July 11th, 2012


Henry IV Part I

We watched the next in the Beeb's current Shakespeare season in two goes over Sunday and Monday nights, and I felt that although enjoyable and dramatic - the tavern and battle scenes particularly well staged - it didn't quite grab me in the same way that Richard II did.

steepholm has crystallised the problem for me. The production allowed Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff to dominate proceedings, which fundamentally unbalanced the play; it became a star vehicle rather than a historical drama. He is a powerful actor, and is good here; I was blown away by his Leontes in The Winter's Tale which I was lucky enough to see on stage a few years ago, but genius sometimes needs discipline as well.

Of the other leads, a lot of Hotspur's material was cut (I think two or three entire scenes from Act 4), though I actually felt that Joe Armstrong was more impressive in the role than either Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal or the curiously subdued Jeremy Irons as the King. (And it was a nice touch to cast Armstrong's real father Alun as his stage father Northumberland.) Michelle Dockery seemed to be phoning in her lines as Lady Hotspur much as she did in Hogfather. Let's hope for better luck next weekend with H4P2.

Incidentally we watched the first ever episode of Black Adder last night with young F, who tolerated us explaining the Shakespeare jokes to him. It was first broadcast 29 years ago.

Links I found interesting for 11-07-2012


July Books 13-15) Three Theban Plays by Sophocles

This is the Wordsworth Classics edition of Antigone / Ἀντιγόνη, Oedipus the Tyrant / Οιδίπους Τύραννος and Oedipus at Colonus / Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ, all translated by Jamey Hecht. I took them fairly slowly, to let the blank verse translation sink gently into my mind.

I found Antigone / Ἀντιγόνη the most politically interesting of the three. The title character's brother has died as a rebel against Creon, the king of Thebes; she wishes to give him decent burial, contrary to royal command. It's quite a striking narrative of a woman demanding what we would now call human rights against the established political power (which claims moreover to have divine backing). Creon pushes his authority too far and suffers awful consequences.

I had read Oedipus the Tyrant / Οιδίπους Τύραννος previously in a different translation. I found it just as powerful here, with perhaps a better rendition of Oedipus' increasing consternation and horror as the truth becomes clear to him. I did wonder if Sophocles' audiences would have been in any suspense whatsoever as to what was going to happen; surely everyone going into the theatre would have been muttering "killed his father, married his mother" and just watching to see how well it was done?

Oedipus at Colonus / Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ seemed to me the weakest of the three, and I had to start it again after getting halfway through and realising I had missed most of the plot. Here the blind Oedipus has found refuge near Athens, but the factions in Thebes (his sons and Creon) have been told by an oracle that the resting place of his corpse will determine the victor in their struggle. Oedipus gets some good bitter speeches about how unfair life is in general, and his own in particular, but I found the play as a whole much more difficult to follow.

The decision to present the three plays in order of composition here did not work for me. For readers not passionately devoted to analysing how Sophocles' writing style evolved over the decades of his career, it surely makes much better sense to order them by internal chronology, ie Oedipus the Tyrant / Οιδίπους Τύραννος first, then Oedipus at Colonus / Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ, then Antigone / Ἀντιγόνη last. This has the merit of explaining why Antigone's brother was fighting Creon, and also puts the strongest plays first and last, which makes for a more satisfying experience as a reader.

The almost complete lack of stage direction offers a blank slate, but also a challenge, to anyone wanting to direct the plays today.

Language quiz

Here's a language I hadn't come across before:
Jilnuul bojjan in ri Majol, rej kio mour im jokwe ilo United States, im kab jikin ko jet an, ekkar nan aer keidri ilo bonbon ko jimor, an US im kab <redacted>.

Bonbon eo an <redacted> nan 2011, ej ripoote 53,158 armij, rej kio jokwe ilo Aelon Kein. Bonbon eo an US nan 2010 ej ba bwe ear wor 22,434 ri Majol rej jokwe ilo United States im kab jikin ko an.

Bonbon kein ruo, elane kobaiki ippen dron, rej kwalok 75,592 ri Majol, ak 30 bojjan in jonan ro im rej jokwe kio ilo US im kab jikin ko an.

Bonbon eo an US nan 2000 eo, ej kwalok bwe ear wor 6,650 ri Majol ilo US. Bonbon eo an <redacted> nan 1999 eo, ear bune 50,840 ri Majol ilo Majol in.

Bonbon kein rej kwaloke 57,490. 6,650 eo im rej jokwe ilo US, rej tarrin in wot, 12 bojjan in woran aolepen ri Majol.
And the English translation:
Thirty percent of <redacted> now live in the United States and its territories, according to a comparison of the recent US and <redacted> national censuses.

The <redacted> census in 2011 reported 53,158 people living in <redacted>. The 2010 US census said there are 22,434 <redacted> living in the United States and its territories.

These two figures combine for a total of 75,592 <redacted>, with 30 percent being accounted for by those living in the US and its territories.

The 2000 US census showed 6,650 <redacted> in the US. The 1999 <redacted> census counted 50,840 <redacted>in the <redacted>.

These total 57,490. The 6,650 living in the US accounted for about 12 percent of all <redacted>.
Anyone like to guess who the "ri Majol" are? (And no sneaky Googling!)