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Tag: plays

Reading The Tempest by William Shakespeare #1

I have called the post # 1 because it is only some of what the play made me think about. This does not imply that there will be a second post, though there might. 
(Scene from Shakespeare’s Tempest by William Hogarth, circa 1735. There’s Miranda with Prospero, Caliban sneaking up on her, Ferdinand gazing at her and Ariel hovering above.)

The other day, wide awake at two in the morning and worrying about life, I decided I needed Shakespeare-therapy. Over the past year, I have come to realize there is no quick read like a Shakespeare and he actually has wisdom for every occasion – I kid not. Why The Tempest? It is one of my favourite Shakespeares. It is a curiously unclassifiable play – a blend of tragicomedy, romance and fantasy, perhaps even horror. It is lyrical and in some parts, truly poignant.
Summary: The play begins with a storm and a shipwreck. On the wrecked ship are Alonso, the King of Naples and his son Ferdinand, the prince, who are on their way to Italy after the wedding of Alonso’s daughter. They are accompanied by the rest of the wedding party, who all get stranded on different parts of a strange island.
Meanwhile, a magician called Prospero tells the story of how they came to be on the very same island to the audience and his daughter Miranda. Now this story is critical to the play, so Prospero commands your and Miranda’s full attention. She assures him she is listening, as Shakespeare throws your way cheekily self-indulgent lines like, “Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.”
Twelve years before the events of the play, Prospero and a three-year old Miranda were put to sea to die by his brother, who usurped his Dukedom. They survived and found exile on the small island.
Now Prospero has forced its only earthly inhabitant, a barely-human savage called Caliban, into slavery. He has imprisoned a cupidlike spirit called Ariel to serve him and it is with Ariel’s assistance that he raised the tempest that caused the ship to overturn. Prospero’s manipulative plan is to make Ferdinand fall in love with and marry Miranda, and to seek revenge on his brother and the King. Ultimately though, The Tempest becomes the story of Prospero’s redemption.
On reading Shakespeare: Shakespeare, I always feel, is wise about a lot of things without the guise of providing solutions. He shows you things as they are, promises and delivers entertainment, and leaves the job of interpretation all up to you. There was a time when I would only read Shakespearean plays in modern-day translation, or pick up copies with word keys, or often, be very doubtful of my opinions on the plays till I binged on academic articles and research papers. Those days are gone. I am the common people he staged his plays for, after all. An MA in Literature doesn’t make Shakespeare any more enjoyable.
On the play: Most obviously, The Tempest is a political play on colonization. Prospero is the great big power that has set out to do the world a favour, Caliban the savage monster he means to educate. Prospero enslaves Caliban, tries to civilize him, teaches him to speak and cannot fathom why, after all the help, Caliban loathes him. An old Lit professor had pointed this out once as a favourite dialogue –
Prospero to Caliban, “thou didst not, savage, know thine own meaning.”
Caliban’s retort, “You taught me language, and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse.”
Initially, Caliban earns your pity. When he sets himself free, you realize he has gained no insight from his twelve miserable years of captivity. He soon meets two shipwrecked drunkards and even as he celebrates his liberty from Prospero, he has slaved himself to someone new. Caliban has intelligence, no doubt, but no faculty to use it. Your pity for Caliban doesn’t take away from the fact that he lets himself be made into a fool. He also lacks conscience, which is essentially a social concept, as is evident in his violent advances on Miranda. And these never allow you to wholly sympathise with him. In a political interpretation, Miranda plays the role of a missionary, helpful and just, but in the end, misguided in her support. She never does care for Caliban, and forgets all her ties to the island once she falls for Ferdinand. The Tempest also talks about noble lies. Politics is deception, Shakespeare seems to say.
But political theory is hardly my turf. And it is only one way of looking at the play. Like with Lord of the Flies by William Golding, my favourite exercise with this allegory involves thinking of the whole cast of characters as conflicting aspects of the mind. The play is set on an island, a fabricated world that exists out of time and space. It may be set within the mind. Dissecting the psychological implications of the events is an unending fascination.
Prospero represents social rationale, a thinking citizen-mind. Ariel the spirit, is ambition, which serves Prospero’s motives only with the promise of one day flying free. Miranda is emotion, controlled by civil logic, until she meets Ferdinand, true love, who takes away Prospero’s hold on her. And Caliban is primal instinct. It yearns to be set free and you are tempted to let it have its freedom, but it is best held captive. Or rather, when social order is up against natural instinct, things will play out such that eventually somehow the former will triumph – a thought that is echoed in the ending of Lord of the Flies. A thing to note – towards the end, Prospero does recognize his responsibility for Caliban, though he still detests him, saying, “This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.” Is this Prospero reluctantly accepting that the savage is an inseparable part of him?
As for King Alonso and his party, they are mere external circumstance, who play no significant role in the events of the day, no matter how much hatred Prospero bears for them. Circumstance is largely influenced by our mind. And through Prospero’s redemption, you see that circumstance is more malleable than it appears. Finally, the external obstacles are resolved only after the internal dialogue reaches its satisfying conclusion.
A few of the quote-worthy lines:
Prospero on Ferdinand and Miranda – They are both in either’s powers; but this swift business
I must uneasy make, lest too light winning Make the prize light.
Miranda on Ferdinand – There’s nothing ill can dwell in such a temple:
If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
Good things will strive to dwell with’t.
Ferdinand on Miranda – Might I but through my prison once a day behold this maid: all corners else o’ the earth let liberty make use of; space enough have I in such a prison.
Miranda – I am a fool to weep at what I am glad of.

(Weird. For some reason I have only noted down lines about Ferdinand-and-Miranda. My new fondness for romance may be me making up for the all the love stories I hated for so many years. Anyhow, Part 2 will talk about Prospero’s critical concluding monologues. Right now, I will leave you with this little gem and go try to cure my insomnia.)
King Alonso on his inability to fall sleep – What, all so soon asleep! I wish mine eyes would, with themselves, shut up my thoughts.

The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts by Arthur Miller


About the book: The Crucible is a 1952 play by Arthur Miller. It is a tragedy, which draws a parallel between the Salem Witch trials (1692-93) and the McCarthy era (1950s). There are two film versions of the play, a 1957 movie with a screenplay adapted by Jean-Paul Sartre and a later Academy Award nominated 1996 version.


Summary: Set in the small town of Salem, Massachusetts, The Crucible is a fictionalization of the Salem Witch Hunt. When a group of teenage girls accuse the townspeople of witchcraft and association with the Devil, claiming to be their victims; the entire town falls apart in a mass hysteria. The superstition and paranoia combined with building guilt and vengefulness led to wrongful punishment of a number of people.


“The witch hunt was a long overdue opportunity for everyone so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under the cover of accusations against the victims. (…) Long-held hatreds of neighbours could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions. (…) One could cry witch against one’s neighbour and feel perfectly justified in the bargain. Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge.”
My Thoughts: The Crucible is a powerful book. The dialogue is gripping and moves along at a nice pace. The characters don’t start out strong, but they do develop along the way.
Not used to reading plays, I appreciated the little snippets of information about the ‘original characters’ and explanation of the setting, which the author provides between the scenes. But I enjoyed the book even more, when the author stopped interrupting the flow of the play with ‘background info’ and the dialogue stood strong on its own.
The book gives you a glimpse at a society of an entirely different time. Yet from the underlying themes of wrongdoing under the guise of religion, blame, vengeful lies and irrational fear, you can draw parallels to your own society in so many respects. It’s a chilling story; a tragedy much more moving than I could have imagined.
The review is a part of the Back to Classics Challenge hosted at Sarah Reads Too Much.

(Image source – http://www.playbillder.com/show/vip/Baton_Rouge_Magnet_High_School/2013/The_Crucible_5665)

Reading Shakespeare

“In nature’s infinite book of secrecy
a little I can read – Soothsayer”


That’s right. I am doing the unimaginable; reading a Shakespearean play. I don’t even know how I got here. It started when I read two German books in one night, desperately wanting to read something English next. And I have always wanted to read a real play. Two days alone at home (no one to disturb me, no errands to run) seems like the best time; the coffee and rain being added advantages.



So, here I am, reading the Antony & Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Why this play? Firstly, I wanted to read a tragedy and I wasn’t too keen on reading Romeo and Juliet, somehow. A few years ago my sister forced me to watch a documentary on Cleopatra, and I remember being completely fascinated, in spite of myself. There isn’t anything not fascinating about Roman history, anyway.


I haven’t ever read any plays and this isn’t particularly easy for a first-time-play-reader. But although finishing it seems like a terrifyingly daunting task, I do love what I am reading right now. I’ll get back to you once I’m done!

Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand


I don’t have the kind of interest in Ayn Rand or objectivism any more that will make me want to read any of her non-fiction books. I read all of her fiction novels in high school, other than this one play, that I actually didn’t know existed – along with the Virtue of Selfishness from her non-fiction. The play is called Night of January 16th.


Bjorn Faulkner, the heart of the gold industry of the world, meets a gruesome death by falling/jumping off the top of a building. Karen Andre, his secretary and mistress is on trial for his murder. The entire book is a courtroom play, with the two sides represented by Karen Andre and Bjorn Faulkner on the one hand; and Mrs. Faulkner and her father, John Graham Whitfield, a prominent banker, on the other.

To someone who hasn’t read Ayn Rand before, it might be hard to figure out Bjorn Faulkner – the hero whom we actually never get to meet. To those who have read Ayn Rand before, every character including Bjorn Faulkner is like every other character of hers.

But, this book isn’t about Bjorn Faulkner as the ideal man. In fact, Bjorn Faulkner is not the ideal man. The story is about Karen Andre – his secretary-mistress, and what she feels for her ideal man.

Ayn Rand’s characters are black and white – so, even as I was reading the prologue of the book, I knew the end. The end of the play is the verdict: IS Karen Andre guilty or not? And the entire play is written in a way to convince the reader that she is not. Though the factual evidence for and against seems to have been “approximately balanced”, the writing clearly suggests that Andre should end up not guilty. When the play is performed, however, it will be entirely dependent on the credibility of the actors. Which brings me to the reason I would want to watch this play, rather than read it: the jury gimmick.

Most people I know either like Ayn Rand or they don’t. There’s usually no halfway. I guess that’s the reason why the “jury gimmick” worked, during the performance of the play. The jury was actually picked out every time from the actual audience, and the verdict was in their hands. Depending on the outcome, guilty or not, the end of the play was performed. But, of course, whatever the verdict, Karen Andre came off looking stubbornly “not guilty”.

Actually this play would have worked for me much better, if it had a story preceding and following it – like Roark’s trial in The Fountainhead or Rearden’s in Atlas Shrugged. Also, I’m no expert, but I don’t think Rand pulled off the courtroom action all that well.

The play had its flaws, yes – but I still found it pretty okay. It was also the first play I have ever dared to read, and if not anything else, it did ensure that I’ll read other plays, now that I managed and liked reading one.