Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Little of What I Like and Hope to Like

Some years back, after rather too much time spent in a library (hard as it is to believe such a thing is possible), I asked my husband, "Does it mean there's something wrong with me that I can't read much literary criticism without feeling sick to my stomach?" His answer: "It means you're a normal person."

But writing about books can be very worthwhile, when it's actually about the book, rather than the author's pet political theory or his desire to sound impressive. I think writing about books is most useful when the author gets us to notice something in the work we wouldn't have otherwise. Case in point: Recently I pulled out my Bevington Shakespeare to look up something in As You Like It, and I looked at the introduction. I've read AYLI many times over the years, but Bevington showed me something in the Ages of Man scene that I'd never noticed.

Jaques gives his speech, dividing the life of man into seven stages. In the sixth, the formerly vigorous man has shrunken muscles and his voice is becoming childish again. And that stage is succeeded by the helplessness of extreme old age, when we become "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." That final line, delivered by a really good actor, is devastating. But Bevington points out something I'd never noticed: that line is immediately followed by Orlando coming in supporting the old Adam, bringing the old man to food and rest before he would take any himself. Adam is moving rapidly toward the seventh age of man, but he is clearly not "sans everything", because there is human kindness and love working in the hearts of the people around him. Something to think about.

Speaking of AYLI, I just found out not more than a couple of months ago that Kenneth Branagh is releasing a movie version of AYLI later this year. How I missed hearing about it until production was complete, I don't know, but it was welcome news (all the more so because it came at a time when it seemed every headline was about the government doing something incredibly stupid, some celebrity saying something unpatriotic or blasphemous, or some technological "advance" that threatens to chip away the foundation of what it means to be human.) AYLI is one of my very favorite plays, and I have high hopes for this production. For one thing, I loved some of Branagh's previous films; for another, I like Kevin Kline; and for a third, Branagh has brought some Japanese elements into this production and, true-dyed Westerner though I am, I am fond of many things Japanese. Also I like the movie poster; a good movie poster doesn't guarantee a good movie, but it never hurts ticket sales and I'm hoping in this case it shows attention paid to quality throughout.

(Does "true-dyed" count as one of those portmanteau terms Tweedledee and Tweedledum talked about--encompassing both "true blue" and "dyed-in-the-wool"? Either that or I'm just linguistically awkward.)

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