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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JUNE 2012

June  30,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Shakespeare didn't need the ghost, but in it goes, because there it was in his source, and besides they always like a ghost or some such, and isn't old Bundlebap in town, he specializes in comic gravediggers, ghosts - so on with the story, what comes next, let's have a look, scribble, scribble, scribble, Mr Shakespeare -

Same with the witches in Macbeth.  They're in the source, they're in the play therefore, therefore on the stage, and therefore they're a nonsense that has given rise to a steady stream of nonsense in the academies.

--The Year of the Jouncer by Simon Gray

June  29,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The truth is that Shakespeare, although indisputably the greatest genius of moment-to-moment drama etc., and the greatest poetic intelligence in the history of the world etc. was in the making of plays - well, you get the feeling that his left hand is holding down the pages of his source, Plutarch, Holinshed, whatever, while his right hand is investing a character with character and translating his reported speech into iambic pentameters that pulse in the here and now of the stage.  The trouble is, he follows the stories almost sentence by sentence it sometimes seems, and while it's OK to be haphazard in a chronicle, discursive, anecdotal, so forth, it's not OK with polite modern audiences, who can't skip the longueurs, unless they're lucky enough to have nodding-off tendencies.  The undeviating nature of his transcriptions accounts for the oft-pondered mysteries - the ghost in Hamlet, the witches in Macbeth, etc., on which so many articles, theses, no doubt published books have been written - 'What function do they serve, these supernatural influences that Shakespeare insists on bodying forth and on which directors devote so much ingenuity?  How do they connect symbolically, thematically, above all ORGANICALLY, etc., to the poetic dramatic unity, so forth?'

--The Year of the Jouncer by Simon Gray

[N.B.:  It's these supernatural influences, by the bye, are a big factor in proving that Shakespeare was, indeed, Shakespeare and not some fey nobleman who would never condescend to follow his original source material so slavishly or pander to his low-born audience with such vulgarities (not to mention that being a playwright back then was about the equivalent of being the piano player in a brothel).  Occam's razor, my friends, Occam's razor--the simplest explanation is almost certainly the truest.  Shakespeare is Shakespeare because writing a play is necessarily a public performance which requires constant rewrites and negotiations with the actors and stage directors and managers--and all of these grubby encounters would be an anathema to Sir Foppy von Wussington or the Viscount of Fizz-Fossil (and, but of course, the actors would be wondering--and publicly protesting about--why they were having to interact with this preening posturer as opposed to the playwright manqué, Shakespeare).]

June  28,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

So shame, really, is what I'm writing about, shame at seeing my work produced on the stage - or is it mortification?  I think there's a difference, well, there must be inasmuch as I've sometimes felt both simultaneously - shame being a kind of hot washing down of oneself, a sort of sluicing, and mortification, a violent bitterness of the self against the self, when you're in shame you want to hide, when you're mortified you want to give yourself a hiding. 

--The Year of the Jouncer by Simon Gray

June  27,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Ironically, now I'm writing about smoking - no, I mustn't go on with a sentence that beings 'ironically' - there was that very nice young man at Alan's funeral who spoke of how he'd been present in the same church for the funeral of Alan's son Tristan, then for the funeral of Alan's wife, Victoria, and now, 'ironically', for the funeral of Alan himself.  Not only, what did he mean?  What did he think he meant?  Or think the word meant?  Surely he must have realized that when Alan died his funeral would, as a matter of course, be held in the same church as his wife's, his son's and both his parents', so he can't have meant coincidentally, a common and slovenly modern usage, as it was quite the reverse of a coincidence, and he can't have meant an utterance that said something different from what it seemed to be saying, which is the old usage - in fact, the natural adverb in the context would have been 'naturally' - though I suppose he might have begun, 'So here we go again!' which could have had a touch of irony in it, as it certainly had when another young man said it at the beginning of his speech at his father's fourth wedding.

--The Year of the Jouncer by Simon Gray

June  26,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

I think I know what's going on, actually, actually I think it's because the surrounding farm has turned organic, everything grown here is now organic, the corn, the wheat, the apples, the pears, the potatoes, and with them come more wasps and hornets than have ever been seen before, invasive, aggressive wasps and hornets as big as my thumb.  How can the pigs and swans not be affected?  They're becoming, perhaps have already become, organic too, and so are behaving organically.  Eventually, I suppose, the people will become organic, Victoria and I will start to behave organically, as will George, Toto, Errol and Tom - this is what happens when you stop interfering with nature, nature starts to interfere with you.  God knows where we'll end up, especially if He's turning organic too.

--The Year of the Jouncer by Simon Gray

June  25,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Simon and I went to a quiet spot and spoke about the audience.  There was a fat man in the front row, he said, who stared fixedly at him during the curtain call, and gave him a very personal slow handclap, which he continued after everyone else had stopped clapping--the worst audience, he said, the worst audience he'd ever--absolutely the worst, I agreed, absolutely--and then, for want of a howl or a scream, we burst out laughing--no big deal with me, as my laugh is really a wheeze with cackles in it, but a very big deal with Simon, he has a laugh that could fill, or perhaps empty, a cathedral, it is a cheering noise, it comes from a deep relish of the awfulness of life as well as of its pleasures--with an adjustment of the shoulders, he advanced into the lobby.

--The Year of the Jouncer by Simon Gray

June  24,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"If life were adapted to the satisfaction of desire, happiness would be life's natural goal and permanent resting-place.  But the happiness attained is so imperfect compared with the image of the happiness desired, that men soon tire of it, or, rather, look for it elsewhere than in the affections.

--The Return of William Shakespeare by Hugh Kingsmill

June  23,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"The last truth which those who love men learn about their fellow-creatures is the first and only truth which the majority of men trouble to master.  What his youthful contemporaries in Stratford already knew before he left them, that self-interest is the directing force of most men, is the truth which Shakespeare fully felt only when he made Lear break his heart against it.  Lear's daughters are the custodians of the social system.  Their rejection of him is the rejection of passion by organized self-interest.  Finally, passion, in its most savage form, destroys them, too; but in their relation to their father they represent the resistance to a blind need by self-interest, supported with reason.  The conflict between Lear and his daughters is summed up in his cry, 'O, reason not the need.'

--The Return of William Shakespeare by Hugh Kingsmill

June  22,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"The question which he confronted in Lear was the loneliness of man, the final question, to which the family, the nation and God are the imperfect answers framed by the mass of men as substitutes for their deepest desire, the perfect love of two individuals.  This desire, as unrealizable, most men soon cease to occupy themselves with, though it remains with them as the image of what they aspire to, so that the power behind life is seen by them as a father, and even a an alliance between two nations must be figured as the coming together of two strong and tender souls.

--The Return of William Shakespeare by Hugh Kingsmill

June  21,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"It is just this reluctance of other people to think and feel exactly as one does oneself; or, I suppose it would be fairer to say, it is the reluctance or rather the inability of any one individual to identify himself with any other individual which constitutes the true tragedy of life; a tragedy which bears with its full weight only on the few in whom the passing years quicken instead of deadening the feeling of isolation.

--The Return of William Shakespeare by Hugh Kingsmill

June  20,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

No, Othello is very perfunctorily attached to his character of a general.  The other persons, less important, are more complete, though they lose their reality a little when they are in touch with the two symbolic figures.  This is especially true of Desdemona, an exquisite nature, more tenderly drawn than any other woman in the plays, yet not quite in place, not imaginatively related to Othello; too life-like, in fact, to interpret what Shakespeare wished to express, the attempted destruction of the ideal by the intellect, with passion as its instrument.  A less human figure was required for the tragic sacrifice.  Her murder is, therefore, painful and unnatural.  she is a living person strangled by a symbol.  I believe, but the matter is beyond proof and not important in its general bearing, that Shakespeare drew her from some woman whose love he valued but could not fully return.

--The Return of William Shakespeare by Hugh Kingsmill

June  19,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"There is another Hamlet, not a projection designed to satisfy Shakespeare's impotent cravings but an embodiment of his rage and weakness and self-disgust and, at last, of his resignation.  It is this Hamlet which has preserved the other from decomposition, thereby baffling those critics whose sense of something real and profound in the play, combined with their failure to distinguish between the two Hamlets, has diverted so much of their energy to the task of harmonizing the man and the puppet.

--The Return of William Shakespeare by Hugh Kingsmill

June  18,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In Hamlet, however, he yielded to the temptation to avenge his many mortifications in a figure which passes across the stage of the theater as he was passing across the stage of life, misunderstood, cheated, betrayed, but, unlike himself, a sinister and baffling mystery to his enemies; a person of reckless courage, --'I don not set my life at a pin's fee,'--a favorite with the multitude, the object of a beautiful girl's despairing love, a courtier, a soldier, a scholar, a man whose merciless tongue unmasks every attempt to placate his gloomy humor, from the king's to Osric's, and, above all, a man whose destiny is mortal to all who cross his path, the king, the queen, Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; a pyramid of victims crowned the corpse of their satiated destroyer.

"Is it surprising that every actor is anxious to figure in this part?  They have more mortifications than most men to avenge.

--The Return of William Shakespeare by Hugh Kingsmill

[N.B.:  This description also fits another character: The Count of Monte Cristo.]

June  17,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Islam is perfectly suited to our needs.  It is a perfect religion for us, it fills the bill entirely.  Islam means resignation, my dear Mr Robert.  It is a beautiful idea but also very difficult.'

--The Rage of the Vulture by Barry Unsworth

June  16,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The press was controlled by the Committee now, as were the agencies inside Turkey.  The astonishing - and deeply depressing - thing about it all was that most of those present knew this already, yet were unable to acknowledge what it meant.  The Embassy people certainly knew it, whatever public attitudes they might adopt.  But training, and the sense of caste, had made them more deeply hostile to change than any politician, apparently unable to recognize dynamic movement at all.  They were like people trying to play chess on a tilting board.  The pieces were sliding about all over but they somehow kept on playing.  It was as if something had gone wrong with their sensory equipment - that part of it which determines the gravity of impressions.  The old dynastic order of Europe, which had made the rules of the game, was everywhere collapsing.  And yet to the British official mind a revolution such as had happened here in Turkey, a great wave of popular feeling and popular will, was no more than a hiccup in the throat, leaving things much as they were, in the hands of good chaps like Kiamil Pasha, serving monarchs slightly chastened but essentially the same . . .

--The Rage of the Vulture by Barry Unsworth

June  15,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Memory is arbitrary, and Henry could not know that he would remember this interior all his life, light falling through the gaps in the canopy, the brush for the hair and the broom for the floor.

--The Rage of the Vulture by Barry Unsworth

June  14,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Here and there in the grounds of Yildiz Palace, inside the first, the inner enclosure, there were small coffee-houses.  Abdul Hamid was the only customer for these.  Sometimes, during his late afternoon stroll, he would stop at one of them and order a coffee, while his Albanians waited outside.  The waiters were members of his bodyguard.  They took it in turns to do the coffee-house duty, dressing in white suits for the purpose and taking care to move with exaggerated slowness while in the vicinity of the Sultan.  He ordered his coffee, however, as if it were a real coffee-house and they were real waiters.  And they had instructions to behave towards him with the normal politeness due to a valued customer.  The coffee was in small sealed packets and he chose a packet at random, afterwards watching closely while it was being prepared.  Seated at one of the small tables with his back to the wall he would have for a while a certain illusion of normality.  When he had finished he always paid for his coffee and left a tip.

--The Rage of the Vulture by Barry Unsworth

June  13,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

'You must try to imagine what thirty years of oppression will do to a people,' he said.  'Possibly you do not realize how hopeless of redress wrongs will seem after thirty years of tyranny, how in a generation brought up to see no protection in the law fear of the authorities will be endemic.  Surely you see this?  Under certain circumstances, to plant a knife between a man's shoulderblades takes a good deal of courage.'

--The Rage of the Vulture by Barry Unsworth

June  12,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Money,' Kyriakos said, placing his fingertips together, 'is generally a good and efficacious remedy for all kinds of disorder and distress.  However, the patient in question is suffering from a terminal disease.  There is no cure for decaying Empires.'  Kyriakos dropped his hands to his sides and looked around but not for applause.  The quality of his smile changed, became blander.  'As you yourselves will find,' he said.

--The Rage of the Vulture by Barry Unsworth

June  11,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

'After all,' Somerville said, 'it is official British policy to maintain the Sultan and preserve the Empire, and money is the best way of preserving governments, in my view.'

'Like embalming fluid?' Kyriakos said.

--The Rage of the Vulture by Barry Unsworth

June  10,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then they go into luncheon, and Morley says that Joseph de Maistre observed that in the innocent primitive ages, men died of diseases without names.  Gladstone: 'Homer never mentions diseases at all.'  Morley: 'Not many of them die a natural death in Homer.'  Gladstone quotes the passage where Odysseus meets his mother among the shades, and Morley says that the Greek word pothos is 'such a tender word, and it is untranslatable'.  Gladstone suggests desiderium and quotes from Horace:

Quis desiderio sits pudor aut modus

Tam cari capitis . . .

-'what restraint or limit should there be to grief for one so dear?'

Can one imagine any politician in the Western world today having such a conversation?

--The Victorians by A. N. Wilson

June  9,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

[Dan Leno] was a legendary pantomime dame - hurling himself into the parts with quite literally manic energy.  He went mad while playing Mother Goose.  He was a broken and exhausted man at forty-three: 'The funniest man on earth' as it said on the posters.  'Ever seen his eyes?' asked Marie Lloyd.  'The saddest eyes in the whole world.  That's why we all laughed at Danny.  Because if we hadn't laughed, we should have cried ourselves sick.  I believe that's what real comedy is, you know.  It's almost like crying.'

--The Victorians by A. N. Wilson

June  8,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

[William Thomas] Stead was not a bad man.  He was that much more dangerous thing, a morally stupid man doing bad things which he believed to be brave because they made a stir.  He and his like predetermined the essentially unserious nature of modern journalism: determined, that is to say, that particular kind of moral silliness whose unseriousness is disguised from the practitioners themselves.

--The Victorians by A. N. Wilson

[N.B.:  A particularly rich observation coming from a modern journalist who penned the salacious tome about the English royal family, The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor.]

June  7,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is difficult for me to conceive of any more agreeable way of life than that of the Victorian country parson.  If I had to choose my ideal span of life, I should choose to have been born in the 1830s, the son of a parson with the genetic inheritance of strong teeth.  (Improvements in dentistry are surely among the few unambiguous benefits brought to the human race by the twentieth century.)  I should avoid a public-school education through being 'delicate', and arrive at Baillol with a good knowledge of Greek to be taught by Benjamin Jowlett.  (The Tractarians would pass me by, but after my ordination, upon being elected to a fellowship, I should take a bemused and tolerant interest in the Ritualist churches while having no wish to imitate their liturgical customs.)  After a short spell - say, five years - teaching undergraduates at the Varsity, one of them would introduce me to his pretty, bookish sister, and we should be married.  I should resign my fellowship and be presented with a college living, preferably a medieval church, a large draughty Georgian rectory and glebe enough to provide the family with 'subsistence'.

--The Victorians by A. N. Wilson

[N.B.:  Why is it that a man's fantasies tend to more thoroughly condemn him than his fears?]

June  6,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The events and concerns which a grown-up might consider important - sexual feelings and finance, and politics - do not interest Dickens.  Or they interest him only as they have an effect on the lives of children.  That is why Great Expectations and David Copperfield, which tell the story of childhood with raw and unforgettable realism, are the finest things he ever wrote.  Not to see the merits of Dickens is more than a literary myopia: such an absence of sensibility would suggest a failure to see something about life itself. 

--The Victorians by A. N. Wilson

June  5,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Returning to the nineteenth century in a time-machine, the twenty-first-century traveller would notice immediately dozens of differences between our world and theirs: the smells of horse-dung and straw in the streets, and, even in the grander houses, the sweaty smell of the servants who had no baths - just the kitchen tap, very often; the darkness at night without electricity; the gas-flares against the sooty skies; the fatty food and 'smell of steaks in passageways'; the beautifully made hats, worn by all social classes, and the properly tailored clothes, even on window-cleaners or factory-hands; the continued acceptance of social hierarchy and, with the obvious perky exception, the underlying deference; the racial coherence - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, we recall, found the sight of a slave boy in London exotic - no one in today's London would find anything odd about seeing a little black boy in the street; the superiority to ours of the postal service - four or five swift deliveries per day - and the splendour - red coats and gold or blue piping - of the postman's uniform; the excellence of the rail services; the truly terrifying inadequacy of dentistry and medicine - and with these, the toothache, the halitosis; the generalized acceptance of infant mortality, the familiarity of children's coffins being trundled in glass-sided hearses down cobbled streets; the poverty of the children who survived, the ragamuffins who swept crossings and still, in spite of Lord Shaftesbury's reforms, continued to work, and run about at large, in the alarming, overcrowded cities - all these things and more would assail the eye, heart and nostril and make us know that the Victorian world was utterly different from our own.

--The Victorians by A. N. Wilson

June  4,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Wordy, authoritative, cliché-ridden, Miss Martineau had the know-all tone which so often wins journalism wide readership and short-term respect.  Like many of her modern equivalents, she had all the right views - that is the views espoused by the metropolitan intelligentsia.  She was a keen abolitionist - of slavery - but saw no reason why this concern for her oppressed fellow humans in American plantations should lead her to comparable feelings of compassion for English factory-workers.  In 1855 she penned The Factory Controversy - A Warning Against Meddling Legislation

--The Victorians by A. N. Wilson

[N.B.: It's a good thing A. N. Wilson isn't at all like Miss Martineau.  He would never write a trendy book with a provocative title like The Factory Controversy.]

June  3,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Given the nature of Ireland in 1845, however, the actual physical, social and political situation, it is hard to see how the Famine could have been averted.  The modern reader is aghast at the unfolding narratives of suffering which any account of the Famine will provide.  But in the circumstances, and at the time, it is hard to see what a different government, even a government based in Dublin, could have done.  True, good landlords (of whom there were all too few) could alleviate suffering in some measure on their estates.  True, the continued trade in corn, when the famine was at its height, was avoidable, causes anguish to read about today, and caused worse than anguish to the starving who watched Irish corn being exported from Cork and elsewhere.  But given the social hierarchies which existed at the time, and the political tensions which already overshadowed Anglo-Irish relations, one knows that it is as unrealistic to have expected a modern-style relief operation as it is to have expected Lord John Russell's government to take maize to County Kerry by helicopter.

--The Victorians by A. N. Wilson

[N.B.: It's a good thing A. N. Wilson hasn't chosen to write about The Shoah.  I'm sure he'll be quite anguished relating the details.  But, you know, given the nature of Germany in 1945 and the social hierarchies which existed at the time, stuff happens.]

June  2,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was emblematic that Queen Victoria detested Hamlet.

--The Victorians by A. N. Wilson

[N.B.:  This being the Diamond Jubilee (60-year-anniversary) of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, let's look back at the age of the last queen to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee.]

June  1,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Few landlords, he said, "scruple raising rents to as much as they can get, when poor men, rather than beg and have no dwelling, will promise more than they can pay; and then, with care and toil, make shift as long as they can."  The idea of a balanced community, of mutuality in rights and obligations, of control of the government of the manor through the custom of the manor: all that had been collapsed into a simple cash deal.  If you could pay the rent, you could stay on the land.  If you couldn't, you couldn't.  The natural drift of such a system was the replacement of an integrated copyhold community with a monopolistic landlord and a gang of rightless, dependent, impoverished tenants.  Huge noncommunal farms would have on their margins scatterings of paupers' cottages, precisely the pattern that developed in these valleys in the nineteenth century.

--Quarrel with the King by Adam Nicolson