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.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Scaramouche: All the World's a Stage, and He is Scaramouche

When I first took up the book Scaramouche, I was expecting something like Monte Cristo or at least Captain Blood, with far far away adventure and a ship or two. Instead, I got French Revolution.

Andre-Louis Moreau was an ordinary lawyer under the care and provision of his godfather, Quintin de Kercadiou, Lord of Gavrillac. He didn't really care about politics, or about the world in general, despite his appetite for books and philosophy. However, everything changed when he met first hand, for the first time, the ugly face of injustice.

Andre-Louis had a friend, with quite a different opinion from him, named Philippe de Vilmorin. He had keen eyes for injustice and zeal for change and revolution. He, like many other in that era, particularly disliked the Privileged few, the aristocrats. One morning, Philippe went to Andre-Louis' place, asking him for help. A peasant had been shot to death for hunting in Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr's property, and he left a poor family. Philippe wanted the Marquis to at least take care of that family. But because the Marquis had a reputation of heartlessness, Philippe expected Andre-Louis' godfather to ask it of his friend.

The business ended badly. The young man was provoked into a duel, and, being a seminary student and unskilled in fencing, he died in the hand of Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr.

That's where the story starts. Andre-Louis stubbornly demanded justice, and being turned away by the legal sense of it, he sought justice elsewhere. Like an Antony, he spoke to the people with Philippe's voice, regardless his own belief in politics, and swore chaos and destruction in his heart for the Privileged, his friend's murderer among them.

Being an activist is not a small matter. He ended up being hunted and had to change his identity. He joined a band of travelling actors, took the name Scaramouche, and disappeared. He later learned fencing, and led a school. Later on, he went back to politics, again in the hope of bringing de La Tour d'Azyr to justice.

Let me tell this plainly. This book is not about the even arms of justice. It's not like Monte Cristo where justice was served brilliantly (at least from Dantes' point of view), or Captain Blood, where people got what they deserved (again, from his point of view). Rather, it's about men's search for it, men's struggle for it, despite the vagueness and the imperfection of the people that define it. Andre-Louis never gets his justice. There's no such thing as retaliation. There's no such thing as revolution for the better government, no such thing as perfect society. None. And that's how the story ends.


Andre-Louis feels like the younger brother of Captain Blood. The character, the view, the change, are pretty much the same. Their tastes for women are also similar. Aline is pretty much another Arabella, but younger and not so harsh. So, yeah, everything's pretty predictable.

Quentin de Kercadiou is charming. He's a very loving godfather, only he doesn't show it much. He cares so much about his family and friends, although limited affection for anybody beyond that important circle. His love for Andre-Louis under the mask of anger and stubbornness is also touching. And because Andre-Louis loves him all the same, it becomes even sweeter.

The word Scaramouche echoes throughout the book, as Andre-Louis calling himself Scaramouche, for being a smart clown that always runs right before everything turns real bad. A fitting name.


Whether I like it or not, is hard to say. But I don't think I will read it again seriously other than to skim it for fun. The plot is pretty, how do you say it, inconclusive, not because it's unfinished, but because it doesn't finish exactly like it should. Like I said, no justice or retaliation, no significant reformation, not even hollistic reconciliation. It's just 'The End'. Ta-da.

But surely I'm glad to finish another Classic Club homework.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Macbeth: Or, The Scottish Murder

I had been avoiding Macbeth for so long, even though I had known that I would, or rather, must, read it one day. The fame of it alone gives enough reason to read it. My motive is still added by my own personal challenge to real all Shakespeare's plays, and my general dotage when it comes to the Bard.

Macbeth is a tragedy. It follows the classical tragedy pattern, where a person of good nature makes one mistake that changes everything and he ends up miserable or dead. Macbeth has been a good thane and a loyal subject to Duncan the King of Scotland. But his encounter with three witches sisters changes everything. 

Being promised to be a king, he and his wife assassinate the King of Scotland in their own house, accusing the guards, and later the deceased king's sons, for the murder, and take over Scotland. Not just that, Macbeth wants to be secure on the throne. So he takes the witches' prophecy too seriously when they say that Banquo's descendant will be king one day. Even though Banquo is his good friend, Macbeth eventually has him murdered as well, although his son manages to escape. 

After consulting the witches for the second time, Macbeth kills the whole lot of another thane's family - Macduff's. Macduff has suspected Macbeth of regicide and now he flies to England to convince the late king's son, Malcolm, to take the kingdom back. Upon hearing the news about his wife and his children's death, Macduff grieves with vengeance blazing in his heart. 

Meanwhile the queen has gone mad, and Macbeth is more and more dominated by his fears and guilt. Malcolm and his friends, on the other hand, confidently march toward Dunsinane. Before they come, Macbeth learns that his wife has just died. 

Macbeth at first feels secure because the witches have told him that none 'born of woman' would do him harm, and that he will be safe until 'Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane'. Later on, he realizes that he has misinterpreted the prophecies. Malcolm uses the tree branches from Birnam Wood to cover his army's number, and Macduff who was "from his mother's womb/untimely ripped" at last kills Macbeth in the battle.

Never mind the plot. I mean, most people know the plot already. But aside from the plot, there are so many things to analyse in this short concise play. Like HamletMacbeth is a material of never-ending discussion. How much does his own ambition affect his reaction to the witches' prophecy? How big is his wife's influence or even control over him? 

Sir Patrick Stewart as Macbeth
It may seem obvious, and for me to talk about that again, is a bit predictable and boring. But, yeah, the thing that was constantly in my mind while reading the book was the torture that Macbeth received from his heart - his conscience.

The last time I talked about conscience, it was Lucrece, right? The lady's heart condemns her for something out of her control, while Tarquin ignores his conscience's voice. Macbeth's conscience is interesting because it warns him before the deed and condemns him after. He is somewhat sandwiched by his own conscience.

Macbeth runs from his conscience. Instead of looking again at the deed that he has done and asking forgiveness, he acts as if it had never happened at all. He wouldn't look at it, he wouldn't think about it, he wouldn't discuss about it, and the more he runs from his guilt, the more it clutches his mind. His insomnia and encounter with ghosts are very possibly the manifestation of his tempestuous mind. (It's even possible that he has some sort of schizophrenia, considering the dagger scene and all.)

The murder of Banquo, the murder of Macduff's wife and children, his second consultation with the witches, all show that he is no longer the Macbeth that we saw at the beginning of the play. He's entirely a different man, haunted by his guilt and by his fear of retribution.


If there's anyone that I like, it's Malcolm. Although he maybe didn't know that it was Macbeth who had killed his father, he was smart enough to see that something was wrong. Both he and his brother fled abroad, waiting for better opportunity to claim his own.

The discretion in him is also evident when Macduff came to look for him. Instead of unsuspectingly receiving Macduff as a friend, he carefully pulled out Macduff's concerns and motives.


Macbeth has been pleasant, and I think I do like it. It's dark, much darker than Hamlet, maybe because the lack of comic material. But it's so interesting. To be honest, I have read it twice before finishing this review.

Happy reading.