Shakespeare's Coriolanus is both noble and so stiff-necked that he cannot compromise his principles -- and this at a time when tribunes have been chos...moreShakespeare's Coriolanus is both noble and so stiff-necked that he cannot compromise his principles -- and this at a time when tribunes have been chosen to represent the common people that the Roman hero professes to loathe. Despite his heroic victories in the best, the tribunes have him exiled, whereupon he goes straight to Tullus Aufidius of the Volsces, Rome's most bitter enemy. Invading Rome with Aufidius, Coriolanus is stopped dead in his tracks only by his mother Volumnia and his wife and son. As Volumnia says to him:
Thou know'st, great son, The end of war's uncertain; but this certain, That, if thou conquer Rome, the benefit Which thou shalt thereby reap is such a name Whose repetition will be dogg'd with curses; Whose chronicle thus writ:—'The man was noble, But with his last attempt he wip'd it out; Destroy'd his country, and his name remains To the ensuing age abhorr'd.' Speak to me, son: Thou hast affected the fine strains of honour, To imitate the graces of the gods, To tear with thunder the wide cheeks o' the air, And yet to charge thy sulphur with a bolt That should but rive an oak.
Coriolanus is a worthy end to Shakespeare's tragic Roman trilogy, of which the other two plays are Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. The main flaw is that its hero, Caius Martius, is in many ways the architect of his own doom. All that was required of him to be chosen consul was to make some slight accommodation to the plebeians, which he is unable to do. As he is exiled, he spits out in vituperation:
You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate As reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prize As the dead carcasses of unburied men That do corrupt my air,—I banish you; And here remain with your uncertainty! Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts! Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes, Fan you into despair! Have the power still To banish your defenders; till at length Your ignorance,—which finds not till it feels,— Making but reservation of yourselves,— Still your own foes,—deliver you, as most Abated captives to some nation That won you without blows! Despising, For you, the city, thus I turn my back: There is a world elsewhere.
As his mother Volumnia, who has never compromised when bravery was called for, sees this as a defect in her son:
Pray be counsell'd; I have a heart as little apt as yours, But yet a brain that leads my use of anger To better vantage.
I had read this play many years ago and forgot much of the story. Reading it now, I see it as political dynamite in our own divided political environment -- with Tea Partiers on one side and Occupy Wall Streeters on the other. I can well believe that some recent productions ended in riots. The conflict between the rich and the poor is eternal, as much an issue in Ancient Athens as in Elizabethan England and in our own day.
Perhaps the saddest scene for me was Coriolanus's repudiation of his old friend Menenius Agrippa, a moderate who urged Coriolanus to bend a little before the tribunes broke him.
This collection contains all eleven of Aristophanes' surviving comedies. Nowhere else are you likely to discover what the Athenian Man in the Street i...moreThis collection contains all eleven of Aristophanes' surviving comedies. Nowhere else are you likely to discover what the Athenian Man in the Street is thinking during the Peloponnesian War. At one point, in Plutus, we have a list of the things that the average Athenian craved the most. They included, in order: loaves, literature, sweets, honor, cheesecakes, manliness, dried figs, ambition, barley meal, command, and pea soup.
The two main themes that run across the comedies are a strong desire for peace (The Acharnians and Peace) and women taking over because the men have made such a hash of things (Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae). Socrates is taken down a peg in The Clouds; and we learn that making all good men wealthy can have untoward side-effects in Plutus. We hear men, women, gods, servants, housebreakers, scroungers, and even birds speak their minds.
I wish there were more current translations in this collection, which was first published in 1962, but, unfortunately, that is not likely in today's book-publishing environment. Still, the collection is edited by Moses Hadas, one of the great classicists of yesteryear. And old translations can be just as readable as newer ones, even if the language is more archaic.
If you have any interest in ancient Greece, this is a collection you must own and dip into from time to time, if for no other reason than to remind you that the men and women of Periclean Athens were human beings, just like you and me. (less)
A pleasant, if unlikely diversion involving con men pretending to be noble, a husband and wife fiercely unhappy in their marriage, a captive French co...moreA pleasant, if unlikely diversion involving con men pretending to be noble, a husband and wife fiercely unhappy in their marriage, a captive French count, a passel of highwaymen, and a deux ex machina brother. Not too much to be said except that the writing is spritely. (less)
**spoiler alert** This play is short, sweet, and ineffably sad. The main (and only character) is Krapp, described by Samuel Beckett as "a wearish old...more**spoiler alert** This play is short, sweet, and ineffably sad. The main (and only character) is Krapp, described by Samuel Beckett as "a wearish old man" with "black narrow trousers too short for him." His only occupation seems to be replaying old audio tapes about his former life, and taking time out by running offstage, popping corks, and evidently imbibing large quantities of various potables.
In Krapp's Last Tape, we hear a portion of the tape that is identified in his capacious ledgers as box three, spool five. It tells of his breakup with his girlfriend some thirty years ago. The description of their act of love is, befitting its author, simple and touching: "I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side."
On one hand, Krapp says of his former self: "[H]ard to believe I was ever as bad as that. Thank God that's all done with anyway." And yet he is visibly touched as he quotes fragments of his old self. And finally, and finally:
Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn't want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn't want them back.
Like hell he wouldn't. And that is the sad fact.(less)
A delightful short play about the visit of a very proper English officer to the court of Catherine the Great. The latter engages in some amusing love...moreA delightful short play about the visit of a very proper English officer to the court of Catherine the Great. The latter engages in some amusing love play with the captain (whose fiancée is with him in St. Petersburg), then moves on to other things as her imperial prerogative dictates.(less)
It's been a while since I've read any of Tennessee Williams's plays. As I finished the last act, I realized that his was not a gossamer reputation: Th...moreIt's been a while since I've read any of Tennessee Williams's plays. As I finished the last act, I realized that his was not a gossamer reputation: There is something real about that sad, strange outsider who recognizes the same qualities in his readers. It has been quoted many times before, but Chance Wayne's closing lines as he faces the punishment for his many offenses encapsulates perfectly what Williams is all about:
I don't ask for your pity, but just for your understanding—not even that—no. Just for your recognition of me in you, and the enemy, time, in us all.
It was a brilliant touch to have the transgressive young stud Chance traveling with a washed up actress named Alexandra del Lago. In the play, both characters arrive at differently forking life paths, one positive, the other not.
For years, I thought was familiar with Night of the Iguana, but it seems I was remembering only bits and pieces of the John Huston film, which is very...moreFor years, I thought was familiar with Night of the Iguana, but it seems I was remembering only bits and pieces of the John Huston film, which is very different. It was even more reinforced in my mind because I had visited Mismaloya Beach, the area south of Puerto Vallarta where the film was shot. In the end, I wound up liking the original play better, because of the touching relationship between the defrocked minister, Larry Shannon, and Hannah Jelkes. I particularly loved Shannon's description of God as a senile delinquent:
Yeah, this angry, petulant old man. I mean he's represented like a bad-tempered childish old, old, sick, peevish man -- I mean like the sort of old man in a nursing home that's putting together a jigsaw puzzle and can't put it together and gets furious at it and kicks over the table. Yes, I tell you they do that, all our theologies do it -- accuse God of being a cruel senile delinquent, blaming the world and brutally punishing all he created for his own faults in construction....
In that remote Mexican hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Shannon goes mad, by bits and pieces, while Hannah tries to keep him together. All the time this is happening, Maxine, the owner of the hotel, wants Shannon for herself. Having known him from other visits during which he had breakdowns, she is willing to take the chance and wants a someone to replace her deceased husband Fred.
This is not Williams's best play by any means, but it is interesting enough that I would love to see a live performance of it. (less)
I read a translation of this play into English. Cocteau's film version is so great that I was greatly disappointed to see how little the original play...moreI read a translation of this play into English. Cocteau's film version is so great that I was greatly disappointed to see how little the original play had in common with it. There were no scenes in that strange underworld in the film, and the character of death (the great Maria Casares in the film version) seems even a little insipid.
On the other hand, Orpheus, Eurydice, and Heurtebise are recognizably the same. (less)
This little bagatelle of Shaw's premiered in 1918, shortly after the Bolshevik takeover in Russia. Except that Russia is never named in the play: It i...moreThis little bagatelle of Shaw's premiered in 1918, shortly after the Bolshevik takeover in Russia. Except that Russia is never named in the play: It is Beotia, lately controlled by the Panjandrum of that country. We are on the front lines of World War One with two Beotian officers, the senior of whom is still in his heart loyal to the cause of the deposed Panjandrum. The news reaches him that Annajanska, the Grand Duchess and daughter of the Panjandrum, has become a revolutionary. She is brought before him and cleverly manipulates him into listening to her.
Much is made of the many cliques of the Revolution, and how it is so difficult to know to whom to submit one's reports from the Front.
It's worth reading this one-act play if for no other reason than to see how the Russian Revolution impacted on the English, and particularly one Irish wit.(less)
Even in William Shakespeare's minor plays can the reader descry a certain magnificence, accompanied by a glory of language that no writer today can ma...moreEven in William Shakespeare's minor plays can the reader descry a certain magnificence, accompanied by a glory of language that no writer today can match. The Arden edition I read was almost as insistent in its footnotes as one of the Variorum editions of the Bard, but past the first scenes, the main text carried me along; and I did not have to refer to the copious footnotes unless I ran into too strange a usage.
Timon of Athens - Arden Shakespeare is a rather simple story which can be summarized in a single sentence: A wealthy patron gives his all, but imprudently donates himself into dire poverty, and finding himself unable to borrow from the friends he has enriched, becomes a misanthrope in the wilds.
But there are three characters who make Timon of Athens more than a straight up-and-down tragedy in a minor key. First there is Alcibiades, who while not a beneficiary of Timon's generosity, is a true friend. Then there is the philosopher Apemantus, who mocked Timon while he was wealthy, and now mocks him when he is a hermit. Finally, there is Timon's honest steward, whose goodness runs contrary to most of the other characters, even Alcibiades and Apemantus.
Then there is the language:
Live loath'd, and long, Most smiling, smooth, detested parasites, Courteous destroyers, affable wolves, meek bears, You fools of fortune, trencher-friends, time's flies, Cap-and-knee slaves, vapours, and minute-jacks! Of man and beast the infinite malady Crust you quite o'er!
And then again:
Come not to me again; but say to Athens, Timon has made his everlasting mansion Upon the beached verge of the salt flood, Who once a day with his embossed froth The turbulent surge shall cover.
Perhaps this is not Hamlet or Lear or Macbeth, but it is nonetheless truly wondrous. (less)
It is odd that the oldest intact works from ancient Rome are the plays of Plautus. If you have never read any of his work, the closest you can get is...moreIt is odd that the oldest intact works from ancient Rome are the plays of Plautus. If you have never read any of his work, the closest you can get is a modern work based on them: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It is a world of ne'er-do-wells, uppity slaves, bragging soldiers -- all comic characters roughly based on the New Comedy of the Greek Menander. Some scholars think that Plautus is merely translating originals from the Greek, but we'll never know because very little of the works of New Comedy have survived.
As for Plautus: Mostellaria, it is rather innocuous to a modern reader. We have a father who has gone to Egypt for several years and a son who has used his father's money to free a slave girl with the intention of marrying her -- all aided and abetted by the slave Tranio. When the father comes back, all hell breaks loose.
It has been a long time since I had run any of Anton Chekhov's plays, but after I read his long short story "The Steppe" while on vacation, I wanted t...moreIt has been a long time since I had run any of Anton Chekhov's plays, but after I read his long short story "The Steppe" while on vacation, I wanted to take another look. We are sometimes so cowed by Tolstoyevsky -- as my late mother called him -- that we ignore that there are other Russian writers who are just as great.
The central symbol in The Seagull is, of course, the dead seagull. I can imagine high school teachers making much of this, but I don't think one can assign any cut-and-dried meaning to the dead seagull. In the play, we are confronted with a group of characters who are far from comfortable in their own skin. Nobody seems to be what he or she wants to become. And when, in the course of the play, they do manage to become what they wanted, they become dissatisfied and drawn back to the scene where we originally met them.
The seagull is a bird usually found by the ocean, but the play takes place by an inland lake. The men and women meeting at Sorin's country estate would love to soar, but in their own ways, all are shot down like the seagull. In the end, the seagull has been stuffed by a taxidermist and has become a ridiculous reminder of crushed aspirations.
A wonderful play, with a keen appreciation of the ways people become dissatisfied with their lives and one another.(less)
I had read this many years ago, remembering nothing after the passage of time. Upon rereading, I find it is an interesting comment on our own times. U...moreI had read this many years ago, remembering nothing after the passage of time. Upon rereading, I find it is an interesting comment on our own times. Unlike most of William Shakespeare's history plays, the eponymous king, Henry VI, is a mere stripling who has not yet come into his own. Most of the action takes place in France, where England is losing many of its territories won in the Hundred Years War as a result of divisions in the ranks: between the White Rose of the Duke of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster (here represented by Somerset), and between Bishop (later Cardinal) Winchester and everyone else.
Henry VI, Part 1 is not one of the Bard's major plays, yet it is a well crafted study of how disunity leads to loss. I can almost imagine the U.S.'s own culture wars as I hear these words from Gloucester:
Confounded be your strife, And perish ye with your audacious prate! Presumptuous vassals, are you not ashamed With this immodest clamorous outrage To trouble and disturb the king and us? And you, my lords, methinks you do not well To bear with their perverse objections, Much less to take occasion from their mouths To raise a mutiny betwixt yourselves. Let me persuade you to take a better course. (IV:1.123-132)
Another item of interest is the character of Joan of Arc, here called Joan la Pucelle, with its pun of the meanings of virgin and whore. Shakespeare deals with her as if she were one of Macbeth's Weird Sisters, with inspiration more from below than from above.
I had heard of Frank J Morlock from our joint participation in the Yahoo! French Literature Group. The Marquis de Sade's Justine is probably his most...moreI had heard of Frank J Morlock from our joint participation in the Yahoo! French Literature Group. The Marquis de Sade's Justine is probably his most approachable work. Morlock does a good job of turning it into a short play about a young woman who is pathologically virtuous in a world where everyone wants to use or abuse her, much like the old "Little Annie Fanny" comic strip in Playboy magazine. It was at one and the same time true to Sade and to its genre, though it might present difficulties to someone trying to stage the play.(less)
Anton Chekhov's plays are so dense with the aura of disappointment that it is difficult to summarize them. Here we have a country estate which is run...moreAnton Chekhov's plays are so dense with the aura of disappointment that it is difficult to summarize them. Here we have a country estate which is run by Ivan and Sonia, unmarried brother and sister, for the benefit of their selfish father, the now retired Professor Serebryakov and his young wife. Ivan loves Serebryakov's twentyish wife Yelena; and Sonia, Doctor Astrov, who is in turn also in love with Yelena and thoroughly tired of her aging husband's hypochondria.
Even Astrov realizes that his love for Yelena, in addition to being immoral, is morally suspect:
In a human being everything ought to be beautiful: face, dress, soul, thoughts. She [Yelena] is very beautiful, there's no denying it, but all she does is eat, sleep, go for walks, fascinate us all by her beauty and -- nothing more. Other people work for her. Isn't that so? And an idle life cannot be pure.
Be that as it may, that doesn't stop Astrov, Ivan, and Sonia from feeling trapped by their longings. Why? Because no one's perfect.
As for Yelena herself, she is exasperated not only with her husband, but with the two men who are chasing her and with herself as well. (less)
Sherlock Holmes and Watson are surely immortals. Here, in these dramatic recreations by Frank Morlock, they interact with such well-known literary and...moreSherlock Holmes and Watson are surely immortals. Here, in these dramatic recreations by Frank Morlock, they interact with such well-known literary and historical figures as Fantomas, Dracula, Lord Ruthven, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln Steffens, Queen Victoria, and the narrator of "The Telltale Heart." The longest piece is the title play, Sherlock Holmes and the Grand Horizontals.
Although none of the plays will give Conan Doyle any cause for anxiety, they are all of them amusing and well constructed. I am confused only by the mention of a flashlight in "The Silent Treatment." I am sure no device by that name existed during the supposed lifetime of the denizens of 221b Baker Street.(less)
Anton Chekhov seems so deceptively simple in his great plays such as The Three Sisters that we sometimes don't see the mystery that is there. In this...moreAnton Chekhov seems so deceptively simple in his great plays such as The Three Sisters that we sometimes don't see the mystery that is there. In this case, we have a young family consisting of a brother and three sisters, all full of high hopes and expressing a wish to move to Moscow, where "the lights are much brighter there/you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares." The mystery is in the curious entropy of life, that proceeds heedless of our wishes and dreams.
Even Andrey, the brother, whose "brilliant career" as a Moscow professor, comes to grief in the garrison town in the provinces:
Oh, what has become of my past and where is it? I used to be young, happy, clever, I used to be able to think and frame clever ideas, the present and the future seemed to me full of hope. Why do we, almost before we have begun to live, become dull, grey, uninteresting, lazy, apathetic, useless, unhappy.... This town has already been in existence for two hundred years and it has a hundred thousand inhabitants, not one of whom is in any way different from the others. There has never been, now or at any other time, a single leader of men, a single scholar, an artist, a man of even the slightest eminence who might arouse envy or a passionate desire to be imitated. They only eat, drink, sleep, and then they die... more people are born and also eat, drink, sleep, and so as not to go silly from boredom, they try to make life many-sided with their beastly backbiting, vodka, cards, and litigation. The wives deceive their husbands, and the husbands lie, and pretend they see nothing and hear nothing, and the evil influence irresistibly oppresses the children and the divine spark in them is extinguished, and they become just as pitiful corpses and just as much like one another as their fathers and mothers....
At the end, the garrison is transferred to Poland; and the three sisters have resolved to soldier on in their own way, perhaps even irrespective of happiness.
Reading Chekhov could be like a cold bath on an icy day. But there is something in his stories and plays that reminds us that happiness does not come to us as the result of the fulfillment of pipe dreams. It may not come to us at all. No one ever told us that life was going to be fair.(less)