Friday, June 18, 2010

Action heroes

Another fab thing about Henry 6th is the hilarious stereotyping of the French - in Act Two, they're wandering around half-dressed, disorderly, and totally unprepared for battle.

Meanwhile, the English hero Talbot is winning battles, trading witticisms with French Laydeeeesss and giving glory and honour to the full force of England - a leader who's a team player.

As I mentioned last time, it's all very wham-bam, thankyou Ma'am, and it's totally a boy-play, in the way that most movies with Sly Stallone are boy-movies. The battles, the short dialogue, the fast pace, it's all there.

Now I'm not much of a boy-movie person. I enjoy the occasional James Bond (more because I can indulge in my favourite sport of eye-rolling), and some espionage type stuff does hold appeal for me. The more brainless movies like Fast and Furious just leave me bored.

But even though I don't always enjoy that kind of movie, I'm finding it really refreshing to see an action plot through the eyes of Elizabethan language and intrigue - for me, it lifts it to a completely different level. Does that mean I'm a snob? I don't really know... Am I a snob because I find the form more interesting, and the concerns of the plot more relevant to life now?

Shakespeare's thematic concerns in his history plays are clearly the construction and use of power - and I think that's part of what keeps them so fresh and relevant.

So maybe I'm not a snob, but I do find action in this form more mentally and emotionally engaging. And you get to read the word "contumeliously". Mmmmmm :-)

I'm also really looking forward to seeing a high-school version of Comedy of Errors on Saturday night - hurrah! It'll be interesting to see if they can pull off the whole 'two sets of identical twins' thing successfully enough.

And props to Bron S for recommending "Looking For Richard", a 1996 Al Pacino doco on Richard III - I am totally going to hunt for a copy of that to bolster my History phase, and look forward to hearing from English actors about why they reckon Americans have difficulty performing Shakespeare - well duh!

Does anyone else out there have a Shakespearian Doco Recommend?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's a maaaaaaaaaaaaans world.

"Dauphin. I am by birth a shepherd's daughter,
My wit untrain'd in any kind of art.
Heaven and our Lady gracious hath it pleas'd
To shine on my contemptible estate.
Lo, whilst I waited on my tender lambs
And to sun's parched heat display'd my cheeks,
God's Mother deigned to appear to me,
And in a vision full of majesty
Will'd me to leave my base vocation
And free my country from calamity -
Her aid she promis'd and assur'd success.
In complete glory she reveal'd herself;
And whereas I was black and swart before,
With those clear rays which she infus'd on me
That beauty am I bless'd with which you may see.
Ask me what question thou canst possible,
And I will answer unpremeditated,
My courage try by combat if thou dar'st,
And thou shalt find that I exceed my sex.
Resolve on this: thou shalt be fortunate
If thou receive me for thy warlike mate."

Act One, Scene Two, Joan la Pucelle (or Joan of Arc).

That bit of dialogue pretty much sums up what I love so far about Henry 6th (Part One).

In a very short 21 lines, Joan's character is introduced bluntly, her history expounded, her role established, a sword fight proposed (it follows) and a hint of sexual tension added to the plot. Wham bam, thank you Ma'am (or Miss as the case is).

Particularly in contrast to Comedy of Errors, but just generally  in the context of the comedies and romances, Shakespeare's history plays are action in the full sense of the word. He powers through huge slabs of plot, churning through characters and scenes. He moves the reader from the bedroom to the battlefield to the boardroom fast as lightning as he chops and changes scene to scene. It's fast paced and breathless. You get the feeling as you read that the players would be struggling for breath at the end of some sections of dialogue.

Not that it's all like that. Shakespeare is a master of pace as well as all the other elements of good drama, and still pauses, and slows down, and focusses in on more intimate moments. There are finely drawn scenes and bittersweet moments.

But Henry the 6th so far has certainly not been putting me to sleep.

And I'm looking forward to the rise and rise of the bombastic and slightly deranged Joan la Pucelle as I read one Act before bed each night for the reast of this week.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I love the way Shakespeare plays with the boundaries of reality, not just in his comedies, but in every genre he pursues.
He uses fairly traditional magic devices; sprites and fairies, potions etc. He also plays with time and myth, but one his most successful devices is the recurring motif of confused identity.

In Comedy of Errors (COE), you've got mulitple characters that look identical and thus are confused with one another (the Antipholus' and Dromios). And in other comedies and tragedies, you've got characters in disguise, which can cause a lot of confusion and angst, like in Twelfth Night. But he also uses it as a simple plot device to create situations that wouldn't have otherwise happened, like in one of my favourite ever scenes, where Henry V wanders among his soldiers on the eve of battle to test the mood and have a chat with God... It's fabulous.
But the confusion of identities in COE creates for me the same joy but also angst that other farce comedy like Mr Bean (and I reckon The Office) creates. On the one hand, the situations are hilarious and fantastic if performed well (as Rowan Atkinson does par excellence). However on the other hand, I feel the awkwardness, pain and frustration of the situation too keenly if the performance is too accurate, which makes it a painful experience to watch... Does anyone else find this kind of farce excruciating?
I really feel for the confused characters of COE, especially Adriana (who as you may remember was already anxious about her husband's love), who experiences an excruciating day of her husband apparently going totally mad and cracking onto her sister.
Worse still, she is accused of sending him mad by nagging! Her jealousy is blamed for his supposed mental distress! (Eh-oh, I've started copying his synonymous parallelism!) But as her sister Luciana points out, Adriana's nagging is being rather built up, she loves Antipholus, and this is how she expresses it... Her love is further exposed by her extreme reluctance to leave him with the Abbess and her desire to nurse him...
Anyway, leaving the nagging issue aside, it must be very distressing for your nearest and dearest not to recognise you at all, to claim they are not married to you and have no idea who you are... (Although, I can also see the fun in simply pretending not to recognise your family at all, and demanding instead that they address as you as Sir Pontington, Knight of the Realm or something. Maybe I shall pretend to be someone entirely different tomorrow...!!)
But it all makes me wonder if anyone in Billy's time lived long enough to develop Alzheimers...? Not that you have to be old to get it of course, but it would seem it helps...
So even though the comedy is absolutely hilarious (I particularly recommend Act Three, Scene Two to all, Belgium will become for you a far naughtier locale than you ever thought it could be ;-), there is a tinge of sadness to it all for me...
And thus I leave Bill's 'first' comedy, highly amused and thoughtful (exactly the way I like it) and move on to history with the First Part of Henry the Sixth. Huzzah!
How delightful it is to tick something off a list, even though it's not the assignments I should have completed or the study I should have done by now ;-)
But I shall leave you all with one delicious word from COE to ponder - distemperatures.
Ohhhh yeaaaahhhh.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Worry worry?

Ok so, it's the end of semester, I'm run off my feet, lotsa things to do. Assignments to finish (well... Start...), Mario-kart to play, strange mission expos to go to, so I haven't really kept up with either my reading or my blogging. Apologies.

But you shouldn't be surprised I'm flagging so soon you know? I'm Gen Y! We're all about instant gratification, not drawing out every experience until we've wrung each sweet drop of... Um... What was I saying?


Ooh, isn't that strange, I just pulled a super-curly blonde hair out of my....

Sorry... What was it...?

Oh that's right. Stop with the guilt trip ok?!! I'll get to it! I know I haven't said anything for a few days, but I've certainly been thinking about the blog.

Which is why, partly in response to Soph's demand for actual Shakespearean material, I want to return to a second for Adriana's well of anxiety...

In my last post I analysed most of Adriana's freakout about her husband being late home to lunch in classic 2nd Wave Feminism terms. I attributed her anxiety to lack of education, empowerment and occupation, combined with patriachal exploitation of women in Graeco-Roman society.

Now I still reckon all that's a pretty fair assessment. Each of those elements of her situation would have a massive impact on her mental well-being and behaviour, as they have had on millions of women... But I don't think that's all there is to it...

We had a fantastic sermon on worry at church on Sunday night, and it's reminded me of a few things...

Many people in our country struggle with anxiety and depression. It's serious and devestating, but also creates many everyday heroes and heroines.

But what looking at worry reminded me of is that for many people, worry, anxiety, is built into their world view.

Adriana questions,

"Whilst I at home starve for a merry look,
Hath homely age th' alluring beauty took
From my poor cheek? Then he hath wasted it."

In Adriana's world, she worries that her value will only be high while her external beauty lasts.

She also asks,

"Are my discourses dull? Barren my wit?
If voluble and sharp discourse be marr'd,
Do their gay vestments his affections bait?
That's not my fault; he's master of my state.
What ruins are in me that can be found
By him not ruin'd? Then he is the ground
Of my defeatures. My decayed fair
A sunny look of his would soon repair.
But, too unruly deer, he breaks the pale,
And feeds from home; poor I am but his stale."

I think basically what she's wondering is if the very way she speaks and interacts displeases him, and that if that's the reason he's run off and left her (which he hasn't at all)...

Now, a lot of the guys I know say women worry too much. Can I just say though, it is freaking hard to be a woman!!

I spent at least half an hour the other day feeling totally depressed about the fact that I don't have lady fingers, but thick, square man fingers... And that that is yet another thing about my body that not just falls short of, but is pretty much the opposite of our society's ideal of feminine beauty... 

Now scoff all you like boys, but when your value as a woman is defined by how pretty you are, it's difficult not to feel anxious all the time about how pretty you are (or aren't!!).

So the 2nd Wave Feminist response is pretty much to say, well, society's standards of beauty are screwed, so screw them! Violate the rules, grow your body hair, stop wearing make up and find your value elsewhere.

And I say, hear hear!

But there's still gotta be more to it than that. Rejecting beauty as the standard doesn't fix the problem. Adriana moves from her looks onto her identity and the way she expresses it to her husband. She's now anxious about her behaviour as a woman...

And even if she moves on from that, there'll always be something else!

Some Feminists have fixed Adriana's problem by telling her she doesn't need men, and just shouldn't bother entering into relationship with one...

I think as long as Adriana is looking for any human, either herself or others, to provide total secure value for herself as a person, she's going to be anxious...

Jesus said,

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body... Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" And "I am the bread of life. The person who comes to me will never go hungry, and any person who believes in me will never be thirsty."