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Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

BenJonson/Great Playwright/Outrageous Rake

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

June 11, probably in 1572, was the birthday of the playwright Ben Jonson. His plays include Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone (1606), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). A contemporary, friend, and rival of Shakespeare’s, Jonson was a heavy drinker and a fighter, no “Gentle Will.”

 

Jonson’s father died before he was born, and his stepfather was a bricklayer, so after a good education, young Ben spent some time laying bricks and then went off and joined the army. The story goes that he ran to the front of the lines and challenged a random soldier to single combat, then killed him. He went back to London, where he got work as an actor. Apparently he wasn’t a very good actor, but he was a good playwright. In 1597, he co-wrote a play called The Isle of Dogs, which got him in trouble with the government—it was too subversive, and he was thrown in jail for “leude and mutynous behavior.”

 

He was let out after a few months, but a year later, he killed a fellow actor named Gabriel Spenscer in a duel. He was arrested and he should have been hanged, but he pulled out a legal defense called “benefit of clergy”—since he could read the Bible in Latin, he got to go in front of a more lenient court, which rarely sentenced well-educated men. Instead, he got another stint in jail, and was branded on his thumb to remind him that he had almost been executed.

 

In 1604, he co-wrote a play called Eastward Ho! that mocked Scotland—since James VI of Scotland had taken over the throne from Elizabeth, making fun of Scotland was not tolerated, and Jonson was once more thrown in jail and informed that his ears and nose would be cut off. This threat never materialized, and when he was released, he hosted a banquet with friends to celebrate yet another narrow escape.

 

Jonson’s plays were more classically inspired than Shakespeare’s, less dependent on bawdy jokes and flashy duels. Jonson made plenty of disparaging comments about Shakespeare. He complained that his fellow playwright had “small Latine, and less Greeke.” And Jonson was probably alluding to Shakespeare, who did have a tendency to rip off plots from other people, when he wrote:

Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own :
And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours ;
He marks not whose ’twas first : and after-times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool! as if half eyes will not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece?

 

Unlike Shakespeare, Jonson was known as a slow, meticulous writer. After Shakespeare’s death, Jonson wrote: “I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, would he had blotted a thousand. […] I loved the man and do honor his memory on this side of idolatry, as much as any: he was indeed honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped.”

 

Ben Jonson was famous for his ability to drink—it is said that when he converted from the Catholic Church to the Anglican Church in 1610, he downed the entire chalice of wine during his first communion.

 

His bar of choice was the Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside, where he was the ringleader of a group of literary men. There are stories about the great debates and battles of wit that Jonson and Shakespeare had over their pints at the Mermaid, surrounded by the likes John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Fletcher, Sir Francis Bacon, and Francis Beaumont—but this is probably not true. More likely it was Jonson and some younger literary disciples who were regular patrons.

 

After Jonson’s death, the playwright Jasper Mayne wrote an ode, “To the Memory of Ben Jonson,” and he wrote: “Such thy drought was, and so great thy thirst, / That all thy Playes were drawne at th’ Mermaid first.”

 

Garrison Keillor’s/Writers Almanac, June, 2017

 

Euripides

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

And now from ridiculous to sublime –––– acknowlegment of the birthday of a most important literary master.

Euripides

September 23 is the day Greece celebrates the birthday of the Athenian tragic poet, Euripides  (480 BC), best known for his plays Medea, The Bacchae, and Iphigenia at Aulis .

The story goes that he was born on the same day as the battle of Salamis in 480 BC, but this detail was probably invented after his death to align him with the Athenian identity. Along with Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides is one of the few Greek playwrights who had a lot of his work survive through the ages.
He paid special attention to the downtrodden in society, particularly women and slaves, at a time when other playwrights focused on more powerful, triumphant characters.

Euripides was one of the first writers to portray mythical heroes like regular people; even when they were arguing with gods, their struggles were human struggles and they had the same emotional conflicts as everyone else. His dialogue was less structured and closer to regular speech. This decision to make dialogue less like poetry was the first in a long line of innovations that made theater more realistic.

His work can be hard to pin down, and critics make a lot of contradicting claims about him. The literary critic Bernard Knox wrote: “He has been described as ‘the poet of the Greek enlightenment’ and also as ‘Euripides the irrationalist.’ He has been seen as a profound explorer of human psychology and also a rhetorical poet who subordinated consistency of character to verbal effect; as a misogynist and a feminist; as a realist who brought tragic action down to the level of everyday life, and as a romantic poet who chose unusual myths and exotic settings. He has been recognized as the precursor of New Comedy and also what Aristotle called him: ‘the most tragic of poets.’ […] And not one of these descriptions is entirely false.”

Euripides was exiled from Greece toward the end of his life because of his association with Socrates, who was executed for refusing to recognize the Greek gods. He defined his art form this way: “Tragedy isn’t getting something or failing to get it, it’s losing something you already have.”

Gone With The Wind Banned From Memphis Theater

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

The Left Wing in the USA is suffering from a severe case of political correctness/Antifa dementia, which one can only hope will not continue to spread and infect those of us who are still sane. Below witness the effect of this fatal malady( one can only hope).

Gone With The Wind Banned From Memphis Theater

by Tyler Durden

Aug 27, 2017 9:17 AM

http://www.zerohedge.com/printmail/602379http://www.zerohedge.com/print/602379

When Vice News argued that perhaps Mt. Rushmore should be demolished, running a headline which declared without irony – “Let’s Blow Up Mount Rushmore” (a headline subsequently scrubbed) – we suggested that the fanatical push to sanitize all historic monuments and public references to past political leaders perceived as ‘tainted’ or controversial “may have hit peak crazy here.” Well, we were wrong – it appears the PC mob is now coming for the film industry.

 

The historic Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee has decided to censor “Gone With the Wind” from a line-up of movies it will show as part of its 2018 Summer Movie Series after dubbing it racially “insensitive”. The 1939 classic film, based on the book by Margaret Mitchell, is set on a plantation in the American South during the Civil War and Reconstruction era, and is widely considered by critics and historians to be among the greatest American movies of all time. It broke Academy Award records at the time, receiving eight Oscars including a Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel, who became the first African-American Academy Award-winner. It also remains the highest grossing film of all time (with ticket prices adjusted for inflation) – beating out even Star Wars. TheMemphis’ Orpheum Theatre has included the movie as part of its annual local film festival featuring American classics for decades. But apparently this nearly 80-year old world renowned classic has been scrubbed for the first time based on some complaints the theater received after its last August 11 showing. “As an organization whose stated mission is to ‘entertain, educate and enlighten the communities it serves’, the Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population,” the theater’s board said in a statement.

The theater indicated that for the first time this year’s screening “generated numerous comments” which led to the decision to drop it, adding that, “while title selections for the series are typically made in the spring of each year, the Orpheum has made this determination early in response to specific inquiries from patrons.” This will mark the first time in 34 years Gone With the Wind will not show. It appears that much of the negative feedback came via Orpheum Theatre’s Facebook page with some comments decrying the film as “racist” and leveling the charge that it’s a “tribute to white supremacy”.

 

Raymond Chandler

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

My friend, Dan Garshman tells me that today, July 23rd is the birthday of one of my favorite authors, mystery writer, Raymond Chandler (1888) , born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, before his Irish mother took him to England so he could get a proper education. Chandler’s novels explored the tough, lawless, and luxurious side of Los Angeles through the sharp narration of his most famous creation, wisecracking, chess-playing private eye Philip Marlowe, who made his debut in Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep (1939).

He was educated at preparatory school in England and studied international law in Germany and France before moving back to Britain. He mostly wrote poetry, managing to publish 27 poems and short story called “The Rose-Leaf Romance” before moving to Los Angeles (1912), where he found work as a tennis racket stringer and a bookkeeper at a creamery. Chandler enlisted in the Canadian air force and spent time on the front lines in France during World War I. When he returned to L.A., he took a well-paying job in the oil industry, but drank too much and had affairs with the office secretaries, so he was fired after a year.

Running low on money, he began reading pulp mystery magazines and studying the formula for stories. He said Americans were “a big, rough, rich, wild people, and crime is the price we pay for it.” He liked the lack of pretension in the pulps and the tight restrictions on word length and subject matter suited his style. He published his first mystery story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” in Black Mask magazine in 1933. It was popular, and he began churning out more stories.

It took him three months to write his first novel, The Big Sleep (1939), which was made into a film, with William Faulkner writing the screenplay and Humphrey Bogart cast as Philip Marlowe (1946). When asked about the character of Philip Marlowe, he said: “He must be the best man in his world and good enough for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.”

Chandler’s second novel was Farewell, My Lovely (1940). His clipped British upbringing mixed with American vernacular proved popular with readers, who ate up lines like “He had a heart as big as one of Mae West’s hips” and “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.” Poet W.H. Auden and novelist Evelyn Waugh were big fans, but critics found his work somewhat distasteful. A reviewer from the Washington Post called his books “rambling at best and incoherent at worst,” and others cited the “moral depravity” of a fictional L.A. filled with crime, prostitutes, cheating spouses, and murder.

Raymond Chandler wrote eight novels, including The Little Sister (1949) and The Long Goodbye (1953) before he died in 1959. All of his novels except for one have been made into films. Philip Marlowe has been portrayed onscreen by James Garner, Danny Glover, Powers Boothe, and Dick Powell.

Chandler was nearly penniless when he died. He’d returned to drinking after the long illness and death of his second wife, Cissy. He wrote The Long Goodbye while she was dying and many consider this his masterpiece, due to its blend of hard-boiled cynicism and lyrical sentiment.

Chandler worked hard to improve his writing style as he aged, but he couldn’t catch a break from the critics, saying, “The thing that rather gets me down is that when I write something that is tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, I get panned for being tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, and then when I try to tone down a bit and develop the mental and emotional side of a situation, I get panned for leaving out what I was panned for putting in the first time.”

He and Cissy are interred side by side. Their shared gravestone reads, “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts,” a quote from The Big Sleep.

Shakespeare’s Villians

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Thanks to my good friend, Dr. Steve Dubel, I have been introduced to:

NO SWEAT SHAKESPEARE.

One of its most interesting character summaries involves:

Shakespeare’s Top 10 Villains
Are there really heroes and villains in Shakespeare’s plays? Those concepts suggest that someone can be all good, noble and well intentioned on the one hand, or all bad, ill-intentioned and downright evil on the other. What makes Shakespeare’s characters so interesting is that they are human beings, motivated by the things that motivate human beings: they react to their circumstances and to people in different ways.

Some of Shakespeare’s characters act in cruel and unpleasant ways. Some of them kill, deceive and otherwise take advantage of their fellow men and women but they are all only human beings. This list of villains catalogues ten of the most badly behaved of those human beings in Shakespeare’s plays:

The Queen, Cymbeline

The Queen in Cymbeline is a character Shakespeare doesn’t even name, but she is without a doubt one of his top villains. Cymbeline is her second husband and she has a son, Cloten, whom she is determined to marry off to Cymbeline’s daughter, Imogen. She pursues this ambition with ruthless energy and will stop at nothing, including murder.

Angelo, Measure for Measure

Angelo in Measure for Measure is a particular kind of villain who is hated by women. Left in charge of administering Vienna while the Duke is away, he adopts a strict approach. Determined to stamp out fornication he imprisons and executes people who conduct sexual affairs outside of marriage. When Claudio falls victim his sister Isabella, a beautiful young nun, goes to him to beg for mercy. He agrees not to execute Claudio if she agrees to sex with him. In spite of her pleading he sticks to that line right to the end. His villainy consists mainly of his incredible hypocrisy. As time goes on he appears increasingly villainous as a result of the development of society’s attitude to women.

Lady MacBeth, MacBeth

Lady Macbeth has always been seen as the most villainous of Shakespeare’s women, and
portrayed in paintings as a sharp-featured, black haired woman with a hard expression. Like all of Shakespeare’s ‘villains’ she is just a character confronted with the choices that are offered her. In her case, her husband has written to tell her about the three witches who have predicted that he will be king. At that very moment a messenger arrives to tell her that the king is coming to their castle to spend the night with them. To her, to advance her and her husband’s ambitions, the logical thing is to kill the king while he is there. She urges Macbeth to kill him, using several tactics, including questioning his manhood, his love for her, his intentions about becoming king and after a lot of soul searching and hesitation, he goes ahead with it. Afterwards, she gives him moral support in the actions he takes to maintain his position as king. She eventually cracks up and commits suicide.

Regan, King Lear

Regan in King Lear is Lear’s second daughter. After having been given a half of all Lear’s lands and wealth after his decision to retire she turns on him and behaves cruelly towards him. She ties Lear’s old friend, Gloucester, to a chair, accusing him of supportimng her father, and she pulls his eyes out onstage.

Claudius, Hamlet

Claudius in Hamlet is Hamlet’s uncle. He murders his brother, the King of Denmark, who is Hamlet’s father. He immediately swindles Hamlet out of his inheritance, marries his mother and assumes the throne. Noticing that Hamlet is on to him he employs some of Hamlet’s college friends to spy on him. He plots to have Hamlet murdered on a ship at sea. When Hamlet escapes that he plots to have him killed during a duel. The plan goes wrong and he ends up killing, not only Hamlet, but his wife Gertrude, – Hamlet’s mother – Laertes, the son of his senior courtier, Hamlet and himself.

MacBeth, MacBeth

Macbeth, adored by everyone and, trusted by the king, Duncan, is a fearless warrior in the king’s service, but after killing Duncan he continues his murderous career, killing all those who oppose him, including his closest friend, Banquo. At the very centre of the play, on his orders a child is murdered. The killing of Duncan takes place offstage but the child’s slaughter is onstage. The effect of that is to shock the audience and draw its attention to how far Macbeth has sunk into villainy, and how ruthless he has become. His decline into this kind of villainy is due to his ambition, and, hearing only the advice he wants to hear, he makes the mistakes that lead to his downfall.

Tamora, Titus Andronicus

Tamora is the queen of the Goths. She is captured by Titus and forced to plead for the life of her son, who is in nevertheless murdered by Titus’ sons. As she plots her revenge, using her lover Aaron the Moor as her heavy, we see her relishing the violence to come. When Aaron describes the extreme violence he is planning she exclaims: ‘Ah, my sweet Moor!’ She instructs her sons to rape Titus’s daughter, Lavinia and to kill her husband. When Lavinia begs to be killed instead, appealing to her as a woman to a woman, Tamora instructs her sons to rape and dismember Lavinia, telling them: ‘use her as you will: the worse to her the better loved of me.’ Lavinia calls her ‘a beastly creature.’ In a sick twist Tamore ends up unknowingly eating her sons in the form of meat pies.

Aaron the Moor, Titus Andronicus

Aaron the Moor is about as villainous as anyone could be. The lover of Tamora, he helps her get revenge on the Andronicus family. It’s never clear what his motives are and it seems that he enjoys violence for its own sake. He doesn’t think twice about instigating rape, mutilation and murder, running amock among the Andronicus family.

 

Richard III, Richard III

Richard III is an interesting case of a character being both the main protagonist and the villain. The Shakespeare character is not the same as the historical Richard: he is a mixture of the propaganda surrounding the historical Richard and the creative imagination of Shakespeare. In the play Richard addresses the audience directly and says ‘I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days.’ In spite of that and in spite of his misbehaviour, the audience likes him, taken in by his sparkling language, his logical arguments, his soliciting of the audience’s sympathy regarding his physical disability and his selfish motives, with which the audience can identify. As he pursues his crimes, however, the audience begins to be uncomfortable, and by the end of the play Shakespeare makes us see what a monster he is. He gets his brother locked up in the Tower of London, he seduces Anne Neville and persuades her to marry him even though he has murdered her husband and her father and he has two of his nephews beheaded. He also eliminates all opposition.

Iago, Othello

Iago is probably the most destructive of Shakespeare’s characters. He destroys several people’s lives during the course of the play, including several careers, and two deaths, through the manipulation of everyone around him. His motives are complex and one is never really sure what they are. He sometimes gives an explanation for his behaviour but it changes and none of it rings true. He is charming and he is liked and respected by everyone and they all refer to him throughout as ‘honest Iago,’ but he is filled with hatred and contempt for everyone. He is very much what we would call a psychopath today. He deserves the top place in this list of villains because he is not simply responding but actively going out to destroy others’ lives.


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