FALSTAFF: Sir John Falstaff's story is also shaped by his role as a sidekick to Prince Hal, and in his case his death is not even a precursor of a larger tragedy but in fact a precursor of Hal's triumph. Falstaff shares many other characteristics with Mercutio--and manages to steal Hal's fire even more often than Mercutio stole Romeo's--but adds to them a greater sense of a life lived for the purpose of living, of the satisfaction of the body serving to satisfy the soul. Shakespeare does not … [Read more...]


THE FOOL: The Fool in King Lear is not nearly as fully fleshed out as Falstaff or even Mercutio, and in function is much closer to the older form of the malcontent which Shakespeare was using as his base. However, he shares with the two larger characters his ironic sense of a truth which often runs counter to the truth of heroes. In King Lear Shakespeare explores the possibilities of marginal characters, reshaping the malcontent archestpe in several different ways; not just the Fool, but Edmund … [Read more...]


HAMLET: If in King Lear the tragic sidekick's role is restricted by the larger story, in Hamlet his role expands to become the central story. In creating Hamlet, and shoving him into the role of a revenger, Shakespeare thrusts his new type of marginal character onto the center stage. Hamlet's character is in many ways an extension of Mercutio; he has a similar ironic view of the world, the same sense of being on the margins (he, unlike Shakespeare's other tragic heroes, does not seem to know the … [Read more...]


END: Hamlet is the culmination of Shakespeare's expansion of the marginal, malcontent-Vice character. By creating the archetype of the tragic sidekick, he was able to show a view of the world which neither a hero nor a more narrowly-conceived malcontent could provide; he could also explore ideas of heroism and tragedy which more stable, hero-centered plays could only suggest. Falstaff and Mercutio introduce ambivalence into plays which, without them, would have dismayingly simple plots; because … [Read more...]


"LONE STAR": Another recent Netflix gem. I don't have the mental energy to put together a nicely-structured post, so here are some scattered thoughts, in no real order: 1. This movie made me realize how much I love the "investigating a long-past crime" storyline. Several of my favorite Agatha Christie novels have some variant on this plot; so does Josephine Tey's wonderful Richard III apologia The Daughter of Time. With this plot you get an easy, suspenseful storyline that will pretty much force … [Read more...]


"THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER": Just watched this. (The French one, not the American.) It's terrific. Yes, it has some of the same over-the-top hyperventilating as most silent movies (the mystic power of magnetism...slow-motion fainting...rutting toads), but mostly it's intense, menacing, and feverishly beautiful. I was spellbound. Small humans lost in big sets reminiscent of Giacometti's "The Palace at 4 a.m."; a banister made of branches and chains; a corpse (possibly) in a wedding dress; … [Read more...]


POETRY WEDNESDAY (FOR CERTAIN VALUES OF WEDNESDAY): From Ernest Dowson, "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae."Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine; And I was desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat, Night-long within mine arms in … [Read more...]