Friday, May 23, 2014

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

Sejanus (1603), The Alchemist (1610), Catiline his Conspiracy (1611), Bartholomew Fair (1614)


Ben Jonson, portrait by Abraham van Blyenberch

[Image taken from the splendid website of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, http://universitypublishingonline.org/cambridge/benjonson/k/essays/jonsons_images_essay/1/ . This is the painting in the National Portrait Gallery. Though unsigned, there's little doubt of the artist or the sitter; it was immediately much copied. It apparently belonged to George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, and it probably shows Jonson in about 1618.] 

Sejanus (1603) 

I have always favoured Ben Jonson’s writing - he is of course abundantly entertaining, but there is something else too, a sort of rugged justice in the grain of his writing, so it's a something I can also find in a poem, even in a panegyric addressed to some obscure noble. ("Favoured" means that I think I approve of Ben Jonson, rather aside from any particular thing that happens when I read him.) 

In spite of this I had never happened to read some of his masterpieces. Sejanus deserves to be called one of these, and is an astonishing play.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

specimens of the literature of Sweden: bottle of shampoo






This is an everyday shampoo. "Swedish hair-care tradition from Dalarna", says the bottle. The county of Dalarna, romantically rural but not too remote from Stockholm, has desirable connotations and is often thought of as the home of folksong; a sort of hyperreal heart of the Swedish nation, as exemplified by the painted wooden horses (dalahästar) that you find in airport souvenir shops, or the idyllic domestic paintings by Carl Larsson that you find on calendars. Here these idyllic connotations are helped along by the fanciful floral design on that very traditional Swedish shade of grey-blue. In Sweden there is, or is imagined to be, a continuity between nineteenth century folk art and tasteful modernist design: in the UK the discontiuity is felt to be stark. This sense of integration with the folk-past has very profound implications for Swedish life and for its economy. It is one of the main stories that Sweden sells to the world. It sells it to its own people too.

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Anne Righter: Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (1962)




Anne Righter (née Bobbyann Roesen, later Anne Barton, 1933 - 2013) is mainly remembered for this book, her first.

When I bought it recently (from Oxfam, because it was the cheapest book in the shop), I imagined hopefully that it would talk about the conception of the play that was shared by Shakespeare, his fellow-actors, and their audiences. Of course that conception could only be discovered by inference. But Righter sticks to a narrower and more directly accessible topic, Shakespeare's use of the play-image within the plays themselves. And, after all, this rigorous concentration does lead to interesting results. The principal one of which, is that Shakespeare's play-references grow to a sort of apotheosis of positivity around 1600, with the chorus speeches of Henry V* and the troupe of players in Hamlet, before then turning negative in character (the poor player who struts and frets). The negativity being especially apparent in Troilus and Timon.
Righter concludes that after 1600 Shakespeare experienced a growing disillusion with the stage; so her book is in effect a late contribution to the Victorian notion of Shakespeare's "dark period". But she links this observation to the history of the Elizabethan drama as a whole. After a long period of development from medieval drama, involving both disintegration and reintegration, a certain high point of naturalistic drama was attained (above all in Shakespeare), then something curdled and then came the transformation into masque which is echoed in certain ways by the elimination of naturalistic illusion in Shakespeare's last plays.

*To be accurate about this, Righter suggests that the Chorus's self-deprecating references to the "Wooden O" etc might mark the beginning of Shakespeare's disillusion with the stage. But I see the speeches as really glorying in the incredible things the stage can do, albeit by recruiting the audience's imagination.

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Saturday, May 03, 2014

Leaving the cottage

(poem still in progress)

LEAVING THE COTTAGE

1

The grass lies on the land - 
     that set of keys.

Dumb as a bunch of keys, the grass is.
    It’s you who know!

Do you know what you know?
   Take this clutch of grass

and potter back and forth,
  letting out your prisoners.

2

This blue morning is also over Syria;
    this sky is too high for

that kind of division.
   A dove clears its bowels as it

takes off into the air.
   So many have engraved

their messages on the blue stone:
    everyone is writing on the cover, and

yet the pages are blank.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

My essay about Tim Allen now on Intercapillary Space

My longish review-essay of various works by the fantastic contemporary UK poet Tim Allen is now on Intercapillary Space:

http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/tim-allen-settings-etc.html

As usual the essay initially took shape on this blog. I've removed it from its original location, but if you are curious about the context and why I start off by talking about classic novels rather than modern poetry, then this will expain it all:

http://michaelpeverett.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/interim-cluttered-desk.html



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