An Image of the Times: An Irreverent Companion to Ben Jonson’s Four Humours and the Art of Diplomacy – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

TimelyHere is a witty and learned literary excursion into the world of humour and comic literature as revealed inter alia by the works of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Oliver Goldsmith and Henry Fielding leading in the second half to some glorious insights and observations provided by author s life experience in the world of diplomacy. It is a rich and fascinating mix of literary idiom, the theatre of the absurd and the comic element of the human condition. Importantly, it does speak to the difficulties and dilemmas facing today s diplomatic missions as much as it has ever done the necessary dance between reality and pragmatism, how the art of diplomacy often hinges on the quality of humour brought to bear in any particular context. As such, this thought-provoking text by a retired Norwegian ambassador could be said to offer a clever bridge between history, literature and diplomacy, creating a fascinating link between his prime sources and the world of the diplomat.

Having greedily devoured the author’s children’s books, a change of pace and a leap into the scholarly beckoned this time around.  Using Jonson’s skill and invention as a poet to link into the world of diplomacy is effective and Jørgensen’s own experiences in such places as Harare, Bonn, Dar El Salaam and Tokyo amongst others make for a very diverse and entertaining book.

Part one is a wide-ranging study of history and literature and how various ideas and innovations have contributed to the play and the theory behind them.  It’s also an underlining of Jonson’s enduring genius (although Shakespeare seems to have eclipsed him in popularity for the moment), his influence on 17th and 18th century comedy plays and literature and the wide range of sources from which his works are derived.

Jonson’s characters are formed through a mixture of sources,  from the fields of scientific, psychological, medicinal and philosophical exploration and how they are linked to the humours and the rules (decorum) of the play.  The humours I should explain are a blend of characteristics – personality types, that formed a foundation on which to base ideas and played a significant part in the above fields.

Despite the rigid rules of what was expected in the theatre at that time, Jonson and others managed to constantly reappraise and innovate their characters in order to create richer and more layered persona, allowing the masterful renaissance works of Elizabethan era to be created.  Continue reading “An Image of the Times: An Irreverent Companion to Ben Jonson’s Four Humours and the Art of Diplomacy – Nils-Johan Jørgensen”

Ste J Reviews – All the World’s a Stage

Another Resa sharp piece of blogging!  For some reason the images don’t seem to be showing up here but they look good over on the original site so click the link!  Whilst you are visiting other blogs check out this post as well for an incisive and thought provoking read.

Graffiti Lux Art & More

Ste J from Book to the Future has found Batman…

…on a mural in Nottingham. Ste J writes this about the mural he found.

“Whilst criss crossing the Hockley area of Nottingham.  I came across this befitting mural on the side of the Nottingham Art Theatre”

“If all the world’s a stage, then it follows that all the world should be thought of as a canvas backdrop onto which to put many scenes, that we the actors can take our cue from.”

“After all what is a stage but the interpretation of space and the forms thereon.  Imagination is as much a process of life as art.”

“I like the idea of Batman watching me for entertainment, I can’t smash up building with reckless abandon to bring bad guys to justice but I can avoid oncoming traffic and check my shoelaces are tied.”

 Pics taken by Steve Johnson  –  February…

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Myth, Literature and the African World – Wole Soyinka

MythteriesWole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and one of the foremost living African writers, here analyses the interconnecting worlds of myth, ritual and literature in Africa. The ways in which the African world perceives itself as a cultural entity, and the differences between its essential unity of experience and literary form and the sense of division pervading Western literature, are just some of the issues addressed. The centrality of ritual gives drama a prominent place in Soyinka’s discussion, but he deals in equally illuminating ways with contemporary poetry and fiction. Above all, the fascinating insights in this book serve to highlight the importance of African criticism in addition to the literary and cultural achievements which are the subject of its penetrating analysis.

In my never-ending quest to try to learn about everything, it is disappointing that I hadn’t gotten around sooner to exploring Africa’s undoubtedly rich literary identity.  This analysis – first published in 1976 –  of the themes and variations of the physical and ritual and thematic aspects of literature, proves to be an energetic and acute read.

The focus of the first two chapters is on the mythology of the Yoruba and the divergences of those ideas under the religious values of Christianity, both in Nigeria and also the transplanting of those stories to the new world.   That would have consequently have been further diluted by not only the Catholic church but also local traditions as well.

The differences in culture and mindset are myriad, western ideas and morals placed over myths and stories sometimes supersede the original misunderstood content, ignorance and an unwillingness to understand the world as seen by the locals was always the preferred way of those conquerors.  The differences in styles is highlighted throughout the book as the author takes us a brief tour of how dramas were refined from the original ritual acts.

African plays are fascinating as they tend to keep nature and humans in a symbiotic relationship and are interestingly elastic and sometimes multi directional in terms of how the past present and future influence one another.  it is also fascinating how modern advances, rather than ruin a myth actually get subsumed into it; like Sango/Shango the God of storms who now becomes synonymous with electricity, in this way myth and literature are ever-present in life and not seen as separate from it. Continue reading “Myth, Literature and the African World – Wole Soyinka”

The Sunset Limited: A Novel in Dramatic Form – Cormac McCarthy

LTDA startling encounter on a New York subway platform leads two strangers to a run-down tenement where a life or death decision must be made.

In that small apartment, ‘Black’ and ‘White’, as the two men are known, begin a conversation that leads each back through his own history – mining the origins of two diametrically opposing world views, they begin a dialectic redolent of the best of Beckett.

White is a professor whose seemingly enviable existence of relative ease has left him nonetheless in despair. Black, an ex-con and ex-addict, is the more hopeful of the men – though he is just as desperate to convince White of the power of faith as White is to deny it.

Their aim is no less than this: to discover the meaning of life.

It is a puzzle to me, why I am unable to fully appreciate McCarthy’s works, his books always seem to exude more style then substance.  For all my enjoyment of this book at the time on further reflection it seems a little empty.

In the format of a play this works really well, two people of different race and class and means sit together in a room debating the meaning of life, ethics, wealth, etc.  It is always something that is going to intrigue and whilst amidst the book’s words I did enjoy it for the brief duration of which it lasts (160 pages) but beyond the well-worn story there isn’t a lot else.

In truth it all seems overly familiar, the characters and the ideas discussed are things I have come across plenty of times before, the setting is different but the themes are not.  The short length of the book doesn’t give enough scope for anything more than a basic outline of the arguments up for discussion, the narrowness is forced by the structure McCarthy has chosen which perhaps harms the what he was trying to do.

The religious aspects of Black’s arguments, although overtly Christian could be defined in terms of any of the theological mainstays out there, what annoyed me most is that a fairly large proportion of the book seems to be defence of religion in the face of an unbeliever.  The focus seems a little too skewed to this theme when there was plenty of differing themes which could have been introduced to layer the book. Continue reading “The Sunset Limited: A Novel in Dramatic Form – Cormac McCarthy”

Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction – David Wiles

  Expanding my knowledge of everything and anything has always been high on my list of things that I enjoy immensely, higher even, than pretending to be a munchkin with the aid of a helium balloon,  playing Pooh sticks and most importantly mullet spotting. So this book was a bit of a wild stab in the dark for me.

Like so many good books that I have purchased over the years, this one stayed in the shadows like a cunningly concealed ninja waiting to strike.  It was after I realised that although I own some of the great old world tragedians, (Euripides and Aeschylus) that I actually had no sense of the Greek theatre as a medium, that I was smote the dolorous blow by said ninja book.

First off this book is immediately accessible to anyone, even the least knowledgeable about Greek plays. There are pictures too, everyone loves pictures.

Context is key to understanding anything and although this book is short, numbering only 240 (well thumbed) pages. There are chapters on the politics of the time, on ritual, religion, myth and a general grounding of what life was like back then.

From there we are treated to many varying chapters, my personal favourite was on the use of space.  It was rare for a stage to have props so from all the minimalism it was essential to be able to maximise the imaginative content for the audience. Mainly this one done with prompts about things that were present that the audience would then imagine.

The roles and sexual politics of the actors are gone into in some depth, it is also extremely fascinating to learn about how actors manipulated their whole bodies to convey various emotions as the masks they wore were set to one emotion.  It’s little distinctions like that that make the plays feel richer and more challenging than more modern plays.

Continue reading “Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction – David Wiles”

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