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.

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