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.