Archive for the ‘History’ Tag

Method Madness

Hamlet is not a very Danish name. Maurits, King or Prince of Denmark, would be more like it.

Anyway with Claudius, Polonius, Ophelia, and Horatio Shakespeare really fucked up his linguistic geography. This is Denmark, old boy! Not Verona!

And a guy named after a tiny village, doesn’t make much sense either.

Might as well have called him Boardwalk. Bo, for short.

Shakespeare borrowed a lot from the Greeks Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and their treatment of the Oresteia, but Hamlet was no Orestes. Just like in a different context the Wizard’s Dorothy is no Alice in Wonderland, any more than Dan Quayle was John F. Kennedy by Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s stern yardstick.

And I know this is blasphemy but as story lines go Hamlet is a terrible play, neither head nor tail, for a normal spectator at least to follow, or else an endlessly convoluted plot with the dark Danish Prince stricken with grief, going mad, suicidal or simply cunningly paranoid. If not clarity, beauty only in its exquisite language. But even something that is said beautifully must make sense to someone like me.

Here’s the thing as Directors go, it’s dramatically very hard to demonstrate someone apparently normal, slowly going potty. It’s easier to show someone normal conniving his revenge, by faking he’s going potty. But what then is totally incongruous is his doubt about what he should do, commit suicide or not, murder or not, how and when, staging one thing, then the other, with whose help etc etc. For if there’s one thing true in this world or any other, highly motivated and morally ‘just’ counter-conspirators by temperament cannot and will never be pussy-footers or procrastinators. And that’s exactly what Hamlet’s made out to be.

And even Laurence Olivier’s steeply abbreviated cinematic version unable to cut all the fat or for that matter pass any muster. A terrible movie that refuses to fascinate and hypnotise, delivered around a dozen classic one-liners everyone knows by now. But no number of grave diggers, hip friends and ghosts, ooh, aah, woe, the fleet, the fleet…ah yes the completely redundant fleet, making this thing work.

A psychological play avant-la-lettre, dealing with moral and mental illness at the same time? Don’t you believe it, this is theatre for theatricality’s sake, sustained by overly reverent Shakespeare worship.

Growing prematurely bald himself, Hamlet could easily have looked up at the sky, sunk on one knee, stroke an even balder skull, and sigh: Toupée or no Toupée, that is the question! And be just as credible.

  1. And what’s this Laurence bit, Larry? It’s Laurent old boy, if you want to go French all the way, and with your Norman Olivier, instead of Oliver. Laurence’s a girl’s name, so be a good sod and from eternity…  change it back to Lawrence, old man. I mean, we did win at Agincourt, didn’t we? And don’t you remember the Hank Cinq you did?  (Henry V)

 

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Kafka Is Dorothy

Kafka’s is the art of comic exasperation deploying absurd even paranoid pseudo logic, labyrinthine insurance company and regulatory double-thought and dead-end speak, at one point probably convincing Derrida and the rest of deconstructionists, to become plumbers.

 

Of course, calling officials, their projects and indirectly the Government itself the Arrangement, says a lot about Kafka’s own state of mind. (Personally, I think the Deranged is more like it!), but he still created world literature out of the texts that as an insurance lawyer and later a Workman’s Compensation Board verifier, engulfed him. He imitated the structures of treacherously simplistic but circular language so prevalent in his daily work. Additionally, the endless incompetence and deliberate deception on the part of both the authorities and the public constantly placed him smack in the middle of one contention or another. This triggered his Walter Mitty-like imagination out of self-defence, his day-dreaming both escape and a distancing from recurrent nightmares, off-setting them and other health problems while preserving his sanity.

 

The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy heaven. This is beyond a doubt, but doesn’t prove anything against heaven, since heaven means, precisely, the impossibility of crows!’ is a famous example of a statement of breath-taking incongruity. It only makes one laugh, and even saying the absence of crows wouldn’t make it much clearer, only a dyslexic atheist perhaps debating the impossibility… of dogs instead of gods, but in the case at hand there could merely be a problem of translation. Anyway, the whole thing a bit like saying a statement by a person doesn’t make sense, because the man is mute. Also a non sequitur, what?

 

Yes, Kafka was a great tragicomic figure, one for whom in the end even a fire hydrant represented some sort of totalitarian threat. His humour all part of that self-defence, as was exaggeration. For I visited the castle in Prague; it’s an innocent enough structure, housing contemporary government offices, but as it’s located on a hill overlooking the Moldau, in his dreamy eyes exercising an authority far beyond its real scope. Yes, the Prague Castle is as innocent as one on a medieval Spanish hill top, in particular those high coastal fortifications and watch towers in Andalusia, constructed to keep exactly who (?) out, as the invaders were and had been… the Moors themselves!? Part of a paranoiac ‘arrangement’, in other words, the Moors ultimately getting defeated in the interior of the Iberian peninsula, as was to be expected, and by the Christian Kings, not by wily Barbary Coast pirates or some other imaginary naval force. So that these castles were not what they were cracked up to be, more part of someone’s fantasy, as in the case of Kafka.

 

Shades of combatting windmills then, and Don Quijote. Taken in mostly by the symbolism of the Prague Castle, Kafka did set out to unmask that menacing old fool behind the curtain, much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, at the end of the day both lodging victory. For Kafka is not only Don Quijote, Kafka is Dorothy, but a much better writer than she!

Download Anthony Steyning’s splendid, new E-novel: A Kiss by the Clowns

 

           

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