Shakespeare : Why should we study his plays?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I am not a jealous individual. I do not cry all day coveting my neighbour's girlfriend, or your recently-developed brains.

I have reconciled to the fact that some people are fortunate and others are not. And anyone who fights this fundamental truth is on a path that leads to madness and communism.

So, this emotion (of jealousy) can in no way be used to justify my forthcoming tirade against the man who is regarded as the greatest playwright to have ever lived on this planet( I've achieved nothing in my life, so you can't call me jealous). I'd rather say it is due to the frustration and the hopelessness at having had to study, decipher and deconstruct for the better part of the last four years two of his celebrated plays ( OK, all his plays are masterpieces, the almost (well, entirely)work of an exalted set of grey cells) - Julius Caesar and, more recently, Macbeth.

First up, I solemnly proclaim that the experience of studying Shakespeare's plays is about as inviting as a broken whisky bottle being swung at your face.

The master playwright once wrote:

"Not marble nor guilded monuments
Of Princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme."

How true have these words proved! His plays have been hailed as the finest ever, and are taught as well as performed all over the world.

I've read 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Othello' and 'The Tempest' in order to find out (despite the obvious limitations of my bird-sized brain) just why this has been the case...

I came back more disgruntled than elevated. So, here's my verdict:

I well and truly detest Shakespeare's plays, and couldn't bring myself to read any more of his works.

Go on, call me a nitwit without any class, lacking in the ability to appreciate wine of the finest vintage, but I've got certain small arguments to augment the already improbable-seeming stand that I’ve taken.

I will not, however, hide my immense admiration for the kind of man Shakespeare was. To be able to write utterly fantastic, improbable and incongruous nonsense, to make the whole world appreciate it and make it recognize him as the undisputed emperor of the theatre is no mean feat.

I may not like your literary output, Mr. Shakespeare, but I defend to death your right to write it.

The people who sing Shakespeare's praises (that includes everyone except yours truly) say:

"No poet, ancient or modern - not Aeschylus, not Kalidas, not Ibsen, not even the clamorous Bernard Shaw - can challenge Shakespeare as a dramatist, in his marvellous intuitions into the human mind in the variety of its reactions"

They also speak about his gift of poetic imagination. Coleridge called imagination the 'esemplastic' power - the power which unites and moulds the discordant elements into forms and shapes.

Oh really? I think that Shakespeare's plays are an enormous, contused mass of balderdash in which some truly magnificent scenes shine through in various places.

I think the construction of Shakespeare's plays is faulty. So is his method of characterization. The characters are given new dimensions to suit the next scene which he'd already visualized. The point I am trying to make is that the character of the characters(pun not intended), as well as the characters themselves, do not influence the way the play proceeds, rather, it is the next course the play shall take that brings about the change in the mental make-up of the character's character(again, pun not intended).

I shall not even start speaking about the way in which he's distorted history to suit the needs of his plays. Well, that liberty can be taken, for many seemingly improbable things keep happening in his plays. But he mixes up events and scenes in many places, fails to correlate parallel lines of action, and leaves unbridged gaps between different parts of his plays. All these 'faults' do not perturb his admirers - for they just gloss over them, telling us that all this is the unfathomable secret of genius.

That secret, boys and girls, is simply and solely his lack of artistry.

Our books (ICSE and ISC) say that reading Shakespeare’s plays enables us to cope with our sufferings in a better way. How, in the name of all the Gods at once, are the events of our lives comparable to that faced by Shakespeare’s characters? The probability of similar things happening to us is just about the same as that of me winning a Formula 1 championship, or you becoming the next Bollywood superstar.

His admirers say that few others knew better than he how to construct a play. As a matter-of-fact, few dramatists knew less.

I don’t, for a nanosecond, mean to say that the most well-constructed plays are the best. Who would prefer GB Shaw to Shakespeare? What I’m trying to say is that his plays lack coherence, the pace is hurried at some times, and then lax in others, there are more deviations in them than the old Nurburgring racetrack, and some scenes are unduly long-drawn, with several breaks in action.

Shakespeare always tried to write opening scenes that grab the reader’s attention by the scruff of its neck. The only problem with these scenes is that they are totally unrelated to the rest of the play. We can take a look at the opening scene of ‘The Tempest’, where there is deafening thunder and a horrifying shipwreck, but ultimately all this explains nothing.

The gay (this means LIVELY) Mercutio in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ only cracks unnecessary, complicated jokes, which seem like anything but impromptus. All the character does is irritate us, without contributing in any way towards the action of the play. We are almost grateful when this lunatic is murdered at the beginning of the third act.

Shakespeare has given us really living portraits. So he is someone who is a better painter than a person who really understands the human psyche. He creates creatures of impulse who yield instantly to passion, without a second thought, forsaking all rationality. The same Macbeth who was such a brave warrior and a noble general ultimately becomes a total monomaniac who, despite imagining the consequences of his heinous crimes, goes on to commit them! Another case in point is Othello. He is a simpleton who yields to fury. Of course, you will tell me that Iago was the one who provokes him. I will tell you that even a child would see through the ruses suggested to Othello by this ‘diabolical genius’. Othello was a total idiot. Romeo, well, Romeo is one who is capable of only loving. He surrenders to his passions without ever trying to be conscious of his actions. He symbolizes amorous ardor and intoxication, with little, rather no sensibility. You may not agree with me, but surely you can se that this is a reasonable argument.

However, I shall not ignore the utter genius of this Bard from Avon (I have neither the right, nor the credibility to do so). He was a great poet, capable of creating scenes which no one else could even visualize. The enormous success of his plays bears testimony to this fact. The only problem is that he, more often than not, he’s been incapable of harnessing his imagination. He lets it run wild, and it is because of this that his incoherence, exaggerations, bombast, nonsense and the OTT(Over-The-Top) nature of his work comes to the fore. Still, we are absolutely dazzled and spellbound when we see that despite disdaining reason and truth, he keeps his fiery spirit intact, and gives expression to his extraordinary imagination.

Shakespeare’s plays, in my opinion, should never be taught, but only performed on stage, for this gives true expression to the abortive genius of the Bard. We students should see the plays unfold before our eyes, rather than spend unnecessary time mugging them up and blindly following guide-books. Or our teachers.

Of course you disagree with me. Of course you are thinking I deserve to rot in the Arkham Asylum for the rest of my days.

The thing is, you are absolutely right.

Schumi : Hero or villain?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Back in the Nineties there was a hit film called Awakenings. It starred Robert De Niro and it told the true story of a man who wakes up after being in a coma from a sleeping sickness for over 20 years. We see him rejoice as he experiences the full rush of life, but then the sickness returns. The scene where he is put back to bed, still awake, but knowing he will be returning to a sleeping prison forever is one of the most anguished you'll ever see.

And it's what sprang to mind when Schumacher gave his retirement speech at Monza. I watched this man, responsible for so many unbelievable racing moments, say his farewells, and then that kid Kubica, who'd come third, trotted out one of those inane lift- music-style speeches about his tyres being okay. I think this was the Awakenings moment for me.

Schumacher is one of that breed of super drivers that sprang up in the '80s and '90s - the Sennas, Prosts, Mansells and Piquets - who thought their own thoughts, spoke their minds and were completely in control of their own actions. When they raced they gave us the full spectrum - passion, fury, villainy, genius, mischief, balls-ups - the lot. They were showmen worth watching and now the last of that breed is about to walk away, and as a result Formula One will become more somnambulant.

It's easy to cast Schumacher as villain. Drivers such as Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart point to all his low-down unsporting moments - Adelaide '94, Jerez '97, and Monaco this year - as evidence that he can never be ranked with the great champions of the past who had much higher moral standards.

And it's true that generations ago, the racing was more gentlemanly. Moss himself threw away his one chance of being world champion because he wouldn't protest the points tally of his rival, Mike Hawthorn.

Then you had Peter Collins surrendering his car - and his own chance of a world championship - to Fangio mid-race, so that his senior teammate could win the title. They were sportsmen in the purest sense of the word, but you can't compare Schumacher's behaviour to theirs, any more than you can compare the cars of now and then.

Those drivers raced in an era that, like the telly of the time, was black and white. Appearance was everything, emotions were clamped down, and society, rather than the individual, was the dominant force in deciding peoples' conduct.

Today, though, a two-dimensional comic- book hero has no relevance in a society that is much more complex. If a hero is to be relevant, then he or she must be like us - vulnerable, bad and weak one day, virtuous and strong the next.

That is Schumacher times 10, the classic Shakespearean tragic hero, capable of super-human feats and then transgressing to the dark side when his fatal flaw gets the better of him. You can't appreciate good without knowing evil, and likewise you can't appreciate human greatness unless that human has demons to fight.

Schumacher has plummeted to the worst depths in his sport - blatant cheating - and then gathered himself up to make amends with acts of genius. I can relate to him in the same way I can relate to all the best hero-cum-villains in modern cinema. (I would have liked to change this part...It's too much)

I met once, in 2000, while filming a BBC series about the science of speed. It took half a year to negotiate an hour of his time, but the man himself was charming and even stayed for a drink after filming wrapped.

In the interview, he confessed that he believed Häkkinen to be easily as fast as him, and then we discussed the Dick Dastardly moment when he tried to punt off Jacques Villeneuve in '97. He admitted how he knew it wasn't right, but how he'd been schooled in the era when Senna rewrote the rules on racing conduct. It was a fair reply, and afterwards we asked Bernie Ecclestone for the footage of the moment when Schumacher turned in on Villeneuve.

Bernie refused, to protect Michael, but then gave us the devil's own solution: he would let us use the footage - as long as Michael gave permission in writing. Schumacher then had the final say over whether his dirtiest laundry should be aired again, and, more to the point, if he said no, nobody would ever know he'd blocked it. A day later, though, we received his written permission. I've never forgotten that.

Looking back over his career there are many amazing races that qualify him for hero status. Spain '96, when, in pouring rain, he trounced the field in a dog of a car, is one. Then there was Hungary '98, when he had to drive 20 straight qualifying-speed laps mid-race to compensate for an extra pit stop, and again won.

But the racing moment above all that makes him a hero for me is this year's(2006) Hungarian Grand Prix. In the final laps, Schumacher was third, with Alonso out of the race completely. Michael's tyres were shot to bits and it was obvious he would lose places to de la Rosa and Heidfeld. Even so, he'd still come home fifth and bag himself four valuable points, so all he had to do was let the other drivers through.

Schumacher didn't though. He fought de la Rosa and Heidfeld like a wounded wild animal and in the process shagged his car completely and came home with no points.

Schumacher still races every corner, every moment, like his life depends on it. The same passion for winning that exposes him to moments of weakness is also the very passion that makes him gamble everything, going down with all guns blazing, like he did in Hungary. That is the man I will so dearly miss."

Andy Wilman

*I haven't changed the article at all.

Speed thrills. Or, does it?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Each and every human being on this planet must accept that there is a limit to our reflexes.
A machine that can accelerate from 0 to 200 in 7 seconds without doubt means a race victory, but on normal roads, it is a serious hazard..both for the moron behind the wheel, and the other road users.

I'm a hardcore motorhead myself, but, since I have a triple-figured IQ, I have figured out that speed exhilarates, but only upto a limit. Smashing your Ferrari ( OK, Lamborghini ) into an electric pole while blinking can never be a good idea.

They may all say that 'a third of all those injured and killed on the roads are young men, aged in a startlingly narrow band from 17 and 19. Dripping with testosterone, and filled with a youthful sense of immortality, being 17 is dangerous. It always has been. The fact is, you simply can’t make a 17-year-old see sense .'
But I've just done exactly that!

But administrators and officials are getting it all wrong when they go about setting speed limits on public roads...
Imagine...the speed limit on one of the busiest roads is 20 kmph. So you think this is a fabulous idea...No more big accidents, no more car pile-ups, no more deaths...great! But I, being the eternal sadist, shall stick my smelly foot into your rosy dreams. Suppose there is a 90 degree bend, and two cars are coming at 20 kmph, but in OPPOSITE directions. And then they collide. You tell me, 'Raunaq, you jackass, how can anyone get killed at 20 kmph? As usual, you're talking bullshit. Eff off.' Hold on a second. If you've ever made the mistake of studying Grade 6 Mathematics (or Physics), you will know that this means a resultant impact of 40 kmph. So, to get a feel of the experience, try running at full speed wearing only your underwear head-on into a closed door. And then ring me up to tell me how you 'enjoyed' it.

The point is, you cannot be killed just by travelling fast. You will be killed only if you suddenly come to a standstill.
Accidents and deaths can only be avoided if drivers try to drive sensibly, no matter how dumb they might be. Rash driving is the root cause of all road evils.

Another reason is that people use their vehicles to show off, as well as carry out other clandestine activities.
Due to rising property prices and lack of privacy, cars have truly become the place for things more than just driving. Couples hankering for a few 'close' moments, youngsters who --unprintable-- and those who drive after being loaded with liquor like an oil tanker...all these are only a few examples.

Have we already forgotten the pavement dwellers mowed down in the recent past by speedsters, both as celebrities and common men??
Think about it.