Monday, February 29, 2016


I've had a very tough time figuring out what to read after Descartes.  I've finally decided to go back to the Greeks.  I'm going to read Homer's 'Odyssey'.  I remember, after finishing 'The Iliad', wishing that the Odyssey was up next.  If I was going to reorder this entire ten year reading list, this is one change that I would absolutely make.
After Homer, I'm probably going to tackle something else of the Greeks or Romans, but I'm not sure what yet.  I changed over to the 'menu' system so that I didn't feel quite so constrained.  That has worked well so far.  (I've read 10 of the 57 remaining pieces in only two months.)  Part of what I wanted to do was break free from the chronological set that the list walks you through, but I feel drawn to it.  On some level, it felt strange to jump to Enlightment France, after working through Plato and Aristotle. 
So, Homer it is, and then I'll figure out what is next.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Links to the Past

Shakespeare's Bad(Ass) Quarto link

Lawyers Love Shakespeare link

The Persistence of Odysseus in fiction link

How Umberto Eco Helped Redeem Post-Modernism link

The Lost Wisdom of the Three Wise Men link

Captain Metaphysics and the Ship of Theseus (Existential Comics) link

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Friends, Countrymen, Romans - Shakespeare

This is meant as something of a news and notes post.

The three Roman plays, as I've come to think of them, complete a 'piece' from the Great Books.  These are, of course, 'Julius Caesar', 'Antony and Cleopatra' and 'Coriolanus'.  They make for very interesting reading, especially in a back to back to back case.
Each play deals with power in a different way.  Who should be kept from having too much power?  What can derail the path to power?  What kind of people are best suited for power?  And many other questions as well.  The best literature creates questions and discussions and these three certainly do that. 
I wonder how well these questions are presented to students of today.  Do they recognize the dangers in a figure like Caesar?  Or the different, but not unrelated dangers in a figure like Coriolanus?  Speaking of dangers, is there any more of a cautionary tale in the Roman plays than Antony's love for Cleopatra?  Do the youth of today know these lessons?  (I honestly have no clue.  I will try to make certain that my kids do.)

The next 'piece' from the Great Books that I plan on finishing is the one of the History quads.  This is 'Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 and 2) and Henry V.  I've discovered a very good BBC version of these with the overarching title 'The Hollow Crown'.  I plan on working through them over the next month or so.
After those are done, there are only two plays left in the Great Books plan, 'Othello' and 'King Lear'.  Two other plays, 'Hamlet' and 'Macbeth' came up earlier in the plan but I'll reread them this year.  I think there will be some benefit to redoing each in proximity to the other plays. 

In the meantime, between receiving the DVDs (thanks Netflix!), I think I'll work through the rest of the comedies.  There are 13 of them in total and I've already covered five.  Three of the other eight, I'm very familiar with from either reading recently ('Troilus and Cressida'), acting in ('Midsummer Night's Dream') or having seen the movie a couple of dozen times ('Much Ado About Nothing').  I thought about holding off on those until closer to the end of the year in case of a time crunch, but I the project has been going so smoothly so far, that I'm not as worried about a crunch [knocks on wood].

This is becoming a very Shakespeare heavy year and I'm loving it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Coriolanus - Shakespeare

This play was completely unknown to me.  I'd never read it or seen it and I had no idea what the story line was about.

The story takes place in Roman times, and concerns a soldier named Caius Marcus.  The play opens with him insulting a mob and telling them that they are unworthy of the bread that the government is thinking of giving to the public.  Reactions are harsh, but before anything gets out of hand, there are reports of war.  Caius Marcus rushes away.
The main fight takes place near the city of Corioli.  Caius Marcus covers himself with glory.  At one point, he finds himself fighting alone and overcoming great odds.  The Romans win the fight and Caius Marcus is honored with the addition of the name 'Coriolanus'.
He returns to Rome and is instantly seized upon to run for political office.  The Senate agrees but the people must agree as well.  Coriolanus fights against this idea but is eventually talked into going out and showing his fresh wounds to the crowds.  He does this in the most surly manner possible.  At first the people agree to support his promotion but then, after his jerkdom is pointed out, they turn on him. Coriolanus tries to walk back his remarks but he is quick to anger.  In short order, he goes from political triumph to exile.  Coriolanus is thrown out of the city.  He leaves behind his wife and mother and goes to join his former enemies.  They cautiously accept him and once again march on Rome.  As Rome is in danger, Coriolanus is turned away by his mother (and a little his wife).  He won't fight and in short order he is betrayed and killed.

'Coriolanus' is another play about power and its limits.  This specific soldier is undoubtedly skilled in his profession, but he doesn't have what it takes to lead the common people.  He is openly disdainful of anyone who hasn't served in the military.  One group of politicians try to use Coriolanus for their own power, but he is brought down by an opposing group.  He returns to threaten the very people that exiled him and they are fortunate that his heart can be melted by his mother.
This raises all kinds of questions about how political leaders use the military and the various heroes that come from it.  These questions are still relevant today, of course, as much as they were during Elizabethan times.  And, obviously, they were relevant back in Rome as well.  (This story is based largely on the writings of Plutarch.  According to him, this is largely a true story.)

I wasn't thrilled by the version that I ended up watching (embedded below).  The actor who played Coriolanus was frankly hard to watch for a couple of hours.  At first I thought it was the fault of the actor.  There was nothing but harshness and disdain.  After some thought, I think that this particular role is probably very difficult for that very reason.  Coriolanus is harsh and disdainful.  This makes it a very tough role to play as the audience has no good reason to cheer for him.  When he dies, the reaction is more like 'good, that jerk is gone'.

The best role in the play is probably that of Coriolanus's mother.  She is strong and persuasive.  In fact, it occurs to me that there she is the first notable mother in the plays that I've read so far this year.  I don't remember any of them at all in the five comedies that I've covered.  There were no mothers in 'Julius Caesar' or 'Antony and Cleopatra'.  (Well, no one acting in the role of mother.)  There are fathers, and father figures, but nothing maternal.  I'll try to return to this point later, after having read more.

Did I like it?  I'm not sure.  It has a lot of battle scenes, which almost never seem to work in stage productions of Shakespeare.  This was my first time reading (and seeing) it and very few phrases stuck out.  The questions raised are typically interesting, as in most of Shakespeare.  'Coriolanus' is certainly lesser known Shakespeare.  I'm glad that I read it but I think that reputation is well deserved.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Antony and Cleopatra - Shakespeare

The action in 'Antony and Cleopatra' takes place some years after the events of 'Julius Caesar'.  The power struggle in Rome is down to three men, Marc Antony, Pompey (the Great) and Octavious Caesar.  Antony has been spending time in Egypt and he is hopelessly fallen for their queen, Cleopatra.  So much so, that his men are whispering behind his back at how much of a fool he has become.  And she really does have him completely at her mercy.
Word comes to Egypt that Antony's wife in Rome has died.  (Yeah, he's a cad.)  He has to rush away.  Once there, he marries again(!) to secure an alliance with Caesar.  He does this with open eyes and it seems as if he is somehow more free away from the spell of Cleopatra.  Unfortunately for him, fate sends him back to Egypt and he is ensnared for good.
When the final showdown occurs, Antony loses and, for a moment, thinks that Cleopatra has sold him out.  She rushes away and sends word that she has killed herself.  Antony falls on his own sword, but botches the job.  He dies in her arms.  Caesar has won and though he tries to reassure Cleopatra that she'll be taken care of, she firmly believes that she will be taken to Rome and humiliated there.  She takes an asp to her breast and dies.
Shakespeare includes a simply wonderful description of Cleopatra:
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy
the appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies.
Isn't that great?  I've read a few items from various actresses who don't particularly like the role.  Cleopatra is so unrelentingly persuasive.  She has ploy after ploy to catch and bedevil Antony.  He is simply hopeless before her.  (I don't know if her head games make her the compliment of Petruchio or not.)  I found her breath-taking but frightening.

When I picked up the play, I told my daughter that I was reading it.  I asked her if she knew anything about Antony or Cleopatra.  She told me that 'Cleopatra died from a snake that Antony let in'.  I laughed and told her that wasn't quite right.  After I was done reading the play, I told her what the end was according to Shakespeare.  This brought up a long discussion of suicide.  She is firmly against it, of course.  Her young age, eight, keeps her from knowing how important pride and dignity are to people like Cleopatra.
Suicide was viewed differently at the time.  Prominent Roman citizens almost routinely committed suicide when charged with crimes.  Add in the high position of the queen of Egypt, and you can see where the 'death before dishonor' position comes.  (I did not work hard to explain that to my little girl.)

The main theme of the play is that Antony gave away enormous power, and eventually his own life, because he was driven mad by love.  Or, maybe not driven mad, but driven to distraction.  He seems bewitched, but maybe that's unfair.  Antony was deeply in love with a woman.  If he could have somehow safely set aside his military concerns, maybe he could have just been happily in love.  (Of course, the question remains whether or not Cleopatra would have stayed with him then.)
In 'Julius Caesar' we are asked to what lengths we should go to keep power from being abused.  Now we're being asked what we should give up for the sake of power.  The answers aren't easy.  And that is why Shakespeare is 'for all time'.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Julius Caesar - Shakespeare

How far would you go to stop a despot from taking power?  And how could you know that your desire to stop that despot wasn't simply a power play of your own?  Those are the questions that occurred to me from 'Julius Caesar'.
The story starts with Caesar enjoying a 'triumph' in the streets of Rome.  ('Triumph' was a Roman tradition where a conquering general would parade through Rome with the spoils of war, including high ranking captives, slaves and treasure.)  While this is taking place, two Roman Senators meet and talk.  Cassius is arguing with Brutus, telling him that Caesar does not deserve the honors which are being bestowed upon him.  He is afraid that Caesar will become a king and Rome will be a republic no more.  Brutus listens and is obviously touched by Cassius's arguments.
In fact, they start a conspiracy and bring other, like-minded Senators, in with them.  The only way of preventing Caesar from taking a crown, is to kill him.  They will do so, publicly, on the very floor of the Senate.  Then they will explain to the people of Rome that they have done so to keep them free.  Caesar ignores the whispers that come to him, including the famous 'beware the ides of March!' and goes to the Senate.  He is killed and right before dying, utters the famous line, 'Et tu, Brute?'.
Marc Antony enters the Senate and sees what has happened.  They tell him that they did what must be done.  He asks to speak to the people and agrees when they forbid him to praise Caesar.  He follows their words, but sways the people against them anyway.  War follows, and all of the principal conspirators are killed.

I read some time ago that 'Julius Caesar' is the Shakespeare play most taught in school.  The politics are straight forward, the language isn't that difficult and there is no sex.  I don't know if it is the most taught, but the reasons given for it are valid.
Caesar himself probably has the least time onstage for any of Shakespeare's tragic 'heroes'.  He only appears a handful of times.  The biggest star of the show is Brutus, though the roles of Cassius and Marc Antony are both rather tasty.
In fact, Antony's funeral speech is the high point of the entire play.  He masterfully tells the crowd that Brutus, et al, are honorable men and what they say must be true.  He tells the crowd that he doesn't understand how it could be true, but that's what these 'honorable' men have told him.  It's a triumph of rhetoric.

I read this in high school and have seen it on the stage a couple of times.  The entire story of Caesar's last days is incredible.  He was very powerful and it was reasonable to believe that he would accept even more power.  I can't say that I blame the conspirators, even though they utterly failed at what they were trying to stop.  I'd love to read an alt-history that suggests a better course they could have taken.
Having said that, this isn't my favorite of Shakespeare's for precisely the reasons mentioned above.  The story really is straight forward.  The only love story is between Brutus and his wife, Calphurnia.  Their love is real, but it is a comfortable, married love.  This is a good thing, but it doesn't make for better story telling.  The BBC version is very good though.  It's the full text and subtitled.  Well worth a couple of hours of your time:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rules for the Direction of the Mind - Descartes

For some time, I've thought that Aristotle may have had the most orderly mind in Western history but now I'm wondering if Descartes surpassed him.  'Rules for the Direction of the Mind' was published posthumously, some 30 years after his death.  The rules seem to apply directly to his geometry, but they serve well for just about any organized train of thought.  I'll list just the first dozen rules themselves (and not the commentary on each rule):

1. The end of study should be to direct the mind towards the enunciation of sound and correct judgments on all matters that come before it.
2. Only those objects should engage our attention, to the sure and indubitable knowledge of which our mental powers seem to be adequate.
3. In the subjects we propose to investigate, our inquiries should be directed, not to what others have thought, nor to what we ourselves conjecture, but to what we can clearly and perspicuously behold and with certainty deduce; for knowledge is not won in any other way.
4. There is need of a method for finding out the truth.
5. Method consists entirely in the order and disposition of the objects towards which our mental vision must be directed if we would find out any truth. We shall comply with it exactly if we reduce involved and obscure propositions step by step to those that are simpler, and then starting with the intuitive apprehension of all those that are absolutely simple, attempt to ascend to the knowledge of all others by precisely similar steps.
6. In order to separate out what is quite simple from what is complex, and to arrange these matters methodically, we ought, in the case of every series in which we have deduced certain facts the one from the other, to notice which fact is simple, and to mark the interval, greater, less, or equal, which separates all the others from this.
7. If we wish our science to be complete, those matters which promote the end we have in view must one and all be scrutinized by a movement of thought which is continuous and nowhere interrupted; they must also be included in an enumeration which is both adequate and methodical.
8. If in the matters to be examined we come to a step in the series of which our understanding is not sufficiently well able to have an intuitive cognition, we must stop short there. We must make no attempt to examine what follows; thus we shall spare ourselves superfluous labor.
9. We ought to give the whole of our attention to the most insignificant and most easily mastered facts, and remain a long time in contemplation of them until we are accustomed to behold the truth clearly and distinctly.
10. In order that it may acquire sagacity the mind should be exercised in pursing just those inquiries of which the solution has already been found by others; and it ought to traverse in a systematic way even the most rifling of men's inventions though those ought toe be preferred in which order is explained or implied.
11. If, after we have recognized intuitively a number of simple truths, we wish to draw any inference from them, it is useful to run them over in a continuous and uninterrupted act of thought, to reflect upon their relations to one another, and to grasp together distinctly a number of these propositions so far as is possible at the same time. For this is a way of making our knowledge much more certain, and of greatly increasing the power of the mind.
12. Finally we ought to employ all the aids of understanding imagination, sense and memory, first of the purpose of having a distinct intuition of simple propositions; partly also in order to compare the propositions to be proved with those we know already, so that we may be able to recognize their truth; partly also in order to discover the truths, which should be compared with each other so that nothing may be left lacking on which human industry may exercise itself.

As you can see, this is an incredibly methodical method of understanding.  I wish I could say that I normally follow rules such as this, but I must admit that I try very hard to see the big picture above the details.  This may be a fault of mine.  If nothing else, the comparison between the two approaches deserves some thought in and of itself.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Links to the Past

Most Assigned Books for US Colleges link

Philosophical questions of 'Groundhog Day' link

Top 10 Shakespearean Movie Adaptations link

Exploring the continuing appeal of the Odyssey link

What Would Descartes have thought of Anesthesia?  link

CSI: Athens (Existential Comics) link

Friday, February 12, 2016

Love's Labour's Lost - Shakespeare

'Love's Labour's Lost' is another new play to me.  This play is a comedy although it doesn't quite fit the same mold as the other comedies.  It opens with the King of Navarre and three of his friends, all swearing an oath.  For the next three years they will focus strictly on becoming scholars.  To do this, they will regularly fast, limit their sleep and, most of all, banish women from their the King's court.  They all agree that anyone caught breaking these rules will be punished.
Of course, as soon as they make this oath, four attractive women show up, including the Princess of France.  To keep the oath in place, the king has them camp outside of his court.  The four men all fall for one of the women, though they must be careful to keep these loves to themselves.  The wittiest of the four, Berowne, writes a letter to his opposite and gives it to a clown to deliver.  The letter goes to the wrong woman (natch).
One by one, the scholars all discover that the others are in love and they simply agree to drop the oath.  They decide to each give 'their' woman a favor, and then they will come to them dressed like 'Muscovites'.  The women get wind of this plan and the princess decides that they will also wear masks.  They will also switch the favors around so that the men will be confused.  She decides that their approach has been full of mocking, so they will mock them back.
The men utterly fall for this and each pledge love and service to the wrong woman.  They leave and shortly return without masks.  The women reveal that they have been tricked.  The scholars all try to laugh it off, but the women accuse them of breaking their oaths again and again and find them untrustworthy.
Word comes suddenly of the death of the princess's father.  She decides they must leave at once.  The king tries to stop them so that their love can proceed.  She tells him that she will not make such a huge decision as love at a moment's notice.  Instead, he must spend a year in a hermitage, after which, he can renew his suit.  The other men are also given a year away as a kind of penance.  Berowne notes that a year is too long for a play.

The structure of this play is very interesting, but ultimately self-defeating.  The idea of four men swearing off women and then quickly finding themselves in love is a good one.  The women are all compelling and strong.  The mischief is good.  It's predictable but fun, nonetheless. 
The weird part comes with the death announcement and penalties for the men.  It changes the tone rather dramatically.  It's as if you've gone to a romantic comedy and instead of the cute couple ending up together, she is maimed in an accident and he ends up in jail on charges of stalking.  The story isn't impossible, but it's very jarring. 
Not that it doesn't have possibilities.  The remake of 'Taming of the Shrew' as '10 Things I Hate About You' could serve as the template.  Put four college freshman roommates together making a vow and four college girls and you have the basic story.  All of the fixings for a good comedy are there.

This play isn't on the Great Books reading list and I'm not surprised by that.  I read the full thing but I also watched the movie version starring Kenneth Branagh (among others), which is right now on Netflix streaming (in the US at least).  The movie is not very good.  They cut the play down quite a bit and inserted various songs from the Gershwin, Porter, etc.  It works in bits but not in others.  The overall acting is, um, not great.  Nathan Lane is very good and that's about it.  Watch it as a curiosity, or not at all. 
From what I can tell, this is the only film version ever made.  Again, there is some good stuff there, but you'd have to cut the story mercilessly to get to it.  The language is lots of fun, though overall light.  I'm glad I read it but I can't honestly tell anyone else to run out and do so.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Laws (Book X) - Plato

This concerns only Book X from Plato's 'Laws'.

Book X begins with a discussion of blasphemy laws and how the men of Athens would convince outsiders that they are just.  If the outsiders don't believe in the gods, how could they believe they should be punished for speaking out against them.  This idea, that there must be some 'buy-in' from those judged by the law, is an important one.  The idea that there must be some consent from the governed, to borrow a phrase, is an idea that comes and goes and still can't be reliably counted on.  That Athenian men of nearly 2500 years ago thought it important is a key to understanding why we still read the ancient Greeks.

The first step, they agree, is to prove that the gods, do indeed, exist.  I wasn't very impressed with this effort.  The reasoning works like this:
  • Living things have souls.
  • Living things move around on their own.
  • Things that move around must have souls.
  • The greater the moving thing, the greater the soul.
  • The sun, moon, planets and stars are the greatest movers, so they must have the greatest souls.
And of course, those souls must be gods.  This sounds utterly bizarre to modern science.  I don't know that it would have been passable even back then.  ("Wait, the wind moves.  Does it have a soul?  What about water boiling in a pot?")  Still, credit should be given for the effort. 

I don't know much about 'Laws' as a full text but I'm curious about it.  Last year I felt like I gained quite a bit by reading all of Plato's 'Republic'.  I don't doubt that 'Laws' would also be of great benefit to read in it's entirety.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Comedies - Shakespeare

This post is primarily about the four Shakespearean comedies that were chosen for the Great Books reading plan.  The four were:
There are 13 plays that are normally listed as 'comedies' in the list of Shakespeare's plays.  In choosing these four, the planners of the list left off:
  • Two Gentleman of Verona
  • Love's Labor's Lost
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • The History of Troilus and Cressida (!)
  • All's Well that Ends Well
  • Measure for Measure
The most famous of these is 'Midsummer Night's Dream' and I'm not sure why it was left off.  It's more well known than any of the four that were chosen.  It's clearly a better play than 'Comedy of Errors' and arguably better than any of the other three. 
'Much Ado About Nothing' is better known now, but that's probably in large part due to the very successful movie version of it from the 1993 film.  Still, the play itself is great fun.  Other Shakespearean comedies also got film treatment in the 90's without reaching such fame.  Maybe the play itself has something special going for it.
I've read 'Merchant of Venice' before, but it was a long time ago.  The anti-Semitic angle is difficult today, but I don't know if it is as fully 'problematic' as 'Taming of the Shrew'.  My guess is that a modern director would finesse them both in the same ways.
The only other one that I've read before is 'Troilus and Cressida' (reviewed here).  (Notably, I've read the play but not seen it.)  I didn't remember that it is considered a comedy and looking back on it, I'm somewhat surprised.  The play itself is titled a history and it plays out more like a tragedy.  The ending is not really happy and the title couple doesn't end up together.  My favorite Shakespeare book, 'The Friendly Shakespeare' lists it as a 'problem' play, in large part because it doesn't fit neatly into the main categories.  I'm not bothered that it missed out on the Great Books list, though I did enjoy it more than the Chaucer version that did make the list.

Time permitting, I hope to see/read all of the Shakespeare plays this year.  I hope to have a more informed opinion of the comedies as a whole then.  As of now though, I don't really understand why these four were picked.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Taming of the Shrew - Shakespeare

The story in 'Taming of the Shrew' is pretty straightforward (once you get to it).  A wealthy man has two daughters.  The younger one, Bianca, is a much desired beauty.  The older one, Katherine, is wild and violent.  Many men want to marry the younger daughter but she will not be allowed to be wooed until the older one is married.
Two of the men who want to marry Bianca decide they must find someone to marry Katherine.  Enter Petruchio, drunk as a proverbial lord.  He is looking for a wife.  Well, more for a dowry than an actual wife.  When he hears of Katherine and her father's riches, he decides that she sounds like just the answer.
He tries to woo her and finds her just as wild as her reputation.  But eventually he wears her down.  (In the version I watched, she is physically exhausted from being chased hither and yon.  Plus, he had her arm twisted behind her back.)  Everyone is amazed at how quickly they have settled on a date.
They are wed, though Katherine is humiliated.  In fact, this is Petruchio's ploy.  He will keep throwing obstacles at her until she mellows.  He keeps her from eating.  He tempts her with fancy clothes and then destroys them.  Finally, he absurdly tells her that it is morning when it is the middle of the night.  When she disagrees, he starts to punish her again and lays out the directions plainly.  As long as she disagrees with him, things will go poorly for her.  But if she agrees, life will become easy.
The return to her family for Bianca's wedding.  The crowning moment is when Petruchio wagers with some of the other husbands that Katherine is not a shrew, but will come to them as soon as he calls.  The other wives, including Bianca, tell their husbands to wait, but Katherine drags them in and admonishes them for not treating their husbands like a king.

This must not be an easy play to put on today (to put it lightly!).  Stripped down to it's bare foundations, it's incredibly misogynistic.  Petruchio's treatment of Katherine is horrible and her speech at the end sounds like a staged hostage video.  As I was reading about the play, several sources went out of their way to say that it reads much more harshly than it stages.  The verbal jousting can certainly be harsh, but it can also be playful, if done in the right way.  Even Kate's final speech can be done in some kind of ironic manner, which will show that she has not been broken.
It can be tricky not to read too much into this play.  Shakespeare treated other women much better than he does Katherine.  Instead of treating her as a stand in for all women, and reading Petruchio's actions as a how-to manual, we have to remember that she is a specific character.  If she really is extremely out of control, then extreme measures will be called for to calm her.  (Though obviously, I won't endorse these methods.)

While watching this, I happened to think of the play 'Lysistrata'.  There, the women of Greece decide to handle their husbands by denying them sex until they stop fighting.  This has become something of a feminist classic.  Is it ok then, for wives to scheme against husbands but awful husbands to scheme against their wives?  Or is it always wrong for both of them?
I can't imagine trying to do anything like this against my wife and if one of my buddies told me of such a plan, I would be dead set against it.  Is the difference now that we see the marriage relationship so much more differently than they did in ancient Greece or Elizabethan England?

I watched the 1967 version which stars in Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.  Somehow in my classic movie watching, I have not seen either of them before.  Taylor is fantastic.  She is wild and passionate and vital (and kinda hot, to be honest).  Burton is also very good.  His Petruchio is larger than life and you can see hints of tenderness behind his ploys.
I would like to see some more performances.  The teen movie '10 Things I Hate About You' is based on 'Taming of the Shrew' and it does a very good job both with the basic story and in keeping the audience from hating the main characters.  There is also a 'Moonlighting' episode that recreates the story and I like that too.  In fact, the basic dynamic between Maddie and Dave is very similar to Kate and Petruchio.  Maddie is so full of sharp edges that she has trouble in relationships, while Dave is so larger-than-life gregarious that he is hard to trust.  (I miss that show.)

This is the last of the Shakespeare comedies in the Great Books plan.  I'll try to see some of the rest and write about them too.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Twelfth Night - Shakespeare

'Twelfth Night' opens with a lonely duke, Orsino.  He calls music 'the food of love' and wishes to overstuff himself in order to kill that love.  We quickly learn that he is in love with a Countess named Olivia but she won't love him back.
In the meantime, there has been a shipwreck.  Two survivors climb onto the beach and try to establish where they are.  One of them, Viola, asks if her brother has survived and is told that he hasn't.  She decides that since she is in a foreign place, she will disguise herself as a man and seek shelter with the Duke Orsino. 
Orsino brings the disguised Viola into his house and asks her to woo Olivia in his name.  She does so but (twist!), Olivia falls for Viola.  To make things more confusing, Viola's brother Sebastian has survived and also enters the town.  Olivia finds him and quickly marries him.  There is much confusion that is (fortunately!) all straightened out and we end up with two happy couples, Olivia and Sebastian; Viola and Count Orsino.

While all of this is happening, a group of rogues that live in the Countesses house are up to no good.  There we find Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheeck carousing to all hours of the night.  With the help of the maid and the clown, Feste, they get up to one hilarious scheme after the other. 
Their main target is Olivia's steward, a dour man named Malvolio.  Malvolio dreams of marrying the countess himself and they get him good.  They leave a note in her handwriting, praising him and wishing that he would wear yellow, cross-gartered stockings.  He does so and becomes incredibly foolish.  Eventually he finds out and, cursing everyone involved, walks out.

I don't think I've read or seen 'Twelfth Night' before. I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the downstairs goings on.  Between Belch and Aguecheek, Shakespeare has created a couple of wonderful drunken idiots.  They are highlighted by their counterpoint, Malvolio, who is ridiculously harsh and pompous.  (I would love to play that role myself!)  The 'upstairs' elements are fun too, and a perfectly fine love story, but they are overshadowed by the rest.
I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Books Read in January

I did a bunch of reading for the Great Books this past month, and very little outside of it.  Overall, I read through three of Plato's dialogues, parts of three of Aristotle's works and five different plays from Shakespeare.  There are worse ways to spend a month than with Plato, Aristotle and Shakespeare.
Otherwise, I think it was just two books:

Declare, by Tim Powers - This was a reread for me, but it's been so long since I read the original that it was all new to me.  This book blends together legends of djinns, spy games with Kim Philby and the final resting place of Noah's Ark.  All great stuff.

Consider Phlebas, by Iain M Banks - New to me, though it's from an author that I enjoy quite a bit.  This is part of a far future space opera, where human civilization has come to be known as 'The Culture'.  In this book, the Culture is fighting against a warrior species called the Idiran.  A super-sentient AI gets lost behind enemy lines and something of a race is on to recover it.  Banks does such a good job of creating a rich world with complicated people in it.  This is no exception.

That's pretty much it.