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.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Pot of Poetry: From Lines to Fanny, by John Keats

It's Romantic month in Classics Club. When I first heard it, I instantly thought of him - Keats. For me, he is the definition of Romantic Poetry. His poems give some sort of peace and serenity to its reader.

Some months ago I believe, I stumbled upon his lines to Fanny. The first three lines were okay, but the fourth..

Touch has a memory. O say, love, say,
What can I do to kill it and be free
In my old liberty?

The idea that you can remember a touch, that not your brain, but your skin, your muscles, can remember a touch, is lovely. It's not only your brain that refuses to forget, but all parts if you, all parts that have experienced love.

But the next few lines are even more lovely.

When every fair one that I saw was fair
Enough to catch me in but half a snare,
Not keep me there:

The 'half a snare' part is brilliant. There are those times when you see people and you are physically or mentally or in some other way attracted to them. But because you have someone else that you love, they don't 'keep you there'. You don't fall for those people because you can't forget the one that truly has your heart entrapped.

What I really love about this poem, or just Keats in general, is the simplicity of the language, of the wording. It makes it sound so sincere, so innocent. You don't smell deception. In some Renaissance poems, sometimes you smell flattery in the air, maybe because the words are complicated, or because the poet forces the rhyme. Sometimes (not always, but sometimes) the poems don't 'flow' naturally, and you think that the poet is trying to deceive you. But this poem doesn't feel that way.

I am not good at explaining poetry. I think I can never do Keats justice whenever I talk about him. I must stop now before I talk more nonsense.

If I can find the time before the end of the month, I'd like to share something from Poe, another poet that I like.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

PLAY ON: Play Challenge in 2015

Those who frequently visit my little blog can no doubt observe my passion for plays. Plays are interesting in so many ways. So in the first quarter of next year, I'd like to invite everybody to join with me in this play event/challenge.

So here are the rules:
  • The challenge will run for four months, beginning from January 2015.
  • Each month, there will be a monthly theme. 
  • A master post will be published shortly before the challenge begins.
  • Participants are expected to read and post a review each month, and post it in the upcoming Master Post.

We want to keep the theme wide enough in order to allow everybody huge options. So I'll just split plays into four categories based on the period when they were written and assign each period to each month.

January: Ancient Plays, including Greek and Roman plays
February: Renaissance Plays, including Shakespeare and his contemporaries
March: Post-Renaissance Plays, anything post Renaissance is allowed. Wilde and Shaw are very welcome
April: Freebie Plays, if you find any particular playwright interesting during the 3 months, feel free to read another of his/her plays. Or if you want to experiment with other genre or other playwright, you are in.

So, please sign in using the linky below with your name and the name of your blog (e.g. Listra - Half-Filled Attic). I'd be thrilled by your participation.

1599 - A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: Lovely Peek into the Bard's Creative Process

I have to admit it was not easy to pick up this book, sit down, and actually read. I ended up reading this book in several sittings, and even skimmed some of its tedious bits. Nevertheless, it is an interesting book, and interesting attempt to reconstruct Shakespeare's life.

"What had influenced Shakespeare in the most primal year of his creativity?" The book tries hard to answer that question, analyzing Shakespeare's own life and the restless England around him. Instead of going through all of Shakespeare's life, the author decided to focus on one particular year - the year when Shakespeare penned down Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet.

What I like about the book is its neatness in compiling facts into probable conclusion. Through the book, we go from the intrigue in Elizabeth's court into lowly actors and peasants lives. Through the book also, we find how England's political situation, press activity, and other little things might have affected Shakespeare and his works.

For me, notable, it is interesting to see how the publication of The Passionate Pilgrim might have affected As You Like It, and also might have brought back Marlowe's ghost into Shakespeare's mind.

Having said all the good things about the book, it's still necessary to note that the book is more about the year than about Shakespeare. Between Shakespeare and Shakespeare, the book mentions tons of history, including all the details about Spenser and Essex. Although the author argues that it is 'necessary', it is still too much for me.

Oh, and this book is part of my reading for Fanda's History Reading Challenge.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Henry IV Part I: Father and Son (and a Fat Friend)

This is the second play in Shakespeare's second tetralogy. I have reviewed Richard II somewhere in the blog. Now, to be honest, I kind of read the four plays in succession. So in fact, I have read them all since several months ago. However, being me, I can't write well when I feel too much, so I waited until my heart cools down. (In fact, I can't write about Henry V now for the same reason.)

We all have seen how Henry Bolingbroke feels guilty about 'compassing the crown' in Richard II. The feeling haunts him for the rest of his life. To be fair about it, he didn't take it because he was ambitious. From his point of view, it's more like saving-the-kingdom-from-a-bad-ruler kind of thing. However, it's still wrong. So this past deed torments him so much with guilt and fear.

Why fear? Well, once you overthrow a king other people will start thinking that they can overthrow you in order to be king. Further on, there are other people lurking about who have stronger claim to the throne than Henry IV himself. Politics.

The king's distress doesn't stop there. His oldest son, who would later become king, is a naughty rascal. He doesn't go to the court, but to the tavern. He is friend with robbers, drunkards, thieves, prostitutes, and what-not. Certainly not a good reputation for a king-to-be.

On the other hand, Northumberland (if you remember the guy who helped Henry to the crown) has an excellent son - Henry Percy a.k.a Hotspur. He has a reputation of an honorable and brave soldier. Henry IV's a bit jealous that Northumberland has such a son while his own is hopeless. This same young man later joins his father and uncle in a rebellion against the king. It is by no means surprising, because his brother-in-law has a claim to the crown stronger than that of Henry IV himself.

Jeremy Irons as Henry IV 
That's not the king's main source of fear. His fear comes from the resemblance between this young soldier's reputation and feats with his own when he took the crown. It's like dejavu, with you on the losing side. It's certainly not a beautiful thing to imagine. Being frustrated, he vents all his causes of distress to his oldest son, scolding him so bad (in private, thankfully), comparing him with the gallant Percy.

That's painful. So the prince vows to kill Percy and proves that he's not as bad as his father thinks. (He truly is not that bad, I mean, come on, he's Henry V. Oops, spoilers.)

Talking about the prince. (I start to smile and blush in front of my computer screen.)

Because kings and nobles love to name their kids after their own names and make everything confusing, I'll just call the prince as Prince Hal. After all, it's his popular name. His father wouldn't like it, but as long as he doesn't know, it's kinda okay. Besides, the name 'Prince Hal' sounds so sweet in the tongue of his best companion - Falstaff.

See, I have a high standard for friendship, and Falstaff doesn't reach even half of it. Nor does Pointz, Hal's other companion. But before I digress and leave my subject, let's go back to the prince.

To understand what the Prince thinks about himself, Shakespeare gives us one short soliloquy.
I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness:
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at.
So, when this loose behavior I throw off
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
Young little braggart. The prince sincerely believes that he's just playing around, concealing who he really is, and one day, when he becomes a king, he'd be amazing. (Which is true, by the way, but not the way that he thought it might be.) Instead of sounding like a great prince or soldier, he sounds like a teenage school boy, dreaming of greatness in days to come, but loitering around instead of working for it.

Another thing about the prince: his association. I'd be the first to admit that your companions affect you tremendously in ways you may not realize. Prince Hal's are the worst association you can get for a prince. But the worst of them is Falstaff.

Jamie Parker as Prince Hal, Roger Allam as Falstaff,
both are my favourites of the roles.

Falstaff is an old rogue with no personal standard of right or wrong. He himself is the law to himself, or, may I say, lawless. He doesn't care a scruple about lying, stealing, or swearing. A person like that is great for humor, not great for a friend. Apart from physical jokes that Hal practices on him, he also calls him a "white-bearded Satan". Seeing that he lies a lot, I'd prefer the word 'devil'.


So. The play is not really about the king, it's more about the prince. Or both.

What I like about the play is that it's so many different things. Although the previous Richard II is practically a tragedy, Henry IV onward are comedy. So we laugh a lot. And since Falstaff is a great comic character, I really have nothing to complain about the script. From King Henry's point of view, it's not so comical. He has rebellion, a difficult son, and past sin to deal with. But that's another beauty of the play.

For me, the most important thing in the play is the relationship between Hal and his father. It's lovely because it's so realistic. Putting aside the kingship and all its glory, they're just father and son. Have you ever known parents who constantly compare their children with other children, and children who are tired of being treated so? Or children being tired of their parents expectation of them? Or parents being frustrated by their children's behaviour? It's all in Henry IV.

I also think that Prince Hal resembles so many of youngsters in the world. Nothing's wrong with it, it's just, you know, being young. I'm not referring to his drinking habit or choice of companions, but his search for identity, his bragging about the future, his struggle with peer pressure and people's expectation.

Goodness, I love the play. And the Prince.


So, the play ends with Hotspur dead and the rebellion thwarted, Hal being Hal again after killing Percy. Falstaff takes the praises for killing Percy (crazy liar!). Everybody's happy(?). It's a comedy after all. But Our story hasn't ended.

See you in Henry IV Part II.