Something about Shakespeare

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Latimer: William Shakespeare.

There was a time when that name struck fear into my very soul. Years ago, when I, like so many others, was semi-scarred by compulsory Shakespeare plays on English exams.

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These plays required someone, who had studied Shakespeare in college, to go through it word-by painful-word and translate it, because Shakespearean language is just that – a different language! And it scares a young teenager, scares them bad!

Romeo and Juliet wasn’t really a great start for me.

I remember a girl in my class at the time, she got really frustrated and fidgety and just piped up in a loud confident voice:

“MISS! What use is Shakespeare? Thees and Thous – no one talks like this! I can’t go into a shop and buy milk talking like this!”

The teacher looked like a bolt of lightning had just crispy-fried someone right in front of her. She was speechless. We all laughed– what the hell was the point of this?

In hindsight I know now that poetry and stories and plays, none of them is any use in ordering milk – but it’s not about getting the milk – it’s about food for the soul. All art is pointless, as a Wild man once said 😉

Thankfully, after Romeo and Juliet, I had a break – no more Shakespeare for one year. Not much of a break as Emily Bronte stepped up to take his place for a while – ‘It’s me, it’s Cathy, I’ve come home’ (dear God, go away you crazy harpy woman!).

Then, in the school ending mega-national exam – the big guns were wheeled out– Macbeth! Nooo! NOT SHAKESPEARE AGAIN (we knew what to expect now) HOW WILL WE WRITE AN ESSAY ON THAT! DON’T MAKE ME LEARN QUOTES! NOO!

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Macbeth, initially I understood no better than Romeo and Juliet, then, again word-by-word it gets explained… and actually, I thought; hold on a minute, this play is epic! It is the ultimate story of a fallen hero, of how absolute power corrupts.

I even have this little quote that I semi consider ‘my life quote’ – Let me set the backstory… It’s Macbeth talking, he is thinking about what he’s done (killed the rightful King and plunged Scotland into anarchy by talking the crown for himself – the very land itself is festering, sickening under his unlawful rule) – Macbeth is thinking about turning back, trying to make up for what he’s done, i.e. do the right thing – ultimately this is what he decides –

“…I am in blood stepp’d in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er…”

Basically – ‘I won’t turn back, I can’t. I’ve waded out this far, that turning back now would be as difficult as continuing’. Now for him, this was a BAD choice…

…in my case, I consider this quote as my – “KEEP GOING LATIMER! Don’t give up! Going forward is as hard as going back – so keep going, keep going!”

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When we were in England, we went to Stratford-Upon-Avon to visit the Bard’s birthplace.

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The town is beautiful anyway, but with the summer shining, it was glorious… England and Ireland actually look amazing in the sun (though we hardly ever see it, and universally I noticed, we all go completely mad in the sun – it’s like we fully expect to never see it again!).

We went to the Bard’s house, and got an introduction video display, narrated by Patrick Stewart about Shakespeare’s life and work.

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Shakespeare was famous even in his own time (a proper celeb). The display showed all these great actors who have acted in Shakespearean plays and how it’s almost a feather in the cap for an actor to have done one (or many). And you get really amazed by the actual amount of plays that Shakespeare wrote and you start finding yourself starting to be awed by him – just look at all these amazing quotes…

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”

“There’s no art to find the minds construction in the face”

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves”

“All’s well that ends well :)”

 

Shakespeare’s house is really beautiful too and so well preserved.

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Writers from all over, down through the years, would used to visit and write their names on the windows, to show that they had been in the great man’s house. Now these signatures and, sort of property damage!, are artifacts themselves.

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There was this overflowing sense of respect, from the past and the present.

We also learned that his plays only exist for us today, because his friends collected them altogether into this epic compendium. This book of plays is why we know about Shakespeare today (otherwise we may have never known and Stratford would have a lovely car park instead of a cool piece of priceless history).

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While Ridley and I sat in Shakespeare’s garden, we wondered, was there some other fantastic playwright out there who wrote just as well, if not better, and had no wise friends with great foresight, and so was forgotten?

Do you ever wonder if there were hundreds of fantastic writers in the past, who never told that amazing story because they couldn’t write?

Or there were fantastic writers whose books were burned or lost, or never printed at all?

Think of all the forgotten stories 😦

Later that night we went to see a Shakespearean play; All’s well that ends well, in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (but of course!) in town.

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In honour of our trip to Stratford, and our Shakespeare adventure, we both bought Moomins in the town (random I know), and named them after Shakespearean characters.

Ridley’s is Hamlet Moomin… Mine is Bertram Moomin.

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We are odd, we know… but – This above all; to thine own self be true :)” (even if that does involve buying a Moomin and calling it Bertram or Hamlet!)

The Phantom of The Opera

Ridley: We’ve been to the musical, Phantom of the Opera. Both Latimer and I went to see this in the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin (now renamed the Bord Gais Theatre, though everyone refuses to call it that!)

Latimer: It’s a real shame that the theatre was renamed, because the ‘Grand Canal’ makes it sound very opulent and grand, but the Bord Gais (‘Gas board’ in Irish.. because the Irish Gas Board sponsor it now) makes it cringe-worthy. 

Ridley: It was really fantastic going though, name choice aside! I don’t often go to the theatre, but when I do go, I always wonder why I don’t do it more often, as I feel quite cultured! 🙂 The costumes were so vibrant, the set design was clever and the music just swept you along. If you ever get a chance to see this in theatres, go, you won’t be disappointed! Your eyes will just want to drink it all in!

Latimer: Myself and Ridley went to see Lord of the Rings, the soundtrack score in this theatre (‘Grand Canal’ at that point). I remember complaining that the seating was bad (we were about three rows from the front). And the layout felt very cramped.

But this time I was sitting on the upper circle and it was pretty fantastic. I recommend that seating area now! I went with my Mam and Aunt, and my Aunt has been to this theatre lots of times and she knows what seats to book now.

Ha. I suppose it’s trial and error.

And in introducing my Aunt, I introduce an old, old fact from the Grand Canal’s medieval past- a detour through time now if you will!

Outside the theatre, there are many red poles (as you see above).

Ridley, did you ponder, what these meant? I didn’t give them a second thought, only thinking; ‘oh, some arty poles’.

Ridley: I have asked before ‘what’s with the red sticks’ but no one ever knows! I’m sensing you do…

Latimer: Ah, my Aunt told me that they mean something…

There’s a street opposite the theatre called Forbes Street. And in medieval Dublin this was were the lepers were sectioned (it was known as ‘Misery Hill’).

The red poles are symbolic of the saying, ‘I would not touch them with a barge pole’ in reference to the lepers.

Very eerie now in that respect eh?

By night the poles are lit. The above picture is them after the show was finished!

Well now… back to the Phantom! I agree that the set-design was fantabulous! My god I couldn’t get over it. Ridley, please, explain the story if you will…

Ridley: Well, most people know the story of Phantom of the Opera. For those that don’t, it’s basically a tragic love story. The phantom is a deformed man, a ghost who lives in the depths of a theatre. He falls in the love with the young and beautiful Christine Daaé. He watches her from the shadows and teaches her to sing without revealing himself. She believes he is her Angel of Music, a being from heaven sent by her father to watch over her. It is the phantom that arranges for Christine to get her first big break in the theatre. He bullies and forces the owners to feature her as their star. While she is singing as the lead in the play, her childhood friend Raoul sees her and they reconnect. Thus begins the dangerous love triangle, where Christine must decide between her old friend and her Angel of Music.

The 2004 movie with Gerard Butler is the version that I know best. Not a bad version of the phantom to love, Gerard Butler, eh? Teehee. It’s a bit like Doctor Who, everyone has their favourite Doctor and everyone has their favourite phantom! Gerard is mine! (I also have the soundtrack from this version of the Phantom of the Opera and I play it often. It’s really beautiful.)

Now, I’ve always thought Christine should have chosen the phantom over Raoul. My view on this has never changed, no matter how many times I’ve seen the musical-either in the theatre or in the cinema. Raoul’s affections always seemed so fleeting and shallow. He only remembers his love for her when he hears her singing at the opera-after she’s become the lead performer. Whereas the phantom has loved her all this time, helping her and protecting her…

Dramatic, mysterious, passionate and powerful, that is what the phantom is for me. I’ve always found myself drawn to him. I suppose I’ve always liked the bad boy, the evil genius. The phantom had the swirling black cape, a mask framing eyes that captivated and a hidden lair that he filled with haunting music. At the same time, he was damaged and vulnerable in some ways. Raoul was always pathetic compared to him. He also certainly didn’t get the massive swells of music from the organ at his sudden appearance.

With regards to Christine, I don’t think I’ve ever liked her as a character. On one hand, I can understand that she’d be terrified of the phantom, having been suddenly kidnapped by him. He is quite menacing. But I can’t seem to shake the soft spot I have for him, despite being a kidnapper and a murderer (I seemed to have glossed over this part in past versions, I’d forgotten about it but I was abruptly reminded he killed a stage hand, when I watched the musical in the theatre the other day! The sympathy I feel for the phantom is certainly diminished when I take this into account, so I generally have to forget this happens!)

I think that Christine uses the phantom. She preys on his vulnerable side, the side that has never seen friendship or love. He’s had only hatred, disgust and fear thrown at him. Without him, her career wouldn’t have progressed as far as it did, nor would she have been able to sing like she does. She plays on his affections for her and then betrays him in the end.

Latimer: Actually watching it all again, in this form, I can understand her not loving the Phantom though. Because he wasn’t sympathic and he was pretty ruthless. I remember in the movie thinking, ah she should have picked the Phantom (I was annoyed that she didn’t to be honest!).

Yet in this musical version (possibly the real version- aside from the book!), I felt it was all mixed up, I didn’t like the Phantom. The characters I really liked were the two men who buy the theatre at the start. I found them funny and enjoyable (light-hearted among the grimness). My Aunt saw it in London and said that this Dublin version has been cut down alot, so we missed out on some backstory etc

Ridley: The funny thing is that all changes in the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, which I never realised existed! It’s called Love Never Dies, and I have some major problems with it. (Spoiler alert here)

Latimer: This is beyond ridiculous…!

Ten years after the events of Phantom of the Opera, the phantom tricks Christine and Raoul into coming to New York, where he wants to hear Christine sing once again (I’d like to point out, his love for her still hasn’t faded!) Christine has a son, Gustave. It turns out that this is the phantom’s son! (My jaw dropped at this! Latimer: what the Dicken’s? haha, this is just so bad!) Never, not once is there ever any hint that Christine and the phantom were in anyway intimate in the musical or the films. Perhaps this occurs in the book? (which i’ll admit I haven’t read, so i’m very open to being corrected on this) Not only this, through the phantom’s scheming, he convinces Raoul to leave Christine, which he does-without any fighting to save their marriage! Then suddenly it seems Christine has always loved the phantom and she finally stops fighting against this love. Based on the musicals I’ve seen, I would have always said she’d felt nothing but pity and disgust for him. Perhaps at most, she had an affection for her Angel of Music, but no this undying love. 

Latimer: She found this false, undying love very quickly, considering how she left things in the Opera house in Phantom of the Opera. I’m still shaking my head at this. It was obviously fabricated in light of creating another cash cow.

Incidentally, he’s (the Phantom) running a theme park in Coney Island when we meet him again in ‘Love Never Dies’. And it’s called Phantasma… oh my…. oh my… 

Ridley: Well, also, the other final thing I have a problem with is when Gustave finds out the phantom is his father. He decides to stay and join him at the theme park in New York, instead of following after Raoul when he leaves. Raoul is the man he’s known all his life, the one he’s always considered his father and yet he wanders off with this random stranger instead? What? Would that really happen? I don’t think so! Hmm…

All the same, despite all my nit-picking and wish to change the ending, I still love the story! I think there are quite a number of people out there that love it too, or am I wrong? 🙂

Latimer: While I really enjoyed my trip to the theatre and also, the set design and experience of the musical was just amazing, I don’t actually like the story of Phantom of the Opera.

But still, it was a nice night! Also, random that we both attended separately, but we have joined together, like bubbles caught in an updraft to write this post. After-which we’ll pop, likely never to speak of it again! Ha 🙂

Ridley: Yes…bubbles…..  *pop*   😀