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journey of a ten through talons

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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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Zip: Complete

If you want to something to read for a few hours:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7Dl1AVOtF6ha0JQOFIzOGFOWDQ/view?usp=sharing

If you don’t want something to read for a few hours:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7Dl1AVOtF6hbW9od21KZ2E2aE0/view?usp=sharing

If you’re just here for the meme:

http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/legomessageboards/images/3/3c/Stephen-colbert-celebration-gif.gif/revision/latest?cb=20130924031040

 

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Log 8, Day 19

Onto Frost.

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Enter the Arena

Clang!

The sword thrusts towards the hoplomachus’ neck, and he sticks out his small shield with little time to spare. The hoplomachus counters with a jab towards the opposite side of his counterpart, and the murmillo struggles to move his giant shield to deflect the blow. He is caught off balance, and the hoplomachus rushes while the murmillo is still trying to recover, knocking him on his back. Crowd roaring, the victor holds his sword above the murmillo, turning his face to watch the spectators. They boo in disapproval and point their thumbs down, signifying that the loser did not fight well. The hoplomachus plunges his sword into the unprotected neck of the murmillo. Some turn away at the grotesque sight. Others continue to cheer.

Sighing, I pick up my cornu and play a jeering, embellished tune as the dead fighter is dragged away. The fresh blood of the murmillo drips across the sand, leaving a trail of beading, scarlet blood in the dusky sand before it vanishes, evaporating into the midday sun, with but a rosy stain to remember him by. A fresh layer of sand will be spread tonight, after all the bloodthirsty are gone and only the groundskeepers remain.

And so goes my life as a musician in the Roman Colosseum.

________________________________________________________________

As a musician, my job is to play music to fit the occasion. If the loser fights valiantly, the crowd can choose to spare his life, and I play triumphant music. If he gets destroyed, like the match that just occurred, he will be slaughtered.

Glancing around from my perch in the imperial box, I can see the whole crowd of thousands upon thousands. People of all backgrounds are here. The rich, the poor, and most importantly, the emperor. It’s as if all of Rome can be seen in one stadium. However, as different as they might seem, the people have clustered here for one sole purpose: blood. There are around a dozen matches occurring at the same time in the vast arena, with various different gladiators doing battle: the hoplomachus, murmillo, retiarius, galerus, and several more types. They wear different body armour and have varying styles of attack. Most of them are slaves.

Another battle has started in front of the imperial box, this one with the legendary gladiator Hilarus. He faces a volunteer by the name of Marcus Attilius. It should be an easy win for Hilarus, but the athletic Attilius is doing his best tiring out Hilarus. Most of the raucous crowd is fixated on this title fight. The music I play gradually builds until Attilius is able to upend Hilarus onto his back. The crowd lets loose a deafening roar, and every pair of eyes is glued to Caligula and his men, awaiting their decision. I also need to see if they grant Hilarus a reprieve, since my music will match their choice. But I can’t quite see…

The crowd yells even louder, but I don’t know if Hilarus has been saved or not…

Caligula would definitely save Hilarus, wouldn’t he? They know each other and are great friends…

…But what if he wants Hilarus dead? What if?

Pushing out the second thought of my mind, I tentatively play a happier melody. No one seems to react, so I build confidence until the song reaches a full crescendo.

But then Caligula starts to turn his head. And then the crowd goes silent. And all eyes go on me.

Shit.

____________________________________________________________

He stares at my frozen figure for a second, lips curling up into a smile. His fingers beckon me towards him, but it’s as if my legs are stuck in a thick mud. I can’t move…

What will he do to me?

“Someone, please give me a sword,” his voice booms. Caligula’s been known for being a cruel and tortuous man, but will he kill me? Would he kill me?

A sword is handed to him, but so is…a helmet? A tiny shield?

It hits me with such an overwhelming force that I nearly fall backwards.

Caligula wants me to fight in the arena.

I look around me, trying to spot an escape route. A single path has formed by the crowd, but it directs me to the front of the box. I have no choice. But I still can’t move. Caligula is laughing. He’s sneering.

Suddenly, a guard lifts my tiny frame and hurls me past the railing and onto the sand. I land with a sickening crack that echoes throughout the arena like thunder, and my vision nearly goes black. Staggering to my feet, the sword, helmet and shield land beside me. I gingerly pick them up, not sure in which hand the sword should rest. Almost every gladiator is right-handed, but I’ve always felt more comfortable with my left. I slip on the oversized mask, and face my opponent, feeling like a child who tried wearing his parent’s clothes. He must be a thraex, with a small square shield that barely covers his torso. I’ve only seen them fight a few times, and I have no idea what his approach is to me.

And it’s begun. I allow him to advance, watching him to see his strategy. His attacks begin, and my very slight knowledge of the sport takes over. The thraex is launching a merciless attack on me. He thinks that a quick kill will spare me in a way. But I’m not going down easily.

His footsteps are getting closer and closer. He occasionally knocks my sword to the side, like a predator playing with his prey. But I’m not going down easily.

He can’t seem to create a sustained attack, awkwardly jabbing at my sword rather than my body. The fact that I’m left-handed seems to be throwing him off balance. The majority of the crowd seems to be rallying behind me, the underdog. Every second I stay alive is another voice layered on top of another, eventually creating one impenetrable wall of sound. My body is feeding off of this energy, and I feel more confident with every parry I execute and jab I land. The thraex is getting impatient, and I sense that he wants to end this battle soon. I’m right.

The feet leave the ground first. All of a sudden, he’s hurling his bulky frame towards me. My instincts take over, and rather than trying to block his attack, which would be futile, I dive for his leg. The sword slices cleanly through the unprotected flesh, and the thraex screams. He’s dropped his sword onto the ground, and it falls far away. He’s on his back. He’s down.

I step toward him, glancing at the crowd. They roar. Without hesitating, I take my sword and drive it into the thraex’s neck as he stares at me with eyes that are as dull as a grey tile. I return his gaze, before turning to fix my eyes on Caligula. He chuckles, and tilts his head, acknowledging my victory. The rest of the Colosseum is roaring as I stride towards the Victor’s exit.

I know that Caligula’s taken notice. He’ll make sure to pit me with the strongest and most experienced fighters. I’m sure he wants me dead.

But I’m still alive.

And I’ll be ready.

By

Log 5, Day 12

Before schedule!

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Log 4, Day 12

I seem to making logs in multiples of 3. Hmm.

New video is up tomorrow! This one’s about Edgar Allan Poe. I’m slightly behind schedule, as I still have to analyze a few of his poems. Expect those videos up sometime later this week.

capture

Yay editing.

As a footnote, I’m kind of happy I’m analyzing Poe’s poetry instead of his short-stories. Because they are scary as heck.

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Log 3, Day 9: First Video

Info I used is below. Enjoy!

http://learn.lexiconic.net/2.2poetryforms.htm

http://www.vaniercollege.qc.ca/tlc/tipsheets/reading-and-analyzing/poem-form-and-structure.pdf

http://www.chaparralpoets.org/devices.pdf

http://learn.lexiconic.net/elementsofpoetry.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_poetry

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Log 2, Day 6: Getting the Ball Rolling

Yay! I started! That’s an accomplishment, considering I spent most of the weekend recovering from our retreat (it was amazing). But I made a few changes to my project, the biggest being swapping out the war poet Isaac Rosenberg with Canadian poet John McCrae. I had considered McCrae, but didn’t think he had written any other poetry besides In Flanders Fields. But he did! And he’s Canadian.

I started – and finished – taking notes for my overview of poetry. I’m making a video about all the various elements of poetry, which should be out Monday or Tuesday. Hooray!

Lucas

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Log 1, Day 1: The Beginning!

And so it begins. A six-week long English project about anything we wanted, particularly an area of the subject we felt we needed to improve on. I had never been taught poetry to any extensive level until grade eight, and that glimpse of how powerful the art can be pushed me to choose it as my topic. I specifically zeroed in on analyzing poetic forms and devices, rather than learning to write poetry. It should be an enlightening and engaging adventure!

My general way that I was thinking of approaching the vast field in detailed in the table below:

 

  To Complete Notes
Week 1 What are poetic devices/how do you identify them? List of poetic devices

Poetic structure and rhythm

Week 2 Edgar Allan Poe Biography/how it influenced his writings

Overall poetry

Focus on The Raven, The Bells, Annabel Lee

Week 3 Robert Frost Biography/how it influenced his writings

Overall poetry

Focus on Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening, The Road Not Taken, Home Burial

Week 4 Isaac Rosenberg Biography/how it influenced his writings

Overall poetry

Focus on Break of Day in the Trenches, In the Trenches, Dead Man’s Dump

Week 5 Leonard Cohen Biography/how it influenced his writings

Overall poetry

Focus on The Bus, Hallelujah, Take This Waltz

Week 6 Conclusion/Presentation Main characteristics of each poet/similarities/differences

The project will cultivate in a 15-minute presentation, with the class, and I already have a few ideas on how I’ll show my learnings to the class.

~

Today was a fairly easy day. I found links to all the parts of the project I would cover, and didn’t particularly go into any detail. On Saturday (can’t work on it from Wednesday to Friday because RETREATTTTT) I’ll continue working, and hopefully start looking at poetic devices!

Lucas

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