sexta-feira, julho 31, 2015

Owning or Not Owning Shakespeare: "Shakespeare - An Introduction (Ideas in Profile)" by Paul Edmondson

To be published on September 2015.

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy of this book directly from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
(The book is due to be published on September 2015; review written 31/07/2015)

I don’t usually compare books, but in this case I’m going to make an exception. I’ve read this volume back-to-back with Erne’s book, and what a difference it was. This is by no means derogatory to Edmondson’s book. They’re just two simply different takes, aimed at different audiences. I loved them both for different reasons. This one is a very short volume, but it’s my kind of book about Shakespeare: It maps Edmondson’s personal history with Shakespeare. It’s not a “technical” book about Shakespeare, like Erne’s. It’s much more fluid and down-to-earth:

"This book is written from within my own reactions to Shakespeare, which have grown and developed over the twenty years I have lived, worked, written and taught in Stratford-upon-Avon."

Edmondson poses and answers the question: "In asking how Shakespeare wrote we might turn the question around and ask ourselves: if we wanted to write like Shakespeare, what would we have to do?"

While reading this, I got wondering whether I could also write "like" Shakespeare...

Puck's epilogue is one of my favorite passage from all of Shakespeare's works. Why? As with Edmondson, it’s all down to our personal history with Shakespeare (I have one too…). At the British Council, during our role-playing sessions, my teacher, Vicky Hartnack, made me recite it over, and over again, until it was as familiar to me as my own reflection. “Owning” Shakespeare is being able to break it apart, and this is a passage from his work that will allow me to truly make it also mine. Even though it feels a bit like sacrilege to change any of Shakespeare's work, I must do it…
For my break/remake, I chose to spin Puck's epilogue in a different way. Rather than a short monologue directed at the audience, I changed it into a conversation between Egeus and Puck told in the format of a (very) short story. Forgive me if it's a bit messy. It’s not easy to rewrite Shakespeare…

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this and all is mended:
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long.
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.”

in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Act Five: Scene One, Lines 440-455

A couple warnings before you read:

Puck is a girl in my retelling. I've always imagined her that way as I read the play, and it wasn't until I saw MSND on stage for the first time that I even realized Puck was supposed to be a boy.
While I presented Puck as a girl, this version of her was largely influenced by Stanley Tucci's portrayal of Puck in the 1999 version of the film.
The dialogue can be a bit odd at times. It's a mix between modern, formal, and, at the very end, Shakespearean language. It seemed to flow properly to me, but I'm a horrible judge of my own work, so don't take my word for it.
In Victorian times, Hyacinth represented playfulness and mischief.

So, with as much further ado as I can squeeze out, here is my retelling of Puck's epilogue:

            Egeus bolted upright in bed, gasping and clutching at his chest. What a perfectly horrid dream. Faerie queens in love with asses? Meddling sprites with magic flowers? A play so terrible it was wonderful? And his daughter, his precious Hermia, married to that lout, Lysander? Utterly preposterous. “Thank the gods it was only a dream.” He muttered to himself.

            “Ah, but was it just a dream?” A tinkling voice asked from the end of his bed.

            Egeus shouted, startled, and reached for the dagger at his bedside.

            “Well that’s just pointless.” The voice said, half-laughing, half-admonishing. With a loud pop, a young woman appeared on his feet. A hyacinth crown sat on her curling brown hair, and brilliant hazel eyes laughed at him above an upturned nose and a perpetual smirk. If he looked closely, he could just see pointed ears poking through her hair and two small horns holding up her flower crown. “You can’t even see me if I don’t allow it. What makes you think I’d allow you to stab me?”

            “Who… what are you?” He stuttered out, still grasping the dagger tightly in his palm.

            “I’m offended, my pompous little lordling. Am I forgotten so quickly?” Another loud pop sounded, and the woman disappeared off of his feet. Reappearing next to his head, she gave a low bow. “Robin Goodfellow, at your service. Better known as Puck to my friends. You may call me Robin.”

            “Now see here!” Egeus called indignantly. “I am a man of-“

            She waved her hand in his face, cutting off his words. “Pish-posh. Compared to me, old Methusala himself is a lordling.” She gave a laugh and popped onto his feet again. Leaning forward over her crossed legs, Robin snapped her fingers and lit the candles on Egeus’ bedside table. “Now answer my question, oh arrogant one. What makes you think it was just a dream?”

            “What else could it be?” He asked indignantly, yanking the blankets up to cover his cold chest and causing Robin to topple backwards on the bed. “My Hermia is to marry Demetrius, or she shall die. Duke Theseus himself has ordered it to be so.”

            “Technically he ordered her to marry a man who happens to be as equally blind and conceited as yourself, or she’ll be forced to join a nunnery, but we’ll quibble over semantics later.” She giggled, righting herself. “Now think, Egeus. If it wasn’t a dream, what could it be?”

            “It was nothing. A silly trick brought about by too much wine with supper. Just like you.”

            “Of course. That was a dream. I’m a dream. This is all a dream.” She grinned, bouncing a little and making the bed shake. “But let’s pretend, just for a moment,that it wasn’t. Let’s pretend it was a warning.”

            “A warning of what?”

            “Of what will happen if you don’t let go of your short-sighted need to have your daughter obey your every whim, and allow her to marry her true love.” She glanced exaggeratedly from side-to-side. Cupping her hands around her mouth, Robin whispered, “Just to clue you in, that’s Lysander.”

            “I will never-“

            “You will, or everything you just dreamed will come to pass.” Robin interrupted, leaning back on her hands. “Well, maybe not everything. I added in the part about Titania and the ass just for fun, but the rest of it, yeah, that’s a warning.

            “You caused Theseus to make a decision, near the eve of his wedding, when he’s madly in lust with his prisoner bride that follows the law but goes against love. You caused him distress, and, as my king and queen are rather fond of him, you caused them distress. Stupid move, really, but you mortals seem eerily proficient at that sort of nonsense.”

            Egeus eyed her suspiciously. “Thank you.”

            She cocked an eyebrow, giving him a derisive smile. “And to what do I owe those thanks?”

            “This is most certainly a dream.”

            “We’re pretending it’s not, remember?”

            “You just told me that I’ve angered the king and queen of the faeries by petitioning the duke to force my daughter to live under my rule. That would strain even the most inventive man’s imagination.”

            “Wait a few centuries.” Robin said dismissively. “At any rate, still not a dream. I’m real.” She bounced again to prove her point. “I’m here, and your daughter will marry Lysander, one way or another.”

            “One way or another?”

            “You have two choices, Egeus.” Robin said solemnly, her smiling dropping for the first time since she popped into existence on his bedspread. “You can listen to this warning, allow your daughter to marry Lysander, point Demetrius in Helena’s direction once you tell him the engagement is off, and, in doing so, ease the ire of my masters.”

            “Or you’ll use a magic flower to make it happen anyway?” He scoffed.

            She gave him a pitying look. “Or I’ll use a magic flower to make it happen anyway.” She confirmed. “Hermia will still marry Lysander. Demetrius will still marry Helena, not your daughter. You will not get your way, and, by being so stubborn, you’ll earn the everlasting odium of King Oberon and Queen Titania. In ordinary circumstances, putting your own wishes above the well-being of your daughter is a horrid decision. In this case, it may prove fatal. Most faeries are mischievous, but my masters easily blur the lines between ‘harmless fun’ and ‘death by donkey.’”

            “You’re lying.”

            “I am many things, but not a liar.”

            “Marrying Demetrius is what’s best for my daughter.” Egeus sighed, rubbing his forehead. “He’s-“

            “Exactly like you,” Robin provided gently, “but he’s not right for your Hermia. She loves Lysander, and Lysander loves her enough to risk abandoning his home, lands, and title and hiding away with a dowager aunt as long as it means he gets to call her his wife.” She shrugged, the smirk slipping back into place. “Besides, it doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. As I said, this will happen, one way or another. The only choice you have is whether or not to allow it to happen with your blessing.

            “So,” she popped off the bed again and reappeared holding her hand out to him, “shall we go wake Hermia and tell her the good news?”

            Egeus stared at her, and her hand, reproachfully, before pointedly turning his head away. Robin let out a long sigh, shaking her head. “So be it. Since we do not part as friends, this Puck canno’ force amends."

            And with a final pop, she was gone.

(Shakespeare's traits: characterisation, dramatic situations, stagecraft and poetic expression are all absent in my attempt...Unlike Bach and Shakespeare, I was never that great at recycling and reinventing other's work...)

When comparing Edmondson to Harold Bloom what can I say? Bloom is very conservative. He is affirmative to a modern form of Bardolatry, treats Shakespeare as a Religion, compares Hamlet to David and Jesus, insists on the curious idea, that Shakespeare did invent the modern concept of personality, he dismisses the work of Stanley Wells in a rude manner and is although merciless with Peter Brook and every sort of Feminist or postmodern Interpretation. Who can withstand the verdict of an angry old man? Nobody. But I really appreciated his judgment regarding "Merchant".

Edmondson's take is all about the journey: "Shakespeare's language inspires actors to portray a heightened reality, which in turn invites the audience to accompany them on a powerful emotional journey. We know whenever we arrive at a theatre to watch a Shakespeare play that, for the better part of three hours, something significant is about to unfold [ ]."

"No one owns Shakespeare, though anyone can experience a sense of ownership of him." This essentially means that Shakespeare is the conduit through which we can better understand ourselves.

When a balanced account of Shakespeare’s work comes along, like this one by Edmondson, I’m always delighted.

domingo, julho 26, 2015

The World is a Page: "Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist" by Lukas Erne

Published 2013 (2nd Edition).

Table of Contents:

Preface to the second edition

Part I. Publication:
1. The legitimation of printed playbooks in Shakespeare’s time
2. The making of ‘Shakespeare’
3. Shakespeare and the publication of his plays (I): the late sixteenth century
4. Shakespeare and the publication of his plays (II): the early seventeenth century
5. The players’ alleged opposition to print

Part II. Texts:
6. Why size matters: ‘the two hours’ traffic of our stage’ and the length of Shakespeare’s plays
7. Editorial policy and the length of Shakespeare’s plays
8. ‘Bad quartos’ and their origins: Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Hamlet
9. Theatricality, literariness, and the texts of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Hamlet

Appendix A: The plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in print, 1584–1623
Appendix B: Heminge and Condell’s ‘Stolne, and surreptitious copies’ and the Pavier quartos
Appendix C: Shakespeare and the circulation of dramatic manuscripts

“Whose Shakespeare? Does he belong to the theater or to the academy, is he of the stage or of the page, should we watch him or read him? These are false dichotomies, but the realization that they are false does not mean we can easily escape them. [ ] I argue that the long play texts Shakespeare wrote for many of his tragedies and histories are significantly different from and longer than the play texts spoken by the actors on stage, and that Shakespeare knew so as he was writing them. To call the shorter version “theatrical” and the longer “literary,” as I do in Shakespeare as a Literary Dramatist, is right in that “theatrical” and “literary” refer to the two institutions in which Shakespeare saw his plays materialize, the public theatre and the book trade.”

With this extremely simple statement at the beginning of his book, I was hooked, line and sinker!

Who's there, huh? A Literary Dramatist, a Playwright, or both? On this end - an astonished mind now cognizant of the importance/emphasis of an opening statement. Openers, despite their value, are often taken for granted as simply a first remark or beginning to a conversation, literary work, play, etc. However, this opener, regardless of situation, was not just a simple statement. It was finely crafted for a specific purpose.  Is this opening the work of a Literary Dramatist, a playwright, or is the question meaningless?

Let’s delve deeper into Erne’s argument.

Let's use the example of a conversation. A beautiful girl is standing at the other end of a coffee shop - what is the first thing running through your mind? What is the first thing that I should say to her?? You rack your mind for the best possible opener for the situation and you go for it. Unfortunately, the amount of effort that went into this opening statement will not be appreciated. However, when analyzing literature, we can discern the true value of this first sentence and appreciate our interpretation of the author's intentions.

As a habitual reflex, the first thought that entered my mind upon reading Hamlet's opening statement of "who's there" was its companion in the trite, yet pervasive joke of our generation: knock, knock. This onomatopoeia may not have existed in Shakespeare's time, but the underlying message remains the same. The literal meaning of knock, knock is to request the opening of the door. We would not be knocking if we knew in advance that nobody was there; similarly, we would not be asking "who's there" if we had no suspicion of some other entity present.

What is the purpose of the "knock, knock" and the "who's there"? The satisfaction of a curiosity. As mentioned previously, this can be perceived physically as a curiosity for the contents of the other side of the door. However, for our analysis of Shakespeare, this involves the transcending of a boundary that crosses time and space. "Knock, knock" can be represented as our opening of the play and "who's there" can be Shakespeare's request to learn more about the reader. This reader can exist in Elizabethan or modern times, be of any race, socioeconomic status, intelligence, gender, or location. What an opening statement - if one could find the perfect introduction, this is it.

This is why the analysis of literature is pleasurable to all who indulge. Anyone can pick up a play and interpret the work any way he chooses and, simultaneously, Shakespeare opens up the world of his play to all. Unfortunately, finding a similar solution for political and social disarray has not been as profoundly simple.

I think Shakespeare is "learning" which is why it is so easy for us to identify with his characters, they are searching for a new order.  Shakespeare reminds me of authors who lived in great transitions like Tolstoy and Faulkner.  They are witnessing the decay of an old system which no longer works and searching for an alternative.  So they live in that creative tension and mystery which is so true for human existence.  Elizabeth I is outlawing Roman Catholicism, she outlaws the Catholic Corpus Christi plays which had been performed in Europe for almost a thousand years and taught most illiterate Christians the stories of the Bible.  Now she wants a more literary Drama that will appeal to all levels of society.  So Shakespeare gives us many levels of society in his plays.  There are plenty of dirty jokes for the groundlings standing in the audience as well as elegant poetry and hymns of ravishing beauty and profundity for the educated audience sitting in the boxes of the theater.  He believes in Monarchy and gives much tribute to Elizabeth, but you can feel his restlessness.  He knows there is something more than the old chain of being and aristocracy.  But Shakespeare can't see it yet.  It will take the American Revolution to birth Democracy.  I don't think Shakespeare could have accepted the destruction of all aristocracy as happened in the Bolshevik Revolution for example.  But he also wouldn’t quite accept the injustice of royalty either, because he is as torn as we are so often searching for a resolution of different extremes of our nature.  And that tension, that tension is the truth of who we are, capable of the highest flights of imagination and magic but also so subject to foolish pride and cruelty and blindness.

Shakespeare as a Literary Dramatist. I always believed that Shakespeare can have a dual “approach”, i.e., we need the stage and the text to make him fully available to me. The “Who’s there?” opening is one case. Another case pointing to Shakespeare as Dramatist is the so-called “greenery question” or the Garden in “Romeo and Juliet”.

The enclosed garden is a western literary tradition’s way of telling us by means of scenery that there is someone trying to get inside someone else’s space, mind and heart. “Romeo and Juliet” both have a very intense first encounter in the party. But it is in the garden where they become vocal about it. Let's remember this is Juliet's (or her family's) garden. I want to really think about how the scene develops. Romeo wanders in the garden voicing his thoughts about Juliet. Juliet comes out from her window to the balcony and into the garden. Because of a happy coincidence she speaks first and Romeo can hear what’s in her secret mind about him (by the way this window scene reminds me of a window scene in “War and Peace”). There is really no wooing, whatever wooing Romeo made he made at the party, there’s only the free interchange of thoughts, silliness and vows.

I think there’s no place else where this could have happened. And I think this is so because the garden is not a place entirely domesticated nor entirely wild. There is some sense of safety there, which is why Romeo hides in there. And maybe this is why Juliet decides to speak her mind there instead of inside her rooms. But also some sense of danger from being found out by her relatives. There is also a tug-of-war between proper behavior and letting loose. First we see Juliet kind of flustered by being discovered. But this quickly changes into a mood of confidence towards her lover. I think the contrast could be also between acting civil and acting passionate.

So that’s why I think the Shakespeare used the balcony and the greenery, the two levels: above and below. To convey that what´s going on here is an impromptu meeting between two people in love, and to convey the sense of safety and danger that surrounds this couple. I think this is also why their wedding night happens at her place and their second exchange here at the same balcony.
Another literary imagery is the one about the Forest. Shakespeare places his characters in the primeval forest, beyond the bounds of civilization – and he stands in a great literary and cultural tradition by doing so. He would have known books, performances, and oral tales that used the woods as a place where anything goes. At night in such woods, people were liberated from the strictures of class, gender, law, perhaps even physics. But, equally, they were placed at the mercy of others liberated from those strictures, and of powerful supernatural forces that could usually be held at bay in the daylight of villages, towns, homes, and churches.

To Shakespeare’s forebears and contemporaries, a forest could be a place of magic, of terror, of transformation; “of adventure, love, and spiritual vision… exile and hunt… destiny and prophecy, or, perhaps, many of these at once. Other writers often foregrounded the forest’s terror. Before Shakespeare, in “Morte D’Arthur”, Malory sent two of King Arthur’s knights into the forest to die. Writes Corinne J. Saunders in “The Forest of Medieval Romance”, “the forest landscape through which [Balin] journeys acts against him… the forest is presented as a landscape possessed of its own potentially sinister order… the result is destruction and death.” Long after Shakespeare, Hawthorne sends his Puritan protagonist Young Goodman Brown into the woods surrounding his New England village; there, Brown either discovers or imagines that everyone in his village is in fact serving the devil, and finds an incurable darkness in his own heart that he can never lose.

Shakespeare’s vision of the forest is more benign, though certainly not completely so. He puts Helena and Hermia through plenty of human misery. He never does release Demetrius from his love spell, leading one to question the foundation of Demetrius’s marriage to Helena; the other marriages have their all-too-familiar problems as well.

Still, people have been partnered, roughly as comedic form and Shakespeare's audiences thought they should be. Nobody has died, departs in shackles, or fears eternal condemnation. In contrast with, say, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Othello”, or “King Lear”, nobody’s actions have proven irrevocably catastrophic. And if something happened that you didn’t care for, it can be very easily remedied: “Gentles, do not reprehend. If you pardon, we will mend.” Some problems are fixable, after all. When you are called to waken, it is not from a nightmare, but from a very pleasant dream indeed.

Bottom-line: This book came from left field, and some of the arguments are pretty convincing.
Facts “demonstrated” by Erne (enclosed in commas, because Karl Popper wouldn’t agree with these proofs…):
  • Shakespeare was by a long way the most successful dramatist in print in his lifetime and for decades after, i.e., considering the number of editions published between 1590 and 1616;
  • “Shakespeare, apart from being a playwright who wrote theatrical texts for the stage, was also a literary dramatist who produced readings texts for the page”;
  • “Shakespeare was aware of and not indifferent to the literary reception of his plays in print; he and many of his contemporaries considered his printed plays as more than discardable ephemera, as literary texts of some prestige, and passages from them were included in commonplace books and anthologies”;
  •  Shakespeare and his fellow players of the Lord’s Chamberlain’s Men were in favor of the publication of his plays while he still lived;
  •  Shakespeare outsold all other dramatists by a wide margin (on average 20% of plays were reprinted within 9 years of the first publication, but in terms of Shakespeare’s it was 60%);
  •  Misattribution of plays to Shakespeare as publishers tried to cash in on his popularity;
  •  Shakespeare’s editions lacked book-layout codes (Latin title page mottoes, dedications, prefatory epistles, etc.) that publishers employed to signal the high status of their contents, implying that Shakespeare didn’t need those “artifacts” to sell books;
  • "Bad" quartos (notably Q1 Hamlet, Q1 Henry V, and Q1 Romeo) are the closest we can come to the form in which Shakespeare's plays were performed on the early modern stage;
  • Quartos and Folios alike were too long to have been played in the theatres for which they were ostensibly written;
  • Any play over 2,300 lines was not performed in full in the public playhouses, i.e., Erne argues that many of Shakespeare’s plays are too long to have been performed in their entirety and that substantial abridgement would have been the usual practice when preparing them for the stage;
  • Authors who exceeded this length by a significant margin must have had an audience in mind which was not that of the public stage;
  • Ergo, Shakespeare was a "Literary dramatist" who composed plays both for the stage and the page, and not just for the stage.

Impressive to say the least… If you love empirically grounded narratives, this book is for you. Regardless of its “validity”, it’s always nice when someone tries to stir the waters…

On a side note, Erne’s hypothesis is strangely absent from Wells’ and Taylor’s Textual Companion ( through ThemisAthena's courtesy I was made aware of this volume, and what a wonderful edition it was to my Shakespeare's library)


(1) Deborah M. Sabadash, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 90, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 134-136, 

(2) "The Forest of Medieval Romance", Corinne J. Saunders, p. 167

sábado, julho 25, 2015

No Redemption for First Folio Thieves: "The Shakespeare Thefts" by Eric Rasmussen

Published October 30, 2012.

I’m lost in the desert, beer thirsty, hungry, and desperately searching for any sort of book-nourishment Shakespeare-related. What is that I see in the distance? It's something stuck in the sand, and I think it may be oval. As I get closer, I’m also able to see it more clearly. Is it a cave? Yes, I think it is! But to where does it lead? Doesn't matter! As I bend down to enter the cave, I’m able to see something deep inside. I can't quite make out what it is; I need to squint my eyes, trying to focus as I begin to slowly waddle towards it. As I get closer, I’m able to discern something. I think I may know what it is, but I don't want to get my hopes up only to be utterly devastated. But wait, yes it is, it's a book! It’s a book with the word “Shakespeare” on the cover. I start furiously waddling towards that delectable, precious gift from heaven, practically falling on my damn face until I notice that the cave has narrowed. I have to slow down my pace, but I clearly am not deterred, because I’m going to get to that book no matter what. However, as I’m thinking that, my shoulders begin to hit the cave walls, knocking me back and forth as I make my way forward, until I’m no longer able to waddle, having to resort to more prosaic methods of locomotion, i.e., crawling on my hands and knees…. At this point I’m on my precious “tummy” and using my hands to pull myself forward as the cave is now barely large enough to fit my stretched-out body. But Shakespeare makes me persevere. Sweating like a pig, and as the friction of the walls and the sand on the ground scrape my skin, I can finally feel the book with my fingertips. I frantically and desperately try to toss the book back towards my head. I’m able to strain my neck as I still try to twist my body through the cave, taking one small, pathetic peek at the book. It’s when I see the book cover in its entirety. It’s a book about the thefts of First Folios…My heart gives a lurch!  As I started reading it on my way back, after coming out of the cave, I can see the book is as dry as the Sahara!!!

'Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.'

From Macbeth

This quote is one of my favourites. I thought about it while reading Rasmussen’s book. It captures a bit of everything that Shakespeare means to me. The brief tedium of life, the acting analogy, how puny we are in the overall scheme of things. So few people have been able to articulate and communicate such things in a way which we can so immediately connect with. It appears to me, that there's no Christianity here. No recognition of an after-life. No concept of the idea that this short life is merely part of a longer journey. No redemption. The quote appears unnervingly modern. This shows us how, as Ben Jonson said, that Shakespeare is 'not of an age but for all time'. How can someone who died nearly 400 years ago speak to us so directly when we imagine him still wrapped in religion and believing in witches (ah well, that was probably just for James I's benefit). As a dramatist speaking through so many different characters, Shakespeare became the consummate ventriloquist, able to explore so many ideas and perspectives, to probe human nature, to hold the looking glass to our souls.

What we love best about Shakespeare is that all life is here. Wherever we are, we can find something that encapsulates what we feel. My taste in Shakespeare is not static, it moves with different stages of my life. What is certain is that there is always something new to discover - in life and in Shakespeare. 

Unfortunately this book did nothing to satiate my hunger for something new Shakespeare-wise…

I say. No redemption for thieves stealing Shakespeareana as well as for authors writing dry books even if they’re about Shakespeare…

NB: 3 stars to the episode with Pope Paul VI, the most unlikely Folio thief of all. When asked by someone from Rasmussen's team to bless the Royal Shakespeare Company's treasured copy, the Pope misunderstood and instead accepted it as a gift, and there goes another Folio, this time "stolen" by the Pope himself! The Vatican eventually returned it, but only after some deft behind-the-scenes diplomacy.  

sexta-feira, julho 24, 2015

Eduardo Lourenço's Musical Jottings: “Tempo da Música, Música do Tempo” by Eduardo Lourenço, Barbara Aniello (editor)

Published 2012.

“Nós não pensamos nada, não há um homem propriamente pensante: nós ouvimos.”
(We don’t think at all, Man is not a really thinking Being: we listen.”

With one of his usual aphorisms, Eduardo Lourenço is able to sum-up not only his long coexistence with Music, but also his attitude of being a permanent listener. But listening to what?

Eduardo Lourenço is one of the few original thinkers able to hear the other, be it the President, or a taxi driver. His unquenchable thirst to devour everything on his path, made the act of listening to music a recurrent activity, maybe even more important than speech itself.

Unable to write about Lourenço’s writing, I humbly stand aside to make room for his own voice (my own loose translations from Portuguese into English).

“Ora nada mais propício do que a música para justificar o abismo que há entre senti-la e compreendê-la. É evidente que a maioria dos ouvintes de Bach não compreende a sua música: sente-a, faz um todo com ela no momento em que a ouve e nada mais. Mas isso acontece-lhe com toda a expressão musical. Sentir é o grau ínfimo da apropriação: é só um ouvir com os sentimentos possíveis de prazer, desprazer, deleite ou aborrecimento, em suma, um ouvir gostando ou não gostando.” (página 60)
(Well, nothing lends itself so well for the justification of the monumental gap between listening and feeling than music. It’s quite evident that the majority of the Bach listeners do not understand his music: they feel it, make a whole with it when listening to it, and nothing more. But that happens with all musical expression. Feeling is the smallest degree of ownership: it’s just a listening with the available feelings of pleasure, displeasure, delight, or annoyance, all in all, a like-it-or-not listening moment.” (page 60)

“Concerto de Bartók: quanto mais o ouço mais me convenço de que a líquida angústia de um mundo à procura do seu explodido coração encontrou na sua música a estrada real, a pura busca sincopada e em êxtase que nos dará o improvável futuro onde morte e vida serão apenas sonho.” (página 67)
(Bartók’s concerto: the more I listen to it, the more I convince myself that the liquid anguish of a world looking for its blasted heart has found in its music the real road, the pure syncopated search and in exaltation will give us the improbable future wherein death and life will be only dream.” (page 67)

“A fascinação da música reside no facto de ela tornar a palavra humana uma decadência e uma degradação. Ser homem torna-se então uma melancolia” (página 113)
(The fascination with music lies in the fact that it makes the human word a decadence and degradation. Then being human makes us melancholic.” (page 113)

“Aquilo que eu queria ser e não tenho coragem de ser, encontro nas suites de Bach”
“What I wanted to be, but I’m not brave enough to be, I find in the Bach Suites.”

"Certamente se um dia voltar para Deus, a nenhuma outra coisa o deverei senão a estas estradas de uma melancolia lancinante que, desde o canto gregoriano até Messiaen, devoram em mim o sentimento da realidade do mundo visível."
(If one day I return to God, if nothing else, I'll owe it to these roads of a heartrending wistfulness that from the Gregorian chant up to Messian, devour the feeling of reality of the visible world.)

A last word to the wonderful work of Barbara Aniello, a very able Italian researcher in music, art history, and musicology. This “tailoring and sewing” of Eduardo Lourenço’s manuscript pages must have been a real nightmare. For our utter delight, she was able to put into perspective all of these musical moments.)

The more I read Lourenço, the more I realize that his texts are not black and white, because his writing his mainly poetic even when he’s writing in a sort of prose.

(Between Wagner and Mahler; facsimile of a manuscript currently in the Gulbenkian collection)

quinta-feira, julho 23, 2015

Western a la Sergio Leone: "Paradise Sky" by Joe Lansdale

Published June 16th 2015.

“My name is Nat Love, as you may well know. I am also called Deadwood Dick, and you have wronged me and the woman I love.”

One of my favourite Westerns is Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”.The film contains the famous line “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend” and takes that line as its premise in its examination of how myth often overtook fact in the forging of  the West.

Lansdale’s “Paradise Sky” beautifuly explores this territory:

“Now, In the living of my life, I’ve killed deadly men and dangerous animals and made love to four Chiniese women, all of them on the same night and in the same wagon bed, and one of them with a wooden leg, which made things a mite difficult from time to time. I even ate some of the dead fellow once when I was crossing the plains, though I want to rush right in here and make it clear I didn’t know him all that well, and we damn sure wasn’t kinfolks, and it ll come about by a misunderstanding.”

The exaggerated and baroque telling of the stories that surround the figures of novel appeal to me as a classic example of the human tendency toward embellishment:

“I will admit to a bit of true curiosity as to how that backside of hers was far more attractive than the front, but I wasn't about no mischief of any kind."

His imagery is à la Sergio Leone in a pastiche-like kind of way:

 “’I’d rather shoot you, then shoot myself,’ he said.
‘Okay. You shoot me, then shoot yourself.’
‘What if I shoot you, then I make an escape?’
‘I’d rather it not work that way.’
‘But it could.’
‘Here’s the deal: you shoot me only if you have reckoned you’re going to have to shoot yourself, otherwise we’ll try for escape together.’

The figures of the Wild West were in action less than 200 years ago, yet look at all the godlike and uncanny deeds  that are attributed to them and the inhuman drama that we’re told their lives were filled with. These real-life characters who were often just thugs and criminals have been  transformed, after kicking the bucket, into icons whose sagas now bear little resemblance to their actual lives.

What is a myth? Did we invented it? Not really. Myth tells the truth in a certain way. “Paradise Sky” serves as a the perfect blueprint for how all mythic belief systems operate. If we magnify the distortions by 10 times or more we can see what tiny little wisps of truth may actually lie buried in the accounts of the characters who are said to have roamed the Wild West ages ago.

As with some previous attempts, Lansdale has perfected the technique of taking simple, everyday language and making it sound literary, turning cussing into poetry. Descriptions are colourful and expressive. Action is rendered economical, terse and compelling, while dialogue is most vivid, punctuated with jokes and Lansdale’s summaries of longer tirades: “His eyes was aimed on a fly sitting on a stack of papers on his desk. That bug would lift its wings now and then as if to fly, but it was just a posture. He stayed where he was. Every time those wings lifted, Colonel Hatch would hold his breath, as if fearing it would take to the air and buzz away. Way he was watching that damn fly you’d have thought he was beading down on a charging Apache.”

I’ve talked about Lansdale’s dialogue en passant, but I must elaborate some more. Some  of it downright funny. Amid the one-liners and the slosh, the homey dialogue, Lansdale explores what it means to be human. On top of that, he just makes it all seem a little more interesting:

“Chocktaw got one of his socks and some rags out of his saddle bag. You could smell that sock even with the rain and the wind blowing. It wasn’t pleasant.
‘You really going to use that sockj^’’ Doolittle said.
‘I am.’
‘Ain’t you got no clean ones?’
‘I do.’
‘So you’re just being mean?’
‘I am. I used it to wipe a little cow doo off my boots when I changed socks yesterday, so there might be something in them you can chew on.’
Chocktaw pushed the socks up close to Doolittle’s face.
‘Oh, that’s smells terrible. I’ve changed my mind. Go on and shoot me.’

The absurdity of Lansdale’s characters is a must-see (read?). A persisting theme of the novel is the gap between who a person is and who they appear to be, and watching a Lansdale character slowly reveal their many layers over the course of a story is always something to watch for.

If it feels stagey, that’s because it is.

sábado, julho 04, 2015

2015: My Reading Half a Year in Review (January - June)

(Click on the image above to check on each of the individual reviews)

Fat letdown of 2015:

(link on the image for my review regarding the book)

And the half a year ends once again...

Books read in 2015: 40 (1.5 books read per week;  6.6 books read per month)

Fiction: 15 (50 %)
  - Crime: 3
  - Science Fiction: 8
  - Historical: 0 
  - Mainstream: 1
  - Horror: 1
  - Spy: 1
  - Theatre: 1

Non-Fiction: 16 (40 %)
  - Biography: 0
  - Essay: 1
  - Physics: 0
  - Computer Science: 11
  - Publishing: 2
  - Poetry: 1
  - Philosophy: 1

Shakespeare: 9 (22.5 %)

Collections of short stories: 0

Published in 2015: 17 (42.5 %)

Published < 2015: 23 (57.5 %)

Number of words written (in 40 reviews and in a few other stuff in-between: Computer Science Texts, Film Reviews, Theatre Reviews, Opera Reviews, Exhibition Shows, etc.): 47328

Number of pages read: 9303 (358 pages per week; 1551 pages per month):

Reading Chart per Month (Abril came out as the winner):

My blog hits around the globe (Booklikes):

This year I'm doing better at reading things published in 2015 than I did in 2014, although I'm still a little bit behind the curve there. The little gadget, as expected, he's having some impact on my reading drive.

Goals for the second half of 2015 are more or less the same as the ones I had at the end of last year:

- Read more altogether by the end of 2015 (>71 books);
- Keep on reading my Rowse (my "Shakespeare in a Year" project will probably be still on hold) in tandem with books with the plays;
- Read more about and by Shakespeare (9 books so far, and counting...);
- Read more non-fiction (e.g., Computer Science, Physics, Poetry)

NB: The 5 Shakespeare plays/books (“Hamlet”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Much Ado about Nothing” and “The Tempest”) I've read this year were read in tandem with the same 5 plays from my Rowse. This means I've read more than 9303 pages...Reading the plays in such quick succession like this I saw more clearly the cross-over in the different plays.  Love being a popular common theme isn't surprising, but I really want to know how many friars were convincing young women to fake their own deaths back then.  And if you don't have to fake your own death there's probably a fairy or some sort of trickery at play in this match making.  Watch out for the plotting villainous brothers.  And surely there is a Duke or Prince nearby for some words of wisdom or to smooth everything over. Shakespeare was a master at just picking elements from a hat and building a scene around them:  Villainous brother, fairies, ship wreck - and go!  He weaves the elements together brilliantly and each play has its own breath and uniqueness.  I'm captivated by different elements in each.  And yet each one I read I was spotting something familiar from the one I had read just before.  That's probably part of their charm.

sexta-feira, julho 03, 2015

Big-Ass Delta VEE: “Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson

Published May 19th 2015.

When I read the first 25 pages, my first objection was to how the moon was broken up into so few large pieces. The verisimilitude hangs on the likelihood of meteor bombardment coming down to what the Agent was, and I'm not aware of anything we currently know of that could break apart the moon like that. I had huge problems with this premise right at the beginning of the book.To get through it without getting hung up on this hypothesis, I just told myself that maybe it was some weird high energy particle or quantum bullshit, because theoretically anything is possible, just varying levels of likely.

When do I decide that I’m reading something impossible? There are no ghosts, dragons, goblins, leprechauns, hobbits, or any kind of magical transitions between worlds. Even when magical events and beings show up in SF, I expect the writer will keep everything under control. A work of fiction that piles impossibilities upon impossibilities would be extremely tiresome on my endurance capacity and in the end likely lead toward me giving up on it forever. In the same way, a work of fiction that is remarkably rich in invention and in which the terms of impossibility in the SF world are not made clear until late in the narrative is apt to be also tiresome. On the other hand, a clear explanation of the limits of the impossible (in this case, the disappearance of the moon and its effects, e.g., the end of all Lunar calenders, shorter work days due to tidal friction…) can provide a convenient setting for the telling of the story:

“The lack of a moon meant that New Earth’s tides were caused entirely by the gravity of the sun, which made them weaker and more closely synchnonized with the cycle of night and day.“

In a realm of impossibilities, “Seveneves” is clearly grounded in reality (physics is a more apt word). The only “impossibility” is the disappearance of the moon, but its effects are not really fiction.

Stephenson definitely sides with the inner geek in me:

“What keeps us alive isn’t bravery, or athleticism, or any of those other skills that were valuable in a caveman socity. It’s out ability to master complex technological skills. It is our ability to be nerds. We need to breed nerds.”

One of the longest sections in the book narrates a mission to bring back a comet to the ISS and fly it into the same orbit as the space station, and it’s, without a doubt, one of the better dramatic action sequences ever rendered on the written page, be it SF or otherwise.

As usual the infodumps à la Stephenson are some of the best parts in the book (it awakens the geek in me):

“Today we’re going to talk about what it means to have a swarm of arklets, he said. In normal space, like on Earth, we use three numbers to tell where something is. Left-right, forward-back, up-down. The x, y, and z axes from your high school geometry class. Turns out that this doesn’t work so well in orbit. Up here we need six numbers to fully specify what orbit an object, such as an arklet, happens to be in. Three for position. But another three for velocity. If you’ve got two objects that share the same six numbers, they’re in the same place.”

As I’ve said elsewhere, Neal Stephenson is the king of the infodump and the “tell, don’t show” trait in SF.

Is there any truth to the “show, don’t tell” fiction maxim? Once I belonged to the field that believed that good fiction should not break this cardinal rule of “showing, not telling”. Now, I’m not so sure. It goes without saying that there’s a degree of truth about this, but I’m not sure that this a clear-cut theme.

Fiction is art, and you need to dramatize, not just state things. The sentence “I’m a handsome man” is not a handsome turn of phrase, and though authors are welcome to use it, they shouldn’t think it will do much work for them. I remember when I attended a class in English Literature at Universidade de Letras de Lisboa,  when I wrote something breaking this cardinal rule,  I remember my teacher saying something like (I can’t recall the exact words), “First of all, get rid of the ‘adjectives’ cliché, (i.e., the “telling”); on top of that,  one can evoke an incredible feeling of happiness, sadness, etc. in the rest of the novel.” or something like this.

Stephenson’s approach is the opposite of this. Does it work? It works for me. I know I’m reading Neal Stephenson, so the out-of-narrative exposition is a given and on top of that it’s going to make me smarter:

“All conversations worth having about space voyages were couched in terms of ‘delta vee,’ meaning the increase in velocity that had to be imparted to a vehicle en route. For, in a common bit of mathematical shorthand, the greek letter delta (∆) was used to mean ‘the amount of change in…’ and V was the obvious abbreviation for velocity. The words ‘delta vee,’ then, were what you heard when engineers read those symbols aloud. Since velocity was measured in meters per second, so was delta vee.”

“The conversation turned now to mass ratio: a figure second only to delta vee in its importance to space mission planning. It simply meant how much propellant the vehicle needed at the start of the journey in order to effect all the required delta vees.”

Even at 880 pages, the subplots felt rushed. I was quite disapointed with the break in the narrative (a five thousand years gap). It’s quite hard to swallow. If I spend a huge amount of time reading a ton of pages detailing the details of the world, it feels like an easy way out to then leave out 5,000 years’ worth of information. Another thing that jarred my “sensibility” was the submarine subplot. It was briefly mentioned once. So, it’s good that all these groups survived, but then, what’s the point of it? It’s not clear and Stephenson does not follow-up on it.

NB: The title of the best character name ever invented in a SF work goes to Neal Stephenson: “Sonar Taxlaw”.  I also loved the reasoning behind the name…

 SF = Speculative Fiction.