Helen of Sparta … of Troy …of Sparta

Characters

Helen of Sparta .. of Troy … of Sparta

Teucer – Greek hero and brother of Ajax the greater

Menelaus – Husband of Helen

Theoclymenus

Servant of Menelaus

 

Helen is sitting in front of the Tomb of Proteous muttering . It looks as though she is praying. We go closer until we can hear her

Helen : I wonder how I can fool the son of Proteous ,Theoclymenus. He wants to marry me , but I am bored of these sappy doting Egyptian eyes .Long ago I was tired of Menelaus too which is why I eloped with Paris in the first place. I wonder why all these men are so boring  (she pauses) But I do prefer Menelaus , he is a strong man and the father of my daughter, I also miss my daughter that I have not seen in so long. But I was not sure if he has forgiven me and would spare my life; after all he did try to kill me once before and only stopped after he gazed upon my face . Regardless of what men like to claim about wealth and principles , he is obviously hurt about the fact that I , his wife left him for another man and though he is still smitten with my beauty , it is obvious he is hurt.  A cuckolded man will always bear a grudge so I need to convince him that I stayed true to him.

(she pauses again , this time much longer and muses thoughtfully)

Helen : The ship wreck is a blessing in disguise . The idiot that he left to guard me was certainly a blessing , all I had to do was blow some of the magic powder and he fell fast asleep. Now  maybe I can convince Menelaus that the gods were indeed playing tricks on him .

Teucer rushes in and looks upon with shock at Helen .

Teucer : What is this? I thought you were with Menelaus

Helen : Who are you, my brother ? Who is Menelaus?

Teucer : You look so much like Helen of Troy that I mistook you. Forgive me but I am trying to find the prophetess who is going to show me the way to my new home .

Helen : Brother, you best get out of here as soon as you can , her brother is slaughtering all the greeks that he can get his hands on.

Teucer – Thank you , my lady . You look like Helen but dont act like her . May you prosper unlike her .

Teucer leaves

Helen (muses thoughtfully) : I could certainly pull this off

Menelaus comes in and stops and looks at Helen in shock .

Menelaus: How is this possible ? I left you with my servant , how could you possibly be here?

Helen : Alas , Menelaus my one true lord , is that really you or are the gods playing a trick on me ?

Menelaus : What is the meaning of this ? I left you up on the mountains a week ago and now you claim to not recognize me ?

Helen : Alas my lord, the gods are playing a trick upon your eyes . They kidnapped me all those years ago and left me here , chaste and true to you but they created a fake Helen that they sent to Troy with Paris . I dont know what terrible deeds I have done to cause so much hatred among the gods that they seem this as a fair punishment for me.

Menelaus : How is this even possible ? You are lying

Servant of Menelaus enters ; he has not seen Helen yet .

Servant : My lord Menelaus , your wife , the queen vanished in a puff of smoke before our very eyes

Helen (turns towards us and smirks) : Thank god for fools, they are sorely needed.

Menelaus dismisses him pensively ,

Chorus – Menelaus , surely you have to wonder if that is truly the case . Had this beautiful wife of yours always been true to you and the gods just playing a vicious game with you . Surely a woman this beautiful and delicate not capable of causing the mayhem that was attributed to her.

Menelaus looked at her , her beautiful eyes welling with tears .

Chorus – Women’s tears fuel men’s emotions . The more beautiful the woman, the greater the impact

Menelaus : I believe you , my beautiful wife . I never ever doubted you but when the gods are bent upon making a fool of you, the best of us don’t stand a chance .

Helen (turns to us and smirks again) : I cant believe it was so easy

Helen turns to Menelaus and weeps : Yes my lord , accursed am I , to lead you into such perils

Menelaus : surely all is well that ends well now . Shall we get out of here ?

Helen : No my lord , the ruler of Egypt is in love with me and he has sworn to kill all Greeks

Menelaus : Maybe I can challenge him to a duel and fight him in single combat

Helen: No my lord, this needs us to out think him not out fight him. He is not a civilized Greek to honor your challenge

Menelaus : Let us run away , surely if he does not know where we are going, he wont know where to search

Helen (turning towards us): This dreadful world, things that I could have done if I was a man. Now I have to rely on an idiot

Helen (to Menelaus) : My lord, we need to convince him to give us his fastest boat so that he wont be able to chase us.

Menelaus : How on earth do you propose to do that?

Helen : Leave it to me . (rings for the servant of Theoclymenus)

Helen: Please ask your master to come here . I have received some dreadful news from the Greeks , this man who is my husband’s servant just told me that my husband drowned at sea. (Menelaus’s eyes widen)

The servant leaves to fetch Theoclymenus

Helen: My lord , with your rags it is easy to believe that you are a servant . You need to tell Theoclymenus that you drowned at sea and it is the Greek custom to have the burial rites at sea for people who are lost at sea . You also have to agree with me that until the burial rites are complete , I am not free to marry another man

Theoclymenus: My love , have you decided to marry me ? Your beauty is stupefying , I fail to see why you keep refusing to marry me.

Helen : My lord , I am already married but I have good news for you. My lord , Menelaus has drowned , this is his servant who just bought me the terrible news .

Theoclymenus : So you can marry me now ?

Helen : My lord, I have to perform the last rites for my husband, only then will I be free.

Theoclymenus : Why does he not do it?

Helen : My lord , it has to be done by near and dear ones

Theoclymenus : Fine , let us do it and get married as soon as you are done

Helen : My lord , this has to be done out at sea. He was lost at sea so the burial rites must be done at sea. Otherwise the gods will not deem me a free woman

Theoclymenus : ok , what do you need ?

Helen : My lord , I know I have made you wait too long , now I want to make it up to you and want to marry you as soon as I can . Would you not lend me your fastest trireme so I can perform this dreadful ritual and come back to start our life of happiness

Menelaus looks at her agog

Theoclymenus (eyes brimming with tears of happiness) : My love , you shall have it . I will instruct my chief commander to give you his fastest trireme . (he hugs Menelaus) Thank you for bringing me this wonderful news

Menelaus stares at the back of the departing king in bewilderment and turns to Helen

Menelaus : But dont we need 60 men for a trireme ?

Helen : Where are the soldiers who came with you?

Menelaus : Oh they are around .

Helen : Well in that case , we are going to get aboard that, get your soldiers on board , as soon as we are out at sea . We slaughter everyone who is not Greek and head to Sparta .

Menelaus (stares in admiration at Helen ): My love , you are so wise

Helen (smiles) : Hurry my lord

Menelaus leaves

Helen turns to the audience

Helen : Sometimes life is indeed too much of a bore for a woman of intelligence.Add some tears and a beautiful face and men are like putty , willingly acquiesce to be abused and treated like sheep. And now my choice is between two fools , Menelaus and Theoclymenus but Menelaus is a known fool and he has already swallowed the story that the gods had put a different woman in Paris’s bed and so I have always been true to him. (she stops ) He was a good lover, pity he is dead.

Menelaus enters

Menelaus : My love , let us leave now

Helen and Menelaus board the trireme , followed by his soldiers . The trireme commandant having received orders to do everything as ordered by Helen, followed all the orders

We finally see Helen and Menelaus on board the deck of the Trireme . Menelaus looking at her adoringly ,Helen looking out at the sunset

 


This has been inspired by the play Helen by Euripides . While the play is actually a comedy , I found it dreadful . A satirization seemed so much more satisfying

 

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Hecuba

Hecuba was a short quick gripping read .  Quick primarily because the timeline seems so dreadfully short .The time frame is after the fall of Troy and men have been murdered , most of the women raped and taken as concubines .The agony of Hecuba seems to be something so poignant that though  we have a hard time relating to her pain , our own desire for the macabre insists on continuing , that is the genius of Euripides ; he starts off with an ingenious device ; our fore-knowledge of her son Polydorus’s death. So while we ,the audience are aware of this dreadful knowledge ,Hecuba is not and that provides for some of the excitement that curiosity fuels to see how she would react.

The ghost of Polydorus  informs us that he has been murdered by his host , King Polymestor of Thrace who was a close friend of Priam, King of Troy and was responsible for safe guarding him and the treasure that Priam sends along. Polydorus informs us that as long as Troy was safe and Hector was alive ,he was safe but as soon as the slaughter commenced after the fall of Troy, his host . Polymestor murdered him and threw him into the sea and usurped the treasure.

So full of foreboding we meet Hecuba at  this point . The ghost of Achilles has come to the dreams of the Greeks and demanded the blood of Polyxena, one of her last surviving daughters . So Odysseus has marched in with a contingent of soldiers to take Polyxena away . This is quite a dramatic shift in the points of view for viewing Odysseus . At some point in the past, Hecuba has spared his life but he shows no intention of repaying her kindness . He is depicted as a cruel ingrate who is very conscious about his power and reputation in the Greek army . Polyxena is the innocent pure tragic heroine who prefers death to slavery and leaves willingly after telling her poor mother that she pities her mother because she will actually be going off to Hades , a far better place than the fate that the Greeks have in store for them . When the Neoptolemus , son of Achilles is about to murder her on the grave of Achilles , she willingly offers herself without a fight insisting that she will not die as a slave and will not be bound. After her heroic death , we come back to Hecuba who is recounted the brave last moments of her daughter’s life who will now be given an honorable burial by the Greeks who were touched by the girl’s bravery.

Hecuba is inconsolable and tells her slave girl to fetch water from the sea for the last rites of her daughter . her voyage as the bride of Hades . And it is here that the slave girl finds the body of Polydorus . There is some brief confusion when Hecuba thinks that the body of Polydorus is the body of Polyxena and she chides the slave girl for bringing it here. But once she finds out that it is her son and he was murdered by Polymestor, she conceives of a dreadful plan and it is at this point that we see Agamemnon , King of Mycenae and leader of the Trojan expedition . Again , the great hero is shown in a very different perspective , he knows that the murder of Polyxena was an unrequited tragedy forced upon a suffering old woman , he worries about his reputation and does not stop the murder because he is afraid of the gossip that will ensue . His soldiers will reason that due to his affair with Cassandra , another of Priam and Hecuba’s daughter  , Agamemnon is weak and unwilling to sacrifice Polyxena. But unlike Odysseus , his private moral sense of honor does compel him to go along with Hecuba’s plan for revenge after he is told of Polydorus’s untimely death at the hands of his host.

Hecuba invites Polymestor with his young sons with the pretext of telling him a precious secret which must be told to him alone . When Polymestor comes over , she tells him that she will reveal the cache of gold that Priam had hidden , this cache of gold belongs to Polydorus and Polymestor is the custodian until the Greeks leave . Greedy Polymestor agrees and asks his contingent of bodyguards to leave . We are spared the morbid details of the actual murders but instead given a beautiful couplet

Life is held on loan,

the price of life is death

Those who take a life 

repay it with their own

Justice and the gods 

exact the loan at last

Hands which never held a sword

shall wrench your twisted life away

Polymestor  is blinded and both his young children are murdered by the women of Troy.

Hearing the uproar , Agamemnon who pretends to be unaware of Hecuba’s plan for revenge listens to both sides . It is a trial of sorts where Polymestor claims that the murder of Polydorus was a political necessity else the Greeks would have invaded Thrace and if the boy grew up, there would be a resurgence of Troy and more trouble for Troy’s neighbors but Hecuba claims that Polymestor’s speech is pure sophistry because he is not related to the civilized Greeks nor had any prior relations with them and the murder was driven exclusively by his greed. If he was truly a friend then he would have not waited until the sack of Troy to offer his services to Agamemnon . She finishes with a flourish  forcing Agamemnon’s hand by claiming that if he passed the verdict on Polymestor’s behalf then he would go down in history as an unjust man .Agamemnon does come down on her side and prosecutes Polymestor for murder. The play ends with two dreadful prophecies by the blind Polymestor , one that Hecuba will die by drowning and that Agamemnon will be murdered by his own wife .

If ever there was a play that can show us what depths we can plunge to , driven by circumstances , Hecuba would certainly qualify .  Hecuba starts off as a grieving mother but ends up performing the most dastardly inhuman acts  ; the murder of innocent children. She is driven by her circumstances , driven by her captors to lose the last shreds of humanity, compassion and kindness .

Ham Omelet

The title is not an indicator that I am hungry but just a funny misnomer for Hamlet that one of my online buddies Lily Von Valley had posted . Though it would be totally justified if I was hungry because sadly I am no connoisseur of gourmet airline food ( I was on a 15 hour non stop flight)  gourmet and airline !!! Is that not a contradiction in terms ? . So why am I reading Hamlet instead of sleeping ?? because the question of to be or not to be came to mind . What am I debating ? I was debating TO BE a capital A hole and tell the women that they need to get their babies to shut up !!! because I cannot sleep with at two (or was it twenty ) screaming babies . I planned for my jet lag by skipping sleep on my last night out but I forgot that every time I get on a long distance flight , it is infested with screaming babies . I am personally jinxed that way. Screaming babies (and people who fart a lot) are the kryptonite of my air travel but onto to more important things.

One finds oneself rooting for Hamlet as he grieves for his father , berates his mother for re marrying too soon ,sympathize with him as the son of an unjustly murdered king who is out to avenge his father ,  look on with complete apathy as Hamlet murders Polonius , chastises Ophelia and breaks her heart and almost look on in bemused amazement as Hamlet does not murder Claudius when he is praying , applaud Hamlet for his brilliant trick with the play where he depicts the murder of his father in front of the Claudius ,listen with his impassioned monologue with Yorick’s skull as he recounts the fragility of life and the shortness of mortal pursuits, weep as he is killed by Laertes’s poisoned sword. But that is looking at the proceedings exclusively through Hamlet’s view .

Hamlet’s soliloquy is a complete masterpiece , one has to read it several times because the layers that peel are rich in depth.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,

To be or not to be has been an universal dilemma pertaining to various aspects of life . However in Hamlet , he is dealing with the ultimate dilemma , to exist or not to exist. He is actually contemplating suicide because the torture of contemplating the various options that he perceives are so agonizing that he is actually questioning if it makes any sense for him to even live. In eastern traditions , suicide is not forbidden or even threatened with everlasting doom as much as the western Judeo Christian traditions ( I wonder how much of it is due to Dante) and in fact, in Japan we have the proud Samurai traditions of Seppuku. Without that particular filter in place,  it is harder for somebody from eastern traditions to grasp the mental anguish that he seems to be going through . I am not suggesting that humans are thrilled about the prospect of suicide regardless of culture but in western traditions , an onerous burden is added . About 10 years ago , a friend had committed suicide in Ohio and many people did not think twice before telling his friends and family that he was going to burn in everlasting hell.

The play gets richer as we move our roving eye and look through Polonius eye’s who is being extremely loyal to the king or through the eyes of Ophelia whose tragedy seems to surpass that of Hamlet . Hamlet’s tragedy is a result of his choices , Ophelia’s tragedy is a direct result of her love for her father and Hamlet, she is truly helpless. Laertes’s revenge could be considered the sub plot of revenge that mirrors Hamlet’s own demons . The grave diggers are relatively minor and yet there is a monumental gem that comes down to us from them . When Hamlet queries as to who is being buried , they remark that it is not a man or a woman that they are burying and only after further interrogation that Hamlet finds out that it WAS a woman. It is a reminder that all our differences exist only for the living . The dead have no sex , no color , no religion or beliefs. Gertrude has so few lines that one can mistake her for being inconsequential and yet she tries throughout to reconcile Hamlet with Claudius and eventually she makes the ultimate sacrifice for Hamlet . The only person that seems to show up throughout and yet , I am not sure what the reason or import is the character of Fortenbras .

It is clear that women are second class citizens in this world but why is this important for us? Because Gertrude getting married had little to do with Gertrude’s wishes and yet Hamlet berates her continuously , she is an important figure but she is a puppet for her brother in law who turns into her husband , her son and in one case even Polonius. Marrying a brother in law is hardly incest and yet , Hamlet considers it incestuous and accuses her of incest every opportunity he gets . Poor Ophelia gets the shrift as well , everybody including Hamlet runs her life for her ,while she is torn helplessly between her love for her father and Hamlet.

I have added myself to the long list of Shakespeare admirers who believe that Hamlet is his greatest work. There is a long list of quotes that have made it into the common lingo “Frailty, thy name is woman.” , “This above all: to thine own self be true”,”There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”,”Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”,”Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”,”There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”,”One may smile, and smile, and be a villain. “, “Sorrows come not as single spies but in battalions”.

I think it is finally time for me to go get a Ham Omelet !!!

 

A Kolonos Cleansing by Oedipus

The title of this post is inspired by my friend Mike who can twist the most innocent of words into something teeming with profanity , a rare talent that has never failed to offend (or educate) innocent ears and therefore must not be taken lightly . I can presume that it probably took him the better part of six decades to hone and perfect . The title is but a pale imitation of what Mike would have come up with if he decided to turn his mind to it.

Oedipus at Kolonus is not nearly as dramatic as Oedipus Tyrannos (or Rex)  and starts off several years later after Oedipus leaves Thebes . Oedipus has taken to living by begging , his two sons are nowhere to be found and as is his daughter Ismene. Only Antigone accompanies him ,  Oedipus wanders into a sacred grove along with Antigone in Kolonus at the edge of Athens. The sacred grove is dedicated to the Eumenides (the Furies  or beings who are responsible for punishing humans who have committed heinous crimes such parricide or matricide) . Oedipus realizes that this is the place that Apollo has prophesied as his final resting place  however passers-by are aghast when they find out who he is and attempt to get him to leave , there is a genuine fear that he will curse their land because of his sins. Oedipus convinces them that he was merely a pawn of the gods and that he needs to talk to their King. Their king is Theseus of the Minotaur slaying fame .  At this point Ismene arrives and informs them that her brothers are fighting for the throne and Eteocles has overthrown Polynices and Polynices is preparing for retribution . Ismene leaves to perform rites since Oedipus has desecrated consecrated ground  and in comes  Creon . There is another prophecy that the side where Oedipus is buried will win so Creon wants to convince Oedipus to come back to Thebes so he can be buried in Thebes and thereby guarantee that Thebes will win. Here it is confusing because we remember Oedipus begging to be banished after he has blinded himself and Creon is compassionate but he also defers to the judgement of the Oracle . Here Oedipus is bitter and accuses him of exiling him . Keeping in mind that Oedipus is impetuous and very emotional , it is possible that he is just bitter but it is hard to understand. Creon is desperate and kidnaps Ismene  and tries to kidnap Antigone as well so that he can force Oedipus to follow him , Oedipus calls Theseus for help who rescues both girls and re unites them with their father. Oedipus is then informed that his son Polynices wants to see him , reluctantly and under pain of oath , Oedipus agrees to see him .Polynices begs his father to forgive him and accompany him.  What happens next is horrifying to me, Oedipus curses his son in the most vile language and tells him that he will kill his brother and his brother will kill him . A heartbroken Polynices leaves his father but stops by his sister Antigone and asks her to promise to bury his body . This will become the pivot of the play “Antigone” . Oedipus now proceeds to tell the king that his time has come and he is ready to go to his final resting place and he makes a strange request that nobody be told that location so that his sons or Creon would not attempt to move it and his final resting place will actually make the city a sacred place , a cleansing of sorts . Theseus does as he is bid . Antigone is heart broken and the two girls walk away , I can only presume that they are going back to Thebes.

Though the play is bleak , it provides critical information for the timeline between Oedipus Rex and Antigone . Watching Oedipus is a disturbing affair , what father curses his own sons in such a vile manner . We knew he was arrogant and impetuous from Oedipus Rex  but here we also see him a vituperic and bitter old man. I feel as though we are missing a big chunk  of what happened after Oedipus blinded himself . It shows the sad end of a man whose fate was designed to horrify one and all .

Another irritating aspect is the constant stream of prophecies , I cannot help but wonder if that is one of the reasons why the ancient Greeks revered Sophocles . He attributes everything to the gods , everything is known to the gods and we must follow blindly whatever they ordain for we as humans are powerless to do as we please , we can only do as we are bid. It does have the pseudo beneficent effect of providing a window into the unknown future thereby alleviating the worry that the unknown tomorrow brings.

 

 

 

 

Oedipal Tyrannies

In the hysterical 1999 classic “Analyze This” , Billy Crystal as a shrink asks the archetypal question that all shrinks presumably ask their male patients about the Oedipal complex to his patient , Robert De Niro about maternal fantasies . Instead of what a normal male would respond , Robert De Niro shocks us into befuddled laughter by stating “Have you even seen my mother? ” and makes a disgusted face . That was my inauspicious introduction to Oedipus followed by me promptly judging him to be a disgusting pervert.

The name seems to be keep changing but the one that I read was called Oedipus Tyrannous.  I instantly imagined that this meant a tyrant and since we know that he was not a tyrant in the traditional sense , I imagined that tyrant meant King. But eventually it comes to light that tyrant is somebody who deposed off the king and became the king .

The chronology looks like it was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Memento . We start off in the present where Oedipus is the king of Thebes and trying to understand why the plague is  decimating his city , all he knows is that there is a foul corruption in the city and he needs to root it out. He has become the king fifteen years ago after solving the riddle of the Sphinx , a creature with a head of a human , body of a lion and wings of an eagle . Prior to Oedipus, travelers who failed to answer the riddle were killed by the Sphinx. After Oedipus answers the riddle correctly , the Sphinx jumps to its death . The grateful citizens made him the king and offered him Jocasta , the king’s widow whom he marries and has four children .But the plague stumps even the brilliant Oedipus and not having access to modern technology , Oedipus takes the advice of his brother in law Creon who brings in the blind seer Tiresias . The funny thing about Tiresias is that he shows up in so many Greek plays that I am beginning to wonder if he is like 300 years old by the time he is done making his appearances in all the plays. Tiresias reluctantly gives him a tidbit that Oedipus was the one who killed the original king of Thebes , his wife’s first husband . That is our first introduction to the fury and suspicion of Oedipus . As the play progresses , his fury seems to deepen yet his yearning for an explanation grows even as the strands seem to come together for him and the shades of the horrible truth come to light. The next piece is from Jocasta herself who recounts where her husband was murdered , followed by a confirmation for Oedipus that he is indeed the killer of the late king after she summons the lone survivor from the massacre of the king and his entourage many years ago , a shepherd. But the horrible climax is yet to come . That comes in the form of the Corinthian who comes to let him know that he has become the King of Corinth since his parents died . This is where we are introduced to the prophecy that Oedipus was told when he was a young man that he would kill his father and marry his mother which is also the reason why he left Corinth in the first place . While he is relieved that his father has died a natural death, he is still concerned about the part where he would stuph his mother. The Corinthian tries to put his fear to rest by assuring him that he was adopted but that opens a fresh can of worms.  The shepherd who was first tasked with killing the baby Oedipus confesses under pain of death that he had handed the baby to the Corinthian and that the baby was the child of Laius and Jocasta and at last Oedipus is face to face with the awful truth that he has committed patricide and worse committed the foul act of mating with his own mother . Jocasta has already killed herself by now after realizing that her husband is also her son . Oedipus in a fit of anger and disgust uses her brooch to blind himself , his reason being that his eyes have performed the abominable act of seeing his mother naked.

Oedipus has been dealt a terrible fate, the stuff of nightmares . Not only has he killed his father but he has defiled his fathers bed and has become father to his own half siblings, husband to his own mother . If I could understand music better , I would imagine that this is where the crescendo comes in , the point at which Oedipus finally realizes that he never could escape that terrible fate that was ordained for him . In the play , there is an amazing missing insight that comes from the Corinthian and the shepherd who is a far better device than the traditional Deux Ex machina that the Greek dramatists  liked to employ.

Something that I failed to realize until I talked to others was the impetuosity that Oedipus portrays throughout . He is quick to anger which is the reason why he ended up quarreling with his father’s party , he is quick to imagine Creon and then Tiresias plotting against him , he also jumps to conclusions when he hears the Oracle’s prophecy and runs away from his adopted home. Those turn out to be fatal flaws , his impetuosity and his intelligence which leads him to believe that he can escape his own fate .

So what does one take away from this awful tragedy ?? If it was written , it shall come to pass . Predestination or the concept that the Celestial watchmaker has already ordained everything that shall come to pass and we as humans are powerless against it . In India , this was a concept that seemed very familiar and something I grew up with and I hate it because it is contrary to the concept of free will, it implies that we humans are powerless . Taken to an extreme , it states that we are not responsible for our actions .

Henry Ford had a saying “Whether you believe that you can or you cannot , you are right” .

This is the riddle of the Sphinx .  Can you solve it?

“What animal walks on all fours in the morning , two in the afternoon and three in the evening ?”

 

 

Macbeth

This play is far more interesting and complex than King Lear and Othello. The plot is far more richer and the number of fascinating characters involved are far more than either of the other two tragedies.

Macbeth and Banquo , the victorious generals are returning after quelling a rebellion for the King of Scotland .The play starts off with the three witches spouting off prophesies to Macbeth and Banquo, about Macbeth becoming the Thane of Cawdor and eventually  the king of Scotland and Banquo’s descendants will become kings. This single event is the catalyst for what is to come .

Banquo says the following verse to Macbeth as a warning

And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.

Macbeth does indeed become the Thane of Cawdor and following the confirmation of the first prophecy, he is seduced into committing the most dastardly acts to make the second prophecy come true , i.e  murdering the king of Scotland who is also his cousin and become the king in his stead .

Lady Macbeth is a fascinating woman . She is the perfect wife in some sense , she encourages her husband in his ambitions and even steadies his conscience at difficult times

Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’

In some ways she is the wife that most husbands aspire for and yet having said that, she is also completely callous and prays that she be more ruthless . She even accuses Macbeth of having a breast full of the ‘milk of human kindness’ when he has seconds thoughts about murder his cousin and guest, the king. She would have nothing stand in the way of their ambition .

In the beginning ,Macbeth seems to have a moral compass but the prophecy of the future seduces him completely and utterly. He begins by not only murdering the king but murders his bodyguards after planting evidence of the murder on them. The sons of the king  flees to safety and become suspect. At this point as the kinsman, he assumes the throne . After this Macbeth decides to clean house i.e kill Banquo who has witnessed the prophecies and has started suspecting him ,kill Banquo’s son who is prophesied to become the king  . In Casino Royale ,when  James Bond says that the second time is easier , he could have been echoing Macbeth’s sentiments. However Banquo’s son does escape though poor Banquo is murdered on his way to the banquet that Macbeth has thrown for the celebrations.

At the celebratory banquet and when he arrives , Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo at  the table after which he starts raving and upsets his guests who cannot see the ghost . This is our first insight of the fear and paranoia that plagues Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and will eventually consume them.

Macbeth approaches the witches , this is the famous scene where the witches repeat

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

And there is a dialogue that would have made the oracle of Delphi proud. Macbeth  is informed that he will only be killed of one not of a woman born and he will be vanquished only when Great Birnam wood moves to high Dunsinane hill. Here he also finds out that he needs to be aware of Macbeth

As the end approaches , we see that Macduff instructs his soldiers to cut down branches of Great Birnam wood so the spies would not have a good number and moves to high Dunsinane hill . Before he kills Macbeth, he informs him that he was ripped from his mother’s womb.

There is a dialogue between three witches and Hecate , the queen of witches who takes them to task for seducing Macbeth with visions of the future  , this is the second time that Shakespeare tells us that it is better for us not to know what is in store for us . It is clear that even the prophesies that were foretold for Macbeth , he was unable to heed the warnings because he was unable to understand them . This is an interesting theme that keeps repeating in books throughout , on the one hand there is the concept of predestination which states that whatever is foretold will come to pass and then there is the concept that we are unable to grasp the future until it comes to pass. Long ago , I had read that unless we actually experience something , the knowledge remains abstract , if the knowledge remains abstract then it is impossible for us to understand and act upon it.

As all Shakespeare plays go , this one is full of delicious nuggets of poetry

Bloody instructions which, being taught return to plague the inventor

There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:

who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make ‘s love known?

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Macbeth starts off gloriously returning triumphant and victorious . It reminded me of Othello , Othello returning from his triumphs and getting married . It is a useful trick for a tragedy , start off on a high note so you can lead your audience off that emotional precipice come time for curtains. It is a wonderful story , the verse is magical , the characters mesmerizing , the plot brilliant . It certainly has not lose any of its charm 400 years later.

Kafkaesque Trials

It is probably a disgrace but for the longest time I imagined that Frank Zappa , Frank Capra and Franz Kafka to be the same person and I imagined that author of the various articles made a spelling mistake (I also got creative and imagined that Franz Kafka after immigrating to the US anglicized his name to Frank Capra) . Watching “It is a wonderful life” and “It happened one night” and reading the Metamorphosis cleared up that blunder in a jiffy. But long before I heard of any of them , I had heard the adjective Kafkaesque to describe a book of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories.

Josef K starts his day as any other but finds out that he has been arrested and nobody is able to give him the reason for his arrest. At the beginning we are as incredulous as Josef K but as time passes , one cannot help but start feeling a sense of empathetic desperation . He encounters a series of people who seem to be cogs in the machine , likeable and willing to help but powerless to help . It is interspersed with entanglements with various women whereby which his spirits rise but crash again . That enhances the despair in the protagonist and us as we follow him. And the icing on the cake is when he is berated by family for bringing disgrace .  It is probably the greatest book on the shortcomings of bureaucracy . The whole book is chilling

The Trial was written almost 2 decades before Nazism came to power and arrested people for reasons of religion , appearance and gender preferences. History is rife with entire communities treated in a similar manner for some bizarre reason or the other ; Jews, Poles ,Russians,Gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses  and homosexuals under Nazism , liberal minded people under communism , the Japanese Americans interned during the Second World War, India during the Emergency and the list goes on. I imagine this is exactly how life is , under any despotic regime.

To get a better idea of the horror , I decided to watch Schindler’s List after almost 20 years and while horrifying , it did not have the same quality as the Trial. Perhaps 1984 would have been a better idea. But I realized that with Nazism or Socialism any of the other schisms, one is provided a reason (even a lousy reason is better than no reason). Man being a reasonable creature; loves having a reason (regardless of good or bad) so one knows what one is up against. A faceless tormentor is far more insidious . The shadow of the faceless tormentors follow us incessantly throughout the novel as Josef K leads us on a roller coaster of emotions. I wonder if that is also why (good) horror movies tend to have such a hold on us.

I had read the Metamorphosis before but the Trial is far more gripping and darker. It is not something that I would want to visit again but it is a mesmerizing story.