Friday, June 13, 2008

Shakespeare at bedtime

After a long absence I'm back at the blog. Somehow work and social pressures had just built up like crazy (not that you care!).

I have many things I want to bring up here for a productive discussion, and most of them are about science or India or both (and a few of them are about Marathi chauvinism but I'm tired of being tired of that!).

But in the meanwhile let me share with you an unusual experience I had last night. It's rare that I don't immediately fall asleep once I'm in bed, but sometimes (like most others) I need bedtime reading to de-stress. The problem is that unless I'm actively engrossed in reading a book cover to cover, e.g. a novel, it's hard to figure out what to pick out of the shelf for a short bedtime read.

A newspaper would be the obvious choice, but there isn't any Indian newspaper that doesn't make me want to instantly throw up. The Hindustan Times, my last hope, has turned into a pathetic little tabloid. Yesterday it presented as *headline news* the fact that some assistant at a sports clothing store in Bombay tried to photograph a woman in the changing room using his mobile camera... leading of course in typical Indian fashion to (i) strictures against sporting goods stores, (ii) confiscation of all mobile phones in India, (iii) armour-plating all changing rooms, (iv) renaming the store in Marathi. The last one will, I'm sure, work best.

OK, I digressed. What does one read at night if one is not seriously involved in a weighty novel? Well, last night I picked up a (weightier) volume of the collected works of Shakespeare that I had won as a prize in school, and semi-randomly chose King Lear. It was a revelation. I've never read King Lear and I know the plot only vaguely (though I've seen Kurosawa's "Ran", loosely based on it, several times). Lear wasn't one of the Shakespeare plays prescribed at my school. Those were Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar, all of which I memorised to please my teachers and are thereby totally ruined for me.

End result: I was totally gripped by the play and couldn't put down the heavy volume till 1:30 AM. Thereafter, my mind stimulated and soothed at the same time by the foolish King, the scheming daughters and of course the storm (Shakespeare's storms are more ominous and scary than anything in widescreen and Dolby surround) I slept soundly.

I'm only half way through, and looking forward to completing it tonight. At the moment I'm puzzled by Cordelia - why did she have to be so rude for no good reason? I mean:

"I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less."

is hardly the stuff to please one's dad! Since she starts off like this in the very first scene, when we know nothing about her or her history, she comes across like one of those Bengali friends I had in college who were utterly proud of being blunt (blaaaant) and literal. Still, Cordelia will be back before the end of the play (much like the Bengali friends in question) and then I hope the mystery will be solved. In the meanwhile, I'm having a pleasant day of anticipation. And of course trying not to cheat by reading the play online!

P.S. I'm adding this note on the following day, having finished reading King Lear. Cordelia did of course reappear, but had little valuable to say. I'm impressed, though, about my comment above that "we know nothing about her or her history", for while browsing the net I just discovered Kurosawa's comment to the same effect:
"What has always troubled me about 'King Lear' is that Shakespeare gives his characters no past."

1 comment:


Hi Sunil,
I chanced upon your blog(I find this serendipity thing amazing) and felt encouraged to offer my response to your question about Cordelia's unnecessary rudeness to her father.

I find that Shakespeare( always my first hero) understood human nature o well that it can often perplex us. Why do perfectly sane people do something to hurt themselves? In this case, had Cordelia been more diplomatic and less truthful, the book would not have been possible.
But there's more to this that convenience.
Simple people like Cordelia( and I suspect myself) don't measure the consequences of either their acts or their words. They tell it like it is. She was saying to her father that she loved him dutifully, not passionately. But straightforward simplicity because its guileless is often detrimental to the short term interest of the simpleton, but in the long term, as is shown in Lear, it pays off.

Simple people who tell it like it is, see a lot of pain too, you can see why. That is why "Bad things happen to good people".

As an aside, i am reminded of a similar thing from Shakespeare, approximately "A pound of flesh, no less no more." Here one sees how the person who is that simple, will get into trouble, in this case Shylock gets himself into a bind when he wants to carve out the heart of teh protagonist.

Simplicity simply doesn't pay off in a complex world where human needs are far from simple...

Guess that's more than I set out to say but one rambles when one talks the ol bard.