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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.

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The Victorian Era (roughly from 1830s to 1901) is renowned for producing several great novelists. In fact it is known as the Great Age of The Novel. Thomas Hardy is one of the many greats of this period who was not only a prolific novelist but also a poet. He has to his credit several novels and poetry collections.

The Return Of The Native‘ is one of his lesser known novels; ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ and ‘Tess Of D’Urbervilles’ being his other more well known works. Yet ‘Return Of The Native’ has a charm of its own and provides the quintessential Hardy outlook on English rural life. Set against the ubiquitous, unchanging Egdon Heath, the novel is preoccupied (like most of his novels) with the workings of Fate and the interference of misfortune and chance in human life. Like his other novels, it has a predominantly pessimistic tone.

The novel begins with pages of the heath’s descriptions which immediately establishes its importance in the story. It is November fifth-Guy Fawkes Day-and the inhabitants of the heath light bonfires all across illuminating it and thus giving it a diabolical look. Eustacia Wye-the queen of the night as Hardy calls her- sends a signal to Wildeve through the bonfire at Mistover Kapp and they have a clandestine meeting. Wildeve was just that morning set to marry Thomasin Yeobright but some trouble with the marriage license prevented it. Poor Thomasin was heartbroken and returned home in Diggory Venn’s -the reddleman’s- van much to the consternation of her aunt-Mrs. Susan Yeobright. Wildeve on the other hand had an ambivalent relationship with Eustacia and Thomasin. He had passionately loved the former and adored the latter. It is in such circumstances that Clym Yeobright-Susan’s only son and Thomasin’s cousin-returns home from Paris after a long time. He is the native that comes back to his beloved heath after being fed up of the materialistic life of Paris. He comes back for good to do some selfless service here- namely to start a school for the heath’s inhabitants. Its a move disapproved by his mother and creates an unfortunate gulf in their intimate relation. Clym also falls passionately in love with Eustacia and her divine beauty after they meet each other in unusual circumstances. Many complications arise thereafter due to Fate’s constant intervention that turn the lives of the heath’s inhabitants upside down. It is obvious that it ends on a tragic note(being a Hardy novel nothing else can be expected) with Clym bereft and philosophical.

The tragic end should not be a deterrent for avoiding this novel as it includes features that give it a status of a masterpiece. The genius is in the fact it provides a microcosm of Fate. The beauty of novel lies in the celebration of the power of nature, of heath’s power and resistance to change. It is a formidable entity in the novel that wraps its inhabitants in its godlike hold. The Edgon Heath is in itself a character of the novel. Being godlike, it has a supreme power to shape the destinies of the characters in the novel. Hardy not only celebrates nature but also the simple, rustic life, its people, its customs, traditions, its idealism, its simple life, and its superstitions. The novel is suffused with certain rustic, pagan customs that became rare in Hardy’s time such as the Guy Fawkes Day, the Mummer’s Plays, the Maypole dance etc.. This aspect manifest Hardy’s own belief in the rural way of life and attests his scorn for the industrial life.

The characters too are robust rustic individuals (except Eustacia) who adore the heath and accept its overwhelming presence boldly. The most unique sketches that Hardy gives are that of the furze cutters-Timothy Fairway, Christian. Grandfather Cankle etc. who embody the quintessential English countryside qualities such as friendliness, hominess, strength, politeness that better their lives in contrast to the townsfolk. The various characters’ personalities, their dominating passions and emotions define their lives and the events that occur to them. Eustacia is a melancholic, powerful active not to mention a divinely beautiful woman whereas Thomasin is on the quieter side and much more passive. There is a shade of delicacy to her character. Clym on the other hand is an upright, selfless man whose optimism helps him face any adversity. Whereas the reddleman is a gentle soul, a product of the heath itself and the character through whom Fate works. The story also has unique, peculiar characters such as Susan Nunsuch, her son-Charley, Captain Wye etc.

All in all, ‘Return Of The Native‘ is an excellent tragic novel modeled on Greek tragedy that is sprinkled with pure, untouched rural life and permeated with a wild, heath which in turn permeates its inhabitants even Eustacia. It is an absorbing read that will re-ignite anyone’s interest in classics.

Go ahead immerse yourself in the beauty and power of Egdon and leave everything to Fate!

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!

‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ written by Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi is a beautifully conjured novel, a moving tale of singular people and their extraordinary lives.

Taken from scholarswithoutborders.in

The novel begins in the early 1900s’ with Anuradha’s story. She is going from her hometown Udaipur to Mumbai to meet Vardhaman Gandharva, a potential marriage partner. Just when it seems that things may not work out, Vardhaman openly admits his love for her and they predictably get married. Their love blossoms splendidly like a lovely flower. However, later, an unforeseen tragedy strikes them both tearing them asunder and changing Vardhaman irrevocably. Anuradha goes back to Udaipur where she dabbles and masters over the music and the wondrous songs that are an integral part of her soul. In the course of this stay, she meets other extraordinary people like Nandini who is an unusual artist and an even unusual woman having her own tragic tale. Will Anuradha and Vardhaman overcome the tragedy that ripped them apart? Will their love blossom fruitfully once again or will it be lost forever?

‘The Last Song of Dusk’ abounds with comparisons which increases the depth of the emotions, thoughts, situation etc., helps in understanding it better. The novel is replete with romanticized descriptions. Sanghvi has a very flowery style of writing. He infuses great grandeur and oodles of opulence not only in the story’s setting but also in the copious descriptions. Everything in the novel is exquisite. There is great abundance whether it is the character’s emotions, the royal settings of Udaipur or British city of Bombay or just the  physical beauty of a human. Everything is made out to be insanely beautiful and he uses exquisite words and expressions to convey that beauty to the reader. For eg, pashmina of exquisite remembrances. (pg. 80). There are instances of magic realism suffused in the story. Sanghvi has also made music an important part of the story. It is manifested literally in the many songs, symphonies and musical instruments that are described. There is also a certain kind of vibrant and even melancholic musicality in Sanghvi’s writing that is hard to miss or dislike.

There are certain sexist stereotypes that the books has-like Anuradha’a need for marriage, the tiffs between her and her mother-in-law etc.  Granted that the book is set in the 1900s’ where woman were treated inferior but if Anuradha can be bold enough to leave her husband’s house, Sanghvi should have been bold enough to write something more than the overemphasized importance of marriage in a woman’s life.

Leaving that one negative point aside, ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is undoubtedly a marvelous debut that spins together a lavish, grand love story that is bound to charm any reader. It is not the usual tale of love and sorrow, of man and a woman being in love, being happy, having troubles and reconciling them. It is much more as it infuses a portrayal of different sides and aspects of that one ubiquitous emotion called love. The novel reflects and gradually reveals layers and layers of that emotion between Anuradha and Vardhaman and other characters too like their son-Shloka or Nandini’s  idea of love and safety etc. The reader, if attentive enough, can easily pick on these ideas, learn that love can have two sides just like anything else and know that it can teach us all one lesson or two.

Its a poignant love story that depends on the stark emotions for its narration; its beauty, its invulnerability, its vulnerability, its magic, its pain and countless other things. It is  painfully beautiful, musical and aptly touches the right chord in the reader’s heart. ‘The Last Song Of Dusk’ is one story that will be in the reader’s heart long after its been perused.

 

‘Love Story’ by Eric Segal is a famous romance bestseller. Its an unusual love story with bouts of unusual romance coupled with a touch of sadness. It is a short book, almost a novella and can be read in no time.

Taken from hachette.com.au

Oliver Barrett IV is a descendant of a rich, old family and he is a Harvard student who wants to pursue a career in law. Oliver falls in love with an ordinary(read no heritage and poor) girl studying in Radcliffe, Jeniffer Cavilleri. They plan to eventually get married which causes Oliver’s father to disinherit him. After marriage, its difficult to earn money but they pull through. However, a tragedy cuts this pretty love story short.

The good thing about ‘Love Story’ is that Eric Segal does not make the two protagonists fall in love in a cliched manner-like love at first sight or the guy doing the most chivalrous things or making disgusting promises to woo the girl. Its a quick romance with a few swear words thrown in(Its amazing how profanity can be romantic in ‘Love Story’). I have never seen a romantic novel where swear words and insulting each other contributes to building up the love between a girl and a guy!

Its written from a male perspective which I think is rare as most love stories have a woman’s point of view or have a woman as the narrator.

The book’s length is an advantage and a disadvantage simultaneously. On one hand ‘Love Story’ makes for a short read. But it is this short length that doubles up as a disadvantage too because it does not allow depth in the story and in the characters. It almost becomes a breezy, unmoving read because there is not much descriptions about either Oliver’s or Jeniffer’s feelings or their relationship.

Too much use of American slang also creates a casual effect, not a deep one . It feels like it is not a profound love story but rather just an ordinary one. The short length and slang usage contribute in diluting the sadness at the end of the novel.

The last word-‘Love Story’ is no doubt a good romantic read but it is definitely not the best. Its only a one time read!

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