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journey of a ten through talons

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Helpless

Moving on from the English Civil War, we’re now studying the American Revolution – through the eyes of Alexander Hamilton and Company, seen in Lin Manuel Miranda’s music Hamilton. We all chose a song to present its themes, historical context and other components to the class, and I, a little impulsively, chose the song Helpless to study.

I was not disappointed.

This is the 10th song of the musical, meant as a trilogy of sorts with The Winter Ball and Satisfied. Set in 1778 at a ball given by Philip Schuyler, Eliza and Angelica meet Alexander Hamilton. Eliza immediately falls in love with him, and the emotions are reciprocated by Hamilton. As we learn in Satisfied, Angelica also is attracted to Hamilton. The song covers the time span of around a month, from the meeting of Eliza and Hamilton, to exchanging letters, Hamilton obtaining approval from Eliza’s father (Philip Schuyler), and the wedding day.

Character Development

We meet Eliza for the first time in the musical (she does speak in The Schuyler Sisters, but Angelica is the main role in that song), and she expresses intense love for Hamilton. Something that should not be overlooked is her language and word choice: it’s mostly negative and pessimistic in a fairly upbeat and happy song. Phrases “I’m drowning”, “I’m down for the count”, and “helpless” are all thrown around regularly, and Eliza seems to be a long way away from the end of the musical, where she takes over as the main preserver of Hamilton’s Legacy.

As for the other main character in Helpless, Hamilton, we see him in love. His way with words are put into the spotlight again (just like pretty much every other song he sings in), telling Eliza that “If it takes fighting a war for us to meet, it will have been worth it” as soon as he meets her. It also seems like he truly loves her: near the end of the song, he tells her about his upbringing, something he’s secretive about throughout the story.

Themes:

Having a fresh start

In the penultimate line of the song, the phrase “In New York you can be a new man” is sung three times, evoking the opening track, Alexander Hamilton. Here, Hamilton is celebrating the fact that he was given a chance to start anew with his marriage, and to forget his childhood in St. Croix.

Forging your own identity

A main theme in Alexander Hamilton is about creating your own identity. Helpless puts a spin on that, where Eliza (as mentioned above) use several phrases with negative connotations despite the mood of the piece. She doesn’t seem to be too confident about standing up for herself and her beliefs, and doesn’t realize she really will be “Helpless” during (spoiler) Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds.

POV matters throughout the play

The narrator of the songs constantly switches during Hamilton, resulting in varying opinions, an example being the Burr/Hamilton rivalry. In Satisfied, the following song, we learn that Angelica also loves Hamilton. However, since Helpless is told through Eliza’s perspective, we think that Angelica’s just introducing Hamilton to Eliza.

From https://static01.nyt.com/images/2015/02/17/theater/17hamilton-web/17hamilton-web-master675.jpg

Connections to Historical Elements

I found difficulty finding content areas that Helpless included, but one main big idea that figured prominently was “Disparities in Power”. Since being rich was incredibly interlocked with social status in the 18th century, a sizeable factor playing into Hamilton and Eliza’s relationship could be that Hamilton needs to marry into a rich family to elevate his social ranking. Also, when he’s speaking with Philip Schuyler, Eliza is incredibly nervous, possible because Hamilton is too poor and his status is too low for the likes of the Schuyler family.

Another disparity in power is between men and women during the time of Hamilton. Even though it’s not specific to Hamilton and Eliza, women who consented to marry (hence to “I do’s” by Eliza to open Helpless) in the 1700’s often were also agreeing to lose most of their rights, and basically becoming property of their husbands.

Finally, a small footnote that doesn’t have much to do with the big idea is about the courtship process in the 18th century. Back then, it would be considered impolite for a single woman to speak to a man without having been introduced first by someone else. This is why Eliza gets nervous when Angelica directly walks up to Hamilton. However, she introduces him to Eliza, fulfilling her task as the liaison between the pair.

Personal Interest

Something I found intriguing during reading through the lyrics was the veiled foreshadowing of Hamilton’s affair during Helpless. He tells Eliza “We’ll figure it out” – possibly referring to how the couple will have to figure out how to move on with their lives after scandal is made public. Another example: “Angelica tried to take a bite of me/No stress, my love for you is never in doubt”. As soon as he suggests his flirtatious nature, Hamilton reassures Eliza that he will always love her, something that comes into question during the affair. Finally, the most obvious occurrence of foreshadowing is by Philip Schuyler. Eliza recounts when he “shakes your [Hamilton’s] hand and says/‘Be true’”. Of course, Hamilton will not be true to Eliza, and Philip’s warning is unheard.

 

With Helpless, we are introduced to a subplot of the musical (Hamilton’s love life) that doesn’t come into focus until The Reynolds Pamphlet. So with everything I said before in mind, maybe the song will make a little more sense after listening to it again.

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Against A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I’m going to get a lot of hate for even uttering a single negative word about the Bard himself, but I feel that acting in two very contrasting plays (Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth) at Bard on the Beach’s Young Shakespeareans summer camp, and being a returnee to see plays at Vanier Park every summer for five years running has given me at least a little room to express a few thoughts.

Of course it’s a great play. I definitely can’t deny that; even though it’s one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays at just 2165 lines (in comparison, Hamlet is 4030). On incredibly subjective polls and blogs ranking his plays, it’s always at least in the top ten. When I watched it in 2014, the light-hearted nature of the prose combined with a devilish performance from Puck and hilarious Bottom won me over immediately. But this week, during my second crack at the piece, I was surprised at the lack of depth behind all the laughs (more on that later). And even though I really love Shakespeare, I’m finding it difficult to excited about anything in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare supposedly wrote this in the late 1590’s, when he was starting to hit his stride as a poet and playwright. According to the author Dorothea Kehler, it would have been completed after the monumental Romeo and Juliet and thought-provoking A Merchant of Venice. He found inspiration from the play from authors including Ovid and Chaucer, and its first dated performance was on New Year’s Day 1605. Today, audiences have always greatly supported it; the jokes and overall mood are a good fit for those who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare’s plays.

The popularity of the play is definitely a contributing factor to why the play is studied in high schools, particularly in grade nine. However, the awful film adaptions of Midsummer, as well as the lack of invigorating content and other comedies that are able to highlight complicated themes are all contributing factors as to why it shouldn’t be a main play studied in high school.

In 1999, Mike Hoffman directed a popular mainstream film adaption of Midsummer, featuring actors including Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale and Calista Flockhart. Hoffman changed the setting of the play from Athens, where it is traditionally played, to a village in Italy. It gave him the advantage of having an incredibly beautiful landscape and atmosphere, but what he gained there is completely lost. Case in point: the trailer.

You know you’re in trouble when the trailer is bad. The American narrator that makes Shakespeare sound like a Thomas the Tank Engine movie combined with atrocious CGI effects would have turned anyone off going to the theatre to watch it 17 years ago, yet it grossed more than a dozen million dollars and is regarded as the quintessential performance of Midsummer.

But why? And why is the film so terrible?

  1. The CGI. Did I mention that already? The sparkles are blinding when contrasted against dark setting of the forest, and it seems so out of place.
  2. Awful acting jobs. Particularly Titania and Lysander. The cast already sounds out-of-place, with American and English accents being tossed around. Both these characters sounded as if they were reading lines without any knowledge of what they meant.
  3. Bottom. Not sure if this was the actor Kevin Kline’s choice, but the presentation of a clearly comical character as a troubled man was an utter failure. The most definitive example of this is when he gets drenched with wine and humiliated by the townspeople. The scene was already unnecessary, yet we are forced to watch him slowly walk home and sit on his bed, staring into space and contemplating his life choices as his wife (a made-up character) silently judges him. Nothing in the script suggests anything of this variety, and the attempt to present a different interpretation of Bottom is a symbol of what’s wrong with this adaption: Hoffman is messing with Shakespeare. And you cannot mess with his play, take out a sizeable portion of an already short script and fiddle with perhaps the funniest character
  4. Did I mention that every time I saw the CGI sparkles, I wanted to tear my eyes out of their sockets?

To even be considered to be studied in schools, a work needs to leave a profound impact on students. With Shakespeare, it’s no different. In a lineup in the coming years including Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet, arguably some of the most influential pieces of writing the literary world has ever seen, it does seem odd that this short ditty of a play is leading it off. Yes, it is hilarious and happy and everything the other plays are not, but upon further investigation, there really seems to be no hidden message that’s in the text. It is the literal definition of a comedy (a play, movie, etc., of light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending – Dictionary.com) and demonstrates Shakespeare’s innate ability to make people laugh.

But, in an education system where we are only given four cracks (i.e. weeks) at discovering a genius, it doesn’t seem right to spend one-fourth of the time looking at a play that doesn’t demonstrate anything that we can learn. And looking into Shakespeare’s comedies is just as important as his tragedies, but a quick search shows that he wrote than a dozen comedies, many of which include important themes:

  • Taming of the Shrew – misogyny (I may be very biased towards this play after spending a month with it in the summer, but it’s funny, and includes a topic that is very very very relevant today
  • Merchant of Venice – racism (“If you prick us, do we not bleed” is perhaps the most important line ever)
  • Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well – these two are known as problem plays – they cannot be classified as comedies or tragedies, and are complicated works that could be studied in English 11 or 12

And so ends my rant. It’s not deserving to our education – nor the Bard himself – to study a play that is great in its own right, but simply is outclassed when compared to the masterpieces that follow it, and multiple other comedies that are able to keep us thinking and engaged for the entire unit.

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After Three Months: Midterm 2016

With the term halfway over, we’ve been reflecting on our growth in socials in just 12 weeks as a class. I’m particularly interested at how intertwined our studies and the curriculum has been, and been surprised that the one-page document is actually a much more robust piece of work than I thought it was.

Below are three of the four main “big ideas” I thought I focused on in the first half of socials. Under each one are another three examples of where it’s come up, and how each one relates to the “content” area of the curriculum.

3 BIG IDEAS:

  • Collective identity:
    • Donald Trump
      • Portrayed America as failing nation, created identity of the people who voted Trump¸ discrimination against Mexicans, Muslims
      • Most of the identity was constructed by Trump
      • Content: discriminatory policies (build a wall, ban all Muslims)
    • English Civil War
      • Collective identity of each side was shaped by propaganda, often what the other side’s identity was (i.e. the Parliamentarians attacked the Royalists (Cavaliers), Royalists did as well (Roundheads))
      • Content: propaganda was weapon during English Civil War, helped influence social and political revolution
    • Oliver Cromwell
      • During English Civil War, helped make New Order Army, helped shape anti-Catholic identity through Irish massacres
      • Content: discriminatory policies of Christians (ban), injustices (massacres)
  • Disparities in power:
    • Columbus
      • Columbus had incredible power (weapons, more men who were trained to fight) over the Native Americans he encountered
      • Content: process of imperialism and colonialism, how most examples (Puritans, Cortes) include the colonists having immense advantages intellectually and technologically
    • French Revolution (Socials wheel)
      • With the monarchy, the power was completely owned by the King and the nobility, leading the lower classes to revolt
      • Content: social revolution caused by lack of balance between higher and lower classes
    • English Civil War
      • King Charles I’s lack of respect for the lower classes (New Prayer Book, disregard for Parliament) gave him much more power than the masses
      • Content: led to a regional conflict, the English Civil War
  • Emerging ideas:
    • Glenn Gould
      • Creative uses of recording technology (splicing, multiple mics, instant playback, etc.) were similar to methods that were used in pop culture at the time
      • However, his ideas were very unique in the field of classical music
      • Content: technological revolution – in classical music
    • English Civil War
      • The ideology of having at least a parliamentary democracy to have some say in the country’s running (and Charles’ hate for it) was a main factor that caused the Civil War
      • Content: led to a regional conflict, the English Civil War
    • Columbus
      • Being the first major (in terms of his popularity and common portrayal of him today) sailor to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and going back to Spain to encourage more to go over and find the riches that awaited
      • Content: greatly helped advance colonialism

Another major part of our class is the focus on curricular competencies. We were able to take the seven that were described in detail on the curricular document, and translate them to more understandable words. These seven elements were used as the rubric for our documents of learning.

3 STARS FOR CURRICULAR COMPETENCIES:

  • Significance: Eminent Document of Learning and Eminent Person in general
    • Importance of Glenn Gould today in Toronto
    • Why he is eminent/why he is more significant than other pianists
  • Cause and consequence: Wheel
    • Wheel that came after French revolution was directly caused by first one
  • Perspective: Social Order Document of Learning
    • Social norms, common beliefs, etc.

3 WISHES FOR CURRICULAR COMPETENCIES:

  • Evidence: analyze competing sources on controversial historical events
    • Bias, background of competing sources
  • Continuity and change: comparing shifts in ideology of political parties over time (i.e. Democrats/Republicans)
    • How two various historical locations evolved during the same time frame (i.e. Chinatown/Gastown)
  • Ethical judgement: explore more into historical events that included racism?
    • Determine motives behind atrocities, and in some cases, defend them (i.e. morality of atomic bomb)
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