Friday, 31 January 2014

The Jew of Malta: A Jew Demonized?

This month is Shakespeare's month for the Classics Club Project. I just have to be a part of it. And yet, although I have mustered all my courage and determination to at last read Macbeth, I still couldn't do it. Not this month.

This month is a month of journey, of new things, of work, and of ideas. For me, it's also a month of melancholy and poetry, especially because I have been very much in love lately with Keats' Ode to a Nightingale – a brilliant, sweet, and sad poem. I couldn't bring myself to read anything Shakespearian or his contemporaries until this morning.

Having in my hand a compilation of Christopher Marlowe's plays, the library's, which I haven't returned for more than a month now (and I can't even think about the penalty for it. I will return it as soon as possible), I just felt that this book must not lie here in vain. I must read it. And I knew I must read it before the end of the month. So I just woke up this morning with the book beside my pillow and started to read The Jew of Malta.

One more reason to choose The Jew of Malta instead of other plays on the list – it inspired Shakespeare's Merchant, one of my favourites among the canon. I didn't expect it to be so different.

Machevill opens the play with a prologue, introducing to the audience the Jew – Barabas. Barabas, just like Shakespeare's Shylock was just a merchant Jew, who got rich through his trade. He had some ships trading precious merchandise – pearls, silk, and numerous types of gems. He was the richest man in town. But everything changed overnight.

The Governor of Malta was to give a great sum of money to the son of Ottoman Emperor. To provide such massive amount of money he forced the Jews – all Jews – to give up half of their riches, or else convert to Christianity. If they would not accept either, all their riches would automatically go to the city's treasury. As the Governor was too quick in his judgement, Barabas was too late to realise his unfortunate position. He lost all he had. His riches went to the city's, and his house was transformed into a nunnery.

Meanwhile, the Jew had a daughter. While he vowed that he loved her as much as Agamemnon loved Iphigenia, he did exactly what Agamemnon did to his daughter – used her to his own advantage. Firstly Abigail, the girl, was asked to enter the nunnery and saved her father's left riches, hidden inside the house. Next, the girl was forced to entertain the best friend of the man she loved, resulting in a fatal duel between the two. When she realised what had happened, she re-entered the nunnery, vowing to be there for the rest of her life, punishing herself for the death of Mathias, her beloved.

Barabas was not happy. He would rather see the girl burn in fire than become a Christian. So he, with the help of his purchased slave, poisoned the whole house and all the nuns in it, including his daughter. Before she died, she confessed everything to a friar, adding that she wanted to see her father become a Christian. Upon learning that this friar knew everything, instead of becoming a Christian, Barabas killed him.

That's not all. The slave-turned-heir of his started to threaten him to get his money. When he was drunk, he spilled all his master's secrets to a courtesan and her friend. They ended up poisoned – but not before telling the Governor everything there was to know. Barabas was sentenced to death and thrown outside the city.

It was not easy to kill him, apparently. He survived and made an alliance with the Turk Prince who was about to war against Malta. He betrayed the city and was appointed Governor. His reign was not long. Trying to play both sides, he was tricked by the old Governor and died alone. The old Governor took the Turk Prince captive and restored peace to the city.

The end.

It was not a pleasant story. Just like what Shakespeare did to Richard III, I feel that Marlowe extremely demonized his Jew, Barabas. While the Christian Governor was not free from sin either, neither was the Turk Prince, the Jew got all the blame for what happened, and we don't have a chance to see what's wrong with him – what was it all about. True he talked of revenge, but, revenge for what? Revenge to whom? Whose fault? He seemed to be angry to everybody and hurt every single one he'd want to blame.

The “contest of crime” that he had with his slave Ithamore is also extraordinary. Both bragged for being the worst person between the two. His first advice to his slave reflected his way of life. “First be thou void of these affections:/Compassion, love vain hope, and heartless fear;/Be mov'd at nothing, see thou pity none,/But to thyself smile when the Christians moan.”

One other thing to note: This play to me feels like the triumph of the Christians over the Moslem world and over the Jews. However, the fight was not won fairly. The Governor tricked the Jew to get his riches, therefore he was the main cause of all things that happened to the city in Barabas' revenge process, and later on tricked Barabas into his death. The Governor at first agreed to give the Turks a sum of money, he changed the deal later on, believing that Bosco and the King of Spain would help him.

Taking Marlowe's belief into consideration, it's very likely that the play really describes religion as a 'childish toy,' something that people play for their own advantage. Just as the Governor used Barabas' status as a Jew to justify taking all his riches, Barabas used her daughter as a nun to regain riches. The praise that the Governor gave “Neither to Fate nor Fortune, but to Heaven” ends the play in rather a sarcastic tone after all.  

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Books into Screen: Tenggelamnya Kapal Van der Wijck

I don't always read Indonesian books and I don't always watch Indonesian movies. I read Indonesian classics, though, some of them, one of which is, Tenggelamnya Kapal Van der Wijck by Hamka.

The book review is not yet on my blog. No. I read the book last month, but less than 5 hours after I bought it and 10 minutes after I finished reading it, the book fell into my friend's hand, which afterwards wouldn't return until several more read it in months to come.

Or maybe not. I'll reclaim it soon enough.

Right, so let's be satisfied with the film for the time being.

I can't even satisfyingly express how amazing it is. Book lovers, Indonesian, it would be a great crime to miss this thing. I might have underestimated local films too much, but I readily say that I've never watched any local film that would even compare to this.

Since I haven't written the book review, I will not speak of the plot, neither would I feed the readers with spoilers. But the followings are things worth noted of the film.

First, the scenes. Your eyes would feast upon the beauty of Indonesia - the mountains, the sunsets, the forest, everything is just a sweet treat.

Second, I must congratulate the actors and actresses for the quality of local dialects they portray during the film. The Makassar accent is my favourite, though, it sounds strong but sexy. Love the actor for it. The amount of local languages in the script is amazing, one could believe he is being transferred to a distant past and faraway land.

Because the story is set in the 30s, the language, the diction is just...adorable. I love that they basically copy the dialogues from the novel, thus retain the poetical beauty of it. While I use much English when writing, I am not really fond of deriving words from English when writing Indonesian poetry and it is indeed frustrating at times to write in pure Indonesian words since the stock of vocabulary is not as abundant as the English but the novel shows how strong our language can be.

My favourite part of the film, however, is also my favourite part of the novel. As a hint, I would only say, "the fireplace scene." That's it.

Having said that I'm not a fan of Indonesian movies, I still strongly recommend this one. How good is that? To further describe how good it is, I would say, "So good that I went to watch it, not once, but twice." Yes, it's that good.

Here's the trailer. (I can't wait for the DVD release.)

Monday, 6 January 2014

Need a Classic? Try Look It Up in This Site

A week ago or so, I got an email from Forgotten Books, introducing their site, which mainly contains, as the name suggests, old books that people rarely have and rarely think about.

I ran to the site and whew..

Firstly, from an IT girl's point of view. This site is neat and clean and it's user friendly. You can see from the picture below how it looks like. The side bar breaks the titles into categories, and the Search feature stands out so nobody would miss it. Below that there's the Intelligent Bookshelf Recommendations, a.k.a suggestions based on your reading preferences.

Another thing with the site, they also have what they call "Word Data" and "Image Search", which are interesting. This is what they gave me when I searched "Shakespeare" on Word Data.

And when I wanted pictures.


Although many of the books provided by this site are free, some of them are not. Yet the site uses a "credit system" where user can pay a sum of credit beforehand and afterwards the user can use his credit to "buy" the book. That's being said, like Google Books, this site allows visitors to read most parts of the book online, with exception of some pages.

I am not good at explaining things. So please just check the website and its introduction here. Happy reading.