Tag Archives: beauty

“Richard III” by William Shakespeare: Deformity and Evil

To really understand this play, you must have a basic understanding of the concept of the great chain of being.

For Medieval and Renaissance thinkers, humans occupied a unique position on the chain of being, straddling the world of spiritual beings and the world of physical creation. Humans were thought to possess divine powers such as reason, love, and imagination. Like angels, humans were spiritual beings, but unlike angels, human souls were “knotted” to a physical body. As such, they were subject to passions and physical sensations—pain, hunger, thirst, sexual desire—just like other animals lower on the chain of being. They also possessed the powers of reproduction unlike the minerals and rocks lowest on the chain of being. Humans had a particularly difficult position, balancing the divine and the animalistic parts of their nature. For instance, an angel is only capable of intellectual sin such as pride (as evidenced by Lucifer’s fall from heaven in Christian belief). Humans, however, were capable of both intellectual sin and physical sins such as lust and gluttony if they let their animal appetites overrule their divine reason.

(Source: Wikipedia)

To emphasize the importance of this concept, Shakespeare uses the word “knot” extensively throughout the text, symbolizing things from marriage to physical form. And just as Shakespeare and other Renaissance thinkers believed in the correspondence between the worldly and the divine realms, they also believed that the physical and the spiritual aspects of an individual were also knotted together.

Richard is a despicable character who seems to lack any redeeming qualities. He revels in his depravity and it is impossible to feel any sense of empathy for this person who is presented as the English equivalent of a Caligula. But what I find the most interesting is that Shakespeare establishes a clear connection between Richard’s physical deformities and his evil nature. In fact, during Richard’s opening soliloquy, the connection is immediately established.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.

(Act I: scene i)

We can contrast this with a description of Edward, whose physical beauty reflects the nobler qualities of a human being.

Hath she forgot already that brave prince,
Edward, her lord, whom I, some three months since,
Stabb’d in my angry mood at Tewksbury?
A sweeter and a lovelier gentleman,
Framed in the prodigality of nature,
Young, valiant, wise, and, no doubt, right royal,
The spacious world cannot again afford
And will she yet debase her eyes on me,
That cropp’d the golden prime of this sweet prince,
And made her widow to a woeful bed?

(Act I: scene ii)

And again, Shakespeare reiterates that an individual’s face, or physical expression, is a direct reflection of what that person is like inside, and the thoughts and feelings that the person has within.

I think there’s never a man in Christendom
That can less hide his love or hate than he;
For by his face straight shall you know his heart.

(Act III: scene iv)

In our modern society, we want to tell ourselves that we do not judge others by their appearances, when in actuality, we still do. Studies have shown that individuals are considered more trustworthy if they have a nicer appearance. And there is the whole issue of judging blacks and people who look Arabic strictly upon how they look. We are not going to change this part of our collective being overnight, but we need to acknowledge this tendency and work toward changing it.

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“Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

"The Kiss" by Gustave Klimt

“The Kiss” by Gustave Klimt

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?—

See the mountains kiss high heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?

Since it’s Valentine’s Day today, I figured a love poem would be appropriate for today’s post, and what better than one from the romantic Shelley.

As is typical with the English Romantic poets, Shelley looks to Nature for metaphors to express his love. In the first stanza, he cites the interconnectedness of things in Nature, as well as duality in the natural world, as the reason why his spirit longs for the connection with the woman of his desire. And the loving connection between two people is not just something natural; for Shelley, it is something divine and spiritual. The wholeness which is attained through the passionate connection with your significant other is something that transcends this world and elevates us spiritually.

In the second stanza, we get a sense that all the beauty that we perceive in Nature is only a reflection of human love. And this begs an interesting question: If a person never experienced the joy and beauty of love, would that person be able to recognize beauty in the world around? It reminds me of the lyrics from one of my favorite George Harrison songs:

Some things take so long
But how do I explain
When not too many people
Can see we’re all the same
And because of all their tears
Their eyes can’t hope to see
The beauty that surrounds them
Isn’t it a pity

(from “Isn’t It a Pity”)

Myself, I lean toward the romantic philosophy here. I think that love helps us to see beauty in the world around us, and likewise, the beauty in Nature reminds us of the joy of sharing a deep connection with another person.

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“A Winter Eden” by Robert Frost

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.

This poem is about the place of winter in the cycle of the seasons, and how winter symbolizes the point in the cycle of life that marks the transition to rebirth.

We generally imagine Eden as a lush green paradise; but here, Frost presents us with a version of Eden that is stark white, lacking in rich verdure. But as one looks closer, the seeds of life become apparent. Images of buds and berries abound, all symbols of rebirth.

I had to look up what conies are, and learned that they are rabbits. This immediately reinforced the rebirth imagery for me, since rabbits are often used as symbols for birth and fertility, and associated with spring.

I suppose it is no coincidence that I read this poem after listening to a guided meditation about rebirth today. As we are now officially in winter and moving toward the end of a challenging year, I look forward to a symbolic rebirth in the spring. In the meantime, I will nurture the seeds of light and enjoy the beauty of winter.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you have a blessed holiday season.

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“Sonnet 24: Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d” by William Shakespeare

Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter

Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur’d lies;
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

I read this sonnet twice this morning and really connected with it.

The first thing that struck me was the contrast between visual art as expressed through painting and literary art as expressed through poetry. While Shakespeare acknowledges the virtue of painting, he feels that it does not adequately capture and express beauty the way poetry does, since poetry uses internal images to convey beauty. Essentially, a poet paints with words, and the mind is the canvass on which he paints. As someone who lacks even the most rudimentary drawing skills, I find this inspiring, that my words could conjure images as clear and as moving as any painter.

The other thing that resonated with me was the use of eyes as a metaphor for windows to the soul. It’s a phrase that has become somewhat hackneyed over the years, but it is still true. When you look deeply into a person’s eyes, you really do tap into the essence of who that person is. When two people look each other in the eye, a connection is made on an internal level, especially when that gaze is accompanied by feelings of love.

I hope you enjoyed this poem as much as I did, and as always, feel free to share your comments.

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Haunted Horror Tribute #22

hauntedhorror_22

I picked this up recently, figuring it would be fun to read and get me in the Halloween mood. It looked like something that was inspired by the old horror comics I read as a kid, but I was surprised to discover that it is actually a compilation of vignettes scanned and reprinted from the classic 1950’s horror comics. So this is NOT just an attempt to recapture the essence of the genre, this contains actual reprints of the original 1950’s tales. It’s all here—the vintage artwork, the cheesy narration, everything that I remember about these publications.

The collection is a nice size, containing eight tales of terror.

  • Robot Woman: The opening tale reminded me of “The Stepford Wives.” It explores the dark side of our culture’s obsession with physical beauty, while at the same time offering a critique of the 1950’s view of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be.
  • Chef’s Delight: This is a story that addresses domestic violence, an issue that sadly still plagues our society today. In the end, though, the wife gets her revenge on her abusive husband.
  • Shadows of the Tomb: This is a story about a man who murders his wife to claim her inheritance. But in a twist reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, the wife is not really dead and exacts her revenge.
  • Guest of the Ghouls: This tale uses ghouls as a metaphor for individuals who violate the dead, who are like vultures feeding off the losses of the deceased. There is a great quote that warrants sharing: “We unburied the dead while we were living and stole what we wanted! You have robbed the dead of their only identity after death — their tombstones!”
  • I Killed Mary: Interesting vignette about a nerdy, dorky outcast. There was a scene about what was considered to be appropriate dinner table talk which I found to be a critique of the overly structured family life of the 50’s.
  • The Haunter: A piece about a greedy man who tries to scare his uncle to death in order to get his money.
  • The Choker: Probably my favorite in the collection. This is a very creative tale about a con job where a woman marries a man to get his money, then she and her lover kill the husband and stage it as a suicide. The brilliance of this piece is that it is written from the perspective of a necklace that the husband had given to the wife.
  • Night of Terror: The final story is about a man who stages a scenario intended to scare his wife so that he can prove himself to be brave in the face of danger, but as you can imagine, things go awry.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I am seriously considering getting more issues in the future. It is more than just a nostalgia piece; it’s a preservation of an artistic and literary genre that was a reflection of the anxiety, fear, and growing social tension that would later erupt into revolution in the 1960s. Highly recommended, even if you are not a horror buff.

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“Beyond the Wall” by Edward Abbey

BeyondWall

I picked this book up while visiting The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. I was introduced to the writings of Edward Abbey in college when I took a class on environmental literature. We covered Desert Solitaire in the class, and I also read The Monkey Wrench Gang for my independent project. Both books made a lasting impression on me.

This book is a compilation of ten essays that Abbey wrote about his experiences in the wild, the area he considers to be beyond the wall of controlled civilization. This is the area that Abbey considers to be the real world, where you can discover who you truly are.

Beyond the wall of the unreal city, beyond the security fences topped with barbed wire and razor wire, beyond the asphalt belting of the superhighways, beyond the cemented banksides of our temporarily stopped and mutilated rivers, beyond the rage of lies that poisons the air, there is another world waiting for you. It is the old true world of the deserts, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the shores, the open plains. Go there. Be there. Walk gently and quietly deep within it. And then—

(p. xvi)

Like Abbey, I love to hike, and he points out what it is about hiking which is so amazing: it is an authentic and spiritual experience.

Why do I do this? (My feet hurt.)Why? Well, it’s the need, I guess, for some sort of authentic experience. (My hip joint hurts.) As opposed to the merely synthetic experience of books, movies, TV, regular urban living. (My neck hurts.) To meet my God, my Maker once again, face to face, beneath my feet, beyond my arms, above my head.

(p. 14)

I firmly believe that the root of our environmental problems is human overpopulation, and Abbey shares this sentiment in very strong terms.

To aid and abet in the destruction of a single species or in the extermination of a single tribe is to commit a crime against God, a mortal sin against Mother Nature. Better by far to sacrifice in some degree the interests in mechanical civilization, curtail our gluttonous appetite for things, ever more things, learn to moderate our needs, and most important, and not difficult, learn to control, limit and gradually reduce our human numbers. We humans swarm over the planet like a plague of locusts, multiplying and devouring. There is no justice, sense of decency in this mindless global breeding spree, this obscene anthropoid fecundity, this industrialized mass production of babies and bodies, ever more bodies and babies. The man-centered view of the world is anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, antinature, antilife and—antihuman.

(p. 40)

In Desert Solitaire, Abbey criticizes the development of access roads in wilderness areas so that anyone can visit these remote “natural” settings. He reiterates these thoughts in Beyond the Wall, asserting that once an area is made accessible, it is no longer the same and loses its magical essence.

Today the old North Wash trail road is partly submerged by the reservoir, the rest obliterated. The state has ripped and blasted and laid asphalt highway through and around the area to link the new tin bridges with the outside world. The river is gone, the ferry is gone, Dandy Crossing is gone. Most of the formerly primitive road from Blanding west has been improved beyond recognition. All of this, the engineers and politicians and bankers will tell you, makes the region easily accessible for everybody, no matter how fat, feeble or flaccid. That is a lie.

It is a lie. For those who go there now, smooth, comfortable, quick and easy, sliding through as slick as grease, will never see what we saw. They will never feel what we felt. They will never know what we knew, or understand what we cannot forget.

(p. 67)

I feel that as a global society, we are getting more and more distracted by the trappings of modern technology, and we are losing our connection to the wonders, beauty, and mystery which is our world. There is so much still out there, waiting to inspire us. With that, I want to close this post with one more quote about the ability of our amazing planet to stretch the boundaries of our consciousness and our imagination.

What can I say except confess that I have seen but little of the real North, and of that little understood less. The planet is bigger than we ever imagined. The world is colder, more ancient, more strange and more mysterious than we had dreamed. And we puny human creatures with our many tools and toys and fears and hopes make only one small leaf on the great efflorescing tree of life.

Too much. No equation however organic, no prose however royally purple, can bracket our world within the boundaries of mind.

(p. 203)

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“Sonnet 21: So is it not with me as with that Muse” by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare

So is it not with me as with that Muse
Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare,
With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O, let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fix’d in heaven’s air:
Let them say more than like of hearsay well;
I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

In this sonnet, Shakespeare is comparing himself to a rival poet. The rival is described as being false with his words, embellishing his verse in such a way that what he is describing appears more beautiful than it actually is. By contrast, Shakespeare seeks to “truly write,” to capture the essence of the beauty he sees and accurately portray that beauty through his words.

So this begs an important question: To whom or to what is this sonnet addressed? The answer is not clear, but there are a couple possibilities.

First, since this poem falls into the “fair youth” category, the sonnet may refer to the young man. It is possible that the rival poet was expressing an interest in the fair youth and composed grandiloquent and ornamented poetry as a way to win the youth’s affection. This would certainly have stirred a bit of jealousy in Shakespeare who would have responded by differentiating himself from his rival. If this is the case, then the closing line implies that Shakespeare is praising the youth’s beauty not for selfish gains or to attempt to “win him over,” but merely to honestly convey the beauty he sees within the youth.

The second possibility is that the subject is his poetry, that Shakespeare is in essence writing a poem about his poems. What would be the reason for Shakespeare to compose poetry? He would be claiming it is strictly to express the beauty that he sees in the world around him. Contrast this to his rival. It could be argued based upon the closing line that Shakespeare’s rival composes the embellished poems strictly to sell them. In other words, Shakespeare is creating art for the sake of art, whereas his rival is creating art solely for capital gain.

As with much of Shakespeare’s work, I think that we have a double-entendre here. My personal feeling is that the poem encompasses both interpretations. I must confess, I am ever in awe of Shakespeare’s artistic genius.

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