Wednesday, 31 December 2014

PLAY ON! January - Ancient Plays

January is approaching. It's time to start our play reading challenge. The challenge for January is Ancient Plays.

When we say Ancient, it means anything before the printing press begun. So, Old Greeks and Romans are very welcome. Apart from those two obvious categories, if you happen to know Ancient plays from other parts of the world (Chinese or Japanese, for instance) they are welcome as well, provided they are written for plays, not epic or narrative poems.

The Greek loved to write trilogies. It was long before The Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games, but they just knew how to make a good show. So if you happen to challenge yourself with the whole 3 plays in Oresteia or Oedipus cycle, that would be awesome. Unfortunately, we don't have many nowadays, most have been lost through age and time.

I have posted a linky below for us to share with others our reviews of the plays that we read. Please insert the play author, play title, your name, and the title of your blog, with a link to your review. (e.g.: Sophocles - Oedipus Rex (Listra@Half-Filled Attic))

And, don't be shy to share your reading experience in social media, using the #PlayOn hashtag.

Let's Play!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Henry V: The Sun Unclouded

Prince Hal had become a new king when we left him in Henry IV, part II. Now it seemed that the new king gained popularity (in a good sense, not the old Shakespearean one) among his subjects. Remember when he said he'd 'throw off his loose behaviour' and 'falsify men's hope'? He did it. Everybody wondered how the king, who had been well-known as a good-for-nothing brat, could change into such a good and wise king in so short a time. But His Majesty's wisdom is about to be put to the test.

The clergy and the nobles were pushing him to "reclaim" his title in France. Henry actually had a (weak) claim over the Kingdom of France, which was explained through a long genealogical tree. Assured that he was rightful in his claim, Henry decided to take over France.

The ambassador of France came into the court, with a mock gift from the Dauphin - heir apparent of France. This gesture was definitely meant to start a war. Henry told his people to get ready for France.

Meanwhile, Falstaff died. That's it. End of story. His friends, including Pistol and Bardolph, joined the army. They didn't really mean to fight for the king, of course, they tried to get some extras along the way, stealing from people in an already difficult situation.

The king caught 3 of his "best friends" red-handed, trying to kill him for "foreign gold". Henry was so shocked that the men he trusted could do such a thing to him. (Maybe he was never really wise in choosing friends.) The traitors executed, he departed shortly to France.

Jamie Parker as Henry. Have I told you that he's my favourite
actor to play the part?
He won the Battle of Harfleur, and march on towards Calais. France began to consider Henry as a real threat. However, the Dauphin still felt that Harry was just a petty king who loved to have fun. France sent a messenger to Harry asking about his ransom. (It's an old practice, that when you are held a prisoner you must pay a ransom for your release, much like a kidnapped kid. Seriously.)

In the night, while the French bet on the numbers of Englishmen they would kill, and debate upon horses and armours, Harry disguised himself in the night, and went around the camp to see his soldiers. He also meditated upon the nature of being king, and as the morning approached, he prayed that God might help his soldiers to be brave.


After a motivating lengthy speech (video above), and again, refusing to discuss his ransom with the herald of France, Henry and his army marched to battle. Surprisingly, they won. Henry refused any celebration, for he believed it was God who fought for him, and the credit must come to Him and Him alone.

France agreed to discuss the claim. Henry was about to be next in line for the throne of France, and he was to marry the king's daughter, Katharine. Interestingly, although Katharine was promised to him, Harry still tried to woo her all the same. It seemed that he really liked her, after all. Well, apart fromt he comedy, the scene pretty much showed that Harry was an awkward lover, which is cute, by the way.

Happy ending.

****

It doesn't sound exciting, is it? Well, the exciting parts are hardly in the main plot. The funny ones are Fluellen and Pistol, the heroic one is Henry, not in a big gesture, but in small small things that he does or says.

Henry V is a comedy, but it never ceases to make me sad. Firstly the character of Henry. He was never the stern, calm king that he tried to act throughout the play. There are moments when the "real" Henry came out, and those moments are priceless. But he was almost never alone, and when there were people, there's this feeling that he staged himself to fit into their expectation of a good king.

The king in all his glory before the Battle of Agincourt played by
(the more popular) Tom Hiddleston, which I also love.
Secondly, the Chorus. The function of the Chorus in Henry V is to build our expectation, and then destroy it. It really feels like history, you know, like when you read a history school book, and you read all these heroes that fought for your motherland, and they are praised so high that you start to wonder whether they were as blameless as their pictures in the books. The Chorus is that history book, the play is the reality.

****

Henry V is a lot of things. For one, it is an ending to a brilliant story about a boy's journey to maturity. It's also a great example of man's struggle to fulfill a role destined for him. It's about being human.

Read it, or at least, watch it. No review can do it justice. No doubt your reaction to it will very much depend upon your own life experiences, and your interpretation.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Henry IV Part II: The Boy Grew Up

It took me so log to write a review on Henry IV, part II, partly because I was lazy, partly because I was busy, and partly because it is the one I like the least in Shakespeare's first tetralogy. But the strongest reason why I haven't reviewed it for a long time is because I really don't know what to say about it.

Prince Hal, whom we left in Henry IV part I as a favourable son in the eyes of his father, came back to his former life of jests and fun and revelries. Falstaff, on the other hand, remained the same - old fat drunkard enjoying every bit of his life with jokes and petty crimes. However, something changed. Hal didn't have the same closeness he had once with Falstaff. In fact, they were rarely together. Another thing, he became somewhat more aware of his reputation as a prince - or let's say, more aware of what expected from his as a prince.

There was also an interesting character - Chief Justice. He was an embodiment of rigid law, and he was unafraid to confront both Falstaff and Prince Hal. He disliked Falstaff and attributed Hal's bad conduct to his influence (which is right to some degree).

It happened that one day Falstaff was busy having fun with a prostitute named Doll Tearsheet. Unbeknownst to him, Hal and Pointz was there within, listening when he began to speak abusively about them. When confronted, Falstaff again tried to make excuses, but Hal wasn't convinced.

Meanwhile, the king was sick, and now nearing his death, became more and more worried by his son's questionable conducts. When another rebellion arose, the King ordered his other son Prince John, to handle it. He succeeded with an unfair political stratagem, showing that (at least for me), he was no king material either.

Hal came before the king, only to find that he was terribly sick in his bed. Believing that his father was already dead, Hal too his crown and put it on his head. The king woke up, and scolded his son severely. Yet when Hal explained his reason for taking the crown, the king relaxed. He gave his son some advice, and finally, his blessing, shortly before he died in peace.

Falstaff, hearing that the king was dead, rushed to London. He believed that his friendship with Hal would earn him a safe haven in the new king's court. However, Hal, now King Henry V, rejected him and all his former friends. He gave Falstaff a small allowance, but threatened him with death punishment if he dared to come near him. Hal was determined to be a worthy king and to throw away his "former self".

***

Compared to the first part, Part 2 is rather dull, flat, and boring. I doesn't have enough Hal and Falstaff together. But in a way, it is necessary. Part two is the time when Hal starts to find himself. Maybe he distances himself from Falstaff, to be able to at last rejects him entirely.

I love the Chief Justice for his integrity and loyalty to what he knew was right. He didn't refrain from punishing Hal just because he was a prince. Later, when he became king, he didn't lose even one bit of that legal integrity.
I am assured, if I be measured rightly,
Your majesty hath no just cause to hate me.
Indeed he didn't. He challenged the new king to envision himself having a son like himself and imagining a person like the Chief Justice, bold enough to give the son a proper discipline. Hal was reasonable enough to see this, and ordered the man to keep his status and his responsibility.

I believe another person to talk about is Henry IV. Oh, he just loved his country. After reigning for a long time he didn't lose even one small part of that love he had for England when he decided to take the throne.

The sad thing about him is, he was still haunted by his past deeds.
God knows, my son,
By what by-paths and indirect crook'd ways
I met this crown; and I myself know well
How troublesome it sat upon my head.
But he assured Henry that the crown would sit surer on his head.

Well, what now, England?
Yet weep that Harry's dead; and so will I;
But Harry lives, that shall convert those tears
By number into hours of happiness.
Shall he? See you in Henry V.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Jane Eyre: Being Independent vs. Being Needed?

Jane Eyre is a re-read. I remember I have read it some years ago, I don't remember exactly when. When I was in high school I read a Japanese manga with references to it, so I think maybe around that time I decided to read the book.

Sadly, I forgot almost everything, except the ending. Upon watching the film, my memories were refreshed, but the film missed some scenes I knew was there. Then last month, I agreed to read it with Fanda.

And I failed to finish it before the end of the month.

(I believe I have forgotten how to write a book review. I don't know what to write at all.)

Being an unwanted orphan in her aunt's house, Jane suffered a lot as a child. She wasn't taught how to be pleasant, and even when she tried to please, her effort was never regarded. Maybe Nature and Nurture had both conspired to make her a frank, straight-forward, plain-speaking girl.

She was sent, at her aunt's request, to a school for girls, where her situation gradually got better. She was trained well to be a teacher, and after she taught there for some years, she left for "freedom". She advertised to be a governess, and she ended up in Thorfield, with a little French pupil called Adele, and a stern, somewhat harsh man called Edward Rochester.

The man was the owner of the house, and Jane's master. Both soon found that they were very much alike, and that they liked each other. They were both strange, alienated from the world around them. They both spoke in woven code of tales and gazes and smiles that others wouldn't be able to perceive. And so they claim from one another some sort of special bond of friendship, and before long, of love.

Not that fast.

Later it turns out that Mr. Rochester was not a bachelor after all, but a man married to a poor lunatic - as good as gone. However, lunacy doesn't absolve or cancel marriage bond, and as soon as Jane found this out, she went away from Thorfield, her job, her pupil, and her love.

Jane found settlements in the house of a clergyman, John Rivers, and his sisters, under a false name. However, he later found out Jane's true identity, with even more information that Jane's uncle had died, and left her a considerable sum of money. John Rivers and his sisters were actually Jane's cousins. Overjoyed, she shared her new-found riches with them equally.

After rejecting Rivers' marriage proposal, Jane mysteriously heard Rochester calling her name. She went back to Thorfield, but it was terribly burnt. Mr. Rochester's wife had set the house on fire, and then committed suicide. Mr. Rochester himself lost his hand and his sight in the incident, and now was plunged in despair.

However, Jane comforted him, and he proposed again. This time, there was no single bar to their marriage, and Jane accepted. The happy couple found delight in one another, and lived happily together.

****

Jane Eyre is a strange story. All along the novel, I found myself thinking, "What does this girl want anyway?" For one thing, she wanted independence. Being raised an orphan, she never had anything to decide for herself. She was always ordered around, she always had tasks, she always had prisons. When she left the school that had taught her so much, she said that she wanted to be free.

On the other side, she also wanted to be needed. She was always attracted to people who needed her. Adele, who was an orphan herself, who didn't have anybody else to taught her but Jane, the melancholy Mr Rochester, with all his secrets and peculiarities, without anybody else to understood him but Jane, and Mr. Rivers, who needed somebody to accompany him on his journey to India.

At first I thought it was rather a paradox. You can;t be free if you are attached to something, right? But then in Jane's case, her independence allowed her to choose her attachment. And that's the most important thing. Being free is not about being able to fly incessantly in the air, but to choose a place to rest.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Off the Shelves: I Puritani, Lovelace, and Athos

I know I should be reading Jane Eyre. I will. I promise. In fact, my ebook reader told me that I'm 2.7% through it. But something beautiful stands between me and Jane Eyre.

It is an opera: I Puritani. I Puritani is an Italian opera composed by Bellini, and it's a particular favourite of Queen Victoria. I heard she even watched it with her beloved Prince Albert. Opera sounds like a perfect date to me. Especially if it's as sweet as I Puritani.

Well, the opera is set during a tumultuous time in England's history. You can read the story of the end of the reign of Charles I. At that time, there were two sides in politics - the Royalists and the Puritans. The Royalists, as the name suggests, sided with the king. The Puritans were led by Cromwell. (To say that I know more about it would be a lie.)

So there's this young lady, Elvira, a daughter of a Puritan, who fell madly in love with Lord Arturo Talbot, a chevalier, and a Royalist. After all the difficulties in their relationship, her father finally agreed to marry her to Arturo despite the differences in their political preferences. Everybody's happy. Arturo sang a beautiful love song, saying how much he loved her, and how happy he was that they could be together. The feeling was mutual.

The path of true love, you know, wouldn't be that smooth. Right there, while preparing their wedding, Arturo met a woman who turned out to be Queen Henrietta of England. After her husband's execution, it seemed that she was next on the death row. Arturo, being a loyal subject, couldn't leave her to that fate. He vowed to save her.

Do not speak of her whom I adore; do not take away my courage. You shall be saved, oh unhappy woman, or I myself shall die. And my beloved maiden I shall invoke as I die. 

So away he went with the queen wearing the veil of Elvira. What can I say? Elvira, left at the altar, became mad. (If being mad makes you sing that beautifully, I don't think people would mind so much.)

Three months later, Arturo came home, still a fugitive. In the woods, he heard Elvira singing their love song, and he called her. No response. So he sang their song - the same tune, only different lyrics. The trick worked. She found him, confronted him, and the two were united.

After a threat of death and another singing episode, the opera ends joyfully.

See, I didn't plan to tell you the summary. You can watch full opera on YouTube and read the summary on Wikipedia. That's not the point of this post.

Puritans. Charles I. Chevaliers. Cromwell. Sad Queen. Those things bring only 2 names to my mind: Athos and Lovelace.

Twenty Years After, where the four musketeers went to England and witnessed the execution of the king, is set exactly during the same period. The same Queen, the same King. The character of Athos is pretty much the same with Arturo - a loyal Royalist who believes in aristocracy. Except, of course, Athos lacks the love story.

That's why we have Richard Lovelace. This time, it is a real person.

I fell in love with Lovelace for the first time when I read two lines of his poem in Sabatini's Captain Blood.

Stone walls do not a prison make
Nor Iron bars a cage.

But that's not all.

Richard Lovelace
Lovelace was a real Royalist who was imprisoned twice for his political views. During those imprisonment, he wrote the poems that would later be published after his death, among them "To Althea, from Prison" and "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars". Those poems have the same tone with the songs that Arturo sings.

The similarity between the two is their devotion to their country - to a cause greater than themselves. They devote their life to something grand, something important, and that's why their love stories are more interesting than Romeo and Juliet. In his poems, Lovelace expresses all his longing for his beloved, all his undying love and fidelity, but at the same time, confesses that what he is doing is more important than his own feelings towards her. Arturo is pretty much the same. And that's why he's amazing.

Thanks to I Puritani, I can't think about Lovelace without picturing the good-looking Juan Diego Florez who sings Arturo's aria, "A te, o cara" in the video below.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Pot of Poetry: Favourite Poets

This month, Classics Club poses an interesting topic.
Let’s talk about classic poetry! Have you got a favorite classic poem? Do you read poetry? Why or why not? // You could also feature a poet or a book of poetry, rather than a poem.
 I have to say that I'm in love with poetry. When I was little, I wrote my own poems, a hobby I can't let go of when I grow up. Why? Maybe I will never know.

When it comes to poets, "two loves I have" - Shakespeare and Keats. The two are very very different both in style and sense. Keats, as a Romantic poet, loves the melancholy of Nature. His poems flow like springs of water, or fall like leaves in autumn, or whisper like breeze before rain. The other is completely different. Shakespeare uses a lot of different rhetorical techniques to convey his thoughts. He's a drama king, and he knows how to get people's attention. His poems talk about so man different things, delivers huge variety of emotions and thoughts, and resonates with the deepest, most secret desires in human beings.

Shakespeare wrote mostly plays. Never mind they're poetic, they're still plays. It's quite a different thing. When using poetry for plays, Shakespeare pays attention to the dramatic nuance that poems have. That's why he wrote in metrical lines of iambic pentameter. But he also wrote poetry. They are not much, compared to his plays, but they are still worthily famous. If you are in love and don't know how to express your feeling, read his sonnets out loud. It helps.

Lately I sometimes find myself reciting this particular sonnet.

O! never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify,
As easy might I from my self depart
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love: if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again;
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe though in my nature reigned,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
   For nothing this wide universe I call,
   Save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all.

It sounds like a lame excuse, but that depends on what you are talking about. I am a fangirl, so when I fall in love with something, I let myself fall hard. However, there are several things I can't entirely leave. "That is my home of love." If I get distracted, if I fall in love with something entirely different, if it seems like I have a new obsession, in short, "if I have ranged/Like him that travels," I will return.

Oh, but the poem above is hardly my favourite sonnet of Shakespeare. In fact, I cannot choose my favourite. It so much depends upon my moods and feelings at a given moment.

Now let's talk about Keats. I don't remember the first time I read his poems. I remember though, long before I actually read his works, I read a quote in a Japanese manga, saying, "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard, are sweeter." The manga attributed it to Keats. Sadly, it was a translation, and believe me, it took me some time to finally get the authentic English version of that sentence.

My current favourite from Keats is some lines from his "Lines to Fanny." But that's not it. The pain and beauty of reading Keats is reading death in every line. You can't forget that he's dying when he wrote those. I can't read "Bright Star" or "Ode to Grecian Urn" without thinking of the poet's desire to stay still, to be "still steadfast, still unchangeable", to happily "forever piping songs forever new," to stop the clock and enjoy that one perfect moment forever. Whether it's "Ode to a Nightingale" or "To Autumn" or anything else that he wrote, it always gives me some sort of melancholic sadness. The worst part is, of course, I love him nonetheless.

So, Keats and Shakespeare - my two big loves. Do you have any?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Pot of Poetry: Poe's "To My Mother"

Edgar Allan Poe was a renowned poet and short-story writer. His expertise is frightening people out. I can only imagine the things that he's been through both physically and mentally.

This is true for most of his poems. However, some of his poems remind me that he's just a proper human being as the rest of us, a person with ordinary feelings, ordinary affections, ordinary capacity to love. I think the poem "To My Mother" is a perfect example of that.
Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
Therefore by that dear name I long have called you—
You who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you
In setting my Virginia's spirit free.
My mother—my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.
The first four lines is filial obligation. A child is expected to be "devotional" to their mothers, to treat them with love and respect. But Poe is not talking about his mother here. He's talking about his wife's mother. His deceased wife's mother.

He says that "death installed [the mother]/In setting [his wife's] spirit free." And that's the reason why that mother is "more than a mother" to him. Because he loved his wife so much, he extended that love to the people that his wife loved and the people that loved his wife.

He even has a reason to love his wife's mother more than his own mother because he his wife "was dearer to [his] soul than its soul-life." The fact that he loves her mother more than his mother is in parallel with the fact that he loves her more than he loves himself.

But it doesn't mean that the mother is just a representative of is wife, or replacement of his mother. He calls her My Mother. It's his own mother. His relationship with her is also personal, not just an in-law relationship.

The most touching part is that it's true. Poe was so close to his mother-in-law. He sent letters to her as much as one would to a mother. He might be the master of psychopathic stories but, a man is but a man.