Synopsis of Plays

 


A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Period written: 1595-1596

Duke Theseus and Hippolyta are preparing for their wedding, when Egeus arrives with his daughter Hermia, along with Lysander and Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander love each other; but Egeus wants Hermia to marry Demetrius (who is loved by Helena). Theseus insists that Egeus must have his way, and gives Hermia a month to marry Demetrius, or either die or become a nun. Hermia and Lysander decide to run away and to meet in the forest. Hermia tells Helena of their plans, and she in turn tells Demetrius, in the hope that he will like her more for telling him. Demetrius chases after the eloping couple, and Helena chases after him.

A group of tradesmen meet to discuss the play Pyramus and Thisbe which they want to perform at Theseus’ wedding. They plan to rehearse in the forest.

Meanwhile in the forest, Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies, are arguing over who should have a changeling boy that Titania has stolen. Titania will not give him up, so Oberon takes his revenge by having his servant Puck find a special flower whose juice he will squeeze onto Titania’s eyes while she is asleep. This will maker her fall in love with the first person she sees upon waking. Oberon, seeing Demetrius reject Helena, tells Puck to put the potion on Demetrius’ eyes also. But Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, and Lysander wakes to see Helena, whom he falls in love with and chases after, leaving Hermia alone.

The tradesmen begin their rehearsal near where Titania is sleeping. Puck gives Bottom an ass’s head. Bottom frightens his friends away, and in doing so wakes Titania. She falls in love with him, and Bottom is treated like a lord by the fairy retinue.

Though she be but little, she is fierce!
Hermia, having lost Lysander, thinks Demetrius has killed him, and when he denies it she goes to look for him. Oberon is furious with Puck for his mistake and tells him to find Helena and bring her to him. Oberon squeezes the flower onto Demetrius’ eyes while he sleeps. Lysander enters with Helena, begging for her love, telling her Demetrius does not love her; Demetrius then wakes, sees Helena, and begs for her love. Hermia enters and is snubbed by Lysander, while Helena thinks all three are tricking her.

Demetrius and Lysander challenge each other to a duel. Oberon gets Puck to imitate the two men’s voices, leading them around until they fall asleep. Puck puts an antidote on Lysander’s eyes so that he resumes his love for Hermia. Oberon then releases Titania from her spell, having received the changeling boy from her. And Puck removes the ass’s head from Bottom.

Theseus and Hippolyta arrive to hunt in the forest, along with Egeus, where they discover the sleeping lovers. They hear their story, and Theseus decrees they shall be married as they wish, despite Egeus’ will.

Bottom is reunited with his friends, and they rehearse their play, which has been selected as one of those to be made available as entertainment at the wedding. After supper, Theseus chooses their play, which is presented in front of an audience of all the lovers. They all retire to bed, and Oberon and Titania enter to sing and dance; Oberon blesses the three couples, and Puck is left to address the audience.


AS YOU LIKE IT

Duke Senior, banished and usurped by his brother, Duke Frederick, now lives in the Forest of Arden, with his noblemen. Senior’s daughter Rosalind has been allowed to remain at court with Frederick’s daughter Celia, but she suddenly incurs Frederick’s displeasure, and is banished. Celia decides to run away with her, and they leave for Arden with Rosalind disguised as a man, and accompanied by Touchstone, a clown. Rosalind changes her name to Ganymede, and Celia to Aliena.

Before they leave, Rosalind falls in love with one of the sons of Rowland De Boys—Orlando, who is ruled and hated by his elder brother, Oliver. Orlando foils Oliver’s plan to have him killed in a match against the Duke’s chief wrestler, Charles, by defeating the champion.

Orlando is then advised by Le Beau to leave the court, and he flees to Arden with his old servant Adam. They are starving when they encounter Duke Senior, who takes them in, delighted to discover that Orlando is the son of his old friend Sir Rowland.

Well said, that was laid on with a trowel.
Rosalind and Celia observe two shepherds, Corin and Silvius, talking, and learn of Silvius’s love for Phebe, a shepherdess. They buy pastures and herd from them, and decide to live as shepherds. Touchstone spends much time in the company of Audrey, a country wench who is loved by William, eventually wooing her himself. Jaques, a melancholy nobleman of Duke Senior’s company, becomes fascinated by Touchstone, and spends much time talking to him.

Orlando leaves love messages for Rosalind all over the forest, which she in due course sees. When the two girls meet Orlando again, ‘Ganymede’ persuades Orlando to treat ‘him’ as his Rosalind, so that he may practise wooing. Frederick, believing Celia and Rosalind to have fled with Orlando, sends Oliver after his brother, threatening to take the De Boys’ lands if Oliver returns without him.

Oliver is saved from a lion by Orlando, and the two brothers are reconciled. Oliver relates the story to the two girls, and falls in love with Celia. Phebe has fallen for Ganymede, which causes some confusion until Rosalind reveals herself. Phebe then agrees to marry Silvius. Rosalind is reunited with her father, and marries Orlando. Oliver marries Celia. Touchstone marries Audrey.

The third son of Sir Rowland, Jaques, arrives to announce that Frederick had intended to invade the forest with an army, but on his way he met a religious man who converted him from his harsh ways, and he has now begun a religious life. Jaques decides to join him. Duke Senior has his lands and crown restored.


 

ROMEO AND JULIET
An ongoing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues breaks out again on the streets of Verona. Both sides are warned by Prince Escalus that they must not disturb the peace again, on pain of death.

Romeo, love-sick for Rosaline, is comforted by his friend Benvolio. Capulet tells Paris that he may not marry his daughter Juliet until she is older. Romeo and his friends learn of a party being held by the Capulets, and decide to go to it as masquers. At the party, Tybalt sees Romeo, but is prevented from fighting him by Capulet. Romeo meets Juliet, and they instantly fall in love. After leaving the party, Romeo eludes his friends, returns to meet Juliet, and they exchange vows of love. Romeo tells Friar Laurence what has happened and he consents to marry them.

Benvolio tells Mercutio that Tybalt has sent Romeo a challenge. Romeo joins them, and is visited by the Nurse, who is told the marriage plan. She tells Juliet, who then goes to Friar Laurence’s cell, and the lovers are married. Tybalt, looking for Romeo, finds Benvolio and Mercutio. Romeo returns, and is challenged by Tybalt, but refuses to fight. Mercutio draws on Tybalt and is fatally wounded. Tybalt then fights with Romeo, and is killed. Romeo flies, and Benvolio reports what has happened to the Prince, who banishes Romeo. The Nurse tells Juliet of Romeo’s banishment and promises to bring him to her. The Friar tells a distraught Romeo he is banished, but advises him to visit Juliet secretly, then to leave for Mantua.

Capulet tells Paris he may marry Juliet in three days, and Lady Capulet brings the news to Juliet, who has just bid Romeo a hasty farewell. Juliet refuses to marry Paris, persisting in the face of her father’s anger. She goes to the Friar for help, and finds Paris there arranging the marriage. After he leaves, the Friar devises a plan: he will give her a drink that will make her appear dead and thus avoid the marriage, and will write to Romeo to tell him; they can then elope to Mantua.

Juliet tells her father she will now marry Paris, and Capulet brings the wedding forward to the next day. Juliet retires, and drinks the liquid. When her ‘body’ is discovered, all mourn, and she is taken to the family crypt. In Mantua, Balthasar tells Romeo that Juliet is dead. He vows to lie dead next to her that night, and obtains a poison from an apothecary. Friar John tells Friar Laurence that he was unable to deliver Laurence’s letter to Romeo. Realizing the danger, Laurence leaves to tell Juliet what has happened.

Paris goes to Juliet’s tomb to mourn her, and encounters Romeo. They fight, and Romeo kills Paris. Romeo then drinks the poison and dies by Juliet. The Friar arrives to see Romeo dead and Juliet waking. She refuses to leave, and kills herself with Romeo’s dagger. Officers arrive, and rouse the families and the Prince. The Friar explains what has happened. Montague and Capulet agree to make peace with each other.

COMEDY of ERRORS

Because of recent enmity, no Syracusan is allowed in Ephesus. A Syracusan merchant Egeon, searching for his wife and twin boys separated and lost at sea, has been found there and arrested. The Duke is sympathetic, so gives him a day to find a way paying his fine before the death penalty has to be carried out.

Antiopholus and servant Dromio of Syracuse (S) arrive in Ephesus, on their travels. They are instantly mistaken by the townsfolk to be Antipholus and servant Dromio of Ephesus (E). Antipholus (E) meets Dromio (S), who denies knowledge of money given to him earlier. Adriana, the wife of Antipholus (E) sends Dromio (E) to find his master. They encounter Antipholus and Dromio (S). Antipholus (S) does not recognize Adriana, and Dromio (S) denies he received instructions from her.

Adriana insists they both accompany her home, and they think they are going mad.

Antipholus (E) meanwhile arrives home with merchant Balthasar and goldsmith Angelo, who is making a gold chain for Adriana. Dromio (S) and kitchen-maid Luce refuse to let them in, much to the annoyance of Dromio (E), so Antipholus (E) goes to a tavern instead. Inside the house, Antipholus (S) has fallen in love with Adriana’s sister Luciana, much to her amazement; and Dromio (S) is awed by a kitchen-maid who claims him as hers.

Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast.
Antipholus (S) meets Angelo, who gives him the chain, proposing to return later for the money. Angelo, being himself pressed for a debt, later meets Antipholus (E) and asks for his money. When Antipholus (E) denies having had the chain, Angelo has him arrested until he pays the amount. Antipholus (E) sends Dromio (S) to Adriana for the money, which she immediately sends.

Dromio (S) brings the money to Antipholus (S). They meet a Courtesan with whom Antipholus (E) had dined and who asks for the return of a ring Antipholus (E) had taken, but Antipholus (S) of course denies knowledge of it. Dromio (E) meets the arrested Antipholus (S), who asks for the money to obtain his release, but Dromio (E) obviously does not have it. Adriana arrives with Dr Pinch, who tries to conjure the supposed madness out of Antipholus (E). Both he and Dromio (E) resist and they are arrested and taken away. Adriana and the others then immediately meet Antipholus (S) and Dromio (S) with swords drawn, and, confused by their sudden liberty, flee from them.

Angelo meets Antipholus (S), sees the chain, and prepares to fight him. On the arrival of Adriana and the others, Antipholus and Dormio (S) run into a priory for safety. The abbess Aemilia discusses his supposed madness with Adriana, but refuses to let her enter the priory. Adriana decides to complain to the Duke, who is nearby for Egeon’s execution, to get to see her supposed husband. Antipholus (E) and Dromio (E) appear and also complain to the Duke. All parties tell what has happened from their own point of view. Egeon recognises Antipholus (E) as his son, but Antipholus does not know him. Aemilia then brings out Antipholus and Dromio (S), and all is revealed. Egeon recognizes Aemilia as his wife. The Duke forgives Egeon. The two pairs of twins are reunited.


LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST

Ferdinand, King of Navarre, opens the play by declaring that his court will be devoted to ascetic study for three years—and, to keep the distractions to a minimum, no women will be allowed within a mile of the court. Berowne, Longueville, and Dumaine agree to devote themselves with the King (although Berowne expresses reservations about the venture and its chances for success). Berowne also points out that the king has forgotten an embassy of the Princess of France has just arrived. As they set out to meet the princess, the king’s fool, Costard, is sent to Don Armado to receive punishment for breaking the king’s commands.

Your wit’s too hot, it speeds too fast, ’twill tire.
Needless to say, the Princess and her entourage are put off when Ferdinand and his lords deny them entrance into the court. In protest, the embassy camps in front of the court. Boyet makes note of the king’s “affection” toward the Princess, and the ladies retreat to their tents to plan how they can get back at Ferdinand and his court. In the meantime, Armado—who is himself in love with Jacquenetta—strikes a deal with Costard to let him off if Costard will deliver a letter to the woman. Before Costard can do so, however, Berowne finds him and asks him to take a letter to Rosaline. This sets up a highly comic series of errors as Costard manages to deliver Jacquenetta’s letter to the Princess of France and Rosaline’s letter to Jacquenetta.

At this point, King Ferdinand and his lords overhear one another professing their love for their respective ladies and to a man decide that their oaths are better off left for dead while the women are around. When the lords pay a visit to the ladies in disguise, however, the ladies turn the tables on them with disguises of their own. When the men return as themselves, the women continue to bait them with their own words, delighting in the men’s confusion. Just when they begin to sort things out and sit down for a pageant, a messenger arrives to inform the Princess that her father has died, and she must leave immediately. The Princess tells Ferdinand that if he spends one year’s time cloistered in a remote hermitage—his penance for being an oath-breaker—while she is in mourning, then she will consider his suit of marriage. Each lady-in-waiting exacts a similar promise from the king’s lords. Although there will be no weddings forthcoming, the ladies vow to return to Navarre the following year to determine if their love is true.


ROMEO and JULIET

An ongoing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues breaks out again on the streets of Verona. Both sides are warned by Prince Escalus that they must not disturb the peace again, on pain of death.

Romeo, love-sick for Rosaline, is comforted by his friend Benvolio. Capulet tells Paris that he may not marry his daughter Juliet until she is older. Romeo and his friends learn of a party being held by the Capulets, and decide to go to it as masquers. At the party, Tybalt sees Romeo, but is prevented from fighting him by Capulet. Romeo meets Juliet, and they instantly fall in love. After leaving the party, Romeo eludes his friends, returns to meet Juliet, and they exchange vows of love. Romeo tells Friar Laurence what has happened and he consents to marry them.

Benvolio tells Mercutio that Tybalt has sent Romeo a challenge. Romeo joins them, and is visited by the Nurse, who is told the marriage plan. She tells Juliet, who then goes to Friar Laurence’s cell, and the lovers are married. Tybalt, looking for Romeo, finds Benvolio and Mercutio. Romeo returns, and is challenged by Tybalt, but refuses to fight. Mercutio draws on Tybalt and is fatally wounded. Tybalt then fights with Romeo, and is killed. Romeo flies, and Benvolio reports what has happened to the Prince, who banishes Romeo. The Nurse tells Juliet of Romeo’s banishment and promises to bring him to her. The Friar tells a distraught Romeo he is banished, but advises him to visit Juliet secretly, then to leave for Mantua.

Capulet tells Paris he may marry Juliet in three days, and Lady Capulet brings the news to Juliet, who has just bid Romeo a hasty farewell. Juliet refuses to marry Paris, persisting in the face of her father’s anger. She goes to the Friar for help, and finds Paris there arranging the marriage. After he leaves, the Friar devises a plan: he will give her a drink that will make her appear dead and thus avoid the marriage, and will write to Romeo to tell him; they can then elope to Mantua.

Juliet tells her father she will now marry Paris, and Capulet brings the wedding forward to the next day. Juliet retires, and drinks the liquid. When her ‘body’ is discovered, all mourn, and she is taken to the family crypt. In Mantua, Balthasar tells Romeo that Juliet is dead. He vows to lie dead next to her that night, and obtains a poison from an apothecary. Friar John tells Friar Laurence that he was unable to deliver Laurence’s letter to Romeo. Realizing the danger, Laurence leaves to tell Juliet what has happened.

Paris goes to Juliet’s tomb to mourn her, and encounters Romeo. They fight, and Romeo kills Paris. Romeo then drinks the poison and dies by Juliet. The Friar arrives to see Romeo dead and Juliet waking. She refuses to leave, and kills herself with Romeo’s dagger. Officers arrive, and rouse the families and the Prince. The Friar explains what has happened. Montague and Capulet agree to make peace with each other.


ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

After defeating Brutus and Cassius, following the assassination of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony becomes one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire, together with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus, and is responsible for the eastern part of the empire. He falls in love with Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, and settles in Alexandria. However, he is compelled to return to Rome when the empire is threatened by the rebellion of Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey, who had been defeated by Julius Caesar.

As his wife has just died Antony marries Octavius’ sister, Octavia, in an attempt to heal the rift between the two emperors. They make peace with Pompey. When Cleopatra hears about Antony’s marriage she flies into a jealous rage but knows that Antony does not love Octavia. Antony goes to Athens but when war breaks out between Caesar and Pompey, Antony sends Octavia back to Rome and returns to Egypt.

Caesar is incensed with Antony’s behaviour and he declares war on both Antony and Cleapatra. When the Romans arrive Antony is offered a choice of how to fight and, despite being renowned as the world’s greatest soldier, he chooses to fight on sea. The Egyptian navy is inadequate and when Cleopatra’s navy turns and flees, Antony follows them and Caesar defeats him.

Cleopatra goes to her tomb and sends a message to Antony that she is dead. Antony is devastated and decides to kill himself. He botches the suicide and wounds himself without dying. His followers take him to Cleopatra’s tomb, where he dies in her arms.

Cleopatra’s life is in tatters. Having lost Antony and being at the mercy of Caesar, she resolves to commit suicide. She has someone bring her some poisonous snakes and incites them to bite her. Caesar arrives just after her death and orders that the two lovers be buried together.


RICHARD III

Richard puts his plan to become king into action, first turning King Edward against his brother Clarence, having him imprisoned and later murdered. He then interrupts Henry VI’s funeral procession to woo Lady Anne, who had been betrothed to Henry VI’s son (killed by Richard at Tewkesbury), and after initial reluctance she agrees to his proposal.

Richard engages in argument with Queen Elizabeth and her family, suggesting that they are to blame for the imprisonment of Clarence and Hastings. Queen Margaret warns them against Richard. King Edward, now very sick, fosters a peace between the peers, but this is disrupted when Richard shocks everyone by announcing Clarence’s death. Soon after, Edward dies, leaving the lords and people apprehensive. The Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth, and Clarence’s children all grieve for the death of Edward and Clarence.

I am determined to prove a villan.
Buckingham and Richard begin to plan for the removal of the young Prince Edward and the young Duke of York. They are sent to lodge in the Tower, and no one is allowed to see them. Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan are imprisoned on Richard’s instructions, and later executed.

Catesby is sent to establish if Hastings will support Richard’s claim to be king. Hastings ignores Stanley’s advice to flee and rejects Richard’s advances. At the Council meeting, Richard reports a plot against him and arraigns Hastings, who is promptly executed. He persuades the Lord Mayor of the existence of the plot, and obtains his support to influence the people in his favour. When the Mayor arrives to ask Richard to accept the crown, Richard feigns reluctance but finally agrees.

Richard plans the death of the princes, but is angered when Buckingham shows some reserve. He sends Tyrrel to the Tower to kill the princes, and hastens the death of his wife, Anne. He then brusquely rejects Buckingham’s claim for his promised earldom, and Buckingham decides to desert him. Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth, and the Duchess of York all grieve for their lost men and children killed by Richard, but when Richard arrives he persuades an initially antagonistic Elizabeth to accept his proposal of marriage to her daughter.

Dorset flees to join Henry Earl of Richmond, who has come to England with an army. Many join him, but Buckingham is captured and executed. The ghosts of Richard’s victims visit him and Richmond the night before the battle of Bosworth, prophesying doom to Richard and success to Richmond. Richard is killed by Richmond, who takes the crown as Henry VII. He announces his marriage to Elizabeth of York, thus uniting the houses of York and Lancaster.


The MERCHANT of VENICE

Bassanio, needing money to be a suitor to Portia, asks his friend Antonio for a loan. Antonio’s money is all tied up in shipments away from Venice, so he approaches Shylock, a money-lender. Shylock agrees to lend the money, on condition that if Antonio does not pay it back by an appointed time, Shylock may cut a pound of flesh from him. Not taking him seriously, Antonio agrees. Bassanio prepares to leave, allowing his friend Gratiano to accompany him.

Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant, decides to leave him, telling his father about his plan. Lorenzo, with the help of Solanio, Salerio and Gratiano, plot to help Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, to escape. While Shylock is out dining with Antonio, Jessica and Lorenzo elope with some of Shylock’s money.

Meanwhile Portia is unhappy with her suitors. Her father has decreed that she must marry the man who chooses from three caskets the one containing her picture. Fortunately for Portia, both the Prince of Morocco and Arragon both fail, being seduced by the external glamour of the two incorrect caskets.

When Bassanio arrives he chooses the right casket. Gratiano falls in love with Nerissa, Portia’s waiting woman.

In Venice, Solanio and Salerio hear that some of Antonio’s ships are lost, and Shylock promises to redeem his bond. Another Jew, Tubal, brings him news of Antonio’s loss and Jessica’s fortune.

All that glisters is not gold.
Portia and Nerissa give Bassanio and Gratiano rings in honour of their love, and make them vow never to be parted from them. Salerio arrives with Lorenzo and Jessica, bringing news that Antonio, unable to repay his loan, has been arrested and that Shylock is demanding his bond. Bassanio returns to Venice with money from Portia to repay the loan. Shylock refuses to listen to Antonio’s pleas.

Portia and Nerissa travel to Venice, disguised as a lawyer called Balthasar and his clerk, to defend Antonio against Shylock, leaving Lorenzo and Jessica in charge of the house. At the court, the Duke hears Shylock present his case, protesting but accepting the legal validity of the claim. Shylock rejects the offer of money from Bassanio. ‘Balthasar’ arrives and agrees that Shylock must take his bond, if he will not be merciful, but only if the pound of flesh is exactly excised and no blood is spilt. Realizing this cannot be done, Shylock tries to leave, but because he has tried to take the life of Antonio, his goods are confiscated, and his life falls into Antonio’s hands. Antonio lets him live if he agrees to become a Christian and gives his possessions as a dowry to Lorenzo and Jessica when he dies. Shylock agrees, and leaves.

By way of thanks for their work, the disguised Portia and Nerissa each ask for the ring they had given Bassanio and Gratiano in their true identities. Reluctantly the men agree. Portia and Nerissa then return to Belmont, where Jessica and Lorenzo are waiting. When Bassanio and Gratiano arrive soon after, along with Antonio, the woman trick their men into begging forgiveness for giving their rings away. They then reveal their identities at the court. Antonio learns that his ships are safe. The couples prepare for their marriage.

THE WINTER’S TALE

Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, has been visiting his old friend King Leontes in Sicily for nearly nine months but is ready to return to Bohemia. Leontes begs him to stay longer but Polixenes is anxious to go, and declines. When Leontes’ pregnant wife, Hermione, succeeds in persuading Polixenes to stay, Leontes becomes obsessed with the thought that his wife has been unfaithful with his friend. He asks his servant, Camillo, to poison Polixenes, Camilla warns Polixenes instead and they flee leaving Hermione and her little boy, Mamillius, to face the King’s displeasure.

Leontes imprisons Hermione and she delivers a baby girl. A lady in waiting, Paulina, takes the baby to Leontes to try and persuade him to accept her. Instead, Leontes instructs Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, to take the baby into exile. Leonte’s puts Hermione on trial and she is vindicated by a message from the Delphic oracle to which Leontes had appealed. Her son Mamillius dies from heartbreak at his mother’s imprisonment and Hermione collapses and appears to die. The news of Mamillius’ death shocks Leontes back to reality and he becomes remorseful.

Antigonus places the baby on a beach in Bohemia, but he is killed by a bear and the baby is abandoned. A shepherd and his son discover the child and take her to their home.

Sixteen years pass, during which time Leontes mourns the loss of his wife and children. In Bohemia, Polixenes’ son, Florizel, has met and fallen in love with a shepherd’s daughter, Perdita, while she’s organising a sheepshearing feast. Polixenes and Camillo, in disguise, attend the feast where they are entertained by dancers and by the rogue Autolycus, who has previously tricked the young Shepherd and stolen his purse to provide himself with knick-knacks to sell at the feast. Polixenes reveals himself, reprimands his son, and threatens the shepherds for promoting Perdita’s friendship with the Prince.

Camillo and Autolycus help Florizel and Perdita to run away to Sicily. They are followed by the shepherds, who in turn are pursued by Polixenes and Camillo. At Leontes’ court Florizel introduces Perdita then, as Polixenes arrives, the revelations of the shepherds show Perdita to be the banished daughter of Leontes. Everyone goes with Paulina to see a newly completed statue of Hermione and the statue moves. Hermione has lived in seclusion in the belief that her daughter will be found. Florizel and Perdita are united. Leontes and Hermione are also united and, as a reward, Paulina is given Camillo as her new husband.

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