coaching

Narrative Coaching

When it comes to coaching models, it is certainly not the case that one size fits all.

So far, the one that I like most is called Narrative Coaching. It’s described as a ‘mindful, experiential and holistic approach’ to shift my client’s stories thereby generating new options for desired change.

The idea is that stories are not only central to life but they are essential to our sense of ‘self’. Indeed, if you’re inclined to the post-modern viewpoint, we are literally narrated into existence. For example, when little Johnnie hears his parents and teachers tell him he’s a good boy when he studies hard, he might well form a narrative or story about himself that he’s good only when he studies hard.

4VPC7ZCiPxtMoVb8uyrhKMqm.pngNot only that, but little Johnnie must also make sense of recurring cultural themes or motifs like the hero’s journey (this is classic Star Wars stuff). Johnnie becomes the ‘hero’ of his story when he accepts his own ‘call to adventure’ and leaves his known world behind to face the challenges of the unknown. Perhaps little Johnnie considers his adventure of going off to University in this way? If so, then all is on track until he somehow gets derailed. Maybe his mother dies or girlfriend dumps him? Maybe his student funding falls through? Maybe he parties too much? Doesn’t really matter. The point is that because of some challenge or temptation he fails to conquer, Johnnie is not able to study hard anymore. This in turn leads to him dropping out of university and taking a job he doesn’t like. It isn’t long before both he and others interpret this as arising because  in his hero’s journey, Johnnie failed to complete the socially acceptable story arc. When Johnnie leaves (or is pushed from) that job he doesn’t like, he’s not sure what to do next. Worse, he’s not entirely clear why he ended up in this situation. Yet somewhere in the back of his head, however, is that story of a ‘good’ boy turned ‘bad’ because he didn’t study hard enough.

When I invite Johnnie, now my coaching client, to tell me his story, I need to listen carefully. Which character does he choose as his narrator (i.e. does he tell the story through his own eyes or through the eyes of the mother or girlfriend or the administrator who cut his funding)?  Does he sound enthusiastic about his partying? Which tense does he use? Is he the subject of the story (‘I did XYZ to him, her, them’) or is he the object (‘he, she, they did XYZ to me’)? What themes or motifs recur (or are missing) – illness, relationships, failure, temptation, bad luck? What labels recur (i.e. ‘good’ or ‘bad’)? To whom or what do they attach? If listening to all these variables  isn’t hard enough, I need to a remain aware that I’m always interpreting them through my own point of view.  Am I making judgements on his story? Do I understand how telling it is making him feel? If it’s a sad story, does it make me sad? If so, am I sad because my client’s story touches some sadness (mother dying) already in me?

5355330_orig.pngThrough careful questioning, can I get Johnnie to rejig his story, throw it in a more positive (or less negative) light? Maybe he tries another point of view character (first person or third person) or verb tense (past, present, future) or even imagine a completely different crucial scene? How about rewriting a whole new story any way that he’d like? What or who might be different?

Interestingly, there’s lots of leeway here because although storyline (plot) must move forward (cause and effect) in time, narrative does not. My client can start at the end of his story (or how he’d like it to end) and work backwards. Happens all the time in murder mysteries. We start out knowing who got killed and maybe even who did it – but we don’t know that all essential ‘why’ and ‘how’ until we refollow the crucial events from beginning to end! My goal here is for my client to open up space for a different or new story to develop – an opportunity to fill in gaps and ambiguities or flesh out and develop certain characters and/or motives. We may all know that little Johnnie did drop out of university (the facts are on the table) but we really don’t know why until we explore it. We also don’t know where the story progresses from here – maybe Johnnie finds another unrewarding job (for whatever reason) or may he returns to university and wins a Noble Peace Prize.

Sound fun but not for everyone?

OK, I’ll accept that.

I also have to accept that purely by the nature and focus of my questions, I’ve influenced my client’s newly crafted story. Is it really still his story or has it now become mine?

Drama

Disguise as a Device in Renaissance Drama

VOLPONE: I ne’er was in dislike with my disguise

Till this fled moment.

(BEN JONSON, Volpone)

VolponeWith these lines Volpone indicates that he is becoming tired with pretending to be sick and wants to give up the con game (give me some wine to ‘fright’ this ‘humour’). Although not a disguise per se which necessitates change in identity but instead a change in condition, his feigning illness is still a deception perpetrated to further plot development.

However it is my contention that such change in condition as Volpone’s is not as helpful as it might be in understanding the significance of the device of disguise in Renaissance drama. This is because unlike with disguise, a mere change in someone’s condition (such as illness) does not allow him/her to leave his/her entire past behind him and become someone else altogether. If as postmodern philosophers like Foucault have suggested, the ‘self’ is narrated into existence by the stories that we and others tell us about us, then this ability to be someone else allows the disguised character to disconnect with his/her story and play an entirely different one to great effect.

For example, with Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edgar who is himself the victim of deceit, is able to dismiss all boundaries of wealth and class when he disguises himself as a poor (and slightly mad) beggar named Poor Tom. Lear himself sympathizes with Edgar’s situation (as Poor Tom) in a way that we can imagine would have been impossible had Poor Tom still been the Edgar that Lear had always known (or even a mad version of Edgar). In the process of this interchange with Poor Tom, however Lear learns something very important about his own situation (‘unaccommodated man’ is no more than an ‘animal’).

In Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, Bel-Imperia’s servant, Pedringano, uses disguise to perpetrate his deceit in exposing his mistress and Horatio as lovers to her brother, Lorenzo and would-be lover Balthazar. If in the garden with her lover, Bel-Imperia had realised that is Pedringano accompanying Lorenzo and Balthazar, the game would have been given up much earlier and the play’s plot much changed; for example Hieronomo would have more quickly and easily identified his son’s murderers and audience would not have witnessed nearly so much of his agonizing prevarication, the very painful explorations of the nature of revenge that Kyd achieved would have fallen by the wayside.

In Middleton’s The Changeling, the substitution of Beatrice’s maid for Beatrice in consummating the latter’s marriage to Alsemero is also perpetrated by disguise. Beatrice cannot allow her husband to realise that she is not a virgin. Not only does this result in the maid’s death which furthers the plot (toward Alsemero’s understanding of what has been going on behind his back) but it furthers one of the primary themes of the play – that of changelings and explorations of what happens when a person or thing is (surreptitiously) exchanged for another.

But in this play disguise also operates at much more sophisticated level. Keeping in mind Foucault and the narrated ‘self’, we can see that even without a disguise Beatrice plays two roles/stories living up to at least two different ways that she is perceived; Alsemero’s ideal of womanly perfection and also DeFlores’s ideal of ugliness. At the end of the play when Alsemero is discussing with Beatrice’s father, Vermandero, the identity of Alonzo’s murderers, he even uses the term ‘disguise’ – (I have ‘two other’ that were more ‘close disguised’) in reference to the real perpetrators, Beatrice and DeFlores. Clearly the realisation that Beatrice had played such two different roles triggers an even greater epiphany for Alsemero than had Poor Tom’s disguise triggered for Lear – for at the very end of the play Alsemero willingly admits that although previously he had been a ‘little ass’ he now considers himself to be a ‘great fool’.

In summary, a mere change in condition (illness) such as that demonstrated by Volpone is not as useful as it might be in considering the significance of disguise in Renaissance drama. Even though Volpone suggests that he had almost become the sick man whose role he had been playing (‘fore God, my leg ‘gan to actually ‘have a cramp’) he is still not seen by others as a different person. This prevents furtherance of scenarios that actual disguise allows such as great epiphanies as with Lear and Poor Tom- or clandestine operations like with Bel-Imperia’s servant, Pedringano – both of which further plot by either clarification or confusion. In the case of Beatrice in The Changeling, disguise operates at several levels – in my view the most important being in demonstrating how one person can in effect be two persons because we define ‘self’ or personage in regards to the stories we and others tell about ourselves. If she had merely been feigning illness like Volpone, such differences would be been anticipated hence taking much of the sting away from Alsemero’s final realisation.

Drama

Tradition and Form in Renaissance Tragedy

doctor-faustus-as-a-morality-play-5-638In his essay, Tradition and the Individual Talent, T.S. Eliot advises that ‘art never improves’ even if the ‘material of art’ is never quite the same. According to Eliot, to be accepted into the coveted literary canon an author treads a fine line between innovation and tradition and hence although we might expect some development over time (refinement and complication) it is likely to more to do with economics than anything else.

Whilst the Renaissance dramatists were probably not worrying about being admitted to any future literary canon, they were interested in having their plays performed. I can imagine that many were also interested, for economic reasons, in having as many plays performed as possible in the shortest period of time. Hence it only makes sense that for economic (and doubtless other reasons), tragedy developed by treading Eliot’s fine line between innovation and tradition – or if you will, current ideas and inherited form.

The form of English tragedy has most certain evolved over time – with Chaucer it was a ‘ditty’ about prosperity ending in wretchedness whist in later periods it had morphed into sad stories about a man’s fall as told by his ghost. By the 15th and early 16th century, we see the so-called ‘everyman (morality) plays’ – whereby on actor represents all of mankind with angels and the like tempting him to do evil with a view to investigating notions of Christian salvation.

At least in part, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (1594 or thereabouts) is a throwback to these earlier morality plays. Faustus follows roughly the same form as the earlier plays in the sense of featuring polarised figures of good and evil (in Faustus the Evil and Good angels are constantly quarrelling as to whether Faustus is capable of repenting and in the A text in reality there was little possibility). As were the earlier plays, Faustus is didactic in the sense it aims to teach about what it takes to be a Christian. However unlike with the earlier plays the temptations do not come from outside ( i.e. with players representing specific qualities such Lechery or Sloth). As the opening scene demonstrates, without any outside stimulation Faustus prevaricates on whether he should ‘settle his studies’ and follow the party line by being a physician and making a ‘heap of gold’ or instead to follow his own inclinations and learn about alchemy and sorcery. I suggest this change in focus from outer to inner temptation is in keeping with expanding ideas about the nature of personal freedom (no longer constrained by a limited choice such as amongst the proscribed professions) but now encompassing a full range self-chosen goals from which Faustus makes his choices.

Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (1586) signals a revival of the tragedies by the Roman philosopher and dramatist Seneca doubtless in part because Seneca had fallen back into favour with the ruling monarchs, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The Spanish Tragedy focuses on revenge, a favourite Senecan theme, as the tragic protagonist Hieronimo struggles to obtain justice for the murder of his son, Horatio, and finally is forced to take revenge.

Kyd’s work also adopts Seneca’s five act structure and endorsement of Aristotle’s unities of action (no scene is a digression from contributing directly to the plot – as was the case with Faustus and the subplot with the two clowns, Robin and Rafe). But it fails to adopt unity of time which requires the action of the play to be compressed to usually to no more than a single day. Although there is no specific time period over which the action of The Spanish Tragedy takes place, it must have involved more than 24 hours for Hieronimo to learn the truth and decide on his course of action.

Interestingly The Spanish Tragedy also adopts the typically Stoic (again adopted by Seneca) idea that failure to remain unruffled in the face of difficult emotions such as Hieronimo faced after finding his murdered son (he rants and raves through several soliloquies about the injustice of it all) results in madness. Also of note is the use of Andrea’s ghost to frame the play as the ghost, like in those earlier English tragedies, tells the sad story about Andrea’s demise.

The Spanish Tragedy has been seen as a crude forerunner of Shakespeare’s later more complex and sophisticated tragedy, Hamlet – the two focusing on revenge, ghosts, and madness in fairly much the same ways. Yet although Hamlet may be a more complex character than Hieronomo (Hieronomo rails about the injustice of it all, whilst Hamlet takes this further and questions the very nature of man (‘what piece of work is man!’)), it is quite possible tthat Shakespeare made Hamlet too complex and sophisticated. In his essay entitled Hamlet and His Problems, T.S. Eliot concluded that as a play, Hamlet was an ‘artistic failure’ because Hamlet was so obsessed by emotions that he could not objectify, that there was nothing Shakespeare could do with the plot to express Hamlet who had worked himself to a point of inaction.

In summary, if we are to agree with the argument put forth by T.S. Eliot that art never improves even if the material of art changes, then it only makes sense that each new tragedy is a negotiation of inherited form and current ideas and fashions. This certainly seems to be the case as such famous tragedies such as Faustus, Hamlet, and The Spanish Tragedy – which clearly build not only upon older forms of English tragedy but also on classical forms such as that used by the Roman dramatist and philosopher, Seneca. Not only does the structure of these plays hark back to earlier times but also the tropes (ghosts and madness) and themes (revenge and Christian redemption).

Drama

The Significance of Humoural Theory in Early Modern Drama

UnknownWhen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive at Court in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the character Hamlet comments (in regards to the theatrical entertainments to be performed) that ‘the Humorous Man shall end his part in peace’ (2.2, 320). By ‘humorous’ Hamlet cannot mean ‘amusing’, ‘comic’, or ‘funny’ (OED A 4) ) for according to the OED that meaning came first into use in 1652, approximately fifty years after Hamlet was written. Instead Hamlet is referring to humoural theory which was in keeping with ancient and medieval physiology and medicine (OED A 1) as expounded by Empedocles, Hippocrates, and Galen – four building blocks or ‘roots’ of the material world with shared qualities resulting in certain physiological and psychological manifestations called humours and temperaments (Greenbaum, 7-18) found in all warm-blooded animals (Paster, 115):

ELEMENT QUALITY HUMOUR TEMPERAMENT
Fire Hot/dry Yellow Bile Choleric
Earth Cold/dry Black Bile Melancholic
Water Cold/wet Phlegm Phlegmatic
Air Hot/wet Blood Sanguine

The idea is not so much that, for example, black bile causes melancholy but that in some way it resides in it; in this sense ‘melancholy’ is not just a passing mood (as we might use the word today) but more or less a way of being in the world (Paster, 116-117). Humoural theory ascribed certain characteristic proclivities to the various temperaments as follows (taken from The Regimen of Health by John Harington, 1607, reproduced in Greenbaum, Appendix E and Nicholas Culpeper’s Descriptions of Temperament, reproduced in Greenbaum Appendix D)):

TEMPERAMENT CHARACTERISTICS
Choleric Violent, fierce, ambitious, proud, oft malicious, courageous, quick-witted, bold, given to jesting, mocking and lying.
Melancholic Studious, solitary, pensive, musing, suspicious, avoids sport, harbours anger and hate, covetous, cowardly, envious, obstinate, spiteful and squeamish.
Phlegmatic Inclining to be fat, slothful, deadened spirit, dulled senses, little growth, dreamy (of great rains and drowning), sleepy, forgetful, shamefaced and sober.
Sanguine Loves women, wine, and all recreation (especially cards), merciful, courteous, enjoys pleasantries and music, not apt to take offence or be ireful, inclined to weep easily but little affected by grief.

In telling us that it is the ‘humorous’ character who will ‘end his part in peace -Hamlet hints that the theme of finding balance is one of the key significances of humoural theory for early modern drama. In his play Cynthia’s Revels, Ben Jonson expounds on this idea; ‘a creature of most perfect and divine temper’ is ‘one, in whom the Humours and Elements are peaceably met’ (i.e. balanced); whether this requires balance of all four humours or just two or three remains unclear and hence for purposes of this essay I will assume that balance is achieved when there remains no ‘emulation of Precedencie’. Jonson notes that should a man wish, to ensure his Humours and Elements are ‘peaceably met’, he must ‘strive’ through both his ‘discourse’ and ‘behaviour’ to be ‘Judicious’ (i.e. sensible in all matters’ (OED ad A 1). In other words, if the required effort is made and humoural balance is achieved such that no single temperament dominates, then according to Jonson ‘Fortune could never break’ a man (excerpt from Cynthia’s Revels is reproduced by Greenbaum, 38).humoral theory

Naturally no person could consist of a single temperament – as far back as Galan in the 2nd century it has been accepted that such ‘pure’ states are not possible in nature (Greenbaum, 14). Because the four temperaments share certain qualities, combinations are to be expected; in his translation of Galen’s Art of Physick (reproduced by Greenbaum in Appendix F), Nicholas Culpeper helpfully includes descriptions of certain ‘compound’ temperaments – for example a Choleric/Melancholic (sharing dryness) not only dreams of ‘Murders’ and ‘Hurts’ proceeding from ‘fire, fighting, or anger’ but is also ‘quick Witted’ and ‘studious’; he is however more ‘suspicious’, ‘fretful’, and ‘solitary’ than Choleric men. Not only that but in regards to men (but not to women) the transition from hot/dry (during adulthood all men are presumed to be hot/dry) to cold/dry occurs naturally with age (aging lowers body temperature).

Still it is not unusual to display a dominant temperament – for example Hamlet’s tendency to melancholy is more than evident when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive. Not only does he tell them that he has ‘lost all my mirth’ but also that he has ‘forgone all custom of exercises’ (2.2, 294-5). Later in the same scene he actually names his complaint – ‘my melancholy’; (2.2 590). But regardless of how many times Rosencrantz reminds Hamlet of his ‘ambitions’ (2.2, 250-260) – suggesting that Hamlet’s friend sees him as Choleric/Melancholic and hence having ambitions – Hamlet refuses (whether consciously or unconsciously) to engage with the full range of his temperaments – he does not ‘strive’ to be ‘judicious’ but instead allows himself to wallow in melancholy’s ‘foul and pestilent congregation of vapours’ (2.2, 300-301). In his essay Hamlet and His Problems, TS Eliot (81-87) concludes that such refusal leaves Hamlet ‘dominated by an emotion’ which ‘is inexpressible’ – he can neither ‘understand’ nor ‘objectify’ it – and if a key character such as Hamlet remains inexpressible on stage, then as Eliot suggests the play is an ‘artistic failure’.

This is not to suggest that all such exaggerations of type result in artistic failure. Compare Hamlet with Shakespeare’s I Henry IV – where in the opening conversation between Prince Hal and Falstaff (1.2, 69-70) the latter declares himself ‘as melancholy as a gib cat’ (cats by nature, are melancholy, Paster, 119). When Hal goes on to compare Falstaff with ‘an old lion’ or ‘a lover’s lute’ – again associated with melancholy (Paster, 115) – Falstaff plays along until Hal invokes the ‘melancholy of Moorditch’ (1.2, 73-74) at which point – with this implication of fetid stagnancy – Falstaff begs off the game (‘thou has the most unsavoury similes’, 1.2, 76). Although obviously aware of his humoural difficulties, like Hamlet, Falstaff fails (perhaps due to age) to balance his melancholy. Yet to my knowledge no one (including TS Eliot) has suggested that Henry IV is an artistic failure and this may be at least in part because by the end of 2 Henry IV the Choleric Hal (he has ambitions as he tells us from the start – ‘Yet herein will I imitate the sun, I.2, 186) and the Melancholic Falstaff cancel each other out. As Eliot (95) notes, in Shakespeare’s successful works his characters act upon each other in a way that is always fitting to their characteristic proclivities; there seems little doubt that Hal heightens his own fortunes at the expense of Falstaff’s.

Shakespeare’s use of humoural theory in Henry IV is in sharp contrast to that of Jonson. TS Eliot (89) suggests that in order to appreciate Jonson’s work, we must not look at the ‘emotional tone’ in a ‘single verse’, but instead at the ‘design of the whole’ work. This is because the success of Jonson’s comedies (but not his tragedies) is not because the characters have an effect on each other (as is the case with Shakespeare) but instead because of the effect of their combination as a whole (Eliot, 94).

Jonson’s work is satire and satire levels criticism against the real world. Thus it should thus come as no surprise that Jonson does not depict humours as balanced – but exactly the reverse – fortune breaks those who allow their characteristic proclivities to slide too far out of balance. Jonson himself has said in the Prologue to Every Man and His Humour that his intention is to ‘sport with human follies’ and ‘laugh at them’ because ‘they deserve no less’. Yet that is not to say that Jonson is more interested in the generation of laughter than in obtaining humoural balance; in his next sentence he qualifies that having seen his play ‘there’s hope left’ that once ‘you, that have so graced monsters’, may learn what it means to be men.

volp2If we are to learn from Jonson, then as TS Eliot suggests (89) we must look to the ‘design of the whole’ work. Like Hamlet, Jonson’s characters are exaggerations of type. Unlike Falstaff and Prince Hal, they fail to balance each other. However they become balanced as the result of the actions of outside forces. For example in Volpone balance is delivered through punishments imposed by the Avocatori, or four Magistrates; with Every Man in His Humour balance comes through the judgements of Justice Clement, also a magistrate. I further suggest that each character’s punishment/ judgement is in keeping with something that triggers a balancing shift in dominant temperament.

For example, in Volpone, the majority of the major players – Volpone, Mosca, Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino for the most part display a single domimant temperament as the gulls obsequiously line up to secure their anticipated booty when the ‘childless, rich’ hoaxter Volpone ‘feigns sick’ and ‘offers his state to hopes of several heirs’ (The Argument, 1- 7): they receive balancing punishments as follows:

CHARACTER DOMINANT TEMPERAMENT PUNISHMENT
Volpone Choleric – hot/dry – quick-witted, bold, given to jesting, mocking and lying.

 

Along with his servant, Mosca, he plots the hoax on the others because he glories ‘more in the cunning purchase of my wealth’ than it its ‘possession (I i, 30-33).

Sanguine – hot/wet – not apt to take offence and little affected by grief.

Although he looses all wealth and sent to prison – he addresses the audience at end of the play indicating that for him ‘no suffering is due’ if the audience praises him – ‘clap your hands’ (Epilogue, 1-6)

Mosca Choleric – hot/dry – quick-witted, bold, given to jesting, mocking and lying.

Along with his master, he plots the hoax but turns on him in the end – refusing to acknowledge the hoax hoping to ‘inherit’ Volpone’s money himself.

Melancholic – cold/dry – harbours anger and hate, spiteful.

Sentenced to be whipped and sent to the galleys as a slave, he hisses to his accomplice in crime, ‘Bane to thy wolfish nature (V xii. 115)

 

Voltore Melancholic – cold/dry – covetous, cowardly, envious.

 

Although a lawyer, he perjures himself to ensure he gets the ‘inheritance’ – Volpone realises this and plays Voltore further – ‘unscrew my advocate upon new hopes’ (V Xi, 20).

Phlegmatic – Cold/wet – shamefaced and sober.

After disbarred – V xiii, 126-128, we imagine he is shamefaced to have so scandalized the worthy men of his profession.

Corbaccio Melancholic – cold/dry – covetous, cowardly, envious.

 

In order to secure he is Volpone’s sole heir he disinherits is own son.

‘And disinherit my son? (I iv,95-96) and ‘Tis done, ‘tis done, I go’ (I iv, 132).

 

Phlegmatic – Cold/wet – shamefaced and sober.

Upon losing all his worldly goods & being sent to a monastery to ‘die well’ at V xiii, 1129-1330 we can imagine his spirit will be deadened.

Corvino Sanguine – hot/wet – Loves women.

It is his prize, his beautiful wife, that he offers up in order to secure his ‘inheritance’. “The party, you wot of, Shall be min own wife (II vi, 80-81).

Choleric – hot/dry – quick-witted, quick to anger.

Sentenced to public humiliation and losing his wife at V xiii, 134-139 –he reacts angrily but cleverly – ‘I shall not see my shame, yet’.

In summary, the significance of humoural theory in Early Modern Drama is to be found in a character’s success or failure in ending ‘his part in peace’ in the sense that by the end of the play, his ‘Humours and Elements are peaceably met’ – or balanced. This can occur either through (1) striving to judiciously ensure no one temperament dominates to the end as Hamlet failed to do or (2) balancing dominate temperaments with other characters as did Prince Hal and his friend, Falstaff. Additionally Jonson has demonstrated that a character’s unbalanced humoural temperaments can achieve balance through the ‘design of the whole work’ by having balance imposed from the outside.

 

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Bibliography

Jonson, Ben. Five Plays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Shakespeare, William. 1 Henry IV. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Eliot, T.S. The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. London: Faber and Faber, 1997.

Greenbaum, Dorian Gieseler. Temperament – Astrology’s Forgotten Key. Bournemouth: The Wessex Astrologer Ltd, 2005.

Paster, Gail Kern. ‘Melancholy Cats, Lugged Bears, and Early Modern Cosmology: Reading Shakespeare’s Psychological Materialism Across the Species Barrier’ (113-129). Reading the Modern Early Passions – Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion, ed. Gail Kern Paster, Katherine Rose, and Mary Floyd-Wilson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Drama

New Criticism – its usefulness & drawbacks


The New Critics established that ‘literature requires and deserves responsible reading and readable response’, but the New Criticism was eventually rejected as being ‘intellectually naïve and methodologically fruitless’ (John Willingham). So what the usefulness and drawbacks, if any, of New Criticism?

New Criticism emphasizes close reading of a text – treating it is a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic object – ‘art for ‘art’s sake’ – rather than a work fitting into some larger cultural or other context.

Such an approach is somewhat useful for at the end of the day all that we do have is the text and the larger context into which it may fit remains at best interpretation or conjecture. In this regard, New Criticism can never be ‘methodologically fruitless’; words do speak for themselves and if we are to understand what it being said it helps to focus on what is (as opposed to what is not) on the page.

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There is also significant room to argue as does Willingham, that New Criticism is intellectually naïve in the sense that for although we can never know for certain how the greater context in which it was written influences the text, we can be certain that it has indeed influenced it and if we ignore that influence then we have lost a great deal from our aesthetic experience.

For example in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, a close reading of the text in 2.5 where Ferdinand expounds ‘Rhubarb, O for rhubarb (t)o purge this choler’ may well leave us none the wiser. Certainly a 21st century reader realises that Ferdinand is angry (for ‘choler’ has retained that link) but the connection between ‘rhubarb’ (the New Critics were keen to focus on ambiguity and indeed tried to show the unity beneath the text’s apparent disunity) and ‘purging’ that ‘choler’ is lost. Without context, it is almost impossible to fit rhubarb together with anger (unless one suggests they are both related to the colour red). Indeed we may even be tempted to see this ambiguity or disunity as a flaw in the work; many 21st century readers tend to judge a work harshly when we are forced stop reading and think.

However if we know that in the early 17th century rhubarb was considered to medicinally ‘purge’ or cure ‘choler’, then a meaningful connection is made. But unless we understand that Ferdinand’s ‘choler’ is not a fleeting state of mind, but his temperament, we cannot realise the full import of this connection. We can rectify this however if, for example, we examine this text as might a proponent of New Historicism – in conjunction with a text contemporary of the period. For example in John Harrington’s 1607 Poems on Temperament, we discover that a choleric like Ferdinand is not only angry, but he is ‘oft malicious’ and ‘all violent and fierce’. Not only that but ‘on little cause to anger’ a choleric like Ferdinand is ‘great inclin’d’. This understanding of the nature of his temperament presents a different picture that if we were to believe him simply angry on a certain day.

Further, if we accept that a text is an ‘aesthetic object’ (however TS Eliot and others might have us define that) then if we are to take anything valuable away from our ‘aesthetic experience’, we need to focus on what it tells us about ourselves. For example, if we were to examine this text as might a proponent of feminist literary criticism, we might focus more on the suggestion that Ferdinand intends to ‘purge’ his temper on his sister (whom in a few lines earlier was pronounced ‘a notorious strumpet’) because she has married not to his liking even whilst he appears to have no problem that his brother, the Cardinal, keeps as his mistress, another man’s wife. Where is the equality in this asks the feminist? How can the Duchess express herself (as she clearly is attempting to do by marrying of her own choice) if politically she has not the power to do so? Now the focus is no longer just on a choleric brother having a 17th century rant but on the sexual politics of the period and how they might still inform our own sexual politics in the 21st century.

If we were to examine this text as might a proponent of psychological literary criticism then we would focus not on Ferdinand’s ‘choler’ and its manifestations but instead on its potential causes – perhaps the problem is sexual libido gone wrong – this is not an unreasonable suggestion what with all the knives and their phallic symbolism (in 3.2 Ferdinand sneaks into his sister’s boudoir and surprises her with a knife) and Ferdinand’s protestations in 4.1 about the effect on him of her body (‘Damn her, That body of hers’). Thus instead of Rhubarb to ‘purge’ Ferdinand’s ‘choler’, a 21st century psychotherapist might prescribe psychoanalysis or even a modern day substitute for ‘rhubarb’ like prosaic. What might this tell us about how much scientific advancements have changed 21st century society as opposed to that of 17th century?

In summary, if we wish to come to grips with a text then as suggested by the New Critics we should focus on the text. To do otherwise make it all to easy miss not only what has been written but also to add things that have not. In this sense the approach of the New Critics cannot be methodologically fruitless. It can however be intellectually naïve to believe that one can fully appreciate a text (or indeed any piece of art) if one does not understand it in the context in which it was created. It is likewise intellectually naïve not to attempt to draw conclusions about what that text or piece of art might tell us about ourselves – for example how society has or has not changed over time.

Cosmology and Divination

Freedom and Power in English Renaissance Revenge Tragedy

UnknownAccording to Patrick Cheney, ‘(r)enaissance tragedy tells how a freedom-seeking individual is oppressed, always to annihilation by authorities in power, whether represented by a corrupt government or by the angry gods – often by both’. I suggest that this is a dangerous over generalization at least in regards to revenge tragedies, which are a dominant theme in renaissance tragedy (Pollard, 58). Not only does it fail to recognise there is no single definition of tragedy for the whole of this tumultuous fifty-odd year period, but it also fails to recognise the various types of power mongers presented in the plays as well as the different types of freedom sought by the individuals oppressed by them.

For example, the ‘authorities in power’ (however defined) are most decidedly not always corrupt and at least with regards to the sub-genre of domestic revenge tragedy such as Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling, there are often no governments (corrupt or not) unless one accepts the view that a household is equivalent to a government in the sense of ‘everyman’s house is his castle’ and his ‘family’, a ‘private commonwealth’ (Richardson, 18-19).

In and of itself, this is not an unreasonable view. Hadfield (30) advises that in English tragedy, the fate of the ruling monarch has always been linked to the nation-state in the sense that when the monarch fails to act in the best interests of his subjects, everyone suffers and Richardson (20) argues that this applies likewise for the (male) head of a household and its residents; early modern communities the misbehaviour of a single member of a household tainted the reputation of the whole. This would certainly seem to be the case with The Changeling when after his daughter, Beatrice, has confessed her crimes and perished, Vermandero laments as how his family name and personal honour are comprised (‘Oh, my name is entered now in that (notorious) record,’ V,iii,180). Beatrice’s bereaved husband, Alsemero, however would seem to be less concerned with such damage because once ‘(t) guilty hit, that innocence is quit,’ (V iii 186). In The Duchess of Malfi, although the entire household suffers as the result of the ‘sins’ of the widowed Duchess at the end of the day all taint on the family name (quite possibly because by that time the ‘sin’s committed are no longer solely those of the Duchess) is purged leaving ‘no more fame’ than a ‘print in the snow’ when said snow ‘ever melts’ as ‘soon as the sun shines’ (V v 109 – 115).

But even if one accepts that the household is equivalent to the nation-state, at least in The Changeling it is difficult to conclude that, as head of household/government, Vermandero is ‘corrupt’ in the sense of being depraved or evil (OED II 4) or even perverted from uprightness and fidelity in the discharge of duty (OED II 5); he may be too forceful in his insistence that Beatrice marry as he pleases (‘I’ll want (my) will else’, I 1 12) for our modern tastes, but certainly this does not make him evil or failing in his duty as a early modern father. Likewise, although Alsemero might be faulted for falling in love with a betrothed woman (I i 1-12); but he makes little, if any, effort to win her and hence I cannot consider him to be depraved or evil or even to have failed uprightness or fidelity to discharge his duty; it is neither by his hand nor direction that his wife, Beatrice, dies. However in The Duchess of Malfi there is room to argue that Duke Ferdinand, as head of the household qua government is corrupt. Most certainly at times he borders on depravity and his elder brother, the Cardinal of Aragon, says as much: ‘(w)hy do you make yourself (s)o wild a tempest?’ (II v 17-18). Yet one corrupt head of household/government does not an overgeneralization like Mr Cheney’s support and besides, let us not forget that until the very end of Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, the King of Spain demonstrates his continuing loyalty to Hieronomo, the tragic protagonist, when for example, in Act 3, scene xii, he refuses to entertain the wily Lorenzo’s suggestion that Hieronimo is too ‘helplessly distract’ to properly do his job and should resign and also that in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, there is neither government nor household to be corrupt.

There is however a god. But despite Faustus’ protestations that He is ‘fierce’ (13, 108), this god is protrayed not so much angry but as business-like, concerned with enforcing the terms of a valid contract freely consented to by both parties. Indeed Cheney’s statement regarding ‘angry gods’ would seem better suited to the classical pagan pantheon depicted in The Spanish Tragedy (presented in the first act by the ghost of Don Andrea recounting his journey through the pagan underworld of the Greeks) than to the New Testament Christian God of Doctor Faustus, complete with hellish devils, heavenly angels, and frequent calls in the name of ‘Christ my Saviour’ for repentance (7, 78-80). Let us also remember that in both The Duchess of Malfi and The Changeling to the extent that any god is mentioned, Divinity plays a very insignificant role.

Perhaps the biggest fault with Mr Cheney’s sweeping assertion is that although it is qualified as pertaining only to ‘freedom-seeking’ individuals, Mr Cheney neglects to define ‘freedom’. This is problematic because over that fifty-odd year period of Renaissance Tragedy, these plays incorporate a mix and match of many different notions of freedom ranging from that of Roman Stoicism ( choice of personal response limited to conformance with cosmic laws ( ‘Logos’), (Macintyre, 101) to that of the grandeur of the renaissance pursuit of ‘self-chosen goals’. Not only that but with these various definitions of freedom come different consequences for the failure to judiciously utilise it; indeed I suggest that the notion of freedom has evolved to ‘self-chosen goals’, we have reached a complete end to ‘angry gods’. By the time of the English Renaissance, tragic protagonists like Shakespeare’s Hamlet (is it ‘nobler’ to ‘suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, than to ‘take arms’ against one’s ‘troubles’ and ‘oppose them’? (3.1, 57-61), no longer struggle against fate and/or supernatural powers (i.e. ‘angry gods’), but instead with the overwhelming responsibility of shaping their own destinies (Dupré, 125).

It is widely agreed that after Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy the form of tragedy favoured by English Renaissance playwrights was drawn heavily from the revenge plays of Seneca, Roman philosopher and playwright. Hence it is only reasonable that in English Renaissance tragedies, there would be some evidence of Seneca’s Stoicism, one of the basic tenets of which is that every man must act ‘true to himself’ to make his own life journey and although he may be aided by others, at the end of the day he must assume responsibility for himself and to the extent that requires going against the authorities in power then so be it. (Asmis, 224).

This certainly seems to be the case with Hieronomo. Witness his agonies (‘this way or that way?’, III, xii, 16) before finally deciding he has no alternative but to seek revenge for the death of his son, Horatio. Further, although Hieronomo’s choices appear narrowly constrained to his ‘duty’ within a defined cosmos (‘Logos’), where ‘neither gods nor men be just to me’ (III 5 10-13) in the true Roman Stoic sense, it is important to note that even in this we find a mix and match of philosophies regarding freedom; for despite Seneca’s own use of revenge in his tragedies (perhaps as a backlash against the limitations of Stoic impassivity), Roman stoicism would have counselled against revenge for if a man is unable to remain calm in the face of disaster, he cannot be trusted to properly navigate his life journey (MacIntyre, 102)

As compared to Hieronomo’s Stoicism, Doctor Faustus takes a wider, more modern view of freedom; his perceived range of choices are more in line with the grandeur of the renaissance pursuit of ‘self-chosen goals’ when he follows his wildest fancies, the ‘metaphysics of magicians’ and the ‘heavenly’ books of necromancy ( I 49-50). Also while the consequences of Heironomo’s decisions appear to lie firmly in the hands of those pagan gods (the ghost of Don Andrea chooses to ‘lead Hieronomo where Orpheus plays, adding (s)weet pleasure to eternal days’ (IV v 23-24), the responsibility for the consequences of Faustus’ decisions are considered by him to be shared by himself and the Devil (‘(n)o Faustus, curse thy self’ and not god, but the devil (‘curse, Lucifer’), (13, 102-103).

Like Faustus, the Duchess of Malfi pursues her ‘self-chosen’ goals as she ‘winked’ and ‘chose a husband’ of her own liking (I i 340) and although the consequences of her action is execution at the hands of her brother’s henchman, she does not appear to repent for having by her own choice shaped her destiny any more than did Faustus – ‘I am the Duchess of Malfi still’ (4.2 134) – and indeed she demonstrates more calm and bravery in the face of death )’(t)his cord should terrify you? Not a whit’ (4.2, 206 – 207) than Faustus who in his final moments momentarily thrashes about looking for someone else to blame (‘(c)ursed by the parents that engendered me’). Similarly the tragic protagonists of The Changeling, Beatrice and Deflores pursue their own goals – ‘I shall want (my will) if you do’(I i 213) and ‘I’ll have my will’ (I i 230) respectively. Although by the end of the play Beatrice exhibits token remorse for her behaviour (‘Forgive me, Alsemero, all forgive! ‘Tis time to die, when ‘tis a shame to live’, V iii 1178-179), Deflores exhibits none whatsoever when he wields his penknife.

If in his sweeping statement Mr Cheney has neglected to define ‘freedom’, he equally has neglected to define what he means by ‘tragedy.’ Although for Chaucer tragedy was a little ‘ditty’ about a time of prosperity ending in wretchedness, by early Elizabethan times, tragedy was commercially (if not idealistically) defined in line with Marlowe’s Tamburlaine and Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy – ‘tragical’ in the sense that it usually involved love and sexual desire gone wrong (Pincombe, 5-6, 11). Interestingly, according to Pincombe (12-13), many of these tragedies could equally be labelled as ‘heroic romance’ (romantic elements including a wandering hero, exploits of war and love, and the gratification of wish-fulfilling fantasy), leaving the defining terms of tragedy even more enigmatic. Love and sexual desire gone wrong most definitely underpins The Changeling; if Beatrice had not fancied Alsemero, there would have been no story. But love and sexual desire does not figure into Dr Faustus (his coupling with the incubus, Helen of Troy aside) and although lies behind the inciting incident – the death of Heironomo’s son, Horatio – it does not impact the way in which Heironomo takes his ‘tragic’ decision. Although the ‘sins’ of the Duchess of Malfi did revolved around love and sexual desire, I suggest that they cannot be said of have gone wrong except perhaps in the eyes of her designing brothers; indeed Chaucer’s definition of prosperity ending in wretchedness might equally apply, again underlining the difficulty of pinning down the defining terms of English Renaissance ‘tragedy’.

In summary, Mr Cheney’s statement regarding ‘(r)enaissance tragedy telling how a freedom-seeking individual is oppressed, always to annihilation by authorities in power, whether represented by a corrupt government or by the angry gods, is a sweeping over generalisation, dangerously failing to account for the variety of themes and plots combining under banner of ‘tragedy’ as well as different notions of ‘freedom’ represented. Often enough gods or governments are neither present nor materially significant to the plays’ denouement and indeed even when gods are represented they are not always ‘angry’ any more than the governments are always corrupt.

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Bibliography

Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus (based on the A-Text). London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2014.

Middleton, Thomas and William Rowley. The Changeling. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2013.

Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy. Manchester: Manchester Univeristy Press, 2002.

Webster, John. The Duchess of Malfi and Other Plays. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Asmis, Elizabeth. ‘Seneca’s Originality’, (224-238). The Cambridge Companion to Seneca, ed. Shadi Bartsch and Alessandro Schiesaro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015 (online).

Dupré, Louis. Passage to Modernity – As Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Hadfield, Andrew. ‘Tragedy and the nation state’, (30-43). The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy, ed. Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. A Short History of Ehtics. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2002.

Pincombe, Mike. ‘English Renaissance tragedy: theories and antecedents’, (3-16). The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy, ed. Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Pollard, Tanya. ‘Tragedy and revenge’, (58-72). The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy, ed. Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Richardson, Catherine. ‘Tragedy, family and household’, (17-29). The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy, ed. Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Drama

The Fatness of Falstaff & the politics of redemption

Word on the street is that Wonga, the controversial Internet payday lender, is preparing for an IPO (Initial Public Offering). This anticipated share flotation could yield its owners in excess of £100 million.

But first, after having been publically disgraced for charging interest rates in excess of 5,000% (APR) and using fake law firms to harass its hapless borrowers, Woimagesnga must redeem its ‘bad-boy’ public image.

In October 2013 Wonga reported £1.2 billion in lending (an increase of 68%) and pre-tax profits of £34.5 million (an increase of 35% on the previous year). In October 2014, following government intervention, Wonga is writing off £220 million in customer receivables and revising its lending practices. Some market-savvy commentators suggest such redemption is strategic for that anticipated IPO. I can only imagine how right they are in that.

In his first soliloquy of Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV (1.2. 185-204), Hal (the future Henry V) plots his own ‘redemption’. Like Wonga, he will shed his ‘bad-boy’ image being ‘like a bright metal on a sullen ground’ – a light that will ‘attract more eyes’ than if it had ‘no foil to set it off’. By referencing the ‘base contagious clouds’ and ‘foul and ugly mists’ the ‘vapours’ of which ‘did seem to strangle him’, Hal announces his foil to be none other than ‘fat-guts’ (2.2.29) Falstaff – and friends – that charismatic, largeUnknownr-than-life, ‘oily rascal’ –(2.4.507-508) with whom he has chosen to spend so much time.

There have been as many theories about why Falstaff is fat as there are those who have pondered the question; a parody of puritan ethics (Bulman, 160), signature of the opacity of character (Bulman 161), symbol of Vice as in Morality plays (Bulman, 162).

At first I had concluded that the question of Falstaff’s fatness need not be more complicated than as a proper foil for Hal – ‘a starveling,’ an ‘eel-skin’ a ‘bull’s pizzle’ and a ‘stockfish’ (2.4.237-238) – Falstaff had to be fat – really fat – larger than life, fat. Indeed he must be fat as life itself – ‘banish plump Jack, and banish all the world’ (2.4.461-462). The more obvious is the difference between Hal and Falstaff, the better. Contrast of colour or quality to set something off to advantage is what being a ‘foil’ is all about (OED n 6).

This is the easy option. This is the most obvious, most moral answer. This the solution to which, at least modern audiences, are most attuned. I mean with the words ‘I banish thee’ as ‘I have done the rest of my misleaders’ (2 Henry IV 5.5.62-64) who wouldn’t want to believe that Hal was nothing more than an ordinary adolescent under pressure to put his youthful rebellion and associated friends behind him?

Yet the more I considered the question, the more I became convinced there was more to it than that. After all if according to Desmond Barrit (143), who played the role of Falstaff in an RSC production, Falstaff was the most complex part he has ever played then as Falstaff’s counterpart, Hal must be equally as complex.

According to Adrian Lester (148) who played the role of Hal in an RSC production of Henry V, in that first soliloquy (1 Henry IV.1.2. 185-204) with its image of the clouds hiding the sun, Hal reveals the kind of ego necessary to fill the role of king to which he was born. Not only that, but Lester suggests that by introducing the notion that he should be ‘wondered at’ (1.2.199), Hal is signalling that we should never be too certain that we know or understand him.

So why had Hal ordered Peto to search Falstaff’s pockets while he was asleep (1 Henry IV .2.4. 510-530)? Why had Hal allowed Falstaff to falsely claim he had killed Percy – especially after having told his father that he would ‘redeem himself’ on Percy’s head’ (3.2.132)? If Hal is so quick to comply with Falstaff’s deception – ‘(I)f a lie may do thee grace/I’ll gild it with the happiest terms I have’ (5.5.152-153), then what other deceptions might he be willing to perpetrate?

In that first soliloquy, Hal reveals all – by paying ‘the debt I never promised’, he plans not only to ‘redeem time’ (redemption implies the ‘discharge or paying off a debt or obligation’, (OED, n 6b) but also to ‘falsify men’s hopes’.

It is possible that debt to which he is referring is the repayment of the money Falstaff plans to steal from the pilgrims at Gad’s Hill. Yet it is difficult to imagine that if, as he said himself – he was neither a thief (1.2.130) nor did he intend to involved in this caper (except to the degree he agreed with Poins to return the money to its rightful owners – 1.2.136) why Hal would believe this to be his debt to repay. It is even harder to imagine that by returning something to its rightful owners Hal would ‘falsify’ the ‘hopes’ of anyone.

Whose hopes, then, does Hal intend to ‘falsify’? The obvious answer is Falstaff’s. That those hopes might have been unrealistic from the start does not alter the fact that Hal has constantly sent Falstaff mixed messages in regards to how far he might push their relationship – one moment Hal playfully suggests he will renounce Falstaff (2.4.463) and the next he allows Falstaff the glory of having been responsible for Percy’s death (5.5.152-153).

To whose ‘debt’, then, is Hal referring? This answer is not so obvious although I suggest that it was that of his father, incurred in usurping the throne of Richard II. There is little doubt that some believed that Henry IV had incurred such an obligation – Hotspur says as much (1.3.185) when he urges his kinsmen to obtain ‘revenge’ from this ‘proud king’ to ‘answer all the debt he owes.”

Likewise there is little doubt that said debt weighed heavily on Hals’ father’s mind. Indeed Shakespeare chose to commence the play with Henry IV’s ruminations on the ‘bitterness’ of the ‘civil butchery’ that ensued from his actions (1.1.13). Bulman (158) suggests this was why Hal chose to idle away his time in a tavern rather than at his father’s court.

Let’s face it – Wonga is not writing off £220 million in customer receivables to be nice guys. By repaying a ‘debt’ that ‘he never promised’ to pay, Hal is not being a nice guy either. Bulman (158) reminds us that Elizabethan audiences were aware of the importance of public self-fashioning. Being publically seen to redeem oneself could not have been any less politically astute in Elizabethan times than it is today and if we know anything about Hal, it is that he is politically astute.

I suggest that if we believe that it was only with Percy’s head that Hal planned to redeem himself, we would be wrong. Elsewise he could never have so easily have given that distinction to Falstaff. In truth, Hal needs something much more than Percy’s head to ensure the success of his own IPO (Initial Public Offering) and that something is to secure a legitimate alternative to divine right to the throne via redemption of his father’s debt.

Bottom line then is that however much Hal might have genuinely cared for Falstaff, he had planned from the start to use him up like a Kleenex – because in order to complete his redemption, the prodigal son must consume the ‘fatted calf’.

By comparing himself to the well-appreciated sun coming out after being obscured by those ‘base contagious clouds’ (1.2.180-190), Hal clarifies his understanding that those who redeem themselves are more revered than those who remain steadfast. He also clarifies that he intends to use this to his advantage – ‘I’ll so offend to make offence a skill,’ (1.2.204). Finally (1.2.183) he clarifies that it was for such purposes that he never intended to remain long with Falstaff and friends – ‘I know you all, and will awhile uphold (emphasis added). He even hints that Falstaff will become the sacrificial ‘fatted calf’ – while play-acting with Falstaff, Hal refers to him as a ‘roast manningree ox with pudding in his belly’ (2.4.336) who ‘run and roared as ever I heard bull-calf’ (2.4.252).

That Falstaff is sacrificed every bit as is the ‘fatted calf’ is undeniable. In the final scene of 2 Henry IV (5.5.46-47) Hal tells Falstaff ‘I know thee not, old man’ and then leaves the Lord Chief Justice leave to toss Falstaff and friends in jail (5.5.88-89).

Bulman (173) suggests that if Falstaff had not been so presumptuous as to publically claim Hal as his own ‘sweet boy’ (5.5.39) in the midst of his coronation, Hal would not have so callously denounced Falstaff. That might or might not be true. But I suggest that if Hal knows anything about Falstaff, he knows that that Falstaff loves him like a father and that such treatment will be the death of his fat friend.

bad boysAt the end of the day it is not Wonga’s owners (nor their equity investors) who will pay for its redemption but those two million customers who have already paid interest rates in excess of 5,000% (APR). Likewise, at the end of the day it is not Hal (nor his family) who will pay for his redemption but Falstaff. Such is the politics of redemption – success requires sacrifice and this is best accomplished through the sacrifice of someone else.

In summary, (1) both Hal and Wonga need to redeem their ‘bad boy’ imagesimages-2 and t (2) such redemptions are best funded at the expense of someone else. It remains to be seen whether Wonga’s redemption pays off for its founders but we already know that Hal’s most certainly did. As the Bishop of Ely replies in in answer to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s marvelling over Hal’s ‘reformation’, ‘we are blessed in the change’ (Henry V. 1.1.76).

 

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Bibliography

Bevington, David, ed. Henry IV Part One. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Taylor, Gary, ed. Henry V. Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1982.

Weis, Rene, ed. Henry IV Part Two. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Barrit, Desmond. ‘Falstaff in Parts I and 2 of Henry IV’ (128-144). Players of Shakespeare 6. ed. Smallwood, Robert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Bulman, James. C. ‘Henry IV, Parts I and 2’ (158- 176). The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s History Plays. ed. Michael Hattaway. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Dollimore, J. and Sinfield, A. eds. Political Shakespeare. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994.

Greenblatt, Stephen. ‘Invisible bullets: Renaissance authority and its subversion, Henry IV and Henry V’, (pp. 18-47), ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield. Political Shakespeare: Essays in cultural materialism, (Ithaca), Cornell University Press, 1994.

Harriss, GL ed., Henry V: The Practice of Kingship. Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1993.

Lester, Adrian. “King Henry V” (145-162). Players of Shakespeare 6. ed. Smallwood, Robert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

 

 

 

Drama

Tatterhood – a Norwegian Fairy-tale/original drama

Tatterhood (A Norwegian Fairy-tale) / original drama by Debra Moolenaar

 

Players:

Daisy (D)– the beautiful daughter

Bella Dona (BD)– the ugly daughter with her goat and wooden spoon

Queen Jessamine (QJ)– the Queen

Pansy (P) – the maid

Christmas Eve witch (CEW)

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(continued – previously, encouraged by her maid, Pansy,  Queen Jessamine ate two magic flowers and gave birth two twins – one (Daisy) is beautiful but the other one (Bella Dona – complete with her goat and wooden spoon) is ugly.  Spurred by concerns of a fall in her social standing as the result of the ‘mishap’, Queen Jessamine resolves to get rid of Bella Dona in four days time at a Christmas Eve party, which traditionally is infested with witches and trolls.)

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ACT ONE/SCENE TWO

 

P:         Your Highness, your twins are here to consult about their gowns for this evening’s festive soiree.

QJ:       You may handle it.   I ‘m busy reading this article that says greed is good.

P:         Milady?

QJ:       I’m working on plan B.   If this article is correct, Pansy, then I’m off the hook.  Queen Thistle simply can’t hold me responsible for doing something bad if in fact it is good.

P:         I’m afraid I don’t understand.

QJ:       It’s all in the spin.  If something looks bad, then just gloss over it with something that looks good and then it is good.   We’re taught that greed comes from selfishness, right?  It stems from one’s egocentric failure to limit the boundaries of the Self.

P:         What’s the Self?

QJ:       One’s complete personality, the whole enchilada.

P:         Would you like me to order enchiladas for tonight’s festivities?

QJ:       Do they go well with chocolate covered cherries and marshmallow macaroons?

P:         I think not.

QJ:       Forget the enchiladas.  But here in the second line of the third paragraph it specifically states that greed arises not from an expanded sense of Self, but from a lack of Self.   Now everyone needs a Self, Pansy, and when I tell this to Queen Thistle, she’ll be only too happy for her son to marry both my daughters.   There’s no finer way to secure one’s Self then to have an heir and a spare.

P:         But your Highness, that’s against the law for a prince to marry two princesses at the same time.

QJ:       Drat.  You’re right.  Could I have a biscuit?  Make that two.

P:         Does this mean we’re back to plan A with the witches and trolls, milady?

QJ:       It would seem so.   I wonder if Lady Macbeth felt guilty as she plotted her crime.

P:         She was a witch, your Highness.  Witches don’t do guilt.

QJ:       Perhaps.   But I do.  So I prefer to think of Lady Macbeth not as witch, but as an anti- mother.  If truth were told, Pansy, some of us aren’t cut out for motherhood, even though it’s the only way in which we wield power.   Macbeth was prepared to exercise her power by dashing in the brains of her brat.   Apparently in those times, infanticide was all the rage.  But I’d like to be more delicate than that.

P:         What did you have in mind?

QJ:       At the soiree tonight, I want you to dress up as the Christmas Witch.   We’ll pretend that you’re there, as is traditional, to do a divination.   Then when the lights go out, you whisk Bella Dona off to a new home with foster parents across the sea.

P:         Me, a Christmas Witch, milady?  That’s not my forte.

QJ:       The alternative is murder, Pansy, and I’d like to remind you that it was you who made me eat both flowers.

P:         I’ll commence working on my witch costume immediately, your Highness.

QJ:       That’s the spirit.  OK, now open the floodgates and let my, er, umm, the twins in.

B/BD: (enter) Mama dearest.  It’s been months since we’ve been granted an audience with you.

OJ:       Don’t exaggerate.  You’ve only been born four days.  Daisy, sit here on the floor beside me.  Bella Dona, you and your goat sit over by the bookcase and don’t let him eat Daddy’s first editions.  Now girls, what are you wearing this evening?

BD:      We are wearing matching gowns of daffodil watered silk with ivory lace collars and mother of pearl buttons.

QJ:       You may not wear matching gowns.  Come up with something else.

BD:      But Mama, twins must dress alike.  We’re a symbol of wholeness.

QJ:       Where did you hear that?

BD:      In your CG Jung book.

QJ:       Was that your father’s idea to have you read that?

BD:      Yes, Mama.

QJ:       That man has taken leave of his senses.   Children should not read books.  It puts ideas into their heads.  Now listen, the both of you.  You are not to wear similar gowns tonight.  I repeat, not.  I want Daisy to wear a white dress, and I want Bella Dona dressed completely in black, as it suits her, her, um, complexion.   Any questions?

BD/D: No Mama.

QJ:       Good.  Now I’ve got to go supervise preparation for the celebration (exits).

P:         I suggest you do as your mother says (exits).

BD:      I smell a rat.

D:        What kind of rat, sister dear?

BD:      A mama rat.

D:        Mama can’t be that ratty if she wants me to wear white.   White is the symbol of purity and faith, the perfection of the feminine, the source of all life.   I like that.

BD:      And she wants me to wear black.   Black is the symbol of treachery and sorrow, a step closer to death.  Do you like that too?

D:        No.

BD.      Look, the point is even though black and white are flip sides of the same coin, which would you rather be, sister?

D:        I see what you mean.  But at least you don’t have to marry Queen Thistle’s fat, ugly son.  I overheard Mama tell Pansy in the rose garden that I was the chosen one, and that’s something I could do without.

BD:      Did you also happen to overhear Mama’s plans for me?

D:        I don’t think there were any.

BD:      Exactly.  Look here, Daisy.  You know the old nursery rhyme – “On Christmas Eve, heads will roll of those foolish enough to make merry with witches and trolls”.

D:        I have heard it.

BD:      So why would Mama choose to have a party on Christmas Eve when it’s so dangerous to do so?

D”:       She likes parties?

BD:      I’ll tell you.  Our mother has hired a hit woman dressed as a witch to murder me at the party tonight.  That’s why she doesn’t want us to wear identical clothes.  The witch must know in advance how to tell us apart.

D:        Our mother would do that?

BD:      You have to ask?

D:        I guess not.   And if you were dead, then I’d have to take care of your goat and we’re not exactly best friends.

BD:      That’s because he represents your sexuality and you don’t have a good relationship yet with that.

D:        What’s sexuality?

BD:      You’ll figure that out yourself.  But now back to my plan for the party tonight.  You must wear black and I must wear white.  The confusion will put Mama’s plans into a tailspin.

D:        But Mama was right that black goes better with your complexion.

BD:      I’m not worried about that.

D:        But if I wear what Mama told you to wear, does that mean I’ll be murdered instead of you?

BD:      What if it did?

D:        I don’t know.

BD:      Then let’s make certain that doesn’t happen.   We’re inseparable, Daisy, like two peas in a pod.  Let’s stay that way, deal?

D:        Deal.

BD:      Now if Mama has tricks up her sleeve with witches and trolls, goat darling has a few tricks too.   Believe me sister; goat’s tricks are much more clever than Mama’s.

D:        So what do we do?

BD:      Tonight, when the lights go out and the tensions rise, together, we jump onto goat’s back and ride away.

D:        To where will be we riding?

BD:      That’s a surprise.

D:        You mean you don’t know?

BD:      No, not really but are you still game?

D:        You bet.

___________________

(to be continued)

 

Drama

Tatterhood (A Norwegian Fairytale)/ Original Drama

Tatterhood (A Norwegian Fairytale) / Original Drama by Debra Moolenaar


Players:

Daisy (D)– the beautiful daughter

Bella Dona (BD)– the ugly daughter with her goat and wooden spoon

Queen Jessamine (QJ)– the Queen

Pansy (P) – the maid

Christmas Eve witch (CEW)


ACT ONE / SCENE ONE

QJ:       Where is my maid? Why is it so dark in here?

P:         (enters) Good morning, your Highness.  Here’s your pot of pure white tea with two slices of Sicilian lemon each as thin as a dove’s tail, as per your order last night.   Shall I throw open these thick velvet curtains to allow the first rays of the winter solstice sun to warm your royal cheeks?

QJ:       Solstice?   I’d quite forgotten.  Light is returning.   This is the finest hour.  But despite that, last night I had a horrible dream.   I was taking tea and biscuits in the crimson throne room with the King, something I would never do for everyone knows the crimson throne room….

P:         ….is for special occasions.

QJ:       Just so.   I was biting into a marshmallow macaroon, my favourite except for chocolate covered cherries, when I was set upon by a drunken old woman, who stunk like a pickled herring…

QJ:       … and who despite her appalling language slipped you a secret cure?

QJ:       How amazing we both had the same dream.

P:         Your Highness, it was no dream.

QJ:       That’s why it seemed so real?

P:         Exactly.

QJ:       But next, I had to do something unthinkable.

P:         We did it together.

QJ:       I remember now.  I washed myself in two pails of water scented with fresh daisies, which we were lucky to find this time of the year, and then we tossed the dirty water under the bed where two flowers would grow.   Let’s see if they did.

P:         First slip into your blue Highland cashmere robe with the silver tassels and don’t forget your soft as silk kidskin slippers.  We wouldn’t want your Highness to catch cold.

QJ:       They are there.  Just like the old woman said.  That one is so delicate and fair.  But the other one, well, it’s just downright ugly.   What are we supposed to do next?

P:         Your Highness must eat them.

QJ:       I couldn’t possibly eat flowers.  It’s out of the question.   If our neighbour, Queen Thistle, didn’t have to eat flowers to give birth to her bonny bright babe, then I ought not either.

P:         Milady, may I remind you, that your husband, the King, has commanded that if you’re not with child before the New Year, he’ll cut off your head.

QJ:       I’d almost forgotten that dreary business.

P:         It’s not really so dreary.  When your daughter marries Queen Thistle’s son, it will be the wedding of the century and you’re certain to get that new dress you want with the crimson ruffles.

QJ:       And a new hat and shoes to match?  I have my eye on a pair of death-defying stilettos from Naughty Monkey.   I do hope they come in crimson.

P:         I’m sure of it.  Now take the flowers and bon appetite.

QJ:       But to eat flowers?  It’s simply not done.  They aren’t even served with a sauce.  That’s barbaric.

P:         Having one’s head chopped off is more so.

QJ:       You have a point.   But the old woman said I should only eat the pretty flower.  She was quite clear about that.

P:         But your Highness two is better than one.

QJ:       But to eat both flowers would be greedy.  Greed is the ultimate sin, Pansy.  I can’t take that risk.  What’s going on in the hallway?

P:         The King is coming, your Highness.  You must eat both flowers right away.

QJ:       But greed is bad.   I want to be good.

P:         He’s coming closer.

QJ:       Dear me.   I’ll start with the pretty one.   Yum, that’s tasty even without a sauce.  Rather like fresh asparagus steamed with…

P:         Your Highness, the King is at the door, which, naturally I took the precaution of locking.  But there’s not much time.  You must eat both flowers.

QJ:       Might we order a light cream sauce with capers and shallots to take the edge off this?

P:         The King’s hand is on the door handle.

QJ:       Oh, well, down the hatch.  Yum.  The ugly one is tastier than the pretty one.  Rather like blood orange marmalade, thickly cut, complex, and bittersweet.  Greed isn’t bad, but good, Pansy.   I’d never have imagined it, but it’s true.

P:         I can see that, your Highness.  Your belly is positively bursting.   The King will be pleased.

QJ:       What I have to go through for that man.  Ouch, eek.  Queen Thistle did not tell me baby-making hurt so much and she says she’s my best friend.    Yikes… what’s this dribbling down my leg?

P:         Your water has broken.   Off with your robe and slippers, your Highness, and then jump onto the bed.   Legs wide.  I can see the head.

QJ:       I don’t suppose…. Ouch…. there’s time for my breakfast?  YEOW… I was so looking forward to crispy bacon….

P:         Here we go.  One more push.   Well done.

QJ:       Let me see.

P:         I’m not so sure you want to do that.

QJ:       Oh, stop worrying, Pansy.  A baby is a baby, that’s what Queen Thistle says.

P:         Not this time, I’m afraid.

QJ:       Let me see.

P:         All right.   May I present you with your twin daughters, your Highness?

BD/D:  (enter)  Mama, our own dearest Mama.  Let us shower you with kisses to give thanks for our birth.

QJ:       Something went wrong.

P:         Magic, milady, sometimes does go awry.

QJ:       Big time.    Send them off to the royal nursery and keep them from my sight.

P:         Off you go girls.  When you get to the top of the stairs turn left and Nanny Nonesuch Daffodil will handle it from there.

BD/D: Yes, Ma’am. (exit)

QJ:       Is this my fault, Pansy?

P:         Perhaps, after all, greed is bad.   More tea?

QJ:       Yes, please, with double sugar.   Regardless if greed is good or bad, we have a problem to solve.  We’ll keep the pretty twin with the long golden locks and send the ugly one back.   She looks like an undercooked cheddar cheese soufflé and I don’t even like cheddar.

P:         I don’t think you can do that.

QJ:       Perhaps not but surely she cannot remain here especially with that nasty old goat.  Queen Thistle will say I flummoxed her plans for the great new society, which has been prophesised to come about when her son and my daughter drink from the bridal cup.

P:         You mean when they have sex?

QJ:       I wish you wouldn’t use that word, Pansy.

P:         Yes, milady.   But surely you’re not flummoxing Queen Thistle by giving birth to twins.

QJ:       I am an empty woman, Pansy, an unfilled vessel.  Why else would I have eaten two flowers instead of one?  Queen Thistle, on the other hand is positively overflowing, in every sense of the word.  At some unconscious level, flummoxing her plan was my way of getting even with her and believe, me, I will pay for it until the end of time.

P:         We’re responsible for our unconscious milady?

QJ:       Oh good heavens yes.  I’ve been reading the Works of CG Jung, Pansy, and so should you.

P:         Your Highness, I can’t read.

OJ:       Lucky you.

P:         I don’t quite see it that way.

QJ:       Let me think.  How many days left until Christmas?

P:         Four, milady.

OJ:       Excellent.  That’s just enough time to put together a Christmas Eve soiree.

P:         No.  That’s too dangerous.  Everyone knows the old nursery rhyme – “On Christmas Eve, heads will roll of those foolish enough to make merry with witches and trolls”.

QJ:       That’s exactly what I had in mind.   On Christmas Eve, the cheese soufflé will fall.

P:         But isn’t that murder, milady?

QJ:       Let’s just say that it’s plan A.

P:         Is there a plan B?

QJ:       No.

P:         As you will, milady.   Shall I order marshmallow macaroons or chocolate covered cherries for the festive occasion?

QJ:       Both.

______________________________

(to be continued)

Drama

The Prodigal Son (act one of a new play)

THE PRODIGAL SON

By Debra Moolenaar

( a short play inspired by Camus’ “The Outsider”)

Act One

NARRATOR: (to us.)  Listen up.  Your life may depend on it.   Think you can play around and not get burned?  Think again.

MRS NOVAK:    Let me get this straight, Mr Kermak.  You want me to believe you once lived here in this stinking hole of a town?

KERMAK: That’s right, ma’am.  Indeed I did.  Must have been, oh, twenty years ago, now, since I left Ustecky Kraj.  Doubtless, I look quite different, especially in this fine hand-made cashmere suit from Savile Row.  When I went away, I was wearing nothing but denim rags.  I’ve done quite well for myself in London.   But surely you must remember me?

MRS NOVAK: I’ve got a photogenic memory, Sir, and you’re not in it.

ANICKA NOVAK: What my ma is a saying, mister, is that this here village is so small there’s no way we wouldn’t know ya if you’d have lived here like you say.

MRS NOVAK:  That’s right precious child.  You know, Mr What’s-Your-Name, I had another child once, a son, whom I loved more than anything.  I worked three jobs to put him through school and how did he reward me?  He ran off.  One snowy night, just like tonight, he disappeared without a word and I ain’t heard heads nor tails of him for nigh on twenty years.

KERMAK:   There might have been a good reason for that.

MRS NOVAK: Ain’t no reason good enough for breaking a poor old woman’s heart.

KERMAK: Are you religious ma’am?

ANICKA NOVAK: What kind of question is that to put to a complete stranger?

MRS NOVAK: Why do you ask?

KERMAK: If you were religious, then you’d know the biblical story of the prodigal son.

MRS NOVAK: Never heard of it.

ANICKA NOVAK: You mean the one where the fool of a father welcomes his even more foolish son home after having disappeared for years?  Best I recall, the stupid old geezer even killed a fattened calf for a celebration and didn’t that piss off the older brother, who’d stayed at home and worked his tail off for the old man.  Bet he got his revenge.

KERMAK: Perhaps like the father in the story, Mrs Novak, you might forgive your own son should he show up here some snowy night to surprise you.

ANICKA NOVAK: What a stupid suggestion.  Just goes to show, mister, that you ain’t from these parts after all, else you’d know that’s not our way.

KERMAK: What is your way then, if I might ask.

MRS NOVAK: You may not ask, Mr Busy Body.  Didn’t your ma teach you to mind your own business?

KERMAK: My mother didn’t have much time to teach me anything when I was growing up, although I daresay she thinks otherwise.

MRS NOVAK: Probably working her fingers to the bone to take care of you.

KERMAK: Perhaps.  At any rate, I’d like to stay the night here in your hotel.  I’ll pay cash for the room.  As you can see here, I’ve plenty of that.

ANICKA NOVAK:  Wooo, baby.  I ain’t seen so much money in all my life.

KERMAK:   As I mentioned I’ve been quite successful in business.

ANICKA NOVAK:  Ain’t you scared carrying around a wad like that? I would be especially in a place like Ustecky Kraj.

KERMAK: Of course not.  Nothing untoward will happen to me.

MRS NOVAK: Why do you want to stay here, Mr Show-off?   With money like that to burn, I’d think the newly tarted up Hotel Royale across the street would be more to your taste.   They’ve got a ballroom and a grand piano.

KERMAK: I like it here and, besides, I’d like to share my good fortune with you.

ANICKA NOVAK: You playing around with us?  Cause if you are….

KERMAK: I…I’d never do a thing like that Miss Novak.

MRS NOVAK: I don’t want your good fortune, Mr Nobody, but I do want your cash.  Christmas is in less than a week and I haven’t a single booking.   Anicka, take this key and show the gentleman upstairs to the presidential suite.  A man of such quality must sleep like a king.

ANICKA and KERMAK exit.

MRS NOVAK: I’m going to kitchen to sharpen my butcher’s knife on account of I think, thanks to God, we’ve just been delivered our own fatted calf. (exits).

NARRATOR: (to us.)  Prodigal son indeed.

(to be continued)

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