Literature & Theatre, as you may have guessed, is a course worth taking if theatre you like best. But fret not if plays aren’t your cup of tea, for there’s more to the course as you soon will see!
…And that’s enough rhyming for now.
Prepare yourselves for an adventure with hefty amounts of pizazz! Literature & Theatre will, perhaps more than anything, become a tool that helps you achieve maximum clarity in your writing (and therefore your thinking…who doesn’t need help with that?) In addition to strengthening your writing/thinking skills, you may also get a taste for the lasting impacts of theatre, its evolution as a medium, as well as its relevance today (it’s not all Shakespeare, you know).
It may take a good amount of effort to reap all the benefits that this class is capable of providing (and some moments where you’ll desperately ask yourself, “WHAT MORE COULD I POSSIBLY SAY ABOUT THIS ONE LINE?!”) but it will be worth it, my friends. Take your time with those close-readings, remember to OBSERVE what’s happening in a play (or any story) before you make any claims about what the writer is trying to convey, consider why your response is worth the time of anyone who may read it, and remember to have fun with it!
The most logical (and general) conclusion that I can draw from Gilman’s ending to Dollhouse is that she wanted to emphasize the empty values of the Helmer household.
The tweaking that Gilman does with the original character dialogues: both Kristine and (the drunken) Dr. Pete berate the family’s lifestyle (“There are wedding pictures everywhere! It’s sick!”/ ‘I want this, gimme this’, etc) in a far more open manner than is seen in Ibsen’s version.
In that sense, when Nora can’t even make it all the way out of the door, it only compounds the idea that she and Terry are stuck with the values they’ve chosen for themselves; they have lived so long in their comfortable material world that they can do no more than toy with the idea of giving it up for the “minimum-wage lifestyle”.
When simply reading the Marat/Sade play, despite the frequent reminders that the play (within the play) is being performed by patients within an asylum by means of various character and setting oddities, it was still rather easy for me to slip into the idea that the characters weren’t “all that crazy”. On the other hand, when constantly confronted with the setting of a mental asylum filled with (very convincingly) crazy characters, that ability to forget the inherent insanity found in the play quickly disappears.
Patrick Magee’s portrayal of the disturbingly loony Sade was spot-on; as he directly addresses the audience, staring dead into the camera, I can’t help but recall his classic moments of creepiness in A Clockwork Orange, which only added to my appreciation of his abilities. Magee easily achieved the balance between Sade’s eccentric and philosophical characteristics which, alone, is commendable. It should be said, though, that the entire cast equally contributed to setting the overall dreary/uneasy tone of the film, another aspect of the play that can be lost when simply reading, and an aspect that I think is important to uphold alongside the subject matter.
In an attempt to highlight the differing positions of Marat and Sade in one passage, the following (found on page 31) seems to work best, as it’s Marat’s direct rebuttal to Sade’s philosophical position:
If I am extreme I am not extreme in the same way
Agianst Nature’s silence I use action
In the vast indifference I invent a meaning
I don’t watch unmoved I intervene
and say that this and this are wrong
and I work to alter them and improve them
The important thing
is to pull yourself up by your own hair
to turn yourself inside out
and see the whole world with fresh eyes
Here, Marat is claiming that a purpose can be found in man to correct that which is wrong and thus alter the “natural” order of things. This claim, of course, is in direct comparison to Sade’s more existential belief that Nature is immutable and indifferent toward humanity, despite man’s efforts to alter it. In other words, Marat’s belief is that one should implement their ability to revolt and cause change instead of responding to the “indifference” of Nature with equal indifference.
As far as a “winner” goes by the end of the play, my first response is to say that we’re met with a stalemate. The point at the end of Act II when the Four Singers run through the events following Marat’s death seem to reflect this “neutral” outcome: “Fifteen glorious years/Fifteen glorious years/Years of peace/years of war” exemplifies the fact that the outcome of the Revolution still fluctuates and is ultimately unstable.
Finally, there seems to be a fair connection between the play and the series of protests and demonstrations spurring from Occupy Wall Street (including Occupy Austin). In its summarized form, the “Occupy movement” is essentially a protest against corporate greed. In an even more basic sense, it’s a reaction to the still apparent gap between social classes - the same basic motivator found behind the French Revolution.
Ibsen and Shaw seem to agree on the grounds that marriage is an unfortunate social necessity for women, hindering their ability to be fully independent human beings. A difference in opinion between these writers does seem to rise, however, when considering the writers’ chosen female characters.
Ibsen presents Nora as becoming progressively more self-aware throughout A Doll House, and we see the character go from a state of complacency in her marriage with Torvald to craving a chance at independence and personal cultivation.
Shaw, on the other hand, seems to start where Ibsen left off: Mrs. Warren’s Profession presents Vivie to the reader as a strong, independently-minded, intelligent woman from the very beginning. Shaw is then essentially demonstrating that these “types” of women do exist in comparison to, say, “Act I Nora”.
Where Nora places love and commitment at the top of her list, Vivie places business and practical affairs, and this is where the two authors call to attention the same social problem in their respective works. Both plays come together to show that, regardless of the personal values, intelligence or motivation of the woman in question, their quality of life is still severely dependent on the social necessity of marriage due to the nonexistence of alternative routes. Thus, by presenting two characters with different overall views on love and marriage, Ibsen and Shaw take different paths that eventually meet at the same dead-end social problem: a socially forced marriage is a hindrance to all women.
Dramatic domestic disputes abound in Euripides’ eternally hailed Medea! Brought to the city of Corinth by means of marriage, Medea is thrown into a raging grief after learning of her husband Jason’s unfaithful ways. Hungry with a fiery appetite for revenge, Medea embarks on a whirling course that weaves her psychotic fury and unrelenting pride into increasingly wicked responses to the man who wronged her. Will those closest to Medea be spared, or will her madness consume even those she loves most?
Joan Templeton discusses the (still hot) debate over whether or not Ibsen intended for A Doll House to hold a feminist theme, with Nora as its heroine. Templeton recognizes several of the arguments that wish to prove Ibsen’s play is not a product of feminist ideals, the most general being that Nora is, instead, a symbol of the general human being, seeking to find his or her self. This argument is perhaps best supported by quoting Ibsen’s birthday speech, emphasizing that he didn’t see the “woman problem” as the main issue at hand, but instead to describe and understand “humanity”.
However, Templeton refutes this claim in her article by generally asking the question, if A Doll House isn’t about feminism and a woman’s struggle, then what is it about? Her most basic answer is: nothing. Indeed, she supports this claim from several angles; Nora’s reasons for leaving her home, husband and children, Templeton argues, are all typical feminist principles - that is, to “educate herself” and to develop her “moral and intellectual nature”.
Templeton goes further by including examples of Ibsen’s personal life that solidify her claim the A Doll House had feminist intentions, particularly the fact that he surrounded himself with women who held strong feminist values and openly supported the progression of women during his lifetime.
It’s likely that Templeton is adamantly arguing for Ibsen’s “feminist intentions” simply to ensure that his original and truest message gets across even today, despite the hefty slew of counterarguments present.
RANK: Nora - Mrs. Helmer - I’m asking you: have you known about it?
NORA: Oh, how can I tell what I know or don’t know?
I admit that, in context, these lines don’t reflect too specifically on Nora’s view of love (as her line is more in relation to knowing about Rank’s infatuation with her), but I can’t help but see a significance in her phrasing.
For Nora to profess so blatantly her confusion concerning Rank’s love seems to be such a strong illustration of her own feelings about love in general. At this point in the play, as the tension rises, she seems to be continually reassessing what is most important to her, including who she loves - and to what degree she loves them. Especially when considering her next lines,
NORA: Yes - you see, there are some people that one loves most and other people that one would almost prefer being with.
NORA: When I was back home, of course I loved Papa most. But I always thought it was so much fun when I could sneak down the maids’ quarters, because they never tried to improve me, and it was always so amusing, the way they talked to each other.
she seems to be outlining her overall notion of how love “works”, which appears to be, for Nora, something that runs along a relative/hierarchical scale; there are those that she loves more, those that she loves less, and those that she loves in a different way. As I have nearly confused myself in trying to explain that, I think I only give further evidence to my point that she is simply lost in her overly complex, yet somewhat childish, ideas of love.
Being in a state of confusion and stress gives a person no other choice but to stare their previously set ideals in the face, flaws and all. The fact that she’s dropped into such a dilemma forces her to re-evaluate not only her “hierarchy” of who and what she loves, but to reconsider the hierarchy itself.
Once Daniel Day Lewis came to mind, it became impossible to think of anyone else that I would cast as the overtly controlling, if not borderline mentally-unstable Prospero. Recalling his chilling performance in There Will Be Blood, Lewis would no doubt be able to nail the manipulative aspect in Prospero’s character (which would actually need to be toned down a bit in comparison to Daniel Plainview’s ruthlessness in There Will Be Blood).
I chose the specific image above to show Lewis’ ability to pull off that unkempt look that only twelve years of practicing magic on a secluded island can induce. His stoic expression could surely turn to a snarl when barking spells upon Caliban…
If nothing else, his reputation for going to great lengths to get into character for his roles would surely result in a spectacular performance as Prospero.
To begin broadly, the relationships between Prospero and Miranda, Ariel and Caliban seem linked in the sense that Prospero tends to continually express his control over each - whether it be subtly (as with Miranda), explicitly (Caliban) or a mixture of the two (Ariel).
Consider the first dialogue between Prospero and Miranda: after consoling her in regards to the storm he has helped produce, he informs Miranda of their journey to the island together, occasionally emphasizing the fact that he alone kept her safe and raised her, referring to himself even as “thy schoolmaster” who “made thee more profit than other princes can” (Pg. 12, line 172). He doesn’t present his authority in an off-putting manner – his love for Miranda as his daughter seems genuine – but he portions it out in gentle waves nonetheless.
It is the opposite case with Caliban. From his entrance onward, Caliban receives the brunt of Prospero’s control. With each subsequent threat (“tonight thou shalt have cramps” - Pg. 18, line 325) and coarse word, as well as the simple fact that Prospero has confined Caliban to a rock, it becomes more apparent that Prospero finds no limit when expressing his power (literal and otherwise) over Caliban.
As for his relationship with Ariel, one finds that Prospero utilizes both ends of the spectrum in signifying his control over him. While Prospero seems to understand that Ariel’s actions have been exceedingly helpful to him, commending his efforts (“Ariel, thy charge exactly as performed” – Pg. 15, line 236) and so forth, he wastes no time in violently reminding Ariel of their “business arrangement.” By asking “Dost thou forget from what torment I did free thee?” (Pg. 15, line 250) Prospero emphasizes Ariel’s enormous debt to him, further asserting his weighty control over him.