Monday, June 26, 2017

Shakespeare vs Tolkien

In the last half a year or so my interest in Shakespeare has had a resurgence of sorts.  It's been there for years of course.

The thing is I tend to enjoy Shakespeare most when artists are being very experimental with his text.  I've heard Lawrence Oliver's Shakespeare films are the most by the book, the best for a purist.  And indeed my attempts to watch them have mostly bored me, even his Hamlet which did have a cool looking aesthetic.  Likewise with my attempts to watch the BBC Shakespeare productions from the 80s.  I like other BBC productions that are very theatrical in style, like The Caesars and The Count of Monte-Cristo, but their Shakespeare bored me.

However I really like the more experimental stuff.  This applies to pretty much all of what KyleKallgrenBHH has covered, most of which I haven't gotten to see yet but I plan too. Ones I have seen include Branagh's Hamlet, Coriolanus, Romeo + Juliette, and West Side Story.  And The Lion King which I already did a post on.

But even something like Marlon Brando's Julius Caesar which looks very by the book at first to a modern viewer, was notable at the time for Brando's unconventional approach.  I often refer to "Brando style acting" derogatorily when saying why I dislike modern acting compared to theatrical acting.  But that's a bit of a paradox since it doesn't apply much to Brando himself, Brando alone knew how to do Brando style acting well.  And my two favorite Brando performances are his Mark Anthony and The Mutiny on The Bounty, (not at all historically accurate, but a great film).

I also really enjoy the Anthony and Cleopatra film that Charlton Heston both directed and stared in.  It is unconventional in how he didn't change the text but rearranged it.

Only twice I have seen Shakespeare performed live.

Once was a production of Hamlet at Parkside, which did something interesting where they had four different actors playing Hamlet, two male and two female.  I really liked it.  Especially as a Yuri fanatic how one of the females got all the Ophelia scenes.

The other was a performance of Trolius and Cressida at Spring Green WI.  I really liked it also.  Nothing to blatantly unconventional about it, though the interview with the director I read hinted at an interest in how it's themes are applicable today.

With my increasing Otakudom, I've really enjoyed watching those episodes of Anime where the cast puts on an all female production of Romeo and Juliette.  I've seen it at least 4 times, Pretty Cure season 1 (dubbed), K-On season 2 (dubbed), Akuma no Riddle (dubbed).  I'm trying to remember the 4th one which I saw most recently.

Anime more substantially inspired by Shakespeare is kind of rare, what does exist I haven't gotten to yet.  I've been thinking of making a blog post on Shakespearean themes in Anime that might be unintentional.

My relationship with Tolkien is kind of similar yet different.

Tolkien I think was a genius in his ability to come up with a deep and rich mythology.  One where on my other blogs where I talk about Religion and Mythology more often I'll regularly site stuff from Tolkien's made up mythology alongside ones people have actually believed in for centuries.  And everything I've said about Tolkien previously on this blog I still stand by because it's all about that mostly.

But I've lately come to realize that I don't actually like his writing, his Prose to be more exact.  I look at the complaints of people who wish things like the "I am no Man" line had been given in the Return of The King movie more exactly like it was written in the book. And I can't help but feel that would have been cringe worthy.

I'm not saying Tolkien is the worst writer, I suppose he's better then Stephanie Meyer.  But I've read flawed English translations of French and Japanese prose and felt like they were more natural to the English language then Tolkien.  I've watched some of the most derided Anime Dubs and genuinely liked that Dialogue better then Tolkien's.

I realize that seems like the most bizarre thing one could possibly say about a writer who was an English Professor.  But the thing is Tolkien was coming from the place of someone who resented how the English language had changed, especially how it'd been influenced by French for centuries following the Norman Conquest.  Because of that the way he wrote winds up feeling alien to someone who likes the English language as it is, who embraces how it's developed.  A development that to some extend was partly shaped by Shakespeare, or at least seems that way since he wrote during a crucial turning point and has overshadowed his contemporaries.

And so that leads me finally to the real point of this post.  Tolkien didn't like Shakespeare.  But not like Shaw who KyleKallgrenBHH likes defaulting to as an example of someone bashing Shakespeare to be contrarian.  I've read Shaw's forward for Caesar and Cleopatra and he was in fact quite willing to praise Shakespeare alongside his critiques.

Tolkien's hostility towards The Bard came from a place of to some extent being hostile to the theater in general.  Meaning he probably wouldn't like Marlowe or Shaw any better.  And it was reading this that began to cause me to realize everything I just talked about.  I realized that I had been in denial of the fact that I activity disliked Tolkien's writing, I knew on some level I was glad Jackson's films weren't word for wording his dialogue.  But I didn't want to conclude from that that I dislike how Tolkien wrote.  I'm a Nerd, I'm supposed to love Tolkien.

So it's a parallel really.   With Shakespeare I like the text but prefer it being played with in terms of context.  While with Tolkien I like his world but not the text itself.

And so, I feel like I want to write an Elizabethan style Iambic Pentameter stage play set in Arda just to stick it to Tolkien.  I'm thinking of setting it in the reign of Tar-Telperien and incorporating my Headcanon that she was a Lesbian.  That presents an interesting opportunity to also homage Marlowe's Edward The Second.

It was Macbeth specifically that Tolkien felt compelled to respond to.  It partly influenced the Trees going into battle at Helm's Deep which was cool.  But also Tolkien felt bothered by Macbeth's Prophecy loop hole, having "No man of Woman born" exclude a C-Section baby ignores the actual etymology of the word "Borne".   And that's fine and all.  But his own fake prophecy made in response and how he gave it a loop hole happens to play into a major linguistic pet peeve of mine.

Man was not originally a gender specific word.  In fact much of how Tolkien used it acknowledged that, "Elves and Men" does not mean elves and males.  Man means Human, Woman means Man with a Womb.  So excluding women from the word Man always bugs me.  But unfortunately how The Bible is often translated helps perpetuate this.  Zakar and Adam are not synonyms in Hebrew yet both get translated Man.

Eowyn killing The Witch-King while saying that line is a Bad@$$ moment that I still love as much as anyone else.  My point is, Tolkien should have been more careful if he wanted to predicate an entire plot-point on criticizing someone else for not knowing how broad a word's meaning can actually be.

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