Much Ado About Nothing

August 25, 2012

This comedy, like many others of Shakespeare’s, intertwines the two stories of two pairs of lovers and follows the narrative arch of how they overcome differences and an ugly episode to end up all happily married. The first set of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, are both forsworn against love. Beatrice has a fiery wit and a fast, frequently acrimonious tongue that she is not afraid to employ against those who attempt to slander or tease her. Benedick publicly mocks men who fall in love and then decide to marry, and he has officially decreed he will remain a bachelor.

Beatrice and Benedick exchange bickering, acerbic banter back and forth in the early scenes of the play when Benedick arrives in Messina, the Italian setting of the play, with Don Pedro, of Aragon. (The use of “Aragon” and not “Spain” must set the date of the play to sometime before the marriage of Fernando and Isabel, when the two kingdoms were united.) The enmity between the two is exacerbated when Beatrice, at a masque in which all of the attenders are disguised, confides to her masked interlocutor that she thinks Benedick is a pitiful jester to Don Pedro and disliked by most people. The masked man listening to this is, of course, Benedick himself, and in a moment of wounded self-pride and heightened ire towards Beatrice, he calls her “Lady Tongue” and publicly humiliates her. She insinuates to Don Pedro that the two once had a prior relationship that ended, but Shakespeare gives us few other clues in this vein.

The other love story begins when Claudio, another of Don Pedro’s men fresh from Aragon, lays eyes upon Hero, the daughter of Leonato, who is the elderly host of the guests and their festivities. Hero is graceful and demure, and Claudio is hard smitten by Cupid when he meets her. Don Pedro agrees to woo Hero on behalf of Claudio, who is too loquacious and disconnected to be convincing and romantic. All is well until Claudio hears false report that Don Pedro has courted Hero for himself. Claudio is temporarily upset but then realizes that Don Pedro was true to his word and has persuaded Hero to marry Claudio. Claudio and Hero are both taciturn but thrilled about their forthcoming nuptial union.

However, Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro, admits that his only delight is to make his brother and his brother’s men suffer. He sets in plan machinations to destroy the upcoming wedding of Hero and Claudio by making Hero look like a promiscuous woman. Using the relationship between Borachio, one of Don John’s friends, and Margaret, Hero’s servant, Don John orchestrates a scene in which Claudio and Don Pedro see Borachio come to Hero’s window late at night, where Margaret is there and responds to the name of “Hero” as part of the ploy. Claudio is convinced that Hero is unfaithful to him and having sex with Borachio, and he determines to shame her publicly at the scene of their marriage.

The connubial day arrives and all is set for what should be a seamless ceremony and union. Claudio, however, unleashes his rage and heaps opprobrium and false accusation on Hero, who faints

When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, the Tudor line officially expired in the English monarchy since the Virgin Queen had left no heirs, and James VI of Scotland acceded to the English throne as James I, beginning the rule of the Stuart family in England. While Queen Elizabeth had worked to strike a tenuous balance between Protestant and Catholic ideals in religious matters during her reign, James was unable to sustain the same equilibrium as his predecessor. After a group of extremist Catholics led by Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament in what is now known as the Gunpowder Plot, James became more fiercely anti-Catholic, his suspicions constantly aroused regarding potentially mutinous Catholic machinations. James did not capitulate to Puritans, either, more radical Protestants who wanted to see the Church of England stripped of its last popish remnants and to become much less ceremonial and pompous than they believed a God-fearing religious institution should be. Nevertheless, because of the multiple competing factions in religious life during the early seventeenth century, James walked a middle path similar to Elizabeth’s, appointing bishops supporting disparate doctrinal views and not allowing any one sect to gain primacy over another. James’s greatest religious achievement is the King James Version of the Bible, a much more beautiful and literary translation of the central text of Christianity than its popular predecessor in England, the Geneva Bible.

James’s reign struggled with certain problems, chief among them James’s lavish spending and the ever-increasing debt that he attempted to amortize by raising taxes on his subjects against the will of the Parliament. James also granted a large number of titles within the peerage and often for superfluous reasons, among them his romantic and sexual attractions for beautiful young men, leading to widespread rumors about his homosexuality. His marriage to Anne of Denmark was seen as loveless and cold, but it produced heirs and thereby assuaged the anxieties of a generation of people constantly tense about the succession of the throne during the reign of the non-reproductive Elizabeth. The first heir, Prince Henry, died of typhoid fever, meaning Charles eventually succeeded his father and became Charles I, a king who would be tried, sentenced to death, and then executed in 1649, sparking the English Revolution and the Puritan Interregnum under Oliver Cromwell until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 under Charles I’s son, Charles II.

During the early part of the 1600s, England began its gradual expansion across that globe that would eventually make it one of the world’s largest empires. Settlers first landed in the Americas in 1607 and properly named the settling after the then king, Jamestown. After signing a peace treaty with Spain and thereby pacifying previously embattled waters, the English also started gaining territory in southern Africa and India during this period.

El tragaluz

June 1, 2012

El tragaluz, una obra de teatro escrita por Antonio Buero Vallejo, trata de una familia cuyas relaciones entre sí han sido destruidas por la guerra que sufrió la familia y las crisis que ella causó. Aunque el lector actual que entiende aun muy poco de la historia recién de España reconocerá desde las primeras páginas las alusiones a la guerra civil española, la obra utiliza varios trucos literarios para esconder el vínculo explícito y directo entre la perspectiva crítica que brinda la obra sobre la guerra en general y la guerra a la que en realidad se refiere, la guerra civil española. Ya que la obra fue escrita y se estrenó en 1967 bajo la plena dictadura franquista, Buero Vallejo tuvo que emplear su inteligencia y talento literario para ocultar su crítica de la guerra civil y sus trágicos resultados para el pueblo español para poder pasar la censura y representar el espectáculo para el público.

La obra comienza con la entrada en el escenario de dos personajes que servirán como guías durante toda la obra, personajes que no llevan nombres y que vienen del futuro distante del presente en el que ve o lee el espectador/lector actual. Él y Ella, como se llaman, destacan su identidad como seres del futuro con referencias a tiempos ajenos en el pasado, a frases ya no usadas en su era futurística y a sus métodos de haber descubierto la historia del pasado que nos van a contar. Prefieren no influir demasiado en nuestras interpretaciones y dejan que veamos y observemos en vez de decirnos cómo entender el espectáculo. No obstante, sí que nos guían de vez en cuando y nos relatan la cronología de la historia, lo cual permite que Buero Vallejo no se vea obligado a representar unos acontecimientos que tuvieron lugar dentro del mismo rato corto y le deja desplegar la historia sobre el plazo de varios días.

El espectáculo tiene un curioso montaje desde el principio hasta el final. Hay tres lugares distintos que se representan en el mismo escenario todo el tiempo aunque estos cuartos y espacios en la obra no tienen ninguna cercanía física. Un espacio es el piso de la familia donde vive la madre, el padre y el hijo Mario. Otro cuarto es la oficina de Vicente, el hermano mayor de la familia, quien trabaja en una empresa de publicación de libros. El último espacio es un bar pequeño donde los personajes suelen quedar para tomar un café o beber un refresco o lo que sea. El hecho de poner los tres espacios siempre en el mismo escenario hace hincapié en los enlaces que existen entre la acción que tiene lugar en cualquier de los tres espacios. Aunque la oficina no está al lado de la casa en el mundo de la obra, por ejemplo, los acontecimientos que tienen lugar en la oficina pueden repercutir en las vidas de la gente que está sencillamente mojando ensaimadas en café en el salón del piso. Buero Vallejo subraya la acción que está pasando en un espacio determinado en vez de otro a través de la técnica de cambiar la intensidad de la luz sobre ese espacio. Siendo tan importante en la obra el tema del tragaluz, de las ventanas y de lo que se puede ver, Buero Vallejo también usa otras formas de luz para enfatizar una u otra parte de la trama. Unos personajes se ponen en sombra o penumbra, por ejemplo, mientras otros se ponen en plena luz para llamarles nuestra atención a ellos.

La familia está compuesta de varios personajes interesantes. La madre es dulce y amable y es un ser que siempre trata de mantener la paz familiar. El padre se porta como si fuera un niño. Es evidente que se ha vuelto loco y que ya no puede hacer nada sino recortar fotos de revistas y postales y preguntar a sus hijos, a quienes él no reconoce como sus críos, si les gustan las imágenes. Vicente, el mayor, es un hombre de negocios, un tipo rico, profesionalmente exitoso y bastante poderoso. Nunca tiene mucho tiempo para visitar a su familia y su madre desea fuertemente que se quede un rato para hablar cada vez que entra la casa y luego sale con prisa. Sin embargo, Vicente agrada a la familia por darles regalos que ha comprado con los fondos económicos que tiene por su éxito en la editorial. Mario es el hijo menor y aunque vive con sus padres y no se ha vuelto tan brusco y frío como su hermano, se ha hecho un poco amargo y pesimista por el rencor que guarda a causa del abandono de su hermano. También desempeña un papel central en la obra Encarna, una mujer temerosa y un poco débil que trabaja en la misma editorial que Vicente y quien es la amante del mismo aunque ama verdaderamente a su hermano menor, Mario.

La trama de la obra es simple y no hacen falta muchas palabras para describirla. La riqueza de la obra se encuentra en los diálogos entre los personajes y el anhelo que tiene el espectador/lector de entender mejor las raíces de la amargura e ira que afligen  a la familia y a descubrir cómo va a terminar la obra. A lo largo de la obra vemos la tensión que existe entre Mario y Vicente ya que van compitiendo para la misma mujer y porque no comparten ni valores ni estilos de vida. Vemos cómo la madre intenta mantener las paces y la poca estabilidad que hay mientras su marido no hace nada más que recortar postales. Al final, nos enteramos de que la familia guarda un secreto grave y doloroso: que después de la guerra, toda la familia esperaba subir al tren para llegar a la capital donde supuestamente había comida y alojamiento para los supervivientes. El único miembro de la familia que pudo subir, sin embargo, fue Vicente, y mientras esperaban los demás el próximo tren o la siguiente oportunidad, se murió la hija pequeña de la familia a causa de hambruna y carencia de alimentos adecuados. Aunque siempre se había pensado que Vicente no tuvo otro remedio que subir al tren y que no podía bajar del tren a causa de lo apretados que viajaban todos los pasajeros en el tren abarrotado, se descubre que Vicente no sólo podía haberse bajado sino que también se marchó intencionadamente con la bolsa de alimentos, la cual podía haber tirado a su pobre familia esperándole al andén. Una vez descubierto este hecho, el padre sale de su estado de locura y mata a Vicente con las tijeras que siempre usaba para recortar. Aunque Encarna había sido abandonada por los dos hermanos justo antes de las últimas escenas, vemos que Mario, el hijo con el corazón más suave y sensible, decide acogerla y amarla a pesar de todo lo que se les ocurrió. Acaba la obra con unas breves palabras de Él y Ella y los lectores somos dejados para formar nuestras propias interpretaciones.

Uno de los temas más importantes de la obra es la diferencia entre el egoísmo y la bondad. La raíz del sufrimiento de la familia yace en la decisión egoísta de Vicente, el hermano mayor que eligió salvarse a sí mismo en vez de proteger a su familia. Aunque en el presente intenta comprar tanto el amor de su familia como su propia clemencia con los regalos que les da, vemos que los efectos de su egoísmo no se pueden borrar fácilmente. Toda la familia vive con la realidad de la pérdida de la hija aunque no se exprese ni se reconozca conscientemente. La obra desea que pensemos en la simpatía, en el valor de cualquier vida humana y en cómo repercuten nuestras acciones en las vidas de los demás.

También es destacable como tema de conversación o comentario la figura del padre, un hombre que parece carecer de sentido y propósito en la vida y que pensamos que es bobo y loco. Sin embargo, lo que va haciendo a lo largo de la obra es recortar individuos de las muchedumbres que los inundan en las postales y revistas donde están. El padre siempre se fija en el individuo e incluso saca de vez en cuando la lupa para poder ver con más nitidez las facciones y características de cada uno. Luego los recorta para rescatarlos de la cárcel del papel en que están, liberándolos a vivir en las paredes de su casa. Aunque esta acción parece faltar sentido, la interpreto como la obsesión del padre, después de la muerte de su hija, de salvar al individuo de la multitud y darle la atención y el cariño que se merece. Está intentando salvarlos para que puedan subirse al tren, metafóricamente, como no pudo hacer con su propia hija.

Toda la obra, también, puede entenderse e interpretarse como una feroz crítica de Franco y la guerra civil española. La hambruna, la división de familias, la pobreza, la locura, los celos y el olvido consciente de las heridas del pasado, todos estos efectos se pueden ver como los resultados de la sangrienta guerra, sus tristes efectos y los años de represión y terror que todo español tuvo que sobrevivir durante la dictadura que siguió a la guerra.

Though I unfortunately have only a limited experience with the vast body of scholarship concerning homosocial and homoerotic relationships in early modern England, I am aware that there is a large and growing corpus of research about the subject, all of which interests me and much of which I have read to help understand and analyze Shakespeare and his oeuvre better. Unfortunately, I have not been aware, until now, of the seemingly smaller but equally compelling body of scholarship about the same phenomenon and what form it took in early modern Spain. This article (cited below), though historical and not exclusively literary in focus, was a great introduction.

Berco, Cristian. “Producing Patriarchy: Male Sodomy and Gender in Early Modern Spain.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 17.3 (2008): 351-376. Web.

Berco is a historian, and he uses an assiduous perusal of archived documents taken from court cases in Aragón during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Spain’s Siglo de Oro) to justify his thesis that sodomy in early modern Spain should not necessarily be seen as a “queer” practice that challenged heteronormativity and patriarchy but rather often as a very extension of patriarchy and a practice that often reinforced patriarchal notions of masculinity and femininity and how the two are accessed and accrued.

Berco starts by noting that early modern Spain was a highly hierarchically organized and deeply patriarchal society. He makes the interesting note that, among women who had certain political or financial prestige and power, masculine attributes were often attributed them, thus reinforcing the notion of the masculine as proper, good, and puissant, while the feminine was weak, fallible, and inferior. (Berco mentions a book written about the tenuous power of Isabel the Catholic, ruler of Castilla and wife of Fernando of Aragón, in a patriarchal world, and it reminded me of the large body of research done about Elizabeth I in England and her similarly precarious situation.) After giving his theoretical underpinnings, Berco then dives into his own research, which looks at court cases of men accused of sodomy or some type of same-sex sexual affection (known as molicies) and how the prosecuted were sentenced and treated. Berco essentially shows that to be penetrated was disgraceful, as it emasculated the receptive subject and made him seem to lose his virility. Being the penetrator, on the other hand, was often seen as something quite normal, a standard extension of the unbridled male sexual impulse. Though the penalty for the penetrator was often worse, given that he was the one leading both partners into sexual sin and therefore more responsible for the vice, socially he was seen as simply indulging in a natural impulse to dominate others by penetrating them, and he could even boast of his sexual exploits rather than cower in opprobrium like the penetrated often did.

Berco’s larger thesis, therefore, is that patriarchy produces a sexual society in which penetration, either of women or of men, helps a man accrue masculinity and assert superiority over those around him. The flip side of the coin, therefore, is that being penetrated, be you male or female, solidifies your status as property, as inferior, or simply as a tool to be used by virile men for their pleasure. When seen this way, male same-sex homoerotic activity might have buttressed early modern Spanish patriarchy and not been a subversive, queer force against it.

This article was lucidly written and contained a sedulously gathered list of sources from archives in Valencia, Zaragoza, and other cities in Spain. Footnote 18 included a host of references that I hope to read in order to understand better the relationship between literature and this phenomenon of early modern Spanish same-sex relationships. Also, Breco included in a footnote and once in the main body of his text allusions to some of the most important writers of the Siglo de Oro, including Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Cervantes, and Góngora, opening up the possibility for some comparative work analyzing same-sex relationships between early modern writers of England and Spain. There is a fertile land of literary research out there, and I hope to till and harvest a fair share of it in the years to come!

When I first spotted Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography in one of my libraries here in Madrid (Biblioteca Pedro Salinas), I picked it up and began to read, falling instantly into the witty prose and the intrigue that surrounds the shrouded and scant details of Shakespeare’s life. I quickly felt guilty for reading in English while in Spain, however, and left the biography for months. However, now that I am only in Spain one more month, I am permitting myself the indulgence of reading one perspective on a fascinating life of one of the most renowned Englishmen of all time. And yes, I’m reading it in English.

The first part of Peter Ackroyd’s biography investigates the first era of Shakespeare’s life in which he is born and lives in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England. Given how truly scarce primary evidence about Shakespeare’s life is, any biography of the playwright must necessarily incorporate much background detail and a fair amount of speculation, although much of it is based on as much research and as many “hard facts” as possible. Ackroyd limns the living and familial conditions of Shakespeare’s primogenitors and essentially disabuses the layman of the myth of Shakespeare’s extremely humble origins, noting the prominent positions of both the distaff and paternal sides of Shakespeare’s heritage. Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, was born to a family that owned a significant amount of property in the Warwick area, for example, and Shakespeare’s father held many notable governmental positions in the local government, including alderman (similar to a current American city councilor). John Shakespeare also owned a substantial amount of expensive properties, and the idea that Shakespeare was born to nothing is simply a canard told to perpetuate the idea of his genius by hyperbolizing the gap between where he supposedly started and life and where he ended up. Regardless of where he started, in my opinion, ending as the world’s greatest playwright and having composed a dramaturgical oeuvre replete with some of the most beautiful language and the most riveting philosophy is not a bad place to finish one’s life.

Shakespeare is most commonly assumed to have been born on the 23rd of April, 1564. He was certainly christened on the 26th of April, and given that most infants were christened three days after their birth, as well as the fact that the 23rd of April is St. George’s Day (the patron saint of England) and the day of Shakespeare’s death, it is a compelling date on which to place the assumed birth of the Bard.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing and polemical parts of Shakespeare’s early life is the numerous connections that his family had to recusant Catholics. Born in 1564, Shakespeare was born and first lived under Queen Elizabeth I, a woman who was nominally Protestant and whose religious policies were somewhat concessive towards believers of the Old Faith but solidified as more vehemently anti-Catholic throughout the duration of her reign. Many people in Warwickshire, however, were known recusants and were frequently imprisoned, fined, and even killed for their refusal to submit to the official Protestantism of the country. Shakespeare’s own father was fined multiple times for failing to appear in Sunday Mass, and a curious paper was found in John Shakespeare’s house affirming his status as a staunch Catholic intent never on ceding his beliefs to the New Faith. Despite clues like this, however, there is also contradictory evidence pointing to the Protestantism of the family, such as John Shakespeare’s lime-washing of the old Catholic frescoes in the local church to comply with Protestant standards, for example. Though we cannot say with certainty whether Shakespeare was Catholic, Anglican, atheist or otherwise, we can at least know that the environment of his infancy was one steeped in Catholics during a time of their religious illegitimacy, including Shakespeare’s likely school teacher John Cottam and many other people who lived and worked closely with the Bard in his formative years.

Many scholars have tried to take stabs in the dark about Shakespeare’s early profession(s) and avocations from the allusions in his plays. His work apparently evinces intricate, involved knowledge of various professional and avocational fields, including property law, maritime pursuits, and the flora of the Warwickshire area. From these clues, scholars have attempted to reconstruct a past that left a very thin trail of concrete evidence. What is certainly clear are both Shakespeare’s amazing propensity to absorb language from many different environments (even ones in which he likely didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time) and his familiarity with leather and gloving terms, given that his father worked as a glover for awhile and likely used his son as an apprentice.

Towards the end of his time in Stratford and before his stint in London where he would forge a career and make an eternal name for himself, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. In many ways, this marriage was odd, including the fact that Anne was eight years Shakespeare’s senior, a gap whose disparity would be more exaggerated in Elizabethan times than it is nowadays given the erstwhile life expectancy during the Renaissance that was almost half of what it is today. Also interesting is that Shakespeare married at age 18 and therefore required his father’s permission to marry. Lastly, Shakespeare’s first daughter, Susanna, was born only six months after the marriage, meaning Shakespeare and his wife had certainly copulated before the nuptial vows and did not arrive at the wedding in a purely “chaste” condition. Yes, the greatest writer of English literature had a shotgun wedding.

Ackroyd’s recounting of Shakespeare’s life in Stratford-upon-Avon ends with his marriage to Anne Hathaway. Next await the riveting chapters of Shakespeare’s success in the early modern English theater in London.

San Manuel Bueno, mártir

February 5, 2012

Desde el primer párrafo de la novela corta nos enteramos de que la historia que vamos a leer nos la contará una narradora no necesariamente indigna de confianza sino parcial en sus opiniones por el amor que tiene por el cura, o sea el santo, al que va a describir, don Manuel. La narradora, Ángela Carballino, nos relata desde la perspectiva de su vejez y madurez los acontecimientos que le sucedieron cuando era adolescente y aún vivía en su cuna, el pequeño y religioso pueblo de Valverde de Lucerna, España. Ángela, teniendo los años necesarios y el dinero suficiente debido a la generosidad financiera de su hermano que vive en América, acude a una escuela para su formación juvenil. Mientras ella estudia allí, un sacerdote católico que se llama don Manuel se muda al pueblo de Valverde de Lucerna y empieza en ese sitio su obra eclesiástica.

Don Manuel rápidamente consigue convertir a la gente por su bondad, carisma y fe. Las mujeres le adoran y los hombres que no le envidian le adoran también. Cuando regresa Ángela al pueblo una vez terminados sus estudios, ella también descubre la divina magia de Manuel Bueno y sus esfuerzos constantes de participar en cada aspecto de la vida del pueblo, incluyendo la educación de los niños, las muertes de los viejos y las ceremonias y la expiación de los pecados de los demás.  A través de unas conversaciones que tiene con él, Ángela se da cuenta paulatinamente de que puede ser que don Manuel no tenga la fe que se supone que tiene. Cuando vuelve de América el hermano de Ángela, un mozo que se llama Lázaro, parece que va a haber un enfrentamiento entre el cura que se ha dedicado a la obra de Dios y el escéptico y racional Lázaro. No obstante, los dos desarrollan una relación de compartir y confiar el uno con el otro y Lázaro finalmente decide recibir la comunión y tomar la Hostia públicamente aunque todo el mundo pensaba que era ateo. Cuando Ángela le pregunta a Lázaro las razones por su nueva fe, Lázaro explica que tanto él mismo como don Manuel son ateos existencialistas que han tomado la decisión de fingir la fe en la vida perdurable (o por lo menos disimular la realidad de sus creencias) para engañar (aunque ellos dijeran inspirar) a la gente para que tenga fe, esperanza y alegría en el oscuro, difícil y confuso mundo. Ángela no sabe cómo aceptar estas noticias y las duda y llora mucho por ellas.

Don Manuel se muere al final y se convierte en santo por el proceso de beatificación católica a causa del amor tremendo que toda la gente sentía por él. Lázaro muere también y Ángela, que vive muchos años más que su hermano, escribe sus recuerdos como un homenaje al santo ateo al que quería y que hizo que naciera su alma a pesar de su carencia de fe. Las últimas páginas del libro cambian de perspectiva narrativa cuando Unamuno en sí mismo saca la pluma y escribe que los relatos que acabamos de leer vinieron de un manuscrito que Unamuno halló escrito por Ángela sobre sus experiencias. Unamuno medita un poco en lo que verdaderamente es la fe y la vida perdurable y termina su relato invitándonos como sus lectores a que consideremos que las historias ficticias pueden contener verdades y virtudes más potentes que las historias verdaderas.

La novela contiene varios temas literarios, incluyendo referencias casi interminables al lago y a la montaña del pueblo Valverde de Lucerna. La montaña siempre se refleja en la clara y plana superficie del agua y los dos símbolos vuelven a tratarse a lo largo de la novela. Otro tema es el del género, especialmente en cuanto a don Manuel, quien se describe como un “varón matriarcal” y quien desempeña papeles tanto maternos como paternos. Siendo muy importante y prevalente el tema del lago y la montaña, yo me pregunto si estos no son también símbolos del género, la montaña representando la masculinidad y virilidad por el poder y la forma de sus cumbres y, al otro lado, el lago representando la feminidad y pasividad por su forma circular y su receptividad.

También existe el curioso tema del ocio, de la soledad y del lujo de poder ser ateo o existencialista. En un instante del relato, las dudas incesantes que sufre don Manuel son descritas como “torturas de lujo,” y queda claro en el pasaje que el lujo de pensar, de dudar la existencia de Dios y la posibilidad de vivir eternamente en el cielo es un lujo que no tiene la gente pobre, campesina, media y cotidiana. Es un lujo para los que tienen el tiempo ocioso de pensar, para los que no necesitan una fe para seguir adelante con la vida, y para los que nacieron con una fortaleza personal suficientemente fuerte, aunque finalmente este lujo se convierte en una especie de tortura. El paradigma de la novela en general me parece muy negativo—cuanto más pensamos en la vida y su significado, más vemos que no existe un sentido de la vida y que la vida es dolor, dudas y decepción. El único remedio es mantener nuestra ceguera a la realidad y no enterarnos de lo efímero e insignificante que es todo. Ángela, a pesar de sus relaciones cercanas con don Manuel y su hermano Lázaro, logra mantener su fe y se supone que, por la longitud de su vida comparada con las de estos hombres, vivió mejor y más alegremente que los dos hombres que en su vida que nunca pudieron alcanzar un estado de fe y creencia como el de ella.

San Manuel Bueno, mártir es una novela excepcional. Sus temas son fascinantes e importantes, su lenguaje es sencillo pero también bonito y casi bíblico y sus personajes respiran y viven aunque solamente se desarrollan a través de unas páginas cortas.

King Lear, Act 1

February 5, 2011

Considered by many scholars and laypeople alike as Shakespeare’s best tragedy, King Lear is a powerful play that is a retelling of a story considered historical in England of a king who divides his lands between his three daughters. I have read the play before and found it beautiful, although it still always pales in comparison with Hamlet to me, but perhaps that is a function more of my personal position and feelings in life than a reflection of Shakespeare’s art and craft.

The first act of King Lear begins with a conversation between the Earl of Kent, the Earl of Gloucester, and Edmund, Gloucester’s bastard son. The two earls are discussing the division of King Lear’s kingdom between the Duke of Albany and the Duke of Cornwall, married to Goneril and Regan, respectively, the eldest two daughters of King Lear. The conversation eventually turns to Edmund, who Gloucester admits was born illegitimately although conceived with ardor. King Lear abruptly enters the scene, declaring that he has divided his kingdom into three. Nevertheless, he asks his three daughters to make bombastic professions of their love to him in order to secure their territorial portions. Goneril and Regan comply, and King Lear gives them each a third of his kingdom. Cordelia, however, says that her love is in her actions and not her words. She points out the hyperbole of her sisters’ speeches and refuses to try to outdo them, incurring Lear’s wrath. He decides to give her none of his kingdom, and her predetermined third of the kingdom is split between Goneril and Regan. Kent, an outspoken advisor to the king, tells him of the folly of his action, but Lear will hear no one oppose him and therefore banishes Kent from England. The two suitors that had been courting Cordelia, the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France, next decide who will marry Cordelia. Burgundy does not desire her if she doesn’t come with a third of the kingdom, so France, who loves Cordelia for the woman she is, marries her and takes her to his kingdom.

Meanwhile Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester, has forged a letter in the handwriting of his legitimate brother, Edgar, that indicates that Edgar believes that Gloucester’s lands should be divided between the two sons. Edmund makes sure that Gloucester reads the letter, and Gloucester is incensed and afraid of the supposed machinations of his eldest son, likely because he has just seen King Lear deposed by similar longings of the younger generation. Edmund warns Edgar that Gloucester is angry with him, and Edgar flees the house on the advice of Edmund, who notes that his plots are succeeding perfectly because of the credulity of his family members.

Lear, after abdicating the throne, maintains a bevy of one hundred knights and spends alternating months at the estates of his eldest two daughters. His first tenure is with Goneril, though she grows tired of Lear, his loud fool, and the revelries of his one hundred attendant knights. Goneril tells Lear of these offenses, and he is gravely offended. He disowns her, curses her womb not to be fecund, and decides to go spend time with Regan, his second daughter. Throughout all of the scenes with Lear, Lear’s witty and brilliant fool mocks him for having rent his kingdom and banished his best daughter.

The reeve, a wealthy landowner, is upset after the miller tells his tale of a cuckolded carpenter. The reason for this, of course, is that the reeve himself is a carpenter. Determined to get back at the miller, the reeve decides to tell his own tale of a miller being deceived and cuckolded. The reeve, however, worries that his age makes him weak and unable fully to get back at the miller.

In the Reeve’s Tale, a wealthy and sly miller has a beautiful wife, a twenty-year-old daughter, and a baby son. Two scholars from Cambridge come to the miller asking him to grind their grain. The miller decides to help them but, being the deceptive man that he is, he unties their horse, which runs intractably wild, and takes back half of the grain that he ground for them. When the two scholars finally catch the horse, they come back to the miller’s house and ask if they can lodge there for the evening. The miller agrees and sets up a bed for them in the same bedroom where he sleeps with his family. The miller gets drunk and goes to bed. One of the scholars, Alayn, goes to where the daughter sleeps and has sex with her. John, the other scholar, is jealous of Alayn’s pleasure and therefore goes and has sex with the miller’s wife. When Alayn is done having sex with the miller’s daughter, he whispers in what he believes is John’s ear (though it is actually the miller’s) that he has just had amazing sex with the miller’s daughter and that he now wants to take back the stolen grain and flee. The miller wakes up hearing this, is enraged, and starts strangling Alayn, who strangles him back. The wife wakes up, notices the commotion, and hits her husband on the head with a staff, thinking it is Alayn. The two scholars beat up the miller, steal back all of their grain, and escape.

The Miller’s Tale

February 2, 2011

The Miller’s Tale is written in the genre of the fabliau, a medieval French tale that is generally bawdy in nature and that tends to involve the lascivious doings of a member of the clergy. Chaucer’s tale is a loose adaptation of one particular fabliau, though it certainly contains the scatological humor and sexual infidelity characteristic of the fabliaux.

The Miller’s Tale centers around an elderly carpenter, John, who is described as being nescient and overly protective of his young wife, a beautiful and lustful woman named Alison. Though John tries indefatigably to keep his wife contained, she manages to meet a clerk, or scholar, at Oxford named Nicholas with whom she falls in love. Nicholas, an attractive, intelligent young man skilled in astrology and music, falls in love with Alison and begs her to have sex with him. She initially declines the offer and proffers the excuse that her jealous husband would learn of the tryst. Eventually, however, through flattery, Nicholas convinces Alison to have sex with him.

Meanwhile, a parish clerk named Absolon also discovers Alison’s pulchritude and becomes enamored with her. Absolon comes to the carpenter’s house daily and nightly to sing a song of love to Alison, but he is ignored both by her and her husband until later in the story.

Meanwhile Nicholas, believing himself much more perspicacious than the dim-witted John, decides to beguile John so that he (Nicholas) may spend a whole night with Alison. To do this, Nicholas pretends to be ill at home because of an astrological omen he witnessed telling him that the earth is to be flooded again as in the time of Noah. John’s knave, a squire who does his bidding, hears from Nicholas that to prevent being swallowed in the inundation, John must prepare three tubs for his household to sleep in, fill them with food and wine, and tie them up to the rafters in the roof. John does this diligently, being a god-fearing and ignorant man. While John is sleeping in the rafters on the appointed night, Nicholas and Alison have sex. However, they are interrupted by Absolon who, on false information from a cloistered monk, believes that John is out-of-town and that Alison will be free to have sex with him. Absolon begs for a kiss at Alison’s window, and she sticks her hairy butt-hole out the window for him to kiss, which he does. Upset that he kissed an anus and not lips, Absolon acquires a hot poker from a smith and returns to Alison’s seeking retribution. He asks again for a kiss, and Alison instructs Nicholas to stick his butt out the window this time. When Nicholas farts, Absolon inserts the hot stick into Nicholas’s anus, burning him and causing him to shout out for water. John awakes at this, thinks the shout for water is an announcement of the flood, cuts his tub from the rafters, breaks his hand from the rough landing, and becomes the laughingstock of the entire city, all of whom believe he is insane for having believed in the flood.

The Miller’s Prologue

February 2, 2011

After the beautiful tale of the knight, which adhered in many ways to the generic conventions of both the chivalric epic and the courtly romance, the host who is serving as judge declares the tale an excellent beginning to the competition and invites the monk to present his tale next. The miller, a stout and homely man who is drunk on ale, rudely interrupts and declares that he has a tale to tell. The host asks him to wait and declares him inebriated, but the miller threatens the host and the company and his wish to give the next tale is granted. The miller then gives us a taste of what is to come: the miller’s tale will concern itself with a carpenter who is made a cuckold when his wife cheats on him with a clerk, a student at Oxford. The reeve becomes upset at this idea of a tale because of the aspersions it will cast on wives and women generally. The miller assures the reeve that there are many good wives out there and also declares that he believes his wife is faithful to him, although he doesn’t probe the answer to the question with much depth or sincerity and recommends a similar course of action to all men. Lastly, Chaucer the poet warns us that the miller’s tale will be bawdy and that we should not blame Chaucer for reprinting it, which is his rightful job as the honest and accurate reporter of the Canterbury pilgrimage.