Archive for the ‘ literature ’ Category

Much Ado About Everything

An Open Letter to the Shakespeare Tavern Cast and Crew of Much Ado About Nothing

I wish I were a count in Florence, perhaps a Medici (although their life style may have been a bit too full of espionage and intrigue for the likes of me).  If I were a count—or countess, I suppose—I could lavish funds and favors and general wealthiness on the artists of my choosing, that they may practice their art in prosperity and prestige.

However, in the absence of any ducal status and all that that entails, I am left with mere words of praise.  May they bring prosperity and prestige in their train somehow.

open handTo Benedict (Andrew Houchins): You actually made me like this character!  Before your performance, I didn’t really ever believe in Benedict’s transformation.  There was always a hint of irony in the players, a refusal to give themselves wholly over to the fact that Benedict embraced love—which refusal betrayed their belief that love weakens a hero’s temperament or dilutes his better qualities.   It’s as if the many actors that have played Benedict were so excited about the role, that they built up an aura of coolness about him that was impenetrable—as if to say, “I am playing a man in love, but only because he’s the hero, and that’s me.”  But you understood Benedict and introduced him to me in his true self: a strong man who is all the stronger for laying down his arms when he discovered a force greater than perpetual self-defense.  Benedict only gains heroism as the play progresses because he tethers his strength those who are weak and layers nobility upon his skills by employing them in the service of others.  And you accomplished this trajectory with verisimilitude by allowing Benedict to be a bit ridiculous when he plays the part of a serious soldier and entirely serious when he invests in the role of a lover, which people untouched by love view as ridiculous.  The awkwardly funny laugh, the sputtering tantrums, the quiet tension when Beatrice shared the stage—it all added up to a fascinating new vision of manliness.  Shakespeare’s portrayal of masculinity drifted too near the tyrant in Taming of the Shrew and too near the effeminate in Twelfth Night; but you’ve finally proven that he worked out the simultaneous giddiness and grandeur of humanity in Benedict.  I thank you.

to weepTo Beatrice (Erin Considine): Finally a heroine who’s real!  Beatrice has long been savored as a remarkable female role, but, just as in the case of Benedict, the actresses too often delight in the quick wit and forget to wound that goads her into such obstinate deflection of affection.  Your choice to let her weep—sincerely and utterly—gave such depth to her soul.  And when you had finished tongue-lashing Benedict, you retreated to the side of the stage with an expression of pain and confusion.  That is exactly what many women feel when they shore themselves up with wit; they fear anything less sharp would make them too vulnerable and anything more sincere would make them sentimental or negligible.  But all the while, they wish they could meet their companions on the security footing of mutual help and admiration.  Beatrice’s character reminds me much of the modern push-and-pull of expressing femininity—many times we wish to be a ‘man’ and regret that we must die grieving as a ‘woman.’  Or, in being a ‘man’ of action and arms, we sever the tight human bond that makes grieving worth the price.  Watching your Beatrice interact with Benedict brought sharp clarity to the layers of one of Shakespeare’s most mature–and therefore interesting and inspiring–women.  I thank you.

swordTo Don Pedro (Matt Nitchie): I confess I’ve always dislike Don Pedro—until now.  He seemed too cocky, too proud, too meddling, and too rash.  I’ve always read his proposal to Beatrice as self-congratulatory, the kind of offer that someone makes simply because they can, because no one expects their success, and because they are secretly self-assured they will win.  But last night you made me believe Don Pedro for the first time!  To see him as a sincere and noble person whose honor runs hot and whose purposes are as sure as they are swift—what a treat!  It lends an entirely new depth to the ensemble surrounding Beatrice and Benedict, and I was truly sad when Beatrice rejected him.  But, at the same time, she was right: he is too costly for everyday wear.  It’s almost as if Shakespeare could have written Don Pedro as the hero but decided that audiences would think him too good to be true.  Well, I think he is truly that good.  I thank you.

While I could go on at length all the way down the cast list, for the sake of my readers, I’ll confine my remarks to a few closing comments.  I’m not enough of an uber-geek to trace with scintillating brillance all of Shakespeare’s progressions throughout the course of his canon.  But! I must say that Much Ado About Nothing really packs a wallop.  Shakespeare uses a lot of finesse in this play to develop the themes that he draws with broader strokes, almost caricature, in his earlier works.  Here he seems to boil down love and marriage to a desire for both mutual respect that appreciates the fire in each man’s soul and mutual generosity that appreciates the dust, the clay of each man’s nature.  We want our strengths admired and called upon, our weaknesses realized and covered o’er.  We long for truth and honor and sincerity in all people, most especially our comrades at arms, the ones who help us fight the elements to make a livable world (whatever vision that may be)—we long for this tried-and-true purity of speech and action so much so, that we will kill a sweet lady in the blind hope that a man’s yes is yes and his no is no.  And in the end, maybe it’s the ones we take for fools that help us realize that all we want is for someone to know that we are an ass!  And for all our glory, we are frail.  The Mediterranean sense of inviolable chastity and unmitigated honor is so high an ideal that it forgets we are but men.  And Much Ado About Nothing outlines the voids that plague us: our hunger for affection, our starvation for loyalty, and our deep sense that we have been wronged and must never be so again.  That’s what makes the solace of Beatrice and Benedict’s love such a comfort, such a welcome relief, such an outstanding hope.  Yes, it’s too good to be true.  But for those three hours on the stage, it is true.

Much Ado About Nothing at the Shakespeare Tavern

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Winter’s Frog

It’s frustrating how little occasion there is to be serious.  Life would be unbearably heavy, people think, if we gave real weight to every situation.  But I think it’s unbearably heavy when there’s nothing in it.  When there are no moments of solemn reassurance, no ritual of real experience, no ties that bind.  We’ve struggled so hard in the West to extricate ourselves from the entanglements of other people.  Each individual be praised.  But there comes a certain point when you’re all alone in your little island, and there is a force field of privacy that keeps people at bay.  It’s unseen, unspoken, but oh so very real.

 Perhaps that’s something about the East that is gloriously necessary in the wide and empty fields of grain and purple mountains’ majesty.  There is a short film currently touring the festival circuit that speaks of death–the death that we die and the death that creeps into our silence about that death.  It’s called “Winter’s Frog” and stars Gerard Depardieu and a darling Asian lady whose name I wish I knew but not really because then she’d be a person not an idea that I could chew on incessantly.  The story is about how she saves the old man’s life by giving him symbols and signs, rituals and rites to guide him through his wife’s passage into another realm.  His wife died.  Died when they were all alone, the two of them, in a huge winery and empty vineyard.  The Asian lady arrives at his door for a tasting.  At first, he refuses.  But then, inexplicably, he relents.  And by the time the last frame fades away, you’re left with a charming hope that the significant moments of life will not die silently one by one unnoticed.  There will be eyes to see and ears to hear.  And together, they can pass through the fiery ordeal.

So here’s to the winter’s frog, the sign of eternal life, and the hope that someday the West will learn how to say the words we feel and take hold of the unfathomable meanings by the tail.

Art from Ashes, edited by Lawrence Langer

Read the intro in this book for more on the importance of words and symbols to carry our collective gaze and although us to approach life's abyss.

The Shrew Stops the Sun

Fie, fie, unknit that threatening unkind brow and dart not scornful glances from those eyes to wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.  It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads, confounds thy fame as thirlwinds shake fair buds, and in no sense is meet or amiable.  A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereeft of beauty, and while it is so , none so dry or thirsty will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign—one that care for thee, and for thy maintenance commits his body to painful labor both by sea and land, to watch the night in storms, the day in cold, whilst thou li’st warm at home, secure and safe; and craves no other tribute at thy hands but love, fair looks, and true obedience: too little payment for so great a debt.  Such duty as the subject owes the prince, even such a woman oweth to her husband, and when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour, and not obedient to his honest will, what is she but a foul contending rebel and graceless traitor to her loving lord? I am ashamed that women are so simple to offer war where they should kneel for peace, or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway, when they are bound to serve, love, and obey.

Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth, unapt to toil and trouble in the world, but that our soft conditions and our hearts should well agree with our external parts?  Come, come, you froward and unable worms, my mind hath been as big as one of yours, my heart as great, my reason haply more, to bandy word for word and frown for frown.  But now I see our lances are but straws, our strngth as weak, our weakness past compare, that seeming to be most which we indeed least are.

Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot, and place your hands below your husband’s foot, in token of which duty, if he please, my hand is ready, may it do him ease.

Watching The Taming of the Shrew this past weekend at the Shakespeare Tavern reminded me how much there is in a word!  The text of Kate’s final speech does seem at once glorious and distasteful to the modern female mind.  But watching it on stage, with the gesture at the speech’s close, it transcends the battle of the sexes and ends for a moment in the kind of sweet reconciliation all humanity craves with itself.

As Kate places her hand palm-down on the stage, gazes up with confidence into her husband’s eye: he melts.  Falling on his knees beside her, he gently, swiftly lifts the hand and kisses it.  With a wink of sarcasm in his eye, he cries: “Why, there’s a wench!” Then, in utmost solemnity, as if like Davy Jones his heart was beating free of its cage and bare to the knife’s edge, he asks: “Come on, and kiss me, Kate.”

And that’s the power of a woman.  That is the bond of love at the heart of our human longings.  To be the weaker in body, and yet the stronger in sway; to be vulnerable and find that vulnerability met with an even greater bending, yielding, rolling over and over as if waves too strong to stand against are reverberating unceasingly from out our simple hearts.

C.S. Lewis has spoken of the “eroticism of obedience.”  I think he hit the mark—the kind of laying down of oneself in awe of something greater.  The beauty of loving is the undulating rhythm of mutual adoration—Kate lays down her hand, Petruchio lifts it; Petruchio lays down his heart, Kate meets its elevated wish.  One of Lewis’ characters described his thought of possessing beauty and fire in  marrying his wife as ridiculous: ridiculous as trying to “buy a sunset by purchasing the field from which you saw it.”  No human can ever be tamed just as the sun can never be purchased for the price of a field.  And yet, the voluntary submission of a living soul to another living soul is powerful enough to stop the sun in the sky.

Swallow_the_Sun_by_synax444

courtesy synax444

Living in a Tragicomedy

Harold decides he is in a tragedy but ends in a comedy.

Harold decides he is in a tragedy but ends in a comedy.

There is a fantastic scene from Stranger Than Fiction in which Harold Crick, a tax auditor, tallies the moments of his life in a little notebook.  His goal: to discover if his life is a tragedy or a comedy.  According to the oldest dramatic traditions, either he will get married (accepted into society and always have backup) or die (evicted from the planet by force of Mother Nature or a fellow human). Sometimes I wish I had a little black book to tell me so.

The baker gives you an extra cookie, no charge: comedy.  Your high school crush comments on your profile picture and says your new summer tan makes you look, quote, “hot”: comedy.  You catch the season finale of Swamp People while channel surfing: comedy.  Flying down the highway at 80 mph, you pass an officer pulling someone else over for a ticket: comedy.  All the little things that add up to assure you that you belong in the world, your place is valuable, and you’re going to make it in life.

You show up for your dentist appointment one day and one hour late: tragedy.  You forget to turn in your timesheet on Thursday—which means your paycheck won’t get issued until the following Wednesday and the USPS won’t put it in your mailbox until the Monday after that: tragedy.  Your bank teller informs you that depositing at the counter will cost you $9 since your account is now “paperless”: tragedy.  The can of soda that you accidentally left in your car’s backseat cup holder explodes in the 120-degree heat while you’re working (caffeine-less) in the 55-degree office: tragedy.  All the little things that accrue as evidence that you have no idea what you’re doing, the world doesn’t want you in it, and life ends when you’re 40 but can’t start until then either (something about paychecks and salaries and “work experience”).

the Master of Tragicomedy: Charlie Chaplin

the Master of Tragicomedy: Charlie Chaplin

So—all taken into account, is a life comedic or tragic?  And, according to Tolstoy, Chekov, and a  host of other brilliant Russian authors, does it even matter whether it’s one or the other?  Is Romeo and Juliet the world’s greatest tragedy or cruelest comedy? The answer: yes.

Life is a tragicomedy.  And the only way to ever make it through one of those is to keeping moving.  Crying, laughing, skipping, or crawling, the show must go on.  Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, after all; so make the best of it, they would say.

I re-discovered in the trunk of my car this week a box of books.  Not because my car is so unbelievably cluttered that I forgot it was there; I forgot it was there because it has become a permanent fixture in my trunk.  This box of books has been in my trunk since Spring 2010.  Yes, 2010.  I put it there after a book swap put on by the English Majors Association.  The problem is that English majors hoard books, they don’t share them.  The leftovers we planned on donating to a local library near our college.  That was my best intention.

What is your "box of books"?

What is your "box of books"?

I convinced myself that even though the books rode all the way home with me when I cleaned out my apartment after graduation, when I visited my friends left behind, they would ride all the way back to the poor provincial library to whom they were justly due.  We all see how that turned out.  Tragic?  Slightly.  Comedic? Slightly.  Absurd?  Absolutely.  And in the face of absurdity, the only answer is to keep going and quit carrying all your baggage around.  All the undone things that sit in the trunk of psyche.  All the decisions about whether or not we failed or succeeded.  They should be mercifully cleared away.

I will be visiting my local library this afternoon—with a tragicomical smile of relief on my face.

Immersive Media

I used to think—and I still do—that reading is the most immersive media.  In silence, you can transport yourself to entirely Other worlds by yielding up your ghost to the guidance of another Voice.

What absolutely floored me today, however, was my discovery of a new immersive media that almost trumps the implosive power of silent reading: 3D binaural stories.  A [brilliant] friend of mine, Celu Ramasamy, has created a group that is pioneering new storytelling media, and Mind Theater is arresting.  It is reminiscent of radio theater because you listen, but it is spelling binding because it is like 3D film.  Plug in your headphones, run the calibrator, and close your eyes.  The sounds are real.

You can't give in just a little...

You can't give in just a little...

I felt the space around me and caught myself looking over my shoulder just to be sure I wasn’t on the train to India with the Son going home to his Father’s village.  Rain outside their house is near and far simultaneously.  The house is close and hot because the air echos on the bare walls and sits backs down beside me after the last reverberation.  When the Son fills a glass of water for the Father, I know the tap was exactly three feet behind me to the left; he carried it past me to his Father, on my right.

As absorbing and relaxing as this 30-minute aural experience ultimately proved, I was undone by listening to parts of it with my eyes open.  Like the unnerving scene in Hitchcock’s Rebecca when Maxim de Winter recounts a conversation with his deceased wife to an empty room and the camera follows her movements although she isn’t there, so also, I could see the Indian Father and Son walk across my bedroom with their glass of water and dinner in hand.  The front porch where they ate supplanted my computer desk before me, and, while my parakeets flew overhead, delighting in a sojourn about my bedroom, the rain poured out of the Indian sky, drenching my tiny Georgian existence.

That’s when I discovered what makes any media, any experience immersive: exclusion.  Reading takes you places because you close off your other senses, save only your racing eyes.  The new 3D stories take you places because you close off your other senses, save only your ears.  Dessert is the best part of the day when all you do is taste it.  And the touch of a lover is never sweeter than when you completely surrender the other four defenses.  Wholeheartedness is addictive.

Our increasingly stimulating media environment is said to “drown” us, and, yes, your lungs will fail if you open your eyes, your ears, and your mouth, sucking in the ocean with every pore.  But, if you close your eyes, your ears, your mouth, and repeatedly reach out to touch, you will find you can swim.  It is glorious to be absorbed.

10 Reasons I Love The Silmarillion

visual representation of word usage in The Silmarillion

visual representation of word usage in The Silmarillion

1. Any story that’s worth telling is worth telling many times, from many points of view, to many audiences–and spending your entire life in the telling of it.  See The Children of Hurin.

2. My life is epic because I love and I work and I fight with and against the Powers That Be.

3. Songs have more power than swords.

4. To live for love is worth losing everything—even when it includes some everything that doesn’t belong to you.

5. Friendship really does matter, and great renown is tied to being faithful.

6. Love triangles aren’t as unordinary as they seem, and the pain that comes with them is real.

7. Lineage preserves the ingredients, but you make yourself who you become in the end.

8. A halting step and lameness; the death of a friend; the betrayal of a brother; the fulfillment of a doom—all these are graven on the face.

9. Topography and geography matter, and the history that happens on land is written into its ridges and valleys, rivers and streams, trees and rocks, flora and fauna.

10. The word “fell” is perhaps the most poignant and appropriate word to describe the realness of Life.

Arien (by LadyElleth) --- how I feel when reading the Silmarillion

Arien (by LadyElleth) --- how I feel when reading the Silmarillion

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