Archive for the tempest

THE YEAR OF ‘SPEARE: Prologue: A Re-New-View of Shakespeare

Posted in criticism, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2016 by drayfish

shakespeare by pablo lobato

IMAGE: Shakespeare by Pablo Lobato

Four hundred years ago Shakespeare died.

(Sorry if you’re hearing that for the first time. I should have warned you to sit down first.)

That is to say, on April 23, 1616, the man, William Shakespeare – who had already made his name as a wildly successful actor, poet, playwright, and producer – died.

That Shakespeare – the man – had grown from a glove maker’s son in Stratford-upon-Avon to running an entertainment empire in London. He had won the King as his patron. He owned property across the land. He was a father of three children (apparently with a son-in-law he hated), and had written a will that cryptically only left his wife, Anne Hathaway, their ‘second best’ bed (perhaps he still resented her performance in Bride Wars). That Shakespeare, the man, was buried in Stratford on April 25th.

But there is another William Shakespeare – the one that won’t die. The one that half-glances at us incredulously from that apocryphal black and white portrait on the cover of the First Folio. The one used to sell countless mugs and key chains and trinkets to tourists travelling through London. The one that appears as a zombie on The Simpson’s Halloween special. The one who met Doctor Who, and Blackadder, and who snogged Gwyneth Paltrow in a moustache. The one that is multiform. Eternal. That one is 450 year old and counting, and lives inside everyone who has some affection for his work.

That’s our Shakespeare. Yours. Mine.

Ernst Honigman, in a brief introduction to Shakespeare’s life for The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare makes note of the numerous times that people refer to the playwright as ‘our Shakespeare’. Understandably, Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell, used the phrase in their posthumous printing of his plays, the First Folio of 1623. They were attempting to publish a definitive edition of the man’s collected works (at the time theatrical pieces were usually only printed as cheap, unofficial knock-offs), and claimed they were doing so in order to ‘keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare’ (emphasis mine).

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IMAGE: From the cover of the First Folio (1623)

But that kind of personal identification with the poet playwright didn’t end with those who knew and loved him in life. In the centuries since, his legacy, and the affection with which he is held, has expanded exponentially.

Ben Johnson wrote the poem ‘To The Memory of My Beloved, The Author, William Shakespeare’, becoming quite sentimental about his Shakespeare despite having hated the man’s guts while alive and frequently slagging him off as a talentless hack. (It is believed that Johnson was riddled with envy of Shakespeare’s skill while they were contemporaries, which is understandable, but the turnaround can still give you whiplash.)

It’s why the Romantic poets, a century and a half after his death, felt they had discovered a kindred spirit in his verse. It’s why Stephen Greenblatt’s captivating biography of Shakespeare, Will in the World, is quite open about using healthy dollops of imagination to spackle over the gaps in his exacting historical research. Why Germaine Greer’s book, Shakespeare’s Wife, uses even more speculation and presumption (despite being far less honest about it) to argue that Shakespeare’s career was indebted wholly to his wife, Ann Hathaway – a fact, Greer asserts, that has been systemically marginalised by a history of male biographers.

It’s also why people continue to foolishly squabble over Shakespeare’s ‘true’ identity, with conspiracy junkies falling over themselves to insist that their Shakespeare was forced to work in disguise and unrecognised in his time. Snobs would rather believe that their Shakespeare was an aristocrat like the Earl of Oxford rather than some preternaturally talented member of the lower classes; more ambitious guesses cite everyone from the already-dead Christopher Marlowe to Queen Elizabeth (who must have had great fun writing Richard II, a play she famously despised and that was used to try and inspire a revolution against her).

The point is, Shakespeare is many things to many people – the greatest dramatist who ever lived; England’s finest poet; a shrewd producer; a pseudonym; an actor; a closeted Catholic; a philosopher; a social critic; a feminist; a misogynist; a lover of cryptic codes; on into infinity – and the reason that he can remain equally as ambiguous as he is treasured is because we largely only have access to him through his plays.

And those plays! Plays that never seem to age. Plays that have been effortlessly restaged and reinvented in every new generation.

And yes, his plays exhibit a breadth of divergent subject matter – tragedy, comedy, romance, Roman, Greek and English history, myth, social satire, farce, fantasy – and a slew of characters from every walk of life – monarchs, maids, and madmen; princes and prostitutes; lords, ladies, and lawmen, soldiers, servants, senators, and soothsayers; tyrants and tweens; washed up drunks, clergymen, criminals, cross dressers, cads, clowns (not scary clowns), and everything in between, but what makes them eternal is their interest in universal human emotions: young lust; regret; unbridled fury; betrayal; the fear that we are not truly loved; hesitation; wonder; jealousy; the impulse to endlessly list things.

His work has endured for centuries not because a bunch of musty scholars declared that these plays were (dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn!!!) IMPORTANT, that society was obliged to inflict them on every student in the western world to warn them how loathsome antiquated puns can be. They are works that insist themselves upon their audience exactly because they remain so fresh, so urgent. We recognise the same impulses and temptation in ourselves, feel as if each work had been written by the author for us at this very moment.

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IMAGE: William Shakespeare’s Plays by John Gilbert (1849)

I’m not sure what Shakespeare is to me. I know that I adore what I’ve experienced of his work. I know that whenever I return to one of his plays I am dumbstruck at how any one person could have constructed something so compassionately human, so lyrical, and so true – even, at times, in its ugliness. I know that he is an astute observer of human behaviour, capable of rendering complex characters with rich interiors. That he sees us for the pathetic, snivelling wretches that we are, but captures the marvel we can be at our best. He can be merciless and silly and mad – sometimes in the same scene – can be thrillingly metatextual, and after four hundred years, and innumerable versions of his work, is still capable of surprise. That ending of King Lear, for example, still gets me every time.

Also, he created Viola, the most marvellous character in all literature. For that you could tell me he was a member of Nickelback and he would still get a free pass.

So this year – this four-hundredth anniversary of the man’s death – I’m going to try to better know the evolving myth that can be gleaned through his work. I’m going to watch as many different productions of Shakespeare as I can manage over the coming twelve months (and, let’s face it, almost certainly beyond, because when have I ever been punctual?) I’ll read each play – some with which I am unfamiliar, others I don’t know at all – and then experience a modern production of it, be it on film, or radio, or animation (I know there are graphic novels out there, maybe I’ll try one of those). Afterwards I’ll attempt to unpack my feeling about play and production. What I felt worked; what failed; what I thought the text was primarily about; whether Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, or Derek Jacobi was in it (there’s a law: you have to have one of them).

Mostly I’m just going to try and explore, for my own amusement, the myriad ways in which this extraordinary, multifaceted, writer’s work continues to be refracted through our modern preoccupations; to see what new dimensions are revealed from these endlessly malleable works of art.

I’ll be watching and listening to some fantastic stuff (I’m not always a fan of Kenneth Branagh’s take on the Bard’s material, but his Much Ado About Nothing (1993) is a delight; and anyone who loves Game of Thrones would be blown away by the BBC’s 2012 Hollow Crown production of the underrated Richard II), but I’ll also be exploring some problematic pieces (what’s that? Sicilian actor Al Pacino playing the ‘Jew of Malta’ in Shakespeare’s controversial, possibly-horrifyingly-racist Merchant of Venice (2004)? …okay… and why is Helen Mirren being wasted in a rote production of The Tempest (2010) that does exactly nothing with its exciting gender-flip conceit?).

I’ll also, no doubt, be watching some crap (I’m looking right at you, Australian Macbeth (2006)). After all, just because Shakespeare’s batting average is so astonishingly high doesn’t mean that he didn’t have his shakier plays; and it certainly doesn’t inoculate directors and actors from indulging all their laziest impulses in translating his work.

I may even tackle a few eclectic pieces just to mix it up a bit. Again, ‘Shakespeare’ has appeared in Doctor Who and romance films and that comically asinine Roland Emmerich film Anonymous (2011); and although clearly none of these addendums to his career are canon, they are worth considering for the way in which they reflect his legacy and enduring cultural cache.

But I will not watch She’s The Man (2006).

I don’t care if it’s a ‘retelling’ of Twelfth Night. I don’t care if it has Channing Tatum in it. I will not do it and you cannot make me and shut up.

How dare you.

Obviously this won’t be of interest to everyone (and I’ll be posting other stuff throughout the months for those who aren’t), but Shakespeare’s work is a heady, diverse mix. There’s murder and intrigue, frivolity and play, romance, sorrow, war, scheming, charming antiheroes, and some of the most compelling depictions of inexpressible emotion ever rendered.

So join me, won’t you, on this half-baked windmill tilt that I will almost certainly give up on in a couple of months, as I scoff at Keanu Reeves attempting to express more than one emotion playing Don John, instantly forgive Michelle Pfeiffer’s overacting as Titania because she’s so stunning I can barely hear what she’s saying, and try to disentangle the Gordian knot of crazy that is Mel Gibson playing Hamlet. …Or maybe I’ll leave that one alone.*

Join me on a journey I am calling ‘The Year of Speare’ (TM). Because apparently I have no shame.

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IMAGE: ‘The Shakespeare Code’, Doctor Who (2007)

***

If you would like to follow along with me, the first film up for inspection be the controversial but fascinating Baz Luhrmann directed Romeo + Juliet (1996).

Yeah. That’s a plus sign. Because that’s what the kids like, yo. Radical.

***

* And how could I not watch Fred and Wesley get the happy ending they deserve in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (2012)?

***

Texts Mentioned:

Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer (Bloomsbury, 2007)
‘Shakespeare’s Life’ by Ernst Honigmann (The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare, ed. by Margeta de Grazia and Stanley Wells, 2001, pp.1-12)
Will In The World by Stephen Greenblatt (Bodley Head, 2014)

LIMBO and LOST: One is a dark, dreary, ominous excursion into a nihilistic nothingness …the other is LIMBO.

Posted in criticism, literature, philosophy, television, video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2012 by drayfish

or: Wherever You Are, There You Are (Even If You’re Nowhere)

IMAGE: LOST (ABC)

An eye opens.  A pair of eyes in fact.  Two eyes; both opening.  Two orbs waiting to perceive, to absorb their strange new surrounds, and in that act of viewing, to come to know themselves.

The owner of those eyes, our protagonist, staggers slowly to his feet.  An unfamiliar landscape suddenly meets his gaze.  He is bewildered.  This alien environment is unsettling, foreboding; strange sounds filter in from beyond the trees, and a portentous, thunderous music punctuates the air.  Our solitary hero has no recollection of the events that flung him into this anachronistic land, and over the course of his adventures he will confront dangerous, shadowy ‘others’, predatory animals and otherworldly beasts, even convoluted machines that change the very fabric of space, time, and influence the elemental forces themselves.  He will find himself in world that seems to defy all logic or expectation, and over the course of his attempts to free himself and return to the familiar, he will seek to comprehend the nature of his circumstance, and in doing so perhaps better know himself.

This premise (indeed, this exact introduction) is the set up for two very distinct, yet thematically analogous works: one a videogame, LIMBO; the other a multimillion dollar television epic, LOST.  In the first a young boy, in haunting silhouette, moves across a shadowy two-dimensional plane solving a series of perilous puzzles in order to progress; in the second a character named Jack awakens on a mysterious island after a plane crash, soon finds himself the leader of a makeshift band of survivors, and likewise fights to survive in an environment that appears to defy all conventional reason.

Both texts invite their audiences to invest in their respective journeys into the inexplicable: LOST asks its audience to keep watching, promising that eventually all of its seemingly random narrative threads will link together into a cohesive whole; LIMBO meanwhile is propelled by the possibility that, perhaps, by continuing through its stages, the player will eventually be able to conceive of where exactly this small boy is located, what this nebulous ‘limbo’ state actually is.  And yet ultimately both texts knowingly thwart this desire for resolution, disabusing their audience of the hope that any of these mysteries will ever resolve into meaning.

For the six seasons that it ran (2004-10), LOST proved itself to be a recursive Russian Doll of ambiguity.  As the showcontinued from week-to-week viewers were left to hunt for clues to make sense of the narrative’s overarching mythology, sifting through a pastiche of sci-fi, horror, mystery, philosophical and spiritualist tropes for evidence from which they might glean answers to the riddle of what was actually going on in the tale.  Smoke monsters; electromagnetic Rube Goldberg machines; Egyptian hieroglyphs; ubiquitous recurring number chains; time travel; mysterious caverns with magical properties; every new puzzle piece seemed to tempt revelation, and yet each led only to more obscurity and confusion.  Indeed, often it seemed that the writers were just free-associating imagery (something that appears to have been true for the first three seasons at least, as show-runner and writer Damon Lindelof has since indicated in an interview with The Verge*).

Eventually, the viewer is compelled to realise that all hope of ultimate explanation is fraught with disappointment.  Just as the central characters find their questioning met with only more queries, so too does the audience find that every avenue of reasoning fails to offer absolutes to the experience of this island.  Instead we repeatedly watch as characters flushed with surety that they can penetrate the meaning of the island are stripped of their hubris and forced to realise that they too are but unknowing cogs in a larger, incomprehensible metaphysical machine.  The physicist Daniel Faraday who claims that the answers lie in science; industrialist Charles Widmore who believes the island can be possessed and exploited for profit; John Locke who experiences a transformative epiphany and comes to see the island as a spiritual oasis; the calculating Ben Linus, political leader of the Others, who, using his mastery of behavioural manipulation schemes his way into power; each figure represents one of numerous diverse fields of human endeavour, each purporting to know the answers to the island, all of whom fail profoundly, robbed of their misapprehensions, and often killed for their presumption.  Even the immortal figures like Richard Alpert and Jacob, who appear to themselves be products of these irrational elements, are themselves exposed to be little more than victims of circumstance.

Life is mystery, the work wants to suggest, and the grand metaphysical questions of what motivates us all cannot ever satisfactorily be answered, locked as we are behind our subjective vision and singular beliefs.  Indeed, the structure of the program itself embraces this notion of an individual’s fundamentally limited perspective: each episode is bound to a loose first-person viewpoint as we watch events unfold from one character’s angle, even dipping back into personal history that seems comparable to their current circumstance.  And in every instance, though they may yearn for comprehension, they consistently fail to see their place in the larger unfolding of events.

Curiously (for a narrative that fuels itself utterly with mystery), the final message of the show seems to be that no one can ever know all the answers, can ever escape their bewildered ignorance.  There is no key that will unlock meaning, and the pursuit of such answers are merely breadcrumbs leading us down several forking paths of aberrant misinformation, hubristic confusions, and mystic irresolvable vagary.  Instead of celebrating the pursuit of ultimately unattainable truth, the narrative instead acts as a cautionary tale: life is mysterious, so don’t try to figure it out or you’ll just go nuts, be slaughtered, abandoned, or get attacked by a polar bear.

And so the endpoint (as much as there is one) comes as our central character descends into a cave to move a gigantic plug in a pool of illuminated water (…honestly, I haven’t a clue).  Somehow he restores order, and eventually is mortally wounded, left unknowingly wandering, bleeding, back to the exact spot in which his journey began.  Jack slumps to the ground, prostrate, his consciousness fading to rest in the same position in which his adventure on this island, long ago, began.  He becomes the last in a long line of believers succumbing to death, his eyes now closing, his wandering fugue state now at an end.

The game LIMBO likewise ends where it started: the character lying back on the same patch of grass, his eyes sliding shut as a seeming death overwhelms him.  The journey to this point has similarly been fraught with peril, laced with conundrums and complexities that must be overcome.  Antigravity machines that require precision and poise to utilise; spidery beasts that must be outpaced or outwitted; mind-controlling bugs; vicious children with elaborate snares; electricity; cavernous drops; decaying suburban ruins; having seen his way through them all, the nameless boy undertakes the final puzzle, and in the course of its solution is propelled, weightless, through a glass pane (much like the monitor/screen through which we are viewing his journey), time slowing as his body flips gracefully through the glistening shards, tumbling to rest in precisely the same position that the game began.  Just as in LOST, we struggle onward in LIMBO invited to believe that the truth of where we are and what’s going on might at last be revealed, only to realise in the end that we are literally right back where we started…

But then something masterful happens: the boy wakes back up.

In LIMBO death has not been the end: the boy rises again and sets out once more upon his ceaseless quest.  Although nothing substantive in the narrative has been addressed – indeed, we have been left in no doubt that this is a literal state of limbo – our whole perception of his journey, and its meaning, is fundamentally altered.

Here the revelation of the endpoint invites us to embrace the indeterminate state within which we too have existed for a time.  Rather than watch a quest for meaning flicker and die we realise that there is no escape from this pattern of repetition and action; we end up right back where we began, having now realised that it was in the doing of things that our actions most mattered.  There was no magic endpoint, no final resolve, just action: what you did and how you did it.  We are instead invited to lose ourselves in the accomplishment of the game itself; like the unnamed, faceless protagonist, compelled to appreciate our place in this loop of programming and gameplay, we too are ensnared in the unceasing repetition of a platforming purgatory.

In its absence of narrative conclusion LIMBO therefore celebrates the momentary, embracing the ephemeral nature of agency.  We are presented with the definition of a Sisyphean task, not tasked with rolling a rock up a hill for eternity, but locked in a similarly experiential web without end.  And just as Camus described in ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, we, like the absurd hero, must struggle on, perpetually rolling the rock up the hill, knowing that there will be no end to his labour, because by embracing this inevitability, by welcoming the truth of it, we claim ownership of the task, folding the noble absurdity of our circumstance back into ourselves.

If we are not blindly struggling for an imagined metaphysical enlightenment we become masters of our own action, empowered by the knowledge that it is our actions that define our identity, our morality, ourselves.  Thus, when we play through the game again, the ease, the grace with which each dilemma is confronted and conquered delights us with the thrill of a task embraced and elegantly resolved.

Both texts, LIMBO and LOST, seem to embrace the structure of a dream.  Both begin and conclude with the actions of fading or waking from sleep, a sleep that is emblematic of death; indeed, both texts seem to articulate the Shakespearean adage that ‘Our little lives are rounded with a sleep.’   The line is taken from his extraordinary play The Tempest, a narrative itself concerned with a mysterious, magical island, removed from the real world.*  More specifically the line comes from a scene in which Shakespeare, in a wonderfully self-reflexive acknowledgement of his own practice, is directly advocating the capacity for plays to express the profound truths of human experience.

In the scene, the all-powerful Prospero has been presenting a masque for the entertainment of his daughter and her prospective lover Ferdinand (it’s also a none-too-subtle warning not to get up to any pre-marital nookie).  As he scatters the performers to the wind, mid-performance, he offers a speech about the nature of art, likewise dissipating all the traditional delineations between fiction and lived experience, pretence and reality, dream and the waking world:

                                              These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And, like the baseless fabric of vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with sleep. (Act 4, Sc 1, lines 148-58)

I showed you merely a vision, he says, but this vision speaks to our own experience of existence.  We too are merely the stuff of dreams, beginning and ending in an immortal sleep – our brief span on Earth but the flicker of a transitory illumination, soon reclaimed by the dark.  His exquisite, meta-textual play – folding our mortal existence, our fantasies, his own theatrical history altogether – celebrates humanity’s capacity for self-expression and imagination, a means of capturing, even in fragment, the exquisite vibrancy and expressive potential of exploratory play.  (He also throws in a magnificent reference to the ‘Globe’ – a literalised world of potential that shimmers with imagination – that I have to believe was an acknowledgement of his own Globe Theatre.)

For Prospero, as for Shakespeare, the fantastical dream of the theatre was an artful enactment of the most fundamental defining attribute of human experience: our brief, grasping efforts to define our own existence before fading to the transom of death.  In their respective articulations of this same vision in television and videogame, LOST and LIMBO too both seek to articulate the span of all human life, and our efforts to comprehend ourselves.  Both texts therefore operate as an elaborate form of imagistic ouroboros: the ending immediately reinitiating the beginning, returning us to point of deathly status quo.

In LOST this moment presents a conclusion: the eyes close rather than open.  Jack is warmed by the sight of the plane full of his friends rising from the island, presumably to a newfound freedom far from the island’s strange purgatory.  But this seemingly conclusive image merely reinstates the arbitrary nature of the journey that has been undertaken.  Jack is back where he began, and despite the text’s allusions to an awakening knowledge, or a peace that transcends reason, he has learned nothing of his place in the universe.  He has fought for what he believed was right and given all that he could, but is no wiser, and has watched people die arbitrarily at his command, sacrificing themselves for his leadership in wholly unjustified ways; and by extension, we the audience have learned that only frustration, disappointment and death await those who bother to pursue the most fundamental human desires to understand our place in the universe.

In LIMBO one is likewise right back where they started, but the world they now view is utterly reborn.  By embracing the absurdity of our circumstance, the unknowability of the grand metaphysical truths, we can instead refocus upon the present, and our engagement with ourselves and others.  In our exploration of the dream we come to see the value in our every movement and interaction.  Gameplay becomes the expression of selfhood, and we illuminate ourselves, validating our own worth to the uncaring void.

And so, as all three texts conclude, The Tempest, LOST and LIMBO,the lights dim and we are left to ponder our own place amongst the fantasy.  The pair of eyes shut.  The dream is over.  And we have learned all or nothing as the darkness seeps over us all.

IMAGE: LIMBO (Playdead) 

* http://www.theverge.com/2012/5/21/3030913/damon-lindelof-on-lost-on-the-verge

** LOST even makes a number of thematic and explicit references to the play: the character of Ben, who appears to be in control of the island like Prospero, has a (adopted) daughter whose romance becomes central to her story, much like Miranda; characters vie for control of the island much as the shipwrecked stewards of the King did; each of the characters brings with them baggage from their previous lives that must be resolved in their time upon the island; and one of Dharma stations on the island is even called ‘The Tempest’.

Farming the Footnotes

Posted in criticism, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2012 by drayfish

IMAGE: Ariel and Prospero by William Hamilton (1797)

I’ve been revisiting The Tempest again (and truly, is there a better play, ever? okay, maybe Superman: The Musical) and I’ve discovered that my reading of the text has become inseparably entwined with the Rainer Maria Rilke poem ‘Der Geist Ariel’, or ‘Ariel’, which he wrote after himself adoringly absorbing the play.  So much so, in fact, that I have had to slip a copy of the poem into my edition.

I will confess immediately that I don’t speak German, and thus cannot read Rilke’s luminous work in its original, but I have found Stephen Mitchell’s translations to be rather striking.  You can get a marvellous Selected edition (which includes the Duino Elegies and ‘Ariel’) from Vintage International (here).  Likewise, as fans of the book will attest, Mitchell’s translation of Letters To A Young Poet captures the wonder and consolation that Rilke offers to any soul-starved (though frankly a little whiny) artist awaiting inspiration (here).

But back to The Tempest and the multi-layered, enriching experience of Rilke’s cross-pollination: ‘Der Geist Ariel’ is a wonderful short poem, The Tempest proving itself to be perfectly suited to Rilke’s sensibilities.  Themes of the agony of longing; the tremulous bonds of love that quiver with desire and despair; ghostly images of absence and loss; Rilke explores them all, tracing the immaterial bonds that unite us all in a tidy summary of Ariel and Prospero’s relationship:

And half imperious, half almost ashamed,

you make excuses, say that you still need him

for this and that, and, ah, you must describe

how you helped him.  Yet you feel, yourself,

that everything held back by his detention

is missing from the air.’

Come on.  That’s good stuff.

For much of the poem the narrator speaks to Prospero as though in the midst of a dialogue, but at its conclusion Rilke projects himself into the eyes of Ariel, in a nicely embedded parenthesis, watching as Prospero surrenders his power, becomes merely a man again, and asks the audience for the indulgence of their applause.  And what a magnificent moment!  Shakespeare, through the character of Prospero, is dropping his authorial mask at the end of his ‘final’ play to ask his audience to bid him and his work a fond farewell, but Rilke’s manner of respecting this request is to instead slide into the text, putting on the mask of Prospero’s newly freed spirit to admire his once-master as a grateful participant in the fiction, swooning in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome of Artistry.  It’s lovely.

Ultimately, this exchange got me wondering about other examples of such artistic and authorial conversations, where one work directly responds to the stimuli of another masterpiece.  Obviously there are the famous ones – Keats’ ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’, Auden’s ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’ and its description of Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, or for that matter, William Carlos Williams’ collection Pictures From Brueghel – but are there ever famously negative responses?  Reactions against a work that in its revulsion creates art?  ‘I Hate Madame Bovary And Here’s Why’, a haiku?  Traditionally we think of the artist sitting in stunned bliss or giddy excitement, striving to scratch out their response to a work that has rocked them to their very core, but the artist can be notoriously petty.  The genius even more so.  (I’ve heard that that elephant who paints with his trunk is a complete bastard.)

I’m positive that there are numerous such examples of writers responding with rebukes rather than regard, but my enfeebled brain is struggling to think of one.  And I guess that for now I am happy enough to swim through the warmer waters where everyone is struck with a dreamy wonder.

p.s. I don’t hate Madame Bovary.  I think she’s funny.

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