of a chance of playing Constance onstage as I do birthing sextuplets, but I could read her in my classroom. I could salivate over uttering lines like that in class. Definitely. But beyond my flair for the mini-drama of my classroom, one focus of my teaching of this play would center on the mother-son connections. What is Arthur without Constance? What is King John without his mother, the Queen Eleanor? And what of the curious relationship between the intriguing Phillip the Bastard and his mother, the Lady Falconbridge? Why does he let her off the hook so easily? Woo! Am I the first post. Who would have thunk it?

Infusing the estrogen,

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