Thursday, September 20, 2012

a little better at listening

In between strangely productive hours at my desk this week I've been reading Troilus and Cressida for the first time.

It's listed in the Tragedy category of my Complete Shakespeare, so I'm not holding my breath for a happy ending, but I'm not surprised at all considering the subject matter.

I'm also not surprised at all by the relevance of the subject matter to the news this week: Troilus and Cressida is set at the climax of the protracted war between the united kingdoms of Ancient Greece and the city state of Troy, and thus, at the climax of a war started as the inevitable result of petty personal pride, and drawn on and out into further and further bloodshed by the inability of man to admit defeat or wrongdoing.

Sadly this play is relevant in every decade, and every level of human society. The geo-political after all simply reflects the relations between humans on a much smaller scale, like that ongoing family feud begun when a certain someone didn't give a certain someone else the appropriate greeting at a particular and no doubt important occasion because the certain someone supposed the other certain someone was behind the vicious rumour circling the family that a certain someone's wife no longer shared a bed with her husband. OR WHATEVER!

Consider this depressing summary of the state of affairs after seven years of war, from Priam, King of Troy's mouth,

"After so many hours, lives, speeches, spent,
Thus once again says Nestor from the Greeks:
'Deliver Helen, and all damage else -
as honour, loss of time, travail, expense,
wounds, friends and what else dear that is consum'd
in hot digestion of this cormorant war -
shall be struck off.'

Really Priam? You're surprised that the original theoretical justification for the justice of this war is still being clung to by its tired, wounded, yet vainly, fiercely, prideful prosecutors? Long after the original slight seems pointless? That the rage over a wife being stolen, that wife who has now spent 7 years in the bed of another, is not dimmed or muffled despite massive bloodshed, social destruction and financial expense?

Strange isn't it that we also cling, needlessly, uselessly to similar causes that do not sparkle with the appropriate level of righteous anger.

We lose interest in the child soldiers of Joseph Kony after about 3 seconds of air time, but will happily relentlessly pursue other theatres of war started by the loss of ultimately an extremely small number of civilian lives in a powerful nation, as opposed to the constant loss of extremely large number of civilian lives in impoverished states with little or no global power.

'We'll keep hitting you cos we can' seems to be the motto of modern war, dressed up as, 'we'll keep hitting you cos we can, and we'll do it to stop you hitting us'.

Hector (you may recognise him in his more recent form of a buff Eric Bana in the 'epic' Troy, which in fact captures very little of the myth itself) tries to pour oil on the flames of self-defensive ardour by pointing out that the wide world knows it's wrong to steal another man's wife, and therefore, just opinion rests with the Greeks.

The response of Priam and his other sons Troilus and Paris is basically, 'hey, they stole our aunt, plus, we're better than the Greeks'. Yup. Seamless logic there guys!

I'm finding it hard to find any joy at all in the love story that's "supposed" to provide the tragedy to the play, that of Troilus and Cressida, not only because the build up is so poor (sorry Bill), but because I really have no pity for Troilus at all. He just seems to enjoy fighting and f&$%ing, and both on fairly pointless grounds as far as I can see, so I'm left a bit cold by their plot.

The main point, in fact, the only point of astonishment I do have, is in the vast difference between Shakespeare's audience and the modern popular one.

I can't imagine any popular tv show now building most of it's plot around a vast series of dialogues and asides, where each person speaks for about 5 minutes at a time. We call that Question Time and nobody watches it. We 'show don't tell' because technology has given us that capacity. And I do rejoice in it! (Honestly!)

BUT, I think we've lost a great capacity to follow and comprehend when someone tells instead of showing, and it is this dumbing down the leads to a paucity of proper debate when we go forth to shed blood.

Perhaps it would be better for our souls if we were a little better at listening...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

anonymous and other tosh

One of the many reasons for loving Shakespeare is that he helps you win trivia contests!

At our church weekend away a couple weeks ago, the inevitable happened, and a Shakespeare related question came up. I didn't even get to answer it, another member of our team jumped in swiftly to answer, "what 2011 film questioned the authorship of Shakespeare's plays?"

Anonymous played with the ever-popular idea that it was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and not William Shakespeare who penned the plays, that theory and many others consistently kept alive by the intellectual snobbery of academics through the centuries, agog that a small-town boy like Billy, who, as far as we know, never travelled beyond England, could possibly have written novels of such depth, political and social intrigue, set in far and fantastical locations, having nothing more than a primary school level education.

Well, beyond the fact that primary school level education for William involved Greek, Latin, maths, history, English, poetry etc etc etc, and that the whole world was opening up to the British mind during the Elizabethan 'Golden Age', it has surely always been true that imagination is a boundless facility, crossing every boundary of human experience, reaching into the limitless and grasping at the divine.

Ie, pretty sure Bill could figure out how to represent life in Verona, having never been there, especially as, conveniently, everyone in his Verona has an English tongue in an English head!

I can of course, like many others, credit William with the expansion of my imaginative and artistic horizons over the years, and I can certainly understand why an artist more educated than I by age 11 (and I have a post-graduate for heaven's sake!) was quite capable of spinning the majestic prosody of the Shakespearian canon.

And rather than snob about that, I want to encourage it! If imagination is not sharpened and encouraged, we never shall see again the like of William's capability. Our literature will grow poorer and narrower as our minds do.

Every school child should be encouraged to imagine fantastic worlds, create in their minds a full gamut of personalities, thus increasing their ability to empathise, analyse and strategise, three skills that will improve their life immeasurably.

So, I thumb my nose at Anonymous as an idea, and all the others who push Kit Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, and indeed, any other candidate, not only because they have a ridiculously small island to stand on historically, but because I think every child, guided and encouraged, can unleash their own Shakespeare within.

So get to it! Read the Bard! And have a bash at your own iambic pentameter!