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Have you heard of absurd literature? No? Yes? Or are you waiting for Godot to tell you about it?
But Beckett isn’t the only author writer of absurd literature. The best representative of course, but there is always room for more, room to explore right? You don’t wanna be homogeneous right?
And so in comes the play, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” written by the American author Edward Albee. The plot is nothing complicated: it is simply a story about two couples: Martha and George, the older couple,who invite Nick and Honey (the younger couple) for a late night drink after a party. The play is divided into 3 acts each with their telling titles.
But in the fairly uncomplicated plot, lies a whole new insight into the trying, absurd, fragile and strained relation of Martha and George. During the course of the party, emotional games are played, secrets are revealed through the complex layering of the plot. It is clear right in the first part that their marriage is a complete breakdown and in order to sustain it, they have to play psychological games and try to beat the other down through humiliation and fear tactics. In order to sustain the normative marriage they have to take on absurd tactics and at the heart of this is the constant mention of their son who never appears in the play but is talked about throughout.
The play then is trying to critique the pressures put on every individual to fit into roles the society prescribes without giving alternatives and how utterly disastrous these pressures can be if and when such normative modes of living don’t work out. What do you do if your marriage does not work, when your dreams of professional greatness do not go according to plan? Compounding this problem is also the gender roles enmeshed within these prescriptive notions: the binary of production and reproduction that binds a woman and man not allowing them to explore other possibilities and compelling to view their inability to fit into the gender roles as a failure for themselves. So for example, if a man is not able to get a good job and sustain his family, he is viewed as a failure because of the pressure on him to be the breadwinner of the family. He is not allowed to think that there can be a possibility for allowing the women in his life to share the responsibility of earning. Marriage and career and having a family are projected as the ideal modes of living in a human society and so there are no other possibilities provided for other modes or alternatives. Anything less than the ideal is unacceptable and worse, a failure. This can lead to utter breakdown of your identity and selves as every individual is conditioned for long about these ideas and how they are the measures of success and when don’t work, your very idea of what a life should be is dismantled and therefore living becomes absurd and meaningless.
The play is also a lot about the typical modernist ideas of how language is inadequate to express the breakdown of lives in the 2oth century.
In the hazy daze of alcohol that the couple immerse themselves into, the reader will be pressed to figure out reality from illusion but that is the charm and bitterness of the play. You have to keep constructing the truth, taking cues from their wild language, and wilder games of psychological torture, construct the world that they have constructed for themselves and shatter that illusion and then get to know the truth of their lives. But it isn’t like a mere detective novel where you solve the puzzle with the one sole truth you can divine from the plot. It constantly keeps you in a flux and you can probably get the truth but perhaps not be able to anything with it because though the play tries to sort out its loose ends end finish with a proper closing, the reader is left to ponder on what will happen to the marriages of both the couples as the breakdown of the the older couple seems complete although they are now trying to get back on a stable & non illusory path. However, Nick and Honey see in the older couple their own expectations of a marriage and a family and if these expectations are not fulfilled, then will they also fall apart at the seams like Martha and George?
No one can really tell but what we can do is perhaps not put the weight of all our expectations on one person and one institution? What do you think? Leave a comment.
Some of the toughest questions in life remain unanswered. No matter how much you brood over them, twist and twirl them in your head, they just don’t seem to get solved. What’s worse is that they can get even more complicated and entangle your little head deeper and deeper into its mystery. Many real life people have broken their heads pondering over these tough questions. But this scenario is true of many literary characters as well-the most famous of them being Hamlet. He is ridden with thoughts of revenge but also conflicted with how to execute this task. And we will all unanimously agree that the question of revenge is undeniably a tough one. Revenge can prick your conscience, corrupt your soul, foster evil etc, but if your father’s ghost orders you to do it, then what can one do but carry out the task? Poor Hamlet was indeed in one problematic quandary.
For those who are not in the know, ‘Hamlet‘ by William Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest tragedies written by him. The play begins with a couple of guards on the night duty watch who come across a mysterious ghostly apparition while on duty. The latter doesn’t talk to them, doesn’t reveal anything to them. Horatio, one of Hamlet’s loyal friends, who witnesses this scene with the guards, then decides to inform Hamlet about the ghost. Till now, Hamlet is gravely mourning his father’s death and is greatly perturbed by his mother, Gertrude’s marriage to his uncle, Claudius, who is now the King of Denmark. Hamlet’s disgust with this incestuous relationship reveals itself in his first, masterfully delivered soliloquy. But when Horatio informs him about the ghost and Hamlet decides to see for himself what the apparition is, the play takes a turn because the ghost is none other than Hamlet’s father who tells him about the actual cause of his death(which was murder) and also instructs Hamlet to take revenge of his death. So now Hamlet is not just grief stricken but also burdened by an immense task and a knowledge of a murder that few are aware of. It is not easy to take revenge against a King who is comfortably on the throne with public support. Murdering the King would amount to treason and further, Hamlet himself is worried about the moral implications on his soul if he does commit the crime. Hamlet is thus very much alone in his dilemma. Everyone in the court (with the exception of Horatio) seems against him or plotting against him. Though he is swift in establishing the guilt of Claudius by staging the play,The Murder of Gonzago, that also has a murder of the King by his brother by similar means, his inaction in carrying out revenge says a lot about his conflicted attitude towards the whole business of revenge. Does he finally carry out the task his father’s ghost set out for him? Or does he simply ruminate over it throughout the play without any conclusive answers being revealed to him? Now these are questions that can be solved if you read the whole play. If only Hamlet could have had such an easy way out of his conundrum.
‘Hamlet‘ is a thoroughly enjoyable play to read. Hamlet himself is a complex, many layered character. However, the entire play itself is constructed with much ingenuity to create Hamlet’s complexity of character. His inactivity is contrasted with both Laertes and Prince Fortinbras’ hot blooded desire to take revenge. The play has many sub plots as well-Hamlet’s love for Ophelia, Ophelia’s eventual madness, Polonius’ assumption about Hamlet’s madness, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s guise of friendship to get Hamlet to reveal his plans to them, the plot to kill Hamlet etc. ‘Hamlet ‘ is not a regular revenge tragedy which had flooded the Elizabethan and Jacobean literary periods. Instead, Shakespeare uses the themes of this genre to create a play that goes beyond the normative to create a character study, to show the influence of a corrupting society and court of Denmark on an individual, to show the politics and construction of power and many other aspects.
Melancholy and tragedies and brooding protagonists may not appeal to you any more in the 21st century, but ‘Hamlet’ has a universality in its story and themes that makes the play such an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating read. And here’s another reason to read the play: you can then boast about having read the oft quoted soliloquy, ‘to be or not to be,’ the famous fatherly advice by Polonius to his son, Laertes; Ophelia’s suicide which has been the subject of many paintings etc. and then pretend to be an intellectual.
Moliere is a 17th century French writer known for his satiric comedy plays. His plays-be it Tartuffe, The Misanthrope or The School for
Husbands-predominantly look at the French society of the time with a satiric lens. In his Preface to the play Tartuffe, Moliere has specifically outlined that the function of comedy is to correct men and society’s faults. This was the prevailing view of comedy’s function among Western writers of the time.
The Misanthrope is also a much layered play which brings into question the hypocrisies of the artificial upper classes of 17th century French society. The play is about Alceste, who detests contemporary society and its ways and manners, and his love for the beautiful widowed Celimene. Alceste does not wish to follow any superficial manners and believes them to be a waste of time and anyone who blindly follows them always elicit bursts of anger and hatred from Alceste. Celimene, on the other hand, believes that it is important to follow the social conventions for one’s own gain. This creates a lot of tension between the two extraordinary lovers who are as different as fire and ice. Alceste’s friend, Philinte, tries his best to diffuse the tension and to make Alceste understand that being in constant argument with the social world and with mankind is detrimental. With this main plot, Moliere explores several questions-whether Alceste is really a misanthrope or is it someone else and if he is the former, then it is rather paradoxical that a misanthrope is in love with Celimene; whether it is worth to struggle with social norms and not accept them at all and several others. There are several sub plots as well such as the nascent love between Philinte and Eliante; the simmering relationship between Celimene and Arsinoe; Oronte’s sonnets and his suit against Alceste who insulted the former’s writing abilities etc.. Within these several layers are revealed the minute workings of the aristocratic class, their hypocrisies regarding human relations, their vanity, the position and status of women etc.
The Misanthrope is a fun play to read as it provides an acute analysis of the malaise of the times, which Alceste detested, in a light, comic manner. All the characters are colourful and rounded with their unique viewpoints. Their dialogues and mannerisms give the reader a glimpse into their personalities and ways of thinking. Moliere is a master of satiric comedy and he invests The Misanthrope with several lines of thought and meaning which the reader can ponder over. Many critics have pointed out that Alceste’s character is based on Moliere himself and that his deteriorating relationship with Armande Bejart was the basis for Alceste’s relationship with Celimene. We can never know the truth, but only speculate. And while you speculate, do try and relate the play to our own contemporary hypocrisies as well. Happy reading!
Well, we all just had another Mother’s Day go by yesterday. Hope you all pampered and showed how much you love your mothers yesterday and continue to do so throughout because just one day isn’t really enough to show your gratitude and affection, is it?
There are countless books, plays, poems and stories on mothers-whether they celebrate them or stereotype them or show their complexity of roles, relations and personality. Many of these works were highlighted in yesterday’s newspapers and magazines.
Another marvellous work of literature produced by one of the most celebrated German playwright of the 20th century that takes a hard and critical look at the role of a mother amidst a crushing war is ‘Mother Courage and Her Children‘ by Bertolt Brecht. Written in 1939, Brecht superbly hits out at the capitalism of war through the lens of the titular character-Anna Fierling who is more popularly known as Mother Courage.
The plot is simple and straightforward. ‘Mother Courage and Her Children‘ is set in the 17th century while the grim Thirty Years War rages on. It is divided into 12 scenes which corresponds to the span of 12 years across which the play is spread. Mother Courage makes a living in the war through her trusty wagon and the food, drink and war equipment she sells to the officers and soldiers. She has three children- Eilif, Swiss Cheese and Kattrin who is dumb. Mother Courage works very hard at making a living so that her children and she can survive during the war. She is shrewd and business minded. The play opens in Dalarna where a sergeant and a recruiting officer converse ironically about the necessity of war and about recruiting soldiers. Just then, Mother Courage happens to pass with her children and her wagon. The sergeant wants Eilif to join the war and he is quite willing to do so but Mother Courage objects saying he is not made for war. Nonetheless, the sergeant too is shrewd enough to involve her in a bargain for a belt while the officer whisks Eilif away and entices him to join the war. Similarly her Swiss Cheese also becomes part of the war and Kattrin suffers a fate much worse.Then the play wounds through the other places like Poland, Bavaria, Italy, Moravia etc. that Courage goes with her wagon and her children selling her goods and making more business transactions. In the course, she meets a Chaplain, a cook and a prostitute-Yvette who become part of the entourage and aid her while also living with her.
Throughout the play, Brecht has shown the war’s brutalities and Mother Courage’s struggle to survive and protect her children from the war through her wagon. She is courageous in as much that she struggles and strives hard in the face of the most bitter adversities and yet she fails to notice that it is the war that feeds her and sustains her. He creates a crucial paradox in her character and Franz Mennemeier has aptly called her ‘merchant mother.’ implying that while she has her motherly instincts, they are inseparable from her business instincts. Brecht shows the futility of war through the futility of Mother Courage’s actions and struggles. He plays on the idea that had then gradually emerged that war is a business, something initiated by the big, fat capitalists for their own vested interests. He was a life long socialist and his abhorrence for all thing capitalist comes through in the play as he projects how small people like the characters of the play get caught up by the conflicts of the big people and the former lose a lot while it is only the latter who gain and profit. He attacked the Nazi regime through this particular play.
Brecht had developed his own non-Aristotelian form of drama called epic theatre which uses a plethora of techniques, most predominant being the ‘estrangement’ or alienation’ technique. The other one is the use of songs which were always used by Brecht to comment upon the situation in the scene. ‘Mother Courage and Her Children‘ adheres to the tenants of epic theatre by and large. It is peppered with songs and alienates the audience particularly by making them compare the 17th century war with the 20th century Nazi regime. The play is also episodic-each scene exists for itself. It also does not have clearly good or bad characters as Brecht rejected the Aristotelian idea of a ‘hero’.
Thus, ‘Mother Courage and Her Children‘ provides the reader thoughtful insights with the aid of epic theatre’s tenants. It makes the audience think critically and apply the situation of Mother Courage to their own bleak and oppressive reality. Even today, the 21st century readers can think about the way in which wars are fought and who it is that really starts them? Is there really an enemy or war is just another business? There maybe no Hitler today but the play is very relevant to the politics of war raging in the world today. This universality of the theme of Brecht’s play is what can appeal to the modern audience and if on reading the play, s/he is aroused to change her/his situation, then Brecht would be really happy in his grave now because that is what he believed that plays show do-make the audience active participate and change their world for the better.
Obscenity, indecency and lewdness are quite common in today’s media-television shows, news, soaps, popular songs, movies, magazines,books, Facebook, and the internet in general. It probably does not shock us that much because we are ‘oh so modern’ and are not narrow minded like those restrained Victorians! Its also kind of ‘cool’ to be indecent at times in today’s world. Bollywood movies will teach all the Indian guys how to woo a girl by eve teasing her or worse even by raping her. However, even today, we do sometimes get outraged by shameless displays of obscenity and well mostly its the Censor Board that gets outraged which then displays its own obscene power to chop down obscenity to protect the people from getting outraged too!
Well, there wasn’t any Censor Board in the Restoration Period in the late 17th century or even later on yet the drama of that time received some flak for its indecency. Nonetheless, at the height of the Restoration, it was enjoyed by the audience to the fullest and only later on did the drama begin to be looked down upon.
‘The Country Wife‘ is one such play produced at that time which was one of the most popular plays but like the rest of Restoration drama it was ignored and only resurrected in the 20th century when a few ‘modern’ critics considered those works from a literary angle and critiqued it intelligently. Written by William Wycherley, ‘The Country Wife‘ is a quintessential Restoration play as its core is wit, satire, and indecency. The Indian Censor Board would have banned it if it was written today but thankfully it has been put in the sacred halls of literary work. Even if it hadn’t been, it is wrong to define this play and all the other Restoration plays as being solely obscene. As mentioned before, the play is replete with wit and it pokes fun at the aristocracy and their hollow/superficial lives. Satire and wit were esteemed aspects of that life and were incorporated in the plays as well particularly in comedies. Thus, ‘The Country Wife‘ is a hilarious play with several literary devices particularly the double entendre (double meanings) which furthers the wit along with the indecency.It is this hilarity that also acts as a biting commentary on the frivolous and decadent ways of the Restoration aristocracy.
‘The Country Wife‘ has a main plot and a sub plot. The former is centered on a gentleman named Horner, who pretends to be an eunuch so that he can gain the trust of the husbands who would then allow their wives to spend time with him. A rich middle class man, Sir Jasper Fidget, falls for this ruse and allows him to enjoy the company of his wife, Lady Fidget and daughter, Miss Dainty Fidget. He also falls for a town gentleman’s wife, Margery Pinchwife when he sees her in the theater. Her husband, Mr. Pinchwife only married her because he could not keep a ‘whore’ to himself and felt that the country wife would not cheat on him because of her innocence and naivete. Yet he is wholly jealous of her and keeps her restricted and even locked up so that she won’t cheat on him. Margery is thus the titular character of the play. The play then goes on as to how Horner makes a ‘cuckold’ of all the husbands because of his stratagem. This is interspersed with the sub plot that basically deals with Harcourt and Alithea’s (Mr. Pinchwife’s sister) love. The two plots are in stark contrast to each other. The former is all about cheating on one’s wives and husbands and the latter extolls true love. In the end, it is Harcourt and Alithea’s relationship that is a right example of how love should be treated.
The downside of the play is that is a tad bit sexist because it is judgmental towards the aristocratic women and not the great pretender Horner who seems to have a vicious appetite for fornication. This attitude also reflects on how badly women were treated then particularly accentuated by Pinchwife’s cruel treatment of his wife. Wycherley, however, does show Pinchwife in a ludicrous light perhaps to manifest that husbands who restrict their better halves and treat them so will deserve to be cheated and ‘cuckolded.’
The play may not be everyone’s cup of tea especially for those who are touchy about indecent language and manners. Yet those very things are what make the play a satire. It is an inseparable part of the play. Knowing a little about the time and the literary techniques and customs will also help in further understanding the play. For eg, the dominant stock characters such as the fop, the rake, the wit etc that were usually used in the Restoration comedies, the predominant French influence(seen in ‘The Country Wife‘ as well in the many French words and the influence of Moliere), the importance of wit in the towns, the constant juxtaposition of town and country and the usual deriding of the country ways and manners etc.
So you could either dismiss ‘The Country Wife‘ as being bawdy and uncouth or read it up and go with the flow as 17th century bawdry could not shock us anymore! Moreover, who wouldn’t enjoy the sexual innuendos?
I am sure everyone and I mean EVERYONE knows about Romeo and Juliet, the famous balcony scene in Verona,their cute, puppy love and their tragic deaths. But how many have actually experienced this renowned story by actually reading the play written by Shakespeare. And, no, reading a summary or a Charles Lamb version does not count as having read the play. In order to really understand these two eternal lovers’ story and cry over their tragic fate, one must read Shakespeare’s play, ‘Romeo And Juliet‘ that has immortalized them and made it one of the greatest love story ever told. No pitiful synopsis can compare reading the actual play.
So if everyone knows the plot of this play, why bother going in details? Nonetheless, there may be some ignorant souls in this world still. So lets enlighten them. Romeo and Juliet belong to the two different, wealthy families in Verona- Montagues and Capulets respectively. Both the families have the same social standing in the city. And both for reasons that Shakespeare does not elaborate hate each other. So once the Montague men crash the Capulet feast and ball wherein Romeo sets eyes on Juliet and falls in love with her. Later the famous balcony scene occurs where both pour out beautiful, lyrical verses to profess their love for each other and Juliet puts the proposition of marriage.Later, both are happily married by Friar Lawrence. However, their family feud is one of the problems in their marriage. Later, Mercutio, one of the Montagues, is killed by Tybalt, who is Juliet’s cousin, in a street brawl. Therefore, Romeo sets out to kill Tybalt and succeeds whereupon he is banished from Verona by the Prince. Another complication is that Juliet’s parents want her to marry a fellow named Paris. They know nothing of her marriage to Romeo and now that he is a killer and is banished(not to mention that he is a Montague), Juliet cannot talk about it either. Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris is not accepted. So now both the lovers are in a pickle. How they try to get themselves out of this mess is for you to find out by reading the whole play.
Quite frankly, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ does not have much in terms of story. It seems like a game of Fate and a bunch of chance encounters and missed ones that takes the play forward. The tragedy could have been easily averted (but then there wouldn’t be a story, you might rebuff!). What makes the play memorable is the effusive verse with very quotable quotes and not to mention the use of the then popular sonnet tradition. This last feature makes the play quintessentially an Elizabethan romance(although the story existed much before Shakespeare immortalized it).
Like many of his other plays, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ also have a mixture of comedy and tragedy. Initially, the story is so comic that you would scoff at the thought of it ending tragically. It is only the numerous foreshadowing in terms of the prologue, dreams and visions that the play is peppered with that makes one think otherwise. Only after Mercutio’s death and Romeo’s banishment does the play become wholly serious and gravity of the lovers’ situation becomes apparent. From here onwards, even the lines become more intense with passion and gravity.
Apart from the tragic lovers, there are other unforgettable characters as well, chiefly: Mercutio, Nurse(to Juliet), Friar Lawrence and to some extent the lovers’ parents and Tybalt. Their part in either hastening or stalling the tragedy is also very important.
So, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ may have a silly, even stupid plot (The play within a play, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ staged in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ can be considered as a parody of ‘Romeo and Juliet’) but stands out because of the wonderfully elegant verse, the splendid imagery, the beautiful depiction of light and dark, and last but not the least: the innocent and fated love of the young Romeo and Juliet.It is a beautiful play, undoubtedly a must read that exalts love and the idea of love. Watching a good stage adaptation is a bonus and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version goes a long way to bring the Shakespearean magic on the screen. It is more or less faithful to the plot and uses the cinematic space to its advantage to elaborate many famous scenes of the play. It is an excellent film adaptation. A must watch!