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Alivion Vanyarin

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(no subject) [Jul. 12th, 2014|06:57 pm]
Alivion Vanyarin

So Tumblr has taken over my blogging life. Sorry.
Anyway, this essay I just wrote deserves a more permanent home than tumblr, so I'm crossposting it here:

I was also sleeping on and digesting Mark Rylance’s Richard II last night. First I had to go and watch extracts from the Whishaw and Tennant productions (Alas, the Jacobi and Pennington ones are at the library and I was Richardblogging from my bedroom at 3 AM) to get myself back into a proper Richardblogging mood.
I think that Rylance’s goofy Deposition scene could work very well if throughout the rest of the play he’d played a more serious interpretation of Richard. If he’d played him more like like Whishaw or Pennington (especially Pennington) then all the silliness would be intentional, it’d be Richard getting up and saying, to Bolingbroke, to the audience, to himself, to God, “This is preposterous. I cannot believe you are doing this. Aren’t you embarrassed? You should be embarrassed. Imagine God’s secondhand embarrassment right now.”; it’d be intentional, and it’d be scary, and it’d be effective. But because he played the character as a petulant and silly child all along, the deposition scene wasn’t a break from Richard’s character, it wasn’t a different take on the manipulative hysterics of the text, it was just the play being presented as a comedy. Isolated from the relentless silliness of Rylance’s take on the character, the burial pantomime at “‘God save King Henry’, unkinged Richard says, ‘and send him many years of sunshine days’” would have been chillingly effective. It would have been Richard saying “You are literally killing me. I hope you’re happy now. Do you think this is some kind of joke.”
One of the admittedly many reasons I like The Hollow Crown production so very very much (Whishaw Situation aside) is over the top histrionics during the deposition scene and Bolingbroke’s “done with your shit” face through it all. Whishaw’s Richard literally rolls around on the ground, there’s the famous crown-roll, he spreads his arms out and goes on and on about himself as king, he makes the scene about him, about what he wants, about what he thinks is his due (and of course it’s his due, he’s the king). But there’s nothing of the petulant toddler’s “look at me!” in Whishaw’s Richard. Whishaw’s Richard is not someone we encounter in everyday life, because Whishaw’s Richard is as much god as man (or boy).
Both Rylance and Whishaw as Richard manage to embody boyhood despite being very clearly grown men (Whishaw with his beard, Rylance with his receeding hairline). I think the part demands some of the innocence and vulnerability and invulnerability of childhood. Children think they are invulnerable, or at least they don’t understand vulnerability in a way that would let them contemplate that they might not be, but we know that they are some of the most vulnerable people there are, and Richard, no matter how you play him, carries this dissonance. We know that Richard is human like the rest of us, that he lives with bread, feels want, needs friends, and is ultimately subject to mortality, but until the beach scene this thought doesn’t even cross Richard’s mind. The way I understand Whishaw’s Richard, this crosses his mind for the very first time in all his 30-odd years on the beach, and he doesn’t fully process and internalise it until he’s talking at Aumerle at Flint Castle (for comparison, the way I see Tennant’s Richard, it all comes crashing in on him on the beach, it crosses his mind and he internalises it all at once; and Pennington’s Richard knew this all along and was keeping it secret and the beach is him admiring it to himself and others for the very first time — there’s nothing of the child in Pennington’s Richard). Whishaw puts this aspect of the character in a very positive light, it’s exactly that dissonance that evokes our pity and sympathy. Rylance’s Richard, though, comes across as all child, and spoilt child at that. None of the great topics, mortality and vulnerability and the godhood of kingship, are dealt with, so there’s nothing tremendous and emotional to react to or for Richard to process. Things don’t go his way and he panics and yells and throws things, that’s all I got from Rylance’s beach scene (though I really really like the staging idea of using the Groundlings as England, and would very like to see that in other productions). It’s worth pointing out again that Rylance’s Richard didn’t care that Bushy and Green are dead, he only cared when he thought they had betrayed them, and he wasn’t frightened that his friends had supposedly turned against them, he was only angry, like a child whose toy breaks. Some Richards are relieved to hear that they are dead, as tragic as it is for him to lose friends like that’d, he’d rather lose friends who are true and who die for him than have people abandon him. It’s selfish, but it’s the selfishness of a monarch or a god, not the selfishness of a child.
I think the grand difference between the two characters (because Whishaw’s and Rylance’s Richards are indeed two different characters, not two interpretations of the same character) comes down to the god thing (everything comes down to the god thing in Richard II). I mentioned in other posts that the Rylance production didn’t address the god thing and Rylance’s Richard is a boy who is treated as a god instead of a god who is a boy. Rylances Richard uses religious imagery in his aimless blathering, but it’s not serious, he doesn’t believe it, he’s just parroting something he’s been told. This is something we might expect from a nine year old king, but makes no sense from a 32 year old king who genuinely believes he is God’s deputy.
Also, the religious stuff in the play that comes from other quarters wasn’t given its due. Carlisle didn’t stand up and warn about seven plays of bad luck if you raise this house against this house, instead he just went through the motions. This could be imputed to a weak actor, but with all the other religious stuff swept under the rug, I think it was intentional. In a world where not even bishops genuinely believe in the power and attentiveness of God, of course it’s ridiculous for a king who thinks God is on his side.
It was like this production expected the audience to find the concept of a god king laughable, and instead of trying to demonstrate that in the world of the play it is indeed shocking to see god’s deputy dethroned, it just rolls with the expectations and changes the flavour of the play to suit the assumed audience. God kings, the intersection of godhood and kingship and martyrdom and homosexuality, and just what it means to usurp a king in what is essentially a theocracy were not things I’d ever thought about until I read Richard II, but since Shakespeare introduced me to those concepts I have really enjoyed contemplating them. These are topics very far removed from any of my own world or experience*. All this just to say that a production should not pander to what it thinks it’s audience expects, but should explain new subjects. (This is the same problem I used to have with children’s literature when I was a child; don’t talk down to your audience, never underestimate your audience, explain new things instead of assuming your readers don’t care or can’t understand). Plays that deal with serious concepts are supposed to expand one’s horizons, and avoiding the one aspect of the play that might be new to the audience doesn’t make it more accessible, it makes it a muddy mess. The thing about Richard II is that it is not an accessible play, it can be staged in such a way that the difficult topics are explicated, but glossing over the single most important theme makes the play less, not more, clear.
Rylance’s Richard II is almost an atheist’s Richard II, and I apologise to any atheists reading this, I’ve nothing against you, but Shakespeare’s play is the opposite of atheist.
If the play is to be taken seriously, and Richard is to look ridiculous to make the audience complicit with Bolingbroke et al (as Engrprof posits), then perhaps a framing device or staging decisions borrowed from theatre of the absurd would have helped this come across.
If Rylance was supposed to be playing not Richard himself, but Bolingbroke et al’s perception of Richard (my theory), a deliberate framing device to announce this would have helped and made the play one of those “here’s the baddy’s side of things” retellings instead of a frustrating caricature of a tragedy. Since neither of these approaches were made clear, though, I’m just going to have to continue not liking Rylance’s Richard at all.
I like the rest of the production, though. Whenever Richard wasn’t on stage I enjoyed everything immensely. I’m particularly fond of Bolingbroke and York and Mowbray and the Queen here. I want to re-watch all the queen’s bits a few more times and verbalise all the notions of gender presentation I’m picking up there, I have a lot of complex and muddy and vague thoughts on very good drag like that (not convincing drag, we’re obviously looking at a male bodied person dressed as a woman, but good, his acting is convincing enough that we forget his obvious masculinity) that I’d like to expound upon. And I adore angry and fiery York; I didn’t develop a particular interpretation of York when I first read the play, so all valid takes on York are equally my favourite; I’d go so far as to say that we have two best Yorks ever to York. And I need to do some re-watching, but this production might contain the best Mowbray ever to Mowbray.
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(no subject) [Apr. 12th, 2014|12:00 pm]
Alivion Vanyarin
I've been wanting to say this somewhere, but I'm afraid I'll come off as a prude, and I'm already prudish and snobbish enough, so it goes here, where anything goes.

So there's a certain word (the f word) which exists in the English lexicon solely for its shock value. It has an uncanny ability to jump off the page or screen and wallop the reader in the face, and I invariably do a mental recoil when I see it. I under use it (the only times I've ever willingly written or typed it have been within quotations, and even then I sometimes strike out the vowel), and the rest of the world seems to over use it a tad. But tumblr, tumblr uses it eight times per sentence. I suppose they're all desensitised to the shock value, that they just read along and see it only as an intensifier and don't feel slapped about, but me, I'm old-fashioned and have invested too much of my time contemplating sound-sense theories and picking apart nuances of meaning and arguing against the existence of perfect synonyms.
So I got a text replacing firefox plugin, and set it to replace (on only tumblr) the offending word with "frell", which is a humorous casual intensifier, and actually means what the tumblr kids are using The F Word to mean, and now I can scroll through my tumblr dash grinning at the Farscape reference instead of having to doge blows, and it's great.
My only concern is that if someone were to actually use "frell", I'd miss the joke.
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(no subject) [Apr. 10th, 2014|06:56 pm]
Alivion Vanyarin
So I'm watching this BBC Musketeers show, and it's pretty fun. It’s an adventure romp with lots of exciting sword fights, and just enough political intrigue to give us an excuse for the exciting sword fight, ridiculously anachronistic costumes that look good during exciting sword fights.

The men’s outfits are hackish modernisations of the sort of things we see in Rembrandt paintings, and they’re ok I suppose, but the lady’s getups are positively outlandish. Objectively, they’re nice to look at, but they don’t even vaguely match up to the historical period they’re supposed to represent. They look more like Victorian underwear than anything.

As for Dumas’ novel, it doesn’t wildly disregard it or tear it to shreds, and thank goodness it doesn’t do one of those horrible story-behind-the-story things. It’s definitely not a faithful adaptation by any means, there’s no attempt to put the novel on the screen, but there are nods to the source material around every corner. It strikes a nice balance between a new story and familiar subject matter.

I keep getting Aramis and Porthos mixed up, because the actor who plays Aramis looks a heck of a lot like the Porthos I imagined when I read the book.

As for Athos, the Athos from the book is everything I like in a cynical bastard, and most of that has transferred to the screen rather neatly.
They don't seem to be touching on any of the appearances stuff that Athos is so keen on in the book, though. There's none of the refusing to haggle prices even though he's dirt broke and whatnot, but you can only ask for so much from a tv show that's mostly about exciting swordfights.
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(no subject) [Mar. 17th, 2014|10:39 pm]
Alivion Vanyarin
So this is making the rounds, and it makes a number of good points, but it also pulls the whole Ophelia-was-fridged thing again. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that people use Shakespeare characters as examples of Things without having actually read or watched the plays.

Ophelia is not an example of a character who gets fridged.
Ophelia’s death is not to give Hamlet and Laertes something to angst about (though angst they do). Ophelia’s existence and madness and death supports Hamlet’s story, yes, but no more so than Polonius’ death. Ophelia is important as a component of Hamlet’s story and of Laertes’ story, but she is also important to Gertrude’s story and important in and of herself, and Gertrude and Laertes and Hamlet are important to Ophelia’s story. Hamlet is the main character and lens through whom we view the events of the play, and so everything is presented in the context of what it means for Hamlet; this is true of every event in the play, and doesn’t take a gender bias. However, when Ophelia dies, Hamlet is nowhere to be seen. Gertrude (who is a fully realised character and far more intelligent than some productions might have you believe) reports her death to Laertes.

I could complain that there isn’t nearly enough of Ophelia in the play, but I cannot complain that her only purpose is to die for Hamlet. She dies, and her death affects the other characters, but she dies for herself and not for them.

It’s also not fair to single out Ophelia’s death when almost every significant character, male or female, ends up dead. Hamlet’s father dies before the events of the play (we see his ghost), Polonius is stabbed in a fit of mistaken identity, Ophelia goes mad and drowns, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fall victim to a forged letter, and then Claudius and Laertes plot to kill Hamlet but it backfires and kills Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes, and Gertrude (these last four can be staged with varying degrees of suicide, revenge, and accident). If anyone in Hamlet was fridged, it was Hamlet’s father, who is poisoned before the play even begins. Old King Hamlet’s death is what sets the story in motion, it puts Claudius on the throne and in Gertrude’s bed and it gives Hamlet reason to be in mourning. But Hamlet Sr. is never fully characterised, never given reasons or motives or a force of his own. Hamlet Sr., like the steriotypical fridged woman and unlike Ophelia, exists only as a plot device and not as a person in the play.

I don’t mean to say that Ophelia is an ideal representation of women in fiction or anything extravagant like that. Shakespeare is not infallible. Ophelia is an example of a tragic character who doesn’t survive the story, but not all women who die are fridged, and Ophelia is not an example of a fridged woman.

And as for Ophelia’s death being eroticised, well, the eroticisation of death is something entirely different (it intersects with fridgification [and any other instance of death in fiction], of course, but the one is not tantamount to the other). And when we’re talking Shakespeare characters, everyone dies and it’s always romanticised.
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(no subject) [Mar. 12th, 2014|04:38 pm]
Alivion Vanyarin

I don't really believe in the concept of "formative years". When I was young, I took stuff from the world around me and I made things out of it. If I'd had different surroundings and circumstances, I'd have taken different stuff and made things out of it, but no matter the raw stuff, it was me doing the making, and I'd have made more or less the same things.
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(no subject) [Mar. 12th, 2014|10:00 am]
Alivion Vanyarin

I’m rewatching the first season of Hannibal and there is so much foreshadowing going on.
The story is about ten times as complex as I understood it to be the first time around, and I saw a lot of complexity at the first.

Usually I rewatch earlier seasons of a show to refresh my memory or because I have some particular favourite episodes or scenes. Hannibal stands up against repeated watching the same was a good book is as good the eighth time as the first.

This is good TV done right.
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(no subject) [Mar. 2nd, 2014|01:21 pm]
Alivion Vanyarin
[Tags|, , ]

So there’s this post I’ve seen floating around the internet that basically says “Don’t write strong female characters. Write female characters who weep, who are frightened, who have noodle arms; write believable and realistic female characters and don’t worry about their strength, because strength of sinew and will are not the only positive qualities a person can have. Don’t let your character’s worth be defined by her strength”. (ok, it doesn’t actually say “strength of sinew and will”, but let me paraphrase).

I am here to agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, but I want to say something about strength and what that word means when applied to a fictional character.
When we speak of a person being strong, we immediately think of the sort of someone who bench-presses pianos or who has a great deal of morale courage. But what makes a strong fictional character is not her own sinew or will, but a matter of the author’s style, the form of the narrative, the way things are portrayed.

A gullible fictional character who can’t lift a sword and who hides shivering and sobbing under the nearest table at the first sign of danger can be a very strong character indeed if she is handled correctly. A strong character is one who is tightly written, who we believe in as a real person, who focuses the narrative. A strong narrator (or other point of view character) is one who is grounds us in the midst of everything that happens in the story. A strong secondary character is one who brings important plot elements into the story.

Othello is a strong character. Othello is easily manipulated into committing atrocities, and so we might think of him as weak-willed. But as a fictional character, Othello is very strong. He is the center of the play. The play’s focus on Othello is what keeps the story from meandering off into chaos.

A strong fictional character is not a character who can throw a car off a cliff. Not a character who can withstand loss and come out emotionally unscathed. Not a character who has her mind made up.

A strong fictional character is a character who carries the story with her. Any good character-driven story will necessarily follows a strong character (or several) no matter how physically, morally, or mentally weak those characters are.

When I speak of a fictional character being strong, strength is an attribute of the writing, not of the fictional person.
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(no subject) [Feb. 28th, 2014|02:07 pm]
Alivion Vanyarin
Today's word (or, more accurately, this month's word; I've been strangely single-topic these last few weeks) is decorum. First off, phonetically, decorum is one of those delicious little Latinate words that have a good deal of sweetness, but aren't quite cloying or sticky. It's light and pleasant and positively delicious and almost healthful.
Secondly, the etymology. Decorum doesn't have too much by way of etymology. It's a noun form of decorous, from Latin via French. It's always meant seemly and elegant and proper and beautiful.

So the word has a solid etymology and a fair countenance. There's more than that to it being my favourite word today, though. I have a very strong sense of decorum, and so it's a very handy word to have at my elbow. Decorum is the tidy little walls you put up in your mind around things that you know better than to say or do. Decorum is what keeps us civil, and it stands to reason that it'd be such a very civilised word itself.
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(no subject) [Feb. 23rd, 2014|11:40 pm]
Alivion Vanyarin
It's that day again. February 23rd, the anniversary of John Keats' death.
It's not a holiday, it's a rotten horrible day of beautiful melancholy.
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(no subject) [Feb. 12th, 2014|06:47 pm]
Alivion Vanyarin
I had a questionable mole removed the other day and now I've got stitches. Despite all the walls I've walked in to and how many trees I fell out of when I was a kid, this is the first time I have ever had stitches.
Truth is, stitches are super weird and equally as cool.
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