e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the month “October, 2011”

‘Anonymous': a film directed by Roland Emmerich

So the ‘Who wrote Shakespeare?’ debate is being revisited, this time in film.

Anonymous has already raised hackles and interest, and with stars like Derek Jacobi will no doubt be successful as a film.

Whether it’ll encourage anyone to take more interest in the plays is another matter, though Emmerich hopes it will. As he told the BBC, ‘It’s a celebration of his work, and anyone who sees this film, if it encourages young people, or anyone, to revisit these plays, then it’s very important.’

Personally I don’t think it matters who actually wrote the plays. But I lean away from all brands of doubters who display the snobbish attitude that Shakespeare couldn’t be the author because he was lower class and not well educated.

How do they know? An intelligent person who has learned to read and has access to books could become very well educated on his own. ‘Good breeding’ and sitting in a classroom are not essential.

They also claim that Shakespeare did not have the personality to be a great artist. They forget that our idea of ‘artistic temperament’ was born out of the 18th century Romantic Movement. There is no such thing as an artistic type.

I’m sure that there are anti-Stratfordians who have more sensible reasons for their doubts, but they are not, apparently, celebrated in this film.

Having said all this, I shall probably go and see it. Emmerich describes it: ‘It’s a political thriller, it’s a whodunnit, and it’s a homage to theatre and to William Shakespeare’ and I love whodunnits. If I disagree with it that’s no bad thing – I enjoy wallowing in a bit of irritation from time to time.

Library rearrangements

I went to the Arts Council England website to have a look at what they say about literature.

Instead I got sidetracked by the discovery that they’ve taken over responsibility for libraries (and museums). Until this autumn there has been a government department called Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA). Now the Arts Council looks after the museums and libraries and the National Archives the archives.

I suppose it’s sort of silly to be saddened by the loss of a set-up I didn’t know existed, but I’ve been through these reorganisations myself and I know they’re generally unpleasant for the staff involved. I also know that programmes, funding and ideas can easily slip through the cracks between organisations.

I’m not convinced that the move is completely logical (except in its design of saving money). The Arts Council is involved in the creative side of culture, while museums and libraries both preserve rather than create.

(I know! I know! there’s creativity in the presentation of museum displays and library services, but they’re of a different sort and can’t be defined as ‘arts’.)

But the Arts Council has many years experience in developing, encouraging and paying for culture. Logical or not I expect the new arrangement will be successful. Whether it’ll save money, only time will tell.

An oblique look at fear and suffering

Just finished reading Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel.

Having loved The Life of Pi, I was expecting to be excited and stimulated, but, for me, this book didn’t quite “take off” in the same way.

Which isn’t to say it’s not beautifully written and very original. It is. I just felt it lacks the poetry of Pi and the interior life of the main character. The latter probably has to do with the fact that Henry, the protagonist of Beatrice and Virgil, is not isolated and interacts with a number of other people; so we see his character in conversation and action rather than in thought.

The story is simple. The use of the story-within-a-story technique spins it out and allows the characters to comment in ways they wouldn’t in a straightforward telling. But it also slows it down. Until about half-way through I found the lack of action annoying and kept wondering if I’d finish the book. But gradually it hooked me and I’m glad I gave it the chance.

It deals with huge issues: relations between humans and animals, affection and friendship, fear, pain, suffering and forgiveness among them. Instead of full-on discussion these themes edge sideways into partial view. The reader is allowed to share Henry’s puzzlement over what it all means.

I’m still not sure why it harks back so strongly to Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, but it forced me to reconsider that play, which I studied many years ago and thought I understood.

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