Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Le Cid - Corneille (91)

Reading 'Le Cid' is somewhat like seeing a version of 'Romeo and Juliet' with a different focus.  Oh, the style is more straight poetry and the events are certainly different, but the overall focus of a conflict between love and family and honor is the same.  The major plot points in 'Le Cid' are:

  • We start with our heroine, Chimene, waiting for the arrival of her true love, Rodrigue, also known as le Cid, or 'the lord'.  He gained this nickname on the battlefield.  While waiting, her father and his father get into a fight.  Rodrigue's father is struck and he calls on his son to avenge him.  
  • Le Cid is stuck between honor and his love for Chimene.  He chooses the honorable avenue and challenges Chimene's father to a duel.  Le Cid is victorious and the father dies.  
  • Now Chimene is in a bind.  Does she side with her love or does she ask the king for help to avenge her father?  She also chooses honor and asks the king for Le Cid's death.
  • Chimene and Rodrigue meet.  They both love each other but they feel compelled to go forward.  Rodrigue offers to kill himself but Chimene won't let him.  She must still pursue honorable justice though and press on with the king.
  • The Moors attack the city.  Le Cid goes to defend the city and covers himself with glory. 
  • Chimene realizes that the king can't order him to be executed so she asks that he be tried by single combat and offers to marry anyone that can kill him.  (And you thought your love life was complicated!)  
  • The king can see that the two love each other.  He changes the conditions of the fight so that she must marry the victor.  
  • Chimene and Rodrigue meet again.  He tells her that he won't defend himself in this duel and she urges him to do so.  She wants him to win, but, for the sake of honor, he must go through with the fight.
  • Le Cid wins the fight but spares the other fighter, Don Sanche.  Don Sanche goes to Chimene and she believes that he has killed Rodrigue.  This is straightened out.
  • The lovers aren't sure that they should wed but the king gives them his blessing.  They acted as nobly as they could and they should be married.
  • Finis.
I mentioned 'Romeo and Juliet' up top, but what kept coming to my mind was 'West Side Story'.  Maria has lost her brother to Tony but she still loves him.  Can't stop loving him.  (In fairness, if she had more time to come to grips with what had happened, the story might have been different.)  Here we see a similar dynamic, but with a father instead of a brother.  And, in much the same way as Maria, Chimene has almost no time to absorb any of this.  (Did I mention that all of the above plot points happen over the course of a single day?)

I liked 'Le Cid' and it's worthy enough to be on a list like this on its own merit.  I think though, that it was given further historical weight because it brought about a large argument in France when it came out in 1637.  Enemies of Corneille argued that the play was improper for a number of reasons.  Corneille had based all of the action in one single day so that he could satisfy the dramatic rules laid down by Aristotle.  His critics argues that this day was overloaded.  (They have a point.)  They also said that it was highly improper for a daughter to happily wed the man who killed her father.  Corneille pointed out that his story was rooted in historical fact but they answered that 'There are monstrous truths that must be repressed for the good of society'.  
I don't remember reading that in Aristotle.  

Next up is #90, 'The Weavers' by Gerhart Hauptmann.  The play was published in 1897, so not quite 20th century but close to it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Elizabeth Bishop - Poetry

Another new name to me, Elizabeth Bishop.  The poem is titled 'Visits to St. Elizabeth's' and is based on an actual visit the poet made to see Ezra Pound while he was in a mental hospital.

This is the house of Bedlam.

This is the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the time
of the tragic man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a wristwatch
telling the time
of the talkative man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the honored man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the roadstead all of board
reached by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the old, brave man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

These are the years and the walls of the ward,
the winds and the clouds of the sea of board
sailed by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the cranky man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
beyond the sailor
winding his watch
that tells the time
of the cruel man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a world of books gone flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
of the batty sailor
that winds his watch
that tells the time
of the busy man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is there, is flat,
for the widowed Jew in the newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
waltzing the length of a weaving board
by the silent sailor
that hears his watch
that ticks the time
of the tedious man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to feel if the world is there and flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances joyfully down the ward
into the parting seas of board
past the staring sailor
that shakes the watch
that tells the time
of the poet, the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the soldier home from the war.
These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is round or flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances carefully down the ward,
walking the plank of a coffin board
with the crazy sailor
that shows his watch
that tells the time
of the wretched man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

Hmmmm.  There is an interesting trick to this poem.  As you read it, did your reading speed up?  Each stanza is a bit longer and you naturally bump up the speed to keep up.  Very clever. 
The 'story' of the poem tells us how terrible things are in the mental hospital.  How surreal and unworthy for a great man, such as Ezra Pound.  It's not hard to believe this. 
But still, the poem doesn't do much for me.  It doesn't hit the emotional hot-spots that some of the other on this list have.  Maybe that's just me.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Essay Concerning Human Understanding - Locke

(This concerns various chapters of Book 3 only.)

In this piece by Locke, he considers how language came about.  In the first three chapters, he opens by suggesting that early man made sounds and that over time, those sounds gained shared meaning.  The concrete items would be first (rock, fire, animal, etc.).  More abstract terms would take time and would have a much greater amount of potential misunderstanding.  I don't know how this squares with our modern understanding of early languages but this makes sense to me.  I'd never considered the probable differences between concrete and abstract concepts, but that also makes sense.  'Fire' is 'fire' and there isn't much argument about it.  On the other hand, even common abstract terms like 'love' are very subjective and easily misunderstood. 
Chapters 9-11 deal more with the imperfection of words (and those that use them).  He speaks of such things as words with double meanings and poorly defined terms.  The most interesting part to me though was Locke's observation on how badly we talk about important things, like art, religion and politics.  This seems to include increasingly technical language.  He says:
What have been the effect of those multiplied curious distinctions, and acute niceties, but obscurity and uncertainty, leaving the words more unintelligible, and the reader more at a loss? How else comes it to pass that princes, speaking or writing to their servants, in their ordinary commands are easily understood; speaking to their people, in their laws, are not so?
 This section came back to me several times while I was trying to puzzle out Kant.  It also made me think of Mark Twain, of all people.  If you read various 19th century novels, you'll note an enormous stylistic difference between writers like Hawthorne and Dickens and Mark Twain.  The former have always given me problems while the more plain spoken, easy going Twain never has.
The other thing that I wondered was how much of an influence did Locke's thoughts have on eventual dictionaries?  Locke published this essay in 1690.  Samuel Johnson's landmark 'A Dictionary of the English Language' was published in 1755.  Could be.

I enjoyed this.  Locke had made a somewhat Aristotelian attempt to classify language, find common problems and propose solutions to them.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Rover - Behn (92)

Before I talk about 'The Rover', let me speak a little about the author, Aphra Behn.  I'd never heard of her before, and perhaps you haven't either.  (Here is her Wikipedia page, if you want more depth.)  Aphra Behn was (probably) the first woman to earn her living by writing.  Or at least the first European one.  She published 'The Rover' in 1677, some sixty years after Shakespeare died.  Her drama is very bawdy and, from what I can tell, she is little produced nowadays.
Which is a damn shame because 'The Rover' is a fun, fun play.  It focuses on a household of women in Naples.  The women are of different status levels and experience in love.  They have certain romantic and commercial entanglements.  And in fact, the romance and the commerce are quite tangled together.  They meet a band of English cavaliers and, well, the tangling continues more and more.  It's a comedy, but the topics covered have a tinge of seriousness. 
The women are smart and sophisticated.  They understand that vows of true love come with a dear price.  When one of the women, Helena, is talking to one of the cavaliers before he goes to a duel, she asks:

And if you do not lose, what shall I get? A cradle full of noise and mischief and a pack of repentance for my back?
What a great line!  The dialogue is full of wonderful lines.  It's a shame that this isn't better known.  I could easily see a period piece movie done from this script.  It would do as well as a good Shakespearean adaptation.  Anyway, if you get a chance, do see it.

Next up: 'Le Cid' by Pierre Corneille, also from the 17th century.  I've been somewhat delayed from writing so I've already read ahead.  Expect this review to go up next week.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Admitting Defeat - Kant

I'm throwing in the towel on Kant's 'Science of Right'.  I've worked and worked at the first quarter of it and it's just not making sense to me.  I've decided that life is too short and I'm moving on.  I'll read  a few summaries of the piece in the hopes that other people could write better than Kant could.  (This isn't a tough bet.)  I'll post on those and if anyone wants to correct my misunderstandings, then they are welcome to do so.

I don't feel good about this, but I'm sure it's the right move. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

W.H. Auden - Poetry

This week's poem is by a poet that I have heard of, W.H. Auden and, as luck would have it, the poem is literally the only one of his that I know.  This is 'Funeral Blues'.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling the sky the message He is dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, My South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Wow.  Just wow.  What a powerful poem.  What a rendering of utter grief.  You read this and your heart simply aches for the speaker.
This if familiar to me from the movie 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'.  You may remember the scene:

Simply amazing.