February Prompt -- A Classics Challenge

Saturday, February 04, 2012

This month's prompt for A Classics Challenge (hosted by November's Autumn... beautiful name!) is on character. I am a little disappointed that I am not reading a classic I am more involved in, because character is the most important aspect of a book for me. However, maybe it will help me appreciate the book I am reading more if I focus in on the characters.

I am reading Shakespeare's Henry VIII. Lately I have become very interested in Henry and his assorted spouses, fueled initially by Phillippa Gregory novels and enriched further by Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (which you -- all of you -- should read immediately if you haven't). As I haven't read any Shakespeare histories before and I wanted to read a play for Shakespeare Reading Month and another classics challenge, I thought this was the perfect choice. However, I have been slowly creeping through it, and am still not extremely involved with the characters.

However, one thing that is interesting about these characters is that they take on different personas and attributes as they are interpreted through the minds of different authors. While I am not very deep into Henry VIII yet, my perceptions of the characters are colored by my experiences with them in other books. One thing I have noticed that differs in Shakespeare's treatment of the characters is that Anne Boleyn (called Anne Bullen in the play), who normally is the dominant woman, takes a back seat to Catherine of Aragon, Princess of Wales and Queen of England. Catherine is given much more stage time and much more character.

So to get into the actual prompts...

Level 1
What phrases has the author used to introduce this character? What are your first impressions of them? Find a portrait or photograph that closely embodies how you imagine them. 



I am far too lazy to look up actual phrases used by Shakespeare to describe Catherine (a full week of school will do that to anyone), but my first impression of her in this particular play is that she is strong, despite the fact that she is being beaten down by her husband's rejection and the varying opinions of her people. There is a scene where she begs Henry to consider her, but it doesn't strike me as weak -- rather than begging, it seems as if she is taking him to task for not honoring her as he should. 




I tried to give credit for this source and my computer went kamikaze on me and I lost the website. So, be aware that I myself did not create this image, but some exceptionally talented person.

Although Catherine is supposed to be large by the time these events take place, and although I doubt she is really that pretty at that point in her life, I love this painting, and it is how I picture her. 

Level 2
How has the character changed? Has your opinion of them altered? Are there aspects of their character you aspire to? or hope never to be? What are their strengths and faults? Do you find them believable? If not, how could they have been molded so? Would you want to meet them?

Well, in this retelling in particular, I think Catherine is stronger. While she is a character that I have respected throughout all the stories about her, I think in Shakespeare's version she is more dignified. I would love to meet her.

Level 3
Try writing a short (four sentences +) note or letter as the character, addressed to you, another character, the author, anyone.

So, because I was intrigued by the scene when she begs Henry to consider her, I am going to write a note from her to Henry. I am worried I'll be a little cheesy, so bear with me. 

Dearest Henry,
It pains me that you are pursuing this errant course, and I cannot imagine why you have chosen it. There have been other women before, but they have never threatened our marriage. And in threatening  marriage between the two of us, the most visible couple in our world, you are threatening marriage for all of England. You are showing the gentlemen of England that if they find someone prettier or richer or in any other way better than they perceive their wives to be, they have license to cast her off, with no thought of decency, commitment, or persistence. And aside from the wider issues at stake, I am surprised that the years of our marriage mean so little to you. I have produced a son before -- it is no judgment upon us that he did not live. Children die frequently, and heartbreaking as it is, there is no one to blame. We can produce an heir together. Keep your self-respect and mine intact. Do not do this.

Queen Catherine

24 comments:

  1. I haven't read Shakespeare's Henry VIII yet. But it's interesting that he focuses more on Catherine rather than Anne; almost refreshing as its always the other way around. It must have been rather bold for his time too with Queen Elizabeth I reigning.

    You captured the dignity in her voice very well and I really liked the line "And in threatening marriage between the two of us, the most visible couple in our world, you are threatening marriage for all of England."

    Thank you for participating, Lorren. By the way, I love your new blog layout! :)

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    1. Thank you! I am really enjoying the way Catherine is the more important woman -- so much of history focuses on Anne, but Catherine was the stalwart, dignified one!

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  2. Sounds like I've been having a similar journey to you with Henry VIII. I started with the Tudor TV series, then read Philippa Gregory, then Wolf Hall ... then Henry VIII: Wolfman! It's really clever, and I highly recommend it.

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    1. Ooh, that sounds like fun! I'll have to look into it.

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  3. I am fascinated by that era too. I haven't read any historical fiction based around then but have read a number of history books. Catherine of Aragon came across as very strong in those. Refusing to back down even to her dying day in order to protect her daughter as well as her own reputation. I can't help but admire that. I wanted to read Henry VIII for the Shakespeare challenge for the same reason but when I couldn't get hold of a copy straight away I picked another. Will definitely read it at some point though.

    The portrait you chose is actually from tv show The Tudors. If you haven't seen it, it's quite good so long as you don't mind that it's completely inaccurate.

    Oh, and Wolf Hall is AMAZING. I can't wait for the sequel this year.

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    1. Oh, good to know! I might have to watch that series some time and remember that it is just entertainment and not really accurate. Haha.

      I am dying for the sequel as well! When I finished Wolf Hall, I didn't realize there was a sequel, and I was so disappointed in how it had ended, not even touching upon Cromwell's death or Jane Seymour or Anne Boleyn's fall from Henry's good graces.

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  4. This is such a fun post and it looks like you've put a lot of thought into it. Really interesting read! I need to pick up some more classics. :)

    Feel free to visit my blog!
    Stephanie @ Stepping Out of the Page

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    1. Thank you! I definitely can't subsist on classics alone, but I think they are the healthiest part of my reading diet ;)

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  5. Very lovely picture of her...and YES, I think I need to get my hands on WOLF HALL sometime soon!

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  6. This reminds me about a book I started, but never finished, called The Wives of Henry XIII (I think). I bought it because I wanted an insight into these women, and their version of Henry.

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    1. I've seen that book as well, if it is the same one I'm thinking of. I'd really like to read it sometime. There is so much out there about Henry VIII -- I think his is one of the more interesting (and scandalous) stories in history.

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  7. Interesting post.

    I'll definitely be reading more Shakespeare.

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    1. Thank you. I hope to read all of his works some day.

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  8. Interesting that you chose HVIII as your Shakespeare history as I think this definitely one of the weakest of the histories in general and of the plays overall. I struggled to get through it myself, and ironically it covers such a dynamic part of English history but in for me, such a dull way.

    However, I have to agree that Shakesperare makes Catherine of Aragon shine, which I like, because I have always admired her for the strength of her convictions.

    I liked your letter--very true to the spirit of Catherine!

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    1. Thank you! I definitely chose Henry VIII for its subject, not for its reputation as a play. I hope to get into the other Shakespeare histories sooner or later, and it is nice to know that they are stronger than this. While I love Shakespeare, this has been one of my not-as-enjoyable plays that i've read.

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  9. I love reading about Henry VIII, he is such a larger than life character. I have always been fascinated with Catherine, she was such a strong woman. Loved your letter, it really sounded like something Catherine would have written.

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    1. Thank you! Like you I just cannot believe Henry VIII's life. I remember hearing of him when I was in elementary school and I have been fascinated ever since.

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  10. You captured Catherine's character in your letter. I think Shakespeare probably felt that he had to be very careful what he wrote about Henry VIII as Henry's daughter was on the throne at the time. It was such an easy time to lose your head!
    You might want to try reading Antonia Fraser's book The Six Wives of Henry VIII. It's non-fiction and she's very historically accurate, unlike Phillipa Gregory.

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    1. That's a great point about Shakespeare having to be careful because he was contemporary with Henry's daughter. That had never occurred to me! I have The Six Wives of Henry VIII on my TBR. While Philippa Gregory is very fun, I know that I have to take everything she says with some speculation.

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  11. I haven't read Henry VIII but it's nice to know Shakespeare gives Katherine the respect she deserves.
    Enjoyed your post, particularly the letter which captures her pride and dignity very well.

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    1. Thank you!

      I agree, it is nice he respects her. With Elizabeth I around (something someone brought up in an earlier comment) I could see how maybe he would not want to offend any Boleyns, so it is nice he still treats Katherine well.

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  12. I love the letter you wrote, you captured her voice well.

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