Tuesday, May 30, 2006

RE: 1 Henry VI - Gong?


Yes. I have been troubled by a bit of a disconnect between the well-put and thoroughly supported descriptions of the tragedy-like natures of both Titus and 1 Henry VI and the experience of reading or, in my case, of listening to the plays. As overall readings, these descriptions are as good as any alternatives I can think of, but they are also dissatisfying. I am not moved by the "tragic figures" in either play. I see little cathartic process -- either for them or for me, the beholder. Both seem to be comic-book figures (to overstate) and really "develop" little beyond their luminosity as comic-book figures, either. The question that teases me involves what is memorable about each play. It the case of Titus, it is the outlandish tortures, the hamming of various characters (Aaron, Titus, Tamara's sons), the instances of Shakespeare trying to better Marlowe (and perhaps Kyd) at their own games.

Similarly, it is the (arguably silly) anecdotal pieces in Henry that I think one remembers -- more than the tragedy of Talbot's destruction by the Renaissance Machiavellianism employed by the more "modern" characters surrounding him. Without the corny rose scene, the calling forth of demons by Joan, the affair of Talbot's son, the various battles and confrontations, the play crumbles dust-ward a fair bit.

I don't have any answers (I am putting off reading finals as I speak), but I do remember how I finally fixed for myself which family got the white rose and which the red. It came from comparing Chester and York Cathedrals. Chester, in the west, in Lancaster territory, is made of red sandstone. York, in the east, is built of brilliantly white limestone. That fixed it for me.

I am hoping to have my sister Juliet look in on these discussions after her teaching season ends around the end of June--with your permission, of course.


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