Wednesday, March 28, 2012

All's well that ends....abruptly?

Recently, my studies have obliged me to delve into the darker plays of the Bard, including All's Well That Ends Well. They say theatre is art, artifice, artificial. But sometimes it's so powerful, so poignant, you forget you're watching a piece of drama. It feels more like a slice of life. Shakespeare famously said, 'All the world's a stage...' but is the stage a world unto itself too? Perhaps.
In this particular piece, we encounter Helena, (daughter of a recently deceased doctor) and her would-be mother, the Duchess of Roussillon. Helena can't accept the Duchess as a mother, because she is secretly in love with the Duchess' son, Bertram. However, fate has bestowed Helena with the ability to heal the King's illness, which wins her her choice of husband from a selection of suitors proposed by the King.

She chooses Bertram, who, much to his unbearable chagrin, eventually accepts her as his wife. However, he never consummates the marriage and runs away to fight abroad, where he encounters Diana, with whom he dallies. However, a woman in love is a woman on a mission, and with the aid of Diana, Bertram inadvertently sleeps with Helena, believing it to be Diana (through a ''bed trick''). At the King's court, all is revealed in riddle, but then becomes clear as the (thought to be dead) Helena appears, blooming with a bump. Bertram seems to accept his new family in this suddent turn of events, but today's changed audience is left feeling a little cheated. All seems well, as the King articulates, but it all seems too swift, too farfetched. Is the play questioning it's era's superficial societal structures? Certainly, it a play to provoke thought and discussion. If you're after comedic banter, stick to Much Ado About Nothing, but if you want something to make you think....walk this way, turn the page.

Yet, this post is one of two halves - (now entering the latter one)- and I have revised my opinion of what I said about Much Ado. It may not, as All's Well that Ends Well, be overtly categorised as a problem play, but... on second (third, fourth, fifth thoughts) isn't it? It's images of witty banter are the ones that prevail in my mind, but what if its ending had been different? This is a big "what if" but it's there, and shouldn't be forgotten.

 I prefer to call problem plays 'question plays' as they seem to provide more interrogation than answers. I think Balzac comes closest to describing the darkly ironic performance that is life in La Comedie Humaine... makes you think, the line between comedy and tragedy is perilously thin... maybe laughter really is the best medicine ever invented. Wouldn't mind a repeat prescription for that...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A City Poet, A Sylvan Mind


The name, to anyone remotely familiar with English poetry, conjures images of a maudlin young man, pouring out verse, dying tragically young and never marrying his beloved Miss Brawne.

Not these things aren't true, but perhaps they're not the truest representations of a complex poet.

Keats was distressed about many things in life: money, love, success... but aren't these aspects of existence which would play on anyone's mind, especially before the days of the welfare state as we know it? It's strange how someone who lived largely in the city, could create such poignant portrayals of the natural world.

Keats was criticised in his own time, and though for the most part modern scholarship lauds him as a great writer, I still feel criticism haunts about some of his works.

The odes of 1819 are the subject of most study, and praise, but they were only five works among what is an impressive number of poems for one whose professional life was cut short so soon. And don't mistake my words, I adore the odes deeply. However, I find their eloquence in much of his earlier work, too. Just because something does not have the critical seal of approval, doesn't mean it doesn't merit reading. Sometimes, it's quite the contrary. Though perhaps Keats' earlier work doesn't always have the polish of his most widely loved pieces, there is still the same inky trail of that same brilliant mind.

What Keats wrote earlier in his life is in some ways more impressive. He didn't have the practised art of an old bard, he had the rough-hewn talent of a feeling-filled young man desperate to make his mark. In some ways this is more edgily wonderful.

So, if you chance upon a Keatsian anthology, do read the odes. Do. But don't only read the odes.
You might save time, and in today's world time is of the essence, but if you do have the time to read more of Keats poems, you might discover a different essence: a rare, raw talent in the very midst of its own germination.

Keats may not have painted the natural world à la Wordsworth, but he gave us art of a different kind. He let us hear the melodies of the imagination. It's a track I keep putting on repeat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Book that Twinkled

Linda Gillard's Star Gazing
Stumbling around urban Surrey in a stressed stupor one day, I headed to Waterstones in search of a book. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, exactly, but I knew that I needed a book. And a coffee, but that would be found later. The store was closing in twenty minutes, and I needed to find a literary oasis before half-past five. I read blurb after blurb, thumbed cover after cover (with care- I love books, after all) but just couldn't find that je ne sais quoi paperback which I desired.
They say not to judge a book by it's cover, but I'm glad I did, because the intriguing inky sky on this particular find hinted at the pretty prose within. I read the summary on the back, already making my way to the till. Set in Scotland too, oh- this book was for me, fan as I am of escaping to the Bonnie Land.
A romance novel, set in Scotland- how original, but actually it was. Never have I read a novel from such a perspective as this, that of a middle-aged, blind widow. Surprisingly, the novel doesn't make you pity Marianne, but almost envy her for 'seeing' the world from this different, different perspective. She experiences the world through her other senses, and in a world so obsessed with image, it was not just a breath, but a whirlwind, of fresh air to read a book which reminds us that we have five senses (at least!) and that, in the world, there is so very much more than meets the eye.
Gillard's characters are real, you feel as if you could have passed them in the street this morning. They don't so much jump off the page, as jump onto it. Her powers of portrayal are not only good, they're imaginitive. She teaches us to listen, to realise the beauty which lies in hearing, and how sounds can create aural paintings for the ears, and pen melodic poetry in the mind.
The tale traverses tough issues, but with a soothing rather than an abrasive touch. As her character's find their own little tinkles of happiness, so will you and I defy anyone not to be moved to reflection by the dreamy denoument of the plot which germinates from a fairytale cooincidene but wends its way through decidedly real issues with a rugged, but very real-world, hero, Keir....the plot which will keep you guessing, while giving just enough clues to satisfy curiosity!
The title would suggest a novel about staring at the sky, but in fact it urges you to use every sense but sight. However, as a novel, it certainly twinkles...and brings a little sprinkle of ethereal to the everyday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Favourite Book?

At a Creative Writing group recently, I was asked what was my favourite book. As a bit of a bookophile, this had me a little stumped. It's like asking someone's favourite colour....of course, I have preferences, but it's variable what I'll prefer from day to day, season to season....anyway, I digress....I answered, 'Sophie's World'.
Jostein Gaarder's philosophical little gem may seem an unusual choice. Would I not prefer a love story, perhaps? Well, I'd say it is a love story of sorts- the love of learning is a thread which weaves itself adeptly through this novel-cum-History-of-Western-Philosophy. As Gaarder quotes, 'Wisest is she who knows she does not know.'
These words are simple, but profound, and remind us of something children do without hesitation: they question, they wonder. Gaarder reminds us of how we should never lose our capacity to wonder- this reminder earnt the book a place in my mind and my heart. It not only made me think, but it made me think about thinking itself. Sometimes it's not the books that answer all life's questions, it's the ones that ask them in the first place.
It may have been written with a young audience in mind, but pick up a copy'll be as eager to read Sophie's letters as she is.