Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quotes from Shakespeare

This weekend, I was working with my daughter on some passages from Shakespeare.  (I wrote about this project many months ago.  The project got side-tracked but we decided to start over with the school year.)  The passage she was memorizing is that great one where Puck ends with "Lord, what fools these mortals be!".
I told her it was one of my favorites and that I'd used it for a little project of mine.  Back in April, in time for Shakespeare's birthday/death day anniversary, I prepared a quote from each play.  The idea was to hang them on trees in a park as an homage to 'As You Like It'.  It didn't happen then, because I couldn't find the right place, but I still have hopes for it.
Each quote has its own page.  I showed them too her and she leafed through each one, trying to read them cold.  If her reading didn't make sense, I'd read it again.  As she went through, she'd give little commentaries on how she liked this one and that one.
I couldn't help thinking, "These are hand picked quotes from Shakespeare of all people.  Of course you're going to like them!"

Friday, September 2, 2016

Moving Forward

(This is kind of a 'state of the blog' type post.)

I've finally started my college classes.  Yes, this is twenty some years later than it should have been, but it's happening.  My goal is to get a degree before any of my children do so it has to start happening.  Given that I've had time to read some a couple of dozen pieces from the Great Books and all of Shakespeare's plays, I should have time to study for class right now.
The thing is, I don't know exactly what the demands on my time will be like.  Right now I'm focusing on the school work and setting aside other projects.  Whether that will be true a month from now, I really don't know. 
These past two weeks have been the first time all year that I wasn't actively reading something from the Great Books.  I've missed them.  So I'm sure I'll be back to some extent but I don't know how much or when.  In other words, posting is probably going to get light around here.  Not non-existent.  I'm not closing down.  But lighter and less frequent.
I still have a few pieces that I've read but not written about and I'll try and get those blogged out in the next week or so.  Or I may write about things from class.  (I'm taking an Intro to Philosophy class and I'm sure I'll want to write about that.)
So...not goodbye, but, less often.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Books Read in August

My actual book reading was fairly limited in August.  I finished up Fielding's wonderful 'Tom Jones' and I'll write about that sometime soon.  Since then, I've wandered a bit through short stories and other things.  The biggest concentrated reading that I've done has been non-Shakespearean plays.  I've got an old text book called 'Masters of Modern Drama' and I've been reading through it.  In this past month, I've read several plays that are new to me:

  • Ibsen's 'Peer Gynt' - Loved this.  Peer Gynt is a larger than life story-teller/rogue from a small town in Norway.  He gets in serious trouble, is nearly married to a troll princess and then flees to the larger world.  Near the end of his life, he works hard to cheat death and goes through a journey of self-discovery.  Great stuff.
  • Ibesen's 'Ghosts' - A very realistic play about how societal rules require people to sin in the name of good and do good things in violation of law.  This is much more like the Ibsen that I've read in the past.  Disturbing and thought provoking.
  • Strindberg's 'Miss Julie' - Another play about societal bonds and the havoc they can wreak.  I thought it was only ok, but I can see how a good performance of this could be devastating.
  • Strindberg's 'The Ghost Sonata' - A dreamlike play, again with the hint of death and a strong sense of people having far too much control over others. 
  • Maeterlinck's 'The Intruder' - This is a short, atmospheric play that could be terrifying.  It all takes place in one room as a family gathers with a blind grandfather.  They all sense...something...come into the house.  They fear for death.  Shivers!
  • von Hofmannshtal's 'Death and the Fool' - Another short play about death, but this one all in verse.  I'll have to take another run at this when I'm in the right place, but as it is, I think I rushed through and missed out.
  • Synge's 'Playboy of the Western World' - An interesting Irish drama about how glamour and infamy can change people.  Apparently it caused riots when it first appeared on stage.
  • Yeat's 'At the Hawk Well' - A small, very arty play by William Butler Yeats, better known as a poet.  This is the type of play that people think of when they think of artists making art only for artists.
  • Cocteau's 'Orpheus' - Another arty play, but I loved this one.  A retelling of Orpheus with some modern twists and some stage trickery.  Would love to see it on the stage.
This is a fine text book and I'll probably keep working through it over time. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Discourse on Political Economy - Rousseau

Rousseau's 'Discourse on Political Economy' was published in 1755.  It's one of the body of important works that appeared in the 17th and 18th century as various thinkers in England and France were trying to figure out what good governance was.  This means that a) it was important and influential for the people who were trying to figure out what a post-monarchal government would look like and b) it has little impact today because we've already internalized many of its arguments.
It's not a long work; less than 20 pages in the actual Great Books volume.  The reading style is simple and accessible.  I'd recommend it as interesting, but its not vital in the way that some other works are. 
One interesting element of it, is that it is the earliest work I've read with some of the mainstream arguments that are found in todays political left.
It is therefore one of the most important functions of government to prevent extreme inequality of fortunes; not by taking away wealth from its possessors, but by depriving all men of means to accumulate it; not by building hospitals for the poor, but by securing the citizens from becoming poor.

This statement would be at home in many modern political campaigns.  Of course, the tricky part is remembering that Rousseau was writing at a period of time when literal classes of people existed, the wealthiest with special rights when it came to land and wealth.  The modern situation is somewhat different.  The overall idea that one of the prime functions of government is to keep the poor from poverty is alive and well though.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Don Quixote (Part 2) - Cervantes

The first part of 'Don Quixote' ends with the poor deluded knight being taken back to his village to recover from his adventures.  The second part starts with a visiting scholar talking to Quixote and Sancho Panza about the book that was published about them.  The two put their heads together and marvel that any author could possibly know about their adventures in such detail.  Quixote concludes that this was the work of a sorcerer and Sancho has no choice but to go along with him.
The two set out again but big changes have happened.  1) Everyone knows about them and 2) both of them are fully aware that they are creating a legend.  It is as if they have become conscious characters in a book.  This creates an enormous feeling of meta-fiction.  The reader is reading about a book that knows it is a book.
Again, they have crazy adventures but now another level has been added.  Don Quixote meets another knight who claims to have beaten the famous Don Quixote in battle.  (It turns out that this other knight has an ulterior motive for baiting him into a fight.)  He meets people who tell him about Don Quixote.  In the first book he was creating his own legend.  Now it is growing on its own and he must live up to it.
This book also brings about a blossoming of Sancho Panza.  He speaks in aphorisms.  In fact, he becomes famous for speaking in aphorisms.  At one point he is appointed governor of a town.  Sancho is unaware that the whole thing is a gag being put upon him, but he gamely tries his best. 
I laughed time and time again.  I marveled that Cervantes could keep coming up with new ideas to get his two heroes into trouble and back out again.  I loved it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Links to the Past

Search for the real Troy link

Make Athens Great Again link

Ancient Olympian Record broken link

What Enlightenment Philosophers Would Have Thought of Trump link

Athenian Park (Existential Comics) link

Thursday, August 18, 2016

All Done - Shakespeare

That's it.  I've read, and now written about all of Shakespeare's plays.  This little side project started right before New Year's Day and finished up the first week of July.  That's 38 plays in about 27 weeks (and serves as a testament to just how much time I'm on hold while working).
What did I learn?  There were some unexpected things.  After I'd read six or eight plays, the language made complete sense to me.  I could go from phrase to phrase without looking to see if there was an insult or praise or what.  You 'get' it.  Since Elizabethan English is something of a foreign language, this is a big deal.
Another thing was that I didn't realize just how much concern there was for adultery and cuckoldry.  These are themes that come up nearly constantly.  We still think about adultery now, but I can't remember the last modern story I read/watched that had any concern over the parentage of a child.  There is always a danger of over-reading, but I couldn't help but wonder if Elizabethans really, really worried about raising a cuckoo.
In a related note, we don't write love stories like they did back then either.  Shakespeare wrote about eternal love, or at least a willingness to die for your love, without a second thought.  Our more common story today, features a 'more fish in the sea' type perspective.  In fact, if you wrote a modern day Romeo and Juliet story, the lovers would probably be seen as creepy in their singlemindedness.  (I doubt that this is an improvement as a culture.)
I fell in love with some of the couples.  Yes, with Romeo and Juliet, because of the purity of their love.  But also with the delightful Rosalind and Orlando.  And I felt very deep sympathy for poor Desdemona, who might have gotten the rawest deal in the whole canon.
I also learned about responsibility.  The tragedies and history plays are simply steeped in the idea of being responsible.  King Lear dooms himself by setting aside a part of his responsibility.  Henry IV (both parts) are consumed with fears that the young prince Hal won't live up to his responsibility.  Fortunately, in Henry V, he becomes a full out hero.  Shakespeare wrote quite about being responsible with power and having that power be legitimate.  I'd rather see the entire line of tragedies judged by questions of power and responsibility than by questions of 'fatal flaws'.
There were shocking moments, like Titus Andronicus and his own hand.  Or Gloucester's poor eyes.  One of the most deeply touching moments was when Richard II was made to hand over his beloved and rightful crown.  Simply devastating.
One of the most unexpected things for me, is that I couldn't stop trying to figure out how I would stage each of the productions.  I've done work on the stage but I've always been to jealous to watch from the audience.  Reading this time, I couldn't help but think of how to perform each work.  Maybe I'll have the kids doing the plays for the neighborhood?
Speaking of which, another unexpected joy was being able to share Shakespeare with my children.  This mean some memorization for them, which was great.  But there was also a time in the spring when I would walk the older ones to the bus stop and tell them the plot of one of the plays.  I loved it, of course, but they began to look forward to it too.
I think a seed has been planted.

This project wasn't hard, it just took some time and a willingness to stick to it.  The lists (pictured above) also helped.  Like many parts of the Great Books project, I wish I'd done this years ago.  At least I can say that I've done it now.