Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sans oeuf d’abeille t’elles

A few months ago, I became obsessed with retrieving (n.b. "retrouver") a book that was read aloud to me in highschool french class.  All I could remember was "un petit, d'un petit."  In years past, the only way to find this book would be to ask librarians, or troll through musty bookstores and brave the personalities of their interesting, but often eccentric musty owners.  When I was in college in the 80's, I tried to find an new copy of my scratched and cracked LP of french children's songs, and tried writing to catalog companies for information.  But alas, without a relational database to query, it was impossible short of extraordinary luck, which I did not have at the time.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when all I had to do was google "y'avait un ane" and "le petit cordonnier" and I found that the album, "Songs in French for Children:  Lucienne Vernay and Les Quatres Barbus"  had been remastered in 2001 and was only about $5.  I bought six of them for myself and my siblings and went merrily on my way.  But my interest was piqued, and in short order (boy does this sound like someone writing for Better Homes and Gardens in 1958, but whatever, this is a naively sweet pro-nostalgia story and since normally I'm fairly cynical I'm just going to go with it), I found the book "Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames" and gave it to my daughter Purl for Easter.  I'm a cruel parent.  I gave her the book so that I could laugh at her for about ten minutes straight as she read over and over "Un petit d'un petit" and could not get the joke.  I would not give her the answer to the riddle, and kept laughing through "Chacun Gille" and "Pis-terre, pis-terre" and "Lille beau pipe."

How is this relevant to "H is for Hamlet"?  It is if you like to play with language and have fun with poetry.  After we finished "Mot D'Heures: Gousses, Rames," I bought the companion book "N'Heures Souris Rames" and the distant-cousin companion book "Morder Guss Reims."

And then I got to having way too much time on my hands one weekend and started writing "Sans oeuf d'abeille t'elles" and quite possibly the companion books "Sans oeuf d'aout" and "Sans oeuf des reau lynx-est hones" (not sure about that one yet).  My first pages are going to focus on those classics "Ai! Oane de aoule dior hane-de" and "Elle en aurique b'y."  I'm quite excited.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

As You (Do not) Like It

A couple of rotten tomatoes for "As You Like It," a film version of the play made a few years ago that I just caught on video.  Thumbs up for the gorgeous hair, costumes, and sets -- the play's events are transported to Japan, and the textures are fabulous.  The Rosalind, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, had just buckets of strawberry blond waves and the clothes to set them off.  Romola Garai too - pale blond upswept do's to die for.

So what did I hate?  The play itself?  Not sure, because this was really the first production I've seen of this comedy.  I think I hated the stagnant direction and staging more than anything else.  Isn't the use of the camera supposed to give you all kinds of flexibility, fluidity, dramatic action?  Well there wasn't any.  All the camera showed was people standing still, reading their lines, and then moving across the space.  Stop, stand, talk.  Gesture.  Talk.  React to what the other person just said.  Move.  Stop.  Repeat.  If it was supposed to be kabuki-esque, that didn't come across.

No problems with the cast generally, assuming that they were standing still, delivering their lines at random levels of emotion and projection at the behest of the director.

And suddenly at the end, one character in costume walking through the "set" where you could see the actors' trailers and the crew bustling about?  Suddenly you go all Verfremdungseffekt?  Sorry, but I just didn't think it worked.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

X is for Xanthippe

Although Xanthippe ("zan-thip-ee") is not a character in The Taming of the Shrew, her name would have been familiar to members of audiences in Shakespeare’s time.  Shakespeare often mentioned well-known classical or folk characters in his plays, usually to make a point.  Sometimes the references are humorous, much in the same way that contemporary writers make jokes about celebrities.  Here, Xanthippe, the wife of the Greek philosopher Socrates, was legendary for her shrill and unpleasant temperament.  Petruchio, who is broke, tells his friend Hortensio that he is so desperate for cash that he would marry an ugly woman, an old woman, or even Xanthippe, the legendary shrew.  This line would probably have prompted a laugh from the Elizabethan play-goers.  This comedy offers a lot of clever repartee between Petruchio and his "shrew" Katharine, very similar to the banter of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.  Speaking of which, Elizabeth Taylor gave a memorable performance as Katharine with Richard Burton in a 1967 film version of the play.  (Don't forget to follow up with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" for more of Taylor and Burton.)

Signior Hortensio, ‘twixt such friends as we
Few words suffice; and therefore, if thou know
One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife,
As wealth is burden of my wooing dance,
Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love,
As old as Sibyl and as curst and shrewd
As Socrates’ Xanthippe, or a worse,
She moves me not, or not removes, at least,
Affection’s edge in me, were she as rough
As are the swelling Adriatic seas;
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua.

The Taming of the Shrew, Act I, Scene ii

Thursday, March 3, 2011

T is for Titania

Couples are constantly falling in love, falling out of love, fighting, making up, teasing, and testing each other in Shakespeare's plays.  And there are usually multiple couples running around:  if you are presented with one couple making a scene about some trick, misunderstanding, or jealousyl, look for another couple working out that same issue on another level.  No one is spared from being made to look like a fool in love -- not kings, not queens, and not supernatural beings that inhabit the air and fields.  In A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of the more well-known tricks that lovers play on one another involves the fairy king and queen.

In the scene presented, Titania, the fairy queen, a beautiful and elegant creature, is played the fool by her husband, Oberon.  He has given her a potion that makes her fall in love with the first creature she sees, and blind to however ugly he might be.  The object of her affections turns out to be a foolish character called Bottom, a villager who the mischievous fairies have turned into a donkey.  On stage, Titania’s pretty rhymes contrast humorously with Bottom’s ugly appearance and oafish behavior.  When the spell is broken in a later scene, Titania is embarrassed at how foolishly she has behaved.

For another example of a romantic prank, look in Twelfth Night for a trick played on the character of Malvolio, involving yellow stockings.

Out of this wood do not desire to go.
Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.
I am a spirit of no common rate,
the summer still doth tend upon my state,
And I do love thee: therefore, go with me.
I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee,
And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,
And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep.
And I will purge thy mortal grossness so,
That thou shalt like an airy spirit go.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III, Scene i

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

G is for Gertrude

This narrative speech is a good example of how Shakespeare could create dramatic tension without actually showing the dramatic event.  In this scene, Gertrude enters suddenly, interrupting the dialogue between King Claudius and Laertes.  She has arrived to announce that Ophelia, Laertes' sister, has drowned.  Her detailed description of the scene is very effective at conveying its tragic nature.  Her comments -- her comparison of Ophelia to a mermaid and her suggestion that the tree branch broke from envy -- are impossible to show through action.  Shakespeare used passages like this to bring the audience up to speed on events that happened off stage or took place over long periods of time.  Another example of this technique is seen in Enobarbus’ description of Cleopatra’s appearance on her barge in Act II, Scene ii of Antony & Cleopatra.  Note too the use of iambic pentameter -- a "soft" syllable followed by a "hard" syllable, five times in each line.  When reading this passage out loud, don't pause at the end of a line unless there is punctuation; read the third line "there with fantastic garlands did she come of crow-flowers" without stopping.

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook.  Her clothes spread wide;
And, mer-maid like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element; but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Hamlet, Act IV, Scene vii

Sunday, January 9, 2011

C is for Cordelia (not Hamlet!)

Hamlet, Hamlet Hamlet.  It's all anyone ever talks about when they want to describe the eternal, essential parent and child conflict.  Hamlet this, Hamlet that.  Hamlet is shocked about his father's untimely death.  Hamlet is conflicted about his mother's lust.  Hamlet is jealous of his uncle's power, which should be his own.  Hamlet has issues.  Poor Hamlet.  I feel sorry for you.  Now go away.

If Hamlet is all you ever think, or talk, or write about as "the" Shakespearean story exploring the nature of mankind and our path to what ever this thing is that we call adulthood, you are wearing an enormous set of gender-specific blinders and you are going to miss a lot.

For a change, pay attention to the way that Shakespeare's heroines interact with their parents:  Desdemona in Othello, Katharine in Taming of the Shrew, Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Cordelia in King Lear.  In this passage, Cordelia has been ordered to flatter her father, King Lear, in exchange for a piece of his kingdom.  First, she refuses to answer.  The question is asked a second time, and she declares that she loves him no more than as a dutiful daughter should.  A third time she is asked to speak, and she replies as Desdemona does, using careful logic to explain him that she cannot love and obey her father above all others, since when she marries she must become devoted to him.  The king becomes furious, and orders her banished and dis-inherited.  She now gives an eloquent and dignified reply that seals her fate. 

Unlike Hamlet, Cordelia has no doubts about what is, or is not, or might be.  She meets the parent-child conflict head-on, as a honorable and principled individual should, and in Act I, Scene i, to boot.  Here we see the vanity of every parent, wanting a child to be an obedient puppet, and acting like a child when we don't get what we want from them. 

I yet beseech your majesty,
If for I want that glib and oily art
To speak and purpose not, since what I well intend,
I’ll do’t before I speak, that you make known
It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness,
No unchaste action, or dishonour’d step,
That hath deprived me of your grace and favour,
But even for want of that for which I am richer,
A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue
That I am glad I have not, though not to have it
Hath lost me in your liking.

[Translation:  no, dad.  I'm won't be a kiss-ass.  I say what I mean and I mean what I say.  Go ahead and kick me out.  Make sure that you tell everyone it's not because I was disobedient or did something evil.  I'm not a sycophant*, and if you want to hate me for that, so be it, because I know it makes me a better person].

In the folk-tale on which the Lear story is based, the daughter tells her father that she loves him "as much as meat loves salt" or "as much as bread loves salt."  He is furious because he thinks salt is a common mineral that is worthless compared to gold or silver.  But of course, salt is what preserves meat and enhances its flavor, and bread is completely tasteless without salt.  So in fact it has a great deal of value, and she has paid him a higher compliment than he realized.

I am still looking for followers, so if you are out there, let me know!


*kiss-ass, brown-nose, a yes-man.  someone who tells you want you want to hear instead of the truth.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hamlet help!

Anyone out there reading?  I need a source for some Shakespeare analysis. 

Given that we all studied Shakespeare in high school, and may not have been paying close attention the whole time, it's likely that I only remember part of what I think I remember.

I am trying to write a few posts that talk about Shakespeare's "trio" of metaphors.  I remember hearing something about these trios -- in Romeo and Juliet, something about books and hands (and one other thing) that get repeated in several passages by different characters; in Richard III, something about horses and bridles and leaping.

Any tips on an explanation for this?  I have been doing some reading and can't find what I am looking for.