Print Story The hand of little employment hath the daintier sense
By TheophileEscargot (Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 09:21:01 PM EST) Reading, Listening, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "The Golden Notebook". "Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies". Watching.

What I'm Reading
Finally finished The Golden Notebook by Nobel prize-winner Doris Lessing. Good book, but not an easy read. The core of it is a novella about a woman called Anna Wulf disintegrating under various strains: chiefly the break-up of a relationship, and the crisis in the Communist party triggered by Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin. That's interspersed with the text from four notebooks she keeps: a black notebook for writing, red for politics, yellow for emotions and blue for everyday life. Can be a little confusing, but does give you a sense of deep immersion in someone's life.

Published in 1962, written in the late Fifties, it hasn't really dated that much since it's very much a portrait of its time and place. Britain in the Fifties was a pretty depressing place. Low unemployment thanks to the death toll of WW2; but also short of housing, economically tough (food rationing continued till 1954) and with the temporary freedom of women in war years thrown into abrupt reverse.

Only a couple of aspects excite nostalgia. The capitalists seem incredibly modest and unostentatious: the rich barely different from the middle class. They can be actually be rendered defensive by artists and communists, almost as if they're capable of entertaining the notion that a greater accumulation of money doesn't make them superior in every way. May not be realistic: possibly Doris Lessing just didn't know any capitalists.

Another is the way that the protagonist talks seriously, plainly and unironically about "love" rather than "intimacy" or "commitment" or "relationship".

Was also amused by a brief sentence when just like a twenty-first century newspaper columnist, the protagonist complains that men these days remain children their whole lives and don't really grow up.

One thing I noticed is that this books almost to be a prototype for the last few decades worth of Philip Roth's output. Here too, the protagonist is herself a novelist, similar to the author, but realised as a slightly but definitely different character. You have similar layers of narrative: part of the book is Anna Wulf's own writing, including a character called Ella who has partly based on herself. You have fairly realistic and explicit sex scenes used to define personalities. You have tell-don't-show where characters just talk about the other characters' character. And in some ways you have the same flaw as Roth: characters the same gender as the author are well-rounded and believable; some characters of the opposite sex are cartoonishly malicious and poorly-motivated.

Overall, a dense, multi-leveled book, rewarding on a number of levels. Does require some effort to read.

What I'm Listening To
Latest TTC course was Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies by Peter Saccio. 36 lectures. Did his short "Modern British Drama" course which I liked: this is even better with much more space to discuss things.

As well as a scholar, Saccio is also a keen amateur actor and theatre-goer. So he has a much more satisfying analysis of Shakespeare as a dramatist: some critics seem to regard Shakespeare as a novelist with a peculiar fondness for dialogue. He talks about the nuances of the staging in some detail, in particular the spying-on-spiers scene in Troilus and Cressida. He does get a little bit too fond of somewhat hammy recitations of dialogue, but his enthusiasm comes through strongly.

Saccio's particularly good on comparing Shakespeare with Shakespeares's sources: explaining what was changed and what remained the same. I didn't know that King Lear originally had a happy ending, but Shakespeare turned it into a tragedy. One detail: apparently in Elizabethan England women usually married in their twenties, in the source for Romeo and Juliet, Juliet was sixteen: Shakespeare knocked two years off to make her a fourteen-year-old for his own reasons.

Saccio resists the urge to reduce Shakespeare down to any particular philosophy or message: the "abundance of Shakespeare" is his theme. I think it fits. The thing about Shakespeare is that every character gets an eloquent expression of his point of view. So if you're an introvert like Howard Bloom you can convince yourself that Shakespeare was all about an inner journey of self-discovery. If you're interested in politics you can tell yourself that Shakespeare is all about statecraft and power and corruption. If you're a romantic you can believe in love. But all we can really know is that whatever Shakespeare really believed, he didn't let it get in the way of characters brilliantly stating the opposite.

Very informative and entertaining course.

What I'm Watching
Saw the BBC Hamlet on DVD. Mixed feelings about Derek Jabobi as Hamlet: he's more of a Manic Dane than Melancholy: bounces around irritatingly. Patrick Stewart has an interesting take on the usurper Claudius, playing him as a dignified, statesmanlike, loving figure you suspect is probably a lot better king than the other fella. Seems a little bit alien to the text though: I don't think the whole poisoned-goblet thing makes sense unless he's a bit of boozy old sot. You never know though: maybe Elizabethans really did drink wine between the rounds of a fencing match.

See Jacobi soliloquize. Totally unfair comparison to Olivier.

Saw the big From Russia exhibition at the Royal Academy. Some good stuff there, especially the Matisses and Gaugin's. Pretty diverse, not much of a theme there. Only a couple of Kandisky's: saw a lot more at the big Tate Modern show a year or two back.

Pretty crowded as you'd expect, though the rooms are large you can still see quite a bit.

Killer engagement ring

Sixties stripper audition photos.

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The hand of little employment hath the daintier sense | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden)
Hamlet by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Feb 22, 2008 at 03:17:10 AM EST
The problem with most productions of Hamlet (and Romeo and Juliet for that matter) is that by the time the actors are experienced enough to play the parts, they're too old to play the parts. Hamlet is about 18 or 19. Juliet is 11 or 12, and Romeo is maybe 14 or 15.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

Romeo probably by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #2 Fri Feb 22, 2008 at 03:31:15 AM EST
Though in Shakespeare's day he presumably had a big supply of teenage actors with just-broken voices.

With Hamlet though, we know that Yorick's skull has lain in the earth three and twenty years. If Hamlet remembers him, he can't be much under thirty.

[ Parent ]
Juliet by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #3 Fri Feb 22, 2008 at 06:58:55 PM EST
... is a teen, wiki says just short of 14.

The age thing has bothered me in the past, but I think in popular conception it's gone away a bit for Romeo and Juliet at least after the more recent movies.

Hamlet, I think TE is right, he's a moody twenty something trust fund kid who's just finished grad school and is skulking about wanting to do something Important.

Speaking of which I dunno that Claudius has to be a boozer, I think Hamlet complains about it but he's probably biased ... in fact the grog consumption for the duration of the play seems a bit low frequency by modern British standards ...

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
The hand of little employment hath the daintier sense | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden)