Showing posts with label shakespeare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shakespeare. Show all posts

Monday, July 18, 2011

Word-Delving: what is "alien"? (Jillian)

In my recent adventures, I've taken to asking (seemingly) obvious questions of words I thought I understood. Language is organic and fluid, mysterious and multi-faceted. Naturally, there is never a dull moment with the lexicon.

This week's question is about the word "alien." In our culture we are so accustomed to the word that it automatically means one of two things: 1.) illegal or out-of-place immigrant in another country, or 2.) any non human, extraterrestrial being of the "little green men" or Klingon, Vulcan or Dalek category. Number 2 is a relatively new development, if you think about it: what with the dawn of flight and space exploration, Area 51 and alien-abduction hysteria.

But looking at Shakespeare or the Bible, "the alien" is usually the former definition: a dispossessed, homeless person in a foreign place. So using "alien" to refer to extraterrestrials is actually quite logical. They're not from earth. They don't belong. They are strange. They are "not like us."

But... does alien mean more than that? Looking up "alien" (as an adjective) for a Latin translation points to peregrinus: foreign, strange, etc. It is related clearly to the Latin word for "other", which is alius: "different." So that's all it means, pure and simple. In this century the word has been associated with "scary non-human" - it is amazing to think how a meaning could change, grow and accumulate (sometimes strong) connotations.

The above photo is, of course, the Doctor. For those of you who don't know, contrary to his outward appearance, the Doctor is not a human being. He is an alien with two hearts, psychic abilities, and who doesn't age, but regenerates into another man when his body is damaged. Among other pieces of evidence.

Why am I thinking about this? I have been thinking lately about how "alien" is a bit outdated - that "little green men" connotation. After all, we're surrounded by the weird and the unusual all day, every day. "Alien" to me has become very much a below-the-skin, can't-put-a-finger-on-it sort of thing... probably because of the significant influence the likes of Doctor Who has had on my creative thinking in the last four years.

Far more powerful than green skin or a cyclops-eye is the unshakable feeling that creeps exist among us (just watch Criminal Minds - but not too much, mind - and you'll get the picture) in human form. What if the extraterrestrials we always feared are among us, and either don't know it or are entirely indistinguishable from our office and flat mates? Battlestar Galactica dealt with this issue, as did the thankfully short-lived ABC remake of V.

Instead of "alien," I've been playing with that simpler word "other"... because in that sort-of context it could mean many things, and it is both terrifying and intriguing poetry that leads us toward the question of what it actually means to be human.

Here's for the lexicon!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Computer Diaspora (Jillian)

Alas, the time is coming soon where I might have to part from my beloved laptop on a temporary basis. Long story short, my laptop – friend and ultimate writing tool – decided it no longer recognized its AC adapter and refused from that point on to charge its battery. There is, of course, no logical explanation for this sudden bout of computer amnesia. I had two different partial diagnoses from two different “geeks”, and, believe me, a new adapter did no good despite their insistence. Hence, the fear that the geeks’ favorite way of solving things – that is, sending said machine off into the great unknown so someone else can attempt repairs and wipe the drive for good measure (grr…) – will have to be implemented.

Forgive the moaning in the above paragraph, but I am sure you can relate. When a writer’s preferred tool of crafting and performing her art is mercilessly taken away, a feeling of hopelessness settles in. Last year, I had the misfortune of falling down marble stairs at work with the same computer. Result? Cracked screen, just like a car windshield, but in retrospect, it could have easily been my skull. It was taken a repair shop where it languished idle for about two and a half weeks. Never mind how expensive that venture was, it was next to impossible to overcome the feeling that my hands had suddenly been cut off, and I could not write. Period. I dread returning to that state of writing paralysis again.

As I consider sending my dear friend away for another necessary respite, I cannot help but think how ludicrous the “writing paralysis” is. Yes, it is almost excruciating to be separated from the thing that has been such a vital instrument in my writing, but… I can write… because essentially writing is not about the computer. My brain works the same. My hands still work. The story is in my head, and not necessarily in its most consummate form on the hard drive, anyway. And, I must remind myself, writing via word processing machine is only a recent trend. After all the likes of the magnificent Mr. Chaucer and Mr. Shakespeare, many before and many, many after, produced manuscripts without use of a laptop, spell-check, online references and dozens of fancy fonts. Quills, hand-made ink, grossly expensive parchment and/or vellum, blotting paper, and candlelight… those were the tools. And what wonderful tools they are!

In fact, only last year (if you recall), Agatha Christie’s writing desk went on sale, no doubt for a pretty sum. I read Lucy Davies’ blog on the Telegraph website, and was intrigued some time ago by an entry devoted to those who collect the palettes of van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Mattise, etc. Anne Frank’s diary is preserved under glass. So is the Magna Carta in its various surviving versions. I wonder sometimes if I ever become noteworthy (ha! If at all, long after my demise!) would they preserve my laptop behind glass? Would it convey the same meaning as Jane Austen’s simple writing table, or would it be just another old computer with a black, dead screen? Hm…

Jane Austen's writing desk, from the Telegraph

I must remind myself that I do have these simple tools, too. Wouldn’t it be such a challenge, such an adventure to continue work on my novel as if nothing ever happened… except the change in medium? If all those others can make use of simple paper and pen, why can’t I? I already do.

So, I am beginning to toy with the idea of writing actual chapters via legal pad. While I have not yet lost the ability to write with a pen and paper, I don’t know if I’d have the patience for it. Another idea… old typewriter? That would definitely be an easier transition. But where might I find one that is both functional and semi-affordable?

A lot of things to think about. My only hope is that any crazy experiment can cause me to grow into a more versatile writer… the kind of person who can write a novel on a train or in a coffee shop, even if all I have is a napkin. After all, that’s what J.K. Rowling did – legal pads, coffee and a cafĂ© after hours.

By Jove! It’s so simple, it just might work!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (Michelle)

I've been getting a lot of delight lately out of a wonderful shoestring (ho ho ho) theater company known as the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. Here is their highly moving King Lear:

Basically, mainly, they're funny. Let us never lose sight of this basic fact.

But, they are also very witty, very well-informed parodies based closely on the actual texts they parody. The Socks are also a wonderful example of the truth that you don't need tons of fancy equipment to be witty, sly, wise . . . to be art. These socks would never have gotten out of their wellies (so to speak) if their creator (Kev Sutherland) hadn't had the confidence to start making campy, witty, well-rehearsed satires with the materials at hand.

Also, if you watch enough of the sublime Socks, you start to notice that they play off one another --- which is remarkable because as I understand it, they are played by one man. But I feel that he must be an extremely talented artist --- you can almost imagine him projecting his characters up his arms.

But mostly they're funny. Enjoy. I'm off to the beach. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brush Up Your Shakespeare (Michelle)

More on the image now being called Definitely the Real Shakespeare Portrait No Seriously It Is.

Charlotte Higgins over at the Guardian (again) is unconvinced. Meander on over there and immerse yourself in questions of varnish, restoration, and whether it matters at all.

But, it must be admitted, this picture is so pretty:

I have saved it on my PC as shakespeare_maybe.jpg

Monday, March 9, 2009

Shakespeare Portrait

I've been reading Bill Bryson's book about Shakespeare, and he spent several pages talking about what Shakespeare might have looked like. So, it was interesting to find this link about a newly discovered portrait of the Bard.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ShakespeaRetold (Michelle)

From dire illness, I return (gradually) to the land of the living and, hence, the blogosphere. And I return with a film recommendation that made me want to write like mad!

I've been exploring the BBC's 2005 miniseries, Shakespeare Retold. There are four 90 minute adaptations: Much Ado About Nothing (set in a provincial newsroom), The Taming of the Shrew (with Kate as a stroppy politician), A Midsummer Night's Dream (in a faux-rustic resort), and Macbeth (in a gourmet restaraunt).

Usually I avoid modern retellings of Shakespeare that excise the language, not from snobbish impulse but because they're usually just not very good. I do enjoy 10 Things I Hate About You as much as the next teenybopper, but it has to be said that just a tad of the original play's richness is lost, and I'm usually acutely aware the entire time that whatever is being said, Shakespeare said it better.

Not so with these adaptations. Occasionally I do miss the language (when Beatrice says, "I love you so much I can hardly breathe," I do wonder what was wrong with Billy Shakes' "I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest!"), but most of the time I'm just slavishly admiring the creativity of the scriptwriters and the skill of the actors.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for example, Peter Bowker captures the spirit of the conflict between nature and artifice in the original play with its touristy setting in DreamPark. Sally Wainwright, the scriptwriter of The Taming of the Shrew, makes some brilliant strokes as well, including some clever adaptations of the totally over-the-top, utterly un-PC farce of the original.

And there are so many good performances, too, but some of my favorites are Rufus Sewell's Petruchio, Shirley Henderson's Kate, Imelda Staunton's [Hip]Polly[ta], Dean Lennox Kelly's Puck, and Sarah Parish's Beatrice. If you like British TV, it's a good actor-watch. A good half of the cast have been on Doctor Who at some point or other.

The scripts are frequently eloquent, moving, and hilarious. For example:

"My advice to Titania and Oberon? Leave the forest. It's this place. It gets into your head. I mean, all this's not natural, is it?" (Puck)

"He just didn't want you to mistake him for one of the grown-ups. In reality, he's probably not more than about...six." (Petruchio's friend whose name escapes me.)

"Love is probably one of those things that a man grows into, like...jazz! And olives." (Benedick)

"If Beatrice doesn't watch it, she's going to grow into one of those women whose idea of a big night is a really big bowl of hommus." (Margaret)

"If you don't get it right, I'm going to turn you into a novelty key chain." (Oberon to Puck, of course)

A Misummer Night's Dream, written by Peter Bowker; starring Bill Paterson, Imelda Staunton, and Johnny Vegas

Much Ado About Nothing, written by David Nicholls; starring Sara Parish, Damian Lewis, and Billie Piper

Macbeth, written by Peter Moffat; starring James McAvoy and Keeley Hawes

The Taming of the Shrew, written by Sally Wainwright; starring Rufus Sewell, Shirley Henderson, and Stephen Tompkinson.


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