Friday, 27 March 2015

Life is A Dream: When to Do What's Right?

Post-Renaissance. I didn't cheat. Haha.

But instead of taking Wilde or Shaw, I chose a new author: Pedro Calderón de la Barca. He is one of the most influential Spanish playwrights (which I didn't know before), and among his many plays, ths time I chose to read Life is A Dream - one of his finest works.

It's such a shame that I don't speak Spanish, so I was forced to choose a translation. At last, after considering whether I want to read in prose or poetry, I chose Denis Florence Mac-Carthy's translation, because that particular translation tries to use the original metre of the play. The result is a kind of play I've never read before.

Let's look at the plot first.


This play is about a man named Sigismund. He had been imprisoned and chained his whole life for the crime of "being born". No one knew that he was there, nobody visited him but a caretaker, Clotaldo, servant to the King of Poland.

However, one day, Rosaura, a lady dressed as man, and Clarin incidentally found the tower where he was kept. Rosaura was in search of a man who took her honour to avenge herself. Her mother gave her a sword, saying that someone among the nobles of Poland would prove to be her friend. Upon seeing the sword, Clotaldo recognised her as his son (he didn't know she was a woman), and took both Rosaura and Clarin to Court.

Meanwhile in court, Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy, was discussing with his cousin Estrella the prospect of ruling Poland together. Estrella didn't reject the idea of marriage with him altogether, but she was doubtful as to his fidelity, since she once saw him wearing a locket with a woman's picture inside. The King called them, and revealed that he in fact, had a son, locked and chained in a tower, because of a prophecy that he would kill his father and become a tyrant. The King felt guilty for trusting the prophecy too much, and decided to try his son's disposition, whether he would indeed be a good king or not.

Their plan was to sedate Sigismund and brought him into the palace. When he woke up, he was confused. Clotaldo revealed that he was actually a Prince and that the King wished to reinstate him.  Sigismund was furious. He couldn't forgive his father and everyone involved (including Clotaldo) for his suffering. When Astolfo, Estrella, and other Rosaura entered, he ended up offending almost everyone (except Rosaura I suppose). The king sedated him and he fell asleep.

Sigismund woke up in his prison again. Clotaldo convinced him that he was but dreaming, but added that even though it had been a dream, he should have done the right thing.

"For 'twere well, whoe'er we be,
Even in dreams to do what's right."

But then it turned out that the people didn't like the idea of being ruled by a foreigner (Astolfo). So they liberated Sigismund from prison, and made him their king. Rosaura, disappointed that her father didn't want to defend her honour, supported Sigismund. The army of the king, Estrella, and Astolfo was lost to the army of Sigismund. Instead of killing his father as prophesied, Sigismund forgave him and spared his life, along with Clotaldo's. The attractive Rosaura was reunited with her lover, Astolfo, who, although reluctant at first to marry a lowly girl, relented when Clotaldo revealed that she was her daughter. Sigismund himself married Estrella, and ruled as king, with the blessing of his father.


For me, the play is really interesting. Plot-wise, like most plays, it's a bit complicated, but dialogue-wise, it's a gem. Sigismund is described as a philosophical character, who likes to know the meaning of his existence.

"Since man's greatest crime on earth
Is the fatal fact of birth - "

Another thing discussed in this play is the never-ending-problem of fate vs. free will. Can one break his destiny? Or rather, does fate exist?

But the thing that I love the most about this play is how it likens our lives to dreams.

"What is life? A thing that seems,
A mirage that falsely gleams,
Phantom joy, delusive rest,
Since is life a dream at best,
And even dreams themselves are dreams"

And most importantly, that it doesn't matter whether we dream or not, because either way, we need to do what's right. It's interestingly timely, because just a few months ago I was having a discussion with my father as to whether a man, doing a wrong thing in his dream, is still guilty of his wrongdoing, although it's not "real". I am glad I'm not the only one who thinks that he's guilty.


This is becoming too personal. So, how's your reading? Don't forget to share the link. Happy reading.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Pot of Poetry: When You're about to Die (Tichborne's Elegy)

What would you say if you know that you're about to die, tragically? What kind of farewell would you choose to say to those who love you, or, more importantly, to those whom you love?

There's a rather nice country music about that inspired by Tennyson's Lady of Shallott. But today we'll go further back to those times when everybody spoke poetry - Elizabethan/Jacobean England.

Picture yourself in the scariest jail in the country, The Tower, waiting for execution. You know it will come, you just don't know for sure when. Every sun that sets might be your last, every thought you think might perish with your body an hour from now, every memory of you might be forgotten before the year changes, everything that you have done might mean nothing at all. What would you say to your family, to fate, or to God?

It's difficult to picture myself saying anything worthy at all under that kind of situation. At least, fear doesn't help when you're trying to rhyme. What would? Resignation? Acceptance of your fate?

In 1586, Chidiock Tichborne was going to face Death. His crime? Treason. As a Catholic, he was persecuted for his religion during the later years of his life, and, maybe because of that, he agreed to take part in Babington Plot to murder Elizabeth and put Mary of Scot on the throne. The method of execution was too gruesome to be told, but it's enough to make anybody sane sick to his stomach. Instead of writing, I would picture myself weeping on the floor begging somebody to spare me the pain and humiliation.

No, not Tichborne. He spent his time writing to his wife one of the most touching Elegies I've ever read.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain.
The day is gone and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done. 
The spring is past, and yet it hath not sprung,
The fruit is dead, and yet the leaves are green,
My youth is gone, and yet I am but young,
I saw the world, and yet I was not seen,
My thread is cut, and yet it was not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done. 
I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I lookt for life and saw it was a shade,
I trode the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I am but made.
The glass is full, and now the glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
Poor, unfortunate 23-years-old. He was executed the day after.

Tichborne was not the only one who stared at death with a pen in his hand. There's another one, who has been one of my favourites: Sir Walter Raleigh.

Unlike Queen Elizabeth I, King James didn't share my sentiments for him. Raleigh was convicted and tried for treason, released 13 years later, only to be jailed again - and this time, executed. Before he died, he wrote this poem. For a man who had been so bitter in his other poems, this kind of calm resignation makes me tremble. I mean, he was the one who wrote The Lie, telling people and abstract things to shut up while he publicly accuse them of lying.

But maybe in the end, when everything is about to dissolve, when we feel worthless, unimportant, and hopeless, our only hope is to be alive again. "My God shall rise me up, I trust."

I hope he will.


Any poetical last words you want to share?

Monday, 2 March 2015

Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England: Ready for Time Travel?

Thanks to Fanda, I finally have my own copy of this wonderful book. At first, I was dying for this book because I needed some references about Elizabethan England - not the political situation or religious views, because Google knows it all. What I really needed was the way people lived, the way they saw themselves, the way they dressed, the cost of their livings, etc. I am so glad I came to the right place.

The first time I knew Ian Mortimer's name, it was from my Historical Fiction Writing class on Coursera. The second I knew about his Time Traveler's Guide, I was ecstatic.

I really love the way the book is organised. It's divided into 12 chapters, each covers different aspect of people's lives - houses, clothing, food, drink, entertainment, etc. Each chapter is then divided into smaller parts for details.

In case you wonder how Elizabethan England looked like, this book provides some full-coloured pictures of Elizabethan paintings. They reveal the way the Queen and other people dressed, the way they danced, and more importantly, the way they saw themselves.

In this book you will read about Raleigh and his failed colonization of the New World, and about Drake and his successful journey as a (legal) pirate. You will also find the persecution of any religion other than the Anglican Protestant for political reason, about people who were imprisoned and died for what they believed in. You will also see the broad division of the rich and the poor, those who glittered in jewels and those who could barely cover their bodies. Through this book you can also visit London, THE city. It was where everything happened.

Because the book is written in present tense, you even more feel like being part of that world. Just leave the world you live in with all its internet access, cars and airplanes, Facebook and Twitter, and fly through time and space into the world of Queen Elizabeth, of intrigues between Catholic and Protestant, of treason and wars, of plays and poems, of Marlowe and Shakespeare, of Raleigh and Drake, a world where everything changes for good and bad.

I will read this book again and again in the future, I think. And for everybody who plays to write a historical fiction set in Elizabethan England, this book is certainly a must-have.

Having read the book, the only thing I need now is...

PLAY ON! March - Post-Renaissance Plays

Great to see a lot of entries last month. It's actually lovely to see Marlowe and Lyly on the list as well. It seems like Macbeth won the vote for most-read Renaissance in this challenge.

March is more modern. You are free to choose anything after the English Renaissance. So Sheridan, Wilde, Shaw, and many others are very welcome. Don't be afraid to read outside of England. Beaumarchais, Hugo, Rostand, and the rest would be welcome as well.

Don't forget to share in the linky below.