Wednesday, 31 December 2014

PLAY ON! January - Ancient Plays

January is approaching. It's time to start our play reading challenge. The challenge for January is Ancient Plays.

When we say Ancient, it means anything before the printing press begun. So, Old Greeks and Romans are very welcome. Apart from those two obvious categories, if you happen to know Ancient plays from other parts of the world (Chinese or Japanese, for instance) they are welcome as well, provided they are written for plays, not epic or narrative poems.

The Greek loved to write trilogies. It was long before The Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games, but they just knew how to make a good show. So if you happen to challenge yourself with the whole 3 plays in Oresteia or Oedipus cycle, that would be awesome. Unfortunately, we don't have many nowadays, most have been lost through age and time.

I have posted a linky below for us to share with others our reviews of the plays that we read. Please insert the play author, play title, your name, and the title of your blog, with a link to your review. (e.g.: Sophocles - Oedipus Rex (Listra@Half-Filled Attic))

And, don't be shy to share your reading experience in social media, using the #PlayOn hashtag.

Let's Play!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Henry V: The Sun Unclouded

Prince Hal had become a new king when we left him in Henry IV, part II. Now it seemed that the new king gained popularity (in a good sense, not the old Shakespearean one) among his subjects. Remember when he said he'd 'throw off his loose behaviour' and 'falsify men's hope'? He did it. Everybody wondered how the king, who had been well-known as a good-for-nothing brat, could change into such a good and wise king in so short a time. But His Majesty's wisdom is about to be put to the test.

The clergy and the nobles were pushing him to "reclaim" his title in France. Henry actually had a (weak) claim over the Kingdom of France, which was explained through a long genealogical tree. Assured that he was rightful in his claim, Henry decided to take over France.

The ambassador of France came into the court, with a mock gift from the Dauphin - heir apparent of France. This gesture was definitely meant to start a war. Henry told his people to get ready for France.

Meanwhile, Falstaff died. That's it. End of story. His friends, including Pistol and Bardolph, joined the army. They didn't really mean to fight for the king, of course, they tried to get some extras along the way, stealing from people in an already difficult situation.

The king caught 3 of his "best friends" red-handed, trying to kill him for "foreign gold". Henry was so shocked that the men he trusted could do such a thing to him. (Maybe he was never really wise in choosing friends.) The traitors executed, he departed shortly to France.

Jamie Parker as Henry. Have I told you that he's my favourite
actor to play the part?
He won the Battle of Harfleur, and march on towards Calais. France began to consider Henry as a real threat. However, the Dauphin still felt that Harry was just a petty king who loved to have fun. France sent a messenger to Harry asking about his ransom. (It's an old practice, that when you are held a prisoner you must pay a ransom for your release, much like a kidnapped kid. Seriously.)

In the night, while the French bet on the numbers of Englishmen they would kill, and debate upon horses and armours, Harry disguised himself in the night, and went around the camp to see his soldiers. He also meditated upon the nature of being king, and as the morning approached, he prayed that God might help his soldiers to be brave.

After a motivating lengthy speech (video above), and again, refusing to discuss his ransom with the herald of France, Henry and his army marched to battle. Surprisingly, they won. Henry refused any celebration, for he believed it was God who fought for him, and the credit must come to Him and Him alone.

France agreed to discuss the claim. Henry was about to be next in line for the throne of France, and he was to marry the king's daughter, Katharine. Interestingly, although Katharine was promised to him, Harry still tried to woo her all the same. It seemed that he really liked her, after all. Well, apart fromt he comedy, the scene pretty much showed that Harry was an awkward lover, which is cute, by the way.

Happy ending.


It doesn't sound exciting, is it? Well, the exciting parts are hardly in the main plot. The funny ones are Fluellen and Pistol, the heroic one is Henry, not in a big gesture, but in small small things that he does or says.

Henry V is a comedy, but it never ceases to make me sad. Firstly the character of Henry. He was never the stern, calm king that he tried to act throughout the play. There are moments when the "real" Henry came out, and those moments are priceless. But he was almost never alone, and when there were people, there's this feeling that he staged himself to fit into their expectation of a good king.

The king in all his glory before the Battle of Agincourt played by
(the more popular) Tom Hiddleston, which I also love.
Secondly, the Chorus. The function of the Chorus in Henry V is to build our expectation, and then destroy it. It really feels like history, you know, like when you read a history school book, and you read all these heroes that fought for your motherland, and they are praised so high that you start to wonder whether they were as blameless as their pictures in the books. The Chorus is that history book, the play is the reality.


Henry V is a lot of things. For one, it is an ending to a brilliant story about a boy's journey to maturity. It's also a great example of man's struggle to fulfill a role destined for him. It's about being human.

Read it, or at least, watch it. No review can do it justice. No doubt your reaction to it will very much depend upon your own life experiences, and your interpretation.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Henry IV Part II: The Boy Grew Up

It took me so log to write a review on Henry IV, part II, partly because I was lazy, partly because I was busy, and partly because it is the one I like the least in Shakespeare's first tetralogy. But the strongest reason why I haven't reviewed it for a long time is because I really don't know what to say about it.

Prince Hal, whom we left in Henry IV part I as a favourable son in the eyes of his father, came back to his former life of jests and fun and revelries. Falstaff, on the other hand, remained the same - old fat drunkard enjoying every bit of his life with jokes and petty crimes. However, something changed. Hal didn't have the same closeness he had once with Falstaff. In fact, they were rarely together. Another thing, he became somewhat more aware of his reputation as a prince - or let's say, more aware of what expected from his as a prince.

There was also an interesting character - Chief Justice. He was an embodiment of rigid law, and he was unafraid to confront both Falstaff and Prince Hal. He disliked Falstaff and attributed Hal's bad conduct to his influence (which is right to some degree).

It happened that one day Falstaff was busy having fun with a prostitute named Doll Tearsheet. Unbeknownst to him, Hal and Pointz was there within, listening when he began to speak abusively about them. When confronted, Falstaff again tried to make excuses, but Hal wasn't convinced.

Meanwhile, the king was sick, and now nearing his death, became more and more worried by his son's questionable conducts. When another rebellion arose, the King ordered his other son Prince John, to handle it. He succeeded with an unfair political stratagem, showing that (at least for me), he was no king material either.

Hal came before the king, only to find that he was terribly sick in his bed. Believing that his father was already dead, Hal too his crown and put it on his head. The king woke up, and scolded his son severely. Yet when Hal explained his reason for taking the crown, the king relaxed. He gave his son some advice, and finally, his blessing, shortly before he died in peace.

Falstaff, hearing that the king was dead, rushed to London. He believed that his friendship with Hal would earn him a safe haven in the new king's court. However, Hal, now King Henry V, rejected him and all his former friends. He gave Falstaff a small allowance, but threatened him with death punishment if he dared to come near him. Hal was determined to be a worthy king and to throw away his "former self".


Compared to the first part, Part 2 is rather dull, flat, and boring. I doesn't have enough Hal and Falstaff together. But in a way, it is necessary. Part two is the time when Hal starts to find himself. Maybe he distances himself from Falstaff, to be able to at last rejects him entirely.

I love the Chief Justice for his integrity and loyalty to what he knew was right. He didn't refrain from punishing Hal just because he was a prince. Later, when he became king, he didn't lose even one bit of that legal integrity.
I am assured, if I be measured rightly,
Your majesty hath no just cause to hate me.
Indeed he didn't. He challenged the new king to envision himself having a son like himself and imagining a person like the Chief Justice, bold enough to give the son a proper discipline. Hal was reasonable enough to see this, and ordered the man to keep his status and his responsibility.

I believe another person to talk about is Henry IV. Oh, he just loved his country. After reigning for a long time he didn't lose even one small part of that love he had for England when he decided to take the throne.

The sad thing about him is, he was still haunted by his past deeds.
God knows, my son,
By what by-paths and indirect crook'd ways
I met this crown; and I myself know well
How troublesome it sat upon my head.
But he assured Henry that the crown would sit surer on his head.

Well, what now, England?
Yet weep that Harry's dead; and so will I;
But Harry lives, that shall convert those tears
By number into hours of happiness.
Shall he? See you in Henry V.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Jane Eyre: Being Independent vs. Being Needed?

Jane Eyre is a re-read. I remember I have read it some years ago, I don't remember exactly when. When I was in high school I read a Japanese manga with references to it, so I think maybe around that time I decided to read the book.

Sadly, I forgot almost everything, except the ending. Upon watching the film, my memories were refreshed, but the film missed some scenes I knew was there. Then last month, I agreed to read it with Fanda.

And I failed to finish it before the end of the month.

(I believe I have forgotten how to write a book review. I don't know what to write at all.)

Being an unwanted orphan in her aunt's house, Jane suffered a lot as a child. She wasn't taught how to be pleasant, and even when she tried to please, her effort was never regarded. Maybe Nature and Nurture had both conspired to make her a frank, straight-forward, plain-speaking girl.

She was sent, at her aunt's request, to a school for girls, where her situation gradually got better. She was trained well to be a teacher, and after she taught there for some years, she left for "freedom". She advertised to be a governess, and she ended up in Thorfield, with a little French pupil called Adele, and a stern, somewhat harsh man called Edward Rochester.

The man was the owner of the house, and Jane's master. Both soon found that they were very much alike, and that they liked each other. They were both strange, alienated from the world around them. They both spoke in woven code of tales and gazes and smiles that others wouldn't be able to perceive. And so they claim from one another some sort of special bond of friendship, and before long, of love.

Not that fast.

Later it turns out that Mr. Rochester was not a bachelor after all, but a man married to a poor lunatic - as good as gone. However, lunacy doesn't absolve or cancel marriage bond, and as soon as Jane found this out, she went away from Thorfield, her job, her pupil, and her love.

Jane found settlements in the house of a clergyman, John Rivers, and his sisters, under a false name. However, he later found out Jane's true identity, with even more information that Jane's uncle had died, and left her a considerable sum of money. John Rivers and his sisters were actually Jane's cousins. Overjoyed, she shared her new-found riches with them equally.

After rejecting Rivers' marriage proposal, Jane mysteriously heard Rochester calling her name. She went back to Thorfield, but it was terribly burnt. Mr. Rochester's wife had set the house on fire, and then committed suicide. Mr. Rochester himself lost his hand and his sight in the incident, and now was plunged in despair.

However, Jane comforted him, and he proposed again. This time, there was no single bar to their marriage, and Jane accepted. The happy couple found delight in one another, and lived happily together.


Jane Eyre is a strange story. All along the novel, I found myself thinking, "What does this girl want anyway?" For one thing, she wanted independence. Being raised an orphan, she never had anything to decide for herself. She was always ordered around, she always had tasks, she always had prisons. When she left the school that had taught her so much, she said that she wanted to be free.

On the other side, she also wanted to be needed. She was always attracted to people who needed her. Adele, who was an orphan herself, who didn't have anybody else to taught her but Jane, the melancholy Mr Rochester, with all his secrets and peculiarities, without anybody else to understood him but Jane, and Mr. Rivers, who needed somebody to accompany him on his journey to India.

At first I thought it was rather a paradox. You can;t be free if you are attached to something, right? But then in Jane's case, her independence allowed her to choose her attachment. And that's the most important thing. Being free is not about being able to fly incessantly in the air, but to choose a place to rest.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Off the Shelves: I Puritani, Lovelace, and Athos

I know I should be reading Jane Eyre. I will. I promise. In fact, my ebook reader told me that I'm 2.7% through it. But something beautiful stands between me and Jane Eyre.

It is an opera: I Puritani. I Puritani is an Italian opera composed by Bellini, and it's a particular favourite of Queen Victoria. I heard she even watched it with her beloved Prince Albert. Opera sounds like a perfect date to me. Especially if it's as sweet as I Puritani.

Well, the opera is set during a tumultuous time in England's history. You can read the story of the end of the reign of Charles I. At that time, there were two sides in politics - the Royalists and the Puritans. The Royalists, as the name suggests, sided with the king. The Puritans were led by Cromwell. (To say that I know more about it would be a lie.)

So there's this young lady, Elvira, a daughter of a Puritan, who fell madly in love with Lord Arturo Talbot, a chevalier, and a Royalist. After all the difficulties in their relationship, her father finally agreed to marry her to Arturo despite the differences in their political preferences. Everybody's happy. Arturo sang a beautiful love song, saying how much he loved her, and how happy he was that they could be together. The feeling was mutual.

The path of true love, you know, wouldn't be that smooth. Right there, while preparing their wedding, Arturo met a woman who turned out to be Queen Henrietta of England. After her husband's execution, it seemed that she was next on the death row. Arturo, being a loyal subject, couldn't leave her to that fate. He vowed to save her.

Do not speak of her whom I adore; do not take away my courage. You shall be saved, oh unhappy woman, or I myself shall die. And my beloved maiden I shall invoke as I die. 

So away he went with the queen wearing the veil of Elvira. What can I say? Elvira, left at the altar, became mad. (If being mad makes you sing that beautifully, I don't think people would mind so much.)

Three months later, Arturo came home, still a fugitive. In the woods, he heard Elvira singing their love song, and he called her. No response. So he sang their song - the same tune, only different lyrics. The trick worked. She found him, confronted him, and the two were united.

After a threat of death and another singing episode, the opera ends joyfully.

See, I didn't plan to tell you the summary. You can watch full opera on YouTube and read the summary on Wikipedia. That's not the point of this post.

Puritans. Charles I. Chevaliers. Cromwell. Sad Queen. Those things bring only 2 names to my mind: Athos and Lovelace.

Twenty Years After, where the four musketeers went to England and witnessed the execution of the king, is set exactly during the same period. The same Queen, the same King. The character of Athos is pretty much the same with Arturo - a loyal Royalist who believes in aristocracy. Except, of course, Athos lacks the love story.

That's why we have Richard Lovelace. This time, it is a real person.

I fell in love with Lovelace for the first time when I read two lines of his poem in Sabatini's Captain Blood.

Stone walls do not a prison make
Nor Iron bars a cage.

But that's not all.

Richard Lovelace
Lovelace was a real Royalist who was imprisoned twice for his political views. During those imprisonment, he wrote the poems that would later be published after his death, among them "To Althea, from Prison" and "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars". Those poems have the same tone with the songs that Arturo sings.

The similarity between the two is their devotion to their country - to a cause greater than themselves. They devote their life to something grand, something important, and that's why their love stories are more interesting than Romeo and Juliet. In his poems, Lovelace expresses all his longing for his beloved, all his undying love and fidelity, but at the same time, confesses that what he is doing is more important than his own feelings towards her. Arturo is pretty much the same. And that's why he's amazing.

Thanks to I Puritani, I can't think about Lovelace without picturing the good-looking Juan Diego Florez who sings Arturo's aria, "A te, o cara" in the video below.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Pot of Poetry: Favourite Poets

This month, Classics Club poses an interesting topic.
Let’s talk about classic poetry! Have you got a favorite classic poem? Do you read poetry? Why or why not? // You could also feature a poet or a book of poetry, rather than a poem.
 I have to say that I'm in love with poetry. When I was little, I wrote my own poems, a hobby I can't let go of when I grow up. Why? Maybe I will never know.

When it comes to poets, "two loves I have" - Shakespeare and Keats. The two are very very different both in style and sense. Keats, as a Romantic poet, loves the melancholy of Nature. His poems flow like springs of water, or fall like leaves in autumn, or whisper like breeze before rain. The other is completely different. Shakespeare uses a lot of different rhetorical techniques to convey his thoughts. He's a drama king, and he knows how to get people's attention. His poems talk about so man different things, delivers huge variety of emotions and thoughts, and resonates with the deepest, most secret desires in human beings.

Shakespeare wrote mostly plays. Never mind they're poetic, they're still plays. It's quite a different thing. When using poetry for plays, Shakespeare pays attention to the dramatic nuance that poems have. That's why he wrote in metrical lines of iambic pentameter. But he also wrote poetry. They are not much, compared to his plays, but they are still worthily famous. If you are in love and don't know how to express your feeling, read his sonnets out loud. It helps.

Lately I sometimes find myself reciting this particular sonnet.

O! never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify,
As easy might I from my self depart
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love: if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again;
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe though in my nature reigned,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
   For nothing this wide universe I call,
   Save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all.

It sounds like a lame excuse, but that depends on what you are talking about. I am a fangirl, so when I fall in love with something, I let myself fall hard. However, there are several things I can't entirely leave. "That is my home of love." If I get distracted, if I fall in love with something entirely different, if it seems like I have a new obsession, in short, "if I have ranged/Like him that travels," I will return.

Oh, but the poem above is hardly my favourite sonnet of Shakespeare. In fact, I cannot choose my favourite. It so much depends upon my moods and feelings at a given moment.

Now let's talk about Keats. I don't remember the first time I read his poems. I remember though, long before I actually read his works, I read a quote in a Japanese manga, saying, "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard, are sweeter." The manga attributed it to Keats. Sadly, it was a translation, and believe me, it took me some time to finally get the authentic English version of that sentence.

My current favourite from Keats is some lines from his "Lines to Fanny." But that's not it. The pain and beauty of reading Keats is reading death in every line. You can't forget that he's dying when he wrote those. I can't read "Bright Star" or "Ode to Grecian Urn" without thinking of the poet's desire to stay still, to be "still steadfast, still unchangeable", to happily "forever piping songs forever new," to stop the clock and enjoy that one perfect moment forever. Whether it's "Ode to a Nightingale" or "To Autumn" or anything else that he wrote, it always gives me some sort of melancholic sadness. The worst part is, of course, I love him nonetheless.

So, Keats and Shakespeare - my two big loves. Do you have any?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Pot of Poetry: Poe's "To My Mother"

Edgar Allan Poe was a renowned poet and short-story writer. His expertise is frightening people out. I can only imagine the things that he's been through both physically and mentally.

This is true for most of his poems. However, some of his poems remind me that he's just a proper human being as the rest of us, a person with ordinary feelings, ordinary affections, ordinary capacity to love. I think the poem "To My Mother" is a perfect example of that.
Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
Therefore by that dear name I long have called you—
You who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you
In setting my Virginia's spirit free.
My mother—my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.
The first four lines is filial obligation. A child is expected to be "devotional" to their mothers, to treat them with love and respect. But Poe is not talking about his mother here. He's talking about his wife's mother. His deceased wife's mother.

He says that "death installed [the mother]/In setting [his wife's] spirit free." And that's the reason why that mother is "more than a mother" to him. Because he loved his wife so much, he extended that love to the people that his wife loved and the people that loved his wife.

He even has a reason to love his wife's mother more than his own mother because he his wife "was dearer to [his] soul than its soul-life." The fact that he loves her mother more than his mother is in parallel with the fact that he loves her more than he loves himself.

But it doesn't mean that the mother is just a representative of is wife, or replacement of his mother. He calls her My Mother. It's his own mother. His relationship with her is also personal, not just an in-law relationship.

The most touching part is that it's true. Poe was so close to his mother-in-law. He sent letters to her as much as one would to a mother. He might be the master of psychopathic stories but, a man is but a man.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Pot of Poetry: From Lines to Fanny, by John Keats

It's Romantic month in Classics Club. When I first heard it, I instantly thought of him - Keats. For me, he is the definition of Romantic Poetry. His poems give some sort of peace and serenity to its reader.

Some months ago I believe, I stumbled upon his lines to Fanny. The first three lines were okay, but the fourth..

Touch has a memory. O say, love, say,
What can I do to kill it and be free
In my old liberty?

The idea that you can remember a touch, that not your brain, but your skin, your muscles, can remember a touch, is lovely. It's not only your brain that refuses to forget, but all parts if you, all parts that have experienced love.

But the next few lines are even more lovely.

When every fair one that I saw was fair
Enough to catch me in but half a snare,
Not keep me there:

The 'half a snare' part is brilliant. There are those times when you see people and you are physically or mentally or in some other way attracted to them. But because you have someone else that you love, they don't 'keep you there'. You don't fall for those people because you can't forget the one that truly has your heart entrapped.

What I really love about this poem, or just Keats in general, is the simplicity of the language, of the wording. It makes it sound so sincere, so innocent. You don't smell deception. In some Renaissance poems, sometimes you smell flattery in the air, maybe because the words are complicated, or because the poet forces the rhyme. Sometimes (not always, but sometimes) the poems don't 'flow' naturally, and you think that the poet is trying to deceive you. But this poem doesn't feel that way.

I am not good at explaining poetry. I think I can never do Keats justice whenever I talk about him. I must stop now before I talk more nonsense.

If I can find the time before the end of the month, I'd like to share something from Poe, another poet that I like.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

PLAY ON: Play Challenge in 2015

Those who frequently visit my little blog can no doubt observe my passion for plays. Plays are interesting in so many ways. So in the first quarter of next year, I'd like to invite everybody to join with me in this play event/challenge.

So here are the rules:
  • The challenge will run for four months, beginning from January 2015.
  • Each month, there will be a monthly theme. 
  • A master post will be published shortly before the challenge begins.
  • Participants are expected to read and post a review each month, and post it in the upcoming Master Post.

We want to keep the theme wide enough in order to allow everybody huge options. So I'll just split plays into four categories based on the period when they were written and assign each period to each month.

January: Ancient Plays, including Greek and Roman plays
February: Renaissance Plays, including Shakespeare and his contemporaries
March: Post-Renaissance Plays, anything post Renaissance is allowed. Wilde and Shaw are very welcome
April: Freebie Plays, if you find any particular playwright interesting during the 3 months, feel free to read another of his/her plays. Or if you want to experiment with other genre or other playwright, you are in.

So, please sign in using the linky below with your name and the name of your blog (e.g. Listra - Half-Filled Attic). I'd be thrilled by your participation.

1599 - A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: Lovely Peek into the Bard's Creative Process

I have to admit it was not easy to pick up this book, sit down, and actually read. I ended up reading this book in several sittings, and even skimmed some of its tedious bits. Nevertheless, it is an interesting book, and interesting attempt to reconstruct Shakespeare's life.

"What had influenced Shakespeare in the most primal year of his creativity?" The book tries hard to answer that question, analyzing Shakespeare's own life and the restless England around him. Instead of going through all of Shakespeare's life, the author decided to focus on one particular year - the year when Shakespeare penned down Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet.

What I like about the book is its neatness in compiling facts into probable conclusion. Through the book, we go from the intrigue in Elizabeth's court into lowly actors and peasants lives. Through the book also, we find how England's political situation, press activity, and other little things might have affected Shakespeare and his works.

For me, notable, it is interesting to see how the publication of The Passionate Pilgrim might have affected As You Like It, and also might have brought back Marlowe's ghost into Shakespeare's mind.

Having said all the good things about the book, it's still necessary to note that the book is more about the year than about Shakespeare. Between Shakespeare and Shakespeare, the book mentions tons of history, including all the details about Spenser and Essex. Although the author argues that it is 'necessary', it is still too much for me.

Oh, and this book is part of my reading for Fanda's History Reading Challenge.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Henry IV Part I: Father and Son (and a Fat Friend)

This is the second play in Shakespeare's second tetralogy. I have reviewed Richard II somewhere in the blog. Now, to be honest, I kind of read the four plays in succession. So in fact, I have read them all since several months ago. However, being me, I can't write well when I feel too much, so I waited until my heart cools down. (In fact, I can't write about Henry V now for the same reason.)

We all have seen how Henry Bolingbroke feels guilty about 'compassing the crown' in Richard II. The feeling haunts him for the rest of his life. To be fair about it, he didn't take it because he was ambitious. From his point of view, it's more like saving-the-kingdom-from-a-bad-ruler kind of thing. However, it's still wrong. So this past deed torments him so much with guilt and fear.

Why fear? Well, once you overthrow a king other people will start thinking that they can overthrow you in order to be king. Further on, there are other people lurking about who have stronger claim to the throne than Henry IV himself. Politics.

The king's distress doesn't stop there. His oldest son, who would later become king, is a naughty rascal. He doesn't go to the court, but to the tavern. He is friend with robbers, drunkards, thieves, prostitutes, and what-not. Certainly not a good reputation for a king-to-be.

On the other hand, Northumberland (if you remember the guy who helped Henry to the crown) has an excellent son - Henry Percy a.k.a Hotspur. He has a reputation of an honorable and brave soldier. Henry IV's a bit jealous that Northumberland has such a son while his own is hopeless. This same young man later joins his father and uncle in a rebellion against the king. It is by no means surprising, because his brother-in-law has a claim to the crown stronger than that of Henry IV himself.

Jeremy Irons as Henry IV 
That's not the king's main source of fear. His fear comes from the resemblance between this young soldier's reputation and feats with his own when he took the crown. It's like dejavu, with you on the losing side. It's certainly not a beautiful thing to imagine. Being frustrated, he vents all his causes of distress to his oldest son, scolding him so bad (in private, thankfully), comparing him with the gallant Percy.

That's painful. So the prince vows to kill Percy and proves that he's not as bad as his father thinks. (He truly is not that bad, I mean, come on, he's Henry V. Oops, spoilers.)

Talking about the prince. (I start to smile and blush in front of my computer screen.)

Because kings and nobles love to name their kids after their own names and make everything confusing, I'll just call the prince as Prince Hal. After all, it's his popular name. His father wouldn't like it, but as long as he doesn't know, it's kinda okay. Besides, the name 'Prince Hal' sounds so sweet in the tongue of his best companion - Falstaff.

See, I have a high standard for friendship, and Falstaff doesn't reach even half of it. Nor does Pointz, Hal's other companion. But before I digress and leave my subject, let's go back to the prince.

To understand what the Prince thinks about himself, Shakespeare gives us one short soliloquy.
I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness:
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at.
So, when this loose behavior I throw off
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
Young little braggart. The prince sincerely believes that he's just playing around, concealing who he really is, and one day, when he becomes a king, he'd be amazing. (Which is true, by the way, but not the way that he thought it might be.) Instead of sounding like a great prince or soldier, he sounds like a teenage school boy, dreaming of greatness in days to come, but loitering around instead of working for it.

Another thing about the prince: his association. I'd be the first to admit that your companions affect you tremendously in ways you may not realize. Prince Hal's are the worst association you can get for a prince. But the worst of them is Falstaff.

Jamie Parker as Prince Hal, Roger Allam as Falstaff,
both are my favourites of the roles.

Falstaff is an old rogue with no personal standard of right or wrong. He himself is the law to himself, or, may I say, lawless. He doesn't care a scruple about lying, stealing, or swearing. A person like that is great for humor, not great for a friend. Apart from physical jokes that Hal practices on him, he also calls him a "white-bearded Satan". Seeing that he lies a lot, I'd prefer the word 'devil'.


So. The play is not really about the king, it's more about the prince. Or both.

What I like about the play is that it's so many different things. Although the previous Richard II is practically a tragedy, Henry IV onward are comedy. So we laugh a lot. And since Falstaff is a great comic character, I really have nothing to complain about the script. From King Henry's point of view, it's not so comical. He has rebellion, a difficult son, and past sin to deal with. But that's another beauty of the play.

For me, the most important thing in the play is the relationship between Hal and his father. It's lovely because it's so realistic. Putting aside the kingship and all its glory, they're just father and son. Have you ever known parents who constantly compare their children with other children, and children who are tired of being treated so? Or children being tired of their parents expectation of them? Or parents being frustrated by their children's behaviour? It's all in Henry IV.

I also think that Prince Hal resembles so many of youngsters in the world. Nothing's wrong with it, it's just, you know, being young. I'm not referring to his drinking habit or choice of companions, but his search for identity, his bragging about the future, his struggle with peer pressure and people's expectation.

Goodness, I love the play. And the Prince.


So, the play ends with Hotspur dead and the rebellion thwarted, Hal being Hal again after killing Percy. Falstaff takes the praises for killing Percy (crazy liar!). Everybody's happy(?). It's a comedy after all. But Our story hasn't ended.

See you in Henry IV Part II.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Scaramouche: All the World's a Stage, and He is Scaramouche

When I first took up the book Scaramouche, I was expecting something like Monte Cristo or at least Captain Blood, with far far away adventure and a ship or two. Instead, I got French Revolution.

Andre-Louis Moreau was an ordinary lawyer under the care and provision of his godfather, Quintin de Kercadiou, Lord of Gavrillac. He didn't really care about politics, or about the world in general, despite his appetite for books and philosophy. However, everything changed when he met first hand, for the first time, the ugly face of injustice.

Andre-Louis had a friend, with quite a different opinion from him, named Philippe de Vilmorin. He had keen eyes for injustice and zeal for change and revolution. He, like many other in that era, particularly disliked the Privileged few, the aristocrats. One morning, Philippe went to Andre-Louis' place, asking him for help. A peasant had been shot to death for hunting in Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr's property, and he left a poor family. Philippe wanted the Marquis to at least take care of that family. But because the Marquis had a reputation of heartlessness, Philippe expected Andre-Louis' godfather to ask it of his friend.

The business ended badly. The young man was provoked into a duel, and, being a seminary student and unskilled in fencing, he died in the hand of Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr.

That's where the story starts. Andre-Louis stubbornly demanded justice, and being turned away by the legal sense of it, he sought justice elsewhere. Like an Antony, he spoke to the people with Philippe's voice, regardless his own belief in politics, and swore chaos and destruction in his heart for the Privileged, his friend's murderer among them.

Being an activist is not a small matter. He ended up being hunted and had to change his identity. He joined a band of travelling actors, took the name Scaramouche, and disappeared. He later learned fencing, and led a school. Later on, he went back to politics, again in the hope of bringing de La Tour d'Azyr to justice.

Let me tell this plainly. This book is not about the even arms of justice. It's not like Monte Cristo where justice was served brilliantly (at least from Dantes' point of view), or Captain Blood, where people got what they deserved (again, from his point of view). Rather, it's about men's search for it, men's struggle for it, despite the vagueness and the imperfection of the people that define it. Andre-Louis never gets his justice. There's no such thing as retaliation. There's no such thing as revolution for the better government, no such thing as perfect society. None. And that's how the story ends.


Andre-Louis feels like the younger brother of Captain Blood. The character, the view, the change, are pretty much the same. Their tastes for women are also similar. Aline is pretty much another Arabella, but younger and not so harsh. So, yeah, everything's pretty predictable.

Quentin de Kercadiou is charming. He's a very loving godfather, only he doesn't show it much. He cares so much about his family and friends, although limited affection for anybody beyond that important circle. His love for Andre-Louis under the mask of anger and stubbornness is also touching. And because Andre-Louis loves him all the same, it becomes even sweeter.

The word Scaramouche echoes throughout the book, as Andre-Louis calling himself Scaramouche, for being a smart clown that always runs right before everything turns real bad. A fitting name.


Whether I like it or not, is hard to say. But I don't think I will read it again seriously other than to skim it for fun. The plot is pretty, how do you say it, inconclusive, not because it's unfinished, but because it doesn't finish exactly like it should. Like I said, no justice or retaliation, no significant reformation, not even hollistic reconciliation. It's just 'The End'. Ta-da.

But surely I'm glad to finish another Classic Club homework.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Macbeth: Or, The Scottish Murder

I had been avoiding Macbeth for so long, even though I had known that I would, or rather, must, read it one day. The fame of it alone gives enough reason to read it. My motive is still added by my own personal challenge to real all Shakespeare's plays, and my general dotage when it comes to the Bard.

Macbeth is a tragedy. It follows the classical tragedy pattern, where a person of good nature makes one mistake that changes everything and he ends up miserable or dead. Macbeth has been a good thane and a loyal subject to Duncan the King of Scotland. But his encounter with three witches sisters changes everything. 

Being promised to be a king, he and his wife assassinate the King of Scotland in their own house, accusing the guards, and later the deceased king's sons, for the murder, and take over Scotland. Not just that, Macbeth wants to be secure on the throne. So he takes the witches' prophecy too seriously when they say that Banquo's descendant will be king one day. Even though Banquo is his good friend, Macbeth eventually has him murdered as well, although his son manages to escape. 

After consulting the witches for the second time, Macbeth kills the whole lot of another thane's family - Macduff's. Macduff has suspected Macbeth of regicide and now he flies to England to convince the late king's son, Malcolm, to take the kingdom back. Upon hearing the news about his wife and his children's death, Macduff grieves with vengeance blazing in his heart. 

Meanwhile the queen has gone mad, and Macbeth is more and more dominated by his fears and guilt. Malcolm and his friends, on the other hand, confidently march toward Dunsinane. Before they come, Macbeth learns that his wife has just died. 

Macbeth at first feels secure because the witches have told him that none 'born of woman' would do him harm, and that he will be safe until 'Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane'. Later on, he realizes that he has misinterpreted the prophecies. Malcolm uses the tree branches from Birnam Wood to cover his army's number, and Macduff who was "from his mother's womb/untimely ripped" at last kills Macbeth in the battle.

Never mind the plot. I mean, most people know the plot already. But aside from the plot, there are so many things to analyse in this short concise play. Like HamletMacbeth is a material of never-ending discussion. How much does his own ambition affect his reaction to the witches' prophecy? How big is his wife's influence or even control over him? 

Sir Patrick Stewart as Macbeth
It may seem obvious, and for me to talk about that again, is a bit predictable and boring. But, yeah, the thing that was constantly in my mind while reading the book was the torture that Macbeth received from his heart - his conscience.

The last time I talked about conscience, it was Lucrece, right? The lady's heart condemns her for something out of her control, while Tarquin ignores his conscience's voice. Macbeth's conscience is interesting because it warns him before the deed and condemns him after. He is somewhat sandwiched by his own conscience.

Macbeth runs from his conscience. Instead of looking again at the deed that he has done and asking forgiveness, he acts as if it had never happened at all. He wouldn't look at it, he wouldn't think about it, he wouldn't discuss about it, and the more he runs from his guilt, the more it clutches his mind. His insomnia and encounter with ghosts are very possibly the manifestation of his tempestuous mind. (It's even possible that he has some sort of schizophrenia, considering the dagger scene and all.)

The murder of Banquo, the murder of Macduff's wife and children, his second consultation with the witches, all show that he is no longer the Macbeth that we saw at the beginning of the play. He's entirely a different man, haunted by his guilt and by his fear of retribution.


If there's anyone that I like, it's Malcolm. Although he maybe didn't know that it was Macbeth who had killed his father, he was smart enough to see that something was wrong. Both he and his brother fled abroad, waiting for better opportunity to claim his own.

The discretion in him is also evident when Macduff came to look for him. Instead of unsuspectingly receiving Macduff as a friend, he carefully pulled out Macduff's concerns and motives.


Macbeth has been pleasant, and I think I do like it. It's dark, much darker than Hamlet, maybe because the lack of comic material. But it's so interesting. To be honest, I have read it twice before finishing this review.

Happy reading.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Fault in Our Stars: Hamartia and Fate

I promise it was not the movie that made me read the book. To be honest, I haven't watched it yet. I don't really like to read a book when everyone's hyped about it. Besides, somewhere deep inside I still hate tragedies, although the plays I read help me to tolerate them a bit.

However, I found a very interesting Youtube video two days ago, all accidentally, and after a few more videos, I realized that the speaker of these hilarious videos was called John Green. I wondered if he's the same John Green that writes all those books so I looked him up on Google, and ta-da!

I ended up reading his book and finishing it just last night, soaking my pajamas in my own tears and cursing the title he chose for his book, taken from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and incidentally one of my favourite lines there.

Let's discuss the book before Shakespeare fangirl in me takes over.

The book is about a girl named Hazel Grace, who has lung cancer and has to bring oxygen tank everywhere. She has a family to be envied: a loving mother and father, and a lovely girl, herself. In her own way, she wants to make her parents happy, but she feels like she's a burden to them, like she hinders their happiness. Of course the parents incessantly say and show that they love her very much, but it makes her feel worse about it.

Meanwhile, she falls for a boy who falls for her too, Augustus. He's a cancer survivor who lost one of his legs in operation. Hazel begins to analyse her feelings towards Augustus, thinking of herself as a 'grenade' that could explode anytime. She wants to spare him the heartache by not being too close to him.

Hazel loves one book and one author: AIA and Peter van Houten. Augustus shares her love for them too. In their correspondence with him, Peter likens their relationship with Romeo and Juliet's, calling them 'star-crossed lovers' (somehow). Let me quote.
I am in receipt of your electronic mail dated the 14th of April and duly impressed by the Shakespearean complexity of your tragedy. Everyone in this tale has a rock-solid hamartia: hers, that she is so sick; yours, that you are so well. Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.” Easy enough to say when you’re a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.
There. (Emphasis is mine.)

Eventually, Hazel and Augustus become lovers, and, yeah, "The course of true love never did run smooth." But I will not give you any spoilers here about the ending. It cannot be told, it has to be read.

What strikes me in this novel is of course, the word hamartia, and the nature of fate. The title of this novel alone reveals that (maybe) it's what in the author's mind. The Fault in our Stars.

It's easy to see that the 'stars' is fate, destiny. The fact that they are both kids with cancer, the fact that they would probably die young, the fact that they fall in love with each other, it's all in their 'stars'. Hamartia has been a classic element in tragedy since Ancient Greeks played with masks. It means flaw in character or fault in his/her action that ultimately leads to his/her tragic end. Like, you know, with Othello it is his jealousy, with Coriolanus it's his stubbornness and his definition of honour, etc.

The novel argues, though, that in Hazel and Augustus' case, the hamartia, or 'fault', is not in themselves, but in fate. By fate I don't mean the three sisters who cut threads instead of weave them. Nor do I mean the 'predestination', in which some people believe that God writes down all details in our lives and watches as we 'play' our parts. The fate that we're talking about is more like the things out of our controls, things that we cannot change. In the novel, of course, the hamartia is their illness, and right, in this case, "The fault, dear readers, is in their stars."

Some people love to mark the quality of the books they read with stars. I don't want to add more fault to my judgment, so, no, no star in this case. What I want to say is that this book deserves reading, absolutely. I don't know if the book will become classic one day, but it certainly discusses life and death and the meaning of our existence. All best wishes to the authors. If the book becomes a classic, than my blog is true to its purpose. If not, then this post is an intermission for more classics to come. (I'm still struggling with Walden and my reading challenge by the way.)

Thanks for reading this blog post, and, happy reading to you.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Walden, and some books on words

The readers of my blog may interpret my absence as mack of reading, which is, to some extent, true. I've been busier and my time has been consumed by my job, and also by my increasingly unhealthy addiction to Shakespeare. The latter has proved to be a huge hindrance to my old reading habit, since now I use my time not only to read and reread Shakespeare, but also to do some research about his works, mostly, theatrically.

However, I picked up my old book Walden some time ago and started reading it instead of rereading Shakespeare's plays that I've read before. It's interesting that Thoreau and I agree upon some points about life. For example, I sure agree with his willingness to live in simplicity, and I agree that the more you have, the more you need to keep your possessions. I'm still halfway through the first chapter of Walden, so I don't have the full picture of Thoreau's idea of perfect way of living.

Apart from that, I've been drawn (by Shakespeare and other excellent poets) into the words and their significance. Before I realise it, I think about words almost everyday when I let my mind wander; their meanings, their origins, their sounds, etc. So, to prevent myself from getting insane I read some books on language, words, and linguistics. What I love the most is the relation between word, sound, and meaning. It's fascinates me how the words in different languages with the same meaning are different, or, sound differently because the people using them hear, or rather, translate noises around them differently.

Well, this, like the entirety of this blog, is more of a hobby than a study. So I don't really push myself to understand everything, but rather learn bit by bit conveniently.

So, that's it. Let's hope I'll finish Walden soon so I will have some material to review on this blog. Have a nice day.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Weekend Quote #51

I am sorry, I have truly forgotten to post a Weekend Quote yesterday. This is bad, because it means that for those who live in Eastern part of the world will have very short time to join us.
Mine ears against your suits are stronger than
Your gates against my force.
Another from Coriolanus. It's one of those times when the words just stick with you and won't leave yo even in your sleep.

Menenius was trying to persuade Coriolanus not to attack Rome. Coriolanus was so bitter in soul that nothing he said could sway him from his decision to burn the town down with all its inhabitants. Thus the words.

To be honest, the lines are pure stubbornness, or if you want a more positive term, determination. But, still, I'd say stubbornness. Honestly, can you think of a better way, in the character of Coriolanus, to express it?

(I would heed my friend's advice and try to read and write something not Shakespeare-related next week, lest I'd bore my readers and lest this blog changes into a Shakespeare blog, which I already have in another URL.)

Richard II: "Two buckets filling one another"

At last I tackled some of Shakespeare's histories. Huft. This genre has long been my "untouchable" list. I was so scared to read history plays because I know next to nothing about the real history of England and because I assumed they would be tedious. Well, Richard III, one of my first attempts, was so full of murder that it's a bit of discouragement to take up another. But thankfully, I did! Yay!

So first, the plot. The play opens with a trial. Bolingbroke and Mowbray both accuse the other of treason, and are presenting their case in front of the king. The trial scene ends with both of them agreeing to decide the matter with a 'trial by combat'. The ever-changing Richard, however, stops them during the battle, and arbitrarily banishes both of them - Mowbray for his entire life, and Bolingbroke for 10 years (reduced to 6 the next few seconds).

After Bolingbroke's banishment, Richard's 'flatterers' persuade him to wage war with the Irish. Around the same time, Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and Bolingbroke's father, is dying. Richard consents to visit him, praying that he dies quickly so that could take his riches and use it for his war.
Now put it, God, in his physician’s mind
To help him to his grave immediately.
The lining of his coffers shall make coats
To deck our soldiers for these Irish wars.
Come, gentlemen, let’s all go visit him.
Pray God we may make haste and come too late
Gaunt is still alive when Richard gets there. With his dying breath he condemns Richard's abuse of power and shows Richard his faults. The young king is too proud to receive any correction. Instead of mending his life and rulership he seizes all Gaunt's riches immediately after his death. Now, again, his other uncle, Duke of York, warns him that by taking from Bolingbroke his hereditary right, he just puts his kingship in peril. However, doesn't the king himself know that Bolingbroke is more popular than himself in England?
You pluck a thousand dangers on your head,
You lose a thousand well-disposèd hearts
And prick my tender patience to those thoughts
Which honour and allegiance cannot think.
As always in Shakespeare, the play stays true to the prophecy. Bolingbroke returns to England, aided by his followers Northumberland, Ross, and Willoughby. Whilst the king is away in Ireland dealing with rebels, Bolingbroke musters power and men, with the purpose of claiming his right. Only that. But when he says this to the king, face to face, Richard sees his act as a request for his abdication, and agrees to give his kingdom to Henry.
My gracious lord, I come but for mine own.
Your own is yours, and I am yours, and all.
So far be mine, my most redoubted lord,
As my true service shall deserve your love.
Well you deserve: they well deserve to have,
That know the strong'st and surest way to get.
Cousin, I am too young to be your father,
Though you are old enough to be my heir.
What you will have, I'll give, and willing too;
For do we must what force will have us do.
Even though Richard voluntarily (although unwillingly) renounces his throne and gives it to Henry, the supporters of both parties are still unsatisfied. Henry's supporters, such as Northumberland, desire that the king gives away his crown in public, witnessed by all. The scene, however, becomes the most uneasy scene in this play, where Richard stabs Henry's heart with every word he can think of. (Here's Jamie Parker as Richard. Amazing interpretation of the lines.)

For Richard, his status as king - as Richard, King of England - is all his being. Without his crown, he is nobody. Although Richard is a whiny, spoiled king, his deposition scene no doubt pricks Henry's conscience to the core. He then asks Henry to send him away, and Henry sends him to the Tower. (The Tower at that time was also a royal residence, so Shakespeare's Henry possibly didn't mean to cruelly imprison Richard there. He only wanted to make sure that Richard wouldn't do anything dangerous.)

A thwarted plan to kill Henry and re-enthrone Richard establishes Henry's rule as England's king, while Carlisle's prophecy of civil war establishes Shakespeare's future and past history plays. You know, these tricks have been in use since Homer and Hesiod walked the earth.

The play ends with Richard's death by Henry's supporters and Henry's mourning over it.


I won't add much to this already lengthy post. I just want to say that Shakespeare was a cruel, unfeeling playwright in the way that he plays with people's feeling.

For the first part of the play, I side with Henry Bolingbroke. Actually I kind of side with Mowbray in the first Act. But as for Richard, for the first three acts of the play, I feel like I just want to punch his face. Annoying, whiny king is not really mu taste. But oh, dear, the fourth act! I can feel Henry's awkwardness, being for the first time addressed as king, and confronting Richard, the ex-king, who throws thorn after thorn to him. I mean, I feel almost guilty for supporting Henry. And Henry must feel the same, because he tries to be nice to him.

A minor but important (I think) thing in this play is the dialogue about Harry the Prince of Wales. He is the real main character of this tetralogy. Richard II is the prologue to all the fun of Henry V. But we will come to that later, when I am calmer, and less hyped up by all the qualities in Henry's character.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Coriolanus: One Against the World

It's never easy to make a Shakespeare play review. There are so many things to say, and yet I don't know where to start or how to say them. Being somewhat excluded from the "famous" tragedies such as Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear, I find Coriolanus has been underrated, where it deserves better acknowledgement.

The setting is Rome. Caius Martius is a renowned soldier who fights with all his heart and might for Rome. His iron-like character he partly owes to his ambitious mother, who, like Alexander's, desires glory, honour, and prestige for her son. Raised as a soldier, Caius Martius becomes an excellent war-machine, but a bad politician - especially when it comes to his relationship with the plebeian. He hates them, and they hate him.
He that will give good words to thee will flatter
Beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs,
That like nor peace nor war? the one affrights you,
The other makes you proud. He that trusts to you,
Where he should find you lions, finds you hares;
Where foxes, geese:
Who deserves greatness
Deserves your hate; and your affections are
A sick man's appetite, who desires most that
Which would increase his evil. He that depends
Upon your favours swims with fins of lead
And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust Ye?
With every minute you do change a mind,
And call him noble that was now your hate,
Him vile that was your garland.
After his glory in Corioles, he is granted the position of a consul and the nickname 'Coriolanus'. Not for long. Soon after, he takes the bait that the tribunes lay for him, and he loses control of his temper, giving a speech that ruins everything he has. He is banished shortly after. Or, from his point of view, he banishes the people.

Coriolanus has one dire enemy - Tullus Aufidius, a Volsce. They have fought several times and Coriolanus always wins. Both share the same hatred toward one another. But his banishment changes everything. Now he goes to Aufidius and offers him help to defeat his own country. Aufidius accepts the offer, thinking that he will be the one who benefits.
Now this extremity
Hath brought me to thy hearth; not out of hope--
Mistake me not--to save my life, for if
I had fear'd death, of all the men i' the world
I would have 'voided thee, but in mere spite,
To be full quit of those my banishers,
Stand I before thee here.
That my revengeful services may prove
As benefits to thee, for I will fight
Against my canker'd country with the spleen
Of all the under fiends.
Not really. Aufidius envy Coriolanus' charisma that inspires people - his people - to follow him. He doesn't shine beside Coriolanus. Aufidius decides to find a way to get rid of this Roman. He gets his chance soon enough.

The people of Rome, hearing that Coriolanus has joined armies with Aufidius, send messenger after messenger to seek his mercy. These messengers are his old friends, and yet, Coriolanus doesn't budge. No, he is determined to see Rome destroyed. But Coriolanus, stubborn and hard-hearted as he is, still has some soft spots in his heart. So when his mother, wife, and son come to meet him, his determination melts away. He proposes peace between Rome and Volsce. Aufidius sees this as a reason to kill Coriolanus, and he seizes the chance without delay.

Coriolanus, Act V, Scene III. Engraved by James Caldwell from a painting by Gavin Hamilton.
The ending is by no means fair for the hero. Alone he dies while his mother becomes a patroness. Alone he dies, with none of his family and friends knowing. His death doesn't change anything in the system that he hates so much. Just another fall of man.


If there's any fault in Coriolanus' character, I don't think it is pride, as Brutus and Sicinius think. A proud man would love to hear his "nothings monster'd", or his deeds shouted loud with "acclamations hyperbolical." No, it is not haughtiness or pride. Coriolanus sets a high standard for himself and measures other people's worth using the same standard. That's his problem.

He hates the people because they ask much without showing they deserve to have the things they demand. He calls his fellow soldiers cowards because they don't show courage and valour equal to his. He despises people who puts his own interests, especially materially,  over the country. This standard he follows, and he thinks he's just doing what he -and everyone else - should do.
I have done
As you have done; that's what I can; induced
As you have been; that's for my country:
He that has but effected his good will
Hath overta'en mine act.
His second fault is of course his unbridled tongue. His friends, such as Menenius and Cominius might share his feelings and opinion about the people, but they keep their mouth shut. They know how to 'flatter' the people - saying things that they would love to hear (pretty much like many politicians nowadays). But Coriolanus cannot speak words that 'are but rooted in his tongue'. He speaks what's in his heart too plainly that it sounds so harsh and rude.
His nature is too noble for the world:
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for's power to thunder. His heart's his mouth:
What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent;
And, being angry, does forget that ever
He heard the name of death.
It's so easy to sympathise with people in this play. I mean, Shakespeare's always brilliant when it comes to characterization, but Coriolanus is one of those that just sticks in one's head. Not just him. Cominius and Menenius, Volumnia and Virgilia, even Aufidius, are all fascinating characters that people can easily relate to.

To sum up all, Coriolanus, for me, is another play about a man "more sinn'd against than sinning."

Friday, 30 May 2014

Weekend Quote #50

You were used
To say extremity was the trier of spirits;
That common chances common men could bear;
That when the sea was calm all boats alike
Show'd mastership in floating;

Shakespeare's Coriolanus. Yes, I've read and finished reading the play. Being one of the latter plays, Coriolanus aptly shows Shakespeare's command of language. Who am I to resist his strong wordy expression?

Some of the lines that struck my attention the moment they occur were those above. Coriolanus was just banished by the people of Rome, and sadly he bore the sad news home, to his mother and wife. The ambitious mother was devastated. Coriolanus was her only son and her only hope. Coriolanus reminded her of her own advice on the theme of misfortune and suffering in life.

Quite amazing for a “Be strong!” advice, don't you think? He is saying that what really shows a man's spirit is not just suffering, misfortune, or sadness, but the extreme conditions of those. Extremity will show who you really are.

When he says “common chances common men could bear” of course he is playing with the word 'common' as something usual in its first use and as something low and debased in its second use. But even when we ignore the pun, it's still encouraging. By enduring hardships worse than most people, we have the chance to prove ourselves stronger than most people who have never had the same thing. It's not something to boast, but it kind of consoles me.

The last two lines give beautiful imagery that further emphasizes the point. It's easy to 'float' around, and float beautifully too, when the circumstances are convenient. The ship's quality is tested, not in sunny days, but in stormy nights. Likewise our quality is proven when we bear troubles, and triumph over them.

Thus my (somewhat long) Weekend Quote. Please share yours. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Historical Fiction Characters - The Book Version vs. The Real One

Richard III. Henry V. Antony. Zhuge Liang. As a reader, we encounter so many historical yet fictional characters in our readings. The dramatized aspects of these characters may move us to strong likes or dislikes, even love and hate, and yet..

Are they mostly fictional or are they mostly historical?

It's not an easy thing to answer, and its answer may or may not influence our feelings towards those characters. After all, we read historical fictions mostly for fun. If we want real history, it's better to check the nearest history book available - and there are tons of them. The real pleasure in historical fictions depicting historical characters is imagining people like us making decision and the things that they underwent in consequence of that decision, reading and imagining that those people, great people in history were just like us in many aspects, and yet they were great.

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

When reading historical fictions, sometimes it's difficult to separate the real person with the person in the story. If the story and plot are well-researched and well-prepared, or if there's any slight historical basis to believe in the storyline, it's even more difficult to separate fiction from reality.

For instance, long ago I watched a film (I can't remember the title) about the relationship between Sir Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth I. In that film, Raleigh and Elizabeth I had a sort-of romantic relationship, platonic maybe, but they adored each other, and yet their hands were tied because it's against any political interest for the Queen to marry Raleigh. Just impossible.

Anyway, long after watching that, I found that Raleigh was actually a poet (and a captain, but I knew it from the film). Guess what I found.

"Passions are likened best to floods and streams: The shallow murmur, but the deep are dumb;"

Suddenly the film seemed real. I have a proof now, don't I? My diary entry says, "If it's true that he wrote these lines for Elizabeth I, then they would be some of the most beautiful lines about unrequited love ever written in mankind's history." The same thing happens in so many other instances where the fiction and the history are so intertwined that it's impossible to dismiss either once you read both.

So, which one do you like best, the fictional or the real people? For me, it's safer to say that I love somebody and somebody as depicted in this and that book. Real persons are more complicated than fictional characters, and it's impossible to scrutinize their hearts and feelings now. Their qualities are far from certain and the real them might not be what they seemed. But fiction, fiction is what we believe to happen, what we believe existed. It's up to us to judge, to analyse, to hate and to love a fictional character, without really offend the real one dead.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Let Go (of a Book) and Start a New One

I wonder if anybody else have this problem. Have you ever read something so good and you can't get over it? It's so difficult to just leave the book home and take up a new book to read because you want to dwell in that one book and dig it to the core.

That's my problem, and my digging seems endless because the book is Shakespeare's.

In his best plays, each of Shakespeare's word matters. In one of his best plays I'm currently in love, over-indulging myself in its prose and verse, its sound and letters, its language and its character. Every time I say "Enough," something new pops up.

What do you do when such thing happens? I have some alternatives and consequences.

Pick a new book anyway, and force yourself to read it.

With all the reading challenges you list yourself into, staying with one book isn't an option. Force yourself to read something new before your beloved book eat your soul up. (Seriously.) No book is good enough for you to marry, spending the rest of your life solely with. So throw away the book somewhere you can't read from and start a new one.

Read the particular book over and over again until you get tired of it.

I notice that if I read something too often it loses its power. Well, some of, its power. Instead of torturing yourself with books you can't enjoy, why don't you just stick with that ONE you know you enjoy right now?  It's not a crime to read or recite Henry V or Hamlet every night, right?

Problem is, those reading challenges. Right.

Wait. What reading challenges? I've forgotten them all. *denial*

Research is a good food for love.

Really. If you have a lot of reading challenges and you can't bring yourself to 'betray' your beloved something new anyway, but something related to that particular book you can't get free from. Isn't it lovely?

So instead of lingering between the pages of Hamlet, why not trying to read Freud's Theory? (Won't be my choice, though.) Or stop reading Henry V and read real English History. Yeah, like why don't you just read Shakespeare biography right now and complete the reading challenge you assigned yourself into? *ehem*

I really don't know if these would work for you. For me they don't really help. Sometimes I pick the first solution, sometimes the second (like right now) and sometimes the third. Any other idea? I'd be more than happy to hear your experiences and advices. 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Rape of Lucrece: 'Conscience, how dost thou afflict me'

I can't find the right title for this blog post. Why is that? Is it because I've waited to long before actually pen this down? The thing is, it's not easy to review this particular narrative poem. It's simple, and yet, it's a lot of things.

Longer than his other work, Venus and Adonis, Lucrece tells the darker shade of love - lust. It talks about a man's reaction to a sudden and strong desire and the aftermath of his decision.

The argument of the poem actually spoils everything out. Sextus Tarquinius (Tarquin) wanted to prove for himself the virtue of Collatine's wife, Lucrece, of whom her husband had boasted a lot. He went to Collatine's house just to find Collatine's praise of Lucrece "hath done her beauty wrong, Which far exceeds his barren skill to show." Tarquin, unable to resist the temptation, raped Lucrece. He left her devastated in the morning, ashamed of what he had done, but too proud to actually admit it. Lucrece sent word to her husband, requested his immediate return, and, in front of everyone, killed herself - but not before relating all Tarquin had done.

Nothing so interesting in the plot. Shakespeare's beauty, after all, is rarely in the cheesy plot. His strength is in the characters, the human beings. Now the two main characters here have an interesting trait of humanity - conscience. But these two work it out differently.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Liebster Award - 11 Facts about Me

Thanks Fanda for nominating me for this award. My blog is a (sort of) free blog, although I blog mostly about classics, but I read other books also, and especially am obsessed with poetry. So, without much ado, here are the rules:

The Rules:

*Thank the blogger that nominated you and link back to their blog.
*Display the award somewhere on your blog.
*List 11 facts about yourself.
*Answer 11 questions chosen by the blogger who nominated you.
*Come up with 11 new questions to ask your nominees.
*Nominate 5-11 blogs that you think deserve the award and who have less than 1,000 followers. You may nominate blogs that have already received the award, but you cannot re-nominate the blog that nominated you.  
*Go to their blog and inform them that they've been nominated. 

11 Facts about me

  1. Is this really necessary? I don't have much to say about myself.
  2. I have a lovely brother and sometimes we let people assume we're not siblings and dating instead. That's funny.
  3. I love, love, truly love poetry, and I believe in the power of written word. 
  4. My favourite literary boys are in two opposite poles. They are either a gentle, calm, kind noblemen, or... truly bad, smart, naughty villain.
  5. In high school I was obsessed with Victorian Era and Victorian fashion. I thought I would do anything to be a lady.
  6. I am so capricious and I tend to do things on a whim. I almost took Chinese Lit major just because I liked Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and I studied Italian just to translate songs. 
  7. I love researching. Once I researched the rules of heraldry and the blazoning of coat-of-arms. Again, just for fun.
  8. Needless to say, people think I'm a nerd. Some of them. Well, maybe most of them. But that's what makes me and not everybody else. 
  9. The thing that I hate most in a book: needless sex scene. Firstly, I don't really like sex scenes, because it's just too private for me. It's like watching someone doing whatever he does in bathroom, you know. Like it's out of your business. Secondly, if it's meaningless, it's worse. I don't watch, or read, porn, for that matter.
  10. I love tranquillity. I love to walk on an evening watching the sky turning dark, I love the sound of the wind through the leaves on a grassy hill, I love the whispers of the raindrops when they fall. 
  11. I am a Shakespearean, or Stratfodian, if you want to put it that way. Say whatever you like, but I am convinced that Shakespeare was Shakespeare who wrote those plays. It's not his fault he mimic Marlowe. I think Shakespeare was a Marlowe fanboy. He loved and hated Marlowe because Marlowe was so so good and because he thought he would never surpass him.
So here are Fanda's questions:

Who is your most favourite book character? Why?'
Do I have to choose one? RIght now I can only think of Edmond Dantes a.k.a Count of Monte Cristo. He is dark and light, bitter sweet, tragic and magical. There's no way I'd cease to love that man.

Do you have a full collection of books from one certain author? If yes, which author? If no, are you planning to do that?
I have the full collection of Shakespeare's works. Goodness, I love Shakespeare. It's far from surprising. I also have the whole Canon of Sherlock Holmes. 

When you are starting a new book, can you tell from the beginning how much you would like it, or you can only judge after finishing it?
Depends. But I definitely know if I read a book that I'm going to hate.

What book do you want to reread the most right now?
The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas. It's may favourite, if you haven't guessed already. I wish I had the time to reread Les Miserables by Hugo. Those two books are eye openers. Both books show you how rotten the world is, and both tell you that there's nothing you can do about it except try to do good your own way and hope people will appreciate that (which usually doesn't happen).

By the way, that's how desperate I am right now.

What was the last book you rated 5/5 stars?
I don't remember any more. Robinson Crusoe maybe. 

The longest book you’ve ever read is…. How many pages is it?
Les Miserables. It's 2000-something, I suppose. But I hope next year I'll be able to put The Bible on the list. 

What country do you like most for book setting?
Nothing in particular. It's not the setting. I read books set in London, Paris, past, future, neverland, space, anywhere. It's the characters and the plot for me.

When buying book that has more than one edition, how do you decide which edition to pick?
Book cover. Except when it's first edition of something that I really like. But I'm pretty sure I will never obtain Shakespeare's First Folio or Gutenberg Bible. :(

How do you slip time to read books during your daily activities?
I read almost anywhere. I love ebooks and don't mind reading them. 

Do you read while traveling (when you are not driving, of course)?

Do social media hinder you from reading?
Sometimes. I have to confess sometimes I love blogging better than reading. And because my hobby includes music, poetry, and others, it's pretty hard to just read.

Now, my questions, right? Or should I name the blogs first? Fine. I nominate these blogs for Liebster Award:

  1. BZee @ Bacaan BZee
  2. Kimberlee @ Girl Lost in a Book
  3. Ira @ irabooklover
  4. Melissa @ Avid Reader's Musing
  5. Annette @ Impressions in Ink

Now to the questions:

  1. What is your favourite quote from your favourite author?
  2. What genre do you mostly read? 
  3. What is the best book ever written in mankind's history?
  4. What is the oldest book that you've read?
  5. What turns you on, or off, when reading?
  6. Have you challenged yourself to read something really hard and completed the challenge?
  7. People can read and read for themselves. Why do you blog about it?
  8. What kind of author do you hate the most?
  9. What kind of reader do you hate the most?
  10. What is the literary dream of your life?
  11. When you read something, do you research about the particulars? For example when you read Historical Fiction, do you check history, or when you read science-fiction do you check the science stuff?
That's all. Please have fun with it, and if possible, go back to this blog and post the link in comments so I can read your 11 facts. 

Happry reading.