I’m still circling around the problem of the letters. Information flies distances in breathtaking speed in Shakespeare’s time. All these letters. I am wondering how far from Shakespeare I want to go – not in terms of time (the brief is specific on keeping the time period as is – and I don’t think email is a more elegant solution anyway) – but in terms of style.
I am wary of creating a new character who serves solely as a kind of plot device – a sly narrative technique that would never be truly sly. But I am considering it.
And there is the moment of Edgar’s anagnorisis. I just can’t find it in the play. I feel like there must be a lost line somewhere – something that fell off the page somehow. Slipped an actor’s mind as they reconstructed the text for the publishers. Gloucester puts it together the moment he has lost his eyes, learning that his bastard son has turned him over to Regan, he says, “Then Edgar was abused.” Why doesn’t Edgar get his moment. Was Shakespeare simply trying to avoid tying the theme of blindness to the younger generation by letting it slip by (literally) without a word?
Is it so that Edgar, the only protagonist to survive, doesn’t overshadow Lear in the audience’s sympathies? I say sympathies, because I am still unconvinced that anyone has empathy for Lear.
When do we want to like Lear? In the very first scene we learn from other characters that he has “ever but slenderly known himself.” We see in his actions that he is rash and driven entirely by his ego and impulse. He has no sense of loyalty. He curses his own children. And in subsequent acts, he is no better. Do I care that there is a line where he seems to understand how he has oppressed the poor in his realm? I don’t. Because he removes his coat in the storm only in the hopes of gaining something by way of the “philosopher”. He demands to take him (Edgar/Poor Tom) with.
So in his reunion with Cordella, does he truly repent? When he howls over her dead body is he howling her her loss or for his alone?
Henry Howard’s reverse Pieta aside, I don’t buy his love. Even if Shakespeare was a closet Catholic, I am not sure I believed he liked Lear. There was a story before the story, maybe the answer is there in what the people of the 16th Century knew?
You know, I don’t care that Lear dies. In fact, maybe the whole thing is designed so that I can relish in his punishment with the excuse that justice has been done, his “repentance” proof of the fairness of the system, and that I don’t need to feel bad about my own meanness. I can be reassured that there is good, that there is hope for ass**les and vulgar fathers, and that I am on the side of right.
I am still not sure what Edgar’s last lines mean: “The oldest hath borne most; we that are young / Shall never see so much, nor live so long”.
Hell, maybe the oldest have taken all their folly with them and the younger generation can live more sensible lives? Maybe they don’t need to see so much stupidity/cruelty? How does this line “we […]/shall never see so much” fit with the theme of blindness and wilful blindness in the rest of the play? One would think the younger were even blinder (can one be “more blind” than blind?) than the older generation? Edgar was blind when it came to Edmund, but that is skimmed over (as I mentioned above). And he does know in the end that Edmund betrayed him – he says so.
And why will they not live as long? Is Fortinbras bringing the plague? Wait. That’s another play.
“The oldest hath borne most” – well, but Lear brought on his own damned Tempest.
I know I have a tendency to overthink. But I think it is an injustice to skim over the text and nod with vague paraphrases and summaries of what it all means. Shakespeare was a better writer than that, and I am not afraid to question what the google-findings want to present as the benchmark for an accurate reading.
I am looking forward to writing full-time for a while now. Weeks or months, I’m not sure yet. I am literally compartmentalizing my time. I’ve started a new blog to write about how I am handling cancer treatment. And I’m continuing in this space (and there, too – and in so many others) with what makes me honestly feel happy and alive in the moments as they come. I once wrote a poem that said it was absurd to say that imagination is a good thing. But it really can be. It can be a source of good things.
Regarding the AI discussions I have been reading online:
I honestly believe our brains do nothing but reorganize the stories and perspectives we absorb in our lifetime – either through our bodies, or by way of our intellect. There is nothing new, nothing falls from the moon onto our pages. Very much like AI, that will not spit out the “perfect” or “correct” story each time, I think we play with the information. I think there will be people who get very good at feeding in the cues and provide the effective information to get AI to generate popular plays, paintings, “photographs”, poems.
But there will be people (like me) who enjoy the process of doing that themselves too much to hand that over. People like me who like the idea that art is human communication that DOES take place on a partially subconscious level, tapping into our silent knowledge and understanding of our shared (apart) experiences.
I think it’s like sex: you can’t really tell if the other person’s heart is in it or if it’s just an athletic activity for them. I am not sure we will be able to tell the difference with AI generated works, either. But I think – maybe in theater, especially, it being such a collaborative art that it craves a personal physical presence for the full experience – some of us purists will be looking for fingerprints. We will want to know that we are working with other living, breathing humans. Maybe we’ll better appreciate the wabi sabi aspect of art?
I think that the angry discussions are actually about money.
There was a time when dishes were made by artisans. Then at some point, factories could spit them out cheaper and faster and satisfy everyone with their ubiquitous, utilitarian presence. I think the same thing will happen with stories. We will find ways to pass the time, if that is what we want. There is money to be made!
Our lines of who is an artisan, who is an artist, who is a hobbyist will come into question yet again. And at some point, maybe we will learn not to give a shit and focus on the doing of art?
Who gets to make a living at it has always been arbitrary. Are you in good with a Duke, or a Pope?
I am not sure this is part of a process journal – but perhaps! Part of the process is asking myself what I am doing, and why. I am not going to be plugging my brief for this work into an AI to spit out options. Where is the fun in that? My choice to write isn’t a means to an end of any sort. Not now anyway. I think it was when I was younger.
This is a really nice to know about myself. It’s freeing.
Gloucester is stumbling all over my frontal lobe these days, and it is an absolute joy in the here and now.
I allow myself that. And think I have all the more reason to do so, in the face of this “threat” of AI.
To Be Complicit
I watched the Bristol Old Vic Theatre’s streaming of Complicité’s production Drive the Plow over the Bones of the Dead last night. Based on the novel by Olga Tocarczok. I fell in love with theater all over again.
Kathryn Hunter is remarkable. And the physicality of the cast of ten was mesmerizing. The gestures of the desk cop were as choreographed as the movements of the dog. The camera moved in close often, and weirdly enough it was the fact that I could see the rise and the fall of the dead man’s stomach as he breathed that thrilled me.
I wonder if it wasn’t the invitation to play – the reminder that I have to be actively involved in the suspension of disbelief – that moved me. There is no attempt at illusion, and the audience cannot be passive. Even via the medium of film, this is theater. Can it be as simple as this? What a simple magic trick. NOT an illusion.
I recently heard an excellent playwright interviewed on a podcast. He said that it was poor playwrighting (emphasis mine) to use a narrator. As a rule of thumb, of course. And I see that: as a rule of thumb. So I have been thinking about the use of the narrator in adaptations of novels for the stage – yes – but also the role of asides in Shakespeare’s plays. His weirdly-fond use of letters notwithstanding, he was too good a playwright to have used asides as a crutch. We don’t need Richard III to tell us how he feels about seducing Lady Anne. His actions tells the audience everything we need to know. Richard III is playing with us. Inviting us in. He is elbowing all the drunken labourers in the pit. Winking. It’s FUN. Even in a tragedy, it is fun.
There are no narrators in Shakespeare’s plays. I need to be careful in my mind not to conflate the convention of speaking to the audience with lazily-crafted “telling”.
I honestly believe that we are historically myopic in our common view of theatrical norms and the way we let ourselves talk about them. Shakespeare didn’t “break” the fourth wall, because Diderot hadn’t even proposed it yet. Brecht’s idea that being reminded that we are at the theater would create emotional distance is – to be honest – a bizarre belief in my mind. Where did that come from? We literally have first hand accounts of audiences being moved to tears by Antigone when there was absolutely no attempt at verisimilitude or illusion of any sort. Antigone herself was a dude shouting through the megaphone-like mask. It’s as though, all up in their current trend of “realism”, when the Modernists responded to film with their re-theatricalizing, they actually forgot theater history as they were borrowing from it. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe I am responding entirely from my own generational perspective and limited education. It’s my impression that when players speak directly to the audience – in our out of character – the actors feel like they are being transgressive.
I think we should think of building a fourth wall as an exception in the theater, rather than something presumed in the performer/audience relationship that needs to be broken.
I’ve been wondering what I will do about asides in the new play. Who, and why?
In the scene on the flat moor, when Edgar tells his father he’s on the precipice, Edgar seems to almost apologize to the audience for being a jerk. I think the purpose of this aside may be to show Edgar’s character (his action revealing his insecurities) rather than furthering or explaining the plot. Showing, not telling. A concise use of text.
But, somehow, it’s more fun when the bad guys take us into their confidences.
Letter as Plot Device
I am curious how people manage to keep parallel projects going. How to keep interest in something when you aren’t actually obsessed.
There are stories I keep returning to. That lie in the back of my mind waiting to be picked-up and made real. I am afraid of many of them. Like Doctor Frankenstein: What if my creatures are twisted mistakes.
If you love something enough it becomes real. And it lasts for always. There’s a lesson that has stuck. An academic lesson in one sense, but in another the truth of devotion. I have been devoted to an idea or a perspective and it has become real in every sense that matters. These are the monsters in my writing room.
Always question our gurus. External and internal. Be no more devoted to them as you are to the oxpeckers with their good intentions and singular focus.
The artistic director is on board with my project of sampling Shakespeare. I don’t see it as being any less respectful than a total modernizing of the language. I am making no absurd claims of authorship of the original text. I could argue I am picking up Shakespeare’s own practice of “lifting” from other works.
The theater website has published my working title – but not my logline. Am I writing an adaptation, or am I writing a play that expands on the original work? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead isn’t considered an adaptation of Hamlet. I’ve seen it described as a parody. And as a play that expands on minor characters. But the themes are entirely different. The purpose of the storytelling almost unrelated. I am working more closely tied to the moral to the legend, and the play. At least as I understand them/it.
People I have talked to who “know” the play say that I’m an idiot and the play is all about Lear “going mad”. Is it? It makes me wonder what the real definition of drama is. I mean, I am reading through the dramaturgy books on my shelf and all – but in layman’s terms, as the dictionary describes it, a drama can be “an emotional event”. But an event is not a story. Dramaturgy is sometimes simply defined as the structuring of the events in a story. In the first scene, Lear’s daughters say that their father in “[…] the best and soundest of his time hath been but rash. Then must we look from his age to receive not alone the imperfections of long-engraffed condition..” So the audience witness irrational behavior and then is told that this is nothing new. Lear slides in and out of his rational mind.
But Lear is the storm that knocks everything around him out of orbit. Gloucester loves him and, being the kind of man who follows his desires rather than his contracts, he destroys himself by loving him. It’s kind of his pattern. Gloucester’s story is tragic. His love child is his demise. And the son he sired out of obligation (whom he describes as a son “by order of law” -thus not desire) suffers, too, but overcomes it all to lead the next generation into future. For all the bawdy laughs and lusty language, Shakespeare moralized an awful lot. In another package, I wonder if we would swallow it.
A bit like the letter tropes, really.
I am in no way criticizing Shakespeare – just as not being able to figure out how any of the characters in The Bacchae fit the role of academic “rules” of a tragic figure is a criticism of Euripides. It is all about play – rules as tools – and different perspectives on familiar stories. Not even Euripides handled the actual gods with god-like reverence. Thank god. I sometimes wonder what Shakespeare would have done had the Queen not said that religious stories were forbidden. What plays are we missing out on? How would he have his cake and eat it too in our day and age?
Having said that – that is not at all what I am trying to do. Maybe I identify too much with the batshit crazy side of Lear – the shitty parent – to want to go there.
I have fallen in love with Edmund, in a way. At least, developed a kind of devotion to him. Now her. This is her coming of age story.
Oh, and Oswald. It was my son’s suggestion that Oswald should be a teenager. They won’t make it through, I’m afraid. No “coming of age”. Or will their be a kind of death-bed-quantum-leap into maturity? Oh, who knows.
But I’ll be damned if they are going to fob off a letter as their dying gesture.
Of the Tree of Knowledge
(I wasn’t sure this belonged in the process journal. But it does.)
The rise of AI artworks makes me sad and a little freaked out about the future. I figure we’ll adjust and somehow find our humanity in this – or adjust to the (potential) truth that everything we do in our brains, with our brain is formulaic. We let go (most of us) of the Ancient Greek idea of a genius – the external spirit that inhabits a person we then call an artist.
But we haven’t let go of this idea of our exceptionalism.
If we can appreciate “art” in the absence of a human artist – then isn’t the act of appreciating art inherently a purely narcissistic act of introspection – and not one of communication?
Might not AI artworks ultimately isolate us from one another entirely? Are we left discussing how AI allows us to view our selves? Art as a tool for self-expression and communication becomes a tool for introspection and indoctrination?
Aren’t we creating the “creature” that will in turn create us? Have we now stumbled onto the truth of our own delusions of free will and “consciousness”?
I think every sci fi writer has already asked these questions. It no longer feels like hypotheticals and speculation.
I don’t know what will happen to any of the arts. Looking at that sentence, I am hearing editing advice from college: why are we stating the obvious here? There is a rubric that I have learned that determines “good” writing: often lazily equated with “effective” writing. Language is a tool. It has an immediate purpose as well as a subjective pleasure.
Maybe it will be liberating for all of us when the arts are no longer tied to economics and social hierarchies. Maybe the part of “art” that is about feeling/recognizing a human connection will go back to the body. Everything will be about breath and movement again. Not about intellectual legacy.
Maybe there will be an admission of collaboration on a level that exposes the delusion of *individual* contributions to a culture?
I am thinking about how I crave recognition for my art. Crave it, quite honestly. How it was supposed to serve as some kind of key to get me into the penthouse – rich OR famous. My exceptionalism recognized and acknowledged within the cultural system I live in. “Followers”. Money.
Isn’t this the real fear? We tell ourselves that artists have a unique ability to convey through one or another medium the truth of the human experience. What is there is truly nothing exceptional about artists. That who gets/has gotten what recognition for a moment of collective “understanding” is determined by the hive’s algorithm. Kind of random.
We talk about how important education is for the arts – for art “appreciation”. We ooo and aaah over the occasional “natural” talent.
What if it is all a sham? Our concept of the “human experience”.
Does this mean that all that is left is … *being* human?
Huh. Now I need to walk the dog.