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Posts Tagged ‘Drama

“All poets write bad poetry. Bad poets publish them, good poets burn them.”*…

 

Thunderstorm with the Death of Amelia 1784 by William Williams active 1758-1797

Thunderstorm with the Death of Amelia, by William Williams, 1784. Photograph © Tate (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0).

 

Readers may recall an earlier nod to William Topaz McGonagall, widely considered to be the worst published poet in British history.  McGonagall, best known for his widely-excoriated verse recounting of “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” distributed his poems, often about momentous events, on handbills and performed them publicly (often, it is reported, to cat calls and thrown food).  And he collected his verse into volumes including Poetic Gems, More Poetic Gems, Still More Poetic Gems, Further Poetic Gems, and Yet Further Poetic Gems.  Imagine your correspondent’s surprise and delight to find a learned appreciation of McGonagall’s place in poetic history:

Not unjustly, McGonagall is rarely mentioned without an epithet: some version of “the worst poet in the English language.” And by any reasonable account, any judgment based on the most universally shared values of poetics, prosody, and taste, there is little to admire in McGonagall. The rest of his corpus shares—replicates, really—the faults of “The Tay Bridge Disaster”: its lapses into bathos, its involuted syntactical structures, its rhymes so slanted as to be more or less horizontal.

There have been worse poets, of course, and as such it would be more accurate to describe McGonagall as the worst famous poet in the English language, a testament in part to the man’s powers of self-promotion and the caprices of literary history. But McGonagall’s notoriety still owes much to the singularly strange power of his own badness. There’s something, I think, in poems like “The Tay Bridge Disaster”—as well as McGonagall’s many poems on his great themes of death and destruction—that is worth examining; something that might redeem him, ever so slightly, from the annals of amusing semi-obscurity; something unsettling about his ostensibly blinkered artistic vision that might help to account for why he lingers as the patron saint of misbegotten verse…

On William Topaz McGonagall, the worst famous poet in the English language: “The Disaster Poet.”

(Readers will find a selection of McGonagall’s poems here.)

* Umberto Eco

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As we bathe in bathos, we might spare a thought for the decidedly more-accomplished poet (and playwright, artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and philosopher) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; he died on this date in 1832.  Probably best remembered these days for Faust, he was “the master spirit of the German people,” and, after Napoleon, the leading figure of his age.

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Written by LW

August 28, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”*…

 

shakespeare

Naeem Hayat as Hamlet, with the Shakespeare’s Globe company, performs to migrants in the Jungle refugee camp on 3 February 2016 in Calais, France

 

William Shakespeare lived in an age of uncertainty. His society was traversing a number of unpredictable challenges that spun from the succession of the heirless queen Elizabeth to the ascent of a new class of merchants. But the biggest issue had to do with religious conflicts. In the premodern world, religion provided absolute certainty: whatever we knew was implanted in our mind by God. We didn’t have to look any further. Once that system of beliefs started to collapse, Europe was left with a yawning gap. Religion no longer seemed capable to explain the world. René Descartes and Shakespeare, who were contemporaries, gave opposite answers to the sceptical challenge: Descartes believed that our quest for knowledge could be rebuilt and founded on indubitable certainties. Shakespeare, on the other hand, made uncertainty a leitmotiv of all his works, and harnessed its creative power…

Lorenzo Zucca considers the poet as a philosopher: “Much ado about uncertainty: how Shakespeare navigates doubt.”

Of possible parallel interest: an informative review of Scott Newstok’s How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education.

* Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 1

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As we back the Bard, we might recall that it was on this date in 1600 that four plays, three by Shakespeare– Much Ago About NothingHenry V, and the source of today’s title quote, As You Like It— plus Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour were officially entered into the Stationers’ Registry.  Readers will recall that the copyright regimen was strict in Elizabeth’s time, as is now.  But back then, copyright was literally that, the right to make a (first) copy: the Queen, concerned with sedition and determined to keep a tight rein on any and all published material in her realm, had decreed that no work could be printed in England without a license from the Stationer.  In this particular instance all four plays were “stayed”–meaning that they were specifically noted in the registry as works not to be printed.  The stay didn’t hold for long; within a few years, three of the four were published.  Only one held out: for reasons scholars still debate, As You Like It didn’t appear in print until the famed First Folio edition of 1623.

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Written by LW

August 4, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction ; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines.”*…

 

the_ladies_home_journal_1948_14763671891

 

In the 1890s, empire building was in the air in New York, and magazine editors succumbed to the craze. As President Theodore Roosevelt sent troops to Cuba and the Philippines, the magazine men—they were nearly all men—had quieter plans to extend their influence. They used their brands to sell model homes, universities, and other offerings of middle-class life. It was, after all, the Progressive Era, when technological innovations and post-Victorian values were supposed to hasten the arrival of a more enlightened, egalitarian social order. Before the concept of branding even existed, these new magazine ventures represented an exercise in branding. But woven into this phenomenon lay a stealth traditionalism, a new way of packaging the often conservative, sometimes quixotic visions of a few titans of the press.

Editors Edward Bok (Ladies’ Home Journal), John Brisben Walker (Cosmopolitan), and S.S. McClure (McClure’s) saw a way to directly shape their readers’ class aspirations. In 1895 Ladies’ Home Journal began to offer unfrilly, family-friendly architectural plans in its pages. They were mainly colonial, Craftsman, or modern ranch-style houses, and many still stand today. The Cosmopolitan, as it was then known, advertised the Cosmopolitan University, a custom-designed college degree—for free!—by correspondence course. McClure’s magazine, the juggernaut of investigative journalism—home to Ida Tarbell’s landmark investigation of Standard Oil, among many other muckraking articles of the Gilded Age—began to plot an array of ventures, including a model town called McClure’s Ideal Settlement.

Cannily noting the trend for smaller, servantless suburban homes, Journal editor Bok [the grandfather of Harvard President Derek Bok] was selling more than home design. Every house should be occupied by a female homemaker, he decided, and every family should aspire to a simpler, more frugal way of life. The campaign rapidly succeeded. By 1916 the editors of the Journal claimed that thirty thousand of their homes had been built. Part of this was due to the Journal’s wide circulation—it was the first American magazine to surpass a million subscribers. Its sister publication, the weekly Saturday Evening Post, was a fixture of nearly every household…

fireproof_house_2

“A Fireproof House for $5,000,” illustration by Frank Lloyd Wright in Ladies’ Home Journal, 1907

When the (male) proprietors of women’s magazines believed that their publications could change lives on a grand scale: “Editorial Visions.”

* C.S. Lewis

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As we shape society, we might recall that it was on this date in 1914 that George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion premiered in London, featuring Mrs Patrick Campbell (for whom Shaw had written the role) as Eliza Doolittle.

The Greek myth of Pygmalion, who fell in love with one of his sculptures, was a popular subject for Victorian English playwrights, including one of Shaw’s influences, W. S. Gilbert, who had written a successful play based on the story,  Pygmalion and Galatea, that was first presented in 1871.  Shaw’s play in turn has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the musical My Fair Lady and its film version.

220px-Mrs._Patrick_Campbell_as_Eliza_Doolittle_1914

A Sketch Magazine illustration of Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle from April, 1914

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“I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s the not knowing that makes it interesting”*…

 

Gifanisquatsi

 

Koyaanisqatsi is a 1983 wordless documentary primarily made up of slow motion and time-lapse footage. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the trailer here.

I wondered how easy it would be to make an internet version using random Giphy ‘gifs’ which have been tagged as slow motion or time-lapse, playing them along with the Philip Glass soundtrack…

Rico Monkeon has built a “random Koyaanisquatsi generator.”

* Philip Glass

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As we commune with the cosmic, we might send dandy birthday greetings to Sir Noël Peirce Coward; he was born on this date in 1899.  A playwright, composer, director, actor, and singer, he wrote more than 50 plays from his teens onwards.  Many of his works, such as Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit, have remained in the regular theater repertoire.  He composed hundreds of songs, in addition to well over a dozen musical theater works (including the operetta Bitter Sweet and comic revues), screenplays, poetry, several volumes of short stories, the novel Pomp and Circumstance, and a three-volume autobiography.  Coward’s stage and film acting and directing career spanned six decades, during which he starred in many of his own works.

For all that, he may be best remembered for his persona, for his wit, flamboyance– and for what Time magazine called “a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise.”

220px-Noel_Coward_Allan_warren_edit_1 source

 

Written by LW

December 16, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot”*…

 

Lerner and Lowe

Composer Frederick Loewe (left) and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner in a 1956 photo

 

In the preparation for the Broadway debut of Camelot— on the heels of their shared successes with Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, and Gigi— the relationship between the creative team Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe began to fray…

By the end of the week Fritz and I were seeing less and less of each other. Irritations and differences between us that had been long forgotten and were of little consequence at the time had now become the subject of questions by interviewers. Our replies traveled from mouth to mouth and by the time they reached us they were unrecognizable distortions. If we had stayed steadfastly and constantly together as we always had in the past we would have laughed, rowed, or shrugged, but in the end gone on about our business. We did not. I do not know why we did not. I may have thought I knew then but whatever I thought, I am certain I was wrong. I have a feeling the reason was far more insidious, something of which neither of us was aware and which affected each of us in different ways. I have a feeling it may have been too much success.

Success, as I mentioned earlier, can be a creative stimulant. It encourages reaching in and reaching out. But it can also take the concessions of collaboration and call them compromise. It can embitter as often as it elates and inflates and it can weaken as much as it toughens. It can magnify faults and unearth a few new ones and its only virtue is when it is forgotten. Perhaps I was too disdainful of the words of others and Fritz too vulnerable. Perhaps I misinterpreted our differences as lack of support and he misinterpreted mine as heroics. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I will never know. Too much was never said. In the end we were a little like the couple being discussed in one of Noel Coward’s early plays. “Do they fight?” said one. “Oh, no,” said the other. “They’re much too unhappy to fight.”

From the memoir of Alan Jay Lerner, The Street Where I Live, via the ever-illuminating DelanceyPlace.com.

* Alan Jay Lerner, Camelot

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As we contemplate collaboration, we might send dramatic birthday greetings to James Maxwell Anderson; he was born on this date in 1888.  A playwright, screenwriter, author, poet, journalist, and lyricist, Anderson had a string of theatrical successes (e.g., What Price Glory, Key Largo, Bad Seed, Anne of a Thousand Days), adapted his plays and the works of others and created original works for the screen (e.g., All Quiet on the Western Front, Joan of Arc, Ben-Hur), and wrote the book for two of Kurt Weill’s productions (including Knickerbocker Holiday, the standout number in which, “September Song”, became a popular standard).

Maxwell_Anderson source

 

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