Love Dostoevsky. Had never read this before. And of course I thought it was generally very good and occasionally great. Uneven? It was much less of aLove Dostoevsky. Had never read this before. And of course I thought it was generally very good and occasionally great. Uneven? It was much less of a burden than I anticipated, even gripping really. But when it was all said and done I wasn't as wildly enthusiastic about it as other Dostoevsky, and I think that's largely because nothing much changes over the course of the novel. The characters are set up beautifully, and the way he reveals the intense and complicated Karamazov dynamic gradually is immensely fulfilling. And it's very funny. The whole thing. It's just trapped by the volatile but constant identities of its own characters, all wrapped up in their own fates. Which wouldn't be a problem if this was a tragedy, but it really isn't. It's a dark comedy about pride and gluttony. A very good one. Tolstoy for the new year... ...more
The thing about King John that I'm not finding overtly discussed in the criticisms of the play (that I've read) is that it's essentially a comedy. ShaThe thing about King John that I'm not finding overtly discussed in the criticisms of the play (that I've read) is that it's essentially a comedy. Shakespeare takes a rote plot about regal machinations and twists it by creating the character of the Bastard Faulconbridge, a witty creation who comments on the action from his pragmatist's perspective. I really do think Shakespeare is going for satire here, and if you can read it as such, the play is well worth it. The mother of a usurped prince shows up and her histrionics inspire not pathos but rather the amusements of hyperbole. The play is wordy, and much about the subtleties of argument. Modern audiences tend to reject it because it lacks a central character. John is wishy-washy, and none of his cohorts are worth rooting for. But still-- played with an ear for its humorous subtext, the Bastard can salvage this business. I know the play works because I want to read it more. I want to study it. I want to get inside its motivations. King John is a strangely funny little play....more
Richard III elevates itself higher than the previous installments in the first tetralogy precisely because it escapes the binding vise of history. TheRichard III elevates itself higher than the previous installments in the first tetralogy precisely because it escapes the binding vise of history. The Richard that Shakespeare gives us is an echo of history's Richard, but he's informed more by Marlowe's Barabas (the titular Jew of Malta), as Harold Bloom would have us know. He's a fascinating character (even if essentially Marlovian), and his machinations rise above the play he's trapped in. In reality, Henry VII likely disposed of the York princes, but Shakespeare ascribes that vile act to Richard. In his opening soliloquy ("now is the winter of our discontent...") he muses brilliantly on his deformed nature, pulling himself together, rising up to be the greatest villain he can possibly be. It's sport, and for Richard it's the only way he can salvage his life. He must be great, and if he can't be greatly good, he must be greatly evil. Two scenes, mirrors of each other, I think surpass the rest of the play. Richard seduces the Lady Anne for his wife in front of her father's coffin. He's killed two of her kin, and the two have this epic sort of pas de deux, Richard feigning genuine remorse and devotion ("I killed them out of love for you, baby" (not verbatim)), Anne reacting with revulsion. And yet he persists. And wins her. The scene is an actor's greatest challenge, a testament to the moral difficulty of playing a character like Richard. Like Aaron the Moor and Iago, he's a great villain. That scene, and its later mirror represent a more mature dramatic instinct for Shakespeare. The scenes play themselves out, long verbal battles, totally gripping, at odds with the weak structure of the Henry VI plays, which zipped frantically between action and set pieces and revelation. Richard III doesn't altogether live up to the promise of those more mature scenes, but you can feel Shakespeare growing. Richard III is a great dramatic character in that he escapes his historical trappings. Shakespeare makes him into something of his own. Even if he's borrowing from Marlowe....more
Characters finally start developing personalities in 3 Henry VI. The basically exiled King, useless even on the battle-field, where his wife and son dCharacters finally start developing personalities in 3 Henry VI. The basically exiled King, useless even on the battle-field, where his wife and son defend their claim to the throne, wanders through the countryside musing on the lives of kings and shepherds. He washes his hands of the feud, but the problem is exactly that: he was the King, and he did nothing, and now succumbs to guilt. It's Tragic. There's also some lovely brutal business early in the play, dealing with the death of York. If this cycle has a point outside of posterity, it lies in Shakespeare's depiction of inherited violence, and in just how nasty these blood feuds get. Full of spite and rage Margaret and Clifford sadistically torture York once they've captured him, crowning him with paper and wiping his tears with a rag soaked in the blood of his 12-year-old son. Of course, it's just this kind of brutality that later drives York's sons to victory. And as much as Margaret proves a true villainess, Richard (soon to be III) steals the play with his surreptitious malice. It all builds to climax, and it's worthwhile, though still weak on the whole. It's almost as if Shakespeare used this cycle to work out his depiction of historic personalities, eventually creating the character of Richard, and thus Richard III. It's exciting inasmuch as you can see him building up to that play, wherein he takes a person out of the War of the Roses and makes him a character of his own creation. Everything else is basically stuck in history....more
2 Henry VI is too packed by far. It's dense with characters, plot, and little miniature sequences of events that could do well with the kind of expans2 Henry VI is too packed by far. It's dense with characters, plot, and little miniature sequences of events that could do well with the kind of expansion impossible to afford by the necessary condensation of years of history. There are good things here. I find Gloucester's rejection of his wife the Duchess Eleanor particularly poignant (after her cohorts literally conjure a spirit from the ground to take out the King). She wanders the streets in forced humiliation, and yet his words to her are gentle and tender. Too gentle, too tender. His wife, facing her doom, attacks him with spite as a fool. And though Gloucester is beginning to understand just how thick the traps have been set among the King's advisors for control of the throne, his devotion to Henry (who truly doesn't understand what's happening in England) is too solid. He is too true. The rest of the play is about the villains and their schemes, and though Queen Margaret comes off a bit one-dimensional here, her lover Suffolk proves effectively dispatched. The star, of course, is York, who gets some moments in the warm sun of his assumed crown. You can feel his aspiration rising, and his speeches get their power from the pride York takes in his bloodline and nobility. It's a legitimate claim to the throne. Poor Henry VI. These plays aren't really about you. But then there's Jack Cade! and sudden deaths! all concluding at Saint Albans where York seizes the title backed by an Irish army. The play is jam-packed, and more served by ambiguity than Part One, but its transitions are awkward, and characters keep on appearing and disappearing, and to what end? The King is a boy cuckold, his innocence has been used, and so he runs....more
1 Henry VI is completely ridiculous. But it shouldn't seem as daunting as it does, being as it is a populist crowd-pleaser about England's noble trium1 Henry VI is completely ridiculous. But it shouldn't seem as daunting as it does, being as it is a populist crowd-pleaser about England's noble triumphs against France, led by slutty witch Joan of Arc and the Dauphin Charles who's totally banging her. It's only later that the War of the Roses gets dense and incomprehensible. Part One is full of action hero Talbot rallying his troops with railing English sentiment into inconceivable stage battles with melodramatic bombast. The scenes are short and volley back and forth between the seeds of political intrigue and the aforementioned combat bits. But did Shakespeare write most of it? Surely he's responsible for the Temple Garden scene, wherein Plantagenet and Somerset pluck their roses white and red, throwing words at each other, plays on color and infestation, a scene fictional but dense in its symbolic magnitude. On the whole it's a fun read, but so over-the-top that you can barely take it seriously....more
Whatever. The Shrew is totally great. But everyone has a different reading of this play, and you see what you want to see and ignore the rest. I lookWhatever. The Shrew is totally great. But everyone has a different reading of this play, and you see what you want to see and ignore the rest. I look at it (and I would) as the birth of a great sadomasochistic relationship. The scenes between Kate and Petruchio are gold, and there's a subtext underneath it all that I think puts them on the same page. In the end, I think Kate obeys Petruchio because she likes it, because he has the balls to challenge her in absurd ways. It's altogether possible that I'm putting my own shit on this play, but I think that lots of mean people are just waiting to be tamed, but only by the right person, and Petruchio is a master dominatrix. It's unsettling that the gender roles fall so neatly into Elizabethan patterns of subserviance, but I absolutely believe there are more layers underneath all of that. I even like Lucentio's sly wooing of Bianca. It's not a perfect play, but there's a lot here to like: tons of playful animal imagery and ample entendres. Maybe it's perverse of me to think of this as a sensual play, but I do. ...more
I like Love's Labour's Lost a good deal, but it is a slog. It's full of outdated puns and wordplay and plays on wordplay and satire on rhetorical formI like Love's Labour's Lost a good deal, but it is a slog. It's full of outdated puns and wordplay and plays on wordplay and satire on rhetorical forms, and really the point of it all is lost to antiquity. But I like what is says essentially about the foolishness of youth, and the difference between words of love and the experience of love. Four noble boys say ridiculous things, silly in their earnestness, and four matching girls toy with their affections, and it's all fairly lovely, until the boys decide that they mean it for real. It all ends amicably, but not with marriage. I appreciate the restraint and what Shakespeare is saying about how patience must temper the fire of lust. On the stage this is all hit or miss, and the B-plot suffers from verbosity and games between ill-defined fools, but the best scene happens about mid-way through, when each of the men enters alone to confess their love and hide as the next one approaches. Then, one by one they step out and accuse each other of hypocritically breaking their vows of celibacy and study. And Berowne, the smartest one by far and first to reveal his love to the audience (and the closest thing to a protagonist here), thinking he has the upper moral hand with his compatriots, is served by the announcement of his own mis-delivered love letter. Stage gold. Trust me. ...more
Proteus could not have been better named. Is The Two Gentlemen of Verona a sly comment on how stupidly changeable young lovers can be? If it is, JuliaProteus could not have been better named. Is The Two Gentlemen of Verona a sly comment on how stupidly changeable young lovers can be? If it is, Julia is sacrificed at its expense-- she's got the cross-dressing chutzpah of Viola but the ever-beaten weakness of Helena. That's the thing about Two Gentlemen: the pieces don't fit, the characters lose you in service of the comedic structure. And as every critic would say, everything done here was done better later. There are a few lovely instances of poetry, but on the whole it's completely slight. Oh well. In the comedies, the ladies always stand by their man. Julia did it; so did Viola, but against less objectionable behavior. Even Isabella the strong-willed nun says yes to the ring, and no amount of feminist revisionism can erase those words. But this is where it feels the worst. Cheap resolution, unvalidated by what came before....more
What do I like about The Comedy of Errors It's mercifully short, economical, and works very well on the stage. Lots of farcical laughs, though the shiWhat do I like about The Comedy of Errors It's mercifully short, economical, and works very well on the stage. Lots of farcical laughs, though the shipwreck-sundered twins plot requires far more suspension of disbelief than in Twelfth Night. Basically, you have to allow for the fact that all the characters are idiots. That said, Shakespeare does a nice job of using the two sets of twins as foils for each other. The Antipholus and Dromio from Syracuse are way more amusingly lackadaisical about the whole affair than the boys from Ephesus, whose Antipholus is a moody cheater and Dromio a true blockhead. You really have to think about the structure of the piece, with its entrances, exits, exchanges of money and jewelry to appreciate how well engineered it is to please an audience. I want to play Dromio of Syracuse....more
So this was actually pretty awesome. I read the last 500 pages in like a two-day period. And that's what Stephen King is good for: the well-manufacturSo this was actually pretty awesome. I read the last 500 pages in like a two-day period. And that's what Stephen King is good for: the well-manufactured page-turny thriller, questionable though some of his post-sobriety output may be.
The most notable thing about Under the Dome is how clearly influenced it is by pop culture, and especially all the watercooler TV we know King watches. I'm talking about Lost. Under the Dome is about how a sprawling cast of characters deals with its isolation due to an event that may or may not (but probably yes) be sci-fi in its nature. Like Lost, it deals with terror and uncertainty and conspiracy but remains rooted in the journeys of its characters.
Much of the story is pretty black and white. King allows his characters to divide themselves pretty equally into heroes and villains, but there are certain pleasures in rooting for the downfall of characters as despicable as these.
The ending is a stretch, but the concept is almost too good; any explanation would be unsatisfying. But King tries his darndest to tie it all together with his characters' arcs and all that business. Whatever. It's the journey. And it's so much fun to watch it all combust....more
I probably need to read this again and get over myself, but as I rushed through it in a two-day period, I fell in love. I am a sucker for 1) self-absoI probably need to read this again and get over myself, but as I rushed through it in a two-day period, I fell in love. I am a sucker for 1) self-absorbed tortured genius heroes, 2) metafiction (it's a genre piece commenting on itself? how clever! ...), and 3) magic (and magical thinking). If your tolerance for any of those elements is thin, your enjoyment level for The Magicians may find itself in a steep decline.
All in all, though. I loved it. I'm a sucker. It's not a fantasy novel, though, really. There's an air of disappointment with magical systems that serves as a nice little allegory for growing up into disillusionment and realizing that life is meaningless and YOU are NOT SPECIAL! And despite all this deflating realism, it's a page-turner!
I do wish that we could escape the Brilliant Gay archetype of being fabulous and twee and then miserable and alcoholic (set firmly in place by Evelyn Waugh, that asshole), but I suppose Grossman sidesteps that pitfall at the last minute.
Read it read it read it. And if you can get over the novel's sense of smugness, and the fact that it rips off Harry Potter and Narnia (flagrantly! and too conveniently?), I'm pretty sure you'll love it like I do. I am willing to overlook all flaws....more