Mittwoch, 9. September 2020

Reading Shakespeare - Part I: The Comedies

Over the last couple of months, I’ve read the collected works of William Shakespeare. I don’t think that I can add any deep insights to the vast literature on the Bard, so I just give a quick personal judgment on all of them, in the order they are printed in my collection (“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Edited, with a Glossary, by W.J.Craig M.A., Trinity College, Dublin”; Reprint by Henry Pordes, London 1987.)

I will start with the comedies:

The Tempest

The “Tempest” left me disappointed – it’s a trite morality play, the characters left me cold. The only character I felt sympathy with is the savage Caliban, who had welcomed the shipwrecked Prospero and his daughter, then was subjugated by his magic, and is depicted as a monster to boot. I remember reading discussions of Caliban where his treatment is compared to that of indigenous people – cheated out of their homelands and then demonized when they don’t take it lying down. Caliban is no angel, but Prospero would have been more in his right to punish him for assaulting Miranda if he hadn’t enslaved him before. As in many of the following plays, the most entertaining part is the banter of the lower class people, here the sailors and servants.

The Two Gentleman of Verona

An unbelievable plot with cardboard characters and wafer-thin psychological motivation. Again, the only saving grace are the banter and the monologues of the servants.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

A really funny comedy. Not really original or psychologically deep, but well executed and full of wordplay, even if some aspects (“foreign accents are funny”) may not cater to more refined tastes nowadays.

Measure for Measure

The plot and plot twists are very construed, but it has some interesting thoughts on justice and sin. The sense of justice and the reasoning partially seem alien from today’s point of view. E.g., almost everybody accepts that sex out of wedlock is a crime, even worthy of death, and only argues that either punishing it is impractical because too many people are guilty of it, or asks for forgiveness because even those who punish for it are subject to sin. No-one comes up with what would be the main arguments today, that sex out of wedlock shouldn’t be punished at all or that the death penalty is much too harsh. On the whole, it doesn’t really work for me – the comedic parts distract from the serious issues.

The Comedy of Errors

I don’t especially like comedies of mistaken identity, but I imagine that this one can be funny on the scene if played well. As I just read it, I didn’t find it really funny. The only psychologically interesting part was where her supposed husband’s strange behavior fueled Adriana’s jealousy.

Much Ado About Nothing

Again a comedy that is saved mostly by the banter. Neither the “tragic” plot (Hero’s slander and rehabilitation), nor the “comedic” plot (Beatrice and Benedick being duped into loving each other) really work. That’s not astonishing for the tragic plot, because the tragic plots tend to be cardboard-flimsy in other Shakespearian comedies as well, but also the change for both Benedick and Beatrice from being convinced bachelors to loving each other just by being told that the other one is secretly desperately in love with them is not convincing at all.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

This one doesn’t even have got much of a plot, and it’s the better for it. Lots of banter, puns, and comic relieve.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I liked this one – a fluffy comedy with lots of wordplay and banter, and it has really funny moments – Bottom in fairyland, the bitch fight between Helena and Hermia, the audience panning the artisans’ play. The invocation of fairy magic also makes the plot about erring love and subsequent reconciliation believable. Both Helena feeling mocked by suddenly being the object of declarations of love by two men, and Hermia’s despair at her love abandoning her add some depth to the play.

The Merchant of Venice

This play has three plots that seem welded together. One of them is a morality play – the choice of boxes demanded from Portia’s suitors. The second is light comedy - Portia and Nerissa testing the faith of their fiancés. The third and central plot, Shylock trying and failing to get his revenge on Antonio, is the most serious and quite tragic.  The tragic figure is Shylock, who despite his riches loses control of his daughter and has to suffer from prejudice against his religion and from contempt for taking interest, even though the credit he provides is part of the basis for the ventures of the Christian merchants who despise him. And, as often with the oppressed, when he sees a chance for revenge, he overshoots and then is brought down by a system that is rigged against him. His demand for Antonio’s flesh is cruel and inhumane, but Shakespeare shows very well that this cruelty has its roots in the behavior of those who mercilessly mocked and abused Shylock, and suddenly plead for and demand mercy when the sharp end is pointed at them. This central plot and its execution make the play a masterpiece.

As You Like It

This play is a bit like a salad – several subplots have been mixed in a bowl, and none of them, by themselves, is very convincing or original. The villains are cardboard, and the resolutions are mostly dei ex machina – a brother’s hatred is converted to love by the other brother saving him from a conveniently arisen danger, another villain is converted to virtue by a conveniently met holy man, and both conversions happen off-stage and are just related by narrators in the play. Some scenes and characters look bolted on, as if they were meant to play a bigger role and were cut short, but forgotten to be totally taken out – an example are the scenes with Oliver Martext and William, and in general it seems to me that Touchstone’s wooing of Audrey is just a remnant of what was a bigger subplot. Nevertheless, the play has a nice cast of funny characters and a sufficient amount of witty dialogue, so it looks like it would be fun to watch.

The Taming of the Shrew

I can’t see how this play can still be played as a straight comedy nowadays. It’s quite witty, and has many funny scenes, and in this piece, even the mistaken identities make sense. But the central idea, that women need to be subservient to men and that using psychological bullying in order to subdue them is clever and to be applauded, this is an idea that today would be shared only by very misogynistic or reactionary persons. Here, Shakespeare is just a man of his times, and he isn’t even able to show Katharina the degree of understanding that he shows for Shylock in the “Merchant”. Therefor I can read it only as a document of a worldview that I don’t share, but not enjoy it as a comedy.

Another thing is the framing plot about a Lord playing with poor drunkard, making him believe that the drunkard is really a Lord who had lost his mind, having the taming of the shrew staged as a play for him to watch, and then sending him back to his life as a poor drunk again. While it is known that Shakespeare found that framing plot in a previous version of the play by another author that he re-wrote, it’s not clear how much of the framing plot was actually included when the play was staged at the Globe Theatre.  It can be read as a kind of commentary, because this is also about someone (the Lord) using his power to abuse someone less powerful, even though less damage is inflicted.

All’s Well That Ends Well

My German Shakespeare edition that I’m reading in parallel calls this “not so much a comedy as a drama with a happy ending”. That’s quite a fitting description, depending on what you call “happy”. Is it a happy ending if the girl gets the boy she wants, but the boy is a jerk? The young Count Bertram may be a valiant soldier, but he’s not only full of class conceit – which would be understandable to a degree for a man of his time and rank -, he also forgets his vows to a woman he swore to love, and slanders her when she holds him to his vows. He tells lies when he’s found out. And I can’t shake the feeling that the love he says he’s developed for Helena after her supposed death is only show for the sake of his mother and the king, whom he wants to please. (He also doesn’t love cats, which is a sure mark of a bad character.) With all this, I can’t understand why Helena still wants him after all she’s endured and witnessed from him; love surely makes blind.

Despite these misgivings, I liked the play, which has a relatively straightforward plot that is not driven mostly by accidents and dei ex machina, like many other of the comedies, but by the actions and personalities of the main characters, who also are interesting and not just cardboard. There also are comedic elements, like the scenes with the fool of the Countess of Roussillon, and the plot around the exposure of the boastful but cowardly Captain Parolles.

Twelfth-Night, or What you Will

A light but entertaining comedy of errors, with main female protagonists fleshed out enough that one cares for them. It also has a funny sub-plot about a pompous, self-important servant who is played for a fool.

The Winter’s Tale

Like “All’s Well”, this is more of a drama with a happy ending, than a full comedy. King Leontes’s jealousy, which causes the chain of event depicted, as well executed. King Polixenes’s rejection of his son’s courtship for Perdita has a certain irony – he is ruining the relationship with his son, and risks losing him, in a similar manner like Leontes ruined his friendship with him and lost his wife and children. The reconciliation and Hermione’s “resurrection” are too melodramatic for my taste. The comedic elements, especially Autolycus’s mischief, don’t really fit – it looks like Shakespeare mixed up a piece to please everybody.

Sonntag, 5. April 2020

Alexander Osang: „Die Leben der Elena Silber“


S. Fischer, 2019, 617 S.

Der Roman beschreibt die bewegte Lebensgeschichte von Elena Silber, im vorrevolutionären Russland geboren und kurz vor Ende des Sozialismus in der DDR gestorben, sowie die Versuche ihres Enkels Konstantin Stein, die ungelösten Fragen in ihrer und seiner Familiengeschichte aufzuklären. Elena Silber wird Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts geboren; ihr Vater, Anhänger der Sozialisten, wird 1905 von einem reaktionären Mob getötet. Damit beginnt eine Geschichte von Vertreibung, Flucht und Suche nach besseren Lebensmöglichkeiten. Elene heiratet einen deutschen Ingenieur und landet dadurch in NS-Deutschland; nach dem Krieg bleibt sie in Berlin hängen, wo sie 1982 stirbt. Ihr Enkel Konstantin, Anfang vierzig, geschieden, Filmemacher, wird von seiner dominanten Mutter (einer von Elenas fünf Töchtern) dazu bewegt, Elenas Lebensgeschichte zu erforschen, in dem es ungelöste Widersprüche gibt, besonders um das Verschwinden ihres Mannes nach Kriegsende. Laut Klappentext wurde der Roman von der Familiengeschichte seines Verfassers inspiriert.

Der Roman wird mit vielen Rückblenden mal aus der Sicht Elenas, mal aus der Sicht Konstantins erzählt. Abgesehen von den Rückblenden ist der Erzählstil geradlinig und gut lesbar. An vielen Stellen, besonders wenn aus der Sicht von Konstantin geschrieben, wird sie vom Dialog vorangetrieben. Die Stellen aus Elenas Sicht wirken oft distanziert, wie angelesen, und Elenas Persönlichkeit bleibt fern und verschwommen. Das trifft vor allem auf die Stellen zu, die ihr Leben in Russland beschreiben, während ihr Leben in Schlesien kurz vor und nach Kriegsende und die Jahre in Berlin lebendiger beschrieben ist, so, als wenn die größere geografische Nähe auch eine größere Nähe zur Person bewirkt. Konstantin dagegen und seine Welt gewinnen ein sehr viel klareres Profil; man merkt, dass der Verfasser die Welt, die er beschreibt – Konstantins Kindheit die dominante Mutter, die Demenz des Vaters, die Beziehung zum Sohn aus der geschiedenen Ehe, die verschiedenen Ostberliner Milieus, in denen Konstantin sich bewegt – gut kennt.

Insgesamt ein gut lesbares Buch. Die russischen Elemente bieten eine gewisse Exotik, aber wirken oberflächlich auf jemanden, der eine gewisse Vertrautheit mit Russland mitbringt. Interessanter ist es als Teil eines großen Mosaiks, als ein weiterer Blick auf vertraute Fragen – was bedeutet Familie, wie gehen Menschen mit Beziehungen um, in welchen Formen suchen sie nach Nähe und Distanz, nach Liebe, Anerkennung, wo ist Heimat, was für Geschichten erzählen sie sich selbst und anderen. Dieser Roman ist ein weiteres Steinchen in diesem Mosaik, und dabei ein unterhaltsames, auch wenn nie wirklich aufgeklärt wird, was aus den verschwundenen Männern in der Familie der Silbers geworden ist.

Sonntag, 1. Dezember 2019

Gecko


Gecko

Gecko is good.
Gecko eats insects.
Keeps the house clean.
Walks on the wall.
Sits on the ceiling,
Smacks and snacks.
Chirps like a bird,
Upside down.
Hides under the sink,
Feeds on junk.
Don't live on junk,
Stay good, stay useful.
Don't junk the bonds
That bind, that save us.
Now you're inside,
You'll end up outside,
Down from the wall,
Splat on the street,
Caught by the movement,
Unpredictable, unforeseen,
When what goes up
Comes crashing down,
Crushing,
Squishing.
Don't live your greed,
Stay good, stay humble,
Catch flies and gnats,
Catch bugs and roaches,
Live with us,
Not off us.
Gecko stay good.


Dienstag, 31. Juli 2018

Ein Buch über CO2

Here again - I don't think that anyone who doesn't read German will be interested in a German introductory overview on the role of CO2 in climate change, so the review is in German.

Ewald Weber: "Welt am Abgrund. Wie CO2 unser Leben verändert", Darmstadt 2018 (WBG), 207 S.

Das vorliegende Buch ist eine Einführung in die Rolle von CO2 beim Klimawandel. Die Kapitel 1 - 4 beschreiben was CO2 ist, seine Quellen und die Mechanismen des Treibhauseffekts. Kapitel 5 - 11 stellen die Folgen für Weltklima, Natur und Menschen dar. Kapitel 12 - 15 beschreiben die Möglichkeiten, die Folgen zu vermeiden - technische Lösungen zur Entfernung von CO2 aus der Athmosphäre und Lagerungsmöglichkeiten, Maßnahmen, die es der Natur erleichtern, CO2 zu verarbeiten (z. B. Aufforstung) und Vermeidung. Das Buch kommt zum Schluss, dass die anderen Maßnahmen helfen können, aber nur wesentliche Verringerung von CO2 - Ausstoß die Folgen wirksam verhindern kann.
Trotz des dramatischen Titels ist das Buch in einem sachlichen Ton geschrieben und gibt einen guten Überblick über das Thema. Für Menschen, die sich schon intensiv mit der Erderwärmung befasst haben, bietet es nichts neues und die Schlussfolgerungen des Autors entsprechen dem gegenwärtigen Konsens, wie er sich zum Beispiel auf den Klimakonferenzen beobachten lässt. Das Buch ist daher am Besten geeignet für Menschen, die dem Thema Klimawandel bisher nur oberflächlich oder ausschnittsweise in den Medien begegnet sind und sich besser informieren wollen. Das Buch enthält auch eine Bibliographie, anhand derer interessierte Leser tiefer in einzelne Aspekte einsteigen können.

Dienstag, 14. November 2017

Sonntag, 27. August 2017

Andreas Paul, "Von Affen und Menschen"

Reposted Goodreads Review:
Ein sehr guter Überblick über die Forschung zum Verhalten der Primaten (einschließlich von uns Menschen) und über verschiedene evolutionstheoretische Erklärungen. Sehr positiv ist, dass der Autor immer klar anzeigt, inwiefern Ergebnisse und Erklärungen durch Beobachtungen und Experimente gestützt sind. Das Buch ist verständlich und lebendig geschrieben.
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A very good overview over the state of research on primate behaviour (including us humans) and over the various evolution based explanantions. It's very positive that the author always indicates clearly how far results and explanations are based on observations and experiments. The book is written in a comprehensible and lively language.

Sonntag, 23. Juli 2017

Norbert Wolf "Malerei Verstehen"

This is a re-posting of my Goodreads Review. The review is in German - I assume most pepople interested in a German introduction to painting are more likely to read German than English.
Это - краткая рецензия немецкой  книги - введения в живопись. Так как я предполагаю, что человек, заинтересованный читать такую книгу, знает немецкий язык, данная рецензия - на немецком. 
Das Buch ist eine Einführung in die Malerei, nach Sachgebieten geordnet (Farben, Farbe contra Zeichnung, Prozess des Malens, Gliederung der Bildfläche, Malerei und Raum, Bildgattungen, Malerei und Gesellschaft, Malerei zwischen Illustration und Abstraktion). Leider werden viele Themen nur sehr kurz angerissen (z. B. Farben, Maltechniken) - der Autor zählt ein paar Schlagworte auf, ohne zu erklären, was sie bedeuten. Es enthält auch zu wenig Illustrationen -  so wird eine Wandmalerei von Matisse über zwei Seiten hinweg diskutiert, aber es gibt keine Abbildung im Buch.
Teilweise sind zwar Illustrationen vorhanden, so werden z. B. die Fresken Giottos in der Arenakapelle in der Gesamtansicht gezeigt (Abbildung Nr. 15), so dass sehr schön die Einordnung der Fresken in den Raum zu erkennen ist. Aber Wolf diskutiert auf S. 89 auch die Komposition eines Ausschnitts aus dem Fresko, der auf der Abbildung nicht erkennbar ist.
Manche Themen, wie "Malerei und Gesellschaft", leiden weniger darunter. Aber um den Anspruch des Buchs zu erfüllen (Klappentext: "Ob Kunstkritik, Vernissage oder Museumsbesuch: Mit 'Malerei Verstehen' ist man immer gut vorbereitet"), wären detailliertere Erläuterungen und mehr anschauliche Illustrationen notwendig gewesen.