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This history play narrates the rise to power through treachery and murder of Richard Plantaganet, Duke of Gloucester and last king of the House of York. Set in England during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), the play opens after the Lancastrian King Henry VI and his son Edward have been killed and Richard’s brother has been crowned Edward IV.
In the course of the play, Richard woos and wins Prince Edward’s widow Anne Neville and engineers the murders of his other brother (George, Duke of Clarence), his nephews, his closest advisor, possibly his wife, and other members of the court. He is crowned king but later dies a violent death in the Battle of Bosworth, defeated by Henry Tudor, Duke of Richmond, who will become the first Tudor King Henry VII.
En route to the way to the Trojan War, warrior Philoctetes, wielder of the bow of Heracles, is bitten by a poisonous snake at the shrine of the goddess Chryse. The infected wound becomes so painful that Philoctetes’s screams of agony repel the Greek commanders, who order Odysseus to leave him on the island of Lemnos. Ten years later (the time of the play’s opening scene), Odysseus returns to Lemnos with Neoptolemus, son of the now-dead Achilles, to retrieve Philoctetes’s bow. It has been prophesied that only with this bow can Troy be conquered.
Promising him glory and honor, Odysseus convinces Neoptolemus to win Philoctetes’s trust and take the bow. Philoctetes, delighted to see any human and especially another Greek, shares his story with Neoptolemus, begs him to take him back to Greece, and entrusts him with the bow when he is overcome by a spasm of pain.
Deeply moved by witnessing Philoctetes’s misery firsthand, Neoptolemus confesses the truth to him, but tries to persuade Philoctetes to accompany him to Troy. When Odysseus appears, Neoptolemus returns the bow, declaring that only with Philoctetes himself wielding it will the prophesy be fulfilled. He asks forgiveness, and invites Philoctetes to come back with him to be healed and then on to Troy to contribute to the battle. The only thing that ends Philoctetes’s refusal is the sudden appearance of Heracles, who announces that Philoctetes and Neoptolemus must join together to take Troy.
In "Fortitude" Dr. Elbert Little, a Vermont family physician, visits the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein and his trusty assistant, Dr. Tom Swift. Frankenstein has only one patient, Sylvia Lovejoy. His life work has been to keep Lovejoy alive. In 78 operations over the last 36 years, Frankenstein has replaced every one of her organs with prosthetic devices, so that now she consists of a head on a tripod, attached by tubes to various machines.
Frankenstein controls her mood, as he controls all her functions, from a "fantastically complicated" master console. Usually he makes sure that she feels joyful and loving, but last month a transistor went bad in one of the machines and she felt depressed for a while; so depressed, in fact, that she wrote to Dr. Little and asked him to bring her some cyanide.
Lovejoy's only friend is Gloria, the beautician who comes every day to care for her hair. Gloria is horrified over what Sylvia Lovejoy has become; she sees only a "spark" of the real person remaining, but she knows that the "spark" wants to die. After Frankenstein fires Gloria for speaking about death in Sylvia's presence, she sneaks back into the room when Sylvia is sleeping and puts a loaded revolver in her knitting bag.
Later, Sylvia finds the gun and tries to kill herself, but her prosthetic arms have been designed not to allow her to do that. Instead, she shoots Frankenstein, who promptly becomes the second head attached to the machines. (It seems he has designed all the prosthetic organs to be able to serve two "persons," so that he and Sylvia will be able to "live in such perfect harmony . . . that the gods themselves will tear out their hair in envy!")
Summary:George tries to take care of his mentally retarded friend, Lennie, whose mental disability makes it impossible for him to judge his powerful strength. Lennie means well and tried hard; he likes soft, furry things, like a mouse and a puppy, both of which he squeezes to death accidentally. Though his great strength is useful on the ranch where he works, his inability to govern his behavior leads him into an accidental homicide. George, not wanting Lennie to live the rest of his life in prison, shoots him in the head as an act of mercy.
Madame Ranevsky returns to her estate after five years in Paris, where she had fled after the accidental death of her young son. In the interim her brother and adopted daughter have been running the estate, which has gone hopelessly into debt, largely because of Madame Ranevsky's improvident life style. As she and her adolescent daughter Anya arrive, friends and retainers have gathered to greet them. Among these are Trofimov, her dead son's tutor and an ineffectual idealist; and Lopahin, a brilliantly successful businessman whose father had once been a serf on the Ranevsky estate.
The family's beloved cherry orchard, along with the house and the rest of the estate, are about to go on the auction block. Lopahin proposes a solution: break up the cherry orchard into building plots and lease them to city folks to build summer villas. This would generate an annual income of 25,000 rubles and, thus, solve all of Madame Ranevsky's financial problems. She refuses to consider cutting down the orchard. Her brother, Gaev, gravitates ineffectually around the problem, suggesting various harebrained schemes to raise money, but in the end he believes there is no solution: "Someone gets sick, you know, and the doctor suggests one thing after another, that means there's no cure . . . " (p. 346)
The auction occurs, and, lo and behold, Lopahin himself has purchased the estate with the intention of developing the property for summer villas. In the last act, as Madame Ranevsky and her family prepare to vacate the house, workmen hover in the background, ready to begin chopping down the orchard. Madame Ranevsky departs for Paris, and Lopahin leaves to pursue his business in the city. A much alluded-to liaison between Lopahin and Varya, the adopted daughter, dies on the vine, apparently because the businessman has neither the time nor inclination for romance. As the house is closed up, Firs, the senile 87-year-old servant, is inadvertently left behind.
A retired professor has returned to his estate to live with his beautiful young wife, Yelena. The estate originally belonged to his first wife, now deceased; her mother and brother still live there and manage the farm. For many years the brother (Uncle Vanya) has sent the farm’s proceeds to the professor, while receiving only a small salary himself. Sonya, the professor’s daughter, who is about the same age as his new wife, also lives on the estate. The professor is pompous, vain, and irritable. He calls the doctor (Astrov) to treat his gout, only to send him away without seeing him. Astrov is an experienced physician who performs his job conscientiously, but has lost all idealism and spends much of his time drinking.
The presence of Yelena introduces a bit of sexual tension into the household. Astrov and Uncle Vanya both fall in love with Yelena; she spurns them both. Meanwhile, Sonya is in love with Astrov, who fails even to notice her. Finally, when the professor announces he wants to sell the estate, Vanya, whose admiration for the man died with his sister, tries to kill him. But the professor survives and he and Yelena leave the estate.
This study of the anatomy of alcoholism, its spectrum and individual manifestations, is set in a skid row bar/hotel in 1912. The bar is peopled by a collection of society's failures: drifters, pimps, police informers, former anarchists, failed con-artists, ex-soldiers, and prostitutes. The patrons, in various stages of inebriation, await the annual arrival of the big-spending, happy-go-lucky salesman binge drinker, Hickey, whom the pipe-dreaming losers anticipate will treat them to hours of merriment and free-flowing liquor on the occasion of his birthday.
Hickey does, in fact, arrive, a bit late and very sober. He claims to have seen the light and to desire to help his old drinking buddies dump their pipe-dreams and return to productive lives. The reaction of the folks, the results of their attempts to buy into Hickey's sales-pitch, and an unanticipated homicide and surprise suicide, round out the drama.
The King begins to make bad judgments: he "retires" from the worries of kingship, but expects to retain the privileges; he divides the kingdom, something every king knows better than to do; he banishes his only honest daughter and his most loyal advisor. Lest the reader not get the significance of these actions, they are mirrored in the actions of one of his royal party, Gloucester.
Nature announces impending trouble and the aging king reveals the magnitude of his dementia in a scene of violent delirium. The complex conspiracies among the sons and daughters of the king and Gloucester eventually lead to the violent deaths of most of the principles, clearing the way for an establishment of a new stewardship for the kingdom.
Hamlet's father, the King of Denmark, is dead and has been succeeded by his brother Claudius, who has married the old king's wife, Gertrude. The King's ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him, and makes Hamlet promise to avenge his death. The play traces the process by which Hamlet negotiates the conflict between his need to take violent action and his uncertainty about the rightness of doing so.
He pretends to be mad and contemplates suicide. He unintentionally murders Polonius, the new King's counselor, and violently confronts his mother for what he sees as an unfaithful and incestuous marriage to her brother-in-law. He also verbally abuses Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius, whom Hamlet had loved before, contributing to her mental illness and eventual death.
Hamlet finally decides that he must submit to his fate--or his dramatically determined role as the hero of a revenge tragedy--and agrees to a fencing match with Ophelia's brother, Laertes. Arranged by Claudius, the match is rigged. Laertes's rapier is poisoned, and both Laertes and Hamlet are killed with it. Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine intended for Hamlet and dies. Hamlet's last action is to kill Claudius, but whether this counts as the successful culmination of a revenge plot is dubious. As a new order takes over in Denmark, and as the dying Hamlet asks that his story be remembered, we realize that his existential quandaries remain largely unresolved.
Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, is told by a trio of witches that he will soon be promoted to Thane of Cawdor, and later will be King of Scotland. When the first of their prophesies comes true, he tells his wife, who is filled with ambition and determines to ensure that the second is realized as well. She persuades her husband to murder King Duncan, and so Macbeth becomes King.
The rest of the play traces the couple's downfall as a result not only of the murder and hence the political injustice of Macbeth's reign, which leads to war in Scotland, but also because of the terrible psychological effects of guilt. Neither of them sleeps soundly again; Macbeth sees ghosts and appears to go mad; Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, endlessly washing her hands of the metaphysical blood that stains her, and eventually commits suicide. Macbeth dies when Macduff, rightful heir to the throne, besieges his castle and beheads him in battle.