March 26th, 2009


March Books 18) Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare

This is a grim tale: a neatly observed set of dysfunctional relationships, primarily that between the title characters, full of both passion and insecurity, but also [Octavian] Cæsar's with them both - Cleopatra is in a sense his stepmother, thanks to the dead Julius, and he also tries to bind Antony to him as brother-in-law. I guess the trick in this production is to make the human failings of these people appear interesting enough to hold the attention. Antony and Cleopatra are both seething bags of neuroses, and don't immediately engage one's sympathy on the page.

The Arkangel production, however, manages it, particularly with Estelle Kohler's Cleopatra, with Ciaran Hinds' Anthony nearly as good. The non-human soundscape of the production is very impressive, with scenes in Egypt or in Rome introduced by appropriately different music, and sounds of chirping crickets in the background at night.

The human soundscape is a bit odd, though. Enobarbus, who has all the best lines in the play, is played by David Burke, who is from Liverpool, with a strong and mostly convincing Ulster accent; while Ciaran Hinds, who actually is from Belfast, plays Anthony as a gritty English soldier. Other minor characters have a hodge-podge of different regional vowels. It's frankly confusing, and an opportunity uncharacteristically missed by Arkangel, who previously delivered an all-Scottish Macbeth and a Comedy of Errors with Irish Ephesians and English Syracusans - given the fact that there's a similar binary divide between Egyptians and Romans here, it's just frankly peculiar that Clive Brill and co didn't try and make something more structured out of the accent choices available. I imagine this bothers me more than it would most listeners.

One other problem with the play - and this is Shakespeare rather than Arkangel - is that there are too many minor characters. In fact I think the original script may have mixed up Proculeius and Dolatella at the end, unless Anthony is misinformed about Cæsar's team, or just being mean to Cleopatra for tricking him into suicide. If I were producing it I'd want to trim and combine a few of the dramatis personæ.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

March Books 19) The New Penguin Russian Course, by Nicholas J. Brown

I admit it: I'm not going to finish this one. Self-study is difficult when learning languages, and for me it has to fit decently into my commuting or other spare time. I have not found it possible to sit down and do the written exercises from this book, and there is no audio component which means I lose the pull effect of the MP3 player summoning you to play the next section.

I think it is not a bad course. It alerted me to a number of tricky exceptions to the general rules which my previous textbook had rather glossed over (eg the irregular prepositional в Крыму, "in the Crimea"). But I would have neede regular human lessons as well to get me through to the end, so I'm leaving it here, and switching to a quite different Indo-European language. I will come back to Russian again, and am glad I've made a start, but that's it for now.