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Archive for December, 2011

A play that is very apt for Christmas. Decided to post this early since I don’t really want to be boring people with my posts on Christmas.

  • So begins the foray of the Church into meddling with secular matters. The Second Shepherds’ Play is a Passion Play, following the story of the shepherds who came to the nativity.
  • A note on semantics. Many critics argue that it should be “the second shepherd’s play” rather than the “second shepherds’ play.” The former implies this being the play of the second shepherd while the latter implies this being the second play of the shepherds. A very big difference due to a simple apostrophe.
  • It is the second play of the shepherds simply because there is a first play of the shepherds although the argument is present that this second play is but a revision of the first. The argument on this being about a play of the second shepherd is due to a heightened level the dialogue of the second shepherd gives.
  • Once you get past the obligatory christian prologue at the start, the dialogue gets really witty. Laughed out a few times. It is a combination of the high religious monologues with very down-to-earth banter between the shepherds.
  • Mak is obviously the best character for me. He’s so wily. I’m not sure I like his wife Gill very much though.
  • At its best parts, this play is farcical and shows the errors of human judgment. In Filipino, nanggagago lang.
  • I must say I feel the parts weren’t tied up well with each other. The religious monologues at the start were fine as they served to show the characters of the two shepherds (contrasting with the third) before shifting to the arrival of Mak. Then the whole farcical plot (arguably the best part of the play) and then suddenly an angel arrives to announce the birth of christ and all the shepherds go to the manger and it becomes really religious. I don’t buy the shift using a modern eye – understandable in the context of religious medieval drama but in my opinion that transition is what makes this play lacking in comparison to the more allegorical Everyman.
  • While I didn’t buy it very much, it was actually quite apt to read that manger scene this time of year. Yay Christmas!

Right. Next week is New Year’s Eve. It is very apt to read what many critic consider to be the BEST PLAY of all time and a part of the English Renaissance (which is the time period to be tackled next week) – KING LEAR by SHAKESPEARE. I’d also like to announce that since it is impossible to pass the Renaissance without tackling Shakespeare, this also leads to questions about his contemporaries. Do we not read Ben Jonson? John Webster? Christopher Marlowe? Even John Milton had a play. So next week we do Renaissance Shakespeare and then the week after we do another Renaissance play. Also, second announcement, I feel that doing it once a week is too long especially since I got a book entitled “The 100 Best Plays” and I feel that we should try to get all these plays over with. So, after King Lear, let’s try to do two plays a week – a review to be posted on a Wednesday and one on a Sunday. Again, this is after King Lear so King Lear posts could appear by Sunday.

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Let me begin by saying I regret not being able to speak Latin. Imagine the wonders of being able to read a text in its original form. The text I read (Amphitryo) was translated by E.F. Watling, it was part of a compilation of plays of Plautus that I recently found. Had I not found it, I would have reverted to the adaptation by Kleist – thereby getting into the entire politics of translation and adaptation. Eric Bentley puts it better than me in his epilogue to the “Modern Theatre.”

Right. Enough ranting. Thoughts:

  • I initially picked this up just last Friday. I wanted to start earlier this week (last week’s reading text I read on the day it had to be posted) since I was expecting something CLASSICAL in its whole intimidating sense. It wasn’t. I was drawn into the play. It was just so fucking funny, I finished it on the spot. The dialogue is bursting with life and the characters are so drawn up. Well, except Alcmene but then again who cares about Alcmene?
  • Reading this text also made me think about how modern playwrights and even directors would include devices such as an actor speaking directly to the audience and call it “CUTTING-EDGE” (even going so far as to label it, urgh, performance art). Honey, it is not cutting-edge when the ancient Romans were doing it. It doesn’t make it bad that you’re doing it now – it makes it pretentious when you think you’ve invented it. Just because Ibsen had a fetish for living room plays doesn’t make it the only valid form of drama.
  • I am also informed by this text by watching a translation of Kleist’s amphitryon (sorry, the translator’s name is escaping me right now) directed by Jose Estrella for Dulaang UP. In other words, it’s a translation of an adaptation of a translation of an adaptation (since Plautus adapted this from the ancient Greeks.) Funny, nothing is original. Anyway, viewing Jose’s version of Amphitryon had the actors comically break the fourth wall and talk to the audience. I thought this was an additional flare by either Jose or the translator but seeing how it was present in the original text makes me believe that both of the actually did their homework. Made me appreciate it more.
  • The text itself basically is a case of mistaken identity. Wittily made.
  • Just as I argued that Antigone is more of Creon’s story, I will also argue that Amphitryo is the story of Mercury and Sosia just because they are so brilliantly written. More than half of the number of pages is just the exchange between the two that when Jupiter and Amphitryo showed up, I couldn’t wait to get back to Mercury and Sosia. That is how you make character.
  • Using a modern perspective, one could argue that how Mercury conspired with the audience is too “tell-y” rather than “show-y”. Not so brilliant use of In Medias Res in that case since many pages were spent for Mercury to retell the adventures.
  • While I consider the relationship of Mercury and Sosia of prime interest in this play, attention should also be drawn towards the relationship between Sosia and Amphitryo as well as the relationship of Mercury and Jupiter.  The gods must be crazy.
  • Perhaps as a hung-up from the Greeks, there’s still a “messenger” of sorts. Huh.
  • There’s not really that much more to say at this point. The story isn’t that complicated as Antigone. What really interested me in this play is (1) how comic it is (2) the dialogue and (3) the character
  • I will admit that some parts do drag, especially when Mercury breaks the fourth wall. But, as Horace said, if Homer could be boring every now and then, as long as the work in general is okay, then that’s fine.
  • On that note though, I remember watching Amphitryon (Kleist) and noting that although funny every scene with Alcmene seemed to be a chore to watch.
  • I want to spend my last line on Alcmene. I really don’t like her just because I have a personal bias against what I consider to be “slutty female characters.” I feel that the rage Amphitryo had against her sluttiness was kind of valid. At the end, she sort of had to represent what an ideal wife should be – all chaste, all pure and everything. Of course, she violated that (tramp!) She could argue that she wasn’t aware but if we push this story into a modern context, I see Alcmene as this bored housewife who probably gets drunk a lot and sleeps with lots of men thinking they’re her husband/s. Urgh. By the way, I’m not saying the character of Alcmene isn’t well-written. I’m just saying I don’t like her.

Right. We were supposed to skip next week and resume on January. Initial plan was to read Everyman for Medieval Theatre, however I recently acquired a copy of The Second Shepherd’s Play and it is quite apt to read for Christmas, so let’s push through next week (whoever’s following this) with that.

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First week, first text.

 

  • I really like how it began. The way it started off in the middle of the whole thing. It gives ‘in medias res’ a whole new definition. Or probably it’s actual definition before being destroyed by modern critics. I felt that the beginning had really good tension and that it reeled me in well into the drama. Much has been done beforehand and they get this other with with just a few lines of the dialogue. The footnotes also help.
  • I like Ismene’s character. Upon my first reading and as a modern playwright, I initially found her character unnecessary. She does have two redeeming factors – (1) her banter with Antigone is just brilliant and (2) and this I found through a deeper reading, her reaction towards Antigone’s sentence really shows off the dichotomy of her with her sister and as such elevates Antigone’s character.
  • I like the Guard, moreso because I see him as the one comic thing in this play. I can imagine a trembling, perspiring fat guard revealing the news to the King that the law was broken. Awesome.
  • On that note of comicality, I must say, reading this defined tragedy. Modern tragedies would pale in comparison. This IS tragedy in its purest form. Basically, everyone commits suicide or is eaten by dogs. It’s brutal but not gory as everything is relayed through the messenger. I love the ending. I thought with the death of Antigone and Haemon, it was over but when the messenger announced that even Eurydice committed suicide, I felt shocked. This came out of nowhere but it’s fitting. The play deserved that third death.
  • On that note as well, I do fear for actually doing a staged production of this. A modern audience, myself included, would have no patience for long verses droning on and on onstage. On text, however, I feel that it worked like a charm. You could appreciate the poetry in Sophocles’ writing even if it is just through translation. (BTW, my translation is by Elizabeth Wyckoff)
  • I do question who the “key” character in this play is. I kind of feel it’s Creon not Antigone. No, I’m not just being sexist. Antigone’s major decision was at the start of the play and she had a resolve to do it. She stuck by that decision through and through, believing its validity yet knowledgeable of its consequences. That is her tragic flaw – her hubris, if you will. Creon does have his own tragic flaw, his inability to see past his own judgment, his hubris, as brought by his throne. In fact, it is Creon who undergoes a transformation through the blind seer, so I am firmly arguing that the plot of this story by Sophocles entitled Antigone is about Creon. Of course, Antigone’s story is about Antigone and I have no idea why I’m bringing this up.
  • I am interested in knowing that this is more-or-less a play about resistance. You have this ugly woman doing something she firmly believes in although her uncle the King has banned it. She will stand up to her rights and go get killed just to bury her brother. You go girl. On this notion, though, it is interesting that there is a sense of questioning involved. Nowhere in this play does it say that Creon is 100% right. He is not. He is a man. Everyone questions him, Antigone, his son Haemon, the blind seer Teiresias and even the Chorus.
  • And very interestingly, Sophocles is against modifying the law to suit your personal interest. Hello, Creon sentencing his niece to death because if he didn’t he wouldn’t have ascendancy to impose the law to everyone.
  • Haemon’s character is interesting and I say this solely due to his introduction. When he approached Creon, his initial reaction was of support. You could literally see his thought process going on as he tries to convince his father not to kill Antigone. He is awesome. Plus, willing to die for true love, etc. I would do his role in a play. Actually, I would do either him or the messenger because it’s always nice to be the messenger in a Greek play. You get all the good lines! (according to Dr. Caloy Aureus)
  • Central to any greek play is the anagnorisis (recognition) and the peripeteia (reversal). These elements are present in Creon (but not in Antigone!) His anagnorisis was brought forth by Teiresias’ prophecy and the peripeteia was when everyone around him died.
  • No dues ex machina. I appreciate that. It’s so easy to have a god come down and lecture everyone/save Antigone.
  • I do have a couple of last words on Antigone. There is an element of subversion in her character. She’s not a typical woman. (And note, if you have a character from ANCIENT GREECE not being a ‘typical woman’ you have to question what it means to be a ‘typical woman.’) She’s ugly. Well fine, she’s “plain” compared to Ismene, but hey ugly is ugly. But she has a boyfriend who happens to be her cousin. Yay to our incestuous Grecian ancestors.

Next week would be the last week for this calendar year I suppose. Probably not the best time to have started this but, hey, now’s as good time as any. Next week, we’ll move to the Romans. AMPHITRYON by PLAUTUS. Since Roman plays are problematic in the sense that (1) they’re so few, or rather, few survive and (2) there are massive rewrites, if we can’t find a text that is a strict translation of Plautus, let’s read either Kleist’s or Moliere’s version.

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I know we’re all swamped with our stuff right now. Hell, even I am. However, there is some merit in this reading challenge I am presenting. It is my belief (and I could be wrong in this) that it is presumptuous for a student of the arts, be it theater, writing or literature, to graduate without reading what is considered seminal in their field. Before you gang up on me being a pretentious geek, I admit that I myself fall under that category – mainly the reason I am engaging in this challenge. I feel that creatively and critically I am in a dump and that there is a need to rejuvinate reading of primary texts be you a writer, an actor, a director, a literary critic or just a plain drunkard.

 

What am I proposing?

 

Every week we read one major play. Every Sunday we post something about it. (Oh noes, more paperz?!) Chill. It’s not a DECL-type paper with all the fancy footnotes and formatting. Really just say something about the text. Contribute something. You can ramble as much as you want. In my case, starting next Sunday, I will be posting about what I (hopefully we) read in my blog (https://harderfasterwetter.wordpress.com). There are generally no rules. Yes, you can skip a week if you’re really too busy. No professor, no pressure. Just you and the text and afterwards the blank page of a Facebook note or your blog to write a couple of paragraphs about what you read. One full-length play a week is a reasonable demand. Having it once a month defeats the purpose of trying to read a multitude of seminal texts and having it once a day – face it. Even I have a life.

 

So that’s it. We’re gonna be reading plays. (Why plays?! Well, generally I’m forwarding it because I feel that there is enough attention towards Fiction, Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction and plus, what the fuck, I started it.) This is how it goes – Every week starting now I’ll be assigning a play. Generally, I plan that every major movement or time period should have a representative text. Basically, we’ll go through the timeline of dramatic history. Let’s just one for each period though. So yes, no reading of both Oedipus Rex and Antigone for Greek Theater in this challenge. Just one per period so we could wrap this up in around a couple of months. If you don’t agree with what I chose as the representative text (Oh noez but I wanna read Medea!) that’s fine. You may. Again, no hard and fast rules.

 

I’ll be posting my readings and comments here. After I comment I will sort of assign what to read the next week. I have invited people both from Facebook and my literary blog (deelaytful.wordpress.com) where I dump my fiction, poetry and plays and some people have expressed some interest in this challenge.

 

So, if anyone is interested in picking this up, our play for this week would be SOPHOCLES’ ANTIGONE (SOPHOCLES! Not Jean Anouilh’s Neoclassical Version). It was a tough call, though. Oedipus Rex arguably has the more literary merit and is the more famous of that generation. True, but I still believe that there is merit in Antigone. Plus, a lot of people are familiar with Oedipus Rex, it would be nice to do something else. (Also, she’s such a twisted ugly girl.)

 

Ciao! 🙂

 

Riley

Generally a nice guy but can bite upon command

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