The Bawd?

16 December 2001

Well. Yesterday I finished Jung Chang's Wild Swans, and I just have to say this again: read it. Whether or not you have any interest in 20th century Chinese history, just read it. It's good. This is not like "Just eat it, it's good." It really is good.

(Oh, "Just eat it, it's good"? Some of my friends and I were out for Chinese food, back in high school. And Michael was kind of poking and picking at his, and he fished out one of the dark red, shriveled chili peppers they use in some kinds of Chinese cooking. "What's this?" he said. Scott, who had very little patience with poking and picking, didn't even look up before saying, "Oh, just eat it, it's good."

It took about half an hour before Michael regained his normal skin color. You just don't want to bite into those things. And "Just eat it, it's good" became one of those references that just keeps coming up.)

I started reading Christopher Moore's Coyote Blue, and it's good so far, but I don't understand why it isn't shelved as a fantasy. It's very clearly a fantasy, or else half of Charles de Lint is not. And since Charles de Lint is very clearly a fantasy writer...yeah. Well, I think that's it: Christopher Moore is Not A Fantasy Writer, regardless of whether his books are fantasy novels. And that settles it. Which, I suppose, is not such a bad way of deciding things, when it comes down to it.

It's Arthur Clarke and Jane Austen's birthday. Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what subcategory of British fiction writers they both belong to.

We watched the Lawrence Fishburne/Kenneth Branagh "Othello" last night. It contains what I consider the best ten seconds of Kenneth Branagh acting I've ever seen -- at the end, after Othello (Fishburne) stabs himself, this look of total confusion flits across Iago's (Branagh's) face. He is just fundamentally not the sort of person who would understand that behavior -- and that's one of the reasons he's my second favorite Shakespearean villain. And Branagh got that. Despite his posing and his declaiming, he understood that fundamental part.

One of the things that bothered me about this version of "Othello" was the accents. This may seem trivial, but I don't think it ought to. If people in a movie, play, or TV show have different accents, that's meaningful. It tells you something about who they are. You have a very limited set of information about a character in that type of media, and their clothing and their accent should place them immediately. But in "Othello," the actors had a mishmash of British, quasi-British, and Italian accents, plus Fishburne. But Fishburne could have whatever accent he watned, as far as I was concerned, because he was Othello, the Moor, the foreigner. He was supposed to be different from everybody else. If there had been a class consistency -- if the higher classes had had more "posh" accents than the lower, or if they'd all had Italian where the lower classes had British accents, or something, that would have worked for me, too. But when people from the same class, same city, same family have such widely varying accents, it jars me. I wouldn't mind if they didn't look alike. But speech is something different entirely.

And what it says to me is what most Shakespeare productions say -- that internal consistency doesn't matter, that putting on a good, human, believable play doesn't matter, because It Is Shakespeare. The Words Of The Immortal Bard will be enough, even if they're cut to bits in the adaptation. The play/movie doesn't have to ring true to the audience because it's something apart from the audience, it's Shakespeare. Bah. Sometimes I wonder if Shakespeare isn't responsible for the sickly status of live theatre in English. In any other type of work -- short stories, essays, novels, whatever -- if you tried to claim that one artist was the English master of the form, you would be wrong. You would be wrong simply because it would be generally arguable, because people who argued it would be considered reasonable and not ornery. But Shakespeare has such a stranglehold on drama that if you try to argue that he's overrated -- which he certainly is, being rated so high -- people think you're just saying that to be different, or to be argumentative.

And all of these modern film adaptations, things like "O" and "Ten Things I Hate About You" and even "West Side Story," they further draw the line between modern things and plays. The play was Shakespearean and old-fashioned; the movie is modernized. It's a very small jump from that to "plays are old-fashioned." And I'm quite disturbed that the two Tom Stoppard plays/movies that have made the most money and gotten the most viewers are the two directly related to Shakespeare: "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" and "Shakespeare in Love." I enjoyed both in some ways, but "Hapgood" and "Arcadia" and "Travesties" and...well. Shall we say the man has done some really good work that has nothing to do with Shakespeare. But it's the somehow Shakespearean stuff people remember.

Ah well. There's no changing this now, but it's frustrating. I just feel like taking people by the shoulders and shaking them and shouting, "There are other playwrights in the English language! And no, I'm not talking about Neil Simon or @&#@^ Thornton Wilder!"

(When I got to Ohio to do my research, my advisor, a New Yorker, asked if I liked the bawd. I blinked. Perhaps he meant the baud? No, no, it was The Bard. Shakespeah. Sigh.)

And on that happy note, off I go....

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