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A Man For All Seasons

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It is a rare occurrence to see a film that is so memorable that it implants itself on the human psyche. A film that contains such a captivating story, compelling characters, and profound themes occurs so rarely it becomes etched into our collective unconscious. A Man for All Seasons is one of those films.

Set in Tudor England during the reign of King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547), A Man for All Seasons tells the story of Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon (1485 – 1536), the birth of the Church of England, and the man who stood opposed to it.

During the 1530s, King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, passed the Act of Succession (which declared Princess Mary (1516 – 1558), the King’s daughter with Catherine, illegitimate) and the Act of Supremacy (which gave Henry supreme command over the Church in England), and made himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

In A Man for All Seasons, Henry asks Sir Thomas More (1478 – 1535) to disregard his own principles and express his approval of the King’s desire to divorce his wife and establish an English Church separate from Rome. Henry believes that More’s support will legitimise his actions because More is a man known for his moral integrity. Initially, Henry uses friendship and dodgy logic to convince his friend. It fails, and the so-called “defender of the faith” tries using religious arguments to justify his adultery.  When this fails, he merely resorts to threats. Again, More refuses to endorse Henry’s actions.

A Man for All Seasons is really about the relationship between the law (representing the majesty of the state) and individual consciousness. In the film, Sir Thomas More is depicted as a man with an almost religious reverence for the law because he sees it as the only barrier between an ordered society and anarchy. In one scene, when William Roper the Younger (1496 – 1578) tells him he would gladly lay waste to every law in order to get at the devil, More replies that he would “give the devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.”

More’s reverence goes far beyond mere man-made law, however. He also shows a deep reverence for the laws of God, as well. After being sentenced to death, More finally breaks his silence and refers to the Act of Succession, which required people to recognise Henry’s supremacy in the Church and his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, as “directly repugnant to the law of God and His Holy Church, the Supreme Government of which no temporal person may be any law presume to take upon him.” More argues that the authority to enforce the law of God was granted to Saint Peter by Christ himself and remained the prerogative of the Bishop of Rome.

Furthermore, More argues that the Catholic Church had been guaranteed immunity from interference in both the King’s coronation oath and in Magna Carta. In his coronation oath, Henry had promised to “preserve to God and Holy Church, and to the people and clergy, entire peace and concord before God.” Similarly, the Magna Carta stated that the English people had “granted to God, and by this present charter confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired.”

The central problem of the film is that the legal and political system in England is incapable of allowing More to hold a contradictory, private opinion. Even before he is appointed Chancellor, More expresses no desire to get involved with the debate surrounding the King’s marriage. He will not, however, swear an oath accepting the King’s marriage or his position as the head of the Church of England. More believes that it is the Pope who is the head of the Church, not the King, and he is perfectly willing to sacrifice his wealth, family, position, freedom, and, ultimately, his life to retain his integrity.

The relationship between the law and an individual’s conscience is an important one. What A Man for All Seasons illustrates is just how important this relationship is, and what happens when this relationship is violated. Modern proponents of social justice, identity politics, and political correctness would do well to watch A Man for All Seasons.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: COMPARING TWO SHAKESPEARE FILMS

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The 1993 and 2012 adaptations of Much Ado About Nothing reveal what can be gained and what can be lost when Shakespeare’s plays are adapted to the silver screen. Namely, the 1993 adaptation maintains the integrity of Shakespeare’s literary genius, whilst the 2012 adaptation violates it.

Joss Whedon’s 2012 adaptation attempts to modernise Shakespeare’s works while maintaining its eloquent language. The setting – time and location – of the film do not suit the dialogue spoken. It may be preferable to retain Shakespeare’s original dialogue, but that dialogue can only work if the audience can be made to believe that the characters in that situation would actually talk that way. Otherwise, it distracts from the film’s plot. It would have been advisable to retain Shakespeare’s story but to utilise modern parlance. Joss Whedon’s 2012 adaption of Much Ado About Nothing comes across as a high school media production, and a poorly made one at that. It is precisely what happens when the plays of William Shakespeare are poorly adapted to the screen.

By contrast, Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 adaptation is grand and lavish, being like a breath of fresh air to Shakespeare’s play. Its setting – periodic, though the exact period is hard to confirm, and expansive location (though it takes place in one village, it feels much larger) – means that the audience is more willing to accept the decision to retain the play’s original dialogue. The audience can and does, believe that the characters in the film would actually speak the way they are depicted as speaking. Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is precisely what happens when Shakespeare’s plays are adapted properly to the screen.

THE PROBLEM WITH MULTICULTURALISM

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At a security conference in Germany, the former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, condemned multiculturalism as a failure. He stated: “we need less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.” In a similar statement, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, also condemned the doctrine of multiculturalism. Sarkozy told the French people: “we have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him.” In recent years, the Western nations that have preached multiculturalism and diversity as bastions of peace, tolerance, and diversity – Great Britain, France, Germany, the United States – have been the primary targets of radical Islamic terrorism.

Progressives like to believe multiculturalism and diversity create harmonious and peaceful societies. When, in reality, it creates division. Telling newcomers that they do not have to assimilate into their adopted culture fosters tribalism: Irish form communities with fellow Irish, Muslims form communities with fellow Muslims, Japanese form communities with fellow Japanese, and so forth. As these cultures, especially those lacking the fundamental roots and beliefs of their adopted countries, compete for supremacy, they inevitably conflict with one another. So, whilst Germanic and French cultures may be able to live harmoniously thanks to their shared Christian heritage, the same cultures would not fare as well if they were expected to co-exist with a culture whose central tenants are profoundly different.

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Why am I harping on about the inherent faults in multiculturalism and diversity? It is because I believe we have created the greatest culture mankind has ever seen: a culture that has produced Shakespeare, Mozart, Voltaire, Plato, Aristotle, John Locke, freedom and democracy, the television, the I-Phone, the movies, free market capitalism, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Einstein, Newton, Mary Shelley, the Bronte sisters, and more. And I believe it is a culture worth protecting. And how do we protect it? We start by protecting the very things that have made the West so great in the first place: Christianity, an adherence to truth and a deep esteem towards the logos, the supremacy placed on individual rights and liberties, the free-market place of ideas and commerce, Small Governments, and political freedom.

Moral and cultural relativism is being used to tear down and replace the existing social order. When the Mayor of London, Shadiq Khan, is able to state “terror attacks are part and parcel of living in a big city” and young German women are able to hold signs proudly proclaiming “will trade racists for rapists” unopposed, it is clearly time for certain ideas to go away.

CASABLANCA

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For our weekly cultural article, we will be looking at the film Casablanca. Released in 1942, Casablanca delves deeply into themes of morality and human sacrifice, tentatively exploring both the good and bad aspects of humanity.

BACKGROUND

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The American Film Institute ranks Casablanca as the second greatest film of all time (ranked behind Citizen Kane).

The fact that Casablanca is still so revered, even after seventy-five years,  is nothing short of a miracle. The film was made on a tight budget in the style common to the studio system of the time, having been made on set with a studio director, studio writers, and studio actors.

Its script has been voted by the Writers Guild of America as the greatest ever written. That, too, is a miracle. The script was based on a play that was never performed: “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”, by Murray Burnett (1910 – 1997) and Joan Alison (1901 – 1992).  The task of adapting the play to film was given to three separate screenwriters, who completed their task in three different locations.  Julius G. and Philip G. Epstein (1909 – 2000; 1909 – 1952) would finish theirs just a few days before filming began. Howard Koch (1901 – 1995), on the other hand, wouldn’t hand his in until filming was well underway.

And even then, scraps of dialogue and scene rewrites were being rushed to the set, the ink still wet on the page.

THE FILM

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Perhaps one reason for its long lasting success is its refusal to be categorisedCasablanca is one part war film – being presented against the backdrop of the Second World War, one part love story – Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) are embroiled in a bitter love triangle, one part political thriller, and one part allegory – presenting both the best and worst aspects of human nature.

Another reason is the stellar cast it boasts: Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957) – considered the greatest film star of all time by the American Film Institute, Ingrid Bergman (1915 – 1982) – one of film’s most naturally beautiful women,  Claude Rains (1889 – 1967), Sydney Greenstreet (1879 – 1954), Paul Henreid (1908 – 1992), and Peter Lorre (1904  – 1964).

SUMMARY

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Naturally, no one thought Casablanca would be a hit, people weren’t even sure if the allies would win World War Two.  However,  as Alrean Harmetz wrote in Round Up the Usual Suspects: the Making of CasablancaCasablanca seemed almost destined to be a film classic:

“There are better movies than Casablanca, but no other movie better demonstrates America’s mythological vision of itself – tough on the outside and moral within, capable of sacrifice and romance without sacrificing the individualism that conquered a continent, sticking its neck out for everybody when circumstances demand heroism. No other movie has so reflected both the moment when it was made – the early  days of World War II – and the psychological needs of audiences decades later.”

I believe Casablanca‘s long lasting success boils down to its depiction of the goodness of human beings in the wake of great evil. Early in World War Two, Casablanca was Vichy France, and therefore Nazi German, territory. In the film, Casablanca is depicted as a world of corruption, a crossroads where Nazis, members of various resistance forces, criminals, spies, and traitors come together. It is a fascist society where the oppressors imprison millions, where human life is a commodity to be traded for benefits. No one cares about anyone, save for themselves.

The imprisoned respond to their imprisonment in different ways: some fight against it, others try to escape it, and others try to profit from it. In one scene, a man is shot dead trying to escape. He falls under a poster of Marshall Philippe Petain (1856 – 1951), the Chief of Vichy France. We learn he was clutching a Free France handbill.

Desperate attempts to escape to freedom are understandable. But the film also presents us with an array of lowlifes and criminals, and, remarkably, even asks us to express pity for them. Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) is a shrewd and callous gangster who, it is suggested, profits from the sale of human beings.

The total disregard for human life is depicted in a scene where Ferrari offers to buy Rick’s friend and piano player, Sam, portrayed by Dooley Wilson (1886 – 1953). Rick refuses, saying “I don’t buy or sell human beings.” “Too bad”, Ferrari replies, “that’s Casablanca’s leading commodity.”

Then there’s Signore Ugarte (Peter Lorre), the North African black market dealer who represents disorganised criminal who profits from the misery of others. Rick ignores his pleas for help as he is arrested for murdering two German couriers in order to steal non-rescindable, French General Marshal Weygand signed, letters of transit.

Ultimately, Casablanca is a film of redemption and human sacrifice. It asks its audience to not only imagine winning the loves of their lives but asks them to imagine giving them up for the greater good.

Rick starts out as a cynical and resentful anti-hero. “I stick my neck out for no one”, he tells us at one point. By the end of the film, he has been transformed into a selfless hero. “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”, he tells Ilsa.

In the end, Casablanca shows the power of sacrifice and brotherly love over tyranny and evil. Even when everything is lost, hope can be found among those few human beings who are willing to put their personal needs aside and sacrifice themselves for others.

NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT

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This week for our cultural article we will be looking at the Now is the Winter of Our Discontent soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

The play, which was first published in 1597, deals with the rise and fall of the Machiavellian king, Richard III. It follows Richard as he lies, cheats, manipulates, and ultimately murders his way from the position of Duke of Gloucester to the Kingship of England. Then, finally, it follows his fall from power as he struggles to keep his kingdom unified, and ends with his death at the Battle of Bosworth field and the declaration of the Tudor dynasty.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

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William Shakespeare is one of the most important figures of the English Renaissance, living through the reign of Elizabeth I and the early years of James I. Over the course of his life, he published over thirty plays, as well as numerous poems and sonnets.

William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd, 1564 in Stratford-Upon-Avon. His father, John Shakespeare, was an alderman and successful glove-maker. His mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of an affluent farmer. Young Shakespeare probably received an education at Edward IV Grammar school in Stratford. There he would have become familiar with the Roman dramatists, Latin, and the basics of Ancient Greek.

At eighteen, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his senior. Together, the couple would have three children: Susanna, Judith, and Hamnet (who would die in childhood). He would die at the age of fifty-two on April 23rd, 1616.

RICHARD III – CHARACTER

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Countless villains, from Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine to Lord Voldemort, owe their existence to Shakespeare’s infamous character. Shakespeare presents Richard to us as a murderous psychopath, a Machiavellian villain driven by jealousy and a mad lust for power.

THE SOLILOQUY

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Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.
INTERPRETATION
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Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

The word “now” implies that the play is taking place in the present. Similarly, “sun” is a pun referring to both warmth and brightness of summer and to the son of the Duke of York. Ultimately, Richard is referring to the brief period of peace brought about by his brother’s, Edward IV’s, ascent to the throne of England.

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Here Richard tells us that all the hardships his family had endured have been buried in the “deep bosom of the ocean.”

Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;

The Yorks have won the War of the Roses (for now) and wear the laurel wreaths of victorious heroes upon their heads. The weapons they used have been hung on the walls to memorialise their victory. And now, with peace and order restored, the call of battle has morphed into the sound of people chatting and being friendly with one another. There is even a little dancing. If war were a person, Richard tells us, his gruff facial features have been smoothed out into something kinder and more pleasant.

And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

King Edward, Richard informs us, is no longer riding into battle and commanding his army to put the fear of God into his enemies. Instead, he is making love to music in a lady’s chamber.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
Richard believes no woman will want to have sex with him because of his physical appearance. He was not made to look in the mirror and fall in love with his own appearance, nor can he inspire lustfulness in women: he would like to be desirable, but isn’t. Instead, he has been “rudely stamped” like a coin that has not been properly polished.
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
Richard goes on about his physical appearance. He tells us that he has been poorly put together, that he has been denied beauty and sexual attractiveness by nature. Instead, he has been cursed to look deformed and monstrous. Richard is deformed, suffering from a hunched back, a withered arm, and a limp. He tells us that he was born before his body was fully developed.
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Not even the dogs like Richard: barking at him as he stops by them. Nor is anyone going to look to him for advice on fashion.
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
There is nothing for Richard, the great commander, in peacetime. He likes war because it brings about strength, glory, and victory. By contrast, Richard despises peace as being passive and weak. Furthermore, Richard’s deformity means he cannot join in the revelry of peacetime. His only entertainment is to poke fun at himself.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Richard decides that if he cannot make love to women or fit in with peace time, he will instead devote his life to being evil, to making others feel the pain and suffering he feels. Furthermore, by telling us he is “determined to prove a villain”, Richard asserts that he has free will.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
Richard has been plotting and scheming. He has set things in motion by getting drunks to spread false prophecies, rumours, and dreams of his invention. Richard intends to inspire a deadly hate between his two brothers: Edward and the Duke of Clarence.
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Richard believes his brother, Edward, to be gullible enough to fall for his trickery and deceit. If Edward is gullible enough to believe the rumours Richard has been spreading, as Richard believes he is, he will throw Clarence, whose name happens to be George, into prison for plotting to murder his children. It is obvious that he holds his brother in contempt, never referring to him as his brother, but only as the king. The description of “true and just” is said sarcastically, referring to the qualities expected in a king.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.
Richard is going to buy these thoughts deep down inside himself as he interacts with the outside world.

FRANKENSTEIN

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This week for our culture article we will be looking at Mary Shelley’s (1797 – 1851) 1818 Gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. The story that gave rise to countless plays, radio-shows, TV shows, movies, video games, and created one of the most iconic characters in horror.

BACKGROUND

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Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein whilst touring Europe with her future-husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822), in 1814. On the Rhine, they visited Castle Frankenstein where they were told a ghoulish story about a mad alchemist who had attempted to resurrect corpses two centuries prior.

Two years later, in the summer of 1816, the Shelleys travelled to the Swiss Alps but were forced to stay in their lodgings due to bad weather. (1816, for anyone who is interested, was known as ‘the Year Without Summer’ – an event caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815).

There, joined by Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), they amused by reading Fantasmagoriana, a book of German ghost stories that had been translated into French. Byron suggested they all put pen to paper and see who could write the best ghost story.  Shelley, much to her dismay, was unable to think of a story. Then one night, after they had all gone to bed, Shelley had a waking dream:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of  any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

Initially, Shelley only thought her dream only gave her enough material for a short story. However, she was encouraged by Percy Bysshe Shelley to turn it into a fully fledged book. Setting herself to this task, Shelley finished writing her story in April/May 1817. It was picked up by publishers Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, and Jones and published in January of 1818.

ANALYSIS

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In one sense, Frankenstein is a cautionary tale. By using Victor Frankenstein and his creation as an example, Shelley’s classic tale warns us of the dangers of interfering with the world’s natural order. There are things in this world, Frankenstein tells us, that are beyond our ability to understand, and which are better left alone.

Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation are tragic figures. For Victor, it is ultimately his obsession with Natural Philosophy (that’s the archaic name for the sciences), his passion, and his unchecked ambition that lead to his downfall. In trying to play God, Victor creates the catalyst for his own doom. In the end, it is his remorse, shame, and burning hatred that destroy him.

Similarly, Victor’s creation is also destroyed by his hatred. This hatred, however, is not borne of remorse or shame, but of rejection. Victor’s creation is intelligent and articulate. He desires human companionship, but, due to his hideous appearance and massive size, finds people to be cruel and unwelcoming. Even Victor himself fails to see his creation as adequately human, not even bothering to give him a name (Victor’s creation is referred to as ‘wretch’, ‘monster’, ‘creature’, daemon’, ‘devil’, ‘fiend’, and ‘it.’) Ultimately, it is this rejection that leads Victor’s creation to destroy not only Victor Frankenstein, but also himself.

Frankenstein is ultimately a tale of what happens when we fail to see others as human. It reminds us of the limitations of human endeavour, and what may happen when we surpass those limitations. But, more importantly, it reminds us of the importance of love and compassion.