domingo, julho 31, 2016

Northumbrian Humour: "The Throwback" by Tom Sharpe



Far, far away, in a distant magical land where only Sharpe’s books existed....


Manuel and Ana were entering the room.

"Hay Ana" said Manuel
Ana was looking unhappy though.
"Bad news Manuel. We are broke"
"Hu? But after our last adventure we were rich"
"Yes, but after paying the taxes we are broke. In fact, we owe money now because taxes are high for rich people"
"Ow. Darn it. What will we do?" said Manuel to Ana.
"We need to make a lot of money to pay off the taxes owed; if we don't, our palace in which we live will be repossessed!"
Just then, the TV which was on all this time changed to a news announcement.
"And the world Killing People championship final starts tomorrow. Aside from the coveted trophy, the prize this year will include 2 million euros...In other news, a war is on..."
Ana shut the tv off.

"Of course!" said Manuel.
"Killing People!  Why didn’t I think of that!"
"Yes Killing People - the sport of kings!"
Manuel nodded in agreement.
 "We can make lots of money doing that and pay off the taxes that we owe"
 "YES" screamed Ana getting excited.
"But we need a 'in' else we won’t be allowed in."
"Don’t worry! I know someone who can get us into the finals!"
"Oh that’s good."

And with that they got into the finals!

Before the contest, Manuel and his friends decided to take a tour of the arena.
Aside from the normal restaurants and Killing People gift shops, and orgy rooms, there was also a museum. A museum dedicated to the history and art of Killing People.

As they had done the other stuff already, they decided to go to the museum.
Originally, Killing People wasn't that popular as a sport, but in recent years it had become the most popular sport in the world due to the popularity of the Throwback. Some people missed other sports at first, but slowly it was just accepted that Killing People was the best sport In Portugal.
They looked at the giant diorama of the first Killing People-ing contest. There was a button they could press and the animatronics would act out famous events in its history.

There was also giant pieces of Killing People-ing equipment all around the museum.
João looked at one particularly large display.
"It’s magnificent."
"Yes, it is."
Just then though the display started wobbling.
"Oh, no...It’s coming down!"

João pushed Manuel out of the way just as it came crashing down.

"Ow...I am trapped," said João, who was now trapped under the rubble.
Manuel tried to move the rubble but couldn't.
"Sorry, João but I can’t move it".
"You will have to go on without me! It’s almost time to start!"
"Ok, I'll be going to the arena then."
Manuel walked to the museum door...but it was locked!
"No... I am trapped!" said Manuel.
Manuel had no choice now, so he pulled the fire alarm.

By the time the fireman had rescued them, however, it was already half-time. Manuel had missed the whole first half of the competition!
As João was taken to hospital by bi-plane, Manuel and Ana retired to the locker room. 
Nuno was already there, still grinning.
 "Oh what a shame. João isn't going to compete any more. Even doing nothing I'm going to come second. You know...I might just let you win…out of my...generosity... "Nuno sniggered again.
With that Nuno left out the backdoor.
"Gosh darn it" Ana said. "Nuno drives me mad! "
"You know, I think he had something to do with João’s accident.”
Manuel was thinking. Hard.
 "Nunois never generous. Lack of generosity is his number one defining characteristic. Well, that and being evil."
"That means..." said Ana, her slow cogs working.
"...he wants to come second!" said Manuel, thinkingly.
"Do you think that’s..."
"...because he wants the second prize medal!" said Manuel, grinning again. 
"It must be because the second prize is really The Book."
"Yes, now look at the second prize I notice it now. It’s clearly the Book"
"That explains why someone would want to become second!"
"Exactly!"
"So we have to beat Nuno by being the best at coming second? How are we going to do that...you have never lost before! "
"I know" said Manuel. "I am not sure I know how."
"You've got to though. Just this once you got to come second!"
"No I can’t. But I have an idea...you could compete!"
"Me?" said Ana, surprised. "Do they even allow girls like me to participate in the Killing People contest?
"Yes, it’s a modern contest, a few girls have already competed. I'll win the contest as normal, and you will come second. You can do this!"
"Ok Manuel, I'll do it. I'll do it for you"

Then the Gong went again, the final leg of the Killing People contest had begun!
As they walked into the Killing People Arena again there was applause from the crowd.
Nuno was lying down relaxing - clearly pretty relaxed.
"I want to compete!" shouted Ana, proudly wearing a Killing People kit already.
"What!?" said Nuno sitting bolt upright in panic.
"Yes, I am competing" said Ana.
"I have checked the rules and it’s allowed" said Sónia, who was the Killing People referee.       
"GAH! I'll bet you anyway" said Nuno, as he desperately started Killing People left and right.
Manuel was already well in the lead by now, so he turned around and watched the real contest - the one between Nuno and Ana.
Ana had to get that second prize. Portugal's destiny depended upon it.
"You can’t defeat me" screamed Nuno as he started Killing People with his bare hands.
"I have to! Manuel believes in me! "  
The contest went on a long time. Aside from Manuel, Ana and Nuno were the best Killing Peoplers in the world.
The crowd went wild as they approached the finish.
"Come on Ana! You can do it," said Manuel who had already won an hour ago.
Spurred on by Manuel Ana put in a last burst of effort, doing a stunning Killing People move knocking down two people with just a Zoolander killing look, and finishing spectacularly.
"Nooooooooooooo...." screamed Nuno.
Sónia fired the machine gun that officially marked the contest as over.
"Nooooooooooooo...." screamed Nuno.
"Well don’t Ana! You have come second and officially get the second prize award," said Sónia as she handed Ana the second prize award.
"Nooooooooooooo...." screamed Nuno again.
Ana looked at the prize and it was the Book! Manuel had been right all along. She gave it to Manuel as she knew only they should be trusted with it.
"Nooooooooooooo...." screamed Nuno again.
"Ok, Portugal is safe now " said Manuel.
"Thank you Manuel!" screamed the crowd.
Manuel took a bow.

With that Nuno got arrested and everyone went home.    

-The End

NB: All the grammatical errors are part of the story...lol.

sexta-feira, julho 29, 2016

Answer: In other words, everything else: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by Raymond Carver, Gordon Lish



“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”

in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver, Gordon Lish

Imagine the following sentence: “By 8 AM I wake up to go to the bathroom.”

Now imagine the following edited sentence: “By 8 AM I wake up and go to the bathroom to sit on what has to be the unlikeliest throne in Lisbon.”

Which one is better? Uhm...Food for thought...

Ah, those were the days! We need more Zeferino Coelhos (*) in the publishing trade, that's for damn sure. I can’t imagine reading Carver’s tales without Lish’s hand at work. I’m not a writer. That means I can’t imagine the importance of having a fine editor to work on my drivel and change it to something worth reading. If I were a writer I couldn’t imagine a few pleasures as fine as working with a good editor, someone who kept me on top of my game, pushed me to do my best, and allow my drivel to hit the way it ought to hit. Unfortunately, this kind of approach also has downsides, namely adding exposition at every corner, cracking me over the head with a sledgehammer instead of trusting my ability to read between the lines. When I’m reading I need to think. If I don’t have to think, I’m just cruising, and if I’m cruising I’m reading summer books… Not good.


Lish’s editing work simply made the tales better tales. It’s as simple as that. I’m not saying Lish is a better writer than Carver. Want I want to say is that only a certain type of thinker can improve something that already possesses the spark of genius. It's what we really talk about when we talk about writing. I know what I’m talking about. I can't write for toffee myself, but I’m able to recognize Greatness in others. 

(*) Zeferino Coelho was José Saramago’s editor for 30 years; Now that he’s dead, his wife, Pilar del Rio, sold the publishing writes to another publishing house, Porto Editora, for half a million…what money does to people. I know Saramago’s foundation needs a lot of money, but this is too much…

sábado, julho 23, 2016

Shakespeare on Film and Stage: "Richard III" by Rupert Goold at the Almeida Theatre


Performance at the Almeida Theatre in London on the 21st of July 2016.

Though a play is written to be produced in a live-action format, it still usually exists originally on the page, as a thing, a printed document that a director, actors, costume designers, etc. help bring to life. Many critics fail to recognize the mutuality of this relationship — between a production and the text of the play itself. Too often they dismiss a production as “not faithful to the play” or criticize it for “excessive cutting.” In these critiques, the text of the play represents an ideal or standard that any given production must live up to, a notion that assumes the play’s meaning is objective and stable; In this, the faithful production is relegated to an entirely subordinate status where it is praised for not diverting from the true meaning of the play, while the unfaithful production is abruptly dismissed for tampering with that meaning. I want to argue here for a different kind of thinking about the relationship between the text of the play and a live performance or film of it. These are, for me, a conversation -- one in which neither the play nor performance of it have the high ground or upper hand. In "Shakespeare and the Film", one of my most precious possessions, Roger Manvell writes, “we shall discuss in this book the degree of artistic responsibility with which Shakespeare’s plays have been transferred to the screen". For Manvell, filmmakers and stage directors touching Shakespeare handle something precious, something requiring immense care and a sense of duty. The director’s “artistic responsibility,” in his estimation, is to “transfer,” not to transform, not to condense or expand, not to interpret. Manville’s view, while dated, continues to be taken up quite frequently by film critics today. Films are often still judged by this standard of faithfulness. 


Manvell also writes, “The new media, with their emphatic close-shots, can be brought into full play to enhance and underline the significance of the words. Or they can . . . use spectacle and pictorialism to mute the sense of the lines, and turn Shakespeare’s scintillating poetry into what sounds like the baying of human hounds” Here he expects the film (or the play) to be a literal rendering of the lines. Elsewhere, Manvell discusses how Shakespeare’s “characterization and his poetry will most effectively be served by the screen”, as if the film or the play is meant to do the work of the lines—is slave to the lines. Later, he critiques the “vandalism” of some adaptations. Often, film and stage productions are not only expected to be faithful to the text of the play but also to the conventions of theatre. Certainly, it is important to consider how film and theatre overlap and to think about how they comment on one another, but there are significant differences between the two media as well. In theatre, the actors and the audience are in one room; in film, they are not. In theatre, sets are recognizable as sets; in film they are not. In theatre, every look of an audience member is done from one static angle. In film, there is a camera that moves dynamically and there are cuts, which determine the angle. Thus, the film medium presents a unique way of adapting Shakespeare, and there is definite utility in valuing the power of film to reveal its subject in new ways. For example, we could look to two very different film adaptations of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing", the 1993 film from director Kenneth Branagh and the 2012 film from director Joss Whedon. Both directors are known for having a very idiosyncratic directorial style. These are not films where the director disappears in service of the lines. There are things I appreciate about both films, but I would also admit that neither is a perfect film -- at least not for me as a viewer. 


What I note is how radically different these two productions are from each other, one a lavish richly-colored delight with expansive wide shots and hundreds of extras, the other a quieter black and white experiment all shot at a single location. It is, in fact, the boldest choices made by these films -- the moments where they most liberally interpret Shakespeare's play -- that draw me to them. I would argue that the best film adaptations (and the best stage adaptations, for that matter) do not bend to the text, but rather thoughtfully adapt the text for another medium. Manvell argues that there is a “transmutation” of a play when it is filmed. In the last paragraph of his introduction to Shakespeare and the Film, he writes: It can be claimed that Shakespeare’s dramatic art is best fulfilled on the screen through an uncompromising transmutation of everything for which his words stand into an entirely new form, made up of images-with-sound. In this case much, or even at times all, of what he wrote for a stage where everything had to be created in the imagination of the audience through the speech he put into the mouths of his actors, may well have to suffer a ‘seachange into something rich and strange’—poetry cast in the mold of another medium as potentially powerful in its own right as his own. Manvell still insists that the lines “suffer,” but there is a clear sense here that this type of “transmutation” could also be capable of enriching the lines. This "transmutation" is not something controlled only by a director. Shakespeare doesn't, literally, put speeches into the mouths of his actors. Instead, the actors find the words upon a page and, with the help of a director, they put those words into their own mouths in very characteristic ways. Emma Thompson's Beatrice (in the Branagh film) is very different from Amy Acker's Beatrice (in the Whedon film). Thompson chooses to go big (emoting right up to the rafters) in places where Acker chooses to have her Beatrice go small. Both make very deliberate choices, and in my view, their performances are the anchors in each of these films. In the "O, that I were a man!" scene, for example, Acker's Beatrice paces around the set and has her back to the camera at several key moments. Acker's extensive experience as an actor for both screen and stage suggests to me that this was a conscious choice. (As an aside, Acker played Hero in a live production of Much Ado at the American Players Theatre in 1999.) Perhaps, she turns her back at certain well-known lines to de-emphasize them -- so that we hear other lines we might have missed before. Even if the choice were purely instinctual, what Acker succeeds at doing is making this scene about a woman's assertions of herself at great cost and through great resistance -- and this is echoed both in her words and in what we see on screen. The scene, then, becomes a conversation between Acker and her director, between Acker as Beatrice and the audience, and between Acker and Shakespeare. She is not changing the scene, but bringing a different kind of light to it. Adaptation functions as a form of interpretation not a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s work. In this, the films become primary texts in their own right while also engaging directly with their sources. A film version of Much Ado About Nothing is a reading of the play, but it is both a literal reading of the lines themselves and a critical reading or interpretation of their meaning. Films become more than just reenactments; they become critically responsive texts—they become active readers. This kind of work honors the shifting, fluid status of meaning in the plays. Shakespeare’s plays are something that exist perpetually in the present—a film is capable of bringing life in some new way to "A Midsummer Night’s Dream", or to Much Ado About Nothing" as do readers who continually bring to them new interpretations.


What about Rupert Goold's adaptation of Richard III? This post is already too long. To cut things short, suffice to say, Ralph Fiennes was an astounding Richard III. As I’ve said elsewhere, forget the recent movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Fiennes' movie is not really in the same league as the Mckellen version, but it’s still one of the best in terms of recent productions of Richard III. Scott Handy as George, Duke of Clarence, was also excellent. Finbar Lynch as Buckingham was also above par. Daniel Cerqueira’s Catesby was also bloody good (is he a Portuguese actor?), as was James Garnon's Hastings (his delivery of "Bloody Richard" was terrific).

When I went to watch it I had some misgivings. For starters I didn’t know who Rupert Goold was. After having watched this play by him, I’m comfortable in saying that he’s one of the best directors around (too bad about the defilement scene; it was really uncalled for): he made sure that a healthy tension was maintained throughout the play, such that the actors' emotions did not devolve into embarrassing ham-acting. Unfortunately, we have a lot of that in English and Portuguese theatre at the moment. As I’ve stated in another post, Richard III is my favourite Shakespearean villain. I love an arch villain knocking off rivals before building to a big battle at the end. Villains are always great fun to play and this one has all the best lines. I’ve always thought a play about Richard must put the stress on Richard's misogyny and in that regard Fiennes was quite impressive. At times the best Richards should make me laugh, but it should also make me very uncomfortable, like the best of horror.


What I didn’t like: the defilement scene (Richard and Aislín McGuckin as Elizabeth). Was it really necessary as a way of adding dramaturgy to the play? I still have no idea why some directors change things the way they do, when we simply don’t have it in the Shakespeare text. I’m not against introducing new scenes when the added value is just that. Added value. But not in this case. What was Rupert Goold's thinking...? Johanna Vanderham’s Anne: Terrible performance. She just delivers all of her lines in a monocordic tone of voice. She was absolutely dreadful.

Goold’s Richard didn't bother to conceal his own motives for doing the things he did, bending people to his will with unspoken consequences and a single look. Overall a performance that transcended the stage, gripped me from the first moment and didn’t let me go until the last scene. Fiennes gave me a truly devastating performance; it was a bit like witnessing some freak force of nature at play on stage. Quite an experience.

Incidentally, Anthony Sher’s Richard III back in the 80s is still my absolute favourite. It was a chillingly menacing performance.

NB: All pictures and clips taken by me, in stealth mode. using high-tech devices, during the performance...

domingo, julho 17, 2016

My Memory, my Soul and my Quantum Entanglement: 500th Post

(taken from "vanishingpointchronicles.com)


When I started this blog almost 10 years ago to the day, on the 4th of August 2016, my goal was to have a place where I could capture and express my thoughts and feelings about stuff, i.e., a place where I could digress about the things that interested me (Shakespeare, SF, Opera, Film, etc.) It also provided a kind of repository where my kids, say, could go to get glimpses of me that may go unexplored otherwise. 

For me blogging was never about numbers, instead it was about meaning and sharing meaning with those who cared.

I’m not a writer, not even an aspiring one. I am an Engineer with a lot going on in heart and mind that I’d like to build into a legacy of sorts. So I’m not into volume in terms of blog hits and the like. 

(taken from this very same blog)

You won’t find on my blog the answer why we go to Shakespeare’s plays even when we know the outcome of everyone of them.  Are there people interested in knowing this? I doubt it. I don’t even know whether there are still people reading Shakespeare in Elizabethan English! As far as I can tell, there is no market for this information. So this begs the question: Should I keep on writing about anything at all, and about Shakespeare in particular? 

But be that as it may, there’s no other way I can describe it that doesn’t lessen the impact. Writing has transformed who I am. It didn’t happen after one day, I don’t know if it happened after 5, 10 or 100 days. I don’t know when it happened. But that’s both the easy part and the hard part. You just write because it’s now not only a part of who I am, it’s who I am. 

So the answer to the above-mentioned question is definitely yes. The answer to the question, “will I still publish everything I write on my blog?” is a different matter altogether.

NB: 500 posts in 10 years, 50 posts a year, 4 posts a month, 1 post a week, around 90000 hits...I think the "truth" is in numbers...In cabalistic terms, there must be something else at play here. lol

I'll finish by saying thanks to those people who have kept reading over the years. It means more than you know. Time is space, space is time, and we're just flotsam. We all know our perceptions fuck with both. Will I get shifted back? In case I don't, what's written on this blog it's all you've got, after my lights are out forever…

terça-feira, julho 12, 2016

The Madness of Lust: "Cleopatra"

(Antony and Cleopatra. Painting by Willem Van Mieris - 1662-1747)

After having published the review on the play, I realised not everything had been said about it, and particularly about Cleopatra. Sometimes Shakespeare has that effect on me...I keep on thinking about what I've just read.

‘‘Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt-- beautiful, wealthy, sexy, charismatic.'' “Her conversation, her charm, her wit, her sexiness draws him back.'' Besides, she is an “enchanting queen” (Act I, scene II) and in her person ‘witchcraft’ can “join with beauty, lust with both” (Act II, scene I). Cleopatra's excess of 'everything' must have stirred the audience's imagination when listening to the piece of poetry. I know it does stir my imagination, to say the least. Having spent some time in the company of Bacchus this evening, I decided that I would not express my initial thoughts on this play’s focus on the “madness of lust”, because I was afraid I’d say improper things, but Bacchus being what Bacchus is, my resolve lost the battle. Shakespeare has again cut to the chase on one of the most wonderful and also most destructive traits of our species, the exhilarating and destructive force of infatuation. For Antony the “playing away” for Cleopatra “the stranger in town” deep down knowing that the madness is never going to see the celebration of any of the wonderful milestones of long term relationships but powerless to fight the need to be with the object of that madness, no matter what the consequences. It is Shakespeare's genius that on an almost bare stage, he was able to conjure the dazzling scene of stunning Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, in her beyond luxurious barge entirely with words.

Cleopatra is a complex character of constantly changing moods, she has got an intellectual ease for learning and a political awareness along with her personal attributes, such as her suggested “beauty” or captivating presence which led her to be viewed in equally positive and negative ways. Sensuous by nature, Cleopatra has had many lovers. Firstly, she belonged to the Ptolemy Family, a royal family notorious for incest and vicious infighting. Cleopatra was one of the most powerful leaders of that time, so unavoidably people either held her in esteem or disliked her intensely.

Cleopatra was believed to be highly regarded socially unlike her family was. Famous historian Plutarch says that she was to be of a rather “exalted” position. Knowing several languages, being very intelligent and being able to captivate her listeners when she spoke would have intimidated the Romans because she had the ability to influence Rome‘s men and use them for her benefit.

Because she toys with him, Antony is never sure of her devotion, although she swears her love to him. But when he grows angry with her, after his defeat at Actium, Cleopatra always wins back Antony's love by begging for forgiveness.

On a comparative note....since England was just coming out of the "Tudor" age with King James; I was fascinated to read the marginal note in Plutarch regarding a further description of Cleopatra's beauty in which he says her beauty was not unmatchable; rather her company and conversation were such as to keep men's admiration and attraction...this sounds very like the descriptions of Anne Boleyn. Her beauty was not "beauty" as such- but her attraction was her intelligence and personal wit and trait.

NB: Picture in this post taken from my Rowse.

segunda-feira, julho 11, 2016

Debauchery in the City: "Measure For Measure" by William Shakespeare


What happens when a Duke is fed up with the debauchery in his city pretends to leave town, leaving in charge an uptight moron? Shakespeare in neutral happens.

Angelo, Angelo, the flesh is weak, I know. Sometimes we’re torn between whipping ourselves into a frenzy for thinking unclean thoughts, but I’d never would have whipped Isabella (or her brother) for trying to tempt me into ickiness.



Once a man with a seriously distorted Weltanschauung is convinced that sexual desire is absolutely evil, and he’d like to be the righteous man by shunning such liberties that he admits are possibly only in his head, but he also wants to get some action on the side, that's where and when Shakespeare's really is his usual self. Only Shakespeare could have written such a nicely self-debate about characters' urges.



I’ve never been very keen on this play’s ending, but I’m no Shakespeare. I find the ending troublesome and unacceptable, because I’ve trouble separating the Duke’s views from what I presumed to be Shakespeare’s, as though preserving Shakespeare’s moral and religious centre is more important than having him write exclusively good plays. On the other hand, the funny resolution seemed, in fact, something that the audience can laugh at, but which makes them bad people if they laugh at it, if you get my drift.

Imperfect and perverse though it may be, stays nevertheless truer to itself. The conclusion feels crazy, but the world of the play to that point has been intensely crazy to say the least.



NB: I still have to watch this play, either on the big screen or in the theatre to make up my mind about it. Or re-read it for good measure. As a farcical comedy it seemed a bit too much for my palate. A friend of mine would not hesitate to call it a WTF comedy…Maybe reading this in translation will give me a different flavour. If Shakespeare is read in a translation does that make the experience radically different - is Shakespeare in modern Portuguese, German, etc. more easily understood, i.e., less obscure and WTFuckable for the Portuguese and German readers than the English would be for an English reader? Is any attempt made to translate into outdated language to convey the same effect? Who gets the more 'authentic' reading - the modern English person reading a language 400 years old or the modern Portuguese or German reader reading it in 21st century Portuguese or German? At the end of the day, I suppose it's a case of the reader either wanting to just read the story or to be as well transported to 16th/17th century London whilst doing so. The same in film. For example, an American such as Gwyneth Paltrow perfected an English accent in the film, “Shakespeare in Love”. As did Ben Affleck who appeared in the same film. Why? Not only to capture the story but to greatly capture the story behind the story. I guess in the same way a Zen Buddhist - no matter their nationality - will chant the chant in its original form, be it Shinto or Sanskrit. I’ve definitely got to watch the play in Elizabethan English first to make sure I’m reading it right…At times I thought I was reading a play by a Frank Capra or a Howard Hawks…Screwball comedy comes to mind.




Namaste ;-)

NB2: All pictures taken from my Rowse.

domingo, julho 10, 2016

A Spoilt, Capricious Woman Who Has it Her Way: "Antony and Cleopatra" by William Shakespeare


Can I erase from my mind the images of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton making love? The "parade" when Cleopatra entered Rome? The magic sails of Cleopatra's barge? It's all Hollywood, of course...

Antony and Cleopatra is not one of the plays when I think of Shakespeare. I have only seen a dodgy film version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, as I've said above, and, of course, “Carry On Cleo” with the famous line said Kenneth Williams 'In for me I for me, they have all got it in for me.' "Dodgy version" hahaha! That film really should have been called "Dick & Liz in Egypt" - all I can remember is Richard's knees in that Roman outfit and Liz's ubiquitous eyeliner. 

The first important tragedy by Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (R&J), is a love story, like Antony and Cleopatra (A&C), the last of his greatest tragedies. But they are different on many aspects: first, the age of the lovers: teenagers in R&J, and approaching middle-age in A&C; in R&J the action lasts four days, in A&C it covers a period of several years; Juliet is candid, Cleopatra is deceitful; Romeo and Juliet prefer death to a life without love, Antony is torn between love and the desire to resume his position in the Roman empire; in R&J the obstacles to love are external factors, in A&C they are internal, as the lovers’ own hesitations, doubts and betrayals. But there are also many similarities: one of the two lovers’ death is due to poison and the other’s to a cutting weapon; both the men die in a sepulchral monument; in both the plays there is the false report of the woman’s death. These can’t be coincidences. The second theme at the centre of A&C is the conflict between public responsibilities and private affections, already dealt in Henry V: there the former prevailed, here the latter. This theme is worth being studied in depth because it’s topical when referred to the present day politics.


I remember have read Plutarch's "Parallel Lives"  in my youth, not as a primal source of knowledge but as a consequence of so many novels and films and series -I mean historical fictions- I used to read and watch from my very own childhood. At some point I felt the need to get a further idea about how all these characters I've met through Robert Graves, Mary Renault, Bernard Shaw, Cecil B. De Mille, Manckiewiczs (and by derivation the very Shakespeare in this case) and so forth, had been portrayed by ancient historians, those who were closer to the historic period of them. I'm glad to have been able to understand the inverse path, I mean, how Plutarch had been the origin of Shakespeare historic plays.

After having read the play now along with “Parallel Lives”, I can’t stop thinking about Cleopatra’s behaviour and I can't also avoid associating her -the fictional and even the historical she- with Lady Macbeth's thirst of power, her incommensurable ambition and the warped ways she puts her partner under pressure to push him to uses any resource -even the most crazy or unscrupulous- to reach the top of the political stage. A sort of messianic delirium to be sure.


I was also intrigued by the first scene featuring the soothsayer, when Charmian and Iras are off duty. It's a fun moment that becomes poignant later when their fortunes come true. We've seen Antony share the stage with a soothsayer before, and wars are won or lost due partly to fortune, so I looked for that word. There are 45 instances, with the first dozen in that scene alone.
If fortune favors the brave, Antony must be a coward. He's such a politician, and it's only Cleopatra who sees him as a warrior or emperor. He even botches his own suicide: "I have done my work ill, friends. O, make an end / Of what I have begun." Then he has to die a slow death, thanks to the well-worn device of the messenger telling him too late that his lady has only faked her death. I feel he's being mocked here - by Fortune as well as Shakespeare.

In the end Cleopatra, like her women, recognizes Fortune's power. She remains defiant as she consoles herself: "'Tis paltry to be Caesar; / Not being Fortune, he's but Fortune's knave, / A minister of her will." Publicly, though, she admits she's the vassal of Octavius' fortune. She's a politician too, but obviously that's not enough when one wants to rule the world.


I’ve said this before. Reading a play is not the same as watching it. This time round, I particularly liked it being brought to notice how Mark Antony, from Cleopatra's reflections, was almost 'God Like' ... I believe I would miss much and have seen, his being seen, as a great soldier ... Another indication of Antony's god-like status is the line 'His legs bestrid the ocean'. This is doubtless a reference to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. This was a giant bronze statue of the titan-god of the sun Helios, and was thought to have straddled the entrance to Rhodes harbour.

Shakespeare also refers to the Colossus in other plays:

'Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs'
("Julius Caesar")

'And stands colossus-wise, waving his beam,
Upon the pashed corses of the kings
Epistrophus and Cedius'
("Troilus and Cressida")

Falstaff: Hal, if thou see me down in the battle and bestride me, so; 'tis a point of friendship.
Prince Henry: Nothing but a colossus can do thee that friendship.
("Henry IV, Part 1")


Reading the play  really brought home the human tragedy of a great man with so much going for him, who 'loses it' - his reputation, his god-like status, the values and expectations of his country, all for the love of a manipulative, egocentric woman. I'm not sure whether someone can convince me to be more compassionate! (Though not great, nevertheless a king, it reminds me of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.)


Shakespeare's description of the very air being lovesick from Cleopatra is just stunning- his words leave me breathless in admiration.
What a performance Cleopatra is giving in the play! I love the scene where she tells her ladies in waiting what to tell Mark Antony. Or when she calls the messenger back to describe Octavia to her. These moments are the most sincere of all. That's who Cleopatra is! A spoilt capricious woman who has it her way. She is definitely always in performance in the play. Do you think she really loves Antony? He is clearly infatuated by her as all the secondary characters report to us (Philo, act 1, sci, Demetrius- ibid, Enobarbus, act 1, sc ii, Ceasar, act 1, sc IV, Pompey, act2, sci, etc...) we learn about the couple through the others, but we do not have them alone, the two of them on stage as we do have Romeo and Juliet) Therefore question : is this a play about a mature couple's love as we have usually said about A&C? Is Cleopatra really in love with Antony? What is Shakespeare telling us again? Look how one can lose a kingdom / everything he's got cause manipulated by a foreign element? Does this ring a bell? Is Shakespeare trying to tell England that if she wants to be powerful she has to stand on her own? Like Elizabeth had previously done?  


Pascal remarked, “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.” As Plutarch said she was not the staggering kind of beauty, but she had the wealth and means to put on a show in which of course she was the main star. That she was charismatic we can only guess-after all she seduced two very powerful Roman generals: Caesar and Anthony. As for the rest she was probably well educated, manipulative, and histrionic and patient. She patiently waited for her wishes and dreams of power and magnificence to come true.
I was surprised at how closely Shakespeare drew from the Plutarch translation, but what he has done with the original is Shakespeare's own: classical, amazingly sensuous and sensual, just sublime. I love the section of the play as it tingles with the excitement and awe at the arrival of Cleopatra...just wonderful.


Shakespeare masterfully succeeds in transforming Plutarch's description of Cleopatra into a poetic paean of praise for her skills as an intelligent charismatic woman and not just for her beauty alone. The repeated sibilant sound of the letters throughout those lines brings to mind the soughing of the breeze as Cleopatra's barge is rowed down the Nile. Poor Mark Antony didn't stand a chance when pitted against such a feisty woman!
Shakespeare's admiration for her matches that of his admiration for Antony. Meanwhile Octavious comes across as a grumpy old man by way of comparison.

This is the first I’ve read, in parallel, one of Shakespeare’s plays, and the work on which it was based. It was quite illuminating.


The more I learn about Shakespeare the more I wonder how the son of a glover, without the benefit of a University education, managed to write such brilliant multi layered plays, capturing the imagery of distant lands as well as in depth characterisation and plotting, and all in a short space of time, in between his own acting career. We glibly say he was a genius, but he really was on a par, in his own way, with Leonardo da Vinci. The education Shakespeare received at the grammar school was the equivalent of a classics degree. And John Shakespeare wasn't just a Glover; he also mayor of Stratford and as one of the leading burgesses of the town his son would have had the automatic benefit of free education at the school. School days were incredibly long often starting at 6am and continuing till 6pm. And yes it did also help being a genius. I’m an Engineer and I always say that what you learned at University was not an end in itself, it was only the beginning. A student should be curious all the time and keep on learning not only in his chosen field but in all life's experiences. Shakespeare may not have had a University education but I think his reading and natural curiosity would have broadened his mind to the extent that he was able to write about all kinds of situations. His natural talent and genius would then take over and produce the beautiful poetry and fascinating plays based on his self-taught knowledge. I wonder about some elements in the culture or way of thinking about events or motivations or other things. Such as a thing and its opposite. Of course this is valid thinking. Yet it is dramatic thinking. So I'm just mulling over the idea of subtlety and whether subtlety itself is real or avoidant. We have conflict occurring more often when the thinking is I am right you are wrong than when people listen to each other with understanding as the focus. Do stories depicting conflict influence history as well as history influence stories? My question reminds me of some folk saying we need different narratives. Just puzzling out loud here as usual when I’m in Shakespeare mode…



NB: All pictures taken from my Rowse.

sábado, julho 09, 2016

Lear as a Trump-like Figure: "King Lear" by William Shakespeare


I think there are several issues to address before we get to the issue of how foolish, selfish and vain Lear is to try to complete this public display of verbal love from his three daughters. The first is his reason for giving up the throne to them--he is clearly aware that his mental powers and emotional control are collapsing as he advances into extreme old age and thinks the power will be better held by younger minds. I think Shakespeare disagrees with him, and thinks the king’s power can and only should be held by the king himself until his death. We have two current examples of prominent people in Europe dealing with this issue: one is Queen Elizabeth, refusing to step aside to hand her throne over to Charles, despite media reports that her faculties are failing at 90, and the other is in the institution of the Papacy, the shock caused by the 2013 decision of 87 year-old Pope Benedict to step aside into retirement rather than serve, as has been traditional for the last 600 years, until God had called him. Shakespeare will show us that humanity has a monstrous (his image), wolf-like appetite for power when it seems to be available for the picking up, and those who hold the power should not be whetting those bestial appetites by opening doors for them. Shakespeare shows a tremendous, unattractive, self-referencing self-pity in Lear for himself as he talks about his desire to divest himself of power: “unburthened crawl toward death.” What fool among us thinks we can be unburdened as we go to meet death? 


The second issue to address is the issue of maintaining the integrity of England: a major issue for Shakespeare. Lear thinks he will be forestalling the occasion for civil war if he divides his kingdom equally into three sections, and he has already done so publicly in such a way that no one can see anything to be preferred in any of the three sections--hard to believe, but so we are told. Who gets London, I want to know? Shakespeare knows that it is foolish to think, that the wolfish appetite for power already mentioned can be forestalled by offering it a fraction of the kingdom; that appetite will only be increased by weakening the kingdom by dividing it as Lear envisions doing, setting it up not only for internal conquest but also for foreign invasion. So Lear is thinking very weakly, but he knows that he is not at the height of his powers. Here’s where his tragic flaw intrudes, his arrogance, his hubris, his pride, which leads him to think that he and he alone can solve the problem of turning over the power of the throne, as he is doing. Obviously what he needs is a council of trusted advisors, men like Kent and Gloucester, to advise him through the difficult years of declining powers, until God calls him and the question devolves to others for resolution. Given the weakness of his intended actions, in trying to give up his position, hoping that his actions can forestall the inevitable losses of advancing age and mortality, Lear shows that he want to retain a vestige of his importance, first by forcing his daughters to feed his massive vanity by public protestations of their love--since the divisions of the kingdom have already been made, so that each segment is indistinguishable from the others, what they say will not influence what they get. The second self-indulgent folly of Lear’s is his thinking that having given up the power, he can retain the public service that a king commands through the service of 100 knights, which immediately becomes a point of strong conflict between him and Goneril and next Regan. We see that the Christian virtue of humility is one that Lear has not an inkling of, but one of the reasons that the play is so great, and he is great, is that Shakespeare will force him to learn and find that quality within himself through suffering, and he is great enough of heart that he will respond to the harsh teaching of experience. He alone of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes does this--it is not true of Macbeth, Othello, not even of Hamlet.


Lear's insecurity seems an awful lot like Donald Trump regarding the ego and admiration he wants to have.

What about the Gloucester storyline? Both Lear and Gloucester storylines echo the concept of ’nothing’. When Lear offers Cordelia a greater stake in his kingdom, he asks, “What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters? Speak." "Nothing, my lord." "Nothing?" "Nothing." "Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again." "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty according to my bond; no more nor less."

Edgar reinforces the notion when speaking to his father about a letter he has forged. Gloucester asks, "What paper were you reading?" "Nothing, my lord." "No? What need, then, that terrible dispatch into your pocket? The quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see-- Come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles."


The contrast lies in the motivations behind their comments. Cordelia is rebelling against what her father should already know. Whereas Edmund is evil in his intentions to steal his brother’s inheritance. Edmund, Goneril and Regan feel a kinship because they know they are not the favourites. In their minds they are just as good if not better than Edgar and Cordelia. This leads to jealousy and tragedy later in the play. Gloucester blames all of his anxieties on superstitious things like eclipses and thinks there is evil to the stars. King Lear is portrayed as a petulant, vain dotty old man. Neither is the picture of mental health.


NB: All pictures taken from my Rowse.