Friday, February 27, 2015

Macbeth

Frankly speaking, I was a bit disappointed with Macbeth. It turned out not as intense as I have expected. I have read somewhere that Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedies, and maybe it is true, as the scenes seemed to be passing quickly before leaving deeper impression upon me. I have once seen some illustrations of the three witches; but in the play, they didn’t seem grim at all. The eerie atmosphere felt after Macbeth killed Duncan, and later on when Lady Macbeth was sleepwalking with candle in her hand. Maybe this play in particular would be much better when performed on stage, than read as a book.

Macbeth is a Scottish general, and after having won a battle, the Emperor Duncan praises him for his bravery. When he is chatting with his colleague Banquo, they meet three witches whom greet them with prophecies. Macbeth would become Thane of Cawdor (he is at present Thane of Glamis), and then a King; while Banquo is prophesied to beget a line of Kings though he himself will not. Almost right away someone tells Macbeth that he is now Thane of Cawdor after the previous one died. Macbeth instantly believes the prophecies to be true, and begins to build ambition for becoming a King.

When the King visits Macbeth’ castle, Lady Macbeth encourages the reluctant Macbeth to murder King Duncan. He did it although got disturbed after the deeds. As he is Kings nearest relative, Macbeth is soon crowned as King of Scotland. But he never rests assured about his throne as he still remembers what the three witches has prophesied about Banquo; so he sent murderers to kill him. Disturbed with guilt, Macbeth seeks assurance from the three witches; whom tells him that no one born of a woman will kill him but to be careful with Macduff—a lord. So when Macduff wants to take revenge for his family’s murder, Macbeth keeps calm as ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth. But is it possible for a human being to be invincible? Or is Macbeth deluding himself?

My favorite part from this play is Macbeth’s soliloquy after hearing the news of Lady Macbeth’s death: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…”. It is perhaps the only one that really touched me. I can feel how desperate Macbeth is when losing his strong supporting wife while he must be prepared for the grand battle. I almost even felt sorry for him. Here are the full lines:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
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,
Signifying nothing.

It makes you thinking….do our days of life really signify nothing? Perhaps it doesn’t if you lead a wrong way to live. Just like Macbeth…

I must admire Shakespeare’s great influence in Renaissance literature. His did give a new structure and style to plays, remodeling the old Greek’s and making plays flow more fluently and dynamically. And his role in elevating English language is not to be questioned. But sometimes his lines can be vulgar, which reduce my admiration to him.

Three and a half stars for Macbeth.

 I read ebook from Feedbooks dot com

This book is counted as:




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Doctor Faustus

If Shakespeare had died at the age Marlowe died, there would have been no question that Marlowe was the leading figure in English Renaissance drama”—I found this on the back of my copy of Marlowe’s The Plays. I have only read Doctor Faustus, so I could not fairly justify, but comparing Faustus with Shakespeare’s other non historical tragedies I have read so far, I must admit that (for me) Marlowe is in the lead.

I always feel Shakespeare’s humour was a bit tacky, while Marlowe’s was more elegant. Marlowe’s tragedy (again, I only read Faustus) is full of reflection, while Shakespeare’s are more dynamic. For people who like only to watch drama for amusement, Shakespeare’s would be more pleasant to watch. Marlowe’s is a bit darker and tends to make us think deeper. Maybe Marlowe’s are more suitable for reading.

Faustus is a learned man (he’s a Doctor anyway), and after having learned various sciences, he is not yet satisfied. So he learns necromancy and magic, with which he believes he could have limited power over the universe. He is guided by one of Lucifer’s servants, Mephistophilis, who promises him his unlimited service if he agrees to serve Lucifer. Despite of warnings from his own conscience and the good angel, Faustus blood-signs an agreement with Lucifer to swap his soul with power, knowledge, and pleasure.

Doctor Faustus is a reminder for us all how human fall to sin. Greediness is perhaps the seed of all sins; it is when man wants more than what he deserves to get. Faustus is provided for learning every science he wants, but it’s not enough for him. At this point the devil can easily buy him. But the fall of men to sin is usual story; the true tragedy lies in Faustus’ stubbornness in repentance, though God has offered His mercy.

There are two version of Doctor Faustus exists, the A-text (published in 1604) and B-text (1616), and it’s still on debate, which one (or both?) was really written by Marlowe. I decided to read both; so I started with the whole of A-text first; then continued on B-text but skip the same parts, only focusing on the alternate. I must say in the end that the B-text is slightly better. I loved particularly the ending in B-text, when the scholars found Faustus’ body ‘all torn asunder by the hand of death!’ . Maybe the A-text is more dramatic because, I imagine, were it performed on stage, Faustus’ last anguish shriek when he was brought by Mephistophilis would be heard as a hollow echo when everybody exited, before the chorus closed the play by announcing the horrific tragedy: ‘Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight’. But the scholars’ scene in the B-text allows us to feel the horror more intensely, although I think it would be too eerie to be performed on stage. But the best addition of the B-text is perhaps Scene 6 Act 4; the comical scenes of Robin and Dick, and Faustus and the horse-seller. It’s not as slapstick as Shakespeare’s, but it helped reducing a bit the dark atmosphere; funny but witty.

Interestingly, Marlowe put a historical figure in the play: Pope Adrian VI, who is dealing with his rival, Pope Bruno, whom was more favored by the Emperor. Only later did I learn that Pope Bruno was fictional character. I still did not understand why the Pope should be put here, other than became a ‘toy’ whom Faustus could chaff and play using his new power of magic (a symbol of how low Faustus has sinned, that he dared ridiculing a Pope?) . Or was Marlowe mocking or criticizing the political power of Catholic Church then?

Anyway, Doctor Faustus is a great tragedy from one of Renaissance greatest dramatists: Christophe Marlowe. The spirit of learning new things which colored the Renaissance era reflected in Faustus’ passion in knowledge. He has studied philosophies like many his contemporaries, but also economy, physic, law, and theology—which he finally put aside as they weren’t as tantalizing as necromancy. Play-wise, there was still trace of Greek plays in Doctor Faustus, i.e. the chorus at the start and the end. Besides that, Marlowe’s style was more freely flowing than Greek. His chaffing on Pope Adrian and the Church officials was perhaps reflecting how Renaissance era began to shake off the dominant power of the Church in Medieval era.

Five stars for Doctor Faustus, or originally The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.

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I read the Wordsworth Classics paperback edition

This book is counted as:





Monday, February 16, 2015

Literary Movement Reading Challenge 2015: February Renaissance Check-In



Here we are in the shortest month of the year: February. Hopefully it does not discourage you to dig into Renaissance literature for our #LitMoveRC. Today is the last chance for you to submit your reviews of January Medieval, then we can move on right away to February Renaissance. The linky has been up here, you can link up your reviews or posts on renaissance literature until March 15th.

Renaissance is the new era of poems and dramatic plays. Which one do you generally prefer, poems or plays? Shakespeare or Marlowe?  And which renaissance lit will  you/are you reading?

It has been my habit since 2012 to read something by or about Dickens every February, as it’s his birth-month. This year I picked The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl, a historical fiction about Dickens’ unfinished book: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It is very special, because Pearl included many historical facts about Dickens and the literary circumstances during that time, including the appearances of Dickens himself, which is so lively! Anyway, I have spent the first ten days of February to savour it; and now it’s time to dive into the dark soul of Doctor Faustus! It’s my first reading of Marlowe, and so far I love him, maybe a bit over Uncle Willy… ;) After this I’m going to read Macbeth, and only then can I properly justify them.

How about you?


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Classics Club’s February Meme: Harry Potter MUST Become Classic One Day!

What about modern classics? Pick a book published since 2000 and say why you think it will be considered as a “classic” in the future.

One title instantly popped up in my head reading this question: Harry Potter! Although the first of the series (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) was first published in 1997, the last one was only released in 2007, so it could be considered a product of 21st century. I considered Harry Potter as future classic not because of the books’ enormous number of sales, and not only because it set a new trend in literary world, but firstly because there are so many hidden germs of philosophy inside the fictional wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling.

Perhaps one day, Harry Potter will have its own section in literary study-guide sites like Sparknotes. You would probably find summary, character analysis, themes-motif-symbol study for Harry Potter, just as you’d find ones for The Great Gatsby today, for instance. The more I read Harry Potter, the more I believe it’s not just a fantasy-adventure tales. Inside there are lessons about our relationship with God, about good and evil, light and dark, love and hate. Oh, there is even much more symbol and metaphor inside Harry Potter than in The Great Gatsby.

Dementor vs Patronus, for instance, is a good symbol of evil vs love. It teaches us to not being controlled by negative thoughts or influence, for it can suck out happiness and positive thoughts. Instead, envelope yourself with the good energy or love (patronus is performed by thinking of pleasant things or love), then the negative energy would soon evaporate.

Another symbol is within Harry Potter’s relation with his mother and Voldemort. When Voldemort cursed baby Harry with the deathly curse, he failed at killing him because of Lily Potter’s love which was planted inside Harry’s soul. However, Harry is also connected to Lord Voldemort, that they can read each other’s mind. I think it’s the symbol of good and evil in human’s soul. Dumbledore insists that Harry must try harder to close his mind from Voldemort, just as we must close our minds from things that provoke us to sin. So on one side, man has a small part of God—the Love; but on another side, he also has tendency to sin. But on top of that, love will always win against evil. How lovely are these symbols!

And all that makes Harry Potter deserves to be considered classic, even now.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Agamemnon by Aeschylus

After reading Agamemnon, I was sure that Greek plays should be better enjoyed as performance than as book. I have read Sophocles’ Oedipus several years ago, and have almost forgotten how beautiful and dynamic Greek plays are, with all the strophe-antistrophe-epode. Reading them in books reduces the plays’ dramatic uniqueness. Unlike modern plays like Wilde’s or Shaw’s—or even Shakespeare’s—which are rich in characters and dialogs, in Agamemnon I only met with Clytemnestra, Agamemnon (whose name served as the title, but the character’s emotion was not much explored), Cassandra, and Aegisthus, besides the Chorus, the Watchman, and the Herald.

The play is opened by the watchman, who is waiting for a signal from Troy. King Agamemnon and his troops is on a mission to bring home Helen (his brother’s Menelaus’ wife) from her capture in Troy. Then it’s slowly revealed that before sailing to Troy, Agamemnon made a human sacrifice so that the wind favored them. The victim was his own daughter. The scene before the sacrifice was quite heartrending…

On Agamemnon’s leave, the queen Clytemnestra rules the kingdom. She seems to be rejoiced when finally her husband comes home safely and triumphantly. However, a slave whom Agamemnon has brought from Troy (the daughter of Priam, Cassandra) predicts that Agamemnon would be killed by his wife. It turns out that the murder was planned by Clytemnestra and Aegisthus (Agamemnon’s cousin) as an act of revenge. Clytemnestra avenges her daughter’s murder; while Aegisthus blames Agamemnon for serving his two brothers (boiled!) to his father—who was Agamemnon’s rival of the throne of Argos.

While Agamemnon is constructed by beautiful rhymes, the length of the each dialog could be quite tedious to read. Maybe it’s because Aeschylus was one of the first Greek tragedians. Euripides’ Medea and Sophocles’ Oedipus were more enjoyable for me.

Three stars for Agamemnon.

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I read ebook from Adelaide University’s Online Library

This book is counted as:




Monday, January 26, 2015

The Confessions of St. Augustine by St. Augustine Hyppo

Actually I have meant to work this book out for my WEM project; I have even started with the summary (book 1 – 9). However, after finishing it, I just realized that The Confessions is more philosophical and theological than autobiographical. The last four books (book 10 to 13) were so engaging, I have even forgotten what I’ve been through in the earlier nine books. It seems like the four last books are the real core of The Confessions. Thus I decided to not continuing the usual three levels inquiries, and to write a (hopefully) decent review for this inspiring book, instead. Oh, I don’t even know how to begin the review, but I’m trying….

In the autobiography part, Augustine analyzed his former life; from infant to adolescence; how he has sinned; and how he struggled to find the ‘Truth’—you can read the chronology in my summary post. One of the most interesting things from this part is that Augustine believed that man has sinned even from his infant, when he is only one day old. Infant is demanding; it strives to get what it wants by crying. Augustine thought that baby’s weakness is in its body, not (yet) in mind. That is an extreme thinking, but it’s not fully nonsense either. Children are egoist; they only think of their own needs. Isn’t that the early stint of human selfishness? Isn’t human an individual creature? And aren’t we still inheriting Adam’s sins before we are baptized?

About baptism, Augustine also blamed his parents for not baptizing him as early as possible; for he believed baptism would at least help him fighting his ‘wickedness’ as teenager. I agree with this; although baptism doesn’t always keep someone from falling to sin as it depends also on his education and the society where he grows up. But early baptism, when followed by strict guidance in moral and faith, increases the chance to fight against the evil influence.

Augustine’s biggest weakness, besides his thirst of knowledge, was in sexual desire. For twelve or fourteen years (I forgot the exact number) he lived with a mistress whom he loved very much. In Italy, it occurred to him that a marriage would save him from this carnal lust. His mother, Monica, also rejoiced in his decision, as she has been continually praying for his repentance. But for the marriage, the woman he loved must be torn from his embrace. And this caused him a severe broken heart; although in the end Augustine never married any other woman, as he gave his soul wholly to God and His Church. I have actually just browsed a novel by Jostein Gaarder, Vita Brevis: A Letter to St. Augustine right after finishing The Confessions. Gaarder claimed that he had found an old manuscript which was believed to be originally written by Augustine’s mistress, a woman called Floria Aemilia. This would be an interesting reading, as she questioned Augustine’s theology and philosophy, and her views could be taken as an early feminism. But I would review it separately later….

Back to The Confessions, starting from book 10 Augustine slightly switched his writing from autobiography to philosophy and theology, although they were still read as his confession. Book 10 contains his motives of writing The Confessions and the path he has taken to finally admit that only through the mediator of Jesus Christ can men find and have unison with God, as men are so weak they could not do it by their own power. In book 11 Augustine was philosophizes a lot about mode and time of creation as is in the book of Genesis 1:1. He ponders a lot (and quite tediously) on time: past, present, and future. Book 12 is the best part of all, as here he interprets God’s creation of ‘heaven and earth’. He uses many allegories which enable the readers to follow his thoughts. He admits that men have interpreted God’s creation of the universe in many opinions, and no one can know the truth except God grant him it, but this is his idea (if I understood him correctly):

When a singer sings a song,
  • His body produces sound, while his soul forms it into tune.
  • So sound is formed in order to become tune.
  • But sound and tune exists at the same time.


That is an allegory of Creation ala Augustine. In order to understand it, let us replace sound with spiritual heaven and earth; tune with corporeal heaven and earth; and body with God.

St. Augustine at the moment of his religious conversion
by Jose Garcia Hidalgo
According to Augustine, heaven and earth in Gen 1:1—“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”—speaks about two different existences. One is spiritual—the heaven of the angels etc., the other corporeal—that is our earth (heaven here could perhaps be taken as sky). So, the creation according to Augustine could be perceived like this: God created the spiritual heaven and earth at the same time as, and in order that, He created the corporeal sky and earth. If only God’s creation could be explained as simple as that…. Still in book 12, Augustine also discussed about the meaning of other creations: water vs dry land, fish, fowls, the dark abyss and the light. He has completely changed my view towards those verses; I was grateful to have read this book as I was preparing that verses for my lector task on Easter vigil mass.

One post would not be enough to share all my thoughts, but I must stop here at last. One thing is sure: this is a very important and intense reading; tough but beautiful. One can read this many times, and would perhaps form different opinions on each reading. This book would also provide many materials for interesting debates.

The Confessions was written in 397 – 400 AD, and St. Augustine’s thoughts have provided great influence over the medieval era, when Roman Catholic Church was the center of institution. In all aspects in which he analyzed his former life, Augustine always viewed his actions and thoughts from God’s view; whether He approved this or that, and how he has offended God by doing some sins. In one chapter he would lament over his wickedness and ask God’s forgiveness, while in the next chapter he would praise Him and rejoice because God has helped him to repent. The relationship of God and human was still intimate; it was time when intellectual people pondered much over religion and God’s existence.

Five stars for this outstanding piece!

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I read the Dover Thrift paperback edition

This book is counted as:




Friday, January 16, 2015

Literary Movement Reading Challenge 2015: January Medieval Check-In



#LitMoveRC participants, this is just a quick check-in to let you know that the linky for our January Medieval has been up here. You can link up your reviews or posts in the linky until February 15th.

I have planned to read two books for January Medieval: St. Augustine’s The Confessions and Le Morte d’Arthur. But unfortunately I have been very busy since after Christmas, and The Confessions turned out to be much more than an autobiography, it is full with theology and philosophy; definitely not a fast reading! It is a tough read, and I need more time to read it than I have expected. Right now I have about 80s pages to the end, and expect to finish them by this weekend.

The problem is, I don’t think I’d be able to finish Le Morte d’Arthur (2 volumes – 1000s pages) in time, and I still have two other books for two different challenges. Second problem, actually I have read about 20s pages of 1st volume, and have been bored by the repetitions during the war scene (The Arthurian faction vs eleven Kings). Maybe I am just not familiar with its style, and actually I’m really curious to read what‘ll happen next. But I think I’ll put it down this month, and read it again when I have enough time (maybe next year). I do hope this little failure will not continue on the rest of the challenge. 

But what about you, which medieval literature have you picked? Or what are you still reading right now? Did you have difficulty on reading medieval lit?