Tag Archives: theater

“Timon of Athens” by William Shakespeare

I recently saw this play performed on stage. Prior to that, I had no idea what this play was about, except that it probably had something to do with a guy named Timon who was from Athens. What I discovered was a really cool play which touched on themes that I could relate to. I decided to read the text and explore the nuances of the text.

To very briefly summarize this play, it is about a guy named Timon who was from Athens (surprised?) who was fortunate enough to have some degree of wealth. Timon was very generous and would hold lavish parties for his friend, give them expensive gift, and offer charity to those in need. But after a while, Timon found himself in financial trouble and sought the aid of his friends. It is an old but true cliché, that when you are down and out, you discover who your real friends are. Timon sadly discovers that his friends were false and just hung around to sponge off of him. Not a single person offers to help him. Disillusioned with humanity, he leaves society to live in the wild, certain that all people are solely motivated by greed and selfishness.

Early in the play, there is some foreshadowing of what will happen to Timon.

When Fortune in her shift and change of mood
Spurns down her late beloved. all his dependants
Which labored after him to the mountain’s top
Even on their hands and knees let him slip down,
Not one accompanying his declining foot.

(Act I: scene i)

After Timon’s flattering fake friends turn their back on him, he comes to the realization that humans are worse than animals. Animals would not use each other for material gain, or neglect each other when difficulties arise. This dark revelation affirms in his mind that humans are not to be trusted, and this loss of faith in mankind swiftly turns to a hatred of all humanity.

Timon will to the woods, where he shall find
The unkindliest beast more kinder than mankind.
The gods confound—hear me, you good gods all! —
The Athenians both within and out that wall!
And grant, as Timon grows, his hate may grow
To the whole human race of mankind, high and low!
Amen.

(Act IV: scene i)

While Timon is in the woods, he is accosted by some bandits who suspect he has some hidden treasure. Timon responds by pointing out that nature can provide all of a person’s needs, that money is not required in order to thrive.

Your greatest want is you want much of meat.
Within this mile break forth a hundred springs.
The oaks bear mast, the briers scarlet hips.
The bounteous housewife, Nature, on each bush
Lays her full mess before you. Want! Why want?

(Act IV: scene iii)

As I finished this play, I was reminded of the song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” And while I have had my share of experiences with fair weather friends, I am also fortunate enough to have close friends who have always been there for me in my time of need. For this I am grateful.

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Alice Cooper: Issue #3

AliceCooperComic_03

Last night I watched “Good to See You Again, Alice Cooper” at a friend’s house. The film documents the infamous 1973 Billion Dollar Babies tour and is interspersed with comedic shorts. Since I had issue 3 in my stack of things to be read, I couldn’t resist bumping it to the top of the pile.

The comic opens with scenes from a concert at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1975, which stirred memories of going to concerts in the 70’s, a much more Dionysian era.

In times past, this was your scene, your church, your glory. You drove a crowd into a frenzy, nightly. Then called them back to do it again and again. All carefully designed and planned, a delicate mix of the macabre and the theatrical… the dark, and the delightful… all while walking a line between what was real, and what was show… and what was both to a delicate, deliberate degree.

For me, this perfectly captures the experience of an Alice Cooper performance and what defines stage performance as art. It is the blending of the real and the imagined. You have actual individuals on a stage, and we then project our hopes and fears onto them based upon their actions (act being the root of the word). The fact that real people are before us allows us to suspend belief in a way that film can never quite accomplish. It’s why a Shakespeare play is always better than a film adaptation.

So far, I am enjoying this series. The Alice Cooper persona lends itself well to the graphic novel genre. As a bonus, here’s a clip from the film I watched last night. If you’re an Alice Cooper fan, you should check out the film. Rock on!

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“Coriolanus” by William Shakespeare: How Politicians Manipulate Public Opinion

Coriolanus

Today is Election Day, so I figured it would be appropriate to write about something political. I had seen this play performed this past summer and really enjoyed it. I found its themes of political opposition and the manipulation of public opinion to be relevant to modern American politics.

Before I get into the politics of this play, I figured I’d touch on a couple things that I feel are important. Firstly, while this is a tragedy, only one person dies: Coriolanus. I sort of expect a stage full of carnage in a good Shakespearean tragedy, but that’s not the case here. As far as his tragic flaw, his main flaw is his pride, a somewhat hackneyed flaw in my opinion, but it fits. He is also a poor communicator, which is a problem for anyone playing the political game. Finally, I have to mention his relationship to his mother. Freud would have a field day with this. He addresses his mother with reverence while calling his wife “woman.” Pleasing his mom seems to be Coriolanus’ chief motivator throughout the entire play. One could certainly write an entire post on this mother/son relationship, but I will leave that to someone else.

OK, now on to the politics.

I constantly marvel at people’s ability to forget the past and change their views based upon the latest media hype. I confess that I thought this was a modern issue and the result of diminished attention span; but it seems that this was the case in Shakespeare’s day also. As the scheming tribunes Brutus and Sicinius consider Coriolanus’ recent popularity and the likelihood of his election as consul, Sicinius points out how easy it is to sway public opinion.

Sicinius:

Doubt not
The commoners, for whom we stand, but they
Upon their ancient malice will forget
With the least cause these his new honours, which
That he will give them make I as little question
As he is proud to do’t.

(Act II, scene i)

The two then discuss how to manipulate the public’s opinion of Coriolanus by implying that he does not care about them, that he is full of pride and a tyrant, and that he will ultimately take away their freedoms. This is exactly the type of partisan hyperbole used by each political party to rally voters.

Brutus:

So it must fall out
To him or our authorities. For an end,
We must suggest the people in what hatred
He still hath held them; that to’s power he would
Have made them mules, silenced their pleaders and
Dispropertied their freedoms, holding them,
In human action and capacity,
Of no more soul nor fitness for the world
Than camels in the war, who have their provand
Only for bearing burdens, and sore blows
For sinking under them.

Sicinius:

This, as you say, suggested
At some time when his soaring insolence
Shall touch the people–which time shall not want,
If he be put upon ‘t; and that’s as easy
As to set dogs on sheep–will be his fire
To kindle their dry stubble; and their blaze
Shall darken him for ever.

(Act II, scene i)

When Coriolanus must face the populace and the accusations of the tribunes, his mother offers him some advice.

Volumina:

I prithee now, sweet son, as thou hast said
My praises made thee first a soldier, so,
To have my praise for this, perform a part
Thou hast not done before.

(Act III, scene ii)

Shakespeare draws a comparison between acting and politics. In both, one is on a stage, performing a part for the public. In fact, there is even a term for this, “Political Theater,” which is defined as actions by politicians intended to make a point rather than accomplish something meaningful.

In modern American politics, pitting the rich against the poor is common political practice. On one side, the rich are told they should have disdain for the poor, who are depicted as lazy and seeking only to live off the wealth which they worked hard for. Conversely, the poor are told that the rich are nothing but a bunch of greedy money-grabbers seeking to exploit them. It appears that this type of divide was also exploited by politicians in Shakespeare’s time to manipulate the public.

Sicinius:

Bid them all home; he’s gone, and we’ll no further.
The nobility are vex’d, whom we see have sided
In his behalf.

Brutus:

Now we have shown our power,
Let us seem humbler after it is done
Than when it was a-doing.

Sicinius:

Bid them home:
Say their great enemy is gone, and they
Stand in their ancient strength.

(Act IV, scene ii)

As is often the case, political games and craft have a tendency to backfire.

Menenius:

‘Tis true:
If he were putting to my house the brand
That should consume it, I have not the face
To say ‘Beseech you, cease.’ You have made fair hands,
You and your crafts! you have crafted fair!

Cominius:

You have brought
A trembling upon Rome, such as was never
So incapable of help.

Both Tribunes:

Say not we brought it.

(Act IV, scene vi)

As I read this, I could not help but think about the mess in the Middle East. For years the US has been involved in that conflict, offering support to whichever faction seems to be more aligned to our political stance. The results of this policy has been disastrous, to say the least. Yet, our political leaders continue to make the same mistakes and play the same political games.

As members of a democracy, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves on the issues that affect our society and the world around us, and to make decisions based upon our views. It is important that we do not fall victim to the manipulation of political factions who seek only to wrest control of power from the other side. Regardless of which political side you lean towards, you should avoid buying in to the propaganda that is shoveled our way by political action groups on either side.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post, and if you are an American citizen, go out and vote today.

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Alice Cooper: Issue #2

AliceCooperComic_02

Since I was a kid, Alice Cooper has been the soundtrack to my October nights, filling the air with the dark sounds of the macabre and the gothic. Tomorrow night, I will see him once again in concert, and to say I’m excited is quite the understatement. So to get myself in the proper state of mind, I decided to read the latest installment in the Alice Cooper graphic series.

The truth be told, I’m such a huge Alice fan that even if this series sucked I would still read it and like it, and while this new comic is not on par with Neil Gaiman’s Alice Cooper comic series, it is still good.

In this issue, Alice, the Nightmare Lord, strikes a deal with the bullied kid Robbie. Robbie, who had inadvertently bound the dark lord, promises to release Alice if he assists in getting back at the bully who torments him. While all this is transpiring, Lucius Black’s brother, Andronicus, is scheming to recapture the Nightmare Lord. Near the end of the issue, the threads of the tale begin to entwine together and we are left with a nice cliffhanger.

My favorite part of this issue is when Alice manifests to the bully. The surprised teen asks who Alice is, and Alice responds with the following.

Once upon a time, I could live rent free in that mind of yours, stealing your potential… rotting your brain with my special, signature raison d’etat… I stuck a stick of dynamite up rock n’ roll’s ass and pushed the art of the stage show out of the juke joints and the back rooms with morbid theatricality… along with macabre panache! I made the nightmares happen, and I thought it’d last forever.

Tomorrow night, I will once again experience the morbid theatricality and macabre panache which is an Alice Cooper concert. Thanks for stopping by, and may your Halloween be filled with thrills and chills!

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“Tartuffe” by Molière

Tartuffe

I read this play when I took my Survey of World Literature class as a freshman in college, and I don’t recall being overly impressed by it. But I knew it was one of those “important” works, so when I found out that a local theater troupe would be performing Tartuffe, I figured I would read it again before going to see it on stage. I have to confess that I found it much more entertaining this time around than I did as a college student.

Tartuffe is a hypocrite, someone who professes to be spiritual and holy, but is really just a scheister. He dupes Orgon, who is kind of gullible and hard to sympathize with, into promising him his young daughter Mariane for marriage and bequeathing him his worldly possessions. He then turns around and makes sexual advances on Orgon’s wife Elmire and when he gets caught, attempts to have them evicted from their home. To sum it up, Tartuffe is a total asshole with no redeeming qualities.

I view this play as a critique against the abuses of the church. In fact, there is a lot about Tartuffe that reminds me of modern televangelists. Tartuffe tries to justify his acceptance of Orgon’s estate by asserting that he is doing it for Orgon’s good and for the good of God.

No one who knows me, sir, can have the thought
That I am acting from a selfish motive.
The goods of this world have no charms for me;
I am not dazzled by their treacherous glamour;
And if I bring myself to take the gift
Which he insists on giving me, I do so,
To tell the truth, only because I fear
This whole estate may fall into bad hands,
And those to whom it comes may use it ill
And not employ it, as is my design,
For Heaven’s glory and my neighbours’ good.

(Act IV: scene i)

My favorite lines in this play occur when Elmire is playing along with Tartuffe’s advances while Orgon is hiding so he can see just how despicable Tartuffe really is. Tartuffe claims that a sin is not really a sin unless it becomes public knowledge.

In any case, your scruple’s easily
Removed. With me you’re sure of secrecy,
And there’s no harm unless a thing is known.
The public scandal is what brings offence,
And secret sinning is not sin at all.

(Act IV: scene v)

Overall, I found the play to be very witty and funny, and I anticipate that it will be even funnier when acted out on stage. I’m really looking forward to seeing it performed.

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“The Winter’s Tale” by William Shakespeare

WintersTaleThis seemed an appropriate play to read as we were plunged into sub-zero temperatures. It was the first time I read this play and I found it quite interesting. It is different from the other Shakespeare plays that I have read. For example, people die as in a tragedy, but there is also a marriage at the end, which is typical of a comedy. I did a quick Google search and found that this is deemed a “problem play” and that some people now label it as a romance instead of a comedy.

The other thing that struck me as strange in this play is the character Time, which for all intents and purposes is a chorus. I have not read all of Shakespeare’s plays (yet), but I have read a fair amount, and this is the first time that I have come across the use of a chorus.

The first part of the play seems to focus a lot on infidelity. Leontes is convinced that his wife, Hermione, is unfaithful and allows his jealousy to cloud his judgment. There is a great passage where Leontes obsesses over the imagined infidelity. In the passage, the word “play” means adultery, but also draws in images of theater and acting.

Gone already!
Inch-thick, knee-deep, o’er head and
ears a fork’d one!
Go, play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I
Play too, but so disgraced a part, whose issue
Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamour
Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play.

(Act I: scene ii)

I confess that the rest of the play puzzled me. It seemed as if there were hints about goddess worship and the cycles of the seasons, but they were not that strong. Anyway, I’ll point them out for the sake of discussion.

Perdita is referred to as a goddess-like in the play, which made me wonder if she was the “maiden” incarnation of the goddess.  She also has a passage in Act IV which draws on imagery of virginity, flowers, and Proserpina which could add support to this assumption.

Out, alas!
You’d be so lean, that blasts of January
Would blow you through and through.
Now, my fair’st friend,
I would I had some flowers o’ the spring that might
Become your time of day; and yours, and yours,
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing: O Proserpina,
For the flowers now, that frighted thou let’st fall
From Dis’s waggon! daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes
Or Cytherea’s breath; pale primroses
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bight Phoebus in his strength–a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one! O, these I lack,
To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend,
To strew him o’er and o’er!

(Act IV: scene iv)

In the same act and scene, there is bit of metatheatre that I found symbolic. Twelve peasant farmers appear in four groups of three, dressed as satyrs, and perform a dance, which I interpreted to be some type of planting and harvest ritual. The fact that the twelve are split evenly into four groups made me view them as representative of both the twelve months (grouped into four seasons) and as the twelve zodiac signs (grouped by element).

Servant

Master, there is three carters, three shepherds,
three neat-herds, three swine-herds, that have made
themselves all men of hair, they call themselves
Saltiers, and they have a dance which the wenches
say is a gallimaufry of gambols, because they are
not in’t; but they themselves are o’ the mind, if it
be not too rough for some that know little but
bowling, it will please plentifully.

Shepherd

Away! we’ll none on ‘t: here has been too much
homely foolery already. I know, sir, we weary you.

Polixenes

You weary those that refresh us: pray, let’s see
these four threes of herdsmen.

(Act IV; scene iv)

Overall, I liked the play, even though there are some issues with it and it is kind of difficult to grasp. I suspect that this is one of those plays that is better seen performed onstage than read from the page. Still, the story is interesting and there are some good plot twists. I just hope that the local Shakespeare troupe performs this one soon.

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“Alice Cooper: The Last Temptation – Book III” by Neil Gaiman

LastTemptation_IIIAll Hallow’s Eve. Hallowe’en. The first day of the death of the year. Folk beliefs about this day go back forever. On Hallowe’en, they say, the Gates of Hell swing wide, and the dead and the damned ride out from dusk until dawn. On Hallowe’en, they say, the dark spews out all the nightmares, all the pain, all the death; and the hurt and the hate take shape and form. That’s when they can hurt you—or so they say.

Those are the opening lines from the final installment of Gaiman’s graphic novel trilogy featuring Alice Cooper. The events in this issue all take place on Halloween, which is appropriate. Young Steven returns to the Theatre of the Real to face his inner demons and the ultimate temptation: to enjoy a life of eternal youth in exchange for sacrificing his “potential,” letting go of his dreams of what may be and what he could become.

This terrified me, truly. I’ve reached the point in my life where I can look back and see the mistakes I made, where I’ve sacrificed my dreams, and where I’ve failed to reach my potential. For a long time, this tormented me. I was plagued with the thoughts of what might have been. Thankfully, I’ve reached a place of acceptance where I realize, like Steven in this tale, that it is best to just live life, that pain and shortcomings are what form you as an individual. I no longer allow my regrets to torture me. I know that everything I have been through has brought me to this place, and it’s a good place.

At one point in the story, the showman (Alice) tells Steven: “When you become the thing that scares, there’s nothing to be scared of ever again.” This really struck me. It made me think about cycles of abuse. I suspect that most abusive individuals were often abused themselves. The deep fear that they must have experienced causes them to become the scary person that previously tormented them. It’s a sad but true statement.

To sum up—I loved this entire trilogy. It is nothing short of amazing. The artwork is great; the story is riveting; there are no flaws that I can see. One could say I’m biased because I love Alice Cooper and Neil Gaiman, but the truth is, I approached this series with very high expectations, and this tale surpassed those expectations. So I’ll conclude with another quote from Book III which alludes to Shakespeare and P. T. Barnum:

The show’s the thing. The show. And the show must go on.

Click here to read my review of Book I.

Click here to read my review of Book II.

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